It’s dangerous. It’s competitive. And it’s hard on the body. So why fly hardcore aerobatics?
Explaining why I do what I do is surprisingly easy. The quick answer is that flying air shows is what I’m passionate about. I love it. But beyond that is a story of inspiration, physical endeavor, ongoing learning and camaraderie.
In every accident, there’s a chain of events or conditions leading to the outcome. Break one of the links in the chain, and the accident can be avoided, at least in theory. The individual links leading to the crash of Comair flight 5191 at Lexington, Ky., on August 27, 2006, aren’t big ones like an engine failing or running out of fuel. The NTSB’s final report indicates plenty of opportunities to change the course of events. There’s almost a compulsion to ask over and over again, “what if?”
When I was a kid in grade school, I had this friend named Jonathan Meyer. His dad was a minister and had a collection of Revolutionary War–era muskets, flintlocks and a blunderbuss. That name alone was enough to get us kids laughing. One day, the reverend came to our school and gave our class the ultimate show-and-tell: He loaded one of his muskets with black powder, aimed it high at the ceiling and pulled the trigger.
From the Wright brothers to The Right Stuff, the thrill of flight has sparked the imagination and stirred the human spirit. We take to the skies to experience the freedom and exhilaration of flight. Now more than ever, people look to general aviation as a way to speed travel and increase business. Consequently, it’s important for those of us who love general aviation to step back and examine the health and strength of this great industry.
The world's most famous warbird takes on the North Atlantic
1942: A flight of six P-38s and two B-17s departs Sondrestrom Fjord, Greenland, for Reykjavik, Iceland, on their way to the WWII European Theater of Operations as part of Operation Bolero. It’s an ambitious project, initiated by General Hap Arnold, tired of seeing his aircraft ride cargo ships to the bottom of the Atlantic, victims of Hitler’s dreaded U-boats.
For the past couple of weeks, In the Shadow of the Moon, a documentary film about the Apollo program, has been playing nearby in Hollywood. Knowing the longevity of aviation-themed movies in theaters, I figured I’d better go sooner rather than later, so a few nights ago, I sat in the dark, in awe of what we (mankind) accomplished in the late ’60s and early to mid-’70s. While nibbling popcorn (no butter, thank you) from a bucket bigger than my head, the words of Michael Collins, the command module pilot of Apollo 11, hit me like a sledgehammer.
It was early on the first day of the EAA Northwest Regional Fly-In at Arlington, Wash., and Marlene called me at the exhibit. She sounded strange, so I walked away from the booth for some privacy and stood in the middle of a wide and grassy fire lane with lines of exhibit booths on both sides. Then a voice I knew said words that I understood, but that my brain refused to comprehend: “Budd, Nizhoni died about an hour ago.”
Aviation is facing increasing pressure—is it time for an altitude change?
The end is near! For hundreds and perhaps thousands of years, humans have been making predictions about the end. The end of the earth, the end of cheap oil, the end of life as we know it, the end of free WiFi—I hate this kind of gloom and doom stuff.
The overwhelming majority of airplanes have the potential to keep flying until it’s no longer economically viable to keep them in the air, provided that they’re operated within established parameters, receive regular inspections to detect problems and undergo proper preventive maintenance. When there’s a catastrophic structural failure, such as a wing falling off, it understandably attracts attention from the industry, investigators and regulators.
A few weeks ago, I was flying from L.A. to the Bay Area for an afternoon with some friends in town from New York and Toronto. As we were cruising up the Salinas Valley on autopilot (the airplane, not me), listening to some tunes pumping from my iPod, my friend Hillary piped up from the backseat. “Hey, can we do a stunt?” she asked with a big smile. “A stunt?” I replied, amused, as visions of the late Bobby Younkin gracefully rolling his red-and-black Beech 18 flashed through my mind.
Flying is a compromise. You can have cheap, and you can have fun, but you won’t necessarily travel fast. You can have fast, for sure, but it will not be cheap, and fun depends on your definition of the word. Several new single-engine airplanes are as fast as turboprops, but the question remains: Can an everyday Joe use that speed, say, on a typical business trip, and have fun in the process.
In what has turned into an unintentional theme this issue, I seem to have focused on, twice, people or groups that broke new ground in aviation. They were, in some way, told that they couldn’t or shouldn’t, or that it was unusual or possibly inappropriate, to fly. Not only did these people and groups fly, and prove wrong the legions of naysayers, defeatists and perpetuators of negative stereotypes, but they each rose to legendary status in aviation lore.
This is my “Maverick” moment, so I better not make good on that call sign I was given a few years ago. I’m cinched tightly into the rear seat of an F-16 behind Major Stephen “Chak” Pinchak of the 421st Fighter Squadron, and my heart is racing. I’ve just armed my ejection seat, so I’m sitting on a live rocket, in a jet plane, and we’re about to blast off—literally.
From the cockpit jump seat of a 1954 Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker, our clunky, creaky roll on takeoff seems a stark contrast to the day’s activities at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tuscon, Ariz. After what feels like an eternity on an endless runway, we slowly lift off, leaving behind an incredible assortment of U.S. Air Force fighter jets, including F-15 Eagles, F-16 Falcons, F-4 Phantoms, A-10 Warthogs and two F-22 Raptors, on the ramp below.
Champion calf roper K.C. Jones is backing his horse, a brown-and-white paint named Mornin’ Spot, into the right rear corner of what they call the box, next to the chute. He’s focused like a red-tailed hawk dive-bombing a field mouse.
Exercise good preflight and in-flight judgment to keep your airplane intact
Some pilots may believe that an instrument rating and a fair amount of flight time are good insurance against getting into a situation that results in losing aircraft control or exceeding an aircraft’s design stress limits. However, without a healthy amount of good preflight and in-flight judgment, along with recurrent training that includes partial panel work and unusual attitude recovery, those two things can set the stage for getting into trouble.
General-aviation pilots played a huge role in helping hurricane victims
My timing couldn’t have been worse. On Monday, August 29, 2005, I boarded an American Airlines 767 out of Los Angeles and headed for Orlando, Fla., well aware that Hurricane Katrina was scheduled to come ashore at exactly the same time when we’d be passing overhead. The storm had grown taller than 50,000 feet, far above the maximum altitude of a 767, and was directly in our flight path.
Summertime flying in the North Atlantic can be vicious
This is being written on the road or, more accurately, in the sky. As I tap out these words on my Think Pad, I’m cruising comfortably at FL390 in a British Airways 747, only two hours out from Heathrow Airport in London. I’m flying to Jolly Old England to explore the puzzling British penchant for cold meat as well as warm beer.