Archive for the ‘GA community’ 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 AOPA.org 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.

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) 
1-GT

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)
2-Aborted

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.
3-Rhine

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
5-Germany

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)
6-Tulips
7-Windmills and Tulip Fields
8-Tulips

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
12-Rhine

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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AOPA Air Safety Institute Events: http://www.aopa.org/Pilot-Resources/Air-Safety-Institute/Events

AOPA Webinars: http://www.aopa.org/Pilot-Resources/AOPA-Webinars

EAA Webinars: http://www.eaa.org/en/eaa/aviation-education-and-resources/aviation-videos-and-aviation-photos/eaa-webinars

 

Flying Through Life… pursue your impossibly big dreams

Sunday, March 6th, 2016
Meeting Zen Pilot

Meeting Zen Pilot, Robert DeLaurentis

On a windy day at Whiteman Airport in the LA basin I had the pleasure of spending some time with Robert DeLaurentis, the “Zen Pilot” and met the Spirit of San Diego [Piper Malibu Mirage] in person.   Often in the air more than on the ground, Robert  lives and breathes the adventure of flying while spreading the message of abundance, connection, and safety.

He is a noted speaker and author with a successful real estate business and over 1250 flight hours as a private pilot. Robert has his private, instrument and multi-engine ratings and holds a commercial pilot certificate and an advanced graduate degree in Spiritual Psychology.

His recently completed circumnavigation of the globe in his Piper Malibu was part spiritual journey, part fundraiser for programs at Lindbergh-Schweitzer Elementary School and Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association [AOPA] Spirit of San Diego scholarship fund. He attributes the ability to pursue this lifelong dream of flying around the world to his use of applied spirituality principles.

His first book, Flying Thru Life focuses on helping businesses and individuals go far beyond what they ever believed was possible financially and personally. Robert believes applying the principles outlined in Flying Thru Life allows the manifestation of time and money for people to pursue their sometimes impossibly big dreams.

Spirit of San Diego Students

Students get to meet the Spirit of San Diego

Robert puts forth that we should honor our desires from childhood and our passion. Allowing those desires to unfold helps to manifest them.  “If you ask Spirit to become a painter, you are given a canvas and paint. This is about manifesting. The first step is to ask” Robert says.  He suggests that we be open to what we receive and that it perhaps is a different path than we imagined.  We could be following a path that our parents want us to follow instead of what we are passionate about. “When I honored passion, purpose and Spirit, my life accelerated” he says.

 

When you are in the ground you can see maybe 100 yards or a ½ mile, but in the air you can see 50-100 miles. Are you smarter or do you just have a better perspective on life?

When you are in the ground you can see maybe 100 yards or a ½ mile, but in the air you can see 50-100 miles. Are you smarter or do you just have a better perspective on life?

The book outlines 19 strategies to avoid negative self-talk and to re-frame fear and doubt into passion and purpose in life.  He believes that when we are in alignment with our deepest dreams, desires and hopes, that we will  receive gifts of time, money, and peace of mind. The gift of time manifests into more hours to fly and train. Financial gifts might be the source of money for an airplane, equipment or new rating.

Fear is oftentimes what holds us back from living our authentic life in a peaceful way.  Robert also believes that what shows up in your plane is also reflected in your life, as the cockpit is a schoolroom. Fear manifests itself in so many ways. These fears hold us back in the life and in flying.  Technology makes flying safer and less expensive. Preparation is the key to reduce fear. Practice makes practice, competency comes with practice.

Flying Thru Life

Flying Thru Life

Flying through Life has some great examples for “Type A” personalities.  One example was when an expensive and critical piece of management software not working for his company. The initial discussion with the president of the software company was met with “You didn’t follow the instructions!”  Robert then paused and communicated with the president in a thoughtful way where he told her his fears and then asked for help. The president then became very helpful and together they co-created a solution.

