The fancy new terminal at LaGuardia Airport

“Wait, La Guardia Is Nice Now? Inside New York’s $25 Billion Airport Overhaul” (New York Times, July 2022):

The first airport to be completed will be La Guardia, where Delta Air Lines has just opened a gleaming, $4 billion terminal … already won an award as the best new airport building in the world.

I was there earlier this month! Let’s check it out…

The ticketing level was mostly empty on a Sunday afternoon:

You walk around a corner, marvel at the enormous artwork (zoom in and you can see the chin diaper on the righteous New Yorker), and head upstairs…

The security line was non-existent and there is an interesting Agam-inspired illuminated artwork above it:

It’s all-Delta-all-the-time out the window:

The interior space is beautiful:

(Note cloth mask against an aerosol virus worn by the Soldier of Faucism riding the escalator.)

Does the airport terminal achieve greatness? Not for me. Nobody seems to have had any imagination for what passengers should be able to do inside. There are the usual options: shop for magazines and junk food, eat in a restaurant, drink at a bar. What if you are stuck there for 4 hours due to thunderstorms or a missed connection? (admittedly the latter is rare due to LGA not being a hub) There’s no amazing garden or aquarium or art museum or science museum inside. There are no historic aircraft hanging from the ceiling. Qatar put a lap swimming pool inside their big terminal. Maybe that’s too much to ask from the folks who gave us the New York Subway, but how about a planetarium? Why not a pinball and video arcade? A carting track? A trampoline park? (the last few ripped off from Dezerland, a vast indoor space in Orlando where almost anyone can happily spend a few hours)

I’m not sure what makes all of these airport terminals so similar in terms of what passengers can actually do while they wait. I’m going to guess that it is the desire of the airport operator to make the last possible dollar on rent, the same thing that causes American shopping malls to be so similar and dull.

Full post, including comments

Your summer airfares, explained

I was chatting with a guy who manages private jets for a variety of billionaires. Is he hiring pilots who were first officers at regional airlines? “No,” he responded. “I hire 65-year-old airline captains because they won’t quit on me.” He can’t keep younger pilots because making $500,000 to $600,000 per year at a mainline airline is straightforward (see “American Airlines CEO tells pilots the carrier is prepared to increase pay to up to $590,000 a year” (NBC) for example). “Captains at United who know how to work the schedule are making over $1 million per year,” he said.

From CNBC:


Full post, including comments

A Robinson R44 goes home to Boca Raton (from the Panhandle)

Day 4 of a Robinson R44’s life after release from the factory…

Due to low clouds, we didn’t rush to get out of Destin, Florida, a beach town developed with the same attention to aesthetics as Ocean City, Maryland.

I posted the above images to Facebook, which added a reminder from Science (TM):

It’s Monday morning, but there are quite a few planes parked (looking towards the beach and the area for smaller planes):

We saw beautiful fish and rays along the shoreline, as well as Truman Show location Seaside, Florida (a New Urbanism development that is less urban/practical than the MacArthur Foundation-planned development in which we live). It was a one-hour flight to Tallahassee where we were prepared to assist Ron DeSantis with advice, if requested.

The northwest coast of Florida has been mostly left in its natural condition, punctuated by occasional fishing towns or camps:

Cedar Key, Florida was once the terminus of a railroad from Florida’s northeast coast, but is now comparatively isolated from the essentials of human life (Walmart, hospitals, Home Depot, etc.). Here we are setting up for a heroic landing on the shortest public runway in Florida, 2300′ (and a displaced threshold!):

When you land at Cedar Key, you can take a golf cart that’s already at the airport into town and pay the Cedar Key Adventures folks for its use. Or you can call Judy at (352) 949-2127 and she’ll come fetch you in her minivan ($20 into town for two). Steamers is Judy’s favorite restaurant, so we ate local oysters (cooked, but still perhaps not wise to combine with flying?), shrimp, and salad there with a water view:

Whoever wins the Republican nomination for the 2024 Presidential election might not need to campaign here:

Some photos around town, including extreme golf cart decoration and what is plainly the best fishing enterprise:

The gallery with the Wall-E sculpture also had some interesting artwork based on underlying nautical charts from Gayle Miller.

Back at the airport, a sign reminds pilots to think before departing in the dark:

A last look at the town…

We stopped for fuel at Lakeland, Florida, which has a great year-old restaurant: Waco Kitchen (from Waco Aircraft). Then it was over Florida’s Massif Central

and around Lake Okeechobee

before landing at Boca Raton.

