Archive for the ‘GA community’ Category

Freedoms of the Air

Friday, February 7th, 2014
Bonnie, Laura, Camille ready for lift off

Bonnie, Laura, Camille ready for lift off

Recently I got the chance to talk with a good friend and Ambassador for General Aviation, Mike Jesch.  Mike is an American Airlines Captain, pilot for Angel Flight, LightHawk, and Cessnas to OSH, FAAST speaker, CFII, board member of Fullerton Pilots Association, you get the drift.

He and his family are hosting some foreign exchange students from the Agricultural University of Beijing, China, for a two week US holiday. Mike secretly hoped that it would work out to take the kids for a short ride in his Cessna 182, and indeed was a question he asked of the exchange program coordinator: Would it be okay to take the kids for an airplane ride? He was very relieved to receive an affirmative answer. The three girls, Bonnie, Camille, and Laura, were all very enthusiastic about this idea.

The day dawned clear and bright, and as they approached the airport and the airplanes came into view, he could see the excitement level increase on each of the girls’ faces.  He recalls, “When I opened the hangar door revealing my 1977 Cessna 182Q, the excitement reached a fever pitch. I walked them around the airplane, explaining my preflight inspection procedure, sampled the fuel, checked the oil, then showed them the cabin interior and gave them my passenger briefing. I reassured them that, at any point, if any of them were nervous, or scared, just let me know, and I’d land the airplane as soon as possible. They were still eager and willing, so we saddled up and started off.” As he lifted off the runway at Fullerton, CA [KFUL] and announced “…And, we’re flying!”, the pitch of their voices went up further still, and the smiles stretched from ear to ear! “  The plan was to fly around the LA area, showing them the downtown area, Dodger Stadium, Griffith Park, the Hollywood sign, Malibu, Santa Monica, through the Mini Route down to Redondo Beach, around the Palos Verdes Peninsula, the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the Queen Mary, and back to Fullerton. From shortly after takeoff, their noses were pressed to the windows, and excited chatter passed back and forth, each pointing out one sight or another, and cameras clicking away.

The next day, Mike got a call from one of the other host parents of two freshman boys. Apparently, the girls had been communicating with their friends! The boys had expressed an interest in also going for an airplane ride.  So, on that night, after dinner, he drove all the kids back over to the airport.  He said, “The boys  were amazed when they saw the airplane for the first time.”  The usual pre-flight inspection and briefing ensued, and they were off.  Kelvin and Owen (joined by Mike’s daughter, Karen) were audibly excited, too, as they defied gravity and launched into the night sky. Astounded by the beauty of all the lights of the LA area, they were instantly transfixed. Mike negotiated a transition through the Los Alamitos Army Air Base to the shoreline, then turned right to fly over the port of Long Beach and Los Angeles. Spectacularly lit up at night, the boys appreciated the sight of the world’s largest port complex, where most of the goods imported from China arrive and are unloaded and shipped all over the country.

Image

Owen ,Camille, Karen, Bonnie, Mike, Laura and Kelvin

Mike reflected on the differences between general aviation in the United States versus China.  “All the kids were absolutely amazed that a private citizen such as myself could own an airplane, go and visit it at any time, take it up in the air whenever I want, even flying directly over the top of a local military base and weapons depot and the largest port complex in the world, at night, all without a mountain of paperwork and permission from the authorities. In all of China, there are not more than a couple hundred airplanes in private hands, yet here at my home base Fullerton Airport alone, we have over 200 airplanes. And we have hundreds of airports across this country that have even more.” He pondered this difference between our countries, and says he gained a new appreciation for the freedoms of the air that we enjoy in this country. Certainly we have issues to deal with, perhaps chief among them cost and regulation, but in spite of all the issues, the system of aviation we have here is still pretty darned good, and worth protecting. Worth celebrating. Worth using. And perhaps most importantly, worth sharing it, especially with those who live in a place where this is not possible. “I harbor no illusions that these young Chinese students will themselves have the opportunity to become pilots, or to own airplanes. But maybe, just maybe, they’ll have a conversation with some friends, perhaps even future leaders in China, and tell them about the time – you won’t believe this! – when they got to fly in a small private airplane in California, on a clear and beautiful winter evening” he says.

The conundrum of modern life

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

In all my years in aviation, I can’t recall ever visiting an airport or an aviation business that hasn’t been the object of noise complaints at some point. Some suffer the indignity of public outrage on a regular basis.

I find this odd.

Bear with me now. There’s a point to this.

