Category Archives: Aviation

That’s A Plane On The Beach

I got a call from a friend today that a plane had landed on Atlantic Beach. I almost didn’t go down there, but then how often do you get to see an airplane on the beach.

iPhone video of a plane which landed on Atlantic Beach

The pilot reportedly took off from Jacksonville Executive Airport at Craig Field, and had a fuel issue. My friend had been there earlier, and had said that the pilot apparently landed on the hard packed sand at low tide. Local officials managed to pull the plane up the beach to a spot above the high tide line.

The plane looked undamaged. No obvious signs of fluid leaks, and apparently the landing gear worked. FAA records indicate it’s a 1970 Mooney M20F. The only other soul on board at the time of the incident was the pilot’s dog. Both were reportedly just fine.

I’m also very impressed with the video quality from the iPhone. It’s the first little b-roll clip I’ve shot with the phone, and while it’s not full HD by any estimation, it’s not bad for video shot on a phone.

Mooney On The BeachNo, it’s not every day you get to see a plane on the beach. It happened to Andie’s dad once, back in his flying days. The NTSB finally determined that the A & P who had done the annual on his airplane had not put the oil system back together properly, and the engine threw all it’s oil. Fine during preflight, but during the flight, suddenly the prop has stopped. He landed safely on St. Augustine beach, and as far as I know has not flown as pilot in command since. The family story is that it was his third unscheduled arrival, and he figured he’d quit before his luck ran out.

Walking back to the car, a gentleman walking towards the plane pointed and said “What’s that?” I couldn’t resist. “It’s an airplane,” I replied. Fortunately, he had a sense of humor. “I see that,” he said. “It’s not supposed to be there.”

“No, it’s not,” I said. He asked what I knew, and I told him. It’s just what I’d read online before heading down to the beach. The NTSB usually has a preliminary report out in 10 business days following an incident such as this. It’ll be an interesting read, I’m sure.

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The Rest Of The Airshow

As is often the case, the focus of the local media coverage of the NAS Jacksonville Airshow this weekend was on the Blue Angels. That’s appropriate, given the celebration this year of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Naval Aviation, and the spectacular show the Blues fly. First "Aircraft Carrier" Landing by a Curtiss Pusher aboard the U.S.S. Pennsylvania in 1911On my “bucket list” is an opportunity to strap into the back seat of an F/A-18 Hornet and merrily lose my lunch pulling multiple “G’s” … one of the ultimate “E-Ticket” rides. About the only thing that would rival it would be a $200,000 sub-orbital flight with Virgin Galactic, or one of the other commercial spaceflight companies that will be coming along in the next few years.

That photo, BTW, is of the first-ever landing of an airplane on the deck of a ship … a Curtiss Pusher landing on the U.S.S. Pennsylvania in 1911.

But sometimes overlooked are the other performers that fly at airshows like NAS, or the Sky and Sea Spectacular out at the beach, or hundreds of other airshows around the country. The Blues are the big draw, or course, and an opportunity to see them should not be missed. But neither should the rest.

I accepted an invitation from some good friends at the Chamber of Commerce to attend Friday’s practice show. Driving out to NAS on a chilly, breezy, grey morning, I crossed the Buckman Bridge hoping the weather would lift enough to allow the performers to fly. As I topped the bridge, could see the edge of the weather pushing to the east, and I knew that we’d see some great flying.

And we did. I enjoyed very much watching the demonstrations by an F-4 Phantom, an airplane we were told by the show announcer would be ending its life as a target drone in a live-fire exercise. A real shame, really, because the thunder it created as it pulled up from the runway in full afterburner showed there is still a lot of life left in the Vietnam-era supersonic fighter. Also impressive was the A-10 Thunderbolt, … the “Warthog” which found new life in the “shooting gallery” of the first Gulf war, and will continue to fly for decades to come in close-air support.  “The Horsemen” flew formation aerobatics in a pair of P-51s, perhaps the most-recognizable airplane from WWII. No ballet is more elegantly choreographed.

But as a (admittedly not current) GA pilot,  the small airplanes and the pilots who fly them, are equally impressive. 

NAS Skip Stewart Ribbon CutThe show opened with a routine flown by Skip Stewart in his Prometheus biplane, a modified Pitts S-2S which is something of a cross between a Ferrari and a muscle car. Stewart executed a quarter snap roll immediately after his wheels left the ground and gave us a low pass past airshow center in a knife-edge configuration … a testament to the abilities of both the airplane and the pilot.  Here, he’s about to cut the second of two ribbons suspended between two poles about 30 feet off the ground with the horizontal stabilizer of the airplane, which at this attitude becomes the vertical stabilizer. The picture really doesn’t do it justice.

