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Category: GA community (page 1 of 13)

Sharing GA with people reminds us how fortunate we are

I wanted to focus this month’s column on how with small moves, we can connect and inspire through our love for General Aviation. I would like you to meet Tom Sullivan a soft spoken and self-effacing pilot, volunteer and business owner. Through history, an unexpected medical emergency, and dedication, Tom gave some Wisconsin kids the thrill of a lifetime.

I will begin with a little history. Tom received his private pilot license in 1994 then went on to his IFR rating in 1996. He purchased his first Mooney in 1996 an F-model that he flew for 1300 hours. In 2001, he moved into the Mooney Rocket. Tom now has about 3500 total hours. He is based at Ford Airport [Iron Mountain, KIMT] Michigan, which was built by Henry Ford. Tom is also the President of Northwoods Air Lifeline. Northwoods Air Lifeline is a non-profit organization of volunteer pilots from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Northeast Wisconsin who donate their time and aircraft to help patients and their families with urgent medical needs for services not found locally. They have flown 2000 flights since 1999 and fly 100-150 trips per year [http://www.northwoodsairlifeline.org/]

If that weren’t enough, he is the local chapter President of EAA 439, Iron Mountain. They are currently planning their 16th annual Ford Airport Day, September 16th, 2017. This year will feature rides in the Ford Tri-Motor. The Friday before airport day, they join forces with a local a POW/MIA ceremony. They have music and all veterans come to have a free lunch, last year serving 500 veterans.

Way back in 1998, Tom bought Lancair kit. In 1999, he drove with a buddy from Michigan, to the Lancair factory located in Redmond Oregon for a fast-build training. On the drive back [non-stop 35 hours],  he developed health problems. His arm started to swell up developed a blood clot in his shoulder. He was whisked away to Greenbay for tests and a procedure to open clot up. The procedure didn’t work so he received a blood transfusion and life-saving surgery. According to Tom, this brush with death lead him to “focus on family not things.” He put off the Lancair kit until February 1999 and worked on it about 200 hours per year. Once his kids went off to college in 2012 and he started working more on the airplane. At present, he has about 100 flight hours on the plane.

A few weeks ago, Tom needed some machining done on his Lancair’s AC system. He was given name of Mennonite man who could do the work in Medford Wisconsin, near Athens. As the two men got to know each other, the man developed a keen interest in the airplane. Apparently, he shared his interest with his children who were fascinated by airplane. The children had ever seen a small plane. Tom offered to give the kids a ride in his Mooney when he came to pick up the parts. When the parts were done, Tom flew the Mooney 35-minutes in to Athens, Wisconsin. As he taxied up, he saw quite a welcoming committee waiting for him. The kids and grown-ups were all on ramp with big happy smiles on their faces. Tom did a five-minute ground school/walk around the plane. He took oldest boy and two younger girls first on the 20-minute flight. He was surprised that older boy had researched flying online and was very interested in the aircraft systems. Tom even let him fly plane for a while.

In the second group, the oldest girl asked a lot of great questions about the plane “Why are we taxing down runway and going other way to take off? “ Before the flight, Dad asked because she was the oldest, “Do you want to ride in the front?” “No, no.” she said. But she suggested they fly over their little town. They flew over town and over their homes. A younger boy was upfront taking the controls. The girl in the back exclaimed, “Now I wish I would have gotten in the front seat to fly!” As dusk fell, Tom offered to take Mom and Dad for a ride, yet they declined, they were concerned about impending darkness and Tom’s night flight home. A couple of the children presented Tom with a paper plate of brownies covered in saran wrap with a note “for our pilot.”

Tom says that at the end of the time with the families, it “felt like such an emotional experience. We are all advocates of GA. It was humbling, and they were so appreciative.” A humbling and rewarding experience, what a lovely way to look at sharing our passion. “Sharing with people reminds us how fortunate we are” Tom reflects. His experience is a gentle reminder how special GA is, how lucky we are to be able to fly. As Tom and I talked we touched upon the fact that flying has a deeply spiritual component.  As he flew home with the setting sun to his left wing, he felt connected to his passion, family and new friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jolie Lucas is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, private pilot, and Founder of two grass-roots general aviation service groups, Mooney Ambassadors and the Friends of Oceano Airport She is the 2010 AOPA Joseph Crotti Award recipient for GA Advocacy. Jolie is the Contributing Editor for AOPA Airport Support Network Newsletter. She the director and executive producer of the documentary: Boots on the Ground: the Men & Women who made Mooney©. She co-created Mooney Girls Mooney Girls and Right Seat Ready!© She is the creator of Pilot Plus One© Email: [email protected] Twitter: Mooney4Me

O Controller, Where Art Thou?

In some respects, having Germany be the third country I have flown in gave me a very inaccurate picture of international general aviation (Canada was #2). Many foundational items of German aviation, albeit senselessly and absurdly strict, follow a similar framework to American flying. The main difference between America and the Fatherland was the intensity of reporting and enforcement, whereas phases of flight weren’t particularly earth shattering in their differences.

There is a phrase here on the Iberian Peninsula that applies to daily life: “Spain is different.”

It most certainly applies to aviation, as I have previously disclosed when attempting flights to different airports. As I jubilantly declared in my last post, I considered the problem “conquered,” and thought I could joyously move on as though everything was normal, flying to whatever destination I wish without any unpleasant nervousness or anxiety.

Thus, I decided to take a flight to the Central Catalonian Depression, which is an area that looks somewhat like the Midwest, filled with relatively flat and open farmland. In one section of this area near Aitona, there are vast orchards of peach trees, and they all bloom at once for a two week period in March. In order to pull off the flight, I would need to refuel, and the only place to do so was at Lleida, a [gasp] towered airport. In Spain, passage through any controlled airspace requires the filing of a flight plan, so I would have to do the familiar routine of dancing with the Cadí ridge and hoping I could raise Barcelona Approach in time to activate, while also dealing with one of my favorite things in the world: busy, towered airports.

Central Catalonian Depression – On a different day when the haze was less.

As I surfaced the ridge, visibility was miserably foul for photography purposes, though still VFR, which is a reality I have to contend with here in Catalonia. This section of Spain is nothing but an amalgam of microclimates, with a density I did not think imaginable. As in the USA, a forecast for VFR is not necessarily equal to good photography weather. Dismayed, I considered turning back, though I thought of the reality of my upcoming travels to the United States for work, meaning that if I did not get the peach trees on that day, I would not get them until the following year. If there is anything I have learned bumbling around the world in a Piper Cub, it is to do something now because no two days in the air are exactly alike.

No haze – Pedraforca.

Haze, five minutes later in the Pre-Pyrenees.

Raising Barcelona Approach went rather well given terrain, though radar contact took a while. One of my primary issues with being pushed by regulation into complex airspace and flight following configurations is that is doesn’t jive well with classic low and slow Cub flying, and tends to present more aggravations than it is worth. Nonetheless, apparently I chose the busiest part of the day, as Barcelona Approach was getting slammed with an overload of airline traffic. It took 15 minutes to iron out the activation and get a squawk code, which showed me that the 30-minute activation rule for flight plans does not seem apply here. I should know better, as very little that is time sensitive in Spain actually matters.

