The folks at NBAA made their first mistake when they let in an airline pilot; but AVweb's CEO of the Cockpit won't cause too much trouble.
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My nephew Kermit had moved up in the world. Fresh out of the Aviation College at the University of South Toledo, he was a sales-rep gofer for one of
the dozens of new VLJ manufacturers that dot the flying landscape of late.
He was justifiably proud of the "Sky-Screamer 100." Not only did this three-place, subsonic, turbine-powered product have the clean looks of a T-38 on crack, it had a color scheme straight out of a
Jimi Hendrix drug-induced dream.
The only problem that I could see about the whole endeavor was that the jet really didn't exist yet. They had a mock-up, some flashy models to show prospective customers and a kick-ass video in which
an animated model of the aircraft does all sorts of cool stuff with cool looking people in cool looking places.
Build Your Factory Here And Get A Free Sewer!
Various cities were fighting over the imaginary factory. So far, Newark, N.J., Amarillo, Texas, and Bangalore, India, were still in the running. The city fathers in each location were trying to out-do
each other in offering tax incentives and give-aways to an aviation firm that had yet to fly its first airfoil.
The Galaxian Jet Company, builder of the Sky-Screamer, had 233 advance orders and the $100,000 deposits to go with them. Their first projected delivery date? The autumn of 2010.
This fact didn't seem to bother much of anybody but me. Kermit had gotten me press credentials to this year's NBAA convention in Atlanta (or, as Delta pilots like to call it, "Widget Wonderland").
Even though I can't write any better than Larry King -- which is to say not at all -- I found myself eating great media food and throwing great media swag into my multi-colored, NBAA, souvenir
tote-bag. The next three Christmases are totally taken care of. Enjoy your free tool kits and mouse pads, everybody!
Kermit got me checked in at the media room and left to woo yet another millionaire with too much money who wanted to order an imaginary jet.
A Very Serious Playground
The NBAA confab is a grown-up version of a Christmas toy catalog. There are two huge convention floors and one huge static display at an airport outside of town. On the floors you can find every kind
of business-aircraft product, gimmick, improvement, entertainment center and gee-gaw. At the static display you can find dozens of jets you can't afford along with hundreds of employees working the
site who can't afford the jets either.
The advantage of riding a courtesy bus out to the static display, of course, is that what you see there is real. These aircraft had to fly to get here and, for the most part, they are as real as burrs
on a bear and clueless on a chief pilot.
Attendees at the convention were told via the brochure that they were expected to turn out in coat and tie with shiny shoes. No Pratt-and-Whitney belt buckled, short wearing, beer-gut sporting "I'm
with Stupid" t-shirt-wearing, low-life, fly-in pilots allowed here. The policy clearly shouted that they wanted serious, money-spending, imaginary-jet-buying principals at this soiree.
Like in all serious businesses, the coat and tie rule doesn't apply if you are young, good-looking, well-endowed and female. Literally hundreds of lovelies, wearing faux airline flight-crew jump-suits
cut just low enough to expose the mammary mountains but not low enough to qualify for a job at The Cheetah Three Lounge in Atlanta were all over the convention floor serving coffee, handing out
brochures and generally smelling nice.
Their presence there was evocative of flying airliners in the late 1970s and early 1980s before such things as the elimination of weight checks and sex discrimination came along to spoil things for us
A Boeing with Beds
Like any good airline pilot, I first went over to the Boeing Business Jets area of the display floor when I arrived. There is something that attracts me to jets that are big enough for me to park my
Porsche in the front cargo hold as I jet off to Berne or Nice.
They, of course, didn't park any real jets on the display floor but they had various, huge, scale-models of what I could expect should I decide to buy a 777 and make a camper out of it for me, Maw and
the kids. I was glancing over such a model when a lovely named Gwenn sidled up to me and offered a designer cup of coffee.
"Are you interested in buying an executive aircraft like this one?" she asked.
