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Oshkosh: It's Not About the Airplanes


Okay, so maybe it's a little bit about the airplanes. (Did you see the Mosquito? The GoodYear Blimp?!) But for most people, Oshkosh is about so much more than airplanes. If you follow Oshkosh on social media then you've heard the buzz of engines during the airshow and you've seen your friends posting selfies in front of amazing airplanes. But what you can't see from the photos is something else that's deeper, more elusive, that only exists at Oshkosh. Maybe it's a feeling, or maybe it's just something in the air. It's probably different for everyone, but whatever it is, it's general aviation at its absolute best. Airplanes are just the backdrop. A friend (who I happened to meet at Oshkosh) said it best in this video when he said, "It feels like coming home."

So what is it that makes Oshkosh special? What is it that keeps thousands of aviation fanatics returning each year to a place that's not even easy to get to? It's about the people, the encouragement, the mentorship, the conversation and the camaraderie. It's about an industry that welcomes you into it without pause and allows you to consider it your home without even a hint of reservation. It's an immediate family where every single one of your sisters and brothers just "gets" you.

Over fifteen years ago, I entered the world of aviation by walking into a sleepy airport terminal in my hometown, completely on my own. I had been on a single plane ride before, and I knew I wanted to fly. There was just one problem: I didn't know how. I didn't have a mentor. I didn't have a family member to show me the ropes. I didn't know anyone in aviation. I didn't know where to go or what it would take to become a pilot.

I remember walking into that terminal, a nervous teenage girl, to ask about flight lessons. With a comforting smile and a gleam in his eye, the airport manager sent me across the field to the sleepy little flight school. The owner of the flight school, without asking me why a girl like me would possibly want to fly, without hesitating or commenting on my five-foot-nothing height, hired me on the spot as a secretary. I could answer the phones, he said, and he'd pay me six dollars per hour and let me sit in on the ground school for free. "It's a deal," I said.

What I didn't realize was that this deal would go far beyond six dollars per hour and free ground school. I didn't realize I was gaining an instant family. The flight instructors took me seriously, treated me with respect, and introduced me to the world of flying with enthusiasm and encouragement. Beyond that, each one of them shared their worlds with me outside of our flight lessons. They told me about air shows and scholarships and what airline life would be like. They taught me about the bigger, Part 135 aircraft they flew during their off time. On their days off, they came to the airport with their wives and kids. It felt like home.

Fast forward a few years, and I made another solo trek, this time to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I'd heard the stories, but wondered how it could be more than just another air show with expensive food. I'd seen enough air shows. I'd seen Tora! Tora! Tora! and P-51s and Sean Tucker and Kirby Chambliss. What would be different about AirVenture? I had to find out. I showed up at my room that year - a small bedroom in a lady's house that I booked on a referral from a journalist friend - and found a group of people who had been coming to Oshkosh for years together. But instead of sticking to their own group, they immediately took me in, inviting me to ride the bus with them and inviting me to their nightly dinners. And then I showed up to the media tent, once again by myself, and immediately found friendly faces there, too. I walked the grounds, and while running into old friends, I made even more new friends. One introduction led to another and before I knew it, I had new aviation family members all over the place. It felt like a family reunion - with a pretty spectacular air show on the side.

Last year, I made a few friends at Camp Scholler who have been camping together as a group for years. This year, I was invited to camp alongside them at what they lovingly refer to as "Camp Bacon." I showed up with my kids, but otherwise alone, without really knowing any of these folks beyond social media. As if on cue, they welcomed me - and my children - into their aviation family immediately. They offered good conversation, interesting aviation stories, hot coffee, and even wine. They invited me to the nightly campfire, and to join them during their yearly "Dawn Patrol" walk to the warbirds at five a.m. They shared their stories with me and I learned about their aviation work. By the end of the trip, there were hugs, with the sound of P-51 Merlin engines in the background. It felt like coming home.

This is my family.

This is Oshkosh.

Kids Flying Biplanes

Plane and pilots en route AirVenture 2015

At 19 and 22 years of age, my boyfriend Daniel and I are still considered "kids" by the majority of adults. For this exact reason, we got a lot of interesting reactions when we flew a 1931 Waco ASO open cabin biplane into EAA AirVenture Oshkosh last week. Most people cannot fathom flying such an antique aircraft themselves, and seeing us doing it seemed out of place.

This particular Waco has been in my boyfriend’s family since the 1960s. It was an old crop duster that had been sitting in a field in Louisiana and desperately needed a restoration. They obtained the aircraft and spent over 10 years restoring it to the stunning condition that it is in now. Although he grew up around this plane, Daniel got his license and spent a couple hundred hours flying a Stinson 10A before he was allowed to move to the Waco. His tailwheel skills still amaze me, and his transition into the Waco only took a handful of hours.

He debated for several days if he should fly the Stinson into AirVenture for a second year, or take the Waco. He finally did decide to take a leap and fly the Waco, and we are both so glad he did. Although it is pretty much the opposite of the type of plane you would want to go on a long VFR cross country with, the flights there and back were unforgettable and enjoyable. The flight up was 6.7 hours total flight time (plus a stop every hour to stretch our legs and snack), and the flight back was only 5.7 hours (plus hourly stops as well).

Wearing our "Straightwing Crew Hats"

The flight was a particularly enjoyable experience for me because Daniel would give me full flight control for entire legs of the trip while we were enroute. The seat in the front has a grand total of zero flight instruments besides the stick, rudder, and throttle control. It was a fun learning experience for me to fly entirely stick and rudder, and for him to give me constructive feedback based on what his instruments read. My first couple attempts I kept getting into what I called "The Dolphin," where I would over-correct for altitude changes and fly in a constant slight attitude of up and down, like a dolphin swimming near the surface of the water. Once I got the hang of how much input I needed to stabilize the aircraft, it was much smoother sailing.

Half the fun of AirVenture is relaxing in the shade of the aircraft wing and talking to fellow aircraft enthusiasts that walk past. We set out chairs and spoke with people for a couple hours every day. It was always interesting to see the reactions of people who had been admiring the aircraft from the other side, then came over to see us smiling and asking how they were. The most common reaction was "do YOU fly this?" and a general disbelief that such a young guy could be the pilot in command of such a plane. Most people congratulated him on his accomplishments and expressed their jealousy. There was one flight line personnel who saw Daniel climbing on the wing to reach his iPad and promptly came over to scold him for climbing on the aircraft and asked several times if he was REALLY the pilot. We did appreciate his concern for the well-being of the aircraft!

An interesting thing to consider is that the average age of WWI and WWII pilots was early 20's. Pilots younger than Daniel were flying more powerful aircraft in extremely dangerous circumstances. We kept that in mind during our journey and certainly feel reverence and respect for all veterans. Aviation has such a rich heritage and we feel honored for the opportunities we have had so far to experience flight as it would have been in the 1930s.

Beautiful view of Chicago and some sailboats off our right wing as we headed back south.

Daniel's father and my good friend Hayley flew in their Waco YKC, which is closed cabin. It was funny when we would land on the way back and they would be sweaty from all the heat the engine gives off combined with the hot day, and Daniel and I would be wearing two or three jackets to keep from being freezing. The higher the altitude, the colder the air, so we generally flew around 2000 feet.

It was an amazing year at EAA Oshkosh AirVenture and another great experience flying in. Hello to any of the brilliant people we met while up there, and I hope everyone enjoyed the week as much as we did!

Top 9 Things to do at AirVenture in 2015

  1. Test your drone flying skills with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's Small Unmanned Aerospace System (sUAS) Challenge. The drone challenge will feature a 30-foot drone cage at Aviation Gateway Park, and will include both obstacle and speed courses designed for unmanned aerial vehicles. The competition will be held daily from 3 to 5 p.m. and is open to anyone age 10 and up. Or, for those who intend to bring a drone with them, a field next to Pioneer Airport will be designated for drone use. Small RC model aircraft (less than five pounds) may be used in the designated area from 7 to 9 p.m. every night.
  2. Visit the widely praised EAA AirVenture Museum to see more than 200 historic aircraft that are available for viewing. From the classic Piper Cub to the Spirit of St. Louis, EAA's AirVenture Museum has all of the best airplanes. From the museum, you can take a ride in a 1929 Ford Tri-Motor or a 1929 Travel Air E-4000. The museum also has four theaters and a special hands-on KidVenture area, and from May to October, you can take a short tram ride to Pioneer Airport and walk back in time through seven hangars that explore the 20s and 30s, aviation's Golden Age.
  3. Take your kids to Pioneer Airport, which is the place to be this year. From airplane and helicopter rides to drone flying to KidVenture, Pioneer Airport mixes old with new by introducing the next generation of aviation buffs to the aviation world in a variety of ways. Kids can complete a Future A&P course by visiting various booths and learning how to accomplish maintenance tasks like riveting or prop shaping. At the Young Eagles flight education area, future pilots can learn about airspace, lift and fly a flight simulator. Pedal planes are available for the youngest pilots, and older ones will enjoy a bit of history walking through the AirVenture Museum hangars.
  4. Watch the Valdez STOL aircraft show each other up. Each May, specially modified short takeoff and land (STOL) aircraft compete in a competition in Valdez, Alaska. More than a dozen of them will be at Oshkosh this year, and the competition is not to be missed. You can find them at the afternoon air shows, at the ultralight air strip and a final competition will happen prior to the night air show.
  5. If low-key is more your style, visit the Oshkosh Seaplane Base located at Lake Winnebago. Buses run from AirVenture to the Seaplane Base regularly, and beyond the weekly Watermelon Social event, it's a quiet respite from the crowds and heat.
  6. Celebrate the great moments of World War II. This is the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, the successful air war to defend England in the summer and autumn of 1940, forestall a planned invasion of the island by Germany, and the first major turning point of the war. This is the moment that Winston Churchill famously predicted, should it be successful, would be known as England’s "finest hour." Airshow themes celebrating this turning point in the European war throughout the week will include many of the 300 warbirds expected to attend Oshkosh, including a rare flying example of the de Havilland Mosquito fighter/bomber.
  7. Take a seat in a classic aircraft. In addition to the Ford Tri-Motor making its accustomed flights above the AirVenture Grounds, this year you can take a ride from nearby Appleton in the B-17 Flying Fortress Aluminum Overcast, one of the rare surviving examples of this heavy bomber that dropped more ordnance than any other Allied Bomber of World War II. The flights depart from nearby Appleton and a shuttle bus will depart the AirVenture grounds an hour before the flight.
  8. Join Burt Rutan for a week-long recognition of the 40th anniversary of his iconic early aircraft design, the VariEze. For four decades Burt Rutan has continuously broken the mold, creating one unusual aircraft design after another and popularizing concepts such as canard wings and composite construction, culminating for many with his design of SpaceShipOne, the first commercial space flight vehicle. Rutan will be at Oshkosh to share this celebration of his unparalleled history of innovation. His designs will be included in the Homebuilts in Review each morning at 10 and Rutan will be interviewed following at 1PM.
  9. Stop by the Globalair.com booth! Have we met before? Stop by and meet your hard-working GlobalAir team! We'll be in Hangar D, Booth 4028.

The End of the PTS? What the New Airmen Certification Standards Will Mean for Pilots


In order to obtain a pilot certificate of any kind in the United States, a pilot must take an FAA Practical Test, better known as a checkride. The checkride you might take tomorrow is not much different from the checkride I took ten years ago. That is about to change. The FAA recently announced that the practical test standards that we all know so intimately will be overhauled. But will pilot training change? Will the actual checkride be conducted differently than it has for decades? Will aviation safety improve?

After the creation of the Air Commerce Act in 1926, which introduced new rules for pilot certification and the first ever regulations pertaining to aviation, along with a host of other things like new navigational aids and designated airways, the nation's first certificated pilots were born. The first official pilot license was issued to William P. MacCracken, Jr., after both Charles Lindbergh and Orville Wright declined the honor, with Orville boasting that he did not need a piece of paper to prove to the world that he was the first pilot.

This first pilot certificate was awarded as an honor in recognition of service to civil aviation. Subsequent certificates were awarded based on the personal judgment of examiners, which could be subjective. To standardize and make more objective the requirements for checkrides, the FAA eventually introduced the Practical Test Standards. These practical test standards outlined more specific expectations for pilot applicants and gave pilot examiners a rubric with which to evaluate pilot applicants. The test standards began mostly as a maneuvers-based evaluation, making sure the pilot could take off, land, recover from stalls, navigate by means of pilotage and dead reckoning, and others. Today, we still use these same practical test standards, although they've been modified over the years to include advanced navigation and new safety protocols. Yet, the practical test standards remain primarily maneuvers-based: The PTS lists what the applicant should be able to do, the conditions under which each task is to be performed and an acceptable performance standard for each maneuver or task.

The trouble, as accident data suggests, is that mastering a maneuver to a certain level, while it requires effective airspeed and altitude management, is not the most effective indicator of a safe pilot. The Nall report, for example, tells us year after year that improper decision-making and improper planning are common causes of accidents. The 2010 Nall report states that, "After excluding accidents due to mechanical failures or improper maintenance, accidents whose causes have not been determined, and the handful due to circumstances beyond the pilot’s control, all that remain are considered pilot-related. Most pilot-related accidents reflect specific failures of flight planning or decision-making or the characteristic hazards of high-risk phases of flight."

The PTS was created principally to provide objective standards for evaluating and certifying pilots. We have since learned that most of the qualities and abilities that separate safe from unsafe pilots are very difficult to quantify. In an effort to focus attention on these more subjective qualities – knowledge, discipline, risk assessment and management – the flight training community has in recent years created training techniques designed to incorporate these concepts. These techniques would include scenario-based training, FITS (FAA-Industry Training Standards), and training focused on technically advanced airplanes. Most thoughtful flight instructors already make every attempt to include risk management in the training regimen. The question remains as to how to evaluate these principles, which are really processes of thought, mental and emotional approaches to flight, in the course of a practical test. In recent years, these concepts have made their way into the existing PTS as front matter called "special emphasis areas," but only now, with the FAA's new Airmen Certification Standards (ACS), has there been a serious attempt to integrate these concepts into the specific objective tasks of the PTS.

But what exactly does this mean? Will it accomplish anything productive or valuable to flight training? The most prevalent change you'll see will be in the task list included. What we know currently as the PTS will be incorporated into the ACS, and the task list items, which were fairly brief, will be expanded to include many more specifics. For example, the current version of the Private Pilot PTS has 10 objectives listed for the Soft Field Approach and Landing task. It looks like this:

The new ACS project will have much more specific tasks in four different areas under the Soft Field Approach and Landing task: Objective, knowledge, skills and risk management. From a reading of the draft of the proposed ACS, this will be true for every task in the ACS. Knowledge and risk management are now made more specific by referring, in the standards for each task, to ways in which these somewhat amorphous and slippery concepts apply specifically to that task. It goes into much more detail about what could be evaluated on the check ride, including an entire section on risk items. It will look like this:

Along with the added emphasis on risk management, some students and instructors may be relieved to know that there will also be a change in the FAA's written knowledge tests. The FAA admits that over the years, parts of the knowledge test question bank have become redundant and outdated. With the new ACS, we should see the demise of old questions about NDBs and and irrelevant and poorly worded questions that include multiple calculations and interpolations. That's good news. As for when the new ACS will take effect, the FAA is proposing a rolling introduction beginning in late 2015 with the Private Pilot, the Commercial Pilot ACS and the Instrument Rating ACS and revision of the corresponding knowledge tests and codes. A Frequently Asked Questions document recently posted by the FAA admits that this schedule may slip into 2016, but advises that examiners, now called evaluators, may already use the draft ACS as guidance for the administration of checkrides.

The FAA wants us to look at the new ACS as an improved upon PTS, a long-overdue plan to make the qualities now known to correlate with safety an integral part of flight training and testing. They define it as "a holistic, integrated presentation of specific knowledge, skills, and risk management elements and performance metrics for each Area of Operation and Task." I'm not entirely convinced that this will be anything new or unusual for those of us training pilots. The performance standards will remain the same, and, according to the FAA, the ACS will not change the check ride. Instructors should already be teaching risk management and decision-making at every step of flight training, although the specific bullet points now included under each task may suggest specific ways in which these qualities pertain to every task we perform as pilots. In the end, the ACS is a change that is past due and should align the evaluation of pilots with the principles we should have long since been teaching.

Behind the Scenes at the Air Race Classic

Last Monday I had the opportunity to be a small part of history. 50 teams participating in an air race dating back to 1929 were landing at an airport right in my backyard and I had the opportunity to visit and help as they arrived. As the all-female Air Race Classic came to their third stop along the 2,200 NM route, Clark County Airport in Jeffersonville, Indiana, a small army had gathered to welcome them, provide them with food, fuel, and transportation to hotels. I was a volunteer "greeter," meeting the racers as they came into the airport and providing them with answers to any questions that had about operations. Most importantly, I directed them to the restrooms and food.

The Air Race Classic had not been in the area since 1981, so spirits were high as many people worked hard to make this the best stop of their trip. In addition to an abundance of food and desserts provided by UPS, racers were offered complimentary massages and transportation to their hotels. The stop had a Kentucky Derby theme, so several volunteers wore colorful derby hats. The men’s restroom had a sign saying "Fillies (Women); Men’s Restroom Outside," to accommodate the 123 women who would be flying in.

Special accommodations had to be made for the 123 women flying in.

Preparations for this day started almost an entire year ago. Once the route for the race was announced, Honaker Aviation teamed up with several local pilots and organizations to gather volunteers and create a game plan for the day the racers arrived. It was difficult to predict how weather would affect the day from months away, so Stop Chair Amy Bogardus prepared for every possible outcome. An online scheduling system through Sign Up Genius was set up with slots for Timers, Greeters, Transporters, Hospitality, and Stuff to Bring. Time slots were available for each task for Monday-Thursday. The organizers anticipated racers being able to spend the night and leave out Tuesday, but with the unpredictable weather it was best for there to be too many volunteers than too few.

My time slot was from 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm but I ended up staying until 6:00 pm. My younger sister has recently taken an interest in aviation, so I brought her along to meet all of the Ninety-Nines who were volunteering and to experience the race. I had been watching the racers make their way towards our stop since they took off in the morning through the live tracking at Trackleaders.com. Excitement was building as I arrived at the airport and watched the same live tracker from a large TV in the command room. All volunteers were given bright yellow arm bands to identify themselves, and we were ready for racers to begin flying in.

Stop organizers and spectators watched the live feed of aircraft flying in all morning, ready to serve as soon as they arrived.

The first few racers came in at a moderate pace, having left the last airport sooner than the others. After an hour or so of airplanes steadily coming in 10 minutes apart, the bulk of the racers came and it was amazing to see them doing a high speed pass and landing one after another. Because the race is judged on a handicap speed, the only time that the racers had to beat was their own.

The first few arrivals enjoy food provided by UPS.

My sister commented on how young many of the collegiate racers looked, as most of them are in their early 20s. I could see in her face that her dream of becoming a pilot seemed more and more realistic as she saw these shining examples of female pilots casually walking into the airport from their aircraft. It was different for her from hearing about my piloting adventures and actually being at an airport and experiencing the sights and sounds. The entire drive home she excitedly spoke about how she was beginning to find her purpose in life, and that becoming a pilot and flying medical missions was her dream.

I had an amazing experience volunteering at the Air Race Classic, and all racers said that the Clark County stop was well done and efficient. A huge thank you to every single volunteer, organizer, and sponsor for making the day incredible for everyone.

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