Trials and tribulations

May 6, 2010 by Jill W. Tallman

Last year, I wrote on the Reporting Points Blog about how several flight schools were taking advantage of the ease with which they can position their LSAs to park them in venues where you don’t normally see airplanes–like malls. Black Friday saw CTs, Remoses, and Tecnams in malls in Texas, Maryland, and Florida. Darren Hook wrote in February that he saw a Remos at a mall in Lewisville, Texas, and decided to get going on a sport pilot certificate. His 18-year-old son signed up too, and father and son have been learning to fly together (although Darren’s a little farther along).

Darren e-mailed me this morning to say that he had taken and passed the oral portion of his sport pilot checkride. The practical test portion was delayed because of weather. He was all set to complete his checkride when he got a call from the flight school: the school’s LSA had been involved in a landing accident. CFI and student were not injured, thankfully. Now Darren has to wait until another LSA can be obtained to complete his checkride.

My heart aches for Darren–so close, and yet so far! But while he’s disappointed, he’s also not taking this as a sign from the heavens that it wasn’t meant to be. He’s full of plans for when he does get his sport pilot certificate. “Once I get the sport pilot done, I plan to enjoy the Summer flying and taking in the accomplishment. I plan to go for PPL this fall.” Darren’s flight instructor is a CFI, so that means all of his dual hours can be applied toward getting his private pilot certificate. Eventually, Darren says he would like to get his flight instructor certificate and/or a commercial certificate so that he could give rides at museums.

“First things first, though,” he says, “need to keep learning and get certified.”

Hang in there, Darren, it will happen. In the meantime, what should Darren do to keep sharp? We know he can take dual instruction in any airplane, but do you think it would help or hinder him to fly something like a Cessna 172 while he waits for another LSA to be put on the line? Please share your suggestions in the comments section.

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Wing-folding 101

April 29, 2010 by Jill W. Tallman

Whenever we take the Fun to Fly Remos GX to a show, people are always intrigued to learn that you can fold the airplane’s wings. I always say it looks kind of like a grasshopper. “Or like a Corsair?” some people will ask. Well, not exactly, as the Corsair’s wings go up and the Remos’ wings go down and back. I saw the process back in November when AOPA’s Sweepstakes airplane was transported via flat bed truck to the Tampa Convention Center to be put on display at AOPA Summit 2009. But we haven’t folded the wings since.

In June, however, we’re taking the Fun to Fly Remos to a location in downtown Frederick that isn’t accessible by runway. So wing-folding 101 took place today. Remos demo pilot Ron Glazer stopped by to show us how it’s done.  We’ll practice some more and videotape it, and I’ll let you in on the complete procedure in an upcoming issue of AOPA Pilot.

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Safe and snug at Sun ‘n Fun

April 22, 2010 by Jill W. Tallman

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.

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Building dreams

April 17, 2010 by Alyssa J. Miller

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?

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Another day, another race

April 14, 2010 by Ian Twombly

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.

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Experience of a lifetime…in a Remos, no less

April 13, 2010 by Alyssa J. Miller
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.

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The nonpilot’s guide to piloting

April 13, 2010 by Jill W. Tallman

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.

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

April 13, 2010 by Alyssa J. Miller

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.

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Let’s race

April 12, 2010 by Ian Twombly

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.

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Monster Smart

April 12, 2010 by Alyssa J. Miller
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 Wired.com’s Jason Paur are Team Orville, traveling to Sun ‘n Fun in the AOPA Fun to Fly Road and Runway Rally.—Jill W. Tallman

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