Affordable Flying

RV-3

In 1980, the decennial census counted 226,545,805 people in the United States. That same year, the FAA reported more than 827,000 of those folks held pilot certificates. That’s about one out of every 300 people.

By the end of 2009, the U.S. population had climbed to nearly 30% to 307,000,000 while the pilot count had dropped by 25% to 594,000. Today less than one out out of every 500 Americans is a pilot.

As the saying goes, there are statistics, damn statistics, and lies. But this is no lie: the world of general aviation is getting smaller, and every organization from AOPA to EAA has had their crack at explaining why. They’ve taken surveys, held town hall meetings, hired experts, analyzed statistics, published articles, and made proclamations for as long as I’ve been flying.

The decline has been blamed on everything under the sun. Some claim that fences and security procedures make the local airport an unwelcoming place. Others say liability concerns in today’s litigious society are at the heart of the problem. Or that flying can’t keep up with the excitement of modern video games and simulators.

My personal favorite? Blaming the flight instructor community. While there are certainly instructors out there with a lousy attitude and/or poor instructional technique, you will find that problem in every field of work from physicians to garbage collectors. For a long time, many people inside the industry have pointed the finger of blame at instructors. “The drop out rate for student pilots is 80%!”, they exclaim. Well, it must be the instructor’s fault, then.

Or perhaps not. There is truth in each of those assertions. Indeed, there are myriad reasons for the decay of general aviation, but chief among them is the cost.

It’s the Economy, Stupid

As with most things in life, the difference between what we want and what we have often comes down to plain old money. In my experience, when students can’t complete training, it’s almost always due to financial constraints. When experienced aviators curtail their flying and I ask them about it, the answer invariably comes back: I don’t have the money. I can’t count the number of times I’ve taken a friend for a flight and heard them gush about how much they’d love to learn to fly… until they discover the resources required to complete that training. And that was before the economy turned south.

The Sport Pilot certificate was supposed to make flying less expensive, but I don’t see the results. It’s true that more and more people are learning to fly in light-sport aircraft (LSA) even if they’re pursuing the higher private pilot certificate, but once your training is complete, what then?

If you want to continue flying, your choices are limited to renting or buying an aircraft. Renting is a tough sell because rentals usually come with daily minimums (typically at least a 3 hour/day charge) and that means even a weekend in Vegas will be cost prohibitive because the round trip from L.A. might take three hours but a Friday-to-Sunday trip could rack up six hours of charges. It’s hard to blame the rental FBO for the daily minimums. Airplanes are expensive assets and they have to keep them in the air to generate revenue.

So what’s the answer? Well, there are certainly ways to make flying more affordable, but they come with compromises and require thought, research, and creativity. If you want to fly badly enough though, you often can make it happen.

Parnerships: A Popular Option

One frequently-used technique is to share ownership with another pilot. Privately-owned general aviation aircraft tend to spend most of their time on the ground just sitting. They might fly once a week on average. Probably less. Why not split the cost and get the plane in the air more?

Aircraft partnerships reduce cost and can also allow you to fly a larger or more powerful airplane than you’d otherwise be able to afford. You’ll also have someone to share flying experiences with, and isn’t that part of aviation’s appeal?

On the other hand, partnerships do raise the possibility of disagreements between owners, mismatched goals or schedules, and different ideas about upgrades and maintenance. Think of it like a marriage: when it’s good, it’s great. When it’s not, it can get downright ugly.

The partnership route is one that I’ve used for two out of my three aircraft ownership experiences, and although they’ve not been perfect, I’ve been able to fly at times and in aircraft I could not have afforded on my own.

Flying Clubs: Low Commitment, Low Cost

Joining a flying club that has less restrictive daily minimums is another option for those without the resources to own. Flying clubs are typically non-profit organizations, so the hourly fee to fly an aircraft tends to be lower since they’re not seeking to turn a profit. They’re the credit unions of the aviation world, if you will.

