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Sports charters

As we move into spring and summer, the airlines are heading into some of the busiest charter work that they do: basketball tournaments and Major League Baseball. Charters are not the money-makers that they used to be, but they still turn a guaranteed profit for the airlines, and they are an important part of the business model.

College basketball can be among the most challenging, because it is so unpredictable. Nobody knows when a team is going to be eliminated or move on to the next round, so the schedule has to take that into account. Usually, when traveling by charter, the schedule is built to take in the best possible option, which is that the team in question will make the next round. If they lose, then they usually have to sit around for a day or two or three in order to return home on schedule.

If the team is lucky, the contract with the airline can include the flexibility to leave early if they lose, but this is entirely dependent on the airline and its ability to have a crew and an airplane in position, to say nothing of the catering that must be done according to the terms of the contract. Catering and food are a big part of these arrangements, so don’t underestimate their importance.

Baseball is much easier to predict, because the schedule is laid out in advance. That said, baseball charters can be demanding, difficult work because of the hours. Most charters (of any sport) include three total flights at a minimum: one to get the airplane into position, one to actually fly the team, and one to get the airplane back into the regular schedule. The fee charged covers all three, plus whatever crew-related expenses there will be. Most baseball (and football) teams negotiate with a single carrier, and they often use different-sized airplanes based on the trip, with long flights usually requiring a bigger airplane.

For the crew, the job begins with getting the airplane into position, usually by flying it empty to the pick-up point. This is the easy part, and also the most important. It’s also where the problems usually start, because if a game goes late—or really late—it messes up the schedule.

Let’s say a baseball game goes 12 or 13 innings—not common, but not unheard of. That can easily add an hour or more to the schedule. The standard post-game order of events doesn’t change: showers, press obligations, packing, et cetera. The team loads up on buses and heads to the airport. The airplane can be loaded fairly quickly, but being late is being late.

Since most games are played at night, the flight is usually a red-eye of sorts, so the big battle is fighting fatigue. But the job isn’t done. Dropping the team off is usually even quicker than loading them up. However, because charters usually start and stop at FBOs or company hangers, that means the airplane may have to be cleaned or fueled before it can go to the gate. Or, worse, it may have to be flown empty to another city to work a flight. As a pilot who has done these three-flights-in-a-night adventures, I’m here to tell you that the last ones aren’t a lot of fun.

More than once, I finished a basketball charter pulling into the gate as the crew working the first flight of the day was showing up. It was a mad dash to get the airplane ready to go as we slogged off to a hotel or grabbed a seat in the cabin to go home, another baseball team or university (hopefully) grateful to us for a job well done.—Chip Wright

Anticipating Break-up of Alaska’s Rivers: Pilot Observations Needed

As the long, cold and dark part of the year departs, break-up of Alaska’s rivers is getting underway.  The National Weather Service expects this that year, it could trend toward more of a mechanical event, with ice jams and flooding being more likely in some parts of the state.  NWS Hydrologist Crane Johnson presented the Alaska-Pacific River Forecast Center’s outlook at a webinar hosted by the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy (ACCAP).  Pilots are encouraged to consider participating in the River Watch Program this year,  sharing photos and/or pilot reports of ice conditions as we fly along the rivers between mid-April and perhaps into early June, to help monitor this situation.

Forecast for 2021
Factors that influence the nature of river break-up include thickness and areal extent of ice that formed over the winter, the quantity of the snowpack, and spring weather.   Crane was joined by ACCAP Climatologist Rick Thoman, who summarized the temperature and precipitation over the past winter and then looked ahead at the forecasts for the weeks ahead.  Based on this data, we should expect more of a mechanical break-up with the ice jams and associated flooding this year, as opposed to a gentle thermal break-up where ice largely melts in place and does not provide much resistance to the increased river flow associated with melting snows.  For more details on the processes in play, and the specifics of what areas are most at risk, I encourage you to watch the recording of the webinar, presented on April 13.

 

Breakups can vary in intensity depending on winter conditions, and how fast warming conditions develop in the spring. Based on existing conditions and forecasts, this season is expected to have more mechanical characteristics.

 Areas at Risk
Looking across the state, some regions are more at risk than others.  While ice thickness and snow cover are known to some extent, the remaining wild card is the temperature in the weeks ahead.  Based on forecast data to date, the break-up outlook map depicts an above average potential for flooding across the interior along the Yukon, Tanana and Kuskokwim drainages, as well as in the Copper River drainage and in the southeast panhandle.

The Spring Flood potential will be updated periodically. The current version will be found at: https://www.weather.gov/aprfc/floodpotential.

Historical Distribution of Ice Jams
While attention is often focused on the larger rivers, Crane also presented a map of the historic distribution of ice jams across the state.  It shows that they have occurred in more locations than just the major rivers.  Given this widespread distribution of possible locations for ice jams, observations from pilots can be particularly helpful to the River Forecast Center in monitoring break-up.

Ice jams can occur on a wide variety of rivers across the state. Consider flying segments of the smaller rivers to look for ice jams and related flooding.

What can Pilots Do?
If you are willing to devote some flight time to help the National Weather Service monitor break up this Spring, consider participating in the River Watch Program.  Initially designed to use Pilot Reports as the primary mechanism for reporting ice or flooding conditions, it now more commonly uses pictures taken with a smart phone (preferably with GPS turned on) of river conditions.  Email them to the River Forecast Office after getting back on the ground.

Information about the program, what to look for, and how to communicate results, is available on the River Watch page.  As the season progresses, NWS will update their breakup status map and indicate areas they are specifically interested in learning about–so check back periodically for updates.  Please keep in mind that not all communities are open to outside visitors; so, check the state’s Safe Travel site for local restrictions, before you plan your flights.

