Archive for June, 2008

S is for speed

Friday, June 20th, 2008

OK, so it’s cliche. But in the case of the Mooney Acclaim Type S, the S really is for speed. Fast, turboprop speeds on miserly fuel burns.

I’m in Osage Beach, Missouri, for the annual cherokee owners fly-in and piggybacking another story on the Type S for an upcoming issue of Pilot. We just got down from flying serial number 94, and it was a real joy. Given that Mooney’s advertising as of late is all about speed, we were obliged to take it up to FL250 and really stretch out her legs. Today it was 25 degrees C above standard and we were close to gross weight. Even then, we were climbing at 900 fpm at an indicated airspeed of 130 when we hit 25,000 ft. Mooney says it will do 242 knots up there. I’m not going to give our real world number just yet. You’ll have to read the story.

Pilots are always saying how difficult it is to land a Mooney and how small it is inside. Let me just say this. If you are a sloppy pilot, you may strike the prop on landing. And if you want more space, buy a King Air. But chances are the Acclaim Type S pilots will pass you on occasion. And they’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.

What’s missing from this picture?

Friday, June 20th, 2008

Featuring the Cirrus Perspective by Garmin panel, our July cover story asks the question: Is this the Ultimate Panel?

Forget the brand for a moment, do the glass cockpits in today’s new single-engine piston airplanes represent the ultimate? What’s missing? New airplanes typically have a large primary flight display, often showing synthetic vision–so obstacles and terrain are depicted along with highway-in-the-sky guidance to the next waypoint. Add in traffic depictions and it’s hard to run into anything these days. Over on the equally large multifunction display you typically have terrain information, datalinked nexrad weather, lightning depictions, text weather, fuel and engine monitoring and alerting, and a host of other features. Today’s autopilots will fly any procedure in the book, including the holding patterns. See the video of my recent flight in the Cirrus.

What else would you like to see in the panel and if not in the panel, what’s the next area of evolution–or revolution–for single-engine airplanes? Give us your ideas by clicking the “Post your comments” link below.

Newest Soloy conversion targets police

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

Soloy Aviation Solutions’ newest turbine conversion–the “Mark II” upgrade for the in-production, Garmin G1000-equipped Cessna 206H–is nearing FAA certification and aimed squarely at the law enforcement community.

Soloy Cessna 206 Mark II, with 5-bladed MT propeller

According to Dave Stauffer, Soloy’s CEO, the Mark II will be “perfect” for police departments and security agencies needing a proven, high-wing turboprop smaller and less expensive than the $1.6-million Cessna 208 Caravan.

Priced at $561,000, the upgrade employs an updated version of the Rolls-Royce (Allison) 250-B17F engine, offering 420 horsepower and thermodynamic improvements that allow increased power to be carried all the way up to 10,000 feet msl. 

“It’s a combination of payload carrying ability, endurance, and best of all, less noise,” he says. “The propeller turns at only 2,000 rpm, making the airplane very quiet. And for the first time, the prop is fully reversible, which gives better short field performance.”

So far, Stauffer says, the Mark II has generated orders from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Costa Rican national police, and the FBI and Department of Homeland Security are considering the aircraft as well.

Not every detail connected with the Mark II has been resolved, according to Stauffer: “The G1000 is giving us a bit of a challenge, because our airspeeds, fuel capacities, and other details are different than the stock, piston-powered airplane. Changing them [in the G1000 system] means you have to get into the software, which is a big deal.”

Soloy began switching 200-series Cessnas to turbine power in 1986, and has delivered 75 Allison turbine 206s (25 percent on floats), and 24 conversions of the stretched model 207 to date. Around 30 of them were sold to European customers.

The Soloy package differs from other Allison 250 conversions, in that it employs a proprietary gearbox. Allison 250-B17F overhaul interval is 3,500 hours, with a hot section inspection required at 1,750 hours. The standard propeller is a 3-bladed Hartzell, although a new, 5-bladed composite prop from Germany’s MT is available as an option.

For additional information, visit


Jailed pilot story: How pervasive is low-flying?

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

Last winter, a short news item on about a Wisconsin biplane pilot being sent to jail for a fatal accident got a lot of attention from members.

