“Renaissance Field,” Greg’s November column

4-GregBrownFT1113_0001Smw1200The airport that saved itself

Galt Airport scheduled for auction block,” trumpeted the Chicago Tribune.

Jean and I had patronized this cozy country airport through dating, marriage, and kids. Sure, my grade school, “stinkin’ Lincoln,” is long gone. And my childhood home yielded to a parking lot. But dying airports are rarely replaced with new ones. One more sky haven, one more community of aviators, lost… Dejected, I phoned Galt.

“I can’t imagine it won’t continue as an airport,” said manager Justin Cleland, subscribing me to the Galt Traffic newsletter for updates. I’ve heard such optimism before, however, rarely with happy endings. After all, this airport was $16 million in the hole. In my funk, I jotted memories for an “In Memoriam” column.

I was just a college kid when I met this cute girl from Woodstock, Illinois. Unlike other girls I dated, Jean thought flying was cool rather than scary, and viewed my piloting as a positive credential. (“Want to fly on Saturday?” I asked one girl before Jean came along. “Sorry,” she replied, “I always do my laundry on Saturdays.” I proposed other days but apparently she maintained a pristine wardrobe.)

2-GregBrownFT1113_OldGalt__033eSmw1200In January, 1975, just two months after our first date, I flew Jean from Champaign to visit her parents at Woodstock. My Sectional chart indicated that Galt’s main runway was paved, and at 2,800 feet plenty long enough for a Piper Cherokee.

I didn’t know until arriving that in those days the main runway was hardly wider than a two-lane road; a hangar impinged on one side, and tall trees obstructed the end. It was to be the first of many aerial journeys from central Illinois, Indiana, and ultimately Arizona to tiny Galt Airport…

Read the whole story in this month’s Flying Carpet column, Renaissance Field.” 

Top photo: Galt Airport pilots gather for a celebratory gift photo, presented to new owners Claude and Diane Sonday. (Ingrid Karolewski photo) 

Lower photo: Galt Airport, Illinois, as it appears today. (Justin Cleland photo) See more photos here.

(This column first appeared in the November, 2013 AOPA Flight Training magazine.)

©2013 Gregory N.Brown

the secret to financing your flight training

I constantly hear from people asking for the secret to paying for their flight training. Since it’s expensive, they seek some magic bullet to cover the bills. Well here’s an honest answer.

Among my favorite movies is The Seventh Seal, by famed Swedish director, Ingmar Bergman. In the film, an aging knight recently returned from the Crusades plays a game of chess for his life against Death personified. Just as the knight is about to win the game and achieve immortality, he intentionally makes a bad move and loses.

“Why did you throw the game?” asks Death, surprised. “You’d have beaten me.”

“Because I wanted to learn your secrets,” says the knight.

“There are no secrets,” replies Death, grimly. “I shall return to take you away.”

What does that have to do with financing your flight training? Since it’s expensive, aspiring pilots often invest a good deal of time and energy seeking some sugar daddy in the form of a person or company to pay for their training.

It’s simple, “There are no secrets.” If the excitement of piloting is what you crave, odds are that you’ll have to come up with a way to pay for it. That’s really no different than other careers or avocations. Like everything worthwhile in life, one must decide whether to dedicate the energy and tackle the risks required to play the game, or not. Per the old saying, “If you think getting an education is expensive — try not getting one.”

If you can earn scholarships to pay the cost of your training, or if you or your family can afford to cover the costs of your pilot education, more power to you.

But for many of us, it may not be that easy. You may have to go without a new car for the next several years, wait tables in a restaurant, or share a bedroom with a roommate. You may need to invest hours and days and months pursuing scholarships and loan opportunities to help finance your dream. There will likely be interruptions in your training while you work an extra job to save money, or you may need to borrow and pay it back later.

This is not intended to be flip, or harsh, or mean. It’s just a statement of reality to ease a few people’s nail-biting and speed them on their way. The vast majority of pilots will agree that flying whether for fun or profit is worth every ounce of dedication and effort it takes to get there. Some would even argue that the harder your route along the way, the more you’ll appreciate the ultimate accomplishment. But if you really want to do it, lay out a plan, roll up your sleeves, and make it happen.

But to everyone’s question about the secret to paying for flight training, there truly is only one honest answer, “There are no secrets.”

©2012 Gregory N. Brown

“Air France 447 Flight-Data Recorder Transcript – What Really Happened”

Wow! Talk about chilling!!! I didn’t realize they’d fully released the voice and data recorder contents relative to the Air France crash in the South Atlantic several years ago.

“Air France 447 Flight-Data Recorder Transcript – What Really Happened,” from Popular Mechanics.

I rarely post links to outside stories on my blog, but this is just so provocative, so telling, and so downright scary, I decided to do so.

A thought-provoking must-read for every pilot…

Beware! possible smartphone interference with panel-mounted GPS!

