Archive for October, 2011

A legacy is secured…and it only took 30 years

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

The brand-new air traffic control tower at Memphis International Airport has a name. It’s the Omlie Tower. Omlie, for Phoebe Fairgrove Omlie.

Omlie was the first woman to get an aviation mechanic license, as well as the first woman to earn a commercial certificate. She flew a Monocoupe Warner in the very first Women’s Transcontinental Air Race in 1929, competing against pilots like Pancho Barnes, Amelia Earhart, and Louise Thaden. She was one of the charter members of the International Organization of Women Pilots (the Ninety-Nines).

What’s great about this story is not that a building was named for Omlie (although that is a pretty neat thing). It’s the backstory–the story behind the story. According to the University of Memphis Department of History, the campaign to get some local recognition for Omlie began more than 30 years ago, when aviation enthusiast James Kacarides initially proposed in 1971 that the city name the downtown Memphis airport for her. (They didn’t.) * And later he suggested that the reveloped Millington airport be given her name. (It wasn’t.) Kacarides then proposed that the existing KMEM tower be named for her, but was told that it would take an act of Congress because the tower was federal property.

Kacarides went to Congress and somehow, somewhere, someone listened; President Ronald Reagan signed a bill permitting the change in June 1982. Guess what happened next? The air traffic controllers went on strike; President Reagan fired them; and in the turmoil that followed, “the FAA suddenly had other priorities,” as the University of Memphis puts it in what may be the understatement of the year.

At any rate, the plaque–if one had indeed been ordered–never arrived and the tower was never dedicated. But Kacarides didn’t forget. (See now why I love this story?) He and University of Memphis Professor Janann Sherman, who has written a biography of Omlie, helped to jumpstart the effort. A brand-new tower that went into service in June was officially dedicated on Oct. 20–and Kacarides and Sherman were there to see it. (Thanks and a tip of the flying helmet to Heather Taylor, producer of  the documentary “Breaking Through the Clouds,” for alerting me to this article.)

*Edited to fix reference to General DeWitt Spain airport. Thanks to reader Maurice!

The 600th TBM clears customs; Its pilot gets socks

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

The 250-odd nm trip from Sept Iles, Quebec to Bangor, Maine was an easy, 50-minute jaunt in N600YR. With such a short leg, there was little concern over headwinds so it was a time for experimenting with the TBM 850′s long-range cruise performance.

So, power was dialed back to 63-percent torque. At the cruise altitude of FL280, fuel flow dropped to 40 gph, but true airspeed held at a respectable 250 knots. On the G1000′s multifunction display, the large map display showed our range rings–one was a dotted ring that showed where we’d have a 45-minute fuel reserve; a solid ring showed where the ship would hit bingo. Turns out that from Quebec this TBM could fly all the way to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and still have legal IFR fuel reserves. Not bad. Pull the power lever back to 34-percent torque and endurance goes to seven hours!

It wasn’t long before this 600th TBM was parked on the customs ramp at Bangor, Maine’s International Airport. Out came the customs officer, complete with sidearm, stern looks, and a few questions. Did I have more than $100,000 on me? I wish. Is that a Rolex? No, it’s a Breitling. Did you buy it in Europe? Nope, in the U.S. Any food aboard? Just a few chocolate bars. And on and on. The airplane’s paperwork was reviewed, and then we were officially released.

Big sigh. N600YR was now officially imported, and could be legally flown to its buyer in Salt Lake City. This was big news, because Daher-Socata needed to get paid for the airplane within a day and a half. That way, the check could be deposited before the bank closed on the specified delivery date.

Clearing customs also meant Margrit and I could go into the Bangor FBO and make ready for the remaining legs. But there was other business to attend to. Thanks to e-mail, Facebook, and telephone, my friend–and long-time freelancer for AOPA, Dan Namowitz–was waiting in the FBO lobby. And he had my socks. Finally.

The saga of the socks has a history that goes back 15 years. On February 1, 1996 I was ferrying a Piper Seminole from the U.S. to Thailand. On the first leg of the trip (destination: St. John’s, Newfoundland (CYYT)) the Seminole’s Janitrol heater gave up the ghost. Just west of Boston. It was a cold, dark night and the cockpit quickly became cold-soaked, along with my feet and hands. I tried mightily to get the heater going but no dice. Too much air going through it? Too little? Everything I tried failed.

