Hangar Talk

The story behind the story

October 1, 2001

One of the terrific things about aviation journalism, says freelance writer and CFII Dan Namowitz, is that it is an exception to the rule that reporters should not become part of the story they are covering (see " Sky Patrol: Tracking Maine's Black Bear," page 110). After all, what better way is there to gain an understanding of a particular kind of flying than to help out in the cockpit? Over a stretch of several years, that is exactly what he did, accompanying his longtime friend (and former instrument, commercial, and CFI student) Frank Craig on the wildlife-tracking flights that Craig does for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Craig continues to fly the wildlife beat, occasionally adding such extra assignments as tracking lynx, eagles, and other species to his steady work of conducting an aerial census of Maine's black bear population.

After Top Gun, the movie, everyone knew about flying helmets and oxygen masks. Wearing the mask conjures up images of pulling Gs and dodging enemy missiles. AOPA Air Safety Foundation Executive Director Bruce Landsberg strapped on an altitude chamber and the mask (see " Safety Pilot: High-Flight Hazards," page 73). Unstrapping the mask at Flight Level 250 to see what the hypoxia high was all about, Landsberg learned some interesting things about physiology. Rapid decompression, to simulate a blown window, sucks the air out of the cabin — and the occupants — real fast. "The chamber ride will make a believer out of those who think nose hoses are just for sissies," he says. "Oxygen for pilots at high altitude isn't just a good idea or an FAR, it's the law of life."

After writer and lecturer Collins Hemingway learned to fly in 1990, his vision of using general aviation for regular business trips was thwarted by a lack of rental aircraft for his irregular travel schedule. After another intense phase of rental flying in 1996, he knew that his next airplane would be store-bought. Research led him to the Lancair Columbia 300, and he became the first customer in early 2000. Can a low-time, Spam-can pilot make the transition to an ultramodern aircraft? His story (see " Columbia in the Clouds," page 99) lets you decide. Hemingway — no, not that Hemingway — coauthored the recently released book Business @ the Speed of Thought with Microsoft's Bill Gates.

Getting two airplanes and four pilots together at an interesting location for a photo mission can have serendipitous results. Associate Editor Julie K. Boatman and Senior Editor Alton K. Marsh met representatives from OMF Aircraft in West Memphis, Arkansas, for the shoot of the Symphony (see " The Sound of Wings," page 82). Why West Memphis? The Symphony was on its way from Georgia to Arlington, Washington, for an airshow. While the folks at the West Memphis Municipal Airport were welcoming and generous, the town itself is overshadowed as a tourist spot by Memphis, Tennessee, across the river. A side trip after the shoot was clearly in order — but the visit to Elvis' grave at Graceland produced an interesting altitude readout on Boatman's handheld GPS unit — 468 feet. Maybe the King of Rock and Roll is a little closer to heaven these days — the elevation at Memphis International Airport is only 341 feet msl.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor.

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