Archive for April, 2009

Kermit Weeks is having way too much fun

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

On my way to Sun ‘n Fun last week, where I spent days looking at airplanes, writing about airplanes, and talking to other people about airplanes, I detoured to Kermit Weeks’ Fantasy of Flight museum. To, um, look at airplanes.

Weeks’ museum is in Polk City, about 15 miles up the road from Lakeland, and it’s worth the trip. (Perhaps a side junket on your way to the AOPA Summit in Tampa this coming November?) Weeks has assembled an amazing collection of World War I- and II-era aircraft (authentic and replicas), and the museum is laid out in a series of exhibits, rather than a jumble of airplanes sharing hangar space. Thought and care went into this display.

During my visit, Weeks was at the museum, a tall, thin, ponytailed man in a flight suit leading a group of visitors through his treasures. Later, as we were taken by tram on a “backlot” tour to look at, among other things, two pristine P-51 Mustangs, Weeks could be seen preflighting a Grumman Duck. “He may be firing that up soon,” said our tour guide. “He never tells us what he’s going to do.” Sure enough, Weeks started the Duck, taxied out, and took off on one of the museum’s grass runways, making a low pass a few minutes later. (For a more in-depth look at Weeks and his Fantasy of Flight collection, see Al Marsh’s article in the April 2005 AOPA Pilot.)

When an ATC change isn’t really a change at all

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

The latest edition of the NASA ASRS Callback newsletter points out an annoyance surfaced by airline pilots but shared by those of us who don’t fly for hire–ATC route clearance changes that aren’t really changes at all. You file one thing and clearance delivery clears you for something that sounds quite different, yet when you dig out a stack of charts and plot out the new route, it’s the same or nearly the same as what you filed, but described differently.

Sometimes the subtle differences can lead to annoyance, but there is the potential for more serious issues, especially if the pilot doesn’t notice the subtlety. Here’s one example from the newsletter.

“A pet peeve of some ASRS reporters is PDC’s [pre-departure clearances] that contain apparent route revisions (amendments), when the amendment doesn’t actually change the filed routing. We included an example of this in the March 2009 CALLBACK (Clearance Clarity). Here is an excerpt from that report:

…I have many times encountered an ATC clearance problem that just simply does not have to exist. We are often given a clearance that reads something like, ‘You are cleared direct ABCDE intersection, direct FGHIJ intersection, XXX VOR 123 degree radial to KLMNO intersection, then flight plan route.’…We are forced to dig out charts that we might not normally have out, then try to find the VOR in question and trace out the radial, only to find that the given radial is a direct route from FGHIJ to KLMNO. If we have the equipment to proceed direct to the first two intersections, we obviously have the equipment to proceed directly to the third. Why not just give us direct to all three? Why confuse the issue by throwing in a VOR and radial, when both are completely unnecessary and serve only to create confusion?”

ASRS proposes several ways to improve the situation, including one very logical one:

Discontinue the ATC practice of amending the filed route of flight with fixes that do not represent an actual change of routing. It is time-consuming for pilots to verify that a routing “revision” does not change the filed route of flight. In some cases, pilot confusion may result in track deviations and loss of separation events.

ASRS is a terrific safety program administered by NASA on behalf of the FAA. For more on it and to sign up for their free newsletter that compiles pilot and controller safety concerns, see the Web site (

Meanwhile, listen carefully to those ATC clearances.

Want your annual done in Cyprus?

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

It’s common knowledge that flying costs more in Europe. That’s why I asked around-the-world trekker Robert Gannon the price of his last annual inspection. It was completed by an American mechanic in Cyprus, recommended by pilots in Lebanon, who once flew in Africa and has an American license. Gannon said the airplane had nothing wrong, except it needed a new beacon lamp. (He made sure it was in tiptop condition before leaving the United States.) The cost of the annual was $2,333.62–a lot more than he is used to at home. Of that, labor was $1,365, an oil filter was $39.37, and 12 quarts of oil was $141.75, or $11.81 per quart. (I just checked the price at an FBO near AOPA headquarters where oil is less than $6 a quart before taxes.) Gannon is headed back to Cyprus May 1 to pick up his airplane and continue to Israel, Crete, Malta, Tunisia, Morocco, the Madeira Islands, back to Morocco, then up into western Europe. Follow him on his Web site.

An Air Force One colossal screw up

Monday, April 27th, 2009

I don’t know whether to be furious or amused by the, um, snafu the federal government created when an F-16 and a Boeing 747 flew at low altitude over Manhattan April 27 striking understandable fear in the minds of a still shell-shocked city. People scrambled from high rises. Construction workers raced from their perches. Even the stock market took a dip at about the time the seemingly perilous scene unfolded in the crystal blue skies remarkably similar to those on Sept. 11, 2001 when airliners also flew low over the skyline and ultimately changing the course of history.

The New York Times reports that the feds went to some length to let New York officials know that the photo shoot involving a VC-25, the Air Force version of the 747 used to transport the president, and the fighter was planned for over the city. While many agencies were informed, none bothered to alert the public or the media and according to one report, the police department was warned not to tell anyone.

Here’s a quote from the NYT article:

The Police Department confirmed that it had been notified about the event but said it had been barred from alerting the public. “The flight of a VC-25 aircraft and F-16 fighters this morning was authorized by the F.A.A. for the vicinity of the Statue of Liberty with directives to local authorities not to disclose information about it but to direct any inquiries to the F.A.A. Air Traffic Security Coordinator,” the Police Department said in a statement.

