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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signal Peak

Guadalupe Mountains and Signal Peak

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

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

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

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

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

El Paso, TX and Tucson, AZ enroute to Scottsdale

El Paso, TX and Tucson, AZ enroute to Scottsdale

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

KPHX and downtown Phoenix

KPHX and downtown Phoenix

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

Left downwind for 21

Left downwind for 21

Base to final, runway 21

Base to final, runway 21

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

Sedona 2

Sedona and KSEZ on the right

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

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

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

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

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

Near Bagdad, AZ

Near Bagdad, AZ

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

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

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

LA's smog?

Los Angeles smog?

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

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

Corona 2

Unique self-serve fuel tanks in Corona

Corona 3

KAJO’s “The Bench”

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

Approaching CA's coastline

Approaching CA’s coastline

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

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

"Pilot" scuba gear

“Pilot” scuba gear

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

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

One of the crabs and garibaldi fish

Catalina's bay

Avalon Bay

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

Avalon's panoramic

Avalon’s panoramic

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

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

Day 7: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

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

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

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

See the looooong displaced threshold?

See the looooong displaced threshold?

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

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

20150525_142901

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

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

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

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Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

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

Downwind for Palm Springs's runway 31R

Downwind for Palm Springs’s runway 31R

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

Leaving Palm Springs

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

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

Tucson 1

Approaching Tucson from the west

Tucson 2

Beautiful sunset

Tucson 3

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

Day 10: Tucson, AZ

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

Pima Air Museum

Pima Air and Space Museum

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

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

AMARG boneyard

AMARG boneyard

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

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

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

Airline boneyard

Airline boneyard

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

AMARG boneyard from the air

AMARG boneyard from the air. WOW!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spaceport America

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

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

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

Spaceport America

NM’s Spaceport in the distance

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

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

TX flooding

West Houston

Other

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

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

Summary

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

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

Does a Transponder help when flying in the JPARC?

Recently a member who flies in the vast MOA complex in Interior Alaska posed the question: “Would installing a transponder in my Super Cub make me more visible to military aircraft?” This prompted both some thought, and a few phone calls to colleagues. Like most things in aviation there are complexities and multiple situations to consider. Here is an attempt to break down the issue into several parts, specifically relative to the Interior Alaska section of the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex (JPARC). This contiguous set of MOAs and Restricted Areas starts near Fairbanks and extends east to just shy of the Canadian border, north to Fort Yukon and southward across the Alaska Range into the southcentral region, almost to Lake Louise.

Outlined on this map is the Interior Alaska segment of the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex (JPARC). There are other smaller MOAs and Restricted Areas in other parts of the state that are also element of the JPARC.

Outlined on this map is the Interior Alaska segment of the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex (JPARC). There are smaller MOAs and Restricted Areas in other parts of the state that are also element of the JPARC. (Map courtesy of SkyVector.com)

Ground Based Radar: A transponder makes your aircraft more visible to ground based radars if you are in range and line of sight of the station. In addition to the FAA Air Traffic Control Radars at Murphy Dome (northwest of Fairbanks) and at Fort Yukon, the military has two radars— one just east of Eielson AFB, and the other on Donnelly Dome, south of Delta Junction. Military range and safety personnel monitor the radars which are compatible with our civilian transponders, while the Special Use Airspace is active. For the lower and mid-altitudes in which many GA aircraft operate, coverage should be good east and south of Fairbanks, around Delta Junction, on the north side of Isabel Pass and in the vicinity of Fort Yukon. As you fly farther east, in the vicinity of Tok, the Taylor Highway and upper Yukon Valley, you are probably not in ATC or military radar coverage. Also, if you operate south of the Alaska Range over the Denali and Richardson Highway areas, you will probably not be visible by either a military or civil ground based radar. Fortunately for us, that is not the only way military training aircraft may detect our presence.

TCAS Equipped Aircraft: A segment of the military fleet is equipped with a traffic collision avoidance system known as TCAS. Aircraft with this on-board system may detect an active transponder and be issued a warning if a potential collision threat exists. C-17’s and C-130’s are among the military aircraft that use this system. It works based on direct interaction between the two aircraft, without requiring ground based radar, or being in contact with a controller on the ground. It is important to note that the fighter aircraft typically involved in these training exercises don’t have TCAS.