But I figured I could withstand it for as long as it took to get to Bangor and its 10,000-foot-long runway, where repairs could be made. The closer I got to Bangor, the more critical the situation became. I couldn’t feel my feet, and my hands were so cold that I had trouble dialing up frequencies. I had to use the heel of my hand to make power adjustments.

I taxied to the FBO, shut down, and headed for the lobby. Ahhhh, warmth at last. I began to thaw out, but would sure need some nice heavy wool socks for the remainder of the trip across the Atlantic. That’s when I called Dan. No answer, so I left a voice mail. “Hey, it’s me. I’m at the FBO and need some socks or my feet will freeze off.” Something like that.

Then another phone call. To Margrit, for whom I was flying in those days. She agreed to repairs, of course, but I had to get the plane to a shop in Bedford, Massachusetts. So after warming up I got back in the Seminole and backtracked to Bedford where the Janitrol’s fouled plug was cleaned and the daggone thing was returned to service. I climbed back in, took off into the night, and flew on in glorious, heated comfort–all the way to St. John’s.

But I never got the socks. Over the years, Dan and I would joke about the long-lost socks, and a few staffers came to know the story. So the word was passed to Dan: N600YR will land at BGR at 10 a.m., with Horne aboard. I turned around in the FBO and there was Namowitz. With an L.L. Bean paper bag containing……..yes! Socks!

The circle has been completed, both sock-wise and airplane-wise. From Bangor the TBM 850 made its way west.

Job done! Another great crossing in another great airplane. I can’t wait to do it again.

The author and his long-lost socks. Two pair, even!

A TBM crosses: Keflavik to Narsarssuaq to Sept Iles

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Greenland landfall

Making landfall on the western coast of Greenland.

The Keflavik airport used to be a U.S. Navy base back in the day, but no more. Even so, this misconception today keeps many GA pilots away from BIKF. Sure, it remains Iceland’s major international airport, but GA is welcome. The FBO there–South Air–is great. Thanks to Kef’s two 10,000-foot runways–and the four ILS approaches that serve them (thanks, Navy!)–Keflavik makes sense when the winds are up and the clouds are down. That’s one reason why we chose to land N600YR there.

For the next leg, the winds were forecast to be relatively light for the cruising altitude of FL280, so there was some thought as to whether the TBM could make it to Goose Bay (CYYR) non-stop. Problem was, the forecast at Goose (also known as the Happy Valley Airport) was for a chance of low-IFR conditions. If N600YR had to hold, then fuel could get tight. And night would be falling, along with temperatures and dew points. So the decision was made to make an intermediate stop at Narsarssuaq, Greenland (BGBW).

Narsarssuaq airport

View of Narsarssuaq airport from the tower. Runway in distance slopes down to the fjord, from right to left.

Yes, the storied Narsarssuaq, forever enshrined in aviation history by Ernest K. Gann’s Fate Is The Hunter. But unlike the white-knuckle rides that Gann (and thousands of other pilots serving in World War II, by the way) endured into what was then called Bluie West One, skies were clear for our arrival.

I have landed at Narsarssuaq many times, always using runway 7. Today I’d be flying a straight-in to runway 25. Winds were calm, an oddity here. Normally this procedure would be no big deal. But the issue was runway 25′s radical downhill slope, at two degrees. Doesn’t sound like much, but the runway drops 100 feet in elevation from threshold to stopway. I punched off the autopilot, rounded a ridge that identified the glacier that terminates near the approach end of the runway, and descended to final. I tried to grease it on, but flaring for a soft touchdown wasn’t a good technique. The more I floated, the more the runway dropped away, and I landed almost at midfield. Now that downhill slope is helping me roll toward the iceberg-strewn fjord at an alarming rate. Stand on brakes! Pull max reverse thrust! Finally I stopped the ship and taxied in for fuel. Lesson learned: major downhill runways can be bad news. Especially if you’re flying at 90-95 knots. And the AFM says to fly at 85. Best to plant the airplane early and firmly, then use everything you’ve got to stop. ATE from Kef to BGBW: 2+25.

Ice under the fuel cap.

Chunk of ice retrieved from strainer beneath a fuel cap.

During the fuel stop a lineman called us out to the plane. There in the strainer basket beneath the fuel caps was a small chunk of ice. It was a first for everybody on the scene. Guess that’s what happens when the temperatures at FL280 run -50 degrees Celsius. And yes, we used Prist, so who knows what caused the ice.

