Editors Archive

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.


Slots and Heat

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

For yesterday’s departure from Hong Kong each airplane in the group was assigned a slot. These ranged from 7:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. so it was important for us to all get to the airport well in advance. Hong Kong, with departures occurring at what must be one-minute intervals, is a very, very busy place.

In any event, our carefully allotted slot times didn’t work out as planned. Like many big airports overseas, at Hong Kong you have to call up clearance delivery, then ground control to get an engine start time. The first time I called up, I was told to expect a 10-minute wait for engine start. Ten minutes came and went, and the next callup said it would be 15 minutes. Then 20 minutes. Then 25 minutes.

This was bad not just because of the takeoff delay, but because of the weather. It was a soggy, rainy, 90-degree morning, so everyone ended up soaked in sweat waiting for permission to start. We didn’t dare start the engines so we could sit there indefinitely, even though that would have given us air conditioning. It would eat up fuel.

Finally, permission was granted. A half-hour taxi ensued, then our Mustang was finally cleared for takeoff. It was 10:30 a.m.

The intial takeoff and climb performance was OK, with climb rates of 2,000 fpm or so. But the much higher than standard temperature conditions (ISA +19 degrees) meant that to keep decent climb rates we’d have to use ever-slower airspeeds. Eventually we levelled off at FL330 (we gave up on cruising at the originally-filed FL370, feeling that it would take us too long to reach it). Coming up on the target altitude, the Mustang’s climb rate was down to 500 fpm owing to the heat’s adverse effects on engine power output.

Less power available also meant a slower cruise speed than typical–315 instead of 340 KTAS. All these factors turned what normally would have been a 1.5 hour trip into a 2 hour event. We landed at Taipei’s Tao Yuan International Airport at 12:30 p.m. Later in the day there was an outing to a huge electronics store, and today the group visited a Tao temple, Chiang Kai Shek’s memorial, the National Revolutionary Martyrs’ Shrine–for those who died fighting warlords, communists, and the Japanese in the period from the 1920s to the late 1940s.

But this trip is all about getting there, so there’s another briefing tonight for tomorrow’s trip to Jeju, South Korea.

Here’s a view of our route:

The route to Jeju may involve some rain showers and convection. That's tropical weather in the summer for you!

The route to Jeju may involve some rain showers and convection. That’s tropical weather in the summer for you!

Here’s some shots from yesterday’s flight:

Waiting for engine start on the ramp at Hong Kong's Business Aviation Center. There's a Signature FBO here!

Waiting for engine start on the ramp at Hong Kong’s Business Aviation Center, with a big downpour on the way.

Baking in the heat, waiting for engine-start permission so I can close the door and start up. Outside the western world, general aviation pilots will find that  wearing a pilot uniform will mean bring better influence and respect.

Baking in the heat, waiting for engine-start permission so I can close the door and start up. 

The Mustang's G1000 MFD shows us enroute to Taipei, and more than halfway there.

The Mustang’s G1000 MFD shows us enroute to Taipei, and more than halfway there.

Two of the group's airplanes tied down on the ramp at Taipei.

Three of the group’s airplanes tied down on the ramp at Taipei–a Twin Commander, A Citation ISP, and a PC-12NG


Next Stop: Taipei

Friday, July 11th, 2014

It’s late here (10:30 p.m.) and we have departure slots reserved for tomorrow morning, so it will be a 5:00 a.m. wakeup for the trip to the airport. The trip from Hong Kong (VHHH) to Taipei (RCTP) should take us about 1.5 hours in the Mustang, and I thought I’d share a screen shot of our anticipated route before hitting the rack.

WSI's app, showing the planned route. Note how it studiously avoids mainland China.

WSI’s app, showing the planned route. Note how it studiously avoids mainland China.

Hong Kong Rendez-Vous

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

Six short years ago, I was lucky enough to join up with Air Journey’s first around-the-world (RTW) escorted tour. For those who want to check that out, select the “North Atlantic Crossing” category to the right. Back in 2008, I flew with Air Journey from Quebec City, Canada to Paris. This year the fates have once again smiled upon me. But this time I’m joining the biennial trip nearer the end of the odyssey–one with legs that begin in Hong Kong and end in Kyoto, Japan. And this time I’ll be flying with Air Journey president Thierry Pouille in his Cessna Mustang.

