Archive for October, 2010

Cri-Cri, avec photo

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

A while ago I did a post about our upcoming Cri-Cri article. And several of you called me out for not posting a picture of this mini-twin. So here you go! Clear prop!

Cri-Cri, pret a taxi

Your Dreamliner is ready

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

I just did a video at the most recent NBAA convention of the ultra-plush private ride, a stretch Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Avionics Overkill

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

I used to fly aerobatic airplanes at airshows and confess to a certain love/hate relationship with the whole endeavor.
The low-level airshow flying was exhilarating – but cross-country trips in extremely range-limited VFR airplanes were downright scary. A stronger-than-unanticipated headwind, a deviation around a thunderstorm, or a low stratus cloud layer required making rapid decisions with potentially severe consequences.

Even though I don’t fly airshows anymore, the searing experiences of having been stuck on top of clouds, scud running, racing darkness, or stretching fuel reserves made an impression. When I had an opportunity this year to transform the instrument panel of my single-seat RV-3, I went ahead and did it – even though the maneuverable little sport plane was never meant for flying in clouds.
The project added a Garmin G3X PFD/MFD; an SL30 nav-comm radio; a GTX 330 transponder; AeroLED lights, and a TCW standby battery.

It’s avionics overkill – and putting avionics worth $20,000 in a sport airplane with an insurance value of $35,000 is financially dubious. But the new panel (designed and installed by Avionics Systems LLC) has safety tools that combat the main pilot killers: weather, traffic, and terrain. And instead of adding weight, the airplane is actually a few pounds lighter now that the clunky electro-mechanical gauges are gone.

Flying approaches with synthetic vision is much like VFR flying in that you “see” the airport at 10 miles, and the GPS-derived representation of the runway is in view from the final approach fix to touchdown.

I never intend to fly this airplane in low-IFR conditions. But it sure is comforting to know that clouds, complex airspace, and darkness aren’t nearly as intimidating as they used to be.

Look for the full story about the panel transformation in the December issue of AOPA Pilot magazine.

For the joy of flight

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

As I soaked up the changing autumn leaves during a leisure flight before work this week, I couldn’t help but reflect on the freedoms we enjoy flying in the United States. I woke up early, drove to the airport, performed a pre-flight, and listened to the ATIS before departing Frederick for a short, local flight. Visibility was unrestricted, and the winds were calm. I didn’t need to call flight service for a briefing or file a flight plan. I didn’t need to worry about being denied access to the airspace that morning.

Alexander during a test flight.

My thoughts turned to two pilots I met in Russia a few months ago during a mission trip. Alexander and Nikoli have been flying since the 1970s and are part of a flying club in Ryazan (just south of Moscow) that builds aircraft and has an aerial application operation. They build the Mikc500 (pronounced Mix), a part composite, part metal aircraft powered by a 100 horsepower Rotax engine and equipped with a ballistic parachute. Alexander performs the test flights.

He is a former military pilot with more than 10,000 hours and has flown the Tupolev 95. Nikoli, a civilian pilot, has more than 14,000 hours and has flown cargo, aerial applicators, and crews of geologists to northern Russia. But to have so much flight experience, both have to undergo a 24-hour process now every time they want to fly.

They must submit an application for their flight 24 hours in advance. Then, they call to see if the application has been received. They call again two hours in advance of the flight to see if they have been granted permission to fly. They’ve been denied many times. If their flight is approved, the calls don’t stop there. They must call every hour in addition to announcing their departure and landing times. They have to do this every time they fly.

Nikoli explaining how they build their aircraft.

I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d still be flying if I had to go through that process day after day. Then, Nikoli explained to me why he keeps flying, “It’s a kind of drug.” Alexander added that “after the stress of earth, it is relaxing” to be in the air. When they can’t be in the air, building aircraft serves as a release. “Making our own airplanes brings us joy,” Alexander told me, adding that it is exciting but scary during those first test flights. But how many times had their anticipation of a test flight been delayed because their application for a flight was denied?

However, as we continued to talk (with the help of an interpreter), I noticed the same familiar bond that I have with other pilots in the United States who don’t face these same restrictions day in and day out. The twinkle in their eyes as they talked about flying made me realize that, if I had to, I would endure those same hardships for the same reason they do…for the joy of flight. I’d venture to say that many pilots, worldwide, are the same. Once we’ve tasted flight, we can’t turn back or give up.

