Pilot Briefing

May 1, 2006

A T-REX is born

Scientists are unleashing a multi-pronged effort to understand the structure and evolution of some of nature's most powerful and mysterious forces: mountain waves.

This represents a high-tech follow-on to earlier projects where gutsy glider pilots risked their skins by exploring the waves firsthand (see " In the Lee of Giants," December 2001 Pilot). Although wave soaring has become a cottage industry in mountainous areas, more needs to be understood to help forecasters predict where and when rotors, the horizontal tornados beneath wave crests, will form. The Sierra Nevada was picked because the mountains generate spectacular waves, thanks to the jagged, high-rising topography.

Called T-REX (Terrain-Induced Rotor Experiment), about 60 scientists from around the world, led by Vanda Grubisic of the Desert Research Institute, started the project March 1 and will continue the study through the end of April. On the ground, researchers were to probe the rotors with radars, lidars (laser-based radars), automated weather stations, wind pro-filers, and balloons. In the air, scientists were to observe the rotors and deploy sensors from an $81.5 million Gulfstream V, owned by the National Science Foundation and operated by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), high above the waves. This will mark the new jet's debut as a research tool. Two other aircraft, from the University of Wyoming, and a team of British government agencies were to fly at lower altitudes and aim cloud radars — smaller wavelength radar — at the rotors.

Besides studying rotors, scientists also were to look at pollutants and air particles that get moved around by waves. They want to know how the particles affect climate and air quality.

Science wouldn't be science without keen observation. Legendary NCAR scientist and early wave pioneer Joachim Kuettner is acting as the principal investigator on T-REX. Now 96, Kuettner first explored mountain waves in Germany in the 1930s. Flying an open-cockpit Rhone Buzzard glider, he broke a world record by climbing to 22,300 feet. "I've always wanted to explore the rotors," Kuettner said. "It's taken me this long."

Celebrate 172's birthday online

If you enjoyed AOPA Pilot's report on the 50th anniversary of the Cessna 172 (April Pilot), be sure to log on to the Web site where you'll find extended coverage of the venerable aircraft. Included on this special-feature Web site are an extended timeline of the Cessna 172 history, more historic photographs, additional stories from Pilot's article vault, and two entertaining and informative exclusive videos — "The First 172," which shows the first production 172 in flight, and "A 172 Reunion," in which the original test pilots on the 172 project reminisce about the 172's early years.

See "50th Anniversary of the Cessna 172" on AOPA Online.

Dept. of R&D

A sea change in aircraft manufacturing?

Studying the way in which seawater freezes may not seem like a gateway to building super-strong, lightweight structures, but scientists are continually amazed by what the ocean has to teach us. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have developed a porous, scaffoldinglike material that is said to be four times stronger than the material currently used for synthetic bone, as reported in the January 27 issue of the journal Science. In the future it could be used in aircraft manufacturing and computer hardware. When sea ice freezes, crystals of pure ice form layers. Impurities are expelled and trapped in channels between the ice crystals. The same freezing process could be used to cast a layered material that is both tough and lightweight, similar to a substance found in some mollusk shells.

Rainbow-painted jet makes dreams come true

It's got to be the most colorful jet you've ever seen. Painted in rainbow colors, the Learjet 35 named the Dream Chaser gave children rides in five western cities to help the Make-A-Wish Foundation celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary. The children all got to sit in the cockpit and talk to the pilots before they flew. Each child received a hat and T-shirt and got to write his or her name on the fuselage. "Most of our employees volunteered their own time to make this project possible," said Lynn Krogh, president of International Jet Aviation Services, an Englewood, Colorado, charter company that donated the jet. "It gives us all a chance to give back something to the community, and it is rewarding to bring something special to the lives of the Make-A-Wish children." In February the jet was in (besides Denver) Colorado Springs, Albuquerque, Phoenix, and Orange County, California.

A puzzling Web site enhances aviation learning

Thanks to technology, you can make old-fashioned word search puzzles that will keep your children busy on those long cross-countries. Best of all, you can use aviation terms to expose them to the world of flight. See Discovery School's Puzzlemaker Web site, where you also can make cryptograms, mazes, and math squares and print them out. If you get confused, just ask your children to help you out.

Members in the News

Cheryl Stearns, AOPA 3963987, has received the prestigious 2005 Wiley Post Spirit Award for "exemplifying the innovative engineering and pioneering spirit of the late Wiley Post." In 1977 Stearns became the first woman member of the elite Army Golden Knights parachute team and went on to win many national and international championships. Stearns holds the world record for the most parachute jumps (188) by a woman in a 24-hour period. She is also an accomplished pilot, having competed in aerobatics. Stearns became captain on a Boeing 737 and is currently serving as a first officer on a Boeing 757/767. Stearns' next challenge is called Project Strato Quest, which will involve her leaping out of a helium-filled balloon at 130,000 feet. She plans to wear a pressure suit of her own design, reflecting the earlier efforts by Wiley Post.

