Archive for November, 2013

It’s Time To Change Our Image (part 1)

Monday, November 25th, 2013

Let me try this on you: I’d guess that most people – obviously not including you, since you’re reading this magazine – have a generally negative view of aircraft and flying.

Agree?

Think about it: the closest most people get to airplanes is riding the airlines to go visit someone . . . and we know what kind of experience that is. Apart from those who are scared to death that the flight is the last bit of transportation they’ll ever take in this life and that what’s left of their body after the crash will never be found, I’ve never heard any of the people in the back of the bus carrying on about how cool it was to get irradiated and frisked by the TSA and then crammed into knee-knocking seats that are so tight that you can’t get into your pocket to get the money out to pay for the “food” that they want to sell you.
It gets worse, of course if they have ever been stuck on the ramp for multiple hours with the lavatories overflowing for reasons the company chose not to tell them about. The whole experience is pretty de-humanizing.

The other times when most people get near an aircraft is when one flies overhead. Although you and I probably look up and admire the machine, there are a whole lot of folks who just hear the noise and don’t think that they should have to. Some see the plane (or the contrails) and think of the pollution that is coming out of the exhaust of the engines and how aviation is contributing toward the destruction of the planet and the opportunities for their kids. (They’re generally wrong, by the way, about the relative contribution that aviation – particularly GA – contributes to the total air pollution, but for this discussion, that is moot.)

Then there’s the general attitude that just about everyone has about business aviation. I was impressed when talking to a senior executive of a Wichita-area airframe company recently about the kids coming out of college who were looking for jobs with his company. They desperately wanted to get a job with this jet manufacturer but when asked what they thought about the product that they might be working on, the almost universal reaction was that private jets were for “fat cats” and that they polluted and made too much noise.

There’s a reason why Barack Obama picks on business aviation when he’s trying to make a point about the disparity between the haves and the have-nots. I used to be in politics. I can tell you with great certainty that the political guys in the White House have very good polling data that says that private jets are the go-to, symbolic hot button to use if you want to get an immediate, predictable response from the public about the inequity of it all.

If you like airplanes and flying like I do, then all of this hurts a bit. You feel sad that these folks don’t appreciate the beauty, the productivity, the freedom and even the spiritual nature of driving a plane through the sun striped, strato-cu clouds or marveling at the light art painted across the surface of the planet during a CAVU, twilight approach to someplace like LAX.

This perception disparity is serious business. I’ll talk about that next month.

‘Tis the Season of Thanksgiving and Goodwill

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

Around this time of year my counseling practice gets as busy as KOSH in July!  The pressures of holiday time, changes in weather, and family commitments makes a lot of folks want a little “dual” on the couch.  One of the things I remind my clients of is the fact that even at our worst times, we have something to be grateful for.  As we are on approach for 2014, I am reminded of the things I am thankful for in the past year.

Our aviation family is really quite small and well connected. This allows us to bicker like siblings but in the end stick together toward a common goal.  Whether you are from a red state or a blue state we understand that we need everyone in our family, including our crazy uncle.

I love doing charitable work at airports.  The impact is three-fold. First it helps the worthy charity.  Secondly it illuminates the value of airports to their communities.  And lastly it makes me feel good.  Whenever I am having a personal pity party I think about how I can be of service to others. Service gets me out of my stresses and helps alleviate stress for another.  While it might be too late this year to start a holiday event at an airport, do some thinking about next year, and while you are at it, attend an event like a toy drive, Toys for Tots, Toys for Kids now.

Three hours driving beats twelve in the car!

Three hours flying the Mooney beats twelve in the car!

 

I am appreciative that I have my major source of long-trip travel be an airplane.  Flying my vintage Mooney allows me to save time, do more things, and enjoy the flying.  Last month I flew for an hour and a half to Northern California, completed some business, then flew back to my home ‘drome. Had the trip been in a car it would have taken twelve hours.

