August 8, 2012
Last Thursday I kicked off my longest cross country since earning my private pilot's license in 2004. I joined fellow pilot Mike Meister at Gauntlet Warbirds at Aurora Airport, just outside of Chicago, where we launched in a T-6 Texan (SNJ-5) for a flight to Chino, CA.
The Gauntlet Warbirds hangar was a beautiful sight when I arrived. An L-39 Albatros, P-51 Mustang, SBD-Dauntless and a few T-6 Texan's in this hangar made it a pilots paradise. I looked in awe at the beautiful P-51 and though of a quote from Wilson "Connie" Edwards, an EAA Warbirds of America Hall of Fame inductee, who said "Start out in a Bearcat, transition to the P-51, and then you're ready for the T-6." The Texan has often been referred to as the Pilot Maker for its role in training such a large percentage of pilots from the Greatest Generation. I was honored and excited to get a chance to finally log some time in this plane.
After loading our route into Foreflight (see route) and checking the weather we were optimistic we could make the flight in two days. We originally allotted four days in case weather became an issue. Mike gave me a brief tour of the plane and discussed the internal and external pre-flight. We then donned parachutes, which would serve as our padding on the hard metal seats of the T-6, climbed in, and fired up the engine for departure.
Shortly after takeoff Mike gave me control of the airplane and I started to figure her out. Not long into the trip we crossed over the Mississippi River, a first for me in a General Aviation capacity. Our first stop for fuel and to stretch our legs was Rolla National Airport in Rolla, Missouri. This former U.S. Army Airfield still has a few aviation relics located on the tarmac including a former Army DC-3. Our visit there was brief as there were some storms approaching from the west, in fact a light rain started during our departure. Mike had brought along a Sporty's Stratus that provided in-flight weather updates to our iPad Glass Panels by way of Foreflight. Although these storms were rather isolated and small it was comforting knowing we had visual weather updates at our fingertips.
The next leg was a quiet one in which we did not encounter any traffic. The view below our wings showed a countryside that has suffered a double whammy of drought and higher than normal temperatures. Our next stop was Claremore, Oklahoma which was equally quiet until a Cessna 172 arrived from Wyoming. It was so nice to see others taking advantage of general aviation to see the country. It was hot on the ground at Claremore so we took our break in the air conditioned FBO.
Each time we checked in with air traffic control for flight following we would announce that we were a North American T-6. Turns out they don't encounter T-6s in the system often as each time the aircraft type would confuse the controllers who would ask again what type of aircraft we were sometimes several times. However, not long after departing Claremore and climbing past Tulsa International Airport, we were surprised to hear another T-6 on the frequency. Turns out it was a T-6A Texan II, the newer version of primary trainer, based out of Vance Air Force Base. They called us up on the frequency and asked if we were one of theirs to which Mike responded, "No ours comes with a tailwheel," which they seemed to get a kick out of.
Our last stop of the day was at Hutchinson County Airport in Borger, TX the home of a Conoco Phillips avgas refinery. It seemed appropriate that after burning nearly 200 gallons of fuel that we would land next to an avgas refinery. We had toyed with the idea of flying on to Albuquerque but since it was 106 degrees at Borger, and we would be flying into the sun on the next leg we decided to call it a night. Ronnie, the FBO Lineman, took great care of us with hotel recommendation and providing us with one of their crew cars for the night.
After my first seven hours of flying in the Texan I was thankful for the ability to crack the canopy. We would crack it below 3,000 feet during take-off and landing in case we needed to bail from the plane. But often even above that we would crack the canopy a little bit to keep the plane cool. Otherwise the glass cockpit would have served as an oven for much of the flight. I imagine our experience was not that different then the cross country flight this aircraft would have experienced when it was first delivered to the Navy in 1943, except maybe that we cheated a bit flying with the assistance of our Foreflight-enabled iPads and with the support of Sporty's Stratus, but who's keeping score?
I slept well after this long day but woke early in anticipation of our next leg of the flight. I will post updates from our second day of flying shortly. In the meantime enjoy the photos below from the first day of flight.
