Dayton NAHA: A Model for the Rebirth of Aviation

By Scott Spangler on October 5th, 2015 | 6 Comments »

Graphic design for the NAHA Aviation Writers SummitWhen the National Aviation Heritage Alliance, a coalition formed by the leaders of the 19 sites that comprise the National Aviation Heritage Area (both served by the NAHA acronym), invited me to its inaugural Aviation Writers Summit in Dayton, Ohio, I accepted without expectations. My anticipation of the event, which concluded last Friday afternoon, was eager because we would visit many of the sites that have long been on my aviation to-do list. But the symposium held a subtle surprise worth much more than tick marks on my selfish list of places I want to visit and things I want to do. It is a lesson for everyone in aviation that might hold the key to the industry’s rebirth.

If there has been a common denominator to the countless aviation media events I’ve attended for nearly three decades it is that the effort is focused on enlarging a single slice of the shrinking aviation pie. In a larger context, one could argue that the summit’s goal was the same, but scaling generalizations works in both directions. With 19 NAHA sites represented, not once during our daily interactions with their leaders at receptions or dinners, did any conversation, participatory or overheard, deviate from the shared goal of improving the lot of everyone involved. In many cases, the conversations delved into the ways the larger members, like the National Museum of the United States Air Force, have, are, and will support the whole.

clip_image002The symposium (its participants here with Amanda Wright Lane and Smithsonian aviation curator Tom Crouch at the 1905 Wright Flyer) was elegantly organized and efficiently run, and the defining example of it was the announcement to all during the reception at the National Aviation Hall of Fame before we all adjourned to the adjacent Air Force Museum for dinner. Explaining that when mixing different groups people tend to congregate with those they already know, to integrate the aviation writers and the individual NAHA site leaders the evening’s emcee, Susan Richardson, asked everyone to sit at the table indicated by the number on the back of our nametags. I was at No. 4. This resulted in a thoroughly enjoyable dinner conversation with the nine other people at the table because no single facet of aviation dominated it.

Promising to write about any of the NAHA sites was not a requirement for accepting the Aviation Writers Summit invitation. They would be thrilled if that happened, naturally, and they openly hoped that we aviation word merchants would become their advocates, which is the hope of every media event organizer. And they made one of me, but not because of my to-do items it ticked, but because of how it was organized and presented. That a diverse group from the aviation community on any scale can focus on efforts to sustain and improve the activities of all is evidence that aviation, at least at its birthplace in (as its residents call it) “Dayton O.” has a future. –Scott Spangler, Editor

ATC and Pilots: When to Keep your Mouth Shut and when to Speak Up

By Robert Mark on September 28th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

ATC and Pilots

This sounds a bit pathetic, but most of the professional pilots I’ve known in my life have been smart alecks, me included … always ready with an opinion, whether anyone asked for it or not. We’re all control freaks to some degree I suppose, not an earth-shattering revelation of course, because those are the kind of people you want around when it’s time to grab the controls and say, “I’ve got it.”

Sometimes knowing when not to grab the microphone in the cockpit though, can be just as important, especially for me when it comes to ATC at least. I spent a decade of my aviation life in a control tower and behind a radar scope, which was just enough to qualify me – by my standards of course – as an expert.


Madison Wi (MSN)

Case in point to grabbing that microphone occurred at Madison, Wis., a few weeks ago with a student in the Cirrus. We were VFR in right traffic for Runway 31 and requesting multiple “option approaches,” the ones that leave it to us to decide whether we’ll make a full stop, stop and go, low approach, or whatever might be left. The long runway, 18-36, was closed for construction and some itinerant traffic was using Runway 3-21. BTW, tower assigned us Runway 31 which I did wonder about with traffic on Runway 3, but then since every controller runs their traffic patterns a little differently I thought no more about it.

After the third or fourth option approach, the tower cleared us to land on Runway 31, but never explained why. On touch down, I simply forgot and told the student “let’s go” and he added full power and reduced the flap setting. As soon as we broke ground the “cleared to land” part flashed in my mind. Maybe 100 feet in the air, the local controller in MSN tower firmly reminds me that when he says cleared to land, he means cleared to land. I really tried not to respond, but of course I did, “Sorry about that. My fault. But 18/36 is closed right?” as in, so what was the real problem other than my failure to follow orders. I honestly didn’t know.

Someone in the tower keyed the mic as if they were going to say something and then decided against it. We landed about 15 minutes later and the ground controller reminded me that I had earlier been cleared to land on Runway 31 and that they really need me to follow instructions in the future. Of course you know I keyed the microphone and asked again what the issue was other than blowing the order … “Did I conflict with some other aircraft?” “No, but you were cleared to land, not for an option,” he said. Since the other pilot was becoming uncomfortable with the exchange I just said, “Roger. Thanks,” and let it go. After all, I did blow it. I just would have liked to have known a bit more, but I decided to just let it go.


Kenosha Wi. (ENW)

Jump ahead a month or so and I’m again acting as CFI in the traffic pattern at Kenosha, Wis., this time having watched the other pilot I’m flying with land out of a really nicely handled circling instrument approach. We decide to stay in the VFR traffic pattern for a bit so the controller in the tower – obviously working both tower and ground himself – taxies us to Runway 7 Left. As we taxi, I hear him chatting with a Citabria pilot he’s sending to Runway 7 Right. About now I became occupied watching my pilot prepare for another takeoff.

Some part of my brain must have heard the tower clear the Citabria for takeoff from the right runway with a left turn out, just before he cleared us from the left runway, but it remained one of those distant notes in my brain until we were about 200 feet in the air. That’s when I saw the taildragger cutting across our path from the right. I instinctively told the pilot I was flying with to head right behind the Citabria as the ENW controller mentioned him as “traffic ahead and to our right.” He was a lot more than that. If we hadn’t turned, it would have been close.

The pilot flying with me looked at me in wonderment as I just shook my head and keyed the microphone … “nice tower.” No response.

I rang the tower manager a few days later on the phone because I wanted him to know how close I thought we would have been had we not banked right after takeoff. I told him I thought the ENW tower controller just plum forgot about the taildragger off the right when he cleared us for takeoff. I got it. It happens. I just wanted to see if I’d missed something here too.

Sad to say but the tower manager at Kenosha never rang back.

This is where it becomes tough for me. Should I ring the tower manager again and risk sounding like a know-it-all? I make mistakes too. What do you think? Let me know at

Note: This story ran originally at the AOPA Opinion Leaders blog.

Above & Beyond: Volunteer Pilots Fight for Israel

By Scott Spangler on September 21st, 2015 | 3 Comments »
Trailer for Above and Beyond.

Wandering through the recently added titles to Netflix’s “watch now” films the other night, I came across Above and Beyond, a documentary about the birth of what became the Israeli Air Force during the nation’s 1948 fight for survival. (It’s also available on-demand and through iTunes.)

And that’s about all I knew about this chapter of aviation history. But after watching this comprehensive recounting of events, including interviews with the surviving aviators, my initial reaction was, Why haven’t we heard more about this! It is a story far more compelling than the American Volunteer Group (AVG) that fought, as the Flying Tigers, for the Chinese early in World War II.

The AVG had the wink-and-nod support of the U.S. Government. The American volunteer pilots, ground crews, and others who volunteered to fight for Israel not only risked their lives, their U.S. citizenship was also on the line. Al Schwimmer (that’s him, left), the American businessman who bought surplus U.S. C-46 cargo planes, among others, and illegally hopscotched them around the world to Israel, lost his. Staying in Israel, he founded Israel Aircraft Industries, and in 2001, President Clinton pardoned him.

Most of the U.S. volunteer pilots, like Milton Rubenfield, father of the actor we know at Paul Rubens (nee Pee-wee Herman)  were Jewish, but a number of them were not. And irony does not begin to describe their first fighter aircraft, Czech-built Messerschmitt Bf-109 with engines coming from a variety of aircraft described only as “bombers.” Later, they replaced them with Spitfires, and a surplus B-17 was its bomber.

The nascent Israeli Air Force was small, but it made a difference. It’s a compelling story too long overlooked, and as a documentary, Above and Beyond sets a new standard of excellence. And some of its best parts are the interviews with the pilots who risked it all. Now in the deep winter of their lives, they all still possess—and exhibit—the self-confident swagger that led them to volunteer for what many in 1948 was sure to be a lost cause. I may watch it again tonight. – Scott Spangler, Editor

United Airlines: Time to Stop Just Talking About Customers

By Robert Mark on September 16th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

United LogoOver the last 20 years, we all listened to one United CEO after another talk about how much they value their customers.

Enough talk.

United’s new CEO Oscar Munoz needs to stop the talking and start showing customers if the carrier ever really wants to again be great. Give a listen and tell me what you think. 

Rob Mark, publisher

Labor of Love: Capturing Veteran Leather

By Scott Spangler on September 7th, 2015 | What do you think? »

clement 1When John Slemp came to the lunch at EAA AirVenture 2015, he carried with him a large flat package that was maybe 20 by 24 inches by an inch deep and wrapped in brown paper. At such gatherings, most people just show up with their appetites, and as we later learned, John did, too, and it was wrapped in brown paper.

John is a commercial photographer with more than two decades of experience who, since 2001, has specialized in aviation. But his commercial work pays for his labor of love, photographing the decorated veteran leather flight jackets from conflicts past. And when they are still with us, and able to sit for his camera, the veterans who wore the iconic U.S. Army Air Force A-2 and U.S. Navy G-2 flight jackets. In the brown paper were several mounted prints of these spectacular images.

