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DHS and Other Federal Agencies Wasting Time and Money Searching Aircraft?

I make it no secret that I am not a fan of TSA.  They like to waste a lot of money, and I don’t feel that they are as effective as they could be when I hear about people accidentally getting large knives through security.  That being said, they do prevent many weapons from getting on airplanes, and probably more importantly they deter more than we will ever know.

On the other hand I feel like other agencies are on a bit of a wild goose chase, and in some people’s opinions are targeting completely innocent people.  I came across an article from The Atlantic written by James Fallows talking about the rash of pilots being searched by various agencies for no apparent reason and it reminded me of an experience I had a few years ago.

The Cessna 208 Caravan is used by numerous cargo carriers all over the world.

The Cessna 208 Caravan is used by numerous cargo carriers all over the world.

I was working at an FBO in Austin, TX pulling the night shift which was generally pretty boring.  Other than the occasional late businessman most of our work involved getting ready for the next day, and handling the same few cargo planes that came in every single night.  We actually became friends with these pilots as they were our only company at night.

On one of these routine nights, we had a Cessna 208 Caravan come in with a pilot that had been flying this same route for at least five years.  I went out to greet him as I always did, and as I stood up from chocking his plane I heard another jet pull in that I hadn’t even seen because it pulled in so fast.  I quickly grabbed another set of chocks and ran over to the jet to chock it as well when I saw the words Border Patrol painted on the engines.

I approached the plane like always and greeted the crew asking what I could do for them.  It was about that time that I realized they had weapons out and they just lifted a hand and told me to wait, so naturally I did.  I merely went about my normal job just watching them all from a distance.

The Border Patrol agents performed their search without incident took a few hundred gallons of fuel and left within about two hours.  When I asked the pilot what was going on he said they felt he had flown to close to the Mexican border so they had followed him up for about an hour or so just to check the plane.

Just to be totally clear this is what happened.  A registered cargo carrier that flies the exact same route, in the exact same plane, with the exact same pilot, at almost exactly the same time every night MIGHT have flown straight on departure a little longer than usual.  In response four Border Patrol agents flew a private jet for a couple of hours to poke around at a few boxes, buy $6,000 in fuel, and go back home for the night.

In talking to the pilot this happens about once a year or so, which is an incredible waste of time and money.  In the grand scheme of things $6,000 isn’t that much money, and it wasn’t a terrible inconvenience for the pilot who has become accustomed to it, but that isn’t something that any normal law-abiding citizen should have to deal with.

These agencies do provide a valuable service with certain things that they handle, but it seems to me that some of the decision-making processes need to be reviewed.  If people are really being profiled in any way like the above article suggests then they may need a little more than a simple review.

May 30, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Remembering True Heroes of Aviation

As a member of the Air Force I regularly think about those that went before and left an amazing legacy for me and my contemporaries to follow.  They went up against incredible odds flying aircraft that went from inception to production in months, not the decades we see now.  On top of that they were actively engaged in conflicts where they were just as likely to die as to come back home.

One of my favorite activities is to listen to the stories of these great aviators who paved the way for the rest of us.  They have stories of courage and strength that my generation can’t begin to comprehend.

For a long time I have thought about how I could possibly honor them, or at the very least ensure that their memory is not lost.  There are thousands of these great men and women out there, and every day we lose more of them, and unfortunately many of their stories are lost with them.

I haven’t yet determined exactly how I will do it, but my goal is to archive as much of this history as possible in one place online so that others may be inspired by their story.  I want to collect stories, pictures, videos, anything that adds to the legacy of these amazing aviators.

I really want to collect the history of aviators from all of the major conflicts, as well as the minor ones.  I realize many of these great men and women have already died, but I am hoping their family or friends will be able to share their stories as well.  I want to collect as much information as possible including campaigns, battles, awards earned, and the other people that were there.

If you have something to contribute, I would love to hear about it in the comments with some way to contact you to collect more information.  The level of content I want to collect will take a lot more than a short comment, but it is at least a start.  I would also love to hear ideas of how I can make this venture successful so that we save as much of this history as possible.

