Archive for May, 2008

Papa and I are gaining weight

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

I weighed my 1960 Comanche a week ago. It’s the 180 horsepower “baby comanche” model. And although I have worked mightily to remove all the dross that is always part of every airplane upgrade project, 85Papa has put on some pounds. Every old airplane has rats nests of cut-off coaxial cables, 1960- vintage wiring bundles, and  mondo-sized gyroscopic instruments that were equal to the best installed in a World War II era bomber. Tom Horne calls these antiquated gyros “kill me” gauges because of the confusing presentation.

The original Piper weight and balance report showed a left main weight of 543 pounds, a right main weight of 549 pounds, and a nose gear weight of 443 pounds for a total of 1,535 pounds. That includes a 19 pound Narco Omnigator and antenna, an 8 pound Narco Superhomer VHT-3, and a 6 pound Narco LFR-3 radio. Subtract this empty weight from Papa’s 2,550 pound max gross takeoff weight to find a useful load of a whopping 1,015 pounds.

The latest weighing revealed a left main weight of 562 (+19 pounds), a right main weight of 576 (+27 pounds), and a nose weight of 454 (+11 pounds) for a total weight gain of 57 pounds. Although Papa has gained weight (who hasn’t?) he will still carry 958 pounds. The changes I’ve made over the last four years would not account for a 57 pound gain so there must be some other answer.  I’ve heard that the original factory weight and balance figures were estimated. I know the May 2008 weight is correct. Can anyone sustantiate the rumor about factory weight figures?  

A Mustang, in the home stretch

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

Bunchrew House was a nice stay, what with its dinner in the great room overlooking the Firth, and cozy ambiance. But what’s with the towel heater? Never could figure that out. Yesterday we took a gander at Loch Ness, then went to Cawdor Castle–supposedly the geographic locale in mind when Shakespeare wrote Macbeth. Only banged my head on the door sill once!

Back at Bunchrew, it was time to sit around the coal-fed fireplace and shoot the bull about things aviation. In all, a great stay–just like all the others. And it was the third place the group stayed that wasn’t on the original itinerary; weather and a strike by airport workers at Bergen, Norway kept us from our planned stays. Many thanks are owed to Sophie Pouille–the wife of Air Journey owner Thierry Pouille. She made all the hotel and other changes, sometimes in as little as three hours! And all from Jupiter, Florida.

I’ve gotten quite good at washing in the sink. Who knew that a mini-bar of Heather Vegetable soap could do such a good job on a shirt and some other things? And hey, that towel-heater doubles as a clothes dryer!

Today was my day to accompany Tracy Forrest and and John Hayes in Forrest’s Cessna Mustang for the 580-nm trip to Paris. It took us a mere two hours to make the trip. We cruised at FL410 while burning just 71 gph (both engines). At times our groundspeed reached 335 knots. The G1000’s VNAV functions were put to good use: Forrest loaded the entire route and its vertical profile–while still on the ramp waiting for takeoff from Inverness!

At about FL380, the air temperatures started moving to the ISA +2- to 3-degree Celsius level. For such a small rise in temperature, there was a big effect on climb rate. In the mid-30’s, where temperatures were just below ISA, the Mustang was climbing at a healthy 1,000 fpm at an indicated airspeed of 160-170 knots. But at FL380, climb rate sank to 400 fpm, and to keep that we had to fly at 140 KIAS. Even so, we made it to FL410 in 27 minutes. Not bad at all. This is how one becomes spoiled.

We landed at the Pontoise, France, airport (LFPT) and Thierry was there to greet us. But first, it was time for lunch at the Pontoise Flying Club’s restaurant (this is France, after all). I had the duck confit and a boilermaker–just kidding!! Yes, there was wine, and when in Rome…. besides, for Hayes and me this would be our last leg with the group, so it was a celebration of sorts. 

The Pontoise club has 450 members, by the way. A whole flock of Cessnas were parked near the club restaurant, and on weekends I’m told that the place is a popular destination for pilots and non-pilots alike. There are even swing sets for kids. After taking a look at some of the planes based here, we took cabs to Paris.

Right now, I’m in the Hotel Plaza Athenee in downtown Paris. Like I said, this Air Journey trip is first-class all the way. (It should be, at some $55,000 per head for the “Around The World Trip” participants). I have a doorbell and a suite of three rooms, and pretty soon I’m going to jump on the Metro and go down to St. Germain des Pres.

