True Flying Vacation: TX, NM, AZ, CA in 12 days

My husband Jared and I had been looking forward to our “flying vacation” to the Bahamas at the end of May, 2015. However, when Staniel Cay (highlighted as a must stop by everybody we talked with) was suddenly closed on April 9th, we had to make a decision: A) continue with our plans without the Staniel Cay stop or B) change plans.

As pilots, both Jared and I are used to changing plans or making plans “on the fly” so the decision was easy although disappointing: B) change plans and go to the Bahamas next year when Staniel Cay is open.

So, where to go now? Well, we had been talking about heading west in 2016 so we just flip flopped our plans. And why west? Simple! We both love the mountains, wanted to fly into California’s Catalina Airport, and we had been wanting to visit the Sequoia and King Canyons National Parks but they are quite out of reach from major commercial airports.

And, on May 18th, we embarked on our trip. Woohoo! This is the story of two pilots in love with each other and with flying =) (yeah, ok, that may be too cheesy! haha) Screenshot_2015-05-17-08-47-21~2 * I titled this blog “true flying vacation” because I see two ways of using aircraft on vacations: 1) You can use them as pure transportation to get you to your final destination (as an example, you can read my blog titled “Flying Vacation to the Florida Keys”) or 2) You can make flying the primary purpose of your vacation. We did the latter on this trip.

Day 1: KIWS (West Houston Airport, TX) – KFST (Fort Stockton-Pecos County Airport, TX) – KLSB (Lordsburg Municipal Airport, NM) – KSDL (Scottsdale Airport, AZ)

The first day was mostly a travel day that started a little later than expected due to weather (remember all the rain and flooding in Texas in May?) and a minor maintenance issue. Leg 1 IWS-FST 20150518_110013 The first leg of the day was in and over clouds as well as over flat land but soon after Fort Stockton, the weather started to clear, the elevation started to rise, and the mountains started to appear in the distance, like the Guadalupe Mountains and its Signal Peak – the highest one in Texas. We actually saw the road we once drove on (and the CBP checkpoint we went through) from El Paso to Carlsbad Caverns.

Signal Peak

Guadalupe Mountains and Signal Peak

By the time we got to El Paso, we had mountains on both sides of the airplane and I started snapping lots of pictures. This is also when actual flight planning started taking place as we had to consider:

  1. Elevations,
  2. Density altitude and weight/fuel calculations,
  3. Airports with fuel,
  4. Winds aloft,
  5. Airspace (restricted, MOAs, etc),
  6. Minimum enroute altitudes,
  7. Turbulence,
  8. Etc.

Lordsburg, NM was a great little stop for us. We only stopped for fuel but airport manager Fred Beem was very sweet (literally, ha!, because he had candy for crews and passengers) and helpful. KLSB won “best airport stop” as well as “highest density altitude” for the trip.

How about these gorgeous mountainous views! Nothing like seeing a 360-degree perspective from the air.

How about these gorgeous mountainous views! Nothing like seeing a 360-degree perspective from the air.

El Paso, TX and Tucson, AZ enroute to Scottsdale

El Paso, TX and Tucson, AZ enroute to Scottsdale

We had been to Phoenix on other occasions so we decided to stop in Scottsdale since we had never been. Air traffic control treated us to a nice view of the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (KPHX) and downtown Phoenix.

KPHX and downtown Phoenix

KPHX and downtown Phoenix

Although we enjoyed the SDL airport and its surrounding mountains, neither one of us was very impressed with the city itself. We only found shops and chain restaurants – not anything we are interested in.

Left downwind for 21

Left downwind for 21

Base to final, runway 21

Base to final, runway 21

Day 2: KSDL (Scottsdale, AZ) – (KSEZ Sedona Airport, AZ) – KPRC (Ernest A Love Field Airport in Prescott, AZ) Leg 4 SDL-PRC Sedona won the “best aerial views” category. The red rocks are absolutely drop dead gorgeous from the air. We had been to Sedona before but not to Prescott so, for the sake of time spent in Prescott, we did not land or stop at KSEZ but we did fly all around Sedona (as you can see on our radar track), taking it all in and identifying all familiar places from the air. Sedona 1

Sedona 2

Sedona and KSEZ on the right

General aviation is such a small world. Would you believe we ran into Josh Olson, Executive Director of Angel Flight West, at the FBO who had flown in from California to meet with a local hospital in Prescott? I love it! We then rented a car but really explored the area by foot and mountain bikes (and I must add… that was the toughest mountain biking we’ve done to date!)

We really enjoying hiking around Prescott’s Watson Lake (on the right of the picture).

We really enjoying hiking around Prescott’s Watson Lake (on the right of the picture).

Since we’re both alumni of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU), we also stopped at the University’s Prescott campus and saw their aircraft on the ramp at KPRC. In fact, several of them were flying while we were there. I also liked seeing AOPA’s Pilot Magazine in the lobby of the University’s Visitor Center. ERAU We didn’t get to do this (because we couldn’t bring the camping gear due to weight) but two friends recommended Payson, AZ (KPAN) for two reasons: 1) the Payson Airport Campground onsite and 2) the onsite Crosswinds Restaurant apparently has one of the “best fly-in pies” in the country. Marked for next time…

Day 3: KPRC (Prescott, AZ) – KAJO (Corona Municipal Airport, CA) Leg 5 PRC-AJO There are things you can only see from the air. This is one of them:

Near Bagdad, AZ

Near Bagdad, AZ

Joshua Tree National Park on our left, attractive desert all around us

Joshua Tree National Park on our left, attractive desert all around us

Someone correct me if I’m wrong but I think what we saw approaching the Los Angeles area was smog!

LA's smog?

Los Angeles smog?

My husband Jared has family in Corona so we decided to drop in and visit with them for the night. It also happens that Corona is one of only few non-towered airports in the Los Angeles area. Nothing against towered airports but I appreciate non-towered airports with easier in and out and, normally, cheaper services/parking.

Corona won “best overall airport” for the trip. It has a unique self-serve fuel station with a round owning and a cool area with benches (appropriately known as “The Bench”) to sit on, chat with local pilots and watch traffic coming and going. The airport is also in a nice setting with mountains nearby.

Corona 2

Unique self-serve fuel tanks in Corona

Corona 3

KAJO’s “The Bench”

Day 4: KAJO (Corona, CA) – KAVX (Catalina Airport, CA) Leg 6 AJO-AVX After navigating through Los Angeles’ challenging and busy Class B airspace and flying over Disneyland (on an IFR flight plan during their 60th anniversary), we approached California’s beautiful coastline.

Approaching CA's coastline

Approaching CA’s coastline

“The Airport in the Sky” won “coolest approach” for the trip. You’re probably not surprised about that if you’ve ever seen any pictures or videos of it, like this one. It was also a solid runner-up for “best overall airport” but we were just too happily surprised with Corona’s friendly feel. Catalina airport Just like everybody says… runway 22’s gradient goes up during the first 1,800’ of runway and the remaining 1,200’ is flat so, when on short final, you lose sight of the flat 1,200’ of runway. Your approach also seems higher than you really are due to the drop-off prior to the runway and rising runway. No problem though. If you are expecting those things, it is really not a problem at all.

Catalina used to be frequented by seaplanes quite a bit and Avalon still has quite a bit of seaplane art around town. Pretty neat. And I learned that the first water to water flight (and also the longest and fastest overwater flight to that date) was flown by Glen L. Martin from Newport Beach, southwest of Santa Ana, to Santa Catalina Island on May 10th, 1912. Catalina art 1 Catalina art 2 Day 5: Catalina, CA Would you believe we went scuba diving and the gear we rented was from the brand “Pilot?” Could it be more perfect? Very fitting.

"Pilot" scuba gear

“Pilot” scuba gear

We saw lots of beautiful garibaldi fish (as we understand it, the official marine state fish of California), a couple of crabs, a bat ray, several sea tars, and lots of other cool fish (some of which tried “attacking” us for food).

We saw lots of beautiful garibaldi fish (as we understand it, California's State Fish), a couple of crabs, a bat ray, several sea tars, and lots of other cool fish (some of which tried "attacking" us for food).

One of the crabs and garibaldi fish

Catalina's bay

Avalon Bay

Day 6:  KAVX (Catalina, CA) – KBFL (Meadows Field Airport in Bakersfield, CA) – Sequoia National Park

Avalon's panoramic

Avalon’s panoramic

This day represented, to me, a perfect example of the benefits of flying GA. We spent half a day relaxing in Catalina Island, had a famous buffalo burger (and bought some T-shirts and things) at the airport’s DC-3 Gifts and Grill, then flew less than two hours to Bakersfield (even though our initial plan was to fly to KVIS-Visala since it’s the closest airport to the park entrances but, since it was Memorial Day weekend, they were out of rental cars), and we were still able to spend a few hours in Sequoia’s National Park. That just can’t all be done within a day with any other mode of transportation: not by boat, not by car, not by airline, and not by any combination of those. Leg 7 AVX-BFL Google Maps tells me it “could not calculate directions from Santa Catalina Island to Sequoia National Park” even though it’s normally very good about considering several modes of transportation (car, bus, train, walking, airline, bike…) so here is what I gathered:

  • Boat: Not an option without using an additional mode of transportation (car, for example).
  • Car: Not an option without using an additional mode of transportation (boat).
  • Airline: Not an option without using an additional mode of transportation (boat). Catalina Island does not have airline service (only helicopter charters) and the closest airport with airline service to the parks may be Fresno or Bakersfield itself (but remember connecting may be involved, too).
  • Combination: The high-speed ferry from Catalina Island to Long Beach (closest option to the national park) is an hour long. Then, the drive from Long Beach to the entrance of Sequoia National Park is four and a half hours. There goes most of your day by the time you include waiting for the ferry (on a set schedule), picking up the car, and fighting LA traffic.
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Left – Two Harbors in the morning; Right – Sequoia National Park in the afternoon

Day 7: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Jared and I love visiting U.S. National Parks. They are absolutely treasures we need to help preserve.

While I personally enjoyed Kings Canyon more than Sequoia (and only because I have a thing for canyons and we’ve been to Yosemite National Park before which also has sequoia trees), Day 7’s highlight was seeing wild brown bears (including cubs) up close and personal while walking around the Crescent Meadow trail. 20150524_180144_Richtone(HDR) 20150524_180245 Day 8: KBFL (Bakersfield, CA) – KPSP (Palm Springs International Airport, CA)

Does taking off from a displaced threshold count as an “off-rwy takeoff?” 😉 Bakersfield’s runway 30R has one 3,400′ long and the Archer was off the ground before reaching the runway threshold.

See the looooong displaced threshold?

See the looooong displaced threshold?

The flight from BFL to PSP was very, very pretty, seeing the Mojave Desert on our left, then LA covered with clouds to our right, and Morongo Valley on our descent. I really enjoyed it! It’s hard to say which leg was our top choice but this one was towards the top because of its variety of scenery.

20150525_140920

Mojave Desert with Rosamond Lake and Rogers Lake (dried lakes, that is)

20150525_142901

Los Angeles on the other side of the San Bernardino Mountains and ski resort

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How could anybody not enjoy flying with views like this? Ahhhhh……

20150525_143553

High altitude lakes in the Big Morongo Canyon Reserve area (and, yes! I love inside the cockpit pictures like this one because it shows exactly what we show! No zoom used!)

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Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

By chance, we planned to be in Palm Springs on Memorial Day but, because of that, we got lucky and got a chance to see the Palm Springs Air Museum’s Flower Drop while there. Each Memorial Day, the museum commemorates the important role of those who fought in World War II with a flower drop from the museum’s B-25 aircraft. Thousands of white and red carnations represent those who gave the greatest sacrifice — their lives — for their country. Here is a news story (with a video) from the same event in 2013.

Downwind for Palm Springs's runway 31R

Downwind for Palm Springs’s runway 31R

Day 9: KPSP (Palm Springs, CA) – KTUS (Tucson International Airport, AZ) Leg 9 PSP-TUS

Leaving Palm Springs

Leaving Palm Springs. Interesting seeing that well-defined green golf course community in the desert!

We timed our flight from Palm Springs to Tucson to arrive around sunset. We were very happy we did.  The sun’s color and shadows on the mountains around Tucson made our views fantastic even when it meant the sun was in my face on final.

Tucson 1

Approaching Tucson from the west

Tucson 2

Beautiful sunset

Tucson 3

KTUS’ tower (I like the neon sign on the side!)

Day 10: Tucson, AZ

Different websites and forums said to visit the Pima Air and Space Museum bright and early to avoid the heat of the day and to obtain tickets for the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), better known as “aircraft boneyard,” tours so we did! We really enjoyed both the museum and the boneyard tour. My husband would say that the “coolest aviation visit/reference” we saw was TWA’s Constellation at the Pima museum because he is infatuated with Howard Hughes.

Pima Air Museum

Pima Air and Space Museum

Davis-Monthan Air Force has “the largest aircraft boneyard in the world.” The area’s low humidity, rainfall of about 11″ annually, hard alkaline soil, and high altitude of 2,550 feet allows the aircraft to be naturally preserved for cannibalization or possible reuse. In addition, the geology of the desert allows aircraft to be moved around without having to pave (additional cost and maintenance) the storage areas.

Davis-Monthan is the location of the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), the sole aircraft boneyard and parts reclamation facility for all excess military and government aircraft. Aircraft from the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, NASA and other government agencies are processed at AMARG. Another role of AMARG is to support the program that converts old fighter jets, such as the F-4 Phantom II and F-16, into aerial target drones. AMARG has more than 4,000 aircraft.

AMARG boneyard

AMARG boneyard

We had lunch at San Xavier’s mission, which also happened to be the “most historic” site we saw during the trip. And, in the afternoon, we took lots of water and headed to Sabino Canyon.

Day 11: KTUS (Tucson, AZ) – KTCS (Truth or Consequences Municipal Airport, NM)

We went ATVing through Box Canyon in the morning and the owner of the company was a pilot and an AOPA member. As you can see, we like keeping it in the family =) ATV AOPA member On Day 10, we were left wondering where the surplus/retired non-military/non-government airplanes were stored in the area. Well, we found them! Pinal Airpark (KMZJ) is the answer. Several old airliners were parked there.

Airline boneyard

Airline boneyard

As we were doing our pre-flight in preparation for departure, a Piper Cherokee Six (below) taxied by with an inmate they were taking to a different jail. It was quite interesting to see two Sheriffs flying. I don’t often see uniformed cops flying GA aircraft. Most usually wear flight suits, not uniforms. It was a good reminder, yet again, of all the important uses GA has. 2015-05-28 22.29.59 I filed Redington Pass as the first checkpoint from KTUS with hopes of them keeping it that way so we could fly right over the military boneyard at Davis Monthan AFB. Some people we talked with told us “good luck with that” when we asked them what the best way to fly over the boneyard was but I tell you what… they gave it to us and it was very, very cool to see all 4,000+ military aircraft in perfect formation with each other from the air. It was an impressive sight – even more so than from the ground. BTW – In case you are wondering (like I did)… no, they are not for sale to private individuals! :(

AMARG boneyard from the air

AMARG boneyard from the air. WOW!

Leg 10 TUS-TCS And… we arrived at TorC. While we experienced the highest density altitude at KLSB, KTCS won “highest airport” of all stops at 4,862 feet. In contrast, KAJO won “lowest airport” of all stops at 533 feet.

Do you know the history behind the name “Truth or Consequences?” The town used to be called Hot Springs because, guess what, they have wonderful natural hot springs. Duh! 😉 We could not pass on that so, as soon as we dropped our bags at the hotel, we headed to Riverbend Hot Springs – definitely our trip’s “most relaxing” experience.

I know this may sound surprising since Truth or Consequences was the smallest town we visited but we had the “best food” of the trip there at Bella Luca’s Italian restaurant.

Day 12: KTCS (Truth or Consequences, NM) – (Spaceport America) – KPEQ (Pecos Municipal Airport, TX) – KIWS (West Houston, TX)

And here is another small world instance. We borrowed the airport’s courtesy car overnight to get us to/from the airport and agreed to return it early in the morning because another pilot had called asking if she could use it for some business in town. Do you know who that ended up being? The one and only Cathy Myers, President of the NM Pilots Association =) Funny thing is… she wasn’t too surprised to see me… She knows I get around the region but she was glad to meet my husband though. No solo flying on this trip!

Tail of Cathy's Piper Cherokee with NMPA's logo ;)

Tail of Cathy’s Piper Cherokee with NMPA’s logo ;)

The main reason for visiting TorC was touring Spaceport America and visiting with its staff. Wondering what’s going on at the Spaceport? Here is a news article/video from July 29th.

Bill Gutman with the Spaceport and I in front of the astronaut's walkway

Bill Gutman with the Spaceport and I in front of the astronaut’s walkway

We know many GA pilots are interested in flying in/out of the Spaceport so I met with their staff to offer some suggestions on how to organize more fly-ins, where to find helpful resources, how we can help, who else can help, etc.

Spaceport America

Spaceport America (and we actually saw a replica of SpaceShipOne inside Bakerfield’s terminal)

The Spaceport now has a museum that opened up to the public on June 24th. One of the things they have is a fun G-Shock simulator where one can really experience centrifugal force. I had to try it to make sure it was safe 😉 Spaceport Centrifugal force After the tour, we went back to the aircraft and began our flight back home, starting with a first leg to Pecos, TX with the worst turbulence of the trip. Did you know Pecos is home of the world’s first rodeo? We didn’t see one during this stop though.

Even though we were not given permission to land at the Spaceport, we at least got lucky on departure and R-5111 C & D were inactive. We were able to fly close enough to the Spaceport to see it and take some aerial pics.

Spaceport America

NM’s Spaceport in the distance

And, yes, we were back to crossing Texas. This time, we entertained ourselves by remembering the best parts of our trip by giving ratings to different parts of our trip. You read about the winners (with “best” this or “best” that) throughout the blog. That is purely our rating based on our experience – nothing else. 😉

Good or bad, lucky or not, we missed some really bad weather and floods back home in the Houston area while we were gone but we still saw lots of flooded areas all around.

TX flooding

West Houston

Other

Throughout the trip, we saw lots of dirt runways perfect for tundra tires and other capable aircraft. Dirt airstrip “Best beer” tried? Hangar 24’s IPA from their craft brewery in Redlands, California and, yes, we may be bias. If you don’t like it, you can blame Jared because I don’t drink beer. 😉

And what’s one thing we learned on this trip that we need to plan for the future? Boating around Catalina Island. My husband won’t let me forget. 😉

Summary

12 days, 1 GA aircraft, 2 people, 4 states, 12 airports, 8 hotels, 6 cars, 1 ATV, 2 bikes, 2 scuba dives, more mountain flying and density altitude experience, great adventures, a number of hikes and walks, a couple of aviation-related visits, one work-related stop, perfect weather, wonderful laughs, lots of fun, beautiful sights… a lifetime memory!

We’ll never forget this trip and we have decided we need to take a trip like this once a year. I encourage you to consider doing one yourself. It’s a completely different way of traveling: you have complete freedom, you get both aerial and ground views, you can get to hard-to-get-to-areas of the country, you can pack whatever you need, you can change destinations or change your routing along the way, you can challenge yourself with different types of flying experiences, you can do a variety of different things while you are gone, you see different types of airports and aviation museums along the way, you meet wonderful people, and the list goes on.

