Archive for the ‘Amy Laboda’ Category

Look out for Big Blue!

Monday, March 31st, 2014

I remember watching with amazement as a rather large (in comparison to other aircraft in the pattern) silhouette of a JetBlue Airbus A-320 lumbered onto final during the Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In last year.  It startled more than one uninformed show-goer as it settled to the runway.

The flight, which had come from Orlando International Airport, was full of teenagers, some who were flying in an airplane for the very first time. It was the brainchild of JetBlue and a host of other aviation youth organizations and aviation academies and public schools throughout the country. The 70 students on board that day were released to tour the Sun ‘n Fun grounds, to discover what aviation was about, from the ground on up.

“When we were coming down on the airplane, they [kids] wanted to sit on the wing to actually look at the wing as it operates in flight so they could see what we talk about in school; flaps moving, thrust reversers moving,” said Anthony Colucci, a teacher at Aviation High School, in Long Island City, New York, who brought several teens.

The kids were easy enough to spot in the crowd, wearing their JetBlue caps. But they weren’t alone. Mixed into the general attendance were a few other teens, some older, some younger, brought in by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (which sponsors an aviation summer

JetBlue brought an Airbus full of teens to Sun 'n Fun to teach them about aviation.

JetBlue brought an Airbus full of teens to Sun ‘n Fun to teach them about aviation.

camp and aviation high schools in several locations around the country), several Aviation Explorer groups, Civil Air Patrol youth divisions, the Air Force Academy, Build-A-Plane, Eagle’s Nest youth groups and the charter school Central Florida Aerospace Academy, founded right on the grounds of Sun ‘n Fun itself.

That school has grown prodigiously with the opening of its building (privately funded) just a few short years ago. It is pumping out young men and women who are well-prepared for technical careers as avionics repair specialists and mechanics, and is sending others on to universities around the country for additional education in aviation management, air traffic control, flight and meteorology. It’s a plan for re-energizing aviation through direct recruitment and education of youth, and its working.

I’ve heard word from one of JetBlue’s vice president’s of talent, Bonnie Simi, that another A-320 full of teens is expected on-site Wednesday, April 2, for Sun ‘n Fun 2014. Watch for it in the pattern, and be sure to thank the volunteers and various outreach groups participating to bring these impressionable teens, our hope for tomorrow, into the event in such a grand way.

And while you are at it, consider what you might be able to do to contribute. Have a morning you could spend in a classroom talking aviation?  Are you a flight instructor who could take on one pro bono student? Do you have an aircraft kit or project you could donate to a youth group?  If you are reading this blog you’ve probably got something you can contribute. Consider it your bequest to the continuation of a good thing: aviation as we know it. Here’s to the next century, and the next. It’s up to us.


‘Tis Almost The Season!

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Here’s the deal: who wouldn’t want to explore a region known as the “Mad River Valley” and its environs? Yes, I know there’s still enough snow on the ground to keep the region’s ski resort, Sugarbush Mountain’s 110 trails open for business, but already its warming up here, so I’m starting to plan my spring / summer flying adventures, and Sugarbush Soaring, set between tiny Waitsfield and Warren, Vermont, is on my list of destinations.

Why? Well, the mountains of Vermont are beautiful in late Spring. And sugarbushbecause the Sugarbush Soaring club at the Warren Sugarbush Airport (0B7), just 45 miles from the state capital, Montpelier, has posted May 17th as its opening day. Spring soaring in the valley can be marvelous, with excellent potential for wave soaring, augmented by ridge soaring and, on a warm, still day, thermals. Yep, you can get it all right there when the weather is right. In summer the soaring school operates everyday with an instruction staff,  two Schweizer 2-33s, a PW-6, an ASK-21, Grob 102 and the Schweizer 1-26, plus two Pawnee tow planes to get everyone aloft. There is even a flight examiner on staff for those powerplane pilots looking to add some fun to their certificate.

The runway is paved, 2500 X 30 feet, and gently sloped at both ends, just to make things more interesting. Glider pilots land in the grass at the approach end of the runway most of the time, making it easier to set up for aerotow takeoffs on the paved runway.

