Archive for March, 2009

Missing Meigs and Cousin John

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Monday, March 30, is the six-year anniversary of the demolition of Meigs Field in Chicago. I know lots of you had a soft spot in your hearts for this jewel on the lake.

Ten years ago, my family drove out to Chicago to visit my husband’s cousin, John Houghtaling. John was a great guy, a former submariner with the U.S. Navy, who had eight children–two of whom became pilots. When he learned I was taking flying lessons, nothing would do but that he give me a copy of a flying simulator program that he had used and enjoyed.

While sightseeing in Chicago we stopped at Meigs Field, and the family good-naturedly let me spend a half-hour watching aircraft take off and land. Meigs went right to the top of my “someday I’ll land here” list. Of course you know it never happened. Meigs was bulldozed, and John died in 2003 at the age of 86. Thank you, John, for sharing my excitement at learning to fly. Thank you, Meigs, for giving me something to shoot for as I practiced crosswind landings.

If you have Meigs memories, please share them in the Comments section.

What should the next Mars Rover be named?

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Sunday, March 29, is the last day that you can vote for the name of the Mars Rover.

Schoolchildren across the United States came up with the nine names that made the final cut: Sunrise, Adventure, Pursuit, Perception, Curiosity, Wonder, Amelia, Journey, and Vision.

(Do you think NASA is finally starting to get hip to what can happen when you ask the public to vote for something in an online poll? CNN reports that they’re pretty close to having a room on the space station named after Stephen Colbert.)

Used aircraft prices attract attention, few sales; Dealers can’t move new aircraft or jets

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Used piston-engine aircraft buyers are at last returning to showrooms but only to kick the tires and leave. Jet prospects and customers for new piston-engine airplanes don’t even show up. It’s not just buyers and sellers under stress–dealers face a daily financial dilemma of their own.

Mike Long of Air Orlando Sales in Florida says a 2005 Cessna 172S with 1,900 hours on it that in a normal economy would sell for between $155,000 and $162,000 is on the market for $135,000. The aircraft is equipped with the Garmin G1000 avionics suite. That’s bringing in tire kickers, but they are still reluctant to sign the deal.

Long said the bad economy started in 2006 but, “Everyone was too busy to see it coming.” In 2007 the economy slowed noticeably, Long said. Then almost overnight on a day in mid-October 2008 the crisis hit with unexpected intensity.

Howard and George Van Bortel are also seeing lower prices at their Cessna dealership in Arlington, Texas, where a 142-hour total-time Cessna Skylane that in a normal economy sells for $305,000 instead costs $269,500. But they are finding buyers. By March 18 they had equaled the sales total of 10 aircraft sold in March 2007. However, they sell jets, too.

The business jet story for the Van Bortels is different and with a wicked twist–no buyers. A used Cessna Citation CJ3 that in a normal economy would cost $7 million is going for $5.5 million. A CJ2 that in a normal economy would cost $5.5 million is priced instead at $3.5 million. And a used older straight CJ that last year sold for $2 million is available for $1.5 to $1.7 million. They noted that the current issue of Controller lists 748 used Cessna jets for sale, but a year ago the number was half that.

The recession is hard on the dealers, too. Rich Manor of Tom’s Aircraft at Long Beach, another Cessna dealer, described what it’s like on a daily basis to sell aircraft in this market, and his e-mail to AOPA Pilot is printed verbatim below.

What follows is an e-mail from Rich Manor of Tom’s Aircraft:

“Aircraft sales have dropped dramatically over the last nine months, particularly new aircraft. Used aircraft prices have dropped significantly, so there is at least action on pre-owned aircraft which are market priced. The same cannot be said for new aircraft.

