Friday, December 28, 2012

Underwater escape

Who hasn't had nightmares about this scenario?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What part of hold-short don't you...

Yikes! This could've gone badly...

It's a good reminder not to fixate on your landing point when landing an airplane. Keep scanning, not only for other traffic in the air, but also for the situation on the ground.

Similar to an intersection, I don't trust drivers until I see their wheels stop. I assume everyone is going to blow through the intersection.

Good job by this pilot to avoid disaster, though.

Here's the (almost) accident report.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The cover boy

OK, I'm not really the cover boy. I'm the "Page 102 boy" in the January 2013 edition of Sport Aviation Magazine from the Experimental Aircraft Association.

The quotes aren't exactly the way I said them and one that's wrong slipped through. I didn't say I never missed kids games or events. I missed a lot of them, partly because of the paper route. I regret that immensely.

And the plane that's shown on the third page isn't my plane. I don't know whose plane it is, but thanks for letting us use your picture because it's nicer than mine is. It looks like an RV-10 to me, so I presume it belongs to Gary Speketer, who stopped by to help me hang the engine, and whom I wrote about here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How plane crashes happen

(Reposted from the day job)

It's not often we hear firsthand the stories of how plane crashes occur, especially the one in Rochester, Minn., last week in which four people on their way home from the Packers-Vikings game in Green Bay, ended up upside down in a crashed plane.

The cemeteries are full of pilots and passengers who tried to land an airplane in bad weather.

But pilot Scott Lebovitz, 23, of Owatonna, and three passengers Daniel Cronk, 36; Alan De Keyrel, 38; and a 9-year-old boy, all from Byron -- suffered only bumps and bruises.

Mr. De Keyrel has written a compelling account of the incident (and provided very interesting pictures) on his company's website:

We descended into the clouds. From that point on, I never saw runway lights or anything on the ground. I recall looking at the altimeter briefly and noticing our slow decent towards the ground. From the time that I actually saw the ground to impact, there was no time to react, grab for the controls or even say anything. I saw the ground for a split second and then “BAM!”, we were hanging upside down.

“Oh my God! Get out of the plane before it explodes!” Scott shouted.

“Cronk, Colin,” I yelled, “are you okay?”

Both responded and I felt a huge sigh of relief. We were all alive! I reached for my seatbelt and quickly unlatched it, crashing to the roof of the plane. It was pitch black. I couldn’t find the door handle. A window popped open during the crash so I crawled through the small opening. Once outside, I realized that I was standing on the wing. I heard Colin say, “How do I get out?” in a scared voice. I leaned through the window opening and said, “Colin, crawl over here!” A few seconds later I saw his legs appear and I pulled him from the wreckage.

Understandably, the writer cautions people not to judge the action of the pilots. In aviation circles, that's an impossible request; it's how other pilots learn. It was a mistake -- a very bad mistake -- to attempt to land in the conditions. As pilots, we always grapple with "Get Home-itis," the tendency to make bad decisions because we just have to get home. We fly in weather in which we shouldn't fly and sometimes things don't turn out as well as they turned out in Rochester, as this tragedy from last year reminds us. Our mistake as pilots when reading stories like this, is thinking that we wouldn't or couldn't make the same mistake; it's an unimaginably easy one to make and quite often we don't realize it until after we've made it and lived.

Hopefully, we only make these sorts of mistakes once. And if we're lucky -- very, very lucky -- we get the opportunity not to make it again.

(h/t: Sasha Aslanian)

Seed catalogs? Who needs 'em to get through winter?

There's a foot of snow on the ground in December in Minnesota, and that has always meant one thing: it's time to think about Oshkosh.

And this new video from the people at St. Cloud State University -- who give you EAA Radio every year -- should help...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Why can't RV builders deal with accidents?

First, I love Van's Air Force. It provides a great service to the RV building community, but the recent crash of an RV-6 provides a typical example of what happens when an RV airplane crashes.

It follows a pattern:

1. Someone posts about an accident.
2. Someone speculates about the cause.
3. Someone says it's disrespectful to the family to discuss the crash.
4. A moderator closes the thread.

It happened with this thread today.

Let's be honest here: For the most part, families don't read Van's Air Force. And this isn't about respect for families. We're afraid to talk about crashes. Period.

This is unique to the aviation community. You don't see the same reaction to car crashes or crimes, for that matter. Only with airplane crashes.

What are we really so afraid of?

Like it or not, this happened, and the discussion surrounding accidents can refocus our building efforts on safety. You don't need a bureaucrats report to do that.

If we're grown up enough to build and fly airplanes, we should be grown up enough to talk about the occasional crash.

The case of the weepy rivet

I've been working on polishing the plane for the last few weeks and have been working on the most difficult part, especially for someone who gets dizzy when flat on my back looking up and back: the underside of the left wing.

I completed the outer half of the bottom of the wing last night and found this when I was ready to move on to the next section...

What with the accompanying wind-swept blue streaks, RV veterans will recognize that immediately -- as I did -- as a fuel tank leak around a rivet. It's not uncommon, but it's disappointing nonetheless, especially since I used a lot of ProSeal (the sealer) on that tank -- almost an entire can, or twice as much as what most people use.

The rivet is along a rib line which just happens to be below the fuel cap opening in the tank, which at least allows me to peer inside and see if anything looks out of whack.


That brown spot on the top of the stiffner certainly leads me to believe that something is going on there, but I'm not yet sure what. It's not where the weeping rivet is. The weeping rivet is on a rib line. Also equally perplexing is the color around the rivet head -- brown. Avgas is blue.

So what's next? First, of course, I need to drain the tank and I'm going to try to fix this without taking the tank off the wing. Then I'll poke around at that brown crud to try to figure out what it is and then I'll poke at that rivet head that's actually weeping to see if the ProSeal has broken down there.

I'd like to think throwing some more ProSeal on there (after attempting to cut out, perhaps with an Exacto knife duct-taped to a dowel) would solve the problem. But it's possible the route the fuel is taking is actually coming from the other side of the rib, which is not accessible.

There is the possible fix of using LocTite around the manufactured head and hope it "wicks" up into the area and block fuel, but I would think this is somewhat problematic given gravity and all. I could apply a slight vacuum, but this is a dangerous task because fuel vapors could ignite at the vacuum cleaner I'd use. Not good.

Alternately, I could remove the tank, cut a large access hole in the back baffle of the fuel tank, get in there and slather all sorts of stuff, and then put a removal plate over that hole and seal it tight. Of course, that introduces new possible points of failure.

I could also just try drilling out that rivet and using a long bucking bar to buck a replacement.

We'll see.

Hey, at least it's gotten me out of polishing for a few days.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Oregon accident

In most accidents involving RVs, I take comfort in being able to figure out a cause and most of the time the cause is pilot judgment. We can and do have control over our aviation fate with constantly refined judgment.

But when it's the aircraft that appears to be the reason for an accident, it is an even more disturbing incident.

Such is the case with the crash of an RV-6 in Oregon, where two men died when the wing apparently separated from the plane.

The Lebanon Express has details here.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Brad's first flight

During the very trying last couple of years of building my RV-7A, I could always count on Brad Benson to stop by to lend a hand or provide a laugh. He has been building his RV6A even longer than I worked on my project. He's risen to the challenge every bit as high as the finest of RV builders. He's a perfectionist and his plane shows it.

So it was a real honor to be on the field -- and then a passenger in Vince Bastiani's chase plane -- for the day his "Satellite of Love" became an airplane.

Well done, Brad!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

By the side of the road

There's no question we were disappointed when final calculations showed we wouldn't have enough daylight to make the long-imagined flight to Massachusetts, so we decided to fly yesterday anyway, and headed off to a lunch by aiming the RV-7A for Rushford.

I've written about the airport before so I won't bother going into great detail other than to reiterate what a fabulous spot it is. We were back taxiing on Runway 16 when Carolie looked around at the fairly barren blufftop locale and declared it an ill-suited replacement for New England.

But, then again, she'd never flown to Rushford before.

"Your twin was just here," the gray-haired greeter said as he strolled out to take a look at the new arrival. Joshua Wyatt, who finished his RV-9A this fall and apparently has completed his Phase I testing, had apparently just departed the airport. We missed him. Rats.

Our new pal was Mike Thern, who manages the joint, accompanied by Amelia, the black lab, who has been suffering from Lyme Disease of late, but hobbled out on the two legs available to do a proper job of greeting the city slickers.

We tied down the plane, Mike gave us the courtesy car and we headed down the gravel roads and canyons to Lanesboro.

I can't tell you the name of the cafe/restaurant we found by the side of the road amid cornfields and the whirring of a grain elevator because I'm going to write a blog piece for the day job next week and I don't want anyone to steal the peg -- that it's a 100-year-old icon and its last day of business is Sunday.

But we walked in and were greeted warmly by a few locals. Henry, the piano player, was just leaving but as we got our lunch, he said he'd stay and play a few tunes to accompany our experience.

Vicki, the owner, is selling because her mom does the cooking and announced she's ready to retire. I didn't get to meet mom until I cleared our dishes -- after a splendid meal -- and walked them back to the kitchen where I also met Rob, who is a route driver for Schwann's. He volunteers at the place washing dishes and he was just finishing a giant stack, indicating that business in town is pretty good.

The old people in the town are pretty bummed out by losing the place and Vicki says if you want to buy it and reopen it, you better like old people. And you should be interested in providing healthy food. There isn't a deep-fat fryer in the place.

Vicki arrived here five years ago from Fort Lauderdale. Her mom already was working as a cook in a much smaller room at the side-of-the-road location. Vicki had designs on heading to Iowa, for no particular reason other than Iowa sounded like a land of some opportunity. But she ended up buying the building and fixing it up -- actually having it fixed up by volunteers in exchange for hot meals.

For all of the accurately-deserved reputation for icy coldness that Minnesotans have, the people couldn't have been more of a contradiction. And that apparently is the way the place runs. Henry the piano player became a regular because he let it slip that he played piano one day when he was having lunch. A couple from Decorah, Iowa revealed that they sing once and knew a little Norwegian song. So they were encouraged to sing it to the assembled. And when they finished the Norwegian national anthem, Vicki says, there were tears and a request to sing it again. And so, they did.

Though the place is closing on Sunday, it will still open up for the annual Christmas show. Vicki says she'll play her usual part as the person who carries the star. She doesn't have any other talent, she reports. She was, of course, wrong.

When we left, we realized -- again -- that the airplane really is a magic carpet to exotic places and inviting people.

Oh, by the way, we filled the courtesy car full of gas. We found it half-empty, which probably means people have used it and brought it back, not contributing to the upkeep of wonderful places like Rushford. Let's all be better at that in the future!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Trip East: Part one -- closed airports and open questions

For as long as I was building the RV-7A, I've thought about making the trip back to New England -- the triumphant return of building prowess to the land where my family referred to me growing up as "The Scotch Tape Kid."

I've been working -- hard -- over the last two weeks to prepare, spending countless hours planning just the right route -- the old-fashioned way: with charts and books and rulers and calculators (above) -- buying an oxygen system for high-altitude travel, arranging refueling accommodations and hangar accommodations at KFIT (Fitchburg, Ma.), the eventual destination.

The plan was to stop tomorrow afternoon (at sunset) at KAQW (North Adams, Ma.) to visit with Carolie's mother and drop her off for a few days of mother-daughter fun, then fly the next day to KFIT.

I was nervous a few days ago when I saw a NOTAM that KAQW intended to close the only runway it has today, but figured they were probably filling cracks in the pavement, just as my home base of KSGS (South St. Paul, MN) was doing a few weeks ago. Although I've kept a ridiculous amount of attention glued to weather for the last week, I didn't add 2 + 2 until last evening. It was supposed to rain/snow there today and, yep, when I checked the NOTAM, the closure was moved to Wednesday until 5 p.m., a half hour after sunset and about a half hour after our planned time of arrival. Rats.

I'm hoping the airport manager there is as flexible as the one in South St. Paul. For people who needed to come in, he'd move the equipment off the runway and let them land. But, alas, when I called this morning, I got only a voicemail. If he doesn't call back, I think the trip is off.

There are options. I could land at Bennington, VT, 11 miles northeast and get a car. But the Bennington airport looks even more tucked into the mountains than North Adams is. I could land at Pittsfield, 20 miles south, but one runway there is closed, too, and I don't have a locking mechanism on the airplane and I'm not sure I want to leave it out in the open there. Plus, driving to Pittsfield is a major pain in the neck.

The rest of the trip is skillfully planned. It involves flying (relatively) direct to Joliet, IL., turning east to pass south of South Bend with a fuel stop at Napoleon, Ohio, just south of Toledo. The person who runs the FBO there will provide transportation to get into town for a bite to eat.

The plan was to pull the plane out of the hangar at KSGS around 7, and be in the air by 7:30, which puts us in Napoleon around 11 a.m. (local time). That gives us at least an hour and a half to exhale (I've never flown around Chicago airspace) and launch by 1 p.m., or so, which puts us over the GRAVES waypoint on approach to North Adams by 4:20.

Except, the airport is closed.

I don't have much choice today but to continue packing and inspecting the plane as if we are flying tomorrow. We'll see.

Update - I've decided to scrap plans for the trip. When I was doing some last-minute flight planning, I noticed we're not going to get the tailwinds necessary to allow a long-enough fuel/lunch stop in Ohio and still get in the air in time to avoid darkness over the mountains. I don't want to be rushing across the country. We'll try this in the late winter or spring.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Chip Yates' timeless voice

I think one of the most enjoyable interviews I did at Oshkosh this year was Chip Yates, who broke a record by flying is battery powered plane at 200 mph, even though it wanted to blow up. He seems like a great guy you'd want to buy a beer for.

Here's the interview I did.

He let us know this weekend that EAA has now provided an interview with him as part of its Timeless Voices series.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Beware the things you don't expect

This video is making the rounds today. A pilot's wife was filming her husband's landing in Roanoke, Texas when an SUV (it's always an SUV!) pulled out on what appears to be a taxiway or perimeter road and the plane's landing gear hits the SUV.

View more videos at:

There are plenty of problems to go around here. First, of course, is the SUV driver, for whom no further words are necessary.

But the pilot is also to blame here. It's not enough that his approach was too low, especially considering the fence at the beginning of the runway. But it also exposes one of the problems that pilots are taught -- keep your touchdown point in your windshield to determine whether you're too high or too low.

That doesn't mean "and don't look anywhere else." Our head should be on a swivel at all times, including the landing phase. There really is no reason a pilot should be surprised when an SUV pulls onto the edge of a runway. You've got to be aware of the entire situation.

That's especially true, considering the AFD carries this warning:


An accident like this happened a few years ago in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. A woman driving a Volvo was clipped by the landing gear of a landing airplane. She was on the public road, the pilot was, obviously, landing with two low of an approach. Officials installed a stop sign.

End of an era at Oshkosh

A sad day indeed for fans of AirVenture history.

The EAA Radio building...

... has been wiped off the grounds.

The lower image appeared on EAA Radio's Facebook page today.

No word yet on any new location for the outstanding group of volunteers who provide a great service for fans of Oshkosh

Friday, November 2, 2012

Let's see you do that in an airplane!

This is such a great video. A couple of guys flying a helicopter, one of whom appears to be smoking or just likes flying with an unlit cigarette -- spot a kid who's lost his model airplane in trees. No problem. They've got a helicopter.

Not suitable for the workplace.

Also, nice neighborhood!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Paying it forward

I've always loved the RV community. I've said often that the best part of building the RV airplane were the number of friends I made along the way.

Today, I mailed off a pair of D-sub crimpers to a gentleman in Texas who is building an RV and didn't want to spend the $35 it costs for a pair. People on Van's Air Force were right when they suggested he buy a pair because they're invaluable in building an electrical system. I get that.

But sometimes we forget that people build airplanes while trying to minimize expenses and if we actually went out and bought all the stuff that people tell us we should go out and buy, then the plane becomes beyond our means. Trust me: I get that too.

I'm hoping to take the plane up to Massachusetts in a few weeks, and there's a lot of work to be done to make it happen. I've had to spend $225 on a new ELT antenna (hey, thanks, again, Artex and Aircraft Spruce for selling me that one that only lasted 30 hours and underperformed the guaranteed airspeed), and I've purchased an oxygen system for the safer high altitude flying. All together, that's about $750 and that's at least a month's work for me in terms of being able to pay for that sort of thing. And I'm still trying to make a dent in the debt I took on to buy the engine -- the only part of the airplane not paid for.

So when I posted on Van's Air Force this week that I was looking for someone who'd sell me a cheapo gust lock for the rudder, I figured someone would suggest buying a top-of-the line Gust Buster. I already knew about this product, which is really great. It's also $185 ($159 if you don't order from Aircraft Spruce, but order from here).

The item is on my list of things to buy, someday. But the cash-flow situation right now is such that it isn't a practical solution right now. Other folks nicely gave me some tips for building my own and that's a great idea, too, there is just this time problem I'm also having, being in the news business with an election coming up. It's all I can do to get my job done; I haven't been able to fly in two weeks and I haven't even been to the hangar in one. And yet, I needed something for the trip east because it looks like the RV-7A will have to be parked outside.

I think some people in the thread were turned off by my inability to buy the big stuff or make the little stuff, but the reality is what the reality is. Time and money, my friends. Time and money.

This arrived in the mail today. It's a Gust Buster.

"Consider it a donation to public broadcasting, payment for laughs generated by Cowling Chronicles, or just a fellow RVer making someone's life a bit easier," Kai Engstad said. "I'm glad to see you got the airplane flying, are getting a few hours in the air and hope that you manage to get your mom a ride."

I don't know the proper way to thank someone for that kind of generosity other than to say "thank you" of course and to point out the unbelievable goodness in the RV community.

I'm also reminded that a few months ago, when I thought I was having trouble with a throttle cable, an RV pal sent me one he wasn't using. When I needed to cut off the rudder strobe cable some months ago to fix a busted rudder tip, a friend down at Airlake gave me -- gave me -- enough strobe wire to get things running again.

I've benefited mightily from the kindness of former strangers in this airplane-building adventure, which is why today I've been reminded of an obligation to pay it forward.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Hightower resigns; aviators appear to celebrate

Rod Hightower, the head of EAA and lightning rod for the criticism that it has gotten away from its homebuilding roots, resigned today. You can read between the lines, though, and pretty much figure out that he jumped before being pushed.

Meanwhile, while the EAA website adequately captures the mood among many in the EAA, I'm pretty much figuring this isn't the presentation of the event that the organization wants.

Although Hightower was one of the upper crust who was against me hosting an EAA Radio show during Oshkosh, I never had the problem with him that a LOT of EAAers seemed to have.

I still don't see much of an articulated vision among that crowd for the future that includes the reality that pilot ranks are dropping. But they've got their wish and now we'll see what their plan is.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How to handle the media on aviation stories

For years, I've advocated against the policies of AOPA and whiners on social networking sites to fear the media when it comes to general aviation reporting. The AOPA, as I've written before, has an us-against-them attitude in dealing with the media, and wants any media inquiry into the safety of experimentals (and other general aviation planes) referred to them.

That's utter nonsense.

As I've advocated before, if pilots are proactive and make contact with reporters before a plane crashes, it'll be much easier to get favorable news coverage when the bad news hits.

I don't know if this RV-10 owner had done that, but clearly there was a relationship at some point between the reporter and the aviator that allowed him to get in front of the story. This is the result:

Call your local reporter today and offer to take them for a ride. Give them your name and address if they ever need help with a story. Offer to show them around.

If they don't immediately accept a ride, they'll keep you in mind when they're looking for a fresh angle, whether it's a plane crash or a threat to close the local airport.

It beats sitting in the hangar with other pilots, or banging away on social networking sites how much the media sucks.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

To fly

General aviation is dying in the United States and elsewhere around the world. There aren't enough people who want to learn to fly and as the older pilots -- the ones who usually got their wings in World War II or with the GI Bill -- die, there aren't many coming along to replace them.

And yet, have you ever noticed how often these stories of people chasing dreams involve flying?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Shine it up!

As I worked on my RV-7A project in recent years, in the back of my mind I kept hearing the voice say, "you'll never be able to afford the paint job." Like everything else in aircraft building, the paint job is where people are trying to outdo each other. It's not unusual anymore to see $20,000 paint jobs.

And, sure, I could do it myself -- well, wait, actually there's no way I could do it by myself -- but I don't have the equipment, the facilities, the talent or the patience.

I've thought about a polished airplane, but I've made a few dings and dents in the plane's aluminum over the years of construction. But something interesting happened once I started flying the plane: I no longer cared much about having a perfect airplane and learned to love her just the way she is.

Then I saw this plane at Oshkosh:

Isn't that beautiful?

The paint portion is perfect for my plane since I can't polish the top skin forward of the canopy. I built up the area with balsa and fiberglass. And the paint location is perfect for a plane with lots of fiberglass that needs to be painted.

