June 11, 2012
I recently flew from Chicago to Washington, DC and back in a Boeing 767. I had a lovely view from my window seat but spent most of the flight nose-deep in "Captain", the latest novel from Thomas Block that features a retrofitted 767 as the crux of the story.
A press release about the book arrived at the perfect time, right as I was looking for something new to read and leading up to a week of traveling for work. I had never heard of Thomas Block, but it appears it was not for lack of effort on his part.
Block spent 36 years as a commercial pilot flying for US Airways but also used his combined love of aviation and writing to develop a second career as an author. He began writing for aviation magazines in 1968 and served as Contributing Editor for Flying magazine for 20 years as well as 11 years as Contributing Editor for Plane & Pilot magazine. In 2001, he took on the Editor-at-Large role for Piper Flyer magazine and Cessna Flyer magazine. It was in 1979 that he broke into novels co-writing, Mayday with New York Times best-selling novelist Nelson DeMille. In 2005, CBS turned this book into a Movie of the Week.
After a hiatus from writing novels, Block returns with his latest thriller, Captain. The story follows what should be a routine Trans-Atlantic airline flight until a chain of events start to tumble out of control putting the entire flight and the airline in peril. The aircraft is a "Consolidated" 768, a re-worked airplane built off the Boeing 767 airframe. Reading about things starting to go wrong for this flight while aboard the aircraft this story was based on helped bring the story alive for me.
Without giving too much away, I will say at times I wondered how realistic some of the issues that develop on the plane were, one of which was related to software for the engines. However, as much as I hoped those issues were fiction, I just read about concerns that the Boeing 787 Dreamliner's computer chips could theoretically be hacked and it made this book seem even that more plausible and therefore frightening.
Pilots will love this book because there is great balance between the excitement of the story itself, pilot banter and a over-the-shoulder view of what goes on in an airline cockpit during an emergency. I think non-pilots will enjoy the book as well as it does not get laden with aviation jargon and provides a great storyline for all to enjoy.
April 28, 2012
I 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.
Damian 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.
April 23, 2012
As much as I try not to be a hibernating pilot, each winter I see a significant decline in my flight time. This winter was no different. I believe a large contributor to the winter slowdown is the lack of daylight hours but I am sure there are other contributing factors as well. None the less in Chicago we have jumped from winter to summer like weather in the span of a few weeks. As a result I have been spending significantly more time on my flight club airplane scheduler planning flights.
In the coming weeks I will share some updates on some flight experiences I had this winter and my plans to checkout in a new airplane. In the meantime I thought I would share some writing I have done over the past few months away from MyFlightBlog.com.
This Fall I took a swing at publishing some articles for another blog as well as both digital and print magazine articles. The first to get published was a piece in the digital magazine Airplanista entitled Broaden Your Horizons. Sadly, the magazine has since stopped publishing, but I was proud to have been a part of what was a great aviation publication while it lasted.
I also published an AOPA Pilot Magazine "Pilots" feature on Greg Morris of Gauntlet Warbirds. I had the opportunity to fly the Gauntlet L-39 with Greg earlier this year. In my few hours spent with Greg I was impressed with his passion for aviation and his drive to help others find the excitement in aviation. That experience spurred the article which was featured in the December issue which can be found on the AOPA Pilot website or here via PDF.
Most recently I published a post on the AOPA Let's Go flying Blog in response to the disappointing news that Blue Ash Airport, the airport I soloed at and earned my license at, is scheduled to be closed. My post Let's Keep Making GA Memories can be found on the Let's Go Flying blog.
With daylight savings time firmly in place I look forward to logging more time in the air as well as time behind the pages of MyFlightBlog.com this spring and summer. I look forward to reconnecting with my regular readers and sharing my flight experiences again in 2012.
December 5, 2011
I am constantly looking for ways to share my love for aviation with my kids. We started by making planespotting a daily activity whenever we are outside. Then I added a few trips to the airport to sit in a few cockpits and spotting some takeoffs and even grading a few landings. However, most exciting as of late is their interest in books. They are getting to the stage where they enjoy sitting in my lap to read a book or even to sitting on their own and flipping pages and pointing at neat images (what is neater than an airplane?).
A new favorite in our household is the fourth installment of illustrated books featuring Claire Bear, a pink-clad aerobatic performer and mentor for aspiring young pilots. Claire Bear Flies to Oshkosh follows Claire Bear on one of the greatest rights of passage in aviation a flight to AirVenture. The book is beautifully illustrated by Linda Terentiak who does an excellent job bringing AirVenture to life with many familiar sights for those who have attended the annual airshow. The book is my second in a now growing collection of childrens books oriented around Oshkosh sitting on our bookshelf next to Treat Williams and Robert Neubecker's Airshow!
Author and Pilot Sue Hughes is founder of Powder Puff Pilot, a great online resource for pilot accessories and gear oriented towards women. Hughes is successfully inspiring the next generation of aviators through her series of books and products on her website. Girls with Wings, is another great resource for aviation products for girls. Check out my Aviation Products for the Whole Family post to find more products geared towards young aviators in the making.
October 18, 2011
One 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.
August 28, 2011
My body is quickly accelerating to nearly 120MPH as I fall away from the de Havilland Twin Otter that I occupied at 13,500 feet just a few moments before. On most days a pilot would be extremely concerned by this predicament, but this is no ordinary day. Although the wind is ripping past my ears at speeds that render them useless and nearly every nerve ending in my body is sending alerts to my brain as I fall towards earth from 2.5 miles above, I have a sense of calmness. That reassurance comes from being strapped to the chest of soldier in the U.S. Army, I could not be in better hands.
That harness that connects me to Staff Sergeant Matt Acord can withstand more than 10,000 pounds of weight and it is doing its intended job while I enjoy one of the most exhilarating experiences anyone could hope to have. Matt spends so much time in the skies you could call it his office, his jumps are counted in the thousands, and as I spend a day at the office with him I am quickly realizing he may have one of the best jobs in the world.
Dancing around me in the sky is Matt's teamate Assistant Tandem Team Leader Staff Sergeant Joseph "Abe" Abeln who is serving as a videographer, capturing photos and video of my experience. I am thankful to have him there because my brain is processing so many feelings and emotions that video will help me solidify this memory as one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
The U.S. Army Golden Knights were formed in 1959, as was common at the time, to compete with the Russians for supremacy in the Cold War. Skydiving as a sport was relatively new and the Russians dominated it. However, the Golden Knights immediately found success and they continued to rack up the gold medals at international tournaments, it was decided the Golden Knights would be an appropriate name for the team. The team is a representation of the finest soldiers and demonstrates the professionalism and skills of members of the U.S. Army.
Although today their job seems like all fun and games, in talking to members of the team it is readily apparent these guys have a very serious job and have plied their trade in some of the most challenging places including fighting drug trade in Nicaragua, terrorism in the mountains of Afghanistan and throughout Iraq in our various conflicts there. These men and women serve their country honorably and with great sacrifice but one constant in their career in the military was their passion for the sport of skydiving and through their proven talent were awarded a spot on this elite team.
One purpose of a demonstration team like this is to assist in recruiting. Growing up I had little exposure to the military and sadly garnered most of my knowledge of the Army from the movie Stripes. I could see how meeting the Golden Knights could help to inspire others to look more seriously at a career in the military. Each member had his or her own story of why and how he or she joined the military but it was evident that they all firmly believed it was one of the best decisions they ever made. Being a part of the Golden Knights is special to them all. They worked hard to elevate themselves to earn a spot on this elite team. Here they can help expose others to the Army by showing of their skills diving into football games, high school sporting events or at airshows around the world. They love every minute of it, one of the Knights commented that "When everyday you help someone experience one of the best days of their life, you can't help but have a great day yourself."
Staff Sergeant Matt Acord is doing just that for me. We are having fun screaming through the skies over rural Illinois. I look around and see farm fields as far as my eye can see, then trace the Fox River and locate our destination, the airstrip at Skydive Chicago in Ottawa, IL. Despite being tethered to another person I have an absolute sense of freedom sliding through the skies. I know this thrill ride only has a few seconds remaining as the ground is getting closer and closer. I see "Abe" float away and I realize he is clearing himself so Matt can pull our chute. We have fallen from 13,500 feet to 5,500 in about 45 seconds. I expected time to fly by but instead felt like I was able to fully enjoy our freefall. I am yanked into up as the chute slows our descent, all of a sudden it is quiet and I am treated to a lovely slow glide towards our destination.
During the descent Matt showed off the capability of the parachute by turning us in tight spirals as we floated down. As we neared the ground I lifted my legs up high and we slide into the ground on our butts to a smooth stop on the ground. It took us about five to six minutes to go from 13,500 back to the solid ground but in that six minutes I received a new appreciation the sport of skydiving. One of the team had told me before that even though I am a pilot I had never really flown since I had always flown from the inside of an airplane, and that today I would experience flying for the first time. I now understand what he means, as I was not a pilot controlling a plane, but the actual object that was free to glide and soar so high above the ground.
I had promised the team that if they returned me safely to ground I would give them a case of Affy Tapple Caramel Apples from my office. Not sure if that was the driving force in our successful jump or not but I made good on my end of the bargain after they treated me so well. I have much admiration for men and women of our armed forces. I enjoyed spending a day with them, seeing them do what they do best, hearing their stories and joining many fellow civilians in thanking them for their dedication to our country.
You can learn more about the U.S. Army Golden Knights on their website, Facebook and on twitter. The video shot by Staff Sergeant Joseph Abeln is below as are many of his aerial photos mixed in a with a few I took from the ground.
August 20, 2011
The 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.
As 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.
August 18, 2011
The 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.
August 7, 2011
In 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.
The 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.
New this year are two civilian acts: Matt Chapman in the Embry Riddle Eagle 580 (http://www.myflightblog.com/matt-chapman-at-the-chicago-air-water-show.php) 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!
June 15, 2011
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.
So 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.