Hell, honey, I said, I can't afford to buy this plastic model that we're looking at. I have to admit, though, that I have always dreamed about flying my executive 777 out to Sun 'n Fun and camping
with the common folk, just north of the ultralight area and east of the porta-potties.
That evoked a laugh out of Gwenn who, by the way, was dressed conservatively. She was a class act ... not like those tube-top-wearing skanks giving out free key chains over by the west wall.
Once we got to talking, I found out that Gwenn had a lot in common with my nephew Kermit. She was young, had a few ratings and a college degree from a local aviation program, and was looking for a
"I'm here to sell the sizzle, they tell me." She said. "If my mom's generation was here, they would probably be looking for a rich husband. There are plenty of rich guys hanging around here talking
about buying a 737 with a gold shower stall, but most of them are like you."
I tried to take that last remark in a good way. It is true that I was a sort-of gate-crasher to the NBAA event and they had fed me a free lunch up in the press room, even though I didn't intend to buy
as much as a slice of pizza. As a commercial sales lead, I was a dud and Gwenn was clearly wasting her time on me.
Kermit Finds His Uncle
"There you are," said Kermit as he approached us from the direction of the Virgin Charter booth. "I thought I might find you over here by the big jets."
Yes, I said. I have always had a policy of not flying jets that are smaller than me.
I introduced Kermit to Gwenn and could see an instant one-sided attraction. Kermit was in love; Gwenn was in a state of deep disinterest. Perfect fodder for romance, at least in my vast experience. I
knew that Kermit would be back later with a dinner invitation for Gwenn. I estimated his chances at about even. We headed over to the Galaxian Sky Screamer booth.
Their kick-ass video was being shown in high-def on a 20-yard-wide flat screen that was suspended above the crowd. Beneath the screen was the mock-up of the proposed jet. It was wafting in a cloud of
dry-ice fog and swirling colored lights. Hell, if I had my checkbook, I would have written a deposit right there and then. It was a sales effort worthy of P.T. Barnum himself.
Once the prospect is hooked, they land him or her in the boat by going back to a glass lounge and office area where they can talk in private. This is the equivalent of the sales office at a used car
lot but a million times more classy and important.
The Bone Of Contention
I kept a low profile at the show for two reasons. First, I want Kermit to have a chance at some sort of career. Being related to me already has lots of draw-backs; I didn't want to ruin his flying
life by association right out of the starting gate. Second, the airline companies and the business aircraft people are at loggerheads over who should pay for what.
The airlines contend that "private flying" is done by multi-millionaires in very expensive jets and that they don't pay their fair share for clogging up the ATC system with their various flying
The business aviation people see their part of the aviation pie as more of a refuge for plebian working stiffs who just want to get away from the stress and toil of life by flying their Meridians and
King Airs off for a little fly fishing in Aspen.
The real irony, of course, is that we are talking about the very same people here. Both groups are privileged and rich, suit-wearing, stock-option-holding graduates of various prestigious business
schools. Like any high school debate team, their position on the issue depends on which side the teacher has assigned them.
While I am leaning more in support of Kermit and Gwenn's jobs, I still think that the airlines have a lot to learn from the NBAA. What if they had attractive girls serving coffee to their customers?
What if they required their customers to dress up a little bit before coming to the airport?
What a world that would be! It would be the world of airline flying back in the 1970s and early 1980s, when people wore suits to fly on an airliner, a ticket price was sane enough to keep the airline
in business and real coffee was served by real girls in real coffee cups.
Left At The Show
Just as I was awaiting the shuttle bus that would take me south to my Virginia Avenue hotel near Delta World Headquarters (which is called "Red Square" by Delta pilots), I wasn't surprised at all to
find I had a voice mail in my cell.
"Hey unc ..." it began. "Gwenn and I are heading over to Buckhead for a little dinner and maybe a movie. I'll see you in a few weeks at home after your next airline trip."
