July 20, 2012

Cessna SkyCatcher Light Sport Aircraft Experience

SkyCatcher_2.jpgEarlier 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.

skycatcher_2_cockpit.jpgI 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

Celebrating Blue Ash Airport

BlueAshAirport_aerial.jpgHow 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.

MeigsField_FS.jpgThe 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.

blue_ash_3096B.jpgAlthough 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.

April 28, 2012

Flying Towards the Tailwheel Endorsement

tailwheel-endorsement.jpgI 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.

topcup.jpgDamian 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.

October 18, 2011

Broaden Your Horizons

broadenyourhorizons.jpgOne 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.

June 15, 2011

Instrument Flight Rules Flight Spurs Interest in Instrument Rating

IFR_Flight.jpg
Flying by visual flight references (VFR) into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) often results in an accident and sadly these preventable accidents usually result in the loss of life. The 2010 Nall Report states that 62% of weather related accidents were fatal and that 86% of VFR into IMC accidents were fatal. As a Private Pilot with just a handful of simulated instrument hours more than required to earn my private pilots license, I spend most of my flight time trying to avoid clouds and poor weather conditions.

IFR_Chart.jpgSo when an opportunity to fly through the clouds on an instrument flight plan with an instrument rated pilot presents itself I jump on it. This past weekend my flight club, Leading Edge Flying Club, had planned a trip to Oshkosh. On the morning of the weather was not looking so promising with conditions below the personal minimums of even our instrument rated pilots. However, a few hours later the weather improved enough for us to fly on an instrument flight plan. As we lost a few hours we decided to go to Madison, WI instead of Oshkosh, WI.

On the outbound leg I flew in the back seat and enjoyed watching the pilot, Marc Epner and right seat pilot Al Carrino work the flight plan, radios and prepare for a flight into IMC. Less than a minute after starting our takeoff role we were in the clouds. I expected an uncomfortable feeling or some disorientation going into the clouds, but luckily it felt quite normal, in fact it was beautiful. Even more amazing was climbing through the first layer of clouds and popping on top of the foaming clouds.

I enjoyed watching the procedures for loading the approach into the Avidyne flight system and watching Marc fly the approach. A few miles out we sank below the clouds perfectly aligned for our landing at Madison.

On the return flight I switched with Al and took over the right seat and helped with the radios including copying down my first IFR flightplan read-back. I thought maybe sitting up front I might experience some disorientation but again felt quite alright in the clouds. Much of the time we were free of the clouds and I logged some time flying an Cirrus SR 22 for the first time. I loved the plane except for its extremely sensitive trim which I think might take a few hours to master.

I have been excited for a while about the endeavor of seeking the Instrument Rating, and this flight only stoked my interest. As a result I have registered for the Sporty's Online Instrument Rating Course and am working on a plan to earn the Instrument Rating. I look forward to sharing my progress.

May 25, 2011

San Francisco Bay Aerial Tour

GoldenGateBridge.jpgVirgin America is starting service between San Francisco (SFO) and Chicago O'Hare (ORD) this week and I have the opportunity to fly on the inaugural flight to Chicago. While in the Bay Area I decide it would be fun to take a Cessna 172 up and do a San Francisco Bay Aerial Tour.

Earlier this week I reached out to Jason Miller who is a local CFI and also host of the Finer Points Podcast. Jason suggested we fly out of San Carlos Airport (KSQL) and fly North past San Francisco International Airport over the city and then tour the bay before coming back south along the Pacific coastline.

After arriving commercially, I started the day with lunch at Sky Kitchen a restaurant just off the west side of the San Carlos airport. There I sat at a giant table in the middle of the restaurant surrounded by a group of pilots that meet for lunch nearly daily, some of them for more than 40 years. I enjoyed taking in the camaraderie and enjoying hearing some long tails. This is a new favorite $100 Hamburger destination.

toddandjason.jpgAfter lunch I met Jason at West Valley Flying Club. We pre-flighted the airport then launched to the North. Soon after take-off we received hand-off to the San Francisco Tower that allowed us to transition the San Francisco Class B Airspace. It was a thrill flying parallel to the commercial traffic landing on runway 28L and 28R. Just three hours before I had been in one of those tin cans. I much preferred being pilot in command over traveling like a sardine.

Next we flew directly over San Francisco I did a lap around both the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. Having visited both the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz before I loved seeing them from this new vantage point. Then we flew over Point Reyes National Seashore before turning south to fly low along the Pacific coastline.

Heading south along the coast we paralleled scenic highway 1 as it winded its way down from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay. As we descended to 1,400 feet to stay below Class B Airspace NORCAL announced a traffic advisory at our 11 o'clock. The traffic was a 747 departing San Francisco International and quickly became no factor, but it was a thrill none the less to briefly share the airspace with a Boeing 747 about 500 feet above us and climb.

Another enjoyable flightseeing experience in the book and one I highly recommend to all pilots. There are few icons as thrilling to fly by then the Golden Gate Bridge.

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April 20, 2011

Aeronautical Decision Making Skills Put to the Test

abovetheclouds.jpgAs part of the FAA Wings program I recently took and completed the "Art of Aeronautical Decision Making" online course. The FAA defines Aeronautical Decision-Making as a "Systematic approach to the mental process of evaluating a given set of circumstance and determining the best course of action." More practically they use a framework for ADM and risk management: Perceive - Process - Perform.


  • PERCEIVE the "given set of circumstances" for your flight

  • PROCESS by evaluating their impact on flight safety

  • PERFORM by implementing the best course of action

AOPA's Air Safety Foundation uses "Anticipate, Recognize, Act". Both promote identifying an issue, determining a plan to mitigate or eliminate risk then putting that plan into action. ASF says "...the thing that seems to cause pilots the most difficulty -- is recognizing potential hazards and taking timely action to avoid them."

With every flight, pilots get a chance to use their ADM skills. However, I did not anticipate the level to which these skills would be used when a fellow flight club member invited me to join him for a flight in his Columbia 400 (now called the Cessna 400). The mission was to fly from Chicago to Miami University in Oxford, OH (my alma mater) to pick up his daughter and bring her back to Chicago. He was planning to file an IFR flightplan and use supplemental oxygen allowing us to fly at 18,000 feet, more than double what I typically cruise at. I figured this flight would be a great learning experience for me, having never flown in a Columbia 400 or having much experience with instrument flight plans. Little did I know what a great learning experience this flight would become.

GS_tailwind.jpgAbout forty-five minutes from our destination airport cruising along at FL180 and enjoying a 100 knot tailwind that was helping us achieve a 290 knot ground speed, Ray and I felt a hiccup in the engine and what felt like a short-lived decrease in power. We looked at each other than quickly switched the G1000 Multi-Function Display (MFD) engine page to check for any anomalies. There were no red flags As we were doing that the issue replicated itself. At that point we agreed an issue might be imminent and that he would continue to fly the plane and I would take over the radios if an emergency developed. We knew altitude was on our side and we agreed on an airport we could safely glide to while we troubleshooted the issue. Unfortunately, we had not identified a likely cause when the issue happened twice more in short succession. Each time we were seeing manifold pressure decrease with the hiccup and we noticed the oil temperature was lower than normally expected but still no clear cause or resolution presented itself.

Despite that we had a specific mission for this flight, "to pick up his daughter", we agreed there was a significant risk at hand and that we would be best to troubleshoot this issue on the ground and have a mechanic checkout the engine. It would have been easy for Ray to have stayed in "Mission" mode or to be swayed by Get-There-Itis and keep pushing through. But, we are both all too familiar that too many pilots have lost their lives or their aircraft with such decisions.

Without thinking about it we had just completed Perceive and Process in the FAA's Solution and Recognize in the Air Safety Foundation's thought process. Now it was time to Act or Perform. We agreed now was a good time for some Crew Resource Management (CRM) so Ray continued to focus on flying the plane while I took over responsibilities for radio communications. We informed Air Traffic Control that we wished to divert to Delaware County Airport in Muncie, IN. As we switched over to the Delaware County Tower the controller was aware we had been experiencing some engine irregularities and radioed "Columbia N262RK are you declaring an emergency?", a phrase no pilot wants to hear. I was relieved to be able to respond "Negative, we are not declaring an emergency and we have the runway in sight." A few minutes later we were safely on the ground.

A few years ago I made a precautionary diversion due to deteriorating weather conditions, this was the first diversion related to a mechanical malfunction but proved to be my best example in my flying experiences of appropriate use of Aeronautical Decision Making skills. A few days later I learned the mechanics determined the issue was caused by pin size holes in an exhaust host to the engine manifold, which I guess is common in turbo planes. The plane was not in imminent danger but I believe we made the right decision mitigating the risk.

A wise person once said "the difference between an ordeal and an adventure is your attitude" and on that day we had the right attitude and enjoyed our afternoon at the quiet Muncie airport enjoying a meal at Kacy J's Airport terminal restaurant while we waited for the cavalry. Marc, the Leading Edge Flying Club President, offered to fly down in the club Cirrus SR20 to help us complete the mission. As a result I got another new experience out of the day. It was my first time flying in the Cirrus SR20 which Marc let me fly for much of the short flight from Muncie, IN to Oxford, OH. I enjoyed a brief visit to Oxford before we turned for home. With four passengers and some baggage we had to manage fuel and make a fuel stop in Lafayette, IN before successfully completing the trip back to Chicago.

Although the flight did not go as planned, I had a great day of flying and aviation camaraderie none the less. Below are some photos from the day.

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April 8, 2011

L-39 Albatros Flight Training Experience

todd_l39.jpg"Watch for the secondary stall. You've got a 10,000 pound airplane here, your flying it" I am severely behind this 5 ton jet as we move from a secondary stall into a the onset of a spin, and my CFI has made it clear this is my problem to resolve. I am in the aft seat of a Czech-made L-39 jet. Greg Morris of Gauntlet Warbirds is talking calmly to me from the front seat. Guiding me, but letting me learn from this L-39 training experience.

Moments before we departed Aurora Municipal Airport and at about 30 seconds after takeoff Greg hands control of the plane to me. I fly us through some holes in the scattered skies, bringing us up to 14,500 feet in just under three minutes. This is my first reminder I am not in the Diamond Star anymore. If I had not already been thrown into the deep end of the pool it is time to jump right into maneuvers, there is no time to waste when you are burning two gallons of fuel per minute.

The first planned maneuver is a power-off stall. As the plane slows and I pull back on the stick the plane begins to buffet. Thinking this is no different than any other stall I have recovered from I am a bit overconfident. That overconfidence, however, is short lived. Following standard procedures, I dip the nose and throw the throttle to full. Being in a powerful jet capable of 425 knots of power I figure I can coast through the rest of stall recovery and begin pulling back on the stick. Surely the thrust of this turbo-fan jet will propel us through the stall. I start to feel a rumble and a shake in the aircraft and I start to wonder...did I push throttle in too fast? Was I supposed to go from zero to full power in a jet? I misinterpreted this shaking to be related to my power control when in reality it is the start of a secondary stall. As I ponder what is going on, slowly falling behind the aircraft, I forget to ensure wings are level. You know what comes next, the right wing dips and we begin to spin to the right.

Instead of grabbing the controls, Greg calmly talks me through the spin recovery, but I am frazzled and it takes a little longer for my brain to react to my previous training and Greg's coaching. Sure enough as offset the spin with the rudder pedals and bring wings level the speed builds up and I bring the plane back to straight and level flight. Turns out I had incorrectly assumed that if I tossed the power to full the jet would accelerate through the stall. Greg later explains a combination of L-39's fuel control system, which regulates acceleration, and the sheer weight of the plane makes it take longer than I expected to accelerate. I learned that the same stick and rudder skills used in a Cessna 152 are required to fight off a stall in this turbo fan jet. I learned this lesson well thanks to Greg's patience and coaching, it comes natural to him after 10 years of instructing. He asks if I would like to try it again...Hell yeah.

todd_and_greg.jpgPrior to departure, Greg and I discussed my experiences with aerobatics and resulting G Forces. A few years ago I had the opportunity to perform aerobatics with Ben Freelove of Tutima Academy in an Extra 300. In that flight it was a thrill to experience 7Gs without too much strain. Greg explained the biggest difference between aerobatics in Extra 300 and a jet was going to be duration. In an Extra 300 the maneuvers are quite quick, resulting in a few seconds of G Force influence. In the L-39 the power curve causes a longer-lasting G Force impact. To minimize the time spent snoozing in the back as a result of G-Loc (G induced Loss Of Consciousness) I was taught the "Hook" breathing maneuver.

In combination with tightening my leg and abdominal muscles I was to take in a deep breath then slowly to exhaling while forcefully saying the word "Hook", holding the final K for a few seconds then pushing out a final exhale with the "Ka" sound and then repeating. Greg also explained that if I felt uncomfortable or started to lose consciousness I should say "knock-it off" and he would end the maneuver as quickly as was practical.

I was able to put this method to the test when Greg took over the controls to show off the performance capabilities of the L-39 Albatros. During a Half Cuban Eight we put 5Gs on the plane and our bodies. The Hook method worked well and I felt great. Greg then put me through a tight break turn that increased the G Forces to 6.5Gs. Prior to the maneuver I figured I would be fine having successfully made it through 7Gs the summer before.

As Greg banked us 70 degrees to the right and pulled tight on the stick, I felt the strain on my body. As the turn continued I started to see my vision narrowing. Things slowed down and I began to wonder:

Hooooo Ka...Is this what Greg meant when he explained the first signs of a blackout...Hoooo Ka....Hey where did all the color go...Hoooo Ka.....Yeah this is definitely what he was talking about .Hoooo Ka..I wonder should I say knock it off.... Hoooo Ka....

Just then we rolled out of the turn, I had just barely made it through the maneuver consciously. Another few seconds and I would have been doing my best Reagan National Air Traffic Controller impression. I would have sworn we were in the turn for half a minute but video replay proves the maneuver was just over 10 seconds long. I did not call "knock-it off" not because I was too macho, but more out of lack of full understanding of the situation. I give great props to the men and women who do this for a living and folks like the Blue Angels who do these maneuvers regularly without the aid of G Suits.

In our 45 minute flight training experience we burned 101 gallons of fuel. I don't think I burned that in my last four flights in the Diamond Star and not something one could afford to do regularly. But, I wouldn't have traded this experience for the world. The opportunity to fly the L-39 was a once in a lifetime moment and a great learning experience.

I would like to thank Greg Morris and Gauntlet Warbirds for having me out to checkout their world class outfit. If you have any interest in learning aerobatics or training to fly a warbird like the T-6 Texan or a jet like the L-39 Albatros I cannot recommend Greg Morris and his staff at Gauntlet Warbirds enough.

I would also like to thank MyTransponder's Mike Miley for coming out and taking some amazing photographs from the day. Check out his photos on Flickr and enjoy a few in-cockpit videos from the L-39 experience below.


March 7, 2011

Hangar Flying A Dying Art Form?

airzoo1.jpgAn issue of any aviation magazine does not ship to the printer without some reference to hangar flying. The phrase has been around nearly as long as aviation and is used to describe the conversations and discussions had by pilots sitting around a hangar. However, in my experiences, hangar flying is more often a myth then a reality and I was starting to wonder if this art form was slowly dying.

The fact of the matter is less than a half a percent of the population are pilots. So although many people are intrigued by what we do, it can be hard to find people who want to talk about aviation for hours on end. When I was first learning to fly at Blue Ash Airport in Cincinnati, OH, I fell in love with hangar flying. The flight school had a couch that sat in a covered area outside the FBO office where you could sit and listen to and watch the activity on the airport. After a lesson I would sit there with my instructor to debrief and within a few minutes the crowd would grow and the hangar talking would begin. As a student this was a great way to stay motivated and also to learn from others. I wonder if without that bonding experience if I would have stuck with it, I like to think I would have but it is hard to determine the role the camaraderie at the airport played in my ongoing motivation.

Unfortunately, since moving home to Chicago in 2005, I have been unable to find true aviation camaraderie around the airport. I can find it online but it was missing at the airport. I belonged to a flight club that, despite a healthy membership roster, did nothing to foster social activities between members. I came to the airport to fly then left right after.

hangarflying.jpgFinally fed up with that experience I went on the search for something better and came across my new club, Leading Edge Flying Club, which was created out of the same frustration I had been experiencing. This club focuses on the social aspect of flying. They offer monthly fly-outs to encourage pilots to share the costs of flying and to learn from each other. In the summer they organize cook-outs on the tarmac and most importantly, they offer a welcoming environment in the hangar clubhouse with a view of the flightline that encourages loitering. My previous club had metal chairs with their back turned to the airport that encouraged you to go home after flying. I now advise prospective student pilots that if their flight school does not have a couch, walk out.

Beyond the benefits of enjoying aviation on the ground through hangar flying I am learning I am enjoying sharing flight time with a broader group of pilots from novice pilots to airline captains. This past weekend I participated in my second club fly-out. We had nine pilots who saddled up into four aircraft for a day trip from Chicago to Kalamazoo to visit the Air Zoo museum. This is a flight I could have done on my own but it would have cost significantly more and I would have been missing out on the camaraderie and a chance to learn from my fellow pilots. These types of activities will keep new and old pilots engaged in our community.

With the decline in the pilot population I think it is important for us all to find a way to maximize our experiences in aviation. I would never have said my fire for aviation needed to be re-kindled but my experiences with Leading Edge have definitely stoked the fires. I am getting a lot more out of my trips to the airport now that I have found a club that offers more than simply access to a plane.

Let's all do more to continue to make the general aviation community an engaging one and keep everyone active in the community.


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December 12, 2010

Scenic New York City Flight Via Class Bravo Airspace

todd_mike.jpgIn my mind there is no better sightseeing than aerial sightseeing. Over the Thanksgiving weekend while visiting family, I met up with Mike Bennett from 110Knots.com to explore New Jersey and New York from the air. A few years ago I flew the Hudson Corridor route to get an amazing view of New York. On that flight we stayed below the Class B airspace. This type of flight was criticized last year when a helicopter and plane crashed in this congested and uncontrolled airspace. Mike offered to show me the other New York Flightseeing experience, the Class Bravo flight experience.

I met Mike at his home base airport, Morristown Municipal, and we pre-flighted his club's Cessna 182RG while he filled me in on his route of choice. He prefers to explore New York City from the Class B airspace. His plan was to request a frequency change to Newark Tower (just a few miles away) right after take-off, then request to fly into Class Bravo airspace over Newark up the Hudson to Central Park, cross the park and travel back down the East River then crossing back past Newark.

We were flying the Sunday after Thanksgiving, often considered the busiest travel day of the year. I was a bit worried that Air Traffic Control would be less than welcoming to our request on such a busy day. However, ATC could not have been more accommodating. As soon as we were airborne we called up Newark Tower who cleared us into the Class B and asked us to overfly runway 22 numbers at 2,500. As we approached Newark we had a fabulous view of Statue of Liberty with the city along our horizon. We received some traffic advisories but most of it was helicopter traffic below the Class B airspace.

Statue_of_Liberty.jpgAs we flew up the Hudson and approached the northern part of Central Park, we were handed off to LaGuardia, who instructed us to ensure we stayed over the East River and did not fly any further east. From there we flew south back down towards the Statue of Liberty. We took in some amazing views of the buildings, parks and bridges.

I am used to the congested airspace of Chicago but was impressed with Mike's almost effortless ability to rapidly transition from Morristown to Newark to LaGuardia, back to Newark then on to New York Center. We talked about his instrument training and how that helped him to become a better pilot, as it does for most pilots. I was inspired after flying with him and further charged to pursue my Instrument Rating.

Once we were done sightseeing we flew back over Newark and headed west to Pittstown, NJ. We landed at Sky Manor (N40) which calls itself "The best little airport in the East." It lived up to it in my book. This is quaint little airport with a 50 foot wide by 3,000 foot long asphalt strip that has a restaurant located right off the runway. The restaurant offers great windows for grading landings. A perfect place to enjoy the company of fellow pilots and to do some real flying in addition to some hangar flying. I have moved it to the top of my list of Best $100 Hamburgers.

After brunch we did a short hop back to Morristown. It was a great flight in which we logged 1.3 hours, I had my first flight in a Cessna 182, added two new airports to my list of visited airports, took in some amazing sights and enjoyed some nice conversation. This day re-enforced my belief that there is no community better than the aviation community.



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