At United Airlines, Does Making Money Trump Safety?

By Robert Mark on March 2nd, 2015 | What do you think? »

United Logo

At United Airlines, does making money trump safety?

A recent Aviation Week article quotes United CEO Jeff Smisek saying, “We’re going to run the airline for profit maximization …” That made me wonder a bit.

Then I noticed last week’s NYTimes story in which the airline strongly chastised its pilots for cockpit safety issues the company warned could lead to an accident. United’s tone throughout the story made it appear the company had just uncovered a scorpion’s den of safety violations created by a bunch of rogue pilots who cared little about the safety of their millions of passengers.

But there’s another side to the story and calling it eye opening is a bit of an understatement.

After the NYTimes story broke, I began receiving a series of intriguing documents from some United pilots that again made we wonder if United is too focused on money, so much so in fact that the company might be avoiding responsibility for financially-focused policies that appear to already be undermining safety at the airline.

While some readers might assume the information I received was simply a reaction to the company’s indictment of its pilots, it now actually seems to be the other way around. Among what I received, was a letter from a pilot member of Local 12, the Chicago council of the Air Line Pilot Association penned by their local safety officials. They were considerably more blunt about the problem at the airline. “[At United] economics trump safety,” they said. Pilots told me that their training at United, once the envy of the aviation industry, has deteriorated to become more of an industry joke. Read the rest of this entry »

How Passengers Helped Mess Up Frequent Flyer Programs

By Robert Mark on February 26th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

How Passengers Helped Mess Up Frequent Flyer Programs

Dear Reader / Listeners – You now have the option to listen to The Aviation Minute podcast or just read the script of the show below. If you receive Jetwhine via e-mail, you can click here to listen as well.

If you’re not yet a subscriber to The Aviation Minute, Click Here to sign up … it’s free.

SWA Logo

 

Push to play

If you missed last week’s episode of The Airplane Geeks Show, you also missed the discussion Brian Coleman our assistant producer started about frequent flyer programs. He began by mentioning the changes Southwest Airlines recently made to its Rapid Reward system. OK … bias alert — I’m a long time Southwest customer, a fact that has nothing to do with the photo I have in my office of the airline’s founder Herb Kelleher and I having a glass of Wild Turkey when I was lucky enough to meet him many years back.

Anyway, everyone seemed so concerned about Rapid Rewards. The changes mean a free flight costs more than it used to. Hmmm … A free flight costs more … now there’s a contradiction for you. My only comment though was so what? The fact that Southwest took this long to tweak their program to better reflect the price of the ticket was the real surprise to me.

Even though I have to drive crosstown to Midway to connect with Southwest, I make the trip often, but not because of the free tickets. I just like Southwest’s service. Free tickets are just gravy. And I don’t fly Business Select either. I’m in back with everybody else.TAM Final LogowithJet-01

But of course Brian couldn’t stop himself from talking about frequent flyer points. A couple of days later, he just had to share a post from our buddy Brett Snyder over at the Cranky Flier … that’s crankyflier.com BTW. Brett makes airline economics look pretty easy as you’ll see if you read his Feb. 19th story about Southwest. I don’t disagree with what Brett said at all, but the changes don’t mean much to me. So maybe I’m in a minority even when the guy who cuts my hair started asking me for advice the other day on how best to travel using frequent flier points … Uggggh! Read the rest of this entry »

The FAA Invites Comments on Drone NPRM

By Scott Spangler on February 23rd, 2015 | What do you think? »

Over the past quarter century I’ve read most of the Notices of Proposed Rulemaking that would affect general aviation. What separates the just released NPRM that introduces Part 107, Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems, from all the others is not its subject, small unmanned aircraft systems, but a phrase: “The FAA invites comments.”

This phrase concludes almost every topic discussed in the drone NPRM. And when it doesn’t, “the FAA welcomes comments,” often with supporting documentation or data to support the commenter’s point. Altogether, they are like addicting chocolate chips in the yummy common-sense cookie dough of proposed regulations. The cynic in me asks, What is the government up to?