I live in a suburban neighborhood less than two miles from the downtown of my small city. There is a train track that runs past my house. It lies roughly 200 yards from my bedroom window. I can truthfully report in all sincerity that a train has never woken me up or intruded on my daily routine. For a guy who often works from an office that’s tucked away in that railroad adjacent house, that’s saying something. On the other hand, with three crossings within a half mile of my house, the train whistle has woken me up literally hundreds if not thousands of times.

That whistle has woken up my wife, my kids, the neighbors, and anyone who might be visiting in the neighborhood, too. So what? As much as I dislike being woken up from a sound sleep, and as much as I wish it didn’t happen–I can’t say I didn’t see it coming.

I had to drive over that railroad track to get to the house when my wife and I were house shopping all those years ago. It didn’t escape our attention that the existence of tracks was a pretty good indicator that trains might travel along those rails now and then. We took the noise in stride, because the irritation factor of the train whistle was offset by the lower cost of the home.

There was a similar home for sale less than half a mile away. It was on a lake that connected to other lakes via a chain of canals. It was beautiful. It was also listed for twice as much as we paid for our current home.

Life is full of trade-offs. It just is. There’s no malice intended. The railroad is not at the heart of an evil plot to wake me and all my neighbors up from a deep sleep. Yet they do. And still we do not build barricades on the tracks; we don’t shine lasers in the engineer’s eyes as he passes. No matter how often we find the annoyance of freight trains a bother, we know our driveways are filled with cars that were transported to this far flung location on a train. The trusses in my roof were built of lumber that arrived here by train. In fact so many products and raw materials arrive in my general area by train that I can’t even begin to envision them all. But that’s no big deal. Those same products and materials arrive in your general vicinity by train, too.

My choice is clear. I could protest the whistle. I might choose to file petitions with the courts. I suppose it’s even possible that I might go so far as to assassinate the character of railroad executives in the press. But to what effect? If I am successful I’ll simply find it harder to get lumber, or a new automobile, or any number of necessary items. If can I find them, they’ll cost me more. And they’ll cost my neighbors more, too.

Would the trains really stop? No, probably not. The economy of population and need would require them to find another route. The train wouldn’t wake me up anymore. But the noise wouldn’t stop. It would just be transported to another part of town, another neighborhood, where it would rankle the residents of a new neighborhood.

Aviation is no different. There is an irritation factor for the neighbors. At least occasionally, we have to admit that’s true. But what of it? The air traffic isn’t descending into the local park and knocking over the ice cream stand. It’s headed for the airport, a confined area that’s designated specifically as the hub of air traffic for a given area. The neighbors knew there was an airport there. Just like my experience with the railroad, the existence of an airport is a reasonably good indicator of the likelihood of arriving or departing air traffic in the near future.

That’s the trade-off. In exchange for a convenient flight to vacation and business spots. In order to have overnight freight shipments available. To provide educational opportunities for the next generation of pilots, mechanics, administrators, and more – there is an airport. And the airport creates noise. Not insufferable, constant, unrelenting noise. No. It brings with it occasional, potentially irritating noise that we all recognize as being associated with airports.

So why do I bring all this up? Simple. I’m suggesting we change our tune, stop making the argument that airports aren’t noisy, or shouldn’t be noisy, or perhaps should adopt radical noise mitigation procedures to reduce noise levels. Rather, we should admit that airports are industrial areas that emit noise. Much like the railroad, or the highway, or shipping warehouse, or a police station, or a fire station, or a garbage truck. Yet no one would expect to be taken seriously if they suggested we should close all those other services down rather than accept the noise they make.

No. We like garbage pick-up, fire protection, crime prevention, independent travel over safe roads, and good paying jobs too much to shut all that down. Modern society just wouldn’t exist without all that–or the airport.

Let’s get off defense and start playing offense. That’s where we’re going to start putting points up on the big board.

Aviation in Pop Culture: Our First Step in Recruiting

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

talespin

How does one develop into an aviation geek? Is it something that develops as we grow up or is it that, to quote noted philosopher Lady GaGa, we are “Born this Way?” I’ve been pondering this issue over the last few weeks as I’ve recently been reunited with one of my favorite childhood movies, The Rocketeer. A comic book movie released before the onslaught of comic book movies, aviation makes up a large part of the setting and storyline. While not on the epic scale of The Avengers, the film is a fun trip to a fictional 1930s art deco California. Aviation was prominently featured in another integral part of my (limited by childhood) pop-culture life around the time of The Rocketeer‘s release: the television show TaleSpin. Re-imagining Jungle Book characters into bush pilots, the 43-episode series and its catchy theme song continues to hold a place of wonder and nostalgia in my heart.

