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Flying Slice of History; the Rare Noorduyn Norseman to OSH21 Pt.1

In late June 2021 I received a message from Brent Blue asking if I would like to fly right seat to Oshkosh in his 1942 Noordyun Norseman.  Honestly I had never heard of the Norseman but after a quick review of this historic Canadian WWII aircraft I was keen to say yes.

Pilot and Right Seat Pilot           Brent Blue & Jolie Lucas

I had never flown with Brent but knew him through his work with AOPA [more here] and his website Aeromedix  We spent a few hours talking about planning, our individual flying styles, ratings, wish list for stops along the way, and of course the planned Saturday arrival to the big event, #OSH21.


For more information and an article on 164UC in Vintage Airplane Magazine, click here.


I flew commercially into Jackson Hole WY on the Tuesday evening before OSH21.  As I deplaned, I saw Brent talking with a fellow in the baggage claim area.  Little did I know that was a harbinger for the next 11 days. After living in Jackson for decades, it seemed like everywhere we went I heard “Hey Brent!”.  During our planning meetings I asked what the limitations on weight and baggage were.  Brent let me know that my baggage allowance for the flight across the country was 900 lbs [which is close to my full-fuel useful load in the Mooney].  After we collected my meager 100 pounds of luggage we loaded up into his big white truck. I couldn’t help but notice the signs that said “Coroner” on the truck.  I knew Brent had been in medicine for decades but did not know he was the Teton County Coroner. I have to say that I did get some “looks” when I was driving his big white truck in the National Park the next day.

Brent had a full day of patients on Wednesday and I got to borrow the truck and go explore the area including Jackson and the Grand Teton National Park.  My time in the park was so magical. I am a mountain girl and have been to many beautiful places around the globe, but I have to say the Tetons were pure magic.

The weather was warm and clear in Wyoming and the forecast was for VFR flight.  The plan was to rendezvous in the late afternoon and drive to Driggs, Idaho [KDIG ]for our departure to Casper, WY.  We loaded up the plane, completed a very thorough pre-flight and departed the airport.  The goal of this flight was to climb in the airport area to gain altitude needed to have a comfortable margin above the terrain.  As with the best laid plans we found that the density altitude was the big winner of the day.  We “climbed” for about 20 minutes and only gained a few hundred feet.

Sunrise departure from  Driggs ID for Mason City, IA

The next morning, we left in the cool, clear air and had no problems whatsoever. Being a day “behind” meant that we had a very long day of flights in front of us.

Super happy to have my Lightspeed headset to cancel the noise from that big round thing up front.

Some of you might remember my Dad was an instructor in the Army Air Corps.  He flew the Stearman out of Rankin Field in Tulare, CA in the early 40s.  He told me many stories of hanging out with Tex Rankin, Sammy Mason and others.  For me, flying in this historic WWII plane gave me an idea of what it must have been like for my Dad.

Flying behind that big radial engine was so thrilling in a slow-motion sort of way.  The Pratt & Whitney R1340 engine puts out 600 horses, but it is pulling a big, heavy, airplane.  Brent was very generous in briefing me on the controls, flight characteristics and procedures in flying the Norseman.  Having the majority of my time in a Mooney, it was a little adjustment to the heavy hand needed on the controls and lag time in responsiveness. The plane features a flip-flop yoke.  I was able to take-off, climb, establish in cruise and even did a “high-speed” pass.  By the end of the second day I was able to keep the plane headed in the right direction, once trimmed, with my toes.

Another difference between the Mooney is the  Norseman burns 30- 34 gallon per hour and about a half-gallon of oil.  We cruised at between 85-100 mph.  I really enjoyed flying with the windows down, seeing the country side unfolding beneath me and got used to the wind in my face and the occasional drop of oil landing on me.

One thing I learned straight away is this airplane is historic, rare, and draws a crowd wherever it goes. Production began on this Canadian single-engine bush plane in 1935.  Only 900 or so were produced.  The beefy air-frame came equipped with interchangeable wheel, ski or twin-float landing gear. Brent explained that his was the only Norseman flying in the continental United States. Along the way I learned what a great ambassador he is for general aviation.

July 22nd was a long day of flying as we had the goal to reach Mason City IA [KMCW] for their “Third-Thursday” event.  This monthly gathering was due to be especially large due to the proximity to the start of Oshkosh. I love their slogan, “There’s no agenda, no officers, no speakers, and no budget.”

We cast a big shadow as we landed.   Even behind that big engine, it was clear to see the multitude of airplanes on display which included the famous C47 “That’s All Brother”. The CAF has restored the historic aircraft and was hopping rides all afternoon for lucky attendees. To read more about TAB click here

On approach to Mason City, IA

The afternoon was sunny and warm with clear skies.  Another fun element of Mason City Iowa was our stay at the last remaining Frank Lloyd Wright designed and built hotel in the world, the Historic Park Inn. We checked in and soon enough were back out at the airport to enjoy the wonderful hospitality of Doug and Kim Rozendaal and the Third Thursday crew.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was simply a perfect GA evening.  The grills were going much to this meat-a-tarian’s delight.  Hundreds of folks checking out the 50+ airplanes that came in.  From student pilots to old-timers, the excitement of heading to Oshkosh ’21 was in the air.  The Norseman was a hit with many, many, visitors and folks coming by to take photos.  We enjoyed the evening and then hit the hay for our early morning departure to Middleton, WI [c29] and their Rock the Ramp celebration. . I will continue our journey to Oshkosh in next month’s installment.


 

Gabriel Muller Smokehouse Pilots, Aviation YouTuber Martin Pauly and my Mom & Dad beaming in on me.

As I close, I would like to remind folks, in the waning flying season of ’21, to take advantage of any on-field events going on in your community or region.  Please don’t forget online virtual events as well.


Here’s your personal invitation to attend California Pilots Association October 16th California Zooming event.  This is our second annual day-long virtual conference.  You will learn about airport advocacy, attend our annual meeting, and enjoy three FAAST WINGS credit safety seminars featuring John & Martha King, Captains Brian Schiff, Mike Jesch and Gary Schank. This FREE event is open to anyone with the ability to virtually Zoom along with us.

If you join CalPilots  you will be eligible to win a member door prize. A big thank you to our door prize sponsors:  AOPA, Precise Flight, Lightspeed Aviation, MyGo Flight, LIFT Aviation PilotSafety.org, Flying Eyes Optics, PlaneTags.com, and Pacific Coast Avionics.  WINGS credit is available for our safety seminars.  John and Martha King are our keynote speakers.  Please join us for the fun.

