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Amazing women! June 17

“Wings out, now, like this,” Dee Bond demonstrated at the end of the masking tape runway, spreading her arms wide for young Abby. “Now, let’s ask Tower for clearance to take off.” Hannah Burright, playing air traffic controller, cleared them and they jogged down the 12-foot runway, banking right for crosswind, then downwind. “Now, ask tower if we can land,” Dee whispered. “Cleared to land,” Hannah obliged and Abby slid on her knees, setting down smoothly on the centerline behind Dee. Onlookers applauded and other kids lined up for turns. This community event for youth, held today at AOPA’s National Aviation Community Center in Frederick, MD, gave Air Race Classic racers a chance to meet kids and families in the community who are interested in aviation. Dee flew in for the race all the way from Pukekohe, New Zealand, and this is her seventh race. Hannah is from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Prescott, AZ campus and is here for her second race. These ladies and many other racers and volunteers spent the afternoon talking with children about flying, autographing their ARC programs, and sharing much excitement about the upcoming race. In the midst of the fun, we were joined by Ariel Tweto, of the TV show, “Flying Wild Alaska,” who arrived about 2:00. She’s one of us for the week, teaming up with Mary Wunder of Collegeville, PA. Mary’s a veteran racer, gearing up for her 10th race. Here’s to flying wild, ladies, though we’re keeping it in the Lower 48 for now!

Inspections and Checks. June 16

They’re making a list and checking it twice. No, not Santa’s elves; it’s the aircraft inspectors checking off items on the Air Race Classic Start Checklist. Items include FAA placards, documents (AROW), airframe data plate, ARC race number decal, ELT, NavCom and transponder, altimeter, lights, tie-down equipment (for tying down on grass), and more. Once the inspectors are done, they will impound the airplane until race start, which is Tuesday, June 20, at 8 am Eastern Time. Not only can’t racers fly after the inspection is complete, but neither can we access our aircraft without official escorts; all in an effort to keep it fair and square and prevent any opportunity for a post-inspection advantage. After 41 years of races, the officials have seen all the tricks!

We also completed our pilot credentials check: Current medical certificate, pilot certificate, logbooks up to date, current flight review, necessary endorsements. We are all good! Now on to the fun, team-building activities. Tonight is movie night at AOPA’s National Aviation Community Center, 296 Bucheimer Rd, Frederick, MD 21701, and the public is invited to join us for “Beyond the Powder,”  which tells the story of the first 1929 women’s air race, then known as the Powder Puff Derby, with documentary footage from the 2014 Air Race Classic.

Powder Puff Derby? Wow. We’ve come a long way, gals!

Creeper! June 15

Creeper alert! Normally that’s cause for alarm, but not in this case. Like an auto mechanic rolling under a car to work underneath, one of us will roll on a creeper under our airplane to wage war against a special breed of dead bugs. Greasy ones, and lots of ’em. Around here we use well-diluted Simple Green Aircraft Cleaner, which is actually white, not green, and made for airplanes. It’s easy on aluminum and on the environment. Be careful what you use to clean your aircraft; some products you might use on your automobile are actually corrosive to aluminum. Read the labels and when doubtful, ask your mechanic. No matter how good the solvent, the main ingredient to achieving a shine is elbow grease. Rub a dub dub. While we’re on the topic of cleaning, what about the windows? Remember – and tell your helpful kids – not to use  typical window cleaners, as the windows are plexiglass, not glass, and the chemicals in many glass cleaning products will damage the plastic! Try Pledge or Prist to get that plexiglass sparkling. After hours of work, I’ll be wondering whether it’s worth it. How much speed do you suppose we lose for each bug we carry? Thoughtful estimates are welcome.

AOPAngels ARC June 14

AOPAngels  With less than a week until the Women’s Air Race Classic (ARC) race take-off, AOPAngels Luz Beattie (left), Kathy Dondzila (center), and Paula Wivell (right) are deep into preparation: double-checking paperwork, logbooks, credentials; reviewing rules; studying the route. And removing bugs. So many bugs are splattered on the leading edges of our Cessna 182! Flight teams are beginning to arrive at Frederick Municipal Airport, home of AOPA headquarters and the take-off airport. The first ARC pre-race event is tomorrow evening. We are looking forward to getting to know the other competitors. The love of flying. It’s what brings us together, the basis for friendships across the country that may last a lifetime. Sure, it’d be great to win, to place in the Top 10 – and we will certainly give it our best shot – but the real reason we are flying is for flying, itself. To encourage those young and old who are are learning to fly; and those whose flying skills have grown rusty over years of inactivity, yet still dream of getting back in the left seat. Can I do it, you wonder. Yes, we think you can! Fly along with us and be encouraged! I’ll be blogging every day until the Awards Banquet on Sunday, June 25. We are Team 43 and you can follow the race online and on Twitter! @aopangels.

Amber Waves of Grain….in Spain

There are times when I reflect upon first coming to the Pyrenees where I can’t seem to remember the reasons why I felt apprehensive about going very far from home, and then I recall some of the intriguing realities about being sequestered in a high mountain valley with passes all over 6,000 feet, international borders, multiple languages, control zones, airport landing restrictions, the intersection of six climate zones, world famous mountain waves, and infamously unpredictable weather changes over the ridge. It makes sense in retrospect and, as I progressively knocked down each barrier, there was one I still couldn’t find a way to get around, resulting in the aborted attempt at Morocco: airports and avgas, or the lack thereof.

I finally solved the problem by devising some rather unconventional ways of moving avgas around, availing myself of agricultural airstrips and legal ultralight fields as staging points. That decision coincided with a sudden shift in the seasonality of the weather, and it is as though I am in Wyoming again.

Calaf, Spain “airport.” Sign is in Catalan: “Airfield, Prohibited.” It appears to be used as a drag strip.

Coscojuelas, Spain – Gyrocopter Airport

Castejon de los Monegros. Strong wind and the smell of crushed herbs under the tires.

An older experienced pilot had made it very clear that a strong west wind is the only hope for the open Spanish plains to clear of their persistent haze and inversions. Unfortunately, a strong west wind seemed to evade the northeastern Iberian Peninsula ever since I got that advice. Roughly in late April, the weather systems began to change, and strong winds started blowing. Having been educated in Wyoming about the seasonality of color and moisture, I knew that mid to late spring is the finest time to see farmland in semi-arid regions. It was now or next year, and if there is any lesson life teaches, there is no need to wait.

Spring creeping up the hills – Santa Magdalena del Mont Chapel on the first image.

I finally found the feeling I had back in Wyoming: wide-open freedom and stunning farmland from above. The experience of flying a Cub in these environments is a personal favorite, and I found it here, in the areas around Lleida, Spain and the lower farmlands of Catalunya. I set off with a rough idea of where I was going, and flew wherever I wanted until I got there, flying so much that, needless to say, I’d rather not open my bank statement to see the carnage.

This area sat in fog for a month straight, and will turn to dust in the summer.

Aragón, some distance from home. 

Much like the rangelands of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, one can expect silent winds in the morning, roaring winds in the afternoon, only to see them decouple and turn off around sunset. Forecasts are to be taken with a grain of salt, as winds easily push 30 knots with an unabated west wind. Fuel transfers were undertaken in grass strip airports with absolutely no facilities, only tall uncut weeds with smells of Spanish herbs under the wheels of the airplane, set against ripe wheat fields swaying strongly in the wind. I take my time at these stops, eating lunch while sitting on one of the airplane tires, contemplating the magnitude of the scenery and experience. The PA-11 started its service in Upstate South Carolina in 1949 as a crop duster, and as I eat my snack while taking in scenery in Spain that looks like Nebraska, it feels very full circle, in a hard to explain kind of way. It just feels right. This airplane has been places.

Too many waves in the grain – what 30kt surface winds look like over mature fields.

In the short course of the month of May, temperatures in lowland Catalunya have begun to rise, wheat fields have gotten tired with harvests beginning, and the advent of Mediterranean summer is approaching. Time will tell what happens down there to the farmland, if anything at all. Some areas are extensively irrigated, sourced from the Pyrenees, whereas others will likely fade into a beige color, only to begin planting later in the fall for the winter wet season. What flights I have taken recently at lower altitudes involve shorts and a t-shirt with the door open, though spring is advancing rapidly at high altitude.

Approaching harvest, lower Catalunya.

6,700 feet, climbing over one of the many passes out of La Cerdanya. Mid-May snowfall on upper right peak.

France (left), Andorra (right) – 10,000 feet – “spring.”

Wildflowers – La Cerdanya

Crop of Poppies – La Cerdanya

French Pyrenees – June

Part of the transition from frustration to satisfaction with flying here has to do with altering expectations. It is common in America to wish to travel far and wide, to go to as many exotic places as possible, from the national parks out west to the notorious pilgrimage to Alaska, whether in an airplane, RV, or car. North America is a continent of wild and uninhabited expanses, and the nature of land, wildlife, and the American spirit demands a persistent eye to the philosophical direction of the west, to the unexplored that remains to be seen. Lyndon Johnson is quoted as saying “For this is what America is all about. It is the uncrossed desert and the unclimbed ridge. It is the star that is not reached and the harvest sleeping in the unplowed ground.”

That is not what Europe is all about.

A scene in America could be one of many National Forests, yet another mountain, another uninhabited valley… in Europe it would have a profound history lasting thousands of years. Every 5 to 10 miles, there is a village tucked somewhere incredible, ruins of a castle of centuries ago, roads, and cathedrals which defy the imagination in their beauty and profoundness. On one hand, there is no need to measure the magnitude of achievement by crossing 500 miles by air in one flight as what is available within 100 miles is mind blowing. On another, to fly 500 miles in Europe is roughly as complex (and expensive) as 1,500 miles in America. As a Spanish approach controller said to me, “You can’t compare flying in America to flying in Spain. They are totally separate things.”

To complement mountain flying in a trilingual border area in a separatist region, I have also decided to undertake infrared photography as part of my continued need to understand the vagaries of the world around me. I will explain more about this adventure in the future, as well as the blood-boiling process of obtaining my European pilot’s license, an anachronism so severe it is hard to put into words.

Monegros Desert, near Zaragoza. I was wondering if this was still planet Earth.

Some infrared images. Note that this is a separate IR camera, not an effect.

French Pyrenees – Andorra at the end of the valley.

Montserrat, Spain – near Barcelona.

La Cerdanya – in takeoff path.

La Cerdanya – airport just left of center.


There’s an expression you will hear a lot at the airlines: “It’s for dispatchability.” In other words, as the expression goes, a plan is moot once the action starts.

Let me explain. The FAA requires airlines to meet certain criteria before a flight can be released, or dispatched. The captain and the dispatcher need to agree on some other items in addition to the standard IFR flight plan items: fuel, weather, alternate(s).

First on the list are any minimum equipment list (MEL) items. These might be as simple as a burned-out light bulb or as complex as a failed nav display.

Second is performance considerations. Everything in the FAR 121 performance world hinges on the loss of an engine. On takeoff, the assumption is that it will fail at V1, which means an abort is no longer an option. On landing, the assumption is that an engine will fail prior to or during an approach, thus necessitating a single-engine go-around. But, go-arounds usually are less restricted by terrain or obstacles, since you’re already off the ground and have the full length of the runway in front of you. That means you can continue to climb for the full length of the runway, whereas a takeoff climb begins somewhere down the runway. You’ll also find that a number of airports have special single-engine procedures developed for an engine failure on takeoff or landing that are also “for dispatchability only,” because they meet certain climb and performance requirements. In the real world, pilots can (and should) use their best judgment (such as in bad weather).

To further add to the confusion, you may find that at certain airports, the single-engine procedures are only used by some fleets…and among the same fleet type, there may be variations from one carrier to the next on those procedures because of engine differences.

All takeoff data is predicated on losing the most critical engine and reaching the four segments of a climb (beyond the scope of this post). Remember, that’s a worst case scenario. When you hear the “that’s for dispatchability” comment regarding takeoff, it means that once you get to V1 and no engines fail, everything else is gravy. You’ve met all of your regulatory requirements, and nothing else matters. But, you still have to assume the worst, which may mean leaving payload behind.

Another area in which you hear it, and where confusion occurs, affects the MEL. The MEL is designed to give certain relief to the carrier to fly with inoperative components. However, when something breaks in flight, it isn’t necessarily a requirement to begin immediate compliance with the MEL. Here’s an example. Jets and pressurized turboprops have two air conditioning packs that provide pressurization and cabin air. If one is inop, the MEL commonly will restrict flight to 25,000 feet or less to ensure adequate cabin air. However, that requirement is only in effect once the MEL has been used to defer the operating pack for later repair. When the issue comes up in flight, the appropriate checklist will be the guiding document—and it may or may not require a descent to FL250. This can be an important consideration when it comes to fuel and range. As long as the checklist doesn’t require the descent, you can continue to cruise merrily along.

But, once the mechanics defer the pack, you’ll be required to meet any and all MEL requirements as a condition of being dispatched with that particular MEL in use.—Chip Wright

The no-longer-annual recurrent training

Until recently, airlines subjected pilots to a recurrent training event in the simulator every 12 months, plus or minus a month. In the past few years, more and more carriers have switched to a nine-month training cycle. That means that over three years, there will be four total training events.

The airlines have collected data that shows certain pilot skills degrade too much when they are not practiced for a full year (or more). Make no mistake, this decision is not made lightly, because it comes with a significant increase in costs. But it makes sense. Just about every carrier does sim training over two days. The first day is the maneuvers validation, or MV. It’s a chance for pilots to demonstrate their skills on V1 cuts, stalls, single-engine approaches, single-engine landings, single-engine go-arounds, encounters with wind shear, and other skills that don’t get much exposure in the airplane. However, they also tend to be the skills that are most likely to suffer from a lack of practice.

Other skills can also be evaluated. Not every airline has an opportunity to do a lot of RNAV approaches, and some approaches at some airports require some pretty solid stick-and-rudder skills—especially in any kind of wind or weather (such as the River Visual to Runway 19 at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport). The MV is also an opportunity for the carrier to simply evaluate how certain everyday skills are conducted.

The second day of sim training is usually some form of line oriented evaluation (LOE), which is a flight between two cities served by the carrier. However, an anomaly is introduced that will force the crew to work together to solve a problem and safely land. Day-to-day skills can be evaluated, as can an adherence to following certain protocols and procedures. CRM is the main focus on a LOE.

Airlines have shared certain safety and training data for years in an effort to meet collective goals and targets that improve the industry for everyone. Obviously, this information is also shared with the FAA, and over the past decade or so, the transition to a nine month-cycle has gained some steam.

The influx of new pilots into the ranks is another factor. Everyone wants to keep an eye on the new, younger generation, along with the number of pilots who are changing equipment—some for the first time in years or even decades.

Training always comes with its own set of stresses and challenges, but shorter intervals will help alleviate some of that, and they will certainly allow for more learning opportunities.—Chip Wright

Last chance for Sweepstakes 172 automatic entry


Take a last good look at the Sweepstakes 172 with her current livery, because the next time you see her she will be wearing new accent colors on top of that gorgeous base coat.

The Sweepstakes 172 is shown at KD Aviation’s shop at Stewart International Airport (SWF) in New York. Ken Reese and his brother, Don, offer superlative aircraft painting services at two locations: SWF and Trenton-Robbinsville Airport (N87), Robbinsville, New Jersey. On the day we arrived, the shop was completing work on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s helicopter.

May 31 is next week! Your AOPA membership must be current as of May 31 to be automatically entered to win. See the complete rules here. 


What makes a good first officer?

What makes a good first officer? It’s easier to talk about what makes a good captain, since the captain is the boss and has the ability to make everyone miserable.

At my first airline, I was an FO for only two and a half years before spending the next 12 as a captain. Now, I’m back in the right seat, and I find myself applying a lot of what I looked for in my own FOs, as well as some of my own ideas along with a healthy dose of common sense. Most of this is not in order, but the first one is.

  • Be on time. This is a big one, especially when it’s time to leave the hotel. Most pilots excel at being on time, if not early. It’s easy at the beginning of the trip, but some folks have a hard time being in the lobby on time for the van. Most pilots will try to be in the lobby at least five minutes early. Nobody likes to be rushed at the gate—and the van driver doesn’t like to be rushed in traffic—so make it a point to be punctual. As a captain, I really appreciated an FO who was early to plane on the first leg of the trip (assuming we didn’t bump into each other in the crew room). So, I always try to be the first one to the airplane now.
  • Be a chameleon. Unfortunately, this is the life blood of being an FO. You’re forced to learn (quickly) the habits and quirks of each captain you deal with. It can be as simple as knowing when the first checklist is read to something as strange as the way a piece of paper needs to be folded. (I’m not kidding.)There was a captain at Comair who was legendary for the origami-like way he wanted to fold the piece of paper from the release that we used for the ATIS, clearance, et cetera. He wouldn’t let anybody else touch it, and FOs quickly learned to just hand it to him. It’s also necessary to learn quickly to what extent a captain is going to help out with certain duties. Some captains will insist on doing some of the walk-arounds, and others will not even entertain it. Worse, some will not do the walk-around, but also will do nothing in the cockpit, figuring that they are “staying out of the way.” It’s true that two pilots loading the FMS can lead to confusion and make the process take longer, but it’s not so bad that he or she needs to totally back away. This is just someone being a jerk or lazy (or both). Fortunately, this is also rare.
  • CRM quirks. Some captains are over the top with crew resource management, and fortunately, they expose that early, so you can figure out that you’ll be double- and triple-verifying everything you touch, say, and do, even after you’ve already verified it. Just don’t forget something, because you’ll likely hear about it if you do. One way to minimize any conflict is to save all the paperwork until the captain says it’s OK to toss it. On the 737 that I fly, the printer is running nearly nonstop with messages, ATIS updates, performance info, et cetera. I keep everything until I figure out if the captain is a “read it and toss it” kind or wants to hold it until we land. The best ones only print out critical info.
  • Standard operating procedures. Most pilots follow most of the rules, and a few follow all of them. But some only follow a few. Ironically, most of the ones who do things their own way will tell you that they do things their own way, but they will follow along if you want to go by the book. In a way, these captains are both the easiest and the most difficult to fly with, because you can pick up some very bad habits, but they will not stop you from doing what’s right because doing what’s right keeps them out of trouble. That said, most captains try to follow company and FAA procedures, and they expect the same from the FOs. A good captain can address this diplomatically when a conflict occurs. A good FO will just follow procedures from the get-go, and if there is a conflict, he or she will simply ask there is a new procedure. Along the lines of SOP is keeping up with changes. It used to drive me crazy when the company would put out updates and FOs would drag their feet on reading them or implementing them. Now, as an FO, I try to make it a point to bring them up during our initial meeting to make sure we’re on the same page, which I’ve found captains greatly appreciate.
  • Prevent mistakes. Most captains will ask that you point out something they might be doing wrong or a mistake they may have made, and most of them mean it. We’re all human, and what may look like a deliberate act of non-compliance is almost always just a mistake or a misunderstanding. FOs saved my bacon more than once, and will eventually do so again. I’m simply returning the favor.
  • Ask questions. Captains love to both teach and pass along tidbits and institutional knowledge. Take advantage of it. It may not have anything to do with the airplane, but every little nugget of knowledge you pick up can make your work life much easier. In fact, ask your captains what FOs do that they like and don’t like. You’ll hear some interesting stories. Soon, you’ll be talking smack about your own FOs!
  • Relax, and have fun. Flying is a lot of fun and a great way to make a living, but if you don’t relax, it’s a lot more stressful than it should be. There will invariably be the rare few that you don’t like or get along with, but there is always a topic of conversation that you can agree on. If there isn’t, then you need to just accept that it will be a quiet trip. Thankfully, those days are rare indeed. Most of the time, there is an easy banter and a rapport that settles in, and the trip is over all too soon.

Just make sure that you’re on time.—Chip Wright

Upgraded weather web tools for Alaska pilots

Our ability to access weather data for pilots in Alaska continues to evolve.  Recently both the National Weather Service and the FAA have released new operational versions of their websites for Alaska weather.  They are both well worth a closer look.

Alaska Aviation Weather Unit’s New Look
For years the NWS Alaska Aviation Weather Unit (AAWU) has provided an excellent website with a combination of current and forecast weather products specifically for Alaska aviators.  It just got a new look, to increase security and migrate to a nationally supported server. While you will recognize most of the products, the home page has a different look, and increased functionality.

The main page on the new AAWU site has controls to toggle Airmets, TAFs and/or PIREPs.

The home page uses a new base map, and offers increased functionality without having to dig into the menu structure.  Not only is it a zoomable map base, but one can now toggle on (and off) Airmets, Terminal Area Forecasts and/or display PIREPs.  TAFs sites are color coded by weather category. You may also display and filter pilot reports, to look up to 24 hours into the past for trend information. New features to watch for include adding METARs to the user choices on the front page, and updated winds aloft graphics. Also explore the tiled quick links at the bottom of the homepage.

In this screen shot above, PIREPs for the past three hours are displayed. They also include a text list of the PIREPs for the selected time block at the bottom of the page, in case you want to browse them in that form.

The old site will continue to run in parallel with the new site until June 20, 2017, but start using the new site today at:  As with any site that is developing, you may need to let the National Weather Service know if you have problems, or questions.  Direct those to: [email protected].

New FAA Weather Camera site goes operational
By all accounts, the Aviation Weather Camera Program is the most popular thing the FAA has done in many years.  After months of development and testing, it too has a new look, web address and loads of new functionality.  Thanks to many of you who participated in the recent beta-testing activity, the FAA made significant upgrades and declared the new site operational as of May 1st.

More current and forecast weather information has been added to the site.

While the FAA will continue to operate the old site in parallel for a while, you should note the new address: The major changes have to do with the presentation of current and forecast weather in graphic form, on the map page.  If zoomed in far enough, airports that have reported weather and terminal area forecasts will give reveal conditions at a glance, before even selecting and reading the full text reports.

METARs, TAFs and PIREPs are visually presented, with an idea of the trend presented graphically.

Other new features include an increased selection of base maps to choose from, including Sectionals, IFR charts or a terrain enhanced display.  Note, however, that several the menu selection choices are not active. There is more development ahead, making it very important that you remember to take the Pilot Survey that is linked from the hope page. Also note that this version of the program is not optimized for tablets or smart phones. Those devices are to be incorporated in future releases.

Exercise them!
Both of the NWS and FAA tools are coming out just as the flying season ramps up. Please take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with them before taking off this summer. And keep your comments rolling in to drive improvements in the months ahead!

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