 

Last weekend I flew into San Carlos Airport in the San Francisco Bay area. My arrival was easy enough even though there was a TFR over San Jose Airport for the democratic convention, and San Carlos lies under San Francisco’s airspace and is very near Oakland and San Jose. I told ATC that I was unfamiliar with San Carlos and they were very helpful. The tower guys were super nice when I landed. On the way home I thought I would just fly reverse my steps for arrival. As I was taxing out the tower asked me if I wanted the Bay Meadows departure or the Belmont Slough departure quickly giving me details of each. The Bay Meadows departure sounded closest to what I wanted so I said I would choose it. As I got to the run-up area, I felt a little insecure about the instructions. I didn’t have a copy of the noise abatement procedure in my stack of paperwork I had for the trip. So I did what a lot of pilots maybe don’t do, I asked for clarification and help. “San Carlos Ground, 6619U would like to get clarification on the departure as I am unfamiliar and want to get it right.” “N6619U, San Carlos Ground, we love it when pilots ask questions. Thank you. Fly runway heading to 1200 feet, we will call your left turn to the 101 freeway.” I was so proud of myself for not faking it and asking for needed help.

What’s next for Robert? In addition to being a featured speaker for AOPA at Sun n Fun and their regional fly-ins, Robert is releasing his second book, Zen Pilot in the Summer of 2016.  Robert muses on he latest book which details his trip around the world, “I think to some people it might sound strange, but I believe that flying can be the most spiritual thing that you do. Passion and purpose in alignment with Spirit. For me the spiritual component is enormous. The plane takes you from point A to point B, that is a destination, but flying through life is a journey. When people  asked what I learned about flying around the world, I talk about the dream state. When I was flying there was a point in which I didn’t know if I was flying or dreaming [over North Africa]. It is the place I feel most connected. Planes are magical places.”  A true ambassador of general aviation, Robert’s enthusiasm and goodwill is contagious.  I believe what he wants most is for us all to know that if we can dream it, we also possess the ability to make those dreams come true.

 

To watch the video for Flying Thru Life click here

To purchase the book  click here

earth meets heaven

 

Seeking Economy, Playing it Safe: Why I fuel up more often than most GA pilots

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

After 31 years as a flight instructor and considerably longer as a certified pilot, I’ve seen my fair share of accidents and incidents caused by aircraft running perilously low on fuel. In the latest data (2012) listed on the NTSB.gov website out of 988 general aviation accidents (personal flight), some 50 were attributed to fuel (or lack thereof). It is impossible to tell how many out-of-fuel incidents actually happened that year, or any year, in general aviation, because most pilots who get away with landing the airplane on an airfield after losing power never mention it to the FAA. (Would you?) The good news is that the graph lists no fatalities attributed to such accidents in 2012; but going back a decade from there not all pilots were so lucky.

NTSB statistics on personal flying accidents in 2012

NTSB statistics on personal flying accidents in 2012

I have to say, I work hard so as not to be one of those pilots. In my career I’ve flown plenty of airplanes with fuel gauges placarded “INOP” or with gauges so clearly inaccurate that one just knew not to trust them. I was brought up in aviation to visually inspect, and even measure (with a calibrated dipstick) the fuel in my tanks, and to use a calibrated time/distance method of tracking my fuel burn in flight. So, yeah, I’ve got a lot of tools on my checklist to prevent me from running out of fuel on a flight. So do a lot of other pilots I know.

Then why do they still run out of fuel? There are a few out-of-fuel accidents caused by shrinkage of the fuel tank bladder from age (even though senders registered it full, and visual inspection showed it full, the bladder could not hold as much fuel as indicated). Those are, however, rare. And even in those cases I’d question the pilot, wondering why he didn’t notice that the tanks didn’t seem to hold as much as they used to hold. There are a few out-of-fuel incidents from leakages (a stuck gascolator quick drain, for instance). Again, I’d question the pilot on his/her preflight thoroughness (always step back and look at the airplane top to bottom one more time before you climb in to fly away).

Then there are the math errors and buttonology errors. Essentially the pilot miscalculates actual fuel burn, and, knowing his fuel gauges are generally inaccurate s/he ignores them until the engine starts to sputter. This problem can occur if the pilot forgot to consider his fuel burn on climb, in a full-rich mixture configuration. Or, he may have completely forgotten to lean the mixture.

Buttonology errors are more of a modern airplane’s problem. Perhaps the pilot did visually inspect his tanks and noted that each seemed to be down a few gallons. But it is tricky with some fuel totalizers to program in the exact amount of fuel in each tank. Maybe the pilot just taps the “full” button but promises she’ll remember the tanks aren’t full. And then the headwinds are stronger than predicted at altitude. Yet her fuel totalizer tells her not to worry—she’s got enough gas to get to her destination. Except she doesn’t.

Another pilot just pushed the throttle up, figuring he could go faster into the headwind and solve the problem that way. He did not, however, account for the extra fuel he was burning at the higher power setting.

Interestingly enough, most of the pilots who miscalculate fuel at the end of a long flight leg land just short (say, within 10 or so miles) of their intended destination. Sometimes on another airfield. Sometimes not.

I maintain that in most out-of-fuel accidents and incidents the real culprit is poor preflight planning. Pilots simply calculate the fuel exhaustion point of their aircraft, maybe slap a reserve on there (the FAA minimum on a VFR day is just 30 minutes) and then draw a line (most of the time with a flight planner app) that represents that time/distance on a chart and pick an airport near the end of it as their refueling point. Maybe they use an app to find the most competitive fuel in the area and fly to that airport. I get what they are doing. Pilots who fly light general aviation aircraft tend to want to fly long flight legs because they are perceived as most efficient. Many aircraft engines burn twice the fuel in climb as they do in cruise. They want to limit the amount of time they spend at those high power and fuel flow settings.

Well, efficiency be damned. When you are planning a flight, or for that matter, preflighting your fuel system, it makes no sense to set yourself up for failure by pushing the limits of your aircraft’s capabilities. Out-of-fuel accidents can be prevented so easily. Plan to land with twice the FAA minimum in fuel—the reserve recommended by the AOPA Air Safety Institute. Period.

Plan for unanticipated headwinds by underestimating your aircraft’s performance. I flight plan at a lower speed and higher fuel burn than what my airplane typically does. It is my cushion. I like cushions because they give me the wiggle room I need on days where the weather doesn’t play into my hand.

AOPA's newest version of its flight planner provides members with an excellent tool for preventing out-of-fuel accidents and incidents.

AOPA’s newest version of its flight planner provides members with an excellent tool for preventing out-of-fuel accidents and incidents.

And do what I do: use a sophisticated flight planning tool such as those found in moving map apps, or browser-based tools such as AOPA’s flight planner, which

offers easy-to-use graphic tools for choosing good refueling points along any flight path. When programmed with your aircraft’s performance parameters and departure time the planner will color-code your course to indicate where you’ll need to land for fuel, based on the forecast wind. The magenta route line will turn yellow to represent the caution zone segment in which you have 60 to 90 minutes of fuel remaining. The course segment will turn red if less than 60 minutes of fuel remains. Current fuel prices at airports on or near your route pop right up on the planner. Just select one along the yellow section of your course and the planner reroutes you and includes the fuel stop. Best of all, you can email the route to your iPad or android tablet and it will interface into several popular moving map apps with a few clicks.

Then go fly your plan. You’ll thank me for counseling you to land a little more often on a long cross-country about the time you step out onto the ramp and stretch your legs a bit. Or maybe when you are availing yourself of those free homemade cookies and a fresh cup of coffee served up with a smile in so many of our wonderful independent FBOs. The difference in your overall en route time won’t change much, but the quality of the day is likely to be just a bit higher.

Give it a try. Let’s work to make 2016 the year that out-of-fuel accidents suddenly disappear from the NTSB’s graph of stupid-pilot-tricks.

