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Pilot BriefingPilot Briefing

News from the world of general aviationNews from the world of general aviation

It’s already reached 30,300 feet—a world record for a solar-powered airplane (and beyond expectations)—and stayed aloft 26 hours and 10 minutes for another solar-powered record. Sun power Solar Impulse prepares for U.S.

sun power It’s already reached 30,300 feet—a world record for a solar-powered airplane (and beyond expectations)—and stayed aloft 26 hours and 10 minutes for another solar-powered record.

Sun power

Solar Impulse prepares for U.S. flight
By Alton K. Marsh

Solar Impulse, the sun-powered 38-knot airplane from Switzerland with a wingspan greater than 200 feet, is scheduled to arrive in Los Angeles in February to prepare for a trip across the United States.

A flight around the world is planned for 2014. That flight requires a newly designed aircraft now under construction. An earlier model, which flew from Switzerland to Africa and back, is to arrive in Los Angeles. Negotiations are in progress to use facilities at Moffett Field at NASA Ames Research Center.

The route through the central part of the country is not determined but the end goal is to land at Washington, D.C., and maybe New York. Bertrand Piccard, the psychiatrist and pilot who made the first nonstop round-the-world balloon flight, is the initiator of the project and chairman of Solar Impulse. André Borschberg, an engineer, fighter pilot, and an airplane and helicopter pilot, is the CEO.

The airplane will be assembled in March and test flown in April. After that, the flight is weather dependent. Solar Impulse doesn’t like turbulence, nor could it survive much of it.

Solar Impulse is an all-electric airplane that recharges its batteries with solar panels. The batteries can last through a night and recharge when the sun comes up.

EMAIL [email protected]

Spec sheet

  • Wingspan | 208 feet
  • Length | 72 feet
  • Height | 21 feet
  • Engines | four 10-horsepower electric motors
  • Solar cells | 11,268 (including 880 on the tail)
  • Weight | 3,527 pounds
  • Average flying speed | 38 knots
  • Takeoff speed | 24 knots
  • Stalling speed | 19 knots
  • Max cruising altitude | 27,900 feet

Debonair sweepstakes progress report

Why we're keeping standard windows
By Thomas A. Horne

small third window That small third window is the mark of all Debonairs. D’Shannon Aviation installed new windows all around, including the “teardrop” window. All are tinted, but the two aftmost windows have a darker tint. D’Shannon took the window frames down to bare aluminum so that the paint shop will be spared the risky business of applying paint stripper right next to the new windows. The standard baggage door will be replaced, because wear and tear has caused cracks around the latch mechanism.

We’ve been having an internal debate about one aspect of the Debonair Sweepstakes restoration. Do we install D’Shannon Aviation’s highly popular large baggage compartment, or stick with the original? The big baggage compartment does offer advantages. As advertised, it’s much longer and more capacious than the stock compartment, and the modification also comes with a larger baggage door. Our current baggage door has seen better days, as revealed by the unsightly stop-drilled cracks around the latch assembly.

So yes, we could certainly use the room and the big door to make loading cargo easier. However, there are some downsides, and here’s where the debate opens up.

Why? Because if we install the big baggage compartment we change the essence of the airplane. It means that the small third window would have to go, and be replaced by a longer, larger third window. The standard third window, colloquially dubbed the “teardrop” window—or, to use Beechcraft marketing lingo of 1963, the “opera” window—is one of the defining visual signatures of the Debonair line. If you’re looking for a Debonair on the ramp, you know to look for that teardrop window. So in our opinion, ditching the teardrop window would mean ditching a big element of the airplane’s identity. If there’s such a thing as overmodification, then trashing that small window meets the definition.

D’Shannon’s baggage compartment mod requires different third windows—ones that are both larger and longer. They look like the third windows on Bonanza F33s, and they’re needed because the baggage compartment mod isn’t a simple extension of the compartment’s dimensions. It’s a major job that calls for adding extra ribs and stringers in the aft fuselage, and the large windows themselves also needs extra structure.

There’s another consideration: weight and balance. A larger baggage door and compartment may tempt a pilot to load too much heavy cargo. The implications here are much more serious than window aesthetics, in our opinion.

All Debonairs have comparatively narrow center of gravity envelopes. Load too many people or bags and you’re asking for a CG location well aft of limits. That’s true of all airplanes, but with Debonairs there’s an aggravating factor: As fuel is burned the center of gravity moves aft. It all makes for an airplane that could easily go out the back of the loading envelope on long trips with full fuel, full seats, and a full baggage compartment.

So even though D’Shannon says scads of happy customers have opted for the large baggage mod, we’re passing on it. Besides, our/your Debonair
will have plenty of other D’Shannon mods—enough to make it a standout
wherever it goes.

EMAIL [email protected]

Nose artist Jerri Bergen

Every aircraft has a story
by Geri Silviera

nose artist jerri bergenWhen you hear the term “nose art” bandied about by pilots at fly-ins, military museums, and historic aircraft display days, they’re not talking about piercings or tattoos—they’re referring to the decorative paintings on the cowlings, fuselages, and tails of the aircraft.