Every single one of these people deserve to have their stories preserved.  It is not just the famous people who made a difference, but all of them.  Please help me to ensure their memory is never forgotten.

May 28, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Idaho Drone Bill Outlaws Spying From the Sky

This 4-rotor UAV helo designed to aid farmers was featured on FarmWeekly.com.

This 4-rotor UAV helo designed to aid farmers was featured on FarmWeekly.com.

Legislation relating to drones is starting to actually get put into place, and so far I think it has all be pretty reasonable.  The most recent law was signed into law by Idaho’s governor, Butch Otter.  According to an article on the Capital Press website:

The new law, which prevents any person, entity or public agency from using a UAV to conduct surveillance or observation of private property, requires law enforcement to obtain warrants in most cases before using drones to collect evidence.

This legislation is exactly the type of level-headed, fair lawmaking that we need to see.  It protects people from unlawful searches, but at the same time still allows for increased drone usage on private property.  This is extremely important as more and more farmers start to utilize UAVs to better monitor their crops.

I have written previously about the many uses of UAVs, and agriculture is one area that can benefit greatly from this rapidly evolving technology.  Farmers can better monitor the growth of their crops and more efficiently use things like fertilizer and pesticides.  For those farmers with livestock it is easier for them to monitor their herds without using excessive amounts of time, or using expensive tools like manned planes or helicopters.

This small UAV from Headwall Photonics can be used by farmers to better monitor their crops.

This small UAV from Headwall Photonics can be used by farmers to better monitor their crops.

What really makes this law important is protecting the farmers from groups like PETA who could use drones to spy on farmers and create unnecessary legal issues.

This is one of countless laws that we will continue to see popping up over the coming years relating to drones, and it is a very important one.  We can only hope that the rest of the new laws will be equally moderate and allow the technology to grow and evolve while at the same time protecting the rights and privacy of everyone.

What types of legislation do you think we need to see as it relates to drones?

May 21, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Disney Releases New Trailer for Planes Movie

As a parent of three kids I am very familiar with kids movies, and I honestly don’t mind going to them as long as they are entertaining, which many of them are.  But, there is a movie coming out that I would gladly see all by myself, as will most avgeeks out there.

Disney’s Planes!

Many people are familiar with Disney’s Cars featuring Lightning McQueen and the ever lovable Tow Mater.  Planes is a similar idea, only it features airplanes instead of just cars.  At one point there was word that it would only be released to DVD, but thankfully Disney saw how important it would be to view it on the big screen and is going for the full theatrical release.  They will also be releasing it in 3D, but I think that is a waste of money so I will stick with the normal version.

Disney recently released a new trailer which can be found below, and it looks awesome.  I can’t tell you how excited I am.  I could keep going on, but I will let you enjoy the brilliance below instead.  The film is set to be released on August 9.

Disney’s Planes Takes Flight on Disney Video

May 20, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Are Passenger Facility Charges the Answer to Airport Funding Problems?

I’m not sure if there is another industry that has started to nickel and dime its users more than aviation.  Some of these charges have already been implemented, and others have simply been proposed.  Airlines are now charging for food, checked baggage, and even for carry-ons in some cases.  Recently most of the major airlines also increased their flight change fees to $200, which was the same amount I paid for my last round-trip ticket in the first place.

Despite all of these new fees, and the simultaneous reduction in service, the airlines are still doing quite well.  Like many other industries, airlines will likely continue to increase fees and charges as much as the market will bear.  With the debatable success of all of these fees it is reasonable to question if airports couldn’t benefit from increasing these fees themselves.

In the past airports have relied heavily on the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) in order to fund major improvements like new runways, taxiways, or terminals.  However, as the cost of these improvements has increased there has not been a coinciding increase in funds.  Airports are having to get creative with ways to fund the projects they need because this previous source just isn’t cutting it.