Peach Trees Near Aitona







I again tried to explain that I wanted to activate the flight plan and leave the frequency, and was again rebuffed as though I hadn’t spoken in the first place. I received a few traffic notifications, then a full hour went by with no communication as I snaked around the orchards, flying at 500 feet and taking pictures. Upon deciding to head to Lleida, which was not far away, I had to add power to climb to pattern altitude. In the process, I called Barcelona Approach for the ok to switch to Lleida Tower. “We don’t have you on radar,” was the reply. “I am climbing.” “Ah, there you are. Ok proceed to Sierra Whiskey and call Lleida Tower.” It seemed that we developed a mutual unspoken accord to ignore each other.

I then attempted to raise Lleida Tower, calling 4 times. Each time, there was nothing on the frequency. I checked volume and the frequency. Nothing. I swapped radio battery. Nothing. Circling over Sierra Whiskey entry point, I called back to Barcelona Approach, who told me to stand by. Five minutes later, I received a reply: “There is no one in the tower. Just announce on the frequency and monitor.”

Agricultural lands in the short distance from Aitona to Lleida.


Approach and landing at Lleida was post-apocalyptic. The runway is very wide and long, suitable for airline service, with a grand and flamboyant tower and terminal. This is all set in the middle of nowhere. There is not a single building around the airport unrelated to aviation, instead surrounded by wide open agriculture. After power down, I stood there, taking in the silence while before an Orwellian monolithic control tower which was, oddly, devoid of a controller, on a Saturday afternoon. The place was dull and quiet, and what little activity was taking place seemed like it was happening without any sound, owing to the grand and out-of-place nature of the airport.

Orwellian, monolithic, and empty control tower.

During refueling, the attendant asked if the airplane took avgas or jet fuel. In Spanish, I noted avgas, and he pointed out that there was no identifying sticker.

“Actually, there is one. It’s in English.”
“No, there isn’t. I cannot refuel without a proper sticker.”
“It says ‘aviation fuel only,’ which has worked in the United States, where the airplane is registered. Aviation fuel is avgas.”
“Well, it doesn’t have a sticker, and I have to put one on if I am going to put fuel in.”
“I was able to fuel in Germany for months without this sticker.”
“Do you want fuel, or not?”
“Fine, stick it on!”

Totalitarian sticker, next to the existing sticker. 

Our conversation then drifted to the lack of a controller, and he shrugged while mentioning something to the effect of no airline service today, so the guy “must have decided not to show up.” The point was missed that controlled airspace is seemingly left to chance, while totalitarianism rules when it comes to stickers.

I received the same story when paying the landing fee, that the controller “must have decided not to show up,” also met with a shrug and nonchalance that seemed unbefitting of an airport with airline service. Nonetheless, I decided to make it work for me and asked if I still needed a flight plan, since the airport was uncontrolled. “Well, you actually don’t.” “Then I am not filing one.” “Are you sure you really want to do that?” “Yes.”

While taxiing out, another airplane called the tower, also puzzled at the lack of reply. I replied back that I am “just another airplane” and there is “no one in the tower right now.” After a pause and repeating myself, the other aircraft fell into line and figured out they needed to do traffic announcements like an uncontrolled field. The flight home was uneventful and quite pleasant, as the first real springtime weather was upon us, and I could fly with the door open and chill out on the way back to La Cerdanya.

Cathedral in Catalonia. One of the many unique elements of European aviation.

Back in La Cerdanya….no haze.

After this whole affair, I had an online exchange with an air traffic controller that I met in person at an airport, and he made it very clear that I am a moron because I didn’t read the AIP, which clearly states that the control tower has varying hours. His ham-fisted Basque nature met up with my American self-righteousness, where I pointed out the “official” nature of the Jeppesen subscription that I purchased at a rather high price (see my post from last summer), specifically to avoid situations like this. In Europe, each country has different symbols, colors, and layout for their sectional maps, and so far, each iPad navigation app uses its own proprietary vector format, which is so far entirely different from each national standard. I opted for Jeppesen for flying in the Fatherland, where being 300 feet off a pattern line can cost €500 in fines. Jeppesen’s approach plates, at least in Germany, are official and overlay nicely on the navigation app in flight. I had checked Jeppesen’s airport information page on the app for Lleida, which looks very similar to the German AIP and the American AF/D, and thought that it was sufficient as it did not list the schedule.

It wasn’t. I pulled up all 11 pages of the AIP for Lleida, and it is the most precise encyclopedia I have ever seen for an airport. One could land a reusable SpaceX rocket based on the extent of information provided. Buried within this lovely document was the hours for ATC: 13:00 to 16:00, Fridays and Mondays. For only six hours per week (3.57% of the time), the monolithic control tower is in use, and yet the entire airspace is marked as though it is Class D 24/7. Unlike the USA, there is nothing on the map indicating that there are Class E hours. Unlike France, there is not an automated reply when one calls an out-of-use frequency, playing a recording in French and English advising which alternate service to use. And further unlike the USA, there is no ATIS to call to get a recording advising of obvious anomalies. One would have thought that such limited hours would be somewhere prominent?

The most amusing part of the whole thing was the pernicious attitude, from Barcelona Approach to every staff member at the airport, that “the guy must not have shown up.” Those words imply a lax disregard for one of the pillars of aviation, yet the reality was that the tower was being run in compliance with Spanish procedures. Even if a controller simply decided not to show up that day, I can only wonder if anyone would care. Though, after living in Spain for this long and reflecting on the reality that not a single person mentioned tower operating hours, I have come to understand that nobody probably would. Spaniards are masters at navigating around surprise deficiencies, and simply express no emotion that things should have been another way, nor think it’s a big deal (unlike my very American level of drama in this post). Time, commitments, contracts, and obligations are subjective (with the exception of driving), though in a strange twist of affairs, Spanish people seem to be incredibly happy and friendly.

What can I say? Spain is different, though in the interests of full disclosure, I am enjoying myself tremendously.

Garrett Fisher is an aerial adventure photographer, having photographed some of the most rugged and wild terrain in America from his 1949 Piper PA-11. After living in Germany with the Cub, he recently moved to the Spanish Pyrenees to continue the flying adventure. He has published six aerial photography books covering the Colorado Rockies, Wyoming, high terrain in the Southeast, and the Outer Banks, with more US and European books in the pipeline. He blogs regularly about his flights at www.garrettfisher.me.

Alaska Backcountry Airstrip survey: Do you use them?

Backcountry airstrips serve an important role in Alaska’s aviation system.  Over the past couple years, a Backcountry Airstrips Working Group, led by the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT), has been exploring this topic, and just released a survey for pilots to weigh-in on their use of this often-unnoticed component of our aviation infrastructure.  If you use back-country airstrips, please take a few minutes to share your thoughts, and identify any concerns you may have on this topic.  Here is a link directly to the survey, which runs through May 10th. https://goo.gl/forms/6aPBJ7h3BbzS7oxq1

What is a backcountry airstrip?
While the international, regional and community airports are familiar to us, there is another network of “facilities” scattered around the state that is often overlooked.  These are airstrips that were built to provide access for some purpose, often a mining claim or mineral exploration project, which has since gone away—but the airstrip remains.  Depending on the other resources in the area, given Alaska’s vast size and lack of road system, these airstrips typically serve other needs, generally to access public lands. Uses might include establishing a camp, in support of a hunting trip or other recreational activity. Depending on the adjacent land ownership, it may provide access to remote cabin sites.  On a river, it could be the transfer point to drop off or pick up people from float trips.  When the weather turns bad, or in any other kind of emergency, having a place to land is a safety consideration.  Finally, backcountry airstrips can also serve as staging areas to support access for more distant off-field landing sites.

Backcountry versus Off Field landing areas
Defining what a backcountry airstrip is might seem like an easy task, but it has taken quite a bit of discussion.  The working group definition includes landing areas that are “improved” although they may have little or no maintenance routinely performed.  It is important to differentiate between backcountry airstrips, and true off-field landing areas—which means a gravel bar, hill top, or other terrain feature that one is able to land on.  From the air, there wouldn’t necessarily be noticeable features, such as trees cleared to create a safety area, or modification of the natural landscape to make it a landing area.  Fortunately, in Alaska we are allowed to perform off-field landings on most public lands, unless regulations have specifically been adopted to declare the area off-limits.  The working group is not addressing off-field landing areas, but does recognize that one of the potential uses of a backcountry airstrip is to serve as a staging area to reach off-field landing locations.

Kansas Creek, in the central Alaska Range, has provided access for hunting and other uses for about fifty years. In the context of this discussion, it would be considered a backcountry airstrip.

 

This off-field landing area, along the Ivishak River on the north side of the Brooks Range is an un-improved piece of tundra that just happens to be flat and firm enough to land on. It would not be defined as a backcountry airstrip in this discussion.

Case Study: Gold King Creek
While every airport has its own story, Gold King Creek (AK7) is an case worth examining.  Located 40 nautical miles south of Fairbanks, in the foothills of the Alaska Range, the 2,500 foot airstrip was originally built at the site of a microwave communications station. The facility connected the military radar station at Clear with the Cold War era “White Alice” communication system that linked Alaska to the lower 48.  Fuel for the generator that powered the relay site was flown in, from Delta I believe, to keep the facility operating around the clock.  When the relay site was no longer needed, it was shut down, and years later the tower removed, but the airstrip remains. Miners, hunters, seismologists, berry pickers and others continued to use the airstrip, which is on stable ground, and doesn’t require much in the way of maintenance.

The federal government eventually transferred the land to the State of Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR), who later allocated recreational land parcels near the airstrip, some of which have inhabited cabins today.  The property containing the airstrip was transferred from DNR to DOT, more recently. Prior to that happening, we almost lost Gold King off the charts completely.

An aerial view of Gold King airstrip, with cabin sites off the edge of the runway.

Charting history of Gold King
When owned by the federal government, the airstrip was charted as a Private Use facility (see figure below).  After the military use ceased, for a while it disappeared from the charts completely.  With the transfer from federal government to State of Alaska ownership, it was again charted, initially shown as closed, and with no information about the length or elevation of the airstrip.  In the late 1990’s, a Military Operations Area (MOA) created that covered this area.  Because Gold King was a known entity, a MOA exclusion area was defined around it, up to 1,500 ft agl. The cut-out helps prevent an aircraft just lifting off the runway from coming nose to nose with a high-speed jet on a training exercise.  Today, the airstrip is charted with more complete information for pilots, including a CTAF frequency.  Charting is one of the issues that needs to be considered for other backcountry airstrips in the state.

This figure shows the charting history of Gold King, from its time as a communications support facility, to when it disappeared from the charts completely, and slowly back to having more complete information today, including a cut-out under a Military Operations Area.

 Gateway to Public Land
While most back-country airstrips are remote, it doesn’t necessarily mean some of them might not be on the road-system.  A notable example is the airstrip at Happy Valley, some 65 nautical miles south of the Deadhorse Airport (SCC) at Prudhoe Bay.  This 5,000 foot airstrip was built during construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in the 1970’s to support the construction camp located there, along the Sagavarnirktok River, and on the haul-road that today connects the oilfields on the north slope with the rest of Alaska. After the construction, the camp was removed, but the herc-strip sized runway remained.

Today, it serves as an important staging area in the northern foothills of the Brooks Range. Far enough inland to often avoid coastal fog, yet distant enough from the peaks of the Brooks Range to escape some of the weather conditions associated with the mountains.  It’s location on the haul road, which is maintained year-round, makes it a critical jumping off facility for guides, scientific studies, game surveys, as well as a key emergency strip when weather precludes getting to the coast, or through the mountains.

I have personally experienced the benefits of the Happy Valley airstrip.  Late one fall, the weather was deteriorating to the point we couldn’t make it through the Brooks Range to return to Fairbanks.  After tying up a pair of Super Cubs at Happy Valley, we had to hitchhike in what became a ground-blizzard to Deadhorse, and catch the jet back to town.  Many days later, we drove up the haul-road to pre-heat and fly the airplanes back south of the range.  Yet this airstrip is not listed on a flight chart, nor is any information provided about it in the Alaska Chart Supplement.  While not advocating that all back-country strips should necessarily be charted, this is one that needs to be on the charts so pilots can find it, when needed.

Happy Valley Airstrip. Not what we normally think of as a backcountry airstrip, this former pipeline camp on the Dalton Highway is used today, and should be recognized as an airstrip.

Backcountry Survey
Backcountry airstrips are an important, and often neglected component of our airport system.  Now that DOT has started looking at this segment of our airports, it is important that the people that use them speak up.  The online survey provides an opportunity to identify the issues you think are important when it comes to these landing areas.  Under current budget conditions, we can’t expect the State of Alaska to devote a lot of resources to them, but recognizing they exist and perhaps taking the first few steps to protect them, could make a great deal of difference in the years to come.

Please take a few minutes to take the survey! https://goo.gl/forms/6aPBJ7h3BbzS7oxq1

Aviation Weather Camera Site upgraded: Beta testers wanted!

FAA is making a significant upgrade to their Alaska Aviation Weather Camera website.  Pilots are invited to test the site, and provide input to help refine the presentation of aviation weather data that will eventually be extended nation-wide.   A Beta-test version of the site is currently available. It integrates camera images with weather observations, forecasts and pilot reports, customized for aviation. The Aviation Weather Camera program is seeking feedback from pilots both in Alaska, and from across the country.

Background
Aviation weather cameras have helped Alaskan pilots make flight planning decisions since 1999.  Starting with prototype system constructed by a university graduate student that included only three camera locations, the network today lets pilots see the weather at over 220 locations from all parts of the state.  This visual form of weather data helps in several ways.  Each site has between two and four cameras, pointed in different directions, to let us see the weather, within the last 10 minutes.  In some places, the cameras are the sole source of weather information. At other locations they are co-located with an AWOS or ASOS, and give us a means not only to evaluate the accuracy of the METAR–but to see if the reported ceiling is comprised of threatening cumulus buildups, or just a thin layer of clouds with sunlight streaming through.