NAS Wagstaff 2Also flying in the morning was three-time National Aerobatic Champion Patty Wagstaff. Patty is an inductee in both the National Aerobatics Hall of Fame and the International Aerospace Hall of Fame. Her Extra 300S airplane spends as much time upside down as right side up, at least when it’s flying. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Patty at a couple of aviation events, though she probably wouldn’t know me from Adam’s cat. At one point, one of the other spectators watching Patty fly said “I’d never get into that airplane.” My response was “I’d fly with her any day, any time,” and I meant it.

Unfortunately, I had to leave the base around noon to get back to the deadline work that was piling up in my inbox for Friday.

The Blue Angels deserve the accolades they receive. They are a among the most elite pilots flying anywhere, and what they can accomplish in those jets is a thing of beauty. But just as impressive is the caliber of pilots and acts that fly at airshows around the country every year. We’re fortunate that they came to perform here.

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Back At The Beach

It was a somewhat hectic week in Tampa at the AOPA Aviation Summit, though the pace was not as frenzied as it was at either Oshkosh or NBAA. But for me at least the trade show season has wrapped, and we’re settling in to the holidays.

Cirrus SR22This is is the Cirrus SR22 (N377SR) in which I’ve been re-discovering my love of flying. Arriving at Tampa was an interesting experience. AOPA had published a special approach procedure for Tampa Executive Airport for airplanes arriving for the summit. We were #2 for the approach behind a Cessna skyhawk when the airplane that was landing porpoised and had its nose gear collapse. Kind of an embarrassing thing for the pilot, whom we heard later was a woman in her 80’s. Frankly, I hope I’m still breathing at that point if my life, let alone still able to get a medical to fly.

But I digress.

Anyway, we diverted back to Plant City, got the only rental car on the field, and drove over to Tampa.

And it occurs to me that, when you read all the negative press in some of the mainstream media about federal money going to small airports, where we would have been left if KPCM had not existed. Less than 20 miles from Tampa Executive airport, which was suddenly not an option, we would have been forced to Peter O. Knight, which was a madhouse from airplanes arriving at the event, or Tampa International. At that point, Plant City looked like a pretty good option, for both us and the C172 that was also in the traffic pattern when the accident occurred.

Lockheed ElectraHaving spent both Thursday and Friday cooped up in a convention hall, I was happy to finally get out to the flight line on Saturday to see some airplanes.

This is the Lockheed Electra that was used for the movie Amelia, and it is a very pretty airplane. The yellow sign hanging from the prop is an admonishment to not touch the airplane, or spend some time polishing. Pretty much the entire aircraft is polished to a mirror finish, and you can imagine they don’t want a lot of people smudging their oily fingers on it. It does make for a very photogenic airplane, but I have to say that the sign kind of detracts from the effect.

There was everything from motor-gliders to bizjets on the line at Peter O. Knight airport. One of the gliders was very transformer-like, with a propeller and tiny engine that popped up out of the fuselage when you needed the boost. Sort of like the auxiliary engine in a sailboat, only here when you need it.

I’ve got a pretty busy week coming up. I’ll be at the Lincoln Day dinner tomorrow night, where Mitt Romney is speaking. Austin has asked me to take some pictures and provide a report for The Jacksonville Observer. Tuesday is an improv show at The Comedy Zone, Wednesday is the Jacksonville Observer Radio Show, I think thinks slow down by Thursday. And there’s Aero-News every day, of course. But at least I’m at home all week, which is not a bad thing.

Still, if I’ve got to travel to trade shows, there are a lot worse ways to get there than flying in the ANN Cirrus.

And the best part is, when that happens, I get to fly. It’s way better up front than in the back.

Sig

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I’m Not Peter Pan

But I can still fly.

I proved that to myself today on the trip from St. Augustine to Tampa for the AOPA Convention, which get’s underway Thursday. And while I’ve got a long way to go, today was hopefully my first step back on the road back to the left seat.

My fairy dust was the Aero News Cirrus SR22 3G Turbo. The same airplane I wrote about when we went to Savannah to cover the G650 rollout this summer. I was sitting in the right seat, and Aero News Editor in Chief Jim Campbell got the airplane off the ground, mostly because we used the shortest runway available at KSGJ. But once established in a cruise-climb, he said “climb on up to 4,500 and we’ll get over the top of that,” referring to the broken clouds just ahead. We quickly determined that 4,500 was not going to get us over the top, so we settled back to 2,500 and lumped our way through the bumpy convection currents under the clouds. Not ideal, but in a way, better for me.

My last time to actually fly an airplane was September 12th, 1988, so I set two goals for myself … keep your altitude to +-100 feet, and try to hold a course. I was successful on both counts.

In the years between my opportunities to fly, I’ve done lot of sailing, which I’m sure was very beneficial to my ability to hold a course. The magenta line on the Avidyne Entegra Release 9 Flight Management System helped a lot too, but it was certainly helpful to know that I could pick out a spot on the ground a few miles up the way and fly to it, rather than trying to chase the compass. Sailing a 30 foot boat in choppy seas and trying to maintain a course is not unlike flying an airplane in choppy air and trying to hold a course. Altitude, however, is a bit of a different matter.

