Editors Archive

Help fund a production showing the move of SAM 27000

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

You read the story of how SAM 27000–one of two customized Boeing 707-353Bs delivered to the United States Air Force; designated as a VC–137C; and served 28 years, often carrying the president and using the “Air Force One” call sign–was disassembled, moved to the top of a California mountain, and reassembled in the Reagan Presidential Library (“Affecting the Course of History,” December 2014 AOPA Pilot). And you probably saw Senior Photographer Mike Fizer’s excellent video that accompanied the magazine story.

Now, Joel and Michael Cohen want to produce a documentary, Air Force One: The Final Mission. It will take viewers on the airplane’s final flight, and through its transformation to the museum fixture you saw in AOPA Pilot. Using two cameramen, an assistant cameraman, and a crew of five, they shot thousands of photographs; some 100 hours of exclusive, never-before-seen video tape; and extensive time-lapse footage.

To properly produce the documentary, they’re working to raise $110,000 online through Kickstarter. Contributors at many levels will receive a copy of the completed documentary. For more information see their Kickstarter page.

 

Rio to Grenada, In Style

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

Let’s see, where did we leave off? Oh, at Iguacu Falls, Brazil. But with Air Journey the goal is to explore, and so after three days we departed Iguacu for Rio de Janeiro. It was an early departure, in order to beat the worst daytime convection. Typically, Mike Williams and I would depart first in Williams’ CJ1+, followed by Joe Howley in his PC-12 or Ian Runge in his TBM 700. This way, the CJ could relay info about any huge buildups along the route to the rest of the airplanes.

Spot_Rio_de_Janeiro_med

Howley and Runge, who typically flew at FL250, 260, or 270, often found themselves on instruments, in the clag, and working their radars to wend they way through buildups. What a difference up at the CJ1+–at a majestic FL370 (or higher!)–cruising altitudes. We could look down on the undercast.

A typical sight over the Amazon region--if you're at FL380! It's easy to avoid the worst convection up there, but if you're in a PC-12 or TBM you'll need radar to pick your way around.

A typical sight over the Amazon region–if you’re at FL380! It’s easy to avoid the worst convection up there, but if you’re in a PC-12 or TBM you’ll need radar to pick your way around.

Rio, like most every destination we visited in Brazil, featured a 2,000-foot broken sky with good visibility for our arrivals, which were usually around noon. But by late afternoon, we had torrential rain in Rio. “It’s like Florida weather,” one pilot observed. In Rio, we did the tourist thing and had a great guided tour of the sights.

The famous Christ teh Redeemer statue on top of Corcovado Mountain. And yep, it was IMC for a while. But it did nothing to dampen our spirits.

The famous Christ the Redeemer statue on top of Corcovado Mountain. And yep, it was IMC for a while. But it did nothing to dampen our spirits.

Aerial tram cars took us to Sugarloaf Mountain, where there were great views of Rio de Janeiro.

Aerial tram cars took us to Sugarloaf Mountain, where there were great views of Rio de Janeiro. That’s Copacabana beach on the far left, and if you squint hard enough you can see the Christ statue–now in VMC–on the peak at the far right.

Air Journey does it up right, from the flight planning to the hotel transfers to the hotels. We stayed at the Copacabana Palace in Rio, for example. Here's the view of the hotel pool from the outdoor restaurant.

Air Journey does it up right, from the flight planning to the hotel transfers to the hotels. We stayed at the Copacabana Palace in Rio, for example. Here’s the view of the hotel pool from the outdoor restaurant.

Leaving Rio, it was another early departure for the next stop, at the coastal city of Salvador de Bahia. On this leg, there were few buildups coming from the soggy undercast, and all three airplanes had uneventful trips. By this time, Howley, Williams, and Runge had gotten pretty proficient at working and interpreting their radars.

Mike Williams uses the Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 as his primary FMS in his CJ1+, but installed a Garmin GTN 750 as a backup. Here, the moving map shows us enroute to  Salvador de Bahia.

Mike Williams uses the Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 as his primary FMS in his CJ1+, but installed a Garmin GTN 750 as a backup. Here, the moving map shows us enroute to Salvador de Bahia.

 

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On approach to the Salvador de Bahia airport. No more ugly overcast here--just some high cirrus clouds and light winds.

On approach to the Salvador de Bahia airport. No more ugly overcast here–just some high cirrus clouds and light winds.

The lodging at Salvador de Bahia was unconventional–literally. The Convento do Carmo was built in the 17th century as a convent, but now it’s been restored and converted into a landmark hotel in the oldest section of the city. Some say there are ghosts, but I never felt anything out of the ordinary. Well, except that floor that creaked for about a half-hour around 3:00 a.m.