And the process is perfect, too, because winter in Minnesota does not lend itself to flying. And its accompanying cabin fever lends itself to puttering at the hangar. You know, like polishing.

The next day at Oshkosh, I walked into the Nuvite tent and said to the man, "tell me how to do this." And he did. I probably could've put together a cheaper operation, but I want full bore, dropping about $900 on everything I need to make this happen. Fact: $900 < $20,000. True, there's still money that will eventually be spent on paint, but overall the project should be much more affordable, and -- although I don't much care - the fact is that if you put a nice paint job and a nice polish job side by side, people will gravitate to the polished airplane. This week, I started on the long process by learning more how to do it right. This EAA video -- if you don't mind me saying something good about EAA -- was a great help.

I've decided to start with the tail -- kind of like the order of building -- and work my way forward. First up: the rudder.

Here's the before:

And here's the after:

Now, I accept that this picture doesn't do the part justice. For one thing, I've used only two polishes so far: the F7, which is for deep corrosion and scratches, and the "C" grade, a less abrasive polish. There is a final "S" grade for an absolute mirror finish, but I haven't done that yet because it requires a different process. I'll do the entire plane with the F7 and C polish, and then come back to the "S" grade, hopefully before next Oshkosh. It's a fun process and, yes, it's a long process. When I told other RV builders that I've decided to polish the plane, most every one of them said, "Whoa, that's a lot of work." As if building an airplane isn't. Update 10/22 Pretty!

Monday, October 8, 2012

The beauty of the night

Before I finished the RV-7A, I rented Piper Warriors from the FBO at an airport 45 minutes away. For more than 15 years -- basically, when I had my flight training which required some night work -- I hadn't flown at night; it just wasn't practical.

But I've got freedom now. I can fly whenever I want, money allowing, of course and I've chosen to get proficient at night flying. Plus, it's a beautiful time to fly.

A few weeks ago, Carolie and I flew down to Mankato for her birthday (about 60 miles away) for a Trampled by Turtles concert in the park by the Minnesota River. It was beautiful. Oh, here, let me digress...

By time we made it back to the airport, of course, it was dark. It was also near midnight. I'd flown the route down and back (at night) the night before, so I was pretty familiar with how the route "looked."

And it was a gorgeous ride back. The sky was empty of traffic, the radio was quiet, the air was smooth as the polka dotted-light landscape of the plains gave way to the lights of the city.

I've made great landings in the RV-7A since I started flying it and since Tom Berge taught me how, but I make consistently terrific landings at night. I think it's because the landing/taxi lights are perfectly adjusted to give me visual clues for the flare and roundout.

Last night was no exception. Carolie was working at the transition house, so I spent the evening repacking the wheel bearings. Once finished, of course, I had to see how the wheels rolled.

After topping off the tank ($5.75 a gallon now), I headed for the runup, mindful of the lessons I learned Saturday while watching Mike Busch's excellent EAA webinar on leaning technique. He says the runup should be with a leaned-out engine.

And that gave me another reason to go flying: To practice leaning techniques.

So I took off into the night sky of the Twin Cities and headed for Red Wing, 26 miles away along the Mississippi River.

There's no question, flying at night is riskier, even as it's more beautiful. You have to be ready for the reality that greets you when you level off: If the engine quits, you're probably screwed.

I knew there were plenty of farm fields in the blackness below, dotted only occasionally by a farmhouse or two. I also knew they were on bluffs and very uneven land. That dark spot to the right? The Mississippi River. As always, I play a game of "what if the engine quit now?" and I debated whether it'd be better to put down near the shore in the river? Or head for the mystery field below. The mystery field won.

But the engine was purring along and my computer was recording the Grand Rapids EIS 4000 data as I played with the mixture knob most of the way (it'd be great if the EIS saved data for download later, but it doesn't). Airspace and practicality doesn't allow me to fly any higher than 3,000 feet MSL on this route, but I found that peak occurs at around 8.5 GPH and 2400 RPM and I could lean it out to about 6.5 GPH 70 degrees LOP, which is probably a bit too much. The airspeed indicator said I was doing about 130 or so knots. The GPS ground speed indicator said I was running about 148 knots. That's not bad.

The cylinder head temperatures were about 360 in the 53 degree night air, the oil temperature was 165. Everything was fine and me and N614EF were learning more about each other.

A landing at Red Wing (perfect, of course) with just a second of spatial disorientation on the base leg (hop on the instruments!) was followed by an uneventful return trip (with a perfect landing, of course).

I wouldn't fly long distances at night, but Minnesota in winter is nothing if not dark. It will be impossible to stay proficient at any kind of flying here without flying at night; and staying proficient is important.

So is the beauty of the night.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Fun with formations

There's zero chance I'm ever going to do formation flying in the RV-7A, partly because the videos I see posted reveal a much more capable pilot than I am. Here's one posted in the last week.

Under the Wire 2012 from Lowwpass on Vimeo.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The disappointing customer service of Artex

I've opined on various spots over the years that American business would be a lot better off if it stopped blaming its problems on everything but themselves, and got back into the game of customer service. Sure, we all shop for things based on price, but nothing can keep a customer from coming back like crappy customer service.

Ladies and gentlemen: I give you Artex.

I bought a 406 ELT from Aircraft Spruce (oh yeah, I also give you Aircraft Spruce) several years ago, and then didn't install it in the plane project until a year or so ago, after its warranty had expired.

I decided to put the antenna outside the aircraft rather than hide it behind the rollbar because (a) I actually like the look of antenna arrays (I think it's from being in the radio business and (b) Aircraft Spruce's catalog item insisted the antenna would withstand a 200 knot breeze.

While still in my Phase I, without any gear leg fairings or wheel pants, my antenna snapped off. As you may know, it's impossible to go 200 knots in this condition. In fact, with my fixed pitch prop, it's impossible to go 130 knots. But there it was, a stub sitting where my antenna used to be.

A new antenna, Aircraft Spruce told me, would be $226, so I took the advice of people on Van's Air Force and contacted both companies to see if they have any shame about selling a substandard piece of equipment, and any interest in customer service.

Apparently, not.

"Scott," who identified himself as a manager at Artex, called me right away after receiving my letter and story and he couldn't have been nicer. "That shouldn't have happened," he said. "We'll send you a new one tomorrow." He said the model I had was an old one and there had been an improvement and a revision. I got the sense that the company realized they were selling units that didn't confirm the performance claims.

And that was the last I heard from Scott. No antenna ever showed up and this week I called for the third time and left a voicemail message, and for a third time, the call was not returned.

It's a most curious situation, indeed.

As for Aircraft Spruce, they asked for the antenna back for evaluation. I sent it back, and that was the last I heard from Aircraft Spruce.

In the meantime, my RV-7A is sitting on the ground with a hole in the top skin. It's not going flying without a functioning ELT; it can't.

In the end, I'll have to spring for a $226 antenna, to replace the one that couldn't survive 30 hours of flight time. I should probably move the antenna to behind the rollbar, but, frankly, I don't want to rewire the plane at this point, I question the performance of an antenna in that position and, besides, I want the products I buy to perform as advertised. I want manufacturers and resellers to value the amount of money I've spent (not only on this, but on all the other stuff I've purchased for this plane) enough -- I want them to value their customers enough -- to make me satisfied. I'll spend more money with a company like that.

Or, you companies can just bitch about how the world is against you and your business is declining through no fault of your own.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The 60-year homebuilt project

Just when I was starting to think my 11-year project was something special, along comes the story about Ed Kusmirek of Renton, Washington.

He's built a replica of the Dormoy Bathtub:
In the 1950s, he bought the authentic engine he needed for $40, caked in red Oklahoma dirt. Dismantling and restoring that was the beginning.

In the last seven years, he made the airframe himself, using many repurposed bits and pieces. The wheels came from a dirt bike. The tension wires inside the wings are spokes from a bicycle.

"The Wright brothers used a lot of bicycle parts," Kusmirek said. "I figured there's no reason I couldn't take advantage."

Showing off the finished airplane parked in an open hangar at Enumclaw Airport in Enumclaw, Wash., Kusmirek pointed to other unusual parts.

The story is in the Los Angeles Times.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The RV-1 project

A beautiful video just released:

I met Ernie Butcher, featured in the film, at Oshkosh this year. He camped next to us. He introduced himself and told me I was an inspiration to him. That was humbling, to say the least, because he sure did a lot with it.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Yet another Oshkosh video

Up here in Flyover Country, we're getting ready for the approaching winter. We're raking leaves, canning some preserves, changing the belt on the snowblower, and -- of course -- laying up a stock of good Oshkosh videos.

Here's one more:

OS 2012 v1 from SoCalRVator on Vimeo.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


One of the highlights for me at Oshkosh this year was seeing my friend, Bernie Ockuly, and introducing him to my wife, Carolie, and having her get a close up look at Bernie's famouse RV-7.

And here it is in action, flown by Bernie's son, Chase, at HogVenture 2012 in Illinois. That's right, people, actually footage of an RV-7A on grass.

Monday, September 3, 2012

A visit to bluff country

I'd always heard about Rushford's little airport in the southeast corner of Minnesota, and have wanted to visit there. But up until recently, I didn't have an airplane with which to do it. Now, of course, I do so it was next up on the list of places to visit (after Madeline Island) while continuing to make adjustments to N614EF (I'm installing and bonding leg fairings at the moment).

So yesterday, MPR colleague Elizabeth Stawicki and I headed out in search of the little airport that sits on the top of a bluff. This is bluff country, where the small cities sit down in the canyon. From the air, it's not hard at all to see why a flash flood five years ago last month killed about a dozen (if I recall correctly) in the cities below.

The good news came right off the bat. Requesting flight following, Minneapolis Departure reported they could, indeed, see my Mode C transmission, and the transponder was reporting the correct altitude. That's quite a relief as the trip to Madeline Island, you may recall, featured an inoperative Mode C. The Garmin 327 automatically switches to ALT on a runway roll, but I've taken to manually recycling it during the runup to see if that changes things, and perhaps it did.

The down side, so far, is that I don't have -- and don't want -- a VOR receiver since VOR stations are being phased out and I navigate by charts and GPS. In many locations, you transmit to Flight Service on a particular frequency and listen back on a VOR frequency. That's antiquated. So I couldn't use the frequencies Departure gave me to open my flight plan and they said they couldn't do it, even though they have in the past. Whatever, we did without the flight plan since we were in communication with ATC via flight following anyway, with the exception of a 10 mile patch north of Rochester where Minneapolis Center -- at least on the frequency we were given -- can't pick us up and we can't hear them.

Eventually we got some scratchy and intermittent communication which was not understandable, but I indicated we couldn't receive and we'd try again in a few minutes.

A few minutes later, Center called us asking us how we were reading. Good service, right there.

There was no traffic to report but it's always nice knowing someone's keeping an eye out for us. Center cut us loose about 12 miles north of Rushford when they lost radar contact but, no matter, there was no traffic out yesterday and the runway was ahead of us.

An upwind entry and a pattern approach put us on Runway 16 with a slight left crosswind, but the RV-7A doesn't care too much about crosswinds and we landed fine and taxied back up to the little prefab house that constitutes the terminal.

And what a great spot it is. There's a spacious living room...

... and den...

But the big payoff was the fully stocked kitchen.

There was plenty of frozen burgers and buns in the freezer if we wanted to use the grills -- we didn't -- but there was also ice cream in there and tons of root beer for making root beer floats. Just leave the 50 cents in the can. Want to drive into town? The keys to the courtesy car are on top of the fridge.

But the day was gorgeous, why drive anywhere, what with a beautiful view, a huge deck, the ear-splitting quiet, and a root beer float to consume while watching tons of hummingbirds show off their crosswind technique?

Nearby, there's a farm. Soybeans are planted right up to the runway.

And best of all: Avgas is "only" $5.25 a gallon -- certainly the cheapest I've seen around lately. So we filled up.

Rushford is home base, by the way, for Steve Russell, who flies his powered parachute around these parts and provides some of the gorgeous videos, which I occasionally feature on the day job -- writing NewsCut for Minnesota Public Radio.

Elizabeth bought me a Rushford Aviation T-shirt -- $20, just put it in the can with the rest of the honor money -- which I'll wear with great affection for a great spot.

I'll be back.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Flying in

Now that I'm flying, I'm going to have to find more places to fly to. I see there's a poker run coming up in a week or so; I may do that.

I may also have to look up Cherry Grove, Minnesota, based on this video that was posted today.

Cherry Grove Fly in Minnesota from Kit Carson on Vimeo.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My week doing an aviation talk show at AirVenture

Huzzah! The hard-working folks at EAA Radio (not run by EAA) have now made all of the interviews during Oshkosh 2012 available on the archive page. It's a good portrayal of just how magnificent this resource is for fans of AirVenture (or at least fans of flying).

Here are the ones that I was involved with. I'd forgotten how much goes into hosting a one-hour interview show (with multiple guests). I enjoyed doing the show because it was fun getting back to doing talk radio again. Also, I like talking about PEOPLE and I think aviation has great people stories to tell. I think I did OK. Just look at this list!

A talk show is hard work. In the end, it has to sound like a conversation and, at least the way I do it, an informal one at that. That's why at my campsite every night, you'd find me working on the next day's hour.

Click to listen (mp3).

Sometimes guests don't show up (it happened to me twice, once involving an RVer) but here are two segments I filled on with Mike Morgan. (Part I | Part II)

Brandi and Brian Unrein

What a fun interview this was. This young couple from the Atlanta area built and flew an RV-10 before becoming old people like, well, you know. They flew it into Oshkosh this year.

Chad Jensen
Chad, a former and future RV-7 builder, is now the manager of communities for the EAA. I knew him when. The EAA wasn't real thrilled to learn I'd be hosting a show this year, but I let Chad know ahead of time that I wasn't about to sandbag him with questions over this Board of Directors proxy controversy -- which I still don't quite understand. If I had, I'm pretty sure Chad would've been ready for it, anyway.

Alex and Alejandro Cuellar, Mike Rettig, and Paul Merems
This was a very inspiring interview about the effort by Van's Air Force members (and others) to make Alex Cuellar's wish to attend Oshkosh come true despite the medical challenges he faces. In the end, he and his dad were ushered into Oshkosh, treated like royalty (the Oshkosh version) and all of those who made it happen made the rest of us proud. It's a great interview.

Chip Yates
This guy was awesome and, as I told him, really had the "high beams" on. He set a record just before Oshkosh for hitting 200 mph in homebuilt airplane, just before the batteries fried. This is must-listening.

Don Hull
Don, from Alabama, is an RV builder who is flying his Cessna for now, and volunteering with Pilots n Paws, a neat effort whereby pilots help rescue dogs who certainly are in need of rescue.

Gary Bipes
Gary is from Hector, MN and I interviewed him on the final Sunday of AirVenture. He's a fascinating man -- a former combat photographer, worked for the CIA, was in the ag-spraying business. I wrote about him for my day job, too. (Part I | Part II)

Jack Beck and Marmy Clason
I've known this wonderful couple since I wrote this article in 2008. They started building their RV9 at, perhaps, the worst possible time in the opinion of some rational people. But maybe rational people don't know everything.

John Zimmerman
John is a VP of Sporty's and came in to talk about using iPads in the cockpit. I've got to get an iPad.

Lane Wallace
I'm honored to call Lane a friend. She's a great aviation writer and explorer. We talked mostly about her book, more so than aviation stories. Perhaps that disappoints a lot of aviation people but the world is deeper than that. We didn't get into it on the radio, but we had a fabulous conversation about parenthood after the show.

Lauran Paine Jr.
Likewise, Lauran Paine is one of my heroes. He's a writer who describes himself as "about as complicated as a fencepost." He's a Vietnam combat pilot, former airline pilot, and RV-8 builder too. When EAA Radio asked if I was interested in doing a talk show this year, the first person I thought about was Lauran. I was not disappointed. (Part I | Part II)

Lyn Freeman and Katrina Bradshaw
I think educators are really missing out on exciting their students by not bringing aviation into the classroom more. So do Lyn and Katrina who are with Build A Plane and are trying to link up airplanes and schools.

Bob Kelley and friends
Bob, of Indiana, helped organize a program to teach kids how to build an airplane. And the Eagle's Nest group did in completing -- and flying to Oshkosh -- an RV-12. He and a couple of the kids tell their story.

Paul Dye
Paul found the RV-1, the original RV, and helped organize the effort to get it back to flying status, have it tour the country, put it back in the hands of Van himself, and then have it flown to Oshkosh, where it was presented to the EAA. Paul is also with NASA and was the longest-serving flight director in shuttle history. He's also from Minnesota, which really tops pretty much the list of everything else he's accomplished.

Rick Gray
If there's a champion homebuilt project crowned at Oshkosh, it's pretty much a given that Rick Gray built it. Now he's a judge and he walked us through how homebuilders can do a better job of homebuilding. We also chatted about his RV-10 accident last fall, from which he is lucky to be alive.

Scott and Casey Stewart
If you're a fan of Van's Air Force, you probably recognize Scott as "DakotaHawk." This discussion involves how fathers and sons build airplanes and are bonded by aviation. Two fine people. It was a pleasure to finally meet both in person.

Mark Giron
What a fabulous and smart person Mark is. He's an official with the Federal Aviation Administration and he's also an RV-6 flyer. On the evening of this interview, he was to host a "safety rally" in the homebuilt camping area of Oshkosh. Only a few of us showed up, however, so here's your chance to hear what you missed, people.

Chris Briers
I admit, I didn't know much about the P750-XSTOL, which is a New Zealand plane used in many rescue and relief efforts. But I enjoyed meeting Chris and the test pilot, who is from South Africa and has an amazing resume.

Frank Johnson
Frank is a woodworker who got started making wooden props by finding a guy who was about to shut down a business. He said, "teach me," and the guy did. And now he teaches us all about wooden props.

George Richards
Building an airplane takes a fair amount of pluck, you know, and so does flying it into Oshkosh. George is a builder of a Falco. In New Zealand. That in itself isn’t unusual at all. He wanted to fly it into Oshkosh. New Zealand… you probably know… is nowhere near Wisconsin. The story of meeting his dream is inspirational.

Alan White
Alan is the builder of a Dyke Delta, a space-ship looking design that’s celebrating 50 years today and for about 39 of those years, Alan White was building one. He flew it into Oshkosh for the first time back in 2010.

John McGiness
John also has a dream. He's the developer of Synergy. His idea is half fighter jet, half futuristic airplane, all family.

Marisela Solesbee
Marisela stopped at the station to talk about her work. She makes quilts for returning injured soldiers of war. I overheard her conversation and found it fascinating (I wrote about it here) and was honored to be able to interview her.

Friday, August 24, 2012

After the accident

A man was involved in an aircraft accident more than a year ago. It claimed the life of his son. Since then, he's tried to figure out what went wrong and make sure other pilots fly safer. He's told his story to the Air Safety Institute which has produced an important video.

Typical of AOPA, however, it hasn't made the video embeddable, to spread the word better.

So set aside a half hour and go here.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Flying with my sons - Chapter I

When I first decided to build an airplane 11 years ago, the intention was that I could use it to visit my kids away at college at some godforsaken land. They were young at the time and I just figured that how it would go. It didn't go that way; both stayed in the Twin Cities.

But now that it's done, I'm already seeing an entirely new role for the plane to play -- keeping them in touch and spending more time with them than I otherwise would. A plane makes a mighty nice flying carpet.

My son, Sean, hasn't flown with me since he was a junior in high school, when we had a nice trip to Sleepy Eye for a class project. The flight ended back at Flying Cloud when I messed up an instruction to make left traffic, turned left instead, and approached the departure end of the runway.

But after last week's homecoming, I invited Sean to fly with me up to Madeline Island in Lake Superior, which is a wonderful place, has a little strip, a short walk to the ferry, which takes you over to Bayfield and its many shops.

I calculated the trip would take a little over an hour and it was an hour and 20 minutes (gotta get those leg fairings on). We took the ferry to Bayfield, found a place to eat, played a game of pool and generally relaxed as the storm clouds we knew would roll in, rolled in.

As we ate we talked about flying and Sean said he'd like to fly someday, even though some of his medicines are on the FAA disqualification list. But, I told him, there's always light sport and EAA and AOPA are pushing hard to eliminate the Third Class Medical.

So now I have to find out whether it's possible that a CFI could use my plane to provide flight training. It'd be great to have him work toward at least being able to fly, even if he couldn't fly PIC right now. Either that or I need to get started on the RV-12.

By the way as we were walking from the airport to town, the police showed up. "Did you just land about 20 minutes ago? Are you 614EF?" the officer asked.

"Yeah, what's wrong?" I said.

"The FAA is looking for you, apparently you forgot to check in," he said.

I knew instantly what the problem was. We were receiving flight following from south Saint Paul and somewhat into Wisconsin, he instructed us to another frequency. I thought he had terminated radar service and so we just flew on without checking in. Dumb move. I don't know what the fallout from this will be. We'll see. But we were safe, heading for some good times, and I didn't much care.

