What’s In AOPA Pilot Archive

Propulsion Pushback

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Many pilots are early technology adopters and push the bounds of the possible – so it’s a cruel irony that we, as a group, have been stuck for so long with ancient air-cooled engines that are largely unchanged from the middle of the last century.
The first in our Propulsion series in AOPA Pilot magazine is getting lots of response from pilots eager to move forward.
Commenting on the AOPA Facebook page, Paul Roper puts it bluntly: “One of the most disappointing things I experienced during my foray into general aviation was the ludicrous prices manufacturers would charge for crappy, low-tech, Flintstones-era, underpowered, thirsty, boring engines. Well, not only the prices, but the whole head-in-the-sand attitude to anything invented after about 1950. Carburetors? Pushrod valves? Are we in the Victorian era?”
Others, like AOPA member Terry Welander, have written to take issue with the likely future elimination of leaded avgas:
“Most of the environmentalists have knee jerk reactions whenever the word lead comes up; which is highly ignorant; based on the below facts on the lead and other toxins in the atmosphere from volcanic emissions. There will never be a rational reason to remove the one part per million lead from avgas. Worse, as with practically all past fuel transitions, the increased costs and hidden safety hazards of new fuels not evident until substantial use has been accomplished will likely result in a temporary to intermediate degradation of aircraft safety which is completely unnecessary.”

In case you missed it, here’s the link to the July kickoff article in AOPA Pilot.
Share your thoughts by commenting here.

Dave Hirschman
Senior Editor
AOPA Pilot magazine

Want to run a flightseeing business like David Snell?

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

David Snell, the entrepreneurial soul who runs Starlight Flights in Dallas, Texas–and that’s just one of his three businesses—says he knew AOPA Pilot readers would be interested in what he does. And he was right.

Since my article on Snell (“2,000 Feet Over Dallas”) was published in the March 2012 issue, I’ve received numerous emails from members wondering how they, too, could get started in the flightseeing business without owning an airplane. Snell, you’ll recall, rents a Cessna 172 (so no operating expenses), and meets clients in the lobby of the FBO from which he purchases fuel (so no brick-and-mortar expenses). He has commercial and flight instructor certificates but has logged thousands of hours without having to, you know, actually flight instruct.

I’ve forwarded all your emails to David since the article ran, but he has graciously consented to provide his email address on this blog for anybody else who wants more details. He warns that April is the busy time for his crawfish business, but I’m pretty sure that his enthusiasm for what he does and his genuine desire to share his knowledge with fellow pilots means he’ll get back to you. And if you’re in the Dallas area, you just might want to hit up one of his crawfish boils, because I’ve seen photos–and they look delicious. Email Snell at [email protected].


The $50 Cherokee

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Darrin Carlson took a 1964 Cherokee 140 from this…

One of the great joys of writing for AOPA Pilot is when I hear from members after an article is published (no, really!). They often write to remark on some aspect of my article, and then let slip some fascinating detail about their airplane or themselves.

In Darrin Carlson’s case, he asked a specific question about the seatbelt installation I described in the December 2012 issue of AOPA Pilot (“Ownership: Buckle Up). In a follow-up email, he added, “When I purchased my 50-dollar Cherokee, it was abandoned and in very poor shape. I started on small simple projects and worked my way up to overhauling the engine. This allowed me to get the experience to get my A&P/IA, then once it was airworthy it helped with my private and IFR rating now I am working on my commercial and CFI ratings.”

It turns out Darrin wasn’t joking about that $50 airplane. He really did buy a $50 Cherokee and rebuild it himself, step by painstaking step. He attached photos (which you see here) and a copy of an article that originally ran in the Nov.  27, 2007, issue of the Clay Center Dispatch. (Clay Center is in Kansas, which is where Darrin lives.) He bought the ’64 Cherokee 140 in 1993 after noticing it sitting in a scrap area near the Air Museum at Forbes Field in Topeka. He wrote the owner (who at the time was working in El Salvador) with an offer to buy it and sent him a check for $50 to cover the cost of processing the paperwork. The owner sent him a sales receipt, and a $50 airplane was his.

…to this. He replaced practically everything over four years.

It took four years, but he redid everything–not just the engine and the avionics but also the wiring. He even did the paint job, and it’s prettyspectacular. Don’t you agree?

Well, but an airplane owner is always looking ahead to that next project, and Darren’s considering installing shoulder harnesses. Not knowing the story behind his extra-special Cherokee, I told him I didn’t think he’d have a problem doing it himself. Turns out I was more than right!—Jill W. Tallman

Comments from an Alaska veteran pilot

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

Every once in a while I get a letter from a reader that is especially encouraging and thoughtful. Today was just such an occasion when 30-year Alaska pilot Jim Gibertoni commented on my Waypoints column in the October issue . The subject is the use of general aviation for transportation and the associated challenges.

Given his decades of flying in challenging Alaska, his comments and observations are particularly valuable. He cut and pasted my article into his email and then inserted his comments into the article [I’ve noted his inserted comments in italics.] I’ve posted his letter verbatim below. What do you think?


I will save a copy of this article in my past great article file. Do not change anything it’s great. You are 200% correct and to me this is one of the pieces to the puzzle of why GA is going backwards.

My comments ( not to be confused with changes, do not change anything in this article) are in red. [I have put Jim’s comments in ital–Ed.]

When I write about using my Beechcraft Bonanza for transportation, I frequently get questions from members asking how to best plan for weather contingencies when flying a single-engine piston airplane. Good question. I wish there was a single, simple answer.

My first question to myself when considering a trip where weather is a factor is about the capabilities of the airplane and myself. I do this all the time, sole searching myself has kept me safe I believe. Is this the sort of weather situation that can be handled in a single-engine piston airplane? Very good question, I ASK MYSELF THIS EVERY FLIGHT. Let’s face it, while we like to crow about the utility of flying ourselves, there are limits, especially when flying airplanes like mine. I agree 200%, my plane is the same as yours 1969 U206/G. The plane is non turbo, no anti ice and was set up for economy, lost cost, LOP, and carrying allot weight. My plane has got to return money to the coffers. I am a plumber in Northern Alaska traveling from village to village (my pickup). It not a toy. I fly it 300 hours plus per year and about 10% is in hard IMC. Did I mention that I live in Northern Alaska and we have icing here (350 days a year).

Without even turbocharging to get into the flight levels, no ice protection except pitot heat, and no pressurization, my options are limited. No airplane is immune to weather, but with a turboprop, pressurization, and icing protection—and maybe even airborne radar—you can get through more situations than those of us who fly more pedestrian machines. Agreed, exactly correct, Looked at getting a Caravan numerous times. While a Caravan would add to the utility it would not return money to the coffers. The Math simply is not there.

Putting the gear aside for a moment, how am I doing? Instrument current and confident? Rested, hydrated, and nourished enough and feeling up to a challenge that may be a couple of hours down the airway—after I’ve been sitting at 9,000 or 10,000 feet all that time? And am I really up to the challenge today? I’m usually game for going for a look-see, but there is an occasional day where I simply don’t feel like running the flight planning gauntlet and the hassle that may come from having to stop short of the planned destination. Excellent

Those are the days I just stay home or buy a ticket and let someone else do the work. This sentence and the timing of this article on my doorstep is so accurate. In the last two weeks I skip 7 days in a row going to Kaltag a village about 250 miles west. One the eighth day I went under published MVFR weather. Nine times out of ten I am single pilot VFR/IFR. This day I took a second  pilot with me (inner voice). I have an STEC 30 A/P. Trip was non eventful other then hard IMC on the way home. Three days later I got ridiculed by other CFI for flying that day because of potential icing. Point is I do not have your option let someone else do the work. That not feasible, so I just wait for my window. A very old woman ask me last year if I ever had an accident with the plane. I told her no, I am way overdue!

