Hog-Wild for Flying!…Let’s Show It!

April 13, 2008

Ok, enough about motorcycles.  I’ve talked about what we can learn from that community and some interesting safety comparisons.  But this blog is about flying!

Time to apply the lessons.  And I need your help for this!

We’ve all seen the doom and gloom articles.  Will the cost of flying and the shrinking pilot population result on the end of General Aviation as we know it?  Will we be priced, aged, and legislated out of existance?

I say NO!  We will not go quietly!  In fact, It’s Time to Grow!


Ok, so how do we grow?

Two separate but related strategies:

1.  Create a real, vibrant, active, exciting Flying Community.  Build on the good work of the EAA, the 99s, and local flying clubs.  But take it to the next level.  Think “COMMUNITY” not just “organization”.  The internal glue that binds us and the identity that we show the world.  And use the media (like FlightTime Radio, for example) to grow awareness and excitement about GA flying and our Community.

2.  Entice and introduce potential owners/pilots to flying.  Think EAA “Young Eagles” program, but focused on adults.  Introduce them to our Community!  Cast a wide net, with activities and incentives to plant their butts in that right seat for the first time. You know, flying really sells itself!  It includes resources like “Be A Pilot“, but it’s much more than that.  Then, build on the AOPA “Project Pilot” program to mentor these new recruits.

What ideas do you have to build and grow our GA Community?  Please share and I’ll include them in future posts.  What works (and doesn’t work?) for you?  What is YOUR favorite part of flying? 

Next up:  Building a Real Flying Community.

After that:  Let’s Get Growing!

Prior Posts in the series:

Hog Wild for Flying…Now We’re Talking!  (FlightTime Radio)

Hog Wild for Flying…Comparing Safety (GA Flying versus Motorcycles)

Hog Wild for Flying…Part 2  (what is it about the Harley image…)

Hog Wild for Flying…Part 1  (What aren’t more people excited about Flying?)

Learning Formation Flying – Grumman Style

March 30, 2008

Spring is here.  Time to learn a new skill.  Just started to learn formation flying in my Grumman Tiger.  Working with a group of other Grumman pilots, using the T-34 and FFI training procedures.   I’m still a “nugget” (new guy). 


 This was one hell of a great weekend.  I’ve still got a lot to learn with only a couple of flights under my belt so far.  After so many years focusing on avoiding other aircraft, it’s quite a mental challenge joining up with other aircraft in flight.  Requires lots of concentration and precise control, but the results are work it.

These guys are so far ahead of me….but I’ll get there.



Hog-Wild for Flying!…Now We’re Talking!

January 28, 2008

If you are one of the tens who have been reading my series of posts about getting more people “Hog-Wild for Flying” (learning from our friends who are part of the Harley community), I have Good News!!  A flegling commercial radio program has begun for GA, and by the looks of the hosts, sponsorship and content so far, I think their future is bright!

I discovered this link in my EAA e-newsletter that led me to a new weekly broadcast radio program out of Jacksonville, Florida.  It’s called FlightTime Radio, and the focus of the show is general aviation, particularly the small GA planes that most of us fly.  Plus a heaping helping of Sport Pilot and aircraft discussion.  The show is broadcast on AM 1320 (WBOB) Saturday mornings.  Starting February 2, the live broadcast starts at 10am, Eastern time, and they seem to have settled on a 2-hour show. 


 Like every good Web 2.0 endeavor, you can also listen to the show live using a link at their website, or you can download (and soon subscribe to) the shows as podcasts.

The two hosts are Milford Shirley and Brian Kraut, a couple of local guys who love aviation and are having what sounds like one heck of a good time breaking into the radio biz.  It’s great to have this positive, enthusiastic image of GA being communicated to the general public on a weekly basis 

Milton and Brian are thinking ahead, too, seeking to grow their radio broadcast market and helping local EAA chapters at the same time.  Get the program broadcast on your local station, and your EAA chapter can get a piece of the action.

Now if every pilot tells two people, who tell two people, who tell two people….about this radio show….maybe we can plant some seeds….   Did my part.  I’ve told, what, maybe 10 people who read this blog :-)

Bravo, Milford and Brian!  Best of luck to you!

Hog-Wild for Flying!…Comparing Safety

January 4, 2008

I’ve been comparing flying to riding motorcycles in terms of popularity, attitude, and social environment, to understand why more people are not drawn to private flying. 

