Uncategorized Archive

The man behind the real ‘Propwash Junction’

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Billed as coming “from above the world of Cars,” Disney’s Planes gives an imaginative glimpse into the world of general aviation. And while the animated film, which hit theaters Aug. 9, takes a few liberties with the story of a cropduster turned international air racer (it is, after all, an animated children’s film), it’s grounded in the real world of small airplanes.

I wrote an article for the August issue of AOPA Pilot about the research that went into the film and the airport, Leaders Clear Lake in Minnesota, that inspired Dusty’s hometown of Propwash Junction. Bob Leaders, the owner of the airport, hadn’t known that the airport he carved out of a farm would help shape filmmakers’ portrayal of small airport communities. Recently, Craig M. Lieberg wrote to me after reading the article to tell me more about the man behind the real-world Propwash Junction.

“We had just walked home down one of the two driveways of the airport, which has been our home for the last 35 years,” he wrote. “We looked at the picture of the old gas truck, which was the inspiration for ‘Chug’, we are very familiar with that sight.”

Lieberg shared the impact that Leaders has had on pilots in the local community:

The human interest side of your article, is a story of a man who selflessly has dedicated his life to his love of aviation, and helping his fellow man find pleasure in their love of flying. In my opinion, Bob Leader has done more for GA than anyone else I know of in this area. He has spent his life helping the common man find a way to pursue their passion of flight. Bob is now over 80 years of age and is on the job 7 days a week, living just west of the runway, on the property, with his wife. Having bought the original farm property around 1968, he carved out this little airport, which is privately owned, but publicly used, averaging about 60 aircraft on the ground year around. Currently operating the business with the help of two of his sons, and a hired A&P, they maintain aircraft from J-3 Cubs to [Beechcraft] Queenairs, float planes, ski planes, spray planes, all matter of anything that flies. At one time years ago, a DC-3 and a C-47 sat under the windsock. Many a poor man has come, swept floors, stripped paint, plowed runway and taxi-ways, repaired equipment, and got his pilot’s license. Only to go on and help the next guy do the same. I wouldn’t be flying today if it weren’t for Bob Leader.

Planes may help get the next generation excited about aviation; translating that excitement to a new generation of pilots will likely involve the pay-it-forward attitude of pilots like Bob Leaders. Disney’s Planes tells the story of a small-town airplane with a dream. How fitting that an inspiration for it offered many future pilots a chance to follow their own dream.

Postal Service to issue ‘inverted Jenny’ collector stamp

Friday, July 19th, 2013

(c) 2013 U.S. Postal Service

(c) 2013 U.S. Postal Service

Philatelists, start your engines: The U.S. Postal Service plans to issue a collector stamp commemorating “the most famous error in the history of U.S. stamps”: the 1918 misprint that produced an upside-down Curtiss-Jenny biplane.

The reprinted inverted Jenny stamp will be issued Sept. 22 for $2. The original inverted Jenny was issued in 1918 and cost 24 cents. The postal service is using the original engraved dies of the 1918 stamp in the design of the 2013 edition.

If you happen to own one of the originals, good for you. The Postal Service says collectors have accounted for nearly all of the 1oo inverted Jennys that were produced. One recently sold at auction for $625,000.

The 1981 original. (c) 2013 U.S. Postal Service

The 1918 original. (c) 2013 U.S. Postal Service

Propulsion Pushback

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Many pilots are early technology adopters and push the bounds of the possible – so it’s a cruel irony that we, as a group, have been stuck for so long with ancient air-cooled engines that are largely unchanged from the middle of the last century.
The first in our Propulsion series in AOPA Pilot magazine is getting lots of response from pilots eager to move forward.
Commenting on the AOPA Facebook page, Paul Roper puts it bluntly: “One of the most disappointing things I experienced during my foray into general aviation was the ludicrous prices manufacturers would charge for crappy, low-tech, Flintstones-era, underpowered, thirsty, boring engines. Well, not only the prices, but the whole head-in-the-sand attitude to anything invented after about 1950. Carburetors? Pushrod valves? Are we in the Victorian era?”
Others, like AOPA member Terry Welander, have written to take issue with the likely future elimination of leaded avgas:
“Most of the environmentalists have knee jerk reactions whenever the word lead comes up; which is highly ignorant; based on the below facts on the lead and other toxins in the atmosphere from volcanic emissions. There will never be a rational reason to remove the one part per million lead from avgas. Worse, as with practically all past fuel transitions, the increased costs and hidden safety hazards of new fuels not evident until substantial use has been accomplished will likely result in a temporary to intermediate degradation of aircraft safety which is completely unnecessary.”

