Veterans Day as a Time to Reflect

By Robert Mark on November 10th, 2019 | Comments Off on Veterans Day as a Time to Reflect

Funny how another person can make you think differently about something you thought you already understood. For me it’s my time in the military, the U.S. Air Force in the 1960s to be precise.

When Jetwhine contributor Micah Engber mentioned a Veteran’s Day podcast a few months back, I wondered why. He’d never served. But his idea for telling a unique story kept bugging me until I realized there was a non-vet with something to share and me, a real vet … I had nothing.

It took me a while to come to grips with my issues. Turned out I’m pretty burned out on all the sloppy love people seem to have for vets these days, tossing around phrases like “Thanks you for your service,” and sticking “We Support Our Troops” on the butt end of their cars as if that alone makes a difference. President after president seems not to understand that we seem to forget about these men and women once they come back stateside … the one time when Americans could actually put their money where their mouths and their stickers are. It’s the insincerity of it all that makes me want to scream at times. Could it be worse, sure. When I left the Air Force in the 70s, people were generally indifferent to servicemen and women.

Jetwhine publisher Rob Mark and an F-100

Jetwhine publisher Rob Mark and an F-100

But listening to Micah’s stories of his grandfather and dad made me realize the two great wars taught him things in a way I never experienced. My dad wasn’t a vet. I don’t fault him for that since he had a hearing problem from the time he was a kid that made him ineligible. But it meant there was no one in my family to hear stories from or ask questions of.

I think Micah grew up listening to those stories but actually grew up as he listened. He grew when he asked the questions others thought he should have left alone. After this seven-minute piece, I realized I was envious of Micah. While I’m glad he had that time with the guys in his family, I wished I’d been able to share the same thoughts with my family and people who wanted to know more. Maybe I will someday. Until then, have a peaceful Veterans Day.

Rob Mark, publisher


Veterans Day (script) Micah Engber

Here in the USA Veteran’s Day used to be called Armistice Day. It celebrated the end of World War I. We celebrate it on November 11 as the treaty between the Allies and Germany was signed at Compiègne, France on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918. If I understand it correctly, this same day is celebrated in Britain and the Commonwealth countries as Remembrance Day. A far more dignified and appropriate name. As usual, here in the USA we changed the nature of the celebration and have turned it into something else completely, but at least we haven’t changed it to a “Monday Holiday” well, not yet anyway.

I grew up with great respect for Armistice Day at my house. My grandfather, Grandpa Max, served in the US Navy in World War I, and during the Mexican Campaign before that. Some listeners may remember that he and I shared our first-ever flights together in August of 1969, at the age of 73, me at 13.

My father, Lew, was a World War II veteran of the US Army and was a called back to the US Air Force as a retread for Korea. He was rightfully very proud of his service, and I was, and still am quite proud of him as my Dad. He was part of that group of people called “the greatest generation” by newscaster Tom Brokaw, so were most of my mother and father’s friends and family. I was raised by this generation, as well as the generation before, that fought World War I.

As part of “The Greatest Generation” at the age of 18, he was drafted out of his engineering studies at CCNY and landed in England on his 19’th birthday. He would have been one of the first to land on Omaha Beach during D-Day but looking back on it, I suppose he was fortunate to have been injured during the preparations for that invasion; suffering with both head and back trauma that plagued him the rest of his life, fortunately though, it did keep him off the beach that day. I’m not sure I would be here if he weren’t injured then. Those injuries didn’t keep him out of the war though.

After the war, Lew went back to college, but having spent so much time building and destroying bridges in the Army Corp of Engineers, he realized engineering was no longer his passion and he became a psychologist. I suppose in some ways this made him more valuable to the Armed Forces as when he was again drafted, this time as a “re-tread” for the Korean War; he was inducted as a Second Lieutenant for the then newly formed US Air Force Medical Corp. After being introduced by mutual friends, in the summer of 1955, Lew and my mother Harriet were married, I came along a little over a year later.

Now growing up my Dad and I would watch many World War II films together. Some we saw in theatres, some we saw on TV, all of them we would watch together over and over.

While watching those films with my Dad I would ask him questions, questions about his service, about his experience in the war, questions I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to ask. My Dad, being a teacher and a psychologist didn’t discourage me, he knew they were innocent questions and used those times to teach me and tell me about his experiences, as much as he could anyway. I suppose he realized that talking to me about him “having seen the elephant” was good for both of us.

He also taught me the etiquette about asking so I’d have a better understanding of veterans. I think watching those films with my Dad, and him teaching me about “The War” helped give me great respect for our military and the sacrifices they made, and continue to make to this day, in defending we civilians.

