Archive for September, 2012

Comments from an Alaska veteran pilot

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

Every once in a while I get a letter from a reader that is especially encouraging and thoughtful. Today was just such an occasion when 30-year Alaska pilot Jim Gibertoni commented on my Waypoints column in the October issue . The subject is the use of general aviation for transportation and the associated challenges.

Given his decades of flying in challenging Alaska, his comments and observations are particularly valuable. He cut and pasted my article into his email and then inserted his comments into the article [I’ve noted his inserted comments in italics.] I’ve posted his letter verbatim below. What do you think?


I will save a copy of this article in my past great article file. Do not change anything it’s great. You are 200% correct and to me this is one of the pieces to the puzzle of why GA is going backwards.

My comments ( not to be confused with changes, do not change anything in this article) are in red. [I have put Jim’s comments in ital–Ed.]

When I write about using my Beechcraft Bonanza for transportation, I frequently get questions from members asking how to best plan for weather contingencies when flying a single-engine piston airplane. Good question. I wish there was a single, simple answer.

My first question to myself when considering a trip where weather is a factor is about the capabilities of the airplane and myself. I do this all the time, sole searching myself has kept me safe I believe. Is this the sort of weather situation that can be handled in a single-engine piston airplane? Very good question, I ASK MYSELF THIS EVERY FLIGHT. Let’s face it, while we like to crow about the utility of flying ourselves, there are limits, especially when flying airplanes like mine. I agree 200%, my plane is the same as yours 1969 U206/G. The plane is non turbo, no anti ice and was set up for economy, lost cost, LOP, and carrying allot weight. My plane has got to return money to the coffers. I am a plumber in Northern Alaska traveling from village to village (my pickup). It not a toy. I fly it 300 hours plus per year and about 10% is in hard IMC. Did I mention that I live in Northern Alaska and we have icing here (350 days a year).

Without even turbocharging to get into the flight levels, no ice protection except pitot heat, and no pressurization, my options are limited. No airplane is immune to weather, but with a turboprop, pressurization, and icing protection—and maybe even airborne radar—you can get through more situations than those of us who fly more pedestrian machines. Agreed, exactly correct, Looked at getting a Caravan numerous times. While a Caravan would add to the utility it would not return money to the coffers. The Math simply is not there.

Putting the gear aside for a moment, how am I doing? Instrument current and confident? Rested, hydrated, and nourished enough and feeling up to a challenge that may be a couple of hours down the airway—after I’ve been sitting at 9,000 or 10,000 feet all that time? And am I really up to the challenge today? I’m usually game for going for a look-see, but there is an occasional day where I simply don’t feel like running the flight planning gauntlet and the hassle that may come from having to stop short of the planned destination. Excellent

Those are the days I just stay home or buy a ticket and let someone else do the work. This sentence and the timing of this article on my doorstep is so accurate. In the last two weeks I skip 7 days in a row going to Kaltag a village about 250 miles west. One the eighth day I went under published MVFR weather. Nine times out of ten I am single pilot VFR/IFR. This day I took a second  pilot with me (inner voice). I have an STEC 30 A/P. Trip was non eventful other then hard IMC on the way home. Three days later I got ridiculed by other CFI for flying that day because of potential icing. Point is I do not have your option let someone else do the work. That not feasible, so I just wait for my window. A very old woman ask me last year if I ever had an accident with the plane. I told her no, I am way overdue!

However, making challenging flights is how we grow in our weather experience and decision making. Thank you for this sentence, you truly are a master at your writing skills, wish I could do this. Staying home when the sky darkens is a sure path to not getting much utility out of an airplane. Preaching to the choir. All things in life are in balance, sway one way and the story ends sadly, sway the other way and you lose utility and money. I am 60 now and been flying up here since the 70’s. Sometimes I think I have a PHD in this balancing act until I get caught, and I still get caught at times. Old Sicilian saying “you can be arrogant, you can be ignorant, however you cannot be arrogant and ignorant at the same time” Never forgot that and how it applies to Aviation. Next step for a lot of people is to sell the airplane, because they aren’t using it enough.

