Archive for July, 2011

Catching up with…Clay Presley

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

One of the frustrating things about AirVenture (if one can admit that there are some frustrating aspects of navigating the world’s largest airshow) is that missed connections happen on a daily basis at the show.

Today Clay Presley sent me a short note to let me know he had stopped by the AOPA tent (and I, of course, was nowhere to be seen). You’ll recall that Clay was a passenger on USAirways Flight 1549, which landed in the Hudson river in January 2009. We found out that Clay’s experience in part prompted him to start learning to fly, and he soloed in January 2011. I went down to his home airport near Greenville, S.C., to interview him for an article in Flight Training magazine, and a video for AOPA Live. At the time Clay mentioned that when the article I wrote for AOPA Online was published, he got calls from pilots around the country inviting him to come to Oshkosh. And he did.

And he had more big news: Clay got his private pilot certificate on June 24. I’m excited he finished up, and made it to the big show. He’s had a big year. Not as big as landing in the Hudson River, of course–but it’ll do.

Friends celebrate Hoover

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

What started out as a dinner and party with a few friends of famed aviator R.A. “Bob” Hoover several years ago has turned into an annual shindig that is a veritable who’s who of aviation. This year’s “Bill, Bob, Lou and Mike’s Annual Oshkosh Fireside P**s Up” attracted hundreds to fete Hoover.

Among those in attendance was emcee and aerobatic pilot Sean D. Tucker, Harrison Ford, Chuck Yeager, NASA astronauts Gene Cernan and Jim Lovell, civilian astronaut Mike Melville, Burt Rutan, Dick Rutan, actor/director/producer David Ellison, and “Sully” Sullenberger and his Miracle on the Hudson copilot Jeff Skiles.

The dinner was started and continues to be hosted by Bill Fanning of Pilot Insurance Center, Mike Herman, and Lou Meiners.

Filmaker Kim Furst showed a trailer of her upcoming documentary feature titled “The Bob Hoover Project.”

Rain Wednesday forced Fanning and the other volunteers to move the event from its planned outdoor location near a hangar on Wittman Field to the EAA Air Museum. The new location and threatening storms outside did little to dampen the camaraderie and friendship inside the museum and the adoration for Hoover, who received numerous standing ovations.

Catching up with…Matt Pipkin

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Chet and Matt (right) Pipkin at AirVenture with Commit 65's airplane.

Back in December, Matt Pipkin’s Commit 65 project–an endurance flight in which he and his dad will seek to remain aloft 65 days nonstop–was just starting to gather steam. Matt had a clear vision of what he wanted to accomplish and he knew he had a lot of work ahead of him.

I’ve kept tabs on Matt and Commit 65 via Twitter, and yesterday I got to meet him in person here at AirVenture. Thanks to the generosity of EAA, Commit 65 scored a booth in the Innovation Center. And they didn’t come empty-handed.

Some months ago, Commit 65 procured an essential component of the flight: an airplane. The Pipkins removed the wings from the 1958 Cessna 172 and trailered it to Oshkosh. The trip wasn’t without its issues. Rough roads in Wyoming jolted the trailer so much that a mount snapped. Attempting to reattach the wings, something slipped and a flap was damaged. But Matt wasn’t fazed. (Not too much, anyway.) After all, he told me, the airplane needs an engine overhaul, avionics, and a new prop anyway. What’s a couple more dings and dents here and there?

As the campaign builds momentum–and it has gained quite a bit, Matt said, thanks to national press and fundraisers in Boise–he’s continuing to work toward raising public awareness of childhood sexual abuse by incorporating other “out-of-the-box” ideas. One of these is a multi-college campaign in which students at 65 colleges around the nation would participate in an endurance challenge (Matt’s thinking paddle ball played while standing on a chair). The challenge would culminate with a 65-second “moment of noise” (as opposed to moment of silence), because Matt’s hope in raising awareness is to convince victims of sexual abuse to “speak their silence” and free themselves of guilt and pain. Now that’s what I call out of the box.