Airborne Radar in Fighter: While not equipped with TCAS, many of the fighter aircraft do have other onboard radar systems to detect “threat” aircraft—and a transponder increases their ability to detect a civil aircraft.

Flying Surveillance Platforms: Another class of aircraft that sometimes operates in the airspace are the Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, or AWACS. The original AWACS were Boeing 707s with what looked like a flying saucer mounted on their backs. Today additional models of aircraft are designed to provide airborne early warning and control. These are literally flying radar stations, with multiple means to track targets at considerable range. AWACS are routinely deployed during the major flying exercises, and are used during routine training in some sections of the JPARC. A transponder-equipped civil aircraft should be readily detected when AWACS are orbiting at altitude, and that information is passed on to other participating military aircraft if a safety issue arises.

Activity Periods
Just as the weather can be benign, challenging or downright dangerous, the risk associated with Special Use Airspace also varies greatly. When planning to operate in the JPARC MOA complex, keep in mind the following categories and associated risk of encountering a military training aircraft.

Closed: About 100 days a year the ranges (both MOAs and Restricted Areas) are shut down. Typically, during weekends and holidays these airspaces are wide open to us.

Routine Training: Another ~240 days a year, the airspaces may be active, but at relative low levels of activity.

Major Flying Exercises: There are only about 40 days a year (could be up to 60 days max) when the major exercises like Red Flag and Northern Edge are conducted. These exercises routinely use AWACS, which are able to track transponder equipped aircraft within line of sight even at low altitude over the majority of the MOA complex. These exercises also represent the highest level of risk of encountering military aircraft operating in the ranges.

Don’t forget, whether you call them by phone before departure, or on the radio (125.3 MHz) after takeoff, the Special Use Airspace Information Service (SUAIS) operated by Eielson Range Control can tell you what level of activity to expect for the time and place you plan to fly.

Equipping with a Transponder: If you are not already transponder equipped, do careful research before investing. The mandate for equipping with ADS-B Out by 2020 is influencing transponder designs, as ADS-B communicates with the transponder. (At a future time we will explore the role ADS-B plays in the MOAs.)

While neither a transponder nor ADS-B Out will be required to fly in the JPARC, the transponder will certainly make you more visible to military aircraft in the MOAs.   How much so depends on where, how high and when you fly!

Final Push for the GA Survey

Summer is progressing… and we still need your help to quantify general aviation in Alaska. All Alaskan aircraft owners should have received a post card in the mail asking them to fill out the 2014 General Aviation and Part 135 Activity Survey. In a nutshell, the survey documents how much we fly, the type of flying we do and some of the equipment we use in our aircraft. It is about the only way to document the amount of GA activity in Alaska. AOPA, the Alaska Airmens Association, the Alaska Air Carriers Association and other organizations all use the data collected to help make the case for improvements to our aviation infrastructure.

34 percent filtered

Some of the main questions are:

How many hours did you fly in 2014?
What type of fuel do you use, and what is your average consumption rate?
What type of equipment do you have in your airplane?

When compiled statewide, this information helps us advocate for you.  The survey is conducted by TetraTech, and individual survey results are not sent to the FAA, only the summary totals. You may take the survey online, www.aviationsurvey.org.

If you are not among the 34% of Alaskan aircraft owners who have completed the survey, please do so today!  Thank You!

North Slope exercise planned for July 12-17, 2015

If you fly in the vicinity of Deadhorse and the Prudhoe Bay oil fields or in waters to the north, heads-up for an upcoming Search and Rescue exercise, scheduled for July 12-17. Unmanned aircraft will be operated within the Restricted Area R-2204 at Oliktok Point, and in the newly created Warning Area, W-220 which is located offshore to the north. This is part of a joint exercise involving the Coast Guard, Sandia and industry participants.

Restricted Area R-2204 is located at Oliktok Point, approximately 35 n miles nortwest of the Deadhorse Airport.

