Archive for June, 2010

Checking in with… Heather Taylor

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

One in an occasional series of posts.

Louise Thaden, one of the winners of the 1929 Women's Transcontinental Air Race

When last I talked to Heather Taylor, the director of the documentary “Breaking Through the Clouds,” it was still 2009, the doc was still named “Ragwing Derby,” and Taylor was working hard to finish it up for a hoped-for screening at EAA AirVenture. Flash-forward to June 26, 2010: The documentary is finished, retitled “Breaking Through the Clouds,” and was screened to a very appreciative audience at Hood College, Taylor’s alma mater (and mine).

It was a fantastic experience on many levels. For 12 years, Taylor has been researching and weaving together the individual stories of the 20 women pilots who flew in the very first Women’s Transcontinental Air Race in 1929. She found reams of fascinating newsreel footage and still photos and scored interviews with two of the participants, and she also shot numerous, beautiful air-to-air sequences of classic airplanes. For the premiere, she brought in not only her immediate family–her dad and brother are pilots–but also family members of some of the racers. It made for an inspiring evening. Sitting in a roomful of women pilots who had just finished the thirty-fourth annual Air Race Classic, this woman pilot was overwhelmed.

The Transcontinental Air Race made national news and attracted the likes of Amelia Earhart, Pancho Barnes, and Louise Thaden–who won first place in the heavier-aircraft category. At every stop, thousands and thousands of people turned out to see the pilots and airplanes, and they were feted with dinners and deluged by the media. Humorist Will Rogers was the one who pegged it the “Powderpuff Derby” after he spied one of the racers readying herself for a photo session.

Now Taylor is embarking on a long journey aimed at promoting and self-distributing the film. She’s hopeful for this year’s EAA AirVenture and has some other venues in the works. And I’m hopeful this wonderful film will find the broader audience it deserves and help to preserve the legacy of a group of outstanding pilots. I’ll keep you posted on places you can see the documentary. In the meantime, see Heather’s website.

‘Mythbusters’ taking on balloons?

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

We have it on very good authority (and by “authority,” I mean the folks who can ruin your weekend with a ramp check) that an upcoming episode of “Mythbusters” will be devoted to the creation of a home-made balloon. The gang will set out to prove (or disprove) whether a hand-crafted hot air device can be flown. The inspiration for the project apparently is a 1979 incident in which two families in East Germany created a balloon out of shower curtains, inflated it, and flew over the Berlin Wall.

This being the United States and not East Berlin before the Wall came down, a Flight Standards District Office is said to be helping the guys out with the project. We can’t tell you which one, and we don’t suggest you start calling them to find out, lest you get an unexpected Saturday morning ramp check.

The greenhouse effect

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

I’ve been flying this week with an AOPA staff pilot, getting instrument-current, as well as logging my biennial and annual flight reviews. (The latter is a requirement for AOPA staff pilots). We’ve been flying AOPA’s Diamond DA-40. This is a great-handling airplane that’s capable of 145-knot cruise speeds and serves well as an instrument platform. It’s also a wonderful training device for boning up on your Garmin G1000 knobology, and perfecting your autoflight techniques. No wonder so many flight training schools use the DA40.

But–and it’s a big but–we’ve been having record-setting temperatures in the Mid-Atlantic states this week. The sun’s been beating down to the tune of 95 degrees some days. Today we’re supposed to hit 98 degrees. The heat indices are topping 100 degrees. Global warming, anyone?

How does this relate to the DA40? European manufacturers are big on big canopies. And that’s a very wise design choice in terms of visibility. But ground operations can make for a sauna-like cabin. Sure, cracking open the canopy helps, but the mid-90s are the mid-90s. And it’s definitely not a dry heat. In flight, the DA40′s huge wemacs help with cabin air flow, but the fact remains. Euro-airplanes like the DA40, the Robin series, the Socata singles and others place a premium on windshield area. European weather is a creature of all that maritime air that surrounds the continent, hence the cloudy, rainy climate across the pond.  European designers were definitely not thinking of operations in, say, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, or anywhere in the southern tier of states. Places where massive, stagnant summer highs park themselves over a huge, baking land mass.

