Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Air Force’

The best and worst of 2013

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Hard to believe an entire year has rolled by since I last posted a Best and Worst of Flight Training blog (you can read the 2012 one here). This is my fourth annual Best Of/Worst Of list, and while I fully expected to see some of the same names on the roster (Hello, City of Santa Monica!), this year’s tally brings some brand-new players to our flight training game.

On an uplifting note, it took some digging for me to find five “worst” candidates for 2013.  In previous years, it seems there was more bad than good.


  • Federal budget cutbacks prompted the U.S. Air Force to reduce flying time071014-N-5476H-721 for pilots, meaning fewer training hours. A Wall Street Journal article maintains they’re flying fewer hours than military pilots in some European allies, India, and China.
  • The same budget cutbacks kept the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds from making appearances at airshows across the nation. What does this have to do with flight training? Well, I may be grasping here, but we know military aircraft are a huge draw at airshows, and it’s likely that reduced attendance means fewer people (children in particular) got to forge bonds with aviation that could pay off down the road with the creation of new pilots.
  • Another “self-taught pilot” a la the Barefoot Bandit was accused of flying a stolen airplane that belonged to a soldier on deployment in Afghanistan. What makes this story doubly sad is that the 18-year-old who allegedly took the Cessna 150 was studying to be an airframe and powerplant mechanic. The teen has pleaded guilty, and sentencing is set for Jan. 6.
  • Santa Monica Airport makes the list for the third year in a row. A fatal accident in which an airplane crashed into a hangar (but did not cause any fatalities among people on the ground) has added fuel to the City of Santa Monica’s ongoing campaign to close the airport, which is home to at least six active flight schools. The city is now involved in a lawsuit to gain control of the airport.
  • The FAA has decided that overweight pilots are a cause for concern, even though there apparently aren’t any safety statistics to back this up, and has issued a proposed rule that would require pilots with a neck size of greater than 17 inches or a body mass index greater than 40 to be screened for and possibly treated for sleep apnea. [UPDATE! The FAA announced it is putting the rule on hold—but that doesn’t mean the issue is going away.]


  • Thousands of student pilots told us the good, the bad, and the ugly aboutDisneys planes their flight training experiences, and helped us to find the Best Flight School and Best Flight Instructor in the Flight Training Initiative Awards. The winners—San Carlos Flight Center and Conor Dancy of Aviation Adventures—are profiled in the upcoming February issue. We’ll be doing it all again in 2014, so make sure you vote!
  • After the FAA stonewalled repeated requests from AOPA and EAA to consider a movement toward a driver’s license medical for private pilots, two members of Congress introduced a bill that would allow pilots of noncommercial VFR flights to use the driver’s license medical standard to fly aircraft of up to 6,000 pounds and no more than six seats.
  • The airlines are hiring. This means regional pilots will have an opportunity to move to the majors, and flight instructors will be moving on to the regionals, leaving flight instructor openings for new CFIs.
  • Disney’s Planes landed in theaters in August (and a real-life Dusty Crophopper visited EAA AirVenture). We’ll take any opportunity we can get to introduce children to aviation. A sequel is planned for release in 2014.
  • Shell Aviation has been working on a lead-free “performance drop-in” replacement for 100LL that could power any aircraft in the piston fleet. The new formula has passed preiminary tests on Lycoming engines on the ground.

Now it’s your turn. What would you add? How was your 2013, flying-wise? Please let me know in the Comments section. Thanks for reading the Flight Training blog, and I wish you blue skies and lots of flying in 2014.—Jill W. Tallman

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The best and worst of 2012

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

It’s that time of year again! Welcome to my third annual Best and Worst list for the flight training industry. I spent a few moments reviewing the 2011 roundup (which you can read here), and boy, did we have some interesting developments. Still, 2012 is shaping up to be notable, too.

In 2012, criminals continued to use airplanes for all the wrong reasons. We lost a beloved designated pilot examiner. Santa Monica Airport’s neighbors are using increasingly inventive and unlawful ways to show  how much they don’t want this airport—and its student pilots—in their backyards.

On the up side, I’m pleased to note some things that should affect the flight training industry for years to come. Some of these come out of AOPA. You may call me self-serving for including those in this list, but at least I’ve lumped them into one item.

