Archive for December, 2008

Potential student pilots are everywhere

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

I was in Telluride, Colorado, Sunday and walked into a nature photography store, Wilderness Wonders . There I found Tony Newlin, a photographer who would love to fly. He was introduced to general aviation by his brother during many rides in a Cessna. Now the brother flies an F-16 and Newlin stays close to aviation as a passenger aboard Alaskan floatplanes. Newlin rides into the wilderness to take photos of grizzly bears–about 30 miles from where a videographer and his girlfriend were killed by bears several years ago. Newlin says the bears have a mean season, and he leaves them alone at that time of year. He’s a trained computer engineer with a degree or two and experience at Intel, but as long as the photos keep selling at his three Colorado shops, he’ll keep shooting and let the (computer) chips fall where they may. Here’s one of his photos.

His true passion is panorama photography, but it was difficult to fit in this space. Look for more photos of Telluride in my story “America’s Airports: Telluride, Colorado” in the February issue of AOPA Pilot magazine.  

Refunds do exist in aviation

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

There is justice in this world. Just ask the students at ATP, the nationwide flight school dedicated to training career pilots. This week ATP announced the career pilot program students who enrolled at mid-2008 prices will be given a rebate check of up to $2,500 because the cost of avgas has dropped more than $1.50.

Can you imagine what these students must be thinking? You want to give me money back? In this economy?

When you work the math, even a student eligible for the full refund will only get around 4 percent of the course fee back. That’s not much when you’re talking almost $60,000. But, the money isn’t really the point. It’s the principle. How many of us still pay fuel surcharges at our flight schools, or on the airlines for that matter? Yet, as we’ve closely watched the price at the fuel pump decrease rapidly, the surcharges remain. Why? Maybe supply of students has dropped off, or maybe insurance rates have gone up. Then why not raise the rental rates or instructor rates? Surcharges always have been a thinly veiled way of telling customers the business needs more money but doesn’t think they’re smart enough to compare pricing with a competitor.

So as the holiday season comes to a close, I say thanks ATP for doing what’s right and continuing the merriment just a little bit longer.

100 Miles Per Gallon

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

We usually think of airplane flight performance in terms of gallons an hour – not miles per gallon.

But on a recent transcontinental flight in a fairly typical single-engine, four-seat, 180-horsepower general aviation aircraft, I was astonished at my poor mileage. Despite a light load, conservative power setting, high altitude, leaned aggressively, and a tailwind, I was getting a Hummer-like 17 miles per gallon.

By chance, I stopped at Santa Paula Airport (SZP) in Southern California for fuel and an overnight stay. SZP is the home of aeronautical innovator Klaus Savier, AOPA 1252301, and his company, Light Speed Engineering ( Savier has been setting speed and efficiency records for two decades in his experimental, Rutan-designed Vari-EZ – an airplane that serves as a technology demonstrator for products that hint at possibilities for improving the efficiency of the GA fleet.

Savier’s personal airplane gets 50 miles per gallon at 190 ktas, and close to 100 mpg at max range. Sure, it’s a one-of-a-kind creation. But Savier says the GA fleet could get an immediate 20 percent efficiency increase by switching to electronic fuel injection and ignition systems. Will the GA industry ever see the kinds of radical improvements in efficiency and reliability that have come to other forms of transportation? Share your thoughts here.

Aboard the Honda Super Cub

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

You may know about the business alliance between Honda Aircraft and Piper Aircraft that allows Honda to tap into Piper’s dealer network to sell the HondaJet. But did you know that Honda built Super Cubs? Me either. But a recent Twitter post by a Honda spokeswoman says that a 1959 Honda Super Cub will lead the 120th annual Rose Parade on New Years Day–you know, that big parade that occurs before the 95th annual Rose Bowl Game where Penn State is going to beat USC.