Initially the website was limited to the current camera image, along with a “clear day” image for comparison.  To help calibrate what we were seeing, the clear day image was annotated with the distance and elevation of prominent landmarks.  The site also featured a video loop that allowed the user to play a time-lapse of the past six hours, which can be tremendously valuable when it comes to monitoring weather trends.  The current operational site includes current surface weather observations (METARs), along with Terminal Aerodrome Forecasts (TAFs).  More recently, PIREPs joined the party, taking a significant step forward in providing a more complete idea of conditions a pilot would encounter on a cross-country flight.

Overview of the Beta test site, showing weather cameras, current and forecast weather, pilot reports and airports. Note that while it contains real data, it is a test site not intended for operational use.

Whats new?
The next version of the website continues all the features we have come to count on, and focuses on presenting the information more visually.  The Beta-test site starts with a satellite base map (although you may still select a more conventional map base if desired), and provides a more graphic depiction of the weather data.  METARs are color coded based on the category of weather reported, green for VFR, red for IFR, etc.  For those stations that have a TAF, it too is color coded by the individual time periods of the forecast, allowing a user to see if conditions are forecast to improve, without even having to click on the icon.  Drop-down menus at the top make the program highly configurable, but the most popular features that pilots want to toggle on and off still remain available as buttons on the main page.  A considerable amount of sophistication has gone into making the icons dynamically change as you zoom in or out, to avoid saturating the screen when looking at the big picture. A link to the legend is available in the lower right hand corner to help interpret the icons, many of which change as a function of scale.  Not all features are functional yet, so some menus or buttons are grayed out.

An example airport cluster with current and forecast weather, and a weather camera.

Clicking on the weather camera icon brings the first of multiple displays showing the conditions, along with a color-coded indication of the current and forecast conditions

How you can help
Like any significant tool of this nature, there are many ways to use it.  A core group of volunteer pilots were selected at the start of the project to test the Alpha version of the website and help advise project developers on refinements to make the program responsive to our needs.  These efforts are being coordinated by Dr. Daniela Kratchounova, from the Flight Deck Human Factors Research Lab at the FAA’s Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI). The program is now in a Beta-testing mode of operation, and Dr. Kratchounova is looking for a much larger set of users to put it through its paces.  Since the website is being designed for the future extension of the program beyond Alaska, it has to work in parts of the country with greater density of airports and weather stations than are found in Alaska, so she is looking for pilots from across the country to participate in the program at this time.  While the FAA weather cameras are only in Alaska, supplemented by Canadian and some third party camera sites, the METARs, TAFs and PIREPs cover the entire country.  If you are outside of Alaska, consider trying the site for the areas you fly, to see how information is presented. To understand what the weather cameras add, scroll up to Alaska and evaluate the weather for a flight from Anchorage to Fairbanks, where you will find a number of camera sites to see what this visual data adds to the METARs along the route.  The beta test site may be found at: avcamstest.faa.gov.  [Note: The latest version of the site became operational on May 1st–so if you have looked at this link before, make sure to check after this date.] If you are not familiar with the current operational site, look at:  avcams.faa.gov

May 1, 2017 Update: The beta-site became operational on May 1st, with a new address: avcamsplus.faa.gov. FAA continues to seek user input using the Pilot Feedback button, as additional development is continuing. The beta-test link will be re-directed to the new address. The legacy site avcams.faa.gov, will continue to operate in parallel for a few months.

Providing feedback
After trying the weather camera site for a while, look for the “Pilot Feedback” button that leads to a number of questions regarding the features of the site.  Scrolling down this window reveals a matrix of detailed questions to rate the different features on a 1-5 scale, which sends your “vote” to the FAA.  I know— one’s eyes can glaze over when first encountering this array of questions. My suggestion is to read through the questions, close the window and spend some more time using the site before going back and completing the survey.  This may seem a little daunting, but with several hundred people using the site, compiling feedback using a form like this is about the only reasonable way to see trends.  Note, however, for each question area there is a comment field. This is your opportunity to tell the FAA what you liked, or what didn’t work, and how you think it could be improved.  I would suggest paying close attention to what zoom level you use, as you evaluate a flight route, and the features that are displayed at that scale.

To provide feedback, rate the different features using a 1-5 scale. Note that for each question area, there is a place for to comment on features you liked, or think should be changed.

This is a significant development effort, so please take the time to give the system a good work-out, and let FAA know what you think.  As one who has used the weather camera program since its inception, I am excited to see camera data integrated in with the other weather products we use for flight planning.  There are more features planned for the system, so look forward to watching this site continue to develop.

For now, please fill up your coffee cup, click on the link, and spend some quality time looking at this site.  Your efforts to evaluate the program may have a significant impact on where it goes from here!

I don’t care how you get there, just get there if you can.

AOPA Regional Fly-Ins offer Friday intensive education series.

In regard to the newly announced two-day AOPA Regional fly-ins I am going to paraphrase Oleta Adams song Get Here, I don’t care how you get there, just get there if you can. Ongoing education is vital to the pilot population. Statistics are clear that when we attend continuing education our ability to safely operate airplanes increases. According to national safety seminar presenter Mark Grady, “Several years back it was determined that pilots who participated in the FAA’s Wings Program regularly did not have as many accidents, incidents and even violations as other GA pilots. It simply makes common sense that pilots who take time to do more than the minimum of a flight review are going to be safer. After all, we react the way we are trained in an emergency, so the more up-to-date training we have, the better we handle things that may go wrong.” When AOPA adopted a regional fly-in format versus a multiple day format, I missed the comprehensive educational seminars offered. And though the regional fly-in format is wildly successful, the opportunity for intensive classes was not available. Well, all that changes with the new Friday,  hands-on workshops being offered at all four AOPA regional fly-ins across the country.

Each fly-in offers four subjects to choose from for a Friday seven-hour intensive clinic with excellent presenters. Pre-registration is required. Tuition fees apply: $105 for members, $155 for non-members, and $75 for spouses. I am thrilled to have developed Pilot Plus One which will be offered at all four regional fly-ins. Check out the offerings below:

Owner-Guided Maintenance: Managing Your Aircraft Maintenance
Interested in taking on a larger role in the maintenance of your aircraft?   Join aviation adventurer, JetBlue pilot, and around-the-world adventurer, Adrian Eichhorn and A&P/IAs Mike Busch and Paul New help you determine what you, as the aircraft owner, can do to keep your plane in top condition. Get hands-on with changing the oil in an actual aircraft engine, cleaning and gapping spark plugs, and examining the insides of an aircraft engine to determine its health with the help of these three FAA Aviation Technicians of the Year.

 

IFR Refresher: Getting Back to Instrument Proficiency
Hear from Jim Simon, chief flight instructor and director of Rainier Flight Service. Simon’s motto is “Safety first,” and he’ll be putting his more than 5,000 hours of flight instructing experience to work so you can get back into the cockpit as pilot in command under instrument flight rules.

 

Overcoming Mountains & Water: Flying in the Extremes
Join renowned mountain flying specialist Lori MacNichol and AOPA Pilot magazine editor-at-large Thomas A. Horne to learn the skills necessary to fly safely in mountainous terrain, or over water, and learn what items these experts suggest you should have on-hand to survive after a forced landing in mountainous terrain, or after a ditching at sea.  You’ll gather around a general aviation airplane, pull a life raft out of storage, deploy it, inflate it, and don your personal flotation device in a real time run-through of a ditching emergency.

 

Understanding Aviation Weather

For September 8th-9th Norman, OK you will have a unique chance to tour the National Weather Center for a seminar called Understanding Aviation Weather.

 

Pilot Plus One©

Pilot Plus One is a comprehensive daylong educational seminar designed to educate, inspire, and encourage adventure pilots and non-pilot companions. The idea is simple, when we recognize the unlimited possibilities for using the airplane for recreation, vacation, business and charitable flights, we will all start flying more now. Pilot Plus One is a lively seminar with ample opportunities for audience participation. At the close of the day, we will have fabulous door prizes from Lightspeed Aviation and Flying Eyes Optics. Our schedule includes leading experts in the aviation.

More Than Just the $100 Hamburger: Fun destinations to Fly by George Kounis, Publisher/Editor in Chief, Pilot Getaways Magazine.

Overcoming Fear Unleashing Potential: Addresses common fears of pilots and right-seat flyers by Robert DeLaurentis, Pilot, author, and philanthropist

Picture Perfect: Tips and techniques to get the best in-flight and at destination photos by professional aviation photographer, Jim Koepnick

Right Seat Ready! This companion safety seminar by Jolie Lucas and Jan Maxwell provides familiarization for non-pilots including airframe, instruments, radios and avionics, aircraft control, emergency communications, navigation, heads-up flight display, and landings. It is a fun, fast-paced, hands on class sure to inspire confidence to be ready on the right.

 

So make a plan to get to Camarillo, CA., Norman, OK., Groton, CT., or Tampa, FL in 2017. I will look forward to meeting many of you.  Your attendance and participation will make you a more informed pilot.  Bring your Plus One and let us inspire you to have more fun adventures in the airplane.  From educational opportunities to exhibits, displays and camaraderie, these events should not be missed.   For registration please go to:  AOPA 2017

Jolie Lucas is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, private pilot, and Founder of two grass-roots general aviation service groups, Mooney Ambassadors and the Friends of Oceano Airport She is the 2010 AOPA Joseph Crotti Award recipient for GA Advocacy. Jolie is the Contributing Editor for AOPA Airport Support Network Newsletter. She the director and executive producer of the documentary: Boots on the Ground: the Men & Women who made Mooney©. She co-created Mooney Girls Mooney Girls and Right Seat Ready!© She is the creator of Pilot Plus One© Email: [email protected] Twitter: Mooney4Me

Follow your Lead, and then perhaps later you will lead.

Planning, Precision, Performance: how formation training can help us all be more proficient pilots.

I used to think that formation flight was dangerous for the average pilot. When asked by Mooney Caravan formation pilots why I didn’t partake I would say something like, “I don’t want to fly so close to someone I don’t know.” In July of 2016, I attended my first formation clinic held in Chino California. Later that month I flew right seat in the Mooney Caravan arrival into Oshkosh/AirVenture. Before those experiences, I suppose I had a certain amount of naïveté that allowed me to hold the belief that non-military G.A pilots would not be safe to fly formation. Boy was I wrong, on so many levels.

I have just returned from the sixth annual Gunfighters Formation Clinic at Yuma International Airport/MCAS. The three-day multifaceted event had something for everyone and gave us an opportunity to improve formation skills, demonstrate proficiency for mass arrivals to AirVenture/Oshkosh and socialize with the other, now hopelessly addicted, formation pilots.

For the second year, the Gunfighters Formation Clinic included training opportunities with the Red Star Pilots Association.  The Red Star Pilots Association is a federal 501(c) (3) non-profit whose mission is to promote and preserve the safe operation, display and enjoyment of all aircraft — jet to prop, aerobatic, sport, war bird and utility — especially those originating in the current and former communist block nations. They are a signatory with national Formation and Safety Team [F.A.S.T.] This allows them to train, qualify, and manage civilian formation pilots in the United States and Canada for the safe conduct of formation flight displays in the US and Canadian air show industry. Several of our attendees were awarded their wingman or lead cards at the training.

Our FBO Host was Million Air FBO.  James “Curly” Combs the General Manager of Million Air gave us an incredible experience.  The facilities and staff were top notch. The food from their Jet-a-Way Café was down-home and delicious. Yuma International Airport is a large airport facility that shares runways with the Marine Corps Air Station. I assumed that perhaps the FBO might reflect a larger more corporate feeling. My assumption couldn’t have been further from the actuality. Once arriving I immediately felt like part of the family.

Any aviation volunteer knows that there is a lot that goes into the planning and execution of a formation clinic, or for that matter, any  flying event.  The behind the scenes work that starts several months prior to the event is extensive.  Safely and effectively mixing a full range of formation pilots, IP’s and safety pilots is a daunting task that requires a dedicated Air Boss with a substantial  background.  Airspace planning, ingress/egress routes, altitudes, sector frequencies, and publications take a great deal of thought and effort.  Not to mention training materials, and standardization of instruction/mentoring. Kudos to organizer Chuck Crinnian, Air Boss Larry Brennan and all the others.

Just over forty airplanes came in for the weekend. The Thursday night ground school covered numerous topics including:

  • Ground Operations
  • Element Takeoff
  • Interval Takeoff
  • 2 Ship Formation Procedures
  • Fingertip Position
  • Fingertip Maneuvering
  • Route Position
  • Turns in Route
  • Cross Under
  • Echelon
  • Close Trail
  • Formation Recoveries
  • Element Approach and Landing
  • VFR Traffic Pattern Recoveries
  • Overhead Pattern
  • Taxi and Shutdown
  • Formation Maneuver and Rejoins
  • Four Ship Formation Procedures

Then our challenge was to actually fly those procedures on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. We began each exercise with an extensive brief. For me, this led to an increase sense of security knowing there was a procedure in place. I was paired with a seasoned CFI or Mentor pilot both days. The weather and landscape were beautiful in Yuma. Unfortunately, while flying formation I had my eyes glued to Lead and couldn’t see the majesty. The second day I got to fly Lead in a two-ship formation. I got a better look at the scenery that day.

All missions ended with detailed debrief covering negative and positive elements of the flight. Psychologically, the flying is challenging not only because of the proximity of other aircraft, but of the new nomenclature to be learned and maneuvers. I always find it interesting to be a “learner.” As a professional psychotherapist, aviation writer, and presenter, I am most comfortable leading and being an expert. Being a newbie was an exercise in patience with myself as I learned and grace when I made a mistake.

As is often typical with training of any sort, my abilities the second day were better than the first. The formation flying itself was very mentally and physically challenging. Taking off and landing in elements is a thrilling experience. I pushed myself to fly as precisely as possible and to increase my comfort level flying close to Lead. My level of focus was so intense that I found myself fatigued at the end of the day. Both nights we had a chance to share dinner as a group and to establish bonds of camaraderie.

Overall, the training experience was excellent. With focus, perseverance and encouragement the skills were all within my reach. I feel strongly that my formation training has made me a safer and more precise pilot. I would encourage all pilots to investigate formation training in their regions. I also left Yuma feeling like I had made some life-long friendships. I look forward to attending at least one more clinic before Oshkosh, then on to the mass arrival. We also learned the two most important rules in formation flight. #1 Don’t hit Lead, and #2 Refer to #1.

For more information on formation training and arrivals to OSH17:

Mooney Caravan: http://www.mooneycaravan.com/

Bonanzas to Oshkosh: https://www.b2osh.org/Web/B2OSH/Pages/Training/TrainingRegional.asp

Cessnas to Oshkosh: http://www.cessnas2oshkosh.com/920home.aspx

Cherokees to Oshkosh http://www.cherokees2osh.com/index.asp

Formation Flying Inc.: http://www.ffi.aero/

 

 

Jolie Lucas is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, private pilot, and Founder of two grass-roots general aviation service groups, Mooney Ambassadors and the Friends of Oceano Airport She is the 2010 AOPA Joseph Crotti Award recipient for GA Advocacy. Jolie is the Contributing Editor for AOPA Airport Support Network Newsletter. She the director and executive producer of the documentary: Boots on the Ground: the Men & Women who made Mooney©. She co-created Mooney Girls Mooney Girls and Right Seat Ready!© She is the creator of Pilot Plus One© Email: [email protected] Twitter: Mooney4Me

Why do we fly?

Community discussion among pilots takes the broad assumption that more flying is better, and predominate reasons pilots do not fly more is a limitation of money or medical conditions. Further, it is passively assumed that the mere act of being in an airplane is sufficient, and that we pretty much all do it for the same reasons.

It then occurred to me that, even though I grew up next to my grandfather’s airstrip and aircraft restoration shop, the standard dynamic was that I nagged him to fly, and he opted not to for sometimes weeks at a time. With an aircraft and runway next door, and from my perspective, the cost of avgas not an issue, the reality was that he wasn’t motivated to exert the effort; it only interested him in limited circumstances. Eventually, he confessed to the syndrome at age 75, when he bought a Bell 47 and earned his helicopter certificate, to cure the fact that fixed wing aviation lacked sufficient intrigue to bother.

It is assumed that we all love the $100 hamburger, and would engage in the practice more if schedules, money, or weather permitted such. Having lived for a period in the vaunted mecca of aviation, Alpine Airpark, there was a predictable phenomenon: new arrivals flew all the time, whereas longer-term owners would fly once or twice a week. The fantasy of daily formation flights among friends happened when it was new and exciting. When it became the new normal, people flew less, save for those who used aviation as a mode of transportation, or had some economic basis for flying.

All of these unspoken realities beckon the question: why do we fly?

I had that question smack me in the face in early December. We received a heavy snowfall in the mountains, with snow levels that came down relatively close to the valley. Of course I went flying, and captured some initial scenery that I intended. As I kept flying, I opted to head over Andorra, out of a sense of obligation with regard to a book project I had in mind. While it was pretty, it wasn’t, in the core sense of the word, something I was all that interested in. As I traversed extremely severe terrain in the Pyrenees, the thought crossed my mind that I wasn’t really enjoying myself. I immediately pushed it out as nonsense, and continued along.

Cadí-Moixeró after heavy snowfall – the part I was happy with.
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Severe terrain over the Pyrenees. Andorra before the ridge, France on the other side. Nagging suspicion I am pushing myself too hard.
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The next flight was a few days later, as I saw some clouds encircling Puigmal, a peak just shy of 10,000 feet on the France-Spain border. As I climbed above the clouds, I was greeted with stunning scenery of snow-covered peaks and sunshine, mystically set against a backdrop of clouds. Air was still, and the experience should have been magical. Instead, I had a profound and visceral realization: “What the hell am I doing up here?”

Puigmal – What the hell am I doing up here?
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Consistent with a strange sense of determination that I have, I obtained the photographs I had in mind for that flight and flew back to the airport, knowing that something was different inside. For the next three weeks, I had zero interest in flying, period. There was no desire, and the thought didn’t cross my mind at all. I made some headway after a text conversation with an acquaintance back in Wyoming, who made the comment: “You’re the most intrepid Cub pilot I know.” His observation opened up some very interesting introspection, as I started to make sense out of that profound personal moment circling Puigmal above the clouds.

Puigmal – finishing the job in a motivational haze.
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The tail had begun to wag the dog with the airplane. My personal goals are to explore terrain unknown to me; I photograph as a complementary activity. As my work enters the public sphere among readers, it gets noticed for the happenstance adventuresome elements required to undertake such exploration and photography, and that circled back to create a chase seeking more adventure for the sake of adventure. In a strange recursion cycle, I had the rare chance to be part of the public conversation about myself, and then started thinking I was personally motivated by the very things that others enjoyed about what I was doing.

That leads to the broader question that affects the entire pilot community: how often are we affected by the tail wagging the dog? Public conversation implies a binary and reductionist motivation to flying, and to what extent do we tell ourselves we are motivated by the very things others think applies to all? For that matter, are we doing ourselves a disservice by portraying a fantasy that many have to learn the hard way? For those that came to Alpine, Wyoming as new residents, brimming with joy about finally living the dream, there was someone else putting the property for sale, and still many others where the property sat dormant and remained unused. How many decades did some of these people fantasize about living a life centered around aviation, only to achieve it, become demotivated, and end up giving up on the dream altogether? Wouldn’t it be wiser to sort these issues out in advance, as opposed to making a massive purchase later in life, only to become disillusioned?

When I shared certain realities about my globally nomadic lifestyle with a friend, honestly cautioning him against falling into the same traps that I did, he wrote back and said: “You’re ruining the dream.” At first, I felt kind of bad, as though I was the Grim Reaper, here to tell people that their dreams are nothing but vain fantasies, until I did some deeper analysis of the matter. It is then that I realized that this friend of mine was feeding on the same zeitgeist about the romanticism of travel, that the mere act of doing it implied a deep sense of satisfaction, as others are portrayed as happy for doing so. My warnings to him were to understand his own motivation for wandering and to ignore popular reasoning, as things are not always as they are presented.

It is easier to accept a dream held out to us by others than to build our own, as many times our own is much more complex. Do we all wish to fly for the airlines, live on an airpark, commute to work in an airplane, restore an old airplane, have a personal jet, or the like? There is no straight answer, as aviation is a wide area of interest with almost limitless possibilities, and we participate for our own reasons. Certainly, the worst possible motivator is to decide to like something merely because everyone else thinks that is what the majority wants.

A logical question is what happened after my three week meditative hiatus from aviation. I figured out why I fly: to explore new things. Once that little switched turned on upstairs, I hopped in the plane and finally conquered Montserrat, the volcanoes of Olot, and a list of some other things. The reality is that, since that moment, I am flying more on average than before, and I distinctly enjoy the freedom I have chosen to give myself. As for the question I left at the end of my last blog post: I have not flown to another airport yet, though I am sure the time is coming soon.

Back in the saddle – Montserrat, on the outskirts of Barcelona.
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Inversion over the plains near Lleida.
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Volcano – Olot, Spain
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Fire season in the Pyrenees: January. 
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Mountain wave cloud over Moixeró ridgeline. Already back at confusing adventure flying.
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Descending mountain wave over La Masella
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First valley snow – La Cerdanya – LECD airport in right center.
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Garrett Fisher is an aerial adventure photographer, having photographed some of the most rugged and wild terrain in America from his 1949 Piper PA-11. After living in Germany with the Cub, he recently moved to the Spanish Pyrenees to continue the flying adventure. He has published six aerial photography books covering the Colorado Rockies, Wyoming, high terrain in the Southeast, and the Outer Banks, with more US and European books in the pipeline. He blogs regularly about his flights at www.garrettfisher.me.