With its roots in military tradition, nose art painting reached its peak during World War II when pilots and mechanics created hundreds of paintings. The themes included pinup girls, sentimental names, jabs at the enemy, animals, wives, girlfriends—you get the picture. Today, nose art is enjoying a revival thanks to artists like Jerri Bergen, owner of Victory Girl in Upland, California. Bergen started Victory Girl in 2006 with her twin sister Terri.

Bergen’s interest in art began in childhood as a self-described “committed doodler,” considering any blank surface her personal canvas. While she envisioned herself pursuing art after high school, her mother suggested that a career in computers might provide a better living. So, Bergen earned a degree in computer information systems and worked for McDonnell Douglas for nearly 20 years. After a stint at a small aviation repair station, she decided that art was her destiny, and Victory Girl was born. Bergen’s first nose art was on her 1966 Mooney M20C. “The artwork—a Mooney logo superimposed on a waving American flag—wasn’t inspiring, but did teach us much about painting techniques,” said Bergen.

Bergen helped restore the badly faded six-foot “Tony the Tiger” artwork on the B–25J Mitchell owned by Yanks Air Museum in Chino, California. She also brought other artwork to life on several historic aircraft in the collection as a volunteer. “My goal is to preserve military aviation history and to bring the stories of pilots alive,” she said.

Many of her general aviation paintings are designed to honor someone, such as “One for Maxine,” which memorializes the pilot’s mother. “Once I understand the sentiment, I create a design to represent it,” she says. She creates one or more sketches that show the idea. Once the client picks a design, painting it can take anywhere from two to five days.

Bergen has created art for more than 100 aircraft and at least a couple of hundred jackets.

On the web:

Remotely controlled electrical switches

A convenient way to warm up
By Ian J. Twombly

On the internationally recognized scale of torture, waiting for an aircraft engine preheater to work its magic as you stand in sub-zero temperatures lies somewhere between fingernails on a chalkboard and Los Angeles traffic. Relief is now here in the form of remotely operated electrical boxes.

We reviewed the FST, LLC. Regal WDR and the Switchbox, two devices new to the market. Each contains a cellular card (SIM) with a dedicated phone number. Plug each into an outlet, and then plug your aircraft preheater into the box. Then you can call, text, or open up a dedicated iPhone application to turn on or off the connected device. Thankfully there are two outlets on each, so your coffee maker, portable hangar heater, light, battery charger, or any other device can be ready when you get to the hangar as well.

Comparing and contrasting the two is difficult because they are very similar. The Regal WDR seems to be better built. It’s metal, has a substantial carrying handle, and a cord long enough that it will sit flat on the ground. The Switchbox’s cord is too short to allow it to sit on the ground, creating the need for an extension cord (it’s too heavy to hang from the plug). But it’s much less expensive.

Both iPhone applications are good, although the Regal WDR application is more intuitive and easier to use. In both cases the outlets can be activated individually, be turned on or off remotely, and run for a set period then turned off automatically.

In our testing both boxes performed flawlessly. The possibilities with these are endless, with applications going well beyond aircraft preheaters.

Price: $435

Price: $299

office in the sky

An office in the sky

Archaeologist unravels the past in both his home countries
By Sylvia Horne

We imagine archaeologists as Earthbound creatures, painstakingly digging and sifting through layers of dirt to uncover relics of the past. But not all of them work that way. Chinese-born Dr. Baoquan Song, an archaeologist at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany, goes up—way up.

On VFR days, he jumps into his Reims Cessna F172M, climbs to an altitude of 1,000 feet, trims the aircraft, then controls it with the rudder pedals so that he can circle his targets hands-free. Next he takes photographs of the ground with his Canon digital camera. “Ancient structures underground change the aspect of the vegetation growing over it as opposed to the vegetation around it. This is especially obvious in agricultural areas,” Song explains. Man-made structures absorb water differently than undisturbed soil/farmland. Consequently, grass or grain will grow darker or lighter; higher or shorter than the vegetation surrounding it. This exposes and defines outlines and structures of ancient settlements, a phenomenon only visible from the air. Once Song spots a promising site, he takes photos, which he later enhances digitally. If the site is not explored immediately, it will be secured and protected for later investigation.

Song specializes in archaeology in North Rhine Westphalia, where the university is located, and China. In Germany, traces of human settlements have been found going back to the Stone Age. The oldest site Song has discovered using his aircraft is an earthwork dating back 6,000 years. North Rhine Westphalia is especially rich in ancient remnants such as military camps the Romans left in their wake when they moved eastward across the Rhine in 12 B.C.

Song got his private pilot certificate in 1997 in Marl-Loemühle in Germany. At the time he’d already been assisting with research studying the possibilities of modern aerial archaeology in the People’s Republic of China. He later had the opportunity to participate in aerial prospecting in Central and Northern China.

In 1997 it was next to impossible to find a GA airplane in China. “The smallest aircraft we were able to locate was an Antonov An–2. And that’s what we ended up using!” he says. Even though he is convinced that GA will eventually gain a foothold in China, he doesn’t consider going back permanently. The red tape surrounding private aircraft, as well as the lack of airports, would make it too difficult for him to work in his field.

