Archive for April, 2012

Tiedowns foil the best, worst of intentions

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

During a lesson this week, one of my students and I discussed the recent news about a California man whose attempt to steal a Cessna 152 was foiled by a tiedown. The man was a former student of the flight school, according to news reports, and reportedly threatened employees with a gun in order to get the keys to the aircraft. Police apprehended the man after he shut down the aircraft because he was unable to taxi out of the tiedown spot–the tail was still tied down.

First, I told my student I was glad I would never have to worry about her pulling a gun on me or trying to steal our Cessna 172 trainer. Then, we turned to tiedowns and preflight inspections. Early in our training, I would walk around the airplane with my student during the preflight to mention any missed items and the importance of checking them; however, I wouldn’t point out if she forgot to untie the tail or wings or remove the chocks. I recommended a big-picture walkaround after the preflight to catch any obvious oversights, such as tiedowns or chocks, so she would always pick up on it then.

To help stress the importance of untying the aircraft, I also shared an embarrassing story of my own. During my initial flight training, I had untied my wing and my instructor untied his side, but neither of us got the tail and I didn’t do a big-picture walkaround. When I tried to taxi out of the tiedown spot, we didn’t budge. We added more power–nothing. I have never seen anyone shut down an aircraft as fast as my instructor did when he realized what had happened. We had pulled the rope so tight that he actually had to cut it. Making the matter even more embarrassing was the fact that we were tied down in front of a flight school with floor-to-ceiling windows so that everyone had a clear view of the ramp. That story has stuck with my student, and she’s never forgotten to untie the aircraft.

Unfortunately, now she has another reminder of the importance of a thorough preflight, but this one with illegal intentions. In the case of this California man, the tiedowns turned out to be the last line of defense preventing him from stealing the aircraft. For the rest of us trying to get in the air legally and safely, they can be an unforgiving (and embarrassing) reminder of the importance of a proper preflight.

Slovenian pilot says world journey not always fun

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

Matevž Lenarčič of Slovenia, is back in Slovenia with this video from his just-completed trip around the world. Scroll down to “Flying around the world is not always fun.” At least the scenery was spectacular even when exhaustion set in. GreenLight WorldFlight used a speedy Rotax-powered Pipistrel and included a stop in Antarctica plus a flight next to Mt. Everest. He was bugged by aircraft problems (structural cracks in the tail) and engine problems (carbon buildup in the oil return line). International paperwork and airspace approvals provided constant headaches. A skilled photographer, he will produce a book of his adventures from sea level to 29,413 feet, and from 100-degree deserts to sub-zero airports. Also a scientist, he was taking data on soot in the air and the world’s drinking water supply–or lack  of it.

Discovery, from alpha to omega

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

The space shuttle Discovery arrives in Washington, D.C.

I was among the thousands of people who flocked to the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Annex at Washington Dulles International Airport on Tuesday to see the arrival of the space shuttle Discovery.

For many of them, it was a bittersweet experience, and understandably so. It’s hard to imagine NASA without a space shuttle; for a couple of generations, the winged, reusable vehicle has represented the space program. But for me it also represented a first, and last, chance to see the veteran orbiter in flight–albeit on the back of a jumbo jet.

Back in 1984, as a newspaper photographer in Florida, I was credentialed for the launch of mission STS 41D: Discovery’s maiden flight. We set up remote cameras in the swamps near launch pad 39A (NASA mandated a buddy system for setting up remotes, to prevent local wildlife–particularly alligators–from creeping up on an unwary photographer). I even managed to snag a pass for the Fire Tower, then the closest that civilians were allowed during a launch (it ceased to be a media option after the Challenger disaster). I was standing on that tower on a hazy, humid Florida morning, squinting at the pad through an 800-mm lens, when the countdown was halted and the launch scrubbed.

I recall driving back down to Kennedy Space Center a week or two later for a second scheduled launch, which also was postponed. When 41D finally lifted off, I was out of state and missed the event. Later, I did get to see a shuttle launch, and it’s an experience I will always remember–the vibration as the shock waves slowly roll over you, so long after liftoff that it almost takes you by surprise. That wasn’t Discovery, however; the orbiter eluded me until its very last flight.

