Pilot Briefing

August 1, 2006

Earn your bat wings

A German company has developed strap-on rigid composite wings known as Gryphons that will allow elite special forces troops to fly as silently as a butterfly but sting like a bee.

ESG is behind the wings and parachute system that will allow troops to jump from aircraft and hit speeds of up to 124 mph, which will reduce exposure to enemy fire. Drop aircraft also can remain farther away from target areas. The wing comes with a guidance and stabilization system, and the company says it can be used in all types of weather. Once the paratrooper reaches the target, a parachute launches and carries him to the ground. Weapons, ammo, and food can be stowed inside the wing. The next stage is to attach a turbojet drive system that will extend the wing's range. There is no word on whether the product will be offered to the civilian market.

Australian adventurer Felix Baumgartner successfully demonstrated the technology in 2003 when he jumped out of an airplane at 30,000 feet and flew across the English Channel with a 6-foot wing strapped to his back. Initially, Baumgartner told the BBC that he hit speeds of 220 mph, but for most of the free fall he slowed to 135 mph. He spent three years in preparation for the feat. His training included strapping himself to the top of a speeding Porsche.

Dept. of R&D

High-tech bird watching

Researchers at the University of Oxford are attaching cameras and a compact motion measurement unit to birds to find out how in the heck they know how to fly so well. Graham Taylor has been testing the system in Denmark on a trained steppe eagle. Several cameras are mounted on the bird's back or belly and point at the head, wings, and tail. The motion measurement unit weighs less than 50 grams and provides 3-D information on the orientation, rotation, and acceleration of the eagle. Research data may be used to design wing-morphing aircraft.

Notice of annual meeting of members

The annual meeting of the Members of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association will be held at 12 noon on Saturday, September 16, 2006, at Wings Field, Ambler, Pennsylvania, for the purpose of receiving reports and transacting such other business as may properly come before the meeting, including the election of Trustees.— John S. Yodice, Secretary

Scientists find ways to better understand hurricanes

As the hurricane season gets in its full swing, NASA scientists are finding better ways to forecast surface winds by looking above instead of below.

For several years, scientists have been studying hot towers, the towering high clouds in a hurricane's eye wall. Hot towers can generate heavy rainfall and release heat when water vapor condenses to form rain. Scientists say that they also are a window into the mystery of how hurricanes grow stronger. A single hot tower is typical, so a rapid sequence of towers indicates that something unusual is going on within the hurricane.

Looking at statistics from many hurricanes, researchers have concluded that if hot towers exist in the eye wall at least 33 percent of the time during a three-hour period, a hurricane's destructive winds have an 82-percent chance of intensifying. More hot towers means a greater chance that the storm will become stronger.

A rule of thumb

To convert the climb gradient to the climb rate in hundreds of feet, divide your current groundspeed by 60 and multiply by the climb gradient.

If you are required to gain 300 feet per nautical mile and you have a 140-knot groundspeed, your rate of climb is 700 fpm.
Source: GoodWay Flight Planner Web site

Online Survey

How airplanes get damaged

Hangars, golf carts, and towbars can present costly dangers to general aviation aircraft if they are not respected, avoided, or removed. In our latest online survey, we asked members if they had ever damaged an aircraft, and out of 1,544 respondents, 1,100 (71 percent) said yes. Mostly, the damages stemmed from silly ground maneuvers such as: "Backed the airplane into the hangar at night with my car still in the hangar." Once inside the hangar, the airplane may not be safe. One member said he was installing steel shelves when one side got away from him, slicing the fuselage of a Piper L-4. If not removed before flight, towbars can become dangerous projectiles. One member said simply: "Stuck towbar in wing by way of turning prop."

Sometimes a chain of mistakes begins before starting the engine. "Plane with no starter, in a hurry, plane not at usual tiedown, too much throttle, broke tiedown, jumped chocks, hit pole." Remember the adage about how an airplane isn't finished being flown until it's back in the hangar? "I landed in on a wonderful grass strip. Made one of the most perfect landings ever. The passengers did not know when we contacted earth. I put the nose down, applied brakes, and instantly began a spiral to the right, hit a ditch, and left wing hit ground." Even baggage can become dangerous when it's not stowed properly. "I turned over a Citabria on landing because of a briefcase on the backseat restricting the front stick movement on flare." Or, a passenger can cause a similar problem. "In a low-altitude turn in an emergency landing in a glider I was not able to level the wings because the fat leg [thigh] of the passenger in the front seat prevented full throw of the stick."

Terrain can be a lot less forgiving than, say, a fence. "Distracted by package I was dropping, crashed into glacier." Another pilot had an interesting controlled flight into terrain incident in instrument conditions at 9,300 feet over the Greenland icecap. "Twin Comanche still there since 1986, but we are, gratefully, not there but still here." One of the hardest parts about seaplane flying is docking. "Ran a seaplane into a dock during high seas in the Indian Ocean." And finally, are you wondering where that rag went? "A rag left in a cowl opening eventually broke the alternator belt and caught fire. We landed safely."

