The Magic of First GA Flights

If you’ve been reading our AOPA eBrief messages here in early November, you’ve no doubt seen our informal poll asking pilots if they’ve ever given someone their first flight in a general aviation aircraft.  As did about 96% of other respondents, I too was able to answer “yes”.  And as I did, I recalled with fondness both the first and latest GA flights I’ve shared with someone else.

Like many newly minted private pilots, my first passenger was a family member- in my case it was my dad, on the very same day I took my checkride.  To that day, he had never before flown in an aircraft without a flight attendant.  Yet bravely, he joined me, his low time, twenty year old son, in the right seat of a well-worn Cessna 172 that I had just been checked out in literally minutes before.  On that December day in 1988, my logbook shows a whopping total of 5.7 hours of flying on my first day as a private pilot- 1.5 for my private pilot checkride, 1.3 hours for a checkout in “Nancy Tango”, our flight school’s venerable Cessna 172, and 2.9 hours of flying with my dad.

IMG_0798Although I don’t recall much about that flight, we flew cross country from Erie/Tri-County Airport, northeast of Denver (then 48V, now KEIK) through what was then the Denver TCA to Pueblo, Colorado and back.  I remember how proud I was to finally be a pilot and ecstatic that my dad was with me on this first flight.  I remember how proud my dad was that he flew with me first, and how cool flying over downtown Denver in a GA aircraft was.  In new pilot cool, however, all I thought to note was “First flight after checkride- dad’s first flight”.  In today’s world,where even the most mundane daily events seem to be relentlessly documented and shared, it seems strange that I didn’t think to take at least a couple of pictures that momentous day.

Fast forward over 23 years.  This past May, I again was able to again relish the joy of giving someone their first flight in a GA aircraft-  in this case five year old Aidan from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.  Aidan’s dad works with my wife, and Aidan’s family was soon headed for Disney World via the airlines.  Aidan had never been on an airplane, and his parents wanted him to see one up close first, even if it wasn’t a brand new 737.

IMG_0803So on that beautiful Sunday morning last May, my wife and I headed from Felts Field (KSFF) in Spokane over to Coeur d’Alene (KCOE) in a Cessna 172 (ironcially of the exact same vintage as the one I flew my dad) to provide young Aidan and his family (right) with their first glimpse of general aviation, his family’s first flights in a general aviation aircraft, and Aidan’s first flight in an aircraft- ever.

IMG_0787First, I flew Aidan’s mom and his ten year old sister around the Coeur d’Alene area, enjoying views of Lake Coeur d’Alene, Hayden Lake, Mount Spokane and the beauty that is northern Idaho.  It was smooth and clear- a perfect spring day for flying in the northern Rockies.  Next up was Aidan and his dad.  As much as I wanted Aidan to be able to sit up front, the 172′s weight and balance (and comfort) dictated that his 6’4″ dad occupy the right seat.  With Aidan sitting up on his booster seat and buckled into the back, the incessant happy chatter over the intercom was

Aidan Opines on His First Airplane Ride Ever...
Aidan Opines on His First Airplane Ride Ever…

 

infectious.  He giggled and shrieked and pointed out everything he saw as we taxiied out and took off, finding his house and school in short order.  As we flew over Lake Coeur d’Alene, he marveled incessantly about the lake and the boats and the interstate and the bridges and the houses.  And then, for a few startling seconds, he abuptly became quiet.

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Aidan’s View of Lake Coeur d’Alene

Concerned that he was suddenly not enjoying himself, I started to turn around to look at him, when he stated quite enthusiastically, but in a somewhat deeper and reverent tone “I think I can see the future from up here!”

And that, from a five year old who had never been in an airplane before, is probably the most prophetic comment I’ve ever heard from anyone about the joys of general aviation.

So help spread that joy, and introduce someone to GA.  Take that person for their first flight so that they too can see the future from up here.

 

Our General Aviation Experience in Central Switzerland and Northern Italy

My husband Jared and I recently came back from a trip to Switzerland (CH for easier reference) and Northern Italy and, of course, we carved out some time to learn a bit about their general aviation (GA) system and activity and do some flying around such beautiful scenery.

Prior to our trip, I did some research and made some contacts along our proposed route to identify interesting flying activities and airports to visit. I have found that the International Council of Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and Google Earth are my biggest allies when doing this sort of thing.

Disclosure: This, like all other international trips my husband and I have taken and blogged about, are not paid for or organized by AOPA.

Our first stop was to the Militärflugplatz airport (LSMA) in Alpnach after some canyoning (or canyoneering). This was our second time crossing an active runway by car. The first time was at the Gibraltar International Airport although the experiences were quite different. The road crossing the Alpnach airport was not nearly as busy as the one in Gibraltar.

Google’s satellite image of the Militärflugplatz Alpnach airport

Google’s satellite image of the Militärflugplatz Alpnach airport

(In case you were wondering since it shows up on the Google image… RUAG Aviation is a Swiss company that handles maintenance, repair, overhaul, modifications/upgrades, manufacturing and integration of subsystems on aircraft. They also do a lot of the maintenance on airports and produce the Dornier 228 Next Generation turboprop in Germany.)

The Alpnach Airport as viewed from the mountain west of the field

The Alpnach Airport as viewed from the mountain west of the field

Car crossing across the runway in Alpnach

Car crossing across the runway in Alpnach

Sign explaining airport operations and the procedures for crossing the runway

Sign explaining airport operations and the procedures for crossing the runway

Notice the mountains all around the area, probably making the approaches into the Alpnach airport quite interesting and fun.

Alpnach airport and runway looking north

Alpnach airport and runway looking north

Alpnach airport and runway looking south

Alpnach airport and runway looking south

If there is one thing we have learned as we travel around different countries… it’s that it does not matter where people are born, where they live, how old they are, what they look like, what their background is or what they do for a living… most of us are amazed at the beauty of flight and we have a tendency to stop and look for aircraft when we hear them flying overhead (or call it ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder, when it comes to aircraft flying). Below is one example in Alpnach. This gentleman was watching a Pilatus PC-7 doing aerobatics over the airport.

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On Wednesday, we went to the Buochs AG airport (LSZC) in Stans where Airport Manager Thomas Bienz and Operations Manager Jan Spycher (who also serves as AOPA Switzerland‘s Airport Liaison – our form of an Airport Support Network (ASN) Volunteer) gave us a wonderful tour of their facilities prior to taking a tour of the home-based Pilatus Aircraft factory.

Google’s satellite image of the Buochs airport

Google’s satellite image of the Buochs airport

Thomas, Yasmina and Jan by the ATC tower and airport management offices

Thomas, Yasmina and Jan by the ATC tower and airport management offices. I should mention that Jan was only wearing a military uniform because he was serving his annual military duty, not because his airport job requires it :)

They had some interesting things at their airport… a closed runway where two groups were test driving cars (one group was driving Porsches, the others were driving high-end cars of different brands), bunkers inside the mountain where the Swiss military used to store military jets (they used to line them up and use a lift to bring the aircraft they needed forward), not very often seen hangars with exhaust escapes so pilots could start their engines inside the hangar prior to taxiing out while keeping the aircraft warm and away from the weather, city roads running across taxiways, and, of course, lots of Pilatus aircraft flying around doing training, intro flights, and practicing aerobatics, etc.

Closed runway being used by car enthusiasts

Closed runway being used by car enthusiasts

One of the aircraft bunkers

One of the aircraft bunkers

One of the hangars with an exhaust escape (airplane should have been turned around to use it)

One of the hangars with an exhaust escape (airplane should have been turned around to use it)

Buochs’ active runway

Buochs’ active runway

A Pilatus Porter PC-6 departing the Buochs airport

A Pilatus Porter PC-6 departing the Buochs airport

Prior to visiting Buochs, I had never heard of the AC4 Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) manufactured by Lightwing Aircraft, also headquartered in Stans. It’s too bad because I would have loved to visit with them and learned more about the aircraft. Oh well! It’s now on the list for a future trip to the area… and at least we had a chance to see their prototype flying.

“Ops vehicle 1, hold short of taxiway, give way to AC4”

“Ops vehicle 1, hold short of taxiway, give way to AC4”

Thomas is also a proud AOPA member and Diamond aircraft owner and displays so in his car. It always put a smile on my face when I see this as a member and staffer myself.

Thomas' car w stickers

Following the airport tour, we visited the Pilatus Aircraft factory with Jan and Jörg Ruckstuhl, Sales Manager for the PC-12. Pilatus has over 1,700 employees in Stans, making it one of Central Switzerland’s largest employers.

Jorg, Yasmina and Jan in front of the first PC-12 prototype from 1991

Jorg, Yasmina and Jan in front of the first PC-12 prototype from 1991

The name of the aircraft manufacturer comes from nearby Mount Pilatus (picture shown later). Legend has it that this almost 7,000 feet peak was named after “Pontius Pilate,” whose corpse was thrown into a lake on its summit and whose restless ghost has haunted its height ever since. However, I also read that “Pileatus” is the Latin word for “cloud covered” as the mountain frequently is. Take your pick!

Pilatus is staying pretty busy building a combination of business (PC-6 and PC-12) and military aircraft (PC-7, PC-9 and PC-21) as well as designing their upcoming PC-24 – their first jet, also designed for short, unprepared runways. It was interesting to learn that most of their military aircraft are currently heading over to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). We could not take pictures of those aircraft (although I can tell you that they were beautiful and looked like a lot of fun to fly!) but we were able to take some of the PC-12s in their final stages of completion. We learned that aircraft coming here to the United States are finished to customer specifications (interior and exterior) at the Colorado factory. The remainder of the aircraft are normally completely finished in Stans and flown to the customers with Swiss temporary registration numbers (HB).

This PC-12 was going to Poland (SP) the next day with a temporary HB registration.

This PC-12 was going to Poland (SP) the next day with a temporary HB registration. Notice the two registration numbers.

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Pilatus works with Albuquerque’s Bendix King for onboard weather radars

Pilatus works with Albuquerque’s Bendix King for onboard weather radars

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We were pretty impressed with the work done in the factory and happily surprised with the amount of construction they had: a recently built parking deck for employees and a new logistics hangar going up. We were especially impressed with the metal machines and skills, possibly because we had never seen that before. It is interesting to see the blocks of metals they receive, how they make most pieces of the aircraft and then compress and resale the excess metal they can no longer use.

Blocks of metals Pilatus receives

Blocks of metals Pilatus receives

Sample of an airplane metal part – this one of the belly of the PC-12

Sample of an airplane metal part – this one of the belly of the PC-12

Container full of compacted metal pieces ready to be sold

Container full of compacted metal pieces ready to be sold

While there, we learned that the Pilatus plant was used for the movie Goldfinger where James Bond crashed an Aston Martin DB5 and was captured. I also realized that AOPA and Pilatus had at least one thing in common… they were both founded in 1939 and, therefore, both are celebrating 75 years this year. Big accomplishment for both organizations!

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And, after both of those awesome tours and a flat tire on the rental car, we were able to squeeze in the flight of a lifetime for both Jared and I. We had arranged a flight around the area with Stephan Willi in HB-PHG, a 1981 Piper Archer II, from Kägiswil airfield (LSPG), located north of Sarnen and just a few miles south of Alpnach.

Google’s satellite image of the Kägiswil airfield

Google’s satellite image of the Kägiswil airfield

The aircraft and flight instructor belong to a local flying club. The combination of having Stephan as our flight instructor (a great and very knowledgeable person who explained to us how GA works in CH) with a great flying aircraft and a beautiful area… made our one hour flight one to remember forever. I flew the circular route that took us around Alpnach, Mount Pilatus, Luzern, Buochs, Mount Titlis, Interlaken and the Swiss Alps but Stephan was PIC because he was the one who handled all the radio calls (in English, I must add, since other European countries use their own native language) and kept us away from airspace, noise sensitive areas, etc. The elevation at the airport was around 1,500’ MSL so we climbed to 10,000’ to stay above most of the peaks in the area.

Sectional of the area showing tricky airspace between restricted areas, towered airports and high elevation terrain

Sectional of the area showing tricky airspace between restricted areas, towered airports and high elevation terrain

Daily airspace bulletin for Switzerland… like our TFR map with airspace notams

Daily airspace bulletin for Switzerland… like our TFR map with airspace notams. They are currently in a test/trial program so they are not currently charging for these but they may in the future.

Sectional legend explaining their (and other European country’s) airspace classifications

Sectional legend explaining their (and other European country’s) airspace classifications

Wow! So fun! Writing this blog is making me want to go back now… I will show you some pictures but they don’t do the scenery justice.

