Looking for Volunteers with Spot or Spidertracks units in Alaska

In the past few years devices that combine the technologies of GPS and satellite communication have become popular, with increasing use in the aviation community as an alternate way to either track your flight, or call for help.  A little over a year ago AOPA and the Alaska Airmen’s Association started working with the Alaska Flight Service Program, to explore the possibility of integrating devices such as SPOT and Spidertracks into the flight plans we file.  The idea that a distress call, including your current location, could go straight to Flight Service, and be forwarded to search and rescue, seemed like an improvement on today’s procedure of waiting for a flight plan to become overdue, especially if your ELT failed to function during the landing.

The idea was well received by the FAA who then started working on the many details needed to develop procedures.  Initially Adam White, President of the Airmen’s Association, and I, along with a couple of Flight Service staff members who own one of these devices, generated some “alert” messages, to evaluate the system.  Now, after a season of testing and refinement, the Alaska FSS is to the point of needing a few more pilots to participate in the “beta-testing” phase of this system.  To be clear, Flight Service does not track any aircraft, but has the ability to receive an alert or help message when activated by the pilot.  Upon receipt of a help message, FSS will validate it against a flight plan, and forward the necessary information, including your location, to search and rescue authorities.

Currently, we are looking for about a dozen pilots who:

  1. have either a SPOT or Spidertracks unit
  2. are willing to establish (or update) a Master Flight Plan with their home Flight Service Station and,
  3. would be willing to participate in controlled tests to help Flight Service exercise the system.

We hope to find a few people in each of the three AFSS regions of the state (served by the Juneau, Kenai and Fairbanks Flight Service, or one of the satellite facilities in other locations).

If you are willing to be involved in the program, please contact Tom George ([email protected]) or Adam White ([email protected]) for more details.  We hope this testing will go quickly, and allow Flight Service to offer this new service to all interested pilots across Alaska!

Shuttle Endeavour’s Last Flight (even if it is on top of NASA’s B747)

The recently decommissioned Endeavour is one of three space shuttles transitioning from being an active astronaut-carrier to an awe-inspiring exhibit, this one at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. As you might expect, getting a 122’ x 78’ x 57’ spacecraft to the museum from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) comes with a few challenges. Some of the key ones are highlighted here.

First, they removed a number of toxic materials (rocket fuel, for example), the engines, and hatches that have explosives and also pulled out the toilets and galleys for a separate display.

Then, a “mate-demate device” was needed to load and unload the shuttle on the back of the modified 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (or SCA) to transport it from Florida to California. Such device exists at KSC; however, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) does not have one because they are not used to handling these types of operations. Therefore, NASA engineers plan on erecting a number of large cranes to take the Endeavour off the B747 once in LA.

The trip from Florida to California was scheduled to begin on Monday, September 17, 2012; however, due to weather, it had to be postponed to Wednesday, September 19. If I heard correctly, the SCA with the shuttle on top can only fly in VMC conditions. The trip is divided into three legs: from Cape Canaveral (XMR) to Ellington Field in Houston (EFD), from Houston to NASA’s Dryden and then from there to LAX with a few flyovers along the way =)

I was not able to see it flyover or arrive at either New Orleans or Houston respectively (both in AOPA’s Central Southwest Region) due to the fact that it was delayed two days and I had to travel early Wednesday morning to New Mexico to meet prior commitments. However, I had a personal reporter – my husband Jared =) – in Houston sending me pictures and updates along the way. I wanted to share those with you here.

Houston is very happy to have Endeavour, even as a visitor for a few hours. NASA plays a big role in Houston, especially in South Houston (namely Clear Lake, Seabrook, etc.), and the City was disappointed to learn a few months back that one of the “flying” shuttles would not retire in Houston at Johnson Space Center (JSC).

The shuttle (escorted by one of NASA’s Houston-based T38s) flew over several parts of Houston, including downtown, Texas Southern University (TSU) and the University of Houston – Main (UH), Hobby Airport (HOU), Clear Lake, etc. Traffic was backed up for a couple of miles on Highway 3 by Ellington Field. Several hundred people went out to EFD to greet the retired shuttle. Here are a few pictures from the shuttle’s low pass and landing at Ellington Field:

The crowd was very excited. It was worth waiting in line after all… what a sight and piece of history!

I also wanted to share with you the picture I liked the most out of those my husband sent me. A little boy dressed as an astronaut posing for a picture in front of the 747 and shuttle. I am glad to see science, space, flying… is still exciting for the new generations to come. We certainly need future pilots… and future astronauts in this case.

The ferry flight is scheduled to continue at sunrise tomorrow, heading to NASA Dryden, then on to Los Angeles Friday. Endeavour is slated to take off from Ellington Field around 7 a.m. The flight plan after that calls for them to fly south, turn east over Johnson Space Center for one last pass, then fly back over downtown before flying over west Houston. It will then make a low flyover just south of the Capitol Building in Austin en route to El Paso. Hope you can catch them during any of those flyovers if you leave in Texas.

On Friday, once on wheels at LAX, the shuttle will travel six miles to the museum. This will require the temporary removal of most power lines and traffic signals, two engineering firms to plan the route and a person to “drive” the four mobile transporters that carry the shuttle. Can’t make it to LA to watch the shuttle taxi from LAX to the museum? Well, you can still plan on attending AOPA’s Parade of Planes in Palm Springs. General aviation airplanes will taxi on city streets from Palm Springs International Airport (PSP) to the Convention Center in downtown Palm Springs on Wednesday, October 10 at 10 am. Then, on Saturday October 13 from 3 to 5 pm, the airplanes will return to the Airport from the Convention Center. Organizing such an event is also quite an undertaking and I promise you it will be exciting and fun. FMI, visit www.aopa.org/summit.

The picture below shows a graphic of some of the steps involved and described in this blog to transport the shuttle from Florida to California:

September 2012 Trip to Omaha, NE and Atlantic, IA

As you may already know, the AOPA Regional Manager program was created to increase AOPA’s ability to address the issues facing general aviation at the state and local levels. Among other things, all seven Regional Managers are responsible for all legislative issues within their region as well as making AOPA more visible, promoting membership, and serving as a local point of contact for members.

My region, the Central Southwest region, includes Nebraska and Iowa along with seven other states. I just came back from a trip that took me to Omaha, NE and Atlantic, IA to work on a legislative issue and promote general aviation and AOPA.

While in Omaha, I met with Senator Krist and hosted a Pilot Mix and Mingle event on Friday, September 14:

          We have started working on next year’s legislative initiatives and, therefore, I wanted to meet with Senator Bob Krist of Nebraska’s District 10, and a professional pilot when not working as a legislator, to discuss a 2013 bill to extend the approach zones from the current three miles to 10 miles (in a conical manner) from the end of every IFR runway in the state to increase safety and promote good land use planning. Cell phone towers, wind turbines, power lines or other tall structures built too close to airports create a serious safety hazard for pilots and those on the ground and the potential for tall obstacles is greater today than ever before. AOPA very much supports this bill. It failed to pass this year due to lack of time; however, Senator Krist is committed to introducing it again in early 2013.

          Later that afternoon, I hosted a Pilot Mix and Mingle social and networking event at the Hangar One FBO at the Millard Airport (MLE) with fellow AOPA members, pilots and aviation enthusiasts. We offered free food and drinks, gave a few prizes… some thanks to USAIG… and just had a “plane” good time. Those who flew in even received a fuel discount. We had a great turnout with 50+ attendees and had a great time talking and playing an ice breaker game. Here are pictures from the event:

On Saturday, September 15, I was up bright and early to set up AOPA’s booth and to teach a safety seminar at the Fly Iowa 2012 event in Atlantic, IA. The “Fly Iowa 2012” airshow/fly-in was organized by the Iowa Aviation Promotion Group (IAPG).

The safety seminar was titled “Operations at Nontowered Airports.” It was a well attended seminar with approximately 35 attendees where we covered airspace found around nontowered airports, references and resources to use for planning purposes, pattern prodecures and techniques, communications, collision avoidance procedures, etc. Rod Ticknor, an experienced local flight instructor, was scheduled to co-teach the seminar with me but, unfortunately, he was feeling under the weather.

The day continued with ground displays and an airshow. The audience was WOWed by the performances of several P-51 Mustangs and Greg Koontz among others. I always enjoy attending smaller airshows in rural areas because most of the attendees are attending an airshow for the first time and, sometimes, it is even their first time around general aviation aircraft. I find it fascinating to listen to the conversations and comments made by the local attendees, especially kids, of course. They are absolutely amazed by aircraft, their abilities and those of the pilots. I think these pictures describe the event and the engaged attendees pretty well.

As we were packing everything after the show, I came across the Koontz Team as they were taking their Piper Cub apart to put it in their trailer. I found it very interesting and wanted to share it with you all. It took them about 30 minutes from the time they pulled the aircraft into the hangar to the time it was safely secured in the trailer – pretty impressive team work. Everything was studied and measured to the last detail. Here are pictures of their progress:

As part of AOPA’s efforts to reach out more to its members and aviation enthusiasts in the regions, we have set up Twitter accounts to help share news and information about local aviation events and issues. Please follow me at http://twitter.com/AOPACentralSW. I try to keep the tweets up-to-date, fresh and entertaining and always announce upcoming events where AOPA will be participating.

My next trip takes me to New Mexico (Ruidoso, Albuquerque and Santa Fe) and Little Rock, Arkansas this week. Will I see you there??

Spotlight on GA in Alaska on Monday, Sept 17: Show your support!

AOPA President Craig Fuller, along with Pete Bunce (GAMA), Tom Hendricks (NATA) and Ed Bolen, (NBAA) are all heading to Alaska to recognize the role general aviation plays in Alaska.  On Monday, September 17, they will join Alaska Senator Mark Begich and Alaska DOT Commissioner Marc Luiken in a brief celebration paying tribute to the role GA plays in the state.  This is part of a national campaign to recognize the value we provide to the country both in terms of the service provided and economic benefits.

In Alaska, where 82% of the communities are not connected by road, GA takes on a vital role. Individuals use airplanes like pickup trucks to get places and move things around. Search and rescue, game surveys, access for camping, backpacking, hunting and fishing often involve ga aircraft.  Contractors that build  things and technicians that maintain our telecommunication infrastructure fly to get to the job site.  Helping the public understand the role aviation plays is important to achieve the long term support we need to improve our airports, keep aviation infrastructure healthy, and improve aviation safety.

Come over to Signature Flight Support, in the South Airpark at Anchorage International Airport at 9:30 a.m. Monday morning to participate in this event.  And if you would like to have a chance to visit with Craig Fuller, come by at 8:30 a.m. and enjoy a hot continental breakfast from Diannes Restaurant.  Details may be found on the GAMA Invitation.

I hope to see you there!

General aviation aircraft like the venerable Grumman Goose are part of the fleet that transported people, food, and gear to parts of Alaska without airports. My first trip in one was as a 19 year old emergency fire fighter, from Minchumina to Wien Lake, where we waded ashore to fight a forest fire.

Ten Years and Counting…

I can hardly believe it has been ten years – the best 10 years of my life – since I started flight training on September 14, 2002.

Although my love for flying started at a much earlier age… when I was just a toddler… it wasn’t until 2002 that I was able to start flight training. Since then, flying and general aviation have been a huge part of my life, both professionally and personally.

It was during my early ages (1-3 years old) that I used to ride in airline cockpits while traveling back and forth between the Canary Islands where I was born and Soria (both in Spain) where most of my family resided. Back in those days, airline cockpits did not have a door and, if they did, they used to stay open and/or unlocked. My parents would ask the flight attendants for permission to visit the cockpit enroute and, more often than not, I would end up riding in the cockpit of the Iberia aircraft for most of the flight. I loved it! I had no idea how airplanes flew but the result was exciting and fun and all those lights and switches in the cockpit, not to mention the view, had me amazed. I remember the pilots were always very nice and accommodating. I was always full of questions, questions typical of a toddler – What’s this? What does this do? Can I touch this? I got the “aviation bug” very early on and it was from that point on that “I knew I myself had to fly” (Amelia Earhart).

Ever since then, I always told my parents I wanted to fly. I was one of those kids who knew exactly what they wanted to be when they grow up. My parents thought I would change my mind, but I didn’t. I was willing to become a flight attendant if my dream of flying could not be realized, just to be able to be in an aircraft and fly; however, seeing that I was very stubborn and persistent, my parents started looking at the possibility of moving out of the country to pursue my dreams of flying. Flying in Spain is very expensive and impossible for my parents as teachers to finance.

Then, in 2001, the perfect opportunity came along. My parents both found jobs as teachers in Houston, Texas and the family moved. We could have moved to any country but we chose the States because 1) I needed to learn English as the international language for aviation, 2) this country has the best aviation system in the world, and 3) learning to fly in the U.S. is affordable compared to other countries.

During our first year in the States, I was busy enough learning English and completing two grades (10th and 11th) in one year (yeah, they pushed me back a grade because I could not speak English). I was also busy researching how to start flying, where to go, how to do it, where to find scholarships…. all the typical questions a future student pilot has. During my research, I found Ross Shaw Sterling High School, a H.S. in Houston’s Independent School District (ISD) with an aviation magnet program. I could hardly believe what I was reading… a H.S. with a program that would allow me to start flight training at no cost. Sign me up, I said. My dad immediately drove me to the school to talk with the program’s teacher, Mr. Roger Thompson. In August 2002, I started my senior year at Sterling after a lot of anticipation and on September 14, 2002, as soon as funding was available and I had some ground school under my belt, I started flight training =) My first flight was with a German flight instructor who, like me, had moved to the U.S. to learn to fly. We shared lots in common and I remember him pushing the envelope a little bit during my first 0.8 hour flight in a Cessna 152 around Ellington Field (EFD) to see if I had “what it takes.” I wanted more and more.

Flying has been everything for me since I first flew. Like most people, I feared my first solo a little bit and had a couple of bad flight instructors and examiners along the way. Those experiences only made me stronger and pushed me to achieve my goals that much more. I had nothing but great support from my family (although only a distant cousin is a pilot and half still think I’m crazy :) ), close friends and many people in the aviation community. I had great mentors, motivators, and supporters along the way and I can’t thank them enough. I share my 10th flying anniversary with all of you. I especially want to thank my parents for putting up with me, moving here for me and my sister (not a simple task, I must say), providing me with all the remaining financial support scholarships didn’t provide, and just for always being there when I need them. I feel like Mr. Thompson, Sterling’s former aviation teacher, was really the one that got me started and opened all doors for me. I also want to thank Dr. Margaret Watson and Shari Frisinger for their unconditional support and all that I learned from them when we served on the board of a local aviation non-profit. Keith Dunlap also deserves an award for refining my landings, being very picky, and getting me through my instrument, commercial and most of my CFI training.

I also wish all those pilots that took me in and entertained me during those flights as a kid would now know what they did to me by introducing me to aviation. None of them know how important their interaction with me was by sharing a passion, a hobby, a career. I wish I could tell them but, unfortunately, I do not know their names, their e-mails, their phone numbers…

My own experience is the reason why I try to engage with kids and 100% support any type of activity involving kids and aviation. Taking a kid up flying might just be another flight or another hour on the logbook for us; however, for that kid, it could be a life-changing experience and their first connection with general aviation. Keep that in mind and try to keep in touch with them as best as you can.

Like most pilots, I could go on and on and on about flying, how much I love flying, my first solo, the first time in an open cockpit, blah, blah, blah… but I’ll close by saying that I have had an absolute blast flying land based airplanes during the last century, but in the coming months, I am going to finally go for an “airplane single-engine sea” rating as well. I am looking forward to it. If you have any suggestions for me, please send them my way.

I cannot wait to see what else the next decade has in store for me… =)

NASA’s Physiological Training


Yasmina Platt, AOPA’s Central Southwest Regional Manager, takes NASA’s Physiological Training, including the high altitude chamber and rapid decompression exercises, and shares her experience and highlights.

I have been trying to take NASA’s Physiological Training (a.k.a. high altitude chamber training) for several years now, but it wasn’t until High Performance Aviation, LLC scheduled it as an FAA Wings safety seminar that I was able to sign up.

For those who might be unaware, NASA’s *free* Physiological Training covers the physiological stresses of flight. More specifically, it teaches attendees about gas laws, hypoxia, hyperventilation, trapped gas, decompression sickness, spatial disorientation, cabin pressurization, and oxygen equipment in addition to exposing participants to high altitude chamber and rapid decompression exercises.

