Archive for February, 2010

Floatplanes, horses, Alaska: “R5Sons” just might have it all

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Many of you are going crazy over “Ice Pilots NWT,” a new series on Canada’s History Channel. I haven’t been able to tune in because 1. I don’t get the Canada History Channel and 2. They keep yanking the videos off YouTube. So I’ll have to take your word for it that it’s awesome.

In the meantime, I’ve discovered “R5Sons, Alaska” on RFD-TV. “R5Sons” follows the adventures of the Perrinses: Steve Sr., Denise, their five sons, and various members of the extended family. The Perrinses own and operate Rainy Pass Lodge, 125 nm north of Anchorage, and each episode is a day-to-day peek at life in the wilderness. See the Season 2 trailer here. 

Aviation is at the cener of nearly every episode. In a recent installment, the Perrinses must transport horses from Anchorage to the lodge. A behemoth Shorts SkyVan is enlisted, and it has to land on a short dirt strip. There’s a lot of tension involving the ever-changing weather, the pilot’s experience with dirt runways, and whether the landing will throw the horses through the plywood barrier that separates them from the cockpit.

My only complaint is that at one hour long, “R5Sons” feels a little, well, padded. But I’m really loving the beautiful videography, the airplanes, and the obvious affection that these hard-working folks have for each other. (Gotta love a dad who tells his adult sons, “Love you, bye” at the end of each phone call.) 

Are pilot reports becoming a lost art?

Friday, February 12th, 2010

Do you think pilot reports are becoming a lost art? Do you remember any times when a good pirep really help you out? What’s the most unusual pirep you ever heard–or made?

Performer adds twist to drunken rube act

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Kyle Franklin has added a twist to a routine done by many performers over the years as a “flying farmer” or a drunken spectator act. The idea is that someone untrained steals a Piper Cub during an airshow, in full view of the audience, and flies a wobbly routine. Franklin’s twist is to scrape both wingtips. Maybe some other act is scraping wingtips, too, but it has escaped notice until now. Take a look at the video titled “Comedy Act Video.” It is at the bottom of the Franklin Web page.

The power of small conversation

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

Last year I gave a presentation at an aviation weather workshop in Columbia, South Carolina. Among the attendees were representatives from the National Weather Service, the major airlines, educators, local governments, and weather-media types like me.

Sitting behind me was Christy Henderson, chief meteorologist at WSPA-TV in Spartanburg, South Carolina. We struck up a conversation. She said she had always wanted to learn to fly, but never followed up. I assured her that becoming a pilot requires neither superhuman intellect nor strength–just a committed desire.

The conversation went on to topics like weather web sites, plus of course AOPA’s web site. We swapped business cards, and I thought, well, that’s that.

A week ago I got an e-mail and a phone call from Christy. My few words of encouragement had apparently had an immense effect. Christy soloed!

So never, ever underestimate the power of even the slightest encouragement. As one of my meteorology professors once said of the dangers to the brain of acquiring bad weather analysis practices, “be very, very careful what you put in there, because it may never come out.”

The same can be said of the power of positive suggestion. “Your life will change in ways you can’t now anticipate,” I told her. Here’s a shot of Christy shortly after her solo. Those of you in the Spartanburg-Greenville-Anderson SC–and Asheville NC–areas can see her live on Channel 7.

Christy Henderson after her first solo.

Not a 9 to 5 job

Monday, February 1st, 2010

Here’s an item from the unusual aviation jobs folder. Cinematographer Michael Kelem has just returned from Antarctica where he flew in helicopters and Twin Otters to film a new documentary, Frozen Planet, that you’ll see in fall 2011 at the earliest. It is produced by the BBC and the Discovery Channel. He previously worked on the series Planet Earth.

Kelem has filmed mostly from helicopters for 25 years, but now he is considering getting his pilot certificate for trips from Los Angeles to San Francisco to visit family. His most recent work was capturing the aerial scenes for The Hangover in 2009 and Twilight in 2008.

Kelem lived with a scientific community of 1,200 people at McMurdo Sound for two months, flying in helicopters for 100 hours and fixed-wing aircraft for 70 to 80 hours. The helicopters are operated by PHI, better known for servicing oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Fixed-wing aircraft were operated by Kenn Borek Air based in Canada, the largest operator of Twin Otters in the world. The series covers the animals and climate of the polar areas.

Twin Otter

The Twin Otter was necessary to cover great distances and capture the scope of the continent. It was a five-hour trip by Twin Otter with one fuel stop to reach the South Pole, and a seven-hour trip to penguin colonies. The colonies have retreated off melting ice sheets. To film, a high-definition camera built for a helicopter was mounted on the nose of the Twin Otter. That allows Kelem to remain inside both the Twin Otter or the helicopter when filming.

During his stay the runway for the Twin Otter had to be relocated 45 minutes from the camp due to the melting of the ice sheet. It was summer when he was there in December and January with temperatures from minus 30 degrees F to 30 degrees F. Ice fog was always a threat, sometimes preventing takeoff, or preventing a flight because it was forecast for the return time. (“You don’t want to get stuck out there in a fixed-wing airplane,” he said.)

While there he filmed an active volcano, Mt. Erebus, at 12,000 feet and filmed mountain ranges made of rectangular columns of rock that are breaking away from a mountain range he saw enroute to the volcano.