Not Following the Checklist

The process of natural selection is still at work in aviation. While I’d like to see all student pilots get their license, here’s one goofball that deserves to be grounded until pigs fly. Perhaps he fancied himself as the next Colton Harris-Moore who is in solitary confinement and wasn’t able to comment.

Amazing. This guy was still revving the engine when the police arrived. He must have been wondering, for at least a few minutes, why the plane wouldn’t budge at max RPM. The skies are just a little bit safer today.

There’s a Jet in my Garage

A tight fit. Good thing the wings fold.

Why be ordinary you can really stand out among your neighbors. A German company  named ” Style your Garage ” makes posters for the garage door.

Prices vary from $199 to $399 for a double door.  Everything included!


(You’re welcome)

Or you may remind everyone that it all comes down to the choices you make.

I think I stick with the Hornet. It’s more believable.

Honey, I shrunk the Flughafen

German builds world’s largest-small airport

Six years to build and almost $4 million dollars later, the worlds smallest airport was put into operation.

The Knuffingen Airport, based on Hamburg’s airport, has finally opened to the public. It’s on display at Miniature Wunderland, in Hamburg, and features 40 aircraft that take off and land and 90 vehicles that trundle around the runways automatically….The attention to detail is astounding. The planes park themselves and passenger walkways slowly move into place….The tow trucks even feature little flashing orange lights and the petrol tanks can be seen indicating which way they are about to turn.

Looks pretty good at “night” too!

Origin of the Pilot’s Checklist

On October 30, 1935, at Wright Air Field in Dayton , Ohio , the U.S. Army Air Corps held a flight competition for airplane manufacturers vying to build its next-generation long-range bomber. It wasn’t supposed to be much of a competition. In early evaluations, the Boeing Corporation’s gleaming aluminum-alloy Model 299 had trounced the designs of Martin and Douglas. Boeing’s plane could carry five times as many bombs as the Army had requested; it could fly faster than previous bombers, and almost twice as far.

A Seattle newspaperman who had glimpsed the plane called it the “flying fortress,” and the name stuck. The flight “competition,” according to the military historian Phillip Meilinger, was regarded as a mere formality. The Army planned to order at least sixty-five of the aircraft.

A small crowd of Army brass and manufacturing executives watched as the Model 299 test plane taxied onto the runway. It was sleek and impressive, with a hundred-and-three-foot wingspan and four engines jutting out from the wings, rather than the usual two. The plane roared down the tarmac, lifted off smoothly and climbed sharply to three hundred feet. Then it stalled, turned on one wing and crashed in a fiery explosion. Two of the five crew members died, including the pilot, Major Ployer P. Hill (thus Hill AFB , Ogden , UT ).

An investigation revealed that nothing mechanical had gone wrong. The crash had been due to “pilot error,” the report said. Substantially more complex than previous aircraft, the new plane required the pilot to attend to the four engines, a retractable landing gear, new wing flaps, electric trim tabs that needed adjustment to maintain control at different airspeeds, and constant-speed propellers whose pitch had to be regulated with hydraulic controls, among other features.

While doing all this, Hill had forgotten to release a new locking mechanism on the elevator and rudder controls. The Boeing model was deemed, as a newspaper put it, “too much airplane for one man to fly.” The Army Air Corps declared Douglas ‘s smaller design the winner. Boeing nearly went bankrupt.

Still, the Army purchased a few aircraft from Boeing as test planes, and some insiders remained convinced that the aircraft was flyable. So a group of test pilots got together and considered what to do.

They could have required Model 299 pilots to undergo more training. But it was hard to imagine having more experience and expertise than Major Hill, who had been the U.S. Army Air Corps’ Chief of Flight Testing. Instead, they came up with an ingeniously simple approach: they created a pilot’s checklist, with step-by-step checks for takeoff, flight, landing, and taxiing. Its mere existence indicated how far aeronautics had advanced.

In the early years of flight, getting an aircraft into the air might have been nerve-racking, but it was hardly complex. Using a checklist for takeoff would no more have occurred to a pilot than to a driver backing a car out of the garage… But this new plane was too complicated to be left to the memory of any pilot, however expert.

With the checklist in hand, the pilots went on to fly the Model 299 a total of 18 million miles without one accident. The Army ultimately ordered almost thirteen thousand of the aircraft, which it dubbed the B-17. And, because flying the behemoth was now possible, the Army gained a decisive air advantage in the Second World War which enabled its devastating bombing campaign across Nazi Germany.

Feeling Blue?

Yesterday’s incident involving the captain of a JetBlue flight underscores why there are at least two people on the flight deck during commercial flights.

