Archive for July, 2012

Photo of the Day: Wonderful Waco

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

 

The Waco in this photo has a wonderful history behind it. As Alton Marsh explained in the October 2007 AOPA Pilot article “A Waco for Miss Johnston,” it was built in 1935 for a wealthy 24-year-old student pilot–and a lady, at that. Read the complete article to find out all the special touches she requested, including an increased fuel capacity of 75 gallons.

Photo of the Day: Cessna 206T

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

 

If you fly into Possum Kingdom, Texas, be advised that this beautiful part of the state has an airport–but the airport has no FBO, fuel, or phone. (There are restrooms.) Al Marsh spent a day at Possum Kingdom in 2008 for AOPA Pilot’s A Day in the Life of America’s Airports series. He recommends bringing a folding bike or scooter if you wish to go off the airport.—Jill W. Tallman

The June “Since You Asked” poll: How many instructors?

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

June’s “Since You Asked” digital poll dealt with a subject that’s been of particular interest to those of us who monitor the flight training industry. We asked, “How many flight instructors have you had/did you have in primary training?”

For years we’ve heard horror stories of people dealing with multiple instructors. I wrote about how to cope when you have to change CFIs in the September 2008 Flight Training article, “Same Dance, Different Partner.” When the airlines are hiring, flight instructors leave flight schools—sometimes very abruptly—because they’ve racked up enough time to become attractive hires. Sometimes people wind up with multiple flight instructors because of personality issues. Sometimes it’s a run of bad luck—nobody’s fault, really. But the end result can be disruptive to your training progress. Just ask Brook Heyel, who told me that it took her a whopping 23 flight instructors to finish her private pilot certificate. (Her story is its own sidebar in “Same Dance, Different Partner.” She shocked the normally unflappable Rod Machado at an aviation event when she told him the number.)

Accelerated flight schools like Tailwheels Etc. in Florida see a lot of frustrated students who can’t handle yet another change in instructors and they just want to push ahead and cross the finish line without having to start all over. American Flyers (which has several locations in the United States) has a private pilot “finish-up” program.

I was gratified–and a little surprised–that our small and unscientific sample turned out as well as it did. Forty-two percent of those who responded said they had just one flight instructor. Just over half–53 percent–said they’d had two to five CFIs. And just 5 percent reported learning to fly with more than five flight instructors. (Those respondents deserve a medal, in my book.) If I’m drawing conclusions, I’d say that the relatively stagnant state of airline hiring had something to do with this. Flight instructors tend to stay put when the airlines aren’t hiring; hence you’re more likely to start and finish with the same person. That could change, given that we’re starting to see hiring ramp up again.

I was lucky to have just two flight instructors over the course of 18 months (this was back in 2000-2001, to give you an idea). My first CFI left for the airlines, but she was thoughtful enough to hand me off to an instructor she believed would be a good match for me. Turns out, she was right. And even though he also left full-time instructing at the flight school to go to another aviation job, he stayed on as an independent instructor so that he could see me to the checkride. For that, I’m eternally grateful to John Sherman.

How many flight instructors did you have? Please let us know in the Comments section.—Jill W. Tallman

Since You Asked” polls appear monthly in the digital edition of Flight Training. If you’d like to switch your magazine from paper to digital at no additional charge, go here or call Member Services 800-USA-AOPA weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern.

Photo of the Day: Thorpedo

Monday, July 16th, 2012

Viewed from this angle, someone thought the bright-yellow aircraft was a straight-tail Ercoupe, and its canopy does resemble that of the iconic little rudderless two-seater. But this is a more contemporary Light Sport Aircraft. Its manufacturer, IndUS, had planned to build it in Texas, but in 2010 announced a partnership with China in which the LSA would be manufactured and assembled there.—Jill W. Tallman

Photo of the Day: Soaring Symphony

Friday, July 13th, 2012

 

The two-seat Symphony 160 is shown here over Quebec, near where the airplane was manufacturered. An aircraft report in the September 2005 AOPA Pilot said the airplane was intended to be sold not as a trainer, but as a recreational vehicle, much like a motorcycle or a boat. Its 160-horsepower Textron Lycoming O-320-D2A burned less than 8 gallons per hour in cruise flight. Photograph by Mike Fizer.—Jill W. Tallman

Balloons and ATC

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

During the July 2012 Flight Training Facebook chat, Samer asked:

“Every once in awhile, I fly to a Class D airport (besides the one I’m based out of) and I’ve experienced sharing the sky with balloons, which is no problem, but is the tower always aware of their intentions? In other terms, do they have to report their position to the tower? If not, maybe I need to begin scanning the woodline below me for these piloted balloons.”

Our air traffic control specialist Aaron Pifer replied, “Class D airports ‘visually separate’ aircraft from other aircraft unless they have radar feeds. The intent is usually pretty basic: take off, climb to whatever altitude, and go where the wind tells them to. The balloon pilots usually have handhelds or have some sort of pre-coordinated plans with the tower via telephone.”

We happen to have a hot air balloon pilot based here at Frederick Municipal Airport (which is now in Class D airspace), and so I gave him a call to follow up on this question. Patrick Smith operates Tailwinds Over Frederick.

“We’re an aircraft, and we have to make contact with the tower just like a glider” or powered airplane, Patrick explained. “I call them before I inflate. I have to get a clearance before I take off. We stay in contact.”

