Jenny returns to the “sky” in Fairbanks, 90 years later

Curtis Jenny, after assembly but prior to being suspended in the terminal at Fairbanks International Airport

Curtis Jenny, after assembly but prior to being suspended in the terminal at Fairbanks International Airport

In 1923, then school teacher Ben Eielson talked a group of Fairbanks businessmen into buying a Curtis JN-4D, a bi-winged aircraft commonly known as a Jenny.  Eielson proceeded to fly out of the local ball field, and soon demonstrated that an airplane could reduce the time it took to travel to remote mining camps from days—or even weeks—to hours.  Even with a larger engine, it remained an open cockpit airplane, without a heater, which is pretty limiting for a cold climate like the interior of Alaska.

As more capable planes became available, the Jenny was sidelined and donated to the University of Alaska Museum in the mid-1930’s.  It spent almost half a century in a warehouse, before being brought back to the public’s eye in 1981. At that time, it was fitted with a set of wings from a different type of aircraft, and suspended In the terminal at Fairbanks International Airport (FAI).  When the terminal was reconstructed a few years ago, the Jenny was taken down, and became the object of a restoration project that started in 2007.  Now, thanks to a volunteer effort by the Pioneer Air Museum, University of Alaska Fairbanks Aviation Technology Program and Experimental Aircraft Association’s Chapter 1129, the Jenny sports new wings, built from scratch, a fresh coat of paint, and is aloft again over the baggage claim in the new terminal at FAI.  The history of the airplane was recently summarized in a feature story in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. Another section of the paper recognized the team of volunteers who performed the restoration.

This airplane has earned its place in the history.  Jenny’s flooded the market after World War I, and in many respects jump started civil aviation.  It was affordable, and became a popular airplane for barn-storming, which is how much of the public was initially introduced to aviation. In Alaska, with fewer road-miles today than the state of New Hampshire, the Jenny showed the promise of aviation—even with its limited range and open cabin.  A fuel tank was designed and added to the upper wing to extend the range. A set of skis were fabricated to make it functional during the winter months—thus starting the Alaskan tradition of modifying aircraft to make them more suitable for our conditions. That tradition continues to this day.

An early aircraft repair and recovery on Wickersham Dome, northwest of Fairbanks. George King Collection, Archives, University of Alaska Fairbanks

An early aircraft repair and recovery operation on Wickersham Dome, northwest of Fairbanks. George King Collection, Archives, University of Alaska Fairbanks

A picture in the News-Miner article showing two Jenny’s on Wickersham Dome caught my eye.  In the mid-1920’s, Noel Wien was flying passengers to Livengood, a mining community fifty miles northwest of Fairbanks, when the water pump broke, causing Wien to make a forced landing.  In a landscape nominally covered with forest or boggy tundra, the top of Wickersham Dome was about the only place he thought he could attempt a precautionary landing, with any hope of avoiding major damage to the aircraft.  After getting the airplane on the ground, Wien and his two passengers walked the twenty-two miles to Olnes, the nearest mining camp, where they could use a phone to summon assistance.  Since this was after break-up in the spring, walking conditions were terrible.  It took them twenty hours to make the trek to Olnes.  After returning to Fairbanks, a second Jenny with the necessary parts and a mechanic was pressed into service to make the rescue.  On landing, a wheel was damaged on the second aircraft, but they had anticipated that possibility, and brought an extra wheel along. After making the necessary repairs, both airplanes took off successfully. This story is documented in Ira Harkey’s book, Noel Wien, Alaska Pioneer Bush Pilot.  In that time, before the gravel and paved runways we enjoy today, even the planned “landing fields” were hard on another part of the airplane–the propeller.  It was a common practice to have an extra prop tied on to the side of the aircraft to be used, if necessary, for the trip home.

Earlier this year Alaska celebrated the centennial of the first powered flight, which took place in Fairbanks on July 3rd, 1913.   The Jenny arrived in Fairbanks on July 1, 1923, almost exactly a decade after that first demonstration flight.  Even with its limitations, I think it is fair to say that the Jenny claimed the prize as the first aircraft in Fairbanks to show the commercial potential of “the aviation.”   Seeing the Jenny “fly” again is a fitting way to wrap up the Centennial of Flight in Alaska.

