Space Weather: Expand Your Meteorological Sphere

By Scott Spangler on January 23rd, 2023 | What do you think? »

Right after pounding the final words of Reading the Weather into my computer, I opened the Aviation Weather Handbook, FAA-H-8083-28 and scrolled to Chapter 23. At first glance, space weather stands tall as a meteorological oxymoron. How can weather—the state of the atmosphere with respect to heat or cold, wetness or dryness, calm or storm, clearness or cloudiness—exist in a vacuum?

It defines Space Weather as “processes occurring on the Sun or in the Earth’s magnetosphere, ionosphere, and thermosphere that could have a potential impact to the near-Earth environment. Space weather phenomena such as solar flares, radiation storms, and geomagnetic storms are some potential concerns for aviation.”

Okay, so why is it important to atmospheric aviators? Oh, because space weather can affect radio communications, GPS navigation, and expose humans and their avionics to radiation. Tell me more.

With its uninterrupted luminescence and solar wind, the sun is the primary source of space weather, especially when it is in an eruptive mood. It cyclically spews coronal mass ejections and flares into the void, potentially causing radio blackouts, magnetic storms, and ionospheric and radiation storms on Earth. Contributing sources of space weather include galactic cosmic rays, charged particles born in distant supernovae. Consider it a steady space weather drizzle.

Unlike an LED bulb, the sun’s energy output changes over time. Sunspots are the handbook’s primary example. Although astronomers have been studying them for centuries, sunspot physics are not fully understood. Their activity waxes and wanes over an 11-year cycle and their activity is “often used for a proxy index for changing space weather conditions.”

When sunspots erupt, galactic gales blow. Coronal mass ejections (CMEs), flares, and galactic cosmic rays from distant supernovae contribute to solar wind, the breeze of charged particles and a magnetic field of plasma that carries the sun’s stormy energy to Earth. Even when the sun isn’t storming, wind’s constant current of plasma fuels Earth’s geomagnetic field, which in turn defines the globe’s geospace, the area influenced by solar wind.

Extending in all directions, Earth’s magnetosphere “forms a cocoon for the planet, protecting it from the flow of solar wind. It deflects most of the wind’s energy, but some of it gets through, especially when the sun is storming.” This is when we are most likely to marvel at the aurora undulating in night skies near the polar regions in the northern and southern hemispheres.

One layer down from the magnetosphere is the ionosphere. It is a shell of plasma where electrons and ions are embedded in the neutral atmosphere of Earth. It begins roughly 80 km above the Earth’s surface. That’s 49.709 miles or 262,467 feet for those without a conversion app close at hand.

The sun erupts mostly where it is most magnetic (the image of a solar zit comes to mind). Flares and CMEs are the most common because they can be seen from Earth (with the appropriate vision-protective filters). Earthlings have known about solar flares for more than a century. These electromagnetic volcanos erupt with a bright flash that lasts a few minutes, or a few hours. Traveling at the speed of light, their energy instantly affect the sunny side of Earth.

We really didn’t know about CMEs until the satellite era. Not as bright as a solar flare, CMEs can mature for hours before they erupt. When a large volume of the sun’s corona (its outer atmosphere) erupts, its energy can equal a large solar flare, but its travel time is slower, one to four days. But a CME plays greater havoc to Earth’s magnetic field and can cause the strongest magnetic storms.

When a geomagnetic storm blows up in the Earth’s magnetic field, the aurora is the only esthetically pleasing consequence. Otherwise, these storms cause nothing but problems for technological systems like aviation’s navigation and communication networks, and they can last for days, with more robust tempests lasting a week.

This deluge of solar particles and electromagnetic radiation can also stir up the ionosphere and magnetosphere, often at the same time. “The symptoms of an ionospheric storm include enhanced currents, turbulence and wave activity, and a nonhomogeneous distribution of free electrons. This clustering of electrons, which leads to scintillation of signals passing through the cluster, is particularly problematic for the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), which includes the United States’ GPS.” These storms can last a few minutes to a few days, and they often mirror the duration of geomagnetic storms.

Space Weather Consequences

The electromagnetics of space weather is what makes it important to Earthly aviation. When line-of-sight VHF communication isn’t possible, as it is over the ocean, airplanes must communicate using High Frequency, which bounces over the horizon, and is usually the first to suffer a solar flare blackout. With some solar storms, this detrimental effect can spill over to 30-300 MHz. That includes the aviation VHF spectrum that spans from 118.000 to 135.975 mHz.

Satellite signals transit the ionosphere, but their frequencies are usually high enough “for the ionosphere to appear transparent.” But when sufficiently stirred, the ionosphere can scintillate a satellite’s signal, causing “a twinkling in both amplitude and phase that can result in loss-of-lock and the inability for the receiver to track a Doppler-shifted radio wave.”

This loss-of-lock is one way space weather affects GPS signals. The other two are an increased error of the computed position, and solar radio noise overwhelming the transmitted GPS signal.

Finally, space weather irradiates pilots, their passengers, and their avionics, especially at higher latitude and flight levels. For the electronic components, the damage comes from “the highly ionizing interactions of cosmic rays, solar particles, and the secondary particles generated in the atmosphere.” And the more modern the avionics, with their ever-shrinking electronic organs, the more susceptible they are to the electronic precipitation from space weather.

