METAR poetry

From September 12, 2022:

KPHX 120353Z 17048G75KT 4SM TS BLDU SQ FEW028 SCT090 BKN110CB BKN160 31/19 A2987 RMK AO2 PK WND 18075/0353 WSHFT 0338 LTG DSNT SE AND SW CONS LTGCGIC SE-SW TS SE-SW MOV N BLDU FEW028 T03060194

Translation: At the Phoenix, Arizona, early in the morning in London (3:53 am GMT) on the 12th day of the month (i.e., evening on the 11th local time), wind was from the south (170 degrees) at 48 knots gusting to 75 knots. Visibility was 4 statute miles in a thunderstorm with blowing dust. There was a squall (SQ). Clouds will be the least of your problems, with just a few 2,800′ above the airport, some scattered clouds 9,000′ above the airport, and a broken layer of thunderstorm clouds 11,000′ up with one more broken layer 16,000′ above the airport. Temperature is a toasty 31C with a dewpoint of 19C. Altimeter setting is close to standard at 29.87 inches of mercury.

The Remarks (RMK) are tougher to parse. There was a wind shift at 3:38Z and now there is lightning distant SE and SW. CONS LTGCGIC SE-SW means “Continuous cloud-to-ground & in-cloud lightning to the southeast through south” (source). Finally, the thunderstorm is SE and SW, but moving north.

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General aviation has more utility thanks to lack of competition among airlines

Just as Floridians love to talk about the real estate market, a common topic of discussion at EAA AirVenture (“Oshkosh”) was “When does the market for used aircraft collapse?”

I’m bearish on the little airplane market. Due to the reduced labor force participation rate in the U.S., mechanics and parts are in short supply. Airplanes that would have been grounded for 3 days by a particular problem today might be grounded for 3 weeks or even 3 months while folks at Continental, for example, get organized to deliver a required item. Want to get your airplane repainted? One of the preferred shops for Cirrus has a two-year waiting list. After three years of paying hangar, maintenance, and insurance for a plane purchased in 2020, I think the typical new owner will be happy to sell in 2023.

Another reason that I’m bearish is Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle‘s ruling that President Biden’s mask orders for airline passengers were unconstitutional. Air travel is a lot more pleasant than it was when the panic buying of light airplanes began. There is still a risk of contracting COVID-19 on an airplane, but most of the people who were vulnerable to being killed by COVID-19 are already dead. So, if you’re alive you’re probably not all that scared.

In short, a million-dollar used Cirrus doesn’t seem like a good value for transportation and, for most people, $1 million is too much to spend on a hobby item.

One guy took the other side of this argument, pointing out that we now have fewer airlines than at the beginning of the deregulation process begun by Gerald Ford and finished by Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. The absurd JetBlue and Spirit merger that is currently in process (why even bother to have antitrust laws or enforcement if we’re going to allow this?) will result in further consolidation and $2,000 plus bag fees being the new $500 (currently, I think it is fair to say that $1,000 plus bag fees is the new $500).

Even with 100LL at $7 per gallon, the variable costs of running our Cirrus aren’t that different from what airlines are charging, so long as two of the four seats can be filled. I still prefer the airlines for “when you absolutely have to be there”, since they are much less likely to be delayed by weather, but the price comparison isn’t as absurd as it was when airfares were lower.

Readers: What’s your prediction for the little airplane market?

Separately, if you are going to fly commercial try to identify as Cuban-American so that you get a decent welcome on arrival. From the FLL airport, baggage claim level:


Very loosely related, some recent charter flights (“general aviation”) to our former $300 hamburger destination, KMVY:

A new airline logo, shared by a Gulfstream pilot friend who frequently is in and out of KMVY:

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Prairie du Chien side trip from Oshkosh

If you’re looking for something to do southwest of Oshkosh… Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin (KPDC). This is a quick crew car ride away from Effigy Mounds National Monument, a collection of massive earthen sculptures made by Elizabeth Warren’s ancestors during Joe Biden’s youth. Read up on the approaches and departure procedures due to the challenging terrain surrounding the airport. Terrain? On the Wisconsin/Iowa border? This is the Driftless Area that was not scraped flat by the most recent glaciers. Note that the airport is at 660′ above sea level and towers near the airport are on ground that is as high as 1150′ above sea level (1449-299).