What To Do with Your Pilot Certificate

Whether you are young and are looking for a career, whether you are retired and are looking for activities to do on your spare time, or whether you are somewhere in the middle looking for transportation for either business, leisure, or both… flying is for you!

Here are some of the things you can do with a pilot certificate! =)

At the end of the day, remember that:

  • A mile of runway will always take you anywhere…
  • Life a journey, not a destination!
  • And, the sky is not the limit for pilots!

Legend: Each idea will have a letter by it identifying the minimum type of pilot certificate you need to do that particular activity.

  • P = Private pilots (and, a lot of those, can also be done with a sport or recreational pilot certificate)
  • C = Commercial pilots
  • A = Airline Transport Pilots (ATP)
  • I = Flight instructors

For information about the differences between them, visit: http://www.aopa.org/letsgoflying/ready/certs/categories.html.

Note that a lot of these things can be done with airplanes, balloons, gliders, helicopters, seaplanes, etc so I did not go into those specifics. A lot of those activities may also require special endorsements, ratings or sign-offs but I did not go into those specifics either. I would like to encourage you to review “14 CFR Part 61.113 – Private pilot privileges and limitations: Pilot in command” to ensure that you are able to do some of these things with a private pilot certificate.

  • Experience freedom: P. Yes, like no other… every time.
  • View things from a 3D perspective: P.
    • You can do this at home or during other travels, day or night, during sunrise or sunset. Here is a personal example: http://blog.aopa.org/vfr/?p=1813
    • Be an air tour guide: You can do this for fun with your friends (P) or as a job (C). There is nothing like sightseeing from an aircraft.
  • Fly others for hire: http://flighttraining.aopa.org/careerpilot/
    • Fly for the airlines: A. Regional or mainline. Passenger or cargo.
    • Fly for a charter company: C. Like XOJET, for example.
    • Fly for a fractional ownership company: C. Like FlexJet, for example.
    • Fly for a smaller cargo carrier: C. Normally flying time sensitive cargo at night, such as lab specimens, money and check and things for banks, organs, etc.
    • To take skydivers up: C. http://www.uspa.org/
    • To take skiers heliskiing: C. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heliskiing
    • Fly for an individual company or person: C.
    • Be an air medical/ambulance pilot: C. http://www.nemspa.org/
    • Fly for a flight department: C.
      • Of any company, not necessarily aviation related. https://bizjetjobs.com/directory/
      • Of a hospital.
      • Of an oil company. For either staff transportation (sometimes going to oil rigs) or cargo transportation.
  • Work for a manufacturer: C. You can work for an aircraft manufacturer or a supplier (like an avionics manufacturer).
    • As a test pilot.
    • As a sales pilot.
    • As a demonstration pilot.
    • As a ferry pilot.
    • As an instructor pilot.
    • As an aircraft accident investigation expert.
    • As a combination of the above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Compete in air events: P.
  • Fly as much as you can because every flight is different: P. The lighting, the colors, the amount of traffic, your abilities as a pilot. Everything is always different.
  • Touch a cloud: P. Fly a capable aircraft (like some Grummans where you can open the canopy) and touch it! Cool (literally sometimes) experience.
  • Do some “real” fly fishing: P. Combine seaplane flying with fishing. If you are not a seaplane pilot or do not have access to a seaplane, this company out of Louisiana offers charters: http://neworleansfishing.com/sea_plane_charter.html. (Yeah, I probably need to schedule this for my husband!)
  • Meet like-minded people: P. Create lifetime friendships. People who love flying really love flying. Some of us are a different breed. Most of us love to fly and love to talk about it… we like adventure, we like the outdoors… we are open minded…
  • Become one of AOPA’s Airport Support Network Volunteers (ASNVs): P. The ASN program provides the vehicle for AOPA members to work in concert with AOPA to establish that much-needed early warning system. www.aopa.org/asn
  • Some things are seen differently from the air: P.
    • Christmas lights
    • Fireworks
    • Different types of events, like boat races
  • And some things can only be seen from the air: P. Because using Google Earth does not count!
  • You can also put your pilot certificate to work without actually flying an aircraft: P. Many companies and jobs benefit by having pilots on staff. Here are some I can think of:
    • Air traffic control: Whether it is working for the FAA in a federal tower or for a contract tower under an FAA contract.
    • Airports: management, operations, planning…
    • Airlines: crew scheduling, aircraft dispatching, training…
    • Aircraft accident investigation: Whether it is working for the NTSB, an aircraft manufacturer, a private aircraft accident investigation company, yourself, an insurance agency…
    • Aviation weather forecasters: Pilots know the type of weather information that is useful to us.
    • Aviation reporters: We all know most TV stations always get aviation news wrong. That’s because most of them do not have aviation experts onboard. The Wichita Eagle, as an example in the region, is usually pretty good about having knowledgeable aviation reporters on the team.
    • School teachers: Put your aviation STEM skills to work in the classroom.
    • Many AOPA jobs =) http://www.aopa.org/About-AOPA/Join-the-AOPA-Team/Current-Openings.aspx
    • Many other aviation jobs, including several at the FAA, the NTSB, universities with aviation programs, etc. http://jobs.aopa.org
  • And, yes, why not, impress folks at parties… ha!

And you said you needed an excuse to fly? The possibilities are endless and you will love every minute of it! You may also want to take a look at AOPA’s “Aerial Adventures – 99s Ways to Fly” (http://www.aopa.org/Products-and-Services/AOPA-eBooks) where AOPA editors share some of their favorite getaways, routes, and airborne challenges.

Importance of GA to your State and Individual Airport

I often get e-mails from members asking if we can help them find information about general aviation’s importance to their state and/or individual airport. I thought I would share that information with y’all (as they like to say here in the south) via this blog.

In 2011, the FAA published a report titled “The Economic Impact of Civil Aviation on the U.S. Economy  – Economic Impact of Civil Aviation by State.” While this report covers all of civil aviation and it’s a bit out of date (since it mostly uses 2009 data, right after the 2008 recession), you may still find it helpful.

A February 11, 2015 report, with 2013 data, shows that general aviation adds up to 1.1 million jobs and has a significant contribution on the U.S. economy—$219 billion.

The AOPA Airport Support Network (ASN) program also has great resources available for your usage. And, if your state does not have a current economic impact report for your airport, this ASN resource can help you prepare your own.

For your convenience, I have prepared a one-pager for each state in the AOPA Central Southwest Region (NM, TX, LA, OK, AR, KS, MO, NE and IA) that you can share with your elected officials, boards, local organizations, etc and I will also provide you with other links in case you need more information, particularly as it relates to your based airport.

And, if you are having trouble with the above links, the National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO) has a library on their website with a compilation of state economic impact studies.

The Alliance for Aviation Across America, which is supported in part by AOPA, has a list of proclamations and resolutions passed by Governors and Mayors across the country. These show your state’s/city’s appreciation and recognition of general aviation as an asset with both quantitative and qualitative benefits.

Now go and spread the good word about our valuable industry! =)

Combining Flight Training with Tourism… a Trip to the Big Bend Area in Texas

Joey Colleran, AOPA’s Director of the Airport Support Network (ASN) program, and I recently embarked on a training flight to the Big Bend area in “Far West Texas.” Joey is a private pilot who was looking to get current and proficient while learning about mountain and instrument flying. I was her lucky flight instructor for the trip. The Big Bend area and forecasted weather provided us with all the characteristics we were looking for, it is a jewel of a place, and it’s hard to get to any other way. And, yes, it also allowed us to do some sightseeing by joining a river trip down the Rio Grande, separating the U.S. and Mexico.

I guess we can say that the Big Bend area spans from Presidio, north to Marfa and Alpine, and east to Marathon before heading south to the east edge of the national park that borders Mexico. The area is home to Big Bend Ranch State Park and Big Bend National Park, one of only two national parks in Texas (and one of only 15 Texas areas recognized by the NPS – National Park System). The area offers many exciting activities, from simple sightseeing to more adventurous activities like rafting or horseback riding.

The Brewster County Tourism Council says that getting to the area “can be half the fun” and I happen to agree 100% if you fly GA. =) The closest commercial airports are in Midland/Odessa (235 miles from the national park) and El Paso (330 miles away) and services (such as hospitals, full groceries stores, etc) are also considerably far so general aviation is the best way to get around. General Aviation has also been creating jobs and saving lives in this remote area. TxDOT-Aviation’s recent article explains what airport improvements to the Presidio Lely International Airport (KPRS) are doing for the region.

So, the day after Christmas, we departed Austin (where she currently resides) heading west, then southwest. A cold front was moving in from New Mexico which created strong headwinds for us, preventing us from seeing anything over 80 kts groundspeed and forcing us to stop at Kimble County Airport (KJCT) in Junction for fuel. However, that same weather did provide us with some good IFR/IMC training conditions for half the trip and great VFR and aerial sightseeing conditions for the last part of the route.

VFR on top during the first part of the trip, giving us the opportunity for an actual GPS approach into KJCT for fuel

VFR on top during the first part of the trip, giving us the opportunity for an actual GPS approach into KJCT for fuel

The clouds started to break around the Del Rio area, giving us great views of the Sierra del Carmen Mountains in Mexico

The clouds started to break around the Del Rio area, giving us great views of the Sierra del Carmen Mountains in Mexico

The U.S.-Mexico border, easily identified by the Rio Grande

The U.S.-Mexico border, easily identified by the Rio Grande

We then hugged the U.S-Mexico border before heading southwest, where we also lost contact with ATC controllers (Albuquerque Center), cancelled our IFR flight plan, and continued VFR. If you want to use navigation equipment in addition to piloting and good-ole dead reckoning to help you stay out of Mexican airspace, Terrell County Airport (6R6) is a good one to use.

