Thursday, April 10, 2014

Is This "Top 10" List Worthy of Aviation Late Night Television?

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

Sometime in about the third year of every boy's life, it happens. Their career path as an adult is etched in their brain for all time, and with a few exceptions, if you ask most three-year-old boys what they want to be when they grow up, the answer is always the same:
Grinning wide, the tot will look up at you and with great seriousness, tell you it'll be fireman, astronaut, cowboy or airline pilot. While the first three can be debated and the answers vary widely, it is almost a foregone conclusion that all young boys - and even a few girls - want to be airline pilots. I know one that did...me.
Now, 54 years later, is it any surprise that I STILL want to be an airline pilot? Of course, that isn't going to happen, because I can't afford the schooling and time-building it would take just to get an interview with a carrier. And once I got in the room, they'd take one look at my middle-aged self and realize in an instant that with mandatory retirement looming, the money it would take to train me to be a good little line pilot would be a really sorry ROI.

But if I throw out all reality, there are a number of very cool aviation jobs I'd love to have:
10. Airline Pilot: Yes, what private stick wouldn't really want to be at the controls of a 747 as it carried several hundred souls on a Great Circle route over the North Pole en route to Europe? Even a left seat job driving CRJ-700s might be a rewarding way to fill the bank account once you worked through that bitter period where you fly right seat on a dinky regional and they pay you just a few bucks over minimum wage because they know your only goal in life at that point is to build time.

9. Charter pilot: Sure, you spend a lot of time lounging around FBOs, surfing the Internets on their free wi-fi, eating free cookies and waiting for the boss to finish gladhanding downtown. But look at all the awesome hardware you get to fly! And having the honchos in back change up the trip mid-flight so they can get in nine holes in Florida (or Hawaii) would keep you at the top of your piloting/flight planning game.

8. Airshow performer: What a wild life you'd have, hopping from airshow to airshow, wringing out your Edge 540 to the adoring throngs of fans below. Yes, you mostly live in hotels for a good amount of the year, and yes, you damned well better be in great physical shape which means you're in the gym whenever you're not tail-diving out of a Hammerhead. Oh, and you get to go to Oshkosh every year, how sweet is THAT?

7. Astronaut: What a rush it would be to blast off at the Cape and go floating around space for a couple of weeks. Enjoy spacewalks in the morning, a lunch of Tang and dehydrated Pork and Beans, closing out the day in the cocktail lounge aboard the ISS. Look a few years out and you'll get to pilot a yet-to-be-designed spacecraft up to the moon, hauling freight for all the new neighborhoods that will be going up. Hopefully, there will be no SUVs among that cargo.

6. CEO of a major airframe manufacturer: Now THIS is living! Jetting off to Miami for a morning board meeting, smoozing with ultra-high rollers in Vegas for lunch before slipping into something more comfortable...like Maui, after hours. Somewhere in there, you force yourself to make a few tough decisions, and come up with new ways to justify your $34 million annual salary.

5. President of AOPA: Who wouldn't want to lead such an important organization? AOPA is the most valuable asset GA has right now, and what a joy it would be to wake up every morning, strap on the gloves and head over to D.C. on the a.m. train to duke it out with the clown posse up on The Hill. And a huge bonus is the exceptional staff at AOPA HQ that you get to surround yourself with!

4. Burt Rutan's personal assistant "back in the day": What right-minded pilot wouldn't have wanted to be a fly on the wall in Rutan's world back in the Voyager days? You KNOW he has one guy or gal who is welded to him at the hip, someone who knows everything about everything that is going on at the Rutan Skunk Works. We all know that the stuff Rutan comes up with blows our mind, and with commercial space travel just around the corner, even in "retirement" you can bet the farm he has more than we know about going on down there in Mojave.

3. Boeing sales guy: You walk into the room, wearing a $5,000 Brooks Brothers suit, with a couple of beautiful female “assistants” wearing tight black 787 shirts following. One – a tall, blonde number from Sweden – carries your fine Italian briefcase, while the other – an ex-Laker girl that could stop traffic – carries a stack of jetliner order forms. Before you can even sip the free scotch they're offering you, the bigwigs from the airline are clawing at those order forms, shouting “more, more more!” It's your Dreamliner and 777X they're after, baby, and they can't get enough. Life as a Boeing sales rep these days is about that sweet, at least it is in my wild imagination.

2. EAA Media Relations Guru:
O.K., we all know Dick Knapinski, EAA's Director of Media Relations, is not going anywhere, he is a fixture at EAA HQ. The guy manages to stay cool during the most intense week of the aviation year, juggling 1,000 camera crews sometimes while Mother Nature slaps Central Wisconsin upside the head. But can you even IMAGINE how cool it must be to live, eat, sleep and breathe Airventure 12 months of the year? Sure, the historically large Wisconsin mosquitoes and winter snow drifts would prevent me from living IN Oshkosh, but as a long-time media guy, it has to be a thrill a minute to be on the "inside" of Airventure. Yeah, Dick's job must be way cool, until you have to write the press release that announces all those good people with paid reservations for Camp Sholler have to camp over at the abandoned Sears parking lot because of "Sloshkosh" or some other unforeseen disruption. 
1. What I'm doing right now: As I try to live in the present and not look back on the "what if" of yesterday, I am content doing my current gig...aviation writer for FOUR magazines, ad agency president, graphic designer and ad campaign developer. Am I too busy? Hell yeah. But it's a good busy...and I will take busy over sitting around, head in hands, waiting for the next little job to come in so I can pay the rent.
What is your fantasy aviation job? Head over to Twitter and tell the #Avgeek world.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Area Forecast: The Power of Twitter Brings Two #Avgeeks Together to Solve a Problem

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

People who know me and follow my writing career know I spend a good piece of every day and night communicating with #Avgeeks on Twitter. To me, that popular social platform represents the most effective and efficient way to stay close to the aviation family in real time.

A lot of things can be accomplished while on Twitter, but recently, the fantastic way this platform brings #Avgeeks together was on full display. Let me explain:
As an instrument-rated pilot, one of the pieces of the WX puzzle I Iike to see while planning a flight is cloud tops. Before I punch holes in them with the nose of my Cherokee 235, I really want to know how long I'll be in the soup before punching out on top into the clear blue. I know cloud tops are available online and in my Foreflight WX briefings, but what I've been looking for was an app that quickly gave me the tops available in the Area Forecast without entering a flight plan, picking up the phone, or trying to read tiny website text on my iPhone. But when I went and looked for such an app, it simply did not exist.
Wait...what? I thought there was an app for that...and for everything else too. When a search came up empty, I of course jumped on Twitter and asked my 5,700(ish) followers if they knew of an app that could simply bring up the Area Forecast, or FA. What I got back was zip, zilch, nada. Until I heard from @thedigitalpilot aka Steve Knodl, a private pilot and app developer in Austin, TX.

Knodl did not know of "an app for that" but the idea intrigued him. Maybe it was the fact that where no such app existed, he saw opportunity. So after a few emails with me to lay out what I thought this simple app could/should do, Knodl went to work, and working in his spare time, put in "about 3-4 weeks of full-time work" developed the aptly-named...Area Forecast app.

This little free app is no frills, light on GUI and freakin' brilliant in its operation. It does only one thing - brings up any of the FAs in the system - and offers only a few settings to make the user experience better, like an adjustment for font face and size, and the option to tap the screen to toggle between UTC times and local times with the $4.99 "in-app" upgrade. This one feature alone keeps me coming back to the app several times a day, even when I am not flying.