It should surprise no one that drones have, are, and will divide those involved in all aspects of aviation. I imagine the same was true among those in the FAA who met to hash out the specifics of this NPRM. Certainly, some were for drones and others were against integrating them in the National Airspace System.

In the end, it seems that they settled on requirements that didn’t stifle innovation, important to any infant industry, while establishing level of safety equivalent to the risk presented. And because the federal rulemaking process requires them to address the comments presented, we the people who comment will ultimately decide what the Part 107 final rule looks like. And it might not turn out like some might expect.

Read the rest of this entry »

Why is Regional Airline Pay So Bad?

By Robert Mark on February 11th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

Why is Regional Airline Pay So Bad?

Dear Reader / Listeners – You now have the option to listen to The Aviation Minute podcast or just read the text of the show below. If you receive Jetwhine via e-mail, you can click here to listen as well.

I was thinking the other day about my early days as a working flight instructor. I remember hanging out with a bunch of other instructors at Palwaukee airport grousing about how we’d live on the 5 bucks an hour we could get paid for sitting in the right seat of a Cessna 150. Then one day we heard about this guy on the airport who was willing to instruct for free … zero, zip, nada … just because he loved flying so much. He had another job so he didn’t really care about the money. I can tell you … the rest of us instructors didn’t much like this idea of a competitor undercutting our prices.

q400.jpgThere was a lesson about pilot wages that I took from this experience after one of the other guys told me not to worry about that instructor. “Hey,” he told me. “The guy may get a few students, but don’t you think they’ll be paying him what both his students AND that instructor believe he’s worth?”

Hmmmm. I never forgot that.

So on to today’s topic … the lousy pay at the regional airlines. Why does it continue, many people wonder?

First a bit of context. Most of the regional airlines provide service to more than one major airline. Because there are only a few regional feeders to deliver service to the few majors we have left in this country, the business has become pretty cut-throat. That means those regionals will do most anything to keep costs low and that means … you guessed … keep wages low.

So let’s compare Envoy, the old American Eagle carrier, with the mainline pilots at American Airlines just to see how different the groups are.

You may have heard recently the American mainline pilots – represented by the Allied Pilots Association – just signed a new contract, one that gives them an immediate 23% pay hike and 3% annual raises after that. Not bad, but then American Airlines pulled down some serious profits the past few years including a windfall off the drop in fuel prices. Read the rest of this entry »

Is GA Included in NASA’s Low-Altitude Drone Traffic Management Program?

By Scott Spangler on February 9th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

utmLate last year, NASA launched it Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM) program to devise and test an automated system that would keep drones from bumping into each other as they performed a variety of missions. What concerns me is that nowhere in the online presentation, or in a Google search of news about the UTM program, did NASA mention anything about the users who’ve been occupying this low-altitude airspace for more than a century—aircraft occupied by humans.

Building on the lessons learned over the life of the air traffic management (ATM) of occupied aircraft, NASA’s solution “would enable safe and efficient low-altitude airspace operations by providing services such as airspace design, corridors, dynamic geo-fencing, severe weather and wind avoidance, congestion management, terrain avoidance, route planning and re-routing, separation management, sequencing and spacing, and contingency management.”

Noting that “UTM is essential to enable the accelerated development of civilian UAS applications,” by 2019 NASA hopes to develop and demonstrate an automated system that also provides data to its human managers. NASA’S website compared the result to the roads, signs and signals, and rules that guide safety vehicles that operate in two dimensions. Think that through for a moment, and consider what it might mean for general aviators.

Read the rest of this entry »

First-Person View: The Future of Flight

By Scott Spangler on January 26th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

 

Simply put, first-person view (FPV) is a smart phone perspective of flight. It gives the person in command of a remotely piloted aircraft a real-time look at where it is going. And it is the future of flying because it provides what people want—a view of their world from a different perspective—efficiently and economically.

Looking at the world from on high is why many of us became pilots. Until technology made drones and their FPV are possible, investing the time and effort and money to be physically present in the aircraft was our only option. No more.

There’s no denying that FPV delivers only one aspect of flight’s sensory appeal. It needs its kinesthetic, aural, and olfactory contributions to be complete, and for those who will settle for nothing less than the complete experience flight, becoming a first-person pilot will always be available to those who can’t live without it.

But one day in the not too distant future, they will not comprise the majority of the pilot population. Technology has changed how we all experience the world. If you doubt this, look around. Note how many people you see filter their lives through the screens of their smart phones.

Read the rest of this entry »

Where Airline Pilots Stand in Labor Statistics

By Scott Spangler on January 12th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

alpGiven the recent reports of job growth and the enduring discussions about pilot shortages, I moseyed over to the Bureau of Labor Statistics to see which occupations are ascending and which are in decline and where airline pilots show up on that spectrum.

The good news is that airline pilots are not on the list of Fastest Declining Occupations. Topping this list of 30 occupations  is “fallers,” you know, the people who cut down trees. By 2022 their numbers are expected to decline 43.3 percent. And there doesn’t seem to be much future at the post office, either. Postal clerks, mail sorters/processors, mail carriers, and postmasters and mail superintendents all made the list the changes ranging from 31.8 to 24.2 percent.

The bad news is that airline pilots aren’t on the list of the 30 Fastest Growing Occupations. By 2022 the number of industrial-organizational psychologists is expected to grow by 53.4 percent. Of the remaining 29 occupations, 20 of them are in medical fields from physical and occupational therapists to nurse practitioners, audiologists, genetic counselors, and a selection of aides and assistants. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors are expected to grow by 31.4 percent.

Read the rest of this entry »

Airmanship and the Fundamentals of Flight

By Scott Spangler on December 29th, 2014 | What do you think? »

Sporty’s debut of its Cessna 172LITE Project has rightfully attracted the attention of a cannonball launched from the high dive at the deep end of the aviation pool. While most are paying attention to the splash made by the airplane’s rental affordability, what seemed most important to me were the words of general aviation’s patron saint, Hal Shevers, who said that the airplane will better enable new pilots to “learn fundamental airmanship.” There’s no denying that modern avionics technology can overwhelm new pilots, but for those born after the baby boom it also is a seductive distraction that contributes to an incomplete aviation education. Learning which button to push and what knob to turn is easier to learn—and teach—than the knowledge, awareness, and coordination that embody this thing called airmanship. In removing these distractions, the 172LITE is the perfect airmanship classroom…with the right teacher of flight. Like most professional pilots, flight instructors grew up with avionics technology and are addicted to it. They are not immune to the atrophy of airmanship abilities the FAA outlined in its cockpit automation report. Like all teachers regardless the subject, they teach what they know best. When it comes to stick and rudder education, once the student has a safe grasp of the four fundamentals, climbs, turns, straight-and-level, and descents—they move on to the the next subject in the curriculum. Plainly put, regardless the flying classroom, to teach airmanship teachers must first embody it. Read the rest of this entry »

FAA Rules Alone Won’t Prevent a Drone-jet Collision

By Robert Mark on December 26th, 2014 | What do you think? »

FAA rules alone won’t prevent a drone-jet collision

By Robert P. Mark, reprinted from The Chicago Tribune, December 25, 2014

Drone

(Photo -Terrence Antonio James, Chicago Tribune)

This holiday season, one of the hottest-selling toys has been the quadcopter drone, a tiny remote-controlled helicopter that carries a small video camera anyplace the ground-based operator sends it. While some of these brightly colored quads weigh less than a pound, they can still deliver a pedestrian a pretty ugly whack in the side of the head if the operator loses control.

Imagine for a moment, though, that the drone is larger, say a machine that weighs as much as 55 pounds. And imagine that instead of colliding with a pedestrian that 55-pound drone finds its way into the engine or windshield of a commercial airliner.

