Sunday, February 07, 2016

Flying in Thin Air

This aviation magazine article was originally published in the October, 2011 issue of Airplanista Magazine.

By Vincent Lambercy

With an elevation close to its runway length, Samedan Airport (LSZS) is very unique. It is located close to St. Moritz, at an elevation is 5,600 feet MSL in the Engadin Valley in Switzerland. With a runway only 5,900 feet long, even pilots flying with turbocharged engines notice a significant difference in takeoff performance due to the thinner air.

At LSZS, the take-off roll, with a normally-aspirated engine, seems to last forever. Pilots who don’t stick to the best climb speed put themselves at risk of being hit by a ball when flying over the golf course located 800 meters from the departure end of runway 21.

Samedan is a military airport open to civil traffic, and the traffic can be dense in both summer or winter. The pattern for single-engine aircraft is at 1,000 feet above airport level but because of the surrounding high terrain, it is much lower above ground level. Most of the summits around peak at 7,000 or 8,000 feet, and some even reach 10,000 MSL. The valley is indeed so tight that there is no room for a base leg, even flying at 70 or 80 knots in a Diamond DA-40 like we flew into Samedan. Light twins, turboprop and jets have to fly direct approaches.

This part of Switzerland is not easy to reach. Zürich is only 75 nautical miles a straight line. But driving between the two cities by car takes close to three hours, in good weather, and you must cross several high passes. There are no direct roads, and train connections are not faster. This makes flying a serious option for those who are worthy enough to consider it an affordable option. The airport can accommodate aircraft up to the size of a Boeing 737 Business Jet, and many makes/models of business jets are frequently flying in and out of Samedan because of its proximity to St. Moritz.

During summer, the altitude combined with temperatures in the high 70s makes Samedan one of the most challenging airports in Europe. Gliders, paragliders and skydivers are also part of the game. In such a terrain, any strong wind is a no-go. Operating in Samedan in winter is even more complex, because of snow. Samedan is in the heart of the Alps and it is not unlikely to see up to 20 inches of snow fall within less than a day. Keeping the runway and tarmac in operational conditions is a challenge for the airport operator in inclement conditions.

The proximity with Davos, Switzerland makes Samedan the airport of choice during the yearly meetings of the World Economic Forum, each winter. During this time the airport is closed to most traffic and large prohibited areas are in place and enforced by the Swiss Air Force. Several supplements are published in the Swiss AIP to make sure all the extra restrictions are clear for all pilots in the vicinity.

Three accidents involving business jets in 2009 and 2010 led to the introduction of a mandatory briefing for commercial operators. In the 2009 accident, the wingtip of a Falcon 10 did hit a snowbank along the runway, which was identified as a contributing factor by the investigation report. The aircraft veered and broke into two pieces. Reading the report shows how challenging a landing in Samedan can be in rapidly deteriorating weather conditions - the snow bank was was 13 feet high!

But if you prepare and execute your flight well, the region has a lot to offer to treat yourself. One of the specialities of the canton (state) of Graubünden where Samedan is located is a dried meat called “Bindenfleisch”. This is beef meet, dried in open air, and then served in thin slices. This makes a perfect starter dish.

After landing into Samedan, like in most European airports, you’ll have to walk to the control tower to pay your landing fees. But there, to make it less bitter and more sweet, you can also buy the second local culinary speciality: a Bündner Nusstorte. This is a honey and nut pie, and no visitor should miss it. You can have one at the airport’s restaurant, or explore the surroundings.

The Graubünden area offers every possible mountain-related activity - skiing, snowboarding, hiking, golf, mountain biking and some of the most luxurious spas of the country. There’s no better way to relax after a flight than bathing in open air hot springs, surrounded by the glorious snowy mountain peaks of the Swiss Alps.

Friday, January 29, 2016

It's Never Too Early to Think About 'Oshkosh'

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

Rain is dumping up here in Oregon, and the East is still digging out of #Snowzilla. Cars are getting tossed around by tornadoes in Florida, while mudslides courtesy of El Niño are a frequent thing in California.

Yes, Airplanistas, we are in the middle of the non-flying season. And unless you have a FIKI-equipped airplane and have no issues with ice, hail, sleet and freezing rain, there's not much GA flying happening right now.

But even as the WX toys with us, inside where it's warm, an Airplanista's thoughts can easily wander off to the shores of Lake Winnebago...
It's late summer, the air is humid, and over your shoulder is the afternoon thunderstorm waiting to barrel through on its way to Lake Michigan. You've been baking on the flight line at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh all afternoon, and have drank enough water to double the size of the big lake just east of KOSH, a.k.a Wittman Regional Airport. You've walked 100 miles today, your feet are protesting, but it's all, because you are at the best place any aviator can visit. You are home.
To many of us who go to Oshkosh each summer, it feels like one gigantic aviation family reunion. because it is. Sure, you can write a check and buy a PC-12 NG or new Cirrus, or fill your mind with the sights of endless new aviation technology in the four massive trade show halls. But most of us go to this week-long party for the camaraderie of the people we only see one time each year.

It's way too early to start pinning down a schedule, but it's just the right time in the year to begin thinking about the details that can slip right through your fingers, such as lodging. For newbies, this is the drill:
If you think you can wait until June to just go online and grab a hotel room during EAA week, don't even bother. Every accommodation for a 40-mile radius will be sold, often a tidy premium. I once waited and had to stay at a horrible trucker's motel in New London, about 30 miles away. If you want to camp, stay on top of the EAA website and get your reservation as soon as they are available, or risk being at the far west end of Camp Scholler, much closer to highway 41 than airplane wonderland. You can easily camp under your wing if flying in, just make sure to get there when space is available. By Tuesday of #OSH15, aircraft parking on the field had closed, so if you waited, you got to tie down and camp in Fond du Lac and take a shuttle each way. There are great options for rooms in private homes, and my favorite cheap way to sleep at Oshkosh is the University of Wisconsin dorms. Not classy, not super comfortable, but cheap, clean, and the city bus whisks you into the Bus Park every morning and evening for about $2.00.
So join me in letting your mind wander off to that shore, that party, and all the great things we will see this summer. I am not sure yet what my Oshkosh will look like, if I will have an Oshbash event, or even where I am staying.

One thing however that is not in dispute is the fact that I will be there, if I have to walk all the way from Oregon. I hear the Oregon Trail heads back that way somewhere, maybe I ought to start hoofing it now, and have someone from my EAA chapter pick me up in their RV-8 as I limp along in July somewhere east of Omaha.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Thanks 'Jumpin' Joanie' for Pushing Me to Become a Writer

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

It's 1966, and I had just came back from my first airliner trip on United from Fresno, CA, through KSFO and on to Seattle. I cannot recall the short hop over California's Coast Range, but my memory wants to say the long northbound leg into KSEA was in a Boeing 707. After visiting my mother's family and returning to Fresburg, I was so jacked about airliner flight, I could not stop talking about it. What happened next might have changed my life.
My mom liked to go by the handle of 'Jumpin' Joanie' due to her eclectic personality that was equal parts Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball and Joan Rivers...all rolled into a creative soul that could paint anything on anything and make it look good. She had a gift of gab that nobody could rival...she'd talk anyone's ear off, and had a quick wit to match her personality. Her trick was to string any three words together in conversation, to throw people off guard and make most anything she said sound like pure genius. Ask her about watermelons, and she's reply "oh, they are sweet because of the metabolic transference conductivity of the water they use." Since nobody had a clue WTF she was talking about, they'd just nod their head and say, "hmmm."
After hearing my endless chatter from me about the flight to Seattle, she suggested I write someone at United Airlines and thank them. We dug out an old Royal typewriter from the closet, and with her guidance, I pounded out my very first letter to someone important. I was 10-years-old, and the words were mine, but she helped with some of the typing since, well...I was TEN. But I did get the point across that United really lit me up about flying, and just like my writing today, it was from the heart without any contrived B.S. or spin.

We dropped the letter in the U.S. Mail, and forgot about it. I went back to doing all the things 10-year-olds do in Fresno, never really expecting to see anything of it. Then one day, a large manila envelope arrived in our mailbox...addressed to me. No 10-year-old ever gets much mail, so to get a large brown envelope was a big deal. When I saw who had sent it, I went completely into orbit. It was addressed:

Office of the President, United Airlines.

