A Practical Solution to Airline Service Hell

By Robert Mark on July 5th, 2022 | What do you think? »

Everyone knows airline flying stopped being fun 20 or 30 years ago once a deregulated industry realized just how cheaply they could package and sell their product.

Along with searching for a low-price fare these days, we’ve all had to get used to the generally lousy customer service that comes with packed airplanes. When was the last time an airline employee listened to anything you said without responding there was nothing they could do about it?

Then flying went from bad to worse when COVID-19 hit in the early months of 2020 and demand fell off the edge of the planet. It didn’t take the airlines long to solve the problem as they tried to rid themselves of staff they wouldn’t need to pay as hundreds of aircraft were grounded. They offered thousands of pilots the opportunity to take early retirement, despite the $54 Billion the U.S. government shelled out to keep layoffs to a minimum. Many accepted the deal before the airlines realized they’d collectively shot

Courtesy IMGFLIP

themselves in the foot. Near Labor Day 2020, the airlines also collectively began to realize they were going to need more pilots soon … much sooner than they’d ever thought.

 

Oops

Since Memorial Day this year, the need for pilots became dire as the airlines began canceling 10s of thousands of flights, stranding passengers everywhere. My daughter was on her way home from JFK to ORD that weekend when American canceled her flight after she and her fellow passengers sit at JFK for nearly four hours without so much as a sandwich or a cup of coffee. It took her two and a half days to finally make it to ORD. On July 3rd, the airlines canceled about 1,500 flights.

Just when most travelers thought airline flying could not possibly get worse, it did as inflation saw ticket prices skyrocket. Strangely, at least to me, people kept buying overpriced tickets, although I have a feeling that’s about to end. In addition to higher fares, packed airplanes, and lousy customer service, the airlines have now descended to another new low spot … they’ve become unreliable.

But at least the U.S. airlines are still safe with almost no passenger fatalities in more than a decade. But how much longer can they continue raising prices on a product they often can’t even deliver? Read the rest of this entry »

Indestructible: The Rest of the Pappy Gunn Story

By Scott Spangler on June 27th, 2022 | What do you think? »

During a bimonthly recon of a used bookstore hoping that some unexpected title would catch my eye, Indestructible: One Man’s Mission That Changed the Course of World War II arrested my scan with the image of a red Beech 18 wearing prewar US red-dotted star roundels and red and white tail stripes. “A True Story,” it said, so I was curious about the Beech 18’s unusual livery. Pulling John R. Bruning’s 540-page tome from the shelf to find a back-cover explanation, the book explored the life of Paul Irving Gunn, better known during World War II as Pappy, engineer of the famed B-25 gunships that ravaged Japanese vessels with their low-level strafing runs.

My mistake was not buying this book. My mistake was starting to read it after dinner. Bruning is an efficient, clear, concise, and comprehensive writer telling a compelling story. Every page leaves you wanting to know what happens next, so you turn the page again and again and again. I didn’t get much sleep that night, or much work done the next day. If your curiosity compels you to open this book, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Before World War II and his trial-and-error engineering that turned a pirated Dutch B-25 into the gunship scourge of the South Pacific in 1942, Gunn was known by all, including his family, by his initials, PI. Those letters also represent the Philippine Islands, which is where the Gunns lived when World War II started, because PI was the driving force behind the nascent Philippine Air Lines, whose fleet consisted of four Beech 18s, all painted red, the favorite color of his wife, Polly.

With some of the only flyable aircraft in the area after the Japanese attacked the Philippines in 1941, PI was flying the Beech 18s for the Americans when the Japanese invaded Manila and interned his wife and their four children two boys, Paul and Nathan, and two girls, Connie and Julie. Bruning employs a nuanced organization that reveals the family’s existence at the Santo Tomas Internment Camp and PI’s efforts to reach Manila and free them.

This alternating narrative shows how PI became Pappy and how his life experiences led to his legendary accomplishments. In all of the other accounts I’ve read about him, people called him Pappy because he was older than those he served with, and that’s it. These presentations never explain what was behind this age difference. Pappy was older because he’d served 20 years as an enlisted Naval Aviation Pilot.

As a member of Fighting Squadron (VF) 2, known as the Flying Chiefs because many of its pilots held that rank, PI flew from the Navy’s first aircraft carrier, the USS Langley, and several that followed, including the USS Lexington and USS Saratoga. But he also flew float-plane scouts launched from cruisers and participated in simulated airborne attacks on Navy ships and stations. The make-it-up-as-you-go environment of this aviation era, when aviation, naval and otherwise, was fighting tradition unimpeded by progress, is what made Pappy such an innovator. And pervasive interservice rivalries perhaps explain why other accounts do not include this essential information.

Before catching up on my sleep after finishing the book, it was clear that Indestructible would make a great movie. And it turns out that it almost was. Sony acquired the movie rights to Bruning’s book in 2014. Mark Gordon is listed as the producer, and the only other information the interweb revealed is that the film is in “development.” All we can do is hope. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Reporting for Duty: AARP Studios Shares Veterans’ Stories

By Scott Spangler on June 13th, 2022 | What do you think? »

The bait dangled by AARP Studios was the 10-minute Reporting for Duty documentary about Lt. Carey Lohrenz, who in 1994 became one of the first female aviators to fly the F-14 Tomcat. The latest of eight episodes so far produced, the YouTube channel offered another tantalizing aviation morsel, “The Untold Story of the First Top Gun Competition,” with a P-47 Thunderbolt thumbnail that made it even more intriguing. The other episodes tell the stories of how service in the Marines and Army and Air Force changed the course of their lives.

The episode is titled “Flying an F-14, I Can’t Believe it Was Legal,” and it wasn’t until our elected officials finally surrendered their stereotypical prejudices. Lohrenz says in the documentary’s opening minutes that she always knew she wanted to fly. She graduated from Aviation Officer Candidate school in 1991 and wanted to fly fighters “because they were the cream of the crop,” but at the time the law prevented females from pursuing combat roles.

Women were flying for the Navy, but not in combat billets. Naval aviation training takes about two years, she explained, and maybe the law would be repealed by the time she finished her primary training and proclaimed her top six preferences among the Navy’s aviation pipelines, tactical jets, helicopters, and multiengine. The Secretary of Defense Les Aspin, she said, lifted that restriction on the day her class filled out their dream sheets. A top performer in her class—one of five women selected to fly combat aircraft—Lohrenz reported to the replacement air group in 1994 to begin her transition into the F-14.

Learning a new airplane, especially one as complex and challenging at the Tomcat, is never an easy evolution. With an unspecified number of men (who saw women as unwanted, unqualified interlopers in their y chromosome domain) actively working to make her transition harder than it needed to be, one wonders how they would have performed had the stereotypes been reversed. Lohrenz’s success is a tacit spotlight of her superior abilities and resilience. She put it this way, “If you don’t work through the hard stuff, you’re never going to get to the awesome.”

Providing perspective on flying the F-14 is Ward Carroll (see Review: Ward Carroll, F-14 RIO), who explained the relentless scrutiny all carrier aviators face, including grades for every carrier landing (of which she logged 172). It should surprise no one that the men in charge employed a double standard for female aviators, imposing restrictions on them and not their male peers who tallied similar grades. The challenge of being a pioneer, said Carroll, is that these women “are carrying the weight of an entire gender on their shoulders, because if they failed it would set American female status back decades.”

This situation led to a Naval Inspector General investigation that revealed (big surprise) “that the Navy was ill prepared to integrate female pilots into carrier-based flight crews.” As a consequence, Lohrenz continued to fly, but not in the F-14. But, as Carroll pointed out, she paved the way to female aviators, whose numbers continue to increase and who fulfill squadron missions without stigma.

Lohrenz now employs the lessons she’s learned as a strategic planning consultant and keynote speaker. “Not taking a risk is the biggest risk you can take,” she says. “Courage is not the absence of fear, it means you feel the fear and go for it anyway.” And that should be a lesson for us all. –Scott Spangler, Editor

AirVenture Notice Announces Start of Summer

By Scott Spangler on May 30th, 2022 | 1 Comment »

Some may say the transition to Daylight Savings Time is the harbinger of warmer weather, but depending on where you reside (and Mother Nature’s unpredictable climate), this is little more than a chronological tease that primes the wanton emotional relief of winter. (It doesn’t help that my thermostat is still in heat mode at the end of May.) The real start of the summer season of sunny, warmer weather is the release of the year’s EAA AirVenture Notice.

The new nomenclature is but one of this year’s changes. For too many years the AirVenture NOTAM came and went with so few changes that too many pilots relied on rote muscle memory to make it from their home drome to Fisk, where they followed the tracks to Wittman Regional Airport. If memory serves, with Mother Nature’s spiteful mood, this rote reliance resulted in a rough arrival in 2019. Say what you will about the pandemic cancelation of OSH 2020, the break gave the powers that be time to make some long-needed improvements.

Perhaps the best measure of success of the changes were the record number of people who arrived in such a measured way that the controllers in the world’s busiest control tower had time to actually have brief two-way conversations with a number of the arriving aviators. Or maybe the ATC audio shared on the flight line PA pylons was a hallucination. Either way, change is good, and by tweaking the procedures detailed in the AirVenture Notice, pilots not wanting to be publicly embarrassed by their rote reliance will read it before they arrive for AirVenture 2022, July 25-31.

Early birds hoping to avoid the arrival procedures take note! The 32-page AirVenture Notice takes effect at Noon, Central Daylight Time, on Thursday, July 21, and remains in effect until 6 p.m. on Monday, August 1. It also itemizes some of the bigger changes on the cover, starting with Notice replacing NOTAM. The last bullet point announces that camping is not allowed at Appleton International Airport (ATW).

Between these bullet-point bookends are decommissioned VOR-DME waypoints at Rockford, Illinois (RFD), where EAA held its annual convention until it moved to Oshkosh in 1970, and Manistee (MBL), in Michigan’s upper peninsula, for those crossing over the top of Lake Michigan instead of across it. Rounding out the decommissionings is the Victor 9 airway. And just to make things interesting for those working their way north, Milwaukee is holding its annual Air & Water Show July 22-24, which comes with its own TFR.

The notice not only guides pilots in their preflight planning and the various VFR, IFR, NORDO, Turbine/Warbird, Helicopter, Ultralight, and Seaplane arrivals to Oshkosh, and the Fond du Lac diversion procedure. It also itemizes the various arrival/departure procedures for Fond du Lac (FDL) and Appleton (ATW).

For a pilot’s eye view of the procedures, follow this link to the AirVenture Flight Procedures page of the EAA website. This page also links to the notice, NTSB Major Fly-in Tips, and FAA Graphic NOTAM/TFRs. For the latest skinny on this year’s procedures, mark your calendar for the EAA-hosted webinar on Flying to AirVenture, which starts at 7 pm Central Daylight Time on June 22. With proper planning, we all can contribute to what (we all hope) will be another banner pilgrimage to Oshkosh. See you there! –Scott Spangler, Editor

Counting Down to Top Gun: Maverick

By Scott Spangler on May 16th, 2022 | 3 Comments »

As one crawling into the final third of life, I’m in no hurry to write my final chapters. That said, May 27—when Top Gun: Maverick is due in our local movie house—cannot get here soon enough. To accelerate the passage of time, I’ve been searching out the teases issued by those who attended the premier and other early screenings and wondering where TG:M will land on my list of favorite aviation movies, and whether it will add to the list or displace a film already held dear.

First on the list is Top Gun. In its VHS form, it comforted me the summer of 1987 as I (and several dozen of my fellow faculty members) recovered from a case of Hepatitis A acquired at the boarding school’s end of year staff picnic. Yes, I’m the son of a World War II naval aviator too big and too blind (and now way too old) to follow in his footsteps, and the movie feeds my daydreams of what might have been had I not grown too tall and nearsighted.

But that’s not why it leads my list. Nothing will displace the memory of recovering to the point I could stay awake for more than a few hours, and then to actually want to eat something, and to enjoy some human contact. Hepatitis A can be quite contagious, so serious hand washing is a must. To protect my wife, who was carrying our oldest in his final trimester, we rarely spend much time in the same room that summer. That was not so for my friend Brian, who flew Cobras for the Army before joining the school’s staff, and his wife. She made the best brownies, and we feasted on them almost daily while we wore out that VHS and compiled a list of previously unseen bloopers, like the randomly spinning attitude indicator. Movie or not, there is more to life than airplanes.

Feelings of nostalgia, for an era of aviation that ended before I was born, unite the next to films on my mental tabulations of favorites, The Spirit of St. Louis, with James Stewart, and The Great Waldo Pepper, with Robert Redford. They depict a younger time, a barnstorming environment of adventure and possibilities when flying was finding its way forward. The two films embody the stick-and-rudder romance of open cockpits without the oil-scented reality of hypothermia and the face-to-face encounter with precipitation and insects.

Teamwork is the foundation of my next two favorites, the World War II epic, Twelve O’Clock High and Flight of the Intruder. To my aesthetic sense, no other movie better sets the scene when Harry Stovall pedals to the fence around what was his B-17 station and time rewinds with the sounds of an unseen Flying Fortress starting each of his four engines, their props forcing flat the grass he stands in. Set in the two-seat cockpit of the A-6, Intruder focuses on small scale teamwork during a period of unpopular conflict.

Finally, there’s Fly Away Home, the 1996 film that presents a gorgeously photographed dramatization of Bill Lishman’s effort to reintroduce birds to their migratory ways. The movie, with Jeff Daniels as Lishman, and Anna Paquin as his daughter, works with Canada geese. Operation Migration worked with whooping cranes. As entertainment, the geese work better, and I feed the film into the Blu-ray player whenever I need an emotional pick-me-up.

The pandemic-delayed Top Gun: Maverick is not the only aviation film I’ve been patiently anticipating. Devotion, the story of Jesse Brown and Thomas Hudner, based on Adam Makos’s book of the same title, is scheduled for release in October. Like TG:M, it was filmed using real Corsairs, Skyraiders, and Bearcats. If the film is half as good as the book, it will be a winner in my estimation.

So, what aviation films are on your list? Take a minute to share them in the comments because there will surely be some that the JetWhine community has either not seen or heard of. If you enjoyed this story, why not SUBSCRIBE to JetWhine, if you haven’t already, and please share it with anyone who might find it interesting. – Scott Spangler, Editor

EAA Corsair is Korean Vet Flown by Medal of Honor Recipient

By Scott Spangler on May 2nd, 2022 | What do you think? »

Few veterans that fought in World War II are still with us today, and that’s as true for aircraft as well as the pilots who flew them. It is especially true for the veterans who were recalled for Korea, America’s forgotten war, which concluded with an armistice on July 27, 1953. What we see today are stand-ins, reenactors appropriately attired to represent a specific person and point in time.

But there are rare, very rare, exceptions, and one of them is the Chance-Vought F4U-4 Corsair at the center of the Naval Aviation exhibit at the EAA Aviation Museum, which was dedicated April 22. This Corsair, BuNo 97259, flew combat missions over Korea with VF-32, with a number of different pilots, including Lt. jg. Thomas J. Hudner Jr., who flew the airplane after he sacrificed another Corsair on December 4, 1950 in an attempt to free his friend, Ensign Jesse Brown, the Navy’s first Black naval aviator, from his downed Corsair, a selfless act for which he received the Medal of Honor.

Rarer still, descendants of these aviators, Thomas Hudner III, and Jamal Knight, Jesse Brown’s grandson, sliced through the ceremonial ribbon. In his comments, his voice often emotionally hesitant, said their forefathers would find solace in the continuing relationship of the two extended families. Hudner climbed into his father’s Corsair cockpit well before the dedication commenced, and he described his time traveling tactile connection as “a truly surreal experience.”

Another was the January 29 text from Adam Makos, author of Devotion, the book that told the stories of Hudner, Brown, and some of the US Marines who received their air support during their slog out of the Frozen Chosin reservoir. (See Review: Devotion, a Unique Look at the Korean War) “He asked me to look in dad’s flight logbooks for BuNo 97259,” Hudner said, holding up a small, thin hardbound book covered in faded brown cloth. After telling Makos that he found several missions when he flew that airplane, “Adam told me that airplane was in the EAA collection, and then [EAA’s] Chris Henry shared photos of the plane’s logbook pages showing dad as the pilot on the same dates.”

Henry, a member of the EAA Aviation Museum staff, said the Corsair’s Korean connection revealed itself when he was digging through its documentation while preparing “for what we thought would be a routine webinar,” he said. “Sometimes you get lucky. When we got the Corsair, we also got all of its logbooks.” (And at the end of the dedication ceremony, from the family EAA received the loan of Hudner’s watch, wings of gold, and K-Bar survival knife.)

In paging through its flight log, “We discovered where it had been and who flew it; it inspired us to do more research, find photos, and contact family members,” he said. Because so few airplanes wear their hard-earned wartime markings, “We wanted to do the right things for the airplane.” The only deviation from its Korean colors are the names, painted in white block letters, under the canopy. Lt. jg. T.J. Hudner is on the port side, and Ens. J.L. Brown, is on the starboard side.

Simply referred to as 259 by the museum staff, the Corsair stands proud, its wing’s folded on a faux carrier deck elevator, its railing protecting it from visitors. Its nose points up as a copy of Matt Hall’s “Devotion,” a painting that shows Hudner landing wheels up in the snow, with Brown’s bent F4U in the background.

The Navy accepted 259 in October 1945. With the war over, it put it in storage. Returned to service in 1949, it first flew with Fighter Squadron (VF) 32, and then served with VF 33. The Navy sold it to a civilian in 1966, and in passing through several owners, it was a show plane and racer until 1974. Noted warbird pilot Connie Edwards donated the Corsair to EAA in 1982, and EAA invested 12 years in its restoration, painting it in the World War II markings of Marine Corps ace Ken Walsh.

Back in its original wartime uniform, 259 did not take part in the filming of “Devotion,” the major motion picture inspired by Makos’s book and expected in theaters sometime during October 2022. Unlike all the Corsairs and Skyraiders that flew for the movie, 259 is not airworthy. (See Devotion: Bearcats, Corsairs, & Real Moviemaking Oh My!)

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

Weather Forecasting Suffering Helium Shortage

By Scott Spangler on April 18th, 2022 | What do you think? »

In early April, the New York Times reported that the National Weather Service has stopped launching weather balloons from nine of its 101 stations in the US and Caribbean because they don’t have enough helium to make the balloons lighter than air. Given the spectrum of weather technology, from Doppler radar to the geosynchronous GOES satellites, the data provided by the anachronistic weather balloons seems inconsequential. But nothing could be further from the truth. Like the hurricane hunters who wing their way into these storms, weather balloons provide essential data on small area conditions that make the computerized weather models more accurate.

The balloons carry radiosondes through a column of air that tops out somewhere around 20 miles, depending on when the 5-foot balloons burst. Normally launched every 12 hours, the radiosondes transmit the temperature, pressure, and relative humidity on the way up; the reusable radiosonde returns via parachute. The NWS feeds this data to the computer models used for short and long-term forecasts and the vast datasets that support climate research. When the NWS announced this situation in late March, it said the shortage of balloon-gathered data would not affect weather forecasts or warnings. (But we should all remember the unforeseen consequences of the distant flapping of butterfly wings.)

While helium, a colorless, odorless, inert gas that produces funny sounding voices when inhaled from party balloons is the second most abundant element in the observable universe, on Earth it is a rare and nonrenewable resource. Usually found in fields of natural gas, like those around Amarillo, Texas, the United States is the largest supplier of the gas. Russia has a processing plant at its natural gas fields, but it suffered a fire in January, the Times article reported. (There was no mention of sanctions on Russian helium, but that seems likely.) Once released into Earth’s atmosphere, helium continues it lighter-than-air ascent into the greater universe.

Hydrogen, which is lighter and more abundant than helium, is a lighter-than-air option for weather balloons. Some stations already launch their radiosondes with it, and it seems logical that its use will expand. Unlike helium, it is a renewable resource, but it has not been immune from supply chain delays. The pandemic has also disrupted another NWS source of small-scale weather data, the commercial airliners equipped with sensors that automatically transmit the atmospheric specifics of their current position. Surely the NWS is as happy as the airlines are to see people flying again.

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

Earning a Type Rating Doesn’t Mean You Know Everything

By Robert Mark on April 13th, 2022 | 5 Comments »
Reprinted courtesy AOPA Turbine Pilot – illustration by John Holm

By Rob Mark

If you’ve yet to endure the two or three solid weeks of grueling classroom and simulator training known as initial, you will, if you decide to call the cockpit your home.

Initial training focuses on a single aircraft type, like a Gulfstream G500 or an Embraer Phenom 100. Training usually includes many classroom hours immersing yourself in aircraft systems, as well as memorizing dozens of aircraft limitation speeds and pressures as well as a few checklists you might need during an emergency.

The checklists document nearly every imaginable procedure from the preflight walkaround to an auxiliary power unit start, a cabin depressurization, and the steps you should take if the right generator fails. Training also introduces you to the specific flight profiles for takeoff, climb, and approaches, such as power setting and airspeeds. Think of the profiles as a rough outline of how to begin actually flying the aircraft that you’ll use in the simulator. And those simulators are the closest thing you’ll find to being in the airplane. All the training helps focus you on just one thing: successfully passing a check-ride, also known as the type ride, that leads to the coveted aircraft type identifier being added to your pilot certificate.

So intense is training at places like FlightSafety and CAE that it’s often referred to as the fire hose method of learning. Open wide and ready or not, they jam all the aircraft knowledge they can down your throat. Over the years the simulators have become so realistic that a trainee can earn a jet type rating without having set foot in the airplane, maybe even without ever having seen a photo.

Cessna Citation 650 – photo courtesy Andrew Waldman

The Rubber Meets the Runway

Such was my introduction many years ago to the Citation 650, Cessna’s first swept-wing airplane. The week before I arrived at FlightSafety in Wichita, Kansas, I’d been hired as a co-captain on the 650 in Chicago. I’d logged a few hours in the right seat while I worked at my previous job, a Part 135 charter company. I arrived for my first day of work a month later with a fresh “Ce650” brand on my temporary airman certificate assuming I had a pretty good handle on how the airplane worked. That all went down the drain when one of the other pilots gave me a tour of the 650 I’d be flying, and I struggled just to open the door properly. Sure, the type rating meant I could eventually fly from the left seat, but I’d soon come to learn there was much about this speedy bird that I didn’t learn at FlightSafety.

I’d probably reached my second or third month of flying the line in the 650 when I was assigned a day trip with my boss in the left seat and me in the right, headed for Nashville, Tennessee. It was my leg so of course, I wanted to impress everyone with my flying skills, including the big boss and a few of his comrades sitting in the cabin. The weather was clear and the ride to Nashville International Airport (BNA) from Chicago Executive Airport (PWK) took about an hour. Arrival preparation went pretty much the same way it had for past flights. We saw the airport from at least 20 miles out and the runway layout made identifying Runway 20L a snap. “Tell them we have the airport, please,” I said as I punched the big red button on the control yoke to disconnect the autopilot and the yaw damper. Closer in on a right base with the gear down, the tower cleared us to land, and I made a final gear and flaps check. Everything seemed normal. At a mile on final, I clicked the red A/P disconnect button one more time just to be sure I was in charge of this beast.

All looked good as the tires on the main gear squeaked their approval of my descent rate to the hard surface. Once I touched down, I asked my boss to deploy the speed brakes as I gently lowered the nose to the runway. With the thrust reversers also deployed, the airplane began to slow, and my boss casually called “my airplane,” a normal procedure since there was only a nosewheel steering tiller on the left side. As he grabbed the tiller to prepare to turn off on the taxiway, we realized the airplane seemed to have other ideas as it began drifting toward the grass between the runway and the taxiway. Almost at the same moment, we both yelled, “What the hell?” He climbed on the brakes hard and brought us to a stop with the nose of the 650 still on the runway but hovering just over the grass. He quickly looked over at me: “What did you do?” I had no idea.

