Events Archive

Nonpilot magnet

Monday, September 13th, 2010

To the nonflying public, and even prospective pilots, general aviation airplanes are fun to watch fly overhead or admire on the ramp, but they can be intimidating to climb into—the size, buttons, dials, etc. all seem foreign. Light sport aircraft just might help bridge that barrier.


At the Wings ’n Wheels Old ’n New event at Wings Field in Blue Bell, Pa., Sept. 11, more than 200 people hopped in AOPA’s 2010 Sweepstakes Remos GX. Of all the people that stopped by to admire the two-seat airplane, only one young girl was too intimidated to get inside, although she briefly reconsidered after I told her that I (a young woman) had flown the airplane “all by myself” earlier that morning.

As children and adults, men and women, climbed into the Remos, I showed them how the control stick worked and had them lean out the door to watch themselves move the elevator and ailerons. I moved the rudder pedals while the young children looked outside. The children would immediately exclaim to their parents, “Look, I’m doing that!” as they worked the control surfaces.

The Dynon EFIS-D100 primary flight display and EMS-D10 multifunction display was a hit with those who said they were planning to start flying lessons. The two “mini computer screens” and panel-mount GPS look much more familiar to today’s technologically savvy crowd than the round instruments of traditional aircraft. They seem to be able to better understand the concept of reading your airspeed and altitude from a computer screen than from the round standby gauges. Navigation (nonpilots are always asking pilots how they know to get from Point A to Point B) suddenly becomes easy when they see the GPS.

Many adults asked about the cost of an LSA and the availability to train in one. Some were pilots contemplating letting their medical lapse; others were interested in learning to fly. Unfortunately, because the LSA market is still relatively young in the United States, they aren’t as common at airports as traditional Cessna, Piper, or even Cirrus trainers.

Although it’s impossible to tell if talking to someone for five minutes or teaching a child the basics of an airplane will make a strong enough impression to lead them to pursue flight training, I think LSAs have a good—or even better—shot at enticing the nonflying public to learn to fly. I’ve only watched people interact with six of AOPA’s sweepstakes airplanes over the years, but what little time I’ve spent around them, the LSA seems to put the nonpilots at ease. They aren’t as intimidated to hop in, and once they do, the panel and control stick aren’t all that much different than what they might fly on Microsoft Flight Simulator.

I don’t know if it’s the airframe’s small size or the glass cockpit, but the two together seem to make the LSA a nonpilot magnet.

Safe and snug at Sun ‘n Fun

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

The Claw1With all of the excitement surrounding the Fun to Fly Road and Runway Rally to Sun’n’Fun last week, Team Orville took off without tiedowns or chocks. That was fine for the road trip–the Remos stayed at airports with hangars. On the ground at Sun ‘n Fun, however, we needed something to keep the airplane in place while Florida’s breezes blew through Lakeland.

Like guardian angels, the good folks at The Claw popped over as Alyssa Miller and the staff ofThe Claw2 AOPA’s Pilot Information Center were positioning the airplane in front of the Big Yellow Tent. Jim Edwards presented us with our very own Claw tiedown kit, and helped Alyssa secure the airplane. The sandy ground can be tough to hold a peg, but The Claw proved more than up to the challenge. The kit includes three anchors, nine spikes, a hammer, and 30 feet of rope, and it all comes in a handy little carry bag that weighs just eight pounds (so no excuses to leave it behind next time). We’ll carry the kit to every other venue we visit, and later this year turn it over to the new owner of the Remos, whomever that may be.

Building dreams

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

I love asking pilots what sparked their interest in aviation. Sometimes, it’s watching an aircraft fly overhead; sometimes it’s going for a first flight. Regardless of the event that hooked them, it is always evident by the glow in their eyes that it had a major impact on their life.

Setting out on AOPA’s four-day Road and Runway Rally, I had hoped to be able to create that spark for someone along the way. Fortunately, I had two such great experiences—one on a ferry in Virginia and the other at Florida’s St. Augustine Airport.

While driving the Smart car on the first half of the rally, my teammate Jason Paur and I hopped a ferry in Jamestown to try to make up for some lost time. Turns out, the family that we parked beside on the ferry lives near Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport in Harrisonburg, Va.