So far he’s photographed 31 pieces of veteran leather, and when he reaches his goal of 50, he plans to publish a book that will really be about, he said, the veterans who wore the jackets pictured. The Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum, the National Naval Aviation Museum, and others have opened their closets to the project that began at a meeting of EAA Chapter 690 in Lawrenceville, Georgia, with the jacket pictured above. (You can see more at John’s website, Aerographs Aviation Photography website.)

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AirVenture Volunteers: One Lady’s Story

By Robert Mark on August 31st, 2015 | 1 Comment »

AirVenture Volunteers: One Lady’s Story

Publisher Note: One of the best parts about Jetwhine is that Scott and I often receive stories from readers out of the blue. While we can’t use them all, there are some that simply jump to the top of the pile as soon as we finish reading them.

This story, sent in last July by Marah Carney from Emporia KS, really caught my eye because it reminded me so much of the days when I too volunteered on the EAA flight line. Perhaps because I was celebrating an anniversary this year of my first volunteer days with orange paddles directing airplanes, or maybe it was just the sense of fun and energy about flying that I picked up on in Marah’s story. Really doesn’t matter I guess. The point is that there are still quite a few young people with a keen interest in aviation, keen enough to stand around in the hot Wisconsin sun as they help the airplanes park at AirVenture.

marah 1

Three generations of Carney pilots. (L-R) Grandfather Glenn, Marah and Marah’s dad Mark

And yes, I did manage to meet Marah and her dad Bob at this year’s AirVenture, but it didn’t take much cajoling to get them to don those snappy Jetwhine buttons. 

Let me introduce you to Marah Carney, a student pilot and a Senior Member Captain in the Civil Air Patrol.



Marshaling My Father

Ever since I was an AirVenture newcomer, I wanted to volunteer at the largest air show in the world. Nine years later in 2010, I finally had the opportunity. In the past, I would attend Oshkosh with my family. I have experienced the AirVenture culture by staying at Sleepy Hollow campground, boarding in a dorm room at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, and from underneath the wing of our family’s aircraft on the North Forty. Then in 2010 I got to experience Oshkosh with the Civil Air Patrol at National Blue Beret. I worked hard to get slotted for National Blue Beret—many hours of training have finally paid off.

This year, I had the unique opportunity to marshal my father and grandfather into general aircraft camping (GAC). They took off in a Cessna 172 from small town Kansas headed for Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Our CAP’s Juliet Flight was tasked, Thursday morning, for Flight Line North. After a night’s stay in Portage, Wisconsin, my father and grandfather landed on runway 27 shortly after 0800. They pulled off onto the paved taxiway and began their trek to GAC.


At AirVenture 2015, Jetwhine Publisher Rob Mark, Marah and Marah’s dad Mark

As a flight commander, my duty was to walk the flight line to check on the flight members and assist where needed. Because of a great distance between two marshalers, I was helping direct the ground traffic. Many Cessnas had landed about the same time, and all were in search of a camping spot. With the sun behind this particular Cessna, I could not tell the color or the tail number until it was almost past me. However, according a fellow fight member, I looked like a kid waving at my family after recognizing the tail number. Many hours of training had finally paid off.

It was a great privilege to marshal my father – then a fellow CAP member – and my hero at AirVenture 2010.

Marah Carney

A Finite Fraternity: Combat Fighter Ace

By Scott Spangler on August 24th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

Frederick Payne, America’s oldest surviving combat fighter ace, died August 6 at age 104. According to his obituary in The New York Times, the retired U.S. Marine Corps brigadier general earned this singular achievement at the controls of a Grumman F4F Wildcat in the skies over Guadalcanal in 1942.

What’s interesting to me is that the pilots who will likely be America’s last two combat fighter aces, Duke Cunningham and Steve Ritchie, joined this finite community a mere 30 years after Payne, when they each downed the requisite five enemy aircraft in 1972 in the skies over Vietnam. Flying the F-4 Phantom, their back-seaters, William Driscoll and Charles DeBellevue, share this combat achievement. American aviators have logged a lot of combat time in the ensuring 43 years, but conflict has changed, and most of their targets are on the ground—or on the screen.

It seems clear that the era of the combat fighter ace exists only in history, and that those who’ve earned this distinction are members of a finite fraternity.

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Aviation is Work … Usually

By Robert Mark on August 18th, 2015 | 7 Comments »
Winair group

The team arrives at St. Barths

I really don’t like traveling much any more. It’s usually way too much work on the airlines, efforts over which I usually have very little control other than complaining a bit on Twitter which doesn’t do much these days anyway. My business jet trips are fewer and farther between than the old days too.

Take my trip last week down to St. Maarten in the Caribbean for a media junket with 10 other writers, about evenly split between aviation and travel journalists. I swear the folks @americanair were trying to see just how cumbersome they could make the trip.

Despite American, I did know St. Maarten would be beautiful. And I knew I’d see a bunch of airplane geeks hanging around the fences at the approach end of SXM’s runway trying not to get blown over when KLM’s 747-400 poured the coals to it on takeoff. Sure the food would probably be scrumptious and yes, I knew I’d surely meet some memorable people from the islands.

But I also knew it was going to be work … the folks at Princess Juliana International airport wanted to show us SXM up close and personal, so we’d go back and tell others, many others what we experienced. I was ready, prepared even, because that’s my job these days, turning my eagle eye on some issue, some person or a place and synthesizing it all into some pithy text to be read by millions.

OK, OK so I’m not much of liar, except that the SXM folks really did want us to experience the region for a week.

And the trip to SXM was incredible, truly incredible. I’ve never seen such pristine waters or breathtaking views that close to sea level.

Certainly there are thanks in order, like the great ladies at SXM – Regina, Annmarie, Suzy and the others – for inviting me to experience the island and its role as a hub to its surrounding neighbors last week, but also a tip of the hat to the other writers who joined me on St. Maarten. While we more experienced writers may possess a wealth of industry knowledge, our younger colleagues also possess a solid grasp on new mthods to use technology for aviation story telling.


Liz Moscrop interviewing St. Barths airport managing director Fabrice Danet

There was Seth from @runwaygirl and @wandrme, who always seemed to be managing three or four different video and still cameras.

Adam from @privatefly who insists his awesome Twin Otter video at St. Barths was only luck – A Close Up Arrival at St.Barths.

Leslie, alias @leslieyip0911, who turned the idea of delivering a Dominos pizza by plane into an awesome 1-minute branding spectacular in one day – Mashable Pizza Delivery Flight. Kristen from @BorderFreeProd, who shot more video about lush travel options and food than all of us put together I think, or @lizmoscrop who never appeared the entire week without her iPhone on a stick ready to shoot the next story. And these are only a few of the journalists I worked with.


St. Maarten’s Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs and Jetwhine Publisher Rob Mark talked aviation for an hour

I can’t forget the print folks … @kcreedy, @allplane, @airdestinations, @hazelking25 and @atastefortravel. I hope I didn’t miss anyone.

And of course the great companies that sponsored part of last week like WinAir – @flywinair – for transportation between the islands, especially Helena De Bekker and the way she jumped into all the extra work we piled on her, Earl Wyatt From Seagrapes and his business partner Sheldon Palm from TLC Aviation and the Sonesta Ocean Point Reesort. There was Michel Hodge from the Airport Board of Directors, Nils Dufau from St. Barths’ tourism office, Greg Hassell and his crew from the SXM control tower that gave us the full ATC tour and of course Cdr. Bud @cdrbud who was the idea man behind much of the week’s events. A bunch of local writers connected with us as well like Fabian Badejo and Darlene Hodge. And who could forget our most excellent photographer Alain Duzant. Read the rest of this entry »

Aviation Safety: Courage and the Pragmatic Acceptance of Inalienable Power

By Scott Spangler on August 12th, 2015 | What do you think? »

Like pilots everywhere, I never surrender an opportunity to go flying. And then there are days like today. Thunder rumbles closer, rain beats on the windows, and online radar reveals the crawling approach of a large green blob with an enlarged blood red heart. Yes, today is a good day to be on the ground, and nothing would persuade me to think—or act—otherwise.

An inalienable fact of aviation safety is that decisions based on anything other than a pragmatic assessment of the risks and consequences involved too often have terminal conclusions. And yet, as a community, we pilots too often address such situations with the optimism of those who invest in Powerball tickets.

Courage is another essential aspect of aviation safety because too often our piloting peers encourage a sanguine assessment of the risks and recount their adventures in beating the odds against them in similar situations. I’ve never seen peer pressure as a contributing cause in an NTSB accident report, but from experience and observation it is certainly a factor.

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Jetwhine to AirVenture: Lunch for 20 Please

By Robert Mark on August 7th, 2015 | What do you think? »

JW Lunch-2Jetwhine to AirVenture: Lunch for 20 Please

One of the best parts of my annual trek to AirVenture is that happily, I have always found it next to impossible to sit anywhere on the grounds and NOT talk to the person next to me.

Over the years I’ve run into pilots, other bloggers and podcasters, dads and daughters building their own airplane, aviation geeks from a array of countries, air traffic controllers in pink shirts – that’s normal for AirVenture in case you’re wondering – and even the CEO of companies who just happened to end up sharing the same chunk of ground. The conversations are always fascinating and many of the friendships have become lifelong.

