August 29, 2010

Preflight Briefing: Preparing for a Safe Flight

My first Certified Flight Instructor had just completed her own training at the Delta Connection Academy when we started flying together. In retrospect I really benefited from her advanced training. One of the first things she taught me was how to provide a thorough preflight briefing. The practice of giving a briefing before every flight is one I have practiced ever since.

During the Chicago Air & Water Show I had the honor to fly with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels in their C-130 known as Fat Albert. Major Brendan Burks gave the most impressive preflight briefing I have ever experienced before our flight, setting the bar high for all my future preflight briefings (see video below). Prior to the flight he addressed the crew and explained in detail the current conditions, planned maneuvers and how the crew would address any emergency should it arise. It was clear to everyone involved what to expect during the flight and who would be responsible for various aspects of the flight, mission accomplished.

We don't all have the privilege to fly a four-fanned C-130 supporting the Blue Angels, but we can strive to bring that level of forethought, professionalism and preparedness to each of our flights. Whether you are flying with other pilots, passengers or flying solo I think it is extremely valuable to verbally walk through aspects of your upcoming flight including emergency procedures.

I am fairly particular about who I choose to fly with and one immediate turn-off is when another pilot neglects to provide a preflight briefing. On the flip side, I am immediately put at ease when I share a cockpit with someone who takes time to conduct a proper briefing like Major Burks of the Blue Angels or as was the case with Rod Rakic of myTransponder last summer.

I think the video below will inspire you to work on your preflight briefing routine before your next flight. Looking for some additional tips? Check out Paul's post on Ask a Flight Instructor for some sample scripts. Also, Jason Miller of FinerPoints published a podcast several years back that gives some tips on giving an effective preflight briefing.

Posted at Aug 29, 5:22 PM | Post Category: Flight Lesson, Ground School | Comments (69) | Save & Share This Story

August 12, 2010

Enjoying Aerobatics with Chuck Aaron and the Red Bull Helicopter

chuckaaron.jpgHe may not be "The Most Interesting Man in the World", but he's up there. Handlebar mustache wearing, daredevil pilot Chuck Aaron is the only pilot licensed by the FAA to perform aerobatics in a helicopter.

Until four-years ago helicopters had traditionally played minor roles in airshow, unable to perform the awe-inspiring aerobatic feats of their fixed wing counterparts. That changed when aviation enthusiast and Red Bull founder, Dietrich Mateschitz, convinced Chuck Aaron to find a way to perform aerobatics in a helicopter. After a few years of tinkering to extremely modify a BO-105 Bölkow Helicopter a one-of-a-kind aircraft emerged. The Red Bull Helicopter is able to perform the Roll, Split-S, Immelman, Half Cuban Eight, Back Flips and Chuck's very own Chuckcilvak. The helicopter can support great forces including 3.1 Gs and negative 1.0 Gs.

Aaron is making his second appearance at the Chicago Air & Water Show this weekend. Last year he mesmerized the crowd with his aerobatics. Although, everyone along the lakeshore will be fixing their attention on him during his performance he won't even notice they are there. Aaron explains "I go into severe focus mode, paying attention to altitude, air speed, where the sky and ground are. I don't pay attention to the crowd-that's a deal breaker".

I had the opportunity to take flight with him prior to the show (video below). It was wild that on my first flight in a helicopter, I got inverted. Aaron put the Bull Cow through a series of Rolls, Loops and a Split-S, putting 2.4 Gs on the craft in the process.

Oddly enough the maneuvers did not feel much different then they do in a fixed wing aircraft. The fact that it wasn't a plane but a helicopter makes this man one of the most interesting in the world. Stay inverted my friends.

Posted at Aug 12, 10:37 PM | Post Category: Chicago Air and Water Show | Comments (15) | Save & Share This Story

August 9, 2010

Vince Vaughn to Skydive Into Chicago Air & Water Show

Vince Vaughn will team up with the U.S. Army Golden Knights to kick-off the 52nd Annual Chicago Air & Water Show. Saturday, August 14th at 11:00am Vaughn will descend towards North Avenue Beach in a tandem skydive with the Golden Knights.

Vaughn will experience the exhilaration of a jump from 12,500 feet and a free fall with speeds exceeding 120 MPH. He will be in good hands as the Golden Knights have performed tandem jumps with other celebrities and dignitaries including Bill Murray, two years ago in Chicago, and George H.W. Bush.

Vaughn who is spotted often in Chicago has been in town most recently filming Ron Howard's The Dilemma.

August 5, 2010

New Treats at the Chicago Air & Water Show

seantucker_chicago.jpgEach year the Mayor's office tries to offer something new or special at the Annual Chicago Air & Water Show. In addition to the standard excitement the airshow brings there are a few new additions that have me excited.

First off Chicagoans will get a chance to be one of the first airshow audiences to see Sean D. Tucker's newest airplane the Challenger III biplane. Sean began performing in this new airplane in late-June and this will be just the fifth airshow in this new airplane. According to Sean the plane is "30% better" (sounds like a laundry detergent commercial) and as a result he can perform maneuvers beyond what his previous Challenger II was capable of. Airshow fans can expect to see new maneuvers including somersaults and multiple cartwheels. Sean has always pleased the fans at the Chicago Air & Water Show, this new aircraft will ensure many will walk away saying his act was their favorite.

Interested in learning more about the Challenger III biplane? Take a listen to Brian Norris, Operations coordinator for Team Oracle, discuss all the new features on the AVWeb Podcast.

billstein.jpgNew this year will be an appearance by Bill Stein in his Zivko Edge 540. Stein was a member of the famous Red Baron Stearman Squadron that used to be a regular act at the Chicago Air & Water Show. Bill's plane which has been referred to as his "Tumble Machine" will be sure to earn some cheers from the crowd as he shares his extreme aerobatic maneuvers. Something unique about his performance is that his aircraft uses cutting edge paint technology that allows the plane to continuously change colors based on varying angles between his aircraft and the spectators.

We also have learned that Actor & Pilot Treat Williams will be attending the 52nd Annual Chicago Air & Water Show. To many he may be best known for his leading role in the WB's Everwood. Pilots know that he is a passionate aviator who is a multiengine instrument rated commercial pilot with rotorcraft, CFI and Citation type ratings. PilotMag ran a feature story about Treat in their May/June issue.

According to the Mayor's office, Williams will be a special guest for Friday's practice show in which he will guest announce the first part of the show with Air Show Announcer Herb Hunter.

Stay tuned to for ongoing updates on the Chicago Air & Water Show. Please be sure to check out our Ultimate Guide to the Chicago Air & Water Show including our Chicago Air & Water Show Viewing Guide highlighting the best places to watch the show.

Posted at Aug 05, 5:59 PM | Post Category: Chicago Air and Water Show, Team Oracle | Comments (0) | Save & Share This Story

July 22, 2010

Aviation Products for the Whole Family

airplane_onesies.jpgIn June my life changed considerably with the birth of my twins, Peter and Sarah. Over the past month, despite sleepless days and nights, these new additions have brought endless amounts of joy to my wife and me.

One thing my wife and I have learned thus far about parenting infant twins is that we are lucky if in a given day we can accomplish one non-care based chore or project. As a result, my time to fly, read about flying, blog or twitter has been drastically curtailed as of late. Though with each week that passes and as our parenting confidence and experience grows, I find myself realizing I am getting closer and closer to carving out enough time to get out to Palwaukee to go flying.

In the meantime I am enjoying merging my newest joys, Peter and Sarah, with my joy for aviation. I have recently become a big fan of Etsy, a site that connects sellers of custom crafts with buyers globally. I searched Etsy for "Airplane Products" and then filtered by products for "Airplane Products for Children" and have found tons of neat products for my kids and for gifts for friends of ours. Some of my favorite products thus far have been Airplane Onesie in Green - $12.99 (as seen on Sarah in the photo above - left), Personalized Airplane Onesie - $17.99 (as seen on Peter in the photo above - right) and M'liss Lil Airplanes Burpy - $4.95.

Speaking of aviation products and gifts for kids I have to say it is interesting to note that in three instances we have been blessed to be given gifts from friends or family where the gift for my son featured an airplane and for my daughter featured a flower or some other "more girly" design. I guess that is why sites like "Girls with wings" as a resource to let girls know they to can be pilots. Luckily Sarah has a father that will be sure to share aviation with her equally as I do with Peter.

Posted at Jul 22, 8:13 PM | Post Category: Aviation Products, Kids | Comments (4) | Save & Share This Story

May 31, 2010

Flying Under a Presidential TFR

Chicago_TFR.jpgThe President of the United States returned to our shared hometown of Chicago for the Memorial Day Weekend. As a result a series of Very Important Person Temporary Flight Restrictions (VIP TFR) were put into effect for the airspace around the Chicago area. Historically, a visit from the President and the resulting restrictions were enough reason to keep me on the ground. I had heard of too many horror stories of pilots having their licenses suspended or revoked for infringing on the restricted airspace.

My home airport, Chicago Executive (KPWK), was outside the ten-mile no fly zone that surrounded the President's Chicago home. However, it was located within the 30 mile radius of the Temporary Flight Restriction. After being taunted by a weather forecast calling for a long weekend filled with clear and sunny days on the forecast I decided this would be a great opportunity to learn how to live with the TFRs and enjoy a new flying learning experience.

I scheduled the Windy City Flyers G1000 enabled Cessna and a flight instructor for Saturday afternoon. We spent some time on the ground before the flight talking about the TFR and the requirements for flying into and out of an area under a Temporary Flight Restriction. We were required to file an outbound flightplan and an inbound flightplan. Once submitted, we needed to obtain an use a discrete squawk code while in the restricted area. We also needed to be in two-way radio communications with ATC while flying in the area. Faster aircraft need to adhere to a 180 knots or less airspeed, something we were not concerned with in our Cessna. Be sure to look at the AOPA TFR Map before every flight or ask your pre-flight briefer about NOTAMs and TFRs.

After obtaining our squawk code from ground control we took off from Chicago Executive Airport. The tower directed us over to Chicago Approach shortly after liftoff with whom we keep two-way communication with until we had cleared the TFR airspace. Once a safe distance from the restricted airspace we closed our flightplan. I was surprised that several planes were flying so close to the border of the TFR. A slight miscalculation by those pilots would likely result in a minimum of a 30 - 90 day suspension of their license.

I spent the next hour under the hood in simulated instrument conditions working on basic flight maneuvers including straight & level flight, straight climbs and descents, standard rate turns and a combination of climbs, descents and turns.

On the way back to Chicago we opened our return flightplan, obtained a new discrete squawk code and talked with ATC all the way back to Chicago Executive. I stayed under the hood until we were on a mile and a half final for runway 16 where I completed the flight with a nice smooth landing. The 0.8 hours of simulated instrument time was my first in just under six years. I enjoyed both learning how to operate within a TFR and also logging some instrument time. I am looking forward to continuing to train for my instrument training as time allows.

Posted at May 31, 5:40 PM | Post Category: G1000, Glass Cockpit, IFR Training, TFR | Comments (83) | Save & Share This Story

May 24, 2010

Student Pilots Benefit from Redesigned Flight Training Magazine

flighttraining_newcover.jpgA few months ago AOPA's Flight Training Magazine went through a redesign. In the June Issue Deputy Editor Ian J. Twombly shared some letters from readers sharing their mixed reviews of the redesign, which reminded me that I had not yet shared my viewpoints on the redesign. My overall thought is the redesign is an upgrade of the previous magazine experience. It continues to be the premier magazine for student pilots interested in learning to fly. That being said there are areas that I hope AOPA continues to tweak to further improve the reading experience. I'll start out with what I love about the new magazine design and experience.

The entire "Preflight" section at the beginning of the magazine has been positively improved. The addition of a Sport Illustrated-esque two page photo spread is a beautiful way to kick-off the section. What pilot doesn't enjoy looking at great aviation photography? I would love to see it expanded to include one professional photo each month and one member submitted photo with a brief story describing the photo. I also enjoy the "This Weekend" feature with the nice depiction of events taking place across the country. Though, I would love to see that part of the website updated weekly rather than monthly.

energy_footprint.jpgThe feature articles have also been improved with better imagery and iconography. In the current issue there is an interesting article on Energy Footprints, I appreciate the nice infographics that accompany this article. Since the redesign their seems to be a concerted effort to use more infographics, which as a visual learner I appreciate.

I have heard some people complaints that the articles are getting to short, possibly adapting to the increase in attention deficit disorder. Historically, there were articles that felt like they had been lengthened to meet a word count but were not providing addition benefit or detail. I think this is where the infographics play a vital role, as a picture can be worth a thousand words, shaving space but still communicating the core message. As a result I believe Flight Training Magazine has found the right balance for their depth of information.

I was also impressed with this month's "Technique: Track your flight" article which shares with readers the ins and outs of creating a GPS track of your flight for post flight review and sharing via the web. This type of content is a perfect example of great content that previously was only found on blogs. I learned from fellow bloggers how to do this a few years ago and love tracking my flights. I am glad to see Flight Training bringing some of these great ideas to print. Even more impressive is that on the redesigned Flight Training website their is a video walk-through of the sames process.

Although, I like more aspects of the redesign than I dislike, I was disappointed with a few of the changes. I was disappointed with the way some of my favorite elements of the magazine were de-emphasized. I feel like the designer ran out of steam when it came time to design the pages that house the regular commentary from Greg Brown and Rod Machado. Readers feel like they know both of these authors as we follow their advice and adventures month to month. It is disappointing that their sections of the magazine did not receive as much attention. I would love to see work done to bring these parts of the magazine more to life.

All in all I am happy with the redesign of Flight Training magazine, what were your thoughts on the redesign?

Posted at May 24, 7:05 PM | Post Category: AOPA, In the News | Comments (3) | Save & Share This Story

May 18, 2010

African Air: Viewing Africa from a Motorized Paraglider

George Steinmetz has one of the coolest jobs in the world. Steinmetz is a professional photographer who uses a motorized paraglider to capture unique sights from around the world.

africanair2.jpgOne of the greatest benefits of my private pilot's license is the ability to enjoy a unique viewpoint of the world that the few of us that can fly enjoy. Steinmetz takes that privileged to a whole new level flying on of the most primitive flying machines and gets airborne over some of the most remote parts of the world. His reward is our treat, award winning photos that have been featured in National Geographic and Life Magazine.

I have always been intrigued by aerial photography. Previously, I have written about Yann Arthus Bertrand and his aerial photography book Earth From the Air. Both Bertrand and Steinmetz are extremely talented photographers however I am drawn to Steinmetz's photos more maybe due to the intimate nature of flying so primitively in such remote destinations.

This time last year I had the opportunity to go on Safari in Zambia and Botswana. I was blown away by the stunning landscape and the amazing wildlife. Seeing Steinmetz's photos brought back this wonderful place to the forefront of my memory. He merged my love for Africa and Travel with the excitement and thrill of aviation.

The video below will give you a snapshot of some of his amazing photographs. You can buy his book "African Air", view more of his photos, or learn about his motorized paraglider on his website.

George Steinmetz - African Air from George Steinmetz on Vimeo.

Posted at May 18, 7:04 PM | Post Category: Aerial Photography | Comments (1) | Save & Share This Story

May 13, 2010

Learning Not to Fly?

slow_transition.gifAviation enthusiasts are promoting May 15 as Learn to Fly day. I am proud of my accomplishment and very much enjoy the privilege of flying. However, as we approach Learn to Fly day, I am pondering should I learn not to fly?

One of the easiest decisions I ever made was to learning to fly. It was something I had always wanted to do so from that standpoint I am not even aware of when I made the decision or deliberated about it. It was just something I always wanted to do. Achieving the goal was a little harder but in retrospect not all that challenging. It was just getting around to taking the first step and of course to funding it that took some time. In the Spring of 2004, I finally made the commitment and earned my licenses three and a half months later.

Now, I face a more difficult challenge, one faced all too often by pilots, the decision whether to continue to fly or to hang up the flight bag. I would never have imagined being at this point, and pondering that as an option after all those years of dreaming of flying and the wonderful six years as a pilot.

But I am a month, maybe weeks away from becoming a father to twins. They occupy much of my thoughts these days as I assume they always will. In thinking of them I have thought about flying and how my passion for aviation fits with my expanding family.

At a recent aviation get together I heard many pilots explain that they just recently returned to flying after 15-20 years away from aviation in which they focused on raising their families. This helped spur the conversation in my head in which I am continually debating what role aviation should play in my life over the next twenty years.

One side of the argument says what a great life lesson it is for children to see their father went after one of his dreams and is passionately continuing to pursue and foster that dream. I would love sharing my love of aviation with them. Additionally, the benefits of general aviation could offer us greater flexibility in travel and entertainment. Flying also brings me great joy, satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment that would be tough to forgo. A flight does not go by in which my wife does not positively comment on the glow on my face or the happiness in my voice after I return from flying. Each flight is an experience like no other that I truly treasure.

On the other side of the conversation are things like cost, time and safety. Let's face it: this is one expensive hobby. My mind is swirling with the costs of diapers, day care, and college tuition and flying seems like an expense that brings great joy to me but maybe not to the entire family. In addition to the monetary costs it is a time investment. Each flight represents a few hours away from the family (at least at first when they are so young) not to mention any time spent planning flights or continuing to learn. I may be naive (everyone says I have no idea what is about to happen in my life) but I cannot imagine wanting to spend hours away from these little ones on a weekend. I wonder will I prefer to take them for a walk or to a park on a sunny day rather than heading off to the airport.

I also wonder if I can find the time to continue to be a safe pilot which leads to the safety issue. Am I putting my family at greater risk by participating in a hobby that is more dangerous than your average hobby of home improvement, gardening, golf or tennis?

No matter what the decision I have to say I feel so blessed to have followed this dream and now to be given the opportunity to raise twins with my wife. If I do choose to continue to fly I do know then I need to go into it full bore. I need to invest the time and money to fly more frequently and work towards an instrument rating to help make me a safer pilot.

Most of you, my readers, are pilots. So I am sure you all have gone through periods of your life where you have wondered if you should take a break or keep at the controls. I would love to hear your advice.

Posted at May 13, 7:20 PM | Post Category: General | Comments (8) | Save & Share This Story

May 3, 2010

Flight Feeds the Human Spirit

flightforhumanspirit_explorer9_2.jpgI was blessed to be surrounded by people in my life who fostered the understanding that one should always follow their dreams and that one can do anything they put their minds to. It was with that support that I sought my dream of learning to fly back in 2004.

So when I heard the story of Michael Combs, a pilot who is flying a Light Sport Aircraft to all 50 States to spread the message "it's never too late to follow your dreams", I knew I had to meet him. This afternoon he arrived in Chicago at Chicago Executive Airport.

I worked with my flight club, Windy City Flyers, who were kind enough to offer Combs hangar space for his stay. They also invited Combs to share his message with the Aviation Explorer Post 9, a group of 14-21 year olds interested in aviation. It was great hearing Combs sharing his message with these kids and encouraging them to continue to foster their love for aviation or whatever other dreams they might have.

Combs admitted that he had two options when coming up with his Flight for the Human Spirit. He could wait until it was completely funded but then he might never have made it off the ground. Instead he built a plan and after gaining some momentum and support he took to flight. Each day as he spreads his message he is receiving more and more support and sure enough things are coming together for his Flight for the Human Spirit.

I invite you to visit the Flight for the Human Spirit to track his adventure. You can support the flight by making a donation on the site as well.

Visit the archives for more posts.