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A Fort Myers, Fla., pilot landed his Piper Saratoga safely last week at Page Field after a bird strike shattered the pilot's side windshield. The impact was caught by the camera Rob Weber set up behind him in the cockpit. Fortunately the windshield was just strong enough that the bird bounced off as the plastic shattered. Weber was hit by windshield plastic and some glareshield components and suffered a minor cut but he kept his composure and flew the airplane.

With the slipstream howling through the hole in the windshield, Weber declared an emergency and set up for a straight-in approach, which seemed to go normally. Fire trucks were standing by but Weber declined any help and taxied to the hangar area. He told WINK News he hopes to get the windshield replaced quickly so he can get back flying.

Authorities in Abu Dhabi detained 12 people but didn't file any charges after five separate fires were deliberately set aboard an Etihad flight from Melbourne, Australia. Distraught passengers reported smoke and flame pouring from bathrooms on the Boeing 777 ER at various times during the flight, which included a two-hour diversion to Jakarta. “A comprehensive investigation into the incidents onboard ... is still under way,” the airline said in an emailed statement. “The aircraft was searched and released shortly after arrival at Abu Dhabi when it was confirmed it was safe to do so.”

Passengers said they didn't feel especially safe when the plane landed in Indonesia after fires in two bathrooms. The aircraft was emptied and all the passengers were searched and relieved of lighters, matches and anything else that might light a fire. However, everyone was allowed back on the aircraft. About two hours out from Abu Dhabi, over the Indian Ocean, more fires occurred and the captain stationed cabin crew members outside every bathroom door for the balance of the flight. One of the passengers told reporters that a crew member said whoever started the fires lit the wax-coated airsickness and sanitary bags in drawers. All the fires were extinguished quickly and there were no injuries.

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Bucking the downward trend of general aviation, the U.S. Parachute Association (USPA) is reporting record-high membership for the second consecutive year. With roughly 3.2 million skydives made last year in the U.S., it announced that more and more people are taking not only a first leap but continuing to pursue skydiving as a hobby and passion. The USPA ended 2013 with nearly 35,700 members, the highest in the association's 67-year history. Last year, more than a half million people experienced their first skydive at more than 240 USPA-affiliated skydiving schools and centers across the country. USPA also welcomed 6,700 new members and issued nearly 3,700 basic skydiving licenses, indicating that more first-timers are coming back to pursue the sport and become certified solo jumpers.

Even as the sport shows increased growth, accident numbers continue to remain comparatively low. In 2013, 24 people died in the U.S. while skydiving, or less than 0.008 fatalities per 1,000 jumps—nearly the lowest rate in the sport's history. Tandem skydiving has an even better safety record, with no tandem student fatalities out of a half million tandem jumps last year and 0.002 student fatalities per 1,000 jumps in the past decade. Skydiving continues to improve its safety record due in large part to safer equipment and better training. The USPA institutes safety standards, certifies skydiving instructors and establishes training programs for new skydivers. The USPA also holds its annual Safety Day—scheduled for March 8 this year—where drop zones across the country offer safety seminars and refresher training.

Cirrus Aircraft delivered 276 new aircraft in 2013, nearly a 10 percent increase over 2012, marking its best aircraft shipment performance since 2008. According to its announcement, Cirrus Aircraft’s annual market share has grown to 37 percent and the SR22/22T model remains the best-selling four- or five-seat airplane for the 11th year in a row. “The key driver to this past year’s outstanding performance was Cirrus owners’ and pilots’ strong response to Generation 5 - which was introduced in early 2013 with the new capability to carry 200 pounds more than any previous Cirrus airplane,” said Todd Simmons, Executive Vice President Sales, Marketing and Customer Support at Cirrus Aircraft.

2013 also saw the completion of deliveries of more than 20 new Cirrus aircraft to the Royal Saudi air force for its pilot training needs. The Royal Saudi air force is the third national air force that has recently selected Cirrus Aircraft for its training needs, following the United States and France. In addition, the Cirrus Aircraft Safety Design Team was recognized with the Joseph T. Nall Safety Award in late 2013 for pioneering many safety innovations and improvements.

© 2014 Larry Grace / Bob Hoover Tribute

Plenty of famous people have appeared on stage at Paramount Studios in Hollywood and some of them were there on Feb. 21 but it wasn’t an actor in the spotlight—it was aviation legend R.A. “Bob” Hoover. The tribute to the man Jimmy Doolittle called “the best stick and rudder man I have ever seen” was organized by Tom and Sharon Poberezny, Mike and Maria Herman, and Ron and Diane Fagen. The event celebrated Hoover’s aviation career of more than 70 years and included the premiere of the new documentary film “Perfecting Flight: Bob Hoover.” Also announced were the first inductees into the Hoover Hall of Honor, to be located at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Daytona Beach, Fla., campus. As the 470 guests walked down a red carpet to enter the event, they passed a highly detailed, full-size replica of “Ole Yeller,” Hoover’s famous P-51D Mustang, in flight. Following the presentation of the colors by the U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard and a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by country music star Dierks Bentley, dinner was served in a garden-like setting outside the Paramount Theater.

