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Now there are two.  At approximately 8:30 AM CDT on Sunday morning, the worldwide fleet of flyable B-29s doubled when Doc lifted off from McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kansas culminating a restoration project that began sixteen years ago at the factory where the airplane was built initially in 1944.  Piloted by the Commemorative Air Force's (CAF) Charlie Tillman and co-pilot David Oliver, Doc joined the CAF's Fifi as the only two Superfortresses of the 3,888 produced  between 1943 and 1946 which are airworthy.  Doc returned to the air 60 years after its last flight in 1956 when it was ferried to China Lake in California, decommissioned and hauled into the desert where it was used as a target for Naval bomber training until 1987 when Cleveland, Ohio printing executive Tony Mazzolini discovered it, largely intact, acquired it and moved it to Wichita.

Mazzolini, members of DOC's Friends, a non-profit group formed to raise funds to support the airplane's restoration and dozens of the  volunteers who began restoring the airplane in 1991 were joined by hundreds of onlookers early on July 17, including Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell, Kansas Fourth District Congressman Mike Pompeo, to witness the takeoff.  The airplane completed high speed taxi tests on Saturday evening at around 8 PM in preparation for the first flight.

The flight itself lasted approximately 15 minutes encompassing one takeoff, climb out to pattern altitude, and a return and landing.  The crew chose to land after circling the field when a precautionary "chip light", indicating the possibility of metal pieces in one of the engines illuminated. The short duration of the flight didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd or their positive outlook.

 "I never thought I'd see this day when I started working on this airplane 16 years ago," said Connie Palacios, who at 92 years of age, remembers working on serial number 44-66992 when it came down the assembly line the first time in 1944.  "I prayed for good weather and a good flight when I woke up this morning.  I just don't have words to describe how I felt when I saw it in the air.  It was wonderful...but a little bit sad, too, because of the volunteers who worked on it that have passed without getting to see this."

Wichita's Mayor called the event "a Wright Brothers moment for Wichita, and even though the flight wasn't as long as we had hoped, it was still longer than their first flight!  It was a perfectly fitting event for the 'Air Capital of the World' and 'Doc' now serves to unify our community and to demonstrate that we can come together and our visions can take flight. Let's continue to work hard to keep 'Doc' in our community.  We think it's important to our rich history and we want make sure that future generations of Wichitans have a chance to see Doc fly."

 "This is truly an achievement that our community that can be proud of for decades," said Congressman Pompeo.  

 Tony Mazzolini summed up the celebration by saying, "This restoration is a special effort aimed at wanting to honor our veterans, and wanting to honor our veterans and wanting to honor those who worked on these airplane's on the home front and I just want to say thanks to all of the people who made it possible for this event today." 

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A Canadian performer was killed Sunday in the crash of his T-28 Trojan at an Alberta airshow. Bruce Evans, of Calgary, died when the aircraft apparently failed to pull out of a loop while performing at the Cold Lake Air Show, about 100 miles east of Edmonton. “It looked like he was attempting a loop and he came in a little too low,” newspaper editor Peter Lozinski told CTV News. “There wasn’t a fireball but a big puff of debris went up into the air.”

Evans owned a mineral exploration company but spent much of his free time involved in aviation pursuits. He had an ATP and was a frequent participant in airshows and formation flying events. The crash occurred just before 2 p.m. local time at Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake, one of two major fighter bases in Canada. Base commander Col. Eric Kenny said the military is helping with the aftermath of the crash and the Transportation Safety Board is sending an investigative team.

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Two pilots who spent almost 24 hours swimming for shore from the airplane they ditched have been released from the hospital. David McMahon and Sydnie Uemoto put down in the ocean between Oahu and Kona, on the Big Island, after unspecified technical problems with the plane. They issued a Mayday about 3:15 p.m. Thursday and prepared for the ditch by popping a door and putting the life vests within reach. Coast Guard crews found them on Friday afternoon, apparently none the worse for wear after their long swim.

"What a way to celebrate aloha Friday," Coast Guard spokeswoman Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle told local media. "We all had big smiles on our faces in the office when we heard the news.” The Coast Guard flew them to Kona Airport where they were met by their families. Rescue swimmer Kevin Cleary said, "I've never been able to be part of something like that. To be able to see the families reunited with their loved ones after thinking the worst, it was a special moment. It was pretty surreal."

