EAA Chapter 1158 Goes Old School With Dead Reckoning Navigation Challenge

By Scott Spangler on September 26th, 2016 | 3 Comments »

Nav-30The meeting room at the EAA Chapter 1158 hangar on the West Bend (Wisconsin) Municipal Airport (ETB) bubbled with eager anticipation, and a little bit of anxiety, before the briefing for its rain-postponed Navigation Challenge (see Fly-In to Challenge Flying Fundamentals) on September 17.

For most of the pilots and crews of the six participating aircraft, it had been some time since they’d worked an E6B computer to plan a flight guided by dead reckoning, and more than one said he’d spent sometime trying to find it. They seemed eager for the challenge. While waiting for the briefing to begin, the crews chatted over coffee and donuts. For many of the crews, the pilot’s two flying friends “discussed” who would the copilot and who would be the judge to make sure the pilot did not use any form of electronic navigation.

Nav-143The crews welcomed the arrival of the briefers with laughter. Attired in World War II U.S. Army Air Forces uniforms, Howard Schlei introduced himself as Major Blunder and his wife, Robin, as Major Error, the intelligence officer. When the crews calmed, they discussed the particulars of this day’s “Top Secret mission to photograph” targets on the Red Route, for those who cruised slower than 140, and the Blue Route, for those to cruised faster than 140. The only description the targets? “You’ll know it when you see it.” More laughter, seasoned with nervousness.

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Eastwood Got It Right With Sully

By Robert Mark on September 14th, 2016 | 14 Comments »

Eastwood Got It Right With Sully

640px-plane_crash_into_hudson_river_cropComplete NTSB Accident Report: US Airway 1549 

(click here)

Most pilots tend to take airplane movies with a grain of salt because they’re usually riddled with mistakes or enough exaggerations to quickly make us nuts. Remember big snoozers like Tuskeegee Airmen, Flight or Pearl Harbor? Of course, there have been a few outstanding films over the years like 12 O’Clock high and the Battle of Britain. But the good ones are few in number.

When Clint Eastwood’s “Sully” began the other night, I was hoping one of my favorite directors might get this one right. 90 minutes later, I left the theatre believing that anyone, with even the tiniest interest in aviation, would walk away feeling their money was well spent. Eastwood got it right.

Sully’s not a disaster film. It’s watches almost a bit like a documentary … a very good documentary.

That’s because Eastwood’s film dissects more than just the 208 seconds, between the takeoff of USAir flight 1549, radio callsign Cactus 1549, and its landing on the Hudson River.

The dream sequence that opens the film tells you more about where the film’s headed than anything else. Cactus 1549’s water landing, crash, arrival or whatever you call it, represents the greatest mixes of skill and luck known to aviation in a long time.

But Sully’s also about how all-155 people aboard escaped with only a few minor injuries. The film goes to great lengths to show Sully, played admirably by Tom Hanks, making it clear that he’s not the only hero responsible for all that followed the dual flame out aboard the A-320.

Sully rightfully credits his first officer Jeff Skiles, the flight attendants aboard the Airbus that afternoon, and the hundreds of first responders who arrived within minutes of the crash to help the passengers they found standing on the wing of the A-320 gently floating downstream in the Hudson River, in the frigid air that January afternoon in 2009.

What I think really what makes Sully the first great aviation film I’ve seen in a long time is the opportunity it offers us to get inside Capt. Sullenberger’s head as he wrestles with the decisions he and Skiles made in those seconds after they plowed through a huge flock of Canada Geese.

It happened in the movie, just the way it does in real life. Someone in the cockpit says “birds,” and a fraction of a second later you either hit them, or miss them. There’s seldom a chance to swerve out of the way.

