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Mothballed airliners take on new life The old saying that "one man's junk is another man's treasure" holds true in the Mojave Desert. Parts from old airliners have been turned into everything from fine art to furniture.

Mothballed airliners take on new life

The old saying that "one man's junk is another man's treasure" holds true in the Mojave Desert. Parts from old airliners have been turned into everything from fine art to furniture. Now a Canadian company is putting the airliners back in flight, so to speak.

Mechtronix Systems, of Montreal, buys the well-preserved jets, as large as 737s, over the Internet. Scrap dealers cut the fuselage just behind the cockpit and the entire front section is trucked to Canada, where it will take on a new life as a flight simulator. Mechtronix then completely refurbishes the cockpit section and adds the latest avionics and flight simulation software.

Traditionally, the company built the simulators from the ground up, but Mechtronix President Xavier Herve noted the cost savings to airlines for the refurbished models, as much as 50 percent, plus the company can provide faster production times. Novices who fly Mechtronix's full-flight simulators have been known to get motion sickness. Company officials say that even sleet pounding on the cabin seems real.

Cool aviation jobs

Name: Paul Canizaro
Job Title: Aerial-mapping pilot
Employer: Marc Inc., Raymond, Mississippi

What kind of camera do you use?

"It's a 170-megapixel camera that weighs about 500 pounds, loaded into a Cessna 310. The camera takes 12 images at once — eight black and white, one red, one blue, one green, and one IR [infrared]. It has 14 Celeron processors inside. It has a military-grade GPS and INS [inertial navigation system]. We set up at least three GPS base stations on the ground, so it's looking at those and all the satellites and triangulating."

What's a typical day like?

"You and the camera operator talk about the lines you're going to fly. Sometimes you have to coach them — they don't understand. You're saying, 'Hey, that's right through the final approach course of the Class Bravo airport.' I fax maps showing the lines I want to fly to ATC. As soon as we're climbing out I'm talking to ATC to try and go straight to the line."

What's it like to fly a line?

"It's like flying an ILS for four hours. I've got a computer screen in my lap with the heading for the line. You intercept maybe two miles out and get the wings level. Maybe the line you're flying is 179.3 degrees. You might realize you're 0.8 degree off, so you work it from there. I use the AI and the box in my lap. We try to stay within 50 feet of the line. If you get 0.3 or 0.4 degree off you'd better fix it in a hurry. If you ever get more than 2 degrees of correction, even in strong winds, you'll never recover. Sometimes I wonder if people can even tell the amount of roll I'm using."

You fly to tenths of a degree?

"Yeah. My first day in training in a Skymaster, I was 300 feet one way, then 600 feet the other way. I'm thinking, 'Man, there's no way.' My buddy said, 'Let me show you how to do it.' It was weird. The box is saying he's 7 feet to one side, now back out to 12 feet, now down to 6. I think it's a perception thing. You have to see somebody do it to know it can be done."

What's the best part of the job?

"Getting paid to fly. Oh, and my dog can come with me. She keeps the operator's feet warm." — Jeff Van West

Members in the News

Frank Graves, AOPA 1060179, on January 7 made 53 skydives to celebrate his fifty-third birthday. Since he was 20, Graves has been wanting to make the same number of jumps as his age on his birthday. "I should have done it then," he joked. He completed the jumps in 5.5 hours, thanks to an efficient team that helped him in and out of his parachutes, repacked the chutes, and got him in the air again. He used a total of eight parachutes during the day. Graves has been skydiving since 1972 and flying since 1976. Graves decided to turn the day into a jumpathon to raise money for cancer research and donated $3,500 to Jump for the Cause, a nonprofit organization that helps raise money for breast cancer research. Does he plan to do this again? "I don't think I'll be doing this on my eightieth birthday," Graves said, "but I might on my sixtieth."

Online Survey

Giving names to airplanes

This month's survey on the AOPA Web site was an interesting study in anthropomorphism, the act of ascribing human form to things that aren't human. We asked AOPA members if they had given their aircraft personal names and the response was overwhelming. Slightly more than 1,000 members, or 75 percent of the respondents, gave us a look into their private lives. Many of the names were related to insects, like Air Raid and Bug Smasher for "killing bugs on contact." Others were related to marital strife like Mistress, Girlfriend, My Metal Mistress, Last Date, and The Other Woman. One pilot called his airplane My Sanity because he started building it during his first divorce and finished it after his second divorce. He said he was better off working on the airplane than drinking and chasing wild women. There were several Rockwell Commanders named Rocky and Bonanzas named Bonnie. In east Texas, however, one Bonanza is called Nanner. "You either talk like that or you don't fit in," the pilot said. Many pilots chose to name their airplanes after fictional characters. There were a couple of Piper Warriors named Xena after the TV show and one member named his two-tone blue-and-white Cessna 182Q Blue Duck after the evil character in Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove novel. Many of the names related to money or the lack thereof: Miss Money Pit, Money Eater, ELF ("expensive little flier"), and Options (bought with stock options). Some airplane names had something to do with the owner's profession. A urologist flies Sweet Pee and a firefighter pilots Firefly. Even a Rod Stewart song can provide inspiration. One pilot named his airplane Maggie May because of a dual magneto failure during his first flight after buying the airplane. And getting fired from a job can bring newfound freedom. Two pilots bought their airplanes with severance packages and named them Free Bird and The Last Laugh.

