Flyboys World War II Perry Flag Flight

By Scott Spangler on July 1st, 2019 | What do you think? »

One of history’s many rewards is discovering little known stories that enrich the significance of its mass market events, such as the surrender ceremony aboard the USS Missouri (BB-63) in Tokyo Bay in September 1945. There are a number of them, including the saga of the Perry flag, awaiting the curious in Flyboys: A True Story of Courage by James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Fathers.

The book’s core is about the fate of the flyboys, naval aviators, including George H.W. Bush, who attacked the Japanese radio station on Chichi Jima. Situated between between Japan and Iwo Jima, it was the communication link that would warn of approaching flights of B-29s from islands to the south.

Looking at the photo, you’ve likely guessed that shows General Douglas MacArthur at the surrender ceremony on the Missouri. If you look closer at the framed flag in the background, you’ll count 31 stars on it. The Perry flag, Bradley explains on page 303, is the linen US flag that Commodore Mathew Perry carried ashore when he stepped ashore in Japan in 1853. (Equally interesting, the Missouri was anchored in approximately the same position as Perry’s flotilla). But that’s not the really interesting part.

Until just before the surrender, the Perry flag was on display at a museum at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Someone thought its display at the surrender was significant enough to entrust it to a courier, Lt. John Bremyer. Starting from Annapolis, he took off from Iwo Jima on August 29, 1945, “the last leg of a record-breaking120-hour, 9,500-mile-long trip that had taken him through 12 time zones.”

John K. BremyerLed astray by the record-breaking aspect of his trip, I expected to find some description of a flight on par with the Truculent Turtle, the Lockheed P2v Neptune that flew nonstop from Perth, Australia, to Columbus, Ohio—11,235 miles—in September 1946. Finding no joy, I went after Lt. Bremyer. There are a number of them, and the obituary of John K. Bremyer, a lawyer who died, at age 88, on April 17, 2008 in McPherson, Kansas, where he was born on April 5, 1920, mentioned that he’d carried Perry’s flag back to Japan.

But there was no mention of a dedicated flight. Surely there must have been one because, Bradley wrote, Bremyer completed his mission when he handed the boxed flag to Admiral Halsey on the Missouri. “Then the weary lieutenant slept for two days.” The tantalizing details eluded me, and I couldn’t quit searching for them. Then I found Bremyer’s oral history at the Nimitz Education & Research Center at the National Museum of the Pacific War.

It turns out that there was no dedicated flight, which was slightly disappointing. On the other hand, I learned about a Priority One (or One Priority) World War II military travel voucher, which guaranteed a seat on the next airplane, regardless of type or what passenger got bumped, going in the right direction. When he reported to work that morning, he didn’t expect the assignment.

Image result for pby catalina black catBremyer was in the air that evening, headed to San Francisco. From there he took the next plane to Hawaii, then Johnston Island, Kwajalein, Guam, and then Iwo Jima. There “they were going to to put me on a destroyer, but that would take too long, so I got on a Black Cat PBY” that took him to Tokyo Bay, where a whaleboat from the Missouri collected him and Perry’s flag.

Watching the proceedings from the above the main deck, Bremyer carried the flag, as well as news releases, photographs, and motion picture film of the surrender back to Washington. “I got on a PBM [Martin Mariner seaplane] back to Guam and basically followed the same route back to San Francisco,” the 85-year-old veteran remembered.

Perry’s flag is back on display at the Naval Academy Museum, and it is No. 89 in “A History of the Navy in 100 Objects.” It gives more background on the decision-making process that sent the flag to Japan, and it mentions Lt. Bremyer’s “record-setting” trip. But like Bradley in Flyboys, it doesn’t explain what record Bremyer’s trip set or surpassed. –Scott Spangler, Editor.

Gliders Launch with 454 Cubic Inches of Pull

By Scott Spangler on June 17th, 2019 | 1 Comment »

Sky SoaringGliders—sailplanes—are engineless flying machines powered by gravity’s conversion of altitude into airspeed. Without a doubt, they are aviation’s purest expression of flying for fun. It is also the most social aeronautical neighborhood, because glider pilots alone cannot pull their craft aloft for a flight’s initial investment of altitude.

I discovered Sky Soaring Glider Club last year, when its Cessna 150 tow plane, with its more robust powerplant, swooped low on its touchdown pass to the club’s 3,000-foot turf strip that is perpendicular to U.S. Highway 20 in Hampshire, Illinois. Imitating an owl’s cranial rotation as we passed, I saw a gaggle of waiting gliders and a covey of humans scurrying around them. With an appointment to keep, I promised that I would return.