Register here:  https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/4916318099040/WN_VfX6gz6iQtO5fE1GIK1M5A

Watch our fun YouTube video Follow the Link:  https://youtu.be/-l8kqtxTKrs

 

 

 

 

 

Jolie Lucas makes her home on the Central Coast of CA with her mini-Golden, Mooney. Jolie is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and commercial pilot. Jolie is a nationally-known aviation presenter and aviation writer. Jolie is the Region 4 Vice President of the California Pilots Association. She is the 2010 AOPA Joseph Crotti Award recipient for GA Advocacy. Email: [email protected] Web: www.JolieLucas.com Twitter: Mooney4Me

FAA to extract visibility from weathercams through crowd sourcing: looking for Alaskan volunteers

Since its inception the FAA Weather Camera Program has provided Alaska pilots with a valuable tool, helping us make critical go/no go decisions.  Today, FAA is looking to squeeze more information out of the system by estimating visibility from the images.  To conduct a demonstration project, they are looking for 40 weather camera users—pilots, dispatchers or other users, to make visibility estimates based on web camera images.  If you are willing to help advance this effort, consider participating in a short training session, and signing up to help.

The FAA Weather Camera Program has provided supplementary weather information to pilots in Alaska for 25 years.

Background:
A weather camera system for aviation use was first demonstrated as part of a PhD graduate student’s program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in April, 1996—in what was supposed to be a six month operational demonstration at three locations.  It proved so popular that FAA took over those sites, and has continued to add camera locations, now operating some 230 sites across Alaska. More recently FAA is installing cameras in Hawaii and Colorado and is hosting third-party camera data from more locations, including in Canada.

Breaking new ground:
A new phase of the program is underway today—to extract additional, more quantifiable information from the camera sensors.  Earlier this year pilots were asked to evaluate visibility data derived from image processing of weather camera images.  Now, the FAA is looking for volunteers to explore a crowd-sourcing approach to estimating visibility.  If you are a pilot, dispatcher, or other FAA weather camera user, and would be willing to spend two hours a week over the course of a few weeks, consider signing up to help FAA explore this means of collecting weather camera data.  You will be asked to look at weather camera images and estimate the visibility based on what you see in the image. Scheduling is flexible and a one-hour online training session provides the background you need to participate.  The project is expected to run between two and four weeks in duration. Your participation would help advance our understanding of how to extract more value from the weather camera system.

To access the presentation:

FAA ZoomGov Meeting.
Optional ways to join are:

Click to Join:
https://faavideo.zoomgov.com/j/16130653524
• Passcode: 642640
• If prompted, accept the Zoom application as instructed.

Mobile Device:
• Download the ‘Zoom Cloud Meetings’ App.
• Select ‘Join a Meeting’ and enter Meeting ID: 161 3065 3524
• Passcode: 642640

Phone Audio Only:
• Call 1-888-924-3239; enter Meeting ID: 161 3065 3524
• Passcode: 642640
• Unmute or mute yourself by pressing *6.

How to help:
Please consider helping to explore this use of the FAA Weather Camera data by volunteering some of your time and expertise. Participate in the virtual training session shown above.  Send an email with your contact information (email address and phone number) to: [email protected] or [email protected] who will respond with additional information regarding the project and how to schedule your participation.

NASA terrain avoidance flight system demonstrated

NASA is developing technology initially created for fighter aircraft into a tool to help general aviation aircraft to avoid collisions with terrain.  While many of us fly today with features in our GPS that will alert us to the proximity of terrain, the basic response is, “pull up—pull up.” If, however you are in a confined location that option may not be the best response—or even possible.  While still ‘work in progress,’ NASA is hosting a live, online demonstration of their Resilient Autonomy Activity, an outgrowth of a system developed for use in the F-16 fighters.  Mark your calendar for Wednesday, September 22, at 6 pm Alaska Daylight Time, to watch a simulation demonstration in some Alaskan  mountainous terrain.

Background
Most of the terrain awareness and warning devices that we see today in our general aviation cockpits do little more than flash orange or red, depending how close we are, with the only guidance being to climb.  But NASA has been working on something better.  The NASA Resilient Autonomy Activity is developing a system that provides more options on how to escape terrain, when you get too close.  Based on work in conjunction with the FAA and DOD, they have software under development that came from their Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto GCAS), developed for, and today in use in F-16’s.

A screen shot of a simulated flight indicating that a turn to the left is the only remaining maneuver to avoid the terrain ahead.  Credit: NASA/Mark Skoog

This work is being conducted by the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center.  In an event coordinated with the Alaska Airmen’s Association, they plan to give an online demonstration of the system’s capabilities.  Instead of just directing a pilot to climb, the system uses digital terrain data to offer lateral escape routes, depending on the location.  Planned in stages, the system is anticipated to be coupled to an autopilot, and eventually into totally autonomous aircraft.

The virtual presentation will be conducted using Microsoft TEAMS, with time for questions and answers following the demo.  To check out this evolving capability, and ask questions of NASA staff,  join the meeting with the information below:

Wednesday, September 22, at 6 pm Alaska Daylight Time

Microsoft Teams meeting

Join on your computer or mobile app

Click here to join the meeting

Or call in (audio only)

+1 256-715-9946,,104378964#   United States, Huntsville

Phone Conference ID: 104 378 964#

Find a local number | Reset PIN

 

Reinventing yourself: Finding and buying a floatplane

Emboldened by my recent Single Engine Seaplane (SES) rating and move the Pacific Northwest, it was time to set out on a search for a very special airplane. But which one? There are so many different types of seaplanes, should I go with a classic or something newer? Floats or a flying boat? Honestly, I had no idea, so my first thought was to throw caution into the wind (pun intended) and just log onto one of the online airplane-buying magazine sites. I knew of three which included Barnstormers, Trade-A-Plane and Controller. Surely, I would be able to find something that worked for me!  I found the process to be exciting!

While there were many possible configurations, there were not many airplanes for sale and the prices were very high. My first thought was that this was going to be harder than I imagined and maybe it would be like my experience moving up to the Pacific Northwest. Prices had skyrocketed in the last year and it appeared people were trying to unload their junkers to any city slicker who was willing to pay the ridiculous prices.

Defining my mission

As with most major decisions, I seek out the people with the most knowledge I can find. I went back to my friend Addison Pemberton, the master renovator and owner of the Grumman Goose that had whetted my appetite for my seaplane rating just a couple months before.

Addison was pretty clear that the name of the game was to make the aircraft as light as possible so it could get off the water in a short distance and expect to get it wet.  I also needed reliability since I was planning on flying a lot in Alaska and Canada. I needed an autopilot because I wasn’t going to hand-fly on the long legs. I also needed some rock solid IFR navigation capabilities for the bad weather that I knew I would experience further north.