River Watch image on the Yukon River using the Theodolite App to capture location direction and altitude.

River Watch is a way for general aviation to contribute to the public good, while clearing out the cobwebs if you didn’t fly much over the winter.  Check out the details on the River Watch website and consider this a good reason to get airborne.  And while you are capturing river details with a smart phone, take time to file a Pilot Report or two with Flight Service when you are in locations that don’t have reported weather. Your PIREPs are appreciated!

Into the Alligator’s Mouth: Installment 3

As  usual  Mother Nature gave me some real-world experience which challenged my own personal minimums on a recent flight.   I head to the Pacific Northwest monthly for business. Having my own personal time machine has allowed me to realize the dream of living and working in two very different states.

Planning for a 4.5-hour trip over some beautiful but inhospitable terrain is a challenge.  With no de-icing or anti-icing systems on my vintage Mooney, weather can be a friend or foe.  For this trip 30-35 knot headwinds were forecast at my “normal” altitude of 10,500-12,500.  Typically, I leave my fuel stop in Northern California and climb right up to cruising altitude.  Due to the forecast winds I decided to fly low until reaching Redding, CA, then up and over the terrain. 

This might not sound like a big deal to many pilots, but altitude has always been my friend and I like the options it affords me, should I become a glider. With this in mind I opted for the northwesterly course around Mt. Shasta.  This flight plan, while not the most direct route, puts me very near Redding, Weed, Dunsmuir and Siskiyou airports.  I have to say that at 8,500 feet I got a great view of the terrain, and the ride was smooth as silk. However, this was a calculated risk, based on my personal guidelines.

It hasta be Shasta

My goal in writing this series is that as PIC you do everything in the airplane intentionally and with forethought.

So here we go.  In the past few months, we began our journey into the mindset needed for the functional implementation of minimums.  As I pondered personal minimums in a pandemic, I reached in to my address book of pilot friends  to ask questions about minimums, guidelines, self-restrictions and the like. I spoke to range of folks from pretty newly minted private pilots, to those working on an instrument rating, commercial, CFI and DPE.  I talked with female and male pilots with hours ranging from low hundreds to 25,000. As one CFI/DPE pondered in regards to minimums…

How far do I put my head in an alligator’s mouth before I can’t get it out?

I had a fabulous time talking with a baker’s dozen pilots and I got a little gem or a pucker factor from each of the conversations. My hope is that our words might start an honest discussion on ways that we can keep ourselves safe in the airplane or on the ground. Because in the end, cheating on your minimums is cheating yourself.

This series centers on the psychology of personal minimums.  Like most relationships, we will focus why we create them, why we commit them to paper [or not], when we fudge on them, what we learn from them, and what we hope never to again experience.

Interviews: For the interviews I asked starting questions and interchangeably used personal minimums and personal guidelines.  The reason for this is some pilots initially thought when I spoke of minimums, I was referencing charted instrument approach minimums.  The answers will be in their voice, the first person.

Questions

  • Do you have a current set of personal guidelines or minimums for your flying?
  • If yes, do you have them written down?
  • If so, do you ever review them or alter/update them?
  • What are the areas you consider when you think of your own minimums?
  • Have you had a time where you cheated on your personal minimums?
  • Has there been an experience in the airplane you would like to share that gave you a “pucker factor” that others might learn from?”
  • Do you have a “hidden gem”, or learning tip, to share?

*[For the sake of this article, in their responses, I will simply use the word “minimums”]


K.W. Airline Captain CFI, Mooney owner

Looking down on Sedona, AZ

I got an instrument rating right after private and waited a bit to get my commercial. When thinking about personal minimums I divide things into three categories: the airport, myself, the airplane.

For the airport I am most concerned with surrounding terrain or weather conditions and my level of familiarity.  My minimums would vary if say, terrain was high and my airport familiarity was low.

I am the most important part of the equation. I ask myself if I feel tired, what time of day is the flight and if I slept well. I pay attention to whether I am hydrated and eating well. I like to do airport homework a few days before. I consider destination and alternate airport approaches.

Airplane familiarity is something I consider every flight.  When I am in my personal aircraft which I have owned many years, I know the ins and outs of the maintenance which factors in to my decision making.  I have to say, I am very particular when it comes to fuel on board.  My personal guideline is that I always land with 1.75 hours of fuel remaining.

When I was a private pilot did I not have things written down in terms of personal minimums.  But I wouldn’t go to charted minimums with a 15 knot crosswind. Now that I am flying for the airlines, I have had to fly a variety of aircraft and the limitations are built in to our procedures.

Pucker Factor:  I took off from Galveston some years ago. I’m not sure if I didn’t check for icing, or if icing wasn’t predicted (This flight was pre-ForeFlight and and other easy weather tools). It was typical Gulf Coast winter with 600’ overcast. I expected tops to be around 3,000’. It wasn’t that cold on the ground, maybe 45°F – 50°F. While climbing through the clouds at 1,500 ft I completely iced over. It took about 2 seconds. The windows were covered in frost and I couldn’t see anything. Fortunately, I was still climbing and speed was good. A really long minute or two later I saw sunlight coming through the frosted over windows. A few seconds after that all the ice melted off. It was gone as quick as it showed up. Lesson learned, always know where the freezing level is…even on the Gulf Coast.

Hidden Gem:  I don’t have to fly anywhere, even as a pro-pilot. I have canceled a lot of personal flights when I feel I need to. There is no shame in sticking with your minimums and canceling a flight.


D.J., Commercial, Instrument, Mooney owner

Ice buildup on the Mooney wing.

I love flying, but I am a big sissy.  As an instrument pilot, I  have very high minimums. I don’t want to fly approaches down to charted minimums, my preference is to break out at 1,000 feet.  I also wouldn’t launch on a flight to fly solid IFR.  I have no backup vacuum so that is reasoning for wanting IFR to VFR on top.

I also consider the airport and weather conditions. For example, the cross-wind limitation is 11 knots from the POH.  While I know I could do better on a long runway, for me that is a hard limit on a short runway. I am also particular with minimums about fuel, I always want to have 1.5 hours of fuel left on landing.

Another aspect of  personal minimums is consideration of my health. If my sleep was not good night before, I won’t fly. If I am sick I wouldn’t fly. If I am emotionally upset I wouldn’t fly. I do find that flying is a stress reliever for mild stress.  So determining my stress level is vital.

Pucker Factor:   My airplane was loaded with medical personnel as I was headed to Mexico on a humanitarian flight. I encountered un-forecast icing over Julian [San Diego area] at 8,000 ft. The Mooney could not climb.  Every surface was covered with the mixture of rime and clear ice and it flew like a slug [see photo above]. I  immediately talked to ATC and let them know about the icing.  Fortunately, within 20 minutes the ice had broken off, though we could hear it hitting the tail section.

Hidden Gem: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.  I took off Boise in dense fog.  I accelerated down the runway in the fog, and once airborne I knew I would never do that again.


M.J. Airline Captain, Master CFII and Cessna owner

Over the Yellow Sea between Incheon, South Korea and Beijing, China

My best advice regarding personal minimums, is to write them down and take them seriously. Never change them for a single flight. If you change them for a current flight, they are not really a minimum. I suggest quarterly updates, perhaps in keeping with your landing currency [every 90 days].

During an instrument training and checkride you have to fly down to published minimums. After rated you will need to develop your personal minimums. Do you have one set of minimums for takeoff airport and landing airport [plus alternate]?

I have a lovely, and frequent passenger who isn’t a fan of bumps.  Therefore, when I have passengers on board, I adjust my minimums for wind and turbulence.  My maximum cross wind on landing is 10 knots for passenger comfort. It is important that I consider weather, my currency, proficiency, passenger comfort, day/night, and complete a runway analysis every flight.

Pucker Factor: I would describe my example of pucker factor by a story of one of my flights home from OSH. There was weather over the Rockies, starting right over Boulder, CO and continuing pretty much all the way to our Plan A destination at Grand Junction. My passenger was a fairly experienced CFI, but I was PIC for the trip. We discussed the weather issues (afternoon thunderstorms in the mountains) before takeoff on that leg and agreed on a couple points. First, we established a couple decision points, the first of which was over Boulder. Our criteria at that point was, could we see over the Divide adequately to attempt to cross Rollins Pass and continue, or turn around? Plan B was to divert to Ft Collins, where a friend had offered to put us up for the night. So, we knew what the concern was, had established our decision criteria, and had our options defined. We set another decision point near Eagle, CO, with a Plan C to land there and wait out the storm at a hotel for the night. As we approached Boulder (DP1), we assessed the situation and agreed that the pass looked good to continue, so we pressed on with Plan A and discarded Plan B. Did that again at DP2 and continued along. This portion was a little sketchier, but we both monitored the conditions and the way back to Plan C (landing at KEGE) remained good. In the end, we were able to continue with Plan A and had a very nice dinner at KGJT, and then a great flight on the final leg the next morning.

Hidden Gem:  As pilots we are responsible for two types of environments:  the strategic environment [on the ground planning]; and the tactical environment [in the air reality].  The strategic planning environment is measured, concrete and methodical.  The tactical environment is situational, reality-based, and fluid. Make sure you take both into account on every flight.


I hope you enjoyed this month’s installment.  Please consider using one of the AOPA templates to write your minimums down whether VFR or IFR.  If you have feedback about the interviews, please feel free to use the comment section below.


In the meantime, keep up with online safety seminars, join your state aviation association, and stay involved with your local airport.  Make sure that you consider all aspects of minimums; airplane, pilot, and environment before you yell. “clear prop.”

My flight plans include 4S2 Hood River, Oregon, and KOSH, Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  As my Dad used to say when we touched down, I am looking forward to another successful trip of “Haywire Airlines”

 

 

 

Extracting Visibility Information from Weather Cameras

Deriving visibility information from weather cameras has been in the works for several years—and you may be in a position to help determine if it is ready for prime time.  The Visibility Estimation through Image Analytics (VEIA) Program looks at FAA weather camera images and derives an estimate of the visibility using an automated comparison to clear day images.  The FAA will be evaluating this product starting in April 2021.  They are looking for Alaskan pilots willing to help with the analysis by looking at the camera-derived visibility, examining observations and completing a questionnaire.  If successful, this program could significantly expand the number of locations across the state where visibility information is provided to the aviation community.

Background
The FAA Weather Camera Program is very popular–used by pilots, FAA Flight Service Station staff, National Weather Service forecasters, and just about anyone else interested in current weather conditions and trends.  The capability was first operationally demonstrated by a University of Alaska Fairbanks graduate student’s PhD thesis project, by installing camera stations at Anaktuvuk Pass, Kaltag, and Ruby.  The demonstration was supposed to run from April through October of 1999.  Subsequently the FAA took over those three camera sites and, through several twists and turns, ramped up to the statewide operational network found in Alaska today.  There are currently over 230 camera locations, typically comprising three or four cameras per site.  The system also hosts camera data from the extensive Canadian network of stations and has integrated 13 Colorado weather cameras into the FAA Weather Camera Program through a partnership with the Colorado Division of Aeronautics.  Building on the success of the program in Alaska, the FAA is also installing 23 cameras along popular flight routes in Hawaii to enhance aviation safety and pilot decision-making.

With images updated every ten minutes and distributed through the program website, pilots may look at locations along routes they intend to fly to see if conditions are suitable for VFR operations, using this supplementary source of data.  By viewing images over the previous few hours, one can also look at recent trends in weather conditions.  Even more information is available in locations where camera sites are collocated with AWOS or ASOS stations, as this data is displayed along with the camera views. This gives the user the benefit of both visual images as well as current conditions in a textual (METAR) format as sources of information to consider in making flight planning assessments.  An example of this type of display is seen in the accompanying illustration from Ketchikan International Airport (PAKT).  But there are far fewer AWOS and ASOS stations in Alaska than weather cameras — so can we derive more quantitative weather information from the camera data itself?

FAA Weather Camera Display and current METAR. The display of weather camera observations at Ketchikan, where cameras looking in four directions show conditions and may be compared against an annotated clear day image.

Extracting Visibility from WeatherCams
A variety of techniques have been explored to derive visibility estimates from weather camera observations, including image processing and crowdsourcing techniques.  For several years FAA-funded research has been underway at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory to use image processing techniques to derive visibility from weather camera data.  Images from approximately 10 days of observations are used to develop a “best” clear day composite image. New images from the cameras are then compared with the composite image. An edge detection algorithm, using a ratio technique, is used to estimate visibility in statute miles.  The results are presented via website along with the trend showing potential changes over a maximum of six hours.  An example of the output from VEIA is shown with the weather camera views in the illustration from the Seward Airport (PAWD).  This technique only works during the day when there is adequate illumination to create suitable images, so no information is derived by VEIA during hours of darkness.

FAA Weather Camera Display and Camera Derived Visibility Estimates. This display includes weather camera observations at Seward, where cameras also look in four directions to show condition, and may be compared against an annotated clear day image. The visibility estimates are presented to the user to show the most current estimate of visibility and the visibility trends at a given location.

How can you help?
This spring, the FAA’s Aviation Weather Demonstration and Evaluation Services team will be evaluating the VEIA product.  The team is looking for a cross-section of individual end-users to actively examine and evaluate the experimental data.

The evaluation will be conducted between April and June 2021.  Participants will be provided individual accounts to access products and provided with training materials to understand the VEIA capabilities and functionality.  All participants are asked to use the VEIA system and participate in two virtual meetings to provide feedback to the evaluation team.  At the end of the assessment, each participant is expected to complete a final questionnaire.  Please consider participating in this cutting-edge research to expand weather reporting capabilities at weather camera sites and develop additional sources of weather information for pilots, dispatchers, meteorologists, and Flight Service Specialists in Alaska.  If you fit into one of the following categories and would like to participate, use the registration links below to sign up:

VEIA Registration links:

Pilot:  https://forms.gle/cZLychGHER9fgeuk9

Dispatcher:  https://forms.gle/x5UMCYBtUXxNhdJT7

Meteorologist:  https://forms.gle/VFewc2bnucnxoEfCA

FAA Flight Services:  https://forms.gle/7MQWDHdfbZkHuxmcA

If you have questions or need more information, please contact Jill Miller at [email protected] or call 609-412-9080 (east coast time zone).

If you are already a user of the FAA Weather Camera System, please consider devoting a few hours of your time to evaluate this new product, which has the potential to significantly expand the network of locations reporting visibility in Alaska.  If this technique proves to be successful, it will be a significant advancement for the network of reporting points in Alaska and a momentous innovation in extracting supplementary information from weather cameras.

 

[This article was originally published in the April-June 2021 issue of the Alaska Airmen’s Association newsletter,  The Transponder.]

Sterile cockpit

A headline of late was of a pilot in the San Jose, California, area going on a rant that was broadcast on the radio. This is not the first time this has happened, and it probably won’t be the last. The usual culprit is a stuck mic switch.

The FAA has announced an investigation into the incident, and it’s safe to say that if the guilty individual is found, there will be some kind of disciplinary action and/or a fine.

Aside from sounding unprofessional, the transmission apparently took place below 10,000 feet, when an airline crew is supposed to be honoring sterile cockpit procedures. The FAA says pilots are supposed to limit conversation only to flight-related discussion below 10,000 feet. Considering that a number of accidents have been attributed to violation of sterile cockpit—to say nothing of other incidents—the FAA is going to wield its power.

Most modern transport-category radios have an auto-shutoff feature that will shut down transmissions after a certain amount of time. This incident is the reason why—not so much because of what was said, but because a stuck mic can create a safety issue if other pilots or controllers can’t transmit and receive over the stuck mic.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of this, because the other pilot will be in the crosshairs as well for what appears to be a lack of effort to bring the conversation back to the appropriate topics.

It would be naïve to say that sterile cockpit violations don’t happen every day. They do, but that doesn’t excuse it. We all need to be aware of where we are and what we are saying, and anytime we are using a radio panel, we need to make sure that what is meant to stay in the cockpit actually does. It’s easy to miss it when your mic continues to stay hot, but a subtle indicator is the change in your own voice in your ear when you’re using the radio versus the intercom. But that’s the problem: It’s a subtle change, and all too easy to miss. Some radios also have a transmission symbol or indicator, such as a “T” or a “TX” that appears on the screen. Some … but not all.

This incident needs to be a reminder of the need to honor the sterile cockpit. It’s easy to get complacent, but it certainly isn’t impossible to comply. In fact, some pilots I’ve flown with have personally requested that anything below 18,000 feet be considered sterile, the rationale being that even the teens can have a lot of traffic and opportunities for missed radio calls. While that isn’t a necessary step, it’s not an unreasonable one either.

In general aviation, the rules are much more relaxed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t come up with your own conditions that might be “sterile.” It could be an altitude or within so many miles of an airport, or some other definition that you feel will reduce the risk of an ATC mistake or error. Whatever you decided to use, just remember that whatever you say may not only be recorded, but broadcast live on the internet, and the FAA may want to discuss it.—Chip Wright

‘Citizen of the World’s’ STEM education makeover!

About four months after the Citizen of the World returned to the United States from her record setting polar circumnavigation, she went in for new paint and interior at Art-Craft Paint, Inc. in Santa Maria, California. The Citizen had earned the major makeover after enduring some of the roughest treatment Mother Nature could throw her way during the flight over the Poles to 22 countries on six continents.

The goal was to prepare her for a new high visibility mission for the year ahead as a STEM Education platform. The Citizen of the World will be visiting various aviation events across the United States including the Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo, EAA AirVenture, the NBAA Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition, as well as various museum events. The Citizen will have a Redbird Flight Simulations Inc. flight simulator with her so aspiring pilots can hop in the seat and fly five high-stress flights that include the North and South Poles and a cyclone out of Madagascar.

To accomplish this lofty makeover goal, Teresa Arredondo from Art-Craft Paint, Inc. suggested we make the Citizen “look the part.” Being new to airplane makeovers, I spent a week at their facility observing, talking to the team, learning more about the process and my plane in the preparation and makeover. I would like to share what I learned about the difference between a good paint job versus a great paint job with those of you that feel it’s time to spoil your aircraft as well. Why not? With interest rates at an all time low of 1.2% it makes sense to bust a move and help spur the aviation economy!

Eliminate flammable materials

We were surprised, maybe even shocked, to find out parts of the interior of the Citizen of the World were done using highly flammable materials intended for use only in cars. In aviation, using these cheaper materials is forbidden because it turns the aircraft into a flying roman candle complete with large amounts of billowing deadly black smoke. Sadly, this huge detail was missed during the pre-buy, but needed some immediate attention. Technically, an airplane without the proper flame retardant materials is not airworthy. For me, this was a chilling fact considering I just flew my expedition with six extra fuel tanks—five of which were in the cabin just inches behind me.

Cover the seams with aluminum tape before stripping

Many companies skip this important step when painting your airplane. It will save you about 40 hours of labor but when the plane is stripped the chemicals make their way into the seams and start breaking down the sealant that you rely on to keep the airplane airtight. It takes about two years for this to become a major problem. The stripper acts like a cavity that just gets worse and worse and reduces the integrity of that seal. It actually does more damage to your aircraft than the extra hours of labor will do to your wallet.

Add survival stripes

Why not take this stellar opportunity to increase your chances for survival as a pilot in the air and on the ground? After a few conversations, Teresa she made a priceless suggestion. She proposed that we add two bright red survival stripes across the center section of the wing. Sounds like a small thing, but if you ever go down—whether it be over Antarctica or your local mountain range—you will be several times easier to find with your emergency signal built into the top of your wing!

Add a ceramic coating and get your shine on!

Ceramics are inexpensive way to use modern technology to literally take your plane that extra mile. In the process you extend the life of your paint job by five years for a fraction more expense. Additionally, you can reduce the number of times you need to wash your aircraft each year, save the planet, and make your baby look like a mirror! This is professionally applied and you can use it to see yourself in case you left your mirror at home. On my two circumnavigations I found this increased my speed by 1-2 knots and as a result the range was extended as well. A ceramic coating is a great way to save money in the long run.

Add a little sparkle

Want an inexpensive way to spruce up your paint job and make it stand out? How about adding some pearl luminescence to the paint? The cost is minimal and all of a sudden that boring baby blue looks like something special. You will surely turn a few heads on the ramp with this small, but significant upgrade.

Take the opportunity to replace hard to reach parts

There are only two times when the control surfaces are removed from your aircraft. First, during a proper paint job, and secondly during an accident investigation involving them. The bearings that are now magically exposed are inexpensive and they are critical components of flight. You might as well replace the bad ones while you have access.

Flaws Revealed

When we had the control surfaces off the Citizen of the World, the mechanic at Art-Craft Paint, Inc. noticed that the airplane’s rod ends did not match those in the parts manual. A few calls later we found that someone had installed the wrong ends. The Citizen was definitely giving up her secrets after all these years and asking for a little help so she could always perform at her very best over the most remote parts of the planet.

Balance the control surfaces

A fast or inexpensive paint job will skip this critical step and it can be dangerous. If you want a good flyer, then you have to take the time to first weigh the control surfaces when they come off, compare that information to what the factory recommend, and then check them again once they are painted. If you skip this step, you also run the risk of creating an unwanted resonance that you never had before. That smooth flying plane may not be so smooth if you skip this step.

Find a shop that takes a personal interest in your plane

In the process of working on the Citizen of the World the Art-Craft team started to get attached to this historic and special lady. As a final touch, everyone who worked on the aircraft signed the inside cover of the avionics bay which was then clear coated. Charles Lindbergh did this same thing with the Spirit of St. Louis.

As with everything in aviation, you have to be patient, crack your wallet, be methodical, and pay extreme attention to detail. You might as well do it right while you have the opportunity. You will regret it later if you don’t. Remember, your paint job represents who you are so you might as well present the best you can if you are going to make those new colors soar!

Please stop in and say “Hi” at Sun ’n Fun, NBAA, EAA AirVenture at Oshkosh, and some select AOPA Fly-Ins. Teresa and I will be there and we would love to hear your thoughts on our museum quality STEM education platform.

An Irrational Fear of Airports

The issue with airports in Europe has been a cumulative problem since my arrival. While I had an initial burst of enthusiasm (delusion) in Germany, the situation calcified in Spain with a near phobia of airport chaos, such that I didn’t land outside of my base airport for over six months. Eventually, I snapped out of it and settled into a middle ground.

As previously described, the problem resurfaced in Switzerland. Ironically in this case, my first forays here were met with a similar enthusiasm, where I landed at a few technically challenging locales. I was so starstruck with the Alps that I was willing to dive in and figure things out as I went. That lasted for a while, until a combination of COVID and calcification of the mind caused the problem to come back.

Sure, a slow plane with one tank coupled with legitimate extra steps for airport visits in Europe does contribute to the problem. The other is a sort of mindset that creeps in imperceptibly, where it becomes simply easier not to. While there are plenty of places to visit in a reasonably short range, over and over a line of reasoning developed: why go to these places, put up with complicated and unique procedures, and pay a bunch of fees, when I don’t really need the fuel where they are located, and I can fly in the Alps instead? Who would have thought that stunning beauty would be an excuse for lazy closemindedness?

Like Spain, where it was the month of March where a complex web of seasonality and biology likely interacted to cause an exit from “airport hibernation,” it was this month of March where I equally and suddenly snapped out it. Sure, I had visited Wangen-Lachen (LSPV) near Zürich in February (terrifying myself with south Föhn winds), though that really in my mind was an errant dose of exuberance that changed little. I had terrain I badly wanted to see and forced myself to test out the place as a fuel stop.

A funny lineage led to this new reality. I had been invited to join the Fluggruppe Saanenland, a small club of pilots in the local area. After sending in a membership form, I received audited financials, bylaws of the Swiss verein, and a small invoice; the Swiss are, if anything, orderly. After receiving a few newsletters in German, I eventually received a few small magazines from the Aero Club Berner Oberland, which is apparently the regional parent club for the small group that I had joined. Many months after that, I started getting “Flying Revue,” a magazine in German from Aero Club Schweiz, the national aero club, which is apparently higher on the totem pole than the regional club. When the second magazine arrived, I thought to myself “this is not going to be free.” Sure enough, an invoice in German came two weeks later, for which I could not tell if it was an actual bill, or one of those membership solicitations where the invoice is included for “ease of joining.” It dutifully listed my involvement in Fluggruppe Saanenland and Aero Club Berner Oberland, with specific nominal surcharges associated with each. Given the reasonable amount and my disinterest navigating the situation in German, I paid it. That resulted in the next magazine, where there was an article about “Flugparcours 2021.”

Apparently, at the centenary of Swiss aviation in 2010, there was a similar Flugparcours, where pilots would fly to ten airports in Switzerland in honor of the anniversary. It was repeated every two years since. While I am not sure if said Flugparcours is the exact same ten airports or if they vary, there is a form with all the airports, a place to enter details, receive a signoff that a visit was completed, and a deadline to get it done by October 2021. Apparently, if I do complete it successfully, I send the form in and I get added to a list.

For some reason, that did it. I decided to get off my rear and start visiting some other places, for the simple reality that landing at other airports can actually be something other than mind-bendingly complicated. Besides, if there is a national scheme to encourage landings at these places, surely they will not snarl at the idea of visitors?

I knocked two of them off: La Côte (LSGP) and Neuchâtel (LSGN). Ironically, Langen-Wanchen is on the list, so three are done. I also decided to start work on my instrument rating, so I flew to Yverdon-les-Bains (LSGY) to meet with an instructor, although it was not on the Flugparcours list. It is ironic that visiting other airports is a reminder that landing at the same base airport over and over (and nowhere else) is NOT good for making smooth landings….

While meeting with the instructor, I began snarling about PPRs (Prior Permission Required), and he had an excellent explanation, which was accented by having spent many years in the USA, so he is familiar with my American-centric perspective. Basically, all of the PPR airports are private. While they look and act like public airports (maintenance facilities, fuel, flight schools, paved runways, etc.), they are under tremendous regulatory pressure if they were to operate officially as a “public” airport, which comes with insurance, noise, and other complications. It is a form of ducking under onerous rules to operate privately. For some reason, I had deduced that the PPR requirement had something to do with FOCA statistics, and it does not. Most airports I have talked to just want a quick phone call, tail number, and aircraft type (to verify the visit is not ill advised) and that’s the end of the PPR issue.

At any rate, I have set my mind to visit the rest of the list. And, while I am at it, why not visit the ones that aren’t on the list? We’ll see.

I mistakenly pressed the wrong button and got a 10x time lapse video from my Go Pro. Below is a 4 minute rendition of the flight from Gstaad Airport (LSGK) to La Côte (LSGP).

Climbout from La Côte. Unsurprisingly, that means “the coast.”

Right hand downwind for Neuchâtel. The body of water is Lake Neuchâtel.


Climbout from Neuchâtel, with the city of Neuchâtel along the lake. In the event of engine failure, one’s options consisted of impacting a hard object or getting wet.


Climbout Yverdon-les-Bains.


Some exploits in the past month that didn’t necessarily involve other airports….

Jura Mountains from France. Geneva airport is in the center, along with the Large Hadron Collider lurking amongst all this farmland.

Bütlasse. It has been a bit cold this March in the cockpit…

Sunset on the Spitzhorn, with a 35 knot breeze.

Mt. Blanc, France (15,771′) from above Chamonix. Visiting another airport is not necessary to see this. 

Grosses Engelhorn. No airport stop necessary…

Summit of the Matterhorn (14,692′) with Dufourspitze (15,203′) in the background. This does not bother me as much as airport gymnastics.

Doldenhorn with a bit of a breeze from roughly, 12,400 feet. It is almost comical that flying in such a circumstance is rather relaxing whereas I have to reach deep down to find the motivation to overcome my reticence to land elsewhere….

Book #30 is done: Pobles de la Cerdanya. It is a photo journey of unique villages in Spanish and French Cerdanya, viewed over multiple years from the Cub.

Some bright spots

As the pandemic appears to be winding down, travel is showing some signs of recovery. Flights for spring break saw some of the highest load factors seen since early 2020, and Americans are itching to avoid another summer of being stuck at home.

Several airlines, including a couple of majors, are showing signs of growth and pilot hiring. United recently announced point-to-point service for several Midwestern cities that are not typically a part of its core hub-and-spoke system. This is a significant departure (pun very much intended) for a company that is so focused on maximizing the hub part of the hub-and-spoke.

Other carriers have also been quietly making adjustments to their schedules as well, and a cursory examination of the announcements shows what was long predicted: Leisure travel is expected to rebound first.

Here’s the best part of the good news, though: Much of this added flying is being done on regional aircraft. That makes sense, because a smaller airplane allows an airline to “right-size” the airframe for the market, which in this case, is relying on zero connecting passengers. If the smaller airplanes fill up, the option always exists to bring in something bigger later or on a seasonal basis. From a pilot perspective, it means more block hours of flying, which means more jobs. Endeavor, a wholly owned subsidiary of Delta, has begun training new-hire pilots, and is expecting to hire as many as 400 before the end of the year. Spirit and United are also expected to see a net growth in pilot jobs.

This is a stark turnaround from where we were a year ago, when pilots at the majors were sweating out the possibility of a furlough. Fortunately, three significant government bail-out bills have kept the airlines afloat and allowed for some creative solutions to be crafted to minimize any lost jobs. It appears to have worked as advertised. Early separation packages got some senior folks to retire, some retraining costs were saved or totally avoided, and the ability to rebound was kept in place. On my last couple of trips, the airways and radio frequencies were jammed, and it was a great sense of normalcy in a year that has had anything but.

Pilots who are interested in stepping up to the regionals or higher need to be updating applications regularly and touching base with contacts at various carriers. Job fairs are likely to be virtual, if they occur at all. But if they do, that face time with a recruiter will be more important than ever before.

Because it stands to reason that many countries will require a vaccine to enter, getting vaccinated should be a priority for anyone looking to get into the travel industry, and pilots will be at the top of that list. The Biden administration is pushing to broaden the ability for everyone to get a shot by May 1, so if you can get one, don’t wait. The airlines have not specifically come out and said that they will require a vaccine, but at least one as hinted that it may, and they may all require future job applicants to have one. There is no point in delaying what feels like the inevitable, especially if it has the double bonus of both protecting you and gaining a leg up on future employment.

What was threatening to be a long period of recessionary activity is now showing signs of hope and recovery. While nothing is ever guaranteed, the signs are positive, and that’s far more than we could have dared hoped for a year ago.—Chip Wright

Facing your critical breaking point

Photo credit – Explorers, Jeremy Là Zelle and Kristin Gates

You have completed your expedition, pushed yourself, your team and your equipment to their absolute and total limits, risked your life, satisfied your sponsors, supporters and followers, completed your scientific experiments, written the book and simulations, filmed the docuseries (so generations can experience the sheer terror and thrill of it all without the year of counseling), declared victory, and now you are trying to figure out, “What did I learn? What the hell does it all mean?”

The answers to these questions, of course, will take time and will fall into place like the pieces of a puzzle over the years that follow. These answers will be the most valuable things you take away from your expedition.

Here are a few pieces of the puzzle I have placed and can now share with you…

The pay dirt

Let me start by saying the personal expeditions we embark on while they are rich in science and adventure are even richer in the knowledge, wisdom, and insight that we acquire along the way. The true expedition is the one that goes on inside of us, not around us. The pay dirt comes from examining the inner depths of who we are as human beings. Our inner journey forces us to examine our beliefs and redefine who we are in the world and that brings us to our breaking point, and for some, multiple breaking points. These key moments break us open on multiple levels and change the way we see ourselves and the world around us.

Your new reality

At this critical breaking point, which is both physical and mental, there is a new reality that we don’t often have access to. It’s a time when the normal day-to-day rules we live our lives by don’t exist. Our senses are heightened, time slows, our focus is laser sharp, our adrenaline is at 100% and our existence is in jeopardy. At these valuable moments in time the doors open to a new reality and we experience something truly unique. This is often when our mission becomes bigger than us. We put our lives on the line to bring about the change we want to see in the world. We become living examples for the planet. We redefine our personal limits and how we see ourselves. We are in a way being prepared for more.

These extreme moments on my Pole-to-Pole expedition to 22 countries and 6 continents occurred:

  • During test flights when critical equipment failed at 34,500 feet while flying at 300 mph
  • Over the South Pole when the air temp dropped to -60c, which was below the freezing point of my aircraft’s jet fuel and the operating temperature of its Predator B drone engines
  • Over the deadly Drake Passage when I was critically low on fuel
  • In Dakar, Senegal when my #1 ferry tank burst inside the plane and sent Jet A1 fuel into my eyes, onto my arms, legs, chest and groin, severely burning me
  • Over the North Pole when I lostall communication, the attitude heading and reference system, the autopilot, GPS units for 5 hours

During these challenging moments the tendency is to lean back on your heels and retreat to safety but it is actually the time that you must lean into your fear and discomfort—to “be with” rather than turn away. You are approaching your moment of learning. I couldn’t help but wonder during these times, often with tears running down my face, “How hard are you going to make this? What are you preparing me for?”

Breaking you open

Expedition leaders are strong and think they can do it all. They keep loading up on responsibility and tasks (PR, social media, trip preps, team building, sponsorship, permits, etc.) until not even the strongest person could possibly carry even another ounce on their shoulders.  Everyone has a breaking point.

The answer I came to realize was that the Universe was breaking me open. Breaking down my defenses. Exposing that raw side of me that was not accessible when I had my armor on. In a spiritual sense, we are broken open to heal and deeply grow ourselves. This lets the light shine in on the parts that need it.

Why did the Universe keep doing this?

Because I had more to learn…my learning was far from complete and needed to be tested. I mistakenly stated after the longest and most difficult leg of the trip over the South Pole that the rest of the trip would be the “Global Victory Lap” for me and the team. The Universe obviously had other plans in store for us. The Sufi philosopher and poet Rumi had the right idea when he wrote, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

Redefining ourselves

During this equally confusing, frightening, and magical time of transformation, we are redefining how we see ourselves in the world.  We are watching ourselves do these things from outside of ourselves, from a new vantage point. We are learning what we are capable of, how strong we are mentally and physically, and the magnitude of what we are capable.

When I reflect back on the moments I described above, the person involved in all that risk and transformation seems foreign to me. I ask myself where did that superhuman drive come from? Who was that person? Why would he or she take on those incredible risks?  I honestly feel like that must be a different person or that I could never have done that. But that person is me and I did do it, and you can too, when you align your impossibly big dreams with the courageous person that lives within you waiting for you to say “Yes.” That person, in reality, is our new self with greater strength and wider boundaries. It is the new best expanded version of us that sees the world from a different perspective—the view from 35,000 feet.

Where the drive comes fFrom

For me, this drive comes from a source that is free to dream and think impossibly big. It resides somewhere deep inside all of us. Maybe from our restless soul that can’t settle for a “normal” existence? I like to believe we come into the world with a contract to fulfill. A contract that defines our life mission that is often noble, deeply personal.

Those who doubt would say it’s our ego wanting to be seen. I know there are easier and safer ways to get ego recognition. For me, it comes from wanting more for the world and being frustrated by those that don’t deliver on their promises for a better brighter world.

Busting a move

At some point we gather up our resources, supporters, sponsors and bust our very best move out into the world. In my first book, Flying Thru Life, I wrote about when our passion and purpose come into alignment, we “accelerate” our awareness and growth. I have felt this many times. It’s powerful, it’s clear and it feels right as we connect in oneness or as we said on my Polar Expedition, “One Planet. One People. One Plane.  Oneness for Humanity.”

For those of you who are reading this and thinking, “This guy is crazy, and all of this sounds like something I would never do,” let me ask you this: if your dream doesn’t scare you, even a little, is it big enough?

The answers you seek are somewhere beyond your level of comfort and the only way to find those answers is to step outside of your comfort zone. Choose to get curious about what your critical breaking points are trying to tell you and where they’re trying to take you. Ask the tough questions and be willing to fly with the discomfort of not knowing. When your answers arrive, you may be surprised to find an inner expedition that leads you to a new reality where the best version of you resides. Who wouldn’t want to land there? It’s the “Land of I Can,” as my mentor, friend, and pilot Susan Gilbert writes. Where courageous action and impossibly big dreams meet is the ever-evolving best version of you.

The beginning of the beginning of the end

As we enter the second year of the pandemic, there are signs of an ever-so-slow return to normalcy. In the last couple of months, airports are showing more signs of activity, from more crowded terminals to more flights arriving and departing. Airlines are cycling more airplanes in and out of storage, and more importantly, they are bringing some out of storage for good. At three U.S. based carriers—United, Southwest, and American—the Boeing 737 MAX has returned to service.

The three big federal payroll protection program (PPP) grants and loans have gone a long way to help stabilize the industry. Employees who were going to be furloughed are being kept on the payroll. Pilots are being kept current, and those who can afford to take some unpaid time off are being given an opportunity to do so. (Two of these PPP blocks have already been signed into law; the third is currently headed toward the Senate, where it is likely to pass.)

Now that the U.S. FDA has approved a third vaccine, we can pick up the steady march toward herd immunity in the United States while also sending extra supply to other nations that need it. This is critical for helping achieve a return toward normal levels of trade, travel, and tourism. It will take some time for the global economy to rebound, but once that recovery gains traction, it should be a steady improvement. Time will tell.

In the aviation sector, this is all great news. Few industries are as capital-intensive as the airlines with as few direct sources of revenue. A number of airlines have already failed, and more may well follow. But the best news is that several airlines that were talking about having to furlough are now actively spooling up their hiring processes.

During the pandemic, agreements were made with various unions to offer early retirement packages to employees, including pilots, and it now looks like there will be a faster recovery in some sectors than originally anticipated. Leisure travel will recover first, and maybe even fastest, as folks look to get away from home after feeling trapped for so long. Florida is open, except for cruises, and flights to and from the state are full and—for now—usually cheap.

Business travel will take longer to recover, but that might also make it more predictable and easier to manage. The international business community will take longer to return as nations slowly lift their travel restrictions and the vaccines begin to reach more and more people. That said, trade shows, meetings, et cetera, that were postponed or canceled will slowly be returned to the calendar, and advance tickets will be sought, bought, and sold.

All signs point to the beginning of the beginning of the end of the pandemic, with a nation and a globe full of people desperate to return to a more normal, familiar life. If this is indeed the case, the airlines have weathered an incredibly difficult path—one that would not have been possible without federal aid, but still they will have succeeded.

It’s too soon to say if the pilot shortages of 2018 to 2020 will return, or will be as severe, but I think it is safe to say that those who want to find a career in aviation will have the opportunities to do so far sooner than we might have thought even a few months ago, and that is indeed welcome news.—Chip Wright

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