Archive for July, 2012

A deserving toast to a helicopter pilot

Monday, July 30th, 2012

It’s not often that my passion for aviation intersects with my interest in craft beer–but it did recently, in what turned out to be a rather sad way.

I was enjoying a can of G’Knight (yes, good beer now is available in cans), an imperial red ale brewed by the Oskar Blues Brewery in Colorado. (A rather tasty one, too, I might add.) On the can was a cryptic comment about the beer’s namesake–and an unassuming URL that looked like it could refer to an N number. As an aviation journalist I had to look it up.

Gordon Knight was a Nebraska native who flew Army helicopters in Vietnam, where he earned a Purple Heart. In 1988 he moved to Boulder and made the leap from home brewing to professional brewing. He also continued to fly helicopters–often as a aerial firefighter. Knight died 10 years ago today, at age 52, after his helicopter crashed while he was fighting a forest fire just outside of Lyons, Colorado. The registration of the helicopter he had been flying was N3978Y, anchoring the URL printed on the can.

Knight had worked at a number of Colorado breweries, but never Oskar Blues. Yet his peers in the brewery saw fit to name a beer for their colleague, who died while doing something he enjoyed–and while trying to make a difference. A gesture like that tells me a lot about a person.

Here’s to you, Gordon Knight. Even though we never had the chance to meet, it’s clear from what I’ve read about you that I would have enjoyed the opportunity. 


My (HDR) view of Oshkosh

Monday, July 30th, 2012

AOPA writers, editors, reporters?, content creators?, whatever we are, each spend three and sometimes more hours per day beside our Husky talking with members during Sun `n Fun, AirVenture, and AOPA Summit. Between visitors, I took this iPhone shot with an app called Pro HDR. It combines three pictures exposed for bright areas, dark ones, and middle tones (the shot you would normally get) and averages them out. The result is “high dynamic range,” or HDR.

This appears to be one of our most popular sweeps planes ever. At Sun `n Fun members told me, “It’s a real GA airplane.” At Oshkosh the main comment was, “It’s beautiful.” That’s a little unusual considering only 10 percent of our members are tailwheel pilots. “I’ll learn to fly a taildragger if I win that one,” a Sun `n Fun visitor said.

Working on her birthday at AirVenture front gate

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Sharon’s birthday party at AirVenture main gate

Son Stacy with model of Dad’s airplane

The DeSotel family of Luana, Iowa, has made EAA AirVenture a family vacation since 1970–make that a working vacation. They are all EAA volunteers, with Dad Wayne and Mom Sharon working outside at the main gate when the lines get long, and son Stacy issuing credentials to the media. Stacy keeps a model of the family plane with him that was carved by his Dad. Wayne DeSotel not only carved the model, he built the plane, a Piel Emeraude (think French CAP 10 and you’ll have the same airplane, only this one’s not aerobatic). Sharon had a crafts shop she shared with her husband while he built it, but was little encouragement. “I’ll never ride in that thing, and you’ll never finish it,” she said. She is happily wrong on both counts. “I just love the view. People who fly in small aircraft get to see how beautiful this country is.” It was her birthday when this photo was taken and she celebrated with a candle in a muffin the day before AirVenture 2012 began.

Mystery Cessna plane not so mysterious

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

A Cessna 182 is sitting in the Cessna Aircraft exhibit space at Oshkosh, waiting for the Monday opening of EAA AirVenture 2012 and it is not all that mysterious. First of all, it says “Turbo” in bold black letters on the aircraft. So it is a turbo something. After that, experts in the installation of diesel engines say it is obviously an SMA  diesel engine that will now be offered in Cessna 182s. However, we won’t know for sure until the masking tape and paper masks come off Monday. So act surprised, OK?

Judge overrules union objections to Hawker talks with China

Monday, July 16th, 2012

Update: A federal judge has approved Hawker Beechcraft’s request to negotiate exclusively for 45 days with a Chinese company for purchase of all but the military portion of the Wichita firm.

Hawker Beechcraft’s union has objected to Hawker Beechcraft conducting 45 days of exclusive negotiations with Superior Aviation of China. An attorney for the AFL-CIO says there are several troubling points. To see the court filing for yourself, go to this page and look at document 356. A hearing on the request for exclusive negotiations with Superior Aviation takes place at 2 p.m today. The attorney said little is known about the Chinese company, and asserted in a court document that even though Superior Aviation is 60 percent privately owned, the $1.79 billion asking price will be totally financed by the Chinese government. The municipality of Beijing owns 40 percent of the company. Also, the attorney alleged there is a defense risk to the United States if the deal goes through. While early announcements claimed the defense portion of Hawker Beechcraft is not involved, Superior Aviation is entitled to a $400 million refund if Hawker later decides to sell its defense business. Why would Superior Aviation get a refund, the union attorney asks, if it never bought the defense business in the first place? The motion to deny exclusive bargaining with the Chinese company, which owns Superior Air Parts in Texas and a helicopter company that is not currently producing helicopters, also expresses concerns that jobs will not be kept in Wichita.