GA market watch

It's looking like the buyer's market is continuing for purchasers of used complex single-engine airplanes, according to Vref's newsletter for the second quarter of 2006. So far there has been no recovery from the 2005 hurricane season. Nearly all complex singles from Beechcraft Bonanzas to Piper Saratogas have been losing value, following a yearlong trend. The 1990 Beechcraft A36 Bonanza fell $9,000, the 1990 Mooney TLS dropped $10,000, and the Saratoga SP went down $3,000. Prices for Cessna Skyhawks, Piper Archers, and Beechcraft Musketeers have remained flat. Vref reported one bright spot for owners of utility aircraft. Prices for the Cessna 206 are up and the market remains good for the Piper Cherokee Six. Perform your own aircraft valuations using AOPA's free members-only service on AOPA Online. Also, see Vref's Web site.

Members in the News

Gerald Lautenschlager, AOPA 556742, has received the FAA's Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award for his more than 50 years of service to aviation. It is the most prestigious award the FAA offers in the field of maintenance.

What's in the August issue of AOPA Flight Training?

  • Cross-Country Smoothers. Tips to keep you comfortable, organized, and safe.
  • Squawk It Up. Understanding your altitude-encoding transponder.
  • The Art of Airmanship. More than just stick-and-rudder skills, these are the traits that make you a better pilot.

The August issue mailed June 28. Current AOPA members can add a subscription to AOPA Flight Training for $18 per year. For more information, call 800/872-2672.

Crop-dusting photo impresses members

AOPA members chose Bob Minkin's photograph of a crop duster at work as the May "Photo of the Month" in the AOPA Pilot 2006 General Aviation Photography Contest. Minkin was flying solo in his 1968 Piper Cherokee 180 over the Sacramento River Delta. "Soon after departing Rio Vista, in the corner of my eye, I noticed the crop duster and was struck by the cool asymmetrical pattern and colors," he said. Using a Nikon D70 and an 85mm Nikkor lens in RAW format, he set his camera at a high shutter speed to help with the vibration and shot through the pilot-side air vent. "Engaging my autopilot helps a lot while keeping one eye on my photo subject and my other eye on traffic," he added. The contest runs through August, and you can submit your own general aviation photographs every month. Cash prizes totaling more than $7,700 will be awarded, including a grand prize of $1,750.

One Six Right to go on national tour

The documentary film One Six Right is going on a national high-tech digital tour. Starting in Oshkosh in July and ending in Hollywood, California, in November, aviation enthusiasts should not miss their chance to experience the film in all its glory thanks to a new Sony high-definition projector. The dates for the one-night screenings were being worked out at press time, but the tour will visit, besides Oshkosh and Hollywood, Dallas; Indianapolis; Altanta; Boston; Bethesda, Maryland; Washington, D.C.; San Francisco; San Diego; Seattle; and Chicago. The film celebrates the unsung hero of aviation — the local airport. It traces the history, romance, and struggles of Southern California's Van Nuys Airport. More than 25,000 copies of the film have been sold on DVD. For more information on the national tour, visit the Web site.

AOPA ePilot Headlines

Recent news from AOPA's weekly e-mail newsletter

Cessna considers LSA
Cessna Aircraft will decide in early 2007 if it wants to enter the light-sport-aircraft market. The company was to unveil a full-scale proof-of-concept model on July 24 during EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2006.

Tiger funding remains on hold
Tiger Aircraft, of Martinsburg, West Virginia, had hoped for additional investments by the end of April to allow it to fulfill 10 to 20 orders for new aircraft but did not get the money. The company continues to provide technical support and parts sales to existing customers.

Piper Cub honored
The original site of the Taylor/Piper Cub Factory that manufactured these classics was commemorated in June at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford in Pennsylvania.

Extreme airshow program suspended
The Association of Competition Airshow Pilots has suspended further performances of its Extreme Airshow Challenge series. A performance in the Atlanta area has been canceled, and others are temporarily suspended in hopes that additional funding can be found.

An airplane dressed for battle
American Legend Aircraft is now offering a new paint scheme for its light-sport-airplane model. Called the Legend Combat, the airplane comes in military markings, reminiscent of the Piper L-4, L-18, and L-21.

Piaggio improves twin turboprop
Piaggio Aero Industries has certified an updated version of its speedy Avanti twin pusher turboprop. The Avanti II features enhanced avionics and engines.

Now you can receive a customized version of the free AOPA ePilot e-mail newsletter tailored to your interests. To customize your weekly newsletter, see AOPA Online.


Situated in the Pacific Northwest, Pearson Field is one of the oldest continually operating airports in the United States. Historian Bill Alley brings it all to life with a collection of more than 200 black-and-white photos and detailed captions in Pearson Field: Pioneering Aviation in Vancouver and Portland. The journey begins with the arrival of airships in 1905 and continues through the Golden Age of Aviation, featuring famous barnstormers and parachute jumpers. The first interstate airmail flight landed at the field in 1912, and the field was the site of the world's largest spruce mill during World War I. The 128-page soft-cover book sells for $19.99 and is available from bookstores or through the publisher, Arcadia Publishing.

Young professional pilots get all the glory. Throw in a turbulent decade like the 1960s and you have the makings of some colorful stories. Al Rioni has published Catch the Wind: A Pilot's Memoirs about Rioni's adventures and misadventures in building an aviation career. The 300-page soft-cover book sells for $15.95. To order, visit the Web site.

Arnold Griese has written a new biography, Bush Pilot: Early Alaska Aviator Harold Gillam, Sr.: Lucky or Legend? The book not only tells the story of a pilot with a legendary ability to fly the weather, but also gives insight into aviation in Alaska in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Photos are spread throughout the 340-page paperback, which can be purchased through the publisher's Web site or through Amazon.com for $19.95.