Ian Twombly Archive

Are student pilots declining?

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Student pilot numbers are down, and will continue to be if the FAA is correct. The agency released its annual aviation forecast recently, where it said that student pilot numbers peaked this century at 94,420 in 2001. As you might expect, they’ve been in decline ever since, with an estimated 80,989 this year.

That in and of itself is news, but the forecast was created to, well…forecast. The good folks at the FAA expect student pilot numbers to hit a low of 72,050 in 2010 before rebounding to a high of 86,600 in 2025. That’s some sobering, bad news. But there’s a silver lining, actually two silver linings. The first is that the forecast is notoriously wrong so we shouldn’t believe it. Although, now that I say that I remember that it’s usually overly optomistic. Ugh. The second silver lining is that sport pilots are expected to multiply like wildfire, from only 2,623 last year to more than 20,000 by 2025. Will it happen? Refer to the statement above.

So what does the future hold for GA? Will those of us who are left be flying more, thereby negating the negative economic and political impacts? Or will all the baby boomers give up their medicals and fly an LSA at four gallons an hour on the weekend?

Personally, I’m taking the head-in-the-sand approach and will continue on as if GA is doing great. Kids will always love airplanes, adults will always need a safe, expeditious way to get from point A to point B, and weekend warriors will always need a break from life for a few hours. But that’s not to say we shouldn’t be proactive. I cringe when I think of all the students who have fallen off the FAA roll, driven away by a lousy flight school or selfish CFI. Hopefully they (we) will wake up one day and realize we can’t take this great thing we have for granted.

Congratulations Karoline!

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

Congratulations to Karoline Amodeo, the winner of the 2008 Get Your Glass Sweepstakes Piper Archer. While I didn’t get to see Karoline’s reaction to the award live, I did get the opportunity to welcome her back to New York and take her flying in her new airplane.

Although most people would probably be timid about flying a new airplane for the first time, Karoline was not in the slightest. She jumped in, threw on her new headset, and went for it. Being an ATC student, she obviously had no trouble with the radios. We took off in strong winds and she did great, despite a lack of currency. We flew north over Hyde Park, New York, home to the Culinary Institute of America and a Vanderbilt house. She pointed them out as we flew along. Then she turned south, admiring the view and commenting on what a great day it was to fly. When we arrived back at the airport, Karoline told me she wanted to do three touch and gos to get current, which she did with ease. When we pulled in to the ramp at Richmor Aviation, she kept talking about how easy the airplane was to fly.

After our focus on the glass panel and our work on the engine, paint, and interior, she seemed to hardly notice any of it. It was hard for me not to get busy teaching her all about the advanced avionics. But I wanted her to enjoy the moment, which clearly she did. I’m sure as the days go by and she comes down from cloud nine it will start to sink in that she has a special airplane.

Shutting down I knew it was all over. The 18 months of work for hundreds of people at AOPA, the shops, and the contributors had come to a close. It was a moment of transition. Karoline became a proud airplane owner, having woken up that day thinking she’d simply be taking the airlines home from Atlanta after the Women in Aviation Conference. And the rest of us made our way back to Frederick, happy for Karoline and her wonderful family. I’ll miss the airplane. It may not have been fast or flashy, but Karoline is thrilled to have it, and that makes all the work worth it. Congratulations Karoline.

Fly with the brothers

Friday, February 20th, 2009

The footage below is certainly something I’ve never seen, and I would venture to say 99 percent of other pilots haven’t either. It dates back to 1909 when the Wright brothers did a demonstration in Italy. And while the Wrights had done this type of thing before in front of video cameras, the hosting Web site claims it’s the first ever on-board aerial footage, and it’s cool!

More than anything, I was struck at the pitch instability the aircraft possessed. Something tells me I would have been a goner had I flown that thing.