This year I tried something a bit different and invited a few random folks through the blog to join me for lunch at the show. It seemed like a good idea considering that I attended my first EAA Convention 50 years ago. The only requirements to participate were that folks get their bid in early and agree to proudly wear a Jetwhine button. The spots were gone half an hour after the story posted in fact. No fewer than 20 people took me up on the offer and it turned out to be great fun dragging a couple of tables together near a food tent just a hundred feet from EAA Jetwhine buttonRadio where I spent part of my AirVenture volunteer time this year.

Let’s see how many names I remember … Jeff, Adam, a couple of guys named John, Glenn, Brett, Amy, Joe, Starr, Pat, Brian, a pair of guys named Larry, Irv, Bill, Tom, Mike, Bob and Linda Funk (yes, like the airplane), Mike and Scott. If you didn’t see your name it’s because that’s the best my memory can offer up.

JW Lunch-1Thanks to all of you for joining the a Jetwhine luncheons and chatting about about all things airplane like. It sure beat just grabbing a brat and going back to my volunteer activities. For those of you who did join Scot Spangler and I for lunch, tell us what you saw at the show that really caught your attention … once you left lunch with your Jetwhine button attached of course.

See you next year, when we’ll try … who knows what, Rob Mark, alias @Jetwhine

AirVenture Gateway Park: Portal to Drone Integration & Safety?

By Scott Spangler on July 30th, 2015 | What do you think? »

Framed by the diagonal street that connects the main gate of EAA AirVenture to the forums area is a triangle of land that over the years has proven to be a prism that spotlights a newest member of the aviation community before it mixes invisibly into the larger community.

Drone-2Now named Aviation Gateway Park, this prism was borne with the arrival of light sport aircraft, which now exhibit with and among the rest of kit and airframe manufacturers. This year the spotlight illuminated drones, which flew almost constant demonstrations in the three-story cage sponsored by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Long, always filled bleachers faced the alfresco end of the cage. It was even harder to find an air conditioned seat that faced the cage from that end of the Innovation Center.

Full bleachers were just one way to measure the popularity drone integration at AirVenture. Roughly half the floor space in the Innovation Center was filled with drone sellers large and small, and the crowds around them reminded me of the Garmin booth when it introduced is GPS products in the early 1990s. And many of the visitors there were not leaving empty handed.

Love them or hate them, drones are part of the aviation community, and AirVenture’s Gateway Park did its part to make their integration with the larger aviation community safe. The cage that defined their flight area addressed the immediate concern, and the narrators expanded that message during the demonstrations, at least at the half dozen demonstrations I watched. As part of their descriptions of each drone’s capabilities and uses, they explained where and how to fly them safely.

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AirVenture 2015, Jetwhine AND a Free Lunch?

By Robert Mark on July 13th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

Here’s Tom Poberezny scooting around AirVenture in Red One VW that his dad Paul made famous decades ago.

Ed Note: We’ve had such a great response to the story that I’m sad to say we’ve run out of slots for lunch. Do send along an e-mail if you’d still like to connect at AirVenture to grab some Jetwhine/Airplane Geeks buttons.


Long before Jetwhine and the Airplane Geeks Show, there was the EAA Convention and Fly-In, first organized in 1953 founded by Paul Poberezny and a few other dedicated aviators. AirVenture in Oshkosh has been an annual celebration of things that fly ever since.

The convention was the first airshow I ever attended as a kid back in 1965 when it was simply known around Chicagoland as the Rockford Fly-In, held at Rockford Airport (KRFD) west of Chicago Back then, the show wasn’t the nation’s largest airshow as it’s become today.

That was 50 years ago this summer for me and it still seems like just a few years ago that someone let me lose on the airport with a pair of orange paddles and showed me how to guide the airplanes to parking in the grass at RFD. Each night I’d arrive home exhausted with a brain exploding with enthusiasm and a thousand ideas of where I’d eventually fit as a grown-up. So much for history.

A Little Camaraderie?

Despite the woes of our industry, what makes AirVenture valuable to anyone with even the remotest interest in anything that flies are the people you’ll meet … somewhere between 500,000-600,000 attend each year. The variety of new and old aircraft, not to mention thousands of unique add-on products are cool, but it’s the people I see again each year, as well as the new ones I meet that keep me coming back. Read the rest of this entry »

Delusions Impede Aviation Future

By Scott Spangler on July 6th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

Airbus recently flew the first production version of its Voltair E-Fan 2.0, a two-seat electric airplane. The realization of this aviation technology is something we should all celebrate because it is another important step toward aviation’s future. Offsetting this step is that the realization of this technology is being hailed, at least by the Wall Street Journal’s special feature’s section, as a the possible fulfillment of a “dream of science fiction writers for years for everyone to have their own personal flying machine parked next to the car in their garage.”

