Airframe and Powerplant

The Techno-Fun Connection

June 1, 2001

Dozens of type clubs carry on the "keep 'em flying" challenge

"Left, more left!" shouted the bombardier over the noise of the slipstream whipping past the open clamshell-style cabin doors. "Farther left," she shouted — and then she dropped the bomb. After bomb release, the pilot, flying from the backseat, pulled the nose up until the airspeed was nailed at 60 miles per hour and broke into a wide grin as the sunlight glinted off the Piper Cub Yellow paint on the wing struts.

So starts another round of flour bombing at the Cub Club fly-in. Around the Fourth of July every year, the West Coast members of this type club gather in Lompoc, California, for three days of fun. Barbecues, Cub talk, pancake breakfasts, more Cub talk, a spot-landing contest, flour bombing, and still more Cub talk fill out the days. Last year the club was treated to something special — the sight of a Minuteman missile accelerating away from its white smoke trail during an evening launch from nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base. After the launch it was at least…oh, maybe three full minutes before the word Cub again dominated most conversations.

Flour bombs are flour-filled paper bags that burst when they hit the ground. Some bombardiers throw their bombs, while others trust the drop-and-hope method. Since the art of bombing has fallen into disfavor, no one gets very close to the target — last year the Taylors, Steve and Nick from Whittier, California, took the trophy home without ever hitting the bulls-eye; their two-drop average was 21 feet from the big X. The important thing is that flour bombing is high up on the fun scale, and fun, food, and Cubs are the factors that drew more than 100 Cubs to the ramp at Lompoc.

Small, local fly-ins like the one the Cub Club sponsors in Lompoc are much more numerous than the huge national or international airshows that feature show-stopping aerobatics and the latest sky-shaking military hardware. Type-club get-togethers are participation events. There's always room in the pattern for a flour-bombing novice, and all help is welcomed because at this level of general aviation, volunteers keep many of these clubs going.

On-the-job training

Across the country in Lakeland, Florida, 30 people are sitting under one of the forum tents at the Sun 'n Fun EAA Fly-In. Dale Faux is leading two back-to-back sessions on Cessna 170 models. Why? Because Faux is an active member of the International Cessna 170 Association ( www.cessna170.org), and he's willing to talk at length on 170s. I arrive 20 minutes into the second hour. The forum is going strong, with questions from the floor. A voice pipes up, "Dale, do [170] A models have nut plates in the rear spar carry-through structure that I can attach a shoulder harness to?" After Faux speaks passionately about the absolute necessity of shoulder harnesses, he and a few others, ones he knows by name, share their experiences and reach a conclusion. There almost certainly is not a nut plate in the 170A models. In other tents, and at other fly-ins, firsthand, experience-based flying and maintenance information that is specific and definitive is available to type club members. Sometimes the search route is a little circuitous, but it's a certainty that someone in the club has had a similar experience and is willing to help.

Type clubs

There are more than 95 type-specific clubs or associations listed on the AOPA Web site (this resource is no longer available - we apologize for the inconvenience). Most clubs are open to anyone willing to pay a yearly fee ranging from $15 to $45, although at least one, the Cessna 180-185 club, won't let you join it unless you own a Cessna 180 or 185 ( www.skywagon.com/club.html).

Often type clubs are the only support for older airplanes. Both the Swift Owners Association and the Luscombe Foundation own their respective airplane type certificates. Airplanes with names like Culver, Navion, Ercoupe, Fairchild, Aeronca, Porterfield, and Rearwin are referred to as orphaned airplanes. These airplanes depend on the efforts of small type clubs or nonprofit historical associations to keep these historically important models alive, as well as maintain databases and advise owners.

The FAA and many of the original airplane manufacturers have realized that type clubs are extremely knowledgeable about their specific airplanes, and that these type clubs must be included in informal and formal decisions related to the future of their airplanes.

The big ones

The largest type-specific clubs are the Cessna Pilots Association, with more than 11,000 members, and the American Bonanza Society, with more than 10,000 members. Both of these clubs provide technical support, with CPA leading the march because of a paid full-time staff that includes four FAA-certified airframe and powerplant mechanics, each also holding an inspection authorization (IA) endorsement. This club specializes in technical matters. In addition to a Web site ( www.cessna.org) that is crammed fuzl of technical information, this organization teaches model-specific systems and procedures courses around the country.