Is all that visibility worth the sauna trade-off? Probably–if you have TIS or some other means of traffic detection. Because when flying the G1000 through instrument procedures you’re heads-down–big time!

Going three wheeling

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Where are you landing this weekend? Somewhere other than pavement, I hope. Last week we quietly introduced a means to help you find new places to land. The AOPA Airports section on AOPA Online now includes the ability to search for “unpaved” runways. As I wrote in my Waypoints column in the July issue of AOPA Pilot, my most memorable and rewarding landings have occurred on other than paved runways. I think you’ll find that to be true too.

Other than pavement, grass runways are most prevalent, but there are many other options, including gravel, coral, sand, and water. It’s hard to believe here on this 95-degree day in Maryland, but snow and ice are other options in parts of the world.

To use the new AOPA Airports search feature, go to the AOPA Airports page and click on the Advanced Search option. From there, click the “unpaved” box and then in the Query window type what other search criteria you might like to include–your state, for example, to show all of the unpaved runways in your state.

Poke around among the airport options to find some interesting locations and try them this weekend. I look forward to hearing about your experiences back here on these pages. And if the heat is getting to you, you can always go back and revisit our feature from the January 2010 issue of AOPA Pilot about the ice runway at Alton Bay in New Hampshire. Happy flying.

Editor in Chief Tom Haines ready to launch for skiplane flying in a Cub at Cadillac, Michigan.

Red Bull vs. Us for Getting New Pilots

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Slalom course at Red Bull Air Race, New York City. Technically known as a chicane.Red Bull cola, which must have a corner on the world’s caffeine market, puts on an air show in New York and 75,000 people show up; in past years, even past months, the Red Bull Air Race has attracted hundreds of thousands. You and I acting as individuals urge people to go flying, or mentor them, and its onesie twosie. (AOPA has the Lets Go Flying campaign while EAA has flown a million kids on what could be a life-changing experience.) Red Bull markets only excitement–to heck with anything else– to an audience that is literally drinking caffeine while sitting in the grandstands, while we–as individuals–talk about fun but never excitement. Wouldn’t want to scare them, would we? Red Bull has kids dreaming of flying and jaded adults saying, “That was awesome!” We lament that people are no longer interested in flying because it is too common.  To that I say “Bull!” Or even, “Red Bull!”

Turns out people want to be scared, and will pay a lot of money for it. “How many people want to see an airplane hit a pylon?” screams an already hoarse announcer. “Let’s see some hands!”  Hundreds of hands go up. (They are fabric pylons that separate harmlessly when struck.) Spectators paid concert prices for a regular ticket, and $3,000 for the super VIP “High Flyers” section that is well separated from the riffraff and press (being redundant there).

I asked an Austrian-accented Red Bull official, “How can you do it and I can’t?”

“It’s Red Bull, not aviation,” he said. “It could be a Red Bull sailing event and they would still come.” But I’m not so sure. Everywhere I turned, there was a real pilot or a potential pilot. The kid showing people to their seats in New York Sunday is a pilot. An elderly gentleman saw my “AOPA Pilot” shirt and nametag, and said he has been a member 25 years. Six people stopped me, based on my AOPA Pilot branding, to say they are members. A lady from Florida who once flew straight and level and dreams of being a pilot told me she wants to learn. She is trying to get tickets for the Red Bull Air Race when it comes to Hungary soon and will sell the pets if that’s what it takes to fly from Crystal River, Florida, to Hungary. I wish I had told her that with the ticket and hotel money, she could actually be a pilot.

Red Bull can do more in two hours than we as individuals can do in years. Not to worry, though. AOPA had one of its top communications directors there, looking for secrets of the event’s success. EAA’s Tom Poberezny was there, too, looking well behind the scenes (hey, Tom, did you see the carpeted port-a-potties with sinks, soap, and attendants that clean them all day?).

So if Red Bull has all the answers, AOPA and EAA now know some of them, too.

Guppy in a shark tank

Monday, June 21st, 2010

The Fun to Fly Remos is fifth in line for departure at IAD. That's a Luftansa Airbus getting ready to take off.

