Archive for November, 2010

CBS, Dick Rutan and the Barefoot Bandit

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

You read about Colton Harris-Moore, the infamous 19-year-old better known as the “Barefoot Bandit”—and the five airplanes he stole—in the November issue of AOPA Pilot.

Tonight he’s the subject of 48 Hours Mystery: Chasing the Barefoot Bandit, which will be broadcast by CBS at 10 Eastern and Pacific. The show tracked Harris-Moore’s escapades over a six-month period.

Dick Rutan helped film the episode. The show wanted a Cessna Corvalis for some aerial scenes, and Mark Smith—a cameraman who also is an instrument-rated pilot—found Rutan’s. Rutan agreed to help and even choreographed a takeoff that was shot from a car beside the Corvalis on the active runway.

“I had a great day filming with the crew,” Rutan said afterward.

Harris-Moore’s last flight, which ended with a crash landing in the Bahamas shortly before his arrest in July, was in a Cessna Corvalis 400 stolen from John Miller of Bloomington, Indiana. If you miss the broadcast Saturday night, it’s available through iTunes.

Wonderful Waco

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

As the final hours of the AOPA Foundation’s A Night for Flight auction wind down, the one who ends up with the highest bid on the custom-made Waco YMF-5D biplane will be one lucky pilot.
Waco biplane
I had the opportunity to fly the 300-horsepower Waco that’s on display at AOPA Aviation Summit with AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Dave Hirschman before he ferried it to California. We flew Serial No. 46, but it looked brand new. LED lights and a Garmin moving map display add a modern touch to the classic aircraft. But the details of the leather-lined open cockpit, wooden tipped control stick, and leather pouch for charts and other pilot supplies made me feel as if I were flying the aircraft right after it came off the line years ago.

The Waco is the first tailwheel that I’ve taxied in which I needed to do S-turns along the taxiway because I couldn’t see in front of me. I was probably a little overzealous in my rudder control on those turns, as I felt more like I was doing aerobic exercises, going from full left rudder deflection to full right rudder deflection. (I think Dave was just so happy to be giving time in the Waco to a low-time pilot that he didn’t mind the huge turns I was making…as he didn’t say a word.)

Takeoff was amazing. I watched as Dave barreled down the centerline, or what I presume was the centerline since we had the same amount of runway and grass on either side of the aircraft. As he lifted the tail, I could see over the nose and feel the air rushing before we lifted off. About 300 feet agl, Dave handed the controls back to me and we flew to a nearby practice area where I performed steep turns, stalls, a lazy 8, and a loop (as Dave walked me through it). And with that, sadly, it was time to return to the airport.

As we flew back, I couldn’t help but pretend I was a barnstorming pilot flying over the Mid-Atlantic fields near our home base in Frederick, Md. My years of dreaming of flying in an open-cockpit biplane had finally come true, and it was everything—perhaps more—that I had dreamed it would be. In fact, it wasn’t until Dave had landed and we turned off on the taxiway that I remembered I had my camera with me the entire time to document the flight. Pictures from the ground will have to suffice, but I have a feeling I won’t soon forget that flight. Judging by how long I smiled after that flight, it ranks close to my first solo.

I hope whoever wins the custom-made Waco in the A Night for Flight Auction enjoys flying the classic as much as I did! For a taste of what it’s like, watch this video created by the Recreational Aviation Foundation.

A state of transition

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Unless you regularly attend industry conventions, you may not have an appreciation for how much goes on behind the scenes and in advance to make them a success. Even after 25 years of going to aviation conventions, I am amazed seeing the transition from cavernous, empty exhibit hall to bustling center of commerce over the course of usually only a couple of days.

AOPA Aviation Summit is no different. Today the exhibit hall is abuzz with cranes, fork lifts, and workers hanging signs, lights, and displays; and laying carpet. Tomorrow the exhibitors arrive and with the help of hundreds of contract workers, they will set up 450 booth from small 10X10 displays to massive booths that seemingly need their own zip code.

Meanwhile, out at the Long Beach Airport, preparations are underway to position dozens of display aircraft and park hundreds of member airplanes. Look for our 2010 Fun to Fly Remos on site (and a very special announcement Friday morning on AOPA Live) and our 2011 Crossover Classic Cessna 182 with its macho TCM IO-550 engine.

The weather is terrific and is forecast to stay that way. I hope to see you at the show!

Long way to Long Beach

Monday, November 8th, 2010

Dave Hirschman and Waco at Bullfrog Airport in Utah

The first time I ever saw a Waco Classic biplane, the mere sight of round-engine aircraft conjured up a recurring fantasy involving summertime cross-country flights and sleeping under the wings at night.

The recently concluded “Long Way to Long Beach” trip in a Waco YMF-5D far surpassed anything my limited imagination could have dreamed up. The sights, sounds, and sensations of a low-level, coast-to-coast biplane trip were thrilling to the core–and the people AOPA staff photographer Chris Rose and I met along the way were gracious, friendly, and incredibly welcoming to a pair of warmly dressed strangers.

