Posts Tagged ‘Tom Haines’

Remembering the Kennedy accident

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

I returned home from a few early Saturday morning errands to find a panicked message on my home answering machine. It was July 17, 1999–you remember the days before PDAs and text messages when we were out of touch for sometimes hours at a time. Anyhow, the message was from a media contact at Piper Aircraft who said the company needed help from AOPA. They were being hammered by the media because of the John F. Kennedy Jr. accident. Could we help?


Clueless as usual, I turned on the television to find that apparently everyone but I knew that young Kennedy was missing; his Piper Saratoga last heard from near Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, the night before. Thus began what turned out to be a very busy day full of media speculation.

To assist Piper, I tracked down AOPA’s media relations contacts at the time, Warren Morningstar and Drew Steketee. They both were already in the loop (they had pagers–you remember those). I put the two in touch with Piper. The media was starting to question the safety record of the venerable PA-32 and was looking for an independent source of safety information, such as the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. The PA-32 then and now has a fine safety record and the notion that the airplane was at fault quickly went away.

The July 1999 issue of AOPA Pilot happened to have a new Saratoga on the cover, which wasn’t lost on some resourceful reporters for major magazines and newspapers who quickly found my home number and started calling for insights into the airplane. Although I didn’t write that particular article, I did have several hundred hours in the trusty Saratoga. Before I was willing to share any comments I made sure I had a long enough conversation with the reporter to make sure that I felt he was truly looking for insights as opposed to seeking someone to support his own agenda. Most were quite reasonable and could be convinced not to speculate about the cause–especially since at that point they hadn’t even found the bodies of Kennedy, his wife, and sister-in-law.

The next day, a Sunday, I found myself in a Kennedy-esque sort of situation. I was flying northeast from Frederick, Maryland, to Latrobe, Pennsylvania, to look at an F33 Bonanza that I was considering buying. It was a typical Mid-Atlantic sort of summer morning–hazy, hot, and humid. There were a few scattered cumulus clouds around, but they were mostly masked by the haze. Knowing the region well, I launched VFR but soon regretted the decision. It was technically VFR, but the haze was incredibly thick–even by our usual standards. Even in daylight, I was relying mostly on the instruments, happy to have a solid autopilot in the A36 Bonanza I was flying. By my late-morning return to Frederick, the conditions were even worse, but I had wised up enough to file IFR. I couldn’t imagine flying in such conditions at night and over water with no horizon–especially without an instrument rating. What was Junior thinking?

As AOPA Air Safety Foundation President Bruce Landsberg pointed out a year later in our Landmark Accident report, the NTSB determined the accident was the result of spatial disorientation caused by the haze at night and the young pilot’s relative inexperience in flying in such conditions.

In his blog this week, Landsberg reminds us that having a Plan B is the best strategy when you think you might be headed into a situation that is more than you can handle. Equally as important is a willingness to execute Plan B, which can sometimes mean telling naive passengers that you’re driving this evening or staying home, as disappointing as that may be. Better to be stuck at home than the subject of an NTSB report and on the receiving end of a lot of media speculation.

Flying the Aerocar–Step back in time

Monday, June 8th, 2009

My column about the status of the Terrafugia Transition “flying car” (or “roadable airplane”) has drawn quite a number of responses, but one in particular stands out. Rather than me telling you, read for yourself what AOPA member Paul Gerst experienced relative to Molt Taylor’s famed Aerocar. It’s a fun read and a fascinating look back to another era:

Your great piece, “From highway to airway” in AOPA Pilot’s May issue brought back some treasured memories!

In 1956, or maybe 1957, Kaiser Aluminum sent me to Longview, Washington, to meet with Molt Taylor about Kaiser becoming involved with the Aerocar.

Oddly, I was the only pilot in the headquarters sales organization. At that time Kaiser Motors was still making its often times “thrilling” cars, the Fairchild Division was making airframe components, Kaiser Permante (the cement company, not the HMO!) was into the federal highway program, and, of course, Kaiser Aluminum and Kaiser Steel were significant world wide suppliers of metals!

I was told that Henry Kaiser had seen the Bob Cummings TV show and was attracted to the prospects of the Aerocar. He envisioned that the then-embrionic interstate program could easily lay a quarter mile of landing strips parallel to the highway every 10 miles or so. No IFR needed, with good luck!

The business plan was to sell the separable airfoil and prop assembly on a 10-year repayment plan, and sell the road-able component like a car; at that time, two or three years “to pay”. Molt Taylor had a four-passenger mock-up in his shop, but the two-place model seemed adequate. We envisioned a throng of WWII pilots who had to travel a big territory buying Aerocars! Remember, that was the era when a DC-7 was the “last word” in air travel. It used to take 7 or 8 hours for the Chicago to San Francisco junket, but the stewardesses were in their twenties so one could survive, somehow, if he had to!

Molt met me at the Portland Airport arrival gate in the car section, as I recall, and he let me drive to the part of the field where the wings were parked.The car section drove a lot like a Porsche in first gear; very “torquey”. Molt and I relatively effortlessly attached the wings, tail cone, and empanage. The takeoff was amazing. I recall a trim-tab-like control in the middle of the panel just below where the compass was mounted. It had a couple of pieces of masking tape on which were written: “Take-off” and “Fly Level”, and that’s just what the Aerocar did when the lever was moved.

Molt and I went to a drug store and he bought something his wife wanted, I guess. Maybe he just made the trip to show me that the car was usable around town. Back then there weren’t 500 shopping carts littering every strip center parking lot. I doubt if the Aerocar would fair any better than my Audi S-8 does against a shopping cart!

Those were heady times! I was a young MBA just turning 30. I and my peers felt that the world was our oyster. Anything was possible. Why not the Aerocar?

My Audi S-8 will cruise the interstates at 90 mph for six hours with the all-wheel drive sneering at rain drops, the Bose system hammering out Ornette Coleman harmonies, as I lounge in fully adjustable Italian leather seats caressed by a climate control system that even shunts off the odors from the occasional cattle feed lot.

I think I get it.

Paul “PR” Gerst

Newport Beach, California

Could it be that aviation is a leading manufacturing innovator?

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Some business analysts are suggesting that auto makers must reinvent themselves in order to survive. WIRED magazine this month carries an article about how the car makers should become more like PC makers did 20 years ago. Early computers were purpose built by their manufacturers from hardware to software. All of that changed when companies began designing machines with standardized parts and the ability to run software programs written by anyone. Some of the old-line computer manufacturers couldn’t compete and went out of business.

WIRED suggests that car manufacturers should look to the PC world as a model. How about looking to aircraft manufacturers? Whether in the airliner, business jet, or piston markets, companies focus on what they do best, using major components from other manufacturers. Airframe manufacturers are really good at designing and building airplanes, but they leave the designing and building of avionics and engines to companies that do that well.

Do Ford, GM, and Chrysler really need to design and build their own engines and chassis and transmissions? Some car companies design and build everything, right down to the car radio. Necessary? Probably not.

Perhaps our aircraft manufacturers have been right all along.

When a hangar isn’t just a hangar

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

It’s almost June. Expensive wedding plans got you down? Rather than that lavish and highly expensive wedding hall, how about the hangar instead? For pilots and their aviation friends what a better place to celebrate a wedding ceremony than in the shadow of airplanes.

And so it went for the wedding of Keith Landrum and Jennifer Thacker. Landrum is the assistant chief instructor for Sporty’s Academy at Clermont County Airport near Cincinnati. He proposed to Jennifer from a Sporty’s airplane as friends and family on the ground spelled out the message.

With that kind of a proposal, it only stands to reason that the wedding reception would be in a hangar. In this case, the Palmer Hangar at Sporty’s. Guests enjoyed an aviation-shaped wedding cake in the shadow of Waco biplane, a Cessna Citation, and a Model A Ford.

Of course, an airplane would play a role in the honeymoon too, as the couple jetted off to to the Dominican Republic.

May Keith and Jennifer share the cockpit for many years to come.

Way to go, Sean

Friday, May 8th, 2009

Congratulations to famed air show pilot Sean Tucker for displaying terrific aeronautical decision making–true airmanship.