 

I am always in awe of little airports that put on display days, airport days or fly-ins.  We attended one last month in Central California’s Minter Field.  Here is how they welcomed their flying and community visitors:  Free pancake breakfast for all guests flying in; free presentation by a WASP and a gal who was a “Rosie the Riveter”; free spot landing and flour bombing contest with cash prizes [I was the bombardier in a 1943 Super Stearman and got 3rd place]. They had lots of aircraft on display, a food vendor or two and I almost forgot, free popsicles!  The event was well attended by the public from the surrounding communities.  Being an event administrator myself I would estimate the day cost $750, maybe $1000.  But think about it?  How much ad space can you get for $750?  TV Spot? Not much. Goodwill in the community? Priceless.

Bombardier and Pilot

Jolie Lucas, Bombardier and JR Smith, Pilot

 

I am grateful that we have big airshows to go to such as Sun n Fun, EAA Oshkosh, AOPA Summit.  These large shows give a lot of exposure to the communities in which they are held as well as provide an excellent source of education, gadgetry, and social connection.

 

So as we ready ourselves for 2014 we should be mindful that unless we all work together the tapestry of our general aviation family could fade.  Think of how you can contribute to its vibrancy.  Get involved, use your voice, get in the air and have some fun.

 

 

Dream machine: Passionate aviator lets his airplane do the talking

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

From those very first days when we hung on an airport fence staring at strange but wonderful machines flying overhead, we aviators have allowed our passion for flying to manifest in many ways. This enthusiasm we share is sometimes shown as spectacular accomplishments on the national stage.

But while some have done something big to try and make our aviation family experience a tighter brand of camaraderie, someone else has done something that provides great satisfaction on more a personal level.

N1950B waiting for a flight at Eugene, Oregon's Mahlon Sweet Field

N1950B waiting for a flight at Eugene, Oregon’s Mahlon Sweet Field

What we ultimately do as aviators usually can be boiled down to one thing: People who have obtained the skills to aviate and have earned the privilege of being able to pilot airplanes above these Fruited Plains are an abundantly lucky sort of human. We are ecstatic for having achieved our dream to fly, and we are going to show everyone we meet just how cool our world has become now that we get to chase clouds across the sky.

And if passion and enthusiasm for aviation could be measured on some sort of gauge, I believe that tool would blow a fuse as it attempts to calculate the way Bob Walwyn of Eugene, Oregon feels about flying. But no such tool exists, so instead we must look inside Walwyn’s hangar to find the perfect specimen of an airplane that leaves zero doubt that this pilot is crazy in love with everything that our flying machines represent.

Yes, you need look no further than N1950B, Walwyn’s immaculate 1950 “B” model Beechcraft Bonanza, to see how off the charts one man’s ambitious quest for perfection can go when renovating a vintage airplane. We’ve all seen nice airplanes with nice paint jobs, a decent panel, and newer seats. We call them 10/10 ships, meaning both exterior and interior deliver maximum eye-popability. And using that scale, Walwyn’s ’50B has to come in around 25/25. It is that clean. It is a show plane. And it would take a long journey to find another 63-year-old V-tail that is more of a show-stopper than this beauty.

But the reasons Walwyn choose to pump so much new life into this very capable airframe is best described by Norris Wynn, his partner on the ‘Bo.

Bob Walwyn

“Bob is one of the most passionate aviators I’ve known in the GA community,” explains Wynn. “I joined him in N1950B after the renovation was completed, and the beauty of this airplane doesn’t stop with the avionics suite. During the renovation, Bob really did his homework with major decisions about powerplant, auxiliary fuel tanks, interior, paint, etc. Due to the Bonanza’s long production life, owners face a lot of options and STC’s. Bob was very methodical in looking at options and selecting what I believe to be the best ones for this particular vintage of the airplane. I flew professionally for 39 years as a military, corporate and airline pilot, but my beginning was in GA at 15 years old. My association with Bob and ‘50B has been one of the real pleasures in my retirement. It’s part of what makes being an aviator so special.”

