Category Archives: General Aviation

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.

Collision Course

The WSJ explains that the some model airplanes and UAV’s have a lot in common. Unfortunately, this may be the model hobbyist’s undoing

Mr. Snyder’s trainer, an L-39 Albatros, was powered by a small but real jet engine. Other planes at the competition had gasoline engines big enough for a motorcycle. Some can ascend thousands of feet, travel at 200 miles an hour and have wingspans of up to 20 feet…Proposed (FAA) rules could prohibit jet propulsion, set a 100 mph speed limit, maximum altitude of 400 feet and top weight of 55 pounds. If those standards were enacted, modelers who flouted them could face fines or other sanctions.

A friend of mine has built two beautiful models with painstaking detail. One, a T-34   the other, a DC-3. I went over to an “airport” built specifically for this purpose (including a paved runway) to watch his models in action. Some take over a year to build, so it was small wonder that the entire crowd gasped when a wing disintegrated on a bi-plane, the spectators silent as it spun into the corn field. Finding a downed RC plane in a cornfield is like finding a needle in a haystack but find it they did, in small pieces.

Some of these planes are enormous, like this SR-71 jet (see the video clip). The lines blur between RC planes and UAV’s when you witness the size and speed,. Not much difference, except models are flown within line-of-sight while drones are guided by pilots at remote locations.

There may be good reasons to regulate them too. The NTSB blamed the operator of a large RC model for a collision with a full-size biplane at a fly-in last August. The biplane’s lower wing was damaged but the pilot was able to land. The RC model was destroyed which shows that it can a lot of fun until it isn’t. Here’s hoping you never see any unmanned planes at your altitude. It could ruin your day.

Making it Big

Skydive Dubai

Dubai  has the world’s tallest building, the world’s most expensive racetrack, the world’s biggest LED display, the world’s largest fountain and the worlds largest inferiority complex.

Now they have something else really big: Debt. The biggest hotel was to be called the “Burj Dubai”  but when the money ran out Dubai was forced to ask for help and now it’s the “Burj Khalifa” named after Abu Dhabi’s ruler, who forked over $10 billion.

Still  it hasn’t stopped them from having Big Fun. There’s a lot of general aviation squeezed in this skydiving clip and the whole thing looks like a giant party. Which might be fun. If you didn’t have to leave the airplane.

Not a Good Day to Fly

An airplane with high wing loading takes gusty conditions in stride. However, it’s somewhat  bumpy in a light airplane with an Airmet for turbulence with wind shear at lower altitudes.  It was just one of those days. After getting airborne, I pointed the plane toward the next towered field for practice and very quickly, I had a close encounter with another four seater. For some reason, no call from tower regarding another blip on their screen which became a very large blip in my windscreen in no time at all. Same altitude and 120 degrees starboard, blissfully unaware that, in ATC parlance ”targets will merge” if they stay on the same vector, same altitude. So to de-mergify, I pulled some power and dive bombed for the deck while making a sharp turn away. I watched through the Plexiglas as the other plane passed less than 100 feet directly overhead.  

With that out of the way, I made  8 take off and landings to a full stop at the other airport with at least one landing counting twice as gusts lifted the plane up while touching down (No I didn’t log it). During one of the circuits, I narrowly avoided a birdstrike with a hawk on climbout.  The airport was getting busy with multiple planes filling up both the right and left hand traffic patterns so it was time to bug out for home, whereupon the coyote that I had to scare off the taxiway took the active as I was screaming down the runway for another takeoff. Wile Coyote froze in the centerline of the 6.500 runway so I hit the brakes prior to Vr since it wasn’t wise to guess if he would run forward toward the rotation point. No harm done, just a taxiback after calling tower for a do-over. After two more landings I decided that I had used up my luck for the day. As the engine coughed to a stop, I realized that I’ll never know what it’s like to hurdle off the deck of a carrier or feel the adrenaline rush of aerial combat where someone is shooting at you. Notwithstanding, general aviation has offered me some terrific excitement (I won’t count the near miss variety) with flights over the Grand Canyon, a Hawaiian volcano, aerobatics and warbirds.  It’s included a rare landing on an island and sometimes flying to golf courses with an attached runway.  Not every day will be a perfect day to fly but overall:

It has its moments.

Lest the Deck Rise up to Smite Thee

I commend thee to abide by these general aviation commandments:

1. Thou shalt abstain from the intersection takeoff for, verily, the runway behind thee, as the altitude above thee, cometh not to thine aid when thou needest them.

2. Thou shalt not linger on active runways lest thou become like unto ground sirloin.

3. Ignorest thou not thy checklists for many are the switches, handles, gauges and other demons awaiting to take cruel vengeance upon thee.

4. Thou shalt cast thine eyes to thy right and also to thy left as thou passeth through the air lest thy fellow pilots bring flowers to thy widow and comfort her in other ways.

5. Buzzeth not, for this shall surely incur the wrath of thy neighbors and the fury of the FAA shall be called down upon thy head.

6. Thou shalt be ever mindful of thy fuel lest there be nothing in thy tank to sustain thee upon the air and thy days be made short.

7. Trust not thine eyes to lead thee through the cloud lest the Archangel Gabriel await thee therein.

8. Thou shalt not trespass into the thunderstorm lest the tempest rend the wings from thy chariot and cast thee naked into the air.

9. Put not thy trust in weather prophets, for when the truth is not in, then they shall not accompany thee among thy ancestors.

