August 14, 2014

Dreams Take Flight at Chicago Air and Water Show

airshow_ad.jpgThe Chicago Air & Water Show is back for another year and better than before. In 2013 the annual airshow, the largest free airshow in the country, was missing the fire power of the military acts as a result of sequestration. The return of military acts seems to have sparked greater interest in this year's show. Today at the media day for the event there was nearly double the media participation from 2013 and more than I have seen in the eight years I have covered the show.

Sean D. Tucker, a 20 year veteran of the show, said that this year he has seen bigger crowds at many of the shows he has performed at. Maybe absence does make the heart grow fonder. Anyone that works or lives in the Chicagoland area no doubt learned today that the U.S. Navy Blue Angels are back, and I am sure they will help draw record crowds. They made several appearances over the city today as they made their spot checks in advance of Friday's practice performance and the two weekend demonstrations.

New to the Chicago Air & Water Show
Team AeroDynamix are making their first Chicago Air & Water Show appearance this weekend. The team which has been flying together for over ten years is currently the largest aerobatic team in the world with 12 aircraft. They fly a variety of models of RV Kitplanes including Rv-4, RV-7, RV-8 and RV-8A variations. Most of the pilots built the planes they will be performing in. You might mistakenly think that as home-built aircraft they would not be very sophisticated, but that seemed far from the truth.

I had the opportunity to fly with them today and the RV-4 I flew in was equipped with a Glass Cockpit and Synthetic Vision. A few minutes in this sporty little airplane and I realized why you see so many each year at AirVenture. It is an airplane that seems very fun. The team treated us to a sampling of their tight formation flying over the backdrop of the Chicago Skyline. I look forward to seeing their 15 minute demonstration this weekend.

Rosie the Riveter and the Blue Angels
blue_angles_rosie.jpgThere were a few neat stories behind the scenes at the media day event. One of which was 96-year-old Isabelle Settle, who played a Rosie the Riveter role, during World War II. As a 4'10" woman she was assigned the role of riveting wings and other tight spaces of C-54 Skymaster's at the Douglas Aircraft Company in Chicago. She has had a lifelong interest in aviation and airplanes.

Today she and her 78-year-old sister Ida were the guests of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels. Several of the pilots including Commander Thomas Frosch spent time with Isabelle talking about her role in WWII and genuinely thanking her for her service and presented her with framed poster signed by the entire team. After meeting with the pilots members of the Blue Angels maintenance team then brought her out to the aircraft and talked about the work they do to maintain the fleet of F/A-18's flown by the team. Isabelle loved the opportunity to share a few of her stories with the team.

Young Eagle Over Chicago
SeanTucker_Young_eagles.jpgWhile the Blue Angels were celebrating 96-year-old Isabelle, 17-year-old Malik Baker was running across the Gary Jet Center tarmac trying to secure a signature that would let him complete a dream experience of his own. Baker, a rising Junior in the JROTC program at Chicago Military Academy one an essay contest to receive a Young Eagles flight experience of a lifetime. A few minutes after I spotted him running off in search of his mother he returned with the necessary Young Eagles paperwork.

The Young Eagles, founded by the Experimental Aircraft Association, is designed to give children between the ages of 8 to 17 an opportunity to experience flight in a general aviation airplane while educating children about aviation. In 2013 Stunt Pilot Sean D. Tucker was selected as the Chairman of the organization that has flown more than 44,000 Young Eagle flights since 1992. In that rich history, never has a Young Eagles flight been accompanied by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels. Sean Tucker had arranged to fly Malik Baker along the Chicago Lakefront with a Blue Angels escort. After which Sean took Baker out to a practice area where he let him fly the plane and walked him through a variety of aerobatic maneuvers. Malik commented about his experience "I love it, I will never forget this day."

The Young Eagles offer flight experiences throughout the country, you can learn more on the EAA Website.

Living the Dream
Living_the_dream.jpgIt was another great Chicago Air & Water Show media day for me as well. I enjoyed flying the Archer III from Chicago Executive along the lakefront early this morning to participate in the event. Shortly after I arrived at Gary International the Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) was put in place along the lakefront to clear the airspace for the airshow performers. So after the show with the TFR still in place I needed to fly West of Gary and go north along the west side of O'hare. I of course did not perform any aerobatics flying back in the Archer, but I spent some time thinking about how blessed I am to be a pilot and have the opportunity to enjoy aviation.

