Bruce McCandless, the Astronaut in the Iconic Photo

By Robert Mark on January 18th, 2018 | Comments Off on Bruce McCandless, the Astronaut in the Iconic Photo

Bruce McCandless, the Astronaut In the Iconic Photo, by Micah Engber

Listen to the episode or read it below

When you think about the first space walk maybe you think about Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov who in March 1965 was the first man to ever leave the relative safety of a space capsule. Maybe it’s Ed White you think of, who in June 1965 opened the hatch of Gemini 4 and was the first American to walk in space.

The name Gene Cernan may come to mind. He flew Gemini 9A in June of 1966 and spent over two hours on an EVA. That EVA almost killed him due to our lack of understanding of the physical exertion it took to work in space, and the cooling system in his space suit not being able to keep up with it.

Then there’s Buzz Aldrin, sure, the second man on the moon, but actually the first man to successfully conduct a mission while on a space walk. In November 1966, on Gemini 12, the final Gemini mission, Buzz Aldrin conducted 3 EVAs that totaled more than five hours in space. Buzz Aldrin was the man that really taught us how to work in space.

EVAs seem rather common place today. Even though they’re always incredibly dangerous, always a challenge, and always very closely monitored both from on board the space craft and from the ground; the general public doesn’t think of EVA’s as anything special. In some ways that’s sad. It’s also sad that we also don’t think of the man that paved the way for the modern spacewalk, probably don’t know his name, and certainly don’t have any idea that he passed away on December 21 of 2017.

In February 1984, at the age of 39, Bruce McCandless was the first person to ever truly walk in space, and by truly, I mean untethered. You see, those four space walks I mentioned before, while all incredible feats of both courage and science, all had one thing in common, those men were tethered to their spacecraft, connected by an umbilical cord. Although in an emergency, none of them could be safely pulled back into their spacecraft by the tether, they couldn’t just go floating off in space.  On the other hand, in February 1984, Bruce McCandless flew in space, no strings attached; he piloted himself in what we called the MMU, the Manned Maneuvering Unit. Read the rest of this entry »

Science Fiction and Our Believable World

By Scott Spangler on January 15th, 2018 | 3 Comments »

Way Station.jpgIt has been decades since I’ve read any science fiction. Roaming the dusty shelves of my memory’s recall, the last such cover I cracked was called, I think, The Way Station. Like the other tomes I’d read in the genre, it described a fantastic future implausible for the time.

The protagonist was named Enoch something or other, and an alien chose him to become the ageless caretaker of a backwoods cabin that was a way station for interplanetary travel in the vein of Beam-Me-Up, Scotty. It existed in prosaic world that could have been my home, had my suburb been more rural and wooded.  (Ha! Wikipedia suggests that I’m holding dementia at bay. Clifford D. Simak published Way Station in 1963.)

After Christmas, looking for way to spend my gift card at Half-Price Books, I came across The Martian by Andy Weir. With none of the nonfiction titles of the shelves capturing my attention, I thought, why not? I really enjoyed the movie (so much that we bought the Blu-Ray), which starred Matt Damon. It was worth $7 to find out how closely the movie kept to the book.

The Martian 2014.jpgThe screenwriter did an excellent job of distilling Weir’s 369 pages into a 141-minute movie. The angel’s share was the more in-depth explanation of the science the planet’s sole inhabitant, Mark Watney, employed to survive. There were a few other points, like the rover’s emergency pop-up tents, whose excision really didn’t hurt the movie but really added to the book’s reality.

In both mediums, what really got my attention was the reversal of believability. All of the science, aerospace, or otherwise that described the Ares missions to Mars and the science that made possible Watney’s survival was available and possible today. Like Right Now! The movie suggests this, and the books more in-depth examinations make this indisputably clear.

The book never really touched on the underlying fantastic unbelievable circumstances that made the five-part Ares mission to Mars possible, and the movie added just a few lines of dialogue that hinted at it, when the program manager urged the NASA administrator to seek Congressional funding for a sixth mission to Mars.

The idea that our leaders would maintain their attention span for the time it took to plan and execute the Ares exploration of Mars is the fiction. Following this tangent I searched my mind for the last big thing America built that wasn’t promoted by some sort of conflict, like global war or conquest of space and the moon. The Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam were the first things that came to mind, and they were both public works projects with the ulterior motive of putting people back to work during the depression.

Another question I could not answer was when was the last time this nation had an approved federal budget in place before the next fiscal year started on October 1. I’m sure it has happened at least once since we declared our independence, but I can’t remember such an event in my lifetime, and I doubt I will see it in whatever time is left to me.

And given the increasing shortness of our national attention span and tolerance of ideas contrary to the one we hold to be “true,” it seems unlikely that this nation will ever again plan, build, and accomplish something big that’ not connected to the military. Pondering this sad reversal of achievable possibilities, one thing seems clear. I must read more science fiction. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Will 2018 Better Focus Our Aviation Future?

By Scott Spangler on January 1st, 2018 | Comments Off on Will 2018 Better Focus Our Aviation Future?

Happy New Year! I hope you all shared a safe and joyous celebration with family and friends. And warm. Let’s not forget warm. The air temp was double digits below zero here in Wisconsin, and the wind chill was about three times that. Avoiding hypothermia was, however, a good distraction from thinking about the inexorable march of time and our aviation future.

A pragmatic realist, I know that for aviation, it could go either way. Whether it focuses on the positive or negative side of the line depends, in part, on your point of view of the past, present, and future. There is no better example of this than automation technology’s steady march into the cockpit. Aurora successfully demonstrated its autonomous UH-1H for the U.S. Marines at Quantico.

Passenger-carrying aircraft—airliners—are in technology’s sights, and it will, perhaps, forever solve the cyclic pilot shortages that plague commercial aviation. Again, whether this is good or bad depends on your point of view and aviation situation. General aviation’s future is more precarious. The outcome of several factors in 2018 will provide better focus on its future.

Image result for privatize atcIf the politicians give control of air traffic control to the airlines by privatizing the system, general aviation, as we’ve known it, it is a goner. This outcome will depend on how many people pull their heads out of vapid partisan ideological echo chambers and rise up as a concerted whole and firmly, but civilly, push the Star Trek mantra that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

This mantra could also be a greater salvation, because decades of income inequality affects more than those who can’t afford the dream of flight. In that regard, maybe giving ATC to the airlines would be a kinder end to general aviation, a coup de grace, as it were. Starvation, an insufficient number of new pilots and aircraft owners to sustain general aviation, is a more painful end.

How many aircraft owners decide this year to comply with the ADS-B mandate should bring this aspect of aviation’s future into better focus. The requirement for ADS-B capabilities takes effect two years from today. While the numbers vary, those who count them agree that the number of aircraft owners who installed the equipment is well off the pace that indicates full compliance.

Image result for ads-b deadlineThis could mean that general aviation aircraft owners are either frugal procrastinators waiting for the best ADS-B deal or frugal Baby Boomers who will enjoy the freedom of flight until December 31, 2019, and then retire from the sky and sell their winged prides and joy. Two numbers will chart this course; those upgrading to ADS-B (and the volume of owners griping about the avionic shop lead time as they vie for precious openings) and the prices they ask when putting their aircraft up for sale (and the volume of their griping about the price relationship between supply and demand).

As it has since the Wrights launched the industry more than a century ago, only time will tell what course aviation’s future will take. But regardless of the outcome of its many challenges it has faced over its lifetime, and regardless of how the solutions to those challenges affected those involved, aviation continued in one form or another. And it will continue because it continues to covet fundamental contribution to humanity. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Price of Progress: Orville Wright’s Shower

By Scott Spangler on December 18th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

NAHA-207It’s Kitty Hawk Day. Every December 17 I take a few moments to thank aviation for enriching my life and to appreciate the contributions and sacrifices of those, past and present, that made it  possible. This reflection often involves an associated review of images, which led me to Orville Wright’s Shower, on the second floor of Hawthorn Hill, his home in Dayton. Better than anything else, it is a testament to the price he paid in furthering the art and science of flight.

Hawthorn Hill, Wright’s Dayton home, was on the tour of sites that are encompassed by the Our guides were Wright’s great grand niece and nephew, Amanda Wright Lane and Stephen Wright, and Dr. Tom Crouch, senior curator at the National Air & Space Museum and Wright scholar, author of The Bishop’s Boys. He was the perfect person to ask about the large shower room on the second floor that resembled a half-hemispheric decontamination shower whose array of nozzles would leave no part of the body undrenched.

NAHA-211Referencing the crash at Fort Myer that took the life of Lt. Thomas Selfridge on September 17, 1908, Orville suffered a broken leg and ribs, as well as injuries to his back and pelvis, Dr. Crouch told me. For the rest of his life he suffered not only from everlasting pain of these injuries, but from greatly constrained physical range of motion. But being a Wright, he accommodated the price he’d paid in promoting aviation and the airplanes that made it possible, by designing this shower.

Later that evening I returned to it and carefully stepped onto the tile floor and into the encircling silver array of nozzles. I wondered if Orville stood here, hoping the soothing spray of hot water would wash away the pain that was his constant companion. Did he think back to the cold and windswept dunes of Kitty Hawk when he and his brother launched their airborne journey and appreciate how luxurious a moment in this shower would have been then? It certainly crossed my mind as this train of thought led me to my participation in the hypothermic centennial celebration of that rain-drenched event.

NAHA-206Downstairs was a more personal accommodation of the price Orville paid to aviation. How many hours of reading there wore the knap off the upholstery of the chair he’d modified to hold a book on a swing arm? Probably many times the number he logged in flight. As he sat in that chair, did he look up from his book and remember the days, good and bad, that let up to it? What memories coursed through his mind on Kitty Hawk Day? Did he take a moment to quietly appreciate all that he’d accomplished, including the lessons learned from his failures? Did he, as I have, accept that for better or worse, it was all worth it, and then return his eyes and mind to pages before him. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Insanity and the DOT Pilot Shortage Solution

By Scott Spangler on December 4th, 2017 | 3 Comments »

Image result for pilot shortage 2017As most sentient people know, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Or maybe it is just laziness because developing a new, more efficient way of educating pilots is too much time, effort, and money. When it comes to evening out the pilot shortage cycles, it is much easier and economical to put a new name on a century of tradition unimpeded by progress.

That’s what Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao did in announcing the department’s Forces to Flyer Initiative that will explore ways “to address this pilot shortage, and ensure our nation continues to be a world leader in aviation.” This three-year demonstration program has two objectives: to learn how interested veterans might be in becoming commercial pilots, and to help train those who are not already pilots.

That last part is where the insanity comes in. The program will provide financial support to veterans to earn their CFI. “As many of you know,” said Chao, “flight instructors can use their paid time to earn hours toward their airline transport pilot certificate.” Clearly, she doesn’t know or hasn’t talked to a flight instructor, ever. She probably thinks that the average flight instructor earns enough to keep a roof over their heads and food in their bellies by teaching alone, and that they are so busy that they’ll log the ticket-punching 1,500 hours in less than a year. Never mind that 1,500 hours in GA aircraft offers little preparation to fly an airliner of any size.

Image result for gi bill flight trainingFor those old enough to remember the GI Bill flight training benefits, see the definition of insanity. Such programs rarely last long enough for a good number of vets to complete training because politicians with short memories want to spend the flight training money on something more important to them and their campaign benefactors. For everyone else, consider the aviation tradition of “paying your dues” as a CFI and working your way up. It worked when aviation was in its infancy, but it no longer meets the needs of 21st century aerospace. But the people who own, operate, and invest in airlines like it because it saves them a lot of money that they skim off the bottom line as bonuses and dividends…until they don’t have enough trained people to drive their winged buses, but that only happens every decade or two.

If government rule makers were really interested in bringing pilot training and certification up to date, they should take a lesson from the performance based navigation system of requirements that is making flight from Point A to B more efficient. Performance based pilot certification would not be based on an arbitrary number of hours, like 1,500, but rather of each pilot’s demonstrated ability to meet the requirements of a particular type of flying in a particular type of aircraft.

Performance based pilot training sure seems to work for the military, which updates the performance parameters with the current and coming technology and equipment. And from their first flight pilots learn to fly so they can meet their ultimate performance requirements. Student naval aviators, for example, learn that pitch determines speed and power controls altitude, and flaring to land doesn’t work on an aircraft carrier. And as they meet the performance requirements at each stage of training, they will have logged about 200 hours, give or take, when they make their first trap.

Image result for t-45 carrier landingThis is a case where a tradition is the source of progress. but making this change in civilian flight training might just be too much to hope for because bottom-line interests of those who will support the education of the pilots they need are more important than progress. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Theodor Knacke & Parachute Appreciation

By Scott Spangler on November 20th, 2017 | Comments Off on Theodor Knacke & Parachute Appreciation

If the name Theodor Knacke means nothing to you, don’t feel bad. It meant nothing to me, until last week when I learned about the man and his lifetime contributions to the field of aerodynamic decelerator systems, also known as parachutes. Many people in aviation only think about—and appreciate—the parachute if it is the only thing that will prevent a sudden stop after long fall. But just think, where would the space program be without the parachute, and the uncountable thousands whose lives have been saved by this seemingly simple device? And let’s not forget  those who fling themselves from high places for fun.

When looking at the details involved, designing a decelerator system is one of aviation’s premier engineering challenges. Working with a variety of sewn together textiles an engineer must create an aerodynamic system that reliably assembles itself in midair. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Let’s consider the parachute used in an F-18. It must fully deploy so an aviator does not come to a sudden stop after ejecting at zero speed and zero altitude. At the other end of its performance spectrum, the parachute must assemble itself in such a sequence that it does not self-destruct when it unfolds at 40,000 feet in a Mach number slipstream. And just to make it interesting, the parachute must be packed and hydraulically mashed into a solid textile brick that is wedged into the top of a seat under a canopy where the brick bakes on sunny days, freezes at altitude, is bathed it corrosive salt sea air for months and months and months.

And the engineer who wrote the book—literally—on meeting this daunting engineering challenge? Theodor Wilhelm Knacke. Don’t bother looking him up on Wikipedia. He doesn’t exist there. But he should, because among his many accomplishments is his compilation of all he’d learned about the field in Parachute Recovery Systems Design Manual. The photos on its cover depict some of the projects on which he worked. That effort began in 1930s at Flugtechnisches Institute Stuttgart (or Flight Institute of Stuttgart Technical University, FIST), which challenged him and a colleague, Georg Madelung “to develop a parachute suitable for the in-flight and landing deceleration of aircraft.” Their solution was the ribbon parachute, which led to the ring slot and ring sail parachutes that made “31 successful earth landings” of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo spacecraft.

Read the rest of this entry »

Veterans Day as a Time to Reflect

By Robert Mark on November 9th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

Veterans Day as a Time to Reflect

Funny how another person can make you think differently about something you thought you already understood. For me it’s my time in the military, the U.S. Air Force in the 1960s to be precise.

When Jetwhine contributor Micah Engber mentioned a Veteran’s Day podcast a few months back, I wondered why. He’d never served. But his idea for telling a unique story kept bugging me until I realized here was a non-vet with something to share and me, a real vet … I had nothing.

It took me awhile to come to grips with my issues. Turned out I’m pretty burned out on all the sloppy love people seem to have for vets these days, tossing around “Thanks you for your service,” and sticking “we support our troops” on the butt end of their cars as if that alone makes a difference. President after president seems not to understand that we all too often forget about these men and women once they come back stateside … the one time when Americans could actually put their money where their mouthes and their stickers are. It’s the insincerity of it all that makes me want to scream at times. Could it be worse, sure. When I left the Air Force in the 70s, people were generally indifferent to service men and women.

But listening to Micah’s stories of his grandfather and dad made me realize the two great wars taught him things in a way I never experienced. My dad wasn’t a vet. I don’t fault him for that since he had a hearing problem from the time he was a kid. But it meant there was no one in my family to hear stories from or ask questions of.

I think Micah grew up listening to those stories, but actually grew up as he listened. He grew when he asked the questions others thought he should have left alone. After this seven minute piece, I realized I was envious of Micah. While I’m glad he had that time with the guys in his family, I wished I’d been able to share the same thoughts with my family and people who wanted to know more. Maybe I will some day. Until then, have a peaceful Veterans Day.

Rob Mark, publisher

Veterans Day (script)

Here in the USA Veteran’s Day used to be called Armistice Day. It celebrated the end of World War I. We celebrate it on November 11 as the treaty between the Allies and Germany was signed at Compiègne, France on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918. If I understand it correctly, this same day is celebrated in Britain and the Commonwealth countries as Remembrance Day. A far more dignified and appropriate name. As usual here in the USA we changed the nature of the celebration and have turned it into something else completely, but at least we haven’t changed it to a “Monday Holiday” well, not yet anyway.

I grew up with a great respect for Armistice Day in my house. My grandfather, Grandpa Max, served in the US Navy in World War I, and during the Mexican Campaign before that. Some listeners may remember that he and I shared our first ever flights together in August of 1969, he at the age of 73, me at 13.

My father, Lew, was a World War II veteran of the US Army and was a called back to The US Air Force as a retread for Korea. He was rightfully very proud of his service, and I was, and still am quite proud of him as my Dad. He was part of that group of people called “the greatest generation” by newscaster Tom Brokaw, so were most of my mother and father’s friends and family. I was raised by this generation, as well as the generation before, that fought World War I.

As part of “The Greatest Generation” at the age of 18 he was drafted out of his engineering studies at CCNY and landed in England on his 19’th birthday. He would have been one of the first to land on Omaha Beach during D-Day but looking back on it, I suppose he was fortunate to have been injured during the preparations for that invasion; suffering with both head and back trauma that plagued him the rest of his life, fortunately though, it did keep him off the beach that day. I’m not sure I would be here if he weren’t injured then. Those injuries didn’t keep him out of the war though.

After the war, Lew went back to college, but having spent so much time building and destroying bridges in the Army Corp of Engineers, he realized engineering was no longer his passion and he became a psychologist. I suppose in some ways this made him more valuable to the Armed Forces as when he was again drafted, this time as a “re-tread” for the Korean War; he was inducted as a Second Lieutenant for the then newly formed US Air Force Medical Corp. After being introduced by mutual friends, in the summer of 1955 Lew and my mother Harriet were married, I came along a little over a year later.

Now growing up my Dad and I would watch many World War II films together. Some we saw in theatres, some we saw on TV, all of them we would watch together over and over.

While watching those films with my Dad I would ask him questions, questions about his service, about his experience in the war, questions I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to ask. My Dad, being a teacher and a psychologist didn’t discourage me, he knew they were innocent questions and used those times to teach me and tell me about his experiences, as much as he could anyway. I suppose he realized that talking to me about him “having seen the elephant” was good for both of us.

He also taught me the etiquette about asking so I’d have a better understanding of veterans. I think watching those films with my Dad, and him teaching me about “The War” helped give me a great respect for our military and the sacrifices they made, and continue to make to this day, in defending we civilians.

Thinking back on that makes me think of the word hero and its definition. No, I’m not talking about the sandwich, something I also learned about from my Dad and “the greatest generation”, I’m speaking of the men, and yes, based on the societal norms of the time, most often men, who risked their own lives to save others.

You see heroes aren’t sports figures or actors or singers. Celebrities aren’t heroes, unless the heroism didn’t come from their celebrity status. Heroes are the people doing their job, not thinking or maybe at the time not caring about their own safety, when they act to save the lives of others. Most heroes aren’t celebrities and don’t look for nor want that status. Heroes walk among us though, and most often, we unfortunately don’t know them. In truth, they probably wouldn’t want to be known, as they don’t think of themselves as heroes. Most would say, I was just doing my job, and to me, that’s what makes them heroes.

Now although my father probably wasn’t a hero to anyone but me, let me tell you what may be an apocryphal story about him. While I was growing up, he owned a 1914 32ACP German Mauser handgun that he captured during the war. I asked him how he got it and he explained that it was all a big mistake.

You see it was after VE Day and Dad was still overseas. He was somewhere along the Belgium Luxembourg German border. Things were safe and he was out at a local pub, “drunk as a skunk” he would say.

He didn’t know much German but while overhearing a conversation at the next table he was sure he strung together enough to know that a German Colonel had not surrendered and was hiding out in a house in the local village.

My drunken father dutifully went to report this to his commanding officer, who was not pleased. The CO could see my Dad was drunk, and knew he didn’t speak any German. The commanding officer sent him to his barracks and ignored him. Not to be ignored Lew stormed back into the duty office and insisted that they needed to go to the address he had, and arrest this German Colonel. This time my Dad was sent back to his barracks escorted by MP’s who stripped him down to his skivvies and put him to bed.

Still not thwarted my father returned to his CO and insisted he had to go arrest this Colonel. The CO must have been some understanding kind of guy and didn’t throw my drunken father in the brig, but took him and a couple of MP’s to this house to prove that there was no German Colonel hiding out in this fully cleared area.

They entered the house and sure enough, there was a German officer hiding out there, he was at the top of the stairs and drew his side-arm, a 1914 32ACP German Mauser, and started firing down at my Dad, the two MP’s and their CO. Lew, still being, drunk thought to himself, “somebody has to get that gun” and went charging up the stairs to take it away. The German Colonel, either stunned at this stupidity, or out of ammunition, we’ll never know, stopped shooting and my father seized his weapon.

Stupidity, drunkenness, heroism, maybe bit of all of that, but when my Dad after telling that story in his joking, good natured and raconteurial manner, was asked why he didn’t get a medal, he would say he was just lucky he didn’t end up in the brig and lose his good conduct ribbon. You see my father may have been a hero to me for various reasons, that being one of them, but it’s not the prima facie basis of it.

It does make me think though of other heroes. There’s a former US Air Force pilot I know, who among other duties during his service, was a flight instructor. He wasn’t just any flight instructor though, he would instruct many pilots about to wash out, and was usually able to get them back on track and into the sky, making real USAF pilots out of them.

Then there’s this former RAF pilot I know, who also among other things during his service, would hear a klaxon alarm and hop into his F-4 Phantom II and run off to chase down and intercept Russian Bear Bombers. He’d show them we were ever ready and not going to be surprised by them.

Through their service, both these pilots helped in keeping a Cold War from going hot, and creating the kind of heroes that most often come to mind when we think of Veteran’s or Remembrance Day.

So as a civilian with a great respect for those who serve in our military, I want to extend my thanks to all of you who did and do serve there. Thanks for keeping us safe, thanks for just doing your job.

For Jetwhine, here in Portland, Maine

This is your Main(e) man,


Redbird Migration: Technology as Teacher

By Scott Spangler on November 6th, 2017 | Comments Off on Redbird Migration: Technology as Teacher

RB-12Deciding which breakout sessions was a vexing challenge at the Redbird Migration Flight Training Symposium held at the EAA Aviation Center in Oshkosh between October 10 and 18. Participants could pick six of 17 breakout sessions, with only four repeats: Redbird R&D; ATDs: FAA approval, Certification & Regs; Best Practices for Teaching in a Redbird; and Bringing Redbird GIFT into Your Flight School.

GIFT—Guided Independent Flight Training—best articulated the sessions’ common denominator, technology as teacher. Learning to fly through self-study in a simulator is an interesting concept with a number of benefits. First, with an insufficient number of CFIs interested in exercising their teaching certificates, it allows one who teaches to supervise the education of more students. More importantly, it introduces more consistency in the presentation, practice, and evaluation of the of maneuvers GIFT teaches.

AV1-172Pilot proficiency is the next step, and expanding the efforts and success of EAA AirVenture’s Pilot Proficiency Center is an ongoing goal. Proficiency is an ongoing challenge for pilots who fly 50 hours (or less) each year for their own pleasure. Working with an instructor in a sim, pilots chose from a wide selection of VFR and IFR scenarios. Few will disagree that the sim is a better—and more affordable—classroom than an airplane. In addition, like GIFT, each scenario provides consistency that levels the teaching field.

Everyone agreed that increasing the benefit of this pilot resource depends on access and frequency. Billy Winburn of Community Aviation and Charlie Gregoire of Redbird Flight discussed ways sim-equipped flight schools could offer the scenarios at Pilot Proficiency Center on a Local Level.

A secondary benefit of all the simulator-based efforts was the growing ability to document a pilot’s progress from student to certificate to sustained proficiency. This was one of the topics Redbird’s Jerry Gregoire discussed at the Redbird R&D session. The proactive and interactive feedback pro and con about possible systems and their enhancements was an unexpected example of a diverse group working toward a common goal.

RB-20But maybe it was not that surprising, given the cautionary words of Bill Ayer, the retired pilot, chairman, president, and CEO of Alaska Airlines and the Alaska Air Group, one of the Migration’s featured speakers. Asking for a show of hands of those who measure and track their student completions, an isolated and lonely handful of arms reached to the homebuilt airplanes suspended above them.

Therein lies one reason why only a small, guessed-at percentage of students conclude their training with a successful checkride. Recounting the challenges he addressed in revitalizing Alaska Airlines, Ayer made it clear that “what you measure gets done.”

Indeed. Imagine what the population of active pilots would number if just half of the students over the past three decades had realized their dreams of becoming a pilot. If the combination of dedication, innovation, and integration of practical technology glimpsed at the Redbird Migration spreads to just half of the nation’s flight schools, that outcome is entirely possible. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Redbird Migration Looks Back at the Future of Flight Training

By Scott Spangler on October 23rd, 2017 | 1 Comment »

For the past six years, Redbird, which has developed a family of aviation training devices, has sponsored a flight-training symposium attended by a hundred or more of the land’s leading aviation educators. Known as the Redbird Migration, in the past this flock congregated at Redbird’s roost in Texas. For its seventh season, it met in Oshkosh, hosted by EAA.

RB-1For many of the participants, it was their first time in Oshkosh outside of EAA AirVenture, and the dearth of aircraft, people, and traffic disoriented them. Fortunately, Sean D. Tucker, the keynote speaker at the opening dinner on Monday, October 16, helped acclimate them. And talking with the educators reacclimated me with a community I was once intimately a part of, which I found disorienting.

On one hand, they were exuberant about the future. With the airlines hiring and the entry-level positions now paying almost enough for students to repay their loans and put a roof over their head and food in the bellies, enrollments in their training courses was growing. And new and evolving technology (like a Redbird sim) enabled schools to make the most of their customers’ time and money.

At the same time, however, this migration was, for me, a groundhog day. Like the background soundtrack that provides continuity to a movie, the flight school educators discussed the same problems we were talking about nearly 30 years ago.

Read the rest of this entry »

Presidential Aircraft: Standing in History

By Scott Spangler on October 9th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

USAF Museum Bldg 4Following Interstate 70 from one assignment in Indiana to the next in Maryland, a sign announcing the approach of Dayton inspired a deviation. I could spare a few minutes for a quick walk through the fourth building at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, which opened in June 2016. Parking and admission are free, but my quick walk through turned into a nearly 3-hour investment because I didn’t expect an absorbing inside look at history in four presidential aircraft.

Visiting before lunch on Wednesday in the final week of September, I had time to stand in the aisle of each, unsuccessfully trying to comprehend that I was following in the footsteps of Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower, each identified with a specific airplane powered by four robust piston engines, and SAM (for Special Air Missions) 26000, the VC-137C (a Boeing 707-320B). During its 36-year career, it served eight sitting presidents: Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 1, and Clinton.

SAM 26000Of the aircraft in the museum’s Presidential Gallery, SAM 26000 is the most significant to Baby Boomers because they lived through its history. It is the airplane that carried Kennedy to Berlin in mid-1963 and his body home from Dallas six months later. You can think about that while reading the placard in the cabin where the crew removed a partition and seats to make room for his coffin. Pile on top of that the knowledge that this airplane carried Johnson to Vietnam and Nixon to China.

Read the rest of this entry »