Pilot Briefing

March 1, 2006

Rocket racing anyone?

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson in January officially welcomed rocket-powered aircraft racing to his state, another component of a burgeoning aerospace industry that promises to bring big dreams and big paychecks.

From very light jets at Eclipse Aviation in Albuquerque to civilian spaceflight at Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic spaceport near Las Cruces, the state is now poised to become the hub for what Richardson described as "Nascar in the sky."

"The Rocket Racing League is proud to call New Mexico its home," said Granger Whitelaw, chief executive officer of the Rocket Racing League. "This partnership will not only serve as a launch pad for economic growth, but for a future where children are drawn to science by the roar of rocket planes."

That roar is set to begin next October when pilots will compete in aircraft called Mark-1 X-Racers, built on the successful test flights of the EZ-Rocket airplane. The Rocket Racing League has entered into a partnership with XCOR Aerospace, of Mojave, California, to build the first generation of X-Racers. They will run on liquid oxygen and kerosene, producing crowd-pleasing 30-foot bright orange flames, and hit speeds of 300 mph. Each racer is expected to cost $1 million. They will race within a 3-D track that is one mile high, two miles long, and a half-mile across. Each racer will have a head-up display showing its own virtual racetrack in the sky that will keep it separated from the other racers for the duration of the race.

The Rocket Racing League was launched by New York-based X Prize founder Peter Diamandis. The X Prize sponsored the award given to SpaceShipOne's development team for its successful suborbital flights. Diamandis envisions a circuit where races will be held throughout the country with the semifinals in Reno, Nevada, and the finals in Las Cruces.

Advising the league is airshow performer Sean D. Tucker. Erik Lindbergh, grandson of Charles Lindbergh, has signed up as a pilot. Former astronaut and Columbia commander Rick Searfoss is serving as the league's chief pilot.

Magnetic north is getting jerked around

The North Pole is on the move and there's nothing you can do about it except keep your charts up to date for those pesky changes in declination.

Over the past century, despite 400 years of relative stability, the Earth's magnetic North Pole has moved about 620 statute miles out into the Arctic Ocean. Paleomagnetist Joseph Stoner of Oregon State University says that at the current rate it will move to Siberia within 50 years. That means no more northern lights for Alaska and northern Canada.

Could this result in a polar reversal? "This may be part of a normal oscillation and it will eventually migrate back toward Canada," Stoner said. "There is a lot of variability in its movement." The last reversal occurred some 780,000 years ago.

Calculations of magnetic north from historical records only go back 400 years. Hard science is needed to go beyond that. Stoner and his colleagues have examined the sediment records from several Arctic lakes. Small magnetic particles called "magnetite" record the Earth's magnetic field at the time they were deposited. Stoner said that in general, magnetic north moves back and forth between northern Canada and Siberia, but it also can veer sideways.

"There appears to be a 'jerk' of the magnetic field that takes place every 500 years or so," he said. "The bottom line is that geomagnetic changes can be a lot more abrupt than we ever thought."

Talking in fixes

You no doubt have HEARD (Detroit) of navigation fixes that mean something, like SAKIC (Denver) that refers to the captain of the local hockey team, or FRODO (South Dakota) that refers to a hobbit character in The Lord of the Rings. The Houston ROKITs basketball team has its own intersection, including two that pay tribute to the team's SSLAM DUUNK ability. There are many that make SENSE (Wyoming): MICKI near Disney World; BOENG near Seattle; BEACH above Hawaii; AGGEE near Texas A&M University; ALAMO near San Antonio; HOWDY in Texas; GIJOE near the Army's Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; COKEM at Atlanta, headquarters for Coca-Cola; DAWGS near the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia; ATOMC near Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and DUBYA above Washington, D.C., not that far from the White House.

There are others, while FEWER (Alabama), that RAISE (Pacific Ocean south of Hawaii) questions. For example, why are the GIRLS in Wisconsin, while the LADYS are in Georgia? What's so NASTY about Pennsylvania or NAKED about Alaska? It's cold in Alaska, and you'd think GLOVE would be more appropriate, but no, that's on the Texas-Oklahoma border. And why is the EARTH in Florida (the SPACE [Ohio] center, maybe?) while your DADDY is in West Virginia?

So far these intersection names tend to AMUSE (northwest of Austin, Texas) or AMAZE (Oshkosh), but there are some that could get people ANGRY (Phoenix). These would include BARFF (Arkansas), GLOOM (Columbus, Ohio), and GUILT (Aspen, Colorado). OK, maybe that last one makes sense; you ski, play HOOKY (well off the east coast of Florida) from work, and cover it with a PHONY (Provincetown, Massachusetts) ALIBI (Houston). Why can't they all be nice, like CLEAN (Idaho)? Those are the FACTS (Washington). — ALTON (Montana) K. MARSH (Virginia)

AOPA Online survey

Bird strikes: 'Nothing that a hose can't fix'

There was enough blood and gore in the answers to this month's survey question for a Stephen King novel. No matter what you're flying, day or night, look out! Some 85 percent of our more than 1,200 survey respondents said they had experienced bird strikes, with many reporting multiple incidents.

