Dave Hirschman Archive

Propulsion Pushback

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Many pilots are early technology adopters and push the bounds of the possible – so it’s a cruel irony that we, as a group, have been stuck for so long with ancient air-cooled engines that are largely unchanged from the middle of the last century.
The first in our Propulsion series in AOPA Pilot magazine is getting lots of response from pilots eager to move forward.
Commenting on the AOPA Facebook page, Paul Roper puts it bluntly: “One of the most disappointing things I experienced during my foray into general aviation was the ludicrous prices manufacturers would charge for crappy, low-tech, Flintstones-era, underpowered, thirsty, boring engines. Well, not only the prices, but the whole head-in-the-sand attitude to anything invented after about 1950. Carburetors? Pushrod valves? Are we in the Victorian era?”
Others, like AOPA member Terry Welander, have written to take issue with the likely future elimination of leaded avgas:
“Most of the environmentalists have knee jerk reactions whenever the word lead comes up; which is highly ignorant; based on the below facts on the lead and other toxins in the atmosphere from volcanic emissions. There will never be a rational reason to remove the one part per million lead from avgas. Worse, as with practically all past fuel transitions, the increased costs and hidden safety hazards of new fuels not evident until substantial use has been accomplished will likely result in a temporary to intermediate degradation of aircraft safety which is completely unnecessary.”

In case you missed it, here’s the link to the July kickoff article in AOPA Pilot.
Share your thoughts by commenting here.

Dave Hirschman
Senior Editor
AOPA Pilot magazine

Long way to Long Beach

Monday, November 8th, 2010

Dave Hirschman and Waco at Bullfrog Airport in Utah

The first time I ever saw a Waco Classic biplane, the mere sight of round-engine aircraft conjured up a recurring fantasy involving summertime cross-country flights and sleeping under the wings at night.

The recently concluded “Long Way to Long Beach” trip in a Waco YMF-5D far surpassed anything my limited imagination could have dreamed up. The sights, sounds, and sensations of a low-level, coast-to-coast biplane trip were thrilling to the core–and the people AOPA staff photographer Chris Rose and I met along the way were gracious, friendly, and incredibly welcoming to a pair of warmly dressed strangers.

And it wasn’t our magnetic personalities that won them over. Simply showing up in a rumbling, nostalgic airplane like the Waco brings out the best in fellow aviators. They offered tips for navigating mountainous terrain, ATC, as well as meals, transportation, and accommodations.

Our challenges were limited to predictable things such as numbing cold over the Appalachians, crosswinds and thunderstorms in the Plains, high density altitudes in the Southwest, and turbulence over the desert. But even at those uncomfortable moments, Rose and I were glad to be where we were. We’re incredibly fortunate to have had such an opportunity, and the deck always seemed stacked in our favor. The airplane ran perfectly from a mechanical standpoint during the entire 20-plus flying hours it took to cover 2,300 nautical miles; the weather was clear almost the entire trip and provided rare tailwinds going west on day one; and the technology (Garmin 430 and 696 with satellite weather, SPOT tracker, and IFR instrumentation.) provided tremendous situational awareness and peace of mind.

Some low-tech gear also proved essential, namely wool socks, a neck gaiter, and foam earplugs.

For a flatland flier like me, the mountains provided the jaw-dropping highlights–and the splendor of following the Colorado River and the canyon contours it’s carved from Moab, Utah, to Page, Ariz., at daylight was beyond description. The fall colors and foggy river valleys of West Virginia, the seemingly endless Plains, and the imposing mountains and canyons of the Four Corners also left their mark before we reached our destination on the blue Pacific.

The Recreational Aviation Foundation, especially its president, John McKenna, was a valuable ally. McKenna provided contacts, places to stay, steaks, beer, and elk sausages, and flew his Cessna 185 with the door off as a photo platform on two spectacular flights above the incomparable canyons of southern Utah.

This inspiring, exhausting, and completely unforgettable flying adventure is drawing to a close for Rose and me. But it’s just beginning for the AOPA “A Night for Flight” auction winner who takes home a brand new Waco Classic.

It’s just the start of what’s sure to be an incredible journey.

