Archive for June, 2009

Pedestrians share Gibraltar runway

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Even when the new tunnel under the Gibraltar runway is completed, pedestrians and emergency vehicles will continue to stop air traffic and use Winston Churchill Avenue above ground to cross it. In the past it could take 10 minutes to clear people and traffic off the runway so an aircraft could land. The tunnel will be an improvement. This shot was taken by world traveler Robert Gannon after landing in his Cessna 182, and those tiny dots on the runway are traffic and people. The Gibraltar Airport is 1,600 feet from the city, the shortest commute of any major airport in the world. CLICK PHOTOS TO ENLARGE

Saddam’s 747s decaying

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Rumor has it that Saddam Hussein had nearly 100 Boeing 747s, but right before the war he dispersed them to neighboring countries including six to Tunisia. World traveler Robert Gannon found two of them at the airport in Tozeur, Tunisia, tires flat. He parked his trusty Cessna 182 called Lucky Lady Too between them for a tourist shot. Gannon moves his 182 from place to place until duties call him home, and then returns to continue his adventure. CLICK PHOTO

GA and the environment: Your chance to comment

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Leaded fuel, noise, threats of “cap and trade” emission limits (carbon offsets, anyone?). It would be easy to believe that the word “environment” is no friend of general aviation. Yet, GA has an important role to play in the environment–whether helping to spot blatant polluters, putting out forest fires, or providing a bird’s-eye view of run-off or insect infestations, general aviation airplanes are at work every day in support of the environment.

The small amount of lead-tainted emissions from our 100LL is really the least of our worries when it comes to avgas. Even the availability of the lead additive is threatened because of low demand and the dangers of producing and handling it. Even if air pollution were not an issue, we would need to be looking for alternative fuels. And much work is under way on that front.

Noise is an issue we’ve faced for years, and we’ve come up with many simple solutions. Going forward as communities further impinge on airports and as neighbors get ever less tolerant of being disturbed, we may need to get even more creative.

When information is presented properly, environmentally sensitive neighbors will often choose an airport in their community over another shopping mall or housing development that invites even more traffic and pollution. Airports, at least, represent open space. And some airports are hard at work reducing their impact on the environment.

To look into the impact that GA has on the environment and vice versa, we put a team of our editors to work on a special report in the July issue of AOPA Pilot. The package looks at ways you can reduce your impact on the environment while flying–in some cases while reducing your operating costs. We profile airports that are looking out for the environment, show GA at work protecting the environment, and look to Europe for some clever designs that may some day further reduce our impact on the environment and maybe even reduce our costs.

Once you’ve had a chance to read the articles, we hope you’ll come back here and share your thoughts and ideas. The environmental movement is not going to stop at the airport perimeter. It will impact our flying in the future. Let’s start a dialog now and gin up some clever ideas that will keep us flying.

Thanks for your sharing your thoughts in the comments section below.

A new Perspective

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Skirting TRWs in WI

Skirting TRWs in WI

I’ve never set foot in a Cirrus Perspective until I flew with Dave Bushman on the way to the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) fly-in, dubbed The Migration. Or in this case, Migration 7–since this year marks the seventh such pilgrimage. It’s in Duluth, Minnesota, where Cirruses (Cirri?) are built.

Bushman has everything aboard his Perspective. Sure, there was the G1000 avionics suite, but Dave added air conditioning, TKS FIKI-certified ice protection, and even infrared vision–to go along with the G1000’s synthetic vision.

Here’s a great trick Dave told me about his Cirrus: Hold down the second-from-the-left and ninth-from-the-left sofftkeys on the lower bezel of the G1000’s multifunction display (MFD). This saves a snapshot of the display screen. Remove the top SD card on the MFD, pop it into a computer, and presto–an image of the screen at the time the buttons were pushed.

This is a great way to save fault annunications, or just capture whatever information you’d like to save. While diverting around a big cell in Wisconsin, the buttons were pushed, and what you see is a pretty durn good look at the conditions at the time. Talk about situational awareness!

SBN as bright spot

Friday, June 26th, 2009

On my way to the annual Cirrus Migration, Cirrus Perspective owner Dave Bushman, his wife Nancy, cockerpoo Cody and myself stopped for an overnight at South Bend, Indiana. If you ever questioned the severity of the economic downturn, go there.

On the way to the hotel, the streets were empty, and many, many houses and businesses were boarded up and in deep neglect… broken windows, collapsed rooves, etc.

Notre Dame, we were told, pumps the economy back up when school is in session. But school’s out right now. (Except for the summer semester perhaps).

The bright spot in South Bend’s economy right now happens to be at the airport. SBN is served by Northwest, Delta, Allegiant, and many, many corporate flights. The day we were there, a Beech 1900 dropped off a batch of Menard executives scouting out the company’s Elkhart, Indiana big-box store. Two Citations came and went from 10 to 11 am, and there were many piston singles parked on the general aviation ramp.

What’s the biggest employer in South Bend, you ask? AM General, maker of the Hummer H1(the military version), H2, and H3 models. And people are holding their collective breaths amidst rumors that the Hummer may be heading to China. Here’s where the impact of the U.S. auto downturn really hits home.

That leaves Notre Dame and SBN (and its associated businesses) top contenders as economic engines in this neck of the woods.

The sun’ll come out…tomorrow

Monday, June 15th, 2009

Last week I told you that pretty crummy weather had ushered in the 24th annual Sentimental Jounrney Fly-in, a celebration of airplanes and especially Piper airplanes, at Lock Haven, Pa.

The warm front was predicted to hang out all day day over the second day of the fly-in, and gray skies and mist shrouded the nearby ridges. But by noon a miraculous thing happened: A patch of blue appeared in the sky. And, like children who’ve been cooped up inside for far too long, the taildraggers began to venture out. First one, then two, then three and four–all eschewing the paved runway for the simplicity of turf.

The skies stayed clear long enough to permit a spot-landing contest, which was handily won by a pilot in a J-3 Cub who touched down a mere two feet beyond the blaze orange line. How are your spot-landing skills?

Colgan accident may mean big changes

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

February’s accident in which a Colgan Airlines Bombardier Q-400 crashed on approach to Buffalo International will result in changes to at least a few airline industry practices. It may sound obvious given the training, experience, pay, and fatigue issues that were raised in the days following the crash. But this week the FAA held the first of what it says will be many industry meetings aimed at figuring out solutions to some of these issues. And they’re apparently committed to making some changes.

Among some of the proposals are longer rest periods, higher pay, voluntary industry reporting of safety practices, and interestingly, more release of pilot records.

Some of the issues and their respective solutions makes sense, especially increased rest periods. But the release of a pilot’s record is something new entirely, and it’s more than a little troubling. For one thing, it’s a solution looking for a problem. The flight’s captain has been reported to have failed a few of his checkrides during his early training days, along with about 20 percent of his student pilot comrades nationwide.

The airlines have a very lengthy training regime. This we know, and while initially it was discussed in reference to the accident, now most seem to agree that Colgan’s training wasn’t an issue. So my question is if Colgan trained the captain well, how is his performance on the private pilot checkride at all relevant? If he failed checkrides in training that’s one thing. But dropping 100 feet on a steep turn on a private pilot checkride is quite another. Would the airline have hired him had they known about the failures? Maybe. Will they hire applicants in the future who have failed? No way. And the last time I checked, “checkride failure” wasn’t a common contributing factor in NTSB final reports.

So now we’re left with two major problems: Students fast tracking to the airlines will have immense pressure to perform on every checkride, and the FAA wants to make it easier to access a pilot’s personal file. The first point is less important for most of us, but I feel like it may lead to insider deals with examiners who never fail applicants at the big flight schools. Or worse, students who quit desk jobs in search of a dream airline career, only to fail their private pilot checkride.

The bigger issue for most pilots is what will happen in the future with pilot records. Now that record is only available if you release it. But how long will it remain that way? Will the FAA just release all of our records? How will it affect insurance? What about privacy concerns? There are too many questions right now without answers. I can only hope the fever dies down before we get to the gruesome details. And I’m not just saying that because I used the plotter wrong on my private pilot checkride.

Gonna take a Sentimental Journey

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

The go/no-go debate yesterday really wasn’t much of a quandary. A warm front plastered over the Mid-Atlantic produced a 1,500-foot overcast and rain. Factor in the 2,500-foot ridgeline between Frederick, Md., and Lock Haven, Pa., and that equals going by car to the Sentimental Journey Fly-In. Driving north on U.S. 15, I saw ragged fringes of cloud fluttering against our nothing-to-boast-about ridges, so I wasn’t unhappy with my decision.

As of Wednesday, 50 airplanes had made it to the twenty-fourth annual fly-in to Lock Haven, the former home of Piper Aircraft. When I arrived, the rain had increased to a steady drizzle, yet two die-hards were in the pattern.

Today looks rainy again, but the forecast is supposed to improve tomorrow. The fly-in runs through June 20. If you should plan to join us, please review the air operations procedures found here. The hard-working volunteers who are coordinating parking at nontowered William T. Piper Memorial Airport will thank you for it.

Are you kidding me?

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

Newsflash from Reuters: Highflying CEOs are still flying their private jets. So says the story this morning picked up by MSNBC. According to the story, private aircraft perks are still being awarded to CEOs. This from a coporate compensation study from Equilar.

While I’m not one to typically bash the so-called mainstream media, this story has me fuming for a number of reasons. First, it’s not news. Of course people are still flying corporate. Did the writer really think the entire industry would vanish after the automakers flew to Washington? I just heard Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead. Somebody should tell Reuters.

But of course this isn’t the real problem. The story is biased and is so clearly an attempt at eliciting an emotional response that it belongs on an editoral page, not as news. Come on, “highflying U.S. corporate chiefs”? I didn’t realize “highflying” was a title. Since when is it OK for a supposedly impartial news source to lead the reader to the writer’s intended conclusion? It’s absurd.

But if there was any doubt as to the story’s slant, we come to the end and realize there’s no question as to where the writer, editor, and therefore, Reuters, stands. Because the only evidence that’s given for the continuation of flying is the compensation survey. There’s no mention of the tens of thousands of jobs lost this year in general aviation. No mention of business aviation activity dropping off as much as 40 percent. There’s only a few numbers that say yes, CEOs at the largest 100 companies fly on corporate aircraft.

I’m sorry if the writer is so bitter with flying coach that he or she feels the need to start (continue?) class warfare on executives. But if truth and objectivity are the goals of a journalist, maybe the writer should learn to fly and realize the problem is not private aviation. Words are a powerful thing, especially to the hundreds of thousands of people around the country involved in GA that contribute billions to our national economy.

Virgin Galactic a blast closer to space

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

Update: New video link.

Virgin Galactic has passed an important milestone in its quest to blast tourists into suborbital space. The rocket motor not only works, it can be shut down at will for an emergency return to the airport if necessary. For some reason the old link was declared “private” so here is the rocket test in a new link. See it here.