August 30, 2009
Last weekend I had the opportunity to fly with two friends and aviation entrepreneurs. Rod Rakic is the founder of MyTransponder, a growing aviation social network. He had a last minute cancellation and instead of flying alone decided to invite some fellow Chicago pilots to join him for a flight on a beautiful summer evening. I jumped at the offer as did Charlene Gervais. Charlene is the founder of Aviation Vacations, a new company offering flying tours of North America.
When Rod is not flying for the Civil Air Patrol he prefers to fly the Diamond Star. I have several hours of PIC of the smaller DA20 but have never flown in the DA40 so I was looking forward to the experience. I was also looking forward to just my second flight out of Midway. There is something special about landing and departing with all the commercial air traffic at Midway.
I have known Rod for several years and although we have tried we have never gone flying together. As a pilot who is fairly particular about who I fly with I was immediately put at ease when Rod provided a very detailed pre-departure briefing which included how we would handle emergencies and setting up guidelines for a sterile cockpit during the departure and arrivals. My CFI taught me such great habits early on in my training and I am always surprised to see that many pilots hop in their plane and depart without a briefing for passengers or other pilots on board.
Once airborne we had a short and smooth flight over to Lansing where we landed and took just enough time for Charlene and I to trade seats before getting airborne for the return trip. As we returned to Midway the sun started to drop offering a beautiful display of colors and a nice view of the lit Chicago skyline. It was nice spending a few hours with some fellow pilots and sharing stories and enjoying a beautiful summer flight. I shot a few little clips of video during the flight and have posted the video below.
August 14, 2009
Each year at the Chicago Air & Water Show Sean D. Tucker becomes a crowd favorite as he performers a memorable aerobatic routine in his Oracle Challenger bi-plane. I have always enjoyed his performances but it was an act outside of the plane that helped solidify him as my favorite airshow performer. A few years back at the Chicago Air & Water Show after a tiring performance he came down to show center and took the time to talk to the kids that were gathered and to sign a few autographs. His joy for flying was eaten up by the kids looking up to him and I realized he is one of the best ambassadors aviation could have.
In advance of this year's show I was offered the opportunity to spend half a day with Sean D. Tucker and Team Oracle and jumped at the opportunity. I had no doubts, but after meeting Sean it was obvious that he absolutely loves coming to work each and every day, in fact I am sure he wouldn't call it work. You can see his enthusiasm first hand in this Chicago Tribune video interview.
My day started by joining a few other photographers and videographers in the Team Oracle Piper Seneca. We shadowed Sean in his Oracle Challenger bi-plane and Ben Freelove in the Oracle Extra 300 as they conducted a formation flight over Chicago. This was an amazing experience to watch two extremely talented pilots communicate and manage formation flying. Additionally, it provided an amazing vantage point for taking photos and some video.
Shortly after we landed I moved from the bulky Piper Seneca and into the sporty Extra 300. Ben got us airborne then said a magical thing "You have the plane". From that point forward he let me fly for a good 15-20 minutes while teaching me how to do various aerobatic maneuvers. We started with the basic rolls and loops and then he taught me how to combine the basic moves to do more advanced maneuvers like the Immelmen, Hammerhead & Cuban Eight. I was amazed at how well this plane performed and how easy it made all of these maneuvers. I am sure it helped that Ben is a phenomenal instructor which I am sure is a result of his experiences teaching at the Tutima Academy of Aviation Safety.
I finished off by doing my first spin. In my five years of flying, I have never been through Spin training. I had always assumed it was somewhat dangerous since it was not part of mainstream training. I was surprised to learn how easy it was to recover from a spin.
Prior to flying Sean had told me to be sure to have Ben show off the a few high-G maneuvers. After I had my share of flying I gave Ben his plane back and he put me through a 7.5G Hammerhead and then a high-G somersaulting roll, both of which were amazing. I love flying in general, but today's flight was an experience like no other I have had and I think I now have the aerobatic flying bug. I think I will have to seek out more opportunities to fly in an Extra 300.
If you are in the Chicago Area be sure to get out to the lakefront this weekend and enjoy the Team Oracle performance!
To the right you will find a few videos from both flights and also some photos below. I apologize for the shakiness of my video from the Seneca, this was my first stab at aerial photography.
August 9, 2009
Coming off the heels of strong crowds of nearly 600,000 aviation enthusiasts celebrating all aviation has to offer at Oshkosh's AirVenture, nearly 2.2 million people are expected to line the Chicago shoreline this weekend to enjoy the 51st Annual Chicago Air & Water Show. The Airshow returns to its traditional two-day schedule after celebrating its 50th anniversary last year with the addition of a Friday night show. That means Chicago Airshow Junkies can get a sneak peak with minimal crowds by setting out a blanket on the lakefront on Friday afternoon.
Most performers who have been hallmarks of recent Air & Water Show will be on hand again for this year's show including the locally based Lima Lima Flight Team, Aeroshell Aerobatic Team and The Firebirds Delta Team. Of course no airshow is complete without an appearance from Sean D. Tucker and Team Oracle, always a crowd favorite.
Herb Hunter will return as MC for the event, his 22nd year in that role. Each year he brings a great enthusiasm for and deep knowledge of aviation to this event.
New this year is Chuck Aaron in the Red Bull Helicopter. Helicopters have traditionally played minor roles in airshows unable to perform the awe-inspiring acrobatics feats that their fixed wing counterparts can. That changed a few years ago when aviation enthusiast and Red Bull founder, Dietrich Mateschitz, convinced Aaron to find a way to perform aerobatics in a helicopter. Aaron now pilots the Bölkow Bo-105 in a way most airshow attendees have never seen. Max has performed more consecutive rolls in a helicopter, five, than anyone else. I expect him to quickly become a crowd favorite at this year's airshow.
The United States Air Force Thunderbirds are this year's headliners and will be arriving in town, earlier then normal, on Monday. They will be taking Chicago Hometown Hero Brian Otto for a ride in the back seat of one of their F-16s. So you can expect to hear the roar of their jets over Chicago all week long.
This year the water and air portions of the show have been combined. So all activities will begin at 10am this year and run through 4pm. A complete list of airshow performers can be found on the Chicago Air & Water Show website.
As in previous years I will bring coverage of the Airshow to you throughout the week. I will be attending the Airshow media day earlier in the week. If you have specific questions you would like answered let me know and I will seek out the answers for you.
August 2, 2009
Despite the Sport Pilot License being around for nearly as long as I have been flying, I have to admit that I have paid little attention to it or the growth in Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) options. Sure it is a common topic in magazines and aviation websites but having earned my license through the traditional Private Pilot process I often flipped or clicked past those articles having little interest in learning about the Sport Pilot License. It was an article in Plane & Pilot written by Kirk Hawkins, Founder & CEO of Icon Aircraft, which opened my eyes to the value of both this new license and category of planes. I will point out that I understand his point of view is not unbiased, but he makes an excellent case for the role light sport aircraft in conjunction with the Sport Pilot license can play in helping to rebuild the pilot population.
We all know that the pilot population in America continues to move backwards rather than forward. At the same time Pilots have needed to get more active through organizations or direct contact with their representatives to protect our interests in General Aviation. What we need now more than anything are more young and passionate pilots that get the bug for aviation and become staunch supporters of aviation for years to come. Having to fight the United States Government to stomp out user fees and tighter restriction on General Aviation the aviation manufacturer's and organizations and the general public have been focusing on the fact that General Aviation serves America and provides functional benefits to pilots and aviation communities. In that communication though we have lost the ability to excite some of those that are looking to fly for the fun and adventure of it, likely the spark that got most of us into flying.
Hawkins writes "In our quest for more speed, range and payload and fancier glass cockpits--we seem to have forgotten what brought us to aviation in the first place--the freedom, the fun and the adventure of flying! How many of us can remember zooming around the house at age seven, holding a plastic airplane over our heads while making airplane noises? Well, I bet none of us were thinking, 'Boy, I could really save some time getting to grandma's house, and think of the TSA lines I'll be avoiding!'"
Learning to fly five years ago in Cincinnati, OH the rates were very reasonable and I earned my license for just under $5,000. If I were to start today in Chicago where instructors charge more and access to lower cost airplanes is harder to come by I would need to budget closer to $10,000 to earn a Private Pilot certificate. If I had not learned to fly when I did the price today would likely have kept me on the wrong side of the airport fence.
What the Sport Pilot License does is makes learning to fly more accessible. Cutting the hours needed to earn a license in half from forty hours down to just 20 hours. This new path to an aviation license can save a student as much as $3,000 - $5,000 greatly lowering the barrier to entry for learning to fly. Couple that with new Light Sport Aircraft that burn less fuel, rent at lower rates and can be purchased new for what many traditional aircraft cost many years after taking their first flight and this new movement makes flying financially more accessible, especially in the current economic conditions.
Hawkins references a great quote from Orville Wright "The exhilaration of flying is too keen, the pleasure is too great, for it not to be a sport." I learned this weekend while having my first experience behind the stick of a Light Sport Aircraft how much fun flying one of these sporty little planes can be.
Stay tuned for a review of a flight in the Remos GX, my first experience in a Light Sport Aircraft. Until then check out Bringing the Sport back to Flying by Kirk Hawkins. Also, please don't be like I was and scoff at the Sport Pilot License or the Light Sport Aircraft associated to them. They may just be what the industry needs to bring growth back to General Aviation.