The pool at Convento do Carmo occupies a central courtyard.

The pool at Convento do Carmo occupies a central courtyard.

A guided tour took us to historic churches and other locales around the old city’s steep, cobblestoned roads.

Christine Howley contemplates a life of monastic silence at a Franciscan monastery.

Christine Howley contemplates a life of monastic silence at a Franciscan monastery.

From left to right, Ruthanne Ruzika, Christine Howley, and Sue Runge take a break from strolling Salvador de Bahia.

From left to right, Ruthanne Ruzika, Christine Howley, and Sue Runge take a break from strolling Salvador de Bahia.

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The next leg would be a long one, to Belem, Brazil, about 930 nm away and almost four hours of flying for Howley in his PC-12. Once again it was an early takeoff and the weather was uneventful. The Belem stop was for one night only, and positioned us for a final push to the last destination on the trip–Grenada. The original plan was to break up the Belem to Grenada journey with a fuel stop in Cayenne, French Guiana. But by this stage in the South American trip the group had grown somewhat tired of Brazilian airport bureaucracy, and was eager to press on. So it was non-stop from Belem to Grenada (TGPY), some 1,145 nm away. Howley, with six hours’ endurance, could make it easily. Williams’ CJ1+ promised we’d land with 600 pounds of fuel in reserve (about 90 gallons), but that was only if the winds aloft stuck to the forecast. Long story short: a direct-Grenada clearance let Williams land with just under 700 pounds of Jet A. Howley celebrated his arrival in Grenada with a sporty, “chop and drop” short-field landing into gusty headwinds on Grenada’s 8,967-foot-long runway 10.

Somewhere slightly northwest of Belem, we simply had to document our crossing the Equator.  Williams and I waited and watched the Pro Line's screen for the Big Moment. And missed it! But not by much. Here, you can see we're a mere 21 minutes north.

Somewhere slightly northwest of Belem, we simply had to document our crossing the Equator. Williams and I waited and watched the Pro Line’s screen for the Big Moment. And missed it! But not by much. Here, you can see we’re a mere 21 minutes north. Notice the advisory to “check fuel at destination.” That alert went away somewhere off the coast of Surinam.

After a stay in Grenada, I returned to the U.S., having experienced another outstanding Air Journey adventure. But the rest of the group lingered at Grenada’s LaLuna resort before making their way home. Can’t say I blame them.
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The beach at sunset at Grenada's LaLuna resort.

The beach at sunset at Grenada’s LaLuna resort.

This may the end of the story for now, but don’t forget to look for an upcoming feature story on this South American journey in the pages of AOPA Pilot–as well as video coverage in our digital editions and AOPA Live This Week.

Some have asked about flying in South America after reading some of my posts on the trip. I say, check with Air Journey. You don’t need to fly a full-blown escorted trip to take advantage of their expertise. Air Journey offers what they call a concierge service that’s tailored to the legs you want to fly–in South America or anywhere else in the world for that matter.

The Next Big Thing from Air Journey? Their around the world trip that begins in May. Take note, potential globe-trotters: A couple slots are still open for this one-of-a-kind odyssey. Don’t own a jet, or not rated in one? The company can even set you up with the training and the rating you’ll need to fly one or more legs of this trip in the left seat of a Cessna Mustang. Sound good?

Time Out in Iguacu

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

The members of the Air Journey South American self-piloting tour group have been on the road together for about four weeks now. On average, the three pilots and their passengers fly about 500-700 nm every two days. No one’s complaining, mind you, but there does come a time for “something completely different” as they say in the Monty Python shows.

With this as a motivator, all hands signed up for a ride through the jungle in the national park surrounding our hotel near Iguacu Falls, Brazil (I’ve also seen it spelled “Iguassu,” by the way), followed by a jaunt upstream in a huge Zodiac-style boat. Upstream, as in breaching rapids. And actually entering the Iguacu Falls! The helmsman steered us right into the water, which came from, oh, maybe 500 feet up. One minute you’re looking up at the water as it rolls off the cliffs above, the next you’re getting a hydraulic pounding. And a thorough soaking.

Good thing Mike Fizer, AOPA Pilot’s senior photographer, was along. He took photos and videos–using his cell phone. His $6,000 Canon would have been a write-off after that dunking. He bought Go-Pro videos from the boat operator, as well as some watery stills.