Right after both of the A320s engine’s flamed out, there are some agonizingly long seconds of silence in the cockpit. Some people in the movie house actually yelled out , “Why isn’t he doing something? He’s just sitting there.” Experienced pilots of course, realize Sully was doing something, but all the analysis, like “We can’t really be seeing a dual flameout at low altitude,” was going on in his head and also showed on his face. Read the rest of this entry »

Aircraft Storage: Kingman Airport’s Legacy

By Scott Spangler on September 12th, 2016 | 5 Comments »

Day9-36Following the airport signs posted along the historic path of Route 66 added some welcome surprises on the journey from Chicago to Santa Monica, but several airports were predetermined destinations. One of them was Arizona’s Kingman Airport (IGM). Built on 4,145 acres of Mohave County in 1942 as Kingman Army Airfield, it started service as an aerial gunnery school. I first read about when I was a brand new teenager, in Hollywood Pilot, Don Dwiggins biography of Paul Mantz. It is where Mantz bought the half dozen B-17s he needed for his work on Twelve O’Clock High, released in 1949.

Aircraft storage areas have long fascinated me because of the silent, unspoken history presented by the aircraft that populate. This fascination probably grew out of that scene in The Best Years of Our Lives, 1946’s Best Picture winner about the post-war lives of four World War II servicemen. In my mind’s eye I can still replay the scene where Dana Andrews, a bombardier, relives the horror of combat while wandering through a seemingly endless field of B-17s. That scene was filmed at Ontario, California, one of six post-war storage and sales and scrapping sites established by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to dispose of nearly 120,000 aircraft the government no long needed. Seventy years have passed since these centers opened, and I didn’t expect to find any of their winged charges hiding in some forgotten corner, but I was curious to see if some trace of that legacy remained.

Day9-39Following the signs to Kingman Airport, the pavement gave way to gravel. Affixed to the expected chain link fence was a sign for Kingman Airline Services. On the other side was a hangar, clearly built during World War II, still in use by the FAA repair station. And parked on the ramp were dozens of airliners wearing the graphic livery of several airlines. Like the military aircraft that preceded them, their ultimate fate was unclear once they had been stripped of the useable spare parts that would keep their active make-and-model siblings airborne for a few more years.

Research refreshed my memory of why the high desert was ideal for aircraft storage: little precipitation, dry air, and a soil ph that slowed the process of aging and corrosion on metal and rubber. But aside from the old hangar still in use, there were no other signs that told of the airport’s contribution to aviation. The Kingman Airport website said that the Kingman Army Airfield Historical Society was established to preserve the field’s history with artifacts, photos, and displays, but there was no mention of where they were, if any, and during my ride-around no signs pointed to any such location.

Day9-44Now, like the veterans who gave them life, the aircraft that fought World War II are now few in number. But they are respected and admired by anyone with even the slightest knowledge of their contribution. But what about the airfields that were their wartime homes? During World War II the United States built hundreds, if not a thousand or more airports to support the war effort. It would be a safe assumption that most of them are still active aerodromes, but few know of their prior service, and that is a shame. Without them, the contributions of the veterans and the aircraft they flew that we now lionize would not have been possible. It seems unfair that these facilities, which continue as priceless components of the national airspace system, are not recognized for their decades of service to past, present, and future of aviation. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Fly-In to Challenge Flying Fundamentals

By Scott Spangler on September 6th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

If you are confident in your proficiency in flying fundamentals and are willing to put it to the test, consider a cross-country flight to the West Bend (WI) Municipal Airport (ETB) this coming Saturday, September 10, for Kettle Moraine EAA Chapter 1158’s 3-in-one fun flying day. It starts at 0900 with the pilot briefing for the Old School Navigation Mission that does not allow the use of electronic navigation; pilots must navigate solely by compass and clock. It will be followed by the group’s annual spot landing contest and chili cook off.

Maintaining and expanding the social bond among old, new, and prospective pilots is an important function of any fly-in. But as this event shows, they can be so much more. What better way to improve safety and keep pilots enthused about the stick-and-rudder aspects of flight than by challenging them with flying fundamentals that apply to anything that flies?

The Chapter’s Old School Navigation event reminds me of the National Intercollegiate Flying Association’s SAFECON Navigation event, in which pilots fly a course to predetermined checkpoints using nothing more than dead reckoning and pilotage. The Old School Navigation Challenge employs many of the same requirements.

