Editors Archive

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.

Take me out to the airport

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

20140816_134226There’s nothing like a family fun day out. When it happens to be at an airport, even better—especially if the airport offers something for everyone in the family.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to fly AOPA’s 152Reimagined to the Tazewell County Airport Fly-In in Cedar Bluff, Virginia, to talk to members and help introduce children to aviation. The airport, situated on a ridge top, buzzed with activity—bounce houses for children, food vendors, a covered picnic area, live bands, booths from the local sheriff’s office and AOPA, helicopter rides, and demonstrations by a Just Aircraft SuperSTOL, an Extra, a powered parachute, and a jet-powered remote-control aircraft.

Pilots who flew in got lunch for free and could take advantage of a great fuel discount—that day the airport offered it for $4.90 a gallon! (After 3.5 hours of flying time to get there, I topped off for only $81!)

20140816_133203Grandparents, moms, dads, teenagers, and young children were all smiles as they walked around in a warm breeze, sat in camping chairs, and played.

It’s been several years since I’ve seen such a diverse age range enjoying themselves at an airport. And I’m not talking about a couple of family members tolerating it while one (the pilot) runs around like a kid at Christmas. I’m talking about families lounging around, listening to music, playing, laughing, and spending quality time together like hanging out at an airport and watching airplanes is the most natural, inviting pastime in the world.

Tazewell usually hosts an airshow this time of year, but broke its tradition to opt for a fly-in, bringing pilots from outside the area in to mingle with the local community members. This brought a welcomed increase in traffic to the airport that is usually quiet, with only a few refueling stops from jets.

20140816_133518The day held a special treat for me as well—my own family flew a short hop in a Cessna 170 to surprise me at the fly-in.

If you ask me, Tazewell had the perfect fly-in and open house. And if other small airports across the country are doing the same, there’s hope for general aviation yet.

 

Thanks, Annabelle

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Growing up in aviation, I hadn’t met very many female pilots, let alone a woman who had blazed the trail, making it easier for me to enter the field.

Attendees at Annabelle Fera's retirement party express their appreciation for her dedication to aviation as a designated pilot examiner. Photo by Woody Cahall.

Attendees at Annabelle Fera’s retirement party express their appreciation for her dedication to aviation as a designated pilot examiner. Photo by Woody Cahall.

When I moved to Frederick, Maryland, to work at AOPA, I started hearing about Annabelle, a local legend. She was always referred to simply as Annabelle—no last name was needed, everyone knew who you were talking about. She was the designated pilot examiner on the field, and it seemed as if every pilot at Frederick had taken a checkride with her. She was always fair in her examinations, they said.

Still, when it came my turn to take my instrument checkride with Annabelle, I was terrified. My instructor introduced me to her a couple of days before the checkride. She was petite and kind-hearted, not a scary examiner with horns. She emphasized the importance of safety, which helped to calm my nerves somewhat.

After passing my instrument checkride, I focused less on Annabelle’s status as an examiner and more on trying to learn about what brought her to this respected position in the aviation community.

Annabelle earned her pilot certificate in 1969. She worked her way up through an airline transport pilot certificate, but the airlines wouldn’t hire women then. She found a job instructing and later became an examiner in 1978. There weren’t many female aviation examiners at the time; a photo of a certificate from the FAA repeatedly uses “he” and “him” in conferring the title of designated pilot examiner on her.

Occasionally, I would ask Annabelle for advice. After my commercial checkride, I confided in her about some of my insecurities in aviation, to which she promptly responded by giving me a favorable evaluation of my piloting skills and encouraged me to continue pursuing my dreams. From her statement, I knew that evaluation wasn’t one she gave out freely and that she had years of experience to back up what she said.

Experience indeed. When Annabelle retired recently, she had more than three decades of experience as an examiner and had given more than 9,000 exams. During her career, she probably spent double the time of giving that many exams in encouraging pilots to follow their dreams and girls to consider careers in aviation. I remember Annabelle urging teenage Girl Scouts to go up for a flight to see if they liked it and “fly my dream for me,” during an AOPA event in 2011.

