Archive for the ‘Authors’ Category

Camp it Up!

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

It’s summer! Okay, you in the northeast may be wondering, but I can assure you that the southeastern and southwestern U.S. knows that the summer solstice is right around the corner. For those of us with children 6-18 this means school’s about to release, and we’ve got to get crackin’ to find activities for our brood.

If you are looking for an aviation, space or just science/technology themed summer camp you are in luck. AOPA has a great starting list you can find right

Many summer camps allow the campers actual stick-time.

here in the “Let’s Go Flying” section of the web site. There you’ll find two dozen possibilities, ranging from day camps staged at museums and airports to full-blown overnight experiences. Some of the stars of the list include the Experimental Aircraft Association’s EAA Young Eagles Academies, which run just before and during EAA AirVenture in July. Not listed, but also a great option for middle-school and high-school age young women is EAA’s Women Soar camp, a four-day aviation learning experience during AirVenture. If you are located in Central Florida there are a series of summer camps affiliated with Lakeland, Florida-based Sun ‘n Fun designed for all school-age children excited by aviation and space.

Is your camper 14 or older and ready to get some real stick-time? You might consider one of the many summer camps oriented toward getting those first flight hours. The Civil Air Patrol holds encampments for its cadets all over the U.S. each summer where they learn to fly gliders and hot air balloons (an excellent introduction to flight for any budding aviator). Several aviation-oriented universities offer summer flight training programs. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Daytona Beach, Florida, and Prescott, Arizona, campuses offer numerous summer camps that explore topics ranging from robotics and aviation to computers and cybersecurity. From the flying side of things the school’s Flight Exploration programs are designed to key into different phases of flight training, from pre-solo to post-solo cross-country phases of supervised flight. Parks College of St. Louis University offers a summer academy that includes UAV training.

There are faith-based camps (Mission Aviation Adventure Camps take place at six different airports across the country this summer) and museum-based camps, such as the Seattle Museum of Flight’s ACE camps. Really, something for every parent’s perception and child’s dream of aviation.

You might think that late May is too late to sign up for a summer adventure, and, if you were hoping for a scholarship or stipend to help pay camp expenses, you might be correct. That said, there are still many camps with openings for one or two youngsters just like yours.

One word of advice for those of you who have children who don’t come to you with suggestions of their own for what they’d like to do this summer—don’t wait for them. Reach out. I’d have never thought of taking flying lessons on my own, and look at me. Aviation has permeated my entire life. They don’t know what they don’t know, I say. It is up to us to reach out and educate. Even if your kids don’t turn into pilots, astronauts or aerospace engineers, the time they spend at these summer camps will turn them into sky-lovers, the kind that look up fondly at the sound of an airplane overhead; the kind that will tell their congressman to support their local airports, and a free and open general aviation system for all.

Don’t Worry—They All Do That

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

Years ago, I used to travel throughout the country putting on technical seminars for owners of various Cessna models, together with John Frank, executive director of the Cessna Pilots Association. Whenever John and I got to the landing gear segment of the course, we made a point of asking the 20 or 30 assembled Cessna owners attending the CPA seminar for a show of hands:

“How many of you have had a problem with nose wheel shimmy?” Invariably, virtually every owner in the audience raised their hand.

“Okay, how many of you have asked your mechanic about this, only to be told that all Cessnas exhibit nose wheel shimmy, and that it’s simply ‘the nature of the beast’?”

Usually, at least half the hands remained up. That was not a very reassuring sign about the competence of the mechanics these owners were using to maintain their Cessnas.

Nose wheel shimmy normal?

Cessna Nosewheel

Nose wheel shimmy in single-engine Cessnas is not “the nature of the beast,” and is readily correctable.

Although nose wheel shimmy is extremely common in single-engine Cessnas, it can and should be fixed. Such shimmy is almost always due to one or more of the following: (1) worn torque link bushings, (2) an out-of-round or out-of-balance tire, (3) elongated holes in the shimmy dampener linkage, or (4) a defective shimmy dampener.

A mechanic who dismisses a problem like nose wheel shimmy as “the nature of the beast” and claims that “all Cessnas do that” is just copping out. If a mechanic tells you something like this, you’d be wise to seek a second opinion (and perhaps to change mechanics).

John used to make a standing offer to Cessna owners who brought their airplanes to CPA headquarters in Santa Maria, California: If he or his staff couldn’t fix the aircraft’s nose wheel shimmy, he’d buy the owner a steak dinner at the best steak joint in town.

John never had to pay for anyone’s dinner.

To the best of my knowledge, nobody ever died because of uncorrected nose wheel shimmy. But from time to time, we hear of a mechanic who dismisses a genuinely serious problem with “don’t worry about it, they all do that.” And that’s scary.

Exhaust leaks normal?

An owner who’d recently acquired a Cessna T310R noticed gritty brown stains developing on top of his left engine nacelle aft of the louvers. He also noticed some cracking and bubbling of the paint. No such symptoms were apparent on his right nacelle.

Brown stains

The owner of this 1977 Cessna T310R became concerned about the gritty brown stains behind the louvers on top of his left engine nacelle, and some bubbling of the paint. His A&P advised him not to worry about it, claiming “almost every twin Cessna has some degree of heat staining.” Bad advice.

Several A&Ps told the owner not to worry about it, because “almost every twin Cessna has some degree of heat staining.” But it still worried the owner because he was seeing these stains only on the left necelle and not on the right.

The owner then did a very smart thing: He sought a second opinion by posting a query on CPA website. I spotted his post there, and asked him if he would take some photos of the brown stains and upload them so I and others could take a look at them.

The next day, the owner posted some photos of the brown stains. I replied that I thought that those stains were probably symptomatic of a substantial exhaust leak in the vicinity of the turbocharger, and that I considered it imperative that he have the exhaust system in that area inspected thoroughly and the cause of the leak identified and remedied right away.

Not long afterwards, the owner removed the top cowling from his left engine nacelle and took several more digital photographs, which he posted to the forum. One of those photos showed considerable white powdery deposits on the turbocharger heat shield and firewall. I told the owner that this almost certainly was confirmation that he had a serious exhaust leak at or near the turbocharger. Several other owners and mechanics chimed in and urged that the owner take this situation seriously.

Turbocharger heat shield

When the top cowling was removed, the owner found white, powdery stains on the tur-bocharger heat shield and firewall, indicative of a substantial exhaust leak. The owner insisted on a pressure test of the exhaust system, which revealed a gaping leak at the turbocharger-to-tailpipe joint and a loose exhaust V-band clamp. Removing the tailpipe, cleaning up the mating flanges, and retorquing the clamp cured the leak.

“When it comes to the exhaust system of a turbocharged twin Cessna, you have to take everything seriously and you can’t be too careful,” I told the owner on the forum. “Too many people have died in these airplanes as the result of in-flight exhaust failures. At one point during the 1990s, we were averaging one fatality per month due to these problems, and the FAA very nearly wound up grounding the whole fleet. Since 1999 we have had zero exhaust accidents, due in part to all the publicity and in part to the new AD 2001-01-16 that I worked on so actively. That’s a track record I’m very proud of—and I’d hate to see it blemished.”

