Opinion & Commentary (155)

Any Traffic, Please Advise

Improper radio procedure can contribute to an unsafe traffic pattern. May 2015- "Spartanburg traffic, Cessna 81318 is five miles out inbound for landing; any traffic in the area, please advise." As a flight instructor, that type of radio transmission makes me cringe! Even though there is no requirement to have a radio, much less use one in the vast majority of uncontrolled airspace, using one is a good safety move. Improper radio procedure just jams up the frequency and can contribute to an unsafe traffic pattern.
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Affirmative Attitude: The Best in Citizen Service

Civil Air Patrol volunteers—in their spare time, and often at their own expense—skillfully protect the public at large. May 2015- Spend a day at any local General Aviation airfield and you'll find someone who is happily volunteering their time to make our GA world a better place. In fact, you can't throw a rock at most municipal airports without hitting an aviator who is giving back in some way. It's this culture of volunteerism that makes being a pilot in the GA community so special. Some tasks don't get much attention—like the group of EAA members repainting the benches at the airport picnic area or campground, or the pilot who introduces his neighbor kid to aviation by taking him for a first flight in his Cessna. Volunteering in GA isn't so much about the size of the task as it is about the dedication of the aviator.The more than 60,000 volunteer members of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) are some of the best examples of dedicated pilots who use their aviation skills to give back to the public at large. Civil Air Patrol members began serving the United States in 1941 by chasing and sinking German submarines off the East…
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Push To Talk: Alaska Calling

Alaska is a place where the small airplane still rules. May 2015- Last winter, a friend out of Fairbanks invited me to come work as a volunteer for the Yukon Quest sled dog race, where intrepid mushers guide their teams over a thousand-mile course through the Yukon in the dead of winter. (Think Iditarod on steroids.) For a million reasons, the volunteering part of the trip didn't materialize, but I did get a good look into how people use their airplanes in what is truly The Last Frontier. For us folks in the Lower 48, Alaskan aviation is mind-boggling. With General Aviation air traffic dwindling in most American flyways, you'd never know it by looking into the skies over Alaska. Aviation is a huge part of living in America's 49th state. It's hard to go anywhere in Alaska and not find yourself in the company of at least someone who's earned a private pilot certificate. There are more pilots per capita than any other state, and probably the world. It's not unusual to find yourself in the midst of half a dozen pilots, even when standing in line at the post office. Part of the reason aviation is alive and…
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Full Circle: Old Notes, Part Three

Decades ago when I was flying as copilot in a Convair 240, I made notes for a future use that I never got around to. May 2015- Here is the final installment of the fragmented creations from decades ago when I was flying the original piston airliners—notes I'd made for a future use which I never got around to. These observations from my earliest years of driving airliners provide a sense of what I was seeing and hearing and thinking in those days. The Convair 240 piston engine airliner droned on through the thick, wet night sky, the clock on the panel measuring off the quiet minutes in their progress toward Boston."Any delays?" the flight attendant asked after having stood silently at the rear of the cockpit for a short while. The sound of her voice yanked both pilots' attentions back to the moment. "Probably," the copilot answered quickly to fill the void. Too quickly, perhaps; the captain had said nothing yet. The copilot glanced to his left. "What do you think, Skipper? Delays?""Shouldn't be bad," the captain had answered in a low, disinterested voice, keeping his eyes straight ahead, staring intently at the black nothingness on the far side…
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Affirmative Attitude: A Part of Our History That Must Never Be Forgotten

Affirmative Attitude: A Part of Our History That Must Never Be Forgotten

Book research inspired Mike Pungercar to organize the South Willamette Valley Honor Flight hub. April 2014- The sky is filled with aviators doing great things with their airplanes, advocating for General Aviation and volunteering to give back to a community that has given them so much. In my quest to seek out subjects for this column, I occasionally find a person who is doing something extraordinary to help others while not flying an airplane to accomplish the task. This month, I'm going a bit off-script in order to bring attention to someone who is doing incredible work to honor veterans of World War II, among them military pilots who flew in the United States Army Air Forces and with the U.S. Navy in the Pacific Theater of Operations. Mike Pungercar, director of South Willamette Valley Honor Flight in Springfield, Ore., is not a pilot—but his father was a radio operator on B-17s during World War II, so Pungercar grew up with a great deal of respect for military airplanes and the brave flyers who rode them into battle. "The Honor Flight Network's mission," Pungercar said, "is to get our country's senior veterans to Washington D.C. free of charge to receive…
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Left Coast Pilot: Personal Minimums and the Fog Season

Widespread fog prompts a change of heart about personal minimums on departure. April 2015- I have never been a fan of personal minimums—the idea that you should set limits for yourself short of what's required by the FAA. Particularly for instrument flying, if you aren't prepared to shoot an approach to minimums as specified on the chart, you shouldn't file, because you're going to have to deal with whatever weather develops.That's one reason for the "1-2-3" rule about specifying an alternate if the weather isn't forecast to have at least a 2,000-foot ceiling and three miles visibility for one hour before and after your planned time of arrival. But I've had a change of heart, at least in one respect: I've now set personal minimums for visibility and ceiling when departing on an IFR flight. That came about as a result of planning for a flight to Los Angeles with my wife during the fog season. We were in a relatively wet winter season here in California's Central Valley, which makes fog common. When there's no frontal weather, radiation fog is common most mornings and indeed sometimes builds up to persistent tule fog that can cover fairly large areas. Most…
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Affirmative Attitude: Riding the Edge of the Risk Envelope

