Archive for May, 2008

LSA means freedom

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

I flew up to Corning, CA to try to get a handle on LSA maintenance, and to look over Rainbow Aviation ( www.rainbowaviation )–the only spot in the U.S. that teaches the courses required to get a  repairman/maintenance certificate. The course takes 120 hours (3 weeks). The certificate is then presented to the FAA, which issues an official repairman license. The license permits the holder to hang out a LSA repairman shingle and charge for maintenance services. Contrary to the idea that LSA would generate a flock of new pilots, the attendees at the school were–except for one young ultralight flyer–all 50 years old and older and had a wide range of maintenance and flying experience in the corporate, airline, and GA worlds. Almost every attendee was spending time and money so that they could maintain their own LSAs. The prevailing motivations were a desire to keep flying, and an eagerness to break free of the corporate and governmental hassles that have slowly stifled the fun out of flying.   

Weird science

Friday, May 9th, 2008

Homogeneous. That’s how I would describe today’s GA airplanes. With the possible exception of Diamond, an airplane is an airplane. Now instead of debating the merits of weird VTOL or crazy hovercraft, we talk about low wing versus high wing. Someone, please anyone, design a strange airplane. Don’t be Detroit and give us the same airplane with only slightly different airframe and engine configurations. “The Cherokee 6 is the fixed-gear version of the Saratoga, which is the single-engine version of the Seneca, which happens to be…” Enough. Cessna, build us a Skycatcher based on the Chance-Vought V173, not one based on a Cessna 152.

Boeing, build us this…thing. Looks like KLM will be your launch customer (yes, I know it’s fake).



I’m bored. Give us something new. Something exciting. Sure, we may not buy it, but man will it generate a lot of buzz. I know your engineers still have cocktail napkins laying around. Be like Google and let their minds wander. Oh well, at least I can still see weird aerodynamic appendeges in F1 racing.


Where do we get such men?

Friday, May 9th, 2008

 The story unfolded something like this:

Dead battery; mags on; throttle open; hand-prop plane; engine starts; plane surges forward; prop smacks post; crankshaft breaks; prop lands on hangar far away.

Fortunately, there were no casualties, other than the now-deceased Piper.


Otherwise, the pilot/Armstrong starter would deserve a nomination for next year’s Darwin Award.

(Whoever thought of putting barriers in front of self-service fuel pumps was a genius!)


Glass on the go…

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

It seems like a tidal wave of technology is engulfing the turbine world. Older turboprops, only a few years ago thought to be dinosaurs, are suddenly becoming fashionable again as fuel prices soar. The popularity is driving a desire to fix up those old airplanes, and avionics manufacturers are happy to oblige.

We’ve reported on glass-cockpit upgrades for a variety of turbine airplanes, from the Avidyne Envision-equipped King Air 200 with a new S-Tec autopilot to the new Sandel displays for a host of older airplanes the progress is practically weekly. Today, Avidyne announced that it is offering an Envision single primary flight display system for the King Air 90A through 90E series partnered with an S-Tec 65X. These baby King Airs still offer plenty of capability and now do so with a much more modern and capable cockpit.

The single-PFD system is priced at $35,000, which, by turbine airplane standards, seems like a reasonable price. Customers can opt to add an EX5000 or EX500 multifunction display capable of displaying on-board radar, plus a host of other sensor add-ons for traffic, lightning, and datalink weather.

Bottom line: Don’t count turboprops out, even in an era of very light jets.

Working 24/7 in the desert

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

Normally you won’t find much military news in AOPA publications like this blog but here’s an exception. Lt. Col. Michael Brill (right)The Air Force news release from Balad Air Base in Iraq said Lt. Col. Michael Brill of the 421st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron has broken all records by completing his 6,000th hour flying a high-G F-16 fighter. I indicated interest and got this response from Ssgt. Steve Grever: “Let me know if you guys decide to run the article or if you want an interview too. We work Saturday and Sunday too if you have time on the weekend.”

Lt. Col Travis

That was followed by another release; Lt. Col. Travis “Flak” Willis completed his 1,000th combat hour starting in 1991, the most recent one as an F-15E weapons systems officer. That’s not just flight hours, that’s combat mission hours.


So yes, Ssgt. Grever, we do appreciate not only the sacrifices the pilots are making, but also those of you, 1st Lt. Lisa Spilinek, and Senior Airman Daniel Delgado who wrote the two releases. Thanks for working “Saturday and Sunday too” for your nation.

Thielerts across the sea–Smelling the RAT

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

A few weeks ago I got an interesting phone call. Would I like to fly a Thielert-powered Cessna 172 from the United States to Europe? (This was just a few days before the Thielert bankruptcy was announced.) Seems that several TAE-powered Cessnas were being prepared for the big/slow journey. But there was a problem. The route would go from St. John’s, Newfoundland to the Azores, then on to the European Continent. That first leg’s a beaut, a real bladder-buster. We’re talking about some 1, 300 nm, and maybe, maybe 11 hours in the air. On a good day. So let’s be conservative and say that these Skyhawks, Thielert-powered though they be, make just 100 knots over the ground, err…water. That means something like 13.5 hours in the seat.

Which brings us to the phone call. The caller said the trip wouldn’t take place right away. Some engineering had to be done. Since the Thielert engine relies on FADEC and electronic ignition, an alternator failure would result in a deafening silence up front–after the battery gives out in 30-45 minutes. So, my caller was shopping around for a small Ram Air Turbine (RAT). One that could be deployed out the Hawk’s side window. Sigh. I let him go on with the story …..

