Archive for February, 2009

WAI conference–no small thing

Friday, February 27th, 2009

There are a ton of women of all ages and styles of dress (there’s a strong military presence here, so lots of uniforms) at the twentieth annual International Women in Aviation conference now taking place (Feb. 26-28) in Atlanta. If you’ve never been to a WAI conference–which, unbelievably after 10 years with AOPA as one of a handful of female editors, I never have–then you, too, would be blown away by the unbridled enthusiasm here.

These women love aviation–as a group they are the best advertisement for the future of aviation in this country that I’ve ever seen. On Thursday night, the AOPA Air Safety Foundation’s Kathleen Vasconcelos gave the seminar “Top Five Mistakes Pilots Make,”  which is humorous and sobering at the same time, and attendance was remarkable.

In addition to being an enthusiastic and participatory audience, this group practically hummed aviation. In the crowd was aerobatics pilot Julie Clark, and the seminar attendees positively twittered over the celebrity in their midst. To say that I am impressed with the women in aviation and the Women in Aviation conference is no small thing.

Sunset at Eclipse?

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

The news yesterday that creditors advanced Eclipse Aviation’s bankruptcy from Chapter 11 (reorganization) to Chapter 7 (liquidation) when funds for an anticipated sale didn’t materialize was disappointing, if not a complete surprise.

It seemed like only yesterday that Vern Raburn’s upstart set up shop. I had the unique opportunity to look inside the startup in late 2000, when the Eclipse 500 was being designed at the Williams International facility in Walled Lake, Michigan. A sign on a cubicle wall read, “What are you going to do today to reduce the weight?”

A lot has happened since then. The Eclipse team moved to Albuquerque, and the Williams engine was abandoned for a Pratt & Whitney product–among many other changes. Raburn left the company. But today it appears that the sun has set on Eclipse; those cubicles are dark and empty (and their occupants left without at least one paycheck and their accrued vacation pay).

Or has it? There still are assets to be sold. Could there be a buyer in the wings? Time will tell.

Regardless of its ultimate fate, Eclipse and Raburn get credit for creating the very light jet category. Isn’t imitation the sincerest form of flattery? Alas, history doesn’t always reward innovators.

Fun, fun, fun on Maryland’s Eastern Shore

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

The winds were gusting to 30 knots at Bay Bridge Airport last Friday, and there wasn’t a whole lot of flying going on. Saturday, however, dawned calmer and clear, and pilots came out in droves.

I was there to write a story about sport pilot aviation, which is blossoming at this modest nontowered airport that’s located a few hundred yards from the Cheapeake Bay. (If you’re landing on Runway 11, your base and final are over the water.) From my perch in the pilot lounge, I could view a steady stream of aircraft taking off and landing. It was gratifying to see, given all of the crappy economic news we’ve been dealing with.

Even better was the opportunity to talk to student pilots who, quite simply, love flying. Some of these folks drive more than an hour to train here. None of them seemed to think that was any hardship.

In an upcoming issue of AOPA Flight Training, you’ll meet:

  • Barry, whose years of sailing experience means she knows the watery landscape of the Eastern Shore intimately–but admits she has a little more trouble picking out landmarks on the ground…
  • Anthony, a master mechanic who completed the King Schools home study program before he ever took a flight lesson…
  • Tim, who at over 6 feet tall is probably the last person you’d think would want to fold himself into a light sport airplane–but he does, and has room to spare…
  • Karen, a grandmother who lights up the room when she talks about learning to fly; and…
  • Whitney, who soloed in November, plans her weekends around her lessons, and prefers her trainer’s handbrake to toebrakes.

Now that the Oscars are over…

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

…and Slumdog Millionaire swept the boards, can we please talk about aviation films?

The National Aviation Hall of Fame will screen its Reel Stuff Film Festival of Aviation next month. Thirteen films and documentaries will be shown over four days (March 12-16) in Dayton, Ohio. They’ll be screening a pretty diverse selection ranging from classics (Twelve O Clock High) to more contemporary films (Always, Memphis Belle). Here’s a complete list. Plus there’ll be Q&A with names you know, like Cliff Robertson and Clay Lacy, and a host of others.

Business aviation finally wakes up

Friday, February 20th, 2009

Finally, aviation strikes back. Weeks after the auto executives and their PR flacks tucked tails between legs and drove to/from Washington rather than standing up and saying, “Oh, yes, business aircraft do have a place in our global companies,” and other companies canceled business jet orders by press release, aviation manufacturers are stepping up and promoting the notion that for a lot of companies appropriately sized business aircraft make a lot of sense. They improve productivity, speed commerce, and increase security.

Cessna CEO Jack Pelton kicked off the effort through ads in the Wall Street Journal that state: “Timidity didn’t get you this far. Why put it in your business plan now?” and “One thing is certain: true visionaries will continue to fly.” Pelton’s loud support for the business aviation sector caught the attention of the talk show circuit, including Rush Limbaugh, who spent a good portion of his show recently shouting about the jobs that GA creates and the benefits of business aviation. A transcript is on his Web site.