The winds, weather, and a fresh fuel load (292 gals) argued for the next leg to be a long one–about 800 nm to Sept-Iles, Quebec (CYZV). The chancy weather at Goose was avoided, and we’d be that much farther down the road. Interested in the routing? Get out your North Atlantic and Canadian charts, because here it is: BGBW – 59N50W – Loach intersection – Foxxe intersection – direct CYZV. After leaving uncontrolled airspace passing through 10,000 feet, the clearance had us going straight to FL280, which we did in just 18 minutes. It would have been less, but using the engine’s inertial separator for the climb through clouds deprived the PT6 of doing its best.

Narsarssuaq tower controller

Narsarssuaq tower controller. You can reach him on 119.1.

At altitude the ritual power setting was made: 95 percent torque–for a fuel burn of 53 gph. About halfway into this 3+50 leg both Margrit and I were feeling fatigued. It would end up being a 6.5-hour flying day, after all. Candy bars helped, though, and soon we were on the ILS for runway 9 with good (few 800, few 10,000, 2,800 overcast) weather. Then it was a tiedown at Trans-Sol Aviation, a visit with Customs, and a ride to the Hotel Gouverneur for a well-earned sleep-in. This would help me reset my biological clock to eastern daylight time, I hoped. (I used to use melatonin to enable a sleep-enforced time-zone change, but the wild dreams got to me.) Tomorrow: Back in the U.S.A.!

Water, water everywhere. The G1000 MFD shows the situation enroute to Narsarssuaq

To Iceland in a TBM 850

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

Our delivery flight began with a 330pm local departure from Daher Socata´s home airport in Tarbes, France, and ended some 7.5 hours later with an arrival at the Keflavik, Iceland airport. Along the way there was a fuel stop at the Glasgow, Scotland airport. There, survival suits and a raft were picked up as well. Those two legs were each about 800 nm, but the TBM 850 is a great cruising machine so those two legs lasted only 3.2 and 2.9 hours, respectively. Headwind components at our cruising altitude of FL280 never went much above 26 knots. But once going feet wet after crossing the Stornoway VOR on the west coast of Scotland crosswind component reached highs of 83 knots.No turbulence and no ice, so life was good.

Between Stornoway and Aldan, an intersection off the south coast of Iceland, winds at 280 averaged 80 knots out of the southwest. But no problem. On we flew into the night, goundspeeds ranging from 265 to 289 knots. Meanwhile, true airspeed was 300 knots while burning 55 gph. So the sense of hardship that prevails so strongly when crossing in a piston single simply wasn´t there. What would have been a 7 hour ordeal in a Mooney or Cessna instead becomes a three hour jaunt in a TBM 850.

Now I´m at the lobby computer at the Northern Light Inn — nli.is–and it´s 815 Z on Saturday. The sun isn´t up yet and it´s raining like mad, something that began during the ILS approach to BIKF´s runway 02 last night. Plans are to leave around 930 but some coffee first to help me wake up. Meanwhile, there´s a surreal scene outside as steam from the adjacent Blue Lagoon hot spring and spa rises into its spotlights. The shuttle van will arrive soon and then it´s back into the murk for a trip to either famed Narsarssuaq, Greenland or a straight shot to Goose Bay, Labrador. Depends on winds, which are forecast to lessen in strength today.As always, more later.

Delivering TBM’s 600th

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Employees form up to make a human "600," with the real McCoy in the background

Horne here. And by “here” I mean at Daher-Socata’s factory in Tarbes, France. I’m getting ready to deliver the 600th TBM to the United States–a trip that is set to begin tomorrow. This means flying yet another Atlantic crossing,  but this time I won’t be alone. One of Daher-Socata’s favorite veteran ferry pilots–Margrit Waltz–will be my minder on what promises to be a memorable trip. Maybe you’ve seen Waltz’s image  featured in Pratt & Whitney’s latest round of ads. Pratt touts her as one the company’s true believers, using the “PT6 proud” tag line as I recall.

The 600th TBM, ready for delivery

In any case, the airplane–N600YR–is destined for an owner in Oregon. Our route will take us to Wick, Scotland and Reykjavik, Iceland on the first day. The second day will include stops at Narsarssuaq, Greenland and either Goose Bay, Labrador or St. John’s, Newfoundland. Then we’ll soldier on to Bangor, Maine to clear customs and wind up at AOPA’s home base at Frederick Maryland’s Municipal airport. Assuming no weather or other diversions of course.

