Archive for February, 2009

Green Ipanema

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Green is fashionable these days, but Embraer now makes its Ipanema (the EMB 200 series) agplane in an E96 ethanol-burning version. It uses a modified 320-hp Lycoming IO-540 that has bored-out fuel nozzles for more power than standard-issue IO-540s. As a result, the Ipanema also burns more of that eco-friendly fuel. In the past 40 years of its production, Embraer has sold 1,050 Ipanemas. But since 2004, 50 were all ethanol-burners. These are called EMB 202As.

The River of Meat

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Like meat? Go to Brazil. I’m visiting with Embraer here, and its employees are fond of a certain type of restaurant.

They’re called churrascarias. I think that’s Portugese for “carnivore temple.” You go in, sit down, and pretty soon here comes a waiter with a huge spit of meat. You take a slice. He comes back again. You take another slice. This goes on until you turn on the “no mas” indicator on your table. No kidding. And even then, the guy keeps coming back at what seems like one-minute intervals. It’s a veritable river of meat. This keeps up until you either die of a burst stomach or urgently signal for the bill.

I took home a card showing all the meat cuts. It’s a meat road map. Now I can tell you what I ate: filet mignon, rump ( I don’t speak Portugese, so I just nodded when he said “Lagarto”), neck meat, and hump. That’s the large blister-o-meat on the back of a bull’s neck. Washed it down with a thimble of “43”–a Spanish herb liquere.

Phenom time

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

I’m currently in Brazil, at Embraer’s Sao Jose dos Campos plant. But today I flew on the company shuttle ( a Brasilia) to Embraer’s Gavaio Peixoto airport (SBGP)/factory/flight test center to fly the Phenom 100. The plane I flew was prototype number 1, and loaded with racks of flight test instrumentation. Anyway, the weather was somehat crappy, what with a 500-foot ceiling and torrential rain. It came down in buckets, filling the SBGP water-test trench in seconds. It is summer here, you know.

Aboard were Embraer captain Luiz Cesar, communications strategy advisor Danial Bachmann, and flight test engineer Maximilian Kleinubung. Kleinubung wanted me to do some 5- and 3-degree banked turns for auopilot data, but that wasn’t to be, as we’ll see.

The flight gave me a chance to fly the G1000 Prodigy avionics, which featured a test version of SVS and HITS imagery/cues. Got in two instrument approaches–both in anger (i.e. real IFR weather, not rage at the approaches themselves)–an ILS to Campinas Airport, an an RNAV back into SBGP. There was turbulence, but the P100 rode it well. The onboard Garmin radar served us well, too.

The trip to Campinas was vector-laden and procedurally complicated, and the weather helped in setting me to make peace with the G1000 in a high-workload environment. You can’t beat this kind of dual.

All the vectoring, and a low approach, made us burn up a lot of fuel in the fuel-unfriendly low-altitude environment. So there was no time for stalls or single-engine work. Let along the autopilot data. So it was up to 340 for some cruise numbers, then back to SBGP. In all, a great way to spend the day. And a fine airplane.

By tomorrow, the front is supposed to pass to the northeast, and skies will hopefully clear well enough for those stalls and V1 cuts.

Letter to the editor

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

One of the great joys about being a published writer is the constant feedback you receive, be it good, bad, or ugly. Readers are never shy about offering an opinion, and writing for a pilot audience means getting that opinion served up without extra toppings. In other words, pilots are brutally honest. The thing that continues to baffle me about reader feedback, however, is the seeming random nature of which stories generate it.

In the February issue of AOPA Pilot I wrote a story about the Beechcraft Baron. It’s produced more comments than anything I’ve written about in the past few months, and each follows one of three themes: I hate the airplane and/or its workmanship; I hate the cover and its cover lines; or I love the Baron and everything about it. And yes, you guessed it, the third group is in the minority right now.

The airplane haters tell me they feel that way because of the cost. Sometimes they reference that comment with the photos on the cover and page 50 showing the nose gear doors slightly open. For anyone who has flown or owned a Beechcraft product, this is probably no surprise. But for those who decry Hawker Beechcraft for its workmanship and service, consider that a company rep discovered the problem and fixed it for no charge before even returning the airplane to its owner following the photoshoot. So much for poor service.