Sky SoaringBecause they fly for fun, I figured that the club members would be making the most of a balmy, sunny Saturday. We finally had one of those last weekend. Which was why I was worried by the silence when I rolled into the gravel parking lot. Two men were readying a Schweizer 2-33, but there was no internal combustion buzz. One of the men held the two-place glider’s wing level and, without a word, it leaped forward. After a step or two, he let go.

Around the corner of hangar, sitting under an umbrella covered picnic table, the launch director listened to the glider’s pilot calling out the airspeed and altitude. The speed was a constant 60 mph. The altitude rapidly increased to 2,000 feet above the ground, when he let go of the tow rope that has pulled him aloft.

After the launch director called ATC to file a pilot report of the glider’s release altitude, he explained it’s hard to see the quarter-inch tow rope, and hitting it would not be good. Absent a tow plane, the only launch alternative was a winch, but where was it? Pointing down the runway to the east, “a mile that way.”

Sky SoaringAs I was getting my steps in for the day, a brightly stickered Honda Accord with an unusual red roof rack was slowly driving in the opposite direction, dragging two brightly colored cords, one red, one yellow. This must be the “mule” the picnic table guys were talking about. Coming to the end of the turf strip, a half-mile into the adjoining farmers field was the orange snout of the winch, with a flashing yellow light on top of its cockpit cage.

“Normally we winch from the end of the strip,” said winch driver Don Grillo, “but the farmer hasn’t been able to get his crops in because of the weather, and he let us add another 2,000 feet.” A winch’s launch ratio is roughly 3:1, so the mile-long tow rope would get the Schweizer to 2,000 feet.

Sky SoaringWith the winch at the end of the turf strip instead of out in the farmer’s field, it will pull the 2-33, with its under nose tow hook, to 1,000 feet. The higher performance PZL Krosno KR-03, Puchatek glider pulls a bit higher because the towline attached under its CG, allowing a more acute climb angle. After either glider lets go of the two rope, a ribbon drag chute prevents its freefalling tangle.

Sky SoaringAs the mule pulled the tow ropes back for the next launches, Don explained the winch the club built on the frame of a used box truck. The two-drum Tost winch is from Germany, it’s powered by a “GMC 454-cubic-inch crate engine—same as a Corvette—with the Turbo 400 transmission locked in second gear.” Next to the tachometer is an instrument panel switch labeled N and D.  On the cockpit’s right sidewall is the throttle, and left and right levers either engage each towrope to the transmission or apply the brakes to its rotation.

Sky SoaringDon is one of the club’s four winch drivers, and all three members of the launch crew, which includes the launch director and mule driver, are club certified after successful completion of the training program. “I started driving the winch last year,” said Don. “It’s exhilarating, a lot of fun, but it’s a critical job. You have to pay attention to the glider, which you can’t see at first. You have to talk to the launch director on the radio.”

Getting ready for the next launch, Don dons his David Clark headset. Even with its muffler, the 454 running at 4,500 rpm in second gear is pretty loud. He’s also listening to the launch director and the pilot, who’s calling out the glider’s airspeed. Pull too hard and you’ll overstress the glider. To prevent that, there are several stress-calibrated break links in the towline by the drag chutes.

Sky SoaringWith the winch’s singing silenced by the engine’s effort, the Krosno rises above the horizon, climbs steeply, and disappears. When it releases, the rpm jumps suddenly. Don adjusts the throttle to maintain an even strain on the drag chute. As John Abramski connects the towropes to the mule for the next launches, Don tells me that this launch set a new club record for the Krosno of 3,100 feet AGL. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Plane Guys: Love & Respect of Aviation

By Scott Spangler on June 3rd, 2019 | 1 Comment »

Plane Guys-10There’s no denying that general aviation is enduring an uncertain transition from its rose-colored past to a foggy future. What worked yesterday, when aviation was more widely embraced by the offspring of those alive when Lindbergh flew the Atlantic (i.e. Baby Boomers) doesn’t hold sway with their offspring and their grandchildren, for whom a growing number wonder if they even need a driver’s license. The Plane Guys Aviation at Wisconsin’s Waupaca Municipal Airport (PCZ) is finding their way by combining old and new with a realistic love and respect for aviation.

