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A great day in a Great State

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Thanks to my Twitter friend Nikolas Keramidas for the title of this blog, but it’s an apt observation. Yesterday our trip in the Fun to Fly Remos gave us good weather and a tailwind for the very first time. Launching out of Wichita, at 7,500 feet we saw 87 knots indicated airspeed, 119 knots over the ground, and true airspeeds of 101. (The Dynon avionics display all those for you, plus your winds-aloft speeds and the direction of the wind.)

Wind turbines in west Texas

Wind turbines in west Texas

A lunch/fuel stop put us in Gainesville, Texas, and we overnighted in Waco. This gave us a chance to catch up with our friend and former colleague, Claire Kultgen, who showed us the sights of her city and took us to a rocket-launching facility–I kid you not. More about that in a later post.

Today’s going to be a long day for the hearty crew of the good ship Fun to Fly. We hope to make Albuquerque by nightfall, and our planned route is Midland, Texas-Roswell, N.M.Albuquerque. Wish us some more tailwinds!

O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A (or Texas?)

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

We’ve completed our first full day of travel to bring the Fun to Fly Remos to the West Coast. (I’m not counting the day it took to get to Mount Vernon, Illinois, for the Midwest LSA Expo.) Launching Monday morning under clear skies (that extra day to wait out a low pressure system paid off big time), we made extremely good time on our first leg, flying about 3.5 hours and seeing a groundspeed of about 95 to 99 knots. We detoured about five miles off our path to fly by the St. Louis Arch, first asking the tower controller at St. Louis Downtown Airport if we could skim the edge of his airspace to meander up the Mississippi River a few miles.

Even with this little diversion, we did so well that we scrapped our first planned fuel stop at Jefferson, Missouri, and landed at Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport in Kansas City. If you’re a carnivore, you’ve got to have BBQ or a steak when you’re in this part of the country, and so a Signature lineman obligingly took us to Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue downtown for a fantastic lunch, followed by a quick tour of Union Station. Trains have never interested me as being anything more than a mode of transportation, but the history and architecture of this place drew me in nonetheless. They have a model train setup that rivals anything you’ve seen.

Our second leg brought us to Wichita Mid-Continent in downtown Wichita, where we spent the night in Cessna country. Yingling Aviation personnel came out to view the Remos and compare notes with the Skycatcher, recently brought onto the rental line here. Yingling is also an assembly center for the Skycatcher.

Our fantastic lunch was followed by an amazing dinner at Hangar One Steakhouse, a few blocks from the airport. Owned by a retired Cessna employee, this restaurant is almost beyond description. I’ll throw out a few details: door handles made of props, tables constructed of rotary engines; quotes from Bob Hoover and other greats on the walls; waitstaff who wear captain’s shirts; a bartender in a flight suit. And that’s not even talking about the food.

Today we set out for Oklahoma and wonder of wonders, it looks like we’ll even have a tailwind! Our tentative plans are for Oklahoma City or Gainesville, Texas. Patrick and I continue to update our progress via Twitter (@jtallman1959, @skyhawk8519, or search for the #fun2fly hashtag) and Facebook. Keep those airport suggestions coming!

Grab your shades, we’re headed west

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

The Fun to Fly Remos is headed for the wild, wild west.

First stop is Mount Vernon, Illinois, for the Midwest LSA Expo, September 23-25. When we pack up from the show in Mount Vernon, we’ve decided to keep right on going. Pilot Information Center stalwart Patrick Smith and I will be flying the Remos from KMVN to Santa Paula, California (SZP). The airplane has to be in California the first week of November for AOPA Summit. Since we’ll be six hours closer to the Golden State and the weather will be kinder and gentler now (I hope), it makes sense to pack up and head out now.

Patrick and I haven’t mapped out our route but it looks like we’ll be taking the southern route to Albuquerque, N.M. Beyond that, we’re open for suggestions on stopping points, so throw ‘em in the Comments section if you’ve got ‘em. See you in CA!