Carlos Rodriguez awaits Discovery’s arrival.

Carlos Rodriguez, decked out in a red, white, and blue jacket and hat, also was waiting for Discovery at Dulles Airport. He had traveled from Virginia to Florida, twice, to see Discovery lift off–and he, too, was stood up both times. Eventually he did get to see Endeavour launch, but he still wanted to see Discovery fly, and welcome the orbiter to its new home.

Short final to Runway 1 Right at Washington Dulles.

Discovery’s delivery to the National Air and Space Museum was uneventful, but as the spacecraft was landing, there was a little drama for those who brought along an aviation receiver. As the Boeing 747 shuttle transporter glided down the ILS to Runway 1 Right at Dulles, the pilot not flying radioed the tower controller that its NASA T-38 escort was fuel critical. Not missing a beat, the controller very professionally worked the jet past a row of news helicopters hovering just east of the airport, and brought it around for an expedited landing. We all appreciated the safe outcome, as well as the controller’s helpful updates on the orbiter’s location.

Behind the B-25 photo shoot

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

Mike's pre-dawn aerial shot.

Some events are just, well, so cool and rare that you’ll do whatever it takes to capture the moment and pray that you can at least convey a glimpse of the magic to those who couldn’t be there in person. The timed departure of 20 World War II bombers from the Grimes Gathering of B-25s is one of those events.

We received permission to do an aerial shoot during the takeoff and briefed the intended flight path and altitude with the event organizers the day before the mass departure. We worked with Mad River Air, a flight school on the field, to set up their Cessna 172 as a photo platform for AOPA photographer Mike Fizer and go over the route with the school’s chief pilot, Aaron Coleman, who would fly the mission.

Then, we set our alarm clocks for the 4 a.m. hour.

Admittedly, getting up at 4:40 a.m. wasn’t that bad. As if my shower didn’t wake me up, our hotel fire alarm went off at 5 a.m., ushering us and many veterans and guests visiting for the B-25 gathering outside in the dark (I’ve never seen so many bomber jackets at that hour). I grabbed my work laptop, headset, and purse. AOPA’s videographer Paul Harrop started evaluating what order to evacuate his video equipment, and Mike came out with all of his photo equipment. Thankfully it was a false alarm. But, by that time, we were loaded and ready to head to the airport; then the fire trucks pulled in. Paul directed us through the only narrow exit the fire trucks left open.

Getting ready for B-25 morning photo shootAt 5:30 a.m., we were getting the Cessna 172 ready while the B-25 crews performed their preflight inspections. Mike and Aaron needed to be wheels up by 6 a.m. to not disturb the ceremony set to take place before the B-25s started up. While they orbited the airport, Aaron had to dodge other GA traffic making last-minute approaches to the airport to witness the mass exodus. Paul and I took video and photos on the ground. The organizers sent an escort with us so that we could move to different locations instead of staying corralled with the rest of the media. After hitting one bump before crossing a taxiway, Paul nearly fell off the back of the golf cart…thankfully he regained his balance—and grip. Our friend Collis Wagner thought he was going to have to scrape him off the taxiway.

Paul Harrop

Paul Harrop captures video.

Aaron and Mike orbited the airport for two hours, from dark through sunrise to daylight, until the last B-25 took off. We booked it back to the hotel about five minutes away. I started writing in the car while Paul took side streets to avoid the traffic (dozens of people had lined the airport to watch from the side of the road). Less than two hours after leaving the airport, we had our story and video back to our team at Frederick, and photos for a slide show followed shortly (thankfully, Mike was able to work with the photos I shot from the ground).

Cessna 172

Aaron Coleman is a proud AOPA member.

Then it was back to the airport to finish some more assignments and on to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton for some information gathering about the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders. We’ll have the chance Wednesday to briefly interview the five remaining raiders. We hope you’ll enjoy the sights, sounds, and history of the B-25 gathering and Doolittle Tokyo Raider’s seventieth reunion.

Taxiing for takeoff.

