Flying To Work

Last week we found a crack in a rib on the tail of the Grand Caravan we lease to fly jumpers at Skydive Twin Cities.  The crack was significant enough that the plane was flown from Wisconsin to Atlanta to get fixed.  That left us with no jump ship for the week.  But wait, my Cessna 206 N207J “Juliet” was back in operation and ready to go!  As I mentioned in the last post my mechanic and I had spent a long time getting Juliet back in the air and one of the things we did was put on 6 new cylinders.  Whenever you put new cylinders on an engine they need to be broken in by flying at high power settings while keeping to cylinder head temperatures cool for about 15 hours.  Now I can meet these parameters while flying skydivers by keeping my airspeed high on the climb to altitude to keep the engine cool and leaving some power in on the descent but the best way to break in new cylinders is cross country flying.  So it was with great sadness and inconvenience that I was forced to fly back and forth to work every day last week.  It was a real hardship having to drive 5 minutes  to the airport each morning and climb into my airplane for my commute to work.  You can’t possibly imagine the drudgery of flying 500 feet over the Wisconsin countryside seeing deer, turkeys, Bald Eagles, and rolling hills pass beneath your wings during the agonizingly long 15 minute flight.  It is to weep.




Seeing firemen set a grass fire isn’t interesting at all.


Ever Koda looks bored on the way home after a long day of begging for treats from the skydivers.

She Is Risen

When I first opened Skydive Twin Cities I got the meat bombs skydivers up to altitude in 2 Cessna 182’s, 2 Cessna 206’s, and a 1952 De Havilland Beaver.  Running 5 planes at once was a big job and keeping enough pilots trained was a nightmare.  In our second year a hungover pilot aborted a takeoff and ran one of the 182’s off the end of the runway and onto a road, no one was hurt but the plane’s nose wheel was folded under and the prop, engine and firewall suffered damage.  With that incident in mind and being tired of the 5 plane hassle the next year I started leasing a Twin Otter as my main jump ship.  I still used the small Cessna’s and the Beaver for loads too small for the Twin Otter but over the years my fleet shrank down to just the two 206 Stationairs.

With the Twin Otter taking the bulk of the work I only needed one of the planes operational at a time, so I parked one in a hanger with the intention of getting it flying the next year.  That next year was five years ago.  When my mechanic and I finally dug the poor neglected 206 out of the back of the hanger it was a sorry sight, covered in a thick layer of dust, the tires a little flat and the interior filled with junk because I’d been using it as storage for all kinds of crap.  When we did a compression check we found that two of the cylinders had fairly low compression and needed to be changed and I figured that as long as I was replacing one third of the cylinders I might as well replace them all and call it a top overhaul.



The whole project took about two months but last week I was finally able to get my beloved Juliet (from the N number on the tail N207J) back in the air.


And seeing that that the cylinders need to be broken in I have no other choice but to fly to work all week.

Back In The Saddle


The big ball of fire finally made an appearance in Wisconsin and I somehow managed to fly the Super Grand Caravan up to 14,000 feet and back 30 times without breaking it.  It’s always a challenge to get back into the groove of flying skydivers in a plane that can make the round trip from takeoff to landing in 13 minutes or less.  Fly 30 seconds to far down wind and it will take you 2 minutes longer to get back to the spot the jumpers want to exit the plane.  2 minutes doesn’t sound like much but when you are paying $15.00 a minute and flying up to 32 loads a day it adds up.  Still beats having a real job though.



Summer is here so it’s time to go down to Texas and pick up the 900 horsepower Super Grand Caravan for another season of skydiving in Wisconsin.  I was hoping to have the same pilot we had last year fly for us but he went and got a real job flying for a cargo company.   Loser.  Just kidding, I’m just disappointed because he was a great pilot.  I flew down to Houston commercial hoping to just jump into the plane and fly home but when I arrived at skydive Spaceland I was greeted to this sight.


Does that plane look like it’s ready to go?  No, no it does not.

  There’s no reason to go over everything still needed fixing but the list was long and there was nothing to do but dig in and help the mechanic put Humpty   Dumpty back together again.   When the sun set the Caravan was still in a thousand pieces so I got to spend the night in a bunkhouse that so nice and beautiful that I could have stayed there forever.  Not.  The next day we got back to work early and by 6:00 had the plane mostly back together.  The owner assumed that I’d spend another night and leave in the morning but seeing it was only a 6 hour trip I figured there was no reason to spend another night in che bunkhouse.   I had been concerned about a line of thunderstorms along the route to Wisconsin but as I flew north they seemed to just move out of the way, leaving a beautiful sunset in their wake.