Solar Impulse returning home from Morocco

Monday, July 16th, 2012

UPDATE: Solar Impulse is safely on the ground at its home in Switzerland.

The Solar Impulse prototype, now in Madrid after visiting Morocco, will head out tomorrow July 17 for either home in Payerne, Switzerland, or if weather is bad, Toulouse. If they go, you can follow the action live from inside the cockpit. Once home the prototype is to rest in its hangar while its bigger brother is constructed for the world flight in 2014.  The main spar of that aircraft–that is 28 feet longer than the spar of the prototype now flying–failed a test while the prototype was returning from Morocco, and now the schedule for the world flight is uncertain.

Big week coming up for Beechcraft

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

The action will be fast and furious this coming week as Hawker Beechcraft tries to (1) win bankruptcy approval to talk exclusively to a Chinese businessman about buying the company (prediction–they’ll get it), (2) receives $25 million almost instantly to keep jet production lines open that Hawker was on the verge of closing immediately (prediction–the money will arrive on time). Not sure anyone is geeky enough to watch the court action document by document, but I wanted to post this link. See Hawker court action here. The hearing is Tuesday. Another question is, will an industry analyst be found that actually thinks the deal will succeed? So far there isn’t one. Analysts don’t even believe the businessman and his wife will be able to find $1.79 billion and will part out the company to raise the purchase money as though Hawker had gone to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy action.

Want to help launch a graphic novel about a WWII-era crop duster in peril?

Friday, July 13th, 2012

Duster has a little bit of everything: a Stearman Kaydet, a tenacious lady crop duster, World War II baddies, and Texas. But before you can order a copy, it needs some financial help.

The 215-page book takes place in the closing days of World War II. A widowed housewife-turned-crop-duster struggles to rescue her daughter from a band of war criminals who crash near her small Texas farm.

Duster’s writers and artists have put the project on Kickstarter, which is an online funding platform for creative projects. In other words, they’re looking for people who would like to back the book–become “early adopters”–and help fund the creation of the art that they want to see. The campaign launched June 18 and needs to raise $26,000. As of today, 277 backers had kicked in a total of $18,433. The campaign closes on July 24. You can download a free 40-page preview of the book, including the first part of the air battle between Joanna Kent in her Stearman Kaydet and a Luftwaffe Junkers Ju-290. If you choose to back the project, the creators are offering a number of incentives (not unlike the public television pledge drives) based on the amount you contribute.

Duster’s writers are Micah Wright, creator of the Wildstorm Comics series Stormwatch: Team Achilles; and Jay Lender, writer and director of animated television shows SpongeBob SquarePants and Phineas and Ferb. The artists are Jok Coglitore (rough layouts) and Cristian Mallea (pencils and inks).

Since you don’t come across a lady crop duster very often in fiction, I asked Wright whether he’s a pilot. He’s not, but the character of Joanna Kent is loosely based on his grandmother, who was a cotton farmer’s wife in West Texas during World War II. “The pilot aspect of Jo was inspired by real-life aviation pioneers like Jackie Cochran and Nancy Harkness Love, the two commanders of the Women Airforce Service Pilots,” he said. “Although this isn’t a story about the WASP, Jo was definitely informed by the struggles those real female pilots went through in a very rigidly gender-defined world.”—By Jill W. Tallman

Next Solar Impulse plane fails spar test

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

There are two Solar Impulse electric/solar airplanes. While HB-SIA (Swiss registration number) rests safely in Madrid for the right weather to return to Switzerland, HB-SIB that will go around the world is under construction. The main spar had been completed but snapped during a torsion test a few days ago, as was reported on the Solar Impulse site.  It’s a real setback for the 2014 world flight on zero fuel, hopping around the world on solar-recharged batteries.  Tears and sadness reigned in Dübendorf near Zurich just as engineers were preparing to celebrate the test’s success.

The only thing to do is to redesign and rebuild the spar, and whether it still flies in early 2013 is in doubt. It will be a bittersweet homecoming for the HB-SIA when it reaches Switzerland after a successful visit to Morocco, even though it was only designed for night tests.

It climbs to more than 20,000 feet by day, and descends slowly on battery power by night. Here’s wishing better luck to Bertrand Piccard and his quest to demonstrate alternative energy. I’m sending an e-mail to Piccard and Solar Impulse co-founder and CEO André Borschberg, [email protected], letting them know about this post.

It’s not easy, inventing the future.

Jets go boom

Friday, July 6th, 2012

Our friends at AvWeb discovered two videos, one of Brazilian jets breaking the glass facade of the country’s supreme court building, and another of U.S. jets blasting by the U.S.S. Carl Vinson, creating a rumble in San Diego and worrying residents 35 miles away. You’ll see window glass falling in the first two seconds of the Brazil video. Families were on the Carl Vinson to enjoy pre-July 4th festivities, as you’ll see. As one said, “Oh yeah!”