AOPA ePilot Headlines

Recent news from AOPA's weekly e-mail newsletter

GAMA touts industry growth
At its annual industry review and market briefing in February, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association reported double-digit growth in all sectors of the general aviation airplane market.

Challenger 605 makes first flight
Bombardier Inc.'s Challenger 605 completed its maiden flight in January at the Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport. Bombardier expects to receive Transport Canada certification in the fourth quarter of 2006.

Cessna faces $840,000 fine
The FAA is considering fining Cessna Aircraft Co. $840,000 because of flight-control-rigging problems in 42 airplanes discovered last year by inspectors at the company's plant in Independence, Kansas. Cessna officials requested an informal conference with the FAA.

Eclipse wins Collier Trophy
Eclipse Aviation Corp. won the National Aeronautic Association's 2005 Robert J. Collier Trophy "for leadership, innovation, and the advancement of general aviation" in the production of very light jets.

Socata certifies new turboprop
EADS Socata has received FAA type certification for its TBM 850. The company said the new airplane offers light-jetlike cruise speeds with the direct operating costs of a single-engine turboprop.

Taylor Sport gets FAA nod
Taylorcraft Aviation Inc. has received light-sport-aircraft (LSA) certification for its Taylor Sport. Powered by a Continental O-200 engine, it has a base price of $69,995.

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.

GA Market Watch

Used-aircraft values for the AA-5B Tiger, Beechcraft C23 Sundowner, Cessna 172P Skyhawk and 177B Cardinal, and Piper Warrior and Archer models have stabilized following some fluctuation over the past 12 years, according to the Vref Light Single Index. The average price in the fourth quarter of 1994 was $49,833, while the peak was $63,833 in the third quarter of 2001. The latest figures for the first quarter of 2006 show the average price at $62,580. Perform your own aircraft valuations using AOPA's free service on AOPA Online. Also, see Vref's Web site.

A rule of thumb

A 10-percent increase in gross weight results in a 5-percent increase in the speed needed for takeoff, a 9-percent decrease in acceleration, and a 21-percent increase in takeoff distance.

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

  • Winding Up the Windmill. Helicopters don't usually depart straight up, for very good power-management reasons.
  • Training Delays. Strategies to keep focused on flying, even when fate conspires against you.
  • Crosswind Tutorial. Four steps to good crosswind landings.

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

Dept. of R&D

Purdue goes hypersonic

Things are moving fast at Purdue University. Engineers there have developed a $1 million wind tunnel that can produce airstreams traveling at Mach 6. And, perhaps more important, the wind tunnel runs quietly, meaning it can create smooth laminar flow over test articles. Because laminar airflows generate less heat than turbulent flows, designers can build aircraft that don't require as much shielding, which reduces weight and costs. Future hypersonic aircraft and space vehicles may have a metal skin for re-entry as opposed to the high-maintenance tile system found on the space shuttle. The wind tunnel is relatively inexpensive to operate. Air is pumped out of a large tank connected to the tunnel. When a valve is opened, air gets sucked through at high velocity. Each run lasts a mere eight seconds. Thanks to modern computers and sensors, tons of data can be gathered in that time.

An unusual natural high

Some of the highest-recorded barometric pressure readings occur in wintertime in Siberia and Mongolia. We're talking more than 32 inches of mercury, exceeding the limits of altimeters. The Kollsman window scale is calibrated from 28.00 to 31.00 inches of Hg. Although rare, winter highs can produce baro readings of 31 inches in the United States, particularly in Alaska. When that happens, the FAA under 14 CFR 91.144 can place temporary restrictions on flight.


If you've always wanted to check out the cockpits of famous airplanes at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, but were afraid of security, a new book takes you there. At the Controls: The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Book of Cockpits, now available in paperback, was assembled using a special large-format architectural camera with the widest-angle lens available. The result: You get a pilot's-eye view. Because the cockpits are off limits to the public, the museum previously experimented with using mirrors, but it proved awkward at best. The 144-page book takes you into the rarefied environments of 45 aircraft, including Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, Chuck Yeager's Glamorous Glennis, and John Glenn's Mercury Friendship 7. All of the cockpits are from the Smithsonian Institution collection, with three exceptions to bring things up to date: an F-16C, an Airbus A320, and the late space shuttle Columbia. Oddball aircraft like the jet-powered Kugisho MXY7 Model Ohka "Cherry Blossom," designed for kamikazes, and the Kellett XO-60 Autogiro round out the collection. Avionics freaks will especially appreciate the book as they can trace the evolution of the instrument panel from the simple to the complex without leaving nose prints. Brief historical narratives accompany the photos. Published by The Boston Mills Press, the book sells for $24.95.

Set in 1941 aboard a luxurious Pan American Clipper Boeing 314 flying boat, Fate Stalks the Pacific Sky by Ted Spitzmiller follows young naval aviator David Miller on his first top-level espionage mission. He escorts a Chinese envoy carrying a top-secret document from President Franklin Roosevelt to Chinese Premier Chiang Kaishek.

The mission gets complicated when Miller finds himself falling in love with a beautiful young Japanese-American woman also aboard the flight. In preparation for the book, Spitzmiller spent five years researching both the Boeing 314 and Pan Am's pre-World War II 8,000-mile Clipper infrastructure across the Pacific. The 219-page paperback sells for $15.95 and is available through bookstores.

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