It was about 33 hours of rotor-spinning time. We suffered from two squawks, unlike the previous flight that ended squawk-free. Robinson has a fancy new “cyclic guard” designed to keep folks in the front left seat from knocking into the central cyclic inadvertently. There is a somewhat complex mechanism to allow this to come down so that the seat can be flipped up to reveal the luggage compartment. The hardware came apart. We also had seepage from the tail rotor transmission sight glass window seal.

Final thoughts: Thank God we had air conditioning!

Full post, including comments

Helicopter journey from Houston to the Florida Panhandle

Third post in a series…

We were sorry to leave the luxurious environment of Galaxy FBO at KCXO (north of Houston), but a massive multi-day system of thunderstorms was coming in so we flew through some rain and under low clouds to escape east. First stop was KCWF in Lake Charles, Louisiana. There must be a great restaurant nearby because Million Air CWF was hosting a broken F/A-18 and two broken T-38s.

(The “NJ” on the tail refers to a carrier air wing, not the Great State of Feminism.)

If you want to fly a helicopter over rice paddies without staging a mostly peaceful invasion of a Southeast Asian country, Louisiana is the place:

This was where I was glad to have brought the PLB and the iPhone 14:

Crossing the Mississippi at the Nottoway Plantation (White Castle(!), LA)… (let’s hope that Californians are going to tax themselves to pay each descendant of the builders of this amazing house $5 million)

Folks in New Orleans did a great job building their original airport terminal, now used for a café (sadly, we arrived after it was closed) and a helicopter tour counter (trusty R44!).

The gals at Flightline said “this neighborhood isn’t safe. Don’t get out of the crew car until you’re at least 15 minutes from here”. They made an exception for the former Dixie brewing restaurant, 7 minutes away, because it is surrounded by a fence. It’s now “Faubourg” and the food served is entirely free of poisonous vegetables:

We flew under/around some clouds and over some Tesla fuel in Mobile, Alabama:

Destin, Florida (KDTS) was reporting only scattered clouds, so we flew at 2,500′ in beautiful clear conditions over a broken layer (a little unnerving in a helicopter) and then descended over the beach to 500′ before landing at the airport.

Full post, including comments

Robinson R44 helicopter ferry Day 2: riding through all of Hell and half of Texas

After we had finished registering voters in El Paso, we headed east along Interstate 10. Here we are parked on the “pad of shame” at Fort Stockton:

(As with self-checkout, self-service aircraft fueling is where I learn that there are no jobs with required skill levels lower than my own.) Nobody was around mid-day Saturday so we proceeded to Sonora, Texas (KSOA) where there was also nobody around, but we were able to take the crew car to some superb barbecue:

(Not worthy of inclusion in Austin and Lockhart, Texas: 10 barbecue restaurants in 72 hours, but still great compared to what’s available in 95 percent of the U.S.)

At T82 (Fredericksburg, Texas), which has an on-field restaurant and an on-field hotel, we discovered that Bidenflation has pinched the economy so badly that almost everyone was forced to drive a small two-seat imported car, some that were decades-old:

I was unwise enough to contact Austin Approach and the controller vectored us halfway to Mexico despite our low altitude. We did enjoy seeing the Radha Madhav Dham, however:

Radha Madhav Dham is one of the largest Hindu Temple and Ashram in the U.S. and is widely known for welcoming hundreds of visitors every day, regardless of their backgrounds, to its religious services, family festivals, and devotional retreats. Located in the rolling hills southwest of Austin, Radha Madhav Dham is an integral member of the local interfaith community, working with other faith-based institutions to provide charitable works and strengthen the common bonds between all religions.

In addition to the spiritual development of human souls, Radha Madhav Dham actively supports the charitable activities of its parent organization JKP Worldwide which is deeply involved in improving the material welfare of the underprivileged in society.

It would have been great to land the helicopter in the grass and see if they could explain the “common bonds” between Hinduism and Islam as interpreted by Jaish-e-Mohammed and also to ask for donations to help the material welfare of underprivileged followers of Lashkar-e-Taiba. However, we wanted to be on time for dinner at Casa Medina (“city of the Prophet”) near the Conroe, Texas airport (KCXO) and The Woodlands (see Atlas Shrugged in Houston (The Woodlands)). Conroe is also near where Mexican national Francisco Oropeza shot his Honduran neighbors. We’d previously flown over what looks like it might eventually be Mr. Oropeza’s taxpayer-funded home in the U.S.:

Despite our humble piston background, we were received like royalty at Galaxy FBO:

We returned for breakfast at the FBO’s upstairs restaurant and discovered a shocking scene of inequality:

Our emergency phone call to Elizabeth Warren was not returned.

Full post, including comments

End-of-Title-42 Robinson R44 trip from Los Angeles to the border

Today is the day that Donald Trump’s cruel Title 42 policy was supposed to end, enabling more than 7 billion humans to enter the U.S. and then live here for 10+ years as they await their first asylum court hearing. (CNN) (Trump’s immigration policy was intolerably racist, which is why the Biden administration has continued it for more than 2 years?) This post chronicles our May 2023 trip from Los Angeles to the border at El Paso, Texas.

A west-to-east trip along Interstate 10 began with a flight over the National Historic Landmark of Mar-a-Lago:

I could almost hear the questions of the children in Palm Beach who were pointing up:

  • “What’s JetBlue?”
  • “What’s a commercial airline?”
  • “You have to share your plane with other people?”

Our PBI-LAX route took us over the Florida Mountains, right next to Deming, New Mexico, where we would later stop:

(If no human is illegal, why does the Biden administration keep a balloon tethered near the border?)

Torrance, California is home to the Robinson Helicopter Company, which has zero Michelin stars, and Din Tai Fung, the proud bearer of one star (for the Hong Kong branch). We managed to catch a curbside Uber Black from LAX and thus avoid the dreaded one-hour wait for a regular Uber and arrived at Din Tai Fung just before closing. Angelenos on the airplane, in the restaurant, and working at the hotel were, by Florida standards, often masked. #COVIDisNotOver

The view from the DoubleTree reminds us that Californians are geniuses when it comes to sustainability and adapting to a dark climate future. When building apartments in an area famous for fires, make sure to use wood rather than concrete:

“Why America’s New Apartment Buildings All Look the Same” (Bloomberg 2019) explains how this is legal:

Los Angeles architect Tim Smith was sitting on a Hawaiian beach, reading through the latest building code, as one does, when he noticed that it classified wood treated with fire retardant as noncombustible. That made wood eligible, he realized, for a building category—originally known as “ordinary masonry construction” but long since amended to require only that outer walls be made entirely of noncombustible material—that allowed for five stories with sprinklers.

By putting five wood stories over a one-story concrete podium and covering more of the one-acre lot than a high-rise could fill, Smith figured out how to get the 100 apartments at 60 percent to 70 percent of the cost.

the buildings have proved highly flammable before the sprinklers and walls go in. Dozens of major fires have broken out at mid-rise construction sites over the past five years. Of the 13 U.S. blazes that resulted in damages of $20 million or more in 2017, according to the National Fire Protection Association, six were at wood-frame apartment buildings under construction.

Our machine is ready on Robinson’s ramp at 0800:

The inspectors had found a slightly messed up decal above a static port and that was being addressed while we did our preflight inspection. Helicopters come out of the factory with exactly 4 flight test hours and then a fresh oil change.

Mid-morning traffic on the east side of Los Angeles wasn’t too bad:

The state that was the most thoroughly locked down for coronapanic celebrates “200 years of freedom, 1776-1976”:

(Would Native Americans and Black Americans agree that “freedom” arrived in 1776?)

The sprawl of Los Angeles continues almost to the Banning Pass, which we were able to get through easily at 3,500′:

If you’re accustomed to high-end FBOs, Blythe, California is best avoided. There is no 100LL truck. The “courtesy” car comes with a stern warning to return with a gasoline receipt or pay $20 (admittedly gasoline in California is over $5 per gallon, but nobody would use the crew car for more than a 12-mile round-trip into town). Some photos of Blythe and the Colorado River, which separates it from the comparatively free state of Arizona:

I-10 then climbs into Phoenix, a true master class on sprawl:

If you want to start an airline, a midnight visit to Pinal, Arizona (KMZJ) with a start cart would save a lot of money (note the Dreamlifter, resting after lifting its last dream):

We refueled in Tucson then headed across southern New Mexico as the sun waned. We landed at Million Air in El Paso where if you’ve got a fever and the only prescription is more cowbell, $200,000 for a custom (street legal) motorcycle from B.A.D. Visions will fill that prescription. My favorite is the one devoted to Elvis Presley:

The gal behind the counter said that her favorite was the one with the “suicide stick” for shifting (note bullet casings):

For more protection from the elements:

“I drive a Honda minivan,” I explained to the young front desk worker. She responded, “I give you a lot of credit for having the courage to put that on the road.”

