Showcasing “Kansas Aviation is for Everybody”… the 2014 Fly Kansas Air Tour

700, 10, 10, 9. 3, 60, 40, 600 are all great numbers. Can you imagine… flying about 700 NM in around 10 hours of flight time to 10 airports, in 9 cities, in 3 days, with about 60 other pilots in close to 40 different aircraft while learning about general aviation in your state and sharing your love for general aviation and flying with over 600 school children, many of which could be our next generation of aviators? Yes! That’s what Joey Colleran, AOPA’s Director of the Airport Support Network (ASN) program, and I did September 22-24 when we participated in the 2014 Fly Kansas Air Tour as part of the Kansas Aviation Expo – a week-long series of aviation events in Kansas. In the history of flight in Kansas, this was only the third organized air tour of Kansas.

2014 Fly Kansas Air Tour’s circular route

2014 Fly Kansas Air Tour’s circular route

Joey and Yasmina on right of the picture accompanied by the other three female air tour pilots Tiffany Brown, Pat Hockett, and Star Novak (left to right).

Joey and Yasmina on right of the picture accompanied by the other three female air tour pilots Tiffany Brown, Star Novak, and Pat Hockett (left to right).

On Sunday, Joey and I headed up to Wellington, KS (KEGT – Exhaust Gas Temperature? Ha!) to prepare for the start of the air tour on Monday. On the way, we stopped at the Guthrie-Edmond Regional Airport (KGOK) for fuel, to see how things are at the airport since I had met airport manager Justin Heid at an earlier event this year and had asked me to stop by, and to check out the home of Zivko Aeronautics, the builder of the Edge 540.

The air tour started out at the Wellington Municipal Airport (KEGT) bright and early on Monday. Lots of aircraft, including some who did not participate in the air tour, came to Wellington to kick-off and celebrate its start. Several skydivers brought down the U.S. flag as the local H.S. band sang the national anthem and Randy Hardy flew around them in his Stearman with smoke on as they were coming down. A local ag operator performed an ag spraying demonstration and lots of local students got a chance to walk around all the aircraft. There was a formal presentation of the air tour by Jesse Romo, the Kansas DOT-Aviation Director, and a discussion of the local benefits the airport and its activity and business brings to the community. Each of the pilots also introduced themselves and their aircraft.

Flight line at KEGT

Flight line at KEGT

Skydivers, Stearman, and the National Anthem

Skydivers, Stearman, and the National Anthem

Kids and aircraft

HS band and Stearman

Students and aircraft

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback showed his appreciation of the Kansas Aviation Expo program by proclaiming September 22-26, 2014 as “Aviation Appreciation Week.”

Governor's proclamation

Governor’s proclamation

From KEGT, we flew to Hutchinson (KHUT) for lunch at the Airport Steakhouse. After the lovely lunch, the pilots departed to the Cosmosphere for an awesome behind-the-scenes tour by Brian Youngers, President of the Kansas Commission on Aerospace Education (KCAE), and aerodynamics activities with local students. I’m not sure who loved this visit more… the students or the pilots… Once back at the airport, students interacted with the pilots, learning all about their aircraft, how to become a pilot, pilot jobs, etc. They also got a chance to see a Life Team helicopter and a fly-by by several Stearman and a Navion. I tell you… those kids sure got excited when they turned their smoke on! (well, and the “not so kids”)

First group of kids learning about aerodynamics

First group of kids learning about aerodynamics

Kids testing their propeller-driven vehicle

Kids testing their propeller-driven vehicle

From Hutchinson, rather than getting the heck out of dodge, we went to it – Dodge City (KDDC) for the night. Several Boy and Girl Scouts joined us after dinner. Joey and I had a good time showing a group of them (and their parents) the Archer we were flying. They had great questions and we enjoyed linking Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) to aviation by doing a few math problems and science experiments with them.

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Tuesday called for stops at Scott City (KTQK), Salina (KSLN), and Topeka (KFOE). We toured and learned about the Spencer Flight Training Center in Scott City – a non-profit center whose objective is to provide access to resources and training opportunities for pilots to keep their skills as sharp as possible and help ensure their safety while inflight. We had read about it but it was great to be able to visit it and learn more about what they’re doing first hand. Great work!

Some of the air tour pilots and Spencer Flight Training Center staff

Some of the air tour pilots and Spencer Flight Training Center staff

The flight between Scott City and Salina was our longest leg of the trip – 150 NM+ direct with a couple of deviations for airspace so we were ready for lunch upon arrival. Salina had organized booths for several of their based tenants to include military, law enforcement, and K-State Salina’s aviation program.

