Friday, May 01, 2015

Strong Women of Aviation: You've got to go for it when 'spunkiness' is in your name

MayCay Beeler's motto these days - based on her
challenging schedule, is "Get cape. Wear cape. Fly!!!!"
By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

In this installment of my continuing series, I'm introducing you to another female pilot who defines what it means to be an active aviator. Author, pilot, CFI and TV host/personality MayCay Beeler has spent her entire aviation career knowing what she wants and then going after it.
Beeler is not unlike some of the other female aviators I write about, in this space and also in the five magazines currently publishing my features. When asked why I seem to focus more on female aviators, I like to say it's simply because so much aviation media coverage is about men, and I am just trying to claim my part of the "softer, gentler" niche. And besides, it might be a Mars/Venus thing, but nearly all the women I know in aviation and business possess amazing skills to balance too many plates on too many sticks and keep them all spinning simultaneously.
Based at KGSO (Piedmont Triad Int’l Airport- Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point) NC, Beeler juggles five freelance jobs, appears on TV weekly, and flies most days. She's flown 30 different aircraft including a Liberty XL-2, Cessna 172s, Cessna 150, a Piper Arrow, Tecnam Eaglet LSA and experimental Questair Venture kitplane (where she holds world records, see below).
As a CFI/CFII/ATP, she instructs at Triad Aviation Academy (KGSO) and for the Guilford County Sheriff’s Air Support Unit. She's a TV Host/Personality for WFMY News 2 (CBS-TV) in Greensboro, NC, hosting Aviation Update segments, and is a regular TV Host for recurring weekly TV Cooking segments for Food Lion Grocery. Other "on-demand" TV work includes a gig for AOPA, serving as “One Week Ready to Solo” anchor at Sun n Fun ‘15. As an award-winning author, she wrote a true crime book about an infamous cartel pilot/cocaine smuggler; and she's a sales team member of the AEAC (Aero Electric Aircraft Corp) Sun Flyer - the first practical solar electric trainer airplane. Yes, this is one very busy lady.
What follows is my interview with Beeler...enjoy:

Airplanista: Let's start with your unusual but also beautiful first name.
MayCay Beeler: MayCay is a nickname for my formal name Mary Catherine (named after my grandmothers). My Dad gave me this nickname as a youngster, citing my spunkiness. Mary Catherine was too conservative. MayCay fit me much better and it stuck!

Airplanista: As a television weather anchor, did you ever use your aviation weather knowledge on air?
MayCay Beeler: Yes, I did. I am no longer in that role. I anchored the weather for TV News in the early 2000’s for my local network affiliates ABC-TV station and briefly for NBC-TV. Viewers got a kick out of my saying “niner” when I mentioned pressure.

Airplanista: Do you feel that analyzing weather from an aviation perspective gives you a competitive advantage over other weather anchors in your market?
MayCay Beeler: Yes, simply because I understand it from an up close and personal perspective - having lived it in the air on a regular basis. Frankly, every TV weather person/meteorologist has access to the same weather sources and forecasts. Anyone can pull that data, create the graphics and recite the numbers on TV. But to personally experience the weather as a pilot, and have an intimate understanding of fronts and pressure systems by flying IN them, that gave me an edge the viewers enjoyed, especially when I would use graphics and take them on a “weather flight”.

Beeler set several FAI records with ex-husband Rich Gritter
in the Questair Venture experimental airplane.
Airplanista: Tell us about the world aviation records you've set in your Questair Venture aircraft.
MayCay Beeler: I met the test pilot for Questair when I produced a national story about the “fastest egg in the East” for the TV show “PM MAGAZINE” I was hosting. I was already an instrument-rated pilot at the time, and eventually set world records in the Venture and did a TV show about it. My record breaking flights included FAI Class C-1B time to climb to 3,000 meters, speed over a 3 KM and 15/25 KM course, closed circuit 100km, 500km and 1,000km speed without payload, and speed over a recognized course Winston-Salem to Kitty Hawk, 358.82 mph. In 1991, I flew my time-to-climb to 3,000 meters record flight just one month after giving birth.

Airplanista: Is flying a family affair? Do you have parents, siblings, husband, partner or kids that participate in aviation? How did you get interested in flying?
MayCay Beeler: Past boyfriends and husbands were pilots. My son flew with me while I was pregnant with him - he earned an honorary CFI certificate in utero! No kidding! I was eight months pregnant during that grueling CFI check ride. The FAA examiner felt my son deserved an honorary temporary certificate after "we" passed with flying colors. Still have it framed! After I divorced, I met my soul mate while researching a true crime documentary - he is now deceased. He was an infamous pilot with a colorful history! Read his biography for more (Buccaneer- info included later)! It will blow you away. Can’t make this stuff up!
My son has flown with me all his life. Having a flight instructor for a Mom ensured he soloed on his 16th Birthday, and earned his Private Pilot Certificate on his 17th. He is a better pilot than I will ever be. Exceptional. In his genes! He is being awarded his BS Degree in Aerospace Engineering with honors from NC State U this May. He is a world-champion RC aircraft pilot! We have our most enjoyable mother-son moments when we fly together. Have been on many flying adventures together including our trip to Norman’s Cay, Bahamas where we produced the documentary “Return to Norman’s Cay”.  

Airplanista: As creator of The Diva Flight Experience, explain what this program is and what the goals of the program are, both current and future. Also give me contact info so I can publish the URL or anything else you want to have published.
MayCay Beeler: See

Airplanista: In your opinion, what is the root cause keeping most women from flying now, and how did you personally overcome any of these same obstacles to pursue your successful aviation career?
MayCay Beeler: This is tough. As natural caregivers, we tend to put others first. It's hard to juggle it all. I have struggled with it. As moms, we put our kids first. The moms that successfully juggle kids and career are super gifted; I have the utmost respect for them. It was hard for me. When you see how fast your kids grow up, you know how priceless it is to be with them and nurture them while they need you. It’s a tug - career and/or family. It's an individual angst many of us struggle with. No right or wrong. I believe the role of caregiver - be it looking out for our kids, spouses, partners, aging parents, whatever, inhibits a lot of women from flying because they are too busy and/or feel guilty or obligated to put others first. Plus, they don’t know they CAN fly! As a traditional boy's club, flying professionally is something most women never even consider! They don’t know it's an option. It is! We must encourage them and let them know it can be done!  

Airplanista: What is the one thing both male and female pilots can do right now to increase the female pilot population?
MayCay Beeler: Take a gal flying!  Cheer her on! Share the magic aloft. Spread your contagious enthusiasm! Let her know anything is possible, and any dream is attainable if she is willing to work for it!

Airplanista: Has being a pilot opened any doors in your career or allowed you to pursue stories that many other journalists overlooked?
MayCay Beeler: Oh yes! It was my role as a pilot that bonded me to an infamous prison inmate/cartel pilot who had never told his story. When I first contacted pilot Jack Carlton Reed in prison for research on a true crime documentary I was producing, I never imagined I would become this infamous inmate's biographer and last confidante. The acquaintance led to my book "Buccaneer - The Provocative Odyssey of Jack Reed - Adventurer, Drug Smuggler, and Pilot Extraordinaire." His story had never been given to any other journalist. In doing research for our book, which was a collaborative effort at the end of his life, I would stumble upon a piece of information that would change everything. This book is the stunning account of Reed’s provocative life with a twist of fate that will make you believe in miracles. The book is available on Amazon and booksellers worldwide.

Airplanista: Describe a perfect day flying.
MayCay Beeler: Just me and my flying machine, the sassy Liberty XL2, living Richard Bach’s beautiful quote: “The highest art form of all is a human being in control of himself and his airplane in  flight…urging the Spirit of the machine to match his own.” I am ONE with the plane. Never have I felt so graceful!

Airplanista: Freestyle question, your chance to soap box anything or tell my readers something about MayCay Beeler that they do not know now.
MayCay Beeler: I had barely turned 16 when I first went to work on a dude ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming for two summers. It was my love of horses that lured me there! I love to ride, and later transferred that passion to planes. I was one with the horse; I am now one with the plane. It’s all about freedom. My soul is in the sky. It is here I feel most alive.
I tell others to “Go for it”! Fly while you can while the fire is in your belly! Share this magic with others. Life is so short! Fear not, everything you need is already inside you. I encourage my flight students to live my favorite quote:

“Come to the edge,” Life said.
 They said: “We are afraid.”
“Come to the edge.” Life said.
 They came.
 It pushed them…and they flew.   –  Guillaume Apollinaire

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Aviation 'Brand Stylist' Ian Hoyt Presents #SnF15 Exhibitors Digital Marketing Survival Guide

Editor's note: This is a great piece that all exhibitors at the Sun 'n Fun Fly-in should read. It is full of very good information to help you understand just how important it is to use today's crazy good social media tools to capture some of buzz for your business at this big show. Guest Blogger Ian Hoyt is a private pilot and admits to being "addicted to all things aviation." When he's not busy sharing his passion for aviation, he can be found building his full-service creative branding and advertising agency. The following is verbatim from his blog, used with permission - dan

By Ian Hoyt,
Airplanista Guest Blogger

It’s SUN ‘n FUN time!

Yeah you heard me right. It’s that time in April every year when all of the aviation lovers around the world congregate to watch airplanes fly, rehash aviation memories with old friends over some beer, and meander around looking at all of the new and exciting things to come out of aviation during this year.

But, SUN ‘n FUN in Lakeland, Florida from April 21 – 26 is much more than just an airshow to all of the aviation brands that plan on exhibiting their awesome products this upcoming week.

Yes, this is the best time for brands to capture, grow, and engage with the aviation community, those who love gadgets and new things. These aviation lovers seem to naturally come out of the woodwork on social media and even in person as the week nears. This survival guide that I have laid out below is focused to help those brands that are exhibiting their products at SUN ‘n FUN this year. Is your brand cutting costs this year and staying at home? Have no fear, your brand can certainly use these strategies to piggyback off of this event from your headquarters too.

So let’s get right into it.

Social media has been around for a long time, and likely your brand has used it to some degree during previous SUN ‘n FUN events. I am going to guess you felt like you weren’t sure if it was being as effective for your company as you figured it could be.

No fears, it’s not that hard and here are the tips to put someone on your team (or contractor) to work this week:

First establish your goals

I personally don’t give a crap about how many followers, likes, and all of those garbage arbitrary numbers you have, and you shouldn’t either. I care about three things, customer loyalty, interaction, and sales conversions.

Organic traffic and sales conversions are hard to monitor. However, we can monitor this by simply offering discounts, tracking with analytics and special links like Google Shortlinks, freebies, or other incentives that can be the criteria for marking a sale at SUN ‘n FUN as a social media generated acquisition. If you are selling online, have them submit a coupon code. Not looking to give ANYTHING away this week? That’s fine, have your sales team ask your customers how they heard about you. Keep these numbers every day of the event and see how your social media efforts are turning out.

Focus on a platform, and make that platform Twitter.

Twitter is the only true social media platform. It allows you to interact and be discovered the same way as everyone else. Unlike Facebook, you can call the shots on this platform. When I managed a social media account for an aviation retailer last year at SUN ‘n FUN, I found the most use came from spending time on Twitter. Sure, if you have a large audience on Facebook and other networks it will behoove you to keep content rolling on there. However, I would recommend focusing 70% of your social media efforts on Twitter this week.

If you don’t LIVE Periscope stream this week, you are MISSING OUT!

Within the last month we have seen a huge opportunity sprout up. The social media platform is called Periscope which is owned by Twitter and is focused on instant live video streaming.

What does that mean? Well, it means that this week as you are giving a tour of your new aircraft model, headset, or other awesome product, you should be live streaming it for the whole aviation community on Twitter to watch and be a part of. In fact, you should be live streaming as much as you can! Why would you turn down an opportunity to show your fans exactly what your brand is doing during the week. (behind the scenes and all).

Scared? Too bad, I command you to do it! Here is a video to get you up-to-speed on how to use Periscope this week!

Over-Tweet, this week it is socially acceptable.

How many industries have times during the year when they can just send out tweet and post after another without their consumers getting annoyed? Very few.

Luckily aviation is such a passionate industry that everyone knows it is SUN ‘n FUN time. This means not only do they not mind seeing your brand tweet all day long, they actually want you to. This is great because it means you have an open forum to serve content to users multiple times a day and thus increasing your exposure at a critical week in the aviation year. If you are at SUN ‘n FUN, and you are tweeting about it, these two aspects instantly combine and add another layer of social proof to your brand by your consumers.

Set up a digital command center

Services like Hootsuite and TweetDeck will get you through this week. You can set up a command center dashboard to have a constant live feed of everyone who is talking about SUN ‘n FUN (#snf15). If your social media manager is smart, they will cross reference this and follow other tags pertaining to aviation and meld the two together to have the most potential for finding conversations to jump into. This is important because during live events like this you can’t miss a beat when the beat drops. Have someone who is dedicated at looking after your brand on social media for the week, don’t miss out on this opportunity to be a part of as many conversations as possible with potential customers.

The “Preflight” and “Cool down” philosophy

Hopefully you are reading this early enough to implement this strategy.

Always remember, this event is a key part of each participant’s year. I even have trouble sleeping a week in advance because I am so excited. This time before the arrival of the event should be spent showing your followers the setup process, your flights to Lakeland, etc…This is what people want to see like I mentioned earlier the more conversation the better. Be genuine and personable, that's all people want.

Perfect execution goes to Redbird FlightSims.

As you can see, this is what we call the “Preflight” portion of your strategy. Capitalize on everyone’s excitement for the event.

In contrast, on the 26th when everyone is leaving the event and sad to see it move under the horizon until next year, this is when we enter the “Cooldown” portion of your strategy.

This is when everyone will gladly be happy to see your brand continue the conversation past the event. Share inside jokes that only event goers would get, spend time showing the tear down and goodbye hugs, share some quick videos of the homeward flights back to your headquarters.

Don’t forget to tag all of this with #SnF15, everyone will still be watching this hashtag like a hawk.

**Bonus Tip**
Be one of the first to mention your intentions for next year’s event and be a leader for next years conversation by using: #SnF16
All of this is just the tip of the iceberg, and if you implement these strategies you will be on your way to a better social media life at #SnF15.

Is all of this social media talk still going way over your head? It’s okay, I understand it can be difficult. If you are nervous that you may “mess” up, my team and I will be on the ready and having fun down in Lakeland, Florida for SUN ‘n FUN this upcoming week. If your aviation brand finds that creative design and social media marketing is in short supply for the week, reach out and we will be happy to help!
Some brands &aviators to keep an eye on this week on Twitter:

Sun‘n Fun - @SunnFunFlyIn
Larry Overstreet

Jason Schappert - @mzeroa
Lakeland Linder Regional Airport - @FlyLakeland

Fly With Jepp - @FlyWithJepp
Me - @IanHoyt
Redbird Flight Sim - @Redbird_Flight
Avidyne Corporation - @avidyne1
Dave Shallbetter - @SnFRadioDave
MyGoFlight - @mygoflight

More to be added during the week…


I am an aviation branding and advertising consultant, you can find where this article first appeared on my website Reach out to me on Twitter @IanHoyt, let's meet up at SUN ‘n FUN! Happy Landings everyone.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Using Periscope Live Broadcasts for GA Advocacy - Report 2

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

I am now a couple of weeks into my experiment to see if the Periscope Live Broadcasting app can be a game changer for the GA community to reach out to the public about the joys of flying.
What I've been asking is this: With the ease of use and functionality of this app (and also Meerkat, a similar app), it seems like a great way for pilots to do "live broadcasts" of their aviation world, answering questions from the public about anything in the realm of flying, flight training, airplane ownership...anything. You just start a broadcast, headline it "I'm a Pilot - Ask me anything about flying or airplanes" and the people will come. In theory, this is brilliant...but in reality, there is a long ways to go before this platform really serves this purpose, in my opinion.
In my first test of what I am calling an #avscope on Periscope, I reached 149 broadcast visitors for a session conducted in early evening on a weeknight. This past Saturday afternoon, I did a second #avscope session, but attracted only 38 viewers, so it appears people were just out doing things and were not on Periscope. The session was decent though, with several questions being asked about costs and safety of flying, so I am still interested in seeing where this will go.
But there remains a maturity issue with Periscope, and it needs to further evolve before people consider it a viable platform for use as an advocacy tool. Here are a few of the things I feel are holding this fantastic app back:
1. As far as I can tell, there is no search option to find only broadcasts about a particular topic. You open the app, and it feeds you the latest broadcasts, which run the wide gamut from teenage girls in their bedrooms looking for attention to dudes vaping after work, and yes, what's in the freakin' fridge. Hopefully the "fridge" broadcasts will go away soon. There are plenty of very cool broadcasts that pop into the app's top 4 positions from throughout the world, like the guy broadcasting while driving some sort of exotic sports car through Rome, Italy, or someone broadcasting the setting sun in Hawaii. But if you want to try and find anything aviation-related, so far, I cannot find a way to just search for those broadcasts. So our #avscope broadcasts are thrown in with sleeping cats, drunk girls in Uzbekistan, or people walking home from work.

2. The app does not seem to have any international filtering or way to chose a default language or geo region, so you get all broadcasts from all users throughout the world. Great if you want to watch girls in Uzbekistan down shots before dancing on a table, but on my feed, sometimes it seems like over 50% of the broadcasts are in a foreign language. So even if they ARE about aviation, since I do not read Arabic, I will have no idea what they are trying to show me.

3. So far, Periscope is a fad, and people are trying to figure out what to do with it. As it matures, people will find ways to make this great app useful for many things (like reaching out to the public about aviation) and I look forward to future releases and updates. But the app is so far out of the mainstream right now, even savvy marketers have no clue what Periscope is, what it does, or what it CAN do. This will change with time because it really is an awesome way for marketers to do quick "behind-the scenes" broadcasts of events to push their brand and get their stuff out there. Yesterday, I watched a broadcast of a Formula One race team prepping for the Chinese Grand Prix from inside their shop, it had me mesmerized...very cool look at what goes on "behind the curtain" and a great use of Periscope.

4. The aviation community is not ready for Periscope yet. I have seen a few people using the app for aviation purposes, but very few of us are thinking about using it as a serious GA advocacy tool...yet. This is because most of the aviation community is averse to social media, and edgy social platforms like Periscope are simply too far out for someone who doesn't even understand Twitter.
I will continue to work on this experiment as Oshkosh draws closer, and hope that during the aviation summer family reunion in Wisconsin, I'll help convince a few of the #avgeeks I hang with to do some #avscope broadcasts while at Airventure.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Periscope Experiment 1: Reaching Out to the Public About GA Was Incredibly Easy

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

In my introduction post to this experiment of using Periscope - the hot new live streaming video app - to broadcast live and see if we aviators can reel in the public to talk about aviation, I theorized that this new technology might just be the perfect conduit to finally bridge the expanding gap between our aviation community and the general public.

Tonight, I have some very early data to report.

First, let me set the stage:
I have been watching numerous live broadcasts on Periscope over the last few days, and was not amused at what I saw. In almost every case of "Q&A, ask me anything," there was a large majority of basement dwellers, cretins and Youtube commentators that were spoiling nearly every broadcast with their usual vile, sophomoric, mindless idiocy. There were constant chat posts about "FRIDGE FRIDGE FRIDGE", and other ways to keep the useless chatter focused in someone's refrigerator. Yes, that's apparently a thing on Periscope...doing live broadcasts of the inside of the fridge. That was when a male was the broadcaster. When a cute young girl was the broadcaster, at times 50% of the chat posts were about her anatomy, her sexual preferences, or anything else despicable these losers could dig out of their twisted minds. My hopes were fading fast that Periscope could in fact be the conduit for GA to reach the public that I had first thought.
But in the interest of really unorganized science, I decided to push forward and host a live Q&A session myself about flying and airplanes. I assumed I'd just have to ignore the cretins, but I am happy to report they were off harassing other broadcasters, as not one showed up in the chat stream. I see that as a huge win and hope it is not an outlier.

My first #avscope chat came off without any problems, and as far as I can tell, it was a success. At the conclusion, I had 149 viewers, with about 30 participating in the chat. I knew about 10 of the viewers as #avgeeks I see frequently on Twitter and at Oshkosh, but the other 139...I have to assume were just "the public" being curious about flying and airplanes.

The questions asked ran the gamut from "How much does a parachute cost?" to "will you get shot down by another country if you fly across their borders without a Visa?" There were a few "is it safe?" questions, and one asking why I hate helicopters. Really? Not sure what part of left field that one came from, but I assured the viewer I do NOT hate helicopters, in fact I find them fascinating.

There is only good news here. It was a just a start, but a good one. Because tonight, I "owned the room" as good public speakers say, and was able to drag as many as 139 new people into our world, if only for a few minutes. Aside from looking much older and heavier than I am in RL, I loved every second of this, and cannot wait to do the second of what I presume will be many #avscopes about aviation.

Why not grab your copy of Periscope (sorry 'Droid users, iPhone only at this time) and do your own aviation-themed live broadcasts. If you do one, please use #avscope when talking about it on Twitter.

You have nothing to lose, and GA has everything to gain.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Can Periscope and Meerkat be the Conduit Between General Aviation and the Public?

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

Anyone that watches the tech space for the hottest new mobile apps knows that two new "live streaming" apps - Periscope and Meerkat - are red hot right now. Both operate the same way, giving users a quick, easy and free way to create "live broadcasts" that allow real-time chat functionality.

So far, in testing both apps for a few days, I'm quite impressed with the technology. A simple user interface gives anyone the tools to go live and show their viewers what they are seeing, as long as both broadcaster and viewer have a decent connection. I have seen more than a few "poor" or "lost" connections, always over 4G LTE. This is not a review of the apps, except to say both have taken social media to another exciting level, and yet again, the bar has been raised on what we can do with our mobile devices. The only question is...what will people do with this new tool?

My initial reaction to Periscope and Meerkat after seeing how the apps are being used is that the majority of the content so far is drivel. "What's in my fridge" or "Me, eating at Taco Bell" does not generate "must see" streams. And my personal favorite of "My cat, sleeping" made me start thinking  that these new apps could have somehow found a way to jump the shark even before they grow big enough to became an everyday part of our social media lives.

But something on Periscope piqued my interest about the possibly of these apps being used by the aviation community as a great way to reach out to the public and welcome them into our world, if only for a few streaming moments.

I noticed that quite a few people were doing "23YO girl in Ireland, ask me anything" live sessions, and were getting anywhere from 10 to even 50 viewers "tuning in" live to ask mostly mindless questions. So I let myself wonder what would happen if it became a "thing" to see a serious number of pilots jump on these apps with "I'm a pilot, ask me anything about flying and airplanes" live broadcasts. Here is me, dreaming...
Throughout the week, what if 10 #avgeeks were on these apps offering to answer any legit questions about flying, aviation, airplanes...anything in this realm? Let's just say each pilot on Periscope or Meerkat answering questions were to get 20 viewers, that's 200 people we could reach! Sure, 200 people reached may not seem like a huge number, but it would be a start. And if general aviation is to grow, every licensed pilot has to constantly be on the lookout for new opportunities for public outreach, and there is no question these apps represent a new opportunity.
The demographics of the average social media user trends younger, and this is precisely the demo we need to target. With tech savvy #avgeek pilots using these apps to connect with this target audience, we may be able to amp up the "cool factor" of flying and convince a few of these "viewers" to seek out flight schools, head over to the local airport, or just visit the EAA or AOPA websites to learn more.

So for the next few weeks, I'm going to test this theory and see if there is any interest on Periscope. I will host some of my own "I'm a pilot - Q&A about flying and airplanes" live broadcasts, and track the results. If it turns out that these apps are really only about drivel and sleeping cats, the whole exercise can easily be shelved, no harm, no foul and no cost., dreaming:
How cool would it be to get 20, 30, even 50 people at once watching an #avgeek host a live Periscope or Meerkat session about flying? We'd have a captive audience who by their very act of joining the broadcast would demonstrate that they have some level of interest in learning about our world. We could answer their obvious questions like "how much does it cost to get a pilot's license" and "is it safe" while smiling - no, grinning - because we are overflowing with enthusiasm for something we love. Why not host the live broadcasts from our hangars, show viewers our airplanes? We could stream our EAA chapter meetings, rock their world from Sun N' Fun, or broadcast what we see at an AOPA regional fly-in...all of this to get them excited about aviation. Yes, maybe it will be just a few minutes of live streamed video, but if we connect with that tiny piece of their soul that is curious about aviation, it moves those viewers one step closer to converting them into a flight student, and that really is the end game here.
Looking ahead a few months to late summer, we all know what happens along the shores of Lake Winnebago, at the aviation family reunion we call EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. Imagine what could happen if hundreds of #avgeeks all embraced Periscope and Meerkat and launched a flood of live broadcasts from the show every day. We could really reach out to the public, drawing them in to see that flying is fascinating, exciting and available to them. For one week, we could push live broadcasts from Oshkosh onto these platforms, and the results would be nothing short of incredible.

I will stay on this bandwagon heading into Oshkosh, because it is my belief that these two apps might just be the perfect conduit to finally bridge the expanding gap between our aviation community and the general public.

Keep an eye on Airplanista as I report back in on what develops in this "Pilot Q & A" experiment. If you like this idea, and wish to participate, just download Periscope or Meerkat and get after it. You can always email me here, or reach me on Twitter as @Av8rdan.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Strong Women of Aviation: Carol Pilon Celebrates 15 Seasons as a Wingwalker

Wingwalker Carol Pilon
Photo by Jim Rogers
By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

In another installment of my continuing series on Strong Women of Aviation, Airplanista recently interviewed one of North America's most well-known wingwalkers, Carol Pilon, from Masham, Quebec, Canada. As the snow begins to melt up north and across most of the USA, Pilon is preparing to start her 15th season doing something that many might think is crazy.

But when you read the following, you will see that this is a trained professional doing something she loves, and everything she does up there while hanging in what looks like a completely precarious situation full of danger is calculated, practiced and predictable.

AIRPLANISTA: How did you get into wingwalking, and what was it about the profession that drew you in?

CAROL PILON: I am not entirely sure what drew me in but from the very first time that I saw Wingwalking, I knew that it would be the rest of my life. It all happened when an advert for my local airshow came across my television screen. I saw the first three seconds of Wingwalking that I had ever witnessed in my life and as simple as that...I knew that this was my new home.

2015 marks 15 years as a professional wingwalker. What is it about you and your act that has allowed such longevity in this career?

CAROL PILON: Being more paranoid than a long tailed cat in a rocking chair factory has likely contributed more to my longevity than I would like to admit. Surrounding myself with the right people at the right time. Allowing contributions by others to the team whether this implies talent on a piloting, artistic or engineering level. Being open to newness has helped keep the team fresh and myself motivated. Asking for help...often...and then being smart enough to accept it. All this and understanding that returning to student status means nothing more than ensuring a good future no matter where you find yourself on the path.

Carol Pilon at work. Photo by Eric Dumigan
AIRPLANISTA: What is the learning curve for a wingwalker? Is there a "training" period, and did you have a mentor to teach you how to survive?

CAROL PILON: I had it pretty easy when it came to training. Most new wingwalkers at the time were self taught. I, however, acquired excellent tutelage from one of the best teams that my generation will have likely ever seen. This does not mean that I did not earn it. Seven years of rejection separated the times between deciding that I would become a wingwalker and getting my first ride. I put in seven years of ground work that led to two weeks of intensive training. This was all that was required before my first show. It would take another year of experience before jet wing walking and truth be told, I have never stopped learning. So I guess that you could say that the learning curve lasts anywhere from a few weeks to a lifetime depending on your ultimate goals.

AIRPLANISTA: "Wingwalker" is not your every day profession. What kind of reaction do you get when you tell non-pilots what you do for a living?

CAROL PILON: I have found that people either think it is awesome or insane. They either totally get it or can not comprehend it at all. I have rarely met indifference and FYI....this includes pilots. They are certainly not immune.

AIRPLANISTA: Tell us about the wingwalking you did on a jet-propelled aircraft? What kind of airplane, who was the pilot, and how many times did you do that?

CAROL PILON: I wing walked on a 3,000 HP, jet-propelled, modified, Waco bi-plane for about a year and half with Jimmy Franklin at the helm. He was nothing short of a revolutionary performer. The jet Waco was simply astounding to work on. Those flights will be remembered as the most challenging and rewarding ones of my life.

AIRPLANISTA: What kind of physical shape do you have to be in to be a wingwalker? Do you have a workout regimen you'd like to share?

CAROL PILON: I would say that you do need to be in pretty good shape but there is a bit of a secret to wingwalking: the more you do it, the easier it gets. My regimen consists of getting in the air as much as possible.

AIRPLANISTA: How much of your day is spent marketing your act?

CAROL PILON: Urgh. Cold calling sucks! The short answer is too much. The more complex answer is not anywhere close to enough.

AIRPLANISTA: This is a question you probably get all the time, but is it dangerous?

CAROL PILON: Yes, but not for the reasons that you would think. The more serious risks involved are flying a 70-year-old aircraft so close to the ground. The actually wingwalking portion of the flight is not anywhere close to the top of the inherent risks involved with airshow/aerobatic flight.

AIRPLANISTA: What would you tell girls and women to interest them in aviation, either to pursue a pilot's license for recreational flying or as a career?

CAROL PILON: I have failed entirely to understand what it takes to get a woman or girl interested in aviation. The women and girls that want to be involved are involved. After over a hundred years of flight, we still only represent a measly six percent of the aviation world. I do not know what the magic bullet is. Does the answer lay with making sciences more accessible or desirable to girls at a young age or does fault lay with society's perception of aviation. I truly do not know how to motivate women or girls more than by doing what I do and talking to as many of them as I can and telling them how freaking awesome it is!

AIRPLANISTA: What is the biggest misconception about wingwalkers?

That we are crazy. Everything that I do on a wing and during a flight is beyond scrutinized and calculated. I am not a risk taker. I am a risk assessor. Well....I might be a little crazy. Okay...I am crazy but not the way other crazy people are I sound crazy too. Great!

AIRPLANISTA: Freestyle question, go crazy and tell me anything about being a wingwalker that you think the public does not know...a piece of your backstory that you have always wanted to tell.

CAROL PILON: The best thing about being a wingwalker is a well-kept secret. Allow me to explain. When I first starting being a wingwalker, I decided that I would bring change, create new stunts, alter the business paradigm and revolutionize the way wingwalking was perceived. I was going to be the best thing that ever happened to Wingwalking and my mark upon it would reverberate through the ages. Fortunately, I stayed the course and realized that, yes, there were some new stunts, there were new business platforms, there were broken records and there were even a few firsts but there was no mark to be left. I came to Wingwalking expecting to make it better only to find out that the roles were reversed. Wingwalking has made me better, not the other way around. It has given me goals and allowed me to achieve them. It has brought incredibly talented people into my life whose knowledge and skills have increased mine. It has offered me salvation, education and freedom. Wingwalking has made me more than I could have made of myself. That is a pretty neat trick if you think about it!

Visit Pilon's website here and find her schedule here so you can keep an eye out for her act at an air show this year.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Women of Aviation Week's KABQ Event is One Part of a Worldwide Effort to Tap Into GA's Secret Weapon for Growth

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

Six percent.

The pathetic statistic above is the percentage bantered around by anyone who has ever researched the most obvious part of general aviation's growth problem. That's the number of female pilots, which means GA has completely missed this demographic, and whatever the industry has been doing to attract women to come fly in our male-dominated skies has just not worked.

According to the United States Census, in 2013, 50.8 percent of our citizens were female. But that same year, FAA released data showing females made up only 6.6 percent of the overall pilot population. When you look at the dismal amount of females who have earned a pilot's license, it is crystal clear that the message being sent to these girls and women is all wrong. There remains a major disconnect between females in this country and aviation, and this is the Holy Grail of all aviation marketers, Titans of Industry and influencers right now.

There's been many motivated people and organizations that have tried to pull women into flying. It would take more space than I have allowed myself in this post to list the efforts made to attract women to come fly with us in the left seat. But try as they may, regardless of the attempts made, nothing has stuck and the six percent(ish) number sadly still applies.

As anyone who has ever contemplated gender differences knows, what works to attract men to flying obviously does not work with women. Here's a clue:
In his best-selling book, "Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: A Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting What You Want in Your Relationships" by John Gray, Ph.D., Gray states that "not only do men and women communicate differently, but they think, feel, perceive, react, respond, love, need, and appreciate differently." The book does not waste ink discussing "why" men and women are different, but instead focuses on what the specific differences between men and women they react to stress, what motivates them, and their emotional cycles and needs.
These differences between the way men and women view flying seems to be the unanswerable question. If we as an industry can ever successfully solve this riddle, we can all stand back and watch GA grow exponentially.

If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know that this issue is one of extreme importance to me. So with that in mind, I am stoked beyond belief to be working with Texas pilot Dianna Stanger on the Women of Aviation Week Fly It Forward Challenge event she and Del Sol Aviation are organizing at Albuquerque International Sunport (KABQ) on March 2-8.
I have only met Stanger one time - last summer at #OSH14 - as she walked from yet another appearance on Boeing Plaza beside her big, bold new jet, the custom L-139 Albatros 2000 fighter that she has added to her stable of airplanes. Forget the business jet she owns, or the completely groovy late-model Waco biplane, or the Cirrus, or the EC135 helicopter she just bought. When you buy a one-off jet like the just SCREAMS that you are so passionate about aviation that you'll stop at nothing to share your world with others.
As reported, Stanger has a big mission in mind for the L-139. She plans to fly the jet around the country to aviation events with the sole purpose of showing girls and women that they too can come fly with us. She already has the sunglasses, and is working on her fighter pilot swagger.

But long before she lands and spools down the massive Garrett engine in the L-139, she will be found at KABQ in early March flying as many laps around the airport in anything she can find that will hold as many females as possible to enjoy free "first" flights. She'll be joined by an army of volunteer pilots and ground crew, helped at all times by Jasmine Gordon, and the people at Del Sol Aviation and Cutter Aviation.

Along with my agency's Managing Partner, Julie Celeste, my firm has been brought into the project as the PR/marketing team, and I could not be happier. If just a tiny bit of Stanger's enthusiasm for aviation rubs off on me during this project, it will be a good thing not only for my aviation marketing team, but also for GA overall.
This event is developing by the day, with new static displays being lined up, including  possibly some heavy iron from the military. Aviation's finest - people like Eric Auxier and Ramona Cox - have signed up to come to ABQ as speakers and volunteer pilots. And that was just the first week of working on this project. We have two more weeks to blow this event into something even more massive and special!
So here's the drill: If you agree that bringing more females into flying will grow GA, follow @woawABQ on Twitter and "like" the event's Facebook page. Bookmark - the event's official website, and if you can get there, stop by ABQ March 2-8 and fly some "first" flights or just hang around and feel the love. If you tweet about this event, use the hashtag #woawABQ and be sure to post this news on all of your social channels.

Together, we might be able to make a dent in that six percent. If you can't get to ABQ, look here on the WOAW site for an event near you.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Social Media Ignorance: Aviation's 'Canary in the Coal Mine'

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

Everyone reading this article knows general aviation HAS to grow in the coming is the single biggest issue facing the industry. And that growth needs to come from two places, women and the younger demographic...people ages 18 to 40(ish). When you look around the airport coffee shop, there is more gray hair these days, a clear and present sign that the general pilot population is aging.

If we as an industry fail to bring the younger pilot into flying, we fail to replace the seniors among us who lose their medical. Sure, a few move on to Light Sport Aircraft, flying on a Sport Pilot ticket and using their driver's license as their medical card. But this is tiny fraction of the older pilots that are losing their flying privileges, and with a few major exceptions like EAA's Young Eagles program, aviation as a whole is dropping the ball on seriously reaching anyone under 40 years old. This demographic LOVES adventure sports, and nothing shouts adventure like flying. Nothing.
To reach this valuable demographic so vital to the future growth of GA, you have to connect with them online, using social media, because that's where they live. They do not read newspapers, they do not use email. They do not listen to radio, and most never watch any scheduled television. All of those methods to reach them are considered by those under 40 to be what their parents use, or to put it bluntly, what old, out of touch dinosaurs use.
People under 40 are all over Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and probably a dozen lesser social platforms that are not relevant in this discussion. As a social media marketing professional, I spend most days on Twitter, and know the value of the platform and the demographics intuitively. My team and I also post for clients to Facebook, and it is very easy to reach a chosen demo just by the choices you make in content, and how you "boost" a particular post.

There are just too many people in the aviation industry who ignore social media, mostly because they do not understand it.
A glaring example was that Twitter was mostly silent before and during the recent U.S. Sport Aviation Expo. Yes, there was a trickle of tweets from the organizers, but so few exhibitors bothered to use Twitter during the show, you could count them on one hand and still give someone the finger. During one day of the show - Thursday, January 15th - not one manufacturer tweeted anything using #Sebring15, the show's official hashtag. None, nada, zilch. This, my friends, is the Canary in the Coal Mine, telling the aviation industry that it's time to wake up about social media marketing.
I am sure the people in the LSA sector who refuse to use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc...say it doesn't work. And they would be right...those platforms are 100% ineffective if you DON'T USE THEM. And I am pretty sure at some point, a few of the exhibitors looked around the show grounds at all the gray hair, and wondered where their younger buyers were hidden. Well, it's quite simple...they weren’t at the show, because they didn't KNOW about the show.

This remains one of the biggest frustrations we in aviation marketing have as we watch the sector stumble along trying to reach the valuable younger buyer. And at Sebring, the LSA makers set the bar much lower as they succeeded in keeping the show a secret to anyone under 40.

On Twitter, we have a hashtag for that...#FAIL.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Airplanista has not gone quiet - I'm still writing, just catching more ink than pixels

Writing the cover story for Cessna Flyer's
October, 2014 issue about Ramona "Skychick"
Cox and her backcountry flying was a high
point of my 2014 editorial calendar.
By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

The readers of this blog - which has been in continuous publication since 2005 - know that there are times when yours truly gets a bit sidetracked, creating gaps in the creation of my usual Airplanista content.

This is just such a time.

It's not that I'm not writing...quite the contrary. I am doing more aviation writing than ever right now, but they are paying gigs for five national aviation magazines. These assignments are taking up the time I've always spent writing for Airplanista, and anyone that knows about professional freelance writing knows that paying gigs are quite rare, so I must always place a higher priority on them than on cranking out content here.

So to try and explain that I have not is a quick run down of my current national writing assignments:
Aviation Group (Cessna Flyer and Piper Flyer Magazines): I currently write the Affirmative Attitude column for these two magazines, and the monthly assignment is one of the coolest things I do right now. The column highlights people in our aviation family that do great things to advocate for GA, or to help the greater good of humanity. These 1,000-to-1,200 word columns are a blast to pen, and I feel that I sort of own this niche now. Each month, I shine a pretty big spotlight on very cool people that use their flying skills, their airplanes or just their free time to give back in ways that really contribute to pushing GA forward. I also write numerous features for these magazines - almost one a month on average - including As Big as The Sky Itself about Ramona Cox.

AOPA Pilot Magazine: I have written for Tom Haines and AOPA Pilot for almost a decade, with a nice portfolio of features catching their very important ink. Today, I have been producing some 800-ish word news pieces for their Pilot Briefing section. Great gig, awesome people, and I hope this assignment never ends. I would not be surprised to see a feature in there in 2015...just need to pitch Tom and his sidekick, Ian Twombly the perfect story.

EAA Sport Aviation Magazine: I recently wrote a really detailed feature for this excellent magazine on John Stahr, one of the aviation world's most prolific airbrush painters. John - who happens to be a hangar mate of mine at KEUG - paints completely insane airbrush scenes on everything from RV's (flying and rolling) to Falcon 900's. I really enjoyed working with the EAA staff on this one, and as they are in the middle of a change of command at the helm of their magazines, I have no idea what the future holds. But I feel confident that if the right experimental story comes my way, I will see more of their ink in 2015.

HAI's Rotor Magazine: I wrote a pair of "Sector Profiles" for Helicopter Aviation International's flagship magazine including a cover story on fighting wildfires with rotorcraft, and I hear from them they are not through with me yet. Their staff is very good to work with...a fine association. Expect a few more of these sector profiles from me in this magazine in the future.
That is the list of current publications accepting my work. It keeps my editorial calendar full, but there is always room for more. I'm constantly on the hunt for new features, and have set a goal to add one more publication to this list in 2015. I am now reading Plane and Pilot every month, learning their content needs, and will continue to pitch their Editor stories that I feel would be awesome on their pages. Hasn't happened yet, but it will.

I am also looking at expanding my role as a tourism/travel writer, but that sector is jammed with writers, so breaking in is tough...but not impossible. 2015 is a blank sheet of paper for me at this point...what I will be doing and who I will be writing for is anyone's guess.

So, never give up on Airplanista, it is just sitting at the hold short line for a while. I do accept guest blogger posts, so shoot me an email if you have some writing experience and something to say.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Certification Issues Could Keep Santa's New Flying Sleigh Grounded

The new Sleighmaster 3000ti is being called a breakthrough
in sleigh design due to the disruptive nature of its engineering.
By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

Since kids began hearing the tale of how their gifts end up under the tree on Christmas morning, they've been told about a jolly fat man with a big white beard flying through the night in a flying sleigh powered by a team of eight magical reindeer. Yes, it's been a great ride for this story, but it has come time for Santa to upgrade from that worn out old truck of a sleigh he has used for generations.
As Airplanista does each Christmas season, we've again sent our writer to go undercover up at the North Pole to get the real scoop on what Santa and those Elves are doing. In the past, we've reported on morale issues in the workshops, with disgruntled Elves threatening work stoppages if they had to work more unpaid overtime. We've also reported that while Santa's current flying sleigh is rather dated, it is also screaming fast, and despite a full steam gauge panel, is still capable of making instrument approaches to every rooftop in the world in one full IMC.
But on this trip up to the North Pole, Airplanista's reporter was the only journalist allowed full access into Santa's SkunkWerx, and we are now able to break this huge news story. Inside the SkunkWerx, Santa and a team of retired Boeing engineers have been building something that no other aviation news outlet knows about...a "next gen" gift delivery system called the Sleighmaster 3000ti:
Behind a series of locked doors accessed only through retina scans and a DNA sample is the North Pole's secret development lab. With white floors and a sterile environment, you might think this is where silicon chips are being invented. But at the center of this "clean room" sits the Sleighmaster 3000ti, the uber-secret new sleigh Santa hopes to unveil in a couple of weeks. It is longer, taller and much more sleek that the old sleigh we've seen on Christmas cards of yesteryear, and through "clean sheet" design, the 3000ti introduces the latest in aerodynamics, reducing drag coefficients to unheard of levels. But the real jaw-dropper is the choice of power. Gone are the reindeer, replaced by Santa's own brand of turbofan engines, mounted in a "UTGCHEM" configuration, for "under the gift cargo hold engine mount" system.
Our reporter has discovered that the new engines powering Santa's 3000ti sleigh are similar in design to the Rolls-Royce Trent 800 engines that power Boeing's Triple 7 family of airliners:
Santa's new XMB7000R-2 engines are three-shaft high bypass ratio turbofan engines, each with a dry weight of 19,345 pounds. Each has eight-stage compressors, a 12-stage HP compressor, and double annular combustors with 48 fuel injectors per engine. Maximum thrust on each engine is 93,400 pounds at max takeoff weights.
From this post last holiday season on Airplanista, we know Santa has to get it on in order to hit every house in the world in one night. And while many #Avgeeks did team up to "pimp" Santa's old sleigh last year, it was not enough, as a couple of neighborhoods in Ottumwa, Iowa had to be missed to stay on schedule. Santa - being a stickler for perfection - came back to the North Pole fuming, and after taking one day off to log his flight, he began putting together the team to design and build the Sleighmaster 3000ti.   

Everything was going along perfectly through design and flight testing, but Airplanista has learned that certification has been problematic and the 3000ti project has suffered delays and setbacks, much like so many other manufacturers has discovered when trying to bring a new design to market:
Daunting and expensive, the FAA certification process is thought by many in the aviation world to be the primary hindrance towards substantial GA growth. New airplanes get stuck in certification hell, and manufacturers blow through millions in venture capital before getting anywhere close to a type certificate. With the Sleighmaster 3000ti, the story is the same...cumbersome regulations causing unnecessary delays. As the hard deadline of a Christmas Eve flight approaches, tension is palpable at the North Pole because the old sleigh is out of annual and parts are no longer available.
Right now, the 3000ti has flight tested perfectly, and is waiting for that TC to arrive from Oklahoma City. But Airplanista has learned that there are two issues that could very well harpoon the entire process, grounding the Sleighmaster indefinitely, and putting the entire Christmas gift delivery flight in doubt.
First are issues with the cargo hold, which must be built to carry the estimated 8.25 MILLION tons of gifts needed to deliver to boys and girls around the world. FAA inspectors recently discovered that the structure under the gift hold - which is part of the "UTGCHEM" design - could only hold 70,957 gifts per square inch, about 5,560 short of the minimum capability for transportation of gifts as outlined in FAR Part 1669-A, subpart 5, section 3, paragraphs 1 and 2. Engineers have been trying to find a workaround to satisfy FAA, but so far, the North Pole FSDO refuses to issue the field approval to allow the planned December 24th departure.
But while the structural deficiencies may well end up being remedied, the bigger issue is those mega-jet engines, in particular, the noise levels that they emit. FAR Part 1669-A, subpart 2, section 4, chapter 1, rule 56b was written back when sleighs were powered by magic reindeer - and the FAA has been quiet about possible rulemaking to update the regulation - so anything over the sound of a reindeer fart has always been unacceptable. FAA noise regs for sleighs say maximum decibel levels must not exceed 0.23 dB on takeoff, but the new XMB7000R-2s on the Sleighmaster 3000ti produce 156 dBs, so they are now out-of-service until a fix can be designed.
"We've tried everything," said Lead design Elf Wrench B. Turnin, "including a deflector on the back of each engine to fool the Feds into thinking the new engines are quiet enough to allow Christmas to take place. I mean, point two three dB? Are they f-ing KIDDING? I can burp louder than that! But they are on to keep this on the QT...we're going to try sticking 5,789,142 bags of marshmallows into each engine in hopes it will muffle the sound just enough to get these FSDO goons off our six. By the time we blast off outta here and reach Anchorage, we'll be spittin' roasted marshmallows out the back of these big honking puppies we have for engines. And, with a little chocolate and a few tons of Graham Crackers, we'll be layin' down a layer of S'Mores all across the frozen tundra that the FAA can chew on!"
As the important Christmas flight approaches, Santa assures Airplanista that he has the FAA inspectors just where he wants them, and he's confident he'll get the sleigh's TC in time to launch on his gift run. "Those inspectors have kids, know what I'm sayin?" said Santa, winking. "Would be a damn shame if those children woke up to see no gifts under the tree this year because their parents couldn't, you know, work wit' me on this."
This is a developing story, and Airplanista has boots on the ground at the North Pole ready to report any news as it happens. Stay tuned to this blog for updates, in real-time, thanks to the dedication of our embedded aviation journos on the scene and an awesome wi-fi connection at the hotel where we have set up base camp.

Friday, November 21, 2014

When you really need to know about the weather, it's best to go Deep.

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

There is no end to the number of WX apps available today for smartphones, and they all do many things. But I'm a big fan of any WX app that does one thing, and does it very well, without all the nonsense that must be tolerated when developers try to pack too many features into their products.

As a WX geek, I have always used the National Weather Service's Area Forecast Discussions, which is a product that presents the detailed opinions of NOAA's weather forecasters on what they think the current, short- and long-term WX will do. These have always been my "secret weapon" that allows me to sound like a WX expert at any party, because I always seem to have the inside line on the real story of what is going to happen outside the windows. Click here to see the area forecast discussion from KPDX for my home region.

I have recently discovered a sweet little app called Deep Weather that aggregates these discussions and reformats them into a clean app that makes them super easy to read. If you have an interest in apps, in the WX, or in discovering how some developers just want to create something that solves a problem, read on...

This is what the NOAA people have to say:
"Everyday, forecasters at NOAA's National Weather Service 122 weather forecast offices across the nation write local weather discussions," said Maureen O'Leary, a Public Affairs Specialist at the NOAA Communications and External Affairs office. "Forecasters write discussions for the public, our core partners including broadcast meteorologist, emergency managers, and the weather enterprise. These discussions support the aviation and marine transportation industries.”
Kristian Ljungkvist, the developer of Deep Weather, is a private pilot based in Ashland, Oregon who flies a 1959 Cessna 180B Skywagon to take his family to backcountry airstrips in Idaho, Montana and other places to camp and hike. Most notable in his logbook is a three-and-a-half week flight up to Alaska this past summer to explore the state's many airstrips.
"For almost as long as I've been flying," Ljungkvist said, "I've relied on the National Weather Service Forecast Discussions to really get a feeling for the weather forecast. They give you the background behind the forecast and help you understand the forecaster's thinking. I was looking for a convenient way to get this information, and also felt that this awesome content could be a little easier to read. The original text is pretty much just a chunk of text with delimiters between the sections. Being a software developer, I decided to write an iPhone app and have it automatically retrieve the latest and closest Forecast Discussion. I also added some parsing and formatting of the text to make it a little easier to read. The response to Deep Weather has been great! It's pretty gratifying to see something that you made for yourself be used by so many others."
While deciphering the WX reports can be a complicated thing, the developer says there is no better way to translate this information than the forecast discussions:
"Each National Weather Service forecast office publishes Area Forecast Discussions alongside the Zone Area Forecast to document the meteorological thinking that went into the forecast," explains Ljungkvist. "Weather is the very definition of a dynamic system and contains so many variables that the best you can do is come up with some sort of probability for what the weather will do. Most published forecasts kind of gloss over this part and instead give you the best guess without any qualifiers. By reading the forecast discussion, you get some insight into what the competing models are predicting and the thinking behind why one was chosen over another. The discussions specifically focus on challenges in the forecast, which give you a better feeling for how the forecast might change, should one of the underlying variables change. I also think the forecast discussions are a great learning tool. I've learned so much over the years by reading the forecast discussion and then looking up terms or concepts I didn't understand."
And as anyone who uses the forecast discussions can tell you, they are much, much more accurate that the news emanating from your TV set. "As most weather-minded folks know," said Ljungkvist, "the weather forecast you see on the news, or on a TAF is based on observations and computational weather models. But multiple models are run in parallel, and the forecasters use their expertise to figure out which model has the highest likelihood of being correct."

As to the work that went into this brilliant app, Ljungkvist says he focused primarily on a clean interface that was easy to use.
"I'm a one-man software development shop, so a fair amount of time went into developing Deep Weather. It's been through quite a few revisions. The current version on the app store is version 2.04 and I'm working on an update for iOS8. A lot of the work that went into Deep Weather was geared toward making it as easy as possible to use. In general that's my philosophy with all the software I make. Just launch it and it will find your location, figure out the nearest forecast office, download the latest forecast discussion, split it up into sections and format it nicely for you."
If you have any interest in weather - and especially if you are a pilot - this is $1.99 well spent. Yes, the app is technically free, with a "Pro" version that removes ads, but spring for the two bucks and help this developer get something for his time and trouble. Frankly, I am finding myself going to it several times a day, and it is worth more than this. So if you want to support aviators who build apps that will help you fly safer, go here and buy the app right now.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Strong Women of Aviation: Meet the Force Behind the 'Turbo the Flying Dog" Children's Book Series

Victoria Zajko and Turbo
By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

I am not wired like some men in that I really think we should live in a genderless world where women earn exactly the same pay as men, and where any female should have the same chance at climbing to the very top of the corporate ladder as their male colleagues.
And as an aviator, the fact that just over six percent of the pilot community is female is appalling when they make up fifty percent of the general population. I've called this missing 44 percent aviation's "secret weapon for growth" and it should be every pilot's responsibility to break that glass ceiling for good.
There are all sorts of women, just like there are various kinds of men. But the term "strong woman" describes one of my favorite types of females, because they seem to be very good at self-motivation and driving themselves to achieve anything they choose. "Strong" does not mean forceful, or pushy, or overtly aggressive. It means they just charge ahead with the same verve as some men. The Neanderthals of the 1950s who had an ugly "B" word for these women thankfully have mostly gone west, and the smart women who "lean in" today seem to be just that much closer to grabbing the brass rings they seek.   
In my last post on young, brilliant rocket scientist Stephanie Evans, I started an ongoing series looking at strong women in aviation. These females are leaders in our aviation family, and one of the most motivated of this group is Victoria Zajko. She is @Toriafly on Twitter and is about to publish the first in what I hope is a long series of aviation-themed children's books based on her shelter dog, Turbo.

While Turbo will fly in anything, apparently he
has a preference for open-cockpit biplanes.
Good Doggie.
And since we all want to publish a book, I thought "The Pixie Pilot" as she is called would make the perfect subject of another interview in this series. So sit back and enjoy the tale of how a book for the littles goes from idea to your eyes.

Airplanista: Let's get to know you.

Victoria Zajko: My name is Victoria Zajko (formerly Neuville) and I work in customer service and sales at Aviation Insurance Resources. I kind of fell into this position when I moved to Frederick, MD and now am happy to turn it into a career. Insurance is not that boring when you get to work with and talk to pilots every day! I am a commercial pilot with an instrument rating and fly a Cessna 172 (through work) and Glasair IRG (my husband's) regularly. My dream airplane would be a Waco, although I have never stepped foot in one! I completed all of my flight training in Michigan where I grew up. I went through ground school and my first discovery flight when I was 16 thanks to many years of encouragement from my father. It wasn't until I was at a crossroads in college rethinking my future when it dawned on me that I kept putting my goal of becoming a pilot in a file in my brain called "someday."

Airplanista: Walk us through the very inception of the book it moved from concept to a living project.