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Third-class medical reform was signed into law today after Congress approved the changes earlier this week as part of the FAA’s short-term authorization bill. GA organizations including EAA and AOPA have updated their outreach efforts to explain the upcoming changes, which aren't expected to take effect for a year to give the FAA time to finalize the new regulations. “It’s important to celebrate this moment, which has been a long time coming and resulted from an incredible amount of work over the past five years,” said Jack Pelton, EAA CEO and chairman. “This win is for everyone who loves recreational flight.” The legislation’s author, Sen. Jim Inhofe, will speak on the issue on Saturday, July 30, at the AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Regardless of when the FAA puts the new rules into effect, today’s signing means that many pilots who have had valid medicals at any time in the last ten years might not have to be recertified to fly many aircraft weighing under 6,000 pounds. Exceptions include those who develop new medical conditions requiring a special issuance, for which a one-time medical would be required. “It has taken years of commitment and hard work to make these reforms a reality,” said Mark Baker, AOPA president. “AOPA and EAA started the current reform effort back in 2012 when we petitioned the FAA for a medical exemption but the terms of that petition were much more limited than what pilots will get under the new reform law. This is something our entire community can get excited about.”

Jim Coon, AOPA senior vice president of government affairs, told AVweb on Friday that ongoing discussions with lawmakers over the last few years, and some compromises such as the 10-year window for medical exemptions, helped get the reforms passed. “It was a negotiated number that everybody felt comfortable with, and it just made a lot of sense to people,” Coon said. The new changes signed into law were proposed after unsurmountable opposition in Congress to expanding the sport-pilot rule to private pilots, which would have replaced third-class medicals with driver’s licenses and self-certification. Now, the rulemaking process is in the FAA’s hands, Coon said. “I’m hopeful that at some point they’ll come out and give industry and pilots the ability to comment and help them formulate those rules and then we’ll go from there.”

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Periodically, we run a sampling of the letters received to our editorial inbox. One letter that's particularly relevant, informative, or otherwise compelling will headline this section as our "Letter of the Week," and we'll send the author an official AVweb baseball cap as a "thank you" for interacting with us (and the rest of our readership).

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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Every year it’s the same same questions. “You’re going back?” “Why?” “Haven’t you seen everything?” “Isn’t it just the same airplanes over and over?” I sometimes can’t help but wonder if the questioners believe that I’m living out the definition of insanity when it comes to Oshkosh; doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. It all boils down to this—I’ve been going to EAA’s AirVenture, which I still mostly just refer to as “Oshkosh,” almost every year since I was two months old. Even though I’ve gone to the largest aviation gathering in the world nearly 25 times, I’m excited about going again this year.

If I were living out the definition of insanity, Oshkosh would indeed be the same thing each year. It’s not. I understand that, on the surface, to those never having experienced Oshkosh, it may sound like the same stuff, tame after having seen it once or twice. Airplanes show up from all over the world. People come and give talks about everything from building an airplane to what type of oil to use. People camp under the wings of their airplanes on the South and North 40. The air show happens at the same time every day. People get in their airplanes and go home. I can see why some would believe AirVenture becomes mundane after a year or two. But, to me, it’s what is underneath the surface, beyond the drone of the airshow announcers that the magic lies and makes for the reasons I continue to attend Oshkosh and start making plans six months in advance. My dad, I and our friends refer to the magic as the “Oshkosh Effect” to explain what draws so many of us to one particular aviation gathering year after year and how it can affect our lives at other times of the year.

It All Starts

My first Oshkosh was not by choice. At two months of age I was, as my parents put it, in the portable stage of my life. I went where my parents went. As I aged, I began to make memories of Oshkosh. The memories were initially of friendly people who were delighted by the sights and sounds of the nearby airplanes—and they passed that excitement along. During the first few years, the firm my father worked for rented a farmhouse near what is now the ultralight runway. Its backyard was my safe place to play in between times of being taken in a stroller or wagon through the airshow grounds. After all, what do little kids think is the best thing in the world when they get to go somewhere new? It’s certainly not airplanes or informational talks, it’s the attention they get and the ability to zoom around until they’re so tired they pass out on the grass.

