Mike Collins Archive

RTW, Day 6–the difference a year makes

Saturday, August 30th, 2014

Preflighted and ready to go, we're just waiting for the airport to open.

Preflighted and ready to go, we’re just waiting for the Salzburg airport to open.

What a difference a year has made in the world environment. A year ago today, we left Salzburg, Austria, for Kuwait City. Our original plan had been to duck around the southeast corner of the Middle East–stopping for fuel in Luxor, Egypt, before turning east for another stop before reaching India. Realizing the fabled pyramids were right there at Luxor, Mike Laver and I discussed for days the pros and cons of adding a day into the schedule to tour the pyramids. After all, it would be highly unlikely that either of us would ever be in the area again. Finally we made that decision, and placed the pyramids on our agenda.

STEIN intersection in Austria.

STEIN intersection in Austria.

A few days later, there was a coup in Egypt. We followed news reports with considerable interest for several days, until the handling company facilitating our foreign stops advised us that “landing in Egypt currently is not recommended.” So we bid farewell to the idea of visiting the pyramids and set to work on Plan B.

Refueling in Ankara, Turkey.

Refueling in Ankara, Turkey.

Plan B was a southeasterly route to Ankara, Turkey, where we refueled and then sat out a temporary airspace closure over flavorful Turkish tea with a group of airport workers, many of whom spoke at least some English. (More about today’s flying can be found in my original Day 6 blog post.) From Ankara we continued southeast around the top of Syria, and into Iraqi airspace through a relatively narrow gap between Syria and Iran–a gap we had to share with the largest thunderstorm we had seen so far on the journey.

Our route down the length of Iraq might not be feasible today.

Our route down the length of Iraq might not be feasible today.

We made it through the gap, and had a very uneventful flight down the length of the country. At FL250–about 25,000 feet–the country was divided into only two air traffic control sectors. One was worked by an American, and the other by an Iraqi with near-perfect English. With very disturbing news reports about ISIS atrocities in parts of the country that these militants have overrun (we had flown just east of Mosul), I’m frankly very happy not to be flying overhead today–not even at 25,000 feet. And the Egyptian political situation seems to have improved, likely making Luxor an option if we were doing the trip today instead of a year ago.

Propeller blades reflect the sunset in Kuwait City.

Propeller blades reflect the sunset in Kuwait City.

The temperature is still above 100 degrees Fahrenheit when we touch down in Kuwait City shortly before sunset (the high had been 110). That kind of heat, after some 8 hours of flying and a long day, had us looking forward to air conditioning and a good dinner. The hotel restaurant did not disappoint.

Last year’s RTW, Day 5

Friday, August 29th, 2014

"Love locks" on Salzach River bridge.

“Love locks” on a bridge over the Salzach River in Salzburg.

“Love locks” line the rails of this bridge over the Salzach River in Salzburg, Austria. According to the Interwebs, these locks–usually marked with names or initials–are affixed to public bridges, fences, etc. as a symbol of eternal love. Often, they’re removed by local authorities, but it appears that they’re being tolerated here.

Street scene in Salzburg, Austria.

A street scene in Salzburg’s Old Town.

Salzburg is where I spent the day, a year ago today–the first, and one of only a few, nonflying days on our around-the-world flight. Most of the day was spent at the Red Bulls’ Hangar-7 museum, a really incredible place that you really should check out if you’re ever in Salzburg. To see more about the museum, including a bunch of photos and a video I produced, see my feature story “Red Bulls Under Glass,” just published in the September issue of AOPA Pilot (click the icon on the top of page 65 to see the video).

Old Salzburg skyline.

Salzburg’s Old Town boasts a distinctive skyline.

We finished at Red Bull early enough to spend the last hours of daylight exploring the Old Town area of Salzburg, which is just incredible. And all the walking around was great, because tomorrow’s schedule will include 7.9 hours of flying.

Read the original Day 5 blog post here.

Last year’s RTW, Day 4

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Wood blades ready to be covered.

Wood blades have been milled and finished, and await covering.

This time last year, we were touring the MT Propeller facilities in Straubing, Germany. The company makes modern propeller blades with a very traditional material–wood, which is then covered with Fiberglas, carbon fiber, or Kevlar. The resulting blade is stronger than steel. To learn more about how these modern composite propellers are made, and read an interview with Gerd Muehlbauer–founder, president, and CEO of the German propeller manufacturer–read my article in the August issue of AOPA Pilot.

Disclosure: The photo above also accompanied my blog during the trip last year. While most of the photos in this recap have not been published, I reserve the right to repeat a few favorites. I just love the texture and symmetry of those propeller blades, and when I look at that photo I can still smell the wood.

