What Makes an Ace in the 21st Century?

By Scott Spangler on February 19th, 2024 | What do you think? »

When it was revealed in a BBC interview, The Fighter Pilots Hunting Houthi Drones Over the Red Sea, that Marine Captain Earl Ehrhart, an AV-8B Harrier pilot aboard the USS Bataan, had downed seven drones, subsequent stories on this action hailed him as America’s newest ace, the first since the last helo left Saigon in April 1975.

“The Houthis were launching a lot of suicide attack drones,” says Ehrhart, and to be effective against this rebel group, the marines needed to adapt, the BBC story reports. “’We took a Harrier jet and modified it for air defence,’ Ehrhart tells me. ‘We loaded it up with missiles and that way were able to respond to their drone attacks.’” In the next sentence, the experienced fighter pilot said he intercepted seven Houthi drones.

Nowhere in the BBC article is the word ace. It seems that aviation editor and authors applied this appellation without fully contemplating the necessary attributes of becoming an ace beyond five victories. For some concise insight, I turned to the American Fighter Aces Association, founded in 1960 to recognize the over 1,450 combat pilots from World War I to the present that achieved the status of American Fighter Ace by destroying five or more hostile aircraft in air-to-air combat.

Given their intent and mission, the Houthi drones are, without a doubt “hostile aircraft.” And Capt. Ehrhart and all the other AV-8B and F-18 pilots have certainly destroyed these pilotless drones. But the key ingredient missing in earning the title of ace is, as the American Fighter Aces Association clearly states, is destroying these “hostile aircraft in air-to-air combat.”

Downing a drone with a missile does not meet the definition or spirit of aerial combat, “a fight between individuals or groups.” Yes, the Houthis are a group, but all they are doing is programming their drones to hit terrestrial targets and ships, not defend themselves against a Harrier or Super Hornet. When artificial intelligence matures and undertakes a drone’s defensive capabilities, destroying it in air-to-air combat will count toward the title of ace. And if AI destroys its opponent, it will be one tally closer to the title.

Until that time, lets appreciate and recognize our aviators for the multitude of risks they face on every sortie but reserve the accolade of ace for those who achieve it in a competitive arena. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Lessons Learned from an Industry Bankruptcy

By Robert Mark on February 7th, 2024 | 4 Comments »

It’s about trust

By Torsten Maiwald - <a rel="nofollow" class="external free" href="http://www.airliners.net/photo/Midway-Airlines/Boeing-737-2K9-Adv/0203522/L/">http://www.airliners.net/photo/Midway-Airlines/Boeing-737-2K9-Adv/0203522/L/</a>, GFDL 1.2, LinkI remember riding our crew bus with a bunch of other pilots, and flight attendants in the spring of 1991 not long after our employer Midway Airlines had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The old red and white school bus ran the flight crews from the parking lot on Midway Airport’s north side parking lot along 55th Street to the terminal so we could connect with our aircraft. Since pilots have all the solutions to every problem on Earth (just ask one) a bunch of us were complaining about the current state of the airline and our future. Being a big mouth – yes, even then – I wondered why Dave Hinson, our CEO was still running the place. “If Hinson was in charge when we entered bankruptcy, why should we expect he’ll be able to get us out?” After a few nods, the back of the bus was quiet for a few minutes before we moved on to complaining about the crew meals.

As it turned out, my worries about what the big guy at the airline’s helm would be able to accomplish continued as Midway Airline continued its decline. For a few weeks though, we thought there was a silver lining to the dark cloud we all found ourselves beneath when word came that Midway was about to be purchased by Northwest Airlines (Northwest was later absorbed by Delta). We were overjoyed that somehow the management team had managed to pull a save out from the throws of Chapter 11. Our celebrations were short-lived, however, when on November 12, 1991, Northwest informed Dave Hinson they were pulling out of the negotiations. The original Midway Airline ceased operation the next day on November 13, 1991.

After Midway

Many of those memories have come flooding back to me over the past few weeks as the latest crisis erupted at Boeing, a company also once headquartered in Chicago. The current mess began when a door plug ripped a gaping hole in the fuselage of an Alaska Airlines 737 Max 9 on January 5th. Luckily no one was killed although many cabin items not tied down were sucked out of that fuselage hole when the cabin depressurized. It all could have been much worse. The door plug was eventually located in the backyard of a local high school science teacher. I think his name was Bob.

