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.

A tale of two panels

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I’ve always loved gadgets, so when our flying club purchased a 2005 Cessna 172SP with a G1000 panel (which the club immediately upgraded to WAAS) and autopilot late in 2009 I was thrilled. I had new toys to learn how to use and to play with—what could be more fun? A small minority of my fellow club members, however, was less than thrilled. A few even declared, “Round gauges are better.”

Dick’s blog: F-15 v. Cherokee

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The Labor Day weekend was a busy one over our house. Back in the good old days, when the traffic pattern at the Frederick (Maryland) airport was perpetually full, general aviation airplanes filled the sky overhead. With air traffic down, that is no longer true. This Labor Day there was a lot going on but it involved F-15s, probably from some state’s Air Guard. Because of the proximity to 9/11, and because the President was at Camp David, they had air cover like I haven’t seen in a long while.

The Great Debate: autopilot addiction?

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The loss of control of an Airbus A330 over the Atlantic has led to calls for more hands on (as opposed to autopilot) training for airline crews. This subject has recently gotten a lot of attention in the press. Much ado about nothing or a real problem?

The Great Debate: stall training

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This is the first in a series of questions we’ll be posing to our readers. We’d like to hear your opinions on various aviation topics, so write away. Just enter your comments below–there’s no need to sign up.

Question: Most inadvertent stalls that result in serious accidents occur at an altitude too low for a recovery. Do you think this means that practicing stalls at altitude is a waste of time?

Cross country at 26,000 ft. and 500 ft.

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Two recent trips reinforced for me both the potential and the limitations of using general aviation airplanes for transportation. In many ways, they could not have been more different: the first flight was in a Pilatus PC-12 at 26,000 ft., the second in a Citabria at 500 ft. But while the equipment was quite different, the result was the same: a successful trip of 400+ nautical miles between cities poorly served by the airlines, and more or less on my schedule.

Lost in the smog

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As the GPS and the autopilot guided us precisely along our assigned TEC route, I was reminded of an experience I had had here many years ago while earning my private pilot certificate in a taildragger that was equipped with a suite of avionics much different than was the airplane we were flying.