Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Flying the Debonair

Friday, January 31st, 2014

Happy Friday, Debonair Sweepstakes fans and followers! While we wait for Genesis Engines to evaluate the condition of all the original -K engines’ internal parts, I thought I’d take the time to share a video with you. It appeared on AOPA’s last week’s weekly video webcast–AOPA Live This Week–or ALTW as we call it around the building.

It was a cold winter day when I took up Paul Harrop, an ALTW producer, up to demonstrate steep turns, stalls, and a lazy eight or four. Go easy on my technique–I haven’t done a Lazy Eight in a couple years! But I have to say that the camera doesn’t do justice to the deck angle at the 90-degree point; it was way higher than it seems in the video.

Some of you may have already seen the video, but for those who haven’t, here you go:

http://www.aopa.org/AOPA-Live.aspx?watch={5E55537C-4330-4325-8267-57425397FB87}#ooid=xnZTg0azqmmXM3sBr8lHrMYRuTDSUGSj

 

Air Mod Refurbs

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Air Mod is still on the job, and the past week was one devoted to even more interior fixups. A picture’s worth a thousand words, they say, so here are a few that illustrate the nature of the work. It’s all part of a wide-ranging series of incremental improvements. Take a look:

The old, rotten plywood floorboards are gone! Long live the new, much stronger and better looking aluminum-reinforced floorboards--both front and rear. Here you see the front floorboard.

The old, rotten plywood floorboards are gone! Long live the new, much stronger, lighter, and better looking aluminum-reinforced floorboards–both front and rear. Here you see the front floorboard.

This is the center console, reworked to include an access panel so that repairs and inspections of the mechanical landing gear position linkage can be easily made in the future.

Air Mod's Dennis Wolter, cutting the "waterfall Bubinga" hardwood veneer for the interior side panels.

Air Mod’s Dennis Wolter, cutting the “waterfall Bubinga” hardwood veneer for the interior side panels.

Final fit and check of the new side panels, armrests, and seats. Also, a look at the pilot's new seat, showing off the Garrett leather covering.

Final fit and check of the new side panels, armrests, and seats. Also, a look at the pilot’s new seat, showing off the Garrett leather covering.

Air Mod made a storage box in the forward spar cover. This takes advantage of previously-unused space.

Air Mod made a storage box in the forward spar cover. This takes advantage of previously-unused space.

More to come, so stay tuned! Soon we’ll be able to show off  the finished job……

Stripped!

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

To many–yours truly included–the Debonair’s trip to the paint shop couldn’t come soon enough. That old, funky, faded paint job had to go! I mean, you could see where previous owners tried to “rescue” it by actually spray-painting some touch-ups. Guess they went to Home Depot or Lowe’s and got some cans of spray paint. Looks good….Not!

Anyway, I flew the Deb to KD Aviation at the Stewart International Airport (KSWF) a week ago on a blustery day. Surface winds were gusting to 35 knots out of the west, so Stewart’s super-long runway 27 was a welcome sight. By the way, KD is located off taxiway L in case you want to fly in for a visit. It’s over in the cargo area where they store the snowplows.

KD stripped off the old paint in a jiffy. The stripper reeks of ammonia but the shop uses eco-friendly materials and procedures. That was hard to believe when I stepped into the shop–it took my breath away. After the stripper is applied, the old paint sort of shrivels up and then dries. The next day, the dried-out flakes of paint are brushed off (if they haven’t fallen off already) and swept off the floor into bags for disposal.

What’s left is what you see in the accompanying photo. Notice that the control surfaces have been removed during the pre-paint process.

So long, old paint. Note that the new engine access door is being tried on for size in this photo, and that the control surfaces are currently removed.

So long, old paint. Note that the new engine access door is being tried on for size in this photo, and that the control surfaces are currently removed.

And, as always it seems, a new issue emerged. The right flap actuator had damaged the nose ribs of the flap. This was damage that couldn’t be seen during a preflight inspection. Soooo, we shipped the flap to trusted airframe components supplier Aircraft Components by Williams Inc. (formerly known as Williams Airmotive).

Roy Williams heads up Aircraft Components, and he has helped us in the past with difficult-to-find airframe parts. In 2004, he stepped forward with a new stabilator for the AOPA sweepstakes plane that year–a 1965 Piper Twin Comanche. We called that project the “Win-A-Twin.” Remember? Williams’ stabilator was a beauty, and it saved our skin because the original stab was patched. Patching control surfaces is a no-no, especially in the Comanche and Twin Comanche, which have had issues (now resolved!) with tail flutter.

“Send both flaps,” Williams said of the Debonair. “And send the rudder too.” Thanks a million Roy. Williams is double-checking to make sure that any and all rudder Airworthiness Directives and Service Bulletins are complied with.

Anyone out there need control surfaces or other airframe parts for old airplanes? Then call Roy at 260-347-0807, or visit his website at www.airframecomponents.com/. And tell him I sent you.

As always, watch for more updates coming soon. And remember folks, this is a two-year project. The winner won’t be flying the Debonair away until the AOPA Summit in Palm Springs in 2014.

Bruce’s Custom Cover for Tornado Husky!

Friday, May 11th, 2012

Thanks to Bruce’s Custom Covers, the AOPA 2012 Sweepstakes “Tougher Than a Tornado” Husky has some added protection from the elements.

A customized aircraft cover that perfectly matches the Tornado Husky’s paint scheme (and carries the Tornado Husky Logo) will shield the young airplane from sun, blowing sand, rain and anything else it might encounter on future adventures.

The canvas cover just arrived at AOPA headquarters in Frederick, Md., this week. It has a retail value of more than $600, and AOPA (as well as the future winner who will be named at the AOPA Summit in Palm Springs, Calif., Oct. 11 to 13) appreciate the thoughtful donation!

Rosen Visor for Tornado Husky

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Rosen Visor will keep the Sweeps winner from squinting on those beautiful sunny days.The winner of the AOPA 2012 Sweepstakes “Tougher Than a Tornado” Husky won’t have to worry about glare or haze.

Rosen Sunvisor Systems has provided an optically perfect, swing-out visor that cuts glare and protects the pilot’s eyes like a great pair of sunglasses. With summer ahead and temperatures rising, Rosen’s timing is perfect.

The STC’d visor is easy to install, and the Rosen kit is absolutely complete. The company even sends the appropriate Allen wrenches (as well as the hardware, grease, and required aircraft logbook entries) to complete the task. Rosen also provided a pair of extremely lightweight sunshades that attach to the Tornado Husky skylight with suction cups to cool the cockpit on hot days. Those are sure to come in handy when the Tornado Husky is on display at EAA Airventure in Oshkosh, Wisc., this summer — as well as AOPA Summit in Palm Springs, Calif., in October where it will be awarded to its lucky winner.

Tornado Husky’s First Annual Inspection

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Pilot/Mechanic Kevin Holloway gave the Tornado Husky its first annual inspection.

You’ll be pleased to know that your 2012 AOPA Sweepstakes “Tougher Than A Tornado” Husky breezed through its first annual inspection this month.
The bill for new parts came to just $20, and most of that was a replacement air filter.
The fact that the airplane is in top mechanical condition shouldn’t come as a surprise since it’s just one year old and has only 130 hours on the Hobbs meter.
Kevin Holloway, an A&P mechanic and commercial pilot, performed the inspection at Landmark Aviation in Frederick, Maryland, and stood behind his work by flying in the airplane aferward. Holloway, a Cessna 140 owner, came away from his first Husky flight impressed with the design, build quality, and performance of the rugged aircraft.
“I enjoyed working on the Tornado Husky because it’s very well thought-out, and it’s built with maintenance considerations in mind,” he said. “A lot of airplanes aren’t built to be worked on, but this one really is.”
Holloway tightened the aileron cables, rerouted some air ducts to avoid chafing, tightened rocker covers and generally provided as much TLC and preventive maintenance as possible. A “cold” engine compression check showed all four cylinders on the Lycoming O-360 held 76/80 psi or above.
“It looks as good on the inside as it does on the outside,” Holloway said. “And it flies as good as it looks.”

Water Dog

Friday, December 9th, 2011

The Tornado has a factory installed float kit that makes it relatively easy for the AOPA 2012 Sweepstakes winner to install straight or amphibious floats.

To get an idea of the adventures open to the pilot of float-equipped Husky — and learn what it takes to qualify for a seaplane rating — I recently went to Ryan Aviation at Flagler County Airport in central Florida for two exciting, strenuous, and thoroughly enjoyable days of training with CFI Dan Nichols and DPE Tripp Wacker.

Now I understand why seaplane pilots so love their unique combination of the nautical and aeronautical.

The Tornado Husky winner will be getting a fine airplane that, with a couple of high-tech floats, also can be a world-class seaplane.

Stay tuned to AOPA Pilot for more detailed stories and videos.

Seaplane training with Ryan Aviation at Flagler County Airport

“I Came For This”

Monday, November 7th, 2011

The date for this often-postponed flight to spread my stepfather’s ashes above the Statue of Liberty was finally set for Sunday, Nov. 6. — but that morning, as every time before — brought a complication.

Previous trips had been scrubbed for weather, TFRs, and so many seemingly pre-ordained last-minute glitches that I was beginning to question whether it would ever take place.

But this time, the forecast was perfect with a golden fall day and sunshine throughout the region; no TFRs, the AOPA’s 2012 Sweepstakes “Tougher Than a Tornado” Husky ready to go; and my mom, Wilma Melville, on a visit from her home in California, and willing to make the actual drop from the Husky’s back seat.

The problem was me.

A stubborn head cold had kept my ears plugged for several days, and no amount of chicken soup, hot tea, orange juice or nasal spray seemed to make any difference. The night before, grasping at straws, I had come up with what I hoped was a reasonable compromise: A much shorter flight to Annapolis, Maryland, where we could spread the ashes over the Chesapeake Bay near the U.S. Naval Academy. My stepfather, John Melville, was a Navy veteran of World War II and took great pride in his wartime service. Was that good enough?

Early Sunday morning, I ran the idea by my wife, Martha, and she wisely rejected it out of hand.

Preparing for flight

“Look, John was a New Yorker,” she said. “He grew up on the east side. He went to Columbia. He ran the New York Marathon. It’s got to be the Statue of Liberty and New York Harbor or nothing. Nowhere else has that kind of connection to him and his life.”

She didn’t say it, but other questions (to which the answers were plainly obvious) also sprang to mind: Would your stepfather have made an extra effort for you? Would he have been willing to tolerate some physical discomfort on your behalf? And haven’t you learned from him, by now, to do things right or not at all?

I took a double dose of Afrin and waited for my mom, who was still on Pacific Time, to wake up. The Tornado Husky could fly the entire route below 2,500 feet msl, so the relatively low altitudes would make flying tolerable, even for my plugged ears.

Mom met the rest of us in the kitchen at 8 a.m. wearing jeans and a warm jacket.

She’s 78 years old, about five feet tall, pragmatic, unsentimental, and an absolute force of nature. She’s a planner, and although she realizes that plans must sometimes change, she doesn’t bend easily.

“So, are we going to do this thing or not?” she asked in her customary, no-nonsense way. “If we’re going to go, we should go soon so it doesn’t eat up the entire day.”

I told her to collect her things, then slipped a small wooden box that contained the ashes of her husband of 33 years into my flight gear.

On the short drive to Frederick Municipal Airport (KFDK), I called flight service to confirm no TFRs had popped up. None had.

Mom, an instrument-rated private pilot, wanted to discuss the logistics of the ash drop. What were our airspeed and altitude going to be? How did the Tornado Husky’s window open and close? And how could she make sure the ashes got out without giving her a face full of dust?

These were just the sort of practical matters that my stepfather, an aeronautical engineer with a cutting sense of humor, would have loved. When my brothers and I were kids, he came back from a tough day of work at a California defense contractor and asked me to pour him a frosty glass of beer.

Evidently, John and his coworkers had been trying for months to perfect a fighter weapons delivery system and, after many failed attempts, finally got it right on the test range. The pilot of the test aircraft was so elated he spontaneously performed a “victory roll” at low altitude, misjudged, and plunged into the ground in a fatal fireball.

“All that data is gone,” John, a lapsed Catholic, moaned in disbelief. “I’d like to propose a toast to the patron saint of lost data, for Chrissakes.”

Unanimous dislike
My mom was a divorced public school physical education teacher with four young sons when she and John met in the early 1970s.

The box containing John Melville's ashes.

My brothers and I were unanimous in our dislike for him at first. Part of the rejection was loyalty to our “real” dad. The rest was made easy by the fact John was strict, sarcastic, and had a ridiculous New York accent. But his love for our mom was total, and that – over time – outweighed our own misgivings.

Mom was already a private pilot when they met, and she and John built a Rutan-designed VariEze together in the late 1970s. Later, they had a partnership in a Bonanza. She flew and he did the navigation and maintenance, and he was always amused that the vast majority of the people they met assumed he was the pilot.

A child of the Great Depression, John never had the luxury of indulging in athletics during his youth. But when he retired, he pursued endurance sports with astonishing results. He completed his first Ironman triathlon at age 65 and his last in Kona, Hawaii, at age 74. He also set age group records in distance swimming and the 50-mile run. While other athletes monitored their diets closely, he munched Twinkies and Oreos and drank beer.

He was totally supportive of his stepsons’ flying ambitions, and was never more proud than the day he pinned on my younger brother Harry’s Navy wings.

John died of cancer nine years ago at 82, and family members were all given decorative boxes containing some of his ashes. I had kept mine in an out-of-the-way dresser drawer ever since. I took the box on several flying trips thinking that I’d drop the contents over the Statue of Liberty, but fate always conspired to prevent it – until now.

A thankless job
Mom strapped into the back seat of the Tornado Husky, propped up on an extra cushion, and I handed her a Garmin GPSMAP 696 on a kneeboard to keep her busy during the 90-minute flight to New York City.

Target for today

She stowed the box of ashes within easy reach in the front seatback. “Sometimes you want to hold onto them and sometimes you want to let them go,” she said a few minutes after we took off. “Personally, I wanted them gone a long time ago. I spread them in the garden at home.”

Another brother distributed his share in Hawaii, site of John’s Ironman struggles and triumphs. Between New York, California, and Hawaii, the key places in his life would all be represented.

Mom had the New York Terminal Area Chart spread out on her lap as we approached the city’s towering skyline. I had been concerned that air traffic on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon would be high, but it turned out to be quite manageable.

We flew north over the VZ bridge, USS Intrepid, and other landmarks, all the way to the George Washington Bridge before making a 180-degree turn to the south.

“The Freedom Tower looks incredible,” my mom said as we went by with the upper floors still under construction above us. “John would really like seeing that, although he’d wonder why the hell it’s taken so long.”

Approaching the Statue of Liberty

On our way south, we overflew Ellis Island, the place where John’s ancestors (as well as ours), first landed in the United States. At 1,000 feet over the Statue of Liberty, a cool, swirling wind indicated Mom had slid the Tornado Husky’s left side window open. A moment later, we both said a silent prayer as she released the ashes.

As the ashes fanned out in the slipstream and dropped to the surface of the bustling, windswept harbor, I imagine that John would have been touched by our gesture. Perhaps it was his Irish ancestry that gave him a lifelong soft spot for ceremony and remembrance. And the combination of freedom and flying that the Statue of Liberty and the Tornado Husky represent would have been irresistible to him.

