AirVenture 40 and Rooting in Memory’s Bin

By Scott Spangler on May 21st, 2018 | What do you think? »

AV Sticker-3For many in aviation, attending EAA AirVenture Oshkosh is an annual touchstone and we recall our participation in many ways. Mine is a memory bin, the yellow office trash can I got from Crate & Barrel when the U.S. Navy finished with me in February 1978. It displays the Champion stickers that mark my pilgrimage in anal-retentive columns six stickers. I’m on my seventh column now, and as I have for decades, I’ll pocket my 40th Champion sticker on the first day, this year on July 23, as a token of good things to come.

Each one is a multicolored oval that highlights the year. The colors are never the same, but all of them appear to be on a ribbon  headed by EAA, with the Champion bowtie logo providing the ribbon’s tails. Individually, they are visual mnemonics that recall each year’s pilgrimage. As it is for anyone’s first time, my inaugural participation in 1978 overwhelmed me. The dominant memories are my o-dark-thirty departure and a three-hour drive for a gate-opening arrival, wandering freely along the flight line that was open only to EAA members and pilots, and setting up camp Saturday night in Schiefelbein’s cow pasture.

Other stickers recollect the weather. There was the triple-digit heat in the early 1980s, and more than a few years when I sought shelter from a deluge in a Porta-Potty. A decade later the unforecast cold weather justified the purchase of an insulated flight jacket to my first wife. And almost every year recollected a daily battle with dehydration. I won’t bore you with all the people and planes buzzing now between my ears.

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Signs of Life at Indiana’s Noblesville Airport

By Scott Spangler on May 7th, 2018 | What do you think? »

Noblesville-28Drawn to small airports that will not chase me away from the runway’s sideline where I capture the ground-t0-air photos of the homebuilt airplane builders I profile, each is a still-life statement on the vitality of general aviation.  All too often it is unequivocally dire, with signs offering airport hangars for rent as storage units for stuff people no longer use, not airplanes.

But not at Noblesville, Indiana, Airport (I-80), about 4 miles southeast of its eponymous hometown about 20 miles northeast of Indianapolis, which in 2016 estimated its population at 60,183. Driving between the cast concrete bald eagles that flanked its entrance was a portal to a vital small-town airport that Richard Bach could have written about in his biplane barnstorming days.

A line of lights outlined the east-west runway on the well manicured spring greensward. To the south, new small and medium enclosed hangars flanked a tidy line of open T-hangars. From each poked the nose of an winged puppy patiently awaiting its master’s return. Ahead, an unfrayed American flag before a small white frame building spoke of a middling northeast breeze, which the more distant windsock confirmed.

Noblesville-8The structure was clearly older and well cared for. The sign said it was the home of of EAA Chapter 67, and that it would hold its 2018 Pancake Fly-ins on June 9 and August 18. As expected on this Thursday afternoon in late April, the door was locked. said the privately owned public-use airport was unattended. Peeking past the plethora of aviation stickers that adorned the door’s window, the interior seemed clean and tidy and decorated in a style traditionally small airport eclectic.

To the left of the door, signs reminded pilots to “ALWAYS! Stop Engine When Loading and Unloading Passengers” and that those passengers should “NEVER! Turn Your Back on a Spinning Propeller.” Finally, “All Children MUST be Supervised at all Times!” Benches and picnic tables and a porch swing by a large shrouded propane grill standing guard over a squad of cylinders ready for coming cookouts suggested that Noblesville was well attended on weekends.

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GOES Gives HD Weather With Little Latency

By Scott Spangler on April 23rd, 2018 | What do you think? »

20181071530_GOES16-ABI-FD-GEOCOLOR-678x678Mother Nature’s springtime blizzard that dumped more than a foot of snow over an appetizer of freezing rain and ice encouraged me to spend the weekend indoors. Searching for some clue of how many more courses this banquet of wind and snow she would serve led me to the discovery of NOAA’s newest generation of weather satellites, GOES-R.