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The runway was almost wider than long, haha, and somewhat uneven for what we are used to in the U.S.

The runway was almost wider than long, haha, and somewhat uneven for what we are used to in the U.S.

Mount Pilatus out of the left window

Mount Pilatus out of the left window

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Downtown Luzern and its famous Church Bridge, Water Tower, and the Musegg Wall with some of its nine towers

The lake by Luzern

The lake by Luzern

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Yours truly, happy as can be, with the Swiss Alps in the background

Yours truly, happy as can be, with the Swiss Alps in the background

The treeline around the Swiss Alps is about 7,200 feet, which means trees (and other vegetation) can no longer grow and live.

The treeline around the Swiss Alps is about 7,200 feet, which means trees (and other vegetation) can no longer grow and live.

Most high peaks in the area had clouds attached to it.

Most high peaks in the area had clouds attached to it.

Glaciers were also very common in the Swiss Alps.

Glaciers were also very common in the Swiss Alps.

Interlaken's water color is turquoise because of all the water it receives from the glaciers.

Interlaken’s water color is turquoise because of all the water it receives from the glaciers.

Flying over the Flugplatz Meiringen airport, starting our approach back to home base

Flying over the Flugplatz Meiringen airport, starting our approach back to home base

On approach back to Kägiswil… flying over the middle of the lake while keeping some altitude to avoid noise sensitive areas over town

On approach back to Kägiswil… flying over the middle of the lake while keeping some altitude to avoid noise sensitive areas over town

This was one of those approaches where being on your airspeeds was key to help with the increased descent angle (but yet slow) past obstacles. Immediately after touch down, a car attempted to cross the runway but, luckily, he stopped when he saw me and I was able to stop before reaching that point on the runway.

Stephan and I after putting the aircraft in the hangar for the night

Stephan and I after putting the aircraft in the hangar for the night

My husband Jared was particularly intrigued by the airplane lift the flying club had in the hangar to be able to fit more aircraft. He sent it to several mechanic friends here at home.

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You may also be interested to know how much that one hour flight was… well, 245 CHF (Swiss francs) or about $260 wet with the instructor and a $10 landing fee. Yes, more expensive than here in the U.S., but totally worth every penny for the experience. However, considering regular car gas was around 1.50 CHF per liter (or about $6 per gallon!)… I did not think the flight was too expensive in relation. The Lugano Airport, close to where we spent the night that night, was selling avgas for 278.70 CHF per 100 liters. That equates to about 10.55 CHF per gallon or $11.15 per gallon. Who says 100LL is expensive in the U.S.? ;)

We then crossed the border into Italy where we visited the Aero Club Como (and, yes, George Clooney has a house nearby since everybody asks…). They claim to be “the oldest seaplane operation and flight school in the world“ so, of course, we wanted to see it. They were founded on April 6th, 1930 and you can read more about their history on their website (some of which is in Italian). Unfortunately, airplane maintenance and weather prevented us from seaplane flying around Lake Como. Nevertheless, we enjoyed seeing their facility and aircraft. The club and flight school (scuola di piloti) have a hangar and ramp across the lake, very close to downtown Como.

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Since the weather grounded students as well, one of them decided to do some chair flying with his instructor.

Since the weather grounded students as well, one of them decided to do some chair flying with his instructor.

I thought it was neat that they perform weddings in the club’s 1930 hangar and they had a poster with information about it inside the hangar.

On the way back to Zurich, we stopped at the Locarno Airport in CH. We were happy to see a wonderful GA airport with lots of activity, including skydiving, flight training, military training, emergency/air ambulance operations, external cargo load operations using one helicopter, other helicopters, gliders, etc. The airport is divided into two areas: the north side had a paved runway and the south side had two grass runways. In between and just west of the skydiving facility, there was an area for the skydivers to land.

Google’s satellite image of the Locarno airport

Google’s satellite image of the Locarno airport

PC-6 performing some kind of military training

PC-6 performing some kind of military training

Helicopter making rounds dropping off cargo

Helicopter making rounds dropping off cargo

Skydiver trying to make his landing target. The skydiving plane was also a PC-6.

Skydiver trying to make his landing target. The skydiving plane was also a PC-6.