Today was a fun day at the Daher-Socata plant. Daher-Socata’s director of product marketing Philippe de Segovia organized a photo shoot. A bunch of the company’s 1,000 or so employees were staged on the ramp so as to spell out the numerals “600.” It was like herding cats, moving people here and there so as to make a good-looking three digits from photographer Thomas Jullien’s cherry-picker vantage point.

TBM 850 final assembly line

Customer relations officer Caroline Van Berkel gave me a tour of the plant. Much has changed since my last visit in 2007, when Daher-Socata president Nicolas Chabbert and I last flew a TBM850 to the States. Daher-Socata now has new capital equipment and is a major subcontractor for a number of aerospace companies. It makes nose cones and nose gear doors for Airbus’ A380s. It makes main landing gear doors for Airbus’ upcoming A350XWB, and belly fairings for A330s and A340s. Falcon 7X’s have their fuselages built here. Eurocopter EC532, AS355 Twinstar, and EC350 Astar fuselage assemblies are also made at the Tarbes plant. Daher-Socata has a new carbon-fiber tape-placement robot for making composite components, plus two large autoclaves and three smaller ones. And there’s been talk of some day making the TBM850′s fuselage of carbon fiber.

In a speech to employees, Daher–Socata president and CEO mentioned to need to emphasize safety. This, in the wake of an engine-failure accident last week. The crash took place after maintenance work and resulted in a forced landing on an Interstate highway near Daher-Socata’s North American home at the North Perry Aiport in Ft. Lauderdale. Pilot Alain Jaubert and mechanic Donato Pinto were injured, no people on the ground were hurt, and an investigation continues. “Safety comes first,” Mayer said. “Everything else comes after that. Mayer also said that parent company Daher will be opening a new product support and parts inventory facility in Marseilles, France.

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for details of the first two legs.

A bear of an airplane

Saturday, October 15th, 2011

Jim Weibe, CEO of Belite Enterprises, is just busting with pride over his appearance on the television show MythBusters. Seems the public showed a strong interest in aviation recently over a story that an aircraft, clawed by a bear in Alaska, was repaired with tape and safely flown home. Letters to the television show proved there are mostly doubters out there who don’t think that took place. The Belite ultralight was clawed into shreds, and then repaired. It flew! He even got to buzz the stars of the show as they stood on the runway. Let’s see, that will be $500 for violation of FAA rules about getting a haircut with a propeller.

Hawker Beechcraft’s T-6 Texan is on the attack

Saturday, October 15th, 2011

The aircraft developed as a turboprop trainer, and given a name controversial with fans of the original World War II radial-engine T-6 Texan tailwheel airplane, has opened a new market for Hawker Beechcraft. It will serve as an attack aircraft. During testing that ended October 5 near Tucson, the AT-6 demonstrator proved it could accurately drop laser-guided munitions. It is expected to be utilized by air forces around the world. The story of the tests was reported recently by UPI.com. That’s right. The news service, United Press International, begun in 1907 is still around with a headquarters office in downtown Washington, D.C.

It’s over for Commander Premiere Aircraft

Friday, October 14th, 2011

Commander Premiere Aircraft was evicted from its facility Wednesday morning at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport in Missouri, according to the latest story in the Southeast Missourian.  Assets are still inside the building, which has all new locks installed by the city. A bankruptcy court will sell the assets. City officials claimed the struggling company owed more than $800,000 in back rent. The company could have stalled the eviction by paying a $140,000 bond fee early this week but didn’t. This is the worst possible outcome, because tooling needed to restart the line could scatter in all directions. It was going to be a dream plane with a bigger engine, the one thing the Commander needed.

Tour the NBAA static jet display

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

Here’s my photographic tour, via point-and-shoot of the jets displayed in Las Vegas at Henderson Executive Airport Tuesday.

Exclusive from Las Vegas; Top stock analyst says the economy is doing better than you think

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

If you have watched our coverage of the National Business Aviation Association from Las Vegas, you already know we have one item you won’t see anywhere else. Morgan Stanley aerospace analyst and Managing Director Heidi Wood was chosen top stock picker on Wall Street three years in a row (2004-2007), and Tom Horne interviewed her in this video about the future of Cessna, Hawker Beechcraft, and the miserable recession, which she says is truly coming to an end. For a lift and a little good news, click here to see a top stock picker at work.