Archive for June, 2008

Juneau mountains’ majesty

Monday, June 30th, 2008

I can now cross “Flying in Alaska” off my bucket list.

Well, that’s not precisely true. I’ve never had a formal list of things to do before I depart for new horizons. But if I did, “Flying to Alaska” would be near the top, now with a big red check next to it.

Last week I flew a modified Cessna 150 (a Texas taildragger) out of Juneau International. My CFI and affable tour guide was Wallace Long of the Alaska Flight Center. Long provides flight instruction, tailwheel training, and flight reviews and such in the highly polished 150 as well as a Cessna 172. For 1.3 on the Hobbs and a mere $168–less than half of the cost of a floatplane sightseeing tour–I experienced some of the most beautiful sights and fun flying I’ve ever done. Aside from the astounding scenery–a tiny portion of which you see here–a highlight of the trip was a low pass over a backcountry airstrip, about 1,900 feet long.

I can’t wait to go back. If you have an Alaska flying story, please share it in the Comments section.

Neat pilot shop does brisk business

Friday, June 27th, 2008

Told that her pilot shop is one of the neatest in all the land, Lydia Craig said, “I hadn’t noticed. I work too hard.” Take a look at the photos and decide for yourself if you agree with my assessment.


The Aviator’s Attic has a couple of good things going for it. It is located in Yingling Aviation at the main airport serving Wichita, Kansas, where lots of pilots arrive to take training and pick up their new airplanes. In addition, FlightSafety is kind enough to refer its many students to her for pilot supplies and books they need for training. Her business is doing great, but would probably succeed just by the displays she builds. Most of her customers are from overseas. First they buy their supplies, then FlightSafety students load up on souvenirs from America.

One smart FBO

Friday, June 27th, 2008

In my travels, I have visited some pretty lousy FBOs. One charged me $5 to tow the airplane 20 feet to their fuel pumps. Others have charged as much as $40 to drop off a passenger, even though no services (including marshalling) were offered. Many have been rude and crass, the reason for which I have always assumed is that I don’t fly a jet.

But recently I had the pleasure to experience what must be one of the best FBOs in the business. Image Air at the Central Illinois Regional Airport/Bloomington-Normal exemplifies what I think all FBOs should be about. Namely, good customer service, reasonable prices, and good services. That easy formula will win customers for life. So far I’ve only stopped twice at Image Air, but here are my two experiences:

1. Came in at 7:00 pm. Customer service agent got me a suite at a local hotel for $65 and then gave me the crew car for the evening, free of charge.

2. They sent a fuel truck to the other side of the airport, let me pay with a credit card given over the lineman’s radio, and then faxed me a receipt. When I got home, there was a thank you letter for buying the fuel. What a novel concept.

I think my favorite part of the FBO, however, is that it is able to attract jet customers with great services, but us little guys still feel welcome. Or maybe it’s the free cookies.

What else makes a good FBO? Which ones do it the best?

Night moves

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

I’m writing an article on night VFR operations for an upcoming issue of Pilot, and figured it might be a good idea to get night current again. Not just so I can at least sound like I know what I’m talking about, but also to try and recapture that special mindset that goes with flying after dark.

It really is different. You flight plan a little more diligently, and check things over a little more carefully than usual, because deep down you know the prospect of an electrical or, gulp, engine failure at night is just something you’d rather not have to face. I mean, cripes–it’s really dark out there, and the coyotes are getting hungrier by the minute.

My longtime ride, a ’99 Aviat Husky just reaching its peak with 1,422 hours on the tach, couldn’t care less. It’s virtually full of $5.70 per gallon blue fuel (still cheaper than hot sake), the oil is new and the spark plugs blasted clean, and while I plan to replace my nine-year-old battery soon, it’s given me no indication that it’s not charged and ready for a night of runway-pounding action.

My long-suffering mag-light finally expired, though, so I borrowed one from Chris Rose, the staff photographer who would record my efforts tonight. He positioned himself in the grass off to the side of Frederick’s Runway 23, thoroughly encumbered with the fishing vest, tripod, and all the other gear that people in his profession love to tote around with them.

“Just fly your normal patterns and I’ll take the pictures,” he said. Fair enough, but you just fly differently, self-consciously, when you know somebody’s out there with one of those digital Nikons with a lens about four feet long.

It was a beautiful evening and I had the pattern all to myself, at least for the first few circuits. Sure enough, all the clichés about night flying held true. The runway lights, “rabbit” and my own pulsing strobe lights were dazzling, and it took me a few minutes to settle down and get used to all the distractions.

I came in a little high initially, of course, as if scared of the ground I couldn’t see. So I tuned up the FDK localizer frequency and used the glideslope to help stay in the groove from that point on. Cheating? No way–you use what you’ve got. The transition to landing was interesting, because it forced me to break a new bad daytime habit–aiming to plant it on the runway end in order to make the first turnoff at all costs.

Out of ten stop and goes, four or five were pretty nice, several I just don’t remember and a couple got me back on the ground, but that’s all. My biggest mistake of the night was forgetting to push in my prop control all the way in one time on the launch. I noticed it on the climb out and stupidly pushed it in fast, instead of turning it in slowly. That big MT scimitar made a dramatic whooshing sound as the rpms came up; it even got Rose’s attention. No harm done, though, except to my ego.

All told, a pretty average performance. But I’m night current again. How about you?


The burning power of glasses

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

Jim Cone, a local pilot and friend, told me that he almost lost his Cardinal RG because of his reading glasses.