And we made it to the Capital… Topeka – Forbes Field (FOE)… before nightfall to learn about the Aviation Explorer’s Post 8, where Post 8 kids learn about aviation, flying, and leadership. The organization operates two aircraft to provide young people an introduction to aviation and a private pilot certificate! We also enjoyed dinner accompanied by Kansas Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Mike King.

Learning about Aviation Explorer’s Post 8

Learning about Aviation Explorer’s Post 8

Joey, Secretary Mike King, Yasmina, and Jesse Romo (left to right)

Joey, Secretary Mike King, Yasmina, and Jesse Romo (left to right)

On Wednesday, we were off to Pittsburg (Pittsburg-Atkinson, Kansas, that is…). Lots of students (one of the latest crowds we saw) were awaiting our arrival at KPTS. They watched us land, taxi, and park from the fence. This stop was centered around business aviation because several companies operate flight departments and aircraft from Pittsburg so we talked about using our Piper Archer for AOPA business travel and work. They really understood it when we put it in perspective and worked some example trips with them.

Names and Numbers, a local aviation operator discussing business aviation on the field

Names and Numbers, a local aviation operator discussing business aviation on the fiel

The youngest of the air tour bunch also met us at KPTS – an adorable 13 month old future aviator – with her dad Andy!

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Daddy day care

And, because “aviation means independence” everywhere but especially in Independence, KS… we stopped at KIDP for our second to last stop of the trip. A group of kids had already taken a tour of the Cessna facility by the time we had arrived so they were pumped to see the aircraft pull up. We toured the facility where Cessna makes C172s, TTXs, Mustangs, etc and gave the students an opportunity to jump in our aircraft and ask questions.

The final stop of the tour was at Benton-Lloyd Stearman Field (1K1) were we had a hangar party and shared our great air tour experience with other aviation professionals. Stearman Field is a lovely residential airstrip with a cool restaurant but it was a bitter-sweet moment to see the air tour end…

Final group pic

2014 Fly Kansas Air Tour group

All along the 3-day tour… the pilots developed a great camaraderie and lasting relationships. We were also able to get a couple of rusty pilots back into flying and one worked on his tailwheel endorsement. In addition, we showed the local community the importance of their airport, including the economic impact that their airport and general aviation has on their community and the state.

If that wasn’t enough… Joey and I were able to meet and talk with the wonderful AOPA Airport Support Network Volunteers (ASNVs) along the route. Joey also recruited a few new Volunteers. I say it was a very successful tour.

Several of the ASNVs we met with along the route.

Several of the ASNVs we met with along the route.

Joey and I flew one more very short reposition leg over to Colonel James Jabara Airport (KAAO) from Stearman (all 5 NM) to prepare for Thursday’s Flying Classroom (and Joey’s airline flight back home to Austin).

So, yes, we invite you to consider flying the 2015 Fly Kansas Air Tour, already being organized for September 28-30, for many reasons: 1) you get to visit new airports you may not have visited before, 2) you can learn more about aviation in Kansas, 3) you can introduce young people to aviation and have an impact in their lives, 4) you can show a local community and a state why general aviation is important, necessary, and that they should protect it and promote it, 5) you get to meet some great people and pilots, 6) you can bring friends or family with you (maybe even someone new to aviation!), 7) you can build time, work on another rating, build cross country time, or whatever else you may want to work on, 8) you can share rides with people (several pilots got a chance to fly in other people’s airplanes), and, yes, 9) it is lots of fun!

See you then!

Alaska loses five weather reporting stations

Alaska pilots are already “weather challenged” when it comes to flight planning. Obtaining current weather information can be a challenge depending on your destination and route of flight. That just got a little more difficult due to FAA cancelling the contracts for weather observers at five locations as of October 1st. Those stations are:

Farewell Lake          Manley Hot Springs
Merrill Pass West    Nebesna
Chandalar Lake

These are not the conventional automated weather stations (AWOS or ASOS), that have become the national standard for aviation weather. These stations are called A-PAID sites, because they were locations where a human observer, certified by the National Weather Service, actually looked at the sky and filed a report for a limited number of observations during the day. They don’t report “specials,”  and when the observer is on vacation or sick, no report is filed. But they are far better than nothing, which is what we are left with for the moment.

Over the years, I personally counted on the Manley weather, not only to figure if I could make it into Manley Hot Springs, but to determine what conditions were like for longer flights down the Yukon River headed to Galena and Nome. I also used the Chandalar Lake weather as an important observation when establishing if I could fly directly from Fairbanks to Galbraith Lake or Happy Valley– or if I needed to make the much longer trip via Bettles and through the lower mountain passes to get across the Brooks Range.

AOPA, the Alaska Airmen’s Association, Alaska Air Carriers Association and the Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation were already concerned about changes to the network of surface observations that started in 2011– when the National Weather Service announced it was replacing A-Paid observers with a new automated weather stations. The replacement equipment is not certified by the FAA to produce official METAR observations. While the development of the FAA Weather Camera Program has provided an excellent source of supplemental weather information, the value of this network is limited to daylight hours only, and is not a substitute for actual weather observations that include ceiling and visibility measurements. We will continue to aggressively pursue both the FAA and National Weather Service to improve, and not degrade, our already sparse network of weather stations.

Your input needed
Below are maps showing the stations that have just gone dark. If you have a need for aviation weather from these locations, please drop me an email with a brief note listing the station or stations and why weather observations from those locations is important to you. Being able to articulate the role these stations play may help us when it comes to justifying our aviation weather needs in some of these areas.

You can expect to hear more on this topic!

Farewell Lake, near the west entrance to Rainey Pass.

Farewell Lake, near the west entrance to Rainey Pass. The black circle on this series of screen captures from the Alaska Aviation Weather Unit website means NO DATA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manley Hot Springs, along the Tanana River between Nenana and Tanana.

Manley Hot Springs, along the Tanana River between Nenana and Tanana.

 

Merrill Pass West

Merrill Pass West

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nebesna, between the Alaska Range and Wrangell Mountains.

Nebesna, between the Alaska Range and Wrangell Mountains. Paxson and Slana stations were closed previously, leaving no stations along the southern flanks of the eastern Alaska Range.

 

Chandalar Lake, on the south side of the Brooks Range almost directly on the flight path from Fairbanks to Deadhorse.

Chandalar Lake, on the south side of the Brooks Range almost directly on the flight path from Fairbanks to Deadhorse. Fort Yukon is about 100 miles away.

 

Seaplane pilots: Whitehorse Schwatka Lake Plan comments needed by Sept 1

Seaplane pilots spoke up last fall when a survey was conducted regarding the use of Whitehorse’s Schwatka Lake. In fact, 84% of the comments received were aviation oriented! Now, the City of Whitehorse is about to consider the Draft Schwatka Lake Area Plan, and your comments are again needed, and due by September 1st. Please take a minute to look the plan over, and comment TODAY!

The draft plan proposes significantly expanding float plane facilities, yet leaves addressing the needs of transient users to local businesses without any definition of transient parking slips or fueling facilities.  Another section of the plan calls for moving non-motorized boat operations, which have traditionally used the east side of the lake, to the west side. This could put them in conflict with float plane operations.  Also called for is the establishment of a working group to implement the Schwatka Lake Area Plan. It seems that this group should include a stakeholder to represent the interests of the transient seaplane users.

Map of the proposed land use from the draft Schwatka Lake Plan.

Map of the proposed land use from the draft Schwatka Lake Plan.

From my quick read of the document, I would recommend commenting on the following points:

  • Given the international and tourism impacts of aircraft flying between the US, Canada and Alaska, more specifically identify the plans for transient floatplane tie-down spots, refueling facilities, surface transportation, access to telephone and restroom facilities, even if they are provided by private business interests.
  • Express concerns about changing use patterns on the lake between floatplane and non-motorized boat users which could impact safety, and impact the viability of the lake for floatplane operations in the long run.
  • Urge the City to designate a transient float plane stakeholder on the working group to implement the plan.

The plan is available online. Comments may be made by email to city planner Erica Beasley erica.beasley@whitehorse.ca . The Yukon COPA Chapter suggests sending a copy to mayorandcouncil@whitehorse.ca The deadline is September 1, so ACT TODAY!

Flying Clubs: A low-cost way to ‘own’ an airplane, and much more…

Early in my flying career, I learned a painful lesson about flight schools in Fairbanks. Some of them are ephemeral, and don’t operate year round! After passing my check ride in September, I happily exercised my new private pilot privileges, renting one of the school aircraft to take friends and family members for a local flight. [As an aside about the time just after earning a pilots license: Too late I learned another valuable lesson about being a newly minted pilot—don’t demonstrate ALL the things you learned to people who may be uncomfortable in a small aircraft. Years later I realized that I had badly frightened several passengers in my desire to demonstrate the answer their questions about how the airplane worked. But I digress...] After making a business trip for a few weeks later that fall, I returned to find the flight school had closed for the winter! Where was I to find an airplane?

