Tom Horne Archive

Cri-Cri, avec photo

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

A while ago I did a post about our upcoming Cri-Cri article. And several of you called me out for not posting a picture of this mini-twin. So here you go! Clear prop!

Cri-Cri, pret a taxi

Europe hates GA, apparently

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

I’ve written extensively in the past about European GA, and why Europeans come to the United States to earn their pilot certificates. Why? Because it’s infinitely less expensive and streamlined–compared to the onerous, bloated, and punishingly expensive European path to certificate-hood. You thought Euro-user fees were bad? How about spending $15,000 to get a private pilot certificate across the pond?

Now, a new European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) proposal would end all that. No more reciprocation between the US and Europe, goes the plan. You might be able to get European validation of your U.S. pilot certificate right now. But in two years, if you want to fly in Europe you’ll have to earn one of their certificates. It would mean the end of a long, happy (until now) tradition of US–and European!–pilots flying GA aircraft for vacation and business purposes in Europe.

But wait, there’s more! EASA wants to rid the European Community of N-registered airplanes too. Soon, the common practice of Euro-pilots registering their airplanes with a US N-number will end if the proposals go through. Europeans realize considerable savings by flying airplanes with an “N-reg.” Lord knows they need to save as much as they can if GA flying is to continue, what with $20-per-touchdown landing fees and $8 per gallon fuel costs.

The impetus for all this xenophobic regulatory activity? Why, to garner more fees and pump up an already-Byzantine regulatory culture. Thanks to all those centuries of Kings, Queens, Lords, Barons, Viceroys, Dukes, “vons,” and landed gentry, Europeans seem not able to shake the inclination to submit to the state.

Pilot und Flugzeug, a German aviation magazine, has posted three scenarios on the potential outcome of the EASA proposals. Here’s a link to editor Jan Brill’s musings on the impact:

As always, IAOPA and AOPA-US are on top of this issue. Let’s hope that this trans-Atlantic GA force rises to the task. Europe–well, EASA anyway–seems to hate GA. Let’s not turn the other cheek.

The Cri-Cri: “Nickel-chrome”

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

Last weekend I was up visiting the Pendleton, Ontario, Canada airport. A friend there, David Smith, owns a Cri-Cri–claimed to be the smallest twin-engine airplane in the world, and we made photos and videos of this remarkable airplane. Look for a story about the Cri-Cri in an upcoming issue of AOPA Pilot–complete with web components featuring in-cockpit views of Cri-Cri aerobatics.

Pendleton used to be a World War II training base, but the Canadian government sold the airport to the 100-member Gatineau Gliding Club and now it’s a very nice airport community. Cabins, mobile homes, a clubhouse with in-ground swimming pool–it’s all there, nestled among the birches and pines of this rural site.

Photographer Chris Rose and I stayed in Smith’s house at Pendleton. In the 1940s it used to be the base commander’s residence. But last weekend it was home to Smith’s family and a visitor from Montreal–Francois Bougie. Bougie flew his Swift to Pendleton to watch us work gathering images for the story.

It’s easy to be taken in by the Cri-Cri. It’s cute on the ground, but can be aggressive in the air. As the videos will show. Bougie’s enthusiasm came with a Quebecois twist. Like most who live in Quebec, his patter could switch instantly from English to French-Canadian. Ditto Smith. I envy them this rapid-fire bilinguality.

Rose was all over the place taking his photos and videos. At one point he got on the roof of a hangar to get a straight-down shot of the Cri-Cri. Bougie was with him. When he saw the shot played back in Rose’s viewfinder, he exclaimed, “C’est du Nickel-Chrome, la!”

Say what? Smith and I were baffled by this phrase (it means, well, nickel-chrome, but is pronounced–no, shouted–with a heavy French accent). Turns out “nickel-chrome” is a popular phrase among the youth of Quebec. It means “super-duper,” “top notch,” “most excellent,” etc.

You guessed it, the phrase caught on. Soon, it was nickel-chrome this or that. Now it’s an in-joke among the dozen or so who watched the photo shoot. When you see the article and imagery, maybe you, too, will be moved to blurt out “nickel-chrome!” and flick away an imaginary cigarette with the mock disdain of  a French-Canadian imitating a Frenchman from the continent.

The greenhouse effect

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

I’ve been flying this week with an AOPA staff pilot, getting instrument-current, as well as logging my biennial and annual flight reviews. (The latter is a requirement for AOPA staff pilots). We’ve been flying AOPA’s Diamond DA-40. This is a great-handling airplane that’s capable of 145-knot cruise speeds and serves well as an instrument platform. It’s also a wonderful training device for boning up on your Garmin G1000 knobology, and perfecting your autoflight techniques. No wonder so many flight training schools use the DA40.

