AASF expands reach of Annual Seaplane Seminar

For the past thirty years, the Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation (AASF) has organized a spring safety seminar for float plane pilots in Anchorage.  The day-long seminar is held in the spring normally before the ice goes out on the float ponds. It has always been well attended, and covers a variety of topics.  This year, AASF upped their game and decided to offer the event both in Anchorage and Fairbanks at the same time. The aviation programs at University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) and University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) hosted the session, aided by the wonders of web-conferencing, with presentations conducted by speakers located at both sites.

The Seaplane Pilots Association provided patches for people attending the seminar.

The Seaplane Pilots Association provided patches for people attending the seminar.

Topics included presentations on aeronautical judgement and decision making, as well as engine troubleshooting, satellite tracking devices and seaplane maintenance.  But it wasn’t all safety lectures.  Participants were briefed on efforts to contain the invasive weed, Elodea and the safety foundation presented their Right Stuff Award to Missionary Aviation Repair Center in Soldotna.  The award recognized that in spite of challenging circumstances, an off-airport landing was executed without the benefit of engine power, yet every one made it safely home at the end of the day.  Eventually including the aircraft!

Harry Kieling, AASF, welcomes participants to the 31st Annual Seaplane Seminar, at the UAA Aviation Program’s auditorium.

Harry Kieling, AASF, welcomes participants to the 31st Annual Seaplane Seminar, at the UAA Aviation Program’s auditorium.

For the first time ever the seminar was shared with pilots in Fairbanks, at UAF’s Aviation Center.

For the first time ever the seminar was shared with pilots in Fairbanks, at UAF’s Aviation Center.

The highlight of the day for most participants was an aviation scenario, or “dinner theater” as AASF Chairman (and scenario pilot) Harry Kieling, termed it.  For the past several years AASF has presented a scenario where a pair of pilots sets out to go flying. The audience is given the nature of the mission, equipment and weather, and at key points along the way invited to vote for what they would have done, based on what they know so far, and their aeronautical comfort level.  Roger Motzko, with FAA’s Air Traffic Organization’s Safety and Technical Training group, creates animations of these flights including terrain and weather, to visually bring the participant along on the flight.  This year, through the use of an online polling tool, participants with a smart phone in both Anchorage and Fairbanks could text their votes as to whether to take off, or wait for better conditions, and when to turn around.  The results were shared on the screen for all to see. That was pretty impressive!

Weather coming down survey response

Participants from both locations were able to vote via text message on options from the float plane scenario, and see how where their answers fell relative to the entire group.

Feedback desired:
As with any new innovation or change in the paradigm, there were some challenges. Audio quality for some sessions was poor in Fairbanks. We also found that it was difficult to ask a question if the person asking was not at the presenter’s site.  AASF will be reviewing the sessions, and figuring out if this “meeting architecture” is a good way to expand the reach of the seminar. This year, in addition to the 100+ attendees at UAA there were over 30 people that participated at UAF’s facility in Fairbanks.  If you were a participant at either location, AASF would like to hear from you. What did you like? What wasn’t effective?  How did you like the mix of topics?  What would you like to see or hear about in the future? Any recommendations for future formats? Please share your thoughts by email with the foundation.  Please help them shape the future of aviation education in Alaska!

PIREPs make the news

Pilot Reports (PIREPs) are an important source of aviation weather information for pilots and weather forecasters alike. Recently a TV news story was aired across Alaska explaining the role PIREPs play, and encouraging pilots to take the time to file—even if just to confirm good flying conditions.

Take a minute, and check out the story, which aired on Your Alaska Aviation Link http://www.youralaskalink.com/news/pilots-help-predict-weather/article_63ab6832-d5ee-11e5-b3a3-47c3dc34641d.html

AOPA, the Alaska Airmen’s Association and other aviation stakeholders are working with FAA to improve the PIREP system, and increase its utilization. Flight Service reported a 32% increase in PIREPs filed in Alaska in 2015 over the previous year. Please help continue that trend!

