Aviation Photographers, Are You a Hoarder or Archivist?

By Scott Spangler on January 25th, 2021 | What do you think? »

USAF Museum Bldg 4Photography is an activity pursued by many interested in aviation. For photographers who started before the digital age, storing slides, negatives, and prints was not only an out of space problem but also spacious signal that might suggest a hoarding problem to the uninitiated. Digital image storage in the cloud or on a hard drive is virtually unseen and more circumspect.

The answer to the headline’s question depends on how easily photographers can find a specific photo. No matter how the images are stored, if a filing system will produce a desired photo in a short amount of time, you have an archive. If you don’t even look for the photo because you don’t have (or can’t make) the time to wander through mountains of shoe boxes or three-ring binders, or terabytes of digital images, you’re a hoarder.

Archiving takes time, but don’t avoid it with the rationalization that there is little chance of you finding a future use for the image, so why bother. The answer is simple—because you never know when an unconsidered but valuable use of the photo may reveal itself. If you doubt that, consider this recent story in the New York Times, “It Spied on Soviet Atomic Bombs. Now It’s Solving Ecological Mysteries.”

05SCI-CORONA-SATELLITE-promo-threeByTwoSmallAt2XTo summarize, declassified Corona spy satellite photos are providing the terrain information that is help helping scientists measure the death march of our changing climate. Or in the words of a scientists quoted in the article, “It’s Google Earth in black and white.” Unlike today’s eyes in the sky, Corona satellites, created in 1958 and first launched in 1960, and its immediate successors, all used 20-pound rolls of film. The satellite sent its film to the processor in a small reentry pod that the Air Force snatched in midair as it parachuted toward the ocean.

Even more remarkable is that the government kept the more than 850,000 images after they had served their intelligence purposes. And it retained them still after declassifying them in the 1990s. (If you’re interested in the rest of this story, see this Times story, “Inside the CIA, She Became a Spy for Planet Earth.”)

Or maybe it was not so remarkable. Of the 145 Corona film drops, 120 were successful. That’s a lot of 20-pound rolls of film. Like many photographers, maybe the government retained the images because it took less time, money, and effort to leave them in storage than it did to deal with them.

050421-F-1234P-002It could be worse. The image that opens this story is the Boston Camera, on display at the National Museum of the US Air Force. Otherwise known as the K-42, it is the largest aerial camera ever built. Designed and built by Boston University (hence its name) in 1951, it weighed about 3 tons and was carried by the ERB-36D, a recon B-36 Peacemaker, and later a C-97 Stratofreighter. With a fixed focal length lens of 240 inches with an aperture of f8, it created 18-by-36-inch images on its roll of film with a shutter speed of 1/400th of a second. With a maximum resolution of 28 lines per millimeter, it could see a golf ball from 45,000 feet.

The space needed to archive these negatives is not what boggles my mind. As a photographer who spent a good deal of time developing film in an old school wet darkroom, I can’t imagine what it would be like to dip and dunk a robust roll of film that is a series of 18-by-36-inch images. But having invested the time to archive my image of the camera after my visit to the Air Force Museum, I retrieved it for this story in less than a minute.

If you enjoyed this story, why not SUBSCRIBE to JetWhine, if you haven’t already, and please share it with anyone who might find it interesting. – Scott Spangler, Editor

When You’re Alone in the Cockpit

By Robert Mark on January 19th, 2021 | 4 Comments »

A freshly minted CFI friend of mine called me recently almost completely out of breath with the exciting news that he’d managed to grab a few hours of loggable time in the right seat of an old Citation II, a bird that certainly turned out to be a great training ground for me too. It was also my first type rating. This guy was rather surprised that even though he’s been flying a glass-cockpit Cirrus SR-22 for the past 1,000 hours, everything in a jet seemed to happen so much faster than anything he’d flown before. How right he is. I thought the steam-gauge Citation II was a grand training environment from the Navajo Chieftain I’d been flying alone, once I figured out who was supposed to do what of course. Most of the rest of my flying time – except as an instructor – was as part of a crew and honestly, I think I became a little spoiled with an extra brain and another set of eyes, ears, and hands closeby.

A little jet time gives pilots something else that’s pretty important too, the proximity of another qualified pilot to help share the navigation radio and the endless work of dealing with ever-changing weather, and the passengers, all while learning the ropes of operating in the flight levels where speeds are measured in Mach numbers.

Time and Training Go Marching On

Of course in the past couple of decades, aircraft like the Cirrus and single-engine turboprops; the TBM, the PC-12 as well as a number of light jets, all glass-cockpit equipped, are now certified to be flown by a single pilot. With some previous jet time, flying one of these complex machines alone shouldn’t be too tough you’d think, except it often is. In fact, there are quite a few single-pilot certified jets and turboprops that operators have come to realize can become quite a handful when the chips are down. They’ve responded to these safety concerns by adding an extra pilot in bad weather. That doesn’t mean any of these aircraft unsafe of course … far from it. But having just one human in the chain of command can under stressful conditions can overwhelm most any pilot if they allow the airplane to move faster than their brain.

The video you’ll find at the end of this story was produced a couple of years ago by the NBAA’s Safety Committee Single-Pilot Working Group to highlight just how easy it can be for a highly automated airplane to get way out in front of the pilot at the controls. Why not grab a cup of coffee and spend 10 minutes watching the mess our pilot John manages to get himself into.

On a side note, you may recognize the PIC in this story making his on-screen debut. I confess it’s me. While I wrote the first draft of the script, I didn’t create this training video alone. The people at CAE in Dallas were kind enough to donate some Phenom 100 simulator time to the Safety Committee to allow us to shoot the video. I also had plenty of help from other committee members including Tom Turner from the American Bonanza Society, Dan Ramirez, who at the time was working for Embraer, Jim Lara from Gray Stone Advisors, Mike Graham, now with the NTSB, BJ Ransbury from Aviation Performance Solutions, Tom Huff, Gulfstream Aerospace’s Aviation Safety Officer, Bob Wright from Wright Aviation Solutions, Phil Powell our ace cameraman and of course Scott Copeland who I spent hours with in Savannah turning our raw footage into the video you’re about to see. We all hope you learn something from the time spent.

Rob Mark, Publisher

 

P-82 Reveals One Pilot’s Remarkable Story

By Scott Spangler on January 11th, 2021 | 1 Comment »

USAF-60As it would any dedicated aviation geek, the photo of the P-82 Twin Mustang with Betty Jo emblazoned on its nose at the start of a New York Time’s obituary caught my attention. So did the headline, “Robert Thacker, 102, Dies; Survived Pearl Harbor to Fly in 3 Wars.” The subhead only added to my confusion. “This unarmed bomber was caught in the thick of Japan’s attack. He went on to fly some 80 missions in World War II and to become a record-setting test pilot.”

Okay, so what does that have to do with the P-82 Betty Jo, which I’ve admired during my visits to the Museum of the United States Air Force? As a reward for my continued reading, the obit answered my question about a half-dozen paragraphs later. With the war over less than two years, in February 1947, Thacker and his copilot, Lt. John Ard, flew Betty Jo from Hickam Field in Hawaii to New York City—nonstop—in 14.5 hours. The 5,051-mile flight is the sanding nonstop record for a prop-driven fighter.

Just to make that flight interesting, a mechanical glitch prevented Thacker from dropping some of the P-82’s four auxiliary under-wing tanks, so he had to adjust for asymmetric drag for a good portion of the flight. Betty Jo, the name of Thacker’s wife, had 30 minutes of fuel in its tanks when it landed in New York. Geez, my backside and leg hurt just thinking about it.

1024px-North_American_F-82B_(060728-F-1234S-018)More importantly, learning Thacker’s story reminded me that people make aviation history every day. And if they survive a signature event nearly every aviator knows, like piloting a B-17 that arrived in Hawaii in the midst of the attack on Pearl Harbor, they continue to make history, although it may not be as well known. It should be a reminder to all of us to wonder what happened to history’s participants in the weeks, months, and years that followed.

Thacker went on to fly 80 missions in the Pacific and European theaters, an accomplishment of remarkable survival in itself. After the war, he joined the cohort of test pilots at what is now Edwards Air Force Base. In Korea he flew B-29 missions, and in Vietnam, “high altitude missions” with (as yet) no telling tidbits of their details.

What is most telling about Thacker’s character and passion for flight is summarized by what ignited it, a model airplane the 8-year-old received from his father. As shown by his biography by the Academy of Model Aeronautics, his passion for flying models never waned. Before the war, he flew a hand-launched rubber-band-powered pusher model in the Junior Birdman of America, sponsored by Hearst Newspapers. After the war, he competed in the 1975 and 1976 National Scale Glider Championships. He designed the model of the Bowlus Baby Albatross glider, featured in the September 1975 issue of Model Builder, and he designed the Giant Ducted Fan BD-10 featured in the February 1994 Flying Models.

Col. Bob ThackerEach of us leaves a legacy compiled by our everyday acts of personal history. Some are better known that others, but few are as lasting and rewarding to succeeding generations as Thacker’s. After retiring and returning to California, he was looking for a place to fly his models. After meeting with the general, he helped establish the Joint Military RC Flyers, which welcome civilians and has been running at Marine Corps enclave of Camp Pendleton since 1970. – Scott Spangler, Editor

A Barely Successful Go Around

By Robert Mark on January 4th, 2021 | 2 Comments »

If you’ve already earned a Private Pilot certificate – a PPL they call it in some other parts of the world – you’ll probably remember those final words of encouragement from the government official who oversaw the checkride … “Remember, you now have a license to learn.”

That’s instructor lingo for, “No one has enough time to teach you absolutely everything you’d need to know in order to become a safe pilot.” All any instructor can really offer is solid training in line with the airman certification standards and as much extra personal wisdom as possible before they kick you out of the nest. The check pilot’s job is to within an hour or two get a glimpse of your knowledge about what makes an airplane fly – or prevents it – and that you seem to exercise relatively decent judgment. But sometimes, the barest minimum of training is called that for a really good reason.

When I was a newly minted private pilot with maybe 80 hours under my belt, I proved to myself one warm, sticky July afternoon that my practical flying education definitely had a few major gaps. The final few months of my private pilot training took place in an old, burgundy-painted Cessna 150 at Sky Harbor Airport. No, not the one in Phoenix, but a now bulldozed little field of the same name (OBK) just north of Chicago with a single 2,430-foot north-south runway. The field elevation was 680 feet and a graveyard stood ominously just off the south end of the airport, as a warning I often thought, not to swoop too low on final when landing north.

If you haven’t tried one yet, some 22,000 150’s were produced by Cessna in cookie-cutter fashion until they introduced the updated 152 in the late 1970s. The original 150 was powered by a 100 hp Continental O-200 motor that was just enough to lift two people airborne with a couple of hours of gas. Luckily for me, as a solo bird, it climbed OK, even in the summer.

One quirk that would become important that July day was the 150’s barn door-like flap system. When commanded, they’d drop to 40 degrees which made the airplane fall like a brick if the pilot pulled the throttle to idle about the same time. For retraction, the spring-loaded switch would bring all the flaps up in a few seconds if the pilot didn’t pay attention. I vowed never to let that get me.

After an hour or so of counting sailboats in Lake Michigan near the Loop that day and surveying areas north toward Waukegan (UGN) I realized it was time to head back and give my pal Tim a crack at the airplane for a few hours. The tollway extension to I-94 ran just north of the airport and was pretty easy to pick out from the lakeshore, as was the big yellow office building then used by Walgreens as a corporate HQ. Sky Harbor sat just south of Walgreens so making my way to a left downwind was a snap for a newly licensed guy such as myself.

Before you head off to read the ending to this tale, please check whether you’re a Jetwhine subscriber. If not, sign up on our home page so you don’t miss a single story about the inner workings of the aviation industry.

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Searching for Navy WASPs

By Scott Spangler on December 28th, 2020 | 2 Comments »

Grumman-F6F-flightline-Hooker-Kenyon-Kibbee-Bethpage-NY-1Among the six naval aviators recommended for command of an aircraft carrier was Captain Amy Bauernschmidt, a 1994 Naval Academy grad and helo pilot who ticked an essential box on the carrier command checklist when she was the first female to serve as executive officer on a nuclear-powered warship, the USS Abraham Lincoln CVN-72. It is an assignment long overdue, and with an idle moment wondered why it took so long compared to the female command achievements in the Air Force.

Taking the unique requirements of a floating command out of the equation, was this because the WASPS, the Women Airforce Service Pilots started paving the way in World War II? Did the US Navy have an equivalent, and if not there were no Navy WASPs, did any women fly in support of any aspect of naval aviation back in the day?

Asking Google about Navy WASPs produced about 791,000 results on the many different ships that have been the USS Wasp. Asking about female navy pilots during World War II circled me back to the WASPs. Following Rosie the Riveter led me to a story, “Women at Grumman During World War II,” on the Bethpage Union Free School District website. It said women “would build and repair the planes that American pilots would use for victory [and] some women even had the opportunity to become test pilots.”

65884ff24cb69b52c78a5c16c3c894d8Fortunately, the story included a link to another, taken from the November 16, 1943, New York World-Telegram, “Women Pilots Casual About Testing Fighter Planes for the Navy,” by Staff Writer Sally MacDougall. Three women were among Grumman’s production test pilots, who flew F6F Hellcats and TBF Avengers after they rolled off the production lines, Teddy Kenyon, Barbara Jayne, and Elizabeth Hooker.

The story didn’t say much about them, other than they all stood about 5-foot-5 and weighed 110 pounds. “Mrs. Kenyon has been flying since 1929. Her husband is a flight engineer at the plant. Barbara Jayne’s husband, Lt. J.M. Jayne, flies fighter Hellcats for the Navy. Her log shows 2,300 hours. Elizabeth Hooker, a brunette in the trio, is a Smith College graduate.”

Following this lead led to Julia Lauria-Blum’s story, “Hellcat Test Pilot: Barbara Kibbee Jayne,” in the Metropolitan Airport News. From Troy, New York, she had a lifelong interest in flying but her parents wouldn’t give her “the official green light to pursue her passion” until she was 21. She earned her pilot’s license at the Ryan School of Aeronautics in San Diego. Facing gender discrimination, she finally found a job back in Troy as the first female instructor in the Civilian Pilot Training Program.

Barbara-Kibbee-Selden-Converse-Grumman-Chief-Test-Pilot-c.1943-Bethpage-NYIn 1941, Bud Gillies, head of Grumman flight operations, lured Barbara away from the CTPT with a position as the chief instructor at the posh Long Island Country Club. When the war started, she became a Grumman courier pilot, flying parts and people in passenger planes. In spring 1942 Gillies recruited Cecil “Teddy” Kenyon and Elizabeth Hooker, to join Jayne as the first female test pilots of naval aircraft. It turns out that Gillies’s wife, Betty, was also a pilot, and “a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron or WAFS.”

After the war, Barbara ran a GI training program at her FBO at Annapolis, Maryland. She returned to California in the 1950s and kept flying in her real estate business. “In her retirement, she flew often in Baja California Peninsula and with her friend, Betty Gillies, on a number of fly yourself safaris in South America, Africa, and Australia.” She died at home on October 17, 1999.

The New York Times, in a January 5, 1986 story, “Honoring Grumman and its Hellcat,” Ellen Clear wrote that Grumman employed five female test pilots during the war. She didn’t give their names. But Women in Aviation International’s 100 Most Influential Women in the Aviation and Aerospace Industry said Betty Gillies was a Grumman test pilot before she joined the WAFS, WASPs, and Air Force Reserve.

577ad09dbaee06b44d99e34900683575_29l0Timeline provided some more information on Teddy Kenyon. Another New York native who grew up dreaming about flying, she was also flying for Grumman’s courier service. She married Ted Kenyon, an MIT student and barnstormer, in 1926 and earned her pilot’s license three years later. “In 1933, she beat out 28 men and 11 women to win the National Sportswomen’s Flying Championship at Roosevelt Field in New York, and took home a $5,000 prize.” (The author didn’t explain how 28 participated or why they predominated in the “sportswomen’s” championship.) When she died in 1985 at age 71, she was still flying.

Google didn’t reveal much about Elizabeth Hooker. New England Aviation History said she bailed out of a burning Hellcat on June 9, 1944. “Miss Hooker came down about a mile from the crash site unharmed except for singed eyebrows.”

In the end, the only thing the Grumman test pilots had in common with the WASPs is that when the war ended, they were all out of their jobs. It would take three decades for women to fight their way into commercial cockpits and for the first females to graduate from military pilot training. The inaugural class of naval aviators earned their wings of gold in 1974 and the first Air Force cohort received their silver wings in 1977. That fall, President Jimmy Carter signed the bill that recognized the WASPs as veterans. But alas, the closest the Navy got to them were three, four, maybe five little known Grumman production test pilots. – Scott Spangler

An Unexpected Christmas Gift from the Illinois Aviation Hall of Fame

By Robert Mark on December 21st, 2020 | 7 Comments »

Unless you’re an aviation history geek or just a pilot who resides in Illinois, you might not have heard of Octave Chanute. I only knew the name early on when I joined the Air Force because there was a Base in southern Illinois named for the famed French-born railroad chief engineer. Early in his life, Chanute became fascinated by flight. He died in Chicago in 1910.

Once bitten by the aviation bug, Chanute was determined in the latter part of the 19th Century to interest others in the hurdles of then-modern aviation. A bit of a writer himself, Chanute corresponded with other aeronautical experts of the time and gathered their insights into a publication, Progress in Flying Machines, published in 1894.

According to Britannica.com, “Chanute also organized sessions on aeronautics at the meetings of major engineering societies, arranged conferences on flight technology at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago (1893) and the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis (1904), and offered assistance to promising young aviation enthusiasts.” One of Chanute’s early gliders became the foundation of the early design work for both Wilbur and Orville Wright. “No one was too humble to receive a share of his time,” Wilbur Wright noted in 1910. “In patience and goodness of heart, he has rarely been surpassed. Few men were more universally respected or loved.” So around Illinois for sure, Octave Chanute was a pretty big man around campus.

I first noticed Chanute’s name again as an early inductee to the Illinois Aviation Hall of Fame (IAHF). Scrolling through the list I ran across other – somewhat more recent inductees – like my friend, the late E. Allan Englehardt, a retired United captain, CFI, and DPE who ran what was without a doubt the best CFI refresher course known to man. I found George Priester there too. My first assignment as an air traffic controller back in the 1970s was to Palwaukee Airport (now called Chicago Executive), then a private airport owned by Mr. Priester. I still talk to his son Charlie – who somehow managed to pass me on my multi-engine check ride in a Cessna 310 back in the 70s.

Jesse Stonecipher is there too. He ran the University of Illinois’ Institute of Aviation back in the 1960s that I attended for a short time. Famed airshow aerobatic pilot and instructor Duane Cole’s made the list of inductees, as did Frasca International’s Rudy Frasca. Merill Meigs is on the list. You might know him as the name behind Chicago’s Meigs Field (CGX) where I also worked as a controller. While I didn’t know Carl Unger or his “Breezy” personally, I feel like I did because I flew with Carl’s son Rob at Midway Airlines (“Once the pandemics over, I coming down for that Breezy ride Rob”).

My friends Jack Sheridan and Bev Greenhill are on the list, as well as Al Palicki, Howard Levinson, Doug Powers, and even my CFI buddy Lou Wipotnik are on the list of people Illinois wants to remember. Even before they were famous inductees, I knew Bev and Allan, and Howard and Jack and Al and Lou from the Chicago Executive Pilots Association where I’ve been serving as treasurer the past few years.

The Plot Thickens

So you’re probably wondering why you’re reading this history lesson about Illinois Aviation. I was working up to that … I feel a bit awkward admitting it actually. Read the rest of this entry »

How Many Aircraft did Chuck Yeager Fly?

By Scott Spangler on December 14th, 2020 | 4 Comments »

Obit Chuck YeagerLiving with an editor’s mindset is no easy thing, especially when faced with inconsistent “facts” in stories presented by different sources on a common topic. In this case it was the death of Chuck Yeager. Publicity throughout his life has made much of his signature aviation accomplishments, guiding the X-1 through the sonic barrier, surviving a high-altitude misadventure in the NF-104 Starfighter, but postings on his passing could not agree on how many different types of aircraft he flew or how many flight hours he’d logged.

This i-Quest started with the New York Times, the obituary gold standard. “Chuck Yeager, Test Pilot Who Broke the Sound Barrier, is Dead at 97” said “He flew more than 150 military aircraft, logging more than 10,000 hours in the air.” Like any curious aviation editor, I wanted to know what aircraft were on that list, beyond the ones I already knew about, the P-39, P-51, X-1, and F-104. Google offered me “About 3,474,000 results (0.75 seconds),” and that’s when the trouble began.

ChuckYeager.org parrots the Times’ obit word for word (including Richard Goldenstein’s byline), but the website does not provide a list of those “more than 150 military aircraft.” Scrolling through the site’s timeline of Yeager’s life, from his birth in 1923 to 1997, revealed some of them.

Republic XF-84Stationed at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, after the war, he flew the P-80 Shooting Star and P-84 Thunderjet. “He also evaluated the German and Japanese fighter aircraft brought back to the United States after the war.” I remember reading an article by Grumman test pilot Corwin “Corky” Meyer, who also flew these aircraft at Wright Field, and how the FW-190 influenced the F8F Bearcat.

Yeager commanded a number of squadrons during his career, but aside from the F-100 Super Saber, it didn’t’ identify what aircraft they flew. The timeline concludes with “AND BEYOND,” saying, “General Yeager has flown 201 types of military aircraft, and has more than 14,000 flying hours, with more than 13,000 of these in fighter aircraft.”

Several days after he died, Popular Mechanics published “The Eight Planes That Tell the Story of Chuck Yeager’s Career.” Among them is the Messerschmitt Me-262 jet. Yeager didn’t fly it, but he did shoot one down as it was on approach to landing with his P-51. During Vietnam, he commanded five different units that flew the F-100, F-102 Delta Dagger, and the F-4 Phantom, but the Martin B-57 Canberra was his predominant mount, and he logged 414 missions in it. At the end of this section of the article, PM says, “Yeager flew his final active-duty Air Force flight in 1975, by that time accumulating 10,131.6 flight hours in 361 different types of airplanes.”

The WarZone on The Drive told a similar story, “Chuck Yeager’s Amazing Life Told Through the Airplanes He Flew.” Like the Popular Mechanics article, it listed the Beech (18) AT-11 Kansan, which Yeager maintained after he enlisted in the Army. That he flew it seems to be an assumption. “It was onboard an AT-11 that Yeager got his first taste of flying and the airsickness he experienced sitting alongside the pilot made him, briefly, have second thoughts about a future career in the air.”

mig-15The story added the BT-13 and AT-6, which makes logical sense, as they were the basic and advanced training aircraft of the day. During a tour at Edwards Air Force Base during the Korean era, he went to Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa to fly a MiG-15 donated to the American cause by a North Korean defector. Command of an F-86 Sabre squadron followed.

bathtubBack in the world of flight test, the WarZone story revealed that Yeager was the first Air Force pilot to fly the NASA M2-F1 Flying Bathtub in 1963. He wanted to see if the wooden wingless lifting body would be a suitable trainer for the Aerospace Research Pilots School, aka the Air Force Test Pilot School. This raised my editorial hackles because the article didn’t answer the question it posed; did the school use the engineless bathtub as a lifting body trainer?

This article touched on the Northrop F-20 Tigershark that Yeager helped market to the world, and the F-15 he crewed for a celebrity flight celebrating the 50th anniversary of his sound-breaking flight in the X-1.

Searching the online National Museum of the USAF revealed nothing more than a long list of artifacts in its collection, from photos, to the flight suit he wore on his historic X-1 flight, to that MiG-15 he flew in Okinawa.

I saved Wikipedia for last, sure that some dedicated aviation history geek would have researched and listed all of the aircraft Yeager flew during his career. But there was no joy. While the entry highlighted those already known, this is all it said, “Throughout his life, he flew more than 360 different types of aircraft.” There wasn’t any attribution for this, not even a footnote. Bummer. Living with an editor’s mindset is no easy thing. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Confessions of a New Corporate Co-Pilot

By Robert Mark on December 7th, 2020 | 6 Comments »

By Rob Mark

I knew life was going to become sweet now that I successfully passed my Cessna Citation III (CE-650) type rating check ride. It meant I’d be flying my first swept wing jet. Surprisingly, my first day at the new job at Chicago Executive Airport (PWK) would also be the first time I’d actually been up close to a Citation III since all the training—even the check ride—happened in the simulator.

From my research though, I knew the 650’s cabin was roomy enough for eight and its rocket-like performance was nothing short of spectacular with a VMO (maximum operating Mach) of Mach 0.83 near 39,000 feet on a standard day. That meant we could make the West Coast out of PWK with four people in the back. I learned pretty quickly too that the 650’s awesome performance meant staying much farther ahead of the airplane than I’d had to in the much slower Citation II (CE-550) I’d been flying in a 12-pilot charter department.

This Citation III was owned by a private company and I was the junior of three pilots. My boss, the chief pilot brought experience from a number of other flight departments, while the other pilot—call him Tom—well, I was never really too sure where Tom had come from because the guy kept to himself as much as possible and simply wasn’t the chatty type. That made three-hour flights really long when the entire conversation at FL390 ends with “yes,” “no,” and an occasional shrug of the shoulders.

But who cared what one guy acted like, I thought. I was there to learn how to fit into a flight department that needed another pilot on their team. Just like in charter flying, my job was to keep the people in the back happy. I just came to know these passengers much better. They’d invite us to their home in Nantucket when we overnighted there.

Looking back on this, I guess the 10-minute interview the chief pilot and I engaged in before he offered me the job should have been a tip-off that maybe something was a little odd, but with a four-year-old daughter growing up at home, the chance to dump a pager that always seemed to ring at 2 a.m. beckoned hypnotically.

Cessna Citation CE-650

Line training began right away with me flying in all kinds of weather, where I regularly rotated flying left seat with the chief pilot and Tom. Having flown left seat on the Citation II, I wasn’t brand new to jets, just speedy ones.

After a few months, however, I began to notice operational oddities that started making me wonder—sketchy flight planning and questions that were sometimes answered with annoyed expressions. If I appeared not to agree, someone might ask, “Had I finished all the Jepp revisions yet?” (In those days there were no electronic subscriptions. Updates were handled by hand) I found the best solution for getting along seemed to be just shut up and fly the airplane, although I was able to start paying closer attention to the little things as I became more comfortable in the airplane.

On one flight back from Cincinnati (CVG), I was flying left-seat with the chief pilot in the right. I wanted to add fuel before we left since the Chicago weather was questionable, but the boss overruled me explaining, “We’re fat on fuel.” I didn’t say anything, but back home, Chicago Approach dumped us early so we ended up burning more fuel than planned. I flew the ILS to minimums, but my scan uncomfortably included the fuel gauges every few seconds. We taxied in with 700 pounds of Jet-A, not much for an airplane that burns 1,800 pounds an hour down low. What if we’d missed at Chicago Executive Airport and needed to run for Chicago O’Hare International Airport I wondered? We’d have arrived on fumes. The boss looked at me after we shut down. “Don’t tell me that whole thing bothered you. It all turned out fine, didn’t it?” Read the rest of this entry »

Defensive Pessimism & Aviation Experience

By Scott Spangler on November 30th, 2020 | 2 Comments »

JW 50-50Pursing my eclectic interests, the library emailed a curbside pickup notice for David Rakoff’s Half Empty, as in the pessimist’s assessment of a glass vessel whose volume is divided between some unknown liquid and the ambient atmosphere. On the cover, a sunburst subtitle boldly says, “WARNING!!! No Inspirational Life Lessons Will Be Found In These Pages.”

From his satirical perch and using examples from his own life, Rakoff devotes 224 pages to thoughtfully dismembering our sunny delusional culture, but the subtitle warning is a lie. On page 9 is an important life lesson, especially for pilots of all aeronautical genres who approach aviation with an optimistic outlook. An optimist is naïve he writes, supporting this evaluation with the words of a Prohibition-era newspaperman, Don Marquis, who wrote in 1927, “an optimist is a guy that has never had much experience.”

Experience is important because, in most cases, it “shows you how much more you have to learn.” How well people, pilots especially, learn (and apply) experience’s lessons subtly refines their pedagogical inclinations, how well they perceive—and retain—what the situation is trying to teach them. Given the repetitive causes of most aviation accidents, what too many pilots seem to get from first-hand experience is the self-centered joy, if they survive.

If they don’t, aeronautical Darwinism guarantees that they won’t again forge the error chain that anchored their demise. But the resulting accident report shares the lesson with other aviators, if they are so interested. Whether they learn from the misadventures of others and how to avoid following in their flight-path or dismiss this shared experience by silently acknowledging that THEY would never do this, depends on how they see that aforementioned glass vessel.

With a pilot-appropriate weather example, Rakoff writes, “Where a strategic optimist might approach a gathering rainstorm with a smile as his umbrella, a defensive pessimist, all too acquainted with this world of pitfall and precipitation, is far more likely to use, well, an umbrella.”

He wasn’t writing to or for pilots, but this one fits. “Defensive pessimism is about sweating the small stuff, being prepared for contingencies like some neurotic Jewish Boy Scout, and in so doing, not letting oneself be crippled by fear.” It is, perhaps, the step before one becomes a pragmatic realist who, upon seeing the aforementioned vessel asks if the person responsible was adding to or draining away the liquid it contains. – Scott Spangler, Editor

A Glimmer of Light Ahead for the Aviation Industry

By Robert Mark on November 23rd, 2020 | 8 Comments »

Boeing 737 MAX 7

For the thousands of us who call the aviation industry home, 2020 turned out to be a year we’ll be glad to see the end of although the change of calendars won’t wipe away many of this year’s problems. The highly-contagious coronavirus wreaking havoc on our planet stuck its ugly tentacles into nearly every aspect of life on Earth this year. The result has been people fleeing airline travel and anything related in unprecedented numbers. Airlines around the globe reacted by parking thousands of airplanes and furloughing employees as demand dropped to rock bottom levels. Thousands of others lost their jobs as commercial aircraft production nearly ground to a halt with the fallout moving downstream tearing the hearts out of many industry suppliers as it went. And all this in addition to the grounding of Boeing’s 737 Max back in March of 2019.

The much hoped-for follow-on aid from the US government recommended by economists on both sides of the aisle never materialized once paycheck protection funding ran out. Except for the stock market, the US economy sank into the worst recession since the Great Depression with food banks overwhelmed by the millions of other Americans out of work. Congress, at each other’s throats most of this year failed to be of much help. First-line health care workers, noble enough to risk their lives to help back in March, are now exhausted with no relief in sight.

Within a few months of the virus’ emergence, the commercial airlines made their best efforts to trim transmission by demanding everyone who did fly should wear a mask. The FAA decided such a rule was beyond the scope of their mandate. Interestingly hundreds of people have been permanently banned from some US airlines for refusing to don a mask claiming their right to personal freedom trumped any airline or public health demands.

Business and general aviation picked up some of the travel slack this year as people wealthy enough to use private aviation switched to a sector where they had better control over the potential transmission of a virus that is currently killing between 1,500 and 2,000 Americans each and every day. But without a permanent solution, like a vaccine, or something to absolutely convince people it’s once again safe to climb onboard a commercial airplane, the airlines and the rest of the industry are expected to spend years digging their way out of the billions of dollars in losses they’ve already experienced. Read the rest of this entry »