Walwyn became a pilot in 1974 after receiving a most unusual birthday gift from his wife…a note that said “Start taking flying lessons” inside a box with 100 $1 bills. “That was the beginning,” he said, “and now, 40 years and five airplanes later, I have what I consider the “dream machine”.

Extensive does not begin to describe the renovation that has been completed on ’50B. The chain of events that began this project started with a minor prop strike on a maintenance flight by a previous partner in the airplane. “After my partner “touched” the runway with the propeller by retracting the gear early,” Walwyn said, “an engine teardown was mandated. We elected to replace the E225 engine with an IO-470N series engine to gain fuel injection and more horsepower. When this work was completed, both of my partners elected to sell me their interest and pursue other activities. This left me with the sole authority to determine work to be done on the airplane.”

After a health setback, Walwyn – who is known in the engineering world as “Techno Bob” -  set out to build his vision of what a well-equipped and safe IFR-certified 1950 Bonanza should look like, and he left no detail ignored in this renovation. The renovation was performed by Aviation Research Systems of Sandy, Oregon. SunQuest Air Specialties did the paint based on a design coordinated with Craig Barnett at Scheme Designers, and the interior was done by Cannon Aircraft Interiors. The front bench seat was replaced with individually adjustable bucket seats, BAS 3-point restraint seat belts and shoulder harnesses were installed, and the overhead air system from a V35B was modified and installed. The seats are fitted with Comfor-Foam®, which is really nice on longer trips.

The exterior, interior and engine compartment are all done to show quality standards. But the fact that ’50B has been parked in a position of importance outside the Aspen Avionics Hospitality Tent in the North 40 at Oshkosh for four years is a testament to the panel on this airplane, which is as beautiful as it is functional.

With more glass than a Swarovski Crystal store, switching the avionics masters in '50B to "On" results in a sea of checklists

With more glass than a Swarovski Crystal store, switching the avionics masters to “On” in ’50B results in a sea of checklists. It would be hard though to get lost in this airplane.

The foundation of the installation is the glass retrofit for certified aircraft from Aspen Avionics, but the wow factor really never ends as you study ’50B’s panel. It’s hard to get lost in this airplane with two Garmin GPS units – the GNS 530W and the GNS 430W, both steering the S-TEC 55X with altitude pre-select. Other equipment includes a virtual catalog of Garmin gear like a GTX 330 transponder, GMA 347 audio panel, GMX 200 multi-function moving map display and a pair of GI 106A ILS indicators. Oh, and let’s not forget the Radar Altimeter, AuRACLE Engine Management System and Guardian 553 Carbon monoxide monitor.

The engineering behind this panel installation is appreciated by Wynn, who has flown plenty of large, fast airplanes as a professional. “In selecting the avionics suite for the airplane,” Wynn says, “[Walwyn] had a keen eye for a well-integrated system. It’s easy to pick individual units that have nice features, but this airplane’s avionics work well together, much as we saw when we moved from “steam gauges” to “glass panels” in the airline equipment. All of the individual components “talk” to each other, passing data back and forth to give us a complete system. We fly quite a bit in the IFR environment, and ‘50B makes it a real pleasure.”

Bob Walwyn is a passionate pilot, a prime example of a man who has enjoyed building the machine of his dreams. Sure, he has the impressive checkbook to make this project a reality, but even on first meeting, it is clear he is one of us…the kind of person you find out at the airport and instantly become best friends. He is not boastful about this creampuff of a Bonanza he and Wynn are lucky enough to fly around in, because he doesn’t have to be.

“I think ’50B speaks to my passion for aviation better than anything I could say,” Walwyn says with a grin. And after one look at this airplane, you know that is true.

Preventing Spoilage: Currency, Proficiency and Winter

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

It’s a dark and stormy Friday as I write, and winter suddenly seems to have shown up, just in time for the holiday flying season in nearly every corner of the northern hemisphere north of the 30th parallel. The result? Shorter days, higher winds and clouds bearing ice and snow challenge any general aviation pilot hoping to fly during the holidays.

The problem isn’t really the weather—there are plenty of flyable days—it’s the proficiency of the pilots (not currency: that’s a FAA term referring to the bare minimum logged time and skills necessary for pilots to legally carry passengers, perform in IFR conditions and fly at night), or rather the lack of proficiency of pilots in winter, when weather limits the amount of decent flying days available for safely brushing up skills before carrying passengers on a flight.

And with today’s plethora of buttons in technologically advanced cockpits proficiency has taken on a whole new meaning. For example, you may be legal to fly IFR in your Garmin Perspective equipped Cirrus, but how long has it been since you practiced the buttonology required to make the airplane navigate when (as happened just last week in Florida) RAIM fails along your route of flight, rendering GPS navigation inaccurate and forcing you back onto airways, navigating with VORs. Or worse, say you suffer an electrical failure that forces you to reduce electrical loads and rethink your routing mid-trip. How long has it been since you thought about the NORDO (no radio) procedures if your VHF communication fails (squawk 7600 for starters) and you need to shoot an IFR approach at your destination? Have you spent time checking the power supply in your handheld radio? Have you tested it to see whether the rubber ducky antenna that comes standard will permit communication from inside your cockpit, and to who? Simply because these emergencies don’t happen often is reason enough to review them all before an IFR flight.

My offseason flying is always augmented with a bit of computer-based simulator time (find a real flight training device, such as a RedBird or Frasca simulator at your flight school to maximize your experience). I run ASA’s OnTop software on my PC out here in the countryside. I set up both round dial and EFIS cockpits to keep the mind limber and go to town practicing circle-to-land approaches with tight minimums, turbulence and random instrument failures—even “ATC” distractions from the other room help out. The challenges are humbling, and generally send me back to refine my checklists and re-read the user manuals on my GPS/Nav and EFIS to remind myself of the myriad of different ways I can program the boxes to either work together or, if one fails, independently.

Finally, I try to fly at least once a month, and definitely in the days before I carry passengers, just to work any little kinks out of my landing technique, particularly in gusty  or crosswind situations. It takes as little as a half-hour of pattern time to polish your touchdowns.

I challenge you to take an experienced CFI with you and test the envelope of your airplane against your own skills on a less-than-perfect flying day. Use a “dead-weight” to simulate how the aircraft will feel with passengers in the rear. The experience will make you more competent and confident, not to mention, proficient. That’ll feel better for you, and your passengers, too.

Personal Aircraft as Business Tools

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

Ask someone about business aircraft and they may say something about a King Air, Learjet or Citation, or possibly a Gulfstream or other “heavy iron” jet flown by a salaried crew. In doing so, however, the responder is neglecting a vast segment of the aviation community, such as the tens of thousands of light aircraft powered by recip engines that can serve business people and facilitate business development. Many singles and light twins operated by their owner or renter are fulfilling a business purpose. In fact, about two-thirds of all hours flown in General Aviation are related to some commercial endeavor, be it business travel, industrial aid, utility operations or instruction. Even that level of activity is just scratching the surface of the potential of light GA to serve the needs of a traveling society such as we have in the USA.

Transportation is a necessary technology for economic expansion and improved quality of life. History makes clear the symbiotic relationship between modes of travel and market development. Thus it is understandable that an aircraft such as a Bonanza, Cessna, Cirrus or Piper can be—and should be—used to serve an individual’s need to travel for business or pleasure. Let us not forget that travelling for pleasure facilitates business development: entertainment is a huge industry in the USA.

Realizing the broad potential of General Aviation as a means of business transportation requires at least two foundational elements. The first is safety. Vehicles used for transportation must be safe in fact as well as in perception. Users must have confidence that they can accomplish a trip successfully without undo angst for themselves and their passengers. The flight that is marked by mini crises and constant fear is simply not acceptable. Would the automobile be as much a part of our economy and society if there was the constant specter of an accident?

