Archive for October, 2012

Pete’s solo story

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Pete Nardo (left) shows off his snipped shirt tail with his flight instructor, Ron Klutts.

While in Palm Springs for AOPA Summit, I hung out with student pilot Pete Nardo and his flight instructor, Ron Klutts. Pete had soloed just a week or so before the show, and after I got back to Maryland he sent me his account of the big day. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did, not only for the encouragement it gives to pre-solo students but also for the perspective it lends to those of us a little farther down the path.—Jill W. Tallman

The morning of Sat. Oct 6 2012 started for most people the normal way. For me, it was anything but normal. The day before, I flew with a chief pilot aboard. He said I had it in me to solo, but today we would put that statement to the test. I didn’t get much sleep the night before, flying the pattern in my head and watching aviation videos till the wee hours of the morning. I imagined Lindberg had similar anxiety flying the Atlantic, 33 hours without sleep.

0900- I make a cocktail of energy drink and soda, plus a light snack. “Charlie-Alfa-Tango, Hold Short” I said to the cat as I made my way out the door. I looked to the sky and it was blustery, gusts to almost 18, Clear visibility. Would this be the day? Would I orphan my cat. Ultimately the answer was yes to the first question, no to the second. 

I take my first step out the door. I would return as a pilot.

 1400-I brought along a photographer friend Johnny to document the event, waiting for me was a crew setting up cameras in N48849.  I did my preflight, checklist in hand, as I had a number of times before. To me, this is an act that ties me to the Wright brothers, Chuck Yeager, Neil and Buzz, and Amelia Earhart. 

They all had their first flight alone…This one, however, was mine.

 1530-It seemed to take longer than I wanted it to but we got through to taxi and run-up. It’s a good idea to practice a few times around the pattern with Ron my CFI aboard before committing to the solo. The winds at KPAO rattled us around a bit for an hour, and I was getting fatigued and dehydrated so we decided to put her down and decide if it would be go, or no go. We talk aviation stories at the terminal till the ATIS weather is updated. 

 1650- The weather was not improving much, indeed, the wind picked up another knot. Crosswind component was 4.5 knots, I’ve landed in worse than that. After agonizing for a few minutes it came down to one question. Do you have it in you? Yes I do. 

Back in the plane for a few more practice laps.

 1800- Taxing back we felt good about my chances. Ron warned me that the plane would climb like it had JATO bottles stuck to it without him in the right seat. Filling out the paperwork it felt like, this is the real deal, it’s official. I get to do this. We turn this into a photo opportunity because the sun is lighting up the sky a pretty shade of orange. 

We shook hands.

 1815- I turn to my instructor and say “Ron you’re good a pilot, a friend and a fine instructor…But get the hell out of my aircraft”. He smiles, shuts the door behind him, the cabin grows eerily quiet. “Well, that’s just great, now what am I supposed to do?” Ron’s voice in my head: Mixture in, Clear Prop, Master on, Key to ignition…Go. “Time to get some,” I must have said as the little Cessna started rolling with one guy in it. That guy was me. Run-up and make calls to the tower like I did a hundred times before, then the “Hold short” call.

 “Iv’e waited all my life for this,” I said. “Cleared for takeoff,” they said. “What do I stand for, What’s in you?…Throttle up, Gauges green, Airspeed alive, Rotate 50…..YeeHaw!” 849er went up F-16 style. I’m a 7-year-old kid flying his kite all over again. Today I’m not building a model airplane, I’m flying a real one!  Two times around, it feels like the plane was on rails tracing around the pattern. Training kicks in and you don’t think much about the nitty-gritty aspects of flying, you just do it like you did a hundred times before, almost on reflex. A look left revealed the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen. This is exactly why I fly. To experience firsthand the beauty, the majesty, the wonder of it all. There will not be another sunset like that one in my lifetime. I wanted the clock to just freeze right then.  

It was my defining moment, Pete Nardo—Pilot. 

  I could have been in the pattern all day, but it was getting dark, and as much as I would have liked to stay, I had to put the plane down…safely. Planes like this one don’t land themselves, It’s all on me. A little bit of crosswind wanted to blow me to the left, so I did a crab then a slip to maintain centerline. Flare, Flare (I could hear Ron’s voice in my head). The chirp of the tires meant I was on the ground, but no time to celebrate yet. I gotta park this thing. I roll to a stop, tower says, “Great landing 849er.” I said thanks but was too choked up with emotion to say much more. I take a minute at the taxiway to clean up the aircraft, and say “I did it, I’m a pilot”.  Then I put on a Hachimaki (Japanese headband worn for inspiration, mine literally said Kami-Kaze) in honor of my Senseis (Teachers). I got clearance to park, which I did, and then the motor was silent. 

 1845-As I sat there in front of the flight school the sun was emitting the last of its rays, I was in a quiet moment of reflection. Everything about my life up to this point prepared me to do this. In my flight bag were three photos. One of my family, one of my Grandparents, and one with a 7-year-old kid who is flying a kite, and missing his front tooth. That kid, this pilot….Was me. 