Amy Blackwell and her father Marvin Hillsman talk about flying before driving off the ferry at Jamestown.

Amy Blackwell and her father Marvin Hillsman talk about flying before driving off the ferry at Jamestown. Photo by Jason Paur

Amy Blackwell and her daughter Maddie were quick to get involved in the race, cheering for my team (Orville) and giving us advice on how to get ahead in the rally.

“It’s kind of like the Amazing Race,” Blackwell said, comparing our four-day trip to her one-day 15-hour drive from Harrisonburg to Walt Disney World in Orlando. “I bought them the ‘Star Wars Trilogy’ to keep them entertained, and it work!” (Maybe if my teammate and I had done that we would have made better time in the Smart car!)

After finding out I was a pilot, Blackwell introduced me to her father, Marvin Hillsman who grew up in South Boston, Va., with friends who flew some of GA’s most iconic aircraft.

“When I was a child, I had a bunch of friends who had airplanes,” he said, rattling off flights he had taken in a Fairchild, Aeronca Champ, and a J-3 Cub to name a few. Although he had thought about learning to fly, he never actively pursued it. He does, however, make model aircraft.

Unfortunately, our time on the ferry was too short, so I quickly gave the family my contact information with an offer to take them flying because AOPA’s headquarters are located less than a one-hour flight from Shenandoah Valley Regional. We’ve already made contact with each other to talk about the rally, but I plan to touch base with them to set up that flight, so stay tuned.

Another opportunity presented itself at St. Augustine Airport where Galaxy Aviation and the St. Augustine Pilots Association had planned a gathering to welcome the rally crew. Jim Burton, of Jacksonville, Fla., brought his friend Keith Vermillion and his two sons to the airport to see the Remos GX. Burton, a pilot who put flying on the backburner to raise a family, is getting recurrent and encouraging Keith, a Jacksonville police officer, through his training to become a sport pilot. Both are flying a Piper Warrior out of St. Augustine with the same flight instructor, carpooling to and from their lessons.

The Vermillions get comfy and confident in the Remos GX during an event at St. Augustine Airport.

The Vermillions get comfy and confident in the Remos GX during an event at St. Augustine Airport. Photo by Jason Paur

Vermillion’s sons, Keith and Curtis, were a little reluctant to hop into the Remos, even though it meant getting out of the damp rain that had started. Finally, after a little coaxing, they climbed in, put on the headsets, and started moving the aircraft’s controls. Any apprehension immediately fell away, and their confidence skyrocketed.

After clambering out of the aircraft, Burton and Vermillion took the two boys to the Piper Warrior they are training in and let them sit in the aircraft and listen to ATC over the radio. It wasn’t long before the family came back and the two boys hopped in the Remos for another look. This time, the boys posed for pictures like they owned that two-seat airplane.

Burton later told me that letting those two boys sit in the Remos had made their day; at the time, I had no idea of the extent of the impact. It was the first time the boys had ever sat in a GA aircraft. After the rally, I found out that they boys talked about the event the entire drive back to Jacksonville. Once Burton gets recurrent or Vermillion earns his pilot certificate, I’m sure those boys will have their next great adventure in a GA aircraft—their first flight.

Because I grew up around general aviation aircraft, I forget how easy it can be to spark an interest in aviation in someone who has never been exposed to it. Talking about flying adventures or letting someone sit in an aircraft might just do the trick, as long as it is followed up with some encouragement. So what sparked your interest in GA? And what have you done to pass that on to future pilots?

The nonpilot’s guide to piloting

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Guest blogger Steve Chupnick is associate producer of Motorweek, and one-half of Team Wilbur in the AOPA Fun to Fly Road and Runway Rally.–Jill W. Tallman

Steve Chupnick and the SMART car at Roebling Road race track.

Steve Chupnick and the SMART car at Roebling Road race track.

OK, the title of this article is a little loose, but after only 25 minutes of flying before embarking on the Road and Runway Rally, I’m going to consider myself a nonpilot. Let’s just put it this way, I don’t have a pilot license (but maybe some day). Over the first three days of this journey, I have done more than I ever thought I’d be able to do in my life. I’ve seen more and had amazing experiences–and that’s thanks to flight, and my co-pilot and Team Wilbur partner, Ian Twombly.

 Day One of the Rally began with some glitches–namely a flat tire on takeoff before we left Frederick Municipal Airport and AOPA headquarters. But because of that, I learned what size tire the Remos GX uses (a 400-6 Aero Classic model) and that its torque is set to 88 inch pounds. But I have to say, as the five hours passed before we were finally able to take off, Ian was all over the situation–I supervised. So much for our 4 p.m. call time in Williamsburg, Va., but we still made dinner at the Williamsburg Winery, which is most important.

 Ian and I went over the flight plan, instructing me on the restricted air zone surrounding the Washington, D.C., corridor flying between 1,200-1,300 feet north of the 120 line. We were then clear for takeoff–and man, was I in for a treat. Other than the 10-15 minutes in the restricted zone, Ian gave me the reins of the plane–that’s right, I had control past that into Virginia.

 Day Two just got better from the very start–I got to fly down the East Coast of the United States. At times, I was as low as 300 feet off the water and traveling 106 knots (around 122 mph). Our first stop was Kitty Hawk, North Carolina–First Flight Airport. We saw our namesake, Wilbur Wright, at the very spot where he and his brother, Orville, took off in 1903. It’s also the same place where I received my first logbook from Ian. As he said, “There’s no better place to give you this.” It was one of the most exciting things to happen to me.

 After a quick stop in Wilmington, N.C., we headed down to South of the Border and the Dillon County Airport. It was such a nice night, we took the doors off the Remos and flew doorless–one nice feature on the plane (and something you can’t do in a car). But what made this trip indescribable is my first pseudo solo take-off and landing! Having just a few more minutes of sunlight after initial touchdown, Ian decided there was just about enough time to go up for a fast pattern. With Ian taking care of the foot pedals, I handled the throttle and the controls–amazing is the only way I can describe the feeling.

 Day Three was the big switch day; Team Wilbur gave up the Remos for the SMART car.  A destination very familiar to the MotorWeek crew was ahead of us–Roebling Road, a road race course near Savannah, Georgia. Thanks to Kay and her team at the race track, we got the SMART on the 2-mile course; both Ian and I were able to have a chance at the wheel–a real treat for Ian who was able to go nuts. Down I-95 we ended up in St. Augustine, Florida, where our AOPA gang was waiting for us.

 We have one more day of the Rally before heading to Sun ‘n’ Fun in Lakeland, Fla.–and Team Wilbur will definitely make the most of our time.

Remos, Smart car in a dead heat for ‘fun factor’

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Finally, I got the keys to the Remos! After two long days in the Smart car, I was ready to exchange the traffic on I-95 for the peaceful airwaves. But, after a day in the airplane, I have to admit that I’ve had just as much fun in the Smart car as the Remos.

Judging the Smart car and Remos purely on the “fun” factor, I’d say they’re even. Both have their own quirks, are surprisingly comfortable, and can be fast when they need to be. And they get a lot of attention because they are still rather unusual.

 If it’s not windy, the Smart car can easily keep up with and pass traffic on I-95 (I’ll let those of you who have driven that route estimate the top speed!). If you don’t have a major headwind in the Remos, you can have ground speeds above 105 knots, not too far off from a Cessna 172. Both vehicles are fuel efficient, the car getting about 40 miles to the gallon, and the Remos burning four to five gallons per hour (about half the fuel consumption of a Cessna 172).

 But, there is one area in which the Remos surpasses the Smart car (really, it’s any airplane’s advantage over a car). You cut out the detours and go direct if you need to in order to meet a time constraint. Once you’ve altered plans in a car, it’s usually too late to turn back and go the other way. Either way, you are out of time. But with an aircraft, you can always (well, almost always) go direct to your next location.

 Today, the Remos helped Jason and I get to our destination not only on time, but 15 minutes early, despite our quest for adventure during our stops. Granted, we had to cut our plans from four stops to one, but it worked.

 We have one more adventure left in the Remos, so we’ll see if that edges it ahead of the Smart car. Right now, they are in a dead heat.

Let’s race

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Today began Team Wilbur’s first stint in the car. We knew before we departed that Team Orville had done lots of fun things with the Smartcar the two days prior, so we felt a challenge when we turned onto I-95 South. Our only hard point was St. Augustine at 4:00 p.m. Other than that, it was up to us.

Luckily I’m driving with the car guy and Motorweek does filming and testing up and down the coast. What did that mean for us? A proper chance to see what the Smartcar was made of.

The folks at Roebling Road outside Savannah were nice enough to give us the track during the lunch hour while the Ducatis that otherwise had it cooled off. We turned the Smartcar onto the track and let her have it.

The course is a hair more than two miles with nine turns. The first is a beautiful full turn that almost feels like a parabola, except that it’s not perfectly symmetrical, so it almost ends up being like a double apex. Which means it catches you by surprise the first time. It’s also incredible long, making it a candidate for early turn in.

Motorweek's Steve Chupnick in front of the Smartcar on the straightaway of Roebling Road.

Motorweek's Steve Chupnick in front of the Smartcar on the straightaway of Roebling Road.

The car handled remarkably well on the track. The steering is appropriately heavy and the brakes are substantial. There is body roll, as one would expect from the little guy, but I found the handling to be very nice, in general. The only thing that didn’t quite feel at home was the automatic manual transmission. Since we didn’t have control of the gears, the turn exits were sometimes slow. It has paddle shifting, but I’m a novice so I chose to remain in full auto, video game style.

Steve and I didn’t have a chance to compare lap times, but I’m in a competitive mood, so I’ll say I bested him. But he’ll dispute that. Either way we had a great time. It was fun to be able to really stretch the legs on the Smartcar.

Monster Smart

Monday, April 12th, 2010
Monster truck and SMART car square off.

Monster truck and SMART car square off.

Put a young gal in a small car and send her over a bus on a monster truck track, and you’ll get a lot of attention. Trust me.

On the second day of our road trip, Jason and I gave in to nearly every whim along the way: catching a ferry, strutting our stuff with a Harley-Davidson pack, time-testing the SMART car’s acceleration from zero to 60 (it takes 16 seconds, by the way), pushing the envelope at Digger’s Dungeon, posing with the Wright Flyer, and, finally, flooring it to Pedro’s South of the Border. And it only took 12 hours.

I had my heart set on driving the SMART car over a race track, but that plan wasn’t working. While I was trying to come up with ideas to create a test course on the fly, Jason and I stumbled onto the home of the famous monster truck Grave Digger. After dozens of photos of the Smart car beside the trucks and enormous wheels (the car is about the size of two wheels), I spotted a dirt track that offered rides in monster trucks. Featuring a couple of hills and a dirt ramp over an old school bus, the track looked like the perfect test facility for the Smart car. Jason hopped out while I headed to the start line.

What was I testing? Speed, agility? No, just my nerves. After crossing the first two hills (actually they were tiny mounds), I turned the corner to tackle the schools bus. Giving it the gas, I climbed up the dirt ramp and popped over the other side, causing the spectators watching RC cars racing on a different track to flock to the monster truck area. They all cheered for me to “get some air,” but I was content to leave that to the Remos. With two more passes under my belt, my ego inflated. I’m sure I’m the only one who can claim driving a Smart car over the track. That feeling lasted a few hours until we drove by the track a second time and saw dirt bikes speeding across the course. So, maybe it was a “mini monster truck course.” Regardless, it was a monster to tackle in the Smart car.

Orville Wright and Alyssa J. Miller

Orville Wright and Alyssa J. Miller

That stop alone would have made the 12-hour day worth it. But stopping at Kill Devil Hills, N.C., just put it over the top. For me, seeing the first flight memorial was a rite of passage, even though I had arrived by land instead of air. I couldn’t resist hopping up beside Orville in the Wright Flyer on display. With the breeze blowing against me, I laid flat on my stomach, clutching the controls with Orville, just imagining what that first flight might have felt like. Would he have felt the same sense of exhilaration and accomplishment that I and so many other pilots have felt on the first solo flight? His just happened to be solo and the first flight. Someday, I’ll return to Kill Devil Hills, but that time, it will be by air.