My primary exposures to aviation came from two outlets: these two popular culture favorites and a bedroom window in a house under the approach path to Centennial Airport in Denver. I wasn’t lucky enough to have family that were pilots…but I was lucky enough to have family that supported my interest in the field. The Rocketeer and TaleSpin were a “hook” for my young mind, broadening my interest beyond toy cars to toy airplanes. That interest led to a sixth birthday party at the Stapleton Airport in Denver and an introductory flight lesson on the day after my tenth birthday at Centennial Airport.

In the months after Top Gun was released in 1986, the US Navy saw increased interest in naval careers, especially those in aviation. A recruiter at the time summed up the effect of the movie: “There seems to have been a big rush in those categories that I have to attribute to the movie. I’ve asked several of these individuals if they’ve seen the movie and if that’s why they came down to talk to us again and they’ve said ‘yes’.” A different audience than that of Saturday morning cartoons, yes, and another example of aviation in popular culture driving interest for people that otherwise wouldn’t had exposure to the field.

In some measure, my entire professional life can be tied back to a moderately successful comic book movie and 43-episode television series. Thanks to the mainstream success of Disney’s Planes and its associated merchandising, we now have another captive audience of young people that have been exposed to aviation. The stories of Baloo the bush pilot and Cliff the Rocketeer were enough to captivate my attention at a young and impressionable age, just as the story of Dusty Crophopper captivate many kids today. In 1986, the US Navy took the unusual step of setting up recruiting booths outside of movie theaters to build on the increased interest from those leaving screenings of Top Gun. Were it not for a family that actively supported my interest in aviation at that young age and enabling further experiences, the Rocketeer and TaleSpin toys might have ended up relegated to the same place as my wannabe construction worker hard hat. We are lucky now to have Planes and the upcoming Planes 2 to draw interest in the field to our sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, grandkids and family friends. See the movies, support the kids’ new interests in aviation and we’ll hopefully recruit a new generation of hobbyists and professionals both.

Why I Don’t Talk About “General Aviation” Anymore

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Back in the 1950′s, Cessna Aircraft produced this gem… “Wings for Doubting Thomas

This little documentary clearly spelled out the value proposition for Private Aviation 2 generations ago.

I rarely talk about “General Aviation.”

Like most people who read this blog, I’m much more interested in, “Private Aviation.”

You might think quickly that it’s the same, thing, but it’s not. General aviation is broadly defined as as all aviation except for military and airlines. That’s great, but I’m not a, “General Aviation enthusiast.” Frankly I don’t care much about, “General Aviation.” I don’t fly biz jets, cargo, fly much for hire, (Though I have the certificate for, it’s just not a big part of my life these days.) spray crops, perform in air shows, whatever…

While I may aspire to sit in the back of a something with turbines, drinking Cristal… It does not inspire me. I’d rather be up front flying the jet.

Private aviation is the part of civil aviation that does not include flying for hire.”

“In most countries, private flights are always general aviation flights, but the opposite is not true: many general aviation flights (such as banner towing, charter, crop dusting, and others) are commercial in that the pilot is hired and paid. Many private pilots fly for their own enjoyment, or to share the joys and convenience of general aviation with friends and family.”

– Wikipedia

You see “General Aviation,” is doing just fine. Ask anyone running a jet charter business these days. Business is up, folks who choose to afford it are buying jet cards and getting to where they want to go in style, and plenty of people are making a good living helping them get there. I’m fine with all that. “General Aviation,” is not dying. It’s growing.

But “Private Aviation” is the community that inspires me. It’s Private Aviation that’s what we’re really talking about when we fry bacon at Camp Scholler, or eat pancakes at the fly in. The ability to climb into a plane and fly myself and my friends or family someplace is like a magic power.

It’s Private Aviation that we built OpenAirplane to serve.

So you see, I don’t talk much about General Aviation. When I speak to the press about OpenAirplane. I explain that it is a marketplace for Private Aviation. I get asked all the time if OpenAirplane will let them hail a jet like they can hail a cab, or if we can help them charter a flight. My answer is always, “Not yet.” It’s just not the business we’re in right now. There are plenty of smart people working to offer charter for businesses and pleasure. That part of General Aviation is well served. I explain that we are focused on Private Aviation, because that’s where the opportunity lies today to unlock more value than anywhere else right now. General Aviation is a competitive, well served market with a healthy ecosystem. But Private Aviation hasn’t seen much innovation since Cessna commissioned that film. This is strange to me, because GPS, iPads, and composites sure have made it a lot easier. Private Aviation can create entirely new use cases for the over 5,000 airports, thousands of aircraft, and hundreds of thousands of certificates in the wallets of  pilots across the country.