10. Often shalt thou confirm thine airspeed on final lest the earth rise up and smite thee.

And if flying the Sukhoi SU-33 Flanker, there is a corollary to commandment 10:  Thou shalt confirm glideslope with the Optical Landing System lest the deck rise up to smite thee.

A short prayer may have been invoked during the high alpha go around.

Not a Plain Plane

Will it wash off  in the rain in Spain?

(click for larger image)

When I was a young lad, Braniff Airlines was renowned for the most outlandish paint schemes. During the late sixties and early seventies their aircraft could only be characterized as “groovy”.  There have been other noteworthy paint jobs but none have been characterized as art. That is, until now.

This Piaggio  Aero “Avanti II” aircraft has became Mimmo Paladino’s (the artist formerly known as Mimmo Paladino) canvas which he has named the “Cacciatore di Stelle . I thought this might mean pasta with chicken until I noted the translation: “Star Hunter”. It’s displayed at the Galleria in Milan, Italy from now until the rest of April, so you still have a few days to get your tickets lined up for Italy. I would have told you sooner but, well, I just didn’t know. Have fun and send pictures.

I’ve always held a more utilitarian view of things. A wall is part of the house used to hold up the roof and keep out the rain. For my wife, a graphics artist, walls are for color and paintings and pictures. She can also look at a blue piece of fabric and say there’s too much orange it when all I see is blue but that’s why I’m happily married to someone who cares about tablecloths and drapes. Otherwise, everything in the house would be pretty boring. My ideal aircraft finish might be highly polished aluminum. (Think P-51 here).  World War II warbirds are a work of art without art work. When the Burt Rutan (Beech)  Starship taxied to the ramp at our FBO, I snapped dozens of pictures noting its exotic geometry. Carefully restored antique planes are also beautiful and it’s hard not to stare at an F-22 on the ramp.

The Avanti  is splashy. Consider flying this into your local airport for a moment. Will your friends and fellow flyers talk about the aesthetic nuances of the various squiggles along with color gradients, harmony and artistic expression? What exactly is the artist’s message and what does it mean in the context of the great art?

Or they might be saying it looks like a Beached Beluga Whale. Not to your face of course.

Most pilots will expect form to follow function. If the plane has sleek lines and tasteful stripes they’re enthusiastic but what they really want to know is: What’s in the avionics suite,  is it light on the controls and does it have benign stall characteristics? Really, the question they want answered is how do I justify the cost of this new plane to my wife? (If anyone has the answers to that please e-mail me). And if you do go to Milan, try the Pollo alla Cacciatore but study your Italian first. They won’t bring a plane to your table.

How’s Your Day Going?

Sometimes it’s useful to add perspective to the occasional trials that arise. As the saying goes: Sometimes you’re the statue and sometimes you’re the pigeon. Well, sometimes you’re the plane and sometimes you’re the pelican. A little “paper, rock scissors” happens in every life.

Wrong place at the wrong time. At least he missed the pylon. This isn’t going to end well either.

…and this didn’t end well..

In contrast I’d say my day is going pretty well.

…and that’s a compelling reason not to fly helo’s.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

First the good news: More pilots and specifically a lot more student pilots. The facts and stats of GAMA indicate that the pilot population is not only ahead of the 15 year average (615,400) but hasn’t been this high for seven years. Strange that in 2009, instructors outnumbered active student certificates by 22,583.  The 2010 increase is a significant development given the moribund economy.

The bad news is general aviation flight activity fell by 10 percent in 2009 but accidents dropped only 5 percent. Worse, even with reduced flight hours, we’re killing ourselves more often. The number of fatal accidents and the number of individual fatalities increased slightly to 233 and 401, The number of fatal accidents increased 4 percent. The Nall report has it all summarized. That’s why the FAA is launching a safety standdown which began April 2. As usual, the culprit is pilot error with the top ten listed as: Continue reading

Spin Cycle

There are Records for Everything

Spinning an airplane is an essential part of aerobatics.  It can be fun but has it’s limits.

Suderman, who is scheduled to perform in this weekend’s air show, attempted to break the world record for inverted flat spins in one attempt Thursday. The record is 78 spins, he said.

Unfortunately, total rotations were 64.  There’s always next time., provided he avoids the low altitude record.

Innovation for Sale

An American Success Story Is No Longer American

Cirrus was founded in the mid 80s by two brothers out of college, Alan and Dale Klapmeier. They turned out to be aviation’s equivalent of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak of Apple fame.

The Klapmeier’s believed they could do for the safety of small airplanes what seat belts and airbags, had done for cars. Most notably , they introduced a ballistic recovery system the Cirrus Aircraft Parachute System (CAPS), which would float the entire aircraft to ground in an emergency.  The military uses expensive, heavy ejection seats, not suitable for planes with solid roofs.

The decision to introduce CAPS was based on a hair raising disaster that nearly killed Alan Klapmeier. When he was 25,  Klapmeier suffered a mid air. His wing sliced through the strut of the other plane which spun into the ground, killing the pilot. Klapmeier had to keep his control yoke hard to the left to keep his plane, which had lost part of its right wing, flying somewhat straight. He was barely able to land.

What’s surprizing is that Klapmeier’s start up airplane venture didn’t also enter a graveyard spiral. The average failure rate for start-ups is between 75 – 80% and the failure rate for new aviation companies is even higher. (Commercial aviation is very risky too). While expensive (about $500k for the SR-22GTS), Cirrus initially couldn’t keep pace with demand. They were selling them faster than they could get them out the door.The tubocharged version achieves 211 knots and 25,000 service ceiling. This is what you’d want if air taxis were to proliferate. A safe, fast comfortable light aircraft.

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