Seeing the Future of Aviation in the Past

By Scott Spangler on November 21st, 2016 | 4 Comments »

Day17-10

With its back to the coastal mountains of Oregon, the world’s largest free span wooden hangar sleeps like a giant on green grass under a rusty blanket of tin. Known as NAS Tillamook Hangar B, it is the sole survivor of the 17 wooden hangars the U.S. Navy built on the West Coast in 1942 to protect K-class blimps when they weren’t flying anti-submarine missions. On closer reflection, its past suggested the future of aviation.

Its alphabetical predecessor, Hangar A, was built second, in 27 working days, in 1943. What makes this feat remarkable is the hangar’s size: 1,072 feet long, 296 feet wide, and 192 feet high. It covers more than seven acres, and each hangar held up to a half-dozen K-ships, which were 252 feet long and 80 feet in diameter. At each end, concrete stanchions support the 120-foot-high six-section doors that moved on railroad tracks to a 220-foot wide yawn.

The stanchions and the concrete footers for the wooden arches that supported the tarpaper and tin roofed structure are all that remain of Hangar A. It burned in 1992. To offset some of hangar’s $20,000 monthly upkeep, it rented some of its seven acres as storage, and it was 7,600 tons of straw awaiting shipment to Japan that caught fire. The straw, worth about $200,000, was insured. The hangar, owned by the Port of Tillamook Bay, was not.

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Casper: Airport Appreciation Past & Present

By Scott Spangler on November 7th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

Day24-30Working my way home on US 20, about 10 miles outside of Casper, Wyoming, I approached the entrance to the Natrona County International Airport. For a moment I debated making the left turn because nearly all of the airports I’d visited in the preceding several weeks were deserted, with few signs of aeronautical life. And those small town airports that advertised their empty hangars for rent as storage units were downright depressing. Still, to the side of the drive was a sign that looked like a historical plaque, so I turned. My reward was unexpected.

casperab2The history sign said the Casper Army Air Base was one of many military fields built after America’s entry into World War II. Crews started building the base, with its four mile-long runways and 400 buildings, in April 1942. The first airplane landed and commenced training operations five months later, in September 1942, Call me seriously gob smacked. Is it “progress” that there is no way either military or civilian leaders and workers of today could duplicate this feat today?

Given the decades that had passed since the war’s end and the airport’s transfer to Cody and Natrona County, I honestly did not expect to see any of those 400 buildings. And then there was an adjacent sign listed the airport’s tenants. A mix of aviation and nonaviation businesses, they ranged from FedEx, Atlantic Aviation, and the Casper College of Aviation to Conway trucking. Still, it was warm and sunny and worth a ride down the drive to put my nose through the airport operation area fence.

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Curiosity Quest: The FAA Cargo Focus Team

By Scott Spangler on October 24th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Image result for air cargo

To keep up with the FAA, I subscribe to the news feeds for most of its branches. The other day, the Flight Standards Service (AFS) sent me notice of a draft policy document, and its subject, updated air cargo definitions and abbreviations caught my attention. In aviation, abbreviations and acronyms seem to breed exponentially,  so keeping up is worth my time. I found a subject way more interesting than I expected.

The changed definition and abbreviations support the air safety initiative on air cargo operations under Part 91K. 121. 125. 135. and Letter of Deviation Authority (LODA). Addressing the background before introducing the changes, the notices said, “ The FAA’s Cargo Focus Team (CFT), created following an aircraft accident in Bagram, Afghanistan, determined that OpSpecs A196, Air Cargo Operations, and A396, Special Cargo Operations, provide the best process for management of cargo operations.”

Image result for air cargoWhat, I wondered, is the Cargo Focus Team? A search of the FAA website revealed no page dedicated to the CFT. The closest I got was a list of responsibilities of AFS-330, the FAA’s Air Carrier Maintenance Branch. The CFT was well down on the long list that included corrosion prevention and control programs; oversight of safety and education plans about aging aircraft; and developing and standardizing regs and national guidance on maintenance for Part 91K, 119, 121, 125, 135, and 136.

With that lead unsatisfying my curiosity, I started over with the accident, mentioned in the note, that led to the accident at Bagram Air Base. In the grand scheme of aviation excitement, air cargo may often seem mundane, except maybe when a Boeing 747-400 freighter is loaded with five mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles that, all together, weigh 78 tons and the aft-most 12-ton MRAP ATV breaks free of its tie downs on takeoff and damages the hydraulic systems that control the 747’s horizontal stabilizers.

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Overwhelmed at Planes of Fame Air Museum

By Scott Spangler on October 10th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Day10-45There is no other way to put it. The Planes of Fame Air Museum overwhelmed me. Drowning in the aviation history it showcases, and the aviation provenance of the airport in Chino, California, where it presents it, I don’t know where to start this piece.

So let me start with the smell. Because many of the airplanes in the museum’s collection still fly, its hangars, airplane locker rooms, have the redolent fragrance of airplane sweat. It is a lingering bouquet of hot oil cooling, the sweet scent of hydraulic fluid playing against the acrid pepper of rubbed raw rubber after it meets the runway.

Day10-14It is a good smell, one worth breathing deeply at every turn because many of the wingspan entryways were open. It’s much better than the traditional climate-controlled museum atmosphere of stale, recirculated  HVAC air tinged with dust and the whiff of commercial floor wax. And on this August Tuesday morning, stopping on our Route 66 way to Santa Monica, my riding partner (who’s also a pilot) and I pretty much had the place to ourselves.

Most of the airplanes on display were parked, not presented in some curated full-scale diorama. Instead the maintenance was real. Where else would you see a rare razorback P-47 Thunderbolt with its engine bared and rectangular black plastic drip pans catching the effluent from nose to (almost) tail?

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Don’t Let Santa Monica Airport Become Another Meigs Field

By Robert Mark on October 6th, 2016 | 23 Comments »

Don’t Let Santa Monica Airport Become Another Meigs Field

In the pre-dawn darkness of March 31, 2003, former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s wrecking crews laid siege to Meigs Field, a single 3900-foot runway airport on the western shore of Lake Michigan near the city’s downtown. As the sun rose that morning, the damage became clear, large “Xs” had been carved into the runway by city backhoes. Meigs Field was no more.

An atmosphere of outrage quickly spread throughout the industry for the loss of the little airport, a place made famous around the world when it was chosen as the opening screen for Microsoft’s popular Flight Simulator software.

The AOPA’s president at the time, Phil Boyer said, “”We are absolutely shocked and dismayed. Mayor Daley has no honor and his word has no value. The sneaky way he did this shows that he knows it was wrong.” There was no advance warning of the city’s move, not even to the FAA.

typhoonA Typhoon Passes

Yesterday, Pia Bergqvist shared a post on Facebook that detailed the shutdown of Santa Monica airport’s icon restaurant, the Typhoon, a place that’s been a fixture at SMO for 25 years. The restaurant’s closure simply highlights the latest of the dirty tactics the Santa Monica’s City Council is using to destroy the airport located just north of LAX, a place many in local government have come to think of as an obstacle to urban progress, not to mention a safety hazard.

In order to drive businesses like this from Santa Monica airport, the city nearly tripled the Typhoon’s rent. Other long time tenants like Atlantic Aviation and American Flyers already received eviction notices, with American Flyers filing a Part 16 complaint with the FAA along the way.

What makes the mess at SMO different from what we experienced here in Chicago 13 years ago, is that this time the FAA knows perfectly well what’s happening. The question is whether they’ll take any real non-paperwork action before SMO’s runway’s also destroyed.

The folks at the restaurant explained the city’s squeeze job pretty accurately. “In some quarters, this sort of activity would be seen as a deplorable abuse of municipal power, but in Santa Monica, it is becoming business-as-usual. It’s just too exhausting and disheartening to continue to throw good money after bad into this never ending shell-game of political brinksmanship.”

In a final farewell, the folks that run the Typhoon plan to keep the place open until just after the presidential election November 8. Read the rest of this entry »

EAA Chapter 1158 Goes Old School With Dead Reckoning Navigation Challenge

By Scott Spangler on September 26th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

Nav-30The meeting room at the EAA Chapter 1158 hangar on the West Bend (Wisconsin) Municipal Airport (ETB) bubbled with eager anticipation, and a little bit of anxiety, before the briefing for its rain-postponed Navigation Challenge (see Fly-In to Challenge Flying Fundamentals) on September 17.

For most of the pilots and crews of the six participating aircraft, it had been some time since they’d worked an E6B computer to plan a flight guided by dead reckoning, and more than one said he’d spent sometime trying to find it. They seemed eager for the challenge. While waiting for the briefing to begin, the crews chatted over coffee and donuts. For many of the crews, the pilot’s two flying friends “discussed” who would the copilot and who would be the judge to make sure the pilot did not use any form of electronic navigation.

Nav-143The crews welcomed the arrival of the briefers with laughter. Attired in World War II U.S. Army Air Forces uniforms, Howard Schlei introduced himself as Major Blunder and his wife, Robin, as Major Error, the intelligence officer. When the crews calmed, they discussed the particulars of this day’s “Top Secret mission to photograph” targets on the Red Route, for those who cruised slower than 140, and the Blue Route, for those to cruised faster than 140. The only description the targets? “You’ll know it when you see it.” More laughter, seasoned with nervousness.