Remember the Canada geese that were sucked into the engines of that US Airways airplane in 2009 shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport? Those geese that forced pilots Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles to put their airplane down in the Hudson River weighed only 9 to 12 pounds each.

Right now, the Federal Aviation Administration is trying to develop rules that will allow commercially flown drones as heavy as 55 pounds to share the same airspace as airplanes carrying people.

This is a really bad idea, despite the fact that the FAA plans to restrict drones to altitudes less than 400 feet above the ground.

A recent AP poll, however, indicated that Americans are concerned about their safety when drones are nearby — and with good reason. Today there is no way to prevent drones from colliding with airplanes — despite the fact that modern jets are equipped with electronic systems that notify pilots when another aircraft wanders too close. Those aircraft systems can’t see drones. Technologists say that a “sense-and-avoid” system to make drones move out of the way of an approaching airplane is years from a practical rollout too.Drones are drawing so much attention these days because they represent commercial opportunities unmatchable by manned airplanes and helicopters. Law enforcement drones can stay aloft for 24 hours at a time because their computerized pilots don’t need a lunch break. Search-and-rescue drones can be dispatched in weather conditions that would keep manned aircraft grounded.

But the FAA is under tremendous pressure right now from drone manufacturers, as well as businesses that want to operate them, to do something — anything — that will allow drones access to civil airspace. Until the FAA figures out how to keep drones away from airplanes full of people, though, commercial drones are banned from the skies over the U.S.

Unfortunately, the lack of rules or FAA enforcement hasn’t stopped hundreds of drone pilots from recklessly flying their machines anyway, often incredibly close to airports and aircraft full of people. Anyone can purchase a drone and begin flying immediately. Drone operators don’t need a license, nor are they required to possess any understanding of the national airspace system they’re operating within — the same airspace where passenger-carrying aircraft are flying.

A month ago the FAA released a report highlighting nearly 200 separate safety incidents involving drones; while not all were potentially catastrophic, there were plenty of instances when drone operators either intentionally flew their machines close to airports and manned aircraft — or when drones got away from their operators and flew off for parts unknown, with no person controlling them.

In November, the pilots of two separate airliners, a Boeing 747 and a smaller Boeing 737, both on approach to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, reported close calls with drones while flying over Nassau County, N.Y. Luckily the drones missed the airliners, but that cute little toy was reportedly cruising at 3,000 feet above the ground when the 747 went sailing past, traveling in the other direction.

While the FAA plans to release draft regulation about drones soon, rules alone will not prevent a midair collision. The only chance passengers have is to hope the FAA can demand enough training for drone operators before their drones take flight — enough to make those operators realize the risk they pose to everyone flying around them.

But without a training requirement for drone operators, as well as an FAA rule with enough teeth to make reckless operators realize the risks they’re putting the rest of us in, airline passengers will soon have a much greater chance of being knocked out of the sky by a drone than by a flock of passing geese.

Robert Mark is a commercial pilot and publisher of the aviation blog Jetwhine.com.

An Airline Career Query & No Good Answer

By Scott Spangler on December 8th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

Directed my way by a leader familiar with my connection to aviation, an Eagle Scout e-mailed me this question: “I want to become an airline pilot when I get older and I’d like to know where to start? What things can I do as a high schooler or…I read somewhere that taking a ground school would be a good idea?”

The older I get the more I dislike airline career questions because they put me in an uncomfortable position of finding a middle ground between crushing someone’s dreams with the reality of aviation today and leading them on with blue skies and tailwinds that will, in most cases, come to an unhappy conclusion, if they get that far. Avoiding the question is another option, but it is equally distasteful.

When these questions are posed to you, especially those of you who now make a living as an airline pilot, how do you answer them?

Read the rest of this entry »

Drones in the News

By Robert Mark on December 4th, 2014 | What do you think? »

Drones in the News

When I was a kid my mom told me she could always tell when I was hiding something … “It shows all over your face,” she’d say.

baby drone

No one, not even me, believes drones this size are a threat.