GOES is short for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite. When launched, the satellites are identified by letter, and GOES-R is not GOES-16, aka GOES East, because that is its geostationary perspective of the Western Hemisphere. GOES-S, the second of the four-satellite system that will provide a weather eye through 2036, reached its geostationary home at 22,300 miles above ground level in March 2018. GOES-17, aka GOES-West, is now undergoing testing and calibration, it will begin supplying imagery in May.

Compared to its predecessors, the new GOES collect three time more data, provide four times better resolution, and more than five times faster coverage (about every 30 seconds). Onboard is the first-ever geostationary lightning mapper; the GLM detects the flashes at the tops of clouds day and night and counts frequency, location, extent, and the total number of in-cloud and cloud-to-ground strikes, all critical cues to severe weather.

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New Non-Tower AC: Perfect Spring Tune-up

By Scott Spangler on April 9th, 2018 | What do you think? »

imageAh, springtime. Any day now it should finally stop snowing. As the snow melts, puddles, and sublimates from airport operation areas, airplanes will emerge from their T-hangar hibernations and start sniffing the sky on sunny weekends. In preparation for these first flights of 2018, on March 13, 2018, the FAA conveniently published the perfect spring tune-up for pilots, Advisory Circular 90-66B. Non-Towered Flight Operations.

This should be required reading for all pilots. According the the March 2018 Administrator’s Fact Book, the United States has 5,116 public-use airports. Only 521 of them have control towers. That makes all the rest non-towered. And non-towered is what the 254 airports with contract control towers become when their controllers call it an operational day. Add to this number the 14,168 private airports, and the reason pilots should refresh their data banks on non-tower ops should be clear.

The new AC does an excellent job of it, and the authors deserved high praise for their concise and clear prose. It starts with the title. What would be more clear and concise than Non-Towered Flight Operations? Or consider that the new AC replaces these two: AC 90-66A, Recommended Standard Traffic Patterns and Practices for Aeronautical Operating Control Towers, dated August 26, 1993; and AC 90-24F, Traffic Advisory Practices at Airports Without Operating Control Towers, dated May 21, 1990.

imageIf I may be blunt, regardless of what you fly—jet, engine, bug smasher, glider, anything lighter-than-air, or yourself after leaving some winged confines—read this AC because it covers the operational and communication aspects of all of them at non-towered airports. If you’re feeling all smug about your aeronautical knowledge, draw me a picture of the recommended traffic pattern that safely combines any two aviation activities at a non-towered airport.

Then answer me this: Does the non-towered airport you call home (or visit often) combine two or more aviation activities? The two most common combinations are fixed-wing flyers with either gliders or sky divers. And often ultralights are part of the fixed-wing flyers. What’s their pattern look like? If you don’t know or are unsure, click the link at the head of this story. It’s not a long read, just 18 pages with the appendixes. Do it now, in the privacy of your own screen. I’ll never tell. –Scott Spangler, Editor

The Surprising Death of DUATS

By Scott Spangler on March 26th, 2018 | What do you think? »

Image result for duatsReading that the FAA will end its contract for the Direct User Access Terminal Service (DUATS) on May 16, 2018, caught me by surprise. The surprise was not that the FAA was not renewing its support of the service. The surprise was that it had already done so around the turn of the century. Clearly, I need learn to pay closer attention to such things.

DUATS was born in 1989, about the time Flight Training magazine arrived in the world, back when computers were the new and exciting frontier that ended landline calls to 1-800-WxBrief and waiting on hold for a briefer. There were two different contractors competing for the attention of pilots, and their advertising revenue was certainly welcomed by the new publication.

More exciting was the no-wait weather briefing and other services DUATS provided—at no charge! And with time, each iteration of the provider’s proprietary software that automatically downloaded the selected weather products expanded the menu of meteorological goodies on offer. To this day, when I hear the nostalgic sound of a dial-up modem making its connection, I think not of “You’ve got mail!” but “You’ve got flying weather!”

Image result for flight service 1800 wx briefBut as broadband and Wi-Fi supplanted dial up, Internet weather sources were easier to access, and there were so many to choose from! As my attention was diverted (distracted?) elsewhere, as often happens, what you don’t regularly see ceases to exist. And isn’t the same thing happening to websites that haven’t kept up and redesigned their sites to automatically format themselves to the device that displays them?