See, if you’re +–100’ altitude in a boat … you’re in kind of big trouble.

But I impressed myself. I managed to stay MOSTLY in that 200 foot window. A couple of times I found myself outside the box, but for the most part, I nailed it.

Man, that felt good.

I had flown an SR22 simulator in August in Oshkosh, but I think I flew the actual airplane more precisely than I flew the sim, which was a pretty good feeling as well.

As we approached Tampa Executive Airport, which was our intended destination, we had a bit of a problem. We were Number 2 to land, when someone arriving forgot to put down the landing gear on their airplane, and they closed the airport. We diverted to Plant City, got a rental car, and drove back over to Tampa. Jim will go get the airplane tomorrow and bring it over here.

I’ll admit, he did a lot of things and decreased my cockpit workload. Little things like, oh, taking off and landing, power management, and working with the avionics with which I’m just not familiar. I hope in the not-too-distant future I will be, but there is still a great deal to be learned. My job today was just to fly the airplane.

I could go into a detailed description about the avionics that tell you where the traffic is, and say “traffic, same altitude, one mile” if someone gets too close … but I’ll save that for another post. For today, it was enough just to have the airplane in my hands again, and remember why I fell in love with flying in the first place all those years ago.

The good news is, it’s an affair that can be resumed, and Andie won’t even care…

Much.

Sig

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A Civilized Way To Get There

clip_image002I had occasion to travel to Savannah on Tuesday for the unveiling of a brand new Gulfstream Business Jet … the G650. But this is not going to be about the not-yet-flown $64.5 million, mach 0.85 beauty that taxied under its own power to the cheers of some 7,000 Gulfstream employees Tuesday morning, it’s about the journey.

Among the things I do for a living these days is write and edit news for the online publication Aero-News.net, and Jim Campbell, the owner/EIC offered me the opportunity to accompany him to the roll-out in his Cirrus SR-22, a hot-rod 4-place turbocharged airplane, making the normally 2 hour trip to Savannah a 45 minute joy.

I had forgotten how much I enjoyed sitting up front with a view forward, as opposed to back in steerage with a view (sometimes) out the side. We departed St. Augustine a little before 8:00, circling to stay clear of the clouds as we climbed above them and set up a course for Savannah. And it was here that I realized just how far aviation, and in particular navigation, has come since I took my first flying lesson back in 1976.

clip_image004When I say “set up a course”, I mean two 10 inch LCD displays connected to probably as much computing power as I have in the laptop on which I’m writing this column showed us where we were going, how high, how fast, how much crosswind, where the restricted airspace was, how high we had to be to avoid that airspace, a satellite-delivered weather display that rivals what Tim Deegan shows us on TV … even the other aircraft in the area, their route of flight and how their altitude compared to ours, and that just scratches the surface. Jim explained to me that you fly about 10 minutes ahead of the plane, managing the systems. Once you set up the course and altitude, a touch of a button here and a twist of an knob there and you can change course, altitude, or destination. For most of the trip, he let the autopilot fly the airplane while he planned, about 10 minutes ahead each time, for what he wanted to have happen next.

Flying an airplane has always been a highly technical skill. Unlike driving a car, there’s that whole “up and down” aspect to flying that can come to an abrupt end if you’re not careful … and sometimes even when you are. Of course, driving a car can have similar consequences. But now, some of the kids who dreamed of becoming video game designers have been embraced by the avionics industry, and if you think the moving maps on your car GPS or iPhone are cool, go flying with a glass cockpit sometime. Next for the Cirrus is what’s called synthetic vision, which will show you the terrain and obstacles in a video-game looking display, sort of like your Microsoft Flight Sim … only better.

Beyond the sheer pleasure of the flight, though, was what it allowed us to accomplish today. As I said, a full day of driving to and from Savannah was boiled down to about an hour and a half of flying, which is what business aviation is all about. I was able to get home, have lunch, and still accomplish a full day’s work because I didn’t spend all day in the car. Business Aviation got a very bad rap when the Auto Execs showed up in Washington in their corporate jets, and while maybe that particular trip sent a mixed message, businesspeople use airplanes all the time to allow them to go places airlines don’t go, at least very effectively, when they need to go there, quickly and efficiently and often at less cost to the business than flying commercial. A business airplane is a tool. That it happens to sometimes be a lot of fun too is just an added bonus.

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Our trip ended uneventfully, though on the way back from Savannah we did make a fairly low pass over the ocean for a view of the beach. A barely-felt touchdown back at St. Augustine, and we were done with the flying for the day.

I’ve been fortunate to be able to do a lot of things in my life that other people haven’t, and yet my bucket list remains long. Learning to fly an airplane was one of those things, and one for which I’ve never had a single regret. Tuesday, I got to see the First Coast from a perspective that has eluded me for the nearly 10 years I’ve been here.

I don’t plan to be a stranger.

Sig

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