But–and it’s a big but–we’ve been having record-setting temperatures in the Mid-Atlantic states this week. The sun’s been beating down to the tune of 95 degrees some days. Today we’re supposed to hit 98 degrees. The heat indices are topping 100 degrees. Global warming, anyone?

How does this relate to the DA40? European manufacturers are big on big canopies. And that’s a very wise design choice in terms of visibility. But ground operations can make for a sauna-like cabin. Sure, cracking open the canopy helps, but the mid-90s are the mid-90s. And it’s definitely not a dry heat. In flight, the DA40’s huge wemacs help with cabin air flow, but the fact remains. Euro-airplanes like the DA40, the Robin series, the Socata singles and others place a premium on windshield area. European weather is a creature of all that maritime air that surrounds the continent, hence the cloudy, rainy climate across the pond.  European designers were definitely not thinking of operations in, say, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, or anywhere in the southern tier of states. Places where massive, stagnant summer highs park themselves over a huge, baking land mass.

Is all that visibility worth the sauna trade-off? Probably–if you have TIS or some other means of traffic detection. Because when flying the G1000 through instrument procedures you’re heads-down–big time!

Here comes the sun…Oh, no!

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

Yesterday a pesky warm front trudged through the Mid-Atlantic states, heralded by low stratus. Morning temps were in the 60s in central Maryland, and it was plenty humid, of course. Things heated up by late afternoon, but not by much. A sole, random break in the clouds sent a shaft of sunlight earthward, and for a moment all seemed cheerier.

But no! As I’ve seen many times–from above and below–that sunlight warmed up the lower atmosphere and destabilized the air. The shaft of sunlight disappeared, only to be replaced by dark skies and heavy rain. A check of the satellite and radar imagery showed that that bit of sun kicked off a modest buildup. Yet more proof that sunny skies may not always mean good weather!

Prepping for show time

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Next week I’m set to give a presentation at the Pilatus Owners and Pilots Association (POPA) convention in Tulsa. My topic: Accident Insights. With the emphasis on recent PC-12 accidents.

This ought to be interesting. Telling PC-12 owners how they went wrong. Let’s see, in 2009 there were three fatal PC-12 accidents: a CFIT, a loss-of-control after an avionics malfunction, and a mysterious crash in Montana after an unexplained diversion. That Montana crash caused 14 fatalities. Hmmm, the airplane only had eight cabin seats. What can I say about these accidents? That’s what I’m mulling over. And hanging over all of this is the rumor that the parents of two of the Montana victims will be in the audience.

We’ll probably never know the direct cause for the avionics-related and Montana crashes. But the CFIT is a bit easier to understand. The pilot started the day in Akron, flew to Teterboro, worked a full day, then flew to Lubbock TX for a fuel stop, then on to Santa Fe. That’s where he hit the mountains shrouded in darkness–in good VFR weather. He’d been up for 17 hours. Oh, and he’d been diagnosed with ADHD, for which he took amphetamines. Though he didn’t report this on his airman medical exam form, it came out in the investigation. Even so, the NTSB said the probable cause was fatigue.

So, there’s a peek into 10 slides of the powerpoint. There are 44 more, but you’ll have to go to the POPA convention (it’s June 3-5, at the Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center) to see those. But back to the question. What to say about these recent fatals? How about: technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, but we persist in crashing because of poor judgment–and perhaps a deterioration of basic flying skills in spite of fancy avionics. That Santa Fe CFIT pilot had to be staring at three huge display screens. All of them bright red, backed up with a voice urging “terrain, pull up!”

Apex, in flight

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Well, my time at SimCom’s Orlando facility is over, and my 11 hours of simulator time flying the PC-12 NG’s Apex avionics has opened my eyes. After a halting start, the procedures became more intuitive–in spite of all those different data entry methods I mentioned in my earlier “Controls for Control Freaks” blog. Do I know the Apex inside-out? No sir, there’s way too much functionality in the Apex to conquer it in a mere week. With 25 hours flying beside an Apex whiz? That’s the way to Apex independence. 

One of those whizzes would be Peter Duncan, Pilatus’ chief pilot. Duncan can make the Apex sing, as I observed first-hand in a PC-12 NG trip from AOPA’s home field at Frederick, Maryland to the airport at Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Of course, the airplane behaves much better than the simulator, which was a relief. Another relief came in the form of yet another method of data entry–Pilatus’ new cursor control device (CCD). The CCD lives at the base of the center pedestal, where it “falls easily to hand,” as the hackneyed phrase goes.

Within the CCD is a trackball, a scroll wheel, and “enter” keys. Instead of using the old joystick method of navigating the Apex’s display screens–and watching the cursor careen all over the place–the CCD lets you move the cursor more smoothly and precisely. I’m told the CCD is a $35,000 option, but I’m betting that most customers will spring for it. And relegate the joystick to backup data-entry status.