Powerplane pilots ought to also remind themselves that gliders have the right-of-way in the sky, and expect that they might need to hold or go around if a glider turns up in the pattern first, or can’t clear the runway after landing quickly enough.

The reward for your pattern etiquette and short-field landing prowess after landing is finding yourself in one of the most bucolic little airfields in all of the northeastern U.S. Warren-Sugarbush Airport feels like it hasn’t seen change in 50 years. The FBO is a farmhouse, where the Sugarbush Soaring club holds its cookouts on the deck. The wide grass fields surrounding the runway are where campers pitch their tents for the Soaring Camps held each summer by the club.

Just down the road are roiling brooks with huge boulders ripe for sliding, and of course, the Mad River, for kayaks. Up the mountain the ski resort turns mountain biker and hiker heaven once the snow is gone.

If you need a “big” city Burlington is just a 20 minute flight over Sugarbush mountain, with excellent FBOs and topnotch maintenance. The town is home to the University of Vermont and has a vibrant downtown pedestrian area chock with shops and restaurants. What’s not to love?

There is something about the “free” ride soaring in a glider offers, and the way it hones all of my other flying skills that makes the sport (and it is a sport—actually, a team sport, since you need a wing runner and a tow pilot) so good for you. Power pilots will come away from a soaring lesson with sharpened precision landing skills and confidence in their ability to judge Lift to Drag ratio, ridge-running skills, wave cloud and rotor identification and overall mountain flying competency.

Besides all that, soaring is fun!



Preflight Your Passenger, Too!

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

I know you preflight your airplane before you fly. I know you even preflight your flight, by creating a flight plan of some sort (even if it is sketched on a Post-it or punched into your iPad app for a run around the neighborhood). You think over the length of the runways you intend to use, and, at the very least, ballpark the amount of fuel you have, versus what you need, and weight and balance on your intended aircraft. That’s in the good book, the FAR/AIM, and we all have to do it.

But did you know that preflighting your passengers is also in that book? And why not? According to NTSB data, the best thing that ever happened to passengers who survive aviation accidents worldwide was that passenger safety briefing they heard at the very beginning of the flight. They say, to a man, that in the midst of the chaos of the event they remembered something from that safety briefing, complied, and lived. Simple as that.

Airlines know it. In fact, airlines these days are so sure that the passenger safety briefing is an effective tool that they have handed the task of keeping the briefings interesting enough to grab passenger attention over to marketing. The results are some pretty funny passenger safety briefings—some kitschy enough to garner mention in the New York Times and go viral as YouTube videos.

Now, I’m not saying that you need to hire an ad agency to create a passenger safety briefing that will have your precious cargo chuckling as the buckle up, but, hey, most of us do fly with friends and family, and we do want them to survive any incident or accident that might happen. And if you are one of those pilots who is absolutely positive that an accident could never happen to you? Well, then, consider the passenger safety briefing as a means for getting your passengers to become a helpful part of your crew.

A typical GA aircraft briefing card.

A typical GA aircraft briefing card.

Sure, you could create a pre-fab card, as some companies have done, and just tell them to read it, but extensive data shows that the best safety briefing is a demo. So, show them how to buckle and unbuckle their seatbelt, how to adjust the seats (upright for takeoff and landing for a better egress). Make sure passengers sitting by a door or emergency exit are capable of opening the door (and in the case of a light airplane where doors sometimes pop open in flight, how to close it!). Point out the location of the fire extinguisher and first aid kit, and talk about how to use them, too. Got oxygen onboard? Go over it with your passenger, and mention what hypoxia looks like and feels like. Tell your passenger that you don’t want idle conversation during taxi, takeoff, approach and landing, but that you do want to be notified if they see conflicting air traffic. And make sure they understand and can demonstrate to you how to operate any passenger entertainment system you might carry onboard, so that you won’t be called on to operate it, distracting you from your real mission of flying the airplane.

Finally, vary your script according to the mission. If you are flying overwater, be sure t0 demonstrate the use of personal flotation devices (you’ve got them, right?). Got a raft? Designate a capable passenger to make sure it comes out of the airplane with them, as you’ll be pretty busy. Flying over mountainous terrain? Carry a survival kit, and again, designate a passenger to make sure it gets out of the airplane with you.