What is more heartwarming is that it seems what goes around comes around. Without digging too deeply in to a service comparison, it seems that the flight service (smart phone compatible) website——provides most, if not all of a pilot’s flight planning needs, and for free! Ultimately, technological progress seems to be a merry go round, but getting a good preflight briefing has never lost its important contribution to aviation safety. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Pilot Past Tense

By Scott Spangler on March 12th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

logbookAsking newly met people their occupations is a phatic conversation starter that leads me down the semantic rabbit hole. Upon learning that I’m a word merchant, they ask what I write about. After hearing “aviation,” they ask if I’m a pilot, which is usually followed by “What do you fly?”

And so it starts.

Yes, I earned my private pilot certificate in 1976 and my instrument rating and commercial certificate in the 1990s. Because those certificates will never expire, I proudly acknowledge to the title of pilot, as a noun: “a person qualified to operate the control of an aircraft or spacecraft” (I wish!).

But “pilot” is also a transitive verb: “to act as a pilot of, on, in, or over” some craft. To pilot an aircraft in the present tense requires a valid medical certification (in a form applicable to the certificates and ratings held), a current flight review, and the documentation of compliance with the applicable currency requirements.

In this regard, I’m a pilot in the past tense. As far as I know right now, I possess no intellectual or physical disqualification that would prevent me from becoming a pilot in the future tense. And there are times, especially on nice spring and summer days, when I consider investing in piloting in the present tense. And then I get another notice that seems to be counting down the months until I must enroll in Medicare.

biplane-generic-4But what is life but a series of difficult decisions? One day every pilot will realize he or she has reached the point of no return and will have to make a decision that will define the narrative that is the remainder of their lives. And like writing a story, there is no one right or wrong way, but each path is lined with consequences directly related to it. Only time will tell if there’s another logbook entry along the path I’ve chosen.

A tangent on this debate of pilot tenses is one of aeronautical identity: is a pilot in the past tense still a pilot noun? Depending on my mood, I’ve taken both sides. I recommend that you not conduct this mental effort while tensely stretched out in the dentist’s recliner. It never ends well.

If you’re facing a similar cognitive conversation and you’re just not in the mood to deal with our pilot tense at the moment, may I recommend distraction. This always works for me: If a pilot in the present tense is airborne and the sole manipulator of the controls when time springs forward or falls back, how does he or she log it? – Scott Spangler, Editor

Learning to Fly and the Convenience Culture

By Scott Spangler on February 26th, 2018 | What do you think? »

ltf sign“Convenience,” wrote Tim Wu in The Tyranny of Convenience, “more efficient and easier ways of doing personal tasks—has emerged as perhaps the most powerful force shaping our individual lives and our economies.” From a passenger’s perspective, aviation is all about convenience, especially when compared to long distance journeys on foot or by school bus. But learning to fly, becoming a pilot, is anything but convenient.

As Wu suggested, this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it gives new context to an individual’s aspiration of pilothood.

Those who have seen their training through to certification know that learning to fly is inconvenient. It demands a serious commitment and investment of time and money. To attract more newcomers, many in aviation have endeavored to make the process less arduous.

When it comes to manned flight, this is probably a self-defeating effort. “Convenience,” wrote Wu, “has the ability to make other options unthinkable.” Nothing a flight school does will equal another more convenient aviation experience that is now enjoying robust growth: drones.

1612f_ten_01_16x9Yes, I can now hear you thinking, but flying an airplane and flying a drone are not equal. And I would not argue with you. But which pursuit is more convenient? A good preflight inspection often last longer than a drone’s battery, but that seems a perfect match for today’s average attention span.

Before you answer this, consider all of the conveniences you have accumulated over the years and decades to make your life “easier” and “more fulfilled.” And be honest, like Wu: “Convenience seems to make our decisions for us, trumping what we like to imagine are our true preferences. (I prefer to brew my own coffee, but Starbucks instant is so convenient I hardly ever do what I ‘prefer.”) Easy is better, easiest is best.”