Recently, I came upon several articles about motorcycle and aviation safety. The results may suggest how we communicate private flying to the population of potential pilots and aircraft owners. It turns out that the safety trends for motorcycles and GA flying are diverging.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motorcycle fatalities are climbing, particularly for over-40 age riders. In 2006, fatalities increased overall by 5% over 2005, while fatalities for riders aged 40-49 and 50-59 increased 7.5% and 10% (fatalities for riders aged 20-29 also increased 10%).  These older riders have achieved business success, raised families, and now want the excitement and feeling that comes from freedom, speed, the open road, and the social environment provided by riding motorcycles.  But this experience on generally heavier, more powerful bikes comes at a price for the older, slower healing bodies.


In contrast, the 2006 general aviation safety statistics in the Nall Report show continued improvements in both total and fatal accident rates.  In 2006, total accident numbers dropped by 8.3%, fatal accidents dropped by 6.5%, and total fatalities decreased by 2%.  Single engine, fixed gear aircraft, 2/3 of the GA fleet, showed substantial safety improvement, with total accidents dropping 11.3% and fatal accidents dropping 22.4%. While it can be argued that any fatality is too many, the trend continues in a positive direction.  The danger signal though, is that flying activity continues to drop.  Accident and fatality rates are dropping, but so are the flying hours. 

Nall Report Trends 2006        ga-stat.jpg

So which is safer; GA flying or motorcycles?  That’s a loaded question. Objective comparisons are difficult since GA flying is measured in flying hours and motorcycle riding is measured in miles traveled. Converting hours to miles involve speed assumptions that are likely targets for criticism. What average speed do you assume for GA aircraft with average cruise speeds that range from sub-100 mph up to over 500 mph?  Even assuming speeds at the lower end of this range shows GA flying to have far lower fatality rates than motorcycles.  But it’s still a difficult comparison because the operating environment and accident facts are so different. That said, GA flying is relatively safer and the safety margin is increasing compared with riding motorcycles.

But can flying provide the visceral satisfaction that is found in riding motorcycles, so participants are able to enjoy this safety premium?  There is certainly an aspect of freedom once you get off the ground (no traffic lanes, still areas of uncontrolled airspace).  There is speed.  There is also a 3rd dimension that can be fully explored via aerobatics.  And there is community, although this is one area that needs work.  So we have some of this also working for us.

The goal here is not to lure away everyone who rides.  Certain traits make people better candidates to be pilots, and we want to attract those folks.  Can we learn from other successful activities, what attracts the participants, and where does GA flying have benefits or have deficiencies that can be overcome so we grow but remain safe?

Safety is one area where we accel (and where we continue to focus efforts).  How can we use this comparative benefit to get new participants….hog wild for flying?

Fed Up With TSA? Become Your Own Pilot!

January 1, 2008

A very enlightened post in the New York Times blog “Jet Lagged” focuses the bright, harsh light of reality on the highly questionable reasons for and procedures implementing security forced upon the traveling public by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).  Patrick Smith, an air carrier pilot and author, describes in The Airport Security Follies, how the current passenger screening practices are “irrational, wasteful, and pointless.” For example, he explains why screening passengers for sharp objects is basically a waste of time:

In years past, a takeover meant hostage negotiations and standoffs; crews were trained in the concept of “passive resistance.” All of that changed forever the instant American Airlines Flight 11 collided with the north tower. What weapons the 19 men possessed mattered little; the success of their plan relied fundamentally on the element of surprise. And in this respect, their scheme was all but guaranteed not to fail.

For several reasons — particularly the awareness of passengers and crew — just the opposite is true today. Any hijacker would face a planeload of angry and frightened people ready to fight back. Say what you want of terrorists, they cannot afford to waste time and resources on schemes with a high probability of failure. And thus the September 11th template is all but useless to potential hijackers.

Smith also covers the questionable basis of the infamous 3-1-1 Rule and the positively silly practice of screening air carrier pilots and cabin crew in the same manner as the public.


Unfortunately, wrapped in its patriotic cloak of anti-terror, TSA is operating virtually without oversight, with broad powers and a heavy hammer for anyone who questions their methods or motives: the dreaded No-Fly List.  Will this Absolute Power Corrupt Absolutely?  Has it already?

More importantly, can you avoid this senseless drill, but still get to work/vacation/home?  In many cases, YES, you can.  The answer?  Be your own pilot.  Yes, the cost and time investment is relatively high for someone who currently is not a pilot.  But increasingly I see and hear other professionals who have thrown off the shackles of TSA screening and airline abuse to fly themselves.  I gladly incur the added cost and personal responsibility of being my own pilot in exchange for avoiding TSA and the airlines.  In many cases, by avoiding the need to arrive at the airport hours early for screening, avoiding airline delays, using airports closer to my destination, and getting a free shuttle ride, courtesy car, rental car or taxi from the FBO (rather than waiting for baggage, the rental car shuttle, renting a car…) there is no time penalty for trips up to about 500 miles using a piston single airplane. And the trip itself? Priceless!