Here’s an explanation for the evolution of these sculptures in the Effigy Mounds visitor’s center:

You’re on the banks of the Mississippi River when at the visitor’s center and must ascend 350′ to the top of the bluffs before reaching the mounds.

Consider packing some bug spray because this is the not the artificially-bug-free paradise that Florida somehow manages to achieve for most natural areas. The mounds themselves are tough to photograph, but if you love history you’ll enjoy them. The views over the river:

Once you’re down from the walk, you can celebrate all things 2SLGBTQQIA+ and BLM in Marquette, Iowa:

Back on the Wisconsin side, you can enjoy some food from Pete’s, started in 1909. Two choices: with onions; without onions.

The flight out is beautiful, but note the bluffs rising steeply from the river banks.

I met some city-dwellers who have vacation cabins in this area so there is apparently a fair amount of exploring that could be done with an overnight stay.

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Oshkosh 2022 wrap-up

Trying to get through my backlog of summer stories and photos… here are some miscellaneous thoughts from EAA AirVenture (“Oshkosh”) 2022, which enjoyed record attendance of about 650,000 people (stats; each member of our family might have been counted 7 times, however, because that’s how a weekly pass was accounted for, at least in 2001 (“The inflation of EAA attendance figures by the local media, by the Chamber of Commerce, and by the EAA itself is not a trivial matter.”)).

We wandered by the One Week Wonder, a kit airplane that goes from parts to taxi over 7 days. My friend said “How does this make people who are half-finished after 7 years feel?” The volunteer team started on Monday morning and here they are on Friday:

The airplane was inspected by the Federales and flew 2.5 weeks after Oshkosh, on August 18.

Who will paint it? From the world’s leading experts on aircraft paint, we heard good things about Aerosmith Aviation in Longview, Texas.

The predicted proliferation of $100,000 light sport airplanes continues, with approximately one type per certificated Light Sport pilot. Expect to pay closer to 400,000 Bidies, however, for the slick-looking ones. Here’s a French-built Elixir, new to the U.S. market:

You know that the real estate market has reached peak insanity when new airparks are developed. There were booths for The Fields near Chattanooga. Why use the 7400′ runway at KCHA that you paid for via your aviation fuel taxes when you can instead pay to build and maintain your own 4200′ runway? Another one is a through-the-fence project in Sandpoint, Idaho. The public airport to which the homes are connected has a 5,500′ runway.

The warbirds section was great as usual. We tried to organize a protest against the folks who painted a swastika on this ME-109, recovered from a lake in Russia and the subject of a 10-year restoration project:

Unfortunately, as with my attempts to get people to kneel during the national anthem at air shows, I was unsuccessful.

Another unusual airplane, the Bell P-63 (Wikipedia says that there are 5 airworthy examples in the U.S.):

The Lycoming engine disassembly/assembly demonstrations are worth watching. If they could manufacture an engine for the Robinson R44 Raven I that didn’t fail once a year (bad intake valves leading to dramatic in-flight kicking/yawing), that would be even better!

We found some good options for those traveling with a family. The University of Wisconsin’s Blackhawk Commons cafeteria has salad, vegetables, and fruit that can be tough to find in conventional restaurants. Plenty of space for kids to run around. I previously highlighted the “contains nuts” warning to the next generation of college-education geniuses (all paid for by the working class!) who are confronted with a pecan pie.

Those who want to enjoy an allergen-free dining experience have their own room:

Contrast to public school here in Palm Beach County, Florida. At a curriculum night for 3rd grade, the teachers noted that parents of a child having a birthday can send him/her/zir/them to school with a container of baked treats for the class. I asked “What are the restrictions on what can be included? If a parent sent cookies with nuts in Maskachusetts, the school building would have to be demolished.” There were none! Children who didn’t like or couldn’t eat what was sent in would get a backup treat from the teachers’ hidden supply.

A fun excursion is the Sweet Lair Cafe in Neenah, Wisconsin, which offers hundreds of board games for customers.

The airshows were great, as usual, including the epic fireworks after the night airshows. The performer about whom other airshow pilots wondered “How he is still alive?” is Skip Stewart, who likes to cut ribbons during low passes over the runway. We appreciated the afterburner-at-dusk show from Randy Ball, an Air Wisconsin captain, flying the MiG 17.

The USAF came out to show off the F-35. Nobody needs an assault rifle, certainly, which is a weapon of war that should be necessary only if there is an invasion (note that millions of asylum-seeking migrants coming across the southern border is not an invasion). EAA AirVenture is a gun-free environment, with firearms being strictly prohibited and visitors and bags checked to make sure that no knives or guns come in. Not exactly the war situation that President Biden said might call for an assault rifle. Yet the USAF decided that the parked F-35 should be guarded by… some guys with assault rifles. [Correction from a reader: the parked F-35 is actually a Navy plane, which means that there were at least two F-35s at OSH.]

We made the mistake of going to the seaplane base when there was a touch of wind/chop and, consequently, nobody was flying. The AirCam, now available with three seats, is always great to see!

Hope to see everyone at Oshkosh in 2023!

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The least insane electric aircraft vendors at Oshkosh

The typical electric aircraft company is stuffed with cash on one end (e.g., “Joby Aviation raises $1.6 billion in SPAC merger at $6.6 billion valuation”) while huge promises come out the other end. So far there is little evidence of delivery on the promises that were made years ago, much less on the more recently made promises. Example promise: Joby now says that they’ll be operated eVTOL air taxis in 2024; they tout the fact that they got an air carrier certificate using, apparently, a Cirrus, as evidence that they are progressing toward this goal.

Generally speaking, the electric aircraft folks who showed up to Oshkosh 2022 had the same promises that they were making at Oshkosh 2018, e.g., “we’ll be certified and flying commercially in three years.” It doesn’t seem as though any progress has been made. The batteries are the same as in 2018. The computers and software that enable autonomy and/or idiot-proof human piloting are functionally the same as in 2018. The overall aircraft architectures are the same as in 2018. What these folks are doing with their $billions is a mystery. Let’s keep in mind that the U.S. involvement in World War II spanned the same time period: four years. Admittedly the percentage of GDP devoted to improving aircraft technology was larger, but the changes from 1941 to 1945 were dramatic indeed (B-17 to pressurized B-29, for example; development of the Lockheed P-80 jet fighter).

One area where it seems as though electric-powered aviation has a good chance of near-term success is carrying cargo, e.g., for “last mile” deliveries or going out to islands. What vehicle is already big enough to carry 200 lbs. of cargo and doesn’t need a runway? A single-seat helicopter! These have always been niche products since there aren’t a lot of folks who want to build and fly their own one-seat helicopter that is even trickier to fly than a Robinson R22. But what if the cabin is turned into a cargo compartment and the flying is handed over to a computer with the fast reflexes required to make this kind of machine safe? The folks behind the Mosquito helicopter, in partnership with a Canadian company, are doing just this:

At least for the moment, the heavy lifting will be done by a conventional gasoline-powered engine. Since Oshkosh is more about the human experience of aviation, including building one’s own aircraft, the biggest companies in drone cargo weren’t there, but the event reminded me to check in with Amazon. A June 2022 press release says “We are working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and local officials in Lockeford [California] to obtain permission to conduct these deliveries and will continue with that collaboration into the future.” So it could happen next week, next year, or next decade!

Readers: What’s your best guess as to when it will be possible to get an aerial Uber in at least 5 U.S. cities? And your best guess as to when it will be possible to get packages delivered by drone to your suburban house in at least 5 U.S. metro areas? Given the technical and regulatory challenges, I’m going to say 2028 for the Ubers and 2026 for the delivery-to-house drones. I think there will be regular drone-based delivery services to at least 5 remote areas of Canada, however, by 2024 (smaller population means it will be easier to get everyone to agree).


