In Honor of Veterans Day: Films With My Father

By Robert Mark on November 11th, 2022 | Comments Off on In Honor of Veterans Day: Films With My Father

(Click the player above for audio)

Ed Note: Veterans Day was officially created in 1954 by President Eisenhower as a permanent remembrance of the day World War I ended. You might have heard someone say, “On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month …” November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.” How times have changed.

As a USAF veteran, I was trying to think of a unique way to remember my fellow vets, many of who gave their lives to maintain our democratic way of life. And since I’m allowed to whine here, a bit of advice for those who have never served … please stop using that catchphrase, “Thank You for your service.” It’s patronizing. When you meet a vet, why not ask where they served or perhaps what their role was? It will help them understand that you actually care.

Then our Airplane Geeks and Jetwhine contributor Micah, send this recording in which he explained his dad’s role as a veteran, but also how their mutual love of the movie scores created by Max Steiner helped America remember why we’ve fought the many conflicts of the past 100 years. Many of them had a military focus, which is why we’re talking about them today. If you still have absolutely no idea what kind of films I’m talking about, I’d suggest you check out a few on TCM for a look back in time at how America viewed the conflicts around the globe. You can listen to the audio, or read the script of the podcast below.

Rob Mark


Lew and Micah Engber

Podcast Script

“King Kong, The Gay Divorcee, The Lost Patrol, The Informer, Submarine D-1, Gone With The Wind, Casablanca, They Died With Their Boots On, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, The Caine Mutiny, The Searchers. Does any of those titles sound familiar to you? Yup, they’re all films, from the 1930s ’40s, and ’50s, and they all have at least one thing in common.

Do you know what that is? Well, the thing, I am going for today, the person actually, is Max Steiner. Recognize that name? Don’t be concerned if you don’t, most people wouldn’t; but it’s a name I grew up with. Max Steiner who was born in 1888 and died in 1971, composed over 300 film scores with RKO Pictures and Warner Bros He was nominated for 24 Academy Awards. Why is his name so familiar to me, and why am I talking about a film score composer on The Airplane Geeks podcast? Well, as Jon Ostrower says, “There’s always an aviation angle.”

Some of you, of a certain age, may know what I’m alluding to. We Watch The Skyways by Max Steiner was part of the score to many of my very favorite films.

I love that tune, in fact, for me, it’s one of those Velcro tunes, an earworm. Once I hear it, I can’t get it out of my head for some time. It was the theme music for the films, Fighter Squadron, Dive Bomber, Operation Pacific, Up Periscope, and Submarine D-1 among others, including the 1943 Daffy Duck Warner Brothers cartoon, Yankee Doodle Daffy. Daffy even sings it! Yup, there’re lyrics!

“We watch the skyways, over land and the sea, Ready to fly anywhere the duty calls, Ready to fight to be free.”

OK, so we’re back to why I’m telling you about a song when this forum is all about aviation. I think I can put the blame on our friend, the late Launchpad Marzari. A few months before he flew west, he and I were talking on the phone when he said:

“You know Micah, I always wanted to ask you this. You don’t own an airplane, you don’t fly and have no pilot’s license, you don’t work in the aviation industry and never have, and you were never even in the armed services, how in the world did you ever become an Airplane Geek?”

Now I’d been asked that before but I never really gave it much thought. I usually roll off some kind of answer; “Well you know growing up my mom and dad… yadda yadda yadda….” But in fact, I couldn’t really answer Launchpad when he asked and I just rambled on for a bit as usual. Not that I’m not rambling now, but at least this rambling has a touch more thought to it. But it did get me thinking, and I may have figured it out, at least a little bit of it.

As I may have told you before, my father was a US Air Force retread. After being drafted out of engineering school for World War II, and serving his hitch in the Army Corp of Engineers in Europe, he was discharged an NCO. A few years later, during the Korean conflict, after finishing up his GI Bill-funded degrees in psychology, he was drafted again, this time as an officer in the US Air Force Medical Corps. That was shortly after the Air Force became its own branch of service. Back then, a person being drafted for a second time was referred to as a retread, the way old tires are re-used.

Now you may ask: “How did a man drafted out of a school of engineering end up becoming a psychologist?” I asked that too. That was one of the few questions my father would answer regarding his military service, but he would do so somewhat flippantly. My dad would say, I used to get so angry building bridges in the European theatre, and then being required to blow them up, I just couldn’t be an engineer anymore and wanted to learn more about why I felt that way.”

You see, my father didn’t talk much about his service. As a kid, I had a bunch of questions, and I was fortunate that my relationship with my Dad allowed me to ask them. I was also fortunate that his training and background as a psychologist allowed him to answer in ways, that as a kid, I could understand, but also in ways that allowed him to process some of his own feelings.

There are only a few real stories from his time in the military that I remember him sharing with anyone, including me. One is about how he fell off of a truck in England just before D‑Day which left him with a concussion and hurt his back so badly that it affected him for the rest of his life. He looked back on it as his lucky day. You see, as part of the Army Corp of Engineers my dad would have been one of the first on Omaha Beach. That now fortuitous accident kept him out of the D-Day invasion and Operation Overlord went on without him. Who knows if I would be here if he hadn’t fallen off that truck?

Another one of the few stories he would tell took place post-war; somewhere along the Belgium, Luxembourg German border, he never said exactly where, I don’t think he remembered, or maybe he never really knew. It was after VE Day and things were relatively safe so he was able to go out to a local bar and drink … apparently quite copiously! He told the whole story as a joke about being drunk as a skunk, how he ended up capturing a German Colonel who had not surrendered, and how he confiscated the Colonel’s 1914 32ACP German Mauser sidearm, and Iron Cross. If for some reason you want to hear the details of that story, you can find them in a piece titled Veteran’s Day that I wrote for The Airline Pilot Guy podcast back in 2016. It’s episode number 246.

There are a couple of other stories my dad would sometimes tell. One about how when in the Air Force in the early 1950s, and stationed in Texas, he went flying with a friend who owned his own small airplane. Apparently, they got “disoriented” while flying although he used the word lost, but you and I know pilots never get lost, but can occasionally get disoriented. Anyway, they were lost over the plains of Texas, and back then there wasn’t any real radio communication in personal GA aircraft. They spotted an unmarked runway and set down to get directions. All of a sudden they were surrounded by MPs holding rifles on them. My dad and his pilot buddy explained they were lost and were looking for Austin. The Officer in charge raised his arm, pointing off in the distance, and said “That way, now get outta here.” Many years later my father realized he and his buddy had stumbled upon some secret testing grounds for the atomic cannon.

The only other story I remember him telling me was about the two watches he used to wear. One was given to him by his Aunt Esther just before he was called to basic training in the Army. It never left his wrist while he was overseas and he wore it on and off until he died. Aunt Esther was my brother Rick’s Godmother; Rick has that watch now.

The other watch, my father described as his first professional fee as a psychologist. He was in the Air Force and a friend of a friend needed counseling. Technically he wasn’t allowed to take her on as a patient but my father was always ready to do what he could to help. He wouldn’t accept any pay but treated her as a client as one would in private practice. He never really told much else of the story but explained that when treatment was completed, he was given a gift for all those counseling sessions. It was a Longines watch he would alternate wearing with the one given to him by his Aunt Esther. I still have that watch today.

Now I loved those stories and still do. Sometimes I can hear my Dad telling them over again in my head, and he’s been gone close to 15 years as I write this. But I had more questions about his service, questions that as I think about it, he probably couldn’t really answer for so many different reasons. He’d seen the elephant, I hadn’t, and never would. But he did want me to understand and help me the best he was able; so to do that we would watch films together. He actually took me out to the “movies” to see The Longest Day and The Great Escape; he also took me to the theatre to see Tora, Tora, Tora, and Patton.

Most of the time though, we would watch movies on TV at home. The 1949 film Battleground with Van Johnson, John Hodiak, Ricardo Montalbán, George Murphy, and James Whitmore was one of his favorites, and one he said was the most realistic. He told me that the first time he saw it in the theatre, after returning from the war, he was taking cover behind the seats as he was watching it because it felt so real to him.

Now I know that most of the films I’ve mentioned so far are ground-based, I haven’t even started on the list of sea-based films. And don’t even get me started about the submarine films my father and I would watch together. If you do I’ll tell you how Captain Edward L. Beach Jr. the author of Run Silent Run Deep was a distant friend of the family, but I’ll save that for another time.

But then again, even one of the submarine films I used to watch with my dad, one I still watch regularly is aviation related. The plot of the 1943 film Destination Tokyo, with Cary Grant, John Forsythe, John Garfield and my favorite, Alan Hale, Sr., is all about a secret submarine mission to get weather readings over Tokyo for the Doolittle raid. Plus, it was in that film that I saw a PBY for the first time. It became one of my favorite aircraft right then.

The 1945 John Ford film They Were Expendable, featuring Robert Montgomery, John Wayne Donna Reed, and my two favorites Jack Holt and Ward Bond was all about PT Boats. But it was in that film I saw my first C‑47. I’ve been in love with DC-3s and C-47’s ever since.

In that 1965 epic naval film, In Harms Way, Otto Preminger’s attempt to try to make a Navy version of The Longest Day, we watched Kirk Douglas fly a PBJ solo from the right-hand seat. (Even then I was a critic of aviation flight sequence inconsistencies) And by the way, a PBJ is not a sandwich; it’s the naval version of a B-25.

But my dad and I would watch a bunch of military aviation films too. Some that come to mind include God is My Co-Pilot, Air Force, Bombardier, A Guy Named Joe, The Wings of Eagles, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, The Flying Tigers, 12 O’clock High, Flying Leathernecks, This Man’s Navy, which by the way was also known as both Airship Squadron No. 4. and Lighter Than Air, yes, it had three titles. But Command Decision, Strategic Air Command, and Fail Safe also come to mind.

Oh, and in getting back to what I started this whole thing with, let’s not forget Max Steiner, the films Dive Bomber, with Errol Flynn, Fred MacMurray, and Ralph Bellamy, and Fighter Squadron, with Edmond O’Brien, and Robert Stack, both feature We Watch The Skyways as the musical theme running throughout both of them.

Now when I was growing up, I never realized that while my father always enjoyed these films, and really liked to see them with me, they also affected him in ways I truly didn’t or maybe couldn’t understand. Not that he had PTSD, but remember, he had seen the elephant. Maybe I was dense but it wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I started to get it, maybe just a bit.

In 1998 when Saving Private Ryan came out I went to see it right away. As you all know, it was a fabulous film. I knew my father would love it and I was going to be visiting him a few weeks after I saw it for the first time. I suggested that we go see it together. My father was excited to go, both because he really wanted to see the film, and also, I think because he wanted to see it with me, his oldest son, who he had shared so many films with as I was growing up. This time though, it was me sharing a film with him.

Now my dad knew this would be the second time I would be seeing Saving Private Ryan, I had told him all about it without giving away any of the plot twists and turns, and I told him how I thought he would really enjoy it. But it was during that film when I realized that while he did enjoy watching films with me, they really did affect him in ways I just never formerly understood; you see, all of a sudden while we were watching the film, he was sitting next to me quietly crying. I asked him if he wanted to leave but he said no. We sat through the rest of the movie and afterward my dad told me he really enjoyed it and thanked me profusely for taking him. Although we’d bonded over films all our lives together, this was unique for us both. We talked about Saving Private Ryan a lot, for some time to come, but as you might imagine, we never did discuss how or why it affected him as it did. But we both knew it was a special time for us as father and son.

So in a long way around, and to answer Launchpad’s question from well over a year ago, the same question I’ve been asked by so many of you: How did I become an airplane geek? I think it was through questions and answers, watching films with my father, and perhaps a few other things. And I suppose that’s about the best answer I can give you.

For the Airplane Geeks, here in Portland, Maine,

This is your Main(e) man, Micah


By Robert Mark on October 31st, 2022 | Comments Off on A TRIP DOWN A DARK ALLEY


Flying on-demand Part 135 airplanes can be a tough life, with pilots often spending their day waiting for that firefighter-like call to swing into action—calls that always seem to happen near the end of the day. We fly in all kinds of weather, often into unfamiliar airports at a passenger’s whim, but this Uber-like service is why we exist.


Turbine Taxi

Illustration by John Sauer

I’d just walked in my back door under a beautiful starry sky, so all seemed right with the world when the pager went off around 11 p.m. The scheduler said Tommy and I were headed out in the company’s new Citation S/II—new to this company, at least. The trip would be easy: Depart the Waukegan, Illinois, airport; drop one passenger at an airport in central Michigan, and come home. A quick weather check said it would be as beautiful a VFR night in Michigan as it was in Chicago.

Since the trip over was my leg and I’d already checked the weather, the only thing left was a look at our airport destination, where our passenger said his wife would be waiting in her car on the ramp. It was a single-runway, non-towered field, so it should be easy in and easy out. Climbing away from Chicagoland, we could already see the lights lining Lake Michigan’s eastern shore. In the descent, Tommy tried calling Unicom, but since it was nearly 1 a.m., no one answered. The winds were calm, so I chose to land straight in on the nearly 5,000-foot Runway 9.

Tommy clicked the microphone a few times to make sure the runway lights stayed on, which we needed since there weren’t any other lights even remotely close to the airport. The touchdown was hard, characteristic for me in this airplane. The S/II had a different wing than the other Citation IIs we usually flew, and I just never seemed to get the hang of the darned thing. Next time, I guess, I thought as I turned south off the active runway. This place was dark—really dark. No taxiway lights, just green reflectors sticking up on plastic poles to outline the way. “We’re taking it easy,” I said, with Tommy quickly nodding. I left all the landing and taxi lights on and slowly came to a stop on the taxiway.

“There,” he said. “Aren’t those headlights?” Almost in response, the headlights flashed. I flashed the taxi lights in response, feeling confident now about where we were headed. There wasn’t much room to turn the aircraft, but I managed to get it pointed outward from the ramp before I shut down. Our passenger was eager to be gone and we were soon watching his car’s taillights disappearing down a dark road. I used our big Maglite for the walk-around as Tommy climbed into the left seat for the trip home.

With both engines spinning, Tommy taxied out. We’d decided to depart west, which meant simply reversing our taxi back in—which is, of course, what we thought we were doing. But with nothing except reflective tape on some sticks, the going was slow. I looked down at the approach plate to be sure I had the correct frequency dialed in to call the center after takeoff. When I looked up, I almost felt a bit of vertigo, since the path ahead looked different from what I was expecting. It looked like buildings appearing in the lights.

“What the heck is that?” I asked Tommy.

“We’re OK,” he said. “I remember seeing that coming in.” I think the quizzical look was still plastered on my face as the airplane stopped. “Uh, oh,” he said. Definitely buildings. We’d made a wrong turn somewhere and were now pointing down a narrow taxiway with T-hangars on our right. As we both looked at the buildings around us, Tommy did the smart thing by setting the brakes and shutting down. Climbing out with the Maglite again, we looked ahead and saw the dead end. The taxiway was maybe half again as wide as the Citation’s wide gear stance.

There was no clear way to turn the airplane around—at least, no way we could see where we wouldn’t fall off the edge of the taxiway. So much for getting into bed early, I thought. Of course, we also had no idea how we’d even call anyone for help at 1 a.m. We looked at each other as we circled the airplane again, flashing the Maglite in all directions—as if, by chance, it might point us toward the way out. No such luck. “Well,” Tommy said, “We could try a three-point turn.” I looked at him a bit quizzically.

“We start up, then I crank in a hard left turn with you outside. All you do is stop me before I go off the pavement. Then just before I shut down, I’ll cock the nosegear full right.”

“And then we do what, exactly?” I asked.

“We push it back until we’re almost off the pavement going backward.” It was about 1:30 a.m. in Michigan, but this kind of made sense to me. A few minutes later, we tried the turn, me acting as a ramp agent. When Tommy shut down and exited the airplane, we walked over to the back end to see how far we could push the jet and stay on the pavement. We figured about 10 feet, so I marked a spot by tossing my hat down under the belly, so we could both see it while we were pushing.

Even light on fuel and with no people aboard, pushing a Citation is nothing like shoving around a 172. After much grunting and shoving and heave-hoing, though, the darned thing started to move…slowly. We saw our mark and stopped pushing the jet. It stopped almost immediately. Tommy hoped back in, fired up the right engine, and repeated the three-point turn procedure. We almost made it out on the first try, but we had to shut down and push one more time. After much grunting and shoving and heave-hoing, though, the darned thing started to move…slowly. 

Finally, as we taxied out, it became clear how we missed the turn. But I was more amazed at how we’d gotten out of this mess. For months after that, when Tommy and I would see each other in the crew room, one of us would ask, “Been to Michigan lately?” and laugh.

Rob Mark

Thanks to AOPA’s Turbine Pilot for allowing us to reprint the story, including the great artwork of John Sauer

Act Now! Send Your Airline Seat Size Comments to the FAA

By Scott Spangler on October 26th, 2022 | Comments Off on Act Now! Send Your Airline Seat Size Comments to the FAA

If traveling from stockyard to stockyard on winged cattle cars is a fate just shy of death, drop what your are doing right now and click this link to the Federal Register: Request for Comments in Minimum Seat Dimensions Necessary for Safety of Air Passengers (Emergency Evacuation).

The comment deadline is November 1, 2022.

My apologies for the short notice, but I just discovered this request. Attempting optimism, it is my hope that if enough people share their opinions on the evolutional shrinkage of the airline seat that the FAA will abandon its inverse relationship to the evolutionary growth of the average human, especially in America.

I’m not holding my breath, however, because I refuse to wedge my 6-foot-5, 215-pound frame into an airline seat, especially now that I’m older. Closing out my sixth decade on the planet, my 38-in inseam no longer folds up like it used to, and investigating deep vein thrombosis, blood clots often created by extended immobility in cramped environments is not something I’m eager to investigate.

After decades of complaints (not to mention seemingly unprovoked cabin violence that has blossomed during the pandemic), Congress told the FAA it has to come up with rules for airline seat dimensions, including width, length, and pitch. That last one is measured from a fixed position on one seat to the same position on the seat in front of it.

These measurements vary by airline. For the major US carriers, the width ranges from 17 inches to 20 inches. Pitch ranges from 28 inches to 38 inches, with the extra room costing you more money. If you want to learn how much room you will not have before buying your ticket, visit SeatGuru, which lets you explore the configuration of 1,278 aircraft.

Responding to Congress, the FAA chartered the Emergency Evacuation Standards Aviation Rulemaking Committee to gather the needed information. The information included a report of the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute’s simulated emergency cabin evacuations, which certification requirements must be accomplished in 90 seconds after the airliner comes to a complete stop.

In a March 31, 2022 letter to Congress, the FAA reported that “The ARC reviewed nearly 300 real-world evacuation events that occurred over the previous decade. The ARC found the overall level of safety in emergency evacuations to be very high, but made 27 recommendations to the FAA related to how the safety of such evacuations could be improved.”

In late 2019 to early 2020, the FAA “conducted simulated emergency evacuations at the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI). In these tests, seat size and spacing did not adversely affect the success of emergency evacuations.” But these were not real-world simulations because “the CAMI tests relied on able-bodied adult subjects under age 60, consistent with regulatory and ethical standards for human testing. As a result, they provide useful, but not necessarily definitive information, regarding the effects of seat dimensions on safe evacuations for all populations.”

It would be interesting to see the results if the FAA selected its simulated evacuation participants from any TSA cattle car queue in the country. With that, if you’ll excuse me, I need to share my opinions with the FAA. I hope you’ll do the same. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Celebrating Ernie Gann’s Typewriter on His Birthday

By Scott Spangler on October 17th, 2022 | Comments Off on Celebrating Ernie Gann’s Typewriter on His Birthday

When I returned home from the EAA Aviation Museum to start writing this I discovered that today, October 13, 2022, is Ernest K. Gann’s 112th birthday. This is significant because he owned the subject of my photo session, an Olivetti Lettra 22 ultraportable typewriter made in Ivrea, Italy, one of the most iconic—but least appreciated—artifacts in the museum’s collection. Without this seemingly archaic mechanical machine, we would not have been able to read any of the approximately four dozen titles engraved in brass plates affixed to the typewriter’s shell, a writer’s equivalent of a fighter pilot’s victories.

Many of those books stand shoulder to shoulder on a shelf in the “Chicken House,” Gann’s writing studio at Red Hill Farm on San Juan Island, Washington, his home for 26 years. After he passed on December 19, 1991, his wife, Dodie, donated the studio’s content to the EAA Museum, which used photos and other resources to recreate it as close as they could to the last time Gann settled into the worn black leather chair. In the typewriter was the first few lines of a new composition, “In Care of the Postmaster,” whose typescript title page and a few others cover up notes handwritten on pages torn from a spiral bound notebook.

Gann wrote his first book, the Sky Roads guide in 1940, followed by two more guides, All American Aircraft in 1941 and Getting Them into the Blue in 1942, before he started turning his airborne adventures into fiction, starting with Islands in the Sky in 1944. These books, plus Blaze of Noon and Benjamin Lawless were not written on the trim little typewriter on a small table in the recreated Chicken House. Olivetti did not introduce its Lettra 22 until 1949. But it captured the words that composed 20 works of fiction, memoir, and autobiography (not to mention magazine articles and screenplays) from Fiddler’s Green in 1950 to 1989’s The Black Watch: The Men Who Fly America’s Secret Spy Planes.

Looking at the empty chair I can clearly see Gann sitting there, referring to his notes and contemplating his next words, or perhaps pounding out the next typescript draft that incorporates all of the revision he penciled into the preceding draft. Perhaps this is only something another word merchant might appreciate. Gann wrote a bit about his writing life in his 1978 autobiography, A Hostage to Fortune. Although he passed before computers became a thing, my guess is that he’d agree that these digital devices are not the most productive writing machines.

Connected to the internet, a computer pushes content into your sphere of awareness, an eager diversion from the creative task at hand. A typewriter, on the other hand, almost addictively draws words and ideas from almost anyone who lays their fingers on the keys. Yes, computers have their place and purpose. But in creating a world of words, Richard Polt, author of The Typewriter Revolution: A Typist’s Companion for the 21st Century, said it best: “A typewriter still has a computer beat when you want a self-contained, secure, lasting, physical writing machine. Turn to a typewriter and you’ll find yourself focusing on writing—the reason the machine exists. You’ll find the impatience and anxiety of your computing mind ebbing away. You’ll gradually stop wanting to be interrupted. You’ll concentrate on the page.”

I wonder what aviation would look like today had we not had the inspiration Ernie Gann provided in such works as The High and the Mighty, Band of Brothers, and The Aviator. So, Ernie, here’s to you on your birthday. Thanks for paying attention to the world around you—and for learning how to type. –Scott Spangler, Editor.

Aeronautical Decision Making: Hurricane Edition

By Scott Spangler on October 3rd, 2022 | 4 Comments »

It seems a safe assumption that the only people who have not yet seen the spectrum of aviation damage wrought by Hurricane Ian are those have endured its torments and await reconnection to their electrical and data grids. The rest of us have witnessed the destruction at almost every turn thanks to our connections to various news and social media networks.

Regardless of how Mother Nature has reconfigured a number of airplanes, the question that arises from each of them is What was aeronautical decision-making process that led them to ride out the storm rather than run to some safe roost beyond Ian’s reach? My motivation here is not criticism but curiosity.

Given an airplane’s aerodynamic proclivities, an unsecured airplane is at risk whenever the ambient windspeed exceeds the airplane’s stalling speed. To a point, effective tiedowns will keep an outdoor airplane in place to a point, but when the breeze is blowing 150 mph or so, Kevlar tiedowns or some secret hurricane knot will not keep Mother Nature from tearing their attachments from the airframe.

Staying put seems more reasonable if the airplane lives in a closed structure that meets Florida’s hurricane building codes. But in a number of images of them, their doors were probably removed by flat plate lift they generated as Ian passed through, suggests that they were not totally safe from injury. Yes, tornadoes caused a lot of the damage, but there is a difference between a standalone Midwestern tornado that is rarely more than a mile wide and scribes a single line across the landscape and the tornadoes spinning out of a 150-mph storm that is a hundred miles or more in diameter.

Certainly, those living in the storm’s path had adequate warning, enough time to make a run for it before the weather became unflyable. Even the local news here in Wisconsin provided enough forecast information that getting out of town was advised and recommended. When NOAA hurricane hunters repositioned Kermit, their WP-3D, from its Lakeland, Florida, homebase to Houston, Texas, that seemed a significant action worth uncounted warning words.

For some, procrastination certainly played a part in their aeronautical decision making. Given the number of interviews of people who decided to ride out the storm in their homes, self-delusion seems to be another possible factor because almost all of them said, “We didn’t think it was going to be this bad.” Really? Given all the warnings and forecasts shared by every media meteorologist in the nation? Did they think that Ian was some woke weather-guesser conspiracy?

Logically, the only reason for staying put that seems valid is the airworthiness of the pilot or aircraft. In this situation, other considerations are more important than an airplane. If there are others I am not aware of, please share them in the comments. I’d really like to know because this information goes into the decision-making database I’ll draw from should I face a similar situation. Ultimately, making the correct decision is important because, after we make them, we are fully responsible for their consequences. –Scott Spangler, Editor


Callback Challenge: Keeping Your Head in the ADM Game

By Scott Spangler on September 19th, 2022 | Comments Off on Callback Challenge: Keeping Your Head in the ADM Game

ADM—Aeronautical Decision Making—is a system of thinking that benefits all aspects of life on the ground as well as in the air because it is a reflective way of processing situations composed of often uncertain variables. These situations prepare us to deal with those like them in the future, and these lessons need not be learned firsthand.

Callback, the monthly newsletter from NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System, should be required reading by any aviator interested in safety, and the issues I most look forward are headlined “What Would You Have Done?” It presents the salient setup situation reported by pilots flying general aviation, commercial, and business aircraft, and each of them gives the opportunity to decide how you would have addressed them.

After thinking about the action you would have taken, clicking on “The Rest of the Story” you learn how the reporting pilot dealt with it. “Bear in mind that their decisions may not necessarily represent the best course of action, and there may not be a “right” answer,” the newsletter warns, noting that its “intent is to stimulate thought, training, and discussion related to these reported incidents.”

Some of the first-half stories are concise and intriguing, like this one from a Boeing 737-700 pilot, with the cryptic headline of “Communication Once Again,” which said: “[We were] midway down the runway on takeoff. A regional aircraft…stated, “Using the afterburners, huh?” The first thing that popped into my mind was some sort of flaming engine problem, and my ADM mindset says check the engine gauges for a problem, see where we were relative to the V1 decision speed, and consider aborting the takeoff, and do in less time than it took my to type this sentence.

It seems my decision wasn’t far off, given The Rest of the Story: “Since we were empty with no passengers and not much fuel, we were accelerating quickly, and thus, his comment made sense. Upon rotation, the Tower asked the regional aircraft, “What was that you said?” He responded, “Looks like [Company] is using afterburners; a six-foot flame was coming out of the back of the #2 engine.” Upon reaching cleanup altitude, we ran all the appropriate checklists and returned back to ZZZ. The fire trucks were called by ATC, and they performed an inspection upon taxiing clear of the runway. We were cleared to taxi to the gate.… The event was entered in the logbook, and Maintenance, Dispatch, and the Chief Pilots were notified. The regional aircraft could have been more clear in his comments, and we could have aborted the takeoff at low speed.”

But the more important lesson, as a GA pilot who will never fly a real live 737, is to not be cute or humorous when observing a long finger of flame shooting from a civilian airliner not known to be equipped with afterburners. Something along the lines of, “737, your right engine is puking fire,” would have been more attention getting and helpful to the pilot making the takeoff.

The other situations in this month’s ADM challenges are equally interesting, but I won’t spoil the learning experiences for you. Check them out for yourself, and if you haven’t already, subscribe to Callback. It’s free. –Scott Spangler, Editor

The Ultimate Airline Mileage Run

By Robert Mark on September 12th, 2022 | Comments Off on The Ultimate Airline Mileage Run

It’s been slightly more than a year since I’ve flown on an airliner. I certainly didn’t miss airline travel in the middle of the pandemic, but this summer’s cancellation and delay insanity created an avoidance mindset that’s pale by comparison. If my daughter didn’t live 2,000 miles away, I’d still be avoiding the airlines now that they’ve added unreliability to their bag of tricks. But I digress …

Then Brian Coleman and his buddy Micah Engber approached me with this story … one about essentially trying to fly the longest airline trips possible … and on United Airlines (my favorite airline, not) no less. I had to read the story. Brian, it seems, wants to earn United’s Lifetime Premier 1K status. The airline geeks who attempt this sort of whacky flying call this a mileage run. Brian defined a mileage run as, “A trip taken for the sole purpose of earning frequent flyer miles or points to maintain or bump the traveler up to the next status level. The trip can head anywhere in the world. The destination simply doesn’t matter.  In a mileage run, only the acquisition of miles for status is important.”

And why would anyone plant their butt in an airline seat for hours on end … for fun? Read on.



The Ultimate Mileage Run

My Journey to United Premier 1K Status: Is It Worth Flying More Than 3 Million Miles?

By Brian T. Coleman along with Micah Engber

As of this moment, I’m 211,847 miles short of having flown 3 million miles with United Airlines. Having spent so much time on United aircraft, I asked myself the ultimate question … would I be willing to fly those final miles just to achieve Lifetime Premier 1K status? I of course say yes. But would you be willing to fly 3 million actual butt-in-seat, miles for the same status?  Am I the only crazy one here (my friends think I am!)

Brian Coleman awaits his next flight at LAX

Premier 1K status translates into lifetime benefits that include pre-boarding, free checked bags, complimentary domestic upgrades, no change fees – ever, 320 Plus Points, and a few other jewels.

To me though, achieving 1K status is about much more than just perks. I believe in the importance of goals and this has been one of mine since I reached the 2 million mile mark. I also believe the additional lifetime benefits over the life of the Platinum status I currently hold are worth the risks and costs.

About the Money

Lifetime 1K status will cost me approximately $20,000 to fly these 300,000 miles. Excluding periodic sales that I will take advantage of, the two most cost-effective routes for me are Los Angeles to Singapore (SIN – approx. 17,740 miles), and Los Angeles to Johannesburg (JNB – approx 20,870 miles). These routes have the lowest cost per mile.

Route Roundtrip Cost Total Miles Cost / Mile
LAX – SFO – SIN (thru San Francisco) $800 17,740 4.50 cents per mile
LAX – EWR – JNB (thru Newark) $1,200 20,870 5.75 cents per mile

Here’s the arithmetic. The average roundtrip flight should yield me 19,305 miles ((20,870 + 17,740) / 2 = 19,305 average miles). That means I must fly 16 roundtrips. If the average roundtrip economy ticket costs $1,000 (($800 + $1200) / 2 = $1,000),  I will spend $16,000 on 16 United tickets. I estimated airport parking, hotels, and miscellaneous expenses will add another $4,000, for a total of $20,000 total for the project.

About the Rewards

In my view of the frequent flyer game, the most important benefit of lifetime 1K status is the United Plus Points that can be used for domestic and international upgrades.

                 United’s Polaris Business Class

For example, when I buy International Premium Plus tickets, I can upgrade 10 segments to Polaris Business Class. That works out to five round-trip tickets every year. I can also upgrade eight International Economy segments to Polaris Business Class … for the rest of my life. That’s four round-trip tickets every year.

On average, an International Premium Plus ticket costs about $1,500. An international business class ticket runs more than $3,500, making each upgrade worth at least $2,000. If I fly four round trips a year, that makes these upgrades worth at least $8,000 ($2,000 upgrade value * 4 trips = $8,000 value). Therefore, my payback will be 2.5 years ($20,000 expense / $8,000 value = 2.5 years).

Happily Journaling

Since the benefits are worth the expenses, to me, I also decided to document my adventures and share what I’ve learned by creating a podcast I called, “The Journey Is The Reward.” On this podcast, my friend, occasional contributor, and Airplane Geeks co-host, my Main(e) Man Micah Engber (he lives in Maine BTW), discusses my experiences on these mileage-run flights. We also share aviation industry tips and tricks, explore hotel frequent guest programs, answer questions from listeners, and generally kibitz about travel, aviation, and anything else that comes to mind during the show. It’s great fun. Now I just hope United doesn’t change the program.

