Mike Collins Archive

Day 4: Straubing to Salzburg

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Today has been a nonstandard day. Instead of getting up early and flying, we got up early and spent most of the day visiting MT Propeller, a German company that has been doing some innovative work with propellers for general aviation aircraft. (The airplane we’re flying, Mike Laver’s Mitsubishi MU-2, has five-blade MT propellers installed; in fact, his airplane was used for FAA certification testing of the new props.)

MT Propeller was founded by Gerd Muhlbauer in 1980, and he still serves as the company’s president. Most of the propellers that MT makes are a combination of beech and spruce–yes, wood–covered in carbon fiber, Kevlar, or a combination of the two. “There’s nothing new here,” said Muhlbauer, explaining that the basic design can be traced to work that Ludwing Hoffman did in 1928. What is new, in addition to improved coverings for the wood, is a trend toward more blades that are shorter; this can reduce noise significantly and often improves performance, as well. In addition, MT has expanded into nonaviation areas, making propellers for hovercraft; the largest propller the company makes is used in wind tunnels.

Future propeller blades ready to cut

Beech and spruce are glued and compressed into blocks that will become propeller blades.

Wooden blades ready for finishing

Wooden blades are shaped and ready for finishing.

Glass goes on a wood propeller blade

Glass fiber is applied to a wooden propeller blade.

082813 Gerd Muhlbauer and Mike Laver at MT Propeller

Gerd Muhlbauer, MT Propeller founder and president (left), talks with Mike Laver by the MU-2 in Straubing.

Germany has become a multinational place. Late in the afternoon, following lunch at an Italian restaurant run by people from Turkey, we depart on the 20-minute flight to Salzburg, Austria. Taking off VFR, we turn over the Danube River–avoiding overflight of several small villages near the airport–and pick up our IFR clearance before climbing into the clouds.

Touching down in Salzburg

The Salzburg airport is well lit, and the runway was easy to spot when we emerged from the clouds.

We’re asked to keep our speed up–to 180 knots until we’re five miles from the runway–and we touch down a minute or so before a Boeing 737. On the ramp, we’re parked next to a Learjet from Switzerland; next to it is a Cessna Citation XLS from Austria and another Learjet from South Africa. The co-pilot of the Citiation walks over and talks with us as we wait for the crew van to pick us up.

Parked on a wet ramp in Salzburg

Our airplane parked in Austria, near another futuristic control tower. Cloud obscures the mountain peaks.

Tomorrow is a nonflying day. We’re going to visit Red Bull–the aviaton museum, not the energy drink! I’ll probably enjoy an extra cup of morning coffee, however….


Day 3: Reykjavik to Straubing

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

Sunshine on the departure from Reyjkavik

Sunshine streams through a hole in the clouds as we depart from Reyjkavik.

It was overcast and drizzling a bit as we prepared to take off from Reykjavik, Iceland, this morning. Seconds after we took off, however, sunlight flooded through a hole in the clouds and first bathed some buildings across a bay from the airport, and then flooded a green valley that turned out to be a golf course. The clouds were not thick and we quickly popped out into a gorgeous sunrise. I was glad my sunglasses were within reach.

Mike Laver organizes paper charts

Mike Laver takes advantage of some quiet cruise flight to prepare charts for the next few legs.

When we leave the Icelandic coast behind, we’re crusing at FL250 (about 25,000 feet) above the cloud-covered Atlantic. The winds are blowing at 86 knots at our altitude, but they’re generally perpendicular to our route of flight, and we’re actually getting a pretty good tailwind on this leg. A push is always nice; we can go faster or reduce power to save fuel. Today we’ve reduced power, and we’re still covering the ground at 338 knots–at least for a while. Mike takes advantage of the relatively quiet overwater flight to get his charts in order for the next couple of legs. Even with electronic navigation and international databases, paper charts still come in handy.

Garmin displays show Scotland

Proof that Scotland really is below all those clouds!

