Editor’s choice: our top 10 articles from 2019

We published over 200 articles at Air Facts this year, including personal stories, tips for safer flying, and memorable pictures. Some of these were written by well-known authors like Mac McClellan, but most were written by everyday pilots. After reviewing all of them, we've selected ten must-read articles from 2019.
Pat Luebke at Oshkosh

Remembering Pat Luebke, Long-time Air Facts Managing Editor

Aviation lost a truly special person last week, but it’s not a name most pilots outside the publishing industry will know. Patricia Luebke, managing editor at Air Facts and one of the driving forces behind relaunching this magazine in 2011, passed away on Friday, November 22, 2019 after a brief illness. She was 69. Here we share remembrances from four colleagues.
Frank Thomas

Five dollar Frank and the poor man’s flying school

“Five Dollar Frank” was his moniker, as he owned Thomas Flying Service and gave sightseeing tours of the area for $5. Each flight was a half hour, with his sister sitting beside the Esso gas pump next to the stone “terminal” waiting to gas up the plane upon arrival. Thousands flew with Frank over the years, and his name still brings a smile to those with history in the area.
F-117s at Holloman

Battling G forces at Holloman Air Force Base

There is another Air Force base not having the notoriety of Elgin or Nellis - Holloman AFB, in the southeastern corner of New Mexico. Along the way, it has served as weapons development establishment - about ninety miles south of the Trinity site where the first atom bomb was detonated, a test base for early versions of ballistic missiles, training for Air Force and Allied aircrews, a stateside station for German Air Force units, and an alternate landing site for the Space Shuttle.
Beech Lightning

What doomed the Beech Lightning?

Given its string of success in evolutionary model design it was natural for people at Beech to continue to look for more ways to evolve their airplanes in new directions. In the early 1980s somebody, or perhaps a small group of people, realized they had the basis for a very good single-engine turboprop.
Purvis helicopter

The forgotten story of the first helicopter patent ever issued

With the investors’ money, two 7-hp motors were obtained and mounted, and a flying demonstration was planned in the town square. What happened next has been the subject of considerable speculation, some more fanciful than others. All of it is unsubstantiated and has become part of the local folklore.
The crash site

Remembering a Christmas tragedy 50 years later

During the holiday season of 1968, in an isolated Pennsylvania community, Allegheny Airlines’ professionalism, safety culture and luck would abandon the airline to a sequence of events no fiction writer could invent. And the echo of those tragedies continues to resonate a half century later.
Waiz with kid

A brief history of single-engine solo circumnavigation flights

Earth Rounders currently document 231 single-engine circumnavigations by more than one pilot and 124 solo circumnavigations. The range of single-engine airplanes that have made circumnavigations is amazing: Long EZs, RVs, a Stearman, a Searey. Unbelievable! Of course Mooneys, Bonanzas, Pipers, several Cessna 182s and all kinds of homebuilts have made the trip.
US airspace

Who controls the navigable airspace?

There were two theories on the status of airspace for international air navigation. One argued for freedom of airspace much like the freedom of the seas, by which the countries underlying the airspace exercised no sovereignty in the airspace and flight was free. The other argued that the airspace above national territories was not free, but subject to the sovereignty of the underlying country.
T-28 on carrier

Doing it the old school way: carrier qualification in the 1950s and 60s

In the spring of 1965, my turn came to hit the boat in the T-28C, a burly trainer with a 1425 horsepower two-stage supercharged R1820-86 radial engine and performance comparable to World War II fighters. Up to that point, flying T-34Bs and T-28Bs, we had mastered aerobatics, instrument flying, two and four plane formation and night flying.

Tom Neil, One of Two Living WWII RAF Aces, Flies West

On July 11, 2018, Tom Neil, one of only two living RAF aces from the Battle of Britain, died a few days short of his 98th birthday. He flew an astonishing 141 combat missions in the Battle. His very long career in the RAF (he did not retire until 1964) also included such things as the Battle of Malta, and intercepting jet-powered V-1 "buzz bombs" over Britain in 1944.  
Fairey airplane

Everyone wanted to be the first to fly across the pond

While my wife Joan and I were recently traveling in Europe we came across a surprise to us in Portugal that commemorated a flight across the South Atlantic from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1922. This was accomplished five years before Lindbergh.

Beech X700: The Starship that could have been

Beech, as every successful company does, had ongoing efforts to design improved and replacement airplanes for the company line. In the late 1970s John Pike had his preliminary design group perform configuration studies on airplanes that could supersede Beech’s King Air 90 and 200 stalwart turboprops. The X700 seemed to be the best idea, but it was never made.
Archie Trammell

Archie Trammell, the man who set airplane standards

Archie Trammell died in early February at age 89. Archie accomplished much over decades in aviation, including being a foremost expert on use of airborne weather radar. But I think his greatest contribution was making it possible to compare airplane performance, weight and price using a constant standard.
Beech Starship

Why the Starship was such a disaster

When one examines a failure of such monumental scale as the Beech Starship program, the inevitable question is, “Why did they do that?” As in almost every instance where things go badly wrong, it was a series of decisions made under shifting circumstances that led to the ultimate disaster.

The disappearance of two Congressmen in Alaska

Anniversaries of important events are times for remembering and other things good and bad, including reminding oneself of the dangers of misplaced trust and overconfidence. Forty-five years ago, October 16, 1972, two Congressmen on the campaign trail were lost somewhere in Alaska. They had trusted their pilot to get them from Anchorage to Juneau.
Autogyro on ramp

Whirlygig: the troubled life of the J-2 autogyro

By the mid-1960s general aviation was booming, but airplanes and pilots were still regularly coming to grief in stall-spin accidents. Robert McCulloch sought to revitalize the autogyro concept for the mass GA market. Surely there must be demand for a stall-proof, slow-speed-capable flying machine that was both easier to fly and less complex than a helicopter.
Wright monument

Planes, puns, and politics – who has a right to the Wrights?

This article should have been a joke. My goal was to write a satire piece that would make a mountain out of what I had anticipated was a mole hill. Unfortunately, it seems I’ve been beaten to the punch by none other than three state governments, a federal government, and some New Zealanders. I had naively believed that at most this first flight thing would be a minor kerfuffle. I was wrong. It’s a major kerfuffle.

Top 10 articles of all time on Air Facts

Air Facts was founded in 1938, but we relaunched as an online magazine six years ago today. Since that time, over 300 pilots have shared their stories with us, and we have published over 900 posts in total. We sometimes get asked which articles have been the most popular, so we've compiled a list here of the 10 most-read article since our relaunch in 2011. Enjoy!

Stayin alive – 16 favorite aviation quotes

Sometimes a simple phrase can sum up the essence of flying better than a chapter in a textbook. Here, experienced pilot Dan Littmann shares 16 of his favorite aviation quotes. From Wolfgang Langewiesche to Bob Hoover, well-known pilots share words that are funny but lessons that are serious. Read his list, then add your own.