If you haven't had one yourself, it goes something like this: "Saw what looked like a speck of dirt on the windshield grow to a black dot. Before I knew it, it sounded like a sledgehammer hit the windshield." While most of the strikes resulted in bloody messes, a B-52 pilot flew through more than 20 starlings or wrens on takeoff, killing an engine. A Boeing 727-300 pilot also suffered a damaged engine on a takeoff and had to return to the airport. Another jet jockey flying an F-15 had to fly an instrument approach because blood ruined forward visibility. And several geese caused more than $100,000 damage to a Falcon 900EX.

At the lower end of the airspeed indicator, a Cessna 172 pilot said chillingly, "Wing severely damaged and the plane crashed." Another Skyhawk (unfortunate name for this bit) pilot said a bird was ingested by the heater muff and cooked on the exhaust. "Can you say KFC?" the pilot asked. Despite having on-board radar, bats aren't immune to midair collisions. "A bat hit the strut of the 172. Half the bat was missing, but the other half stuck to the strut."

Thanks to the Internet, you can join a community of bird-strike victims. Here's an example: "Hit goose at night. Lodged into tail section of a Mooney 201 and almost brought down plane. Google 'Goose Encounter' for full story and pictures."

Members in the News

Judy Rice, AOPA 2787308, has received the University Aviation Association's Laursen Award for her outstanding contributions in the field of space education. Rice serves as the deputy director of aerospace education for the Civil Air Patrol.

Ed Boyer, AOPA 206418, chairman of the board of Angel Flight America and chief executive officer and president of Mercy Medical Airlift, has been honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Virginia Department of Aviation.

Skywritings

Meryl Getline's first airline flight lasted only 17 minutes, from San Diego to Long Beach, California, but it proved to be a pivotal moment in the 11-year-old's life. For whatever reason, she knew she wanted to fly and, more specifically, fly airliners for a living. She had pestered her parents into buying the ticket and it was, despite a battle with airsickness, as she put it, "mind-bogglingly wonderful, simply and utterly glorious." That flight set in motion a series of events that would ultimately land Getline in the captain's seat of a Boeing 777. But it wasn't easy. Getline began her climb, fraught with setbacks and sidesteps, when there was much hostility toward women in the cockpit. In fact, she got her first, albeit unsuccessful, airline interview because the company thought "Meryl" was exclusively a man's name. The book The World at My Feet: The True (and Sometimes Hilarious) Adventures of a Lady Airline Captain, however, is less about gender politics and more about a personal struggle to reach a goal, no matter what. Getline's crisp and conversational writing style delivers crackling humor as the reader takes an unpredictable voyage around the globe. The 247-page paperback sells for $17.95 and is available in bookstores or from the author's Web site.

AirlinerTech: Convair Twins Volume 12 is the latest installment in the series on classic and modern airliners published by Specialty Press. Authors and historians Nicholas Veronico and William Larkins provide a comprehensive look at the development of the postwar aircraft developed by Consolidated Vultee Aircraft that began with the piston-driven prototype Model 110 and continued through the turboprop Convair 640. Filled with photos, Convair Twins gives the fan of airline and commercial aircraft history a lot to consider. Other series by Specialty Press include the WarbirdTech Series, with close looks at military aircraft from World War II and the Korean Conflict through the modern day. AirlinerTech: Convair Twins Volume 12 can be ordered from Specialty Press for $16.95 plus shipping online or by calling 800/895-4585.

A rule of thumb

No windsock? If you're near a body of water, look for sea gulls or ducks. They consistently head into the wind while on the water. Moored boats, however, can be deceiving. Currents and tides can swing them away from upwind headings.
Source: How to Fly Floats

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

  • 10 Reasons to Go Around. And we're betting you can add more to this list.
  • Avoiding Bird Strikes. How to keep your distance from our feathered friends.
  • Phantom Movements. Are you a yoke tweaker or a throttle fiddler? These often-unconscious habits get in the way of smooth flying.

The March issue mailed on February 1. Current AOPA members can add a subscription to AOPA Flight Training for $18 per year. For more information, call 800/872-2672.

AOPA ePilot Headlines

Recent news from AOPA's weekly e-mail newsletter

Spectrum jet flies
The Spectrum 33, a new arrival on the light-jet scene, made its maiden flight on January 6 in Spanish Fork, Utah.

Symphony gets parachute
A rocket-launched emergency parachute is now available as a factory-installed option on the Symphony SA 160.

Eclipse certification slips
Because of supplier delays, Eclipse Aviation had to push back, from March to late in the second quarter of 2006, the certification date for the Eclipse 500.

Diamond twin cleared for ice
Diamond Aircraft has received in Europe a 187-pound gross weight increase and certification for flight into known icing conditions for the DA42 Twin Star. FAA validation was expected to soon follow.

Airshow star dies
Airshow performer Eric Beard died January 6 in the crash of a Piper Seneca in Burlington, Washington, on a flight for a cargo carrier.

Tecnam introduces a twin
Tecnam Aircraft, of Italy, is developing a four-seat piston twin-engine airplane powered by Rotax engines.

Ibis gets certified
Ibis Aerospace, of the Czech Republic, received European certification for the Ae270 single-engine turboprop airplane. FAA certification was expected to follow soon.

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