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.
August 28, 2011
My body is quickly accelerating to nearly 120MPH as I fall away from the de Havilland Twin Otter that I occupied at 13,500 feet just a few moments before. On most days a pilot would be extremely concerned by this predicament, but this is no ordinary day. Although the wind is ripping past my ears at speeds that render them useless and nearly every nerve ending in my body is sending alerts to my brain as I fall towards earth from 2.5 miles above, I have a sense of calmness. That reassurance comes from being strapped to the chest of soldier in the U.S. Army, I could not be in better hands.
That harness that connects me to Staff Sergeant Matt Acord can withstand more than 10,000 pounds of weight and it is doing its intended job while I enjoy one of the most exhilarating experiences anyone could hope to have. Matt spends so much time in the skies you could call it his office, his jumps are counted in the thousands, and as I spend a day at the office with him I am quickly realizing he may have one of the best jobs in the world.
Dancing around me in the sky is Matt's teamate Assistant Tandem Team Leader Staff Sergeant Joseph "Abe" Abeln who is serving as a videographer, capturing photos and video of my experience. I am thankful to have him there because my brain is processing so many feelings and emotions that video will help me solidify this memory as one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
The U.S. Army Golden Knights were formed in 1959, as was common at the time, to compete with the Russians for supremacy in the Cold War. Skydiving as a sport was relatively new and the Russians dominated it. However, the Golden Knights immediately found success and they continued to rack up the gold medals at international tournaments, it was decided the Golden Knights would be an appropriate name for the team. The team is a representation of the finest soldiers and demonstrates the professionalism and skills of members of the U.S. Army.
Although today their job seems like all fun and games, in talking to members of the team it is readily apparent these guys have a very serious job and have plied their trade in some of the most challenging places including fighting drug trade in Nicaragua, terrorism in the mountains of Afghanistan and throughout Iraq in our various conflicts there. These men and women serve their country honorably and with great sacrifice but one constant in their career in the military was their passion for the sport of skydiving and through their proven talent were awarded a spot on this elite team.
One purpose of a demonstration team like this is to assist in recruiting. Growing up I had little exposure to the military and sadly garnered most of my knowledge of the Army from the movie Stripes. I could see how meeting the Golden Knights could help to inspire others to look more seriously at a career in the military. Each member had his or her own story of why and how he or she joined the military but it was evident that they all firmly believed it was one of the best decisions they ever made. Being a part of the Golden Knights is special to them all. They worked hard to elevate themselves to earn a spot on this elite team. Here they can help expose others to the Army by showing of their skills diving into football games, high school sporting events or at airshows around the world. They love every minute of it, one of the Knights commented that "When everyday you help someone experience one of the best days of their life, you can't help but have a great day yourself."
Staff Sergeant Matt Acord is doing just that for me. We are having fun screaming through the skies over rural Illinois. I look around and see farm fields as far as my eye can see, then trace the Fox River and locate our destination, the airstrip at Skydive Chicago in Ottawa, IL. Despite being tethered to another person I have an absolute sense of freedom sliding through the skies. I know this thrill ride only has a few seconds remaining as the ground is getting closer and closer. I see "Abe" float away and I realize he is clearing himself so Matt can pull our chute. We have fallen from 13,500 feet to 5,500 in about 45 seconds. I expected time to fly by but instead felt like I was able to fully enjoy our freefall. I am yanked into up as the chute slows our descent, all of a sudden it is quiet and I am treated to a lovely slow glide towards our destination.
During the descent Matt showed off the capability of the parachute by turning us in tight spirals as we floated down. As we neared the ground I lifted my legs up high and we slide into the ground on our butts to a smooth stop on the ground. It took us about five to six minutes to go from 13,500 back to the solid ground but in that six minutes I received a new appreciation the sport of skydiving. One of the team had told me before that even though I am a pilot I had never really flown since I had always flown from the inside of an airplane, and that today I would experience flying for the first time. I now understand what he means, as I was not a pilot controlling a plane, but the actual object that was free to glide and soar so high above the ground.
I had promised the team that if they returned me safely to ground I would give them a case of Affy Tapple Caramel Apples from my office. Not sure if that was the driving force in our successful jump or not but I made good on my end of the bargain after they treated me so well. I have much admiration for men and women of our armed forces. I enjoyed spending a day with them, seeing them do what they do best, hearing their stories and joining many fellow civilians in thanking them for their dedication to our country.
You can learn more about the U.S. Army Golden Knights on their website, Facebook and on twitter. The video shot by Staff Sergeant Joseph Abeln is below as are many of his aerial photos mixed in a with a few I took from the ground.
August 20, 2011
The Golden Knights were one of the few Chicago Air & Water Show demonstration teams to perform on Saturday morning before strong storms delayed the show for several hours. I had the pleasure to ride with them in their Fokker C-31A Troopship.
As I arrived at Gary/Chicago International Airport the weather looked acceptable at 8am, but it was the radar and Terminal Area Forecasts that had me worried that the drive down to Gary would be for naught. The team planned for both a high altitude and a low altitude jump so they would be prepared for either once aloft.
Ten Golden Knights and Four U.S. Navy Leapfrogs geared up and boarded the plane. I was seated in the back of the plane next to the dual exits on the Fokker, the perfect vantage point to watch the jumpers depart the plane. Across from me was Walt Willey, best known for playing Jackson Montgomery on the soap opera All My Children. He was riding along to get a sneak peak in advance to doing a tandem jump with the Golden Knights in the afternoon.
As we approached show center one of the members tossed a series of streamers out to gauge the winds. The ceiling was high enough for us to climb to 10,500 a couple thousand lower than their preferred height but more than 7,000 feet above their minimums for an airshow performance.
With no doors the freezing cold wind swirled around near rear exits and before long my teeth were chattering. But, it was worth it for one of the best seats in the house for the Chicago Air & Water Show.
Level at 10,500 feet we circled show center. Each time as we would approach the planned jump zone Team Leader and Sergeant First Class JD Berentis would look out the aircraft to determine if there were clouds obstructing the jump zone. A few times the jump was aborted as clouds rolled into the jump zone. On the third pass the all clear sign was given and the ten members approached the exits.
In a flash the go signal was given and the entire team was out the door in less than ten seconds. I looked back assuming there were more jumpers, only to find a nearly empty airplane. When I looked back outside I could just make out the jumpers regrouping in freefall and their performance had begun.
Not long after that I noticed lightning in the distance and a strong storm that appeared to be quickly approaching. The pilots turned the airplane back for Gary. As a result of the storm the Golden Knights were the last performance before the rain delay.
I was extremely impressed by the entire Golden Knights team and their professionalism. They all took the time to walk me through their roles on the team and their history in the U.S. Army. It is getting a chance to meet some of the men and women of our armed forces that makes covering the Air & Water Show each year so rewarding.
August 18, 2011
The performers and aircraft that will thrill million all the lakefront this weekend have arrived. Tomorrow they will put on a dry run of their performances in advance of the official 53 Chicago Air & Water Show that will take place on Saturday and Sunday from 10am - 3pm. Today the teams took members of the media for rides and allowed us to interview the pilots and crew.
My morning started with an opportunity to fly with Team Aeroshell today in their T-6 Texan. The Aeroshell team have been long time regulars of the Chicago Air & Water Show and are an act you should be sure not to miss. Unfortunately, I only captured some very amateurish video because frankly I was just having too much fun.
I also spoke with Thunderbird #6 Major JR Williams who flies the Opposing Solo role during the USAF Thunderbirds performance. He is excited about his first performance over Chicago and said "I've been thinking about this show all year". You can check out my brief interview with him below.
If you have not already, check out my Ultimate Guide to the Chicago Air & Water Show for more on the acts and suggestions on the best places to watch the Chicago Air & Water Show from.