Archive for September, 2010
If the link to the AOPA video doesn’t work, go to this URL:
The mission was to find out whether the “Straight & Level” button in Avidyne’s new DFC90 autopilot could really recover from unusual attitudes. Steve Jacobson, an Avidyne engineering executive and former U.S. Air Force test pilot, was so confident in the new technology that he gave me the keys to the Experimental-category Cirrus SR22TN-G3 the company uses for a test bed and urged me to put it in any attitude I wanted, push the S&L button, and see what happened. (Most autopilots are only tested to 30 degrees of pitch and 60 degrees of roll.)
The next 90 minutes of flying were a long series of rolling, looping, and spiraling maneuvers that stood in stark contrast to the my previous Cirrus hours in which I had stayed as close to the middle of the flight envelope as possible. The aerobatic flight also was challenging because it required letting go of the flight controls during aggressive maneuvering. The sights, sounds, and sensations of the aerobatic maneuvers themselves were thoroughly familiar, but the act of handing over control to a inanimate autopilot while the airplane was upside-down went against all of my instincts and training. In all cases, however, the Cirrus and the S&L button performed brilliantly and my confidence in them grew throughout this eye-opening flight.
Avidyne has said the combination of its attitude-based DFC90 autopilot and the air-data computer that powers its Entegra primary flight display will serve as the technology foundation for many future innovations. I look forward to seeing what they come up with next . . .
To watch the video:
Anyway, check out this video of a worker climbing a 1,768-foot transmission tower. I promise to never again take tower lights for granted.
I lifted off under the dark, starry sky, admiring the splotches of city lights and a few patches of fog floating by underneath. I kept my eyes peeled to the horizon though, not wanting to miss a minute of the sunrise. This would be my first sunrise from a GA aircraft (like I mentioned, I’m not an early riser). The dark sky slowly lightened at the horizon, the colors changing from a dark blue-grey to a bright orange, the sun quickly rising from a sliver to a bright blazing ball. As the sun continued to rise, the reds and oranges faded into light blue.
With the first of my anticipated excitements for the day behind me, my thoughts drifted to the Wings ’n Wheels Old ’n New event at Wings Field (the birthplace of AOPA) where I was flying AOPA’s 2010 Sweepstakes Remos GX to be on display. The event served as a fundraiser for Angel Flight East. There, I would experience another first—being a food tasting judge.
The “Wings Gozilla Cookoff” featured restaurants from the local area: Lee’s Hoagie House, P.J. Whelihan’s, Phil’s Tavern, Whitpain Tavern, and Michael’s Restaurant (if you ever fly into Wings Field, definitely check out one of these restaurants for lunch or dinner). Attendees bought tickets to taste the wings and vote on their favorite (50 cents bought one voting ticket and one wing). All of the proceeds were donated to Angel Flight East. Four lucky attendees, including myself, judged the wings based on their taste, aroma, tenderness, and overall quality, although after tasting the wings, I think “eye watering” should have been added to the scorecard. Crackers, celery, and water allowed us to “cleanse our palates” between wings. After a few wings, though, my lips never stopped tingling from the spices! One of my top picks, the wings from Lee’s Hoagie House, made it into one of the winning categories. (I was so inspired after tasting the wings that I later attempted to make my own. “Extra crispy/slightly burned” would needed to have been added as a category to judge mine. At least now I know the batteries in my smoke detectors still work.)
But the highlight of the day, by far, came from the pilots, Angel Flight East volunteers, AOPA members, and aviation enthusiasts who stopped by AOPA’s Remos GX (see “Nonpilot magnet”). Pilots who have flown around the world, evacuated families in advance of an approaching hurricane, or transported a baby for cancer treatments shared their love for aviation and for the mission of Angel Flight East with more than 3,000 visitors. For the visitors that day, there was no misperception that GA aircraft were “toys for the rich.” It was clear that these pilots focused on the families they had helped and the future missions they would fly.
To all volunteer pilots—Angel Flight East and other organizations—thank you for your testament to GA and, more importantly, for your service.
During Labor Day weekend, I took up my youngest passenger, Sara Moore, a sixth grader in Reedy, W.Va., a rural farming community where I grew up. My dad had made sure that he put plenty of sick sacks in the pilot side pouch of his Cessna 172… just in case.
After walking Sara through a pre-flight, briefly explaining how the Cessna 172 worked, and talking through the passenger briefing and runup, I had one final piece of advice: Let me know if her stomach started to feel queasy.
Once we were about 300 feet in the air on the climbout from Jackson County Airport, soaring above the trees and the snaking Ohio River, Sara looked out at the clear blue sky—zero haze and 50 miles visibility—and then back at me, with her brown eyes wide open and a grin spreading from ear to ear, and said, “It feels good!” I knew I wouldn’t have to reach for those sick sacks on this flight!
Sara recorded video and photographed the West Virginia foothills, her house, and the elementary school. Then, I asked if she wanted to fly. After a bit of hesitation, I offered to fly with her for a while until she felt comfortable. A few climbs, descents, and gentle banks later, I slowly moved my hand from the control wheel unbeknownst to her.
She’s a natural pilot! Soon, I was taking pictures of her flying straight and level and letting her navigate toward the airport, using a powerplant in the distance as her aiming point. She flew for about 10 minute before asking me to fly so that she could take more pictures. After landing, she gave me a Silly Bandz—in the shape of a jet, no less—as a thank you for the flight. (Now I feel really cool—they are the most popular trading item among students.)
When asked the favorite part of her flight, she was speechless—understandable for seeing your home and town from the air for the first time.
I’ve always loved flying, building camaraderie with fellow pilots, and tackling new certificates and ratings. But nothing compares to the feeling of giving someone his or her first experience in the air or in a GA airplane. Flying is truly a gift, and those first flights are some of the best gifts I’ve ever given to people: It feels good!
Foster is the 17-year-old Maryland pilot who departed on a flight from his home state to California on Aug. 23. Flying a 1975 Super Cub that he helped to restore, he was considerably wet behind the ears–he’d taken his checkride the previous Thursday. But, according to Childs Walkers’ blog for the Baltimore Sun, Nate made out just fine, and I was glad to read that he sought out the advice of more experienced pilots all along his route.
As a parent, whenever I come across young people like Nate, my heart is always in my throat at the thought of what they’re about to attempt. As a pilot, I’m proud when their pioneering spirits see them safely through to the other side.