A Finite Fraternity: Combat Fighter Ace

By Scott Spangler on August 24th, 2015 | 2 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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Aviation is Work … Usually

By Robert Mark on August 18th, 2015 | 6 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 | 1 Comment »

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?

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.


Listen Now

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

Why U.S. Airmen Should be Grateful for the NTSB

By Robert Mark on April 2nd, 2015 | 3 Comments »

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.


Why U.S. Airmen Should be Grateful for the NTSB

Podcast Text — Last week’s crash in the French Alps raised a number of issues, like how the young pilot accused of the tragedy managed to keep his health issues hidden from his employer, how few airlines outside the US. bring another employee into the cockpit when one pilot must leave and of course how, or if, pilots can even be allowed to fly if they’re suffering from any mental health issues. There is one item that wasn’t mentioned though, at least not directly … the differences between how aircraft accidents like these are investigated here in the US versus other parts of the world.

NTSBIn the United States, our National Transportation Safety Board has spoiled us, in a good way. The NTSB is, of course, an independent federal agency established outside the Dept. of Transportation and answering only to Congress. Since the NTSB was crated back in 1926, the agency and its predecessors have investigated some 132,000 aviation accidents.

But back to the Alps. The first comments about the Germanwings crash were released by French Prosecutors. The French BEA, their equivalent of our NTSB, was sent to the accident site, but have not been heard from.

In Europe and other parts of the world, prosecutors being first to the microphone are not all that unusual because their motives are different from ours. Here, the NTSB searched for a cause, with the hopes of preventing a similar incident. Elsewhere it doesn’t work quite the same. When a business jet crashed into a snowplow on takeoff from Moscow’s Vnukovo airport last year, the Russians quickly arrested the snowplow driver as well as the tower controllers.

Outside the US, aircraft accidents are often seen as criminal events first, hence the need to find the culprit. Prosecutors are more like cops to me. They want a bad guy and within a very short period of time following the Germanwings crash, they pinned it on the co-pilot.

But let me be clear … I’m not saying the co-pilot is not responsible for the accident. What I’m saying is that there is so much work yet to be done, so many more pieces of the crash to be investigated that I’m appalled at the direction the media coverage has taken. Read the rest of this entry »

Pilot Reincarnation: What Bird Would You Be?

By Scott Spangler on March 23rd, 2015 | 8 Comments »

From time unrecorded, humans have looked up and envied the birds above them. In time we created machines to emulate their various forms of flight. But have you ever given a moments thought to pilot reincarnation and what kind of bird you would be?

I’m not sure why I awoke with this question in mind last Sunday morning, but it was good reason for not getting out of bed until I’d pondered it. Given the omphaloskepsistic (that’s Greek for contemplation of one’s navel as an aid to meditation) nature of my question, the philosophic seagull lifted off first. Following it was the peregrine falcon, the fast and agile fighter pilot of birds; the albatross, ungainly on the ground, but king of long distance soaring; and the owl, a stealthy predator known for silent flight.

Ultimately, I decided on the hummingbird. Unlike machines, it doesn’t seem to suffer the trade-off consequences necessary for flight fast and stationary. With only a muted hum of wings beating at 40 flaps a second, give or take, they magically appear at my backyard feeder. Better than any helicopter ever could, they dart left, right, forwards, backwards, up, and down with precision that any Blue Angel would die for.

And, as I’ve just learned, their precise flight is unaffected by turbulence measured with up to a 15-percent variation in wind speed. Imagine being able to adjust the angle of incidence of your wings independently with every flap, and it it at 40 flaps a second. It would be worth growing the tail that completes the physical structure that would reincarnate me as the ultimate flying creature.

So, pilots reincarnated, what bird would you be? – Scott Spangler, Editor

Another Big United Customer Service Failure

By Robert Mark on March 19th, 2015 | 10 Comments »

United LogoI’m glad I never worked in corporate communications for United Airlines, especially since the Continental merger. The calls from outraged customers and curious media types probably never end and it seems to me that United management really doesn’t care all that much what passengers have to say.

The following incident occurred aboard United flight 1061 March 16, on the way back to Chicago from Vegas. It really made me sick … not just this passenger’s story, but how the airline dealt with it. Cue the music …United Breaks Guitars.

First a bit of context, lest you think this is only some disgruntled employee’s fictional tale. I know the writer. In fact, Sean and I have know each other more than 20 years since I’m married to his wife’s sister. I’ve known Sean to be an honest guy and a hard worker, not to mention a loyal United flyer for nearly three decades. He really wants to like United.

So imagine you’re preparing to leave Las Vegas on an airplane jammed with business people and gambler party types, some probably fresh from the casinos as he was earlier this week. He was on the way back from a trade show in fact. This is where his words tell the story. Read the rest of this entry »

Cabin Fever Compiles an Aviation To-Do List

By Scott Spangler on March 9th, 2015 | Comments Off on Cabin Fever Compiles an Aviation To-Do List

The older I get the more susceptible to hypothermia I seem to be, which is a roundabout way of saying that I’ve not been out much because many of these Wisconsin winter days have begun below zero. To combat cabin fever, I’ve been cataloging—and appreciating—all that aviation has given me over the past four decades or so. This process revealed a lot that I would still like to explore and experience before I am no longer physically or financially able to undertake such adventures, so I compiled an aviation to-do list and will start enjoying it this year, if it ever warms up.

At this stage of my aeronautical life I’m focused mainly on the people and places that made aviation what it is today, so most of the items on my list are museums that I have never before visited. High on the list are most of the sites in the National Aviation Heritage Area, from the National Museum of the United States Air Force to the Wright home to Huffman Prairie. I’ve been to Dayton, Ohio, a number of times over the previous decades, but always for another reason, and I never made time to visit these sites significant to a subject important to me. This year, I’m dedicating to them and nothing else.

I’ve not yet visited the Planes of Fame Air Museum,  for a similar reason. When I was learning to fly my instructor and I touched-and-went at the airport in Chino, California, many times. Focused on the skills I was trying to master, I ended up landing on the wrong runway because my eyes were distracted by the aircraft on display outside. I didn’t feel any better about my error even though the tower controller told me not to worry because of a wind shift he was going to make it the active runway after I landed.

Everyone I know who’s been to what is now the Mojave Air & Space Port tells me it is the place to wander around. It will be interesting to see how much of that is possible with the post-9/11 security requirements. Regardless, it’s still worth a visit because every day counts, as it does in every lifetime. We may not have had the privilege of being anywhere during its heyday, but we can still get a sense of the place by combining the words of those who were with the stage on which they acted.

There are, of course, many more historic sites on my to do list. Some are physically significant, like Blimp Hangar B at Oregon’s former NAS Tillamook, the world’s largest clear span wooden structure. The others are less well known, like Nebraska’s former McCook Army Airfield, where World War II B-17, B-24, and B-29 crews underwent final training before flying to overseas combat. Like the men who trained here, a few of the buildings they brought to life still survive (and the runways long ago gave way to farm fields). By giving witness to them, and the other sites on my to-do list, perhaps this will perpetuate their lives until the contributions they represent become the responsibility of the succeeding generation. – Scott Spangler, Editor

At United Airlines, Does Making Money Trump Safety?

By Robert Mark on March 2nd, 2015 | 10 Comments »

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 Wall Street Journal 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 reading the WSJ story broken by Andy Pasztor, 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. (Note: this story was edited after it posted to correct an error in my referencing the NYTimes, when the story should have mentioned The Wall Street Journal)

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.

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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 »