The owner takes command

The next day, the owner cleared his calendar and took his airplane back to the shop. “I got some raised eyebrows when I insisted that we pressure-test the system,” the owner reported. The owner decided to stick around through the procedure to make sure the exhaust system was checked thoroughly for leaks.

When the mechanic pressurized the exhaust system with shop air and started squirting soapy water on the exhaust plumbing, it was immediately apparent that there was a major leak at the junction of the turbocharger and the tailpipe. “We saw bubbles the size of a man’s fist forming between the tailpipe and the turbo,” the owner said.

The mechanic discovered that the V-band clamp that secures this joint was extremely loose. The nut on the clamping bolt could be tightened a full half-inch. But even after tightening the clamp, a second pressure test showed little improvement in the leak.

The mechanic then removed the clamp, separated the tailpipe from the turbo, cleaned the mating flanges on both the tailpipe and the turbocharger, and then reinstalled the tailpipe and clamp. A third pressure test showed no leakage whatsoever at the joint.

The owner was very happy about this outcome. He posted the details of his trip to the shop. “I want to thank everyone here who would not let me accept the word of several A&Ps who told me it was nothing,” he said. “It’s amazing what two hours of labor can accomplish.”

Not so fast!

Torque wrench

The “that feels about right” technique is unacceptable when installing exhaust V-band clamps.

But after reading the owner’s most recent post, I still had an uneasy feeling. “When your mechanic tightened the V-band clamp on the turbo-to-tailpipe joint, I hope he used a torque wrench and torqued it to the specified value,” I said. “The torque on that clamp is critical, and that particular nut should never be just tightened by hand ‘it feels right’.”

Nope, reported the owner, the A&P didn’t use a torque wrench.

“After your mechanic cleaned up the flanges on the turbocharger and tailpipe, the flanges should have been inspected with a strong light and magnifier for cracking,” I added.

Nope, the mechanic didn’t do that, either, the owner said. “Do I need to go get him re-do it, or can it wait until my next scheduled inspection?”

“Redo it,” I advised the owner, adding that when the nut is tightened “by feel” it’s invariably overtightened, putting excessive stress on the clamp in increasing the likelihood of clamp failure (which could be fatal). I pointed out that the torque is so important that each V-band clamp has a small stainless steel “torque tag” on which the correct torque is stamped.

The owner put his T310R back in the shop to have the clamp retorqued, and resolved that in the future he would take his maintenance business to another shop where the mechanics were more knowledgeable about turbocharged aircraft.

The moral is this: Any time you ask a mechanic about some mechanical discrepancy and get the response “they all do that” or “it’s the nature of the beast,” consider this a big red flag, and go get an expert second opinion. Doing so might just save your bacon.

Becoming a student pilot again

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

There is a groove that most pilots fall into: operating familiar aircraft from a familiar home field, progressively expanding one’s horizons. Eventually, flying becomes easy because each flight becomes less and less of a learning experience. We could wax poetically about how that groove translates into dangerous stagnation, though here I am referring to the point where trepidation is replaced with the knowledge and skill to fly with confidence and enjoy the flight thoroughly, truly feeling like the pilot-in-command, and not like a student each time.

Much of that revolves around the “what ifs” of flying. I think many pilots know when a plane leaves the ground what their vulnerabilities are. Can I handle that forced landing soon after takeoff? How much wind can I really safely land in? The raw thrill of early student flying offsets the terror of inexperience, creating an ignorance-fueled bliss. As a pilot ages, experience calms the mind as the early thrill of flying wears off, and, if we keep flying long enough, it becomes a mature and progressively more enjoyable act.

It took flying in Germany to realize I had gotten myself to a very comfortable point in the United States, and that comfort evaporated instantly here. For now, gone are the days when I can glance at an English language weather forecast, be familiar with local weather patterns, plot out a photography flight in my mind, perform preflight tasks that took more time than brain effort, hop in, and adjust the plan as I saw fit while in flight. Instead, I am sitting at the flight planning table, mapping out courses, alternates, frequencies, and a whole lot of “what ifs,” thinking more contingencies than normal through, forcing myself to pick a plan and stick with it, even though the nature of aerial photography is to roll with frequent change in the air.

Do anything enough and it becomes easy. (Grand Teton, WY, USA) 

The differences start as previously mentioned with weather. Official forecasts are in German, with some limited information available in English via Lockheed Martin Flight Services’ website back in the United States (oh, the ironies). For the time being, I have kept my flying restricted to clear days, as they are better for taking pictures, and I don’t have to worry about sudden and drastic weather changes. European weather changes quickly, and forecast sunny days can quickly turn into overcast. I find myself becoming more of my own meteorologist, scanning satellite animations, tracking the presence of highs, lows, lift, and high pressure, extrapolating how long a period of sun will last, and balancing the competing forces of waiting until morning haze burns off compared to afternoon cloud formation. In a way, it is sharpening my skills, though not without a certain quantity of frustration.

Mostly sunny becomes overcast in 30 minutes. Flight aborted. (Rhine Valley, Germany)

After satisfying weather concerns, flight planning shifts to destination planning and alternates. Europe, and Germany in particular, has a particularly nasty reality where airports open and close. Schedules are posted, which vary by day of the week, holidays, and seasons. In effect, the airfield must be manned by someone operating an “information” radio, and if that person is not there, the airfield is closed. Landing at a closed field as much as one minute late without an emergency is a fine of many thousands of dollars and is taken extremely seriously in Germany. As an additional slap in the face, my hull coverage is void after closing time unless an emergency is declared or I have prior permission to land at that time.

Now here is where the headache kicks in. There is not an easy way to determine which field is likely to be open or not. Sure, Frankfurt International Airport will be open every day and at any hour I would fly, though the landing fee for my class of aircraft is roughly $750. Assumptions are expensive, resulting in a mind-numbing exercise of clicking through on maps to find out open and closing times, avoiding anything with “PPR” (Prior Permission Required), and making a note for future reference to keep regularly-staffed fields in mind as fueling points.

The majority of airports in Germany are not manned on a regular basis.

Pattern activities here are very specific. Each airport has a pattern map for each class of aircraft, with specific entry and exit procedures. There is no such thing as overflying the middle of the field, glancing at the windsock, and circling in for a half-downind, base, and then final, landing using a hazy pattern shape that remotely resembles standard procedure. The Info controller will advise of runway in use and traffic in the pattern, and the procedure is expected to be followed precisely. Expensive fines await for deviance, due to noise abatement concerns. That means that I am often following an approach as precise as an airliner, head down in the GPS while in the pattern, terrified of deviating from the pattern, while my Mode S Orwellian transponder transmits my exact location along with tail number at all times for recording. I shut the thing off when legally permissible, to give myself a break from feeling watched, balancing the desire for a technological collision avoidance buffer with the need to pretend I am a gunslinging barnstormer.