Most important for me is a flexible schedule. As I’ve said before, I don’t plan on traveling by GA anytime I have a hard and fast deadline to meet. If I don’t have the schedule flexibility to leave a day early or later and the forecast is for severe weather along the way, it’s not a trip for an airplane like mine.

There is no such thing as a hard and fast deadline in Northern Alaska. Been there done that, never ever to go back to it!

If I can take off in visual conditions and face building thunderstorms down the road, but know I can easily turn back to improving weather, that sounds doable. If the weather is isolated enough that I can easily get around it without nudging into fuel reserves—another good possibility. If the weather is at the destination, I’ll want to know how far it is to the nearest airport with visual conditions. A fuel stop may be required.

Once you take off, the plan may go out the window. Maybe that big gap between those storms fills in or the fog that is expected to lift at the destination doesn’t; then what? That’s when you act on the plan you made before takeoff—turn back or go elsewhere, or you dream up another one with the help of the onboard weather gear, Flight Watch, and ATC. This is when it’s great to have a co-pilot aboard who can seek weather information for other airports and routes while you fly the airplane. Did I mention how nice it is to have even a basic autopilot for such trips? YIPEEEEEEEE, would not go anywhere without my STEC30, Call me spoiled,

but I won’t fly in weather anymore without datalink weather. I wish I could say that, however the reality is there is no Satellite radio, ADS-B or Datalink in northern Alaska, now and we are not scheduled to receive it for three more years. I live in Jurassic Park in dinosaur land.


It’s changed the way I fly and the utility I get out of my airplane.

Returning from EAA AirVenture in July, Flight Training Editor Ian Twombly and I left beautiful weather in Appleton, Wisconsin, bound for Maryland. A line of thunderstorms stretched from Cleveland eastward. More storms were developing over West Virginia, but it looked like we had a clear path over Pittsburgh. As we progressed that afternoon (our schedule didn’t permit a morning flight) the two systems began to merge. Climbing to 11,000 feet to stay visual, we maneuvered among cloud tops and had to turn due south toward Parkersburg, West Virginia, to get through the narrowest part of the line. Thanks to the datalink weather, Stormscope, and ATC, we were in clouds less than five minutes and never got wet—despite some impressive thunderstorms east of our course. Once south of the line we turned east and paralleled it all the way home.

Returning from Wichita after flying the Cessna 182 JT-A diesel airplane (“Jet A for Your Skylane,” page 52), AOPA Live Executive Producer Warren Morningstar and I skirted similar weather in about the same place—again at 11,000 feet and with supremely clear skies behind us. We passed through beautiful sunset-lit cloud canyons and dodged to the south as dusk turned to darkness. We could see lightning in the clouds well north and south of us, but we weren’t in IMC more than five minutes during the entire trip. Challenging and satisfying flying, but started only with options available.

Articles like this are why I subscribe to AOPA magazine

Legal bill for Hawker bankruptcy hits $5 million; That’s not the most important issue

Friday, September 28th, 2012

It should be no surprise that the bill from Kirkland & Ellis, a New York law firm specializing in bankruptcies and restructuring, has hit $5.1 million, plus expenses of nearly $200,000, for handling the Hawker Beechcraft bankruptcy. Click here and check out document 638. It’s popular but naive to assume that’s too much, or even that it’s a further financial burden on Hawker. The firm negotiated a loan to keep the company going and to pay for the bankruptcy, so the money is there. They negotiated everything during 8,000 hours of work this year, from dealing with the pension plan to getting the approval of two-thirds of the people Hawker owes money to for the pre-China-deal bankruptcy plan. Oh, forgot. They negotiated the deal to sell the company to a Chinese businessman who heads Superior Aviation Beijing. When you read news reports, you assume that’s the final answer. It’s not. Document 638 says the future sale is sitting on a toggle switch, and can go either to China or back to a conventional bankruptcy at any second.The issue missing from the news stories to come–ones that will focus on a $5 million and growing legal bill–is the Chinese deal. What happened? Nothing, so far. Court documents went so far as to promise that the full 45 days granted by the federal bankruptcy court in New York for exclusive negotiation with Superior Aviation Beijing wouldn’t be needed. They were, and we are a month beyond. If I am proven wrong and the deal goes through tomorrow (the lawyers have worked and even filed papers on most Saturdays since the bankruptcy started last spring), I promise to leave this post up as proof that I was wrong. But instead, I think something is wrong with the deal. It’s pretty hard during a recession to find banks, even in China, that will kick in what analysts think is a ridiculous $1.79 billion to buy Hawker. I think they are balking, as I would, although my balking would start at $179 instead of that number with all those zeros. Let’s not distract ourselves by discovering that lawyers make a lot of money. They’re going to make much more than $5 million.