© 2014 Larry Grace / Bob Hoover Tribute

The program inside the theater began with Tom Poberezny introducing the hosts for the evening’s celebration: Harrison Ford, Captain James A. Lovell, Sully Sullenberger, Tracy Forrest, Randy Babbitt, Bill Fanning, General Lloyd “Fig” Newton, Captain Gene Cernan, Herb Kelleher, Sean D. Tucker, Clay Lacy, Joe Clark, Bruce McCaw, Rob Liddell, Paul Wood, and Ron and Diane Fagen. National Business Aviation Association President and CEO Ed Bolen said that representatives of NATA, ALPA, GAMA, HAI, EAA, GAMA and AOPA joined him in thanking Hoover for his many contributions to the industry and for inspiring so many people in aviation to follow their dreams. Poberezney commented that it takes more than one film to cover Hoover’s many achievements and noted that three films were in production. Kim Furst, producer/director of the Bob Hoover Project, talked about her film, “Flying the Feathered Edge,” then Harrison Ford introduced the screening of Daniel H. Birman’s film, “Perfecting Flight: Bob Hoover.”

© 2014 Lyle Jansma / Bob Hoover Tribute

The hour-long documentary, which was narrated by Ford and funded by Jim and Jane Slattery, touched on almost every facet of Hoover’s career, beginning with his interest in aviation as a teenager and his experiences in Army flight training. Hoover eventually flew as a fighter pilot during World War II, until his Spitfire experienced mechanical difficulties and was shot down by a Focke-Wulf Fw 190. Hoover was captured and spent 16 months in a German POW camp, but escaped by stealing an Fw 190, which he flew to safety in the Netherlands. After the war, Hoover became a test pilot at Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base) and flew many of the United States’ first jet fighters. The film provides details of many of his test flights, including an assignment in an F-86 with an early fly-by-wire control system. Immediately after takeoff, the system failed and Hoover spent the next 40 minutes using rudder, throttle, speed brakes and flaps to bring the aircraft under control. He almost crashed several times, was encouraged to bail out by other test pilots in the air at the time, but eventually was able to land on a dry lakebed at Edwards. He rolled for 11 miles until the aircraft finally came to a stop.

Working for North American Aviation, Hoover began to fly airshows in the P-51D Mustang. When North American merged with Rockwell International, Hoover began flying his famous aerobatic routines in the Shrike Commander 500. Many Commander sales were a direct result of his performances on the airshow circuit. The film also highlights Hoover’s work with Sean D. Tucker, and shows Hoover providing guidance and advice to young Air Force test pilots at Edwards. After the screening, producer Birman spoke about how the film was made. He explained how Ford invited him to participate in the project, and talked about filming the sequence where 91-year-old Hoover performs aerobatics one last time in a Sabreliner business jet. Finally, it was time for Hoover to take the stage, escorted by the Marines. A violinist appeared on stage and began to play a somber tune, when Hoover suddenly shouted, “It sounds like funeral music to me!” As if on cue, the violinist quickly switched to a song Hoover enjoyed—“The U.S. Air Force.”

© 2014 Evan Peers / Bob Hoover Tribute

Herb Kelleher, co-founder of Southwest Airlines, got a big laugh from Hoover when he said that if Hoover had spent more money on engine maintenance, he wouldn’t have had to make all those dead-stick landings the grand finale of his airshow routine. After Hoover shared a few stories with the crowd and thanked them for attending, Sully Sullenberger announced the names of the first eight inductees to the Hoover Hall of Honor: Neil Armstrong; Lee Atwood, former president and CEO of North American Rockwell; Captain Eugene A. Cernan, the last man on the Moon; Jacqueline “Jackie” Cochran, holder of more speed and distance records than any other pilot; James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle; Burt Rutan; Dick Rutan; and test pilot Drury Wood. Burt and Dick Rutan, Cernan and Wood appeared on stage and thanked Hoover for selecting them as the first inductees. Other members will be added to the Hall in the future. In addition to hosting the Hall of Honor, two $25,000 Embry-Riddle scholarships in Hoover’s name were announced. One will go to a student at the university’s Daytona Beach campus and the other will go to a student at the Prescott, Ariz., campus. The organization to honor Hoover also announced a $10,000 donation to preserve Hoover’s legacy at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Speaking on behalf of his family, Hoover’s son Rob thanked the crowd for attending. He also commented that he doesn’t fly because “his father is a tough act to follow.” When the Marines were asked to escort Hoover off stage, there was one more surprise. Unbeknown to Hoover, every guest in the theater had been given a straw hat that was similar to Hoover’s own famous hat. The hats were hidden under the theater seats. On cue, the entire audience quickly put on a hat, stood up and tipped their hat to Hoover. It was one more honor for one of aviation’s best-loved heroes—a 470-straw-hat-salute.

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The non-pilot owners of a remote but locally important private airport in northern California have launched a national fundraising campaign to raise the $60,000 needed to keep it open. Ocean Ridge Airport has been in the Bower family for more than 30 years and they've always patched the holes and painted the markings themselves to facilitate the slow but steady stream of sometimes-essential traffic to the isolated area of Mendocino County. But according to the patient but nevertheless accountable state inspectors who've been watching the single runway's decline over the years, the homemade repairs and non-standard markings are no longer good enough. "We had an inspection by CalTrans (California's government transportation authority) and they inspected the runway surface and they determined that is it unsafe" because of alligatoring and loose chunks of asphalt, spokeswoman Julie Bower said in a podcast interview. The $60,000 will pay for an asphalt slurry mix and the Bower family is hoping the pilot community, both local and national, and local businesses will contribute to the cause. No members of the family are pilots or own aircraft. 

Bower said they have until the end of September to fix the runway and if it doesn't get done a local community resource will be gone. As the name implies, Ocean Ridge is about 1,000 feet above the notoriously foggy Pacific and when aircraft can't use the local municipal airport and medevac helicopters are fogged out of the local health center, they turn to her airport. The facility was built to service a fly-in golf resort in the 1970s but that project failed and the family of Bower's husband acquired the land. There are about 10 resident aircraft, and itinerant aircraft number about 10 a day in the summer, but so far only about $4,200 has been raised from those who stand to lose the most from the airport's closure.

The Bower family of Gualala, California would like nothing better than to keep their private, public-use airport open — but since they don't fly themselves, they're hoping those with some skin in the game will pay the $60,000 necessary for repairs.  AVweb's Russ Niles spoke with Julie Bower about the unique situation in a remote corner of Mendocino County.

St. Barts, in the eastern Caribbean, is famous for having a short, narrow runway with a tall hill off one end.  It's tricky to get into, and more than one pilot has come to grief in trying.  In this video, AVweb's Paul Bertorelli reviews a landing that went wrong and why.

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Letter of the Week:
The Rest of the Story

The new rest rules do not cover cargo flights, nor do they cover foreign flights in U.S. airspace.  But the basics should be that professional pilots take care of their bodies, including getting adequate rest.

Carriers give crew regulated rest periods, but unless the FAA wants the carrier to do hourly bed checks, then how can you guarantee they are sleeping or resting?  Past accident accounts by the media want us to believe that it was the carrier's fault that a commuting-from-home-to-work pilot was not given enough rest.  The carrier indicates when the pilot is to report to work, and a realistic expectation is that the pilot will be ready to take the bid assignment.

Everyone will occasionally have trouble getting enough rest.  A pilot calling me indicating he or she could not get to sleep before the assignment was always given additional time off.  But a pilot who habitually had a problem was offered an opportunity to change his or her career path in the company commensurate with his or her capability.

Jim Harris

I flew Part 135 for more than 30 years.  The duty time rules work as far as sleep and work go.  If you want to do anything other than sleep or work, like have a life, there are issues.

Anything you do -- commute, eat, say hello to your wife and kids -- is subtracted from your sleep time.  It's not a safety issue.  Operators want to be safe.  It's financial.  A more reasonable schedule means more pilots, a higher crew cost, and a lower bottom line.

Davis Newman

Volunteer Controllers?

I was an FAA controller for 25 years, and anytime there was an air show, I and a couple of other controllers volunteered to do it.  I never felt I was being taken advantage of, and we were treated great by the sponsors of show.  I even got a ride in a P-51.  We ate well and partied after.

Tom Jost

Frankly, I am tired of hearing all the whining and negative comments about ATC charges for Oshkosh air traffic control services.  I agree the smaller shows with minimal need for assistance should be free -- but Oshkosh?

That is nothing but a weeklong money-making cash cow for EAA.  EAA gives attendees nothing free.  In fact, the price of entry and of everything handled by EAA is too high and always going up.

EAA should pay the extra cost to the FAA for whatever services they agree to accept.  It's just a small dent in the mucho profit machine that is EAA Oshkosh.

Bill Pearson

Everyone should be aware that there are a lot of legal questions to the subject of air traffic controllers controlling aircraft at any airport, but perhaps the biggest problem would be the Fair Labor Standards Act, which prohibits any employee from performing his or her job without compensation and payment for any overtime worked.

There may be some legal way around these problems, but as a retired controller I would have real concerns working on a voluntary basis with no liability protection.

Ray Laughinghouse

Pilots Don't Breed Pilots

I've just finished reading Rick Durden's article "The New ATP -- A Brief Window Before the Sky Falls?"  Now, this is no scientific study or a letter full of data, just an observation:  I have a fairly large number of acquaintances that are airline captains (a number who are check pilots) for various airlines.  Most are also true aviation enthusiasts.  None will recommend to their children that they pursue the airlines as a career, and none have.

I think this pretty well sums up the future.  Additionally, I have some physician friends who have retired earlier than planned due to government regulations.  The only complaint that I have heard from my attorney friends is that there are too many in their profession.  (Sorry, Rick).  Does anyone see a pattern here?