By this point, as any Americans might feel reading about all of these aggravations, the idea of being a student is roaring in full force. The stress level is higher, as I have a significantly higher workload to concern myself with, more contingencies to worry about, more air traffic at usable airports, and the requirement to give myself more time for departure and approach machinations while dealing with airport traffic movements. With each flight comes the responsibility of knowing that closed airports come with an emergency requirement, and all other activities must be planned accordingly. Germans don’t take kindly to requests for procedural deviation. An innocent radio call requesting traffic priority due to low fuel is not innocent here, it is considered a grave failure of airmanship and a significant imposition to request the orderly flow of things to bend for one person’s lack of planning. In the US, we all defer and continue about our day, because we ourselves would like the courtesy of making that request ourselves.

So how does this all work out when I decide to take my first real cross-country flight? I have my wife to thank for seeding me with the idea of flying to the Netherlands to catch the commercial tulip fields in full bloom. The flight was “only” 250 miles each way, and it would be over flat terrain. How hard could that be compared to last summer’s adventures?

Rhine River – just getting started. A fighter jet passed under me, causing great concern that I might have missed something in my flight planning.

I took a route northwest over the Rhine River Valley, bypassing the massive sprawling metroplex of Koblenz, Bonn, Cologne, Dortmund, and Dusseldorf, flying along the countryside to the west. My flight path looked a bit like a person drew it in the middle of a seizure, a result of my “kid in a candy store” approach to wandering from one pretty sight to the next, tossing straight line flying out the door as I click away with the camera. Southwest of Cologne, I contacted a tower to get clearance through a control zone, and the answer on all frequencies was silence. Unsure of what that meant, and cautious about an infraction, I flew 10 miles out of the way, ducking through a VFR corridor to make sure things were safe.

“Kid in a Candy Store” approach to flight course.
3.5-Curvy Path
4-Western passage

As I approached the Dutch border in northwest Germany, I decided to play it safe with fuel, as I had no clue what flying in the Netherlands would be like, and the airspace was a psychedelic menagerie of more overlapping colorful airspace nightmares than I have ever seen in my pilot career. I elected to land at Niederrhein, Germany, as the airport was towered and far enough away from population centers. I assumed it would have good services yet reasonable prices based on a line of thought that has served me well in the US: find a solid runway size, yet far enough away from such words as Aspen, Telluride, Los Angeles, Chicago, or Vail and the combo of price-to-service usually works well.

The FBO was nice, and to some extent, the voice inside was telling me it was too nice. When I asked to use the restroom, I passed through a security door and into a moderately-sized airport terminal for passenger operations, discovering that I had landed at a Ryan Air destination. As the Germans would say, nicht gut. The little voice inside became the outside swarthy voice of a dark-haired woman, who informed me that with a landing fee of “only thirty euros,” the total bill for 10.5 gallons of fuel and other fees was $206.34. There was a 4% fee for using my MasterCard. I flatly informed her that I consider it rape, and she kindly explained that they have no interest in servicing piston aircraft, except the law requires them to do so. In fact, pilots often comment, “this is the most expensive airport in Germany.” I got a flat look when I asked if they would consider having a standing NOTAM advising that piston traffic is discouraged.

First lesson learned: always research landing fees and fuel rates, even though there is no central or easy place to find that information.

I was driven half a mile back to the airplane, and upon attempting to start up, it became evident that my ground charge battery was too depleted to start. Instead of pushing the matter, I did what I have done since I was 16: hand cranked and hopped in, preserving the battery for transponder use. My radio is powered on its own battery. Asking the tower for permission to depart the TMZ (transponder mandatory zone) without the transponder due to battery concerns, the reply was: “You may depart without the transponder with great exception though you MUST get it replaced as soon as you arrive at your destination!”

Tulips (Netherlands)
7-Windmills and Tulip Fields

Crossing the Markenmeer. Amsterdam Schiphol airspace overhead does not allow for much altitude.
9-Markenmeer Crossing

The Netherlands was as beautiful as I thought it would be, with an abundance of windmills, levees, dikes, drainage channels and, of course, tulips. I crossed the Markenmeer and made a point to fly to the coast of the North Sea, which was quite a moment. Here I am, flying the same Piper Cub that I first flew at age 16 on my grandfather’s grass strip in upstate New York, and I am flying along the North Sea! Who ever would have imagined a moment like this?

Enkhuizen, Netherlands
10-Dutch Village

The North Sea!
11-North Sea

I had originally plotted to land at Lelystad for fuel, and then opted for Hilversum, as it was more expedient for the return. I looked up the approach plates, then listened on Hilversum Radio (yes “Radio” in the Netherlands and not “Info”) and heard the pleasant surprise of American-style pattern callouts in English! Unaware if a tower existed, I did an blanket pattern callout that I was 7 NM to the north, and the info controller hopped on to tell me that aircraft were in the pattern and runway 36 was in use. As I approached the pattern, there were airplanes everywhere, including gliders, helicopters, and fixed wing, swirling around like organized gnats, without the added service of being informed in advance by the controller that the swarm existed. Nervously making a few position reports, I hopped into a self-made slot, landed on the grass aerodrome, and had the delightful discovery, after some inquiring as to what “Euro 98” was, that they carry mogas! For the exact same 10.5 gallons, landing fees included, my bill was “only” $96! Aside from the gloriously equitable pricing, I met some very interesting people there, an airport outside of Amsterdam with a thriving GA scene and very interesting old aircraft.

Hilversum, Netherlands Airport (Photo: Vincent Kager)
VUP_2544 copy

On the way home, I realized I needed to pass through the Niederrhein control zone again, so I turned on the transponder and got cleared through, the same controller not bothering to ask if I got the battery replaced.

The flight home took a few hours, and it transitioned to warm and yellow evening light, thermals fading into still evening air as I crossed through the hills east of the Rhine, viewing the bright yellow canola fields in bloom, crossing over the Rhine River, deciding to land 20 miles in advance of home, as I was in no mood to come in on fumes. Being in a new country, with a limited battery, late evening, in a headwind, and on fumes in some of the tightest GA airspace in Germany is a silly notion, so I fueled at a nearby airport. It had full Info service in English and German, and despite the presence of said resources, I was permitted to nearly smack into another airplane as we simultaneously tried to turn from left and right base to final. Upon climbing to the tower area to pay the fuel bill with the controller (Yes, one is expected to go into the tower, whereas federal prison awaits for such a stunt in the US), the controller advised that he “only speaks a little English.” In the land of regulations, things don’t always work out as intended. 11.2 gallons of mogas, with landing fee: $105.

