Tom Horne Archive

Have we “weathered” the recession?

Friday, June 5th, 2009

Interesting information today from a phone conversation with Aviation Weather Center Warning Coordination Meteorologist Pat Murphy. The AWC runs the popular Aviation Digital Data Service (ADDS) Web site, which is one of the most popular weather Web sites on the Internet.

How popular? How about 10 to 11 million hits per day! Murphy said that the numbers dropped to 8 to 9 million hits a day back in January through March 2009. Those were the gory days when the economy hit bottom.

But now the gore is turning to glory. The numbers are back up to their former heights. “We think it’s because more people are flying,” Murphy said. Maybe Jim Cramer should ADDS hits to his bag of technical insights.

A studied look at AF 447′s wx

Friday, June 5th, 2009

We’re going through the predictable stages of speculation regarding the Air France 447 crash. Interesting how first theories/rumors are nearly always wrong-and that goes for any airplane crash. But Tim Vasquez, a noted meteorologist in Norman, Oklahoma, has done a masterful job of compiling what data exists concerning the mesoscale situation that AF 447 may have encountered. If you want to see what a classy meteorological case study looks like, check it out online

What’s interesting about Vasquez’s analysis is that the variables seem pretty much ordinary for the inter-tropical convergence zone. CAPE (convective available potential energy–a measure of potential storm severity) values were nowhere near the values we see in midwestern storm complexes. Vasquez estimates cloud tops as being 56,000 feet, which is significant given AF 447′s cruise altitude of 35,000 feet. The worst turbulence may have come after the airplane exited a storm cell.

Data is sparse over the crash region, so Vasquez uses GOES-10 and Meteosat-9 satellite imagery to come up with likely scenarios. His verdict: turbulence was the culprit. But, as always, the jury is still out, and may never come in, unless those voice and data recorders are recovered. My guess is that this will be a landmark accident, in that live data-streaming from the cockpit to ground-based computers will make on-board CVRs and DVRs things of the past.

Europe as GA bellwhether

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

Go ahead and laugh at the alternative powerplants being shown at this year’s AERO convention in Friedrichshafen, Germany. Yeah, they’re tiny and have minimal power outputs. But make no mistake: “Green” is the word over in the Old Country. Cruising along the autobahn, you see entire rooves of farmhouses covered in solar panels. Why? To earn generous energy credits.

In GA applications, I saw several promising powerplant schemes. One, Flight Design’s hybrid electric/Rotax combination, gives you a conventional engine coupled with a 40-hp electric motor. For takeoff, you use the Rotax plus the electric motor. In normal cruise, the electric motor is shut down. Lose your Rotax? The electric engine’s power helps get you to a better forced-landing location than if you had zero power.

Eric Raymond’s Sunseeker solar-powered motorized sailplane has already flown across the U.S., and now Raymond wants to fly his Sunseeker from his home in Zurich to the Pyrenees, and then on to North Africa. Raymond knows solar power. He worked with DuPont’s Solar Challenger in the 1980s. The Sunseeker’s solar panels are covered by a tough protective coating. “If you tried to wax it, the wax wouldn’t stick to it,” Raymond said.

Another neat concept is the solar hangar. Solar power opens and close the hangar door, provides energy to charge batteries, heat and light the hangar, and even preheat engines. Make more energy than you use? Then maybe the Obama administration can come up with a tax plan to credit your eco-savvy.

My guess is that the U.S. will be seeing more of these sorts of new approaches to power generation. The most cynical opinions hold that avgas may go the way of the Dodo bird. Until then, we’re hostage to fluctuating oil prices–and the whims of the oil-producing nations.  The Old Country may be helping to point the way out of that predicament.

For more on our AERO coverage including news reports and videos, see AOPA Online’s Home page:


Green Ipanema

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Green is fashionable these days, but Embraer now makes its Ipanema (the EMB 200 series) agplane in an E96 ethanol-burning version. It uses a modified 320-hp Lycoming IO-540 that has bored-out fuel nozzles for more power than standard-issue IO-540s. As a result, the Ipanema also burns more of that eco-friendly fuel. In the past 40 years of its production, Embraer has sold 1,050 Ipanemas. But since 2004, 50 were all ethanol-burners. These are called EMB 202As.