With the driving tests and first flight checkpoints accomplished, Jason and I started our first focused attempt to make it to South of the Border. We were doing well until I started watching the sunset and stopped looking at road signs, completely missing the exit for I-95. And by “completely missing,” I mean that I never noticed I missed it. I probably still would have been on whatever road I was on if I hadn’t heard a gasp from my passenger, who noted on his iPhone that we passed the exit an hour earlier. By that point, we were exhausted, pushing 10 hours of driving, and it was well after dark. So we both became hyper-vigilant of road signs. (I don’t think he trusted me to get us to South of the Border after that!) After driving on I-95 for what seemed like an eternity, I worried that something else might be amiss because I hadn’t seen a sign for Pedro’s South of the Border. Finally, we started passing the signs about 25 miles from our destination. Maybe it was relief that the end was in sight. Maybe we were just delirious. But we stopped to photograph almost every single Pedro sign along the way.

When I started the race, I wondered what it would be like to be stuck in the tiny car for two days with someone I barely knew. Turns out, I couldn’t have asked for a better road-trip partner. I can’t wait to trade keys with Team Wilbur so that Jason and I can start our new adventures from the air. This time, though, we’ll keep the detours to a minimum (I hope).

Guest blogger Alyssa J. Miller and’s Jason Paur are Team Orville, traveling to Sun ‘n Fun in the AOPA Fun to Fly Road and Runway Rally.—Jill W. Tallman

Has Team Wilbur created a new pilot?

Monday, April 12th, 2010
Motorweek's Steve Chupnick and the Fun to Fly Remos at First Flight Airport

Motorweek's Steve Chupnick and the Fun to Fly Remos at First Flight Airport

Along the way I’ve been trying to let Steve fly as much as he wants, and he’s not disappointing. So far I’ve been in the airplane for about 6.5 hours and have had my hands on the controls for about 0.5 of that. I flew through the SFRA corridor because being off by a mile means losing my certificate, and I flew the approach into Wilmington yesterday because we were being vectored. Obviously I’ve helped on the landings, but otherwise, Steve has been my autopilot.

And I have to say he’s a natural. After about half-an-hour he was within private pilot straight-and-level standards, and he seems to inherently understand what’s going on. But I’ve kept my hands close to the controls for every takeoff and landing, which means he’s probably never felt like he was actually doing those. So last night after we arrived in Dillon, we had enough light for one trip around the pattern. I put my hands in my lap, and off we went.
I talked him through the pattern, our first full one of the trip, and then rattled off speeds and controls commands on final. We flared a bit high, he brought it closer to the runway, and with that I put two fingers on the front of the stick to make sure we kept the nose off. We touched down with a soft plunk. He had flown a takeoff and about 90 percent of the landing. As soon as we got out he called his wife and excitedly told her what we had just done. It was a great moment, and I was happy to have been a part of it.
To seal his passion for aviation, I presented Steve with his first logbook in front of the marker where man first took flight at Kitty Hawk. Yeah, I laid it on thick, but I hope it’s enough to get him in the air for good.
Guest blogger Ian J. Twombly and Motor Week’s Steve Chupnick are Team Wilbur, traveling to Sun’n’Fun for AOPA’s Fun to Fly Road and Runway Rally.–Jill W. Tallman

Team Wilbur gets the scenic view

Monday, April 12th, 2010
Steve Chupnick (left) and Ian Twombly at the Wright memorial at First Flight.

Steve Chupnick (left) and Ian Twombly at the Wright memorial at First Flight.

Wow, did we have a full day Sunday. Steve and I departed Williamsburg at around 10:30 in the morning and headed south. It was past Norfolk, the shipyards, then down the Outer Banks. If you’ve never been exposed to general aviation, as Steve hasn’t, a flight like this can really blow your mind. And I think for him it did. We flew right off the coast and watched dolphins play in the water as people enjoyed the nice morning on the beach.