Discovering a Flying Club
Not too long following this devastating discovery, I came across the Arctic Flying Club. After paying a fee to join, and nominal monthly dues, I got checked out in the two C-172’s the club owned at the time. This was the late 1970′s– before the internet, smart phones or apps– yet the club operated on a very efficient basis: each member had keys for the aircraft they were checked out to fly, and scheduling was handled through a 24-hour/day answering service. If at midnight I wanted to fly at 6 a.m. the next morning, a call to the answering service to confirm the aircraft was available was all I needed to do. The club also had a Cessna 150, used primarily for training, which kept pretty busy. And when the club acquired a Super Cub on floats, I used it to finish a float rating and to explore the wonderful world of landing on water. The flying club provided easier access to airplanes than renting from a flight school, at a lower cost, plus there were other more experienced pilots in the club I could learn from—some as instructors, others just as members that I might fly with occasionally to really help reduce the cost per hour.

 

AOPA has a guide to starting a flying club, but also with information that may be valuable to clubs already in operation.

AOPA has a guide to starting a flying club, but also with information that may be valuable to clubs already in operation.

Flying Club Initiative
AOPA has recently launched an initiative promoting Flying Clubs as a low cost way to fly. From their research they also learned that many pilots value the social interaction clubs can provide, both from a mentoring perspective (which I certainly found to be the case), in some cases to fly places together, but also to belong to the wider aviation community. To help promote flying clubs, AOPA has developed an 81 page Guide to Starting A Flying Club to help figure out how to form and operate a club. (Don’t panic over the length—the last half is an appendix with reference materials.) The guide describes different ways to organize a club, which is by definition a not-for-profit of one form or another. It also covers selection of aircraft, budgeting, insurance, operations and perhaps where many clubs suffer—how to market your club. Included are sample forms, and examples of documents from existing organizations.

Finding an existing club
Another tool on AOPA’s website is a Flying Club Finder, to help find an established club in your area. So far a search of the “club finder” for Alaska only lists six entries, two of which are “clubs in formation”—one in Sitka and one in Ketchikan. If you know of other clubs that aren’t listed, please either let me know, or encourage them to go online and add themselves to the list. If you don’t find a club, check out the online guide and consider organizing one in your area. Also on AOPA’s website are a number of webinars on different Flying Club topics. Watch for AOPA seminars on this topic, which are offered from time to time.

The rest of the story…
I belonged to the Arctic Flying Club for several years. After developing enough cross country experience to use an airplane as a tool to fly myself to field camps, I needed an airplane that could stay with me for a week or more at a time. After shopping around I purchased a 1953 Cessna 170B (with the help of a loan from my Grandmother). When it became clear that ALL of my disposable income would be required to keep the 170 operating, I sadly bid farewell to the club. In my case, belonging to the club had been an economical way to fly, to meet other pilots and expand my knowledge base until I figured out that I needed to take the plunge into airplane ownership.

I am pleased to report that the Arctic Flying Club is still around, all these years later. They currently operate a single Cessna 172, and could use a few more members. If you live near Fairbanks International Airport, check them out on the AOPA Club Finder, and see if they might be a good deal for you!

Successful Pinch Hitter in Houston

As you might remember… fellow aviator and friend Linda Street-Ely and I planned and organized a Pinch Hitter course (non-pilot flying companions learn the fundamentals of flying, how to talk with ATC controllers, basic emergency procedures, etc) for the Houston area last Saturday, August 16th. For an earlier blog about this and more information, visit: http://blog.aopa.org/vfr/?p=1625 and http://houstonpinchhitter.weebly.com/.

We were initially happy to get 25-30 RSVPs because we did not know what to really expect but, when we got to 50, we had to set that as the limit. RSVPs and interest got to 70 strong so we now have a list of 20 flying companions for a future date and two cities, Fort Worth and Conroe, have also asked us for a course in their area. The interest and response was overwhelmingly positive and we were happy to see that!

We were very fortunate and thankful to recruit four other great Texas pilots/flight instructors along with their aircraft to help us present the material to the attendees: 1) Vickie Croston from Conroe, 2) Erin Cude from Victoria, 3) Mike Ely from Liberty, and 4) Mary Latimer from Vernon. We cannot thank them enough. They volunteered their time and money to come to the event. Thanks also go out to West Houston Airport for being a great host!