One of these income sources are Passenger Facility Charges (PFC).  PFCs are currently capped by Congress at $4.50 but there is an increasing number of supporters trying to get that cap lifted.  The airports themselves are one of the biggest supporters of lifting the cap, but groups like AAAE are also lobbying hard to make this a reality.

I don’t know if PFCs are necessarily the answer, but it is time to give airports more ability to support themselves.  Congress has shown their complete ineptitude when it comes to pretty much anything, but especially when it comes to budgets and funding anything.  They need to get out of the way of the people who know how to fix problems and take care of their needs.

Whether it is PFCs or some other source, it is clear that airports need more funding to support their needs, let alone their wants.  What do you think, should Congress lift the cap on PFCs, or is there another way for airports to raise the money they need?

May 19, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

X-47B Performs First Ever Catapult Launch for a UAV from USS George H.W. Bush

The X-47B leaving the carrier deck for the first time. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tony D. Curtis/Released)

The X-47B leaving the carrier deck for the first time. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tony D. Curtis/Released)

The Navy’s UCAS-D, X-47B, took another huge step forward in its development today and I had to at least mention it because it is a pretty pivotal day in the future of aviation.  I have previously written about the X-47B performing simulated aerial refueling, as well as its first arrested landing on ground, but today it took a major step forward when it performed its very first catapult launch from the deck of an aircraft carrier.

Planes have been landing on ship decks for over 100 years, and today the USS George H.W. Bush was the first carrier to see a plane take off without a person actually in it.  It really leaves me kind of speechless to think about that.

Aviation has always been a breeding ground for innovation, and the Navy has often been heavily involved with that.  Personally I thought carriers were the one place we may never see a UAV, but I have definitely been proven wrong.  It is interesting how my views on UAVs have changed in less than a year.

I wrote that first article about the refueling a little over a year ago, and I was relatively skeptical about where UAVs would actually go, but now I am willing to believe they can do just about anything.  Next up on the agenda for the X-47B is to make an arrested landing on a moving carrier, which they are planning to attempt in the next few weeks.

May 14, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Tecnam P2010 Going Through FAA and EASA Certification

Like most Avgeeks, I love seeing a new plane.  It really doesn’t matter if it is big, small, fast, or slow, I just love planes.  I came across a new plane from European manufacturer Tecnam that looks like an interesting combination of a couple of other planes.  The P2010 by Tecnam is currently going through the certification process and is looking to gain certification from the FAA and EASA at the same time.

The Tecnam P2010 looks an awful lot like a mix between a Cessna 172 and a Cirrus.

The Tecnam P2010 looks an awful lot like a mix between a Cessna 172 and a Cirrus.

Looking at the pictures on their website, I can’t help but notice how much it looks like a cross between a Cesna 172 and a Cirrus SR22.  Either way I think it looks like a cool plane, and would love to fly one some day.  Here is the description from the Tecnam website:

The Tecnam P Twenty-Ten brings together an advanced technology all carbon fibre fuselage with a metal wing to deliver a superlative single engined, 4 seat aeroplane, designed by Italy’s most innovative Aerospace design ‘guru’ Professor Luigi Pascale.

Powered by the well proven and reliable Lycoming IO-360-M1a (‘Lycoming Light’) engine, providing 180HP and 2700RPM. The Tecnam P Twenty-Ten has a high fuel capacity (240 litres). The fuel tanks are installed in the wing box, behind the main spar, to preserve their integrity in case of an accident. Of course carbon fibre equals a lighter and therefore more fuel efficient aeroplane.

Tecnam has always put the comfort for both pilots and passengers first. The Tecnam P Twenty-Ten with its spacious interior and its generous luggage compartment of 300 litres has been designed to be both a very enjoyable aeroplane to fly cross country as well as a robust trainer. The cabin width also allows for a large instrument panel, with its modular design specifically tailored to allow customers to fit either an analogue or digital instrumentation package.

It is interesting how rapidly the aviation industry is being taken over by carbon fiber.  It is not surprising with all of its valuable properties, but I don’t think there has been another technology that has come on so rapidly in my memory.

The plane just looks sleek and sexy.  It is obviously still a ways of way from actually reaching the market but I would not be surprised to see Tecnam become a more common name in the industry with more aircraft like this.

I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Airbus Encouraging Aviation Innovation with Their Fly Your Ideas Challenge Finalists

The five Airbus finalists.

The five Airbus finalists.

About two months ago I wrote about a pretty cool challenge that Airbus was issuing to student innovators all over the world.  The Fly Your Ideas Challenge asked these students to come up with eco-efficient ideas to help take the aviation industry into the 21st century a little bit cleaner.  The top prize is €30,000 with the runners-up receiving €15,000.

Airbus announced the finalists today that will come to Airbus’ headquarters next month to present their ideas to a group of industry experts with the winners being announced in Paris on June 14th.

The official press release from Airbus gave the following short descriptions of the finalists:

  • Australia – Team CLiMA, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, for the development of aircraft fueled by a blend of sustainably produced liquefied biomethane and liquefied natural gas (Bio-LNG).
  •  Brazil – Team Levar, University of São Paulo, for a luggage loading and unloading system for airplane cargo compartments to reduce the workload of airport baggage handlers with an air cushion solution inspired by air hockey tables.
  • India – Team AVAS, SRM University, for reduced propulsion noise thanks to jet exhaust shape modification using intelligent materials (shape memory alloys). These alloys are energized by harvested electricity generated by advanced thermoelectric materials using engine heat source.
  • Italy – Team Flybrid, Technical University of Milan, for an electric/turboprop combination for hybrid propulsion in regional aircraft. This system uses batteries pre-charged on ground and not in-flight.
  • Malaysia – Team Embarker, Universiti Putra Malaysia, for a self-sustaining aircraft cabin concept in which the excess body heat from seated passengers is used as an alternative source of energy to power small electronics in the cabin.

The team members include both men and women, students pursuing bachelors, masters, and PhDs, and students from nine different countries.  I love to see such diversity working to make the future of aviation even brighter.  Who knows, maybe one of these ideas will be what we are talking about a decade from now as the newest and best technology in the industry.

All images from the Airbus Press Release.

May 13, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Paine Field Aviation Day to Take Place May 18th; Some Free Intro Flights for Kids Available

Going to an airport at any time is an enjoyable experience for me.  I have spent countless hours just watching planes take off and land.  I am even cool with just sitting at home watching videos, looking at pictures, and even reading about planes.  In fact, just tonight instead of storytime with my son before bed, we watched videos of the F-35, F-16, and AC-130.  A much better use of time in my opinion.

This P-51 Mustang, Impatient Virgin, is just one aircraft that will be on display at Historic Flight Foundation during the event.

This P-51 Mustang, Impatient Virgin, is just one aircraft that will be on display at Historic Flight Foundation during the event.

But, when the opportunity does arise for a special event at an airport, it is important to take advantage of it.  One such event will be taking place this coming Saturday at Paine Field in Everett, WA.

The Paine Field Aviation Day will be taking place May 18th from 9am-5pm.  Paine Field is best known for being the home of the Boeing factory where they build 747, 767, 777, and 787 aircraft, but this Saturday the focus will be on the general aviation side of the house.  Here is a list of what to expect from the Paine Field Aviation Day Website:

  • All day Family Friendly Event
  • Average number of attendees 5,000 – 8,000
  • Annual Spring event has been occurring for over seventeen years in May
  • Aircraft from both the Flying Heritage Collection and Historic Flight Foundation fly throughout the day
  • Access to hundreds of vintage, warbirds, and new aircraft on display
  • Local Food and Beverage Vendors
  • Firefighters’ Fly Day 5k Run
  • Burn Center Charity Pancake Breakfast at the Paine Field Fire Department
  • Free Young Eagles introductory flights for kids ages 8-17 (seating limited)
  • Car collection and fire engine displays
  • Local non-profit organizations information booths
  • Access to the Flying Heritage Collection and Historic Flight Foundation collections
  • Free parking and shuttles
  • Seattle Seafair Pirates and Moby Duck
  • Kid Zone with bouncy houses, face painting, games and more
  • Take a flight, meet the pilots, see one-of-a kind aircraft, talk with the flight schools, enjoy some great food, and watch the thrilling flying demonstrations – all this and more!
"Grumpy", a B-25 bomber at Historic Flight Foundation will be joined by another B-25 from the Flying Heritage Collection on the other side of the runway.