Here's Steve's take on how this whole thing came to fruition:
"When I saw Dan's tweet," Knodl said, "I was surprised that nobody had already noticed this gap in the Area Forecast product availability and fixed it, but then realized that none of the tools I used as a pilot had a straightforward capability get this info. I was also intrigued by the piece of information Dan was looking for, forecast cloud tops, for which there is no other source in a quick app. I've used the Area Forecast before and could appreciate how difficult it is to get a hold of, the difficulty reading the cryptic language and then translating the Zulu time to the time zone where the flight was taking place in order to make it useful. So I decided to develop a app to try to attack an interesting problem, solved an actual user need, and build something that I could use. I'm sure the Area Forecast is overlooked by many pilots due to it inaccessibility, and I hope that this app will allow them to easily add it to their pre-flight process and improve their flying safety."
 Knodl was not on Twitter much before the exchange with me. But he was impressed with the way the platform connected us:
"This is the first real connection I've made on Twitter," he said, "and I think it was a defining moment for me. A lot of noise is generated by people tweeting away selling something, or shaming someone into better customer service, but it's nice to make a connection with someone you can help and really fill a need for. There's a lot of noise out there so I'm surprised I even saw Dan's tweet about this missing aviation weather forecast data, but I sure am glad I did. I'll definitely be doing a better job 'listening' out there on Twitter as that's more likely where the action is in the #avgeek community."
This app will not replace anything in your current electronic flight bag. You cannot file a flight plan, see the pretty colors of a NEXRAD return, or determine the distance between two airports. There are no bells, and just the tiniest subset of whistles needed to do the job. And that job is to bring you the Area forecast, corrected for local time, with one click. Period. No crapola, no bull. Yes, the feature to translate UTC to local time is part of a $4.99 "in-app" purchase, but if you are like me, that is chump change for an app that delivers what I feel is critical information.

I am not affiliated in any way with Steve or his app, except to say I guess it was my idea initially. But the way he took this ball and ran with it with almost no input from me is noteworthy, because development of an app is usually not this easy. If you want to be able to access the Area Forecast without thinking about it, in what seems like nanoseconds, get this app and spring for the premium feature bundle. Help this guy out a little, he's devoted an enormous amount of what I assume was spare time to developing this app, and for that he deserves to get some press, and make a few sales. You can email him here, or visit his website here...or most imporantly, go here and download the app and immediatly throw down the 499 pennies for the upgrade. 

Do it. 

Because when you want to go punching it out with clouds, I assure you, knowing where the top of that fight ends is information that's golden. But even if you plan to go walk the dog tomorrow morning, just tap, tap and BOOM, you can get a VERY good look at what the aviation WX guessers think the sky will look like when Fido drags you out the door.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Look at 38C: Detail image of "Charlie" - Photo for Thursday, 03.27.14

http://smu.gs/1gDL9FU
Photo courtesy
Cessna Aircraft Corporation
By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

I am continuing to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Jerrie Mock's 1964 world flight by showing some of the research photos I collected while writing my AOPA Pilot Magazine article about Jerrie entitled Aviation's Forgotten Pioneer.

Today's image shows you what happened to Charlie after Jerrie landed back at Port Columbus Airport 17 April, 1964. Yes, he now hangs in the NASM's Steven Udvar-Hazy Center, but there should have been a different place for him to be displayed.

View the image here:

http://smu.gs/1gDL9FU

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Look at 38C: Detail image of "Charlie" - Photo for Monday, 03.24.14

http://smu.gs/1it11ta
By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

I am continuing to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Jerrie Mock's 1964 world flight by showing another of my "never-before-seen" images from a private photo shoot of her Skywagon "Charlie" or, technically, N1538C.

I conducted the shoot under the watchful eye of Smithsonian security in 2005 at the NASM's Steven Udvar-Hazy Center, and want to thank Dorothy Cochran of NASM - another fan of Jerrie and Charlie - for setting up the shoot.

Today's image gives you a look at Charlie's panel. While much of Jerrie's 1953 C-180 was stock, the panel was heavily modified to achieve safe navigation over long ocean segments, or through under-developed countries. Because she never really knew what radio nav equipment would be available in remote areas, she basically packed as much "state-of-the-art" (for 1964) avionics she could find into this panel, including some equipment usually found only on airliners of that era.

View the image here:

http://smu.gs/1it11ta

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Look at 38C: Detail image of "Charlie" - Photo for 03.22.14

http://smu.gs/1g9UpAD
By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

I am continuing to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Jerrie Mock's 1964 world flight by showing another of my "never-before-seen" images from a private photo shoot of her Skywagon "Charlie" or, technically, N1538C.

I conducted the shoot under the watchful eye of Smithsonian security in 2005 at the NASM's Steven Udvar-Hazy Center, and want to thank Dorothy Cochran of NASM - another fan of Jerrie and Charlie - for setting up the shoot.

Today's image gives you a close look at a typewritten note that instructed Jerrie how to transfer fuel that is still taped on the pilot's side of one of Charlie's ferry tanks. It is intriguing that N1538C hangs in the NASM today exactly as he was the day Jerrie returned to Columbus in 1964.

View the image here:

http://smu.gs/1g9UpAD

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Look at 38C: Detail image of "Charlie" - Photo for 03.21.14

http://smu.gs/OFOGHP
By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

I am continuing to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Jerrie Mock's 1964 world flight by showing another of my "never-before-seen" images from a private photo shoot of her Skywagon "Charlie" or, technically, N1538C.

I conducted the shoot under the watchful eye of Smithsonian security in 2005 at the NASM's Steven Udvar-Hazy Center, and want to thank Dorothy Cochran of NASM - another fan of Jerrie and Charlie - for setting up the shoot.

Today's image gives you a close look at Charlie's fuel system control panel. View the image here:

http://smu.gs/OFOGHP

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Look at 38C: Detail image of "Charlie" - Photo for 03.20.14

http://smu.gs/1gIb6CS
By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

Today I begin showing a series of images from a private photo shoot of Jerrie Mock's Cessna 180 Skywagon N1538C. I conducted (under the watchful eye of Smithsonian security) in 2005 at the NASM's Steven Udvar-Hazy Center.

Today's image gives you a close look at Charlie's "long wire" VHF antenna. View the image here:

http://smu.gs/1gIb6CS

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Celebrating Jerrie Mock and 'Charlie': 50th anniversary of her 1964 epic solo world flight

The front page of Jerrie's hometown newspaper on March 19, 1964 began a daily barrage of local coverage that kept America cheering for Bexley, Ohio's "Flying Housewife" as she was often called by the media. However, Jerrie hated that nickname. As far as she was concerned, she was just a pilot who really just wanted to see the world in her 1953 Cessna 180 Skywagon, N1538C or...just Charlie.
By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

Fifty years ago today, a diminutive 38-year-old mother of three departed Port Columbus Airport and pointed the bright red nose of her 180 Skywagon eastbound for Bermuda. It would be the start of an historic world-record flight that earned her the recognition of making the "first solo flight around the world by a woman."

Jerrie's 1970 book Three-Eight Charlie describing this epic journey is one that every aviator and aviation enthusiast should read. It is a very rare commodity, found only in the collections of aviation history buffs, a few libraries, and online for quite impressive (read spendy) prices. If you cannot find her original book, a reprint is available here, and it is word-for-word just like the original, only very well-illustrated.

My involvement following this story goes back to 2000, and I have written in AOPA Pilot Magazine about how aviation history as forgotten Jerrie and her flight. Go read that article to get up to speed, and in particular, read the "sidebar at the very end.

In the coming days, throughout the time Jerrie was making her world flight, I will be posting some detailed images I shot at a private photo shoot conducted at the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center in Virgina before N1538C was hung from the rafters. I gained access to "Charlie" to do research for a screenplay I wrote on the flight that never caught Hollywood's attention. That is sad too, because the more you learn about this flight and this story, I'm sure you'll agree her historic accomplishment would make a seriously exciting feature film.

Starting Thursday, March 20, I will post links here to a gallery with this series of detail images. I assume most will be never-before-seen...and you will discover Charlie was taken from Jerrie the minute she landed to complete her flight, and to this day, he hangs at the NASM exactly as if she made the flight yesterday. You'll see Jerrie's typed notes to herself, still taped precisely where she left them on April 17th when she returned to Ohio to become Aviation's Forgotten Pioneer.

So bookmark Airplanista.com or better yet, subscribe in the upper right corner, and take a look inside Charlie as if it were 1964 all over again. Releasing these images to view is my way of honoring the most famous Cessna on the planet. Because while Jerrie certainly deserves to be honored, my quest has always been about Charlie. She got the credit but he never let her down, through wind, ice, storms, and long, LONG stretches over open ocean.

If there ever was a general aviation success story, this is it. The fact that 999.999 out 1,000 people down at the mall have never heard of Jerrie, Charlie or her historic flight is aviation history's biggest malfunction. She should be as famous as Lindbergh or Earhart, and maybe during this 50th anniversary celebration, I pray the mainstream media picks this story up and runs with it, so the both of them - a tenacious "aviatrix" and a very sturdy airplane - FINALLY get the national recognition they BOTH deserve.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Through Eager Eyes - Chapter 3: Flight Delayed, Flight Denied?