“For the love and respect of aviation” is how Plane Guys, a family business established in 2006, begins its mission statement. Straightforward and succinct, Beth Andersen said the goal is to “keep a roof over our heads and food on the table.” Beyond that, “I want people flying whether it is with my company or if I can connect with the person they need to do what they want to do, that’s the most important thing.”

Instinctively, Beth has been working to make the airport a more integrated member of the community beyond its aeronautical contributions. “When I took over in 2016, I brought EAA Chapter 444 here, and it’s been super! They do a lot of Young Eagles flights. Then there’s the Lions Club; they are holding a pancake breakfast here this Saturday. And this year we’re hosting the Humane Center [located on the other side of the airport, she said, pointing]. We’re trying to bring more events to the airport to make it a social center so nonairport users can visit it.”

Plane Guys-5Unknowingly, she was channeling Duane Cole, who in the 1990s told me that creating a social connection with the community was the key to his successful management of small Illinois airports after World War II. Plane Guys has managed the airport since 2008, and since then they have worked to “make it not a scary place, not like bigger airports” with their 10-foot-tall chain link fences and TSA agents. “When you walk in here, hey, it’s like home. We have a couple of people come in here to do their homework, adults who’ve gone back go schools and need to get away from the kids for awhile.” And just like home, Andersen wants everyone to clean up after themselves.

Originally from Racine, the Andersens established Plane Guys Aviation in 2006, when the patriarch, Pete, a longtime pilot, retired from his day job and wanted to start an aviation company. It would be at Waupaca because Pete fell in love with the airport years before, Beth said, and in 2008 the company won the contract to manage the airport when the previous manager moved on. The Andersens are not the only ones who love Waupaca; its 19 privately owned hangars and eight rental T-hangars are full.

Survey-24“It’s been quite a journey,” Beth said, and there is no implication of gender or anything else in the company’s name. “We were throwing around names, and dad said, What about Plane Guys? When you meet a group of people, you ask Hey, guys, how’s it going?” So when it comes to aviation, you want to go see the Plane Guys at the Waupaca Airport.

Training sport pilots, selling light sport aircraft, and renting aircraft were all part of the plan when the Andersens started the company. “We’ve been going to EAA [AirVenture Oshkosh] since I was potty trained,” said Beth. In 2006 they went airplane shopping. “Prices for new LSAs ranged from $60,000 to more than twice that,” said Beth. By shopping at the lower end of the spectrum, “we could have affordable rental fees, less than the $150 an hour you often see at airports for tired, middle-aged airplanes.”

They started with the Allegro 2000, Beth’s winged classroom. The RANS S7 replaced it, and a Van’s Aircraft RV-12 joined it in 2015. As a dealer for both manufacturers, “our airplanes are always for sale, which some website visitors find disconcerting,” Beth said. “If a student falls in love with the airplane, we’ll happily sell it, and replace it with a newer airplane.”

Plane Guys-13Around the time the RV joined the Plane Guys family, doctors found cancer in its patriarch. He beat it in early 2016, but related complications ended his life early that year. With the diagnosis, Beth came to work at the airport full time, and took over everything after his death (“Mom is the other owner, and she does all the books”). Learning on the job, “it’s been quite a journey,” and learning about selling airplanes is on the to-do list. Until then, she connects the interested parties with the manufacturers.

Over the years, Plane Guys has been blessed with quite a few students, and most of them fly the RV-12—“We put 300 hours a year on it,” Beth said. “We have a few students learning to fly in the RANS, but most of its pilots are earning tailwheel transitions. What’s been interesting is since Basic Med went through, we do more private pilots than sport pilots. When we started it was mostly sport pilot, new people coming into aviation, not private pilots stepping down.”

The planes are equipped to train both sport and private pilots, and the two instructors, on average, serve a half-dozen students at any given time. Located on the airport, Richard Merkley is also an airframe and powerplant mechanic with inspection authorization. Dennis Carew is an instructor who lives in Appleton. “Some people call and ask if they can learn to fly in their airplane,” Beth said. “I connect them with the instructors so they can work it out directly.”

Plane Guys-2Scrolling through the Followed Dreams, which announces student achievement on the Plane Guys website, reveals a diverse population of new pilots. “Many of them are people my age,” Beth said, “mid-40s, kids out of the house, and they find new airplanes with glass cockpits, and the price is right to make the dream a reality. We also have a number of students who are college-bound high school students” with their sights set on an aviation career. And then there are the homebuilders looking for transition training and time in type to make their insurance companies happy.

Once students earn their tickets, they join the Plane Guys family of renters, and if the preflight conversation I witnessed is typical, it is another example of a mutual love and respect for aviation, and the people that give it life. –Scott Spangler

Aviation Anniversaries and Complacency

By Scott Spangler on May 20th, 2019 | What do you think? »

FT June 1989Trying to be a good father, I spent a rainy weekend making a recycling run though boxes that have lived unopened for more than a decade in the closet of the spare bedroom. Accepting that my expiration date, while unknown, is growing ever closer, I didn’t want to burden my boys with this task should my last day arrive sooner rather than later. In the process, I found this, the inaugural issue of Flight Training, June 1989, the aviation anniversary of a transition in my journalism career.

Slowly turning the pages I had not looked at or thought about for maybe 29 years recollected not only memories of the good people who brought this publication to life, but the emotions that filled me with life as we worked to this end. Like courses of bricks laid on a foundation of unquenchable anticipation were cyclic variations of confidence, ability, and knowledge. Determination was their mortar. United, they presented a challenge I was eager to meet every day.

It’s been awhile since I’ve felt that way. Why was that? The determination of my mortar must be unimpaired because I’m commencing my fourth decade in the field. But my emotional bricks are not as vibrant or clearly defined as they were when the inaugural issue came off the presses. Is the passage of time since my aviation anniversary the efflorescence that has muted them? Might complacency be an emotional efflorescence?

BricksUnchecked efflorescence weakens the structural integrity of the integrated bricks and mortar. Complacency acts similarly on the integrity of our integrated emotions, knowledge, and skills. Time is an insidious process. It can build experience and breed complacency, and I wondered if the former is my delusional assessment of the latter?

Might reasoned anxiety be the defining distinction between experience and complacency? When I made my solo flight on March 27, 1976, this member of the anxiety clan was my unseen passenger. This uneasy concern about the contingencies of flight has been with me on every flight since. And the more I learned, the more experience is gained, the more thoroughly I pursued its antidote, preflight research, granular planning, and recurrent training and periodic assessment of my knowledge and skills.

Clearly, reasoned anxiety is a self-imposed emotion, but recalling and building on the feeling of my solo flight (and instrument rating) has (so far) kept me and my passengers safe and sound. And preparing for the contingencies of every flight is a large part of what makes flying fun for me. As a bonus, perusing the knowledge and experience needed to compound the antidote to my reasoned anxiety recalls the people and situations that made them possible. Certainly the same process will work with the my terrestrial life as well. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Gazing at the Aerospace Forecast Crystal Ball

By Scott Spangler on May 6th, 2019 | What do you think? »

forcastIt’s been so long that I don’t remember when I started reading the FAA Aerospace Forecast, but I anticipate each update with eager curiosity, and the FAA just released its crystal ball for Fiscal Years 2019-2039. What interests me most are the general aviation prognostications because until flight time is no longer the universal measure of “experience,” GA is the womb where pilots pay their dues, making it the unrecognized host for commercial operations that sustain their bottom lines by suckling the sacrificing passions of general aviators.

But this situation, where general aviation pilots who want to fly for a living, will eventually cease to exist, and commercial operations in need of pilots (if that need continues in the burgeoning era of unmanned aircraft) will have to—finally—start paying for the ab initio training of their applicants. And they will without harming their bottom line. Another fee imposed on their cattle, ah, customers, it will surely make them more money.

General aviation once was the robust member of the aerospace family. Over the past several decades it has been disappearing, like the angels share of a fine whisky or bourbon aging in a seemingly watertight barrel. Each Aerospace Forecast that preceded this one measures the present and future loss. This could change, I suppose, but our culture has changed and general aviation has become a niche activity, like those who ride motorcycles. Ask Harley Davidson about its consequences.

This trend seems to be continuing, according to this latest forecast. The Forecast Highlights pitches some spin: “The long-term outlook for general aviation is stable to optimistic, as growth at the high-end offsets continuing retirements at the low end of the segment.”

Image result for cessna business jetsBefore the paragraph ends, the FAA defines its spin. “While the steady growth of GDP and corporate profits results in continued growth of the turbine and rotorcraft fleets, the largest segment of the fleet—fixed wing piston aircraft continues to shrink over the forecast.”

It is probably unfair to label this as spin because “general aviation” is a catchall category for all aviation that’s not commercial or military. But it is equally unfair to compare piston-powered airplanes owned, rented, and flown by individuals with corporations that operate essential turbine transportation tools. Maybe it’s time to make a new, separate category for corporate aviation, because it, like the airlines, also suckles the womb of the low-end pilot population.