Countdown to AirVenture

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Are you heading to AirVenture next week? I hope so, because we’ll have the Fun to Fly Remos on display, and I’d love to meet you. Dave Hirschman is flying our bird out to Wisconsin later this week, and all I know about his route is that it will somehow involve Chicago.

We’ll have the airplane cleaned up and ready for you in front of AOPA’s Big Yellow Tent, so please make us a part of your AirVenture plans and see the airplane for yourself. I’ll be on the grounds starting Wednesday, July 28, with Remos duty scheduled for that afternoon. Going forward, I won’t be far from the airplane most days. Hope to see you there!

Flight planning made easy(er)

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

If you have not tried out AOPA’s newly revamped airport directory (aka AOPA Airports), please do so right now. Well, as soon as possible. Because if you don’t, you’re missing out on a great flight-planning tool.

Readers of this blog (all four of you) know I generally use this space to talk about the Fun to Fly Remos. And I will, in a minute. Anyway, the new AOPA Airports is extremely user-friendly. For starters, you don’t have to be logged in to AOPA Online to use it–meaning you don’t have to remember your login and password while you’re away from your regular computer (although you must be logged in to designate favorite airports).

Second, if you’re a visual person like I am, you can’t have too many pictures to help you process information. AOPA Airports does that, giving me not only taxiway diagrams and runway layouts, but also satellite images and sectional snippets.

Third, there’s the awesome weather functionality. I hadn’t really played around with AOPA Airports until a few weeks ago. The Remos needed to come back from Lancaster Airport (KLNS), where she had gone for an oil change and some new tires. She needed to get back to KFDK in time for May 15, the International Learn to Fly Day. A warm front was stalled over the entire area, bringing showers and low ceilings, and the window of opportunity to bring her back was beginning to shrink. (Remember, the Remos is a VFR aircraft. We could get in to LNS via any number of IFR-certified airplanes, but the Remos and I might not get back out.)

The weather improved slightly–but not to my VFR minimums. I started the ritual of checking weather at departure, en route, and destination airports to see if the forecasts were going to hold up and things were indeed getting better. Clicking back and forth between FDK, LNS, Carroll County Regional (KDMW), York (KTHV), and LNS, I got METARs and TAFs for all of those airports, updated continually. Plus, each METAR is tagged to indicate whether the field in question is VFR, MVFR, IFR, or LIFR. And, wind speeds are given numerically and with a little red tetrahedron that shows the direction (more visual stuff!).

Backing up all of this with a telephone weather briefing, Senior Editor Dave Hirschman and I were able to get the Remos back to FDK without a hitch. So, what are you waiting for? Take it for a drive, and tell me what you think in the Comments section below.

Another day, another race

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

We set out of St. Augustine on Tuesday with the knowledge that we had to make it in time for the big arrival at Sun ‘n Fun. Otherwise it would have been obvious the airplane won. But before we got there, we couldn’t let the opportunities of Florida go by, so we strapped in Smartie at 6 a.m. and headed south.

The first stop was Daytona Beach. Two days earlier Steve and I had enjoyed the water in Wilmington, N.C., but this time it was Smartie’s turn. We headed east off I-95 straight to the water. After getting her tires wet, we briefly got stuck in the sand, and then gave her a few minutes alone to watch the sunrise over the beach.  Rain speckled the windshield as we stood next to her snapping photos.

Next was a place of inspiration for Smartie, the Daytona International Speedway. Having been on Roebling Road the day before, we wanted to make sure she knew what the major leagues looked like. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to make the journey to our next stop any faster.

Kennedy Space Center was next, and that was mostly for Steve and I. We spent maybe half an hour there, but it was well worth the drive. It brought the trip full circle, from First Flight in an airplane two days before to first on the moon in a car a couple days later. I also thought it ironic that Team Orville visited First Flight in a car, but at Kennedy, where there’s a massive runway for shuttle landings, they wouldn’t have been able to visit in the airplane.