So what does this have to do with the recent uptick in news coverage of drones, UAS, UAVs, RPVs and the rest? I sat in on a CNBC session last week with a professor from Duke University who I thought had been drinking a bit too much of the drone Kool-Aid. I tried to hide my shock at some of her responses, especially since she herself is a pilot, but I don’t think I did a very good job.

While I was trying to explain my support for these critters – ah, the drones, not Duke University professors – she took off for left field explaining that a drone and an Airbus are the same thing. And in a way, they are both fly-by-wire … “except that an Airbus has two pilots on board to look out the windows for drones.” Read the rest of this entry »

Seeing Where Bird Strikes are a Threat

By Scott Spangler on November 24th, 2014 | What do you think? »

bam-1Bird strikes are perhaps the greatest unappreciated risk pilots face. There are a number of reasons for this, but among the primary contenders is the fact that most strikes result in expensive airframe and powerplant repairs rather than catastrophic conclusions. There was some attention paid to this important topic after some geese put US Airways Flight 1549 down in the Hudson River, but with no loss of life, that attention quickly faded.

The the threat remains, and it’s growing larger. A joint report from the FAA and US Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, Wildlife Strikes to Civil Aircraft in the United States 1990-2013, notes that the number of reported strikes has increased more than six-fold, from 1,851 in 1990 to a record 11,315 in 2013. Birds accounted for 97 percent of them. The number of US airports where strikes occurred also increased over the same period, from 331 to 649.

Look at almost any airport listed in the Airport/Facility Directory, and its remarks will probably note: “Birds on and invof arpt.” No pilot would accept a weather report this vague, so why do they accept it for wildlife? And why is a pilot’s education lacking in wildlife knowledge? Do you know when and at what altitude most bird strikes occur?

Read the rest of this entry »

Droning on About UAS

By Robert Mark on November 19th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

drones-mashable

Dear Reader / Listeners – You now have the option to listen to The Aviation Minute podcast or read the text below. If you receive Jetwhine via e-mail, you can click here to listen as well.

At the risk of droning on about a topic my pals David and Max at the UAV Digest show are getting tired of hearing, I just think it’s time to come clean. I really do think drones, UASs, or RPVs or whatever you want to call them, are really pretty incredible technology. And like David and Max, I think their future is set in stone … even here in the United States.

There is just one teensy little piece of the conversation that drone builders and operators seem to be avoiding in the constant push to let the drones fly. How do we safely separate remotely-operated drones from people-carrying airplanes?

We expect a new rule on commercial drones from the FAA by year’s end. But my guess is that will only cover the barest minimums like operations below 400 feet and within line of sight of the operator. Those kinds of model-airplane like guidelines might work too if drones keep well clear of airports.

But what about the rest of the million or so drones sold around the world in the past few years, the ones that seem to be flying closer and closer to airplanes and airports? Read the rest of this entry »

Changing Aviation Interest & Participation

By Scott Spangler on November 10th, 2014 | What do you think? »

This past week the mailman delivered a reason to think about my unknown but rapidly approaching expiration date. Thanking me for my four decade membership tenure, EAA offered me a three-figure rebate if I bought a four-figure lifetime membership.

The numbers didn’t work out to my benefit. Weeks away from the conclusion of the first year of my seventh decade of repetitive breathing, I’ll count myself lucky if I’m still breathing 20 years from now. If that happens, family history suggests that something other than aviation will probably capture my daily interest.

And I’m okay with that. Thinking about it further, my aviation interest, which began in 1958 when I was 5, motivated me to participate, which I started in 1976 by earning my private ticket. Since then my participation, subject to more pressing priorities, has been less than continuous, but I’m thankful for every hour in my logbook.

As much as I’d like to add more entries in that log, to have at least one more adventure that involves a stick and rudder, I accept that this possibility diminishes with each day I breathe. And I’m okay with that, too. Preparing for my final days has taken precedence, but my interest in aviation, as it has since I was 5, will sustain me.

