Pilots Archive

Boy Scouts share excitement of GA

Thursday, July 18th, 2013











I travel the country talking to pilots and AOPA members, but even I rarely get to see so much enthusiasm from so many young people as I have today at the Boy Scouts of America National Jamboree in Mt. Hope, West Virginia. In just a couple of days more than 1,000 scouts have visited our tent to enjoy a flight experience in the AOPA Jay. And some 600 have signed up for our special teen AV8RS program. Today, as part of Airborne Day, our own Dave Hirschman led a flyover that had all eyes looking up.

Why is simple so hard?

Monday, July 15th, 2013

Every pilot I know is looking for ways to keep flying affordable. That’s especially true for those of us who fly for fun. When the return on investment comes in the form of personal enjoyment, every penny saved is a penny we can put toward that next flight.

At AOPA, we know how important controlling costs is to our members, and we’re always looking for ways to help. So more than a year ago, AOPA and EAA jointly filed a petition for a third-class medical exemption. The idea is that pilots who fly certain types of aircraft for many common types of operations would no longer need a third-class medical. Instead, with a current driver’s license they could self-assess their fitness to fly and participate in a recurrent online education program to help them make sound decisions about their health and flying.

It sounds simple enough, and it is. The driver’s license medical standard already exists and has been used safely by Sport pilots for a decade. In fact, a study by the Air Safety Institute showed that there were no accidents caused by pilot medical incapacitation between 2004 and 2011 for pilots using the driver’s license medical standard. None. Zero.

Extending the exemption would save pilots, and the government, a significant amount of money. How much money? We conservatively estimate pilots would save $241 million over 10 years and the government would save another $11 million over the same period.

So why are we still waiting for an answer from the FAA more than a year after we submitted the proposal? Good question.

If you read my column in the July issue of AOPA Pilot, you know my concerns over the inaction of federal regulatory agencies. Too often we see the FAA and other agencies lagging behind the realities of modern flying. Too often, it seems these agencies are handling sticky issues by deciding not to decide.

The evidence in favor of the third-class medical exemption is strong. We have flown similar aircraft under similar conditions for a decade with an outstanding safety record. More than 16,000 pilots have filed comments with the FAA in support of the petition. Sequestration is forcing the FAA to find cost savings, and this certainly seems to be a quick way for the agency to cut a few million dollars from its budget.

And yet we still don’t have an answer. In fact, the FAA won’t even tell us when we can expect an answer. It’s a classic case of taking something simple and making it harder than it has to be.

We don’t know when the FAA will make a decision. But we do know we won’t let the issue rest. I want to thank our AOPA members who wrote in by the thousands to give us this opportunity to make flying easier and more affordable. I promise you our regulatory affairs team will continue to promote this exemption and push the FAA to move forward. At the same time, we won’t ignore the larger problem of regulatory inaction and overreaction that drives up our costs without adding to our safety.

Harrison Ford Interview with Senate GA Caucus Co-Chairs

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Just after Harrison Ford spoke to members of the General Aviation Caucus yesterday, I had the chance to sit down with Harrison along with co-chairs Senator Begich (D-AK) and Senator Johanns (R-NE).  This strong bi-partisian caucus that now numbers over one third of the Senate with 36 members contains some powerful supporters of general aviation.


CBS Tribute to the Wright Brothers

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

There was a nice segment this morning on CBS Sunday Morning that paid tribute to the Wright brothers.  If you missed it, click here to watch the clip:  http://bit.ly/feQhBW

GA Serves America spokesman Harrison Ford on Capitol Hill

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010
Harrison Ford talks about General Aviation during a discussion on Capitol Hill.

Harrison Ford talks about General Aviation during a discussion on Capitol Hill.

With membership in the General Aviation caucuses in the House and Senate growing to record numbers, Harrison Ford came to a General Aviation gathering on Capitol Hill where he had the opportunity to talk about what general aviation means to him and to America.

GA Serves America spokesman Harrison Ford was in Washington this week.

GA Serves America spokesman Harrison Ford was in Washington this week.

Honestly, we could have no more passionate or articulate spokesman than Harrison Ford. Even with Congress debating a significant number of issues, we had a standing-room-only crowd as members of Congress and congressional staff listened to a discussion with Ford.

Our AOPA Live team was in the room. Watch the video online.

Going LIVE!

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Whether you’re here at Sun ‘n Fun or stuck in the office and daydreaming about flying, I want to encourage you to take a minute to check out AOPA LIVE.

