Massachusetts State Senator launches an economic attack on his/her/zir/their own district

A senator introduced a bill for consideration by the Maskachusetts State Senate that would impose a 6.25% sales tax on new and used aircraft, currently tax-exempt in MA so as to compete with neighboring NH, ME, CT, and RI. (CT makes aircraft exempt for rich people buying machines that weigh over 6,000 lbs.; peasants buying little Cessnas, Cirruses, and Pipers must pay.) It doesn’t surprise me that a state senator would be excited to collect $5+ million in tax on a new Gulfstream G800, but of course the obvious response for the Gulfstream G800 buyer is to base the aircraft in nearby NH, thereby moving jobs out of MA. The pilots and mechanic will live in New Hampshire and the plane will zip down to Hanscom Field (KBED) or Nantucket (KACK) to pick up the rich MA resident or executives at a company based in MA and then proceed to whatever the desired destination might be. The $5+ million in tax is never collected and Massachusetts misses out on payroll and income taxes for the crew, real estate taxes for the hangar, construction jobs for building the hangar, etc.

What is surprising? The senator sponsoring this bill is Mike Barrett, whose district includes Hanscom Field, the busiest general aviation airport in New England, and all of the towns surrounding Hanscom (i.e., where pilots, mechanics, and other airport workers are likely to live). In other words, Mx. Barrett has launched a direct attack on the economic prosperity of his/her/zir/their own district.

You can see Hanscom Field at the intersection of Lexington, Lincoln, Concord, and Bedford, below.

It would make sense to me if a senator from a district that didn’t include a busy general aviation airport had sponsored such a bill, but in what other state could a politician be secure enough to directly attack the jobs of his/her/zir/their own constituents?

Speaking of state taxes, I was chatting with a friend of a friend who escaped what he considered to be the disorder and crime of Los Angeles for a new home outside of California. I remarked that I was shocked that he had chosen to live in a state that imposed a state income tax. Why not move to Florida, Texas, Tennessee, South Dakota, or one of other states without an income tax? The successful entrepreneur looked at me with pity. “All of my money is in LLCs and trusts,” he explained. “I don’t have any income subject to state income tax except for my direct salary. Everything that I spend comes from loans from one of my trusts. I borrow money from myself.”

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Avanti Piaggio cabin noise measurements

For folks who’ve been beguiled by press releases from Otto Aviation, the Piaggio Avanti is a reminder that most of the great ideas in aerodynamics were implemented in the 1980s. The Piaggio designers threw out the rulebook on what an executive turboprop should look like and came up with a three-wing plane that goes 100 knots faster and 10,000′ higher using the same engines as a (two-wing) King Air.

The folks behind Piaggio have long claimed that the Avanti is exceptionally quiet inside, throwing out a 68 dBA number that never seemed credible.

A friend owns a 1992 Piaggio and graciously took me up to 17,500′ to make some measurements. Note that the company claims that the latest Evo model, which has a more advanced Hartzell propeller shape, is actually “20%” quieter. My friend says that a 2008 Piaggio that he flew was noticeably quieter than his 1992 model, so there may actually be three levels of Piaggio Avanti interior noise and the numbers below are the worst that one will ever see.

At Pilatus PC-12 speeds, i.e., 289 knots (222 indicated), sound at the pilots’ ears was about 72 dBA and up to 76 dBA in the passenger cabin (closer to the props spinning on the back of the main wings; closer to the door that whistles a bit (there is a trick to sealing it with a cloth that we didn’t apply for this short flight)).

At 311 knots (240 indicated), cabin noise was 1-2 dBA higher.

The owner says that the plane is noticeably quieter at its normal long-distance cruising altitudes so it is possible that the 68 dBA number is real at FL410! (He’s usually at FL370 and 370 true on 580 lbs/hour; against a headwind (and there is always a headwind because G*d hates pilots!), this is less fuel per mile than a single-engine PC-12.)

Should we all be envious of Piaggio Avanti owners? The plane is more complex to operate than the newest twin-engine turbojets that are certified for single pilots. There are switches to turn on the bleed air, for example, that typically should be thrown just before taking the runway (you’re probably taxiing with a tailwind and the result of leaving the bleeds on is some exhaust smell in the cabin). The steering has two modes, controlled by a switch on the yoke, and one is used for taxi while the other is used once 65 knots is reached on the takeoff roll. There is an autofeather mechanism that will reduce drag from a dead engine and it needs to be verified operational. Speeds are terrifying from a Pilatus PC-12 or even a Cessna Mustang pilot’s perspective. Rotate at 110 knots. Vmc is 100 knots (you can’t fly slower than this with one engine at full power and the other dead with prop feathered), final approach speed is 120-125 knots. The plane slows down very effectively with beta (twisting the prop blades to get some reverse thrust) and therefore a 5,000′ runway is plenty, but it will never compete with a Pilatus or King Air for short field performance. The Piaggio is also the wrong machine for grass, dirt, and loose gravel runways (see Burning Man for turboprop pilots for what a PC-12 can easily do if the Bay Area heroes are ever brave enough to gather again).

My friend says that the cabin is bigger than the PC-12’s (see diagrams below), but it felt smaller to me. Maybe it is the lack of a flat floor. Certainly you’ll never appreciate the genius of the Cirrus Vision Jet designers in making the pilot seats slide back 4′ until you’ve tried to get in and out of a Piaggio front seat. The pedestal extends all the way back to the seatbacks. Unless you’re a 5’2″ tall Italian yoga instructor, I’m not sure how it can be safe to get in and out during flight (without knocking a lever or switch). There is a bathroom all the way in the back, but it is not externally serviced (i.e., the owner-pilot of the $8+ million new Piaggio Avanti Evo will end up carrying a bucket out of the plane…).

The ice protection system is far better than on most newer planes. There is an automatic ice sensor that turns on the boots that protect the engine inlets. The main wing is heated via bleed air. The front wing is electrically heated. The tail is left alone and somehow the plane passed all of the certification tests and also has worked well in the real world (the Italian military operates some with more than 15,000 flights hours). (The HondaJet has a sensor-activated anti-ice system; most airplanes rely on pilots to use their eyes to notice ice building up and then set switches correctly.)

The pressure differential is 9 psi, enabling a sea level cabin up to 24,000′ and 6,600′ cabin altitude at FL410. Compare to 5.75 psi on the PC-12 and a cabin altitude of 10,000′ when the plane is at its service ceiling of FL300.

The older planes can be converted to dual Garmin G600TXi for primary flight display, but, due to the small number of eligible planes out there, there is no likelihood of Garmin certifying its modern engine instruments and GFC 600 autopilot. Below is my friend’s panel. Note the tall stack of warning lights right next to the tall stack of round dials for engine indications and remember that behind each warning light is a system that could suffer an intermittent failure that is challenging to troubleshoot. The old Collins autopilot is in the top center of the panel and the autopilot mode is currently indicated only on the lights above the switches (i.e., not on the PFD).

It would be interesting to see what could be done by upgrading the airplane with the latest GE turboprop (more fuel efficient and FADEC) and a lot more automation, e.g., changing the steering mode automatically, descending automatically in the event of depressurization (the latest planes with Garmin flight decks can do this), land itself if the old/rich guy in front croaks (trophy wife remains in middle seat and has reactivated her Tinder subscription before the flaps and gear are down), etc. If the number of switches and dials could be reduced to what you see in a Cirrus Vision Jet, and the service and support could be more like what the rest of the Jet A-powered world is used to, the Piaggio Avanti would live up to its revolutionary promise.

Some photos from our lunch-time excursion and the POH:

How does the above cabin cross-section compare to the PC-12?

If we assume 2.9′ as the mean radius of the Piaggio, that’s a cross-sectional area of 26.4 square feet. If we multiply the above numbers for the PC-12, we get roughly 24.2 square feet.

The PC-12 does seem to be longer in the back, 16’11” from the front of the passenger door to the rear of the cargo area. On the third hand, the Piaggio has a heated, but not pressurized, 67″-long baggage area behind the cabin.

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Cirrus Vision Jet cabin noise measurements

One of the knocks against the mostly-pretty-awesome Vision Jet from Cirrus is high levels of interior noise. The fuselage is composite rather than aluminum and this is typically a recipe for high levels of cabin noise. Sticking the engine directly over the heads of the back seat passengers also doesn’t help.

I recently had the chance to make some measurements in an SF50-G2 using a mid-grade sound level meter.

At FL200 (20,000′) and 301 knots true airspeed (219 indicated), cabin noise was 81-85 dBA depending on the position within the cabin and, especially, whether measured at the inboard or outboard ear. Closer to the fuselage, the sound was quite a bit louder.

At FL310 and 310 knots true airspeed (190 indicated), cabin noise was 80-82 dBA.

For reference, the Pilatus PC-12 turboprop measures 83-90 dBA inside. Small business jets and the Piaggio Avanti turboprop are in the 70s. The elites enjoy cabins in the high 60s dBA, e.g., in a Gulfstream.

Because the Vision Jet doesn’t vibrate like a piston- or turboprop-powered plane, it is very comfortable inside, especially with noise-canceling headsets. A passenger who didn’t want to wear a headset might reasonably use an earplug only in the ear away from the center of the plane.

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Verizon 5G: strong enough to disable aircraft radar altimeters, but not strong enough to download a web page

Here’s a better-than-usual Verizon mobile data situation in Jupiter, Florida:

Three bars of 5G yields 3/1 Mbps of data, which turns out to be not enough to browse the modern JavaScript and CSS-bloated web. (This was on Indiantown Road, which I hope will soon be renamed, a 6-lane main artery lined with busy strip malls.)

Meanwhile, the Garmin Pilot app (a flight planning tool) informs us that aircraft radar altimeters aren’t going to work because of 5G deployment:

So the 5G signals are strong enough to call aviation safety into question, but not strong enough to support denouncing Donald Trump, Joe Rogan, and Robert Malone on Facebook, the streaming of Neil Young tunes, or reading news regarding the January 6 insurrection.


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The FAA burdened helicopter charter operators with rules to install useless radar altimeters that are now disabled by 5G

FAA punches a hole in the U.S. economy today” (2017):

Today is the day that FAR 135.160 goes into effect. This requires a radar altimeter (“radio altimeter” in the FAA’s parlance or “radalt”) for most U.S. helicopters. The device will display the number of feet the aircraft is above the ground. Every airliner that was ever crashed into a mountain had one of these. What stopped the crashes was the terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS).

Radalt was useful in the old days because it could ring a bell for the pilots when the aircraft was, e.g., 200′ above the ground on an instrument landing system approach. If neither the runway lights nor approach lights were in sight at that point it was time to add power and fly back up into the air (“missed approach”).

Even in 2014 when this rule went into effect it was unclear why it would be a good idea to stuff a radalt (cost range: $17,000 to $100,000 depending on aircraft and whether installed new or retrofitted) into a helicopter rather than GPS+database TAWS system that can say “There is a big radio tower ahead!” or “Climb because you are about to crash into the ground.”

The new rule applies even to helicopter operations that are limited to visual flight. The chance that the pilot is looking down at the instrument panel is small (10-20 percent) because the aircraft is being controlled by reference to the natural horizon. Combine that with the chance that the pilot would be looking at the radalt number and I would say that there is a near-zero chance that a pilot in a dangerous situation would ever become aware of the radalt value.

Now it turns out that the FAA won’t allow the use of this mandatory equipment anywhere that there is 5G coverage at similar frequencies: “FAA Issues SAIB on 5G Radio Altimeter Interference”.

“AT&T, Verizon Refuse FAA Request to Delay 5G Launch” (WSJ) says “France is among the countries that have imposed wireless limits near airports while regulators study the effect the signals have on aircraft.” “AT&T and Verizon agree to postpone 5G rollout near airports by 2 weeks” (CNN) indicates that we are on track to copy the French system, but this can’t work for helicopters because the whole point of the machine is to be able to land places other than airports.

