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.

Airport open house draws a crowd in Fairbanks

The opportunity to fly in a small plane, take an “inside the fence” tour of the airport, or to sit in the cockpit of a Boeing 727, drew quite a crowd to Fairbanks International Airport on May 17th.  This year’s edition of Fairbanks Aviation Day was blessed with good weather, and in spite of competition from a dozen competing community events, let approximately 2,000 members of the public experience different aspects of aviation.

ATC controllers coaching “pilots” waiting to “take off” on the mini-airport at Fairbanks Aviation Day. Photo by Ron Dearborn

ATC controllers coaching “pilots” waiting to “take off” on the mini-airport at Fairbanks Aviation Day. Photo by Ron Dearborn

The action started early on Saturday morning—at 7 a.m.—with a the traditional pancake feed, inside the University of Alaska Fairbanks/Community and Technical College Aviation Program hangar.  Almost immediately, families with kids eager to fly started to sign up for EAA Chapter 1129’s Young Eagles flights.  At 9 a.m. the event was in full swing with the Fairbanks ATC controllers operating a 70 by 30 ft. mini-airport, complete with real hold lines, taxiway and runway markings.  Kids, wearing orange vests with individual tail numbers were getting instructions from the “tower” to taxi, take off, and–after a trip around the pattern—cleared to land.  No runway incursions were reported during the 140 “airport operations” that took place during the day.  Meanwhile, exhibitors ranging from flight schools to airlines, military groups and the Alaska State Troopers visited with the crowd.

Future pilot inspecting the controls of a Zenith 750. Photo by Shari George

Future pilot inspecting the controls of a Zenith 750. Photo by Shari George

Outdoors, over two dozen aircraft were on display. These featured everything from old (1929 Travel Air on floats) to the newest aircraft (Jack Schnurr’s Zenith 750 made its first operational flight to participate in the event).  While some airplanes were used “just for fun,” many were working aircraft, which demonstrated some of the roles airplanes serve in a big state with few roads. Tasks included hauling fuel, medevac service, corporate travel, game surveys, forest fire initial attack, parcel delivery and everything in between.

Lining up to see the inside of a Boeing 727, donated to the University by FedEx.

Lining up to see the inside of a Boeing 727, donated to the University by FedEx.

 

Aircraft display viewed from the cockpit of the Boeing 727. Photo by Kevin Alexander

Aircraft display viewed from the cockpit of the Boeing 727. Photo by Wes Ford

 

 

 

 

 

 

Driving a rivet at the UAF/CTC Aviation Program demonstration. Photo by Shari George

Driving a rivet at the UAF/CTC Aviation Program demonstration. Photo by Shari George

Other popular activities included a tabletop flight simulator, courtesy of the Fairbanks FSDO, and a face painting/balloon art station.  Outside the hangar, the Airport Fire Department set up an air-filled slide, along with an impressive array of fire and rescue equipment.  Next to the hangar door, UAF operated a “riveting challenge” demonstration, where anyone could try their hand at driving rivets in a mock wing section.  Indoors, short “aviation sound bites” were going on—15 minute presentations on topics such as the history of the Fairbanks Jenny, air touring opportunities and destinations you could fly from the Fairbanks airport. Civil Air Patrol’s presentation included a two-minute video showing their cadet glider camp operated out of the Clear Airport each summer.  In short, there was something for all ages and interests during the day.

Who makes it happen?
Events like this don’t just spontaneously occur.  A committee of over a dozen people put countless hours of their time into planning this event.  Fairbanks Aviation Day is organized by the Airport Operator’s Council at Fairbanks International Airport.  Over two-dozen organizations sponsor the event by providing the cash, equipment and/or labor to share our passion for aviation with the public.

Sponsors of Fairbanks Aviation Day

Sponsors of Fairbanks Aviation Day

Results
And what did this accomplish? A segment of the public, most of whom don’t fly or work in an aviation field, got a look at something very different from the passenger terminal they normally associate with an airport.  Some went for a flight. Many more got to sit in the pilot’s seat of an aircraft on display.  They interacted with people in aviation businesses and groups that make up the fabric of general aviation.  The food they purchased, buying pancakes for breakfast, or burgers at lunch, brought in about $2,500 that will fund aviation scholarships or safety meetings.  Some of these people will be the next generation of pilots, mechanics, airport managers and air traffic controllers.   You could tell by the looks on their faces!

Valdez Fly In: True Alaska aviation

11 Years and counting. That is the track-record the Valdez Fly In and Air Show established, and continues to uphold.  Something over 275 aircraft from all over Alaska–and from at least as far away as Idaho–converged on the Valdez airport and turned it into a “happening” with tents, campers, families, food booths and a lot of fun.  Most of the aircraft were tail wheel models. Many were supercubs, with big tires, heavy duty landing gear, and other mods to adapt them for back country conditions.  Approximately 2,000 participants watched them perform over the weekend.

Airplanes parked on the ramp at Valdez on Friday night, with more to arrive when the wind dies down.

Airplanes parked on the ramp at Valdez on Friday night, with more to arrive when the wind dies down.

Situated at the end of a fjord, and surrounded by mountains, Valdez is known as the “Switzerland of Alaska” and on the clear days experienced during this year’s fly-in, you can see why.  Weather can be tricky, and this year it was wind that delayed some aircraft from arriving on schedule, cancelled the poker run and caused the STOL competition to get off to a late start.  But that didn’t keep the participants from exhibiting a typical ‘git-er-done’ attitude—which they did!

Paul Claus describes an experience during the off-airport and float plane panel discussion. Other panel members were the Ellis brothers (on the left), Vern Kingsford and Richard Wien (right side).

Paul Claus describes an experience during the off-airport panel discussion. Other presenters were the Ellis brothers (on the left), Vern Kingsford and Richard Wien (right side).

This event has a nice combination of activities for pilots, while at the same time entertaining and educating the public about aspects of general aviation.  Pilots soaked up a presentation by Brady Lane from EAA about how to capture aviation video footage, illustrated with some great examples.  A second pilot session tackled the topics of off-airport operations, and float flying.  A distinguished panel of pilots shared their experiences on these topics: the Ellis Brothers from Nebesna, Paul Claus from Ultima Thule Lodge in the Wrangell mountains, Vern Kingsford who teaches the art of float flying in Moose Pass, and Richard Wien who grew up flying in a pioneering aviation family in Fairbanks.  These aviation veterans had numerous practical tips to offer, and good stories to tell—with a standing room only audience that was hungry for more.

Spectators watching the STOL competition.

Spectators watching the STOL competition.

STOL Competition
Valdez is probably most famous for the Short Take-Off and Landing contest.  Four classes of aircraft compete to see who can make the combined shortest take-off and landing, with distances for each combined to compute a final score.  The full results are available on the show website, but the “Alternate Bush” class winner was Frank Knapp from Palmer, who

Repositioning Frank Knapp's aircraft, that made the shortest take-off and landing of the event.

Repositioning Frank Knapp’s aircraft, that made the shortest take-off and landing of the event.

flew his home-made “Cub X” with a take-off distance of 41 feet, and a landing of only 35 feet.  You had to see it in action. More like a mosquito coming in for a landing!  Knapp, from Palmer, won last year, but over the winter lost his plane to a hangar fire, and had to build a second plane from scratch, in only a few months.  If you want more information on this homebuilt aircraft, check out Brady Lane’s video.  Knapp is also involved in plans for a first ever STOL flight demonstration at Oshkosh this year.