Full of Wonder and Innocence, a Young Girl Romances the Sky

By Dan Pimentel,

Airplanista Blog Editor

(Note: This is the third of six chapters in a short story about my granddaughter's first airplane ride. Stay tuned to Airplanista for the remaining chapters or download the complete PDF e-book here - dan)


Chapter 3: Flight Delayed, Flight Denied?

This adventure just keeps getting better and better.

Now, with Katy's engine playing a new song I have never heard, I find myself listening with increasing glee to the throaty but smooth sounds reverberating throughout her cabin. Maybe this isn't the same song that angels listen to when they lay down to sleep, but to me this rumbling near the front of Katy is soothing, and makes me feel safe.

With each new movement of DooDah's hands on yet another of her controls, something new happens that makes this day increasingly rich. I watch everything that is happening with focused attention, perhaps because while it is still foreign to me, this thing everyone is calling "flying" seems natural, it seems right. It is with that in mind that I stare at the way DooDah moves gracefully through his duties as he coaxes Katy into moving. That white knob must be important, because he touches it in a special way, twisting it with incredible precision.

Eagerness surrounds me as Katy begins moving across the tarmac towards somewhere, I am not sure where. I hear DooDah say some words into the thing covering his mouth, but it seems odd and unexplainable that he is not talking to anyone inside Katy. Oh, but that is so like DooDah, always full of mystery and surprises.

I hear him say some words I sort of recognize, like "taxi", "bravo" and "Mike." As Katy's engine starts growling louder and the spinny thing rotates with increasing speed, we begin rolling faster, faster still, it is really cool! Mommy and Daddy are staring at me as we pick up speed and move across the airport, as if it has been pre-determined that at some point in this adventure I was going to freak out big time. What they do not yet know is that this feels so right, I only want more of what's next.

We are moving along well-marked roads on the airport, their edges defined by stubby lights set in perfect unison in the grass just beside the concrete. The huge yellow line running down the middle is like our guardian, pointing to...somewhere. Again, this entire day is one part dream, one road trip and three parts adventure, so whereever we end up, as long as I am with my family – including Katy the Cherokee – I am good.

We move along and I notice one of the big airplanes with all the people in it pass by on a parallel road, and as I get a good look at the two uniformed pilots in the front windows, I see something that really starts my inquisitive mind racing. From my seat in Katy's plush back seat, I clearly see that in the left and right positions in this little jet airliner's window, both pilots are...women. On many levels, this feels perfectly natural, because while traditionalists might say why, I exclaim "why not!" Why can't both pilots on a commercial airliner be women?

This is a question I am not yet qualified to answer. But I have a theory on this subject, and it is possibly as solid an opinion as anyone else might produce. Throughout my life, I have been told by everyone that being a girl shall not impede my progress towards accomplishing anything that I shall set out to achieve. If that task is to learn to fly big airplanes full of people headed off to Grandma's, or to become President of these United States, or walk on Mars, or cure cancer, then being a girl – and soon to be a woman – will not hurt me, it will in fact propel me to any heights that my goals and dreams require.

We taxi over to a large, deserted thing DooDah calls a "ramp" but this confuses me because unlike any ramp I have seen before, this area is flat. Go figure. We drive Katy up one side, turn, and drive her down the other, again, and again, around and around. It's as if the adults along for this ride are actually trying to scare me, as of that is remotely possible when flying is involved. I sit and watch as they go overboard trying to make me flinch, and smile occasionally to let them know that ain't happenin' today. What IS happening today – when they stop all this on-the-ground foolishness – is some real, life, get air under your wings aviating. I think. At this point though, all we are doing is driving around this airport while the other planes get to play with the sky.

But then...things start looking up as DooDah stops and gets really, really serious. He tells everyone to please refrain from chatter, and pushes in that important white knob to make Katy's engine ROAR! We sit alone on this deserted tarmac pointed generally at nothing, and DooDah is revving the engine while turning switches and looking intently at various engine gauges spitting out valuable data. With the brakes locked and the spinny thing clawing at the air, Katy rocks on her wheels in a fierce battle between her thrust and her brakes. The sensation is not unlike a rodeo ride on a bucking animal. It is clear that Katy wants no part of this ground condition with her brakes locked as what feels like a gigantic team of strong horses tries to rip the calipers from the discs holding us in place.

When this short testing phase is deemed successful, DooDah says Katy is ready to fly. Well it's about time, I say, I've been ready for hours! The adults in the plane again study my facial expressions, my aura, my outward appearance for any sign that I might be frightened having just watched Katy perform this crazy full-power parking stunt. They look at me and see only a grin, happiness oozing from every pore in my tiny body. It is because of this fearlessness for flight that the decision is made that we shall in fact go "once around the pattern" to see how I handle it.

Are they kidding me? Once around the pattern? Without even knowing what a "pattern" is or how many nautical miles it takes to go around it one time, how can I say to my fellow passengers and especially to my Captain, DooDah, that I want a longer ride? How do I convince them with enough emphasis that a quick hop isn't quite going to cut it today.

I consider throwing a fit to telegraph my feelings, but am afraid any sort of emotions other than "elated" might be construed as fear, and this adventure may come to an abrupt end. So I smile and try to look cute, it is something I go to when I want the big people to be happy with me.

Before any time passes, Katy has again moved about the airfield, and is soon parked just this side of a complex triple yellow line near what I assume might be a runway due to a very large number "one six" painted on the end. Don't even ask me how I know this, but I do.

The time has arrived for this day – and this life – to change dramatically, because I just heard DooDah say something that I've been waiting to hear forever:

"Cleared for takeoff."

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Through Eager Eyes - Chapter 2: Machines That Fly

Full of Wonder and Innocence, a Young Girl Romances the Sky 

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

(Note: This is the first of six chapters in a short story about my granddaughter's first airplane ride. Stay tuned to Airplanista for the next five chapters or download the complete PDF e-book here - dan)


Chapter 2: Machines That Fly

I have just been introduced to this magnificent piece of engineering masterwork known as Katy. While I do not yet know exactly what her function is, I am beginning to understand that it has something to do with flight. It's becoming increasingly clear that Katy is one of these "airplanes" that DooDah and Daddy speaks of with emotion and elation.

As I stand here on the threshold of whatever this wild adventure will become, it is marvelous how my world is changing with each passing moment. I look far off to the horizon and see another incredible flying machine gliding ever so gently to the Earth, touching down with such grace, it was as if a bed of feathers awaits its arrival. Everyone is pointing to it, as if they think I have yet to spot this flying craft. How wrong they are! Even before its sight was apparent, I heard the glorious sound it was making and knew precisely where in the sky to look. "Yes Daddy, I KNOW," I want to shout, but am too busy gleefully watching the airplane in the distance complete its dance with gravity.

The activity far away out on the runway is drawing me closer, I must investigate. Free of the grasp of anyone, I begin walking with purpose away from my family, away from Katy, across the tarmac, without a clear destination. But before I can complete a few steps in succession, Marmee – my daddy's mommy – gently but firmly grabs my arm and with a delicate touch, turns me 180 degrees back towards Katy. My feet continue to move swiftly, only now I am facing away from the flying machines I see in operation far off across the field.

Marmee seems to always know what is best for me. But in this case, the draw I feel towards the runway is intense, my soul being drawn to the landing airplane like moth to flame. Immediately following the precise moment when her hand leaves my arm, I perform the sweetest of pirouettes and begin a swift march across the tarmac in a fashion that can only be described as "darting." But try as I might, my small but strong legs are no match for Marmee's agility and reflexes as she instinctively catches up to me and scoops me up like an Eagle as it plucks a chipmuck from a meadow. Maybe Marmee cannot know my enthusiasm for flight, but as she quickly lofts me into her arms where I am now forced to reside, she is somehow successful at coaxing my focus away from the distant runway and its intriguing movements.