Fuel stops:
Clermont County Airport, Batavia, Ohio, I69
Jefferson City Airport, Jefferson City, Missouri, KJEF
Col. James Jabara Airport, Wichita, Kansas, KAAO
Dalhart Airport, Dalhart, Texas, KDHT
Mid-Valley Airpark, Las Lunas, New Mexico, E98
Cortez Airport, Cortez, Colorado, KCEZ
Canyonlands Field Airport, Moab, Utah, KCNY
Bullfrog Basin Airport, Glen Canyon, Utah, U07
Kingman Airport, Kingman, Arizona, KIMG
Santa Paula Airport, Santa Paula, California, KSZP

2,300 NM
Average speed: 105 knots
Flight time: 22 hours, 30 minutes
Fuel consumption: 320 gallons (14.8 gph)
Oil consumption: three gallons

Long Way to Long Beach

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

My innate skepticism is usually well founded when it comes to aviation matters.
When things are going too right, on a long cross-country trip, for example, it’s time to be suspicious. Some complication is lurking, and everything that goes right is just a set-up for the eventual challenge to come.

But Day One of the “Long Way to Long Beach” Waco flight from Maryland to AOPA Aviation Summit in California was notable because it went so smoothly.

Chris Rose and I departed on time into a pink dawn and sailed over the Appalachian Mountains VFR at 4,500 feet. The autumn leaves, a few weeks past their peak, were still gorgeous, an fog filled the craggy and jagged river valleys. We were both dressed for cold weather — but with an OAT of 25 degrees F, it wasn’t enough. despite thick socks and double gloves, my feet got numb and I held my hand in fists to keep them warm.
Also, the microphone muff on my headset blew away from the constant wind. The problem was quickly solved during our first fuel stop at Clermont County Airport, home of Sporty’s Pilot Shop, where I bought a couple of replacements, warmed up with a cup of coffee, and pressed on with a full tank of fuel.

Our next leg took us within view of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and then to a fuel stop at Jefferson City, Mo. Surprisingly, we enjoyed a rare tailwind flying west as long as we stayed below 3,500 agl. And the tailwind strengthened on the final leg of the day to Wichita, Kan.

Track our progress.

Wounded Warrior Becomes Sport Pilot

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

U.S. Marine Sgt. Michael “Bulldog” Blair successfully passed an FAA checkride Monday in the AOPA’s 2010 Sweepstakes Fun to Fly Remos GX and is now a Sport Pilot.

“I can’t believe I can finally say I’m a pilot,” Blair said after a checkride with Bill Nelson, a veteran FAA examiner based at Chester County Airport (MQS) about 35 miles west of Philadelphia, Pa. “This is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time.”

The checkride itself was the last of many hurdles Blair has overcome to accomplish his goal. Blair, 35, was severely wounded during his second combat tour in Iraq in 2006, and he is an out-patient at Walter Reed Army Medical Center near Washington, D.C.

The married father of a 4-year-old daughter began flight training in the AOPA’s Sweepstakes Remos GX in January but his progress was slowed by unprecedented winter snowfall, the airplane’s busy travel schedule, and his own participation in a series of athletic contests for wounded veterans.

After about 30 hours of dual and solo flight training, Blair successfully completed his checkride on a hot, humid day with the wind gusting to 20 knots.

Thanks to fellow AOPA staffers and to AOPA CFI Alton Marsh for joining me in guiding Bulldog through ground and flight training. He’s a smart, talented, irrepressible person who has sacrificed a great deal for his country. It’s been a pleasure and an honor to getting to know him, and he’s a great addition to our aviation community.

Surprising Cirrus Stats

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

By Dave Hirschman

Cirrus owner and pilot Rick Beach has compiled a storehouse of knowledge about SR20/SR22 accidents during years of thoughtful inquiry – and his conclusions about what causes the accidents, and how to avoid them, are at times surprising and of great potential value to all general aviation pilots.

In a comprehensive report published in current issue of Cirrus Pilot, the membership magazine for the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association (COPA), Beach debunks a few Cirrus myths and makes some compelling suggestions for improving overall flight safety in the future.

The most surprising fact that Beach’s intellectually rigorous study uncovers is that low-time pilots aren’t the problem. In fact, relatively high-time pilots with instrument, commercial, and/or instructor ratings are responsible for about 75 percent of the fatal Cirrus accidents in which pilot ratings were available.