He fears that in the meantime many archaeological sites in China are being destroyed by the progressive industrialization of the country and has the imagery to prove it. Americans took a lot of aerial pictures in China from 1926 to the end of World War II. Most were stored in the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where Song purchased them in 1992 for the university. “They allow me to compare past and present grids and sites and, sadly, a lot of them are being built on and are irretrievably lost.”

A moment in time

More than 100 Swifts accept 'World Domination' challenge
By Jill W. Tallman

swiftsMore than 100 Globe/Temco Swifts—including one piloted by a veteran of the Royal Canadian Air Force—filled the skies of the United States, Brazil, Canada, and France during an international fly-out. The event was called “World Domination: The Day of the Swift.”

Fort Myers, Florida, Swift owner Perry Sisson thought it would be fun to see how many pilots of the low-wing, retractable-gear airplanes would be interested in flying on a single day. He said he got the idea one morning while looking at a photo of a Swift on Facebook, and “wondered whether I was flying my Swift at that same moment in time.”

Sisson used Facebook as well as phone calls and emails to invite the entire Swift community to fly on November 4, 2012, and to send him data and photos on where and how long they had flown. The final tally: 101 Swifts took flight, and 32 Swifts were in the air at the same time around the world. The airplanes flew an estimated 136.2 hours.

Sisson said Joseph Armand Gerard Fernand “Fern” Villeneuve also flew on that day. Villeneuve, born July 2, 1927, is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Royal Canadian Air Force, and, according to Sisson, is widely considered in Canada to be one of the nation’s finest RCAF pilots.

Email: [email protected]

Test Pilot By Barry Schiff

  1. What is unusual about the control tower at Wellington International Airport in New Zealand?
  2. Who was “Chicken” Kamikaze?
  3. There were five space-shuttle orbiters that circled the Earth: Atlantis, Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, and Endeavor. What was the total number of orbital missions launched, and during how many years were they flown?
  4. Pilots know that 0 degrees Celsius represents the freezing point of water. What is the significance of 0 degrees Fahrenheit?
  5. What was the first turboprop airplane to enter production in the United States?
  6. A VFR pilot with seaplane and landplane ratings takes off from a lake in an amphibian, flies for an hour, and then lands on a hard-surface runway. How must the flying time be logged?
    a. all as seaplane time
    b. all as landplane time
    c. half seaplane, half landplane
    d. It does not matter.
  7. From reader John Schmidt: Why did British Spitfires regularly take off for battle with bright red patches of tape on their leading edges?
  8. True or False: Excluding the effects of magnetic deviation, the magnetic compass in an airplane points to the magnetic north pole.
See answers below >>

top gun

The need for speed

What pilot doesn’t remember Top Gun, the 1986 blockbuster that encouraged many people to learn to fly? The movie has been remastered in 3D and will return to theaters for a limited six-day engagement in February.

Co-star Anthony Edwards-who played Goose-recently became a private pilot (see “Pilots: Anthony Edwards” page 112). “Flying is something I always wanted to do, even before Top Gun,” Edwards said. “I was lucky to have an instructor who, by taking me step by step, never made me feel overwhelmed.” He currently flies a Cirrus SR20.

The Paramount Pictures movie earned more than $350 million in box offices worldwide. Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis star in the film; it also co-stars Val Kilmer and Meg Ryan.

Beginning February 8, the film is expected to be shown in 3D at more than 300 IMAX theaters in 113 U.S. markets. Look for the complete schedule online ( The remastered Top Gun will be released on Blu-ray, in both 3D and 2D versions, on February 19. The 2D version includes a six-part documentary on the making of the movie, a behind-the-scenes featurette, as well as interviews and commentary.

Test Pilot Answers

  1. The tower is not on the airport. It is instead in a residential neighborhood and surrounded by private homes on an adjacent hill overlooking the airport.
  2. Named by U.S. military personnel during World War II, this fictitious character flew more than 30 missions.
  3. There were 135 orbital missions. The first, STS-1 (Columbia), rocketed skyward on April 12, 1981, and the last, STS-135 (Atlantis), launched on July 8, 2011, and landed on July 21, 2011. The program spanned 30 years, three months, and nine days. (STS stands for “space transportation system.”)
  4. Zero degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature at which salt no longer prevents water from freezing.
  5. The ubiquitous four-engine Lockheed C-130 Hercules made its first flight on August 23, 1954, and entered military service on December 9, 1957.
  6. (d) Once a pilot is rated in a class of aircraft, there is no requirement to log flight time in that particular class. He might, however, need to log a seaplane takeoff and a landplane landing (in this case) to comply with recent flight experience requirements.
  7. The tape prevented moisture (rain, fog) from entering open gun ports and freezing on the gun breeches as the airplanes climbed rapidly into freezing temperatures. (The first bullets fired simply put holes in the tape.)
  8. False. A magnetic compass aligns itself with the Earth’s lines of magnetic flux. These are influenced by mineral deposits and other magnetic disturbances in the Earth and rarely are aligned with the magnetic north pole.

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