The majority of my flight time this summer was spent getting checked out in the Sky Arrow, a fun little two seat pusher aircraft that had joined Leading Edge Flying Club about a year ago. Unfortunately, soon after getting checked out in the aircraft I learned that the owner was moving across the country and would be removing the airplane from the club.
Yesterday in Chicago we were blessed with ideal flying conditions. So I rented the club's Piper Archer III, the aircraft I have been flying most frequently over the past few years. It was fun getting reacquainted with an old friend. There is definitely something special about checking out new aircraft and the learning that comes with it. But, there is something equally special about knowing an airplane well. It makes the flying experience that much more about the enjoyment of the flight as your mind and body know exactly how to get the desired performance from the aircraft. Last night there was no fumbling for switches or looking all over the place to find something as I was experiencing in the Sky Arrow.
Last night it was about enjoying a perfect night taking in a perspective of the world far too few get the opportunity to enjoy. I am looking forward to turning the Hobbes on the Archer on a more regular basis for the remainder of this year.
August 2, 2013
Each year about this time I start to receive many requests from friends and family and through MyFlightBlog.com for tips on where to watch the Chicago Air & Water Show. I thought I would share some of my suggestions for the best places to watch the Chicago Air & Water Show. I have my thoughts on many of the popular viewing spots on the map to the right.
The 55th Chicago Air & Water Show will be uniquely different than any show in recent history. Each year airshow fans migrate to the lakeshore to see a variety of civilian and military acts culminating in a headline demonstration by either the U.S. Navy Blue Angels or the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. Unfortunately, as a result of sequestration cuts the military acts including the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, U.S. Army Golden Knights, U.S. Navy Leapfrogs, and several fighter and bomber demonstration teams have been scratched for the 2013 Chicago Air & Water Show.
With limited jet aircraft and a proliferation of WWII era aircraft the recommended viewing area for the 2013 Chicago Air and Water Show has been reduced.
The best way to view the show is from a place where you will have an unobstructed view of the entire show. The only real way to do that is from a boat on Lake Michigan. If you are one of the lucky few that own a boat or know a friend that does that is surely one of the best ways to get a clear view of the action. If you don't own and can't mooch a ride you can always pay to take a cruise. Check out this comparison of Chicago Air & Water Show cruises.
The Airshow center is North Avenue Beach. This is where the Harrier usually shows off the V/STOL maneuvers. Additionally, the flight teams will use this as the center point of their show. If they have a loop or a crossing pattern this is where it will take place. As a result, this is a very popular place to watch the show so expect there to be large crowds and you will need to arrive early to get a spot on the beach. If you want to enjoy the excitement of viewing the show from show center but want to ensure you have a place to sit check out the special offers from Castaways.
Altitude, Altitude, Altitude
We are talking about an airshow (well, also a water show but who are we fooling?) so altitude makes a difference. A rooftop deck or balcony located near the center of the show action and above neighboring buildings provides a great way to watch the show. The challenge here is that typically you need to share that space with a lot of other interested parties.
Although I have never tried it, I have heard some suggest visiting the John Hancock Chicago's Observatory. I can imagine those spots will be crowded too but must provide an interesting view of the show. I highly recommend the Hancock over the Willis tower this year with the exclusion of many of the jet teams which needed more airspace to maneuver and often circled past the Willis tower.
A Blanket On the Lakefront
Most people view the show from a blanket on a beach or a spot along the lakefront. I used to suggest heading north to Diversey or Montrose Harbor where you could have had a great view while also avoiding much of the crowd. This year I recommend getting as close to show center as possible.
This year you will need to be closer to the lake then you have in the past. I recommend being East of Clark St. and no further North then Diversey. To the south I would recommend staying north of Congress Parkway. The more manuevable civilian aircraft won't need as much airspace to operate as the military demonstrations of years past have needed.
Gary International Airport
Most of theperformance teams are based out of Gary International Airport for the Chicago Air & Water Show. For those in Indiana and well south of the city this has become a popular place to see the planes. Although you won't see a true airshow performance you will see the planes leaving and arriving, and flying in formation.
Listening to the Air & Water Show
Chicago's WBBM 780 has live coverage of the Air & Water Show. If you are not a die-hard aviation enthusiast or have a certified plane spotter with you I always suggest bringing along a radio so you can hear from the broadcast team what it is you are looking at flying by. If you are at show center there are speakers from which you can listen to Airshow MC Herb Hunter but that can often be a challenge over the roar of the planes so a personal radio is highly recommended.