But there is a dark side to convenience, Wu writes. “With its promise of smoother, effortless efficiency, it threatens to erase the sorts of struggles and challenges that help give meaning to life. Created to free us, it become a constraint on what we are willing to do, and thus in a subtle way enslave us.”

Pursuing inconvenience at every turn to give life meaning would just be silly. Washing clothes by beating them on a rock down by the river would be more meaning than any one life would deserve, especially during a Wisconsin winter.

helmet gogglesOur culture of convenience “fails to acknowledge that difficulty is a constitutive feature of human experience,” Wu said. “Convenience is all destination and no journey.” For those looking for a rewarding journey that guarantees the struggles and challenges that give meaning to life, learning to fly is perfect.

Accepting this might be an effective marketing challenge for those seeking aviation newcomers. Make that newcomers who want to fly for fun. Those seeking a flying career are driven by other motivations. Perhaps our predecessors, who described flying for fun in post-World War II America as a hobby, were onto something.

“Embracing inconvenience may sound odd, but we already do it without thinking of it as such,” Wu said. “As if to mask the issue, we give other names to our inconvenient choices” We call them hobbies, avocations, callings, passions.” Perhaps you yourself have used one of these words to explain why you fly.

Investing the time and money in learning to fly is rarely discussed with newcomers beyond the transportive convenience it provides once achieved. Wu wasn’t talking about flying, but he could have been. “Such activities take time, but they also give us time back. They expose us to the risk of frustration and failure, but they also can teach us something about the world and our place in it.”

Or above it. Rather than promoting the future convenience of learning to fly, why not focus on “the joy of doing something slow and something difficult, the satisfaction of not doing what is easiest.”

Couch this outreaching challenge in a way that will tickle the interest of people who want to stand apart, to be noticed (and that includes just about everyone in the realm of selfie social media). Learning to fly is, perhaps, the north star in “the constellation of inconvenient choices [that] may be all that stands between us and a life of total, efficient conformity.”

super heroIt is certainly worth considering because those who fly for fun, for recreation, are the the economic foundation of general aviation, just as the middle class is for the American economy. Adapting the marketing messages to keep pace with the cultural changes and interests is essential for its survival, and one message does not interest all comers. –Scott Spangler, Editor

N-Numbers, ICAO, and Your ADS-B Identity

By Scott Spangler on February 12th, 2018 | What do you think? »

6MarkingsPlacardsNumbers-4Many owners like to personalize their prized aircraft with an N-number that represents them, often with their initials. Before the advent of NextGen, painting the new number on the airplane, and professing it to ATC, covered the customization. Now, unless an airplane’s ADS-B identity matches its new N-number, a filter the FAA activated in January will likely scrub it from ATC’s scopes and the Traffic Information Services Broadcast to other aircraft with ADS-B.

Aircraft transmitting erroneous information, whose ADS-B identity doesn’t match the N-number painted on the airplane and processed to ATC, will not wander the sky at will. They will continue to receive ATC services based on secondary radar information when flying in radar coverage.

What’s this ADS-B identity, and where does one find it? Officially, it is the 24-bit ICAO address that is forever linked to an N-number, like a fraternal twin. It is otherwise known at the Mode S code, and when the N-number changes, so does the code.

Common Installation IssuesIf aircraft owners don’t have their avionics shops update their ADS-B systems with the new ICAO address (and call sign, if their aircraft officially operates with one instead of its N-number), when they get a new N-number, they will be spewing erroneous information. And should they get caught by the new filter, they will receive a notice of the errors of their ways and a request to contact the FAA’s ADS-B Focus Team, if the FAA can locate the owner of the offending airplane, that is.

When the ADS-B identity doesn’t match the physical N-number, making the aircraft registry connection to the owner is more involved. And if the FAA cannot make the connection, the offending aircraft is forever filtered without further notice.

There are several ways owners can ensure that their aircraft are broadcasting the correct ADS-B identity. They can have their avionics shop connect the appropriate test box and check all the numbers, correcting those in error. Or they can request a Public ADS-B Performance Report (PAPR), an automated online tool that emails a free ADS-B report card within 30 minutes after the conclusion of the specified flight in ADS-B airspace.


A PAPR examination highlights all of the erroneous data in red (check out the online PAPR user’s guide for all the details). If an owner requests a report but doesn’t receive one for the N-number he or she types into the online form, that means the system cannot find it in its inventory of flights, which means that the airplane’s ADS-B identity doesn’t match the number painted on its flanks.

Another common error is an improper emitter category, which identifies the aircraft size by weight. Its seven categories range from Light Airplane (max weight of 15,500 pounds or less) to Heavy (max weight of 300,000 pounds or more). It has three more definitive categories: Rotorcraft (all of them, regardless of maximum weight), High Performance (more than 400 knots true and 5 g), and Large Airplane with High Vortex (airplanes that weigh 75,000 pounds or more that generate high wake vortex; the Boeing 757 is the only current example).

There might be a third way, doing nothing. The only clue that there might be something amiss with the airplane’s ADS-B identity is a reduction of available ATC services. Equally important is the degradation of TIS-B traffic, which works in concert to mute the aircraft owner’s ADS-B investment. – Scott Spangler, Editor.

Memories of the Gooney Bird (DC-3)

By Robert Mark on February 4th, 2018 | What do you think? »

The DC-3, a C-47 “Gooney Bird” when it’s dressed up for the military, conjures intense memories for me, like when my parents bought me an airline ticket to fly back from school in Champaign IL to Chicago one Thanksgiving. That Ozark DC-3 ride was my first, as well as my indoctrination to holding patterns and the wait to land at ORD in the middle of a winter snowstorm. Years later I found myself in the left seat of a DC-3 at Opa Locka airport in South Florida trying to get through my first type rating. The training money ran out before I took the checkride, so DC-3s became a bird I watched from afar, except at AirVenture of course.

Standing in a Gooney Bird on the ground demands balance and practice

This week our Maine Man Micah sent this report about his own memories of the DC-3. Almost coincidentally, the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) this week re-launched a restored C-47, “That’s All Brother.” That airplane originally led part of the Allies D-Day assault on Normandy in June 1944. My colleagues at Flying covered it here (@flyingmagazine).

But for now, turn your attention to Micah’s story. For a guy who isn’t a pilot, I found it fascinating.

Rob Mark


Memories of the Gooney Bird (DC-3) by Micah Engber

The New Year brings about many thoughts. These particular thoughts though were inspired by regular listener Sjoert Baker in The Netherlands. Since meeting him in Farnborough in July, 2016, Sjoert and I have continued to be touch through Twitter and the Airline Pilot Guy podcast chat room. He works with the Dutch Dakota Association also known as DDA Classic Airlines or just DDA. If things go as planned, sometime soon DDA will be bringing a DC-3 back to life to become a sightseeing passenger airliner.

Like the Wright Flyer, the Douglas DC-3 also first flew on December 17’th but thirty-two year later in 1935. It’s amazing what happened in those three decades. The DC-3 had a cruise speed of 207 mph, a range of 1,500 miles, a service ceiling of 23,200 feet and a climb rate of 1,130 feet per minute. With those kind of numbers many say the DC-3 was the first real airliner and it certainly revolutionized air transport.

Now of course, I have no doubt that you all remember that I have many favorite aircraft, yea, I’m fickle that way. My love of airplanes is catholic, that’s with a lower case letter “C”. When used that way, the word means universal. But even with my catholic tastes and fickle nature, I must say that the DC-3, without a doubt, has been one of my true loves for over 50 years.

I remember the first time I saw a DC-3, it was in the 1945 John Ford film, They Were Expendable, starring Robert Montgomery, John Wayne, and Donna Reed, although I’ve got to say, my favorite actor in that film is Ward Bond; he’s always been outstanding in just about everything he’s done, Fort Apache, The Maltese Falcon, The Grapes of Wrath, but that’s another story.