Air medical helicopter with skis.

Air medical helicopter with skis

Grass runways in Locarno

Grass runways in Locarno

Do you think you want to experience what we did? Well, you can, and AOPA is making it easier for you. The AOPA Foundation is preparing to launch its annual online auction in November with one-of-a-kind packages and flight experiences. One of those items in 2013 was a popular “Pilatus Aircraft package in Switzerland“ so there will be another one with new features in this year’s auction, which opens on November 7. Be sure to bid!

Before I end this blog, I wanted to thank all those people involved in our visits (all mentioned above) in addition to President Daniel Affolter and Philippe Hauser of AOPA Switzerland for their help and coordination. Special thanks go out to Thomas and Jan who helped us get two new tires for the rental car in a short timeframe, which allowed us to continue with our itinerary. Danke!

Ok, now back down to the ground….. after daydreaming for a little while.

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    Nabesna
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.

 

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

PROTECT GA At YOUR POLLING PLACE

AOPA members are well informed and politically active so it is with some trepidation that I write this blog. My apology if it seems a bit too basic but sometimes it’s just too easy to overlook the obvious.

With Primary Elections taking place and a nationally significant General Election looming, I hope we will remember how important our state and local elections are to General Aviation as well. Support for local airports starts at home and extends to all of our state capitols as well. This is where we AOPA Regional Managers do most of our work, so we are acutely aware of how important it is that your local elected officials, State Representatives and Senators be informed advocates for general aviation and supporters of local airports. Local, constituent pilots play an incredibly important role in assuring that those elected to office closest to home are confirmed advocates. Meeting candidates seeking public office and getting to know them is so important. Learn up close and personally about how knowledgeable they are about aviation and airports. Help them understand the benefits for their entire community.

There’s a great section in the AOPA website that will help your advocacy efforts. Under ADVOCACY, it’s entitled AOPA Resources for You. One important section is “Candidate Forums”. Putting one of these together and inviting candidates for office right there at home is very powerful. And you will feel so good about doing this when it’s over.

We would like to hear your stories about your own advocacy efforts, even if it’s just that you have taken a candidate for office to coffee. It’s the seemingly little things that make a huge difference. Special thanks for getting involved!

Clearing Customs into Alaska along the Alaska Highway

Pilots flying into Alaska along the Alaska Highway this summer should pay close attention to details regarding Customs. For north bound aircraft entering Alaska from Whitehorse or Dawson, Northway has been a popular location to clear Customs, before proceeding on to other destinations in the state. Inspection services by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for the Northway Airport are managed out of the Alcan highway station (http://www.cbp.gov/contact/ports/alcan), situated about 50 road miles away from the airport. Pilots planning to clear in Northway need to call the Alcan station well in advance to arrange their arrival. According to CPB’s website, Customs operational hours at Northway Airport are currently 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., 7 days a week, however you can call the Alcan port any time as they are open 24 hours a day.

Recently CPB has in some cases offered pilots the option to make a technical stop for fuel in Tok (6K8), and proceed to either Fairbanks or Anchorage to clear Customs. This may be attractive, as currently there is no fuel available at the Northway Airport. If this option is offered, make sure that you contact the Fairbanks or Anchorage Port directly, PRIOR TO LEAVING CANADA, to arrange your arrival there. Pay attention to any other instructions the CBP official may provide. Canadian Flight Service has been authorized to accept flight plans with a fuel stop in Tok, if pre-approved by CBP.

Factors to consider in selecting a port of entry:

1)      My personal strategy when crossing international borders is to clear Customs as soon as possible after entering the new country, even if there isn’t fuel available at the airport of entry. From a risk management perspective, it removes the pressure to continue in the face of changing weather conditions to meet the ETA Customs is expecting me to keep. Having a careful look at the weather prior to accepting a plan to clear at a more distant location like Fairbanks or Anchorage would be prudent.

2)      If you are forced to land short of your planned port of entry due to weather, mechanical problems etc., make sure to call Customs immediately, and advise them of your situation. They do understand there are occasional “challenges” with general aviation operations, but need to be kept informed. Don’t forget to call them, or put it off till the following day…

3)      Remember that in addition to calling your intended port of entry, you must also file an eAPIS notification online. If you accept a different destination based on your telephone conversation with Customs, you may need to file a new eAPIS report for the new destination. This is another reason to call Customs while you still have internet access– well before you are ready to crawl in the airplane and take off.