Thinking back on that makes me think of the word hero and its definition. No, I’m not talking about the sandwich, something I also learned about from my Dad and “the greatest generation”, I’m speaking of the men, and yes, based on the societal norms of the time, most often men, who risked their own lives to save others.

You see heroes aren’t sports figures or actors or singers. Celebrities aren’t heroes unless the heroism didn’t come from their celebrity status. Heroes are the people doing their job, not thinking or maybe at the time not caring about their own safety when they act to save the lives of others. Most heroes aren’t celebrities and don’t look for nor want that status. Heroes walk among us though, and most often, we, unfortunately, don’t know them. In truth, they probably wouldn’t want to be known, as they don’t think of themselves as heroes. Most would say, I was just doing my job, and to me, that’s what makes them heroes.

Now although my father probably wasn’t a hero to anyone but me, let me tell you what may be an apocryphal story about him. While I was growing up, he owned a 1914 32ACP German Mauser handgun that he captured during the war. I asked him how he got it and he explained that it was all a big mistake.

You see it was after VE Day and Dad was still overseas. He was somewhere along the Belgium Luxembourg German border. Things were safe and he was out at a local pub, “drunk as a skunk” he would say.

He didn’t know much German but while overhearing a conversation at the next table he was sure he strung together enough to know that a German Colonel had not surrendered and was hiding out in a house in the local village.

My drunken father dutifully went to report this to his commanding officer, who was not pleased. The CO could see my Dad was drunk and knew he didn’t speak any German. The commanding officer sent him to his barracks and ignored him. Not to be ignored Lew stormed back into the duty office and insisted that they needed to go to the address he had, and arrest this German Colonel. This time my Dad was sent back to his barracks escorted by MPs who stripped him down to his skivvies and put him to bed.

Still not thwarted my father returned to his CO and insisted he had to go arrest this Colonel. The CO must have been some understanding kind of guy and didn’t throw my drunken father in the brig, but took him and a couple of MP’s to this house to prove that there was no German Colonel hiding out in this fully cleared area.

They entered the house and sure enough, there was a German officer hiding out there, he was at the top of the stairs and drew his side-arm, a 1914 32ACP German Mauser, and started firing down at my Dad, the two MP’s and their CO. Lew, still being, drunk thought to himself, “somebody has to get that gun” and went charging up the stairs to take it away. The German Colonel, either stunned at this stupidity or out of ammunition, we’ll never know, stopped shooting and my father seized his weapon.

Stupidity, drunkenness, heroism, maybe bit of all of that, but when my Dad after telling that story in his joking, good-natured and raconteurial manner, was asked why he didn’t get a medal, he would say he was just lucky he didn’t end up in the brig and lose his good conduct ribbon. You see my father may have been a hero to me for various reasons, that being one of them, but it’s not the prima facie basis of it.

It does make me think though of other heroes. There’s a former US Air Force pilot I know, who among other duties during his service, was a flight instructor. He wasn’t just any flight instructor though, he would instruct many pilots about to wash out and was usually able to get them back on track and into the sky, making real USAF pilots out of them.

Then there’s this former RAF pilot I know, who also among other things during his service, would hear a klaxon alarm and hop into his F-4 Phantom II and run off to chase down and intercept Russian Bear Bombers. He’d show them we were ever ready and not going to be surprised by them.

Through their service, both these pilots helped in keeping a Cold War from going hot and creating the kind of heroes that most often come to mind when we think of Veterans or Remembrance Day.

So as a civilian with great respect for those who serve in our military, I want to extend my thanks to all of you who did and do serve there. Thanks for keeping us safe, thanks for just doing your job.

For Jetwhine, here in Portland, Maine

This is your Main(e) man,


A Year in Space Rekindles Skyward Interests

By Scott Spangler on November 4th, 2019 | Comments Off on A Year in Space Rekindles Skyward Interests

kelly windowTo be honest, my interest in extraterrestrial explorations waned with the establishment of the International Space Station. Sometimes I felt guilty about this, usually when I watched the luminous dot race across the night sky (forewarned by an Astroextra issued during the evening weather report on WBAY). And then, after the final episode of the Great British Baking Show’s final episode last Friday, I wandered through Netflix land and discovered A Year in Space, 12 episodes (all running less than 15 minutes) that documented the record ISS residency of Scott Kelly and Mikhail “Misha” Kornienko.

I couldn’t turn it off.

Hmmm. Perhaps my waning interest was not the result of wandering interests or a depreciating attention span but rather the consequence of mundane story telling. Like everyone else today who is drowning in the media ocean were every drop vies for our clicking attention, I rarely waste my most valuable resource watching or reading anything that does not pique my curiosity and desire to learn more in the first chapter or episode.

one-year-crew-landing-aLike I said, I could not turn off A Year in Space, and my wife was equally rapt.