Somehow, my letter had been sent up the chain of command at UAL HQ to the president, George Keck. I guess he (or someone who signed his letters) liked what the saw in my rather long and descriptive letter, and replied with a personal thank you. Along with the letter was a ton of great info on United at the time, some vintage black and white photos, and a press release and brochure of a gigantic new airplane Boeing was developing. It was the 747, to be delivered and enter service a few years later.

For a wide-eyed kid who loved to hang on the fence at Fresno Air Terminal (yes, the baggage tags said FAT, which caused more than its share of uproar over the years, especially from overweight pax), receiving this personal reply back from the highest level suit at United was very inspiring. My mom, told me straight away that words are powerful, and if you string them together in the right order, they can do wonderful things. This package from United was proof, and from that day on, I became very interested in writing.

Fast forward to 1979, and it was my sister Mary that saw my potential as a writer and wanted to see me push my boundaries. I had been photographing auto racing at the time, and was doing quite well because with each set of 8" x 10" images I'd ship off to Chris Economaki's National Speed Sport News or other national racing publications, I'd always include very accurate and long photo captions that were welcomed by editors and used nearly verbatim.

My sister bought me an electric typewriter, and it allowed me to start cranking out "stories" of what I was seeing while I shot the races up and down the West Coast. Editors took notice, and soon, they started running my stuff. I became a "stringer" for National Speed Sport News, at the time the most respected auto racing weekly in the country. With their press ID card, I could waltz into any track in the land, and sit in the Press Box, just like the real journalists. That assignment peaked when I covered an Indy Car race for them at Portland International Raceway, and was probably out of my league at the post-race presser when I interviewed Mario Andretti, Rich Mears and a slew of other "A" list Indy car drivers.

My journalism life went sideways for many years, until I landed at a small weekly in Reedley, CA, covering sports and city news. Two years of being yelled at when I did not mention Johnny's home run in a Little League story or reporting on the Biggest Beard contest down at the City Park was about all I could handle, and I moved on from newspaperin'.

But I never stopped writing.

In 2005, nine years after earning my pilot's license, I found a home for my writing on my World of Flying blog. It's the same space you are reading right now as it morphed into Airplanista around 2010. This gave me free reign to write anything, without anyone looking over my shoulder. I guess it has paid off because now I write freelance for seven of the eight major national aviation magazines. I am not getting rich, but man do I get to do a LOT of writing.

And if not for Jumpin' Joanie's prodding back in 1966 to pound out that letter to United Airlines, I might not have ever discovered that I could write. This career found me, and somehow, I learned the ropes well enough to persevere. Editors like my stuff, and they always know it comes ready for the page, wrapped in a nice bow. There is only one thing left in my writing career to truly grasp, one last Grail I can call Holy.

And that is to become an aviation writer full time. It is coming someday, I can sense it, and all I have to do is keep coming up with good pitches for the seven magazines, and as Jumpin' Joanie said, keep stringing the words together in the right order.

Stay tuned...

Saturday, October 17, 2015

'Katy' Can Haul the Goods and Would Look Great in Your Hangar

Katy on the ramp at Eugene's Mahlon Sweet Field
Update on 11.19.15: There is now an official pending offer on Katy.

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

Full photo gallery available here

In October of 2007, my business was rocking and I needed a convenient way to get from my office in Oregon to see clients in Central and Southern California. Of course, knowing the many time-saving benefits of flying a private aircraft, I wrote the check and acquired my Piper Cherokee 235, a.k.a. "Katy" or N8527W to the FAA.

Now, it is 2015, and the focus of my business has shifted, thus changing my mission profile for the plane. As a result, it makes less sense to own a plane that can seriously haul 930 lbs. of payload after tankering 84 gallons of full fuel.

Now about that payload...
Tied down at Reedley Municipal Airport after
a long but comfortable XC from Oregon
Not long after we acquired Katy, we flew her from my office in Eugene, Oregon to Reedley Municipal Airport just east of Fresno, CA to shoot a television commercial. On board were myself and my Managing Partner, Julie Celeste, two actors, all our bags for a four-day trip, all my camera gear, and assorted other bags, backpacks etc. I carefully calculated the weight and balance, and determined that I still had plenty of weight available to fill the tanks. We topped off Katy's two main and two tip tanks, programmed the GPS with a few waypoints and launched. Four hours later, we touched down, after a pleasant long XC that was only hampered by some crazy/gusty/wind shear(ish) winds going through Siskiyou Pass near Mt. Shasta. I let one of the actors - Michael Patrick Connolly - fly through there as he has always wanted to fly, and even with never flying the plane before, he did a great job to keep her wings level and her airspeed out of the red arc. To be able to fly right into the airport we were filming at was golden, no rental car needed, no lost baggage, and for far less than it would have cost all of us to fly commercial. This is what private aircraft ownership can do for you.
Two-seven Whiskey has a very clean low-time Lycoming 0-540
The Piper Aircraft Co. created the Cherokee 235 to compete directly with the Cessna 182 Skylane in terms of fuel burn and weight it can haul. My 235 is the 26th one ever made, and Piper did it by marrying a Cherokee Six wing to a 180 fuselage and wedging a Lycoming 0-540 under the cowl producing 235 ponies. The result is a plane that lifts more than you would expect, with a W/B envelope that is so crazy wide, while not impossible, it's hard to get in trouble. In fact, the guy I bought Katy from used to fly with Doctors Without Borders into Mexico, and they always filled the baggage compartment with case after case of heavy liquid medicines, and it STILL was inside the W/B envelope.

So the time has come to sell Katy and move on to what is next. In a used airplane market that is in favor of the buyer, I've been dropping the price over the last few months, and today's asking of $49,900 is a tremendous discount off the AOPA vRef estimate of $61,310 (as of 03.15.15). Katy has the cleanest low-time 0-540 you will ever see, with compressions that were just tested at 74-79 on all cylinders. I've replaced just about everything that can be replaced, had every AD taken care of, and have even made PDFs of every log book page all the way back to the factory.

N8527W is ready to fly to your home field
She is going to make someone a very comfortable airplane, if their mission requires them to haul four people and fly non-stop probably farther than your bladder can stand. She is not ADS-B 2020 compliant, and while she has an older GPS that works fine for VFR flight, a serious IFR pilot will want to use the money they save on my asking price to upgrade the panel to 2020 standards with a good WAAS GPS.

If you need a good hauler that cruises in the 145-150 mph range and trues at about 121 knots on 11-12 gph fuel burn, you have probably looked at many Skylanes. But for $25,000 less or more...sometimes a LOT my airplane, sweeten the panel and you're good to go. And you'll have several grand still in the bank to finance your future flying.

A PDF outlining the selling points of Katy can be found here and if you want to see more photos, view a photo gallery here or download an 18MB ZIP here.

If this looks like the plane for you, give me a call ASAP at 541-344-2301 or email me here.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Airplanista's #Avgeek [Early] Christmas Book Buyer's Guide

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

O.K., shoot me if you want, but there is just no denying that Christmas is coming. Happens every year, and with some exceptions, almost everyone has a shopping list. I know, I KNOW, Halloween is not even here yet, and we still also have to get through the annual feast of Thanksgiving. But in the interest of saying you were warned...if you wait until 12.24.15 to buy your gifts (yes, I'm talkin' to YOU) will be too late. Unless Santa Claus delivers the goods. There is a Santa Claus, right? RIGHT?

I favor buying people books for holiday gifts, as it is incredibly easy to pinpoint a title that is right in their wheelhouse. Yes, maybe they read it once and shelve it, but if you hit the mark on matching your gift of a book to their personal interests, you can expect that book will at some point in the future fly off the shelf and be enjoyed again and again.

I had help in compiling this list from Nichole Schiele, Zenith Press Marketing Manager, who is sending me each title to read. But I could tell by her choices that I will like them all. Books on P-51s and SR-71s? Shut the front door...these will be hard to put down once cracked.

If anything here looks like a gift for the #avgeeks in your life, there are links in each listing to buy on Amazon.

P-51 Mustang: Seventy-Five Years of America's Most Famous Warbird

By Cory Graff

From D-Day to the Battle of the Bulge, through reconnaissance missions and combat, fighting flying bombs and Me 262 Stormbird jets, P-51 Mustang pilots saw it all during World War II. P-51 Mustang celebrates the 75th anniversary of the most iconic American warbird, written by warbird expert Cory Graff, lead curator at the Flying Heritage Collection--one of the world's most important collections and sites for warbird restoration.

These unique fighters were able to escort heavy bombers all the way to Berlin and back. In the Pacific, their long-range ability was pushed to its limit, with pilots flying 1,500-mile, eight-or-more-hour missions over hostile waters to attack Tokyo. Graff explores the post-World War II history of this iconic plane in vintage advertisements and graphics, artifacts, historic photographs, rare color images, and contemporary aircraft photographs, making this a book that every single World War II, history, and aviation enthusiast will want to buy. Available on Amazon

Wings of War: Great Combat Tales of Allied and Axis Pilots During World War II
By James P. Busha

Wings of War encompasses the World War II air war from late 1939 through 1945 and provides a chronological snapshot not only of famous and significant events from the global air war, but also of other lesser-known events that are equally thrilling and important. Over three dozen different Allied and Axis pilots flying their famed airplanes are featured, giving you a unique experience at the controls of a variety of World War II's famed fighters, bombers, liaison, and jet airplanes.

The action is truly global--from the skies over England, Greenland, mainland Europe, the African deserts, the CBI Theater, the entire Pacific Theater (including the Aleutians, Russia, Japan, and China) and many more, this is one book no fan of warbirds will want to miss! Available on Amazon

Bombing Europe: The Illustrated Exploits of the Fifteenth Air Force
By Kevin A. Mahoney

Created in November 1943, the Fifteenth Air Force included 210 B-17 Flying Fortress and 90 B-24 Liberator bombers escorted by P-38 Lightning, P-47 Thunderbolt, and P-51 Mustang fighters. They took the air battle against the Axis to areas Allied bombers based in England could not reach: southern Germany, Austria, eastern Europe, and the Balkans. Its crews made a significant contribution to the victory over the Axis powers and Nazi Germany.

Although enemy fighter planes were a major menace during the first nine months of the Fifteenth's air war, ubiquitous antiaircraft fire (flak), also took a toll on American bombers throughout the campaign. This book tells the story of the brave airmen who bombed the majority of Europe in an effort to win the war. Available on Amazon

Warbird Factory: North American Aviation in World War II
by John M. Fredrickson

During World War II, Los Angeles was the ultimate boom town, turning out many of the aircraft and armament used in the war. American Aviation, Inc. (NAA), operating out of their main Inglewood, California, plant, was a key player in this effort.

From 1938 to 1944, NAA built over 40,000 aircraft, more than any other company in the United States. The bulk of them were of three iconic types designed by NAA:

• The P-51 Mustang, arguably the best fighter of World War II.
• B-25 Mitchell medium bombers, which saw worldwide combat.
• Two-seat military pilot trainers, such as the AT-6 Texan.

Warbird Factory includes over 200 photographs, many of which come directly from the NAA/Boeing archives, where they have resided since World War II. This is an essential book for anyone interested in warbirds, aviation, Boeing/NAA, World War II, and/or the history of Southern California! Available on Amazon

The Complete Book of the SR-71 Blackbird The Illustrated Profile of Every Aircraft, Crew, and Breakthrough of the World's Fastest Stealth Jet
by Richard Graham

At the height of the Cold War in 1964, President Johnson announced a new aircraft dedicated to strategic reconnaissance. The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird spy plane flew more than three-and-a-half times the speed of sound. Above 80,000 feet, its pilots had to wear full-pressure flight suits.

Throughout its thirty-four-year career, the SR-71 was the world's fastest and highest-flying operational manned aircraft. It set world records for altitude and speed: an absolute altitude record of 85,069 feet and an absolute speed record of 2,193.2 miles per hour.

The Complete Book of the SR-71 Blackbird profiles each of the fifty planes that came out of the SR-71 program (fifteen A-12s; three YF-12s; and thirty-two SR-71s) and Graham provides each plane's complete history, as well as their development, manufacture, modification, and active service. Lavishly illustrated with more than 400 photos, many from Lockheed's famed Skunk Works, this is the ultimate SR-71 book on the market. Available on Amazon

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Flying in the Garden Isle: Aviation Musings from Kauai

Bali Hai at sunset - from Princeville, Kauai, Hawaii.
Photo by Dan Pimentel
By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

As I sit in the Lihue, Hawaii airport about to depart on a redeye back to the mainland after a week of bliss on Hawaii's oldest island of Kauai, it gives me time to pause and reflect on some aviation thoughts that have come my way while on holiday.

Before even landing at KLIH a week ago, I began thinking about what it means to fly in an airplane 2,123nm from San Francisco to KLIH (at least that is what it said on my luggage tag, but try and use that in Foreflight and it'll generate the dreaded "no joy"'s PHLI in the flight planning world). Our flight out here was longer than I had remembered, but not as long as if I had flown my Cherokee 235 here with ferry tanks. That would have required just over 17 hours and about 206 gallons of fuel.

San Francisco, outbound:
I was treated to live Flight Deck audio from United courtesy of Channel 9 on their audio system, which was replaced with some boring elevator music not long after the crew pointed the nose of our 757 at the islands and floored it. I guess not much happens for the next 4.5 hours, when the view does not change and all the traffic is company jets flying the same routes.

About 45 minutes out of Lihue, the flight deck audio came back on, and the crew spoke as if they had flown the exact same routing and approach 1,000,000 times. We bomb through a couple of clouds on to the ILS, and were wheels down in paradise..piece of aviation cake, at least it was in a -57.
As we rolled out at LIH (or, um, PHLI), I began to think about Pan Am's Honolulu  Clippers that flew out here. Sure the flight was much, much longer, and the food was served not in a cardboard box packed in Oakland, but on fine china prepared on board. This must have been quite the voyage, taking between 16 and 20 hours depending on winds. Flying a "Clipper" was more like taking an ocean cruise, and people dressed nice. The women wore pearls and dresses while the men - in suits and hats - smoked Pall Malls and sipped scotch while discussions of acquiring pineapple plantations ensued in the Parlor.

Today, it only takes about five hours, but you are crammed so tight on this route, it is literally impossible to exit your seat row to the aisle if the aisle seat in front of you is fully reclined. Not. Kidding. My wife and I had to climb OVER the outside armrest to get to the aisle. Juan Trippe would have been mortified.
Helicopter tour pilots are good here:
A day of snorkeling with gigantic Hawaiian sea turtles at Tunnels Beach on Kauai's North Shore was complete with beautiful scenery, great water conditions, and an aviation soundtrack that made me think of...Oshkosh.

You know that Bell 47 that does endless laps over EAA AirVenture all day, every day? You get to a point on about day three when the sound of its rotors beating the air into submission fades away. That was how my day at Tunnels was...except the choppers were mostly turbine rotorcraft flying in trail past the nearby Na Pali coast. Helicopter touring is big business here in the Hanalei area, and from sun up to sun down, it's a freeway of these craft raking in the dough hauling tourists up for short scenic flights.

I am all for this, and good on them for being this busy. I actually loved the scene, commenting to nobody in particular that they really have this choreographed well...same routes, same altitude, everything in coordination. Except the weather, which kind of sucked:
On Kauai's North Shore, it rains every day this time of year. Not all day, but in five minute microbursts of drenching sheets of rain. And then it stops. And then it starts...all day. But the clouds that hang along the peaks of the surrounding mountains are persistent, so these chopper pilots just make do with them and get to work. They mostly go around the weather, staying close enough to shore to get people paying $150 and up for an hour of flight in an A-Star a good show. But I did see a chopper pop right out of the clouds, and am guessing there was no IFR flight plan anywhere in sight. Must have gave Mom and Dad from Iowa a real jolt in the back seat.
Not many fixed wings on Kauai:
As any pilot, my eyes are always on the sky. I like to make mental notes of what flies by, but on Kauai this trip, I saw very few fixed winged craft. They were so rare over one week, I can tell you them in one sentence: A Pilatus PC-12, a Cessna Caravan and one biplane. My guess is the C208 and biplane were tourist operations, and the Pilatus might have been a private ride giving family a scenic tour.

Every time I come to Kauai, I threaten to sell everything I have and move here. Real Estate used to be somewhat affordable, and I could sure get comfortable with the "808" lifestyle. But today, even tiny 375 sq. ft. condos sell for $250,000, and any house with acceptable living space was in the $1.2 million range. Can't even afford that, but wow, wouldn't it be great to be so far away from the daily shootings and general B.S. of mainland USA - almost 2,200nm out in the middle of the Pacific - and still be on United States soil.

The one thing that has kept me planted in the "Lower 48" is aviation. Yes there is GA in Hawaii, but my island of choice, Kauai, is not that big. You can drive from Princeville on the North Shore all the way around to the East (Kapa'a) through Lihue and over to Waimea Canyon in a couple of hours. But in my Cherokee 235, it would be a quick flight...more like a hop. Barely enough time to warm the oil. Imagine how boring it would get to go around a basically circular island again and again. I'd be forced into some pretty long overwater legs to get to the other islands, and I have never been all that keen on long GA flights over water in a vintage single-engine plane.

Crazy airline pilot work schedules:
Taking a redeye back to the states is one trick my wife knows for extending our Hawaiian vacay a few more hours. You check out of your hotel (or in this case, our condo) and have all day and early evening to lollygag around, play some more at the beach, do whatever...before moseying over to the airport for a sleepy ride home.

As we waited at LIH's gate 10 tonight, our flight crew showed up, bright eyed and ready to aviate. But it got me thinking how everyone in the back is going to board and fall asleep, while the crew up in front has to stay wide awake for a boring five-hour flight, flying a route they might have flown too many times.
I used to work graveyard shifts, so I know it is possible to sleep during the day and work all night. So kudos are in order to the flight crews all over the globe that figure out how to sleep, eat, live life, fly and have a family while trying to keep that all in balance. I am feeling tonight that line pilots put more work than we realize into being sharp when the dispatcher wants them to steer one of their pressurized tubes across the square states or over an ocean at some crazy hour. Sometimes we think of pilots like Karlene Petitt spending their down time sipping Espressos in a little cafe in Amsterdam's Rembrandtplein district, or expect to see Eric Auxier lounging by the pool at the Hollywood Hilton. Instead, I believe it is more like fly, take the shuttle to the hotel, sleep, eat, take another shuttle to the airport, and fly again. Rinse and repeat.
I'm now back home after spending a few hours in the luxury of the United Club at KSFO during a four-hour layover. Nice quiet place to hang out and use up the two free "one-time" passes that come with our agency credit cards. Granola was decent, oatmeal was passable, coffee was adequate. But really, United, you want to impress me with the glitz and polish of your United Club?

Offer free bacon.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Eighteen-Year-Old Launches ‘The Mars Generation’ to Raise Excitement for Human Space Exploration

"Astronaut" Abby Harrison
College Freshman Credits Worldwide Support of Her Dream to be First Astronaut to Mars
as Inspiration Behind New Organization

SEPT. 15, 2015 – WELLESLEY, MA – College freshman and aspiring astronaut Abigail Harrison, known on social media as Astronaut Abby, announced today the founding of a new organization that aims to renew the nation’s recognition of and investment in human space exploration.

The Mars Generation, a 501(c) 3 non-profit, will focus its efforts on advocating for NASA's Journey to Mars and advancing public interest in space exploration.

“The mission of The Mars Generation is to excite young people and adults about space and science education and to help people understand the importance of these two elements to the future of humanity on Earth,” Harrison said. “I am looking forward to helping my generation, the Mars generation, make our journey to the Red Planet happen during this new era of human space exploration.”

In addition to Harrison’s leadership, The Mars Generation launches today with an accomplished board of advisors, including:
•    Wendy Lawrence, retired Navy Captain, NASA Astronaut and veteran of four space shuttle missions (STS-67, STS-86, STS-91, STS-114)
•    Kent Rominger, Vice President of Strategy and Business Development at Orbital ATK and retired NASA Astronaut (STS-73, STS-80, STS-85, STS-96, STS-100)
•    Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, retired NASA Educator-Astronaut (STS-131) and aquanaut commander on the NEEMO 16 mission
•    Dr. Phil Tilman, Planetary Scientist University Central Florida, Founder of NASA Swamp Works Laboratory
•    Myron Fletcher, Space Launch System (SLS) Rocket Propulsion Engineer at Boeing
•    Penny Pettigrew, International Space Station Payload Communications Manager (PAYCOM) at NASA, Space Camp Hall of Fame Member
•    Nujoud Merancy, Orion Mission Planning and Analysis Lead at NASA
•    Dawn Brown White, Nonprofit CEO, Compas Inc.
•    Rob Pearlman, Founder and Editor of
•    Sean Costello, Canadian Technology Entrepreneur and photographer for SpaceFlight Insider
•    Kathleen Butts, Urban Educator, North Philadelphia Schools
•    Kristin Maija Peterson, Creative Director, Grand Ciel Design
•    Elizabeth Bierman, Aerospace Engineer, Honeywell Aerospace
“The Apollo Program inspired many in my generation to get an education in a STEM-related field. I firmly believe human exploration of Mars can have the same impact,” said Wendy Lawrence, retired naval aviator and NASA astronaut. "That’s why I’m honored to be joining The Mars Generation as an advisor, focusing on the new Student Space Ambassador Program and Space Camp Scholarship Program."

True to Astronaut Abby’s own personal mission statement: Dream Big, Act Big and Inspire Others, The Mars Generation will have three core programs designed to help meet the mission of the organization:
1.    Student Space Ambassador: Will help inspire teens and young adults to share their own excitement about space exploration with their communities.
2.    Space Camp Scholarship: Will provide 100% funding (including airfare) for kids with aptitude in STEM and financial need to attend U.S. Space Camp which provides exceptional, inspirational experiences to talented kids to help shape their educational future.
3.    The Future Of Space Outreach: Launched originally in 2013 by Astronaut Abby, will help excite kids and adults to support space exploration and inspire them to dream big.
The Mars Generation, as a 501c3 organization, will receive funding through sponsorships and individual supporters. All contributions are tax deductible.

In 2011, Harrison joined Twitter as Astronaut Abby, looking for a quote from a NASA employee for a school project. She was immediately embraced by the space community online as a leader in her generation. In 2013, Harrison decided to start a worldwide outreach program as part of her role as Earth Liaison to her mentor, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Luca Parmitano, while he was living on the space station. The outreach program continues to thrive as part of the new nonprofit. Harrison has built a community of over 400,000 members on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Instagram with a potential reach of over 15 million people each month.

“I am committed to helping ensure that NASA makes it to Mars in the 2030s, whether or not I am part of that first mission,” Harrison said. “Making it to Mars is essential to our economic well-being. Our ability to dream big and work towards the impossible pushes us beyond what we think we are capable of as we evolve new technologies and innovations that have real life applications. This is what human space exploration does and why it is so important to the future of humankind. With a rate of return of approximately $8 for every $1 the U.S. spends on space exploration, it makes sense to work toward sending humans to explore the next frontier, Mars.”
Harrison is a 2015 graduate of South High School, a Minneapolis Public School, and completed a dual-credit program through the University of Minnesota during high school. 

Harrison is currently attending the prestigious Wellesley College in Massachusetts. She is studying astrophysics and microbiology with a goal to enter directly into a doctoral program after graduation. Her goal is to become a scientist, her dream is to eventually become an NASA astronaut and be chosen as part of the first mission to Mars.

For more information on The Mars Generation go to:
Twitter: @TheMarsGen
Instagram: @TheMarsGeneration

For more information about Abigail Harrison go to:

For an interview with Abigail Harrison or any advisory board member contact: Nicole Harrison,

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Working to Preserve Aviation History at KCMH

Original Terminal Building and ATC tower
at KCMH (photo courtesy Jennifer Shale)
Guest post by Jennifer Shale
(Jennifer is an aviation enthusiast and history buff who works for a medium-sized airport in the Midwest.)

Preserving our aviation history is about more than just restoring old airplanes and keeping them flying. In Columbus, Ohio, it is about saving a building which played a major role in the the early days of the airline industry.

The original terminal building at Port Columbus Airport was built in 1929 to serve passengers traveling west as part of the transcontinental air/rail service between New York and the west coast. Travelers arrived in Columbus by train and then transferred onto Ford Tri-Motor aircraft to continue on to Oklahoma. One of the distinguished passengers on the inaugural flight was Amelia Earhart. Other notables in attendance at the grand opening of the terminal included Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford.

The design of the original terminal was inspired by the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, and features an octagonal glass ATC tower. The location of the terminal (at the southeast corner of the current airport property) had been picked by Charles Lindbergh who was the technical advisor for Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT). TAT later merged with Western Air Express to form TWA. The original TAT hangar still stands next door to the terminal and is currently used for storage.

In 1958 a new, much larger terminal opened to serve the growing number of passengers and increased air traffic. The original terminal remained the property of the Airport Authority, which leased it out as office space. In 2008, the last tenant to occupy the building moved out, after which it fell into disrepair. Leaks in the roof allowed water to seep in, damaging the interior and filling it with mold.

TAT hangar at right, with Trimotor boarding for the
westbound journey
(photo courtesy Jennifer Shale)
Airport property is a valuable commodity and as the years passed the Airport Authority began to consider the costs of repairing the original terminal building vs. demolishing it and repurposing the land. In the meantime the building had been placed at the top of Ohio's list of endangered historic buildings. This drew the attention of a group of citizens who believed the building should be saved.

These concerned citizens joined together to form the Original Columbus Airport Terminal Stabilisation Project (OCATSP). Its goal has been to seek funding to first stabilize and repair the building, and then secure a tenant for the property. OCATSP, working in partnership with the Ohio Historical Society, and with donations from both private citizens and the Airport Authority itself, has raised enough money to secure a matching grant from the Columbus Foundation. These funds have allowed repair work to begin.

At the same time, Heartland Bank, a locally owned business with roots in the central Ohio area, has stepped forward to be the next tenant of the original terminal building as well as the TAT hangar. The CEO of Heartland, Scott McComb, is an aviation enthusiast whose father was a pilot. There are still some hurdles that must be overcome, such as securing approval from the FAA and tax credits from state and federal authorities, however if all goes well the bank could move in as early as the end 2016.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

AOPA's Advocacy "A Team" Will Not Include Av8rdan

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

I have always been extremely impressed with AOPA's Government Affairs team, along with their Regional Managers spread out across the USA. When it comes to staying on top of legislative issues facing general aviation, they are the "go to" people, and they've got our backs.
News came in recently that I was a finalist for their open Regional Manager position in the Northwest Mountain region, but was not the person chosen for the job. The man they hired has tremendous legislative affairs experience, and pilots in the Northwest will be well represented going forward.
It is no secret to people who have followed Airplanista from the beginning that I have always wanted to work for AOPA. They are a vital association that does exemplary work preserving our freedom to fly, and without them, the aviation family would be toast.
Through the interview process for the job, it allowed me to reflect a great deal on my own advocacy work, and I spent a lot of time looking back...and looking forward. Like other pilots, I possess the same gene for helping to improve the aviation community, and over the last 15 years, I have found great joy in telling the stories of anyone in GA that gives back more than they receive. Stories of these advocates and volunteers are literally endless, and not a day goes by that I do not stumble upon yet another incredible pilot or aviation enthusiast who is doing some extraordinary.
To see where my advocacy work is today, first you have to go back to the very beginning:
In 2002, I was a member of a small aviation club called Central Valley Aviation Association, based at Fresno (CA) Chandler Downtown Airport. This club had one purpose, and that was to get together once a month, have a brief meeting, and then hop in our planes and go "fly out" to eat somewhere. I thought we could do more, so I created the Welcome Sky Aviation Scholarship Program in the club, which stole the playbook from Robin Hood by asking the wealthier among us to chip in so we could award full-ride private pilot scholarships to the best and brightest 18-24 year-olds we could find. After lots of grass roots fund raising and plenty of arm-twisting, we raised enough cash and "in kind" donations from flight schools to pay for three new pilots to be trained. As far as I can tell, these three bright young pilots are still flying today.
Sure, it was only three pilots. But it was something. I moved away from the Fresno area in 2003, and the program eventually died. It has always been my dream to take it national, because I have proven that if you ask the right number of rich pilots to open their wallets or checkbooks for this very important cause...they will. But lack of time and career responsibilities have prevented me from really pushing this on a national level. Maybe when I retire...
These days, I write for five national aviation magazines, with a focus on telling as many "advocates and volunteer" stories as I can dig up. But I am only one guy, which was why I applied for the AOPA gig. To have the muscle (and yes, the resources) of such a prestigious association behind me, I know I could have done great things on a very large scale. Now, I will not get that chance to change all those lives that I might have touched.
Looking back on my recent advocacy work, I have been seeing clues that suggest some of it might have crept past its expiration date. Audience participation at this year's #Oshbash event at Oskhosh was dismal, about 30% of the previous two events, when it was standing room only. There was lots going on at AirVenture at the same date and time I scheduled #Oshbash, which drew away much of the crowd. But leading up to the event, Twitter buzz was almost non-existent, telling me loudly that people just are not that interested in my #Oshbash events any longer.
Readership on Airplanista has dropped in the past year, due in part to my editorial schedule being filled with so many paying magazine gigs. I am guilty of not keeping the blog fresh, and in the blogosphere, stale equals a loss of relevance. That is all on me.
So, where do I go from here? I could let the missed opportunity at AOPA get me down, or I can re-focus and push onward to the next big thing. As I pondered whether to crawl back under my rock never to be seen or heard from again, or remain straight-and-level in coordinated flight and keep doing what I've always done - writing interesting content about interesting aviation people - the choice was mine...
I guess I was looking for a sign. Which way to turn, what to do? It was then that I watched "Astronaut" Abby Harrison's TEDx Talk asking "What's YOUR Mars?" This 18-year-old brilliant young woman has set her goal to be the first astronaut on Mars, and after watching her talk and visiting her site,, there is zero doubt that if we get to Mars, she could be the first person stepping on the Red Planet. Abby's tagline is "Dream Big, Act Big and Inspire Others." That inspirational message is a now a big sign on my office wall, and she has convinced me that my "Mars" is to keep pushing forward, because when you ascend, you soar, but slip into a vicious, uncontrolled descent and eventually, you crash and burn.
That's the great thing about the advocacy work we all do...the outcome is really random, and you never know what life you will touch...or even change. This one future astronaut's drive and unwavering ambition has captured my attention, and her message screamed at me to keep going on my current trajectory, because just like the way her work inspired me, my work will inspire someone else...that's how this works.
So thanks Abby, you've touched my life, and I will pay that forward.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Goodyear's New Wingfoot One Airship is Not Your Grandfather's 'Blimp'

Outside Wingfoot One as it glides over Wisconsin
To view a photo gallery of this incredible flight, click here.

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

All of us have grown up watching sports on TV, and as far back as we can remember, they would always show a ground shot looking up at the "Goodyear Blimp" as Al Michaels or Howard Cosell would say "...and aerial photography provided today by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company." Sometimes they would add that the "blimp" we were seeing was the Spirit of America or Spirit of Innovation, two of Goodyear's blimp/non-rigid airship fleet. Their ships are iconic, and are woven into the fabric of America.

That was then, and this is now:
Yesterday at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, I was lucky enough to be given a media ride in Goodyear's brand new semi-rigid airship "Wingfoot One," which had only a few hundred hours on the Hobbs. Sleek and beautiful, it still has that new airship smell. And while I might call Wingfoot One an "airship" here, and you might say "there goes the blimp," in fact we are both sort of correct. Goodyear's PR team will not correct media who calls it a blimp even though it is technically a Zeppelin NT Model 101, and James Kosmos, a Senior Pilot with Goodyear, says the terms are basically interchangeable.
Before climbing aboard Wingfoot One, Airplanista sat down with Kosmos to learn more about what he calls "the most high tech airship on the planet." And the differences between Wingfoot One and the older blimp fleet are night and day.

"The old blimps were non-rigid," Kosmos said, "meaning they were a big bag of helium. Wingfoot one has a framework inside making it a semi-rigid dirigible. It is 246' long and holds 300,000 cubic feet of 99% pure helium. It has three Lycoming IO-360 engines, one on each side and one in the tail, with the front engines being able to vector from 0 to 120 degrees allowing us to take off and land vertically or even takeoff backwards depending on obstacles."