Strange But True General Aviation News

Friday, September 28th, 2012

Next time, just go to the gas station.  Thieves broke into Springville Airport and siphoned off gas from at least four aircraft, reports the Independent. One of the planes caught fire and was destroyed.

Let’s go flying with Mitt Romney! The Republican presidential candidate is using his campaign plane as a fundraising tool.  For a $15 minimum donation, two of his supporters can win the chance to fly with him for one day, reports ABC News.  He also hopes that they can come up with a better name for the aircraft besides “Hair Force One.”

I guess she was in a rush.  A mentally disturbed woman drove her car through the gate at Hawaii’s Kalaeloa Airport and onto the runway, reports WAFB-TV.  Christine Keliikuli, who was determined to be mentally disturbed, asked security if she could go out and see the planes.  When she was denied, she drove her car through the fence. She was arrested and charged with trespassing, criminal property damage and driving without a license.

Highway or runway?  A confused pilot accidentally landed on State Route 64 instead of Grand Canyon National Park Airport, reports Flying magazine.

I hope they got good deals. Nigeria’s billionaire class has spent around $225 million on private jets in the past two years, reports the Daily Independent. Planes bought in the past two years include a Challenger 600 and a Global Express.

We’ll end the week with this heartwarming story of Cora Rand. Cora is a 16-year-old student pilot who decided to build flight hours by flying from Florida to Aurora, Colo., with her flight instructors to help raise money for the Colorado Organization for Victims Assistance specifically to help victims and families of the Aurora movie theater shootings, reports the Salina Journal.

A friend overhead

Friday, September 14th, 2012

I wrote this week about a Coast Guard rescue of two pilots stranded in a sinking Cessna 185 floatplane off the California coast. Pilot Chris Verbil contacted me this morning to tell me the rest of the story.

I had written about the Civil Air Patrol airplane that located the downed aircraft, the California Highway Patrol airplane that continued circling when the CAP airplane ran low on fuel, and the Coast Guard crew that lifted the two men out. But tying everyone together was a Socata Trinidad at 8,500 feet, relaying messages between lower aircraft and Oakland Center.

Bob Lenox, the pilot of the Trinidad, had been on his way back from a fly-in in Paso Robles with his wife when he heard communications breaking down between the CAP airplane and Center, Lenox told me later today. The airplane lost radio contact, and so Lenox began relaying messages. He continued relaying messages and giving status reports, keeping the aircraft in sight, for about an hour and a half, he said, until the father and son on board the Cessna were safe inside the Coast Guard helicopter. In a Socata users group online, Lenox shared his side of the story, calling the diversion an “inconsequential inconvenience to help out fellow aviators.”

No pilot wants to face an emergency landing on rough seas, but it’s reassuring to see how the aviation community can come together in an emergency: CAP, CHP, CBP, ATC, the Coast Guard, a fellow pilot, (and others?) all played a role in getting the pilots home safe. Bravo.

-Sarah Brown

Strange But True General Aviation News

Friday, September 14th, 2012

Here’s a weekly roundup of  all the strange, crazy, unique, and interesting things people do in the general aviation community. Enjoy!

Let’s go to the video tape. A cameraman in the Netherlands was in the right place at the right time when his cockpit camera filmed two single-engine planes flying side by side that got stuck together at the wings, reports 9 News.  One plane was towing a political banner, while the other was filming a commercial; both landed safely and no one was injured.

I hope you can “swallow” this story! The annual swallow migration to San Juan Capistrano, Calif., includes a stop in Rockford International Airport–much to the chagrin of pilots flying jets used by House Speaker John Boehner and media icon Oprah Winfrey.  Swallows collided with an Embraer ERJ-135 used by the speaker and a Bombardier Global Express used by Winfrey, reports the Rockford Star.