Europe hates GA, apparently

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

I’ve written extensively in the past about European GA, and why Europeans come to the United States to earn their pilot certificates. Why? Because it’s infinitely less expensive and streamlined–compared to the onerous, bloated, and punishingly expensive European path to certificate-hood. You thought Euro-user fees were bad? How about spending $15,000 to get a private pilot certificate across the pond?

Now, a new European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) proposal would end all that. No more reciprocation between the US and Europe, goes the plan. You might be able to get European validation of your U.S. pilot certificate right now. But in two years, if you want to fly in Europe you’ll have to earn one of their certificates. It would mean the end of a long, happy (until now) tradition of US–and European!–pilots flying GA aircraft for vacation and business purposes in Europe.

But wait, there’s more! EASA wants to rid the European Community of N-registered airplanes too. Soon, the common practice of Euro-pilots registering their airplanes with a US N-number will end if the proposals go through. Europeans realize considerable savings by flying airplanes with an “N-reg.” Lord knows they need to save as much as they can if GA flying is to continue, what with $20-per-touchdown landing fees and $8 per gallon fuel costs.

The impetus for all this xenophobic regulatory activity? Why, to garner more fees and pump up an already-Byzantine regulatory culture. Thanks to all those centuries of Kings, Queens, Lords, Barons, Viceroys, Dukes, “vons,” and landed gentry, Europeans seem not able to shake the inclination to submit to the state.

Pilot und Flugzeug, a German aviation magazine, has posted three scenarios on the potential outcome of the EASA proposals. Here’s a link to editor Jan Brill’s musings on the impact:

As always, IAOPA and AOPA-US are on top of this issue. Let’s hope that this trans-Atlantic GA force rises to the task. Europe–well, EASA anyway–seems to hate GA. Let’s not turn the other cheek.

The Cri-Cri: “Nickel-chrome”

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

Last weekend I was up visiting the Pendleton, Ontario, Canada airport. A friend there, David Smith, owns a Cri-Cri–claimed to be the smallest twin-engine airplane in the world, and we made photos and videos of this remarkable airplane. Look for a story about the Cri-Cri in an upcoming issue of AOPA Pilot–complete with web components featuring in-cockpit views of Cri-Cri aerobatics.

Pendleton used to be a World War II training base, but the Canadian government sold the airport to the 100-member Gatineau Gliding Club and now it’s a very nice airport community. Cabins, mobile homes, a clubhouse with in-ground swimming pool–it’s all there, nestled among the birches and pines of this rural site.

Photographer Chris Rose and I stayed in Smith’s house at Pendleton. In the 1940s it used to be the base commander’s residence. But last weekend it was home to Smith’s family and a visitor from Montreal–Francois Bougie. Bougie flew his Swift to Pendleton to watch us work gathering images for the story.

It’s easy to be taken in by the Cri-Cri. It’s cute on the ground, but can be aggressive in the air. As the videos will show. Bougie’s enthusiasm came with a Quebecois twist. Like most who live in Quebec, his patter could switch instantly from English to French-Canadian. Ditto Smith. I envy them this rapid-fire bilinguality.

Rose was all over the place taking his photos and videos. At one point he got on the roof of a hangar to get a straight-down shot of the Cri-Cri. Bougie was with him. When he saw the shot played back in Rose’s viewfinder, he exclaimed, “C’est du Nickel-Chrome, la!”

Say what? Smith and I were baffled by this phrase (it means, well, nickel-chrome, but is pronounced–no, shouted–with a heavy French accent). Turns out “nickel-chrome” is a popular phrase among the youth of Quebec. It means “super-duper,” “top notch,” “most excellent,” etc.

You guessed it, the phrase caught on. Soon, it was nickel-chrome this or that. Now it’s an in-joke among the dozen or so who watched the photo shoot. When you see the article and imagery, maybe you, too, will be moved to blurt out “nickel-chrome!” and flick away an imaginary cigarette with the mock disdain of  a French-Canadian imitating a Frenchman from the continent.

