The Happiest Hour Among Total Flight Time

By Scott Spangler on March 20th, 2023 | What do you think? »

Aviators track their flying lives one hour at a time. No matter where they are in their aeronautical journey, just starting or finally resting on retired wings. Every hour is important. Some were more exciting. Others were more meaningful because they taught an important lesson. Some lessons made the DO-NOT-REPEAT list. And then there is the hour that deserves some thought and reflection—the happiest hour.

Finding this hour was not an effortless endeavor for me. Checkrides didn’t make the initial list because I find little happiness in the deep end of the pool of performance anxiety. Successful outcomes offered the reward of relief, not happiness. Flying the trench from Arlington, Washington, to Anchorage, Alaska, fell from the list because no single hour stood apart from the sum of my ultimate aviation experience. The same goes for the air combat and formation flying courses at Sky Warriors in their blue camo T-34s.

Paging through my logbook, that was not the case for my 15-hour tailwheel transition course at Stick and Rudder Aviation of Watsonville, California, the “Academy of Flight and Taildragmanship.” On the eve of Kitty Hawk Day, December 16, 1996, I flew my happiest hour in an 85-horse clip-wing Piper L-4 with instructor John Coplantz, who grabbed two rolls of toilet paper before we walked to the bright red airplane, its white lightning bolt segmented by the Piper’s yawning bifold doors.

Toilet paper was not part of the lesson’s preflight briefing. Our mission was three-point and wheel landing practice combined with 180-degree power-off approaches in a moderate crosswind blowing 10 to 15 knots across the Watsonville Muni Airport (WVI). But the course synopsis foretold of comprehensive training — and fun. For example, after “Pitch Attitude Flying,” it says, in parenthesis, “Look, Ma. No airspeed indicator!”

Using an airplane to subdivide a streamer of toilet paper was something I’d only read about, and the tacit promise of another new experience made me eager to tackle the lesson objectives. With them successfully flown, John told me to depart the pattern and climb over Monterey Bay. At some higher altitude I don’t now remember, John dropped the first roll from the L-4’s front seat.

Watching it unroll, John challenged me to cut a 5-foot length from the top end of the streamer with the left wingtip, then to cut another segment with the right wing midway between the tip and where the strut supported the wing. With the Cub’s clipped wings, that’s not a lot of wing to work with. John continued to issue his challenges over the battery-powered intercom (Stick & Rudder’s 85-horse training fleet of two Aeronca Champs and the L-4 don’t have electrical systems).

I was having so much fun swooping, turning, and shortening the slowly-falling streamer, I didn’t think about the mechanics of flying. As I focused on my target, the Cub told me what it needed by the sound of the engine, the wind passing by the open door, and the feel of the stick and rudder and seat of my pants. And that, I’m sure, was the point of the exercise, but as the setting sun glittered off the bay, all I wanted was altitude and the freefall of the second roll.

So, what about you? What has been your happiest hour? Don’t be shy! Share it with us in the comments. Scott Spangler–Editor

Airline Fees = Ticket Tax Avoidance

By Scott Spangler on March 6th, 2023 | What do you think? »

During the State of the Union Address, President Joe Biden said he wanted to crack down on airline “junk fees” that airlines added to their ticket prices. Given the motivation for the ever expanding menu of these fees, I’m not holding my breath for their demise. Simply put, these fees are exempt and do not contribute to the price of a ticket that’s subject to the 7.5% tax that airlines pay to support the national aviation infrastructure. General aviation pays its way with taxes on avgas and Jet-A.

This reality is rarely mentioned in media coverage of the junk fee vendetta. It is easier—and attracts a larger audience for the advertising media (are clicks and page views the media’s junk fees?) than digging into the history of the subject. Or maybe it doesn’t matter because avoiding taxes that support an industry-supporting culture is so commonplace that it is considered the American way. Given the frequency of airline close calls and railway disasters, it sure seems to be the case lately. Or maybe it is just coincidence.

In a thumbnail history, airline junk fees were born with airline deregulation in the 1980s, which introduced low-fare lines to the marketplace. To compete, the legacy lines subtracted their costs for baggage (and everything else, over time) and provided for the service that used to be covered by the ticket price. And when the government let them use this scheme to reduce their ticket tax bill, the new era soon became firmly entrenched.

Last year the Department of Transportation published a notice of proposed rulemaking that would “require U.S. air carriers, foreign air carriers, and ticket agents to clearly disclose passenger-specific or itinerary-specific baggage fees, change fees, and cancellation fees to consumers whenever fare and schedule information is provided to consumers for flights to, within, and from the United States.”

Really, it doesn’t matter if this proposal becomes a final rule. Either way, passengers will still have to pay the fees, the fees are still exempt (as far as I can discern), and the airlines are still getting away with their ticket tax avoidance to support an aviation infrastructure designed with them as first in line. If we really want to be fair about it to all Americans, add a line to the NPRM that makes the total cost of the ticket and all of its fees subject to the infrastructure-supporting ticket tax. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Aerostats: A Stratospheric Gulf of Tonkin?

By Scott Spangler on February 20th, 2023 | 1 Comment »

The recent political and military focus on aerostats—balloons—and the resulting cyclone of incomplete communication of verifiable concrete details, the confusion resulting from people demonstrating that they possess no knowledge or understanding of what they are talking about, and premeditated disinformation that supports their individual agendas brings to mind the Gulf of Tonkin Incident.

For the forgetful or those for whom history is a tedious exercise that impedes their current plans, in 1964 the administration of Lydon B. Johnson manufactured a single incident into a situation that “justified” further American participation in its next long-term conflict. It seems now that the USS Maddox, a destroyer conducting covert signals intelligence in the Gulf, did share the Gulf with three North Vietnamese patrol boats, but the government created the subsequent attacks to support its decision to get the military more involved.

The situation with the Chinese reconnaissance balloon seems eerily familiar. Other than taking the government’s word for it, there has been no verifiable display of concrete proof that the balloon was actually Chinese, and that it we dedicated to collecting intelligence of the areas it floated over. Call me a cynical skeptic, I won’t believe what the government says—and the media reports—until the balloon’s are open for public display and inspection, like the Russians did with the remains of Francis Gary Power’s U-2 in 1960.

Like the manufactured subsequent “attacks” in the Gulf of Tonkin, the government has ordered the downing of two other aerostats. They have suspended the search for the resulting wreckage, and the only telling “proof” so far released was some audio of some poor F-16 pilot who said he couldn’t go slow enough to get a good look at the target.

Duh. It is an aerostat. As anyone whose enjoyed a flight in a hot air balloon, even inf the breeze is blowing at triple-digit jet stream speeds, there is no slipstream because it floats with the wind. Wind speed matters most on takeoff and landing because it tells you how quickly the breeze will drag you across the terrain. Because an aerostat goes where the wind blows, that’s why the Department of Homeland Security tethers its radar surveillance balloons to Mother Earth.

Early reports by reputable media outlets like the New York Times repeated the claims of unidentified by knowledgeable sources that the Chinese could control the flightpath of their balloon. There’s been no proof of the systems that might make this possible. Now, it seems, copy editor and fact checkers are starting to calm the political hysteria of guiding public opinion through being afraid of something. Which, unfortunately, always seems to be the point of these manufactured situations.

The only thing the government—any government—truly achieves through such shenanigans is that the people they are trying to control through fear take their distrust of the government to a higher level (and yet, we continue to reelect them, which says equally as much about our society). Logic suggests that in such situations, people would demand, and the powers involved would calmly convey the situation and share the evidence openly in the light of day. And when they don’t, that says something in that evidence contradicts the ultimate goal of their premeditated agenda. Scott Spangler, Editor

Finding Space Weather Reports

By Scott Spangler on February 6th, 2023 | What do you think? »

If you keep reading the Aviation Weather Handbook, FAA-H-8083-28, you’ll learn that space weather reports are officially known at the Space Weather Advisory in chapter 26.7. It is a newcomer to the universe of meteorology. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) brought it into being in late 2019.

It unites the services of four “global space weather providers.” In the United States, the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) is the go-to source. Then there is the consortium of space weather agencies from Australia, Canada, France, and Japan (ACFJ). Next in the space weather acronym parade is PECASUS, for the Pan-European Consortium for Aviation Space Weather Services. Finland leads this group that includes Belgium, the United Kingdom, Poland, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Austria, and Cyprus. The China-Russian Federation Consortium (CRC) rounds out the quartet.

On a rotating basis, the members of this space weather quartet issue global Space Weather Advisories when processes are occurring on the Sun or in the Earth’s magnetosphere, ionosphere, and thermosphere that could have a potential impact to the near-Earth environment. The specific targets are high-frequency communications, satellite communications, satellite-based navigation and surveillance systems (GNSS), and when heightened radiation occurs above Flight Level 250.

When space weather crosses one of ICAOs predefined thresholds for moderate (MOD) and severe (SEV) impacts, the member of the quarter whose turn it is issues a Space Weather Advisory. The table presenting the thresholds subdivides the effects, sub-effects, and MOD and SEV impacts within the advisory areas. Of operational interest to aviators are possible degraded or unreliable services.

In 6, 12, 18, and 24-hour forecasts, the Space Weather Advisory defines the affected area of the globe in one of three ways. The easiest to picture is the Daylight Side. Then there are six pre-defined 30°-wide latitude bands that work their ways north and south from the equator. Finally, there is a polygon patch defined by latitude and longitude coordinates.

The handbook next delves into the alphanumeric format of the Space Weather Advisory. If you’re interested in seeing it, or you need to comprehend it to increase your operational safety, set aside some study time.

For the merely curious, spending time on NOAA SWPC website is more rewarding. The color-coded Space Weather Scales break down the consequences, from extreme to minor, for Geomagnetic Storms, Solar Radiation Storms, and (most important to aviators) Radio Blackouts, subdivided by HF radio and the spectrum of navigation systems.

A single glance at the SWPC homepage briefs you on the 24-hour observed maximums and latest observed conditions for R (radio blackouts), S (solar radiation storms), and G (geomagnetic storms) based on the scales. When I looked at them, each reported “none.” It lists some of the condition below, such as “Solar Wind Speed: 468 km/sec.”

The site provides current (space) news and features on such topics as the “Green Comet” and more specific information for the various space weather communities, including aviation, GPS, radio communications, satellites, and space weather geeks. Because it’s listed first, I’m guessing the Aurora community is the most popular, which seems only right and true for space weather’s only esthetically pleasing consequence. –Scott Spangler, Editor

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