Private Aviation has been in decline since the airlines we’re deregulated in 1978. The value proposition of Private Aviation has been evolving ever since. The industry and the community need to both step up to communicate the value proposition for Private Aviation to a new generation of “doubting Thomases,” updating what you see in the old documentary film above to speak to the value proposition we can offer today.

For most of us, the conversation isn’t about General Aviation, it’s about Private Aviation. Let’s call it what it is. I have no time sit back and complain. I believe we can make it better than ever.

Time for a Shakeup

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Last November the Federal Air Surgeon, Fred Tilton, unilaterally declared that mandatory screening for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in pilots would begin “shortly.”

The initial BMI threshold would be 40, with an ominous vow that “once we have appropriately dealt with every airman examinee who has a BMI of 40 or greater, we will gradually expand the testing pool by going to lower BMI measurements until we have identified and assured treatment for every airman with OSA.”

Tilton noted that “up to 30% of individuals with a BMI less than 30 have OSA”. Between the fact that people with normal-range BMIs have been diagnosed with sleep apnea and his apparent zest for uncovering “every” airman with OSA, logic dictates that the eventual threshold would be in the mid-20s, if not lower.

The aviation community was up in arms pretty quickly, and for good reason. For one thing, the mid-20s are the upper end of the normal BMI range. It’s also worth noting that even the World Health Organization acknowledges that the BMI scale was never designed for application to individual people, but rather for statistical modeling of entire populations. BMI is based solely on weight and height, so it does not account for differing body types. Nor does it obey the law of scaling, which dictates that mass increases to the 3rd power of height.

In plain English, a bigger person will always have a higher BMI even if they are not any fatter. This penalizes tall individuals, as well as bodybuilders and athletes who are in prime physical shape by assigning them absurdly high BMI numbers. Likewise, short people are misled into thinking that they are thinner than they are.

Nevertheless, Tilton declared his intention to press on anyway, without any industry input or following established rulemaking procedures despite the fact that this scavenger hunt would break invasive new ground in aeromedical certification.

Then, even the Aviation Medical Examiners objected to the new policy, noting that “no scientific body of evidence has demonstrated that undiagnosed obesity or OSA has compromised aviation safety” and that providing long term prognoses is not part of the FAA’s job. The medical certification exists soley to “determine the likelihood of pilot incapacitation for the duration of the medical certificate.”

Without the support of the civil aviation medicine community, Tilton was literally standing alone. At that point, Congress jumped into the fray on the pilot community’s behalf and eventually forced the Air Surgeon to back down… for now.

While the battle may have been won, the war is far from over. Mark my words, this is not the last you’ll hear about this bogeyman. Tilton may be forced to consult with the aviation community or follow a rulemaking procedure of some sort, but his zeal for the topic means OSA screening will be back in one form or another.

To effectively combat such overreach, we’ve got to attack the problem from its true source. In this case, the Air Surgeon’s ammunition came from National Transportation Safety Board recommendations issued in the wake of a 2008 regional airline flight which overflew its destination by 26 miles when both pilots fell asleep.

… the National Transportation Safety Board recommends that the Federal Aviation Administration:

Modify the Application for Airman Medical Certificate to elicit specific information about any previous diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea and about the presence of specific risk factors for that disorder. (A-09-61)

Implement a program to identify pilots at high risk for obstructive sleep apnea and require that those pilots provide evidence through the medical certification process of having been appropriately evaluated and, if treatment is needed, effectively treated for that disorder before being granted unrestricted medical certification. (A-09-62)

The NTSB serves a useful purpose in assisting transportation disaster victims and investigating accidents, but when it comes to safety recommendations, the agency operates in a kind of vacuum, divorced from some of the most pressing realities of the modern general aviation world. The reason is simple: their mission statement. It calls for the Board to “independently advance transportation safety” by “determining the probable cause of the accidents and issuing safety recommendations aimed at preventing future accidents.”

While there’s nothing objectionable about their mission, note how there’s no mention of the cost these recommendations impose on those of us trying to make a go of it in the flying industry. Since it’s not part of their mission statement, it is not a factor the Board takes into account. It doesn’t even appear on their radar. The Board’s federal funding and their lack of rulemaking authority negates any such considerations. So a sleep apnea study costs thousands of dollars — so what? If it prevents one pilot from falling asleep in the cockpit in next half century, it’s well worth the decimation to an already down-and-out sector of the economy.