 

For more info on Alaska PIREPs, see: http://blog.aopa.org/vfr/?p=2524

or take the AOPA SkySpotter online course. skyspotter graphic

Book Review: The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

If you have any interest in aviation history, pick up a copy of David McCullough’s latest book: The Wright Brothers, published earlier this year. Having read other books about this famous duo, it was with some apprehension that I opened this latest work.   It didn’t take more than a few pages to become captivated by the story, masterfully woven by McCullough. More so than the other books I am familiar with, this account made it feel like I knew Wilbur and Orville, as well as their sister, Katharine, another key member of the team. How these individuals from a seemingly “normal” middle class family in Dayton, Ohio managed to succeed over others better equipped and financed, is a fascinating tale that goes beyond the mechanics of aviation. This is why McCullough found it a worth story to research and share with the world.

coverThe first part of the book introduces the Wright family in some detail. Much of the foundation that set the course for the Wright Brothers is found there in the form of a rich home environment that provided a well-rounded education. Even though neither brother finished high school, there was “much encouragement to intellectual curiosity” that extended beyond the classroom. Their father, a bishop in his church who spent months at a time away from home, provided a role model that demonstrated both a strong work ethic, and that it was OK to be focused on a mission—even one that might not be popular. Conquering the problem of manned flight was not something that the brothers grew up with, as their interests and talents were quite broad including athletics, music, reading, even cooking.

An event that most likely did lead them to the “aviation question” was of a different nature. During his senior year in high school, Wilbur was struck in the face with a hockey stick, resulting in the loss of most of his upper teeth. This incident and the three-year convalescence that followed changed the direction of his life, causing him to drop plans of attending college. As largely a home-bound recluse, he began to read widely which brought Otto Lilienthal, the German glider enthusiast, to his attention. There are many twists and turns along the way, which McCullough does a masterful job of weaving into the story, making it hard to put down.

Wilbur Wright at the controls over Le Mans, France. This was the location of the first public demonstration of the Wright Flyer aircraft, which made the Wright Brothers famous overnight.

Wilbur Wright at the controls over Le Mans, France. This was the location of the first public demonstration of the Wright Flyer aircraft, which made the Wright brothers famous overnight.

The book fully describes the events leading to the famous 12 second flight in 1903 we celebrate as the “take off” of powered flight at Kitty Hawk. While a significant milestone, it was almost another five years of pain-staking trial and error development that followed before the real public roll-out of aviation. That occurred in Le Mans, France on August 8, 1908. On the track that was used for horse races, Wilbur made the first public demonstration of the Flyer. The French, at the time, were more active in aviation development than the United States, and considered themselves the leaders in this arena. Many believed that the Wright brothers were bluffing with regard to their accomplishments of “controlled flight.” Toward the end of that day, after long and careful preparations, Wilbur took off, flew a simple race-track pattern and landed almost exactly on the spot he had departed. It lasted only about two minutes, but the crowd went wild. Pilots in the audience, including Louis Bleriot, were stunned by the control that had been demonstrated. Overnight, Wilbur’s flight made worldwide headlines. Why this took place in France and not in the US is a fascinating part of the story, which I won’t risk spoiling.

Last week, I heard David McCullough speak about the Wright brothers, and some of the elements that most intrigued him about this story. He credited the home environment, created by their parents as providing the brothers an exposure to the world beyond their hometown. He pointed out that Dayton was the source of many patents at the time, including the invention of the cash register, which became a huge business there. McCullough noted that pre-1903 most of the population believed that manned flight was impossible. Consequently, people that pursued that goal were by definition suspect, if not outright wackos. He also observed that the brothers were able to learn from their failures, yet were not deterred from their quest.

The magnitude of their accomplishments went well beyond figuring out the design of an airplane. Wilbur and Orville taught themselves how to fly—a task that even today is no small undertaking. They realized that aviation was a potentially dangerous activity, which had killed earlier experimenters including German glider enthusiast Otto Lilienthal. Consequently, they implemented risk management practices. The brothers didn’t fly together, so that if a fatal crash occurred one would remain to continue the mission. It wasn’t until a celebration in 1910 that the two brothers flew together, for the first and only time, which McCullough cites as a recognition that they had accomplished their goal.

The Wright Brothers runs to over 250 pages, richly illustrated with photographs, diagrams and documents. It topped the New York Times Best Seller list for multiple months, which suggests that more than pilots are finding this piece of American history worth reading.  If you pick up a copy, be prepared to strap in and enjoy the ride!

 For a brief glimpse of Wilbur Wright flying in Le Mans, France in 1908, check out this short video.

Mat Su Floatplane Facility Survey Underway

Update: Survey deadline extended through November 15.

