Archive for May, 2009

“The Aviators”: Will you watch?

Friday, May 29th, 2009

A Toronto production company is bringing a new television series, The Aviators, to the United States in 2010. The producers have struck a deal with PBS to bring the series to 330 markets.

Billed as showing “the people…the places…the planes…of North American aviation,” the show promises to bring “a fast-paced, weekly TV series hosted and written by pilots” that will cover topics ranging from aircraft design and the latest GPS technology to accident and safety awareness, airline profiles, and remote fly-in getaways from Canada to the Bahamas. They’ll also show episodes on the Web site and publish stories and features from the series in a print format. You can view a promo here.


Could it be that aviation is a leading manufacturing innovator?

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Some business analysts are suggesting that auto makers must reinvent themselves in order to survive. WIRED magazine this month carries an article about how the car makers should become more like PC makers did 20 years ago. Early computers were purpose built by their manufacturers from hardware to software. All of that changed when companies began designing machines with standardized parts and the ability to run software programs written by anyone. Some of the old-line computer manufacturers couldn’t compete and went out of business.

WIRED suggests that car manufacturers should look to the PC world as a model. How about looking to aircraft manufacturers? Whether in the airliner, business jet, or piston markets, companies focus on what they do best, using major components from other manufacturers. Airframe manufacturers are really good at designing and building airplanes, but they leave the designing and building of avionics and engines to companies that do that well.

Do Ford, GM, and Chrysler really need to design and build their own engines and chassis and transmissions? Some car companies design and build everything, right down to the car radio. Necessary? Probably not.

Perhaps our aircraft manufacturers have been right all along.

Montana ranchers featured in upcoming article

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

Just blew in from Montana after a storm delay in Denver. AOPA Chief Photographer Mike Fizer and I completed a story on ranchers who use aircraft after visiting Travis and Cindi Nelson, Taylor Nelson (age 5), Rylee Nelson (age 3) and Trevor Nelson (age 2). We also visited John Saubak, known to AOPA Forum users as “peerlesscowboy.” Check my Twitter account and see the photos I gathered on my cellphone, and then maybe I’ll have more than the present six viewers (one of them the Nelson family).

When a hangar isn’t just a hangar

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

It’s almost June. Expensive wedding plans got you down? Rather than that lavish and highly expensive wedding hall, how about the hangar instead? For pilots and their aviation friends what a better place to celebrate a wedding ceremony than in the shadow of airplanes.

And so it went for the wedding of Keith Landrum and Jennifer Thacker. Landrum is the assistant chief instructor for Sporty’s Academy at Clermont County Airport near Cincinnati. He proposed to Jennifer from a Sporty’s airplane as friends and family on the ground spelled out the message.

With that kind of a proposal, it only stands to reason that the wedding reception would be in a hangar. In this case, the Palmer Hangar at Sporty’s. Guests enjoyed an aviation-shaped wedding cake in the shadow of Waco biplane, a Cessna Citation, and a Model A Ford.

Of course, an airplane would play a role in the honeymoon too, as the couple jetted off to to the Dominican Republic.

May Keith and Jennifer share the cockpit for many years to come.

Members everywhere

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

The Southwest Airlines captain did a double take as I stepped aboard the Boeing 737 and turned right. “Mr. AOPA! I need to talk to you when we get to Nashville,” he said, spying my AOPA PILOT shirt. “Glad to,” I said as the cattle behind me propelled me down the narrow aisle. Already the cabin seemed full even though I had scored a “B-11″ seating sequence–not bad in the Southwest scheme of things.

Later, shuffling my way toward the front of the cabin in Nashville, a flight attendant near the door saw me coming and alerted the captain. “You got a minute?” he yelled from inside the cockpit.

“I’ll wait right here in the jetway,” I said, still wondering what he might want with me.

In a minute Captain Granville D. Lasseter II stepped out, his giant hand absorbing mine in a handshake. “I have a beautifully restored 1968 Piper Super Cub and I want to take more kids for rides. Any advice on how I can do that?” he asked, going on to explain that he lives in a fly-in community near Houston. The Cub is his “around the patch” airplane. An early Cessna 210 is his traveling machine. Standing there in his crisp Southwest uniform, it was clear right away that Lasseter loves to fly.

I reminded him about the EAA Young Eagles program and AOPA’s Let’s Go Flying program, all designed to introduce people to aviation, especially young people. Truth is, it can be tough to reach kids. Even the Girl Scouts shuns actually flights for their scouts for fear of liability. One way is to invite scouts, students, and other youth organizations to your airport to see your airplane. Take note of those who seem most interested and maybe make arrangements separately with their parents to take the kids for flights.