The captain was locked out of the cockpit and wrestled to the floor by passengers after screaming about a bomb during a flight from New York to Las Vegas.

Obviously not a laughing matter. Imagine sitting in a passenger seat at 30,000 feet and the four striper starts banging on the cockpit door like Fed Flintstone. Then:

 “He started screaming about al-Qaeda and possibly a bomb on the plane and Iraq and Iran and about how we were all going down,” Gabriel Schonzeit of New York City, who was seated in the third row, told the Amarillo Globe-News. “It seemed like he went crazy.”

A number of things went right though. First, passengers mobilized to demobilize the pilot who was apparently suffering from sort of panic attack. After 9-11, there is a clear change in how passengers react to threats. Whether it’s Richard Reid, the shoe bomber or Farouk of the crispy parts. We’re not going to just sit here and let you take this plane down.  It helped to have a retired corrections officer and a security executive on board. Also: The copilot did a great job of getting the pilot off the flight deck and amazingly, there was another off duty pilot on board ready to take the left seat.

Despite the quick reaction it’s publicity that JetBlue didn’t need after the weirdness that happened when their flight attendant Steven Slater began swearing at passengers on the public-address system and decided it was time to leave the company after  grabbing a cold brew,  pulling the emergency slide and spectacularly exiting the aircraft. Which ultimately led to creative ideas on how to deal with tense situations.

 A more dramatic example is the 1999 crash of EgyptAir flight 990 which was directly attributed (by the NTSB) to the first officer’s deliberate  departure from normal cruise flight due to his control inputs. He intentionally flew the plane into the ocean.  Most of us won’t change the way we travel. I won’t  and I regularly fly via part 121 commercial operations but after this (very rare) cockpit meltdown it reminds us of the criticality of one unbalanced person in the front of the aluminum  tube.  So,if possible,  I always greet the pilots when I board to see if they’re having a good day.  Otherwise, it might be helpful to know where the slide is.

Requiem For A Fighter Pilot

Losing a Friend

The news came as a shock. I made the connection between “missing man formation” and Lex LeFon with disbelief, hoping that it meant something else. After opening the comments section, I suddenly realized many others were coming to terms with the loss of a good friend. For the past six years, I had come to appreciate his writings, along with thousands of others (Neptunus Lex actually began 2003) which communicated patriotism, airmanship, incisive political commentary, humor and love of God and family. It was hard not to like him. Ultimately, I began commenting and I’d occasionally send a controversial article or interesting flying story to get his reaction. Here’s a a guy that earned a platform to speak: A naval academy graduate with a masters degree in systems engineering; commander of an operational FA-18 squadron, TOPGUN Executive officer; licensed  Airline Transport Pilot; and  an O-6 with a sphere of influence in U.S.Naval Training Operations spanning 55,000 sailors in the Pacific Fleet.

Last summer, I asked Lex if he could help with some background regarding another military pilot relative to a job opening and to my surprise, he expressed interest which led to subsequent phone calls and e-mails. He was smart, aggressive and had the necessary experience and background. We spent the full day together in Milwaukee where he impressed others that he had the “right stuff”.  I had proposed a tentative offer working on my team, but during that time, ATAC had as well.

Thanks for bringing me out and showing me the operation. I really do appreciate the confidence you showed but  I got a phone call from ATAC yesterday and they are making me an offer to fly Kfirs for them out of Point Mugu, which I intend to accept. You only get so many flying years. My deepest gratitude to you personally for your thoughts and prayers over a difficult time, and thanks again for considering me as a part of your team. My very best wishes for your continued success.”

 It left me to wonder “what if” but I know he wouldn’t have been happy in any other profession where the office didn’t have a stick and throttle within easy reach of the seat. It’s what he loved. You only get so many flying years.

His talented writing and wisdom attracted an articulate, high caliber, diverse group of “commenters” which I found unique in the blogosphere. I’m sure it’s awkward when everyone sort of “knows” much about the Lex history, placing him at a disadvantage when we’ve shared less about ourselves upon meeting him in person. I’m sure his wife Mary felt the same way when I greeted her on the phone with: “It’s nice talking with you!” and she’s thinking: “Who the heck is this guy on the phone?” Through his writings we became in a small way, part of the family-

 One of the things we talked about on the trip back to the airport were differences in military versus general aviation and Lex believed there were inherently more risks associated with GA: Far less rigor and quality of training, fewer defined operating limits, reduced support for the “mission” and type of aircraft. Ironically, the high risk profession  of flying tactical jets, especially an old F-21, claimed his life.

 He left us too soon. Thanks go to Bill (Pinch) Paisley who e-mailed me this picture.

Fair winds and following seas. You will be remembered.


An excellent write up by FBL on the services to honor Lex yesterday,

Tragedy at Reno

Upside down at 100 feet off the deck is not a good time or place to be slow applying the solution to the situation. We try to make sure they are ready for September. “Shifty” Peairs, Reno Racing Seminar Air Boss

A modified P-51D Mustang, Galloping Ghost, piloted by Jimmy Leeward crashed into the grandstands during the National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nev., Sept. 16 with the number of deaths now increased to 10 with dozens more injured.

Air races and air shows attract an estimated  12 million spectators a year in North America and every year there’s a handful of fatalities, usually involving only the pilot. 2011 will be an especially bad year overall.

While this airshow tragedy is the largest in recent memory, it’s not the worst. During 2002, 77 people were killed and 543 injured after a jet flew into a crowd of spectators at air base in Ukraine. In 1988, 70 people were killed, and hundreds were injured, during a show at the U.S. air base in Ramstein, Germany, when three jets from an Italian stunt-flying team collided. It will take months to determine the probable cause of the Reno accident but a missing trim tab might be the crucial element.

The recent edition of EAA  Sport Aviation magazine characterizes the annual Reno races like aerial NASCAR, with low-flying planes negotiating a course marked by pylons at up to 500 miles per hour.   Pilots accept significant risk associated with planes racing wingtip to wingtip at high speeds. The spectators at airshow events do not. The future of air racing is uncertain and at the very least, expect substantial changes.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those killed or injured from the crash.

An American Champion

The perfect cross-country trip combines a great flight with a great destination. So what better plan than to head to Wisconsin on a bright CAVU morning to the American Champion Aircraft factory, where they build the Decathlon, Scouts and Citabria’s?


The 8KCAB Super Decathlon was the first plane in which I had aerobatic training and I still love to fly it. It was altogether different from the standard Pipers and Cessnas with the stick in the center and fabric instead of an aluminum skin.  The designs and tooling date back to 1946 and they have travelled from the original company, to Bellanca until American Champion Aircraft purchased the type certificate in 1990 and began manufacturing Decathlons, Scouts and Citabrias, They’ve made a good design better by creating all-metal wings, although they remain fabric-covered.

GPS pointed the way to Fox River Airport “96C” as we descended to land onto the 2,500 X 37 foot runway by the plant. After parking the plane, we walked the entrance and were warmly greeted by the president of the company, Jerry Mehlhaff, Sr. who took us on a tour of the three-building facility. Jerry is an engaging guy who instituted continuous improvement throughout the manufacturing of these classic aircraft in the American Champion facility in Rochester, Wisconsin just west of Racine. This is a complete shop that designs the planes, assembles the wings, fuselage, tail section, control panel and paints everything. He’s bucking a trend: Maintaining manufacturing in the America. Not only has he continued to invest in the business but has found a way to continually reduce outsourcing of components. Although the engines, plexiglass and avionics purchased, American Champion has continued to vertically integrate their manufacturing so as to produce virtually all components.

Quick: Which wing is acrobatic (hint: It’s symmetrical)

First the frame fabrication building where welding and light machining take place.

Then the wing assembly area.

Continue reading

Up in the Air

That’s a long way without a motor.

Sailplane pilot Gordon Boettger, of Minden, Nevada, broke his own Northern Hemisphere soaring record on May 31 by flying a total distance of 1,401 miles in his Kestrel sailplane in 13 hours, 17 minutes….He reached an altitude of 28,400 feet MSL and speeds as high as 165 mph. At times, his climb rate was 1,000 fpm.

Pretty impressive and it takes a lot more skill to ride thermals and mountain waves then straight and level in a powered airplane.  It’s also sufficiently long that I doubt anyone would want to break that record in the future.

The One Airplane Basement

 A Man’s Home is His Castle Hangar

Great effort but planning could have been better.

Reeves spent the past nine years building a two-seat airplane in the basement of hisCumberlandCountyhome. The plane arrived in pieces via mail but eventually it became way too big to get up the steps. So Reeves dug a trench down to the foundation and took out a wall. Reeves pulled the plane out Wednesday using a truck, a chain and some neighbors. Onlookers were drawn to the spectacle by the “Airplane Removal Wednesday” put up on Reeves’ porch. 

Sort of like building a ship in a bottle but he’s in good company. Those who know their automotive history will recall that Henry Ford  had a similar experience. He built his first car in 1896 and forgot to put a garage door in the shed, leading him to demolish the brick wall in order to drive it out.

Begs the question as to how he got the engine or canopy down the stairs and initial engine run up must have been a blast. Bonus: Now he’s got a walk out basement.