Attendees were provided with some goodies and materials to take home so they can review the concepts and topics discussed as well as learn more about any particular topics. One of those materials was the latest copy of the FAA Safety Briefing that happened to focused around flying companions.

Attendees with their FAA Safety Briefing magazines with a "Flying Companion Guide to GA"

Attendees with their FAA Safety Briefing magazines with a “Flying Companion Guide to GA”

We received great and encouraging post-course feedback from the 49 attendees. Here are some samples:

  • I wish I would have done this earlier
  • I look forward to taking some flight training and learn how to land the airplane in case of something happening to my girlfriend
  • I’m going to start training and become a private pilot
  • I’m going to enjoy flying more now that I understand how things work and feel more safe
  • Hope my husband lets me help him now, especially with radios and checklists

Based on our experience and their comments, we believe the course was successful and met its objectives. We believe all attendees were rewarded with a greater understanding of flying and general aviation, a more enjoyable time during future flights, and a greater sense of safety regardless of what their future plans call for. Sharing the joy and passion of flight with someone special to you can only have positive returns. Being an active participant in what’s going on can only increase the safety factor.

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Attendees learning about pre-flights and parts of an airplane

Attendees learning about pre-flights and parts of an airplane

And they learned about cockpit instruments as well

And they learned about cockpit instruments as well

So, if you are interested in a Pinch Hitter or know someone who is within the region, please send me an e-mail with your/their contact info so I can keep track and contact you/them when a course is scheduled close to you. My e-mail is yasmina.platt@aopa.org.

If you are interested in organizing a Pinch Hitter yourself in your area (and I encourage you to do so! :) ), I am also happy to talk with you and provide you with some important topics of discussions, things to consider when choosing a venue, tips, lessons learned, etc. Send me an e-mail to that above address and we can schedule a phone call.

Now, for all pilots… please remember to always make your passengers comfortable before, during, and after flying. Remember that they may not be used to flying in small airplanes like you are and they, for sure, do not know or understand the lingo or the procedures involved so, when able, try your best to explain it to them. Encourage them to ask questions and be involved in the process (unless they just prefer to just read a book or take a nap). Passengers are much more relaxed and comfortable riding in any type of transportation mode when they have information and know what to expect.

Need help creating your own passenger briefing? Here are a couple of links that can help: http://www.aopa.org/Education/Safety-Videos/Passenger-Safety-Briefing.aspx and http://flash.aopa.org/asf/volunteerpilots/app/content/pdf/ASI_PBF_Passenger%20Briefing%20Checklist.pdf

Jumping Fire: An extreme use of aviation

I am often called upon to explain what the term general aviation means to a member of the non-flying public. In trying to move beyond the categorical explanation that it is “everything but the airlines and military flying” it is often helpful to describe some of the functions that aviation supports. Fighting wild fires is one of those things that most people can relate to. In Alaska we see about two million acres a year transformed by fire. Even if the fire isn’t burning in your back yard, you are liable to experience one of the most noticeable results—forest fire smoke. In the vicinity of a fire, you may get to watch the air tankers in operation. But what is the bigger picture regarding the use of aviation in the fire fighting business?

A good read which qualifies both as an adventure story, while explaining how wildfire are managed in Alaska and the western US.

A great read which qualifies as an adventure story, while explaining how wildfire are managed in Alaska and the western US.

I just finished reading Murray Taylor’s book, Jumping Fire. This story covers the fire season of 1991 in Alaska (and portions of the Western US), and is a true adventure. While it is an account of his journey through the season as a smokejumper, Taylor does an excellent job explaining how  wildland firefighting works. The roles aviation play are woven throughout. From the reconnaissance aircraft dispatched to look for smoke after lightening detectors indicate high levels of activity, to the jump ship that provides the platform to launch the smokejumpers to the fire. On scene at the fire, water or retardant bombers help slow the rate of progress allowing the jumpers a chance to circle the blaze. Cargo planes drop supplies for the jumpers on the ground, and finally a helicopter retrieves the firefighters to jump again another day. In a state with almost no roads and 360+million acres of landscape, aviation is an essential tool in this line of work.

