The autopilot turns 100

June 18, 2014 by Mike Collins

It seems hard to believe, but the first aircraft autopilot was demonstrated 100 years ago today. On June 18, 1914, Lawrence Sperry let go of the controls of a Curtiss C-2 biplane, stood up in the cockpit, and raised his hands high above his head. The crowd below roared its approval as Sperry’s mechanic then walked out onto the airplane’s wing–and it remained in level flight.

This took place above the Seine River during France’s Airplane Safety Contest. A total of 57 “specially equipped” airplanes, featuring such innovative technologies as magnetos, self-starters, and carburetors–all still used today–competed for a prize of 50,000 francs (about $10,000). Sperry was the only one to demonstrate a gyroscopic stabilizer, and won the prize. In 2004, Aviation History presented an interesting article about the flight; it can be read online

Sperry’s father, Elmer, had developed the gyrocompass–at the time, a massive affair that had been installed on a number of U.S. warships.

Lawrence Sperry’s flight also marks the centennial of Honeywell Aerospace, which is one of four business divisions of 129-year-old Honeywell. Through organic growth, acquisitions, and mergers of legacy companies, Honeywell Aerospace can trace its heritage back to Lawrence Sperry (click the link and scroll down the page). The Sperry Gyroscope Company became Sperry Corporation, much of which moved to Phoenix in the 1950s and became the Sperry Flight Systems Company–today a part of Honeywell Aerospace.

Other firsts for Honeywell Aerospace include the first gyro horizon and directional gyro, cabin pressurization, the first gas-turbine auxiliary power unit, the first ground proximity warning system, and the first 3-D airborne weather radar. An interactive anniversary website details this evolution. Sperry’s accomplishment finds itself in good company a century later.

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Alyssa Miller

Indianapolis rolls out Midwestern hospitality

May 30, 2014 by Alyssa Miller, AOPA Online Managing Editor

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Aircraft started arrriving early for AOPA’s Indianapolis Fly-in.

Indianapolis Regional, one of the reliever airports for the Super Bowl in 2012, is rolling out the Midwestern charm on a grand scale once again—this time for AOPA’s Regional Fly-In May 31.

Yellow chocks are spaced evenly apart at the edge of the concrete and grass, ready for the early arrivals. Volunteers donning neon green shirts point the way to the parking area. IndyJet employees park aircraft comfortably apart, so you don’t have to worry about swapping paint with the wing of the aircraft beside you. As soon as the prop stops, volunteers are right at the door, offering to help passengers disembark, unload any baggage, and grab the tow bar to finish parking the aircraft and secure it with chocks.

A volunteer helps get chocks in position for arriving aircraft.

A volunteer helps get chocks in position for arriving aircraft.

Now that’s an impressive welcome!

The volunteers and IndyJet and AOPA staff have been working nonstop to make sure attendees feel welcome.

Volunteer Michael Pastore, a 20-year AOPA member, is among the pilots camping out overnight at Indianapolis Regional. He flew is Cessna 140, Toto, from Naperville, Ill., and said he volunteered to help because he believes pilots need to do their part to support the organization.

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Volunteers welcome pilots with that famous Midwestern hospitality.

Brian Lynch a helicopter instructor from Clarskville, Tenn., drove 5.5 hours through the night to get to Indianapolis to do his part. He napped a little, and then shortly after 7 a.m., he started helping set up, marshal aircraft, and man the gate leading to the airfield. He was still going strong at 7 p.m. But, he said, he’s going to take Saturday morning off to schmooze with pilots before helping marshal aircraft leaving at the end of the fly-in. His purpose for coming to the flying: “See what’s going on, get the pulse of the community.”

The friendly welcome upon touchdown has set the atmosphere for pilots visiting into the evening at Indianapolis Regional. There’s no rush—just a bunch of laid back pilots taking in aircraft new and old, swapping stories, and sharing some of that warm Midwestern hospitality.

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Upside down. A pilot walked away after a Cessna 180 flipped over after it was caught by a gust of wind when landing at Cameron Airpark in California’s El Dorado County, reports News10ABC. The pilot suffered only a minor injury.

Drone wanted! St. Louis police are searching for the owner of a $1,300 DJI Phantom 2 Quadcopter with a camera that crashed into the Metropolitan Square building, the city’s tallest, reports Reuters. The FAA had been investigating the crash, as commercial use of drones is prohibited by the agency, but handed it over to police until they find more information on the crash.