It was nice to see a pilot so enthused about reaching out to kids and using a general aviation airplane for such a noble cause.

I was still feeling the glow of the Lasseter meeting a couple of days later when I was returning back to Baltimore, this time from Dallas. After our stop in Oklahoma City, my seatmate also noted my PILOT shirt (yes, I did change shirts). “What do you fly?” he asked.

I told him about my Bonanza and Dan Linebarger of Dallas told me about his Cessna 182 with a Continental IO-550 upgrade. “It’s the last airplane I’ll ever need,” he predicted, obviously enchanted by the wonders of the highly capable Skylane wing and airframe mated to a very powerful engine. As the Southwest 737 filled up again,  Linebarger told me that he mostly volunteers his time to worthy causes these days, including flying his 182 to Mexico carrying medical supplies. Of course, while he’s there he also stops in at some of the tremendous fly-in resorts located along Baja California’s hundreds of miles of coastline. Having flown in Baja a few times myself, we compared notes on where we have visited. He knows the peninsula much better than I do, including many isolated communities in need of medical supplies that would take days to deliver over dirt roads instead of a few hours aboard an airplane.

Lasseter’s and Linebarger’s stories of how they use their airplanes inspired me, making the airline flight seem much shorter and more comfortable than it might otherwise. I couldn’t help but wonder how much good work such as that performed by these two pilots will stop if general aviation is slapped with user fees and onerous security regulations.

The chance encounters reieterated to me the need for those of us who understand the value of general aviation to shout it loudly, such as AOPA is attempting to do with our GA Serves America campaign.

I hope you, like Lasseter and Linebarger,  will continue your good use of general aviation airplanes and when you do, make sure you tell your friends, mayors, legislators, and the media about it. Together, we can secure a bright future for general aviation.

African beasts captured in hangar

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

I completed a video on an unusual hangar just in time to compete with the summer Hollywood blockbusters–although most are longer than this one-minute feature. You can see it here. If it does not open, try here. A Hagerstown, Md., pilot visited a licensed commercial hunting farm in Africa and you’ll see the result. The farms, found in 13 African countries, practice wildlife conservation to stay in business, and most herds are growing as a result. It’s another in a list of unusual hangars I covered in AOPA Pilot

Way to go, Sean

Friday, May 8th, 2009

Congratulations to famed air show pilot Sean Tucker for displaying terrific aeronautical decision making–true airmanship.

As you may have heard, Tucker landed on Highway 101 in northern California after concern that he didn’t have enough fuel to make it back to the airport. I can’t imagine a more difficult decision than one where you take a still-functioning airplane and put it down off airport. “Hope” always wants to horn in and convince you that you can make it back to the airport. But, concerned that he had a fuel problem, Tucker quickly assessed the situation and with assistance from the aerobatic team and photo ship he was flying with, put the airplane down safely without a scratch onto the highway. After adding fuel and with permission of authorities, he took off again and flew the short distance back to the airport.

As we have reported in AOPA Pilot making the decision to land off-airport is a tough, but often good choice. In this article, AOPA members retell their tales of such decisions. Once it’s clear you’re going to land somewhere other than airport, you need to take immediate steps to improve your chances of survival, as we noted in this article on forced landings.

Tucker is also to be congratulated for having the PR savvy to fess up to what happened–he ran out of fuel, although it appears a change in the fuel system in his aerobatic airplane may have contributed to the confusion about how much fuel was on board. To hear him recount the tale and hear what he learned from the incident, listen to this podcast from AvWeb.

I’ve known Sean for more than a decade and have always found him careful and wonderfully candid about his flying. As he relates, “Nobody is immune from the gotchas in aviation.”

True, but only the really bright pilots learn from their mistakes and are willing to share their learnings as completely as Tucker has.

An LSA experiment to watch

Friday, May 1st, 2009

The light sport aircraft community, admittedly off to a slow start these past four years, ought to watch an experiment by the flight department at the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) in Melbourne, Fla. Director of Flight Training Nick Frisch has purchased two Remos light sport aircraft to join his fleet of 41 trainers. He is challenging a “significant unknown,” in his words, and that unknown is the public’s general acceptance of light sport aircraft.

Frisch is betting that among the school’s 7,000 non-aeronautical students there are a number of pilot candidates who will jump at the chance for a $5,000 sport pilot certificate. To improve chances for success, he will offer the Remos aircraft to the Melbourne community as well in a flying club. Some of the 41 trainers are ready for retirement. Will serious FIT pilot candidates accept the Remos because of its lower rental cost?

He is starting with two aircraft, but additional Remos aircraft will be purchased if the experiment works. So watch FIT’s flight department at the end of this year. That is when Frisch’s “significant unknown” will be known, and when a new order is, or is not, made.