On the way back to the airport, I thumbed a ride and a nice couple picked us up and delivered us to the airplane and checked the weather for us on their iPhone. We knew we were in for it a bit.

We stayed in the small terminal building while the rain let up and then made a run for it. There were thunderstorms in our path so we picked open sky between a pair and got the plane washed. A second line near Hayward, Wisconsin still faced us but I knew they'd be there since my flight briefing predicted they'd be.

So we watched some neat rainfall and had a double rainbow off our left wing. I had to go far to the east around a storm, and then punched through some rain showers into the good weather on the south side of the weather front, which was barely moving.

We were home free for a cruise back to the Minneapolis St. Paul area, where we saw a few hot air balloons over the St. Croix River. We touched down in Saint Paul and then checked the weather radar to calculate where and what we'd just been through. I was happy we didn't do anything stupid, and happier still that my son and I had a grand time.

The plane performed magnificently; the only problem seems to be that the transponder isn't reporting altitude or at least the recipients aren't receiving it. The Garmin 327 is showing the correct pressure altitude on its display; I don't know why ATC isn't receiving it, but another plane that was reporting while we were receiving flight following also reported that he "could see them on the box but no altitude." Hmmmm....

But those are things to be worked on another day. This was a day that the plane itself was secondary to what you can do with one.

"Thanks for taking me with you," he said as he headed for the car to head back to his home. "Next time I'll bring my good camera."

There's going to be a next time! Yes! Now I need a place to fly to that's as cool as Madeline Island.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Will sell eggs to fly

I had chickens as a kid and sold eggs to have some walking-around money. It never occurred to me that it would've been a good way to fly.

This kid is smarter than I was.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Images from the homecoming

Following up on last weekend's return of N614EF to the South Saint Paul nest, Mike Hilger -- who was good enough to fly down to Airlake Airport to escort me back (he also did that neat flyby in son, Patrick's, video -- sends along these images.

Pulling the plane out of Stein and Jed's hangar at Airlake. And, yeah, she got an especially thorough preflight.

Ready to go. I'm going to miss Airlake. The people there are incredibly friendly. I won't miss the 30+ mile drive each way, however.

Mike's plane. He just upgraded the panel. Oh, the things you can do when you work for SteinAir, eh?

The crew who greeted the plane at Fleming Field (KSGS). My son, Sean, is hiding.

Carolie gets the first ride, of course.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

N614EF returns home

On Friday evening, I passed the 40-hour mark of Phase I flight testing in N614EF, the plane I built over an 11-year period. That means it would come home on Saturday. So, bring it home, we did.

Son #2, Patrick, made the video and after he left, I provided rides to a couple of guys who've helped tremendously getting the project finished.

Brad Benson and I flew down to Red Wing because I knew that Joshua Wyatt's RV-9A had its airworthiness inspection on Friday. And when we landed, we saw Tom Berge's airplane. Tom was taking it up for its first flight.

Joshua did a fabulous job.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

EAA Radio: Gary Bipes interview

As I hear it, some EAA officials weren't entirely thrilled when they learned I'd been asked to be a host of a daily talk show during AirVenture on EAA Radio, which is not controlled by the organization.

But I enjoyed the week of many, many interviews, which I hope to make available here as EAA Radio makes them available. I'll miss the studios overlooking Runways 18/36. The building is being torn down.

Anyway, here -- courtesy of my day job -- is one of the many fascinating EAAers I met during the week: Gary Bipes.

When a young man asked me a couple of weeks ago if I'd be interested in interviewing his grandfather, he gave me piece of paper with a one-paragraph biography. It started, "Gary Bipes, born July 28th, 1942, was a Vietnam combat photographer from 1966 to 1967..."

That's when I stopped reading, handed the paper back to him and said, "I'd love to." Anyone who went into combat armed mostly with a camera probably has had an interesting life. I wasn't wrong.

"Our weapon was our camera and you were in the middle of the fighting," Bipes, 70, of Hector, Minnesota told me. It wasn't a job for just anyone, though. "Most wanted to get wounded right away and get out."

Combat photographers for the Army, he says, weren't particularly well liked by other soldiers. "They knew if there was a photographer along, there was going to be some bad stuff. We were like a bad omen. 'Don't film me when I'm being shot,' they'd say. "

"We got artillery dropped on us by accident once," he said. "I took pictures of a guy who was hit by white phosphorous and he jumped into water and I took a picture of him. They said, 'if you do that again, you're going to be a KIA.' If you're out there and it's your buddy, you don't want me getting glory out of the film."

He was nominated for a Bronze Star for helping soldiers cross a creek during some fighting. "Some of the guys couldn't swim and they were scared to death. I told the captain, 'I'm an old swimmer and I'll help them across,'" he said.

Through all the combat, he escaped serious injury. "I lost a camera once and I was crying and someone said, "did you get hurt?' and I said, 'no, but I lost the lieutenant's camera.'"

"I was well known in Army Times, New York Times... I was very proud," he says, well known enough that he was offered a chance to shoot combat photographs for Life magazine. But he wanted more; he wanted to go home.

The day he was drafted, he says, he wasn't allowed to say goodbye to his wife. And while he was in Vietnam, his daughter was born.


When he returned to the States, he worked for the CIA, shooting pictures of something he can't talk about, and worrying that he'd take pictures of something he shouldn't be taking pictures of.

When he returned to Minnesota, having learned how to fly when he was 15 and having learned how to fly helicopters thanks to the GI Bill, he was coaxed into flying a helicopter for a crop-spraying firm.

How he got the job remains to this day, a lesson on the value of the willingness to work.

"They had two candidates for the job," he said. "Me and this one guy who was a Huey helicopter pilot in the Army and I thought, ' I'll never get the position. They asked me, 'what if we need to you drive a truck?' I said, 'I'll drive a truck.' They asked, 'what if we need you to flag for us?' I said, 'I'll flag.' The other pilot said, 'I'm a pilot;I don't do ground work.'"

Bipes got the job and crashed the helicopter on his first day. "They said, 'you gotta get lower.'" He was flying a foot off the ground when the boom hit a knoll and crashed. He escaped and when his partner saw him crying, he told Bipes, "'get back in there and go,' and so I did." For 24 years.


Vietnam didn't get Bipes. The CIA didn't get Bipes. And a knoll in a farmer's field in Glencoe didn't get Bipes. Mosquitoes almost did.

His wife and daughter helped run his Hector hardware store while he flew helicopter spraying missions for Metropolitan Mosquito Control whenever it rained more than two inches.

On June 10, 1994, it almost killed him while spraying a swamp near the Medina Ballroom.

"You go into swamp, climb over wires, and go over to the next one," he said.

"I remember the guys loading it up, and taking off, and I have no memory of it," he told me, breaking into tears, something he says he still does with some regularity when thinking about the accident. "The lady that saw me said I went up over the power lines and I dived right into them. It was a big blue ball of fire. 'We thought you should exploded,' she said."

He was in the hospital for 30 days. A doctor was going to amputate a leg until he found out he was a pilot. He says he easily could be paralyzed today.

"It was on TV at home before Mosquito Control found out," he said. "My daughter was turning the channel so grandmother could watch the soap operas. They saw the helicopter wreckage, and they knew I was flying the orange helicopter."


He insists that airplanes are his first love and says his wife understands, though he tears up when talking about the wedding anniversary -- the 50th -- they celebrated at the big Oshkosh air show two weeks ago.

"When we were dating," he says, "we went to Flying Cloud (airport) and sat at the end of the runway and watched planes."

He still flies almost every day, he says and is still traumatized by the crash.

"You don't know what went wrong," he said. "You're living with 'what did I do wrong?' You live with that all the time. I'm getting better after 18 years. It's really a challenge."

Listen to the two-part interview with Gary Bipes, originally broadcast on EAA Radio on July 29, 2012)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A letter to an airplane

This week I'll finish the 40-hour Phase I testing period and bring the RV-7A back to South Saint Paul. This will, officially, cap the building process of an airplane I started in 2001.

It's also a good time to revisit a letter I wrote to the plane in 2008.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

AirVenture attendance drops

Press release today by EAA. The attendance, the PR-focus to the contrary, has to be very disconcerting for the EAA. It shows a continuing decline. In 2008, for example, the attendance was 540,000. The 2010 attendance was down 7 percent at 535,000. And that was Sloshkosh, when nobody wanted to be there. 541,000 showed up in 2011

This year? 508,000, that's about a 6-percent drop.

We can quibble about the reasons for this but it's undeniable that AirVenture is not growing and hasn't been for some time. The numbers are pretty stagnant.

Anyway, here's the release:

Attendance: 508,000

Comment from Hightower: “We are pleased that attendance has topped one-half million again. That is a tremendous total considering the intensely hot weather, storms, and struggles in the overall economy. The aviation community knows that Oshkosh is the place to be to find out what’s new, and actually buy new equipment, components, and aircraft.”

Total aircraft: More than 10,000 aircraft arriving at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh and other airports in east-central Wisconsin.

Total showplanes: 2,489 including 978 homebuilt aircraft, 907 vintage airplanes, 336 warbirds, 105 ultralights, 97 seaplanes, 35 aerobatic aircraft and 31 rotorcraft.

Commercial exhibitors: 802

International visitors registered: 2,078 visitors registered from 71 nations, with Canada (479 visitors), Australia (286), and Brazil (216) the top three nations. (NOTE: This total includes only non-U.S. visitors who register at the International Visitors Tent, so the actual international contingent is undoubtedly larger.)

Media: 897 media representatives on-site, from five continents.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The dream of infinite flight

Because I was doing a daily talk show for EAA Radio, I didn't write the usual Oshkosh Diary this year; doing so would've demanded too much time and certainly more bandwidth than EAA seems capable of providing at Oshkosh.

Over the next few weeks, and as some of the archived audio comes online, I'll be writing about some of the people I met over on my day-job's blog with cross-posting here.

Among the more fascinating individuals, however, was the person I met on Saturday.

If electric-powered flight is ever going to be a reality, it's going to take people like Chip Yates, who might've been close to blowing himself up earlier this month when the warning lights were flashing on his battery-powered airplane telling him to "stop." Instead, he twisted a knob a little more and broke the 200 mph barrier.

Yates had just started flight lessons in May, he told me on Saturday. He got his pilot's license in June. He had flown the airplane that broke the record only once -- the day before the record-setting flight. He intends to fly across the Atlantic on batteries, as soon as he conquers the next frontier -- air-to-air battery refueling. I was explaining the concept to him here...

You're right; I'm lying. Chip is 10 tons of brilliance and he sent me home from Oshkosh with a renewed passion for pushing the envelope.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The missed opportunity

I met the person who may be one of the smartest people I' ve ever heard speak at Oshkosh tonight and it's a shame -- a damned shame -- that more people in the RV community and the experimental aviation community didn't turn out to here him too.

Mark Giron is an FAA safety inspector. He's also the guy who's going to start putting a response together to the National Transportation Safety Board recommendations on experimental aviation. Did I mention he's also an RV-6 owner?

Mark is one of us. By the warped thinking of a lot of people in the homebuilding community, he's also "one of them."

He held a safety chat out in the homebuilt camping area of Oshkosh tonight and it wasn't much of an accident -- no pun intended -- that he didn't do in the big FAA pavilion, standing up on a stage at a podium with the big FAA shield. He invited people just to sit around on the grass, enjoy some free corn on the cob and talk as if we actually are adults about how we can fly safer.

I spent a few minutes with him today when he was a guest on my EAA Radio show (it'll be archived and you can hear it probably next week). I'm impressed. I'm impressed with his thoughtfulness and his insight and his position and his guts and his willingness to extend a hand to the EAB community to help formulate that response.

And so it was disheartening around 6:30 when only a handful of people -- Andrew Barker and the TruTrak staff, Mike Regan, the Dynon folks -- showed up to listen to him. It was more disheartening when I overheard his cellphone conversation to the AOPA government affairs official when he said, "the experimental community doesn't care."

That one's on us and we deserve what we get. The notice was posted on Van's Air Force site, I made it clear on the EAA radio site, and you can draw a crowd at Oshkosh by burping loudly. So there was no legitimate excuse for not having more people show up.

Those recommendations are going to come out, and then people will have a lot to say.

The crowd did get larger over the course of our discussion and it was just the people you'd expect to see -- the best and the brightest: Paul Rosales, Paul Dye, Kyle Boatright, Gary Sobek, to name a few.

Admittedly, I'm in the minority in the RV community and in particular, at Oshkosh -- the world's largest Tea Party convention. If it takes a regulation to start to ground some of the idiots who are flying homebuilts, I'm all for it. I was alone in this thought. The AOPA official, in particular, seemed to make it clear that that organization is against any addition regulation of any kind. I get the sentiment, I just don't think it gets us anywhere.

The discussion was quality stuff, however. Should people be allowed to take a person on a first flight as part of transition training? From the sound of things, it sounds like that will be recommendation.

And Mark is no fool. He knows people are faking their test periods and logging enough hours to say they've properly tested their plane. He wasn't surprised when I told him I've met at least three people at Oshkosh who flew up here while in Phase I testing. This guy is not a fool. But he should be our friend and we should've been there and nobody should ever be saying the homebuilt community doesn't care about having a seat at the table of recommendations.

In the end, the sentiment seems to be that peer education is the way to go, rather than education. Twenty-five hours? Forty hours? Mark isn't sure how arbitrary those numbers are. What he is sure of, though, is that people are testing their planes, and that people are using Phase I as pilot training. That's not what Phase I is for.

It falls to use -- especially in the stance of AOPA that no regulation, no policy is acceptable -- to police ourselves. That doesn't make me very confident. Maybe if people had showed up to partake in tonight's conversation, it would. Trust me, when the recommendations come out, people will be complaining on all the bulletin boards and at Oshkosh. My response? Where were you when you had your chance?

There is some progress being made. Mark says Chad Jensen, EAA's homebuilt community now has a list of everyone who offers transition training by type. You'll be able to find a trainer, presumably off the EAA website, instead of hearing things through word of mouth.