 I must have had a tear in my eye, probably balling too, and I was so happy, I didn’t care.

Every pilot that solos has their own story to tell. This one was mine….What will yours be?

 Peter Nardo

Cessna 152, Palo Alto Municipal Airport

October 6, 2012

Photo of the Day: Beech Staggerwing

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

With all of the turmoil surrounding Hawker Beechcraft these days, it’s time to pause, take a breath, and look at one of Beech’s most beautiful offerings: the Staggerwing. “For most pilots, the Beech Staggerwing reigns as the classic to beat all classics,” says AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Tom Horne in his October 1999 pilot report. And he’s right. Instantly recognizable–almost as much as the Piper Cub–the airplane was formally known as the “negative stagger Beech,” but you and I (and everybody else) just call it the Staggerwing.—Jill W. Tallman

Good idea of the week

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

John Dale, a pilot in Oviedo, Fla., recently posted this on the Flight Training Facebook page. It was such a good idea I wanted to share it. He writes:

In an effort to promote aviation I’ve found a creative way to recycle my old aviation magazines. After reading them cover to cover, I remove the address labels and leave them in a waiting room for others to read and hopefully be inspired. The dentist’s office, the doctor’s office, the vet clinic, anywhere I find a waiting room with magazines–even the DMV. What do you do to help promote aviation?

I love this idea, and I’m going to stash a couple magazines in my car for just such a purpose. (I belong to five aviation associations and the back issues are starting to take over my home and my office cube.)

If you have a great idea like John’s, be sure to post it on our Facebook wall and we’ll share in the blog.—Jill W. Tallman

The non-competing competitive competitors

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

The airlines are a weird industry in a lot of ways. One of them is in the area of competition. If you pay any attention to the advertising or the talking heads on TV, you would think that the airlines are hyper-competitive in every respect, such as price, frequent flyer programs, providing the worst service for the most money. And they are. Sort of.

The exception is when it comes to what they actually do: the flying, and specifically, the pilots. That isn’t to say that pilots are not a competitive bunch. We are. But when it comes to flying, safety is involved, and we don’t mess around with that. If you ever need proof, just spend a few minutes listening to air traffic control in a busy sector when the weather is bad (log on to LiveATC.net when the Northeast is getting hammered, and listen to chaos). Pilots will readily pass along pilot reports about the rides, turbulence, breaks in a line, or wind shear on final.

There are areas in which pilots will look for bragging rights, and in many cases, it’s obvious who the bragging rights belong to. Once you are in the industry, you become immersed in the details of what makes one company better or worse to work for than another, and you begin to understand some of what the public doesn’t. Airline work rules, pay, schedules, domiciles, commuting—even the vagaries of the chief pilots and what they like to enforce—take on a different meaning once you have begun the lifestyle. Figuring out who gets paid more is easy, but figuring out which work rules are better isn’t always as obvious. But in the end, it becomes pretty clear pretty soon which airlines are run well and are a joy to work for versus those that are looked down upon.

But when it comes to the two guys in the front actually doing their job during the course of a flight or a day, there isn’t really any competition. Part of that is because the airlines operate their flights in much the same manner. But more importantly, nobody is going to deliberately compromise the safety of another. When a line of thunderstorms exists that runs from Canada to Mexico, everyone tries to help each other find the best place to jump the line. There is no thought of, “Well, let’s trick these guys into going into a Level 6!” It simply doesn’t happen. Instead, the updates are a live feed of what’s a good idea and what isn’t.

The best example I can think of is bad weather over a major hub, especially at night. If holding is in effect or if delays are piling up, pilots usually want two pieces of information. First, in rain, they want to know what kind of wind shear or convective activity to expect. Second, in snow, they want to know what the braking action is. And sometimes, it just takes one flight to voice that funny gut feeling that others already have. “We’re going to divert for fuel/weather,” is one call that usually triggers a chain reaction. Once one crew makes it, everyone seems to like the idea. But with wind shear or snowy or icy runways, the pireps become a lifeline of critical information.

When it comes to safety, cooperation trumps competition…every time.—By Chip Wright

Cross-country to Summit

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

CFI Ron Klutts (left) and student pilot Pete Nardo at Palm Springs Airport (KPSP).

Newly soloed student pilot Pete Nardo and his CFI, Ron Klutts, decided to fly from Palo Alto Airport of Santa Clara County (KPAO) to Palm Springs, Calif., for AOPA Summit last week. The trip exposed Nardo to lots of Southern California airspace, but he got much more out of it than that.

Nardo is at that giddy “I love flying and I want to shout it from the rooftops!” stage. Apart from AirVenture (yes, he’s been there and plans to go again), there wasn’t a better place on Earth for him to express that joy and revel in it. He got to see the Flying Wild Alaska pilots and learn about bush flying in Alaska; he wandered the static display and exhibit hall; he attended many thought-providing educational seminars; and he got to spend every waking minute immersed in aviation.