I knew that flying low and slow would be a major adjustment after flying the Citizen of the World in the flight levels at over 300 knots true around the world and over the North and South poles. While it was fun above 18,000 feet at reduced vertical separation minimum (RVSM) altitudes, I was missing a lot below me. It might feel like I wasn’t moving, but I would have more time to take in the sights and change my perspective.

Getting advice from the big boys

AOPA President Mark Baker suggested I reach out if I ever had a floatplane question and he directed me to Minnesota’s Wipaire Inc. to see what inventory they had in stock. They had a newer Cessna 206 on their floats but the engine was past TBO and I wasn’t looking for a project.

Next, I asked my FAA SES examiner, Glenn Smith, who was very knowledgeable as well. He suggested a shop in Park Rapids, Minnesota, called Park Rapids Aviation. I went to their website, and they had only one plane but it was a beauty. It had all the mods I was looking for, but it was old by my standards! It was a 1977 but the airplane was beautiful. The listed price was $495,000 for a Cessna 182 on Aerocet 3400 amphibious floats. One of my friends talked me out of buying such an old and expensive model.

I even had a conversation with aviation legends Burt and Dick Rutan about their experimental SkiGull floatplane project. While the SkiGull hadn’t lived up to Burt’s expectations with respect to handling big waves, they learned a lot. It was probably the only experimental I would have considered based on the brothers’ long history of excellence. Unfortunately, the aircraft wasn’t going to be produced so it wasn’t an option either.

Since I was planning on flying up in Alaska, I also reached out to a couple of Alaskan pilots to discuss options. I figured the people flying in the area would know what worked best up there. A guy named James Spikes, who lived in Wasilla, Alaska, and had won eight short takeoff and landing (STOL) competitions including the famous one at Valdez, let me know the earlier 182 on floats that I considered was a beauty and could be used on tundra tires as well. Marc McKenna, a collector and pilot from Anchorage, with several hangars full of pristine Cessna 180s and 185s, also gave me the thumbs up on that same 182 and told me to “Buy it!”

Buyer Beware

In the process of the search, I came across an option that looked pretty good, but the owner was playing a bit dumb with me. Sensing something was up, I called in the most knowledgeable floatplane mechanic I could find who was Rob Ritchie from Kenmore Aviation in Washington. To give you an idea of Rob’s credentials, when I walked into Kenmore Aviation I asked a guy if he had ever heard Rob Ritchie and he laughed and said, “You could ask that question from here to Australia and get the same answer! Yes!”

The plane I was interested in was just 45 minutes away from Kenmore so I met Rob at the aircraft and he sliced and diced that plane during the pre-buy like he was using a sharp kitchen knife. We determined the airplane had a history up in Canada and 6 years of logbooks were missing. Of course, the owner said he was unaware of the missing books. If it was not for all Rob taught me about floatplanes during that 5 hours, I would have been pretty upset. That lesson cost about $1,500.

Beaver fever

Rob started showing me some of the most pristine de Havilland Beavers I had ever seen. I was a bit intimidated by their size and felt they would be a handful to dock or beach for a first-timer. The price tag in the 700K range was pricey for someone trying to build hours and determine if floatplane flying was even what I wanted to do. The insurance company made it easy by giving me an emphatic, “No!” to doing transition training in a Beaver. In my heart of hearts, I know a DHC3 Beaver will play some part in my life in the future, just not now.

The Universe steps in and gives me some guidance

Over the span of the next couple of months, I learned the state of the market, what floatplanes were selling for, and what my next step would be. As luck would have it, I was walking around 2021 EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh  and my eyes fell upon one of the most beautiful floatplanes I had ever seen and it looked very familiar. It was N257JS—the Cessna 182 on Aerocet floats that I had seen online on the Park Rapids website months before, and she was perfect! In fact, I was blown away by this aircraft. Turns out she had only 1,749 hours on her and I couldn’t find a rusty bolt, a bit of corrosion, or for that matter, anything wrong with her. I knocked on the trailer door behind the plane and out walked a new friend of mine who I respect and admire, Tom Hamilton. He is the most humble person, the founder of GLASAIR, designer of the Kodiak and president of Aerocet Floats. Tom is an aviation legend, and I was surprised to see him. We had several great conversations over the next few days about N257JS, floatplanes, aviation, and life. This was a super cool coincidence, and the Universe was pointing me directly towards this beauty and the quality floats that he designs and builds.

The perfect time to buy

With inflation running wild and all the new administration printing currency as fast as they could, now was the perfect time to use the cash I had and invest in hard assets. As inflation increases so would the value of my airplane! I knew I would not lose money if I sold in a couple years after building some hours as a seaplane pilot.

Pre-buy

I made an offer on N257JS and it was quickly accepted. The pre-buy was with Will at North Point Aviation and went well. Aside from some tight control cables, instruments that needed calibration, a little bit of corrosion on the prop tips, and a bad vacuum pump, it was clean. All the supplemental type certificates were in order and the seller was willing to fix the squawks.

Modding Her Up

Now it was time to decide what she needed from me! N257JS was already loaded with extra features including a Continental IO-550 that was ported and polished, a Hartzell 86-inch three bladed prop, bubble side windows, glass panel, vortex generators, STOL wing, wing extensions, tip tanks, and gap seals to name a few. For my mission, I would need a few more things, which my generous sponsors agreed to provide, including Whelen LED lights, a Concorde battery, and Electroair electronic ignition. I’m waiting on answers from MT on a reversing prop, L3 Harris Technologies for a Lynx NGT-9000 ADS-B transponder and an ESI-500 electronic standby instrument, and Genesys Aerosystems S-TEC 3100 digital autopilot.

Welcome to the DeLaurentis Foundation family!

Escrow closed a week after the pre-buy and I’m happy to say N257JS is now a proud member of the DeLaurentis Foundation. Her (still unnamed) mission is to help me safely build SES, hours to satisfy insurance requirements, preform reliably, turn some heads, and teach me about seaplane flying across Canada, Alaska, and the Pacific Northwest. I’m unsure what role she will play in our future missions, but we know she will be involved in something bigger in the near future that will have impact on aviation and the world.

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of the books Flying Thru Life, Zen Pilot, the children’s book The Little Plane That Could, and the upcoming book Peace Pilot: To the Ends of the Earth and Beyond. A complementary 12-part worldwide docuseries, “Peace Pilot to the Ends of the Earth,” will be simultaneously released. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and recently completed his second record-breaking circumnavigation from Pole to Pole in his aircraft “Citizen of the World,” on a global peace mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

Ptarmigan Pass gets a new name

A popular mountain pass through the Alaska Range connecting Anchorage and McGrath just got a “facelift.”  The flight route that has for many years been known as Ptarmigan Pass is the longer, lower, and more open pathway through the Alaska Range. It provides an alternative to Rainy Pass, which is at a higher elevation along a more confined route.  As the FAA’s Aeronautical Information Services is reviewing Alaska mountain passes, discrepancies are being corrected.  During this process, two issues were discovered regarding the route formerly associated with Ptarmigan Pass, which are resulting in significant changes to features on the McGrath Sectional, including renaming and relocating Ptarmigan to Houston Pass.

Background
Pilots flying VFR through the Alaska Range between Anchorage and McGrath for many years have used either Rainy Pass—if the weather was really good—or the longer, lower route that goes up the Happy River into Ptarmigan Valley, down Ptarmigan Creek before taking a turn to the west and following the South Fork of the Kuskoskwim River out of the mountains and on to McGrath.  This route is frequently used when clouds limit more direct pathways across the range.  The description from a 1934 Naval Air Pilot publication provides a compelling comparison of the two routes, which was probably relevant for the capabilities of the airplanes of that time– in addition to many that we fly today.

This description of the air routes between Anchorage and McGrath was published in the Naval Air Pilot, Hydrographic Office Publication No 188, published June 1, 1934. (Thanks to Marshall Severson for locating this document.)

In the interest of providing more information to pilots to improve safety, the FAA is currently looking at mountain passes in Alaska and the information presented to pilots on flight charts.  In the course of this review, two problems were discovered regarding the location that had for years been labeled as Ptarmigan Pass:

  • the U.S. Geological Survey’s recognized name for this landmark is Hellsgate Canyon, not Ptarmigan Pass and,
  • further inspection revealed that while it may be the narrowest segment of the route, it is not a pass.

Where IS the Pass?
A “pass” represents the highest point along the lowest route between two drainages.  For VFR flight planning, pilots need to know the location and elevation of that point.  Adding the altitude needed to comfortably fly the route based on their personal flight minimums, a pilot can now evaluate the weather enroute.  When flying up a valley toward a pass, a pilot encountering ceilings lower than needed to cross the pass now have a basis to make the decision to turn around—while they still have the opportunity to do so.

Changes to the McGrath Sectional as of the August 12, 2021 chart cycle. After this date, Houston Pass is added to the chart, while Hellsgate is changed to a VFR checkpoint.

Along this route through the Alaska Range, the actual pass is about 10 nautical miles northeast of Hellsgate Canyon. According to the U.S. Geological Survey’s place names dictionary, Houston Pass is the name of that location.  Houston Pass has an elevation of 2,749 feet and sits in a wide valley, providing an alternative to the higher and more confined terrain along the route that goes through Rainy Pass, which sits at an elevation of 3,524 feet.  As of the charting cycle starting on August 12, changes to the McGrath Sectional include adding Houston Pass  and converting Hellsgate Canyon from a pass symbol to a VFR checkpoint.

A comparison of the elevations of three features along the Rainy and Huston Pass routes.

Looking ahead
As part of the FAA review of Alaskan mountain passes, it was noted that the pass elevation data normally found on sectionals in other parts of the country is missing for Alaska.  The FAA charting team has already added elevation data to a few passes and is working to add it to a large number of other passes across the state later this fall. For now, with regard to these passes, please make it a point to:

  • Update your databases or buy a new paper chart with the August 12 revisions
  • Note these changes and use the new placenames when making CTAF calls along the route, allowing other pilots to know your location relative to these features, reducing the likelihood of mid-air collisions
  • Help pass the word–as this represents a significant change along a route that has been used since the earliest days of flying in Alaska

When we’re talking about Houston Pass or Hellsgate Canyon, let’s help keep everyone on the same page – especially when that page is a sectional chart.  Fly safe!

Reinventing yourself and your flying experience! Part 1 of 3

Addison Pemberton’s Grumman G21A Goose N95467 that took 8000 hours to renovate to perfection

There comes a time in every pilot’s life and flying career when you have flown to all the local airports within range of one tank of fuel, tried all the $100 hamburgers in your area ($1,000 if you are flying a turbine) and had all the adventures that call to you. It’s at this point, when you must address what your restless soul has been saying to you probably for years.  It’s time to answer the call, pull chocks and find another home and adventure. Perhaps it’s another coast, somewhere warmer, an area with a different type of topography like mountains or islands, or somewhere with seasons. This new place will be your steppingstone to potentially far greater adventures and an even better version of yourself!

Answering the call

With Covid, many of us realized we could live anywhere since we were working virtually. We learned how little we really needed to be happy, and that life was short. Clearly if ever, now is the time to bust a move on the adventures that are waiting for us. It is a chance to reinvent ourselves! For me, my new life and vision included flying low and slow rather than at the flight levels. I had always wanted to fly and explore our beautiful planet with a floatplane. It was finally time to see the parts of this beautiful world that had passed below me at up to 400 mph.

Finding your new home

For me, I looked in California, Arizona, North Carolina, Florida, Colorado, Idaho, and finally Washington State. The Islands on the Puget Sound near the San Juans in Washington turned out to be the magical place that felt like home and offered me so much of what I was looking for. Washington would become a steppingstone to the beauty and adventure of neighboring Idaho, Canada and most importantly Alaska!

Since I had the “Where” figured out, it was time to start focusing on the “How?” Questions that needed to be answered including: Where would I house my aircraft?  Would it be hangared? And who was available to work on it? I wasn’t just making decisions for me, I needed to know my current airplane the Citizen of the World and my future floatplane would be well taken care of.

The first thing I did was to post on the group FATPNW-Flights Above the Pacific Northwest on Facebook. I said I was moving to Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island and asked for some guidance on hangars and airports. What a welcome reception I got! I asked first about hangar space within 45 minutes and people started sharing their ideas, tips, and experiences. When it became clear that things were impacted and waiting for space would take more than two years, I started looking for other options.

Keith Love the airport manager of Skagit Regional Airport reached out on FATPNW with some opportunities to build a hangar and shared the name of three contractors with experience and good reputations. Right now, I’m looking at available lots and determining if I can afford to build.

Making friends

Aviation friend and seaplane pilot from Spokane Jeff Hatcher

I quickly found people in the Pacific Northwest are very friendly. I was surprised to have people just talk to me like we were friends from the beginning. In this land of floatplanes, warbirds, and smaller GA aircraft few people had seen an international lady as beautiful and capable as the Citizen of the World. After the Art Craft Paint, Inc. museum quality paint job with ceramic coating honestly the Citizen was hard to miss. People were very curious and wanted to know more and always welcomed me to the community. I hoped to soon be doing events at the Boeing Museum and the Heritage Flight Museum at Skagit to get the word out even more.

Finding an aviation mentor

Debriefing after my first seaplane lesson with Addison Pemberton

In Spokane, just a short flight across the Cascades, my seaplane pilot friend Jeff Hatcher introduced me to a guy that I instantly liked-named Addison Pemberton. Addison is a super positive, upbeat, and generous guy that had been restoring airplanes with the help of his wife and sons for the last 30 years. He has a couple of hangars full of really cool planes including a Grumman Goose that was aviation “perfection” and the topic of an AOPA article that you will definitely want to read.  Addison offered to take me up when I told him I was looking forward to learning how to fly a floatplane. Needless to say, I was all ears around the melodic sound of the two radials. There is of course the visual experience of flying around Lake Coer D’ Alene, which is in a word stunning, but then there is the sound of these two radial engines growling away. And if that is not enough to get you hooked, then jumping in the lake for a swim is about the best thing ever.

Your next “step”

Just like a seaplane gets up on “the step” as it starts to accelerate prior to liftoff so did I with my learning. Addison and the others that I met did an excellent job of whetting my (No pun intended) for my future adventures on the water. This new perspective down low put me back into a learning mode like when I first started to fly just over ten years ago. Pretty much everything these people said to me was an opportunity to learn and grow as a pilot and as a person. Learning and adventure definitely go hand in hand and Addison suggested Coeur d’Alene Seaplanes for the next step in the progression to becoming a single-engine seaplane pilot (S.E.S).

Reinventing yourself and your flying experience is something every pilot should do at least once in their life. Leaving the past and those things that anchor you to it can be liberating. Starting anew is a wonderful opportunity to be the person you want to be now. Plus, as we grow and evolve, we seek different places, adventures and experiences. For me, finding more quiet, nature, personal exploration, and connection with like-minded people and aviators is what feels right for the next chapter of my flying life and becoming the best new version of myself.

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of the books Flying Thru Life, Zen Pilot, the children’s book The Little Plane That Could, and the upcoming book Peace Pilot: To the Ends of the Earth and Beyond. A complementary 12-part worldwide docuseries, “Peace Pilot to the Ends of the Earth,” will be simultaneously released. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and recently completed his second record-breaking circumnavigation from Pole to Pole in his aircraft “Citizen of the World,” on a global peace mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

Closing time

It finally happened.

After 817.9 flying hours and 627 landings in Europe, the closing time snake has bitten.

For those unfamiliar with my previous rantings, “closing time” is uniquely something one finds common outside the United States. Airports of all kinds, from the smallest grass strips to full fledge airline hubs, generally have a closing time, where landings are forbidden until specified opening times the next morning. While I am generalizing, it is important to note that each country in Europe has differing flexibility around the schedule and significantly different enthusiasm for, and penalties resulting from, enforcement of violations.

I was initially greeted in Germany with this reality, along with the fact that closing time is not to be messed with. Fines run into the thousands of euros. France has a typically middle of the road attitude about it and Spain, as usual, is either too disorganized to do anything about it or wildly overreacts in narrow situations. For all the flights in the Pyrenees, I am fairly certain that I could have landed at midnight, and nobody would have cared.

Switzerland’s reaction to violations is airport dependent. If it is a safety-of-flight issue, then they are remarkably considerate. If the local commune is particularly sensitive and it is a home base airport, one may find his or her hangar tenancy at risk for repeat offenses. I have been told that an after-hours landing in Sion would come with a $550 invoice in the mail. I get the impression that such negative attention is something that one would not want here.

There is also the matter of insurance. My policy has this “feature” that is sold as a benefit: after hours landings are covered, provided the airfield operator approves them in advance. That, in effect, means there is also no insurance coverage for after-hours landings that are legal violations.

Naturally, that leaves closing time as a loudly prominent reality in the mind of a general aviation pilot. As I prefer late afternoon to sunset flights, I am usually staring at the bullseye of a to-the-minute reality of when the tires must be on the ground. For most airports, it is 30 minutes plus or minus “HRH,” which is published evening civil twilight. There is usually a maximum time, despite the HRH connotation. In the case of Saanen, it is 8:00PM, which translates into an “easy” 8PM closing time from early April until late September. In the winter, it is a sliding scale based on when the sun goes down, which means checking the published time as it differs slightly day by day.

On this flight, I wanted to land at Münster, an airport high up in the Obergoms, smack in the middle of the Alps. It is only open June 1 to August 31 of the year, so it was time to enjoy it while I could. Since it is less than 50 miles as the crow flies, the concept of landing and paying $32 for it was something of an anachronism, so I decided to tote a jerry can in the backseat to transfer upon landing. That would allow an extension to my normal one fuel tank limit to local flights. The result was a rather splendid jaunt up the valley to Zermatt, around the glaciers at the base of the Matterhorn, and then a tepid meandering to the Obergoms.

The airport is particularly delightful on the ground. The views are world class, and the Rhône River, a few miles from its glaciated source, rushes by right next to the field. In prior visits, I find myself standing in quiet repose, taking it all in, wishing the airport was open year-round, as I would buy a house in that valley and live there. Alas, it is not to be, so I gaze at the rushing water, wooden bridge, and wonderful Alps.

Then I look at the time and scurry to the airplane to get going, realizing that 8:00PM is staring me in the face.

The Bernese Alps are a complex mountain range weather wise, particularly in the summer. There are often towering cumulus, induced by terrain and the heat of the day, with sometimes unpredictable realities. A “10% chance of a shower” at the airport might mean mist all afternoon five miles away at the ridge, which then means finding an ideal location to make the crossing, find a hole, and get under the soup, all of which will evaporate at sunset anyway.

The clouds were in full force on the north side on this fine afternoon. My instinct said to go over the Grimselpass, a few miles to the northeast of Münster. I could partially see that I could sneak over at a lower altitude, instead of having to climb to 14,000 feet and wedge between clouds, which would surely put the nail in the coffin regarding closing time.

The first problem was that I couldn’t climb for about four minutes at 5,400’ MSL (1,000’ AGL). Heading east bound at full throttle, the winds were coming down the pass, arcing down the Obergoms valley, descending as they went. That lost some minutes until I found where they were going up, which was a 3,000’ FPM hair-raising ride from 5,400’ to 8,500’, where I found a gap between orographic clouds below over the pass and a solid cloud deck above. I dove between the hole and aimed for the Brienzersee, hoping to fly over Interlaken and then westbound.

One look at GPS groundspeed said everything: 51kt. That meant a 20-25kt headwind, which was not forecast. Winds at 10,000 feet were supposed to be 10kt; however, they were funneling over the pass, which meant a nice long flight down a veritable tube. As I came around the bend at Innertkirchen, Grosse Scheidegg had a meager opening, so I aimed for it, hoping to shave a few minutes off the flight by snaking down some tight valleys (in light of the overcast at 7,900 feet). Since I know the mountains very well, it didn’t bother me. Had I been new to the area, it would have been unnerving.

I had the subtle inclination I would be late. I formally entered the destination into my software: ETA: 20:04. Phooey. I applied maximum cruise power and aimed, with the cleanest, straightest, riskiest passing over the tightest little passes that I knew very well. 20:04, 20:05, 20:06, yet only 29 minutes away. Fiddlesticks.

As I passed over Grindelwald, under a solid cloud deck, something unexpected happened: the Jungfrau exploded into view, as there was an orographic gap in the clouds. In that moment, I decided “forget it,” applied full power, and aimed to climb above the clouds.

In one of my rainy-day musings on my iPad, I had discovered that, during the summer, a nearby airport at Zweisimmen is open to HRH + 30, maximum 22:00, which meant that I could land there without being past closing time. It had a Prior Permission Required aspect, though private/PPR airports are listed for safety purposes, and one is allowed to divert without permission. I checked NOTAMs in flight (none) and said to myself: “A lack of PPR must be less of a problem than late” and, with that, decided to enjoy sunset light that I never get to see at this time of year.

It was resplendent to cruise above the 10,000-foot cloud deck, southwest along the face of the Bernese Alps, partially illuminated by the warm colors of a summer evening in the Alps. As I checked train schedules and what not in the air, I realized the whole affair would result in getting home two hours late with 30 minutes of walking. With the views that I had out the windshield, it didn’t bother me one bit.

The next day, I returned to get the airplane, and the chief of the aerodrome introduced himself and asked casually what happened to lead to a landing without a PPR. I explained the headwind and closing time, and he was very reassuring that I made the right decision. I mentioned that I might sometime wish to take a sunset flight to get some good summer light, intentionally leaving the airplane for the night. He said, “No problem. Call me and you’re welcome anytime.”

When considering rules in Europe in isolation of everything else, it can cause quite a headache, if not some snarling and ranting. One flight in the Alps in the right conditions is enough to calm all that down and make it not matter.

Saanetschpass – roughly 8,400′.

Raron Airport below in the Rhône River valley. Obergoms turns to the distant left.

I went right instead. Zermatt Valley. Riedgletscher in the upper left.

Some tight flying, even for a Cub. One must be on the lookout for helicopters, gondola cables, and paragliders whilst not flying into any mountains.

Zermatt, with the Matterhorn behind.

North slope of the Matterhorn, from roughly 8,900 feet. Effectively a box canyon down here, with what proved to be persistent downdrafts.

Zmuttgletscher, after doing a 180, getting some altitude, and coming back in. Still ran into more downdrafts.

Snuggling with the Triftgletscher on the way out.

Festigletscher, when I probably should be thinking about closing time.

Bottom end of the Obergoms. Fietscherletscher is in the distant left. I wanted to go in there but opted not to for closing time reasons.

Münster Airport, center right (not the distant field, which is decommissioned). 

One can understand lingering here.

Attempting Grimselpass. Need to get over the clouds below but under the ones forward/above. The pass goes to the right.

Seems to have worked. Delightful forced landing locations.

“A nice long flight down a veritable tube.” 20-25kt headwind.

Coming around the bend. Grosse Scheidegg in the bright area to the right.

Crossing Grosse Scheidegg. GPS says I will be late.

As ETA ticked upward and the clouds cleared, I decided a) to divert and b) to enjoy myself in the process. Mönch and Jungfrau bursting into view. Life is good.

This is a cloud deck worth getting above.

…Which I did. Life at 10,000 feet.

Gemmipass, with the Matterhorn peaking above the clouds on the horizon.

The soup I had originally intended to go under, squeezing between cloud bases and mountains. More fun up here.

Steghorn (10,321′).

All things come to an end, in particular one’s quantity of fuel. Zweisimmen, with the train station on the left.

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.

Heading to Oshkosh? Considerations before you yell ‘Clear prop’

Mooney Girl ready for Oshkosh

As the country re-opens to aviation events, it is natural for us to want to jump back in the airplane and zoom off for the fun.  However, I would like to you consider the numerous factors that now come into play because of the pandemic and resultant effects on our flying.

Flight operations were decreased in 2020 and early 21 due to COVID-19.  Painting with a broad stroke, operations not only include us as a PIC but Mechanics, FBOs, Flight Instructors, ATC and Charitable Flights.

For a moment consider all the things we need to possess or exhibit to be a safe, proficient, pilot; currency, muscle memory, recency of flight, logical methodical thought, competent with our avionics. Now imagine for 12-18 months you were not able to utilize those skill sets.  The degradation of cognitive processes and physical muscle memory are real dangers when we don’t fly often.

Before you launch for EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, or a local, state or regional event objectively look back at your flight activities in 2020 to date.  Many of us took advantage of virtual aviation events during this time, but were not in an actual airplane.  It is a great idea to consider the airplane, pilot and environment while still on terra firma.

Airplane Considerations

Airplane:

  • Airplane might have hidden mechanical issues due to lack of use [hoses, battery, fuel/brake lines, belts].
  • Look for fouled pulleys in control cables, cracked tire sidewalls, mice dining on your wiring, mouse nests in the fuselage and wings.
  • Check for water and gunk in the fuel lines, bird nests in the engine compartment, cracked ignition wires, bearings frozen in gyros.
  • Mechanic might have been off for an extended time.
  • FBOs might have newer staff fueling your airplane

Pilot Factors: Time to pull out your mental, physical and emotional checklist and do an inventory.  Are you ready to fly across the state, region or country for an aviation event?


Environment:

In addition to weather and airport/runway conditions, please take the additional factor of destination activity.  Let’s take EAA AirVenture Oshkosh [OSH] as an example of the environmental factors that need to be considered. For over a decade I have flown halfway across the country to Oshkosh, WI in a Mooney.   I have come in to OSH using the FISK arrival and twice in the mass formation Mooney arrival.  As well I have landed in Juneau, Madison and Appleton, WI when coming for the week.  All arrivals have varying levels of risk, safety and excitement.  If you have not flown much in the past 18 months it would be best to choose the safest, least exciting way to get to the show.

My personal experience with the FISK and the mass formation arrival is that I have always had another pilot in my right seat.  It is nice to have two sets of eyes looking for traffic, landmarks and the like.  Even having flown 120 hours since the pandemic, I don’t think I would fly single pilot landing at OSH this year.

Mass Arrivals: Do consider a formation clinic or individual instruction in your region in 2021.  Most clinics welcome all brands of aircraft.  The skills you will learn will serve you well and formation flying has a strangely addictive quality.  The fun, fellowship, and flying are hard to beat.  Plus, you might get a super cool call sign to memorialize your participation.

Bonanzas to Oshkosh Their website https://www.b2osh.org/Web/B2OSH/default.asp

Bonanza Mass Arrival OSH

Mooney Caravan : Vita nimis brevis est tarde volo  [Life is too short to fly slowly.]

Their website : https://www.mooneycaravan.com/Web/Mooney/default.asp

Mooney Caravan Yuma Gunfighters Clinic

“Friends don’t let friends fly the Fisk arrival”

… overheard in the North 40

Cessnas to Oshkosh Their website:  http://www.cessnas2oshkosh.com/1410home.aspx

Cessnas to Oshkosh en route

Cherokees to Oshkosh  Their website:  https://www.cherokees2osh.com/

In summary, do what I have done. Consider yourself, airplane and environment before launching. If you are headed to #OSH21 please do look for me there.  I will be at the AVEMCO booth on Tuesday July 27th from 11-12 for Women Moving the Needle. On Thursday July 29th at 1:00 p.m. I will present Into the Alligator’s Mouth: Psychology of Personal Minimums for AOPA and the AOPA Air Safety Institute.  Door prizes for this safety seminar have been provided by: Lightspeed Aviation, LIFT Aviation, King Schools, Flying Eyes Optics and Pilot Safety.org

 

 

Jolie Lucas makes her home on the Central Coast of CA with her mini-Golden, Mooney. Jolie is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and commercial pilot. Jolie is a nationally-known aviation presenter and aviation writer. Jolie is the Region 4 Vice President of the California Pilots Association. She is the 2010 AOPA Joseph Crotti Award recipient for GA Advocacy. Email: [email protected] Web: www.JolieLucas.com Twitter: Mooney4Me

Emotional Distance

While we tend to measure distance literally in the space between two points, the concept of “emotional distance” is something that has come to the forefront since I began flying in foreign countries. The concept is rather simple: long flights tend to involve more work, skill, risk, and complexity. Accordingly, if we have not done something ambitious before or are younger pilots, then those flights seem riskier and potentially difficult. Add such things as major metropolitan airspace, large mountains, wilderness areas, and large bodies of water and one gets the idea. Our emotional response to the distance involved is proportional to the actual distance.

The first time the reality hit home for me that emotional distance does not always equate to actual distance was in the US while flying over Yellowstone. Something about an entirely forested, bear inhabited plateau with few good emergency options, elevation of over 8,000 feet, large lakes, sulfuric boiling ponds of liquid, strong winds on the north and east outlet points, and some distance to airports stacked up to make me tense before I would take a flight over the place. Other than that, many ambitious flights in the US were correlated to how long they took.

Europe is self-evidently more complicated from an airspace standpoint, though that is only the beginning. Terrain and climate zones change much faster in areas bordering the Mediterranean than the Continental US. Add in obvious national borders, lower airport density, a very complex airport network, and now one can understand why a flight of a similar distance feels infinitely more complicated, almost as though it is literally much farther away.

Those factors one can desensitize to over time, as I have partially done. There are still some flights, generally involving major mountain ranges, where it seems entire worlds change in a short period of time. While the element of national borders, climate zone changes, and airspace are real, there is something almost intangible about it. The first time I experienced it was flying from Pic Canigou, France to the Mediterranean coast. In the space of 20 minutes, I went from snow in the Pyrenees to palm trees adorning the beach. It is hard to grasp such a massive change so quickly.

Before coming to the Alps, I noted on the map how interesting things seemed down on the Italian side of the range. It is technically not that far, though one must go up and over the Alps, transitioning from Central European weather to mountains and then straight into the Mediterranean. While it can be done if the forecast is right, there was still something seemingly “distant” about it, to the point that, I had not done it. Many times, I had flown along the southern ridge of the Alps, given pause not by the glaciers I was above, but by looking down into Italy, trying to get my head around the complexity of going from one side of the range to another.

I decided to knock the item off my list, saving the aggravations of customs by flying from the northern side of Switzerland to the Italian-speaking section of the country. On the south side of the Alps, it is a section of the country that protrudes into Italy. Geographically and linguistically, it’s the same. Politically, maybe not so much.

The intended flight path was only 77 nautical miles direct, with a refueling point in Locarno, before returning a slightly different way. I planned to fly along Lake Maggiore in Italy and take a different pass coming back, so the actual flights would end up roughly 130 miles each, by no means very long. Then again, I grew up about the same distance from Lock Haven and we never did fly there. My grandfather bemoaned that it was “too far away” and “there is nowhere to land in those forests in Northern Pennsylvania.”

Climbing out from Gstaad Airport.

Over the pass between Lenk and Adelboden.

The Gasterntal, just before crossing Gemmipass to my right.

Brig and the Obergoms.

Simplon Pass.

The friendly little Rossbodegletscher.

Approaching Italy.

Italy, near Varzo. 

Toce River south of Domodossola. I went from cold with my winter coat to flaming hot. Flying at 2,500′ MSL.

About to leave the foothills of the Alps.

Lago Maggiore!

I have resigned myself to getting wet if the engine quits. Not like the shorelines of this body of water are inviting…..

Locarno Airport. Note that there are three runways. I was cleared to land runway 26 center. It has come to my attention that this is my first landing at an airport with more than one parallel runway.

Maggia river on climb out. My flight path was to follow the Maggia and hang a left at the Bavona River, then over the ridge toward Grimselpass.

Working my way up the valley.

Looking back from where I came.

Approaching the ridge and, uh-oh, some showers and small thunderstorms on the other side. Perhaps this “emotional distance” business is rather real.

Annual snowpack with the Ghiacchiaio del Basodino glacier at the top.

Obergoms again. My outbound path was right to left almost to the horizon. Note Ulrichen closed airport bottom left, and Munster Airport a little off center in the valley. That would be an alternate if need be.

Oberaargletscher. The holy trinity: thunderhead, glacier, and deep snow.

The Grimselpass, relatively low at 7,099′, was blocked by the towering clouds to the right. I had to climb to 12,500′ to sneak over the Bernese Alps ridge.

While it looks pretty awful, radar and other observations indicated it should be ok just on the other side.

Looking back. Note the glacier on the bottom right.

Well past the ridge, looking back. Grindelwald is hiding in the black on the right. 

Diverted around Interlaken due to a growing shower. Aiming for the sunny Swiss Plateau and take it from there.

After some lovely lightning bolts, the storm began to move to the south. Thunersee. Alternate airport just out of sight to the right, bathed in sun.

Approaching the circuit. While some 10,000 foot peaks are clouded in to the left, Saanetschpass in the center was open apparently. Clearly there is some reality behind the complexity of crossing the Alps and landing. Total flying time: 4.5 hours. Arrive-at-the-hangar to leave-the-hangar time of 7 hours.

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.

Recognizing your favorite mechanic … what makes a mechanic GREAT?

The look of stress just prior to a test flight and inflight emergency.

In the past few years, the Citizen of the World has been honored by having many skilled and experienced mechanics work on her. She visited many shops and repair facilities across the United States and received over 50 upgrades and modifications. I like to believe that each mechanic made her a little bit better. These aviation maintenance technicians helped the best version of the Citizen come to life and shine on a global scale. For the Citizen of the World, that “shine” included inspiring many, setting world records and carrying experiments for NASA, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, and one supporting biofuel use globally. And now her mission is one of promoting STEM education.

If I was to pick the best of the best of all those mechanics, it would be Rob Louviaux of Commander Maintenance Consulting (CMC). Without him, the Polar Circumnavigation would have never happened. As I reflect back, I have come to realize how much he did for me, the Citizen, and the Pole-to-Pole Flight. It is remarkable how selflessly he gave of his time and expertise. He was our lead mechanic and honestly the most knowledgeable person I know in the industry when it comes to the Twin Jetprop Commander 900.

Why should this matter to you? Because Rob from CMC set the gold standard that I think all mechanics should strive for. In an age when mechanics are taught to replace components until they get it right, this guy knows his stuff cold and saved our project many thousands of dollars. Finding a guy like this as a private pilot will make your flying so much safer and enjoyable. Here are seven qualities you should look for in a master mechanic:

Consistency

While Rob pulled off some amazing stuff in the two years we spent prepping the Citizen of the World the thing I appreciated most was that he was consistent from start to finish. was always fully in and engaged, whether I was standing directly in front of him, right after a major aircraft failure, or calling him from the other side of the planet. He was solid and I never doubted his level of commitment. He loves aviation, the Commander community, and being a part of something bigger than all of us. Rob always made me feel like l was a priority.

With you when the times get tough

One of the things I most respect about Rob was his willingness to test fly the plane with me when it had completed major work. Most mechanics won’t. He put his life at risk, as I did. The first time this happened was after the overhauled engines were installed. Rob was sitting next to me at altitude when we performed NTS shutdowns on each of the engines — one at a time — and attempted to restart them. The copilot side engine started perfectly but the pilot side engine would not unfeather. Rob went to work doing everything a master mechanic could inflight. When it was clear a component had failed, I saw him close his eyes for a brief moment, take a deep breath and then go to a place of peace as I landed the Citizen on one engine. I think we were both afraid as our legs were shaking when we got out of the airplane.

Staying cool

The second incident happened at altitude when both power levers froze up at 34,500 feet and the cabin simultaneously lost pressurization. As I was starting the emergency decent and declaring an inflight emergency while we both donned our oxygen masks, Rob was shutting down the environmental system, engaging the emergency pressurization, and trying to get the engines not to overspeed. Honestly, I don’t know if I could have handled all that myself. Losing engine control on two engines and pressurization simultaneously is a lot to handle no matter how good you think you are!

Speaking on your behalf

After that inflight emergency, I made one of the biggest mistakes of the project. I called the manufacturer of one of the failed components and told him he almost got Rob and I killed. The manufacturer hung up the phone and wouldn’t talk to me for three months. The project was stopped dead in its tracks. I would practice my superpower of eating crow for the next three months trying to get the manufacturer engaged again with no luck. However, Rob broke the stalemate with frequent calls to the manufacturer. He was able to negotiate a deal to get things going and get the Citizen on her way to the South and North Poles.

Making the extra effort

Early in the project things stalled when the shop that had agreed to remove the engines and send them out for overhaul stopped working on the airplane. It turned out the shop had never rigged turbine engines before and had mostly worked on piston Commanders. The engines sat in boxes for two months before we caught wind that the delays were never going to end. Rob saved the day by flying from Scottsdale, Arizona, out to Stockton, California, and working on them for four days straight in the intense heat. Rob got us to the point where we could get the airplane to CMC and finish the work.

Being available for all those questions we all have

Rob remained available night and day for the 24-month period leading up to departure and for the entire eight months and 23 days of the trip. Operating a 35+ year old aircraft is challenging and is going to have issues when you stretch its performance to the material limits. When I lost the generator portion of my starter-generator in a remote part of Sweden, Rob was flipping through repair manuals, sending me wiring diagrams and had me checking fuses until we diagnosed the problem and found a repair shop enroute to the North Pole.

Calling you on your BS/Giving sage advice

When our project was gridlocked after the second inflight emergency, and I was losing my “Zen” responding to sponsors who said they didn’t think I would ever do the flight, I considered a legal solution to my problems. Rob calmed me down and pointed out that wouldn’t accomplish anything except delaying the project even longer and rattling the sponsors off even more. Rob told me many of these systems were working in other aircraft and our best course of action was to get mine fixed. Again, Rob was right, and I took those systems all the way to the South and North Poles based on his recommendation.

I can’t help but look at all of the qualities that I shared about my top mechanic and acknowledge that these are the same qualities you’ll find in a great friend and mentor. Rob and I spent so much time working together, solving problems and discussing what was possible with this 35-year-old aircraft, that we became much closer. In the process of struggling to complete the mission, I learned a tremendous amount and got to know the aircraft better while my repair skills greatly improved. Rob also taught me how a true philanthropist acts and gives unconditionally on the journey. It is my sincere hope that each of you find a friend and a mechanic to help, guide, and teach you on your journey of flight and exploration.

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of the books Flying Thru Life, Zen Pilot, the children’s book The Little Plane That Could, and the upcoming book Peace Pilot: To the Ends of the Earth and Beyond. A complementary 12-part worldwide docuseries, “Peace Pilot to the Ends of the Earth,” will be simultaneously released. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and recently completed his second record-breaking circumnavigation from Pole to Pole in his aircraft “Citizen of the World,” on a global peace mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.
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