If you think banjos and DC-3s have nothing in common, you have yet to meet Dan Gryder. With a penchant for impromptu bluegrass sessions under the wing of his legendary aircraft—or anywhere, really—the witty Boeing 777 pilot and his team offer one-of-a-kind tailwheel instruction. Jim Wynbrandt visited Dan’s home base just outside of Atlanta, Ga., at Griffin-Spaulding County Airport, where students learn everything from preflight to tiedown. Although a second-in-command rating can be earned in just three days, it’s not what necessarily motivates the stream of pilots who come from all over the world. For some, a single logbook entry represents a lifelong dream, testament to the ability of the DC-3 to touch those fortunate enough to fly it. On the schedule after Jim’s visit was a cancer patient, expected to live just another month. “He wants to fly the airplane,” explained Dan. “He’s bringing his whole family with him. It’s his last flight.” The power of the DC-3 speaks beyond its 2,400 hp P&W radials.
Also stirring emotions is the Beechcraft Heritage Museum in Tullahoma, Tenn. The museum houses the largest collection of Beech airplanes, from a 1925 Travel Air Model 1000 to a Model 2000A Starship. Jim Wynbrandt and Jim Lawrence attended their annual fly-in, sharing laughter, nostalgia and dreams with antique aircraft enthusiasts.
Fast-forward to the future where synthetic vision technology meets general aviation. During a recent visit to Garmin’s headquarters in Olathe, Kans., John Ruley flew left seat with Garmin Chief Pilot Tom Carr in an SVT-equipped Diamond DA40. Airborne, they had an unexpected and very impressive demo of how SVT handles traffic. After receiving a traffic alert, a diamond shape was depicted on the PFD, nearly level with them to the right. As separation was reduced, the diamond expanded into a yellow ball. John executed an evasive turn, and Tom spotted the traffic, low and less than a mile off their right side. SVT combined with traffic detection had allowed them to take action before even spotting the target.
Knowing the right action to take is also crucial with wake turbulence. While you might pride yourself in hitting your wake when practicing a steep turn, things aren’t so friendly when wake is unexpected and near to the ground. We’re taught to take precautions when operating near large aircraft, but wake from small aircraft can also pose a threat. Valerie Salven talks to aerobatic pilot Rich Stowell about how to best avoid this invisible threat, and what to do should you encounter it. During a recent formation takeoff, Rich flew a Super Decathlon behind a Cessna 172. Around 100 to 200 feet AGL, he encountered wake from the 172. “Even though I had full opposite aileron and some rudder applied, the wake from the 172 rolled the Decathlon close to 60 degrees to the right before the counter inputs took effect,” the 2006 National CFI of the Year recalls. “And compared to a lot of other airplanes, the Decathlon has pretty good control authority, even at slow speeds.”
Speaking of flying low, on several flights into Death Valley National Park, I’ve watched with fascination as the altimeter passed through zero on final approach into Furnace Creek Airport, elevation 210 feet below sea level. This seemingly unnatural descent also caught Rick Durden’s eye as he landed on the lowest runway on earth, more than 1,300 feet BSL near the Dead Sea. During an equally surreal takeoff, he climbed to sea level, with an impressive performance by his Cessna 182RG. Rick gives us a taste of what general aviation in Israel is like, from airport security and airspace restrictions to $100 hummus and courtesy camels instead of courtesy cars.
—Jessica Ambats, Editor