A Safety Journal for General Aviation
by Max Trescott, Master CFI & FAA Aviation Safety Counselor
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Life doesn’t get much better than this. I’m writing this while sitting in a folding chair outside my tent as the sun is about to set in Oshkosh. There’s a cool breeze blowing, no bugs and a continuous parade of planes flying by. All week long, everyone has been friendly, unrushed and talking about aviation. If there’s a heaven and I get to go, I hope it’s just like Oshkosh.
I’m going to dispense with the normal safety related information this month and just write about Oshkosh. If you’re truly interested in learning more about aviation, there’s no better place to do that than at Oshkosh and the more you learn, the safer you’re bound to be.
Everyone who’s doing anything in aviation is here. And it’s possible to talk with most of them. People I’ve talked with in the last couple of days include Dick Rutan, who flew the Voyager around the world, Marion Blakey, The Administrator of the FAA and Lane Wallace, Flying magazine’s West Coast editor. And dozens of other people who work in aviation every day.
I hope you enjoy this issue. When you’re
done reading it, please take a moment to mark your calendar and start planning
to go to Oshkosh in 2006. The dates are July 24-30,2006.
Max Trescott, Master CFI
Dateline Oshkosh, WI
Thursday, July 28, 2005
I’m camped near the south end of the OSH airport and every evening we’re entertained by antics of ultralight aircraft of every color and description flying overhead with engines that sound like angry mosquitoes. They fly late in the day, when the winds die down, from their own separate turf runway. They rarely go more than a few hundred feet high. Right now, a powered parachute ultralight, colored like the American flag, is flying over the trees and an old red barn beginning to show its age. Behind it follows a parade of other cheerfully colored ultralights.
Earlier, the winds kicked up for awhile and I noticed the ultralights using large crab angles to compensate for the wind and their slow speed. My curiosity aroused, I walked down to the ultralight runway to see what kind of landings the aviators of these pint sized aircraft were making with the crosswind. I wasn't alone; the crowd was several people deep for the entire length of the runway. Fortunately, these airman are as well qualified as the birdman who fly larger aircraft. All of the landings were successful despite the challenging winds.
Air traffic control took the form of two volunteers. One--obviously the ground control--walks up to each new aircraft that taxis up for take-off, leans into the cockpit and yells instructions to the pilot. The other, clearly the tower, has a wooden paddle that he waves to signal clear for takeoff. There were no clearances to land--just follow the ultralight in the pattern ahead of you and land when you reach the runway. Simple, but effective. And a perfect metaphor for Oshkosh.
Historically, 700,000 people attend Oshkosh--or EAA AirVenture as it's formally called--over the course of a week. Oddly, it feels like only a small fraction of that number attend. At no time has it felt crowded and the only significant lines were for food over the noon hour. At other times, it just has the relaxed feel of a traditional county fair, minus the livestock and pie contests.
You might think the best part is the airplanes and there are thousands--literally--of the most interesting airplanes in the world all gathered at one large airfield. But the magic comes from the people. After five days here, I sit in awe realizing that not once during the week did I encounter anything but happy, helpful, friendly people. There is something special about airplane people, especially at Oshkosh.
Theater in the Woods
With darkness nearing, I just pulled out my program to see who will be speaking tonight. Last night, perhaps a thousand of us listened to Harrison Ford, National Chairman of the EAA Young Eagles. Young Eagles, if you don’t know, is the EAA program to give teenagers a free flight in an airplane to spark their interest in aviation. Over one million kids took flights in the last 10 years, and Harrison has flown about 200 of them himself. He described it as one of his favorite things to do in aviation.
And he has plenty of other alternatives. As he described, he flew in the night before with Calista (remember the TV show Ally McBeal?) and their 4 ½ year old child in their Cessna Citation CJ3, which he describes as a dream to fly. It replaces the Pilatus PC-12 that he’s apparently sold. When asked how many planes he had, he reflected and said “More airplanes than is fair for anyone to have." The ones he mentioned are a Husky, Bonanza B36-TC, Cessna 208, Waco and others. When asked about his favorite airplane noise, he mentioned that he also owns a DeHavilland Beaver and that he loves the sound of a “round engine.” Overall, he sounds like just another guy who loves airplanes and happens to be a movie star.
Next, Steve Fossett gave a presentation on his around the world, non-stop, non-refueled, solo flight in the Global Flyer, which is on display at Oshkosh. You may recall that, during the flight, there was an unexplained loss of fuel which threatened to cut the trip short. Steve explained how the fuel venting system caused them to accidentally dump about 3100 pounds of their 18,000 pounds of fuel during the second and third hour of the trip. Although there were many test flights, the round the world flight was the first in which they had full tanks, so this was an unknown problem. Fortunately, they’d flight planned for 50 knot tailwinds for the entire flight (we should all be so lucky!) but averaged 72 knots, which made it possible to complete the trip.
Steve was then joined on stage by Richard Branson, Chairman of Virgin Atlantic. Together, they announced that they will make one more record setting flight in the Global Flyer before turning it over to the Smithsonian Museum. In February, 2006, they plan to fly around the world once and keep on going to Europe! This will set a new distance record for jet aircraft, breaking the record Steve set in his previous round the world flight.