As much as we like to think we fly for our own pleasure, many of us, I’d say most of us love sharing the experience with others. You might think that a thorough passenger briefing will frighten a newbie to private flying, but my experience has been just the opposite. My passengers tell me that the briefing is empowering, and that having the information it imparts makes them feel safer, because they know, if there’s a problem, they can contribute to the solution.


Getting 2014 Off to a Flying Start

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014
Sometimes a pilot just needs to be airborne to realign his / her perspective.

Sometimes a pilot just needs to be airborne to realign his / her perspective.

It’s breezy, bright, and marvelously chilly outside. It’s my favorite time of year, and the air makes me want to go fly. Sometimes the pilot in me just needs reminding that the world, when seen from above, is an amazing place. Days like today, especially when they arrive at the first of a new year, can really adjust one’s attitude in a meaningful and lasting way.

I know my airplanes love this weather as much as I do, too. The dry, cool, dense air is better for engines to gulp and burn, and even provides more lift (that stiff breeze on my nose for takeoff doesn’t hurt, either).

But where to, and why? On a perfect VFR winter day in Florida the destination possibilities are many. A 20-minute jaunt north and I can be walking distance from a Venice beach. A 30-minute skip south puts me on the lip of the Everglades National Park and in range of some of the best stone crab in the country. If I need something more exotic or action-packed I can be in Key West or Miami in an hour (less with today’s north wind). As for why – it’s because I need to fly. After all, proficiency is perishable.

For that reason I try and pick venues for my little winter cross countries that can test my skills in a variety of ways. One flight might be to a well-maintained turf runway, or could include a little crosswind practice or short field work. On another I’ll take a safety pilot so I can practice a bit of IFR navigation, steer through some holding patterns and perform an approach or two at the airport before landing there for a tasty lunch at the on field restaurant.

To keep the costs of my winter excursions from cutting into my summer long cross-country funds I often pull the throttle back and lean wisely. That’s especially true when strong winds are concerned. With careful power / mixture management I can easily fly these short routes at 50 % power. It costs me just a little time. I think of it this way: if I’m practicing a holding pattern and an approach as part of the flight I clearly have some time to spare. I also pick my destinations carefully, looking for airports where landing and parking fees are low, or are waived with a small fuel purchase, or if you have a meal at the airport restaurant.

As I write this I hear the throaty rumble of a big Continental engine roaring through a takeoff from the runway that sits not one-half mile away from my office. Hmmm…the day is still young…time to get 2014 off to a flying start. See you out there!

Look Up, Look Out!

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013
Asiana 214 in an NTSB diagram of the accident sequence.

Asiana 214 in an NTSB diagram of the accident sequence.

This I know: if you see something with your own two eyes, you can avoid it. Happened to me just this morning. I began a turn off a road I use quite often (that’s important) and nearly encountered a concrete berm the engineers felt was important to add since I’d been there last. Fortunately for me, I was looking outside and forward. And lucky for me the car’s brakes are new. No damage done.

It works the same in an airplane. Even in instrument (IFR) conditions I scan outside the airplane as a cross-check of my instruments, looking for traffic, towering clouds I prefer to fly around and of course, the runway.

I do this even though I fly what the FAA calls a “technically advanced aircraft” (TAA). I’ve got nearly as much information in my cockpit as the Asiana Airlines guys who, despite more than 20,000 hours of experience and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of TAA allowed their B777 to fly into a rock berm at San Francisco International airport last July. After an all-day hearing on December 11, and despite the fact that the NTSB refused to state a cause for the accident (pending even more research) the reason these pilots hit that berm instead of landing is appallingly clear: they relied on their TAA and not on their pilot instincts; instincts borne in the seat of their pants and through interpreting what their eyes were telling them.

After reading a transcript of the cockpit voice recorder I’ll cut the junior first officer a break. He was sitting on the jumpseat, and pointed out the excessive sink rate and deteriorating airspeed to his captains no less than four times in the last three minutes of the flight. His comments were acknowledged, but no changes were made. Hmmm….