You’ll have to wait to see the waterfall-inundation stills and videos in an upcoming article in AOPA Pilot and a segment in AOPA Live This Week. We couldn’t upload the files as we were in a rush at the time, and Fizer was preoccupied with trying to dry out his clothes. Seems he tossed his wet gear in his suitcase before the next leg of the trip. When he next opened it, all his clothes were wet, thanks to osmosis. And as the humidity here runs as high as 94 percent, air-drying is useless.

 

The Iguacu Falls, photographed by Mike Fizer at 4:30 a.m. A time exposure allows both stars and the falls to be seen--even though it was a pitch black night.

The Iguacu Falls, photographed by Mike Fizer at 4:30 a.m. A time exposure allows both stars and the falls to be seen–even though it was a pitch black night.

The falls at dawn.

The falls at dawn.

A stop along the jungle trail. My personal best moment here came when a toucan landed near by.

A stop along the jungle trail. My personal best moment here came when a toucan landed near by.

That’s it for now. I’ll get in a couple more posts in before leaving the Caribbean and re-entering the U.S. As always, stay tuned!

On to Iguassu Falls

Saturday, March 21st, 2015

Yesterday the Air Journey group flew from Buenos Aires’ San Fernando airport (SADF) to Iguassu Falls (SBFI), where there is a luxury hotel hard by a much-visited set of waterfalls–both within a national park. In retrospect, the departure from San Fernando had a comical air. Our airplanes were towed, one at a time, from the local FBO to the ramp in front of the tower. There, the police made us empty the contents of each plane for screening. After that, it was more cacophony on the frequency as attempt after attempt to secure permission for engine starts and clearances as communications dissolved into badly broken English. Seems that Spanish is the dominant language of aviation in Argentina. Oh, well, at least we could hear the controllers.

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On this leg, I flew with Mike Williams in his CJ1+, along with Larry and Cathy Wilke. Williams owns a metal fabricating business in La Porte, Indiana, and Larry is his shop manager. Wouldn’t it be nice if all our bosses took us on a tour of South America? The CJ spent most of its time at FL370 and FL390. About 45 minutes into the flight, thunderstorms cropped up, forcing us to dodge their tops.

The first part of the enroute segment was on top at FL370. Below, IMC reigned, and thunderstorms began cropping up on the horizon.

The first part of the enroute segment was on top at FL370. Below, IMC reigned, and thunderstorms began cropping up on the horizon.

Eventually, the undercast broke up, and the storms were behind us. But behind us, at FL270 Ian Runge was in the soup, and so was Joe Howley in his PC-12.

Ah, that's better. The view out the front of Williams' CJ1+ . At this point we were about 75 miles from the destination.

Ah, that’s better. The view out the front of Williams’ CJ1+ . At this point we were about 75 miles from the destination.

Iguassu Falls tower cleared us to circle the waterfalls, with the restriction that we stay at or above 4,000 feet.

Iguassu Falls, Brazil, from 4,000 feet.

Iguassu Falls, Brazil, from 4,000 feet. Our hotel, the Hotel das Cataratas, is in the small clearing on the other side of the falls.

The CJ1+ lands on Iguassu Falls' runway 14.

The CJ1+ lands on Iguassu Falls’ runway 14.

We’re getting into Amazon basin territory now, so afternoon convection is becoming a regular event. The next leg, from Iguassu Falls to Rio de Janeiro, will probably start early in the morning to avoid the worst weather. Stand by for more…..

Bariloche to Buenos Aires

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

After a nice stay at the Llao Llao Hotel (http://llaollao.com) in Bariloche, Argentina it was time for the nine people in our travel group to launch once more. This time, to Buenos Aires’ San Fernando Airport. It would be a huge understatement to say that all of us fortunate flyers were sad to leave Llao Llao. Take a look at this and you’ll see why:

Llao Llao Hotel and grounds

Llao Llao Hotel and grounds

Nevertheless, on a trip that lasts six weeks and rounds the entire South American continent, someone has to beat the drum and keep the tour on the move. So Mike Williams, in his CJ1+, along with passengers Larry and Cathy Wilke; Joe Howley, in his PC-12NG with his wife Christine; and Ian Runge in his TBM 700 with wife Sue, fired up this morning at Bariloche and headed out for Buenos Aires. Here’s a couple of slides from the preflight briefing to give an idea of some of the route particulars:

The big picture--the route from the Argentinian mountains to the coastal lowlands.

The big picture–the route from the Argentinian mountains to the coastal lowlands.

Today's route basics. A 725-nm trip, complete with flight plan waypoints and expected procedures

Today’s route basics. A 725-nm trip, complete with flight plan waypoints and expected procedures

Once again, I flew with Joe Howley and got to see the great capabilities of the PC-12NG. I used to dislike the NG’s Honeywell Apex avionics, but I now think I can come to terms with it having spent four-plus hours in the right seat. If only someone would just give me a dozen hours or so more flying the NG and I’m sure I’d be able to make it sing. Someone, please help me here!