Sikorsky X2 coming to Oshkosh, AOPA Summit

Monday, July 18th, 2011

Soon you will read in AOPA Pilot about the Sikorsky X2 twin-rotor helicopter that was flown in excess of 250 knots true airspeed in level flight, and 263 in a one-degree descent last year. I was lucky enough to be present at the helicopter’s last flight July 14 (reaching 240 knots) northwest of West Palm Beach, Fla. It will be on display near ConocoPhillips Square (formerly AeroShell Square) at EAA AirVenture in a few days, and then on display again at AOPA Summit. What you won’t see are the software displays–the stuff that makes the magic happen. After 18 months of victory tours in its special truck, the history-making helicopter is on its way to the Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles International Airport, Virginia. AOPA Pilot has covered the X2 since it was a mere 181-knot helicopter. It first flew in 2008. With seven more flights, the X2 might have gone 280 knots true airspeed, say those close to the project, but it’s time to put the technology to use in a military Raider attack helicopter. Also on display at Oshkosh, like last year, is Sikorsky’s battery powered helicopter, Firefly, which hasn’t flown yet. With an expected endurance of 12 minutes, it must wait for better battery technology to be practical. It should fly in August. When I saw it there was no rotor, no center console for instruments, and no batteries. (It had all those parts on for Oshkosh 2010.) I saw work on a proprietary Firefly gear of some sort in progress, even as the X2 was prepped for its last flight.

By the way, I want to mention that the X2 team benefitted greatly from the Sikorsky counter-rotating XH-59A of the late 1970s and `80s, that went 245 knots true airspeed. The X2 team simply built its “house” on the XH-59A foundation, and some of the engineers who achieved the 245-knot speed, but with severe stability problems, are still at Sikorsky today to enjoy the moment. All told, there were 70 employees involved with the X2 from time to time, but no more than 30 at one time. There were 12 key players working 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., unless they came in at 4 or 4:30 a.m. Hats off to the two XH-59A pilots who sat there, fought the stability issues second to second, and went 245 knots in spite of them. It took two pilots because there were nine levers to control.

Visiting an old Mooney friend and wondering why

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

Sliding into N152MP was like meeting an old friend. The bright white Mooney with its bold red, yellow, and blue strips looked like most any other late 1980s Mooney until you looked inside or walked around front. There, the tightly cowled nose gave a clue as to what powered the composite three-blade prop–a Porsche engine.

The airplane showed up in Frederick today as ferry pilot Anthony Eyre of Cross Junction, Virginia, stopped by Landmark Aviation, the local FBO, to get a GPS installed before he took the Porsche-powered Mooney to its new home in Ulm, Germany, near Stuttgart. The Stuttgart name, where Porsche is headquartered, dominated a large Porsche decal on the Mooney’s forward-slanting blue tail. Eyre is flying the airplane for Computaplane in Scotland, delivering it to its new owner in Germany, Uwe Sauter, who happens to be an aircraft mechanic and the owner of a Porsche 911.

The Mooney PFM was familiar to me because shortly after I started working at AOPA in 1988, the association purchased one of the unusual airplanes–only about 45 were built. Several of the editors were checked out in the airplane, including me. It was one of the first high-performance airplanes I’d ever flown. I was soon quite comfortable in the efficient airplane, especially since the engine was so easy to operate. Starting it was car-simple: Turn on the key. No cantankerous mags or balky carburetor or fussy fuel injection system to deal with. A dual electronic ignition system and computers handled the start procedure. Power was managed with a single lever that controlled the prop, mixture, and throttle–the holy grail of engine management that manufacturers attempt to bring to market today; and this was 1988.

The engine was smooth and quiet, but the gearbox necessary to amp the engine rpms down to a rate that could be absorbed the prop added weight–some 200 pounds by some estimates, and complexity. AOPA’s Porsche Mooney suffered numerous cracked and leaky gearboxes. The dual bus electrical system was unheard of in light airplanes in those days. Those of us checking out in the airplane found it a bit intimidating. The large red, guarded “Emergency Crossover” switch was your savior if certain electrical failures occurred; or your nemesis if other failures occurred and you threw the emergency switch tying the two buses together and allowed the failure to take out both systems.

In flight, the Porsche Mooney handled like any other Mooney–aside from the Porsche’s stone-simple engine management. It was quick and efficient. Eyre reports that he sees about 155 knots TAS at 9,000 feet on 9 gph.

So why have you probably never heard of one? Because, like many other products ahead of their time, it wasn’t perfect and the embedded competitive products of the day kept their market acceptance; inertia prevailed. The Porsche airplane was a bit slower and definitely heavier than the Lycoming-powered Mooney 201 of the day. There were a few maintenance issues, like the gearbox. Porsche, who was behind the project in conjunction with Mooney Aircraft, attempted to reassure buyers with guaranteed TBO pricing and other maintenance plans. But in the end, consumers wanted their speed and the Porsche model didn’t quite deliver.

In the end, Porsche bought back most of the airplanes through various programs and re-engined them with Continentals and Lycomings. You may be flying such a modified airplane today and not know that it was once N30MP, the Porsche Mooney that AOPA once owned.

Eyre is hoping to leave Frederick July 15 and make it to Germany within a few days, removing what may well be the last Porsche-powered Mooney from North America.

