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The Robird: Coming Soon to a Sky Near You

by Tori Williams 1. February 2018 08:00
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During a research project for my Airport Manager Certification class (which is really just studying for the AAAE CM exam), I happened upon a video of one of the most interesting Wildlife Management technologies I've ever seen. The video featured the "Robird," which is an Unmanned Aerial System designed to look and fly exactly as a bird of prey does. Created by the company Clear Flight Solutions in the Netherlands, the bird uses UAS technology to be remotely controlled from the ground by a certified pilot. The bird can be used in several scenarios where birds may be a hazard to the surrounding environment, but especially at airports where birds pose a threat to safe flight operations. The body of the UAS is painted with faux feathers, eyes and a beak to increase the lifelike appearance. This device comes in two models, the Eagle and the Falcon, replicating their respective birds of prey.

To begin their marvelous flight, one person uses their hands to hold the drone up into the air while the pilot uses their controls to makes the bird come to life and start flapping its wings. A slight mechanical buzz is heard, but nothing that would give the bird away to his avian enemies. The assistant then launches the drone forward, sending it into the skies and on towards its mission. The small but mighty UAS is able to reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour, a big selling point for those looking to take their wildlife management tactics to the next level.

A flying robot has many unique challenges. It has to be lightweight enough to soar through the air, but the body must contain all of the necessary mechanical parts, resulting in extra weight. The engineers were able to give the birds perfect weights (the Falcon is 1.6 pounds and the Eagle is 4.5 pounds) by creating the bodies out of nylon composite with glass fiber and utilizing a lithium polymer battery. The wings are 3D printed, and the machine is assembled by hand.

The most important technology of the Robird is how Clear Flight Solutions has managed to make the robot look incredibly lifelike, completely indistinguishable from a real bird of prey from even a short distance away. This is achieved not only by the immaculate paint job on the robot, but the way that it flaps its wings and has a flight behavior eerily similar to the real birds. This is achieved by having each foam wing flex into different degrees across its length.

The pilot is always able to control exactly where the bird flies, so it is safe in even the busiest airfields. Because it utilizes drone technology, it will be easy to regulate and classify the device for Airport Certification Manuals. The creators of the device are quoted as saying, “it can be tempting to put too much technology into the bird,” and seem to want their device to be useful because it is simple, rather than too technological to operate daily.

The goal when using this robot is to scare away unwanted wildlife from active airfields, providing efficient wildlife management and drastically reducing the occurrences of bird strikes. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, birds make up 97% of reported wildlife strikes. Seeing as they are the most common wildlife hazard, airport managers must often target them specifically.

Birds have shown a tendency to become accustomed to other traditional means of wildlife management, such as loud noises or statues of owls. Clear Flight Solutions claims that as use of their Robird continues on the airfield, the birds will learn to avoid the supposed “hunting ground” of the creature, and the problematic populations will dwindle. In a series of test flights they were able to reduce the bird population in the affected area by 75 percent over time.

This is a new and exciting technology, and I am interested to see how this bird drone develops further into the future. Check out the video below to see the realistic flight patterns of the Robird. The future is now!

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Flying | Tori Williams

Electric Airplanes

by Tori Williams 1. January 2018 20:52
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Last summer a family member of mine decided to take a leap into the future and purchased a Tesla Model S. When we went home for the holidays my husband and I were able to take a ride in the brilliant unity of technology and transportation that is an electric car. Outfitted with dozens of luxury features, and with an engine so quiet you’ll wonder why we’ve dealt with noisy mechanical engines for this long, riding in a Tesla will change your life. The power behind the electric car is amazing. There is no delay between pushing the pedal (Gas pedal? Go pedal?) and when you are moving along smooth as silk. After riding in the Tesla and seeing several charging stations “in the wild” I truly believe that electric cars are going to be the preferred way to travel in the future.

Bringing everything in my life back to aviation, as I am so inclined to do, I began to wonder about the options that are available for electric airplanes. Surely the innovations that Elon Musk has brought to cars was brought to airplanes long ago. Fuel is one of the largest costs when operating an aircraft, whether small or large, so surely someone has made an electronic solution. The engine noise inside an aircraft is so loud annoying that many people opt to fly gliders for some peace and quiet. To be rid of insane fuel costs and mind-numbing loudness would make aviation a much more comfortable place to be. I began digging around online and found some interesting developments that are striving to bring battery-powered flight to the public every day.

History

Electric powered flying machines have been around almost as long as aviation itself. The first instance was in 1883 when Frenchman Gaston Tissandier flew an electrically-powered airship using a Siemens motor. Improved electric airships were then created, however, most of them had to be tethered to a power source on the ground. Innovations to full-sized aircraft didn’t come until the invention of the Nickel-Cadmium battery, which could provide much more power with less weight. The first manned electric aircraft to fly under its own power was the Militky MB-E1 in 1973. This small two passenger aircraft had a flight time of just 14 minutes, but it was a good start. Ever since this first flight dozens of companies have been working on creating the perfect electric airplane.

NASA

It’s impossible to write an article about electric aircraft without mentioning all of the work NASA has done with solar-powered unmanned aircraft. They have set quite a few records with their Pathfinder, Centurion, and Helios. These long skinny planes look like something out of a sci-fi movie, and they made groundbreaking discoveries in the future of solar-powered flight. In 2001 the Helios set an altitude record of 96,863 feet! However, these are not manned and I wanted to focus more on the human transportation involved with electric aircraft.

The Sun Flyer

Of all the electric aircraft prototypes I saw in my research, none looked as complete and interesting as the Sun Flyer. The 2 seater aircraft is sleek, costs approximately $16 per flight hour (compared to $89 for a Cessna 172) and can fly 3 hours on a single charge. The founding management team includes Charlie Johnson, the former president of Cessna, so they must know what they are doing. They are not currently in production, but as is evident on their website, they have deposits for 105 aircraft. I can definitely see this company and concept becoming huge in the upcoming years. Although the short flight endurance may seem like a hindrance, this aircraft is perfect as a training aircraft. Training flights are often less than 2 hours, and having a more affordable option benefits both the students and the school.

Pipistrel Alpha Electro

The Sun Flyer is not alone in the race to become the best electric flight training aircraft. Pipistrel is a Slovenian light aircraft manufacturer that holds many awards for their eco-friendly aircraft designs. Their goals are to reduce emissions created by aircraft, make flying more affordable, and decrease the noise around airports. All of these things are achievable through electric aircraft, so their main focus right now has been developing the "Alpha Electro" to be a 2-seater ultralight flight training aircraft.

It will be interesting to see where electronic aircraft development takes us in the future. Teslas are quickly becoming a serious competitor in the car market, and it would be nice to see this same intense competition and innovation with electric aircraft. At the end of the day, everyone can benefit from more affordable and enjoyable flying options!

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Flying | Tori Williams

Tips for Your First Oshkosh Camping Experience

by Tori Williams 2. August 2017 12:30
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Ever wondered what it would be like to fly into Oshkosh for AirVenture and camp under the wing of your aircraft? Have you thought of doing it before but not known what to expect? I am here to answer any questions you may have about flying in, camping out, and making the most of Aviation’s Greatest Celebration!

A little background about myself: I have been to Oshkosh a total of four times, three of which I flew in and camped beside the plane. That is by no means anywhere near as many times as most Oshkosh attendees. In fact, I met a man this year who said it was his 42nd consecutive year at the fly-in. Now that is impressive! I am a novice, but I was new to camping my first year and there are certainly things I wish I had known beforehand. So here is my complete beginners guide to airplane camping at Oshkosh!

Some financial information upfront: two adult weekly wristbands ($123 each for EAA members) plus 9 nights of camping ($27 a day) will cost just shy of $500. You do get a refund on camping if you do not stay the whole 9 days, and the only major cost you should have left after that is food. Buses are available to take you on Target runs which help to avoid the typically overpriced food offered on the grounds. Overall this can be a very affordable vacation if you plan it out well.

Step One:

Pack Appropriately.

Obviously, what you are able to pack depends a lot on what type of aircraft you are flying in. The first year I had the opportunity to fly into Oshkosh with my husband we flew in a Stinson 10A. That little plane couldn’t haul a third person, let alone a tent, chairs, luggage, and all of our supplies for the week. We ended up having to have my father-in-law carry most of our supplies in his plane which was able to carry much more. You also have the option of mailing your supplies in and picking them up once you get there, if that seems like a better option. Just remember, you’ll have to mail them back or throw them away! Some items I could not live without during the week include: sunscreen, bug spray, a hat, a shower tote, shower shoes, and a medium sized backpack. Don’t forget regular items such as toiletries, sheets, pillows, and a few warm blankets. It can get extremely cold at night. Bring enough shampoo and conditioner to shower every night, even if you don’t feel like it. Believe me, the week will go by much smoother if you go to bed clean every night.

Step two:

Arrive Gracefully.

Read the NOTAM! Believe it or not, there are actual real pilots that attempt to fly into AirVenture without reading the arrival procedures NOTAM. One such pilot was ahead of us on our arrival in this year. He kept asking his buddy over the radio what he was supposed to do. It’s embarrassing and inefficient. It takes literally 10 minutes to review and get an idea of what is expected of you when you arrive at Ripon. Print it out, highlight the frequencies, and get ready to rock your wings when they ask you! Make sure you have your sign with you to signal the ground crew where you need to go. Follow their instructions and take up any grievances with your parking location with the appropriate personnel after you have shut down the engine. Screaming out the window at a volunteer who is just following someone else’s’ instructions won’t get you anywhere.