Jim Oeffinger

Using the Tools

I know this has been beat to death lately, and I don't want to sound smug, but it's a bit close to home.  Every time I see another blurb about this, I think to myself, "Was I the only guy whose instructor showed him how a VFR pilot can use an ILS as a handy reference for night landings?"  If a 200-hour VFR pilot knows how to use the ILS to guarantee he's on the right runway, every time, what's wrong with these so-called professionals?

A VFR pilot is not authorized to fly solely by the instruments, but they refer to instruments all of the time (including radio nav aides).  If what you see out the window doesn't jibe with the instruments, it's decision time.  Trust your eyeballs, check with ATC, or just climb to a safe altitude and fly in circles until you get your stuff together.

Admitting that you may not be where you thought you were and figuring it out for certain sure seems like a far less embarrassing option than what our friends in the Boeings have exemplified.

If that DreamLifter crew that buzzed a quarter mile from my head on the north end of KAAO had questioned their approach on short final and did a go-around, they would have talked to the tower, figured out where they were, and then landed properly with no fuss and no pictures of their airplane in my camera.  If they thought the glide slope at KIAB was a little high, shoot it a little low, but don't ignore it altogether!

I've got a friend who was shooting an instrument approach as PIC in a 757 and a crew member had dialed in the wrong nav frequency.  On approach, he said something just seemed strange, so he broke off from the approach, started from square one, found the nav freq that was amiss, and landed uneventfully.  Nobody was on the news, and nobody lost his job.

If you have a plane with the resources but don't know how to manage them, spend a few bucks with an instructor and learn how.  Then you too can shake your head and wonder how these guys can make such silly, preventable mistakes.

John Phunt

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Send us your comments and questions using this form. Please include your mailing address in your e-mail (just in case your letter is our "Letter of the Week"); by the same token, please let us know if your message is not intended for publication.

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Pelican's PerchLet's take a little time off from the hardcore technical stuff, and have a little fun. One of my favorite stories involves a pig, but first, allow me to set the stage, jump up and down on my soapbox, rave a little, then tell the story.

From 1963 through 1968, I had the incredible honor of flying for Air America, (the real Air America), in Southeast Asia. Most of that time was spent in what was then Saigon, South Vietnam, rightfully known as "The Paris of the Orient." I also spent some time in Laos, which was definitely not "Paris." They were probably the happiest five years of my life. About the time I left "The Company," life in Saigon got a lot less pleasant (can you spell "Tet Offensive?"), but I never had to contend with more than the occasional pipe or bicycle bomb, and worse, the incredible traffic on my little Vespa motor scooter. I was also a part-owner of the night club "Kontiki" in Gia Dinh, and spent most nights there, after flying all those neat old airplanes in very challenging ways, to the limits of my ability and the airplane's limitations. I ended up flying almost all the twins and the Douglas DC-4, but the airplane that I flew the most was my beloved Curtiss-Wright C-46 "Commando," my all-time favorite.

C-46s flying the hump.
C-46s "flying the hump" in China.
(Photo from "Flying the Hump" by Jeff Ethell and Don Downie, Motorbooks International, ISBN 0-7603-0113-1.)

C-46 in Da Nang, RVN
C-46 on the ground in Da Nang, RVN.
(Photo from "Wings of Air America" by Terry Love, Schiffer Military/Aviation History, ISBN 0-7643-0619-7. Picture taken in September of 1966, by Tom Hansen.)

China doll nose art.
"China Doll" is the C-46 I fly these days for the Confederate Air Force.

This magnificent aircraft was used throughout Southeast Asia for many things, all of which it did well. We flew it fully loaded in and out of 3,500-foot strips, often unimproved, at elevations up to 3,600 feet above sea level, in awesomely hot, humid, and dusty conditions. Even today, Everts Air Fuel of Fairbanks, Alaska, is still operating a handful of these aircraft, hauling fuel and cargo into and out of 2,500-foot gravel-bar strips in Alaska, fully loaded...a job no other airplane can do as well. Also today, after more than 30 years of not seeing a C-46, I am again serving on one, "China Doll," belonging to the Confederate Air Force. I am very fortunate.

In Southeast Asia, the strips were often not very secure — the enemy owned them at night, and sometimes laid claim to them during the day as well. Either way, they'd take potshots at passing aircraft with any weapon at hand, sometimes up to .50 caliber and 20 mm weapons. It was also not unknown for "friendly" troops to take shots at us now and then, just to relieve the boredom, and several aircraft and crews were lost to so-called "friendly fire." All part of the game, as it was played in those days.

Flying for "The Company"

Air America was, of course, an arm of the CIA, but that was highly secret information at the time.

I was 23, so young, and so naïve. I had just been fired from a corporate job in Nashville, Tenn., for refusing to fly Thompson & Green's Twin Beech over-gross. Then, a local pilot suggested there was "some outfit" in Washington, D.C., hiring for overseas flying. Being young, single, and dumb as hell, I followed it up ... and amazingly, got hired.

