Blue Angel Flies Inverted

U.S. Navy Blue Angel inverted
Screenshot of a U.S. Navy Blue Angel flying inverted. Photo by @AviationDaily

They say that throttle controls pitch and elevator controls airspeed. But what controls being inverted? Regardless, see how easy this Blue Angel makes it look at an altitude that might send shivers down your spine! 

Watch the video!

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Going Direct: The Lion Air Disaster and the Public’s Crash-ination

Stock photograph of Boeing 737 Max.

By now you’ve probably heard about the crash of Lion Air Flight 610. And you might have heard that there’s been speculation that the Boeing 737 Max crashed because the pilots were flummoxed by faulty readings on the plane’s instruments due to problems with the pitot-static system, which senses the plane’s altitude and airspeed. All 189 aboard the plane are presumed tohave died in the crash, and recovery efforts are underway.

As you might remember, it was this system that contributed to the crash of Air France 447 in the Atlantic on June 1of 2009 while at cruise on the way from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, killing all 228 people aboard. When a plane’s sensors give false or unreliable altitude or airspeed (or both) indications, the danger is that the pilots will try to do as they’re trained to do when systems are operating normally and stabilize the flight path by adjusting power and pitch. When the plane is getting bad or erratic altitude and airspeed information, it might be impossible, however, to do anything but make matters worse by attempting to hold the plane’s altitude  and airspeed, because the pilots are chasing false indications without reliable cues. In the Air France 447 disaster, investigators believe that the pilots stalled a perfectly good-flying airplane into the sea because they couldn’t determine how fast it was going or at what altitude they were flying. Complicating their vain attempt was the fact that its was dark atthe time, so they presumably had few or no outside visual cues. It was, for the record, about an hour past official sunrise in Jakarta when Lion Air 610 crashed into the sea. It is not known if the flight was in visual conditions or if it was being flown by reference to instruments solely due to cloud coverage.

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Was the Lion Air flight of a nearly-new Boeing single-aisle airliner brought down by faulty sensors? I don’t know. And none of the people speculating about it know either. And here’s the problem with that.

Crashes of airliners don’t happen often, and that’s surely part of the reason that there’s such a keen public interest in them. When Malaysia Flight 370 went missing under mysterious circumstances in March of 2014, there was unprecedented interest in what had happened. With Flight 370, the biggest question was, was it human error, treachery, or a fault with the machinery?For months,people wanted to hear what the pundits had to say, to hear every little clue that investigators were parsing to try to understand what might have happened and where they should search for the missing airliner.

With Lion Air 610, there will be no lingering mystery. Searchers have already found the crash site and the grim job of recovering the bodies of the dead and getting ahold of the flight recorders has already begun.

And speculation is rampant. It hasn’t always been this way, but it is now, and there’s no going back. The Internet has made instant analysis, for good and for ill—and there’s plenty of the latter and not enough of the former­—a fact of life when it comes to newsgathering. The hijacking of a Horizon Air Q400 by an unstable ground crew member, who subsequently died in what was mostly likely a suicide, is a case in point. The question was, and is, how did the thief, who had no formal training in how to fly the Q400, manage to not only steal it but to fly it well? Could he have taught himself? And should we ban flight simulation games to prevent any such incident from happening in the future? These are not easy questions to answer, with the possible exception of the last one, should we ban flight sim games, because that is a silly question.

With Lion Air 610, there are already questions that need to be answered, none of them the least bit frivolous. They are, how did the crash happen and how can we prevent any such tragedy from happening again?

In this case it’s already clear that the answer to those questions are, we don’t know and, again, we don’t know.

The only comfort is that in this case is thatthe answers are almost certain to come in time to prevent future tragedy, if indeed it is preventable. Will that knowledge be enough to quiet the speculators?

Not a chance.

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Volunteer Pilot Gives Pup Second Chance

Pilots N Paws
Pilots N Paws

When FAA Examiner Peyton Enloe presented me my pilot’s license on a sunny July 4th day many years ago, he gave me more than a license to fly. He gave me a unique opportunity to make a difference. One of my bucket list items had always been to fly for a nonprofit organization. It was at AOPA’s Camarillo fly-in that my wife and I learned about Pilots N Paws, a wonderful non-profit organization that engages in the valuable service of rescuing, transporting and adopting animals in need.

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Right before Christmas, I saw the following cry for help: “Small Terrier Pup Needs Ride from Shelter to Rescue ASAP!” Heidi and I were available, and our Cessna Cardinal was eager for a cause greater than a $100 hamburger. So we committed to saving this little eight-pound pup named Carson. The logistics began—coordinating the pickup of Carson, the drop off of Carson, and the route through Los Angeles’ bustling airspace, and ensuring the Cardinal was fueled and operational. Southern California was experiencing raging fires, and temporary flight restrictions were popping up, complicating our rescue effort.

We met Carol and her daughter Aolani at our hangar. This lovely mother and daughter team spent family time volunteering at the animal rescue to help “fur babies.” They entrusted the care of little Carson to Heidi and me. We read his paperwork and learned his story. This was his last chance at a home. He could’ve had a chip on his shoulder, but he was sweet and friendly. He had never flown in an airplane before, and he was scared. But our chocolate Labrador, Piper, jumped in the airplane and showed him that it was going to be a fun adventure.

Once we settled into the airplane, I tried to start the engine, but the prop lazily turned only a few times. With the wildfire smoke, the temporary flight restrictions and now this, I started doubting our prospects for success. I exited the plane and manually rotated the prop a few times before climbing back in our Cardinal. Three times was a charm! The Cardinal woke up and started charging the battery. We departed the Palm Springs area and flew west through the mountain pass. ATC no longer called us Cardinal 753. That day we were on a special mission. They called us Compassion 753. Heidi helped with pet care, and she input radio frequencies and squawk codes while I navigated and talked to ATC. Piper helped by being a good canine ambassador.

Carson was in great spirits when we landed in Van Nuys. He was wagging his tail as I transferred him to Tim, the husband of another animal shelter volunteer. Tim said the little guy was going to a home up north, and this leg of the trip was an important piece in getting Carson to his furever home. We said goodbye to Carson, and then Heidi and I took a break outside the FBO. We tossed the ball with Piper and thought of how much joy our dog had brought to our lives. Carson had been rescued, and he would have that same opportunity to bring joy to another family.

A Pilots N Paws Freedom Flight might seem like a simple trip from point A to point B, but I was reminded how many links in the chain make such missions successful. From the Cessna engineers who designed my Cardinal, to my flight instructors who taught me, to the volunteers who rescue and adopt animals, to the air traffic controllers, the FBO staff and the taxpayers who fund public airports. I’m proud to be a pilot, and I’d like to think that at least on this day, I was the person my dog thinks I am.

Tucker’s first novel, “The Reawakening of Mage Axum,” follows two journalists whose aviation adventures, politics, and love span two continents and half a century of America’s defining moments. For more flying stories, please visit

Do you have a great story about a time when you got to cross an item off of your aviation Bucket List? If so, we’d love to hear it! Check out the Bucket List submission details and send your story to In the meantime, you can find more aviation adventures in our Bucket List archives.

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Going Direct: Boeing 737s Versus Lockheed Martin F-22s

An article on yesterday posed a question many of us have about the future of our air defenses. Namely, who’s going to fly these planes? Turns out it’s a bigger problem than you might have imagined. And, as usual, there’s more to the story.

First off, no one can seriously do anything but marvel at the technology that’s gone into the creation of the two newest U.S. fighters, the F-35 and F-22, though people will disagree about how much they cost and are costing, which is a lot. But it turns out that having those planes and being able to use them are two different things.

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In the Forbes piece, journalist Niall McCarthy, who, like Nate Silver of fame, uses data to try to understand a complex world that often defies easy analysis. The subject McCarthy and Forbes are interested in is markets, and military aviation is a huge market. In his piece, McCarthy uses the Air Force’s own data to answer questions to which there have been few good answers so far. IN this case, the first question is, how great is it to have the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II, the two most advanced fighters in the world? According to what McCarthy can glean from Air Force data, it’s a mixed bag, and it might be getting worse.

According to Air Force figures on usage rates on their planes, neither fighter is getting flown as much as it should be, and not because there are no battles to be fought but because the planes have a terrible dispatch reliability rate. In military aviation, this is known as “availability.” In business aviation, it’s typical to have dispatch rates of over 95 percent. At one point Gulfstream said its G650 (which was my primary plan if I won the big lotto, shucks) had a DR rate of 99.7 percent. The two USAF fighters, in stark contrast, have dispatch rates hovering, even without VTOL capabilities, around 50 percent. Some of that is simply because military planes live harder lives than bizjets. The most reliable plane in the military, according to the Forbes story via the Air Force Times, is the Boeing C-17 transport, at around 84 percent. The worst is the F-22A, at less than 50 percent.

Some of that could be blamed on the aircraft themselves, as McCarthy points, due to their maintenance heavy stealth coatings. And they’re new and super high-tech machines. McCarthy doesn’t mention, but there’s a lot of top secret electronic gear on the planes, and the Air Force isn’t about to reveal what that gear is and how reliable it is, or isn’t.

And that poor reliability rating could get worse rather than better, thanks (or no thanks) to the airlines. With transitioning military pilots looking at good salaries as airline pilots in short order, the market conditions have changed substantially. Previously, the move from the military to the airlines was far less certain, and starting salaries were low. Today with a staggering shortfall of pilots, the airlines have had to increase pay by a lot, and there are jobs waiting for qualified pilots starting yesterday.

Of course, the downside is that flying a 737 or RJ isn’t as much fun as flying an F-22 or F-16—when’s the last time you heard of an Airbus A-320 going full afterburner on departure? Still, when it comes to home and family, an airline job these days will be hard for military pilots to turn down when their commitment is up.

And if the Air Force has a plan for this change in market conditions, we haven’t heard it, but we hope that they do. Because, to state the obvious, an airplane is never available unless there’s someone to fly it.

And if you’re thinking, well, this is where drones come in, we agree. They will be a huge factor in this fast-changing world.

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Is Congress Coming After FBOs?

Most small aircraft owners will agree that big FBOs at publicly funded airports can be a pain in the neck, and in the wallet. Certain FBOs at big, convenient, urban airports, can be a hassle for small aircraft owners, with the high ramp fees and fuel fees they charge. The FBOs provide parking and fueling at airports, among other services. Some of them work to limit competition so there often aren’t cheaper options available, but now these issues are being investigated and called out by lawmakers, which could be good news for small aircraft owners.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) oversight of FBOs has been under investigation since the spring at the request of House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster and Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Frank LoBiondo. Reps. Ralph Abraham and Steve Russell sent a letter on Oct. 16 supporting the investigation and voicing their concerns with the oversight of FBOs.

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The investigation, conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), is examining the FAA’s oversight of airports that receive Airport Improvement Program funds, including requiring airports to charge fair, nondiscriminatory fees and prices, an issue we’ve been talking about for years now.

In their letter backing the investigation, Abraham and Russell wrote that they “are concerned that at many public use airports, airports having only one FBO have leased out all or substantially all of the ramp space for parking general aviation aircraft and the FBO is extracting fees and charges from pilots far in excess of the costs of the public use ramp.” The letter goes on to say that the FAA appears to have made “serious lapses” in the attention they give this issue.

“At a minimum, we believe all FBO fees should be transparent and easily accessible online for pilots,” the letter says.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, or AOPA, has been working to ensure that public airports financed by tax dollars have fair pricing and are accessible to all pilots.

“As we’ve said since the beginning, most FBOs do a great job of providing service to pilots at reasonable costs. Our attention is focused on the small minority—often large chain FBOs with a monopoly position at an airport—who choose to abuse their positions to the detriment of pilots who funded these airports,” said AOPA President Mark Baker.

The AOPA stated they feel the GAO is a step in the right direction to provide access and transparency.

“While we want FBOs to remain profitable, airports that receive government funding need to be transparent about what pilots should expect when they land,” Baker said.

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