Friday, February 23, 2007

Airspeed - Flight Training with John and Martha King

Subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your other favorite podcatcher using the feed or listen to audio at

This episode is the first in a series that will run through spring. No yet idea how many episodes will be in the series or exactly what the content will be, but we know this: Spring will be here soon and with it the best time of year in the Northern Hemisphere to learn to fly. And, for that matter, there's still a lot of good flying weather left for those listeners in the Southern Hemisphere.
If you've never been up in a general aviation airplane - or if you have, but haven't yet made the decision to start flight training in earnest, these episodes are for you. They're also for people who have started training on a certificate or rating but, for whatever reason, have stopped training.
I know exactly what I'm talking about here. I didn't start flight training until my mid thirties. I had a year-long hiatis in my training for the private pilot certificate when my son was born. And I always seem to have a hiatis toward the end of the year because my law practice tends to get very busy at that time of the year. Case in point, I'm probably four or five flights away from the instrument rating in a Part 141 program, but I'm almost embarassed to say how long it's been since I was last at the flight controls of anythng other than a Frasca 142 simulator - mainly because the weather hasn't been flyable, I'm slammed at work, and I have a couple of great kids that justifiably demand my attention.
But this is the year. I'm going to polish off the instrument rating. And if you have unfinished business at the airport - or have yet to start that business, the time is either now or very soon.
So we're doing a few episodes to give you the motivation and drive to get to the airport - or get back to the airport, as the case may be.

And what better way to start than to bring you John and Martha King.
John and Martha King are two of the best-known flight instructors and aviation advocates in the world. Starting in the early 1970s, they have built a business that has grown into an 18,000 square-foot complex in San Diego and reaches to every corner of the general aviation world through mail order, multimedia training, and personal appearances. Not to mention at least one podcast episode.
The Kings' bios would take at least 2o minutes to try to completely cover (I know - I tried), so we're just going to hit the highlights here. Each holds every single category and class of FAA pilot and instructor certificate. Each of them continues to be active in many categories, regularly flying everything from jet and piston airplanes and helicopters to weight-shift trikes and powered parachutes. They even serve as backup pilots for the Fujifilm blimp.
They lecture widely and make many public appearances. You may guess from some prior episodes that it was tough to get access to the people I've interviewed and you'd be right in some cases. Not so with the Kings. I was on the phone with then very quickly after requesting the interview. Lots of aviation icons talk a good game at the big events about being champions of general aviation and aerospace education, but the Kings put their day-to-day time and energy where their reputations are.
Lastly, I should tell you that I've been through the Cessna Pilot Center (or "CPC") series of CD-ROM training courses for both private and instrument pilot. Those programs featured the Kings heavily, in addition to Rod Machado and others. Even though I had already been through a private ground school in a Part 141 program before taking the CPC courses, I learned new things from the CPC courses and developed a better understanding of the things I already knew. I have not been through other multimedia courses except a but of the ASA instrument DVDs, and can say little one way or another about other courses, but I was already a pretty sophisticated consumer as private pilot training materials went, and found the Kings' materials very effective.
Anyway, on to the interview with John and Martha King.
[Interview audio.]
Thanks to John and Martha King for appearing on Airspeed. You can find more information about John and Martha and about King Schools at There's a link in the show notes at to the article that I mentioned: Battling the "Big Lie:" John King's Crusade to Change Aviation's Culture. It's definitely worth a read by every pilot and by every every pilot's family and friends who have questions about safety in general aviation.
One other thing. I make it a point of telling you guys when I have anything that comes close to a conflict of interest. Like the episode about ballistic recovery parachutes where I disclosed my small stock holding in BRS Parachutes. One could be forgiven for thinking that my enthusiasm about the Kings is motivated by some advertising deal. But I received no promotional consideration from King Schools or anyone connected in any way with the Kings for this episode. None asked and none offered. Their materials are just that good and their generosity with their time is just that . . . well, generous.
There might be better training materials out there - and you should avail yourself of whatever works for you - but I was really happy with my experience with the Kings' materials and you probably would be, too. It's all about what makes your flight training experience most productive and what gets people up in the air sooner, more safely, and so inspired after each lesson that they spend five minutes in the parking lot of the flight school trying to figure out which key unlocks the car. Yeah, it can be that way sometimes. And it can be that way soon if you get yourself to the airport and take the first - or the next - step.
Lastly - and I'll get to this more in depth in a future episode - the best first step in pursuing pilot training is to visit You can obtain a certificate right then and there that's good for your first flight lesson for $99 or less at any of about 2,000 flight schools that participate in the program.

More about John and Martha:

King Schools:

Battling the "Big Lie:" John King's Crusade to Change Aviation's Culture:

Cessna Pilot Centers:

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Airspeed Audience Hits 1,000

Airspeed just topped 1,000 subscribers! Thanks to all those listeners who have made the podcast such a success over the last year.

Note that the 27,000 impressions listed above is just since Labor Day, when I moved the show onto Libsyn. About 18,000 of these downloads are of the 30 or so old episodes that I posted to Libsyn on Labor Day - They've received an average of about 600 downloads each in the last six months. Not too shabby!

Thanks again, everyone! Keep on listening and I'll keep on bringing you the best content that I can!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Aircraft Icing and the Researchers of the Icing Branch at NASA Glenn Research Center

Subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your other favorite podcatcher using the feed or listen to audio at

It's the season for icing here in the midwest. As some instrument-rated and other pilots can tell you, few things have higher pucker factor than looking out at your wings while you're in the clouds and seeing ice begin to form. Most general aviation aircraft don't have de-icing equipment on board and even those that do often aren't certified for flight into known icing conditions.

For most GA pilots, that means avoiding icing in the first place - and that requires the development and use of the most effective anti-icing tool you have. Your noggin.

Few are more qualified to provide authoritative information about icing than the professionals on the Icing Team and in the Flight Operations team at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. We had the opportunity recently to talk to NASA Glenn pilots Kurt Blankenship and Bill Rieke and researcher Dr. Judy Van Zante, a contractor with ASRC Aerospace.

Bill Rieke is chief of aircraft operations at the NASA Glenn. He began his flying career with the U. S. Navy in 1966 and flew with Fighter Squadron 74 aboard the USS Forrestal and later flew tactical aircraft with the U. S. Air Force (Air National Guard). He also flew as a captain for the Standard Oil Company before joining NASA. He has flown research and test missions for NASA since 1981.

During his time at NASA he has been the lead project pilot for numerous projects ranging from zero-gravity flight to advanced cockpit technology for the U. S. Air Force. He has also been deeply involved in airborne icing research since 1982.

Bill has an airline transport certificate, five type ratings and 12,000 hours of flight time. His military flight experience was almost exclusively in tactical jet aircraft.

Kurt Blankenship is an NASA Icing Research Tunnel Operator, NASA Glenn Research Center Pilot and the Center’s Aviation Safety Officer. He served in the United States Marine Corps as a CH-53 Helicopter Crew Chief from 1981 to 1985 and then worked for Continental Air Lines as a mechanic. He then attended Bowling Green State University and was a flight instructor and director of maintenance for the school’s flight department during that time. He was a corporate pilot and mechanic from 1990 to 1994 and has been with NASA Glenn since 1994. He holds commercial, flight instructor, and airline transport pilot certificates and, in addition to flying NASA Glenn’s icing research aircraft, he is type rated in Learjets and has over 1,000 hours of flight research time.

Judy Van Zante is a researcher and project lead for the pilot training aids at NASA Glenn and has also done flight test engineering. She holds a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering. She flew on the icing research aircraft and did substantial other research as part of the NASA/FAA Tailplane Icing Program.

