Archive for July, 2012

The Valley of Blue

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

I’ve written before about the fact that I am a warm weather guy—my wife and I very nearly moved our family to the Virgin Islands several years ago—but I prefer to deal with many of the inconveniences of winter flying versus one minute of dealing with a thunderstorm.

That conviction was reinforced in spades in July, when I was scheduled to fly a CVG-GSO turn. This happened during the stretch of 90- to 100-degree days when a front decided to assume a stationary stance along the I-70 corridor.

Our normal route of flight on this city pair takes about 50 to 55 minutes, and essentially is a direct line from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International to Piedmont/Triad International Airport in Greensboro, N.C. I’ve done it enough times that I could do it with my eyes closed.

On this day, however, little was going right. We were running late because the airplane was late getting to us for our first leg in DTW. We had some passenger connection issues as well as some other run-of-the-mill airline stuff go wrong that put us about 15 minutes behind all day. Had we been on time, we just might have made it out of the CVG area in time to punch the line and fly the normal route to GSO.
Instead, we were forced to take a journeyman’s route, flying from CVG due east until we were past Pittsburgh, and then finding a spot to turn south and race the weather. I held off on the controller’s request to start south until we were well clear of the eastern band of weather that was on our route, and as a result, we got a nice smooth ride into GSO.

The return flight, however, was not going to be any easier. Our dispatcher loaded us down with a truckload of extra Jet A and wished us luck. He confirmed to me on the phone that the weather would not be a factor in CVG, though the forecast would require an alternate. In reality, the worst of it was west and south of the field. The radar on my phone seemed to confirm that.

Getting home required almost a reversal of our route down, but with one major constraint: We were filed for FL300, but we could not get past FL220 because of traffic saturation. We could see it on our TCAS, and when we checked in with Washington Center, we could hear it on the radio. More than once, the congestion was so bad that our initial transmission was a press of the Ident button on the transponder—we simply could not get a word in edgewise.

We, along with (it seemed) every airplane on the East Coast, were stuck in a “Valley of Blue.” The sky above us was clear, and it wasn’t too bad going north either. East didn’t look great, but even if it had, it didn’t do us any good, and we could not find a clear hole to the west—not one that both of us could agree to try. When I liked one, the first officer didn’t, and vice versa. We kept going onward, again sneaking in the Pennsylvania area. The controller occasionally would ask us when we planned to turn. We never had a good answer. We tried to get a higher altitude, because in several places, it looked as though even a few thousand feet would get us over the weather. No dice. It was one of the few times that I heard a controller announce, “[a]ll aircraft cleared to deviate as necessary.”

Wow.

Finally, when I began to think that we might need to announce to the RCMP that we were coming to Canada, eh, we found a hole to our left and floored it. Three or four minutes later, we were firmly established on a heading that again paralleled the weather, going west. We had to argue with several more controllers as we worked around a sizeable cell, and we had to contact the dispatcher about the 8,000-foot difference in our altitude and the effect on our fuel burn, but the farther west we went, the better the ride got. A normal flight of an hour took 90 minutes. Two hours later, we were on the ground in Baltimore for the overnight.

I hate thunderstorms…but I so want to move to a tropical island and fly VFR for the rest of my days.—Chip Wright

Photo of the Day: V is for Victory

Monday, July 30th, 2012

This beautifully restored V35 Bonanza was photographed by Mike Fizer to accompany Al Marsh’s article in the January 2011 AOPA Pilot, “A Lucky Find.” Read more to find out why it’s considered a lucky find, and what type of improvements the owner has made since purchasing it in 1996. —Jill W. Tallman

Photo of the Day: Two friends at AirVenture

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

 

As AirVenture 2012 draws to a close, here’s a photo of a Waco and a DC-3 sharing space on the grass. Luckily, there’s room for everyone at the world’s biggest airshow. Photo by Al Marsh.–Jill W. Tallman

Photo of the Day: Boomerang at AirVenture

Friday, July 27th, 2012

 

It’s not just the warbirds or the classic and antique aircraft we love to scope out at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It’s the cutting-edge, unusual designs you aren’t likely to see in person anywhere else. Burt Rutan’s Model 202 Boomerang, photographed by Al Marsh, is a twin-engine five-place aircraft with an asymmetrical shape. Rutan unveiled it in 1996.—Jill W. Tallman

Photo of the Day: Rare Corsair at AirVenture

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

Warbirds? Check. EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is a popular destination to find warbirds of every shape and size. Al Marsh photographed this rare Corsair.–Jill W. Tallman

Photo of the Day: Exotic AirVenture

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

 

One of the more entertaining aspects of AirVenture is that you can always find exotic airplanes that don’t normally turn up on your home airport’s ramp. This BushCat by Skyreach, shot by Al Marsh, is flown in Africa to monitor wildlife. We dig the zebra paint scheme. What do you think?—Jill W. Tallman

Ariel Tweto gets her ticket

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

In last season’s Flying Wild Alaska on the Discovery Channel, we were following the adventures of Ariel Tweto, wondering if she would be able to find time to hit the books and knock out her private pilot training.