In case you missed it, here’s the link to the July kickoff article in AOPA Pilot.
Share your thoughts by commenting here.

Dave Hirschman
Senior Editor
AOPA Pilot magazine

The fine art of safety wiring

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

WireSome of the teens who are assembling two Glasair aircraft here in Arlington, Wash., come from a farming community. They’ve had their hands dirty working with tractors and other types of equipment for years.

So when they got their lesson in safety wiring, they made a connection between that and repairing fences. They soon learned that the “safety” in “safety wiring” carries a lot of meaning. It’s there to keep all those moving parts from shaking themselves loose (that’s a simplified explanation, but bear with me, builders, please).

Glasair’s Ben Wat carefully safety wired–and then rewired—the bolts on the propeller hub for one of the Build a Plane aircraft, explaining that aviation mechanics take pride in doing this correctly—no loose twists, no sloppy “pigtails.” Just as pilots endure scrutiny from other pilots, mechanics grade each other’s work, I’m guessing.

This is just a tiny taste of the education the GAMA/Build a Plane crew are receiving as they craft two four-place Experimental airplanes. The pride of workmanship will stay with them long after they return home to Minnesota and Michigan.

Build a Plane builds two planes, Day 4: Ready for the wings

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

Photo courtesy Dustan Muir

Photo courtesy Dustan Muir

The gleaming wings for the first Build a Plane Glasair are laid out on trestles, waiting to be installed, and that is on today’s agenda.

Every artist signs his work, so it makes perfect sense that the high school students participating in the GAMA/Build a Plane project should sign theirs. That’s what they did, affixing signatures beneath the inspection covers. The operators of these aircraft will see these names at every inspection and recall the two weeks spent here in Arlington, Wash., with a great crew of young people. 

I’m wondering if this is a tradition that every builder shares, much like cutting a shirt tail or dumping water on a student pilot at solo. When you’re building your aircraft, there’s more opportunity to personalize or customize it. What could be a greater source of pride than your own signature affixed to your own handiwork?

The NHL, aviation…or both?

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Aiden Muir gets an airplane ride with Build a Plane's Lyn Freeman. Photo courtesy Dustin Muir

Aiden Muir gets an airplane ride with Build a Plane’s Lyn Freeman. Photo courtesy Dustan Muir

One of these days, if you happen to see Aidan Muir, he may be wearing a National Hockey League uniform. The 6-foot-3-inch forward has been playing since he was 8 years old and is ranked 108th in North America.

This week, however, his heart belongs to general aviation, and hockey has been relegated to the background while he helps to assemble a Glasair Sportsman.

Aidan joined three classmates from Saline High School in Saline, Mich., as well as four students from Canby, Minn., after the two teams won an aviation design competition sponsored by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association and Build a Plane. Their prize: an all-expenses-paid trip to Arlington, Wash., to help assemble two airplanes at the Glasair Aviation facility.

After a jam-packed first day working with Glasair mechanics in the company’s Two Weeks to Taxi program, Aidan got an airplane ride yesterday with Build a Plane President Lyn Freeman.

“He loved his ride,” says Aidan’s dad, Dustan, who showed me a cell phone photo his son had sent him. (Dustan is on hand as a chaperone.)

The NHL may lay claim to Aidan some time in the near future. This week and next week, GA is his main focus. And the seed planted this week in Arlington will undoubtedly benefit GA in the future.

Build a Plane builds two planes, Day 3: Nonstop learning

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Ben Rauk (he’s one of three Bens at the Glasair Aviation factory in Arlington, Wash.), starts each day of the Build a Plane/GAMA marathon with a briefing and a “lesson of the day.” Today’s was on safety wiring.

Glasair Aviation's Ben Rauk gives a morning briefing to the Build a Plane participants.

Glasair Aviation’s Ben Rauk gives a morning briefing to the Build a Plane participants.

It might have been totally new territory to the students, but Rauk’s tutorials also proved enlightening to observers who have spent many years in aviation. “I learned something on drilling I didn’t know,” said Mark Van Tine, chief executive officer of Jeppesen, who has been helping to build one of the airplanes. “That’s a nice way to start the day out.”