 

One Six Right, see it again for the first time

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

“As a filmmaker you want to be able to affect, move and inspire.” Brian J. Terwilliger

 16R

On a bright sunny Los Angeles day last week I was lucky enough to get to check in with movie maker Brian J. Terwilliger at his office in Universal Studios. We had first met in July at Oshkosh when he did a media screening of his latest movie Living in the Age of Airplanes. Brian and I spent a little under an hour talking in July about general aviation, movie making and life. However with the 10th anniversary of his documentary film, One Six Right: the Romance of Flying and its release on Blu-ray, I wanted to follow up.

Brian says he was passionate about aviation since childhood. As many future aviators he spent time making airplane models and watching the sky. He learned to fly at Van Nuys Airport KVNY, and later made the iconic airport his muse for One Six Right.

Sigmund Freud is attributed for saying that a human needs four things to be healthy:

1) work you love to do;

2) love of friends and family;

3) physical health;

4) passion.

When I am working with counseling clients I often describe passion as the one thing that you have a hard time explaining to someone who doesn’t share that passion. Luckily for us aviation-addicts, One Six Right was released in 2005 to help capture the love of flying and the value of our airports.

Flash forward ten years to the re-release onto Blu-Ray. “One Six Right was filmed with a state-of-the-art digital cinema camera, though due to the technical limitations of DVDs which display less than 20 percent of the camera’s resolution, the audience has never seen the full quality of the film,” said producer/director Brian J. Terwilliger. “The Blu-ray is not only six times the resolution of the DVD, we went back to the original camera masters and re-digitized every frame, re-mastering each shot to achieve more vibrant colors and sharper images by using tools not previously available. It looks better now than it did on the night of the premiere!” The anniversary edition Blu-ray includes the special features from the DVD plus the entirety of One Six Left (the companion DVD), including “The Making of One Six Right.” The Blu-ray also features 10-minutes of never seen before air-to-air footage of 12 different airplanes — all in high definition. Watching anniversary edition is almost like watching a different movie. The aerial photography sequences are simply stunning. Click HERE to see the DVD/Blu-ray comparison video.

One Six Right was five years in the making. Brian describes that during the project he was compelled to tell the story of general aviation. I have to admit that I love the word compel. For me it means that the gift just has to come out of us. Now that the Blu-ray of One Six Right is out, I would highly encourage folks to pick up a copy and share it with your friends and neighbors. As pilots we truly live life in three dimensions. Our passion for airports and airplanes is sometimes very hard to describe to those on the ground. Luckily for us we have this great aviation film to move and inspire us.Kids_at_Fence

 

Born in to the Golden Age of Aviation

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016

The Golden Age of aviation started when Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic 1927, and continued to 1939. According to Norm Baker, aviation was on everyone’s mind in the country, with air races, speed records, Lindbergh and Earhart. As child he built model airplanes and looked skyward. His was a family of modest means, yet his parents fully supported his dreams of becoming an aviator.

“As a child I always loved the look of airplanes, that is why I built model airplanes. The look of something detached from the Earth, all alone. I wanted to look at the Earth from the sky”

Norm was 8 years old when the DC-3 first flew in 1935. As a 12-year-old Boy Scout he dreamed of someday flying a DC3. In 1941 the Piper Aviation Company sponsored a national contest to build a J3 Cub model. 13-year-old Norm entered the contest and by mail received the contest rules and specs. Immediately he went down to hobby shop to buy balsa wood, glue etc. Maybe fortunately, Norm didn’t win first prize but won a lower prize: flight lessons. His supportive parents allowed him, at age 13, to get lessons.

Flushing Airport, Queens NY

Flushing Airport, Queens NY

In 1941 Piper Aviation paid for lessons for Norm at Speed’s Flying Service at Flushing Airport in Queens [which no longer exists]. Of course, he learned to fly in J3 Cub. A quick study he was eligible for solo with 8 hours of instruction, but Norm had to wait until his 17th birthday in 1945. Norm flew the same Cub all the way to pilots license at 40 hours, age 18 years. Had it not been for the prize money from Piper, he would not have been able to afford lessons.