ABS ( www.bonanza.org) is known among Beech aircraft owners for its Bonanza/Baron Pilot Proficiency Programs (BPPP) and its Service Clinic programs (see " Wings of Experience," p. 138). Last year more than 750 pilots participated in BPPP courses at various airports across the country. ABS members could also get their airplanes checked over by ABS techs at service clinics that took place throughout the year.

Wired and involved

The Internet has changed the way type groups operate. At least half of the type groups shown on the AOPA listing have working Web sites. CPA's overseas membership rose markedly after posting its latest monthly magazine online. Instead of paying and hoping for the tech tidbit-filled magazine that might never come, foreign members from Canberra to Katmandu can download their magazine the day it is posted. E-mail means that the dues-paying member in Australia doesn't have to lose sleep and run up a huge phone bill to ask a technical question. Web sites that are full of information are instantly accessible. Within minutes after discovering a technical problem, digital photos can be sent to a knowledgeable type club technician thousands of miles away.

Type clubs can influence airworthiness directives

The membership numbers of these type-specific organizations may look puny compared to AOPA's, but there's no doubt that type clubs are good sources of specific technical information. Because of recent changes in how the FAA implements airworthiness directives, actions by type clubs are changing the airworthiness directive (AD) process.

On July 21, 2000, the Small Airplane Directorate of the FAA issued an airworthiness concern process guide that details the step-by-step procedures that the FAA aircraft certification offices (ACOs) go through when writing an AD. AOPA was instrumental in the development of the new process.

After it's been determined that there is an airworthiness concern, the second step in the process is to send an airworthiness concern sheet (ACS) to the type certificate holder and the appropriate type club. In some cases AOPA will be tasked by the FAA to distribute the ACS to type clubs. The ACS will specify the data that the FAA seeks from type clubs and associations. See the Web site for more information ( www.faa.gov/aircraft/air_cert/design_approvals/small_airplanes/ cos/continued_airworthiness/media/aceACSGuide.doc).

The FAA often allows only 30 days for the type clubs to gather data and submit their responses. Generally, extensions can be obtained for up to 90 days, but even 90 days leaves scant time for organizations that often are loosely organized and staffed by volunteers to gather their forces and respond with replies that are supported by engineering-based data. Unfortunately, some type clubs don't realize that a general grousing about the cost and unfairness of a proposed AD is an opportunity wasted. Subjective opinions carry little weight in AD "negotiations" between type clubs and the FAA. In many cases AOPA will coordinate its ACS response with those of affected type clubs. Let's take a look at a type club that isn't satisfied with an AD, and what they're doing about it.

The T–34 wing spar AD

On April 19, 1999, when engaged in mock air combat, two pilots died when the right wing of a Beech T–34A Mentor separated from the fuselage. Soon after the accident, the FAA issued AD 99-12-02 that restricted T–34 airplanes to Normal category operations, speeds of no more than 152 knots, and limited in-flight G loadings to zero to plus 2.5 Gs.

A few members of the T–34 Association formed a technical committee to study the possibility of submitting an alternate method of compliance (AMOC) for the AD. More than 200 T–34 owners have assisted in the study and hired a well-known (to the FAA) aeronautical structures engineer. This engineer, a designated engineering representative (DER), has conducted an engineering study of the wing structure and is developing a solution that, if approved, would eliminate further inspections and return the airplane to its original design status.

Although the AMOC alternative to AD notes isn't very well known, it's an option that is almost always available. For a very complete review of this process, go to the "news" section of the T–34 Web site ( www.t-34.com).

Online clubs

"Our participation in type club activities gives us an opportunity to show our kids the country," said Debbie Peterson, as I talked to her at the "type tent" at Sun 'n Fun. Peterson's husband, Keith, and Paul Millner formed the Cardinal Flyers Online (CFO) type club a year ago after ministering to the organization and creation of a Cessna Cardinal- and Cardinal RG-specific Web site-cum-chatroom for several years. A truly modern type club, this organization exists only online. Millner and Peterson have a loyal following, with more than 900 Cardinal owners around the world paying $20 a year to access the members-only side of the Cardinal Web site and chat online with other Cardinal owners ( www.cardinalflyers.com). There are still plenty of opportunities to get together, as evidenced by the 55 CFO Cardinals that flew into Winter Haven, Florida, this year for a week-long fly-in. Members hosted fly-ins at 11 different locations — including one in Paris, France, that drew 23 aircraft.