This non-fiction work provides insight into the people engaged in this tough and gritty business. While the allure of parachuting from an aircraft might seem attractive, factor in that each jump is to a new location—often in hostile terrain with nearby obstructions— not to speak of a raging fire nearby. And the reward for your jump? You get to spend the next couple days cutting fire line, lugging equipment up and down hillsides, meanwhile trying to keep your wits about you, in case the fire conditions change and threaten your position. After turning the fire over to other crews to mop up, or continue combating the flames, you repack gear and jump another fire the next day to start the process all over again.

What does it take to be a smokejumper?
It is a physically demanding job, and starts each season with a qualifying (or re-qualifying) three mile run, that much be completed in 22 minutes and 30 seconds. Taylor completed his run that year in 22:05, but not without feeling the aches and pains from past injuries, accumulated since he started this career in 1965. Beyond the fitness test, a lot of effort goes into re-training each season, which reveals some of the mindset of this elite crew. Toward the end of one long day training, a jumper grumbled. “…they could train chimpanzees to do this job.” To which his team mate replied, “Yeah, but they wouldn’t get them to come back year after year.”

Growing forest fire from Cessna altitude. Time to check for TFR's in the area.

Growing forest fire from Cessna altitude. Time to check for TFR’s in the area.

Not only does the reader learn about the mechanics of jumping and fighting fire, but gains insight into the culture of the smokejumper crowd. We meet members of the crew with interesting handles such as Erik the Blak, Quacks and Secret Squirrel, and learn their back-stories, along with Taylor’s own history, soon to understand that smokejumping is difficult on relationships. Going from one fire to the next, or being shipped on a moments notice to a remote camp to stand by, makes it difficult to interact with girlfriends, wives or families. A close knit group, when they are not battling the elements, they are playing tricks on each other, and busy inducting new members to the fraternity. A first year jumper is a Rookie. By the second year they advance to the title of Snookie before becoming full-fledged smokejumpers. Big Ernie is the god of smoke jumpers, and the most important piece of smokejumper’s personal gear is… No, I can reveal that without giving away too much of the story. But it isn’t the parachute or Pulaski!

My own connection to fire fighting goes back to a summer in the early 1970’s when I earned part of my college tuition as a member of an EFF (Emergency Fire Fighter) crew out of Fairbanks. Flew in a DC-6 to Lake Minchumina, and transferred to a Grumman Goose for the flight to Wien Lake, where we waded to shore with our gear held over our heads. Spend many days being shuttled in a Huey (Bell 205) helicopter to different sections of the fire line, going to work at 6 p.m. each evening and maintaining fire line until 8 a.m. the next morning. Then tried to sleep in a visqueen improvised shelter under mosquito netting during the heat of the day before starting over again the next evening. Managed to work four fires that summer, and got to parts of the state I had never seen before. Inspite of this exposure to the fire community, Taylor’s book filled in many gaps in my understanding of how the overall firefighting mechanism operates, including an explanation of how fire managers decide what fires to attack and which ones to let burn.

I highly recommend this book, as an entertaining, action adventure story, with lots of insight into how aviation is used in the wildfire management business. While not fiction, it would probably be rated R if it were a movie. It was hard to put down and I was sorry to come to the last page. Thanks to Murray Taylor’s book, I am better able to explain the fascinating role aviation plays in wildfire management, and the example it provides to illustrate how general aviation serves the public.

Keeping Aviation History Alive in Northwest Ohio

I recently had the pleasure of exchanging several emails with Lisa Benjamin, the President of EAA Chapter 1247 based at Erie-Ottawa International Airport in Port Clinton, Ohio in preparation for AOPA’s visit to the “Tin Goose” Chapter’s 15th annual fly-in breakfast being held Sunday, August 17th.

Over the past several years, Erie-Ottawa International Airport has gone through a huge transformation.  With on field Customs Inspections, the Airport now boasts its international status as it welcomes visits from Canada and other countries that come to explore Lake Erie’s Shores and Islands.  The airport is now home to Liberty Aviation Museum and Tin Goose Diner which is a huge draw to the region’s pilots. Other new construction on field includes the Eagle’s Nest Condominium Project on the east side of the field. All of this progress makes PCW a shining example of how an airport should operate.

However, always working in the background, assisting airport management and local development officials has been EAA Chapter 1247. The chapter itself has been operating for nearly 20 years promoting not only the airport, but also preservation of the area’s aviation history. The chapter’s primary project today is a Ford 5-AT-40 Tri Motor — the same aircraft used to link Ohio’s mainland to several Lake Erie Islands from the 1930s until 1985. When the chapter isn’t busy working on the Tri Motor restoration, they are working to promote the airport and general aviation through their many events.