Each competing airplane has a crew of three: the pilot, who flies the course at the assigned altitude and planned speed; a copilot, who assists with timing, recording the flight’s parameters, traffic watch, and photographing the predetermined checkpoints; and a judge, who assures that the crew employs no electronic navigation  (GPS, VOR, NDB, Loran, etc.) during the event. Two-seat aircraft will have a pilot and judge.

The chapter asks that pilots provide their own copilots and judges, which is an excellent way for pilots to get their nonflying friends more interested in aviation. Instead of just looking out the window and waiting for the social feed, they are essential members of the crew involved with the flight. The judges are allowed to carry a sectional chart (old school paper or on a tablet computer) for emergency (lost aircraft) use only, and their use disqualifies the pilot.

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Labor Day 2016: Strategies for Aviation

By Robert Mark on September 5th, 2016 | 8 Comments »

Ed. Note: While this article was originally written back in 2008 and while many of the names of the top folks at the organizations have changed, the issues by and large have not. That said, I believe this is worth a few minutes of your time to think about the role of the labor movement in the U.S. We all know membership is down in 2016, but my real question is whether or not avoiding unions has created a better America. I’m not so sure. I’ve also reprised an earlier Labor Day podcast at the end of the story should you be curious for a little more to chew on. Happy Labor Day to all.

Rob Mark

Labor Day 2008: Strategies for Aviation

There’s nothing quite like Labor Day for a little reflection about the state of business in America.

imageThis year, there’s plenty to give us a moment’s pause too, because short of auto manufacturing, I can’t think of another American industry that is as unionized as aviation. Even FAA employs tens of thousands of union members.

But first a disclaimer. As the son of a union worker and the grandson of the president of a major American labor organization, I grew up listening to labor management battle stories and tales of tactical intrigue, honestly, I read and write about labor because I’m interested.

I also learned in my career that support for a union can be expensive in many ways. Sometimes it translates into alienation at work like friends avoiding you. Sometimes, the action can be much more violent as my family learned long ago. Support for the meat cutters union in the 1920’s cost my grandfather his life.

Despite a bucketful of disagreements with many of the labor perspectives I see plastered around the Internet and in the media, and notwithstanding the fact that I have paid dues to more than a few unions in my time – ALPA, PATCO & NATCA – I still believe the need for unions has not deteriorated in the past few decades.

I think the need is even stronger.

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Oklahoma Small-town Promotes Aviation

By Scott Spangler on August 29th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Image result for stafford air and space museumThe last thing I expected to find on the historic route of US 66 at the edge of the small town of Weatherford, population 10,833 (according to the 2010 census), in western Oklahoma was not only a first-rate air and space museum, but one affiliated with the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. But there it was. And who could miss the F-4 Phantom that is part of the General Thomas P. Stafford Air & Space Museum and Airport.

What’s really interesting about this 40,000-square-foot museum is that it is incorporated with the terminal of the Weatherford Airport (OJA), a city-owned nontower airport with a single 5,100-by-75-foot concrete runway. Guessing that the eponymous airport and museum were named for hometown boy who went to the moon with the Apollo program didn’t demand a degree in rocket science.

Stafford increased the population of Weatherford in 1930, but what was really interesting is that his mother arrived in the state in a covered wagon, most likely with Oklahoma Land Rush into the “Unassigned Lands” in 1889. She lived to see her only child fly into space on Gemini 6 and 9, and to the moon as commander of Apollo X. And I was surprised to learn that his command of the Apollo-Soyuz mission garnered him a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Named a Smithsonian Affiliate in 2011, the museum started as a simple display case in the Weatherford Airport Terminal. It now displays more than 3,500 artifacts, many of them having logged real time in the atmosphere and beyond it. A number of them are on loan from the Smithsonian, including the pressure suit Stafford wore on Apollo X. Another surprise is that exhibits cover the spectrum of aviation, from the replica Wright Flyer and Spirit of St. Louis to the expected aerospace artifacts such as an F-86, Mig-21, F-16, and a Titan II rocket, and an Apollo Command and Service Module.