Throughout the show we’ll be interviewing aviation authorities and celebrities, letting you hear first hand from experts about all aspects of general aviation—from the latest tools and products to stories of daring adventure from famous pilots.


AOPA Pilot Editor in Chief Tom Haines interviews Commemorative Air Force President Steve Brown on the AOPA LIVE stage at Sun 'n Fun.

AOPA Pilot Editor in Chief Tom Haines interviews Commemorative Air Force President Steve Brown on the AOPA LIVE stage at Sun n Fun.

Here on site, come to the AOPA LIVE stage at the Big Yellow Tent. If you’re at home, you can see our live streaming coverage, or our archived videos, online.

We’ll be hosting new episodes of AOPA Live now through Saturday. Check it out!

Thinking of the future

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

I had a great opportunity today to spend some time with ICON founder Kirk Hawkins talking about the future of general aviation. If you were at AOPA’s Aviation Summit last fall in Tampa, you may have seen Kirk talking about ICON and his commitment to light sport aviation. If you missed him live, you can still see what he had to say in the AOPA Live archives .

ICON founder Kirk Hawkins (right) is excited about what LSAs can mean for aviation.

ICON founder Kirk Hawkins (right) is excited about what LSAs can mean for aviation.

Today the ICON A5 amphibious light sport airplane is in test flights, and Kirk expects it to go into production late next year.

As excited as he is about the progress on his new plane, Kirk is even more excited about what light sport aircraft can do for GA. He talks a lot about putting the “sport” back into aviation–and argues that it’s time we pilots admit that much of our commitment to flying comes not from the transportation benefits but from the emotional high we get from piloting our own planes.

Kirk believes that the right kind of aircraft combined with the lower entry threshold of the light sport pilot certificate can revolutionize our industry. And he just might be right.

The A5 certainly has the look and feel of a sports car. And the advent of the light sport pilot certificate has made it easier and less expensive to enter the world of aviation. It’s the kind of synergistic combination that could entice plenty of enthusiasts to become active pilots.

Kirk and I talked a lot about the importance of bringing new people into flying as well as the critical importance of good training–two key elements of “engagement” that AOPA is focusing on this year and into the future.

His enthusiasm is contagious, and it’s great to see entrepreneurs like Kirk bringing new ideas to fruition in GA. We’re all working toward the same goals–protecting and promoting general aviation now and for generations to come, and it’s wonderful to hear those ideas echoing across the entire spectrum of flight.

Springing the trap!

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

AOPA’s own SWAT team arrived in Northern California on Friday, getting out of Frederick before the anticipated record snows. AOPA–a SWAT team? In our case, SWAT stands for Sweepstakes Winner Announcement Team!

On Friday, I was conducting business in Nashville, and with a huge snowstorm threatening the Mid-Atlantic region, I didn’t even try to get back to Frederick for fear I wouldn’t be able to get out in time to spring our carefully laid trap on the unsuspecting winner of the 2009 AOPA Let’s Go Flying Sweepstakes.

Of course, people like to keep an eye on where AOPA’s airplanes are going, so I was careful not to arrive on the scene too soon and spoil the surprise. Instead of heading straight to California, I stopped in Denver overnight, flying to Sacramento on Saturday evening to review the final plans with AOPA SWAT members over dinner at the historic Frank Fats Restaurant.

On Sunday morning AOPA’s team gathered at the Yolo County Airport for a final status check before springing our trap.

We had persuaded a colleague of our winner to help out with a little friendly deception. Jimmy Rollinson, a well-known flyer and, like our winner, a FedEx pilot, said he wanted to look at property in the winner’s Alta Sierra fly-in community. And, to make sure our winner would be willing to give up part of his Super Bowl Sunday to help (not to mention to give us an excuse to bring a film crew to this quiet, private field), Rollinson said he’d be arriving in the famous Cessna 310–Songbird III from the TV series “Sky King”–an airplane owned by Paul and Valerie Erickson, who were also complicit in our plan.

Heading out with Songbird III to surprise our winner at Alta Vista Airport.

Heading out with Songbird III to surprise our winner at Alta Vista Airport.

Acting as producer, AOPA’s own Warren Morningstar arranged to bring in the film crew under the pretense of shooting some footage of the famous airplane against the beautiful backdrop of the Sierra Nevada range.

The plan was to have our winner join Rollinson on the tarmac to talk about the Sky King series in time for me to swoop in and land in our beautiful 2005 Cirrus SR22 GTS. A tough job, yes!  But, as they say, someone has to do it.

I was excited and honored to present the airplane to this year’s winner–Michael Graves. Graves, an 18-year member of AOPA who lives in a fly-in community and sometimes uses GA to commute to his professional flying job, was stunned and delighted.