It all came into focus at that moment for me. We aren't selling imaginary jets or imaginary airline service to people so we can make money. We are selling imaginary jets and service so that kids like
Gwenn and Kermit can have a great career and a good life. Perhaps they'll marry and reproduce, resulting in a whole new generation of bored-looking, gray-haired pilots like me.
It's the circle of life.
Want to read more from AVweb's CEO of the Cockpit? Check out the rest of his columns.
Versa-True has more positioning flexibility but RAM's gadget cradle is superior and it costs half as much. Best value is the RAM suction mount.
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Sometime during the short but glorious history of general aviation gadgets, the notion that mounting some sort of accessory on the control yoke became
accepted as a good idea. It wasn't, it isn't and it never will be. Festooning controls with wire-bound junk is at best a nuisance, at worst a safety hazard in turbulence or a crash.
Still, yoke mounting is a popular place to put portable navigators, so we're struck with yoke mounts. But accessory designers have at least come up with more sensibly designed yoke mounts, so we
decided to do quick sampling of the market.
None of these devices are perfect, at least the ones that mount on a yoke. They tend to obstruct instruments and give the yoke a heavier-than-normal feel that's far from ideal. But the better ones at
least improve the way the portable gadget mounts into its cradle and how the entire assembly fastens to the yoke.
Another option is the suction-cup mounts that allow you to stick the GPS on a side window or the windshield, braced against the glareshield. We tried a couple of those, too.
RAM Mounts has been at the portable gadget-mount business for 10 years and has more variety and flexibility in this product realm than any other
manufacturer we know of. While RAM's products aren't without warts, they are so prolific that it's possible to mount just about anything to anything with RAM parts, from a GPS to a yoke to a
laptop to the dash of your pick-up truck.
The technical core of the product is a ball-and-socket design consisting of a hard rubber ball attached to a mounting plate or flange that in turn affixes in some way to the gadget you want to mount.
The socket portion of this design is found in an arm device consisting of two metal halves held together with a bolt working against a spring. Tightening the bolt adjusts tension on the ball and
allows the arm to swing through a range of positions.
RAM's claim to fame is that it has more than 900 parts and pieces and to put together a yoke or suction mount, you select from this menu à la carte. For our test project, RAM sent us mounting
hardware for a Garmin GPSMAP 296, both a yoke mount and a suction-cup mount. The yoke version retails for about $52. (RAM part number B-121-GA7.)
The RAM design has a beefy C-clamp-type gripper for the yoke shaft nicely cast of aluminum in black finish. It will easily accommodate shafts of most sizes, although it might be a stretch for a Beech
yoke. The cradle RAM provides fits the GPSMAP 296 like a glove, with a positive, snap-in feel that holds the navigator securely. It's easy to remove and reinstall the gadget, a plus for the RAM
We're less impressed with RAM's flexibility in terms of mounting position. By loosening the plastic thumbnut, the arm can be positioned just about anywhere you want it but not really anywhere.
Movement is somewhat restricted because the ball's shaft jams against the end of the arm in certain positions. This is the RAM system's major drawback and makes the yoke mount frustrating to use at
One way to avoid the nuisance of a yoke mount is to not have one. RAM's alterative is a suction-cup base-mount that attaches to a side window or the inside of the windshield. Like the yoke clamp, the
suction cup base has a ball to which an arm with its socket attaches. The gadget cradle fits into the other end of the arm, as with the yoke mount. The version we tried -- RAM B-166-GA7 -- retails for
Last time we tested the RAM suction mount, we heard reader complaints that the cup simply didn't grip well enough and would pop off the glass surface. RAM has since redesigned the cup with a clever
rotating locking ring that draws up the cup's vacuum. With a spring scale, we found that it took 22 pounds of side pull to dislodge the suction cup and tugging at it straight out from the cup, we
stopped pulling at 45 pounds. In short, the cup shouldn't pop off, even in turbulence. In fact, getting it off the glass can be a chore but the cup has a small lift tab to break the suction.