Wingfoot One's two rear propellers can use different pitches to achieve different results needed to fly what seems like a giant envelope of helium waiting to float away if you let it. "The rear propellers can be vectored to act as sort of horizontal and vertical stabilizers, which gives us the control we need to maneuver the airship in no wind conditions," Kosmos said. "The ship is all fly-by-wire, with one computer for each engine. We move the pilot side stick up, down, right or left, and the computers convert that input into different propeller pitch and vector information, depending on what mode we are in. Flying characteristics are like nothing a fixed wing pilot has experienced, because you are basically flying a sail. Each side has more surface area than all the sails combined on one of the old Tall Ships."

With a top speed of 73 mph and a typical average cruise of 35 knots, Wingfoot One can stay aloft for 30 hours, as the pilots can get fuel burn down to 10GPH total for all three engines. There also is no crosswind component, as the airship is always landed directly into the wind. And if you think the weight and balance on your Piper or Cessna is complicated, multiply that by 1,000 for Wingfoot One:

To understand this ship's weight and balance envelope, one must first get their PhD in the physics of Helium. You would think by looking at such a massive craft that it could haul up two semi-trucks loaded with elephants, but you'd be way wrong. Kosmos tries again to explain it to me:
"This is the only aircraft I have flown that can get heavier as it flies," he said. "The helium expands and contracts depending on the angle of the sun on the envelope and the difference between the temperature of the helium and the OAT. A cloud can move over and our weight changes, sometimes dramatically...the ship's weight is changing constantly. It can make calculating weights much more challenging. And there are other factors too, like when the ship has been sitting outside in the rain. We have to eyeball the envelope and try to figure out how much water is resting on the top, because that's weight, but when we begin to move forward, that water instantly slides off and in a second, we can be 600 pounds lighter."
Even though Wingfoot One has the latest in glass cockpit technology, it does not have an autopilot. Because you cannot turn off the lifting characteristics of helium, it is flying 24/7...all day every day. Even when attached to its massive Mast Truck, it is flying. And so when the pilots are assigned a football game, it is all hand-flown. That's because when the airship is configured for TV with a forward camera rack and removable computer system inside, each game is flown differently depending on winds and the whims of the broadcast director. Goodyear's first-class, highly-trained pilot crew does what it takes to get the Director the shot, sometimes doing endless laps around a venue, other times hovering at zero knots for hours.

Enough about the ship, let's get on with the ride story...

After a short van ride to the airship, I watched it arrive, but the Crew Chief on the radio with the pilot had some bad news. There was a problem with the aft hydraulic system, and with the slashing hand across the throat sign, the Chief told the crew to shut down and "put it on the mast." This is never a good sign when waiting for the flight of a lifetime.

After all of Goodyear's 15 ground support team hovered around Wingfoot One for an hour, it was determined - after reading through the many thick service manuals aboard - that all was well. They could see that the fluid levels were fine by using binoculars to look up high on the tail and view indicators. It's like everything with airship do not just slide up a ladder and look around. Wingfoot One is ALWAYS blowing around here and there, especially when masted, it is just a big wind sock. So everything is done with technicians fast on their feet, moving with the ship to connect ground equipment or put on and remove ballast to correct for the constantly changing weights.

So, the flight went from NO GO to GO many times, until it was time to board. That itself is rather interesting. Wingfoot One's beautiful new gondola has 10 passenger seats, and the environment closely resembles that of a rather sparse but comfortable regional jet. When one flight lands, two passengers are removed, and two new people are put on. They do this until the new load of humans are aboard, all to maintain a constant weight...there's that word again.

Once buckled in, I met my flight partners, a couple from Anchorage who had won a "blimp ride" at AirVenture two years ago, a mother/son who also won a ride in that same Goodyear raffle, and an Aero News Network video crew. It takes no time for the crew to get aloft, and as I was blasting away with my camera, I did not even know we had left the ground, it was that smooth and graceful. Once in the air, that sort of changed:
Nothing about "flying" an airship is what you'd expect as a passenger familiar with fixed wing flight. Cruising westbound away from KOSH at 32 knots ground speed, the feeling is more like a boat than an airplane. This is a BIG craft, and it feels like it wants to do what it pleases. While the ride is indeed smooth and peaceful, the movements are, well, just weird. One minute you are heading on a straight 270 heading, and then you look down at the farms sliding underneath and we are sort of crabbing somewhere. Maybe it's left, no, now it's to the right. With a trajectory that feels like the pilot is in constant negotiations with the ship as to direction of travel, Wingfoot One just floats along, a little up, now a little down, I want to go here, no, now I want to go there. But the extreme talent of the Goodyear pilots - all young, handsome, courteous and with perfectly-pressed uniforms - is evident. The pilot always wins the negotiations, and they are always in full control. Even when the pilot turns to talk to inquiring reporters, their left hand can be seen moving the side stick, which needs to be moved constantly so it seems.
Our flight was supposed to be maybe 30 minutes, but when Oshkosh's afternoon airshow ran long, the F-22 Raptor flight demonstration was delayed, and we were held by the Airboss six miles west of the airport for an hour! So around and around in circles we went as dairy farms came and went under us. It was surreal, as the view from the gondola is straight down. We also were flying in magic hour light sneaking through a scattered overcast, and the ride was just magical. When we returned to the show grounds, the pilot came in on a left base over the EAA Museum, turned base and final over Pioneer Airport, and coaxed Wingfoot One to again return to the ground pointed straight into a fairly stiff wind.

I was really impressed with everyone on the Goodyear team, it is a respected group that does remarkable work. Think of the pilots as sort of the Blue Angels of airship flying, they just do not get any better than this.

To view a photo gallery of this incredible flight, click here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Donuts for Fisk: FAA's Finest Calm Under Pressure as Emergency Develops at #OSH15

Thomsen Meeks and his dad, Tom enjoy the view at FAA's Fisk Arrival "tower" during EAA AirVenture Oshkosh

It was a perfectly sunny morning at Fisk with an upbeat vibe, until an accident
at the Oshkosh airshow closed the airport to incoming arrivals

Cost of admission: While it is not officially mandated,
apparently the drill is that to visit Fisk and watch
some of FAA's finest controllers work the Conga Line
of arrivals, there MUST be donuts involved.

