Archive for September, 2009

Catching the Skycatcher

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

AOPA Pilot Chief Photographer Mike Fizer photographed Cessna’s new Skycatcher above San Diego Tuesday night. This was the last of two formation flights I flew with Cessna test pilot Dale Bleakney. I also did a review flight during which I got a demonstration of proof that the spin problem is fixed. Bleakney cross-controlled it (full aileron, full opposite ruder), stalled it, and was still able to maneuver left, right, under perfect control. Then he had me do it. No problem.

We had a variety of light on our air-to-air led by a Cherokee Six. Rain clouds, rainbows, lenticular clouds piled 11 layers high over the mountains east of French Valley Airport (45 miles north of San Diego), and finally, night.

Turns out the Canon 5D can also capture still photos in very dark conditions. His camera was mounted to a multi-thousand-dollar gyrostabilizer. When it’s running, the plane moves around it–not the other way around. You look at the camera and think it is bobbing up and down, but actually that is the aircraft moving around the stabilized camera. We’ll have articles out on the Skycatcher in a couple of months.

Night Above Tahoe

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

If you were at Lake Tahoe Saturday night (9/27), perhaps among the thousands of people getting ready to run a marathon race today, you saw a Cherokee Six followed by a Diamond C1 above the lake at sunset. AOPA Pilot Chief Photographer Mike Fizer was in the Cherokee Six, and I had a great time flying formation behind him in the Diamond C1. We got some of the best photos and video Mike has ever captured. We staged out of Placerville at 2,500 feet, climbed to 9,800 to safely clear the mountains, descended down a valley to Lake Tahoe and entered the pattern at Lake Tahoe Airport at 7,500 feet. Look for Mike’s shots in future issues of Flight Training magazine, and check online for the video of the Diamond, still in weak sunlight at 300 feet, flying above a runway that was in the dark. Right place, right time.

Crazy time in Napa

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

If you’re a tourist in Napa Valley now, harvest time, you’re paying $300 to $500 a night, if you can find a room, and sipping wine in tasting rooms. If you are very lucky, you are getting to watch the wine production and may even receive an exclusive invitation to a five-star meal in a wine storage cave. If you are a winemaker like Ehren Jordan of Failla (Fay la) Wines and Turley Wine Cellars, you are going crazy. Jordan is constantly in motion, supervising the harvesting, crushing, and storage of this year’s wine crop. His Cessna 340 is much like his pickup truck–a tool to reach Turley’s second vineyard 200 nm away. He flies there two to three days a week at this time of year. Since he was always in motion last week, so were AOPA Pilot Chief Photographer Mike Fizer and myself, trying to trap him in a corner long enough to gather material for a story on the importance of his aircraft to wine production. It didn’t work, and it soon dawned on me that “Chasing Ehren” is the story, and title (or maybe “Crazy Time in Napa”?), for a future issue of AOPA Pilot. Watch for it. (By the way, I played, in my exaggerated opinion, what I consider to be a crucial role in the production of the 2009 Failla Wines “Pearl Essence” chardonnay. I picked out stems, bugs, leaves, anything that didn’t belong there.) It will be out in 2010.

Going, going…. gone?

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

It was with a twinge of sadness that I read the e-mail press release that landed in my inbox this week. “Profiles In History To Sell Amelia Earhart’s Flight Goggles Worn During Her Historic 1932 Record-Breaking Solo Transatlantic Flight.” The auction company will sell Earhart’s goggles, along with a batch of other celebrity goodies, in a two-day event to be held Oct. 8 and 9. Profiles in History provided the photo you see here.

Sad? I’m not exactly sure why. I guess I hate the thought of someone purchasing the goggles and stowing them away in some vault along with his Fantastic Four Number One in mint condition. I’d love to see them go to Purdue University, or back to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, where they were on loan from 1992 to 1998. But the last time I checked my wallet (or my 401[k]), I’m a few cents short of the $100,000 opening bid.  Also on the auction block: Gus Grissom’s Mercury flight suit, and a baseball cap worn by Neil Armstrong after splashdown and recovery from the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. Oh, and a sparkly glove worn by Michael Jackson.

Guardians of the Aerocar

Monday, September 21st, 2009

The Sweeney family came together in Auburn, Ca., today, quite by accident, to discuss their historic Aerocar. Eric Sweeney runs Auburn Aircraft Works, specializing in unusual airplanes, and is the current caretaker of the Aerocar. Brother Sean brought his company’s Cessna 310 in for modifications and takes care of it in Kissimme, Fla. Aerocar owner Ed Sweeney from Colorado Springs, Colo., was in town for personal business after educating the public on the Aerocar at Reno. Sean has 20 hours in the Aerocar, an hour for every year his dad has owned it. Eric started flying it more recently and has a few hours as well. Check out my reports on Try here first. The Twitter site is having technical difficulties, but search under altonmarsh.

It’s a system

Monday, September 21st, 2009

The airline complaint — propagated by NBC and USA Today — that airline passengers pay something towards general aviation airports, obscures what has been transportation tax policy for at least half a century. The federal government helps build a system connecting all parts of the nation, and users are taxed for the whole system, not just the part they use. More in this video blog.