I had been there for several months — hearing "The Customer" this and "The Customer" that (or occasionally "The Company") — when I finally asked "Who the hell IS this Customer or Company, anyway?" My colleagues reacted to my ignorance with dumbfounded silence followed by much laughter. Only then did I finally learn that I was among "spooks," working for the largest airline in the world (in number of airplanes) other than Aeroflot. (Anyway, Aeroflot cheated by including cropdusters as part of the Soviet national airline.)

The United States government (and sometimes others) used Air America for a variety of purposes, some clandestine, some not, but all to further the cause of "containing communism," which we believed to be a Very Good Cause indeed. Everyone I know still thinks it was a good cause, and we are very proud to have been a part of an effort that was more successful than not. As long as the U.S. maintained its presence in the region, communism was mostly contained. It was only after we beat a shameful, politically-driven retreat that the much poo-poo'd "Domino Effect" truly came to pass. The years after the U.S. pull-out saw some of the worst bloodbaths in history take place in Cambodia, Vietnam, and elsewhere. We'd like to think we helped hold that back, for a time.

Deakin IP appointment
September 1965 memorandum announcing my appointment as C-46 instructor pilot in Vietnam.

We all learned very early on that most of the media people covering Southeast Asia were simply looking for stories that made the USA look bad. Oddly enough, it seemed the American media people were the worst at doing this. Most of those stories were thoroughly researched in the fleshpots of Saigon, and in the Officer's Clubs. As a result, none of us would talk to any strangers about anything, even the operations that were not particularly secret.

One of the most outrageous tales they told was that Air America, with CIA knowledge, was in the business of smuggling drugs to foot the bills. I believe that to be utter nonsense, totally untrue. Like others who were there, I'm really bitter over what the press did to us, especially because that misinformation persists to this day. For the record, I never saw the slightest evidence of drug smuggling (although I would not be surprised if some of our passengers carried and used a little opium, as that was a legal cash crop there, as was marijuana).

We who worked there are all universally disgusted with the Mel Gibson movie that trashed the name of the company so badly (some wonderful flying scenes, though). Many good movies could have been made of the real events, but alas, Hollywood and the press prefers lies, when the truth would serve them better.

But, enough of the soapbox!

Cargo and Air Drops

Deakin's Laotian driver's license

My Laotian driver's license. Wow, was I young!

Deakin's Chinese airman documents
My Chinese airman documents.

One very common mission was to air-drop rice to hungry people, and the "Old China Hands" with Air America used a neat trick. If you air-drop a bag of rice without a parachute, it will burst when it hits, and even hungry folks will have trouble making the resulting mix of dirt and rice edible. But parachutes are a pain: They drift all over the place, they foul, they take a lot of preparation, and the cost is high, too, because they are not usually recoverable in this type of operation.

Instead, we used the trick of double-bagging the stuff. 50 kg (110 lbs.) of rice or wheat would be packed into a tightly-fastened burlap sack, and that bag would in turn be placed inside a 100 kg burlap sack, but the outer layer would be sewn shut at the end, as if it contained the full 100 kg. These bags would be pushed out the door on pallets at about 500 feet agl, and free-fall to the DZ (Drop Zone). Upon impact, the inner bag would rupture, absorbing most of the energy, and the loose outer bag would contain the contents. Some genius in old China dreamed that one up, it works beautifully, usually with only one or two bags in a load breaking open.

Some of the recipients, not having carefully studied the laws of physics, would run around the DZ and try to catch these bags as a game, but it only took one successful "catch" (and a dead "catcher") to teach them that really wasn't much fun.

We'd do the drop, then rack the airplane over into a left turn, both to see the results, and to position for the next pass. One thing you didn't want to see was dark spots on the grass roofs. That wasn't decoration or discoloration — it was a hole from a bag of rice! I would guess the homeowner wasn't too happy with my aim if I put a hole in his roof, rice or no rice. At least he didn't have to carry it very far, it was true "Home Delivery."

The C-46 is, above all else, a cargo aircraft, designed for operation into and out of rough, unimproved landing sites, and for air drops as well, both people and cargo. A common payload would be 13,000 pounds, and it might be anything from medical supplies, rice and bulgur (a processed form of wheat) to paper sacks of cement (nasty stuff), munitions, PSP (Perforated Steel Planking, to make runways and ramps), and live animals.

Live animals. Man, do they get interesting! They all smell bad, and they all make a lot of noise. Some can make real trouble, and thereby hangs this tail ... er, tale.

Why on earth would we haul live animals? Well, the ravages of war are hard on livestock and food supplies, and we'd often relocate whole villages from a danger area to a safer spot (only to move 'em again months later). Some livestock was flown in to serve as breeding stock, but I'd guess very few of the animals that I delivered survived more than a few days before being consigned to the cook pot. In a few cases, live animals would be air-dropped by parachute. On at least one occasion I'm familiar with, live pigs were air-dropped without parachutes, presumably to be eaten that night, as none, to my knowledge, survived the drop (no matter how hard they flapped their fat little legs). This was long before "Animal Rights," of course — can you imagine the furor that operation would cause today?

Deakin at Tan Son Nhut in 1965
Me, on the balcony of the AAM Operation Building at Tan Son Nhut AFB, Vietnam, circa 1965.