Or we will just have to redefine our mental picture of what general aviation is. The Aerospace Forecast outlines it in the General Aviation chapter: “The active general aviation fleet is projected to remain around its current level, with the declines in fixed-wing piston fleet being offset by increases in the turbine, experimental, and light sport fleets.”

 Over the forecast period, the FAA predicts the fixed-wing piston fleet will shrink by 25,645 aircraft. “On the other hand, the smallest category, light-sport aircraft, (created in 2005), is forecast to grow by 3.6 percent annually, adding about 2,890 new aircraft by 2039, more than doubling its 2017 fleet size.” The disparity of those two numbers is, by the way, one definition of a niche.

Let’s close with a bit of cognitive dissonance. The Forecast attributes the piston decline to “Unfavorable pilot demographics, overall increasing  cost of aircraft ownership, coupled with new aircraft deliveries not keeping pace with retirements of the aging fleet.”

What’s dissonant? What difference does the delivery of new aircraft make when the “unfavorable pilot demographics” is shorthand for a shrinking number of older aviators and the cost of aircraft ownership will increase no matter its category or class. Stir gently with the income disparity in our society, and what image of general aviation do you see in your crystal ball? –Scott Spangler, Editor

Sunny Sunday Easter Airport Survey

By Scott Spangler on April 22nd, 2019 | 6 Comments »

Survey-17Spring in Wisconsin came with the Easter Bunny. With sunshine and temperatures climbing above the 40s for the first time, and shooting for the mid 70s, it seemed the perfect day to go flying. Curious to witness whether others were so inspired, after lunch I set out on an impromptu Sunny Sunday Airport Survey.

Riding a 120-mile triangle, I’d visit Brennand Airport (79C), a privately owned, public-use airport in Neenah. Then it was off to the Waupaca Municipal Airport (PCZ), with a finish line at the Wautoma Municipal Airport (Y50). They had three things in common: no control tower, paved runways, and service to a small town. They also had one more thing in common; as I approached each of them in turn, I saw no airplanes flying to or from them.

Brennand Airport

Survey-1Nearly a dozen cars filled the parking spaces outside the two-story airport office with its unique twisted brick pillars that support the second-floor deck. The only person I saw was a young man, MJ, sitting in an Adirondack chair out front. With self-service fuel, I didn’t think he was a line person, but maybe he was one of a dying breed, the airport kid. His answers to my questions whether anyone had gone flying today led me to believe this was not the case, but he thought he’d heard an airplane takeoff earlier in the day.

Heading to the far end of the line of hangars in search of other aeronautical humans, I passed the airport’s open maintenance hangar. Perched in the doorway was a flashy RV-10. Behind it was a Robinson helicopter, and behind that a decowled Cessna. As I passed, a gentleman said I was welcome to come in and look around. I promised to stop in on my way back.

Survey-3Only two of the 25 hangars had their bifold doors lifted slightly to form ventilating isosceles triangles that seemed to be pointing at the windsock on the other side of the runway. Both of them were homes to Cessna 150s whose owners were silently at work. The second 150 was wingtipless, and it shared the space with on old Cessna 172. Through the door’s open apex I could see that it was red and white and that it wore two venturis on its right flank.

There were cars parked between two other hangars, one a Ram pickup with AOPA Aircraft Owner sticker on its back window, which suggested that its owner was winging his or her way to an Easter assignation. There was no car next to the door with the hangar nameplate that bore the resident’s name and the lithographed scribe of a homebuilt Acro Sport II. Pity. Today was prime open cockpit biplane flying weather.

Survey-8Stepping through the maintenance hangar to the office, to my right was a magnificent two-lane aviation-themed bowling alley. To my left, just past a short alcove, was an open-plan lounge and commercial kitchen, with an island covered with a tasty looking meal. A crowd three generations strong were making their way to the ally, when a kind woman said hello. Colleen Mustain, who owns the airport with her husband, Keith, said the gathering was an Easter party with their kids and grandkids. After introducing me to her husband as he passed, I said I didn’t want to intrude. It was no problem, they said, and I was welcome to come back any time. You can count on that.