Anyway, the first time I saw They Were Expendable, I must have been about 7 or 8 years old and watched it, as I did so many old films, with my father, Lew. At the end of the film I saw a plane fly in to take Robert Montgomery and John Wayne to safety. The aircraft was sleek, twin engined, looking like, as Max Flight once said, “Just what an airplane should look like.” It was love at first site. I asked my Dad, “What kind of plane is that?” He said, “It’s a C‑47.”

My Dad told me the C-47 was a cargo and troop carrying airplane, and that while he was in theatre, in Europe, he flew on them many times. A few weeks later, my Dad took me to the movies. Yes, we went out to the big screen together to see The Longest Day. A top notch flick I highly recommend. The Longest Day was filled with C‑47’s. From then on, I was looking for C-47’s in every film I ever watched.

Three or four years later, I was visiting my cousin Mitchel on Long Island in New York. He was in the Civil Air Patrol and he took me to Islip/MacArthur Airport to show me around. My Aunt Martha, Mitchel’s mom, dropped us off at the airport and said she would be back to pick us up in a couple of hours. Back then airports were pretty open spaces and even kids like us could pretty much just walk out on the tarmac at any time. I remember approaching the flight line, and I saw, parked right in front of me, a C-47, the first one I ever saw in person.

I said to Cousin Mitchel, look, that’s a C-47 but he corrected me. “No”, he said, “that’s a DC-3.” Mitchel took the time to explain the difference between a DC-3 and C-47 but it didn’t matter to me, I was in love.

We walked right up to it, got right under its nose and looked up. Remember, I couldn’t have been more than 11 or 12 years old, I was a kid, and the plane looked immense to me. I remember Cousin Mitchel’s words as he looked up with me, he said “Look at all that surface area!”

We stood in front of that DC-3 for maybe 30 minutes, and spent the rest of our time there walking around it, inspecting it from nose to tail, wingtip to wingtip. The two hours we had at the airport felt like 10 minutes and then it was time to go.

I didn’t get close to another DC-3 again for over a decade. This time it was in Athens, Ohio at the Ohio University Airport. The Avionics Department at Ohio University had been gifted two DC-3’s by the Federal Government. One was permanently grounded but the other was flown as a test bed for electronics. I never got to see them while an undergraduate, I didn’t have any way to get out to the airport, but when I returned to Athens, Ohio as a graduate student I would visit them regularly.

If you go to a map and look at the area in and around Athens, Ohio you can see that it’s pretty much of a dead spot for aircraft. It would drive me nuts not being able to look up and see an airplane in the sky. It was major event when one was visible.

As a graduate student, about every two weeks I would drive out to what was an almost deserted airport to visit the DC-3’s. Most times they were locked up in their hangar and I had to peek at them through a window, occasionally one would be outside and I could walk right up to it. But once I was invited inside and got a chance to climb up into the cockpit. It was only for a minute but what a thrill!!

A few years later I took a job in Pueblo, Colorado. Part of my job responsibility was running a summer Youth Hostel and Conference Center. The location of this facility overlooked the Pueblo Memorial Airport and it was wonderful for plane spotting. (If you want to can hear more about my experiences in Pueblo check out my story, Pueblo, A Geeks Dream which appeared on Airplane Geeks Episode 313.)

Back then the Pueblo Memorial Airport also played host to the Great Colorado Air-Show at the end of every summer. I attended it one year with my father when he flew out from New Jersey to visit me. After that I just watched the acts from my perch high on the hill that looked perpendicular to runways 8/26, and parallel to runways 17/35.

One year the Conference Center hosted a group of skydivers that were going to perform at the air-show. They were a large group and being the airplane geek I’ve always been, I befriended them, asked about their act, how long they were doing it and what they would be jumping from. They told me they hired a DC-3 and it would be coming in the next day. They invited me down to the airport to watch them “dirt-dive” and do their practice jumps. I’d never seen anything like that before and was thrilled to take part, but what I really wanted was a ride in that DC-3.

