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Blue Origin will be the 2016 winner of the Collier Trophy “for successfully demonstrating rocket booster reusability with the New Shepard human spaceflight vehicle through five successful test flights of a single booster and engine, all of which performed powered vertical landings on Earth.” Although Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) was first to guide a boost stage to a successful powered landing after launching a real payload to orbit, which Blue Origin has yet to do, Blue Origin has led in actual reuse of the booster stage. SpaceX launched a used rocket on Thursday from Cape Canaveral and recovered it yet again.  

The Collier Trophy is awarded annually by the National Aeronautic Association (NAA) “for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America … the value of which has been thoroughly demonstrated by actual use.” “Blue Origin's New Shepard program is remarkable,” said Jim Albaugh, chairman of NAA. “Developing the first new large liquid hydrogen rocket engine in almost 20 years and demonstrating repeatable vertical takeoffs and landings makes the long sought-after goal of low-cost reusable rockets and access to space a reality.”

Blue Origin also released images this week of its design for the New Shepard crew capsule designed to take paying space tourists on their ballistic ride through space. The New Shephard launch system is designed to be sub-orbital, so customers’ time in space will be measured in minutes and seconds. New Shephard is named for Alan Shepard, the first American in space during a 15-minute, sub-orbital ride aboard Freedom 7.  Blue Origin’s long-term plans rely on its much larger planned New Glenn rocket, which, in a three-stage configuration, will be almost as large as the Saturn 5 that took Apollo missions to the moon. New Glenn is named for John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth.

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Senator James Inhofe, R-Okla., introduced S.755 (the Fairness for Pilots Act) on Wednesday, which, if signed into law, would offer an additional level of appeals for pilots facing enforcement actions. Under existing law, pilots facing loss or suspension of their certificates due to “significantly unsafe” violations of FAA regulations may appeal to an NTSB administrative law judge and, if unsatisfied, appeal again to the NTSB’s full board. Further appeal to a federal judge is limited to legal error on the part of the NTSB—there is no new finding of fact. Historically, administrative appeals have been structured this way across the federal government out of deference to the subject matter expertise of the federal agencies. The Fairness for Pilots Act proposes to require federal courts to engage in a new round of fact-finding for such cases. This provision was included in Inhofe’s Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 in 2015. Although portions of the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 were incorporated into the FAA’s reauthorizing legislation in 2016—most notably Third Class medical reform—the modified appeals process was not adopted.

General aviation groups were roundly supportive of the proposed law. Mark Baker, president of AOPA, in a statement shared by Sen. Inhofe's office said, "AOPA supports the Fairness for Pilots Act and urges the Senate to approve this important legislation which will expand on Sen. Inhofe’s original Pilot’s Bill of Rights and provide additional protections so we can continue to enjoy the freedom to fly."

Sen. Inhofe is reported to hold a commercial pilot certificate and has been in the news for a variety of aviation incidents. In October 2010, according to the FAA, Inhofe intentionally landed on a closed runway at Cameron County Airport in Port Isabel, Texas, while personnel were working on the runway. In July 2016, Inhofe, flying his experimental Harmon Rocket, had a runway excursion while landing at South Grand Lake Regional Airport in Ketchum, Oklahoma. Inhofe’s other incidents include loss of a propeller in flight and a ground loop. Sen. Inhofe’s son, Perry Inhofe, was killed in Mitsubishi MU-2 in November 2013 shortly after takeoff in his first flight without an instructor.

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CNN reported late Wednesday that a first officer aboard an American Airlines Boeing 737-800 became “incapacitated” while the aircraft was on a two-mile final and later died after the captain landed the aircraft in Albuquerque. The network reported that American identified William “Mike” Grubbs as the dead pilot on Flight 1353 from Dallas. "We are taking care of First Officer Grubbs' family and colleagues, and our thoughts and prayers are with them during this difficult time,” American said in a statement. He was 56 and his medical was renewed within the last month according to FAA records. The nature of the "medical issue” reported by the captain as he flew to final was not reported.

Inflight incapacitation is an extremely rare occurrence and it’s even more unlikely to be caused by a medical condition (hypoxia is number one) and this might be even more rare because it happened in a critical flight phase. In this case, the landing was routine but paramedics met the aircraft and performed CPR on the FO for 35-40 minutes before he was pronounced dead.