Now that space weather has my attention, my next question is, Where does one get a space weather briefing? Hmm, Chapter 26.7, Space Weather Advisory. Let’s see what it has to say. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Reading the Weather

By Scott Spangler on January 9th, 2023 | What do you think? »

It is that time of year when Mother Nature is in a gray and gloomy mood that sucks the Vitamin D out of your soul. The Scots, who know something about unpleasant weather, have a word for it—dreich—that beat glaikit, scunnered, and shoogle as the most iconic Scots word in 2019. Pronounced ˈdrēḵ, it means wet, dull, gloomy, dismal, dreary, or any combination of these conditions. In other words, weather well past ugly and dispiriting.

So motivated and looking for something to pass the weekend until the Packers play their make-or-break regular season game that determines their post-season play, I wandered over to the FAA website to see if it had published any new Aviation Handbooks & Manuals. Scrolling through the titles I search for new publication dates or change/addition dates.

When I find a new edition, I download the PDF (this frugal and immediate gratification is one of the internet’s redeeming features) and page through it to see what’s new, what’s changed, and how much I’ve forgotten since I last turned its pages, a date also provided by the publication and or change dates. It may seem silly, but since the internet started providing me with free copies of these fundamental aviation knowledge sources, it is part of my recurrent and knowledge refreshment program.

And if there is something new, it gives me something productive to do on a dreich weekend. BINGO! FAA-H-8083-28 Aviation Weather Handbook – 12/21/2022.

Clocking in at 31.09 MB, the 2022 edition counts 532 pages, more than enough to keep me busy until the Packers’ primetime kickoff on Sunday night. Oh, this is new! The handbook consolidates six advisory circulars in a single-source reference for Aviation Weather (AC 00-6), Thunderstorms (AC 00-24), Clear Air Turbulence Avoidance (AC 00-30), Aviation Weather Services (AC 00-45), Pilot Windshear Guide (AC 00-54), and Hazardous Mountain Winds (AC 00-57).

Hmm, I haven’t read half of these, so this may take more than a weekend. Thankfully, the handbook is subdivided into three parts.

Part 1 provides an Overview of the United States Aviation Weather Service Program and Information in three chapters. Part 2 dives into Weather Theory and Aviation Hazards and explores them in Chapter 4, The Earth’s Atmosphere, to 23, Space Weather. Part 3 explains the Technical Details Relating to Weather Products and Aviation Weather Tools in Chapter 24, Observations, to Chapter 28, Aviation Weather Tools.

One of the nice things about my recurrent education plan is that it lets me start wherever my curiosity says is most compelling. In scrolling through the contents, Section 26.7, Space Weather Advisory, is unknown to me, so that’s where I’ll start. So, if you’ll excuse me…but before I go, I wonder what system you’ve devised to review and refresh your fundamental aviation knowledge. Please let me know in the comments. I’m always looking for better, more thorough and efficient ways of keeping up with aviation’s dynamic knowledge base. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Every Flight Resolution: Look Out the Window

By Scott Spangler on December 26th, 2022 | 1 Comment »

Here’s hoping you had a happy Christmas, and that Mother Nature’s preparatory frosty whiteout didn’t deprive you the company of traveling to family and friends. With them on their way home, and the Christmas clutter cleared away, contemplating resolutions might be on your to-do list of New Year’s preparations. If you’re a current and active pilot, might I recommend the recently published Advisory Circular 90-48E, Pilots’ Role in Collision Avoidance.

NTSB Safety Alert SA-058 said: “The ‘see-and-avoid’ concept has long been the foundation of midair collision prevention. However, the inherent limitations of this concept, including human limitations, environmental conditions, aircraft blind spots, and operational distractions, leave even the most diligent pilot vulnerable to the threat of a midair collision with an unseen aircraft.”

The accident that inspired this alert involved two air tour aircraft in Alaska, but the NTSB’s recommendion works for any aircraft that operates in “congested airspace,” like the airspace around an airport—ADS-B with a Traffic Advisory System that “would provide significant advance warning….” Even with such a system, once warned pilots still need to look away from the ADS-B screen and out the window to locate the traffic with the Mark 1 eyeball.

The benefit of ADS-B is that it gives pilots a relative bearing on which they should begin their search. Reviewing the circular’s “Human Limitations Affecting See-and-Avoid” can improve the quality of the visual investigation if pilots address such things as blind spots by moving their head or repositioning a high or low wing to see what’s on the other side of the obstruction.

Avionics aside, the circular reinforces the reality that the human eye is “the most advanced piece of flight equipment in any aircraft” because “the number one cause of midair collisions is the failure to adhere to see-and-avoid concept, efficient use of visual techniques, and knowledge of the eye’s limitations.” Ignoring these aspects of looking out the window are the foundation of visual complacency. As most pilots know, and sometimes learn when it’s too late, complacency kills.

Key to a successful see-and-avoid search are the six conditions on which detecting airborne objects depend:

  • Image size—portion of the visual field filled by the object.
  • Luminance—degree of brightness of the object.
  • Contrast—difference between object and background brightness, color, and shape.
  • Adaptation—degree to which the eyes adjust to surrounding illumination.
  • Motion—velocity of the object, the observer, or both.
  • Exposure time—length of the time the object is exposed to view.

(If you’re really interested in learning more, the Scott Air Force Base Midair Collision Avoidance Pamphlet is more than worth the time it takes to read its 27 pages, 7 of which are dedicated to Scott’s airspace.)

Regardless of a pilot’s visual acuity, whether one is 20/15 or 20/400 corrected to 20/40, every eye needs time to accommodate and refocus on an object once detected. The circular includes an Aircraft Identification and Reaction Time Chart that was, literally, an eye opener—12.5 seconds between seeing the objects and the aircraft reacting to the pilot inputs to avoid it.

Then it delves into the other visual challenges pilots should always be aware of. Among them are empty-field myopia, tunnel vision, and the blossom effect, where two aircraft on a collision course appear virtually motionless until they suddenly explode in size, too often when it’s too late to avoid the collision.

And avoiding collisions in 2023 seems a pretty good resolution for all of us, in the air and on the ground whether we’re in an aircraft or some terrestrial transporter heading off to some holiday celebration. So why not make time to click the AC’s link and refresh and expand your knowledge of the components of see-and-avoid. May you all have a happy and safe New Year! –Scott Spangler, Editor

Nominate a Member of Your Flying Family for a General Aviation Award

By Scott Spangler on December 12th, 2022 | 1 Comment »

Each of us has a flying family related not by blood or marriage but by the spirit of flight. Recognizing the contribution of an eligible flight instructor, maintenance technician, or FAA Safety Team teacher can be a challenge. So why not nominate them for this year’s General Aviation Award? The GAA board of directors just extended this year’s deadline to December 31, so if you are an industrious elf, you can get it done.

The eligibility requirements are pretty straightforward. The nominee must be actively working in the United States and hold a current FAA certificate appropriate to their chosen field. As you might expect, those with certificate actions or civil or criminal convictions are not considered.

Nominated flight instructors must be working in a Part 61, 141, or 142 educational environments. Aviation maintenance and avionics technicians can work under Part 65 or at a Part 145 repair station.  Safety Team nominees must be actively involved in the FAA Safety Team.

Start at the GAA website, click on the Nominations tab, and download the GAA Nomination/Application MS Word form. (When you finish filling it out, you upload it on the same page.)

Before diving into the nomination form, discover the guidance offered in the Suggested Reading links: Tips for Writing a Nomination; About Your Aviation CV; Application Advisors; A Judge’s Advice; and Nomination Processing.

In addition to the two-page nomination form, you can upload up to three one-page letters of recommendation, one from a peer or co-worker, one from a client who is familiar with the nominee’s work and contribution to aviation, and one from the nominee’s supervisor (see the website for details). The nominee’s aviation-oriented curriculum vitae, (aka the CV), must be no longer than two pages.

Finally, you need supporting documents or examples for each major item listed on page 2 of the nomination/application form: Professional Activities; Continuing Education & Development; and Pro Bono Service to General Aviation. If the application package does not include clear copies of the nominee’s current US government-issued ID, both sides of the current FAA certificates, and a “photo taken within the past five years, in a professional aviation setting,” the selection committee will request these things should the nominee progress to national judging.

So, if a member of your flying family is worthy of the honor, there’s still time to recognize their contributions in a truly unique way, because your effort is the nominee’s gift, reward, and individual recognition because in all aspects of life, but especially in aviation, actions speak more honestly than words or a quick online shopping interlude. And from all of us here at, may you have a safe holiday shared with family and friends. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Black Friday Aviation Inspiration

By Scott Spangler on November 28th, 2022 | 1 Comment »

Every seven years, Thanksgiving and my birthday get together on the same day. My oldest boy and his family made the 10-hour drive from Missouri to deliver themselves as the best present I could have ever hoped for, and that included Boomer, their 2-year-old Labrador. As my son walked out the kinks of this terrestrial journey, he said that with a Bearhawk 5, the object of his aviation desires, it would have taken two trips to get everyone and their baggage to Oshkosh, but it still would have taken less time than driving.

As we digested our Thursday feast with contented thanks, we suggested ways we could focus and consume the interest and energy of three grandsons, ages 5, 7, and 11. (Their older brother, a high school junior, was spending the holiday with his father.) Recalling his first exploration of the EAA Aviation Museum when he was 7, he said we had no other option than a return to this inspiring playground. I’m not sure who was more excited, my son or my grandsons.

Eyes grew wide and mouths fell open as we entered the museum’s atrium where six bright biplanes flew, the three Pitts Specials flown by the Red Devils Aerobatic Team, and the three Christen Eagles that replaced the Pitts and changed the team’s name. Admission paid (just $31 for the family of five; my current membership card got me in free), the docents offered the boys a scavenger hunt. If they could find and record all the individual letters on the airplane exhibits pictured on both sides of the sheet and decode the message they spelled out, each of them would earn a prize.

They were off and walking fast, their heads swiveling this way and that. Following the docent’s instructions, they shared their discoveries but didn’t ask their parents or grandpops for any help. Working our way down the entry level toward the Eagle Hangar, where we would head downstairs to find the letters associated with the airplanes they spotted from above, the scavenger hunt was forgotten, blown away by the pneumatic whoosh of the airlock entrance to the KidVenture Gallery.

They got hands-on with every exhibit and climbed into the F-22 and T-28 cockpit procedure trainer. And there was no waiting line because on Black Friday, we essentially had the museum to ourselves. At most there were three other families there. The announcement at 4:35 p.m. that the museum would be closing in 25 minutes motivated the Spanglers to conclude their J-3 Cub flights on the squadron of Microsoft Flight Simulator cubicles so the boys could complete the scavenger hunt, although I had a feeling that none of them would have complained about being locked in the museum overnight.

During dinner, the boys talked about what they’d seen and done that day and proudly pocketed their magnetic scavenger hunt rewards. It was one of those moments that made grandparenthood special, and I hoped that the memories we made this Black Friday would be lasting. It has been for my two boys, and the text message I got from my son when they arrived safely at home suggests the same may be true for my grandsons. It seems that they dedicated 2 hours or so of their drive home talking about airplanes. Who knows what time will bring? Maybe seven years from now, when Thanksgiving and my birthday again share the same day, perhaps my younger son and his family, which introduced the first granddaughter to our clan, will travel north for dinner and another Black Friday inspiration. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Veteran’s Day Reflection: Is it Time to Bring Back the Military Draft?

By Scott Spangler on November 14th, 2022 | 1 Comment »

Combine the historically low unemployment rate with decades of conflicts that citizens cannot remember, enumerate, explain, or even acknowledge knowing about them in the first place, and it should be no surprise that volunteers are ignoring the US armed forces help wanted pleas. Exacerbating the problem is that this potential military labor pool shrinks even further when you realize how few can pass the physical because of obesity and related health problems. The solution seems clear: Reinstitute the draft lottery for men and women with no deferments for anyone. The benefits of such a move, as history shows, go well beyond the military’s personnel needs.

In the last draft this country ever held I won the lottery with a low number, well below the increment of who would receive a letter of greetings from the commander in chief. Like thousands of others who faced the lottery during the 1960s and early 1970s, I had three choices, wait for my draft notice to arrive, hightail it for Canada, or enlist in another service, and I chose the Navy. What united me with everyone else who faced the lottery is that one way or another, we all had our skin in the game. What conflicts our elected officials got the country into mattered because we would be the ones who paid the price for facing the indicated foe.

When an all-volunteer force fights for America, other than the families of those who serve, its citizens have no skin in the game. Their only contribution is patronizing anyone who has served in any branch of the armed forces with the perceived patriotism of “Thank you for your service,” the banal equivalent of “Have a nice day.” How would such citizens feel about such service, and the conflicts their chosen elected officials pursued, if there was a chance that, without exception or excuse, their sons and daughters might be the ones paying the ultimate price. Maybe then they would be a bit more discerning in their electoral selections and more determined in holding their choices to account for their decisions on our behalf. – Scott Spangler, Editor

In Honor of Veterans Day: Films With My Father

By Robert Mark on November 11th, 2022 | What do you think? »

(Click the player above for audio)

Ed Note: Veterans Day was officially created in 1954 by President Eisenhower as a permanent remembrance of the day World War I ended. You might have heard someone say, “On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month …” November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.” How times have changed.

As a USAF veteran, I was trying to think of a unique way to remember my fellow vets, many of who gave their lives to maintain our democratic way of life. And since I’m allowed to whine here, a bit of advice for those who have never served … please stop using that catchphrase, “Thank You for your service.” It’s patronizing. When you meet a vet, why not ask where they served or perhaps what their role was? It will help them understand that you actually care.

Then our Airplane Geeks and Jetwhine contributor Micah, send this recording in which he explained his dad’s role as a veteran, but also how their mutual love of the movie scores created by Max Steiner helped America remember why we’ve fought the many conflicts of the past 100 years. Many of them had a military focus, which is why we’re talking about them today. If you still have absolutely no idea what kind of films I’m talking about, I’d suggest you check out a few on TCM for a look back in time at how America viewed the conflicts around the globe. You can listen to the audio, or read the script of the podcast below.

Rob Mark


Lew and Micah Engber

Podcast Script

“King Kong, The Gay Divorcee, The Lost Patrol, The Informer, Submarine D-1, Gone With The Wind, Casablanca, They Died With Their Boots On, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, The Caine Mutiny, The Searchers. Does any of those titles sound familiar to you? Yup, they’re all films, from the 1930s ’40s, and ’50s, and they all have at least one thing in common.

Do you know what that is? Well, the thing, I am going for today, the person actually, is Max Steiner. Recognize that name? Don’t be concerned if you don’t, most people wouldn’t; but it’s a name I grew up with. Max Steiner who was born in 1888 and died in 1971, composed over 300 film scores with RKO Pictures and Warner Bros He was nominated for 24 Academy Awards. Why is his name so familiar to me, and why am I talking about a film score composer on The Airplane Geeks podcast? Well, as Jon Ostrower says, “There’s always an aviation angle.”

Some of you, of a certain age, may know what I’m alluding to. We Watch The Skyways by Max Steiner was part of the score to many of my very favorite films.

I love that tune, in fact, for me, it’s one of those Velcro tunes, an earworm. Once I hear it, I can’t get it out of my head for some time. It was the theme music for the films, Fighter Squadron, Dive Bomber, Operation Pacific, Up Periscope, and Submarine D-1 among others, including the 1943 Daffy Duck Warner Brothers cartoon, Yankee Doodle Daffy. Daffy even sings it! Yup, there’re lyrics!

“We watch the skyways, over land and the sea, Ready to fly anywhere the duty calls, Ready to fight to be free.”

OK, so we’re back to why I’m telling you about a song when this forum is all about aviation. I think I can put the blame on our friend, the late Launchpad Marzari. A few months before he flew west, he and I were talking on the phone when he said:

“You know Micah, I always wanted to ask you this. You don’t own an airplane, you don’t fly and have no pilot’s license, you don’t work in the aviation industry and never have, and you were never even in the armed services, how in the world did you ever become an Airplane Geek?”

Now I’d been asked that before but I never really gave it much thought. I usually roll off some kind of answer; “Well you know growing up my mom and dad… yadda yadda yadda….” But in fact, I couldn’t really answer Launchpad when he asked and I just rambled on for a bit as usual. Not that I’m not rambling now, but at least this rambling has a touch more thought to it. But it did get me thinking, and I may have figured it out, at least a little bit of it.

As I may have told you before, my father was a US Air Force retread. After being drafted out of engineering school for World War II, and serving his hitch in the Army Corp of Engineers in Europe, he was discharged an NCO. A few years later, during the Korean conflict, after finishing up his GI Bill-funded degrees in psychology, he was drafted again, this time as an officer in the US Air Force Medical Corps. That was shortly after the Air Force became its own branch of service. Back then, a person being drafted for a second time was referred to as a retread, the way old tires are re-used.

Now you may ask: “How did a man drafted out of a school of engineering end up becoming a psychologist?” I asked that too. That was one of the few questions my father would answer regarding his military service, but he would do so somewhat flippantly. My dad would say, I used to get so angry building bridges in the European theatre, and then being required to blow them up, I just couldn’t be an engineer anymore and wanted to learn more about why I felt that way.”

You see, my father didn’t talk much about his service. As a kid, I had a bunch of questions, and I was fortunate that my relationship with my Dad allowed me to ask them. I was also fortunate that his training and background as a psychologist allowed him to answer in ways, that as a kid, I could understand, but also in ways that allowed him to process some of his own feelings.

There are only a few real stories from his time in the military that I remember him sharing with anyone, including me. One is about how he fell off of a truck in England just before D‑Day which left him with a concussion and hurt his back so badly that it affected him for the rest of his life. He looked back on it as his lucky day. You see, as part of the Army Corp of Engineers my dad would have been one of the first on Omaha Beach. That now fortuitous accident kept him out of the D-Day invasion and Operation Overlord went on without him. Who knows if I would be here if he hadn’t fallen off that truck?

Another one of the few stories he would tell took place post-war; somewhere along the Belgium, Luxembourg German border, he never said exactly where, I don’t think he remembered, or maybe he never really knew. It was after VE Day and things were relatively safe so he was able to go out to a local bar and drink … apparently quite copiously! He told the whole story as a joke about being drunk as a skunk, how he ended up capturing a German Colonel who had not surrendered, and how he confiscated the Colonel’s 1914 32ACP German Mauser sidearm, and Iron Cross. If for some reason you want to hear the details of that story, you can find them in a piece titled Veteran’s Day that I wrote for The Airline Pilot Guy podcast back in 2016. It’s episode number 246.

There are a couple of other stories my dad would sometimes tell. One about how when in the Air Force in the early 1950s, and stationed in Texas, he went flying with a friend who owned his own small airplane. Apparently, they got “disoriented” while flying although he used the word lost, but you and I know pilots never get lost, but can occasionally get disoriented. Anyway, they were lost over the plains of Texas, and back then there wasn’t any real radio communication in personal GA aircraft. They spotted an unmarked runway and set down to get directions. All of a sudden they were surrounded by MPs holding rifles on them. My dad and his pilot buddy explained they were lost and were looking for Austin. The Officer in charge raised his arm, pointing off in the distance, and said “That way, now get outta here.” Many years later my father realized he and his buddy had stumbled upon some secret testing grounds for the atomic cannon.

The only other story I remember him telling me was about the two watches he used to wear. One was given to him by his Aunt Esther just before he was called to basic training in the Army. It never left his wrist while he was overseas and he wore it on and off until he died. Aunt Esther was my brother Rick’s Godmother; Rick has that watch now.

The other watch, my father described as his first professional fee as a psychologist. He was in the Air Force and a friend of a friend needed counseling. Technically he wasn’t allowed to take her on as a patient but my father was always ready to do what he could to help. He wouldn’t accept any pay but treated her as a client as one would in private practice. He never really told much else of the story but explained that when treatment was completed, he was given a gift for all those counseling sessions. It was a Longines watch he would alternate wearing with the one given to him by his Aunt Esther. I still have that watch today.

Now I loved those stories and still do. Sometimes I can hear my Dad telling them over again in my head, and he’s been gone close to 15 years as I write this. But I had more questions about his service, questions that as I think about it, he probably couldn’t really answer for so many different reasons. He’d seen the elephant, I hadn’t, and never would. But he did want me to understand and help me the best he was able; so to do that we would watch films together. He actually took me out to the “movies” to see The Longest Day and The Great Escape; he also took me to the theatre to see Tora, Tora, Tora, and Patton.

Most of the time though, we would watch movies on TV at home. The 1949 film Battleground with Van Johnson, John Hodiak, Ricardo Montalbán, George Murphy, and James Whitmore was one of his favorites, and one he said was the most realistic. He told me that the first time he saw it in the theatre, after returning from the war, he was taking cover behind the seats as he was watching it because it felt so real to him.

Now I know that most of the films I’ve mentioned so far are ground-based, I haven’t even started on the list of sea-based films. And don’t even get me started about the submarine films my father and I would watch together. If you do I’ll tell you how Captain Edward L. Beach Jr. the author of Run Silent Run Deep was a distant friend of the family, but I’ll save that for another time.

But then again, even one of the submarine films I used to watch with my dad, one I still watch regularly is aviation related. The plot of the 1943 film Destination Tokyo, with Cary Grant, John Forsythe, John Garfield and my favorite, Alan Hale, Sr., is all about a secret submarine mission to get weather readings over Tokyo for the Doolittle raid. Plus, it was in that film that I saw a PBY for the first time. It became one of my favorite aircraft right then.

The 1945 John Ford film They Were Expendable, featuring Robert Montgomery, John Wayne Donna Reed, and my two favorites Jack Holt and Ward Bond was all about PT Boats. But it was in that film I saw my first C‑47. I’ve been in love with DC-3s and C-47’s ever since.

In that 1965 epic naval film, In Harms Way, Otto Preminger’s attempt to try to make a Navy version of The Longest Day, we watched Kirk Douglas fly a PBJ solo from the right-hand seat. (Even then I was a critic of aviation flight sequence inconsistencies) And by the way, a PBJ is not a sandwich; it’s the naval version of a B-25.

But my dad and I would watch a bunch of military aviation films too. Some that come to mind include God is My Co-Pilot, Air Force, Bombardier, A Guy Named Joe, The Wings of Eagles, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, The Flying Tigers, 12 O’clock High, Flying Leathernecks, This Man’s Navy, which by the way was also known as both Airship Squadron No. 4. and Lighter Than Air, yes, it had three titles. But Command Decision, Strategic Air Command, and Fail Safe also come to mind.

Oh, and in getting back to what I started this whole thing with, let’s not forget Max Steiner, the films Dive Bomber, with Errol Flynn, Fred MacMurray, and Ralph Bellamy, and Fighter Squadron, with Edmond O’Brien, and Robert Stack, both feature We Watch The Skyways as the musical theme running throughout both of them.

Now when I was growing up, I never realized that while my father always enjoyed these films, and really liked to see them with me, they also affected him in ways I truly didn’t or maybe couldn’t understand. Not that he had PTSD, but remember, he had seen the elephant. Maybe I was dense but it wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I started to get it, maybe just a bit.

In 1998 when Saving Private Ryan came out I went to see it right away. As you all know, it was a fabulous film. I knew my father would love it and I was going to be visiting him a few weeks after I saw it for the first time. I suggested that we go see it together. My father was excited to go, both because he really wanted to see the film, and also, I think because he wanted to see it with me, his oldest son, who he had shared so many films with as I was growing up. This time though, it was me sharing a film with him.

Now my dad knew this would be the second time I would be seeing Saving Private Ryan, I had told him all about it without giving away any of the plot twists and turns, and I told him how I thought he would really enjoy it. But it was during that film when I realized that while he did enjoy watching films with me, they really did affect him in ways I just never formerly understood; you see, all of a sudden while we were watching the film, he was sitting next to me quietly crying. I asked him if he wanted to leave but he said no. We sat through the rest of the movie and afterward my dad told me he really enjoyed it and thanked me profusely for taking him. Although we’d bonded over films all our lives together, this was unique for us both. We talked about Saving Private Ryan a lot, for some time to come, but as you might imagine, we never did discuss how or why it affected him as it did. But we both knew it was a special time for us as father and son.

So in a long way around, and to answer Launchpad’s question from well over a year ago, the same question I’ve been asked by so many of you: How did I become an airplane geek? I think it was through questions and answers, watching films with my father, and perhaps a few other things. And I suppose that’s about the best answer I can give you.

For the Airplane Geeks, here in Portland, Maine,

This is your Main(e) man, Micah


By Robert Mark on October 31st, 2022 | What do you think? »


Flying on-demand Part 135 airplanes can be a tough life, with pilots often spending their day waiting for that firefighter-like call to swing into action—calls that always seem to happen near the end of the day. We fly in all kinds of weather, often into unfamiliar airports at a passenger’s whim, but this Uber-like service is why we exist.


Turbine Taxi

Illustration by John Sauer

I’d just walked in my back door under a beautiful starry sky, so all seemed right with the world when the pager went off around 11 p.m. The scheduler said Tommy and I were headed out in the company’s new Citation S/II—new to this company, at least. The trip would be easy: Depart the Waukegan, Illinois, airport; drop one passenger at an airport in central Michigan, and come home. A quick weather check said it would be as beautiful a VFR night in Michigan as it was in Chicago.

Since the trip over was my leg and I’d already checked the weather, the only thing left was a look at our airport destination, where our passenger said his wife would be waiting in her car on the ramp. It was a single-runway, non-towered field, so it should be easy in and easy out. Climbing away from Chicagoland, we could already see the lights lining Lake Michigan’s eastern shore. In the descent, Tommy tried calling Unicom, but since it was nearly 1 a.m., no one answered. The winds were calm, so I chose to land straight in on the nearly 5,000-foot Runway 9.

Tommy clicked the microphone a few times to make sure the runway lights stayed on, which we needed since there weren’t any other lights even remotely close to the airport. The touchdown was hard, characteristic for me in this airplane. The S/II had a different wing than the other Citation IIs we usually flew, and I just never seemed to get the hang of the darned thing. Next time, I guess, I thought as I turned south off the active runway. This place was dark—really dark. No taxiway lights, just green reflectors sticking up on plastic poles to outline the way. “We’re taking it easy,” I said, with Tommy quickly nodding. I left all the landing and taxi lights on and slowly came to a stop on the taxiway.

“There,” he said. “Aren’t those headlights?” Almost in response, the headlights flashed. I flashed the taxi lights in response, feeling confident now about where we were headed. There wasn’t much room to turn the aircraft, but I managed to get it pointed outward from the ramp before I shut down. Our passenger was eager to be gone and we were soon watching his car’s taillights disappearing down a dark road. I used our big Maglite for the walk-around as Tommy climbed into the left seat for the trip home.

With both engines spinning, Tommy taxied out. We’d decided to depart west, which meant simply reversing our taxi back in—which is, of course, what we thought we were doing. But with nothing except reflective tape on some sticks, the going was slow. I looked down at the approach plate to be sure I had the correct frequency dialed in to call the center after takeoff. When I looked up, I almost felt a bit of vertigo, since the path ahead looked different from what I was expecting. It looked like buildings appearing in the lights.

“What the heck is that?” I asked Tommy.

“We’re OK,” he said. “I remember seeing that coming in.” I think the quizzical look was still plastered on my face as the airplane stopped. “Uh, oh,” he said. Definitely buildings. We’d made a wrong turn somewhere and were now pointing down a narrow taxiway with T-hangars on our right. As we both looked at the buildings around us, Tommy did the smart thing by setting the brakes and shutting down. Climbing out with the Maglite again, we looked ahead and saw the dead end. The taxiway was maybe half again as wide as the Citation’s wide gear stance.

There was no clear way to turn the airplane around—at least, no way we could see where we wouldn’t fall off the edge of the taxiway. So much for getting into bed early, I thought. Of course, we also had no idea how we’d even call anyone for help at 1 a.m. We looked at each other as we circled the airplane again, flashing the Maglite in all directions—as if, by chance, it might point us toward the way out. No such luck. “Well,” Tommy said, “We could try a three-point turn.” I looked at him a bit quizzically.

“We start up, then I crank in a hard left turn with you outside. All you do is stop me before I go off the pavement. Then just before I shut down, I’ll cock the nosegear full right.”

“And then we do what, exactly?” I asked.

“We push it back until we’re almost off the pavement going backward.” It was about 1:30 a.m. in Michigan, but this kind of made sense to me. A few minutes later, we tried the turn, me acting as a ramp agent. When Tommy shut down and exited the airplane, we walked over to the back end to see how far we could push the jet and stay on the pavement. We figured about 10 feet, so I marked a spot by tossing my hat down under the belly, so we could both see it while we were pushing.

Even light on fuel and with no people aboard, pushing a Citation is nothing like shoving around a 172. After much grunting and shoving and heave-hoing, though, the darned thing started to move…slowly. We saw our mark and stopped pushing the jet. It stopped almost immediately. Tommy hoped back in, fired up the right engine, and repeated the three-point turn procedure. We almost made it out on the first try, but we had to shut down and push one more time. After much grunting and shoving and heave-hoing, though, the darned thing started to move…slowly. 

Finally, as we taxied out, it became clear how we missed the turn. But I was more amazed at how we’d gotten out of this mess. For months after that, when Tommy and I would see each other in the crew room, one of us would ask, “Been to Michigan lately?” and laugh.

Rob Mark

Thanks to AOPA’s Turbine Pilot for allowing us to reprint the story, including the great artwork of John Sauer

Act Now! Send Your Airline Seat Size Comments to the FAA

By Scott Spangler on October 26th, 2022 | What do you think? »

If traveling from stockyard to stockyard on winged cattle cars is a fate just shy of death, drop what your are doing right now and click this link to the Federal Register: Request for Comments in Minimum Seat Dimensions Necessary for Safety of Air Passengers (Emergency Evacuation).

The comment deadline is November 1, 2022.

My apologies for the short notice, but I just discovered this request. Attempting optimism, it is my hope that if enough people share their opinions on the evolutional shrinkage of the airline seat that the FAA will abandon its inverse relationship to the evolutionary growth of the average human, especially in America.

I’m not holding my breath, however, because I refuse to wedge my 6-foot-5, 215-pound frame into an airline seat, especially now that I’m older. Closing out my sixth decade on the planet, my 38-in inseam no longer folds up like it used to, and investigating deep vein thrombosis, blood clots often created by extended immobility in cramped environments is not something I’m eager to investigate.

After decades of complaints (not to mention seemingly unprovoked cabin violence that has blossomed during the pandemic), Congress told the FAA it has to come up with rules for airline seat dimensions, including width, length, and pitch. That last one is measured from a fixed position on one seat to the same position on the seat in front of it.

These measurements vary by airline. For the major US carriers, the width ranges from 17 inches to 20 inches. Pitch ranges from 28 inches to 38 inches, with the extra room costing you more money. If you want to learn how much room you will not have before buying your ticket, visit SeatGuru, which lets you explore the configuration of 1,278 aircraft.

Responding to Congress, the FAA chartered the Emergency Evacuation Standards Aviation Rulemaking Committee to gather the needed information. The information included a report of the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute’s simulated emergency cabin evacuations, which certification requirements must be accomplished in 90 seconds after the airliner comes to a complete stop.

In a March 31, 2022 letter to Congress, the FAA reported that “The ARC reviewed nearly 300 real-world evacuation events that occurred over the previous decade. The ARC found the overall level of safety in emergency evacuations to be very high, but made 27 recommendations to the FAA related to how the safety of such evacuations could be improved.”

In late 2019 to early 2020, the FAA “conducted simulated emergency evacuations at the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI). In these tests, seat size and spacing did not adversely affect the success of emergency evacuations.” But these were not real-world simulations because “the CAMI tests relied on able-bodied adult subjects under age 60, consistent with regulatory and ethical standards for human testing. As a result, they provide useful, but not necessarily definitive information, regarding the effects of seat dimensions on safe evacuations for all populations.”

It would be interesting to see the results if the FAA selected its simulated evacuation participants from any TSA cattle car queue in the country. With that, if you’ll excuse me, I need to share my opinions with the FAA. I hope you’ll do the same. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Celebrating Ernie Gann’s Typewriter on His Birthday

By Scott Spangler on October 17th, 2022 | What do you think? »

When I returned home from the EAA Aviation Museum to start writing this I discovered that today, October 13, 2022, is Ernest K. Gann’s 112th birthday. This is significant because he owned the subject of my photo session, an Olivetti Lettra 22 ultraportable typewriter made in Ivrea, Italy, one of the most iconic—but least appreciated—artifacts in the museum’s collection. Without this seemingly archaic mechanical machine, we would not have been able to read any of the approximately four dozen titles engraved in brass plates affixed to the typewriter’s shell, a writer’s equivalent of a fighter pilot’s victories.

Many of those books stand shoulder to shoulder on a shelf in the “Chicken House,” Gann’s writing studio at Red Hill Farm on San Juan Island, Washington, his home for 26 years. After he passed on December 19, 1991, his wife, Dodie, donated the studio’s content to the EAA Museum, which used photos and other resources to recreate it as close as they could to the last time Gann settled into the worn black leather chair. In the typewriter was the first few lines of a new composition, “In Care of the Postmaster,” whose typescript title page and a few others cover up notes handwritten on pages torn from a spiral bound notebook.

Gann wrote his first book, the Sky Roads guide in 1940, followed by two more guides, All American Aircraft in 1941 and Getting Them into the Blue in 1942, before he started turning his airborne adventures into fiction, starting with Islands in the Sky in 1944. These books, plus Blaze of Noon and Benjamin Lawless were not written on the trim little typewriter on a small table in the recreated Chicken House. Olivetti did not introduce its Lettra 22 until 1949. But it captured the words that composed 20 works of fiction, memoir, and autobiography (not to mention magazine articles and screenplays) from Fiddler’s Green in 1950 to 1989’s The Black Watch: The Men Who Fly America’s Secret Spy Planes.

Looking at the empty chair I can clearly see Gann sitting there, referring to his notes and contemplating his next words, or perhaps pounding out the next typescript draft that incorporates all of the revision he penciled into the preceding draft. Perhaps this is only something another word merchant might appreciate. Gann wrote a bit about his writing life in his 1978 autobiography, A Hostage to Fortune. Although he passed before computers became a thing, my guess is that he’d agree that these digital devices are not the most productive writing machines.

Connected to the internet, a computer pushes content into your sphere of awareness, an eager diversion from the creative task at hand. A typewriter, on the other hand, almost addictively draws words and ideas from almost anyone who lays their fingers on the keys. Yes, computers have their place and purpose. But in creating a world of words, Richard Polt, author of The Typewriter Revolution: A Typist’s Companion for the 21st Century, said it best: “A typewriter still has a computer beat when you want a self-contained, secure, lasting, physical writing machine. Turn to a typewriter and you’ll find yourself focusing on writing—the reason the machine exists. You’ll find the impatience and anxiety of your computing mind ebbing away. You’ll gradually stop wanting to be interrupted. You’ll concentrate on the page.”

I wonder what aviation would look like today had we not had the inspiration Ernie Gann provided in such works as The High and the Mighty, Band of Brothers, and The Aviator. So, Ernie, here’s to you on your birthday. Thanks for paying attention to the world around you—and for learning how to type. –Scott Spangler, Editor.