And it wasn’t our magnetic personalities that won them over. Simply showing up in a rumbling, nostalgic airplane like the Waco brings out the best in fellow aviators. They offered tips for navigating mountainous terrain, ATC, as well as meals, transportation, and accommodations.

Our challenges were limited to predictable things such as numbing cold over the Appalachians, crosswinds and thunderstorms in the Plains, high density altitudes in the Southwest, and turbulence over the desert. But even at those uncomfortable moments, Rose and I were glad to be where we were. We’re incredibly fortunate to have had such an opportunity, and the deck always seemed stacked in our favor. The airplane ran perfectly from a mechanical standpoint during the entire 20-plus flying hours it took to cover 2,300 nautical miles; the weather was clear almost the entire trip and provided rare tailwinds going west on day one; and the technology (Garmin 430 and 696 with satellite weather, SPOT tracker, and IFR instrumentation.) provided tremendous situational awareness and peace of mind.

Some low-tech gear also proved essential, namely wool socks, a neck gaiter, and foam earplugs.

For a flatland flier like me, the mountains provided the jaw-dropping highlights–and the splendor of following the Colorado River and the canyon contours it’s carved from Moab, Utah, to Page, Ariz., at daylight was beyond description. The fall colors and foggy river valleys of West Virginia, the seemingly endless Plains, and the imposing mountains and canyons of the Four Corners also left their mark before we reached our destination on the blue Pacific.

The Recreational Aviation Foundation, especially its president, John McKenna, was a valuable ally. McKenna provided contacts, places to stay, steaks, beer, and elk sausages, and flew his Cessna 185 with the door off as a photo platform on two spectacular flights above the incomparable canyons of southern Utah.

This inspiring, exhausting, and completely unforgettable flying adventure is drawing to a close for Rose and me. But it’s just beginning for the AOPA “A Night for Flight” auction winner who takes home a brand new Waco Classic.

It’s just the start of what’s sure to be an incredible journey.

Fuel stops:
Clermont County Airport, Batavia, Ohio, I69
Jefferson City Airport, Jefferson City, Missouri, KJEF
Col. James Jabara Airport, Wichita, Kansas, KAAO
Dalhart Airport, Dalhart, Texas, KDHT
Mid-Valley Airpark, Las Lunas, New Mexico, E98
Cortez Airport, Cortez, Colorado, KCEZ
Canyonlands Field Airport, Moab, Utah, KCNY
Bullfrog Basin Airport, Glen Canyon, Utah, U07
Kingman Airport, Kingman, Arizona, KIMG
Santa Paula Airport, Santa Paula, California, KSZP

2,300 NM
Average speed: 105 knots
Flight time: 22 hours, 30 minutes
Fuel consumption: 320 gallons (14.8 gph)
Oil consumption: three gallons

Will your next Skyhawk be electric?

Friday, November 5th, 2010

Will you have to add “charge batteries” to the preflight checklist for your Cessna 172? Maybe someday, if George Bye of Denver and his Bye Aerospace are successful.

His goal is to develop–and get FAA certification for–an electric propulsion system for the venerable Cessna 172. Performance would be about the same as its piston-powered predecessors, but you’d have to land every two hours for a charge. That might be workable in the training environment but presents a challenge if you’re looking to cover some ground with a long cross-country.

His idea is the subject of a lengthy video interview, produced Nov. 3 by EV World, a website focused on sustainable transportation. The interview was conducted over the Internet using Skype.

Crab and (not) slip — In a 787

Friday, November 5th, 2010

A Boeing 787 Dreamliner conducts crosswind landing tests in unfriendly winds (it goes OK, by the way). Notice the degree of crab used to maintain the centerline, and that the pilot never touches down on the upwind gear first. If he did, he would bash the engine into the runway. So it becomes, instead of the familiar crab-and-slip method, the crab and (not) slip method. Did I find this YouTube video all by myself? Nope. It was in the FlightAware newsletter.

Long Way to Long Beach

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

My innate skepticism is usually well founded when it comes to aviation matters.
When things are going too right, on a long cross-country trip, for example, it’s time to be suspicious. Some complication is lurking, and everything that goes right is just a set-up for the eventual challenge to come.

But Day One of the “Long Way to Long Beach” Waco flight from Maryland to AOPA Aviation Summit in California was notable because it went so smoothly.

Chris Rose and I departed on time into a pink dawn and sailed over the Appalachian Mountains VFR at 4,500 feet. The autumn leaves, a few weeks past their peak, were still gorgeous, an fog filled the craggy and jagged river valleys. We were both dressed for cold weather — but with an OAT of 25 degrees F, it wasn’t enough. despite thick socks and double gloves, my feet got numb and I held my hand in fists to keep them warm.
Also, the microphone muff on my headset blew away from the constant wind. The problem was quickly solved during our first fuel stop at Clermont County Airport, home of Sporty’s Pilot Shop, where I bought a couple of replacements, warmed up with a cup of coffee, and pressed on with a full tank of fuel.

Our next leg took us within view of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and then to a fuel stop at Jefferson City, Mo. Surprisingly, we enjoyed a rare tailwind flying west as long as we stayed below 3,500 agl. And the tailwind strengthened on the final leg of the day to Wichita, Kan.

Track our progress.