Fortunately the safe use of a typical GA aircraft for business travel is assured (at least to the extent that safe movement in any vehicle is assured) provided the pilot is proficient. Thus the need for comprehensive initial training, ongoing assessments of personal knowledge and skill, and sufficient usage to be proficient and feel confident for the task at hand. I continue to be impressed by the tools offered by the AOPA Foundation and its Air Safety Institute to prepare pilots for safe operations.

The second element for broader use of typical GA for transportation is designing aircraft that are easier to operate. Yes, for those of us who have been at the game for some time or have an exceptional motivation to learn the rigors of flight, aviation does not seem that difficult. In fact, the challenge is part of aviation’s appeal. But compared with the automobile, learning to fly and feeling sufficiently in control to rely on a personal aircraft for routine transport is not that easy. For GA to be more universally accepted, the entry requirements (e.g., time, money, keeping pace with required knowledge and skill, having confidence to use regularly) are simply too high.

Technology exists to reduce those entry requirements. Flying can be made easier, and it can be made more affordable (even for those who want the advantages of GA transportation without the requirement to pilot their own or rented aircraft). The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had at least two relevant programs during the last decade that addresses these issues: One dealt with Personal Air Vehicles (PAV), which was a concerted effort to study and facilitate the design of light aircraft that were capable of use and affordable by a large portion of the general public. The other, known as the Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS), examined the technologies and systems needed to expand air transportation to rural America via charter and unique scheduled transport, and where the technology applied, to owner flown aircraft. While dormant at the present time, such research should be continued.

In future blogs I will expand upon the notion that GA can be enhanced to bring greater transportation capability to our country. What are your thoughts?

The Huerta/Tilton Diet

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

Pilots and controllers: thinking of having that extra helping of gravy this Thanksgiving? You might want to think twice.

Earlier this week, the Federal Air Surgeon Dr. Fred Tilton notified the Aviation Medical Examiner community of a soon-t0-be calculation as part a standard medical examination moving forward. This calculation? A pilot’s Body Mass Index, which is a commonly used measure of obesity. For those pilots (and controllers, soon) whose BMI falls above 40 and a neck circumference of greater than 17 inches, the FAA will require evaluation by a sleep specialist for “Obstructive Sleep Apnea.” A medical certificate will not be issued until the “almost universal” diagnosis of OSA for those with these conditions is treated. It is intended that the minimum BMI for consideration of these extra steps toward medical certification will be reduced over time.

Maintaining a healthy body is of utmost importance to pilots and controllers. I am not a small guy by any definition of the term, and this new guidance from the FAA had me running to the National Institutes of Health calculator for BMI. Under the current guidelines, I fall outside of the 40BMI/17″ range of the calculation, but not by much. This doesn’t effect me…yet. By the FAA’s own admission, these requirements will effect 100,000+ pilots eventually. Are you ready to head to the gym with me yet?

For doctors and the FAA, a person’s BMI represents an easy calculation that can be done in seconds during an exam. Unfortunately, the concept and reasoning behind the BMI’s usage has been under increasing scrutiny in the past several years from the medical and academic communities.  Can one boil down a person’s level of activity, obesity, and potential suffering from OSA to a simple math formula?  Much as we all love and are attune to instant gratification and information that might come from this math, obesity and personal health are much more complicated. While short of a BMI of 40, I consider myself to be a fairly active individual who could still stand to shed weight. I’m not running marathons (bad knees), but do walk 30-60 minutes a day, make it a point to take the stairs, and practice yoga several times a week. I’ve also yet to display any of the symptoms of OSA. Does that mean I’m not at risk for it at some point in the future? Absolutely not. OSA can happen to anyone, but does occur more often in obese individuals. The above-linked articles also mention how the BMI can shield obesity in those that have lost a lot of muscle and show that more muscular people are obese when they might not necessarily be that way.

Having someone from the FAA paint with a broad regulatory brush when it comes to medical certification and aviation health issues is unhealthy for commercial and general aviation industry. Sleep and rest are significant issues in the aviation industry as a whole and, come January, we will see fundamental changes to the regulations pertaining to rest at airlines. The 2009 incident which sparked the change to BMI calculation rules came from an incident in Part 121 operations, and, as AOPA itself notes, has not been an issue in General Aviation accidents. Are we risking a significantly inconveniencing change that will lead to extra cost to aviation as a whole for something that could be fixed very soon in Part 117?