A couple of Google strokes shows me that, alas, the Honda Super Cub is not a Piper knock off, but a motorcycle–the motorcycle that launched Honda’s U.S. presence back in 1959. In fact, the model lives on today as the Honda 50.

So, all you motorcycle aficionados, did you know about the Honda Super Cub and have you ever ridden a vintage one?

What makes a good flight school?

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

A conversation over lunch turned to flight schools as a fellow pilot talked about the poor customer service he experienced on his vacation while checking out in an airplane. Although we all may have similar stories to tell, I challenged those around the table to think about some of the good experiences they’ve had at flight schools–beyond the basic thrill of slipping the surly bonds of Earth.

And there were many bright spots. I heard about schools that always had a pot of coffee brewing, at least during these chilly winter months, and it was complimentary (each cup said, “Hey! Great landing!”). One pilot’s school sponsored weekly cookouts and other social activities. A flying club arranged monthly fly-outs of one to three days; students shared the flying and the expenses, and enjoyed sharing new experiences as a result. (You thought these were all going to be about food and drink, didn’t you?)

What do you like the most about the flight school where you trained, and why? What did that business do right? How did your instructor or school staff keep you coming back for more, especially as you struggled with landings, navigation, or whatever it was that you struggled with in training? I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Van Johnson and “A Guy Named Joe”

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Van Johnson wasn’t a pilot (I can find no evidence that he was, at any rate), but he played them on the silver screen. The actor died Dec. 12 at the age of 92 in Nyack, New York. He had starring roles in such films as Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944) and A Guy Named Joe (1943).

Never heard of that second one? It was Johnson’s breakout film, in which a bomber pilot named Pete (Spencer Tracy) becomes a guardian angel to another pilot (Johnson). (You might know Steven Spielberg’s 1989 remake, Always, which starred Richard Dreyfuss and Holly Hunter, and in which the main characters were aerial firefighters.)

You’ll be able to watch both films on Dec. 23 as part of a five-film tribute to Johnson on Turner Classic Movies. A poignant scene in A Guy Named Joe is when Pete (Spencer Tracy) arrives at the gates of heaven. He’s taken to the commanding officer (Lionel Barrymore). The CO explains to Pete that this celestial squadron operates “on the principle of helping the other fellow.” Pete, being a pilot, launches into a discussion of how he conquered a 30-knot crosswind, but the CO interrupts him.

“You’re not under the impression that you learned to fly all by yourself, are you?

“You were helped by every man since the beginning of time who dreamed of wearing wings. By pioneers who flew pieces of wire and pasteboard long before you were born. By every pilot that ever crashed into the ground in order that others could stay up in the sky. And now it’s your turn to pass that along to the next man.”

Do these words resonate with you, too? Feel free to comment.

Ways to get your hands on a Cessna Mustang

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

There are two ways to experience flying a Cessna Mustang without forking over your millions. You DO have millions, right? One way is to add a computer re-creation of a Mustang to your existing Microsoft Flight Simulator 10. Flight1 Software and Cessna Aircraft Company teamed to bring you a $55 Cessna Mustang complete with working Garmin G1000. Learn more here.

That simulation is good preparation for the next step up in simulation, a multi- multi-million-dollar full-motion flight simulator for the Cessna Mustang at FlightSafety International’s Cessna Learning Center at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport. You can walk to it from the main airport terminal. For $400 you can get an hour in this entry level business jet (Cessna NEVER calls it a very light jet). Yes, you have to fly to Wichita if you’re not already there, but I have been in that simulator, and it is worth more than $400 to fly it for an hour. You’ll be surprised to see how easy it is, although I hope you swerve less on the takeoff run than I did.


Homes with hangars

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

Looking for a home with a hangar? The New York Times on December 12 listed a half-dozen in Arizona, California, Florida, Indiana, Texas, and Washington ranging from $430,000 to $1.9 million. There’s also an article on a couple in West Virginia living with the airplane. You can see the article here. To see the homes, click “On the market” near the bottom of the page under “Multimedia.”