Mark Strub had survived a low-flying accident that claimed the life of his passenger, and then he pleaded guilty to reckless operation of a motor vehicle and disorderly conduct. News of the first U.S. pilot jailed for an aircraft accident nearly set a record for hits on That evening, I wrote Strub a letter and mailed it to the Wood County Jail in Wisconsin Rapids. I wanted to know more about the accident, and I wanted to learn about Strub. Was he a perennial screw-up with a history of reckless conduct, or a solid guy who made a terrible mistake?

How pervasive is low-flying among general aviation pilots? YouTube is full of video images of GA pilots behaving badly, and NTSB accident statistics show it’s been a common theme over many, many years.

Strub had been following the Wisconsin River in his Stearman at tree-top height on a summer day in 2004 and struck powerlines. He escaped, but his passenger, a 39-year-old wife and mother who had hoped for a thrilling but safe jaunt in an open-cockpit plane, died on the spot.

I met Strub at his rural home and found him candid, forthright and brutally direct. He doesn’t hide from his actions or make excuses. He lives with the life-altering consequences of his accident every day. And he would do anything to go back to that summer day four years ago and alter the outcome.

Among the AOPA publications staff, we had a rigorous debate about whether to tell Strub’s story at all. It’s sad and sobering, and publishing it is a stretch for an organization chartered to promote general aviation. But low-flying accidents have plagued aviation for generations–and we concluded that Strub’s bitter experience has a better chance of actually improving pilot behavior than all the preaching, accident statistics, and dry recitation of federal aviation regulations ever could.

It was a tough call–but I believe it was the right one.

And when you read about Mark Strub, do you shake your head and conclude he got what he deserved? That his punishment should have been more severe? Or do you close your eyes and think, “There but by the grace of God go I?”

Read the story online.

Go ahead: Make my day!

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

Confession time: AOPA Sweepstakes projects can be a real pain. And a real joy.

Over the last 15 years I have been involved in the dozen aircraft fix-up projects plus the two new Cessnas back in the 1990s and the current Get Your Glass Archer project. They’re more difficult, more time consuming, and more logistically challenging than anyone who hasn’t been involved in one can imagine.

But every once in a while there’s a moment that makes it all worthwhile. One of those came over the weekend when I received an email with pictures of Bruce Chase of Longview, Texas, flying the Catch A Cardinal that he won back in January. You may recall from our story in the March issue of AOPA Pilot that we razzed him a bit about not smiling when he got the news that he won (watch the video). Now he’s smiling.

Thanks for sending the photo, Bruce. You made my day! Enjoy the Cardinal.

Future pilot sightings

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

The National Air and Space Museum hosted its annual Family Learn-To-Fly Day at the Udvar-Hazy annex at Washington-Dulles International Airport on Saturday, June 14,  and the results left me more optimistic than I’ve been in a long while that the dwindling pilot population doesn’t have to dwindle in the future.

We all know the discouraging economics having to do with avgas, new aircraft, hangars, insurance, flight training, etc.

Well, here’s what I saw on Saturday: Scores of bright-eyed, extremely well-behaved kids entranced by flying machines ranging from hot-air balloons and hang gliders to warbirds and bizjets; parents asking detailed, informed questions that showed a real appreciation for flying, and enthusiastic aircraft owners willing to stand on a sweltering ramp and share their knowledge and expertise.

There’s a reason the Air and Space Museum is perennially the most visited of all the Smithsonian’s attractions. Americans are as interested in aerospace as ever. We just have to find a way to help them get involved.

A colleague, Pat Haller, and I, brought N208GG, the AOPA’s Sweepstakes plane, to the event. And visitors were impressed by the level of detail and craftsmanship in the restored, 1976 Archer. One visitor, Greg Harrison of Winterset, Iowa, was almost at a loss for words.

Harrison used to fly and maintain the plane when it was known as N22ZT.

“It was nothing special to look at,” he said. “In fact, it was pretty rough.”

The plane had had a hard-knock life until AOPA acquired it last year and launched an extreme makeover. The details of its transformation are chronicled, in detail, in AOPA Pilot, and the articles will continue until the plane is delivered to our annual sweepstakes winner in January. It was gratifying to see Harrison’s disbelieving reaction to the plane, which has gone from a sow’s ear to a silk purse.

It was a new experience for me to fly behind the Archer’s Aspen primary flight display on the way to and from the event.