Urban vs. rural America and the airport debate

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

In a pivotal moment in U.S. politics, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan said to President Jimmy Carter, “There you go again.” This time instead of debating health care reform as Reagan and Carter were (how’s that for irony from 1980?), it’s the Air Transport Association once again feeding disinformation about general aviation to a naive general media. ATA, which represents the airlines, spun up a few statistics about funding for general aviation airports and USAToday gobbled them up without bothering to question the source, resulting in a far less than balanced story that has done incredible damage to general aviation and the jobs it creates. The USAToday reporter did bother to contact AOPA, but then chose to ignore any input from our media relations staff. Be sure to read the comments on the USAToday story. Many of them are from pilots critical of the inaccurate reporting.

Of course, other media picked up the story, including USAToday partner, the NBC Today Show, which aired a nearly as misbalanced piece.

AOPA responded immediately with a statement and a story on our Home page.

Fortunately, as noted in the AOPA story, some local media also picked up on the story and then found out that their local airports really are an asset.

Unfortunately, what the major national media like to focus on is the perceived class war between “rich pilots” and the rest of the world. Never mind that pilots every day fly thousands of volunteer mercy missions from GA airports for man and animal. Firefighting flights depart from remote strips to reach forest fires. Yes, those airports–along with the airline airports–receive funding from the FAA–most of it provided by fuel and passenger taxes paid by GA pilots and airline passengers. Little of it from the general fund. Similar formulas fund the U.S. highway system.

To a certain extent, this is a case of not just a misperception about “rich pilots,” but also a misperception by the majority of people who live near urban centers about the rest of the population, which lives outside the beltway.

For rural communities many highway miles from the nearest airline airport, small airports are their only link to the rest of the world. As pointed out in the USAToday comments, a mile of highway gets you a mile. A mile of runway gets you anywhere. Ask the taxpaying U.S. citizens in rural America which they would rather have and I’ll bet the answer will universally be a mile of runway.

Taking a tumble

Monday, September 14th, 2009

You might remember from your training that your attitude indicator can tumble if the aircraft pitch angle exceeds the gyro’s limits. What does that look like and why should you care? We take a look in this video blog.

By the wings of angels

Monday, September 14th, 2009

At Sun N Fun this past Spring, I had the pleasure of meeting Jon Wehrenberg and Debi Boies, co-founders of Pilots N Paws, an organization dedicated to rescuing unwanted pets from euthanasia.

Jon and Debi are like many dedicated to a cause: they are engaging, focused, and intensely driven to succeed. At their core is a profound respect and empathy for the lives of animals – bred to serve human needs – then discarded when they are no longer wanted, useful, or convenient.

Sadly, thousands of discarded pets die needlessly. In many areas around the country, shelters have more demand than animals. So when Jon and Debi asked whether I thought it would be possible to enlist enough pilots to relocate 5,000 pets in a single week, I answered “Yes.”

I like bold statements and audacious plans. In the hands of dedicated people, they extend not only our reach, but our grasp. Success, to my way of thinking, is equally a product of the effort – as well as achieving a lofty goal.

I don’t think my confidence was unwarranted. Pilots are mission-centric. We like planning, enjoy the challenge of navigating the “fog” of implementation, and take keen satisfaction in a positive outcome.

What I didn’t count on was an objection that Jon and Debi hear often – “What about people? Aren’t people more important?” In a word, the answer is “Yes.” But for most of us, transporting the critically ill on schedule to distant medical services simply isn’t an option. The reasons are many – suitable aircraft, appropriate insurance, required ratings… Relocating a pet, on the other hand, can wait on VFR weather, an empty seat or baggage compartment, and a willingness to fly a few hours – for which the majority of us are eminently well-qualified.

For those blessed with the means, we can and should volunteer our time and resources to the service of people in need. And for those of us with more humble blessings, let me suggest that we can also serve people in need. Pets improve our quality of life. The special kinship they provide is unique. Their health benefits are well-documented in the language of science, by our joy in their companionship, and our tears with their passing.

A few hours of flying can deliver so much… a life well-lived for so many.

Visit for more information about how you can help save lives.

System overload–Meridian training days three and four

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

One difference between a single-engine piston airplane and a pressurized turboprop is the level of sophistication among the systems. While your average piston airplane has a simple electrical system and basic hydraulic system if any at all, a turbine airplane is likely to have multiple electrical busses, hydraulics driving numerous systems, and, of course, the pressurization system itself and redundancies.

While I knew all of this at a certain level, it wasn’t until going through the SimCom course for the Piper Meridian that I understood how sophisticated the systems are in the turboprop. Day three of the training was mostly spent wading through the systems. The thick training manual includes colorful system outlines, diagrams, and schematics. But it was instructor Bill Inglis who made it all come alive and made it relevant. Along with discussions about the systems, Inglis included right from the start points about how to deal with failures of those systems and the consequences. While checklists are stressed, there is also emphasis on cockpit flows–ways to move through checklist procedures in a logical path in the cockpit. Pilots can more easily move through flows and then follow up with the checklists to make sure no items are skipped.

In addition to the deep dive into systems, we spent time in the flight training device (FTD) practicing for failures. A Garmin G1000 trainer–basically a panel with the system installed just for practicing using the system–also proved helpful.

By day four–last day–it was time to go flying again. For that, we set off from Vero Beach, Florida, to Florence, South Carolina. The climb to FL270 gave me time to run through normal checklists and manage the systems. While en route we practiced running through checklist flows for a dozen imaginary problems. Of course, there were multiple approaches at each end.

Day five is the long anticipated flight home. Piper’s Bob Kromer handed me the keys to the $2.2 million airplane on day four. The plan is to fly it home solo today. Stay tuned.