2020: General Aviation’s Coffin Corner?

By Scott Spangler on March 13th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

Image result for coffin cornerIn aviation “coffin corner” is where bad things come together. I learned the term long ago, reading about the U-2, in Francis Gary Power’s book, if I remember correctly. When flying at the upper edge of its envelope, a single digit separated the redline speed that could pull the wings off the fragile bird, and the stall speed, the minimum velocity needed for those wings to produce lift. While I understand the aerodynamics involved, the concept of flying with so little margin for error still boggles my mind.

Aviation, it seems, is facing another coffin corner, one best defined by a year: 2020. It may well be the apex union of challenges that might be inscribed on general aviation’s seed shrouded memorial marker at some forgotten, deserted airport. Mention the year 2020, and most in aviation immediately think of the January 1, 2020 deadline for being equipped with ADS-B. And that is, indeed, a challenge for all aircraft owners, one that poses a terrible decision: upgrade or sell the airplane on or after the deadline for some giveaway price.

This is where the other wall meets the mandate to form the corner. 2020 will begin the final stretch of the next presidential election, and what happens between now and then will surely play a huge role in the decisions every general aviator must make. Where to start?

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The Few. The Proud. The New Student Pilots

By Scott Spangler on February 27th, 2017 | Comments Off on The Few. The Proud. The New Student Pilots

only-commitments-2On the road to our favorite brewpub for date night I noticed a new billboard for the U.S. Marine Corps: “We don’t accept applications. Only commitments.” The smallest member of America’s armed forces, it meets its recruitment goals by challenging volunteers to meet the Corps’ uncompromising standards. In other words: Not everyone can be a Marine. Becoming one is not easy. Do you have what it takes? Can you sustain your commitment when the rigorous training seems beyond your capabilities? Reflecting on my experience with the Corps during my naval service and after it, the Marines steadfast challenge to meet its standards might work equally well in recruiting new student pilots.

As the declining trend of student pilot starts suggests, and the roughly 80 percent who decide to pursue a less challenging activity before they solo or earn a certificate confirms, becoming a pilot is not for everyone. History suggests that making the training easier by eliminating its more challenging aspects—spin training and the recent amendment of how to teach slow flight come to mind—perhaps taking a lesson from the Marines will reduce the number who quit before certification. And in the process it might improve efforts to reduce accidents resulting from loss of control.

Posing this challenge will affect students and their instructors because the latter will have to change the way they teach.

Teaching maneuvers separately and with a rote by-the-numbers setup and recovery does not prepare students for real world situations. There are certainly many ways to accomplish this, and I had the good fortune to fly with teachers who employed several of them. One of the most effective was to discuss a situation on the ground, say a spin resulting from an uncoordinated turn from base to final, and then to make the point in the airplane. What made it effective was the true point of the teacher’s demonstration.

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Same Plane, New Name & Accomplishments

By Scott Spangler on February 13th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Exploring the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center, I saw this blood red P-51C hanging from the ceiling, and I immediately knew that this plane had to be Paul Mantz’s Bendix air racer that finished first in 1946, and again in 1947.

AS-UH-7Getting close enough to read the name under the cockpit, I wondered who Capt. Charles F. Blair might have been? And what was the link to  Pan American World Airways? The white letters on the long cowling said this was the Excalibur III and not Mantz’s revolutionary racer.

Little did I know of this plane’s record-setting flights and its contribution to the Cold War fears of bombers and missiles loaded with Soviet nukes making their way to America via the North Pole.

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The FAA Lost Me at “Innovative Solution”

By Robert Mark on February 7th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

I was really starting to like the FAA the past few years, what with the Part 23 rewrite and passage if 3rd Class Medical reform. I saw them as more of a kinder, gentler agency … more let’s all work together for the greater good and that sort of thing … until a couple of weekends ago at least. That’s when the FAA performed one of those end runs around everyone, slipping a settlement on Santa Monica airport mess in under everyone’s radar on a Saturday morning.

The FAA’s deal with Santa Monica allows the city to chop up the airport’s single runway as soon as the ink’s dry on the necessary paperwork. That should shrink Runway 03/21 from 4,973 feet to something closer to 3,500, just short enough to make it useless for most jets and even some large chartered turboprops.