Passing RATSU intersection, we’re handed off to Scottish Control, and lose a lot of groundspeed when we make a turn on our flight plan. Our true airspeed is 280 knots, and after the turn our tailwind drops to 20 knots–so our groundspeed only falls to 300 knots. The ride gets bumpy for the first time this trip as we cross a jet stream but the turbulence lasts less than half an hour. We wouldn’t know we were flying over Scotland this morning if it wasn’t for the moving maps on our navigation displays. The country is blanketed by clouds. Eventually a mountain peak juts through the low clouds, providing visual confirmation that there’s land down there. The accent and cadence of the Scottish air traffic controllers is my favorite of the trip so far. Other notable changes with respect to air traffic control: Frequencies are assigned as “One Two Seven Decimal Two Eight,” instead of “Point” which usually is said in the United States, and controllers are much more likely to use the “proper” phonetic pronounciation–by saying “tree” for “three” and “fife” for “five,” for example.

Newcastle's futuristic control tower

The Newcastle, England, airport boasts an interesting tower and two active flight schools.

The clouds break up as we approach England, however, and the English countryside looks positively quaint as we descend through several broken layers en route to our fuel stop in Newcastle. A great couple of blokes take care of us at Samson Aviation Services, and our fueler, Martin, is a pilot. The airport has a uniquely modern air traffic control tower, and the Newcastle College flight program appeared to be keeping its modest fleet of Piper trainers busy. The first leg takes 3.1 hours and we’re on the ground less than an hour, never leaving the airport, although we did see two double-decker buses pass just beyond the end of the runway as we backtaxied to depart from Runway 25.
From there it’s 2.7 hours through the busiest airspace yet on our way to Straubing, Germany. Our route takes us across the North Sea into the Netherlands, just east of Amsterdam. ATC uses 8.33-mHz frequency spacing here, which can be a trap–it’s one more numeral that might be misidentified by a pilot listening to a foreign tongue, or a readback that could be misunderstood by a controller facing the same challenge. We arrive in time to stop in at MT Propeller, where we’ll spend part of the day tomorrow, and enjoy a traditional Bavarian dinner in the historic city (I recommend the Octoberfest). Many of its buildings are 900 years old, or even older; our restaurant is one of the newer ones–it’s only 700 years old.

Day 2: Goose Bay to Reykjavik

Monday, August 26th, 2013

Five-blade props at sunrise

Mike Laver’s MU-2 on the ramp at Goose Bay.

First off, let me confirm that it’s true: Iceland is green, and Greenland isn’t–at least, not at this time of year. We had hoped to get a predawn start from Goose Bay, Labrador, for our fuel stop in Narsarsuaq, Greenland–but Mike Laver, who I’m accompanying on a flight around the world to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Mitsubishi MU-2′s first flight, remembered that you couldn’t depart for Narsarsuaq without getting a recent observation from the field…and the airport doesn’t open until 6 a.m. Sometimes, interational operations are just “interesting” but in this case, the airport lies at the end of a fjord, and weather frequently makes it a challenging place to get into.

Clouds over the North Atlantic

These clouds over the North Atlantic showed vertical development at 8 a.m.

Once off, however, we’re cleared directly to FL250 as we pass over a solitary boat on Lake Melville. “We’re going faster in the climb than we were in cruise yesterday,” Mike remarked, pointing at the groundspeed readout. Far below, whisps of morning fog rise, painting delicate white lines on the dark canvas of the Earth. The rising sun reflects on marshland below as we go feet wet over the Labrador Sea. We’re covering ground–er, water–at a rate of 313 knots when we cross the Davis Straits, but a solid layer below precludes any view of the water. Then we pass through 10 or 20 miles of clear sky, followed by more clouds–these with vertical development, despite the early hour. By 2 p.m. these could provide significant weather, and they show the wisdom of launching early in the day for long trips.

Iceberg on final to Narsarsuaqt

An iceberg marks the approach to Runway 7 at Narsarsuaq, Greenland.