Norm recounts how Speed Hanzlik may have saved he and his brother’s lives when he flew from Ithaca New York to Flushing airport during school break. “It must have been 1946 after I had my private pilot’s license and we flew down to Flushing where our parents were waiting to take us home for the holiday. Inexperienced pilot that I was I didn’t plan my flight well and arrived after dark in a Piper Cub with no lights and no radio. I managed to find the field and was enormously relieved to see the runway lighted by automobile headlights arranged to be there by Speed.”

Norm later attended Cornell University Ithaca, New York, studying engineering. He joined Cornell Pilot’s Club, 26 students owned one Piper Deluxe, side by side.

Norm was also enamored with the sea and joined the Naval Reserve. In 1951-53 when the Korean War broke out he was assigned to a destroyer- USS Samuel N. Moore DD747. As the ship’s Navigator, Norm had to be a celestial navigator for there was no radar more than 200 miles off shore and GPS hadn’t yet been invented. He used the sun, stars, moon, and planets as navigation aids in mid-ocean.

In 1982 Norm and his wife Mary Ann purchased a 95-foot schooner named the Anne Kristine. The 123-year-old-ship was the oldest continuously used sailing vessel in the world, launched from Norway in 1868. In May of 1991 the Anne Kristine set sail from New York for Tortola. However within thirty-six hours the lives of the crew were in grave danger due to the convergence of two storms Hurricane Grace and the nor’easter that the movie Perfect Storm was written about.   Though the ship was lost in the perfect storm, thanks to a dramatic midnight rescue by Coast Guard, there was no loss of life.

In 1992 Norm went back to his first love, aviation, and started flying again. He bought a 1966 Cessna 172, N4676L, which be lovingly named Anne Kristine II. Norm and wife Mary Ann flew a lot together. He attends EAA AirVenture at Oshkosh annually. A non-smoking marathoner, skier, horseback rider, hiker and swimmer, Norm’s bride, Mary Ann, unaccountably passed away in May 2003 from lung cancer.

Norman Baker with Anne Kristine II Photo Credit: Tracey Eller

Norm never forgot his childhood dream of flying the DC3. He contacted Dan Gryder who owns Elite Flight Services. “You meet people from all walks of life in aviation, and meeting Norm Baker was a true gift.  Norm called me as a cold call, and informed me that he would be taking my DC-3 class. In speaking with him several times, I suspected that Norm was probably retired, but I never asked his age or why he wanted to fly the DC-3″ Dan says.

DC3 Student

DC3 Student, Norm Baker

In December 2015, Norm flew to Griffin Georgia alone in his Cessna 172, fully IFR and holding a second class medical.  “He got out a tow bar and pushed the 172 around like a high school kid would.  Turns out Norm was 87 years old, almost 88 and out flying around America.” Gryder recalls.

Norm attributes his good health to staying active, and a special exercise routine that he complete each day, a ritual that consumed 45-minutes per day but kept him in top shape.

Norm flew the DC-3 and Dan was proud to issue him a new pilots license with the coveted DC-3 type rating on it, And then just for fun he opted for an hour left seat in a jet where he experienced touch and go landings, and a few climbs of over 5000 feet per minute…something he had never seen before. Gryder muses, “He boarded his 172 and flew off into the sunset, but I made a friend on this trip that really affected me in a profound way.  What a shining example for all the rest of us!”

Dan Gryder presents  Norm Baker with this type rating

Dan Gryder presents Norm Baker with his DC3 type rating

I asked Norm about inspiring the love of flight in kids. His answer surprised me a bit. I suppose that many times I think we just need to have big events, and get lots of kids in airplanes. Norm paused and thought about it. He said that he has to spend time with the child. “I have to know what the child looks at that thrills him. You have to talk about what the kid wants to hear, what lights them up. They might ask, “Can I do it?” We need to be able to say, “Yes you can!”