Waupaca Municipal Airport

Survey-10A Cessna 172 and Piper Tomahawk were tied down on the ramp at Waupaca, and the pilot of an old straight-tailed Cessna 150 was reading the instructions at the self-service fuel island. While he was reading, a bright yellow Stinson 108 with red trim worked its way around the island and found a place on the ramp, taking the Tomahawk’s place as the man and women in it taxied to the other side of the fuel island. Finally, someone was putting the beautiful spring day to proper use.

In the terminal, a young man with long hair sat looking out at the ramp from the office’s bay window. Patrick, who works for Beth, the contract airport manager, had the weekend duty. He’s been working at the airport for about a year, and when he’s not working, he’s “doing homework.” Such is the life for a student at Weyauwega High School. His dad, Brian, has the contract to plow the ramp and runways, and made the suggesting that a job was a productive use of free time.

Survey-14Patrick said the airport had a pretty busy weekend, with more than a dozen visiting airplanes. Most of them, he guessed, had flown into town for Easter visits. While we talked, a man entered the lounge and stretched out on the couch. Bob Harvey was local, he said, having flown in from his home strip in the Stinson. He has a Piper Vagabond there to keep it company. “I’ve also got an RV-10 that I keep here in the northwest hangar.”

Out for a short jaunt because it was a nice day, in chatting about flying he said that one of his flying friends had just passed. We agreed that in this chapter of our lives, this event was becoming more common and it made our adventures even more special. The loss was particularly poignant for Bob because his friend joined him for extended trips to the mountains and other regions in the RV. Quickly turning to happier topics, he gave me a bundle of other airports and activities to investigate on my next airport survey.

Wautoma Municipal Airport

Survey-28The airport is just past the south edge of town. A large hangar with a For Sale or Lease sign greets those heading to the terminal. The parking lot was empty. Walking back to the hangar for sale revealed that at one time it was home to an operation that catered to ultralight and light aircraft. The middle section of the sign, bearing the majority of its name, was missing. On the left third of the sign was a single-seat ultralight pusher, a make and model unknown to me. On the right third was the image of a composite Quickie Q2.

Continuing my circumnavigation of the hangars, I passed the EAA Chapter 1331 hangar with its covered grill and open picnic tables, and crossed a newly asphalted ramp and a new self-serve fuel island. Walking among the cluster of new and well-kept hangars, I saw only two vehicles. I met Larry, the owner of the late-model white pickup, in the terminal’s flight planning room. He said he was “a snowbird from Florida.” He was dropping a load of stuff in his hangar before he returned south. Asking what he flew, he said a Cessna 172.” Wishing him a good flight, he said he was going commercial. “I leave the airplane here.”

Survey-30Asking if there had been any activity at the airport this day, he said it was a sleepy town, and “no one is flying today—it’s Easter. Besides, it’s too windy.” Pointing at the weather station screen over his head, the wind was blowing a steady 14 knots from the south. It wasn’t much of a crosswind component, but maybe if you hadn’t flown all winter….

It was a semi-sad finish to my survey. Surely there was more activity than this, and if not, I wondered about the economic sense of each airport’s aircraft owners. Maybe it’s just my frugal tendencies, but I can’t see the fixed-cost rationale of hangar rent and insurance for an airplane you rarely fly.

Survey-36A more positive observation is that all three airports are tidy and well kept. Given the harsh winter and an April snow dump, patches and mounds of which are just now returning to grass greening liquid, this surprised me. Despite the lack of sunny Sunday activities, each of the airport’s operators is keeping their aerodrome in top shape, ready to welcome all comers. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Aviation Records Note Seasonal Transitions

By Scott Spangler on April 8th, 2019 | What do you think? »

For many, Florida’s Sun & Fun fly-in announces the commencement of flying season in every new year. A better transition from one flying year to the next is the National Aeronautic Association’s springtime announcement of the previous year’s most memorable aviation records.

What makes them so eagerly anticipated are the unpredictability of their number and the focus of their accomplishments. Perhaps more importantly, they highlight the rewarding diversity aviation bestows on those who invest their lives in it. There is no better example of this than The Most Memorable Aviation Records of 2018.

The first two memorable records cover the spectrum of fixed-wing aviation, the speed of a glider over a 500-kilometer out-and-back course—158.3 mph—and the speed of a business jet—631.80 mph—over a recognized course, Seville, Spain, to Abu Dhabi, UAE.

There was nothing but blue skyAnd how did I not hear about Daniel Gray setting a new C-1b time-to-climb record in a Harmon Rocket IIA powered by a 650-hp rotary engine? From a standing start in Oxnard, California, he needed less than 100 seconds to reach 3,000 meters, or 9,843 feet, and beat Elliot Seguin’s old record of 1 minute,  59.5 seconds.

