Tom Horne Archive

Last stop: Nagoya and Kyoto

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

It was an easy two-hour trip from Taipei to Jeju, South Korea, and the day spent at Jeju gave the touring group of pilots a chance to see a volcanic caldera and check out the Shilla Hotel’s private beach. I’d never heard of the place before, but Jeju is a big tourist destination and has a huge modern airport to prove it.

But this trip is all about the flying so today we flew from Jeju to Nagoya, Japan. Jeju was hot and foggy at the surface for today’s departure but we picked up 50-knot tailwinds at the Mustang’s cruising altitude of 33,000 feet. Groundspeeds hit the 350-knot mark a couple of times. As a result we landed at Nagoya in just under two hours.

After that it was a bullet-train ride to Kyoto, where the group will see the sights. Then my Mustang flying comes to an end–for now, anyway–on Saturday morning. That’s when I head to Tokyo on the bullet train and board a flight back home.

Hope you got at least a bit of a feel for the experience, but an upcoming issue of AOPA Pilot will have a feature story on the same trip, and give you a more expansive look at the experience. Thanks to those of you who followed along, thanks to all the great new acquaintances I made during this unforgettable time, and for those of you who want to continue following the group as they make their way through Russia and back to United States, remember to follow Air Journey’s blog.

The route from Jeju to Nagoya. The green shading indicates high-altitude turbulence, and indeed there was some. About 60 nm from Nagoya we had to deviate around a thunderstorm, but that was about it for the weather enroute.

The route from Jeju to Nagoya. The green shading indicates high-altitude turbulence, and indeed there was some. About 60 nm from Nagoya we had to deviate around a thunderstorm, but that was about it for the weather enroute.


Here’s a sample of just some of the material reviewed during the previous night’s pilot briefing. Good material for armchair flying!

Briefing Jeju – Nagoya


The Women Pilots of Air Journey’s RTW

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

Of the nine pilots flying the current legs of Air Journey’s around the world (RTW) voyage, two are women. One, Laura Azara, plans to file for a record flight: the youngest female pilot to complete an around the world trip in an unmodified airplane–a Pilatus PC-12NG.

Yes, Amelia Earhart–no, not that Amelia Earhart–recently claimed an around-the-world record for being the youngest female pilot to reach that goal, and in a PC-12 NG to boot. But the latter Earhart made her flight using a PC-12NG fitted with ferry fuel tanks. And while she may have been the youngest to do the flight, Azara is even younger–by a mere three days. On the RTW trip Azara flies with Jimmy Hayes in his PC-12.

Laura Azara, copying  her clearance to depart Taiwan's Taoyuan Airport.

Laura Azara, copying her clearance to depart Taiwan’s
Taoyuan Airport.

Corinna Hettinger is the second female pilot. She has a private pilot certificate and logs time flying the Sierra-modified Cessna Citation ISP owned by her and husband Bill. She learned to fly in a Cessna 152 and in her 25 years of flying, she’s flown a series of Piper piston singles, then upped her game to serving as co-pilot in the Piper Navajo the couple have owned. These days, she’s riding shotgun and making contrails in the ISP at FL430.

Corinna and Bill Hettinger prepare to board their Citation.

Corinna and Bill Hettinger prepare to board their Citation.

Meanwhile, Betty Schlacter, while not a pilot, might as well be. She’s been flying with husband David for the past 65 hours in the TBM 850 the couple are using on the RTW trip. She’s attended a number of pinch-hitter courses, and learned a lot from right-seat experience. The skills she’s learned over the years make her very adept at working the GPS and other navigation equipment, as well as making radio calls. In the polyglot world of around the world flying that’s saying a lot.


Slots and Heat

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

For yesterday’s departure from Hong Kong each airplane in the group was assigned a slot. These ranged from 7:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. so it was important for us to all get to the airport well in advance. Hong Kong, with departures occurring at what must be one-minute intervals, is a very, very busy place.

