APOD: Howard 500

Today’s APOD comes to you from Oshkosh 2013.

The Howard 500 is a striking aircraft. A beautiful twin-radial taildragger, the 500 is a golden-age executive transport, the Gulfstream of its time. Rumor has it that the interior is relatively spacious, and quite nicely appointed in leather and wood, though I cannot independently confirm that.

Of the original production run, only a few airframes remain, and last I knew only two are still flying. Both of these beautiful birds were at Oshkosh, and I vividly remember their pass over the show line sending chills down my avgeek spine. Aircraft like this are a treasure, and the fact that they can still ply the skies puts a smile on my face.

Due to some unfortunate technical limitations I couldn’t get a good action shot of the 500’s flying. But my camera has been substantially upgraded, and I have high hopes for Oshkosh 2014!

Until then, enjoy this photo of the Howard 500 taxiing down the show line, and think back to the glory days of general aviation.

Howard 500 taxiing, Oshkosh 2013

Howard 500 taxiing, Oshkosh 2013


Aviation Bucket List: Top Eight

As part of my ongoing effort to re-focus after the much-bemoaned (and ongoing) FAA hiring debacle, I’ve decided it would be neat to make an Aviation Bucket List.

After all, aviation is a pretty broad interest. There are so many things to experience in the world of flight. From skydiving to ballooning to flying a sailplane or a helicopter, it all sounds pretty awesome. And while I may never get to sit in the left seat of a 747, there are a lot of very attainable goals I can put on my aviation bucket list. Here are my top eight.

1: IFR

First and foremost I need to finish my IFR ticket. I don’t suspect I’ll be doing a lot of IFR cross-countries any time in the immediate future, but having the instrument rating makes you a safer pilot. Whether it’s flying at night or being able to go when the weather is less than perfect, IFR is the top of my list. I may never have a panel as nice as the one below, but getting instrument rated is a must.

Dassault Falcon 2000 LX cockpit

By JetRequest.com (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

2: Gliders

While it’s pretty well documented that the instrument rating makes you a safer pilot, I would wager that there are statistics out there proving that the glider rating makes you a safer pilot too. Two of the most famous plane crashes where everyone survived…United 1549 with Capt. Sullenberger and the Gimli Glider…were landed by pilots with extensive training in sailplanes. It’s one thing to fly when the engines work, but flying with no engines at all gives one a whole new appreciation for aerodynamics and the importance of good aeronautical skill.

US Navy 080921-N-4469F-002 Manfred Radius demonstrates the capabilities of his sailplane during the 50th Anniversary Naval Air Station Oceana Air Show

By U.S. Navy photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

3: Skydiving

Why would any pilot jump out of a perfectly good airplane?

Because it would be awesome, that’s why. I’ve experienced the sky from the cockpit and I’ve experienced it from a balloon, but free falling through the air would be something else altogether. And under my placid exterior is a bit of an adrenaline junkie. Which brings me to my next entry…

4: Upset Recovery Training

I feel comfortable with stalls. I practice stalls pretty regularly when I am able to go flying, because fear of the stall will make recovery from the stall much harder. It’s good to know how your airplane will feel when it’s about to dump lift.

That said, I am less proficient at spins and unusual attitudes. I’ve only ever spun a plane twice, both times on purpose and with an instructor. And that was in 2010, during my primary flight training. I’d really like to spend a day in an aerobatic airplane with an instructor practicing spins and unusual attitude recovery. It makes you a more proficient pilot AND it’s a boatload of fun!

5: Get my wings wet

I love my airplanes, but the only thing I love more might be an airplane that can get wet. Seaplanes have always taken up a lot of room in my heart. There’s something very romantic and appealing about the notion of pulling out of the hangar, flying off the pavement, and landing on some remote lake for a few days of camping or even just a few hours of seclusion. The seaplane rating is a must-have for this pilot.

6: Fly a warbird

I’d really like to own a warbird. Something like a T-6 or even a Pilatus P-3 could be a realistic warbird option for me in the future, depending how the financial situation stacks up in the years to come. But whether or not I ever get to own one, I would sure love to get some stick time. Places like Warbird Adventures and Stallion 51 give ordinary pilots the chance to take the controls of these remarkable airplanes for a few unforgettable minutes. I need to do this before the warbirds are gone.

