Archive for September, 2011

Moody’s downgrades Hawker Beechcraft

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

Moody’s, which upgrades and downgrades dozens of companies a week, gave Hawker Beechcraft a slightly lower rating September 20. Here is Moody’s explanation:

“The Caa3 rating reflects Hawker Beechcraft’s mounting retained deficit and our view that the soft economy dims chances for profitability anytime soon. Although limited near-term debt maturities exist, with the prospect of further losses we view the capital structure to be unsustainable. We see pronounced risk that some form of debt restructuring may occur. Softness in most developed economies should continue to constrain demand for the smaller and mid-sized cabin aircraft that comprise the company’s Business and General Aviation product portfolio. While management has aggressively lowered overhead and cut production costs, the revenue outlook seems weak.”

Icon shops five states for factory location

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Newspapers in Florida report the locals are excited about competing for the location of a new Icon Aircraft light sport aircraft factory. Most recently, Icon officials were in Tavares, “The Seaplane City,” but city fathers in DeLand are hopeful, too. The company could go into production in Los Angeles as soon as January, and have a decision by spring on a new factory. Reports indicate the company would like to move in by the end of 2013. However, the company says it could be a year sooner than that. Officials in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Texas are also hopeful of attracting the Icon factory to their states.

Cessna denies single-engine turboprop

Monday, September 26th, 2011

A year ago then-Cessna CEO Jack Pelton indicated the company was developing a single-engine turboprop–a link for pilots between the pistion world and jets. That was then, this is now. During a press briefing September 26, Cessna’s new chief, Scott Ernest, said he hasn’t seen it and doesn’t know of any such “program.” A spokesman intervened to say it was a technology platform, the same line given prior to Pelton’s confirmation last year of a turboprop program, but admitted it is still flying. When I then asked to see it, the spokesman said,” We don’t have time,” and Ernest added, “You can’t see it until I see it.” Watch Tom Horne’s exclusive report from the National Business Aviation Association last year, and see whether you think it was a program or not. Looks like a back burner for the non-program aircraft still flying at Cessna.

Warm hearts; wagging tails

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

With all of the sadness that affected general aviation last weekend, it was nice to be in the midst of a small bright spot in Florence, S.C. That’s where the volunteers and pilots who sign up for rescue flights through Pilots n Paws met to transport dogs from a high-kill shelter to new homes in Virginia, Florida, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C.

IFR conditions on Saturday kept the small number of VFR pilots who made it to South Carolina from participating in the airlift. But the IFR pilots stepped up and loaded their airplanes with more than 100 dogs. One of these was a spectacular polished Piper Lance based at Lakeland, Fla., whose tail is emblazed with the words Puppy Express.

With that many paws on the ground, you’d think there would be a cacophony of barking and a lot of messes to be mopped up. But from my perspective, the volunteers seemed to have their four-footed charges well in hand.

Pilots and helpers played a game of Tetris (thanks, Alyssa Miller, for giving me that image) as they loaded dogs–some in crates, some not–into baggage areas, back seats, and passenger laps. (In case you’re wondering, these pilots do prepare for accidents by laying down plastic sheets and tarps.) Doug Manual, who flew a Cessna 182 down from Leesburg Airport, told me he carried seven dogs: two in a crate, four in the cargo compartment, and one who rode in his wife Tammy’s lap. Mike Young, who coordinated the pilots flying from Florence to Warrenton, was the last pilot out on Saturday. He ended up “only” carrying four dogs in his Lancair. He usually takes more.

There were tears shed as foster “parents” turned over their dogs to the pilots. The fosters craned their heads and took photos as the airplanes lifted off and disappeared into the 500-foot ceiling. One foster mom of Chihuahuas and Yorkies told me she was sending six dogs to new homes–she’ll still have 16 to care for.

Pilots don’t need an excuse to fly, but a mission–whether you’re in search of the perfect $100 hamburger, or you’re introducing someone new to the excitement of flying, or you’d like to make a difference in an animal’s life–is always a great thing to have.

Reno Unlimited air racer crashes; eight died at the scene, three more in hospitals

Friday, September 16th, 2011

Galloping Ghost, a highly modified and restored North American P-51 Mustang, crashed during an Unlimited category qualifying heat at the National Championship Air Races in Reno. The 500-mph aircraft is operated by the Leeward Air Ranch Racing Team of Ocala, Florida, and piloted by movie stunt pilot and real estate developer Jimmy Leeward of Ocala, Florida.

