NORTHEAST TENNESSEE EXPANDS AVIATION EDUCATION

Scribblings on a piece of scrap paper and a restaurant napkin late last year were the beginnings of what has become The Northeast Tennessee Aviation Education Initiative. Its’ Founders are Tennessee State Representative Tony Shipley, AOPA member Henry Somers and Bell Helicopter’s Richard Blevins. Blevins is also a pilot an AOPA member.

L-R: Somers,Shipley, Blevins

L-R: Somers,Shipley, Blevins

The impetus behind this initiative is a strategy to position the region to attract more aviation and aerospace companies like Bell Helicopter. Currently, Bell has to look elsewhere for technically qualified employees.

A first step in the aviation initiative was a recent announcement that Northeast State Community College will begin offering courses in aviation technology this Fall. NSCC President Janice Gilliam also announced a new $35.5 million Emerging Technologies Complex that will be built on campus, overlooking Tri-Cities Airport. The Aviation Education Initiative plan includes the addition of flight training. And, hopefully, adding aviation curricula to its 4-year degree offerings at East Tennessee State University. Middle Tennessee State University’s Aerospace Department in Murfreesboro, near Nashville, has a world-class aviation industry reputation with over 700 career course offerings that include Professional Pilot, Airport and Aircraft Maintenance Management and Air Traffic Control.

Some high schools in the region are already adding STEM based aviation courses that will prepare students to enter the NSCC and ETSU programs. Students will have options available to them to pursue either post-secondary certifications, 2-year or 4-year degrees. As a result of legislation passed this year by the Tennessee General Assembly, beginning in the Fall of 2015, all high school graduates in Tennessee can receive free tuition to a 2-year community college or technical school in the state. Students have to attend full-time and must meet grade point requirements.

I am a proponent of aviation education, starting as early as possible. For more than 50 years, Tennessee has held Aviation & Aerospace Education Teacher’s Workshops at four state universities during the Summer. The tuition for K-12 teachers is paid through the State’s dedicated aviation fuel taxes fund. Teachers learn how to incorporate aviation into lesson plans because aviation has proven to enhance learning. The STEM based aviation high school courses prescribed by the Institute for Aerospace Education (www.iae.aero) are really hands-on. They introduce students to learning to fly and aircraft maintenance. The local airport becomes a “learning lab”.

All of aviation benefits from programs like this Northeast Tennessee Aviation Education Initiative. Whether it’s career oriented or just learning how important aviation is in our daily lives, this becomes another step toward building the pilot and AMT populations that are so critical to our industry and our economy.

International Fly-in in Garray (Soria), Spain

It is probably no surprise to many of you that my husband and I attended a fly-in while on vacation recently. In previous blogs, I have mentioned how we always try to link our vacation with a little bit of aviation and flying to learn how general aviation (GA) works and is treated in other parts of the country and world. And, yes, we also enjoy seeing places and landscapes from a 3D perspective. Who doesn’t, right?

This time… we headed to my home country of Spain for 10 days to visit family, eat some good food, enjoy a little R&R, and experience traditional festivities during Soria’s fire walking festival (paso del fuego) in San Pedro de Manrique and annual festivities, called Fiestas de San Juan.

The map below shows you where Soria is located within Spain. It is about a 2 1/2 hr drive from Madrid (in the center of the country) to Soria.

Map of Spain with Soria's aerodrome

Map of Spain with Soria’s aerodrome

On Saturday, June 21st, Soria’s aerodrome/airport in Garray (only 7 or so km north of Soria) held a fly-in to introduce the newly re-opened and improved airport to the locals (called sorianos) and pilots. While the airport was opened in the early 20th century, the airport has not always been successful. The airport is owned by the province and managed by a private entity. A new management company, Airpull Aviation, took over the management and control of the airport on December 18th, 2013 for the next 10 years. Their goal is to make the airport attractive to pilots and the local community while ensuring its economic viability. My family had been updating me on the improvements made to the airport since the beginning of the year (resurfacing of the main and existing runway, a new runway, a bigger ramp, a restaurant, a fuel farm, a new roadway leading to the airport, etc.) so the fly-in was the perfect opportunity for me to see it for myself.

To be honest…. I was excited about it, but I truly expected a small event with a low turnout. To my pleasant surprise… the fly-in actually reminded me of a lot of fly-ins I attend here on behalf on AOPA and it was one of my highlights of the trip.

One side of the ramp

One side of the ramp, with a good mixture of aircraft

The airport has a restaurant/coffee shop (restaurante/cafeteria) inside the terminal with a couple of patios outside, where several locals where eating and talking while enjoying the sights of aircraft flying.

Airport terminal in Garray

Airport terminal in Garray

Airport terminal

Locals and pilots talking and watching airplanes

The airport also has a flight school that provides training, rental aircraft, skydiving, etc. The prices seem pretty competitive with other parts of Spain and Europe but, not suprisingly, not with those here in the States. To give you an idea… a 1979 Cessna C172 Skyhawk or a 1985 Piper Warrior II goes for 205 euros an hour wet with taxes (with or without a CFI – the charge is the same!). At the current exchange rate of about 1  = $1.36, that would be $279/hr. Flying club members can get them discounted at 160 /hr ($218/hr). Yes, then you have to pay user fees/landing fees separately.

I introduced myself to the guy who looked to be in charge of the event since he was carrying a portable handheld radio and was giving takeoff/landing/low flying permissions/clearances to the pilots flying. He immediately asked if I had any interest in flying. What do you think I said? “Of course! No need to ask! Thank you!” A few minutes later… my High School friend Lorena (who came to visit us from Zaragoza - 2 hrs drive time east of Soria) and I were in a Piper Warrior with CFI Eduardo at the controls heading out to the runway. I took the back seat and let my friend Lorena sit up front. It was her first flight in a small GA aircraft and I wanted her to experience it first hand. We had a fabulous flight and Lorena left the aircraft (and airport) wanting more and thinking about obtaining a private pilot license (or PPL as they call it in Europe). Mission accomplished!

Lorena

Lorena, a happy flyer during her first GA flight

Departing the airport

Departing the airport

20140621_170438

20140621_170628

Garray airport in the distance

Low level pass with a C172

Low level pass with a C172

20140621_170735

Passing the C172 as we do the low pass over the airport

20140621_170751

Aerial of the airport

20140621_170900

Town of Garray

20140621_170557

Landing

Landing

CFI Eduardo with Lorena and I in front of the Piper Warrior

CFI Eduardo with Lorena and I in front of the Piper Warrior

It’s funny how all the people who took “first time rides” left with a big grin on their face and nothing but complementary comments. “Amazing!, Wow!, Fantastic!, How fun!” are some of the things I overheard them say. Ahhhh the joys of flying general aviation aircraft…..

While there, I also spoke with Santi Marti, the airport’s general manager, to thank him for the event, his work with the airport, and get a summary of the day’s and year’s (to date) success. Approximately 500 people and 45 aircraft (airplanes, gyrocopters, ultralights, LSAs, etc) attended from around the country (Valencia, Bilbao, Barcelona, Madrid, Valladolid, Navarra, Soria, Toledo…) as well as four from France and one from Germany. Among the aircraft was an Antonov AN II from 1947.

Antonov

Antonov AN II

Mr. Martin also gave me some great news. Their goal was to have at least 500 aircraft operations in 2014 but they have already exceeded that in only the first few months of service and that’s with Spain’s current recession. Soria’s airport does have a good future ahead… :) The province and the local media have provided a lot of support to the airport and I hope it continues that way.

The airport is located in a great area (centrally located, with beautiful scenery as you saw from my pictures above, and away from busy airspace), making it ideal for GA operations, to include gliding. Glider pilots say it may be the best area in Spain given its thermals, geology, and meteorological conditions.

Based helicopters, mostly used for firefighting

Based helicopters, mostly used for firefighting

But, if that wasn’t enough, the icing on the cake was to meet Victor Gaspar, an AOPA member who flew in from Bilbao, in northern Spain, in the RANS Coyote II he built seven years ago. He is also currently building a second aircraft, this time an RV-10, and he briefly explained to me some of the issues he is running into with the Agencia Española de Seguridad Aérea (AESA), the “Spanish FAA” and a sub-agency of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), as he chooses an engine for his new aircraft. They don’t allow it to have the engine that the kit aircraft is designed for because it has too many horsepower according to current Spanish regulation.