Come visit the Tin Goose Chapter, the Museum, and a great group of folks Sunday August 17th from 8:00am to 12:00pm. I will also be attending representation AOPA and hope you can come join us for a great day!

 

Free Hypoxia Training Comes to Columbus

Beginning on Friday, September 5th and continuing through Sunday, September 7th, the FAA will be hosting a hypoxia recognition class for any pilot interested in experience the effects of oxygen deprivation in a safe environment.

The event will be held at the Ohio State University Airport, 2160 West Case Road, Columbus, Ohio 43224.

All pilots that hold a current Third Class Medical Certificate and are 18 years old or older are welcome to attend the free training.  Classes will run approximately 2.5 hours and will continue throughout the day.

Please register for the event at: FAA Columbus Hypoxia Training.

For additional information on hypoxia and high altitude flying visit: AOPA’s Guide to High Altitude Flying.

See you there!

FAA Proposes Warning Area off Oliktok Point

Sea ice in the Beaufort Sea. A complex mix of ice types, seen in mid June.

Sea ice in the Beaufort Sea. A complex mix of ice types and conditions, seen in mid June.

The Arctic is undergoing changes, triggered by a significant retreat in sea ice cover. Satellite observations starting in 1978 have documented a continued reduction in arctic polar ice cover, with a higher rate of decline since the turn of the century. To better understand why this is happening, the U.S. Department of Energy has submitted a proposal to establish a Warning Area, north of Oliktok Point on the North Slope of Alaska to conduct a range of climate experiments.

A Google Earth depiction of the proposed Oliktok Warning Area, which bisects the Beaufort Sea to almost 700 n miles off shore from the north coast of Alaska.

A Google Earth depiction of the proposed Oliktok Warning Area, which bisects the Beaufort Sea to almost 700 n miles off shore from the north coast of Alaska.

A Warning Area, similar to a Military Operations Area, but for an offshore location, is advisory in nature and does not restrict VFR traffic. It does, however, put us on notice that hazardous activities may be taking place. Outlined in this proposal are activities such as:

  • Firing (or dropping from high altitude) of sensor-equipped ice-penetrating projectiles from an aircraft
  • Deployment of sounding rockets from the surface or an aircraft
  • Deployment of tethered balloons from ships into clouds
Diagram of the proposed Warning Area, segmented into sections, the smallest of which is 2,000 sq nautical miles.

Diagram of the proposed Warning Area, segmented into sections, the smallest of which is 2,000 sq nautical miles.

Admittedly, these are things we wouldn’t want to blindly bump into while flying over the Arctic Ocean, so a Warning Area sounds like a reasonable way to know about and avoid them. Except, this proposed Warning Area is 40 nautical miles wide, and extends from 12 n miles north of Oliktok Point for a distance of 673 nautical miles! That length is about the distance from Seattle to southern California! And it runs along the 150th meridian, pretty much bisecting the Beaufort Sea.

To make it more manageable, the proposal does two things: (a) It subsets the airspace into low (surface to 2,000 ft MSL) and high (2,000 ft to 10,000 ft MSL) sections, and (b) it divides the area into segments– 40 by 50 n. mile sub-areas closer to shore, and larger segments further offshore (see the diagram for details). Even with this segmentation, however, the smallest chunk of airspace that would be activated is 2,000 sq miles in size, while a given experiment will most likely have a much smaller footprint.

Earlier this year, I participated in a Safety Risk Management Panel held by FAA to consider operations within the proposed Warning Area. A number of details about flights in this area came out in the session. While one might be inclined to think no one flies in this area, there is a significant amount of civil aviation activity. Marine mammal surveys are conducted at low level, under VFR conditions, to determine the health of those populations. In the “old days” there was a fleet of aircraft stationed at Point Barrow that flew R4-D’s (Navy equivalent of a DC-3), and on some occasions Cessna 180’s out over the sea ice to get to ice islands and or other locations off shore. Today, major oil companies are setting up infrastructure to support offshore oil and gas exploration, including aviation assets. Finally, recreational flights to the North Pole take place from time to time, as Art Mortvedt recently demonstrated in his solo flight over both poles. While the volume of traffic in this airspace is low, we do use it— often under VFR conditions.