We headed east out of KSC, this time for a final journey to Lakeland. But we couldn’t go to the airport just yet. First we stopped at Lakeland Motorsports Park to do some proper time trials. There’s a low-key little drag strip there, and we were able to get some video for Steve’s Motorweek story, as well as some 0 to 60 times for both of us. And I couldn’t let this trip end without racing my partner, so we both dragged down the eighth mile. I won’t say who won.

Alyssa blogged about the big arrival, which was so much fun we couldn’t stand it. If you’ve never driven down a runway at 80 miles per hour while an airplane chases you, I highly recommend it.

As the participants have come to say, what a long strange trip it’s been. Today it’s greeting members in front of the airplane at the big yellow tent at Sun ‘n Fun. I’ll also try and blog later about my thoughts on the airplane and car, and some performance numbers. Until then, come and see us at the tent.

Experience of a lifetime…in a Remos, no less

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010
Alyssa Miller pilots the Remos into Sun 'n Fun in a low pass over the Smart car.

Alyssa Miller pilots the Remos into Sun 'n Fun in a low pass over the Smart car.

On the last leg of the Road and Runway Rally, I celebrated one of the most important moments in my 10 years of piloting with rally teammate Jason Paur—opening the show at Sun ’n Fun.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved running to the flight line at airshows to watch the low passes and aerobatics up close, and feel my chest vibrate as the fighters and old military trainers thunder down the runway. I’ve often dreamed of doing aerobatics in a Pitts and flying with the Blue Angles. But I never dreamed that I would be the one flying a low pass that other children would point to in fascination.

Granted, I wasn’t flying a Mach 1.7 Boeing F/A-18 Hornet; I was in a light sport Remos GX puttering along at 100 knots. But to me, it felt the same.

Jason and I staged at Plant City Airport about eight miles west of Lakeland Linder Regional. As I had been briefed by Wayne Boggs, the air boss, Jason and I were wheels up by 2:30 p.m., orbiting five miles to the west of Lakeland waiting to be cleared to make the pass at 2:45 p.m. While we circled, we watched a cargo jet circle the airport preparing to release parachute jumpers. Turns out, that aircraft was waiting for our grand arrival!

Once the air boss cleared us for the low pass, confirming that AOPA’s Ian Twombly and MotorWeek’s Steve Chupnick were in place with the Smart car at the end of the runway, we began our descent. The problem was that we couldn’t see the Smart car. The car is so tiny that it fit perfectly within the circle of the “9” for Runway 9R. After spotting the car on short final, I sidestepped to the right toward the crowd, and Jason cued the car for its run.

Jason Paur cues up the car for Alyssa Miller's low pass finale to the Road and Runway Rally at Sun 'n Fun, Lakeland, Fla.

Jason Paur cues up the car for Alyssa Miller's low pass finale to the Road and Runway Rally at Sun 'n Fun, Lakeland, Fla.

We flew by at about 50 feet, catching up to and passing the Smart car right in front of the spectators. Three-fourths of the way down the runway, I broke off, entered a left traffic pattern, and returned for landing.

It all worked like clockwork: The air boss was friendly and accommodating (making my airshow performance debut a piece of cake); Jason’s timing to cue the car was perfect; and I had a decent landing (that’s not something I wanted to mess up in front of people). This last leg of the rally was truly a privilege and an honor, and it’s something I’ll never forget.

It’s also taught me to dream bigger. As I watched a Thunderbird make a screaming low pass over the runway, I told Jason that would be us opening the show next year. Well, maybe a few years.

More chances to win

Friday, February 19th, 2010

Fun2FlyRemosWhen people come up to inspect our sweepstakes airplanes at shows, the first question they usually ask is, “What do I have to do to win this airplane?”

As long as your AOPA membership is current as of Sept. 30, 2010, you are automatically entered in the Fun to Fly Sweepstakes. Want some additional entries? Here’s how:

See the complete sweepstakes rules for more information. And even though you now know all about how to win this airplane, don’t let that stop you from coming over to talk to us at shows. We love showing off the Fun to Fly Remos!