Soon, I developed my own desire to be at Oshkosh each summer. I would ask to go each year instead of just tagging along. I grew from wanting attention as a little kid to feeling a sense of adventure. I was learning more and more about what was at AirVenture. We were now flying in and I loved camping by the airplane and making new friends. I remember when I was about eight being disappointed because my dad only had a short time off work to go to Oshkosh and there were thunderstorms everywhere the day we were to go, so we had to stay home.

Finally I became old enough to break away from my parents and their friends and strike out on my own for increasing periods of time. Granted I did not go very far, as I loved KidVenture and spent most of my time there. This became a thrill each year as I kept growing and figuring out all I could do. Oshkosh fueled my sense of independence, tested my courage and helped teach me how to be me.

Maturity, Responsibility

As I neared middle school age, I became too old for KidVenture as it was structured then. That year, and those to follow, started teaching me to look toward others instead of doing just what I wanted. That year I became a volunteer at KidVenture. I watched the little kids, helped them with the games and the airplane-related crafts they worked on and built, talked with parents about what KidVenture offered and ensured them their little ones would be well looked after. These years taught me to be responsible, honest and what it meant to be held accountable and be reliable. As a middle school kid I came to understand that my word meant something and I had to follow through. It felt good to say I would be back the next day and to see the staff’s welcoming reaction when I lived up to my word and was there when I’d said I would be.

I like thunderstorms (from outside of them). That may be because virtually every year there has been an evening thunderstorm during Oshkosh and they provided adventure to me as a kid. There was the year that we fled from the tent into the airplane and then into a friend’s big SUV as the storm blasted through and the fun—in a kid’s eyes—of seeing that some of the Porta-Johns had been blown over. There was the year that some of the pilots in the group of us that were camping together had bought the brand new Garmin 496 GPS that had color radar. We watched a green line of weather develop and come towards Oshkosh as we were preparing dinner. Pretty soon there was yellow in the line. As it got closer, much of it turned red. I knew that meant we were going to have another great thunderstorm soon after we ate. Then, just before the line got to the airport, parts of it turned purple in the display. People looked at each other and asked, “What’s purple? What does that mean?” We found out. Tents were blown down. I helped others hold onto the poles holding up the fly over our cooking area and got drenched. It was exciting. People who didn’t know each other rushed to help each other—the Oshkosh Effect.

As late middle school and early high school years rolled around I truly began to figure out what I liked and disliked. I began flying lessons and soloed a glider the day I turned 14 and a Cessna 150 on my 16th birthday. I paid more and more attention to the multitude of different aircraft at Oshkosh. If I had an interest in any airplane, it was almost certain one would be at AirVenture and I could learn more about it. I liked the warbirds a great deal and developed a fascination with one of the World War II fighters—the amazing Chance Vought F4U Corsair. It became one of the driving reasons for me to return to Oshkosh for many years. The first thing I would do after we tied down the airplane and got our passes would be to sprint to the warbird section and see how many Corsairs were there. After a few years of talking with everyone around the Corsairs, I got a chance to sit in one. I was over the moon. Years later, the conversations I had with Corsair people and friendships that resulted eventually, and unexpectedly, led to one of the greatest adventures of my life—I got a ride in a Corsair. The Oshkosh Effect.

Something else also began to change in me as I came into high school; I began to understand the conversation of the adults. Oshkosh became less and less about me and playing with friends and more about learning. Every person at Oshkosh had a story—a reason to be there—and that fascinated me. I noticed that I began to be seen as my own person and not just a cute little kid zipping around having fun.

Stories and Experiences

Through high school, then college and afterwards, I’ve become more and more interested in the people, the conversations, and the possibilities only Oshkosh can give. There are so many things to learn, so many stories to hear. And now I can contribute to the stories of Oshkosh! Not only do I have my own stories, but most of them are due to the magic of the Oshkosh Effect.

So when people ask me why I keep going back to Oshkosh I pause and think about all of the different reasons throughout the years. As a kid it was simply because my parents took me; as an elementary school kid it was for the attention of those around me. When I hit middle school it was for the independence and the feeling of being helpful and accountable. High school age welcomed the new dimension of coming into myself and expanding on my interests as well as beginning to fit in with the adults.

I think of the excitement of flying right seat with my dad, spotting traffic and backing him up with the NOTAM procedures on arrival and departure. I remember the stunned look on the face of a pilot from France who rode into Oshkosh with us one year as we approached the airport and she saw how incredibly many airplanes were already there and the line of aircraft arriving. She commented that she didn’t think that there were that many airplanes in all of France. She was probably right. She was amazed by something that was routine to me—we immediately turned off the runway and taxied on the grass.

There was the night one of our friends taxied a P-51 over to where our group was making dinner in the North 40. A few minutes later an EAA volunteer put a “Tie This Airplane Down” sign on the Mustang. Almost immediately, one of my friends grabbed a tent stake and a short length of twine. He stuck the stake in the ground by one of the Mustang’s tires and tied the twine from the stake to the gear leg. 

I’ve flown Piper Cubs and Super Cubs and I think of the year at Oshkosh that celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Cub. I’d never seen so many yellow airplanes. Because I fly gliders, last year I was excited and delighted to watch Italian pilot Luca Bertossio do a stunning aerobatic routine in a glider. No, it’s not always the same at Oshkosh.

The ultimate reason and the answer to all the questions about returning to Oshkosh is simply this, “Yes I see a lot of the same things, but never are the experiences or the people the same.” I keep flying (if I can, driving if I can’t) to Oshkosh because of the people. Every person there has a story, a craving to know more or a fledging love for flight. Each time I’m there, there are new people to meet and new stories to hear and tell. I’m part of something huge, and am enjoying the Oshkosh Effect on my life. All I want is to add my little story to the magic and history of Oshkosh to continue to make it the best air show on the planet.      

Amelia Durden is a private pilot, writer and horse trainer in Altoona, Iowa. She is the daughter of AVweb's Rick Durden.

The following was heard as my wife and I were flying our Mooney over the northern tip of the Great Salt Lake a few days ago and communicating with Salt Lake Center.

Transient aircraft: "Center, do you have time for a question?"

SL Center: ”Sure, go ahead."

Transient aircraft: ”OK, this is the $65 question. Looking below, we can see a train track, shoreline and a reddish area with what look like waves. What is that all about?"

Silence for a short while, then a response from an airliner: "My daughter is a PhD biologist and explained to me that the red color comes from Halobacteria growing in the salt water."

Transient aircraft: "Thank you very much! You win the $65 prize and we greatly appreciate the explanation!"

SL Center: "That's a whole lot better than any explanation we could come up with here at Center."

Another short pause

Airliner: ”That PhD cost a lot more than $65."

The exchange is somewhat paraphrased, other than the punchline. We were laughing too hard by the end for me to copy the exact dialogue.


 

Dan Roberston 

 

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The other day, I was driving down a Florida road and had to slow for a power company crew repairing a live line—a big one, one of those kilovolt distribution jobs. It was raining lightly and there was lightning in the distance. “No way in hell I’d ever do that job,“ I thought to myself.

Yet, I now learn that being a commercial pilot is four times more dangerous than being a lineman and is, in fact, the third most dangerous job in the U.S., right behind loggers and commercial fisher people. Huh? In aviation, we reflexively know that riding on a commercial aircraft is the safest form of transportation available. How is it that the pilots flying these very same airplanes are dropping like flies?

It’s complicated and even at that, I challenge the data and the conclusions. I picked up the story while skimming Time, which had a short piece on the most dangerous jobs in America. If the unsuspecting would-be commercial aviator saw that table without a deeper understanding of the reality, he or she might elect to go into cake decorating or beekeeping instead.

If you click through the links, you’ll discover that the data was developed by the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. I phoned the census agency to get a sense of how this data is collected, but the answer is, by aviation accident investigation standards, rather murky. The source data trickles in through something called the Current Population Survey and as the linked document explains, this has been used in two ways—one is risk based on hours data and other is employment data, in other words death per 100,000 workers engaged in the occupation being examined.

Here’s where the disconnect occurs, I think. Risk assessment is based on numerators and denominators, with the former being the actual occurrence of accidents and the latter being the exposure basis, say hours flown or number of pilots exposed. Either way of looking at it is legitimate, as long as the comparisons are consistent.

The first easy—albeit tedious—back check of the census table is to look at the fatal accidents in which commercial pilots died. The table lists 82 in 2014. Well, scratch off any pilots involved in Part 121 flying. There were exactly zero that year. Digging further to find those 82 deaths reveals a matrix of flight instruction, sightseeing, ag flying, aeromed operations, pipeline patrol, test flying and so forth. If I cast the net as widely and generously—and, frankly, as sloppily—as possible, I come up with about 78 deaths. That’s pretty close to the 82 and within a reasonable error margin.

Unfortunately, what appears to have happened here is that any commercial pilot involved in an accident was listed … as a commercial pilot death. So that means the commercial pilot flying a personal trip from Ohio to Virginia was probably listed as a commercial pilot death when he crashed, as was the commercial pilot who died on a post-maintenance flight after working on his personal airplane. In other words, if you have commercial pilot on your certificate, the data appears to be blind as to whether you were flying personally or for pay.

If I extract all of those clearly non-commercial operations, I can only find about 55 deaths, even if I use supremely loose definitions of commercial flying. And because of imprecision on the records, some of those may be dupes. That alone drives the risk index further down the chart.

The census data quotes the risk data in deaths per 100,000 participants, a method that requires knowing how many participants—pilots—there actually are. This is tricky because the FAA listed a total of 104,322 commercial pilots and another 152,933 ATPs for 2014. Obviously, only a portion of those are active for-hire pilots, but what’s the real number? The census calculates this through a formula based on a survey of hours worked and my guess is that it arrives at a number that’s too low.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics—yet another agency running by its own rules—uses a figure of about 119,000 commercial pilots of all kinds. Kit Darby’s airline recruiting site quotes about 90,000 pilots for scheduled carriers and if that’s accurate, there are about 30,000 for-hire professional pilots doing flight instruction, pipeline patrol, ag flying and dozens of other non-Part 121 jobs. This seems realistic to me, although it could be higher. If I use it as the denominator but with my own estimate of actual commercial accidents, the job-related fatal risk of being a pilot is about the same as being a roofer. But if I apply a more stringent guideline for what constitutes a commercial pilot death, the risk drops another notch or two.

But does any of this matter? Perhaps only to a data nerd like me, obsessed as I am with judging risk by actual accident and exposure data, not just by perceptions of what’s “dangerous.” Whether the census data is accurate or not—and I don’t think it is—there are a couple of takeaways that won’t be obvious from the data. The unschooled reader might read “commercial pilot” as airline pilot. This is wrong, obviously. If you’re a Part 121 pilot, you have pretty close to a functionally zero chance of dying on the job in a crash. Heart attack, maybe, or falling off the jetway, but not a crash.

Second, "commercial pilot" in this context really means general aviation and mostly Part 91 general aviation. Even if we could squeeze all the error out of the data, I suspect pilots would still finish in the top 10 of the most dangerous jobs. That’s really not very good and is a mild indictment of the industry’s difficulty in driving the fatal accident rate lower than it is now, even though it has been trending downward for years, flattening during the past decade.

The big picture takeaway, however, is this: Most of those fatal accidents are due to human carelessness and avoidable error. Thanks to stringent Part 121 regulation and ever more reliable aircraft, airline flying has greatly diminished the impact of such human frailties, although what accidents that do occur are often human error. No such net exists for Part 91 commercial flying. Part 135 is certainly better, but not quite up to Part 121 standards. Even in those operations where pilots are getting paid, the GA side of the industry still allows us to blunder around of our own free will and dot the landscape with charred craters. I suppose if you know this, you are better equipped to own your own decision-making and act accordingly in your own best interest. If that won’t do, there appear to be some openings in the logging industry.

Happy Birthday John Glenn

I noticed that Time's Jeffrey Kluger has a nice tribute to Mercury astronaut John Glenn, who turns 95 today. And what an eventful life he has lived, from World War II and Korea fighter pilot, to test pilot, to astronaut, to Senator and back to astronaut. At 77, he was NASA's oldest mission specialist and distinguished himself as much on his last space flight as his first.

Glenn is both timeless and a hero for another age. He is the last of original Mercury 7 astronauts and arguably the most well known. Alan Shepard would be a close second. But I remember the day that Glenn returned from orbit as clearly as though it was yesterday. I suspect a lot of us do and certainly more than enough to wish him a happy birthday.

 

 

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The Brainteaser #220 Bonus Question asked readers to name their favorite airshow performers or performances. The results are in, and no one appearing on the upcoming November ballot made the cut here. (This is an audio recording of the People's Choice Award article.)

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At 94, Major Fredric Arnold (ret.), sole surviving member of his WWII P-38 class-of-42J group, is sculpting a monumental bronze sculpture in memory of the more than 88,000 WWII U.S. airmen killed in action.

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