Day5-19Time spent examining the museum’s Smithsonian-quality exhibits is well worth the $7 admission ($5 for 55 & older, AAA members, and military, $2 for students 18 and younger; active duty military and children 5 and younger are free). It presents not only a concise and comprehensive look at aviation; it is an unspoken statement of Weatherford’s appreciation and support of it. In doing a bit more research when I returned home, I learned that the museum is a nonprofit organization owned and operated by the City of Weatherford, Oklahoma. Ever evolving, it is worth a visit just to see the unique display of its most recent addition, an F-104 Starfighter mounted in a zoom-climb outside the museum’s entrance, with its pointy nose aimed skyward. –Scott Spangler, Editor

US 66 Surprises: Heritage In Flight Museum

By Scott Spangler on August 19th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

Day2-21On a journey from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California, that followed the historic route of what was US Route 66, I kept my promise to heed the little green signs I passed that pointed toward small town airports. Riding down the curving driveway in Lincoln, Illinois, at first the Logan County Airport (AAA) didn’t offer much hope, but when I rounded the curve, there, at the far side of the parking lot, was an A-7 and C-45.

It was one of the aircraft exhibited by the Heritage in Flight Museum. Dismounting to explore, the trim mustard yellow museum building was locked and unattended. The gate in the chain link fence was not locked, and there was no sign telling me to keep out, so I wandered among the other aircraft on display.

Day2-10Parked in the well-trimmed grass on the far side of the narrow ramp were an F-4 Phantom, T-33, and UH-1 Huey. Given the weathered paint, they’d been there for awhile, and I wondered how the the military delivered them for display. Given the 4,000-by-70-foot measurements of Runway 3/21, certainly the Huey could have arrived with no problem. Conceivably the the C-45 Twin Beech could have done the same, and maybe the T-33. But A-7 and F-4 must have arrived on several trucks.

Day2-13Hoping for a look inside I tried each of the building’s doors. All were locked, and I found no sign for the museum’s hours of operation. Perhaps it was like many small town museums, open only on weekends and staffed by volunteers, and I was exploring on Monday.

Finding the museum’s website, the Heritage in Flight Museum is dedicated to the preservation of aviation history from all military conflicts back to World War I, fought a century ago. “These mementos have been donated by both veterans and their families.”

Day2-15The website offered this small town take on gaining access to the museum’s inside exhibits: “We currently don’t have a set hours of operation but most generally there is someone here on Saturdays between 9:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. If no one answers the phone or no one is there please call  1(217)953-4118 and when they answer let them know you are wanting to see the museum and then they should tell you if they will be able to come right away or give you a time frame as to when they will be there to show you  around and answer questions. We greatly appreciate your visit and apologize if no one was available to show you the Museum. The static displays outside are always available for your viewing.”

Day2-19It was nice to learn (after the fact) that in poking into the corners around the adjacent hangar and light tower, I was not trespassing. Where the chain link fence met the hangar I found an extraordinary artifact; it was the right size and shape for a 16-inch naval round for the big guns on US battleships like the Missouri, Iowa, and New Jersey. On the other side of the fence were four more rounds strapped to pallet . If a veteran donated them, he was a world class collector of military mementos during his service.

The working 800 million candle power World War II searchlight, which is available “For Hire,” the website said, much have been inside. I wonder what other treasures lay hidden on the other side of those locked doors. This discovery will have to wait until the next time I pass this way. Route 66 beckons and holds the promise of more small town airport surprises to the west. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Back Corners: EAA AirVenture Encore

By Scott Spangler on July 30th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

AV2-157The EAA AirVenture grounds on the Wittman Regional Airport cover a vast area. It is a hike and a half to reach its back corners, but it is worth it because it is where the interesting airplanes seems to be. Take this skeletal Cub-like airplane made of aluminum, steel tube, and carbon fiber, which was among the other Valdez STOL aircraft at the south end in the Ultralight area.

It is called Lil’ Cub, and it was designed and built for one reason, to take off and land in the shortest possible distance. Light weight helps its achieve this goal. The wings have no end plates and, if you’re tall enough, you can look down them to the wing roots. The leading edge slats and Fowler flaps are made of carbon fiber.