The flight teams have their media day on Thursday and a few may come as far North as Chicago briefly. However on Friday there is nearly a full practice show. Most of the teams will run through their full performance and only a few single plane acts are missing on Friday. The practice usually runs between 10am and 3pm and is a great way to see the show without the crowds.
If you have a favorite place to view the Air & Water Show and are not afraid to share it and I will add the best suggestions to the guide. For more information check out our 2013 Chicago Air & Water Show Ultimate Guide.
August 1, 2013
The sad reality is that I think there is little to debate, interest in airshows is in fact declining. There is a lengthy list of reasons that may contribute to that including a decline in the pilot population, weak economy and the grounding of military demonstration teams as a result of sequestration to name a few.
A source I often look to when trying to establish a trend is Google Trends. Sadly, as you can see from the charts below there is an indisputable decline in interest for airshows, if search traffic is used as an indicator.
AirVenture, America's largest annual gathering of aviation enthusiasts, widely considered the largest airshow in the county, has seen modest declines if you rely on their data which shows a 12% decline from 2009 (578,000 attendees) to 2012 (508,000). However, the picture is more bleak when you look at the Google Trend which shows a peak in July 2006 declining to nearly half the search volume of 2006 in 2012. With Airventure 2013 closing in a just a couple of days it is unlikely that enough searches will come in during the final days to improve the 2013 trend. As Airventure is more about experimental aircraft and general aviation it should be of note that the decrease in interest in the show this year is likely not drastically effected by sequestration.
The Chicago Air & Water Show which is just around the corner will surely suffer serious interest and attendance declines without the Thunderbirds headlining this year. The Google Trend shows that current interest is below where it was just five years ago. I think this show which historically relied heavily on military demonstrations will be adversely effected by sequestration. It will be very interesting to come back to this report in a few weeks to see what the 2013 search volume was like for the Chicago Air and Water Show.
I think this data clearly shows that interest in airshows is declining. The questions is what if anything can be done about it?
July 21, 2013
The 2013 Chicago Air & Water Show will feature several new acts in 2013 including the Geico Skytypers. The team will fly an 18-minute low altitude precision performance showcasing the performance of their six SNJ-2's, best known for training the greatest generation of pilots. The SNJ-2 is often identified as the T-6 Texan and is an aircraft Chicago Air & Water Show fans should be familiar with as it is flown by Team Aeroshell and also by several other performers over the year.
The Geico Skytypers will be flying the largest formation of these aircraft in the shows history. The Thunderbirds who were scratched from this year's show are known for their Delta Six formation. The Skytypers will start their performance showing off their precision flying with there own Delta Six formation before then splitting off into a diamond formation of four aircraft with two opposing solos. They will then join up again to finish their performance as a six team delta formation.
The Skytypers take skywriting to whole new level. Skywriting is traditionally done by a single aerobatic aircraft that writes a single work in script in the sky before it often dissipates quickly. The Skytypers have taken the 1940s trainers and tricked them out with glass cockpits and a computer system for printing messages in the sky that can be read from over 15 miles. Steve "Sting" Kapur, a team pilot and marketing officer, explained that a computer synced with each aircraft helps them to write messages as long as 6 miles long in the sky. Expect to see messages from the team leading up to the show and throughout the show promoting the show and their sponsors.
The team is looking forward to making their first appearance at the Chicago Air & Water Show. Kapur said "I have been a spectator at the show several times and it will be a thrill for me to perform for Chicago and I am really looking forward to it."
July 19, 2013
In March the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds cancelled their planned appearance at the 2013 Chicago Air & Water Show as a result of sequestration cuts. Just days ago it was announced that the Thunderbirds would resume training thanks to the Restored Flying Hour Program authorized by Congress. Unfortunately, the Thunderbirds will still be scrubbed for the 2013 Chicago Air & Water Show as they will be focusing on training for a limited 2014 performance schedule.
According to Lt. Col. Brett Ashworth "The Thunderbirds will not resume aerial demonstrations previously scheduled for 2013 ... They're back to flying, but only training flights." It is yet to be seen if the Restored Flying Hour Program will allow solo and two aircraft teams to return to performing demonstrations.
That leaves most people wondering what to expect at the 2013 Air & Water Show. For one it will be a quieter show with fewer or no jet aircraft at the show. The city just released their list of headliners which is comprised of many perennial favorites including Sean Tucker and Team Oracle and Team Aeroshell as well as a few other returning civilian acts including The Firebirds Delta Team and Chuck Aaron in the Red Bull Helicopter.
