A Glimmer of Light Ahead for the Aviation Industry

By Robert Mark on November 23rd, 2020 | 4 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 »

Flight Operations in the CAR Era

By Scott Spangler on November 16th, 2020 | 2 Comments »

CAR60-1Many an aviation scribe has described what flying was like in now bygone days. Little did I suspect that the Civil Aeronautics Board was among them, or that Part 60 of the Civil Air Regulations (CAR), Air Traffic Rules, would paint such an effective word picture of what flight operations were like in the 1940s.

The modern offspring of these Air Traffic Rules for flight operations are today enumerated online in 14 CFR Part 91, General Operating and Flight Rules. It, at my count, contains 281 boldface sections in 14 capital letter subparts, A through N, the last of which is dedicated to the Mitsubishi MU-2B special training, experience, and operating requirements. I didn’t count the seven appendixes.

Printed on uncoated paper with the texture and weight of the durable copy paper we fed into manual typewriters in the basic news writing class at Missouri’s J-school, the Superintendent of Documents at the Government Printing Office sold the 10-page document, “Effective October 8, 1947,” for 10 cents. I found it, quarter-folded, in the back of my dad’s last logbook.

CAR60-3It was a quick read, with 29 flight operations regs in four sections: 2 General 60.00 rules; 14 General Flight Rules (GFR, 60.1); 4 Visual Flight Rules (VFR, 60.2); and 9 Instrument Flight Rules (IFR, 60.3). I started in section 60.9, Definitions. Most of them would fit comfortably with today’s CFR 1.1. A number of them were, however, a necessary to understand yesterday’s airspace.

60.913 said a Control Area is “airspace of defined dimensions, designated by the Administrator, extending upwards from an altitude of 700 feet above the surface, within which air traffic control is exercised.” I knew what a control zone was because airports still had them when I learned to fly in 1976. And that was it for airspace. Either you were in it, or you were not, and when you were in it, you followed the ATC instructions.

60.905, Airspace Restrictions, is another example of how flying used to be so much simpler and more enjoyable. Part 60 defines just two types of restricted airspace. “(a) Airspace reservation. An area established by Executive order of the President of the United States or by and State of the United States.” And “(b) Danger Area. An area designated by the Administrator within which an invisible hazard to aircraft in flight exists.”

VFR weather minimums and cruising altitudes is where Part 60 gets interesting.

CAR60-4

At above ground level altitudes of more than 700 feet, pilots needed 3 miles visibility in control areas and control zones, and 1 mile everywhere else. In all airspace they needed to be 500 feet vertically and 2,000 feet horizontally from clouds. The same cloud clearances apply below 700 feet in control zones, and pilots still needed 3 miles visibility. “Control areas do not extend below 700 feet above the surface. Therefore the ‘elsewhere’ minimums apply.” Elsewhere, below 700 feet, pilots had to remain clear of clouds and have at least 1 mile visibility.

Cruising altitudes, in 1947, were divided not into two hemispheres, east or west, but quarters! When flying a heading of 360° to 089°, pilots flew at odd thousands of feet, 1,000, 3,000, etc. Between 090° and 179°, they flew odd thousands plus 500 feet, 1,500, 3,500, etc. Continuing around the compass, from 180° to 269° they cruised at even thousands, 2,000, 4,000, etc. And from 270° to 359° they flew at, you guessed it, even thousands plus 500 feet.

Finally, when cruising IFR, 60305, Right-side traffic, required “aircraft operating along a civil airway” to fly to the right side of that airway’s centerline, “unless otherwise authorized by air traffic control.” The reason, I’m guessing, is for the same reason the Strategic Lateral Offset Procedure (SLOP) is always on the right-side of the trans-oceanic routes. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Scott Spangler, Editor

SLOP Mitigates Collision Risk Posed by GPS Navigation Paradox

By Scott Spangler on November 2nd, 2020 | 5 Comments »

SLOP-FSBwikipediaAviators live and die by their acronyms, so reading one unfamiliar motivates a frenzy of catch-up research. A short news item about changes ICAO recently made to special procedures for in-flight contingencies in oceanic airspace focused on something know as SLOP. Airliners flying in oceanic airspace such as the North Atlantic follow precise prescribed tracks to maintain separation from other airplanes doing the same thing. When they have a problem that prevents them from maintaining their spot in the track, they must leave it to address the problem, and ICAO reduced the offset to 5 miles from 15 miles and prohibited turn-arounds until the afflicted jet was below Flight Level 290 or above FL 410.

But it didn’t really explain what SLOP is, and why it is important. The OpsGroup blog introduced not only Strategic Lateral Offset Procedures but also the Navigation Paradox posed by the position accuracy GPS makes possible. With positional accuracy measured in feet, GPS guides jets through the flight management system, which flies an airplane with a level of precision no hand-flying pilot can duplicate. In other words, jets can precisely fly the oceanic airspace tracks, which increase the risk of collisions.

An AIAA paper, A Stochastic Conflict Detection Model Revisited, applies uncertainty modeling to improve the estimation of traffic conflicts for air traffic control. The possibility of a midair collision was six-times more likely for an aircraft precisely flying the prescribed hemispherical cruising altitude than an airplane whose altitude compliance wasn’t so accurate. SLOP made its debut in 2004 to introduce this randomness to the world’s busiest non-radar airspace, the North Atlantic airways that connect North America to Europe. As a bonus, it also reduced encounters with wake turbulence from preceding aircraft on the same track.

slop code7700Simply put, GPS accuracy makes it possible to stack jets vertically on a prescribed airway, and any deviation from their flight level increases the risk of a collision. When pilots command the FMS to fly a randomly selected SLOP, measured in tenths up to 2 nautical miles to the right of the assigned track, those aircraft are no longer precisely vertically stacked.

Flights must always SLOP right because offsetting them left would set them up for potential head-on collisions with jets following airways in the opposite direction. And that’s what led ICAO to narrow its contingency procedures. To increase oceanic airspace capacity, the overseers of the world’s airspace reduced the lateral separation standards that in the North Atlantic sometimes were 20 nautical miles or less.

Given this lateral proximity, airplanes making a 15-mile contingency offset would violate the safety space of an airplane on the next airway, but a 5-mile offset would preserve it. The same logic applies to the new turn-around altitudes, because a cruising jet can’t comfortably make a 180-degree course change in the new narrower confines. (If you’re curious to learn more, Code7700.com is a good start.) – Scott Spangler, Editor

Barnstorming Palmyra, Wisconsin

By Scott Spangler on October 19th, 2020 | 1 Comment »

General Aviation Thrives on Kettle Moraine Grass

Palmyra-1Situated along the Scuppermong River in Jefferson County, Wisconsin, the Village of Palmyra is, says the welcoming sign across the street from the Palmyra Municipal Airport (88C), “The Heart of the Kettle Moraine,” a state forest carpeting more than 22,000 acres of glacial hills, kettle lakes, and prairies about 40 miles west of Milwaukee. What remained of the Great American Flying Circus, writer Richard Bach, photographer Paul Hansen, and skydiver Stu MacPherson, landed there midweek during their Nothing by Chance barnstorming adventure in 1966. The 2800-foot Runway 9/27 is still turf, but the handful of hangars Bach mentioned has grown to approximately four dozen.

Pulling into the parking lot on a glorious autumn day at the start of October’s third weekend, a sunshine yellow Sonex was warming its AeroVee in preparation to commit aviation, following behind a Piper Cherokee. Ropes bound a lonesome Cessna 180 on flat tires to the grass just off the concrete ramp by the Palmyra Flying Club hangar. Across the way was the fuel depot for 100 LL and autogas. While the runway is lighted turf, all of the taxiways connecting it to the ramp and all of the hangars are paved with concrete or asphalt, and all as neatly tended and cared for as the grass that looked regularly barbered.

Palmyra-10

Walking toward the afternoon sun, it was clear which hangars most likely witnessed the arrival of the Great American Flying Circus and the ground loop, at the end of Paul Hansen’s inaugural flight in the Parks biplane that extended their stay. Several of them were built with airplane outlines, pilot engineered out of concrete blocks and sheet metal, one with a hand-winch cable pulleyed over its rounded roof to lift the door by its wedged protrusion that made room for its occupant’s nose, spinner, and prop.

With no windows in any of the hangars, old or the dozens of modern metal square boxes, there was no telling what manner of airplanes resided in them. But the tire-tracked grass abutting their closed doors said some winged creature lived inside. More of the modern airplane houses were connected to the paved taxiways with concrete driveways, some bordered with fancy brick inlays. Rust-free propane tanks snuggled up to most of the walls in the alley between the back-to-back hangars, where the grass was as well manicured as the rest of the airport.

What I was looking for was the cornfield the barnstormers walked across in 1966 to reach the D&M Truck Stop Café for burgers and the Barnstormer Special, Stu’s creation that whipped up strawberry sherbet and 7 Up in the malt mixer. “Stu wrote it down, and it might still be on the menu.” If it was still there, that was going to be my lunch, but first I had to find it. Wandering among the hangars looking for someone to ask, the only person I saw was one lucky soul in a Citabria, elbow resting in the open window frame, taxiing toward he runway. He waved in passing.

Palmyra-22With only one more cluster of hangars to explore, I met Bob Massie (on the left) and Rick Jelinek, who was standing in the open door of his Piper Cherokee. The hangar belonged to Bob, Rick said, noting that Bob “comes by to check on me to make sure I’m not doing anything foolish.” Bob said he remembered the flying circus’s visit, but didn’t offer any specifics, other than he’d taken his first flying lesson at the airport in 1946, two decades before the Great American touched down on the grass.

“Yesterday,” they said, “we had a lot of planes in for breakfast at the Edge of Town Café.” To get there, look for the path that leads to a gap in the trees on the airport property line. Walk past the truck garage to Maple Street (State Highway 59) and look to the left. “It’s been there forever, but with Covid, it’s only open from 6 to 2, so if you want to eat, you’ll have to go into town.” The people who owned the café also owned the restaurant in town, in what used to be the Main Street bowling alley. With no money in bowling, they closed that but kept the kitchen, Rick and Bob said, but the food’s good.

Palmyra-26Finding my way past the hangars, through the trees, and beyond the truck garage, the café truly is on the edge of Palmyra, population 1781. Before they closed up, the owners left the venetian blinds almost all the way open. Inside, eight padded chrome stools faced a Formica counter. Neatly stacked coffee cups stood ready by the two-pot Bunn brewer. Four booths abutted the front wall, two on either side of the door. A small dining room adjoined at the far end with, as far as I could see, two or maybe three tables with a chair on each of their four sides.

It was a short walk into town. Palmyra’s Main Street was three blocks long, Bach wrote, and that’s still the case. There’s no sign of the dime store, with its glass-fronted counter displaying a selection of candy, where Stu bought a roll of crepe paper to make wind drift indicators. But there were only a couple of empty storefronts. Carlin House, home to the Palmyra Historical Society, was closed, and the Kempo Goju karate school was dark. The Kettle Hill Grill, next door to the Powers Memorial Library (Est. 1927) was serving late afternoon diners. The Dida Belle Salon offers “manicures and pedicures for men, women, and children.”

Palmyra-42

Other storefronts, like the Hot Rod Bar & Grill, were busier. So was Squiddy’s, a bar next door to the Dog House Liquors storefront. One imagines that Squiddy’s other neighbor, the Fellowship Bible Church, would be open the following day. Confirming its rural, small-town roots, an International Harvester Case 6150 combine grumbled down Main Street past the Uglow Block, home to the T&D Grill & Lanes, and, going the opposite direction, a Model T pickup truck flying a large American flag putt-putted by, its driver yelling hello to a friend on the sidewalk by St. Mathew Lutheran Church. Overhead, heard but unseen, an airplane hummed its way home in the late afternoon light. Maybe it was the Citabria. Scott Spangler, Editor

Aviation Ancestry

By Scott Spangler on October 5th, 2020 | 13 Comments »

Discovering the Logbooks of a Life Rarely Discussed

MHS-1Covid sequestration is, it turns out, an inescapable cloister (especially now, with Wisconsin’s record-setting infections), perfect for undertaking long put off tasks you’ve always meant to get to when you had the time. In this unpredictable year, such efforts can be rewarding surprises and poignant lessons for our future understanding of our present existence.

My dad, Morris Henry Spangler, died on April 26, 2008. He was a World War II naval aviator, a part of his life he rarely discussed beyond a few anecdotes and his good fortune that the war ended before he put to sea with a just-forming fighter squadron that ceased to be. He heard of a bombing squadron needed pilots, so that’s how a fighter pilot ended up flying Curtis SB2C Helldivers. Oh, and flying open cockpit biplanes in Minnesota was cold.

My mom, Dora Elisabeth MacDonald Spangler, died on March 3, 2012. Not long after that, my sister and I cleaned out the family home and, in time, sold it. Piecing through the things they’d accumulated during their lives, we had to determine what went in the dumpster, what went to the estate sale, and what needed closer inspection. One of those things needing closer inspection, a green US Navy Seapack suitcase, has been waiting in my basement ever since.

It weighs maybe 50 or 60 pounds, not surprising for a man who grew up during the Depression in Maryville, Missouri. Like many of his generation, he saved almost everything. Popping the latches, I didn’t know what to expect. My dad was an unusual man, a tranquil introvert, meticulous and always composed. He was an artist and an engineer, and from an early age, it was clear to me that both sides of his brain communicated in synchronized harmony.

After the war, my dad earned a degree in fine arts from the Chicago Art Institute; that’s where he and my mom met, in the life drawing class, she told me. When I opened the Seapack, lying between the covered compartments was a self-portrait painted on Masonite. Unusual for him, he did not date the artwork; in my lifetime, he signed and dated all of his drawings, sculptures, and furniture he created.

Opening the covers that hid the weight in the Seapack’s top and bottom compartment revealed a carefully packed collection of drawings and plans. My dad was industrial designer, and many of the drawings were of items I grew up with, a desktop radio, a gas stove, the bathroom clock. Buried beneath them was the treasure, a letter-size Wilson-Jones Red Rope wallet secured with a tie string.

MHS-4Inside were three pilot logbooks, a gold-embossed leather tag bearing the name M.H. Spangler USNR under the Navy’s wing’s of gold, and a small leather bifold that held a certificate that on 25 April 1945, Morris Henry Spangler, Ensign (A1)L, USNR, was certified as Naval Aviator C-26307. Opposite were two faded red United States Navy and Marine Corps Restricted Instrument Rating cards. They were good for a year, the first one expired on 27 October 1945 and the second expired on 4-9-47.

With them were a couple of pamphlets, Notes for Ensigns and Clear the Deck for Action, that prepared him for fleet duty and how to get his affairs in order before reporting aboard. There were souvenir photo packs and postcards from the Naval Air Training Center Corpus Christi, Texas, “The University of the Air.”

There were two blank announcements that the sender “has been commissioned Ensign in the United States Naval Reserve and designated Naval Aviator.” Then came a mailable collection of five “genuine photographic postcards” of the USS Wolverine, the Lake Michigan training carrier that qualified 18,000 or so aviators for shipboard operations. And there were two Christmas Cards, with the photo of an SB2C Helldiver on the front that wished the recipient a “Merry Christmas and best wishes for a Happy New Year” from Bombing Squadron 17.

Earning His Wings

MHS-9In a small envelope were three sets of wings. The smallest was a small shield with an aviator’s wings between NAVY and V-5, a set of Skelly Jimmie Allen Flying Cadet wings, and aviator wings wearing the patina of time.

Before opening the logbooks that would reveal his unspoken aviation life and my aviation ancestry, I had to answer the questions posed by the smaller sets of wings. The V-5 program was for naval aviation cadets who were between 19 and 25 and had at least two years of college. That would be my dad, who graduated from Maryville High School in May 1941 and enrolled in what is now Northwest Missouri State University that fall (and where my oldest son started his collegiate education).

Wikipedia told me the Air Adventures of Jimmie Allen was a serial radio show broadcast from 1933 to 1937. Targeting a young audience, Jimmie was a 16-year-old pilot, and the 15-minute episodes recounted his flying adventures around the world. It was first broadcast by WDAF in Kansas City, which is south of where my dad grew up. Sponsored by Skelly Oil, the flying club wings were one of its promotions that listeners could apply for at any Skelly gas station.

This suggests that my dad had an unspoken interest in aviation before he joined the Navy, through the V-5 program, it seems. Without a doubt, dad was taciturn, especially about his life as a boy, but he did tell me that he spent many an afternoon at his dad’s service station making car batteries. Now I can see him listening to Jimmie Allen on the radio. (And I can listen to 123 episodes, too, on Zoot Radio, an online audio museum.)

According to the faded blue-ink cursive on the cover of the Civil Aeronautics Administration Pilot Rating Book for Navy, my dad enlisted on 11-27-42 and became a member of class 44-D at the Iowa Airplane Company, flying at the Municipal Airport in Ames, Iowa. “This rating book is for use in the Controlled Elementary and Secondary Flight Courses for Navy given under the supervision of the CAA War Training Service.”

MHS-15H.L. Fisher gave my dad his first flying lesson in a 65-horst Luscombe 8A, N 25152, at 1430 on 10/4/43. They flew for 43 minutes. He scored 1s (excellent) for cockpit procedures, taxiing, take-offs, traffic pattern, straight and level, confidence maneuvers (?), normal and steep turns, approaches to landing, and landing without power. He earned 3s (average) for aptitude and judgment. And he had “some over control on st & level.”

Flying almost every day, he met the stall on Lesson 6, and his instructor remarked “too tense and tight on controls. Must relax!” On Lesson 8, he met cousin spin, and his instructor wrote, “This ride much improved over the last few.” On Lesson 12, he made a 15-minute solo flight in Luscombe N25152 on 10/23/43, after 8 hours and 10 minutes of dual instruction. Scoring 2s and 3s, his instructor, H.L. Fisher said he made “nice solo landings.”

Dad graduated from Stage A on 11/16/43, with 14:02 in his log after his 27th flying lesson. He started Stage B two days later. On it, he was approved for solo spins. To this point, except for the frequency of flight, his pilot training and mine were alike right down to the spins. Stage B introduced S-turns, figure 8s, and rectangular courses. After 19 Stage B lessons, he passed his flight check on 11-29-43 with a grade of 80%.

Aviators Flight Log Book

MHS-17

That’s odd. There is no log for my dad’s training in the N2S Stearman at Naval Air Station Minneapolis, just a total-time tally for Stage C (12 hours dual and 12 hours solo) and D (11.5 dual and 16 hours solo). I’m guessing it taught him the aerobatic maneuvers listed in the CAA log, and formation flying, because there was a D Form box with 7.5 hours of dual, 6 hours solo, and 1.5 hours of checkflights. M.A. Seckinger approved the log tallies on 7/21/44, so my dad did, indeed, log 65.6 hours of Minnesota winter flying in an open cockpit.

In a Vultee SNV-1 (aka BT-13 Valiant or “Vibrator”), my dad made his first training flight at NAS Corpus Christi on August 2. He flew two and three times a day, but what he learned was “instruction,” and the remarks on the 22 flights he logged by August 15 are three flights with cryptic alphanumeric codes, two A4Xs and an A9X.

With 135.9 hours total time, he advanced to the SNJ (T-6) on September 10. Again, the remarks on what he learned are cryptic alphanumerics, but the down pointing arrows at RX suggest that things did go well. Flying just once a day, my dad logged 17 flights in September, but only four flights in October, another four in November, and seven in December 1944. Hurricane’s maybe?

MHS-12His training resumed on January 2, 1945, and he logged 26 SNJ flights by the end of the month. Often flying three times a day, he logged 27 flights in February. The pace continued with 221 flights in March. Somewhere I must be able to find a copy of the training curriculum. Training slowed to 10 flights in April, with his last Corpus Christi flight five days before he received his wings on April 25 with 299.4 hours total time.

In Sanford, Florida, after two 1-hour solo flights in an SNJ, my dad soloed the FM-2 Wildcat on May 16. The cryptic remarks are gone. Three FM-2 flights are remarked “Form,” and I’m assuming formation flights. The flights on May 26 and 28 say “camera,” and in the folder were two rounds of black and white 16 mm film that appears to be from a gun camera. Might this be his operational training? His flight on May 30 says “primary combat.”

Yup, I found a separate operational training sheet folded up in the back of the log. Flying with VF-6 at NAS Sanford, he made average to good rocket runs, high average run runs, average in combat tactics, and good glide bombing runs.

Things got serious in June. He logged 44 FM-2 flights between June 4 and 29. The remarks introduce oxygen, camera, advanced combat, run-in (whatever that is), nav, and rocket runs. That pace continued, with his last flight at Sanford on July 15 bringing his total time to 405.2.

MHS-10

On July 29, 1945, he made his first of five flights at NAS Glenview in an FM-2. He made the fifth, 1.5 hours, on August 1, with the Character of Flight listed as CL. Below it, a blue-ink stamp says: 1 AUG 1945 Qualified this date aboard the USS WOLVERINE in carrier landings in an FM-2 airplane. The log entries and total time tally of 412.2 hours is signed by F. Malinasky, Lt. Comdr, USN, Flight Officer.

World War II ended the next month, and my dad’s flight log resumes on September 14, with a 1.5-hour flight in SB2C4E, number 21070, with a passenger named Froven. The log doesn’t say how a fighter pilot ended up in a bombing squadron, but if my dad kept this part of life, maybe I can find the rest of it, his Navy record and orders in the stuff still waiting for me in the basement, and my sister’s garage.

Paging forward, he logged a dozen or so flights in the SB2C every month with VB-17, which I remember him telling me moved from NAS Fallon, Nevada, to NAS Brunswick, Maine, after the war. He ended 1945 with 447.8 hours total time. At the end of March 1946, he got some radar training in an SNB (Beech 18).

Postwar Revelations

Things got interesting in June 1946. With Hansford in the backseat, my dad flew his Helldiver from Brunswick to Boston, to Long Island and back, to Floyd Bennett and back to Atlantic City, and on June 28, to Cleveland for the air show on June 29 and 30. He returned to Brunswick on July 2 in 3.5 hours. That my dad never mentioned that he was at the 1946 Cleveland Air Races, where the Blue Angles, not even a year old, introduced their new F8F Bearcats leaves me gob smacked—and envious.

The gap between July 1946 and the next page for March 1947 is unexplained, but he’s still flying the SB2C. The page after than takes him to NAS Glenview, Illinois, in June 1948. His dozen flights are about equally divided between the SB2C and SNJ. All I know for sure is that he’d logged 638 hours at the end of July 1948.

Looking at the 10 SNJ flights he made at Glenview in 1949, with the last one on December 15. It must have been his reserve obligation, but turning the pages, the mystery returns. He didn’t log any flights until September 15, 1952, when he made 21 SNJ flights that month. It started with a lot of cross-country, Glenview to Columbus to Edenton, North Carolina, to Norfolk-Cherry Point, and Nags Head. Then there was instrument flying, “local range,” and then flights from Edenton to Akron to Pittsburgh to Akron and back to Glenview. Dad, what were you doing?

MHS-19

Starting another logbook, that’s what. It fills in the gaps for 1950, 11 SNJ flights between March and July; 1951, 19 flights between March and November, with cross-countries to St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Burlington, Iowa. 1952 logged 25 SNJ flights between February and November, adding 19 hours for a total of 765.65. He made only eight flights in 1953, seven between March and November 21, three days before I was born, and another on December 19. My dad’s last entry was on January 23, 2954, a 2.5-hour SNJ flight for radio range orientation.

One of my life’s few regrets is that I never got to take my dad flying. We talked about it several times, but with the give and take of life and my currency as pilot in command, it just never worked out. To that, I add the regret of not being able to learn more about this part of his life, and the questions are racing in my mind now. Tell me about the Cleveland Air Show just raced past, followed by, as a reservist, why didn’t you get called up for Korea?

At the same time, I’m thankful that he saved this part of his life for my discovery, and it has shined a new light on the information I have to pass onto my kids. Fortunately, most of my life is recorded on paper, so if I don’t reveal it to my boys before I reach my expiration date, there is still a good chance they will find it if they look at things before carrying them to the dumpster. Those who keep digital records of their flying and terrestrial lives might not be so lucky. Unless they make plans to share their digital legacy, it will be lost to history, like it never existed in the first place. It is something to think about. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Where Does General Aviation Go From Here?

By Scott Spangler on September 21st, 2020 | 3 Comments »

Nothing in the world seems to make sense anymore.

On Monday (September 14), GAMA published its aircraft shipping and billings report for the second quarter, and it’s not good. Every category took a significant hit. The surprise was that piston airplanes got off easy with just a 13.3% decrease from the same period in 2019. Piston helos, on the other hand, took the biggest hit, down 45.2%. Between the two were business jets, down 26.7%; turboprops, down 34.2%; and turbine helos, down 37.1%.

GA-1

SM Spangler

When looking at a bigger picture, framed by my second-floor office window in my hometown of roughly 3,500 people, things are more confusing because this week crews started building three new houses. Midweek, the TV news reported that home remodeling companies were never busier. How is this possible when the virus unemployed millions, with thousands more to join them next month when the bailout restrictions expire, and most people who still have jobs live paycheck to paycheck?

Certainly, the news on September 16 that the Federal Reserve expects to leave interest rates near zero through 2023 has something to do with this. And what does it all mean for the future of general aviation? Will people invest in new airplanes as they are investing in new houses? And what about used airplanes? What has the virus done to that market? If it is following the nonsensical real estate environment, used airplanes like prelived-in homes do not seem to be on the market very long. But clearly, by comparing the GAMA report with what I see out my office window, the two are not alike.

Maybe general aviation will recoup some of the transportation business the virus took from the airlines, at least for those with jobs and the ability to afford an airplane, a fractional ownership of one, or at least a charter flight. Then again, one needs a place to go, and the approval to get off the plane upon arrival, as dictated by any applicable entry and quarantine requirements.

Time will tell, of course, and we are sure to get a clue of what the future of general aviation might hold at the end of September, when we see consequences of the third quarter of this unpredictable year.

Bearhawk

SM Spangler

On the positive side, on my hike around town yesterday, a daily excursion to get some exercise and fresh air, I saw more general aviation airplanes buzzing above me than I’d ever seen on a Friday afternoon (except during AirVenture). But this, too, may have been because of timing. It was a beautiful sunny, cloud-free day in the 70s. Being this is Wisconsin, last night’s hard freeze warning was winter knocking at the door, so those lucky pilots may have been logging their last flights of the season.

Either way, no matter what is going on, there is nothing more beautiful, more soul lifting than seeing a sunshine yellow airplane humming its way across a spotless blue sky.– Scott Spangler, Editor

Paper, Airplanes, and Automated Aviation

By Scott Spangler on September 7th, 2020 | 7 Comments »

Rarely are the dots so closely connected to an epiphany that turns a train of thought on the future of automated aviation in the opposite direction.

skydrive

SkyDrive

The first dot was an August 29 New York Times story, Humans Take a Step Closer to ‘Flying Cars’, which discussed the first flight of the SkyDrive, a single-seat quadcopter. Its batteries enabled a flight of just a few minutes at an altitude of 3 meters. The article said that it was a long way from the necessary useful load and endurance necessary to make such a flying car practical, not to mention the necessary automated aviation and air traffic control tech and operator training that would make flying car operation safe for the masses. Being a perpetual skeptic, I doubted that the flying car dreamers would every achieve this.

The next dot was another New York Times story, August 31’s Drone Delivery? Amazon Moves Closer With FAA Approval. Amazon’s earning a Part-135 air carrier certificate for its fleet of Prime Air drones took the next step toward realizing the dream of a workable flying car and its cousin, urban air mobility. In submitting the evidence of the safety management systems and other information needed to earn a Part 135 certificate, and to demonstrate those operations to the FAA, earning the certificate was an “important step” in developing its automated aviation delivery technology.

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Amazon Prime Air

Company officials offered pragmatic conclusions on the future. The article quoted Prime Air Vice President David Carbon: Earning the Part 135 certificate “indicates the FAA’s confidence in Amazon’s operating and safety procedures for autonomous drone delivery service that one day will deliver around the world. [Amazon will] continue to develop and refine our technology to fully integrate delivery drones in the airspace, and work closely with the FAA and other regulators around the world to realize our vision of 30-minute delivery.”

Finally, there was the story from Flying (and other sources), Xwing Flies Cessna Caravan Autonomously. This takes the Amazon drone delivery to the next level, and the tech involved seems related to Garmin’s Autoland system, which the FAA has approved for the Piper M600 and Cirrus Vision Jet. These accomplishments further eroded my skepticism of near-term arrival of pilotless commercial aviation.

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Xwing

The epiphany that brought my skepticism to a dead stop and turned it around was in the opening pages of Mark Kurlansky’s fascinating book, Paper: Paging Through History. What’s the connection? “Technology does not change society, society changes technology,” he wrote, explaining that, regardless of its form, technology is a practical application of knowledge. “There is a tendency to imagine that technology is a Pandora’s Box, that once a new way is initiated, it unavoidably falls into use and is unstoppable. But when a technology is invented that doesn’t correspond to the needs of a society, it falls into obsolescence.”

When it comes to commercial aviation, what is most important to the society of decision makers will become transparent on October 1. That’s when the federal airline bailout requirement to not fire or furlough employees expires. United Airlines has already queued up more than 16,000 employees, American Airlines also seems to be in this queue, as do other airlines.

As has been the case since the 1980s, what are most important to society are the bottom line and the benefits accruing to corporate shareholders and the executive to reap the bonuses and the for-hire politicians who support this now entrenched way of life. Employees who create and provide the goods and services, and the customers who consume them, are little more than economic fields to be harvested or sacrificed as the bottom line and dividends demand. To this end, automated aviation that does not need pilots cannot get here soon enough, and it will be here in good time. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Barnstorming Rio, Wisconsin

By Scott Spangler on August 24th, 2020 | 5 Comments »

Instead of Ghostly Nostalgia, a Living Connection to What Was

Rio-11Pandemic stir-craziness manifested itself on a glorious mid-August Sunday afternoon. From my second-floor window, I watched scattered cumulus clouds in a blue sunny sky dapple my small town Wisconsin neighborhood with slow moving shadows, spotting the landscape like the Holstein cows that define America’s Dairyland. Yeah. I need to get out of the house.

So I saddled up for Rio, Wisconsin, a village of 1,059 people (as counted in 2010). When Richard Bach circled it in 1966 and landed for food, fuel, and some pages in Nothing by Chance, A Gypsy Pilot’s Adventures in Modern America, the population was, he wrote, 776. (Rereading it was an antidote for a gloomy December day before Covid was a thing: See Giving Thanks: Bach in Nothing by Chance.) Having visited a number of small-town strips across the country over the past 15 years, even on a spectacular Sunday afternoon, perfect for some flightseeing, I didn’t expect anything but a ghost town.

Rio-4No one was flying when I arrived at Gilbert Field (94C), but several hangars were open, including this one, where I met these guys. That’s Bill Horton on the left, with the First Marine Division ball cap, a retired American Eagle pilot, who flies the Rio Flying Club’s Citabria, a Cub, and the Bonanza he operates with a partner. On the right is Steve Johnson, in his Oshkosh 2014 t-shirt and EAA ball cap. He grew up at this airport; “My dad was one of the founders of the airport in 1959.”

Bach wrote that Lauren Gilbert owned the airport, and Steve explained that the Rio Flying Club had always owned the strip; Lauren was the club’s president when Bach arrived in his Parks-Detroit biplane. Gilbert owned the glove company that was Rio’s primary employer (it’s now a gasket company), bought that biplane later, and they named the airport Gilbert Field, Bill said. “That didn’t go down without a fight, but when [Gilbert] died, some money was donated.”

Rio-18Asking about the silver water tower that caught Bach’s attention, with the village’s name emblazoned on it in black block letters, Bill said the trees on the east side of Highway 16 hid its replacement, a big white ball-headed push-pin. Pointing to the orange cones that marked the end of the turf runway’s official 1,092-foot FAA length, “There used to be a 6-foot drop off there,” Bill said. “When they were building the water treatment plant in the 1970s, they needed some place to dump the dirt, and [club president] George Williams went over and told them they could dump it here.” That leveled things out and gave the runway a 200-foot overrun on both ends.

Bach returned to Rio in 1970 to make the Nothing by Chance movie, Steve said, and this hangar here is where the Travel Air they bought used to live. Stuffed into it now were two of the half-dozen or so airplanes the A&P-IA owns, the Piper Tri-Pacer he soloed in and the Piper Vagabond he inherited from his father, now powered by a 100-horse Continental O-200. “Dad’s claim to fame is that he bought and sold 72 airplanes during his lifetime.”

Rio-22Steve’s dad was a watchmaker and jeweler who established his shop in Rio, and then moved to Portage, a city of 10,000 that’s 20 miles to the west-northwest. During the week, Steve works for the Wisconsin National Guard, maintaining the Army’s fleet of 11 C-26E Metroliners, which sport Rockwell Collins Proline 21 flight decks. Most of them are based in Madison, he said.

Walking up to the clubhouse for a cold drink, my hopes of seeing the wood burning Warm Morning stove Bach wrote about died when Bill said the building used to serve Rio’s telephone exchange. “They were going to tear it down; we moved it here instead.” Better than the stove was the poster for the fly-in that drew Bach back to Rio for its passenger-rich opportunity.

Rio-10Bach called it the Fireman’s Picnic, Steve said, but it has always been the flying club’s annual Sunday morning fly-in breakfast. Campgrounds surround Rio, Bill said, and the club often launches a three-ship formation of Cubs to fly around them and let the campers know we were serving Sunday morning breakfast. In years past, Bill said, the club fed upwards of 1,200 folks, and last year it was 800. Covid canceled this year’s fly-in feed.

We three being of the same era, Steve and Bill agreed that they had been fortunate to have grown up in Rio when they did. They discovered that they were both learning to fly when they showed up for their private pilot checkrides on the same day in 1977.

Steve, who was living in portage at the time, soloed in 1970, “but I procrastinated and thought I’d discovered girls.” Bill soloed in 1969, when he got out of high school, “my dad had a Cub and we flew the heck out of that.” He didn’t say so, but taking a hint from 1st MarDiv ball cap and several comments, an extended tour of Southeast Asia separated his solo from his private pilot checkride.

“When they say the world has changed, they weren’t kidding. We lived in a different time, and I don’t know if we will recover,” Steve said. “The older guys were buying, restoring, and flying airplanes,” Bill said. “We grew up around that and kind of took it for granted, but nobody’s doing that anymore.”

Rio-6Rio may well be one of the last American airstrips where this era of aviation still exists. The Rio Flying Club has 30-35 members, Bill said, pointing at hangars and counting maybe a dozen flying airplanes. The current president, Bruce, a retired American Airlines pilot, has a Stinson 108, is building a Fisher Flying Products Tiger Moth, and he just hauled a gullwing Stinson into his hangar, Steve said. “It was lend-lease to England in World War II, and it is a true basket case.”

In parting, the guys invited me to next year’s fly-in breakfast (watch the flying club’s Facebook page for details), but they could not answer my one burning question: Why does Rio pronounce its name RYE-oh? (Likewise the people of Berlin, who say they are from BURR-lin.) Steve shrugged his shoulders and Bill said maybe so people would not be confused with another Rio?

From the airport, I went downtown to see how it had changed from Bach’s Nothing by Chance, visit. But I’ve gone on long enough here. (If you’re interested in that perspective, see Biplane Point of View: Rio, Wisconsin.) – Scott Spangler

Staying Dry & Distant at the EAA Museum

By Scott Spangler on August 10th, 2020 | 14 Comments »

Covid OpeningWith thunderstorms lined in assaulting waves on radar and pathfinding drops splattering themselves against my office window, changing my Saturday morning plans for a two-wheel ride to Rio, Wisconsin, seemed prudent. Remembering that the EAA Aviation Museum had reopened on the previous Monday, a visit there would be interesting on several levels, especially since it has been several years since I last paced my way around its winged occupants.

Turning into the museum driveway, the blue signs saying the EAA grounds were closed to the public were gone. Orange cones funneled me to a forkliftabale light taupe AirVenture kiosk that sheltered a man with a mask. He asked if I’d been out of the state anytime in the past two weeks. Nope. Did I have any respiratory problems? Nope. Did I have a fever? Not that I know of. Drawing from some unseen holster, he held a temperature-sensing pistol to my head. It beeped. He asked one more question: Did I have a mask? Yup, it’s in my pocket.

Parking beyond a cluster of maybe a dozen or so cars, most of the license plates I passed were from Wisconsin, with a few from Michigan and one from Minnesota and another from Indiana. It seems the Illinoisans were taking their states quarantine requirements for anyone from or visiting Wisconsin seriously, or was that just for people living in Chicagoland?

Four signs led me to the front door. The first said masks are required for everyone 5 years and older. Next, museum attendance was limited to 150 people, and if it were full, you’d have to wait outside until someone left. EAA would prefer admission payment with a credit card, but it would still accept cash. (EAAers just need to show their membership card.) The final sign graphically dictated the distance and hand-sanitizing parameters of social distancing.

Covid OpeningAfter showing my membership card to the nice lady behind the Plexiglas screen, instead of saying hello to the cluster of docents that usually awaited visitors just steps into the museum proper there were just more signs. One reminded everyone to maintain 6 feet of distance. The other said the hands-on exhibits, the Johnson Wax S-38, Willan Space Gallery, KidVenture, the cockpit, Wright Flyer, and powered parachute simulators, were closed.

But the faint scent of airplane still permeated the calming museum half light, as it always has. Shrugging off my inability to remember when I’d last visited, I set off on my atavistic path forged when I needed to stretch my legs or clear my mind when my office was on the other side of the museum’s doors (and it was, like this day, raining). A new model of the Graf Zeppelin overlooked the Wright Flyer in its usual place below me, at the bottom of the stairs. Behind me, I could hear Steve Buss, a friend and former coworker, narrating the film playing in the Skyscape Theater.

Covid OpeningStickers on the balcony railing indicated the desired distance between those overlooking the airplanes below. The composition of Van’s Aircraft RVs was new. So was the prototype Christian Eagle on a vertical line in the aerobatic gallery below. Behind me, a tape barrier put all of the hands-on aerospace physics experiments in the Willan Space Gallery out of arm’s reach. Around the corner, a similar barrier blocked the automatic whooshing sliding doors that led to KidVenture. An Aviore mural has replaced the outer space theme artwork. Interesting.

Stopping on my way to the Eagle Hangar, the bathrooms were open but the bubblers (drinking fountains to out-of-staters), were swaddled in black garbage bags and green packing tape. Given its tertiary use as an event space, the arrangement on the hangar deck changes often, or it did until the pandemic rearranged life. The fixed displays, the prototype P-51 and the F4U-4 that dominated the Navy corner on the opposite wall, hadn’t moved. But the reassembled Spanish Bf-109 Messerschmitt now flew above the P-51 at balcony eye level.

Covid OpeningThe dewinged Messerschmitt used to reside on the opposite wall, in a canvas nook festooned with Top Secret signs, because it shared the space with a replica of the Fat Man, the plutonium bomb that fell on Nagasaki 75 years ago tomorrow, August 9. In its place was a Bell UH-1B Huey. Descending the stairs at the far end of the balcony, I made my way across the floor to investigate it.

On the final panel telling of the Huey’s history, I found a surprise, a photo I’d taken from the USS Blue Ridge, command ship for the evacuation of Saigon in 1975. It capture the moment an ARVN pilot stepped out of a Huey. It captured the pilot’s fifth and final such flight. With his family, he’d arrived the night before in a CH-47 Chinook, which he later ferried to the USS Midway. With room for just one helo on the flight deck, he’d volunteered to ditch the Hueys so the next one could land. When the helo’s he’d ditched at lower altitudes almost fell on him, he started stepping out of them at higher altitudes. After he’d injured his ankle in the pictured hundred-foot fall, the flight deck crew started pushing the empty helos over the side.

Covid OpeningWorking my way back to the corner, I paid homage to Ernie Gann at his Chicken Coop writer’s shack. Peeking out the back door and seeing it rain free, I followed the path to Pioneer Airport. It was unchanged, except I don’t remember the flat right main-gear tire on the Ryan SCW, in the eponymous hanger of its manufacturer.

Making my way down the line to the vacant Air Academy lodge and Compass Hill, I notice a stack of blocks that were building new panels at the EAA Memorial Wall. What many may not know is that part of this area, between the wall and the memorial chapel, is a registered cemetery (I was even on its board for a time during my EAA employment). It is a small plot, and I went looking for the headstone that, when I’d last looked at it, was engraved with the names and birthdates of Paul and Audrey Poberezny.

Covid OpeningPaul passed on August 22, 2013, and I wondered if EAA had added this date to the headstone, which bears the words, “To Fly” under the wings of a US Air Force Command Pilot. It took me a while to find it, but there it was up a few stairs on the sidewalk behind the chapel.

Maybe they moved it to accommodate the additional Memorial Wall panels; regardless, its inscriptions were unchanged. Maybe he’s waiting for his wife (and EAA’s mom), Audrey, who was born in 1925, four years Paul’s junior. I’d pass her assisted living facility on my way home. Looking skyward, the clouds suggested that I get a move on. –Scott Spangler, Editor

How I Spent My AirVenture Vacation

By Scott Spangler on July 27th, 2020 | 4 Comments »
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An excavator dismembers OSH’s terminal, making way for its replacement. SM Spangler

Like several hundred thousand others who normally spend the summer preparing for their annual pilgrimage to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, I’ve been anxiously trying to decide what will fill the time I normally spend tramping 10 miles in the AirVenture maze created by 10,000 airplanes.