Just over 10 years ago I decided to make my dream of flying a reality and earned my pilots license. Along they way I have enjoyed some amazing aviation adventures. All of which I never would have experienced if I had not been so moved by aviation at a young age that forged that dream in me. I hope if you are in the Chicago area you will come out to the Chicago Air & Water Show this weekend, bring your kids, neighbors or friends. You never know it just might inspire the next pilot!

Posted at Aug 14, 10:23 PM | Post Category: Chicago Air and Water Show | Comments (8) | Save & Share This Story

August 12, 2014

Blue Angels Headline 2014 Chicago Air and Water Show

2014_chicago_air_water_show.jpgThe 2014 Chicago Air & Water Show roars back to life this week. The 56th Chicago Air & Water Show will feature the return of military acts that missed last year's show due to sequestration. Crowd favorites the U.S. Navy Blue Angels will be the headline act, supported by the U.S. Army Golden Knights, U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor and MV-22 Osprey. Although the military performances get much of the attention, the Chicago Air & Water Show has another stellar line-up of civilian performers and teams including Sean D. Tucker, Team Aeroshell, Chuck Aaron and the Red Bull Helicopter, Team Aerostars and the Warbird Heritage Museum foundation A-4 Skyhawk.

New to the Chicago Air & Water Show in 2014 is Team AeroDynamix, the largest aerobatic team in the world flying 12 RV-8, RV-7, and RV-8a kitplanes. We are scheduled to fly with them on Thursday and will share some photos and videos later in the week.

We have prepared our 2014 Chicago Air & Water Show guide which includes information on the performers and tips on the best places to watch the Chicago Air & Water Show. The city is expecting approximately two million people to come out this year, but if you are not a fan of big crowds we recommend checking out the Friday practice show. Teams will run their full performances in preparation for the weekend show. The practice show and the weekend shows will begin around 10am and run through 3pm with the finale being the performance by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels.

chicagoairwatershowguideCTA.jpgWhenever large crowds congregate it typically means you can expect slower than usual data connections for your smartphones. This year AT&T is planning to make sure the tweets, instagrams and Facebook posts of the millions enjoying the show can be shared with millions more. AT&T is testing a temporary antenna to boost signal in the area so your messages don't time out. Paul Biasco of DNAInfo reports that AT&T installed an 18-beam Luneburg Lens Antenna last week in preparation for the Chicago Air & Water Show. "It's the first time they have deployed the device anywhere in the country to combat what they call the 'look at me' or 'look where I am' effects."

Though, if you really want to capture the sights at the Chicago Air & Water Show we recommend this airshow photography guide to help you make the most of your photos from the event.

Check throughout the week for updates or follow us on Twitter for updates during the week!

Posted at Aug 12, 7:03 AM | Post Category: Chicago Air and Water Show | Comments (2) | Save & Share This Story

July 25, 2014

Pilotage in a Digital Age

pilotage-scavenger-hunt.jpgWhen was the last time you were lost in a General Aviation aircraft? The thought of it is quite frightening. However, not too long ago it was not that uncommon to be "lost" or as I would prefer to say temporarily in an unidentified location. When I started flight training for my Private Pilot Certificate in 2004 I spent many flights trying to navigate from point A to point B with little else than a beat-up sectional. Often, I would be overly confident that I was right on target only to realize checkpoints were no longer matching up. I would then need to start to analyze my surroundings and try and reconfirm my location so I could adapt my route and get back on course. It was almost always fun.

With the advancement in technology it is harder and harder to get lost in a GA Aircraft. Many airplanes have the benefit of some advance moving map not to mention that many pilots are carrying an additional moving map on their iPad both of which can pinpoint your location to within a few feet.

It has probably been four or five years since I have flown a flight using Pilotage, the last reference to me flying by way of pilotage on this blog was back in 2006! Effectively, Pilotage is the use of fixed visual reference on the ground by means of sight to guide oneself to a destination. I was due up for a biennial flight review and my CFI, Al Waterloo, suggested we spend the first half of the flight on a pilotage scavenger hunt. Using Foreflight he selected a few random points on a sectional for me to fly to. The first was to find my way to a set of towers in Southern Wisconsin, then change course and find a small private grass strip airport after which we would continue on with the BFR flight. I have not owned a sectional in many years, kind of a sorry statement, so I had him send me the coordinates of the two locations which I loaded into my iPad before turning it to airplane mode.

