Pilot Briefing

Here come the barnstormers

March 1, 2010

This could have been written in the 1920s, although barnstorming then wasn’t done on a schedule. The American Barnstormers Tour continues its multiyear run with a new tour in the central United States from June to July. If you live in Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, or Minnesota, you’re in luck.

You can take a ride for $60, or if you’re a bit more adventurous, a “hands-on” flight in a Stearman is $200. That means you get to fly it.

Here’s the schedule: Mason City, Iowa, June 17 to 19; Tea, South Dakota, June 20 to 22; Watertown, South Dakota, June 23; Aberdeen, South Dakota, June 24 to 26; Bismarck, North Dakota, June 27 to 29; Jamestown, North Dakota, June 30 to July 2; and Alexandria, Minnesota, July 3 to 5.

Some of the aircraft you’ll find, among the 15 to 20 expected, are a 1928 Travel Air, a 1929 Alexander Eaglerock and Fleet, several 1929 Travel Air aircraft, a 1929 Stearman and Waco, a 1931 Stinson, a 1935 Fairchild, a 1936 and 1941 Waco, a 1941 White New Standard D–25, and a 1943 Stearman.


Ride a B–25 this summer

Kissimmee Air Museum in Florida was once known as “Bombertown” because of all the bombers that have been restored there. Many of them will return this spring, including the B–25J known as Panchito that was restored at Kissimmee 15 years ago.

You’ll be able to tour it while it is on static display, and on April 2 to 5 you’ll be able to ride in it for $400 per person. Operated by the Delaware Aviation Museum Foundation, it is normally based in Georgetown, Delaware. Seating is limited. Call 407-870-7366 for reservations.

The bomber was restored to celebrate the history of the 393 Bomb Squadron, 41st Bomb Group, 7th Air Force, where this particular bomber served.


Paper pilot certificates expire this month

Your paper pilot certificate will expire March 31. You’ll need to either go online to convert paper pilot certificates to plastic, or fill out a form and mail it to the FAA in Oklahoma City. Student certificates are not affected. Some nonpilot certificates, such as those for maintenance technicians, are good for another three years.

The expiration of the certificates is listed in FAA regulation 61.19(h): “Duration of pilot certificates. Except for a temporary certificate issued under 61.17 or a student pilot certificate issued under paragraph (b) of this section, the holder of a paper pilot certificate issued under this part may not exercise the privileges of that certificate after March 31, 2010.”

You may also ask the FAA to issue you a new certificate number that is not your Social Security number. The new plastic certificates won’t show your original date of issue, so you may want to store the paper certificate to remind you of the issue date.


AOPA goes to Friedrichshafen

This year’s AERO Friedrichshafen trade show and aircraft exhibit will feature a new level of participation by AOPA and its international organization—the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations (IAOPA).

Held from April 8 through 11 at Friedrichshafen, Germany, the AERO show continues to grow in popularity as Europe’s largest general aviation-only event. On display will be a range of aircraft, from very light jets to light sport aircraft to sailplanes and motorgliders—plus everything in between. A special emphasis is placed on alternative powerplants and fuels, so the show has an eclectic flavor that’s hard to find in the United States.

This year’s AERO will feature an expanded IAOPA presence, to include presentations on current and future European aviation issues. Special emphasis will be placed on IAOPA’s initiatives aimed at reducing the costs of flying and aviation maintenance, and providing information on the instrument rating’s significance in European airspace.

AOPA and IAOPA President Craig Fuller will attend AERO and speak at the opening reception. Fuller will also address policy trends and issues in several presentations at IAOPA’s expanded booth area, and at seminars with other key participants.

For more information about AERO Friedrichshafen, go online. Friedrichshafen is located in the extreme south of Germany, on the shore of Lake Constance.

—Thomas A. Horne


New products: Wildfire electric bike

Besides helping you get around on the ground, a new folding electric bicycle from Wildfire Motors will get you lots of attention. During our various airport and off-airport excursions on the clever bike, we got quite the gawks from passersby as we whizzed by on what looks like a conventional bike—but did so with feet leisurely planted on the still pedals.

The 54-pound bike folds down to easily fit into the aft cabin of a Beechcraft Bonanza A36 or Piper PA–32, but will likely fit other larger cabin aircraft as well—solving one of a pilot’s major ground-bound issues: How to get from the airport to the restaurant in town. The folded dimensions are 42x29x15 inches. To fold the steel frame, flip a hasp near the pedals to fold the front half back around the aft half, and then fold the handlebars down. It takes about 15 seconds.

At your favorite fly-out destination, lift the bike out, unfold it, and ride away. The Wildfire 20-inch bike can be ridden like a conventional bicycle. Or flip the switch on the handlebar to the “assist” mode and the bike’s electric motor kicks in to help propel it while you pedal. Or for an even less-strenuous workout, flip to the “auto” setting and let the electric motor do all the work, propelling you along at a comfortably brisk speed.

The electric power comes from a lithium ion battery mounted in the frame beneath the seat. The battery can be recharged up to 2,000 times and powers the bike in the assist mode for up to 50 miles between charges or 30 miles in auto mode. The electric motor itself is housed in the hub of the rear wheel. We didn’t ride the bike that far but even after numerous trips of several miles each, the battery indicator on the handlebar didn’t show any degradation of the battery level. The bike also includes an electric horn and headlight.