  • NASA at Oshkosh (thinking about how to ensure that these autonomous vehicles are airworthy on a continuing basis)
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A light airplane route out of Florida to the Great Smoky Mountains

For Floridians hoping to cool off, the nearest mountains are the Appalachians in TN/NC, i.e., the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s an 11-hour drive from Palm Beach County to Cherokee, NC, the southern gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and a 12-hour drive to Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge, TN, the northern gateway and home to Dollywood. In a small airplane, however, the trip can be done in approximately 3.5 hours to KGKT (550 nm). A 3.5-hour flight in a vibrating noisy bathroom-free piston-powered airplane is too much for most pilots and nearly all passengers. Where to stop, then?

The simplest route from flat Florida to mostly-flat eastern Tennessee bends around the west of the Appalachian Mountains via Chattanooga. Why go over these mountains, which generate all kinds of clouds and bumps, when you can instead relax on windward side, entirely free of turbulence and with a much wider range of altitudes to choose from? (as shown below, the FAA considers any altitude lower than 6,600′ to be risky with respect to terrain)

On our way to Oshkosh, however, we enjoyed a rare day on which thunderstorms were not forecast, except on both coasts of Florida (see Garmin Pilot app screen shot from halfway through our first leg). The winds aloft were forecast to be light and therefore there was no risk of powerful downdrafts on the lee side of the mountains. So we planned a scenic crossing of the Appalachians with a first stop in Lake City, Florida (KLCQ). The kids learned to appreciate our pool table by playing on a table with trashed felt using cues with no tips.

Our next stop was KDNL, the “downtown” airport for Augusta, Georgia. There is a flight school on the field and the learning continues even in the men’s room, however Ketanji’s panel of biologists might define the term “men”:

We hopped in the courtesy car and headed downtown to the Morris Museum of Art, “the oldest museum in the country that is specifically devoted to the art and artists of the American South.” It is situated on an attractive river walk and right next to a good restaurant, Augustino’s, within the Marriott hotel.

One of the paintings above is John Steuart Curry’s Hoover and the Flood, celebrating the heroics of America’s only engineer-turned-President, the most skilled technocrat ever to attempt technocratic management of the U.S. economy, in the context of the Climate Change-induced Great Mississippi Flood of 1927.

The final leg required a climb to 10,500′ and weaving to stay out of the clouds and bumps. The forecast was accurate regarding the lack of thunderstorms, but there was still some pop-up convection that made an indirect route seem wiser.

A Cirrus about 15 miles north of us apparently went into one of the above small rain showers and reported “severe turbulence” to Air Traffic Control (“large and abrupt changes in altitude and/or attitude and, usually, large variations in indicated airspeed. The airplane may momentarily be out of control. Occupants of the airplane will be forced violently against their seat belts.”). A combination of NEXRAD and ATC kept us out of anything upsetting. Upon landing, we found that our Enterprise Cadillac(!) sedan had been pulled up next to our airplane by the alert line staff at KGKT.

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NASA at Oshkosh

I hate to be the person who says that government should be smaller except when it comes to spending on his/her/zir/their personal passion. On the other hand, research is an area where Econ 101 says that companies will inevitably underinvest and, therefore, society will underinvest unless government steps in. Any fundamental breakthrough is going to be copied by competitors, which means that the developer of a breakthrough is not going to get the full benefit of the investment.

Much of aviation today is based on research done by NACA, the predecessor to NASA. For example, the airfoil on a typical wing will be a NACA-developed shape. NASA is still in the business of helping the aviation industry, albeit as a pimple on the butt of the womanned space program, as measured by funding.

NASA had its own pavilion at EAA AirVenture. The front neatly illustrates America’s progression from a slender 1960s spacefaring nation to an obese scooter-dependent one:

Unique among exhibitors at Oshkosh, NASA keeps the coronapanic flame alive. #Science says that a simple surgical mask is ample protection against 100,000 daily visitors spewing out aerosol Omicron:

At first glance, NASA is seemingly working on one of my pet ideas: ADS-B should sequence airplanes at nontowered airports? (2018) In talking to the folks at the pavilion, however, I learned that the goals of their Data & Reasoning Fabric and DANTi are far more grand and nebulous. Instead of solving the near-term problem of ADS-B being useless at preventing the mid-air collisions that are actually likely, NASA will solve the problem of a Jetsons-like flight environment in which the number of aircraft is 100X what we have today.

