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!

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!

The Power of Youth

For pilots and aviation enthusiasts like me it is hard to imagine anyone not fascinated by aviation. The idea of zipping along above flight level one-eight-zero; feeling the squeez of heart-pounding, high-G maneuvers; or flying at tree-top level in a Robinson R-22 are a few of the adrenaline-charged images that come to mind—but these people do exist and like us, maintain strong personal opinions. Simply put, we can’t please everyone but for the opportunity to win the hearts and minds of those whose opinions are not yet cemented, nothing supports our aviation communities’ as much as local airshows and public fly-ins!

Although I was unable to attend Air Venture this year, I was privileged to be able to represent AOPA at the Wings Over Wiscasset Airshow in Maine on Tuesday, August 6—a day that oddly enough, marked my sixth-year anniversary of working for my beloved Pilot Association. The major draw for the day’s event was the magnificent aircraft herald-in by the Texas Flying Legends Museum like the awe-inspiring P-51D Mustang, FG-1 Corsair, the P-40K Warhawk, and US Congressman Sam Graves’ TBM Avenger. These aircraft are no doubt representative of a time in our history when American know-how reign supreme, propelling the nation to Superpower status.

A standard week day for most, community attendance was slow through the early hours but by 4 pm, the local event boasted an excess of 4000 people. Both young and senior alike crowded the flight-line to snap pictures with these aviation legends. Many also enjoyed the surprise visit paid by US Senator Angus King. With only smiles to be had, seasoned pilots light-up at the opportunity to share “war stories”—even if theirs takes place during private pilot training far from any battlefield.

As a father I can tell you, enticing our nation’s youth produces a multiplier effect worthy of repeating. While my one-year old may still be too young to ignite a self-propelled interest in aviation; children are no doubt conduits to their parents.  As anyone with children knows, we spend our free time following our kid’s curiosities—always trying to highlight the educational component to whatever task they’re engaged.  While not every child is destined to be the next Amelia Earhart or Chuck Yeager, their natural interest in all things new, fast, and (seemingly) dangerous, makes the connection to general aviation an easy bridge for parents to cross.

With this in mind, grab your family, friends, neighborhood kids (parental permission required) and Veterans; and head to a community aviation event near you—besides you never know who you might run into while planting the seeds of general aviation: http://pilothub.blogspot.com/2007/12/famous-people-with-pilots-licenses.html

Visiting our Canadian friends: the Atlin Fly-In

This article is re-printed from the Alaska Airmen’s Association Transponder.

Looking down the flight line at the Atlin Fly-In

The last day of June saw the birth of a new northern aviation activity that I hope to see continued for many years: the Atlin Fly-In.  Organized by a gung-ho group in Whitehorse, this three-day event was a fun-packed combination of aviation and local activities at the historic community of Atlin, British Columbia, on the eastern shore of the 65 mile-long Atlin Lake. About half way between Whitehorse and Juneau, but on the dry side of the coastal mountains, this is a scenic location for a flying, camping and all-around fun place to be.  Fifty aircraft from all directions made the trip to Atlin, with close to 100 people enjoying the weather, scenery, food, events and chance to interact with other aviation minded folks.

Getting there is half the fun

After filing our eAPIS report, and calling Canadian Customs, my wife and I departed Fairbanks on Friday, June 29, in our Cessna 185. We were flying with Canadian friends and colleagues Bram Tilroe from Edmonton and Bob Kirby from Calgary, in a Piper Dakota (you will read more about the purpose of their trip in future reports).  Skirting rain showers, we headed down the Alaska Highway. Our first stop was at Beaver Creek, just east of the border, where we painlessly cleared customs before continuing down the highway toward Whitehorse.  Conditions were not so nice along Kluane Lake and around Haines Junction, but picked up the closer we got to Whitehorse.  After refueling both ourselves and the airplanes, we continued down the valley to Atlin. We felt right at home landing on their gravel runway, taxied past an impressive array of aircraft, and parked along the old runway which would be home for the next three days.  The GPS track later showed we had covered 644 nautical miles.  The Fly-In was also billed as a camp-in, as there are not many commercial establishments in Atlin, a community of about 300 residents. After pitching our tent, we took in the variety of aircraft, ranging from big tired Cubs and Cessnas to a number of low-wing Piper products, even a Mooney. For accent, a beautiful Staggerwing Beech and a resident Skyvan, a handful of float planes tied down at the lake, and at a couple helicopters added flavor to the mix. This is a serious flying community!

Taking in the aircraft at Atlin

This was organized!

The event was organized by members of the Canadian Pilots and Owners Association (COPA) based in Whitehorse.  COPA encourages the establishment of local units called Flights, and the Yukon Flight 106 http://www.copayukon.com/) happens to be the Whitehorse group.  An energetic and very organized member, Jean Michel Sauve, and a small committee from Flight 106 did the legwork that made this event a pleasure for the participants.  But maybe that is just the Canadian way, eh?

If you didn’t wish to cook, arrangements had been made for locally prepared meals, which provided an instant social occasion, and the opportunity to meet other participants.  The food was provided, for a donation, by local establishments, who set up and cooked in hangars at the airport.  Picnic tables owned by the COPA Yukon Flight, had been trucked down from Whitehorse, making a dining facility.

On Saturday, the tables served as a class room for a talk on mountain flying by veteran Whitehorse pilot Rick Nielsen, and local Atlin pilot Jamie Tait.  This orientation to the local area was the lead-in to a fly-out to the Llewellyn Glacier, Juneau Icefield and Taku River, with a landing at a remote strip.