A user survey is being conducted to evaluate the magnitude of the demand for a new airport/floatplane facility in the Mat Su Borough. As part of a larger Regional Aviation System Plan, the survey is designed to obtain feedback from pilots and aviation business owners regarding the need for a new facility that would support both float and wheel aircraft operations. As follow on to an earlier study, the survey seeks input on three candidate locations under consideration in the southern part of the Mat Su Valley. Questions also ask aircraft owners to rank the importance of different factors to their selection of a place to base their aircraft or business.

The larger aviation system plan looks at other issues such as the economic impact of aviation at state operated airports, the relationship between public and private airports, compatible land use and airports needing master plans. An information sheet lists an overview of the project.

Pilots, aircraft owners and aviation business owners are asked to take the online survey by November 8th.

Fact Sheet 61440 Mat Su RASP – 10_22_2015 matsu rasp phase 2 graphic

KNIK CTAF Area Redesign

Pilots flying in the Knik Glacier/Lake George area have used a Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) for many years, described in a Flight Advisory in the Alaska Supplement. As of October 15, the design of that CTAF area changed in ways that are expected to improve communications in this area. At the same time there are some small changes made to the existing CTAF boundaries around Palmer. This is a result of a continuing effort of a government/industry working group to improve communications and reduce the potential for mid-air collisions in the Mat Su Valley.

Background
The Knik Glacier, northeast of Anchorage, is a popular area for the aviation community to take advantage of the mountains and glacier scenery for flight seeing–and the gravel bars to land on–providing access to this spectacular landscape. Surrounded by mountains, it lacks radar coverage from ATC, or other infrastructure making it like much of Alaska; pilots must look out the window to see other traffic. A number of years ago, FAA assigned 122.7 MHz as the CTAF frequency for pilots flying in the area. Now that the FAA has formally defined the use of CTAF frequencies to discrete areas (in Alaska only), as opposed to just individual airports and landing areas, it made sense to re-look at this popular area and define a specific boundary, especially given the other CTAF areas in use in the Mat Su Valley. A revised CTAF map for the Knik has replaced the old Flight Advisory area in the October 15, 2015 edition of the Alaska Supplement (see Notices section page 412).

Knik High Traffic Areas Defined
The working group also received input from Flight Service and seasoned pilots that fly in this area both for business and for pleasure to define a set of commonly used reporting points, to improve situational awareness for pilots using the CTAF frequency. A rich set of commonly used points was identified, and are incorporated in a joint industry/FAA color map, in addition to the notice in the Alaska Supplement.

The newly defined Knik CTAF Area is shown, along with a set of high traffic locations to help pilots communicate their location relative to this set of landmarks and popular locations.  This map is on the opposite side of the revised Mat Su CTAF map.

The newly defined Knik CTAF Area is shown, along with a set of high traffic locations to help pilots communicate their location relative to local landmarks and popular locations. This map is on the opposite side of the revised Mat Su CTAF map, circulated by FAA and aviation associations.

Other Refinements to the Mat-Su CTAF Areas
Based on feedback from pilots and airport owners, additional changes were made to CTAFs along the Matanuska River. The boundary of the Palmer CTAF Area, which uses 123.6 MHz, was expanded slightly to the north east, to incorporate the Crag Mountain airstrip (52AK). As they were not inside a defined CTAF area, the airports upstream from Crag Mountain were re-assigned to 122.9. A revised version of the Mat Su CTAF Area maps will also become effective on October 15, reflecting the Palmer boundary change.

This image map depicts the revised Mat Su CTAF Areas that went into effect on October 15. The boundaries of the newly defined Knik CTAF Area are also included.

This image map depicts the revised Mat Su CTAF Areas that went into effect on October 15. The boundaries of the newly defined Knik CTAF Area are also included, along with minor revisions northeast of Palmer.

Updated Maps
A revised version of the FAA/industry google earth map has been printed, in both 11 x 17 inch and 8 ½ x 11 inch sizes. One side shows the overall Mat Su CTAF boundaries, and the other side has a larger scale map of just the Knik Glacier area, and high traffic reporting points. Copies should be available from Flight Service, the FAA FAAST Team, Medallion Foundation and the Alaska Airmen’s Association. You may also download your own copy from www.faa.gov/go/flyalaska . The Alaska Supplement has revised charts and descriptions in the Notices Section, and eventually we expect the Anchorage/Fairbanks Terminal Area Chart to be updated with these revisions.

