Dave Hirschman Archive

Mustang Rodeo

Monday, May 19th, 2008

Some of the best minds in aviation training have been focusing on VLJs with a goal of improving pilot performance and reducing insurance rates. A Cessna Citation Mustang accident in California last month shows there’s still lots of work to be done.

A Mustang suffered extensive damage at Carlsbad’s McClelland-Palomar Airport on April 19 when it landed long and fast and ground-looped at the departure end of the Runway 24. The NTSB said the airplane operated by California Natural Products was about 15 knots fast when it touched down about halfway down the 4,897-foot runway, and the pilot/owner intentionally ground-looped to avoid going down a steep embankment.

The pilot had reported a flickering primary flight display during the flight and failed electric trim that required using the manual trim for approach and landing. The pilot descended through clouds from about 5,000 feet to about 2,600 feet and made a visual approach. The pilot also said he was fatigued by the demands of hand-flying the airplane for 45 minutes leading up to the accident.

See the NTSB brief for more information.

Liberty Belle’s European Vacation

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

“Liberty Belle,” a beautifully restored B-17G, is headed to Europe (and back) this summer–and the nearly 8,000 mile odyssey is likely to mark the last time a Flying Fortress ever stretches its wings across an ocean.

Don Brooks of rural Douglass, Georgia, started the Liberty Belle Foundation to honor his dad, a B-17 crewmember, and other veterans. Now, the airplane that flew as part of the 390th Bomb Group in England is making a final trip to the site of its wartime service. It should be interesting to see the reaction it gets there.

Getting the airplane across the Atlantic and back is going to be a major logistical and financial effort. The longest leg is less than 1,000 miles–less than half the airplane’s maximum range of 1,850 miles. But avgas can be hard to find in Greenland and Iceland, and high prices combined with unfavorable currency exchange rates will make U.S. pump prices seem like a bargain. At economy cruise, the airplane’s four Wright 1820s burn about 250 gallons of fuel (and about five gallons of oil) an hour. The foundation estimates the trip will cost at least $275,000.

Brooks knows what he’s getting into, though. He flew his DC-3 to France to drop parachutists over Normandy for a D-Day anniversary, and he’s flown to Greenland many times as part of the team that recovered “Glacier Girl,” the P-38 that had long been buried under the ice cap.

For a detailed schedule and more information about the Liberty Belle’s upcoming adventure, visit the foundation’s Web site: http://libertyfoundation.org/

   For a map of the Liberty Belle’s route: http://libertyfoundation.org/european-tour.html

   Good Luck!

Where do we get such men?

Friday, May 9th, 2008

 The story unfolded something like this:

Dead battery; mags on; throttle open; hand-prop plane; engine starts; plane surges forward; prop smacks post; crankshaft breaks; prop lands on hangar far away.

Fortunately, there were no casualties, other than the now-deceased Piper.


Otherwise, the pilot/Armstrong starter would deserve a nomination for next year’s Darwin Award.

(Whoever thought of putting barriers in front of self-service fuel pumps was a genius!)


Web posts make us invulnerable! (We hope . . .)

Monday, April 28th, 2008

An ongoing thread on the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) Web site points out a remarkable correlation between aviation accidents and Web posting. Evidently, no one who has ever posted a comment on the COPA site has been involved in a Cirrus accident. COPA members have never been reluctant to share their thoughts, and there’s a vigorous difference of opinion about whether pilots who post on the Web are better informed, or just lucky blowhards.

The AOPA Air Safety Foundation (ASF) has an ongoing, internal discussion about how best to get ASF online courses onto the computer screens of the pilots who need them. There’s no empirical evidence to back this up, but I’ve got to think the pilots who take the ASF interactive Runway Safety course, for example, are probably less likely to mistakenly cross the yellow lines than those who don’t. And that’s true even before they heighten their awareness by taking the online course.

Anyway, I’m not a Cirrus owner, and I’m not superstitious. But I’ll try to post something on the COPA site just to hedge my bets . . .

Impressive Gadgets at AEA

Friday, April 25th, 2008

In case anyone hasn’t got the memo yet, the era of steam gauges is over.

During a visit to the Aircraft Electronics Association’s annual convention in Washington yesterday, there was a lot of buzz about Aspen’s “Evolution” PFD and Garmin’s “Synthetic Vision Technology.” AOPA Pilot, and this blog, have had a lot to say about both products recently, and their popularity at Sun’n Fun has been well documented.