So one part of the government orders people to spend up to $100,000 on a device that has no practical value and then orders them not to use it because a different part of the government authorized transmissions that generate interference…

(What’s the practical importance of a radar altimeter failing due to 5G interference? The weather has to be pretty ugly before the radalt is essential on a modern airliner. At a typical flatland airport, the minimums for a “CAT I” ILS approach include clouds no lower than 200′ above the runway and visibility of at least 1/2 mile. If the weather is worse than this (think “fog”), there are CAT II and CAT III approaches that can be used by trained and authorized crews. These are the ones that always require a radar altimeter, which is used to inform the crew that it is time to initiate a go-around if the runway is not in sight and, for the highest level of CAT III approach, to cue the automated systems to initiate a power reduction and flare (pitch up).)


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Royal Air Force versus U.S. Air Force

This book will appeal primarily to pilots: An Officer, Not a Gentleman (Mandy Hickson). It’s by a pilot who spends 24 years in the Royal Air Force flying what the Brits call “fast jets,” ultimately ending up in a ground attack version of the Panavia Tornado. She’s 6′ tall and 190 lbs. and one of the few women in the RAF, so naturally she ends up with a call sign of Big Bird (pre-vaccination edition). Compared to the USAF, it seems that the RAF has more relaxed rules, more esprit de corps, more drinking, and a lot more time off if there isn’t a war to fight (the author is constantly going on beach vacations). Hickson is eloquent regarding why she loves the job:

I love the three-dimensional aspect of flying. I love the freedom of being up there in that vast, limitless sky. I love breaking through thick cloud into a world of deep blue, far from the humdrum of everyday life. I love that every flight is different, every aircraft is different. I love the risk involved. I love that it challenges me. And I love the fact it makes anything seem possible.

The book is packed with choice Britishisms. Example:

We were getting into this life, and began to think we were the dog’s nuts, strutting around the base in our baggy green flying suits. The RAF regulars must have been laughing their heads off.

The training progression in the UK seems to have been the following:

  1. Slingsby T67 Firefly
  2. Embraer Tucano
  3. BAE Systems Hawk
  4. the operational aircraft (Tornado in the author’s case)

It takes just over four years of training to get into an operational role, which the author achieves in 1999 with 80 hours in the Tornado.

Considering how small the UK is, they do a remarkable amount of low-level flying during training.

My previous low-level flying on the Firefly had been restricted to 500 feet because it is a civilian aircraft whereas the Tucano is military and is allowed to drop to 250 feet at nearly 300 knots.

So initially you had to do it with a visual picture. The rule of thumb was pretty simple. At 500ft you could see the legs of cows but you couldn’t see the legs of sheep. When you got down to 250ft you could see the legs of sheep. It was very technical.

Maybe the smartest young officer:

One trainee on the course in front didn’t like flying at night. The story goes he taxied off and hid his aircraft behind a hangar and made all the radio calls he would use during the circuit from there. You can imagine the air traffic controller, slightly puzzled going, erm, I can’t quite see him but he’s requesting clearance to land. Apparently, he taxied back forty minutes later, still keeping up the deception. He was only rumbled when the engineers realised no fuel had been used.

Hickson doesn’t like the technical material:

I had six weeks of ground school to look forward to. Six weeks of theory and tights, back in my beloved blue No.2 uniform. The first few weeks in the drab lecture hall were spent purely learning about engines, electrics, hydraulics and how does a Hawk even fly anyway? I was never that technically minded. Nothing to do with being a woman, just not very interested. Has it got an engine? Great. Does it work? Fingers crossed. As far as the theory goes, I’m not that far beyond your basic suck, squeeze, bang, blow. I was surrounded by guys who were positively frothing at the inner workings of a Rolls-Royce Turbomeca Adour engine. It didn’t really float my boat.