Deakin at Tan Son Nhut w/C-46 in BG
Another shot at Tan Son Nhut, with a C-46 in the background.

A much more conventional method was to box the pigs up in cheap, flimsy wooden-slat crates, wrapped in chicken wire. (I could never understand why they don't call it "Pig Wire.") We'd stack up a whole bunch of these crates from the floor to the ceiling in the C-46, over hard against the right side, leaving only a narrow passage along the left side of the airplane for the crew to get in and out. I was much skinnier in those days, but it was still a chore to wiggle through that passage.

Stink? Whooee! One of those trips, and there wasn't enough hot water in Saigon for me to wash the smell off for a week! Some uncharitable people said they didn't notice any difference, but I always ignored them and figured their sense of smell was too delicate. The normal airflow in a C-46 cabin is forward, which is nice for detecting smoke or fuel leaks, but it is not exactly optimum with a load of pigs. We always flew with the overwing hatches out, which helped pull some of the smell out, once we got off the ground.

Speaking of "delicate," some think what follows is a revolting story. So if you are a "sensitive person," you might want to skip this column. On the other hand, if you're sensitive, you probably ought to skip all my columns.

Ok, still with me, there? My kinda guy!

I don't mean to be sexist with that remark, but have you noticed that not one single woman has ever responded to this column? I had so hoped to develop a following of   groupies (female), as promised by Mike Busch when he so foolishly asked me to write a column, but it has not happened. I guess Durden gets all those. Maybe the smell of those pigs still lingers …

Anyway, there we were, droning along one day in "Old Dumbo" (another of the many nicknames the C-46 acquired). It was just me and a Chinese copilot, with maybe 150 pigs in back, doing what pigs do best: making noise, and pooping. The floor was protected by several layers of some indeterminate material to keep "The Residue" from getting into the belly of the aircraft. It even worked, most of the time. I think the copilot that day was one of my favorites, K. M. Chow, who went on to become a 747 captain for the national airline of Taiwan much later, and I think the trip was from Saigon to Kontum, about two-thirds of the way "up-country." But memory fades, and I made many such trips, so it might have been someone else (Charlie Gung?), and to another destination. It doesn't matter.

But on this one particular trip, my memory of what happened is vivid, and what follows is as factual as I can make it.

Porcine Jailbreak

I was awak … er, "alerted" by the sounds of crashing and squealing from the back, even more than normal from a load of pigs, and decided it was necessary for me to investigate, after the copilot refused my order to do so. So much for captain's authority, and that was before CRM!

It didn't take me long to find the source of the trouble. What looked like a 300-pound pig (more likely 100 to 150) was well into the process of performing a successful jailbreak, and considering the evil look in his piggy eyes, he was fully intending to pay me back for all those pork chops I'd been eating. On the other hand, maybe he just didn't like airplanes, or perhaps someone had tipped him off to his fate. In any case, he was definitely not a happy camper.

I promptly decided the cockpit was the best place to be, and returned there quickly, closing the door, and bolting it behind me. Next thing we knew, the pig was free and began running up and down the narrow passage, inciting all the other pigs to riot and to jailbreaks as well.

Pig pandemonium had been in progress ever since the animals had been loaded, but now the frenzy was rising to new levels, as the ringleader seemed to be very effectively communicating the fate which awaited them all. In his travels, he was actually helping to break open some of the boxes from the outside, while the pigs still trapped were working hard to the same end from inside. One pig running up and down the aisle didn't faze me too much, but the thought of a whole herd of them doing that did not please me one bit.

Of course, some airlines, even today … oh, never mind, that's not PC.

I knew the pig was running up and down the length of the airplane, because I could feel the trim change, and a couple peeks when he was aft revealed that he was doing some damage to the other boxes. Reluctantly, I decided that the time had come to do battle with this recalcitrant porker, so I armed myself with the airplane crash axe, and proceeded into the fray.

I should note that I was carrying a firearm, as most of us did. But we were strictly forbidden to do that, as we were technically civilians, and not supposed to be armed, under "The Geneva Convention." The enemy, of course, never even heard of such niceties, and summarily executed some of our guys who were unfortunate enough to fall into their hands in a number of very unpleasant ways. In fact, many of our people had prices on their heads, by name, so we figured it was safer just to break the rules and pack a little hardware, just in case. My weapon of choice was an Uzi, which fit nicely in the bottom of my flight kit, and the local managers quietly looked the other way when it went "KLUNK" on the floor of the office. All those manuals, y'know.

I was more than willing to shoot the pig and get it over with, but figured I'd have a hard time explaining the holes in the aircraft from any misses, and a dead pig with bullet holes in him. Besides, I figured one good hit with the pointy end of the crash axe would solve the problem, either killing, disabling, or discouraging old bacon-belly.

Axe in hand, I left the flying to my trusty sidekick, and proceeded aft, and into combat. The pig saw me coming, and promptly retreated all the way aft, into an area of the cabin we call "The Orchestra Pit" since it's lower than the main floor. I followed him, braced, aimed right between his eyes, and took a mighty swing, hitting him exactly where I intended (quite by accident, of course, but never mind).

Physiology Lesson

Now unless you grew up on a farm, and maybe not even then, you probably have never really studied a pig's physical characteristics, specifically, the structure around the head. Neither had I. The whole area is apparently solid cartilage, gristle and bone, and apparently impenetrable by anything short of a .50 caliber slug. The only thing I did with that first mighty axe blow was startle that stupid pig, who squealed loudly just like a … well, like a stuck pig. My target took off like a rocket for the other end of the airplane with me in hot pursuit, hoping he'd been at least a little dazed by my Herculean blow.

No such luck. This time, I aimed for the pig's ear, which didn't work any better. A pattern began to develop: I'd get in a couple of licks, and the pig would take off again. We fought in the front, and we fought in the back, and we fought in the narrow aisle, and sometimes that pig would bolt directly at me, and I'd have to grab the airplane and some chicken wire to lift myself out of the way, because he was "coming through."

I beat on that pig until I thought my arm was going to fall off, and it never even slowed him down. I tried the pointy end, the blade edge, and the flat of it, but mostly the axe just bounced off those layers of fat, with his little pig-like eyes (you expected doe-like?) glaring at me the whole time. I'm not sure who bled the most, that pig where I had at least broken the skin, or me, where I'd bounced off the chicken wire and the insides of the airplane so many times. I also discovered that really exited pigs poop a lot, and I had fallen several times, so I was (to put it mildly) a mess. Determined, to be sure, but a mess nevertheless.

Meanwhile, all the other pigs were doing their best to get out and join the fun, and durned if it didn't sound to me like pigs cheering when he got a lick in. Maybe it was just my imagination, but not a one seemed to be cheering for me.

I finally had to give up. I just had nothing left. I returned to the cockpit, bleeding, filthy, and really smelly, now. I can't imagine what my trusty copilot thought, he was characteristically inscrutable over the whole thing. They thought we foreigners were all nuts, anyway. I can't imagine why.

Aftermath

Maybe I did wear that pig down a little, because things were reasonably quiet after that, and we landed uneventfully. I went back, slipping and sliding in all the blood and pig poop, and used the "push stick" to push the C-46's big cargo door open and up. My fat little buddy was back in the orchestra pit, still moving around, but at this point I didn't care. The instant that door started up, however, the pig saw daylight and darted right between my legs, doing about 90 knots, very nearly taking me out the door with him. The C-46 doorsill is about 10 or 12 feet off the ground, but the pig hit the ground running, bounced once, and never slowed down. For all I know he's running still, and I hope he's still bleeding.

Somehow, the story got out, and I bore in stoic silence a few unflattering nicknames not repeatable here, until the whole thing died down.

I have since hauled a single load of more than 160,000 pounds of live pigs in a cargo 747, and it was a much more comfortable, if less exciting experience. Pressurization is a wonderful thing, all the flow goes aft, and the pigs were in secure cages, probably tranquilized, and a full floor below me. What a difference.

Be careful up there!

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Late on a low-traffic night, an Ozark flight requested landing instructions into Des Moines, reporting his altitude as 6,000 feet. He was given clearance since no other traffic was in the area.

After a few seconds, the Ozark pilot again called, saying:
"Uh, that 6,000 feet -- that shoulda been 5,000 feet. Gee, this thing's got a lot of dials and gauges!"

Reply from the tower:
"Uh, yeah!"


Ron Morden
via e-mail

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If you’ve been paying attention to our news columns, you’ve noticed that new aircraft sales have rebounded in late 2013 and early 2014, although they remain a far cry from the last spike in volume in 2007. For example, Cirrus was happy to report 276 aircraft sold in 2013, a nice bump from 2012, but just over a third of the 710 airplanes it sold in 2007. Piper and Diamond are also seeing an uptick. That’s all good news.

But prices of new aircraft remain in the stratosphere, so the universe of buyers who can afford new is vanishingly small. On a planet with 7.2 billion people, the entire GA industry found 933 buyers to write a check for a new piston airplane in 2013. Tall cotton we ain’t. Piston GA continues its devolution deeper into being a niche within niche, even if some of us imagine there is some sure-fire thing we need to do to reverse this to return to the salad days of 2007, if not 1978. In my increasingly grim view, demographics and wealth trends define this fantasy as utter futility. Even narrowly potent marketing efforts are shoveling thimbles full of sand against a tsunami of disinterest in spending large portions of ever-more-distressed disposable income on airplanes and flying. I’m not the guy to pretend the romance is still there.

So, as markets always do, GA is beginning to embrace its nichedom in the form of modest refurb projects that offer better value than new airplanes do. I reported on this last fall and this trend continues to trickle—not torrent—along, with this week’s announcement of a Cessna 172 diesel project from Premier Aircraft in Fort Lauderdale. Premier can best be described as an all-purpose professional sales and mod house run by people whose sales experience dates to when 172s had straight tails. I’ve known the principals there for years.