Ever see the animated Pixar film Finding Nemo? A tiny clownfish ventures out of his relatively small corner of the ocean to find his son. There are a lot of much bigger fish out there, and he has to keep out of their way while pursuing his quest. That’s pretty much how I felt Saturday morning when I flew the Fun to Fly Remos GX to Washington Dulles International (IAD) to show off the airplane at Family Be a Pilot Day at the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Annex.

It was my first time at a Class Bravo airport as pilot in command. I dragged along Senior Editor Dave Hirschman, who had flown our 2009 Let’s Go Flying Cirrus SR22 to this same event last year. Dave handled the radio and helped me pick out our runway in the extremely hazy Saturday morning sunshine. The controllers were ready for us, since we were one of about 50 general aviation airplanes expected to fly in for the event. We were cleared to land on 19C, which is a whopping 11,501 feet long by 150 feet wide.

“Keep your speed up,” Dave urged me. “Be a good neighbor. There are other airplanes coming in behind us.” So my approach speed went from the normal 70 knots to 110. “Land long,” Dave continued, ” so we won’t have so far to taxi to the first turnoff.” No problem, I thought; landing long is one of my specialities. Of course I didn’t land quite long enough, so we still had a bit of a ways to get to the first turnoff. “Taxi as fast as you can,” Hirschman said. The only problem with that suggestion is that if you taxi too fast, the Remos thinks you want to take off again. Talk about pressure!

Once off the active runway, we were given progressive taxi instructions (without having to ask) by no fewer than three different ground controllers, all of whom were pleasant and professional. Still, I think the taxi to the ramp leading to Udvar-Hazy took longer than the 30-nm flight from KFDK.

When the aircraft were released at 3 p.m., things got a bit more interesting. We joined a conga line of airplanes and waited for a break in the clearance delivery chatter to put in our request for departure. “Saturday afternoons are busy at Dulles,” our briefing materials had warned, and boy, they weren’t kidding. Then began a long, hot taxi to our 10,500-foot departure runway, 30. Here we saw many more commuter and widebody jets as well as a passenger terminal shuttle, which had to stop to let us go by.

In the lineup for departure, I laughed at the incongruity of being fifth for takeoff behind a Lufthanza Airbus, two commuter jets, and a Cirrus. But we had managed to avoid the sharks and barracudas; we hadn’t ticked off any controllers; and we’d had a great day introducing the Fun to Fly Remos to the throngs at Family Be A Pilot Day. And I now have a Class B airport entry in my logbook.

Who’s on first? Cessna wins Piper award

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

More than a little irony that the Cessna 162 Skycatcher is the winner of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Piper General Aviation Award for 2010.

And, yes, the Piper is that other major aircraft manufacturer, Piper Aircraft, and one of Cessna’s biggest competitors.

AIAA presents the Piper General Aviation Award annually for outstanding contributions leading to the advancement of general aviation. The award honors William T. Piper, Sr., who was founder and first president of Piper Aircraft Corporation.  The first recipient of the Piper General Aviation Award in 1989 was Fred Weick of the Piper Aircraft Company; you’ll recall that Weick was one of the designers of the famed PA-28 Cherokee line of products that completely modernized Piper’s fleet and soldiers on today. In fact, the PA-28 turns 50 this year. It was the Cherokee line that gave Cessna’s 100-series of airplanes a run for its money in the important training market, especially in the 1960s and 1970s.

Beyond the competitive irony of Cessna winning an award fostered by Piper, the award this year is for Cessna’s entry into the light sport category–the same year that Piper has introduced it own LSA, the Piper Sport.

What next, the Gulfstream 650 wins the Cessna award for fastest civilian aircraft? It’s no secret that Cessna’s Jack Pelton is pained losing that title to Gulfstream after the Citation X at Mach 0.92. has held it since the Concorde retired. The 650 will cruise at Mach 0.925.

Our story on the Skycatcher, titled “Fun at Mach 0.162” takes some license with that Cessna speed title.

Spotted: Cubs heading north

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

After a morning of meetings, I retrieved a voice message from my wife. She had called to report seeing five taildraggers–at least three of them Piper Cubs–heading northeast together near Frederick, Md., earlier today. “That just made my morning,” she said.