Restricted Area R-2204 is located at Oliktok Point, approximately 35 n miles northwest of the Deadhorse Airport. (Skyvector.com map segment)

While civil flight operations are precluded from the Restricted Area, the Warning Area does not restrict VFR operations. Sandia National Laboratories, the agency that manages the restricted and warning areas for the Department of Energy, has put out a notice about the exercise, including points of contact so that you may coordinate directly with them.

New Warning Area
W-220 is a new airspace feature, designed to support climate research, and allow the occasional use of exotic equipment such as tethered balloons, sounding rockets, or other equipment to understand arctic clouds and their influence on sea ice. Since charting won’t occur until the 2016 publication date of the Barrow Sectional, a notice has been issued with the details. The diagram below shows the southern part of the area.

Warning Area chart

The southern segment of Warning Area 220, a new airspace feature on the North Slope.

AOPA participated in the Safety Risk Management Panel that evaluated the impact of the warning area. While at first glance this may appear to be a remote area away from civil aviation activities, a surprising amount of flight operations take place over these waters in support of marine mammal surveys, resource exploration, aerial data collection as well as the occasional recreational trip to the north pole. Renewed interest in the Arctic may see further increases in these areas in years to come.

We are pleased that Sandia is providing advance notice of the upcoming activities, and providing phone and email contacts for the aviation community to coordinate with them, in case they need to share this airspace.

The July exercise only plans to use W-220A LOW. As always, check NOTAMs for specific information before you fly.

 

 

What To Do with Your Pilot Certificate

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

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

At the end of the day, remember that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Learning about Flying in Alaska

No matter how many certificates or ratings a pilot has in their pocket, when planning to fly in a part of the world you’re not familiar with, it has always been good advice to talk with a local pilot to get the “lay of the land.” But who do you ask?

A number of years ago members of the Interior Alaska Flight Instructors Association, based in Fairbanks, partnered with the Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation and the Fairbanks FAA Flight Standards District Office to create a program for pilots who flew themselves to the state. During the summer months of June to August, pilots camped in the Air Park (a camp ground for airplanes) at Fairbanks International Airport may take advantage of this program. Three nights a week (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) at 6 p.m. a member of the CFI group drops by to chat with visitors in the Air Park, and answer questions about flying in Alaska. They are armed with a full case of charts, pamphlets, special maps and information specific to Alaska aviation.

An aerial view of the Air Park during an aviation event.

An aerial view of the Air Park at Fairbanks International Airport during an aviation event.

Why Fairbanks?
Fairbanks is a popular destination for pilots who fly up the Alaska Highway, along the historic Northwest Staging Route from Montana that was established during World War II for the Lend Lease program. Being centrally located in the state, Fairbanks makes a good jump-off location for visitors wishing to explore the state, whether planning to venture north into the Brooks Range and more arctic environs, west to the gold-rich beaches of Nome, or south to Mt. McKinley and southcentral Alaska. Many of the visitors that arrive in Fairbanks are looking for ideas on places to go, things to see and what to watch out for.

What is different about Alaska?
Yes, the laws of physics are the same when it comes to lift and drag—but Alaskan infrastructure is perhaps different, depending on what you may be familiar with at home. Most communities in Alaska have airports, however very few have gas, maintenance facilities or even a phone to call Flight Service for a weather briefing. In fact, 82% of Alaskan communities are not connected to the state’s road system. While they represent the primary access to those communities, many consist of a 3,000 foot plus gravel runway, a small pad for aircraft parking and a road to town. No FBO, no fuel, no airport loaner car, no phone. You are on your own, which is fine so long as you planned for those conditions.

Another difference is the density of our aviation facilities. Weather reporting stations, NEXRAD weather radar, RCO’s, and nav aids are all in very short supply in contrast to the rest of the country.  Let’s dig into weather just a bit. According to the FAA’s listing, there are 133 AWOS and ASOS stations in Alaska. We would need 183 more stations to have the same average density that is enjoyed by the “lower 48 states.” This not only limits the most basic information pilots use for planning and conducting flights, it also impacts the weather models that are used by the National Weather Service to create aviation forecasts. While our products (METARs, TAFs, Area Forecasts, winds aloft forecasts) LOOK the same as what you may be used to, they are much less ‘informationally rich’ in nature. [More info on this is available at “Alaska is a weather-poor state.”] The upshot: the weather you see out the window is what you need to deal with.