sunset-on-the-wing.jpgIn the Archer we agreed we would keep Multifunction Flight Display (MFD) on the engine page so as not to have the benefit of the moving map. After take-off, I leveled off at 1,500 and I put the airplane on course to the first checkpoint along our route. The first checkpoint was easy to find but it arrived off the side of our airplane indicating that the wind was stronger than I had anticipated and I need to course correct to keep on track. As we moved north from Chicago towards the Wisconsin border I lost the benefit of the detailed Terminal Area Chart and there were fewer and fewer obvious landmarks. It was fun once again spending time looking out the window looking for things that might be depicted on the chart then trying to orient myself. You forget how roads, lakes and towns can look so similar. Sure enough though about 25 minutes later and countless power lines, train tracks, towns and airports used as references we flew right over the first landmark the stacks near Sullivan, WI. There was a gorgeous sunset taking place outside as we departed the first checkpoint.

From there I turned us south and followed a road, then train tracks and finally power lines which led me to the general area of the next spot on the scavenger hunt, Hacklander (PVT) just west of Janesville, that like the first landmark was identified without any challenges. As we were approaching Hacklander we started to take on some rain and see some disconcerting changes in colors in the clouds so we decided to sneak a peek at the MFD to check on the weather, but then again turned it back to the engine page so I could navigate to Kenosha International Airport via pilotage. Enroute to Kenosha we enjoyed watching a distant thunderstorm light up the early evening sky.

Growing up I always loved looking at maps and that has not changed. During my training I loved the night before a cross-country sitting at a table with sectionals spread-out and drawing my routes and noting landmarks for checkpoints. I realized on this flight how in this digital age we lose out on honing that skill and the fun that comes with it.

I encourage you to create your own pilotage scavenger hunts and test your pilotage skills. I am sure you will enjoy it, I know I did.

Posted at Jul 25, 7:30 AM | Post Category: Biennial Flight Review | Comments (1) | Save & Share This Story

July 19, 2014

Disney Planes: Fire and Rescue Review

disney_planes_fire_and_rescue.jpgAs a pilot and father to twin four year old's the opening weekend of Planes: Fire & Rescue, the second movie in the Planes Trilogy, was a day we have been looking forward to for some time to come. A year ago my family and my kids fell in love with Dusty, a loveable crop duster modeled after an AT-301 Air tractor. The first film, released in 2013, followed his journey of qualifying and then competing in the Wings Around the World Rally. After our first viewing, die-cast airplanes started to multiply in our household faster than a emergence of baby bunnies, I even bought a few for the kids.

At first I wondered if maybe my enthusiasm for airplanes was driving most the excitement but I soon learned the kids genuinely enjoyed the movie and its interesting cast of characters. The original film did well, grossing nearly $220 million in revenue, a drop in a bucket of what Frozen generated ($1.2 billion), but not bad for a film that was originally planned for direct to DVD.

Secretly, I was hoping the second film in the franchise might offer a brief respite from Frozen which seems to be on a continuous loop in our household. Much like the first film Planes: Fire and Rescue has received less than stellar reviews from movie critics. Though, I think critics often just get frustrated when they need to review animated films. However, I very much enjoyed this movie and the continuation of the Planes franchise, though I admit to being a certified aviation geek and may be a bit biased. Dusty makes his third career change having gone from crop duster to international racing sensation to learning the ropes of being an aerial fire fighter. This film benefited from a stronger cast, musical score and improved animation over the first film.

Dusty, voiced by Dane Cook, of course returns as do a few of the characters from the first film. Much of this film focuses on Dusty's new friends, an elite team of fire fighting aircraft. Dane Cook is joined by a strong cast including Ed Harris, Julie Bowen, Curtis Armstrong, John Michael Higgins, and Hal Holbrook. After hearing Frozen's "Let it Go" nearly nonstop in our household over the past six months seeing my kids dancing in their chairs to AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" was well worth the price of admission. I should note that although nearly the full version of Thunderstruck is played in the film, it does not appear on the Planes: Fire & Rescue soundtrack for the film. However, songs by Brad Paisley and Spencer Lee are. The animation seemed more advanced especially some beautifully powerful forest fire scenes. Pilots will like the accuracy of most of the aerial communications. Quite often aviation films are awful at their accurate portrayal of aviation. Iron Eagle IV being one of the worst offenders when they used an F-16 for Aerial shots and then an F-5 for the shots on the ground. So I was happily impressed that the Disney team continued to work with aviation consultants to give as accurate a portrayal of the flying as they could.

This movie is sure to entertain most kids and any parent that has a passion for aviation. I am hopeful these films might inspire some kids to fall in love with aviation as well. I was of course pleased when we returned home from the theater and I heard the kids running around the house with their Dusty's in hand as they doused imaginary flames with their newly learned aerial firefighting skills. To all the pilots out there, go support this film and bring your kids, nieces and nephews along too!

Posted at Jul 19, 9:46 PM | Post Category: General | Comments (62) | Save & Share This Story

July 2, 2014

Flight Training At Its Best: Al Waterloo

flight_training_at_its_best_al_waterloo.jpgIt seems every aviation site and magazine continues to discuss how Flight Training is broken. Travis Ammon of Simple Flight wrote an interesting post, "Lets Quit the Blame Game" earlier this year about how the industry needs to stop focusing on the blame for flight training woes and instead find solutions. I tend to be a glass half full kind of guy and could not agree more with Ammon. Instead of looking at what is wrong, let's look for what is right in aviation and use that to improve training and services within private aviation. Sure you can find sub-par flight training out there, in fact it may be the norm. But, there is also great training available for pilots of all levels in various forms: Instructors, peer training and online training. It is with that idea that I plan to publish a series of posts showcasing flight training at its best.

Pilots and students need to take responsibility for seeking out the type of training that will work best for them and walking away from inferior training options. I don't think enough students think about the option of firing a flight instructor or flight school if they are not receiving training that fits their needs.

I recently published an AOPA Pilot bio on Al Waterloo, a CFI who is doing it right and exemplifies flight training at its best. Waterloo adapts his training to each student based on their interests and needs. Before sharing the cockpit with a student he asks a simple question "What do you want to get out of aviation?" He uses the conversation that is sparked from that conversation to tailor his training. In the article I referenced a student of his, Jim Stone, who had yet to solo after 48 hours of instruction from various instructors. Prior to Waterloo's first lesson with Stone he asked his trademark question and used that learning to help devise a training curriculum that would help the student get over the current speed bump in his training. See the excerpt below from the May 2014 AOPA Pilot:

Turns out Stone did not have aviation career aspirations, but instead had visions of taking scenic flights along the Chicago lakefront with his wife. Waterloo suggested that Stone bring his wife on their next lesson, an evening flight in early July.

Waterloo timed it so the lesson ended with them coasting along the Lake Michigan shoreline as a flurry of fireworks erupted, giving Stone and his wife a new perspective on the Fourth of July--one reserved for aviators. While Stone and his wife enjoyed the show, Waterloo tuned the radio to O'Hare Approach and told his student that before capping off an already special flight, they were going to make a stop at O'Hare--giving Stone his first Class B airspace experience.

After that flight, Stone's interest in flying was re-energized and he could better envision the dream he was trying to realize. Just eight days later, Stone soloed and a few months later fulfilled his goal of more than 60 years to become a certificated pilot.

Al focused on what the student was trying to get out of aviation and used that to engage and inspire the student and built a fire in him to achieve this goal he had been pursuing for so long. Aviation needs more instructors with this kind of focus on helping students achieve their personal aviation goals.

Over the course of the next few months I plan to write a series of posts sharing examples of flight training at its best. Stay Tuned!

Posted at Jul 02, 7:52 AM | Post Category: Flight Training At Its Best | Comments (1) | Save & Share This Story

April 13, 2014

Making the Best of a Marginal VFR Day

It had been a while since I had flown, so to get current, I booked some time with Simple Flight CFI Extraordinaire Al Waterloo. Our goal was to go out and do a biennial flight review flight (BFR). However, when the Saturday arrived the weather was not cooperating and the ceilings would not allow for us to perform some of the maneuvers planned for the BFR. I was tempted to scrub the flight, but we decided to meet at the airport to see if we could find a way to salvage the day.

Al suggested we walk through the PAVE & TEAM Checklists, two checklists I had heard of but never used, so Al walked me through them.

P = Pilot: I am familiar with the I'm Safe checklist and that can be applied here. Basically P is used to determine if I, the pilot, am in the right shape to fly. It is also the time to look beyond health but assess my pilot capabilities against the aircraft I plan to fly, the weather conditions we are expecting, etc.

A = Aircraft: Basically assessing whether this aircraft is the right aircraft for the mission. Is it airworthy, fueld properly, etc.

V = EnVironment: What is the weather forecast for my airport, my destination an enroute. In addition to weather it includes evaluating terrain, TFRs or NOTAMs that could cause concern.

E = External Pressures: Are there external pressures that may effect ability to make sound judgements. Is Get-there-itis a concern? Am I worried about letting a passenger down if we don't fly. Basically evaluating any external pressures.

In order to best evaluate the four characteristics above Al suggested we use PAVE in combination with TEAM checklist as a risk management tool. For each of the above characteristics we decided how to handle any risk associated to it as follows:

T = Transfer: Should the risk decision be transferred to someone else?

E = Eliminate: Is there a way to eliminate the hazard?

A = Accept: Are the risks posed acceptable?

M = Mitigate: What can you do to mitigate the risk?

That morning the entire Midwest was under a low cloud ceiling which was broken at around 1,600 feet and all local airports were reporting Marginal VFR (MVFR). We decided our goal would be to fly to Milwaukee from Chicago Executive for lunch and back. So we did a thorough weather brief in ForeFlight then made a go/no-go decision utilizing PAVE in conjunction with TEAM.

Pilot: I had not flown in a few months, we decided that if it were just me that day I would likely have eliminated the risk by scrubbing the flight, but on this morning I would transfer some of that risk to Al my CFI and Instrument rated pilot who could file an instrument flight plan if conditions deteriorated.

Airplane: We determined the aircraft was absolutely up to the task and was not effected by the weather. So there was little risk, so we accepted the situation.

Environment: We determined although we had low ceilings there was no issue with terrain. We also had a several airports we could divert to if weather conditions deteriorated. So we accepted some risk.

External Pressures: We determined there was no need to complete this flight and we had no external pressures that would negatively impact our judgement. So we again accepted this.

After a thorough review we determined we could salvage this Marginal VFR day and go flying. Turned out to be a great day of flying and camaraderie. Al and I had a smooth, low flight with fine visibility up to Milwaukee. My first visit to Milwaukee was a nice one, the controllers were friendly and traffic was minimal. We grabbed the crew car and enjoyed a great lunch at Cafe Centraal.

We had hoped maybe the weather would improve and give us higher ceilings to perform some stalls, emergency procedures, and other maneuvers. Unfortunately, they did not, but the return flight was also smooth an uneventful.

In the end we used the PAVE and TEAM checklists to allow us to squeeze a great day of flying out of a Marginal VFR day!

Posted at Apr 13, 3:27 PM | Post Category: Flight Experiences | Comments (1) | Save & Share This Story

March 13, 2014

Missed by History: Jerrie Mock The First Woman to Fly Around the World

jerriemock_250px.jpgQuick, name the most famous female aviator of all time? Of course your answer was Amelia Earhart, a revolutionary figure in aviation with a tragic story to boot. However, I contend that Jerrie Mock should have been in your decision set. Wait ... Jerrie Who?

In 1962 Mock, an airport manager in Columbus, OH, and a 500-hour private pilot, was looking for a challenge. Her husband suggested, "Why don't you fly around the world?" and her dream was born. Two years, 250 hours in the logbook, and an instrument rating and Jerrie Mock was ready to make history. She was not alone, however as she was racing against time and competitor Joan Merrian Smith to become the first woman to successfully fly solo around the world.

During her 22,860-mile journey Mock battled fatigue, equipment problems including radio malfunctions, rough engines, and electrical fires. The weather was another complication with legs flown through icing conditions, sandstorms, thunderstorms, and excessive heat all adding to her challenges. There were also moments of pilot error; on March 31, 1964 while enroute from Algeria to Cairo she misidentified an airport, accidentally landing at a secret military airport resulting in hours of interrogation before she could continue her journey.

March 19, 2014 will mark the 50th anniversary of the start of her historic flight. Over the next 29 1/2 days, she logged 158 hours in her 1953 Cessna 180 Skywagon nicknamed "The Spirit of Columbus" enroute to the record books. Upon returning to Columbus on April 17 she had set two official records according to the International Air Sports Federation (FAI): Female record and speed around the world.

Unofficially she set five additional records:

  • First woman to fly solo entirely around the world

  • First woman to fly from the US to Africa via the North Atlantic

  • First woman to fly across the Pacific in a single engine aircraft

  • First woman to fly the Pacific from west to east

  • First woman to fly both the Atlantic and the Pacific

routemap_jm.jpgAdditionally, President L.B. Johnson awarded her the Gold Medal of the FAA, and the FAI presented her with the prestigious Louis Blériot Silver Medal.