Google provided just two stories on the record, one a post on Van’s Air Force, and another on Digrantrara.com, which revealed at the end of the page, that it had copied from Air&Space (and I wonder why Google didn’t lead me to this story in the first place).  This effort is certainly on my learn-more list. Who would have imagined a new record powered by a twin-rotor Mazda rotary engine mated to the tail rotor drive of a Bell 47 helicopter?

The absolute altitude record of 74,334 feet the engineless Perlan 2 set last September over Argentina didn’t slip by me. One wonders, will be 2019 be the year this record-setting glider achieves its 100,000-foot goal?

It is this unpredictability that makes each spring’s record announcements like Christmas (either early or late, depending on your predilection).  Learning that there exists a record Class G-2 for vertical formation skydiving is much better than getting a pair of racy socks. And how do you measure the preparation and discipline it takes for 42 jumpers to rearrange themselves in four sequential formations while falling to earth head down?

And sometimes you get what might be a peek at the future. Last July, John McNeil set a distance goal and return for a remote control model and set a record of 33.9 miles, bettering the old record of 31 miles. Some may snigger at a record set by an RC model, but what might this Logo 600SE electric-powered helicopter have to offer those working on full-scale electric flying machines? – Scott Spangler, Editor

Translating The 737 MAX 8 Crisis

By Robert Mark on March 29th, 2019 | 2 Comments »

I rather fancy myself as a translator of aviation speak, trying to be sure people who read about our industry really understand what I’m trying to explain, whether that’s in print or online.

The past few weeks have been a nightmare for most journalists trying to explain the intricacies of the 737 MAX 8 & 9’s Maneuvering Characteristic Augmentation System, or MCAS.

Because of the weight and the placement of the new CFM International LEAP-1B engines added to create the MAX, the nose of the aircraft could pitch up more than most pilots might expect when power was added, especially at low speeds, like those experienced during takeoff.

Today I just read that the Ethiopian airplane was less than 1,000 feet above the ground when the MCAS apparently fired and wrestled control of the aircraft away from the pilots with obviously disastrous results. That wouldn’t have given them much time to react.

Right now, there’s little to be gained by explaining what the Ethiopian pilots should have done or what they should have known in order to maintain control of the airplane. Boeing certainly didn’t help the situation initially by not telling pilots the MCAS even existed. After the Lion Air accident, Boeing did publish a bulletin explaining that an MCAS upset could look very much like a trim runaway. Whether or not the Ethiopian crew saw the bulletin is anyone’s guess. If they did read it, why they were not able to disable the trim is another question we’ll need to wait for the final accident report to explain.

Since the Ethiopian accident, I’ve been asked more than a few times to provide some context to this saga, a context that non-industry people would understand. I spent some time yesterday with Mary Harris of Slate.com’s “What Next,” podcast for just that reason and I wanted to share it with you. I thought Mary asked some really insightful questions. Hopefully, I offered a few insightful answers as well.

To listen to Slate.com’s What Next podcast for March 29, 2019, click here. @slate

Rob

DoD Aircraft Rental: Stick Time Not Included

By Scott Spangler on March 25th, 2019 | What do you think? »

Image result for clock with dollar signAnyone who has investigated becoming a pilot knows that aviation is sold by the flight hour. Anyone who’s ever rented one should find this interesting: the Fiscal Year 2019 Department of Defense Fixed-Wing and Helicopter Reimbursement Rates for the Air Force, Army, and Navy.

“When determining the hourly rate, agencies should utilize the appropriate rate category.” They are, Other DoD, Other Federal, Foreign Military Sales, and All Other. Civilian use, such as movie making and the like, would be All Other. Unfortunately, the document makes no mention of stick time, but I imagine that’s not the case for Foreign Military Sales, where the hourly rate would be for demo flights?

Image result for b2 bomberLike all rentable aircraft, I’m sure the DoD computed the hourly fees by summing the airplane’s operating and fixed costs such as fuel, scheduled maintenance, and engine and system overhaul funds, added the cost of human resources, the people who fly and maintain the aircraft, and divided that number by however many hours they expected to rent each aircraft every year.

What’s interesting in paging through the document is guessing at the contribution of each factor for the (All Other User) hourly rate. Among Air Force bombers, the B-2 goes for $62,012 an hour. That’s roughly $10K more than the B-1 ($51,475) and nearly double the B-52’s $33,919. This explains why the B-52 continues to serve, and it makes one wonder what the hourly rate will be for the B-2’s replacement, assuming there is a B-21.