Dreamers have been pursuing this immortal delusion since its birth during the optimistic aviation future following World War II. Celebrating the possibilities of this maturing technology is but another unfulfilled dream because it doesn’t consider—or address—the realities of life in the wide awake world.

First, getting a driver’s license, let along a car, is a declining desire in the next generation of pilots and aircraft owners. As reported by Forbes magazine, federal census and highway administration data show that 27 percent of 16 year olds get their driver’s licenses today; in 1983, it was 47 percent.

Some of the reasons offered by the Forbe’s article include lack of time for driver’s education and the lack of money needed to buy a car. Given this data, it seems safe to assume that many in this generation would not invest many thousands of dollars and many months of training necessary to earn a pilot certificate and instrument rating necessary to operate in most weather conditions.

Another practical reality is airspace capacity in the United States and Europe, the two largest aviation markets. Unless you live in the boonies, you have to get in line to get airborne, and most people who live in the boonies can’t afford to pursue such expensive dreams. And, I wonder, what about the roadways that connect an airplane in every garage to an airport, the portal to the kingdom of the sky?

Dreamers should not surrender their pursuit of any technology in the face of such realities, but at the same time they should not support this work with science fiction dreams because it is counterproductive in a world no longer shaped by mass market mentality. Perhaps a better path would be that being blazed by medical gene therapy that customizes treatment to an individual’s specific needs. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Brennand Airport Invests in Fun Flying

By Scott Spangler on June 22nd, 2015 | What do you think? »

Brennand-3Needing an airplane fix on the Saturday before Father’s Day I wandered over to Brennand Airport (79C), 10 miles north of Oshkosh and 4 miles west of Neenah. It is today what small, nontowered airports used to be, fence free and focused on fun flying. Maybe that’s because the public-use field is privately owned, but that owner, Keith Mustain, has made a serious investment in the future of recreational aviation.

In 2014 he built a new hangar anchored to a brick office. Its second story balcony is a perfect place to watch airplanes come and go from the 2,450-foot long runway. When Mustain repaved it in 2013, he widened it to 30 feet and adorned it with FAA-standard runway markings. It is lighted and a nonstandard PAPI provides final approach guidance. For a better look at what’s inside, like the lounge and gourmet kitchen, pool table, laundry and full bath, and two-lane bowling alley with an air race theme, follow the link in the paragraph above to the airport website. I dare say you’ll be gobsmacked, as I was.

Maybe it was the weather, a mid-level overcast growing dark with rain to the north, or maybe it was Father’s Day weekend festivities, but I was one of the few humans on the airport. Two dads working on an Aeronca Chief closed their hangar door at 3 p.m. and waved as they drove by. Self-serve 100LL was available 24/7, and Mustain had posted several signs with a number to call if anyone needed anything. Two women talking in the open door of their family shop at the far end of the ramp said that weekends are not normally this quiet, especially when it holds an event.

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Commercial Drones Facing Pilot Shortage

By Scott Spangler on June 8th, 2015 | 10 Comments »

Vortex Drone session, 5/30/15 at Atlantic Aviation, PWK.To learn more about commercial drone operations, I recently attended a 4-hour introductory course for pilots conducted by Vortex UAS. The thorough presentation covered everything from history to the current legal landscape. What I did  not expect was to learn that commercial drones are facing a growing pilot shortage because they must be operated by an FAA certificated pilot.

Vortex UAS President Vince Donohue made it clear that there is no FAA certificate for drone operators (right now). But to receive a certificate of authorization for commercial operations under Section 333 FAA Modernization & Reform Act of 2012, commercial drones must be operated by an individual holding a private pilot certificate and current third-class medical. Explaining this opportunity to pilots is what led to Vortex’s introductory course.

The act did not explain the requirement for a certificated pilot, but there are two logical assumptions. First, certificated pilots have demonstrated their knowledge of aviation and airspace regulations, and they have some experience operating in the National Airspace System. Second, with a certificate involved, the FAA can enforce violations of those regs.

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Gray Skies and Memorial Day Reflections

By Scott Spangler on May 25th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

3-25-2013: A political statement, apathetic neglect, or a combination of both?Most Americans today have but two connections with those who serve and have served in the military, and especially those who have perished in that service. The first is the hollow seconds it takes to utter “Thank you for your service,” an seemingly autonomic reflex when seeing someone in uniform. The other occurs should they see a film about any of our many conflicts. Since America’s last declared war, which ended 70 years ago, Memorial Day has become an annual celebration of patriotic hypocrisy, when people might notice that the American flag they ran up their front yard pole last year is faded and frayed and, maybe, add a new one to their celebration’s shopping list.