Operator Being Sought for Canton-Plymouth Mettetal Airport

Early this week, the Michigan Department of Transportation Office of Aeronautics sent out the following notification seeking parties interesting in the operation of Canton-Plymouth Mettetal Airport in southeastern Michigan.

Could this be your big break? Have a great aviation business or idea you’ve been thinking about!?  I encourage you to take a look at the request:

The Office of Aeronautics (AERO) is requesting your assistance to try and spread the word about a request being proposed for a public/private partnership for the development, maintenance, and operation of Canton-Plymouth Mettetal Airport (1D2).  AERO is soliciting responses to determine whether of not there is any interest or opportunities for a public/private partnership at Canton-Plymouth Mettetal Airport.  If there is sufficient interest it is the intention of AERO to use those responses to assist with the development of a request for proposal to be posted in the near future.  The current posting for the request can be found visiting the AERO home page (www.michigan.gov/aero) or by clicking HERE.  AERO will be accepting responses to this request until December 16 at 10:00am EST. Contact the Office of Aeronautics at 517-335-9568 with any questions.

MDOT would like to emphasize that responses to this request are not a guarantee of a contract nor is this request intended to be used for selection purposes.

 

Mat Su Traffic Working Group makes Recommendations

For the past two years a working group of industry and government stakeholders have looked at ways to reduce the risk of mid-air collisions in the Mat Su Valley. Initially the group listened to briefings from CFI’s, charter pilots, military users, Air Traffic Control, FAA Airports Division, Flight Service and others.  During the summer of 2012, AOPA conducted an online survey, which gathered feedback from over 500 pilots who fly in this airspace.  Communications ranked highest among the factors that pilots said contributed to unsafe situations when flying over the Mat Su.  Based on this information, the working group started work on a plan to simplify radio frequency usage in the area.  By April, 2013 two different scenarios were proposed, and taken back to the aviation community for review.  Starting with the Airmen’s Trade Show in May, numerous meetings were held with individual pilots, flight schools, air taxi operators as well as the government participants in the group.  Air Traffic Control staff members produced a set of radar tracks, showing traffic patterns that lead to modification of some of the initial boundaries.  At a meeting near the end of October, the working group selected a single alternative, and finalized an initial set of recommendations that will go to different parts of the FAA requesting changes in the guidance regarding CTAF frequency usage in this area.

 

Recommended "Area Frequency" zones for consideration by the FAA to simplify radio communication when not in contact with ATC.

Recommended “Area Frequency” zones for consideration by the FAA to simplify radio communication when not in contact with ATC.

Initial Recommendations
The group crafted four “Area Frequency” zones, where a single discrete VHF radio frequency would be recommended, when not in contact with ATC.  The accompanying image map shows the proposed frequency zones.  Within each area, individual airport CTAF frequencies would be changed to match, to eliminate conflicting guidance for aircraft flying in this airspace. The working group suggested making changes to some of the existing “area frequency” zones in Cook Inlet and around the Knik Glacier, to conform to the newly proposed zones.  Outside the defined zones, pilots would use the CTAF frequencies assigned to an individual airport, or the “default” 122.9 MHz frequency used for airports or landing areas without an assigned frequency.

Another recommendation is to create VFR reporting points for a number of “high traffic” areas identified by the working group, and confirmed by the 2012 user survey.  This would allow pilots not familiar with these sites to understand their proximity to areas that are heavily used (in some cases on a seasonal basis) but that aren’t charted as airports.

An additional recommendation is to clarify the language in the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM), to recognize Area Frequency zones.  Pilots need to understand how they differ from conventional CTAF areas, which today the AIM defines as a 10 mile zone around an individual airport or landing area.

More work to come
With this initial set of recommendations completed, different parts of the FAA will have to go through their own internal process to change aeronautical charts, airport CTAF assignments, and guidance in other documents such as the Alaska Supplement.  Meanwhile the working group will continue to address other issues that need attention, such as the corridor along the Glenn Highway between Palmer and Anchorage, extending to the Kenai Peninsula.  Further work is needed to review and possibly revise the guidance to pilots on best operating practices in that area.