Norm Baker was lucky to be born into the Golden Age of Aviation. Perhaps the lesson I take away from meeting Norm is our ability in the aviation community to make our current age a golden age. Yes, we need to have events at our airports, and get loads of kids into our airplanes, but as well, we need to slow down and really talk with our youth. Find out what lights them up about aviation. That way we can all resoundingly say, “Yes you can!”

Misfueled!

Monday, January 11th, 2016
Decals

Jet fuel contamination of avgas remains a killer.

On March 2, 2008, a turbonormalized Cirrus SR22 was destroyed when it crashed shortly after takeoff in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, killing all four people aboard. Shortly after the aircraft departed from runway 20, the airplane’s engine lost power, and the aircraft hit a building and exploded. Further investigation revealed that the aircraft had been refueled with Jet A instead of 100LL.

This report reminded me of an incident 16 years earlier during which my own 1979 Cessna T310R was misfueled with Jet A at San Carlos (Calif.) Airport, a busy GA airport just south of SFO. Fortunately, I caught the (mis)fueler in the act, red handed. Had I not been lucky enough to do that, I probably wouldn’t be writing this column.

Normally, I either fuel my aircraft myself (at a self-serve pump) or watch it being fueled (when avgas is supplied by truck). On this occasion, I’d radioed for the fuel truck and waited patiently for it to arrive. After 10 minutes of waiting, Mother Nature intervened and compelled me to walk into the terminal building in rather urgent search of a loo. By the time I took care of my pressing business and returned to the ramp, there was a fuel truck parked by my airplane and a lineperson pumping fuel into my right main tank.  As I approached the aircraft, I observed to my horror that the truck was labeled “JET A.”

Theoretically impossible

At first, I was not too worried, because I believed that misfueling my airplane with Jet A was physically impossible. That’s because in 1987 (the year I purchased by T310R), all turbocharged twin Cessnas became subject to Airworthiness Directive AD 87-21-02 which mandated installation of restrictor ports on all fuel filler openings. The restrictor ports were designed to make it impossible to insert an industry standard Jet A nozzle, while accommodating the smaller diameter avgas nozzle.

The AD was issued because the FAA became aware that a large number of misfueling indicents and accidents were occuring in turbocharged aircraft. These aircraft typically were prominentaly decorated by the factory with the word “Turbo” and apparently linepeople were confusing it with “Turbine” and pumping Jet A into the tanks.

So the FAA mandated that jet fuel trucks install a wide spade-shaped fuel nozzle, and that vulnerable airplanes (like turbocharged twin Cessna) have restrictor ports installed into which the wide jet fuel nozzle would not fit. This made misfueling of piston aircraft with jet fuel theoretically impossible. (They also said that it’s theoretically impossible for bumblebees to fly.)

But as I arrived at my airplane, I discovered that indeed my left main tank had been topped with Jet A. How was this possible? A subsequent investigation by the local FSDO revealed that the Jet A fuel truck at San Carlos Airport had not been fitted with the correct spade-type nozzle. (I suspect they got in trouble for that.)

Jet-A nozzle vs. avgas nozzle

Jet fuel nozzles have a wide spade top that is theoretically incapable of being inserted in an avgas fuel filler equipped with a restrictor ring—but don’t count on it!

Undoing the damage

I spent literally hours trying to find an A&P on the field that would assist me in purging the fuel system of its witches’ brew of 100LL and Jet A. That turned out to be surprisingly difficult. The fueling company was falling all overitself to be helpful (because I’m sure they feared a big lawsuit) but they had no mechanics or maintenance capabilities. There were several maintenance shops on the field, but none wanted to go near my contaminated airplane, clearly afraid of the potential liability exposure. Finally, I persuaded one maintenance manger to help me out after writing and signing an omnibus waiver absolving the shop and its mechanics of any liability in connection with their work on my aircraft.

The purging process itself was quite an eye opener. We drained the tanks as completely as possible, putting the noxious effluent into a 55-gallon drum provided by the fueling company (who had agreed to deal with the costly disposal of the nasty stuff). We disconnected the fuel line going to the engine-driven fuel pump and drained all the fuel from that as well.