But the final nail in the coffin of steam gauges appears to be coming from the steam gauge manufacturers themselves. RC Allen Instruments, for example, was showing off a digital artificial horizon meant to replace traditional vacuum attitude indicators. RC Allen’s “RCA 2600″ doesn’t require a separate air data computer or additional instrumentation. It just drops into the 3 1/8″ hole left by the departing attitude indicator and plugs into the electrical system. It’s got a battery backup, and at around $2,000, will cost the same or less than the instrument it replaces. A test model also contained heading information, so it could replace the directional gyro, too. The company is also building a 2″ model, and it expects to begin selling experimental versions this summer while it pursues certification . . .

Also overheard at the show:

* Bendix/King is planning a hand-held GPS “Aviator” to challenge Garmin’s dominance in the portable GPS market. Expect to see an announcement this summer.

* Synthetic vision won’t be limited to G1000s. The technology will migrate to hand-held GPSs — but it will take a couple of years to make the jump. Garmin’s high-end 496 doesn’t have enough processing power to handle the demand of so much graphics. But Garmin, and others, are working on it.


X-Wind landings: Just follow the stripe

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

This sounds like heresy, but I’ll say it: Ignore the everlasting crab/slip debate.

Unless your aircraft has a particular limitation that demands one method or the other, it’s a fruitless discussion.

The key to successful crosswind landings is getting your mind outside the cockpit and away from mechanical ‘push this lever’ or ‘pull that one’ thinking.

Concentrate on holding the centerline during final approach, and immediately correct the slightest deviations on landing. As long as you’re continuously tracking the centerline, your hands and feet will naturally do the right things.

Don’t worry about style.

Just follow the stripe.

Sunburned, tired, happy . . .

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

A few closing thoughts on an exhausting and invigorating week:

* Aircraft parking areas at Sun ‘n Fun were beginning to resemble used car lots. I don’t think I’ve ever seen “for sale” signs on so many airplanes in one place.

* Supersize that airplane! Bulbous, load-hauling airplanes abounded at SNF. The AirVan was my favorite of the Beaver derivatives. Too bad so many of them have nosewheels . . .

* My aviation roots are in aerobatics, and I’ll always be drawn to the precise, physically, and mentally demanding aviation niche. So it’s with surprise and reluctance that I point out the airshow’s aerobatic performances were painfully dull and monotonous. One unlimited monoplane performing gyroscopic maneuvers after another became mind-numbing, even for a guy like me who eats that stuff up. I can’t imagine how dull it must have been for people who aren’t necessarily drawn to akro.

The sound of screaming IO-540s made me think about the late Chris Smisson and the beauty, grace, and finesse that he showed flying his Zlin with Ray Charles singing “American the Beautiful” in the background. We miss you, old friend.

* Thanks to Brady and Trevor from Hawker-Beechcraft for letting me stow away in their King Air for the trip to SNF–but it was the hat that saved me. My neck and ears were getting lobsterized by the scorching sun, so I pickup up a floppy, wide-brimmed hat at the H-B tent about halfway through the show. It sure was goofy looking, but it was a lifesaver. I stopped by the H-B booth a couple days after the University of Kansas won the NCAA basketball championship, and the folks from Wichita were still celebrating . . .

* Aspen’s “Evolution” PFD and Garmin’s “Synthetic Vision Technology” were the biggest hits of the show, and major developments that I’m convinced will improve general aviation safety. So here’s the question: How long do you think it will take Garmin (or some other innovative firm) to put synthetic vision in a portable GPS? VistaNav is getting close, but I’m talking about SVT on something the size of a Garmin 496. This is a pure guess, but I’ll bet that we’re be able to buy synthetic vision hand-helds in 2010 for $5,000 each . . .


Pure genius! (And other neat stuff that’s not avionics)

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

LoPresti Speed PantsEvery now and then, we all stumble across an invention that seems so simple, so obvious, that we wonder why no one (including us) did it before.

Such is the case with LoPresti Speed Merchants’ “Speedpants.”

They’re regular composite wheel fairings–with one key difference. They have a set of clamshell doors on the bottom designed to totally enclose the wheels when an airplane’s in flight. LoPresti estimates the fairings will add about eight knots to an RV-7’s top speed. (And for those of us who miss raising and lowering landing gear, Speedpants will provide us with another lever to move each time we take off and land.)