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Eastwood Got It Right With Sully

By Robert Mark on September 14th, 2016 | 14 Comments »

Eastwood Got It Right With Sully

640px-plane_crash_into_hudson_river_cropComplete NTSB Accident Report: US Airway 1549 

(click here)

Most pilots tend to take airplane movies with a grain of salt because they’re usually riddled with mistakes or enough exaggerations to quickly make us nuts. Remember big snoozers like Tuskeegee Airmen, Flight or Pearl Harbor? Of course, there have been a few outstanding films over the years like 12 O’Clock high and the Battle of Britain. But the good ones are few in number.

When Clint Eastwood’s “Sully” began the other night, I was hoping one of my favorite directors might get this one right. 90 minutes later, I left the theatre believing that anyone, with even the tiniest interest in aviation, would walk away feeling their money was well spent. Eastwood got it right.

Sully’s not a disaster film. It’s watches almost a bit like a documentary … a very good documentary.

That’s because Eastwood’s film dissects more than just the 208 seconds, between the takeoff of USAir flight 1549, radio callsign Cactus 1549, and its landing on the Hudson River.

The dream sequence that opens the film tells you more about where the film’s headed than anything else. Cactus 1549’s water landing, crash, arrival or whatever you call it, represents the greatest mixes of skill and luck known to aviation in a long time.

But Sully’s also about how all-155 people aboard escaped with only a few minor injuries. The film goes to great lengths to show Sully, played admirably by Tom Hanks, making it clear that he’s not the only hero responsible for all that followed the dual flame out aboard the A-320.

Sully rightfully credits his first officer Jeff Skiles, the flight attendants aboard the Airbus that afternoon, and the hundreds of first responders who arrived within minutes of the crash to help the passengers they found standing on the wing of the A-320 gently floating downstream in the Hudson River, in the frigid air that January afternoon in 2009.

What I think really what makes Sully the first great aviation film I’ve seen in a long time is the opportunity it offers us to get inside Capt. Sullenberger’s head as he wrestles with the decisions he and Skiles made in those seconds after they plowed through a huge flock of Canada Geese.

It happened in the movie, just the way it does in real life. Someone in the cockpit says “birds,” and a fraction of a second later you either hit them, or miss them. There’s seldom a chance to swerve out of the way.

Right after both of the A320s engine’s flamed out, there are some agonizingly long seconds of silence in the cockpit. Some people in the movie house actually yelled out , “Why isn’t he doing something? He’s just sitting there.” Experienced pilots of course, realize Sully was doing something, but all the analysis, like “We can’t really be seeing a dual flameout at low altitude,” was going on in his head and also showed on his face. Read the rest of this entry »

Aircraft Storage: Kingman Airport’s Legacy

By Scott Spangler on September 12th, 2016 | 5 Comments »

Day9-36Following the airport signs posted along the historic path of Route 66 added some welcome surprises on the journey from Chicago to Santa Monica, but several airports were predetermined destinations. One of them was Arizona’s Kingman Airport (IGM). Built on 4,145 acres of Mohave County in 1942 as Kingman Army Airfield, it started service as an aerial gunnery school. I first read about when I was a brand new teenager, in Hollywood Pilot, Don Dwiggins biography of Paul Mantz. It is where Mantz bought the half dozen B-17s he needed for his work on Twelve O’Clock High, released in 1949.

Aircraft storage areas have long fascinated me because of the silent, unspoken history presented by the aircraft that populate. This fascination probably grew out of that scene in The Best Years of Our Lives, 1946’s Best Picture winner about the post-war lives of four World War II servicemen. In my mind’s eye I can still replay the scene where Dana Andrews, a bombardier, relives the horror of combat while wandering through a seemingly endless field of B-17s. That scene was filmed at Ontario, California, one of six post-war storage and sales and scrapping sites established by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to dispose of nearly 120,000 aircraft the government no long needed. Seventy years have passed since these centers opened, and I didn’t expect to find any of their winged charges hiding in some forgotten corner, but I was curious to see if some trace of that legacy remained.

Day9-39Following the signs to Kingman Airport, the pavement gave way to gravel. Affixed to the expected chain link fence was a sign for Kingman Airline Services. On the other side was a hangar, clearly built during World War II, still in use by the FAA repair station. And parked on the ramp were dozens of airliners wearing the graphic livery of several airlines. Like the military aircraft that preceded them, their ultimate fate was unclear once they had been stripped of the useable spare parts that would keep their active make-and-model siblings airborne for a few more years.

