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

Nouns of Knowledge

By Scott Spangler on July 13th, 2020 | 2 Comments »

Semantically, Students and Learners Are Not Synonymous

aihThe AOPA online headline about the 2020 update of the Aviation Instructor’s Handbook immediately captured my attention because – What’s Behind the FAA’s Switch from Student to Learner? – signaled an inversion of educational intent.

Looking for an answer, the author, Dan Namowitz, asked Chris Cooper, AOPA’s director of regulatory affairs who’s on the FAA work group that focuses on training and testing initiatives.

The FAA changed its nouns to address a socially self-inflicted problem that contributes to diminished learning—status. “The change from student to learner started several years ago in an industry working group,” Cooper said. “Industry wanted to get away from using the word ‘student’ because traditionally we think of student as in ‘student pilot’ or a beginning student pilot/mechanic.”

After two years of debate, which included options that included “pilot-in-training,” the FAA went with a term some school systems and institutions of higher learning use for their enrollees—“learner”—an academic buzzword that implies “the concept of lifelong learning.” In addition, Cooper said the new nouns would appear in other handbooks as the FAA updates them.

Becoming knowledgeable and proficient in any aviation arena is a daunting enough challenge without complicating it with a new lexicon that replaces long established words that communicates their meaning clearly, concisely, and simply.

In the Fifth Edition of Webster’s New World College Dictionary, the transitive form, to “learn” is “to get knowledge of (a subject) or skill in (an art, trade, etc.) by study, experience, instruction, etc.” In other words, it is the action employed by the noun, student, who is “a person who studies, or investigates” something.

The implied status of the word student is a consequence of individual semantics. To me, student is a badge of honor that one must earn by every day effort. It defines those who are so curious about a given topic that they will pursue every scrap of information, no matter how tangentially related. Like ingredients of knowledge, they all go into their cranial pantry, ready to use in a recipe for a new idea. A teacher takes the next step. The best teachers are students who share what they have learned with those who share a similar curiosity.

But that is not how education has worked in America for the past 30 odd years, when test results became more important than one generation imparting its acquired knowledge to the next generation. This testing transformation turned classroom teachers into presenters who had 180 days to prepare their charges to take the test that would satisfy the demands of their overseeing bureaucrats and elected officials.

This leaves no time to present anything more than the information needed to take the test. If a member of the class has a question related to the subject being presented, there’s no time for a curiosity-satisfying educational tangent (unless you were, like me, a substitute teacher). The goal for those enrolled is consume and regurgitate a prescribed compendium of skills and facts to pass the tests associated with that list. Aviation is no different.

learnerAnother consequence this fire hose education philosophy of rote learning of the facts, figures, and skills needed to pass a test is that “learners” are conditioned to automatically accept and believe what those in a position of authority tell them. As with educational tangents, there is no time for critical thinking and the questions its generates. [This may be one reason politicians pursue testing as a primary measurement, because people are easier to lead (and deceive) when they only believe what someone they hold as trustworthy tells them something.]

Oddly, it surprised me that Chapter 2: Human Behavior of the 2020 instructor’s handbook accurately described today’s “adult learners,” who are products of the American education system as goal-oriented 30-somethings with short attention spans and the desire for immediate gratification.

The FAA didn’t use those words, but the handbook described learners primarily interested in the skills, facts, and figures they need to pass a test than acquiring knowledge, and understanding how to use it. The first two paragraphs of Chapter 3: The Learning Process describes the hypothetical first flight of a learner who focuses on performing the demonstrated skill step-by-step. Later in training, if the instructor asks this learner “a question or to perform two tasks as once,” the learner loses their place and must restart from the beginning.

Under the subhead The Check Ride, the next two paragraphs say this learner has become “a different person.” The learner “does not simply reiterate facts—she applies her knowledge to solve the problems” the instructor presents. This foreshadows the forthcoming discussion that includes the basic levels of learning – Rote, Understanding, Application, and Correlation – 15 pages later.

learning levelsWhat this educational theory presentation does address is whether the curriculum prescribes “problems” at certain points of training (Lesson four, engine failure), or whether the instructor has the ability to recognize a potential problem (say, flying a very wide traffic pattern) and the instructional freedom to safely create a learning experience that addresses it (like an engine failure)?