Early this morning, on September 11, 2012, my husband (also a pilot) and I arrived at NASA’s Sonny Carter Training Facility at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

From 7:45 am until about 2 pm, all nine of us in the class received ground school from NASA experts. While we covered a lot of different physiological subjects, this blog will focus on hypoxia as it was the main topic of the seminar. Below I share some of the highlights I learned from the class (or refreshed in class but think are important points):

– Air is composed of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 0.03% carbon dioxide and 0.97% trace gases.

– Hypoxia is a state of oxygen deficiency (not lack of oxygen) in the blood, tissues, and cells sufficient to cause an impairment of mental and physical functions.

– Hypoxic signs are objective and, therefore, they can be seen by others. They include: increased rate and depth of breathing, cyanosis, slurring of speech, poor coordination, mental confusion, euphoria, belligerence, lethargic, and unconsciousness.

– Hypoxic symptoms are subjective sensations that only the person who is hypoxic can detect. These include: blurred vision, euphoria, nausea, tunnel vision, numbness, dizziness, air hunger, tingling, fatigue, hot and cold flashes, apprehension, headache, and belligerence.

– Although the percentage of oxygen contained in the air at 18,000 feet is identical to that at sea level (a little over 20%), the amount of air our lungs take in with each breath contains half the oxygen found at sea level.

– Respiration determines how well we function in flight. At 5,000 feet, we start to suffer hypoxia. Above 10,000 feet, the pO2 is too low to support life. This is different from the FAA’s 12,500 feet supplemental oxygen rule. Refer to 14 CFR Part 91.211 if you want to refresh your memory.

– The most dangerous feature of hypoxia is its insidious onset, a situation that comes on slowly, without obvious symptoms at first so the person is not aware of its development.

– If you ever experience any of the flight physiological sicknesses, it is recommended that you visit a flight medicine doctor (or diving doctor).

After lunch, we were assigned oxygen equipment composed of a helmet, a pressure demand mask and a few connectors. Then it was time for the NASA hypobaric (high altitude) chamber, the same one used for astronaut training. Cool!! We are going to play astronaut for a day! =) The high altitude chamber and rapid decompression exercises we participated in are designed to enable people to identify their own symptoms to hypoxia while inflight 1) in an unpressurized aircraft without oxygen or 2) in a pressurized aircraft and cabin pressurization is lost.

Let’s talk about the first exercise first… the high altitude chamber (see picture below). Once we were all assigned a seat, we breathed 100% aviator oxygen for 30 minutes to eliminate about 30% of the nitrogen out of our systems (remember the air composition explained above). At that point, the air inside the chamber was released, taking all of nine of us plus two instructors (several others, including a flight surgeon, monitored us from outside) to 25,000 feet at a fast 5,000 foot a minute rate. Once stabilized at 25,000 feet, we all removed our oxygen masks (in two different groups). At 25,000 feet, there is only about 1/3 of the amount of oxygen found at sea level. Needless is to say that it only took us a few minutes before we started to notice hypoxic symptoms/signs. It only took a couple of minutes for some and others were able to stay off the oxygen for about 4 minutes or longer. We were told to last as long as we could but to don our masks when we felt we needed to, knowing that everybody had to have oxygen back on at minute 5 to avoid unconsciousness. It was interesting to see how different people reacted to hypoxia in different ways, which is what makes this training so important. Most of us pilots know the “typical” symptoms of hypoxia; however, none of us know how our body reacts to hypoxia until we are exposed to it. It is also important to note that most people will experience hypoxic signs and symptoms in different orders. While some might start by feeling dizzy, others might start with a blurred vision, for example.

Another important thing we learned in class is that a typical person has a blood oxygen saturation (the blood’s ability to carry oxygen) of 98% at sea level while that percentage goes down to 87% at 10,000 feet. This was verified by one of the class participants by using an oxygen sensor in one of his fingers. As soon as we leveled off at 25,000 feet and he took his mask off, his percentage went down to 86-87%. Then it continued decreasing to about 81% before he had to put his oxygen mask back on.

I am going to quote one of the instructors in describing how people feel or look when they are experiencing hypoxia: “Lights are on, but no one is home” and “the pistons were not firing well.” My personal feelings/signs/symptoms during the exercise were the following: (and, yes, we wrote them down during the exercise and answered a few basic questions – not so basic when you are oxygen deprived though)

– Minute one: Feeling ok.