Through programs such as the industry-sponsored “Be A Pilot” you can find the resources you need to learn to fly.  The cost?  If you can afford a Harley, BMW, bass boat, or RV, you should have little trouble budgeting flying lessons.  Depending on your company’s travel policies, you could even have most or all of your flying cost covered.  Of course, if you are the boss, the decision is yours!  It’s not the answer for everyone.  But if you are motivated (and that is why you are successful, eh?) it is something to consider.

Wave “Bye” to the airline terminal as you taxi past for departure in your plane (even if it’s a rental), on your own schedule, as pilot in command. Oh, and with your own toothpaste, shampoo, drinking water, and maybe even a pair of scissors!

RIP: FAA “Wings” Program

December 28, 2007

I’ve written about FAA’s slaughter of the “WINGS” program for pilot proficiency.  It dies officially on December 31, 2007.  I just received my last Wings certificate, Level 4. Of course FAA neglected to send the actual wings that I earned.

Today, more proof that the so-called replacement program is worthless. 

I received an email today from FAA Safety, saying I have 1.0 Accredited Activity “credit ajustment” [sic].  So what is it?  Went to the new/”Plucked Wings” site to see.  It’s virtually impossible to tell what this is (in fact, there appear to be two identical credits…)  Everything is in FAA code.  No real course/seminar names or dates.

And the recurrent training flights I’ve been trying to get credit for since summer?  Catch 22!  I cannot apply for the credit unless I list a validator (because we pilots are habitual liers, you know).  Well, my instructor still has not signed up for this program (I even had to send him the link because he never heard of the program).  He’s the only one who can validate the training.  And I cannot request credit without listing a validator.  He has not signed up.  So I’m stuck.

And this is one of MANY big problems with the Plucked Wings program.  Under the old program, I had a card that got signed off by a real instructor for each activity, when I did the flight (before I wrote him the check). Then I copied the card and mailed it to the FAA, always retaining my own record.  I had control. 

With Plucked Wings, there is no card.  It’s all in the FAA database and my instructor has not signed up, so there is essentially no record of this training.  Since he has not signed up, do I stop payment on the check?  It’s all far too complicated.

So, farewell and RIP: “WINGS”.   Good riddance: Plucked Wings.

Winter in San Diego

December 23, 2007

Well, winter has finally hit San Diego.  Warm and sunny day today.  But it will be cold tonight.  Maybe even some frost on the golf courses.

Happy Holidays!

FAA Clipped our “Wings”!

December 6, 2007

Yes. FAA clipped our “Wings.”

Wings?  FAA’s “Pilot Proficiency Award Program“.  I’m at Level 4.  I’ve earned a distinctive FAA wings lapel pin (official FAA issue, not crap from a novelty store) for each level, plus an FAA certificate attesting to each level. Plus it satisfies the biennial flight review requirement.   There are 20 Wings levels that can be earned at 12-month intervals.  But it all ends on December 31, 2007.

FAA Wings Level I

Now I’m not saying the Wings program was perfect.  There’s lots of room for improvement, including the recognition aspect.  Any good management reference will tell you that performance is greatly enhanced by recognition. The military has medals and rank, the corporate world has titles and perks, and professional pilots have their wings.  But the little FAA “Wings” program lapel pins may not have resonated with some pilots, so it may have been one reason the Wings program is not as widely used as FAA Safety people would like. Did anyone ask us what might be more effective? Anyone? Anyone?  

Also, some people (like the insurance industry) were concerned that more specific guidance was needed for the knowledge and flight instruction aspects of the program.  So Wings can be improved, but it does work.

Pilots who used the Wings program were safer, having attended safety seminars and flying at least 3 hours with an instructor (covering a set of specific task areas) to earn each level.  Of course, this program requires an actual FAA human being to review and approve the applications and send out the wings and certificates.  Horrors!  Actually providing a service directly to pilots?  Can’t be spending FAA money on staff time actually looking at pilot accomplishments and mailing out certificates and pins!

Solution?   FAA kills the Wings program. 

Of course, in a move reminiscent of the movie “Body Snatchers”, FAA slipped in a lifeless, soulless, pod that they are calling the new Wings program.  The new official name is “Pilot Proficiency Program“.  Didja notice they dropped “Award” from the name?  