Your iPhone may interfere with your GPS!

It has come to my attention that a significant number of pilots may be experiencing smartphone interference with their GPS avionics equipment. The iPhone in particular may cause loss of GPS signal reception for 10-15 seconds at a time or longer. At least one club airplane I’m aware of has experienced repeated instances of signal loss reported by various members carrying iPhones, “but the problem goes away when pilots leave their iPhones on the ground.” The pros at my avionics shop (at the opposite end of the country) have also heard numerous such reports.

According to my CFI friend and Apple technology guru, Patrick, the issue can arise whenever your smartphone is left on in flight; although you might not be texting or calling, the phone continually transmits cellular queries to sustain ongoing signal access. Patrick says that these transmissions become stronger the farther you are from a cell tower. The IMPORTANT bottom line is that if you experience loss of GPS navigational signal aloft, the first thing to check is that your smartphone is off.

This growing concern explains why it is truly important to:

  1. Turn off portable electronic devices prior to flight, particularly those like smartphones that continually transmit, especially when flying under difficult navigational conditions like IFR, over water, and at night.
  2. When using an iPad or other tablet for in-flight charts and navigation, turn off cellular and wifi data services to minimize the possibility of interference. (Be aware that iPad’s “Airplane mode” turns off location services, too, disabling the device’s internal GPS. However Bad Elf claims their external GPS continues to work in “Airplane Mode.”)

If you need to access your smartphone in flight for chart backup, backup GPS navigation, or passenger music or games:

  • Set your iPhone to “airplane mode” in flight. The internal GPS may not work, but reportedly some external GPSs like Bad-Elf will, or
  • For AT&T iPhones only, Patrick recommends enabling the “SIM PIN” ID in your iPhone’s settings. (Settings > Phone > SIM PIN) This isn’t your general “passcode lock,” but rather an additional code you must enter to enable your phone’s sim card for cellular activity. Yes, you’ll need to enter an additional code to enable phoning and texting when first turning on your phone, but by not enabling it during flight Patrick says you can leave your phone on to access charts, GPS, music, and other non-communication uses, without risking cellular interference to your avionics.

As Patrick observes, most of the nifty new electronics devices and features we enjoy in the cockpit (smartphones, Bluetooth, and WiFi hotspots in particular since they actively transmit RF), appeared on the scene long after most of our cockpit avionics were designed and installed. Therefore the manufacturers and installers of our panel equipment could not have foreseen or protected against interference from many of the devices we now carry. That’s why it’s so important to turn them off, especially when the stakes are high as in instrument flight.

Disclaimer: I’m no avionics expert, nor have I collected statistically-relevant data, so it is entirely possible these concerns may be incorrect in fact or scope. (For example, if the problem exists is it just with iPhones? Or Android and other smartphones too?) However, I’m hearing enough anecdotal reports from trusted sources that it seemed important to alert fellow pilots to the possibility, especially since the problem (if true) is insidious, potentially dangerous, nonintuitive, and yet potentially easy to avoid or rectify. Also, I have not personally tested most of the above tips, so try them yourselves, and do not take them as proven techniques. Rather, as another CFI observes, “It’s important to remember that none of these devices are TSO’d or even tested to that standard so it’s very much use at your own discretion.”

I will add to this post as new information comes to light. In the meantime, fellow pilots, turn off your smart phones (or at least disable their cellular service) prior to flight!

©2011 Gregory N. Brown

“Social Networking in Aviation” video discussion panel

I had the pleasure of participating in a “Social Networking in Aviation” video panel last month at AOPA Summit in Long Beach, hosted by Rod Rakic of the MyTransponder aviation networking site. Others on the panel included Lynda Meeks of Girls With Wings and recent CFIs of the Year, Max Trescott and Jeffrey “MossY” Moss.

For those interested in social networking tips and perspectives from people actively engaged in using it, see the video here.

“How an airport helped save a town,” Greg’s December Flying Carpet column & photos

How an airport helped save a town

“What’s that smoke?” I wondered, startled, as I strode to meet friends at a downtown Flagstaff music festival. At first no one else seemed to notice the plume billowing overhead — I guess it’s a pilot’s nature to peer continually upward — but sidewalk crowds soon began gathering to snap cell-phone photos.

There was a perverse beauty to this gargantuan column of soot piercing a cobalt sky, and I found myself craving my own camera to photograph orange-and-white air tankers and helicopters swarming to attack under a vivid midday moon.

Flagstaff is not a big place, and the thought of so large a fire close to town was mortifying. But for the moment, no one seemed to know anything about it. Just south of town at Flagstaff Pulliam Airport, however, Wiseman Aviation owner Orville Wiseman had just received a tearful call from his son, Grant.