LoPresti SpeedpantsThe clamshell doors are hydraulic. And if the hydraulic system fails, internal springs will open the gear.

If we forget to open them on landing (and you know we will), the fiberglass scrapes off and the airplane remains on the wheels.

Speedpants are meant to minimize the aerodynamic penalty for fixed gear. And with so many of today’s aircraft manufacturers electing for fixed gear on airplanes that are meant to go fast, LoPresti may be onto something . . .

Nemesis NXTDave’s other faves:

* Nemesis NXT flybys. That airplane makes everything else with a propeller on it look slow.

CAF LT-6* The Commemorative Air Force’s LT-6. The silver “Mosquito” from the CAF’s Dixie Wing is absolutely gorgeous. The pride and workmanship really show through on this historical labor of love.

XP-30* The XP-30 is a German aerobatic brute painted in a scheme that seems to pay tribute to the Great Pumpkin. But it’s got a 450-degree-per-second roll rate, a 220-knot top speed, and more than 1,000 miles range. It’s only doing flybys at the show–not full aerobatic performances. But it looks like the closest thing to a magic carpet since Aladin.

Sport Cub* Sport Cub S2. I want to give it a hug whenever I see it. Cub Crafters is talking about offering a clipped-wing version. If they do, it will fit my notion of The Perfect Sport Plane and Back-To-The-Future Trainer . . .

Playing with fire(crackers) . . .

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

Shoenfeldt Firecracker “It’s a squirrel,” said Pat Halloran, the pilot of the Shoenfeldt “Firecracker,” a wood-winged bullet of an air racer from the 1930s–and the coolest airplane at Sun ‘n Fun.

It’s got an 18-foot wingspan, an impossibly tiny amount of wing area, and a 440-cubic-inch Ranger engine. The gear retracts with a hand crank, and Halloran, a retired Air Force general who flew fighters in Korea and the U-2 and SR-71 after that, said the airplane is a handfull to fly.

“Visibility on the ground is non-existent,” he said. “In the air, you’ve got to hold onto it every second.”

Halloran has flown the airplane about 70 hours and expects to add significantly to that total in the coming days. After Sun ‘n Fun, he’ll fly the Firecracker back to its home at Flabob Airport in Southern California. The airplane holds about four hours of fuel–but Halloran says the urge to escape from the cramped cockpit is too strong to ignore after about 2.5 hours.

Oh. The airplane’s top speed? It went about 300 miles an hour in the late 1930s when famed Lockheed test pilot Tony LeVier was racing it. But Halloran said he won’t push it that hard . . .

Dave’s SNF marketing survey: Aspen/Synthetic Vision/Sport Cub/GPS

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

Totally unscientific, anecdotal, and preliminary (but probably right).

* Aspen Avionics glass panel is a winner. The crowd outside the company’s booth has been big throughout the first few days at Sun ‘n Fun, and interest is building. Every vendor selling the displays has been pleased at the response to the vacuum-gauge replacement, and I think the company will sell tens of thousands of units for piston-aircraft retrofits. The jury’s still out on Aspen’s future MFD and whether the company will replace the other four gauges in traditional instrument six-packs. But it’s putting vacuum-driven, mechanical attitude indicators and directional gyros on the endangered list.

* Synthetic Vision is unstoppable. I’ll bet 95 percent of the owners of Garmin G1000 aircraft eventually add the software upgrade. Diamond is offering Garmin “Synthetic Vision Technology” (SVT) as a $10,000 option on new DA-40s, and that’s going to put pressure on other aircraft manufacturers to match. At that price, few will be able to resist. Grand Rapids Technology and Chelton pioneered GPS-based synthetic vision–but Garmin is going to make it an industry standard.

*The Sport Cub is my favorite LSA. If it doesn’t rekindle a resurgence in tailwheel aircraft, nothing will . . .

*Hand-held GPSs are getting bigger. Way bigger. The displays on some of the new models are giant. So are the boxes themselves. Maybe it’s driven by the aging pilot population (and our inability to read small print). But portable GPSs are beginning to resemble the ancient stone tablets Moses brought down from Mount Sinai, and they probably weigh about as much. The main differences are the portables require cigarette-lighter adapters–and we’re a lot more likely to follow GPS commandments . . .