Next, 5 gallons of 100LL (donated gratis by the fueling company) was poured into the main tank, and then pumped through the system using the electric boost pump and drained from the disconnected fuel line into a 5-gallon bucket.  The fuel in the bucket was tested for Jet A contamination using the paper-towel test: A few drops are placed on a paper towel and allowed to evaporate completely. Pure 100LL will not leave an oily ring on the towel, but even small amounts of Jet A contamination will leave an obvious ring. The stuff in the bucket flunked the test.

Another 5 gallons of 100LL were poured into the tank, and the process repeated. Once again, it flunked the paper-towel test. We had to repeat the procedure three more times before we were satisfied that the system was essentially kerosine-free. We reconnected the fuel line, cowled up the engine, the fueling company then topped off the airplane (again gratis), and I was finally good to go…fully six hours after the misfueling incident.

Restrictor filler & GATS jar

Be sure all your fuel filler ports have restrictor rings. The big GATS jar (available at Sportys, Aircraft Spruce, and elsewhere) does a far better job than the slim screwdriver-type testers.

Lessons learned

I learned some important lessons that day. Perhaps the most important is that it’s impossible to distinguish pure avgas and a mixture of avgas and Jet A by color alone. My main tanks had been about half-full of avgas, so after the misfueling they contained roughly a 50-50 mix. If you take a jar full of pure 100LL and another jar full of a 50-50 mix of 100LL and avgas, I guarantee you will not be able to see any difference in color or clarity between the two.

I hadn’t realized that before. I has always been taught that you sump the tanks and observe the color—100LL is blue and Jet A is straw color. What I was not taught is that a mixture of 100LL and Jet A is also blue and that you simply can’t tell the difference visually. In retrospect, I shudder to think what would have happened had I not caught that Jet A truck in front of my airplane.

I was also taught that since Jet A is significantly heavier than avgas (6.7 lbs/gal versus 5.85 lbs/gal), the Jet A and 100LL will separate just like oil and water, with the Jet A at the bottom (where the sump drain is) and the 100LL at the top. That’s true, but only if the contaminated fuel is allowed to sit for hours and hours. It turns out that 100LL and Jet A mix quite well, and the mixture takes a surprisingly long time to separate.

There are at least two good ways to distinguish pure 100LL from kerosine-contaminated 100LL. One is by odor: Jet A has a very distinctive odor that is detectable even in small concentrations. The other (and probably best) is by using the paper-towel test: Pour a sample on a paper towel (or even a sheet of white copy paper), let it evaporate, and see if it leaves an oily ring.

Nasty stuff

What effect does Jet A contamination have on a piston engine? Enough to ruin your day.

You can think of Jet A as being fuel with a zero octane rating. Any piston engine that tries to run on pure Jet A will go into instant destructive detonation. However, in real life, we almost never encounter that situation because the tanks (at least the main tank used for takeoff) is almost never completely dry when the aircraft is misfueled.

Therefore, the real-world problem is not running on pure Jet A, but on running on a mixture of 100LL and Jet A.  Depending on the mixture ratio of the two fuels, the effective octane rating can be anything between 0 and 100. A mixture with a lot of Jet A and just a little 100LL might be detectable during runup.  A 50-50 mix might not start to detonate until full power is applied, and the engine might fail 30 seconds or 3 minutes after takeoff. Just a little Jet A contamination might produce only moderate detonation that might not be noticed for hours or even weeks. Like so many other things in aviation, “it all depends.”

The Cirrus SR22 accident in Rio reminds us that the problem of misfueling is still with us, despite all the efforts of the FAA to eradicate it. We need to be vigilant. Always watch your airplane being fueled if you possibly can. Make sure its fuel filler ports are equipped with restrictor rings. Don’t just look at the fuel you drain from your sumps—sniff it, and when in doubt, pour it on a paper towel.