Pilot Culture Archive

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

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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.

 

The importance of a washer

Friday, January 17th, 2014

Now, how important can one little washer be?

Pretty important, as it turns out. While this is not a general aviation incident, the lesson here is dramatically applicable to all of us.

The FAA prepared an analysis of what happened to a China Airlines Boeing 737-800 on August 20, 2007, after landing at Naha Airport on Okinawa, Japan. Watch these two short videos. The first is an animation that explains what happened. Then, watch the second video, which shows the consequences of one missing washer.

That’s about a $90.5 million washer, based on average 2013 Boeing list prices. The 165 people on board were evacuated with no casualties, even though it appears to take about three and a half minutes for fire trucks to arrive. Thanks to my friend Bob Punch for calling this to my attention.

 

6 favorite AOPA Online stories in 2013

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

As editors, we here at AOPA have a wonderful job, getting to tell the great stories of our members. As the newest member of the team, I had the chance to interview some amazing people, so below are my six favorite stories from 2013, in order.

1.  I’ve been in love with aviation since I was six. And growing up as the daughter of a non-flying Air Force officer, I had access to aviation that many African-Americans of my generation didn’t have. Even before coming to AOPA, I worked to make aviation more diverse, which is why my Oct. 1 story on Delaware State University, a historically black college and university based in Dover, is a special favorite. The university, which traces its aviation training roots back to the Tuskegee Airman in World War II, has officially been training aviation professionals in its flight program since 1987. It is also the only HBCU aviation program that owns and operates its own aircraft fleet. Only about two percent of professional pilots in the United States are African-American, said Capt. Stephen Speed, the school’s aviation program director.

2.  AOPA member Will Davis discussed how he was able to continue his flight lessons after a video of him clipping an SUV as he was landing during his first cross country solo went viral worldwide. Despite that, he got his certificate on Feb. 2, as I wrote back on Feb. 27.  I heard from him recently, and he said that he tries to fly at least once a month, with plans to fly more when he gets the time. He also thanked everyone for their encouragement and support during that difficult time and after.

3.  Talk about inspiration – a father inspired his daughter to go through a second harrowing liver transplant by promising to buy her the airplane of her dreams after she made it through the surgery and recovery. Thirty-year-old Julie DeStefano comes from a family of pilots, including herself, her brother and her father, Dennis, who both own aircraft, as I reported in my March 27 story. Dennis recently reported  that Julie send him and her mother on several reconnaissance missions to Monte Vista and Alamosa, Colo., and Taos, N.M., to look at potential tail draggers, to no avail. “Then in May she located her dream plane in Knox County, Ohio. On June 14 I flew her there to take delivery of N7679E, a really clean 1958 Champion Model 7FC,” he said.

4.  On Aug. 12, I wrote about 20-year-old Jennifer Guetterman, who won a free trip to France and participated as the only American among 75 racers in the Tour Aérien Des Jeunes Pilotes, which ran July 15-28. The event was created to motivate the next generation of pilots and promote general aviation to the public, and Guetterman’s trip was funded by AOPA, the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations, and the Fédération Française Aéronautique. Since the tour, she said, she has continued to teach Ground School at AFI Flight Training Center at Fullerton Airport. “I am one semester away from my Associate of Science, Commercial Pilot degree at Cypress College and my Instrument Rating check ride should be in January,” she said. “I have kept in touch with my French pilot friends and plan on returning to France to visit during the next tour.”

5.  Sixteen years to the day after getting his student pilot license, Glen Wenzel, recipient of the Erral Lea Plymate Memorial flight training scholarship in 2012, passed his checkride and got his private pilot certificate on July 31. My story was published on Aug. 8.  He is a career firefighter in Winston-Salem, N.C. His father was a pilot, and he has been around aviation his whole life, taking his first flight at age four.  An AOPA member since 2010, Wenzel said that learning to fly has been a lifelong goal. After his father died in a helicopter accident, Wenzel inherited his Cessna 150. “That made it easier to do my training, despite the unfortunate circumstances,” he said. “Inheriting his plane made it even more important to finish my flight training.” Since then, he said he’s been trying to do as much flying as he can. “I’m going to try to get my instrument license next year some time. I’ve mostly been flying out to the beach and up to Jersey to see family,” said Wenzel. “Hopefully next year will bring an instrument and maybe a commercial ticket.”

6.  Seven employees at Woodinville, Wash.-based Dynon Avionics who formed the Swamp Creek Flying Club, including CEO Robert Hamilton, built a Glasair Sportsman under its Two Weeks To Taxi program for their club aircraft. I covered the story on April 1. Kirk Kleinholz, a CFII sales manager for Dynon and a club member, says the original members are still in the club, and that the aircraft has been performing well.  Two members flew it to AirVenture this year and parked it with other GlassAirs. “We also use it to visit Dynon’s business partners, and it was on display at the Golden West Fly-In,” he said. “It’s truly been a thrill to have our own aircraft.”

Christmas concerts with an aviation twist

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

You may have had friends e-mail you links to online videos showing so-called “flash mobs”–and maybe you’re already sick of them.

But if you’re not, watch this one, which shows the U.S. Air Force Band at the National Air and Space Museum on Tuesday. A friend who served in the Air Force shared it, and with great music in an interesting venue, it’s definitely worth watching.

If you live in or will be visiting the Washington, D.C., area, the band will perform a number of holiday concerts in the area through December 15. The full schedule appears on the band’s website.

From 35 to 36, a dark afternoon aboard Air Force One

Monday, November 25th, 2013

Like many, I spent some time last Friday watching coverage of the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. However, I didn’t come across the article that I found most interesting about that day until this morning.

The October issue of Esquire magazine includes a fascinating story, “The Flight from Dallas,” which chronicles the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963, aboard the modified Boeing 707 that then served as Air Force One–the apprehension, the fear, the loathing as the country abruptly transitioned from its 35th to 36th president. The text is a bit long, but goes quickly; don’t miss the part where the jet’s pilot, Col. James Swindal climbs higher than he’d ever flown before with Kennedy aboard to top tornado-spawning November weather over Arkansas and Mississippi. Read it here.

Built in 1962 as the first jet intended specifically for use by the president, the Air Force VC-137C aircraft known as SAM 26000 (Special Air Mission, tail number 26000) left presidential service in 1990 and was retired in 1998. It’s now preserved at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton.