Plans were in the works for a sequel to Top Gun, one of the most popular aviation films ever, when director Tony Scott’s suicide in August stalled the project, but a 3-D Imax version of the original movie now is expected to debut in February.
In flying I have learned that carelessness and overconfidence are usually far more dangerous than deliberately accepted risks. – Wilbur Wright in a letter to his father, September 1900
So it came to pass that I managed to managed to blunder across the country in two different twin Otters last week without klacking into anything, burning out any expensive engines or getting TOO lost. After ducking under the Houston class B airspace I followed the magenta line on my GPS to what was supposed to be Skydive Spaceland and got my first look at their runway. It was a narrow, short strip of concrete with powerlines right off the approach end effectivly making it even shorter, did I mention it was narrow? I set up a steep approach to avoid hitting the power lines, and spoiling my perfect record, plonked the big bird down, cranked the propellers into reverse and wrestled with the tiller bar to try and stay on the six inches of spare runway on either side of the mains.
When I parked the plane and fell jumped out I was greeted by my old friend Rabbit who had flown for me a few years back and had checked me out in the Otter. After usual male pilot greetings Rabbit asked me what I wanted to do after my long trip, make a skydive? Have some lunch? Drink beer? As appealing as those options were I told him that after two days of non-stop flying I would like nothing more than to do some more flying and would you be so kind as to teach me how to drive your Cessna Grand Caravan. The beer drinking option sounded best but CB Aviation, the ferry company I fly for, asked me to get checked out in the Caravan if I could because they had a few that needed moved this winter.
We climbed into the cockpit and Rabbit spent a few minutes teaching me how to start the 900 hp beast and the few unusual emergency procedures that were particular to the Caravan. For a ferry pilot this was a luxury, usually when I show up to ferry a plane I’ve never flown before I’d have to learn how to fly it my self because the old owner had his money and didn’t want to risk damaging the plane and the new owner was on the other side of the planet. After a whole ten minutes of ground school we picked up a load of skydivers, taxied to the end of the runway and took off. I was impressed with the climb rate of the Super Caravan but it was the 4000 foot per minute descent rate that really got my attention. I flew a few a more loads for good mesure, safety first you know, then went back to Rabbit’s den to talk smart and finally drink those beers. Now I know how to fly a Caravan, yay for me.
I love flying and I love ferry flying but I love ferry flying in the winter..um..less. This week it was time to move the Twin Otter we leased for the season back down to Texas. The owner asked me if I’d do him a favor and swap Otters for him by flying the Otter in Wisconsin to Skydive Orange in Virginia then flying the Otter that was there to Houston. My little adventure started out with a short eighteen mile flight from Skydive Twin Cities to the airport close to my home so I could get an early start the next morning. Before taking off I checked the weather and was told that apart from a few snow showers the conditions were VFR with four thousand foot ceilings and ten mile visibility. After takeoff I began to doubt the accuracy of the forecast I’d received because I appeared to be flying inside a well shaken snow globe and couldn’t see more than one mile. Now a
smart lesser pilot would have promptly turned around and landed but I’m sort of a glass is half full kind of guy and being very familiar with the area and having a good GPS and instrument skills to fall back on I pressed on. It got kind of sporty for a few minutes but I managed to get the big lumbering beast to the correct airport.
Sunrise found me staring at the beautiful sight of Dehavilland Super Twin Otter sparkling on the ramp. Unfourtunatley it was sparkling because it was covered in lift killing frost. I knew I should’ve found a broom and a ladder and polished the frost on the wings smooth but I figured that working that high off the ground in slippery conditions was more dangerous than flying with frost on the wings, and anyway with just me in in the plane it should get off the ground just fine, frost or no frost, so I scraped the windscreen clean with my Master card and took off. Once I got in the air I immediatley began to regret my choice of foot wear. I’d know it would be cold, no heat in the Otter, and had bundled up in long underwear, ski gloves, hat and jacket but had elected to just wear tennis shoes with an extra pair of socks. I spent the rest of the four hour flight with all the extra clothes I’d brought along wraped around my feet to try and keep them from freezing solid.
When I got to Virginia the pilot of the next Otter I was to fly wasn’t there to brief me on that plane but the squawk list told me why this aircraft needed to go to back to Texas for some major maintenance. Left generator out, left torque gauge inop, left temp gauge 100 degrees off, one landing light out, all three tires bald with the cords showing and the list went on and on. Great. The sun was setting as I taxied for takeoff and I almost elected to abort and do the flight the next day because the first time you fly a strange plane shouldn’t be a night cross country, but I think I’ve already pointed out that I’m not all that smart. A half an hour into the flight the list of problems with the Otter got a little longer. With the sun finally disappearing on the horizon I turned on the cockpit lights only to find that about half of them didn’t work, including the altimeter light and most importantly the artificial horizon. I had a head lamp with me but the thought of flying for seven hours by flashlight didn’t really sound like that much fun. Now I don’t want you to think I was too scared to fly half way across the country in a plane with only one working generator and no instrument lights, no I landed two hours later and called it night because my low beer light was going off, not because I was scared. Gotta have your priorities straight.
Going a little fast here boss.
Five-year-old Implicated In Fatal Crash
The NTSB says (PDF) it’s likely a five-year-old girl’s restlessness started the chain of events that led to the crash of a helicopter that killed her and four others on Valentine’s Day in 2010. Although there is no direct evidence to support the hypothesis, the board says simulator scenarios and a biomechanical study point to the girl, who was sitting on her father’s lap in the left pilot seat of the Eurocopter EC135, inadvertently stepping on the collective control and pushing it suddenly to its bottom stop. Then, the board postulates, either the pilot in command in the right seat or the left-seat passenger (and aircraft owner) yanked up on the collective and back on the cyclic. The violent control movements then caused the main rotor to hit the tail boom, causing the aircraft to go out of control about 2,000 feet above the Arizona desert near Cave Creek. The board cited the pilot’s failure to enforce “proper cockpit discipline” as a contributing factor in the crash.
The NTSB said aircraft owner Thomas J. Stewart, the owner of Services Group America, had previously allowed his daughter Sydney to travel on his lap in the left pilot seat. Father and daughter, along with Stewart’s wife Madena and her brother Malang Abudula, were traveling from their northern Arizona ranch to Scottsdale. The pilot was Rick Morton. The pilot’s family is suing Eurocopter, claiming a faulty repair to a rotor blade caused the accident, their lawyer told The Associated Press. The NTSB said in the report that its investigation showed a rotor blade hit the tailrotor drive shaft and broke. “That’s their interpretation, and it does not comport with what our experienced investigators believe happened,” said Gary C. Robb, a Kansas City attorney.
I imagine the pilot was never very happy about the owner having his daughter sit on his lap during flight but it an be hard to stand up to your boss when your cushy job as a private helicopter chauffeur is on the line. And anyway what’s the worst that could happen?
Aviators have been helping out with the recovery from last week’s storm in multiple ways, including relief flights, evacuations, and more. And a handful of pilots working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have been flying at 5,000 feet above the coastline where the storm hit hardest, creating a high-resolution mosaic of the damage. NOAA’s Twin Otters and King Airs are equipped with specialized remote-sensing cameras that have captured thousands of photographs at a resolution of 17 centimeters per pixel. Photos now posted on NOAA’s website with a “before and after” scrolling feature reveal the damage to some of the hardest-hit areas, including Atlantic City and Seaside Heights in New Jersey, Ocean City, Md., and parts of Delaware.
“Aerial imagery is a crucial tool used by federal, state, and local officials as well as the public when responding to natural disasters,” says NOAA’s website. “Many areas may be inaccessible due to the volume of debris. Snapshots of the damage help emergency managers conduct search and rescue operations, route personnel and machinery, coordinate recovery efforts and provide a cost-effective way to better understand the damage sustained to both property and the environment.” More images will be posted online as flights continue this week over New York City, Long Island, and parts of Virginia.
“Without ammunition, the USAF would be just another expensive flying club.” – Unknown