Watch the movie

Letter to the editor

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

One of the great joys about being a published writer is the constant feedback you receive, be it good, bad, or ugly. Readers are never shy about offering an opinion, and writing for a pilot audience means getting that opinion served up without extra toppings. In other words, pilots are brutally honest. The thing that continues to baffle me about reader feedback, however, is the seeming random nature of which stories generate it.

In the February issue of AOPA Pilot I wrote a story about the Beechcraft Baron. It’s produced more comments than anything I’ve written about in the past few months, and each follows one of three themes: I hate the airplane and/or its workmanship; I hate the cover and its cover lines; or I love the Baron and everything about it. And yes, you guessed it, the third group is in the minority right now.

The airplane haters tell me they feel that way because of the cost. Sometimes they reference that comment with the photos on the cover and page 50 showing the nose gear doors slightly open. For anyone who has flown or owned a Beechcraft product, this is probably no surprise. But for those who decry Hawker Beechcraft for its workmanship and service, consider that a company rep discovered the problem and fixed it for no charge before even returning the airplane to its owner following the photoshoot. So much for poor service.

The cover is another issue. Some took exception to the lines, which say, “You’ve finally arrived: When only a Baron will do. ” To put that into context, consider that cover lines exist to either sell a magazine or get you to turn to the story. That’s it. A few writers were indignant about the fact we would say on the cover something so out of touch with America’s economy. Hey, the cover lines are there to “stimulate” your desire for a new airplane so a few more people in Wichita can keep their jobs.

Finally, some comments have been good. And no surprise, they are from people who have flown the airplane or owned it. For the record, the Baron is a great airplane. It’s one of general aviation’s proud symbols. Yes, it costs $1.2 million. If you can’t afford it (and most of us can’t) don’t get mad, enjoy it for what it is.  After all, those who can’t afford to buy a Ferrari don’t get mad at them for making it. The magazine is supposed to inform and entertain, not be a social commentary about the state of the U.S. economy. So for those who say a $1.2 million airplane is extravagant, consider that many of your friends and coworkers likely find your 172 to be in the same league.

Is aviation splitting in two?

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

Some events have transpired lately that have led me to believe aviation may be splitting into two distinct camps–the no foolin’ around go-somewhere types, and the very light airplane fly around the pattern type. The first type uses the airplane as a tool, whether for business or pleasure.  The second group uses it purely for fun, and wants flying to become more and more fun as time goes on.

In other words, we have one group that wants airplanes to be faster, carry more, and have a high dispatch rate, and another group that wants the airplane to be cheap, slow, and carry one or two people. An extreme view might be that when the dust settles, no airplanes exist between a Cirrus and a Sport Cub. Well, nothing except for 172s used for training.

The driving force is obviously cold hard cash. As things get more expensive, credit becomes tighter, and a family’s income increasingly is dedicated to survival–do the haves and have nots move into TBMs and LSAs, respectively? Or, has it always been this way? Those who believe the middle class in this country is going away probably also think our industry is changing to reflect the split scenario.

You think you can fly?

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

Who said flying had to involve wings?

Refunds do exist in aviation

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

There is justice in this world. Just ask the students at ATP, the nationwide flight school dedicated to training career pilots. This week ATP announced the career pilot program students who enrolled at mid-2008 prices will be given a rebate check of up to $2,500 because the cost of avgas has dropped more than $1.50.

Can you imagine what these students must be thinking? You want to give me money back? In this economy?

When you work the math, even a student eligible for the full refund will only get around 4 percent of the course fee back. That’s not much when you’re talking almost $60,000. But, the money isn’t really the point. It’s the principle. How many of us still pay fuel surcharges at our flight schools, or on the airlines for that matter? Yet, as we’ve closely watched the price at the fuel pump decrease rapidly, the surcharges remain. Why? Maybe supply of students has dropped off, or maybe insurance rates have gone up. Then why not raise the rental rates or instructor rates? Surcharges always have been a thinly veiled way of telling customers the business needs more money but doesn’t think they’re smart enough to compare pricing with a competitor.

