Looking back on the things that happened in the world of aviation during the past year, it's hard to believe many of them actually occurred. My solemn promise to you, gentle reader, is that you won't have that problem with this blog post. I can officially state right here and now that most of what you are about to read did not happen. Or did it?
Theoretical physicists tell us that time does not really travel as a straight line and neither will my review of this year. Specific dates mean nothing to me. Just ask my wife on our wedding anniversary. If you want dates and times, refer to a calendar or ask your spouse. If you want to know what went on behind the scenes of aviation this past year, keep reading. NASA completed its final Space Shuttle mission this year and the thirty-something year old spacecraft will fly in low-earth orbit no more. Some of them will be sent to museums, others will be fashioned into wind-tees for uncontrolled airports, and the remaining shuttles will be donated to charity, garnering NASA a huge tax write-off.
Yes, NASA did try to sell the used shuttles, but after three months on Craigslist there was nary a nibble, so they had to donate them. They were just rusting and cluttering up the back yard in Houston and something had to be done before the neighborhood association caught on.
Manned space travel is not over for our intrepid space explorers. NASA plans to buy rides for its astronauts on launch vehicles leased from Vietnam, North Korea, Russia, Freedonia and Walmart. Should there happen to be an emergency at the International Space Station requiring a rescue, NASA assures us that they have been in contact with THUNDERBIRDS and that they are GO!
The Sun 'N Fun Fly-In was made much more exciting this past year by an awesome high speed fly-by executed by Mothra, the famous Japanese super windshield smudge and movie star. The winds resulting from Mothra's low pass were mistaken by some to be a tornado. Fortunately, all damages were covered by the Kyoto treaty of 1999 and reimbursement checks will be on the way soon from Japan unless they suffer a horrible Tsunami. This summer, NBC, CBS, ABC, Entertainment Tonight, the E-Channel and other major media networks were shocked to learn that flying highly modified, powerful, 66-year old war birds that were initially manufactured by people considered unfit for the military draft by 1940s medical standards can be dangerous.
Reno air racing pilots and fans have known the risk and done it anyway for decades because they are Americans who knew the risks and love it. Let's all hope they keep racing and don't let anybody shut them down.
Also during this past summer, the EAA explained the reason that they call their yearly Oshkosh fly-in "Airventure" instead of the more logical, less ridiculous and more easily spelled and understood "Air Adventure." EAA talking-heads cited the poor economy along with their aging and dwindling membership saying they: "just could not afford to buy a vowel."
In other EAA news from the past year it was announced that Burt Rutan has finally perfected the positronic robotic artificial brain (made from composites!). His "Rutanbot" located in the EAA's main office has been activated and closely adheres to the three laws of Rutan Robotics:
Just a few months ago, the FAA, AOPA, the American Automobile Association and the A-Team announced a major breakthrough in pilot medical standards. You will no longer need a medical certificate or even have to be actually alive to fly a two-place aircraft with 150 horsepower or less.
Association spokespersons call this new rule: "a great way to expand membership and extend the thrill of flight to a huge population of zombies that have been ignored by the FAA for decades." All that will be needed to apply for a Sport Pilot License will be an expired driver's license or a valid death certificate.
Movie celebrity and gifted actor John Travolta added astronaut to his extensive collection of uniforms for jobs he never really had. He will be wearing a space suit in a humorous NASA Super Bowl commercial this upcoming year. Travolta will be playing an astronaut thumbing a ride on a passing Vietnamese space launch vehicle. Set your DVRs!
Harrison Ford made well over 600 personal appearances this past year in support of general aviation. He announced he would like to cut back on his hectic schedule, saying that AOPA, GAMA and the NBAA have promised to release his family from captivity and provide him with the antidote for that slow acting poison he was given before agreeing to take on the role of aviation's spokesperson.
Drones were in the news this year when the Rutanbot ordered them to attack kill and destroy Osama Bin Laden along with various other bad people, bad buildings, bad road junctions, bad camels and bad automobiles. The Rutanbot also announced new, less expensive drones will be soon made from hundreds of unfinished BD-5 kits bought by the military off of Craigslist. Iran, that persnickety, crabby old neighbor of Iraq, took possession of a USAF radio-controlled model plane last month when it accidentally flew over the fence of and landed in his front yard. "That'll teach those pesky kids!" said Ayatollah Mr. Wilson, "You're not getting it back!"
The Obama administration's military options for the return of the model plane include a two-pronged plan that incorporates toilet papering Iran's elm tree along with the placement of dog poop in a flaming paper bag on the front porch by Navy Seals who will ring Iran's doorbell and then blend back into the night, suppressing the urge to giggle.
Cessna Aircraft announced near the end of 2011 that they would be increasing the price of their Light Sport Aircraft, the SkyCatcher, by what they term, "an impossible amount." People holding delivery positions on this new technology marvel that only looks like a Cessna 150 by coincidence have been given three options:
Piper aircraft joined Cessna in its attempt to alienate its customers by announcing that they will no longer be offering a jet. A spokesperson for Piper noted that they only offered the jet: "long enough for a foreign investor to buy us out."
Many other aircraft manufacturers planned to quit making aircraft last year and hope to contract their aircraft design and production work out to the Rutanbot or go into the BD-5 drone making business on their own. The government is doing its part to help speed along the death of general aviation as we know it by planning on doing away with low-lead aviation fuel, disallowing tax breaks for new aircraft purchases and charging you large sums of money for any information you used to get from them for free.
Air crew rest rules came under scrutiny this past year resulting in sweeping changes to the way pilots and flight crews are treated by their companies unless they happen to be flying pallets instead of whiny coach passengers. The FAA ruled that the new crew rest requirements will not apply to cargo pilots flying huge 747s MD-11s and the like based on a recent Supreme Court decision that considers cargo pilots to be legally only three fifths of a pilot.
There you have it. There are probably many important things that happened in the world of aviation last year that I missed. Let's face it; I am not very reliable and I sleep a lot. The upcoming year should be a wonderland of aviation fantasy. Just imagine the breathtaking future coming up! Gee whiz! Maybe Cessna can keep the price of light sport aircraft below two hundred grand! Maybe NASA can sell those shuttles on Craigslist after all and zombie pilots could be just the shot in the arm that this industry needs!
I wish you a very happy 2012 and hope that the Rutanbot will be good to you and yours in the years ahead.
Kevin Garrison is a retired airline pilot, flight instructor and veteran freelance writer.