Well, wonder no more. In the season (and series) finale that aired on July 20, Ariel took her checkride and passed. Of course, we didn’t learn that until the final five minutes of the episode. We had to suffer through much hand-wringing and consternation over the fact that Ariel’s examiner would be someone from the FAA rather than a designated pilot examiner. This being reality television, we also had to endure speculation that she might not pass the oral (she did) and that she might blow her short-field landing (she didn’t, but she did do a go-around).

In many ways, Ariel’s flight training experience mirrored everyone else’s. She had an extremely busy schedule, making it difficult to schedule her lessons; her flight instructor John Ponts left in mid-training. She switched aircraft a few times, so she had to familiarize herself with different systems and avionics each time. (At one point, she was training in a Cessna 207, which brings its own set of challenges to a student pilot.) Flight Training interviewed Ariel for the January 2012 issue, and you can read that interview here (and see a video of the whole gang at AirVenture 2011).

Some might argue that Ariel had a lot going for her as a student pilot–she grew up in a flying family and had well-maintained aircraft at her disposal. But she also grew up in Alaska, which probably dealt her more than a few weather delays. And it can’t have been easy for her to learn to fly while filming a reality TV show. Often while watching her struggle to land I was thankful no cable station ever wanted to videotape my flight lessons and broadcast them to a national audience. So here’s to Ariel, who eloquently summarized her hard-won flying privileges at the end of the episode: “I just need a runway, and then I have the whole world.”—Jill W. Tallman

Photo of the Day: AirVenture edition

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

With the World’s Great Airshow going on this week, we thought we’d focus our Photo of the Day on images found at this year’s EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis. This shot captures some of the Piper Cubs lined up after a mass arrival on July 22. The J-3 Cub turns 75 this year.—Jill W. Tallman

Remember when?

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Flying as an industry has undergone some dramatic changes in the last two decades, and it can be a bit mind-boggling to look back and consider the impact of some of those changes.

When I first got hired, direct deposit had just been introduced. Knowing what I know now, I can’t imagine the challenges of this job when you faced the possibility of not being able to access your pay check for up to two weeks because you wouldn’t be home to cash it. Married guys could make special arrangements, but the single guys…not so much.

Most of the pilots I talked to while this transition was going on told me that over time they had been forced to build a reserve in their checking accounts so that they could pay their bills. Plan B was to get a line of credit from the bank, but that wasn’t always easy, especially for bottom-feeder first officers. Bear in mind too that getting your check deposited was only part of the battle. Back then, you still had to write checks for everything. I can easily remember when a roomful of pilots would bring their bills and their checkbooks with them to work, and would spend a break or an overnight in the hotel getting their bills in the mail. Online bill pay was a pipe dream.

Speaking of the Internet, nothing else has had such a dramatic effect on the way airlines run. It has put travel agents in museums, and people can check in at home the day before a flight. For the flight crews, it is now possible to fly a career and only talk to a chief pilot or flight attendant overseer on the day you interview and the day you retire. Email communications take care of most issues, and even changes in our schedules can be acknowledged on a cell phone screen. Pilots dread talking to
schedulers, and online acknowledgement makes that totally unnecessary now.

The cell phone has revolutionized our lives, and while it isn’t always for the better, it often is. For pilots, checking weather radar is right at the fingertips, as is tracking the location of your next ship, calling MX Control without having to go back to the gate, or putting in a bid at the last minute because you forgot to do it on vacation.

Speaking of which, back in the day, a pilot on vacation had to call a trusted friend–with a calling card, from a pay phone–and ask that person to submit his or her monthly bids. Those bids were often blind, because with no internet, you couldn’t see the bid packets and the trips that were available. The joke was to always call someone senior to you who wouldn’t have a motivation to manipulate your bid, or call the secretary in the office. Our Mother Hen was the best, and she would not only put in your bid, she also would tell you how to improve it. Now, even if you are on the other side of the globe, you can put in an accurate bid on time…if you remember.

Some things never change, and even those that supposedly will may not pan out well (I personally think the whole NextGen project will just be huge quantities of money wasted). But many of the changes are such that the people that preceded me or you in this industry wouldn’t even recognize it. Not being able to check the weather on my phone? I shudder at the thought.—Chip Wright

Photo of the Day: Cessnas in formation

Friday, July 20th, 2012

The very first Cessna 172 (blue aircraft in foreground) to come out of the factory in 1956 went to an Oregon flight school, as Al Marsh explained in “Queen of the Fleet,” April 2006 AOPA Pilot. This photo shoot captures the first 172 in formation with a more modern counterpart. Today’s 172 is very much a presence on the ramp at flight schools, but a careful inspection reveals it has very few similarities to its forebear. Read Pete Bedell’s “The Skyhawk Turns 50″ for an extensive side-by-side comparison.–Jill W. Tallman