Getting closer to the Big Bend area and starting to see pretty mountainous terrain, including the Chisos Mountains. At this point, we started to discuss the risks of mountain flying, high terrain, high density altitude, etc.

Getting closer to the Big Bend area and starting to see pretty mountainous terrain, including the Chisos Mountains. At this point, we started to discuss the risks of mountain flying, high terrain, high density altitude, etc.

We soon started to see those remote, private, backcountry strips we had identified on the sectional as potential emergency landing fields. Some of those were dirt, gravel, or a combination of things.

This one here is Stovall Ranch Nr 4 Airport (6TX9).

This is a picture of Persimmon Gap Ranch Airport (TA64) in the distance. Notice it is a bit uphill.

This is a picture of Persimmon Gap Ranch Airport (TA64) in the distance. Notice it is a bit uphill.

The picture above shows Terlingua Ranch Airport (1E2) although it is very far from the town of Terlingua itself. This looks like a fun and challenging place to fly in and out of.

The dirt strip C. Fulcher Ranch Airport (3TE8) is in the picture above.

The dirt strip C. Fulcher Ranch Airport (3TE8) is in the picture above.

Since we only stayed in the area one night given our busy schedules, we decided it was best for us to stay in Lajitas, located between the two parks. The Lajitas Golf and Spa Resort has its own private airport with fuel called Lajitas International Airport (89TE) and offers complementary transportation to and from the hotel and airport. They also have a few rental Jeeps for their customers.

Crossing over the town of Terlingua, just east of Lajitas

Crossing over the town of Terlingua, just east of Lajitas

Entering left downwind for 7 at 89TE

Entering left downwind for 7 at 89TE

Turning final for runway 7, which was shortened recently (we initially thought it was being lengthened)

Turning final for runway 7, which was shortened recently (we initially thought it was being lengthened)

We had a very pleasant experience at 89TE; Clayton Choate, the airport manager, was very nice and helpful. He can be reached at (432) 424-3544. However, if you enjoy camping, hiking, etc, Big Bend Ranch State Park Airport (3T9), which is less than 20 NM away, may be a better option for you. Joey and I love that kind of thing but this trip’s mission was more about flight training for us than tourism and adventure. The state owned airport also offers complementary transportation to and from their park and the airport but they do not have fuel onsite. Barrett Durst is the person in charge of 3T9 and he can be reached at (432) 358-4444, ext. 224.

Both of these airports are “private use only” so pilots are required to call ahead and receive permission to land from the respective airport managers. During that time, they will advise you of operational procedures, frequencies, airport notams, fuel availability, etc.

Our flight back was mostly overcast once we left the Big Bend area so we could not do too much aerial sightseeing.

Our flight back was mostly overcast once we left the Big Bend area so we could not do too much aerial sightseeing.

However, our scenery was still beautiful…

However, our scenery was still beautiful…

A lot of people, including native Texas and longtime Texas residents, have never been to Big Bend due to its remote location and inaccessibility and several pilots and AOPA members looking to do for some backcountry/mountain/recreational flying have asked me about this trip so I thought I’d write a blog about it. I encourage all of you to try it for yourself.

If you are looking for other places to visit in different parts of Texas or the Central Southwest Region, the “friendly airports” blog I wrote about a year ago may also be helpful to you.

Cold Temperature Restricted Airports in Central SW Region

In temperatures below standard, an aircraft’s true altitude is below that is indicated. This is especially critical at high altitude airports where the error is exaggerated and a pilot flying the published altitudes on an instrument approach may be several hundred feet below the indicated altitude. Per AIM 7-2-3, pilots should apply temperature corrections to all altitudes while not in radar contact. An E6B or the ICAO Cold Temperature Error Table in AIM 7-2-3 can provide the pilot with the appropriate data.

In addition, the FAA has identified “cold temperature restricted airports.” A symbol will be placed on the approach plates for the restricted airports. The symbol indicates a cold temperature altitude correction is required on that particular approach when reported temperature is at or below the published temperature. Pilots are responsible for applying altitude corrections and advising ATC when these corrections have been made.

Note that temperatures for Cold Temperature Restricted Airports are completely separate from the temperatures published on RNAV approaches. Temperature restrictions on RNAV approaches must be followed, even if warmer than temperature is listed with the snowflake symbol.

The following airports in the Central Southwest Region are affected:

  • New Mexico: 2 airports. KAXX Angel Fire and KSKX Taos.
  • Texas: None.
  • Louisiana: None.
  • Oklahoma: None.
  • Arkansas: None.
  • Kansas: None.
  • Missouri: None.
  • Nebraska: 1 airport. KCDR Chadron.
  • Iowa: 8 airports. KALO Waterloo, KAMW Ames, KBRL Southeast Iowa, KCWI Clinton, KDBQ Dubuque, KIIB Independence, KIKV Ankeny, and KSPW Spencer.

Here is the entire list of airports affected with the temperature restrictions and segments of the approach to which the restrictions apply: http://aeronav.faa.gov/d-tpp/Cold_Temp_Restricted_Airports_List.pdf

For more information about this, take a look at the FAA’s FAASTeam Notice from December 12, 2014 or the FAA’s notice in the Notice to Airmen Publication (NTAP) from February 26, 2015.