In the “Bush” class (read here, super cubs), young Bobby Breeden from Sterling took that event with a 61 ft take off and 55 foot landing.  Beating his father, Bob Breeden, by only three feet!  A Cessna 170-B took the “Light Touring” class piloted by Shawn Holly of Soldotna, with a take off and landing of 104 and 115 ft respectively.  Finally, the “Heavy Touring” class went to a Helio Courier piloted by Michael Dietz from Big Lake, 118 and 124 foot t/o and landing.  In the “stranger than fiction” department, Chickaloon legislator—Representative Eric Feige—competed in the “Light Touring” class. Take off distance was 172 feet. Landing was 172 feet.  What was he flying? A Cessna 172.  At the banquet, master of ceremonies Joe Prax reported these results with the added quip—“If he’d been flying a C-150, he could have won.”

Aviation History
This year the Saturday night banquet moved from the airport to the Civic Center down town, overlooking the water front.  In addition to STOL results and a sit-down dinner, the audience was transported back the earliest days of Alaskan aviation. Richard Wien, son of pioneer aviator Noel Wien, showed pictures of the early day aircraft and pilots who established many aviation firsts, starting in the early 1920’s.  Richard has a vast collection of photographs, most taken by his father, which recorded some of the early “lessons learned”—like carrying a spare prop for the unexpected forced landing or soft field.

The crowd watches action on the flight line. Families with young children flocked to the event.

The crowd watches action on the flight line. Families with young children flocked to the event.

Bombs Away
Sunday saw a return to the flight line, with Scot Sexton performing an aerobatic routine, balsa wood airplane competitions and the flour bombing contest.  Chuck Miller, flying a WWII vintage Stinson L-13, took first place, placing his flour bomb within 21 feet of the target.  Another impressive demonstration was watching Paul Claus land his turbine Otter land in a few hundred feet, back up under engine power, and then taxi away. While the airplane was not fully loaded, it was carrying a thousand pounds of fuel on board.  By the end of the weekend the crowd had been well supplied with competitions, presentations, demonstrations and food, and ready to declare it another outstanding show of Alaskan aviation.

A big THANK YOU to all the people, businesses and organizations who planned and executed this outstanding event!

Mat Su Valley CTAF Frequencies Change on May 29th

Heads up for pilots who fly in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. On May 29, 2014 a significant change takes place to the Common Traffic Advisory Frequencies (CTAFs) assigned north and west of Anchorage.  If you aren’t religious about buying new flight charts, or updating your GPS databases, plan to do so with this charting cycle, as approximately 78 airport CTAFs will change on that date.  In addition, 36 airports will have CTAFs assigned for the first time.  In total, FAA is sending letters to 178 airport owners notifying them of the CTAF assignment changes.  Goose Bay, Wolf Lake and Anderson Lake are just three of the airports whose CTAFs will change.  The new frequencies will be found on flight charts, in individual airport listings in the Alaska Supplement, along with a map in the Notices section that shows the “big picture” change taking place.

Background
In the summer of 2011, a number of mid-air collisions occurred in the Mat Su Valley, one with fatal results.  During the subsequent NTSB investigation, it appeared that both pilots involved in that accident had been using what they believed was the correct frequency for the location they were flying—but they were not communicating on the same frequency.  A working group with representation from industry and government was established that fall to look at the published guidance regarding CTAF usage.  Over the past two and a half years, the group methodically examined CTAF assignments, civil and military flight patterns, ATC infrastructure and the results of an AOPA pilot survey.  After agreeing that changes needed to be made, different scenarios for creating “area CTAFs” were evaluated and reviewed by seasoned pilots, commercial operators, flight instructors and pilots based at different area airports.  Like all good Alaska discussions, not everyone agreed with everything, but there was widespread support to reduce the complexity—and overlap—between CTAFs used at different airports and landing areas.  Last fall a set of recommendations was made to the FAA, elements of which will go into effect at the end of May.