7: Fly a jet

Outside the wonderful world of flight simulation (as an aside: fuck you, CNN. Flight simulators are awesome) I’ve never flown a jet. My understanding, primitive as it may be, is that jets are quite a different animal from pistons. They are a lot less ‘seat-of-the-pants’ and a lot more by the book than pistons.

It would be pretty radical to score some stick time in a jet. Even something like the SubSonex would be a blast to fly, and if the guys at Sonex can pull the SubSonex off as a kit plane we might start seeing more home-built jets on the market.



8: Build a plane

Speaking of homebuilts, I want to make one of my own. I’m no machinist and my experience with metal is…well, I don’t have any. But that hasn’t stopped thousands of other pilots and aviation geeks from building their own airplanes.

While the Sonex used to top my list for it’s phenomenal fuel economy, I think I might prefer the Vans RV-12. The -12 is well suited for my ‘mission,’ which is usually short-haul cross-countries to sightsee or eat lunch, and the Rotax engine takes Mogas as well as Avgas and is not particularly thirsty.

That said, the RV-7 could enable me to get lunch faster…and upside-down. Decisions, decisions.


Aviation is pretty amazing. While there is so much more I’d like to do…multi-engine, helicopters, an A&P rating…these eight items make my to-do list for now. What’s on your bucket lists?

The Prettiest Mooney In The World

I happen to like wild color schemes on airplanes. I think that an airplane should be something bright and vibrant, not something dull and corporate.

When you take a vibrant color scheme and put it onto something as naturally beautiful as a Mooney, you’ve got art that flies. Clean lines, good aerodynamics, bright colors…I try to appreciate airplanes not just as an efficient means of transportation, but as a manifestation of the intellectual challenges of engineering and as works of mechanical art.

With all that in mind, I happen to think this is the prettiest Mooney in the world. Maybe you’ve seen one that’s nicer, and if you have please share, but this…this caught my eye. If I had a little more disposable income I suspect it would have caught my wallet, too. Love at first sight…



Aviation Photo of the Day: UH-1H

Today’s photo was sent to me by Mr. Byron Edgington. Ladies and Gentlemen, the UH-1 Huey!

UH-1 2

Perhaps the most recognizable helicopter in the world,  the Huey gained a reputation for toughness and versatility during the war in Vietnam. The Huey hauled troops, evacuated the wounded, and carried weapons platforms for search-and-destroy missions.

An emblem of the 60’s, it is a testament to the solid design and flying of the Huey that it was still seeing active military use in some nations into the early 2000’s. Although it is no longer a combat aircraft the Huey still flies. It would be an awesome AvGeek experience to ride in one of these birds and experience a piece of aviation history that is highly visible in the collective consciousness yet frequently overlooked.

My special thanks to Byron Edgington for this photograph. Mr. Edgington flew helicopters commercially for almost forty years, starting with Vietnam combat flying, then all over the world. He has herded bears in Alaska, doused forest fires, counted power poles, and hovered across O’Hare International one afternoon in a JetRanger. He flew 3,200 medical patients as an Air Med pilot in Iowa. His final assignment was tour flying on Kauai, where I flew 2,500 tours of the island. In 2005 he quit flying, went back to college and earned a degree in English. He now writes full time, and his memoir The Sky Behind Me, a Memoir of Flying and Life was published in November and is available at Amazon in paperback & digital editions. He also blogs at The Sky Behind Me.

#Oshbash 2013

The countdown to Oshkosh is on! In 26 days I’ll be hitting the road to Wisconsin to participate in the massive conglomeration of Aviation nuts who flock to Oshkosh to celebrate everything that flies.

I’m excited to announce that I’ve been nominated by Airplanista editor Dan Pimentel for a 2013 Oshbash award! The Oshbash award honors “social media users who are stepping up to promote general and business aviation on Twitter.” I’m honored to have been nominated along with some of my favorite #Avgeek friends.

To vote in the 2013 Oshbash awards, click here, and be sure to be at the EAA Press Tent at Airventure on Wednesday, July 31 at 5:30 PM to see the award ceremony. See you there!

OpenAirplane is open for business!

OpenAirplane is open for business!

Ever since I found out about the OpenAirplane project, I’ve been hugely enthusiastic for it. For those of you not familiar with the concept, OpenAirplane aims to make your pilot’s license better by making it easier to rent an airplane off your home airport.


How does it work? Let’s use an example. I live and fly in Chicago. Say I go to Florida on vacation, and I want to go flying while I’m on vacation. How do I arrange that?

Before OpenAirplane:

I go to an airport in Florida, talk to the FBO, and arrange a rental checkout. The instructor will have to go over local procedures, ground school for the airplane, and take me on a flight to check me out in the aircraft. Before I even get to go for fun, I’m out several hours and several hundred bucks. And then I’m only checked out at that particular FBO. If I go to Maine later in the year, I have to repeat the process again.

With OpenAirplane:

Before I go on vacation, I check OpenAirplane for my nearest operator. I book a checkout flight with them in one of their airplanes: perhaps the C-172 at KPWK. After my checkout flight, I am cleared to operate C-172’s within the OpenAirplane network for a year. When I go to Florida, I simply find the nearest OpenAirplane operator, book my flight, and grab the keys. If I then go to California on vacation, my OpenAirplane checkout in the 172 is still valid, and I can avoid having to take another checkout. WAY easier, WAY more convenient, and WAY cheaper.

OpenAirplane isn’t just good for pilots; it’s good for FBOs. The 172 that I fly for an hour in Kissimmee would have spent that hour on the ramp, and the FBO would not get the money I give them to fly it. OpenAirplane FBOs will see more traffic, which means more money, and pilots will get to fly more. It’s win-win!

I’m registered on OpenAirplane, and once Airplanology HQ has a flying budget again I’ll be doing my checkout at the local operator. Right now there are six operators in the network, but rumor has it that more are coming in soon. I encourage any pilots who travel and like to fly to go ahead and register for OpenAirplane. It’s free, it’s convenient, and it is going to change the face of aircraft rental as we know it into something better.

The author of this post is an OpenAirplane enthusiast, however I do not represent OpenAirplane. I am in no way related to or employed by OpenAirplane and I am not being compensated for this post.

Aviation Photo of the Day: Maine


As I mentioned yesterday, I was recently given the privilege of flying with a friend in my home state of Maine.

My first flying lessons were in Maine, but I finished my lessons in the swamps and orange groves of central Florida. And most of my flying since has been over the endless soybeans, corn, and urban sprawl of northern Illinois.

Don’t get me wrong: flying anywhere is a treat. And Florida and Illinois both have their scenic places. But flying in Maine is one endless scenic vista, eye candy as far as you can see: lush forests and dense vegetation, ancient mountains and hidden lakes, fjords and rivers. The experience of flying in the mountains of western Maine is something altogether different from the experience of flying the flatlands.

Parked at 0B1 Maine: majestic!

I like it.


Robot Bird Drones: The Future is Now!

Over the last several years, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles – Drones, in the popular parlance – have become more and more part of the world of flight. With the advent of Predators, Reapers, quadcopters, and more, the 2010’s are shaping up to be the Decade of the Drone.

We’ve already seen huge, clunky, overgrown-RC-airplane drones. The next step in drone tech is biomimetic drones: drones that fly like bumblebees or mosquitoes or birds. Don’t scoff and say it’s too far-fetched to happen, because as the folks at sUAS News will tell you, the robot-bird future is NOW.


This thing looks legit. On close inspection the wings do seem to have a sort of unnatural, marionette-like motion to them; but at a glance, this thing would pass for a generic gull-size avian.

Normally, I’d wax poetic about the awesome powers of engineering and the marvel of flight and whatnot; but in light of the recent revelations regarding the NSA and the near-complete erosion of American civil liberties, I’m not really in the mood.

Next time you see a bird, smile; you’re being watched.


The pattern of one’s fate…


“Tell me now, Howe, since you are older and wiser, by what ends does a man ever partially control his fate? It is obvious from the special history of our kind that favorites are played, but if this is so, then how do you account for those who are ill-treated? The worship of pagan gods, which once answered all this, is no longer fashionable. Modern religions ignore the matter of fate. So we are left confused and without direction.

Let us admit, then, that the complete answer may only be revealed when it can no longer serve those most interested…

…At least let us admit that the pattern of anyone’s fate is only partly contrived by the individual. And let us now remember that a wealthy gambler once said the essence of his success is in knowing when to quit.”

Ernest K. Gann, ladies and gentlemen. If you have not yet read Fate is the Hunter you are under orders to go out immediately and do so. It is easily one of the best aviation books I have ever read.