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.

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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.

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..