You’d normally find her looping and rolling at 250 mph in front of thousands of spectators at the industry’s biggest air shows, but this month, aerobatic champ Patty Wagstaff takes us on a different kind of adventure, low and slow above elephants, rhinos and cheetahs in the remote wilderness of Kenya. Patrolling over national parks, reserves and sanctuaries, the Kenya Wildlife Service Airwing conducts risky flights as low as 200 feet AGL, often operating out of challenging “crooked” dirt strips at high elevations. Patty helps them stay safe by teaching discipline and precision through aerobatics and unusual attitude training in taildraggers that include a Decathlon and Super Cub.
The Sport Cub from CubCrafters is another aircraft well-suited for low and slow flight. We simulate backcountry operations in central California’s Salinas Valley, performing short-field takeoffs and landings on dirt and grass strips. For comparison, we also fly the classic J-3 Cub and see how the almost-perfect airplane has been improved with modern technology. Before our air-to-air photo shoot, the formation pilots jokingly sparred over who would get to fly the more powerful Sport Cub and who would “have to do all the work” in the J-3. But as we circled over the Pacific Ocean shoreline, through my Canon lens, all I saw were smiles radiating from the yellow taildraggers, side-by-side but separated by 63 years…isn’t fun what flying is all about?
Air-to-air photo shoots can be really noisy, and I’m always reminded of what a difference a good headset can make for both comfort and safety with communications. Contributor Marc Lee tests the latest headset from Peltor, a Swedish company that has decades of experience in the hearing protection market for auto racing, industrial applications and more. The adaptive ANR on the Peltor 9500 scans noise coming into the ear cups and models it based on user-selected preferences of multi-engine, single or helicopter. “It’s a really quiet headset,” Marc reports. “I really liked the Gentex mic boom. It was easier to position than most other booms that I’ve used.”
Also in this issue, Senior Editor Bill Cox reports on the 2009 Skyhawk. The latest 172 from Cessna features a new paint scheme and options that include an observer seat, which replaces the standard bench seat and can be used for flight training, as well as Synthetic Vision Technology on the Garmin G1000. For those of us lucky enough to have such equipment in our cockpit, Joe Shelton provides another round of advanced tips for the glass-panel system.
Glass cockpits on GA airplanes can sometimes be more sophisticated than on some airliners. Just ask Captain Mike McEllhiney, who wishes that the Airbus 320 he flies for Virgin America could be equipped with some of the same avionics as his Cirrus. Still, he takes us through an impressive CAT IIIB approach into LAX, in which he presses just three buttons in the airliner’s cockpit, all the way from 20,000 feet to an autolanding on runway 24L.
Reader John Hayes recounts a rare opportunity to fly an even larger Airbus, logging an hour in the left seat of the A380 Level-D simulator in Toulouse, France. With 10 flat-panel displays, countless switches and 280,000 pounds of thrust, it’s a bit overwhelming (his normal rides are a TBM 700 and Extra 300), but it’s an experience he’ll never forget. Let us know about your unforgettable flights at [email protected]