August 22, 2013
Aviation Adventures come in both the planned and unplanned variety, as illustrated by my most recent flight. Every August since 2005 I have covered the Chicago Air & Water Show for MyFlightBlog and a few other media outlets but in all those years I had never flown into the event at Gary International Airport. So a fellow club member and friend, Louis (from Sky Conditions Clear), decided we would make a day of it by flying down in the Leading Edge Archer, then enjoy talking and flying with some of the acts for the Chicago Air & Water Show then finish the day logging more time in the Archer.
On a perfect VFR Thursday morning we preflighted the airplane then launched Eastbound from Chicago Executive. Once over the lakeshore we turned south and enjoyed a beautiful view of Chicago as the sun shined on the windows of the skyscrapers. I elected to pick-up flight following for the trip down the lakefront but despite the great weather I believe they only notified us of one other aircraft that was taking advantage of this beautiful VFR day. The flight down was uneventful but enjoyable. We taxied down to Gary Jet Center where we parked the Piper Archer right next to Team Aeroshell's four T-6 Texans.
Louis and I spent the first hour or so of the media day walking the flightline checking out the various aircraft including Sean Tucker's Oracle Challenger Bi-Plane, Art Nalls' L-39 and Sea Harrier, an A-4, and a variety of T-6 Texans.
Shortly there after we met Harvey Meek the Team Lead of Team Aerostars, a locally based aerobatic team that team that despite being in existence for 12 years were making their Chicago Air & Water Show debut. I had spoken with a fellow member of the team leading up to the show and knowing that Louis and I were pilots he ensured us he would get us up in their aircraft to learn about their team and the performance of their Yak-52s. Having never flown in a Yak-52, I was eager to check it out.
We conducted a brief flight briefing where we discussed the mission objectives which was to fly along the lakefront to Chicago so a Reuters photographer could take some shots of a Team Aerostars airplane with the city skyline as a backdrop. After that we would return to the airspace West of Gary for a brief aerobatic demonstration.
Sitting backseat in Harvey's aircraft he informed me he would let me take the controls shortly after the flight and lead the flight up the lakefront. True to his word, as we exited the Gary airspace Harvey gave me airplane. It was an easy plane to fly, and felt quite responsive. After achieving a successful photo run, including this shot featuring Harvey and I and the Chicago skyline, we headed back South to get inverted.
Back near Gary where there is more airspace for aerobatics Harvey helped me experience the aerobatic performance of the Yak-52 through a series of maneuvers including loops, barrel rolls and a Cuban Eight. After my flight Louis got to take a backseat for his flight with Team Aerostars. As fun as the flying was we equally enjoyed getting to meet the Team Aerostars pilots and their support staff. We learned that the all fly commercially by day, aerobatics on the weekends and several of them even live in fly-in communities, pure aviators at heart. By all accounts it was a successful day full of aviation adventure, little did we know how much more adventure we had ahead.
After the airplanes were all tied down or put to rest in the hangers and it was clear there were no more rides to be had or aircraft to ogle at, we fired up the Archer III. Louis would be the Pilot in Command for the return flight. Our plan was to visit a small uncontrolled airport nearby for a few landings then go VFR over the top of Midway then fly south and east of O'hare then come up the from the south to the north on the west side of the O'Hare airsapce on our way back to Chicago Executive.
After four near perfect landings (video does not lie) at Bult Field by Captain Bowers we began a final taxi back to the end of the runway to prepare to for the return flight to Chicago Executive. Nearing the end of the runway Louis asked if I felt a shake, which I had not. He said he was feeling a vibration in the rudder pedals and then a pull and quickly made the correct assessment that we had blown a tire. In an excellent example of airmanship Louis immediately stopped the aircraft, and shut it down right on the taxiway. After the blades settled I got out and confirmed we had a left main tire flat. Louis was busy trying to determine what happened while I started to wonder what in the world we were going to do to get the aircraft back, or get ourselves back to Chicago as it appeared there would be little support at this sleepy airport.
We made a few calls and learned that there in fact was a mechanic based at the field that is typically there usually three to four days a week. So walked nearly a mile (5,000 feet) down the runway to the Hangar were we were told we might find him. As we approached two gentleman in the limited baggage space of a Cessna 152, they hoped out of their existing project to hear our plight and quickly offered to help. Randy, the owner of Aircraft Professionals, took his tug out to examine the wounded bird. Shortly after he returned with the great news that he believe he would be able to change out the tire, right there on the taxiway.
He and his partner loaded up a truck and a golf cart and we drove back to the plane to get to work. This was my first experience with a flat so it was entertaining to see how it was handled. Randy, propped up the plane and he and his technician removed the wheel pant and wheel. After initial inspection he believed the tire was in great shape and that it was a tear in the tube but promised a more detailed check back at the hangar. We raced a golf cart and an aircraft tug back to the hangar where he confirmed the tire was in great shape and that likely a pebble had been inside the tire rubbing up against the tire tube and it finally broke through causing the flat. Louis was relieved that this was further proof that his landings and taxing skills were not the cause, I never had any such doubts.
Thirty minutes later the new tube was installed, the wheel fairing was replaced and we did an extended taxi to confirm the tire seemed good and balanced. We gave a big thanks to the guys at Aviation Professionals and promised to come visit there field again after such great hospitality. A few hours behind schedule, and with the airplane due for another rental we scrubbed the VFR over Midway and headed back past Gary up along the lakefront where we took in a lovely sunset over the city and watched the lights come on at Soldier Field in advance of a pre-season game.
Returning to Chicago Executive we both agreed that it was a spectacular way to spend the day. We both logged PIC time in the Archer, dual time in the Yak-52, got to perform aerobatics and learned how to handle an unexpected adventure like a flat tire on the taxiway. Aviation adventures are fun no matter what form they come in.
August 14, 2013
Jim Cornelison well known for his emotional renditions of the National Anthem at Blackhawks games will skydive into the Chicago Air & Water Show. Cornelison, will be be the guest of the All-Veteran Parachute Team and join them for a tandem skydive to kick off the 55th Annual Chicago Air & Water Show. After landing at show center at 10am he will sing the National Anthem.
Jim Cornelison is in his fifth season as the Chicago Blackhawks' full-time national anthem singer, having made regular appearances singing the anthem at the United Center since 1996. He has performed nationally and internationally with some of the biggest names in opera, such as Plácido Domingo and Zubin Mehta. Known as a heroic tenor for the dark color of his voice but ability to sing in a tenor range, he has sung with opera companies in Bordeaux, London, Brussels and San Francisco, among many other places.
The All-Veteran Parachute Team, formed two years ago, will be making their Chicago Air & Water Show debut this weekend. In addition to giving Cornelison a ride to the show the team will make multiple jumps at each show. Each jump will allow them to showcase their accuracy and precision skills landing on a target at North Avenue Beach (Show Center).
The team is comprised entirely of combat veterans, active and retired service members. Each of the members who will be jumping over Chicago are former U.S. Army Golden Knights and have been deployed in support of various conflicts over the past 25 years. According to member Dave Herwig, "Our goal is to expand the team to have at least one member from each of the five branches of service."
Herwig explains that, "The goal of the team is to give back to the American public for their continual support of our men and women who defend our freedoms each and every day. Every jump is dedicated to every veteran from all branches and all conflicts." The team recently teamed up with Nashville Recording artist Jamie Tate who will sing "I'll Give My All" during one of their jumps each day. Herwig says, "It will bring on goose bumps and raise the hair on your arms, it has been a real crowd pleaser hearing her sing while team leader, Mike Elliott, descends on the crowd with a huge American flag.
Learn more about each of the acts at the 2013 Chicago Air & Water Show in our Ultimate Guide to the Show.
August 9, 2013
Think you will miss out on the roar of jets this year at the Chicago Air & Water Show? Think again. Art Nalls plans to pilot the fastest aircraft in the 2013 Chicago Air & Water Show, the Sea Harrier FA2. Nalls shared with me what we can expect from his Harrier demonstration. "My demo is slightly different from the USMC Harrier demo. First, I'm a bit faster. I can easily reach over 600 knots in my first pass, which is over 700 mph. The Marines can't go quite that fast". Nalls continued, "Second, I'm licensed as an aerobatic pilot, while the Marines are not. I plan to do rolls, Cuban 8's, 4-point aileron rolls, as well as the Hover. In the hover, I will back up, go sideways, and pirouette the airplane in the hover. Providing the winds are within very tight limitations, I will also "Bow to the Crowd" which is to point the nose of the airplane toward the crowd, and point the nose down to approximately 45 degrees."
Built by Hawker-Siddley, hist Sea Harrier was the second one ever built and is the oldest surviving one. Those at Show Center will be able to see the V/STOL, Vertical and or Short Take-off and Landing capabilities of this unique aircraft. Nalls is the only person in the world to privately own an airworthy Sea Harrier. A U.S Naval Academy graduate, Nalls logged over 900 hours in the AV-8A variant of the Harrier including over 400 shipboard landings. Nalls is also a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base. He has flight time in approximately 75 different aircraft including the B-52, C-141, C-130, A-7, A-37, T-38, F-4, F-5, F-15, and F-16, and F-18. When the opportunity to own a Sea Harrier came available he jumped at it and has been showing off the aircraft since.
In addition to showing off the performance of the Sea Harrier, Nalls will be bringing a Czechoslovakian Advanced Jet Trainer, the L-39 Albatross to demonstrate as well. He or a fellow pilot, Joe Anderson, will be showing off this aircraft during the show. The L-39 quickly became one of my favorite aircraft when I had the chance to spend an hour with Gauntlet Warbirds (Aurora, IL) in their L-39 performing aerobatics. Greg Morris of Gauntlet Warbirds explained, "After entering production in 1972 the L-39 had great success as a jet trainer and light attack aircraft throughout the world, at one point being used by nearly forty air forces. It is still flown by numerous militaries including Russia, Ukraine, Thailand, the Czech Republic, and Egypt." The aircraft has a maximum speed of 490 knots (.8 mach).
Although sequestration will prevent active military aircraft from performing at the 2013 Chicago Air & Water Show you can still expect to hear a few jets roaring overhead Chicago.
Photo by Ulf Wallen
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 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?