That’s been the logic for the NTSB since it was conceived by the Air Commerce Act in 1926. It worked well when aerospace safety was at its nadir — but that was nearly ninety years ago. As air transportation evolved during the 20th century, attempts at increasing safety have reached the point of diminishing returns and exponentially increasing cost. At some point the incessant press toward a perfect safety record will make aviating such a sclerotic activity that it will, in effect, cease.

It’s a problem for any industry, and it’s especially so for one that’s teetering on the edge of oblivion the way ours is. The good news is that this can be fixed. It’s time to shake things up at the NTSB by revising their mission statement to make cost analysis a major part of the Board’s function. They should work with stakeholders to carefully study the long-term effect each recommendation would have on the health and size of the aviation industry before they make it.

For what it’s worth, the FAA needs this mission statement adjustment just as much as the NTSB. More, in fact, because the NTSB can recommend anything it wishes, but the regulatory power to act upon those suggestions is outside their purview and rests with the Federal Aviation Administration. From medical approval to burdensome aircraft certification rules, the FAA is the hammer. We have to start somewhere, though, and the NTSB is in many ways the top of the heap, the place where these ideas get their start. It would be nice to see the industry’s lobbyists in Washington, D.C. suggest such a bill to members of Congress.

One final thought: if government’s power really does derive from the “consent of the governed”, this should be an idea even the NTSB (and FAA) can get behind. Otherwise, they may convene one day and find that there’s not much of an industry left for them to prescribe things to.

Lighting up the Brain for Aviation

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Male/Female BrainRecently I was having a discussion with a pair of aviation magazine owners and editors. We were talking about how many female pilots have been featured on their magazine’s cover over the years. We reasoned that since the female pilot population is 6-7% of the overall pilot population, that 6-7% of aviation magazine covers should be of women pilots. Yet they certainly weren’t, so we talked about why it seems to be so hard to get girls and young women interested in aviation.

Last year at Oshkosh, I presented a seminar for Build-a-Plane Teacher’s Day on the differences in male and female brains, and how those differences could influence the way students learn about aviation. I thought it might be interesting to touch on some of the highlights of that seminar and perhaps illuminate what I see as some of the challenges of getting females involved in flying.

I will start off by saying that I am not a brain researcher, and this is a basic review of the current science, and is by no means exhaustive. Yet as a practicing psychotherapist for 25 years, I think that I do have some insight in this subject. You should also know that there are exceptions to the facts and we can train our brain to do less than innate activities.

Here is the short story: I versus We:  Competence versus Connection.  The male brain is organized and focused more on him as an individual, striving for mastery.  The female brain is wired for communication, connection and cooperation.

Men have slightly larger brains even when adjusted for their larger heads. They have larger parietal cortices (in charge of space perception), and amygdalas (which regulates sexual and social behavior). This might explain why visual-spatial tasks are easier for men. They tend to be able visually manipulate things in their brain, whereas women tend to need to see spaces and shapes on paper.

Men also have more gray matter in their brains, which is full of active neurons. This might explain why there are more men in physically or mentally active professions like airplane pilots, bush guides, racecar drivers, and mathematicians. Men also tend to be more systematic in their thinking.

Women’s brains are 8-10% smaller than the male brain, yet on average, are much more active. Women have larger volume in both the frontal cortex (the inner CEO) and the limbic cortex (involved in emotional responses). This, in conjunction with speedy connections facilitated by the white matter, is another reason why women’s brains work faster. Renowned brain researcher, Dr. Daniel Amen’s research shows that women have greater activity in the brain’s hippocampus. If you wonder why your wife or girlfriend never forgets anything, here’s your answer: The hippocampus is the part of the brain that helps store memories.

In addition, the female brain has a larger corpus callosum, which is a bundle of nerves that connects emotion and cognition. As a result, women are better with language abilities and rely more heavily on oral or verbal communication. They also tend to have a better time controlling emotions, although they are more emotional. Women, on average use four words to every one word a man uses. The female brain secretes more serotonin and oxytocin, which connects them further to the emotional world.

These differences relate to aviation because when we know what lights up the brain for each gender we can tailor our sales pitch to the crowd. In sum, boys or men will be excited about the individual mastery, competition, or competence in aviation. Girls or women will be excited to be part of a collaborative group of women pilots. Boys or men might be better with conceptualizing basic principles of flight. Girls or women would learn better by hands-on demonstration.