Please pick up a copy of the new map, and help spread the word to your fellow aviators. In addition to these aids, fly with your lights on, and remember that “eyes out the window” is our primary tool to see-and-avoid other aircraft!

Alaska Supplement Notices:

knik supplement notice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mat Su CTAF revised 2015 10 15

 

PIREPs: More Needed…

We need more Pilot Reports! Alaska has the lowest density of aviation weather stations in the country. It would take 2.4 times as many stations as we have today to equal the average density of AWOS and ASOS stations that cover the contiguous 48 states. While the FAA Weather Cameras help, they too are limited in some of the places we need information the most—at choke points on VFR routes. A Pilot Report (PIREP) is a tool in our kit to help fill the holes in our observation network. They only take a little of our time for a brief conversation with ATC or Flight Service as we go about our normal flying activities.

Why so scarce?
During the last two years, several people noticed the lack of PIREPs filed by pilots trying to get to the Valdez Fly In. This is probably the largest VFR fly-in in the state, and both years the weather was challenging. Yet on the Friday and Saturday leading up to the event the number of PIREPs filed was almost zero. I say almost zero, as I counted no reports displayed on the Alaska Aviation Weather Unit’s PIREP page, while Flight Service indicated that they had one in their system. This obviously raised other questions about how reports are distributed, and if filtering is taking place that might limit what a pilot receives, depending on how these reports are obtained. I am pleased to report that the Alaska Flight Service Program not only distributed a questionnaire on PIREPs, but has established a working group with the aviation community and weather forecasters to dig deeper into some of the technical questions surrounding this topic.

Why file a PIREP?
During pre-flight planning, we are trained to look at current weather reports, forecasts, weather cameras, radar and satellite data—where available. While I am instrument rated, my airplane is not equipped for serious IFR operations, so my planning is for a VFR flight. Can I make it through the mountain pass? Will an alternate low-terrain route be open, if I need it? There have been numerous times it came down to a single PIREP that either convinced me to take off—or to bag it. A big thank you to the pilots who filed those reports!

The PIREP you file helps in more than one way. The National Weather Service (NWS) uses them to validate their forecasts. They would like to see reports even if there is not a threatening condition. The lack of turbulence, unforecast precipitation, ceilings and tops reports are all things that would help refine their forecats, as they too are hampered by our sparse weather reporting network.

SkySpotter
To learn more about PIREPs, I took the AOPA’s Air Safety Institute online course, SkySpotter: PIREPs made easy (go to: http://www.aopa.org/Education/Online-Courses/Pireps-Made-Easy) This is an updated version of their original program, which gave me a new set of expectations regarding filing a report. It is free to anyone, and qualifies for FAA Wings Program credits. Consequently the course requires logging into an AOPA account, if you are a member– or setting up a free account (name, address and email) on the Air Safety Institute site. The account allows you to get a transcript of this and other courses you might take in the future.

PIREP Maps
Historically we have obtained PIREPs during pre-flight briefings or inflight from FSS or ATC. Today they are also available in graphic form, which is handy for those of us not familiar with every airport code in the system. In Alaska, the NWS Alaska Aviation Weather Unit http://aawu.arh.noaa.gov/index.php?tab=4 and the FAA Weather Camera website http://avcams.faa.gov/ both have graphic displays of PIREPs that are convenient to see at a glance where you might get some additional weather information.

The National Weather Service Alaska Aviation Weather Unit website’s statewide display of PIREPs, which you may filter to cover different time periods.

The National Weather Service Alaska Aviation Weather Unit website’s statewide display of PIREPs, which you may filter to cover different time periods.

The FAA Weather Camera website now allows users to display PIREPs, in addition to camera location and other aviation information. PIREPs are depicted as yellow circles outlined in red.

The FAA Weather Camera website now allows users to display PIREPs, in addition to camera location and other aviation information. PIREPs are depicted as yellow circles outlined in red.

Please make it a habit to routinely file pilot reports as you fly. It is particularly helpful if you are the first person out along a popular route, or are experiencing a changing weather situation. But also consider filing when you are half way in between surface weather reporting stations. Don’t worry if you can’t remember the exact format—just tell FSS or ATC the weather elements most important to the situation. Those of us still on the ground, or following behind you, will appreciate your efforts!