Cone had hung his Dr. Dean Edell drug-store magnifying glasses off the magnetic compass and left his airplane for a few hours. When he got back his nose told him that something was wrong—that was before he saw the parallel slashes in the fabric of his pilot and copilot seat. After considering all the alternatives–such as renegade seat slashers, etc–he finally came to the conclusion that his reading glasses had focused the sun’s rays on the seat fabric, and as the sun traveled across the sky, the focused light left a trail of burnt fabric. He was very lucky.

The moral of the story–be careful with those magnifying glasses.

That pesky oil leak

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

I started my aviation maintenance career watching Navy mechanics work on Wright 1820s. They weren’t too worried about oil leaks, I learned. Later, I worked for Aero Dyne out of the Renton, Washington airport on their fleet of Pratt and Whitney powered DC-3s. One of the junior co-pilots always walked around the nacelles of our “Dougasaurases” because he didn’t want to get any drops of that nasty “BMEP” on his epaulets. I sneered at his wimpiness. Oil is good and 60 weight is the best.

However, the oil leak that has developed under the cowling of my faithful Comanche has finally grown beyond the “BMEP” catagory into an “OIL LEAK!” So I pulled the cowling, looked around and decided that the source of my Exxon Valdez-like oil slick was the oil cooler.  I  sent it to Pacific Oil Cooler service. They sent it back with a clean bill of health. That wasn’t it.

Next step is to get rid of the age-unknown fittings between the cooler and the flexible oil hoses and install new fittings with perfect 37 degree flares. Should have the new parts and pieces tomorrow. In the meantime I’ll be cleaning the oil off the belly.  One thing I know for sure–none of the safety wire cuts I suffered on my hands and arms during my years working on airplane engines ever got infected. It must have been the 60 weight.

Then again, maybe not

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

In March 2004, I told you in an ePilot article that the 346-pound DynAero Lafayette III, an experimental airplane with an electric motor powered by a fuel cell, would fly by late summer, according to Jim Dunn of Advanced Technology Products in Worcester, Massachusetts. But it never happened.

The program got to taxi tests but did not progress further primarily due to lack of funding. Most of the available funds were used to purchase a high energy density fuel cell that failed during testing. Still, dozens of students learned a great deal about electrically powered vehicles and airplanes by using the Lafayette project for their research. By now they are out there working on alternatives to present energy sources, so the mission of the Lafayette is a success, even though it never left the ground.

So long, Johnny Miller

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

Things were a little slow that day at Oshkosh 2001 as I was manning the Sweepstakes Bonanza. Throughout the week members had worn away the grass in the shape of the stunningly beautiful V-tail, a 1966 V35.

But at the moment I was daydreaming when up walks a skinny old guy, his belt pulled tight to hold up his pants. “What model is it?” he asked. I’d answered the question probably a hundred times that week, but at that moment some synapse didn’t close properly in my brain and out of my mouth came, “S35V.” He tilted his head, and it was then that I recognized him as Bonanza aficionado John Miller and I also recognized that I was in for a lecture. “There is no such thing,” he remarked. “It looks like a V model.” I knew it was fruitless to correct my mistake. And I also knew I was about to learn something about Bonanzas. For the next 20 minutes I listened and absorbed as Johnny walked around the airplane and commented about every part of the airplane, giving me worlds of insight into the history of those remarkable airplanes.

Aviation lost an icon this week when John died at age 102–a fount of knowledge dating back some 84 years, nearly to the beginning of aviation. John started flying at age 18. It’s hard for me to believe even now that he was 95 when he corrected me at Oshkosh. He was an active pilot nearly to the end. Over the decades, he has touched the lives of thousands of pilots, whether in person or through his books and magazine articles.

We’d enjoy reading your remembrances of this remarkable man. Click on the “post your comments” link below to share your Johnny Miller stories.

An offer I can’t refuse

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

A beautiful Sunday afternoon and I’m buried in my home office grinding through financial spreadsheets attempting to keep this place operating in the black. In walks my 15-year-old daughter Lauren. “Dad, let’s go flying.” I’m stunned. She really has been bitten by this aviation bug. She had her first flight lesson three days ago. Her lesson on this Sunday has been canceled because of a maintenance problem with the airplane she was to fly and she’s bummed. Needing an aviation fix, she’s come to her only other source–Dad.

I hesitate for about a nanosecond and we’re off for the airport. She’s been around airplanes her whole life and until lately has expressed only occasional interest in flying. Lately she’s been following me through on the walkaround of our Bonanza, asking good questions, and wanting to fly. Always the confident one, after her first lesson she came home and declared: “I did the takeoff and landing mostly by myself. It doesn’t seem that hard.” Oh, boy.

But on this Sunday, I make it easy for her and handle the takeoffs and landings, but throw the yoke over to her for some straight and level and a few steep turns. She does well. I’m proud and she’s pleased.

I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

Suggestions on how to keep a teenager engaged and focused on flying?

Go sweepstakes racer, go!

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

A speed demon it is not. I flew 208GG from the home base at Frederick, Maryland, to Osage Beach, Missouri, last Thursday to display the airplane at the cherokee owners fly-in.

Well, I tried to at least. After battling headwinds the entire way, I had to stop short in St. Louis to wait out some nasty weather.

The long trip was a great opportunity to fly the bird IFR with the new panel. Wow. What a panel. Between the Garmin 430s, the Aspen EFD, the Avidyne Ex500 with weather and traffic, and the S-Tec Fifty Five X autopilot, the 8 hours seemed to melt away.

I’ll have more details about numbers and impressions in this week’s post on the sweepstakes homepage, but here are some photos in the meantime. From top to bottom it goes: nifty weather, confirmation of painful speeds (before you think 107 isn’t too bad, look again. It’s in MPH), and flooding just north of St. Louis.