Exacerbating the challenge is my lack of experience. This is my first AirVenture vacation since my inaugural pilgrimage to Oshkosh in 1978. Personally—and professionally—the event surpasses my birthday as the primary measure of the passage of time.

Covid’s cancellation of OSH20 has been like the traumatic amputation of a limb, but instead of phantom pain in the absent limb, I’ve been hearing things. With my office window, roughly 10 miles west of Wittman Regional Airport, for 51 weeks of the year it rarely frames the buzzing hum of a flying machine.

But this past week I’ve been hearing more airplanes than usual, and my Fitbit says all my trips down and up the stairs to rush outside to look for them would have taken me to the summit of Mount Everest. Only once did I see something that proved I was not hearing things. Early in the week, at maybe 2,000 feet above ground level, came two three-ship Vs of Piper Cherokees bound for OSH.

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Waupaca’s ramp is normally filled with Cherokees preparing for their OSH mass arrival. SM Spangler

Knowing that this group normally gathers at the Waupaca Municipal Airport, I spent Friday on the road, visiting it and the other airports in the area, from Fond du Lac and Wautoma to Wild Rose and Brennand. Except for someone in a Cessna 150 flying circuits-and-bumps at Wautoma, watched by an unattended Aeronca Chief sunning its uncowled cylinders in front of an open hangar, all were quiet.

A surprise awaited me at Wittman. An excavator was slowly masticating the terminal and spitting the unrecyclable bits into big bins. If Mother Nature allows OSH21 to take place, a new 6,254-square-foot terminal will greet FBO-bound pilgrims. Riding the rest of the way around the airport, the gates were closed at every portal to the convention ground, each with the big blue sign saying EAA was closed.

Oddly enough, there were humans guarding the gates down by Convention HQ and the roads leading to EAA’s galactic headquarters, whose employee parking lot was again full of cars. Perhaps the staff is back and preparing for the August 3 public reopening of the EAA Aviation Museum.

Reflect, Ruminate, Reconcile

AV20-NOsh-3Facing my first AirVenture vacation, I ultimately decided to simulate my inaugural pilgrimage in 1978, by camping out after a long walk and considering my future. Instead of wandering the flight line, admittance to which then required a pilot’s certificate or EAA membership card, I cut my grass. (It’s a big lot; Fitbit says I push the mower 10 miles, my average daily AirVenture hike.) And instead of pitching my tent in Schiefelbein’s cow pasture, I pitched on my just mowed grass.

Having lived the consequences of decisions made in 1978, and with more years behind me than ahead, pondering the future was no easier because life’s unforeseen, uncontrollable variables, such as viruses and Parkinson’s, are what make such rumination interesting. Thankfully, technology has come a long way since 1978, and a laptop is more efficient, not to mention, legible, than scribbled notes of which path to pursue.

At 24, a civilian again for just a few months after spending a quarter of my life in the US Navy (and half of that aboard ship, which in comparison makes the Covid confinement seem like a vacation), my choosing between building an airplane and aviation career or going to college was my primary decision.

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Wild Rose was devoid of grass loving airplanes and their pilot. SM Spangler

After talking with a spectrum of builders and aviation professionals, I decided to attend the University of Missouri School of Journalism, because there is more to life than airplanes. All of the builders and professional aviators I talked to, including EAA founder Paul Poberezny, shared a common trait. They were 100-percent into aviation, and that single-minded focus fueled their success.

I’m not a 100-percent person, never have been, never will be. The full spectrum of aviation has always been an important part of my life, but not to the exclusion of anything else that piques my curiosity. J-School reinforced my collegiate course because only 10 percent of my classes would focus on journalism. I would create my own course of study by enrolling in any of the university’s courses that interested me. This foundation of learning made me an autodidactic polymath.

Since my inaugural pilgrimage, I have enjoyed four Oshkosh transitions. Until 1989, I was a weekend participant, spending one day on the road, one day walking the flight line and filling a forum seat or workshop bench to learning something new, and another day on the road back to school or work. I was on the road in 1989, too, but I was hauling 5,000 Flight Training magazines and a booth, where I’d spend the week handing them out and meeting readers in the corrugated convection building that was the south exhibit building.

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At Wautoma, an Aeronca Chief basked cowless in the sunshine. SM Spangler

My perspective changed again in 1999 when Flight Training moved to is new home in the east, and I was the contracted creator and editor of NAFI Mentor. At the time, NAFI was an EAA affiliate, and it gave me a peek inside the tent. A month after AirVenture I crossed the threshold when I filled the empty chair of Sport Aviation editor in chief Jack Cox. Oshkosh becomes a completely new event when you’re immersed in its preparations. It was both rewarding and frustrating, but like life itself, nothing lasts forever.

My last AirVenture transition has been the longest-lived. For 14 years (and counting), I proudly work the AirVenture media credentials for JetWhine. It has been an unsurpassed joy because its publisher, Rob Mark, encourages unbounded explorations of aviation curiosity equal to my unfettered wanderings during my first decade of Oshkosh participation. From my backyard campsite, this era surpasses the first because the road trip is shorter and I get to sleep in my own bed every night.

What’s next is unknown, unpredictable with any degree of confidence. Uncertainty is the future’s key characteristic. Depending on how Mother Nature behaves over the coming year, OSH19 might well have been my last. We can hope for OSH21, but we won’t know for sure until we walk under the brown arch next year.

And I’m okay with that because I learned in 1972 that life offers no guarantees. Each morning you awake might be your last because an A-7 dives into your apartment building one night at Mach 1, or the gunner behind the red tracers floating lazily toward your helo might find their mark, or a virus might sneak up on you. With no guarantees, what matters most is making the most of your abilities every morning you are able to get out of bed.

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Like the other small airports in the area, during what would have been the week of AirVenture, Brennand was bereft of airplanes. SM Spangler

Whining about things you cannot control is time wasted that could be better invested in something you can control, something more rewarding in the moment, like mowing the grass and camping out in the backyard. – Scott Spangler, Editor