I hope you’ll be inspired to think about your frequent flyer status and how you can use it to your advantage like gaining the various elite status levels and the benefits that come with. Follow along on the journey, as Micah and I document the world’s largest “mileage run” at The Journey Is The Reward Podcast.

Recommended Reading: Rinker Buck’s Flight of Passage

By Scott Spangler on September 5th, 2022 | Comments Off on Recommended Reading: Rinker Buck’s Flight of Passage

Published in 1997, Rinker Buck let the memories of his cross-country flight from New Jersey to California in a 1946 Piper PA-11 age for 30 years before sharing them in Flight of Passage. Like a fine single-malt whisky, time has refined the raw spirit of the 1966 cross-country flight the 15-year-old Rinker made with his 17-year-old brother and new private pilot, Kernahan. The brothers stripped the family Cub to its skeleton and rebuilt and recovered it the winter before they flew it from New Jersey to California and back.

Nuance and perspective are the rewards earned through the passage of time, and they are essential ingredients of beneficial reflection of a life already lived. Living in the moment is a fulfilling experience, and in aviation, it is a crucial component of safety. But it does little for appreciation of any flight of passage, especially as they are transpiring in what one might consider the white lightning of life. Over time, details subsumed by more pressing events will surface and become more relevant when viewed through the context of time and subsequent experience.

Nostalgia is another ester of time, especially for pilots of a certain age, those who started flying before the GPS era. The Buck boys traversed the nation in a Cub sans electrical system or radio. Rinker was the navigator. With a shopping bag full of aeronautical charts, he found the way to San Diego using pilotage and, across the trackless desert, dead reckoning. The anxiety resulting from the unpredictable accuracy of flying a course measured with time, speed, and distance, was succinctly clear in Rinker’s writing. And it really made me want to go flying.

Every pilot has flights that live in memory for one reason or another. As a student, I was apprehensive of pilotage and dead reckoning because I’m more comfortable with words than numbers. And then, on June 3, 1976, I made a short 1.4-hour cross-country flight from California’s Long Beach Airport (LGB) to Whiteman Airport (WHP) in Pacoima in the northeastern quadrant of the San Fernando Valley using these fundamental navigation skills. I made the flight on clenched cheeks, but when the landmarks led me to Whiteman, and I arrived within minutes of my estimation, taking a step up in self-confidence was my reward.

Since then, pilotage was my preferred form of navigation when VFR. My memory is filled with flights around the Midwest. Most of them were not unlike the Bucks’s flight of passage because I only turned on radios when I had to communicate with ATC. And that’s the great thing about aviation, appropriate to the airspace requirements, pilots can decide how they will interface with technology. Maybe this is why backcountry flying has become so popular, and why new airplanes designed for this realm, like Van’s RV-15, have been overwhelmed by this community of aviators.

Unfortunately, pilots today cannot relive one nostalgic aspect of aviation. When the Bucks flew west in 1966, red 80-octane avgas (do you remember that?) was 39 cents a gallon, Rinker writes. Their 85-hp Cub had a 10-gallon wing tank in addition to the 12-gallon fuselage tank, so it cost them $8.58 to top it off, which is, give or take some cents depending on where you live, what a single gallon of 100LL will cost pilots today. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Words Versus Military Tuskegee Top Gun Actions

By Scott Spangler on August 22nd, 2022 | Comments Off on Words Versus Military Tuskegee Top Gun Actions

President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981 on July 26, 1948. It mandated the desegregation of the US military. Truman stood firm in the face of pushback from politicians and military officers of all ranks from all branches who opposed an integrated military. “I am asking for equality of opportunity for all human beings, and as long as I stay here, I am going to continue the fight,” he wrote in response.

The order concluded: “It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin. This policy shall be put into effect as rapidly as possible, having due regard the time required to effectuate any necessary changes without impairing efficiency or morale.”

The United States Air Force was not even a year old when Truman signed his Executive Order, but its inaugural secretary, W. Stuart Symington, supported it. In December 1949, the Air Force reported that the number of integrated units had doubled between June and August of that year. Ebony magazine wrote that this effort represented the “swiftest and most amazing upset of racial policy in the history of the US military.”

In January 1949, the Air Force held its first aerial gunnery competition, then called Top Gun, at Las Vegas Air Force Base, now known as Nellis, said Lt. Col. James Harvey III (above), in the AARP Reporting for Duty YouTube episode, The Untold Story of the First Top Gun Competition. Now 98, he wears the red blazer of the Tuskegee Airmen, of which he was one, and ball cap embroidered with “1st Top Gun Winner – 1949 P-47.”

The competition was open to all fighter groups; they would send their top three pilots and an alternate. The 82nd Fighter Group team flew P-51 Mustangs. The teams from the 27th, 52nd, and 325th fighter groups flew the hot, new P-82 Twin Mustang. The team from the 332nd, Harvey, Alva Temple, Harry T. Stewart Jr., and Halbert Alexander, flew the obsolete P-47 Thunderbolt.

Being phased out of active duty, and with no war to fight, the Thunderbolts competed in a gunnery contest with no gunfights. But the pilots were motivated, Harvey said. Before the team left for the contest, the squadron commander, Benjamin O. Davis Jr., said, “If you don’t win, don’t come back.”

The teams would compete in four events: aerial gunnery, shooting at a towed target; strafing a fixed ground panel; dive bombing, skip bombing, and rocket firing. The P-82s of the 27th won the aerial gunnery event with 34.720. Sighting down the Thunderbolt’s nose, and the 332nd was right behind them 32.840.

The P-51s of the 82nd took the lead by winning panel strafing, with the Tuskegee P-47s second. Dive bombing was next, and “No one did good that day,” Harvey said. The positions did not change and the scores of the top two teams were 170.567 to 153.255. Skip bombing was another story. Each member of each member of the 332 team had a perfect score of 6 for 6, putting them in the lead with 353.255.

The 332nd won the final event, rocket firing, giving the team an overall score of 536.588. Behind them were: 82nd 515.010; 27th 475.325; 52nd 253.189; 325th 217.550. When 332nd was announced as the winner, Harvey said, “The room was quiet. No one expected us to win. It was the last time the public would see the trophy for 55 years,” said Harvey, who went on to fly 126 combat missions in Korea and retired in 1965. “Our victory was swept under the rug.”

Historian Zellie Rainey Orr uncovered the trophy and it was put on display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in 2004. Working with the Tuskegee Airmen, AARP’s Wish of a Lifetime learned of Harvey’s story and his wish to visit Nellis and see the 332nd listed first on roster of top gun winners. Working through the Air Force Foundation, AARP realized Harvey’s wish, and on January 11, 2022, a plaque was unveiled at Nellis AFB honoring this historic moment in Tuskegee Airmen history.

Actions speak louder than words in every instance. It took 73 years for the Air Force to recognize the 332nd victory, but the group’s commander, Benjamin O. Davis became the branch’s first black general officer in 1954. He earned his second star in 1959, and a third in 1965. President Bill Clinton awarded a fourth 1998. Tuskegee Airman Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. became the Air Force’s first four star general in 1975, when the branch was just 26 years old. General Charles Q. Brown Jr. became black Air Force chief of staff in 2020, first for any service.

Roscoe Robinson Jr. became the Army’s first black four-star general officer in 1982. Admiral Joseph Paul Reason earned his fourth star in 1996. The Marines promoted their first black officer to general when Michael Langley got fourth star in August 2022, just months before the Corps’ 247th birthday. – Scott Spangler, Editor.

Wings Set Aviation Movie Standard in 1927

By Scott Spangler on August 8th, 2022 | Comments Off on Wings Set Aviation Movie Standard in 1927

Much has been made of the actors portraying naval aviators in Top Gun: Maverick being filmed in the aft seat of an F-18 Super Hornet to capture the sagging distortion of real-life g-forces. Compare that to the challenges faced by Charles “Buddy” Rogers who, in 1927, learned to fly so the camera operator, sitting backwards in the front cockpit of a World War I-era biplane, could capture him stick-and-ruddering his way through the dogfights choreographed for Wings. (And he kept flying and was a World War II Navy flight instructor.)

Wings was the last of the great silent movies and the first to win the Oscar for Best Picture at the inaugural Academy Awards in 1929. To recoup its $2 million cost ($33 in 2022 money), Paramount released it three times in three different years: The New York premiere in August 1927, in Los Angeles in January 1928, and across the United States in January 1929. Paramount released it a fourth time in 2012 with the restored original.

Available from several different sources, I recommend the DVD because it includes a special feature. To more fully appreciate this remarkable film, watch the special feature before the 144-minute restoration. While Rogers learned to fly for his role, the film’s director, William A. Wellman (right), and Richard Arlen, the other male lead, were already pilots. Wellman was a World War I pilot who saw no combat but earned the nickname of Wild Bill. Arlen flew with the Royal Canadian Flying Corps.

The drama focused on the two men, one rich, the other middle class, who were in love with the same woman, who was not Clara Bow, who had top billing. It introduced the world to Gary Cooper, whose first 90 seconds on film as a flying cadet who perished on a training flight flying figure eights, led to his star-crossed career. But the real star was Harry Perry, the cinematographer who figured out how to overcome the challenges of air-to-air movie making. And then there was the squad of “stunt pilots,” led by Rod Rogers. One of them, Hoyt Vandenburg, credited only in IMDb, taught Rogers to fly for Wings and went on to become the U.S. Air Force chief of staff from 1948 to 1953.

Vandenburg was a lieutenant stationed at Kelly Field in San Antonio, where Wellman filmed Wings with War Department support. Thomas-Morse MB-3s stood in for most of the good guys and Curtiss P-1 Hawks wore the Iron Crosses of the bad guys. More than 300 pilots participated in the aerial sequences, most of them active-duty Army aviators. And so did more than 3,500 soldiers from Fort Sam Houston (now part of Joint Base San Antonio), who recreated the epic Battle of Saint-Mihiel, on the five-acre training range it lent to the film. To prepare the battlefield, the army dug trenches and used the range for artillery training to give it an authentic shell-cratered surface.

Filming Wings took nine months, mostly because of the weather, specifically the lack of cumulus clouds that provided the necessary contrast and scale for the spectacular aerial footage. All the aviation films that have followed have been mere shadows of what Wings pioneered. And it might all have been lost, like the film’s originals negatives, had not Paramount found and restored a spare negative found in its vaults.

In 2012 Paramount released a meticulously restored hi-def version of the film on DVD and Blu-ray. They remastered and re-orchestrated the original score (remember, this is a silent movie). There’s also a pipe organ music option, which played around the nation’s smaller theaters. Skywalker Sound used archived audio tracks for the sound effects and the restorations includes the Handschiegl color process for the fires that consumed the aerial casualties. If you haven’t seen this masterpiece, treat yourself. You won’t regret it. – Scott Spangler, Editor