A good guess would be that it is nowhere close to the hourly difference for the Navy’s long serving patrol plane, the Lockheed Electra-based P-3 Orion, which rents for (All Other Users) $9,015 an hour, and its replacement, the Boeing 737-based Poseidon, which goes for $9,928 an hour.

Image result for c-12There seems to be only one aircraft, the Beech Super King Air-based C-12 Huron, in service with all four branches of the U.S. Military. (Given their special relationship, Marine aircraft, like the AV-8 Harrier, $13,768 an hour, are listed with the Navy’s birds.) The Army rents its C-12 to All Other Users for $2,226 an hour. The Navy/Marines rents their UC-12-Ws for $2,497 an hour. The Air Force rents its C-12C for $3,341, its C-12F and C-12J for $$3,350.

The cheapest aircraft on the list is the T-6 Texan, the winged classroom used in Air Force and Navy primary flight training. The Air Force rents its T-6A for $917 an hour. The Navy rents its T-6A for $1,877 and its T-6B for $1,839. It’s interesting that the B-model with its glass, HUD, and Hands on Throttle and Stick cockpit rents for the lower amounts. Another question is why the Navy’s T-6’s rent for almost double the rate of the Air Force. Is it because the Air Force flairs to land and the Navy planes, given their carrier heritage, arrive?

CAE-USA_CNATRA-CIS_Navy-2_editThe document’s final tables may provide a clue. They subdivide the total hourly rental into O&M (Operations and Maintenance), MilPers (military personnel involved with operations and maintenance), and Utl (asset utilization fee). It costs the Navy $1,621 an hour to operate and maintain its T-6A; it costs the Air Force just $794. The Air Force also charges a lower utilization fee, $34 per hour to the Navy’s $72. Finally, it seems that either the Air Force pays its personnel less, or there are fewer personnel involved. The Air Force charge is $88 an hour to the Navy’s $184.

With a small loan and not going out to dinner for the rest of my life, it might be nice to rent one or two of the military’s fleet for an hour, if only the rental came with some stick time. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Enduring Designs: Return on Aircraft Investment

By Scott Spangler on March 11th, 2019 | Comments Off on Enduring Designs: Return on Aircraft Investment

b-52 oshReading that the US Air Force will be requesting proposals from engine makers to propel the B-52’s active-duty service through 2050 didn’t surprise me. It continues the decades-long return on aircraft investment, its ability to continue its fundamental mission efficiently and economically. Not every aircraft so endures. Consider the approaching retirement of the B-52’s much younger compatriots, the B-1 and the billion-dollar B-2, which the Air Force wants to replace with the lookalike B-21 that will probably cost several billion per copy.

Boeing produced the B-52 for a decade, from its first flight in 1952 until 1962. It entered service in February 1955. The early models in 1956 cost $14.3 million ($133.6 million in 2018 dollars) and the H-model, the recipient of decades of military makeovers, cost new in 1962 $9.28 million ($77.92 in 2019 dollars). (Imagine that, a US weapon system getting cheaper!) Most likely, Boeing built today’s 76 active B-52s in 1962. Upon their 2050 retirement (if that indeed happens), you compute the return on their investment by 88 years.

baslerThis return sparked thoughts of other enduring designs that have returned an aircraft investment well beyond their original expectations. The DC-3 certainly tops this list. Since its first flight in 1937, it has earned its keep for 82 years and counting. And it will surely continue for decades, until parts for piston-pounding radials disappear, and the Basler Turbo Conversions remanufactures the airframe as a turboprop BT-67.

twin beechThe Beechcraft Model 18 is another enduring design that first flew in 1937. Like the DC-3, most examples earning their keep today were manufactured during and after World War II. Surely, the remaining spare parts for its Pratt & Whitney R-985 radials are counting down its last days. Lacking the multipurpose special mission utility of the DC-3/BT-67, mounting new powerplants would be an investment with no meaningful return.

172A chronological peer of Boeing’s enduring design is Cessna’s 172 Skyhawk. Making its first flight it 1955, Cessna introduced it in 1956, and it continues to make new ones today. There is, perhaps, no better measure of the return on its investment than 63 years of service, and counting. And unlike the other enduring designs here mentioned, representatives from almost every year of its existence, from the first 172 on, are still flying. We pilots should be so lucky. –Scott Spangler, Editor