It will take months for the changes described above to be implemented by the FAA.  At this time these are only recommendations that are not in effect today.  The industry and government members of this team also agreed that a significant educational campaign will be needed when changes are made. Stay tuned as guidance is revised for more details in the months ahead. Meanwhile, keep your head on a swivel and be vigilant as you fly!

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

The Value of an Airport: Lake Hood Seaplane Base

Float planes line the shore at Lake Hood, in Anchorage, AK

Float planes line the shore at Lake Hood, in Anchorage, AK

Those of us lucky enough to fly airplanes know the value of an airport: priceless!  Some of our non-aviation friends and neighbors may not have the same warm, fuzzy feeling.  Across the country  population centers have expanded, and started to encroach on our airports—even though the airport has been there decades ahead of the subdivisions, schools, and other community infrastructure.  One of the tools the aviation community uses to help communicate the value an airport brings to the community is to quantify its economic benefits.  This was recently done for the seaplane base at Lake Hood.  And the numbers are impressive!

Based on a September, 2013 study, the Lake Hood Seaplane Base (LHD) is responsible for an overall economic impact estimated at $42 million for 2012.  Employment associated with the facility is estimated at 230 jobs during the same time period.  With approaching 800 aircraft based at the facility, Lake Hood not only supports a world-class crop of seaplanes, the 2,200 gravel runway is heavily used by a host of wheel planes. During the winter, many of the aircraft trade wheels and floats for skis, making good use of the lake surface after the water is firmly frozen.

Next time you look at the Lake Hood airport diagram, think "230 jobs and $42 million economic impact."

Next time you look at the Lake Hood airport diagram, think “230 jobs and $42 million economic impact.”

Like many other general aviation airports, Lake Hood is home to a variety of aviation related businesses: air taxis that take residents and tourists to remote locations, maintenance and repair facilities, flight schools, etc.  Government agencies base aircraft and maintenance facilities at LHD (state and federal), in addition to the Civil Air Patrol. Other aviation related tenants include the Alaska Airmen’s Association and the Alaska Aviation Museum.  Seasonally, the Iditarod Air Force uses the lake as a base of operations in support of the famous 1,049 mile race to Nome.

The recently released report, authored by the McDowell Group, acknowledges that there are additional economic benefits not captured in their study. Jobs and income associated with remote businesses that rely on Lake Hood operations are not included in their estimates.  The numbers also don’t take into account the jobs that result from capital projects, funded principally by the FAA. Those projects totaled almost $35 million over the past twenty years or so.  There were more than a few jobs and supplies purchased to make those improvements happen!

So in addition to the benefit we pilots get either from keeping our airplane at Lake Hood, or flying in for business or pleasure, the base adds a significant number of jobs and dollars to the economy of the local area. Don’t hesitate to point that out to your non-aviation friends and neighbors when they ask how the airport might matter to them.

Seeds of Inspiration

As the saying goes, there’s no place like home! Those who know me well know I am a native Mainer—or “MAINEiac” as we refer to ourselves and our 101st ANG Air Refueling Wing. While I currently reside in southern Massachusetts, Maine will forever be my home. In terms of my aviation upbringing, however, the Bay State afforded me my formal start in aviation as I embarked on the path that led me to today. After high school, I attended Bridgewater State College (now State University) in Mass and began flight training at the New Bedford Regional Airport, (EWB)—a fact that no doubt played into my family’s decision to return to the area when I became Regional Manager.

An important factor leading to my many aviation firsts in the Bay State was my childhood inspiration for learning to fly—back in the Pine Tree State. As I mentioned the 101st MAINEiacs ARW, like many enthusiasts I spent countless hours enjoying the sundry sights and sounds surrounding my local airport—which for me was the Bangor (said with an “OR” not “ER”) International Airport (BGR). At that time my uncle worked at a General Electric manufacturing plant in the industrial park adjacent to the airport. Aware of my passion for aviation, my family would bring me to sit at the picnic tables supplied by GE for plant workers, so I could watch the many aircraft—some unusual—making use of the 2-mile long runway to transit customs, top-off tanks, or practice touch-and-go’s. A few of my favorites were: The Concorde, Antonov AN-225, Panavia Tornado, Rockwell B-1 Lancer, Boeing E-3 Sentry, and a bevy of other military and civilian aircraft.

Why tell you this? Last weekend the Atlantic Aviators—the local chapter of Women In Aviation—held the Grand Opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony for their Aviation-themed Playground that now stands along the fence at the New Bedford Regional Airport. Situated between an active FBO and popular airport restaurant—prime airport property—this site could very well have been used for a revenue generating venture. A realist, the reality is this property has set vacant for longer than I’ve been in aviation. With that fact in mind, and no alternative plan in the works, why not use this unique community asset to plant seeds of inspiration and improve the airport’s image among residents?

Like most of you reading this blog, I was fortunate to have grown up in a time when rules were less strict, airport security less imposing, and maintaining interest in all things loud, fast, and seemingly dangerous was not only encouraged but used as motivational tool. I also happen to be from a non-aviation family. Today it seems increasingly difficult for kids from non-aviation families to find or push for those aviation opportunities available to them. The ceremony was particularly special for me as not only did I learn to fly from this airport, but my daughter can now come and enjoy many of the same sights and sounds I did growing up back home. Now she and other children have the opportunity to come out to the airport and be inspired by aviation just as I was—just as you were.

Eventually, my daughter will grow-up to have her own interests and aspirations of which I will support however varied and different they are from my own—except for boyfriends! Luckily, any exposure she has to aircraft and aviation at this young age will only strengthen the industry for tomorrow as she is less likely to fear aviation and more likely to support it, if only on ballot measures. There are likely countless other examples of similar inspirational efforts across the nation, alas so few ever gain the needed lift. So please, as we continue to celebrate this community achievement, seek out opportunities to assist those efforts nearest you—and then tell your Regional Manager about them so we can help tell the story.

Dare to dream—and dare others too! Read more about the Atlantic Aviators effort HERE

Seaplanes as a Disaster Response Tool? Absolutely!

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Kenmore Air Beaver On Lake Washington During the October 27, 2013 ESRP Exercise

One of the most enjoyable aspects of my Regional Manager position with AOPA is meeting aviators who are passionate about flying, but also about using general aviation for their community’s wider benefit.  One such group that I’ve recently learned about is the Emergency Volunteer Air Corps, whose mission is to “promote and coordinate effective and useful additional General Aviation volunteer participation in emergency relief efforts, especially following disasters.”

In the Northwest Mountain region that I cover for AOPA, earthquakes are a significant potential natural disaster, as evidenced by the 2001 Nisqually earthquake in Seattle.  That quake injured 400 and resulted in signficant damage to highway and aviation infrastructure, including severe damage to the air traffic control tower at Seattle Tacoma International Airport (KSEA), and major airfield damage at Boeing Field/King County International (KBFI, where a large portion of the airport’s main runway was rendered unusable for weeks.

Recognizing the threat that earthquakes pose in this part of the country, a dedicated group of regional seaplane pilots that are part of EVAC have created an Emergency Seaplane Response Plan (ESRP), which aims to coordinate the response of trained seaplane pilots to a natural disaster such as an earthquake, which could render land-based emergency access such as roads and airports unusable.

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Disaster “victim” being unloaded from a Kenmore Air Otter During the ESRP Exercise

On October 27th, a group of dedicated and engaged Northwest seaplane pilots, coordinated by Sky Terry (what a great name!), EVAC’s Northwest Seaplane Regional Coordinator, converged on Lake Washington northeast of downtown Seattle for a full scale exercise of the ESRP to practice just such a scenario.  In this exercise, GA seaplane pilots actually transported casualties and supplies via seaplanes in a simulated “mass casualty incident” following a devasting earthquake in the Puget Sound.

While we tend to think that we will never be the victim of a horrible disaster or emergency, isn’t it comforting to know that our fellow GA pilots are ready to leap into action to help us in a time of need?  Unfortunately, many in non-aviation circles never know about programs like ESRP or EVAC or volunteers like Sky Terry until they’re needed.  In your community, please consider volunteering your time and aircraft, and be sure you share the story of those who do with a broader audience.