Hawker Beechcraft reports huge loss for 2011

Friday, April 13th, 2012

As anticipated, Hawker Beechcraft has released its Form 10-K to the Securities and Exchange Commission reporting an operating loss of $481.8 million and a net loss of $632.8 million on sales of $2.44 billion for 2011. (Net losses were $451.6 million in 2009 and $304.9 million in 2010.) The company is $2.33 billion in debt. At the bottom of this paragraph is a link to the actual report, and you can read about the loss figures on page 47. On page 50 is the previously expected comment that there is doubt the company can continue. That said, Hawker Beechcraft will continue, possibly through sales of assets alone, but the more likely scenario is a Chapter 11 bankruptcy that allows it to reorganize. The company has completed agreements with several lenders using aircraft as collateral to pave the way. The publication Corporate Jet Investor reports a restructuring plan could be announced April 30, or if all lenders agree, it could be delayed to May 15.  Here is the actual filing.

Here from the report is what Hawker Beechcraft is required to say by company-hired accountants in the just-released report: “As of December 31, 2011, Management has concluded that there is substantial doubt about the Company’s ability to continue as a going concern. This conclusion was reached based on a variety of factors, including those described below. We determined not to pay our interest obligations under the Notes on April 2, 2012 and anticipate an inability to pay interest on the Notes on future interest payment dates. Furthermore, we will be required to repay or refinance our Senior Secured Credit Facilities and the Senior Tranche Advance prior to the repayment of the Notes and we will be required to repay or refinance the Senior Notes prior to the repayment of the Senior Subordinated Notes. The Company has suffered recurring operating losses resulting in a significant net shareholder’s deficit that raises substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern. The Company is operating under a forbearance agreement with its lenders which defers interest payment obligations and provides relief from loan covenants through June 29, 2012. Due to the fact that we have recurring negative cash flows from operations and recurring losses from operations, we will need to seek additional financing. There is substantial doubt that we will be able to obtain additional equity or debt financing on favorable terms, or at all, in order to have sufficient liquidity to meet our cash requirements for the next twelve months.”

Here’s some analysis of what is going on from Morgan Stanley manager Heidi Wood, as reported by AOPA Editor at Large Tom Horne.


Barnstormers storming to the Midwest this year

Friday, April 13th, 2012

If you can get to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Illinois this summer, you’ll have a chance to drink in some mighty nice antique aircraft and hang out with the folks who fly them. The American Barnstormers Old-Fashioned Tour is making its every-other-year appearance in August. Weather permitting, you’ll see 14 aircraft and their costumed pilots, and even purchase a ride.

The airplanes will swoop into five cities this year. Pilot and PR coordinator Sarah Wilson says the tour has been scaled back just a bit from previous years (when it debuted in 2006, there were 15 biplanes and they toured nine cities).

“We just weren’t sure we could do it this year,” she says. Pilots come from all over the nation–in airplanes that average speeds 100 mph or less–to form the tour. But the “core group”–those pilots who have participated from the beginning–said, “Please, let’s do another one,” Wilson says. The pilots will remain three days at each stop, giving them more time between legs.

Here’s the schedule:

New to the tour this year are Wilson’s 1929 Stearman Model 4E; a 1937 Waco YKS-7, and a Curtiss Pusher.

My colleagues Al Marsh and Mike Fizer joined the group for their inaugural tour in 2006. (You can see the article, video, and photos here.) Al recalls without the least bit of nostalgia the heat wave that ensnared Michigan that July. With temps reaching 105, he wondered how the tour pilots handled it in their heavy costumes.

Still. Flying with biplane pilots on a tour of the heartland? Steven Tyler, you can keep your Rock ‘n’ Roll fantasy camp. This one’s more my speed.

Should AOPA be at the NY Autoshow?

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

 Terrafugia’s Cliff Allen reports more than 2,000 people have seen his flying car fold and unfold its wings. He’s finding pilot prospects.

Terrafugia at NY Autoshow

Here is his comment in an e-mail from the show: ” I’m talking with 5 to 10 people PER HOUR, about the Sport Pilot certificate.” 

Some are asking if all small planes fly at 30,000 feet, and if a pilot certificate takes years to complete. He is curing them of such misunderstandings and snapped the phone picture with this posting. The Terrafugia, Allen said, is getting the most press of all the vehicles at the show. Allen added that AOPA needs to attend car shows to attract new pilots to aviation.

WorldFlight Pipistrel back in Europe

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

(Updated April 18. He has reached Malta. He was headed for Tunis but fuel levels over Libya dictated changing to the alternate, Malta, after a 10-hour flight Wednesday. The turbocharger is repaired and working. The oil return line to the Rotax turbocharger was blocked by carbon soot. The situation had been building for some time, including all the hours he spent over the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean. Look for the blog item from the mechanic titled “Glen Meyer’s Report” to see what he found here.)

Matevž Lenarčič of Slovenia, who just left South Africa on his GreenLight WorldFlight west around the world, had a turbocharger failure near Keetmanshoop, Namibia, and will remain there at least until April 12 while the turbocharger is replaced.

Click picture to enlarge, then click again.

The village is located in the lower third of Namibia, near South Africa. The turbocharger of his Rotax engine failed, due to a gap in the engine’s oil return line. It appears the lack of oil did not damage the engine due to the pilot’s quick reaction. Lenarčič realized he was only two miles from an airport, and intentionally shut the engine down to save it. Given the gliding characteristics of his Pipistrel, he had an easy glide to Keetmanshoop, where there is a tower, a modern terminal building, and a beautiful village nearby. The engine has had 400 hours of extreme heat, cold, dust and altitude, flying to Antarctica and above the top of Mt. Everest (topping out above 29,400 feet).

He is also having difficulty getting permission to cross Libya. He hopes to make it to Aero Friedrichshafen in Germany, an airshow that begins April 18, to celebrate his flight. AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Tom Horne hopes to interview him there, but it depends on turbocharger replacement and airspace permission from Libya, which has not been granted.

Help is on the way from The Airplane Factory in Johannesburg, South Africa, a light sport manufacturer and service facility that makes the Sling 2 and Sling 4 aircraft. There is also a dealer named The Airplane Factory in California. Like Matevz’s Pipistrel, the Sling has also flown around the world and is also powered by a Rotax. Check out Pipistrel here.  This is the second trip around the world for a Pipistrel.

Meet Fifi’s captain and 14-year-old Nick

Saturday, April 7th, 2012

Want to see a youngster with a real passion for flying? Look for the Nick in the red shirt this video, and you’ll see just that. Jim Moore, who reports for AOPA Online, has just published his video on Commemorative Air Force Col. David Oliver, the captain of Fifi, the only flying Boeing B-29 in the world. To B-29 crews in World War II, Oliver at 29 would had been the old man. Nick was at the B-29 every morning of Sun `n Fun.  After Moore’s interview in front of the plane and in the cockpit was over, I introduced Nick to Oliver, and Oliver gave him an inside tour. By the way, Moore not only shot this video, he edited it in the days following Sun `n Fun.

Flat Stanley’s incredible Sun ‘n Fun spring break

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

Most parent, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and neighbors of those who have small children know—and have met or traveled with—Flat Stanley, a character from Jeff Brown’s Flat Stanley children’s book. The book is often included in elementary school curricula, and students send him to friends and family to document his time and adventures. They then return Flat Stanley to the students with photos and a rundown of his activities.

Flat Stanley meets the U.S. Air Force ThunderbirdsMy cousin, who’s a first grader in Ohio, sent Flat Stanley to me about a week before Sun ‘n Fun, so I stuffed him in my purse for the trek to Florida. He’s a good little traveler—no complaints about the 3:15 a.m. alarm to wake up and leave for Baltimore Washington International/Thurgood Marshall Airport for a 6:35 a.m. flight. At Sun ‘n Fun, Flat Stanley accompanied me to interview the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, watch a night airshow, and man AOPA’s Sweepstakes Husky.

His adventures aren’t over yet. Back at AOPA headquarters, he’ll get to fly along in a Cessna 172 and later in April will travel to Ohio for the B-25 gathering at Grimes Field in Urbana. When he returns to my cousin, his envelope might be a little crowded with pictures and tales of his adventures, not to mention some foam glider cutouts and educational worksheets.

Flat Stanley is an excellent way to expose children to new experiences. Now, he can help introduce them to the wonders of aviation and plant the seed for future pilots.