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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March 5, 2011

Countdown to My Flight in the L-39 Albatros

l-39_albatros.jpgSince becoming an active member of the aviation community, I have been blessed that people who own or have access to some cool planes have offered to share their aircraft with me. As a result I have been blessed to fly-in the Blue Angels Fat Albert, B-17 Flying Fortress, Waco Bi-plane, T-34 Mentor and the Red Bull aerobatic helicopter to name a few. I have also had the opportunity to fly the T-6 Texan and learn aerobatics in the Extra 300.

A week from today I will have an opportunity to log my first time behind the controls of a jet aircraft. My friends at Gauntlet Warbirds have offered to give me an an hour of instruction in their L-39 Albatros. The Czechoslovakian made L-39 Albatros is a high-performance turbofan jet trainer. At its peak it was used by nearly forty air forces as a light attack aircraft and jet trainer. The L-39 Albatros is still in use by the military of more than 30 countries. I am told this is an easy to fly jet aircraft that packs the ability to fly at just under 500 knots nearly three times as fast anything I fly on a regular basis.

Gauntlet Warbirds is an aerobatic, tailwheel and wardbird training center based outside of Chicago at the Aurora Airport. They offer training and rides in the T-6 Texan, Extra 300 and Decathlon. The L-39 Albatros is not approved by the FAA for rides but Gauntlet Warbirds is one of a dozen schools in the U.S. that offer training in the aircraft. Follow them on Twitter (@gwarbirds) to be entered in a quarterly drawing to win a flight in the T-6 Texan.

I am like a kid before Christmas, filled with anticipation for this flight. I have become a 10-day weather forecast addict (so far the weather looks good) and I might have accounted for the majority of the views of this L-39 video. I look forward to sharing this experience with you all in the coming week!

This flight has been rescheduled for Saturday, April 2nd after the flight on the original date was canceled due to excessive winds.

Posted at Mar 05, 2:05 PM | Post Category: L-39 Albatros | Comments (5) | Save & Share This Story

March 4, 2011

Flying Wild Alaska Greenlighted for a Second Season by Discovery Channel

Twetos-FlyingWildAlaska.jpgDiscovery Channel's wildly successful series Flying Wild Alaska has been greenlighted for a second season. The show debuted on January 14 of this year in record breaking fashion. The premier was the highest-rated new series launch in Discovery Channel's history.

Whew, what a relief. For the past eight weeks this show has been my kick-off to the weekend and although I was hopeful it would be back for another season, I had not seen confirmation until recently that it would return for a second season.

I have enjoyed getting a glimpse into the way of life of the bush pilots and the Tweto family. It seems I am not alone in my love for this show. Clark Bunting, President and General Manager of Discover Channel commented "Viewers have simply fallen in love with the quirky Tweto family and their intrepid team of pilots, and we're excited to see how much more they push the limits next season."

Ariel Tweto one of the stars on the show was a guest on Craig Ferguson's Late Late Show this past week. You can tell from the comments on this video that she is a crowd favorite.

Posted at Mar 04, 6:48 AM | Post Category: Aviation on Television | Comments (6) | Save & Share This Story

February 26, 2011

Listen to Live ATC Communications for Chicago Executive Airport

liveatc.jpgIf I had known it was so easy to setup an online feed for air traffic control communications for my home airport I would have done it years ago. This afternoon I install a scanner at the Leading Edge Flying Club that will broadcast live ATC communications feed for Chicago Executive Airport (KPWK). The feed is now available via, a site that broadcasts communications from air traffic control towers and radar facilities around the world allowing you to listen to live ATC via the internet and also via an iPhone App.

Although has a great list of airports that feature communications they never had a feed for my home base KPWK. So, I reached out to the founder of Live ATC, Dave Pascoe, to inquire about the requirements to add my airport. I learned that Dave relies on the support of local aviation enthusiasts to setup each feed. Dave walked me through the process of setting up a new feed, sounding simple enough I volunteered to setup the Chicago Executive feed.

liveatc_kpwk.jpgDave sold me a used scanner for a reasonable price and even pre-programmed it for the frequencies at my airport prior to delivery. Once I received the device I simply followed the easy to follow instructions for installing the scanner and connecting it to the computer at the Leading Edge Flying Club office. Literally within about 15 minutes of arriving at the club today I had a live ATC feed up and running. You can now here a combination of Clearance Delivery, Ground and Tower frequencies for Chicago Executive Airport.

As easy and cheap as it was to setup I am surprised one of the flight schools or clubs on the airport had not set up a feed already. I am a firm believer that one of the best ways to learn to communicate well in the air traffic control system is to listen to yourself and others. Live ATC is a perfect tool to assist you with honing your ATC communications, in fact the Mastering VFR Communications DVD I reviewed a few months back recommends this method of learning. keeps a 45-day archive of most feeds which will allow a student to fly in the morning then replay his or her communications with his CFI upon return to the airport. This is an invaluable tool for improving your communications skills. Just as valuable as hearing your own communications is listening to others within the system. I am just now preparing to work on the Instrument Rating and I have enjoyed listening to clearance delivery and readbacks via the site.

If you have an iPhone you can listen to Live ATC feeds on the go. I love looking up airport feeds whenever I am near one to listen in to the aircraft overhead.

If your airport does not have a feed I strongly recommend you look into setting one up. All you need is a scanner and an always on internet connection near the airport. The Live ATC team could not be more helpful. They will provide you with some free software that is easy to install. Once up and running the transmission only takes up a small amount of internet bandwidth. Less than an hour of work can provide a ton of enjoyment and education for the aviation community.

Special thanks to my club, Leading Edge Flying Club, for allowing me to setup the scanner in our office and to use the internet connection to broadcast the Chicago Executive feed. Enjoy!

Posted at Feb 26, 9:31 PM | Post Category: General | Comments (103) | Save & Share This Story

February 7, 2011

The Aviators and The Flightline Provide Quality General Aviation Content

Can a pilot overdose on aviation content? Like most pilots I would classify myself as an aviation addict. I feel like I have an endless thirst for quality aviation content. Until recently I addressed this addiction through hangar flying, blogs, podcasts, videocasts, and magazines (both printed and now digital). However, the influx of quality broadcast and cable programming focused on aviation is threatening my non-aviation existence.

Recently I reviewed Discovery Channel's new show Flying Wild Alaska which follows the extreme operations of Alaska's ERA Airlines. The show debuted as the most watched premiere in the networks history. Many have pointed out that Flying Wild Alaska is Discovery Channels answer to Canada's History Channels wildly successful Ice Pilots NWT which recently kicked off it's second season. National Geographic Channel didn't want to miss out, they released an interesting three-part series focused on aviation in Alaska called Alaska Wing Men.

theaviators.jpgTwo aviation related production you might have missed is The Aviators and The Flightline. The Aviators is a Canadian produced show that covers general aviation in North America. The show which is produced by pilots is meant to inspire anyone that has ever gazed skyward, entertaining pilots and aviation enthusiasts alike. The weekly magazine-style show airs on select Public Broadcasting Service stations. However, if you can't find it in your area you can subscribe to watch the show online ($14.99). Starting this week the show is also available online through Hulu. They have announced based on their success thus far they have already begun taping season two which will begin airing in September 2011. However, You can still enjoy the final two episodes in February and the archive of shows online or via Hulu.

theflightline.jpgThe Flightline covers aviation events and stories in the midwest. They capture stunning high definition footage from inside and outside the cockpit of a variety of aircraft including vintage warbirds, modern military aircraft and general aviation aircraft. The first season of The Flightline aired on the ABC affiliate in Minneapolis. As they prepare for a second season they are looking to expand their reach to neighboring midwest states. You can view some of their great footage on their website and vimeo.

Having too much quality General Aviation content to consume is a problem I am enjoying dealing with.

Posted at Feb 07, 6:12 PM | Post Category: Aviation on Television | Comments (2) | Save & Share This Story

January 12, 2011

Discovery Channel's Flying Wild Alaska Review

fyingwildalaskalogo.jpgOn Friday night Discovery Channel will introduce their viewers to the Tweto family in the premiere of Flying Wild Alaska. Jim Tweto, his wife Ferno, and two daughters, Ariel and Ayla, are at the helm of Unalakleet-based Era Airlines, Alaska's largest regional airline. Calling Era an airline seems like an unfair characterization that simplifies the business he built. Instead think of bush pilots flying in the most challenging conditions day after day to deliver people and goods to some of the most remote locations in the country.

Discovery Channel has had great success with a formula that combines quirky families with unique and interesting businesses. Last night I had the privileged to view the series premiere of Flying Wild Alaska. As a pilot, this show was right up my alley. I think this show also has great potential to engage the standard Discovery Channel viewer and generate greater interest in aviation. The Twetos follow in the footsteps of the Teutuls of American Chopper and the Pelletiers of American Loggers in sharing their interesting day-to-day lives with viewers nationwide.

In business most people say they wear multiple hats. Jim Tweto takes this saying to a new level. In the premiere he serves as bush pilot, fuels aircraft, manages flight operations, schedules pilots, teaches his daughter to marshal aircraft and oversees a fuel crisis that has potential of grounding a significant portion of his fleet. He does all this with some of the most basic tools, including the master airline flight schedule that he keeps on a sheet of handwritten paper folded in his pocket. Eighteen-hour days are common for this dedicated businessman who has grown a one plane operation to a 70+ aircraft airline that operates across an area the size of one-third of the continental United States.

flyingwildalaska.jpgThe first episode focuses on introducing viewers to the family and importance of the work they do. Era Airlines provides a lifeline to remote towns in Alaska that are not connected by roads, its home base in Unakleet is itself separated from the Alaskan highway system by hundreds of miles of uninhabited tundra. Era airlines transports supplies and passengers to some of the most inaccessible areas on the planet. One of the first flights the viewer rides along on is to the remote airstrip at Kavik, permanent population 1.

Most pilots have at one time or another dreamed of becoming a bush pilot. This show gives them a first hand look at what it is like to push the boundaries of an aircraft's operating limitation while landing and departing from off-airport locations. Combine that with learning about an interesting and challenging business and I believe Discovery has another hit on their hands.

Pilots may find that the show explains aviation jargon and knowledge in a way that would be rudimentary to them. For instance in the premiere episode significant time was dedicated to explaining the effects of water in fuel, how the rudder effects a plane and what thinner air does to a plane's performance. Hopefully by doing so they will bring in a broader viewership and help educate those viewers about aviation. Discovery Channel Executive Producer Christo Doyle explains, "We don't just take you into the wild world of flying in remote Western Alaska; instead, through the eyes of the Tweto family and their free-spirited bush pilots, we also reveal how the last frontier in the United States survives." The result is a show that pilots can enjoy for all the aviation related material and that non-pilots may enjoys though learning about aviation and through unique storylines.

The ten episode season premieres on Discovery Channel this Friday at 9pm Eastern/Pacific and 8pm Central. Check out the preview below and enjoy the full episode later this week.

Update: The show has quickly become one of Discovery Channels most popular shows. As a result Flying Wild Alaska is preparing for a second season! Learn more...

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 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.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Posted at Dec 12, 7:29 PM | Post Category: Cessna 182RG, Flight Experiences, Flight Time | Comments (7) | Save & Share This Story

December 2, 2010

Rod Machado's Aviation Books Available on iPhone and iPad

RodMachado-IFR_Pilots_Handbook.jpgLast month Rod Machado released his entire series of aviation handbooks as custom iPad and iPhone applications. Anyone who has read one of Rod's books knows that a side benefit of the knowledge gleaned from his books is the definition those books can provide to your biceps. Out of curiosity, I weighed his Rod Machado's Private Pilot Handbook, and it came in at 5.5lbs, conversely my iPhone weighs just 4.8 ounces and goes almost everywhere I go.

I am just getting started working towards my instrument rating and had been thinking of buying Rod Machado's Instrument Pilot's Handbook ($64.95) so I was intrigued when I learned the books were available as iPhone apps ($49.99). Many people can't think of reading a book on something as small as an iPhone but I have enjoyed several books through its Amazon Kindle app. I was curious how Rod's books would work as an app rather than an e-Book through Amazon or other provider.

I am happy to report that I have enjoyed the experience. I am only a few chapters into the book but that is several chapters further than I would be if I had purchased the hard copy. I read one chapter while on a commercial flight to visit family over Thanksgiving. I was sitting at 35,000 feet holding a sleeping baby in one arm and my iPhone with the Rod Machado's Instrument Pilot's Handbook app in the other hand. With the hard copy I would never have dreamed of schlepping along a 4 pound book.

Another benefit beyond the being able to take the book anywhere is the ability to receive updates. According to Rod's website, users will receive book updates any time he makes changes, with the frequency of changes to regulations and technology this is a great advantage to hard copy books. Traditional eBooks often require you to click on illustration to enlarge them and often don't scale well. However, since his books are stand-alone apps the standard finger spreading scaling works making the process of looking at the thousands of custom illustrations included in the book a cinch.

My main request is for Machado and team to update the app to allow highlighted text and to save annotations, functionality that is available for eBooks through Kindle. To make up for this missing functionality, I have resorted to making bookmarks of topics I would have highlighted, then giving them long bookmark titles to include my note or comment.

The knowledge that is required for the Private Pilot Certificate or Instrument Rating can be monotonous. Rod's use of humor and great illustrations has helped to keep me engaged while helping me to better understand the subject matter as well. The flexibility to take the book anywhere I go is an added bonus.

If you are looking to pursue flight training or a new rating and use either the iPhone or the larger iPad I highly recommend you check out his collection of apps.

Update to original post: I heard from Rod Machado and he has confirmed that highlighting functionality is being added to the next version of the app. Additionally, they are looking into video and animation inclusions for future enhancements. Glad to hear he has plans to continue to improve this already great product.

Posted at Dec 02, 8:35 PM | Post Category: Aviation Product Review, Book Review | Comments (4) | Save & Share This Story

November 7, 2010

Mastering VFR Communications

vfr_communications.jpgIt is odd but often mastering radio communications is more intimidating to student pilots then learning the basics of airmanship. Student pilots have been dreaming of flight for years so they are excited to put their hands on the yoke and begin flight training. It is learning to master VFR communications that can often take some time and lead to trepidation in flying to unfamiliar airspace.

I began my training at a Class D facility but moved to a small uncontrolled airport when my flight school closed just a month into training. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I found myself very comfortable with both environments. I heard from other students who were starting off at an uncontrolled airport about how nervous they would get prior to solo flights to Class D Airports. Most pilots will have a bias for airspace they are most comfortable and often that bias is more about the communication that the rules and formalities of the airspace.

vfr_screenshot.jpgSporty's VFR Communications DVD, part of the What You Should Know Series, attempts to address this subject. This is a recently updated DVD with new footage, content and visuals. It is hosted by frequent Sporty's host Rob Reider. The course takes just over an hour and covers the basics and tips of communicating to Air Traffic Control, non-towered fields and emergency situations. It includes scenario based training for departure and arrival at Class B, C and D airspace. It briefly touches on flight following and obtaining weather enroute as well.

The course briefly covers "non-standard communications that you'll hear in the real world". I expected this to cover a variety of scenarios where communication breaks down or peculiar communications and situations. Unfortunately, it was a brief two minute segment that I wish they had expanded upon.

Personally, I have found the most important aspect to becoming comfortable with VFR Communications is learning to anticipate radio calls. Anticipating how the tower, or ATC will respond to your radio calls help you to prepare for their response so you can respond swiftly and appropriately. Listening to Live ATC for a Class D airspace is another great learning tool. I often listen to the communications for Lunken Field, the Class D airport I started my training at.

This is a great video for a student pilot who is looking to get comfortable with VFR Communications. Although, it was also a nice refresher and did provide some tips to help polish my communications, the content may be too basic for some pilots. For pilots participating in the FAA Wings Pilot Proficiency Program this course is accepted for training credits. I admit to sometimes being biased to the Sporty's videos. I learned to fly a short hop away from Sporty's in Cincinnati and love that the airports used in their videos are ones I am familiar with.

Note of Disclosure: Sporty's provided me with this video to review.

Posted at Nov 07, 12:24 PM | Post Category: Aviation Product Review, Aviation Products | Comments (52) | Save & Share This Story

October 11, 2010

Fall Foliage: A Perfect Excuse to Fly

Fall is my favorite season for flying. A combination of mild weather for preflight of the airplane, enjoying the cool breeze entering the cockpit from an open window and the view of autumn's magnificent show of colors is the perfect combination for me. This past weekend Northern Wisconsin experienced their peak weekend for the annual fall show of colors. There are numerous scenic drives in the Door County Peninsula that show off the brilliance of this season, though the best view requires getting airborne.

I rented a Cessna 172 from MaxAir, the new Fixed Based Operator at the Sturgeon Bay Cherryland Airport, and flew an oval circuit around the Door County peninsula. The Cessna is a great aircraft for fall foliage flights because the raised wings give you an unobstructed view of the colors below. The conditions were perfect for the flight. At both Sturgeon Bay and Ephraim-Fish Creek Airport the winds were calm with great visibility and high ceilings. In the air the ride was smooth and I enjoyed flying most of the flight with the pilot side window open and taking in a nice smooth and cool fall breeze.

I was not surprised that on such a beautiful afternoon, I was not the only one with the idea of enjoying the fall colors from above. The skies were crowded at times as were the patterns at the two uncontrolled airports I visited during the flight. However each pilot seemed to be operating with their "A Game" as all pilots were on the same page and communicating their intentions clearly, which was nice.

Pilots if you haven't already, get out and enjoy the show. Aviation enthusiasts and future pilots what better time to take an introductory flight and learn about flying with one of the greatest backdrops below.

Our family has a love affair with Wisconsin, not just in the Fall. We write about Wisconsin Family Vacations on our other site - We Wisconsin Travel.

Posted at Oct 11, 10:49 PM | Post Category: Cessna 172, Flight Time | Comments (104) | Save & Share This Story
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