A YouTube video of the crash was shown on local Reno television station KRNV, the NBC affiliate, in this report. There were more than 60 people treated at hospitals, many of them released. The aircraft crashed 65 feet in front of a box-seat area on flat tarmac in front of the grandstands. A photo shows the area where the aircraft crashed.

The death toll has reached 11, including the pilot and seven spectators at Reno/Stead Airport and three at a local hospital.

Jimmy Leeward describes in this YouTube video the five years of work done to prepare Galloping Ghost for the air races.

UPDATES: A photo of the aircraft just prior to impact raised speculation that perhaps something came off the tail’s horizontal control surfaces. A video offering a different view has appeared on CNN showing the airplane inverted prior to the crash.

Time to buy

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

Amy Carpenter and her Piper Dakota

My article on finding and buying a Piper Cherokee 140 brought me a nice tide of letters from our members. I expectedto hear from the Piper crowd, and I did, all of whom welcomed me to the fold. I got an invite to join next year’s Cherokees 2 Osh event. Flying my own airplane into AirVenture is definitely on my to-do list, so that’s an intriguing notion!

Shar Roos plans to learn to fly in this 140.

I also heard from a few puzzled Ercoupe lovers–what do I have against Ercoupes and why did I not buy one? Nothing against Ercoupes, Alons, Air Coupes, or any of the breed, I promise. My reasons were primarily based on payload and space considerations. I want to do animal rescues, and while I could probably plop a dog in the right seat, I’d rather he have a backseat of his own.

Mark Walker's excellent Ercoupe

Mark Walker of Phoenix, Ariz., kindly sent a photo of this beautiful robin’s-egg-blue Ercoupe that he bought with a friend after years of wanting an airplane. “We fly every weekend, weather permitting, and love every minute.” That sounds like an ideal situation to me–an airplane and a good buddy to fly places with. A super-cool footnote: Mark’s Ercoupe was the one Jessica Cox used to become the world’s first armless sport pilot.

I also heard from vintage airplane owners like John Sand, whose 1955 Cessna 170B is all the airplane he wants and needs. “It’s ‘stone simple’ so there isn’t much to go wrong,” he says. “I’ve found that if I keep it clean and change the oil once in awhile it’s like the old Timex watch.” He’s owned it 21 years and doesn’t plan to part with it any time soon.

John Sand's Cessna 170B

Probably most exciting were letters from people who said my story has prompted them to take another look at ownership and the possibilities that exist with purchasing an older airplane. For those of you who still want or need something newer and faster–or if you’re not financially able to purchase an entire airplane–please don’t forget AOPA’s Aircraft Partnership Program. It’s free to register if you are looking for a partnership, and costs $10 per aircraft per month to list a share. And owners: I’m hearing through the grapevine that there are lots of people out there who are interested in buying shares but not as many folks who’ve listed their airplanes. So what are you waiting for, and why are you letting that airplane sit idle if somebody could be helping you to split the costs and fly it?

The sound of silence

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

Sept. 11, 2001, was a day of turmoil for most Americans. After all the stress and anxiety of the day, it was great to get home to family. Only then did the last surprise of the day really hit home to me.

At home, outside, the crystal-clear blue sky was silent. No airplane noise. No contrails. No nothing.

How unusual is that? Here’s how the airspace shakes out above Frederick, Maryland: At the lowest altitudes are the Robinson R22s from our local helicopter school. They’re almost always flying, and frequently get far enough west of the airport to overfly our house. Above them is the fixed-wing traffic going to and from Frederick Municipal Airport. Next are the airliners heading south to Dulles; and a couple of thousand feet higher, eastbounds for Baltimore-Washington International. Higher still are the contrails of flights making their way up and down the East Coast.

Of course, they all were grounded that night. The only airplane noise came when the fighters flying combat air patrols above Washington, D.C., occasionally strayed in our direction.

Today, 10 years later, all the normal traffic was present and accounted for–although we did hear fighter jets, just once or twice. I much prefer the airplane noise, thank you very much.

Memories of 9/11

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

So much has been written about where we and what we felt on this memorable day. My memory that brings 9/11 to me came in 2006. AOPA Pilot had won the Folio: award for best editorial for its October issue (J-3 Cub on the cover).