In any event, our carefully allotted slot times didn’t work out as planned. Like many big airports overseas, at Hong Kong you have to call up clearance delivery, then ground control to get an engine start time. The first time I called up, I was told to expect a 10-minute wait for engine start. Ten minutes came and went, and the next callup said it would be 15 minutes. Then 20 minutes. Then 25 minutes.

This was bad not just because of the takeoff delay, but because of the weather. It was a soggy, rainy, 90-degree morning, so everyone ended up soaked in sweat waiting for permission to start. We didn’t dare start the engines so we could sit there indefinitely, even though that would have given us air conditioning. It would eat up fuel.

Finally, permission was granted. A half-hour taxi ensued, then our Mustang was finally cleared for takeoff. It was 10:30 a.m.

The intial takeoff and climb performance was OK, with climb rates of 2,000 fpm or so. But the much higher than standard temperature conditions (ISA +19 degrees) meant that to keep decent climb rates we’d have to use ever-slower airspeeds. Eventually we levelled off at FL330 (we gave up on cruising at the originally-filed FL370, feeling that it would take us too long to reach it). Coming up on the target altitude, the Mustang’s climb rate was down to 500 fpm owing to the heat’s adverse effects on engine power output.

Less power available also meant a slower cruise speed than typical–315 instead of 340 KTAS. All these factors turned what normally would have been a 1.5 hour trip into a 2 hour event. We landed at Taipei’s Tao Yuan International Airport at 12:30 p.m. Later in the day there was an outing to a huge electronics store, and today the group visited a Tao temple, Chiang Kai Shek’s memorial, the National Revolutionary Martyrs’ Shrine–for those who died fighting warlords, communists, and the Japanese in the period from the 1920s to the late 1940s.

But this trip is all about getting there, so there’s another briefing tonight for tomorrow’s trip to Jeju, South Korea.

Here’s a view of our route:

The route to Jeju may involve some rain showers and convection. That's tropical weather in the summer for you!

The route to Jeju may involve some rain showers and convection. That’s tropical weather in the summer for you!

Here’s some shots from yesterday’s flight:

Waiting for engine start on the ramp at Hong Kong's Business Aviation Center. There's a Signature FBO here!

Waiting for engine start on the ramp at Hong Kong’s Business Aviation Center, with a big downpour on the way.

Baking in the heat, waiting for engine-start permission so I can close the door and start up. Outside the western world, general aviation pilots will find that  wearing a pilot uniform will mean bring better influence and respect.

Baking in the heat, waiting for engine-start permission so I can close the door and start up. 

The Mustang's G1000 MFD shows us enroute to Taipei, and more than halfway there.

The Mustang’s G1000 MFD shows us enroute to Taipei, and more than halfway there.

Two of the group's airplanes tied down on the ramp at Taipei.

Three of the group’s airplanes tied down on the ramp at Taipei–a Twin Commander, A Citation ISP, and a PC-12NG


Next Stop: Taipei

Friday, July 11th, 2014

It’s late here (10:30 p.m.) and we have departure slots reserved for tomorrow morning, so it will be a 5:00 a.m. wakeup for the trip to the airport. The trip from Hong Kong (VHHH) to Taipei (RCTP) should take us about 1.5 hours in the Mustang, and I thought I’d share a screen shot of our anticipated route before hitting the rack.

WSI's app, showing the planned route. Note how it studiously avoids mainland China.

WSI’s app, showing the planned route. Note how it studiously avoids mainland China.

Hong Kong Rendez-Vous

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

Six short years ago, I was lucky enough to join up with Air Journey’s first around-the-world (RTW) escorted tour. For those who want to check that out, select the “North Atlantic Crossing” category to the right. Back in 2008, I flew with Air Journey from Quebec City, Canada to Paris. This year the fates have once again smiled upon me. But this time I’m joining the biennial trip nearer the end of the odyssey–one with legs that begin in Hong Kong and end in Kyoto, Japan. And this time I’ll be flying with Air Journey president Thierry Pouille in his Cessna Mustang.