Training to ditch is tough and scary:

For this we boarded a boat and took to the cold, grey waters off Holyhead. Dressed in a full immersion suit with flying kit over the top, plus boots and helmet, we each had to jump in and be pulled along in the wake to simulate being dragged by your parachute after ejecting and landing in the drink. ‘OK Mandy, whenever you’re ready…’ Already shivering in the autumn morning, I took a deep breath, inflated my lifejacket, folded my arms across my chest and took a big step into the Irish Sea. The cold shock hit me like I’d been punched in the stomach and I surfaced spluttering and sucking at the air. I felt the yank on the harness as the slack was taken up and I was pulled face first through the water by the boat, like a giant fishing lure. Knowing I had to act quickly, I heaved myself over, so I was lying on my back and spread my legs like a starfish to make a more stable platform. I scrabbled to find my harness clasp and swallowed mouthfuls of spray as I fiddled with the release mechanism. Come on, you little blighter. Yes, done it. The harness flew off with the boat and I came to a stop. I grasped the line attached to my waist that was trailing my personal survival pack and started hauling it in. This was the base of the ejection seat, which you released to dangle below you when you were parachuting down. I grabbed the box and pulled the black and yellow handle on top. Nothing happened so I did it again, while kicking my legs furiously to stay afloat. Suddenly it burst open to reveal the single-seat orange life raft that would be my lifeline. When it was semi-inflated, I flung my arms over the side and tried to pull myself in but my saturated flying kit weighed me down. I half squashed the side and kicked like Michael Phelps to get over the edge. I flopped into the bottom like the world’s most ungraceful seal. Done it. Blimey. If I had any kind of injuries from ejecting, likely to be some sort of arm issues from flailing on exiting the cockpit, I would have serious problems getting in. Especially if the sea was rough. It goes to show why you’ve got to be in good physical condition in the first place.

A lot of official events involve a lot of alcohol. Example following first solo in the Hawk:

All of us who had gone solo up to that point chipped in for a barrel of beer, hence the name. But this wasn’t a pleasant summer evening spent sipping ale politely on the lawn. In our flying suits, we were lined up and handed a succession of shots. Downing them in one was the only option. Crème de menthe made for a cheeky opener, followed by a smooth hit of Baileys and then in a convenient nod to the squadron colours, Blue Curacao and banana schnapps. We washed these down by necking a pint of beer and then a glass of milk. Strangely, this was what caused all the problems for those with less than cast-iron stomachs. I was given absolutely no quarter for being a woman. I suppose I had been yearning to be one of the boys, so I couldn’t really complain. Suitably sozzled, we shook hands with the boss and were awarded the squadron’s diamond-shaped embroidered cloth badge to wear on our left arm.

The author has some rough spots in training, but her fellow trainees (all guys) band together to help her out, e.g., spending an entire evening on bicycles practicing formation flying. There is more drinking when she is assigned to her first operational aircraft:

In true RAF tradition, instead of just sticking these up on a notice board, the news was dished out during a drink-up. We were told to report to the bar in flying suits and I met some of the others milling about outside the locked door. We could hear voices and laughter coming from inside, however a few polite knocks didn’t seem to register. We shrugged and carried on chatting but I could sense a few nerves in the air. Then the door eased open and the eight of us we were ushered in. We were greeted with a big Wheel of Fortune-style spinning wheel in the middle of the room. All our instructors were gathered around and we were handed pint glasses, which were quickly filled up from a jug. On the wheel were photos of different fast jets, plus a picture of a jug of cream. This, we were told, indicated you would become a ‘creamy’ and stay at Valley as an instructor with the chance to go through selection again for single seat. Each pilot in turn took to the floor to spin the wheel. If it landed on your designated aircraft first time, all well and good. If it didn’t, you had to neck a pint.

A lot of the challenges will be familiar to civilian pilots:

Taxiing a Tornado in the sim for the first few times was quite funny. It was like getting into a new hire car and taking a while to tune into its whims. I kept meandering left and right over the centre line on the tarmac while trying to keep it straight. Or I’d power up the throttles too much and shoot forwards and then tap the brakes too hard and lurch to a stop. ‘Oh no, a bit more, oops, bugger,’ as I careered down the runway looking like a youngster on roller skates for the first time.

It was really easy to fall into the trap of saying what you thought you should, rather than what was actually happening. For instance, when you put down your landing gear and say automatically, ‘Three greens’ to signal three wheels down because that is what you always say but actually it’s two greens and one red. One of the real dangers of flying is it’s all about motor programmes – you are wanting people to operate an automatic process, with drills and checks, but at the same time they have to be vigilant and spot if something is not where it should be. Plenty of times I’ve looked at a switch and thought, ‘Hang on a minute, I’m about to skirt over the fact the batteries are off.’ You become so used to the routine of saying it. That’s why a lot of aircraft crash – people saying what’s not there.

The Tornado rotates at 150 knots. Hickson gets there after about 600 hours of total flight experience. She almost wrecks one during training in Goose Bay, hydroplaning sideways down the runway at 150 knots. Even back in the 1990s, the aircraft had a terrain-following radar that would keep the plane at precisely 250′ above the ground. The backseat navigator has the job of monitoring whether the thing is actually working or is going to fly the plane into a hill. When a crew dies in bad weather, the mates gather in the officer’s club bar:

That evening we all filed into the bar in a sombre and reflective mood. Their bar books were opened up and all drinks put on their accounts, which would obviously get chalked off at the end of the month.

As the alcohol kicked in so did the tears and raw emotions. The other guys on their course were all big characters and experienced second or third tourists in the Gulf, but they were in pieces. 

The booze flowed and we toasted Dickie and Sean long into the night.

At some stage, as tradition dictates, the mess piano was wheeled outside and set on fire while someone was playing it.

The author and her RAF comrades meet the USAF at Nellis (Vegas) for the Red Flag war games.

The place was packed with buzz-cutted aircrew. A square-jawed American stood up at the front and a hush went around. ‘Hi, my name’s Ninja and I’m the commanding officer…’ Once he’d done his bit another identikit American took to the lectern. ‘I’m Tomcat, and I’m the best goddamn navigator in town.’ It

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Avionics News: What’s worse than paying $18,245 for $200 of electronics?

Chatting with some pilots and aircraft owners this evening, one mentioned that he’d ordered an $18,245 Garmin 750Xi. This has some computing power, some flash memory storage, a touchscreen display (926×834 pixels), a GPS receiver, and two radios that can operate on a range of VHF frequencies. In other words, all of the same things that you get when you buy a $200 Android phone (except that the phone has higher resolution and the radios operate on higher frequencies).

What’s more painful than paying $18,245 (plus installation!) for this basket of capabilities? The retailer quoted him 9 months for delivery.

You’d think that if there are people willing to pay $18,245 for what is mostly a 10-year-old box of electronics that Garmin would cheerfully deliver a container load of them tomorrow. There are huge development and FAA certification costs for most things in aviation, so every additional sale should be great from a marginal profits perspective. The crypto miners aren’t buying the same chips that go into an airplane GPS. I am doubtful that any TSMC 5nm parts are in there. Why can’t Garmin harvest the fruits of its certification labor?

The lack of supply was confirmed by checking Aircraft Spruce, which sells a slightly different package for experimental aircraft: “no stock” and with an expectation of shipping June 2.

It can’t be that there was a huge surge of demand for these items. There weren’t suddenly a lot more airplanes built in which to put them.


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Inspiration for sticking to your flying lessons (catch up with canine pilots)

We’ve hit mid-December, historically a time when a lot of flight students in Maskachusetts would give up, at least until the spring. They wouldn’t schedule lessons due to Christmas parties, Christmas shopping, holiday trips, etc. And then it would be January and the idea of being out on the ramp was not appealing. Perhaps things will be better this year due to coronapanic. There are fewer in-person parties. People who travel internationally risk getting stuck due to a false or true positive COVID-19 test.

