Archive for March, 2011

How low should you go?

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Not too low, four Air Force T-38 pilots found out after a fly-by before a University of Iowa football game on Nov. 20, 2010. Following an investigation, the pilots were disciplined for flying too low and too fast, and the lead pilot will leave the Air Force, according to the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

How fast is too fast? Faster than 300 kts–and maybe closer to 400–below 10,000 feet msl, before the game and during a practice flight the day before.

How low is too low? The jets reportedly cleared a scoreboard by 58 feet. Radar put the flight at 176 feet agl, just 16 feet higher than the stadium’s press box.

The report noted that the fans inside the stadium enjoyed the flyover, and a number of YouTube videos appear to confirm this. It’s not clear how many fans’ ears are still ringing from the experience, however.

Controller warns of abandoned Reagan tower

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

We still haven’t heard from the FAA yet as to why Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport’s tower didn’t answer aircraft and controllers who called it two nights ago. Until we find out, here’s a tape of conversation between a controller and an aircraft arriving in the Washington, D.C., area about the silent tower. (UPDATE: Investigators have learned the single controller in the tower cab that night was asleep.)  Two airliners landed using uncontrolled field procedures. This third one narrowly escaped having to do the same. You have to wait through a commercial, first, before the tape begins.

Going the extra (nautical) mile

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Over the past nine years that I’ve served as AOPA’s media relations director, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Molly McMillin, aviation writer for the Wichita Eagle newspaper, on a number of stories. I’ve always found her reporting to be insightful and eminently fair. She goes to great lengths to get a story right.

Now she’s gone the extra mile.

Molly recently earned her private pilot certificate, training and taking her checkride in her father’s 1956 Piper Tri-Pacer. She blogged about the experience and the thrill of receiving her permanent certificate – the one with Wilbur and Orville on it – in her Air Capital Insider blog. You can read it here:

Congrats, Molly!

Molly’s in an enviable position among her fellow reporters – and not just because she’s now a pilot. She covers a beat. Beat reporters get to learn about a particular industry, in Molly’s case aviation, learn who the players are and what issues are important and why. So their stories are often more nuanced and really help their audience understand an issue.

General assignment reporters, on the other hand, have to be instant experts in anything and everything. That can make my job quite challenging sometimes, when dealing with someone whose total aviation experience is riding in seat 17B. By the same token, I see it as an opportunity to expose someone new to aviation in general, and general aviation in particular. Sure, it’s not as good as taking someone up for a flight in a GA plane, but it’s a chance to increase understanding and maybe burnish the image of GA a little among the non-flying public.

Occasionally we get very lucky and hear from a reporter who has some experience with general aviation, or if we really hit the jackpot, one who’s a pilot, like Molly.

If you’re a pilot, you can help share the knowledge by taking a reporter flying. If you’ve never taken someone up for an introductory flight, AOPA has a brochure called Take ‘Em Flying! that offers some ideas.

Who knows? Your efforts might lead to better coverage the next time a small plane becomes the big story in your community. You might even plant a seed that grows into a new pilot! Like Molly!

Chris Dancy
AOPA Media Relations Director

Going to the birds

Friday, March 18th, 2011

It’s that time of year again. No, not tax time (although that will be coming soon).

Drinking my morning coffee, I noticed a bird on my back deck with a large twig in its mouth. A few minutes later when it clicked (I was on my first cup), I went out and looked inside the grill, where I found a nest construction project that was well under way. They’ll be doing the same thing at the airport, in your engine cowlings (and any other openings into the fuselage that they can find). It was a great reminder to check carefully for avian urban renewal efforts before our spring flights.

Now to see if the impromptu cowl plugs I put in the grill vents were effective….

What’s bad for us is good for helicopters

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

Here’s a little twist on economic news. I learned at the Helicopter Association International convention in Orlando last week that higher oil prices mean good news for the helicopter industry. When the price of a barrel of oil rises, oil companies go farther offshore and into deeper waters to drill. They need helicopters to do that.

Eclipse production to be aided by Sikorsky

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Somehow I missed a few things in the announcement last year that Sikorsky has become a partner with Eclipse. I took that to mean Sikorsky, where company President Jeffrey P. Pino is also an Eclipse owner, is one heck of a cheerleader. Sure, they sent some money along, but mostly they would lend expertise, a worldwide parts supply network, and advice. Now that I have heard Pino speak about Eclipse at the Helicopter Association International convention in Orlando today, I have a different impression. When the economy is right, there will definitely be a resumption of Eclipse production, and that’s not necessarily news. But here is the new angle. Sikorsky will be the contractor to build the jet. It may simply direct things at the Eclipse Aerospace facility in Albuquerque, or it may also use Sikorsky facilities somewhere in the country. There may be an indication by the end of the year that the economy is on the mend, and that would mean a go-ahead for the Eclipse. Where did I get that impression? Pino mentioned, in response to a question, that the Eclipse could give Sikorsky a “chance to do something besides vertical lift.” Looking at it from a big company’s perspective, when you buy into Eclipse production, you are gaining that advantage of $700 million to $1.4 billion in effort and research and development that has already occurred in the past. That’s my reasoning, and why I will be monitoring Eclipse Aerospace very carefully in 2011.

Steam Powered Airplane

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

No, not a real airplane, a band in Jackson, Wyoming, called Steam Powered Airplane. They perform the background music to a slide show coming out with an April article in Pilot on pilots of the national parks. There will also be additional songs with the article because the band plays music typical of the West, an authentic background for the article. Here is their Facebook page, and on there you will see a link to the AOPA slideshow. There’s a video coming out with the article as well of an internationally acclaimed opera star who just might be the pilot to take you on a glider ride out of Driggs, Idaho, to “The Grand,” the tallest peak in Grand Teton National Park.