This situation is not new; rote learning has always been the Achilles heel of aviation education. The problem remains the same; only the words that define the participants have changed.

Regardless of the semantic terms, the Boeing 737 Max debacle is the perfect example of difference between students and learners. The consensus of what I’ve read about this sad situation says that learners accepted what the manufacturer and training center instructors told them about this airplane and its systems. To date, I haven’t heard of any student, driven by curiosity, to invest the time and effort to dig into the technical details before the loss of life brought it to everyone’s attention. And this is, perhaps, the prime example of why aviation needs more students than learners. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Book Review: Empires of the Sky

By Scott Spangler on June 29th, 2020 | 5 Comments »

A Concise Look at Human Flight with an Unexpected Focus

eosWith my knowledge bank bereft all but the most rudimentary information about Zeppelins (aka rigid airships), my curious eye immediately focused on the tail end of the Zeppelin under the title, Empires of the Sky. (Following the airship to the backside of the dust cover identified it as the Graf Zeppelin.) The subhead of Alexander Rose’s 600-page tome—Zeppelins, Airplanes, and Two Men’s Epic Duel to Rule the World—lured me between the covers.

I assumed that German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, the eponymous airship’s creator, might be one of them. Or maybe it was Hugo Eckener, who turned them into a reliable form of air transportation (at least until the Hindenburg arrived at Lakehurst, New Jersey, on May 6, 1937). But who was the other? It was someone I would have never considered—Juan Trippe, of Pan American Airways.

This at first seemed an odd couple, but as I read, it was a genius paring because both men were pursuing the same goal, to provide reliable transatlantic air service. And it provided an important perspective, refocusing my grouping of things that fly and things that do not. Rose set the stages for his book by sharing Octave Chanute’s concise explanation of the two camps hoping to solve the problem of flight more than a century ago.

Writing Aerial Navigation in 1891, Chanute’s two competing schools were addressing the challenges of flight:

“1: AERONAUTS, who believe that success is to come through some sort of balloon, and that the apparatus must be lighter than the air which it displaces.

“2: AVIATORS, who point to the birds, believe that the apparatus must be heavier than air, and hope for success by purely mechanical means.

“Curiously enough, there seems to be very little concert of study between these two schools. Each believes the other so wrong as to have no chance of ultimate success.”

Rose starts with the aeronauts, because they flew first. In elegantly crafted prose, he brings aerostat novices up to speed on the contributing experimenters and the technological contributions. And then he reveals an elegant surprise. Ferdinand Zeppelin made his first flight in a tethered balloon in St. Paul, Minnesota, on August 19, 1863, with one Professor Steiner, late of the Union balloon corps. A military officer, Zeppelin witnessed balloon mail from Paris in 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War.

ZeppelinLZ127a wikiFour years later, following a fall from his horse, he awoke from a “fevered dream” in which he saw the flimsy predecessor of what would become his eponymous Zeppelin, so named by his volunteer PR man, Hugo Eckener, who went on to take over the company following Zeppelin’s death. Rose evenly balanced the human aspects of the story with the technological side that ranged from the development of the rigid air ships and their duralumin metallurgy to their military service during World War I.

Empires of the Sky also takes an illuminating look at American airship efforts and their ties to Germany. And Rose devotes an equal measure of research to the camp of aviators. Here I found fewer rewarding surprises, but there were a good number of them. Most of them told the Pan Am story, how it developed its flying boats and established its Pacific and then Atlantic routes. While I can appreciate what Trippe and Pan Am achieved, I learned that how he achieved them would hold him in good stead in the cutthroat, backroom backstabbing corporate culture of the 21st century.

Whether you lean toward Team Aeronaut or Team Aviator, or you are interested in learning more about them and how they came to be, Empires of the Sky is a rewarding and worthwhile investment of your time. I do have one caveat, however, don’t start reading it after dinner when you have to be at work the next morning. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Inattentive Oshkosh Migrants Will Find No EAA Roosts at Wittman in July 2020

By Scott Spangler on June 15th, 2020 | 6 Comments »
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SM Spangler

It is a statistical reality that regardless of the methods of dissemination, roughly 10 percent of the population will not get the word. Or they will forget they got the word and reflexively follow their atavistic inclinations. Some creatures, like the swallows who migrate to San Juan Capistrano every spring from their winter residences in Argentina, don’t have a choice because conscious decision making is probably not among their sentient capabilities. Pilots don’t have this excuse, and those who migrate to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh this July will find no roosts at Wittman Regional Airport.

In an attempt to catch the attention of pilots who were not paying attention, or might forget that EAA CANCELED AIRVENTURE 2020, Wittman Regional Airport posted this notice on its website and sent an email to everyone on its mailing list.

AIRPORT STATUS DUE TO CANCELLATION OF 2020 EAA AIRVENTURE

We’re all disappointed with the cancellation of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2020, as it means so many different things for everyone who attends. For thousands of aviators, flying to Wittman Regional Airport (KOSH) is a highlight in the logbook.

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SM Spangler

As AirVenture 2020 is not taking place, Wittman Regional Airport will operate normally as a public use airport with contract tower services. For those considering flying to Oshkosh in late July, it’s important to manage expectations about what is permissible:

  • *Aircraft parking for itinerant traffic is available on the Terminal / Basler FBO Ramp. No permit has been obtained for aircraft parking or camping on any turf areas of the airfield and therefore is not permitted.
  • *No buildings or facilities on the AirVenture grounds will be open. Those attempting to camp will be asked to move to Terminal / Basler FBO ramp parking or depart.
  • *The Warbird / Homebuilt camping areas near P-1 taxiway will not be open. Papa 2 taxiway (Boeing Plaza) will not be accessible.
  • *There will be no access to EAA facilities from the airport. EAA did not obtain a Wisconsin temporary campground permit for Camp Scholler in 2020, so it is illegal to accept or allow campers there this year. The EAA Aviation Museum also will be closed to the public through July.

For those who still want to fly to Oshkosh during AirVenture week, we encourage you to park at the Terminal / Basler FBO ramp, stay at one of our local hotels, and enjoy some of Oshkosh’s hospitality. Please coordinate with Basler Flight Service to arrange any ground handling needs.

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SM Spangler

And if you’re thinking of flying in for a visit, following the operational items in the OSH message, make sure you add the Covid-19 status to your preflight planning. It seems that Oshkosh, for the past few days, has been leading the state in new cases, especially among 20 and 30 year olds. Who knows what it will look like in July?

And for the 10 percent who didn’t get the word, EAA is hosting a safer, more economical replacement for your annual Oshkosh migration with a virtual celebration, EAA Spirit of Aviation Week, July 21-25. I’ll be there, but on my trips into town during the week, I may swing by Wittman Field to see who didn’t get the word. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Crew Dragon Demo 2: A Short Course in 21st Century Spaceflight

By Scott Spangler on June 1st, 2020 | 8 Comments »
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NASA

As it did when Alan Shepard kicked off the US Space program with his suborbital flight in 1961, I eagerly anticipated watching the program’s most recent chapter, the resumption of flights launched from American soil. Watching the preparations for the Demo 2 departure of Crew Dragon on Wednesday and on Saturday was much more than I expected, a short course in 21st century spaceflight.

Used to the military-toned phraseology employed during all of the NASA launches I’ve watched since Shepard went flying in 1961, it was clear this was a commercial operation because everyone on the NASA TV Launch America referred to everyone involved by their first names. Watching the launch on Saturday with my sister and brother-in-law, we considered (briefly) starting a drinking game where we had to take a sip every time someone said “Bob and Doug,” referring to the Crew Dragon crew of Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. Thankfully we didn’t. If we had, the four of us would have been sleeping it off under the TV long before Bob and Doug closed their helmet visors and armed the launch escape system so they could start filling the Falcon 9 with densified LOX and RP1.