Of greater concern is the interest and participation of the generations that follow, and how aviation as an industry will adapt to their demographic nuances. If EAA’s rebate offer is any example, it will not fare well because the baby boomers in charge are making generation-centric decisions that are disconnected from the generations that are succeeding us.

Read the rest of this entry »

Time to Give ATC an “Atta Boy”

By Robert Mark on November 4th, 2014 | What do you think? »

Heurta

Dear Reader / Listeners – You now have the option to listen to the Aviation Minute podcast or read the text below. If you receive Jetwhine via e-mail, you can click here to listen as well.

Time to Give ATC an “Atta Boy”

Most aviation stories only seem to find their way on to the desks of those of us who devour industry news or consider themselves true aviation geeks, except when it’s about an accident, especially one involving an airliner. Those stories can remain in the public eye for weeks or even months.

In late September though, a local Chicagoland story made it to the front pages … and it had absolutely nothing to do with an accident. September 26th was the day a deranged Harris Corp employee – a guy I won’t dignify by mentioning his name – contracted to work for the FAA at Chicago’s massive enroute ATC center in Aurora Illinois reported for work in the early morning hours and went right to his mischief. Shortly after reporting for work about 5 am, he ignited a fire that demanded the building be evacuated. Unfortunately, in addition to lots of center radio frequencies going dead, the fire also destroyed much of the enroute ATC system radar and radio infrastructure. That meant hundreds of airplanes and thousands of people sat on the ground around the nation eventually while the FAA tried to figure out what to do next.

Surprising to many people, me included actually, the FAA brought center traffic back at ZAU, the center’s identifier … slowly at first by sending hundreds of controllers to nearby terminal radar facilities like O’Hare, Rockford, South Bend, Milwaukee and dozens of others. They also sent another few hundred people to adjoining centers like Minneapolis, Kansas City, Cleveland and Indianapolis where traffic was kept moving … slowly.

No doubt the cost to the airlines for the delays and cancellations was massive as was the inconveniencing of hundreds of thousands of airline and business aviation passengers. But it all worked … and it all worked safely.

I think it’s time to recognize the men and women of the FAA, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists and everyone else who worked around the clock to restore ATC service in a mere two weeks.

To all of the FAA controllers and PASS technicians and yes, probably even a few managers who probably haven’t heard it yet, thank you. Thank you for getting air traffic moving again in Chicago and around the country. And thank you for working without a safety net or even a plan for the most part.

If you find yourself flying through Chicago Center’s airspace one of these days, or those adjoining centers that lent a hand to make this work too, be sure and say “Nice job fixing that ZAU mess guys. We appreciate what you did.”

I’m Rob Mark. See you next time.

Caught In the (P-61) Black Widow’s Web

By Scott Spangler on October 27th, 2014 | Comments Off

Image16zxcA side benefit of visiting Reading, Pennsylvania, where two of my wife’s three sons (and 6.5 of her 11.5 grandchildren) reside is catching up on the Mid Atlantic Air Museum’s restoration of its P-61 Black Widow. When I first saw the airplane in 1995, just before we got married, its bent and corroded pieces were not long removed from a New Guinea mountaintop where it crashed during World War II. As we approach our 20th anniversary, the P-61 is on its gear and ever closer to flying again.

There aren’t words to describe my attraction to this airplane. With a lifelong affinity for aircraft of this era, America’s first purpose-built, 4,000-hp night fighter that’s as big as a B-25, caught my attention as a youngster. Another part of it is its rarity. Northrup built 750 of them. Only four survive worldwide, all of them in museums. MAAM’s will be the only one destined to fly again. An equal measure of attraction is the unrelenting passion and determination of the volunteers who have spent decades to achieve that goal by restoring the airplane, complete with all of its systems, and returning the Widow to its intended environment—the sky.

Read the rest of this entry »

Have You Seen a Baumann Brigadier?

