Pilot Culture 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.

 

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.

You can own the first Hasselblad in space

Friday, October 31st, 2014

You could own the camera that captured this iconic image.

You could own the camera that captured this iconic image.

Photography 52 years ago didn’t mean whipping out your iPhone, or even grabbing for a digital single-lens-reflex camera. It was the early days of the space program, and even 35 mm film cameras weren’t considered up to the challenge. So as Wally Schirra prepared to orbit the Earth six times on Mercury 8, which would be the country’s fifth manned space mission, he had to think carefully about how to document the nine-hour flight.

Astronaut Wally Schirra, center, with the Hassleblad 500c camera he carried into space.

Astronaut Wally Schirra, center, with the Hasselblad 500c camera he carried into space.

Ultimately he chose a Hasselblad 500c camera for the Oct. 3, 1962, flight. Schirra reportedly purchased the medium-format Hasselblad from a Houston camera shop, and brought it back to NASA to be modified for the mission. In conjunction with fellow astronaut Gordon Cooper, the camera received a 100-exposure film magazine, and an aiming device mounted on the side. The camera’s original bright metal facing was painted black to minimize reflections.

Square photos are a hallmark of the Hasselblad, which made negatives of about 2 1/4 by 2 1/4 inches.

Square photos are a hallmark of the Hasselblad, which made negatives of about 2 1/4 by 2 1/4 inches.

The camera proved so successful on Mercury 8 that Cooper used a Hasselblad—and the same Zeiss lens—on the next Mercury mission.

Don't let the perspective fool you. This is not a wide-angle lens; the Sigman 7 spacecraft had very small windows.

Don’t let the perspective fool you. This is not a wide-angle lens; the Sigma 7 spacecraft had very small windows.

“It was not until astronaut Wally Schirra—a known camera enthusiast—naturally sought the finest camera available at the time to accompany him on his MA-8 mission that NASA’s photographic identity began to take shape,” explained Bobby Livingston, executive vice president at RR Auction.

Schirra's photography paved the way for images we've seen from later Apollo missions, the space shuttles, and the International Space Station.

Schirra’s photography paved the way for images we’ve seen from later Apollo missions, the space shuttles, and the International Space Station.

On Nov. 13, the Boston auction house will auction the first Hasselblad camera used in space. A 600-lot space and aviation autograph and artifact auction will follow. For more information on the auctions, see the website.

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.

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?

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!

The autopilot turns 100

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

It seems hard to believe, but the first aircraft autopilot was demonstrated 100 years ago today. On June 18, 1914, Lawrence Sperry let go of the controls of a Curtiss C-2 biplane, stood up in the cockpit, and raised his hands high above his head. The crowd below roared its approval as Sperry’s mechanic then walked out onto the airplane’s wing–and it remained in level flight.

This took place above the Seine River during France’s Airplane Safety Contest. A total of 57 “specially equipped” airplanes, featuring such innovative technologies as magnetos, self-starters, and carburetors–all still used today–competed for a prize of 50,000 francs (about $10,000). Sperry was the only one to demonstrate a gyroscopic stabilizer, and won the prize. In 2004, Aviation History presented an interesting article about the flight; it can be read online

Sperry’s father, Elmer, had developed the gyrocompass–at the time, a massive affair that had been installed on a number of U.S. warships.

Lawrence Sperry’s flight also marks the centennial of Honeywell Aerospace, which is one of four business divisions of 129-year-old Honeywell. Through organic growth, acquisitions, and mergers of legacy companies, Honeywell Aerospace can trace its heritage back to Lawrence Sperry (click the link and scroll down the page). The Sperry Gyroscope Company became Sperry Corporation, much of which moved to Phoenix in the 1950s and became the Sperry Flight Systems Company–today a part of Honeywell Aerospace.

Other firsts for Honeywell Aerospace include the first gyro horizon and directional gyro, cabin pressurization, the first gas-turbine auxiliary power unit, the first ground proximity warning system, and the first 3-D airborne weather radar. An interactive anniversary website details this evolution. Sperry’s accomplishment finds itself in good company a century later.

Indianapolis rolls out Midwestern hospitality

Friday, May 30th, 2014

Indy_081

Aircraft started arrriving early for AOPA’s Indianapolis Fly-in.

Indianapolis Regional, one of the reliever airports for the Super Bowl in 2012, is rolling out the Midwestern charm on a grand scale once again—this time for AOPA’s Regional Fly-In May 31.

Yellow chocks are spaced evenly apart at the edge of the concrete and grass, ready for the early arrivals. Volunteers donning neon green shirts point the way to the parking area. IndyJet employees park aircraft comfortably apart, so you don’t have to worry about swapping paint with the wing of the aircraft beside you. As soon as the prop stops, volunteers are right at the door, offering to help passengers disembark, unload any baggage, and grab the tow bar to finish parking the aircraft and secure it with chocks.

A volunteer helps get chocks in position for arriving aircraft.

A volunteer helps get chocks in position for arriving aircraft.

Now that’s an impressive welcome!

The volunteers and IndyJet and AOPA staff have been working nonstop to make sure attendees feel welcome.

Volunteer Michael Pastore, a 20-year AOPA member, is among the pilots camping out overnight at Indianapolis Regional. He flew is Cessna 140, Toto, from Naperville, Ill., and said he volunteered to help because he believes pilots need to do their part to support the organization.

Indy_041

Volunteers welcome pilots with that famous Midwestern hospitality.

Brian Lynch a helicopter instructor from Clarskville, Tenn., drove 5.5 hours through the night to get to Indianapolis to do his part. He napped a little, and then shortly after 7 a.m., he started helping set up, marshal aircraft, and man the gate leading to the airfield. He was still going strong at 7 p.m. But, he said, he’s going to take Saturday morning off to schmooze with pilots before helping marshal aircraft leaving at the end of the fly-in. His purpose for coming to the flying: “See what’s going on, get the pulse of the community.”

The friendly welcome upon touchdown has set the atmosphere for pilots visiting into the evening at Indianapolis Regional. There’s no rush—just a bunch of laid back pilots taking in aircraft new and old, swapping stories, and sharing some of that warm Midwestern hospitality.

Goodyear narrows names for new airship

Monday, April 21st, 2014


Goodyear newest airship

After receiving nearly 15,000 submissions for its national “Name the Blimp” contest, The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company has selected 10 finalist names for its newest airship (pictured above). Now, fans can vote for their favorite name online, through May 9.  

The names up for voting are: Adventurer, Ambassador, Commitment, Excursion, Explorer, Goodwill, Inspiration, Pride of Goodyear, Resolute, and Wingfoot One.

The new airship, which took its first flight last month, is larger, faster, and more maneuverable than its predecessor. Technically a zeppelin, this is the first semi-rigid airship to be built in the 95-year history of Goodyear’s Wingfoot Lake, Ohio, hangar. During its long operational history, Goodyear has built more than 300 lighter-than-air vehicles, including two large rigid airships–the U.S.S. Macon and U.S.S. Akron.

What do you get for voting on the new airship’s name? Nothing but the satisfaction of knowing you participated–although the person who submitted the winning name will receive access to the blimp for a day. (Yeah, now I wish I had submitted a name, too.) Goodyear will christen the new blimp this summer.