 “We are a Cessna dealer, and Cessna has cut production,” Manor continues.  “However, even at the lower volume of new aircraft entering the market, we are still carrying more inventory. Our holding costs are higher too, as wholesale financing has dried up and we’re paying higher interest rates for longer periods of time on our inventory aircraft.  Those factors coupled with deep discounts required to sell new airplanes, make it very difficult to make a profit in this market.
“Retail financing is also tougher to get as lenders have tighter qualification requirements, and are much more conservative on terms. For example, Cessna Finance Corporation, who used to do 80 percent of our deals which were financed, raised their retail rates to almost two full points above the competition on single engine piston aircraft.
“As far as turboprops go, we are also a new Caravan dealer, and that market has slowed as well although not nearly as bad as light piston aircraft. Cessna recently upgraded the Caravan to [Garmin] G1000 and TKS [deicing system], so we’re still working through the backlog of orders that those two enhancements created. Even though production volume on Caravans is relatively low, in my opinion, if this market continues, it’s only a matter of time before the Caravan market will suffer.”
–Rich Manor, Tom’s Aircraft

Wind farm or tornado?

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

You gotta love this: I just read in the National Weather Association newsletter that wind farms are showing up on some Nexrad radars.

Wait, there’s more! It’s how they’re showing up that’s interesting. They make radar returns that look a lot like tornadic vortex signatures (TVSs). On radial velocity imagery, the wind farms appear like dense, adjoining red and green couplets. The red indicates motion away from the radar; green means motion toward the radar site. Put them close together and you’ve got a marker for rotation. As in, “we aren’t in Kansas any more.”

I’ll wager that word of this spreads fast. Hope everybody scoping out Nexrad during a preflight briefing gets the chance to learn where these wind farms are…..

Don’t believe me? Go to:,1,Slide1 to see a Powerpoint slide in a NOAA presentation on the subject.

Meet the bounty hunter

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

Did you read about Ken Hill in this morning’s New York Times? Hill is an airplane repossession specialist–a bounty hunter. I first envisioned a bad reality TV plot, with a captured airplane roaring down the runway just as the sun’s disk breaks the horizon.

But Hill’s reality is not so Wild West in nature (at least, not usually). Which makes sense, because Hill also is an aircraft dealer. If he can’t retrieve the logbooks along with the airplane, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to sell it for as much as he could if the paperwork was complete.

Hill typically repossesses 30 airplanes a year, according to the New York Times article. Last year he retrieved 50–a number that he told the newspaper could double in 2009.

How’d you like to be an aircraft bounty hunter? Would you buy an airplane from one?

Another breakthrough for women pilots

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Women pilots made the news again this week, just a few days after Karoline Amodeo won AOPA’s 2008 Get Your Glass Sweeptakes Archer at the Women in Aviation Conference. Atlantic Southeast Airlines announced that the first all-female African American crew in commercial airline history piloted a Canadair CRJ 700 from Atlanta to Nashville and back on Feb. 12, 2009.

The crew included Capt. Rachelle Jones, First Officer Stephanie Grant, and flight attendants Diana Galloway and Robin Rogers.

The flight comes 36 years after Emily H. Warner became the first woman pilot for a major U.S. scheduled airline when she was hired by Frontier Airlines in January 1973.

The first all-female flight crew consisted of Capt. Beverly Bass, First Officer Terry Queijo, and Flight Engineer Terry Welch, flying a Boeing 727 from Washington National to Dallas-Fort Worth. Bass would go on to captain the first all-female crewed Boeing 777 flight.

Amodeo is headed to controller school. Maybe some day soon she will be guiding another all-female crew.

Nice to see those glass ceilings going the way of the ADF.

Scholarships…for a limited time only!

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

We get a lot of press releases about flight training scholarships, and we try to publish them in the magazines and our electronic newsletters. These days, every little bit helps.

From time to time, I’m going to highlight some deadlines for scholarships as well as showcase some others that may be somewhat narrow in scope but are nonetheless great opportunities–if you fall into the right category.

For example, the Oklahoma Chapter of The Ninety-Nines is offering a $5,000 “Wings of the Future” scholarship. The qualified applicant is female and presumably a resident of Oklahoma, so that kind of narrows the field a bit. But still, $5,000! So, Oklahoma pilots, if you know a lady who has been on the fence about flying because of the cost, this could be her ticket to ride. Get more information on the Web site–but hurry, because applications must be postmarked March 31.