How does this pertain to GA flight? Consider it a cautionary tale. If you fly with what I like to call “pretty pictures,” more often known as EFIS, PFDs or MFDs, or even Garmin / iPad GPS moving maps on your lap or clamped to your yoke, please remember this: those are just representations of the world outside. GPS isn’t always reliable. Maps of terrain can be offset slightly (do you test this by occasionally flying directly over an obstacle?), RAIM can fail. I’ve seen the pretty boxes of my virtual glideslope on my EFIS not consider the trees that have grown up and into a runway’s clear zone. And ADS-B or even active traffic systems can’t pick up aircraft without transponders. I know from looking out my windscreen that plenty of traffic opt out. And autopilots, auto-throttles, FADEC and the like? They are only as good as the pilot’s knowledge of their intricacies and fallacies (this is what really bit the Asiana pilots in their collective butt).

Bottom line, my TAA gives me wonderful capabilities, but they are only as good as my complete understanding of how to use them, and when. Above all, I was taught to use my kinesthetic senses and my eyes looking outside the aircraft when I fly, no matter the conditions. Call me old-fashioned, but it works.

Oh, and I listen to my co-pilot when he tells me there might be a problem. Even pinch-hitters (non-pilot co-pilots who fly with you all the time) can perceive issues before they become big problems in flight. They are great traffic and ground-spotters, and they’ll tell you when they think you are fatigued, too. So listen and respond.

Want to know more? Don’t just read the pundits. Look over the raw NTSB records at There’s plenty for a GA pilot to learn there.

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.

Getting it for free: Really?

Monday, October 21st, 2013

How a scholarship can make the difference, and why you should help.

I once interviewed an airline pilot who absolutely did not want anyone to know that a scholarship for a jet type-rating had been the catalyst for that person to reach the right seat on a Boeing. That pilot feared reprisal from the other pilots at work, and for good reason. There were pilots at the airline that were known for hazing those they felt had not “earned” their way to the jet cockpit.

If those hazers had only spent a little time on a scholarship committee with any one of the numerous organizations, including AOPA, that solicit and administrate these aviation scholarships, then they might change their tune. I spent years reading and “grading” applicants for Women in Aviation, International’s scholarships and I can tell you that 90 percent of those who apply, especially at the upper realm (Boeing 737 and Lear 45 type ratings) are prodigiously over-qualified for that which they apply. And 100 percent of those who are awarded said scholarships are not just deserving of them, they typically perform well ahead of their peers in both the classroom and the cockpit. It is too bad the scholarship winners can’t challenge the hazers to a “fly-off.” I think we’d see who the best pilots were, then.

Airlines, by the way, know all this—which is why they offer scholarships. One year, during the awards ceremony for the Women in Aviation, International scholarships, then Chief Pilot at American Airlines Cecil Ewell awarded the four type-rating scholarships that the company had promised, and then called the 10 runners-up onto the stage. He smiled at them, and applauded them for applying for the awards, and told them that they all were over-qualified for positions as pilots at American Airlines. “So,” he said, “I can’t offer you scholarships, because those have already been awarded. I can, however, offer you jobs. Show up Monday, fly your simulator test, and if you pass that you’ll be processed.” That was that. Ten new airline pilots. All qualified or better for their positions. He’d saved his company both time and money by hiring them from their scholarship applications and interviews.

Some people have also quietly bemoaned to me their worries that these scholarship winners don’t appreciate the leg up that they are given in the aviation training world, and don’t advance the way someone who had to pay out of their pocket would. I’d beg to differ there, too, and I’ve got years worth of “Where are they now?” stories that I’ve collected and published to prove it. Scholarship recipients are moving ahead, persevering longer in the profession, even, during economic downturns, perhaps because they might have just a little more in reserve, since they didn’t drain every last penny out of a savings account to obtain their training. Or maybe it is just that they are so determined to make it in aviation. I’m not sure, but I’d bet their success ratio is a heady mix of both, and maybe even a few more reasons. But know this: they succeed in aviation at a rate higher than the general populace.

If we are serious about growing the ranks of aviation and sustaining a vibrant general aviation culture into the next 100 years, we’ve got to pay it forward again and again. There are terrific opportunities for qualified individuals of all walks in life to step into aviation and advance out there. Look them up at,,, and more. Google “aviation scholarships” and send the results to someone you know with a dream. Then take your place among the ranks of those who want to help.

