Sunny Sunday Easter Airport Survey

By Scott Spangler on April 22nd, 2019 | 6 Comments »

Survey-17Spring in Wisconsin came with the Easter Bunny. With sunshine and temperatures climbing above the 40s for the first time, and shooting for the mid 70s, it seemed the perfect day to go flying. Curious to witness whether others were so inspired, after lunch I set out on an impromptu Sunny Sunday Airport Survey.

Riding a 120-mile triangle, I’d visit Brennand Airport (79C), a privately owned, public-use airport in Neenah. Then it was off to the Waupaca Municipal Airport (PCZ), with a finish line at the Wautoma Municipal Airport (Y50). They had three things in common: no control tower, paved runways, and service to a small town. They also had one more thing in common; as I approached each of them in turn, I saw no airplanes flying to or from them.

Brennand Airport

Survey-1Nearly a dozen cars filled the parking spaces outside the two-story airport office with its unique twisted brick pillars that support the second-floor deck. The only person I saw was a young man, MJ, sitting in an Adirondack chair out front. With self-service fuel, I didn’t think he was a line person, but maybe he was one of a dying breed, the airport kid. His answers to my questions whether anyone had gone flying today led me to believe this was not the case, but he thought he’d heard an airplane takeoff earlier in the day.

Heading to the far end of the line of hangars in search of other aeronautical humans, I passed the airport’s open maintenance hangar. Perched in the doorway was a flashy RV-10. Behind it was a Robinson helicopter, and behind that a decowled Cessna. As I passed, a gentleman said I was welcome to come in and look around. I promised to stop in on my way back.

Survey-3Only two of the 25 hangars had their bifold doors lifted slightly to form ventilating isosceles triangles that seemed to be pointing at the windsock on the other side of the runway. Both of them were homes to Cessna 150s whose owners were silently at work. The second 150 was wingtipless, and it shared the space with on old Cessna 172. Through the door’s open apex I could see that it was red and white and that it wore two venturis on its right flank.

There were cars parked between two other hangars, one a Ram pickup with AOPA Aircraft Owner sticker on its back window, which suggested that its owner was winging his or her way to an Easter assignation. There was no car next to the door with the hangar nameplate that bore the resident’s name and the lithographed scribe of a homebuilt Acro Sport II. Pity. Today was prime open cockpit biplane flying weather.

Survey-8Stepping through the maintenance hangar to the office, to my right was a magnificent two-lane aviation-themed bowling alley. To my left, just past a short alcove, was an open-plan lounge and commercial kitchen, with an island covered with a tasty looking meal. A crowd three generations strong were making their way to the ally, when a kind woman said hello. Colleen Mustain, who owns the airport with her husband, Keith, said the gathering was an Easter party with their kids and grandkids. After introducing me to her husband as he passed, I said I didn’t want to intrude. It was no problem, they said, and I was welcome to come back any time. You can count on that.

Waupaca Municipal Airport

Survey-10A Cessna 172 and Piper Tomahawk were tied down on the ramp at Waupaca, and the pilot of an old straight-tailed Cessna 150 was reading the instructions at the self-service fuel island. While he was reading, a bright yellow Stinson 108 with red trim worked its way around the island and found a place on the ramp, taking the Tomahawk’s place as the man and women in it taxied to the other side of the fuel island. Finally, someone was putting the beautiful spring day to proper use.

In the terminal, a young man with long hair sat looking out at the ramp from the office’s bay window. Patrick, who works for Beth, the contract airport manager, had the weekend duty. He’s been working at the airport for about a year, and when he’s not working, he’s “doing homework.” Such is the life for a student at Weyauwega High School. His dad, Brian, has the contract to plow the ramp and runways, and made the suggesting that a job was a productive use of free time.

Survey-14Patrick said the airport had a pretty busy weekend, with more than a dozen visiting airplanes. Most of them, he guessed, had flown into town for Easter visits. While we talked, a man entered the lounge and stretched out on the couch. Bob Harvey was local, he said, having flown in from his home strip in the Stinson. He has a Piper Vagabond there to keep it company. “I’ve also got an RV-10 that I keep here in the northwest hangar.”

Out for a short jaunt because it was a nice day, in chatting about flying he said that one of his flying friends had just passed. We agreed that in this chapter of our lives, this event was becoming more common and it made our adventures even more special. The loss was particularly poignant for Bob because his friend joined him for extended trips to the mountains and other regions in the RV. Quickly turning to happier topics, he gave me a bundle of other airports and activities to investigate on my next airport survey.

Wautoma Municipal Airport

Survey-28The airport is just past the south edge of town. A large hangar with a For Sale or Lease sign greets those heading to the terminal. The parking lot was empty. Walking back to the hangar for sale revealed that at one time it was home to an operation that catered to ultralight and light aircraft. The middle section of the sign, bearing the majority of its name, was missing. On the left third of the sign was a single-seat ultralight pusher, a make and model unknown to me. On the right third was the image of a composite Quickie Q2.

Continuing my circumnavigation of the hangars, I passed the EAA Chapter 1331 hangar with its covered grill and open picnic tables, and crossed a newly asphalted ramp and a new self-serve fuel island. Walking among the cluster of new and well-kept hangars, I saw only two vehicles. I met Larry, the owner of the late-model white pickup, in the terminal’s flight planning room. He said he was “a snowbird from Florida.” He was dropping a load of stuff in his hangar before he returned south. Asking what he flew, he said a Cessna 172.” Wishing him a good flight, he said he was going commercial. “I leave the airplane here.”

Survey-30Asking if there had been any activity at the airport this day, he said it was a sleepy town, and “no one is flying today—it’s Easter. Besides, it’s too windy.” Pointing at the weather station screen over his head, the wind was blowing a steady 14 knots from the south. It wasn’t much of a crosswind component, but maybe if you hadn’t flown all winter….

It was a semi-sad finish to my survey. Surely there was more activity than this, and if not, I wondered about the economic sense of each airport’s aircraft owners. Maybe it’s just my frugal tendencies, but I can’t see the fixed-cost rationale of hangar rent and insurance for an airplane you rarely fly.

Survey-36A more positive observation is that all three airports are tidy and well kept. Given the harsh winter and an April snow dump, patches and mounds of which are just now returning to grass greening liquid, this surprised me. Despite the lack of sunny Sunday activities, each of the airport’s operators is keeping their aerodrome in top shape, ready to welcome all comers. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Aviation Records Note Seasonal Transitions

By Scott Spangler on April 8th, 2019 | Comments Off on Aviation Records Note Seasonal Transitions

For many, Florida’s Sun & Fun fly-in announces the commencement of flying season in every new year. A better transition from one flying year to the next is the National Aeronautic Association’s springtime announcement of the previous year’s most memorable aviation records.

What makes them so eagerly anticipated are the unpredictability of their number and the focus of their accomplishments. Perhaps more importantly, they highlight the rewarding diversity aviation bestows on those who invest their lives in it. There is no better example of this than The Most Memorable Aviation Records of 2018.

The first two memorable records cover the spectrum of fixed-wing aviation, the speed of a glider over a 500-kilometer out-and-back course—158.3 mph—and the speed of a business jet—631.80 mph—over a recognized course, Seville, Spain, to Abu Dhabi, UAE.

There was nothing but blue skyAnd how did I not hear about Daniel Gray setting a new C-1b time-to-climb record in a Harmon Rocket IIA powered by a 650-hp rotary engine? From a standing start in Oxnard, California, he needed less than 100 seconds to reach 3,000 meters, or 9,843 feet, and beat Elliot Seguin’s old record of 1 minute,  59.5 seconds.

Google provided just two stories on the record, one a post on Van’s Air Force, and another on Digrantrara.com, which revealed at the end of the page, that it had copied from Air&Space (and I wonder why Google didn’t lead me to this story in the first place).  This effort is certainly on my learn-more list. Who would have imagined a new record powered by a twin-rotor Mazda rotary engine mated to the tail rotor drive of a Bell 47 helicopter?

The absolute altitude record of 74,334 feet the engineless Perlan 2 set last September over Argentina didn’t slip by me. One wonders, will be 2019 be the year this record-setting glider achieves its 100,000-foot goal?

It is this unpredictability that makes each spring’s record announcements like Christmas (either early or late, depending on your predilection).  Learning that there exists a record Class G-2 for vertical formation skydiving is much better than getting a pair of racy socks. And how do you measure the preparation and discipline it takes for 42 jumpers to rearrange themselves in four sequential formations while falling to earth head down?

And sometimes you get what might be a peek at the future. Last July, John McNeil set a distance goal and return for a remote control model and set a record of 33.9 miles, bettering the old record of 31 miles. Some may snigger at a record set by an RC model, but what might this Logo 600SE electric-powered helicopter have to offer those working on full-scale electric flying machines? – Scott Spangler, Editor

Translating The 737 MAX 8 Crisis

By Robert Mark on March 29th, 2019 | 2 Comments »

I rather fancy myself as a translator of aviation speak, trying to be sure people who read about our industry really understand what I’m trying to explain, whether that’s in print or online.

The past few weeks have been a nightmare for most journalists trying to explain the intricacies of the 737 MAX 8 & 9’s Maneuvering Characteristic Augmentation System, or MCAS.

Because of the weight and the placement of the new CFM International LEAP-1B engines added to create the MAX, the nose of the aircraft could pitch up more than most pilots might expect when power was added, especially at low speeds, like those experienced during takeoff.

Today I just read that the Ethiopian airplane was less than 1,000 feet above the ground when the MCAS apparently fired and wrestled control of the aircraft away from the pilots with obviously disastrous results. That wouldn’t have given them much time to react.

Right now, there’s little to be gained by explaining what the Ethiopian pilots should have done or what they should have known in order to maintain control of the airplane. Boeing certainly didn’t help the situation initially by not telling pilots the MCAS even existed. After the Lion Air accident, Boeing did publish a bulletin explaining that an MCAS upset could look very much like a trim runaway. Whether or not the Ethiopian crew saw the bulletin is anyone’s guess. If they did read it, why they were not able to disable the trim is another question we’ll need to wait for the final accident report to explain.

Since the Ethiopian accident, I’ve been asked more than a few times to provide some context to this saga, a context that non-industry people would understand. I spent some time yesterday with Mary Harris of Slate.com’s “What Next,” podcast for just that reason and I wanted to share it with you. I thought Mary asked some really insightful questions. Hopefully, I offered a few insightful answers as well.

To listen to Slate.com’s What Next podcast for March 29, 2019, click here. @slate

Rob

DoD Aircraft Rental: Stick Time Not Included

By Scott Spangler on March 25th, 2019 | Comments Off on DoD Aircraft Rental: Stick Time Not Included

Image result for clock with dollar signAnyone who has investigated becoming a pilot knows that aviation is sold by the flight hour. Anyone who’s ever rented one should find this interesting: the Fiscal Year 2019 Department of Defense Fixed-Wing and Helicopter Reimbursement Rates for the Air Force, Army, and Navy.

“When determining the hourly rate, agencies should utilize the appropriate rate category.” They are, Other DoD, Other Federal, Foreign Military Sales, and All Other. Civilian use, such as movie making and the like, would be All Other. Unfortunately, the document makes no mention of stick time, but I imagine that’s not the case for Foreign Military Sales, where the hourly rate would be for demo flights?

Image result for b2 bomberLike all rentable aircraft, I’m sure the DoD computed the hourly fees by summing the airplane’s operating and fixed costs such as fuel, scheduled maintenance, and engine and system overhaul funds, added the cost of human resources, the people who fly and maintain the aircraft, and divided that number by however many hours they expected to rent each aircraft every year.

What’s interesting in paging through the document is guessing at the contribution of each factor for the (All Other User) hourly rate. Among Air Force bombers, the B-2 goes for $62,012 an hour. That’s roughly $10K more than the B-1 ($51,475) and nearly double the B-52’s $33,919. This explains why the B-52 continues to serve, and it makes one wonder what the hourly rate will be for the B-2’s replacement, assuming there is a B-21.

A good guess would be that it is nowhere close to the hourly difference for the Navy’s long serving patrol plane, the Lockheed Electra-based P-3 Orion, which rents for (All Other Users) $9,015 an hour, and its replacement, the Boeing 737-based Poseidon, which goes for $9,928 an hour.

Image result for c-12There seems to be only one aircraft, the Beech Super King Air-based C-12 Huron, in service with all four branches of the U.S. Military. (Given their special relationship, Marine aircraft, like the AV-8 Harrier, $13,768 an hour, are listed with the Navy’s birds.) The Army rents its C-12 to All Other Users for $2,226 an hour. The Navy/Marines rents their UC-12-Ws for $2,497 an hour. The Air Force rents its C-12C for $3,341, its C-12F and C-12J for $$3,350.

The cheapest aircraft on the list is the T-6 Texan, the winged classroom used in Air Force and Navy primary flight training. The Air Force rents its T-6A for $917 an hour. The Navy rents its T-6A for $1,877 and its T-6B for $1,839. It’s interesting that the B-model with its glass, HUD, and Hands on Throttle and Stick cockpit rents for the lower amounts. Another question is why the Navy’s T-6’s rent for almost double the rate of the Air Force. Is it because the Air Force flairs to land and the Navy planes, given their carrier heritage, arrive?

CAE-USA_CNATRA-CIS_Navy-2_editThe document’s final tables may provide a clue. They subdivide the total hourly rental into O&M (Operations and Maintenance), MilPers (military personnel involved with operations and maintenance), and Utl (asset utilization fee). It costs the Navy $1,621 an hour to operate and maintain its T-6A; it costs the Air Force just $794. The Air Force also charges a lower utilization fee, $34 per hour to the Navy’s $72. Finally, it seems that either the Air Force pays its personnel less, or there are fewer personnel involved. The Air Force charge is $88 an hour to the Navy’s $184.

With a small loan and not going out to dinner for the rest of my life, it might be nice to rent one or two of the military’s fleet for an hour, if only the rental came with some stick time. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Enduring Designs: Return on Aircraft Investment

By Scott Spangler on March 11th, 2019 | Comments Off on Enduring Designs: Return on Aircraft Investment

b-52 oshReading that the US Air Force will be requesting proposals from engine makers to propel the B-52’s active-duty service through 2050 didn’t surprise me. It continues the decades-long return on aircraft investment, its ability to continue its fundamental mission efficiently and economically. Not every aircraft so endures. Consider the approaching retirement of the B-52’s much younger compatriots, the B-1 and the billion-dollar B-2, which the Air Force wants to replace with the lookalike B-21 that will probably cost several billion per copy.

Boeing produced the B-52 for a decade, from its first flight in 1952 until 1962. It entered service in February 1955. The early models in 1956 cost $14.3 million ($133.6 million in 2018 dollars) and the H-model, the recipient of decades of military makeovers, cost new in 1962 $9.28 million ($77.92 in 2019 dollars). (Imagine that, a US weapon system getting cheaper!) Most likely, Boeing built today’s 76 active B-52s in 1962. Upon their 2050 retirement (if that indeed happens), you compute the return on their investment by 88 years.

baslerThis return sparked thoughts of other enduring designs that have returned an aircraft investment well beyond their original expectations. The DC-3 certainly tops this list. Since its first flight in 1937, it has earned its keep for 82 years and counting. And it will surely continue for decades, until parts for piston-pounding radials disappear, and the Basler Turbo Conversions remanufactures the airframe as a turboprop BT-67.

twin beechThe Beechcraft Model 18 is another enduring design that first flew in 1937. Like the DC-3, most examples earning their keep today were manufactured during and after World War II. Surely, the remaining spare parts for its Pratt & Whitney R-985 radials are counting down its last days. Lacking the multipurpose special mission utility of the DC-3/BT-67, mounting new powerplants would be an investment with no meaningful return.

172A chronological peer of Boeing’s enduring design is Cessna’s 172 Skyhawk. Making its first flight it 1955, Cessna introduced it in 1956, and it continues to make new ones today. There is, perhaps, no better measure of the return on its investment than 63 years of service, and counting. And unlike the other enduring designs here mentioned, representatives from almost every year of its existence, from the first 172 on, are still flying. We pilots should be so lucky. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Malaysian Flight 370: Five Years Later

By Robert Mark on March 8th, 2019 | 1 Comment »

Md Nor Yusof, chairman of Malaysian Airline System Bhd., right, told reporters on March 25, 2014 that Flight 370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean with no survivors. The search for wreckage was suspended. (Photographer: Goh Seng Chong/Bloomberg © 2014 Bloomberg Finance LP© 2014 BLOOMBERG FINANCE LP)

On March 8, 2014, a Boeing 777 with 239 people went missing on a flight between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing. As details emerged within hours of the airplane’s last communication with air traffic control, it became clear that Malaysian Airlines 370 (MH370) was lost … literally; no one knew where the airplane went once it disappeared from radar about 40 minutes after takeoff from Kuala Lumpur.

Because the Boeing’s transponder also ceased functioning, tracking the airplane by air traffic control became impossible.

Five years after the Boeing disappeared, setting off the longest and costliest search ever undertaken for a commercial airplane, the question of what happened remains unanswered: was it hijacked, brought down by a mechanical problem or crashed by a suicidal pilot? We may never know, but away from the spotlight on the investigation, the aviation industry has been refining the technology to ensure that an airliner never vanishes again.

Over the next three years, airlines will begin plugging into a satellite-based system that will track their planes at all times, anywhere on Earth.

In 2014 it was not unusual for airlines to have little direct contact with some of their airplanes for extended periods of time, especially when they were flying over open water where traditional ground communications and radar don’t work well. To their credit, the airlines operate airplanes that are so reliable, that being out of touch for a sustained period of time has never been a real problem.

Read more … 

Enlisted Pilots: Has Their Time Come Again?

By Scott Spangler on February 25th, 2019 | 1 Comment »

With retention of active duty aviators and recruitment of qualified newcomers to fill empty cockpits a growing challenge for America’s armed forces, might it be time to reopen the flight training door to enlisted pilots who meet the physical and physiological requirements?

sgt chevronsTo be a military pilot today, applicants must be officers, which require a four-year college degree. Is that an essential requirement? Today’s officer pilots hold degrees in almost every discipline from anthropology to zoology. How does this knowledge make modern military pilot training easier?

To address its pilot shortage, in 2018, the US Air Force studied the return of enlisted pilots and appointing them warrant officers. “We have enlisted airmen in our Guard and reserve component who have private pilot’s licenses and fly for the airlines. So it’s not a matter of can they do it, or having the smarts or the capability, it’s just a matter of us, as an Air Force, deciding that that’s a route that we want to take,” said Chief Master Sgt. Kaleth O. Wright, the 18th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force in a Military.Com story.

Robert A. “Bob” Hoover sits in the cockpit of a Lockheed P-38 Lightning, just one of the many aircraft he mastered during World War II. (National Archives)The pilot shortage created by World War II led Congress to authorize an enlisted pilot training program in 1941. They received the same training as officers and graduated as staff sergeant pilots. The program trained 2,567 sergeant pilots (among them were a couple you might have heard of, Bob Hoover (here in a P-38), Carroll Shelby, and Chuck Yeager). Of that number, 332 sergeants served overseas and 217 sergeants flew combat.

In 1942, the Flight Officer Act created the warrant officer rank of flight officer, which replaced the original program. Sergeant pilots elevated to this rank enjoyed the privileges of a second lieutenant. This program essentially continues in the Army today, with warrant officers being the go-to helicopter aviators. And there seems to be no reason it wouldn’t work in the other services, if they can overcome tradition with progress.

The Sea Services, the US Navy and US Marine Corps, launches its enlisted aviator program in 1916. With America’s enlistment in the Great War, in March 1917 a recruiting program sought 200 enlisted personnel specifically for aviation duty. Of that number, 33 of them completed their training in France, and a few more in Italy. Like the initial enlisted aviators, the World War I pilots flew as first or second-class petty officers. Most of them became commissioned officers.

post-2501-1278618479In October 1919, the Bureau of Navigation said, “In the future, it will be the policy of the Bureau to select a certain number of warrant officers and enlisted men for flight training and duty as pilots of large heavier-than-air craft and directional pilots of dirigibles.” The following year they were designated Naval Aviation Pilots. NAP No. 1 was Harold H. “Kiddy” Karr, Quartermaster Chief (Aviation) (NAP). Like commissioned aviators, they wore the Navy’s gold wings on their upper left chest.

During the years between the world wars, the Navy had an enlisted pilot requirement of 30 percent. The depression made this goal challenging, and the Navy asked Congress to make it 20 percent. With the depression deepening and budget cuts, the Navy trained no NAPs between 1932 and 1936. After that, the Navy met its 20-percent goal.

220px-Walsh_KAThe number of NAPs increased greatly with World War II, and the need for more officers led many of them (some estimates are up to 95 percent) received temporary officer commissions and designations as Naval Aviators, which can only be bestowed upon commissioned officers.

One downside to being an enlisted pilot was serving two masters. In addition to flying, they had to meet the responsibilities of their rank. That’s why George W. Webber, Seaman Second Class (NAP), a pilot with Scouting Squadron 3 not only flew off the carrier Lexington, he also had to work in the galley helping the ship’s cooks. That changed when the Lexington’s CO, then Captain Ernest J. King (later Fleet Admiral King, commander in chief and chief of naval operations in World War II), found out that one of his carrier pilots was mess cooking.

people_usmc_napLife was the same for the Marine NAPs. During the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1943, Marine Air Group 14 couldn’t find two of its NAPs, both of whom flew the SBD, Douglas’s Dauntless dive bomber. Sergeants Ollie Michael (left) and Rohe C. Jones had been ordered to dig latrines on New Caledonia. They were ordered back to their cockpits immediately. Michael is credited with sinking three Japanese ships in November and December 1943. Jones was killed during his third combat tour. Another Marine NAP, Ken Walsh (above), who earned his wings as a private, later received a commission and the Medal of Honor in 1943, was the fourth-ranking ace with 21 kills.

jones 1The Navy’s enlisted flight training program ended with World War II, and Congress concluded its requirement for enlisted pilots in 1948. Although the program ended, NAPs in the Navy, Marine Corps, and US Coast Guard, continued to fly for the rest of their careers. With the postwar reductions, many of them had to surrender the temporary officer commissions given to them during the conflict. The last four Marine NAPs retired on the same day, February 1, 1973. The Navy’s last NAP, Master Chief Air Traffic Controller Robert K. “NAP” Jones, retired from active duty on January 31, 1981.

Needing pilots and naval flight officer in the patrol, reconnaissance, and helicopter communities, the Navy established a chief warrant officer program in 2006, but it didn’t last long before the Navy terminated the program. How the military will resolve this ongoing problem will be interesting to watch, especially as the airlines sap its pilot ranks while the demand for those who can fly an aircraft (either in first-person or remotely) continues to increase. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Jetwhine Loses a Friend

By Robert Mark on February 18th, 2019 | 4 Comments »

 

          Dan Webb entertains Mr. Simba at                                             Camp Jetwhine.

I started Jetwhine 13 years ago amidst breaking news of an Embraer Legacy biz jet having collided in midair with GOL airlines Boeing 737 over the Brazilian jungle. A few years later my friend Scott Spangler joined and since then, we’ve worked hard to tell aviation stories in a way readers couldn’t find anywhere else.

There was another member of the team that only a few people who had ever visited Camp Jetwhine over the years came to know personally; my friend Dan Webb from the Airplane Geeks podcast knew him, as did Steve Vischer and Grant McHerron from the Plane Crazy Down Under podcast, plus a few more.

This week our unsung office mascot left us and left me wondering, “What is the Value of a Friend?” I hope you’ll indulge us this one time with a non-aviation essay. Thanks, Rob Mark

______________________________________

I lost a friend last week, a good one. It wasn’t really a surprise, yet there was that inevitable flutter up to the emergency before the last breath of course, when there was no time to think, only adrenaline coursing through my veins driving me to do something, anything … even though deep inside I knew nothing would help.

When I saw our big hound dog Simba on Friday morning, I knew the end was close.

Already diagnosed with a weak heart valve and a thyroid problem, his breathing was rapid and labored. His arthritis no longer allowed the big guy to support even is severely diminished weight; it was impossible not to grieve. Hell, I’d been grieving already for weeks.

Thirteen years ago, he was an impressive 110-pound Rhodesian Ridgeback, with big meaty paws the size of my clenched fist and a bark deep enough to frighten even the bravest salesman from our front door. The local beat cops told we didn’t need a burglar alarm.

Even as a puppy I realized he was clever and funny, if not a bit bossy at times. When he was on a leash he loved most people. He’d stop for almost anyone he thought might realize how impressive a dog he was. When they drew near, he’d lay down on his side looking hurt, which of course made people stop … even passing cars. A local cop once offered to drive us to the vet for help, until she realized all he really needed was a tummy rub. Simba knew most of the suckers in our neighborhood.

He did have a fatal flaw. I’m sure he must have been sired by goats because he was the most stubborn animal I’ve ever met. At morning walk time, even with the leash already attached, he simply refused to leave the house by the back door; only the front door would do. And 110 pounds of resistance was too much for me. If he wanted a left turn at the corner, suggesting a right was a waste of time. And if he spied a rabbit or a cat, all bets were off. I learned quickly when to let go of the leash.

But he was my friend, a guy who traveled to work with me every day and never missed a single one, until his last week on earth. We’d talk to each other at work when we had something to say, him often more than me. He needed more water, more food, another walk. I never could figure out how he knew when it was 3 o’clock each afternoon. He did have limits though. I’d run story ideas past him and he’d just cock his head with a look like, “What in the Hell are you talking about?”

Read the rest of this entry »

Runway Numbers and a Mobile Magnetic North Pole

By Scott Spangler on February 11th, 2019 | 1 Comment »

pole-600Releasing a new World Magnetic Model (WMM) was one bit of work that didn’t get done during the partial shutdown of the U.S. Government. It finally saw the light of day on February 4. But that’s not the important part. The important part is that the position of magnetic north has moved so much they had to update the WMM a year early. If you remember your ground school lessons about runway numbers, the headline should make sense, and you know why some runway numbers will be changing.

Magnetic north doesn’t move so much as wander, as the NOAA chart above clearly shows. In stories about the early WMM update (the first time it has ever happened), the New York Times said English mathematician Henry Gellibrand discovered its movement 400 years ago, and the line in the chart starts in the year 1630. More accurately, he discovered magnetic declination (or variation), the difference between true north and magnetic north.

As reported by NOAA and the National Geographic, Sir James Clark discovered the geographic position of magnetic North Pole in northern Canada in 1831. Since then, it’s been making its way north to Siberia. The dot at the end of the dotted line is its 2019 position, and if you want to see it move with history, check out the NOAA Historical Magnetic Declination map. NOAA and the British Geological Survey developed the WMM, and scientists periodically compare its accuracy with ground and satellite magnetic data observatories. In 2018, the difference exceeded the acceptable limits, leading to the early WMM release.

AirVenture preparation includes painting temporary markings on taxiway Alpha, turning it into Runway 18 Left/36 Right.The WMM’s five-year timetable parallels the FAA’s periodic check of runway headings. Given what’s involved, logic suggests that we’ll not see wholesale runway renumbering. For one thing, the new magnetic north pole will not affect all of our takeoff and landing places. Going back to those ground school lessons, a runway designation must change when its heading is off 3 degrees or more.

Given the FAA’s runway rounding rules, this will predominately affect runways whose heading cross the 5-degree midline. If a runway’s heading changes from 254 degrees (rounded down to Runway 25) to 257 degrees, it must step up an become Runway 26. The lucky runways will have a heading that steps up or down to the 5-degree midline, because they can round up or down, meaning they employ the existing designation.

On the surface, changing a runway’s number seems simple, but it involves way more than paint and new airport signs (which in themselves are not cheap). It is a coordinated effort that involves everything from the Airport/Facility Directory to VFR and instrument charts and those for every approach to that runway. And making sure the runway designation and its magnetic heading match as required matters, if for no other reason that matching it with the cockpit compass reconfirms to pilots that they are on the right runway. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Airport Circular is Wildlife NIMBY Guide

By Scott Spangler on January 28th, 2019 | Comments Off on Airport Circular is Wildlife NIMBY Guide

critter 1Officially, the FAA is seeking comments by February 28 on its draft Advisory Circular 150/5200-33C, Hazardous Wildlife Attractants On or Near Airports. After reading the 37-page document, here’s a shorter and more concise title, Wildlife NIMBY Airport Guide.

It includes a diagram with the recommended backyard proximity (separation distances) for airports that serve piston aircraft (any airport that does not sell Jet-A) and those that serve turbines. At a piston airport, the minimum separation from any NIMBY wildlife attractant (as discussed in the AC’s second chapter) like a MSWLF (that would be a Municipal Solid Waste Landfill) is 5,000 feet. It’s double that at a turbine airport.

The AC really isn’t that much different from the one it is replacing. The draft consolidates and reorganizes its discussion of land uses on and near airports that attract wildlife and updates wildlife evaluation and mitigation procedures. (If you’re curious about the details, follow the link above and have a read.)

More importantly, it emphasizes that wildlife NIMBY is important to all airports, public or private, GA or commercial. To critters, any airport is open space, a refuge from the sprawling civilization that’s overtaken its habitat. How the airfield is or is not certified and who it serves matters not to them. But it will matter to the human in an airplane that runs into one of them.

apch birdAnother change relates to the damage a critter collision can cause. The FAA moved the table “Ranking of Hazardous Species” to AC 150/5200-32B, Reporting Wildlife Strikes. Every aviator should carry a copy of it in his or her flight bag because it not only explains when and how to make a report, it includes a report form, which is a handy way to record all of the necessary details right after the strike, assuming you’re not on the way to a hospital.

The FAA distilled the wildlife table from its database of reported strikes. There are 50 critters on the list, and all of them have at least 100 strike reports. Using these reports, the FAA derived a composite ranking based on damage (unknown, minor, substantial, destroyed), major damage (anything that affected aircraft structural strength, performance, or flight characteristics and would require major repair or component replacement), and strike’s effect on flight (aborted takeoff, engine shutdown, precautionary landing or other negative effect on flight).

snow buntingFirst on the list is the white-tailed deer, with a mean hazard level of 55 and a relative hazard score of 100. The next four-legged critter on the list is the coyote, No. 12, preceded by birds, include the snow goose, turkey vulture, Canada goose, sandhill crane, bald eagle, mallard, great blue heron, and American coot. More birds separate the coyote from the red fox, tied for No. 23 with the snow bunting (above).

The next four-legged critter is the woodchuck at No. 32. The striped skunk is last on the list. All of its damage scores are zero, but there’s no mention of the lasting aroma. With so many birds on the list, the AC kindly points out that 78 percent of bird strikes occur at 1,000 feet or lower and that 90 percent occur below 3,000 feet above the ground.

As it is with aircraft traffic, see-and-avoid also works with critters—if you know what to look for. To learn what attracts them, give this draft AC a gander. To further feed your autodidactic critter curiosity, dive into the FAA pages on Wildlife Hazard Mitigation and Wildlife Management. –Scott Spangler, Editor