The bike lists for $899, but Maryland’s Braddock Mountain Outfitters, owned by a pilot, is offering a pilot special of $699. For more information and complete specs, see the Web site.

—Thomas B. Haines


1911 airplane found in Antarctica

Pieces of a 1911 Vickers monoplane, the first model ever built by the famous English company, were discovered in Antarctica by a Mawson’s Huts Foundation research team.

In 1911, Antarctic expeditions were the equivalent of contemporary moon exploration. Like the later Apollo moon missions, by 1911 public interest had dwindled and something was needed to renew the excitement. Australian explorer Sir Douglas Mawson decided an airplane might do the trick. He bought a Vickers REP monoplane from England, although he didn’t have enough money, and asked to pay for it later.

The aircraft entered an uncontrollable slip, aggravated by untimely turbulence, during flight trials in Australia prior to Mawson’s expedition. The wings were destroyed and have been lost to history. Mawson decided to take the fuselage and Gnome engine anyway, and use it as an air tractor to pull sleds across the ice. The aircraft engine wouldn’t start in such a cold climate, so the engine was returned to Australia when the expedition was over, but the airframe was left behind. A few joints of the frame were found along the shore of the abandoned Mawson camp on New Year’s Day 2010.

The aircraft will never be reconstructed. There is a propeller for it in a museum in western Australia, a wheel in Tasmania at the Australian Antarctic Division, and part of the tail and a seat at Cape Denison, Australia.


South Pole filmed from air for television series

Cinematographer Michael Kelem has returned from Antarctica where he flew in helicopters and Twin Otters to film a new documentary, Frozen Planet, that you’ll see in 2012. It is produced by the BBC and the Discovery Channel. Kelem previously worked on the series Planet Earth.

Kelem lived with a scientific community of 1,200 people at McMurdo Sound for two months, flying in helicopters for 100 hours and fixed-wing aircraft for 70 to 80 hours. The helicopters are operated by PHI, known for servicing oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Fixed-wing aircraft were operated by Kenn Borek Air based in Canada, the largest operator of Twin Otters in the world. The Twin Otter was necessary to cover great distances and capture the scope of the continent. It was a five-hour trip with one fuel stop to reach the South Pole, and a seven-hour trip to penguin colonies. A high-definition camera built for a helicopter was mounted on the nose of the Twin Otter. That allowed Kelem to remain inside both the Twin Otter and helicopter when filming. The runway for the Twin Otter had to be relocated 45 minutes from the camp because of the melting of the ice sheet. It was summer when he was there in December and January with temperatures from minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit to 30 degrees F. Ice fog was always a threat, sometimes preventing takeoff, or preventing a flight because it was forecast for the return time. (“You don’t want to get stuck out there in a fixed-wing airplane,” Kelem said.)


Watch those casings

Anton Klima has had one of the more unusual jobs aviation provides—movie helicopter pilot and cinematographer in Germany and the United States. It’s one of the most unusual ways to make a living in, or close to, aviation, but it’s not always the safest.

“It can be an unsafe business,” Klima said. “Many people have been killed. You are flying low and fast, or making indoor flights.” He started out as a cinematographer but was frustrated when he couldn’t get the shots he wanted, so he became a helicopter pilot and fell in love with flying. “When you start flying it is like an infection. You can’t get rid of it.”

As a pilot he found himself flying inside of a building rigged with explosives. “You fly into the building, turn around, two actors climb in, and you exit the building. While exiting, the whole building was prepped with explosive, and they were blowing up loads behind the helicopter. I said, ‘Hey guys, please make really sure your timing is perfect.’”

When inside a building the rotor wash has no place to go, so it comes back at you in the form of turbulence. There were a lot of considerations that are not part of a routine preflight. The building has to be clean so debris does not damage the rotors or enter the engine. The ceiling needs to be checked to assure there is nothing loose to fall into the rotors. And when actors are firing guns, even if they are blanks, Klima had to make sure the shell casings from automatic weapons did not enter the rotors when expelled from the gun.

His most unusual flight came when he helped to film a love scene entirely from a helicopter. How did he keep from getting distracted? “I’m 50,” he quipped. He circled the tree continuously while Cate Blanchet, playing the part of a widow who dropped a bomb in a drug dealer’s wastebasket, completed the scene with Giovanni Ribisi, playing a prison guard who helped her escape.

A citizen of Germany now living in Los Angeles, he has also drifted down on a United States military base in Germany after running low on fuel. He was in a helicopter following a hot air balloon that was occasionally obscured by clouds. Klima warned the director that he was low on fuel but the director kept trying to get the shot. Finally he had no choice but to request permission to land from the military control tower. “We went to the air base, and I said ‘I’m just low on fuel,’ and didn’t declare an emergency. I landed right in front of the tower with F–14 and F–15 fighters all around. They looked at us like we were from a different galaxy. The camera support looks like a gun mount. Four people with guns were in front of the tower, and they had a space for us reserved. It was very interesting. They interrogated us in different rooms until they decided we were just crazy filmmakers. They didn’t want to give us fuel, so we had to bring in fuel from a civilian airport.”

After those experiences he went back to cinematography. “I rarely fly. I went back to cinematography. I felt like it is easier for me to say no [to the director] than for a pilot. I don’t have to impress the director.

“Directors tell them fly low, and then they crash. They try to do as good as they can and sometimes they cross the line.”

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.