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So it’s no more North Atlantic blogging for me… I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. And please don’t be jealous, I’ll be back tomorrow at my more mundane duties. This means changing planes at London Heathrow–one of the worst fates that can happen to a traveler. There’s a new terminal there (terminal 5). They spent millions and millions on this thing, and still you have to wait to go through security (again! The concept of a secure side for connecting passengers apparently evades the British mind), then hike like a maniac to change airlines. If you don’t have two or more hours between flights, you won’t make your connection.

But while my work here is finished, Air Journey moves on. The group goes to Gibraltar in a few days, then Marrakech, Morocco, then …. well, check their website for details and blogs from the participants. The trip doesn’t end until July 20, when the pilots and their passengers finish up by going to EAA’s AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

And the RTW trip isn’t the only iron in Air Journey’s fire. There’s another group in Gautemala now, another trans-Atlantic trip in June, and a trip to Alaska as well. That’s a lot of work for the company’s three employees! Next time you feel like some adventure with a minimum of flying and travelling risks, check out Air Journey–even if you use them solely for lodging arrangements. They know general aviation, and they know their way around the world.


Look who’s in AOPA Pilot this month!

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

I don’t think of myself as a celebrity hound. However I’ve gotta admit that I gushed like a teenager when I interviewed Kurt Russell last year about his mentoring of other pilots (Me: “Mr. Russell I just love your movies and have been in love with you since I was a teenager.” Him: “Well, that’s very sweet Julie (call the stalker police).”

So when the call came through to this office that Harrison Ford wanted to speak with me, well, if I’d been here, I would have needed the gush-odometer. However that ever-lucky editor of mine–Tom Haines–got to take the call. He and Harry talked flying and then set up THE interview. But no, not with me. Barry Schiff–who has already flown more aircraft than most people will ever ever get the opportunity to and who hobnobs with all those Hollywood types out there in California, well, he got the interview.

OK, it’s good stuff. Lots of pilot-to-pilot talk. But, man, why don’t I get those kind of interviews? I won’t stalk them, I really won’t. I’ll give Kurt Russell’s phone number back someday, I’ll stop obsessively looking at the photo shoot for the Ford story…really, I will, Tom, really. Look for “Ford on Flying” in the June issue of AOPA Pilot. It’ll be in your mailbox around May 22.

Oh, and there are other great stories in the issue too–the Ryan PT-22 (that darn Barry Schiff got that one too); the King Air C90GTi; “the Candy Bomber;” a trip to Anuktuvuk Pass in Alaska where they fly even when it’s 60 degrees below zero…Mr. Ford, Mr. Ford, it’s me, Julie…

Think you can fly the Eclipse 500?

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

A fear that high accident rates early in the life of the very light jet movement will tarnish the new category of airplanes forever, aircraft manufacturers are working hard to make sure pilots emerge from their jet type rating courses well prepared.

In fact, as I learned a few weeks ago, just getting qualified to take a type rating course at Eclipse Aviation, maker of the Eclipse 500 VLJ, can be a challenge.

As I wrote in my Waypoints column in the June issue of AOPA Pilot the flight skills assessment and emergency situation training are thorough and challenging, right down to how to put on the oxygen mask.

Watch me flip an L-39 jet trainer on its back and then get hypoxic in the classroom in this video I made while taking the two-day course in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Ever suffered an aircraft upset or hypoxia? Tell us what happened…

Splash and go

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

Pop quiz. What school trains more seaplane (floatplane to those in Alaska) pilots than anyone else in the world?

It’s not in Russia, or even in the Netherlands where they have so much water. It’s Jack Brown’s in Winter Haven, Florida. Brown’s has trained more than 20,000 seaplane pilots since the late 60s. To put this in to perspective, that’s roughly 10 students a week, every week for the past 40 years. Oh, and they have an off season where only a few students show up at a time.

Brown’s does all this in an unlikely airplane, the Piper J-3 Cub. Although it’s not something you’d want to go fly the backcountry with, it’s a fantastic training airplane, as I found out yesterday when doing splash and gos around the local lakes with one of the school’s instructors. I was at Brown’s to work the latest installment in our series A Day in the Life of America’s Airports. But you can’t go to Brown’s without getting in an airplane, and instructor Erik and I bounced from lake to lake in a 20-knot wind. It was great fun.