As it stands now, for most pilots, we are placing this calculation and assumption of OSA in the hands of a doctor that we may see every 6, 12, 24, 36 or 60 calendar months, depending on level of certification and age. Instead of a blanket requirement, the AME should serve the role of counselor, especially in light of the fact that any issues with OSA or obesity are already discussed with our personal care physicians. This change represents an overly restrictive cost and time burden that does not provide near the safety benefit it claims.

In the meantime, I’ll be at the top of my yoga mat prepping for an extra downward dog or two over the next few months.

 

The Future of General Aviation is You, so Get Cracking!

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

Much has been written about the decline in the pilot population in the United States. Over the last 20 years, both AOPA and EAA have launched major initiatives to reverse the decline, yet the population continues to trend downward. Perhaps it’s time for pilots to start their own grass root effort to reverse the trend, rather than wait for industry organizations to solve the problem.

Lest you think the situation is hopeless, consider, that some other countries have reversed the decline in their pilot populations. According to this week’s IMC Radio “Plane Talk” podcast, former AOPA VP Adam Smith said, “When I mentioned that the pilot population in my home country in Britain is growing again, I think it’s because eventually it got through the horrible crisis of the decline and the rising costs, etc. And people got positive and optimistic again and this fresh air of enthusiasm blew through aviation and so for me that’s what I would look to happen in America.”

Perhaps we need a grass roots approach in which every pilot commit to replacing him or herself in the pilot population by actively recruiting a friend, coworker, or acquaintance to become a pilot. For better or worse, from the outside looking in, aviation looks like a club. And to get people to consider joining a club, YOU need to invite them in.

Here are positive steps you can take right now:

  • Go through your contacts list
  • Identify people you think would enjoy being a pilot
  • Call them on the phone today, not a month from now, and ask them if they’d like to go flying with you.
  • Before the flight, find a flight instructor with time in his or her schedule to start giving your friend flying lessons within a week after your flight. That’s important as increased airline hiring has led to a CFI shortage in some areas.
  • Plan your flight carefully. Select a place to fly with your friend that’s a fun destination, perhaps with an airport museum or a restaurant on the field. Choose a time when turbulence will be minimal, such as earlier in the day.
  • After your flight, get them to meet with a flight instructor within a few days while they’re still pumped up from your flight together.

To get the best return on your efforts, select someone who not only has an interest in flying, but who also has the means to afford flying lessons. Flying a lot of teenagers may pay off a few decades from now, but what we need are pilots who have the time and means to take flight training NOW. In my experience, that’s often people between the ages of 30 and 50 years old, unless they’re considering aviation as a career, in which case they may be much younger.

For most people interested in learning to fly as an avocation, flight training is a lower priority than buying a car, building a career, forming a family, and buying a house. So they may not have the time or the means to learn to fly until they are at least 30 to 35 years old. People in their 60s and older can still train for a pilot certificate, so definitely consider recruiting them too. But you may want to counsel them that it could take them more total hours to complete their training than a younger person may require. Yes, there are younger and older people who get a pilot certificate, but the sweet spot appears to be people who have already experienced some success in their careers and are ready for new challenges.

Not only will our industry benefit from your actions, but you’ll benefit too. Flying with someone is always more fun than flying alone. And helping others achieve their goals can be very satisfying. Best of all, six months or a year from now, you may have a newly licensed pilot friend to go on trips with and who might be a potential airplane partner. The future of GA is up to all of us. So let’s get cracking today on finding the pilots of tomorrow!

Flight training on the cheap

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

There’s hardly a day that goes by when I don’t hear somebody, somewhere making the observation that flying is expensive. I can relate. News Flash: It is! Another News Flash: It always was.