One NASA program that struck me as valuable is Fit2Fly. All of the people making heavy super drones for package delivery, etc., are working on certification and sales. NASA asks “What about maintenance? What happens after a few months when these things start to break and there is no pilot on board to hear and feel an abnormal vibration?”

How about reducing fuel consumption for commercial air travel? NASA promises a more extended timeline than the companies that have been harvesting $billions via SPACs. A hybrid turboprop airliner will fly in about 3 years and will be commercially available… in 2035(!). The electric motor is just for takeoff and climb and the fuel savings come from having smaller dinosaur blood-powered engines that suffice only for cruise. The result, assuming that the next 13 years pan out as hoped, will be a 10% savings in fuel.

NASA is also bringing back the biplane. The airliner wing will be made long and thin, like a glider’s, and then braced with a strut, like a Cessna 172, so that the long/thin wing doesn’t snap off. The strut itself provides some lift. This will cut fuel consumption by 8-10%.

The most substantial fuel reduction that NASA is hoping to achieve is via SUSAN, a single engine turbofan project with electric motors on the wings that will yield a 25% improvement.

If the agency were returned to its NACA roots, NASA could truly revolutionize general aviation by funding open-source medium-cost low-power turbofan engines, fly-by-wire flight control systems, etc. What’s the agency doing instead? A $1 trillion project to put a golden retriever on Mars. Here’s a poster that was being handed out at Oshkosh:

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Boeing plants the rainbow flag at Oshkosh

The shop in the Boeing pavilion at EAA AirVenture (“Oshkosh”):

Did the programmers and system engineers who built runaway trim into the 737 MAX identify as 2SLGBTQQIA+? If so, will the family and friends of the 346 people who died in Ethiopia and Indonesia be interested in this fact?

How serious is Boeing about Rainbow Flagism? Boeing did not host any 2SLQGTQQIA+ events at its pavilion. They did not bring any 2SLGBTQQIA+ employees to wear the rainbow shirts and talk about being 2SLGBTQQIA+ at Boeing. They didn’t invite the NGPA to occupy a corner of their pavilion in show center and, consequently, this group had a booth tucked away in a side hangar:

(I’m a supporter of NGPA! It is a refreshing change to hear a message about gay people from actual gay people and, as it happens, “[the] mission has been simple: to build, support, and unite the LGBTQ aviation community worldwide”. In other words, the NGPA is about the success of gay pilots, not about their victimization.)

Should a company get virtue points simply for printing the corporate logo in a rainbow scheme? If so, wouldn’t that make Justin Trudeau a heroic advocate for people of color because he was brave enough to wear Blackface and Brownface?

Separately, at the same shop, one learns the gender ID of those who assemble aircraft:


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United Airlines at Oshkosh

First time at the Oshkosh airshow for United Airlines. Their senior captains did some yanking and banking in a 777 in front of the crowd. The most frightening maneuver was approaching the crowd (west side of the runway) from the east in a dive and then climbing over the crowd. Some years ago I was in one of the jump seats of an empty Boeing 757 being ferried out of JFK and the captain put the plane into a 40-degree bank so that a friend on the ground could get a photo. The avionics were unhappy, shouting “bank angle, bank angle” repeatedly.

As the plane carved up the sky, the United announcer proudly disclosed the quota-based hiring policy for the company’s new flying school. Only 20 percent of the slots would be available for white males while 80 percent would be allocated to “women” (however that term is defined by the airline’s team of biologists) and “people of color” (however that term is defined by the airline’s team of diversity consultants). Curiously, there is no quota for student pilots who identify as 2SLGBTQQIA+. Numerous folks sitting near me grumbled angrily on hearing the airline’s plan of sex- and race-based discrimination. It is unclear why United thought that this message would be warmly received by the audience at Oshkosh. General aviation is overwhelmingly white, male, old, and conservative. The young people there who talked about pursuing a dream of professional aviation were also overwhelmingly white and male (i.e., they’d have to fight for the 20 percent scrap at the United school). Here’s the United AVIATE booth within the “EAA Career Center”:

It seems that United has taken over Lufthansa’s old school in Goodyear, Arizona, perhaps because Lufthansa could no longer get students in and out due to coronapanic. Cirrus SR20s with air conditioning are used for primary training.