By the way, Air Journey has earned a well-deserved reputation as a provider of escorted tours to most parts of the world. Pilot-customers do the flying, and Air Journey does the grunt work of obtaining overflight permits, arranging for handling and transfers, filing flight plans, and oh yes, providing for most meals and tours at each stop. To learn more about the company visit their website and to read their blogs about previous legs in this year’s RTW trip go to their blog section and also at

There are four other airplanes in this year’s RTW group: A Citation 501 with Sierra Industries’ Williams-engine conversion, flown by Bill and Corinna Hettinger; David and Betty Schlacter’s TBM 850; a Pilatus PC-12NG, owned by Jimmy Hayes and flown by Hayes and Laura and Danny Azara; and Brad and Deborah Howard’s Twin Commander 690B. Several other participants have flown along in these airplanes as they made their way eastward, on intermediate legs.

For me, the big attraction this time is that I’ll be swapping legs with Thierry and logging some more jet time in the process. In some pretty exotic airspace. But of course, there is the quality tourism as well.

But first things first. Before there would be any east Asian general aviation flying, I had to make my way to Hong Kong. Let’s just say that this was a grueling 20-hour slog on the airlines. The 14-hour leg from San Francisco to Hong Kong made it seem like time had stood still. Sleep? Faggedaboutit. But I did watch a feature on Marvel Comics–two times!–something with the title “Winter Soldier” in it, a Big Bang Theory episode, a feature on weird pets–two times!–plus another short feature on how not to get scammed, and another movie–The Grand Budapest Hotel. I think.

It was, in short, a kind of exercise in physical and psychological duress. But what’s the alternative? Charter a Gulfstream? Ain’t gonna happen. Besides, it would still take nearly as many hours.

This is why, after this trip, I am now convinced that the idea of a supersonic business jet is a viable one.

It was 8 p.m. by the time I arrived at Hong Kong’s The Peninsula Hotel. Like every hotel Air Journey uses, The Peninsula is first-rate. It offers what to me is an embarrassment of amenities. Like a ride from the airport to the hotel in a chauffered Rolls-Royce. Or perhaps you’d like to be shuttled by their helicopter to the hotel’s rooftop helipad. You get the idea.

I am still badly jet-lagged, but today I went with the group for a guided tour of Hong Kong. This included a visit to Victoria Peak, Hong Kong’s highest point, a harbor tour in a 16-man sampan, and much more. Hong Kong, once a British colony, is in a transitional phase, on its way to being integrated into the Peoples’ Republic of China. It’s a hot, humid, crowded, busy place, full of construction. Once known for its manufacturing, it’s now a center for banking and shopping, shopping, shopping.

I’ll have more updates in the coming days, but for now here are some shots from today:

The view from Victoria Peak

The view from Victoria Peak


This year's RTW group

This year’s RTW group

Your ride from the airport. This OK?

Your ride from the airport. This OK?

...Or maybe you'd like to take the Eurocopter? Seen here on the rooftop heliport.

…Or maybe you’d like to take the Eurocopter? Seen here on the rooftop heliport.

Welcome to The Peninsula, your lordship

Welcome to The Peninsula, your lordship

A penthouse suite. Yours for $15,600 a night. And while Jackie Chan may have stayed here, none of the group is.

One of the rooms in a penthouse suite. Yours for $15,600 a night. And while Jackie Chan may have stayed here, none of the group is.

Stay tuned. We depart for Taipei, Taiwan on Saturday, and the preflight briefing should be interesting. Thankfully typhoon Neoguri is moving well out of the picture, having moved away from Japan. But this morning was IMC here, with bands of heavy rain showers, low ceilings, and plenty of fog and mist.

Skew-T fever

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

In last month’s AOPA Pilot I wrote my Wx Watch column about some of the dynamics behind frontal formation ( It’s a complicated subject but I tried to explain it as simply as possible given the space available. Believe me, entire volumes have been written on the subject.