Here’s some inspiration for sticking to those flight lessons, whether you’re in a frigid slave state or a sunny free state…

Let’s back up to a flight that I did in the Cirrus with a helicopter student and her boyfriend, a non-pilot business manager. At the end of the day, which I thought would have impressed him with (a) the awesomeness of the Cirrus, (b) the awesomeness of his girlfriend as a fixed-wing pilot, and (c) the awesomeness of me as an instructor (sage advice from the right seat, checklist discipline, etc.), he said “It seems like the goal is to do everything like a robot. If that’s the goal, why not just get a robot to do it all?”

“I taught two dogs to fly a plane” (Guardian):

I have been a pet behaviourist for more than 25 years and have also worked for the film industry, helping animals to “perform” on camera. I have trained a 190kg boar to pretend to attack an actor, a cat to plunge shoulder-deep into water as if catching a fish and a cockatoo to winch up a bucket, take out a coin and drop it into a piggy bank. But when a TV company asked if I could teach a dog to fly a plane, I faced the toughest challenge of my career.

Initially I was hesitant about the project, which involved taking 12 carefully selected rescue dogs through a training regime that would ultimately allow three of them to take the controls of a Cessna light aircraft. I wondered if the idea was in the animals’ best interests, but was won over by the programme’s aim: to prove that an abandoned dog, given enough love and attention, is capable of far more than people might expect.

We had only six weeks to turn the three finalists into pilots. The Civil Aviation Authority had issued guidelines: the dogs had to be secured while in flight, and we couldn’t make any alterations to the aircraft. I had a simple rig built to mimic the plane’s seat and controls. After making sure the dogs could be seated comfortably, we used a broom handle and a cutout piece of plywood to represent the plane’s steering yoke.

During the flight, they would be sitting in the pilot’s seat, facing forward with their trainers behind them, so we had to come up with a way to give them steering directions. I designed a second rig, which could be placed in front of the dogs and included an arrangement of lights – red to veer right, blue for left and white for straight ahead. Each light also made a distinctive sound. We operated this system from the back seat via a controller.

After six weeks, I was delighted at how far the dogs had come. Their final test was to perform a figure of eight in an airborne Cessna, making banking turns while controlling their altitude. We needed a human co-pilot to take them to 3,000ft before giving control to the dogs (as diligent as our pupils had been, they weren’t able to take off and land safely). [see also “Other instructors who worked with Hazmi and Mihdhar remember them as poor students who focused on learning to control the aircraft in flight but took no interest in takeoffs or landings.”]

All three of them performed admirably, flying the plane for minutes at a time, but it was Shadow who ultimately got the bit between his teeth and successfully completed the final figure of eight.

If the dog could do it, maybe there is hope for us humans!

Separately, ground school is ON for January 3-7. It’s an MIT course, but on Zoom for 2022 as it was in 2021. No need to wear a mask or try to survive Boston winter weather!

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How is the beginner pilot doing on the solo round-the-world flight?

From August 27: 130-hour pilot takes off for a round-the-world flight in a light airplane

It looks as though the 19-year-old pilot had some maintenance and perhaps weather delays in Alaska, but as of October 24, 2021 was forecasting arrival at the Shark factory in Slovakia today:

We can check FlyZolo to see how light aircraft reality matched up to light aircraft plans! (It may be fair to say that the worse the match, the better the pilot and/or dispatcher/planner!)


  • “Teenage Aviator Aims to Be Youngest Woman to Circle the Globe Solo” (NYT): Zara Rutherford, 19, left Belgium last week and plans to complete her journey by early November. … If she does, she would overtake Shaesta Waiz to become the youngest woman to circumnavigate the globe solo in a single-engine aircraft. (Travis Ludlow, an aviator from Britain, did so in July at the age of 18.) … “Such a great example for women, to see that we are capable of so much more than we sometimes think, believe or dream!” Ms. Rutherford wrote on Facebook. [How does the NYT know that Travis Ludlow does not identify as a woman? Isn’t it possible that Ludlow is already the youngest woman to circumnavigate the globe solo?]
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Canon RF 800/11 lens for air shows

Stuart, Florida has a small annual air show that proved to be a good opportunity to test the new Canon mirrorless religion against some of America’s greatest aerobatic pilots and military hardware that awes everyone except our enemies. I brought a Canon R5 body and the 800/11 lens (lightweight inexpensive ($900) lens optimized for long walks in search of birds) to the event, setting up at Atlantic Aviation’s barbecue on the south side of the field, which is where you might be if you flew into the event. Most of the spectators are on the north side of the field and therefore would have had the sun in the background of many images.