Online Survey

Flying unusual aircraft

From sailplanes with jet engines to rare military aircraft, AOPA members have piloted some unusual flying machines, according to our recent online survey. Among them is the Aeronca Lancer. It had two engines mounted on a high wing and tricycle gear. The fuselage and the struts resemble the Champ, but beyond that you're on your own. When was the last time you saw a two-seat single-engine McClish Funk B85C? Only 41 are currently on the U.S. registry. Or what about the even rarer Derringer D-1 two-seat twin?

Many of the aircraft that made our list were water-friendly, or at least designed that way. One pilot was the second person to fly the two-seat Taylor Coot, an amphibian designed by Molt Taylor. Three are reportedly in New Zealand. An FAA-designated engineering representative (DER) and test pilot pegged the Sikorsky S-38B as the most unusual after flying more than 150 aircraft models. If you saw the airplane at Oshkosh, you'd remember its high wing, twin radial engines, and zebra-striped fuselage. In the warbird world, one pilot flew a Beechcraft T-34A. Unusual? Maybe not. But this one was only one of five such aircraft to be converted into a light attack aircraft for the Falkland Islands conflict. It had hard points on the wings, drop tanks, and weapons-select panels in the cockpit.

Which aircraft gets the nod for the most unusual operating environment? Try the German Focke-Achgelis Fa-330 "Sandpiper" built during World War II. It was an engineless autogyro, designed to be towed by surfaced submarines as observation posts. The pilot talked to the sub via telephone and in an emergency could jettison the blades and rotor hub, automatically opening a parachute. Some 200 were built but few remain. One pilot who answered the survey got to test it out over a runway while working as an apprentice at an aircraft company in 1947.

AOPA ePilot Headlines

Recent news from AOPA's weekly e-mail newsletter

Thielert buys Superior
The German firm Thielert, manufacturer of the Centurion jet fuel/diesel aircraft engine, took control of Superior Air Parts in a reported $10 million deal.

Businessman hit with $6 million EPA bill
An Anaheim, California, pilot and owner of a business selling surplus instruments made from the 1940s through the 1980s got hit with a $6 million bill from the Environmental Protection Agency for cleanup of instruments using radium (once used to make them readable in the dark).

Piper workers decertify union
The New Piper Aircraft Inc. employees voted 401-307 to decertify the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers as their collective bargaining representative. The union represented 750 workers who were in the first year of a three-year contract.

Plans for LoPresti Fury move forward
Fifty-four communities throughout the country are seeking the plant that LoPresti Speed Merchants will build to produce its LoPresti Fury, based on the SwiftFury that was first offered in 1989 but never built.

Garmin offers new display
Garmin has redesigned and modernized the MX20 display. Called the GMX 200, it features a 6.5-inch-diagonal screen.

New Orleans airport back to business
After suffering millions of dollars in damages from Hurricane Katrina, reconstruction is well under way for a historic hangar at New Orleans' Lakefront Airport.

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.

Commemorative flight arrives in Ecuador

A flight that literally inspired a generation of pilots 75 years ago was celebrated as AOPA member Theodore Gildred Jr., ambassador to Argentina during the Reagan administration, recreated his father's 1931 flight from Lindbergh Field in San Diego to Ecuador.

Gildred used his Pilatus PC-12 named Ecuador III and touched down right on schedule at 10:52 a.m. on March 31 in Quito, Ecuador. His crew was comprised of his two sons and another AOPA member, Erik Lindbergh, grandson of Charles Lindbergh.

The landing was 75 years to the day from the date Gildred's father landed a Ryan B-5 Brougham in Quito on a goodwill flight inspired by Charles Lindbergh's transatlantic flight. (Ryan aircraft also built Lindbergh's airplane, the Spirit of St. Louis.)

The current flight covered 4,200 miles and took seven days as the former ambassador and his team visited officials in major cities throughout Latin America to rekindle the spirit of goodwill that served as its mission.

Gildred Jr. celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of his father's flight in 1981 by flying a Stinson Reliant from San Diego to Ecuador. He left the aircraft there with permission of its owner, the San Diego Aerospace Museum, where Gildred Jr. was a board member, to start a new aviation museum in Ecuador.

Gildred Jr.'s sons have pledged to repeat the flight in 2031 on the flight's 100th anniversary. — Alton K. Marsh and Warren Morningstar

GA Market Watch

After peaking in the second quarter of 2001 with an average price of $171,870, prices have steadily fallen for retractable-gear single-engine airplanes, according to the Vref Light Single Index. Looking at the Beechcraft Sierra and A36 Bonanza; Cessna Cardinal RG, 182R, and 210M; Mooney M20M; and Piper Arrow and Saratoga SP, the average price now stands at $153,630, similar to what it was back in 1998. Perform your own aircraft valuations using AOPA's free service on AOPA Online. Also, see Vref's Web site.

A rule of thumb

Clouds need to be about 4,000 feet thick or more to produce significant precipitation. The heavier the precipitation, the thicker the clouds are likely to be.
Source: Aviation Weather, published by the FAA and National Weather Service

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

  • Spring flight lesson. A bush pilot and his flying offspring travel from Alaska to Florida in Piper Cubs.
  • Dropping out. Why do some people quit learning to fly? See our tips to prevent you from joining them.

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