We know all the good GA does in our communities- let’s make sure everyone else does too.

 

 

Social Media in Central Southwest Region

In addition to several “friendly airports,” there are also quite a few airports, museums, and organizations in the Central Southwest Region (NM, TX, LA, OK, AR, KS, MO, NE, and IA) that are active in social media. Click on the link below to see the list I have compiled to date but I welcome any additional ones I may have missed.

Twitter and Facebook Accounts in Central Southwest Region

If you have a Twitter account, you can quickly follow all the “listings or Twitter accounts” (sorry, I don’t know the appropriate Twitter nomenclature) in your state by going to the regional Twitter profile (https://twitter.com/aopacentralsw) and clicking on “Lists.” Once you log in with your account information (if you are not logged in already), you will see a list for each of the state, titled “Aviation in New Mexico,” “Aviation in Texas,” and so forth. Rather than typing each one of the Twitter names from this blog, you can view them all very quickly on each of the lists and follow who you want.

Thanks to Jim Rivere from www.LaAviator.com (and AOPA Airport Support Network Volunteer for St. John the Baptist Parish Airport (1L0)), we now also have a list of Facebook pages for airports and aviation businesses in Louisiana. I have also been able to find a couple in Iowa.

Friendly Airports in the Central Southwest Region

Looking for an airport to grab a $100 hamburger? Want to visit an aviation museum? How about camping by your airplane? Just simply want to visit an airport to watch airplanes take off and land? We may consider these “friendly airports” and I have started to compile a list of them within our Central Southwest Region (NM, TX, LA, OK, AR, KS, MO, NE, and IA).

List of friendly airports in Central Southwest Region

Note: The information above is only as good as the sources provided. Please confirm before using.

You can always find more information for fly-in restaurant locations on “The $100 Hamburger” book and website: http://www.100dollarhamburger.com/

For more on-airport camping or nearby camping facilities, you might find the American Air Campers Association helpful: http://aaca.pilotgetaways.com/

Additional feature destinations, weekend getaways, romantic getaways, and escapes can be found at: http://pilotgetaways.com/article-index-map

I want to thank the state aviation offices in the nine states for their help identifying some of these airports. However, please send me any suggestions and/or items that should be added to this list… an airport close to you or one that you have visited that provides access for both the flying community and surrounding community by way of picnic tables, a viewing area, a seating area, a restaurant, a park, etc as a way to show to the community the value of the airport, the types of operations that go on, spark kids’ interest in aviation, and so on. The more robust the list is, the better.

Still need or want more reasons to fly and visit different community airports? Read http://www.aopa.org/News-and-Video/All-News/2012/May/10/Add-up-the-reasons-to-fly to learn about incentive programs to encourage pilots to explore different airports around them while getting prizes.

Now go out and fly! Enjoy your community airports!!

Michigan Aviation Industry Joins Forces To Educate Teachers

Early on a Saturday Morning at Capital Region Airport in Lansing, Michigan, aviation advocates, including yours truly, of all types gathered with one goal: help bring general aviation into Michigan classrooms.

Stem in Flight, sponsored by the Michigan Aeronautics Commission General Aviation Committee, GrandAir Aviation, Western Michigan University, Square One Education Network and supported by AOPA, illustrated the many ways a general aviation aircraft, general flight principles, and other aspects of aviation can be brought into the classroom to ignite students’ interest in the many careers that can losely fit under the term of ‘aviation related’.STEM in flight

During the day, more than 75 local educators explored the world of remote control flight, toured the airport’s control tower, climbed into the cockpit of an L-39 and a T-6, explored the turbines of a King Air B200, took flights in a Cirrus SR22 or a Cessna 172, learned about Michigan’s burgeoning aerospace industry, were introduced to EAA Chapter 55 from Mason, MI, and got behind the controls of an AOPA JAY Flight Simulator.

By the day’s end, educators were armed with the knowledge needed to bring general aviation directly into their classrooms to support STEM principles. For other educators, thoughts turned beyond simplying bring general aviation into the classroom, but rather towards bringing students to the aviation by visiting their local general aviation airport — a goal all of us interested in the future of general aviation can admire!