Time Studios covered the year in a dozen episodes that are a visual master class in clear, concise, comprehensive, and compelling story telling. It revealed the personal side of the mission as well as the professional with an unbiased lens focused on the American and Russian protagonists.

The fascinating examination of the Russian space program was an unexpected surprise. Seeing Star City is much more interesting and telling than reading about it, especially when some of the people who work and live there are telling you about it. Despite some unspoken pleasure in remembering some of the Russian I learned in high school, subtitles thankfully told most of the story.

kelly soyuzNear the end of the series A Year in Space introduced the aeromedical study that compared Scott Kelly with Mark, his identical twin who is also an astronaut, upon his return to Earth. Replaying visual vignettes from the series as I search here for the right words, it is clear that the series presented a wealth of information that felt as expansive as the space through with the ISS flies. The only claustrophobia came with the shots of the the three spacefarers crammed into the Soyuz capsule for their return to Earth. –Scott Spangler, Editor

EFX Illuminates Aviation Danger Zones

By Scott Spangler on October 21st, 2019 | 2 Comments »

AV2-64Aviation danger zones exist in all phases of flight, and they most often catch people on the ground, especially when another task attenuates their situational awareness. Almost walking into a stationary prop protruding from the Innovation Showcase booth is how I met EFX Applied Technology at EAA AirVenture 2019. Instead of watching where I was going in the crowded venue, I was scanning the booths as I walked at the edge of the aisle—until a brightly colored flashing light in my peripheral vision stopped me short. Outlining a prop safety perimeter on the concrete, it said “We Save Lives.”

When I stopped and focused my attention, it seemed clear that given my proximity and direction of travel, one of the propeller blades was reaching for one of my more sensitive anatomical components. When I slowed my heart rate—and vowed to pay more attention to where I was going—I picked up some literature on the company whose tagline is “[DANGERZONE] See the light—Save a life.”

laser 1Unfortunately, the innovative coolness of EFX’s Interactive Personnel Alert Systems (iPAS) got lost in the multitude of my AirVenture memories. And then, little more than a week ago, I read about a woman who lost her right hand and two toes when she tried to remove the nose wheel chock of an idling Cessna 172 at Key West, Florida. According to reports, she and her husband, the pilot, were preparing for takeoff and got out of the Cessna to find out why it was not able to taxi.

My first reaction was one that many have but few readily admit: I would never do anything like that! (And, so far, I have, along with similar self-inflicted calamities of landing gear up and running out of gas.) But then I remembered my near encounter with the EFX display, and my heart started pounding as the memory snipped played in my mind’s eye.

It made sense that iPAS saved me because humans rely first on their vision, and our neural warning system has learned over the eons to pay attention to movement in our peripheral vision because it means some other member of the food chain might have us for lunch.

laser 2Identifying the threat is the first step in any fight-or-fight situation, and the small, lightweight laser system that outlines an aircraft’s danger zones does that, as well as laser painting the threat’s boundaries on the ground, day or night. Apparently the FAA was interested in the system as well, adding that it would fit well with the non-essential equipment path to certification.

Only time will tell if aviation will adopt this patented system that seems to be an effective last line of aviation safety. Safety training and reminders to never lose situational awareness are all good and necessary, but they will never overcome the blinders we wear when we’re addressing a more pressing problem. That’s when we need an alert of an imminent threat to break our narrow focus and preserve our safety. –Scott Spangler, Editor

If It Ain’t Boeing, I Ain’t Going …

By Robert Mark on October 16th, 2019 | 8 Comments »

An Aviation Minute Editorial

by Rob Mark

Years ago when I was still flying for a living, I remember seeing a cool little yellow sticker slapped on the side of another pilot’s Jepp bag. “If it ain’t Boeing, we’re not going.” The slogan was a nod of professional respect for the Seattle aircraft builder that brought America into the jet age with great airliners like the Boeing 707, or the three-engine 727 that followed.

Air traffic controllers called the 72 a three-holer and it was visible from miles away on final with black smoke billowing from its P&W JT8s, triple-slotted wing flaps the size of barn doors and the ability to get down and stopped on relatively tiny runways. And who could forget the world’s first double-deck four-engine jumbo, the 747? Boeing built nearly 1,500 of those.

Boeings were known for their ability to take a beating and bring everyone home safely. Pilots who flew Boeing’s B-17s during WWII knew that, as did B-52 drivers when that airplane started flying 70 years ago.

Then there’s Boeing’s 737 with slightly more than 10,000 built, an impressive number by any measure. Within the variants, of course, there’s the now-infamous 737 Max, an airplane Boeing originally created to give the Airbus A-320 neo a run for its money.