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The newest version of ForeFlight includes checklist integration to reduce cockpit clutter and improve ease of checklist use. Pilots may elect to use included template checklists derived from aircraft pilot operating handbooks or create their own. Custom checklists can be shared between ForeFlight users over email or AirDrop. Checklist items can be touched to mark them as complete or flagged as skipped to prompt the pilot to return later.

ForeFlight 9 also adds Glide Advisor. When the Glide Advisor is activated, ForeFlight displays areas on the moving map that are within a power-off glide based on altitude, terrain data, winds aloft (if available) and user-provided glide airspeed and ratio. On flat terrain, the glide range perimeter appears as a circle or ellipse shaped by the wind. In hilly terrain, the glide range perimeter is shaped by elevated terrain.

Women make up half the college-educated workforce in the U.S., yet only 6 percent of pilots are women — a fact that independent filmmaker Katie McEntire Wiatt explores in her ongoing project, "Fly Like a Girl." “Our goal with the film is to explore the questions, why aren’t more women and girls involved in aviation, and how can we change that?” Wiatt told AVweb this week. “We feel that with the current concerns over a pilot shortage, women could really step up and save the day.” Wiatt’s company, Atlantic Films, is based in Lakeland, Florida, which led her to discover the aviation world via Sun ’n Fun. “I saw Patty Wagstaff fly, and I was just blown away by her skill and dedication,” Wiatt says. “I just felt really inspired.”

As a former schoolteacher, Wiatt is also aware of the barriers that keep girls from seeking out opportunities in science and technology fields. The film examines why many young girls don’t see themselves as potentially successful in these fields and explores how society can begin to change this perception. “The outpouring of support from the aviation community has been amazing,” says Wiatt. “It seems everyone we reach out to wants to be involved in helping to tell the story.” Wiatt will be talking about her film on Sun ’n Fun Radio next Friday, April 7, at 9:30 a.m., at the show, and invites anyone on the grounds to stop by and say hi, or catch up with her via Facebook at flylikeagirlfilm.

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A press release from The Museum of Flight in Seattle invites members of the public to come see the golf ball Alan Shepard hit from the surface of the moon on Feb. 6, 1971. “He shanked the ball so hard that it left lunar orbit and entered a Trans-Earth trajectory. It's likely that ball simply kept orbiting the Earth in an unstable orbit until it finally collided with the atmosphere. Scientists are still a bit unclear about its exact time of re-entry.” The space travelling golf ball is purported to have been discovered by an oyster farmer in Grays Harbor, Washington. According to the press release, “Oyster farmer Elliott Swift found the unusual object several months ago. ‘It was late October or early November. I think. I was out on the reef handling a few clusters, and when I broke one of them apart, I found something that looked and felt very different from the other oysters I harvested. I took it to our local fish and game authorities who took samples and said, indeed it was unlike anything they had ever seen in our waters. After months of further inquiry, and subsequently testing, a committee of aerospace researchers proved it to be this extremely rare artifact.’”

NASA lists the escape velocity of the moon as approximately 5000 miles per hour. A golf ball shortly after striking the club face is travelling at a speed of approximately 200 miles per hour. That's a significant energy deficit even for an astronaut. As of press time, staff for the Museum of Flight had not provided AVweb with a theory as to how the golf ball survived re-entry into the earth's atmosphere. For the profoundly gullible, “the ball will be on display in the main lobby this weekend only, April 1 and 2.”

For a little less money (sometimes), the Aeronca is a better flier, roomier, faster and easier to land. But it will always lack the Cub’s cachet.

While pilots grow old waiting for the FAA to reform the Third Class medical, light sport flying remains the last refuge to stay in the air (Editor's note: this article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of Aviation Consumer magazine, before the advent of BasicMed). And vintage airplanes like Piper’s venerable J-3 Cub or the Aeronca Champion actually promise affordability, if not comfort and technological panache.

Taildraggers both, these two aircraft have always enjoyed a following and now they’re getting a closer look as potential LSA choices. There are plenty out there and the prices are right when compared to a new or even recent-model light sport costing four times as much.