Emergency landings. A father and son made an emergency landing in a field after their aircraft’s engine cut out before landing at Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene Airport, reports KTVB-TV. A pilot ended up with stiches in his head but otherwise uninjured after crashing into a grove of trees near Caledonia, Minn., reports KELO-TV.

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Benet Wilson

Strange but true general aviation news

May 16, 2014 by Benét Wilson

Birds are the problem, monkeys are the solution. Officials in China are using trained monkeys to knock down bird nests near a military airport to keep feathered friends away from the facility, reports AvWeb. The airport previously used humans for the job, but they were deemed slow and expensive. Two monkeys have managed to destroy 180 nests in only two months.

Helicopter to the rescue! A helicopter was used to remove a Taylorcraft aircraft that was pushed into trees by the wind shortly after taking off, reports KTUU-TV. The pilot of the aircraft was not injured.

All’s well that ends well. A pilot suffered minor injuries after his experimental aircraft crashed in a swamp near South Carolina’s Sumter Airport, leaving him trapped for seven hours before being rescued, reports the Sumpter Item.  And a pilot suffered nonlife threatening injuries after making an emergency landing on a Little League baseball field outside of San Antonio, Texas, reports the San Antonio News-Express.

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Benet Wilson

Strange but true general aviation news

May 9, 2014 by Benét Wilson

Fore! A Cessna CJ3 with three people aboard walked away after the aircraft overshot the runway at an aviation community near Daytona, Fla. ,and landed in a golf course water trap, reports AvWeb.

Is this your nosewheel? A pilot flying a Pulsar XO Series 1 homebuilt got a radio call from people at Bremerton National Airport informing him that the nosewheel of his aircraft had been found on the runway after takeoff, reports the Bremerton Patriot. When he returned to land, he touched down on his two main wheels. The aircraft was damaged, but the pilot wasn’t injured.

 

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The AOPA Foundation has opened applications for the second year of its Giving Back grant program. The effort was created to award grants of up to $10,000 to 10 nonprofit groups that perform charitable work through general aviation. In 2013, 10 very worthy groups received the grants.  Two of the organizations I recommened in a post last year won grants. Below are my suggestions of organizations who should consider applying for the 2014 awards.

  • Girls With Wings — Pilot and founder Lynda Meeks offers scholarships, female role models, and events across the country designed to interest women and girls in aviation.  A foundation grant would help Meeks give away more scholarshps. Read my AOPA Online story here on updates of past winners.
  • Vision of Flight – As a minority woman, I would love to see more people of color discover the joys of general aviation. To that end, Orlando-based Vision of Flight provides GA opportunities for economically disadvantaged youths. Read about their effort to honor the Tuskegee Airmen Red Tail pilots here.
  • Michigan’s Howell High School. The high school has partnered with Howell, Mich.-based Crosswinds Aviation and the local EAA Young Eagles chapter on an introduction to aviation program. I saw  Matt Dahline, owner of Crosswinds Aviation, at last month’s Sun ‘N Fun, where he was visiting Central Florida Aerospace Academy, an effort he hopes to replicate in Howell. And here’s a story I did on the current program.
  • Able Flight – This organization that provides full scholarships to teach those with physical disabilities how to fly. This is an organization that deserves every dime it gets toward its goal of transforming lives. They awared a record 14 scholarships in April, but the need far outweighs the resources.
  • A local chapter of the Ninety-Nines or Women In Aviation, International. I applaud the work that local chapters do in promoting aviation. The Ventura County, Claif., chapter of the Ninety-Nines partnered with the local EAA chapter to build a viewport and picnic area at Camarillo Airport. And the Atlantic Aviators, a a chapter of Women in Aviation, International based at New Bedford Regional Airport in Massachusetts, built a wonderful playground at the facility. Both of these efforts are good example of AOPA President Mark Baker’s objective to make general aviation airports welcoming and instruments to inspire a new generation of pilots.

The grants are available only to 501(c)(3) organizations, and not to individuals. Applications will be accepted through July 11, 2014. Winners will be recognized at a ceremony at the AOPA Homecoming Fly-In in Frederick, Md., on Oct. 4. So apply today!

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Benet Wilson

Strange but true general aviation news

May 2, 2014 by Benét Wilson

Was that a beer can that just flew by? A promotional Budweiser Beer blimp that broke loose from its tether at an event in Saint John, New Brunswick, was found in a forest outside the city, reports CBC. Transport Canada issued a notice to pilots about the wayward blimp.