Glasair and Build a Plane cooperated on the construction of a Sportsman in 2008 with four teens who went through the Two Weeks to Taxi program. This is the first time, however, that the organizations have shepherded eight students working on two airplanes simultaneously. What’s more, a privately owned Sportsman has been in and out of the main hangar while the owner flies off the 40 hours required under the regulations governing homebuilt/experimental aircraft. The near-constant activity in the hangar is a happy soundtrack for general aviation.

A student pilot principal

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

The teens who came to Arlington, Wash., this week to work on two Glasair Sportsman aircraft did not come alone. The students from Saline, Mich., brought their teacher, Ed Redies, and a parent chaperone. The teens from Canby, Minn., brought their teacher, Dan Lutgen, and their principal, Bob Slaba.

Canby High School Principal Bob Slaba (in blue) is a student pilot.

Canby High School Principal Bob Slaba (in blue) is a student pilot.

Slaba is not standing on the sidelines. He’s a student pilot with about 25 hours logged, and he freely credits Dan Lutgen’s passion for aviation as a primary reason why he found himself learning to fly. He soloed in May, and hopes to take his checkride on Aug. 1. So the opportunity to immerse himself in the actual construction of an airplane has been a valuable learning experience for him, as he sees the airplane take shape in front of him. He’s also extremely busy documenting the build for his school’s website.

 He’s obviously a supporter of Saline’s aviation ground school class, but not just because he caught the flying bug. “We have to have kids doing things in life, learning something and having a goal,” he said.

Slaba is proud of the students who have completed Canby’s program and gone on to become private pilots. Soon he’ll join their ranks.

Build a Plane builds two planes, Day 1

Monday, June 17th, 2013

“Get ready to drink from the firehose.”

Can they build an entire airplane in two weeks? Build a Plane is betting they can.

Can they build an entire airplane in two weeks? Build a Plane is betting they can.

If you’re in aviation, you’ve probably heard that phrase before—particularly if you did an accelerated rating or a type rating. Today I heard that phrase applied to the process of building an airplane.

“Building an airplane” and “drinking from the firehose” are generally not concepts that you hear in the same conversation, but when you consider that we’re talking about assembling an Experimental kit in two weeks, it all makes sense.

The kids who took their first deep drink from the firehose today are eight teenagers from high schools in Michigan and Minnesota. They are the winners of an aviation design contest sponsored by Build a Plane and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. School’s out, and they’re here in Arlington, Wash., to spend some quality time with fiberglas, rivets, and bucking bars.

learning about wingsThe day began at 7 a.m. with a briefing at Glasair’s Customer Assembly Center at Arlington Airport. (We should all have hangars this immaculate and organized. Talk about a place for everything and everything in its place!) By the first morning break, the students had begun mounting rudders and installing rudder cables, and mounting the main landing gear and tires. In another corner, fuel lines were being threaded along a wing.

Glasair’s Two Weeks to Taxi program has several years under its belt, and the level of preparation that goes into it is evident. To the casual observer, today looked a little like “organized chaos,” as one observer put it—but it was also apparent that a lot of progress was made. That’s good, because the plan is to get the first of the two airplanes ready to taxi on Wednesday, June 26, and an FAA inspection on Saturday, June 29.

tire on rimWill they make it? Stay tuned as I post updates from Arlington and the progress of the Build a Plane/GAMA projects.

Want to run a flightseeing business like David Snell?

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

David Snell, the entrepreneurial soul who runs Starlight Flights in Dallas, Texas–and that’s just one of his three businesses—says he knew AOPA Pilot readers would be interested in what he does. And he was right.

Since my article on Snell (“2,000 Feet Over Dallas”) was published in the March 2012 issue, I’ve received numerous emails from members wondering how they, too, could get started in the flightseeing business without owning an airplane. Snell, you’ll recall, rents a Cessna 172 (so no operating expenses), and meets clients in the lobby of the FBO from which he purchases fuel (so no brick-and-mortar expenses). He has commercial and flight instructor certificates but has logged thousands of hours without having to, you know, actually flight instruct.

I’ve forwarded all your emails to David since the article ran, but he has graciously consented to provide his email address on this blog for anybody else who wants more details. He warns that April is the busy time for his crawfish business, but I’m pretty sure that his enthusiasm for what he does and his genuine desire to share his knowledge with fellow pilots means he’ll get back to you. And if you’re in the Dallas area, you just might want to hit up one of his crawfish boils, because I’ve seen photos–and they look delicious. Email Snell at dsnell@grandecom.net.