Having established the basics, let’s at least consider looking a little deeper into our options for cutting cost and bringing the aviation experience within reach of more people, more effectively. Admittedly, the airplane is an expensive classroom. It’s also a lousy classroom. As a flight instructor I learned long ago, expecting student pilots to absorb new information while hurtling through the sky at one-hundred knots or so, way up high in the air, while the sound of the engine, propeller, and rushing airflow do their best to deafen him (or her), is close to being an exercise in futility. There are few torture chambers that are less conducive to the experience of learning than the cockpit of an aircraft in flight.

So let’s at least consider making the educational experience more rewarding, less frightening, stress-free, and immeasurably less expensive. What’s the best and least expensive flight training tool available to fighter pilots and the general public? You’re sitting on it.

Whether you’re sharing a metal park bench with a loved one, going solo in a Eames lounge chair that sells for thousands of dollars, or a balancing precariously on a folding director’s chair you just fished out of the dumpster next door, the seat you’re filling is arguably the best, the least expensive, and the most readily available flight training aid you’ll find.

It works like this. Sit in the chair as comfortably as you can. Relax. Use your imagination to put your feet on the rudder pedals. Rest one hand on the yoke (or stick, as the case may be), leaving the other free to handle the imaginary throttle, flaps, landing gear, and so on. Now run through the tasks you have to practice.

It may sound foolish, but sitting in that chair and running through a takeoff, steep turn, stall and recovery, turn-around-a-point, forward slip to a landing, or pretty much any other task will make you a better pilot. And it will do it at no cost to you. Well, potentially at the cost of some slight embarrassment if you run through your paces at work while mimicking the sounds of the engine, the gear, or the squeal of the tires when they first touch the ground. Other than that your bench, chair, or oversized garden planter can all serve as a perfectly viable training aid.

Of course you can’t log time spent balancing on the railing while pretending to perform slow-flight or an emergency descent. But you can learn from the experience. You can ingrain the steps to virtually any maneuver or task in your thought process. You can become increasingly familiar with the appropriate configuration of the aircraft, solidify the need to clear the area before initiating a maneuver, and review the completion standards in order to give yourself specific goals to shoot for. In short, you can practice flying with precision without spending a dime. That’s a pretty darned good cost cutter, don’t you think?

Since you’re thinking it, I’ll tell you. Yes, I actually use this method of training myself. I used it as a primary student and I used it throughout my training right up through earning my CFI. Years later when I decided to add a seaplane rating to my tickets, I used it again. I closed the glass doors to my office, sat down, and saved myself a small fortune by running through idle taxi, step taxi, plow taxi, normal takeoffs, rough water takeoffs, glassy water takeoffs, and so on, until I could do them in my sleep.

The only thing that had changed from the time I began using this system as a primary student was that my children were older and more capable of talking back and making fun of the old man by this point. So it wasn’t the least bit unusual to hear the sound of my daughters coming from the living room as I persistently practiced for my impending practical test. “Dad’s really weird,” they’d say. To which I’d chuckle.

Weird? Maybe. But I get to work on maneuvers without writing a check and that’s a pretty good payoff in exchange for the kids finding out I’m a bit odd.

Try it. It works.

Aviation’s University Education (and Industry) Challenge

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

In the world of  “Higher Education,” I am an anomaly amongst the masses at my university. In the majority of the classes I teach, I’m closer in age to the students in the room than I am to my faculty colleagues. With this reality comes additional responsibilities (namely, modeling good behavior), several challenges (the ever present need to maintain decorum amongst millennial peers who happen to be my students), and many benefits (a different take on the professor/student learning and mentoring relationship, where students may or may not feel comfortable seeking the advice of someone much closer in age comparatively). When amongst my colleagues from other aviation universities, it’s not uncommon for myself and a handful (but growing) of young aviation faculty.