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NASA

Like the NASA flights that preceded it, acronyms and multi-letter abbreviations liberally seasoned the comments and conversations of launch communications. What I did not expect, based on this past experience, is that the Launch America crew would translate and explain—in English—what they were talking about, hence the much appreciated short course in 21st century space flight.

Chances are you were, like me, one of the more than 10 million online viewers, so I won’t bore you with a geek-worthy catalog of new learning. But as a sample, the super turbo pumps feed the Falcon 9’s nine Merlin engines a mixture of densified liquid oxygen, which is colder than traditional LOX to provide more oxidizer in the same volume, and Rocket Propellant 1, which is a rocket-grade kerosene. To “complete the fire triangle,” the Falcon 9 adds TEA-TEB—a mixture of triethylaluminum and triethylborarne—a pyrophoritic compound that spontaneously combusts when exposed to oxygen (gaseous or liquid or densified liquid).

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NASA

What they did not explain is why the crew kept their helmet visors open until arming the launch escape system. I remember from spaceflights previous when the crew had to prebreathe oxygen to purge their system of nitrogen before launch, to prevent any chance of bubbles of that gas in their bloodstreams should the spacecraft lose pressurization on its way to orbit. (Anyone have any ideas?) The boldly numbered members of the ground crew, on the other hand, seem an efficiently brilliant way to assigning and keeping track of their essential duties, responsibilities, and contribution to the flight.

If Launch America discussed the roots of the whimsical equipment names, I missed it, so I had to do some post flight research. SpaceX founder and chief engineer Elon Musk is a science fiction fan (like that was a surprise), so he named his reusable rocket after Hans Solo’s Millennium Falcon. Elon explained the capsule’s moniker in a Twitter response to a question about its name. The reusable capsule “was originally called Puff the Magic Dragon, as people said I was high if I thought it would work, so I named it after their insult.”

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NASA

Expecting the Falcon’s Merlin engines to be named after King Arthur’s wizard, I discovered it was named after the bird, as were SpaceX’s other engines, Kestrel and Raptor. The drone ships that are the landing pads for the Falcon’s first stage were a bit more esoteric. Of Course I Still Love You and Just Read the Instructions are the sentient space ships in Ian M. Banks’s science fiction novel, The Player of the Games.

Taking notes during this enthralling short course was beyond difficult because I could not avert my eyes from the stunning HD video from almost every conceivable angle. Given technology today, I should not have been surprised, but my visual memory was stuck in the shuttle era. But some commercial aspects remain unchanged. On Saturday we turned into the Discovery Channel, and we greatly enjoyed the program that recounted the history of SpaceX and all of its successes and failures. But when the announcer announced the celebrities, including Katy Perry, who would be part of the launch coverage, we switched back to NASA TV and Launch America.

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Wikipedia

On Launch America the countdown conversation held us rapt, until one of the astronauts uttered a trite cliché, “Let’s light this candle.” Really? The Mylar Puff the Magic Dragon that floated up beside of the seats, described as the zero-g indicator, helped make up for the cliché, and trying to keep up with the speed and altitude readouts, in meters per second and kilometers, quickly buried the B-movie quote in 21st century appreciation and amazement. –Scott Spangler, Editor

ADS-B Turbulence Reports: How Do They Work?

By Scott Spangler on May 18th, 2020 | 7 Comments »
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Weather.gov

The FAA recently posted a fascinating story on Medium, Taking the Turbulence Out of Flight that said ADS-B turbulence reports offer the possibility of more accurate reports on the bumps in the sky. What the story never fully explained is how the ADS-B system would generate the reports.

Like driving on a bumpy road, turbulence is what happens when atmospheric forces result in rapid changes in the vehicle’s horizontal and vertical planes. Its intensity depends on the size of the bump or pothole in the sky. And until this article, reporting such turbulence was a subjective evaluation made by the individual filing a pilot report.

Given a baseline understanding of the system, it is easy to intuit without explanation how the ADS-B turbulence position reports used its GPS WAAS engine. And its extended squitter bandwidth certainly had room for turbulence reports, but it never said how ADS-B would know it was in turbulence.

An FAA ADS-B FAQ page offered clues. ADS-B reports barometric pressure altitude as well as the airplane’s GPS-computed geometric altitude, “the height of the aircraft above the earth ellipsoid.” The two altitudes are not the same, the FAQ explained, “but having both allows for applications that require one or the other as an altitude source and provides a means of verifying correct pressure altitude reporting from the aircraft.”

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FAA.gov

The next paragraph provides another assumed part of the ADS-B turbulence report puzzle. “ADS-B does not report vertical or horizontal airspeed. Instead, ADS-B reports horizontal and vertical velocity relative to the earth. This velocity is useful for air traffic control functions and ADS-B applications. Airspeed can be provided by other aircraft sensors.” (And speaking of sensors, how will ADS-B separate atmospheric turbulence from the roiling vortices created by other aircraft?)

Might ADS-B turbulence reports be one of the system’s new applications? It seems that the necessary ingredients—position, altitude, and horizontal and vertical velocities—are available for a turbulence-sensing algorithm. But for the reports to have any value, the system must be communicating constantly with a ground station. With an update interval of once a second, that could be considered constant, even with uncompensated latency.

But this is merely an exercise in supposition, a guess of how ADS-B turbulence reports might work. If this guess is anywhere near to close, the best part of it, besides more granular turbulence reports, which any pilot would appreciate, is that that capability might become part of the ADS-B system with a software update, and not the installation of another piece of hardware.

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Weather.gov

Another benefit to pilots would be buried in the ADS-B turbulence report algorithm. It would consistently define different aircraft-appropriate levels or categories of turbulence with standardized variations or changes in altitudes and horizontal and vertical velocities. So before making a Pirep, pilot would not have to recall the Turbulence Reporting Criteria Table in the Aeronautical Information Manual. –Scott Spangler, Editor

A Few Thoughts on Chicago’s Hometown Airline

By Robert Mark on May 14th, 2020 | 4 Comments »

Like one of Chicago’s other major aerospace companies, Boeing, the town’s hometown airline has had more than its own share of problems, in addition to those gnawing customer service problems that plague the airline.

Certainly, many of the issues – like COVID-19 – facing United right now were not of the airline’s own making, but how the airline reacted certainly were.

I had a chance earlier this week to chat with Jenn White, from WBEZ’s midday Reset Show (@WBEZreset) about a host of issues related to United including how the COVID-19 virus chaos has and will affect United Airlines.WBEZ is Chicago’s NPR outlet.

Click below to listen to the show.

My apologies for the lousy audio quality on my side but they caught me on my cell.

With No AirVenture, What’s Next?

By Scott Spangler on May 4th, 2020 | 2 Comments »
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S.M. Spangler

Humans hate uncertainty, so after reading EAA’s early morning email on May 1 that confirmed what many expected, uncounted thousands of aviation-oriented minds posed, in one form or another, an unsettling question, “With no AirVenture, what’s next?”

The honest answer is that there is no certain answer. The future is an ethereal miasma of possibilities good and bad. Only time will tell. In all probability, there will be another AirVenture, but only time—and our mitigation and vaccination of and against the virus will determine when that will be.

For many humans, bred to hair-trigger impatience by a consumer society dedicated to immediate gratification of our immediate wants (assuming, naturally, that we can afford them), this reality will insufficiently fill the vacuum left by no AirVenture in 2020. Pointing fingers at our political foes and blaming them and their allies for one’s individual inconveniences seems an unproductive pastime in a number of online conversations.

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S.M. Spangler

When analyzed from any pragmatic perspective, EAA made the right decision, they made it for the right reasons, and they made it at the right time. And EAA reinforced the reality that the faithful who have made their annual pilgrimages to Oshkosh are, indeed, family. While it is easy for some to sacrifice strangers to the virus to ensure their economic and emotional survival, that willingness to sacrifice others is harder when those individuals are family.

For those pointing fingers, shoveling blame, and crying for sympathy because no AirVenture has inconvenienced them, they will readily find sympathy in the dictionary. Empathy might be a better emotional response. Consider this: For many aviation publications, especially those that monthly feed the needs of those who fly for fun, AirVenture is where they harvest many of the stories that fill the pages we so eagerly turn throughout the year.

Prudent publications always have a number of stories, ready to go, in the bank because, obviously, stuff happens. But that reservoir won’t last long, let alone a year or more. In finding ways to work with travel restrictions and social distancing, let alone the economic consequences facing all involved, their lives will be truly interesting.

The only living entity that truly has a right to be unhappy with no AirVenture this year is the coronavirus itself. Self-isolation and social distancing have made it harder for the virus to find and infect new hosts. If it was a sentient being, the virus was surely looking forward to what would have been a feeding frenzy every morning and evening at the communal bathhouses that serve the multitudes of aviation pilgrims living in Camp Scholler and the North & South 40s. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Aviation’s Covid Consequences

By Scott Spangler on April 20th, 2020 | 5 Comments »

Concentrating on a short-term goal is natural when facing unpleasant restrictions, but these inconveniences pale in comparison to the long-term consequences. What unites both timeframes is the inescapable reality that as individuals, societies, and industries, we are intimately responsible for the consequences of our decisions. With a clear blue sky to stare into, it is a perfect day to ponder aviation’s Covid consequences.

Pilot Shortage to Surplus

Grounded_Airplanes_12-800x533Before the coronavirus disrupted our lives, professional pilots were in short supply. Then the airlines parked most of their fleets, and those still flying were bereft of passengers. Many may hope that travel will rebound one day, but that seems unlikely given the growing number of Americans out of work (22 million and counting) and the trickle down delusions that have, since the 1980s, put shareholders and the executives who cater to them (and themselves) ahead of employees and customers.

Everyday employees are corporate fodder sacrificed as needed to maintain a corporation’s bottom line, so don’t expect those millions to return immediately to work. It took almost 10 years for them to find work after the great recession, and the economy will start its Covid recovery from a deeper hole.

The airlines will probably dig it deeper. The government just gave the airlines a $25 billion bailout, with each of them negotiating its specific requirements and limitations with the administration. To get the bailout, airlines may not fire or furlough employees until September 2020, so we can expect the pilot surplus to exist in October 2020. They cannot buy back more of their stock (which is how they spent a lot of their tax cut windfall) until September 2021 and cannot reward their executives until September 2022.

User Fees

Survey-16Buried in the CARES economic stimulus legislation is an Easter egg that gives airlines what they have been working toward for years, relief from the ticket tax that with, the aviation fuel tax, funds the Airport Improvement Program. Perhaps you saw the media releases from aviation’s alphabet organizations warning that aviation’s infrastructure was in peril because the AIP account was quickly being depleted.

Seeking a degree of fairness, the alphabets urged Congress to provide fuel tax relief for a time. Congress hasn’t yet responded to this request, but if it agrees, it might open the door wide to user fees. The path to this outcome is in the last tax cut legislations. All of the cuts that benefited the haves are permanent, and those that benefit the less fortunate have expiration dates.

Don’t be distracted by the $10 billion infusion from the DOT. Like the $350 billion earmarked for small business relief, that won’t last long at all. America must still fund its aviation infrastructure long term, and as they have in the past, the airlines will lobby for user fees as the “fairest” solution, if Congress provides fuel tax relief. If politicians really cared about treating those who elected them equitably, they would keep the fuel tax and make the multitude of fees the airlines charge subject to the ticket tax.

AirVenture Anticipation?

AV06-SMS-228With the Covid curve still climbing in Wisconsin, Governor Tony Evers extended the stay-at-home order until May 26. That greatly reduces the chances that EAA AirVenture Oshkosh will happen this year, for a number of reasons.

The lockdown and social distancing seriously impedes the site work that typically is kicking into high gear about now. And it precludes the arrival of the thousands of volunteers who make the event work. Also affecting the volunteer workforce is their post-Covid employment status—no matter any pilgrim’s passion, food and shelter come first—and their age. The average EAAer is in the demographic most at risk.

Ultimately, miracles happen, but in this case, only time—with testing and a precipitous decline of new infections and hospitalizations—will tell. Given the ineptitude of the national response to the pandemic….

Making smart decisions is the best way to mitigate the Covid consequences, because in this case, death is the only cure for stupid.

The coronavirus is one of Mother Nature’s many faces, none of them sentient beings that pledge allegiance to any political party or ideology. She works on a long-term timeframe, relentlessly taking advantage of every opportunity to propagate. And when something stands in her way, she mutates to avoid the barrier and continues on her way, blowing raspberries at human hubris. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Noise NPRM Proposes New Supersonic Airplane Category

By Scott Spangler on April 6th, 2020 | 3 Comments »

Aerion_AS2_BlueSky_LRAs most of us are coping with the geographic constraints of staying at home, one hopes the FAA did not schedule the release of the NRPM proposing Noise Certification of Supersonic Airplanes [FAA-2020-0316] for March 30, 2020 as an Easter egg or aviation irony. Bu then again, with much of the FAA working from home, which surely gives a greater sense of freedom than when confined in their office cubicles, one never knows.

What is certain, however, is that reading the 65-page NPRM was truly enjoyable because it offered a concise narrative arc on the reawakened interest in civilian supersonic flight. In proposing the noise certification standards, the NPRM proposes a new category of airplanes, Supersonic Level 1.

Add SSL1 to your dictionary of aviation abbreviations and acronyms. It has a maximum takeoff weight of 150,000 pounds and a maximum operating cruise speed of Mach 1.8. And the proposed noise certification requirements apply only to the subsonic landing and takeoff (LTO, another one for your dictionary) cycle standards. This proposal does not change in any way the §91.817, which prohibits the creation of sonic booms over the terrestrial United States.

Irony aside, the NPRM’s timing is important because several companies, such as Aerion Supersonic and Boom Supersonic, are developing supersonic aircraft. And their quest for type certificates cannot proceed without first meeting the supersonic noise requirements, which do not now exist.

Many right now are recalling finger-plugged ears as they watched the Concorde take off for its fly-bys at EAA Oshkosh and asking “Huh?” The NPRM explains that Part 36 still includes noise standards for the Concorde, and the Concorde alone. Even though the Concorde retired from the sky decades ago, its type certificate remains valid.

f-22_2The proposed noise certification regulations are not in any way related to the Concorde standards the FAA issued in 1978. Aviation technology has come a long way since then. Like the military fighters of the era, supersonic flight depended on the fuel-guzzling roar of afterburners. The F-22 introduced the ability to cross the supersonic threshold to supercruise without using afterburner, and that was in the late 1990s. The advancement of airframe and powerplant technology has continued it forward march.

So, what are the proposed SSL1 noise certification standards? The limits are quieter than Stage 4 LTO requirements met by most subsonic jets flying today, but they are a bit louder than the current certification level of Stage 5 for the same aircraft weights. This is an allowance for “the unique technologies and design requirements for supersonic aircraft to maintain long-distance supersonic flight.”

When this all will come to pass is unknown. A safe assumption would be that the NPRM is in the cue for its debut in the Federal Register, and that once published, the public will have 90 days to submit its comments. A speedy conclusion is one thing we can count on. Let’s hope we can once again leave the house before the FAA issues its regulatory decree. – Scott Spangler