Research refreshed my memory of why the high desert was ideal for aircraft storage: little precipitation, dry air, and a soil ph that slowed the process of aging and corrosion on metal and rubber. But aside from the old hangar still in use, there were no other signs that told of the airport’s contribution to aviation. The Kingman Airport website said that the Kingman Army Airfield Historical Society was established to preserve the field’s history with artifacts, photos, and displays, but there was no mention of where they were, if any, and during my ride-around no signs pointed to any such location.

Day9-44Now, like the veterans who gave them life, the aircraft that fought World War II are now few in number. But they are respected and admired by anyone with even the slightest knowledge of their contribution. But what about the airfields that were their wartime homes? During World War II the United States built hundreds, if not a thousand or more airports to support the war effort. It would be a safe assumption that most of them are still active aerodromes, but few know of their prior service, and that is a shame. Without them, the contributions of the veterans and the aircraft they flew that we now lionize would not have been possible. It seems unfair that these facilities, which continue as priceless components of the national airspace system, are not recognized for their decades of service to past, present, and future of aviation. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Fly-In to Challenge Flying Fundamentals

By Scott Spangler on September 6th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

If you are confident in your proficiency in flying fundamentals and are willing to put it to the test, consider a cross-country flight to the West Bend (WI) Municipal Airport (ETB) this coming Saturday, September 10, for Kettle Moraine EAA Chapter 1158’s 3-in-one fun flying day. It starts at 0900 with the pilot briefing for the Old School Navigation Mission that does not allow the use of electronic navigation; pilots must navigate solely by compass and clock. It will be followed by the group’s annual spot landing contest and chili cook off.

Maintaining and expanding the social bond among old, new, and prospective pilots is an important function of any fly-in. But as this event shows, they can be so much more. What better way to improve safety and keep pilots enthused about the stick-and-rudder aspects of flight than by challenging them with flying fundamentals that apply to anything that flies?

The Chapter’s Old School Navigation event reminds me of the National Intercollegiate Flying Association’s SAFECON Navigation event, in which pilots fly a course to predetermined checkpoints using nothing more than dead reckoning and pilotage. The Old School Navigation Challenge employs many of the same requirements.

Each competing airplane has a crew of three: the pilot, who flies the course at the assigned altitude and planned speed; a copilot, who assists with timing, recording the flight’s parameters, traffic watch, and photographing the predetermined checkpoints; and a judge, who assures that the crew employs no electronic navigation  (GPS, VOR, NDB, Loran, etc.) during the event. Two-seat aircraft will have a pilot and judge.

The chapter asks that pilots provide their own copilots and judges, which is an excellent way for pilots to get their nonflying friends more interested in aviation. Instead of just looking out the window and waiting for the social feed, they are essential members of the crew involved with the flight. The judges are allowed to carry a sectional chart (old school paper or on a tablet computer) for emergency (lost aircraft) use only, and their use disqualifies the pilot.

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Labor Day 2016: Strategies for Aviation

By Robert Mark on September 5th, 2016 | 8 Comments »

Ed. Note: While this article was originally written back in 2008 and while many of the names of the top folks at the organizations have changed, the issues by and large have not. That said, I believe this is worth a few minutes of your time to think about the role of the labor movement in the U.S. We all know membership is down in 2016, but my real question is whether or not avoiding unions has created a better America. I’m not so sure. I’ve also reprised an earlier Labor Day podcast at the end of the story should you be curious for a little more to chew on. Happy Labor Day to all.

Rob Mark

Labor Day 2008: Strategies for Aviation

There’s nothing quite like Labor Day for a little reflection about the state of business in America.

imageThis year, there’s plenty to give us a moment’s pause too, because short of auto manufacturing, I can’t think of another American industry that is as unionized as aviation. Even FAA employs tens of thousands of union members.

But first a disclaimer. As the son of a union worker and the grandson of the president of a major American labor organization, I grew up listening to labor management battle stories and tales of tactical intrigue, honestly, I read and write about labor because I’m interested.

I also learned in my career that support for a union can be expensive in many ways. Sometimes it translates into alienation at work like friends avoiding you. Sometimes, the action can be much more violent as my family learned long ago. Support for the meat cutters union in the 1920’s cost my grandfather his life.

Despite a bucketful of disagreements with many of the labor perspectives I see plastered around the Internet and in the media, and notwithstanding the fact that I have paid dues to more than a few unions in my time – ALPA, PATCO & NATCA – I still believe the need for unions has not deteriorated in the past few decades.

I think the need is even stronger.

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