As Aaron mentioned, Patrick uses a handheld transceiver to communicate with the tower. “If my altitude changes, I give them an ‘altitude and below.’ I give them a call when I land or when I’m starting to look for a landing spot, just to let them know they might lose sight of me.”

The Tailwinds balloon is a common sight at KFDK, and is just another interesting part of our mix of aircraft, which includes fixed- and rotary-wing, gliders, gyrocopters, and the occasional visit from the Goodyear, Outback, and MetLife blimps. Variety is the spice of life…and airports!—By Jill W. Tallman

Photo of the Day: Sunset patrol

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

A pilot friend likes nothing better than getting up at oh-dark-thirty for a morning flight before he has to don a suit and go to his regular job. He alternates between calling these flights “dawn patrol” and “sunrise service.” This photo was taken at sunset, but I think the sentiments hold. Mike Fizer captured this Cessna 172 Skyhawk in Benton, Kan.–Jill W. Tallman

Photo of the Day: Beating the heat

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

When it’s 100 degrees outside, the breeze afforded by flying an open-cockpit biplane like this 1930 Waco ASO could be the best air conditioning imaginable. Mike Fizer shot this image to accompany Al Marsh’s AOPA Pilot article, “Sky and Canvas,” about the American Barnstormers tour. The article was published in 2006, but the Barnstormers are touring this year, starting in August.–Jill W. Tallman

People per plane

Monday, July 9th, 2012

I will be the first to admit that pilots can be pretty myopic and focus only on their own issues and causes, especially when it comes to pay and/or job advancement or security. While a few of these grumblings may be misplaced, most aren’t. A few, sometimes, just aren’t understood or realized.

I’ll give you an example. It’s a common refrain that airlines plan on X number of pilots and flight attendants—often lumped together as crews—per airframe on the property. On the low end it might be eight to nine pilots, and on the high end it might be an average of 11; the most common is 10 pilots/5 crews, and wide-body international birds might need as many as 14. But that isn’t the end of it by any stretch.

Each airplane must support the livelihoods of others whose livelihood is to support the airplane. For instance, the airline must carry a certain number of mechanics, dispatchers, fuelers, cleaners, accountants, advertising folks, et cetera, to get the job done. The more airplanes in the fleet, the more people who are needed. At the height of the bloated payrolls in the early 2000s, many airlines averaged more than 100 employees per ship. Now, that number is much lower.

Some of this is a result of contracting out certain services (which could be the topic of a number of books, let alone this blog), and some of it is a result of more efficiency, especially with regard to computing power. The most obvious example of this is the severe reductions in the number of ticket agents, thanks to the ability to check in at home or at an airport kiosk. The days of standing in a long line every time you go to the airport are over.

When I got hired at Comair, I went on a tour of the company offices. One thing that stood out as a shock to me was the bags and bags of torn ticket stubs that had to be reconciled by hand. Same with the monthly pilot payroll summary sheets. No more. Those items are totally automated, and many of those jobs were eliminated.

Likewise, we and every other airline had a staff of people whose job was to sift through lost bags and find the owners. Today, that is much easier and faster, and it requires fewer people because of the new industrywide tear-proof bag tags that are bar-coded. A scan gun can save tons of time and money when a bag is lost. If the bag tag does get separated, then it becomes much more work-intensive. Thank goodness, that’s rare.

But some things never change. Pilots still fly the airplanes, and the FARs do much to dictate the staffing of crews. Likewise with dispatchers, who are also required, and whose work days are legally limited. One dispatcher can handle a fair number of flights, so adding one airplane may or may not lead to new jobs in that department. But at some point, you will need to spread the workload. Crew schedulers, fuelers, and gate agents—actual, at-the-gate agents, not the ticket counter—are still needed as well, and are only added when the number of airplanes added to the fleet (or flights are added to the schedule) forces the workforce to be grown. Some of those skilled employees are more expensive than the non-skilled workers: mechanics, pilots, avionics techs, even the mechanics for the airport ground equipment.

The new industry average for employees per plane is now closer to 85-90. A friend at Southwest tells me that theirs is 62. Keep all this in mind when you see your ticket price. It covers a lot: employees beyond the crew; spare parts; fuel; lease payments. If you see 10 people at the airport who directly affect your flight, there are dozens more you don’t see whom you can’t travel without, just like you don’t see the new tires and fuel pumps that were put on the airplane late at night, or the facilities to store all of those parts.

I’m not always a fan of workforce efficiency improvements and the lost jobs that come with them, but it is the basis of capitalism, and all of us have a certain level of price sensitivity. After all, even I buy tickets on occasion, and I will be the first to admit that price is the most important factor. And yes, I will check in at home whenever I can.—By Chip Wright

Look who’s a student pilot: Vince Neil edition

Friday, July 6th, 2012

Vince Neil

If you like a side of heavy metal with your aviation news, here’s your dish: Vince Neil, lead singer of the 1980s-era heavy metal group Motley Crue (and yes, I know there are umlauts in there but darn if I can figure out how to insert umlauts in this blog software), is training hard to become a pilot even as you read this. He’s taking a two-week accelerated program at an airport in Nevada, according to The Aviators, which is filming the whole thing for its upcoming Season 3.

The Aviators posted several photos on its Facebook page of Neil in the cockpit of a Diamond. The singer is said to be a disciplined student who prepped for his intensive program by studying flight training materials while on tour overseas. He’s working with an instructor from Accelerated Flight & Instrument Training. Season 3 of The Aviators will begin airing in September on PBS stations in the United States; episodes are available on iTunes and Hulu.–Jill W. Tallman