Look for the full story in an upcoming issue of the magazine. But for a sneak peek, let’s just say the “office” is a house on a pier, there are lake bums (from the same clan as the airport bum), and everyone has a great story to tell.

Cirrus gets a new Perspective by Garmin

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Apparently management at Cirrus Design saw Garmin International’s “gotta, gotta get a Garmin” ads for the Super Bowl and then went and got a Garmin–in fact, a whole panel for their Cirrus SR22 G3 line.

I had the chance to sample the Perspective panel and the other features unique to it, including a new paint scheme, last week at Cirrus’ Duluth, Minnesota, factory. Look for a feature article on the enhancements in the July issue of AOPA Pilot. But for now, here’s an advance look at the highly capable system.

First, in order to choose the innovative Perspective option, customers must order a fully optioned SR22 G3 or Turbo G3.

The Perspective panel is not just another G1000. Unique to Cirrus, at least for now, are impressively large dual 12-inch displays. The primary flight display features Garmin’s recently announced synthetic vision technology (SVT) and several crew alerting messages.

Also unique to Garmin is a blue “LVL” button on the GFC 700 autopilot mode controller. The LVL button is a pilot’s get-out-of-jail-free card when things are starting to go bad. Simply push the LVL button and no matter what mode the autopilot is in or even if it is off, the autopilot will roll the wings level and hold altitude. The system gives the pilot time to figure out what’s happening with the airplane or the automation and solve it before things get out of control.

The autopilot and the features of the PFD and MFD can be accessed through knobs and keys on a panel just below the MFD and above the newly redesigned throttle. The panel includes alpha and numeric keypads for entering waypoints, frequencies, and transponder codes.

The Perspective package includes a more capable and fault-tolerant electrical system and new environmental control system. The option adds 40 pounds to the airplane’s empty weight and costs about $48,000 more than the Avidyne Entegra system standard on Cirrus models.

So, what do you think about this latest safety feature? Have you found yourself in a situation where you wished you could have pushed an LVL button?

The Sadler Vampire is back!

Monday, May 19th, 2008

Sadler Aircraft, a newly-formed company in Roseburg, Oregon, plans to produce an LSA version of the Sadler Vampire, a 1980s ultralight design that remains a cult classic in the U.S. and in Australia.

While the original Vampires were Rotax-powered single-seaters, the new design will feature side-by-side seating for two, and a 65-hp Rotomax rotary engine driving a pusher prop.  Flyaway price is $79,900, and a 120-hp engine will also be available, according to David Littlejohn, head of Sadler Aircraft.

“We’re now considering whether to go ahead with a high performance version, with 450-hp Chevy V-8,” he says. “This would be based on the Piranha, a combat variant that Bill Sadler designed for Turkish Aerospace in 1997. It had unbelievable performance-it could climb almost straight up at 4,000 feet per minute.”

Low slung and menacing, the Vampire shares its basic configuration with the de Havilland Vampire, an early British jet fighter. And despite being classified as an “ultralight,” the single-seat Vampire was a maneuverable performer stressed for plus or minus 6Gs. 

Rights to the Vampire changed hands more than once over the years, and the design has found its most ardent supporters in Australia. Ken Garland and his company, Aero V Australia, hold the Type Acceptance Certificate for the single-seat model.  

Bye-Bye BIRK, Hello Scottish Highlands

Monday, May 19th, 2008

Yesterday was our day to be tourists in Iceland. I hesitate to advertise this great island’s many attributes, out of fear that more tourists will come and inevitably ruin the place. But this is the spot to see some great geologic sights, and Iceland is most certainly a unique blend of the cosmopolitan and the very rural. The main outing of the day was a tour of the Thingvellir, and a visit to some geysers. The Thingvellir is considered the convocation site of the first parliament–way back around 1000 A.D. It’s a long cliff of volcanic rock accretions, stacked in huge broken blocks. The idea, our guide said, was that the rock wall served to amplify the voices of the speakers (“it was the first public address system,” the guide joked). As for the geysers, they were very willing to spout steam and spray at about three minute intervals. As I took pictures and video, one of them got me good. I was IFR in a sulfurous steam bath. Not too hot, though.

Downtown Reykjavik is a mixture of small-town scale with big-city attractions. Seems like everything is within a few blocks . Like bars, restaurants (excellent seafood), and shopping? You’ll love Reykjavik. But don’t tell anybody. I don’t want to show up here some day and find a boatload of 4,000 camera-toting, loudmouthed tourists screwing it up.

