Archive for July, 2010

You WILL go to the Dominican Republic

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Dominican Republic tourism officials have worked the world to attract tourists, and are seeing results. But not from American private pilots. For years they have appeared at press conferences at aviation trade shows and air shows,  but find few journalists waiting to hear their message. You’d think they might get discouraged. But not this year at Oshkosh. They simply multiplied their numbers and reinforced their message. They are not going away. It’s 650 nm from Florida to the Dominican Republic, and you can island hop all the way. It can be done in six to eight hours by the average small piston-engine aircraft. It is obvious that our failure to go will only increase their efforts. You might as well go. After all, the Dominican Republic has it all. I just  heard that at their press conference. Twenty seven golf courses, beaches that stretch uninterrupted 40 miles..oops, sorry, I’ve become one of them.

The sound of 48 radial engines

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Arrived in Oshkosh last night after covering the DC-3 fly-in held last weekend at Sterling, Illinois. It was a fantastic event–yes, there will be a story in a future issue of AOPA Pilot–but the most memorable aspect was watching two dozen DC-3s and C-47s fly overhead yesterday afternoon on their way to Oshkosh.

Did you happen to hear that music as they arrived at AirVenture, or perhaps as they passed overhead somewhere along the way?

It was a concert that I would love to hear again, but nothing like that is on the schedule–and such a gathering may never take place again. If you missed it, there’s a slide show on AOPA Online.

Let the Games Begin . . .

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

Preparations for tomorrow’s EAA AirVenture 2010 opening are in full swing with an unimaginable assortment of aviation hardware arriving at KOSH and being made ready for display.
Everything from new concept aircraft such as the pre-prototype Cobalt are here along with a U.S. Air Force Global Hawk UAV and vintage airplanes dating back to the first decade of the 20th Century. Several Kestrel turboprops are here following the news that Cirrus founder Alan Klapmeier will be leading the now-Experimental composite aircraft through FAA certification and production.
So far, the news about the big show has been heavy rain in the weeks leading up to AirVenture that have saturated the ground. But crews have been working overtime to pump the water away, the sun has been shining for 36 hours, and the campgrounds are expected to be ready on opening day.
Vendors are here in force ready to show off a dizzying variety of new products. AOPA’s Big Yellow Tent is up, and the AOPA Live TV studio is ready to record interviews with some of the biggest names and most interesting personalities in aviation. The AOPA’s 2010 Fun to Fly Remos GX is on display, and there’s still time to get in on the drawing before the highly capable LSA is awarded to its new owner in November.

Airplane becomes a scooter

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

This year’s hot ticket discovery at Oshkosh may be the airplane that converts into a scooter. You can place an order for one. I call it a scooter-plane, but the manufacturer prefers the name Plane Driven PD-1. Follow its progress on Twitter. Or, you can read comments on a blog about it here.

If you are going to EAA AirVenture, go to the new EAA Homebuilders Hangar at 8:15 a.m. Monday morning, July 26, and you’ll see it.

There is an extra 80 hp engine between the wheels, and the wheels are larger for use on the road. Due to center of gravity issues, the wheels need to be slide back to the tail on rails. The wings are then folded and you hop back into the pilot’s seat and drive away, using a steerable nosewheel. Be careful when parking, because one ding means a trip back to an authorized aircraft mechanic.

As this was written, the scooter-plane was at 9,000 feet on its way to Oshkosh for EAA AirVenture 2010. Is this cool or what?

Flying in the U.K.

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Fox Cutter of Redmond, Washington, is a pilot after my own heart. On a recent vacation to the United Kingdom, he took some time while visiting the city of Cardiff to locate the airport there and find a flight instructor to take him up. (Fox is a student pilot who’s getting close to checkride time.) I asked him to share his impressions of flying “over there,” and here’s what he had to say:

“There was a couple interesting things I noticed that might catch up pilots from the U.S. The first thing was the way pressure was measured; it’s in millibars instead of inches. You’ll see this on the METAR with a Q notation and it’s also listed in the ATIS, but not quite how you expect it. There are actually two pressure measures: QNH and QFE.

“QNH is the setting for sea level, it’s just like you would get in an ATIS over here. QFE is where you might have trouble, this is the pressure setting for your altitude over the airport. As the highest airport in Britain is about 700 feet, the use of QFE is a convenience, it lets you land at zero. You might be tempted to ignore this, you’re used to landing at every elevation so it’s natural for you, do not do that.

“Many of the altitudes for VFR approaches are based on QFE. If you don’t know this you can find yourself flying two or three hundred feet lower than you should be.

“The second thing that might catch up a U.S. pilot is how they used their airspace. The airspace classes are the same over here, but they aren’t used in the same way. There is no Class B airspace. Class F sneaks in around the north parts of the country, and you’ll encounter Class A airspace all over.

“The biggest piece of Class A airspace is around London Heathrow itself and it goes all the way to the surface, the floor rises as you expand out from there. All the main corridors around Britain are also Class A. Once you get away from London they have a pretty high floor, but they can still sneak down in some places. There was one section of Class A just north of Cardiff that started at 5,500 feet. Because of this it’s even more important to become familiar with the local airspace.

“Sadly there is no good way to view the relevant aeronautical charts online, so make sure to pick one up at your airport and doublecheck your planned altitude if you get anywhere near close to Class A.”

So there you have it–your ground school course in flying in the United Kingdom. Thanks, Fox, for sharing this and providing the photo of Cardiff Airport (EGFF). You can follow Fox on Twitter (@foxcutter).