In the morning, we fired up to check out the border.

Note that the Biden administration maintains roughly 700 miles of caring humanitarian “fence”, not to be confused with a hateful “wall”.

Our El Paso stop lasted 12 hours, so we were able to register only 732 new voters.

More about this trip in a follow-up post…

Readers: What are you doing to celebrate the end of Title 42? Who is changing the sheets in the guest bedroom so that the next 20 or 30 million migrants can be welcomed properly?


  • Pew Research 2015 demographic forecast: “… future immigrants and their descendants will be an even bigger source of population growth. Between 2015 and 2065, they are projected to account for 88% of the U.S. population increase, or 103 million people, as the nation grows to 441 million.”
Full post, including comments

Lift the Wankel/battery powertrain from a Mazda to use in an airplane?

Piston-powered airplanes subject pilot and passengers to unpleasant vibration. Battery-electric airplanes have minimal range.

There have been some successful applications of Wankel rotary engines in aircraft. The homebuilt folks have had some success with Mazda RX-7/RX-8 engines. Here’s an article from EAA’s Sport Aviation in 2002:

While incredibly reliable in automotive use, car engines haven’t done well running at high power settings all day every day in airplanes. The aviation-specific rotary engines thus far, such as Diamond’s AE50R, are low power engines designed for self-launching gliders and UAVs.

What if the smooth rotary engine were used to generate electricity buffered through a battery pack? Then it wouldn’t matter if the engine failed more often than 1930s-style Continental and Lycoming piston engines. An engine failure would mean using a 20-minute battery reserve to land. Is there a mass-market low-cost battery+Wankel combination available? Yes! From “The Hybrid Wankel Rotary-Powered Mazda MX-30 R-EV Is Finally Here. Here’s How It Works” (Autopian, January 2023):

For starters, the engine doesn’t drive the wheels. It only serves as a generator connected to a motor/generator unit to send power to the battery pack. The battery pack then provides juice to an electric motor which powers the wheels. This means that despite burning gasoline, the MX-30 R-EV should theoretically have the seamless power delivery of an EV, and it should be able to keep the Wankel engine at its “sweet spot” for efficiency for a significant portion of its on-time.

As for deeper details on that rotary engine, there’s the presence of direct injection, something never attempted before on a production rotary engine. The side housings are aluminum and coated with plasma for low weight and friction management respectively, all while being just 80 mm wide. For the sake of longevity, the apex seals are 25 percent wider than the ones on an RX-8’s RENESIS engine, clocking in at 2.5 mm. The result is 73.7 horsepower from just 830 cc of displacement. Curiously, although rotary engines love to rev, Mazda claims that peak power hits at just 4,700 RPM. That might sound weird for a high-revving Wankel, but it should translate to very low noise.

At 214 pounds, it looks like this engine is fairly heavy for its horsepower (a little heavier than an 80 hp aluminum piston engine), but given the high efficiency of electric drive maybe this would still work out well for a 2-seater.

Readers: Where’s the flaw in this path toward aircraft powered by a mass-market powertrain?


Full post, including comments

Small airplanes are super expensive, but still much less useful than pre-coronapanic

Light airplanes are still at near-historic values, at least in nominal dollars, which seems paradoxical given that their utility for transportation has been greatly reduced by Americans refraining from work. Airplanes, with their 1950s technology and low production numbers, require a lot more labor than our typical mechanical gizmo.

March 31: I have a client in my shop, G6 SR22T, with a cracked cylinder. We’ve been waiting over a month for a cylinder to become available. Does anyone have one?

March 13: Asking for help. Have an aircraft on ground needing a new cylinder. IO-550 2014 SR22T. Does anyone in the metaverse have a cylinder in the real world we can buy? Service center not promising lead time. Thanks

March 17: Grounded 2 months waiting for Line Cutters from Cirrus for my 2010 G3 SR22. Anyone know other sources to get them from? Part #25347-002 [see also “First Engine, Then Parachute Failed In Cirrus Incident” (AVweb, March 30, 2023)

March 28: I’ve owned a Cirrus SR20 (2007 G2) for about a year now and got my ppl and about 200 hours so far. .. In Feb my shop found a crack on the NLG [nose landing gear] strut and ordered a new part for it from cirrus (2-3 month wait), fixing/welding it isn’t an option because Cirrus wont release the engineering drawings. Now, during annual they found NLG puck issues, which are on a 6-8 month back order.