I suppose the agency was thinking the good news inside this “innovative solution” as the administrator called it, was that the airport will remain open for business until 2028, if the city hasn’t already driven everyone away by then of course.

But seriously … they see this deal as innovative?

Let me quote Administrator Michael Huerta. “Mutual cooperation between the FAA and the city enabled us to reach this innovative solution, which resolves longstanding legal and regulatory disputes. This is a fair resolution for all concerned because it strikes an appropriate balance between the public’s interest in making local decisions about land use practices and its interests in safe and efficient aviation services.”

A fair resolution? I’m struggling with this one. Sure municipalities ought to have a say in local airport operations, but what about this solution strikes anyone as innovative or fair? Read the rest of this entry »

Pilots, Aviation & The Paradox of Progress

By Scott Spangler on January 30th, 2017 | 7 Comments »

Image result for aviation automationA statement or situation that seems contradictory or absurd but may be true in fact is a paradox. “Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink!” is the paradox for mariners adrift in any ocean. For aviators, the paradox is that progress in technology that makes their flying lives easier is also reducing the number of seats for them in the pointy end of airplanes.If the paradox is not clear, it is the fact that as more and more machines replace human workers the population has increased, meaning more and more people are competing for fewer and fewer jobs.

Ultimately, “automation” summarizes the paradox of progress in a single word. It started with the Industrial Revolution and it continues today. There’s work, work, everywhere but not a job to be had because it’s all being done by machines that are more efficient and, in the long term, more economical.

Technology’s replacement of people is easily seen in aviation. It wasn’t that long ago that commercial aircraft had flight engineers, and before that navigators and radio operators. Looking forward, it should be easy to see a single person managing a commercial aircraft system, first from the aircraft itself, and then from a ground station.

Some will surely say they’d never fly on an aircraft managed in this manner. But aren’t we today cramming ourselves into commercial aircraft systems managed by the two operators who sit up front? To see the future, look back and connect the dots of technology from bonfires to beacons to satellites and from blind flying instruments to autopilots to flight management systems.

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An Airplane Geek for All Seasons

By Robert Mark on January 27th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

An Airplane Geek for All Seasons

I’ve always found keeping up with the demands of social media to be work, quite a bit of it actually. But I think Scott and I also see the work as a necessary effort. Who else is going to dig between the cracks of the aviation industry for stories you won’t hear anywhere else?

Blogging specifically, is an effort that’s come to feel a bit like AirVenture to me. We work to create great content, but what really keeps us going are the people our work brings us together with.

(left) Take this guy, Micah Engber.

We met after Micah, an avid listener to The Airplane Geeks, another growing chunk of social media I’m part of, sent a question about the Kestrel single-engine turboprop project at the old Brunswick Naval Air Station near his home in Maine. Micah mentioned that his 77-year old mom Harriet listened to the show too and in my inimitable way, I managed to stick a shoe-covered foot in my mouth with a comment about her being the oldest listener we’ve ever had … or something like that. Read the rest of this entry »

Moving Past the Loss of MH370

By Robert Mark on January 17th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Malaysian Boeing 777 – @jetwhine

Listen to this story

There’s no small amount of irony in today’s announcement that the search for MH370 has officially been called off nearly three years after that Boeing 777 disappeared on a flight from Kuala Lampur to Beijing and the accolades being shared at Aireon HQ in McLean Virginia over Saturday’s successful orbiting of 10 Iridium satellites needed to begin creating the first global aircraft tracking network.

SpaceX Iridium launch @jetwhine

The idea of knowing exactly where on earth the airplanes we purchase tickets on are actually located at any given point in time is a no-brainer conceptually. In fact, if you tell international travelers that while over the ocean or in remote areas of the planet, their airline has only the tiniest notion of their airplanes precise location, they’re shocked. The airlines essentially know where their aircraft should be, but as we’ve seen with the loss of MH370, the words “should” and “are” translate into two very different views of the aviation world.

So thank goodness for Aireon’s foresightedness back in 2011 to begin the effort to create the network that’s expected to be operational by summer 2018.