Alaska specific infrastructure
The FAA recognizes some of these differences, and has made accommodations to address certain issues. Alaska has a network of web cameras that, during daylight hours, provide an additional source of information on weather conditions. At over 220 locations across the state, you may actually look at the weather to get a better idea of conditions along a given route of flight.

Weather is just one topic. Alaska also has an incredibly large Special Use Airspace complex, with special services to make it easier to navigate; FAA still operates a network of Flight Service Stations to help pilots obtain information; and the National Weather Service has a dedicated web site for aviation weather. These services are all summarized in a document developed by the flight instructors group which is now available on AOPA’s Flight Planning website www.aopa.org/Flight-Planning/Alaska on the Alaska Info tab, in Guide to Aviation Visitors to Alaska. A second document in that section lists a number of websites with Alaskan aviation references, including the aviation weather cams, Flight Service Station map, NWS aviation weather site and a lot more.

But if you would like to learn about Alaska flying in the old fashioned way— stop by the Air Park at Fairbanks International Airport on a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday summer evening around 6 p.m. and talk with a local flight instructor, to get the low-down on flying in Alaska.

Post Script:  The Air Park at Fairbanks International Airport has 15 camp spaces, along with two covered pavilions complete with a BBQ pit, and a restroom with shower facility. That’s right—during summer months it has running water! A few bicycles are available (first come, first serve) if you want to make a quick ride to town or down the ramp to one of the airport businesses or the Flight Service Station.

Practice Runway at FAI ready for use

The “practice runway” at Fairbanks International Airport is open, and ready for summer use. Last night a group of volunteers, organized by AOPA ASN Volunteer Ron Dearborn, assembled at the appointed staging area, and waited for confirmation that the “ski strip” (our gravel runway used for ski planes during the winter) had been NOTAMed closed. Promptly at 6:30 p.m. the marking crew started down the freshly rolled gravel surface, armed with a surveyors tape to lay out the 800 foot long by 25 foot wide “super cub strip” inside the confines of the 2,900 foot by 75 foot gravel runway.

Rain showers threatened, but didn't stop the crew from marking the runway.

Rain showers threatened, but didn’t stop the crew from marking the runway.

A pick-up truck towing a trailer followed, with a generator and paint sprayer on board. Alongside, two plywood templates were carefully placed on the marks so that the two foot by four foot panels of white paint could be sprayed on the gravel surface. With over a dozen volunteers helping, this process went very smoothly—inspired by threatening rain showers in the area. A short 42 minutes later, the job is done. Practice runways have been marked on both ends of the ski strip in 42 minutes. A new record for the team.

The well organized paint crew managed to mark and paint the runway in 42 minutes!

The well organized paint crew managed to mark and paint the runway in 42 minutes!

This is the fifth year that the community has turned out to create this practice runway, providing a place for pilots to sharpen their short-field skills in the safety of a conventional runway environment. The volunteers came from the Fairbanks General Aviation Association (a local airport user group), the Alaska Airmen’s Association, Midnight Sun Chapter of the Ninety Nines, the University of Alaska Fairbanks Aviation Technology Program, the DOT Northern Region and the Fairbanks International Airport operations staff. After the painting was done, those that could take a little more time enjoyed hot soup and fresh bread—a good fit for a cool, rainy evening’s work.

There are five other airports in Alaska that have been approved by FAA to establish similar markings. I hope pilots will consider volunteering their time at these locations to participate in this program!

Airport ‘open house’ shares aviation with the public

balloon sign sgeorgeIMG_0867 tallIt takes a lot of work to organize an event that will bring 1,500 people to see what aviation looks, sounds and feels like. That is exactly what a dedicated group of people from the businesses and aviation groups at Fairbanks International Airport did on May 16. Several months of planning went into the effort, but on that Saturday, starting at 7 a.m. the public got a glimpse of our world. The doors opened to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Aviation Facility, a hangar with class rooms and instructional facilities that houses an A&P program, and pilot ground school classes. Inside, EAA Chapter 1129 teamed up with NANA Management Services and other sponsors to host a pancake feed. Since the food supplies were all donated, the proceeds will go to aviation scholarships and safety events—about $1,800 dollars’ worth, this year. Seventeen exhibitors also were on hand to talk about summer air travel, what their organizations do, or how to learn to fly.