If United were serious about diversifying its pilot group, the company would offer a “no-overnight” schedule (see Ryanair: airline that is not a hotel customer for how the world’s lowest cost airline does this). Right now, the only people who can consider flying for the U.S. airlines are people who are willing to be away from friends and family up to 22 days per month (trending down to 10 or 11 for the most senior pilots in a seat, but it can take decades to reach this level of seniority as a captain at a major U.S. airline). This makes it a terrible job for anyone who might become a parent. When the mostly-at-home spouse files the inevitable divorce lawsuit, he/she/ze/they is a slam-dunk winner to obtain primary custody, a free house, and a river of child support cash under a typical U.S. state’s family law that looks to see “who was the primary historical caregiver of these now-lucrative children?” How many women want to fly around for a few years and then spend the rest of their lives paying a former husband to hang out at home with what used to be her kids plus some new sex partners from Tinder?

If we visit the EAA official merchandise market, we can learn that pilot and astronaut are already jobs held exclusively by females.

Airplane constructor is also exclusively a woman’s job, according to EAA’s merchandise selection. Here is the only plane-builder featured:

Pilots identifying as “women” can get a free T shirt and participate in a variety of exclusive events at Oshkosh under the rubric of WomenVenture, a 15-year-old event started just in time for the term “women” to become undefined. As a measure of progress, what had been the “innovation” pavilion at Oshkosh, showcasing new technologies, is now the “WomenVenture Center” (complete with pink theme).

Meanwhile, gender ID is somewhat less fraught at the SOS Brothers tent, “BeerVenture” until some litigation with EAA forced a re-titling. Here are the “bikini bartenders” that EAA complained about in its lawsuit:

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Glacial pace of innovation in non-electric aviation slows due to coronapanic

Certified fossil fuel-powered aviation has been notable for the slow pace of innovation. As the world of the consumer has been transformed, the typical aircraft flying is a refined version of what pilots operated during World War II. Through 2019, it would not have been unfair to characterize the pace of innovation as glacial. Coronapanic, however, has slowed the pace to geologic. Garmin, the 500 lb. gorilla of general aviation avionics, had nothing new to show. “All of our engineers have been working on getting certification to use substitute parts in existing designs,” explained a senior sales exec. “Even with the substitutions, we had a 9-month backlog that is now down to 90 days.” Three months to get an 11-year-old nav/com doesn’t seem like a great situation for consumers, but the sales guy said, “It takes 4-6 months to get a slot at any avionics shop, so our lead time doesn’t slow anyone down.” (This does not seem to be true for autopilot installations; Garmin has been shipping partial kits and, if the shop starts work based on Garmin’s forecast delivery dates for the lagging items, the result is that airplanes are grounded for months waiting for the full kit to arrive.)

(The good news is that Garmin bought a container full of displays for the ancient 430/530 nav/coms, so if you like 25-year-old technology they will keep supporting it!)

Small competitors such as Avidyne and Dynon did not have anything new at Oshkosh either.

The electric “super drone” companies don’t have certified products and they do not seem to have been slowed down as much by coronapanic, at least if we measure by hype. Back in 2018, Uber said that customers in Los Angeles would be fleeing the traffic-clogged streets in electric aircraft by 2023 (post). Maybe the electric super drone is always 5 years in the future? Joby came to AirVenture with a sim and no aircraft. They predict Uber using their 5-seater the day after certification in 2024.

The experimental aircraft folks seem to have maintained their work efforts while everyone else pretended to work from home. The RV-15 was conceived in 2019 and flew in 2022:

(There are more than 10,000 Van’s Aircraft kit planes flying today, which exceeds the number that Cirrus has built.)

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