Certainly one of my most significant memories of my flights in the model was pulling up on a ramp with a few people around. To shut the engine off, you just turned off the key–like a car. At that point, the engine and prop simply thudded to an instant stop rather than winding down the way most conventional airplane engines shut down. The result was frequently curious looks from the crowd wondering what it was that you just broke.

My guess is that with a few tweaks the Porsche engine could have been made to run on high-octane auto fuel. Think what that might be worth today as we scramble to figure out a strategy for moving away from leaded avgas. Back to the future. Fly on N152MP.

Diamond withdraws from major consumer shows

Saturday, July 9th, 2011

Diamond Aircraft will not exhibit at EAA Airventure, the National Business Aviation Association convention, and AOPA Summit as a cost-savings measure. The company will continue to exhibit at law-enforcement and government security shows to demonstrate its special mission aircraft. The decision was a cost-saving move to focus on the D-Jet program and continue support of the piston-engine fleet, said Diamond President Peter Maurer. A recent loan from an unnamed source was to support development of the D-Jet. Maurer said the decisions were necessary because of the “…continued weakness of the economy,” and “…slow industry wide retail sales.” The company’s September open house at the factory in London, Ontario, will continue as planned.

Was Cirrus wrong to accept Chinese investment?

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

In an AOPA Live video, Cirrus Aircraft CEO Brent Wouters decries the short-sighted nature of the U.S. investment community and explains why the company began talks with CAIGA, a Chinese firm that ultimately bought Cirrus in a deal that closed June 24. Despite its Chinese ownership (and the fact that Arcapita, an investment group in Bahrain, has owned a significant percentage of Cirrus since 2001), Wouters insists Cirrus is still a U.S. company that uses American workers and American vendors to build products for the U.S. and world market.

Still, some have criticized the move as a selling-out of U.S. leadership in aviation, one of the few American-dominated industries that still generates a positive trade balance. Meanwhile, Cessna builds the Skycatcher in China.  Many U.S. aviation companies have subassemblies built in Mexico and other countries. Continental Motors was purchased by a Chinese company earlier this year.

What do you think? Are U.S. aviation companies not trying hard enough to find American investment before selling out to foreign buyers or is the U.S. investment community too short-sighted in their strategies? Or, does none of it really matter in this global economy?

I’m looking forward to reading your perspective in the comments.

High-altitude parachute jump to proceed?

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011

Red Bull officials quietly announced in one of those coded legal statements that a lawsuit charging Red Bull with stealing the idea for a record-setting high-altitude jump has been settled. Was there a payoff? Was the case dropped? Is jumper Felix Baumgartner still trained and ready? No one was talking Saturday, July 2. The significance of the settlement is to clear the way, if Red Bull still wants to do so, for a jump from 120,000 feet by a man in a spacesuit whose body will break the sound barrier on the way down. In a previous coded Red Bull statement, the jump was to be “somewhere” in North America, meaning the Southwest according to media reports. At the time the suspension was announced the Red Bull team was within weeks if not days of the jump from a balloon gondola. Will it now proceed? The answer came in a coded e-mail just now from a Red Bull spokeswoman for this posting. “The next steps will require careful evaluation of the project across all areas and progress will be communicated accordingly.” My guess as to what that means is, “We have to decide if we still want to do this, and if we do, we have to reconstitute the whole project. Don’t bother asking until we tell you something.”

Impersonator claims to be “Pilot” writer

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011

A few months ago I participated in a media conference call by Hawker Beechcraft about quarterly financial results. Using a combination of phone and computer, I watched graphics appear on the screen and finally asked a question. There was a transcript so that those who missed the conference, mostly stock analysts, could review it later–including my question. That may be how the perp (a slick term for perpetrator, if you watch police dramas) got my name. He used it to announce to Bell Helicopter that he was Alton Marsh of AOPA Pilot. After an exchange of e-mails that frankly included phrases I might use, he was denied an interview, but persisted and ended up having Bell officials call a number and talk with him. His e-mail address included my name as the first part of the address. He pretended to be me during the interview. After many weeks, I got an e-mail from a Bell spokeswoman asking, “Where’s the article you were going to write?” I suggested I might have amnesia since I could not recall doing the interview. Finally, Bell e-mailed me the number I had supposedly used–one that turned out to be a disposable cellphone in Manhattan. Since learning of the misrepresentation, I have described the incident to a government agency that looks into such issues. Have a nice day, whoever you are.

For the honest people, if my e-mail doesn’t end in aopa.org (or my personal e-mail account ending with Comcast), it isn’t me. If the phone number isn’t from the 301 exchange, it isn’t me. If we talk on the phone and I don’t clear my throat or cough in the first five minutes, it isn’t me. I have asthma.