Rhine River, Nuewied, Germany

As I approached Egelsbach, it felt just like some of the maniacal adventures I took out West, cruising up one of the Wyoming mountainous corridors in late evening light, hearing the chirp of the tires as I landed in Alpine, signaling the end of 8 hours of flying, 1800 photos, and in this case, the depletion of $407 of my net worth. Aside from the fiscal pillaging, it’s a fantastic feeling, even though my mind had turned nearly to mush, a sense of absolute exhaustion after such a long and intense day of truly, pun intended, cross country flying.

Crossing the Rhine….almost home.
13-Evening Light

General Aviation to the Rescue!

Friday, May 6th, 2016

Share the value of Law Enforcement flying

On Saturday April 23rd I had the distinct pleasure of being able to fly in the California Highway Patrol [CHP] Airbus H125A-Star helicopter with Officer/Pilot Joe Kingman and Flight Officer/Paramedic, Demian Abel.

A few weeks prior I watched a dramatic rescue of an illegal climber on Morro Rock in California. The video highlighted not only the sophistication of the multi-million dollar helicopter, but the skill and professionalism of the rescuers and pilot on board.

On social media, our community was abuzz with commentary about the rescue with well-deserved praise for the CHP officers involved. Yet, no one, save me, mentioned that this rescue flight was a prime example of General Aviation. I am always on the look out for ways to educate our community about the different types of flying that comprise General Aviation.  I immediately contacted Officer Kingman and asked if I could interview him and he graciously offered an interview and a flight in the helicopter.

CHP Arrival

Grandpa and his two grandsons.

It was a sunny, yet windy day on the Central Coast of California when the familiar blue and gold of the CHP arrived at Oceano Airport. This particular helicopter is nearly brand new having 252 hours on it. It is fully equipped with the latest in cameras, spotlights, rescue/medical equipment and avionics. Within a few minutes of arrival of N979HP, a grandfather arrived with two small boys. Joe and Demian were so gracious to show the boys the helicopter and talk with them about flying, though one of the boys admitted he wanted to be a fire fighter.


I was a bit concerned about the amount of wind and the effect it would have on the aircraft. I had never flown in a helicopter before. Joe explained that the rotor blades absorb the majority of the turbulence. We completed a pre-flight briefing and we departed the airport and headed up the coastline. As a pilot I thought I was used to hearing a fair amount of chatter on the radio while on flight following. Yet, the CHP helicopter concurrently monitors the frequencies of the Sheriff, Police, Fire Authorities, State Parks as well as their own. As the flight progressed I learned more about the truly collaborative work the CHP helicopter provides.  The view was stunningly beautiful and the ride was surprisingly smooth.


Officer Joe Kingman is a 27-year veteran of the California Highway Patrol, 19 of those years as a pilot. I asked him if there were any common misconceptions about what the CHP helicopters do. He answered, “ I don’t think that the public knows that our helicopters always have a medic on board.

Pilot Joe Kingman

Pilot Joe Kingman

Additionally while folks generally know about our pursuit and surveillance they don’t know that we provide medical evacuations for car accidents and support police and fire departments.”

“The tax payers own this aircraft,” said Officer Kingman. Their missions support not only the citizens of the communities but also a multitude of other public service agencies.


Flight Officer/Paramedic Demian Abel has been flying for 5 years but has been serving for 15 years since the academy. He took great pride in showing me the ship’s avionic systems. I was awestruck by the abilities of the cameras onboard to locate vehicles, people and even animals by their heat signatures. We flew near Bishop Peak, and I could clearly see the hikers on the trail below us. Demian said that they routinely fly near these popular trails after dark using the infrared camera to see if there is anyone stranded or injured.

Flight Officer Demian Abel

Flight Officer Demian Abel


As we hovered over the 101 freeway we talked about how in the event of a mudslide, or earthquake, helicopters are a lifeline. We agreed that our smaller General Aviation airports are a vital part of that lifeline as well.

When we look up and see the law enforcement helicopter above us, it might be easy to think that they are looking for someone speeding on the freeway. If it is spring or summer more likely, the men and women on board are working collaboratively with other agencies on search and rescue or med evac. Through the use of cutting edge technology this “eye in the sky” has a keen advantage in pursuit and surveillance. Our communities are safer and more secure because of the work they do. No matter the mission, law enforcement flying is General Aviation.


We need to continue to educate our communities about the vital role that General Aviation plays in not only recreational and business flying but in emergency response as well. A few years ago I made a “What is General Aviation?” video that is available to any airport or pilot group that would like to use it.

Oceano Airport Celebration: Salute to Veterans is May 13th and 14th. We are happy to announce the N979HP will be on display and open to the public. Thank you again to the California Highway Patrol and in particular Officers Joe Kingman and Demian Abel. I think I have the coolest selfie ever!


Coolest Selfie ever!

Joe Kingman,  Jolie Lucas,  Demian Abel









Solar Impulse Flies, and Electric Sees its Day in the Sun Coming

Monday, April 18th, 2016

Whenever you see the term proof-of-concept in front of an aircraft designation you need to think: extremely experimental, might never come to fruition, and of course, probably going to break. The two pilot-geniuses behind the Swiss Solar Impulse perpetual motion flying machine (I say that because frankly, it never has to stop flying), Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, have been holed up in Hawaii for months now with their proof-of-concept Solar Impulse airplane because they broke it on the five-day non-stop flight across the Pacific

Solar Impulse arrives in Hawaii after flying five days  nonstop from Nagoya, Japan.

Solar Impulse arrives in Hawaii after flying five days nonstop from Nagoya, Japan.

from Nagoya, Japan, to Hawaii. That put their proof-of-concept flight around the globe on perpetual hold. New batteries had to be manufactured for the aircraft and the battery cooling system, which was determined to be inadequate for such a long flight, had to be completely redesigned and manufactured, as well.

It turns out the mission needed $20 million to make that happen, which meant funds needed to be raised, as well. Fundraising, however, is something Piccard and Borschberg’s idealistic group is quite good at. They have worked slowly over a couple decades, to date, to bring the experimental Solar Impulse program to life. In the process they’ve constructed and flown several aircraft that, by virtue of their electric engines, batteries and solar cells, can stay aloft essentially indefinitely. April 15, 2016 they announced that the airplane is ready to relaunch its mission. Next stop? Somewhere east of the California coastline. What are they waiting for? The perfect VFR day, or close to it. Yeah, there are still limitations. But remember, it’s just a proof-of-concept machine.

Once upon a time people delving into electric-powered flight were considered the outliers of experimental aviation. That is no longer true. At Sun ‘n Fun 2016, which concluded earlier this month, the CEO of the Colorado-based Aero Electric Aircraft Corporation (AEAC) announced that its all-electric powered two-place trainer, the Sun Flyer, was expected to fly within weeks. The Sun Flyer is powered by a single tried and true Emrax 268 electric motor putting out 100 kilowatts, which is basically 135 hp.

AEAC's proof-of-concept Sun Flyer is nearly ready to fly.

AEAC’s proof-of-concept Sun Flyer is nearly ready to fly.