True appreciation is measured by our depth of experience and understanding. Today, less than 1 percent of the population reaps the benefits resulting from the service and sacrifice of the less than 1 percent of the population who serve the politicians elected by the majority of people who separate, and have no direct involvement with, these two segments of society. And this disconnection and separation is no accident.

During the war Congress declared the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, citizens didn’t thank members of the military for their service because everyone, one way or the other, was involved and contributed to a successful outcome. For many, Korea is a forgotten conflict, but it set the stage for all the undeclared conflicts that followed. War, as Eisenhower warned, is big business, and public protest is a political challenge that complicates their promotion and prosecution. Vietnam proved this, and people protested because the draft could send any one of them into harms way. And on the nightly news they would watch their loved ones suffer for a cloudy cause.

flagfoldThe politicians, most of whom have never served and faced the possibility of a sudden end to life, solved this problem by replacing the draft with the all volunteer force. And never again would the news media work with the unrestricted access it had in Vietnam. Nor could they show the return of flag-draped transfer cases. “Privacy,” the politicians said, but certainly a planeload of flags bedecked boxes says something more—something different—than a missing-man flyover and the single triangle-folded flag presented to the family to conclude a funeral’s full military honors.

Understanding is the antidote for hypocrisy, and films that promote and criticize America’s endless series of conflicts can contribute to it. Watching requires more involvement than saying “Thanks” to a uniformed stranger. Put yourself in the protagonist’s place and wonder how you—and your family—would feel and deal with the consequences projected on the screen. Build on this understanding, test its veracity with questions and settle for nothing less than a direct answer to it, make it a resource that guides your daily decisions. In so doing you can honestly honor those for whom this holiday was created after the nation’s most catastrophic conflict, the U.S. Civil War, which took the lives of roughly 620,000 individuals in military service. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Can Airports Help Revive the Aviation Industry?

By Robert Mark on May 4th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

Can Airports Help Revive the Aviation Industry?

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I knew we had a lot of landing areas here in the United States … but 19,315 according to the FAA? Wow. That number is of course broken down into traditional airports, heliports, seaplane bases.

No matter what you call them or what they look like, they all have one thing in common. They represent a place where airplanes, helicopters and seaplanes come home to roost from time to time.

Some of those airports represent much more of an opportunity to me than simply as landing areas though.

The aviation industry is still suffering from an economic recession of sorts.

In the early 1980s, we produced 15,000 piston aircraft. Last year we produced 1,328. In the 1990s we had over 700,000 pilots on the FAA register. Today that numbers in the high 500,000s.

learntofly1Student pilot starts are down from the old days too with nearly 7 in 10 students quitting long before they ever earn a pilot certificate. Aircraft maintenance technician numbers have been flat since 1990, which equates to zero growth. Worst of all, 75% of the AMTs today are over the age of 50.

As an industry, our ship has been taking on water for sometime despite a number of conscientious initiatives to increase the pilot, mechanic and airplane supply, most of which haven’t moved the needle much.

If we don’t figure out a way to start bringing new blood into the industry soon, there won’t be enough people to fly the airplanes we build, or fix them, or service them at those thousands of U.S. airports.

The question is how to fix the problem we all know about, but that many people still seem to believe is someone else’s problem?

Rather than another national initiative, what if we focused our triage efforts locally … at our neighborhood airport? When people think of learning to fly, they go to the airport. If they want to buy a plane they often visit the airport first. When they need one fixed, or they want a hangar, they head to the airport.

This is where I think airport managers can help. Traditionally, they focus on keeping the airport alive with solid pavement, newly mown grass and runway lights that work … all very necessary tasks. But marketing the industry is not something airport people normally think about. Read the rest of this entry »

Biz Av Pilots Have Eaten Enough [Training] Cake

By Robert Mark on April 29th, 2015 | 6 Comments »

Publisher’s Note: Every once in awhile we receive a story that’s well enough written on a timely topic that we know we want to publish it after just the first read.

Meet Kyle and Linda Reynolds from Flight Level Group. Kyle is a business aviation pilot and his wife Linda is a teacher. Together they created a company calling for a return to learner-centered training in the business aviation world that focuses on the needs of the individual, not simply the demands of the regulator.


Biz Av Pilots Have Eaten Enough [Training] Cake: The Coming Revolution in Aviation Training

by Kyle and Linda Reynolds

flightlevelgroupThere is a growing hunger among the brethren for flight and ground training that is meaningful, applicable and enjoyable.

And yet the response from the regulatory agencies is all too familiar, “let them eat cake!” So flight departments gorge themselves on the latest and greatest delicacies of technology, products or speakers in an attempt to appease regulators, allocate their training dollars, and impress their colleagues.