The gift of currency

If there is one thing golden about 14 CFR Part 61, in my opinion, it is the instrument IFR currency rules. Minimalist, though they may be (and hallelujah to that, I say) I am thankful to have them, not because they drive customers to flight schools for more training, or pilots to their cockpits for a bit of practice approach “therapy,” but because of all the rules in Part 61 of the regulations, these just make sense.

IFR flying is performed in a complex and fluid, constantly changing environment. Worse, it is an environment that we pilots have limited control over. You can pick your weather day, for instance, but you cannot make that day proceed as forecast, and anyone who flies IFR in the winter will tell you that unless it is a cloudless, cold, bright day-after-the-front kind of morning where you don’t need IFR, the odds that the weather will change before you get to your destination are, well, in Vegas-speak, house odds. (Real good.)

All of the above is why I time my instrument proficiency program with the seasons. I am keen to get an Instrument Proficiency check (IPC) in June and December. The June check coincides with the summer thunderstorm and permanent stationary front that seems to coagulate and stagnate in the Ohio River Valley, and is always in my way heading north or south that time of year. The December check is about the morning fog and multitude of stratus layers that are consistently found in my corner of the globe near the holidays.

Why bother with the IPC at all? Why not just get my instrument currency in during the year and self-monitor? Because bad habits are hard to see in the mirror. Yep, even for someone who has flown instruments since the early 80s and teaches these techniques routinely it is good protocol to have an objective eye look over my procedures and provide critical commentary. Frankly, I learn something new, either about my airplane, my instrumentation, the National Airspace System, or myself every IPC check. That alone is worth the price of the CFII for two hours.

RedbirdThe best part about the IPC is that you don’t need a good weather day to go fly. In fact, you don’t need to get airborne at all. The modern Advanced Flight Training Devices (ATDs) available at many flight schools make, perhaps better platforms than the actual airplane for the kind of flight scenarios that constitute a typical IPC. Today’s FAA authorized ATDs are ideal for testing your mettle in the most challenging and realistic in-flight emergency situations. An hour in “the box” sweating out realistic cascading electrical and vacuum failures with a knowledgeable flight instructor is worth six in the airplane with a couple covered instruments on a bright blue-sky day. Best of all, weather is highly unlikely to cause the lesson to cancel!

So in this season of gift-giving, think about offering yourself something that’s got real value: flight currency that’ll take you right through to the spring thaw. Fly safe out there!

Amy Laboda has been writing, editing and publishing print materials for more than 28 years on an international scale. From conception to design to production, Laboda helps businesses and associations communicate through various media with their clients, valued donors, or struggling students who aspire to earn scholarships and one day lead. An ATP-rated pilot with multiple flight instructor ratings, Laboda enjoys flying her two experimental aircraft and being active in the airpark community in which she lives.

Alaska Pilot Reports Are Increasing!

When we pick up the mike and file a Pilot Report (PIREP) with Flight Service or ATC, we add an observation that helps the entire aviation community.  If weather is questionable, the first aircraft out in the morning is often the “weather ship” that reports conditions back to other pilots waiting to make their decision to fly. When we are that pilot sitting at the airport, with a forecast that could go either way, it can be very frustrating to wait for that first report along the route, or from the other side of the mountain pass.  Fortunately, a lot of attention has been given to PIREPs in the last couple of years, which I am cautiously optimistic to say is starting to produce results!  I would like to share with you some of the efforts that have brought us this far.

Lack of PIREPs concerning

Aircraft at the 2015 Valdez Fly-In, but no PIREPs in the system. Photo by Russ Ingram.

Aircraft at the 2015 Valdez Fly-In, but no PIREPs in the system. Photo by Russ Ingram.

The Valdez Fly-In, that takes place nominally the second weekend in May, is the largest event of its kind in the state. When the weather allows,  several hundred aircraft fly in to participate in the short field landing contest or other competitive events, or pilots may want to observe, socialize and simply enjoy aviation.  For the past couple of years, the weather has been a little dicey flying into Valdez, and yet both in 2014 and 2015 there were almost no PIREPs filed by those that did make it in.  This would have been a tremendous tool to help those flying behind decide if it was good idea to fly into what can certainly be considered some challenging terrain.   When I shared that observation with our friends at the Alaska Flight Service Program, they were interested enough to stand up a small working group to dig into the problem.  A number of industry organizations, including the Alaska Airmen Association, Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation and the Alaska Air Carriers Association have been meeting with FAA, the FAA Weather Camera Program, National Weather Service, National Institute of Occupational Health and others to explore issues regarding how PIREPs are collected and distributed — as well as look at ways to encourage pilots to file more of them.  Based on the work of this group, Flight Service has been more actively training their staff to solicit reports beyond the generic request normally received when pilots open a flight plan.

NTSB joins the party
Separate to this Alaska based activity, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) had seen a number of cases nationally in which PIREPs — had they been shared in a timely fashion — could have averted several accidents.   We learned that the NTSB was undertaking a special investigation into PIREPs, which prompted AOPA to conduct a national survey on the topic.  Many hours went into designing, conducting, promoting and evaluating the results. Last May, approximately 700 pilots took the time to respond to the survey—thank you to those who participated!  The survey revealed some interest results, here are a few highlights:

  • 83% of the pilots said PIREPs were “very” or “extremely” important for aviation safety
  • 71% indicated the emphasis on PIREPs during initial flight training was “little” to “none.”
  • While three-quarters of the respondents said they filed reports, 84% said they did so “sometimes” or “rarely.”

There are more results from the survey, but I will save that for another time.  A couple of interesting perceptions came out of the study. There is a general feeling that ATC isn’t interested in recording PIPEPS, with one respondent stating, “I have little confidence my PIREPS are going past their ears.” It was also felt that the reports are mostly a high-altitude feature.  The chief problem expressed was a shortage of reports, especially at lower altitudes: “Too few PIREPs are available for my route of flight to be useful” and “For flying lower than 5,000 feet, there just isn’t much PIREP information available.”  There were many complaints about difficulties in filing PIREPs, some of which are related to procedures in the lower 48 states rather than here in Alaska.  The feature that pilots wanted to see the most was an automated filing ability through applications such as Foreflight.

The NTSB held a two-day PIREP Forum at the end of June in Washington, DC where these and other results were shared with an impressive mixture of industry and government aviation stakeholders.  We are expecting to see what the NTSB gleaned from their investigation, due out in a report any day now.

The graphic display of PIREPs make it easier to access during flight planning (courtesy of SkyVector.com)

The graphic display of PIREPs make it easier to access during flight planning (courtesy of SkyVector.com)

Access to PIREPs has improved
It has become easier to access PIREPs in the past two years.  In addition to getting them via phone from FSS, or in a DUATs briefing there are now several websites that have either added or upgraded their capabilities to include graphic displays of PIREPs.  The National Weather Service’s Alaska Aviation Weather Unit has featured PIREPs for years, but now has a more dynamic zoomable map.  The FAA weather camera website has added PIREPs as a feature that the user may select to view, and SkyVector.com added reports with a graphic symbol that gives pilots a clue to the nature of the report as you plan your flight.  More details on these systems and features may be found on an earlier blog post (http://blog.aopa.org/vfr/?p=2737).