I’ll bet lunch that they are en route to Lock Haven, Penn., where the 25th annual Sentimental Journey to Cub Haven Fly-In continues through this Saturday, June 19. 

Wish I was following them. It’s a great event, and a gorgeous day. Maybe next year….

Wounded Warrior Becomes Sport Pilot

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

U.S. Marine Sgt. Michael “Bulldog” Blair successfully passed an FAA checkride Monday in the AOPA’s 2010 Sweepstakes Fun to Fly Remos GX and is now a Sport Pilot.

“I can’t believe I can finally say I’m a pilot,” Blair said after a checkride with Bill Nelson, a veteran FAA examiner based at Chester County Airport (MQS) about 35 miles west of Philadelphia, Pa. “This is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time.”

The checkride itself was the last of many hurdles Blair has overcome to accomplish his goal. Blair, 35, was severely wounded during his second combat tour in Iraq in 2006, and he is an out-patient at Walter Reed Army Medical Center near Washington, D.C.

The married father of a 4-year-old daughter began flight training in the AOPA’s Sweepstakes Remos GX in January but his progress was slowed by unprecedented winter snowfall, the airplane’s busy travel schedule, and his own participation in a series of athletic contests for wounded veterans.

After about 30 hours of dual and solo flight training, Blair successfully completed his checkride on a hot, humid day with the wind gusting to 20 knots.

Thanks to fellow AOPA staffers and to AOPA CFI Alton Marsh for joining me in guiding Bulldog through ground and flight training. He’s a smart, talented, irrepressible person who has sacrificed a great deal for his country. It’s been a pleasure and an honor to getting to know him, and he’s a great addition to our aviation community.

‘Can you hear the rain?’

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Abby Sunderland

The news this week is full of reports of 16-year-old sailor Abby Sunderland’s round-the-world solo attempt, not to mention international rescue attempts after she got lost and stranded in the Indian Ocean. Coming so closely on the heels of last month’s news that a 13-year-old boy had become the youngest to scale Mount Everest, the blogosophere is drawing connections between these kids and 7-year-old Jessica Dubroff.

Jessica, you’ll recall, died in 1996 while trying to set a record as the youngest child to fly cross-country. That quote in the title of this blog is reportedly what Jessica asked her mom over the phone, minutes before she, her CFI, and her dad took off in a heavily loaded Cessna Cardinal. They encountered bad weather and possibly wind shear before crashing shortly after takeoff in Cheyenne, Wyo.  The crash killed all three.

Jordan Romero

That was a dark day in April. I wasn’t yet working here, but I can get a sense of the tragedy from looking at our files. Then-President Phil Boyer spent hours and hours talking to television and radio news reporters and made appearances on CNN’s Larry King Live and ABC’s Good Morning America, and other staff members provided almost 100 media interviews in the 48 hours following the accident. Technical Editor Mike Collins recalls that day very well; he and AOPA Air Safety Foundation President Bruce Landsberg had been monitoring the news coverage of the Dubroffs leading up to the crash, and shared a concern–which turned out to be unfortunately well founded–that the father seemed to be in it for the publicity more than anything else.

Now we have this most recent onslaught of record-setting attempts by youngsters. Sailing around the world… climbing Mount Everest? Who or what is driving these kids? In Abby’s case, she has an 18-year-old brother who recently made the same trip. In Jordan Romero’s case, he wanted to scale seven of the highest mountains in the world, and his father was a part of the Everest climbing expedition. Still, was I the only parent who got chills watching news footage of Jordan huddled in a tent after his record-setting attempt, telling his mom he loved her by satellite phone? Recall that he still had to make the perilous descent down the mountain.

Jessica Dubroff

I’m all for teens taking on challenges that will broaden their horizons and make them stronger and more confident individuals. That includes learning to fly airplanes and gliders under the watchful eye of a good instructor.

But there’s a line somewhere, and too many children are crossing it–or being shoved over it. And for what?Fifteen minutes of fame in our 24/7 news cycle? A possible reality TV show on a basic cable TV network? (Yeah, I’m looking at you, Richard Heene.)  Let kids be kids until they can’t be kids any longer. They will have their entire lives to set the world on fire.