Amazing Grace . . .

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

By now we’ve all seen the horrific images from San Diego of the F/A-18 Hornet that crashed in a residential neighborhood. What you might not have seen is the generous reaction from Don Yun Yoon, a man who lost everything in the accident. Yoon reached out to the Hornet pilot (see the news story below) in a way that makes Yoon, a struggling immigrant, a national treasure.

One day after an F/A-18D Hornet fighter jet fell from the sky and crashed into his two-story house in San Diego’s University City neighborhood, Dong Yun Yoon returned to a home and life in ruins.

Rescue workers sifting through the debris on Cather Avenue had found the bodies of his wife, two baby daughters and mother-in-law.

Yoon, 37, pressed a handkerchief to his face and seemed to stagger upon viewing what little remained: a charred garage wall, piles of blackened beams, the family’s Toyota Corolla — miraculously undamaged — parked on the street, and flowers placed nearby in memory of his family.

“I believe my wife and two babies and mother-in-law are in heaven with God,” Yoon said at a news conference afterward. “Nobody expected such a horrible thing to happen, especially right here, our house.”

Yoon said he bore no ill will toward the Marine Corps pilot who ejected safely before the jet plunged into the neighborhood two miles west of the runway at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. “I pray for him not to suffer for this action,” Yoon said. “I know he’s one of our treasures for our country.”

Business aircraft as scapegoats

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

Let’s forgo the debate about what a bad PR move it was for the top executives of the Big Three automakers to each fly a business jet to Washington to plead for money from Congress. And for Ford and GM then to immediately cave in to the resulting media storm and vow to sell their business airplanes and close their flight departments. Chrysler charters business airplanes.

The latest–and most disturbing–news is that the government’s proposal for boot-strapping the manufacturers out of their financial quagmire requires them to sell their airplanes and to not use general aviation aircraft in conducting their business.

Even near bankruptcy, these are still three of the largest companies in the world–with plants, vendors, and customers all over the globe. They have every need for business airplanes. And while charter may be a solution for some situations, for regular users, it doesn’t take long to justify ownership.

Let’s remember that business aviation isn’t just about moving executives around. Business airplanes fly every day with critical replacement parts that keep assembly lines from shutting down. We have personal experience that Ford uses its airplanes that way. Companies move engineers and software specialists to factories to solve critical problems that might otherwise put thousands out of work. Business aviation allows teams of employees to efficiently work while en route to a convenient general aviation airport.

And speaking of efficiency, there are definite advantages to being able to access some 5,000 airports around the country versus only the 500 or so with airline service and only about 70 with frequent airline service–an ever dwindling number as airlines cut service to smaller airports in attempt to improve their own bottom lines. Nearly 100 cities have lost airline service in the last year alone.

Study after study shows that companies that own business aircraft handily outperform competitors in the same field that don’t use business airplanes. Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the country and a model of efficient operations, has nearly 4,000 stories and more than 1.3 million employees. How can it manage such far flung operations from Bentonville, Arkansas? By the use of 20 some business jets. Founder Sam Walton was a pilot. The company hired its first corporate pilot in 1969 and has never looked back. As with most companies, Wal-Mart uses its airplanes to efficiently move employees of all levels, not just executives. By one count, 86 percent of the people aboard business airplanes are not at the executive level.

What the American taxpayers want is an efficient use of their tax dollars. What the government is doing with its prohibition on the use of business aviation is hamstringing the auto manufacturers from using a tool that may be valuable in some situations. No one is suggesting that general aviation is the right tool in all cases. Companies operating business aircraft purchase some $12 billion worth of airline tickets annually. Most of the time companies make wise, prudent choices in the use of business aviation–that trip from Detroit to DC being an exception. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

Is it just me or are business aircraft just the latest scapegoat for poor business decisions and the desire by some politicians to score some PR points? What do you think?