A past Air Venture attendee, he expressed his gratitude towards AOPA and EAA. Without AOPA, general aviation wouldn’t be what it is, he said.

AOPA member Victor Gaspar, my husband Jared and I

With my husband Jared and Victor Gaspar, proudly wearing his AOPA hat

Did I get you excited about flying to Europe or within Europe? If so, here is a website the airport recommends to obtain weather, notams, flight planning info, etc: http://flyingineurope.be/

The airport in Tudela, Navarra is now on my list to visit during my next trip to Spain. =)

FAA looking for feedback on new Alaska automated weather stations

Knowing current weather conditions and how they are expected to change is important information for pilots. Today, the primary source of information on current weather conditions is the network of automated surface weather observations. Those operated by the FAA are commonly called Automated Weather Observing Systems (AWOS). Pilots rely on the data from these stations to make operational decisions on whether to fly or not, augmented by the FAA Alaska Weather Camera Program, which during daylight hours provides a visual look at the weather.

The FAA Surveillance and Broadcast Services Program is primarily tasked to implement ADS-B and other technologies, in support of NextGen. As follow-on to the FAA Capstone Program, however, they undertook the challenge of adding additional AWOS stations, as well as a couple Remote Communication Outlets in some parts of Alaska. Working with FAA, Alaskan user groups argued that ADS-B alone wouldn’t improve safety and access—we needed a system solution that also included instrument approaches, weather and communications. Over the past few years, the SBS Program has installed twenty additional AWOS stations in Alaska. Improved IFR access is certainly a result at airports that have WAAS GPS approaches, which most have. In some cases, nearby airports with existing approaches were able to obtain lower minimums, based on these stations. In all cases, pilots have better weather information about these airports to aid their decision making, whether flying under VFR or IFR rules.

Currently the FAA is looking for feedback from users who fly in these areas, and would like to hear from individual pilots, air taxi operators, private business users, communities, or anyone else that has seen a change based on any of these twenty stations.

FAA and industry officials examine an AWOS station in Alaska. Sensors are located above an equipment shelter.

FAA and industry officials examine an AWOS station in Alaska. Sensors are located above an equipment hut that provides shelter for technicians servicing the station at remote locations.

SBS Funded AWOS Stations

Barter Island/PABA

Brevig Mission/PFKT

Chevak/PAVA

Clarks Point/PFCL

Elim/PFEL

False Pass/PAKF

Galena/PAGA

Kiana/PAIK

Kwethluk/PFKW

Napakiak/PANA

Noorvik/PFNO

Weather sensors are above the equipment shelter. The gray antenna in the background is part of a satellite communication system that sends that transmits weather data for distribution in areas that lack direct phone access.

Weather sensors are above the equipment shelter. The gray antenna in the background is part of a satellite communication system that sends that transmits weather data for distribution in areas that lack direct phone access.

Nunapitchuk/PPIT

Quinhagak/PAQH

Shageluk/PAHX

Shaktoolik/PFSH

Shugnak/PAGH

South Naknek/PFWS

Teller/PATE

Wales/PAIW

White Mountain/PAWM

 

 

 

While these twenty stations are an improvement, Alaska is still very sparsely covered with aviation weather stations in comparison to the rest of the country. Additional weather stations are needed to improve aviation safety and access. Letting FAA know the benefits from these stations is a step in the right direction.

Please provide feedback to:
Jim Wright, Sr. Systems Engineer
Surveillance and Broadcast Services (AJM-232)
Lockheed Martin Corporation
1873 Shell Simmons Drive, Suite 110
Juneau, AK 99801

phone: 907-790-7316  email: jim.ctr.wright@faa.gov  Please send AOPA a copy of your comments: airtrafficservices@aopa.org

Enjoy the Fun of Flight, Friends, and Family in Western Michigan

You can’t really argue with that title can you? The extended forecase is calling for severe clear July 5th and 6th at Watervliet Municipal Airport in Western Michigan and I will be making the trip to visit with AOPA members, airport visitors, and EAA Chapter 585.

A steak lunch will be served Saturday from 11:00am to 4:00pm. Starting bright and early on Sunday, Pancakes will be served from 7:00am to 12:00pm. So, take off those wheel pants, dust off your short and soft field landing techniques, and get out to 40C this weekend!

Watervliet Airport Fly-In

General Aviation: A Shark Tale

Monomoy IslandLike a Submarine beneath the surface poised and ready to strike, the 15 foot, 2000 pound behemoth searches for prey. With cunning and grace, she lurks with all senses deployed—her eyes scanning the surface, her nose dissecting particles of water for a familiar scent. While her sense of smell is thought to rival that of dogs and bears, all senses work in harmony as she reserves her secret weapon—electroreception. This unique biological adaption enables her to hone-in with RADAR precision. Always on the prowl, she soon selects her target. She plots her course so as to remain hidden from view until the last possible second with small adjustments for heading and AOA; setting up behind and below her mark. Using depth to remain hidden, she cruises swiftly and silently determined to deliver a single devastating blow. As she approaches the underbelly of her victim she increases her intercept angle to twenty, thirty now forty degrees. Quick oscillations of her powerful tail produce an accelerating burst of speed. Ascending from darkness into light her seeming shadow emerges from the depths; her mouth ajar. Accelerating from three to nearly twenty knots and without warning she explodes from the water’s surface; momentum elevating her aloft. Her now gaping jaws clampdown—SPLASHHHHH—she reenters the water seemingly vanishing. A murky red hue disperses throughout the scene, her brutal objective nearly complete as she then returns to claim her quarry.

Reminiscent of scenes from the 70’s classic “Jaws”, this brash portrayal of one of nature’s apex predators is an otherwise routine occurrence in certain – special – locations around the globe. One of these presumably newly reclaimed locations is not far from where I reside, in the waters surrounding Chatham (Cape Cod), MA. Quite naturally as a pilot and shark enthusiast, this is where I enjoy a great deal of time leisure flying!

As a first order of conduct and #savethesharks devotee I must insist upon the reality that sharks, while maybe intimidating, are in fact NOT out to eat humans! My riveting portrayal is merely that of a White Shark hunting a common food-prey item from a family of semiaquatic marine mammals known as Pinnipeds (Seals, Sea Lions, and Walruses)—thanks Wikipedia, Discovery Channel, Nat GEO, PBS and all of the TV stations I’ve ever watched educational programs relating to the marine science ;) .

Cruising the waters off the southern New England coast in summer months, White Sharks are known to frequent the islands and the Cape, and increasingly so. They are attracted by the throngs of seals making a decisive comeback post regulatory protections that prevent us land-lovers from hunting them; to the angst of many fisherman, so I hear.

Apart from my suggestion for a memorable scenic flight, you’re probably wondering why I’m telling you about sharks in New England as a part of an aviation blog. So to add to your confusion, I’ll assure you that where the sharks go, the Scientists follow. Now, I’ve made the uneducated assumption that like normal people, marine scientists’ time is a valuable commodity and with that comes the costs of chartering a boat to take them where the sharks are (in addition to all of the scientific stuff they tend to lug around like cameras, computers, tagging equipment, and a Swiss Army Knives). Still not satisfied with my connection!? Okay, well for those of you who have never been fishing before, they call it that for reason; there is no guarantee of catching anything, let alone savvy camera shy sharks (say that five times fast!). Therefore, not unlike those of us from the Corporate world, scientists (and/or their savvy boat Captains) realized general aviation offers a unique vantage from which their ability to quickly locate these sneaky leviathans is enhanced.