“Only two pilots in a Cirrus fatal accident had less than 150 hours total time,” Beach said. “One of them was (the late New York Yankees pitcher) Cory Lidle, who had an instructor in the right seat during the accident.” (The other took place off the coast of France under unknown conditions.) Pilots with more than 400 hours total time accounted for 33 of 44 fatal Cirrus accidents where pilot experience was reported.

No one familiar with aviation accident history would be surprised to find that pilot error accounted for a majority of Cirrus accidents – but the percentage of fatal pilot mistakes is overwhelming in the Cirrus fleet. (Cirrus delivered the first production SR20 in 1999.)

“All but one of the 37 probable causes determined by NTSB accident investigations lists pilot causes,” Beach found. Adverse weather was a factor in most Cirrus accidents, and weather-related accidents are most common in the October-through-March time frame.

It stands to reason that pilots who seek to constantly upgrade their skills are safer – but the degree to which that’s true in the Cirrus community is astonishing. According to Beach, “Pilots who do not participate in COPA safety activities are four times more likely to have a fatal accident.”

Part of the reason active COPA members have a better record is that they are more likely to use the airframe parachutes that all Cirrus aircraft carry as standard equipment. There have been 20 parachute deployments in Cirrus aircraft in the last decade, and 17 of them were successful in saving the lives of 35 people aboard those airplanes.

During the same period, there were 55 fatal Cirrus accidents where the airframe parachute wasn’t deployed. In examining those scenarios, Beach estimates more than half (30) had “a high or good probability of success if the pilot would have pulled the (parachute) handle.”

Beach’s advice in a nutshell is to actively seek out more high-quality flight training, keep learning, and don’t hesitate to pull the parachute in an emergency (assuming the airplane you’re flying has one).

Beach’s report is available online at the following Web address: http://www.cirruspilots.org/content/FreeSafetyIssue.aspx

Red Bull P-38 to Europe (by boat)

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

Ezell Aviation’s latest work of art, a magnificently restored P-38 “Lightning,” is headed to Europe.

100 Miles Per Gallon

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

We usually think of airplane flight performance in terms of gallons an hour – not miles per gallon.

But on a recent transcontinental flight in a fairly typical single-engine, four-seat, 180-horsepower general aviation aircraft, I was astonished at my poor mileage. Despite a light load, conservative power setting, high altitude, leaned aggressively, and a tailwind, I was getting a Hummer-like 17 miles per gallon.

By chance, I stopped at Santa Paula Airport (SZP) in Southern California for fuel and an overnight stay. SZP is the home of aeronautical innovator Klaus Savier, AOPA 1252301, and his company, Light Speed Engineering (www.lightspeedengineering.com). Savier has been setting speed and efficiency records for two decades in his experimental, Rutan-designed Vari-EZ – an airplane that serves as a technology demonstrator for products that hint at possibilities for improving the efficiency of the GA fleet.

Savier’s personal airplane gets 50 miles per gallon at 190 ktas, and close to 100 mpg at max range. Sure, it’s a one-of-a-kind creation. But Savier says the GA fleet could get an immediate 20 percent efficiency increase by switching to electronic fuel injection and ignition systems. Will the GA industry ever see the kinds of radical improvements in efficiency and reliability that have come to other forms of transportation? Share your thoughts here.

Amazing Grace . . .

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

By now we’ve all seen the horrific images from San Diego of the F/A-18 Hornet that crashed in a residential neighborhood. What you might not have seen is the generous reaction from Don Yun Yoon, a man who lost everything in the accident. Yoon reached out to the Hornet pilot (see the news story below) in a way that makes Yoon, a struggling immigrant, a national treasure.

One day after an F/A-18D Hornet fighter jet fell from the sky and crashed into his two-story house in San Diego’s University City neighborhood, Dong Yun Yoon returned to a home and life in ruins.

Rescue workers sifting through the debris on Cather Avenue had found the bodies of his wife, two baby daughters and mother-in-law.

Yoon, 37, pressed a handkerchief to his face and seemed to stagger upon viewing what little remained: a charred garage wall, piles of blackened beams, the family’s Toyota Corolla — miraculously undamaged — parked on the street, and flowers placed nearby in memory of his family.

“I believe my wife and two babies and mother-in-law are in heaven with God,” Yoon said at a news conference afterward. “Nobody expected such a horrible thing to happen, especially right here, our house.”

