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Why it Took us 3 days to Fly to Oshkosh

by Tori Williams 1. August 2018 18:00
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Only a few days have passed since we returned from the “World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration” at EAA’s AirVenture and I am already having withdrawals! There is nothing quite like sleeping under the wing of an airplane that you flew in and waking up to the sound of aircraft engines whirling to life. As anyone who has been to AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin knows, the week is completely unforgettable and there is no shortage of things to see and do.

This is the 4th year my husband and I have flown in, and the 2nd time that we’ve flown my father-in-law’s 1931 Waco ASO. This “Straightwing” biplane was restored in the 70’s and has an open cockpit. It is a wonderful aircraft, but definitely not ideal for cross-country flying. It’s extremely windy, and even in the middle of summer the air gets freezing once you’re at altitude. We knew we were in for a long trip before we left, but the series of events that followed were nothing short of unexpected.

Our plan was to leave Saturday morning, have a leisurely trip up, and arrive that evening to set up camp. However, the reality of our trip to Oshkosh was very different. When we got up Saturday morning, it was pouring rain and ceilings were at 800’. We had to wait for that to clear out, so we weren’t able to depart until around 3pm. We had a 20 knot headwind, and ForeFlight indicated our speed across the ground varied between 60-70 mph. We were slow, and the thunderstorms from earlier had broken up but there were still showers we had to avoid.

We made a quick fuel stop in Harvard, Illinois at a gorgeous grass strip called Dacey Airport. After this we were finally in the homestretch to Ripon.

An important side-note: for those who haven’t read the Oshkosh NOTAM, the gist of the arrival procedure is to approach the town of Ripon, southwest of Oshkosh, and visually separate yourself from incoming traffic. Once you have a half mile separation from the plane in front of you, everyone is instructed to fly at 90 knots and 1800 ft in single file to the next town of Fisk. Once directly over Fisk, the Air Traffic Controllers ask you to “rock your wings” for identification purposes and then they assign you a runway and you are passed to another controller who clears you to land. There are often 4 or 5 aircraft on final at any given moment, so accuracy landings “on the dot” and turning off the runway as soon as able are important. The NOTAM states that no talking on the radio is allowed, so usually this approach is actually easier than landing at some other airports.

With the NOTAM in hand and mostly memorized, we approached Ripon with high hopes for a smooth arrival and landing. After all, the 3 other times we have flown in there were never any issues. However, when we were less than 5 miles from Ripon we heard this on the radio: “Attention all traffic – the Oshkosh field is now closed to incoming traffic for the Bonanza mass arrival. Begin holding. This will be a LONG delay so divert to an alternate if you have low fuel.” Partly because we didn’t expect a long delay, and partly because the fuel at Dacey was so expensive, we didn’t fill the tank up. We were far from a fuel emergency, but didn’t have enough to hold for a “LONG delay.” We immediately turned to our alternate, Fon du Lac. As we got near and contacted the temporary control tower, we were out of luck again. Fon du Lac was where the Bonanza mass arrival was departing from, and were again told to divert due to “150 Bonanzas on the runway” (Certainly something you would only hear at AirVenture.)

We began looking for a third alternate, and located untowered Dodge County airport 23 nm away. The annoying thing about this section of our trip was that dozens of other aircraft were forced to do the same thing, and we were all inbound to Dodge County at the same time. One such aircraft had a stuck mic, so he was continually transmitting over everyone else trying to coordinate within the pattern. Eventually we all were able to communicate and land, and I must give props to the staff at Dodge County for the “refueling assembly line” they had created to deal with the sudden influx of frustrated aircraft.

The whole FBO was full of pilots who had to divert. Several were on their phones calling every hotel in town only to find out they didn’t have any rooms available. We asked around for a bit about lodging but it appeared our only option in Dodge County was to set up our tent and camp out. With less than an hour left of daylight, we decided to try going back to Fon du Lac, where my father-in-law had found a hotel with open rooms.

We immediately took off, watching as others began pitching their tents on the airport below us. Thankfully Fon du Lac had cleared out the Bonanzas, and we were able to land there (behind a C-47!) and tie down for the night. We were generously given a ride to the hotel by a T-6 pilot who had the same misfortune as us while trying to enter Oshkosh. His wife had brought a camper up earlier in the week and she drove there to retrieve him. After some late-night pizza delivery, we were exhausted and got some rest before a second attempt to enter Oshkosh on Sunday.

Sunday morning we were awoken to the sound of thunder and heavy rain. The weather had taken a turn for the worse overnight, and it was clearly going to be IFR for several hours. We spent most of the day in the terminal at Fon du Lac, watching The Open Championship on tv and monitoring weather. Finally around 3pm the skies began opening up. Immediately engines could be heard starting and it was “go time” for getting into Oshkosh. We took a few moments to refuel and ready the airplanes, and went on our merry way towards Ripon.

10 miles from Ripon we began monitoring the approach frequency. It already didn’t sound good. The controller urgently repeated the phrases “we are oversaturated! Everyone approaching Fisk turn LEFT and enter a hold! If you are not at Ripon, do not come to Ripon! Enter a hold and come back with a half-mile separation!” We figured this was just a big push of traffic, and it would pass through soon. We were very wrong.

This video was taken by someone else who was in the air the same time as we were. You can hear the hecticness and see the planes that are too close for comfort.

Our approach took several minutes, and the controller hadn’t mentioned a hold in a while so we figured it was safe to go over Ripon and enter the lineup over the railroad tracks to Fisk. However, as soon as we got closer we realized just how many aircraft were trying to do the exact same thing. Dozens of planes could be seen in any direction at different speeds and altitudes, going every which way and being way too close for comfort. It was very reminiscent of a WWI dogfight. We maneuvered around a few such planes but ended up with a Kitfox on top of us, a Navajo flanking us on the right, and a couple small Cessnas flanking our left. Clearly this wasn’t going to work and we would be turned away if we even tried to approach Ripon.

We broke away from that disastrous group and entered a hold around the rather large Green Lake. After a few circles mixed with other traffic, it became clear they were not allowing people to enter Oshkosh any time soon. The controller continued to instruct planes to “turn left and enter a hold,” “restart the approach,” or “stay away from Ripon.” At one point he said “there are 300 of you between Ripon and Fisk, we cannot have that and we need better separation!” I’m not sure of the 300 figure was an exaggeration, but it certainly felt like it was accurate.

We stayed in a hold for a little over 2 hours before we decided to return to Fon du Lac and try again later. During this time several other aircraft began declaring low fuel emergencies and were granted permission to land. We monitored approach for several hours after we landed and it was the same story: people turned away right and left for airport oversaturation or improper compliance with the NOTAM.

We spent another night in Fon du Lac and got up at 5:30am Monday morning. Oshkosh officially opened for arrivals at 7:00am but we were not going to get there late and enter a hold. We departed Fon du Lac at 6:40 and went straight into Oshkosh. This was the arrival we were accustomed to. Peaceful, respectful, professional. We landed on the yellow dot and had an incredibly fun week. I hope that next year they seriously consider a way to handle the record-breaking traffic!

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Aviation Safety | Flying | Airports

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



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