August 1, 2012
When I was learning to fly and would mentioned to friends and family that I was going to log cross country time they often were confused that I was flying just 50 nautical miles away. The FAA requires that a flight between two airports be 50 NM or more for it to count towards various certificates or ratings so the majority of my cross country time is in the 50NM to 100NM range.
However, tomorrow I am embarking on a flight that is more in line with the term Cross Country. I will be flying a T-6 Texan from Aurora Airport (KARR) just outside of Chicago to Chino, California.
Last year I had the opportunity to do aerobatics in a L-39 Albatros with Greg Morris of Gauntlet Warbirds. When I learned he needed to ferry the Gauntlet Warbirds T-6 Texan to California to be used for instruction at the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School I decided I needed to find a way into one of it's tandem seats for that flight.
Here I am on the eve of the flight. During the flight which we are estimating will be approximately 12 hours of flight time, I will log dual instruction in an aircraft that helped train pilots from the greatest generation. The airplane I will be flying is actually the Navy version of the plane referred to as the SNJ and this particular aircraft was delivered to the Navy in 1944.
I have limited experience in the T-6 Texan. I rode along for aerobatic demonstrations with Aeroshell Aerobatic Team a few times and also was able to fly Bill Leff's T-6 Texan briefly prior to the 2008 Chicago Air & Water Show. However, this will be the first time I log time in the airplane in my logbook and I might not sleep much tonight in anticipation of this flight. This is an aircraft I have been in awe with since I was a kid. Stay tuned for updates on the flight in the coming days or follow along on Twitter.
Special thanks to Flickr user wxjeremy for allowing me to use his beautiful photo of the actual T-6 Texan I will be flying tomorrow.
July 22, 2012
Every pilot has heard of the proverbial $100 Hamburger, typically a subpar meal used as an excuse to go flying. I have a suggestion to pilots in the midwest: replace your hamburger runs with corn runs. Which is exactly what my Dad and I did this weekend.
Several years ago my parents stumbled upon Twin Garden Farms' special Mirai corn, a hybrid sweet corn. Back then, they had to make a three hour round trip journey in the car from Chicago to Harvard, IL to find this corn. Believe it or not, the corn was worth it and I was always delighted when I heard they had made another run. Since then it has become so popular you can find it at many farmers markets in the Chicago area in late summer. However, this corn is so good that there should be more of an adventure to procure it then just walking down to your local farmers market.
Last year I learned that members of my flight club, Leading Edge Flying Club, had flown to Harvard to get the corn. I reached out to Gary Pack at Twin Garden Farms who confirmed he would be more than happy to deliver some corn to me at Dacy Airport, less than a mile from their farm. An adventure was definitely in the making after hearing that! What makes this flight experience even more special is that Dacy Airport is diamond in the rough, a nostalgic reminder of the barnstormer days.
Dacy is just 37 miles from my home base airport, Chicago Executive. In less than 30 minutes we were far from the hustle and bustle of the city and circling to land at. It felt like we had flown into the past and we were living the life of barnstormers. The runways were literally lined with fields of corn. The Stearman parked in the main hangar helped perfect this nostalgic scene in my mind. I have always loved the simplicity of landing an airplane on a grass field and was loved having the opportunity to share this experience with my Dad.
We shut down the plane and looked around before calling Gary to let him know we had arrived. About 15 minutes later he pulled up with his grandson and nearly 30 pounds of Twin Garden Farms Mirai sweet corn. We learned that Gary's grandson, Grant, had actually flown in Archer 3096B a few years earlier when members of the club had made a corn run and offered to take him up for a few laps around the pattern. I was delighted to learn that flight might have helped spark his interest in aviation and he is now taking flight lessons at Dacy Airport in a Cessna 172. It's great seeing a love of aviation sparked in the youth of America. Grant joined my Dad and me for a photo next to the 3096B before we loaded up our treasure for the return flight to Chicago.
Shortly after lifting off the grass strip and turning east for the return flight the Chicago Skyline came into view and our brief visit to the past was over. Not only did we have a fun aviation adventure we had a back seat full of the finest sweet corn you can find. While visiting with Gary we learned that like post-it notes and play dough, the Mirai corn that Twin Garden Farms is famous for was invented by accident, when three sweet corn genes were melted together. The result is what many regard the finest sweet corn in America.
Pilots, take a pass on the $100 hamburger and contact Twin Garden Farms and take a flight into the past and bring back some of the best corn in the world. You will be rewarded with a great aviation experience as I was.
July 20, 2012
Earlier this spring I learned that Cessna selected eight pilot interns to fly a fleet of SkyCatcher's around the country as part of the Discover Flying Challenge. My first thought was, what a great gig. After that I decided I needed to reach out to Cessna to find out when one would be in my area to check out this plane.
I learned that Zoe "Ozone" Cunningham had been given the Midwest territory and was busy logging a slew of hours flying SkyCatcher 2 throughout Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. Today she arrived back in the Chicago area enroute to Oshkosh and I was able to meet her at Chicago Executive for a few laps around the pattern in the Cessna 162 SkyCatcher.
The SkyCatcher is a Light Sport Aircraft certified aircraft which means it has some limitations on weight (1,320 lbs or less), speed (120 kts) and seating (two seats or less). The SkyCatcher was built to maximize its potential within the LSA guidelines. I learned that Zoe has been cruising at right around 115kts for much of her journey across the midwest. She has been doing this while burning just over 6 gallons and hour and she was quick to point out that is high since she is running a little hotter than normal since the engine is being broken in.
I was worried the SkyCatcher would be more tight then cozy but was pleased to learn it had plenty of room in the cockpit. I was told the cockpit is as wide if not wider than that of a Cessna 172. Inside, the cockpit is quite simple with only a few dials and switches in addition to the dual G300 glass panels. There are no back-up gauges but if one G300 panel falters it will flip data to the remaining screen.
We fired up the plane and took runway 6 for departure. The aircraft lept off the runway leaving three quarters of the runway as unnecessary as we climbed at 800 feet per minute up to pattern altitude. The aircraft has great sightlines with plenty of window space on the side and front of the plane. The SkyCatcher definitely had a sporty feel to it.
My only complaint about the SkyCatcher is the lack of a window that can be opened. One thing I always loved about Cessna aircraft was flying along with the windows open. The SkyCatcher's Gull Wing doors can be opened during taxi to keep the airplane cool but the doors are not allowed to be open during flight. So during a hot summer like we are experiencing, it could get hot in that cockpit. I guess I am getting spoiled by the air conditioner in the Piper Archer. Either way a small drawback on what otherwise is a fun plane.
Although not the right aircraft for carting a family around in I could see it being a fun plane for $100 Hamburgers and hops around the Midwest. It was fun to check it out up close and I look forward to getting in one again sometime soon.
You can learn more about the Discover SkyCatcher program on their website. Many of their aircraft are heading to Oshkosh for AirVenture as well.
June 24, 2012
How do you say goodbye to an airport? As I write that, it seems kind of a strange question. But, more and more frequently this is a question pilots are being forced to answer.
The first airport I ever loved was Chicago's lakefront airport, Meigs Field, which helped foster my interest in aviation. The early Microsoft Simulators featured Meigs Field as the default airport and in the virtual skies over a pixely Chicago I self taught myself about lift, thrust, weight and drag. In fact I remember fondly flying home on a commercial flight with my family as a young kid and watching how the flaps were extended during our landing then going straight to the computer when I returned home to learn how to use flaps on the Cessna at Meigs Field. I like many aviation enthusiasts and pilots felt sick to my stomach when I learned on March 31, 2003 that it was demolished at the behest of Mayor Daily.
I wonder if this event helped motivate me to not take my love of aviation for granted any longer and move from the fence-line to the tarmac in pursuit of my license to fly. In Spring 2004 in Cincinnati, OH I began my flight training, the majority of that flight training took place at Cincinnati's Blue Ash Airport (KISZ). It was there that my formal knowledge of aeronautics was formed as were some of amazing aviation memories.
