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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.

Pick Your Paint Job

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

The Crossover Classic’s new interior may be in its final strages at Air Mod, but now it’s time to think about the next step in this exceptional Skylane’s restoration. Very soon, Boss Aircraft Refinishers of Salisbury, North Carolina will be preparing to give the airplane a badly needed paint job.

Question is, what kind of paint job? We’re being democratic and letting you vote your preference. Among the four paint schemes presented here–all of them created by Scheme Designers of Cresskill, New York–which one is your favorite. Vote here, and we’ll move forward with the decision. After all, this will be your airplane!

Click on the images to see a larger version.

First flight impressions

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

Today I took delivery of the newly pumped-up Cessna 182. All I can say is, “Wow.” More power is better; 70 more horsepower is definitely better!

Air Plains Services of Wellington, Kansas did a superb job installing the Continental IO-550, Hartzell prop, Flint Aero tip tanks, and the JP Instruments EDM-930 engine data monitor. It was Air Plains’ Jerry Putter who checked me out.

Throw the power to it, rotate at 60 knots, then hang on for a Vx (59 knots) climb rate of 1,900 fpm with two aboard and nearly-full main tanks. The nose seemed to point straight at the sky!

Cruising at 3,000 feet to keep our desired break-in power setting at or above 75-percent, the airspeed indicator needle went halfway into the yellow arc. We made 155 knots indicated, burning 18.3 gph. That’s at a 100-degree rich-of-peak EGT mixture setting. This is quite obviously a 182 on steroids.

I flew the airplane around the Wellington area, picked up the mound of newly-fattened logbooks, with their entries, endorsements, and other paperwork, then launched for the Wichita Mid-Continent Airport. I motored up to final at 120 knots, dropped the second notch of flaps, powered back, then went to full flaps and made a full-stall landing. You can follow that little jaunt on my SPOT link, listed below.

Tomorrow, I leave for Long Beach with Mike Fizer. The plan is to go direct to the Dalhart TX VOR, direct to the Corona NM VOR, then land at Albuquerque for gas. Then it’s off to Long Beach. Again, you can follow my track on my SPOT link: