21st Century Airship Development Preserves History

By Scott Spangler on November 13th, 2023 | What do you think? »

The most fascinating nugget of news in the announcement of the FAA’s issuance of special airworthiness certificate to Pathfinder 1, LTA’s prototype 21st century rigid airship, is the authorization to fly it in Class D airspace defined by California’s Moffett Federal Field (NUQ) and Palo Alto Airport (PAO), which is next door, so to speak. The nugget was nestled in LTA’s certificate application. The airship’s experimental flight test program would establish its flight envelope through “substantial indoor and outdoor ground testing.”

I emphasized indoor because rigid airships are not small flying machines. Pathfinder is 124.5 meters of carbon-fiber-polymer tubes connected by titanium hubs. You need some pretty good indoor space to fly something 136 feet long. Fortunately, LTA Research, founded by Google cofounder Sergey Brin, has options. And in acquiring them, he has saved significant parts of American lighter than air history and national historic landmarks that continue to make contributions to aviation, and would be nearly impossible to replace or recreate.

Moffett Field is south of San Francisco, established in 1931 as the Navy’s West Coast rigid airship facility. (Lakehurst, New Jersey, served America’s sunrise coast.) It is home to three airship hangars. The Navy built Hangar 1 in 1933 for the USS Macon, ARS-5. In 2011, Google’s founders saved Hangar 1 from demolition by underwriting its restoration. Three years later, Google subsidiary Planetary Ventures signed a 60-year lease with the General Services Administration to manage Hangar 1 and the surrounding airfield.

Across the main runways from Hangar 1 are the smaller Hangars 2 and 3, two of the world’s largest freestanding structures. They are two of the 17 wood blimp hangars the Navy built during World War II for its antisubmarine blimp fleet. Hangars 2 and 3 are two of the seven survivors (there are two more in Tustin, California, two at Lakehurst, New Jersey, and one at Tillamook, Oregon). Pathfinder 1 made its first flight inside Moffett’s Hangar 2 on May 12, 2023.

After Pathfinder 1 finishes if Moffett Field flights, it will move to Akron, Ohio, home of the 1175-by-325-foot Akron Airdock, which LTA bought in 2022. Once the world’s largest structure without internal supports (it covers 364,000-square-feet, roughly 7 football fields), the Goodyear Zeppelin Corporation built it in 1929. From it emerged the US Navy dirigibles Akron, ARS-4, in 1931, and the Macon, ARS-5, in 1934.

Pathfinder 1 is but a prototype, to be followed by larger iterations as the test program progresses. And, in time, it will offer aviation aficionados the unique opportunity to witness the past, present, and future of one (lighter than air) aspect of aviation. –Scott Spangler, editor

Earning Your Stripes in the Glamorous World of Corporate Flying

By Robert Mark on November 6th, 2023 | What do you think? »

I have many fond and a few not-so-fond memories of flying business jets in the corporate world. But then, everyone needs to begin somewhere. Rob Mark

A crusty old chief pilot once told me early in my jet flying career that, at times, I seemed a bit too eager to please, a little overly energetic to complete one task and move on to the next—as if fitting in at a flight department was somehow tied to completing as many tasks as possible in a single day. Not a person for wasting time, he said, “You still have a lot to learn.” But when the critique of my talents began with him calling me “an aviation pup,” it was tough to hold back a smile, so I didn’t try. The guy had a heart, after all.

Balancing the Load

One of the first things I learned on the Cessna Citation II, the first jet I flew, was how to load bags … lots and lots of bags. One afternoon six big fellows showed up for a hunting trip to Moultrie, Georgia. They knew the drill that I was still learning because they dropped everything near the rear cargo hatch underneath the left engine. I watched as duffle bags of all sizes and colors, guns, fishing poles, and Styrofoam coolers were piled incredibly high on top of each other. Forget figuring out the weight and balance for these hefty passengers, I thought, as the captain walked up to the pile. “Start loading so we can get out of here,” he said and headed to the cockpit to grab the clearance.

I surveyed the pile and thought, “How tough can this be? I’ve loaded station wagons before.”

A couple of duffle bags went in pretty easily, but then I grabbed one that must have weighed 100 pounds. Of course, this slowed me down some since it was a warm afternoon. I began sweating—a lot. One of the line guys took pity and walked over to help. The two of us barely got the big bag in. Maybe getting it out would be easier, I thought. I continued tossing the near-empty coolers—and then there were the guns. It was almost full in the back so I moved the guns up front to the nose compartment. That worked. I checked the latches both front and back, hopped in the cabin, and closed the door as the left seater quickly started the right and left engines.

Oh Right, the Firearms

“You checked that the guns were unloaded, didn’t you?” he asked. I just stared as he pulled the left throttle to cut off and shut down the engine. He looked at me like I was a complete idiot. “Get out there and check them.” Now, my life involvement with weapons was limited to a single day of M-16 training in the Air Force. I realized there had to be a way to keep from looking any more stupid to all these guys, so climbing out of the right seat, I asked who wanted to help me check the guns before takeoff. The biggest guy moved toward the door as I opened it. “You must be the new guy, eh?” How’d he know that?

Food bomb

On another trip, we carried a family that included three little kids to Orlando to visit Disney World. It was a smooth trip and the sky turned to night an hour after takeoff. The captain and I listened to the kids who sounded like they were having a good time, although every so often the captain would give another listen and then look at me, and shake his head.

“OK, what?” I said.

“Do you know who they are?” he asked (they were a prominent family from the North Shore of Chicago). I shook my head. “Just wait until we get to Orlando.”

Because the landing weather at Orlando Executive included drizzle, I hurried to shift the baggage out of the rear cargo bay into an SUV waiting for our passengers. They were gone moments later, without a word. By the time I returned to the cabin, the aircraft was already connected to the ground power unit to make it easier to light up the cabin.

I only managed to get my head in before I stopped dead in my tracks. It looked like someone had set off a food bomb in the cabin. Everywhere I looked I saw empty chip bags and candy wrappers. Pop cans were strewn across the floor, with a few more tossed on the seats. There were even empty soda cans in the lav. If I hadn’t known that the entire flight had been smooth, I’d have thought we’d flown through enough turbulence to empty every snack drawer on the airplane. The drawers were indeed empty, but those little three kids and two adults had messed up our airplane worse than any turbulence I’d ever flown through.

Of course, there wasn’t much we could do except start at opposite ends of the airplane, tossing the trash into plastic garbage bags—or so I thought. The captain stopped at one point and looked at me. “Any idea how we get ground chocolate out of a leather seat?” I just shook my head. I knew the NTSB couldn’t help us that night.

Lav service

Sometimes the training on a business jet just plain stinks. Like many light jets, the Citation II had a chemical toilet. If you think of it like a slightly upgraded aerial outhouse, we’d be on about the same wavelength. To me, of course, any airplane with a bathroom was pretty cool—until we were getting ready to head for the hotel one night and the captain asked, “Did you service the lav?” I’d never been trained on that option, I replied. He smiled. That’s the night I learned our Citation was equipped with an internally serviced lav bucket, and not one that a line truck could hook up to from the outside.

In English, that meant the pan that sits beneath the potty on the airplane must be removed by hand, a bit like sliding a broiler drawer out from beneath the oven at home. But the smell was worse—much worse. Just a few quick screws to loosen the box and out comes the pan. I quickly learned that the pan was nearly as wide as the cabin aisle itself. The trick, then, was not only knowing how to remove the stinkpot, turn around, and head down the aisle toward the front door. The real trick is to never, ever bump up against an armrest before you exit the cabin, because just so much as even the tiniest spill along the way meant both pilots might well be trying to clean the blue juice mess out of the carpet for hours.

The only question I wanted an answer to before I eventually upgraded to the Hawker 800 was how the lav was serviced. Another pilot explained, “The ground service trucks hook up to the back of the airplane for that. Why do you ask?” I knew he’d never, ever flown as a Citation II co-pilot.

Robert P. Mark flew Hawkers and Citations as a corporate pilot and is now CEO of CommAvia, a media group serving aviation. He also publishes this blog, jetwhine.com.

And a big thanks to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and its AOPA Pilot/ Turbine for allowing us to reprint this story from their 

ASRS Callback Drone Challenge

By Scott Spangler on October 30th, 2023 | What do you think? »

October kudos to the editors of NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) Callback for selecting atypical reports for their periodic “What Would You Have Done?” issue. In all the years I’ve been reading the selected scenarios to challenge and expand my aeronautical decision-making universe, this is the first time I’ve faced the unfamiliar regulatory and operational environment of a Part 107 unmanned aircraft system (UAS).

In “Part 107—Night Stealth,” the drone PIC “observed…while on a photography session, another small UAS operating with no anti-collision lights during dawn. I had two anti-collision strobes…activated and operating continuously. I immediately evaded the area to avoid a collision, since the other PIC was flying erratically. I departed about 150 feet north, and the other PIC followed and continued to fly erratically below me.”

At first reading, an initial reaction would be to bring my drone home while avoiding the erratic wandering of the lightless drone. But this was my Part 91 brain thinking. How would a rudimentary understanding of Part 107 affect my decision? To find out, I found the August 2016 edition of FAA-G-8082-22, the 88-page Remote Pilot—Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Study Guide and settled in for a quick read of the chapters that would, most likely, provide the information I needed.

Chapter 1: Applicable Regulations, surprised me. “Be familiar with 14 CFR part 107 and all parts referenced in part 107, as well as AC 107-2.” Given some time to think about it, getting links to the current links should not have surprised me. As they are in manned aircraft, the remote pilot in command is responsible for and is the final authority in the drone’s safe operation, and that the R-PIC complies with the requirements of Part 107, which I’m guessing that the rogue operator in the reported scenario was not doing.

Yup, according to §107.29, Operation at Night, the other operator was violating the regs. To fly at night, or during civil twilight, an appropriately trained and tested R-PIC can fly a drone with “lighted anti-collision lighting visible for at least 3 statute miles that has a flash rate sufficient to avoid a collision.” In addition, “The remote pilot in command may reduce the intensity of, but may not extinguish, the anti-collision lighting if he or she determines that, because of operating conditions, it would be in the interest of safety to do so.”

§107.37, Operation Near Aircraft; Right-of-Way Rules, is straightforward. Drones must yield to all other flying machines, and “may not pass over, under, or ahead of it unless well clear.”

I didn’t expect the regs to provide any guidance on what to do when someone else is going rogue. Maybe I’ll find what I’m looking for in AC 107-2A, dated February 1, 2021. Section 5.11.2, Safety Risk Assessment, pointed me at Appendix A for “additional guidance on how to conduct an overall safety risk assessment.”

Section 5.13, Remaining Clear of Other Aircraft. Now we’re getting somewhere. “The remote PIC must be aware of other aircraft, persons, and property in the vicinity of the operating area, and maneuver the small unmanned aircraft to avoid collision.” This supports my first-glance decision to return to home base. Even if the other guy is flying rogue, “The remote PIC must take action to ensure other aircraft will not need to maneuver to avoid colliding with the small unmanned aircraft.”

Section 5.18, In-Flight Emergency, and Section 5.19, Careless or Reckless Operation, only recommended not participating in these operations, not what to do when someone else is. I did learn, however, that drone pilots face a wider realm of careless of reckless: “Because sUAS have additional operating considerations that are not present in manned aircraft operations, there may be additional activity that would be careless or reckless if conducted using an sUAS. For example, failure to consider weather conditions near structures, trees, or rolling terrain when operating in a densely populated area could be determined as careless or reckless operation.”

Off to Appendix A, Risk Assessment Tools, which presents decision-making and crew resource management examples. Nope. The closest example was a drone filming an accident scene when an EMS helo arrives and appropriates the drone’s landing site. The short solution is to avoid the helo and find an alternate landing site. This also seems to support my initial ASRS decision. I wonder what the reporting R-PIC did?

The R-PIC did what I would have done, but he also took another step. The drone pilot “drove to find the PIC of the [other] UAS and asked if he was the operator.… He replied…he was. I then discussed with him if he was a Part 107 pilot. He replied he was.… [I] asked why he did not have anti-collision lights on and recommended he … use one during night or dawn operations. He stated he didn’t need to use anti-collision lights because he was flying under recreational/hobbyist flight rules. I informed him regardless he must have anti-collision lights on during dawn and night operations…to avoid an incident.” Given the locked and loaded American culture, I would not have done this. Scott Spangler, Editor

FAA Introduces Voluntary Helo Bird Strike Safety Enhancements

By Scott Spangler on October 16th, 2023 | What do you think? »

With autumn’s annual bird migrations underway, on October 3, the FAA issued a 4-page Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin 21-17 addressing Rotorcraft Bird Strike Protection and Mitigation. It also introduces the voluntary Rotorcraft Safety Promotion Concept (RSPC) that encourages the installation of safety enhancing designs, using specific safety equipment, and implementing operational procedures to mitigate the risks of helos having runs-ins with our feathered friends. Unlike fixed-wing aircraft that zip through densely populated avian territory, helos face increased bird strikes because they cruise in the lower reaches of the atmosphere, 3,500 feet and below, where 90% of snarge is created.

The RSPC webpage links to a list of bird-strike compliant helos. There are nine of them: the Airbus H225, MBB-BK 117 C2, D2, and D3; the Leonardo AB139, AW139, AW169, and AW189; and the Sikorsky S-92A.

It is followed by the Illustration of Voluntary Bird Strike Options that take normal category Part 27 helos toward the bird strike requirements of Part 29 transport category rotorcraft. These enhancements include bird resistant polycarbonate windshields, bird deterring lights, audio, and high visibility main rotor blades, and flight manual limits that limit the indicated airspeed to 80 knots.

Other operational risk mitigation options include flight planning and in-flight decisions that avoid bird-rich environments, mindful that these areas and the avion populations wax and wane with the season. If encountering birds in flight, slowing down, if practical, should be the pilot’s first reaction. More than three-quarters of all helo bird strikes happen when flying faster than 80 knots.

Gaining altitude, if possible, is another operational mitigation option. The SAIB says the likelihood of a bird strike decreases 32% for every 1,000 feet gained from 500 feet above the ground. And helo pilots should know and remember that birds fly at higher altitudes at night than they do during daylight.

Rotary wing aviators should also know and remember that their last line of bird strike defense is wearing a good helmet with the visor firmly in place. And if you fly in a birch world, you might consider the face guard many military helo crews use. Collecting snarge for a wildlife strike is never a good time, especially if you are scraping it from the facial folds of any member of the helo’s crew. –Scott Spangler, Editor

X-65 Controls with the (Active) Flow

By Scott Spangler on October 2nd, 2023 | What do you think? »

The brothers Wright solved the conundrum of three-axis control for powered aircraft with the pitch, yaw, and roll control through the combined forces of an elevator, rudder, and wing warping. Glenn Curtiss effectively won his roll control legal battle with the brothers when he replaced a warping roll with a French “little wing, “ aka the aileron. (And then came roll-control spoilers, like those on the P-61 Black Widow.) One wonders what the Wrights (and Curtiss as well) would think of a powered flying machine that achieved three-axis control without any of these moving control surfaces? For DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Aurora Flight Sciences, a subsidiary of Boeing, is building the X-65 to realize the possibilities of Active Flow Control, part of DARPA’s CRANE, Control of Revolutionary Aircraft with Novel Effectors.

The X-65’s geometric joined-wing structure certainly is revolutionary, and I would have loved to have listened to the meeting that renamed aerodynamic flight controls, the rudder, elevators, and ailerons “effectors.” At least it makes sense. Without moving flight controls, active flows of air will effect changes in the unmanned X plane’s pitch, roll, and yaw. But wait! There’s more! The 7,000-pound research aircraft includes modular wing configurations so it can integrate and test other advanced CRANE technology. As DARPA put it: “Crane seeks to optimize the benefits of active flow control by maturing technologies and design tools, and incorporating them early in the design process. Active flow control could improve aircraft performance by removing jointed surfaces, which currently drive design configurations that increase weight and mechanical complexity. Demonstrating AFC for stability and control in-flight would help open the design trade space for future military and commercial applications.”

Time will tell whether the X-65 begins its flight testing, scheduled for 2025, but the project has completed four weeks of wind tunnel testing in Phase 1. Surely those tunnel tests included controlling the aircraft’s attitude with inhaling and exhaling air from the myriad vents on the wings that give Active Flow Control its name. With only a rudimentary comprehension of fluid dynamics, it seems that ACF will create a pitch, roll, and yaw effector by changing the shape of the boundary layers flowing over the geometrically joined wings. (Here is BAE’s YouTube take on the subject.) What I’m curious to learn is how effective this new active flow effector is compared to mechanical airflow deflectors, the traditional rudder, elevators, and ailerons (and spoilers, too!). The roll control legal patent battles between the Wrights and Curtiss aside, the aileron won because it was more immediately effective and it was easier to design and build, and it weighed less. In these regards, aviation’s practical demands remain unchanged. Scott Spangler, Editor

Defining Aviation Learning Experiences

By Scott Spangler on September 18th, 2023 | What do you think? »

To maintain my social skills, on Fridays I hike the Wiouwash Trail for 2.46 miles from the trailhead just east of Winneconne to the Bare Bones Brewery, which is trailside where the former interurban railbed enters Oshkosh, Wisconsin, on its northwest side. The Bone opens at noon, and I’m a member of its mug club. Exercise leading to (and from) good beer is guaranteed, and rare is the Friday that does not include a handful of people to talk with.

Conversations typically start with beer, and the craft breweries we’ve visited. This conversation is usually punctuated with our respective vocations and avocations. Talking with a couple somewhere in their 50s, the woman seemed especially interested after learning I was a pilot. She’d not met many, she said, and she peppered me with a curious collection of questions, such as who were the best pilots I’d ever flown with (a story for another day).

Flowering from the old saw that “There old pilots and bold pilots, but no old, bold pilot,” Most of them seemed to focus on things that define a pilot’s personality. Delving into this spectrum, which ranges from timid to foolhardy, I described myself as a pragmatic pilot who considered the relevant risks and played them out as possibilities influenced by the flight’s conditions. For more than 50 years now, mantra has been, “If in doubt, don’t.”

The couple asked if this guiding principle grew out of some inflight epiphany. In truth, this aviation moment that defined my flying life occurred in Alameda, California, during February 1973, three years before I started my flight training farther down the coast, in Long Beach, in 1976. Just before intermission during the film, Fiddler on the Roof, at the Alameda Theater, A Navy A-7 Corsair II dove almost straight into an apartment building a little more than a half-mile down Central Ave.

A photographer stationed at NAS Alameda, I spent a couple of weeks documenting this undesirable aviation outcome as the mishap investigators dug into the hole sifting the mess searching for evidence, for some clue to the mishap’s cause. They found the A-7’s engine about 20 feet under the basement garage floor. As far as I know, they never did find any of the pilot’s remains, but the 10 civilians who resided in the apartment building introduced me to the unmistakable, unforgettable aroma of seared human flesh.

The flight of two A-7s had left NAS Lemore on a night out and back training flight, and the flight’s leader said suddenly, his wingman was no longer off his wing. The rumor among the people sifting through the site was the pilot was sucking on a cigarette in-between whiffs from his oxygen mask, not an approved procedure at 37,000 feet. Nothing in the mishap investigation confirmed this rumor, but what stuck in my 18-year-old mind is that a momentary lapse in judgement, no matter what it might be, can turn any airplane into a dirty collection of metal scraps, slivers, and shards spread across a hangar floor. Aside from the compacted lump of the A-7’s Pratt&Whitney TF30-P-6 turbofan, few of them were larger than an index card.

Photographic work on subsequent fatal mishaps, the final approach meeting of the four turboprop P-3 sub hunter and a Boeing 707 lookalike, the Convair 990, at NAS Moffet Field on the other side of San Francisco Bay, and a Marine Reserve CH-53 that shed a main rotor blade up north in the Napa, fixed this reality in memory.

Asking for an example of how this guided my flying life, I recalled my invitation to introduce the “new” Cessna 172 to Flight Training’s readers when Cessna resumed production of its single-engine airplanes. It was an event attended by usual GA media outlets, and for some reason, I was selected first to fly. Searching for differences between the legacy Skyhawk and the new one, I started by following the handbook’s preflight inspection checklist. I stopped when I found good sized nick in a prop blade, and said I would not fly the airplane until the problem was properly addressed.

Seeing two quizzical looks above their beers, I explained that the nick might lead to the loss of part of the prop blade, and that the unbalanced blade might torque the engine off the airframe, which would destroy not only the center of gravity but also the airplane’s aerodynamics, and what was left would fall out of the sky. I like flying a lot, I said, but not enough to die for, especially when it would have been my fault for taking off with a known problem. “Ultimately, we all are responsible for the consequences of our decisions. –Scott Spangler, Editor

How the FAA Let Remote Tower Technology Slip Right Through Its Fingers

By Robert Mark on September 12th, 2023 | 1 Comment »

In June 2023, the FAA published a 167-page document outlining the agency’s desire to replace dozens of 40-year-old airport control towers with new environmentally friendly brick-and-mortar structures. These towers are, of course, where hundreds of air traffic controllers ply their trade … ensuring the aircraft within their local airspace are safely separated from each other during landing and takeoff.

The FAA’s report was part of President Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act enacted on November 15, 2021. That bill set aside a whopping $25 billion spread across five years to cover the cost of replacing those aging towers. The agency said it considered a number of alternatives about how to spend that $5 billion each year, rather than on brick and mortar buildings.

One alternative addressed only briefly before rejecting it was a relatively new concept called a Remote Tower, originally created by Saab in Europe in partnership with the Virginia-based VSATSLab Inc. The European technology giant has been successfully running Remote Towers in place of the traditional buildings in Europe for almost 10 years. One of Saab’s more well-known Remote Tower sites is at London City Airport. London also plans to create a virtual backup ATC facility at London Heathrow, the busiest airport in Europe.

A remote tower and its associated technology replace the traditional 60-70 foot glass domed control tower building you might see at your local airport, but it doesn’t eliminate any human air traffic controllers or their roles in keeping aircraft separated.

Max Trescott photo

Inside a Remote Tower Operation

In place of a normal control tower building, the airport erects a small steel tower or even an 8-inch diameter pole perhaps 20-40 feet high, similar to a radio or cell phone tower. Dozens of high-definition cameras are attached to the new Remote Tower’s structure, each aimed at an arrival or departure path, as well as various ramps around the airport.

Using HD cameras, controllers can zoom in on any given point within the camera’s range, say an aircraft on final approach. The only way to accomplish that in a control tower today is if the controller picks up a pair of binoculars. The HD cameras also offer infrared capabilities to allow for better-than-human visuals, especially during bad weather or at night.

The next step in constructing a remote tower is locating the control room where the video feeds will terminate. Instead of the round glass room perched atop a standard control tower, imagine a semi-circular room located at ground level. Inside that room, the walls are lined with 14, 55-inch high-definition video screens hung next to each other with the wider portion of the screen running top to bottom.

After connecting the video feeds, the compression technology manages to consolidate 360 degrees of viewing area into a 220-degree spread across the video screens. That creates essentially the same view of the entire airport that a controller would normally see out the windows of the tower cab without the need to move their head more than 220 degrees. Another Remote Tower benefit is that each aircraft within visual range can be tagged with that aircraft’s tail number, just as it might if the controller were looking at a radar screen. Read the rest of this entry »

Mechanical Drawing: The Art of Aviation Engineering

By Scott Spangler on September 4th, 2023 | 1 Comment »

Guided by triangles and French curves, pencil applied to paper is how ideas made the transition to all things aviation. Mechanical drawing was its moniker and the artists who precisely lined each part of some aeronautical creation so hands-on craftsmen could create in three-dimensional material were known simply as draftsmen. With the dominance and unrivalled benefits of computer aided design and its digital cousin, computer aided manufacturing, mechanical drawing might become a forgotten and unappreciated skill if not for the Aircorps Aviation’s traveling exhibit—Drafting: The Art of Aircraft Engineering in WWII—now in Telling Gallery at the EAA Aviation Museum In Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

The gallery is in the corner behind the XP-51 and Cavalier-modified P-51D on display in the Eagle Hangar. The juxtaposition is important because the drawings on display are the originals North American Aviation used to build the P-51 and some of its other aircraft such as the B-25. They would not exist were it not for Ken Jungeberg, a draftsman who started working at North American’s Columbus, Ohio, facility in 1969. Columbus is where the company stored most of its World War II engineering drawings, and with no further need of them, North American was going cremate them. When Ken learned of the plan, he rescued more than 50,000 drawings and preserved them for more than 30 years. In 2019, they became the eponymous Ken Jungeberg collection at Aircorps Aviation in Bemidji, Minnesota. (For the rest of this fascinating story, don’t skip the exhibit’s detailed video.)

To get a fuller appreciation of the artistry you’ll see on the displayed drawings, start at the drawing table that displays the Tools of the trade. For those unfamiliar with the implements necessary for mechanical drawing (and do middle and high schools even teach it today?) each of them, from triangles to compasses and the French curves that connect the lines they draw, is labeled.

The drawings displayed make it clear that draftsmen not only created one for each part of an airplane no matter how large or small, they included every measurement and material needed to fabricate them on the factory floor (and the video said Aircorps Aviation uses those appropriate to its restoration efforts, such as the P-51C Thunderbird). And it explains each element of the drawing: the part number, its description, its specifications and bill of materials, its finishing (such as heat treating), scale and size, changes to the drawing, the next assembly the depicted part connected to, and the name of the draftsman who put pencil to paper.

The display also introduces the curious to the names on some of the drawings, like that of the rudder pedal that went into almost every P-51, B-25, and T-6/SNJ. Clyde Maulding started at North American in 1936, when he was 22 years old. He retired exactly 33 years later. During that time, he worked as an engineer and draftsman on the O-47A, P-51, B-25, T-28, B-45, F-86, GAM-77 Hound Dog missile, XB-70, and that rudder pedal.

There are different types of drawings, and the exhibit explains examples of the isometric, orthographic, oblique, and perspective. The most fascinating is the exploded view, all of which are undeniable works of art. Not every draftsman can create them because the good ones demand complete cooperation and communication between the left and right lobes of the artist’s brain. My dad was an industrial designer who wore bow ties because they did not drag across his drawings as be bent over his table. He created exploded views for most of his creations because the more clearly illustrate how the parts create a technical item. And, he said, they weren’t so hard to draw. “I dismantle the thing in my mind, move the parts where they need to be, and then draw what I see in my head.” Maybe for him and artists like Eugene Clay, who exploded the P-51, but for others, I’m guessing, not so much. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Playing With Weather: A New AWC Website

By Scott Spangler on August 21st, 2023 | What do you think? »

Like many aviators, I’m a weather geek. The internet has sustained this addiction, and since 2002, The National Weather Services Aviation Weather Center has been the one weather product I cannot do without. And it will become more potent next month when the new, improved, and more powerful and informative AWC goes live.

If you want a taste of what’s to come, go here, Aviation Weather Center Experimental. If you don’t have several hours of uncommitted time to explore on you own, watch these YouTubes first: the 3-minute 16-second AWC Beta GFA (Graphical Forecasts for Aviation) Tutorial and the 46-minute 27-second Aviation Weather Center Beta Website Webinar.

Created in what is now our connected world’s dark ages, the original AWC was designed for personal computers, their displays, and connections that barely crawl by today’s standards. Today, most pilots, it seems, seek out aviation information on devices, so the new AWC has been designed for phones and tablets, and the pages automatically adjust to their different sizes. It works equally well on those of us who use a PC to feed our weather habit.

Employing consistent design, there are menu bars on every page, fall-down menus for Weather, Products, Tools, and Connect. To the right are the email link, the log-in link, and the question mark help link. You do not need to create an account, but if you do, it allows you to contribute a pilot report , or Pirep, from almost any page, and since most aviators will be connecting to AWC through their devices, making such reports is a step beyond altruism.

The Weather tab offers Observations and Forecast Ceiling & Visibility, Clouds, Precipitation, Thunderstorms, Temperatures, Turbulence, and Icing. And on the appropriate pages, such as Winds, a slider bar on the left margin changes the altitude and the slider across the bottom changes the time. The altitudes, in mean sea level, go from the surface to Flight Level 480. Click the helicopter icon in the upper right corner that displays the Low Altitude Mode, and the slider ranges from the surface to 5,000 feet above ground level. Slick!

The Products menu is your direct connection to every aspect of aviation weather, from Sigmets and Airmets to METAR, TAF, Pireps, Prog Charts, and all the rest. Tools connects you to dashboards for Terminal and Winter Weather as well as a Traffic Flow Management Portal. One of the neatest tools is the Archive View that lets you recall weather for a specific day and time.

The Graphical Forecasts for Aviation (GFA) box on the opening page is the link to all the interactive maps of aviation forecasts and observations. And if you cannot remember what any of the depicted symbols mean, clicking the circled-I in the lower right corner will pop up an explanatory legend. The Decision Support Services (DSS) contains static images such as three levels of SigWx, Turbulence, and Prog Charts.

And that’s not all! You can select any combination of information layers with buttons on the right-hand side of the applicable GFA pages. You can choose a base map, a hirez satellite view, VFR sectional view, or IFR chart, which allows you to control the display of Jet routes and Airways. And you can draw your flight path on the page. You can choose between UTC or local time, and the bookmark feature gives you the url link so you can share what you have created with others. There’s even a Dark Mode, so pilots won’t have to deal with a bright white screen when flying at night. But my favorite feature is the dedicated Thunderstorm button with the time slider. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Thunderbird, Final Piston Bendix Trophy Race Winner

By Scott Spangler on August 10th, 2023 | What do you think? »

Wandering among the flying machines that carpet the Oshkosh acreage during EAA AirVenture 2023, nothing of interest caught my eye until it spied an immaculate blue P-51C Mustang. On its flawless flanks, in sunshine-yellow letters was its name, Thunderbird. One of the storyboards standing in its shadow said it was “The Last Piston Driven Bendix Trophy Winner.”

This sparked a smoldering curiosity quest. I knew the Bendix Trophy was awarded to the winner of a transcontinental race because I remember reading in his book, Hollywood Pilot, how motion picture pilot Paul Mantz won the race after World War II, also in a surplus P-51C that he’d stripped of nonessential weight and modified with wet wing fuel to make his race nonstop.

But there was no way Thunderbird was Mantz’s Mustang wearing new paint. I found that race winner in 2017 at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center (see Same Plane, New Name & Accomplishments). As I crossed paths with the blue bird during AirVenture, more storyboards told its story. What they didn’t reveal is how it came to the collection of the Dakota Territory Air Museum in Minot and to Aircorps Aviation for its pristine restoration.

With enough sleuthing, one can find almost anything on the internet. It turns out that Warren Pietsch, second generation owner of Pietsch Aircraft Restoration & Repair, a P-51 aficionado since age 10, bought what he thought was a razorback P-51A in 1999 and trucked it home to Minot, North Dakota, from Scottsbluff, Nebraska. He layer discovered that it was the Thunderbird, which led to its restoration, documented in a series of Aircorps Aviation blog posts.

The airplane’s list of civilian caretakers starts April 15, 1948 with the Joe DeBona Racing Company, a partnership between the company’s eponym and the actor and pilot James M. Stewart, who usually went by Jimmy. On September 3, 1949, DeBona won the final Bendix Race to Cleveland, covering 2,008 miles in an elapsed time of 4:16:17.5, averaging 470.136 mph. Listed as the sole owner, Stewart sold Thunderbird to Jacqueline Cochran for “$1.00 and other considerations” on December 19, 1949. What those considerations might be isn’t articulated.

Ten days later, Cochran sets two FAI World Records and a US National Aeronautic Association record at an average speed of 703.275 kilometers per hour (436.995 mph). She sold the Mustang back to Stewart on January 20, 1953 for “$1.00 and other consideration” (again without hinting what the consideration might be). In June 1953, Thunderbird joined with Mantz’s Bendix-winning P-51C to form the P-51 Pony Express to fly film of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation across the pond. With DeBona at the controls, Thunderbird arrived 24 minutes ahead of Mantz’s Mustang.

Stewart sold Thunderbird to DeBona for “$1.00 plus a $7,500 Chatel Mortgage” on September 1, 1954. The internet has not yet revealed how it ended up in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Learning about the Bendix Trophy Race was easier. The founder of the Bendix Corporation established the race in 1931 to inspire the creation of faster and more reliable aircraft. Associated with the National Air Races, Jimmy Doolittle won the inaugural race, flying the Laird Super Solution from Burbank, California, to Cleveland, Ohio, in 9:10:21.0, averaging 223.06 mph.

Two Bendix races flew from New York to Los Angeles, with Roscoe Turner, in a Wedell-Williams Model 44, winning the 1933 race and Louise Thaden and Blanche Noyes winning the 1936 race in a Beech CR-17 Staggerwing. The Seversky P-35, flown by different pilots, including Cochran in 1938, won the last races before World War II. The Bendix Race resumed in 1946, with Paul Mantz scoring a checkered-flag threepeat.

After Thunderbird won the final piston-powered race in 1949, only the jet class, introduced in 1946, continued. Flying different transcontinental routes, a P-80 won the first race in 1946, and a B-58 Hustler won the last race in 1962, covering the distance between LA and New York in 2:00:56.8. Ah, those were the days. And with the cessation of air racing at Reno, one wonders what’s next. – Scott Spangler, Editor