Technology and training have changed in the last 50 years, thank goodness
Like many of you, I took my initial flight training in extremely basic airplanes—read, “cheap.” The first was a re-engined, 85 hp Piper J-3 Cub on skis, but the second was even more basic, if that’s possible. It was, in fact, several steps below a Cessna 150. That airplane was a Champion Tri-Traveler, one of more »
Sahara When I departed St. John’s, Newfoundland, for Santa Maria, Azores, yesterday, the always-angry North Atlantic raged beneath me, waves rolling 20 feet at the crests with winds of 30 knots blowing whitecaps off the tops, according to the Hibernia oil platform 200 miles out. After a while, I tried not to look at the more »
It can be fun, challenging and, at times, a little scary
It was June 1991, and I’d been hired to fly right seat in the one and only Swearingen SJ-30 flight test article from San Antonio to Le Bourget Airport, Paris, for the Paris Air Show. My captain was Carl Pascarell, a former Navy attack pilot who had flown A-7 Corsairs off aircraft carriers during the more »
Unlike most aviation hazards, pilot fatigue usually isn’t on any checklist
It was one of those nights the high plains of New Mexico are famous for. The moon was waxing toward full, and there were thousands of stars vying for my attention as I climbed my Mooney’s wingwalk for the flight home to California. If it hadn’t been such a long day, I might have better more »
As I was about to climb into the front pit of the solid-silver, letter-opener, stiletto of a glider for my first soaring lesson, instructor Gus Briegleb reached into his pocket and pulled out a silver dollar. He placed it on the runway at El Mirage Airport, then turned to me and said, “Bill, when you’re more »
Contrary to sometimes popular opinion, most folks at the FAA aren’t really the bad guys
Incident 1 The flight from Santa Maria to El Paso had gone well, or so I thought. I’d picked up a new Aerostar 601P from Roy Tucker at the company’s delivery center early in the morning and pointed the nose east toward Florida. It was one of those chamber of commerce days that the Southeast more »
Flying should be in all three dimensions, not just two
When I was a kid and could only dream about being unhinged from Earth, I assumed all airplanes could fly in three, full dimensions. Every pilot knows that’s the definition of flying, but only to a limited extent. As a government brat living in a suburb of Washington D.C., I used to ride my bike more »
Don’t admit to loving taildraggers unless you want to be regarded as an aviation traditionalist
Okay, I admit it. I was introduced to flying in taildraggers. Almost by definition, that dates me to the middle of the last century. Today, there are a diminishing number of conventional-gear airplanes still in production, most targeted at the bush plane or aerobatics markets. When it came time to go shopping for that first more »
Low level offers its own rewards, no matter what you fly.
I know. Before you spool up your Mac or activate your Acer, yes, I’m the guy who has recommended repeatedly that everyone fly higher in the interest of better fuel economy. As the writer of a dozen or so stories on how to save fuel and continue to fly in an era of $5/$6 avgas, more »
Not surprisingly, Alaska is one of those places where cold weather is a way of life. General aviation is often the only way to get around in much of the 49th state, and sometimes, the tribulations of operating in temperatures well below zero can be a challenge for any pilot, whether he’s a seasoned backwoods more »
Flying never gets old, whether you’re a 100-hour baby bird or a 10,000-hour airline eagle. Here’s one good reason.
Telluride nestles in a pristine mountain valley elevated nearly two miles closer to the sky in southwestern Colorado. The surrounding peaks rear up another 3,500 feet above the valley floor on three sides, steep, forested inclines, challenging and unforgiving to the unknowing. It’s one of the most spectacular alpine venues in the Rockies, ideal for more »
It’s true you’ll experience headwinds most of the time, but this is ridiculous
I was awakened from a deep REM sleep by what sounded like sporadic repetition of “baaharalmminumm” (forgive my poor onomatopoetic translation). As I mentally park my red-and-white Ferrari SF-16H Formula One car after winning the Monaco Grand Prix and fight my way back to consciousness, the sound repeats itself over and over. Oh, yes, now more »
On the beauty of the billowy stuff, from the terrifying to the magnificent
I’m sitting in a hotel in Waco, Texas, watching what has been advertised as tornado weather blow through. Virtually all flying at Waco Regional, including my appointment to fly the Blackhawk King Air 200, has been canceled for the day because of the threat of tornados. As I sit in my room, watching the Brazos more »
It’s a slightly esoteric joy, but flying at night can be strangely satisfying.
Tonight, I fly in my own sensory deprivation chamber, a semi-anechoic capsule seemingly isolated from reality. The sun rolled down beneath the Earth hours ago, leaving me in a blackness well beyond merely dark. It seems there’s no outside light above or below, forward or aft, left or right. I’m suspended in an obsidian void more »
In Alaska, airplanes truly can take on any mission
The sound is unmistakable. Today, I’d recognize that sound in the first two seconds, but 50 years ago, it was totally alien to me. It was high pitched and guttural at the same time, the smooth, even roar of a gasoline-powered monster, a 1650 hp supernova on a leash. The first time I heard it, more »
Mountains have always represented the ultimate nemesis to some pilots. Though I understand the apprehension, I grew up in Alaska and California, so I accepted vertical terrain as normal, perhaps the ultimate and most spectacular manifestation of Earth’s variety. Learning to fly in Anchorage and Long Beach, I dealt with mountains during practically every flight, more »
Aviation is more than simply a means to an end. It’s an end in itself.
I wouldn’t want to be riding out on the wing tonight. The wind is roaring down out of the northwest like polar bear’s breath, a vicious torrent of air frozen by winter and twisted by the Rocky Mountains. Somewhere below, far down in a blanket of clouds and black sky one to three miles deep, more »
It was and remains the fastest jet that has ever flown
I’m not much on book reviews, but recently, I came across a new, coffee-table book I couldn’t put down. In fact, it was more likely a book I couldn’t pick up. “The Complete Book of the SR-71” is a massive, 10” x 13”, 260-page work by Colonel Richard H. Graham, USAF (retired). Following 210 combat more »