However, making challenging flights is how we grow in our weather experience and decision making. Thank you for this sentence, you truly are a master at your writing skills, wish I could do this. Staying home when the sky darkens is a sure path to not getting much utility out of an airplane. Preaching to the choir. All things in life are in balance, sway one way and the story ends sadly, sway the other way and you lose utility and money. I am 60 now and been flying up here since the 70’s. Sometimes I think I have a PHD in this balancing act until I get caught, and I still get caught at times. Old Sicilian saying “you can be arrogant, you can be ignorant, however you cannot be arrogant and ignorant at the same time” Never forgot that and how it applies to Aviation. Next step for a lot of people is to sell the airplane, because they aren’t using it enough.

Most important for me is a flexible schedule. As I’ve said before, I don’t plan on traveling by GA anytime I have a hard and fast deadline to meet. If I don’t have the schedule flexibility to leave a day early or later and the forecast is for severe weather along the way, it’s not a trip for an airplane like mine.

There is no such thing as a hard and fast deadline in Northern Alaska. Been there done that, never ever to go back to it!

If I can take off in visual conditions and face building thunderstorms down the road, but know I can easily turn back to improving weather, that sounds doable. If the weather is isolated enough that I can easily get around it without nudging into fuel reserves—another good possibility. If the weather is at the destination, I’ll want to know how far it is to the nearest airport with visual conditions. A fuel stop may be required.

Once you take off, the plan may go out the window. Maybe that big gap between those storms fills in or the fog that is expected to lift at the destination doesn’t; then what? That’s when you act on the plan you made before takeoff—turn back or go elsewhere, or you dream up another one with the help of the onboard weather gear, Flight Watch, and ATC. This is when it’s great to have a co-pilot aboard who can seek weather information for other airports and routes while you fly the airplane. Did I mention how nice it is to have even a basic autopilot for such trips? YIPEEEEEEEE, would not go anywhere without my STEC30, Call me spoiled,

but I won’t fly in weather anymore without datalink weather. I wish I could say that, however the reality is there is no Satellite radio, ADS-B or Datalink in northern Alaska, now and we are not scheduled to receive it for three more years. I live in Jurassic Park in dinosaur land.


It’s changed the way I fly and the utility I get out of my airplane.

Returning from EAA AirVenture in July, Flight Training Editor Ian Twombly and I left beautiful weather in Appleton, Wisconsin, bound for Maryland. A line of thunderstorms stretched from Cleveland eastward. More storms were developing over West Virginia, but it looked like we had a clear path over Pittsburgh. As we progressed that afternoon (our schedule didn’t permit a morning flight) the two systems began to merge. Climbing to 11,000 feet to stay visual, we maneuvered among cloud tops and had to turn due south toward Parkersburg, West Virginia, to get through the narrowest part of the line. Thanks to the datalink weather, Stormscope, and ATC, we were in clouds less than five minutes and never got wet—despite some impressive thunderstorms east of our course. Once south of the line we turned east and paralleled it all the way home.

Returning from Wichita after flying the Cessna 182 JT-A diesel airplane (“Jet A for Your Skylane,” page 52), AOPA Live Executive Producer Warren Morningstar and I skirted similar weather in about the same place—again at 11,000 feet and with supremely clear skies behind us. We passed through beautiful sunset-lit cloud canyons and dodged to the south as dusk turned to darkness. We could see lightning in the clouds well north and south of us, but we weren’t in IMC more than five minutes during the entire trip. Challenging and satisfying flying, but started only with options available.

Articles like this are why I subscribe to AOPA magazine

Overdue recognition for the Tuskegee Airmen

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

World War II’s Tuskegee Airmen are receiving well-deserved attention this month, following the release of George Lucas’ movie Red Tails. Here’s a short video well worth viewing, produced for the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture.

I had the privilege of working with Patrick Anderson’s video crew while telling the story of Matt and Tina Quy’s original Tuskegee Stearman (see “Honoring the Tuskegee Airmen,” December 2011 AOPA Pilot). The plane is now on display in the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center, and will move to the National Museum of African American History and Culture when the new museum is finished in 2015.