We prefer the suction-cup option to the yoke-mount option because it can attach to side windows or the windshield in any aircraft. The downside, however, is safety. During takeoff and landing or when
encountering turbulence, we would recommend removing the mount to keep it from becoming a dangerous projectile. See RAM Mounts' Web site for
A relative newcomer to the gadget mount business is VersaTrue Mounting Systems, which offers a product line similar to but less extensive than
RAM's. It's also based on a ball-and-socket principle but there are some definite differences between the two systems, mainly in the arm design.
Where RAM tensions the grip on the ball with a bolt/ thumbnut and spring, VersaTrue has a small over-center lever to set the tension. Rotating the lever adjusts the tension and snapping it down locks
the socket arm on both balls. VersaTrue's better idea is that the arm sockets have semi-circular cutouts that promote more flexibility in positioning than the RAM system has. This also means that when
the tensioning lever is released, the ball occasionally pops out of the socket. Careful adjustment will minimize this.
Where RAM has a dedicated gadget mount, VersaTrue has a universal mount with ratcheting arms. This is a mixed blessing; it accommodates more gadgets easily but doesn't hold the device as firmly, in
our view. Price of the VersaTrue product we tested was about $103. See VersaTrue's Web site for more.
Two other mounts we tested include the Lobstermount and a universal yoke-mount sold by Wentworth Aircraft. Like VersaTrue, the Lobstermount -- $81.89 for the model we tried -- uses a ball-and-socket
approach but rather than a socket arm, the mount has an arm similar to a pair of vice-grip pliers with the same type of locking mechanism. And like VersaTrue, the Lobstermount has a universal gadget
mount with plastic spring arms that slide in slots milled into a plastic base. The mount will accept a range of gadgets, but compared to the other mounts, we thought its grip on the GPSmap 296 was
We tried the Lobstermount with a suction cup similar to the RAM system. The cup easily resisted more than 30 pounds of side pull but we found that because of the arm length and cup design, the mount
had more wobble and flex than we prefer. Once locked, the RAM mount is rock solid, by comparison. For more on the Lobstermount, visit Aeromedix or Lobstermount.
At Oshkosh, we saw an intriguing yoke mount being offered by a used aircraft parts house, Wentworth Aircraft. Wentworth bought a bunch of
mounts from an accessory company that went bust and is selling them as universal gadget mounts for the yoke.
The mount is a simple flat-plate on a pivot with a yoke clamp. You're on your own to fasten the gadget to it with Velcro or some other means. At $30, this mount is cheap and probably perfect for a PDA
or GPS with a flat back. The Velcro method didn't work well with the GPSMAP 296's convex backside, however.
Top dog here is the RAM system, in our view. While the VersaTrue products have a nicer fit and finish and a bit more flexibility in range of motion, they aren't exactly perfect. The universal gadget
mount is a good idea but doesn't hold the device as securely as the RAM mounts do and the arm tension is a bit finicky to get just right.
But where RAM excels is in value. The VersaTrue system costs twice as much as the equivalent RAM solution but, in our view, it isn't twice as good. In this group of products, for under $50, the RAM
suction-cup hardware strikes us as an outstanding value and you can use it in the airplane or the car, offering utility a simple yoke-mount can't match.
More AVweb product reviews are available here. And for monthly articles and reviews of aviation products and services, subscribe to AVweb's sister
publication, Aviation Consumer.
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When the Light Sport Aircraft category and the Sport Pilot certificate were created a couple of years ago, proponents claimed a new era in aviation had begun because learning to fly would become so
much more accessible under the relaxed training and medical rules. Well, if the experience of Chesapeake Sport Pilot is any indication, it would seem the original boosters were right on the money.
AVweb's Russ Niles spoke with Tim Adelman, who helped found the flight school only seven months ago and has watched it grow faster than he ever imagined it would.
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