So as the holiday season comes to a close, I say thanks ATP for doing what’s right and continuing the merriment just a little bit longer.

Top of the line

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

What goes 200 knots, has two engines, features a Garmin G1000 cockpit, is certified for flight into known ice, and comfortably seats six in luxury? If you said a Beechcraft G58 Baron, you’re right!

If you haven’t had a chance to fly a Baron yet, you need to do it. Sure, it’s not a fancy jet or a turboprop. But the Baron represents the top echelon of piston ownership for many pilots, and there are countless reasons why. You could start that list with all-weather capability, a large cabin, good useful load, and of course, the excellent flying characteristics of a Beechcraft.

There’s just something about the Baron. It’s hard to describe exactly what it is. On our test flight yesterday, I got a good glimpse, though. There’s the power. Apply brakes and full throttle on takeoff and be ready to go when you release the brakes. This beast moves. Then there’s the controllability. It’s not that the control is particularly responsive or quick. It’s just…right.

Pilots must agree because the Baron is sold out through June. In an economy where people are concerned about their portfolios, jobs, and financial security, that’s staggering.

Stay tuned to the magazine for an upcoming feature on the icon and learn what has made it so successful over the years.

Risk management

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

Acting as pilot in command has many responsibilities, not the least of which is getting to the destination safely. But meeting that goal can happen any number of ways.

In the November issue of Pilot I made reference to the fact that I flew over Lake Michigan on my way to Oshkosh in the sweepstakes Archer. Recently I received an e-mail from a member who felt what I did was foolhardy, displayed poor judgment, and was a “stunt.” The message got me thinking about what the risk really was and whether I had put myself and my passenger at risk and not properly exercised my position as PIC.

During the flight, I figured I was beyond gliding distance from shore for 10 miles. The Archer had less than 100 hours on a newly overhauled engine, it was summer VMC, and I had plenty of fuel. David Kenny, the statistician for ASF, ran some numbers and found that there were roughly 500 accidents and incidents last year in which the airplane quit producing thrust for one reason or another. Only 250 of those were evenly remotely attributed to mechanical error beyond the pilot’s control, and that is probably a stretch. (more…)

A beautiful sunset

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

After 2,000 miles with the 2008 Get Your Glass Sweepstakes Piper Archer, the Pacific Ocean finally came into view. Unfortunately it was 20 miles to the west, and would be the closest we would get.

A California sunset

But let’s back up a bit. We left Falcon Field in Phoenix late morning and headed for General Fox in California for fuel. Big headwinds kept us a little short, so we decided to divert to Van Nuys instead. What better place to make a last fuel stop than one of the busiest GA airports in the country with tons of heritage? But trying to beat weather into San Jose meant a quick turn and sightseeing limited to what could be seen from the taxiway.

Leaving Van Nuys we flew west toward San Marcus. At 10,000 feet, we were welcomed to the biggest headwinds of the trip, around 40 knots. The turn north for San Jose was where the fun started. After the beautiful sunset, we finally got lower to try to escape the winds and get to some warmer air. Nothing is free though. The lower altitude put us in IMC. As we flew toward San Jose, the rain intensified. Salinas was shrouded with extreme precipitation, none of which was showing up on datalink (definitely a lesson there). Close to San Jose, the rain was heavy, the wind shifted, and we were put in a homemade hold to wait for airline traffic on the ILS. What a better way to end a long trip than night IMC and an approach?

Landing in San Jose was bittersweet. We had made it, and looking back, it was fairly easy. Thanks to advanced avionics, trips like these are stress-free and much less taxing than they used to be. Imagine an Archer as a cross-country luxury ride. The Get Your Glass Archer makes it possible.

The Colorado River alters the desert landscape.

The Colorado River changes the desert landscape.

The Banning Pass near Palm Springs.

The Banning Pass near Palm Springs.

Miles upon miles of windmills.