Unlike other Cub-like airplanes, this one has but one seat. To keep the center of gravity in place, it wears a carbon fiber fuel tank like a backpack behind what passes for a cockpit. Bare tubes connect the tail feathers to the rest of the airplane. Maybe this airplane’s Momma was a Cub and its Daddy was a Bell 47 helicopter. That may be why it gets off and on the round in 50 feet, give or take a few depending on the wind. I didn’t get to see it fly, at least not in real time. EAA did a nice video on it, so that will have to suffice.

AV4-4Way up north, in homebuilt camping, I came across this Breezy, an iconic Oshkosh airplane you don’t see very often. And this model is new construction! According to the prop card, it made its first flight in 2015, and the builder flew it to Oshkosh from New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Mentioning the airplane to a friend who also like to explore Oshkosh’s back corners, he met the pilot, who told him that it took some 20 hours and three or four days to make the trip in the no-cockpit airplane.

AV4-15The theme here, it seems, is minimalism in aviation. And this GlaStar builder lived it for his week in Oshkosh. No fancy tent for him. Just a tarp over the wing, a short-legged cot to keep his sleeping bag off the grass, and a small fold-up table for his one-burner stove, lantern, and blue 2.5 gallon water jug. According to the prop card, he’d logged more than 1,000 hours in his homebuilt, and from the tautness of his tarp, it was clear this wasn’t his first campout. Curious to see how he fared with all the rain that greened up the Oshkosh grass at week’s end, I leaned in and then withdrew dry fingertips from his sleeping bag.

The good news is that a dome of high pressure is pegged to Oshkosh this Saturday morning, and pilots are taking advantage of it and heading for home. It’s about time for me to do the same. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Hump Day: EAA AirVenture Part 2

By Scott Spangler on July 27th, 2016 | Comments Off on Hump Day: EAA AirVenture Part 2

When Mother Nature cooperates, Wednesday is traditionally the day that those who arrived at EAA AirVenture last weekend leave town, and those who will go home this coming weekend arrive. That sort of happened today, but Mom’s rainy tantrum demanded some modifications (and patience).


The good news is that the clouds lifted enough for the air show to happen, and the best part of it was the second flight of the Martin Mars. As it did on its first flight during Monday’s show, it dropped about 7,500 gallons of Lake Winnebago on the grass next to Runway 18/36 on Wittman Regional Airport. Fortunately, the woman in front of me didn’t need her umbrella.

The photographer, who apparently thought it would be a good idea to try and capture an image from directly under the Mars’ flight path, on the other hand… Whoever was narrating the drop noticed the shooter and exploded in honest laughter. The camera that fed the flight line jumbotron and zoomed in on the photographer who was wading through knee-deep water.

Unfortunately, I was otherwise occupied for Wednesday’s drop, but instead of using a photographer as an aiming point, they set off some pyro for the Mars to extinguish.

Wednesday’s changing of the guard is a good time to see what’s new in the four main exhibit hangars. Nothing jumped out at me except the half dozen hawkers that wanted to clean my glasses with their magic juice that not only cleaned my lenses but protected them from finger smudges and fogging. Most of them were in Hangar D, which is next to the Fly Market, and it must be the portal to inside exhibit space for these vendors.

AV1-177Aviation vendors in Hangar D were far and few between, and this seems be a sign that the aviation industry continues to shrink. And we’re getting older. Roughly half of Hangar D’s East wall was a carpeted rest area lined with comfy chairs and love seats, and most of them were occupied. It was another reminder of my mortality, so I went in search of the next generation of aviators.

As expected, I found them at the Drone Cage at the EAA Gateway Plaza. What I did not expect was that the Drone Center was half the size of last year’s facility. Not only was it larger last year, it was filled with vendors, on Wednesday a year ago, it was it was just a few fish shy of sardine occupancy. This year there was room to roam with distraction with little chance of bumping into someone.