One outfit who regularly employs said creativity is the crew of the F/V Ezyduzit, aka Cape Cod Shark Hunters. Well known for their work with Dr. Greg Skomal, Marine Fisheries Biologist (Mass Department of Fisheries) and multiple episodes featured on the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week”; Pilot George Breen flying in his firebrick red Super Cub accompanies his comrades with an all-out aerial-visual assault on all things aquatic. Up and down the coast he meanders, looking for signs of life or predation. As the scientists and crew follow the sharks, the sharks follow the seals, so fish spotting aviators often focus their attention on the vast areas of water adjacent to large congregations of seal. Over an impromptu phone interview last summer George admitted that some days prove monotonous, however (and in my own words), a bad day FLYING around searching for sharks is akin to a bad day fishing in Florida—still a great day anywhere else! Now while opportunities like this are hard to aspire to this is just one unique example of how GA enhances marine sciences locally. From aerial fish spotting over Narragansett Bay, to tracking Whale migrations down the Atlantic coast for the Boston Aquarium, GA helps pave the way for a multitude of research projects.

Now turning full circle, it turns out that sharks are to aviation science, what aviation is to STEM based sciences. I recalled reading about some institute studying shark skin as means to improve lift and fuel efficiency. In case you are one of the few who don’t watch Shark Week, shark skin is covered in reverse-teeth like plates, giving it a rough texture when dragging your fingers forward against it. These plates are referred to as Denticles. Naturally I Googled the project to see what I could find and sure enough the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing in Bremen, Germany has developed an innovative coating system for large surface structures, such as airfoils, to reduce drag and increase fuel efficiency as part of the Clean Sky initiative. Apparently the basic principles of denticles, refined over millions of years of evolution, are not only eco-friendly (reducing emissions) but provides for de facto cost savings—now that’s cool! So as you can see, my love for sharks and aviation is forever intertwined!!

With New Englanders gearing up for AOPA’s Regional Fly-in at the Plymouth Municipal Airport (PYM) in Plymouth, MA on Saturday, July 12, there is plenty to be excited about. As AOPA also looks to promote the local community, whether you fly-in, drive-in, or arrive via marine vessel, the chance to see one of nature’s rare and beautiful creatures from a uniquely safe vantage is only a hop, skip, and/or jump from the festivities in Plymouth. Just please remember to be courteous and give-way to our friends like George, out their working the shores in an effort and learn more about these important animals.

Tweet to @AOPAEastern to tell me about unique flying jobs near you!

GA Survey: Your input needed to quantify general aviation activity

A group of government VIP's at Unalkleet during a 1928 Alaska tour.  Alaska State Library Historical Collections Id: ASL-P240-027.

A group led by Gov. George Parks (light hat) at Unalakleet during a 1928 Alaska inspection tour. Alaska State Library Historical Collections Id: ASL-P240-027.

1928 was an active year for aviation in Alaska. In only five years since the first commercial flight in the state, airplanes had grabbed the attention of the public, making trips that previously took several weeks possible to complete in a few hours. At the time, quantifying the number of pilots, airplanes and mechanics was easier than it is today. According to author Robert Steven’s Alaskan Aviation History, Vol. 1, that year there were only eight licensed pilots in the territory (Alaska wouldn’t be granted statehood until 1959). This spanned the spectrum from student to transport certificates. There were a total of seventeen airplanes, and twelve licensed mechanics. Those aircraft were getting a lot more hours than the average GA aircraft today, I can assure you. Reading Steven’s detailed accounts of this year alone, these aircraft were on the go whenever the weather allowed, and not just for short hops, either. They were covering routes three to four hundred miles in length, otherwise navigated by dog sleds or river boats. Before instrument airways had become a reality, this was a totally VFR operation, with a lot of time spent turning around, and waiting for better weather.

Quantifying GA today?
While the FAA has records describing how many aircraft are registered, determining how many are active and how much they fly is another matter, especially with activities as diverse as those that make up the universe of general aviation. To figure how many active aircraft we have, the FAA contracts with an independent research firm, Tetra Tech, to conduct the General Aviation and Part 135 Activity Survey. The survey asks questions like: Was your aircraft flown last year? How is your aircraft equipped? What percentage of your flight hours were for recreation/instruction/business/etc.? While the survey is sent to a sample of aircraft owner’s nationwide, all Alaskan aircraft owners are asked to participate. I hope you will take the few minutes required to respond. AOPA and other aviation advocates rely on this data to help make our case when it comes to protecting your ability to fly. For example, one of the questions (What kind of fuel do you burn?) combined with information about the types of flying you do, helps us understand the potential impact of policy decisions involving 100LL fuel. The question about installed equipment lets us know how many (or few) aircraft owners have ADS-B capabilities installed.