And no thank you at all to most of the airlines around the world that have not lifted one finger to improve the tracking of their airplanes since the loss of MH370. Sure there have been meetings and proclamations and opportunities through companies like Inmarsat and FLYHT, and certainly ICAO jumped in to the discussions, but not many airlines actually signed up to use any of the tracking technologies.

The reason was simple, money … the airlines couldn’t justify the cost to their shareholders. But let’s be patient and not forget that the poor airlines must make money to stay in business.

I guess some of traveling bumpkins are still naive enough though, to think that the airlines that are all too happy to grab our money, might also be thinking that looking after us a bit more when we’re their prisoner, sorry, I mean guest, might actually turn into a little value added service.

Rob Mark, Publisher

Deciding Aviation Into an Uncertain Future

By Scott Spangler on January 4th, 2017 | Comments Off on Deciding Aviation Into an Uncertain Future

Happy New Year!

As it has been for millennia, the year ahead is a blank diary in which we will write history with our daily decisions. What direction this uncertain future will take depends on how we make those decisions, especially those with zero-sum consequences, where one side gains at the expense of another. Ultimately, the decisions we make, support, and share will determine the future of aviation and the world in which is it exists.

Making decisions based on our gut, decisions that serve only our personal interests and ideology, rather than a logical assessment of the “facts” involved in the issue will have critical consequences. This is especially true for aviation, which is struggling to find its footing in the 21 century. Based on past ideas, such as the attempt to privatize air traffic control, 2017 will surely be a defining waypoint in aviation history.

To different degrees, everyone involved in civil, commercial, and military aviation communities make decisions that will shape their individual and collective futures. From the cockpit to the control tower, those answers decide the winner, short-term benefits to a few or long-term benefits to the industry as a whole.

As it does at an operational level, making informed decisions will span the gap of uncertainty, but making them requires research and effort, as well as an understanding that information and knowledge are not the same thing. Information is data. Knowledge is the accumulation of information and how it all relates to the question at hand. Only then can we acquire the wisdom needed to make a decision.

In this effort we must be pragmatic, concerned with actual practice, not theory, conspiracy, or speculation. And we must be skeptical, which is to say we must not be easily persuaded or convinced. We must doubt every source of information and ask questions when data from different sources does not add up. Regardless the source, question its authority.

Finally, we must be cynical. In any zero-sum situation, where someone gains because the opposing side loses, the cynic knows that the people involved are motivated only by their selfishness. Naturally, in the post-truth world, this reality is buried in echo-chamber propaganda.

For example, if ATC goes private, and is funded with user fees, who will ultimately pay those fees? And what happens to the airline ticket and GA fuel tax system that’s been funding America’s aviation infrastructure for decades?

Be aware of each decision made in 2017, because it will tacitly reveal our true motivations and hopes for tomorrow. –  Scott Spangler, Editor

Airport Archeology & Airport Infrastructure

By Scott Spangler on December 19th, 2016 | 3 Comments »

Day25-8On the cool, gray morning I parked before the terminal at the Alliance Municipal Airport (AIA) in northwestern Nebraska, I didn’t expect my airport archeology effort to be a lesson about the airport infrastructure that serves the nation today.

The layout of the airport’s three runways suggested that it started life as an Army airfield built during World War II. There were remaining signs—four brick chimneys standing at the head of concrete foundations—that confirmed this, but they didn’t register until later. Getting ready to put the quiet airport behind me, a TSA agent, on his way to empty a terminal trash can, asked if he could help me.

Day25-4After explaining my aviation geek-quest, he said the airport started life as the Alliance Army Airfield. Pointing to the evenly spaced pillars of brick, he said the hangar chimneys were all that remained. “They trained glider pilots, paratroops, and airborne infantry here,” said the blue-shirted man. “If you’re curious, there’s a display inside that tells all about it.”

Alliance was one of 11 airfields the Army built across the state of Nebraska during World War II. Nebraska’s weather allowed for year-round flying, and it’s sparse, dispersed population made for wide open spaces, perfect for bombing, gunnery, and other training ranges.

