Articles for Aviation news, people, events, industry, aircraft and airplanes

A Grass Runway with a lot of Heart

An aerial photo taken September 20th, 2014 during the "Wood, Tailwheels, and Fabric Fly-in" at Lee Bottom Flying Field.

Natural disasters can be absolutely devastating to the environment, architecture, and in the unfortunate case of Lee Bottom, grass airfields. Back in March of 2012, a massive tornado swept its way through Indiana, hitting Madison, Hanover, and other towns in the southern state with perilous force.

Lee Bottom Airport is a beautiful grass strip that has been opened for public use by gracious owners Rich and Ginger Davidson. Their 3000' by 100' runway regularly brings in all types of visiting airplanes to the strip on the edge of Indiana. I remember flying to Lee Bottom during my first few hours of lessons. My instructor wanted to show me what a soft field landing was like, and I'll never forget looking down and seeing such a huge expanse of dark green grass - that we were about to land on!

The tornado of 2012 did massive damage to the buildings on Lee Bottom property. Their house, hangar, garage, and many other buildings were hit and needed complete repair. Through the generosity of aviators who knew and loved Lee Bottom for many years, they were able to raise money with an "$100 Hamburger" fundraising event in September of 2012 to begin rebuilding.

However, construction caused their annual "Wood, Tailwheels, and Fabric Fly-in" event to be unable to happen the following September. In past years, aviators from all around would fly in, camp out, eat great food, enjoy the grass strip, and make unforgettable memories with friends. It has been a favorite flying destination for years, and brings in many guests from the non-aviation community as well.

This year the grass strip was back to business, and hosted their first official fly-in since the tornado. I had the awesome opportunity to fly over with my boyfriend, Daniel, in his Stinson 10A and take part in some of the festivities.

Before we had even taken off, we had a taste of what was to come. As we readied the Stinson at KLEX, a bright yellow Stearman was taxing its way towards the runway. Sure enough, this was one of his hangar neighbors making his way towards Lee Bottom. We headed out a few minutes later, a bit behind the vibrant plane.

A quick 30 minute cruise was all it took to reach our destination, which is situated right beside the Ohio River. Daniel made a perfectly smooth landing (grass runways have always been his favorite) and we were guided to the east side of the airport.

The Stinson 10A to the left of a Waco ASO.

The view was incredible from anywhere on the field. The sun was shining, the facilities were clean and ready for campers and day visitors alike, and the delicious smell of meat on the grill filled the air. I spotted one of my favorite sweets, honey sticks, at the souvenirs booth and made my way there first. I bought a handful of the sticks containing sweet honey (Which happens to be cultivated from bees owned and taken care of by Ginger Davidson herself - adorably named "Geez Beez") and enjoyed a couple as we began making our way around to see the other aircraft.

The beauty of the fly-in at Lee Bottom is that all types of aircraft are welcome, but many vintage and classic plane owners make it a point to visit any chance they get. There is an ongoing race between attendance of Stearmans verses attendance of Wacos. As the day went on, the count of which type was winning was updated live from their Facebook page. Stearmans ended up winning by one, but Wacos sure did try!

There was a Spartan Executive, T-6 Texan, 2 DH Tiger Moths, an RC-3 Seabee, and a Howard. I saw biplanes, high wings, low wings, seaplanes, tail wheels, twin engines, experimentals, vintage, modern, aerobatic, a couple helicopters... You name it, there was probably at least one of them there.

Many of these awesome planes did low passes before heading back to their point of origin, which was always such a thrill to see. Everyone enjoyed the beautiful weather and a slice of the wonderful world of aviation that had gathered here. The splendor of Lee Bottom is in how intimate it is. Everyone feels welcome and the Davidsons do a wonderful job of providing the perfect space to cultivate such a fun environment.

I want to personally thank everyone who helped in any way to put on this fly-in. It was as unforgettable as the Geez Beez honey.

Aviation is Synonymous with Innovation

The entire world of aviation was born from human innovation. We saw birds take flight and said to ourselves, “Why couldn’t we do that?” Since the beginning of time we have been looking for ways to be better, to move to the future, and to make tomorrow brighter and easier for mankind.

By now most people have heard of Nextgen, the nation-wide plans to move the aviation industry into the future. The Federal Aviation Association and Department of Transportation are pushing for this update to the National Aerospace System that will bring us into a safer and more efficient airspace environment.

The Nextgen mission is very fascinating, but I am interested in the projects that are put together by smaller companies. The innovators of tomorrow are truly the dreamers of today. They come up with amazing ideas, and decide to believe in their ideas with all of their might. Much like Steve Jobs starting the Apple empire in his garage in California, I believe that the future of aviation will be paved with innovations from individuals and small businesses.

I have recently come across a few companies that are doing just that. I am very interested to see where these innovators take their ideas in the future, and I can’t wait to see new realms of progress within the world of aviation.

"MakerPlane is an open source aviation organization which will enable people to build and fly their own safe, high quality, reasonable cost plane using advanced personal manufacturing equipment such as CNC mills and 3D printers.” Imagine being able to design your own aircraft and print the necessary pieces out. The technology this project is creating opens so many doors for the future of homebuilt aircraft.

Malloy Aeronautics has created a prototype for a stable and pretty great looking Hoverbike. They are currently still in the testing phase, but have plans for mass production of the hovercraft if they can secure enough funding for the project. I certainly can see a future where having a personal hovercraft is commonplace.

Terrafugia have created the flying car of tomorrow. Many have already heard of this project, but having an aircraft that is capable of converting into a car is an amazing feat.

I hope that showing you a few of these innovators inspires you to achieve more and create a better future for aviation. Here’s to the next great ideas!

Air Racing is not only for the Boys

The official route of the 2014 Air Race Classic shown in Max-Trax -yellow flags indicate nearby airports with the lowest fuel prices.

Now that I am a licensed pilot (passed my checkride on the 12th of May!) it’s time to start moving towards the next step in my aviation career. I’m beginning my instrument training at a flight university this fall, but I have big plans besides that. One dream that I have had for years is to race in the all-female air derby, the Air Race Classic. Seeing as this year’s race kicks off on the 16th, this seems like the perfect time to share information about this great competition.

Between the 16th and the 19th of this month, 52 teams of female aviators will take flight to compete in one of the most thrilling and fun events in general aviation. Competitors from all over the world come together and race during this event that is enjoyable for ladies at all levels of flight experience. Since the first female Powder Puff Derby in 1929, the 3 day flying marathon has enticed thousands to participate. This year teams will fly a route that goes from Concord, California to New Cumberland, Pennsylvania.

The rich history of this event is too much for one blog post, but it is important to note the social impact caused by the creation of the race. Participants in the first race included Amelia Earhart, Louise Thaden, and Thea Rasche, amongst other legendary aviatrixes. The social stigma against female pilots slowly dissolved with every race thereafter. Despite several complications with aircraft, and the unfortunate death of one of the racers, the first race paved the way for future female air racers.

It is inspiring to think about all the hard work and preparation the pilots must go through. Months of planning lead up to 3 packed days of racing and competition. The honor of racing is perhaps one of the most sought after achievements for the modern female pilot. Many teams need a little help covering the cost of the race, and will acquire sponsors from local businesses or organizations. A favorite means of fundraising is hosting an airplane wash, or to post logos of their sponsors on the racing airplane itself.

This race is not simply a competition of “who gets there first.” Each aircraft is given a certain handicap groundspeed that it is rated at, and racers must exceed this speed in order to gain a higher ranking. They must take advantage of weather, thermals, altitudes, and essentially fly the “perfect cross-country” in order to win. In theory, the last person to arrive at the finish line could be the winner.

I know several ladies from my local chapter of the Ninety-Nines who have raced in the past. They recall it fondly, and greatly encourage me to continue pursuing my dream of being a racer. I know that one day I will, but for now I am looking forward to hearing about this year's winners!

Part 61 and Part 141 Flight Schools – What's The Difference? Should I Care?

Sometimes picking the right flight school can be as confusing as your first time seeing a sectional chart.

Every student pilot knows that where you train is as important as how you train. When I first began searching for a flight school, I quickly learned that the style of training offered by one flight school could be wildly different from another. There can be a huge contrast between having an independent CFI and being part of a flight school with rigid schedules and precise syllabi. I was constantly urged to learn about the instructing styles of multiple schools and instructors before choosing one.

For a number of months I attended a distinguished flight school in Louisville. They were great at training, and despite the fact that I was 12 at the time, they treated me like any other student. I remember attending a group ground school session where I was the youngest student by at least 40 years. I was this young girl trying very hard to fit in with the adults, and to learn advanced concepts of aviation at the same pace they were. In reality I had just started learning algebra a few weeks before.

The flight school was top notch and I gained a great deal of experience there but my training was quickly halted as money and time became an issue. After more searching and talking with other pilots, I was able to find The Institute for Aerospace Education, a high school program that was based at a school less than 30 minutes from my house. A couple years passed from when I had been instructed in Louisville, so I began this program with a new motivation and passion.

At the time I joined the program, it was a Part 61. This week, my great little flight school became certified as Part 141. This is a pretty big deal for a high school program, and further assured me that I have made the right decision for my future in attending this school. For those of you who do not know the difference of Part 61 and Part 141, here is a quick rundown. The number refers to which part of the federal regulations it is authorized under to train pilots.

Part 61

Schools certified under Part 61 are the most common type of flight school. All FAA-approved flight instructors, freelance or otherwise, may train students under Part 61. Typically Part 61 schools have a more relaxed schedule, working with the student’s preferences and availability. They have less accountability and paperwork requirements for the FAA than their Part 141 counterparts. These tend to be better for students who just want their first couple ratings or do not plan to pursue aviation as a career.

Part 141

In order to be a certified Part 141 flight school, the owner must go through a process that involves hours of paperwork and close examination of the actual teaching procedures at the school. All curriculum, training, and operations must be in accordance with the regulations outlined in Part 141 of the Federal Aviation Regulations. There are benefits to going through such a long process to certify the school, as students are able to get their licenses and ratings in fewer hours. This does not make a huge difference for Private Pilots, as they only have 5 hours taken off the standard of 40. However, once you reach the Commercial rating you can get a certification at 60 hours less than any Part 61 peers.

Which is better?

In reality, that depends entirely on you. If you personally learn better with a rigid schedule and lesson plan, then seek out a 141 certified flight school. If you tend to learn better in a more relaxed, casual environment, 61 would be better suited for you. One disadvantage of a Part 141 school is that many students can reach the point of feeling overwhelmed with the fast pace. I have always felt that a Part 61 would be better for a pilot who has never been exposed to aviation before their training, so that they can ease into the material.

I hope this has helped you grasp a better understanding of the different types of flight schools. Good luck on your training, whether it be Part 61 or 141!

The Aerobatic Experience of a Lifetime

There is great excitement around Louisville right now. Last weekend Thunder Over Louisville came to our charming little city. Thousands of people gathered around the Ohio River to watch the Blue Angels, Lima Lima Flight team, Trojan Horsemen, Team AeroDynamix, and several other big names in airshow entertainment. It was a sunny day with a slight breeze, the perfect setting for the 25th anniversary of the airshow.

One of these Thunder performers was John Klatt. He is an Air National Guard pilot who proudly flies the F-16 “Fighting Falcon” and C-130 “Hercules” aircraft on combat, air support, and humanitarian missions. In addition to all of this, he is an airshow performer extraordinaire with over 10 years’ experience flying for millions of spectators. In his current routine he flies his MXS in a plethora of twists, turns, and flips at stunning speeds.

Last Thursday I had the opportunity to ride along with John and his flight crew for some practice before the big event. I strapped on my parachute and climbed into the front seat of their 300 horsepower Extra 300L. I had not experienced aerobatics previously, so as they secured me with the abundance of harnesses and safety straps I had a brief moment where I was questioning what I was getting myself into. Being born a thrill seeker, I gave a thumbs up to the crew and braced myself for the adventure that awaited us.

After an incredibly speedy liftoff, we flew in close proximity behind John in his single seat MXS. When we reached the practice area he headed north of the Ohio river and we headed south to do maneuvers. We started out simple, with just a dive from 5000’ to gain airspeed and roll into some steep turns. After this we did a hammerhead, loop, and barrel roll. I tried to play it cool but every moment I lost sight of the ground I couldn’t help but grin.

Flying aerobatics is what I believe to be one of the fundamentals of aviation. Humans have always been seeking out the biggest thrills. We question how fast something can go, how high we can fly. Part of human nature is pushing the limits and finding new ways of controlling our surroundings. For years we have been building faster and better aircraft in this pursuit of maximizing our abilities. Maybe I am getting too philosophical with this, but the entire concept of aerobatics beautifully demonstrates the human spirit. Airshows are built around this human adoration of pushing boundaries. The fact that we have created machines capable of such breathtaking feats is worth celebration enough. Add in the remarkable skill and talent of pilots like John Klatt, and you have a perfect display of human intellect and liveliness.

After I hopped out of the Extra 300L, I felt like my eyes had been opened to a whole new world of flying capabilities. The sheer power and agility of the plane shocked me. This truly was an unforgettable experience and I want to thank John Klatt and his team for this opportunity.