My whole idea behind Wx Watch is to provide a mix of practical information with occasional introductions to some advanced concepts. Concepts that can help further an understanding of how weather works, as well as help better understand briefing products (such as Convective Outlooks). I take the same approach when giving my presentations on aviation weather at AOPA Summit. The audiences seem to enjoy knowing more about the weather than is provided in traditional pilot training materials. Seems logical to me. After all, we fly in it–be it good VMC or miserable IMC. Besides, weather-related accidents tend to have a disproportionate level of fatal outcomes.

And yet, the private pilot knowledge exam has remarkably few questions on weather. Last I checked, you could get all eight weather questions wrong, and still pass. No wonder pilots feel that weather is their weakest subject–a feeling that often can persist throughout a flying career. That said, I think that, at heart, most pilots want to know more. They ask questions that indicate an intellectual curiosity. But tune out when the explanations come.

Some are apparently defensive about this. One member wrote to say that the front formation article was aimed at meteorologists, and too esoteric to be of any practical use, adding that he is a VFR-only pilot. Oh, the irony.

Then there are those wanting more. One member wrote to ask for more coverage of Skew-T Log-P charts. Another wanted more talk about things like convergence, divergence, and vorticity. Proof that our membership is a diverse batch indeed.

Those not feeling the urge to better their understanding of weather may think of it as existing in the realm of entertainment. I like a good “there I was” or “Never Again” yarn as much as anyone. But many of them serve as poor substitutes for learning experiences. Sometimes you get the idea that these first-person accounts come from pilots who were genuinely surprised by horrific weather–even though its occurrence could have been predicted during the preflight phase. That is, if the pilot knew where to look, and what signs to watch.

So where do you stand? Do explanations of weather dynamics have a place in discussions of aviation weather, or do generalizations suffice? I suppose the answer is a mix of both. But for the squeamish, be forewarned: A Skew-T chart will appear in October’s Wx Watch! It will show a temperature profile of freezing rain, and there will be no quiz!



Volts to the Rescue?

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Let there be no doubt: Anti-noise and anti-carbon-footprint forces have teamed up with escalating fuel prices to make for challenging times. The future of general aviation may well depend on a new, cleaner, renewable source of power–electricity. Today, electrically-powered aircraft are in their infancy, but this is bound to change. As newer generations of lithium batteries continue to boast longer flight times, shorter charging times, and the ultimate in green technology–charging via electricity generated by solar cells–takes hold, it’s time to take electric aircraft seriously.

Tian Yu, Chairman of Shanghai-based Yuneec International, parlayed his fortune as a manufacturer of electrically-powered, remote-control toy airplanes, helicopters and cars into real airplanes such as the GreenWing International eSpyder and two-seat e430. Now, the eSpyder has been certified in Europe under Germany’s expansive ultralight rules as set out by the Deutscher Ultraleichtflugverband (DULV)–a branch of tthat nation’s Federal Ministry of Transport. U.S. Light Sport Aircraft certification is on track to follow, and more European and other nations are bound to reciprocate as well.

For a complete report on the state of the electric-aircraft movement, be sure to check out AOPA Pilot’s latest report on engine technology entitled “Electric Instead” in the September issue–and already released in digital form.

What are your thoughts on the subject? Are electrically-powered aircraft a passing fashion, or do they hold real promise for what could be a new technology that helps preserve general aviation’s future?


Wings Over Afghanistan

Friday, June 21st, 2013

Do we have great AOPA Sweepstakes winners, or what? If you recall, airline pilot and AOPA member Eric Short won 2011’s “Crossover Classic” Sweepstakes. He’s now the proud owner of that terrific airplane–a fully restored, totally modernized 1974 Cessna 182M. But Eric’s son, Allen, also flies the airplane. But probably not as much as he’d like.

That’s because Allen is a Captain in the U.S. Air Force. He’s based at Offutt AFB in Nebraska but deploys to Afghanistan, where he flies RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft. The RC-135 is a highly modified variant of Boeing’s C-135 Stratolifter. The Air Force gives Allen’s ships the “RIVET JOINT” handle. They perform signals intelligence and electronic warfare missions. Here’s what a RIVET JOINT looks like:


On one of his missions, Allen took along an American flag. Just yesterday, a package was resting against my front door. It was from Offutt, so I knew it had to be from Allen.