– Minute two: Feeling ok but started getting a little dizzy.

– Minute three: Feeling ok but started getting really hot and my dizziness continued.

– Minute four: Still really hot and my legs started to tingle.

– My vision was pretty clear the entire time and so was my thinking/brain from what I could tell. I was able to complete the exercises without too much trouble; however, it does take more effort to concentrate (and this might prevent you from doing other tasks at the same time).

Remember “insidious onset”? Yes, it is very difficult to know when you are getting hypoxic and, worse yet, when you are really “losing it.” Hypoxia doesn’t give much warning.

The last exercise of the day was the rapid (1 to 10 seconds) cabin decompression. In groups of two or three, we each experienced what all flight attendants demonstrate on commercial airliners when they simulate the oxygen masks dropping from the overhead. I never questioned the fact that they want us to “wear our masks first before assisting others;” however, I learned exactly why during this exercise. If you don’t have enough oxygen yourself, you can’t function and, therefore, you can’t help anybody, causing you and the other person to quickly become hypoxic. Some of the indications of a rapid decompression include explosive noise, windblast/flying debris, fogging (we certainly saw that!), temperature drop and pressure.

I am very glad I now know the hypoxia symptoms I (again, different from what others might experience) could experience inflight, how to recognize them and when to take action before it’s too late. Should I have experienced hypoxia in an aircraft (rather than in a chamber) for the first time, there is no doubt in my mind I would have passed out, become unconsciousness and potentially passed away. My main two symptoms were hot flashes and leg tingling. How many times do we feel hot (and sweat) in an non-air conditioned aircraft? Many times… so I would have just opened or turned the air vent towards me a bit more. And the leg tingling… well, this happens to me sometimes so I wouldn’t have thought too much about it. Pilots (and passengers) have seconds (in the case of the rapid decompression) or just a few minutes to recognize their symptoms before putting their masks on or risking becoming unconscious. After going through this training, my personal altitude limitation without appropriate oxygen will be 10,000 feet regardless of the FAA’s conservative supplemental oxygen regulation.

We all found the training to be invaluable for pilots and I wish more pilots got a chance to take it. I want to thank B.R. with High Performance Aviation, LLC for his initiative and work in scheduling several different classes to accommodate a total of 75 pilots who registered to undergo this training. I also want to thank the wonderful staff at NASA’s Human Test Support Group for their dedication and for sharing their knowledge with us. Some of the instructors involved included S.C., J.R., S.S., R.W., B.G., B.B. I am protecting their identity by only sharing their initials. The instructors were even nice enough to show us NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL), a majestic 202’ long x 102’ wide x 40’ deep pool with 6.2 million gallons of water where astronauts train their spacewalks in the closest environment to weightlessness. The pool had full scale replicas (although not entirely attached due to its large size) of parts of the International Space Station.

Just remember what one of the instructors told us “If you can breathe, you can think; if you can breathe, you can perform; and if you can perform, you can survive” and keep that in mind as you fly along… and, if you ever have a chance to take this training, DO IT! You’ll be happy you did…

Bid on Citation Jet Type Rating

By way of background information, the Massachusetts Business Aviation Association (MBAA) collaborates with AOPA on a number of legislative aviation issues. The Association is described as a not-for-profit association founded to promote and advocate for business and general aviation interests within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The MBAA addresses and responds to the full range of issues impacting the business and general aviation community within Massachusetts including safety, security, operational effectiveness, community and government relations, and environmental concerns.

There members include some of the largest corporations and employers in Massachusetts. Individual aircraft owners throughout Massachusetts who fly for both business and personal reasons are also members of the association.

In an effort to support the career development and training for student pilots and aircraft mechanics, the Massachusetts Business Aviation Association (MBAA) is auctioning off an Initial Citation Jet Type Rating valued at $17,000, to raise money for MBAA’s scholarship fund. The type rating was generously donated by CAE Simuflite, and the auction is open on eBay until September 15, 2012. The following is a link for anyone interested in bidding.


Since the purpose of this auction is to generate revenue to support training for student pilots, this is an event that we can all get behind.

Craig Dotlo, Eastern Regional Manager – AOPA