We’re in nonradar airspace. Proper configuration of the screens on Mike’s Garmin GTN 750 and GTN 650 makes position reporting a breeze. The sky below us has cleared–was that an iceberg? A good tailwind gets us to Narsarsuaq in slightly more than two hours, so we didn’t have to take on a full load of fuel (at $8 per gallon)–and there’s no question that the shape off the end of Runway 7 as we approach is an iceberg.

Martin and Juliette Prakken

Martin and Juliette Prakken are flying home to Virginia from Europe.

After a quick refueling, we pause to talk with Martin and Juliette Prakken, who had just landed in a Socata TBM 700. Natives of the Netherlands who moved to Virginia about 20 years ago, he uses the airplane for business in the United States and in Europe, flying it across for several months every summer. They were westbound, heading home with their two children before school starts. Pilots flying internationally are quick to exchange notes about the weather and procedures; later at our hotel in Reykjavik, we talk with the pilot of a Socata TB-20 who had been following us east.

Icebergs east of Greenland

Icebergs dot the water off Greenland’s eastern coast.

Narsarsuaq is…cool. Any longer on the ground and I would have had to upgrade to a heavier coat. On Greenland’s east coast, however, it looked downright cold. The snowpack appeared thick and glaciers were calving icebergs–so many in a couple spots that the water looked more like a bowl of ice cubes. But we’re high above by now, enjoying an 80-knot tailwind. Eventually over the Atlantic we see nothing but a lot of water. While we don’t see any whitecaps from FL270, the texture of the surface looks like something to avoid in a small boat. After about two more hours, we break out of clouds at 2,200 feet and touch down at Reykjavik in light rain. 

Tomorrow we fly to Newcastle, England, for a fuel stop, and then to Straubing, Germany, for the night. If you want to know where we’re going, a schedule that’s almost up to date is posted on Mike Laver’s website. If you want to see where we’ve been, check out my DeLorme tracking map–the longer distance between tracking points today (the InReach SE updates position every 10 minutes) illustrates how much faster our groundspeeds were today.

Day 1: Frederick to Goose Bay

Sunday, August 25th, 2013


082513 Climbing out of Maryland

After taking off from Frederick, we climb through scattered clouds.

After a couple months of planning and several days of packing, it’s almost a relief to take off and begin watching the route unfold off our nose–just like my daughter and wife drew it out last night on a wall map at home. Not long into the trip a New York Center controller surprises us. “Five-Zero-Echo-Tango, I’m advised this is an around-the-world flight for the fiftieth anniversary of the aircraft.” Mike replied, “That’s a true statement.” We didn’t tell him, so he must have seen this blog or read the short article in AOPA Pilot. “Have a wonderful flight,” he said. What a great way to launch this adventure.

Landing Runway 8 at Goose Bay

Mike was astonished by this view. “I’ve never landed at Goose Bay in good weather,” he said.

Flying over Scranton, Pa., Mike took advantage of a lull in the action to enter the next few flight plans into the Garmins, creating waypoints over the middle of the Atlantic. FL250 (about 25,000 feet) gives a different perspective of Scranton and Albany, N.Y., than I normally see from 6,000 or 8,000 feet. Crossing into Canada, an array of wind turbines spins lazily beneath scattered clouds. There are more along the shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. I didn’t expect this green corner of Canada to be so green!

Chocks Goose Bay style

Believe this is the first time I’ve seen chocks like this!

Up above, contrails chase airliners approaching us as the afternoon rush of international arrivals heads for the northeastern United States. We have a smooth ride the whole way, although Boston Center earlier advised a gaggle of airliners cleared to Green Bay that “For folks heading westbound [Flight Levels] 320 to 360 are light, occasionally moderate chop.” A few bumps below scattered clouds on approach was it for us.

MU-2 and Bombardier CL-215T at Goose Bay

This firefighting aircraft was our neighbor on the Goose Bay ramp.