Your response is needed
The survey only covers flight time during calendar year 2013. Even if you DIDN’T fly, sold your aircraft, or were waiting for your mechanic to finish a repair— checking the appropriate box and returning the survey helps. If you have three or more aircraft, contact Tetra Tech to obtain a short forum of the survey (1-800-826-1797 or email infoaviationsurvey@tetratech.com). If you would rather take the survey online, go to www.aviationsurvey.org, and use your N –number to log in. The information in the survey is kept confidential, with only aggregate data provided to the FAA.

We know Alaska has a lot more airplanes than the seventeen that were present in 1928. Please take the few minutes with your pilot and aircraft log books to help quantify the magnitude of general aviation in 2013!

GA Support Proclamations Go Local

As pilots and aircraft owners, all of us are acutely aware of the benefits of general aviation, not just to us, but to our local communities, our states and our nation. And as we all know, we do exceedingly well at talking with each other about these benefits, but what about the larger non-flying public?  How do we help them understand how important aviation is?

Many of us are familiar with statewide aviation appreciation proclamations or resolutions, formal actions taken by officials acknowledging the importance of aviation in their state, typically signed by a state’s Governor.  Each year, more Governors issue these proclamations, and through mid-June, nineteen Governors have issued such proclamations, five more than at the same time last year.

ID-Twin-Falls-Proclamation

Twin Falls, Idaho Aviation Appreciation Proclamation- June, 2014

Even more notable, however, is the proliferation of such aviation appreciation proclamations and resolutions at the local level, where we all know garnering support for our community airports can oftentimes be challenging.  So far in 2014, the AOPA-supported Alliance for Aviation Across America reports that 62 cities, counties and townships have issued aviation appreciation proclamations or resolutions.  Many times these proclamations come with great media coverage, which can of substantial value to aviation in local communties, making them valuble tools for promotiing your airport.

So as you and your fellow aviators work to educate your local community and non-flying public about the value of aviation and your airport, consider promoting a local aviation appreciation proclamation or resolution as an effective, no-cost way to accomplish that. The links above provide some great examples, and when it comes to such proclamations, there is no pride in authorship- all can be easily tailored to reflect the unique character of your community.

So if your local elected officials have not officially recognized the importance of aviation in your community, get out there and get one done!  And be sure to send a copy to asn@aopa.org if you do!

Emergency Response Up Close

In April, both the California Senate and Assembly passed resolutions in support of the second annual California Aviation Day.  Included in the five “Whereas” clauses of each resolution is the following, “Whereas, In addition to the general economic benefits they offer California’s communities, airports provide convenient and efficient access to remote portions of the State, essential health care services, emergency medical transport, emergency response, and overnight mail delivery.”  “Emergency response” being the point for today.

We live in Shasta County, California, which is predominately rural and mountainous.  Our city, Redding, is blessed with two public use airports.  Benton Field (O85), on the west side of town, is a general aviation facility which houses, among other things, the California Highway Patrol’s north state air wing.  Redding Municipal Airport (KRDD), on the southeast side of town, is the commercial service airport.  Among the many essential services located at KRDD is the U.S. Forest service fire base which also houses a CalFire base.

Shasta County is no stranger to wildfires, which emphasizes the critical importance of the fire bases at KRDD.  The September 2013 disastrous Clover Fire, about 10 miles south of Redding, ultimately consumed over 8,000 acres and nearly 200 structures.  So we’re sort of sensitive about these things around here.

On June 15 I had the opportunity to witness the airport’s emergency response value up close.  We live about two miles northwest of KRDD and in spite of many large trees between our home and the airport, we can often see aircraft approaching and departing the airport or in the pattern.  While enjoying what promised to be a quiet Father’s Day late afternoon on the patio, I heard a helicopter approaching and then saw the CHP helicopter passing over our home in the direction of the airport.  Nothing unusual about that.

