Pilot Briefing

November 1, 2006

Filmmakers chronicles aviation's dark days

September 10 slid by with little fanfare, overshadowed by another anniversary more recently burned into the American conscience. The first grounding of civil aircraft did not occur on September 11, 2001; rather, it happened 41 years earlier under the guise of national security.

In 1960, Operation Skyshield grounded every commercial and private airplane in the United States and Canada as military aircraft controlled the airspace from the Arctic Circle to the Mexican border. Simulated Soviet air attacks were carried out on large cities while civilians ran defense drills. Skyshield II and III took place in 1961 and 1962, respectively.

What was the public reaction? Journalist Roger Mola says the airlines accepted the downtime with grace and even hosted open houses. There were airliner tours at international airports in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, crews readied Nike missile batteries in the suburbs. These were the days of backyard bomb shelters.

Mola, a consulting researcher for Air & Space and Smithsonian magazines, has produced a documentary film, Skyshield: This Is Only a Test, covering the "long war against communism" as a prequel to today's "long war against terrorism."

During Skyshield III, Mola says, North America ran its first and only test to clear the skies. Hundreds of Air Force jets were launched so that controllers could practice under attack conditions. The real deal wouldn't come for nearly four decades. See the Air & Space magazine Web site for more information.

Online Survey

Critters on planes

You don't have to see the movie Snakes on a Plane to have an on-board encounter with wildlife. Bats, cats, marmots, mice, frogs, spiders, bees, opossums, rats, raccoons, snakes, and squirrels have all made their way onto aircraft, according to respondents of our recent online survey. Listen to this from a Boeing 737 captain: "Rat snake in passenger compartment. Snake was seen several times by flight attendant. Wrapped itself around passenger's arm and armrest. Copilot, old farm boy, unwrapped snake from passenger's arm and the seat. Snake removed from aircraft to a grassy area. Snake then left." Frogs, meanwhile, can leap out of small spaces: "I had a large tree frog exit the wing-root vent of my Cessna 172 as I rotated on takeoff from Treasure Cay in the Bahamas. It landed on my bare leg and startled the daylights out of me. It hopped off and vanished into the airplane. Found it at the next annual, dead." Sometimes the reptiles are intended: "I've carried 3-foot alligators many times and one time several got out of their cages. Fortunately, they stayed in the rear of the cabin. Their mouths [were] held shut by cheap rubber bands." At least the alligators weren't capable of releasing noxious fumes: "A civit cat (spotted skunk) in a Bellanca wing. The animal must have come from a trip from Texas as we don't have them in Utah." Sometimes the unwanted passengers put up a fight: "Discovered a raccoon in the APU [auxiliary power unit] compartment of a [Sikorsky] UH-60 during preflight. First tried to flush him out with a water hose but ended up with a very wet raccoon. Then tried pepper spray but only ended up with a wet and very irate raccoon. Animal control worked." Sometimes the animal may not have transportation on its mind: "A female opossum took up residence in the backseat of my Stinson 108-2. She had shredded a box of Kleenex in preparation [for] making a nest. I got her evicted before motherhood came along." And be careful where you park the airplane: "I once checked out a rented 172. The last pilot had parked it with the right main on top of a fire ant mound. My wife sat down and immediately saw them all over the inside of the passenger side."

Year of the Twin Otter

Possibly the biggest new airplane you'll see on floats is moving one step closer to production. The 19-seat de Havilland Twin Otter could be making a comeback.

Viking Air, of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, recently acquired the type certificates for seven de Havilland heritage aircraft. Assuming there is enough interest, the twin turboprop airplane will be designated the Twin Otter Series 400.

The robust airplane is known for looking severe weather straight in the eye and smiling. In 2001, a Twin Otter executed a midwinter evacuation of a critically ill patient from the South Pole. NASA also uses one to carry out icing research. Some 844 DHC-6 Twin Otters were manufactured in Toronto from 1965 through 1989, and more than 600 are still in operation worldwide.

Viking Air is an aircraft modification, sales, and repair company specializing in de Havilland models. The company says 20-year-old 300-series Twin Otters on amphibious floats can fetch prices of more than $2 million.

A rule of thumb

To figure out when you should start your descent on a cross-country flight, take the altitude you need to lose, drop the zeros, and multiply by 3. That equals your distance in miles to begin your descent. Now take half of your groundspeed and add a zero. This is your rate of descent. For example: If you have 5,000 feet to lose and are making 150 knots, start the descent at 15 miles out at a rate of 750 fpm.

Dept. of R&D

On the sleepy side

Pilots, truckers, and students know how hard it can be to ward off the powerful tugs of sleepiness when they need to perform. What they're really fighting is the buildup of nitric oxide in a certain part of the brain, according to researchers at the Children's Hospital Boston and the University of Helsinki in Finland. The research could pave the way for new drugs to either prevent sleepiness or promote sleep. Getting the FAA to approve such drugs is another matter. A previous study on cats showed that when a compound called adenosine accumulates in their brains, they fall asleep. Another study on mildly sleep-deprived rats showed an increase in nitric oxide production in the basal forebrain (bottom-front of the brain). When researchers injected compounds to inhibit nitric oxide production, adenosine levels remained in check and prevented sleep. The latest findings were published in the Journal of Neurochemistry and European Journal of Neuroscience.