See, first you’d get the warning lights, meaning the alternator’s gone on vacation, then you’d pop open the window, grab the RAT off the seat next to you, then set it in some sort of bracket–I suppose. The RAT’d start spinning, the electrons would flow anew, and you…err… I’d be on my merry way. The engine would keep on a’ turnin’….

Round about now I’m asking myself, do I have an autopilot? Don’t know. Is the installation FAA-approved? Not yet. Will the RAT keep on working? Don’t know…. I doubt if there will be much in the way of function and reliability tests. How cold would it be outside? About 25 degrees F at 6,000 feet this time of year. Add a wind chill/blast factor of 120 knots, and you/I could have an interesting time mounting Mr. RAT.

And there’s another question: Why are these TAE Skyhawks going eastbound? Has a fleet operator returned his fleet to the sender? Don’t know. Did a bunch of customers catch the early stench of bankruptcy?

For the time being, I’ll mull over the decision to fly one of these RAT-birds o’er the ocean. It’s serious business–very serious in such a limited airplane as a Skyhawk–but this deal makes me laugh every time I think about it. It’d make a good story though. But would it be as wise as it could be fun? Don’t know. I’ll let you know more if/when things move ahead.

How long did your smile last?

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

You were eight months pregnant. You were 63 years old. You were wearing a giant smile and those short shorts we all wore in the 1980s. You were shaking your CFI’s hand and grinning in a parka. You knew it was going to happen that day. You didn’t have a clue. You climbed victorious out of your Cherokee. You flashed a thumbs-up next to your Skyhawk. You held up a small teddy bear that was a good luck charm. The weather couldn’t have been better. The weather that day was too windy at first, but you went up later, and you did fine.

These are some of the memories you described when we asked you back in March to recall your first solo. You sent photos (lots of photos!), short descriptions and long recollections, a scan of a first-solo certificate, another scan of a newspaper article. And you told us how you felt that day.


“It topped every other event in my life so far!”

“It was a day I’ll never forget.”

“I couldn’t contain my excitement when it was all done…”

We put a batch of your photos in the feature article, “I Think I’m Alone Now,” in the June issue of AOPA Flight Training. And we’re displaying another batch in an online slide show. Memories like these are too good to horde. Take a look and relive your own great day–and if you have a special memory, share it with us in the Comments section. (Holding up the key in this photo is Mat Young, shown with CFI Eric Williams.)


Banner day for Cessna Aircraft

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

May 5–Quite a Cinco de Mayo for Cessna Aircraft. For perhaps the first time in the 80-year-old company’s history two new models had their first flights on the same day–sort of. The first flight of the CJ4 prototype business jet rocketed off of Wichita’s McConnell Air Force Base for a 2-hour and 22-minute test flight. Meanwhile, just a few thousand yards away under the approach path to McConnell, the first production model of the tiny Cessna SkyCatcher light sport aircraft put daylight under its tires as it lifted off from Cessna Aircraft Field Airport for a 30-minute flight.

As points of contrast, the CJ4 will cruise at a max speed of 435 knots while carrying 1,000 pounds of fuel and with a max payload of 2,100 pounds. The SkyCatcher is expected to breeze along at 118 knots (about the CJ4’s approach speed) while carrying about 144 pounds of fuel and a useful load of 490 pounds.

But, hey, they both have glass cockpits–the CJ4 sports a Collins Pro Line 21 system while the SkyCatcher panel hosts a Garmin G300.

Which would you rather have–high and fast or low and slow?

Fun, fun, fun

Friday, May 2nd, 2008

My immediate, short-term, and long-term goal in aviation is but one thing–to have fun. Sure, utility is a wonderful thing and is fun in its own right. But give me a tail wheel, floats, or an aerobatic airplane over a fast cross country machine any time.

Up until Wednesday, I would have to say that learning to fly on floats in the shadow of Denali was closely matched with buzzing the South in a J-3 at the top of fun meter. But now, there’s a new contender, and its inspiration comes from a somewhat unique continent–Africa.

The Air Cam is a two-seat, experimental, open-cockpit slow flyer. It is named for its fantastic ability as an aerial photo platform, and was designed in the early 1990s by Phil Lockwood for flying very low and quite slow over The Congo.

Air Cam N119CK

Claudius Klimt and his friend Carlo Cilliers built N119CK in Klimt’s backyard over a period of six years, and the result is extraordinary. After throwing in the full-body motorcycle suit and military-style helmet, Klimt threw me in the back seat of the Air Cam and taxied to the runway. With its twin Rotax engines, the airplane was literally off the ground by the time Klimt had applied full power. We were at pattern altitude by the end of the 3,600-foot runway. Incredible stuff.

Hanging out at 500 feet, the Air Cam gently meandered along. A small rain shower sprinkled us as we flew past. And the smells… The best comparison is probably that of riding a motorcycle. You can feel the wind as it shifts direction, feel the heat and cold as you pass through.

I’ll have much more about this airplane in an upcoming issue of the magazine, but in the meantime if you get a chance to fly an Air Cam, do it! You will not be disappointed.

Headset Haiku

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

I’m putting together a headset buyer’s guide for AOPA Online, and have found the vast profusion of brands and models to be impressive, if a little overwhelming. As such, I will now express my headset-related feelings in the form of Haiku, a type of traditional Japanese poetry. Typically, Haiku have three lines. The first line usually contains five syllables, the second line seven, and the third line five again.

Flexible mic boom

Hand adjustable knurled knobs

Three-year warranty