Yoon said he bore no ill will toward the Marine Corps pilot who ejected safely before the jet plunged into the neighborhood two miles west of the runway at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. “I pray for him not to suffer for this action,” Yoon said. “I know he’s one of our treasures for our country.”

Really dumb placards

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

There’s a lot of wisdom in cockpit placards. But there’s plenty of absurdity, too.

The plane I own is a single-seat RV-3 with a big “experimental” sticker in the cockpit. Yet the plane is also required to have a “passenger warning” that tells of the experimental nature of the plane, despite the fact it’s got no passenger seats.

A BE-36 Bonanza I get to fly from time to time has some classics such as “Minimum Flight Crew: One,” and “Do Not Smoke While Oxygen Is In Use.”

AOPA’s Get Your Glass Sweepstakes Archer has a bunch of placards, and some of them are downright comical. My favorite appears below the JPI fuel computer. The JPI is astonishingly accurate and gives a constant readout of fuel used and fuel (and time) remaining. Yet the placard beneath it tells pilots to rely on the inherently unreliable, 32-year-old, float-type fuel gauge (the one the plane was certified with in 1976). Would any thinking person really trust a disco-era gauge when a modern, digital instrument as accurate as an eye-dropper is a few inches away?

Bruce Dickenson, a highly accomplished pilot and aircraft builder in California, posted this placard on the door of his most recent creation: a stunningly gorgeous and highly modified Howard DGA:

It says “Warning! For your safety . . . please stand back 4 feet from this aircraft. This aircraft has been HOMEBUILT and could fall on you at any time. Furthermore . . . because this aircraft was built by a Farmer and Retired Cop, it is branded amateur-built, so please stand an additional 6 feet back. If you choose to come within these boundaries, please be warned that this is an Experimental Aircraft and we have no idea what it will do at any moment! The Farmer”

Please write and let us know about your favority placards!

An MFD on your knee (Garmin’s 696)

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

Unlike many of my flying friends, I’ve never felt the need to be the first to own the latest aviation gadget.

I waited a couple years before buying my first hand-held GPS. And while others quickly upgraded to color and better graphics, I stuck with Garmin’s Pilot III for many years because of its simplicity and utility.

But Garmin’s latest offering–the GPSMAP696–is a rare combination of powerful new capabilities and ease of use. And I’ve got the strong feeling it’s going to become a new standard for general aviation pilots flying everything from Champs to Gulfstreams. Since obtaining an advance copy of the 696 in October, I’ve flown with it on IFR and VFR trips in planes ranging from a Waco to a Citation. And it’s been worth its substantial weight (three pounds including mounting hardware) on every one.

In an open-cockpit biplane on an autumn trip across West Virginia and Ohio, the 696 showed the mountainous terrain in sharp relief. Sure, I knew the Minimum Safe Altitude for our route from the VFR sectional. But what if we inadvertently strayed from our planned course? The 696 showed the surrounding terrain in brilliant reds and yellow (similar to the actual fall colors), and a profile view of the topography let me know the exact height and distance of the oncoming obstacles long before they came into view.

On a 900-mile IFR trip along the East Coast in a Bonanza A36 a few weeks later, the 696 proved its utility in a far different environment. Instead of making cumbersome performance calculations with pen and paper, the 696 allowed me to accomplish those tasks faster and more accurately on its brilliant screen. And each time Air Traffic Control rerouted us (and it happened a lot) I programmed the new route into the 696 and viewed the course ahead far more simply and successfully than I could using the plane’s panel-mount avionics. The 696 was especially helpful during the single-pilot legs.

The Bonanza was equipped with an IFR-approved GNS480 (a user-hostile abomination) and MX200 multi-function display (MFD). But the 696 on my knee had a larger, clearer screen than either one, and unlocking the 696′s tremendous wealth of information was pleasant and intuitive. And I haven’t even mentioned the 696′s XM weather displays, which are exceptional (or its satellite radio, which I’ve yet to turn on).

The 696 is chunky and expensive ($3,295). But it’s a bargain compared to its panel-mount cousins. And for Part 91 operators (the vast majority of GA fliers), it enables us to leave the flight bag full of paper charts and approach plates at home. That in itself is a significant savings in weight and a paperwork reduction.

Troubling world economic conditions make this an especially perilous time for any company, even Garmin, to introduce a new, high-end product like the 696. But this one’s a real winner. And it’s formidable frame will likely serve as the technological foundation for many avionics enhancements to come.