I have to say this is the second time I have had the thrill of giving away an AOPA sweepstakes airplane to a deserving winner and they have been two of the best days of my life! I just love being part of the excitement and watching the reaction as the truth dawns on a winner’s face.

Winner Michael Graves shows off the keys to his Lets Go Flying Sweepstakes Cirrus.

Winner Michael Graves shows off the keys to his Lets Go Flying Sweepstakes Cirrus.

There’s a lot more to this story, and you can find all the details in our special edition of AOPA ePilot and on AOPA Online (www.aopa.org), and of course we’ll be making that video footage available, too. But I couldn’t wait to share my own excitement and offer my first public congratulations to Michael Graves, as well as my thanks to all those who conspired to make the plan work, including our AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer Meriellen Couppee and the folks at Davis Flight Support who got the SR22 ready for its closeup and helped us coordinate the many details that go into a surprise like this.

I am not sure just how much better this month can get. First, no aviation user fees in the President’s budget, and then I get the chance to return to my home state of California and give away our 2009 Sweepstakes airplane!

Now, I just need to figure out if I can get back into Frederick Municipal Airport with all the snow!

The Lyon Aviation Museum

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

This week I had the chance to spend some time in Southern California, talking aviation and meeting with people who are as passionate about flying as you and I. One of the highlights was a visit to the beautiful Lyon Air Museum at John Wayne Airport in Orange County.

The museum was started by retired Air Force Major General William Lyon–a pilot with vast experience in both the military and civilian arenas–to inspire and share the stories of aviation’s past. The collection is quite remarkable, as is the talented man who assembled it. Maj. Gen. Lyon has achieved professional success in the military, real estate, home building, and banking industries, among other ventures. But aviation must be counted among his true passions, and the museum is a powerful testament to that.

Museum President Mark Foster shows me around the impessive exhibits.
Museum President Mark Foster shows me around the impessive exhibits.

Among the aircraft on display is a B-17 Flying Fortress named “Fuddy Duddy” that once carried General Dwight Eisenhower, then served as a fire bomber, and later made several movie appearances, including in “Tora Tora Tora.”

There’s also a DC-3 and a North American B-25 bomber among other beautifully restored military planes. There’s even a collection of military cars and motorcycles, including a motorcycle with tank-style tracks that was sometimes used to tow aircraft.

A variety of military vehicles, aircraft, and motorcycles bring history to life.

A variety of military vehicles, aircraft, and motorcycles bring history to life.

Museums like this one are great showcases for the history–and even the future–of aviation. You can learn more about the museum on its website (www.lyonairmuseum.org), and if you’re in the area, I encourage you to go and take a look. It’s well worth a visit.

Calm in a Crisis

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Pilots are a special group of people—that’s something I’ve always known. And pilot training does much to teach and reinforce such traits as courage, decisiveness, and the ability to remain calm in a crisis. But it was really brought home to me yesterday when I heard the story of a low-time single-engine pilot who safely landed a King Air carrying his wife and two daughters when the pilot of the charter flight died shortly after takeoff.

Doug White and his family had just attended his brother’s funeral in Florida when they boarded the chartered King Air bound for their Louisiana home. But about 15 minutes after takeoff, the King Air pilot lost consciousness and died. White told his wife and children to pray, and contacted air traffic control for help. White isn’t instrument rated and the plane was above a cloud layer and climbing on autopilot when he took the controls.

Air traffic controllers provided guidance and vectors, and enlisted the assistance of another pilot who was familiar with the airplane to give White the information he needed to take the aircraft off autopilot and hand fly it to a safe landing. And, of course, you can hear it all on the air traffic control tapes.

The thing that struck me the most about this incredible exchange between White and controllers is the calm decisiveness of everyone involved. It’s hard to imagine a more stressful situation. Lives were on the line, and everyone knew it. But even so, no one succumbed to the strain. Everyone worked together to get that plane, and the family in it, safely on the ground.

AOPA’s Aviation eBrief was among the first aviation media to report the story yesterday afternoon. You can read the story and listen to the remarkable exchange between White and air traffic control by visiting the eBrief archive. I am sure you will be moved as I was.

Situations like this one are rare, and they test the mettle of everyone involved—yet in these exceptional and difficult circumstances, pilots and controllers call on their inner strength and their rigorous training to work together for a good outcome. I couldn’t be more impressed with White and the controllers who helped him. Thankfully few of us will ever face such a challenge, but if we do we can have confidence in our training and the professionalism of controllers to help get us through.