The flight was great, but the taxi was taxing. In fact, taxiing from Runway 19C to the museum took longer than the short flight from Frederick–and the radio got a real workout. In a 30-mile flight, I spoke with three controllers (two approach, one tower) and four on the ground (two ramp and two ground). That doesn’t even count ASOS and Unicom at Frederick, or ATIS at Dulles.

Thanks to the museum staff for allowing AOPA to take part in such a worthwhile event. I look forward to the hard but rewarding work of preserving and expanding our flying heritage for the next generation . . .

Airplanes: A link to our past

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

Long-lived as they are, airplanes connect us to our past. One airplane connected to my past lives on. N757PU is a Cessna 182RG that belonged to my primary flight instructor, John Julian, and his wife Bernice. For decades the two were aviation fixtures in northwestern Pennsylvania. It seemed John taught the whole region to fly–and then some. He died last year, leaving Bernie with the task of dealing with the 182. Understandably, she was reluctant to part with it, but knew it would be better flying often. John, also an A&P, would want it that way. So how fitting that one of John’s former students, Rick Keys, would buy it from Bernie. Rick and I were in flight training and ground school at about the same time back in the 1970s. He went on to a career in the Navy. Rick sent me an email recently admitting the purchase was made in part because of the connection to John. Bernie was in tears as she signed the bill of sale–sad to see it go, but happy to see it “stay in the family,” as it were. Congrats, Rick. Take care of that old girl–our connection to the innocence of those early flying days.

What airplanes have touched your life and link you to the past?

Could this be the country’s most beautiful airport?

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

Discovered this unusual airport on  There are a lot of pretty airports out there, but this one may top them all.

Say goodbye to the bump

Friday, June 13th, 2008

Mention “Tangier Island” to Mid-Atlantic area pilots, and those who’ve been will tell you that it’s a great place for a day trip, but oh, that runway… The 2,950-foot asphalt strip at TGI is legendary for having cracks and a “bump” in the middle. But those are soon to become a part of pilot lore.

Quick pirep: This tiny island community of about 600 people is accessible only by boat or airplane. It’s located on the lower Eastern Shore in the Chesapeake Bay, and many of its residents are commercial watermen. The airport is open from dawn to dusk (there’s a $7 landing fee), and although there’s no fuel available, you can easily hop over to Crisfield Municipal or Accomack County. TGI is the airport whose crosswinds on a  blustery spring day many years ago proved a little too much for AOPA Pilot Editor Mike Collins. The Pilot Information Center’s Claire Kultgen has taken AOPA’s Piper Archer to Tangier, and she recalls, “It’s neat to fly to an island. The crab is awesome, and it’s fun just to walk around. It’s also great to see a community that understands the importance of its airport and works actively to get pilots to fly in for a visit.” There are no cars on Tangier, one of many visual reminders that “it’s a different way of life,” she notes.

With crab and oyster harvests on the wane, Tangier is eager to boost tourism to its shores, and a $3.25 million repaving project for the airport and the island’s handful of roads is part of that effort. The town is raising $65,000, or 2 percent of the total.

I’ve had TGI on my personal flight planner for years now, but this is the year I’ll go. I already knew Tangier boasts some great seafood restaurants. (You know how pilots love to talk about food! Hilda Crockett’s Chesapeake House is the fave of some folks in the AOPA Air Safety Foundation.) But I recently learned that Tangier also has free (!) loaner kayaks and canoes you can borrow to paddle one of the island’s four designated water trails, and a new museum that opened this month.

If you’ve been to Tangier, tell us about your visit in the Comments section. And if you haven’t been, well… see you there!

Cessna 310 sails on new mission

Friday, June 13th, 2008

Two men are sailing a raft made of plastic-bottle trash from Long Beach, California, to Hawaii, as you read this to raise awareness of the polluted Pacific Ocean. Their cabin is the fuselage of a 1961 Cessna 310.

The goal is to make you aware of a swirling toilet bowl of debris, most of it plastic, that is twice as large as the United States and swirls forever in the center of the Pacific.

The Cessna 310 is still on the FAA registration list, although its FAA records say a sail is pending. (Get it?) The pending change in registration refers to the sale of the Cessna 310 to Marcus Eriksen and Joel Paschal, who may not realize the aircraft has a very official paper trail.