Yes, I’m the Mike Collins listed in the credits, but all I did was share a camera ship I had arranged. And I may have offered a few tips on air-to-air photography to fellow journalists who’d never done this specialized type of photography that we almost take for granted sometimes. And while I do appear very briefly in the video, I’m confident that has nothing to do with the credit line.

Remarkable tales from 9/11: Tammy Duckworth

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

Thinking about the 9/11 anniversary, it’s hard to grasp the impact that the events of that day have had on so many.

Among those whose lives would be severely impacted is Tammy Duckworth. You’ll recall that we profiled her in AOPA Pilot in the March 2010 issue. The story and video includes her remarkable tale of surviving a helicopter crash in Iraq, losing her legs, getting back into flying, and starting her life over again.

She is among 40 people that TIME Magazine interviewed about the impact of 9/11. A remarkable Web site. Her story is here: http://www.time.com/time/video/player/0,32068,1139568115001_0,00.html

What’s an AOPA photoshoot like?

Friday, August 5th, 2011

Here’s a partial answer to what we do when we photograph aircraft for AOPA Pilot magazine. The clock isn’t faked. I woke up 15 minutes early on Aug. 4 and decided to videotape the wakeup call from the hotel desk with my Flip camera. Mike Fizer and I stayed in Racine, 15 miles from Rochester, Wisconsin, and left the hotel at 4:30 a.m. for an air-to-air session with American Champion’s new Denali Scout. It has a 210-hp engine and a larger tail to handle all that power. It’s top speed is 155 mph, and it climbs at 1,000 to 1,600 fpm. It’s so new it’s not even on the American Champion Web site yet. Two have been sold. You’ll see the article in an upcoming issue. We got lucky with the photos–lots of ground fog for a beautiful sunrise.

AOPA Pilot goes digital

Monday, January 31st, 2011

It’s been exciting to bring AOPA Pilot into the fold of magazines that offer digital editions, in addition to printed copies. A digital edition is an electronic version of the magazine that you read online, or download to a portable electronic device.

The February 2011 edition is available to read online now. The link will work on personal computers, Androids, and BlackBerrys.  There’s a non-Flash version that should automatically be delivered to iPad and iPhone users–but don’t judge the digital edition based on that; you’ll want to wait for our apps to be completed and approved (we’ll let you know through AOPA ePilot and AOPA Online as soon as they’re available).

The printed magazine is not going anywhere; the digital edition simply provides other ways to access your magazine’s content, with the added bonus that videos, audio podcasts, slideshows, and additional multimedia content are built in. AOPA members can add the digital edition to their memberships, or switch their print subscription to digital, online.

Check out the digital edition. Let us know what you think. And please resist the temptation to read it while flying, especially if you use your mobile device to display approach charts.

The Meaning of Aviation

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

My Waypoints column in the February 2011 issue of AOPA Pilot is already getting lots of e-mail comments and it’s only been out for a few hours.

Over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at writing to fit the available space in the magazine, but this subject–how mean and cranky everyone has gotten in aviation–was tough and I actually wrote two versions. One for the magazine and one that is longer. The longer version,  which explores the subject more thoroughly, follows. I hope you will share your comments and insights.


Just a heads up on the meaning of the headline: This is not a feel-good, warm-and-fuzzy column about the philosophical meaning of aviation. Nope, this is about how mean aviation has become. Let me explain.

I’ve been in the media business in one way or another for 27 years, 25 years covering general aviation. As a great consumer of information, I’ve noticed over the years the trend in newspaper letters to the editor and more recently online comments to newspaper articles toward the negative. Where at one point, people could respond to an article with an articulate, well-thought-out argument, today people seem to resort to name calling and rude, thoughtless comments and taunting right out of the box.