Late in the day, Jean-Pierre made an announcement: ATC has gone on strike in Norway! And here I thought France was the only nation that scheduled its strikes for tourist season. So Air Journey headquarters in Jupiter, Florida came up with a plan B in a matter of three hours–we were going to Inverness, Scotland, instead.

Early today, after going through the rigamarole of filing the flight plans, engines were started and the first callups made. Guess what? ATC had no record of the flight plans! So it was shut down, go back in to refile, then finally launch on a newly-concocted clearance. Our route was as follows: BIRK ING (the Ingo, Iceland  VOR) RATSU intersection (at 60N 10W) STN (the Stornoway, Scotland VOR), then  direct to the Inverness airport. We made the trip in 2 hours 30 minutes, helped by a strong tailwind component announced by a short bout with moderate turbulence.

The weather was good VFR all the way along the 670-nm route from BIRK to EGPE (Inverness). What an oddity! I flew with Butch and Diane Stevens in their 1992 TBM 700A, which Butch claims cruises at 318 knots true at FL270. That’s faster than your average TBM 700, a fact that Butch attributes to his removing the wing-mounted radar pod–and the installation of a beefier compressor wheel. 

During the flight, I noticed that Butch and Diane had stashed their clothing in a bunch of clear-plastic Rubbermaind/Tupperware containers. There was a lot. Each bin was labelled: short-sleeve shirts, long-sleeve shirts, pants, dress clothes, and underwear. Another airplane on the trip has pallets–really!–of water, clothes, food, and who knows what else. Me, I have a single roll-aboard, a laptop, and a camera bag. Last night I ran out of clean clothes. Washed me dirties in the tub.

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All landed uneventfully, and then each airplane’s owner payed a $140 landing charge, a $41 parking charge, and a $228 ground handling charge (the purpose of which–apart from pure profit–no one can explain). Sound high? BIRK’s fees were approximately double that.

Then we were driven to the Bunchrew House Hotel and Restaurant in Inverness. What a fantastic place! It’s on the shores of the Beauly Firth, and looks like some viscount’s mansion. Next, we’ll go looking for the Loch Ness Monster and attend a whisky tasting. This involves checking out some 117 different single-malt Scotches. I’ll drink to keeping the U.S. user-fee free!

Mustang Rodeo

Monday, May 19th, 2008

Some of the best minds in aviation training have been focusing on VLJs with a goal of improving pilot performance and reducing insurance rates. A Cessna Citation Mustang accident in California last month shows there’s still lots of work to be done.

A Mustang suffered extensive damage at Carlsbad’s McClelland-Palomar Airport on April 19 when it landed long and fast and ground-looped at the departure end of the Runway 24. The NTSB said the airplane operated by California Natural Products was about 15 knots fast when it touched down about halfway down the 4,897-foot runway, and the pilot/owner intentionally ground-looped to avoid going down a steep embankment.

The pilot had reported a flickering primary flight display during the flight and failed electric trim that required using the manual trim for approach and landing. The pilot descended through clouds from about 5,000 feet to about 2,600 feet and made a visual approach. The pilot also said he was fatigued by the demands of hand-flying the airplane for 45 minutes leading up to the accident.

See the NTSB brief for more information.

Tom – Tom adventures

Monday, May 19th, 2008

Well here I am (me blogy postress) posting Tom Horne’s colorful Trans-Atlantic crossing adventure as he deftly submits blogs from Quebeque, Canada, Goose Bay, Labrador, Nuuk, Greenland, and Reykjavik, Iceland.

I’m not moderating–mind you–just monitoring and looking for additional links, and embedding Google Maps and such; the stuff reserved for lowly blogy deck-hands on such a spectacular ocean voyage.

But let’s not digress. It’s not just one Tom but two Toms (Haines and Horne) who have answered the Trans-Atlantic Sirens.

Call me jealous, but, for once, I too would like to put on a Gumby suit, and sit behind the controls of a PC-12, or a TBM 700 or 850, and fly it across the Atlantic to Europe. But nooo, I’d have to start at the bottom…fly a souped-up Cessna 172 with extra fuel tanks in the cabin, shivering above the chilly waves…oh well, a girl can dream. My day may come.

Meanwhile, why not checkout “the Toms’ stories.” Don’t be envious like me–it’s really great reading. Here are the links, and bon voyage:
TBM 700
TBM 850