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.

To Infinity and Beyond

Tomorrow,  Buzz Lightyear Yves Rossy  and his wingsuit are  ready to cross the chasm of America’s most renowned canyon.

 Swiss adventurer who has flown his jet-propelled wingsuit over the Swiss Alps and across the English Channel hopes to fulfill a dream by flying through the Grand Canyon. Former fighter pilot Yves Rossy plans to attempt the stunt early Friday, though he has not yet secured the necessary approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration.

It all seems so very Evel Knievel-ish.  As long as there have been records, people have sought to exceed them. From fastest pilot to longest wingwalker to highest free fall. Pushing envelopes can lead to new discoveries (else why build an X-1) but the venue suggests otherwise. There’s a lot of publicity to be had and this is a stuntman’s dream. To his credit, he’s been developing his “Jetman” suit persistently and is always breaking new ground with sometimes perilous results. He flew a new version of his jet-powered flight system last year and successfully performed 2 aerial loops, so there’s that.

Plans are to fly over Grand Canyon West. The regular park service takes a dim view on this sort of thing so it’s being handled through the  Hualapai Indian Reservation. Since it doesn’t qualify as an ultralight, it required an experimental registration to fly and after a series of tests, the FAA has given its approval and registration number N15YR to the , um…wing. Check the news tomorrow at 10:00 mountain to see if he made it and check this excellent write up (It is easier to read the actual magazine article) from EAA of the man and his quest to do what many dream about: soaring like a jet without an airplane.

Update: Not yet

an apologetic Rossy stood before a crowd of reporters not in the black jet suit but in a T-shirt and jeans to declare the stunt was called off. He said the same elements that piqued his interest in flying over the massive gorge years ago also meant the flight would be too much of a challenge without any practice runs.”If I do a mistake and half of U.S. television (is here), it’s really bad for you, for me, for everybody,”

It will also scotch a whole lot of endorsement money, especially Breitling, if he delploys the chute before reaching the other side. The call is with the PIC: A superior pilot is one who uses his superior judgment so as not to have to use his superior skill..  

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.

Fifteen Spitfires

Recreating the Battle of Britain

The gratitude of every home in our island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world except in the abodes of the guilty goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unweakened by their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of world war by their prowess and their devotion.

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.

Of course, the the famous lines from Sir Winston Churchill.

The Battle of Britain was the first major campaign to be fought entirely by air forces and it was Germany’s attempt to force Britain to negotiate a  surrender. ‘The Few’ were 2,353 young men from Great Britain and 574 from overseas, both pilots and aircrew.  544 lost their lives during the  the Battle, and another 791 were killed in action before the wars end. It was a major defeat for Germany and one of the turning points of the war.

The Brits have sought to honor those men in this air show (Footage from PlanesTV). It’s a much  different mix of planes than we normally see over here.

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 Twin

It’s one thing to fly a twin, another to be a twin.  Done that and I am that.

Did you ever wonder what it would be like to have someone born the same day as you, looked like you, and shared a most of your traits? Identical twins share more than a birthday. We have the same genetic make up.

That’s me, (Wilko) on the right

It’s been a lot of fun. Except in the early years when you get blamed for something the other guy did. We looked so much alike, my grandmother couldn’t tell the difference. We could switch classes and even (briefly) jobs without detection. I do not recommend switching dates.

 There’s a twin research center in Minneapolis (one of the twin cities, right?) which studies such things as twins separated at birth. Turns out many of them end up in the same profession; have the same hobbies and even the same breed of dog. It’s strong evidence that genetics are more powerful than environment in shaping personality. It can be forgiven to act identically if you never knew your sibling when you were growing up. However, wearing the same clothes as a twin adult is just wrong and some say is a little strange.  I recall, one time, scheduling lunch with my brother in downtown Chicago and chose to wear a bright blue sport coat. Very snappy, with white shirt, tie and dark blue trousers. It was one of a kind. I thought. At the appointed hour, I walked toward the restaurant and to my dismay saw my twin brother wearing the same exact jacket with white shirt, tie and navy blue pants. I had no idea another jacket like that existed. Super,  now people will stare at us while we ate. We could do the Doublemint commercial later. That’s why I don’t plan to attend the Twin Days Festival  in Twinsburg,Ohio, where hundreds of identical men and women dress alike.  (National Geographic photographed it last year.)While I’m happy to be a twin, I don’t celebrate it. Many folks who have known me for years still don’t know I’m identical.

Twins are said to have their own language. I guess it’s because some believe identical twins have the same brainwaves.  See this video if you don’t believe me.

As a young tyke, I remember asking my brother to try on a cowboy hat to see what I looked like when there was no mirror handy. We don’t look quite as identical with the passing of time but we still have the same interests, same aptitudes. We both fly, both run,  scuba dive and enjoy history and biographies.  We’re best friends and not all brothers are that lucky. Occasionally, a few ask who is the evil twin and the nice twin, to which I answer: “yes”. These are the same people who ask if we were born on the same day. There are differences. He’s better at engineering. I’m more proficient at sales and marketing.

I’m also a much better golfer. 

Growing up, we never got into name calling. If we were to call each other an ugly doofus,  for example,  to what conclusion would we arrive? There’s shared chromosomes in the mix. Anyway, I’ve always thought that he’s a great looking guy.

When the Screen Goes Blank

There’s a lot to like about glass cockpits.  The multi function displays (MFD) and primary flight displays (PFD) are great for organizing information, showing trends and enhancing situational awareness. They work great. That is, until they don’t. That’s when the pilot really earns his/her pay. A United flight in New Orleans learned this the hard way.


A United Airlines Airbus A320 made an emergency landing in New Orleans (KMSY) just minutes after departing the airport Wednesday. United 497 was bound for San Francisco (KSFO) with 109 passengers and crew when the pilots noticed smoke in the flight deck as the aircraft climbed through 4,000 feet. An electrical failure soon followed and all avionics displays went blank. The electrical failure went far beyond instrumentation, possibly affecting nosewheel steering and aircraft braking which prompted the crew to request a longer runway. The emergency could not have come at a worse time as MSY’s longest runway was closed for maintenance.

Let’s see: There’s a potential fire on board, which is the worst sort of emergency. Then lost avionics in the clouds, another emergency. Partial panel flying and if you get down OK, the brakes probably won’t work.

Not just another day at the office, which is what everyone expected on takeoff. Therein lies the lesson: You never know when you’ll need to execute an emergency procedure or three. If you train well, you should be able to survive the unexpected. Complacency will doom even the best stick and rudder flyer if he/she fails to make the appropriate decision at the right time.

This is one of the few times you wonder about glass panels vs. steam gauges but I’d still vote digital for lots of reasons and so would many others.  Since 2006, Cessna stopped making round gauge airplanes. The only option is a glass panel aircraft. Cessna feels the marketplace has spoken loud and clear and bet the farm on it.

Despite a dark cockpit, they brought in the bird without injuries and “only” a blown tire. Passengers gave the crew a round of applause after the plane touched down.

Listen to the audio of United 497’s emergency landing here.

Way to go.