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

(OSHKOSH, WI) A tragic accident early on day three of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh closed the airport to all arrivals and departures, and it is being reported that the aircraft involved was a Piper Malibu with five people on board. The Oshkosh Northwestern reported four people made it out before the plane caught fire but one person had to be evacuated by helicopter. We want to join the entire aviation family to keep the family of the injured in our thoughts.
When KOSH airport closes during AirVenture, it sets up a massive chain reaction that ripples out for miles, effecting sometimes huge amounts of inbounds in the air heading to this gigantic show. Many of those arrivals fly the VFR "Fisk Arrival" which is a well-known procedure that brings all VFR traffic over a tiny berg west of the show in a nose-to-tail "Conga Line" of all varieties of airplanes. The drill is pretty simple:
You fly at a published altitude and airspeed to "Fisk" which is a temporary FAA "tower" set up to control the very high number of inbounds coming into Oshkosh. To prevent radio chatter, the controllers on the ground make a radio call based on color of plane and other features such as high or low wing, taildragger, biplane, etc. Based on type of airplane, these controllers give you a quick vector in two directions...east to make a left base to RWY 36, or down the railroad tracks to make a right downwind and base to RWY 27, with the inbound pilot instructed only to "rock your wings" as acknowledgement that they understand there assignment. It is an aerial ballet that is well-rehearsed and works very well.
What makes the Fisk arrival work so well is the high quality of the FAA controllers at the "tower," which is nothing more than an office trailer, a radio transmitter, and a giant bank of colored LED lights that flash to let inbounds ID the "tower" from the air. Working Oshkosh each summer is a coveted assignment for these controllers, who bid for the chance to come here and work traffic during the world's largest aviation celebration.
Today I had the opportunity to join my new besties Tom Meeks and his son Thomson for a run out to visit the controllers working Fisk. We first had to swing thru the Pic N Save for donuts, because as I understand it, the "unofficial" requirement to visit is to bring donuts. They were well received, and the five controllers polished off half a dozen pastries not long after we arrived.
To get to "Fisk," you head down a tiny country road, off of another country road. It sits in a non-descript field surrounded by farmhouses and grain. If not for the sea of bright pink FAA ATC shirts, this might be a cellular system work trailer, or a small construction site. You could drive right by and never know of the important work these controllers are doing. But when you stop - carrying donuts - you quickly see just how talented these controllers really are:
We were welcomed (must have been the pastries) and every controller was more than happy to explain what they were doing, and how it all worked. I was instructed to look through a dip in a grove of nearby Maple trees to see a tiny speck with a landing light coming our way. That was one of a continuous line of inbounds these guys were working. This was a slow day because GA parking and camping at the show was already at capacity, and still, there was a new plane ever 30 seconds or so...non-stop. Two controllers ID the airplanes with binoculars, calling out the color and type. The lead controller stands and hovers around, calling out what that airplane needs to do. The last and maybe most important on the team is the radio operator, who relays the instruction via radio to the inbound. The vibe was upbeat, light, lots of joking and laughter, and it was clear these guys loved what they were doing.
Working Fisk is sort of a badge of honor for these controllers, and if you could measure their excitement level on a 10 scale, they were cruising along at a 3. Cool, calm and collected, it did not even ruffle their feathers when an unidentified plane came into view, flying southbound directly towards the inbound Conga Line. They just rolled with it, calling out the traffic,
But five minutes into our visit, the "no big deal" element changed as the crash at the show closed the airport. What that means is that Fisk now had to do something with their line of inbounds, you can't tell airplanes to just pull off to the side of the road. As the lead controller jumped on the phone to coordinate everything, the four other controllers simply started calling out holding instructions. For airplanes outside the City of Ripon, they were sent into a hold over Green Lake, while airplanes between Ripon and Fisk were sent to hold over Rush Lake.
The controllers worked maybe 20 arrivals, shoving them into these two holds, or releasing them out of the area at pilot's request. But what was surreal was the composure of these that needle on the excitement needle never budged. It was just another day at the office - or in this case, a trailer in a grain field - and these guys handled the closure of the airport without so much as one tiny bit of stress. That could be because they come from some of the country's busiest commercial towers, so this is just no big deal.
I have always held FAA's controllers in the highest regard...they do a tremendous job. But today at Fisk, standing five feet away from a crew working an emergency situation without one single drop of sweat made me realize that my respect for FAA's ATC team is well-earned, and truly deserved.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Magic That is EAA AirVenture Oshkosh is Evident on Day Zero

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

I usually begin my coverage of this incredible aviation family reunion that is "Oshkosh" when I walk onto the show grounds for the first day of my visit to this beautiful, magical place. It is hard for non-aviators to "get" why we come here, but for those of us lucky to be right here, right now, indescribable joy surrounds us, embraces us, pulls us in and overwhelms us. It is this powerful, almost magnetic attraction that draws us to this otherwise sleepy Upper Midwest city every summer.
When I say this is a magical place, if you've never experienced Oshkosh, you might not understand what that means. But today, as I arrived via the commercial airlines for my 3.5 days of aviation bliss, the "that can only happen at Oshkosh" moments began full throttle. Spoken of singularly, each of these things that happened to me today were fantastic, but consider them collectively and you start to paint a picture of why this is the world's largest aviation celebration. Let me set the stage:
After an rather uneventful eastbound ride in a couple of pressurized tubes full of people who had no idea what Oshkosh is, I finally found myself at O'Hare Airport's gate E1A waiting to board a short 25-minute hop up to Appleton, the closest airport to the show with commercial service. And like every flight to this place in years past, a glance around the gate revealed maybe half the people were wearing some sort of shirt or hat identifying them as aviation people. It's cool to strike up a conversation with any of them, and with each word, the adventure begins. Some are coming to work the show at a booth, others are just coming to go full immersion in airplane wonderland for a few days. At Oshkosh - and even in the airport heading there - it doesn't take much to make new friends. Everyone is giddy, knowing what lies at the other end of this short hop up the west side of Lake Michigan.
The flight northbound towards the show was the usual vectors to avoid the busy KORD airspace, and usually, KATW is approached from the south, and it is easy to see the expanse of the show off the right wing. But this arrival was much, MUCH different:
I was on the wrong side of the plane, so out my left window, I looked down hoping to maybe see the Conga Line of VFR arrivals over Fisk. But to my amazement, under the wing slid Camp Scholler, directly below us! That had to mean that our routing was taking us directly OVER the show, northbound just about over the flight line. We looked to be maybe 8000', well above show traffic. At about the precise point where we would have been right over the B-52 waiting for us on Boeing Plaza, the Embraer 145 pilot (who BTW had a jump seater riding in the flight deck) cranked it fairly hard right out over Lake Winnebago, as if he was doing a "flyby" because HE WAS! The photo in this post - a screen grab from FlightRadar24 - shows the path of our arrival. As soon as we banked right over the show, I pointed down and turned to an AOPA manager sitting across the aisle, who was also pointing straight down. We both mouthed "WE'RE RIGHT OVER THE SHOW!" in silent unison. Truly a magical Oshkosh moment.
After Thomsen Meeks - X-Plane's Social Media manager - and his dad Tom picked me up at KATW, we went direct to Oshkosh's iconic Ardy and Ed's 1950s drive-in restaurant...a required stop for everyone attending this show. And again, magic happened:
Out on the patio, diners at this great place have a perfect view of incoming arrivals to KOSH's runway 27. O.K., not perfect...their big metal umbrellas do a fine job of providing shade, but also blocks out a direct view of the traffic overhead. So like a sort of ballet, whenever anything cool comes over, everyone jumps from their tables and runs out to see what it is. In the minutes it took me to devour a Drive-in Double (burger AND Brat patties), fries and  Black Cow, we saw a P-51 Mustang, maybe three Twin Beeches, a serious old vintage biplane, and one Vari-Eze that sounded like one magneto or maybe his fuel filter was crapping out big time. He made it in despite his rough engine, followed closely by another Vari-Eze that purred by.
What makes this a magical Oshkosh moment is that I was surrounded by a group of really cool people...aviation family I only see this one time a year. Cory Robin had parked his Wilgabeast and was there, and Brandi and David Fill had arrived with Glen Towler from New Zealand, who flew over 11,000 miles to be there.
Oh, but the fun was not over. In between bites and while participating in endless aviation conversation, David Fill told us of his two-year-old daughter Audra's newest word. Now, whenever she sees ANY biplane (yes, she knows the difference, even at two), she points up and shouts "STEARMAN!" So from that point on - and I suspect throughout #OSH15 - any time even a Cessna flew over, some wiseass would point up and yell "STEARMAN!" It was the kind of priceless camaraderie that only can happen here.
Yes, I am energized - this is going to be a magical few days. And I haven't even set foot on the show grounds yet.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

A Look at the 2015 #Oshbash Guests

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

Yes aviation friends, it's just about that time of the year again, when we descend into usually sleepy Oshkosh, Wisconsin to celebrate all that is wonderful about our aviation world. We'll come by the hundreds of thousands from all parts of the globe to eat, drink, shop, gawk and meet back up with our friends and family at aviation's biggest and most important family reunion.
And if this is Oshkosh season, it has to also be #Oshbash season too. I'm really looking forward to making this year's event more social, less structured, and will be sure you have plenty of time to mingle and meet other #avgeeks you've seen on Twitter.

#Oshbash has lined up six very cool guests, and I have written recent Affirmative Attitude columns about most of them. You'll hear them speak about their GA advocacy and volunteerism work, and have a chance to ask some audience questions. Here's a few words on each:
Joseph Vazquez
Major General Joseph "Joe" Vazquez - As National Commander and CEO of Civil Air Patrol, Joe knows a thing or two about pulling in volunteers to help with CAP missions. He knows that the time of CAP's volunteer pilots and non-flying staff is valuable, and he knows how to get the most out of CAP's pilots with standardized training. I'll be asking him about the time commitments to become a CAP pilot, and also how the average pilot can learn from the training and certification they receive as they work towards the right seat of a CAP Cessna 182 Skylane.
Katie Meyer
Katie Meyer, EAA Airventure Volunteer Manager - As we arrive at KOSH, we'll see the work of 5,000 EAA volunteers everywhere we look at AirVenture. It's a huge job each spring and summer to thaw the place out, pull everything back out of storage, and prep the show grounds for a week of going "full-immersion" into airplane heaven. I'll want to know how this massive volunteer team is put together, and how each volunteer's talents are put to specific use as an entire city is built each summer. This should be a great segment, and we are lucky to have Katie for a short time, given the magnitude of her work during show week.

Ryan Pemberton - In the world of aircraft restoration, it does not get any better than Pemberton and Sons Aviation in Spokane, WA. Along with his father, Addison, and a big crew of
Ryan Pemberton
volunteers, the Pembertons are responsible for doing exceptional work to keep these vintage airplanes flying. I'll be asking Ryan about his volunteers and how the shop manages to balance work, life, family while carving out time for restoration work. Pemberton is also a very good photographer, and I will be asking him about backstory of how he set up a shoot with the family 1928 Boeing 40C and a 787 Dreamliner. 
Martha Phillips - In her role as International President of The Ninety Nines, Martha works hard to
Martha Phillips
try and solve the biggest riddle facing we get more women to start flying. It is my opinion that The Ninety Nines is an underutilized asset in this quest to move the female pilot numbers north of six percent, and I'll be asking what the organization will be doing in the future to work towards that goal. She is also generous with her time to support #Oshbash, and was on the GA Power Collective panel last year. When she left that event, she said if I ever wanted help with anything, just name the place and time. Now THAT is an Affirmative Attitude!

Patrick Lofvenholm
- As a volunteer pilot for Pilots N Paws Pet Rescue Service, Patrick will be able to tell us just how important the work is that he and fellow PNP pilots perform. They burn their own gas and devote their free time
Patrick Lofvenholm
to save pets that are more than likely going to be euthanized. If you are a pet lover - especially if you have dogs - you'll want to hear how PNP puts their pilot crew together, and what joy comes from the delivery of each rescued pet.

Mark Spencer, Founder and CEO of FlyQuest - Mark will tell us about the work FlyQuest is doing with their custom "six degrees of freedom" simulator. If you think
Mark Spencer
having a sim is no big deal, you'll want to hear what Spencer and FlyQuest does with theirs. Trust me, it is a cool story. I'll be asking Mark about the present and future of FlyQuest, and I'm sure you'll be entertained and educated when his segment ends.
So as you add events into your EAA AirVenture app (iOS and Android versions available) make sure to go to the "Attractions" screen, click "Meet and Greet" at the bottom of the sections, and then scroll to the end of "Tuesday, July 21st" to find the 2015 Airplanista #Oshbash event way at the bottom. It is 5:30P - 7:30P in the Press Tent - to find it, head to the tower and walk outbound on the 025 radial...big air-conditioned white tent full of #avgeeks...can't miss it. Come early if you want a chair as it is usually SRO.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

The Non-Aviator's Ultimate "A-to-Z" Guide to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh

 (Ed. note: This is a recycled post from 2013, as we like to practice "green" blogging here at Airplanista - dan)

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

As I prepare to depart for #OSH13 in one sleep, I've been thinking a lot about EAA AirVenture...or as most pilots and aviation family calls it, just "Oshkosh." For people who have been lucky enough to attend this annual flying festival, block party and gawkathon, you already know this show is like no other. And, yes, it does make a difference in what you call this mammoth event. "AirVenture" is a huge EAA convention and trade show, while "Oshkosh" is the world's largest, most incredible hangar party anyone could possibly imagine.

But I have many Airplanista readers who are not aviators, and who have no way of fully grasping the magnitude of this event. To give a shout out to these readers who never understand why we pilots become giddy as the end of July approaches each summer, here's the definitive A-to-Z guide to this event. Scan this list and I'll bet you'll find something here that you can relate to, so the spectacularity of Oshkosh will finally begin to sink in. Enjoy...

Oshkosh is...

...Buying 10,000 shares of Apple in 1994 for $2.96 per share and having $4,385.000 today.

...Ordering Bacon with your eggs at the diner and becoming overjoyed with caloric exhileration as the Waitress brings you the "Original Bacon Explosion"...a Pork Bomb Sausage Barbecue BBQ Roll.

...Heading over to the mall to buy some Chanel No. 5 and leaving with not only a gallon jug of No. 5, but also considerable amounts of No. 4, No. 3 and No. 6 too.

...Wanting to get your Ducks in a row and watching as not only your Ducks, but 80% of the Ducks in the United States amass in your front yard, all in perfectly asymmetric lines.

...Taking an Elephant ride in Africa, and laughing uncontrollably as the pachyderm does a wheelie and blasts off into a full-blown run...with you still on its back!

...Going Fishing on Mexico's Sea of Cortez with a good friend and catching enough Cravelle Jack and Triggerfish to literally fill an entire Toyota pickup bed two feet deep with fish. (O.K., cheating here..this actually happened to me in 1986 fishing Punta Colorada with my good friend Dan Hearne).

...Jamming with your Guitar on in a beach while vacationing in Grenada and having Gwen Stefani sit down next to you and start rapping out lyrics.

...Going out to ride your Harley-Davidson to the store for a six-pack of ale and ending up in Sturgis, South Dakota dancing on a table with a girl named Sinammon.

Vernazza, Cinque Terra, Italy. Photo: Dan Pimentel
...Having your spouse surprise you on your birthday with that little vacation home you've always dreamed of, and then finding out the place is in Vernazza, perched on a cliff in the Cinque Terra region of the Italian Rivera.

...Trying not to chuckle when your weird Uncle buys you a "Dude Ranch" vacation for Christmas, only to arrive at the Crazy Mouse Ranch and see that all they have to ride are big, aggressive and unusually sweaty Jackalopes...and you're cool with that.

...You buy a used Dodge "K" car online for $500 and instead they send you a Koenigsegg CCXR Swedish Hypercar worth $2 million USD.

...Becoming kinda famous by doing something notable and ending up on Leno. And the Late Show with David Letterman. And Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. And Jimmy Kimmel Live! And the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. And Last Call with Carson Daly. And even Saturday Night Live.

...Going to a wedding and dancing the Macarena over and over, and having completely anonymous people throw large sums of money at you to make you stop.

...Taking the wrong turn off an Interstate in North Carolina and ending up on a NASCAR track when a race is your Dodge Neon...and you WIN!

...Posting an obnoxious video of your cat singing Moves Like Jagger on Youtube, finding out you won the "Best Director of a Short, Overdone Pet Film" category from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association before getting a personal phone call from a major film studio asking you to direct the feature-length version of "Silly Kitty Sings Maroon 5" in 3D.

...Cashing in a lotto ticket you thought was a $5 winner only to find you hit the Powerball grand prize, and having the money to buy a 1972 De Tomaso Pantera, a 560 hp Porsche 911 Turbo S, and a Plymouth Prowler.

...Starting out on a quick quest to buy a QWERTY keyboard before ending up getting totally quaffed on quality Quaaludes and getting a quickie from a queen who teaches Quicken to quipsters.

...sitting down to the piano to play Chopsticks and watching as your hands play Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

...Accepting a dinner invitation to nosh with a "few of the girls" from your sister's Film Study Group, and then finding out those "girls" are Sandra Bullock, Scarlett Johansson, Sofia Vergara and Selena Gomez. While eating, you try not to show how relieved you are that Snooki didn't show up.

photo: Tesla Motors
...Feeling good about helping to save the earth by driving a "green" car, and then buying a bright red Tesla Roadster.

...Attempting to ride a rented Unicycle in Cagnes-sur-Mer, and ending up in the peloton of the Le Tour de France...and blowing off all those dudes to capture the Yellow Jersey...even without wearing any spandex.

...You visualize world peace...and it happens.

...Spending the weekend making whoopie, and finding out the person you're with is not turned off at all by you calling "it" whoopie.

...Reading the ingredients label on your cheap frozen dinner and learning it contains xanthogenate, xanthoxylene, xiphiplastra and xylobalsamum, and being smart enough to know what all those things are.

...Going to the marina to ride in your new girlfriend's "boat" only to find it's really a 103' motor yacht. Yeah, maybe she IS a keeper after all.

...Going to the Zoo to see Zebras because the zeitgeist of the times says horse-like creatures with alternating black and white stripes are all the rage with hipsters, only to realize that Zulus have fed the animals zucchini from Zimbabwe, and they are all inside their little Zebra enclosures catching some ZZZZs.

Oshkosh is that. And more. Much more.