While it looked like that might happen a few years ago, the grounding of the Max last March pushed the idea of a profit on that airplane pretty much out of sight to the folks at Boeing’s HQ.

Boeing 737 MAX 7 First Flight – Boeing photo

The problems for Boeing, of course, began in 2018 when the crew of a Lion Air 737 Max lost control of the airplane and crashed shortly after takeoff.

It was only after 189 people died on that Lion Air flight that airplane had been created using a software update called the MCAS, a system designed to make pilots believe the Max handled like earlier 737s, even though design-wise that wasn’t really the case.

What really shocked pilots after the first accident was the realization that Boeing never mentioned the existence of MCAS to anyone, not in the POH or even in training. Boeing was that sure MCAS’s flawed software would never kick in. Those odds dropped precipitously though after the crash of a second 737 Max in March 2019. The entire Max fleet was grounded shortly thereafter, with the U.S. being one of the last to take action.

Each week, the news about what Boeing is doing or what it should be doing, or what Boeing engineers and management knew and when seems to reveal something new. Let’s not forget the FAA played a significant role in this mess too for its lackadaisical oversight of the Max certification.

Boeing first thought the Max fleet would be back flying soon, but as more and more uncomfortable and unbelievable facts have emerged about the design and execution of the Max, the date for the next flight has drifted further and further into the future.

The company has been hit by hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of lawsuits from the families of accident victims. The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association just sued Boeing for back wages due them for the 30,000 flights that have been canceled now that the airline’s 34 aircraft have been sitting on the ground for seven months.

SWAPA’s lawsuit claims Boeing, “abandoned sound design and engineering practices, withheld safety-critical information from regulators and deliberately misled its customers, pilots and the public about the true scope of design changes to the 737 MAX.” Ouch.

Then there’s the Boeing whistleblower case from a company engineer who told Boeing the MCAS would never work. The stories go on and on and on … and they’re not getting any better.

Trying to get the Max flying again has become a huge distraction to normal business at Boeing. The company has lost orders for the Max as well as some for the 787. The company’s 777X project has also slowed considerably.

In case these weren’t enough problems to keep Boeing busy, the company recently reported finding cracks in the pickle forks on dozens of 737 NGs (edited 10-19-2019 with thanks to my commenters). The pickle fork attaches the wing to the fuselage BTW.

And because the FAA played a role in the Max dilemma for its poor oversight of the airplane’s certification, EASA in Europe and a number of other regulators want Boeing to perform tests especially for them before they’ll recertify the airplane because they’ve lost confidence in the FAA’s assessment of the problem.

If I was still teaching at Northwestern, the Boeing Max story would easily become a quarter-long case study into what happens when people within an organization refuse to talk or listen to each other. It would also look at what happens when the people who sell things take over from the people who design and build things in a bureaucracy, like when insiders saw this coming long before the Max ever flew. But that’s how bureaucracies operate.

Looking ahead, no one’s even asking whether airline passengers will ever believe the Max is again safe, no matter what Boeing and the FAA say. Plenty of people refused to ever climb aboard a DC-10 decades ago when it was released from its grounding after a number of fatal accidents.

Think for a minute  … in less than a year, Boeing, one of America’s largest single exporters, trashed a reputation that took more than 100 years to create.

I have no doubt the 737 Max will rise from the ashes next year because Boeing and its lobbyists have way too much power to keep it on the ground forever, technical issues or not. Boeing’s Dennis Mulinberg lost his Chairman seat in this mess, but the damage has already been done.

One of the next stories to watch for will be precisely how Boeing and the FAA rollout their plan to convince pilots, flight attendants and maintenance technicians the Max is now safe to fly again, a plan that of course won’t include any simulator time for pilots to get a close up look at MCAS before their next flight.

But I think the really big story will be how Boeing and the FAA convince paying passengers and regulators around the world that there’s nothing to worry about when they climb aboard a Max. Maybe Boeing will change the airplane’s name.

But if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck … well you know.

Or will it be a slick TV commercial, maybe something that sounds like … “We’re Boeing and every time you climb aboard a 737 Max, you can absolutely, positively trust us our product because we’re pretty darned sure we got it right … THIS time.”

I’m thinking those stickers will need an update too before pilots slap them to their carry-ons … “If it ain’t Boeing, we’re not going … probably.”

For and the Airplane Geeks, I’m Rob Mark in Chicago. We’ll see you next time.

Why is World War I Little Appreciated?