This week, I’ve traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico for a meeting of aviation faculty from universities around the US. Gather a large number of aviation faculty like this group in one room and you’ll notice one thing: the demographics are not much different compared to those I’ve written about at Oshkosh: Predominantly above the age of 50, and white. For many, this is a second career after years spent in the trenches of the military or airline industry. Sadly, it’s not a vacation; we will be spending time in meeting rooms that may or may not have windows that look out on palm trees. During these sessions, many things will occur: professors will present about best practices in the classroom; graduate students will share their successes and failures in research toward their theses and dissertations; everyone will collectively throw up our hands and panic about the new Restricted Air Transport Pilot Certificate & an impending pilot shortage.

As education professionals in a university environment (one far different than what you might find in public K-12 schools), the large majority of us see this opportunity to gather together as one for professional development and the betterment of our efforts to better educate the aviation professionals of the future. Thanks to changes in priorities across many university systems (best evidenced by this comic), we find ourselves ever focused on “research” instead of “teaching.” Instead of learning by doing and discovering new methods of teaching material, a large portion of the meeting will be spent waging a near-constant battle against Death By Powerpoint. Many colleagues have a minimum number of research articles that they must publish each year as part of the justification for tenure or further employment. For many, this comes at a sacrifice of continuing to develop new methods and tools for our classrooms.

Today we took a break from research presentations to throw our hands up and bemoan a lack of cohesion between industry, alphabet groups, and higher education on dealing with the impending potential pilot shortage. For what it’s worth, this concept is something I’ve wanted to address for a very long time, and will likely address in a future blog post. One of the key areas noticed from the meeting? There are very few members here from industry. When I attend industry shows, there are very few attendees from higher education. We need to better improve our collaboration and communication between all groups in the industry. We might be surprised at just how many different stakeholder groups are throwing their collective hands up in frustration for the same issues and might have solutions for one another.

Winning the Common Battle

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

Aviators have many things in common. We all deal with the unrelenting force of gravity, no matter what we fly or why we engage in the technology of flight. When we enter the airspace, the elements of wind, moisture and density treat us the same. Whether motivated to go aloft by pleasure or profit, we all need the proficiency to win our battle over the forces of nature.

Business Aviation garners much attention these days as the scheduled airlines engage in a practice they call capacity discipline, which is designed to increase airline load-factors and profitability on available flights. Anyone who has booked a trip on scheduled air carriers recognizes that there are fewer choices now compared with several years ago. In the last five to six years, even as the economy has improved, departures from major hub cities have been reduced by nearly nine percent. Secondary and smaller airports with scheduled service have been hit more dramatically, with departures reduced by over 21 percent. Finding seats on flights is difficult without ample lead time, and airliners often are full (if not overbooked). Furthermore, scheduled airlines service can be found only to about one out of every 10 airports in the entire USA. More important to business travelers, convenient schedules are available to approximately 50 hub cities.

Thus it is understandable that Business Aviation—the use of a General Aviation aircraft for business transportation—is starting to grow once again. The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) just admitted its 10,000 member company, TCB Air, LLC, which serves two manufacturers that jointly own a Beechcraft King Air C90A for the transport of sales, engineering and other Staff to customer sites thought out the country.

Unlike AOPA, NBAA focuses on company membership rather than offering membership status to individuals. It is significant, however, that many of the companies that belong to NBAA have one or more aviation personnel who also belong to AOPA. Fortunately for the entire General Aviation community, AOPA and NBAA have an honorable and successful tradition of working together to assure access to airports and airspace and to guard against unwarranted user fees.

The two associations also have active programs to promote safety. AOPA’s Air Safety Institute provides a wealth of educational materials that are applicable to all aviators, regardless of hours flown or type ratings earned. Embracing the ASI’s pamphlets and seminars is an excellent way to learn and stay current. NBAA’s leadership role in promoting the International Standard-Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO) offers a process-management approach to safety that provides insightful direction to everyone who flies. The pleasure pilot can benefit greatly from developing his or her own personal operations manual along the lines promoted by IS-BAO for sophisticated flight departments.

In our quest to fly safely, efficiently and successfully in all aviation endeavors—be the purpose business or pleasure—we are wise to understand the resources of our aviation associations such as AOPA and NBAA. These organizations are our best means of maintaining a friendly relationship with the forces of nature.