In a brazen attempt to keep me distracted, the adults surrounding me are all making sounds like airplanes now, it is seriously funny. My Uncle is also here, making gyrating movements with his arms outstretched on either side of his lean body in a comical attempt to get me to imitate him and play as if we are both airplanes. His intentions are of great merit, and I know he only wants to get me enthralled with the day, but I'm already there, times 10. So I throw him a bone and play his airplane game, stretching my arms out far to each side of my tiny frame, following at his heels making what I assume is the sound an airplane makes.

DooDah has helped get me to this point by being a fantastic salesperson for flying. He's a lovable guy, but it is surreal how everything he does in some way involves airplanes. On nearly every visit, my predictable friend can be sure to start making airplane noises, and I feel it the polite thing to do to mimic his sounds. Besides, everyone in my life gets such a charge out of my airplane noises, it is becoming my secret weapon to gain the attention of the large people that surround me. I have discovered that by making a few cute airplane noises, a wave of adult laughter can quickly envelope a room. And I have DooDah to thank for teaching me the correct sounds to emulate "the way of the Cherokee," or to put it more accurately, the way a Cherokee sounds. Someday, a goal will be to understand what is this "Cherokee" of which DooDah speaks of incessantly.

The buzz surrounding Katy is intensifying. DooDah is walking around the airplane, carefully checking all sorts of interesting things. He wiggles a set of movable surfaces on the large things protruding from each side of Katy, could these be wings, like a bird?

As my attention is bantered about, pulled in all directions by endless new things to see and thoughts to process, I focus on Daddy who has his eyes keenly attached to something in the sky above this wide-open field in which we stand. He begins shouting...

"Oh my God, what ARE they," he yells, as he and all other adults in proximity begin gravitating to...something. My Daddy seems more excited than anyone when overhead a group of four sleek black flying craft rocket past us at what looks to my untrained eyes to be the speed of light.

"DooDah," Daddy shouts, "what are those? They are all black, no markings, what ARE they?"

One by one, the slender black fighter jets slip back to the runway far off in the distance. As we all stand nearly speechless watching these mysterious machines arrive, another group of THREE unmarked black craft blasts over our heads, followed by a slow, graceful turn to follow their brethren to the ground. The sight of seven ships of unknown origin or purpose, arriving as if on a mission, baffles my Daddy, an inquisitive sort who is forever pushing to learn more about the world around him. He stands with mouth gaping, and I cannot tell if he is happy, concerned, worried or elated to see these swift black flying machines arrive. DooDah, maybe poking a wee bit of fun, says they may have come from the same air base that sends out the "black helicopters," whatever the heck that means. Daddy mentions something called "the CIA" as he describes the unmarked jets, but again, I have no idea what that means, or if it is good or bad.

While the commotion of watching the mystery ships arrive was oh so cool, it is nothing compared to the excitement that comes when Mommy loads me up into Katy's back seat. It is becoming crystal clear that yes, we are in fact going flying, and Katy is the one to take us skyward. I am so down with that, because in the few short minutes we have known one another, Katy and I are already trusting of each other's capabilities. I look at this great ship and see nothing in her that draws out fear, nothing that prompts uncertainty. No, it is my pleasure to hop into my seat inside Katy where I have a first-class view of a new phenomenal world unfolding right before me.

With myself firmly strapped in, Mommy joins me in the back seat. I am happy to see DooDah get in next, and he takes a position of authority in the left front seat. Next to him, Daddy occupies the right front seat, and soon everyone is strapped in. The excitement inside Katy is clearly building as everyone puts onto their heads the strangest contraptions I have every encountered. As I look around, it is almost humorous to see Daddy, Mommy and DooDah wearing these odd hats, with bulbous lumps covering their ears, and a sort of spike mechanism pointed outward towards their mouths. Each of these strange hats are plugged into Katy via a set of wires, and it is increasingly confusing to see the three adults inside Katy talking amongst themselves despite these giant lumps covering their ears.

The constant movement of DooDah's hands upon the dizzying array of knobs, dials, levers and buttons before him has me hypnotized. He moves with precision and purpose, touching each item on a small card strapped to his thigh while simultaneously touching one of the many controls on the flat surface directly in front of he and Daddy. I watch DooDah's every move – this ritual he is performing can only be described as choreographed, and beautiful.

However, my keen focus on what is happening in the two front seats is instantly shattered when Mommy tries to slip a small, pink version of these odd lumps-over-the-ears hats onto my head. I am startled, it is unnerving. Never before have I had such a confining device attached to my body, and while the sheer force of the lumps are pushing into my skull, what makes me yank them off immediately is that they seem to be designed specifically to prevent me from hearing what is going on around me. Mommy tries to put them on again, and again I swiftly remove them. We do this little dance a few times before she realizes that I will win this battle and have chosen to accept whatever noise comes next with raw, unfiltered joy.

And oh, what supreme joy soon enveloped my ears! Moments after I had made it clear to those around me that I was not going to wear the odd noise limiting hat, DooDah opened a small window next to him, yelled "CLEAR!" and with a blur of movements, brought my friend Katy to life. The large metal spinny thing in front of us makes a few slow revolutions in protest before erupting in a glorious symphony of sounds I have never before heard. The spinny thing whirls triumphantly now, so fast it is now a blur, Katy's heart vibrates, her body shakes in a smooth but powerful fashion. The sensation is one I could have never imagined. As the sound evens out to become a low, forceful growl, I notice everyone is watching me to observe my reaction. What could they possibly be expecting?

After all, I am here, Katy is here, the spinny thing out front seems happy, c'mon people, let's get this party started!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Through Eager Eyes - Chapter 1: Chasing Adventures

Full of Wonder and Innocence, a Young Girl Romances the Sky 

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

(Note: This is the first of six chapters in a short story about my granddaughter's first airplane ride. Stay tuned to Airplanista for the next five chapters or download the complete PDF e-book here - dan)


Chapter 1: Chasing Adventures

The sun was shining bright through the windshield, washing my mother's golden hair with elaborate streaks of bronze, rust and other hues from a most dramatic palette. The one single cloud I can see as the car pulls from the driveway seems almost lonely in the sea of blue that surrounds it. This day was shaping up to be full of bliss and wonder, as are all the days of my young life. That wonder, that sense of what is out there waiting for me, makes me the luckiest girl in the world.

And that girl part? Must have been the pink blankets from my past, because to me, the splendors of my universe are gender neutral. New things are seen and must be learned, new concepts discovered and must be explored. Girl? Whatever, I see nothing in that word that prevents me from reaching glorious heights of personal expression and success.

Maybe it was the smooth, genuine and predictable taste of my morning banana, but things really seemed like they are going my way on this special day. It was sure to be special, because my DooDah – my Daddy's Stepdaddy, whatever that is – was involved. Everything is better with DooDah, and while I have no idea what is going to happen today, with DooDah, it will be fun, this I know.

But what has intrigued me is this endless talk about something else on today's agenda. Apparently DooDah has something called an airplane, and while the adventure in learning about this new concept of "going flying" might open up new horizons and teach me today's lesson, I have no idea what an airplane is. That is the thrill of my life, new doors are opening every minute, incredible paths unfold before me demanding to be walked. As a human, I am fearless, no danger lurks in my world. Glee surrounds my every waking hour, and adventure unfolds before me with every tick of the clock. So this flying stuff – whatever it may be – can only be one more excursion into the new, the unexplored.

"Bring it on!" I feel like shouting, but do not.

The familiar surroundings of my home, my room, my wonderful yard filled with butterflies and strawberries are distant memories today, and the journey we are on is foreign. New vistas slide by the car window, as well they should on any legitimate adventure. With DooDah leading our car on a road I've never traveled, it is encouraging to be out of touch with familiarity. Unlike any other road I have been down before, the beautiful flowers, trees and the occasional dog, dog, dog have been replaced with, well, nothing. Where are we going? Where are the other people, the cars, the houses?

Desolation lives here, and desolation unnerves me, it always has. What could this large, flat area be used for, certainly not chasing puppies through the park, where swings and slides would make this place at least somewhat inhabitable.

As we slow to a stop, DooDah is standing outside our car. Before him is the most technologically-advanced gate I have ever seen, a sentry that protects something important, I am not sure what. The magic of life is everywhere today, and around DooDah's neck is a slice of that magic, a card of some sort, I see his smiling face on it. This card is important, this I know because with one wave of DooDah's strong hand in front of a cute little metal box perched atop a pole, the gate magically begins a leisurely movement away from us. As we drive through, Daddy is giddy with anticipation when he declares that "we are in", as if somewhere between the banana and DooDah's magic card, we became secret agents. Everyone in my car is pleased to be "on the airport" and it is clear that the excitement of the day seems poised to reach yet unattained heights. My expectations of what is to come next are increasing with every breath, I am elated to be part of this new, mysterious adventure.

As the car eases into this strange complex of non-descript buildings, my mind races to discover what this is, where we are, why I am here. As one who loves the brightly-colored neighborhoods of my hometown, these buildings look odd, they are windowless shells devoid of all personality.

But down one drive between the buildings, I glimpse something that is familiar. Do not ask me for the official name, but I have ridden on one of those long, slender vehicles before, way back in the days of my youth. Mommy and me rode for long hours inside one of these metal tubes, which I found to be a very interesting place, with the view out the tiny oval windows changing as we appeared to rise high into the sky as if on some sort of Magic Carpet. From the security of my mommy's arms, I gazed out the window and watched the houses get smaller and the clouds reach out to me, so close I was eager to touch them! Around me, people appeared mystified about my opinion that this odd contraption is indeed a comforting place to sleep, if not to also dream.

Back in the car, it starts to come together as dots get connected in today's riddle. Maybe what I did with mommy before in that pressurized tube was this thing called "flying" and so, quite possibly, that flying machine was an airplane. And since everyone this morning – as well as last night – have been talking non-stop about "DooDah's airplane", could it be that we are at this desolate place with the odd, boring buildings, to fly? My summation of the situation remains unsettled, but if that is the outcome of this adventure, I'll welcome it as I welcome any opportunity to soar with birds in their sky.

From the lap of my mother as she works at her home office, I often gaze out the window at our bird feeder and am in complete wonder and amazement how these tiny creatures defy gravity and flutter about effortlessly. Oh how I want to join them! To be free of the surly bonds that hold me onto this fragile planet, to effortlessly glide unabated through that glorious, unexplored space that resides above my head.

Our car comes to a stop at one of these lifeless structures, and in a blur or motion, I find myself standing before a large set of metal doors. DooDah greets us, and welcomes me as usual with a gentle finger to the tip of my nose and a quick "beep!" What's up with that? DooDah is forever pushing the tip of my nose, I cannot know why. But his funny voice makes me laugh once again. He again mentions this thing called flying, and again, I struggle to comprehend all that is going on around me.

In an instant, DooDah and Daddy slide open the huge metal doors, and the value of this day goes up sharply as a beautiful little flying machine comes into full view. While it looks similar to the large tubes mommy and me flew in, this is a much smaller version, intimate in design and very, very intriguing in personality. As DooDah walks with me around this machine, I am introduced formally to "Katy", a name I was born to immediately love. As I view Katy, she looks strong, capable and I must learn more. With each step, I am drawn towards Katy, her spell being cast on my stream of consciousness. While it makes sense that Katy cannot talk, if she could, I believe I would be invited to take part in a celebration of freedom with her that would take me on endless aerial adventures to places I cannot even comprehend today.

DooDah soon moves me, mommy and Daddy away from Katy, and with a tug of his strong arms, pulls her from this building into the bright sunlight, where the light glistens off her sleek wings, her streamlined physique. This day is getting better by the second, I am eager to see what comes next as I learn more about and become better acquainted with my new BFF, Katy.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Guest Post: Where We Belong

Volunteer Pilot Janet of Louisiana takes Madeline
flying during a 2013 Women of Aviation event.

Watch a video of their flight here.
By Victoria Neuville Zajko,
U.S. Team Leader,
Women Of Aviation Week


Annual airshows and fly-ins: these are places that feel like a second home to pilots. Meeting up with friends sharing the same passions and being surrounded by the sounds of the soaring airplanes you love is a feeling like no other. You have seen them at rock concerts and airshows alike: wristbands. More than a simple access pass, they signal the belonging to a unique and like-minded group.

During Women Of Aviation Worldwide Week, March 3-9th, 2014, girls and women across the world will receive a pink wristband when they travel to aviation facilities for their first introduction to general aviation. Their new pink wristband will remind them that the aviation industry is where they belong and will identify them among their peers as special.

It was 2011. I had moved to Maryland, knew few people, and even less pilots at my new home airport when I decided to organize my first Women Of Aviation Week event with the goal of introducing women to aviation,

In a matter of weeks, thanks to the community of pilots that rallied around this cause, I learned that I belonged. The airport was no longer a destination to fly to and leave from, it was a place to spend time with friends and make new ones. It opened up doors to camaraderie and opportunities that I could not have found otherwise. Thanks to this new network of people in my life, girls and women in the DC metro area now had a place where they too, could belong.

Margarita Rivera after her first solo. She caught the bug
for flying during a 2013 WOAW event
The feelings that Women Of Aviation Worldwide Week evokes are contagious. Numerous incentives for organizers and participants that go the extra mile making it easier for girls and women to embrace this new experience in their lives.

For example, the event organizer earning the most points will win $1,000 for flight training thanks to the members of the Institute for Women Of Aviation Worldwide. Chicago based all things aviation store, Aviation Universe is thanking event volunteers in their own special way. There will be a drawing for over $500 in Aviation Universe gift certificates.

A pilot’s first solo is a rite of passage to the pilot community. It is common for the entire airport community to celebrate each solo flight. Sennheiser Aviation Headsets applauds this feat by offering $1,500 for flight training to the first girl or woman to solo worldwide after discovering flight in a small aircraft during Women Of Aviation Week. Likewise, King Schools further supports this cause by offering a complete online Private Pilot training course to the first woman in the United States to solo.

Beyond the many monetary awards offered during Women Of Aviation Week, the real reward is growing your pilot community, one female at a time.

What’s more, flight schools and individual organizers that advertise their events on the Women Of Aviation Week website by February 2nd will have the pink wristbands sent to their event free of charge.

The time is now to join this growing grassroots initiative welcoming tens of thousands of girls to aviation facilities annually during Women Of Aviation Worldwide Week. You belong.

Together, let us generate a huge impact on the growth of aviation.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

First Flight: Van's certified RV-12 S-LSA - A Light Sport Airplane with a golden future

Van's certified factory-built RV-12 flies during
the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo. Photo: Jim Keopnick

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

(SEBRING, FL) At the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo today, I was granted one of the most coveted demo flights on the field when the people from Van's allowed me to spend a few precious minutes aloft in their new factory-built certified RV-12 S-SLA to experience the world of LSA flying for the very first time.
  
I say coveted, because due to a mechanical issue, the company's demo plane was down on Friday of the show, which seriously jammed the demo flight schedule. This airplane is a very hot item here in Sebring, and everyone wanted to get a taste of what is shaping up to be - in my opinion - one of the most exciting new LSA models on the market right now.
  
Even with an overbooked demo schedule, room was made for me to give this airplane a quick flight around Central Florida. And without ever flying an airplane with a stick - and never having flown in any of Van's venerable RV models - I was sure this would be a great experience. And the RV-12 delivered everything I expected...and lots more.
  
After strapping in, the first surprise was the way the Rotax 912 ULS started. It was clear after about :02 seconds of cranking that this is not your grandfather's airplane engine...it started faster than any automobile engine I've seen. Push the button and with no drama, no levers to coax in and out and no hesitation, it just starts.
  
Winds at KSEF were quite gusty at flight time, estimated at about 12-20 knots. Taxi out was swift and uneventful...and the RV-12 feels stable on the gear. We were off the runway in a very short time, and at about 300' AGL, demo pilot Mitch Lock gave me the airplane. I mentioned something about never operating a control stick, and he just advised me to use a light touch and don't think about it. And in a matter of seconds, I had forgotten all about the stick, and began to really get into this flight.
  
There are two distinct features of this certified RV-12 that are immediately apparent. First, the visibility is incredible, reminding me a bit like a Bell 47 helicopter...with unrestricted views as far as the peripheral vision of the human eye allows. This airplane gives you a first-class view of the world as it slides by under your wings.
But the second thing that the first-time RV-12 pilot notices is the way this airplane handles. There is virtually NO slop in the rigging, it delivers all the good things you've ever heard about the legendary handling characteristics of the Van's line-up. You do not steer this airplane so much as wear it. Think about turning and it turns. I had only been "on the stick" for maybe 120 seconds, and already I was mastering the microscopic control adjustments needed for turning, climbing or descending. I have never experienced such intuitive handling in an airplane. Frankly, it was a little freaky...as if the airplane just knew what I wanted it to do. Chalk this up to fine engineering from a company that has developed a very pleasurable airplane that is a joy to fly.
Above Lake Jackson just west of the Expo, Lock let me crank in 45 degrees of bank in both directions, and holding the nose level in steep turns was a non-issue. Again...intuitive and predictable. He then demonstrated a stall and at around 40 KIAS, the left wing just barely dipped before the pilot simply released back pressure on the stick and the RV was flying again, with what appeared to be way less than 200' of altitude lost.
  
On the way back into Sebring, I easily brought the plane back down to 1,100' on the expo arrival, and Lock made a very smooth crosswind landing that looked effortless. One thing of note: I was watching the rudder pedals as he came over the numbers, and saw small adjustments made, no foot stomping needed to keep the RV-12 on centerline.
  
Airplanista Editor Dan Pimentel, left,
and Van's demo pilot Mitch Lock
Back on the ground, I exited and was told there was a grin on my face. Of course there was! I had just flown what I predict will be one of the best selling S-LSA models in due time. The certified RV-12s that Synergy Air of Eugene, OR are building for Van's are selling, and they were taking orders for future delivery positions at the Expo.
  
This affordable and very attractive airplane has the performance numbers to really gain a following of new LSA buyers, as well as pilots like me who own larger legacy airplanes with much higher fuel burn. But the RV-12 really begins to pencil out when flown by flight schools as a serious alternative to the legacy fleet. With each student hour flown, money is saved on direct operating costs, and when schools fill their ramps with this airplane, we'll see more new pilots created when training costs go down.
  
The future is bright for this factory-built RV-12...it has to be, because GA needs the Light Sport sector to succeed in lowering costs in order to mint more pilots. Growth in the LSA market is coming...that is the message I heard from all vendors at the Expo. And this Van's model will add significantly to that growth. As I walk the show, exciting new possibilities abound, and optimism seems to be building. And nowhere on the field was optimism more apparent than at the Van's booth, where you could feel the buzz building before your very eyes.
    
This is a model to watch.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Sebring Light Sport Expo, Friday: Airplanes, Innovation and FAST cars

The removable panel in World Aircraft's display model
demonstrates some of the innovation found at the show
By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

After a few hours of walking around the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo, I am convinced this is the place to be if Light Sport aircraft is even remotely on your radar screen.

This niche of our GA world is on full display here in Sebring, and it is like a giant shopping mall, only instead of Dog-on-a-Stick, they have a really impressive selection of LSAs to fill your hangar.

Something I did not expect: I knew that KSEF sits next to Sebring international Raceway, and assumed it was used for club sports car drivers to come wring out their 911s. But as we exited our rental car in the media lot nestled right up next to one of the track's high-speed turns, I was BLOWN AWAY to see Indy cars running some full-out practice laps. I was like "airplanes, RACE CARS, airplanes, RACE CARS!" So many shiny objects...

video

There is interesting hardware everywhere on the ramp here at Sebring. And in an evolving LSA world, one company that is keeping the sector's reputation for innovation alive is World Aircraft. Their President, Eric Giles was proud to point to the removable panel in his display airplane. Think giant kitchen drawer with a full array of glass avionics in it. To work on the panel, just pull it out like you are pulling out your kitchen drawer to grab a steak knife, remove a couple of 28-pin connectors, and set the entire panel on the seat, or relocate it to a test bench. Putting it back in is as easy as putting that drawer back in...pure genius.

Giles says the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo makes perfect sense to attend as a vendor. "Here," he said, "everyone is interested in Light Sport aircraft, and we make sales. For LSAs, Sebring is the show we always want to attend." Asked what he thought of any current trends for the LSA market, Giles said 2014 has produced a thick order book through June for the Paris, TN-based company, and that "2015 and 2016 should be really good growth years for LSAs."

In fact, Airplanista tried to ask that same question to other vendors at the Sebring show, but on two occasions, they were too busy to even answer. And in the trade show business, when you have no time to talk to the media, it's a great problem to have.

One last task lies ahead for the Airplanista crew here in Sebring. We are headed to the shore of Lake Jackson to dine on the deck overlooking the seaplanes to talk LSAs while listening to the Flying Musicians.

See? You really should have came to the show. Well...there is always next year ;)

Sebring: The vast new world of Light Sport aviation awaits

One of the highlights of my first "Sebring" will be
seeing the Van's Aircraft's certified S-LSA RV-12s
By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

As I write this, American Airlines flight 1386 has just blasted off from KDFW direct Orlando so I can go hang with all my #avgeek pals at the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo at the Sebring (FL) Regional Airport. 

I ended up in Dallas after a two-day stop in Fresno to photograph the completely unbelievable fully-staged new production of Les Misérables being presented by my ad agency's long-time client, Fresno Grand Opera. That shoot went flawlessly, and once "in the can" I was able to start really getting excited about the Light Sport show. While not confirmed, I might be the only person at the show that had to go through Fresno to get to Sebring. But if that's what it takes...

Why am I so excited about attending this show for the first time? Simple...because the climate is perfect right now in our aviation world for Light Sport airplanes and the Sport Pilot Certificate to finally get a solid footing. 

Everything is pointing to Light Sport...fuel costs, training costs, FAA medical  regulations that just seem to be getting more challenging by the week. Sure, the missions flown by LSAs tend to lean heavily towards the recreational side of flying. They may not be all things to all pilots. But as we look towards the near and distant future of GA, there is a definate place for Light Sport, and each time the price of 100LL avgas goes up, the sector becomes that much more attractive. 

So I will be reporting from the show and see what the vibe is down there. I will let the hard news guys break stories of each and every new product that is announced. My task is to talk to both LSA buyers and sellers and take the pulse of the sector. What are people talking about? What is important to everyone involved going forward?

I've been thinking a lot about what I expect to find at this show. For certain, there will be the latest models from the big names in Light Sport...makers like Van's, Cubcrafters and Flight Design. But around each corner will be surprises, new models featuring new innovations, more of the cool stuff that gets #avgeeks like me running from booth to booth. I fully expect to learn about new Light Sport designs that are just coming on the market. More great machines that cost less to fly and own...sexy and sleek, with glass panels and a reasonable price tag. 

The highlight of this Sebring show for Airplanista will undoubtedly the new certified S-LSA RV-12s from Van's Aircraft. Readers of this blog know this exciting new factory-built airplane is made at my home field, and my enthusiasm for the RV-12 is off the charts. There is a VERY solid future brewing for this $123,000 entry from Van's, and the market is right for a well-engineered ship like this, coming from a maker with a strong, established reputation for quality.

Watch Airplanista for my updates from the show as time permits. 

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Sprint cars with "wings" and airplanes: CameraDan, yeah, that was me!

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

If you had looked deep into turn one at any of the Central California speedways back in the very early 1980s on many summer Saturday nights, you might have seen a guy that looked a whole lot like Av8rdan. He would have been holding a worn Minolta camera and would have been standing so close to the apex of the turn, he'd be scaring the hell out of the ambulance drivers.

If it was Madera Speedway, it was the SMRA's offset super modifieds, and if it was Kings Speedway, it would be either the local yokels, or the World of Outlaws ripping the clay to shreds in winged sprint cars. Now of course you might be asking what this has to do with aviation? Well, absolutely nothing. But it has to do with yours truly, and I thought now would be a great time to connected the dots for some of my readers.

A recent email out of left field asked me if I was the same guy who used to shoot racing pictures at Kings Speedway in Hanford, California. I replied that yes, "CameraDan" as I was known in those days, and "Av8rdan" as I am known today were in fact the same person:
Along about 1978, I was working as a quasi-pit crew member for a guy who raced "super modifieds" at Madera, California's lightning quick one-third mile paved oval. One night, they asked me to being my camera and take a couple of pictures, so I did. I talked myself into the infield, and waltzed up to the edge of the track in the apex between turns one and two. I was about 10 feet from the left front tire of cars speeding by at maybe 100 mph. There, I shot several rolls of film, and the images I caught were the classic "stopped race car whizzing past the blurred background" shots. I got lucky, let's face it.
Everyone got so excited about these pics, they almost FORCED me to send them into a small paper called Western Racing News, so I did. Guess what? Yep, they printed a bunch of them, and in a heartbeat, my phone was ringing from the paper to shoot more. They even sent me a press pass to get into any track in the area - how cool was that?

A few of the published action images I shot from
Hanford, CA's Kings Speedway.
One thing led to another, and soon that summer, I was sending in the photos with what I thought to just be nicely crafted cutlines to describe the scene. I have always had a way with words, and soon they started printing the descriptions as articles! By the end of that first summer and into the next year, I had secured press passes from every major West Coast racing paper, along with a couple of national publications such as National Speed Sport News and Circle Track Magazine. With all these passes in my worn old Lowe Pro bag, I could get into the infield of any track in the country:
I spent the next 10 years of my life as one of the West's more well-known racing photojournalists. I would shoot at night, race home to a improvised darkroom in a closet, and develop and print whole sets of the best shots from that night's crash and go. I'd then pound out a bunch of gibberish as copy, stuff it all into about 12 manilas and shoot it into the FedEx system. Back in the day, had I invested about $20,000 in a serious Nikon film system, the same long lenses the football shooters were using, and a bad-ass portable flash system, I could have become a well-known national figure in auto racing photography...I was that close to the top. But the foolish financial decisions of a twentysomething kept me in medium-quality equipment and I was never able to "break into" the big time.
Somewhere along the way, I lost my ambition to shoot auto racing. Maybe it was all the racers that owned me money, but in the mid 90s, airplanes replaced race cars in my soul, and I have never looked back. I could not be happier with my current career as ad agency owner, writer and photographer, and I still can somehow capture things in my lens to satisfy those who pay me well to do it. If you go here, you can glimpse a collection of images I have produced, just to get an idea of what Camera Dan version 2.0 is doing these days.

So where, you ask, are all those old shots of Everett Edlund, Steve Kinser, Rick Mears and all the other dudes I used to stop at 1/500th of a second? Sorry to say, those old negatives are stuffed into archival binder sleeves and stashed in boxes under my stairs. Way back when, I swore I would get a film scanner and convert them all to digital stills. But then I realized this: Who really wants to see Anthony Simone flipping over Wally Pankratz at Mesa Marin Speedway these days? IS there a reason to spend 1,000s of hours finding those grand old shots of "Slammin' Sammy Swindell, Jac "Wild Child" Haudenschild and Doug Wolfgang blasting three abreast into the dark monster (turn one) at the legendary Ascot Park Speedway in Gardena?

That was then, this is now. These days, I get excited when shooting an old Antonov AN-2, crawling all over the inside of a Pilatus PC-12, or getting in clean and tight on a perfectly-restored Wright Whirlwind at Oshkosh. Yes, the former CameraDan is alive and well, he's just hiding up in the forest in Oregon, about as far away from turn one as he can possibly get.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Gulfstream Treatment, Piper Style

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

There is one thing about our GA community that never ceases to amaze me. This one single phenomenon happens all over the country, at FBOs from Maine to San Diego, Key West to Seattle. And each time it happens to me, it reaffirms that being a licensed pilot flying your own private aircraft is about as good as The American Dream gets. What I'm referring to is this:
A few years back, we flew the Katyliner on a business trip from Eugene to Fresno. It was a four-hour flight that relieved us from the grueling 12-hour grind by car - a savings of 66 percent. Even though Oakland Center casually told us while splitting the difference between Mt. Shasta and Mt. Ashland that some guy at our six, same altitude, same direction was going to overtake us (prompting an expedited climb), we made it unscathed to FAT and taxied to one of the two remaining airport FBOs at the time. I was parked next to a very large, very expensive, long-range business jet, and before I could even get the baggage door open, the Line Guy had the rental car alongside Katy with the a/c cranked up. He helped me unload, helped me put the cover on the plane, and made sure every need was take care of. We were treated with the same level of professionalism and respect as the people who came in before me in the Gulfstream, but we were flying a machine that cost about as much as one of the gold-plated cup holders on the G-V.
See, that's what GA is all about. It's not so much the machine you fly, but that you FLY. When wind forced over wings becomes lift and a craft takes flight with humans inside, it is a beautiful thing. But in our world, it really doesn't matter what shape the flying machine takes so long as it flies somewhere and delivers pilots and pax to their $100 burger, or in our case, business meetings and photo shoots.
I believe GA separates those who cannot fly from those who do, and for us lucky ones, we are in a very small brother/sisterhood. Yes, the Gulfstream driver has a ship that is a tad faster than my vintage Cherokee, and yes, it holds more souls and has a nice fancy Champagne cooler. But the advantages we enjoy by flying a private aircraft – any private aircraft – are still fantastic, and regardless of make and model, we can still avoid the headaches and hassles of flying the airlines when we fly our own bird into that small strip at the edge of town where we plan to make a buck. When a business flies their own aircraft, it earns a competitive advantage over those who make their people straddle the spokes on the airlines' "wheel of misfortune" as they try their luck at actually getting somewhere on time.
Sure, the airlines do get lots of people to their intended destinations every day. But personally, I get screwed around somehow on about 50 percent of commercial flights these days. Overbooking, cramped seats, and cranky gate agents who can't coordinate their stories when delays happen are just a few things that can trip up the airline flyer today. But even if they do manage to get you to Omaha for a meeting, you had to go LAX-ORD-JFK-MIA-FAT to get there. You have to stay in a hotel the night before the meeting and the night after too, in hopes of snagging a seat on a morning flight out. Three days to deliver you to a one-hour meeting to close the deal.

But with the Katyliner, I can manage a biztrip like this:
You wake up in Eugene, answer a fair amount of emails, pack the car and deliver the dog to the kennel on the way to the airport. Four hours later, you are in your rental car in Fresno headed to meetings. Sweet, hassle-free, and efficient. On the trip home, you wake up, meet with clients in Fresno until noon, depart FAT and an hour later, stop at Grass Valley/Nevada County Airport for early dinner with friends. Three hours later, you are pushing your GA plane back into the hangar in Eugene just as the sun sets. Sweet, hassle-free, and efficient. Try this kind of trip on the airlines, I dare you.
I must however close by saying this: While I fully recognize GA as the leader in business flying, the airlines do beat my Cherokee 235 on some missions. For a jaunt over to Kauai for a week of beachcombing or Vienna for galleries and the symphony, the nice comfortable A-380 kills the Katyliner every time.

But schedule a multi-stop business trip into a bunch of small airports all in the same day, and my GA ship will do what the airlines cannot. Yes, they can fly at FL380 and let people use a potty the size of a shoebox, but try to land a 737 on a municipal airstrip 3 minutes from a client's front door, and you will see...the GA advantage.

Monday, December 23, 2013

#Avgeek Community Mobilizes to "Pimp" Santa's Sleigh for 2013 Present Run

Illustration by bogdancalciu
By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

If you've been wondering where some of our favorite #avgeeks have gone to on Twitter, I have the answer. Many of them have been burning the Midnight oil these past few weeks up at Santa's secret SkunkWerkz at the North Pole. I have an elf on the inside that has been feeding me classified data about their project. His name is Elfward Snowed-in. (insert rimshot here).

This year, the flight that Santa must complete in one night to deliver all the toys is again a mammoth task, so let's begin by looking at the numbers:
He will launch the sleigh far above the ship's MTOW of 365 tons, lifting off with just over 8.25 MILLION tons of gifts for the estimated two billion kids on this planet. That's 2.2 gifts per kid, weighing an average of 3.75 lbs. each. Once en route, he will have multiple stops in each of the approximately 3.9 million cities, towns and villages around the world. Given that he can only fly Christmas Eve when the kiddos are in bed (8 PM - 6 AM, UTC of course), Santa must hit 108.33 cities, towns or villages per second. Factor in every house with a chimney in those destinations, and you can pretty much rule out him having any time to lollygag and consume milk and cookies. Dude's gotta move with a schedule like this!
Yes, those ARE startling numbers, so you can see why Santa, Inc. hired the following #Avgeeks to pimp his ride. Let's go directly to Snowed-in's leaked documents and read what we can...that is what has not be redacted:
First thing Santa needed to even think about this flight is insurance, handled perfectly by @Toriafly. Once that was in place, @Pushingtin worked with NORAD to line up the flight plan, assisted by @Axenty who was responsible for entering the mammoth routing into the Sleigh's FMS.

But long before the trip was to even begin, the sleigh had to be modified to handle this incredible load, and make this impossible flight. To get the engines in top shape, @Jonostrower and @Jetwhine called in favors from their Boeing and Airbus connections, and @EAAupdate put together a sharp team of experimental builders to wrench the whole project together.

This craft is going to need a serious amount of technology to accomplish this mission. So in a dark, windowless back room, @Bradkoehn, @AdamCanFly and @Mike_Miley have been re-writing the 5,657,522,646,097 lines of code needed to keep the Sleigh's operating system up and running. They were assisted by @MLadd, who was doing whatever it is he does (nobody really knows for sure).

If you are going to be making so many stops, you'll want a comfortable ride, so @TomHaines29 and @JTallman1959 hooked Santa up with their completions connections they've used working on @AOPA's many sweepstakes aircraft. The seats were perfect, according to the craft's test sitters, @IOPFlyGirl and @GirlsWithWings.

The panel of the Sleigh was retrofitted with a new G5000 glass system, installed by @XControlled and tested by @JoshDMartin. They completed the task after having 5,604 grueling, spirited public exchanges on Twitter about the wiring. Rumor is, they are still fighting it out about placing the ignition switch on the far right or far left of the panel.

Once everything was ready, it was time for the test flight. @NavyAirCrewMan was in the Sleigh's left seat, assisted by @KarlenePetitt, who brought her years of international airline flying to the team. Also on the flight deck was @AdventureGirl, because if things get exciting, you can expect she will want to be there to write about it. And they were being served piping hot coffee by @Heather_Poole, assisted by @RunwayGirl because she seems to turn up...everywhere these days.

Of course, with a project of this scale, you're going to need a media team, and the SkunkWerkz has that covered. The 450 GoPro cameras attached to the Sleigh were installed by @WiredforFlight, with @DaveFlys set to live-stream the flight worldwide. You'll be able to hear the Sleigh's radio calls through @LiveATC, and on NorthPole Radio, @SnFRadioDave will have everyone bundled up on the front deck at the SkunkWerkz for a lively radio chat.

So as you can see, for Santa to deliver toys to all the good boys and girls, a small army of #Avgeeks is required. And this is just the ones that my mole, Elfward Snowed-in (insert rimshot here) could tell us about. When he bailed out from the NPSA (North Pole Supply Association), he allegedly stole 4.5 million secret documents containing everything from the blueprints for Susie's doll house to the launch codes for Johnny's toy rocket ship. He unfortunately was unable to pull the files that describe how an Easy-Bake Oven can cook a cake with a single 60-watt light bulb. That data is sealed in a vault far beneath the SkunkWerkz, which happens to also contain the secret formula that makes everyone just a little bit horny when standing under Mistletoe.
Oops, I've just noticed a black helicopter hovering over my studio, so it appears the NPSA is on to me...um...gotta run. Merry Christmas to all, and to all, thanks for putting up with my crapola for another year.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

My Christmas wish: A GA "Power Collective" to bring the aviation advocacy groups together

(Editor's note: This is my contribution to "Blogging in Formation," a monthly series where six active aviation bloggers all write a post about the same topic. Follow #BlogFormation on Twitter to learn when each month's posts are published.)

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

Toy airplanes, train sets, an E-Z Bake Oven. Legos by the truckload, Barbies and Ken and G.I. Joe. Sparkling new iPads, Bose headsets, a new Sporty's flight bag. All the flying toys for kids big and small? Yeah, Santa and his band of merry elves...they've got this.

This month's Formation Blogging theme is "What I want under the Christmas tree." And while it would be simple to wish for just about anything in the Sporty's catalog, that seems almost like the easy road in this exercise. Yes, I can throw down some Post-its on the pages that contain cool #Avgeek stuff, and there are plenty of things that would really look great under our freshly-cut Oregon tree. We do trees right up here in the PNW, and for $20, I can cut my own 8' high Grand Fir about 5 miles from the casa...a perfectly-sculpted tree that would fetch $150+ in NYC.

But this is Blogging in Formation, we can never play it safe. High speed, wingtip-to-wingtip, writing like the future depends on us...and in a way, it does. So let's go big, or turn a 180 and go home. My Christmas Wish for 2013?
One million active pilot certificates in the FAA database
on December 31, 2014. 
Think about this:
2012 was a year that showed a decent upward trend in student pilot certificates, with 119,946 people learning to fly...working to join the 490,630 pilots already holding certificates. That total number of certificate holders in 2012 - estimated by FAA to be 610,576 - is not good enough. Sure, the student pilot numbers were up just over 40% from 2009, when only 72,280 filed for a student pilot certificate. But with attrition, we know that only a fraction of those 119,946 who started in 2012 are actually flying today. The rest? They washed out due to a number of reasons, and may never be in a position to buy fuel, headsets and airplanes.
So for my Christmas wish, I want to see one million certificates this time next year. Can we get there? In theory, it is possible, but practically, it is a tall order. We do have one thing going for us. AOPA seems to be trending back towards the grass roots. If they do their new regional events right by bombarding the local press with the right enticements to get cameras and reporters out to the airport, the aviation family might be able to being a few more students into our community.

But there is one secret weapon that we aviators MUST use if we want to reach that lofty goal of one million certificates in 2014 (remember that student certificates qualify against that challenge). It is imperative that we start talking about STEM education and aviation in the same sentence...and we need to aim that message at high school and college females. With only 6% of the pilot population being women...this demographic holds the key to our growth.

By preaching STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering and Math - while introducing these girls and young women to our sky, I believe we can indeed prove our point that learning to fly is an important endeavor for any young female that wants to enter these fields.

So while Mark Baker and AOPA are busy criss-crossing the Fruited Plains doing what I am sure will be a high-quality road show, there has to be more of a coordinated effort to reach out to females. As Lynda Meeks of Girls With Wings has said a million times, girls need flight plans, not fairy tales. We compete with the pink aisle at We 'B Toys by inviting every Girl Scout troop in this country to attend these AOPA events. That would be a decent start, but...
If our GA future is to be bright, we need EAA, AOPA, NBAA, HAI and GAMA to join hands and reach out to the Ninety-Nines and Women in Aviation International. Together, they need to develop wide-reaching grass roots programs relying heavily on social networking to attract female Millennials. These big megaphones need to be SHOUTING about flying being both attainable and very, very cool. Let's call this marriage of the seven groups the "GA Power Collective" because as we know, world powers get together all the time at the "G8" and "G20" Summits to try and fix the big, nasty problems facing our planet. Surely the power associations of our GA world can do likewise. Imagine the progress we will make towards creating more pilots if representatives of these seven groups - joined by "at-large" panel members from the flight training industry - came together to combine their intellectual power, finances and the specialties intrinsic to each group. The results might be truly limitless.
No longer can the acronym groups operate in silos. Every one of the associations mentioned above does something to build our pilot population. But the time has come for a serious, "collective" effort to being these seven groups together with the common goal of hitting one million pilot certificates by the end of 2014. If an initiative could be formulated that allows these organizations to focus on this one goal, maybe we CAN start building a more stable future for GA.

December 31, 2014. One million certificates, that's all I ask. So c'mon EAA, AOPA, HAI, NBAA, GAMA, WAI and the Ninety-Nines, what say you? Let's step it up and all begin pulling together, shall we? It is time to put your collective power behind this critical topic of building the pilot population. When egos are checked at the door, you can work together, unlike Congress who allow their endless special interests to collide in a fiery explosion of greed and dysfunction.

Because when you really think about it, these seven aviation advocacy groups really only have one interest that is truly special... 

 More pilots.


The Blogging in Formation series launches the first week of each month. Here are the six "Formation" bloggers:

Adventures of Cap’n Aux – Eric Auxier
iFLYblog – Brent Owens
Airplanista – Dan Pimentel
Smart Flight Training – Andrew Hartley
Flight to Success – Karlene Petitt
House of Rapp – Ron Rapp