I guess he failed that test. A man doing a brake test on his 1943 Beech 18/C-45 ended up in a ditch and needed to be rescused, reports WAYV-TV.  He was doing the brake test and they failed, and he was rescued by nearby tractor.

He actually “landed” at Home Depot.  Pilot Jim Victor was minding his own business, shopping at Home Depot, when he got a call from Bob Smith, president of the Kingsville, Ohio, Volunteer Fire Department.  Neighbors heard what they thought was an accident, and the fire department was called, reports the Star-Beacon. In fact, they heard the Victor’s aircraft, a Pitts S-2B biplane, crackle and pop, but he landed the airplane safely without incident.

It’s raining catfish!  Our own Editor At Large Tom Horne earlier this week posted here about an unusual sight at the Vero Beach, Fla., airport when he landed–catfish flopping on the ramp!

9/11 – How Did You Mark The Day?

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

I was working for an airline (and about to board a flight) when the tragedy of 9/11 happened.  I saw numerous stories of remembrance and how people were acknowledging the 11th anniversary of the event, so I posted the question on the AOPA Facebook page.

We received 34 comments. I’m a student pilot, and I felt the best way to mark the day was to fly with my flight instructor, Alyssa Miller.  Most of the commenters said they were going to fly.  Below are some of the more interesting posts.

Wayne Vaughn I am doing my first cross country solo. I will enjoy my freedom to fly in the nation that is still the most free in the world to show that the terrorists did not succeed.

Denton Finley Celebrating my freedom to fly.

Zak Margolis Flying. I try to make sure I have a log book entry every 9/11.

Joseph Turnbach I have to work today, building Dreamliners for the commercial airlines. I may fly this weekend though and enjoy some South Carolina fall weather.

Douglas Swain Farnam Giving flight lessons. And enjoying the freedom of flight!


An FAA inspector’s recollections of 9/11

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

We all remember where we were and what we were doing 11 years ago today, on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Several of us shared those memories this morning, spurred on in part by the gorgeous, clear blue sky–just like the sky we saw 11 years ago.

Even after all these years, however, I’m intrigued by other accounts of that day. Today I read for the first time the 9/11 account of an FAA inspector who was then assigned to the FSDO at John F. Kennedy International in New York City, and posted today by

An interesting perspective and one I had not read before. Take a look and tell me if you agree.

Hayley Brown’s Inspiring Comeback

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

Many of those who read the harrowing “Tragedy in Mexico” story in AOPA Pilot of a June accident that killed a volunteer pilot and injured three passengers want to know how the survivors are doing. The answer is better than expected. In fact, miraculously better.
Hayley Brown, 18, was the most seriously injured. As you’ll see in this video, she’s making great progress in her recovery and will begin college early next year (about five months later than originally planned). These images of the aftermath of an aircraft accident aren’t easy to watch, but look closely and see the triumph of this young woman’s incredible spirit. It’s a will not just to survive — but to live fully.
We’re with you, Hayley . . .

To read the AOPA Pilot “Tragedy in Mexico” story and see photos and a video about the accident, follow this link:

Video shows Dutch mid-air collision

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

Two banner-towing aircraft from competing political parties demonstrate how NOT to fly formation. Actually they weren’t trying. One airplane got its landing gear tangled in the wing of the other aircraft. The two headed to a beach where one got untangled and made a safe landing, while the other safely landed at a nearby airport.

P-51, Hollywood actress, attracting new pilots

Monday, September 10th, 2012

Just about everyone is talking about ways to grow the pilot population. AOPA created a new department towards that goal. The Iowa Aviation Promotion Group has created a slick Hollywood-style video featuring Doug Rozendaal flying the Commemorative Air Force’s Gunfighter Mustang but with actress Stephanie Brown stepping out of the cockpit at the end, aimed at increasing the pilot population. She appeared in the TV series “Two and a Half Men,” and several movies including “Ash” and “Dating Games People Play.” It can be licensed for meetings and television ads. It has already proven effective in Australia.