I was the lucky one sent to accept the award. On my own in Manhattan, I prepared to attend the gala awards ceremony in my little black dress and very–very–high heels. They were Chinese Laundry shoes, and if you know shoes, these are shoes. Anyway, they hurt like hell. So I go to the lobby to get a cab and there is a massive line. A two-hour-wait line. So I contemplate walking. Not in these shoes. So I hail a pedi-cab. This is a form of transportation that I can’t totally applaud–people haul you around with their energy. They bike while you sit in a cushioned rickshaw. But I had no choice. The guy biking me was accompanyied by a woman with her own rickshaw. She couldn’t get a fare, so she bicycled along beside of us. Turns out the pair used to captain tour boats in the Hudson River. After 9/11, they lost their boats, their livelihood, their passion. The pair turned to the pedi-cab.

All along our route, dodging NYC traffic, she would stop and pick up change on the streets. As I watched her pick up pennies, nickles, and dimes on the mean streets of Manhattan, I thought, “God, this tip is going to kill me.” And we talked about 9/11 and  how the world changed. We fell in love with each other, laughing and telling stories for the 45-minute trip.

By the time we arrived at the “Big Do,” the limiosines were lining up and my pedi-cab drivers inched in between them. We gaily announced my arrival; tuxedoed men and fashionably dressed women turned to see who had arrived. Me.

I thanked my escorts and launched into my speech about their loss and how I wanted to help and how watching her pick up change had broken my heart and she laughed and said, “What? We use this change to go out to dinner once a week!”

New Yorkers!

We will never forget.

Please read my story “Above New York” in the September issue. I didn’t think when I was there for the story to find my intrepid pedicab drivers. I wish I had.

Pilot and actor Cliff Robertson dies at 88

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

Cliff Robertson, passionate about aviation and flying since his teenage years, died September 10 in Stony Brook, New York, a day after his 88th birthday. He was first attracted to aviation by watching aerobatic pilots when he was five years old in La Jolla, California, as he related to the Van Nuys Aviation and Business Journal in 2004. He later worked at a local airport in return for flying lessons as a teenager. He reprised that experience for others when, as an adult, he established a youth volunteer program at the Experimental Aircraft Association, the Cliff Robertson Work Experience Program. Teenagers are given room and board, and work at Oshkosh for several weeks, cleaning hangars and other tasks in return for free flying lessons. He won AOPA’s Laurence P. Sharples Perpetual Award in 1981 for flying humanitarian relief supplies to Nigeria during the Biafra Civil War. The Oscar-winning actor (for “Charley”) was among those hand-picked by the late President John F. Kennedy, whom he had met, to portray him in the movie, “PT 109;” he ultimately won the part. He also appeared in “Spider-Man” (2002), “Spider-Man 2″ (2004), and Spider-Man 3 (2007), his last film appearance. On September 11, 2001, he was piloting his Beech Baron, looking down on a puff of smoke from the first strike on the World Trade Center, as he climbed through 7,000 feet on his way to California. He was later told to land at the nearest airport, which was Allentown, Pennsylvania.

What almost happened on 9/11

Friday, September 9th, 2011

As we reflect on the events that transpired 10 years ago Sunday, I was both intrigued and surprised to read a story I don’t recall hearing about previously: that of the first F-16 sortie scrambled to protect Washington, D.C., from United Airlines Flight 93–the fourth airliner presumed hijacked that clear September morning.

Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney had just returned from two weeks of air-combat training in Nevada. She and Col. Marc Sasseville quickly launched to intercept the airliner. Not one of their squadron’s aircraft was armed, however–no missiles, no bullets. Their only plan, if they found the jet, was to ram it. Like high-tech kamikazes.

There are many places I was thankful not to be on Sept. 11, 2011. The cockpits of either of their fighters just shot to the top of my list.

Hours later, they learned that the passengers on the flight had accomplished their mission for them, causing the plane to crash in Pennsylvania. Penney’s story, recently printed in The Washington Post, is a short but compelling read.

That unselfish willingness to sacrifice all for the greater good has been seen in–and sadly, demonstrated by–so many of our military personnel and first responders in those dark days, and the days since. That’s what I will remember and honor this weekend. It’s also a fair bet that was the last morning there were no armed jets on alert in Washington.