By Scott Spangler on October 13th, 2014 | Comments Off

As the photo here shows, it looks like an old Aero Commander, and when I first saw this photo that was my initial identification. And then I noticed that the tail feathers were lower, and that the horizontal stab didn’t have the Commander’s dihedral, and, oh yeah, it has pusher props.

Knowing me as a dedicated airplane geek, a friend at Addison Airport sends me photos of airplanes that catch her attention and asks me to tell her more about them. The Baumann Brigadier stumped me, and after nearly a half-day of research online and in my library, I had to admit defeat.

A coworker she next shared the photo with was able to identify the airplane, and he provided the Wikipedia link. In our e-mail exchange, we wondered if any examples of the airplane still exist. Only two prototypes were built, and a search of the FAA registry provided no joy. Neither did an afternoon dedicated to finding an example on museum display.

So I’m turning to the collective knowledge of JetWhine’s legions of fellow airplane geeks. Have you seen a Baumann Brigadier, and where can you still see one?

Read the rest of this entry »

Chasing Ghosts at NAS Brunswick Maine

By Scott Spangler on October 1st, 2014 | Comments Off

IMG_3899On Monday, September 29, I completed a lifetime quest of visiting all 50 states by chasing ghosts at Brunswick Executive Airport (BXM), the former Naval Air Station Brunswick Maine. I chose it because my late father, a naval aviator, served here as an SB2C Helldiver (below) pilot at the war’s end. In seeking the ghost of my dad’s aviation past I wandered unmolested with the ghost of aviation’s present and saw glimpses of what may be the ghost of aviation’s future.

The Navy commissioned NAS Brunswick in 1943, two years before my dad arrived with his squadron, which was transferred from NAS Fallon Nevada when the bomb made the invasion of Japan unnecessary. I didn’t take the time to explore each of its 1,487 acres, but I found no evidence from my father’s aviation era. The ghost of aviation present speaks with a loud silence on the airport’s parallel 8,000-foot runways and 103 acres of taxiways and ramps that were once covered with P2v Neptunes and then P-3 Orions. No one was flew during my afternoon sojourn, and the only airplanes I saw were two Cirrus SRs and four amateur-built experimental aircraft tied down around the the old Navy tower and ops building. The only people I ran into was the lineman/counterman at the FBO and a steady stream of moms and their offspring at the daycare center. This, I think, could be the ghost of aviation’s future.

Read the rest of this entry »

Flying a Seaplane

By Robert Mark on September 29th, 2014 | 13 Comments »
@jetwhine discovers seaplane flying

The classroom was a 150 hp PA-12 Super Cruiser on floats

How many times during an airline pre-takeoff briefing have you heard the flight attendant say, “In the event of a water landing …”

Trust me, there ain’t no such thing as a water landing in an airplane with traditional landing gear.

 

An airplane touching down on the water is a crash plain and simple … EXCEPT, when you’re learning to fly a seaplane like I did last week. My instructor, Tom Brady at Traverse Air near KTVC, probably thought there were a few times when my efforts were a bit crash like, but luckily I improved enough to pass the checkride a few days after we started. Not bad for an old guy.

@jetwhine discovers seaplane flying

Not much need to look at the panel very often

I first became fascinated with the idea of these aircraft after visiting a seaplane mecca a few years ago in Vancouver where I spent the afternoon watching floatplanes of all sizes come and go. Then a local Jetwhine reader here in Chicago, Dave Montgomery, offered up some encouraging nudges until I knew I needed to make room for this in my schedule. Last week I did with my friend Matt Desch. We arrived in TVC for five hours of training in this PA-12 Super Cruiser. For a guy who’s become pretty comfortable with a glass cockpit, this was a pretty simple airplane to work with. A stick, a throttle and a couple of basic instruments. We never did turn on the radio.

Before the first lesson, CFI Tom Brady mentioned that Matt and I would never again look at water the same way. That turned out to be true. The preflight alone was different … especially for a guy like me who can’t swim.