Here’s one well-documented example: The St. Petersburg Times noted the hit-and-run death of a 48-year-old man on a bicycle. He was killed pedaling home after his shift washing dishes at a restaurant where he had been employed for 10 years. Shortly after the story posted online, a person wrote a comment saying: “A man who is working as a dishwasher at the Crab Shack at the age of 48 is surely better off dead.” The newspaper quickly took the comment down and in response, sent a reporter to check out the dead man’s past. Turns out he was a simple, quiet man who was revered by his co-workers, loyal to the core to his employer, and not a bother to anyone.

Unlike the general public, general aviation pilots used to be more civil The fraternity of pilots enjoyed robust discussions in person, in print, and online, but, for the most part, respect prevailed. Over the years, I have observed that pilots, in general, are good folks—more patriotic and more respectful than the average citizenry. When my daughters were young, we spent a lot of time around airports and I felt comfortable telling them that if they ever got lost near or on an airport to look not just for a policeman, but anyone with a headset or chart bag or hanging around a pilot lounge. Pilots, I said, could be trusted to get you help.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure I would still offer that same advice. Somewhere along the way, pilots have become as mean-spirited and spiteful as the rest of the population. I find that disheartening.

Over the decades, I’ve developed a thick skin as people often disagree with things we write, but the recent trend toward personal attacks and the destructive nature of comments is wearing, for sure. A few examples:

One member took the time to write an e-mail decrying the hairstyles of several AOPA staff members pictured in the magazine—his only reason for the e-mail. One woman’s hair he described as “a cross between an Alabama trailer mom on welfare, a Puli [I’m not sure what that is], and [a] wig….” According to this member, a senior executive here has a “1975 SuperCuts hackjob, likely inspired by Sal in the film Dog Day Afternoon.”

Thanks much for the constructive comments….

Personal attacks are not limited to hairstyles. Another member wrote in to complain that several people pictured in various articles in a particular issue were overweight. I guess we should only feature thin, handsome, well-coiffed pilots going forward. And white, well-groomed ones too.

An ad in this magazine for one of AOPA’s products included a photo of a dark-skinned man who was not clean shaven, causing one member to call AOPA President Craig Fuller’s office to complain. He felt we were presenting a poor image of general aviation with such an image. Apparently, in this member’s mind, general aviation consists only of clean-shaven white men. Some members have been equally riled by photos of a well-known pilot/celebrity who has an earring. With so many issues facing general aviation, do we really have the time to deal with such trivial matters?

Another “Instrument-rated long-term member” (no name given) was selected to participate in an online survey after AOPA Summit. Rather than complete it, or simply stop, he took the time to write us a letter (with a footnote) where he said he started the survey. “I answered two screens full of pages, but then said ‘to hell with your survey,’ because: [this in 48 point bold, underlined capital letters] Your survey is just too damned long!”

He continued: “Hope this feedback helps. You’ll get crap from your survey, and you’ve shown your discourtesy and thoughtlessness.”

Really? By asking for your input?

In response to us replacing “Test Pilot” with a staff-developed quiz, a member who describes himself as a middle school special education teacher wrote in to tell us to “take that staff-developed quiz, print it out, and shove it squarely, yet ever so firmly, up your rear end.” To his credit, the member later wrote back to apologize and acknowledge he had crossed a line. Still, I’m not sure I want this guy educating my kids.

As with online forums in many locations, the AOPA forums attract plenty of people with strong opinions. They make for entertaining reading, but it’s a shame when people spout off without even bothering to gather any facts. One member on the AOPA forums started a new thread called this: “AOPA beats the hell out of sweepstakes airplanes.” The thread generated 41 responses and was viewed by 1,348 people as of early January. The poster eventually deleted his initial baseless comments and replaced them with simply “never mind” after other posters reminded him about all the productive ways we use the sweepstakes airplanes over the course of the year, educating nonpilots and pilots alike about general aviation airplanes, including with our Remos, providing a wounded warrior with sport pilot training. Occasionally sanity reigns, even on the forums.

