Sunday, April 24, 2011

Duckin' Fark

This is a regular blog post. Looking for show notes or links to show audio or video? They're all here. Keep on scrolling.

CAP captain, myTransponder co-founder, and friend Rod Rakic happened to be in town this weekend and we made it a point to try to get up in a CAP aircraft for some proficiency work and aircrew activities.

I've flown in the same aircraft with Rod on several occasions. The first was the Cessna Citation Mustang flight during AirVenture Oshkosh 2009 with me in the left seat and Rod in the back. Then Rod flew me in a C-182T Nav III to Marshall, Missouri and back to get some B-2A weapons system trainer time in our logbooks.

But I had not yet flown Rod under circumstances under which I was in the left seat and was in the right seat. Where he could reach the flight controls and make it a fair fight.

Saturday afternoon, the wind howled like hell. I'm talking 18 knots with gusts over 30. Even with the wind coming pretty close to right down the pipe, that's a log of gust factor, especially considering that I hadn't flown the C-182 since last October or so. And I'm a pretty typical non-primarily-182 driver inasmuch as it's a very nose-heavy airplane that likes to sink quickly and I live in fear of whacking the nosewheel.

I have no problem with the G1000. I just don't like seeing the nosewheel strut come through it.

I arrived early and preflighted the airplane like I was buying it. The wind howled around the hangar. Badly enough that I feared opening the hangar door and badly enough that I had a hard time being understood on the phone by my flight release officer because of the noise of all that sheet metal that wanted to depart the tee hangar.

But around 6:30, it magically calmed down to a steady 18 knots right down the runway. Rod arrived, I got my flight release, we stomped the ramp (a very abbreviated ritual along the lines of the Haka - you had to be there) and we launched about an hour before sunset.

We flew up to Yale, Michigan located my high school buddy's place, descended to about 1,600 MSL, and did a mock photo mission over it. Flying at 90 KIAS in a 45-degree bank that low would have bothered me a lot just a year ago. But, after NESA MAS and flying as much tailwheel and acro as I have, it seemed really natural. And the C-182 is a really stable platform for those kinds of maneuvers. You can almost roll in and fly the maneuver on trim alone.

Takeoffs, as they say, are optional. Landings, as they also say, are mandatory. Aviation, unlike maritime pursuits, has a perfect safety record. We've never left one up there.

We went to St. Clair County Airport (KPHN), whose Runway 28 was within 20 degrees of a 15-knot steady wind. Rod had spent a lot of time there in his youth as a line guy and student pilot, so it was a bit of a trip down memory lane for him. I was reluctant to face my C-182 demons more than 40 nm from the airplane's home base in case I yard-saled it across the TDZ. And I began by mistaking Runway 22 for Runway 28.

But I got her headed in the right direction (without entering Canadian airspace in the process) and turned a very nonstandard entry into a very stabilized approach. 70 over the numbers, then kissed it down. I taxied back and got another trip around the patch, this time getting it a little flat, but serviceable and most of the parts stayed in formation with the rest of the airframe.

Rod is getting ready to become a CFI. And the CFI manner is beginning to creep into his right-seat personality. I pointed out a couple of the things that he said or did and made that comment. He was a little taken aback, but admitted it. I assured him that there were no violations of Wheaton's Law involved. In fact, it's very cool to see one's friends constantly evolving and challenging themselves.

Additionally, Rod is going to be a great instructor. He's already a very precise and disciplined pilot. But he also has an excellent way of inspiring confidence and channeling knowledge without being imperious about it. As someone who has watched new student pilot starts fall off and student pilot completions plummet, it would be important to me that Rod become a CFi regardless of whether he was one of my bros. But having him as one of my bros as well? Bonus!

To be sure, Rod gave no "instruction" per se in the aircraft. He's not a CFI. And, even if he were, he's not authorized by CAP to give instruction in CAP birds. (Yet.) We even briefed our roles standing at the nose of the aircraft before leaving. As PIC, I told him that input was welcome. And expected. But I was PIC and any yard sale that I laid out on a runway was mine and mine alone. A good way to brief almost any flight, in fact.

We departed St. Clair and pointed the airplane at Ray Community Airport (57D). I have some plans for things this summer at Ray and I wanted to show the airport to Rod. Ray is the prettiest airport to which I have ever personally been. And Runway at Ray 9/27 is just under 2,500 feet, which I had just proved was a distance within which I could get a C-182T down and stopped. But it was a little dark to actually see anything there and I was reluctant to put my C-182 skills to the test on a shorter runway in the dark.

So back to Pontiac. We got the straight-in approach to Runway 27R. No excuses. I had the airspeed and configuration dialed in from five miles out. the only issue was that it was dark. I mean "duckin' fark." It was less than an hour after sunset, but not a lot less.

Last notch of flaps at a half mile. Yeah, a half mile is further than I could glide with the barn doors hanging out, but a stable approach coming over the fence was more important in this case with this pilot in this airplane than the much-lesser chance of being screwed by an engine failure on short final.

Airspeed 75 KIAS over the fence. 70 KIAS over the numbers. I had my attention way over the nose and off to the side. Rod was looking directly out the side at the ground.

He said "flare."

It was a little earlier than I expected to flare. But I had five more knots of airspeed than I really needed and lots of power available. And Rod has lots of experience in the C-182. All of the input funneled through that high-speed pachinko machine that I've built in my head. I made the decision as PIC to accept the suggestion from my PNF and flare.

I flared. A moment or two of feeling the sink and beginning to think about pushing in the power. Then "doink." Mains down. Yoke in my chest. Nosewheel down. Nice! Let her roll to Kilo and then taxi to Royal for gas.

I think that the landing would have come out safe either way. My way might have been flatter, but would likely have been okay. In any case, it's good to have two sets of eyes and two brains focused on the issue. And it's one of the most special things in all of aviation to have a PNF next to you that you know well and whose thoughts will accelerate through your pachinko machine and get quickly to the place where you make the right decisions.

We hit the Pontiac pilot watering hole (the Shark Club) for beers and dinner after. I think it bothered Rod slightly that I had noticed CFI noises coming out of him on the flight and he was concered that it had been bothersome and launched into a discussion that was part apology.

I cut him off. "Dude, you had me at 'Flare.'"

Laughter, beer, food, and pilot talk, then the departure - me for home and and he for his family in Clawson. I a slightly better pilot. He with a little more time in the right seat trying out the view from there and really thinking about what it's going to be like when he adds the rating and starts flying with people who need his counsel more than I do.

All epic. In a smaller way than Dick-Collins-ing through the yellow IMC over Chicagoland at 2:00 a.m. But in an important way nevertheless.

Up aircrew! Huah!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Acro Camp Sneak Peek 02 - Formation

These are the show notes to a video episode. You can watch by subscribing to Airspeed through iTunes or your other favorite podcatcher. Or just click above to watch the episode through Vimeo. It's all free!

On the third day of filming for Acro Camp, Don Weaver and Barry Sutton decided to do a formation flight out in the practice area. They gathered the Pitts and Paul, and the Super Decathlon and Lynda, respectively, and briefed the sortie at Pontiac. The Super D departed first and the Pitts followed shortly thereafter.

This sequence captures the join-up and two passes.

Editing is coming along well. Believe it or not, I think that I'm going to be able to complete the whole thing with nothing more than a Mac Book Pro and an array of outboard hard drives. The ultimate shoestring movie from beginning to end.

But still a beautiful movie! Just look at some of the near-golden-hour lighting in this sequence!

This sequence was a lot of fun to edit. I synched up all of the cameras and audio so that you get to hear all of the people in each of the aircraft all simultaneously, including both the radio transmissions and the intra-cockpit communications.

Everybody has his or her fears. Paul Berliner, the high-time airline driver, was fine with all of the acro, but was not at all comfortable with formation flight. He was a trooper and agreed to do the flight. And he stuck it out all the way through both passes. But I'd be lying if I said that I thought that he enjoyed it.

That's a great deal of what Acro Camp is about. Confronting areas of discomfort. And exploring one's envelope, whether mentally, physically, or otherwise.

Side note: Formation flight, like aerobatics, is not for the untrained or unfamiliar. Both Don and Barry have prior formation experience and they were on the controls of the respective aircraft during the entire formation sequence. And, although the footage looks in places as though the aircraft are pretty close, that's an effect of the lenses and the aircraft kept a healthy buffer between them. Especially, you'll notice, where Don rolled inverted.

Do try this at home. You'll be a better, safer, more competent pilot. It might even safe your life someday. But do it with an experienced instructor in a capable aircraft and in compliance with the regs. And ease into it. You don't have to be ready to fly wing for the Thunderbirds after your first flight.

The movie is on track for release later this summer, so stay tuned. More information about post-production and release coming soon. Stay subscribed to Airspeed and check out the Acro Camp website at

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Acro Camp Debrief with Don Weaver and Barry Sutton

These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen to the show audio by clicking here: . Better yet, subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your other favorite podcatcher. It’s all free!

After the props stopped turning for the last flights of Acro Camp, I took Michelle Kole back to Detroit Metro for her flight back to California. While I was gone, DP Will Hawkins sat down instructor pilots Don Weaver and Barry Sutton to debrief after five days and 41 sorties.

This is the audio, essentially unedited, from that debrief.

Neither Don nor Barry had done a camp as intensive as this in some time. Both were ready for some rest. But both remained energetic about what happened at the camp. Each felt that he had made a difference in each pilot's life and flying skills. Each was impressed at the transformation that each pilot experienced.

Will initially planned to ask questions to keep the conversation going. In fact, all he had to do was say "So how did it go?" and adjust the camera once. These guys laid a rope 25 minutes or more long that was every bit as poignant as anything that any camper had to say.

It's a privilege having guys like this with whom to shoot a movie. And, for me personally, it's amazing that I get to go fly with each of them with some regularity.

Stay tuned for an announcement about Acro Camp II. It's tentatively planned and don't be surprised to hear a casting call go out some time in the next few weeks!

Monday, April 11, 2011


These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen to the show audio by clicking here: Better yet, subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your other favorite podcatcher. It’s all free!

I’ve been fortunate over the last three years to make appearances on Sun ‘N Fun Radio, the event radio station for the Sun ‘N Fun Fly-In in Lakeland, Florida. And, the last two years, I’ve done it even though I was a good 900 miles from the show site.

With the assistance of David Allen at the station’s site, I looped in podcasters from all over the US and from Australia for #NotAtSnF11, a show featuring people who are not at the show but who wish they were. Although this has all of the material that went out over the air, we kept the tape rolling so that you guys get to hear what does on behind the scenes during one of these shows.

Participants this year were as follows.

Steve Visscher and Grant McHerron of Plane Crazy Down Under

Chris Holub and John Conway, two thirds of the In the Pattern

Will Hawkins from The Pilot’s Flight PodLog and A Pilot’s Story

Bill Williams of The Pilotcast