“Because the nose of this airplane is so sleek and narrow, however, the propeller is not blocked, giving you so much more power,” Bye explained to the Sun’n Fun crowd. “For instance, a typical Cessna 172 loses 30 percent of the power generated by the prop because it is blocked by the flat plate surface of the nose of the aircraft,” he said. “On the Sun Flyer 95 percent of the propeller energy can be used to convert torque to thrust. That’s how you get to an equivalent horsepower of more like 160 hp.”

The all carbon fiber construction of the Sun Flyer keeps it light, and South Korea’s LG’s chem batteries provide 260 watt-hours per kilogram of electricity for the engine, which adds up to three hours to empty. Except this airplane has regenerative energy capture technology in its propeller. What that means is that energy is recaptured when the airplane descends at more than 400 feet per minute. That energy recharges the batteries. This is how the Solar Impulse stays aloft each night, when its solar cells cannot capture light and turn it into energy. The pilot climbs in the late afternoon to 28,000 feet, and then descends all night long in parabolic arcs. It is proven technology, and AEAC’s Sun Flyer intends to use it to stay aloft for, well, who knows how long?

“It is certain that students who train in a Sun Flyer will have totally different fuel planning skills,” Bye chuckled. The Sun Flyer also sports solar cells on its upper wing surfaces, for recharging on the ground and in the air on sunny days. Bye stated that two days on a sunny ramp may be all a Sun Flyer needs to fuel up for its next sortie. In any case estimated operating costs, including maintenance and ground power refueling, is around $11 per hour. That compares to an average flight school Cessna 172’s estimated operating costs of $66 per hour in 2016 dollars.

AEAC intends to certify the Sun Flyer in 14 CFR Part 21. It will have a Standard Airworthiness certificate, a 1654 lbs max gross weight,  two seats, a single engine, and a 45-knot stall speed.  The payload will be 440 lbs, according to Bye. It’s sound footprint at 500 ft AGL? Nearly nil, at 55 decibels. If the upfront price tag is right (and there is all kinds of speculation there) it could revolutionize basic flight training, making it affordable for a larger swath of people, and more profitable for flight schools, all at once.

AEAC will have competition in the all-electric trainer market from Slovenian Pipenstrel, Chinese Yuneec and behemoth Airbus. Both companies are well into their two-seat electric airplane programs. Personally, I can’t wait to see what the flight training fleet looks like in 2025.

Hangnails and Hand Transplants

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016
Engine teardown

Here’s what happens to your engine when you send it in for major overhaul. Do you really want to do this?

You know me. I believe in running engines as long as they’re demonstrably healthy, even if that means going beyond the manufacturer’s recommended TBO. Nothing disturbs me more than when I hear about owners who get talked into (or talk themselves into) euthanizing engines that are running just fine.

Case in point: Here’s an email I received from a Bonanza owner seeking a second opinion on what to do about his Continental IO-520 engine:

“The engine is now at 1500 hours (TBO is 1700) and it seems to be running very well. But here’s the bad part: it’s using a quart of oil every 4 hours, and putting a LOT of oil on the belly of the aircraft, even with an air/oil separator installed.

“So what should I do? Should I get a field overhaul, or opt for a factory rebuilt engine? (The engine does NOT have a VAR crank.) Should I consider an STC upgrade to an IO-550? I’m leaning toward using Superior Millennium cylinders, do you agree?”

I took a deep breath and counted to ten. This owner just told me that he as a fine-running engine, yet he’s already concluded it needs to be overhauled or replaced. What was he thinking? It sure wasn’t clear to me that this engine had any major issues, much less anything requiring immediate euthanasia.

Where’s the beef?

So what if it’s using a quart in 4 hours? Is that so terrible?

No, it isn’t. Continental SID97-2B is the bible when it comes to determining the airworthinss of Continental cylinders, and here what it has to say about oil consumption:

Oil consumption can be expected to vary with each engine depending on the load, operating temperature, type of oil used and condition of the engine. A differential compression check and borescope inspection should be conducted if oil consumption exceeds one quart every three hours or if any sudden change in oil consumption is experienced and appropriate action taken.

This guidance indicates that the Bonanza’s oil consumption of a quart in four hours is perfectly acceptable. Even when Continental’s oil consumption threshold of a quart in three hours is exceeded, Continental simply calls for a borescope inspection to determine if there’s really a problem. If the cylinders look okay under the borescope, the engine can remain in service despite the high oil consumption.

SID97-2B also indicates that in February 1997, Continental actually reduced the tension on the oil control rings in its cylinder assemblies to increase oil consumption to achieve improved lubrication of the cylinder bore. A certain amount of oil consumption is essential for maximum cylinder life. When it comes to oil consumption, less is not necessarily always a good thing.

Bottom line is that it’s quite likely that there’s nothing at all wrong with the engine in this owner’s Bonanza. At worst, perhaps it has a couple of worn cylinders that might need to be replaced eventually. Even that’s not clear, since the owner didn’t mention low compression readings. Maybe all he needs is some new piston rings.

A worn jug is like a hangnail

Cracked cylinder head

Cylinder problems (like this head crack) call for cylinder work, not euthaizing the whole engine.

Even if a borescope inspection reveals that the engine has a worn-out jug or two, so what? Both Continental and Lycoming cleverly designed their engines so that the cylinders were bolt-on accessories that can be repaired or replaced without removing the engine from the airframe or splitting the case. If the engine actually does have badly worn cylinders, that’s a reason to repair or replace the jugs, not to tear down the whole engine.

Think about this for a moment. If some other bolt-on engine accessory went bad—say an alternator or vacuum pump or magneto or prop governor—would you let your mechanic remove the engine and have it major overhauled? Of course not.

If you had a hangnail, would you go to a surgeon for an amputation and hand transplant? No, I didn’t think so!

Why would an aircraft owner even consider major overhaul or engine replacement just because one or two cylinders might be worn out? To my way of thinking, it doesn’t matter whether an engine is at 100 hours since new or 100 hours past TBO—a sick cylinder calls for cylinder replacement, not engine replacement.

Euthanasia is a bit much

Here’s what I emailed back to the owner:

“I would NEVER consider overhauling an otherwise good-running engine just because it has high oil consumption. There’s nothing wrong with burning a quart in 4 hours, so long as your sparkplugs aren’t oil-fouled and your compressions are within acceptable limits. If things get bad enough and you find one or more cylinders with unacceptably low compression, you may want to consider replacing them. That’s why Continental makes its engines with bolt-on cylinders: so you can change them without having to overhaul the engine. The ONLY valid reason for overhauling an engine is a problem with the “bottom end” (crankcase, crankshaft, camshaft, gears, main bearings, etc.) that cannot be cured without splitting the case.

“Have you simply tried running the engine at a lower oil level on the dipstick? Big-bore Continental engines are famous for throwing out excess oil if the crankcase is overfilled. The TSIO-520s on my T310R have a 12-quart sump, but I typically run them at 8 quarts on the dipstick.