Technician prepares to install blades.

A technician at MT Propellers prepares to install propeller blades in a new hub.

You might think propellers like these are better suited for smaller, lighter airplanes–but that would be an incorrect assumption. MT’s composite props have proved quite effective on a number of high-performance turboprops. And Mike Laver’s MU-2, the one we flew around the world, was the first of the model to receive newly designed MT propellers; the FAA approved them only a few weeks before the trip. Mike had advocated for the modification, and made another MU-2 available for flight testing of the propellers.

After an interesting day touring several MT Propeller facilities–and a delicious Italian lunch at a small German country restaurant operated by, if I recall correctly, a Pakistani family–we took off again on the shortest leg of our journey, 93 nm to Salzburg, Austria. The flight took 24 minutes.

To see my original Day 4 blog (with mostly different photos), click here.

Last year’s RTW, Day 3

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

Rainy departure from Reykjavík.

Rainy departure from Reykjavík.

A year ago this morning, it was rainy on the ramp in Reykjavík, Iceland. It was good to finish the preflight and call for a departure clearance and engine start. Over the past year I’ve become more fond of this photo of raindrops on the MU-2′s windshield.

Shortly after takeoff from Iceland.

Shortly after takeoff from Iceland.

Shortly after takeoff, we broke out into bright sunlight over a small emerald-green valley. Reykjavík International Airport is close to the city center, and is not the large airport in the middle of nowhere that the airlines use. General aviation has its advantages! 

Clouds formed neat rows over the Netherlands.

Clouds formed neat rows over the Netherlands.

While it would have been fun to spend a little time exploring England, we were on the ground for about an hour–just long enough to refuel, take a comfort break, and make a couple of phone calls. Then we were off again, crossing a little more water and then the Netherlands as we head for Straubing, Germany. Our groundspeed on this 753-nm leg averages 279 knots, and we’re already missing the tailwinds that gave us speeds of 300 kts or more across the North Atlantic.

My original Day 3 post can be read here.

RTW Day 2 in review

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Our airplane waits just before sunrise at Goose Bay.

Our airplane waits just before sunrise at Goose Bay.

A year ago this morning, we were anxious to depart early from Goose Bay–but doing so too early could have landed us in trouble. Our fuel stop in Narsarsuaq, Greenland, was at the end of a fjord, and the aviation authorities there take a dim view of pilots departing for Narsarsuaq without first obtaining the local weather report. Because the airport didn’t open until 7 a.m., we had to wait until then for the weather. As a result, I had some time to photograph the airplane against a beautiful sunrise.

Mike Laver preflights the MU-2 before dawn.

Mike Laver preflights the MU-2 before dawn.

Mike Laver preflighted N50ET by flashlight, so we would be ready for a quick departure as soon as the weather observation from Greenland was received.

Climbing into the rising sun.

Climbing into the rising sun.

The sun was still low in the sky as we climbed eastward, approaching the Canadian coastline.

Glaciers flow together on the east side of Greenland.

Glaciers flow together on the east side of Greenland.

The fuel stop was quick, and the small iceberg we overflew on final approach served as a welcome to Greenland–which isn’t, by the way. The predominant colors there were white and rock. Our overnight stop, Iceland, actually offered quite a bit of green foliage.

My original Day 2 post can be read here.

 

 

 

 

RTW one year later

Monday, August 25th, 2014

One of the biggest surprises–at least, to me–coming out of my flight around the world last year with Mike Laver was reader interest in the trip, even a year later. The story of our trip in Mike’s Mitsubishi MU-2 has already been told, in this blog, in the December issue of AOPA Pilot, and on AOPA Live. To mark the trip’s anniversary, which began Aug. 25, 2013, I’m going to share a few more photos and a little reflection, especially with respect to changing political and other conditions in parts of the world. I’m amazed by how much things can change in 12 months.

Taking off from Frederick Municipal Airport.

The journey began with this takeoff from Runway 23 at Frederick Municipal Airport.

For a portion of our first leg, to Goose Bay, Labrador, we flew some distance below a large, four-engine airliner and its obediently following contrails. Given that the majority of our cruise flight would be at our optimal altitude of FL250, I almost didn’t take a photo, assuming this would be a frequent sight on our trip. As it turns out, this was the only time it happened.

Contrails overhead

A jet higher in the flight levels overtakes us.

Mike had flown through Goose Bay a number of times (it was my first visit), but this was his first when snow wasn’t flying. Actually, the weather the afternoon of our arrival was almost perfect, comfortable with a light breeze. It’s always nice when you don’t have to scramble to secure the airplane. We’ll be grabbing for jackets at tomorrow’s fuel stop.