Our first stop was KFFA, First Flight Airport at Kitty Hawk. I find Kitty Hawk to be an interesting place. It’s not the most impressive aviation museum or experience, but there’s no question you get a feeling like you’re on holy ground as you walk around. Seeing the markers of the first day’s four flights is incredible (Wilbur went the farthest by about 600 feet, by the way. Go Team Wilbur!). And just the mere fact that we’re able to land an airplane at this place little more than 100 years later with the knowledge of all the incredible advances we’ve made in that time is really inspiring.
After KFFA we headed south for Wilmington, N.C., again down the coast. More dolphins, lighthouses, and sunbathers took us straight into Wilmington International, where Airport Support Network Volunteer Ralph Fox greeted us, and guided us into town for a slice of pizza.
The leg from Wilmington to Dillon, S.C., was going to be the shortest of the trip for us, so I took the opportunity to try and show Steve a flight he’d never forget. We took the doors off and headed west. Our course was directly into the sun (good thing we had our Scheyden sunglasses, which have been incredible). The air was still, the sun was setting, and we were flying 2,500 feet with the doors off. It’s one of those times you thank God you’re a pilot.
Those are the short details of the day. I’ll write a separate entry to try and really give you a flavor for how things are going. Today, however, it’s in the Smartcar for Steve and me, and we have some fun adventures planned along the way.
Guest blogger Ian J. Twombly and Steve Chupnick are Team Wilbur, heading to Florida in AOPA’s Road and Runway Rally.—Jill W. Tallman

Team Orville rocks first leg; two thumbs up for Williamsburg

Sunday, April 11th, 2010


AOPA member Victor Maggio and his son Gavin check out the SMART car.
AOPA member Victor Maggio and his son Gavin check out the SMART car.

Starting out hoping for second place isn’t all that motivating, but that’s what I was thinking Saturday morning when the Road and Runway Rally kicked off with me and Jason Paur in the Smart car and Ian Twombly and Steve Chupnick in the Remos. Let’s face it, the car-any car-didn’t stand a chance against the aircraft (we had beautiful weather, so that wouldn’t hold back the Remos). Our leg for the day was from Frederick, Md., to Williamsburg, Va. Take any combination of car or airplane, and I’d say 99 times out of 100, the airplane is going to win, if for no other reason than it can go in a straight line and doesn’t have any traffic (forget about weather for a minute.

But some unforeseen circumstances delayed Team Wilbur (Ian and Steve), giving me and Jason a glimmer of hope. Sure enough, we made it to Williamsburg-Jamestown Airport first (even with stops at two museums!). So when we arrived at the airport, we had the chance to show off the car. AOPA member Victor Maggio and his two sons, 3 ½ year-old Gavin and 1 ½ year-old Garret, couldn’t wait to check out the car. While Gavin and Victor climbed in the car to play with the steering wheel and seats, Garret sat contently gazing at the aircraft parked on the ramp. Victor, who flies a Citation X for NetJets, compared the size of the inside of the two-seat car to the cockpit of the Citation X.

The first question Victor and other curious onlookers ask is: How does it feel to drive such a small car? Honestly, when you are in it, you don’t feel like you are driving a small car. Jason and I have plenty of elbow- and leg room (I’m 5’6″ and he’s at least 6′ tall). Although it takes a little while to get used to the way the car shifts gears, it can easily go 70 mph. I could definitely feel wind gusts, and it’s a little unnerving when passing (or being passed by) a tractor trailer. The car sits so that the driver is about eye-level with the bottom of the trailer.

Airport owner Larry Waltrip (yes, he said he is distantly related to the racecar driver) took the car for a spin, testing its turning radius and handling characteristics. Soon after the test drive, though, talk quickly returned to the aviation world, and food. Charlie’s Restaurant on the field has been rated the No. 1 and No. 2 $100 hamburger stop on the East Coast, according to Larry. We had to take a rain check on Charlie’s this time because the Wedmore Place, a European country hotel at the Williamsburg Winery where we were staying the night, was hosting us for dinner.

The winery is just a short distance from the airport, where visitor can take tours, enjoy wine tasting, or stay the night in luxury rooms-each inspired by a different location in Europe. The hospitality and friendliness of the staff is unparalleled (thank you for donating the rooms for the night!).

Whether you’re flying or driving along the East Coast and I-95, I highly recommend a stop at Williamsburg–the location is perfect from the highway or airport, and it offers something for the whole family. If you’re up for a little competition on your next trip, why not set up your own rally between two cars, two airplanes, or cars and aircraft? The thrill of the rally is half the fun!

Guest blogger Alyssa J. Miller and Jason Paur are heading out on the second leg of the AOPA Fun to Fly Road and Runway Rally.–Jill W. Tallman