The cover is another issue. Some took exception to the lines, which say, “You’ve finally arrived: When only a Baron will do. ” To put that into context, consider that cover lines exist to either sell a magazine or get you to turn to the story. That’s it. A few writers were indignant about the fact we would say on the cover something so out of touch with America’s economy. Hey, the cover lines are there to “stimulate” your desire for a new airplane so a few more people in Wichita can keep their jobs.

Finally, some comments have been good. And no surprise, they are from people who have flown the airplane or owned it. For the record, the Baron is a great airplane. It’s one of general aviation’s proud symbols. Yes, it costs $1.2 million. If you can’t afford it (and most of us can’t) don’t get mad, enjoy it for what it is.  After all, those who can’t afford to buy a Ferrari don’t get mad at them for making it. The magazine is supposed to inform and entertain, not be a social commentary about the state of the U.S. economy. So for those who say a $1.2 million airplane is extravagant, consider that many of your friends and coworkers likely find your 172 to be in the same league.

The consequences of the sound bite

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

The law of unintended consequences is hard at work in this troubled economy. On the morning shows today, Wells Fargo Bank was being trounced for planning to go forward with a long-booked Las Vegas gathering of its top mortgage sellers. It was to be an elaborate affair, reward for a year of hard work in tough times. When the media pointed out that the company had received some $25 billion in bail out funds, Wells Fargo began back pedaling and after a couple of attempts to vindicate itself, finally caved and canceled the event. Bummer for those planning to go.

It’s hard to defend a lavish event like that when you’re on the public dole. But remember that one function of the bail out is to stimulate the economy. So, how many Las Vegas hospitality workers will be laid off or at least have their hours cut back because Wells Fargo failed to show? Those people’s livelihoods depend on people coming to town, booking hotel rooms, dropping a wad of cash at the casino, riding that roller coaster on top of the Stratosphere, and, my favorite, visiting the Star Trek extravaganza at the Hilton.

Here’s the aviation connection you’ve been so patiently waiting for: Congress and the media have been drubbing on the business aviation industry as if it were some evil cartel that needs to be stamped out of existence. Thanks to the Big Three Automakers and Citibank’s unwillingness to even attempt to justify their use of business aircraft, we have a feeding frenzy of negative attention to anything with wings or a rotor.

Congress and the media want to overlook the fact that general aviation spawns some 1 million jobs and contributes about $150 billion a year to the US economy–and it has a positive trade balance. Cessna, Hawker Beechcraft, Cirrus, Mooney, Piper–they’ve all had massive layoffs, devastating families. In an aviation town such as Wichita, it’s not unusual to have both spouses and multi-generations working for aviation manufacturers. What if they all get the axe because some congressman spewed venom against business aviation, forcing companies that use everything from Bonanzas to Beechjets to duck for cover and ultimately sell their airplanes? Bill Garvey, editor in chief of Business and Commercial Aviation does a masterful job of laying it out in layman’s terms in an op-ed piece in The New York Times this week.

No one is advocating the willy-nilly use of business aircraft or any other expensive asset by any company, whether they’re getting public funds or not. But let’s not trash an entire industry that produces good-paying jobs and contributes mightily to America’s economy and industrial might just for the sake of a poorly thought-out sound bite. There are, after all, consequences to such posturing. Just ask the thousands of aviation workers now lining up at the employment office.

Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

Thirty-eight years ago, when Don McLean released “American Pie,” few if any of my 12-year-old friends knew the backstory: that it begins with McLean’s memories of “the day the music died”–the night Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper and their pilot crashed in a snow-coverered field in Iowa. We just knew we liked the song. (I had the 45.) If we were lucky, the deejay on our AM station played the full version, but most of the time he didn’t. (It was almost nine minutes long, after all.)

Likely you’re seeing a lot of media accounts of that crash this week on its fiftieth anniversary. If you haven’t already, grab the February 2009 issue of AOPA Pilot and read Bruce Landsberg’s thoughtful article. It’s a tragic chapter in history made sadder still by the realization that, 50 years later, VFR-into-IMC is still taking lives. Audiophiles note: The Feb. 3 edition of National Public Radio’s All Things Considered  featured Landsberg talking about how pilots can avoid such accidents.