Despite these costly attempts to make the skies safer, a cloud of apathy keeps dampening the safety records. Experts say it is the human factor, the people themselves, which keeps the accident rate from further decline. Despite an ever increasing amount of training, people just don’t seem to be taking very much of it to heart. For those who are tired of eating cake, a bit of a revolution is beginning in the training industry.

Cognitive Overflow

One of the reasons training today brings lackluster results is that it focuses mainly on the cognitive domain (where training becomes understandable).

A steady diet of facts, data, processes and historical accounts is offered in order to increase knowledge.  This is good to a point. However, so much emphasis has been placed on the acquisition of knowledge, that most people have experienced cognitive overflow. This is when the amount of data received is so quick and so extensive that there is not time to actually “think” about its validity and practicality. In fact, the cognitive stream often becomes so intense that people become grossly full and actually begin to have an aversion to more knowledge.

It’s easy to see why people become apathetic. If we accept the fact that an information diet is all a pilot needs, the cravings for something more will disappear. It’s more comfortable to be apathetic than hungry. If the aviation training industry is to grow stronger and increase in professionalism, training needs to address more than the cognitive domain. The affective domain (where training becomes meaningful) and the psychomotor domain (where training becomes applicable) also need to be activated each time a training event is held.

Case in Point

One corporate pilot recently commented at the conclusion of a safety seminar, “If you listen to too much of this stuff, you’d never get in the cockpit.”

This is cognitive overload. Without concrete examples of how the safety information can be used to make his department safer, this pilot decided to reject its validity. Who wouldn’t? It seems more sensible to forgo the safety seminars and keep one’s peace and confidence than to live in fear.

Aviation training must give pilots a wide variety of creative solutions to safety concerns. Pilots must be encouraged to modify these solutions and personalize them to the needs of their department. Without meaning and application, the knowledge instilled will pass through the recipient without bringing any lasting change. With meaning and application, safety reports and statistics can become a challenge to a creative means of sharpening skills, practices and procedures. Read the rest of this entry »

Looking Up at the Sounds & Sights of Spring

By Scott Spangler on April 20th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

As aviators, the sky is where we’d rather be. While many factors conspire against the fulfillment of this desire, being attuned to and looking up at the inhabitants in the ocean of air above us sustains our connection to it, which is why spring is special, especially here in Wisconsin, where winter attenuates aeronautical activity.

Muted honking positional cues from high-flying formations over Omro begin the migration of Canada geese to the surrounding bodies of water, Oshkosh’s Lake Winnebago and Lake Butte des Morts and the rivers that feed them.  They are vast armadas of aerial pathfinders easy to see. Locating the source of prehistoric clacks issued by his and her flights of returning sandhill cranes is more challenging, which makes visual contact more rewarding.

When the threat of hypothermia melts with the remaining snow, song birds serenade from naked limbed trees growing knobby with buds. Unseen mourning doves moan. Skyhawks, many of them flying classrooms for Fox Valley Tech’s aviation program pirouette in the practice area west of town. When they suddenly go silent, their flight path reveals a simulated engine failure or a stall of some variety.

Read the rest of this entry »

Air Mail Centennial is Opportunity for Grassroots Birth of National Park of the Air

By Scott Spangler on April 6th, 2015 | 9 Comments »


In less than a month in late 1911, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and the United States each made their inaugural air mail flights. All of them were short distance experiments that led to regular delivery schedules along established routes. The US Post Office began regular air mail service between New York City and Washington, DC, on May 15, 1918. The centennial of this first flight could be an opportunity for the grassroots creation of an American National Park that would connect the far reaches of the nation, just as the Air Mail network did by the late 1920s.

arrow-aerialAs the map shows, the transcontinental route, which pretty much followed Interstate 80,  connects New York City and San Francisco. The Contract Air Mail Routes that emanate from it reach into the heartland and connect cities and towns large and small. Each of them could be a part of the national park of the air. Once the original air mail airports (or those closest to them because the originals have been buried by progress), perhaps pilots could fly part or all of the Air Mail Heritage Trail in search of new places to have a hamburger. Following the routes on their GPS, perhaps they’d turn a circle or two over the surviving beacons and concrete arrows that pointed the way to the next stop.

To succeed, this long-term grassroots effort must be a collaborative effort that involves more than pilots. Members of local and county historical societies would lead the effort to research the locations and people who wrote aviation history of the century past. Students could make these people the subjects of their school work and perhaps hold candy bar fundraisers for the plaques and displays that would recognize their contributions. The chambers of commerce in each waypoint on every route could unite online for the mutual promotion of the Air Mail Heritage Trail as well as the attractions specific to their city or town. And aviation groups of all interests could build on this to connect the past with examples of how aviation today serves their community, their state, and the nation. –Scott Spangler, Editor