When I display at airport events with the Mooney Ambassador group, we get lots of kids and grown ups in the airplane. I never fail to say to the girls, “have you thought about becoming a pilot? I am and I love it. We need more girl pilots.” You should see their eyes (brain) light up.

Brain Lit!

Brain Lit!

Future Aviatrix

Future Aviatrix

 

The Dream Delayed

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

Winston Groom, author of Forrest Gump as well as many other best sellers, released last year a factual account of three famous pilots; Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Doolittle and Charles Lindbergh.  Titled The Aviators, Groom’s book is a fascinating read, especially for those of us who enjoy flight and participate in the adventure of being aloft.  As well as most of us know the stories of those famous flyers, there is more to learn and much to admire.  I am impresses by the discipline exhibited by each of Groom’s subjects.  Each believed strongly in the value of aviation and the role this form of transportation would play in the development of our nation.

While Groom offers many interesting vignettes of those three famous men, one involving Eddie Rickenbacker in particular resonated with me.  Emerging from World War I as the leading US “ace” with 26 enemy aircraft downed, he continued in aviation and eventually became an unstoppable force within the emerging airline industry as long-time head of Eastern Airlines.  Rickenbacker was too old to be a military aviator when the US entered WWI, however.  He obtained his chance to fly through the intervention of aviation pioneer Colonel (soon to be General) Billy Mitchell, the officer Eddie served as an enlisted man assigned to be Mitchell’s personal driver during the initial US efforts in war.  Those who wish to fly do not take no for an answer.

The initial exploits of Rickenbacker, Doolittle and Lindbergh took place during a dozen or so years when the world seemed fascinated with flight.  Prior to Lindbergh’s New York to Paris nonstop crossing of the Atlantic in 1927, the public looked on aviation as the stuff of thrill seekers and daredevils—fun to watch, but of little practical value.   Post Lindbergh’s historic feat, the public’s attitude transitioned from awed observer to anxious participant.  People wanted to be pilots, and the press wrote about airplanes becoming almost commonplace.  Everyone, it seemed, wanted to fly.

In the 1930s, reality and the Great Depression combined to inhibit the dream of everyman becoming a pilot. Post World War II, when thousands of servicemen returned home with belief in the importance of air power, the dream of a robust private aviation movement was renewed.   During the first two years following WWII, well over 30,000 light aircraft were produced.  By 1950, the production of small GA aircraft was down to a few thousand, and they were not selling.

Realizing the dream—and the potential—of private flying is still within our grasp.  Being able to fly from A to B in a straight line and at two to four times the speed of today’s automobiles is a capability of great value, whether the trip is for business or pleasure.  As a community of private aviators, however, we need to address the factors that prevent the dream from being a reality.

Costs will come down only if the number of people participating in General Aviation increases.  Even the most basic automobile would cost considerably more than a new Bonanza if they were sold to as few people as purchase light aircraft today. 

Learning to fly can be made simpler and more effective through innovative use of simulators and computerized training aids.   Perhaps talented organizers can apply their insights to create club programs were costs can be shared and participants can enjoy the comradeship of likeminded aviators.

Through training that provides competence and justifiable confidence, private pilots can use GA aircraft safely and efficiently for personal business and pleasure.  Pioneers such as those described in The Aviators demonstrated the value of believing in the value of aviation and living their convictions.

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!

Humanity, Philanthropy, and GA

Saturday, December 21st, 2013
Photo Credit: Ross Mayfield

Stearman ready to inspire flight!

Ah humanity.  For those of us committed to growing the pilot population we often scratch our heads and wonder how we can reach the youth, the college-aged kids that might share the dream of aviation. This generation of twenty-somethings is deeply steeped in technology and many times and perhaps in some instances, rightly, gets labeled as a self-centered lot with little frustration tolerance or ability to delay gratification. On first blush, maybe not the best target audience for a future aviation mechanic or pilot.

Philanthropy is a word commonly understood from its root to mean the love of humanity, further defined as work that is meant to advance mankind and quality of life  though good works and deeds.  Years ago I was approached by a Lambda Chi Alpha member from our local university regarding our annual Friends of Oceano Airport Toys for Tots event.

Founded in the early 1900s, Lambda Chi Alpha was built on the following guiding principles:

  • Loyalty

    Connor Strong (left) and Chris Battaglia (right)

    Connor Strong (left) and Chris Battaglia (right)

  • Duty
  • Respect
  • Service & Stewardship
  • Integrity
  • Personal Courage

Look at these principles and you can’t help but be impressed. These are the same standards that serve us as aviators.   Year after year we have 15 to 30 Lambda Chi brothers who donate the first Friday and Saturday of December to Toys for Tots.  They come prepared to work, are eager, prompt, communicative, enthusiastic and engaged.  The Lambda Chi Alpha chapter at Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo California was established in 1979.  Since then the chapter has managed to win their most prestigious award, the Grand High Alpha,  a total of 5  times.

