Pilot Briefing

Iceland sends a message

June 1, 2010

The April 2010 eruption of a volcano on Iceland may or may not have subsided by now, depending on the interplay between neighboring hot spots on that mid-Atlantic island. The offending unpronounceable volcano, Eyjafjallajokull (pronounced EYE-a-fyat-la-jo-kutl for those willing to give it a try), has a neighboring volcano that has a history of erupting after Eyjafjallajokull does. It’s called Katla, and it bears watching.

Meanwhile, all this serves as a warning for pilots to avoid ash clouds generated by volcanoes. Volcanic ash consists of tiny shards of glass and rock which can erode and clog turbine-engine fan- and compressor blades; abrade propellers, windshields, and leading edges; as well as clogging engine air intake filters. The result can be engine stoppage.

It’s worth emphasizing that Iceland doesn’t have the corner on volcanic activity. The United States is home to a total of 169 volcanoes, and 57 of them are active. Yes, your preflight briefing should mention any threats of volcanic ash in sigmets, but to stay ahead of the game you might want to check out the U.S. Geological Survey’s Volcano Hazards Website. There, you’ll find status reports, updates, and plenty of links to related information. For information updates on Icelandic eruptions, go online. And for plots of Icelandic ash plume trajectories, visit the U.K. Meteorological Office Website. —Thomas A. Horne


Extreme flying creates movie excitement

Helicopter pilot Rick Shuster never has a dull assignment. For the movie Mission Impossible III, he chased another helicopter at night through a field of wind turbines, their blades slowly turning to make electricity. Shuster has flown for the movie industry more than 20 years and has credits in 135 movies and 1,000 commercials. There have been scores of television episodes. He is one of a dozen pilots who fly for 90 percent of all the feature films made in the United States.

“My lucky break came on the Airwolf television series, for the 1986-87 season. I don’t want to say it’s difficult to become a movie pilot. There’s a lot of luck involved, a lot of skill. Almost all of the pilots have come from a broad background of flight instructing, medevac, sling-load transport, fire suppression, news, charter, and military work.

“When you are given the opportunity to fly for a director, and he says you need to be closer, tighter into the car you are following—if you can’t perform he is not going to call you again. [But] you also need to be able to say, ‘This is as close as we can get.’”

The helicopter chase through a field of turning windmill generators was only part of the action of Mission Impossible III. “I also flew under pedestrian bridges between buildings. There was eight feet of clearance on the blades. I popped up between the fifth and sixth bridge and climbed out. It was a big scene in the movie and very exciting,” Shuster said.

Shuster has had to work with non-professionals, too, as he did on the television show, Fear Factor. “When we normally do a helicopter-related stunt, it is carefully planned with the stunt persons involved. We look at every aspect of the stunt and, if need be, use a stunt person that is familiar with that stunt or at the very least has practiced it, taking into consideration every element that needs to be addressed,” Shuster said.

“On Fear Factor, we employed the same practice, but had to take it another step further by assuring that the stunt could be performed safely by contestants. The contestants saw the helicopter just prior to performing the challenge. One of the stunts I was flying had the contestant standing on the back of a speeding boat, grabbing a 30-foot rope ladder suspended from the helicopter.”


Who needs airports?

Most of us are picky about wanting to land on an airport, or at least on a runway made of pavement, grass, gravel, or dirt. Not Matthew Keller of Blue Ice Aviation near Palmer, Alaska, 40 miles northeast of Anchorage. He operates all summer, and often in the winter, without ever seeing an airport.

Keller is a Part 135 operator who does no airport-to-airport operations. “Everything we do is from our private airstrip to the mountains, glaciers, and river bars. We operate on wheels, skis, and wheel-skis. We put more hours on Super Cubs than any other Alaskan operation.” Keller and his father-in-law, who operates Meekin’s Air Service, use mostly Cubs but also one Cessna 185.

“We also work extensively for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game as well as the Department of the Interior. We radio track moose, sheep, bears, and caribou, and perform big-game surveys throughout south-central and western Alaska.

He has begun blogging flying stories of his adventures on blueiceaviation.com along with photos. You’ll find out about the day he off-loaded passengers on the wrong glacier, and read an account of dropping gallon jugs of cooking-stove fuel and bags of food from hundreds of feet onto new snow to feed hungry campers. Trivia fact for the day: Did you know that gallon jugs of fuel have only a 50/50 chance of survival when dropped from a Cub at low altitude onto snow? Keller says it’s true.


Doolittle raiders honored with B–25 formation

The remaining living Doolittle Tokyo Raiders were honored April 16 to 18 during ceremonies at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Dayton. The event included a flyover of 20 or more North American B–25 Mitchell medium bombers like those used in the raid on Japan.

There are believed to be eight remaining members of the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders. This is the sixty-eighth reunion of the group.

Before and after the museum reunion events, the B–25s were to stage out of Grimes Field in Urbana, Ohio.

It was on April 18, 1942, that 80 men took off from an aircraft carrier on a top-secret mission to bomb Japan. These men, led by Lt. Col. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle, came to be known as the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders. They provided a boost in morale to the American public.


Commercial rocket service a step closer

A two-year test program leading to commercial rocket service (sounds like Buck Rogers, doesn’t it?) has begun with a captive carry of the VSS (Virgin Spaceship) Enterprise aboard its carrier aircraft, the VMS (Virgin Mothership) Eve.

Follow-on flights in 2010 and 2011 will include gliding flights back to Earth, and test flights using the hybrid rocket motor. The ultimate goal is to prove the safety of the craft, clearing the way for passenger flights. The aircraft and spacecraft were built by Scaled Composites.

VMS Eve is twice as large as SpaceShipOne, its predecessor, and will carry six passengers and two pilots. It is 60 feet long with a 90-inch-diameter cabin, similar in size to a Falcon 900 executive jet. Each passenger gets the same seating position with two large windows—one side window and one overhead. If you don’t want to float free in space, you can still enjoy the view.


A safe way to get high

Greg Poe’s personal tragedy in 2002 helps kids stay off drugs. At the same time, he is introducing youngsters to aviation.

As a result of the drug-related death of his son, Ryan, in 2002, Poe started the Ryan J. Poe Foundation. The foundation supports his Elevate Your Life Program in which he talks to schoolchildren in the areas where he performs. The program kicked off in Tucson where winners of an essay contest got to ride with Poe in his airshow aircraft. The goal is to make presentations to 10,000 kids and offer scholarships in the future Space Camp or to an aeronautical school.

Poe’s presentation uses his own example of hard work and accomplishment when talking with middle-school-age children all over North America. Poe is scheduled at 24 airshows this year, with one to two Elevate Your Life presentations planned at each stop.

“Our program is designed to help kids reach their dreams and see the potential in themselves, and hopefully that awakened drive and passion helps keep them away from drugs and other bad influences that can wreck their futures,” Poe said.


Flight instructor of the year is Richard Greene

Capt. Richard A. Greene, president and owner of Century Air at Essex County Airport in Fairfield, New Jersey, is the 2010 Certificated Flight Instructor of the Year. The award, given by the FAA and aviation industry sponsors, was presented in March.

Greene, a retired American Airlines captain with more than 30,000 hours of flight experience, has been an active flight instructor for nearly 50 years.

Greene has owned and operated Century Air since 1975, where he employs a team of flight instructors. Greene’s flight training center offers primary through advanced and career pilot programs.

Al Marsh

Alton K. Marsh | "AOPA Pilot" Senior Editor, AOPA

AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Alton Marsh has been a pilot since 1970 and has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates, aerobatic training, and a commercial seaplane certificate.