The story of Jerrie Mock, Three Eight Charlie, was originally published in 1970 but had since gone out of print and was very difficult to find. As part of the 50th celebration of this flight, Phoenix Graphix Publishing Services has released a new, colorful edition of Three Eight Charlie and it can be purchased on their website. I originally read her book in 2006 and look forward to re-reading her historic tale. I highly recommend her story, not only a tale of an amazing aviation accomplishment but balanced with interesting stores of her time on the ground at each checkpoint.

Asked now about her accomplishment Mock humbly commented, "I was just having fun, it was no big deal." Shortly after completing her flight she had stated, "I hope...that somewhere here and there my just doing something that hadn't been done will encourage someone else who wants to do something very much and hadn't quite had the heart to try it." I sure hope revisiting this accomplishment will help inspire a whole new generation!

Amelia Rose Earhart (no relation to the famous Amelia Mary Earhart who disappeared July 2, 1937) is part of this new generation of inspired aviators. She will be attempting a flight around the world in a Pilatus PC-12NG later this year. I asked her about her inspirations and she commented, "Jerrie was clearly ahead of her time when it came to her adventurous spirit and passion for flight, and she serves as the perfect example for young women looking forward to a future in aviation. Unfortunately, we are still right around 6% when it comes to the amount of pilots that are women, but I am confident that we can increase those numbers over time. Jerrie led by example, not only telling others to go out and seek their strongest passions, rather she lead by showing us what a life filled with flight can lend toward adventure. Jerry is a true pioneer and it is an honor to have her as a role model."

I am hopeful the 50th anniversary of Mock's flight and Earhart's 2014 adventure will inspire more aviation adventurers and increase interest in aviation for girls around the world.

Be sure to check out this Jerrie Mock photo gallery from the Columbus Dispatch and the official Three Eight Charlie website. Also follow Amelia Rose Earhart's around-the-world flight at

View this Interactive Google Map in a new full size window

Posted at Mar 13, 10:32 PM | Post Category: Jerrie Mock | Comments (3) | Save & Share This Story

January 27, 2014

San Francisco Seaplane Adventures

seaplane_adventures.jpgI think all pilots, subconsciously or not, gravitate towards airports. We can't keep our eyes from focusing on overflying airplanes and following them to airports, or at least that is what I do. While visiting San Francisco this past weekend I noticed several airplanes flying over the various sites of that wonderful city. I knew they could have flown from one of many nearby airfields. In fact just a few years earlier I had flown with Jason Miller out of San Carlos (KSQL) and enjoyed a flightseeing tour along the bay and Pacific coast including a flyby of the Golden Gate Bridge.

What caught my eye on Friday was a beautiful de Havilland Beaver on floats flying low along the bay. I wondered where it was based before getting distracted by my heavy breathing as I hoofed up another sweat-inducing hill that the city is known for. The next day I rented a bike and rode from San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bride to Sausalito. My goal was to visit Old Mill Park, just a few miles past Sausalito, to check out world's tallest trees.

On the map I was provided was a reference to a float plane base, which I could not pass on checking out during my adventure. The ride was beautiful and has become one of my favorite ways to enjoy San Francisco. Even better then the ride was the encounter with Seaplane Adventures.

I pedaled up to their dock and popped in and asked if they would mind if I walked out on their dock to check out their airplanes. Floating next to the dock were a Cessna 172 on floats and the de Havilland Beaver I had seen the day prior. While talking to the owner, Aaron, he asked if I wanted to go for a ride. He was just getting ready to take another couple up for a ride and had space for one more. I quickly tossed aside my goals of spending a day in nature for an opportunity to fly above San Francisco in one of my favorite airplanes. This would be my second flight in the Beaver, My wife and I were blessed with the opportunity to land on a glacier in Alaska about ten years ago and still remains one of my fondest aviation experiences.

I was both disappointed and pleased to learn that one of the other passengers was a pilot. Disappointed because as a pilot he too had interest in the right seat and had requested it. However, I enjoyed the opportunity to talk aviation with both Aaron and Les and his wife who had flown down to San Francisco via private aviation (Hat tip to Open Airplane's Rod Rakic*). My words will never be able to do justice to the views we enjoyed, nor for that matter do these pictures (All I had was my iPhone). But, I thought I would share a few of the videos and photos I took and compiled below to give you a feel of what it is like.

If you find yourself in San Francisco be sure to check out Seaplane Adventures. I guarantee they will take great care of you. The owner mentioned in addition to flightseeing they also offer floatplane training, something I might consider next time I am in town.

*If you have not read Rod Rakic's blog post "Why I Don't Talk About 'General Aviation' Anymore", check it out. I plan to use the term Private Aviation instead of General Aviation more often.

Posted at Jan 27, 9:54 PM | Post Category: Aviation Adventures, De Havilland Beaver | Comments (68) | Save & Share This Story

January 16, 2014

2013 Year of Flying in Review

2013Hours.jpgTypically my annual review is focused on the hours logged. This past year I feel I was as invested in general aviation as I have ever been, that being said my hours spent as PIC don't necessarily reflect that. Coming off a strong year in 2012 where I logged nearly 40 hours and visited nine states in General Aviation aircraft, 2013 looks weak at just 11.5 hours logged as PIC.

More than ever I had other priorities that conflicted with flying including family, work and dedication to Ground Effect Advisors an organization I co-founded in 2013 which is dedicated to helping create more flying clubs around the country. In 2014 I hope to find more balance that lets me increase the hours flown while also not giving up much time from families or career aspirations. I continue to toy with the idea of dedicating time and resources to earn the Instrument Rating in 2014.

Below is a recap of my 2013 as it related to aviation:

Start a Flying Club
In February I co-founded Ground Effect Advisors with Al Waterloo, Louis Bowers and Marc Epner. We launched and the first ever flying club scholarship. In May we announced the winner of the scholarship Zach Piech (SP) and since then he has launched Cape Fear Flyers which now has 10 members and two aircraft! I look forward to helping build more flying clubs in 2014.

Lunchtime Flying
In March I proved to myself that I could carve out a few hours away from the office and log a true $100 Lunch by packing a peanut butter and jelly and doing a few laps around the pattern. I plan to reuse this tactic in 2014 to keep fresh.

Flying the Sky Arrow
One highlight of 2013 was logging 4 hours in the Sky Arrow. Unfortunately, soon after I checkedout in the aircraft the plane was moved out of the club. This airplane was a joy to fly and reminded me how much fun low and slow can be. I hope to find something fun like this to log some hours in this year:

Aviation Adventure
Probably the most fun day of aviating was also the last day I flew in 2013. In August I shared the plane with friend Louis Bowers and we flew down to the press day for the Chicago Air and Water Show. Not only did we get some PIC time in the Piper Archer we both logged some time in the T-6 Texan thanks to Team Aerostars Flight Team. After enjoying some aerobatics and nice views of the city we did some more general aviation aviating, and I experienced my first flat tire in a GA aircraft. The day did not go as planned but offered a fun learning experience.

GA's Up and Comers
In December I was honored to be included in a list of 24 General Aviation Up and Comers selected by General Aviation News and their readers for my contributions with Ground Effect Advisors and this blog. The article can be found in their December 20th issue and viewed online.

This fall and winter worked dominated and I was not able to get out to the airport much. The break from flying represents my longest break from flying. Something I am hoping to rectify in the coming weeks.

Posted at Jan 16, 4:21 PM | Post Category: | Comments (0) | Save & Share This Story

August 22, 2013

Aviation Adventures: Planned and Unplanned

TeamAerostars.jpgAviation Adventures come in both the planned and unplanned variety, as illustrated by my most recent flight. Every August since 2005 I have covered the Chicago Air & Water Show for MyFlightBlog and a few other media outlets but in all those years I had never flown into the event at Gary International Airport. So a fellow club member and friend, Louis (from Sky Conditions Clear), decided we would make a day of it by flying down in the Leading Edge Archer, then enjoy talking and flying with some of the acts for the Chicago Air & Water Show then finish the day logging more time in the Archer.

Planned Adventure
On a perfect VFR Thursday morning we preflighted the airplane then launched Eastbound from Chicago Executive. Once over the lakeshore we turned south and enjoyed a beautiful view of Chicago as the sun shined on the windows of the skyscrapers. I elected to pick-up flight following for the trip down the lakefront but despite the great weather I believe they only notified us of one other aircraft that was taking advantage of this beautiful VFR day. The flight down was uneventful but enjoyable. We taxied down to Gary Jet Center where we parked the Piper Archer right next to Team Aeroshell's four T-6 Texans.

Louis and I spent the first hour or so of the media day walking the flightline checking out the various aircraft including Sean Tucker's Oracle Challenger Bi-Plane, Art Nalls' L-39 and Sea Harrier, an A-4, and a variety of T-6 Texans.

Shortly there after we met Harvey Meek the Team Lead of Team Aerostars, a locally based aerobatic team that team that despite being in existence for 12 years were making their Chicago Air & Water Show debut. I had spoken with a fellow member of the team leading up to the show and knowing that Louis and I were pilots he ensured us he would get us up in their aircraft to learn about their team and the performance of their Yak-52s. Having never flown in a Yak-52, I was eager to check it out.

We conducted a brief flight briefing where we discussed the mission objectives which was to fly along the lakefront to Chicago so a Reuters photographer could take some shots of a Team Aerostars airplane with the city skyline as a backdrop. After that we would return to the airspace West of Gary for a brief aerobatic demonstration.

Sitting backseat in Harvey's aircraft he informed me he would let me take the controls shortly after the flight and lead the flight up the lakefront. True to his word, as we exited the Gary airspace Harvey gave me airplane. It was an easy plane to fly, and felt quite responsive. After achieving a successful photo run, including this shot featuring Harvey and I and the Chicago skyline, we headed back South to get inverted.

Back near Gary where there is more airspace for aerobatics Harvey helped me experience the aerobatic performance of the Yak-52 through a series of maneuvers including loops, barrel rolls and a Cuban Eight. After my flight Louis got to take a backseat for his flight with Team Aerostars. As fun as the flying was we equally enjoyed getting to meet the Team Aerostars pilots and their support staff. We learned that the all fly commercially by day, aerobatics on the weekends and several of them even live in fly-in communities, pure aviators at heart. By all accounts it was a successful day full of aviation adventure, little did we know how much more adventure we had ahead.

Unplanned Adventure
Archer_tire.jpgAfter the airplanes were all tied down or put to rest in the hangers and it was clear there were no more rides to be had or aircraft to ogle at, we fired up the Archer III. Louis would be the Pilot in Command for the return flight. Our plan was to visit a small uncontrolled airport nearby for a few landings then go VFR over the top of Midway then fly south and east of O'hare then come up the from the south to the north on the west side of the O'Hare airsapce on our way back to Chicago Executive.

After four near perfect landings (video does not lie) at Bult Field by Captain Bowers we began a final taxi back to the end of the runway to prepare to for the return flight to Chicago Executive. Nearing the end of the runway Louis asked if I felt a shake, which I had not. He said he was feeling a vibration in the rudder pedals and then a pull and quickly made the correct assessment that we had blown a tire. In an excellent example of airmanship Louis immediately stopped the aircraft, and shut it down right on the taxiway. After the blades settled I got out and confirmed we had a left main tire flat. Louis was busy trying to determine what happened while I started to wonder what in the world we were going to do to get the aircraft back, or get ourselves back to Chicago as it appeared there would be little support at this sleepy airport.

We made a few calls and learned that there in fact was a mechanic based at the field that is typically there usually three to four days a week. So walked nearly a mile (5,000 feet) down the runway to the Hangar were we were told we might find him. As we approached two gentleman in the limited baggage space of a Cessna 152, they hoped out of their existing project to hear our plight and quickly offered to help. Randy, the owner of Aircraft Professionals, took his tug out to examine the wounded bird. Shortly after he returned with the great news that he believe he would be able to change out the tire, right there on the taxiway.

He and his partner loaded up a truck and a golf cart and we drove back to the plane to get to work. This was my first experience with a flat so it was entertaining to see how it was handled. Randy, propped up the plane and he and his technician removed the wheel pant and wheel. After initial inspection he believed the tire was in great shape and that it was a tear in the tube but promised a more detailed check back at the hangar. We raced a golf cart and an aircraft tug back to the hangar where he confirmed the tire was in great shape and that likely a pebble had been inside the tire rubbing up against the tire tube and it finally broke through causing the flat. Louis was relieved that this was further proof that his landings and taxing skills were not the cause, I never had any such doubts.

Thirty minutes later the new tube was installed, the wheel fairing was replaced and we did an extended taxi to confirm the tire seemed good and balanced. We gave a big thanks to the guys at Aviation Professionals and promised to come visit there field again after such great hospitality. A few hours behind schedule, and with the airplane due for another rental we scrubbed the VFR over Midway and headed back past Gary up along the lakefront where we took in a lovely sunset over the city and watched the lights come on at Soldier Field in advance of a pre-season game.

Returning to Chicago Executive we both agreed that it was a spectacular way to spend the day. We both logged PIC time in the Archer, dual time in the Yak-52, got to perform aerobatics and learned how to handle an unexpected adventure like a flat tire on the taxiway. Aviation adventures are fun no matter what form they come in.

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