Sport Pilot Exceeds 120 Knots

Friday, July 16th, 2010

As a brand-new Sport Pilot, U.S. Marine Sgt. Michael Blair has been limited to a top speed of 120 knots while learning to fly the AOPA’s 2010 “Fun to Fly” Remos GX Light Sport Aircraft.
But there was no such speed limit on July 4 when Blair flew as a passenger in an aerobatic L-39 Jet with airshow team Vandy1.
Blair, an Iraq combat veteran who was severely wounded in 2006, got to ride through loops, rolls, half-Cuban eights and other high-G maneuvers at speeds of more than 300 knots. Pat “Villain” Marsh was PIC, and Vandy1 is a supporter of the Wounded Warrior Project, a charity designed to benefit injured veterans.
“They were taking bets on the ground about whether I’d get sick during the flight,” said Blair, 35. “But I felt great. I could have stayed up there all day if they’d had enough jet fuel.”

Blair is shown here with wife Delissa and daughter Bella, 4.

Riding the wake on a Rotax

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Flying photography formation flights for our magazines and Web sites teaches our formation pilots a lot about wake turbulence. A recent experience on a “personal watercraft,” (aka, PWC, such as JetSki or SeaDoo), gave me new appreciation for wake turbulence in 2-D. The consequences in the air, however, can be more challenging. Fortunately, most of the time the airplanes we fly in formation with to get the images and videos you enjoy in our media properties are of similar size so catching some wake isn’t usually a huge ordeal.

More than once while flying “subject” for these missions, (in other words, in-trail behind the airplane carrying the photographer), I’ve slipped a little too far toward the six o’clock position and been caught in the photo ship’s wake. In that position, the ailerons momentarily become less effective and you feel like you’re being sucked into a position directly behind the lead airplane with little ability to get out. It’s a passing feeling, often fixed with a kick of the rudder to get out of the wake. I’ve noticed that T-tail or cruciform tail airplanes in the lead are the worst for generating annoying wake.

Of course, shaking it up with larger airplanes near the ground on take off or landing or in trail on approach is a much bigger deal that occasionally causes accidents. The AOPA Air Safety Foundation has numerous electronic aids to help you understand wake turbulence, including an online quiz and online articles.

Riding a PWC this week on Deep Creek Lake in western Maryland, I found the craft being sucked into the wake of boats when riding parallel to the wake, as we do when flying in formation. The result was a rolling motion that seemed to take control of the PWC, making me feel as if I were along for the ride. Turning to cross the wake at 90 degrees led to a more thrilling, jolting ride, but one where I felt more in control.

There’s another interesting parallel between PWCs and aviation. Among the leading brands of PWCs is SeaDoo, which is manufactured by a division of Bombardier, which also makes Challenger business jets; another division of Bombardier makes Rotax engines, which are used in the SeaDoo PWCs. Similar models of Rotax engines are the powerplant of choice for today’s new generation of light sport aircraft, including one that you can win–our 2010 Fun to Fly Sweepstakes Remos GX.

It had been several years since I last rode a PWC. I was impressed by the new Rotax-powered craft and others with how they had switched from noisier, dirtier two-stroke engines to quieter, smoother, and less polluting four-stroke versions. It’s clear a lot of progress has been made in engine technology for LSAs and PWCs. Anyone who hasn’t flown behind a Rotax in the last few years doesn’t understand how important these new engines have become to aviation and the improved reliability over earlier versions of the engines. Our nearly year-long experience with the Rotax in the Remos has been nearly trouble-free. Undoubtedly the high volume of engines produced for the rough-and-tumble PWC world has helped improve the reliability of our aviation engines.

25 years and counting

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

My friend Dan took note of a date last week. “It occurred to me this morning that 25 years ago today I took my private pilot checkride.”

With only nine years under my belt, I was curious about the changes he’s seen in a quarter-century of flying, and so I asked. And he didn’t hesitate. “Technology, of course. Cost increases. Complicated new layers of certification and regulation–most of it intended to make things simpler.” (Is this ringing anyone’s bell?)

But Dan was just getting started.

“Putting someone in the pilot seat and giving him or her (especially her) an intro flight is still one of the most fun things I can do. Landing an airplane is next.”

“My next takeoff will be just as thrilling as my first one was.”

“My being a CFI in a rural area taught the wolf how to open the door.” (Is that a Maine-ism? I should have asked.)

“Lots of changes [in the regs] such as the shortening of the ritual long x-c. I don’t think that was a good idea. Nor was the reduction in total solo time. I think those changes must have been drafted by a government lawyer taking flying lessons.” But, “Maybe the changes in instrument flying requirements were good.”

“If you can fly a good NDB approach you can do anything. Be sad that you don’t have to anymore.”

“GPS is obviously immensely helpful (but subject to abuse because it shuts down the pilot’s brain). Access to internet weather and airport info and images is great, as is computer-based flight planning.”

“I remain aware how little the general public understands GA and how deeply entrenched are the preconceived notions about aviation in the public and mass media, despite all we have done to ‘educate’ them. But of course everyone is clamoring for the public’s attention.”

“Distracted driving could be almost eliminated if drivers had to worry about examiners introducing ‘realistic distractions’ on their road tests.”

“Want to get more people flying? ‘It’s the economy, stupid.'”

What changes–good or bad–have you seen since you started flying? I’d love to hear from you in the Comments section.