Menu

Category: GA community (page 1 of 14)

HAARP Project under new management: Watch for the TFR

The High-Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) is a research program that has been used to study the ionosphere since 1990. The facility, north east of the Gulkana Airport, is home to radio transmitters and an array of antennas that can transmit 3.6 megawatts of energy into the atmosphere, in support of research projects.  It doesn’t operate very often, a few times per year at present, but when it does, pilots don’t want to be in the path of this beam of radio energy.  Consequently, we should be on the lookout for a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) that will be activated during campaigns, to avoid flying over the facility.  The next campaign is from September 21-25, but there will be others to follow.  Make sure to check NOTAMs, in case this TFR is active when you are flying in the Copper River Basin, or transiting the area to or from the Alaska Highway route to Canada.

Social media notice of the September research campaign at the HAARP facility near Gakona. Watch for a TFR when the facility is in operations.

What is HAARP?
Located about 16 nautical miles northeast of the Gulkana Airport (GKN), the facility houses a 33-acre array of antennas, and when operating, can send pulses of energy into the upper reaches of the atmosphere to stimulate this zone, providing a means to study what happens there. Research has potential implications for understanding properties ranging from the aurora to long-range communications. Until recently, the Air Force operated the facility, in support of Department of Defense research interests, primarily dealing with communication and navigation interests.  In 2015, the facility was transferred to the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Geophysical Institute to operate.  For more information on the facility, see the frequently asked questions document at http://gi.alaska.edu/haarp/faq.

Why a TFR?
AOPA has followed the operation of the HAARP facility for many years, primarily out of concerns with possible disturbance to aircraft navigation and/or communications systems. While managed by the Air Force, operations were conducted as a Controlled Firing Area (CFA), meaning that the Air Force had to shut down their transmitter if an aircraft came within a prescribed distance.  They used a radar system to detect aircraft and shut down the transmitter if an aircraft got too close.  When the Geophysical Institute took over operations, FAA re-examined those procedures and decided that the CFA was not adequate, in part due to the high-altitude nature of the impacts. The TFR language is expected to define an area from the surface to FL250.

The HAARP Facility north east of the Gulkana Airport, will have a TFR protecting the airspace around the facility when in operations, similar to this graphic. Check NOTAMs for details and active times.  Map courtesy of SkyVector.com

The HAARP Project has re-established a phone number that pilots may call during times the facility is operating.  They have also temporarily re-established a VHF radio frequency, to allow pilots to contact the facility while airborne. These mechanisms should allow pilots operating in the area to have a direct line of communication to obtain more detailed information than the NOTAM is expected to contain, given the real-time nature of changes in the experimental world.  AOPA has also requested that the facility be charted on the Anchorage Sectional, to make it easier for pilots to become familiar with the location of the facility.  In addition to a NOTAM for a TFR, during operations pilots may call the HAARP site, near Gakona, at 907-822-5497, or on VHF radio frequency 122.25 MHz.  Information will also be available on Facebook and Twitter at @uafhaarp.

Stay tuned for more information as the transition from Air Force to university operations proceed. And make sure to check NOTAMs to find out when the TFR is activated.

Think like an upside down wedding cake: three-tiered airport advocacy works

Unique airplanes on display at AOPA,Norman

Having just returned from Norman Oklahoma and the AOPA Regional Fly-In I was impressed to see the record attendance numbers at the two-day event. Over 7500 people and 500 airplanes came to enjoy the Friday educational seminars and the Saturday events. This year, AOPA broke the mold of the wildly successful regional fly-in by adding Friday seminars, which educate both the pilot, and non-pilot (as with Pilot Plus One/Right Seat Ready). In observing the event at Norman, I was reminded of the three-tiered model of airport advocacy. In action were local pilot groups, the eleventh annual Aviation Festival, the University of Oklahoma, state-level aviation associations, and of course nationally AOPA.

Jan Maxwell, co-founder Right Seat Ready! companion seminar.

As pilots, we are all used to looking at Class B airspace as an upside-down wedding cake. We understand that the first level extends from the ground upward; a larger ring sits on top of that, and a still larger ring above that. I have long believed that in terms of airport advocacy we need to subscribe to a three-tiered model. Much like Class B, we have the central core being the boots on the ground, local level. Above that are the state level and finally the national level. Let’s take a closer look:

Tier 1 – Local Advocacy: Local wisdom is the best source of information at an airport. Who better understands current issues, history, and future needs better the pilots who are based there? What can you do locally?

  • Join your local airport organization.
  • Find out who your AOPA ASN volunteer is.
  • Attend Airport Land Use Meetings.
  • Host community events at your airport.
  • Form a business relationship with your City or County Planners.
  • Attend all City or County sponsored airport meetings.
  • Attend Airport meetings.
  • Look for chapters of state aviation organizations in your town/area/region.
  • Use media to the airport’s best interest [newspaper, radio, social media, TV].
  • Create a good working relationship with your airport manager.

 Tier 2 – Statewide Organizations: Not every state has its own general aviation organization. But a quick Google search will tell you if your state does. Statewide airport advocacy organizations are important because they maintain statewide contacts, information, and strategies. Further, our statewide groups can also advise and assist the local airport groups when issues arise.

Tier 3 – National Organizations: Our national aviation organizations are a critical piece of the three-tiered airport defense strategy. Membership insures that each maintains its ability to support statewide or local airport/pilot organizations. If you do not belong to AOPA, EAA, NBAA, you should. Critical to interfacing with our congressional representatives, lobbying that national pilot organizations provide a large presence in Washington, DC. This voice serves to remind DC of the importance of general aviation to the nation’s transportation infrastructure.

As a resident of California, I get the pleasure of seeing the three-tiered model in full effect coming up October 13th and 14th at historic San Carlos Airport [KSQL]. The California Pilots Association  in conjunction with the San Carlos Airport Association is presenting AirFest 2017. The two-day event sponsored by ACI Jet,  features a Friday night wine and food reception with AOPA President, Mark Baker. Saturday’s workshops range from safety seminars and airport advocacy to disaster preparedness. All three levels of local state and national are working together to provide educational, social and advocacy.  I would encourage everyone to think like an upside down wedding cake when it comes to advocating for GA and airports. Think globally and act locally. The more we promote general aviation the more we protect our airports.

CalPilots Airfest 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

Alaska Governor recognizes role of aviation

Governor Bill Walker has declared September to be Aviation Appreciation Month in Alaska.  In his proclamation, the Governor recognized some of the ways that aviation stands out here:

  • Providing access to 82 percent of the communities in the state—that are not connected to our sparse road system
  • As operating 242 airports across the Alaska, more than any other state in the nation
  • Supporting the economy, not only by providing basic transportation infrastructure, but by generating almost 17,000 jobs tied to the airports at Anchorage and Fairbanks alone.
  • Including backcountry airstrips among the components of the aviation infrastructure important to Alaska

Please join us in celebrating aviation during the month of September, with thanks to the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities staff who plan, design, build and operate airports; municipal governments that manage airports in their communities; maintenance facilities, parts suppliers, flight schools, aviation organizations and many other stakeholders that keep us flying!

 

Come on in, the water’s fine: Flying, Family and Fun at EAA Seaplane base

Flying, Family and Fun at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh Seaplane base

Experiencing the Seaplane Base at EAA/OSH for the first time was at once thrilling and relaxing. I have attended EAA AirVenture nearly every year since 2008. On Monday morning of convention, I found myself with a few “unscheduled” hours. So, I mentioned to my friend that I wanted to go to the Seaplane Base. A few minutes later we were pulling up to the parking lot having a good time teasing the gate attendants, who thought we were sisters, about whether they were brothers. After years of pulling into to various EAA parking lots, the vibe at the base was noticeably different. The area is lush and green; the trees were swaying in the breeze as we followed a bark path to the base. A few weeks before I had posted on Facebook that I was hoping to get a seaplane ride this year. I was pleased to get an offer from Don Smith to come out and get a tour and a flight in his 2015 Husky.

Pontoon Boat Tour Captain

Once arriving to the base you are met with warm smiles and a great view of airplanes bobbing up and down at their tie-downs. Nearly immediately, we were asked if we wanted a pontoon boat tour of the lagoon, which we quickly accepted. During the boat, tour the history of the seaplane base was shared as well as the details about how the base comes together once a year through the labor of a team of dedicated volunteers.  According to The Story of AirVenture Seaplane Base by Richard A. Steeves since the early 30’s the Vette family has owned over 27 acres of lakefront land along the shore of Lake Winnebago. “John Vette Jr. was one of the “Early Birdmen,” who flew and owned quite a variety of aircraft, including the amphibious Duck for the navy during W.W.II. After the war, he opened a business south of Oshkosh, near the family farm. Among his employees, an engineer named Al Ziebell developed a friendship with Bill Brennand, with whom he enjoyed fishing for walleyes along the lakeshore. By 1949, they decided it would be much easier if they had a boathouse near the shoreline for storing their gear, so Bill bought 1.9 acres of Vette land around the inner harbor. In 1957 Bill bought a Piper J3 on floats, and with help from Al and others, built some ramps for seaplane storage when they were not off on fishing trips to Canada.” In the early 70’s EAA’s Paul Poberenzy began negotiations to make the Seaplane Base a part of EAA’s annual convention. According to AirNav, the owners of 96WI continue to be the Vette family with John and his sister Burleigh.

Much like Burning Man’s 88NV Blackrock City Airport, 96WI the Vette/Blust Seaplane Base is active only one week a year and is created and maintained by volunteers. The rest of the year the Seaplane Base reverts to 20 plus acres of serene lakeside woodlands. Starting with a work party on Memorial Weekend and ending shortly after convention, the Seaplane Base welcomes hundreds of airplanes and visitors.

Don Smith

There are educational seminars daily including topics from the FAA, the Coast Guard, and the Department of Natural Resources. Women Soar You Soar also brought many aviation- minded girls out to the base for a tour and a ride. From karaoke night to the famous Watermelon Social sponsored by Wipaire, there is something going on at the base every day at AirVenture.

A quick walk around the grounds led us to Don Smith, a longtime volunteer.  Don has an enthusiasm for aviation and the base that is just infectious. It was such a pleasure to be able to fly with someone that knew every detail about the seaplane base and Lake Winnebago. We taxied out past a controller in the OSH pink shirt. He waved as we came out of the lagoon area to the lake-proper.

A different kind of tower controller

The lake was a bit choppy which made take off a little bumpy, but within a minute or so, we were airborne over the lush landscape. I have flown in a seaplane only once before in Northern California. Don was quick to point out methods for determining wind direction and speed. Although he offered to let me fly, I chose just to be a passenger to soak up the sights and sounds. Flying over the water and the farmlands took me back so a simpler time. I could easily imagine what it would have been like to fly in the 40’s and early 50’s. On short approach to final, I could see folks sitting on the beach and under the trees enjoying the show. Don had a great landing and we taxied back to his spot buoy #1.

Later in the week, I had the pleasure to attend the Watermelon Social sponsored by Wipaire. I had been at convention all day where the pace is more hurried and busy. It was so lovely to be able head to the base and just relax and renew. It is hard to describe the vibe at the lakeside, I suppose the best way to put it is everyone operates on “island time.” I can say that I never met at stranger while there, from the fellow working the first aid stand who gave me a cold bottle of water on a hot day, to the folks working in the booths that dotted the path.

Rod Machado once said to me, “Airplane folks are the best folks.” I have to agree with that. The volunteers who annually build this paradise should be proud of themselves. Visitors are greeted warmly, educated, and engaged. The scenery is stunning and the warm camaraderie greatly appreciated. A big thank you to Don and the gang at the seaplane base. The memories will be with me always and I will be coming back next year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Out of this World Request: an invitation for a different view

It’s not everyday you get an invitation to help create another world.  Tony, a software developer working on scenery add-ons for the X-Plane flight simulator, contacted me few days ago. He is creating a version of Oceano Airport [L52] for the X-Plane flight simulator and was trying to make the airfield look as realistic as possible. Specifically he was looking for photographs or for a contact that would be willing to take some photographs of the airfield so, he could recreate the airfield as accurately as possible. His hope was that the airfield will be available for anyone who wishes to use it, and it would be great to have a faithful replication inside the simulator that people will instantly recognize as the real thing.

Oceano, CA is my home airport and near and dear to my heart. Who wouldn’t want to help a developer [software only!] get an understanding of the value of our airport, it’s layout and surroundings. The initial email he sent said that he was in need of:

  • “Photographs of the buildings head on.
  • Pictures of any signage around the airfield, including notices, advertisements.
  • Pictures of the hangars on the far side of the field, these are hard to find imagery for.
  • Pictures of the buildings on the other-side of the runway, those near to the traffic pattern indicator.
  • A few more of the clubhouse building from the car park.
  • The building where I think you can use bicycle.
  • The signs facing out to the car park by the fuel tank. I think it’s a map of “You are here”, but there are also some other signs around.
  • Further down there are lots of T shaped hangars, any close-up shots you can get would be great.
  • If you can, more pictures of the Stearman. This will be a fun one to create a 3D model for.” The photos below show where we started as his renderings were mostly from Google Earth.”

I had a blast going down to the airport and taking the photos he needed. Each time I sent him a batch he asked for a few more details. I guess this request made me think about the airport in a new light. The computer-generated simulator could never capture the life and breath of this airport. Airport Improvement monies are funding the installation a new and necessary ASOS. While taking photos of the Pirate’s Lair on the far side of the field, I just smiled. The flags from the Oceano Air Pirates as well as the flags from neighboring airports [Santa Maria Rocketeers, Lompoc Cubbies] were flapping in the breeze. Four Cessnas flew in and unloaded. Many were headed to the beach for the sunny day. Our loaner bikes were checked out. Skydive Pismo Beach was loading up the jump plane, and Banner Airways was giving rides in the Stearman.

Actual Photo

Simulation Photo

I suppose real or simulated, my home airport is a slice of paradise worth protecting and promoting. I am so happy that Tony reached out from X-Plane. I got the benefit of seeing Oceano Airport from some new angles, which also gave me some ideas for sprucing up. I look forward to seeing the finished copy on the simulator, as well as enjoying the reality of our beach-side airport for many years to come.

Next time you are at your airport, try to see it from a visitor’s eyes. Perhaps you will see some small improvements would make big changes toward the positive. As ASN volunteers we all work hard for our GA airports, but we can’t become complacent now, we must always strive to put our best foot forward to our communities and our visitors.

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

Make Their Eyes Light Up

Nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains in California is Columbia Airport [O22]. I am just back from attending the 51st annual Father’s Day Fly-In. This two-day event is really a model of community involvement, fun interactive aviation activities, aircraft displays, and opportunities to fly in historic airplanes.

Future Mooney Pilot

I have had a Mooney Ambassador display and volunteered at the fly-in for many many years. Columbia is one of the few “camping” trips I go on. They have a fly-in campground that has lovely hot showers and power! But more than that is the welcoming down-home feeling of this little gem of an airport. I am always amazed at the turnout of young and old at the event.

Here is a rundown on the half-century event; maybe it will spark an idea for your home base or local fly-in. The weekend started with the Friday night Volunteer Engine Company dinner supporting the local fire department. Both Saturday and Sunday mornings began with the Boy Scout Troop Pancake Breakfast in the campground. On the ramp were a variety of vendors and displays.

Airplane Rides in the white Stearman named Snowball or a 172 were available from Springfield Flying Service, who has a super cool domain name: http://letsgofly.com

Tiger Squadron

Tiger Squadron

 

 

 

 

The afternoon both days featured aerial demonstrations that thrilled the audience. The Tiger Squadron started the airshow with a formation fly-over at the end of the singing of the national anthem. Nine members flew military airplanes including the Chinese Nanchang CJ-6A, Russian Yak 52, Yak 50, and the Yak 18T.

The Baybombers mass formation military display team delighted us with precision, speed, and sound: A shiny Beech 18 was hopping rides and provided some fly-bys. There’s nothing like the sound of radial engine to get your attention.

Moo Pool

During the heat of the day, we were treated to several drag races featuring muscle cars. There were several Airplane vs. Car Races, but my favorite was the Stearman vs. Model A “Race.” Two pieces of history battling it out for top honors.  My Moo Pool was a hit again this year.  Probably the best $10 I have spent a few years ago was a kiddie swimming pool.  It became a gathering place to cool down and we had a birds-eye view of the airshow. Later in the day on Saturday, we were treated to watching pilots test their skills with the Flour Bombing & Spot Landing Contest.

Executive Sweet

Pilot Alex Nurse

A slice of history, Executive Sweet [B25J] attended, offering rides to those who wanted to go back in time. The American Aeronautical Foundation located in Camarillo, CA, owns the B25 Mitchell Bomber. They are a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to helping preserve the aviation legacy of World War II Veterans and the aircraft they flew.  I actually met a couple of the crew when they were admiring my airplane and the shiny paint job. I mentioned that I have a small oil leak that was making me crazy.  One of the pilots, Alex Nurse, said if I wanted to see oil to come over to the B25. I took him up on the offer and got a tour of the mighty airplane. Looking up at the airplane I was just mesmerized by the history it has seen. Standing under the bomb bay doors was sort of eerie; it was almost like I could feel the hopes and dreams of the men who flew her oh so many years ago. Climbing in to the cockpit was quite a feat and really gave me an appreciation for the airmen who scrambled around in challenging flying conditions. Alex described his passion for the AAF and his commitment, as a volunteer pilot, to sharing the history of Executive Sweet with the community. He talked about getting older veterans in the airplane [some who even flew in a B25] who walk slowly to the B25 and how once in the plane they are able to move around nimbly and their eyes light up.

I suppose young or old the goal of these community airport days is to have your eyes light up. I applaud the Airport Manager Ben Stuth and Kalah Beckman [whose real title is Administrative Assistant, but I think she should be Fly-In Organizational Queen] for their hard work and commitment to both safety and enjoyment. I worked side-by-side with a team of volunteers for the weekend. Many times the Fly-In is the only time we see each other. There were many volunteers from the communities of Columbia, Sonora, and Twain Harte that didn’t have a connection to aviation, but shared the love of flight. One young volunteer asked me if I loved having my pilots license and being able to go in the sky. As I packed up the airplane in the 100-degree weather, I smiled, looked up, and said, “Yes.”

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

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!

Older posts