The rest of the flight was a treat.  I love night flying and it was a great night to fly.  After one fuel stop and five and a half hours in the cockpit I was getting close to my home airport.  The sky was clear for most of the last half of the flight but weather report at my home airport was reported to be 1200 feet overcast.  Flying as 1200 feet doesn’t bother me especially in my own backyard so when I got close to the airport I dropped down low in order to get under the overcast layer and land.  When I got down to 2200 feet on my altimeter the lights on the ground were starting to look pretty darn close.  I thought to myself that when I needed to drop down to 1200 feet to get under the clouds it was going to be kind of scary.  But that didn’t make sense, it shouldn’t be any big deal to fly at 1200 feet.  What was I missing?  It only took 30 seconds or so to figure out my mistake but it was an embarrassing 30 seconds.   “Kerry you moron!  Your altimeter is reading sea level the 1200 foot overcast ceiling is above ground level.”  And seeing that the ground level in that part of Wisconsin is about 1000 feet I was already flying at 1200 feet above the ground.  It wasn’t the worst mistake in the world but it did show that working all day then flying all night can take its toll.  Even an easy flight can be a killer.

A Man After My Own Heart

How British pilot ‘buzzed’ the Kaiser

Story emerges of how daredevil pilot “buzzed” the Kaiser in an audacious stunt just days before the outbreak of the First World War

Why Skids Are More Dangerous Than Slips

An interesting write-up on one of the biggest killers in aviation, the base to final stall/spin crash.  The article does a good job of showing the different effects between a skid and a slip.

You may have heard that a skid during a stall is more dangerous than a slip, and it’s true. But, why?

Stall-spin accidents have been a problem since the first days of flight. Most of us are simply taught to keep an aircraft coordinated when stalling. But, the problem is, most stall-spin accidents don’t happen during an intentional stall. They usually happen unintentionally and down low – like when you’re turning base to final.

Here’s a common scenario: You’re turning left base to final, but you’re going to overshoot the runway. What do you do? Here’s what you absolutely shouldn’t do: You add left rudder to tighten the turn, but you don’t keep the bank and rudder coordinated – putting the airplane into a skid.

Airplane Skid - 3D

What can happen next is pure disaster. The skid causes an over banking tendency, which you counter by adding opposite aileron (often subconsciously). That also pulls the nose down, which you oppose with elevator. Suddenly the aircraft stalls and snaps to the left in an incipient spin. At 700′ AGL, you make it through about a turn before you crater into the ground.

“Just get in the plane and go!’



How ‘pilot pressure’ leads to fatal aircraft crashes in Alaska and Outside


In the wake of the records release this week on a fatal 2013 crash involving an Alaska State Troopers helicopter, the circumstances surrounding an earlier flight, to Kodiak in 2009, have come into sharp focus. An interview between National Transportation and Safety Board investigators and Sherry Hassell, the troopers’ Aircraft Section supervisor who retired in 2013, raised the issue of pilot pressure on that flight. According to her statement, Hassell recalled:


Shortly after she started work for the section, this pilot was asked to fly a Cessna 208 to Kodiak Island and pick up some people. After checking the weather, he informed her that the weather was not good and he did not want to go. When she informed the colonel (Commander of AWT), the response was that the pilot needed to “get in the plane and go.”


Alaska Public Safety Commissioner Gary Folger, the former commander named in Hassell’s statement, has denied the implication that he influenced pilot Rod Wilkinson’s decision to take that flight, insisting in an email to the Anchorage Daily News that “I have never made someone fly, it’s entirely up to the pilot.”

The issue of pilot pressure has been part of the aviation landscape in Alaska since its earliest days. Kotzebue airline owner Archie Ferguson was infamous for pushing his pilots to fly, as recounted in this 1943 observation by author Jean Potter in her book “The Flying North”:

He is driven to distraction when one of his men is weather bound away from Kotzebue. “Christ,” he will yell over the radio, with other airway stations listening. “I suppose yer boozin’ or God knows what yer doin’. The weather’s fine here. Come on back!” He is enraged when one of the pilots muffs a takeoff from Kotzebue’s frozen winter runway. He will stand by the field jumping, hitching up his pants, shouting and swearing. “Christ, hurry up! I’m losin’ five hundreds bucks a day! Oh Jeezus, I guess I’ll have ta do all the flyin’ myself!”

Unless you do nothing but fly in the immediate vicinity of your home airport on beautiful sunny days every pilot at some time or another will experience pressure to fly.  Sometimes it’s a demanding boss who losing money every minute you sit on the ground waiting for better weather.  Sometimes it’s your passengers who can’t understand why they have to miss that important meeting because of poor conditions along the route.  And sometimes the pressure come from you.  Many pilots, me included, get into a can do, must do, get the mission done at all costs attitude.  They rationalize that they’ve flown in such conditions, or worse, before and if they made it then they can make it again.  Sometimes they’re right and sometimes they’re wrong.  It can be a tough call but sometimes the bravest thing a pilot can do is to call it a day and go have a beer.


Almost Oops


Some landing and take-off highlights in awkward wind conditions at BHX Birmingham this winter (a record winter for stormy conditions in the UK). Note the frequent flexing of the planes’ wings in response to the turbulence.

Of the five “missed approaches” shown, three diverted to other airports, two were “go arounds” and landed successfully on second attempt.