The annual awarding of our sweepstakes airplane brings out the conspiracy theorists. The forums, letters, and e-mails we get suggest some people believe that AOPA doesn’t really deliver the airplanes. We apparently squirrel them away somewhere for some other purpose. Although, I’m not sure what that purpose would be given that because of their distinctive paint jobs it would be difficult to fly them anywhere without being noticed. (I often think these are the same people who believe that the Apollo moon landings were shot in a Hollywood studio.) But that’s only the beginning. Others believe that we somehow hand select the winners for some purpose, as if we care who wins the airplanes. Some argue that it seems that only aircraft owners win the airplanes. Half of all AOPA members own an airplane outright or in partnership. Statistically, then, about eight of the winners of our 17 sweepstakes airplanes should have been owners. In fact, only five have been owners.

Sore losers in all seriousness often suggest that we somehow put restrictions on the sweepstakes to only allow people meeting certain criteria to win, such as non-owners, those of only certain financial means, those without any sort of letters attached to their name (such as MD, PhD, Esq., etc.). Not so coincidently, the people remaining in the pool often look a lot like the letter writer. Never mind that strict sweepstakes rules that vary from state to state and that are carefully monitored by attorneys general nationwide prohibit any such restrictions.

As I ponder what brings out the general crankiness of pilots, several things come to mind. The dismal state of the economy, especially as it pertains to general aviation, may contribute to the foul mood that drives people to fire off thoughtless and destructive messages. Perhaps it’s the political landscape that causes people to fear the future and frustration to well up. Maybe it’s the impersonal way we communicate today. It’s easy and quick to fire off an e-mail or post a forum comment without taking the time to reflect on the fact that a real person is going to read what is written. Those e-mails don’t go to some blind e-mail box. There’s a human being on the other end.

Toni Mensching, who heads up the AOPA team of specialists that answer the technical questions in members’ e-mails and calls summed up the mood and our frequent response recently in an internal e-mail a few months ago: “General member frustration and intolerance is beginning to seep into everyday contacts. The cause seems less to do with AOPA specifically and more to do with upcoming elections, economic turmoil, and an overall stress on aviation from all directions. There is increasing pressure from members contacting us venting about problems very distantly related to AOPA.  This is an unavoidable result of high AOPA accessibility. Easily getting a live, caring person on the line at AOPA gives members the ability to immediately share their frustrations with us, when they would otherwise hit a few barriers at other companies. Compassion is the only product we have for these members.”

With the start of a new year, how about we all take a deep breath and recognize that no matter how difficult today’s general aviation situation, we are still so much better off and freer to fly than pilots in just about any other country. Careless and destructive comments only tend to divide our ranks. Instead, we should be providing constructive comments that help us all get behind the big issues that threaten to derail general aviation as we know it. User fees have gone quiet, but not away. Avgas faces an uncertain future. Airport funding at the federal and state level will be thoroughly challenged in coming years. Our aging air traffic infrastructure is stuck in the 1940s. The pilot population is in decline. These are all issues that require focused, creative solutions. Together we can solve these problems. Or we can bicker among ourselves about hairstyles and the length of surveys. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather work together to assure a positive future for general aviation.

CBS, Dick Rutan and the Barefoot Bandit

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

You read about Colton Harris-Moore, the infamous 19-year-old better known as the “Barefoot Bandit”—and the five airplanes he stole—in the November issue of AOPA Pilot.

Tonight he’s the subject of 48 Hours Mystery: Chasing the Barefoot Bandit, which will be broadcast by CBS at 10 Eastern and Pacific. The show tracked Harris-Moore’s escapades over a six-month period.

Dick Rutan helped film the episode. The show wanted a Cessna Corvalis for some aerial scenes, and Mark Smith—a cameraman who also is an instrument-rated pilot—found Rutan’s. Rutan agreed to help and even choreographed a takeoff that was shot from a car beside the Corvalis on the active runway.

“I had a great day filming with the crew,” Rutan said afterward.

Harris-Moore’s last flight, which ended with a crash landing in the Bahamas shortly before his arrest in July, was in a Cessna Corvalis 400 stolen from John Miller of Bloomington, Indiana. If you miss the broadcast Saturday night, it’s available through iTunes.