“Excessive oil on the belly is usually caused by excessive crankcase pressure. Sometimes this is due to worn cylinders that permit excessive blow-by past the rings (in which case your cylinders will show low compression readings and your oil will get dirty very quickly after each oil change). But it can also be due so something as simple as an oil filler cap that isn’t sealing properly (when did you last check the oil cap gasket?) or a leaky front crankcase seal (which is not difficult to change).

“It sounds to me as if you may be a long way from needing to major-overhaul this engine. If you do decide to overhaul it anyway, drop me another email and I’ll offer some suggestions. But I really think that any consideration of rebuild/overhaul at this point is way premature.”

Don’t obsess about the manufacturer’s published TBO. It’s just a suggestion, not a requirement or a life limit. (The engines on my Cessna T310R are made it well past 200% of TBO and were still running magnificently.) When your engine is ready for overhaul, it’ll let you know by starting to make metal or to leak oil or to crack their crankcases or spall their cam lobes or something else obvious to let you know that “it’s time.” That’s the time to overhaul them. Doing it earlier always strikes me as being a capital crime.

Moving to Germany with a Piper Cub

Monday, April 11th, 2016

If I had half of a clue how most things in life would actually turn out, I probably wouldn’t do them. Most people react to the news of our move to Europe with a fairly standard interrogation, culminating with the question that is hardest to answer: “So, um, why did you move to Germany?” The answer is inexact and almost inexplicable, and boils down to following some hazy and poorly thought out version of instinct. Maybe flying around the wilderness of the Rockies and writing books about it got a bit too easy.

Pragmatically speaking, it had much to do the sale of the house we were renting on Alpine Airpark in Wyoming, the availability of a house to rent from a friend in Germany, and the support of said friend who had purchased a Piper J-3 from my grandfather a few years ago and shipped it to Germany. All caution and standard rationale aside, my wife and I realized that it was now or never, so we decided to head to Europe for an unknown length of time.

PA-11 on final, Alpine, Wyoming. (Photo: Adam Romer)
Apr 8

Somehow, we had not discussed whether the Cub would come along. Ever the pragmatist, my wife assumed it would stay in America for a while. Ever the flying maniac, having just flown the thing 25,000 miles and 330 hours during the 2015 summer flying season, I had a spiritual union with the airplane and decided that it had to come, and leaving it behind would be like leaving a child in another continent.

Willfully ignorant, I rationalized that the process would be easy and that years of glorious adventure would await, flying in Europe with an iconic American family Piper PA-11 Cub Special. Practically speaking, there was much more to it than that. Driven by fear of getting sliced in half by a Citation at Alpine, I had gotten a radio in June of 2015, so that was solved. Out of fear of being eaten by a bear 48 hours after a wilderness crash in the Rockies, I had upgraded my ELT in summer 2015 to a 406.9Mhz version, which is mandatory in Europe. Transponder mandatory zones proliferate, and many of them require Mode S, so I purchased a brand new transponder for installation. There was the matter of being able to power it, so we went with a ground charge battery and all of the associated wires, relays, and circuit breakers. I had been hand cranking for 18 years, and it was time for a starter, because Europeans really only tolerate hand cranking at public airports if the battery was dead. All told, it was many thousands of dollars and merciless aggravation to get it all to work. This was just so I could get off the ground, and I hadn’t even done so yet! My grandfather, who restored the airplane in 1996, simply stated: “I don’t know why you’re trying to turn the Cub into a Super Cub.”

Disassembly in Alpine, WY.
P - 1

On the European side, rigging was everything a person would expect it to be. Eight hours on paper, yet eight weeks in reality, chasing little squawks and aggravations along the way, learning such basic things as who to order parts from, where to get missing tools, how to replace all of the lubricants, glues, paints and other chemicals that I couldn’t ship, dreading learning about yet another German regulation that seemed to make no sense. Many times, I walked to the car from the hangar and wondered what I was thinking, and why I didn’t just move somewhere else in Wyoming and leave things simple.

Reassembly – Egelsbach, Germany.
Flugzeug 8

There were some simple things to do for compliance’s sake. I had to dig up my FCC Restricted Radiotelephone Operator’s Permit, last carried in 1999. Then I had to shell out $165 to get an aircraft radio station license from the FCC. Insurance was an interesting discussion, hearing horror stories of German carriers that greatly dislike negligence and try everything to avoid paying for accidents that could have been prevented (can not they all be prevented?). I opted for Lloyd’s of London. It’s in English, and my German is as sophisticated as that of a two year old.

The airplane stays on the US register, because I am a US citizen, so it is operated and maintained under US regulation unless superseded by the airspace and airport regulations of whatever country I am flying in. That reality is an extreme matter of convenience, as German aircraft regulations are so strict that it can make an American’s heart skip a beat. I will be sharing some of the differing realities that our friends here on this side of the pond have to deal with in the future, as it is a lesson in just how far common sense can get legislated out of aircraft operation.

There was the matter of the landing fee. If I had a “sound certificate,” the fee would be €7.98 ($9.10) based on the weight classification at my new home airport. That is the lowest possible fee due to the small size of the Cub, and is a bucket of cold water in the face. The only place I have historically paid landing fees regularly is in Jackson, Wyoming, and it was $3.45, which was worth it in my opinion for an executive FBO and stunning views of Grand Teton. This was a regular airport, and I learned through my research that the purpose of the fee is not to specifically fund the airport, but rather to discourage aircraft operations due to noise. Europe has tried to maim, decapitate, and kill general aviation with the existing body of law and procedures, and yet this fee is openly to try to reduce flying! Even more awakening was the reality that the fee would be €16 ($18.24) if I did not have a “sound certificate.”

Digging into this mysterious sound certificate, I found out that all German aircraft have an approved propeller, engine, and airframe combination, with sound tested decibel levels. It is part of the process to allow an aircraft to be placed on the German register. For example, a Cessna 172, manufactured in America, can only be registered with a “D” tail number in Germany if Cessna has filed for and received a German type certificate for the model of the airplane. If they stick with an American type certificate, the aircraft can never be registered here, though it can be operated under the N-register. That is fine for Americans, though it is getting harder and harder for Germans to own and operate an N-registered airplane in Germany. As part of the type certificate process, the aircraft undergoes sound testing.

I thought that I would need a sound test done. I found out that such a thing runs thousands of euros, and is not worth it for an individual aircraft, rather only for a manufacturer. Sadly, my airplane and engine combination was not on the magic list in Germany. I was then given some advice to look on the US side, as “basically, they just need a piece of paper.” That is common advice over here. Every German knows that paper is important, thinks its silly, and they all just say: “That is Germany!” when an innocent and silly American asks if there is a way around a document that is well known to be useless. After all, the airplane makes the same noise regardless of the presence of the piece of paper.

Researching an FAA circular, I found out that American aircraft have sound regulation (who knew?) and that they are approved by virtue of the type certificate being issued in the first place. By having a Certificate of Airworthiness, our airplanes are sound certified, end of story, and we don’t have to carry a separate piece of paper to confirm reality. I finally found a section that spoke of international operations, and the FAA, using abstract legalese, basically says: ‘We are not in the business of making sound certificates, but you can make one that looks like this officially-looking sample.’