Many flying clubs also charge by the tach hour rather than Hobbs hour, so you pay very little for time spent on the ground. That may not sound like much of an incentive, but a typical hour-long flight could involve as much as fifteen minutes spent on the ground taxiing, waiting, performing pre-flight checks, and so on. And if you’re taking a lazy sightseeing flight along the coast, the lower engine RPM means the tach meter runs slower and you pay less per hour.

One of the great advantages of a flying club is that the capital outlay for getting into the cockpit tends to be quite small. A typical club might ding you for an annual membership fee of $100 or so. Beyond that, you only pay for your flight time. If you move, lose interest, or just don’t have time to fly for a while, you’re not bleeding money each month for storage fees, taxes, required inspections, etc.

Sole-Ownership: Yes, Virginia, It Does Exist

Before you write-off the possibility of owning an aircraft outright, perhaps you should take a look at this AOPA Online article. Author Alton Marsh lists ten aircraft you can purchase for less than $20,000:

  • 1980 Piper Tomahawk
  • 1953 Piper TriPacer
  • 1961 Piper Colt
  • 1961 Ercoupe
  • 1972 Cessna 150
  • 1946 Cessna 120
  • 1946 Cessna 140
  • 1946 Luscombe 8A
  • 1946 Aeronca 11BC Super Chief

Think about that. If you’re willing to hold on to your current car when it’s paid off, you could put those resources toward owning an airplane and probably not pay much more for the privilege. A typical 20-year aircraft loan of $20,000 at 7% interest with 15% down would cost $131.80 per month. To be fair, there are other expenses such as fuel, insurance and a tiedown/hangar fee to pay each month. It’s never going to be cheap, but it doesn’t have to be ruinous, either.

Not only are these aircraft relatively inexpensive, but they tend to be some of the most fun aircraft you can fly, tailwheels! I would go a bit further than the AOPA article and add a few experimental-homebuilt airplanes to the list. You can get a flying RV-3 for the same price. Yes, it’s a single seat airplane, but one that will do over 200 mph on seven gallons of fuel per hour. The Thorp T-18 two-seater gives RV-like performance on a much lower budget. There’s one for sale right now on Barnstormers for $22,000.

Maintenance: The Big Question Mark

No matter what aircraft you own, there is one large variable which can really eat a hole in your pocket: maintenance. It’s a fact of life for all of us who fly, as it should be. Safety and common sense demand we treat our flying machines with greater care than our automobiles because the consequences of a mechanical failure can be far more severe.

Unfortunately, the high cost of maintenance does more to drive people away from flying in general and ownership in particular than just about anything else. You think an auto dealership’s maintenance shop can shock you with their invoice? You ain’t seen nothing yet! In the world of aviation, it’s not difficult for maintenance to overtake all other ownership costs — combined. I’ve had maintenance bills so high I could have used the check to purchase a new car.

If you want to keep your flying affordable, there are several ways to cut the maintenance expense on your aircraft down to size. The ultimate solution is to pursue an FAA Airframe & Powerplant certificate, but that requires a major commitment of time, typically two years of full-time schooling.

If that’s too big a commitment, regulations (specifically, 14 CFR Part 43) allow aircraft owners to perform much of the preventative and routine maintenance themselves. The list is long and covers virtually all the typical maintenance chores on a simple GA aircraft:

  • Removal, installation, and repair of landing gear tires.
  • Replacing elastic shock absorber cords on landing gear.
  • Servicing landing gear shock struts by adding oil, air, or both.
  • Servicing landing gear wheel bearings, such as cleaning and greasing.
  • Replacing defective safety wiring or cotter keys.
  • Lubrication of the airframe.
  • Making simple fabric patches.
  • Replenishing hydraulic fluid.
  • Painting (except balanced control surfaces)
  • Applying preservative or protective material or coatings.
  • Repairing upholstery and decorative furnishings inside the plane
  • Making small simple repairs to fairings, cover plates, cowlings, and small patches.
  • Replacing windows (except the windshield)
  • Replacing safety belts.
  • Replacing seats or seat parts with replacement parts.
  • Trouble shooting and repairing landing light wiring circuits.
  • Replacing bulbs, reflectors, and lenses of position and landing lights.
  • Replacing wheels.
  • Replacing most cowlings.
  • Replacing or cleaning spark plugs and setting of spark plug gap clearance.
  • Replacing any hose connection except hydraulic connections.
  • Replacing prefabricated fuel lines.
  • Cleaning or replacing fuel and oil strainers or filter elements.
  • Replacing and servicing batteries.
  • Replacement or adjustment of nonstructural standard fasteners.
  • Removing and replacing instrument panel-mounted radios..
  • Updating navigational software databases.

As if this isn’t enough, if an A&P mechanic is willing to supervise you, there’s literally no maintenance you cannot legally perform on your airplane. Want to overhaul the engine? Go for it. With an Experimental-AB airworthiness certificate, you don’t even need the A&P’s supervision.

I’ve come to feel that if we taught neophyte pilots more about ways to reduce maintenance costs, they’d be more likely to remain in aviation for the long-term. I try to provide that service for friends and clients wherever possible, because every new owner goes through a steep learning curve where maintenance costs force you to sell or find ways to economize. Heck, the simple act of joining a type club can do wonders for an owner seeking parts, knowledgeable mechanics, and advice on upkeep for their bird.

Conclusion

Flying can cost an arm and a leg, but it doesn’t have to. Whether you rent, lease, barter, own, or borrow an airplane, there is frequently a cost effective way to get — and stay — airborne. Fly a less-expensive plane, operate out of a cheaper airport, use mogas, volunteer for a non-profit and write-off some of the costs. When flying got too expensive for me, I decided to make it a career so I could not only get paid but also write off many of my expenses.

There are more ways to reduce the cost of flying than there is time to write it all down. What I’ve covered here are just a few basics. You can fly. The only real question is: how bad do you want it?

Married!

Hello there. Yeah — you. The one who thought I was MIA/AWOL/just plain dead.

I will be the first to admit that I’ve been remiss in keeping my site up to date. As a former professional web developer, the kiss of death for any site in my bookmark list was always when a site was no longer updated on a timely basis. Sort of the way this one has been of late. After all, why should I pay more attention to a site than the owner does?

So who knows what sort of readership I still have left for the House of Rapp — if any.

In my defense, however, I’ve got a great excuse. I went from being unattached to dating to engaged to married in a little over a year. If you know anything about me, you’ll know I’m very methodical about important matters, and this sort of thing is uncharacteristic, to say the least. However, it’s definitely the best thing that’s ever happened, too.

My fiancee — er, I mean “wife” (I’m still getting used to that!) — and I just returned from a fantastic ten day honeymoon in Hawaii. My only experience with the 50th state had come from a few visits I’d made to Honolulu when I was a kid. And Kristi had never been to Hawaii at all. I explained that Honolulu was basically a major metropolitan area and might not impart the romantic solitude we were seeking. So we ended up honeymooning on Maui, and what a great decision that was! Not nearly as sleepy as Kauai, but far less urban than Oahu.

Anyway, the past months have involved working, planning a destination wedding in San Luis Obispo, registering, the honeymoon, and of course the process of combining two households. My routine has been anything but normal, so finding time to write has been scarce. I aim to change that, however.

OK, you’re probably here because of an interest in aviation. So, on the flying front, I’m still flying King Airs for Dynamic Aviation. For the past 18 months or so, there really hasn’t been any movement in the pilot ranks. No upgrades, no new hires. But over the past few weeks we’ve had three upgrades, an announcement of a new base manager, and other developments.

I’m not sure this portends any sort of upswing in the overall aviation sector, however. These are mainly replacements for existing King Air captains who are moving on to other bases or jobs within the company. Nobody I’m aware of is being hired by airlines, fractionals, or charters. In fact, Netjets, the 500 pound gorilla of the Subpart K world, just announced it was laying off about 500 pilots. So the pain continues. The Netjets news was particularly disheartening to me, because flying for them is my ultimate career goal.