So here are the worst and best, in no particular order. Tell me what you think I left out in the Comments section.—Jill W. Tallman


1. Santa Monica Airport makes it to the list again, this year because people are so intent on shutting down this airport–with its six flight schools–that one of them took it upon himself to scatter nails in the flight schools’ driveways to make his point (sorry). What’s next, flaming bags of dog poop on the flight school steps? (Maybe I shouldn’t give them any ideas.) The Santa Monica City Council gets special recognition for considering a noise reduction plan that would have paid flight schools each time a student pilot and flight instructor took their landing practice to another airport.

2. Border patrol agents seized a flight school’s Cessna 172 after a renter pilot was arrested on suspicion of using it to smuggle illegal immigrants across the U.S.-Mexico border. The owner said he wasn’t optimistic he’d ever see the airplane again, and its seizure could spell the end of his business.

3. St. Cloud University, St. Cloud, Minn., shutters its aviation program in a cost-cutting measure.

4. The U.S. Air Force told its oldest GA flying club–located on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio–to hit the road. That the USAF would evict its own is a tad ironic, as is the fact that Dayton is widely considered the Birthplace of Aviation. This one’s not all bad, though; the club, 300 members strong, moved operations to a nearby GA airport and has vowed to remain active.

5. “Mama Bird” took her final flight. Evelyn Bryan Johnston, a widely loved designated pilot examiner and the grande dame of Tennessee aviation, died May 10 at the age of 102. She had logged more than 57,000 flight hours and administered more than 9,000 practical tests.


1. Persons with disabilities are learning to fly. A fantastic organization called Able Flight is helping persons with disabilities to earn their wings. The organization really took off in 2012, when it helped six men to become sport pilots through a joint program with Purdue University.

2. Women are finding out that flying is fun. There are some very determined people trying to bring more women into aviation. Last year’s list mentioned International Women of Aviation Worldwide; this year my pick is designated pilot examiner Mary Latimer of Vernon, Texas, who hosted about 40 women at a weeklong camp at her home airport (Vernon-Wilbarger County, near Wichita Falls). The Girls in Flight Training Academy participants got free housing, food, and ground school, and they paid just $50 per hour dry plus the cost of fuel to fly in a Cessna 150. The result? Five took the knowledge test, four soloed, and two got through the private pilot checkride. You’ll read more about GIFT in an upcoming issue of Flight Training magazine.

3. Apps, apps, apps! From weight and balance to flight planning to weather to making a 3D image of your 10 trips around the pattern so you can see if you’re squaring off that base leg, cool, easy-to-use, and mostly inexpensive apps for the iPad and other tablet devices exploded in 2012. Student pilots will benefit from all that technology, so long as they remember to keep their eyes outside.

4. King Schools makes its private and instrument syllabus available free to independent flight instructors. Cheers and a tip of the hat to John and Martha King, who inspired my very first best-and-worst list back in 2010. I’m glad to bring them back for a happier reason. Honorable mention: Sporty’s Flight Academy in Clermont County, Ohio, whose modular flight training program that focuses on getting student pilots to solo is showing some impressive results–how about four solos in one week?

5. AOPA’s Flight Training Retention Initiative and the newly created Center to Advance the Pilot Community have been hard at work to tackle the problem of the shrinking pilot population. Some accomplishments to date:

  • Successful training programs were recognized during the first Flight Training Excellence Awards; you can read more about the people and flight schools that got special recognition here.
  • The Flight Training Field Guides for instructors, flight schools, and students are now available to download in .pdf format. Click here to get yours–scroll down the page to see where the field guides can be downloaded.
  • Have you noticed the series of articles on AOPA Online about successful flying clubs? Look for much more on flying clubs, including a Flying Club network that will strengthen the bonds among pilots and clubs nationwide.
  • Recognizing that we shouldn’t wait until a kid turns 16 to nurture his or her interest in learning to fly, AOPA also launched AV8TRS–a completely free membership program for youths aged 13 to 18. Go here to find out more, or sign up a youngster.

Your aviation inspirations, Part II

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

This is part two of a two-part blog in which readers submitted their aviation heroes–the ones who inspired them to learn to fly or continue their flight training when things got rocky. The first installment can be found here (or cut and paste this URL: ).

Dwayne King. The director of Kingdom Air Corps ( ) is a missionary pilot who was one of the first to make such a flight to Provideniya in Far East Russia. His organization prepares student pilots and mechanics for missions. Many of the students are from LeTourneau University’s aviation program, where he has been on the faculty. Suggested by Matt F.

