Want to Fly at AirVenture?

By Robert Mark on July 21st, 2016 | 1 Comment »

redbird ldWant to Fly at Airventure?

Is there anything sadder than a bunch of pilots standing around watching a handful of other aviators fly past looking like they’re having all the fun? Ho hum.

But it happens to all of us at AirVenture … every single year.

But this year, there is an option sure to plant a big smile on the face of any aviator, even if you’re only a student pilot … a visit to the EAA’s Pilot Proficiency Center at Four Corners, right in the middle of all the AirVenture action.

Inside you’ll find three dozen or so volunteer instructors – me included – just waiting to guide you through any of the 31 aviation adventures pre-programmed into one of the 14 Redbirds simulators on hand. Because we know that scenario-PPCbased flight training yields the best pilots, we’re offering you a chance to really improve your stick and rudder skills flying the simulator’s Cessna 172 down to a soft landing on a 40-foot wide runway with a crosswind, or into a small grass strip surrounded by hills, or try an IFR approach to minimums at Long Beach, or practice
accuracy landings for The Ohio State competition or fly an actual missed approach at John Wayne airport and … and … I need a break.

There are simply too many great flying adventures to try and name them all. And all you need to do is step through the door of the Pilot Proficiency Center between 9 am and 5 pm. Best of all, everything is free, although flying is scheduled on a first come first serve basis.

As if the chance to try a few incredible flying adventures, one-on-one with some of the best instructors around for guidance might not be enough for some, those of you lucky enough to fly with me will leave wearing one of our coveted Jetwhine Jetwhine Buttonbuttons … OK, I think they should be coveted, but I’m biased. I’m only volunteering for the PPC’s afternoon shifts, but if you find me somewhere on the EAA grounds through Twitter @jetwhine, I’ll betcha I can rustle up a few Jetwhine buttons for you too.

Here’s a little more PPC info as Flying magazine saw it.

See you next week at #OSH16

Rob Mark, Publisher

AirVenture Anticipation: Meeting the Martin Mars

By Scott Spangler on July 18th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Coming face-to-face with a truly rare airplane is one of aviation’s singular rewards. And to actually see it fly, oh, be still my fluttering aviation geek heart. The Martin Mars is coming to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, and for the first time since I don’t remember when, I will secure a prime spot on the flight line when it appears on the air boss’s schedule. When it is not flying, the huge four-engine flying boat will be bobbing somewhere on Lake Winnebago, and I must find the spot that will let me watch its transition from a liquid fluid to the vaporous fluid that sustains life—and powered flight.

Being the last flying example of the five Martin Mars ever built makes the airplane rare. What makes it special, at least to me, is that it closes the circle, as large flying boats go, with my first quest to see a unique and formerly unseeable airplane, the Hughes H-4 Hercules, more commonly known as the Spruce Goose, because the two airplanes are related, in a way. Either by design, in the H-4’s case, or ultimate mission, for the Mars, both of them were cargo carriers safe from marauding submarines, albeit in different oceans.

Needing to get material across the Atlantic, where German U-board wolf packs roamed, the War Department issued a requirement for a flying cargo ship, preferably made of something other than the “strategic materials” of aluminum and steel. The contract for the Mars, originally designed as a Navy patrol bomber, was issued in 1938. A scaled up version of Martin’s twin-engine PBM Mariner, it first flew in 1942, about the time the War Department let the contract for the Hercules.

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H.R. 636 Will Help Fix ATC Staffing, I Hope

By Robert Mark on July 8th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

I’d like to interrupt your afternoon for just a minute before you head out the door for the weekend. Congress is expected to vote next week on another FAA funding extension – H.R. 636 – and the industry’s hoping it’s all thumbs up … but not just because a majority vote will keep the agency’s lights on until October 2017. Passage of H.R. 636 will also help the FAA fix a staffing crisis it created all by itself a few years ago, even though the agency hiring system in place at the time worked just fine. A quick review of the problem.

NATCAThe National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) last week detailed how passage might affect the hiring crisis the FAA created in December 2013.

“The number of fully certified controllers working today is at a 27-year low, a crisis made worse by FAA’s inability to meet its own hiring goals in each of the last seven years. NATCA believes FAA must take a holistic, collaborative approach to resolving these staffing concerns. If passed, the extension as drafted would streamline the hiring process by allowing experienced controllers to be hired quickly; military veterans and graduates of schools in FAA’s Collegiate Training Initiative (CTI) would also be hired more expeditiously. CTI graduates and veterans would be considered in a separate pool from the general public. The extension would also increase the maximum entry age for a controller with 52 weeks experience to 35 years of age, another provision we applaud. Similar language sponsored by Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Sean Patrick Maloney in H.R. 5292 has received strong bipartisan support, with 237 co-sponsors.”19150871644_5ebf5b5fa4_z

Of course there are other significant industry reasons Congress needs to pass the FAA extension as the NBAA‘s president Ed Bolen added.

“This extension is also important because of what it includes, and what it leaves out. For example, we are pleased that the bill reflects some key general aviation priorities, such as the inclusion of third-class medical reform for pilots of small aircraft, and provisions focused on the safe integration of unmanned aircraft systems into the airspace. Equally important, the bill does not include risky proposals for creating a privatized air traffic control system, funded through new user fees. Clearly, our community’s tremendous mobilization against ATC privatization funded by user fees has made a difference.”

That means it’s time to hit the NBAA’s Congress list and tell your Representatives to say “Yes” to H.R. 636 and say “No,” by the way to H.R. 4441, the proposal to privatize ATC and pay for it with user fees. It took just two minutes of my time to send a letter. BTW, the letter’s function offers you a chance to customize the content, so be sure and add this sentence … “Passing H.R. 636 will also help fix the ATC staffing crisis the FAA created by changing its hiring standards in December 2013.”

You’re now free to return to goofing off the rest of the weekend. Thanks.

Rob Mark, Publisher

Wisconsin Flying Hamburger Social Unites Airports & Gives Pilots a Reason to Fly

By Scott Spangler on July 4th, 2016 | What do you think? »

Brennand-6Employing social media, airports across Wisconsin have taken the $100 hamburger flight to the next level with the Wisconsin Flying Hamburger Social. They divided the state in to eight regions or “branches,” with an airport in each of them holding a social every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., or until the food runs out.

The group’s mission statement is concise: Bringing Wisconsin Aviators Together. I’ll say. I attended my inaugural social at Brennand Airport (79C), about 20 minutes from home. I learned about it through the airport’s Facebook post on the event.

Stacks Image 2257Speaking of which, pardon this tangential rant: social media is an excellent way to unite and inform aviators and those whose live around them. So why don’t airports, as a group, make better use of it, especially Facebook? Don’t they realize that everyone who belongs to an airport’s online community is another pebble of promotion that emanates in concentric circles through the vast pool of potential aviators who are their friends? Come to think of it, I think Rob had a rant or two about this same issue on Jetwhine as well.

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EAA Oshkosh: The Best AirVenture Photography Refocuses Participatory Emotions

By Scott Spangler on June 20th, 2016 | What do you think? »

coverIn the English language, there must be a word that summarizes the emotional conflation of the self-satisfaction that comes from a distinctive personal accomplishment and the whispers from a subconscious troll holding up that same achievement as primary evidence of intellectual failure. It that word exists, I haven’t found it yet, but it perfectly describes my personal and professional connection to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. Or, at least, it didn’t until the Quattro Publishing Group generously offered me a copy a new book, EAA Oshkosh: The Best AirVenture Photography.”

Now preparing for the 2016 edition of AirVenture (July 24-31) I made my inaugural pilgrimage to Oshkosh in 1978, and haven’t missed a year since. And that is the source of my emotional ying and yang word search. I’m both proud and disappointed that I’ve participated in this event for more than half my life. Dedication is a contributing component of my pride, and disbelief, if that’s the right word, that I’ve not at least invested the week in pursuit of another interest because there is more to my intellectual and emotional life than airplanes.

Stepping through the book’s 220 pages, I’ve had to reassess my relationship with Oshkosh because it has recalled long-buried memories of seminal moments filed during my previous 37 visits filed in memory. Drawing on the EAA archives, the book depicts in 240 color and a few black-and-white photos the annual convention of its members from its inception in 1953 (which, coincidentally, was the year I started my life’s adventure).

vntageThe photos are collected in chapters that mirror the AirVenture flight line from north to south: Warbirds, Homebuilts, Aerobatics & Air Shows, Life at Oshkosh (the show’s “town square” display area that has been identified by its various sponsors over the decades), Vintage Aircraft, Ultralights, and the Seaplane Base. Jim Busha, Hal Bryan, and Dick Knapinski, all EAA staffers, provide succinct words of context for newcomers.

As Jack Pelton, EAA chairman and CEO (who’s done a marvelous job in completing the organization’s previously contentious transition from the founding family), said in his introduction, “EAA AirVenture Oshkosh is, more than anything, an individual experience.”

Through that lens, my first decade of participation was the best, the most eagerly anticipated and fondly remembered. Thereafter, attendance was part of my job description, with Flight Training magazine (with sweltering weeklong memories of booth duty in the old exhibit building), then with EAA itself (a behind-the curtain experience rich with greater appreciation of the effort of volunteers and staffers who make it happen each year), and now with JetWhine and others who fund my participation.

girlPaging my way down the visual flight line punctuated the dominant memories of work with visual call cards that led to long filed memories of face-to-face encounters with the airplanes and, more importantly, the people who gave them life. I won’t bore you with the details of my stroll down my flight line of memories, but I will offer my appreciation to the book’s creators for sharing images of a number of these individuals, with very few aviation celebrities among them. It is better that you get a copy of the book (available July 1, 2016, $24.99, from ShopEAA.org, Amazon, Barnes & Noble) and perambulate through your memories (or make your inaugural flight line stroll, which will, perhaps, motivate a long debated pilgrimage to Oshkosh).

Finishing my journey through the book, a surprise awaited me on page 224, which lists the credits. The images on the preceding pages are not individually credited, and none of them recalled a visual memory of the thousands of photos I’ve taken at AirVenture during my decades of work there, which was why reading my name among the credited photographers was a surprise. Repeated perusal of each image and comparing them to memories of AirVentures past has, so far, not made any connections. But it has changed my usual dolorous anticipation of this year’s aviation convocation to the eager anticipation I haven’t experienced in more than 20 years. I hope to see you there! –Scott Spangler, Editor

Could You Pass a Checkride Based on the New Airman Certification Standards?

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

acsOne of the tried and true tropes of aviation is that, in general, the successful completion of a checkride marks the peak currency and proficiency of a pilot’s knowledge and skills. For those rarely exercised after that point, it is all downhill from there. Based on personal experience, the little used knowledge goes first, and refreshing it isn’t as much fun as practicing seldom-used stick and rudder skills in preparation for an upcoming flight review.

Still, pilots who profess dedication to currency and proficiency should be able to pass a checkride to the minimum requirements of the certificates and ratings they possess. This can be an uncomfortable situation for those of us “mature” aviators who passed their checkrides “back in the day.” (For my private pilot checkride that day was in June, 1976.) A lot has changed since then, and to assess how I’d fare as an applicant for a private pilot certificate today, I dove into the FAA’s new Airman Certification Standards (ACS) , which this month replace the Practical Test Standards.

My initial examination provided a kernel of relief. In replacing the Practical Test Standards, the new ACS does not change the “skill performance metrics” or the flight portion of the checkride. The knowledge probed by the oral half of the checkride is another matter. The ACS integrates the specific elements of aeronautical knowledge, decision making, and risk management required for each area of operation or task. This does not, says the FAA, increase the oral or flight segments of the checkride, but it will surely refine the focus on its individual elements.

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Armstrong Air & Space Museum Holds Touching Surprises

By Scott Spangler on May 25th, 2016 | Comments Off on Armstrong Air & Space Museum Holds Touching Surprises

Armstrong-11Interactive exhibits aside, the unifying prohibition at most museums is “Do Not Touch!” A look at the shiny noses on bronze busts of notable figures tactilely demonstrates the long-term wear that would damage more fragile artifacts of historical significance. So it was a surprise to see a band of titanium not covered by the Plexiglas cocoon that surrounded the Gemini VIII capsule on display at the Armstrong Air & Space Museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio.

This exposure was not an oversight, said a docent. Visitors were encouraged to touch history, to make a tactile connection not only with history, but with a place few humans will ever venture on their own. As so many thousands have done before, I ran my fingers across the titanium aft of the capsule cockpit doors. Its texture was uniform throughout my arm’s reach, roughly half of the capsule’s diameter. Titanium clearly seems impervious to bronze’s shiny nose syndrome, and Gemini VIII’s pilots, Neil Armstrong and David Scott, were really little guys.