We learned there’s a difference between glassy water and the surface when there’s even just a minor wind. Who would have thought taking off and landing on glassy water was actually more challenging than when there’s a breeze? Plow taxiing now makes sense, as does realizing when the airplane’s on the step. We learned how to take off from a confined space … seaplane talk for a short field. Water rudders? I thought those were a bit like water wings at first, but I learned when to use them and when to make sure I retracted them. Finally, there came the realization that when the engine quits on a seaplane, those floats add more drag than even I was prepared for at first. This is all the book learning part of course.

Read the rest of this entry »

Aviation Writers I Read

By Robert Mark on September 22nd, 2014 | 6 Comments »

Note to the World’s Best Readers / Listeners – You now have the option to listen to the Aviation Minute podcast or read the text below. If you receive Jetwhine via e-mail, you can click here to listen as well. 

I wouldn’t be much of an aviation writer if I didn’t read. And I don’t think you can be much of an aviation enthusiast if you don’t read either, so I do my part by strumming through a bunch of aviation magazines, online pubs and a couple of newspapers each week to stay in touch with the industry. Here are some of the folks I read, no matter what they write. You’ll also find most of them on Twitter.

I’ve known most of them for years so trust me, if you have the opportunity to say hi at a show when you see them, don’t be shy. They all like to schmooze about the industry no matter where you come from … except maybe for helicopters. I’m not sure they count since we all really know those things fly using wires and magic anyway.

rob, dan & Jon at MDW

author with Dan Webb (C) & Jon Ostrower (R) at MDW

Jon OstrowerThe Wall Street Journal – I first learned about Jon when he started writing his 787 blog. Right from the start I realized he had a flare for digging deep for the inside details on every single issue relevant to the extra years it took Boeing to kick that new bird of theirs out the door. He spent a few years at Flight Global before heading out the door to DC to work for the WSJ. There’s even a pic around the net somewhere of Jon at his first AirVenture sporting a Jetwhine button. I have to find that one. @jonostrower

Molly McMillianThe Wichita Eagle – Molly’s one of the few working journalists who still covers aviation for a general readership newspaper, The Wichita Eagle. Really nice, smart lady. Find her on Twitter @mmcmillin   

Matt Thurber – Aviation International News & Business Jet Traveler - Matt’s a versatile writer, pilot and even an A&P technician so he’s the guy I go to with nuts and bolts questions when I get stuck. And the guy writes 24 hours a day I think since his byline is everywhere.

Tom HainesAOPA Pilot’s – Tom’s the soft spoken editor of AOPA Pilot magazine and the guy who gets to file some of the coolest pilot reports around, so I’m extremely envious. Despite the fact that he flies a Bonanza rather than a Cirrus, I still respect him a bunch. He also hosts AOPA Live, every week, another cool job. @tomhaines29

Pia

Flying’s Pia Bergquist

Pia BergqvistFlying – I remember back in the old days when Pia worked in PR at Cessna. She gave me my first demo ride in a Cessna Corvalis before she moved on to Flying magazine. She loves the Cirrus like I do and there is no truth to the rumor that I only admire her because she’s Swedish. I’m half on my dad’s side. @piapilot

John CroftAviation Week – John’s Av Week’s safety geek so we see eye to eye on many things in this industry, although AvWeek gives him way more space each week to write than I do at AINSafety … not that I’m complaining Charlie, just comparing. We actually met up at a safety conference in DC some years back when he introduced himself only by his Twitter handle, @avweekjc

Mike CollinsAOPA Pilot’s Technical Editor - Mike earned my undying admiration when he came to Chicago a few years ago to shoot the photos for an AOPA Pilot story I wrote about flying the L-39 at Gauntlet Warbirds at KARR. We flew in January and Mike spent half a morning hanging out of the back of a T-6 shooting the photos. The way he was dressed, he looked like a big bear at the back end of that airplane. He also climbed on board an MU-2 for a quick ride around the world earlier this year. What a guy. Read the rest of this entry »