Perhaps partly due to the fact that we were usually a little farther from the planes than the main crowd, magnification was about right for a lot of the solo planes. A longer lens would not have been welcome as it was already tough to find moving aircraft in the sky with the lens after first locating them with the unaided eyes. A 600mm lens (on a full-frame camera) is probably better if you’re in a more standard position and then a zoom lens covering 200-400mm for formations and big aircraft (e.g., Boeing 737 and larger).

All of the pictures had the wrong timestamp. A $4,000 camera with WiFi and Bluetooth cannot set its own clock, time zone, or Daylight Savings Time status, unlike the $29+ that we’re accustomed to purchasing for our houses and pockets. (Every photo off by one hour because I hadn’t gone deep into the menus to turn off DST)

Battery life on the R5 was just about perfect for this project, which resulted in 911 pictures and a couple of minutes of video. The battery was at 30 percent at the end of the 5-hour project.

I’m a raw beginner with this body, so my configuration was very simple: servo autofocus (defaults on the zones and other modes), high-speed drive (8 frames/second; not the 12 fps “H+” mode); shutter-priority autoexposure (the lens is at a fixed f/11, so the camera will adjust ISO based on the scene brightness) at 1/1600th to 1/2500th depending on the aircraft speed. No monopod or tripod (i.e., handheld and rely on in-body and in-lens image stabilization). Some of the images below are cropped, but not are post-processed for exposure or in any other way besides downsizing to 4k resolution (3,840 pixels wide) in the remnants of Google Picasa.

So that you don’t give up on this post, a successful slightly cropped F-16 image, the demo team (pilot: Garret Schmitz) showing the taxpayers a thrust-to-weight greater than 1:

Some jumpers who wouldn’t have registered on a shorter lens:

A heritage formation (F-22, P-51 Mustangs, F-16) that fit:

The AeroShell Aerobatic Team (showing just how loud the AT-6 can be):

The last image is uncropped and included to demonstrate how well the EOS R5 does with exposure in a tough situation (white clouds surrounding the subject plus a lot of white on the subject itself; Black Subjects Matter and white subjects might matter to some, but cameras work best when the scene is 18 percent grey).

A little Decathlon that would have gotten lost with a shorter lens:

Max is mad, but not as mad as if he’d had to carry a 14 lb. lens that came in its own suitcase:

An appropriate magnification for the A-10:

If you enjoyed our video regarding the F-22 flight controls and/or you simply love being a taxpayer ($350 million per F-22?):

Big lens+Big airplane (C-17) do not mix well:

On the other hand, the magnification was perfect for the aerobatic Bo 105:

Here’s an example of where a 600mm lens would have made life easier:

But, on the other hand, shouldn’t one expect to throw out 95 percent of images taken of subjects moving at 500+ mph?

The Shockwave Jet truck racing Rob Holland (lens too long at the same time that our position was too far away):

Matt Younkin showing off in a Beech 18:

Department of It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time:

Since Thanksgiving is coming up, some things to be thankful for… (we can enjoy looking at the moon; we’re not a helicopter’s external load)

Does the lens make sense for air shows? I think so! If you’re not covering the air show professionally you don’t need to get a great picture of every aircraft. This lens will give you some interesting pictures that few non-professionals are likely to get. The EOS R5 is a champ when it comes to autofocus!


  • the USAF Thunderbirds (2018 images of practice before an event in Maskachusetts, Canon 200-400L with 1.4X teleconverter for many images)
  • some other snapshots (from the 2018 Maskachusetts air show)
  • Oshkosh Air Show Highlights (just a text discussion; I wasn’t strong enough to schlep my huge lenses and we didn’t have space/weight in the airplane)
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