New CTAF Areas defined
To eliminate the overlap from adjacent airport frequencies, the FAA is designating new “CTAF Areas” within which, all the airports will be on the same frequency. This concept is not new in Alaska, as the airspace over Denali National Park has had designated “mountain traffic advisory frequencies” for many years.  Cook Inlet and the Knik Glacier areas also have established CTAFs.  On May 29th, there will be four new CTAF area frequencies identified, to let pilots know what frequency to use, if they are not in contact with ATC or a Flight Service Station.  There are corresponding changes to the north boundary of the Cook Inlet CTAF area that become effective at this time.  A diagram showing these areas will be on page 399 of the Notices Section of the Alaska Supplement, however the information is also listed on the FAA’s website  www.faa.gov/go/flyalaska.

Depiction of the Mat Su CTAF Areas that go into effect May 29. Notice that the adjacent Cook Inlet CTAF Area to the sound also has a change in boundary

Depiction of the Mat Su CTAF Areas that go into effect May 29. Notice that the adjacent Cook Inlet CTAF Area, west of Anchorage, also has a change in boundary

How were boundaries selected?
The Mat Su Valley is a highly aviation oriented place. In addition to over 200 private and public airports in the FAA’s database, there are other landing areas (lakes, gravel bars and rivers) that are heavily used either seasonally or on a year-around basis.  The boundaries were designed, as much as possible, to avoid areas where traffic concentrated—along major rivers, at area airports, etc.  Consequently, the boundaries were offset from rivers and coast lines, recognizing that they are often used for navigation when weather is down.  Flight patterns in and out of area airports were also considered, and verified with ATC radar data. During the review process, numerous boundary revisions were made to minimize conflicts with existing flows of traffic along commonly used routes to popular locations.  Ultimately, the beauty of the airplane is that it can go anywhere—weather permitting—so no set of boundaries will meet everyone’s needs.  Hopefully assigning advisory frequencies to different areas will reduce some of the ambiguity experienced previously.

Hi Traffic areas are also depicted within the Mat Su CTAF Areas.  While some are popular airports, others are not shown on flight charts.

High Traffic areas are also depicted within the Mat Su CTAF Areas. While some are popular airports, others are not shown on flight charts.

High Traffic Locations
The working group also identified “high traffic” locations in the Mat Su Valley.  Many of these are airports that already appear on the charts, familiar to us all.  Others are popular lakes, rivers and gravel bars used during fishing season or to access recreational cabins.  These are also depicted on the CTAF Area diagram, along with their names, to let pilots know which CTAF frequency to use when operating to or near these locations.  We hope those locations not charted as airports will eventually become VFR waypoints that may be depicted on FAA flight charts.

Feedback Needed
Any significant change of this magnitude has the potential to solve some problems, and may cause others.  As a result, the working group set up a feedback mechanism to report problems or concerns.  A feedback form has been established on the Alaska Aviation Safety Foundation’s website so that pilots may report problems or ask questions, regarding this change of CTAF architecture.  www.aasfonline.org/feedback  Please let us know if you encounter problems that need to be addressed.  The working group will continue to address other areas, such as the Glenn Highway corridor between Anchorage and Palmer, to consider further refinements in the future.

What can I do?
This is a significant change, a long time in the making.  Please make sure to pick up the May 29th issues of flight charts, the Alaska Supplement, and update GPS databases.  Make it a point to check the CTAF of the place you are flying from and to-especially if you have gone there a hundred times before.  Talk about these changes with your friends and neighbors, to make sure they know about it.

This only works if we truly are all on the same frequency!

May 23rd Update:
Here are two additional documents to help “navigate” the changes to the Mat Su CTAFs.

Mat Su single-sided transition map This document is a single-sided map of the Mat Su CTAF Areas, which also has the high traffic areas combined.  The document size is 11 x 17 inches, in Adobe  PDF format, but may also be printed on 81/2 x 11 inch letter size paper.

 

MatSuValley Airports CTAF Listing  This document lists Mat Su Valley airports, seaplane bases and helipads, their identifiers and assigned CTAF frequency as of May 29, 2014.