NASA Glenn's icing research aircraft is a modified DeHavilland DHC-6 Twin Otter. It is powered by two 550 hp Pratt & Whitney PT6A-20A turbine engines that drive three-bladed Hartzel constant speed propellers. Its relatively large size makes this aircraft a versatile test bed for in-flight icing research reaching speeds of 150 knots with a range of 500 nautical miles with a maximum fuel load. The Twin Otter has been modified to carry a full complement of sophisticated instruments that measure and record important properties of icing clouds. A stereoscopic camera system documents ice accretion characteristics of the aircraft in flight.

Most test flights are conducted below 10,000 ft., but the Otter has an oxygen system onboard for flight up to 16,000 ft. Research flights are performed with two pilots and up to three research personnel on-board. The ice protection system on the Otter is a combination of pneumatic boots, electrothermal anti-icing, and electrothermal de-icing. NASA has added pneumatic de-icing boots to the vertical tail, wing struts, and main gear struts. The high level of ice protection allows safe flight into known icing conditions, as well as the ability to selectively de-ice aircraft surfaces. By selectively de-icing, it is possible to evaluate the performance, stability, and control effects of ice on various surfaces. The Twin Otter supports the Icing Research Tunnel research and new icing protection systems. It has two experimental sites, the overhead hatch and the wing cuff, that subject test models to the icing environment while the aircraft remains clear of ice through de-icing. This aircraft is currently being used to acquire extensive experimental data about icing effects on aircraft flight. The aircraft has been used for, and is adaptable to other flight research projects.

Those who aren't pilots or who haven't undertaken instrument training might be a little mystified by some of the terminology that you're about to hear, so here's a quick glossary.

MEA: Minimum Enroute Altitude ( or "MEA") is the recommended minimum altitude that an aircraft should fly on a segment of an airway in instrument meteorological conditions. Flying at or above the MEA ensures clearance from terrain and obstacles, ensures reception of signals from ground-based navigation aids and, in a radar environment, makes it so that relevant air traffic controlfacilities can see the aircraft on radar.

Pirep: A pilot report. It is a report of weather conditions given by a pilot of an aircraft that is aloft. Pireps for turbulence, icing, and visibility are considered particularly valuable pireps.

STC: A supplemental type certificate. Aircraft that have type certificates (such as most production airplanes) must conform to the specifications in their type certificates or be registered as experimental or not flown. You can't mess much with an aircraft without losing the type certificate. An STC issued by the FAA permits the owner of an aircraft to make the covered modifications while maintaining the aircraft's type certificate. Frequent subjects of STCs are engine modifications and de-icing systems. There are also several STCs that allow installation of ballistic recovery parachutes in various production aircraft.

So on to the interview with NASA Glenn pilots Kurt Blankenship and Bill Rieke and researcher Dr. Judy Van Zante.

[Interview audio.]

Thanks to Bill Rieke, Kurt Blankenship, and Judy Van Zante and thanks to NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio!

With all this talk of icing, it might be easy to forget that NASA Glenn does a lot more than icing research. Space exploration systems, microgravity science, bioscience, aeronautic propulsion, instrumentation, and turbomachinery all form a part of the program at NASA Glenn. For example, many shuttle and space station science missions have an experiment managed by Glenn. The Center also designs power and propulsion systems for space flight systems in support of NASA programs such as the International Space Station, Mars Pathfinder, and Deep Space 1. Glenn also leads NASA' Space Communications Program which included the operation of the ACTS satellite and systems for Cassini. The general public benefits from NASA's investment in the future through the knowledge gained, the inspiration provided and often technology dividends. NASA Glenn has won many awards including an Emmy, a Collier Trophy, and the 1996 Invention of the Year.

Thanks also to Dave Schwartz, an Otter pilot and one of the hosts of Skydive Radio for his contrinbution of background information about flying Otters. You can hear Dave, Stump, and Cory on Skydive Radio by subscribing through your favorite podcatcher or visiting Skydive Radio's website at

More information about the Icing Branch of NASA Glenn Research Center:

More information about Kurt Blankenship:

More information about Judy Van Zante:

NASA print resources:

Information about the icing videos: or

Information about the Otter:

Image address:

Image used per NASA's policy entitled Using NASA Imagery and Linking to NASA Web Sites (October 13, 2005) located at