‘Tailwind’: Up and away

Monday, October 4th, 2010

As balloonists from around the world gather at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico to compete and show off their balloons to hundreds of thousands of spectators, I can’t help but feel a longing to be a part of the magic with mass ascensions and night glows.

I recently experienced my first balloon flight with AOPA Pilot Information Center Aviation Technical Specialist Patrick Smith and his instructor, Ron Broderick of West Friendship, Md. Patrick, who recently invested in a hot air balloon (Tailwind), initially became interested in ballooning when he and other AOPA staff assisted Broderick, who was incorrectly hit with a Maryland “amusement tax.”

Burner test

Photos by Bob Knill

The first major adjustment in my introduction to ballooning was the new definition of “windy.” Patrick would repeatedly check the winds and keep his trusty crew—other AOPA colleagues who didn’t mind a pre-dawn wakeup—informed. In ballooning, 7 knots is windy (quite a shock to someone who thinks 20 knots is windy, and I’m sure that is mild to a lot of other pilots). However, 7 knots is the maximum wind limit, which makes sense when you consider how even a light wind of a couple knots can move a hot air balloon.

“Preflight” was the next big eye-opener. As a handful of us sat the basket out of the trailer and stretched out the envelope, Patrick followed a checklist and then began testing the burners. All it took was a sudden burst of heat coupled with a loud gushing sound to kick in my fight or flight responses. Once I was back from the basket about 20 feet, I looked up to see the burner shooting a wall of fire 10 feet in the air. The adrenaline rush compares to nothing of the preflight actions on a piston single!

As we began cold filling the envelope with a fan, I immediately felt like a kid at the circus, especially when I got to walk around inside with the colorful balloon expanding around me.

But none of these experiences compared to the moment we lifted off from the ground, and our support crew gave us little nudge. Floating silently over the terrain I’d flown over hundreds of times in single-engine aircraft revealed an entirely new perspective. I could see the details of the leaves in the bean crops, reach out and grab a walnut from the top of a tree, watch sheep run across a hill, and, best of all, talk to people on the ground as they waved and shouted while we passed by slowly overhead.

Interestingly, ballooning requires a great deal of pre-planning. Not just noting the winds and selecting the appropriate launch site, but even while airborne. Balloons have an eight-second lag in response time, so bursts of gas from the burners need to be timed properly to fly over an obstacle or plan a smooth touchdown.

Since that first flight, I’ve helped crew for another one of Patrick’s balloon lessons. He and his instructor landed in an elementary school yard, giving students and teachers the opportunity to talk to the balloon crew and watch the envelope being deflated.

Based on my limited experience with ballooning, the magic of floating beneath a giant balloon seems to bring out the best of all involved, from the pilots to the ground crew to the spectators, land owners, and neighbors on the ground. Those who might complain about aircraft flying overhead say nothing as a hot air balloon floats by–even with bursts of gas from the burners–or lands on their property. And I realized, what a great way to introduce the public to general aviation.

Whether we fly fixed-wing aircraft, a helicopter, glider, jet, or hot air balloon, we all experience something magical—the gift of flight. And it’s a gift we need to share with others. The magic is too awesome to contain.

You can’t get out of there for here

Monday, October 4th, 2010

Ever tried to get out of Teterboro, New Jersey–or anywhere else–on a busy weekday afternoon, when you’re likely to be issued an estimated start engines time?

Business-jet pilot Mike Wagner has. The talented musician has used some of that wait time to write a song and produce a video, which can be seen on YouTube, in which he parodies the Beach Boys’ classic “Kokomo” with lyrics like these:

“Ooo, I wanna get you out of Teterboro
We wanna leave
But they won’t let us go
Just heard on the radio
We’re stuck in Teterboro.”

If you’re a pilot who’s ever had to wait anywhere, this 3:44 video should be guaranteed to make you laugh.

The video can be seen in high definition on Facebook (Facebook login required).

Helicopter gets dunked

Friday, October 1st, 2010

You’ve heard about this one,  but in case you haven’t seen it yet, two U.S. Navy helicopters tried to hover over Lake Tahoe. One made it, one didn’t and went into the drink. It pulled itself out and flew to an airport slightly damaged. Other crews were sent to recover the helicopters. Here’s the link: