Saturday, November 17, 2012

Associated Press Takes Sensationalism to a New Low

The Associated Press has stooped to a new low. 

On Friday, November 16th, a Cessna 172 was involved in a crash in Owl's Head, Maine that claimed the lives of three people. Tragic, to be sure. But to the associated press, perhaps not tragic enough.

This is a Cessna 172:

...and this is the photo the AP decided to run with the story:

See that twisted airliner carcass? Not only does it have absolutely nothing to do with Friday's Cessna crash in has nothing to do with any crash whatsoever. It is an old airliner fuselage being cut up and used for scrap metal.

But, apparently, the AP needed to frame the Cessna accident in as bloody a manner possible. Here are some additional bits of unnecessary sensationalism from their story:

"spiraled out of control"

"immediately burst into flames"

"With flames shooting 10 to 20 feet in the air and smoke billowing into the sky, the first people to the scene tried unsuccessfully to pull one of the occupants from the burning wreckage"

"The flames were hot enough to pop the airplane's tires"

Reporting can be accurate and factual without resorting to such blatant, obvious, and pathetic attempts to sensationalize such a tragic incident.

Perhaps it's time that the AP consider integrating taste and maturity into their reporting.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Love Warbirds? Contact Your Congressional Representative NOW!

It seems Rep. Michael Turner of Ohio wants to prevent people from flying vintage military aircraft. From the EAA:

EAA and the Warbirds of America are joining with the Commemorative Air Force, Collings Foundation, and other warbird groups in opposition of a proposed amendment to the House National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4310) that could have a devastating effect on the fleet of civilian-operated historic military aircraft.

The amendment introduced by Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH) would bar the Department of Defense from loaning or gifting any U.S. military aircraft or parts to any entity except those that would put the aircraft on static display, such as in a museum. The amendment would preclude the aircraft from being loaned to private individuals, associations, or museums where there is any intent of flying the historic vintage warbirds, even at air shows or demonstrations of support for veterans.

Military branches such as the U.S. Air Force often do not donate aircraft to private groups outright; they instead "loan" them under a Defense Department provision, Section 2572 of Title 10, to individuals and groups for indefinite periods. These private individuals and groups usually restore and operate the aircraft at their own expense to demonstrate these pieces of flying history to events such as EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.

full article

If you enjoy seeing vintage military aircraft fly, and if you appreciate the ability of private individuals to restore and fly them, you need to help. Do your part, and spend two minutes to voice your opinion.

Step One: Find your representative. You can easily find him/her here.

Step Two: Write a quick note. Here's my letter. Feel free to copy and paste part or all of it:


I am writing to you today to urge you to oppose Michael Turner's amendment to H.R.4310.

This amendment would bar the Department of Defense from loaning or gifting any U.S. military aircraft or parts to any entity except those that would put the aircraft on static display, such as in a museum.

As I'm sure you know, vintage aircraft inspire and educate adults and children alike. They provide a tangible connection to our aviation history. Experiencing an authentic WWII "warbird" flying past at an airshow enables us to see, hear, and feel a piece of history. 

These aircraft should be allowed to be restored, owned, and flown by dedicated private individuals. These people work hard to share their artifacts with the rest of the country, and I view them as stewards of U.S. history.

So when Rep. Turner's amendment is proposed, please voice your opposition and encourage others to follow suit. To ground vintage aircraft is to lock up and silence decorated war veterans, preventing them from sharing their stories and inspiring others. It is just wrong.

Thank you for your time.

And thank YOU for reading!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Private Underground Hangars?

I stumbled upon this very secluded private airport in rural Wisconsin today. The airport is called Leeward Farm, located near the town of Soldiers Grove. I saw a Cessna Caravan had filed a flight there from MSN, and went to Bing Maps to have a look:

My question - are those hangars underground?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

NIFA Aircraft Recognition - How it Works Behind the Scenes

Many readers of this blog (I estimate there to be as many as 4 of you) know me through the National Intercollegiate Flying Association (NIFA). I competed in three Regional SAFECONs, four National SAFECONs (1998-2002), and I've judged both for many years. I've also been known to write an Aircraft Recognition test or two, and I hope to stay involved for many years to come.

When I was a competitor, I had a lot of questions about how Rec tests are made, and what guidelines are followed by the test authors. For example, at what age is an aircraft model too old to be included in a test? Can WWI-era aircraft be included? Can unmanned aircraft be used? Are the aircraft types limited to production models? If so, how many examples must be produced for a given model to be considered "production"? In short, what guidelines are in place to control what aircraft types appear in a NIFA Rec test?

Having been involved in judging for several years now, I can tell you - there are none!

According to the rules, an author of a Rec test may include any and all flying contraptions. Technically, he or she may include autogyros, gliders, hot-air balloons, Zeppelins, ultralights, and spacecraft. Fortunately for competitors, such madness is reined in by two values held dear to the test authors - tradition and consistency.

NIFA is rooted in tradition (In more ways than one - browse this link when you have some free time). Those of us who write tests generally want to honor the past by continuing long-standing tradition. And we also want to be fair. If a change is determined to be prudent, we will do what we can to institute it in a gradual manner. This prevents confusion, and it enables teams to utilize the knowledge and experience gained from competition.

The latter point cannot be emphasized strongly enough. NIFA could quite easily introduce strict, detailed guidelines for test authors to follow. A thick, detailed volume resembling a Gleim study guide could be distributed so competitors would know precisely what can and cannot be included in a Rec test. While this would undoubtedly eliminate much uncertainty among the competitors, I am against the idea.

Here's why:

If we were to create and communicate specific guidelines for tests, a school could recruit a knowledgeable competitor off the street, bring them to the National SAFECON, and instantly produce solid results in a "turn-key" fashion.

I don't want to reward teams for doing this. And I don't want Aircraft Rec competitors to be able to excel by locking themselves in separate rooms and studying independently for months at a time.

Instead, I want to reward the teams that make the effort to A) learn knowledge and tradition from their senior members, and B) actively pass it down to new recruits. I want these new recruits to learn from books and online sources, but I also want them to learn from more senior team members who have been around the block a few times. This builds team spirit, cooperation, and cohesion. And it creates a much more fulfilling and memorable experience. In my opinion, this is the essence of what it means to be on a NIFA Flight Team.

Now, it should be stressed that this outlook is my own. Other test authors and judges will likely have varying opinions and different perspectives on the matter. But my approach seems to be appreciated by many, and I think it reflects values held dear to NIFA.

So in response to the questions at the beginning of this article, I would expect to see the same aircraft categories you're accustomed to seeing. If you and your senior team mates have never seen a spacecraft or a WWI-era aircraft on a Rec test, it's doubtful you will see any in future tests. If anything new is introduced, expect it to be introduced gradually. For example, if I decided to introduce gliders to Rec tests, I would start by including one or two on a test. Not by dumping 15 of them into a single test at once. And no, I have no plans to add gliders to any future test!

So that's a snapshot into the creation of Rec tests.

As a judge who is somewhat active on the social media scene, I also receive questions about the official model name and/or designation of certain aircraft. Whether "Dreamliner" the official name of the Boeing 787. Whether the manufacturer of certain ELINT types should be that of the original airframe manufacturer, or that of the modifying entity. What differentiates one type of GA single from another.

To this, I like to remind competitors that as much as I'd like to help, I am a judge and not a coach! I go by what is printed in the official NIFA source - Jane's All the World's Aircraft. To be specific, I interpret this as the Jane's "yearbook" series. One is published every year, and each edition lists two years on the cover, as such:

These books are heavy, fabric-bound, and can be very expensive. Generally, editions from the 1970s and 1980s are the least expensive, fetching $15-30 on Amazon (tip - create an Amazon "Wish List", add these books, and circulate the link among your family and friends). As they become newer or older, they also become more expensive. Editions from the 1940s or 1950s are often in the hundreds of dollars, and editions younger than ten years old can be several hundred dollars each. This reality forces those of us with limited funds to pry ourselves away from Google and visit *gasp* a physical library! Look at it as a team-building field trip and have fun perusing the pinnacle of aircraft knowledge together with your team mates. You will be amazed at what you discover, I assure you.

Hopefully this sheds some light on the inner workings of the NIFA Aircraft Recognition event. By all means, throw questions my way. Depending on the topic, I'll either refer you to the aforementioned Jane's, or I'll do my best to answer them.

Here's to the greatest NIFA event, and here's to the good times and good friends we encounter in the pursuit of it's mastery!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Mexico's Air Force to Replace Pilatus PC-7 Fleet with Beechcraft T-6C+

As reported by Jane's earlier today, the Mexican Air Force has announced the purchase of six Beechcraft T-6C+ aircraft to be used as military trainers. The aircraft will come equipped with hard points, enabling them to carry external stores and weapons, though the latter are claimed to be intended for delivering practice rounds only.

(Image: Hawker-Beechcraft)

What is unclear at this time is how the role of the new T-6 fleet will compare with that of the relatively new Pilatus PC-9M fleet (photo). Considering that the PC-9 and (soon to be retired) PC-7 fleets are both reportedly utilized for combat and counter-insurgency, it would be surprising to see the wholly capable T-6C+ fleet limited to training duties. Time will tell.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Ultimate Aircraft Recognition Hobby Shop

The sleepy, rural town of Tecumseh Michigan has long enjoyed the distinction of being the self-proclaimed "Refrigeration Capital of the World". But as I discovered last week, 2011 may be the year where that exalted status has finally been overtaken by something even more grandiose.

I hereby nominate Tecumseh as the "Obscure Plastic Aircraft Model Capital of the World".

While I was back in Michigan for Christmas, I decided to visit a couple of the small airports in Tecumseh to see if there were any interesting aircraft types lurking about. It is, after all, where I discovered the Andrew Smith AJ-2. That search ultimately proved to be fruitless. But my appetite for unusual aircraft would soon be whet in an entirely different manner.

Drive down the main street of Tecumseh, and you'll find J-Bar Hobbies:

A quick glance at the unassuming exterior provides no clues to what treasures lay hidden within. One might expect to find models of B-17s, P-51s, and F-15s. Maybe even a Mig or two. But even the most seasoned and jaded aviation geek (particularly of the NIFA variety) will be stupefied upon discovering the bounty of such names as Myasischev, Culver, Temco, and Sud-Ouest:

So if you're ever heading into or out of Michigan on US-23 just north of Toledo, consider a 20-minute detour. Or head over to J-Bar's website and do some browsing online.