At 9 a.m. more activities kicked into high gear. The FAA opened the “Funbanks Airport”—a 70 foot long scale model of the general aviation runways at Fairbanks International Airport. Complete with paved and gravel runways, as well as a float pond. “Pilots” were equipped with a vest, assigned an N-number, given a radio and guided by real air traffic controllers, to taxi, take off and make a trip around the traffic pattern. Before the day was over, over 150 non-pilots had participated in this event.

Future pilot "takes off" from the scale model runway at the "Funbanks Airport."

Future pilots “takes off” from the scale model runway at the “Funbanks Airport” under the direction of Air Traffic Control. (Photo by Ron Dearborn)

Exhibitors answered questions, provided information and helped satisfy the audience.

Exhibitors answered questions, provided information and helped satisfy the audience. (Photo by Shari George)

Display aircraft covered the range from home-built to cargo jet, and everything in between.

Display aircraft covered the range from home-built to cargo jet, and everything in between. (Photo by Shari George)

Outside, thirty aircraft were on display. Organized by Delcourt Aviation, participants got to see everything from a kit-built Searey amphib to the Fed Ex 727 owned by UAF. A long line of kids could be found waiting their turn to sit in Andy Bibber’s North American AT6. Float planes and helicopters, graced the display, along with a Grumman Widgeon and Staggerwing Beech. Another outside attraction was the “inside the fence” airport tour. Organized by Fairbanks International Airport staff and Northern Alaska Tour Company, 78 people took advantage of the fifty minute tour which included stops at Alaska Aerofuel’s corporate FBO, and Everts Air Cargo’s ramp with DC-6 and other vintage aircraft. Something for everyone!

Weather is always a factor in aviation, and this event was no exception. While the sky was blue, and sunshine bright, a morning gusty wind caused EAA to cancel Young Eagles flights for the day. EAA is planning a “make up” day for later in the summer to get an estimated 60 kids a trip aloft, in what may be their first general aviation plane ride.

UAF's "riveting challenge" actively engaged participants.

UAF’s “riveting challenge” actively engaged participants.  (Photo by Shari George)

Weather didn’t limit another outside event. UAF’s Aviation Maintenance Program had a “riveting challenge” going on right outside the hangar. Anyone who wanted to could try their hand at driving a rivet into a wing section, which by the end of the day looked like it had a lot of attention. Fire trucks, also part of the airport scene, were also on display. And when the wind came up, blowing dust on the crowd (and the riveting station), one of the trucks was put to good use to dampen the gravel surface, that helped with dust control. All in a days work!

Twenty-seven sponsors provided the resources for Fairbanks Aviation Day.

Twenty-seven sponsors provided the resources for Fairbanks Aviation Day. (Photo by Shari George)

Fairbanks Aviation Day had lots of community competition to contend with. The planning team knew to expect that, and had raised something over $8,000 from airport related businesses and organizations to advertise in the newspaper, on radio and with flyers spread across town. A huge Thank You to the sponsors and exhibitors that provided the funding to make this event a success. Already organizers are talking about how they might make this event better next year, as a way to share the joy of aviation, and inspire the next generation of aviation pilots, mechanics, air traffic controllers and airport professionals.

Valdez Gears up for 12th Fly-In

Valdez Fly In logoOn the heels of another highly successful Great Alaska Aviation Gathering in Anchorage, it is time to load up camping gear and head to Valdez. Now in its 12th year, the Valdez Fly-In and Air Show kicks off the flying season with activities for pilots and spectators alike. With events starting on Friday May 8th and going through Sunday afternoon, there is something for everyone—from aerial demonstrations and a poker run to static aircraft displays and a balsa wood airplane contest for the kids. Stop in and say hi at the AOPA table.

If you fly in, please file a PIREP or two for the folks coming along behind you. I hope to see you at the show!

Importance of GA to your State and Individual Airport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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