Inside was the flag, a certificate, and three patches. One patch bore the logo of the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, one represented the USAF Central Command, and one was for the 763rd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron. As a weather nut, I especially liked 763rd’s patch. It says “Always On The Hunt,” and has a sun with two sundogs. Sundogs–or parhelions–are halos in the form of a colored spot, at the same angular elevation as the sun.

When I delivered the Cessna to the Shorts, it was to an airport near Offutt. I gave checkouts to both Eric and Allen, and on Allen’s ride I happened to look up and see sundogs. “Hey, look, sundogs,” I said, to which Allen responded “that’s our unit’s nickname.” And now I have a Sundog patch. Cool.

Ther certificate reads:

“This American flag was proudly flown for AIRCRAFT OWNERS AND PILOTS ASSOCIATION aboard an RC-135 RIVET JOINT Reconnaissance Aircraft, tail number 62-4132, over the hostile skies of Afghanistan in support of OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM on the 5th day of June, 2013, by the men and women of the 763rd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron.

Allen E. Short, Captain USAF

Aircraft Commander”

Now here’s a look at the flag, certificate, and patches:

Part of Capt. Short's payload over Afghanistan

Part of Capt. Short’s payload over Afghanistan

Thanks so much Allen, and here’s hoping we meet you and your father at AOPA Summit this October in Fort Worth.


Debonair Sweeps: Panel Sneak-Peek

Friday, November 30th, 2012

N232L Radio Panel

N232L Radio Panel – click to see bigger image.

Ok, so the last Debonair post was a tad troubling…I mean, will that torn-up old instrument panel really make the leap to state-of-the-art?

Fear not! Santa Fe Aero Services has come up with a plan. And a drawing that shows their vision of the Deb’s panel-to-be. Click on the accompanying image and it will enlarge.

Take a look at the illustration and see if you like what’s planned. It’s a display-rich panel with a clean look and a load of new avionics. Again, check for subsequent posts–and the sweepstakes article in the January issue of AOPA Pilot magazine–for updates.

But for now I just wanted to give you a peek into the very near future. What do you think?

Debonair Sweeps: No Turning Back!

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012


The Debonair Sweeps' gutted panel

Yikes! The Debonair Sweeps’ gutted panel


I’ve shepherded three AOPA Sweepstakes airplanes through their restorations, and there’s something that shocks me each time.

What is it? It’s seeing a photo like one posted here! Yep, this is the stage where all the old avionics have been yanked, and then unceremoniously tossed or traded in to the avionics shop for credit (what little that might represent) against their labor.

But look at it…chaos incarnate. NO WAY the old panel is ever coming back! The point of no return has passed!

Even though you may intellectually grasp the idea, at this stage of a panel restoration the mind cannot fathom the concept of a full-on upgrade. How can any normally-endowed person have the ability to put things right after seeing such a mess of wires and gaping holes? You or I couldn’t, of course. So take a look, ladies and gentlemen: The Humpty-Dumpty metaphor, made manifest!

Good thing that Santa Fe Aero Services has been there, done that. Many times over. Before long, we’ll see a three-screen Aspen Avionics installation, along with Garmin’s GTN 750 and GTN 650 navigators, an Alpha Systems angle of attack indicator, an R.C. Allen backup attitude indicator, a PS Engineering PMA8000BT audio panel, a CO Guardian carbon monixide detector, a JP Instruments EDM 900 engine and systems monitor, and much, much, much more. Like a panel-mounted iPad Mini, USB charging ports, and new annuciators.

Check out the January 2013 issue of AOPA Pilot for more information about the Debonair Sweeps’ panel transformation.

And don’t worry. The gutted-panel look may prompt despair, but that will fade as the new panel springs, Phoenix-like, into the 21st century.