Coming up in just a few days (March 15) is your last chance to apply for one of three scholarships (two for $500 each, one for $1,000) offered by the folks at Qualified applicants must be training for a sport or private pilot certificate, and you have to write an essay; see the Web site for the complete details. Five hundred dollars will buy you at least a couple more hours of dual with a rental airplane; $1,000 could get you through your checkride, depending on where you are in your training. So what are you waiting for? Good luck!

Ice-bridging brouhaha

Friday, March 6th, 2009

In my recent Wx Watch article “Ice Bridging Redux” (March 2009 issue of AOPA Pilot) I mentioned the NTSB’s recent safety alert on ice brdiging and the operation of de-ice boots. “Pop the boots at the first sign of icing” is the distilled message from NTSB. The Board also expressed the belief that ice-bridging doesn’t exist at all! This concurs with the ideas expressed at a NASA ice-bridging conference in 1997.

So is ice-bridging real? Do you believe in it? If member feedback is any gauge, there are still a lot of pilots who will always wait for some small amount of ice to accrete before inflating de-ice boots. No matter what the guidance from the NTSB or the Airplane Flight Manual says.

The “Redux” article had no sooner hit your mailboxes than my e-mail inbox began to go berserk. The feedback was so informed, voluminous, and expansive that we couldn’t run the mail in the magazine’s “letters to the editor” section. Instead, we’re providing some of them below, so that you can see for yourself that this issue is still very much alive.


Monitoring one BIG baby

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

A blimp is like a child that never grows up. From the day its 200,000 cubic foot envelope is inflated, a Goodyear blimp is monitored 24/7–never left alone. I visited the Goodyear Spirit of Innovation today at its gigantic hangar on the airport at Pompano Beach Airport in Florida. The 200-foot blimp looks almost like a toy inside the enormous span. I’m told they can actually fit two of the blimps inside, although it must surely be tight. You can easily read the big Goodyear on the side of the hangar from space! Check out the satellite view from Google; switch to satellite view, search on “Pompano Beach Airpark, FL” and zoom:

Staff continuously monitor the gas pressure inside the envelope. Actually, an automatic system monitors the gas pressure and occasionally starts an air pump to inflate or deflate ballonets inside the envelope to maintain the proper helium pressure. Staff monitor the pump and other systems.

Look for a feature on the historic Goodyear blimps in the May issue of AOPA PILOT and a really amazing photo that we plan to shoot tomorrow. Goodyear Aviation, at 100, isn’t the only outfit to have a significant birthday this year. Stay tuned.

Congratulations Karoline!

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

Congratulations to Karoline Amodeo, the winner of the 2008 Get Your Glass Sweepstakes Piper Archer. While I didn’t get to see Karoline’s reaction to the award live, I did get the opportunity to welcome her back to New York and take her flying in her new airplane.

Although most people would probably be timid about flying a new airplane for the first time, Karoline was not in the slightest. She jumped in, threw on her new headset, and went for it. Being an ATC student, she obviously had no trouble with the radios. We took off in strong winds and she did great, despite a lack of currency. We flew north over Hyde Park, New York, home to the Culinary Institute of America and a Vanderbilt house. She pointed them out as we flew along. Then she turned south, admiring the view and commenting on what a great day it was to fly. When we arrived back at the airport, Karoline told me she wanted to do three touch and gos to get current, which she did with ease. When we pulled in to the ramp at Richmor Aviation, she kept talking about how easy the airplane was to fly.

After our focus on the glass panel and our work on the engine, paint, and interior, she seemed to hardly notice any of it. It was hard for me not to get busy teaching her all about the advanced avionics. But I wanted her to enjoy the moment, which clearly she did. I’m sure as the days go by and she comes down from cloud nine it will start to sink in that she has a special airplane.

Shutting down I knew it was all over. The 18 months of work for hundreds of people at AOPA, the shops, and the contributors had come to a close. It was a moment of transition. Karoline became a proud airplane owner, having woken up that day thinking she’d simply be taking the airlines home from Atlanta after the Women in Aviation Conference. And the rest of us made our way back to Frederick, happy for Karoline and her wonderful family. I’ll miss the airplane. It may not have been fast or flashy, but Karoline is thrilled to have it, and that makes all the work worth it. Congratulations Karoline.