Archive for June, 2008

1,000 miles per hour

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

At age six I dreamed of becoming a trapeze artist. Never got to fly around the circus tent. Wiser at 16, I was inspired by rocket launches and manned space missions, glued to the black-and-white TV screen at every blast off. You gotta start somewhere, and at last I got into the air as a stewardess on KLM’s DC-8 and DC-9 aircraft. Loved the job, but the urge to fly myself became stronger. So I became a private pilot.

But, space missions are still beckoning. Imagine being suspended high above the Earth’s surface–the ultimate thrill! To feed my space hunger, I visited NASA’s Web site and latched onto a couple of pictures:

During the Gemini 4 mission on June 3, 1965, Ed White became the first American to conduct a space walk. The space walk started on the third orbit when White opened the hatch and used a hand-held maneuvering oxygen-jet gun to push himself out of the capsule.
Image Credit: NASA

Following in the footsteps of their predecessor, Ed White, the STS-124 mission specialists Mike Fossum and Ron Garan conducted a space walk on June 3, 2008.
Image Credit: NASA

I also watched videos of the STS-124 mission shuttle launch (video might take a second to load) and space walk. I’m still awed.

Okay, I won’t get to go there myself, so I’ve done the next best thing: I am sending my name to the moon. Really! I’ve got the certificate from NASA to prove it.

We’re getting more blasé about the whole space affair. How come? When was the last time you paid attention? The launch countdown ticks away with fewer viewers and is buried by dreadful news.

But, I still get excited when the shuttle launches and lands! Do you?

P.S., the Space Shuttle Discovery undocked today from the International Space Station on its way back to Earth. The landing is planned for Saturday, June 14.

Chasing efficiency

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

We had a spirited disucssion in the office a few days ago about reducing the cost of flying from a fuel-savings point of view. Everyone has their own ideas on how to reduce the overall cost of flying, but I was always under the impression that ideas were pretty homogenous on how to do it in relation to fuel. I was wrong.

While some of us thought that running lean of peak or adding mods was the answer, I’m personally more interested in efficient airframe designs. There’s a discussion right now on the AOPA forums about this topic and it’s been interesting to follow. I think it all started when one member asked what the most efficient airplane was. The mere fact that he was asking the question is amazing. Before avgas was $6 a gallon, the thought of buying for efficency was unheard of. Well, almost so.

Between 1981 and 1990 a forward thinking group of individuals ran a race of efficiency. The CAFE foundation rounded up interesting aircraft designs and raced them with a common metric of miles per gallon. If you assume a highly efficient stock airplane flies at around 15 to 20 mpg, it’s astounding that Gary Hertzler got almost 50 mpg on an 80-horsepower engine in his VariEze. Or that Mike Melvill (yes the space guy) got 21.6 mpg doing an average speed of 192 mph in a Rutan Catbird. It’s incredible stuff that leads one to believe the current fuel prices may be a good thing. Hopefully we’ll be looking at more efficient designs.

Marc and I

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

I hitched a ride to the Golden West EAA Fly In at Yuba City Airport last Saturday with Marc Cook, former AOPA Pilot senior editor, in his Glastar Sportsman 2+2 homebuilt airplane.

Marc is now the Editor in Chief of KitPlanes magazine. He built the majority of his Sportsman during a 3 week long accelerated builder assist program at the Glastar HQ at Arlington, Washington. We traveled against another 25 knot headwind–see my blog of last week–to find out the latest news about changes in the rule that mandate that the owner of a kit built airplane must complete at least 51 percent of the projects that make up that kit. As I understand it, the changes were pretty minor.

When we compared numbers I realized that my 50 year old Piper Comanche was either pretty advanced, or that the industry hasn’t made much progress. Marc’s airplane is equipped with a custom-built Lycoming IO-390 (200 hp). He cruises at around 142-145 knots TAS at 75% power leaned to peak (9.5 gph). My airplane is equipped with a carbureted Lycoming O-360 (180 hp) and I see cruise speeds of 132-135 kTAS when leaned rich of peak (10 gph) at 75 percent power. So I wasn’t drooling about the airframes or the performance, but I did a lot of drooling in regard to his avionics package. Marc was able to install dual Dynon EFIS systems, a Tru-Trak autopilot–with altitude pre-select and altitude hold–and one of Garmin’s slick little SL-30 nav comms to handle the pedestrian stuff. The Dynon units start at $2,400 while the Tru-Traks range start at $4K. Great avionics at a fraction of the price of certified units. Sure wish there were comparably-priced units for certified airplanes. Sighhhhhhh

Mistral engine prototype crashes in Florida

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

An aircraft powered by a prototype Mistral rotary aircraft engine crashed after the engine lost power following takeoff from Palatka Municipal Airport, Florida. The Mistral test pilot, retired physician Stephen Roth of Deland, Florida, received minor injuries.

The aircraft is owned by Mistral and was used in 2004 for engine testing at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, but left that program in December. Mistral officials blamed the problem on an experimental exhaust system, and said the engine was performing normally.

The research was briefly mentioned in an article in AOPA Pilot. ePilot has previously reported on the engine.

The Piper Arrow was destroyed in the crash that occurred after Roth tried to return to the runway as power steadily declined.