Crossing international boundaries has certainly become more complicated than it used to be pre-911. While the eAPIS system is a bit of a pain to set up in the first place, it essentially provides in advance the information you used to supply upon arrival. In my experience, it has cut down on my time clearing Customs after arriving at the port of entry. If you have problems with Customs when flying into Alaska, please let AOPA know. Send me an email at tom.george@aopa.org if you encounter a problem that we should know about. But don’t let these procedures keep you from flying between Alaska and Canada. If that happens, the bad guys have won!

Help us advocate for you—Take the GA Survey!

Advocacy is the most important reason our members tell us they belong to organizations like AOPA and the Alaska Airmen’s Association. We expend considerable effort to defend your ability to fly, and protect the necessary infrastructure (airports, weather stations, navaids, etc.) needed for aviation safety and access. But to advocate effectively, we need to be able to quantify who we are: How many flight hours a year does GA account for? What equipment do we have in our aircraft? What types of uses do we make with our planes?

While the airlines may easily characterize the size and nature of their operations, this is a much more challenging thing to do for the GA “fleet,” dispersed over thousands of aircraft owners. We need your help to quantify our impact on the National Airspace System, to help protect or in some cases expand infrastructure. Here is a very current example in Alaska.

 

This slide shows the location and number of ADS-B ground radios FAA plans to install in Alaska. Stars show locations operational today, and circles represent stations still to be installed.  At altitudes typical GA aircraft fly, about 40 % of the state will be without coverage even after these stations are finished.

This slide shows the location and number of ADS-B ground radios FAA plans to install in Alaska. Stars show locations operational today, and circles represent stations still to be installed. At altitudes typical GA aircraft fly, about 40 % of the state will be without coverage even after these stations are finished.

FAA rolling out ADS-B
The FAA is finalizing installation plans for new ground radios to support ADS-B, one of the key elements of the NextGen Program.  (Note: If you are not familiar with ADS-B, the AOPA Air Safety Institute offers an online course that will explain the basics: http://flash.aopa.org/asf/ads-b/index.cfm)  In Alaska, the stations FAA has planned leave approximately 40 percent of the state without ADS-B coverage at the altitudes typical GA aircraft fly. We are advocating for additional ground radios along the most frequently traveled routes across the state, to provide Alaskan pilots with a “minimum operational network” of stations that will support air traffic services, the uplink of weather and other information to the cockpit of “equipped” aircraft. FAA is reluctant to invest in additional ground radios, if the aircraft flying in Alaska aren’t equipped to benefit. At the same time, aircraft owners are understandably reluctant to equip their airplanes, unless they will be able to obtain service. While we know that some aircraft owners are buying the new portable ADS-B In receivers, we don’t know how many. This is where we need your help.

How the GA Survey helps
The General Aviation and Part 135 Activity Survey, conducted by independent research firm Terra Tech, gives us a way to quantify many aspects of GA operations, including how many aircraft are equipped to use ADS-B. The second mailing of the survey was recently sent to a sample of aircraft owners across the US, and 100% of aircraft owners in Alaska. You can greatly help our advocacy efforts by digging out your pilot log book and taking about 15 minutes to answer questions including how many hours your aircraft flew in 2013, what types of flights you made (business, recreational, instructional, etc.), and what equipment is in your airplane. Even if you DON’T have ADS-B equipment today we need to establish a baseline, to monitor how equipage changes over the next few years, as the cost of equipment drops and more owners decide they want to have free weather and traffic information in their cockpit. The survey may be taken online at www.aviationsurvey.org, using your N-number to log in. Even if you didn’t fly last year, please take the survey! Responses are confidential, with no individually identifiable information released to the FAA. If you have questions about the survey, contact Tetra Tech toll-free at 1-800-826-1797 or email infoaviationsurvey@tetratech.com.

Taking this survey helps us advocate for you, on a wide range of topics other than ADS-B. Thank you to those who have already responded! And to those who haven’t—please take the few minutes to do so today.

This article by Tom George, AOPA Alaska Regional Manager and Adam White, Government Affairs, Alaska Airmen’s Association