Space, the next
If there’s a theme to this year’s Oshkosh AirVenture 2005, then it must be space. The night before, Mike Melvill, the first civilian astronaut who flew SpaceShipOne into orbit early this year from the Mohave airport was on stage with Scott Crossfield, who set records in the 1950’s piloting the X-15 to speed and altitude records. Mike did most of the talking. When asked about commercial space rides, he assured us they will begin within seven years, and that in ten years many of us will have flown in space.
Oddly, Mike won’t be flying any of those trips with passengers on board. The same rule that prevents airline pilots from flying past the age of 60 will also apply to space flight. It seems ironic that Mike is qualified to pioneer civilian space flight, but won’t be allowed to fly passengers. Maybe the FAA will someday change the 60 year age limit, which seems more and more like a vestige of the past.
The White Knight and SpaceShipOne flew into Oshkosh on Monday and have been on display all week. Mike told us that the White Knight will be doing some contract work for NASA, carrying the X-37 experimental aircraft aloft. He said there will be three test flights followed by three flights in which they actually drop the X-37. He then corrected himself and jokingly said that there will be at least one flight where the X-37 is dropped--which brought a laugh from the crowd.
Tonight’s topic in the Theater in the Woods is the Future of the X-Prize, by Peter Diamandis, Chairman & CEO of Zero Gravity. I have no doubt that, in a few years, multiple space companies will be at Oshkosh hawking tickets for rides into space. The next ten years is going to be fun and this is the best place to see it unfold.
The Light Jets are
A second theme is the onslaught of new jets which will soon be available. Everywhere you turn, some company has a jet to show. In some cases they’re real flying prototypes with lots of orders--like the Eclipse jet with nearly 2300 orders--and in other cases, they’re mock-ups like the Epic Jet. Just like the beginning of the automotive industry over a hundred years ago, there’s bound to be a shakeout. So be careful when buying your next jet: make sure that the company is going to be around to support it!
Tuesday heralded the arrival of the next new Cessna Mustang jet--the only one in existence. It felt like seeing an old friend as I watched it towed up the main plaza to the Cessna booth for display. Less than two months ago, I saw this same exact prototype in the paint shop at the Cessna factory in Independence, KS and I knew that it must be getting painted for Oshkosh.
Another bystander commented that it looked larger than they expected--which had been my reaction when I saw it back at the factory. I haven’t looked at the specs to see the differences, but it clearly looks bigger than the Eclipse, which is considerable less expensive at around $1.4 million vs. $2.3 million for the Cessna Mustang.
I sat in both the Mustang and the Eclipse simulator cockpits. Entering the jets, the ceiling seems a little low for those us who get most of their jet time in the back of a Boeing. Both have a comfortable feel once you settle into the cockpit. The instrument panel layouts are simple and clean. The Eclipse uses the Avidyne glass cockpit while the Mustang uses the G1000. A key difference vs. G1000 installations in smaller planes is that the Mustang has a third display and a full keyboard! What I wouldn’t do for a keyboard when teaching in G1000 equipped Cessna and Diamond aircraft. It will certainly save the jet jockeys some knob twisting.
The HondaJet made the briefest of appearances. It flew in on Thursday and left four hours later! By the time I started looking for it to take a picture, it had already left. Honda has been working on the engines and the jet for nine years and apparently has sent a proposal to Japan for approval to start marketing the jet. So far, no official announcement from Honda as to when or even if they will start selling this jet. Undoubtedly, they want to make sure it is a superior product, so that they have no negative impact on the value of their automotive brand name.
Light Sport Airplanes
They are everywhere. For an industry that was just announced a year ago, remarkable progress has been made. While only two of these new type of aircraft were available at Fun in the Sun in Florida in April, fully 13 new, certificated Light Sport Airplanes are on display and available for sale at Oshkosh. The nice thing is you can buy one here and stick it in the overhead bin on your flight home. Just kidding--they’re not that small. They must weight less than 1320 pounds and have a maximum of two seats. Think Cessna 152 except weighing less and considerably more sexy in design.
There’s lots of interest in Light Sport aircraft at Oshkosh; a number of people came in to ask me about them while I was staffing the booth for the National Association of Flight Instructors. One attractions of the Light Sport license is that it requires fewer hours of training to achieve, since the night and instrument training for the private are not required. Also, the aircraft will be less expensive to buy and operate. Finally, no medical is required. The Catch-22 however, is that if you’ve failed a medical, you’re not eligible--until you resolve the issue that result in the failure.
I think the Light Sport license will initially have a limited impact in metropolitan areas, like the S.F. Bay Area, because of their limitations. For example, you cannot fly in Class B, C, or even D airspace without additional endorsements. Interestingly, it’s the only license that actually requires you to train in Class B before flying in it. Airplane flight instructors will be happy to know that they are automatically qualified to teach in light sport aircraft as are some ultralight instructors.
Night Flying Safety
Anyone who’s read any of the prior newsletters knows that I’m on a campaign to educate pilots on flying safely at night. One of the highlights for me this week was to speak at Oshkosh and naturally I talked about Night Flying.
We had 160 people attend, according to the EAA host who records the sessions and does a headcount. Feedback was excellent. Another Master CFI who attended particularly liked my suggestion that you program your cellphone with phone numbers of the towers for the airports in which you regularly fly in and out. Less than a month ago, I had an electrical failure in flight with total loss of all radios and used my phone to call the Palo Alto tower to let them know that I was inbound without a radio.
While giving the talk, I casually noted that the speaker in the adjacent pavilion--who was unknown to me at the time--had a larger crowd attending his talk. Naturally, being only slightly competitive, I had to find out who it was and later checked the schedule. Turns out that it was Mike Melvill, the SpaceShipOne astronaut. Given the choice they had, I was flattered that anyone came to hear me!
While I was signing autographs for my book, Dick Rutan stopped by for an autograph and to have a picture taken with me. Or maybe I got that backwards. Either way (and I’m sure you know which way it was), Dick is a soft spoken guy who’s really nice. Of course, he's the one on the left in the picture. It's hard to imagine that this mellow guy made history with the first un-refueled, around-the-world flight in the Voyager in 1986. Airplane people are just so incredibly humble and nice. Come to think of it, everyone here is really nice. It must have something to do with being in the Midwest and being surrounded by airplanes.
The Honorable Marion Blakey, FAA Administrator was at Oshkosh for at least two days. I saw her in the Theater in the Woods presenting awards for the FAA’s CFI of the Year, Aviation Safety Counselor of the Year, and a few other awards. The next morning, she addressed the Master CFI breakfast, with about 50 of us in attendance. This is the third year in a row she’s addressed the group and I’ve heard she feels that CFI’s have a large role to play in one of her nine initiatives, which is reducing the number of general aviation fatalities (there were over 500 deaths last year).
After she was finished, I spoke with her for a few minutes. The point I tried to make is that current accident analysis aggregates accidents for the entire U.S. and then identifies and focuses on the most prevalent types of accidents. However, a study I did on 10 years of fatal accidents in the San Francisco Bay area showed a very different set of accident causes from the norm. She asked me about the differences and I told her that night accidents are about two and a half times more prevalent and that VFR-into-IMC accidents are about six time more likely than in other parts of the country. She said that made sense to her and that she would read my article on Regional Accident Analysis.
I have her card and plan to follow-up with her. This is just too important a topic to ignore. If there are differences this large in the S.F. Bay area, it stands to reason that other differences exist in other regions. Until we start telling pilots what dangers they face in their own local areas--as opposed to the average dangers in the U.S.--headway on reducing the accident rate is going to be slower than it has to be. Note: Since Oshkosh, we've exchanged email, and she's asked the FAA's head of Accident Investigations to look into this.
If you’re a reader of Flying Magazine, you know the feel good stories that Lane writes that take us back to when we first got excited about flying. She's their West Coast editor, though she might as well be their travel editor. Whether it's flying a blimp through the Alps or with a bush pilot in Alaska, she's always on the go and her articles are a joy to read. She needed help getting the computer to run, so, having had to figure that out myself when I spoke the day before, I jumped up on stage and got things running for her.
If you like her articles, you'll love her presentations. This year, she talked about her trip through the Outback of Australia and showed pictures of her many adventures along the way. There was Williamville--population 14 and two pubs--which she described as a tiny place with great aspirations. And who can forget the "yabbi races." Yabbi are the equivalent of crayfish, which have been numbered and then dumped from a bucket into the center of some concentric rings. First yabbi to the outer ring wins. Undoubtedly the exchange of money and quantities of beer are involved.
"I follow road" has a whole new meaning when it's the only road for over 150 miles! When her host needed some hydraulic fluid for the Cessna they were traveling in, they called all neighboring airports and couldn't find any. Nearest hydraulic fluid: half a continent away! Two days and $814 later--$14 for the tin of fluid and $800 to have it flown in--they were on their way.
I'm back home now, the tent and sleeping bag are put away and it's back to the real world--which is too bad, because Oshkosh is magical. While talking with one of my new friends who's a director of EAA, I mentioned that I thought Heaven for pilots must resemble Oshkosh. He smiled and told me that a former flying student of his, a Prince from Saudi Arabia, had recently gotten permission from the King to introduce general aviation to the country and was opening a flying school there. Hearing this, my friend told the Prince that he had to visit Oshkosh.
So earlier this week, the Prince arrived and my friend drove him around AirVenture 2005 in a golf cart, introducing him to people along the way. He explained that EAA has 300 fulltime staff members, but that for AirVenture they hire an additional 400 people. However, it would be impossible to run the show without the 3,000 people, some of whom come in a month ahead of time, who volunteer their time for the week.
Apparently, the Prince didn't understand why the volunteers would work for nothing and asked how they were compensated. My friend says he told him that "Muslims have Mecca but for pilots there is Oshkosh." Well said Ken.
I hope to see all of you at Oshkosh next year!
Pilot Safety News
© 2005 by Max Trescott
Master CFI & FAA Aviation Safety Counselor
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