When I heard that Blue Ash Airport, the airport where I first soloed and also where I successfully completed my Private Pilot checkride, was losing its 30-year battle to keep the airport open, I knew that once again I would need to decide how to say goodbye to an airport. Before giving in though I reached out to see if there was anything I could do from Chicago to help save the airport. Although organizations like Preserve Blue Ash Airport are still fighting, I learned there was little short of donating millions of dollars that could be done to save the airport.
I determined the best way for me to say goodbye to this airport was to revitalize my memories and celebrate this unique and special airport. On a wonderful Saturday afternoon I took off from Chicago Executive and flew along the beautiful skyline of Chicago and over the remains of Meigs Field (which has still yet to be put to any better service then the airport it once was) enroute to Blue Ash, OH.
Although a lovely day it was quiet as I approached the airport. As I entered the pattern I noticed the sparse tarmac that had once been filled with airplanes of varying sizes. Despite the sparse tarmac I smiled as I looked at the unique layout of this airport which has a taxiway that weaves through a little wooden pass, it was great to see this familiar airport once again.
As I crossed the runway threshold I could see that the runway was badly in need of repair and maintenance, sadly that aid will never come. Instead that disrepair will make the demolition job just that much easier. While the plane was being refueled I strolled along the tarmac with Al Waterloo who flew with me on this trip down memory lane. It was both comforting and disappointing that not much had changed at Blue Ash Airport or Co-Op Aviation since I had last visited. I learned that many of the planes had already vacated in search of a new home like Lebanon-Warren County Airport.
Some might find it strange to love an airport, but I love this airport. I am not the only one that is a bit sentimental about this airport. In a recent issue of Flying Magazine Martha Lunken shared her memories of Blue Ash Airport. Fellow aviation blogger Steve Dilullo who writes A Mile of Runway Will Take You Anywhere recently made his first visit to Blue Ash Airport to check it out before it is no more (be sure to check out his video of the unique taxi experience at Blue Ash). Al Waterloo who joined me for this flight was also touched by this special airport and published his thoughts on how this airport closing is an example of why General Aviation is Broken.
It will be sad when the news comes that the bulldozers have closed this general aviation airport like so many before it. Blue Ash Airport will no longer benefit from those that have been inspired to learn to fly because of its existence. However, I hope that the inspiration is strong enough that aviation enthusiasts will seek out the nearest General Aviation airport and still pursue their dreams and help drum up renewed support for General Aviation in Cincinnati.
June 11, 2012
I recently flew from Chicago to Washington, DC and back in a Boeing 767. I had a lovely view from my window seat but spent most of the flight nose-deep in "Captain", the latest novel from Thomas Block that features a retrofitted 767 as the crux of the story.
A press release about the book arrived at the perfect time, right as I was looking for something new to read and leading up to a week of traveling for work. I had never heard of Thomas Block, but it appears it was not for lack of effort on his part.
Block spent 36 years as a commercial pilot flying for US Airways but also used his combined love of aviation and writing to develop a second career as an author. He began writing for aviation magazines in 1968 and served as Contributing Editor for Flying magazine for 20 years as well as 11 years as Contributing Editor for Plane & Pilot magazine. In 2001, he took on the Editor-at-Large role for Piper Flyer magazine and Cessna Flyer magazine. It was in 1979 that he broke into novels co-writing, Mayday with New York Times best-selling novelist Nelson DeMille. In 2005, CBS turned this book into a Movie of the Week.
After a hiatus from writing novels, Block returns with his latest thriller, Captain. The story follows what should be a routine Trans-Atlantic airline flight until a chain of events start to tumble out of control putting the entire flight and the airline in peril. The aircraft is a "Consolidated" 768, a re-worked airplane built off the Boeing 767 airframe. Reading about things starting to go wrong for this flight while aboard the aircraft this story was based on helped bring the story alive for me.
Without giving too much away, I will say at times I wondered how realistic some of the issues that develop on the plane were, one of which was related to software for the engines. However, as much as I hoped those issues were fiction, I just read about concerns that the Boeing 787 Dreamliner's computer chips could theoretically be hacked and it made this book seem even that more plausible and therefore frightening.
Pilots will love this book because there is great balance between the excitement of the story itself, pilot banter and a over-the-shoulder view of what goes on in an airline cockpit during an emergency. I think non-pilots will enjoy the book as well as it does not get laden with aviation jargon and provides a great storyline for all to enjoy.
April 28, 2012
I learned about Andover Flight Academy in the December issue of AOPA Pilot, where it was positioned as the premier place to earn a tailwheel endorsement. I have always loved the idea of bush flying and flying a taildragger into remote airstrips. Soon after reading the article I found myself in New Jersey and made sure to make my way over to Aeroflex-Andover Airstrip, a picturesque and cozy little airport nestled between two lakes in the hills of Northern New Jersey. Stepping into the Andover Flight Academy office is like stepping into the past. Their office is adorned with a ton of memorabilia and their primary seating for ground school work is a comfy worn in couch.
Before getting in one of Andover's aircraft I watched Tailwheel: 101 a DVD developed by CFI and Owner of Andover Flight Academy, Damian DelGazio. The DVD did an excellent job discussing the basic procedures used for flying a tailwheel airplane and knowledge and skills needed to earn a tailwheel endorsement.
After signing up for instruction I had spent significant time thinking about ground loops and prop strikes, the two dangers I associated with tailwheel flying. The DVD did a great job of explaining the causes of the ground loop and how to prevent one from occurring. I also learned that while performing two point landings on the main gear that it is actually quite difficult to cause a prop strike. With those concerns vanquished I had a clear mind to focus on taking my new knowledge and putting them to work. If you are interested in a earning your tailwheel endorsement I highly recommend you check out Damian DelGaizo's Tailwheel 101 DVD.
As we rolled the TopCub on it's Alaskan Bush Tires from the hangar I quickly forgot that I was in New Jersey. Despite being within an hour of New York City I was transported into my mind to the wide open West or Alaskan backcountry.
Damian talked me through the taxi procedures and we did some slow and fast taxing to get used to the necessary rudder controls to maneuver safely on the ground and to simulate the controls needed after landing to prevent a ground loop from developing. Once I had proven I had a handle of ground control I rolled us onto the grass and applied power steadily and let the tailwheel fly itself off the ground then brought in some back pressure and the TopCub leapt into the air. I am confident it was the shortest takeoff roll I have ever made. Who knew takeoffs could be so fun, but there is something exhilarating from going from stand still to airborne in such a short distance.
Once aloft we spent a few minutes working on stalls and general airmanship in the TopCub. The TopCub is at its heart a very simple aircraft, and I loved that. The only glass panel was the iPhone in my pocket and there was no autopilot to shoulder the load, and I loved it. Damian quickly spotted some rust on my stick and rudder skills. He gave me a few pointers and in a few minutes I felt at one with the TopCub.
As we approached the nearby turf strip at Trinca Airport he gave me the final tips for making a successful three point landing. I followed his instruction and flew the approach with my eyes focused straight ahead until I was ready to flare at which point I transitioned to looking at the runway edges as the nose blocked my forward visibility. A few feet off the runway I flared and brought the plane to a full stall and gently brought the two Alaskan Bush tires & our tailwheel to the ground in unison. I quickly transitioned to focusing on using the rudder pedals to control the plane on the ground while we bled of the remaining speed, success I nailed my first tailwheel landing! Landing on turf has always been one of my favorite aviation experiences but it was even more fun and challenging in a tailwheel aircraft with big Alaskan bush tires.
Damian is a phenomenal instructor and coach. Before and during the flight he consistently asked "Does that make sense to you?" He genuinely was looking to make sure I was comfortable with the information and if not he clearly walked me through it. I understand why people like Harrison Ford sought him out for training.
I logged 1.0 hours of tailwheel experience and made four three point landings. Next time I am in the area I will return to Andover Flight Academy to work on main wheel landings and continue working towards a tailwheel endorsement which might come in handy for some of the other exciting flying I have planned for this summer. More on that in the coming weeks.
April 23, 2012
As much as I try not to be a hibernating pilot, each winter I see a significant decline in my flight time. This winter was no different. I believe a large contributor to the winter slowdown is the lack of daylight hours but I am sure there are other contributing factors as well. None the less in Chicago we have jumped from winter to summer like weather in the span of a few weeks. As a result I have been spending significantly more time on my flight club airplane scheduler planning flights.
In the coming weeks I will share some updates on some flight experiences I had this winter and my plans to checkout in a new airplane. In the meantime I thought I would share some writing I have done over the past few months away from MyFlightBlog.com.
This Fall I took a swing at publishing some articles for another blog as well as both digital and print magazine articles. The first to get published was a piece in the digital magazine Airplanista entitled Broaden Your Horizons. Sadly, the magazine has since stopped publishing, but I was proud to have been a part of what was a great aviation publication while it lasted.
I also published an AOPA Pilot Magazine "Pilots" feature on Greg Morris of Gauntlet Warbirds. I had the opportunity to fly the Gauntlet L-39 with Greg earlier this year. In my few hours spent with Greg I was impressed with his passion for aviation and his drive to help others find the excitement in aviation. That experience spurred the article which was featured in the December issue which can be found on the AOPA Pilot website or here via PDF.
Most recently I published a post on the AOPA Let's Go flying Blog in response to the disappointing news that Blue Ash Airport, the airport I soloed at and earned my license at, is scheduled to be closed. My post Let's Keep Making GA Memories can be found on the Let's Go Flying blog.
With daylight savings time firmly in place I look forward to logging more time in the air as well as time behind the pages of MyFlightBlog.com this spring and summer. I look forward to reconnecting with my regular readers and sharing my flight experiences again in 2012.
December 5, 2011
I am constantly looking for ways to share my love for aviation with my kids. We started by making planespotting a daily activity whenever we are outside. Then I added a few trips to the airport to sit in a few cockpits and spotting some takeoffs and even grading a few landings. However, most exciting as of late is their interest in books. They are getting to the stage where they enjoy sitting in my lap to read a book or even to sitting on their own and flipping pages and pointing at neat images (what is neater than an airplane?).
A new favorite in our household is the fourth installment of illustrated books featuring Claire Bear, a pink-clad aerobatic performer and mentor for aspiring young pilots. Claire Bear Flies to Oshkosh follows Claire Bear on one of the greatest rights of passage in aviation a flight to AirVenture. The book is beautifully illustrated by Linda Terentiak who does an excellent job bringing AirVenture to life with many familiar sights for those who have attended the annual airshow. The book is my second in a now growing collection of childrens books oriented around Oshkosh sitting on our bookshelf next to Treat Williams and Robert Neubecker's Airshow!
Author and Pilot Sue Hughes is founder of Powder Puff Pilot, a great online resource for pilot accessories and gear oriented towards women. Hughes is successfully inspiring the next generation of aviators through her series of books and products on her website. Girls with Wings, is another great resource for aviation products for girls. Check out my Aviation Products for the Whole Family post to find more products geared towards young aviators in the making.
October 18, 2011
One definition of the phrase "Broaden Your Horizons" is To gather more experience from place, jobs or people far removed from your current situation. I started this blog while learning to fly to share my experiences working towards a private pilot's certificate. Little did I know it would be the catalyst for broadening my horizons within the aviation community.
Through the relationships I have forged within the aviation community over the past seven years I have been blessed with amazing experiences both thrilling and educating.
Recently I shared some of those experiences in an article, Broaden Your Horizons, with the readership of Airplanista Magazine. I discussed experiences ranging from Sky Diving with the U.S. Army Golden Knights to rumbling along the Chicago Lakefront in one of the few remaining B-17 Bombers. I shared both photos and video with my article, thanks to the interactive nature of the magazine. If you have not heard of Airplanista it is a fast growing digital magazine dedicated to aviation.
Dan Pimentel started the magazine just over a year ago. His decision to focus on articles that focused on the passion and fun factors of aviation have helped make it a monthly must read for aviation enthusiasts. He explains the title of his magazine and its readers as follows "an 'airplanista' is a person who lives in a world filled with glorious flying machines. They walk around with one eye to the sky and dream up more ingenious reasons to go out to the airport and fly somewhere."
I was honored that Dan was interested in publishing some of my writings. Check out the October Issue online. You can find my article between pages 45-49.