Unsure of how the whole thing would go over, I submitted the form to the airport office. They advised eventually that they “normally do not accept these kinds of forms” but “it’s such an old airplane and it’s so quiet that it should work.” I can only wonder what the rest of the N-registered aircraft on the field do, or if they are all paying rather high fee categories, as to my knowledge, there is no other way to get a sound certificate. That is one of a long list of questions I have for how the place operates here.

A few weeks ago, I took a ground lesson to go over airspace and regulatory differences, which I will be sharing in the future. Armed with a paper map, a newly rigged airplane, and a load of trepidation, I decided to make the test flight, even though I am in the busiest airspace in one of the strictest countries in the Western world.

I have flown this plane over all 58 peaks over 14,000’ in Colorado, 40 peaks over 6,000’ in the Southeast, every glacier in the US Rockies, most major mountain ranges in the West, have crossed the country three times, have made two emergency landings, have flown in every conceivable weather and terrain condition, and have spent more time than I can remember skimming mountain peaks above the clouds, and what I was feeling at this moment was something I am not used to: fear. There can be nothing good about taking a plane apart and putting it together, and to make matters worse, this environment of flying for the first time in a new country, no, a new continent was like being a student pilot wondering if he should take off on a windy day. There is one cure for such fear, and I liberally applied the recommended dosage: full power.

After the initial terror of wondering if key flight systems had any issues, it settled at about 300’ AGL that I am flying, and I am flying in Germany! The test flight ended successfully, and I felt nothing short of absolute glee that this poorly-thought out, ill-fated, and naïve scheme to move 6,000 miles from home finally worked, 4 months after I took the last flight in the USA.

Success! Northern Odenwald, Germany.
IMG_0186 (173 of 278)

Rhine Valley, Germany.
IMG_0255 (242 of 278)

Needless to say, that is just the beginning of many adventures, both in geography and jurisdiction as I fly around Europe working on a number of books on the subject. Each of the vagaries of flight here in Germany is enough to inspire every American pilot to take an active interest in maintaining the freedom to fly as it is. I didn’t even begin to imagine that general aviation could get as savaged as it is here, and yet there are countless countries in Europe with all levels of differing regulation, not to mention the European Aviation Safety Agency, a pan-European regulatory body that functions like a second FAA equivalent to deal with. Sometimes the only relief is to laugh when hearing of almost fascist regulations, though when it comes to back home in the USA, its no laughing matter if these regulations weaseled their way westward across the Atlantic.

Author’s Piper PA-11 (Photo: Adam Romer)
PA-11 Alpine




Learn like you are going to live forever

Friday, April 1st, 2016

Tell me and I forget.

Teach me and I remember.

Involve me and I learn.

—-Benjamin Franklin

maggie upside downIn mid-August of 2003 I attended an AOPA Air Safety Institute [ASI] pilot safety seminar in Portland entitled “Take Offs and Landings.” Little did I know that a few days later I would be putting both those skill sets in use when I had an engine failure at take off in Hood River, Oregon. My story was used in AOPA’s 2004 Nall Report and as well in AOPA’s seminar series called: ­­­­­­Real Pilot Stories. I credited my flight instructor, the ASI seminar, and my training for turning a potentially life threatening situation into an “off-airport” landing.





Recently I got the opportunity to talk with Mark Grady. Mark has presented safety seminars all over the country. A veteran with nearly 20 years of experience, Mark has seen it all. I hope that this interview is helpful for you, and will inspire you to attend one of the many AOPA or FAAST safety seminars offered.Mark&Allegro2-Crop1

How long have you been teaching Mark?

“I’ve been presenting aviation safety seminars for almost 20 years. I started doing seminars for the North Carolina Division of Aviation. I was then signed by the Aviation Speakers Bureau. Shortly thereafter, I became one of the AOPA Air Safety Institute presenters.”

Why do you feel called to teach aviation safety seminars?

“My father was a very safety-conscious man. I think I got a little of that from him. What really sealed the deal for me was during my ten years of being a traffic watch pilot and reporter in Raleigh. I did that from 1980 until 1987. Seeing the number of traffic accidents I covered, I thought often that drivers could learn a lot from pilot training and that pilots who may drive too aggressively have the potential to be unsafe aviators. It really is all about human factors. “

What do you do at your seminars to promote the active exchange of fears/ideas/education?

“The large amount of content in the AOPA Air Safety Institute seminars prevents too much time being taken by the attendees during the actual two-hour seminar, but we certainly promote the continuing education of all pilots. That doesn’t have to just take place during flight reviews. In fact, I think the more we try to stay safety conscious during all we do, including driving, the more likely we are to be better pilots. In addition to the online seminars, AOPA ASI has really great online courses for pilots who take information, training and safety seriously.”AOPA-SAC-12Jan2016

Who is your typical attendee?

“That’s a good question. While most of the attendees have appeared to be over 40, I have been encouraged over the number of younger pilots who have been coming recently. As far as the experience level of the attendees, it’s far reaching. We’ve had people attend who are just becoming interested in learning to fly right on through ATP pilots and even pilots who flew warbirds in World War II.”

 Do you ever hear any stories from attendees about how they have put the seminars to use in the sky?

“Absolutely! It’s rare I’ve given a seminar where a pilot does not come up at the end and tell me a first-hand account of how something he had heard at a seminar helped him in an emergency situation or kept him from getting into one.”

If you had a piece of advice for a lower time pilot in regard to education or safety, what would it be?

“It would be to strive to be a pilot of excellence. In fact, I’m writing a book titled “Pilot of Excellence” now. There is no such thing as a perfect pilot, but we can strive to be excellent. That requires a big commitment to remain aware during all phases of flight. Just one example is when we are going through a checklist. If we are not focusing on each checklist item and why we are doing that item on the checklist, we are simply giving ourselves a false sense of security that everything is ok. There is no reason to be bored on a flight. There is always something to do, especially playing the what-if game.”

Is there anything you would tell your younger, pilot-self that you wished you knew?

“To not look at a flight review as a test, but an opportunity. We ALL have weak areas. None of us knows it all. So, if we want a great flight review, I recommend spending at least 15 minutes the day before we meet with the instructor to be honest and write down our weak areas. Then ask the instructor to help us work on those. Now, that’s a good way to become an excellent pilot! By being honest with ourselves about our weaknesses. “

“I had one guy at a seminar ask me, “How do I decide what my weak areas are?” I told him to use the same thought process he probably had going for his private pilot checkride. I think most of us went to that ride praying the examiner would not get too deep into a subject area we thought we were a little weak on”.