Then things turned really unusual, with sirens blaring from several directions, all heading in the same direction.  As it turns out, a fire had started less than a mile north of the airport.  Moments later two CalFire S-2 tankers took off to the north and then turned south, both passing directly overhead.  Shortly later a spotter plane showed up circling high overhead.  And that was the start of what could have been a fun 45 minute air show, had it not been for the realization that someone’s property and possibly home was burning less than a mile away.  And as we saw in September, these things can get very big very quickly.

Ultimately the three CalFire aircraft, two helicopters, and 18 assorted fire vehicles controlled the blaze.  No 8,000 acres this time.  Had it been, I might not be sitting here writing this today.

The event brings renewed appreciation and meaning to a statement on an Aviation Day Resolution citing the importance of airports in emergency response.  Thanks to all the emergency response providers for all they do.

Practice Runways: A low-cost pilot proficiency tool

It is finally summer in Alaska. Salmon are running in the rivers, wild roses are blooming on the roadsides and paint marks are starting to appear on select gravel runways around the state. Paint marks? On gravel runways? Are you crazy? Only a little, but read on…

Threshold of the freshly painted "practice runway" on the Ski Strip at Fairbanks International Airport.

Threshold of the freshly painted “practice runway” on the Ski Strip at Fairbanks International Airport.

Last week a twelve-person crew armed with 5 gallons of white paint, a sprayer, couple of plywood templates and a bunch of enthusiasm, assembled to create two “practice runways” on the Ski Strip at Fairbanks International Airport. Each end of the gravel runway (named the Ski Strip, because that’s it’s winter occupation) now sports a 25 foot wide by 800 foot long “practice runway.” Delineated by white 2 x 4 foot white rectangles painted directly on the packed gravel surface every hundred feet, it simulates a narrow, short runway pilots are liable to be landing on at back-country airstrips or gravel bars. These landing areas, often surrounded by trees, with rough surfaces, provide access at their favorite hunting, fishing or camping spot. The practice runways don’t provide the full range of conditions encountered in the field, but are also without the consequences– if you don’t get down and stopped in the right place on the first try!

Airports and stakeholder working together
Often these projects are a collaborative effort between the airport owner and a volunteer group that teams up to paint the markings in the spring, after the runway has been graded and packed. At Fairbanks, AOPA Airport Support Volunteer Ron Dearborn put out a call for volunteers using General Aviation Association’s email list, which brought help not only from that group but also from members of the Alaska Airmen’s Association, Midnight Sun Chapter of the Ninety Nines. and the University of Alaska Fairbanks Aviation Program.

AOPA Airport Support Network Volunteer Ron Dearborn lining out tasks for painting the Ski Strip at Fairbanks International Airport.

AOPA Airport Support Network Volunteer Ron Dearborn lining out tasks for painting the Ski Strip at Fairbanks International Airport.

Previously established reference markers off the side of the runway make it easy to lay out markings for the paint crew.

Previously established reference markers off the side of the runway make it easy to lay out markings for the paint crew.

Plywood templates allow the paint crew to quickly leap frog from one mark to the next.

Plywood templates allow the paint crew to quickly leap frog from one mark to the next.

As soon as the NOTAM closing the Ski Strip went into effect, and after a safety briefing by airport operations staff, the crew took possession of the runway. They marked and painted the two practice runways in just under an hour. Assembling the crew and equipment, and cleaning up afterward took more time than actual painting itself. After the work was done, the group celebrated with baked goodies and beverages, before calling it a night. The Ski Strip stayed closed overnight to let the paint dry, but by the following day, airplanes were hard at it, doing stop-and-goes.

This is the fourth year that volunteers have worked with the airport operations staff to create this piece of infrastructure at Fairbanks, and other airports around the state. The practice runways have proven to be popular not only for super cub drivers, but with students just learning to fly and pilots of a wide range of aircraft wishing to calibrate their landing distances. Other airports that have received a “modification to standards” from the FAA to create practice runways on their gravel runways include: Goose Bay (Z40), Nenana (PANN), Palmer (PAAQ), Soldotna (PASX) and Wasilla (PAWS). I encourage you to use one of these practice strips and see how well you can hit the marks– and how much runway it takes to get stopped.