Our departure took us on a scenic tour of central Maryland before we could climb enough to turn on course. Between that and a headwind that diminished more gradually than forecast, Mike spent more time than usual calculating fuel burn. At 1,112 nautical miles, this is one of the trip’s longer legs, but we determine that we would land with more than our required minimums–otherwise we would have made a precautionary fuel stop.

Tomorrow: Greenland and Iceland. You can track us online at http://blog.aopa.org/blog/?page_id=5288 or directly on a DeLorme tracking map, which updates our position every 10 minutes while we’re flying, at https://share.delorme.com/MikeCollins.


Final stretch

Saturday, August 24th, 2013

When I talked with Mike yesterday, he said that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan is planning several activities around the 50th anniversary of the MU-2′s first flight. We’re also anticipating a factory tour, as well as a tour of the company’s aviation museum. Both will be fascinating.

Because of this, we’re tweaking the schedule again. We had a buffer day scheduled in the Philippines for Thursday, Sept. 12, to help assure an arrival in Nagoya on Sept. 13 in case we took a delay because of weather or a mechanical issue. Now Thursday will be a flying day, and we’ll spend the night in Taiwan (previously only a “technical” stop, where we would refuel and not formally enter the country–think Snowden in the Moscow airport, except that we wouldn’t be making a habit of it). Friday will then be only one flight leg, which should get us into Nagoya before noon local time. I had thought about posting the original itinerary, but parts of it would be unrecognizable now–I hope you agree with that call.

I will say that I’ve never been so focused on packing for a trip before. I’m not sure why, because once you leave town, you’re gone–whether you’re going across the state or across the globe. Maybe it’s the lenght of the trip. Regardless, I’ve got packing to…and grass to mow…and I think I better get a haircut, too.

Solar Impulse adds D.C. visiting hours

Monday, June 24th, 2013

The Solar Impulse—the manned, solar-powered airplane currently making its way across the United States–has added some additional public visiting hours during its stopover at Washington Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia.

The historic aircraft, which arrived at Dulles early Sunday, June 16, is parked behind the National Air & Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center. It will be open to the public Tuesday, June 25, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. If you’re in the area and have the opportunity–go! Additional public visiting hours could be added as the team awaits suitable weather conditions for departure.

Solar Impulse will launch on the last leg of its transcontinental journey, to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, in late June or early July. Plans call for its successor, already under construction in Switzerland, to fly around the world in 2015, making one stop on each continent.



Birthday tribute

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

One of the many IAPs debuting with the start of the current FAA charting cycle today is the BNELE ONE Arrival (RNAV) to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. This standard terminal arrival was designed to bring jets from the lower flight levels over Nashville and Memphis onto an approach to ATL.

The final waypoint on this STAR for arrivals landing to the west on Runway 26 Left or 26 Right is KEAVY, and like many waypoints today, there’s a story behind it.

Keavy Nenninger learned to fly while she was in high school by pumping gas into airplanes at Moontown Airport–a grassroots airport with a 2,180-foot grass runway just outside of Huntsville, Alabama. Ralph Hood wrote about her checkride in Flight Training magazine in the way that only Ralph Hood could write. She earned a degree in aerospace engineering from St. Louis University’s Parks College of Engineering and Aviation in 2010. There, Keavy was a member of the college’s flight team. She pursued a career in aviation, a passion that she lived and breathed. I met her once at a Women in Aviation conference and remember thinking, “Here’s somebody that’s going places in this industry.”

 Tragically, Keavy died July 23, 2011, in an aircraft accident in Maryland. “Keavy’s adventurous spirit was infectious and she died doing what she loved most–flying,” her obituary read.

Today would have been her 27th birthday.

Her friends will gather for a cookout at Moontown Airport on Saturday evening, May 4–not all that far, by air, from KEAVY, just northwest of Atlanta.

Mach 1.23 pingpong balls?

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Yes, that’s what they’re doing at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., these days–shooting pingpong balls at speeds faster than an F-16 fighter.