Another online type club supports the Cessna 120 and 140 models at its Web site ( www.cessna140.com).

Technical and flying information

The Cub Club, those fun-loving fliers mentioned earlier in this article, take the preservation and support of their airplanes seriously. Like most other type clubs, they own an amazing amount of technical information that is available at a small cost to their members.

In addition to serving as repositories for important technical information, often it's a type club fly-in that shows newcomers the joy of grass-roots flying. After all, how many private pilots dream of dropping bombs when they start working toward their ratings?

Join up

Type-specific clubs can expand the experience of owning an airplane. Reading club newsletters and magazines for a few months can give prospective airplane buyers a unique review of the airplanes, clear up model confusions, point out common maintenance problems, and illustrate the ability of each type club to lend support. Most type clubs will send a free issue of their newsletter or magazine if asked nicely.

If you're considering the purchase of an airplane, it's a good idea to find out where the nearest type club fly-in is — and go, even if you have to drive. Once you arrive you'll find real-world answers to your questions. Face-to-face conversations with pe"ple who really know their airplanes are invaluable, especially when you're not sure which airplane will best suit your needs. And you'll almost certainly be able to cadge a ride or two, and do a little airplane shopping at the same time.


E-mail the author at steve.ells@aopa.org.


Wings of Experience

A weekend of learning from the type-club masters

BY THOMAS B. HAINES

There's more to type clubs than technical aircraft information and fly-outs. Many also conduct type-specific flight training to help owners get the most out of their airplanes. Certainly one of the best providers of such training is BPPP Inc. The Bonanza/Baron Pilot Proficiency Program is a wholly owned subsidiary of the American Bonanza Society Air Safety Foundation. Last year the group trained more than 750 owners of Beech Bonanzas, Barons, and Travel Airs.

Take Margo and Tim Bettis of Marathon Shores, Florida. He started flight training in 1981 and quickly convinced her to join him. A year later they had earned their private certificates and bought a 1979 A36 Bonanza. They both then earned instrument and multiengine ratings. She went on for her commercial certificate. And now they take turns flying their airplane: She flies to; he flies home. With a winter home in the Florida Keys, a summer home on Lake Michigan's Beaver Island, and kids and other family members scattered in between, they make good use of the Bonanza.

One of their recent stops was in Greensboro, North Carolina, where BPPP was hosting one of the dozen or so three-day courses it conducts each year. They landed right ahead of me. Like Margo, I was there to attend the BPPP initial course in my A36; Tim had been there before and was set for the recurrent course. Fifty-eight other pilots and a dozen spouses and flying companions joined us for what would turn out to be a fun and challenging weekend of flying and ground school.

With 61 pilots to train, BPPP brought in 33 instructors — the rule being no more than 30 airplanes in the air at one time, so as not to overwhelm the controllers. Even with half the airplanes flying, the ramp at host FBO Atlantic Aero was chockablock with Beech airplanes. Organizing the whole event was George Tatalovich Jr. and his wife, Kathy. He is the administrator of BPPP. Among the instructors was Jack Hirsch, president and director of BPPP. They're both flight instructors, with Tatalovich having more than 14,000 hours, 9,000 in Beech products. Hirsch has more than 3,200 hours in Bonanzas and Barons — achieved, he muses, one hour at a time. Such levels of experience are common among the BPPP instructors. At a recent course, Tatalovich reported that the instructors in attendance averaged 6,200 hours of instruction given in Bonanzas and Barons — more hours than most GA pilots will garner in a lifetime of flying. The credentials are impeccable. Another instructor and a vice president with BPPP was Kent Ewing, a former naval aviator and test pilot and the commander of the aircraft carrier USS America during the Persian Gulf War. You can bet that a story or two about airplanes came up during happy hour around the bar.

BPPP does a good job of interspersing social time with instruction. Ground instruction takes place all day on Friday, with each session lasting 50 minutes, followed by a 10-minute break. This pacing keeps the sessions interesting and enticing. Among the subjects covered in the initial course were flying by the numbers, human factors and flight safety, fuel systems, electrical systems, aerodynamics, weight and balance, and emergency procedures. Those attending for the second time are free to sit through the initial courses again or they may take more specific training on weather strategies, autopilots, forced landings, using instrument charts, and several sessions on using GPS. The presentations are conducted using computer projectors with professionally prepared slides.

The BPPP courses started in 1984, but about a dozen years ago the organization decided to add a spouse or flying partner program. The companion course isn't a flying program, but instead is designed to enhance the flying experience from the right seat. Subjects covered in the ground school include fuel management, looking for traffic, air traffic control, and use of radios. At Greensboro, the group also toured the tower and participated in a walkaround of a Bonanza and Baron. "The goal of the program is to make flying more enjoyable for the pilot and his flying partner," explains Hirsch.

The socializing continues Friday night at a banquet.

On Saturday morning, half the group continues ground school, with a question-and-answer session with a mechanic who specializes in Beech maintenance, a walkaround of a Bonanza or Baron, and a refresher session on the federal aviation regulations cleverly disguised as a game of Jeopardy! Ken Pearce conducts the detailed walkaround of the airplanes. He is one of the founders of BPPP and at Greensboro was attending his 156th session. Before the flying portion, Pearce conducts a brief inspection of each airplane, noting any items that must be fixed prior to flight with the BPPP instructor.

While one half wraps up the ground school, the other half goes flying for several hours. Later in the day the two groups swap. Another flying session is conducted on Sunday morning before the group heads for home. In all, attendees receive at least four hours of flight training. Those attending the recurrent session can opt for one flight session to be conducted at night.

I flew with Hirsch, who offered many valuable tips and validated many of the procedures I had developed on my own. It was reassuring to fly with someone who knew the airplane so well. Several of the maneuvers we did were ones that I would not have done on my own or with a less experienced instructor. For example, we practiced engine failures right after takeoff. Hirsch had me pull the power off at about 50 feet after takeoff from a 5,000-foot runway. I successfully landed on the remaining runway with no problem, giving me reassurance that faced with an actual engine failure right after takeoff, I could land safely, assuming a long runway. I had thought about the scenario, but hadn't practiced it because of concerns that I might end up landing it on the nose gear. We also practiced rejected takeoffs, doors popping open on takeoff, and short- and soft-field takeoffs. From 1,500 feet above the runway at an airport near Greensboro, I pulled the power off and used the prop control to help manage the descent. I hadn't realized how effective the prop control could be in such a situation.

"Did you ever consider a power-off ILS?" Hirsch queried. We didn't have time to try it, but he claims that in a Bonanza with a failed engine, if you can manage to make it to the final approach fix at 1,000 feet above the published altitude you can successfully dead-stick an ILS.

In the end, it was two and a half days of intensive but enjoyable flying and ground school. I came away with a new appreciation for the airplane's capabilities and my ability to put it through its paces and to also fly it to the edge of the envelope if necessary in an emergency situation. "This isn't an exam. It's an experience," Hirsch repeated over and over to the group throughout the weekend. "It is a chance for you to explore your aircraft and its capabilities."

Like the rest of the group, I also came away signed off for a flight review and an instrument proficiency check along with an FAA Wings certificate. A certification of completion from BPPP typically results in lower hull and liability insurance premiums as well.

You'll pay about $1,000 for the experience. However, once you've completed it, you'll probably be less than satisfied flying with a flight instructor who is not as experienced in a Bonanza or Baron. A quickie flight review or IPC from a CFII who's mesmerized by the gee-whiz box in your panel and does ´ot know your airplane just won't do. And, oh by the way, if you win the 2001 AOPA's Sweepstakes Bonanza, don't worry about the fee because BPPP has donated a course to the winner.

Besides the conventional training, BPPP once a year also conducts a mountain flying course out of Colorado Springs, Colorado. For more information on the BPPP courses, see the Web site ( www.bppp.org) or telephone 970/377-1877.


E-mail the author at thomas.haines@aopa.org.