By Scott Spangler on October 7th, 2019 | 5 Comments »

WW1-1To the aviation minded, interest in World War I stops at the aerodrome because that’s where aeronautics’ voice changed as its technology matured. But interest in the conflict in which it fought—the War to End All Wars—never captured the interest of most Americans, whose attention and adulation focused on the Great War’s offspring, World War II. A visit to The National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City was an eye-opener that posed the headline’s question and others that wonder why?

If someone asked me to name all of the World War I memorials I knew of, it would be the Liberty Memorial and the mass-produced Spirit of the American Doughboy statue in Lord’s Park in Elgin, Illinois, not far from my boyhood home. I learned about the Liberty Memorial when I moved to Kansas City in 1989, but I never visited because the two halls that flanked the memorial tower were rarely open, and the whole thing closed in 1994.

It wasn’t until I visited it earlier this year that I learned that two weeks after the war ended on 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the civic leaders discussed the need for a lasting memorial to the men and women who served and died in the war. The city raised $2.5 million in 10 days in 1919. More than 100,000 people, including the five main allied commanders, attended the site dedication in 1921.

WW1-27After three years of construction, President Calvin Coolidge delivered the dedication speech to a crowd of more than 150,000. On Veteran’s Day 1961, former presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower delivered rededication addresses to a crown of 60,000. The citizens voted to restore the memorial and expand the museum in 1998. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in October 2006. On the 2014 centennial of the war’s commencement, Congress finally recognized the Liberty Memorial as the national World War I memorial, renaming it.

America’s lack of appreciation for World War I is probably rooted in its short tenure of combat. The war started in 1914 but America didn’t get involved until April 1917, when unrestricted submarine warfare and the publication of Zimmerman’s telegram to Mexico promising the return of Texas and other states if it would attack America on behalf of the Axis.

Another factor is the scope of America’s participation. Slightly more than 4.7 million men and women served in the armed forces during the war. Of the force, only 2.8 million served overseas; 53,402 of them were killed in action. More than 63,000 died from diseases, mostly in the influenza pandemic, which claimed 50 million people worldwide, 675,000 of them in the United States. Unlike World War II, in which more than 16 million Americans (11 percent of the US population) served during the four-year conflict, during World War I more families were affected by the flu than the war.

WW1-31Related to the number of affected families is generational depreciation, where interest wanes with the arrival of every new generation—unless the surviving hardware and history satisfies a niche curiosity. Aviation leads this list. And World War II is first on it because of its expansive generational proximity and because its hardware is still airborne. In the Great War, America didn’t really have substantial aerial forces let alone combat aircraft. Those that served fly fixed from museum ceilings. And the same is true for most aircraft that served the conflicts that followed World War II.

A lack of appreciation for the sacrifices of those who served in World War I is superseded only by the universal disregard for the socioeconomic and geopolitical causes of it and the resulting consequences that plague the world today. Another way to view all military memorials is, perhaps, as monuments to human hubris and disability to learn from the past. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Automation and the Atrophy of Airmanship

By Scott Spangler on September 23rd, 2019 | 1 Comment »

stripe_simIn the cover feature of the September 18, 2019 New York Times Magazine, William Langeweishe presents a cogent, comprehensive, and nuanced answer to its interrogative headline, “What Really Brought Down the Boeing 737 Max?” The subhead summarized the answer: “Malfunctions caused two deadly crashes. But an industry that puts unprepared pilots in the cockpit is just as guilty.” In the words that follow, Langeweishe shows that airmanship is what separates the prepared from the unprepared.

Calling the word anachronistic, Langeweishe writes that “airmanship…is applied without prejudice to women as well as men” and that its “meaning is difficult to convey.” But he gives it a shot: “It includes a visceral sense of navigation, an operational understanding of weather and weather information, the ability to form mental maps of traffic flows, fluency in the nuance of radio communications and, especially, a deep appreciation for the interplay between energy, inertia, and wings. Airplanes are living things. The best pilots do not sit in cockpits so much as strap them on.”

Like any skill, airmanship atrophies if not regularly exercised, which rarely happens in the turbine-power automated aviation realms. Like any skill, airmanship is a relentless learning experience inculcated through training. Whether airmanship is part of the flight-training curriculum usually depends on the flight line goal of the training program.

Boeing-flight-simulator-2As the portal to the professional pilot pipeline, civilian flight schools (at almost every level) prepare students to pass a practical test, a checkride. They teach students to expect problems, and the article gives the example of the runaway trim problem during the third airline training flight in the 737 simulator. The students know it is coming and what rote procedure will advance them to the next item on the list. Combat is less structured than airline operations, so the military teaches its aviators to anticipate unexpected challenges at any time, altitude, and attitude.

“Expect” and “Anticipate” may seem like synonyms, but when it comes to airmanship, the difference is significant. To “Expect” means one looks forward to something, sees it as probable or certain, but it definitively does not come with the next step when the probable or certain situation arrives. To “Anticipate” includes advance thought and discussion, “to foresee and deal with in advance.” In other words, to expect the unexpected and prepare for it in advance by having a plan that begins with diagnosis based on total knowledge of the systems involved.

Image result for angle of attackLangeweishe provides the most concise and comprehensive explanation of the 737 Max’s MCAS I’ve read to date. Did you know that it only works when the flaps are up? Neither did I. And the article illustrates why this knowledge was important to the pilots of the Ethiopian Airlines 737.

Another revelation was the philosophical difference between Boeing and Airbus. Both acknowledge that automation makes today’s airliners ridiculously easy to fly—so long as everything is working correctly. Given the level of technology flying today, airline pilots are really system operators who only get a few minutes of hands-on exercise on takeoff and landing. Perhaps they might be better defined as automated pilots.

And that brings me back to the revelatory difference between Airbus and Boeing. Given the general lack of airmanship among today’s airline system operators, Airbus pursues the goal of safety through automation that makes its airplanes “pilot proof.” Boeing, on the other hand, still relies on the pilot’s airmanship as the last link in its safety chain.

The handwriting on the hangar wall suggests that technology is taking aviation down Airbus’s automation avenue, and if Boeing wants to compete in the surely coming era of single automated pilot airliners and automated no-pilot urban mobility vehicles, it must readjust its connections to safety.

But if an aircraft has a pilot, airmanship will never be any less important because even the best automated system, no matter how many redundant systems, can develop problems. In these cases, the aviator’s airmanship abilities will likely make a huge difference. Think about United Airlines Flight 232’s thrust-vectored arrival in Sioux City; US Air Flight 1549 that landed in the Hudson River after gobbling up a gander of geese; and Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 and its uncontained engine failure. What might have been were it not for the airmanship of the late Al Haynes (a former Marine Corps aviator); Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (who started his flying careen in gliders at the U.S. Air Force Academy and graduated to the F-4 Phantom); and Tammie Jo Shults (an EA-6B driver who was one of the first female naval aviators to qualify in the F-18).

Ultimately, Langeweishe’s article offered a pearl we should all remember because it applies to all professions, not just the airlines. “We know as a fact that half of airline pilots graduated in the bottom half of their class,” said Larry Rockliff, a former Canadian military and Airbus test pilot. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Canceled Flights Preserved the Saturn V

By Scott Spangler on September 9th, 2019 | 2 Comments »

JSC-33Acclimated to the excess of US Government agencies, learning that NASA made just enough Saturn V rockets to launch each of the scheduled Apollo missions was a surprise. If that was so, how did the Rocket Park at Houston’s Johnson Space center have the only d super heavy-lift launch vehicle? The next placard provided a simple explanation. For unexplained reasons (how about America’s Vietnam-distracted short attention span after the lunar success of Apollo 11), NASA canceled the last three moon missions.

JSC-74NASA built 15 Saturn Vs for 20 Apollo missions. The more diminutive members of the Saturn family launched the difference between the numbers. It is fitting that each of the Saturn V’s three stages comes from the rockets assigned to the canceled missions. The first stage, with its five massive F-1 engines, was to have launched Apollo 19, crewed by Fred Haise, William Pogue, and Gerald Carr. The second stage was slated for Apollo 20, the last mission. Its crew was to be commanded by either Pete Conrad or Stuart Roosa, with Paul Weitz as command module pilot, and Jack Lousma as the lunar module pilot.

JSC-86Stage three was originally supposed to push Apollo 18, with Richard Gordon, Vance Brand, and Harrison Schmitt, toward the moon. At the pointy end of the Saturn V display was Command Module CM-115, but its placards did not say which canceled mission it was supposed to fly. The first two stages of Apollo 18’s Saturn V launched Skylab. (At Space Center Houston you can walk through the Skylab 1g Trainer.) The other flight-ready stages of the Saturn siblings are combined with test and nonoperational components in the Saturn Vs on display at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and the Kennedy Space Flight Center in Florida.

Rocket Park’s flight-ready relic almost didn’t survive because it weathered the elements from its display debut in 1977 until the first light of the 21st century, when the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, the rocket’s official owner, applied for a grant from Save Our American Treasures, to restore the rocket and build it a weatherproof home. In its climate-controlled home, walking around the Saturn V on a hot and humid August day in Houston is a welcome jaunt that more than doubles the rocket’s 363-foot length.

JSC-90You can walk between each stage, and it would have been interesting to see what connected one to the other instead of the heavy steel lift-rings that allowed them to be hoisted one upon the other in the Vehicle Assembly Building in Florida. Really, I’m curious to see how engineers met the challenge of a lightweight mating structure strong enough to withstand the first stage’s 7.891 million pounds of thrust driving skyward not only its weight, but also the millions of pounds above it.

Another surprise was leaving over to look at the wiring and components at the top of the second stage. I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t the government issue matt black boxes connected by bundles of white wire connected with canon plugs that looked no different from those in the UH-1N Huey I flew in during the early 1970s. Outside in the heat and humidity, however, is a moving visual statement of how quickly America’s space program progressed.

JSC-71Strategically placed next to a replica of Alan Shepard’s Mercury-capped Redstone launch vehicle, all 83 feet of it, is a Rocketdyne F-1 engine, which stands 19 feet tall and 12.3 feet in diameter. Shepard flew May 5, 1961. A little more than six years later, on November 9, 1969, Apollo 4 made the first unscrewed all-up test flight of the Saturn V, which was an uncompromised success. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Labor Day 2019 – Why We Celebrate Here in the States

By Robert Mark on September 2nd, 2019 | 1 Comment »

Today is Labor Day in the U.S., a day when we celebrate the hard-working men and women union members who actually do the work to create goods and services. Their efforts seldom win the praise of CEOs or Dow Jones, but they are necessary none-the-less.

The first Monday in September is “Labor Day” in the United States. For many, the holiday symbolizes the end of Summer, but it is really intended to celebrate the American worker. The exact origin of Labor Day is the subject of some dispute, but it seems to have been originally proposed in 1882. Over the following years, a number of states celebrated Labor Day.

Finally, in 1894, the U.S. Congress passed legislation creating Labor Day as a national holiday.

In the recording below, originally published in 2010, Rob Mark talks about the history of Labor Day and his own role in labor unions, including the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) strike, the rise of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), and the Airline Pilots Association (APA).

Click here to listen: Airplane Geeks Episode 212.5 – Labor Day

Flying Cars & Urban Air Mobility

By Scott Spangler on August 26th, 2019 | 4 Comments »

AV2-67It’s tempting to forge a synonymous connection between flying cars and urban air mobility (UAM). That would be unfair because, for a number of reasons, the latter has a viable future where entrepreneurs have unsuccessfully been developing, promoting, and trying to sell the former for more than 70 years.

Many of them have appeared and disappeared from aviation’s grand stage in Oshkosh over the past half century. Certainly, each new iteration of flying car promised improvements over those that preceded it, but nothing has matched the rapid technological long jump better than urban air mobility.

If you doubt this, look at the tent above, which sits at the apex of the Aviation Gateway Park at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. The attached drone cage is still there, giving the curious a hands-on opportunity to pilot a quadcopter through a 3D obstacle course, but the drone merchants that once packed the tent are long gone because the technology they introduced as already morphed into urban air mobility vehicles that have filled their exhibit footprints.

Visually, wheels are the biggest difference between the two. By definition, a car must have them. Most of the urban air mobility vehicles I’ve seen so far have skids, perfect for vertical takeoff and landers. But the differences that separate potential success from almost unavoidable failure are not as clearly seen. Let’s start with…

Mission Capabilities

Because they must operate in disparate realms—the National Airspace System and the interconnected web of Interstates, US Highways, County Roads, and paved and unpaved residential streets—flying cars must multitask. Studies of machines and humans have clearly demonstrated that multitasking is the ability to do several things inefficiently compared to something or someone dedicated to a single task.

Urban air mobility defines that single task. Instead of traversing the diverse expanse of American airspace and roadways, UAM vehicles are designed to transport a fixed number of people between fixed and predetermined points within the confines of a metropolitan area. And, as explained by those pursuing urban air mobility, each of these fixed points will be purposely designed and built to efficiently meet the vehicles’ needs.

AV2-77At its outdoor display, Airbus exhibited its Vahana, a self-piloted, zero emission electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) technology demonstrator. One of two Airbus Urban Mobility eVTOL demonstrators, the sign said it has made 80 full-scale flights at more than 100 mph.

Economic Viability

Not to be obvious, but we all know that anything connected to aviation is expensive. From the start, flying cars have always targeted individual customers. That was a more realistic customer pool in middle of the 20th century, when the middle class was more robust. But today, as the general aviation production and billing numbers make clear, most new airplanes (and flying cars) are well beyond the economic reach of 99 percent of Americans.

The economic reality of modern American life has also brought forth cultural and social changes. The newest members of the workforce are starting their careers while dragging an anchor of student debt. And many of them can only find a job in or around a city, which imposes a higher cost of living.

On the plus side, in a city, they don’t need the car they can’t afford in the first place, a reality that challenges the futures of automakers. When they need transportation some distance they cannot walk, they hail a ride from services like Uber and Lyft. That companies such are these are interested and investing in urban air mobility should surprise no one. And, because the UAM vehicles are essential to their planned operations, their purchase price is factored into their cost of doing business.

Certification Challenges

Earning one’s driver’s license at 16 used to be an eagerly anticipated rite of passage. The reasons for this distill into need, expense, and personal priorities. Now combine this reality with the requirement that the operator of a flying car also needs a pilot’s license. At best guess, today that will cost you more than $10,000 and take maybe six months or more.

But the operators are not the only participants needing certification. A number of flying cars have earned FAA airworthiness certificates, so they have this requirement addressed. For urban air mobility vehicles, it seems a question, but one that is not insurmountable. But I’ll wager that the Boeing 737 Max grounding will not make it any easier to certify the software that flies these computerized fly-by-wire UAM vehicles.

AV1-2The regulatory framework for certification of the UAM pilots and their employers operations already exist in Part 61 and the air taxi regulations compiled in Part 135. And NASA is already working on urban air mobility ATC systems. Things will get interesting, however, when automation replaces the UAM pilots.

Scoff if you will, but given the velocity at which the technology of urban air mobility has advanced, that day will dawn sooner than many may expect. In the waning days of AirVenture 2019, Opener announced that it was donating its BlackFly eVTOL to the EAA Aviation Museum. Opener introduced the BlackFly at AirVenture 2018. –Scott Spangler, Editor

AirVenture Surprises & Snowbird Respect

By Scott Spangler on August 12th, 2019 | 3 Comments »

As it seemed last year, the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels low-level fly-by at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh this year seemed to catch many people by surprise. I don’t mean to shatter your illusions, but nothing at AirVenture happens as a surprise, especially when it involves airplanes. Every flight is carefully planned and coordinated with the AirVenture Air Boss and ATC. And every morning at Press Headquarters, the legendary EAA communication director, Dick Knapinski, spoils the day’s surprises in detail.


On Thursday morning, he told the handful of us in attendance (given the goodies he shares, I’m surprised more members of the media don’t attend) that the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds would, at the start of the air show, make four low-passes during their fly-by appearance as they, like the Blue Angels, traveled from one scheduled performance to the next. But the next item is what caught my attention. Around 2 p.m., a Canadian Forces Snowbird would be arriving in his CT-114 Tutor. And rather than performing, “he’ll be camping in the Vintage area,” Dick said, qualifying his camping spot by noting that his jet was made in 1964.

Certainly, the military forces of different nations can’t be that different. Flying a squadron bird from the Snowbird home base in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada, on a camping trip to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh would be akin to me using one of the ship’s small boats to go fishing when I was aboard the USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19) in the mid-1970s. My curiosity put a ring through my nose and led me to Vintage to wait.

AV4-61Right about 2 p.m., the red and white Tutor made a couple of low passes, landed, and taxied to vintage camping. A tug arrived to position it on a finger of pavement next to the grass that would be the pilot’s campsite. The aviator in the red flight suit, with Blake McNaughton embroidered on it, was obviously in command. A captain in the Canadian Forces, he’s the Snowbirds’ flight safety officer. (I didn’t get the name of his squadron mate, who was attired in standard-issue green Nomex.)

Before I could ask the obvious question, the Thunderbirds made their appearance, and McNaughton was clearly more interested in filling out the necessary aircraft paperwork and putting his Tutor safely to bed after the tug driver jockeyed it into position. “Oh, yeah, we camp just like everyone else at Oshkosh.” And when the entire Snowbirds team performed at AirVenture in 2016, a couple of us tent camped.”

But a solo camping trip? “Our chain of command understands that Oshkosh is a cultural icon. [Camping] is what you do when you come here. We don’t take ourselves too seriously; we have a good time. We set up tents and camp. It’s great! We want the full, rich Oshkosh experience.” (With no room in the jet, they made separate travel arrangement for their tents and camping gear.)


Perhaps there are differences in the military attitudes among the national forces. On reflection, a solo camping trip to AirVenture is some genius guerilla PR, a subtle statement that supports the demonstration squadron’s ambassadorial mission. But McNaughton demonstrated an even more forceful example of the character and quality of the Canadian Armed Forces. Kneeling on the wing, digging the wheel chocks out of little compartment behind the cockpit, when he heard the first few notes of America’s national anthem, he sprang to attention. (His squadron mate, clearly sat at attention.) He stood there, in rigid contrast, as the flight line mass of U.S. flagpole patriots fluttered about in self-absorbed oblivion. – Scott Spangler, Editor