New to the show in 2013 will be Team Aerostars flying the Yak 52 TW, a Soviet designed aircraft that was a WII aerobatic trainer. Also new is the six aircraft Geico Skytypers who will be flying an 18-minute low altitude precision performance as well as typing messages in the sky (More on the Skytypers early next week).
We will be reworking our Chicago Air & Water Show Viewing Guide as our recommendations for best places to view the show will change drastically based on fewer military acts that used more airspace for their performances. Until then our recommendation is that this year it will be more important to get closer to show center at North Avenue beach to enjoy the acts.
Check out our Guide to the Chicago Air & Water Show for information on each of the acts and updates leading up to the show.
June 13, 2013
Last year a new member joined my flying club, Leading Edge Flying Club, and brought with him a 2004 Sky Arrow 650 TNS to expand our fleet. I was immediately intrigued by this aircraft the first time I saw it. It was unlike anything in our fleet or that I had seen as a rental at our airport. This tandem seat 98 horse power pusher aircraft looks like a light sport aircraft, but this particular model is not an LSA. Every member of the club that has flown this plane since it arrived has raved about the experience saying how much fun it is to fly.
I planned a dual purpose mission for my first experience in the Sky Arrow. When I used to be a Cessna driver one of my favorite things to do was to open the window and hang my camera out the window to shot some aerial photography. Lately, I have been logging most my time in a Piper Archer III and a Piper Dakota which give limited access to canopy-glare-free shooting. I learned that the Sky Arrow has rear windows that could be completely removed. So I asked an instructor to take me up and circle a few points of interest while I shot unobstructed from the back then we could land switch seats and work towards a check-out in the aircraft.
The minute we started taxing I realized I was in love with this aircraft. There was something fun and nostalgic about taxiing with the canopy open, wind blowing in our hair and the fresh smells of the airport wafting into the cockpit. On the takeoff roll as you are sitting so much lower to the ground you get a better sense of speed which is also thrilling. However, that is the last time in the flight you will have a sense of high speeds. The plane is perfect for low and slow flying which is ideal for photo adventures or city skyline tours.
Al showed off the aircraft performance circling over my target while I enjoyed leaning out the window taking photos. Then I flew him over The Ravinia Festival to check out the show from above. When we returned to Chicago Executive he suggested I make the landing. However, from the back seat you have no gauges and limited to no view of the gauges in the front. So I had to do the landing by feeling. What a refreshing feeling that was. I think I have grown to accustom to all the benefits of a glass cockpit that sometimes I don't just fly the airplane enough.
When I moved to the front seat I fully realized that this is a perfect airplane to reconnect a pilot with their stick and rudder skills. There is no auto-pilot and if you don't use your rudders the ride won't be smooth or comfortable. Flying the Archer or Dakota it is easy to let some of your core skills diminish. The plane is fun too because it is utterly simple. Although, it has a glass panel there is not much to flying it and has the quickest pre-flight run-up of any aircraft I have flown.
I logged 1.6 hours in the Sky Arrow and need to go back out to do some of the basic maneuvers before I check out but look forward to taking advantage of this fun aircraft this summer. The video below is my first take-off from the front seat of the Sky Arrow near sunset.
May 23, 2013
I am such a huge advocate of the General Aviation community. Since becoming a pilot in 2004 I have been amazed by how open and friendly the aviation community is. Whenever I visit new places I try to seek out local pilots to go flying with. It has opened up opportunities to fly in some unique places including flying over the Golden Gate Bridge (with Jason of Finer Points) and down the Hudson River (with Mike at 110knots) with a unique view of the New York City skyline.
This past week I found myself in Charlottesville, Virginia for a conference. I did some searching and found Mike of Monticello Flying Club, a club that is just being started in Charlottesville. With my recent work on the Flying Club Scholarship, with Ground Effect Advisors, I figured spending some time talking and flying with Mike would be a great way to cap off a trip to the area.
Mike is setting a good example for others interested in creating a flying club, he is hitting the pavement (or in reality the runway) and working hard to drum up support for his club. On the day we met we hoped into a Cessna 172 rented from the local flight school and made a short hop from Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport (KCHO) to Culpeper Regional Airport (KCJR) to drop off a flyer promoting the club. While there Mike found an aircraft for sale that might be the perfect first aircraft for his club.
We had an enjoyable flight chatting about flying clubs and exploring the area. Mike had a nice surprise for the end of the flight, an aerial tour of Monticello. I guess it makes sense that a flight with the Monticello Flying Club would not be complete without an aerial tour of Thomas Jefferson's plantation. Sadly, I did not have my Canon T2i with me to capture a photo to share. I had toured the property many years ago but from the air you really get a special view of the massive size of this property.
Do you seek out pilots when you travel? Doing so might get easier if OpenAirplane takes flight!
May 13, 2013
Several months ago I joined forces with three other Chicago based pilots to form Ground Effect Advisors and to offer the first ever scholarship to help create a flying club. We realized that there is a need across the country for new flying clubs to be created to foster more flying and to help keep the costs of flying down. However, starting a club is not easy.
So we developed some strong partnerships and created a scholarship that will provide over $3,500 in goods and services to the winner in effort to assist them in getting their club off the ground. Honestly, we did not know what to expect. We were blown away to receive 126 quality applications for the scholarship.
We have spent the last 14 days reviewing the applications and talking with many of the candidates as we try to identify 10 finalists, which will be announced on Wednesday, May 15. We will then select a winner by June 1, 2013.
There were some interesting data points that came out of the application data we received so we build an infographic that shares that information. You can access it through the image to the right or on the StartAFlyingClub.com website.
Stay tuned for further updates!
April 3, 2013
Paul Lemley, a fellow pilot, was dissatisfied with the quality of flight bags available on the market. At first he settled for what was available. Then finally decided he would solve the problem and build his vision of the perfect flight bag. In homage to the Pan Am era of aviation where aviation was a luxury and passengers and pilots were well-dressed he has created the Classic Flight Bag. The hand stitched bag is made with genuine Crazy Horse leather and has a very sturdy feel. The inside is cotton fabric lined and has what I would deem an appropriate amount of pockets.
I admit to having used a wide variety of bags in my nine years as a pilot, never being fully satisfied I had the right bag. I went from one extreme a duffel bag sized flight bag that could carry anything and everything I might need in the cockpit down to cramming all my needs into a headset bag. With technology taking over I think most people can fit there equipment into something between those two extremes.
This weekend I took the Classic Flight Bag for a test flight. I loaded the following into the bag with ease:
- Zulu Lightspeed Headset
- FlyingEyes Sunglasses
- Canon T2i Digital Camera
- Notepad and pens
The downfall of most flightbags is that they provide too many pockets and compartments that I can never find what I am looking for easily. Paul suggest pilots with these types of bags "throw out that over pocketed trapper keeper and take pride in what you pack your travel essentials in". The only downside I could find in the classic flight bag was that it has three buckles, which is fashionable but makes getting in an out of the bag a little time consuming. This was not a design flaw so much as Paul ensuring he developed something beautiful "It's an attempt at highlighting style over function and craftsmanship over mass production."
Sounds like a reasonable tradeoff for someone like me who flies for recreation and is not in an out of the bag all day long seven days a week. The bag worked for my purposes and surely looked nicer than my previous bag. Sadly, I don't think I fly frequently enough to justify using this bag solely for flying. Instead I think I might use this bag for commuting to work knowing that each time I look at it I will evoke a feeling of that Pan Am era of travel and flying.
The Classic Flight Bag is available online and retails at $495 but is currently on sale for $395 and ships for free.
March 14, 2013
Most pilots are familiar with the $100 Hamburger. This past week though I enjoyed my first $82.50 PB&J. For months I have been trying to think of ways to find more time for flying. Recently, I started wondering whether I could fit a flight in during lunch.
My office is a little over 10 miles from the gate to the airport. With beautiful blue skies forecasted for a few days in a row I booked a plane and decided to give it a try. Here is how things went:
11:41 Left the office
11:48 Called and had the plane pulled from the hangar
11:51 Completed preflight brief
12:04 Arrived at the airport
12:18 Complete preflight and started the engine
12:25 Rolling down runway 16 at KPWK for takeoff
12:50 Engine shut down with three touch and gos completed
12:56 Flight logged in the Leading Edge Flying Club computer
1:25 Arrived back at the office.
I logged 0.5 hours of flying and got three landings for the logbook. Not necessarily the best or most useful flight time but a different way for me to get a taste of flying and stay current without taking away time from the family in the evenings.
I think I will do this again for sure and think this might be an interesting way to share aviation with others. Maybe this summer I will try to do this type of flight once or twice a month and invite a co-worker to join me for a quick tour of the area or a flight along the Chicago skyline.
This is by far the best way I can think of spending lunch. The Peanut Butter and Jelly was average but the ambiance was unbeatable!