Comparison of PIREPs filed with the Alaska Flight Service Program for three months in 2015 to 2016

Comparison of PIREPs filed with the Alaska Flight Service Program for three months in 2015 to 2016

Results are encouraging
The good news is that the Alaska Flight Service Program reports some dramatic increases in PIREPs filed this summer in contrast to last year.  The figure below shows reports received by Flight Service for the months of July, August and September.  The graphic is a little complex, but shows a combination of the total number of 2016 PIREPs and the percent change from the same months in 2015. A third variable is the change in “traffic” for those months. By traffic, we mean the number of radio contacts FSS had with pilots that month.  For example, in July of  2016 there were over 3,000 PIREPs filed with Alaska FSS.  That was a 39% increase over July, 2015 while there was only 1.3% more traffic over the past year.  August saw a 26% increase in the PIREPs, while the number of calls to FSS was actually lower than the previous year. September was the lowest number of PIREPs received at just under 2,500, which still represented an 8 percent increase over the previous year.  I am still puzzling over whether September was such a good weather month that fewer pilots felt the need to file, but it is still very good news overall.

Comparison of PIREPs filed with the Alaska Flight Service Program for three months in 2016 in comparison to 2016

Looking ahead
It is easy to look at a single set on numbers and get excited, but there is still work to be done. One thing that was clear from the NTSB Forum—there are more audiences for PIREPs than just pilots. The weather forecasters say they rely on them heavily to create and validate their forecasts.  Atmospheric scientists archive and use PIREPs to develop and test new forecasting models.  ATC uses them to decide when to change arrival and departure routes during dynamic weather situations, and of course the pilot behind you who hasn’t yet entered the mountain pass is waiting to hear what conditions are like today.

Please be sure to file a PIREP or two as you fly, even if it reporting flight good conditions. The weather forecasters are also interested in reports that confirm the lack of turbulence, or other conditions that might be better than the forecast.  They will change the extent of an AIRMET or create a SIGMET, sometimes on the strength of a single report.  If you want to contribute to improving safety in the aviation community, but feel you need to bone up on how to give a PIREP, the AOPA Air Safety Institute offers an online PIREPs Made Easy class (https://www.aopa.org/training-and-safety/online-learning/online-courses).

The real test will be to see how many PIREPs are filed leading up the Valdez Fly-In next May!

A Dreamer for G.A.

Ever since he was a kid, Kyle Fosso has dreamed of becoming a pilot. He began flying at age 14, and bought his own 1954 Cessna 170B at age 15. The 170 had been crashed into the water in Alaska in 1974, and sat for 40 years until Kyle bought it. After 6 years of working every day, he is finally ready to fly. Kyle became a private pilot this year and was trained by Jason Schappert at M0A in Ocala, Florida. Kyle plans to film a flight to all 50 states, to show how awesome flying is, and how beautiful America can be from the air. He also enjoys taking new passengers for their first flight, and giving them that feeling he had when he took his first flight years ago. For someone so young, Kyle gives us all an example on how to share passion, exhibit dedication, and persevere over some large obstacles.Kyle Fosso

According to Kyle, “Dreams are what’s most valuable in life. When you eat, sleep, live, and breathe your dream, work for it every day and night you give it no option to deny you of that which you desire.”

On his Facebook page, Kyle wrote an open letter to high-school students without direction, like he was before he began this dream: “While traveling and speaking at high schools I have met several students age 14-18 who want to do something with their life, and either don’t know what to do, or don’t think that they can “Because ____[insert obstacle here].” But several want to be like me. I have been able to speak to hundreds of kids, but know that I won’t get the chance to speak to all of you, so if I don’t have the chance, here is what I want you to know: And I want you, high-schoolers, to read this as if I am writing YOU, directly, because I am. I am expecting you to emulate, meaning ‘to match or surpass’ everything I say.”

Kyle is someone who really does put his words into actions. Not only is he touring around the country talking with high school Kyle speakerkids, but also he loves to give rides in his airplane. “I think it’d be great to take teenagers for their first flight and really show them what this is all about. Even a 14-year-old with no money who has a mind for being resourceful and says “I’m going to do this no matter what it takes, no matter what comes up. I’m going to do it.” That’s the mindset I had. I was going to do this. I want to share aviation with them, and hopefully get some more people interested in becoming pilots or ultimately just pursuing whatever goal is on their minds” he says. That’s what’s next for Kyle, to use his success as motivation to create more dreamers.

Verizon/AOL has signed its first major virtual reality ad deal when it announced it purchased virtual reality and 360-degree video company RYOT. The deal, which a spokesperson for AOL said was worth seven figures, will leverage RYOT to create a branded video series, written articles, social media posts, and 360-degree/VR videos in partnership with American Family Insurance and media agency Mindshare. The series will focus on heroes inside their communities overcoming their challenges. It will run from late October until the end of the year. Kyle’s story is part of a multi million dollar deal between RYOT (Verizon) and American family insurance. His episode is 3 of 3 and airs on 12/15/16. It will be uploaded to Huffpost and YouTube.

VFR Sim and Kyle have also joined forces and the now-famous 170B will also be featured. From their website,We’re excited to announce: Kyle’s N2771C will be fully, and faithfully represented in the VFR Sim Cessna 170B package. We’re taking it global, and we’re taking Kyle’s story global, as we incorporate every real-world feature of 2771C, into the 170+sim project! Several great parts manufacturers are also joining forces with VFR Sim, so that we can accurately represent each upgrade and modification, so that every item will both look and perform realistically within the simulated model. Kyle’s 170 is equipped with a Stoots Aviation 180hp IO-360 engine and an 83″ Hartzell trailblazer propeller is also equipped with C-180 gear, ’82 Cessna 172 doors, 175 Wings, a C-182 Skylight, Windshield V-Brace and will sport a custom designed interior, with classy upholstery, extended baggage compartment and external baggage door.”Kyle2

For a now 21 year old, Kyle has had a lot of media attention and opportunities. He remains humble and focused. “You need to be undeniable and make each day count, you need to be grateful for everything that has gotten you to where you are at, the help from the right people, like the people in my life that I am so grateful for. I’m grateful for the opportunities presented to me and my ability to make the best of them, I’m grateful for the country we live in that allows a 15 year old to dream bigger than many thought possible.”

Jolie Lucas is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, private pilot, and Founder of two grass-roots general aviation service groups, Mooney Ambassadors and the Friends of Oceano Airport She is the 2010 AOPA Joseph Crotti Award recipient for GA Advocacy. Jolie is the Contributing Editor for AOPA Airport Support Network Newsletter. She the director and executive producer of the documentary: Boots on the Ground: the Men & Women who made Mooney©. She co-created Mooney Girls Mooney Girls and Right Seat Ready!© She is the creator of Pilot Plus One© Email: [email protected] Twitter: Mooney4Me
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