Open The Pod Bay Door Hal

Over the next few weeks, a twin-engined Jetstream will fly from the Warton Aerodrome in Lancashire towards Scotland but it won’t be an ordinary flight as the aircraft will be pilotless according to the Economist. That’s not entirely accurate as there will be a pilot. Its just the pilot will be flying the aircraft from a control room on the ground (but just in case things go wrong with the experiment, there will be a pilot in the cockpit to take over). The flight itself is part of a project to develop the technologies and procedures that ultimately will allow large commercial aircraft to operate pilotless.
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This summer one of my skydiving students named David noticed me limping around on my bad hip and offered to see if he could help me.  Turns out he’s a sports therapist who works on a lot of NFL and NBA players.    After examining me he determined that if he started me on a series of needlessly painful sessions on the rack in his dungeon we could improve my tolerance for pain, oh and also keep me from having to get hip surgery at this time, but I think torturing me is the main goal.  As the summer wore on, my hip got better, and I was able to pay David back by teaching him and his wife how to skydive and getting them both totally addicted to the very expensive sport.  Payback’s a bitch, aint it?  Yesterday I continued my evil plan of revenge by taking David up in the mighty Cessna 150 for his first flight lesson.  Now, I’m not an official FAA flight instructor but I can still teach the basics of flying to my friends so when they actually start official lessons they have a bunch of bad habits to unlearn.  David did a great job flying, he was able to hold a heading, more or less, and wasn’t too afraid of steep turns and stalls.  Teaching him how to land was scary as hell interesting.  When he was two thousand feet in the air he could control the plane very smoothly, but as soon as he got close to the ground the effects of the alcohol he must have ingested took effect.  It was a fun but stressful flight that only reinforced my decision not to get my flight instructor license.  I’ve got enough grey hair already.

The Rescue Of The Stormin’ Norman, Part One

In the 1990’s I had a small skydiving operation on the island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin islands that my friend John and I ran for two winters.  We would’ve continued to operate it longer than two years but our wives realized that while they were stuck in the snowy north land taking care of the kids and working full time jobs, we were living it up in paradise, drinking cheap rum, and generally having a good time.  Can’t have that now can we?   But while we were there we had a good time, living in a small office at the airport, and doing enough paying jumps to keep us afloat.
One day a man walked into our tiny office and asked for our help.  He told us that he was the owner of a long line fishing boat called the Stormin’ Norman that was stranded in the middle of the Caribbean sea.  The boat’s fuel pump had given up the ghost and despite the crews best efforts they had been drifting powerlessly for three days.  The owner told us that because the boat was over two hundred miles from the nearest land, and in international waters, none of the countries in the area had any interest in sending help.  He asked us if it might be possible to fly our Cessna 182 jump plane out to the boat and rescue them by dropping them a replacement fuel pump.  Apparently the owner had been unable to find a boat to hire that could reach the stranded crew in any reasonable time frame and our plane was the only one that had a door that could be opened in-flight to allow an air-drop.  I did some calculations, and due to the fact that my 182 had long range tanks, concluded that it would be possible to fly out to the stranded boat, drop off the replacement fuel pump, and return with a reasonable fuel reserve.  There was still the fact that if anything went wrong and we were forced to ditch, we’d be just as screwed as the fishing boat crew.  But instead of being in a steel boat full of fish to eat, we’d be sitting in a small rubber raft.  The whole plan sounded very risky, but that never stopped me before.
To be continued.


More Oops


All 29 aboard an Embraer-E120ER Brasilia turboprop survived a ditching off the Comoros Islands near Mozambique Tuesday; one passenger, a military officer, told Reuters he saw fuel leaking out of the aircraft “like an open tap” after takeoff. The aircraft, a T-tail low wing, was operated by Inter-Iles Air, carrying 25 passengers and four crew. It departed Prince Said Ibrahim International Airport just after 1 p.m. local time and impacted the waters of the Indian Ocean less than 1000 feet from the coast and three miles north of the airport. Local fishermen were on scene and affected rescue of all the aircraft’s occupants. Early reports suggest crew members were aware of a problem.

First reports state that the crew radioed that they were experiencing an unspecified problem and requested a return to the airport but lost altitude in a turn and touched down in the water. According to the local aviation authority, the aircraft had passed an inspection earlier in the month. One early report states that a passenger said one engine failed before the aircraft lost altitude. Another states that the crew was made aware of the fuel leak and decided to attempt a return to the airport. Time and further investigation should provide more clarity, but as the aircraft turned back for the airport it lost altitude and successfully ditched. Multiple sources did not agree on the number of injuries, which may have included two people who suffered minor injuries, including the flight’s pilot.

I might have said this before but I REALLY  HATE flying on third world aircraft.  Their maintenance is a joke and their pilot training is sub-par and full of nepotism, but at least the stuardess’..stuardi..chicks who bring the drinks are hot.  That has to be some comfort when you’re about to go sailing.

Be Serious


One of the advantages of being on an IFR flight plan or using flight following when flying cross country is the help ATC gives you with traffic avoidance.  Even though it is indeed a big sky out there collisions do occur, I lost five good friends in a mid-air between a skydiving plane and a student with his instructor.  When ATC issues a traffic alert a good pilot does his best to locate the traffic and determine weather or not the offending aircraft poses a danger.
Now it may be just me but being a frustrated fighter pilot at heart I take call from ATC as a chance to see just how fast I can locate the “Bandit” because as everyone knows in air combat whoever sees who first usually wins.  A traffic alert becomes even more personal when ATC tells the pilots of both planes about each other, now it’s contest, see first or die.  It’s very satisfying to see the small black dot of another aircraft and call out “traffic in sight” first.  It’s the same as saying “You’re dead sucka!”
On long cross country flights these little games you play help pass the time and sometimes if the radio traffic is light you might try to be a little humorous by saying “has the bandit or bogey in sight”  Hey, air traffic controllers are people too, sort of.
Many years ago I was on a ferry flight somewhere over middle America when ATC called out an Army Cobra attack helicopter as traffic for me.  Our courses were converging enough that the controller warned the Cobra about me as well so it was “fight’s on!”  I scanned the sky and picked up the movement of his rotors first.  Quickly keying the mic. I decided to be cute, “Chicago center, 48 Alpha has the bandit, he’s too close for missiles, I’m switching to guns.”  That got a chuckle from the controller back then but I think if I tried that now I’d end up in jail.