Pilot Past Tense

By Scott Spangler on March 12th, 2018 | 2 Comments »

logbookAsking newly met people their occupations is a phatic conversation starter that leads me down the semantic rabbit hole. Upon learning that I’m a word merchant, they ask what I write about. After hearing “aviation,” they ask if I’m a pilot, which is usually followed by “What do you fly?”

And so it starts.

Yes, I earned my private pilot certificate in 1976 and my instrument rating and commercial certificate in the 1990s. Because those certificates will never expire, I proudly acknowledge to the title of pilot, as a noun: “a person qualified to operate the control of an aircraft or spacecraft” (I wish!).

But “pilot” is also a transitive verb: “to act as a pilot of, on, in, or over” some craft. To pilot an aircraft in the present tense requires a valid medical certification (in a form applicable to the certificates and ratings held), a current flight review, and the documentation of compliance with the applicable currency requirements.

In this regard, I’m a pilot in the past tense. As far as I know right now, I possess no intellectual or physical disqualification that would prevent me from becoming a pilot in the future tense. And there are times, especially on nice spring and summer days, when I consider investing in piloting in the present tense. And then I get another notice that seems to be counting down the months until I must enroll in Medicare.

biplane-generic-4But what is life but a series of difficult decisions? One day every pilot will realize he or she has reached the point of no return and will have to make a decision that will define the narrative that is the remainder of their lives. And like writing a story, there is no one right or wrong way, but each path is lined with consequences directly related to it. Only time will tell if there’s another logbook entry along the path I’ve chosen.

A tangent on this debate of pilot tenses is one of aeronautical identity: is a pilot in the past tense still a pilot noun? Depending on my mood, I’ve taken both sides. I recommend that you not conduct this mental effort while tensely stretched out in the dentist’s recliner. It never ends well.

If you’re facing a similar cognitive conversation and you’re just not in the mood to deal with our pilot tense at the moment, may I recommend distraction. This always works for me: If a pilot in the present tense is airborne and the sole manipulator of the controls when time springs forward or falls back, how does he or she log it? – Scott Spangler, Editor

Learning to Fly and the Convenience Culture

By Scott Spangler on February 26th, 2018 | Comments Off on Learning to Fly and the Convenience Culture

ltf sign“Convenience,” wrote Tim Wu in The Tyranny of Convenience, “more efficient and easier ways of doing personal tasks—has emerged as perhaps the most powerful force shaping our individual lives and our economies.” From a passenger’s perspective, aviation is all about convenience, especially when compared to long distance journeys on foot or by school bus. But learning to fly, becoming a pilot, is anything but convenient.

As Wu suggested, this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it gives new context to an individual’s aspiration of pilothood.

Those who have seen their training through to certification know that learning to fly is inconvenient. It demands a serious commitment and investment of time and money. To attract more newcomers, many in aviation have endeavored to make the process less arduous.

When it comes to manned flight, this is probably a self-defeating effort. “Convenience,” wrote Wu, “has the ability to make other options unthinkable.” Nothing a flight school does will equal another more convenient aviation experience that is now enjoying robust growth: drones.

1612f_ten_01_16x9Yes, I can now hear you thinking, but flying an airplane and flying a drone are not equal. And I would not argue with you. But which pursuit is more convenient? A good preflight inspection often last longer than a drone’s battery, but that seems a perfect match for today’s average attention span.

Before you answer this, consider all of the conveniences you have accumulated over the years and decades to make your life “easier” and “more fulfilled.” And be honest, like Wu: “Convenience seems to make our decisions for us, trumping what we like to imagine are our true preferences. (I prefer to brew my own coffee, but Starbucks instant is so convenient I hardly ever do what I ‘prefer.”) Easy is better, easiest is best.”

But there is a dark side to convenience, Wu writes. “With its promise of smoother, effortless efficiency, it threatens to erase the sorts of struggles and challenges that help give meaning to life. Created to free us, it become a constraint on what we are willing to do, and thus in a subtle way enslave us.”

Pursuing inconvenience at every turn to give life meaning would just be silly. Washing clothes by beating them on a rock down by the river would be more meaning than any one life would deserve, especially during a Wisconsin winter.

helmet gogglesOur culture of convenience “fails to acknowledge that difficulty is a constitutive feature of human experience,” Wu said. “Convenience is all destination and no journey.” For those looking for a rewarding journey that guarantees the struggles and challenges that give meaning to life, learning to fly is perfect.

Accepting this might be an effective marketing challenge for those seeking aviation newcomers. Make that newcomers who want to fly for fun. Those seeking a flying career are driven by other motivations. Perhaps our predecessors, who described flying for fun in post-World War II America as a hobby, were onto something.

“Embracing inconvenience may sound odd, but we already do it without thinking of it as such,” Wu said. “As if to mask the issue, we give other names to our inconvenient choices” We call them hobbies, avocations, callings, passions.” Perhaps you yourself have used one of these words to explain why you fly.

Investing the time and money in learning to fly is rarely discussed with newcomers beyond the transportive convenience it provides once achieved. Wu wasn’t talking about flying, but he could have been. “Such activities take time, but they also give us time back. They expose us to the risk of frustration and failure, but they also can teach us something about the world and our place in it.”

Or above it. Rather than promoting the future convenience of learning to fly, why not focus on “the joy of doing something slow and something difficult, the satisfaction of not doing what is easiest.”

Couch this outreaching challenge in a way that will tickle the interest of people who want to stand apart, to be noticed (and that includes just about everyone in the realm of selfie social media). Learning to fly is, perhaps, the north star in “the constellation of inconvenient choices [that] may be all that stands between us and a life of total, efficient conformity.”

super heroIt is certainly worth considering because those who fly for fun, for recreation, are the the economic foundation of general aviation, just as the middle class is for the American economy. Adapting the marketing messages to keep pace with the cultural changes and interests is essential for its survival, and one message does not interest all comers. –Scott Spangler, Editor

N-Numbers, ICAO, and Your ADS-B Identity

By Scott Spangler on February 12th, 2018 | Comments Off on N-Numbers, ICAO, and Your ADS-B Identity

6MarkingsPlacardsNumbers-4Many owners like to personalize their prized aircraft with an N-number that represents them, often with their initials. Before the advent of NextGen, painting the new number on the airplane, and professing it to ATC, covered the customization. Now, unless an airplane’s ADS-B identity matches its new N-number, a filter the FAA activated in January will likely scrub it from ATC’s scopes and the Traffic Information Services Broadcast to other aircraft with ADS-B.

Aircraft transmitting erroneous information, whose ADS-B identity doesn’t match the N-number painted on the airplane and processed to ATC, will not wander the sky at will. They will continue to receive ATC services based on secondary radar information when flying in radar coverage.

What’s this ADS-B identity, and where does one find it? Officially, it is the 24-bit ICAO address that is forever linked to an N-number, like a fraternal twin. It is otherwise known at the Mode S code, and when the N-number changes, so does the code.

Common Installation IssuesIf aircraft owners don’t have their avionics shops update their ADS-B systems with the new ICAO address (and call sign, if their aircraft officially operates with one instead of its N-number), when they get a new N-number, they will be spewing erroneous information. And should they get caught by the new filter, they will receive a notice of the errors of their ways and a request to contact the FAA’s ADS-B Focus Team, if the FAA can locate the owner of the offending airplane, that is.

When the ADS-B identity doesn’t match the physical N-number, making the aircraft registry connection to the owner is more involved. And if the FAA cannot make the connection, the offending aircraft is forever filtered without further notice.

There are several ways owners can ensure that their aircraft are broadcasting the correct ADS-B identity. They can have their avionics shop connect the appropriate test box and check all the numbers, correcting those in error. Or they can request a Public ADS-B Performance Report (PAPR), an automated online tool that emails a free ADS-B report card within 30 minutes after the conclusion of the specified flight in ADS-B airspace.


A PAPR examination highlights all of the erroneous data in red (check out the online PAPR user’s guide for all the details). If an owner requests a report but doesn’t receive one for the N-number he or she types into the online form, that means the system cannot find it in its inventory of flights, which means that the airplane’s ADS-B identity doesn’t match the number painted on its flanks.

Another common error is an improper emitter category, which identifies the aircraft size by weight. Its seven categories range from Light Airplane (max weight of 15,500 pounds or less) to Heavy (max weight of 300,000 pounds or more). It has three more definitive categories: Rotorcraft (all of them, regardless of maximum weight), High Performance (more than 400 knots true and 5 g), and Large Airplane with High Vortex (airplanes that weigh 75,000 pounds or more that generate high wake vortex; the Boeing 757 is the only current example).

There might be a third way, doing nothing. The only clue that there might be something amiss with the airplane’s ADS-B identity is a reduction of available ATC services. Equally important is the degradation of TIS-B traffic, which works in concert to mute the aircraft owner’s ADS-B investment. – Scott Spangler, Editor.

Memories of the Gooney Bird (DC-3)

By Robert Mark on February 4th, 2018 | Comments Off on Memories of the Gooney Bird (DC-3)

The DC-3, a C-47 “Gooney Bird” when it’s dressed up for the military, conjures intense memories for me, like when my parents bought me an airline ticket to fly back from school in Champaign IL to Chicago one Thanksgiving. That Ozark DC-3 ride was my first, as well as my indoctrination to holding patterns and the wait to land at ORD in the middle of a winter snowstorm. Years later I found myself in the left seat of a DC-3 at Opa Locka airport in South Florida trying to get through my first type rating. The training money ran out before I took the checkride, so DC-3s became a bird I watched from afar, except at AirVenture of course.

Standing in a Gooney Bird on the ground demands balance and practice

This week our Maine Man Micah sent this report about his own memories of the DC-3. Almost coincidentally, the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) this week re-launched a restored C-47, “That’s All Brother.” That airplane originally led part of the Allies D-Day assault on Normandy in June 1944. My colleagues at Flying covered it here (@flyingmagazine).

But for now, turn your attention to Micah’s story. For a guy who isn’t a pilot, I found it fascinating.

Rob Mark


Memories of the Gooney Bird (DC-3) by Micah Engber

The New Year brings about many thoughts. These particular thoughts though were inspired by regular listener Sjoert Baker in The Netherlands. Since meeting him in Farnborough in July, 2016, Sjoert and I have continued to be touch through Twitter and the Airline Pilot Guy podcast chat room. He works with the Dutch Dakota Association also known as DDA Classic Airlines or just DDA. If things go as planned, sometime soon DDA will be bringing a DC-3 back to life to become a sightseeing passenger airliner.

Like the Wright Flyer, the Douglas DC-3 also first flew on December 17’th but thirty-two year later in 1935. It’s amazing what happened in those three decades. The DC-3 had a cruise speed of 207 mph, a range of 1,500 miles, a service ceiling of 23,200 feet and a climb rate of 1,130 feet per minute. With those kind of numbers many say the DC-3 was the first real airliner and it certainly revolutionized air transport.

Now of course, I have no doubt that you all remember that I have many favorite aircraft, yea, I’m fickle that way. My love of airplanes is catholic, that’s with a lower case letter “C”. When used that way, the word means universal. But even with my catholic tastes and fickle nature, I must say that the DC-3, without a doubt, has been one of my true loves for over 50 years.

I remember the first time I saw a DC-3, it was in the 1945 John Ford film, They Were Expendable, starring Robert Montgomery, John Wayne, and Donna Reed, although I’ve got to say, my favorite actor in that film is Ward Bond; he’s always been outstanding in just about everything he’s done, Fort Apache, The Maltese Falcon, The Grapes of Wrath, but that’s another story.

Anyway, the first time I saw They Were Expendable, I must have been about 7 or 8 years old and watched it, as I did so many old films, with my father, Lew. At the end of the film I saw a plane fly in to take Robert Montgomery and John Wayne to safety. The aircraft was sleek, twin engined, looking like, as Max Flight once said, “Just what an airplane should look like.” It was love at first site. I asked my Dad, “What kind of plane is that?” He said, “It’s a C‑47.”

My Dad told me the C-47 was a cargo and troop carrying airplane, and that while he was in theatre, in Europe, he flew on them many times. A few weeks later, my Dad took me to the movies. Yes, we went out to the big screen together to see The Longest Day. A top notch flick I highly recommend. The Longest Day was filled with C‑47’s. From then on, I was looking for C-47’s in every film I ever watched.

Three or four years later, I was visiting my cousin Mitchel on Long Island in New York. He was in the Civil Air Patrol and he took me to Islip/MacArthur Airport to show me around. My Aunt Martha, Mitchel’s mom, dropped us off at the airport and said she would be back to pick us up in a couple of hours. Back then airports were pretty open spaces and even kids like us could pretty much just walk out on the tarmac at any time. I remember approaching the flight line, and I saw, parked right in front of me, a C-47, the first one I ever saw in person.

I said to Cousin Mitchel, look, that’s a C-47 but he corrected me. “No”, he said, “that’s a DC-3.” Mitchel took the time to explain the difference between a DC-3 and C-47 but it didn’t matter to me, I was in love.

We walked right up to it, got right under its nose and looked up. Remember, I couldn’t have been more than 11 or 12 years old, I was a kid, and the plane looked immense to me. I remember Cousin Mitchel’s words as he looked up with me, he said “Look at all that surface area!”

We stood in front of that DC-3 for maybe 30 minutes, and spent the rest of our time there walking around it, inspecting it from nose to tail, wingtip to wingtip. The two hours we had at the airport felt like 10 minutes and then it was time to go.

I didn’t get close to another DC-3 again for over a decade. This time it was in Athens, Ohio at the Ohio University Airport. The Avionics Department at Ohio University had been gifted two DC-3’s by the Federal Government. One was permanently grounded but the other was flown as a test bed for electronics. I never got to see them while an undergraduate, I didn’t have any way to get out to the airport, but when I returned to Athens, Ohio as a graduate student I would visit them regularly.

If you go to a map and look at the area in and around Athens, Ohio you can see that it’s pretty much of a dead spot for aircraft. It would drive me nuts not being able to look up and see an airplane in the sky. It was major event when one was visible.

As a graduate student, about every two weeks I would drive out to what was an almost deserted airport to visit the DC-3’s. Most times they were locked up in their hangar and I had to peek at them through a window, occasionally one would be outside and I could walk right up to it. But once I was invited inside and got a chance to climb up into the cockpit. It was only for a minute but what a thrill!!

A few years later I took a job in Pueblo, Colorado. Part of my job responsibility was running a summer Youth Hostel and Conference Center. The location of this facility overlooked the Pueblo Memorial Airport and it was wonderful for plane spotting. (If you want to can hear more about my experiences in Pueblo check out my story, Pueblo, A Geeks Dream which appeared on Airplane Geeks Episode 313.)

Back then the Pueblo Memorial Airport also played host to the Great Colorado Air-Show at the end of every summer. I attended it one year with my father when he flew out from New Jersey to visit me. After that I just watched the acts from my perch high on the hill that looked perpendicular to runways 8/26, and parallel to runways 17/35.

One year the Conference Center hosted a group of skydivers that were going to perform at the air-show. They were a large group and being the airplane geek I’ve always been, I befriended them, asked about their act, how long they were doing it and what they would be jumping from. They told me they hired a DC-3 and it would be coming in the next day. They invited me down to the airport to watch them “dirt-dive” and do their practice jumps. I’d never seen anything like that before and was thrilled to take part, but what I really wanted was a ride in that DC-3.

The pilot checked in the next morning; I was at the desk and made sure he got the best room we had. I told him what a fan I was of the DC-3 and that I would be coming down to the airport later in the day to watch dirt-dives and practice jumps. I asked him if there was any chance I might be able to get a ride on the DC-3 during one of the jumps. His response, “Well come on down and we’ll see what we can work out.” I was ecstatic.

Later that day I went down to the airport and was welcomed by the group. I had no familiarity with sky diving. I was taught about dirt-diving and watched everyone countdown and roll around the tarmac on their bellies on wheeled carts. They would count down, start, count up, go into formation, count down again, and break off. Then the group would critique the dirt-dive and try it again. It went on for a couple of hours until they were ready to make a practice jump.

Now I wish I remembered the pilot’s name. I do recall he had an incredible number of hours in many different types and had a US Air Force background. The way he looked, as well as the way he walked and talked, a modest yet swaggering style, he sort of reminded me of Sam Shepard.

During the dirt dives I checked in with him, asked what the chances were of flying in the DC3. He said they looked pretty good but he needed to check with the FAA inspector.

I didn’t know why a conversation with an FAA inspector was necessary, still don’t for that matter. But when the inspector came along to check in and look at the aircraft I do remember him asking the pilot if he had his own parachute. His exact words “You got a rig?” The pilot picked up a black rig and walked with it to the aircraft as they went on the inspection tour.

The inspector left and the pilot said to me, “Not this time but hang around, we should be able to get you on for the next jump.” A few minutes later the sky diving team climbed on board and they took off for their first live practice of the day.

It was just terrific to watch those engines start up from so close by, hear the roar of those Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasps, and feel the breeze they kicked up. I watched them taxi out, take off and climb. I lost sight of it for a while but then the next time I saw it, it wasn’t just it, it was them; that DC3 looked like it was giving birth to 30 or so little ants as the sky divers jumped and started their free-fall. I was so enthralled with the sky diving that I lost track of the aircraft until it landed.

The sky divers touch down, grabbed up their chutes and came back to the practice area where they re-packed and discussed the dive. Then they started dirt diving again making corrections based on what happened in the air. They told me they would only be doing 2 or 3 dirt dives this time, and then go do another practice jump, their last for the day.

Trying not to be a pest, but also not wanting to be forgotten I asked the pilot what the odds were that I would be able to come along this time. He said he hadn’t forgotten about me, but needed to run it by the FAA inspector when he returned.

The conversation between the pilot and the FAA inspector was interesting to say the least. The pilot pointed at me and said “Can I bring him along in the right seat?” The inspector replied “He got a rig?” and the pilot said, On the plane.” and the inspector replied “OK”.

Well that was great news, I was going to fly in a DC3, in the right seat no less, but I had no idea why I needed a parachute, in fact I still don’t. But I did know there was no parachute on the plane for me. I also knew that even if there was one I had no idea how to put it on, let alone use it! No matter, I was going to fly in a DC3.

The pilot walked me over to the plane and got in with me close behind him. I walked up the incline to the cockpit and had to climb over a great big green oxygen bottle, about four feet long and mounted lengthwise in the fuselage with the valve right in the opening of the cockpit door. Attached to that valve were a bunch of hospital style clear soft plastic oxygen masks connected with long clear tubing. It looked rather jury rigged to me; maybe that’s what the FAA inspector had wanted to see.

The interior of the DC3 was hot; I mean it had to be at least 95° Fahrenheit, that’s 35° Celsius. Remember it was the middle of the afternoon in August in the high desert of Colorado. The pilot had his window open and I slid mine back too, trying to catch what little breeze there might be. I was sweating like in a sauna and was soaked with perspiration.

The skydivers climbed onboard and the pilot began start-up procedures. He had me call clear out of my opened window and started the right R-1830, then he started left one. We taxied out and took off.

The skydivers were packed in behind me like cattle. One of them, directly behind me was fiddling with the oxygen and within a few minutes he handed me a mask. It seemed a bit strange to be starting the oxygen so early in the climb but then I remembered we had a 5,000 foot head start. Pueblo is at 5,000 feet Mean Sea Level. The other thing I realized, I was cold, the stiff breeze and the altitude had pretty much dried out my sweat soaked shirt and I reached to close the window.

We climbed to about 20,000 feet. It was a long climb, remember the DC3 has the service ceiling of only 23,200 and a climb rate is 1,130 feet per minute so it took about 15 minutes to get to drop altitude.

I was breathing through the mask, happy to finally be flying in a DC3 for my first time. We reached the drop point and the pilot shouted “Go!” The skydivers all started shouting “Go go go”, and then they were gone. By the time I turned around to see them exit, the plane was empty. Before I knew it we were in a steep banking dive to the right.

I’d never been in a dive so steep before or since, and while I can’t tell you how many degree bank it was, it felt like a really high angle. Between the excitement of being in a DC3 for the first time, and the first time taking off with a group of passengers I wasn’t landing with, combined with the steep dive and high bank angle it all felt a bit dreamy to me.

The pilot had put down his oxygen mask and I wondered why as I was still holding mine over my nose and mouth and was breathing through it. Like I said, it all felt like a dream. The next thing I knew we were lining up to land, touched down, and came to what felt like a very quick stop on the runway. I commented on it to the pilot and he said “that’s one of the beauties of the DC3”.

What I didn’t realize though, until I got off the plane, was that just before the skydivers jumped, they turned off the oxygen. That’s why we made such a steep dive to lose altitude quickly, and I mean quickly. That’s also why it felt so dreamy to me. I must have been hypoxic

So my first and only flight in a DC3 is just a memory, and a rather faded one at that. Some of that fade is due to time, but a good deal of it is due to lack of oxygen.

Some thirty odd years later, I’m still in love with the DC3, I guess I always will be. Maybe one day, I’ll get a chance to fly in one, with enough oxygen in my system to sustain the memory of it. Until then, the dream and the reality of that wonderful flight, that one time back in Pueblo, Colorado, will just have to do.

Here in Portland, Maine, this is your Main(e) man,


The Aesthetics of Collision Avoidance

By Scott Spangler on January 29th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

belowWhen it came time for Dennis Hutchinson to paint the Davis DA-2 he’d restored, he picked red and white with gold and blue accents, “because I like them and think they go well together.”

Aesthetics had little do with how he arranged those colors on the airframe. Collision avoidance was top of mind: “As small as the Davis is, I wanted it to be as visible as possible in flight, to pop out of the background, not blend in,” said Hutchinson, who’s based at the Indianapolis Regional Airport (MQJ) in Greenfield, Indiana.

Starting in gliders, Hutchinson has been a pilot for half a century. When Leeon Davis flew his prototype DA-2, with its 19-foot-3 wingspan and 17-foot-10 fuselage, in 1966, Hutchinson was two years away from soloing a glider, at age 14, after his 13th flight. He got his private at 15, before he was eligible for a driver’s license.

above“Most sailplanes are painted white, to protect their composite structures,” he said. “What I’d observed from an early age was that sailplanes with even a small amount of darker, contrasting paint on the nose and wingtips were much easier to spot in flight that those with an all white finish.”

That’s why  the tips of the Davis’s constant-chord wing and V-tail are red, because they contrast with the white inboard sections. The upper fuselage is white because it stands out against the darker earth when viewed from above, just as the red on the lower fuselage does against the sky when seen from below.

Going beyond this aesthetic contribution to collision avoidance, Hutchinson installed an AeroLED package of position/navigation/strobe lights on the wingtips and tail cone. “They are interconnected and flash simultaneously, to great effect.”

Davis DA-2The landing and taxi lights are mounted in each wing, and they are capable of wig-wag mode. “They are not interconnected with the strobes, so they flash at a different rate,” he said. “Since all the lights are LEDs, the power they draw is minimal, and I highly value the extra visibility.”

Hutchinson said the combination of his collision avoidance paint scheme and lights is working, because when he arrives at a new airport, right after asking what kind of plane he’s flying (His initial answer? “It’s a freeze-dried Bonanza.”) pilots “tell me that the plane is lit up like a Christmas tree.” – Scott Spangler, Editor

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 https://www.aviationheritagearea.org/. 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