By the way, Air Journey has earned a well-deserved reputation as a provider of escorted tours to most parts of the world. Pilot-customers do the flying, and Air Journey does the grunt work of obtaining overflight permits, arranging for handling and transfers, filing flight plans, and oh yes, providing for most meals and tours at each stop. To learn more about the company visit their website and to read their blogs about previous legs in this year’s RTW trip go to their blog section and also at www.2014rtw.blogspot.com

There are four other airplanes in this year’s RTW group: A Citation 501 with Sierra Industries’ Williams-engine conversion, flown by Bill and Corinna Hettinger; David and Betty Schlacter’s TBM 850; a Pilatus PC-12NG, owned by Jimmy Hayes and flown by Hayes and Laura and Danny Azara; and Brad and Deborah Howard’s Twin Commander 690B. Several other participants have flown along in these airplanes as they made their way eastward, on intermediate legs.

For me, the big attraction this time is that I’ll be swapping legs with Thierry and logging some more jet time in the process. In some pretty exotic airspace. But of course, there is the quality tourism as well.

But first things first. Before there would be any east Asian general aviation flying, I had to make my way to Hong Kong. Let’s just say that this was a grueling 20-hour slog on the airlines. The 14-hour leg from San Francisco to Hong Kong made it seem like time had stood still. Sleep? Faggedaboutit. But I did watch a feature on Marvel Comics–two times!–something with the title “Winter Soldier” in it, a Big Bang Theory episode, a feature on weird pets–two times!–plus another short feature on how not to get scammed, and another movie–The Grand Budapest Hotel. I think.

It was, in short, a kind of exercise in physical and psychological duress. But what’s the alternative? Charter a Gulfstream? Ain’t gonna happen. Besides, it would still take nearly as many hours.

This is why, after this trip, I am now convinced that the idea of a supersonic business jet is a viable one.

It was 8 p.m. by the time I arrived at Hong Kong’s The Peninsula Hotel. Like every hotel Air Journey uses, The Peninsula is first-rate. It offers what to me is an embarrassment of amenities. Like a ride from the airport to the hotel in a chauffered Rolls-Royce. Or perhaps you’d like to be shuttled by their helicopter to the hotel’s rooftop helipad. You get the idea.

I am still badly jet-lagged, but today I went with the group for a guided tour of Hong Kong. This included a visit to Victoria Peak, Hong Kong’s highest point, a harbor tour in a 16-man sampan, and much more. Hong Kong, once a British colony, is in a transitional phase, on its way to being integrated into the Peoples’ Republic of China. It’s a hot, humid, crowded, busy place, full of construction. Once known for its manufacturing, it’s now a center for banking and shopping, shopping, shopping.

I’ll have more updates in the coming days, but for now here are some shots from today:

The view from Victoria Peak

The view from Victoria Peak


This year's RTW group

This year’s RTW group

Your ride from the airport. This OK?

Your ride from the airport. This OK?

...Or maybe you'd like to take the Eurocopter? Seen here on the rooftop heliport.

…Or maybe you’d like to take the Eurocopter? Seen here on the rooftop heliport.

Welcome to The Peninsula, your lordship

Welcome to The Peninsula, your lordship

A penthouse suite. Yours for $15,600 a night. And while Jackie Chan may have stayed here, none of the group is.

One of the rooms in a penthouse suite. Yours for $15,600 a night. And while Jackie Chan may have stayed here, none of the group is.

Stay tuned. We depart for Taipei, Taiwan on Saturday, and the preflight briefing should be interesting. Thankfully typhoon Neoguri is moving well out of the picture, having moved away from Japan. But this morning was IMC here, with bands of heavy rain showers, low ceilings, and plenty of fog and mist.

Confessions of a powered pilot

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Having fun after my first glider flight with John Earlywine (behind the glider) and AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer Mike Nichols (right).

Having fun after my first glider flight with John Earlywine (behind the glider) and AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer Mike Nichols (right).

I had been offered glider flights in the past, but I would respond with “someday.” I had heard the arguments for it: It’s so quiet, you only hear the wind over the canopy; it makes you a better pilot. I had watched gliders fly over my apartment on approach to landing at the Frederick, Md., airport. But I was reluctant. I just wasn’t comfortable going up in an aircraft without an engine.

That changed June 1 with my first soaring lesson. I needed to gather aerial video footage for a story about the Central Indiana Soaring Society and the Alexandria airport the club purchased in order to keep it from being closed. Experiencing their soaring operation firsthand also would give me a better understanding of why this club went to such lengths (and expense) to save the airport. (See the video at 17:51 in the June 12 AOPA Live This Week episode.)

I met John Earlywine, a veteran instructor at the club and competitive glider pilot, and learned about his composite DG Flugzeugbau DG-1000.

For something I had always imagined as one of the purest forms of flight, I was surprised at how unnatural getting settled in the glider felt. Earlywine chuckled when I asked if I needed a headset. (While I didn’t think I would need one to talk to him, I wasn’t sure about communicating over the radio. Turns out, he had a mic in the back.) Once in the glider, I felt like I was practically lying flat and kept trying to move up in the seat until I realized the canopy wouldn’t close. For a Cessna 172 pilot who is used to sitting in a chair-like position, this new position, akin to lounging in a beanbag, took some getting used to.

Kris Maynard takes a break on the Piper Pawnee while waiting for pilots to tow aloft.

Kris Maynard takes a break on the Piper Pawnee while waiting for pilots to tow aloft.

Being pulled aloft by a Piper Pawnee piloted by Kris Maynard made me forget about my nerves during the preparation. After accelerating down the runway behind the Pawnee, with only the sound of the glider’s tire rolling over the asphalt, Earlywine lifted the glider into ground effect and held it about three feet off the runway until Maynard was ready to climb out. Once we were about 1,000 feet in the air, Earlywine left me fly on tow. Flying on tow is similar to flying formation in trail. Earlywine counseled me to pretend the Pawnee’s relationship to the horizon was my attitude indicator, to make uncoordinated turns to correct getting out of line with the tow plane, and to look past the Pawnee as if I were flying an ILS. All of that was easier said than done. I had a couple of formation lessons a few years ago but had forgotten about the uncoordinated control inputs used to keep the aircraft in line with the lead. Each time I entered a coordinated turn to realign with the Pawnee, I shot past and Earlywine helped me recover back to the center.

Once at 3,000 feet, I pulled the tow release and Earlywine instructed me to start hunting for lift. Cumulus clouds would have made it easy to spot the thermals, but this day was clear and sunny, except for a few wispy cirrus clouds. I started looking for large areas of asphalt or dark fields that might offer some rising air. We also circled over the town of Alexandria.

Finally, I found some lift to recover the couple of hundred feet that I had lost while searching. After regaining altitude, I took a minute just to look outside. I realized that I had been tense—almost as tense as I am in the dentist’s chair—up to that point. But the beauty of flight became very real at that moment, and I relaxed. I actually felt as if I were flying freely because the bubble canopy allows an almost uninterrupted 360-degree view; the pilots sit in front of the wings; and the nose of the glider is slender. The only sound was the rush of the air flowing over the canopy, quieting as I slowed and growing louder as I lowered the nose to gain airspeed.

John Earlywine logs my first glider flight.

John Earlywine logs my first glider flight.

While circling in the thermal, I had a tendency to do what Earlywine said most powered pilots do: pull the nose up into a climb. In soaring, climbing in a thermal doesn’t mean a “climbing turn” in the sense a powered pilot is used to. We circled and climbed in the thermals with the nose slightly low. The more lift we found, the higher pitched one of the instruments chirped, and the higher pitched Earlywine’s voice grew. Whenever we flew out of a thermal, the chirp turned to a monotone and Earlywine would “turn off that annoying sound.”

Finding lift became a game for me. I wasn’t thinking about getting from Point A to Point B, although with the glider’s 47:1 glide ratio, from 3,000 feet we could have flown to Indianapolis Regional Airport where the glider club had been the day before for AOPA’s regional fly-in. I was only focused on finding that precious lift to stay aloft. I nearly forgot one of the original purposes of going for the flight: gathering video footage. Giving Earlywine the controls, I started filming while we maneuvered and Earlywine brought us in for a landing.

I had been looking forward to flying the pattern and landing but videoed it instead. That gives me all the more incentive for another glider flight!