“When you think about it, I find it amazing we can take to the sky, with family and friends on board, and fly all over the U.S. with only 40 hours of flight training. That’s why the examiner always says, “This is your license to learn” when he gives you that first temporary airman certificate. It may seem like a long time, but I recent experienced something that really put it in perspective. I was getting my hair cut when I noticed the young lady had a North Carolina Board of Cosmetology license in her cubicle. I asked her, “Does that take a lot of work to earn that?” Her response really shocked me. She said, “Oh, yes! Twelve hundred hours of training.” Wow.”


I suppose if it takes 1200 hours to be licensed to cut your hair, as pilots , we should strive to get as many hours of quality education as possible. Whether you opt for an online training course, a safety seminar, or calling up your local CFI and getting some dual, make sure you are learning like you are going to live forever. It might just be that learning that ensures you do so for many years to come.

Image - Version 2

AOPA Air Safety Institute Events:

AOPA Webinars:

EAA Webinars:


Blurred Lines

Monday, March 28th, 2016

The advent of smartphones and apps has led to a variety of creative new businesses which are reinventing how we shop, work, and communicate. They’re also changing how we travel by bringing private aviation to the masses.

Some of these concepts, like SurfAir, seem to be doing well, while for some reason east coast equivalent Beacon never really got off the ground. Others — Flytenow and AirPooler — were quashed by FAA determinations about their legality.

It was probably inevitable that this phenomenon would make it’s way into my own flying life. The company I work for has entered into a partnership with JetSmarter, a mobile marketplace for private jet charter that the Wall Street Journal described as the “Uber of the air”. We’re flying scheduled service between the coasts and other major cities as part of their “JetShuttle” program. Instead of chartering an entire airplane, you can now book a single seat of your choosing.

A typical Gulfstream interior.  This layout isn't just more comfortable -- it's also designed to facilitate discussion and interaction among the occupants.

A typical Gulfstream interior. This layout isn’t just more comfortable — it’s also designed to facilitate discussion and interaction among the occupants.

I’ve done a few of these trips so far and the passengers seem delighted with the ability to avoid most of the hassles typically associated with air travel and large hub airports. A business jet’s interior looks more like a living room than a typical airliner, so it tends to facilitate discussion and interaction between the passengers. Flight attendants have told me that by the end of the flight, strangers have become friends. And some business connections are probably being made as well.

The JetSmarter membership isn’t cheap. It costs $9,000 annually and requires a $3,000 initiation fee. On the other hand, when you compare it with the cost of chartering a large cabin business jet for even a single cross country flight, the price seems downright thrifty. It’s even competitive with first class airline travel, especially for those who travel frequently.

At first I wondered how this sort of thing would be legal. Wouldn’t scheduled service require a Part 121 certificate? Apparently not. JetSmarter’s model has been validated under 14 CFR Part 380, which requires those who wish to arrange public charters to have their prospectus approved by the Department of Transportation. JetSmarter doesn’t operate the aircraft or have “operational control” over the flights; they simply help facilitate the placement of individuals onto an approved Part 135 certificate holder’s airplane. In that regard they function more like a broker than a charter company. Incidentally, brokers are not regulated by the FAA, DOT, or anyone else that I’m aware of.

I never would have expected to be flying scheduled service while working in the charter industry, but that’s the sort of thing you get when disruptive technologies begin to work their magic. It blurs the lines between what we traditionally think of as airlines and charter companies. For most folks, the primary distinction has been the fixed schedule of the former versus the non-scheduled, or “on-demand”, nature of the latter. But times are changing, and the aviation industry with it.

I can think of several other examples of this phenomenon. I learned to fly about 20 years ago, and back in “the day”, a training airplane was almost invariably a 152/172 or Cherokee of some kind. Oh, you’d find the occasional Tomahawk or Citabria in use for that purpose, but for the most part it was a Skyhawk/Cherokee game. Today’s trainers come from an impressive fleet of Diamonds, Cirruses (yes, people do learn to fly in them), prototypical Cessnas and Pipers, and more LSAs than you can shake a stick at. If my experience is any indication, tailwheels are seeing a resurgence in training roles—something regular readers of mine will know I’m happy about. And there are probably ten thousand more homebuilts are out there than when I took my first flight.

Do I even need to mention about how the general aviation cockpit has changed over the same period? In the corporate aviation world, we’re seeing the first hints of supersonic aircraft on the horizon with the Aerion AS2, Spike S-512, and whatever Gulfstream has got up it’s sleeve after partnering with NASA, Sukhoi, and parent General Dynamics.

JetSmarter also made a deal to purchase my company’s empty charter legs for the next few years. Traditional charter flights are priced round-trip, because even if the passengers only want to fly one way, the company has to get the plane back to its home base. The ability to offload those empty flights to a third-party for resale helps the bottom line and connects passengers with flights that meet their needs.

Any way you slice it, this is an exciting time to be part of the aviation world. I can’t help but wonder what they’ll think of next.

10 Million Reasons to Smile

Monday, March 21st, 2016

I’ve just come back from an annual event that is by far one of the most inspiring gatherings in aviation and aerospace these days: the International Women in Aviation Conference. Before you click past this page give me a second to tell you that the name of this organization is misleading. Women in Aviation, International’s (WAI) conference is a gathering with as many men as women (some would argue this year at times it seemed as if there were more – there were not, I checked the actual count in the database, but it was close). The organization was founded 27 years ago to encourage women to take up careers in aviation and aerospace. It has always had among its membership men who believe that any business is a better place when its staff is diverse.

Now that you understand WAI’s goals I’ll share the best moment of the conference with you. It was during the grand finale

The stage at WAI was crowded with previous scholarship winners.

The stage at WAI was crowded with previous scholarship winners.

banquet, when some of the largest monetary value scholarships and leadership awards are given out each year (this year’s tally of awards given out by WAI was more than $660,000). The recipient of the Martha King Scholarship for Female Flight Instructors  ($18,120 worth of training) was Lindsey Dreiling of Salina, Kansas. But here’s the thing: Lindsey’s scholarship took the dollar amount of scholarships awarded through WAI’s clearinghouse program to a sum total of $10 million disbursed during the last 20 years. Yep, that’s a lot of flight training, dispatch and operations training, and maintenance training. There are also a couple of aviation management degrees completed among that list, too.

How many people benefited from all that money? More than 1,400 individuals. Were they all women? Nope. You just have to be a member of WAI (and of course, you have to apply) to be in the running for one of its many scholarship offerings.

What made the moment so special was that when the announcement was made for all those previous scholarship winners in the room to come forward, it was as if half the room stood up and began to swarm the stage. Nearly 100 people climbed the steps to surround Lindsey, John and Martha King to a groundswell of applause. Among those onstage were airline captains, flight instructors, Directors of Operations, Maintenance supervisors, all people who got their start, that leg up, that little bit of help, the nudge they needed, right there at a WAI Conference. And also among those on the stage that night were several people who have paid it forward, developing scholarships of their own that they fund through WAI’s scholarship clearinghouse. Because that’s what you do when aviation is very good to you. That’s how we enable the next generation of aviators to soar.