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.
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?
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.
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 relatively new instrument pilot asked me recently how to open a flight plan via Flight Service. After stammering for a moment, it hit me: I haven’t called Flight Service in over 5 years.
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.”
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 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?
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?
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.
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.
“Improve general aviation safety” is on a recently issued National Transportation Safety Board list of ten things that it wants to do. Funny they should mention that. It was on my father’s list when he started Air Facts in 1938, it has been on my list since I joined him in 1958, and I guess you would now say that it is on my bucket list.
“This remarkable account of a remarkable flight first appeared in the January, 1945, issue of Air Facts. Hurricanes haven’t changed a bit but hurricane research flying sure has.” –Ed. The airplane we use is a B-17, but it’s a lot different from most 17s. The turrets are off and so are the guns and the armament, and instead there is a lot of test equipment that we don’t talk about out loud.
A late June family wedding was to take place in West Dover, Vermont, at a location about a mile from the Mount Snow Airport. I have had a love/hate relationship with this airport for years. It’s the only airport that I have been unable to get into a whopping 75 percent of the time. Weather, wind, and runway conditions—or a combination thereof—have all stymied my attempts to land there over the last 15 years.
Birds did it. Bees did it. Even uneducated fleas did it. But every time a man strapped wings to his arms and stepped into the void, he simply ended up splattering himself. It felt as though winged creatures mocked mankind for mocking them. Then one day in 1809 a man stood up and did what any wealthy guy does when he keeps losing a game: he changed the rules.
Many people in our industry are compelled to share the aviation experience with others for the sheer joy of bringing them into this unique world. Others take it a step farther and reach out to those who, through some unfortunately circumstance, want to be involved but can’t. Charles Stites is one of those people.
Thunderstorms in summer. Thunderstorms with battlefield lightning, crop shredding hail and tornados. Sometimes the thunderstorms are dry and the lightning sets the prairie grass on fire. Sometimes the rain is so hard whole buildings go missing. Hans Ahlness makes his living flying into thunderstorms. He convinces other pilots to do the very same thing.
By mid-summer of 1956 I was 18 and had progressed far enough as a student pilot that my instructor decided it was time for me to do a long, solo, cross-country flight. After reviewing the flight plan with my instructor, I filed a flight plan with the CAA (Civil Aeronautics Administration, the forerunner of the FAA) by telephone, did a pre-flight inspection, climbed into the yellow Champion 7EC, hit the starter and – nothing.
It was actually Father’s Day weekend, but this flight was all about Mom. The mission was to pick up my mother at her home on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and drop her at Long Island’s MacArthur Airport in Islip, NY to see her friend who lives on Fire Island. I had the choice of flying either my family’s Cessna 172 or Beechcraft Baron.
A Dead-Stick Landing at Bozeman, MT. Over the years, in my daydreams on this subject–and I do daydream about this, it is how I mentally prepare myself for the possibility–the event always ends with an exhausted sigh of relief and the words: “We’re down safe, no damage, no injuries.”