The pilot checked in the next morning; I was at the desk and made sure he got the best room we had. I told him what a fan I was of the DC-3 and that I would be coming down to the airport later in the day to watch dirt-dives and practice jumps. I asked him if there was any chance I might be able to get a ride on the DC-3 during one of the jumps. His response, “Well come on down and we’ll see what we can work out.” I was ecstatic.

Later that day I went down to the airport and was welcomed by the group. I had no familiarity with sky diving. I was taught about dirt-diving and watched everyone countdown and roll around the tarmac on their bellies on wheeled carts. They would count down, start, count up, go into formation, count down again, and break off. Then the group would critique the dirt-dive and try it again. It went on for a couple of hours until they were ready to make a practice jump.

Now I wish I remembered the pilot’s name. I do recall he had an incredible number of hours in many different types and had a US Air Force background. The way he looked, as well as the way he walked and talked, a modest yet swaggering style, he sort of reminded me of Sam Shepard.

During the dirt dives I checked in with him, asked what the chances were of flying in the DC3. He said they looked pretty good but he needed to check with the FAA inspector.

I didn’t know why a conversation with an FAA inspector was necessary, still don’t for that matter. But when the inspector came along to check in and look at the aircraft I do remember him asking the pilot if he had his own parachute. His exact words “You got a rig?” The pilot picked up a black rig and walked with it to the aircraft as they went on the inspection tour.

The inspector left and the pilot said to me, “Not this time but hang around, we should be able to get you on for the next jump.” A few minutes later the sky diving team climbed on board and they took off for their first live practice of the day.

It was just terrific to watch those engines start up from so close by, hear the roar of those Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasps, and feel the breeze they kicked up. I watched them taxi out, take off and climb. I lost sight of it for a while but then the next time I saw it, it wasn’t just it, it was them; that DC3 looked like it was giving birth to 30 or so little ants as the sky divers jumped and started their free-fall. I was so enthralled with the sky diving that I lost track of the aircraft until it landed.

The sky divers touch down, grabbed up their chutes and came back to the practice area where they re-packed and discussed the dive. Then they started dirt diving again making corrections based on what happened in the air. They told me they would only be doing 2 or 3 dirt dives this time, and then go do another practice jump, their last for the day.

Trying not to be a pest, but also not wanting to be forgotten I asked the pilot what the odds were that I would be able to come along this time. He said he hadn’t forgotten about me, but needed to run it by the FAA inspector when he returned.

The conversation between the pilot and the FAA inspector was interesting to say the least. The pilot pointed at me and said “Can I bring him along in the right seat?” The inspector replied “He got a rig?” and the pilot said, On the plane.” and the inspector replied “OK”.

Well that was great news, I was going to fly in a DC3, in the right seat no less, but I had no idea why I needed a parachute, in fact I still don’t. But I did know there was no parachute on the plane for me. I also knew that even if there was one I had no idea how to put it on, let alone use it! No matter, I was going to fly in a DC3.

The pilot walked me over to the plane and got in with me close behind him. I walked up the incline to the cockpit and had to climb over a great big green oxygen bottle, about four feet long and mounted lengthwise in the fuselage with the valve right in the opening of the cockpit door. Attached to that valve were a bunch of hospital style clear soft plastic oxygen masks connected with long clear tubing. It looked rather jury rigged to me; maybe that’s what the FAA inspector had wanted to see.

The interior of the DC3 was hot; I mean it had to be at least 95° Fahrenheit, that’s 35° Celsius. Remember it was the middle of the afternoon in August in the high desert of Colorado. The pilot had his window open and I slid mine back too, trying to catch what little breeze there might be. I was sweating like in a sauna and was soaked with perspiration.

The skydivers climbed onboard and the pilot began start-up procedures. He had me call clear out of my opened window and started the right R-1830, then he started left one. We taxied out and took off.

The skydivers were packed in behind me like cattle. One of them, directly behind me was fiddling with the oxygen and within a few minutes he handed me a mask. It seemed a bit strange to be starting the oxygen so early in the climb but then I remembered we had a 5,000 foot head start. Pueblo is at 5,000 feet Mean Sea Level. The other thing I realized, I was cold, the stiff breeze and the altitude had pretty much dried out my sweat soaked shirt and I reached to close the window.