Being a stepdad is surely one of the most difficult and thankless jobs ever invented. My brothers and I did our best to make sure John’s assignment was as complicated and strenuous as possible.

It had taken a needlessly long time for me to deliver his ashes to this place where they belong. But I suspect that he’d agree that, finally, Mom and I had done it right. Like the rising tower at Ground Zero, the result, we hope, was worth the wait.

When we landed back in Maryland and pushed the Tornado Husky back in its hangar, I hugged Mom and thanked her for participating in this special delivery. What a lucky coincidence that she had been in Maryland visiting her grandkids when all the variables finally came together.

She smiled wryly and told me it hadn’t been a coincidence at all. Planning made it happen.

It turns out Ms. Pragmatism had traveled all the way across the country for the sole purpose of taking part in this final salute. She would fly home on an airliner the very next day.

“You know, I came for this,” she said. “Visiting you and your family is a bonus – but I actually came here for this.”

The Statue of Liberty

Maine Event

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

The Boss comes along . . .
By Dave Hirschman 

Flying with The Boss.

Flying with The Boss.

Of all the places the AOPA 2012 Sweepstakes “Tougher Than A Tornado” Husky was scheduled to travel, I anticipated that our planned autumn flight to Maine would be the highlight.

The natural splendor of fall in New England, and the rugged Maine coast, would make dramatic backdrops for aerial photography. And backcountry airstrips, camping, eating lobster, and visiting an aviation mentor—Steve Collins of Biplanes Over Acadia—had me looking forward to these four days in October months in advance.

But as the time approached, two complications made the trip uncertain.

First, high winds and rain blew into the East Coast with a low pressure system centered on New England. That was a regrettable but straightforward fact of life for any pilot of a VFR airplane. I consulted with the other members of our AOPA team—photographer Chris Rose, videographer Bob Knill, and pilot Mark Evans—and we thought it wise to postpone our departure by one day. The forecast showed sunny skies for several days after the fast-moving front went by, so we took the delay in stride.

The second complication was more nerve wracking. AOPA President and CEO Craig Fuller, owner of a recently acquired 1998 Husky A-1A, also planned to come along on the trip in his own airplane. None of us other than Evans had ever traveled with The Boss before.

AOPA President Craig Fuller and his Husky.

AOPA President Craig Fuller and his Husky.

I’d coached him through his tailwheel endorsement, and I knew he was looking forward to taking his airplane on their first long road trip together. But was this the right one?

AOPA photo missions require getting up before dawn to be airborne at first light; going to remote locations; being in close proximity to other airplanes in flight; and sometimes staying airborne well after sunset for optimum light angles. On this trip, it would also mean camping at a grass strip and sleeping under the wings of our airplanes on nights when the temperatures were forecast to be at or below freezing.

All these aspects are part of the attraction for those of us who absolutely live for such assignments. But not everyone would regard what we do as the best way to spend a three-day weekend. And for Fuller, a former high-level White House staffer and corporate executive, such a trip would be a total departure from his normal routine.

The Boss assured us he was game, however, and asked for no special treatment. He wanted to get to know his airplane in the conditions for which it was built, and he genuinely looked forward to the flying challenges that awaited us.

We left our home base in Frederick, Maryland, as a flight of three airplanes. I led with Rose in the Tornado Husky, Evans and Knill followed in a PA-28 Archer that also carried extra photo and video gear, and Fuller flew solo in his Husky. We stayed in a loose, cross-country formation a few hundred feet apart all the way to New York City. There, we spread out about one mile in trail, descended to 1,100 feet, and slid through the Hudson River Corridor northbound by the Statue of Liberty, USS Intrepid, George Washington Bridge and other Big Apple landmarks. The skies were clear but bumpy as a west wind was blowing about 15 knots on the surface.