How brilliant is this?  A fraternity or sorority has requirements for philanthropic work during the year and an airport needs volunteers to help at events.  This is a match made in the heavens.  Add to the mix JR Smith and his 1943 Boeing Super Stearman. Based in Oceano, JR’s Banner Airways’ yellow bi-plane is a fixture up and down the coast on weekends.  It was JR’s idea to offer a highly discounted rate to each of the 30 Lambda Chis present on Saturday for an aerobatic ride.  Nearly all of them took him up on his generous offer.  College aged kids donate ten plus hours of service and then are treated to a taste of general aviation at one of the most picturesque airports in the country. But don’t take it from me, here are some of the testimonials.

Flying in that plane was hands down one of the craziest things I have ever done.  I am mad I have never volunteered at this event before because that was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.–Connor

This was my first time volunteering at the Toys for Tots event.  Travis would get up in our chapter meetings and talk about how much fun this event is every year so I was excited to get the chance to volunteer.  When we got there and I saw that JR was giving out plane rides I jumped at the opportunity.  The experience was awesome and if I had the chance to do it again, I absolutely would.  This was my first time volunteering at this event and, based off how much fun I had, I plan on doing it again next year.–Chad [the guy in the video!]

The only time I have ever been to a small airport like that was when our fraternity volunteered at previous Toys for Tots events and I have never been flown in a small plane like that before.  In fact, I have only flown in an airplane three times in my life.  Initially, I had no intention to fly in the plane with JR, but after every single person that flew raved about how awesome it was, I could not resist.  I could not be more happy with my decision to fly with JR, as it was an experience that I will never forget.  Regarding the Toys for Tots event itself, we volunteer at the event every year and always have a great time.  This is an event that Lambda Chi Alpha plans on volunteering for for many years to come.–Travis

The brothers of Lambda Chi Alpha with Jolie and Mooney Lucas

In short, don’t forget the young philanthropists that might be in your hometown.  Bring them to your airport. Educate them about its value to the community. Get them in an airplane.  Stand back and watch them squeal with childlike delight and end with “That was awesome!” Click to see Lambda Chis Fly High

Glimpse GA’s future by hanging out with some ‘Millennials’

Monday, December 16th, 2013

We in the aviation family spend a great deal of time discussing how to bring young people into flying, so they can grow up, get their tickets, and eventually become the aviation consumers and advocates of tomorrow. As our senior pilot population goes west, it is the responsibility of what society has dubbed the “Millennial” generation (roughly 13 to 30 years old today) to step up and lead GA into the next few decades.

While it is far too easy to take the pessimistic, “cup half empty” road to ruin, after interviewing three young pilots, I have seen the future of GA, and it looks quite good. All it takes to know this is to spend a few minutes with some brilliant teenage aviators on their way up to realize we might just be all right.

I felt privileged to witness this unbridled enthusiasm that the next generation of fresh pilots possesses last summer at Oshkosh as I enjoyed a ridiculously fine burger with two of the Twitter #Avgeek community’s most active participants, Neil Reagan, aka @Ntr_09, and Thomson Meeks, aka @THM_18. In this article, I will introduce you to them, along with another of their brethren, Trevor Wusterbarth, known on Twitter as @Wustypilot16.

Thomson Meeks

Thomson Meeks

Meeks and his father, along with Reagan, picked me up at the Appleton Airport as I flew in for #OSH13, and we accepted vectors direct to Oshkosh’s famed Ardy and Ed’s Drive-in for burgers. The drive-in’s patio sits directly under the approach end of KOSH’s runway 27, and as we sat there enjoying crazy-good food and “Black Cow” floats, I was able to get inside the head of these young aviators, and I liked what I saw.

Remember that feeling you had when you first soloed…when the CFI cut the tail off your t-shirt? Remember the way you fell in love with flying, and with wide-eyed optimism, propelled yourself onward and upward at warp speed, eager to see what is behind the next cloud? Yes, that was Reagan and Meeks on this day. Their cups are 15/16ths full, and the noise of pessimism that we hear too much of out at the airport has not yet entered their lives. To them, the sky is still the limit. And had Wusterbarth been there at the table too, he probably would’ve shown an equal amount of the abundant joy for all the things we love about flying.