As you may have heard, Tucker landed on Highway 101 in northern California after concern that he didn’t have enough fuel to make it back to the airport. I can’t imagine a more difficult decision than one where you take a still-functioning airplane and put it down off airport. “Hope” always wants to horn in and convince you that you can make it back to the airport. But, concerned that he had a fuel problem, Tucker quickly assessed the situation and with assistance from the aerobatic team and photo ship he was flying with, put the airplane down safely without a scratch onto the highway. After adding fuel and with permission of authorities, he took off again and flew the short distance back to the airport.

As we have reported in AOPA Pilot making the decision to land off-airport is a tough, but often good choice. In this article, AOPA members retell their tales of such decisions. Once it’s clear you’re going to land somewhere other than airport, you need to take immediate steps to improve your chances of survival, as we noted in this article on forced landings.

Tucker is also to be congratulated for having the PR savvy to fess up to what happened–he ran out of fuel, although it appears a change in the fuel system in his aerobatic airplane may have contributed to the confusion about how much fuel was on board. To hear him recount the tale and hear what he learned from the incident, listen to this podcast from AvWeb.

I’ve known Sean for more than a decade and have always found him careful and wonderfully candid about his flying. As he relates, “Nobody is immune from the gotchas in aviation.”

True, but only the really bright pilots learn from their mistakes and are willing to share their learnings as completely as Tucker has.

A deal you can’t refuse

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Amidst all the economic and political turmoil and the seemingly endless torrent of threats to general aviation, I feel the need every once in a while to get away from it all, don’t you?

I have a plan. Maybe you can help. I’ve discovered this cozy little 17th century place in Normandy, France, that is just the sort of escape we’re all pining for. Of course, it includes a 3,000-foot grass runway with hangar, nine buildings, a golf course, 300-yard polo field, stables, and more on 105 acres. Good news! It’s for sale. Price? If you have to ask….

But, I know that a few of you out there are in a position to not just afford, but also NEED a place like this. So, you buy it and I’ll come visit. I drive a mean lawnmower, so I can even help out a little. Let me know when the deal closes and I’ll start packing.

Need a few details before sending the deposit? Check here:

Looking forward to hearing back from you soon.

Missing Meigs

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

The Garmin GNS 530 reported a groundspeed of 119 knots while reporting a true airspeed of 162 knots–43 knots of wind on the nose, adding a full hour to the trip from Frederick, Maryland, to Chicago. Even running lean of peak exhaust gas temperature, I was beginning to wonder about fuel reserves. The 530 was showing more than an hour and 15 minutes of fuel on landing, but that’s a straight line to the destination of Chicago Executive, Palwaukee (PWK). And I knew that Chicago Approach wouldn’t allow us a direct route over the city and Chicago O’Hare to PWK.

As predicted, the first Chicago Approach controller had a re-route for us, but at least a choice. Either over the southern end of Lake Michigan–a bit more direct, or south and west of the city before turning back toward PWK–longer, for sure. I chose the longer route because that lake is COLD this time of year in particular and we would be at relatively low altitude by then.

So around Robinhood’s barn we went and ultimately landed with about an hour of fuel on this VFR day, so plenty. Then it was nearly an hour car ride downtown where we really wanted to go. If only there were a GA airport nearer downtown. What a concept!

Standing on the lake shore looking out at Northerly Island, I felt as if I were at a wake–missing an old friend. Once the site of embattled Meigs Field, a perfect GA airport only blocks from the heart of Chicago, the island is now just another park among dozens along the lake shore. Mayor Richard Daley cowardly bulldozed the airport under the cover of darkness, knowing he couldn’t get away with it any other way.

For pilots, the Meigs legacy has become the poster child of the dangers of backroom politics and lack of federal protection for key airports. Legislation since then may reduce the likelihood of such a deed occurring again, but it won’t stop those of us who enjoy Chicago from wishing we had a more convenient choice.

Don’t let this happen to your airport. AOPA has lots of resources to help you protect your airport from the Mayor Daleys of the world and others who would do general aviation harm. But most important, get involved.

Another breakthrough for women pilots

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Women pilots made the news again this week, just a few days after Karoline Amodeo won AOPA’s 2008 Get Your Glass Sweeptakes Archer at the Women in Aviation Conference. Atlantic Southeast Airlines announced that the first all-female African American crew in commercial airline history piloted a Canadair CRJ 700 from Atlanta to Nashville and back on Feb. 12, 2009.