So now we have the new, lame, completely-without-a-pulse “Wings”.  Lots of mind-numbing on-line processes and registered instructor validation (because FAA doesn’t trust us, of course).  A complicated system of knowledge and flight tasks and timelines.  Would make the IRS proud. And what do you get with this new program?  To quote FAA, “…the added level of safety and professionalism…”  Safety is its own reward, doncha know?

They did simplify one thing.  Instead of 20 levels, there are now three phases: “Basic”, “Advanced”, and “Master.”  Maintain the Basic phase, and it satisfies the biennial flight review requirement.  No certificate (unless you print one yourself). No wings. Nothing except a database record somewhere at FAA. 

Satisfy the “Advanced” phase and you get……Nothing!  Satisfy the top “Master” phase and you get……Nothing! Again! But more of it.  Huh?

Wow.  You can just feel the air being sucked out of the program.  Instead of promoting and improving a program that worked, FAA basically killed it.  They gutted a program that really improved pilot safety.  And it killed one opportunity to provide some recognition, some sizzle, some light to pilots and the GA community. 

Hey FAA, bring back the REAL Wings Program!!!

Aerial photos on Thanksgiving

November 23, 2007

Instead of vegging in front of the TV watching football on Thanksgiving, I decided to take a quick flight and shoot some aerial photos.  The sun had finally burned off the marine layer clouds we get here in San Diego (low-level stratus clouds).  But there was still a pretty thick haze layer, probably a remnant of the fires of October and that didn’t bode too well for photos.  But what the heck, I figured it would be a good time to practice with sun angles and settings on the camera. Flew the VFR Corridor west of the downtown area, and did get a couple of shots of the waterfront area. The haze affected the sharpness and color saturation of the picures, but I was able to tweak a couple of them so they are ok for smaller images like on a web page.  This is about as bad air conditions as I would want to have to deal with.  Here’s a sample:

Of course, having some scattered clouds just at the point of burning off makes for some interesting pictures as well.  Here is Newport Beach, where I am just above the remaining clouds when this picture was shot.

Grumman Tiger – Orphaned No More?

November 17, 2007

I have the privilege, joy, and responsibility of owning and flying a Grumman Tiger originally manufactured in 1977 by Grumman American.  But my Tiger–just like every piston aircraft manufactured by American Aviation, Grumman American, Gulfstream American, American General, and Tiger Aircraft–is an orphan.

These companies are no longer in existence, either liquidated or morphed into other companies no longer in the piston aircraft business.  So today my Tiger is an orphan, relying on the ongoing support of the American Yankee Association, and companies like Fletchair for continued service expertise and parts availability.  But that is about to change.

Enter True Flight Aerospace.  This new company, owned and led by Kevin Lancaster, a prior owner of two Tigers, acquired the assets (parts, tooling, etc), and type certificate for the Tiger and the other 2-place and 4-place piston singles in this line from now-defunct Tiger Aircraft. 

So far, Kevin seems to be starting strong, with an aggressive schedule to get his plant in Valdosta, Georgia up and running, and producing AG5B Tigers by the middle of 2008. Although Kevin does not have aircraft manufacturing experience, his management team includes guys with many years experience manufacturing our bonded aluminum honeycomb aircraft.  And Kevin’s experience as a past owner gives him the first-hand knowledge of how the Grumman line (although manufactured by a succession of companies, most people just use the tag “Grumman” when referring to these planes) are class leaders in performance.  No other fixed gear, fixed-pitch prop aircraft can match the combination of speed, maneuverability, fuel economy, and real-world hauling capability of our Grumman birds.  With avgas prices topping five dollars a gallon in the US, class-leading efficiency and fuel economy becomes a competitive advantage.

The most impressive thing from my perspective is Kevin’s earnest efforts to reach out to the existing Grumman owner and pilot community for support and suggestions for how True Flight can improve on past manufacturers. Equally impressive (because I’m the owner of a 30-year-old plane) is Kevin’s commitment to embrace and support the existing fleet.  This is a big change from Tiger Aircraft, who virtually ignored the existing fleet and owners. It’s still early and there are many hurtles ahead for True Flight as they re-start production of aircraft and parts, but the first steps look like they are in the right direction.  I, for one, am really rooting for Kevin and his company.  I hope they have found the elusive formula of financing, product knowledge, manufacturing efficiency, marketing acumen, competitive pricing, and leveraging the legacy fleet, to succeed.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.