August 20, 2011

Golden Knights Dive into Chicago Air & Water Show

goldenknights1.jpgThe 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.

goldenknights2.jpgAs 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.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

August 18, 2011

Chicago Air & Water Show Performers Roar into Town

thunderbirds_arrival.jpgThe 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.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

August 7, 2011

2011 Chicago Air & Water Show Guide

Ultimate Guide to the 2011 Chicago Air & Water ShowIn just under two weeks approximately, 2.2 million people will flock to the shoreline of Chicago with the bulk of that crowd converging on North Center Beach, the epicenter for the 2011 Chicago Air & Water Show.

The annual show, in its fifty-third year, is "the largest FREE admission air and water exhibition of its kind in the United States" according to the Mayor's Office of Special Events. To aid new and experienced Air Show goers alike, we have updated and published our annual "Ultimate Guide to the Chicago Air & Water Show". The guide provides an overview of the wide variety of both civilian and military acts that will be performing at this year's show.

chicagoairshowvideos.jpgThe show will be headlined by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds who will thrill the crowd with precision aerobatics flown in their F-16 Fighting Falcons. The U.S. Navy will be represented by the Navy Leap Frogs skydiving team and performance and the F/A-18F Super Hornet Demo Team. The Golden Knights will dive into the show to represent the men and women of the United States Army. Our guide provides a full list of military acts that will perform throughout the day.

In addition to the military acts there will be many great civilian acts. Sean D. Tucker performing in his Team Oracle Bi-Plane is always a crowd favorite. Airshow regulars will not be surprised to see the return of Lima Lima Flight Team, AeroShell Aerobatic Team and Firebirds XTREME, all of which have become regulars at the Chicago Air & Water Show.

chicagoairwatershowguideCTA.jpgNew this year are two civilian acts: Matt Chapman in the Embry Riddle Eagle 580 ( and Dave Dacy in the Super Stearman.

Let's be honest, 2.2 million people in the same place can make for a long day no matter how exciting the entertainment overhead. Finding a prime spot to watch the show can be a challenge. Check out our map of viewing recommendations and be sure to stake out a spot early!

Posted at Aug 07, 11:25 AM | Post Category: Chicago Air and Water Show | Comments (1) | Save & Share This Story

June 15, 2011

Instrument Flight Rules Flight Spurs Interest in Instrument Rating

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.

Get the flash player here:

May 18, 2011

Airplane Geeks Podcast: Guest Appearance

Airplane-Geeks-Podcast.jpgI was honored to be the featured guest for Episode 147 of the Airplane Geeks Podcast. I joined show hosts Max Flight, David Vanderhoof, Dan Webb and Rob Mark to talk airplanes and general aviation.

During the episode I shared some of my thoughts on the troubling decline in the pilot population. When only 20% of those that start learning to fly actually earn their private pilot certificate it is obvious an issue exists. AOPA is dedicated to finding a solution and has created the AOPA Flight Training Student Retention Initiative which is a long-term, industry-wide effort dedicated to increasing the percentage of students who earn a pilot certificate. In conjunction with this program AOPA published the Flight Training Experience Research Report which identified 67 discrete attributes that contribute towards the optimal flight training experience. Four focus areas were identified by the study as needing improvements including educational quality, customer focus, community and information sharing. I shared with the Airplane Geeks my opinions on this study and how we can all help improve the flight training experience.

We also talked about some of the great benefits that have come out of running this blog for the past seven years. Top of that list is all the great people I have met through the blog who have inspired me and having the opportunity to inspire a few of you along the way as well. As you would expect on a podcast about airplanes we also talked about some of the cool planes I have had the opportunity to fly or fly-in including the L-39 Albatros and the B-17 Flying Fortress.

In addition to the contributions by the four U.S. based Airplane Geeks the show features a regular segment hosted by Steve Visscher and Grant McHerron of the Plane Crazy Down Under Podcast. In this episode they have a special guest of their own Stephen Force of Airspeed Online. Also contributing to Airplane Geeks is Pieter Johnson who provides an update from across the pond.

If you have never listened to the Airplane Geeks Podcast I encourage you to give it a listen today.

Posted at May 18, 6:54 AM | Post Category: MyFlightBlog in the Press, Podcasts | Comments (138) | Save & Share This Story

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.

Get the flash player here:

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.

April 5, 2011

Best $100 Hamburgers of 2011

100hamburger2011.jpgJohn Purner, author of The $100 Hamburger, released a list of the top 17 $100 Hamburgers as voted by his subscribers in 2011. His book highlights nearly 1,700 Fly-In Restaurants nationwide.

Last month he reached out to his 50,000 subscribers to ask them to select their favorite $100 Hamburger. After receiving a record number of votes seventeen restaurants pulled away from the pack and have been labeled "The Best of the Best" for 2011.

I was disappointed not to see Sky Manor, Pittstown, NJ or Sky Galley, Cincinnati, OH on this list this year. You can view a list of $100 Hamburger joints I have flown to on Yelp. Which $100 Hamburger spots do you think should have been on this list that weren't included?

121 Restaurant Bar


The Airport Tiki


DeNunzio's Italian Chophouse and Bar

Enrique's Mexican Restaurant

Gaston's Restaurant
LAKEVIEW, AR (GASTONS - 3M0) Harris Ranch

The Hard Eight

Harris Ranch Restaurant

Nancy's Air Field Café

Nick's Airport Inn

The Perfect Landing


Pilot Pete's
(847) 891-5100

Rick's Cafe Boatyard

Rick's Crabby Cowboy

Southern Flyer Diner

Sunriver Lodge

Posted at Apr 05, 6:59 AM | Post Category: $100 Hamburger | Comments (119) | Save & Share This Story

March 9, 2011

Garmin Store Offers Free G1000 Instruction

Garmin_Store_G1000.jpgDid you know that the Garmin Store in Chicago will offer pilots an hour of instruction on the G1000 with a Certified Flight Instructor for free? When Rod Rakic, of MyTransponder, shared this with me I thought he had spent too much time above 10,000 feet without oxygen. Surely he knows nothing in aviation comes free, especially training.

I am happy to report he was spot on. Garmin offers a GPS Academy from which you can select a variety of training options for their GPS devices, most of which require a purchase. However, that is not the case with the G1000 Mentor Simulator Tutorial which is a free course to FAA Certified pilots and student pilots. The course is an hour long one-on-one session in the FRASCA Mentor Simulator featuring the G1000 glass cockpit suite.

Hayley, the Garmin CFI, walked me through the PFD and MFD and we discussed the core functionality of the system which I felt I already had a good handle on. Next, I put in a flightplan for a departure from Midway to South Bend, Indiana. I wanted to get more familiar with the auto pilot functionality and some of the more hidden features like drawing extended runway lines.

Learning the G1000 in actual flight can be daunting. You need to be careful not to get fixated on the G1000, forgetting to keep your head outside the cockpit and flying the plane. Learning on the Garmin store simulator is more efficient. I was able to focus on the G1000 and learning the flows required to successfully use the device with less concern for the plane and no hobbes meter lightening my wallet.

If you are planning to transition to an airplane with a G1000 cockpit and don't have access to the Garmin store, I highly recommend these G1000 Training tools. All of which provide great detailed information on the G1000. Though, in my mind you can't beat flying a simulator in real life conditions with a CFI sitting by your side for free.

Next time you are in Chicago I highly recommend you schedule some time with the Garmin CFI, simply click on GPS Academy on the Garmin Store website to get started. While you are there enjoy the rest of their drool-worthy gadgets in their Michigan Avenue store.

Posted at Mar 09, 8:24 PM | Post Category: G1000 | Comments (2) | Save & Share This Story
Visit the archives for more posts.