If your airport has a runway you think might be suitable for a practice runway, contact your airport manager to see if they are interested. The airport typically will need to coordinate with FAA Airports Division to approve a “modification to standards” which specifies how the runway may be marked. This is still a new program, only happening in Alaska. A guide has been developed based on experience from several seasons to help airports owners and volunteer groups figure out how to undertake a similar project. I encourage you to consider whether this program makes sense at your airport, as a small but positive way to influence aviation safety and proficiency.

It certainly makes it much more fun to get out and practice take off’s and landings!

SOUTH CAROLINA’S GOT IT GOIN’ ON

 

SCBC LogoI have represented AOPA in South Carolina for 30 years and have never ceased to be amazed at the general aviation energy in the Palmetto State. This past weekend I had the pleasure of enjoying an aviation tradition that I have somehow missed until now. It’s the incredible “South Carolina Breakfast Club”, a real southern breakfast, with everything, including grits, biscuits and gravy, great fellowship and flying! Every other Sunday since 1938 (that’s 76 years) pilots & aviation enthusiasts in and near South Carolina have met for breakfast. There are no dues and no meeting requirements! Breakfast costs about $6 – $10 a plate – its ready about 9AM and there is always plenty to eat. Fly in or drive to the airport, have a great breakfast and talk flying until your hearts content! Pilots or non-pilots it doesn’t matter… everyone’s welcomed!

The South Carolina Breakfast Club is led by President Gerald Ballard who has been visiting airports around South Carolina and a few surrounding states every other Sunday since 1938. He only missed events during World War II when fuel was not available. The SCBC has no dues — you join by attending your first one and the only rule is to “fly safe.” Gerald wasn’t at the one at Rock Hill (UZA) this past Sunday but Stoney Truitt made me feel right at home real quick. He even made me a

Stoney & Bob“Life Member”; gave me a patch to prove it as well as a nice gold SCBC pin and last year’s 75th anniversary patch. I suspect that everybody that attends for their first time gets the same but it was only me on Sunday. I’ll have them sewn on to my vest along with all that other stuff that proves I’m a real pilot.

Yes, there a lot of fly-in breakfasts going on in the South but this one is exceptional. It’s an established tradition, all year round, on Sunday mornings, every other week and it moves all over the state. Valerie Anderson is the current “historian”. She takes lots of pictures during each event, turns them into a nice video that is accessible on-line. You can check it out further at the SCBC website: www.flyscbc.com . The annual schedule of locations is right there. You ought to try and get to of these breakfasts sometime soon.

I moved on to Spartanburg after the breakfast club on Sunday to meet with the Spartanburg Pilot’s Association on Monday evening at Spartanburg’s Downtown Airport (SPA), the oldest airport in South Carolina. The SPA now boasts more than 70 members and there were two new ones who had just soloed recently there too. My gracious host was association President, Terry Connorton and I think everyone there was an AOPA member. Thanks! The Spartanburg Pilots Association was organized about two and one-half years ago and is clearly prospering. I was impressed by their busy activities schedule… lots of events to attend around the region and fly-outs to other airports. Terry said they would plan to arrange flying to our AOPA Southern Region Fly-In at St. Simons Island on November 8th. This local pilots association is a perfect example of one way we can make flying fun again. It establishes a nucleus where pilots can gather and feel welcomed to be around people with the same interest. The activities add even more enjoyment. And what a great place to bring friends to introduce them to flying! I began this blog by mentioning the extraordinary general aviation energy in South Carolina. These two examples are just the beginning. There is so much more: The Triple Tree Fly-In in September 3-7, 2014 – www.tripletreeaerodrome.com ; The Southeast Aviation Expo at Greenville Downtown Airport – September 26-27, 2014 – www.scaaonline.com/southeast-aviation-expo , the South Carolina Aviation Association’s Annual Conference, Feb. 11-13, 2015 – www.scaaonline.com/sample-page/scaa-annual-conference and more I am sure.

We could all learn something from the GA activities and energy in South Carolina. Fly over there sometime soon and enjoy some real Southern Hospitality.