It was a treat to talk about airplanes with Nardo over a sushi dinner at Summit, because his excitement was contagious and reminded me that we all should strive to nurture our love of GA. Meeting new pilots–at your airport, at a pancake breakfast, or at a national aviation venue–is a great way to do just that.—Jill W. Tallman

First things first

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Here’s a pop quiz: What are the first two words of every single missed approach procedure? Here is a bit of a twist to the question: it’s the same procedure no matter if you are VFR or IFR.

It’s actually quite simple. The first two words are always, always, always “Climb and…” You may be climbing to maintain an altitude or climbing and turning, but you are always climbing. The reason is simple—you are awfully close to the ground and, given that you can’t see the ground, or that you can’t safely land in VFR conditions, safety increases dramatically with altitude and airspeed.

There is another command that is not as plainspoken, but it also occurs regularly. In this case it is on numerous checklists, and tends to be condition-specific, but it is still a do-it-now issue: fuel shutoff. If you have a perceived or potential fire, then you are nearly always commanded to close the throttle, thus limiting fuel flow, and then told to shut off the fuel entirely. On a piston engine, you would shut of the mixture, and on a turbine you would move the appropriate lever to the fuel shut-off position.

In the case of the fuel, it’s important that you recognize that the leap to safety in this case comes from taking a step that will actually force you to land. After all, without fuel, you are without power, and without power you are a glider. But the circumstance is such (in the eyes of the manufacturer, as well as common sense) that you are better off isolating the source of the fire. It may be that other emergency checklists will also start with some form of FUEL OFF or THROTTLE CLOSE, and it would behoove you to be familiar with all of them. In fact, you should memorize which checklists they are.

There are other scenarios in which the first steps are fairly obvious. Electrical emergencies may or may not start with isolating certain systems. But if there are any on your airplane that quickly lead you to turn off the battery, you need to know them. Likewise, if you have electric trim, and it begins to do a runaway, you need to know how to isolate the trim. Are there circuit breakers you can pull? Can you turn off the radio master? Do you have to turn off the battery master?

A missed approach always starts with “Climb and…” When it comes to the pilot’s operating handbook, you should be intimately familiar with groups of checklists that have a similar start or logic.

That isn’t to say you should memorize all checklists (you shouldn’t), but with the proper review, you will be better prepared to handle a real emergency if one presents itself.—Chip Wright

CFIs: Are these students talking about you?

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

This week I have the happy task of writing profiles on the three CFIs who were named Outstanding Flight Instructors in our Flight Training Excellence Awards. I can’t divulge their names just yet–you’ll find out when we make the official announcement at AOPA Summit 2012.

But I can share with you some of the glowing recommendations that their students wrote. And I challenge all flight instructors who might read this: Could these students be talking about you? If so, congratulations–you’re a winning flight instructor in my book. If not, well…maybe you have some homework to do?—Jill W. Tallman

“An exceptional instructor, who always delivers professional training, exceptional feedback, and extraordinary knowledge transfer.”

“Has exciting new ideas for teaching and brings laughter to difficult learning.”

“Is a natural flight instructor that is imaginative in finding ways to help struggling students.”

“Is very positive and there isn’t a flight that I leave not inspired … for the next lesson. [Instructor] loves to teach!”

“Dedication to students’ success and safety, knowledge in aviation, great pilot…great communication skillls, patience, always available for questions. [E]mbodies the best in flight training, [is] an example for other flight instructors.”

Photo of the Day: Waco UPF-7

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Every AOPA sweepstakes airplane has its own charms, but the Waco UPF-7 we chose for the Centennial of Flight sweepstakes in 2004 was a stunner. The 1940 trainer was lovingly restored by Rare Aircraft of Owatonna, Minnesota, a company that is known for painstaking attention to detail on these beautiful machines. You can click this link to read all the articles on the restoration process. Or just read this one (“10 reasons You’ll Keep the Waco,” December 2003 AOPA Pilot) for some really good background from Senior Editor Al Marsh, who shepherded the restoration project from start to finish.—Jill W. Tallman

Photo of the Day: Tecnam P2006T

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

 

Italy-based manufacturer Tecnam arrived on U.S. shores with Light Sport aircraft offerings the P92 Echo Super (high wing) and the P2002 Sierra (low wing). Its next offering was a bit of a departure: a light twin that flies behind two four-cylinder four-stroke liquid-cooled 98-horsepower Rotax 912S3 engines. AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Tom Horne dubbed it “an economy light, light twin” in his April 2010 pilot report. Horne noticed a similarity between the P2006T and the Partenavia line of high-wing twins, and said that’s because Partenavia designers also conceived the P2006T as well as the Vulcanair.—Jill W. Tallman

Photo of the Day: Flight of three

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

This formation flight of three Van’s RV8ss was shot along the Florida coast.