Once clear of the corridor, we made a right turn and landed at Hartford-Brainard Airport (KHFD), site of last month’s AOPA Summit. METARs showed light winds aligned with the runway all morning, but shortly before we arrived they were gusting to 16 knots and variable in direction: a real challenge for Huskies with a maximum demonstrated crosswind capability of 15 knots.

Once on the ground at Hartford, we refueled and resumed our trip north as a flight of three. There was no weather reporting at our destination, Old Acton Airfield (02ME) in southern Maine, but nearby airports, and smokestacks and lakes along the route, showed a gusty west wind and the turbulence at 3,500 feet was light but continuous.

I had never been to Old Acton, a private strip owned by John and Ann Marie Nadeau of the Recreational Aviation Foundation, but I knew it was plenty long enough for our airplanes. What I didn’t realize until seeing it, however, is that that the approach requires descending through a notch in tall trees, and the turf strip is quite narrow with a hangar on one side and a rock quarry on the other.

There were strong downdrafts approaching the field, but the wind was mostly calm below the tops of the 60-foot trees. We all made it in safely, and I breathed a sigh of relief that the first transportation portion of the trip had gone well. Now, it was time to get to work.

We set up camp, and I dove into my sleeping bag early that night in preparation for a big day of flying along the Maine coast beginning the next morning. The stars were out in vast numbers, and that—plus a favorable weather forecast—convinced me that we’d have great photo light at dawn. 

Campfire on a frosty morning.

Campfire on a frosty morning.

The Coast
I felt cheated when I crawled out of the tent at dawn to see solid overcast and slate gray clouds blanketing the sky. The ceiling was high and the visibility excellent, but the conditions were atrocious for aerial photography.

Rose and Knill made lots of ground photos of frosty airplanes and coffee brewing over the campfire. But there was no point in launching early. We finally took off just after 8 a.m. and flew to Wiscasset (KIWI), a jewel of a GA airport on the Maine Coast. There, we met Lisa Reece, president of the Maine Aeronautical Association, and went out with a group of local pilots to a hearty breakfast. Afterward, we flew north along Maine’s incomparable coastline to Bar Harbor Airport (KBHB). There, we met Collins, owner of a wildly successful rides business, and a man who had provided me with the best weekend job in Atlanta, Georgia, during the years I was there, flying a North American A/T-6, Stearman PT-17, and Waco YMF-5. Collins and local Maine pilot Mike Allen showed us their fleet of Wacos, a glider, and a Cessna 182 that they use to introduce hundreds of people each year to GA in a classy, exciting, and positive way.

On the flight back to southern Maine, we saw a few breaks in the clouds producing shafts of golden light off the coast. We chased some, but the mirages seemed to close just prior to our arrival each time. Aerial photography is awfully fickle, and so many variables have to align for everything to work right. All the ingredients were there for us, except good light.

We built a roaring campfire that night, and shared hamburgers and stories with the Nadeaus and fellow aviators Bob Burley and Andy Rowe. But although the forecast for the next day was favorable, no stars were visible when I zipped up my sleeping bag and shut my eyes for the night. 

The Lakes

Dawn at our Maine campsite.

Dawn at our Maine campsite.

We awoke to a pastel red sunrise and still air, and it was obvious that this was our big chance for the kinds of aerial photos we had hoped for.

We scraped the frost off aircraft windshields, wings, and control surfaces, and Rose and Evans bundled up in their warmest clothes. They would be flying in the doorless photo airplane with a biting wind swirling through it.

Fuller and I cranked the Huskies and allowed plenty of idling time for the oil to warm up. But I was desperate to get in the air so as not to miss the perfect but fleeting conditions. Fuller took off first, and his airplane leapt skyward in the cold, dry, dense morning air. I followed and could hardly believe our good fortune.

A golden carpet of autumn leaves seemed to stretch for miles in all directions, and white sinews of fog spread out in the river valleys. As soon as the photo airplane was airborne, I tucked in next to it and we headed for the nearby lakes. The hardest part was picking out where to go because the photo possibilities in all directions looked terrific.

