Wednesday, September 19, 2012

More from Burt Rutan

Thanks to Pacific Flyer, the inimitable aviation newspaper covering all things aviation for the west coast (and sometimes beyond), for tipping me off to Burt Rutan's new online project, Seems Mr. Rutan is all set to write his autobiography direct to the Internet, a typically innovative thing for the guy to do.

I'm making my way slowly through some of the material already on the website. What a treasure trove! I just watched Burt's TED talk from 2006. I know TED talks are supposed to be punchy, amusing and insightful but, let's face it, not all of them are. This one is a doozie, however. I have only one quibble. Early on in the talk Burt puts up a list of "movers and shakers of the first 100 years of aviation." Mr Rutan wasn't on it. Well, that's very humble but methinks it's inaccurate. Burt Rutan is probably the most influential aerospace designer of the latter half of the twentieth century. Here's hoping that Elon Musk is the largest influence on aerospace in the first half of the twenty-first century. (Or perhaps Burt Rutan will do for the twenty-first century what he did for the twentieth. I wouldn't count him out yet.)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Out and about in North Carolina

I was on vacation in North Carolina last month, spending some quality time on the beach, doing a spot of fishing, a little kayaking, eating tons of seafood and generally having a relaxing time. As I am wont to do whenever I'm in a new area, I spent one evening surfing the Internet for local flying opportunities. Google maps' satellite view is pretty darn good for getting an aerial view of the beach you were just laying on, or the fishing spot you just discovered, but there's nothing like a real aerial tour to get a full appreciation of an area.

So, at 9 am one Thursday morning I drove out to KSUT - the most excellently named Cape Fear Regional Jetport/Howie Franklin Field Airport - with my girlfriend, her parents and her 7-year old nephew, for a pleasure flight up the coast to Wrightsville Beach, east of Wilmington. The tour route would take us over the house in which we were staying, at the southern end of Carolina Beach.

A portion of the Charlotte sectional chart, showing KSUT near the bottom and Wrightsville Beach to the northeast. (Click image to enlarge.)

Now, unusually for me, on this trip I didn't have my license, medical certificate and logbook with me, eliminating even the option of some left seat time. (Yeah, I'm one of "those" kind of travelers...) But no matter, because this day I wanted my girlfriend to get some right seat time in a Cessna, because she's flown in the front of a Great Lakes with me but never in a Cessna, and I would point things out to her nephew who would ride in the back with me; his first flight in a light aircraft.

We checked in with the front desk at Brunswick Air and introduced ourselves to Dennis Faver, our tour pilot for the day. We'd be in good hands. Dennis is a CFII, and a CAP squadron commander and check airman. Good enough for me!

Dennis asked what we had in mind and I told him about our experiences to date; me as a private pilot, my girlfriend as a flight attendant, and my girlfriend's nephew, Zach, as a total newbie. With that, Dennis led me back to his office to complete the paperwork. There I got my second surprise of the morning, as I perused the sectional chart hanging on his wall: a TRSA around Wilmington that I'd failed to recognize until Dennis mentioned it. Okay, so it's not quite as notable as spotting one of the Beatles (especially as there are only two of them left) but I'd never encountered a TRSA before. Still, I wasn't the pilot today so it was little more than a curiosity as Dennis explained where we could go and what we might see.

With the paperwork done we headed out to the tarmac where Zach got his first close-up look at a GA plane, a C172N. Brunswick Air's website and Dennis both told us that the plane was vintage 1978. Damn. It's holding up a lot better than I am, that's all I can say. Darn thing was immaculate.

Zach provides a 7 year-old scale to what's claimed is a 34 year-old Cessna, while Dennis Faver prepares the interior.
Role reversal: Zach's wearing the GB t-shirt, I'm wearing a Wrightsville Beach t-shirt. Jeez, tourists.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Winter flying

It's been raining on and off for the past month where I live. Actually good news because we need the water and it means we've now got some sort of ski season in Tahoe. I say "sort of" because it keeps on getting warm after it snows, so getting up there to the good stuff requires careful planning and nerves of steel to brave I-80 with snow/ice/slush and nutty drivers doing x2 or x3 the speeds I'll ever do, even with AWD.

The weather has been so variable I've not flown in March, I decided to take a break from flying (for skiing!) and save my pennies for later in the spring when the weather perks back up. I have a couple of people waiting for rides and I'm supposed to be practicing for aerobatic contests at some point, too. God only knows if or when that will happen. (Work just stuck a big dent in my May/June schedule.) Oh well, back in December and January the weather was stunning. Literally, tee-shirt weather.

Here's a flight I did with a friend, her first time in a small plane and her first aerobatics. Also my first test of two new GoPro cameras, which I plan to use a lot more later this year. I didn't include the parts where my friend was flying the plane but she was a natural! It was the end of January. What, two months back? It seems so long ago already!

Monday, March 26, 2012

An amphib taildragger LSA? Hell, yeah!

Just saw the Akoya from LISA Airplanes in France, a sweet-looking machine that has pectoral fins like a shark and otherwise looks like the illegitimate love child of a Seawind and the Bell X-1 (albeit with a tail wheel):

Another (better) video on Vimeo, here.

I've always adored the design, not to mention fun potential, of the Seawind, and I've been following the development of the Icon A5 pretty closely, too, along with probably most of the pilot population of the USA. The Icon was already on my "must go test fly" list, I'm putting the Akoya on there now. And the moment the Seawind 300C gets certified it's on, too.

Memo to float plane/amphib operators in Florida: as soon as any one of these three becomes available for instruction/rent, call me! I have a dusty ASES and a whopping eleven whole hours in a Maule M-7 on floats that needs refreshing. You park an A5 or an Akoya in a Floridian lake and I'm planning my next fly-cation immediately. And yeah, I'd be seriously considering it a "test fly." I can't justify buying one of these toys, but I can't justify a lot of my hobbies.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Memo to drug runners: Check NOTAMs

I am laughing so hard it hurts. First up, we have a Democrat president. He likes California. Unlike the last guy, he comes here often. So we get a lot of TFRs, right? It happens. So, if you happen to fly a plane in this fair state it's a really good idea to check NOTAMs for a sudden fundraising visit by a VIP. See that big red circle on the TFR map? Don't fly there. You will get escorted down by an F-16, if you comply, or shot down if you don't. Really, really don't fly in the red circles if you're hauling 10 kg of marijuana.

Got to be the best stupid criminal story of the past decade. Haha!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Stop the presses! AFOne goes around!!!

For real, Air Force One went around yesterday morning, and it's a headline on the LA Times' website. Admittedly that is probably quite a rare occurrence. I'm guessing runway incursions are a non-factor when there's a 30 nm TFR. But the reaction of the press and their beloved public is rather amusing. At least they got the nomenclature right. Yes, that's correct, it "went around." It didn't "zoom up again" or any other silliness. Not only is it standard procedure, it's a very smart procedure if you ask me!

As the Air Safety Foundation and many other insightful types will tell you, any time you don't like something with the approach, abort and have another go. Especially if you're carrying the President! Five bucks says that pressure to complete the mission was a factor in the accident that killed the crew who were late to pick up former Pres. George HW Bush a while back, and also in the accident that claimed the life of the Polish president, his wife and half his cabinet in April last year. The more important the cargo, the more willing you should be to go around. (Mr Obama, if you're reading this, I'd wander on up to the cockpit next time you're aboard and tell your pilots "Well done. Thanks.")

It's a good job there isn't a headline every time I go around, that's all I can say.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Made in Chinamerica

As the previous post suggests, I'm a bit of a Burt Rutan fan. So I was extremely pleased to read in the AOPA online magazine an article on the resurrection of Adam Aircraft under the guise of a new company, Triton Aircraft. Originally one of the many Scaled Composites' iconic designs, descendants of the A500 might yet be buzzing around our skies as common as Long-EZs and VariEzes seem to be here in NorCal.

Coming soon to a field near you? Except that the future version probably won't have a prop on the front; lead (re)designer, Thomas Hsueh wants a "jet nose." He also wants to drop 800 lbs off the A500. I reckon it'll look pretty darn hot either way!

As if that wasn't sufficient news to bring a smile to my face, the story of Adam's white knight had me beaming. You see, Thomas Hsueh is a Chinese-born American businessman and aeronautical engineer. He's set up shop in Washington state and is hoping to turn out a refined A500 prototype in the next two years. He wants to replace the two piston engines with a single pusher turboprop and lop 800 lbs off the empty weight. At which point he'll do some "soul searching" to see if manufacturing can remain in the US. (I hear Mexico is the new place to build aircraft.)

Whether or not the production run can afford to happen in America, it's gratifying indeed to see this particular aviation story come full circle: a Chinese immigrant rescues an American-designed plane from the hands of a bankrupt Russian company, and brings all the essential tooling, rigs and other equipment back to the US of A. A win for the home team!!

What broadens my smile further still is that Chinese connection. Cessna's had a lot of stick (okay, I'll stop with the puns soon I promise) recently for manufacturing the 162 Skycatcher in China. But it seems to me the Chinese-American collaborations in aviation are doing a lot more than providing cheap(er) manufacturing. Innovations abound, too. Yuneec seems to be doing pretty darn well with its electric planes, for example. It won last year's Lindberg Electric Aircraft Award.

Although the company is based in Shanghai, Yuneec's prime markets are clearly in North America and Europe. As stated in this AOPA interview, Tian Yu, the company's founder, is aiming for a 4-place variant of their e430, called the e1000. Mr. Yu freely admits that the real challenge for his and all electric aircraft is the energy density in batteries, but it's not stopping him from doing everything he can with aerodynamics and weight savings elsewhere in the mean time.

Anyway, I'm rooting for Mr Hsueh and his new venture, Triton, as well as for Yuneec and electric planes generally. I'll be very excited to see a revised A500 design. Perhaps there'll be an electric version one day, too.