The River of Meat

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Like meat? Go to Brazil. I’m visiting with Embraer here, and its employees are fond of a certain type of restaurant.

They’re called churrascarias. I think that’s Portugese for “carnivore temple.” You go in, sit down, and pretty soon here comes a waiter with a huge spit of meat. You take a slice. He comes back again. You take another slice. This goes on until you turn on the “no mas” indicator on your table. No kidding. And even then, the guy keeps coming back at what seems like one-minute intervals. It’s a veritable river of meat. This keeps up until you either die of a burst stomach or urgently signal for the bill.

I took home a card showing all the meat cuts. It’s a meat road map. Now I can tell you what I ate: filet mignon, rump ( I don’t speak Portugese, so I just nodded when he said “Lagarto”), neck meat, and hump. That’s the large blister-o-meat on the back of a bull’s neck. Washed it down with a thimble of “43″–a Spanish herb liquere.

Phenom time

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

I’m currently in Brazil, at Embraer’s Sao Jose dos Campos plant. But today I flew on the company shuttle ( a Brasilia) to Embraer’s Gavaio Peixoto airport (SBGP)/factory/flight test center to fly the Phenom 100. The plane I flew was prototype number 1, and loaded with racks of flight test instrumentation. Anyway, the weather was somehat crappy, what with a 500-foot ceiling and torrential rain. It came down in buckets, filling the SBGP water-test trench in seconds. It is summer here, you know.

Aboard were Embraer captain Luiz Cesar, communications strategy advisor Danial Bachmann, and flight test engineer Maximilian Kleinubung. Kleinubung wanted me to do some 5- and 3-degree banked turns for auopilot data, but that wasn’t to be, as we’ll see.

The flight gave me a chance to fly the G1000 Prodigy avionics, which featured a test version of SVS and HITS imagery/cues. Got in two instrument approaches–both in anger (i.e. real IFR weather, not rage at the approaches themselves)–an ILS to Campinas Airport, an an RNAV back into SBGP. There was turbulence, but the P100 rode it well. The onboard Garmin radar served us well, too.

The trip to Campinas was vector-laden and procedurally complicated, and the weather helped in setting me to make peace with the G1000 in a high-workload environment. You can’t beat this kind of dual.

All the vectoring, and a low approach, made us burn up a lot of fuel in the fuel-unfriendly low-altitude environment. So there was no time for stalls or single-engine work. Let along the autopilot data. So it was up to 340 for some cruise numbers, then back to SBGP. In all, a great way to spend the day. And a fine airplane.

By tomorrow, the front is supposed to pass to the northeast, and skies will hopefully clear well enough for those stalls and V1 cuts.


Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

It used to be that reporters used 4 X 8 inch spiral-bound notebooks to jot down information. But after a trip to Border’s, I’ve been trying out Moleskines. (Still don’t know how to pronounce it). The Moleskines have 192 pages to the spiral-bounds’ 70, and they’re built tough. And there’s some neat extras. They have black leather covers, an expandable pocket for holding recipts, business cards, etc., and an elastic band that keeps the Moleskine closed when not in use. There’s a place where you can record your name and address, and even offer a reward if you lose it. At 3 1/2 X 5 1/2 inches they’re also more compact than the old standbys, so you can shove them into a pocket without it sticking out–or the spiral binding snagging. People who see mine ask all about it, then go off and buy their own. A new trend? At about $10 a pop, they ain’t cheap, but they do grow on you. Just a little too small, sometimes.

Weather-mecca in Phoenix

Monday, January 12th, 2009

Sure, the weather is nice in Phoenix, but that’s not why I’m here. I’m at the 89th annual convention of the American Meteorological Society, where a primarily academic crowd of some 4,000 weather professionals are assembled. From 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m, hundreds of seminars are conducted. Most of them this year address climate change, but several discussed some aviation aspects of satellite metorology and lightning forecasting. To someone familiar with aviation conventions, the structure here would seem unusual. Mornings and afternoons are for lectures. A daily briefing comes at 12:30 to 1 p.m. The exhibit hall doesn’t open until 5:30 p.m., and it shuts down at 7:30 p.m. I went to the briefing, which was topped off by a review of the day’s “space weather.” Turns out that space weather–which encompasses solar radiation levels and solar storms–is provided on a daily basis to aircrews flying airliners across Polar routes. The atmosphere is thinnest there, so solar radiation poses a big hazard. Big enough to cause reroutings.