Tornado Husky and fall colors

Tornado Husky and fall colors.

Fuller and I took turns flying next to the photo bird, and at times we flew the two Huskies together for Rose’s camera.

Conditions couldn’t have been any better, the airplanes performed flawlessly. Each participant applied himself with energy and purpose.

In less than an hour of flying, we were done.

Fuller, with an engagement in the Washington, D.C., area that afternoon, flew straight home by himself with a stop at Dutchess County Airport (KPOU) in New York. The rest of us returned to Old Acton Airfield to break camp, load our gear, and say goodbye to our hosts.

It had been a shorter trip than we had anticipated, but a thoroughly successful one.

We made new friends, collected some spectacular aerial images that are likely to pop up in AOPA publications for many months to come, and safeguarded the Tornado Husky for its eventual winner.
Along the way, Fuller logged some quality tailwheel time in quite demanding conditions. And unlike the rest of us, he never complained about the early launches, bad coffee, or brisk temperatures.

Hopefully, we’ll all be seeing him on more Husky trips in the future …

Morning fog over a lake.

Morning fog over a lake.

A Wounded Warrior and the Tornado Husky

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

The old saying that you can’t judge a book by its cover is especially true for pilots – and prospective pilots.

Some who seem shy and retiring are tigers in the air, while others who are bold and brash on the ground are timid and meek above it.

When U.S. Marine Sgt. (retired) Adam Kisielewski came by AOPA headquarters in Frederick, Maryland, on Oct. 5 for a flight in the AOPA 2012 Sweepstakes “Tougher Than A Tornado” Husky, I tried to keep an open mind about what to expect on our upcoming flight.

It turns out that Kisielewski, 28, has been through many trials in his young life. In 2005, he was entering a building in Fallujah, Iraq, where he was blasted by a powerful explosive that tore off his left arm and severed his right leg.

Last year, I was privileged to have been among the AOPA staff members who had helped train another wounded warrior, U.S. Marine Sgt. Michael Blair, to become a sport pilot. So Charles Stites, founder of Able Flight, a North Carolina charity that helps the disabled become sport pilots, asked me to fly with Kisielweski – a candidate for an Able Flight scholarship – and share my impressions.

Stites informed me that Kisielewski is an avid motorcyclist, and that got my attention. I once worked for agricultural flying service whose owner who was convinced that riding a motorcycle and flying an airplane drew on the same brain power (or lack of it) – and anyone good at one of those activities would instinctively do just fine at the other. Kisielewski has no ambitions of being a cropduster, but it made me feel good about his chances for becoming a sport pilot.

Then Kisielewski showed up at AOPA driving a new Dodge Charger. I’m not impressed by muscle cars, but this one told me the guy likes powerful, fast machines, and is comfortable operating them. And he was right on time, which showed me he was considerate, and eager to fly.

He moved so well and strode so confidently that I wouldn’t have guessed he wore a prosthetic on his right leg. (His leg amputation is below the knee.) But there was no getting around the fact that his left arm was missing at the shoulder.

“This isn’t a formal evaluation,” Stites told both of us. “There aren’t any grades, or a pass/fail. I just want you to get in the airplane, see what the experience of flying it is like, and find out what kind of strategy will best help you accomplish your goals.”

Kisielewski nodded, and said he was ready to get started immediately.

The day was sunny and clear but breezy with a gusty 15 knots out of the northwest. Our flight was sure to be bumpy, and a good measure of Kisielewski’s desire to fly and comfort in the air.

He had flown in a variety of military aircraft, and he’d sat up front in several general aviation airplanes, but he hadn’t had any ground school or formal flight instruction. I asked him whether he had flown in many Marine helicopters or V-22 tilt-rotors, and he answered that he was primarily a “boat Marine,” and had spent much of his time on ships, as well as nearby Camp David providing security for President George W. Bush.

