Archive for May, 2012

Sentimental flight

Monday, May 21st, 2012

My journey back to Sporty’s for their annual fly-in May 19 was a special one. I soloed and earned my recreational pilot certificate there almost 12 years ago, and I had been back a couple of times over the (yikes) decade.

Departing Sporty's fly-inThis flight was sentimental because my dad was flying with me. On the way from Frederick, Md., I stopped at Boggs Field in Spencer, W.Va., to pick up my dad and head to Sporty’s for the sweepstakes giveaway. My dad had learned to fly in high school and took me for my first flight when I was 2 years old. He encouraged me to learn to fly and took me to Sporty’s for my training while I was in high school. However, as he reminded me on final approach into Sporty’s, this was the first time he had ever flown in there. He had briefly lost his medical right before I started flight training, so all of his time at Sporty’s had been on the ground.

We walked through the headquarters and reminisced over the time we had spent there and talked about the changes: Now there’s a residential airpark, a playground for children, and some new hangars. Familiar favorites had stayed the same. The electronic world daylight map is still hanging in the entrance to the shop. Jason in the operations department is still there—and he’ll call you by name even after a decade. And they still give away free hot dogs on Saturdays.

This is one flight I’m particularly thankful to add to my logbook. What are some of the sentimental flights you’ve made lately?

Aviation at its finest

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Sometimes, we pilots and controllers can be a cranky and judgmental bunch, picking apart our own or others landings (and not always in a constructive manner), complaining about air traffic control or other pilots, and griping about wide traffic patterns or annoying nonessential radio chatter.

Other times, we rise to become some of the finest ambassadors on Earth.

Kristen's soloSuch was the case May 15 at AOPA headquarters on the Frederick Municipal Airport in central Maryland. One of my students, Kristen Seaman, completed her first solo, and the tower controllers, pilots, and other flight instructors couldn’t have been better. Kristen included the magic words “initial solo” in her calls to the ground and tower controllers. The tower controller cleared her for takeoff, keeping an eye on her to make sure the Baron departing right behind her wouldn’t overtake the slower Cessna 172. When she greased her first landing, the controller enthusiastically congratulated her on a job well done. After two more landings, she taxied back for a celebration on AOPA’s ramp. A fellow instructor applauded as she taxied by, and a pilot who had heard the radio calls as he approached the airport stopped by to congratulate her after he tied down his aircraft. He commended her on joining an elite group of those who have soloed and encouraged her on the next steps in training and the rewards of becoming a private pilot.

I couldn’t have been prouder, well of my student, of course, but of the aviation community to see how many went out of their way to make her first solo even more enjoyable and memorable.

Just think, with that kind of community and encouragement from all pilots, instructors, and controllers—all the time—across the United States, it should be a cinch to make a dent in the student pilot dropout rate. We need to be careful, take a few deep breaths, and restrain ourselves when the curmudgeonly side tries to creep out, and go out of our way to be friendly to those trying to join the ranks of the 500,000-plus aviators in the U.S.

Last F-22 Raptor Delivery

Monday, May 14th, 2012

Here’s a report from Lockheed test pilot Brett Luedke about his final production test flight in an F-22.

Bret Luedke flew most of the F-22 Raptor fleet, starting with Raptor 04 through Raptor 195 as a test and production pilot for Lockheed Martin. Luedke flew his “fini” flight in Raptor 195 on April 25, 2012. Below is his recollection of that flight.

How do you describe the last flight in an airplane that has been your life for the past 19 years? It is a flood of emotions, sensations and memories.

The unique, deep-throated rumble during engine start of the Pratt & Whitney F119 engines brings a sense of confidence and strength as they breathe life into the Raptor.

The multiple “deedle deedle” warning tones of the Caution and Warning system during engine start gives you a sense of assurance the Raptor is awaking as normal. Later, in flight, that same sound can bring an instant rush of adrenalin as you scan the cockpit to determine the severity of the malfunction.

Giving a friendly wave for the last time to the fire trucks, security guards and the Raptor Mobile truck brings a sense of sadness and a feeling of thanks for the hundreds of times they have patiently waited – just in case they were needed.

Lining up on the runway for that last takeoff, flashing back to the very first time you lined up on a similar runway more than 30 years ago for your first jet flight, and thinking in the next instant, “Please don’t let me screw this up.”

Once airborne, the feeling of pure enjoyment as the Raptor responds to your every whim. The smile that crosses your face and the sense of pride you feel in the hard work of everyone on the Raptor team as you hear the air traffic controllers ask passing traffic if they’ve ever seen a Raptor and call you out for a fleeting glimpse.

The chuckle you get when air traffic control asks you to give your “best rate of climb” or “best rate of descent” and then shortly thereafter asks what altitude you are passing because their radar can’t keep up with Raptor.

Sitting at Mach 1.5 and 44,000 feet with a feeling of quiet calm knowing the Raptor is at home here.

Rolling into an intercept, remembering the feeling of frustration of the F-16 pilot unable to find the Raptor, knowing it was out there, playing with you and getting ready to blow you out of the sky.

Enjoying the simple fun of watching the clouds go whizzing by as you maneuver around and over them marveling at their simple beauty.

As you come up initial for the last time, glancing over at “Trigger” tucked in tight on your wing and remembering the fighter pilot motto: “Better to die than look bad.”

As you are “beating up the pattern” for the last time, hoping all the folks out on the flight line are enjoying the heart pounding exhilaration that is the F-22 as you pull seven Gs in the closed pull-up and watch out of the corner of your eye the white vapor trails generated off the leading edges of the wings.

The sense of sadness you feel as you hear “Betty” say, “Bingo Bingo,” and you know the ride of your life has come to an end.

The pride you feel as you taxi back in for the last time looking at the smiling faces and waving hands of the people there on the flight line to celebrate with you, knowing that in some very small way you had a small part to play in nurturing and developing the F-22A Raptor into the unequaled master of the sky that it is.

That was my last flight in the Raptor.

Bret “Lowkey” Luedke
“Raptor 26”

Hawker to be out of bankruptcy by year’s end

Sunday, May 13th, 2012


Almost before the naysayers could finish expressing shock at the Chapter 11 bankruptcy of Hawker Beechcraft, an end to the bankruptcy is in sight.

Hawker Beechcraft Vice President Shawn Vick met with Aviation Week and other reporters at the three-day European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition (EBACE) in Geneva, Switzerland, today to say the company, which filed for bankruptcy May 3, will emerge from bankruptcy before the year is out. When it does, former owners Goldman Sachs and Onyx will be bit players, while creditors owed the majority of the company’s $2.33 billion in debt will become the new owners. EBACE ends May 16. An interesting tidbit emerging from the press conference is the reluctance suppliers have had to fill orders from the Wichita-based manufacturer. The bankruptcy will allow the company to re-establish its supplier network using the $400 million it has to continue operations during bankruptcy. The refusal of some of the suppliers to fill orders may explain why the company has had two layoffs it attributed to a shortage of composite parts. Local Wichita reporters reported last year that other manufacturers were not experiencing the same shortage.

Vick also reported orders are picking up for the Hawker 900XP and 400XPR models, with 900XP orders running double those received last year.

The only drama remaining from Hawker’s trip to the brink and back is what the restructuring will look like. Court documents suggested various alternatives, including shutting down its jet line and concentrating on the King Air and piston markets. Given that Vick just announced increasing orders for the 900XP and 400XPR models, a total abandonment of the jet market doesn’t seem likely, but we will know more when the reorganization plan comes out at the end of June. Cessna officials have indicated interest in whatever may drop from Hawker’s table, as have others. The King Air line of turboprops is enticing to competitors–along with the service those aircraft require–but will Hawker Beechcraft want to sell it? Not likely. Also, the company has expressed a belief before the present management change that its Bonanza and Baron lines serve as a step-up to its jets, meaning it might not want to sell them. Even if it did, those models are less attractive to competitors.

Could the Chinese be Hawker’s savior? Not according to stock analyst Heidi Wood, who said China has settled on Cessna as a partner, and is no longer shopping.

Quick roundup on Hawker, Eclipse, Sikorsky

Saturday, May 12th, 2012


Hawker Beechcraft issued layoff notices to another 150 people yesterday, in addition to the 350 laid off three weeks ago. The Wichita Eagle reports that leaves levels in Wichita at 4,200. If it lays off a few hundred more the company will have to return tens of millions in financial aid gained from state and local governments.

Second issue: Is there confusion at United Technologies about the role that United Technologies is playing in the restart of Eclipse production? United Technologies Chief Financial Officer Greg Hays triggered the controversy during a phone call to financial analysts in April. United Technologies is the parent company of Sikorsky and Sikorsky owns aircraft manufacturer PZL Mielic in Poland.

Here’s Hays’ quote in answer to a question from stock analyst Howard Rubel of Jefferies & Company, who wanted to know why United Technologies is selling Rocketdyne but investing in Eclipse:

“Can I make it very clear we’re not going to invest any more money in Eclipse? We did make a small investment–less than $25 million–in Eclipse, really to service the aftermarket of the aircraft. I think there’s about 300 of those airplanes that have been delivered [incorrect–the actual number is 265]. But you know, we are not in the light jet business if you will. We’re in the aftermarket business supporting the planes that are out there, but we’re not in the manufacturing business for light jets. So, again, if we haven’t made that clear before…” He then asked Rubel if that was clear, and Rubel said, “Crystal.”

Very confusing, because Eclipse officials just signed a contract to build the jet with PZL Mielic that Sikorsky bought in March of 2007. So no, United Technologies does not build business jets, but Sikorsky’s subsidiary does. PZL makes the M-28 Skytruck in the King Air class of aircraft, but more importantly makes the S-70i Blackhawk. That’s the model that proves to the world that PZL is a first-class manufacturing facility, since nearly everyone in the world has heard of it. The United Technologies/Sikorsky/Eclipse will be well built.

The Dreadful, Wonderful RV-1

Sunday, May 6th, 2012

The RV-1 is a simply dreadful airplane – and that’s what makes it so important.
Had it been fast, comfortable, efficient, well engineered, and good looking, there would have been no incentive for aircraft designer Richard Van Grunsven to address its many shortcomings by inventing the RV line of kit planes – far and away the most successful ever produced with more than 7,600 examples currently flying.
The RV-1 has few admirable qualities. It’s primitive, painful to sit in, and ergonomically awful.
Even with the improvements Van Grunsven made from the time he built the airplane in 1965 until he sold it three years later (he replaced the 65-horsepower engine with a 125-horsepower model, added a bubble canopy, and a cantilevered aluminum wing) he couldn’t transform the sow’s ear into a silk purse. So he sold the RV-1 and designed and built the RV-3 in 1971 from a clean sheet. And that single-seat airplane, and the two- and four-seat designs that sprang from it, are phenomenal.
The RV-1 languished largely forgotten for decades until Paul Dye, an RV pilot and builder, discovered the remnants in a hangar in Houston, Texas, and swung into action. The NASA flight director recognized the RV-1’s unique place in aviation history, and he put together a group of volunteers to make the RV-1 airworthy again. They also flew it, promoted it, and this summer (the 40th anniversary of Vans Aircraft) they will deliver it to the EAA Museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for permanent display.
Until then, the RV-1 is touring the country, and a few fortunate, curious, and – if they know what’s good for them — short pilots (like me) get to move it Pony Express-style from one location to the next. (My 100-mile leg was from AOPA headquarters in Frederick, Maryland, to Pottstown, Pennsylvania, on May 6.)
Flying the RV-1, it’s easy to imagine the young Van Grunsven thinking about ways to address each fault in subsequent designs. From the seating position to the construction materials to the baggage compartment, trim system, and redesigned tail, little was left untouched. The RV-1 and the RV-3 are about the same external dimensions and used the same engine. But where the RV-1 is crude, ungainly, and uninspiring – the RV-3 that immediately followed is sleek, relatively roomy (once you’re actually in the seat), a model of efficiency, and an absolute delight.

Intro flight
My intro flight in the RV-1 took place on a mild spring evening with clear skies and light winds – ideal for getting to know a new airplane.
Preflight inspection showed the airplane has been carefully brought back to airworthy condition with a Catto fixed-pitch prop, new tires, new wiring, a Garmin SL40 radio, and an unscratched bubble canopy. The airplane hasn’t been restored to as-new condition, however. Its fabric is worn, the paint is faded and chipped, and the wings have scratches and dents from decades of accumulated hangar rash.
The RV-1 has a rudimentary fuel system (a single 22-gallon fuselage fuel tank and on on/off valve), a 14-volt electrical system (single battery and alternator) and minimal VFR avionics (no attitude indicator, gyros, or nav radios). Double-puck hydraulic brakes seem like overkill on such a light airplane, but they work. The steel-tube fuselage is fabric covered, and the aluminum wings with manual flaps appear quite similar to the RVs that followed. The wire-braced tail has manual elevator trim (ground adjustable tabs provide aileron and rudder trim), and the steerable, full-swivel tailwheel is solid rubber.
Climbing into the cockpit requires stepping on the seat with both feet and lowering yourself, carefully, into the non-adjustable, straight-backed seat. I’m barely 5 feet 8 inches tall, and the rudder pedals seem absurdly close with my shins and knees nearly banging on the fuel tank and instrument panel. The instrument panel also appears far too close to the pilot, and the throttle and flap handle are awkward to manipulate. The swing-over canopy locks into position in two places when the single lever is pushed forward, and a fresh air vent on the right side of the canopy provides almost no ventilation.
Engine start for the carbureted O-290 is normal, and taxiing requires S-turns to clear the path ahead. The pre-takeoff checklist is short: Fuel pump on, elevator trim set, canopy locked.
On takeoff, the tailwheel feels like it’s sliding on ice as the airplane accelerates through about 25 miles an hour, and it remains somewhat squirrely as long as it’s on the ground. Fortunately, aircraft acceleration is quick, and the RV-1 is flying before the lack of positive steering causes too much consternation.
Once in the air, the RV-1 has refreshingly light ailerons, its elevator is somewhat heavy, and the rudder is heavier still. The climb rate at 90 mph is 1,200 fpm (with full fuel), and the airplane had no trouble joining and maneuvering with the photo ship (an A-36 Bonanza with the rear doors removed) which was flying at 2,000 feet msl and 120 kias. Significantly faster speeds are possible, but the RV-1 runs out of nose-down trim at about 140 miles an hour, and higher speed requires constant forward stick pressure.
The RV-1 handled well enough during our 45-minute photo flight that I almost forgot the cramp in my left thigh, the contortions required to manipulate the throttle, and the discomfort of the straight-backed seat.
Approach and landing weren’t difficult as the RV-1 flies solidly in the landing configuration. There’s a nose-down moment when the manual flaps are deployed, and the flap handle itself makes the elevator trim difficult to reach. With two-thirds flaps and an approach speed of 70 mph there was no more nose-up trim available, so I made a main-wheel landing at that flap setting and kept the non-trustworthy tailwheel off the pavement as long as practical. Once the tailwheel touched down at about 20 mph, the RV-1 decelerated quickly to taxi speed.

Constructive dissatisfaction
The RV-1’s shortcomings are many – and they mostly serve to highlight the amazing progress experimental aviation has made in the nearly half-century since this airplane first flew. We take for granted that speed, efficiency, control harmony, superior construction materials, and brilliant avionics were somehow inevitable. But such extraordinary advancements only came about because a few visionary and restless people (Van Grunsven chief among them) believed they could do better.
The rest of us are beneficiaries of the fact that they were right.
Hopefully, there are some similarly gifted future designers out there flying today’s best airplanes with the same sense of constructive dissatisfaction.
We all look forward to the wonders they produce.

To follow RV-1’s tour: