John’s blog: where have you gone, piston twin?

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The piston twin became a victim of our culture’s relentless pursuit of efficiency. The second engine, just like elevator operators and flight engineers, didn’t provide the necessary return on investment. But I think the piston twin is worth mourning, because for all the practicality of a high performance single, something is missing with the new generation of transportation machines.

The Weather Geek: hello low

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Let’s get the geek business out of the way first. If a person who has an abiding interest in weather, especially as it relates to flight operations, is a geek, then I am a weather geek. Highs and lows are what make the weather engine go. Highs aren’t exciting, lows can be full of thrills. I was reminded of this when we had that October snowstorm in the northeast.

When was general aviation’s golden age?

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What era would you consider general aviation’s golden years? A fellow pilot asked me this question recently and it was quite thought provoking. Today’s glass cockpits, avionics, and electronic charts are wondrous devices that make technology from the 1990s seem positively quaint. But what about the exciting and innovating days of the 1950s and 1960s, or the early 1970s when gas was still cheap, airplanes were abundant, and the interiors oh so groovy?

Hindsight is wonderful

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A self-described “comedy of errors” causes a captain to misdiagnose an in-flight problem and put his 737 into a steep dive at night over the South Pacific. In hindsight, this rapid descent turned out to be unnecessary. See why.

The Great Debate: can we “make” flying safer?

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The question relates to whether or not you think we should throw the loose cannons under the bus, accept the current safety record, and fly on with our remaining freedoms intact? Or, should we make changes that might rein in the loose cannons but that would likely swap a lot of freedom for the chance of a better record?

Landing on I-80

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In 1986, shortly after our marriage, Diane and I began making cross-country flights in our C-182 to attend the annual summer reunion of University of Wisconsin classmates. These flights had always been pleasant and uneventful. In 2006, on the second leg of our trip from our home field in Palo Alto, California to Waukesha County Airport in Wisconsin, the engine began to sputter.

My time machine: a trip to a WWII training ground

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I crossed mid- field, announced my intentions, and entered the pattern on the 45 for runway 13. Runway 13 is an expansive 5000 feet long and 150 feet wide. More than enough needed for my rented 1985 Piper Warrior. More than enough indeed, after all, this airfield wasn’t built for my Warrior but rather for a warrior of another type.

Land of the midnight sun

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The most significant and defining feature of Alaska is, quite simply, its size. It’s a landscape on steroids; a wild land defying the sky to contain it in a voice that resonates with a visceral, primal power. Nowhere else in America are humans so dwarfed by the land they make noises about inhabiting.

Dick’s blog: a solo or a new beginning

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I am writing this on October 25, 2011. On October 25, 1951 I, a rebellious 17-year old juvenile delinquent, walked into the flight school office at Harrell Field in Camden, Arkansas, to take a flying lesson. My instructor, Rudy Peace, a wonderful person and pilot and later a fine friend, awaited. Also waiting was Aeronca Champ (7AC) N1154E.

John’s blog: does anyone understand NextGen?

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Have you heard about NextGen? It’s the FAA’s plan for a Next Generation Air Transportation System, and it’s going to save pilots money, protect the environment, improve safety and generally solve all the world’s problems. There’s just one problem with this rosy forecast–no one has any idea what NextGen means.

Destination AOPA Summit

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This past September, the Northeast U.S. was plagued by “the low that wouldn’t go away.” This cutoff low-pressure system sat and spun for two weeks bringing daily gloom from the Mid Atlantic to Maine. Unfortunately, in the midst of this crummy weather, I was scheduled to give a talk at AOPA’s Summit in Hartford, Connecticut on September 24th.

Older pilots are safe pilots

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Much has been said lately about the relative safety of senior pilots. After the Reno Air Race crash, many people asked if the age of the pilot might have had anything to do with the tragedy. With 84 years, 65 since my first solo, behind me, I have some strong feelings about the subject.

My friend George, the Stuka pilot

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In late 1952, the sole Royal Australian Air Force contribution to the defence of Darwin was two Wirraways, a Lincoln bomber and a Dakota. A few weeks before my first arrival at Darwin, one of the Lincoln pilots, Warrant Officer Jack Turnbull, a former Spitfire pilot, wrote off a Wirraway in a crosswind landing. The Wirraway was tricky to land in crosswinds and Jack had lost control and ground-looped seconds after touch down. He exited stage left quickly as it caught on fire.

Dick’s blog: is any airplane “safe?”

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When the Ercoupe came out in the 1940s, everybody thought it would set a new standard for both simple flying and safety. It was stall-resistant and spin-proof and the controls were interconnected. There were no rudder pedals, just a wheel and throttle to use in controlling the airplane. When the dust settled, the Ercoupe had a worse safety record than contemporary two-place airplanes.

Control freaks

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A great chasm of misunderstanding exists between pilots and air traffic controllers. This tidbit is no earth-shattering revelation. Every pilot who has ever pushed that little red button on top of the yoke and found himself stammering, stuttering, and quaking in fear when his tongue failed to express what his overloaded brain wanted to send out over the airways knew immediately that there was something special about what happens between 118 and 136 MHz.

Dick’s blog: teachin’ or learnin’

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I have been a flight instructor since August 24, 1953. A lot of water has passed under the bridge in that time and the current emphasis on better instruction and training safer pilots has made me ponder many things. Let’s talk about some of them for a bit and then see what you think.

The truth about the iPad

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You can’t read a story about general aviation these days without being confronted with Apple’s world-beating tablet computer. Some pilots are skeptical that the iPad really changes anything. Most gush about it and how flying will never be the same. What’s the real story? And what is it really good for?

Dick’s blog: spotlight on air racing

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Air tragedies are a lot like thunderstorms. There’s lightning and it is always followed by thunder. After the accident in Reno the general news media started having a field day soon after the crash, devoting both ink and air time to the subject. Some of the comments were knowledgeable, most were not.

A date with Juliet

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Flight 420, a Boeing 737 to Hong Kong, departed from a small island on the Equator at about the same time as an unnamed typhoon was born 2,000 miles further west. The depression that spawned the typhoon had been tracked by U.S. Navy weather satellites for several days. As it slowly spun in a westerly direction from 500 miles north of Ponape in the Carolines, the weather forecasters decided it met all the attributes of a maturing typhoon and from a list of names, selected Juliet.