May 1: My Cirrus is based in southwest Florida and was damaged in hurricane Ian inside a hangar. I waited 6 months for Cirrus to come up with an engineering report to tell the service center how to repair the aircraft. Now they are telling me it’s going to take five months to get a new elevator. I could have told them I was going to need a new elevator the day after the hurricane. My Cirrus is going to be out of service for a year. Just wondering how many other pilots are out there who spent a lot of money on a Cirrus and can’t get the company to support the planes already in the field. Seems like all their efforts are in selling new planes and not supporting customers. Right now all I have is a very expensive paperweight.

Separately, here’s something that you don’t want to see during your preflight inspection…. (Pompano Beach, Florida (KPMP), May 3, 2023)

When do people say, “If the airplane is at risk of being grounded for 6-12 months by what used to be a minor problem, I’m not willing to pay $900,000 for a used one, plus $50,000 per year in hangar, insurance, inspections, etc.”?

(Of course, turbine-powered planes always cost a lot to buy and maintain, but the manufacturers were typically fanatical about trying to ensure parts and service availability so as to minimize downtime.)

Full post, including comments

The recent Falcon Heavy launch

I made it up to Titusville, Florida to watch the 6th Falcon Heavy launch. It was scheduled for a one-hour window starting at 7:29 pm so the Kennedy Space Center folks couldn’t be bothered to stay open and sell $250/person tickets for an up-close view. The wind was gusting to 30 knots all day, but forecast to quiet down around 8 pm and, therefore, SpaceX decided to launch at the very end of the window. A temporary flight restriction went live at 6:54 pm and cuts off a portion of the KTIX airspace, but the airport stays open and all runways are available to VFR pilots (I did not have to demonstrate my ability to land in a 30-knot crosswind, in other words).

Launches can be seen nicely from anywhere along the Intracoastal Waterway (regarding the channel markers: “red right returning doesn’t exactly work until you remember that the waterway goes from New Jersey to Texas and nobody wants to return to New Jersey”–local boat captain). My favorite spots are Shiloh’s, a local steakhouse with a lawn and some balconies, and the Space Bar, on a Marriott rooftop. Shiloh’s will have sports playing on its TVs and sometimes live music while the Space Bar plays the SpaceX YouTube feed (turns out that it is delayed by roughly 30 seconds).

The FBOs at KTIX close by 6 pm and most of the launches seem to be later in the evening. After hours, I prefer to park on the east side of the airport because it is a little closer for Uber so call U.S. Aviation for the gate code to get back in. The terminal will be closed, but there is a bathroom inside the fence for people who arrive after hours. The control tower closes at 9 pm, but there is pilot-controlled lighting, of course.

Shiloh’s from September 24, 2022:

Here’s the Space Bar setup:

The lobby and some other areas are fun too:

How did the launch look? I did not attempt to make an official record, since there were so many closer cameras pointed at the event. Here’s an interesting long exposure by Robert Wyman:

What about the sound? We were so far away that it did not hit us until about one minute after launch and was only a low rumble. A rocket launch in a movie theater is a lot more exciting, especially in the sound department. Still, it was fun to be in a crowd of people who appreciate space technology. After the launch, I caught a ride back to the airport with an interesting guy with whom I’d shared a table. He is involved with the training of firefighters to do water rescue. When I got back to Stuart, I found that a guy at APP Jet Center had been able to see the launch without taking more than a few steps outside:

Friends all the way down in Jupiter had also seen it.

Separately, I wonder why this ViaSat 3 system that was the payload makes economic sense. Each satellite supposedly has 1 terabit/second capacity. But how does that compare to the capacity of the entire Starlink system?

Going to Titusville and watching a rocket launch is the Florida $100 hamburger (closer to 1,000 Bidies, of course, when adjusted for inflation).


Full post, including comments

Frontiers of user interface: the FAA NOTAM system

A few weeks ago, there were news reports of Biblical rain in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area. I checked the FAA’s web site for NOTAMs (no longer an abbreviation for the sexist “notices to airmen”) for FLL.

At first glance, using the default sort order, things looked pretty good on the morning of April 13:

There are some amendments to instrument procedures that you’ll probably not need (it’s sunny Florida!) and some signs and markings aren’t standard. If we scroll down a couple of screens, however, we find that there are some plans to maintain the runway status lighting system on April 18 and…. the entire airport is closed. That was the very last NOTAM presented.

Full post, including comments