Meanwhile, Hawker Beechcraft CEO Jim Schuster also picked up the mantle in a series of ads suggesting the company’s King Air 350s are “Sensible enough to impress any Congressional Committee.” On a similar theme, another ad targeted Starbucks, the coffee giant that recently trimmed its fleet. “Dear Starbucks, You still need to fly. We can help.” The ad uses the Hawker 4000 as an example of a jet that “does most of what bigger jets do, but at half the price.” It urges the coffee company to “right-size” its flight department.

Even Cirrus Design CEO Brent Wouters hit the campaign trail, stumping on Fox Business News about the notion that private aviation is not only good jobs, but a real lifeline for small communities where airline service is disappearing and the efficiency of airline travel in general is eroding. A clip from FBN and a compelling video clip of the company’s Flying 2.0 plan is on the Cirrus Web site.

The entire business aviation community rallied on February 17 with the unveiling of an industry-wide campaign to reshape the image of business aviation through the “No Plane, No Gain” program, a tagline launched by the industry more than a decade ago. However, now the content is targeted clearly at today’s problems.

It’s not over yet, but congratulations to the industy for stepping up in support of business aviation and for reminding the public that “business aviation” runs the gamut from a single-engine pistoin airplane carrying a sole salesman or contractor intrastate to executives flying globally to close a multibillion deal.

Fly with the brothers

Friday, February 20th, 2009

The footage below is certainly something I’ve never seen, and I would venture to say 99 percent of other pilots haven’t either. It dates back to 1909 when the Wright brothers did a demonstration in Italy. And while the Wrights had done this type of thing before in front of video cameras, the hosting Web site claims it’s the first ever on-board aerial footage, and it’s cool!

More than anything, I was struck at the pitch instability the aircraft possessed. Something tells me I would have been a goner had I flown that thing.

Watch the movie

Jet-powered shopping carts and flying cars

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

Just for fun here are jet-powered Beetles, toilets, arm chairs, and a shopping cart. While this next one isn’t jet-powered, it qualifies as the first flying dune buggy.

Red Bull P-38 to Europe (by boat)

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

Ezell Aviation’s latest work of art, a magnificently restored P-38 “Lightning,” is headed to Europe.

A pushin’ Phenom

Friday, February 13th, 2009

Well, today the skies lifted slightly in southeast Brazil, and so my second Phenom 100 flight came off as planned. Today, I flew with Embraer’s Luiz Cesar to FL350 for some cruise speed checks. Conditions were ISA +15 degrees C. and this excursion from standard conditions at that altitude proved how critical temperature is to turbine performance. Our high-speed cruise today at that alititude yielded 352 KTAS, which was better than the book’s 346 KTAS… but still well below the airplane’s advertised, 390-KTAS max cruise speed. That number, of course, is for colder conditions where engines develop more thrust. So a caution: advertised max cruise speeds are based on optimal conditions.

A series of stalls showed off the Phenom 100′s stall protection system. At 15,000 feet, I slowed the airplane to 135 KIAS, then reduced power while holding altitude. As the Phenom slowed through 102 KIAS the aural “stall, stall” warning came on. This happened twice while I continued to slow the airplane. Then, as airspeed dropped through 97 KIAS, the pusher fired. The stick pusher system is designed to automatically–and forcefully–lower the nose and break the stall. And so it did. The control yoke slammed forward, I applied power, and slowly added aft stick pressure to recover. Pull back on the yoke too fast, Cesar says, and you’re asking for a “roller-coaster ride” as the airplane can enter a secondary stall–and another hefty push from the stick pusher. I lost 700 feet during the recovery. I’m told this is normal. After all, the pusher aims the nose downward agressively.

The other highlight today was an actual-IMC single-engine climbout after a touch-and-go. Flight test equipment on board registered my stomping on the rudder to the tune of 70 pounds! That’s a workout. The rudder requirement lessened as speed built, initial climb power was reduced, rudder trim was applied, and the GFC 700 autopilot was engaged. Then it was a matter of re-intercepting the initial approach fix for the RNAV approach to the Gavaiao Peixoto airport and flying the procedure. Our initial single-engine rate of climb: 700 fpm. And this, from someone who’s never flown a Phenom 100 before.

As if on cue, the skies opened and there was rain aplenty. Our target Vref for the subsequent RNAV approach was 109 KIAS. It took a good amount of power to recover this speed after it sagged below 109–thanks to the high drag of the landing gear, the loss of one engine’s power, and a lapse in vigilance on my part. But the landing was uneventful, and another testimony to the airplane’s simple procedures—as long as you know the G1000 thoroughly, and keep an eagle-eye on airspeed trends!

Vend-o-rama at Embraer

Friday, February 13th, 2009

Protectionist sentiment sets many against foreign aerospace manufacturers. But a stroll through the bar in my hotel lobby at the Novotel in Embraer’s Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil hometown puts the test to those prejudices. A group of 12 Eaton Aerospace employees is in town, they’re staying here, and have the contract for the Phenom- and Legacy-series airplanes’ landing gear, switches, and center pedestal controls at Embraer. An Eaton executive pronounces “that’s a hell of a pedestal, isn’t it?” 

At another table is a group from Honeywell. Another has Garmin employees. Garmin makes the Phenom’s G1000-based avionics. And–interesting, this–on yesterday’s corporate shuttle to Embraer’s Gavaiao Peixoto facility were several Boeing executives. Boeing? At Embraer? Makes you wonder what might be up. But let there be no doubt. No matter the nation, American vendors will continue to play major roles in general aviation.