Premier’s diesel conversion idea is similar to the Redbird Redhawk. They’re converting used 172s (Rs and Ss) to the Continental Centurion 2.0 diesel and offering upgraded avionics packages. The two programs vary in detail and focus, but only by degree. The overarching point is that they’re refurbing existing airframes and bringing them up to new standards for a price about two thirds of new. Redbird hasn’t set a final price yet, but Jerry Gregoire told me it won’t be any more than $249,000. My current guess would be about $230,000. In this news story and accompanying podcast, Premier’s Art Spengler predicted a $289,000 fly away price or they’ll convert an owner’s existing 172 to the Centurion diesel for about $95,000. Just in case you’re wondering, in another example of how the industry abuses its customers, there’s currently no way to convert a G1000 Skyhawk to diesel. 

Coincidentally, the evening before Premier made its announcement, I was giving a presentation on dieselnomics to the local airport association. A 172 owner told me he was interested in the diesel conversion and asked what I thought it would cost. When I said around $100,000, he drew a sharp breath—a perfectly understandable response. He could re-engine his Skyhawk with a Lycoming for a quarter the cost. But this is where niche psychology kicks in. Because owning an airplane is an economically irrational act at any level, some owners will go with the diesel anyway for the novelty, for the economy, for curiosity.

There won’t be hundreds of such buyers, but there will be dozens and any business plying this niche—Premier or anyone else—can probably make acceptable profits on dozens of sales, not multiple dozens. Redbird envisions larger volume, but the core of its approach is the flight training market, with a tilt toward leasing and power by the hour--yet another niche. Looking at this globally, I think Continental is going to need more than the sum of these niches to make the Centurion truly viable. They need OEM business. But re-engining is a start.

While the Centurion diesel promises lower operating costs, albeit at a higher initial investment, I’m not sure there’s anything magical about its appeal in a refurb market. I see another opportunity in early G1000 Skyhawks which are selling used in the mid-$150,000 range. And there are a lot of them. I can see a niche there in refurbing them with a fresh Lycoming, new upholstery, distinctive paint and an ADS-B unit like Garmin’s GDL 88 with internal WAAS or perhaps a yet-to-appear ADS-B Out solution. Figuring out a mogas STC for these aircraft wouldn’t hurt. (Lycoming already approves the engine for 93 AKI.)

For what it’s worth, such an airplane would probably sell in the $225,000 to $250,000 range, which is where the other refurbs are priced. Coincidentally, when Cessna was enjoying the fat part of the Skyhawk market in 2006 and 2007, those airplanes went out the door for between $200,000 and $250,000. That was a different economic era, to be sure, but I wonder if there’s a price/value departure at a quarter of a million? Does the buyer curve drop off sharply at that point? Could be.

Even if that’s true, I don’t imagine Cessna will ever reduce Skyhawk prices to under $300,000 if it even could, which I doubt. A loaded 2014 Cirrus SR22 is well into the mid-$600,000 range. In 2007, the typical SR22 cost $371,000. There’s no chance we’ll see that kind of price again, so there’s probably a budding Cirrus refurb opportunity, too, especially on the early SR22s.

As for the 172 archetype, it remains popular as a basic airplane. Is it because it’s an easy-to-fly and cheap-to-operate high-wing or because it’s a Cessna? Probably a little of both, even if Cessna isn’t doing much these days to burnish its brand. There are a couple of test cases out there to challenge the Hawk. The Tecnam P-2010 is a high-wing, four-place airplane that’s faster than the 172 and has a third door to the backseat. But at $365,000 for a G1000 version, it’s as expensive as a Skyhawk. Then there’s the Flight Design C4, which is similarly a four-place high-wing, but one that is at least initially priced, with glass, at $250,000, that imaginary magic number. Both of these would-be Skyhawk challengers have traditional gasoline engines; the P-2010 has a Lycoming IO-360-M1A, the C4 a six-cylinder Continental IO-360AF. Significantly, both of these engines are mogas approved which has sales appeal everywhere in the world except, it seems, in the U.S. Here. we like to bitch about high fuel prices without doing much about demanding mogas as a cheaper alternative.

How about the Centurion for these airplanes? Maybe, maybe not. I’d be surprised if Continental hasn’t discussed this with Flight Design. In Europe and Asia, mogas appears to be more of a player than it is in the U.S., at least for now. On a strictly operating-cost basis, mogas competes favorably with diesel, without giving up either payload or speed, both of which the diesel choice may force. On the other hand, in some parts of the world, diesel is more widely available than mogas, both on and off airports.

As interested bystanders, we make great sport in bashing engine and airframe companies for their idiotic marketing decisions. But when you consider the variables, the market’s mile-wide shallowness and the fickle nature of buyers, I’m sometimes surprised the industry sells as much as it does.

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Premier Aircraft Sales is now offering a fully refurbished pre-G1000 Cessna 172 with a new Garmin panel and Continental/Thielert Centurion diesel engine for less than the cost of a new avgas-powered Skyhawk.  AVweb's Russ Niles spoke with Premier's VP of Operations Art Spengler about the instant market acceptance of the new product.

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