The takeoff from Bariloche's runway 29. And no, the PC-12's prop doesn't fling itself around like this. It's distortion caused by the iPhone's shutter--or something... I don't know. You tell me.

The takeoff from Bariloche’s runway 29. And no, the PC-12’s prop doesn’t fling itself around like this. It’s distortion caused by the iPhone’s shutter–or something… I don’t know. You tell me!

Mid-way through the flight we topped a large layer of building cumulus clouds beneath our FL250 crusing altitude. Some of the cumulus (cumuli?) were rising in isolated towers, and the NG’s stormscope and radar showed thunderstorm activity off our left. So we climbed to Fl270 and made a 10-degree deviation to get around the area. After about 100 nm, we were in clear skies. But get a load of the situation approximately an hour after landing:

Today's widespread convection, superimposed on our flight track. An end run around the right edge of a weak line of buildups was the perfect solution. There wasn't even any turbulence!

Today’s widespread convection, superimposed on our flight track. An end run around the right edge of a weak line of buildups was the perfect solution. There wasn’t even any turbulence!

The storms weren’t really the biggest problem we had. That award would go to the extraordinarily faint, garbled, and indecipherable transmissions from ATC. What does it sound like? Imagine a man in a fully-tiled bathroom, back to a microphone, and speaking into a tiny megaphone. It’s an echo-y, build-and-fade sound, with some static thrown in for good measure. And it seemed like every pilot in every sector stepped on each others’ transmissions. That’s international flying for you.

After a hard day fighting thunderstorms, plus landing and other fees, Joe Howley rejoices at his post-flight fillup--$4.40 a gallon!

After a hard day fighting thunderstorms, rotten radio transmissions, customs, general declarations, immigrations, and fees, Joe Howley rejoices at his post-flight fillup–$4.40 a gallon!

I would have taken some photos of the building cumulus, but somehow my iPhone fell down between my seat and the sidewall, and I couldn’t retrieve it in flight. Sorry about that. Tomorrow, AOPA Pilot senior photographer, Mike Fizer, will be joining the group to provide some world-class photos and videos of the goings-on in the air and on the ground. So be on hand for that. OK? I hope you said ‘yes’–I mean “correcto” as is the habit of South American controllers.

One way to avoid the annual

Monday, March 16th, 2015

Shiny valve covers adorn the new Lycoming on Sean Tucker's Oracle Challenger III.

Shiny valve covers adorn the new Lycoming on Sean Tucker’s Oracle Challenger III.

Sean D. Tucker, the highly regarded aerobatic pilot, is practicing two to three times every day as he prepares for the start of the 2015 airshow season. This week, he plans to test-fly his primary airplane, which last weekend was still being rebuilt in his Salinas, Calif., hangar.

Rebuilt? Yes. The airplane is stripped down, taken apart, and rebuilt every year. The job–including new fabric, paint, engine, and prop–requires about 6,000 man-hours to complete. Overkill? No, especially when you consider the number of Gs, spins, and snap rolls the airframe endures in the course of a year.

While his mechanics complete the rebuild, Tucker practices in his older backup airplane. “This airplane is a little under-powered,” he said of his temporary steed. “If I can master the routine in this airplane, it will be easy in the other one.”

Another benefit of his regularly scheduled rebuild? He doesn’t have to worry about whether the airplane is in annual.

Will Tucker and his Challenger be performing near you this year? Check his airshow schedule online.

Sean Tucker's nearly rebuilt Oracle Challenger III sits in the late-afternoon sun. His mechanics called it a day a few minutes earlier.

Sean Tucker’s nearly rebuilt Oracle Challenger III sits in the late-afternoon sun. His mechanics had called it a day a few minutes earlier on Saturday.

Cruising through South America

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

People often ask me about one of my titles on the AOPA Pilot masthead. “What’s an editor-at-large” do? Or, for that matter, “what does editor-at-large mean?” I’d say it means a couple things. One, I work out of my home office. Two, I travel a lot. I mean, a lot. So, I’m “at large”–in a state of more or less perpetual wandering. Sometimes I get really lucky. Like right now. I’m on an Air Journey trip through South America. Over the next few days I’ll keep you updated on the goings-on.