Step Three:

Set up Your “Home Base.”

I personally think it is important to enjoy the place that you return to every night. We have had great luck with bringing an air mattress and setting it up inside our (slightly oversized) tent. If you do not have access to a battery or generator for the week, there are plenty of outlets where you can blow the mattress up and return it to your tent. I saw this happen more than once, and it is totally worth it to have a comfy bed. I suggest bringing a lantern, cooler, and any other “extras” that would add to your experience camping. Things can get messy and disorganized very quickly in a tent environment, so having a system for where you put dirty clothes, shoes, etc. will also be beneficial.

Step Four:

Scope out Your Amenities.

It is important to know the location and availability of the amenities closest to your campsite. EAA has been very good about providing hot showers, charging stations, drinking water, porta pots and mirrors to their campers at several locations throughout the grounds. The showers are usually in the form of giant trailers with doors that open to individual changing rooms and curtains covering the shower portion. I have had no issues in the past being in Vintage camping, however, this year they did not provide any sinks in the South 40 portion. I had to take a bus and a tram to get to any kind of sink. That made the week difficult, as I wash my face with soap every single morning. I had to get creative and carry my facewash with me as I got on the bus to reach the main area, where I would stop off and wash at the nearest sinks in Vintage. This might not be important for your situation, but getting a good idea of where your amenities are before it gets dark will help a lot.

Step Five:

Have fun!

I know that it sounds cliché, but having fun and enjoying the week is the ultimate goal here. Get to know your neighbors, walk around and see everything you possibly can, and take time to simply appreciate how big and wonderful EAA AirVenture has become. I know of a lot of people who consider it the best week of the year, and it is certainly easy to find something interesting to learn or see.

Let me know in the comments if you have any tips for first-time campers at Oshkosh! As always, I am already looking forward to next year!

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Flying | Airports | Tori Williams

Thoughts From The National Waco Club Reunion Fly-in

by Tori Williams 2. July 2017 12:30
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Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend an aviation event that truly inspired me. The 58th annual National Waco Club Reunion was held at Wynkoop Airfield in Mount Vernon, Ohio. My husband and his father have flown into this particular fly-in for several years. This was my first year being able to join them, and I am so glad that I did.

Our trip to Wynkoop was a little over 200 nautical miles. We arrived Thursday evening and did our best to prepare for the incoming thunderstorms on Friday. The rain definitely hit full force and pilots were grounded for the majority of the day. Thankfully all was not lost, and the skies opened up to beautiful sun and favorable winds on Saturday. It was the perfect weather and a great backdrop to the 22 unique Waco aircraft that flew in.

There were several factors that made this fly-in so special. First, the majority of the Waco aircraft flown in are project planes that have been meticulously restored from the ground up. The passionate aviators who have dedicated thousands of hours to their planes aim to honor historical accuracy. These are friends that go back decades and have watched the progress of each other’s projects over time. They call it a reunion for a reason!

Second, the pilots at this fly-in wanted to do just that – fly! At any point in the day there would be several beautiful biplanes whirling around the field, doing low passes, and occasionally taking the lucky passenger for a ride. I like this aspect better than events like AirVenture because you are able to go up whenever you’d like, whereas it can be difficult to get into the air at AirVenture if you aren’t in an airshow.

The third special thing about the National Waco Club Reunion is the locals who come out to see the planes. They are always respectful and curious about general aviation. Unlike some fly-ins where the public seems to come just for the entertainment value, these people have a much deeper passion and respect for the work that goes into restoring and maintaining these aircraft.

An important part of every fly-in is the food that is available. There was a hearty breakfast served Saturday as pilots prepared for the day ahead. In the afternoon attendees enjoyed brats, burgers, and hotdogs with all of the fixings. Another great option was the homemade ice cream food truck parked outside the FBO. The Saturday night banquet was especially delicious and the catered buffet was served on the field!

The fly-in is not heavily publicized in the area. Locals just know that near the end of June the biplanes will come in, and they will show up after they see them flying around town. I had a good experience with every single person that I interacted with from the town of Mount Vernon. They were enthusiastic about the airplanes and we had several of them thank us for coming to town.

My husband especially enjoyed taking the locals up for rides during the fly-in. He said it’s important to him to show people that aviation is a lot more than a way to get from point A to point B. General aviation is more than a hobby, but rather a lifestyle for many. The more that the general public knows about it, the more they will be willing to support pilots and airports in legal matters they may have a voice in. Giving a face to general aviation and the people who enjoy it is an important mission for both of us.

Overall this fly-in was a great experience and I highly recommend attending in the future. The enthusiasm and zeal for aviation shared by the pilots is very clear as soon as you step onto the field. This fly-in truly serves as a great example of success for all other types of aviation events.

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Flying | Tori Williams | Vintage Aircraft

Co-ownership Tips

by David Wyndham 12. June 2017 14:49
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When I was in high school I worked as line crew at an FBO at the small airport in Rochester, NH. When I started work, my employer rented out Cessna 150s for $19 per hour and a Cessna 172 for $29 per hour. AvGas was less than a dollar per gallon. One local pilot owned a mid-1960s Cessna 172. He flew only on severe-clear days, which in New England was infrequent. At best he maybe flew 40 hours per year. I asked him why didn’t he just rent. He replied that he could buy AvGas to fly 3.5 hours for the cost of one hour of a rental. I did some quick math as I knew what his recent annual cost and what he paid for the tie-down space he rented. Throw in a wild guess for insurance and I came up with over $100 per hour for his 40-hour “bargain.” I asked about these costs. A few months later he took on a partner to co-own his plane.

Most turbine aircraft fly less than 400 hours per year. Many operators since 2008 have reduced their flight activity and it is not uncommon to see utilization below 300 or even below 200 annual hours. For private owners, the 200 annual hours is maybe toward the high side. If you are flying 200 annual hours, your aircraft is sitting idle most of the time. 

Aircraft are also expensive. Fixed expenses like crew salaries, hangar and insurance when the are spread over a small number of hours drive up the average hourly total costs. If you are not using your aircraft, why not get some revenues by having someone else use it? Putting your aircraft onto a charter operator’s certificate receives a lot of attention and is the first thing I think of for helping to offset the total costs of owning your own aircraft. But there are other options like my long-ago Cessna 172 owner found out.

My general discussion will use co-ownership and joint-ownership interchangeably as it involves the day-to-day functioning of the shared arrangement. We do define them slightly different. Co-Ownership is when two or more organizations share the use and expenses of an aircraft but the aircraft is operated by a management company. Joint Ownership is when two or more organizations share the use and expenses of an aircraft and the aircraft is operated by one of these organizations (not a management company). There are legal and tax subtleties between the two that I won’t cover.

The significant advantage of co-ownership is that the two individuals share not only the costs of operation, but also the acquisition cost. Thus, a $1 million acquisition budget is all that is needed for a $2 million aircraft. You can either get a larger aircraft for the money or apply it to a newer model of the desired aircraft. Which leads me to tip number one.

Don’t buy more aircraft as a co-owner than you can afford to buy alone. 

Co-ownership works best when both partners are financially sound enough not to “need” the other in order to make the payments or pay the bills. When (not if) one of the two of you wants to sell, when you can afford the whole aircraft then the negotiations can be less stressful and less likely to result in the complete sale of the aircraft. Maintain your financial independence with respect to the aircraft. Look for a co-owner who also has the financial resources to operate the aircraft.

Second, find someone who flies “not like you” to co-own. Best case is owner A flies for business during the week and owner B takes the aircraft on vacations and holidays. You will need to schedule your travel. Avoid disputes over needing the aircraft at the same time but having complimentary schedules.

Speaking of scheduling, “first come, first served” is not likely to be successful all on its own. I saw one partnership come unraveled when scheduling issues turned into one owner scheduling the aircraft every other week for the entire year. All week. One thing to consider is “on and off” weeks. When its your “on week” you get priority scheduling and when you are “off” the other owner gets first use. To make things work, you’ll both want to accommodate each other.  

Best scheduling tip is to both have travel schedules set well in advance with limited conflicts. Agree up front about who pays what costs when the aircraft is away for several nights. Owner A takes the aircraft away and plans to on vacation for two weeks. Owner B needs the aircraft during the interim while owner A isn’t needing to fly. Who pays for the repositioning trip?  Have an agreement that spells out all use and scheduling policies.

Make sure that both owners share similar financial goals with respect to the aircraft. Want the aircraft cosmetics maintained to the highest standards? Maintained only at the service center? Spell out the level of maintenance and upkeep of the aircraft. Also spell out exactly how expenses are to be shared. Separately discuss fixed cost sharing like hangar and insurance versus variable costs like fuel and maintenance. Set up a maintenance reserve account and possibly put the aircraft on a guaranteed hourly maintenance program for at least the engines. Have a budget.

Last tip is to plan for the sale of the aircraft and terms for the sale. A long running partnership may see another aircraft. Partnerships dissolve with the current aircraft when needs and finances of one owner change. Again, if both co-owners can afford the aircraft, the loss of one owner is inconvenient but not disastrous. 

A successful co-ownership lets two owners get 80% to 90% of their aircraft needs met for 50% of the cost. Advanced planning and written agreements along with both parties being transparent with respect to the aircraft are critical, but it can work. It worked for a Cessna 172 and it can work for a much bigger aircraft, too.

 

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Aircraft Sales | David Wyndham | Flying



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