And what’s the connection between my former life at Midway and Boeing’s current jam? A bunch of Midway employees didn’t think Dave Hinson and the airline’s board of directors back then could save the ailing carrier. And as for Boeing? A recent story in Fortune magazine said, “Business pundits are watching closely to see whether CEO Dave Calhoun can lead Boeing through the aftermath of its latest crisis or if he’ll be replaced. But Boeing’s board also deserves scrutiny …” Read the rest of this entry »

Aviation Safety Semantics

By Scott Spangler on February 5th, 2024 | What do you think? »

As a word merchant and an aviator, words are important. They are the foundation of communication, and in many instances they can be the difference between life and death. “Hold Short” is but one example. Equally important is our semantic understanding of the aviation lexicon, what each of the words mean.

Take “accident,” for example. Millions of words have been written and spoken about this word, its outcomes, its trends, and its persistent place in aviation. But have you ever given thought to what this word means? Here is what the 11th edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary has to say:

Accident—noun

1a: an unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance

b: lack of intention or necessity : CHANCE

2a: an unfortunate event resulting especially from carelessness or ignorance

As this relates to aviation, accidents are unfortunate and, for the most part, unplanned. Suicidal best describes pilots who take off intending to return to earth unsafely. Pilots who consider aviation’s unfortunate outcomes unforeseen may best be described by the second aspect of the definition: careless and ignorant.

Pilots have been choosing from the same menu of fatal outcomes for more than a century now, so how can anyone categorize them as “unforeseen?” No one is ever immune from the possibility of any of them on any flight. Regardless of our intentions we each are ultimately responsible for the consequences of our decisions.

Every student pilot learns, to some degree or another, about Five Hazardous Attitudes, their symptoms, and the consequential umbrella that covers them all:

Anti-authority: Those who do not like anyone telling them what to do.

Impulsivity: Those who feel the need to do something, anything, immediately.

Invulnerability: Those who believe that accidents happen to others.

Macho: Those who are trying to prove that they are better than anyone else. “Watch this!

Resignation: Those who do not see themselves making a difference.

Knowing about these attitudes is good, but it is just a halfway effort without balancing them with some beneficial attitudes pilots should relentlessly strive to embody. You can compile your list, but here’s one to get you started:

Circumspect—adjective

: careful to consider all circumstances and possible consequences : PRUDENT

Employing all that this word embodies to every aspect of aviation before acting can only improve safety. But just as we each are responsible for the consequences of decisions whether they be good or bad, we humans are not infallible, so unwanted outcomes will continue to occur with unwanted regularity. But we should stop referring to them as “accidents.” The military has a better word and definition for it:

Mishap—noun

: any unplanned, unintended event or series of events that results in death, injury, illness, or property damage.

But whatever word you use to describe it, remember to be circumspect. –Scott Spangler, Editor

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Do Electric Aircraft Face Lapse Rate Challenges?

By Scott Spangler on January 22nd, 2024 | What do you think? »

Beyond worrying about the heating bill and bundling up for the sub-zero trek to the mail box, reports about how much of America has been dealing with the polar waterfall has stimulated an unexpected question: Given the reality that cold weather quickly sucks the electron life out of batteries, will electric aircraft face lapse-rate challenges?

While watching a TV news report about desperate owners trying to revive their cold-sucked dead Teslas in Chicagoland, what immediately popped into my head was the reality that the ambient temperature in a standard atmosphere surrenders (lapses) approximately 3.5 °F or 2 °C per thousand feet up to 36,000 feet, which is approximately –65 °F or –55 °C. Above this point, the temperature is considered constant up to 80,000 feet.

That’s a lot higher than today’s prototype electric flyers now aviate, but I’m looking forward to their airline goals. But the temperatures at the airline’s cruising flight levels are a lot colder than it has been for the past week or so in much of the United States, roughly double our weeklong Wisconsin windchill. (This begs another question: Do batteries suffer from windchill, or is that just reserved for mammals? Google says it doesn’t.)

Installing battery warmers on these aircraft seems to be a logical solution, but they, too, would be electric, which would increase the draw on the storage system’s power reserves. And then there would be the added weight, the primary foe of power efficient flight. Battery temperature not only affects output, it has a negative effect on recharging the battery.

Electric vehicles, it turns out, have two batteries, one high-voltage and the other low, like the 12-volt battery that fires up an internal combustion powerplant. Apparently, like a vehicle that runs on dead dinosaurs, an electric vehicle with a cold-sucked 12 volt needs a jump to recharge its high-voltage counterpart more efficiently. Without the proper preparation, it seems, a recharge that takes an hour in milder temps can take four or five times longer when it’s cold. Not that airline turn-around crews need another time-suck challenge.

The Cold Weather Best Practices in the Tesla Model 3 Owner’s Manual was eye opening. Just as ice and snow on an airframe is detrimental to flight, on an electric car, its “moving parts, such as the door handles, windows, mirrors, and wipers can freeze in place.” This includes the charging port. “In extremely cold weather or icy conditions, it is possible that your charge port latch may freeze in place. Some vehicles are equipped with a charge port inlet heater that turns on when you turn on the rear defrost in cold weather conditions. You can also thaw ice on the charge port latch by enabling Defrost Car on the mobile app.”

This assumes the vehicle still has some battery power left, not to mention the phone needed to run all the vehicle’s apps. I’m sure the electrical aviation engineers are working on all these challenges, and all the others I’m unaware of. I wish them well. The sun has warmed the outside temperature to a positive single digit, and the mail truck just delivered, so it’s time to bundle up. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Making Like Maverick in an L-39

By Robert Mark on January 17th, 2024 | What do you think? »

By Rob Mark

An early scene in An Officer and a Gentleman, the 1982 movie about U.S. Navy recruits slogging their way through officer candidate school, has granite-tough Marine Gunnery Sgt. Foley (actor Lou Gossett Jr.) confronting candidate Zack Mayo (actor Richard Gere) nose to nose.

“Now why would a slick little hustler like you sign up for the Navy?” asks Foley.

Mayo’s response grabbed me. “Because I want to fly jets, sir!”

I’ve been flying jets for years as a corporate pilot, but not real jets to some … like fighter jets. When opportunity knocked with an offer to fly an Aero Vodochody L–39 Albatros (one “s” in the Czech spelling)—a single-engine bird still used as a basic trainer for some nation’s fighter pilots—I jumped at the chance. And I seldom thought much about Top Gun either (“Do some of that pilot stuff, Maverick”) before my first day of training at Gauntlet Warbirds, based at Aurora Municipal Airport (KARR) west of Chicago. In a nice-job-if-you-can-get-it situation, Greg Morris serves as Gauntlet’s owner and chief pilot (see “Pilots: Greg Morris,” December 2011 AOPA Pilot).

The panel on the L–39 is a conglomeration of normal gauges, except some, are labeled in English, and others still in Cyrillic.

My goal in these Gauntlet jet-training sessions? Cram enough L–39 knowledge and skill into my brain to pass a type-rating checkride. With very little onboard deice equipment, the L–39 is, however, a VFR-only bird. In a non-U.S.-certified Experimental aircraft like the L–39, the end result is called an Experimental Aircraft Authorization. Morris explained that the Experimental moniker also prevents Gauntlet from charging for rides. A pilot with any kind of certificate can begin training right away in the familiarization course where dual instruction is $2,200 per hour. Only if a pilot chooses the complete course with a checkride is an instrument rating required. The total cost will vary according to the student’s experience level and can run from six to 20 hours. And almost before I could ask, Morris said, “The FAA allows P–51 rides, though, under a special exemption. If they’d grant us an exception, I’d need another L–39 immediately to handle the business.”

The Walk Around

Morris and I began with a walk around N992RT, a 1974 C-model Albatros. Other versions ready the L–39 for light-attack missions. On first glance at its near-stiletto nose, it’s clear the 10,300-pound Albatros is fast. Down low, maximum speeds can easily exceed 425 knots. However, this airplane is also designed with systems simple enough—and handling qualities docile enough—to allow no-jet-time aviators to confidently solo in as little as 15 hours. But good jet flying is still demanding. Morris says that his no-previous-jet-time customers usually need between 15 and 20 hours to complete the training. “You’d think pilot problems would be all about stick-and-rudder skills here,” he said. “But most of the time, problems pop up because students simply haven’t spent enough time with the books. They need to know the L–39’s systems and our profiles cold when they walk in the door.” Not much different than corporate flying.

Preflight means ensuring the controls move properly, the pitot probes are undamaged, the oil level is sufficient, and both engine intakes—so dark you always need a flashlight—are clear of debris. You scramble up the side of the Albatros before you climb in, where the L–39 seat is not comfortable, not even a little bit. But then, you’re sitting on a parachute and a disarmed ejection seat. I eventually did find some degree of comfort, even with that big, fat, five-point harness; a helmet; visor; and an oxygen mask.

L39 Ground School and Flaps

The author and Greg Morris review the aircraft flight envelope during ground school (right). The L–39’s Fowler flaps are clearly visible during the preflight inside Gauntlet Warbird’s hangar at Aurora Municipal Airport (left).

Many of the panel gauge identifications are written in Cyrillic, with metric scales, the panel looks much like that of a U.S.-built fighter jet—including the narrow and mildly pressurized (4 psi) cockpit. The big throttle on the left side includes a thumb-operated speed-brake switch to make extension and retraction of the boards beneath the belly easy. The checkout includes a brief on the L–39’s castering nose gear. Steering happens through coordinated use of brakeless rudder pedals augmented by a handbrake, which looks like it was swiped from a 10-speed bike, attached to the control stick. Need a right turn? Hold full right rudder and gently grab the handbrake. “That braking system is the single thing that gets everyone,” Morris told me. “I constantly get thrown around in the backseat while we’re on the ground as folks get used to it.” He joked, “That’s one reason I wear the helmet.”

L39 in flight

The 3,800-pound-thrust Ukrainian-built AI25-TL engine needs an air-assisted start provided by the onboard Sapphire APU. Once it spins up the engine we begin taxi practice to the runway, something a bit akin to learning to steer my old taildragger. Like most jets, before-takeoff items are few, except for the slam check, where I shove the throttle from idle to full power to time how long it takes to reach full power, normally about 12 to 14 seconds, which is why you almost never, ever pull the throttle back to idle if you’re high or fast on final, for example, where speed brakes would be adding drag as well.

A Bit Like a Taildragger

I still zig and zag a bit with those brakes for the lineup and hold them while I run the engine to full power—106 percent—before releasing the brake handle. Steering is quite easy as we shoot down the runway. At 90 knots I ease the stick back and we’re through 140 knots with gear and flaps coming up before I know it. In a 200-knot climb, we’re rocketing at 3,000 fpm toward the VFR Gauntlet practice area west of Aurora Airport.

Morris was right. The L–39 is a breeze to fly—light and responsive on the controls. My 200-knot steep turns begin at 14,500 feet with gentle banks. Morris asks to show me a few. He effortlessly cranks that puppy into 45- to 50-degree banks. I try and now it’s really fun, even though the L–39 is clearly sensitive in pitch. “You really need to include the attitude indicator in your scan,” he tells me. “Even a small angular change from the horizon quickly translates into a huge velocity change.” I’ll need to work on these.

L39 Preflight

Preflight demands a check of the ram air turbine (right), pneumatic pressure (middle), and a look inside the variety of other access panels (left).

Next comes a roll looking out the huge glass canopy. Now I’m really loving this airplane. The stalls are very simple—wait for the buffet and recover. But a secondary stall awaits any pilot who recovers with too much back pressure, too quickly.

The traffic pattern is where the fun really begins as we try out the Albatros as a touch-and-go birds. I was almost exhausted after the first hour-long pattern session before I realized that bizjet pilots don’t normally fly VFR touch and go; approaches and go-arounds, yes, but not touch and goes. Because the Albatros can accelerate so quickly, Morris tells me to fly the upwind and prepare for a quick 180-degree turn back to downwind all at once, pulling the power back just before we reach pattern altitude.

Let the Nose Fall??

In the pattern, you can’t let the speed get away from you or the patterns become ugly, as Morris mentioned in the briefing. It sounded easy, but on the first few, I found myself with the power back, nose up high, and in a turn wondering what might be coming next. “Don’t try to hold everything up,” Morris instructs. “Just let the nose fall as you turn. If you don’t reduce the power quickly as you unload the nose, you’ll easily gain 70 knots turning downwind.” After a few tries, my turns plunk me right on downwind at just under 200 knots. “That’s perfect,” Morris announces. I began to breathe a bit as each landing started to improve on the last.

L39Reminding me of that slow engine spool-up time, Morris said we’d fly base at 140 knots with the speed brakes extended, demanding high power settings that prepare the engine for instant response in the event of a go-around. On short final, I slow to 120 knots and hold it off like a Cirrus. Some were even more fun as I held the nose up high for a little aerodynamic braking, just like those F–16s I always watch at AirVenture. On a touch and go, as soon as the nosewheel was down, I slammed the throttle in because of that spool-up time again. By the time I return the flaps to takeoff, we’ve reached 90, and the power’s back at max.

In L–39s, the last maneuver to learn is a Simulated Flame Out (SFO) approach, essentially like the instructor pulling back the throttle of a 172 to watch the pilot’s reaction. Since engine failures in fighters are likely to happen up high, simply looking out the window for a great field seldom works. A successful maneuver becomes all about energy management, so pilots don’t end up too high or too fast at the wrong time. Now the blackboard drawings Morris made illustrating Gauntlet’s SFO procedures made more sense. “Some people try to make up their own procedures when they’re nervous,” Morris told me. “When they eventually start flying the way we teach them, it usually all falls into place.”

The SFO practice actually begins near the airport at roughly 3,000 feet agl. Turn final two miles out at 200 knots and cross the numbers headed upwind, a point called High Key. Students set the throttle at 70 percent N1 and try to not touch it again until just before the touchdown. The pilot now blends only the use of flaps, gear, and speed brakes together with a pitch to make the runway. At the numbers, the pilot begins a single 180-degree turn back to downwind. At the Low Key point, opposite the numbers, it becomes easier to figure out whether the plan will work. Morris says a good instructor can see a successful SFO coming a half-mile away. I’m still working on mine.

And so the training hours passed and I eventually began to feel more comfortable in this tiny fighter-plane cockpit—now that I was accustomed to the myriad foreign-language dials and gauges, that is. In the end, the L–39—as slick as I thought it was during that first round of touch and goes—flies just like an airplane, a quite good one, of course, thinking back to a roll rate that could easily knock my eyeballs from side to side if I wasn’t careful. When I look back at checking out in a Cirrus SR22, I thought that, too, was quite an eye-opening experience at the time. Now that I was preparing for the check ride, I realized the L–39 too would someday become just another airplane in the list of those I’ve flown. Yeah, right, Maverick!

Robert Mark publishes Jetwhine.com. This story was reprinted here with permission of AOPA Pilot where it ran originally.

2024: Looking Up with Eager Anticipation

By Scott Spangler on January 8th, 2024 | What do you think? »

If you keep up with current events, 2024 has the potential for global grimness. All that’s needed is for China to make a move on Taiwan to fan conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East into World War III, and the US political polarization to devolve into a zero-sum civil war. Ignoring these very real possibilities will not make them disappear, but we can mitigate their contributions to emotional angst by looking up and forward to more gratifying events that are planned for 2024.

And we won’t have to wait long. What’s being called the “Great North American Eclipse” will commence on April 8, when the moon orbits between it and the sun. The moon’s shadow will start in Mexico, cross the river into Texas, and march through Arkansas, Missouri, and into Southern Illinois. It then darkens Indiana, Ohio, western New York, and leaves the continent at Canada’s east coast. Those of us north of this path will only be partially in the dark, but now is the time to Google ways to watch the eclipse safely.

Before our moon casts its shadow on North America, on January 19 it will be the intended landing site for a small experimental spacecraft, SLIM, that Japan launched last September. Just before SLIM attempts its landing, Astrobotic, one of the two private companies hired by NASA will launch its lander, Peregrine, for its lunar landing site near the Ocean of Storms on January 8. The other company, Intuitive Machines, will launch its lunar lander sometime in February. China is also planning another moon mission, Chang’e-6, its fourth, to land on the far side of the moon in May, with the goal of returning rocks and dust for further study.

Looking at our solar system, NASA has several exploratory missions planned. The Europa Clipper is off to Jupiter’s moon in October. But you need patience for this one because the Clipper won’t reach Europa until 2030. It will not attempt to land, but its sensors will attempt to penetrate its icy atmosphere as it orbits above it. Below this icy veil, scientists think there might be an ocean that might support life. The Clipper hopes to ferret out every possible bit of data to answer that hypothesis.

In the realm of possibilities, SpaceX might attempt the next step with its Starship, and Boeing and NASA might finally launch its patient crew of Starliner astronauts to the International Space Station, but there’s a deadline on this destination because NASA plans on deorbiting the ISS in 2030, about the time the Europa Clipper arrives at Jupiter. Both are something to look forward to. –Scott Spangler, Editor

What if the Haneda Crash Had Occurred in the US?

By Robert Mark on January 5th, 2024 | 4 Comments »

I saw the videos of the raging firestorm engulfing the A-350 on a runway before I heard any of the audio on Tuesday,  so I assumed the accident had occurred here in America. From the pictures alone, the loss of life should have been mind-numbing. Considering how many close calls we had last year at major airports in the US, my assumptions were justifiable, some 19 serious near collisions. A serious near collision is about as close as two aircraft can come without metal scraping metal.

Once I pumped up the sound on our widescreen though, I learned the accident had happened on the runway at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. A Japan Airlines A-350 and a Japanese Coast Guard Dash-8 regional aircraft had collided during the early evening hours. I watched the growing orange glow of the Airbus sliding to a stop after the collision and wondered how anyone could have survived.

Miraculously though, all 379 passengers and crew aboard the Airbus escaped with only a few minor injuries reported. The crew of the Dash 8, which apparently was sitting on the runway in the path of the Airbus, did not fare as well. The aircraft was destroyed claiming the lives of five crewmembers. Only the Dash 8’s captain survived and is listed in critical condition with severe burns.

The A-350 is certified to be capable of an emergency evacuation in less than 90 seconds. Although it took some 18 minutes to evacuate the A-350 that night, the initial and recurrent training of the eight flight attendants aboard the Japanese airliner is most likely the reason everyone escaped with their lives. This accident would have made for a nightmare of a training scenario for any crew during recurrent because the inferno outside blocked five of the eight emergency exits. That number eventually dwindled to just two.

Read the rest of this entry »

Champ Ornament of Aviation Appreciation

By Scott Spangler on December 25th, 2023 | What do you think? »

Each year for as long as I can remember, Sporty’s Pilot Shop has sent its annual crystal airplane ornament with the Christmas card it sends to members of the aviation media. We hung our growing collection of them each year until our boys moved on and out to start their own families, and our downsized tree wasn’t robust enough to sustain them. Instead of creating a Charlie Brown Christmas tree of airplane ornaments, we passed along the ornaments to friends and family who look up when they hear an airplane above them.

But we still hang with honored appreciation the annual ornament, in 2023 an Aeronca Champ. “Produced in large volumes in the late 1940s, the simple high wing design with fabric-covered wings was used primarily for training,” reads the card that describes each year’s airplane. “The Champ was one of the few taildragger airplanes that could be flown solo from the front seat, which greatly improved the visibility for the pilot in command. With Aeronca’s Cincinnati roots, the Champ is a favorite for many of the Sporty’s flight crew.”

Beholding the Champ’s etched outlines recalled some of my most cherished flight time and the teachers, Paul King and John Coplantz, who really taught me how to fly in December 1996, two decades after passing my private pilot practical test at Eagle Aviation in Long Beach, California. Seeking an endorsement, I was enrolled in the 15-hour tailwheel transition course at Stick and Rudder Aviation’s “Academy of Flight and Taildragmanship” in Watsonville, California.

Their three-ship training fleet consisted of a Champ, its military sibling, the L-16, and a clip-wing L-4, a Piper J-3 Cub drafted for liaison service during World War II. Battery-powered intercoms and handheld transceivers were the only things electric in all three airplanes, so how to safely hand-prop their 85-horse Continental engines was an early lesson. If you are a 1940-sized human, yes, you can solo the Champ from the front seat, but as an oversize mid-century monster, I barely fit in the cushionless back seat. My futile attempts at gracefully folding myself into the Champ always drew a flightline audience.

My first six flights were in the Champ, and its lessons served me well on every flight since in which I’ve been the sole manipulator of an airplane’s controls because it calibrated the seat of my pants. In flight, the Champ handled quite like the Cessna 172 in which I learned to fly at Eagle Aviation. And then Paul asked me to make a no-rudder turn to the left. Easing the stick over, the right wing fell back a good three feet and my hip moved smartly to the left as the Champ made a slipping left turn. So, this was adverse yaw.

Paul encouraged me to experiment, so I played with the rudder and concentrated on the seat of my pants. My butt became the turn-and-bank’s ball. With deft rudder inputs I could put it where I wanted — centered, half a cheek out, or full displacement. Cool. This is but one of the many lasting lessons I learned at Stick and Rudder, all of them clear, concise, and often unique, like the bicycle wheel with a screwdriver axel that taught gyroscopic precession. Before spinning the wheel, Paul asked me to hold my “fuselage” (arm) in a nose-high, three-point attitude. When I raised the tail, the prop twisted my wrist to the left. After another spin, the prop forced my fuselage to the right when I lowered the tail to a three-point attitude.

Sadly, Stick and Rudder in Watsonville is no more, but it lives on in those who continue to appreciate the lessons it taught. And at this time of year, it seems only right that we make time to appreciate all the gifts of life and learning, and the people who gave them. Thank you. Scott Spangler—Editor

Dynamic Flight Maneuvers: Stop, Look, Remember

By Scott Spangler on December 11th, 2023 | What do you think? »

Given the traffic seen on my daily stroll around town, except for the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh late summer interlude, the sky over Omro seems to be a no-fly zone. When the wind is right, I’ll see a regional jet whining its way north to Appleton International, and there’s the occasional business jet or turboprop on its way to Wittman Field, roughly 10 miles to the east. But when I hear a piston engine, I stop and look. If I’m lucky, like I was last week, it is a Cessna 172 from the Fox Valley Tech program out practicing maneuvers and other essential stick and rudder skills. On this day the lesson was clearly stalls and slow flight.

Rooted at a standstill in the middle of the sidewalk, I watched and heard the pilot work though the roster of approach and departure loss of lift attitudes, and after each of them, the Cessna recovered smoothly with no wah-wah of uncertain power changes. The Cessna demonstrated the same sure smoothness as it eased into slow flight, extended full flaps, and then slowly retracted them with little or no apparent loss of altitude. With the lesson apparently over, the Cessna and I turned east for our respective homes.

As the Cessna diminished to a muter pinpoint, I wondered if the pilot enjoyed the rewards of the practice of dynamic flight, the skillful manipulation of the flight controls and go-lever to achieve the desired three-dimensional goal. I hope so. Never a hundred-dollar hamburger guy, my most rewarding flights focused on perfecting the fundamental flight skills. And to challenge myself, I would combine a series of maneuvers and aim for predetermined goals with a plus-or-minus nothing deviation from the appropriate altitude or speed.

One of my favorite combinations was appending the slow flight flap exercise to the end of a chandelle. A climbing 180-degree turn introduced during my education for a commercial pilot certificate, it requires precision control that is more challenging than it at first seems. You enter the maneuver at a predetermined heading and airspeed. Rolling into a turn (left or right) starts the maneuver, gently banking to—and maintain—30°.

At the same time, you smoothy apply full power and increase pitch to control airspeed, with the goal being just shy of the critical angle of attack. I relied on the tenor range of the Cessna’s stall warning. The bass note told me I was getting close, and the soprano stridently told me I’d gone too far. Halfway through the 180° heading change (a predetermined plus-or-minus goal calculated on my entry heading) the challenge changes, from holding a constant bank while increasing pitch to maintaining the stall warning’s tenor pitch while gradually rolling out of the bank that exactly opposite of my entry heading.

Because I was already at the critical angle of attack at full power, slowly adding full Cessna barndoors without stalling really challenged the seat of my pants and visual scan, and it was a good way to practice recovering from stalls, as well. Success depends on smooth and precise inputs. More importantly (to me, at least), it was fun, as striving to be better usually is. Scott Spangler, Editor

21st Century Airship Development Preserves History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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