Aerobatic competition has been nil for the past year. Sad, but with the move to the Advanced category, I really don’t feel good about just jumping into things. I want to ensure I can fly the sequences safely and be competitive. Do it right or don’t do it at all. That’s my philosophy. I’ve done some judging, coaching, and instruction, just not much competing.

The RV transition training has been picking up nicely. I think I’m starting to get a stronger reputation as a Socal guy that knows RVs. The next step is really for me to get a side-by-side model — probably an RV-6 — that I can use for transitions. The problem with using the student’s aircraft is that often it’s not available. It either hasn’t been purchased, or the builder hasn’t made the first flight yet. I’ve started to delve into what’s required for an FAA training exemption so that I can hire the aircraft out for these flights. Without that exemption, it is not permissible to rent an Experimental airplane.

So that’s the story. Thanks for sticking with me and being patient. I’ll leave you with a link to a web site I created for the wedding. It’s got quite a few photos, stories, and other stuff on there. Our wedding was aviation-themed, so you’ll at least want to get a look at the photo of the cake.

A Day at Medfly

medfly-ramp

Aviation is a fascinating, almost secret world. To those on the outside, it basically consists of airliners and… uh, more airliners, I guess.

When people learn that I’m a professional pilot, they invariably ask which airline I fly for. When I tell them I don’t fly for an airline, they say “ohhh” in that sad empathetic tone reserved for downtrodden, second class citizens.

Little do they know there’s an entire world of flying out there, much of which does not involve an endless series of occupied gates, surly passengers, overcrowded airports, corporate mergers, pay cuts, bankruptcies, and nights spent away from home.

One of the things I’m most frequently asked about by those who dig a little deeper into my flying career is my work for the “Medfly program” here in Southern California. What is it? Why is it needed? And what the heck is a Medfly, anyway?

The short version: the program is a cooperative effort between the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to control the Mediterranean Fruit Fly population here in the state.

Medflies are not native to the state of California. On the contrary, they are highly destructive to more than 400 varieties of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other crops. Keep in mind that agriculture is California’s largest industry and California is by far the largest economic engine in the country, and you can understand how these little insects could cause some serious damage. I’ve heard that our program, which costs about $25 million per year, saves more than a billion dollars in crop damage.

In the early 80’s, the Medfly problem even cost the state’s governor his job. Medfly eradication in those days was done with malathion, a controversial pesticide which was sprayed over populated areas by a fleet of helicopters. Then-Governor Jerry Brown claimed the pesticide was not harmful, but the public was skeptical, and at the very least, it damaged the finish on cars left outside during spraying operations.

Rather than run for a third term, Governor Brown ran for U.S. Senate but was defeated by Pete Wilson, in part due to extremely poor public opinion of the way he handled the Medfly outbreak.

Most people who lived in southern California during that period assume I must be spraying malathion, but that practice ended a long time ago. Today, we use a non-pesticide method called the “sterilized insect technique”. Basically, male flies are raised in captivity and irradiated to sterilize them. Then they are released from aircraft, and these sterile males mix with any wild female population. Their attempts to breed are futile, and without any reproductive capability, that generation of flies dies off. The program releases flies in the southern California area as a preventative measure even when there are no major outbreaks.

One of the earliest questions I had about the program was why it was necessary here in the L.A. basin. There’s very little agriculture left in this area due to the high population density. Wouldn’t it be better to drop flies in the San Joaquin Valley where most of the farms are located? I was told that although there’s little agriculture in the Los Angeles basin, there are a lot of immigrants and cargo coming into California via the roads, ships, and airports, and that’s how most of the wild Medflies find their way into our fair state. It’s also why there are agricultural inspection stations on the way into California.

If you’d like to read the California Department of Food & Agriculture’s official explanation of the program, they have a detailed breakdown of how it all works on their web site. Rather than re-hash that, I’ll give you a photographic look at the program from a pilot’s perspective.

By the way, I should note that I don’t work for the CDFA. I work for a company called Dynamic Aviation, which is contracted by CDFA to handle the actual flying. The pilots, mechanics, and aircraft are Dynamic assets. It’s a fascinating company to work for, but I’ll save the company details for a future post.

OK, here we go! The day starts at 4:45 a.m. Yes, you read that right. I get up, take a shower, eat breakfast, make a brown bag lunch, check weather, and head out the door by 6:00 a.m. But when that alarm goes off at 4:45, I always wonder what the hell I’m doing up at that hour.

It used to be a lot harder to work this schedule when I was also singing for Opera Pacific. Every now and then I’d have a rehearsal or performance the night before which wouldn’t allow me to get to bed before midnight at the earliest, and then have to get up at 4:45 the next morning. Ugh.

medfly_2008_18

I don’t have any photos from the next thing, but I arrived on base at about 6:30 a.m. to start the dispatching tasks for the day: checking & printing weather, issuing flight assignments, coordinating with the CDFA personnel, filing flight plans, and basically doing a lot of paperwork. That’s the one constant in aviation: paperwork.

After that, I proceed to the flight line and join the other guys in performing the kind of mundane task you don’t see in Top Gun: washing an aircraft. Everyone pitches in, pilots, mechanics, etc. I don’t mind it, because it’s a chance to watch the sun rise, joke around with the other crews, and stretch out a bit before the 6-7 hours of flying which follow. Hours of sitting in a seat fairly motionless, I might add:

medfly_2008_01

After the wash, the aircraft is towed back to the flight line and the crews start pre-flighting their aircraft. We typically send out four or five aircraft per day. Each aircraft will fly two or three flights totaling five to seven hours of flight time. So that’s 25-35 hours of flying for our fleet each day, and we do it seven days a week.

This is Tim, my first officer for the day, doing the towing duties. Like many of the pilots at Dynamic, Tim is also an A&P mechanic, meaning he can fix the planes as well as break them. I can only break them… but in my defense, I do it very well. :)

medfly_2008_02

We operate out of a military base which sits on some prime real estate near the ocean right on the border between L.A. and Orange counties. It’s a “Joint Forces Training Base”, whatever that means. We just call it “Los Alamitos”.

For a military airfield, it has remarkably little flying activity. There are some helicopters based here, and occasionally the President, F-18s, or other aircraft will fly in for a while. Sometimes a civilian 737 will fly in to drop of soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan. During the annual fire season, military Blackhawks are sometimes pressed into service to fight the fires.

But for the most part, we are the main users of the base’s runways. In 800 hours of flying off this air base, I’ve yet to see another non-Dynamic aircraft taxiing at the same time as me anywhere on the airfield.

Here’s a pair of T-45A Goshawk jets near the wash rack:

medfly_2008_03

Within about 15 minutes, our aircraft is prepared for departure. Fuel and oil checked, chocks and covers removed, dispersal equipment checked, cockpit setup complete, and we’re hooked up to an external generator to keep the refrigeration equipment cold. The flies are kept at about 40 degrees so that they don’t try to escape from the box. At this point, we’re just waiting for the CDFA personnel to arrive with our cargo.

You’ll notice the interior has been stripped out of this aircraft. These airplanes are ex-military U-21A turboprops — basically an unpressurized King Air 90. The passenger seats are replaced with a refrigeration and auger system used to distribute the flies. We also have upgraded avionics, wig-wag landing lights, traffic detection systems, and other modifications.

The “Restricted” placard indicates that this aircraft is certified in the Restricted category (due to our installing non-aviation equipment) and cannot be used to carry passengers or non-essential personnel.

In these photos we have the cargo door open and are waiting for our load. Notice the fly chutes hanging down from the belly of the aircraft in the second photo. Also, note the power cord which is providing electricity to the refrigeration unit.

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medfly_2008_27

Here the CDFA guys have arrived with our box. This thing contains several million flies. The sterilized ones we drop have an orange dye on them for ease of identification when they show up in the little fly traps placed around Southern California. We load the box, fill out some paperwork to confirm the load weight and the regions we’re headed to, as well as an ETA for our second flight, close the door, run some checklists, and off we go!

medfly_2008_28

According to my watch in the photo below, it’s about 9:45 a.m. and we’ve probably been in the air for about an hour and forty-five minutes. The fuel panel shows the tanks are still fairly full. I don’t know why I took this picture, except perhaps to show some part of the aircraft for a reason I’ve long since forgotten.

medfly_2008_05

Here’s the front office. The panel is fairly standard, with flight instruments in front, two rows of engine gauges to the right of them. And in the center a stack of Garmin radios. We have two transponders, so as per Murphy’s Law, we will never, EVER have a transponder failure.

The equipment which probably looks most foreign to the pilots among you are the camera and the red LED-thingie above the annunciator panel. The camera is so we don’t miss any breaking news from CNN about new TFRs. And the LEDs are for the laser light show which accompanies the flying music on our iPods.

Um, or not. Actually, the camera allows is to verify that flies are actually dropping from the aircraft. The light bar on top of the glareshield is part of the AGNAV system. This system was originally designed for cropdusting. It indicates how far off the desired flight path we are at any given moment.

In the photo below, it indicates our ground track is 181 degrees true, and that we’re 64 feet to the right of the course centerline. The LEDs in the middle are a form of Course Deviation Indicator. Cropdusters need this because they can’t be looking down at a computer screen when they’re flying 10′ off the ground.

medfly_2008_06

Here’s a wider photo of the entire panel, which I undoubtedly took on my way back from the ‘loo. Yeah, if only. We don’t have a bathroom onboard this aircraft. I was probably checking the fly box to get an idea of how much longer we’d be in the region dropping flies.

Anyway, the light bar now indicates we’re flying a true ground track of 3 degrees and are 41 feet right of the desired course line.

We are required to keep the aircraft within 150′ of the course line, 100′ of the desired altitude, and maintain 140 knots indicated airspeed +0/-5 knots. That’s not hard to do… for a while. But try doing it when you’ve been in the air for seven hours already. Fatigue? Yeah, it gets tiring.

medfly_2008_11

Thankfully, we have two pilots on board and can switch off. That’s not to say the PNF (pilot-not-flying) can just sit around. The PNF has to operate the radios, scan for traffic, operate the dispersal equipment, monitor the pilot who is doing the flying, and do the required paperwork for each pass.

Here Tim is flying the aircraft while I’m… well, apparently taking a photograph. Keep in mind most of our operations take place in the Los Angeles basin, the most highly congested airspace in the world. We operate close to terrain, at low altitudes under the LAX localizer, and in all sorts of odd places you don’t normally find airplanes. We need to do that to ensure a proper coverage of medflies. I believe we drop them at the rate of something like 32,500 flies per linear mile.

The system works well, but it does require a high level of vigilance from the pilots. The Los Angeles airspace was not designed to accommodate our kind of flying, but what we do is important enough that the controllers have maps of our regions and we have an excellent working relationship with them, often operating in Bravo airspace where other aircraft would not be allowed entry.

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When we reach the end of a line (or “pass”, as we call it), we reverse course and fly the next line according to the data provided by the CDFA. Most of our regions are flown on north/south or east/west courses, but occasionally terrain will dictate an oddball course, such as out by Lake Elsinore.

Anyway, here we are in the middle of a right turn. Notice the attitude indicator, which shows about a 50 degree bank. Pretty steep for a King Air. We are allowed up to 60 degrees of bank by company policy. It’s hard on the airplanes, and they’re old. And we fly in heavy turbulence at times. So the aircraft get frequent spar inspections.

I don’t know the details, but General Electric apparently has a division that does this type of inspection using some high tech equipment. I’ve seen the van come out and do something to the airplanes, but I’ve never paid enough attention to really know all the details. However, I take comfort in knowing that the same mechanics who turn wrenches on these aircraft also fly them.

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Well, after a couple of hours on station, I go back and check the fly box to see what’s left. In this photo you can just see some residual flies clinging to the side of the box. They don’t fly around — remember, it’s 40 degrees in that box. They just sit there, even when the box is opened up. Looks like we’re out of flies, so it’s time to head back to base to refuel, take a 20 minute lunch break, and then do it all over again.

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At the end of the day, the aircraft has to be refueled, post-flight inspection completed, cockpit secured, the augers cleaned out, paperwork completed, and more. When we’re done, the ramp looks neat and tidy:

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It’s worth noting that not everyone at Dynamic gets to fly every day. There are two types of pilots: those who are mechanics, and those who aren’t. I’m a part-time, non-A&P captain, which means I fly all the time I’m there. Full-time mechanic/pilots split their work week, half the time in the air, and half on the ground doing maintenance work on the fleet:

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Anyway, we’re pretty much done with work by 4:00 p.m. or so. Sometimes bad weather will cause us to work later than scheduled and we won’t get out of there until 5:00 or so, but that’s a rarity. We clock out, and voilia! The day is done.

US Airways 1549 Damage Photos

These photos were taken by the crane operator during salvage of the US Airways Flight 1549 aircraft.

It’s remarkable how little damage there was to the fuselage of this Airbus A320. Obviously the aircraft will never fly again — even minor damage incidents can cost millions of dollars to repair — but I think these images are important for us to examine. They illustrate not just how skillful the pilots were during the landing, but also just how much punishment these aircraft are built to take.

Airliners are tough. They endure year after year of constant use, often 16 hours a day or more. They travail the -60 degree flight levels, then bake in 110 degree summer heat. They are pressurized and de-pressurized tens of thousands of times. They fly through punishing turbulence, endure lightning strikes, and even the occasional bird strike. Amazing, isn’t it?

The radome damage (on the nose of the aircraft) was probably a bird strike from the same flock that took out the engines. The right engine cowling is pretty mangled, but that could also have been at least partly from the birds.

In several of the photos you can even see one of the checklists, flight plans, or other crew documents still sitting on the glareshield. It’s almost as if the aircraft is saying, “hey, we’ve still got one more leg to fly, guys!”.

Kristi’s Cub Flight

500' above the water.  That's about as high above the surface as a J-3 typically gets.
My attempt at a spot landing during the 2005 West Coast Cub Fly-In

My attempt at a spot landing during the 2005 West Coast Cub Fly-In

You want to talk about flying? I mean, real flying? The kind that brings little kids (of all ages) to the airport fence? Then what you seek, my friend, is something like this 1943 clipped-wing J-3 Cub.

Sunrise has something like 30 aircraft on the line, ranging from 200+ knot turbo Cirrus SR22 to an Extra 300 to plane-jane Skyhawks.  And I fly them all.  But for my money, there’s nothing better than cruising down the Orange County coastline at sunset in that little J-3 at 45 mph, sipping fuel at maybe 3 or 4 gallons an hour.

You’re 500′ above the water, door and window wide open, just breathing in the fresh ocean air and watching the sun work its way ever lower on the horizon.  I love that time of day, with shadows creeping across the rolling hills of Laguna Beach and city lights from the beachfront homes and restaurants lighting up one by one.

I recently had a chance to take Kristi for an early evening flight in this simple, yet classic aircraft. For the price, nothing else comes close. The wet rate is only $89/hr. And with those clipped wings, the aircraft is far more maneuverable and sporty than traditional Cubs.

On occasion I’ll even take it up solo and just bomb around the pattern for half an hour — it’s that much fun! The engine puts out 100 hp, so it climbs out quite nicely when only one person is aboard.

Anyway, here are some photos from our flight. Enjoy!