Inserting cowl plugs.

It’s shirtsleeve weather as Mike Laver inserts engine cowl plugs after landing at Goose Bay.

My original Day 1 post can be read here.

True fact about ‘True Lies’

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

Remember the action comedy True Lies, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger famously hops into a Harrier, bounces off a couple of police cars, balances his daughter on the jump- jet’s nose, and dispatches a terrorist who was dangling from an attached Sidewinder missile? Nothing true about that scene.

But it is true that the movie turned 20 years old yesterday. And it’s also true that some of the flying scenes in that movie involved actual Harrier jets. Three Marine Corps AV-8Bs were rented for the filming; the producers reportedly paid an hourly rate of $2,410 for more than 40 flight hours. The article did not say whether that was a wet rate or a dry rate. Regardless, the $100,000 or so was no more than a drop in the $100 million production budget. At the time of its release in 1994, not only was True Lies the first film to have a production budget in excess of $100M, but it was the most expensive film ever made.

This and several other true facts about True Lies are circulating online this week, commemorating the film’s anniversary. They’re on the Internet, so they must be true–right?

The autopilot turns 100

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

It seems hard to believe, but the first aircraft autopilot was demonstrated 100 years ago today. On June 18, 1914, Lawrence Sperry let go of the controls of a Curtiss C-2 biplane, stood up in the cockpit, and raised his hands high above his head. The crowd below roared its approval as Sperry’s mechanic then walked out onto the airplane’s wing–and it remained in level flight.

This took place above the Seine River during France’s Airplane Safety Contest. A total of 57 “specially equipped” airplanes, featuring such innovative technologies as magnetos, self-starters, and carburetors–all still used today–competed for a prize of 50,000 francs (about $10,000). Sperry was the only one to demonstrate a gyroscopic stabilizer, and won the prize. In 2004, Aviation History presented an interesting article about the flight; it can be read online

Sperry’s father, Elmer, had developed the gyrocompass–at the time, a massive affair that had been installed on a number of U.S. warships.

Lawrence Sperry’s flight also marks the centennial of Honeywell Aerospace, which is one of four business divisions of 129-year-old Honeywell. Through organic growth, acquisitions, and mergers of legacy companies, Honeywell Aerospace can trace its heritage back to Lawrence Sperry (click the link and scroll down the page). The Sperry Gyroscope Company became Sperry Corporation, much of which moved to Phoenix in the 1950s and became the Sperry Flight Systems Company–today a part of Honeywell Aerospace.

Other firsts for Honeywell Aerospace include the first gyro horizon and directional gyro, cabin pressurization, the first gas-turbine auxiliary power unit, the first ground proximity warning system, and the first 3-D airborne weather radar. An interactive anniversary website details this evolution. Sperry’s accomplishment finds itself in good company a century later.

Goodyear narrows names for new airship

Monday, April 21st, 2014


Goodyear newest airship

After receiving nearly 15,000 submissions for its national “Name the Blimp” contest, The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company has selected 10 finalist names for its newest airship (pictured above). Now, fans can vote for their favorite name online, through May 9.  

The names up for voting are: Adventurer, Ambassador, Commitment, Excursion, Explorer, Goodwill, Inspiration, Pride of Goodyear, Resolute, and Wingfoot One.

The new airship, which took its first flight last month, is larger, faster, and more maneuverable than its predecessor. Technically a zeppelin, this is the first semi-rigid airship to be built in the 95-year history of Goodyear’s Wingfoot Lake, Ohio, hangar. During its long operational history, Goodyear has built more than 300 lighter-than-air vehicles, including two large rigid airships–the U.S.S. Macon and U.S.S. Akron.

What do you get for voting on the new airship’s name? Nothing but the satisfaction of knowing you participated–although the person who submitted the winning name will receive access to the blimp for a day. (Yeah, now I wish I had submitted a name, too.) Goodyear will christen the new blimp this summer.

 

The importance of a washer

Friday, January 17th, 2014

Now, how important can one little washer be?

Pretty important, as it turns out. While this is not a general aviation incident, the lesson here is dramatically applicable to all of us.

The FAA prepared an analysis of what happened to a China Airlines Boeing 737-800 on August 20, 2007, after landing at Naha Airport on Okinawa, Japan. Watch these two short videos. The first is an animation that explains what happened. Then, watch the second video, which shows the consequences of one missing washer.

That’s about a $90.5 million washer, based on average 2013 Boeing list prices. The 165 people on board were evacuated with no casualties, even though it appears to take about three and a half minutes for fire trucks to arrive. Thanks to my friend Bob Punch for calling this to my attention.