Mark French, a mechanical engineering technology professor, drew on his experience as an aeronautical engineer to create a device that blasts the lightweight, 2.3-gram balls through plywood or aluminum, or deeply dent steel. Online video shows the air-powered bazooka destroying pingpong paddles, VHS tapes, and a row of soda cans.

The secret? A pressure chamber connected to the vacuum tube via a convergent-divergent nozzle. “That hourglass-shaped nozzle is similar to what is used in fighter jets,” French said. “When the pressurized air rushes through the bottleneck, it accelerates to supersonic speed as it helps propel the ball through the clear PVC barrel.”

He says the supersonic speeds are surprising because the balls weigh so little, have such poor aerodynamics, and sport a high drag coefficient. The energy delivered is equivalent to a 125 mph fastball or a brick falling several stories.

Enough about the physics, click here to see the bazooka shoot supersonic pingpong balls through stuff




Want to help the DC-10 tankers survive?

Friday, November 30th, 2012

The two former DC-10 airliners modified for use as aerial firefighters by 10 Tanker Air Carrier (see “The New Rainmaker,” May 2012 AOPA Pilot) have seen a good bit of use during this year’s busy wildfire season–several of you have mentioned personally seeing the distinctive orange-and-white jumbo jets at low levels, battling blazes in the western states. (If you haven’t seen the “10″ in action, you can catch the video on AOPA Live.)

However, the company has been unable to secure an exclusive-use contract from the U.S. Forest Service, which it says is required for continued operation of the aircraft. There were reports during the summer that absent such a contract, the company might ground the aircraft before the end of the year. Now, the company is calling on supporters–through its Facebook page and an email campaign–to sign a petition to the Forest Service supporting use of the aircraft.

 The Forest Service is assessing which aircraft it will use to fight forest fires in the future, the company said. “This is our chance to persuade the USFS of the DC-10s’ unique ability to contain forest fires. But we need your help to show USFS Chief Tom Tidwell that we have widespread support.” The efficiency of the flying supertankers certainly is impressive–one can cover about the same amount of ground as four C-130s.

You can learn more, and sign the petition, by visiting this website. I was impressed by what I saw, both during my visit to 10 Tanker and on news videos. They’ve got my support.

Remembering our veterans, and Herbert Carter

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

 As we pause to remember and give thanks to our veterans, this year I am reflecting particularly on those who served in World War II, a population that sadly grows smaller every day. Few members of that modest “Greatest Generation” have a more compelling tale than the Tuskegee Airmen, the first black military pilots, who had to fight for the right and privilege to serve their country in combat from the pilot’s seat of a warbird.

That small group lost one of its leaders last Thursday with the death of Col. Herbert E. Carter (Ret.). Carter, 95, was one of the original members of the 99th Fighter Squadron and flew combat missions during the North African, Sicilian, Italian, and European campaigns of World War II.

The Tuskegee Airmen trained at the Tuskegee Institute–now Tuskegee University–in Tuskegee, Alabama. After the war Carter returned to the campus, where he served as a professor of air science and commanded the Air Force ROTC detachment from 1950 to 1955; he was a professor of aerospace studies from 1965 to 1969. When he retired from the Air Force, he served at Tuskegee as assistant dean for student services and associate dean for admissions and recruiting.

Carter was married for more than 60 years to Mildred L. Hemmons Carter, also a pilot who was counted among the Tuskegee Airmen. I once had the pleasure of hearing him describe their courtship during early 1942. They would arrange to meet over a lake near Tuskegee, she in a Piper J-3 Cub and he flying a much faster North American AT-6 Texan. They married before Carter deployed for combat; CNN ran a touching story on the couple after Mildred died in October 2011.

I believe the last time I saw Carter was during the summer of 2011, when Matt Quy visited Tuskegee’s Moton Field in his Stearman–one that was originally assigned to training of the Tuskegee Airmen–on its way to the Smithsonian Institution (you can see the video from that story here).

Godspeed, Mr. Carter–and thank you to all our veterans.