An evening program included a talk by glassier pilot Andy Williams, who flew a Helio Courier for the Kluane Lake Research station, supporting projects deep in the St. Elias Mountains. Tim Cole, the COPA Regional Director for the Yukon and BC, gave an extensive update on COPA activities.

But it wasn’t just about airplanes.

The Taranhe, which plied the waters of Atlin Lake starting in 1907, and site of the annual high-tea.

Similar to Dawson, Fairbanks, Eagle and other northern communities, Atlin is a gold rush town.  An offshoot of the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush, mining still plays a significant role in the area.  Like many surviving gold rush era towns, there is an interest in history.  The Tarahne is an old lake boat that used to haul people and supplies along the lake, but today is drydocked, and in the process of being restored.  Once a year, in true British tradition, a high tea is held on the boat. A fund-raiser for the restoration process, locals and visitors alike don their 1890’s attire and come aboard.  For women that didn’t happen to bring a suitable hat, they were available to use for the occasion, for a small donation. We went, and met some fascinating local residents—and had a great time!

Sunday was Canada Day. A pancake breakfast (with REAL Canadian maple syrup) was served downtown, which also provided a ring-side seat for the Atlin Canada Day Parade.  Leading the procession were a sharp looking group of Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in full dress uniform.  The Mountie in the second row looked familiar—oh wait, that is our fly-in organizer, Jean Michel, in the uniform of his day job!

The Canada Day Parade in downtown Atlin

Sunday afternoon following the parade it was back to the airport for another aviation activity.  COPA has a program similar to the EAA Young Eagles program called COPA for Kids, where they provide free flights to youth, to introduce them to general aviation.  COPA Kids was a hit in Atlin, with flights provided for 30 youngsters.  While that may not sound like a huge number, remember, this is a community of a little more than 300 people. On a per capita basis, that beats the pants off of any other event I am familiar with.  The local Lions Club provided lunch, both for the kids and the fly-in participants, another example of community involvement.

To wrap up the Fly-In, a banquet was held in a hangar at the airport. In addition to great food and a three piece band to provide live music, a raffle for a host of goods and services was conducted.  The raffle along with a live auction for a travel package of hotel, RV, car rental, and air travel raised something over $5,000. The raffle and auction provided the income to cover the costs of the fly-in leaving a healthy surplus, which was donated to a local Atlin youth group.

Returning to Alaska

While the weather held nicely at Atlin, Monday morning saw rain and five mile visibility in Whitehorse, as we motored back north.  Neither weather reports nor forecasts looked good further along the Alaska Highway route, so we were treated to two ‘bonus days’ in Whitehorse, which also proved delightful.  If you have time spend in Whitehorse, right next to the airport is a transportation museum with a nice collection of historic aviation photos and information.  Next door is the Beringia Interpretive Centre, also worth a visit. Clouds finally lifted, and we were able to fly back to Alaska on July 4th.  We cleared customs in Northway, which was another lesson in logistics.  While we had no difficulty filing an eAPIS report, the Alcan Border Station is short staffed at the moment, and they ask pilots to clear only between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. (two hours less than the normal published times). This makes an already short window for entering Alaska even smaller. If you combine weather conditions with customs hours of operations, it makes getting into Alaska more challenging, now that Eagle has no customs officer to allow clearing there.  Folks with longer range (and good weather) can fly on into Fairbanks, or Anchorage, but that doesn’t help a lot of the general aviation community.  This is an issue we need to address if we want to see more cross-border GA activities.

Community Involvement

In reflecting on the Atlin Fly-In, there were several aspects of the event that are noteworthy. First, pilots came from all points on the compass.  Of the fifty, ten were from the US.  Alaska pilots from Juneau, Sitka, Healy and Fairbanks were joined by a Cessna 172 from Idaho and an Austrian couple that keep a C-182 in the states, who were flying on to Alaska.  As we got talking with the Canadian participants, in addition to the locals from Whitehorse, we discovered groups of airplanes from Fort St. John, and as far south as Vancouver.  Not everyone who started out made it. A Cessna 140 had departed from Quebec, but encountered strong headwinds, and turned back when they realized that at their current rate of progress, the event would be over before they arrived.  These Canadians are a flying bunch of people!

The mountain flying seminar and fly-out over to the Juneau ice field was not only fun for those that participated, but provided an introduction to that type of flying for those not used to this terrain and local weather. While not billed as a safety program, this was an aviation educational element designed into the event.

This fly-in was also well integrated into the Atlin community.  By engaging the services of the businesses in Atlin to cater meals, and plug into the local events, the citizens of Atlin were aware that the infusion of visitors (and dollars) into their community that weekend was tied to the Atlin airport.  Hopefully, that will help when it comes time to support the airport in the future.  Having the proceeds for the fundraiser not only pay off the event expenses, but creating a significant contribution to the local youth centre, also provides another connection for general aviation to the community.

Finally, I would like to recognize the hours and effort that the Whitehorse group invested in making the arrangements, soliciting donations for raffle items and door prizes, and hauling all those picnic tables back and forth from Whitehorse! A big thank you to Jean Michel and the COPA Yukon Flight 106 for starting what I hope will become an annual tradition. You can see more details about the Atlin Fly-In, and the sponsors that supported it at http://www.copayukon.com/flyin_Atlin.html.  To have 20% of the aircraft at the Fly-In possessing N numbers was an impressive showing. The challenge I throw out to Alaskan pilots, and our neighbors in the “lower 48” states, is to improve upon that percentage next year. You won’t regret it!

Extras:

Additional  Atlin pictures from the Fly-in

Podcast covering the Atlin Fly-in by My Yukon Life podcast host Jennifer Hawkins