The crew included Capt. Rachelle Jones, First Officer Stephanie Grant, and flight attendants Diana Galloway and Robin Rogers.

The flight comes 36 years after Emily H. Warner became the first woman pilot for a major U.S. scheduled airline when she was hired by Frontier Airlines in January 1973.

The first all-female flight crew consisted of Capt. Beverly Bass, First Officer Terry Queijo, and Flight Engineer Terry Welch, flying a Boeing 727 from Washington National to Dallas-Fort Worth. Bass would go on to captain the first all-female crewed Boeing 777 flight.

Amodeo is headed to controller school. Maybe some day soon she will be guiding another all-female crew.

Nice to see those glass ceilings going the way of the ADF.

Monitoring one BIG baby

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

A blimp is like a child that never grows up. From the day its 200,000 cubic foot envelope is inflated, a Goodyear blimp is monitored 24/7–never left alone. I visited the Goodyear Spirit of Innovation today at its gigantic hangar on the airport at Pompano Beach Airport in Florida. The 200-foot blimp looks almost like a toy inside the enormous span. I’m told they can actually fit two of the blimps inside, although it must surely be tight. You can easily read the big Goodyear on the side of the hangar from space! Check out the satellite view from Google; switch to satellite view, search on “Pompano Beach Airpark, FL” and zoom:

Staff continuously monitor the gas pressure inside the envelope. Actually, an automatic system monitors the gas pressure and occasionally starts an air pump to inflate or deflate ballonets inside the envelope to maintain the proper helium pressure. Staff monitor the pump and other systems.

Look for a feature on the historic Goodyear blimps in the May issue of AOPA PILOT and a really amazing photo that we plan to shoot tomorrow. Goodyear Aviation, at 100, isn’t the only outfit to have a significant birthday this year. Stay tuned.

Business aviation finally wakes up

Friday, February 20th, 2009

Finally, aviation strikes back. Weeks after the auto executives and their PR flacks tucked tails between legs and drove to/from Washington rather than standing up and saying, “Oh, yes, business aircraft do have a place in our global companies,” and other companies canceled business jet orders by press release, aviation manufacturers are stepping up and promoting the notion that for a lot of companies appropriately sized business aircraft make a lot of sense. They improve productivity, speed commerce, and increase security.

Cessna CEO Jack Pelton kicked off the effort through ads in the Wall Street Journal that state: “Timidity didn’t get you this far. Why put it in your business plan now?” and “One thing is certain: true visionaries will continue to fly.” Pelton’s loud support for the business aviation sector caught the attention of the talk show circuit, including Rush Limbaugh, who spent a good portion of his show recently shouting about the jobs that GA creates and the benefits of business aviation. A transcript is on his Web site.

Meanwhile, Hawker Beechcraft CEO Jim Schuster also picked up the mantle in a series of ads suggesting the company’s King Air 350s are “Sensible enough to impress any Congressional Committee.” On a similar theme, another ad targeted Starbucks, the coffee giant that recently trimmed its fleet. “Dear Starbucks, You still need to fly. We can help.” The ad uses the Hawker 4000 as an example of a jet that “does most of what bigger jets do, but at half the price.” It urges the coffee company to “right-size” its flight department.

Even Cirrus Design CEO Brent Wouters hit the campaign trail, stumping on Fox Business News about the notion that private aviation is not only good jobs, but a real lifeline for small communities where airline service is disappearing and the efficiency of airline travel in general is eroding. A clip from FBN and a compelling video clip of the company’s Flying 2.0 plan is on the Cirrus Web site.

The entire business aviation community rallied on February 17 with the unveiling of an industry-wide campaign to reshape the image of business aviation through the “No Plane, No Gain” program, a tagline launched by the industry more than a decade ago. However, now the content is targeted clearly at today’s problems.

It’s not over yet, but congratulations to the industy for stepping up in support of business aviation and for reminding the public that “business aviation” runs the gamut from a single-engine pistoin airplane carrying a sole salesman or contractor intrastate to executives flying globally to close a multibillion deal.