VZ: My coauthor Kelly Kennedy and I have always wanted to write children's books. I recall babysitting when I was in middle school and high school and I would create short stories complete with artwork for the kids. Shortly after my husband, Bob, and I adopted our dog Turbo, many friends were encouraging us to make him a Facebook page chronicling his adventures. One night, while spending time with Kelly (most likely a happy hour lol!) we thought, here's our chance. Turbo has to have a book about him. From there our ideas spread like wildfire and we plan to publish at least 4 books in the Turbo series. Kelly had assisted me before as part of a marketing team for aviation events I held at Frederick Airport and I knew we would make the perfect team. We plan for a successful series that will take lots of work, but we always ensure that we enjoy the process.

Airplanista: Once it was decided that you wanted to produce a children's book with an aviation theme, what were the major roadblocks that had to be cleared in order for the project to begin positive forward progress?

VZ: Roadblocks, hurdles, whatever you may call them, I'm used to them! I think it keeps life interesting and you have to expect them along the way for any project. Surprisingly, we did not encounter many (yet...knock on wood). Probably the biggest hurdle we faced was financing. We did not have the funds to properly produce and advertise our product, so we started a Kickstarter campaign. We were 50% funded within the first day, were a Kickstarter staff pick, and even made it to number 2 in the top children's books Kickstarter campaigns. In the end, we went 16% over our minimum goal when the campaign ended. I believe that the Kickstarter success proves what a powerful story Turbo the Flying Dog will be, and that the many nights staying away brainstorming his marketing campaign have paid off.

Airplanista: How much work was put into developing the story of Turbo the Flying Dog? Do you or your publishing partner have previous writing or publishing experience?

VZ: You would think that a couple of sentences per page would not be that difficult, but it was and it was a lengthy process. We had to insure the flow of the book targeted a certain age group and that we were getting the story across and having readers fall in love with the Turbo character in a mere 32 pages. It went through several revisions, paying attention to each and every detail, until we knew it was ready. My coauthor publishes the Country Register for Tennessee and Kentucky and has a background in creative writing. Her knowledge has been irreplaceable. We each have different areas of expertise and creative ideas that we bring to the table.

The cover art for book one in the series
Airplanista: Explain how much work went into the art for the book. How was it developed...was it a tough process or one that was rewarding?

VZ: Kelly and I had this vision for the look of the book, but putting that look into words was very difficult. A good working relationship with whoever became our illustrator was also key and we wanted a true fan of Turbo to be our illustrator. So, we put a call out on social media for artists to send in a sample drawing of Turbo and a bid on the book project. We didn't expect much and were surprised at how quickly and how much talent came in! By pure coincidence, the person who provided the "right" look was my husband's cousin, Michelle Zajko. It was very rewarding that we could make this a friends and family affair and that I could get to know my new family a bit better through such a creative process. Michelle has been great. She does not take advantage of the fact that we are family and treats the Turbo series as seriously as we do. She also has such an amazing vision, we rarely have to go back and ask her to change something in the book. She brings the cartoon Turbo to life in a way we had only imagined.

Airplanista: Lets talk business. It seems that everyone wants to publish a book at some point, but you are actually doing it. How did you create the business model for this book project? Did a publishing house pick it up, do you have sponsors, or is it being self-published?

VZ: Self-publishing companies make it so easy for anyone to be an author these days. This is a route we had initially avoided due to the thought that self-published books would be overlooked because they were in fact that...self-published. But there are some items that take a lot of time (and money) to get picked up by a publishing house. First, to get to the big leagues you have to go through an agent, and those agents have fees and may or may not want to represent you. We both really believed in our story, however, so this did not deter us. In the end, we chose the self-publishing route for one reason: control. We wanted to keep the integrity of the series intact and didn't want the Turbo brand to change while under the control of a publishing house. We had a specific plan in mind that we did not want compromised by putting the control in someone else's hands.

Airplanista: What other writers and publishers did you speak with about their book projects before starting yours?

VZ: When we were in the beginning stages, I quickly consulted Karlene Petitt of Flight to Success for insight due to her author and pilot background. She's always been a big supporter of an endeavor I've been a part of and she did not disappoint me here either. When the book was written, we sent it to a good friend and author of the soon to be released book, Hausa Blues, Shelah Maul. Shelah is a Speech Pathologist and helped us determine the proper age range for the book and point out areas that needed a second look. Finally, once we decided self-publishing was the way to go, I got connected with Jeff Kennon who self-published his book, The Day I Learned to Fly. He was always willing to answer any questions I had about his experience. These mentors prove that it's not just about the author(s) that go into a book, there is a whole backbone of support that brings a story to press.

Airplanista: What are your short- and long-term goals for the book projects? How many units would you like to sell, and how far would you like to take this "Turbo the Flying Dog" brand?

VZ: We are dreaming big! We had named Turbo prior to the Disney movie about a snail called Turbo came out. So since they beat us to the big screen, we would love to have Turbo's big screen debut be with DreamWorks. They produce my favorite movie How to Train your Dragon anyway :) We are realistic, though, despite our lofty goals. We are not in it to make money, just to inspire children with Turbo's tale. I'd love to see the first four books go to print and see where it takes us from there. 

Airplanista: Now that the book is coming out, what are your plans to get people to buy them?

VZ: This is probably the hardest part of self-publishing, but luckily Turbo (the real one) already has quite a following on social media. Plus, the pilot community has been amazing in spreading the word. Besides the usual books signings at book stores, we hope to go to dog friendly places as well as airports to promote the book. I hope to put together a few small airport events together at the beginning of the New Year. It will be a perfect opportunity to meet Turbo and to get children excited about the aviation environment. We have already been in touch with a few aviation shops and FBOs to sell the book and will be submitting our product to larger retailers like Sporty's for review. The book will also be available for purchase on the Turbo the Flying Dog website and on

Airplanista: What do you want to accomplish with this book series in terms of motivating children to learn more about flying?

VZ: Turbo is a just a mutt who spent the beginning of his life at a shelter. If he can learn to fly a plane, any kid can, too! The Turbo series is a glimpse into the aviation world, I hope that through Turbo, children will want to learn more about aviation. In book one, kids will learn that aviation can be fun and that it's not that scary. Through books 2 through 4 children will be invited to learn a little bit more about airplanes, aviation history and weather. The pilot population is dwindling and it's up to us present pilots to encourage others (young and old) that they can achieve their dream of flight. My hope is that through the Turbo books, children know that they can reach for the sky despite the odds that may be against them. Turbo is in a cage in the beginning of Turbo the Flying Dog but by the end, he's flying towards a brand new life!

VZ: Turbo the Flying Dog is expected to release on December 8th, 2014. It will be available on and over at our website: We'd love to hear what you think and feel free to share photos of your kids (or yourself!) enjoying Turbo's story. We'd also like to give a shout-out to Dustin's Angels. They are a rescue group out of West Virginia and the group we got Turbo from. My husband and I actually picked real life Turbo up by plane the day we adopted him! Without their dedication to giving animals a second chance, I wouldn't have such an awesome four-legged co-pilot. Many thanks also to all of our Kickstarter backers and those that have retweeted, shared, and what-not our project along the way. The last thank you goes to our husbands, Bob (mine!) and Chris (Kelly's) because they've put up with our crazy ideas, countless of dinners chatting about the series and have never once doubted our project.
Finally, I'm an open book, feel free to contact me or Turbo anytime with your questions or anything you would like to share.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A young, brilliant Rocket Scientist tells us why she thinks STEM Education is so important

Stephanie Evans
By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

People who read this blog long enough know I am a big proponent of getting more females into flying. But that advocacy also includes getting more women into the aerospace industry, and that begins with STEM education.

If that acronym is foreign to you, STEM stands for "science, technology, engineering and math." That is the core curriculum if you want to end up as a "Certified Rocket Scientist" like Stephanie Evans (@StephEvz43).

I recently "met" Stephanie through Twitter, and she was cordial enough to take time off of building something for someone (sorry, it is classified and I do not know myself) to answer some interview questions. I wanted to find out what path she took to get out of the pink aisle and into a seriously cool job in the aerospace industry. Her answers are presented below verbatim:

AIRPLANISTA: Your Twitter profile says you are a "Certified Rocket Scientist"...what exactly is that, and how do you get certified?

STEPHANIE EVANS (SE): My "certification" is more based around my degree, which is in aerospace engineering. I like to joke that I paid a lot of money and didn't sleep for four years so that I could say "it's not rocket science" ironically. My focus in college was on microsatellite design and development. I went to school at Missouri S&T and participated on the Satellite Design Team (M-SAT) and also did research for the Missouri Space Grant Consortium. Those experiences are what I count towards my "certification."

AIRPLANISTA: Walk my readers through your childhood and 'tween years and describe the path you took to end up with a BS in Aerospace Engineering. Was there any one event that sent you on this trajectory, or any one person who mentored you?
SE: I grew up in a small town in the middle of a corn field in southern Illinois, so there wasn't a lot of scientific clubs or organizations to get involved with up until I was in high school. In fact, it wasn't until I was a sophomore in high school that our science club was organized. I was very lucky to have two science teachers that really nurtured my love for science and set me on the path I'm on today.

While the town is set in pretty old-fashioned ways, my parents both did a wonderful job encouraging me to find an interest. My father has always loved aircraft. He's always wanted to get his pilot's license. Growing up next to an Air Force Base also helped. I think the defining moment for me was when I was pretty young, around 7 or 8. I was playing in the backyard and looked up and saw what looked like a flying saucer to me; a very thin wing shape flying completely level with only the cockpit sticking up. As I watched, the aircraft banked out, and I was looking at a B-2 gracefully banking out over the cornfields. It was the coolest thing I'd ever seen, and I knew I wanted to somehow be involved with stuff like that. As I got older, that passion branched out to spacecraft. I would stay up late for night launches and read about anything I could get my hands on about space exploration and the history of NASA. I was definitely a geek, but all the experiences I had during that time were incredibly influential in setting me on my career path.

AIRPLANISTA: I have heard that "engineering" is primarily made up of male students. Is that true, and did being female in that world have an positive or negative effects on your education and career advancement?
SE: It is absolutely true. Missouri S&T is primarily an engineering college, and its student population dynamic is very reflective of how the actual engineering industry is. When I enrolled at the college, I believe that the ratio was roughly nine boys for every one girl. However, the university has really made strides to encourage female interest. There are many outreach programs that target young women, and by the time I'd graduated, the female population had increased to nearly 25%, the highest it had ever been. It is still very much a boy's club though; out of 50 aerospace students in my graduating class, I was one of two women.

Having such a low female percentage definitely has effects, both positive and negative. Many employers are eager to diversify, so being female can help when looking for work (although it never felt like it when I was looking for work). There are even scholarships that specifically target female engineering students and organizations such as the Society of Women Engineers.

However, there are downfalls to it as well. As a female, I constantly feel that I need to prove myself. Sexism is still a thing, and it's pretty hard to prove in the workplace when you may be the only female report. Many women don't come forward due to fear of retribution or being branded a "FemiNazi". In my college years, I regularly heard jokes about women getting back to the kitchen, and they were just jokes, but after hearing them all of your life, they can be exhausting. I'm not saying that it's like this everywhere. In the two years I've been in industry, I've reported to outstanding people, but I've also had my uphill battles with male individuals. I don't condone it at all, but it is something young women need to be prepared to deal with, because it doesn't always go away.

My approach has always been simple: Work as hard as you can, outwork everyone around you, and if that perception still exists, then it's their problem, not yours.

AIRPLANISTA: I recently bought my granddaughter a GoldieBlox kit because their website says, "In a world where men largely outnumber women in science, technology, engineering and math, girls lose interest in these subjects as early as age 8. Construction toys develop an early interest in these subjects, but for over a hundred years, they've been considered boys' toys. GoldieBlox is determined to change the equation. We aim to disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers." So, what do you think "disrupt the pink aisle" means?
SE: Ah, the wonderful pink aisle. Growing up, I have so many memories of walking through toy stores and seeing the "pink aisle" where the toys for girls resided. Hot pink Barbie boxes and doll boxes stretched out for what seemed like miles. While I did own Barbies (Princess Jasmine had color changing hair and jewelry. How awesome was that?), there were times that I'd skip the pink aisle and head for the Legos in the "boys section". Toys like this really give me hope for the next generation because the break the mold for what is expected of young girls. At the end of the day, I don't think there should be toys for girls and toys for boys, just toys that foster whatever interest each child has. I just wish stuff like this had been around when I was growing up so that I wouldn't have to blow breakers in the house (lesson: never touch white and green wires together in the light socket box) just to satisfy my constant curiosity. I think my parents would also have been appreciative.

AIRPLANISTA: What can the average general aviation pilot do to help encourage girls and women to think about STEM studies?
SE: I would say a large part of this is Outreach activities. Giving talks, holding seminars, or just taking your daughter up in your aircraft are great ways to foster interests. These kinds of things weren't available to me when I was growing up and frankly, the fact that I ended up in the field I did surprises me some days. Pure tenacity and curiosity got me to where I am, but not all girls are lucky enough to have parents that have time to take you to the airshow or do science experiments with you. I had two teachers for parents that constantly encouraged me to pursue any interest I had. Making these kinds of things available to young women is a huge step in the right direction, and it's also so good for the industry.

In college, part of our M-SAT program was to do Outreach with the local communities. I know for a fact that walking the kids through our observatory on campus or teaching them about basic rocket design changed some of their lives. At the end of the day, just allow young women to explore any and all interests they have, and if it just wasn't their cup of tea, then that's absolutely fine. The opportunity to explore the different opportunities in the STEM fields just needs to be more available.

AIRPLANISTA: Now that you are in a critical engineering position with a major company, do you see any significant differences between the male and female engineers?
SE: Overall, I'm very fortunate to work with a group of engineers that are incredibly dedicated to designing and developing the best products and projects that we can in a timely fashion. However, there are a few differences. I think the most notable difference is the personality types. Many of the men that I work with are laid back and go about their jobs quietly. I work closely with another female engineer, and she is an incredibly strong woman that doesn't take anything lying down. She is incredibly meticulous in ensuring that she understands everything going on in her projects and that everything is being designed and tested to the quality that she expects. The attention to detail that she regularly displays is something to aspire to. We work as Systems Engineers, so we are responsible for requirement development and tracking, and projects are built on these requirements, so her tenacity serves her well. One of the biggest things she's taught me in the two years I've worked with her is to not accept anything less than exactly what you want and don't take crap from anyone. It may not always make friends, but it gets the job done, and I think that kind of personality is definitely beneficial for young women in fields dominated by men. In my limited experience, it would seem that women like this are usually the success stories. 

AIRPLANISTA: Do you think females would become more interested in STEM education and a career in aerospace industry by joining EAA and learning about building experimental aircraft?
SE: Absolutely. I can tell you that, as a child, if this kind of opportunity had been available to me, I would have jumped all over it. As I said earlier, Outreach like this is key in fostering a love for STEM in not only young women, but the general public. I didn't even hear the words "aerospace engineering" until my freshman year in high school, and I know that there are many young women just like me. An EAA membership would go a long way in education and encouragement for the aerospace industry.

AIRPLANISTA: What are some of the main reasons that girls and women do not actively pursue STEM education and careers in the aerospace industry in numbers equal to males?
SE: In my opinion, it's a lack of encouragement from society and a lack of available activities. In general, I would say things are improving. There are so many activities that I hear about nowadays that make me go "Dang, I wish they had that when I was a kid!" For example, Hickman High School in Columbia, Missouri has the Columbia Aeronautics and Space Association or CASA, a curriculum that focuses on aerospace technology and the curriculum applications. The coolest part of this program is the week-long International Space Station simulation, complete with mission control, "ninjas" to cause problems for the astronauts to deal with, and a replica of the station that the students work in. Hands down, one of the coolest things I've ever seen, and an incredibly significant outreach project due to the interest it generates not only with the students, but with the community. Projects like these are the necessary steps forward in increasing these numbers, but finding them is a rare. I acknowledge that this is a large-scale example, but there are multitudes of activities that educators and parents can do with young people to spark an interest in STEM education. The first steps just need to be taken.

AIRPLANISTA: Your specialty is satellites. We currently have a fantastic GPS system that allows my phone to find a Starbucks in the next block, and track my movements in real-time. But this planet lacks any sort of worldwide Internet connectivity, and many places still suffer with slow dial-up speeds. What are the technical reasons that we cannot someday see a satellite-based Internet connectivity system with the coverage of the GPS system, delivering fast Internet speeds anywhere a device can send signals to and receive signals from satellites?
SE: Believe it or not, a project like this is already in the works! Google's Project Loon is working to spread Internet connectivity to rural or remote areas using high-altitude balloons (not quite satellites, but on the edge of space). The reasoning behind using the weather balloons is likely the fact that it's a cheaper solution (launching a bunch of satellites into space is incredibly expensive).

AIRPLANISTA: Describe what a girl age 10-13 should be doing right now to set out on an education path that includes STEM studies in order to end up in a position such as yours.
SE: Working hard in school and reading everything they can get their hands on about their interests. Don't be easily discouraged if this is something that they are truly passionate about, because passionate people are the ones that need to be working in these fields. Those are the people that are going to drive the major successes and discoveries of the future.

AIRPLANISTA: How important is it that we send humans to Mars? Is that in our future, and if yes, do you see that potentially as part of the commercial space travel industry someday?
SE: I think sending humans to Mars will be the first baby steps required for the human race to branch out to other planets. It will be our first real test-run for long term missions and independent survival. Going to Mars will play a significant step in the advance of human space exploration. In regards to the commercial industry, I believe that if we can successfully set up a colony on Mars, that yes, commercial space flight to Mars would be the next logical step, although I don't believe it will be in my lifetime.

AIRPLANISTA: Add anything here that you think my general aviation readers need to see to help them understand about girls, women and STEM education.
SE: Just in general, the world is becoming a more encouraging place for young women everywhere to take up a career in STEM, but there is still much room for improvement. The most difficult part about pursuing a career in STEM is the fact that everything is changing so quickly: new scientific discoveries every day, new technology rolling off the line before anyone can get used to the previous model. It's a world constantly in flux, but to me, that is what makes it so exciting. There are many careers where you may do the same thing every day for 50 years, but STEM fields are constantly changing and growing.In my mind, that is what makes it such a wonderful thing to be a part of, and I can't wait to see how the STEM world will change throughout my career, both in terms of the exciting research that will be generated and the people that will be doing it.