Ian Twombly Archive


Monday, July 28th, 2008

One great thing about large air shows like Oshkosh is that regardless of background, everyone comes together to share in the joy of aviation. Homebuilts mix with jets and gyrocopters mix with high-performance pistons. It’s a melting pot of flight. Want proof? Check out the King Air pilot and passengers. Who says you can’t camp out under a turboprop (beside an FBO no less)?

It found the strikes

Friday, July 18th, 2008

XM datalink weather is really cool. You only have to look at the amount of Garmin 496s that have been sold to realize that. And the subscription isn’t cheap, which further confirms its value to pilots. But I think there’s an even better on board weather tool, and chances are you’ve already heard of it.

The Stormscope is my new friend. Yesterday AOPA Photographer Chris Rose, another adventurous staffer, and I flew the Association’s Bonanza to Penn Yan, New York, to shoot some photos for an upcoming issue of the magazine. There was a warm front in central New York that was pushing some significant storms through central Pennsylvania. In fact, Harrisburg tracon (a fantastic, helpful facility) said they were painting the precip as extreme. The Bonanza has a Garmin GMX200 with XM weather that includes datalink lightning. It was nice seeing the rain and lightning hits, but my new friend really carried us through.

It has me wondering why we think datalink info is so much better. Yes, it offers METARS, TAFS, and other great stuff, but there is no replacement for a display of real-time electrical discharge. Combine the eyes, the Stormscope, ATC, and datalink, and you have one potent package of weather awareness.

One smart FBO

Friday, June 27th, 2008

In my travels, I have visited some pretty lousy FBOs. One charged me $5 to tow the airplane 20 feet to their fuel pumps. Others have charged as much as $40 to drop off a passenger, even though no services (including marshalling) were offered. Many have been rude and crass, the reason for which I have always assumed is that I don’t fly a jet.

But recently I had the pleasure to experience what must be one of the best FBOs in the business. Image Air at the Central Illinois Regional Airport/Bloomington-Normal exemplifies what I think all FBOs should be about. Namely, good customer service, reasonable prices, and good services. That easy formula will win customers for life. So far I’ve only stopped twice at Image Air, but here are my two experiences:

1. Came in at 7:00 pm. Customer service agent got me a suite at a local hotel for $65 and then gave me the crew car for the evening, free of charge.

2. They sent a fuel truck to the other side of the airport, let me pay with a credit card given over the lineman’s radio, and then faxed me a receipt. When I got home, there was a thank you letter for buying the fuel. What a novel concept.

I think my favorite part of the FBO, however, is that it is able to attract jet customers with great services, but us little guys still feel welcome. Or maybe it’s the free cookies.

What else makes a good FBO? Which ones do it the best?

Go sweepstakes racer, go!

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

A speed demon it is not. I flew 208GG from the home base at Frederick, Maryland, to Osage Beach, Missouri, last Thursday to display the airplane at the cherokee owners fly-in.

Well, I tried to at least. After battling headwinds the entire way, I had to stop short in St. Louis to wait out some nasty weather.

The long trip was a great opportunity to fly the bird IFR with the new panel. Wow. What a panel. Between the Garmin 430s, the Aspen EFD, the Avidyne Ex500 with weather and traffic, and the S-Tec Fifty Five X autopilot, the 8 hours seemed to melt away.

I’ll have more details about numbers and impressions in this week’s post on the sweepstakes homepage, but here are some photos in the meantime. From top to bottom it goes: nifty weather, confirmation of painful speeds (before you think 107 isn’t too bad, look again. It’s in MPH), and flooding just north of St. Louis.

S is for speed

Friday, June 20th, 2008

OK, so it’s cliche. But in the case of the Mooney Acclaim Type S, the S really is for speed. Fast, turboprop speeds on miserly fuel burns.

I’m in Osage Beach, Missouri, for the annual cherokee owners fly-in and piggybacking another story on the Type S for an upcoming issue of Pilot. We just got down from flying serial number 94, and it was a real joy. Given that Mooney’s advertising as of late is all about speed, we were obliged to take it up to FL250 and really stretch out her legs. Today it was 25 degrees C above standard and we were close to gross weight. Even then, we were climbing at 900 fpm at an indicated airspeed of 130 when we hit 25,000 ft. Mooney says it will do 242 knots up there. I’m not going to give our real world number just yet. You’ll have to read the story.

Pilots are always saying how difficult it is to land a Mooney and how small it is inside. Let me just say this. If you are a sloppy pilot, you may strike the prop on landing. And if you want more space, buy a King Air. But chances are the Acclaim Type S pilots will pass you on occasion. And they’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.

Chasing efficiency

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

We had a spirited disucssion in the office a few days ago about reducing the cost of flying from a fuel-savings point of view. Everyone has their own ideas on how to reduce the overall cost of flying, but I was always under the impression that ideas were pretty homogenous on how to do it in relation to fuel. I was wrong.

While some of us thought that running lean of peak or adding mods was the answer, I’m personally more interested in efficient airframe designs. There’s a discussion right now on the AOPA forums about this topic and it’s been interesting to follow. I think it all started when one member asked what the most efficient airplane was. The mere fact that he was asking the question is amazing. Before avgas was $6 a gallon, the thought of buying for efficency was unheard of. Well, almost so.