I introduced him to the Husky and the rugged backcountry aircraft and oversized Tundra tires appealed to him right away.

The Husky is an especially difficult airplane to climb in and out of. It stands high on its 29-inch tires, and boarding it requires lifting yourself on the steel tube frame and pulling your legs to your chest to get them through the clamshell door and over the stick. I use two hands, but Kisielweski, by necessity, managed easily with one. He was in the process of fastening the five-point seatbelt harness one-handed when I reached in to help and inadvertently knocked one of the lap belts to the floor.

Kisielewski had to release all the belts, shift in the seat, and reach around his body with his right hand to retrieve the fallen belt on the left side of the cockpit.

“They can be a bit tricky and easy to drop,” I said.

“Yes, but you’re the one who dropped it, sir,” he pointed out, chuckling. “We’re all about accountability, right?”

I climbed into the back seat, and Kisielewski closed the door and window and turned the key to start the airplane. As we taxied, I asked him to make almost constant S-turns on the ramp to clear the way ahead and, predictably, his left turns were fine but his right turns, using the artificial leg where he had no sensation, weren’t. His left ankle flexed and he could apply the left brake – but not the right.

He pointed out the shortcoming matter-of-factly and proposed a solution.

“It’ll be easy to modify the prosthetic so that I can apply the right brake,” he said. “It’s a simple mechanical fix.”

After engine run-up, he aligned the airplane with Runway 30, and I advanced the power and performed the takeoff. Once airborne, I handed over the stick and rudder and told him to keep his eyes outside. Despite the bumpy air, he did just fine, turned crosswind, downwind, and out of the pattern to the northeast.

“There’s a cement plant with a group of tall buildings 10 miles to the northeast,” I said. “Level off at this altitude and let me know when you see it. Then take us there.”

“I see it now at our 11 o’clock,” he answered, making a slight left turn to put us directly on course.

There was obviously nothing wrong with his vision, and he seemed relaxed while keeping his eyes outside the airplane, just as I had asked. Kisielewsi mentioned that he had recently moved with his wife and 2-year-old child to Libertytown, a small community nearby. I asked him to find and overfly his home.

“Well, there’s Highway 26,” he said, making a slight right turn. “There’s the subdivision, and my house is behind those trees. You’ll be able to see it in just a minute.”

He overflew his home, circled to the left, and looked down on it.

“Is yours the one with the American flag out front?” I asked. The flag was attached to a thick, stand-alone pole in the center of what appeared a recently poured circle of concrete.

“That’s it.”

We had been flying less than 20 minutes, but I had seen all I needed to see.

“Take us back to the airport,” I said without providing a direction to steer. “Overfly it at our current altitude, and I’ll take over when we pass overhead.”

He turned toward the airport, and when we were directly above it, I handled the controls but asked him to leave his hand on the stick and feet on the pedals as we landed. Then he taxied back to the hangar and shut the engine down.

Kisielewski is vice president of Operation Second Chance, a non-profit that helps wounded combat veterans and their families – a job that keeps him extraordinarily busy. He’s also a husband and father.

It hasn’t been determined whether he’ll receive an Able Flight scholarship, or if he does, whether he’ll have time to pursue full-time flight training. But I have no doubt that he’ll succeed if he does dedicate himself to it, and I’m certain that he can contribute greatly to the strength of our flying community.

I told him what a privilege it was to meet with him and fly with him, and I thanked him for his incalculable sacrifices. He said he appreciates the gratitude, but it really isn’t necessary.

“Believe me when I say that I’m the lucky one,” he said. “I had one bad day, but the truth is I’ve received much more from my country than I’ve given.”

I once heard a veteran FAA examiner claim that he could tell the outcome of any checkride by the time a candidate starts the airplane and taxies to the runway for departure. I’m sure that’s true for checkrides, but the people I fly with constantly surprise me.

And sometimes, as with Kisielewski, those unexpected moments are humbling, inspiring, and unforgettable.