High-flying UAVs seek marijuana crops. If you’re illegally growing marijuana in the West Midlands region of the U.K., you may want to reconsider. The government is now using UAVs with heat-seeking cameras to find farms using hydroponic lights to grow their “crops,” reports the Halesowen News.

Speaking of UAVs A UAV operator in Springfield, Ohio, was arrested after his drone, while shooting video of a car accident, would not get out of the way of a medical helicopter trying to get to the scene, reports AvWeb. The man said he was going to give the video to a television station.

Water landing. A Swedish man survived his aircraft ditching into water off the Norrtälje municipality after he forgot to raise the landing wheens as he approached the water, reports The Local.

 

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Jill Tallman

The beautiful B-17

April 29, 2014 by Jill W. Tallman, Associate Editor

B17  Waiting to DepartLast week I mentioned that Irma Ward and her husband, Hugh, came to our regional fly-in. Hugh wanted a ride on the EAA B-17 Aluminum Overcast, and Irma, a painter, had set up an easel to capture the beautiful bird while it waited for clear skies and eager riders.

I was impressed at how rapidly Irma was committing the majestic lines of the B-17 to canvas with oil paint. She hadIrma painting completed a pencil sketch and had moved on to the actual painting when I talked with her on Friday morning.

Irma kindly sent me a photo of the finished painting. Isn’t it beautiful? She has a website, where you can see more of her work.

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Jill Tallman

Working hard for your first regional fly-in

April 25, 2014 by Jill W. Tallman, Associate Editor

kodiakIt looks it’s going to be a Texas-sized event. We’ve had about 2,000 individual RSVPs, and 707 airplanes are expected. Airplanes have already begun to arrive in advance of the fly-in, which kicks off Saturday, April 26.

Our Sweepstakes Debonair is front and center on the static display, waiting for you to check out her new engine and those decals you’ve been reading about. Editor at Large Tom Horne picked up the Debonair in Santa Fe, N.M. He got to San Marcos in about three hours, doing 199 knots, thanks to a brisk tailwind. Not too shabby.

It’s pretty warm today, and promises to be warmer on Saturday. I found Irma Ward in the shade of the air traffic control tower, with an easle set up. She was busily painting a portrait of the B-17 Aluminum Overcast, which is here at the airport selling rides. She and her husband, Hugh, came to San Marcos from Arlington, Tex. Hugh likes airplanes (they own a Piper Arrow), and Irma enjoys painting, so she’s painting the beautiful Flying Fortress for him, she explained. Hugh must really like Aluminum Overcast, because he had paid for a ride today.

One of the early arrivals was Gary Cole and a buddy, who arrived in Cole’s 1963 L-29, a trainer made in the former Czech Republic. Horne made a beeline for the unusual trainer, and quizzed the pilot as he was climbing out. Cole said it burns about four gallons a minute “if you’re just out playing around,” and 10 liters per minute in economy cruise.

We hope to see you on Saturday! If San Carlos isn’t in your neighborhood, perhaps one of our other regional events in 2014 would be more convenient.

 

 

 

 

 

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Benet Wilson

Strange but true general aviation news

April 25, 2014 by Benét Wilson

Darned birds. A pilot was forced to land his aircraft after flying into a flock of birds, reports the South Wales Evening Post. The pilot landed the aircraft, which flipped over, on his own airstrip. He was later diagnosed with a slight concussion.

When drones attack. A female competing in the running leg of Australia’s Endure Batavia Triathlon was unable to finish after allegedly being hit in the head by a drone being operated by a photographer,  reports the Guardian.  The photographer says his drone was not to blame, claiming the woman tripped after being startled by the drone.

Escape plan. An aerobatic stunt pilot was able to parachute out of his single-engine aircraft before it crashed on Vermont’s Interstate 89 near Highgate, reports the Burlington Free Press. The pilot suffered minor injuries.

Icy rescue. An 80-year-old man was rescued after his 1977 Citabria aircraft broke through the ice in Canada’s Little Trading Bay, reports Canoe.ca. He sustained minor injuries and was treated for hypothermia.

Speaking of rescues…A Good Samaritan is being credited with rescuing two passengers on a Beechcraft Bonanza that crashed in the water as it attempted to land at Florida Keys Marathon Airport, reports the Bradenton Herald. No one was injured.

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