The 7,000 foot Long Putting Green

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

You don’t see SC00 right away. I mean, you know what you are looking for—a 7,000 foot long grass strip imbedded in the rolling hills of South Carolina just south of Greenville, but truly, you don’t know until you come up on it for the first time—and I promise you that you have never seen anything quite like it.

You fly over the runway and remark at how you rarely see a grass strip with runway numbers painted on its ends. Even then you don’t really know. You set up on downwind, and note the hump that graces the long runway’s middle. It doesn’t seem as wide as it is from pattern altitude, but as you get closer to the ground, turning base, then final, it begins to dawn on you. This is one heck of a grass strip.

Only with a truly greaser landing do you appreciate what you’ve got, though. The grass isn’t anything like what you’ve ever landed on. It’s the flat, smooth, springy stuff that golf courses use for their putting greens. Seriously. Seven thousand feet of it. Every good landing on that stuff, is, well, phenomenal. Oh, I forgot to add that, if you’ve come in your seaplane, well, you are welcome here, too. There’s a lake created specifically for you to land on, right beside the runway.

And that’s just the beginning of the magic of Triple Tree Aerodrome (and it is an aerodrome, not a plain old airport). The airfield and its surrounding environment is the dream of Pat Hartness, a pilot with a penchant for restoring the old, and encouraging the new. Since he started building out the site in 2000 he’s added a hangar (really a museum dedicated to his restorations and R/C models), a workshop, a 1940s control tower, gazebos, shower facilities, campsites, hiking trails, helicopter sites and more. His goal, he says, is to capture and retain the true spirit of aviation through world-class R/C model flying competitions and full-size aircraft fly-ins that draw thousands.

Hartness has deeded the property into a non-profit in the hopes that his legacy of fun, flying and fellowship will continue into perpetuity. But that takes a little help from us all. What, according to Hartness, have we, the pilots, got to do? We’ve got to fly there, drink the water, hike the trails, enjoy the museum. Use it. Share it. And pass the magic on.

So if you are in the vicinity of Greenville, look just a little south and consider stopping in for an hour, or a day. It’s worth it just for the landing.

An accidental aviator makes good business

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Some people come into aviation quite deliberately, following the signs to the airport and laying down some good cash for an introductory ride. But many more of us than you think are what I like to call “accidental” aviators. In my case I was lucky enough to have a dad that decided for me that learning to fly would be a good thing (it was).



For Laurie Harden she was looking for something altogether different to do with her life when she found herself working the flightline for a glider operation at the airport in Minden, Nevada. She’d moved from an urban to rural environment, found her personal life challenging. Even physically there were some challenges. The soaring took her away from all of that, and brought her into another world, quite literally.

“It took me a lot longer to solo a glider than most people, or so I’m told,” she scofs, smiling. She did solo, eventually, and so much more. When the glider operation she worked for pulled out of the airport, she took some settlement money she’d come into and a big gamble–she opened her own business on the airport, SoaringNV. It was a big step up from being a line girl, but Harden had a customer service ethic honed by years in the service business. She saw the potential for an FBO that catered to the pilots and want-to-be pilots who descended on Minden to take advantage of its world-class year-round soaring conditions.

Today, a couple years later, Laurie Harden’s soaring school and FBO is thriving. A half-dozen flight instructors and tow pilots keep busy seven days a week flying tourists on sightseeing glider rides over nearby Lake Tahoe, or on aerobatic rides in a Blanik that can carry three souls (two plus pilot) at a time. The sleek high-performance ASK-21 and Discus gliders are pulled aloft by four Piper Pawnees. There are single-seat gliders available for rental to qualified pilots, as well.

Harden tells us that winter can be a slow time, but when those pilots who are watching the weather see wave conditions setting up over the Sierras, they turn up. And summer? Flights above 18,000 ft. are common, and cross-countries hundreds of miles long are within the realm of possibilities for pilots with the proper training and skill. That’s when groups of glider pilots show up en masse for competitions and meets at the airfield and business gets cooking.

Does Harden fly her own gliders? Not as often as she’d like—but that’s okay, she says. Nothing makes her happier than seeing the equipment and employees airborne and doing what they are meant to do: fly.