Between 1981 and 1990 a forward thinking group of individuals ran a race of efficiency. The CAFE foundation rounded up interesting aircraft designs and raced them with a common metric of miles per gallon. If you assume a highly efficient stock airplane flies at around 15 to 20 mpg, it’s astounding that Gary Hertzler got almost 50 mpg on an 80-horsepower engine in his VariEze. Or that Mike Melvill (yes the space guy) got 21.6 mpg doing an average speed of 192 mph in a Rutan Catbird. It’s incredible stuff that leads one to believe the current fuel prices may be a good thing. Hopefully we’ll be looking at more efficient designs.

Will LSA survive?

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

You could easily write a thesis on whether or not the LSA market will survive. Heck, I’m sure some eager grad student is doing that very thing right now at Embry-Riddle or UND. I’m not one to make broad statements proclaiming things like the death of an entire market segment, but there are always clues that lead us to the answer.

In the case of light sport aircraft, some of those clues are hard to distinguish between the experiments of a fledgling new enterprise and the last gasps of a dying market. Conventional wisdom would say that with such a new venture, chances are that things like modest sales numbers and wacky airplane designs (some very questionable) are indications that everyone is simply testing the waters. One unique idea came through the PR file today that is pretty telling. It’s from the US Aviation Group in Denton, Texas. If you’re unfamiliar, the US Aviation Group is a small company in a small town that has diversified itself to offer sales, training, maintenance, and pretty much everything else LSA. It also works on more “normal” certified airplanes.

The company is starting a new promotion where if you buy an airplane, you’ll get your sport pilot certificate for free. It’s an interesting promotion that speaks to both the newness of the certificate, and the appeal to non-pilots. I can’t image Mooney or Piper offering a free certificate with an airplane purchase.

So will LSA survive? Who knows? One thing is clear. The airplanes are pretty expensive right now. We need a used market.

Fun, fun, fun part 2

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

A few weeks ago I talked about flying and the pursuit of fun. That was after flying an Air Cam on wheels. Yesterday I think I trumped the Air Cam experience, ten-fold. It’s hard to imagine there’s anything more fun than flying at 500 feet with a completely unobstructed view, but there is. It’s flying at 200 feet over the water in an Air Cam on floats.

In preparation for the upcoming pilot report on the Air Cam, I knew I had to fly one on floats. It’s becoming an increasingly popular modification for builders, so no story on the airplane would be complete without it. So I drove to Sebring, Florida, to visit with Phil Lockwood, the original designer of the airplane and the owner of the company. It was a rare treat to be able to fly this unique airplane with the designer. Here are a few highlights:

  • Yes, you can take off single engine from the water. Incredible, but true.
  • The hardest part of the water take off is controlling the stick and throwing power forward at the same time. It sounds easy, but the airplane is off the water as soon as the throttle is wide open, so things are happening fast.
  • You can’t turn on a dime, but a silver dollar is doable.
  • Vmc is a formality. There’s no rolling on your back in this airplane.

Here’s a photo of the back of Lockwood’s head as we were turning base for the first water landing. This was the last picture I remembered to take because I was having too much fun.

Splash and go

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

Pop quiz. What school trains more seaplane (floatplane to those in Alaska) pilots than anyone else in the world?

It’s not in Russia, or even in the Netherlands where they have so much water. It’s Jack Brown’s in Winter Haven, Florida. Brown’s has trained more than 20,000 seaplane pilots since the late 60s. To put this in to perspective, that’s roughly 10 students a week, every week for the past 40 years. Oh, and they have an off season where only a few students show up at a time.

Brown’s does all this in an unlikely airplane, the Piper J-3 Cub. Although it’s not something you’d want to go fly the backcountry with, it’s a fantastic training airplane, as I found out yesterday when doing splash and gos around the local lakes with one of the school’s instructors. I was at Brown’s to work the latest installment in our series A Day in the Life of America’s Airports. But you can’t go to Brown’s without getting in an airplane, and instructor Erik and I bounced from lake to lake in a 20-knot wind. It was great fun.

Look for the full story in an upcoming issue of the magazine. But for a sneak peek, let’s just say the “office” is a house on a pier, there are lake bums (from the same clan as the airport bum), and everyone has a great story to tell.

Weird science

Friday, May 9th, 2008

Homogeneous. That’s how I would describe today’s GA airplanes. With the possible exception of Diamond, an airplane is an airplane. Now instead of debating the merits of weird VTOL or crazy hovercraft, we talk about low wing versus high wing. Someone, please anyone, design a strange airplane. Don’t be Detroit and give us the same airplane with only slightly different airframe and engine configurations. “The Cherokee 6 is the fixed-gear version of the Saratoga, which is the single-engine version of the Seneca, which happens to be…” Enough. Cessna, build us a Skycatcher based on the Chance-Vought V173, not one based on a Cessna 152.

Boeing, build us this…thing. Looks like KLM will be your launch customer (yes, I know it’s fake).



I’m bored. Give us something new. Something exciting. Sure, we may not buy it, but man will it generate a lot of buzz. I know your engineers still have cocktail napkins laying around. Be like Google and let their minds wander. Oh well, at least I can still see weird aerodynamic appendeges in F1 racing.