Selecting the site in spring 1942, 5,000 construction workers nearly doubled the population of Alliance in July 1942. When they finished work in August 1943, they’d built 775 buildings and four 9,000-foot runways,  long enough for C-47s to tow CG-4 gliders, full of airborne infantry, into the Nebraska sky.

Day25-12After the glider troops left for their debut at D-Day, Alliance was a B-29 training base for awhile. It was declared surplus in 1945, and most of the buildings were sold at auction. And this is where the story gets interesting, as my later research into the airport revealed.

Of the 11 airfields the Army built more than 70 years ago, nine of them play an integral role in the national and state airport infrastructure. Six of them are municipal airports: Ainsworth, Alliance, Grand Island, Kearney, Lincoln, and Scottsbluff. Three are public airports, Fairmont, Harvard, and Scribner. (What is now Omaha’s Offutt Air Force Base was built before the war began.)

ne apThe National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) counts 72 airports in Nebraska. These airfield veterans represent all but one of Nebraska’s five commercial service, primary airports. Alliance is one of three airports with scheduled passenger essential air service. All the rest are public-use fields.

To give context to this contribution to the national airport infrastructure, imagine how we’d meet a similar need for training today. How much of it would be digitally simulated by civilian contractors at top dollar fees? And if we needed to build anything, whether it floats, flies, or is a home to anything that does, how long would it take, considering todays military-industrial corporate bureaucracy and political environment? Maybe we all owe the Greatest Generation a debt of gratitude more nuanced than giving them a casual thanks for their service. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Would You Like To Fly?

By Robert Mark on December 12th, 2016 | 3 Comments »

Dear Readers: One of the high points in my life this year at Oshkosh, was meeting Jen Adams, an aviation enthusiast I’ve come to know rather well. She’s not a pilot, but rather a person who found gainful employment at an airport and realized she was and continues to be fascinated by what she found there. This is her first story for Jetwhine. Both Scott and I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Rob Mark

_________________

Would You Like To Fly?

By Jennifer Adams

As a female aviation enthusiast, I want to do my part to encourage a passion for aviation in the next generation, especially girls. To that end, I’ve taken my teenage daughter and her friends on several aviation-related excursions to museums, airports and even an air show. While they always managed to have fun, their interest in aviation remained decidedly lukewarm. I’ll admit I was a bit disappointed – I was hoping for a little more enthusiasm. But I consoled myself with the knowledge that at least I had tried.

jetwhine-comThen one day my daughter overheard me talking about a friend who had gone on a biplane ride the previous weekend. Her response surprised me: “Awww – that sounds so cool!” Wait… what did she just say? So I asked, “Would you be interested in doing a Young Eagles flight to learn more about being a pilot?” Her response was an immediate and emphatic “Yes!” No maybes or requests to think about it. No hesitation at all. I was both elated and a bit dumbfounded. So she IS interested in aviation! But… I didn’t think she was. How could I have been so wrong?

My first mistake was expecting my daughter to like aviation the same way I do. I can sit around and watch airplanes all day. She can’t. She’s not much of a watcher – she’s more of a doer. I should have realized this, but I didn’t.

My second mistake is almost embarrassing to admit because it involves stereotypes. My daughter is an artist and an actress, a dreamer who likes to write short stories. Somehow I allowed myself to believe that these qualities are incompatible with an interest in flying. This is completely wrong and I know it. I have several friends who are commercial pilots who are also involved in the arts. How on earth did I make this mistake with my daughter? Is it because she’s a girl? I’m sad to say… possibly.

My third mistake was expecting my daughter to say something. I figured that if she wanted to try flying she would tell me. But then again she IS a teenager and they aren’t always very communicative, especially with their parents.

Before I beat myself up too much I should point out that I did do at least one thing right: I didn’t give up. In the end I was able to toss aside what I thought I knew about my daughter’s level of interest and simply ask the question: Would you like to fly? It makes me wonder – how many other girls would say yes if only someone would think to ask?jen

Jennifer Adams blends her passion for aviation with her profession of accounting by working for a medium-sized airport in the Midwest. When she isn’t calculating landing fees, she’s keeping an eye on the airplanes outside the window and blogging about her adventures at talesfromtheterminal.com.