Even with the notification, it was a stupid and tasteless stunt by the White House Military Office. While it infuriates me that they would be so clueless about the possible impact on the city, it amuses me that not even the federal and city officials can coordinate such a simple thing and then they wonder why average general aviation pilots occasionally screw up and mistakenly enter a TFR, causing confusion for those at the same agencies.

As happens when a GA pilot stumbles into airspace where he is not supposed to be, I hope someone in charge of the VC-25 operation gets a good talking to by someone wearing a badge . Makes me wonder if the VC-25 pilots were forced to lie face down on the tarmac with a gun pointing at them as we’ve seen happen to GA pilots.

A real cliff-hanger of a landing

Friday, April 24th, 2009

A 1941 Taylorcraft slid off a mountain near Talkeetna, Alaska, April 17, catching on a rock just below the top and leaving the occupants dangling over a 1,500-foot drop. The two on board were not injured and the aircraft, recovered by a helicopter, suffered little damage but needs a new wing bow. The 21-year-old pilot and his passenger were looking for a place to go snowboarding, the pilot’s mother said. Crusted snow caused the skiplane to slide faster than expected, making the landing a few inches too long.  Details are in the “Anchorage Daily News.”

Click photo to enlarge. (Photo courtesy Alaska National Guard)

Just your run-of-the-mill flight

Friday, April 24th, 2009

Best if viewed large. Click on photo. (Photo courtesy Don De Voe)

For pilots near Seward, Alaska, this is just another typical flight–incredible scenery and ho-hum, what’s new about that? Don De Voe took this shot of his friend, Jim, while flying a “mission” in late April to view a rock slide and see how his cabin survived the winter. Here is his description from an e-mail of some wildlife he saw. Notice how it starts out as an afterthought.

Oh. We saw lots of wild game: an otter just off the beach at Little Johnstone–it would immediately dive whenever I pulled my camera out of the bag–lots of goats on all the lower mountainsides above the ocean–sea lions on their rookery–a coyote on the beach at Big Johnstone–a black bear on the beach at Whidbey Bay–and many, many bald eagles.”

Those outside Alaska see that on pretty much every flight, right? Mountain goats here, a bear there, just routine flights.  

How are things?

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Without a doubt, the economy is the top story of Sun ‘n Fun this year. How’s it going? Are people making it? How’s attendance? Which projects are on the chopping block? The conversations are consistent and predictable, only the players change.

But the answers are surprising. A few airplane manufacturers that we talked to said the show is fantastic. Some equipment and avionics sellers say they’re happy, or pleasantly surprised as they sometimes say. Cirrus yesterday even said domestic orders are up 2 percent from the same time last year. A popular financing broker said there’s capital, and the standards are pretty much the same as they always have been. Insurance prices are down, and even LSA seems to be taking hold.

So while most are still taking cover while the eyewall passes over, others seems to be approaching the outer rain bands. Is the progress for real and is it sustainable? Most say yes, even going so far to say that it was never that bad to begin with.

The skeptics say it was simply low expectations. Don’t expect any orders when you get here, and each one is special, they say. But others give clear examples of success that is undeniable. Maybe’s it’s the incredible weather, but people feel good.

Ride along on an engine out

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

CNN just posted this video of an actual emergency landing on a city street. It ends with no damage to the passengers or the aircraft. See it here.

A deal you can’t refuse

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Amidst all the economic and political turmoil and the seemingly endless torrent of threats to general aviation, I feel the need every once in a while to get away from it all, don’t you?

I have a plan. Maybe you can help. I’ve discovered this cozy little 17th century place in Normandy, France, that is just the sort of escape we’re all pining for. Of course, it includes a 3,000-foot grass runway with hangar, nine buildings, a golf course, 300-yard polo field, stables, and more on 105 acres. Good news! It’s for sale. Price? If you have to ask….

But, I know that a few of you out there are in a position to not just afford, but also NEED a place like this. So, you buy it and I’ll come visit. I drive a mean lawnmower, so I can even help out a little. Let me know when the deal closes and I’ll start packing.

Need a few details before sending the deposit? Check here:

Looking forward to hearing back from you soon.

Bittersweet mission

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Some folks have destinations all lined up for when they get their private pilot certificates (the beach! that great golf course! a fantastic ski resort!). Others are mission-minded: Angel Flight and animal rescue come to mind.

I have destinations. I also have missions. One is to fly my children to college visits. Daughter Maddie, a high-school junior, is busily checking out colleges. She did the Boston run in the fall with her dad. On Friday it was my turn to take her to Philadelphia.

We had a perfect flight Friday morning out of Frederick Municipal to Wings Field. (You can read a lot more about this historic airport–the birthplace of AOPA–in Julie Walker’s article in the May issue of AOPA Pilot.)

What would have taken three hours by car was compressed into about a one-hour flight. Hertz was only too glad to drop off a rental car at Wings. We stayed overnight so that we could enjoy the city. And on the way home Saturday, as the Archer bumped its way to 4,500 feet amid up- and downdrafts, my daughter said, “I had fun this weekend. ” Then she fell asleep. High praise indeed, coming from a teenager. I’ll take it, along with any opportunity to spend some quality time with my daughter before she heads off to new adventures.