Archive for July, 2008

Short-attention span fuel prices

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

My short attention span proves my undoing when I have to leaf through a back issue of AOPA Pilot for some tidbit of information. I needed some info from the December 1990 issue and in looking for it I found myself perusing all of the pages, amused at how different things are from even 18 years ago. One particularly interesting nugget was what we used to call the “Fuel Watch” report. We reported that 100LL avgas hit $2 per gallon in August 1990. 80-octane was just $1.94–remember that? Adjusted for inflation, that gallon of 100LL ought to cost $3 now. Instead, the average price of avgas is $5.72, according to data from 100LL.com in AOPA’s Airport Directory Online. You can see regional averages online and do a radius search of any airport for nearby fuel prices–great for planning your fuel stops.

Good luck finding that gallon of 80-octane at any price.

Now, what was I looking for again?

Cheap thrills

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

Riding on a Seattle city bus headed downtown, I saw a huge expanse of hangars and other aviation-type buildings, and realized I was in the heart of Boeing country. And there it was, practically yanking me out of my seat: the Museum of Flight. After paying the $14 admission, I spent a happy two hours wandering around the exhibits, which include the modified GeeBee pictured here, and a Concorde that you can climb into. (Did you know that AOPA Pilot Editor in Chief Tom Haines flew in the Concorde?)

Then it was off to the gift shop, where I plunked down $49 for a coffee mug, a mousepad emblazed with the Seattle sectional, and an aviation shirt (hey, you can never have too many). But the best part of the day didn’t cost me one thin dime. That’s the time I spent on the patio at the museum’s Wings Cafe, which overlooks Runways 13L/31R and 13R/31L at Boeing Field/King County. Here I got to watch a steady stream of commercial jets play nicely with the ceaseless GA traffic, which included a pair of 172s doing pattern work, a biplane, and the occasional floatplane.

The role of GPS in our lives

Friday, July 11th, 2008

One standout team at this year’s Tour de France has a familiar name to aviation emblazoned on their chests: Garmin.

After Stage 6 of the grueling 21-stage event, two members of the Garmin-Chipotle team — Christian Vande Velde (USA) and David Millar (GBR) — were in the top five for the overall championship. The team has been leading the fight against blood doping in order to clean up the sport. While I was cheering for Vande Velde as a torch bearer for American cycling, I was struck by the omnipresence of GPS technology in our lives.

The aviation segment at Garmin only represents a small part of the company’s overall business. Satellites in space are now governing all aspects of life from extreme exploration to day-to-day package delivering. While I love having the technology in the cockpit, the way it improves situational awareness, provides more direct routing, and keeps me out of restricted areas, I’m vowing not to completely part with old ways.

When I’m in the mountains I like to take along a compass and altimeter. I keep track of time as I’m hiking and pick out checkpoints. I’ve managed to keep myself out of trouble, even in some of the most confusing wilderness areas in Utah, Montana, and Wyoming. Mostly, it’s a matter of applying the same principle we learn about in aviation: trust the instruments.

For even more fun, I want to learn celestial navigation like super navigator Christoforo Colombo. AOPA Pilot published an interesting article on the subject back in 2003.

All this boils down to a greater respect and understanding of new technology. There’s nothing like hitting “direct to” and watching the box work its magic. Go Garmin-Chipotle! You’ve got a lot riding on your shoulders.

Sneak Peek: WSI’s new, interactive Pilotbrief Pro Online

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

WSI has just come out with a new version of its “Pro” online services. It will be in beta test mode for 5 to 6 months. I’ve been scoping it out for the past few days. The main feature is its interactive weather graphics map, which lets you display various layers of information. You mouse-over various items–Sigmets, Airmets, watch boxes, airport symbols, etc–and up pops the text information that elaborates on the hazards. Menus let you select which products you want to view, as well as customize the radar display to show infrared, satellite/radar, or WSI’s “pseudo radar.” Pseudo radar imagery is derived from proprietary computer models.

You can zoom in and out of the interactive map–or IMap as WSi calls it–and by panning you can even access the rest of the world’s weather. Another feature I liked was the ability to call up preferred IFR routes. You just type in the identifier for the departure and destination airports, and the latest route clearances are listed. Click on one, and the route is depicted on the IMap. This makes it easy to visualize the weather along the route. WSI’s Flight Plan Guidance (FPG) is also available. This projects the movement of sigmets and airmets up to 12 hours in advance.

There’s even going to be a daily video briefing that gives the weather overview for the entire continental United States. Those who liked the old “Aviation Weather” shows on PBS should like this. Right now, the video consists of an ad for WSI–no video briefings until August.

Text weather and flight plan filing is also accessible by clicking on icons at the top of the page.

Best of all: Pilotbrief Online Pro with interactive IMap will be offered to AOPA members for $39.95 per month (that’s a $40 discount). For more information contact WSi at: interactive@wsi.com or dial 1-800-USA-2FLY (872-2359).

China’s Closed-Door Policy

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

A while ago I blogged about Air Journey’s around-the-world trip. I came back after flying as far as Paris, but the group moved on–until now. Seems that China (the communist one) won’t let the goup in.

This, after weeks painstaking preparatory work by Air Journey’s staff: Overflight permits, visas, entry permits, and much more, had been secured. Nevertheless, the group was stuck in Hong Kong, so the decision was made to fly the airlines to Beijing.

Guess what! When the group went to get their tickets they were denied access again! The reasoning was that since they had crew visas, and were not flying their own airplanes, they couldn’t board an airliner without violating some sort of additional, obscure bureaucratic rule. Catch-22!

Last I heard, the new plan was to hang out in Hong Kong for a few days, then fly to Taiwan for gas. From there, it would be on to South Korea–bypassing Chicom-land altogether.

Skew-Ts?! Oh No!

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

In AOPA Pilot’s July issue, my Wx Watch column topic touched on Skew-T Log-P charts. These, friends, are the meteorological equivalents of our NDB approaches! They frustrate meteorologists and pilots alike. I’ve heard graybeard meteorologists get tangled up trying to explain the MANY aspects of information that can be deciphered on Skew-Ts. And briefers? Fugeddaboutit…. a typical briefer contemplating a Skew-T would be like a frog looking at a watch.

In the column I went through brief discusssions of stability, instability, and temperature-dew point spread aloft as signs of cloudiness. I was nervous as the article went to press. Would anyone think the topic too egg-headed?

Much to my surprise I got several e-mails asking for more info, wanting clarification, and wondering how hypothetical situations might appear on a Skew-T. Getting this kind of feedback was great…and it proves that many AOPA members do indeed have a curiosity about the weather that surpasses the usual in the pilot community.

Cirrus Design single-engine jet makes first flight

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

Cirrus Design’s V-tailed SJ-50 Vision made its first flight July 3 at 10 am CDT Duluth time. The official name is now the SJ-50 Vision. The 45-minute flight was deemed a success by the company. It took place at company headquarters in Duluth, Minnesota. The aircraft is called a verification and validation model. The final production model is promised to go 300 knots true airspeed at 25,000 feet, and the company notes that is “well below airline traffic.”

Cirrus The Jet First Flight

B-17 on its way back

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

Photo of the Liberty Belle by Alton K. Marsh

The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress known as “Liberty Belle” has finished its tour of England to honor American fighting men and is on its back back across the Atlantic. Click on the map on the right side of the Liberty Foundation Web site page to track its return.  ( http://www.libertyfoundation.org/ ).