Members in the News

Ed Boyer, AOPA 206418, was recently chosen to receive the distinguished Elder Statesman of Aviation Award by the National Aeronautic Association. The award was established in 1954 "to honor outstanding Americans, who, by their efforts over a period of years, have made contributions of significant value to aeronautics, and have reflected credit upon America and themselves." Boyer, 69, is a founding member and past chairman of Angel Flight America. A professional engineer, pilot, and retired senior federal employee, he is the chief executive officer, the president, and a founder of Mercy Medical Airlift in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Rollins "Rol" Murrow, AOPA 567609, was selected for the 2006 Crown Circle Award in recognition of his outstanding achievement in the field of aerospace education. The award was to be presented at this year's National Conference on Aviation and Space Education (NCASE) in October. Murrow currently serves as executive director of the Wolf Aviation Fund, which provides grants and information for promoting and supporting general aviation. He also served as AOPA's northeast regional representative.

Positive trend for light piston singles

After peaking in 2001, light single-engine piston airplanes steadily lost value until the trend reversed in late 2003.

Vref, AOPA's aircraft value reference, then saw a positive trend begin where average values for the 1979 Tiger AA5B, 1983 Beechcraft C23 Sundowner, 1984 Cessna 172P, 1978 Cessna Cardinal, and the 1984 Piper Warrior and Archer climbed steeply, nearly returning in the third quarter of 2006 to the high-water value of $64,000. For complex single-engine piston airplanes, the outlook is not so rosy.

After peaking at $173,000 in late 2001, values have continued to drop. Looking at the 1982 Beechcraft Sierra, 1990 Beechcraft A36 Bonanza, 1978 Cessna 177RG, 1984 Cessna 182, 1984 Cessna 210N, 1990 Mooney M20M, 1990 Piper Arrow, and the 1990 Piper Saratoga SP, average values are now down around $152,000. Perform your own aircraft valuations using AOPA's free service on AOPA Online. Also, see Vref's Web site.

AOPA Pilot Photo Contest
Photo of the Month: Into Fall

AOPA members chose a photograph of a Cessna 172 taking off over a pastoral autumn landscape taken by AOPA Project Pilot mentor David Ziegler as the "Photo of the Month" in the August AOPA Pilot 2006 General Aviation Photography Contest. Ziegler was a student pilot last fall at New Jersey's Greenwood Lake Airport when a windy day forced him to put plan B into action: taking photos of airplanes rather than flying them.

The grand award winner and three finalists in five categories will be announced this month at AOPA Expo in Palm Springs and winning photography will be published in December's AOPA Pilot and online in mid-November. Look for details about next year's contest soon.

Hangars give Hollywood a helping hand

And the Oscar goes to...a hangar? Well, that might not happen, but airplane hangars are increasingly playing a major role in many Hollywood films these days. According to the Chicago Tribune, more producers are turning to large hangars in California for production rather than filming outside the country in Canada, the Czech Republic, or Australia because of the decline of the U.S. dollar. The former NASA/Boeing facility near Los Angeles has been the production site of such films as Spiderman and Catch Me if You Can. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End is being filmed at a hangar at Palmdale Regional Airport. The Chicago Tribune reports that more than $500,000 in hangar rental is expected to be generated for the city. — Alyssa J. Miller

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

  • Going Around in Circles. A low-stress approach to learning holding patterns.
  • Wind Academy. What lessons can you learn from a blustery day?
  • Staying Ahead of the Airplane. This concept can mean different things to different pilots, but everyone should practice these mental exercises.

The November issue mailed on September 27. Current AOPA members can add a subscription to AOPA Flight Training for $18 per year. For more information, call 800/872-2672.

Mooney CEO steps down, successor named

Mooney Aerospace Group announced September 26 that Dennis E. Ferguson would replace Gretchen L. Jahn as chief executive officer of Mooney Airplane Co. Ferguson has an extensive background in aviation: He was president of Airshow Inc., an avionics manufacturing company, for nearly 10 years. Before that, he was responsible for developing Dynatech/Acterna Corp.'s aviation markets.

"Dennis brings a strong background in the aviation industry and experience in transitioning a small, entrepreneurial company into a significant force in the marketplace," said Steven E. Karol, chairman of the Mooney Aerospace Group's board of directors. "Mooney is ready to take the next step in its revitalization, having improved its market share, operational efficiencies, and brand recognition over the past three years."

Jahn played a major role in Mooney's revitalization by increasing deliveries from 36 in 2004 to 85 in 2005 and introducing two new aircraft, the Acclaim and Ovation3, in 2006. Jahn also resigned as president of parent company Mooney Aerospace Group in order to pursue other opportunities. Her resignation took effect October 1; however, she will remain with Mooney as an advisor to oversee certification of the Acclaim that was unveiled in April. A successor has not yet been named for her position with Mooney Aerospace Group.

AOPA ePilot Headlines

Recent news from AOPA's weekly e-mail newsletter

Mustang set free
The Cessna Citation Mustang is the first of the new breed of very light jets to receive full FAA type certification for single-pilot, day/night, and VFR/IFR operations as well as operations in reduced vertical separation minimums airspace.

Brown wins Reno
The fastest race at the Reno National Championship Air Races is the Unlimited class, and this year it was taken by Mike Brown in his highly modified Sea Fury, called September Fury, at 481.6 mph.

116th record for Fossett
Steve Fossett, 62, and former NASA test pilot Einar Enevoldson, 74, unofficially broke the world absolute altitude record for a glider on August 29 by surfing mountain waves to 50,671 feet over Argentina.

A Superior engine
Superior Air Parts has unleashed its new 400-cubic-inch racing-inspired engine. The XP-400 is similar to the 220-horsepower version available to the homebuilt market, but the racing package gives it an extra kick.

Tiger woes
Tiger Aircraft owners have laid off all but two employees at the factory in Martinsburg, West Virginia, and terminated the contract of the former plant manager, following a brief effort to sell the company to a Florida man.

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