Are pilots afraid of heights?

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Comedian Steven Wright once said that he’s not afraid of heights, but he is afraid of widths. Oddly enough, many pilots also have a skewed perspective when it comes to dimensions.

I have no scientific evidence to prove it, but an unusually high percentage of pilots I know are afraid of heights. They, however, draw a distinction between being on board an aircraft and, as Alfred Hitchcock would have it, dangling off Mount Rushmore.

All it takes to keep the phobia at bay is a cocoon made of thin-gauge aluminum or treated fabric and some plexiglass. Never mind the fact that the cocoon might be moving at 150 knots.

What’s really interesting–and fairly unsettling–is if you’ve ever been on a formation flight and seen how much airplanes will twist in the air. Sea creatures do the same in the water, of course, so think of it as a sign of strength. But I just wonder if any of them are afraid of depths. 

Yes, Ma’am!

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Wow, it was hot, sweltering hot. I think I’ve finally recovered.

Fly-In morning, 7 a.m., the staff van plunked me down at Hotel and Alpha intersection for a six-hour shift guiding aircraft, rolling out on Runway 23. It was not bad then…still cool…but it was lonely in the fog. I could hear other staff talking just a quarter mile away, but I couldn’t see them.

We waited for the fog to lift. Then, at the first engine drone everyone jumped to attention…incoming…get to your positions! The sun burned off the rest of the scattered muck, the tower got busy, so were we. And it got hotter by the minute. The staff van came by regularly to replenish us–lots of water, more sunscreen, and more water.

I got company in the form of two young female Civil Air Patrol cadets, who braved the heat in their uniforms. Top job! Very polite, too. “Ma’am, can we be excused for a moment to use the latrine?” “What? Oh, yes, of course,” I replied. “Thanks, Ma’am!” came the response.

It’s Monday morning, two days after the AOPA Fly-In. The grass parking area is empty, a couple of static display aircraft remain on the AOPA ramp. The tents are gone. From my office window I can see several large cooling fans awaiting pickup. Icons telling the tale of Saturday’s heat. Even now, the fan blades turn lazily when a light waft catches the right angle.

It’s still hot. Yes, Ma’am!

Beautiful, yet dangerous

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Sounds like someone’s high-maintenance girlfriend, but in this case the title above indicates two Web sites you may want to visit.

The first shows some of the world’s most beautiful airports.  Can’t say I agree with Stanstead or the one in Turkey.

The second shows some of the world’s most dangerous airports, which interestingly are also some of the world’s most beautiful. See the bad boys (or girls) here.

NOAA pushes beacon transition

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

Lt. Jeff Shoup of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) came to the AOPA Fly-In with a mission: To remind GA pilots that search and rescue satellites will cease monitoring 121.50 MHz emergency locator transmitter signals on February 1, 2009.

What GA pilots need to do now, he said, is to embrace the idea that the 406-MHz ELTs are the new standard and are here to stay, and just because the FAA does not require them, they should have one for their own safety.

“Even if they don’t go all out and buy an FAA-certified unit, even the smaller personal locator beacons [PLBs] are better than the old 121.50 [MHz] ELTs,” he said. “The price is coming down on the certified units though, and buying one shouldn’t be too painful.”

Two other messages from Lt. Shoup: If and when you do acquire a 406 MHz device, be it an ELT, PLB or EPIRB, be sure to register it with the NOAA. This way, the moment your unit is activated, SAR personnel can immediately get on the phone to confirm your whereabouts. This allows quicker rescues and reduces false alarms.

Lastly, he wants to remind pilots disposing of a 121.50 ELT to kindly remove its battery before tossing the unit into the trash. “We’ve been getting quite a few false alarms lately, from units sitting in landfills,” he said.

Have you had a recent experience with an ELT, PLB, or EPIRB? Your fellow members would like to hear about it. Please click on the comment tab and let us know what happened. For further information on distress beacons, check out

Taking in the view

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

Photographer Chris Rose found welcome relief from the heat by gaining altitude–he took an aerial tour of headquarters in a Robinson R22 helicopter. You can see the massive exhibitor tent here in the foreground with the AOPA buildings behind; the aircraft display; and the rows of visiting aircraft three deep. It’s been a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Weather report

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

When staff takes a break to rest or eat midway through a Fly-In day, the talk inevitably turns to the weather–this year’s, last year’s, and the “I-remember-when” years. Today will go down in our history as one of the hottest. It’s got to be reaching well into the 90s, if not 100 degrees out there–yes, I’m inside working on the blog. Good duty this.

But I did man the Sweepstakes Archer in the morning and it was sweltering then. I’m hoping my 84-year-old dad went home, although he loves looking at the aircraft and hoping to run into old WWII vets like him. There are less and less at the airshows these days.

But about that weather–Rod Machado just stopped by. “It’s like a terrarium out there,” he said. “Last time I was sweating like this, it was my first solo.” Aviation’s funny man is always on. We looked out my office window to observe Phil Boyer walking by. “Now why does Phil never break a sweat?” wondered Machado.

Heat, sun, rain, or any combination doesn’t seem to deter Fly-In visitors. So regardless of the temperatures, we’re having another banner day here. Wish you were here.