Today started in Puerto Montt, Chile, a resort town in a region that’s been called South America’s “little Switzerland.” Here’s a shot from our hotel this morning–the Hotel Cumbres in Puerto Varas.:

Hotel Cumbres, dawn

Hotel Cumbres, dawn

Today I flew with Joe Howley and his wife, Christine in their PC-12NG. Joe, by the way, is president of the Pilatus Owners and Pilots Association. It was s short hop from Puerto Montt to Bariloche, Argentina. We cruised at 17,000 feet and saw 265 KTAS along the way, and saw lenticulars as we passed over the mountains:

Joe and Christine Howley

Joe and Christine Howley

The lenticulars, and a shot of the approach we shot into Bariloche–in severe clear, but the drill is to file IFR:

Lenticulars--or are they rotor clouds?--as seen from 17,000 feet

Lenticulars–or are they rotor clouds?–as seen from 17,000 feet

Bariloche

Bariloche’s VOR DME ILS DME rwy 29 approach–what a mouthful!

More to come. The next leg takes us to Buenos Aires, then it’s on into Brazil. Stay tuned…..

Piper to announce new aircraft

Thursday, March 12th, 2015

Actually Piper will “announce” two new aircraft. The more secretive of the two is the Piper Meridian M600, unearthed by Australian aviation writers after a tip from a reader about a new trademark that Piper filed. The betting is that this latest Meridian will have a 600-shaft-horsepower engine to make it fly closer to 300 knots, and maybe an extra seat. The competition has that sort of speed and that extra seat. The other announcement is already on the Piper Web site and has been there for quite some time, just waiting for its diesel engine to be approved. It’s the Archer DX, and it will use the same Thielert/Continental/Technify (take your choice) CD155-horsepower engine as the Cessna 172. The Piper Archer DX is close to getting its supplemental type certificate, but the process must begin anew for the Cessna 172. Industry sources believe it will be “days” before the Piper STC is approved (the owner buys it separately from Thielert/Continental/Technify), which means it could be weeks in FAA time. With Cessna, the STC comes with the aircraft.

Welcome, drone pilots!

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

Think you have all the ratings? If newly proposed FAA rules on drones get approved–it will take two years–as written, there will be a new type of “pilot” certificate (only required for commercial drone use) called Unmanned Aerial Systems Operator. (Can “Rocket Pilot” be far behind?) Most rule comment periods are 60 days, but apparently that limitation has been tossed away. Here’s the good news. An early draft of the regulations says you need to go to a Knowledge Test Center to take the written test. No previous flying experience, medical certificate, or pilot certificate is required. It must be repeated every two years. If you are already a pilot, you still have to get a UAS operator certificate. First there is an application process. You have to be 17 or older. Following that applicants must visit a flight instructor who signs them off for the written test. All this means we have a pool of potential pilots coming to the airport soon, since that is where many Knowledge Test Centers are located. Do you suppose if we treat them as one of the pilot community, they might actually become private pilots? How many will there be? We can be a lot more optimistic than the FAA. The FAA thinks there will only be 7,500 commerical-use drone pilots in the United States five years after the drone regs take effect. I just checked a Web photography site called SLR (single-lens reflex) Lounge Beta, and I believe the estimate I found there that there are 100,000 wedding photographers out there who want to be competitive, so could there be 20,000 who might want to get a certificate? Now then, the National Association of Realtors said in 2007 there were two million real estate agents in the United States working for 109,000 firms. A few thousand firms may want their own drone, or at least sign a contract with a local drone pilot. So, another 10,000? We’re leaving out a bunch of industries here that may send people to the local Knowledge Test Center. Welcome to aviation, folks.

Editor’s note: You can get more details about the proposed rule and AOPA’s position on safely integrating drones into the National Airspace System in the story, “Proposed rules set limits on small UAS.”

Where are our future pilots?

Friday, January 30th, 2015

12 14Look at the general age group in these DJI (a company that makes drones) photos posted on the drone company’s Web site. Aren’t these the youthful crowd we wanted in general aviation? And where are they? In drone pilot school. Should be a snap for those of us who are already pilots, right? You too can attend drone pilot school. It’s only one day. Select “North America” in the link above under “Select A Region” to see the schedule. DJI, the largest drone maker in the world which manufactured the drone that ended up in a White House tree, offers the school. They want to sell drones and they want to make sure you know the rules, one of which is, don’t drink and drone. If sober, you are more likely to remember you can’t fly a drone in D.C. Classes are worldwide, but  classes for the United States include Boston and Riverdale, Maryland on Feb. 7, and classes later this year in Miami; Englewood, Colorado; Raleigh, North Carolina; Philadephia; and Salt Lake City. Remember, friends don’t let friends drone drunk. Ok, so drone enthusiasts worldwide are stampeding toward drones. And what do we do to get them to stampede to the local airport?