Airlift airport closes: So long, Tempelhof

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

Friday’s the last day for Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport. Sad thing, really.  Regional airliners and general aviation flights will now have to go to far away Schoenefeld Airport–about an hour’s drive, or subway ride, from Berlin’s city center. True, traffic at Tempelhof had slowed since the mid-1970s, when the major airlines left to go to Tegel, another Berlin airport. By the way, Tegel itself is scheduled to close in 2012 or 2013. Meanwhile, Schoenefeld (to be renamed Berlin-Brandenburg International, or BBI) is designated as Berlin’s sole airport. But it’s in no way prepared to handle the influx of new flights that would have used Tegel or Tempelhof.

So add one more to the growing list of the world’s shuttered downtown airports.

We’re covering the Tempelhof closing online, and hope you’ll check out the story and video of an ILS approach (in VFR conditions) that I made to runway 27L last year, as part of our anti-user-fees initiative. Even flew between those apartment buildings, just like the DC-3s and -4s that shot the same gap during the Airlift.

What do you think of this closure? Anybody out there ever flown into Tempelhof, flew in the famous Berlin Airlift to Tempelhof in 1948-49, or served there when it was an Air Force base?

Enjoy these three videos, testimony to a grand airport in world and aviation history.  

Click here if the video won’t play.

Click here if the video won’t play.

Click here if the video won’t play.


Calling all Biker-Pilots!

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

Are you like me? Do you ride a motorcycle and fly small airplanes? If so, you’ve heard a variant of the following question from the unanointed:

“Are you crazy, flying that dinky airplane/riding that motorcycle? Don’t you know you can crack your skull open that way?”

Of course I know. And yet, I do it again and again. Why?

A new book, Bodies in Motion: Evolution and Experience in Motorcycling, by Steven L. Thompson, a good friend and former executive editor of AOPA Pilot, goes into the reasons why we pilots (and motorcycle drivers) are drawn to the kicks of our very special pursuits. And it’s not because we’re crazy. Rather, Thompson posits that our need for psychokinetic thrills is rooted in human evolution. In short, humans evolved from apes, which swung from trees and so became adapted to–and enjoyed the sensations that accompany–the g-forces, hand-eye coordination, and odd attitudes that attend this kind of body-motion. 

Fast-forward to modern man. What kid doesn’t like spinning around until he/she is so dizzy that he/she falls down? Or swinging on “monkey bars”? It’s the same thing when we get older, have a bit more money, and still want to live on the edge. Admit it, you like steep turns–in the air and on the ground. And aerobatics? ‘Nuff said.

Of course, social aspects also creep in, Thompson says. Just as some are drawn to Harleys, some to Suzukis, and some to BMWs, so are some pilots drawn to Bonanzas, Mooneys, Cessnas, or radial-engined classics. But Thompson makes an argument that pure physical sensations are at work, too. In Bodies in Motion, there’s an appendix that quantifies the vibration levels at the handlebars, seats, and foot pegs of various motorcycles. You could do the same study for airplanes, I suspect.

Different strokes for different folks. Whether you like the buzz of a crotch rocket, the purr of a Goldwing, the rumble of a radial, or the shriek of an MU-2, you’re bound to enjoy reading Thompson’s intellectual musings on why we do what we do. They don’t call them “ape-hangers” for nothing!

Check it out at Amazon or Aerostich. $19.95.

P.S. When I’m riding, I like to stick my head down so I can see past the fairing and watch the front wheel pump up and down as it takes the bumps. When flying, I like to look back and sneak a peek at the tail. Looks odd, in a leaving-things-behind kind of way. And takeoffs always give me a charge….