We climbed to about 20,000 feet. It was a long climb, remember the DC3 has the service ceiling of only 23,200 and a climb rate is 1,130 feet per minute so it took about 15 minutes to get to drop altitude.

I was breathing through the mask, happy to finally be flying in a DC3 for my first time. We reached the drop point and the pilot shouted “Go!” The skydivers all started shouting “Go go go”, and then they were gone. By the time I turned around to see them exit, the plane was empty. Before I knew it we were in a steep banking dive to the right.

I’d never been in a dive so steep before or since, and while I can’t tell you how many degree bank it was, it felt like a really high angle. Between the excitement of being in a DC3 for the first time, and the first time taking off with a group of passengers I wasn’t landing with, combined with the steep dive and high bank angle it all felt a bit dreamy to me.

The pilot had put down his oxygen mask and I wondered why as I was still holding mine over my nose and mouth and was breathing through it. Like I said, it all felt like a dream. The next thing I knew we were lining up to land, touched down, and came to what felt like a very quick stop on the runway. I commented on it to the pilot and he said “that’s one of the beauties of the DC3”.

What I didn’t realize though, until I got off the plane, was that just before the skydivers jumped, they turned off the oxygen. That’s why we made such a steep dive to lose altitude quickly, and I mean quickly. That’s also why it felt so dreamy to me. I must have been hypoxic

So my first and only flight in a DC3 is just a memory, and a rather faded one at that. Some of that fade is due to time, but a good deal of it is due to lack of oxygen.

Some thirty odd years later, I’m still in love with the DC3, I guess I always will be. Maybe one day, I’ll get a chance to fly in one, with enough oxygen in my system to sustain the memory of it. Until then, the dream and the reality of that wonderful flight, that one time back in Pueblo, Colorado, will just have to do.

Here in Portland, Maine, this is your Main(e) man,


The Aesthetics of Collision Avoidance

By Scott Spangler on January 29th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

belowWhen it came time for Dennis Hutchinson to paint the Davis DA-2 he’d restored, he picked red and white with gold and blue accents, “because I like them and think they go well together.”

Aesthetics had little do with how he arranged those colors on the airframe. Collision avoidance was top of mind: “As small as the Davis is, I wanted it to be as visible as possible in flight, to pop out of the background, not blend in,” said Hutchinson, who’s based at the Indianapolis Regional Airport (MQJ) in Greenfield, Indiana.

Starting in gliders, Hutchinson has been a pilot for half a century. When Leeon Davis flew his prototype DA-2, with its 19-foot-3 wingspan and 17-foot-10 fuselage, in 1966, Hutchinson was two years away from soloing a glider, at age 14, after his 13th flight. He got his private at 15, before he was eligible for a driver’s license.

above“Most sailplanes are painted white, to protect their composite structures,” he said. “What I’d observed from an early age was that sailplanes with even a small amount of darker, contrasting paint on the nose and wingtips were much easier to spot in flight that those with an all white finish.”

That’s why  the tips of the Davis’s constant-chord wing and V-tail are red, because they contrast with the white inboard sections. The upper fuselage is white because it stands out against the darker earth when viewed from above, just as the red on the lower fuselage does against the sky when seen from below.

Going beyond this aesthetic contribution to collision avoidance, Hutchinson installed an AeroLED package of position/navigation/strobe lights on the wingtips and tail cone. “They are interconnected and flash simultaneously, to great effect.”

Davis DA-2The landing and taxi lights are mounted in each wing, and they are capable of wig-wag mode. “They are not interconnected with the strobes, so they flash at a different rate,” he said. “Since all the lights are LEDs, the power they draw is minimal, and I highly value the extra visibility.”

Hutchinson said the combination of his collision avoidance paint scheme and lights is working, because when he arrives at a new airport, right after asking what kind of plane he’s flying (His initial answer? “It’s a freeze-dried Bonanza.”) pilots “tell me that the plane is lit up like a Christmas tree.” – Scott Spangler, Editor