During our hour-long flight, Duncan worked the Apex like a maestro–trackballing, scrolling and clicking at lightning speed. Soon, we were at Lancaster, on the RNAV GPS approach to runway 26. Weather was something like 3,000 overcast and 6+, but we did a missed approach to show off just one of Apex’s very cool features: the autopilot flying the entire missed approach procedure. At the MAP, just click off the autopilot, hit the go-around button to get the flight director command bars, apply takeoff power, then hit the “Nav” button on the glareshield-mounted flight control panel. The airplane then flies the entire missed approach procedure, complete with holding pattern. Oh, did I forget to mention that the Apex automatically tacks the missed approach procedure onto the end of every flight plan?

There’s much more to say about the Apex, but it can’t be adequately addressed in a blog. Watch AOPA Pilot for an upcoming article on the Apex, and for a short video clip or two of the Apex in action.

Controls for the control freaks

Monday, May 10th, 2010

I’m currently at Simcom-Orlando, taking a Pilatus PC-12 NG transition course. And the name of the game is Apex, as in Honeywell”s Apex avionics suite. That’s the “NG” (Next Generation) in the since-2008 PC-12 models.

 Like different data-entry methods? You’ll love the Apex.

Push-and-turn knobs? Apex has ’em. Ditto rotary knobs, keypads, line select keys, point-and-click–they’re all here. Oh, and don’t forget the mini-joystick, for maneuvering around the two multifunction displays. I think that every possible method of data entry is represented in the Apex design philosophy. Plus, many data entries can be accomplished by more than one  strategy.  Can you say “heads-down”?

Which makes for a steep learning curve, my brothers and sisters. Today I supped at the fire-hose dinner. Will tomorrow be better? Hope so. By Friday I should be a pro and pointing, clicking, twisting, pushing, and highlighting. That’s what they tell me.

One thing’s for sure. The airplane is a whale of a lot easier to run than the avionics. At least, from this day-one perspective.

The chopper pilot pays a call

Monday, March 15th, 2010

Those of you who liked the March AOPA Pilot’s story–and there were a lot, judging by my inbox–on the Virginia Beach, Virginia police helicopter unit may be interested to know that the pilot featured in the article (“Eyes in the Sky”) paid a visit to AOPA headquarters. David Cook was taking some time off, and flew from his home field in Norfolk to FDK. And no, he didn’t fly the Bell 407 he flies on duty. Instead, he flew his personal Cherokee 140.

MPO Dave Cook, Virginia Beach Police Dept.
MPO Dave Cook, Virginia Beach Police Dept. (center),
with ‘AOPA Pilot’ Editor in Chief Tom Haines (left) and
‘AOPA Pilot’ Editor at Large Tom Horne (right)

I gave Cook the “dollar” tour, which included the chance to meet with all the AOPA Pilot and Flight Training staffers, plus stops at each of AOPA’s divisions. He was an especially big hit in the Membership Department, where a few staffers postively swarmed Cook. “I’m not a celebrity!” Cook protested. But never mind. In the end, he lent his autograph to staffer Kim Lee’s copy of the March issue.

Then it was over to the “Airway Inn”, the airport restaurant. He had a club sandwich. I had a burger. Then he was off to Kentucky to meet his relatives, taking with him the extra magazines we gave him–and a couple of poster-sized covers of the March issue. A half-hour later I called up his N-number on He was over Martinsburg, WV, doing 107 knots and no doubt wearing a smile.

The power of small conversation

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

Last year I gave a presentation at an aviation weather workshop in Columbia, South Carolina. Among the attendees were representatives from the National Weather Service, the major airlines, educators, local governments, and weather-media types like me.

Sitting behind me was Christy Henderson, chief meteorologist at WSPA-TV in Spartanburg, South Carolina. We struck up a conversation. She said she had always wanted to learn to fly, but never followed up. I assured her that becoming a pilot requires neither superhuman intellect nor strength–just a committed desire.

The conversation went on to topics like weather web sites, plus of course AOPA’s web site. We swapped business cards, and I thought, well, that’s that.

A week ago I got an e-mail and a phone call from Christy. My few words of encouragement had apparently had an immense effect. Christy soloed!

So never, ever underestimate the power of even the slightest encouragement. As one of my meteorology professors once said of the dangers to the brain of acquiring bad weather analysis practices, “be very, very careful what you put in there, because it may never come out.”

The same can be said of the power of positive suggestion. “Your life will change in ways you can’t now anticipate,” I told her. Here’s a shot of Christy shortly after her solo. Those of you in the Spartanburg-Greenville-Anderson SC–and Asheville NC–areas can see her live on Channel 7.

Christy Henderson after her first solo.