Annabelle got a taste of how many lives she impacted over the decades during a retirement party Aug. 10 at the Frederick Municipal Airport. Pilots of all ages who had worked with, trained with, or taken a checkride from Annabelle came out to say “thank you.” At the celebration, I learned that her legend extends far beyond Frederick. She gave a checkride to Sam Walton’s grandson and to a Saudi prince, and to airline pilots who now fly various routes around the world. But bigger than that is how her reputation has spread by word of mouth (there are thousands of us, after all).

I know I’ve used her as an example while flying with teenage girls in the remote villages of northern Alaska. They too face many obstacles, and my hope is that after sharing highlights of Annabelle’s incredible career with them, they will realize that they too can persevere and learn to fly if their heart is in it.

So, thank you Annabelle, for blazing the trail, for sharing high standards, and for being an impeccable example to pilots. I am fortunate to have flown with you.

Last stop: Nagoya and Kyoto

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

It was an easy two-hour trip from Taipei to Jeju, South Korea, and the day spent at Jeju gave the touring group of pilots a chance to see a volcanic caldera and check out the Shilla Hotel’s private beach. I’d never heard of the place before, but Jeju is a big tourist destination and has a huge modern airport to prove it.

But this trip is all about the flying so today we flew from Jeju to Nagoya, Japan. Jeju was hot and foggy at the surface for today’s departure but we picked up 50-knot tailwinds at the Mustang’s cruising altitude of 33,000 feet. Groundspeeds hit the 350-knot mark a couple of times. As a result we landed at Nagoya in just under two hours.

After that it was a bullet-train ride to Kyoto, where the group will see the sights. Then my Mustang flying comes to an end–for now, anyway–on Saturday morning. That’s when I head to Tokyo on the bullet train and board a flight back home.

Hope you got at least a bit of a feel for the experience, but an upcoming issue of AOPA Pilot will have a feature story on the same trip, and give you a more expansive look at the experience. Thanks to those of you who followed along, thanks to all the great new acquaintances I made during this unforgettable time, and for those of you who want to continue following the group as they make their way through Russia and back to United States, remember to follow Air Journey’s blog.

The route from Jeju to Nagoya. The green shading indicates high-altitude turbulence, and indeed there was some. About 60 nm from Nagoya we had to deviate around a thunderstorm, but that was about it for the weather enroute.

The route from Jeju to Nagoya. The green shading indicates high-altitude turbulence, and indeed there was some. About 60 nm from Nagoya we had to deviate around a thunderstorm, but that was about it for the weather enroute.

 

Here’s a sample of just some of the material reviewed during the previous night’s pilot briefing. Good material for armchair flying!

Briefing Jeju – Nagoya

 

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 Women Pilots of Air Journey’s RTW

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

Of the nine pilots flying the current legs of Air Journey’s around the world (RTW) voyage, two are women. One, Laura Azara, plans to file for a record flight: the youngest female pilot to complete an around the world trip in an unmodified airplane–a Pilatus PC-12NG.

Yes, Amelia Earhart–no, not that Amelia Earhart–recently claimed an around-the-world record for being the youngest female pilot to reach that goal, and in a PC-12 NG to boot. But the latter Earhart made her flight using a PC-12NG fitted with ferry fuel tanks. And while she may have been the youngest to do the flight, Azara is even younger–by a mere three days. On the RTW trip Azara flies with Jimmy Hayes in his PC-12.

Laura Azara, copying  her clearance to depart Taiwan's Taoyuan Airport.

Laura Azara, copying her clearance to depart Taiwan’s
Taoyuan Airport.

Corinna Hettinger is the second female pilot. She has a private pilot certificate and logs time flying the Sierra-modified Cessna Citation ISP owned by her and husband Bill. She learned to fly in a Cessna 152 and in her 25 years of flying, she’s flown a series of Piper piston singles, then upped her game to serving as co-pilot in the Piper Navajo the couple have owned. These days, she’s riding shotgun and making contrails in the ISP at FL430.

Corinna and Bill Hettinger prepare to board their Citation.

Corinna and Bill Hettinger prepare to board their Citation.

Meanwhile, Betty Schlacter, while not a pilot, might as well be. She’s been flying with husband David for the past 65 hours in the TBM 850 the couple are using on the RTW trip. She’s attended a number of pinch-hitter courses, and learned a lot from right-seat experience. The skills she’s learned over the years make her very adept at working the GPS and other navigation equipment, as well as making radio calls. In the polyglot world of around the world flying that’s saying a lot.