Charles A. Lindbergh’s solo nonstop flight from Long Island to Paris in 1927 catapulted him to fame. (Some believe the Lindy Hop was named for him, but that’s not the case; it originated before Lindbergh made his flight, and while some called it “the Lindbergh Hop,” that didn’t last.) Lindbergh went on to promote the development of commercial aviation and air mail services. Sadly, Lindbergh’s fame was almost eclipsed by the tragic kidnapping and murder of his infant son. Lindbergh was suggested by Don Eck, who says his hero’s flight across the Atlantic was “absolute proof that ‘navigation’ isn’t simply spelled G-P-S, V-O-R, I-L-S, or A-D-F, and also that it is possible to get to your intended destination to get to the radio.”

Robin Olds was one of the pioneer jet pilots of the U.S. Air Force. As a “triple Ace,” he had a combined total of 16 victories in World War II and the Vietnam War. Aviation historians consider Olds the best wing commander of the Vietnam War, citing his air-fighting skills and his reputation as a combat leader.


The Millionaires’ Unit:   Alyson Booher thoughtfully provided a link to a trailer for a documentary ( ) on these World War I pilots–a group of Yale University students formed in 1916 who privately funded an air militia that became the nation’s first air coast guard patrol unit.


William “Billy” Mitchell, considered the father of the U.S. Air Force. By the end of World War I he commanded all U.S. air combat units in France. After the war, he advocated increased investment in air power. He is the only person for whom a type of U.S. military aircraft is named–that would be the North American B-25 Mitchell. Suggested by Randall Tilley.

Dick and Burt Rutan. Suggested by Jill (no last name), who called them “the modern-day Wright brothers,” the Rutans formed an aircraft company, and Elbert “Burt” Rutan designed the Voyager–the first airplane to fly around the world without stopping or refueling. Richard “Dick” Rutan was the one who made that record-setting flight with co-pilot Jenna Yeager. Burt Rutan also designed the sub-orbital SpaceShipOne and the experimental VariEze and Long-EZ.

“Sky King.” This 1940s and 1950s radio and television series was suggested by Flight Training Contributing Editor Greg Brown. “We desperately need a sequel!” he says of the show, which featured an Arizona rancher and pilot who captured criminals and spies and found lost hikers. His airplane was portrayed by first a Cessna T-50 and, later, a Cessna 310B, and it was called Songbird.

Sir Charles Kingsford Smith.  Suggested by Darrell O’Sullivan, “Smithy” was an Australian pilot who made the first trans-Pacific flight from the United States to Australia in 1928, as well as the first nonstop crossing of the Australia mainland, the first flights between Australia and New Zealand, and the first eastward Pacific crossing from Australia to the United States.

The Tuskegee Airmen. A little-known chapter of aviation history for decades, the Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American pilots in the U.S. armed forces. Before 1940, African Americans were barred from flying in the U.S. military. While films and television typically focus on the pilots, “Tuskegee Airmen” actually refers to all who were involved in the Army Airs Corps program at Tuskegee Field in Alabama to train African Americans to fly and maintain combat aircraft–pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff, and instructors. The pilots formed the 332nd Fighter Group and the 447th bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Corps. Suggested by Denis Gagnon, Chris Mullins, and Steven Warren.


Chuck Yeager  was a test pilot who was the first to break the sound barrier in October 1947, flying the Bell X-1 at Mach 1. He became synonymous with the term “the right stuff” when he was featured in Tom Wolfe’s book of the same name and its movie adaptation.



Honorable mention: When I published Part 1 of this blog, some readers were stricken to learn that no one had mentioned Bob Hoover and Scott Crossfield. So here they are, and deservedly so.

  • Search on YouTube for “Bob Hoover pours ice tea” and watch what happens. If you’ve never seen or read anything about Hoover, this will likely show you more than words could ever say what a great pilot can do. Jimmy Doolittle (remember, he performed the outside loop that had thwarted other hapless pilots) called Hoover “the greatest stick-and-rudder man who ever lived.”
  • Crossfield was a test pilot alongside Chuck Yeager, and in fact became the first person to fly at twice the speed of sound in 1953. He, too, was featured in Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff and the film adaptation.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of these remarkable people’s aviation accomplishments, so I urge you to research them yourself. If you have not found an aviation inspiration, surely this group is a great place to start.—Jill W. Tallman