Aviation Appreciation Month in Alaska

Recognizing the vital role aviation plays in Alaska, Governor Walker declared September as Aviation Appreciation Month. The State of Alaska plays a major part in that it operates about 250 airports that comprise the Rural Airport system. Along with a number of municipally operated airports, these provide the basic transportation network that connects Alaskan communities.

Not included in the 737 registered airports are many back-country airports and landing areas that allow Alaskans and visitors alike to access state and federal lands to recreate, explore, study, manage and enjoy the vast landscapes of the 49th state. Thank you, Governor Walker, for recognizing the importance of aviation!

gov walker press cover

Aviation Appreciation Month

Effective Date: Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

WHEREAS, aviation plays a critical role in everyday life of Alaska’s people and economy; citizens, businesses, industries, and government agencies depend on aviation, often as a primary mode of transportation for travel, medical services, shipment of goods, and tourism; and

WHEREAS, Alaska has more private planes per capita than any other state in the union and, on average, Alaskans fly more than eight times as often as residents of other states; and

WHEREAS, currently there are 737 registered airports and seaplane bases, housing 9,347 registered aircraft utilized by 8,032 active pilots; and

WHEREAS, the aviation industry generates $3.5 billion and over 47,000 Alaskan jobs annually, accounting for ten percent of the jobs in the state;

WHEREAS, the aviation industry in Anchorage generates over 15,000 jobs, or one in ten jobs annually, and over 1,900 jobs, or one in twenty jobs in Fairbanks, having a combined direct annual payroll of nearly $1 billion; and

WHEREAS, Alaska’s airports have over 4,681,000 passenger enplanements annually; and Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is ranked number two in North America for landed weight of cargo; and

WHEREAS, Alaska has significant and vested interest in the continued vitality of aircraft operations, aircraft maintenance, flight training, community airports, and aviation organizations across our great state.

NOW THEREFORE, I, Bill Walker, GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF ALASKA, do hereby proclaim September 2015 as:

Aviation Appreciation Month

in Alaska, and encourage all Alaskans to celebrate aviation as an important aspect of our the Alaskan lifestyle and to recognize the achievements of those who make aviation possible in the Last Frontier..

Dated: August 18, 2015

North Slope exercise planned for July 12-17, 2015

If you fly in the vicinity of Deadhorse and the Prudhoe Bay oil fields or in waters to the north, heads-up for an upcoming Search and Rescue exercise, scheduled for July 12-17. Unmanned aircraft will be operated within the Restricted Area R-2204 at Oliktok Point, and in the newly created Warning Area, W-220 which is located offshore to the north. This is part of a joint exercise involving the Coast Guard, Sandia and industry participants.

Restricted Area R-2204 is located at Oliktok Point, approximately 35 n miles nortwest of the Deadhorse Airport.

Restricted Area R-2204 is located at Oliktok Point, approximately 35 n miles northwest of the Deadhorse Airport. (Skyvector.com map segment)

While civil flight operations are precluded from the Restricted Area, the Warning Area does not restrict VFR operations. Sandia National Laboratories, the agency that manages the restricted and warning areas for the Department of Energy, has put out a notice about the exercise, including points of contact so that you may coordinate directly with them.

New Warning Area
W-220 is a new airspace feature, designed to support climate research, and allow the occasional use of exotic equipment such as tethered balloons, sounding rockets, or other equipment to understand arctic clouds and their influence on sea ice. Since charting won’t occur until the 2016 publication date of the Barrow Sectional, a notice has been issued with the details. The diagram below shows the southern part of the area.

Warning Area chart

The southern segment of Warning Area 220, a new airspace feature on the North Slope.

AOPA participated in the Safety Risk Management Panel that evaluated the impact of the warning area. While at first glance this may appear to be a remote area away from civil aviation activities, a surprising amount of flight operations take place over these waters in support of marine mammal surveys, resource exploration, aerial data collection as well as the occasional recreational trip to the north pole. Renewed interest in the Arctic may see further increases in these areas in years to come.

We are pleased that Sandia is providing advance notice of the upcoming activities, and providing phone and email contacts for the aviation community to coordinate with them, in case they need to share this airspace.

The July exercise only plans to use W-220A LOW. As always, check NOTAMs for specific information before you fly.

 

 

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.

IMG_0813

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.

20141007_162216

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.