Once we dealt with the tower wondering if we were OK (we were), the captain looked down and pointed to the nosewheel steering armed light on the pedestal. “You disconnected the nosewheel steering.”

“No, I didn’t,” I said defensively.

It wasn’t until we were parked at the gate and everyone else had left the airplane that we pulled out the pilot’s operating handbook and found what we needed. Buried in the text about the nosewheel steering operation, Cessna explained, “Once the landing gear is down and locked, a second click of the A/P disconnect switch will disconnect the nosewheel steering.” To this day, I have never been able to figure out why that feature exists, nor have many Citation pilots I’ve asked. I’d never learned about that at school and neither of the other two pilots in our department ever warned me about it. Of course, I didn’t need another warning; I never did that again.

Rob Mark is an award-winning aviation journalist and the publisher of JetWhine.com

Pandemic Aviation Records

By Scott Spangler on April 4th, 2022 | 1 Comment »

The pandemic has reordered the routines of life in many ways, and that includes the almost annual National Aeronautic Association announcement of the previous year’s aviation records. But Covid-19 restrictions waylaid the submission of aviation records to be certified by the NAA and forwarded to the Fédération Aéronautique International for their global ratification. Consequently, NAA’s Contest and Records did not review certified records for 2019, 2020, or 2021. But it has now, and it announced the most memorable aviation records for this span of pandemic history.

The announcement of these 11 memorable records is but another measurement of Covid consequence. Presenting them chronologically, there were six in 2019 and five in 2021. As it may be for many in the world, for aviation record hopefuls 2020 is a year that didn’t’ exist (and let us all hope we never have another one like it). These new record holders will be honored at the NAA Aviation Record Celebration at the Lockheed Martin Fighter Demonstration Center on April 28, 2022.

Another eternal question is what defines a “memorable” record? I haven’t found NAA’s definition, but the dictionary says “memorable” is something “worth remembering,” and for the people who pursued them, these records are certainly that, just as it is for the people who set the records the current flights eclipsed. But a subjective definition of “memorable” is illuminated with some degree of gee-whiz or wow!

Reading through the 11 Most Memorable Aviation Records of 2019-2021, few of them inspired a wow from me. Dierk Reuter and Phillips Bozek’s 2019 nonstop flight in a Daher TBM 700 from Westchester County Airport in White Plains, New York, to Le Bourget in Paris was interesting. Not because they covered 3,600 miles in 8:35, but because the surpassed the record set by Chuck Yeager and Renald Davenport in 1985.

Kim Magee’s 2019 hot air balloon flight gets my wow! And a GEE_WHIZ!! Lifting off from a school parking lot in Mitchell, South Dakota, she climbed to 15,000 feet, where strong winds carried her for nearly six hours, across Sioux City, Iowa, past Des Moines, for “a landing along the Fox River just north of the Missouri River,” setting a 363.3 distance record.

My other wow goes to John Ellias, who hand-launched his remote-controlled glider at an abandoned airfield in Pioche, Nevada, jumped in the back of an open air 4×4 Jeep, and flew northbound along US Highway 93 towards his straight-line goal of a field near Wells, Nevada, 214.93 miles away. He also earns a gee-whiz honor, not because the record flight took 7 hours and uncounted thermals, but because he surpassed the 187-mile straight-line record he set in 2016.

And here’s another question for you. Of this group of memorable aviation records, which ones would earn your gee-whiz and wow awards?

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

 

The First F-15 Was a Reporter

By Scott Spangler on March 21st, 2022 | 3 Comments »

Researching the 75th anniversary of Project Thunderstorm, conducted at the U.S. Air Force’s All-Weather Flying Center in Wilmington, Ohio, from May to September, 1947, I admired the courage of the volunteer pilots, weather observers, and airborne radar operators that flew instrumented Northrop P-61 Black Widows into convective thunderstorm environments on purpose. But what triggered the curiosity that sent me down the research rabbit hole was the mention of an airplane I’d never heard of, the F-15 Reporter. (That’s it, last in the line of P-61s.)

Like the jet-propelled F-15 Eagle, the two-person crew of the piston-powered Reporter sat in tandem beneath a long bubble canopy, and both bear the F designator, which stood for photographic until the Department of Defense overhauled its designation system for U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force in 1947, when pursuit planes like the P-80 Shooting Star became fighters with an F, and fotographic flyers like the F-15 became reconnaissance aircraft, as in the RF-61. The second designator identifies the base airframe, in this case the P/F-61.

The F-15 is essentially an F-5 Lightning on steroids. Both had twin booms that supported the powerplants, water-cooled Allisons in the F-5 and air-cooled Pratt & Whitney R-2800 radials in the F-15. One look at their planforms, it was clear that the F-5 is a P-38 and the F-15 is a P-61 with a new canopy and a center nacelle full of cameras. Although Northrop only built 36 of them, the Reporters, the Air Force’s last piston-powered photo reconnaissance aircraft provided vital views of the Korean peninsula when north invaded south in 1950.

All but nine of the F-15s flew with just one squadron, the 8th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron, which was attached to the 35th Fighter Group in Japan. Formed in 1942, the 8th flew F-4/F-5s in the South Pacific and island hopped its way toward Japan with General Douglas MacArthur, and became part of the U.S. Army of Occupation in August 1945. After standing down in April 1946, the Air Force reactivated the squadron with F-15 Reporters, the it started flying photographic mapping missions over Japan, Korea, Philippines, and other Pacific landmasses in July 1947.

In Japan, the Post-Hostilities Mapping Program extensively photographed beaches, villages, road networks, and cultural centers. The F-15s were not the only photographic F-birds so employed. Working with them was the F-13, which turns out was a variant of the B-19 Superfortress. The F-15s (or RF-61s, as they were then designated) started flying tactical recon and mapping sorties over North and South Korea on June 29, 1950 and were the only recon resource until U.S. Marine Corps Grumman F7F-3P photo Tigercats joined the war later that year. The F-15s, as the 8th continued to call their photo mounts, flew their final sortie on February 24, 1951.

The surviving F-15s went to government agencies, like NACA, which used one as the mothership that dropped early swept-wing designs and recoverable aerodynamic test bodies from high above Edwards Air Force Base, and others were surplus sales to civilians. The last flying example of the entire P-61 series was the first production F-15A Reporter out of the Northrup factory. Sold as surplus in 1955, it did aerial survey work in California and then, in 1956, Mexico. It returned to the United States in 1964, where Cal-Nat turned it into a firefighting tanker by adding a 1,600-gallon tank. TBM Inc., another aerial firefighting operator bought the F-15 in 1968, and it made its last flight fighting a fire that September, aborting a takeoff from a too short strip and ending up in a vegetable field. Another TBM aircraft doused the burning Reporter with its load of fire fighting slurry.

Anyway one looks at it, the F-15 didn’t have an easy life. With cameras replacing its guns, in Korea all it could do was run from pursuing North Korean MiGs. Its firefighting life didn’t turn out so well either. And then there was Project Thunderstorm. Besides its photographic duties, it carried additional instruments into growing towers of cumulonimbus. And for a change of pace, another F-15 flew to Naval Air Station Minneapolis where it was fitted with instruments, affixed with lightning rods, situated in a Tesla torture cage, and struck with manmade lightening of 8 million volts and 250,000 amps. A copper bar connected to the canopy dissipated 4 million volts and 50,000 amps, a reality I’m sure the person sitting in the pilot’s position was happy about.

Taking one final turn on this curiosity crusade, what about the F-birds between the F-4/5 Lightning and F-15 Reporter. The F-3 was an A-20. The F-6 was a P-51 Mustang. The F-7 was a B-24 Liberator. The F-8 was a de Havilland Mosquito. The F-9 was a B-17. The F-10 was a B-25. The F-11 was Howard Hughes’s ill-fated photo recon X-bird. The F-12 was a new design, the four-engine Rainbow, built by Republic. The F-13 was the aforementioned B-29. And the F-14 was the first jet, a Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star. There’s a book in there somewhere.

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