“Firemen just came to our house, Dad; they said we need to evacuate right now!” The airwaves soon trumpeted news of the ‘Hardy Fire” threatening the city’s east side. An email from Orville waited when I got home. “Guess whose house was one of the closest to the initial fire…”

*Read Greg’s entire December Flying Carpet column, “How an Airport Helped Save a Town,” here.

Photos: The Schultz Fire viewed from Flagstaff Pulliam Airport, Arizona; a landing Erickson Air-Crane helitanker. *See more fire photos here.

©2010 Gregory N. Brown

If you enjoyed this story, you’ll love Greg’s book, Flying Carpet: The Soul of an Airplane. Autographed copies available!

Kings detained at police gunpoint – in the same plane previously intercepted two years ago!

For those who saw today’s AvWebFlash story, “John and Martha King Held at Police Gunpoint (Really),” I have just learned that the airplane in which they were detained (based on an N-number erroneously tagged as stolen), is the same one for which Cessna’s Jim Pitman was detained after he picked  it up new at the factory in 2009! (See my June, 2009 Flying Carpet column, “Nabbed.”)

Photo: Jim Pitman (left) with Wichita airport police and the 2009 Cessna 172 in which he (and now the Kings, in Santa Barbara) were detained due to an erroneously tagged N-number.

PS: Read a more detailed account of the Kings’ ordeal at AOPA Online.

©2010 Gregory N. Brown

Rite of Passage: the benefit of flight experience, no matter what the airplane…

There’s been lots of controversy lately about the proposed FAA regs requiring 1500 hours and an Airline Transport Pilot certificate to qualify for the right seat of an airliner, versus the current effective 300-hour minimum. Much of the discussion has centered around where those additional flight hours will come from, and whether earning them in light airplanes as a flight instructor, freight, or pleasure pilot qualifies aspiring airline pilots any better than the current 300 hours would with improved training.

Sure, time in type is a big plus, but in my personal opinion the biggest benefit of added flight experience is not the hours themselves, nor the nature of the flying, but rather the value of accumulating command and decision-making experience. Today’s 300-hour airline pilots got there via Part 141 training programs that include literally not a single hour of non-programmed flight. So the typical pleasure pilot with 50 hours under his or her belt following a Private Pilot checkride actually has more true command experience (and the judgment that comes with it) than many straight-out-of-flight-school airline pilots.

Whether it’s through instructing, flying freight, or whatever, I suspect most experienced pilots would agree that dealing with weather, mechanical issues, passengers, etc. makes you a heck of a lot more confident and decisive pilot than someone who has never been in charge. Taking responsibility teaches even relatively inexperienced pilots to assume command and deal with emergencies. Conversely, only pilots who feel in-charge can be expected to take serious initiative to master the challenges and knowledge associated with safety of flight. IMHO, that sense of responsibility comes more from true command experience rather than airplane size.

As for the training part, along with the importance of better mastering relevant safety topics like airframe icing and weather flying, I feel we need to reincorporate autonomy and thereby the development of judgment and confidence back into flight training. I’ve felt that way since writing the following column way back in 1998. Read Rite of Passage: Open Those Cages! here.

©2010 Gregory N. Brown

Save our ears! And save the music!

OUCH! We went to hear Dave Mason the other night, a founder of the iconic band Traffic. He played classic Traffic songs like “40,000 Headmen,” and great songs from his popular solo album Alone Together. Mason still has worthy chops and riffs, and the band was terrific.

But as the musicians pursued their usual round of sequentially turning up their instruments, the volume became ear-shattering (even with earplugs). Ultimately we were forced to leave the $75 per person Valentines Day concert early — very upsetting because there was more great music to enjoy. Are others overwhelmed by today’s concert volumes? Wish there was a way to survey the audiences at such events – I suspect we’re not the only ones who can’t take the volume.

I asked our professional-musician son Hannis if he finds concerts too loud and he said, “Sure Dad; everyone does!” Hannis says the problem is that musicians often can’t hear themselves onstage.

“You’d have to interrupt the concert to rebalance their monitors, so they turn up their instruments instead.” Surely in this era of microprocessors there’s a way to balance instrument, microphone, and monitor volumes without every band’s musicians competing with each other and the sound-board operator in a volume contest. Moreover, surely during these tough times the musicians and venues must want our money as concert-goers. So why drive us out? This may have been our last rock concert ever. (One hearing threat down, more to go. Wedding-reception DJs are almost as loud!)

Upon leaving the Dave Mason concert we were blasted by oldies blaring from speakers outside a bar. With all the other health and environmental issues being effectively addressed in our lives, hearing preservation seems totally reasonable. It’s time to start a volume-control movement advocating maximum decibel limits, or at least a decibel-rating system so concert-goers can make their own hearing decisions before buying tickets. The alternative is for those of us who care about our hearing to stop going altogether. And what a shame that would be for everybody.

Let’s rally together on this before it’s too late. Save our Ears! It’s time for volume control! ©2010 Gregory N. Brown