“Grumpy”, a B-25 bomber at Historic Flight Foundation will be joined by another B-25 from the Flying Heritage Collection on the other side of the runway.

From what I gather this is not just a typical airshow, but is really designed to get people excited about aviation.  I don’t know if you noticed in the list of events there, but it mentioned free introductory flights for kids ages 8-17.  That is exactly the kind of opportunity that can spark a long career in aviation.

Admission is only $10 for adults, and is free for anyone under 17, which is hard to beat.  There will be all kinds of displays and booths for adults and kids.  Even if you aren’t a hardcore aviation nut like me, there will be lots of science stuff for kids, and it should just be an all around amazing event.

If you are able to go, leave a comment below and let me know how you enjoyed it.  You never know when something like this may turn into your new favorite hobby.

May 12, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

AvGeeks Share Their Stories in an Awesome Series of Posts: Blogging in Formation

This last week there has been an awesome series of blog posts from incredible writers who shared their stories about how they got into flying.  It has been an inspiring series of posts that only further deepens my love of aviation.  You would think that after hearing stories from all different people over and over it would get old, but hearing about other people’s passion never gets old, especially when you share that passion.

I don’t have near the story that these amazing people do, but reading their story gets me excited about where my story will go.  None of them had any idea where flying would take them, but it has been an adventure for every single one of them.  Flying is one of those unique areas that gives you experiences and adventures that you just won’t have anywhere else.

No one talks about going down to the hospital to watch a doctor give physicals, or down to the courthouse to watch a trial, but almost everyone has a memory of going to an airshow, or of the very first time they flew somewhere in a plane.  Nothing can quite compare to the thrill of flying in any type of aircraft.

I strongly encourage you to go and check out each of the posts from these people as they will fan the aviation flame inside of you.  Even if you aren’t an avgeek, it is hard not to be inspired by each of their stories.  Click on each of their names to read their story.

Karlene Petitt (@KarlenePetitt) is an airline pilot that was motivated to pursue flying because she was told that she couldn’t.  Her’s is an inspiring story of overcoming the odds when everyone else says it is impossible.

Eric Auxier (@capnaux) is also an airline pilot flying the Airbus A320.  His flying started with a hang glider and eventually moved on to bush flying before he got to the airlines.  I love how he refers to having a long-term love affair to “Fifi”, the Airbus A320.

Ron Rapp (@RonRapp1) didn’t get bit by the aviation bug until he was a little older, but after he got started, he never really slowed down.  He has quite the diverse list of aircraft that he has flown which comes as a result of his total commitment to something he loves.

Dan Pimentel (@Av8rdan) was another late bloomer in the aviation world, but he is making up for it now.  I have followed Dan on Twitter for awhile, and I am always impressed with his passion for aviation.  He is also the organizer of OshBash13 which looks to be quite the event for anyone attending EAA Airventure Oskosh.

Andrew Hartley (@smrtflighttrain) bounced back from tragedy in his life to become a CFI where he helps to train future avgeeks.  He shared my favorite quote of the series so far: “… if you love something, it is always worth the risk. Minimize it, manage it, be aware of it; but you can’t give up something you enjoy just because it might kill you.  Life is guaranteed to kill you anyway – so enjoy it by doing what you love, what you are passionate about, what your life would be empty for the lack of it.  Fly.”  Just beautiful.

Brent Owens (@iflyblog) has been flying since he was 15 in a whole assortment of different planes including his RV-8 that he built himself.  He has amassed over 10,000 hours, and was the brains behind this blogging in formation idea.  His story reminds me that if you really love aviation then it almost doesn’t matter where you end up because all that matters is being in the air.

May 11, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.