Affirmative Attitude: Riding the Edge of the Risk Envelope

JAARS mission pilots support Bible translation efforts around the globe. March 2015- I write each month about extraordinary pilots who use their skills and their airplanes to advocate for General Aviation or do tremendous work for the greater good of humanity. Sometimes these advocates help others in the aviation family, and that work is appreciated. And other times, pilots "on a mission" will ride the edge of the risk envelope to accomplish their chosen endeavor.This is the story of just such an aviator."With ongoing conflicts between rebels of contrary religious and political aspirations, there were times when I had to evacuate missionaries from villages threatened by rebel activity," said Mike Mower, director of the JAARS Missions at the Airport program and a former JAARS mission pilot. "One time a radio call came in that a village in the southern Philippines where we had a family working was being threatened by rebels. Several days before, the local people had conflict with a rebel group and the rebels were responding in force. The rebel forces moved in to the area and established a camp about three-quarters of a mile off the end of the airstrip that we used to serve the family."That's…
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Push To Talk: How Did This Happen?

We and our airplanes are just getting older. March 2015- For a lot of us, there was surely that one moment when you caught a glimpse of yourself in the mirror one day. OMG! you may have said. How did this happen?Day by day, we all get a little older, though we may be no better at accepting the realities. We all love to banter around those cute little sayings about getting older, my favorite being the old Bette Davis line, "Growing old is not for sissies." The older I get, the more truth I find there.And if you think your body is showing the wear, what about the poor Cessna 150 which has lived its life at the hands of countless student pilots, slammed and jammed on to runways for decades?At the turn of the millennium (that's 15 years ago, thank you very much) the FAA noted that the average age of the nation's 150,000 single-engine fleet was more than 30 years old. By 2020, the average age could approach 50 years. Five years from now. 50-year-old airplanes. Average. AVERAGE.Take a ride in a DC-3 at the next airshow; that airplane made its maiden flight 80 years ago. Let…
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Full Circle: Old Notes, Part Two

Fragments of what I was seeing and hearing and thinking in those early days when I flew as a copilot in a Convair 240. March 2015- We are back again at my archeological dig, wherein old boxes of aviation notes had been ferreted out of deep storage and dusted off. These are fragmented creations from decades ago when I was flying the original airliners I had laid my hands on—notes made for a future use which I never got around to.These piles of observations from my earliest years of driving airliners have been put into a semblance of order to provide a sense of what I was seeing and hearing and thinking in those days. Here is part two.The Convair 240 splashed through the puddles as it swung from the gate. The columns of churning wind behind the propellers had swept a spray against the empty terminal. The agent, who knew better, had already hustled inside to watch from behind thick glass as the lights of the airplane moved across his rain-smeared view and disappeared around the corner."Three-eight-six, ready for your clearance?" The controller's voice was clear and it filled the pilot's headphones with a friendly closeness, as if the…
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Affirmative Attitude: Making Women Feel Welcome

Affirmative Attitude: Making Women Feel Welcome

Martha Phillips, the International President of The Ninety-Nines, Inc., leads a worldwide organization focused on the recruitment of more women to earn private pilot certificates. February 2015- General Aviation has a growth problem, and the solution is right in front of all of us.When you look around your local airfield, you'll probably see plenty of gray hair atop the heads of those (mostly male) senior pilots who are still medically legal to fly. It is inevitable that as each day passes, more of these aviators will fly west, and our pilot population will continue to shrink.One of the best ways to assure that GA has a solid future is to keep recruiting new, young pilots to take their places in the left seats. And while many aviation organizations have programs to make flying interesting to children and young adults, only a handful of these organizations focus on the recruitment of more women to earn private pilot certificates.The disparity between the number of women in the nonflying public and those licensed to fly aircraft is vast. Females make up about half of the general population, but only about six percent of licensed pilots. If we can be successful in significantly increasing…
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Left Coast Pilot: Mexico, Lean of Peak and the Value of Overnight Stops

After a medical leave of their own, John Ruley and his wife Kate have resumed their volunteer work for medical missions in northern Mexico. February 2015- From my notebook:Nov. 7, 2014, Hotel La Herradura, El Fuerte, Mexico –I can't recall ever being so tired at 7:45 p.m. A couple of margaritas probably had something to do with it, as did nine hours flying yesterday and today...We started out from Modesto, Calif. (KMOD) yesterday. It was a nice flight down with surprising weather: marginal to IFR in the valley (three miles at surface, a lot less at pattern; tops 1,500) and clear in the Los Angeles basin (at least, as clear as it gets). I didn't see Hawthorne (KHHR) approach lights until we were five miles out. We were met by a friend who took us out for dinner and we bedded down for the night at a house owned by the Mission Doctors Association (MDA), where we met our passenger for departure the following day.Our departure was almost an hour late, compounded by the FBO failing to fuel the airplane overnight. We made up some of that lost time when ATC gave us shortcut vectors, and instead of setting our…
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Twin Adventures

February 2005 He's not really my uncle and, matter of fact, we're absolutely no blood relationship to each other at all. I started calling him Uncle Nelson when my kids were very small, because that's what they called him. He's been in and around my life for 55 years so far, so I guess it's fair to say that we know each other pretty well. Nelson DeMille—the best-selling, world-acclaimed novelist—has been my good friend since we first met in school back so many years ago that it's a wonder that we can remember those early days at all, yet somehow we do. We're talking about a relationship that began in second grade and continued without pause all through elementary, middle and high school. As young adults we went our separate ways along some wandering career paths, but we always stayed in touch.
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