Aviation Resources for Parents and Students

As I travel around and meet people interested in learning to fly, I always struggle to send them to one web page where they can get all the information they ask for to get started, tailored to their state/city, and without having to dig through several links within a website. I always start off with AOPA’s AV8RS membership (ages 13-18 years old) or the free 6-month membership to AOPA so they can start getting the wonderful AOPA Flight Training magazine right away. Then, I can send them to the AOPA website (www.aopa.org) where there is sooo much information that they can get lost or to the flighttraining.aopa.org but it does not have all the information they are usually looking for, such as scholarships. So, I decided to create a document with a list of links that would take them directly to the information they need (national, state, and local information as it relates to the Central Southwest Region). The document I have developed is focused mainly towards Middle School and High School students and their parents but it is also very helpful for adults. Some of the information applies regardless of age.

Resources for Parents and Students

Good luck with flight training and let me know if we can help you with anything. I always like to hear from student pilots… so please send me an e-mail with your progress and pictures: yasmina.platt@aopa.org or Twitter name @AOPACentralSW. Your enthusiasm and progress can be enough motivation for someone else to get started and become a pilot =)

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.

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

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

2014 Fly Kansas Air Tour’s circular route

2014 Fly Kansas Air Tour’s circular route

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

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

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

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

Flight line at KEGT

Flight line at KEGT

Skydivers, Stearman, and the National Anthem

Skydivers, Stearman, and the National Anthem

Kids and aircraft

HS band and Stearman

Students and aircraft

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

Governor's proclamation

Governor’s proclamation

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

First group of kids learning about aerodynamics

First group of kids learning about aerodynamics

Kids testing their propeller-driven vehicle

Kids testing their propeller-driven vehicle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning about Aviation Explorer’s Post 8

Learning about Aviation Explorer’s Post 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Daddy day care

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

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

Final group pic

2014 Fly Kansas Air Tour group

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

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

Several of the ASNVs we met with along the route.

Several of the ASNVs we met with along the route.

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

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

See you then!

Successful Pinch Hitter in Houston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Attendees learning about pre-flights and parts of an airplane

Attendees learning about pre-flights and parts of an airplane

And they learned about cockpit instruments as well

And they learned about cockpit instruments as well

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

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

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

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

Upcoming Pinch Hitter in Houston

As I travel the region… I often hear that non-pilot flying companions (business associates or friends, for example)/spouses/significant others don’t often ride along in GA aircraft because they are not comfortable with flying or just are not very interested. Many who regularly fly with us do so, to some degree, under stress, never really enjoying the experience. Some are scared, others just nervous. Some question what if this or that (for example… can turbulence cause a wing to fall apart? how do you ensure that you don’t come in contact with another aircraft in flight?). And, for most, it just isn’t as much fun as it is for us and, when it isn’t fun for them, it probably isn’t as much fun for us either.

However, your flying companion can be a tremendous asset and, with training, flying can be safer, easier, and more enjoyable for all parties involved. So, fellow aviator and friend Linda Street-Ely and I decided to organize a Pinch Hitter course in the Houston area where we live.

What is a Pinch Hitter? A course where non-pilot flying companions learn the fundamentals of flying, how to talk with ATC controllers, and basic emergency procedures. Here are the details of this upcoming course:

  • When: Saturday, August 16, 2014 (9 am – 5 pm). Rain or shine.
  • Where: West Houston Airport (KIWS); 18000 Groschke Rd; Houston, TX 77084.
  • Who: Any non-pilot who regularly flies in GA aircraft is a good candidate.
  • Objective: To introduce the non-pilot flying companions to flying an airplane. We will discuss the possibility of the pilot becoming incapacitated while in flight and the need for the non-pilot to take control of the airplane. When the non-pilot is well-versed in the operation of the aircraft, it enhances safety as well as increases the enjoyment of flight. Some of the topics to be covered will include: safety, basics of aerodynamics, aircraft instruments and parts, basic navigation and chart reading, checklists, radio usage and communications, GPS usage, traffic patterns and landing, and emergency procedures. We will also offer an open forum to answer all questions/concerns about flying and can help the participants get some actual flight training, if interested.
  • Cost: $25 (the cost of lunch and materials)
  • FMI: For a tentative agenda, more information and updates, visit http://houstonpinchhitter.weebly.com/.
  • Questions and RSVP: Contact me at yasmina.platt@aopa.org. Please RSVP by August 10th with the following information: 1) Name, 2) Contact info, 3) Your passenger experience in small (GA) aircraft, 4) Aircraft most often riding in, 5) Personal reasons for taking the course, and 6) Expectations of the course (what you want to learn).

Can’t make it on August 16th? No problem… here is AOPA’s Online Pinch Hitter: http://flash.aopa.org/asf/pinch_hitter/swf/flash.cfm