This is not to say these young men are naive, they most certainly are not. They know what is going on in the aviation world, and have just chosen to repel the urge to drag pessimism into their unbridled desire to complete a life of flying. These are the decision makers of tomorrow, and as current and future pilots who have achieved their goals in an environment riddled with both chutes and ladders, they are perfectly positioned to be proactive in finding solutions to the problems plaguing the GA world.

The first of the three young aviators I introduce is Meeks, who at age 14 is not yet a pilot, but has all the enthusiasm of anyone with a private pilot’s license. He’s flown in a 1945 Piper J3 on floats at the Airventure Seaplane base during OSH12, and numerous C172s at his flight school, and has firm plans to earn his ticket.

When he earns that ticket - and spend five seconds with him and you know he will – Meeks plans “to make this world a better place” by donating time to the Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF). In three years, he expects to be flying left seat in a Cirrus SR22, and in 10 years, he hopes to have a vintage Cessna 152 in his hangar. He’s very active on social media, especially in the X-Plane sim community, where he’s been “flying” since he was six-years-old.

Neil Reagan finishes his private pilot solo flight  with the ceremonial cutting of the t-shirt tail

Neil Reagan finishes his private pilot solo flight
with the ceremonial cutting of the t-shirt tail

Reagan is a bright, motivated and completely pleasant 17-year-old student pilot from Jamestown, TN who plans on becoming a corporate pilot after earning his ratings all the way to ATP. He currently has about 30 hours flight time, mostly in various Piper Cherokees and Cessnas, and clearly remembers his 100th landing. “It was the last landing on a three-hour solo cross country, and it really made me have that ‘hey I’m actually a pilot’ moment which felt great!”

This student pilot is wise when it comes to knowing that his young age could be used to motivate others. “I think one of the best things a young pilot can do is spread the passion for aviation to the upcoming generations,” he said. “Helping to keep GA alive and well by volunteering at fly-ins and conventions doesn’t even require a license to fly. In my mind, the largest impediments to my demographic getting interested in flying is people saying flying is for the rich and for young people to think they don’t have the time to take lessons. The acronym groups need to prove to young people that they CAN do it, and they do that by using people like me as examples.”

In three years, Reagan will be on his way to the left seat of a corporate jet, but there will be “some sort of Piper Cherokee” in his hangar. But in 10 years, you’ll find a “larger, faster Cherokee” in his hangar, and he’s “especially attracted” to the PA-28-235 for its price to performance ratio. Nice choice. I own a 1964 Cherokee 235, and can confirm his opinion of that airframe is right on.

And the last young student pilot you will meet today is Wusterbarth, a 17-year-old from Fond du Lac, WI who has been going up the road to Oshkosh since he was a toddler. He plans on starting flight training during Christmas Break, and will earn all ratings including PPL, instrument, commercial ASEL and AMEL, CFI, CFII, MEI, and ATPL on his way to becoming an airline pilot. Some of that training will happen at Minnesota State University – Mankato where he will major in Professional Flight with double-minors in Spanish and Business Administration.

His training received a major boost recently when EAA awarded him the $7,500 Gathering of Eagles Flight Training Scholarship thanks to the Young Eagles Program. “Trevor is a fantastic young man,” said Bret Steffen, EAA Director of Education, “and we are excited that another Young Eagle has been able to qualify and win a flight training award from EAA and the Young Eagles program. Trevor is well on his way to earning his wings after passing his FAA written exam and fulfilling the ground school component.”

Trevor Wusterbarth

Trevor Wusterbarth

In three years, you’ll find Wusterbarth flying left seat in a Piper Seminole or Warrior, but a decade from now, there will be a V-tail Beechcraft Bonanza in his hangar.

Sitting there in Oshkosh on a warm summer evening watching really low airplanes in close trail arriving at the world’s biggest airplane party and family reunion with these young aviators…I saw myself. It was like looking in the mirror. But the big equalizer that made this particular meal an aviation memory I will cherish always was that it was not a 57-year-old pilot chowing down with two teenagers. It was three guys sharing a common love for airplanes, savoring the opportunity to enjoy the camaraderie of aviators that at times seems truly magical.

When you are trying to find some hope to help you feel like the future of GA is going to be bright, go spend a few hours with a young pilot or flight student who has not yet even made the ripe age of 21. You will see that if we can just recruit this demographic to step inside our world, they will bring with them the enthusiasm, the passion and the tenacity to fill the left seats of the GA fleet for many decades.