My tracing touch took place almost 50 years to the day this flying machine made the first docking of two spacecraft on March 16, 1966. It recalled memories of TV news reports and photos (was it Life?) of this capsule docked with the Agena Target Vehicle. Nowhere could I recall the flight’s other first, a critical system failure—a thruster malfunction that sent the docked capsule rolling—that immediately aborted the mission and put its success in question. Learning about its specifics, it reinforced my impression of Neil Armstrong as an unflappable aviator with big brass focus.

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Egyptair 804 Plus Aviation’s Dumb and Dumber

By Robert Mark on May 22nd, 2016 | 3 Comments »

Egyptair A-320 – Jetwhine.com

Egyptair 804 Plus Aviation’s Dumb and Dumber

It’s an old ATC trick … using the word “appears” that is.

Whenever a pilot would ask us tower guys to give their landing gear the once over because of some odd cockpit indication, the airplane would make a slow pass, then wait for an opinion. Using “appears” was a clever way of telling the pilot what we could actually see without extending a guarantee the gear wouldn’t collapse on touchdown because of something we couldn’t.

I first learned about the missing Egyptair A-320 just before bedtime Wednesday night. Out of habit, I checked the local weather in that part of the Mediterranean and noticed nothing unusual before I turned out the lights.

The first reporter called me about 12:15 am wondering if I knew anything. “Sure,” I said. “Doesn’t appear to have been any significant weather along the last few hundred miles of the route.” And so it went the rest of the night every half hour or so on the phone, until one of them could get me in front of a camera for a live update. We didn’t even know about the crazy turns early Thursday morning, of course, so my only options were what appeared to be a possible mechanical failure, explosive device or a highjacking. Not rocket-science of course, but just a couple of years of experience talking early in the game. I figure better for me to give them my two cents than someone who claims it was aliens or something equally goofy.

So I’m still trying hard to figure out what, as the investigation continues building around Egyptair 804, could possibly interest our presidential candidates in commenting on the accident. But no sooner had Thursday’s morning news cycle begun when The Donald tweeted …


Donald Trump on Egyptair 804 – Jetwhine.com

Not surprisingly, he made it sound as if he had an inside track to the details, which of course he didn’t.

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Wings are Next for MAAM’s Black Widow

By Scott Spangler on May 9th, 2016 | 7 Comments »

MAAM-22Pinned against the hangar wall by a floor-filling mass of airplanes from a B-25 to a Pietenpol, The Mid-Atlantic Air Museum’s P-61 Black Widow restoration project seems unchanged from my last visit in 2014. Wearing its cowled but propless Pratt & Whitney R-28000 engines, it stands patiently on its tricycle gear waiting for its wings.

Those wings, which extend from the port and starboard nacelles, are under construction in another hangar, said Russ Strine, MAAM president. “They are the last big structural item left to do.” While the project’s completion is within sight, there is no predetermine date for the Black Widow’s first flight because the project is funded by donations and much of the work is done by volunteers. But it will fly; rest assured of that.

Working my way through the maze of airplanes on the hangar floor for a closer look, it’s clear to see that the B-25 and P-61 are twin-engine airplanes of similar size. But two engines and a shared weight of 30,000 pounds are where the similarities end. On the floor under the Black Widow’s right 2,000-hp engine was its four-bladed prop. Answering my question about the left side, Strine said, “We now have 2 complete props for the P-61B.  The only other airplane to share this same blade and hub is the Curtiss SB2C-5 Helldiver.”

MAAM-9That was a surprise that struck home because my father, a World War II naval aviator, flew the SB2c. It was powered by the Wright R-2600, which is only 200 cubic inches different from the P-61’s engines, so that seemed to make sense.

More surprising was learning that the right engine was a zero-time P-61 QEC. To facilitate a Quick Engine Change, all of the aircraft-specific accessories, fittings, and mounts are already connected to the engine. The odds of such a find for such a rare airplane are incalculable, “but people contact all the time with items,” said Strine.

The top turret of four .50 caliber machine guns is, however, another matter. “Two are known to exist,” said Strine, “and neither owner wants to sell.” Only four Black Widows exist today, and if MAAM can acquire a turret, the museum’s P-61 will not be the only flying example, but the only one with a turret.

Of the 706 examples of all Black Widow variants built, only four are know to exist today. The examples the National Museum of the United States Air Force and the National Air & Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center are related by their service in the post-war Project Thunderstorm. Left at its base after the war, the fourth is at the Beijing Air and Space Museum at Beihang University in Beijing, China.

MAAM-2Ducking under the logo of the 550th Night Fighter Squadron affixed to the MAAM Widow’s nose and sticking my head into the forward cockpit through the door in the nosewheel well, is where most of the work now being done on the airplane is clear. All of the plumbing and wiring is now installed, said Strine, and “we’re just tying up and final detailing the wiring.”

Getting the P-61 Black Widow back in the air is not the only project underway at the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum. The hangar where it now resides “is certainly tight,” said Strine, “but we’re about to remedy that with construction of an additional hangar.” Seeing the fully assembled night fighter is more spacious accommodations is reason enough for another visit to Reading, Pennsylvania. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Parachute Museum Is Pioneer Gold Mine

By Scott Spangler on April 25th, 2016 | Comments Off on Parachute Museum Is Pioneer Gold Mine

Parachute-3Jumping from any elevation, even a knee-high footstool, has never been something I have eagerly anticipated, which makes my lifelong fascination with parachutes hard to explain.

It all started in the early 1960s, I think, with my godparents, who fed my existing airplane addiction with a visit to ParaGear (and it’s still in business!), a sky diving shop near their Chicago home. It sold mostly surplus military gear modified for civilian sky divers. The owner answered all of my elementary school questions and gave me a catalog. It was my bible for making GI Joe-sized canopy’s, harnesses, and containers with elastic opening bands, just like those in the catalog, which he tested from ever higher elevations, from trees to a box kite.

Over time my hands-on fascination calmed down to a persistent interest, which led me to the Aviation Trail Parachute Museum, part of the National Aviation Heritage Area in Dayton, Ohio.  Filling the better part of the Trail’s visitor center, I didn’t expect to spend all afternoon there, but I didn’t expect it to introduce me to the pioneers who were behind all of the equipment that captured my attention more than half a century ago.

Parachute-5Given his many contributions to aerospace, I’m ashamed to say that I’d never heard of David Gold, in whose honor the Parachute Museum was established. As a 13 year old, Gold was inspired by an exhibition jumper at Queens, New York. He visited local parachute factories and became acquainted with parachute pioneers Floyd Smith and Colonel Edward Hoffman at the McCook Parachute Branch (two more people I need to learn  more about).

Gold became a parachute rigger, designer, developer, and fabricator of specialized parachutes for personnel (including patents for a parachute riser system and the “guidable” parachute) and missile recovery systems, including the Apollo spacecraft. Think, for a second, about that last one. Walking on the moon is one thing, but without Gold’s Apollo parachute work…

Among the parachute pioneers I met at the next exhibit, only one—General William “Billy” Mitchell—was familiar. He was behind the McCook Field Parachute Branch, which commenced operations in October 1918. One member of this team, Floyd Smith, a former circus acrobat, race car driver, and test pilot, made a radical proposal, pilots should wear the parachute, not be connected to one mounted in the airplane, which would allow the airman to open the chute once clear of the airframe. This was radical because in those early days, everyone believed that freefall was a sure cause of unconsciousness.

Parachute-6Harold Harris was the first to save his life with McCook’s freefall parachute when he bailed out of malfunctioning Loening PW-2A monoplane. He landed at 403 Valley Street in Dayton, and when his rescuers reached him, he said, “I’m not hurt, just excited.” I’ll say. Besides preserving his life, Harris became the inaugural member of the Caterpillar Club, named for the insect that spun the silk fiber used in early parachute canopy’s. Membership is earned by employing a freefall parachute when an aircraft ceases safe operation. By the 1950s the club had more than 80,000 members, including Charles Lindbergh, General Jimmy Doolittle, President George H.W. Bush, and two Ohio boys, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong.

For dessert, the Parachute Museum served two succulent morsels of aviation trivia. First, most aviation geeks know that Operation Paperclip was the U.S. operation that scooped up the German rocket scientists who were the foundation of the U.S. space program. Paperclip also brought German’s top parachute designers to the United States, and most of them,  went to work at Wright Field’s Parachute Branch Equipment Laboratory. And they tested their new designs in a vertical wind tunnel (who knew?), built in 1945 and still in use today. And a vertical wind tunnel might be the only way I’ll ever willingly experience freefall. But if I’m wearing a chute in a plane that breaks… – Scott Spangler, Editor