Making it Work
AOPA’s concern is that while an individual science experiment may take a few square miles of airspace, we don’t want the Warning Area itself to become an obstruction to pilots trying to operate in this area. Off shore in the Beaufort Sea you are already operating in challenging conditions. These are huge areas with no weather reporting and few alternative locations to land. Once off shore and at low level, you are out of radio range to contact Flight Service or ATC, largely on your own (which is nothing new to pilots flying in many parts of Alaska and Northern Canada). If the only information available is that a Warning Area is active, covering an area 40 by 50 n miles in size, the airspace itself becomes an obstacle. However, if you know: 1) specifically where within that airspace the hazardous activity is taking place, and 2) have the ability to communicate directly with the operators via VHF radio, you have a basis to deconflict, and move past the hazardous activity safely without making a very expensive detour that costs you time and precious fuel.

In AOPA’s comment letter, we are asking for exactly those pieces of information. At the time a NOTAM is issued, include the exact location of the activity (not just which segment of the Warning Area is activated) and provide a direct means of communication with the Department of Energy, or their experimenters, so we may deconflict directly. Based on experience with the huge Military Operations Areas in eastern Alaska, which present a similar situation, we believe this would create a workable arrangement for all parties.

FAA is accepting public comments on this proposal until August 13, 2014. Comments may be emailed to: 7-ANM–OSG-Public-Notice-Inbox@faa.gov or snail mailed to:

Department of Transportation
Federal Aviation Administration
Manager, Operations Support Group, Western Service Center
1601 Lind Ave. SW
Renton, WA 98057

Navigating A Sea Of Change

The Southwest Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives (SWAAAE) held its 68th annual Summer Conference in Long Beach, CA, July 20-23.  Titled “Navigating A Sea Of Change,” the conference focused both on education and information as well as history and relationships.  Having been a member of SWAAAE for more than 20 years, I try to participate in the Summer Conference as often as budget allows, and this conference was certainly well worth it.

Beginning with the venue itself, the Queen Mary, and continuing through the informative conference sessions, Board of Directors and General Membership meetings, and evening social events, the conference was outstanding and one that I will remember for a long time.

I had only been on the Queen Mary once, and that for an AOPA EXPO Friday night party around ten years ago.  The opportunity to spend four days aboard and explore the ship when the conference was not in session was fascinating.  The ship really is a floating art gallery and rich in history.  It was amazing to me that the beautiful craftsmanship, paintings, sculptures, and furnishings survived the ship’s service as a troop carrier during World War II.   If you find yourself in Long Beach, I highly recommend building in time to tour the ship.

After the opening ceremonies on July 21, Keynote Speaker Kurt Robinson, President of Robinson Helicopter Company, told the fascinating story of his father’s dream of producing an affordable personal civilian helicopter.  This was the story of a company started in a garage that has now become the world’s leading manufacturer of civilian helicopters.  It certainly held everyone’s attention.

I found all the educational sessions of value.  About a week before the conference, I was asked to give an update on the saga of Santa Monica Airport during the “Hot Topics in Aviation” session on July 22.  I always enjoy contributing to the conferences in whatever way I can, so was happy to participate in the session.  As it turned out, the timing of the session could not have been better.  On July 18 the City of Santa Monica announced that the Santa Monicans for Open and Honest Development Decisions (SMOHDD) proposed charter amendment, which would require a vote on land use decisions regarding the airport, had qualified for the November ballot.  Then on the 21st the City announced that the City Council would vote on three proposed ballot measures aimed at competing with the SMOHDD measure during the Council meeting the evening of the 22nd.  Can’t get more up to date than that.

As we all know, beyond the informational and educational value of conferences such as SWAAAE’s Summer Conference and annual Airport Management Short Course, there is a wealth of human fellowship, support, and collaboration that comes from participating in events and organizations.  These lines of communication are simply invaluable.  A highlight of this conference for me was on Monday night, when a reception at the Aquarium of the Pacific began with “Lean on Me,” a celebration of the support that SWAAAE members have provided one another over the years.  It was a wonderful time for reflecting on the friendships and personal growth with which I have been blessed in over 30 years of involvement with the organization.

So here’s the thing.  Participation and involvement in the organizations which support and promote our aviation industry is really important.  If you are not already involved, consider participating in your local pilots or airport association and your statewide pilots or airport association.  Of course you are already involved with AOPA or you wouldn’t be reading this.  And here are a couple of fun events to consider:  AOPA’s Western Pacific Regional Fly-In is coming to Chino on September 20 and the AOPA Homecoming Fly-In will be two weeks later in Frederick on October 4.  Hope to see you at one or both.