AV3-45Going out the back door of the Drone Center led me to the Innovation Center, where I saw the coolest thing ever – the Wyp (pronounced whip) Aviation Wingboard. Think wakeboard for an airplane. Yup, an airplane. Wyp Aviation’s website has some interesting videos of its aerodynamic tests. Not that I’d every want to give it a try, but the Wingboard is still the coolest thing I’ve seen so far this year, after the Martin Mars in action, that is. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Zero Day: Before EAA AirVenture Starts

By Scott Spangler on July 24th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Since 1970, when EAA moved its annual convention to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, it has tried starting the event on different days of the week. But finding a day that suits everyone’s schedules is an impossible task because there are really three different groups of participants. There are those who attend the first half of the show, others who arrive midweek for the second half, and the worker bees, the exhibitors and word merchants like me, who arrive early and leave after it is all over.

JW AV0-2For all three, EAA has achieved the perfect start date: Monday. That allows everyone to travel the weekend before AirVenture begins, and Sunday is Zero Day, when exhibitors make their last push to get everything unloaded and set up before the the show starts on Day 1, Monday, July 25.

Everyone has their own Zero Day Ritual, and mine is checking into Press Headquarters to take one last look at the press conference schedule board, but mostly it is to say hi to Livy Trabbold. who’s been at the Press HQ counter for nearly a quarter century. I’m not a superstitious guy, but the two three less then stellar conventions always happened when I didn’t stop by to say hi to Livy before I started work. It is her bright, big smile that sets the right mindset for the week to come.

In the proper frame of mind, I set out to explore the field, to see what’s changed and what interesting airplanes have arrived. Given Mother Nature’s hot and humid and thunderstormerous tantrum last night, there were few airplanes on the field. Homebuilt parking was almost empty, as was Warbirds. The World War II reenactors, who rode out the storms in their cotton canvas tents were still soggy. Vintage parking was better populated, but random questions to people sitting under their wings revealed that most of them arrived before the storms. At the south end of the airport the ultralight folks were unloading their trailers under an overcast sky.

JW AV0-3Working my way back to show center, I explored the outdoor exhibit areas. Unless you want to become one with a forklift, it’s good to keep your head on a swivel. And don’t stand in one place too long, or someone will give you a box to carry. And it may just be my imagination, but in watching everyone set up, it seems that the tie wrap (or zip tie) has replaced duck tape as the go-to fixit fastener. Most the the exhibitors have returned to their traditional AirVenture locations, but the two-story HAI tent that dominated Wittman Road, which parallels the flight line was gone. ONE Aviation, with its second-floor deck, occupied part of the space, and the NBAA tent was next door. And if anyone is looking for a long-term basket case, this Canadian Harvard was in the Fly Mart area.

Just after noon, the clouds started to thin and separate, and the airplanes started to arrive. I’ve been watching airplanes arrive for along time, and I always marvel at the steady efficiency of the flight paths. That seemed absent this afternoon. Maybe it was 36 hours of pent up eagerness caused by the weather, but the airplanes were all over the place. I don’t remember the last time I saw a go-around, but today I saw four in about 15 minutes. Standing next to some spectators with a radio listening to the tower, I had to walk away when I heard the tower controller’s voice go up an octave or two and the speed of his words increase by a factor of four. Order was restored several hours later, when the flight of 36 RVs came across in a neat formation and broke off in flights of four for their landing breaks with ordered precision.

JW AV0-4But that’s the way it goes sometimes. Zero Day is for working out the bugs. When Vickers Aircraft didn’t shop up for its scheduled lunch and press conference (and not many member of the media showed up either, which is unusual when lunch is being served), I opted for some ice cream. It was a quickly melting leaning tower of soft serve the demanded immediate lingual alignment. Given the line behind me, the soft server will certainly improve with practice.

And so will the aircraft marshaling crew in Warbirds. This HU-16 Albatross was taxiing under its own power, until it was clear that its wing would not clear the tail double tail of the PBJ (B-25) out of the frame to the left, and this Air Force Cessna 310 now in the shade of its right wing. Ultimately, they made the right decision. They shut it down and called for a tug. On this Zero Day, Oshkosh certainly lived up the adventure half of its name. –Scott Spangler, Editor