EAA Corsair is Korean Vet Flown by Medal of Honor Recipient

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weather Forecasting Suffering Helium Shortage

By Scott Spangler on April 18th, 2022 | Comments Off on Weather Forecasting Suffering Helium Shortage

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

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

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

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

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

Earning a Type Rating Doesn’t Mean You Know Everything

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

By Rob Mark

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

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

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

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

Cessna Citation 650 – photo courtesy Andrew Waldman

The Rubber Meets the Runway

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

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

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

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

“No, I didn’t,” I said defensively.

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

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

Pandemic Aviation Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The First F-15 Was a Reporter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Review: Eric Brown’s Wings on My Sleeve, the Life of Flying’s Forrest Gump

By Scott Spangler on March 7th, 2022 | Comments Off on Review: Eric Brown’s Wings on My Sleeve, the Life of Flying’s Forrest Gump

Like many history-obsessed aviation geeks, I had a passing knowledge of Captain Eric “Winkle” Brown defined by the most common bullet points that most often summarized his life. He was (he passed in 2016 at age 97) a Royal Navy aviator and test pilot who the Guinness Book of World Records says has flown more different aircraft—487—than any other pilot. (He also logged an astounding 2,407 landings on aircraft carriers.) So, when I came across his book, Wings of My Sleeve, during a regular reconnoiters of Half-Price Books, I bought it.

What captivated me was not the vast and diverse list of aircraft he’s flown, but from the people he’s met, flown with, and interrogated. Winkle is, without a doubt, the Forrest Gump of aviation. Born in Edenborough, Scotland, his father fought World War I with the Royal Flying Corps. A Royal High School student, Brown went to the 1936 Olympics with his father, who was invited to aviation events by the World War I pilots who made up the resurgent Luftwaffe. There he met Hanna Reitsch, a world-class glider pilot, and Ernst Udet, a top-scoring ace second only to the Red Baron, who took Brown flying in a Bücker Jungmann and put the two-seat biplane through its aerobatic paces.

In 1937 he entered Edenborough University in an honors course in modern languages, with German as his principal subject. He also joined the University Air Squadron and learned to fly. Visiting Berlin in 1938, he called on Udet, now a major general, who took Brown to see Hanna Reitsch fly the FW-61 helicopter at the International Automobile Exhibition inside the Deutschland Halle in Berlin. That evening, Reitsch some of his Luftwaffe friends celebrated the day at Udet’s apartment.

Recruited by the Foreign Office, he spend his penultimate year, 1939, in an exchange program that placed him for six months in France and another six months in Germany as a student teacher. “One of my favorite outings was to the popular city of Munich, and there I was staying in a small inn that fateful first weekend of September 1939.” That Sunday morning, he awoke to two SS officers at his door who informed Brown that their countries were at war. They knew everything about him, and after three days of interrogation, they abruptly drove him to the Swiss border and returned his MG and said he was free to go.

He drove straight to the recruiting station. With the RAF not yet realizing its need for pilots, Brown signed up with the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy, which was hungry for pilots. Naturally, Brown had to learn how to fly all over again, the Navy way. Trained in fighters, this led him to test flying at Farnborough. And in 1944, he was one of a half dozen pilots who flew the Meteor. The only naval aviator, he was assessing the jet for carrier operations, and spent some time discussing this with Sir Frank Whittle, who designed and built the powerplant.

In March 1945, Brown got a 20-minute demonstration flight in one of the four Sikorsky R-4B helicopters lent to Britain. He and a squadron mate went to pick up two of them days later. When Brown inquired about who was going to teach them to fly this intriguing new machine, the U.S. Army tech sergeant assembling the helos handed him a manual with an orange cover. That’s how he became a rotary-wing test pilot, and in April discussed the results of autorotation air flow patterns through the rotors with Igor Sikorsky, who’d invented the flying machine he was testing.

Reichsmarschall Herman Goring (left) and Udet, head of the technical office of the air ministry, observe aerial maneuvers by the new Luftwaffe on June 16, 1938. (Ullstein Bild via Getty Images)

With World War II reaching its conclusion, Brown, because of his fluency in German and aviation knowledge, became the commanding officer of the Enemy Aircraft Flight at the Royal Aviation Establishment at Farnborough. Its mission was to find and secure essential aviation aircraft and personnel, including Werner von Braun, Willy Messerschmitt, Dr. Heinkel, Focke-Wulf designer Kurt Tank, Hanna Reitsch, and the Horton brothers (leading glider designers), before the Russians did. His team didn’t get everyone on its list, but shortly after the war ended, Brown interrogated Herman Goering and several other high ranking Luftwaffe officers.

Others he interacted with before and after the war ended included Jimmy Doolittle, Grand Admiral Karl Donitz, Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Phillip, and many other notable names. But I won’t spoil these stories for you because reading this 296-page book is worth the time because Brown’s stories about flying 487 different aircraft are equally absorbing.

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



Backcountry Destinations Getting GPS Recognition

By Scott Spangler on February 21st, 2022 | Comments Off on Backcountry Destinations Getting GPS Recognition

Aviation is not exempt from the aphorism that what goes around comes around. When humans first flew on powered wings, their fields of operation were unimproved, what military aviation now describes as austere. (While the people who selected this word might embody its first dictionary definition of “stern and cold in appearance or manner,” they went for the third, “markedly simple or unadorned.”)

As aviation progressed, so did its fields of operation and the technology that helped pilots safely to, from, and between them in ever less visibility. Like most things expensive, this technology trickled down from military and commercial aviation to general aviators. Embracing this new technology and the capabilities it provided, flying IFR with numeric precision was the holy grail starting about half a century ago.

But that technology, from VORs to Loran to GPS driving a digital autopilot with Autoland capabilities, seemingly has excised some of the challenges aviation posed to aviators drawn skyward by opportunities to acquire and test new skills and abilities. What goes around comes around, so these aviators looked back and rediscovered the stick-and-rudder skills that atrophied during the IFR era and challenged themselves at unimproved “austere” backcountry airstrips.

You can’t miss these adventurous folks. They fly airplanes with big tires. And you can see their eyes, which are always up and looking around, the first step in making what they see look safe by moving the stick (or yoke, but usually a stick), rudder, and throttle. In 2003, a band of these adventurous aviators established the Recreational Aviation Foundation as a nonprofit 501(c)3 to support, develop, and promote recreational flying to backcountry airports on public land.

Eschewing the IFR environment doesn’t mean these outward looking aviators discard all of the technology that makes flight within it possible. Only the foolhardy would consciously fly with GPS, even when their desired backcountry destinations were rarely, if at all, were included in the database. But that is about to change. On February 9, Avidyne, Jeppesen, and RAF announced the formation of a team dedicated to include in Jeppesen Nav Databases for aviation GPS systems the information for existing and new backcountry airstrips on public and private land.

The benefits of this are straightforward. “Adding more of those type of airstrips to the Jeppesen Nav databases of aviation GPS units makes it much easier for a larger number of private pilots across the country to gain access and enjoy the benefits and freedom of flying that we all cherish,” said Avidyne President Dan Schwinn. “Our goal is to promote back country flying and to encourage more pilots to join us in the adventure of flight,” said RAF Chairman John McKenna. “Avidyne actively supports the RAF and we really appreciate their efforts working with Jeppesen to enhance the NAV databases so these not-so-mainstream kinds of places can find their way onto the screens of modern avionics.”

But just because pilots will be able to find these backcountry destinations in their GPS database does not mean unprepared pilots can safely visit them. Unlike many of the airports in the destination database, there are no related instrument approaches for the autopilot to fly. In the backcountry, the pass/fail margin for short and soft-field flight operations are tighter than an FAA checkride by several orders of magnitude.

In one regard, backcountry flying is the same as instrument flying. If you go there without the requisite training, proficiency, and planning, bad things will happen. If you think flying an ILS to minimums is “exciting,” consider a VFR approach to Idaho’s Soldier Bar (85U). The 1,650-by-15-foot dirt Runway 7/25 is on a mountain-side shoulder in Big Creek Canyon, 500 feet above the eponymous Big Creek.

Runway 25 has two bumps, one 450 feet from the approach end and another 905 feet from the approach end, just before the runway doglegs to the right. Having landed here once (as a passenger) the pilot emphasized precise speed control and the need to touch down after the first bump, to hitting it would not throw his de Havilland Beaver back into the air. Just to make things interesting, Runway 25 has a 4-degree slope to the right, toward Big Creek. The approach end of Runway 7 also slopes down 4 degrees, and given the dogleg and second bump, prudent pilots NEVER attempt an approach or landing on Runway 7. It should be no surprise that GO-AROUNDS ARE NOT RECOMMENDED.

As it is for every aspect of aviation, acquiring the necessary knowledge and skills are the essential keys to safety and survival. If curious about the backcountry destinations coming soon to your GPS database, a good place to start is the RAF’s Education & Safety page. While knowledge, training, and the accompanying pilot proficiency are crucial, you don’t necessarily need big tires. Everyday rollers will do at many backcountry destinations, although you may want to leave your (wheel) pants at home.

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

Pilot Transitions, Becoming Pluperfect

By Scott Spangler on February 7th, 2022 | Comments Off on Pilot Transitions, Becoming Pluperfect

As a word merchant focused on subjects aeronautical, people often ask if I am a pilot. Because a pilot certificate does not die (unless the holder surrenders or the FAA revokes it), my answer is always affirmative (pilot speak for you betcha!). Usually, the interrogation stops there because it is my turn to pose a question related to the word merchantly conversation I’m pursuing.

But sometimes my interlocuters persist. What do I fly? Almost anything that is currently airworthy that I can get into and apply full control inputs without bruising some part of my impeding anatomy (it’s a short list). Before they ask the next question, I explain that I am not now current. To once again fly as pilot in command I would need a current medical certificate and flight review. Call it pilot present and past tense.

Until recently, present and past tense described my relationship to the verb “to fly.” But a recent diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease has put the possibility of a medical certificate in the realm of not worth the time, tests, money, and bureaucratic calisthenics necessary for a one-year special issuance medical. Closing the door on once again becoming a current, present tense pilot, calls for a new adjective, former, as in “having been previously.”

Pondering this transition, I realized that past perfect is the verb tense that talks about an action that was completed before some point in the past. It is also known as the pluperfect tense. Phonetically, my neurological affliction became Poppa Delta, and before he arrived, just before Covid-19 showed up, I used to fly as pilot in command. Without the possibility of once again exercising those privileges, I am now a pluperfect pilot.

Oh! The conversational possibilities this transition offers. Because I have not surrendered and the FAA has not revoked my pilot certificate, my answer to the primary question remains the same. Only those who persist will learn about Poppa Delta, the pluperfect pilot. This could be fun!

Some may wonder if this transition is a depressing downer? Absolutely not! Never having had the opportunity to become a pilot would be worse by an exponential degree. Now is the time to appreciate all the rewards that becoming a pilot has given me. It is time to recall warmly all of the once-in-a-lifetime adventures with heartfelt gratitude. And while I will never again be a current PIC, as long as I keep getting out of bed in the morning, being a pilot continue its rewards.

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

FAA Finally Delivers NextGen Fuel-Efficient OPD Approaches

By Scott Spangler on January 24th, 2022 | Comments Off on FAA Finally Delivers NextGen Fuel-Efficient OPD Approaches

To reduce aircraft fuel consumption and reduce the aviation’s contribution to the CO2 saturated atmosphere, the FAA implemented 42 new Optimized Profile Descents that allow planes to make a low-power continuous descent from cruising altitude at the nation’s largest airports.

Compared to the traditional and typical stair-step or step-down descent from cruising altitude, the benefits are easily conveyed and understood. Coasting at idle uses less gas than adding power to level off at each lower altitude on the way to the airport.

In its announcement, the FAA estimates that for each group of descents used at an airport, aircraft will save an average of 2 million gallons of Jet-A and eliminate 40 million pounds of emissions by 2050. “That is equivalent to eliminating the fuel and emissions of 1,300 Boeing 737 flights from Atlanta to Dallas.”

Dallas-Fort Worth got its OPD in 2021, along with Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International, Orlando International, Reid International and North Las Vegas, Port Columbus International, New Jersey’s Lakehurst Maxfield, Portland International, and other mid-sized airports. And the FAA will more OPD procedures in 2022.

These efficient procedures are, without argument, a good thing for everyone on the planet, but despite contrary to the announcement’s inference, Optimized Profile Descents are nothing new. As the agency noted in its announcement, the FAA has been developing OPD procedures since 2014, establishing them “in Atlanta, Charlotte, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Northern California, and Washington, D.C.”

And old timers might remember that OPDs, originally called continuous descent approaches, were one of the primary selling points when the FAA introduced its Next Generation Transportation System (NextGen) effort in, what was it, 2008?

All things considered, looking at all the necessary building blocks, all the operational aircraft and ATC equipment and procedures, including Performance Based Navigation, ADS-B, and the unseen infrastructure (like WAAS, for example) that make NextGen work, the introduction of OPDs could still be on the FAA’s to-do list.

Where OPDs stood on the FAA’s initial NextGen timeline really isn’t important now. What matters is that the FAA is carrying through on its NextGen promises for the benefit of all who travel through the air as well as all of us who breathe it.

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FAA Commercial Astronaut Wings Q & A

By Scott Spangler on January 10th, 2022 | 1 Comment »

With 2022 stranded at airports across the land thanks to the cancelation of thousands of flights, let’s pass the time with a game of FAA Commercial Astronaut Questions and Answers. Let’s start with the obvious:

Did you know there was a list of FAA Commercial Human Spaceflight Recognition?

How does one make this list and how many people does it name?

The 30 people on this list have received FAA Commercial Astronaut Wings. Although the FAA did not provide “guidelines, eligibility, and criteria for the administration” of this program until July 20, 2021, it was authorized by the Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984.

This “Act also directs the FAA to encourage, facilitate, and promote commercial space launches and reentries by the private sector, including those involving spaceflight participants.”

To earn these wings, recipients must meet the flight crew qualification and training requirements of 14CFR Part 460, be a crewmember on an FAA/AST authorized flight that rises more than 50 miles above the Earth’s surface, and “demonstrated activities during flight that were essential to public safety, or contributed to space flight safety.”

Who is first on the list?

That would be Mike Melvill, who piloted the first flight of SpaceShipOne at the Mojave Air & Space Port on June 21, 2004. Next is Brian Binnie, who flew SS1 on October 4, 2004, followed by Michael Asbury and then Peter Siebold in SpaceShipTwo a decade later, October 31, 2014.

Who is last to get their wings?

They would be the passengers on the December 11, 2021 flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard flight from Texas’s Launch Site One: Laura Shepard Churchley (daughter of America’s first astronaut, Alan Shepard); Michael Strahan, Evan Dick, Dylan Taylor, Cameron Bess, and Lane Bess.

Who is next?

To get their Commercial Astronaut Wings from the FAA? No one. The passenger on December’s Blue Origin flight, were the last. “With the advent of commercial space tourism era, starting in 2022, the FAA will now recognize individuals who reach space on its website instead of issuing Commercial Space Astronaut Wings,” said the agency’s December 10, 2021 media release.

“Any individual who is on an FAA-licensed or permitted launch and reaches 50 statute miles above the surface of the earth will be listed on the site.” There was no mention of passengers meeting the requirements of Part 460, but after reading them, logic suggests that they remain in effect.

What’s missing is the Astronaut Wings Program requirements to demonstrate “activities during flight that were essential to public safety, or contributed to space flight safety.” It would be interesting to hear how weightless tumbling and catching wayward Skittles by mouth meet those requirements, so maybe that is why the FAA concluded its wings program.

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