While buying a Cub or Champ is a practical way to own an inexpensive light sport airplane, there are some caveats. They don’t fly like or as well as modern certified airplanes, they’re not always snap-of-the-fingers easy to maintain and if you can’t afford or gain access to a good hangar, forget it. For as tough as these old birds are in the air, they’re tender when exposed to even the mildest elements. But if you find a good one, care for its minimal needs and fly it regularly, there’s no cheaper way to own and fly an airplane. In this report, we’ll look at both aircraft, warts and all.

The Legacy List

The list of LSA-compliant legacy airplanes is quite extensive, encompassing at least seven manufacturers and about 130 models of both land and seaplanes. Populations of these aircraft vary, but the J-3 and versions of the Champ are among the most numerous, if not the cheapest.

Barnstormers features ads for Taylorcraft BC-12Ds selling for half the price of a moderately restored J-3 and LSA-compliant Ercoupes or Luscombes are likely to be cheaper, too. Just remember that not all variants of these airplanes meet the 1320-pound LSA limit.

Drilling down into the Piper Cub list, there are 27 listed models certified under 1320 pounds, including some exotics you’re never likely to clap eyes on, such as the E-2, J-2 or even the J3C-40. “There were three primary models of the J-3,” says Steve Krog, who operates the fount of all things Cub, the Wisconsin-based Cub Club. “There was the J-3C, the J-3L and the J-3F. Those stood for Continental, Lycoming or Franklin.” Krog says you can count on one hand the number of Lycoming-powered Cubs and maybe two hands for Franklins. “So all the rest are Continental powered,” he says, noting that many have been converted, some more than once.

Piper’s production started in late 1938, with a few airframes, and picked up during World War II with the L-4. It took off again for the civil market in 1945. J-3 production ended in May of 1947 with a total of about 19,700 manufactured for every variant built. Today, Krog estimates there are 4700 J-3s on the U.S. registry flying or being restored. That means if you want one, they’re out there and the most likely candidate will be a post-war J-3C65. It’s common to find these with C-85 or C-90 engines, which substantially improve performance. While the Cub remained a Piper product and the company held together for years, the Aeronca Champ enjoyed no such stability. Its antecedents date to the 1920s, but the “modern” Champ as we know it today was a post-war creation. It was actually designed in 1944 at the same time that its side-by-side seating stablemate, the Chief, was under development.  

Although the original Aeronca predates the Cub, the Aeronca line is really a product of the post-war years, when it enjoyed brisk sales among military pilots returning home after the war.

While Piper moved beyond the Cub in 1947, Aeronca kept at it until 1951, producing 7AC Champs and 11-series Chiefs. The company was sold to businessman Bob Brown in 1954 who formed Champion Aircraft, which was itself sold to Bellanca in 1970 and carted to Minnesota, where the airplane served as the basis for the Citabria and Decathlon lines. American Champion acquired the company in 1989 and has continued to both develop new models and support the original aircraft. In 2007, it introduced the LSA-compliant 7ECA Champ powered by a Continental O-200-D, the lightweight version of the original O-200.

Aeronca built 11,181 post-war aircraft at its Middletown, Ohio, factory and many are still active on the registry. The list of LSA-compliant models is long—51, to be exact—but many of these are museum pieces that aren’t practical to own, if they even exist. The core of the Champ market is the 7 series—the AC, BCM,CCM and the DC. The 11-series Chief also meets LSA requirements.

Aeronca expert Bill Pancake, who we consulted for this article, says about 7200 of the 7AC models were built. The airplane we flew for our head-to-head comparison is a 7DC beautifully restored by Vern Hiett and Dan Gulandri. Only 168 were built. Although it’s virtually identical to the 7AC, the DC emerged from the factory with a Continental C-85. It had a large dorsal fin and, in addition to the standard forward fuselage tank, it also had a 13-gallon wing tank.

Construction

Both airplanes are products of another era of aircraft construction that has more to do with the 1930s than GA’s manufacturing heyday in the late 1970s. The Cub, owing its genesis to 1930s design sensibilities, is the more rudimentary of the two. Both are constructed of steel tubular fuselages with gas-welded joins. Aluminum is used for parts like firewalls, cowlings and fairings, but where Piper or Aeronca could use fabric, they did. Fabric was—and remains—light and practical. But if it was cheap after World War II, it’s not now. A full recover can cost more than the airplane is worth.

Control surfaces in both airplanes are cable controlled, fabric-covered surfaces. While on the subject of wings, when these aircraft were built, wood was the material of choice for spars, either fir or Sitka spruce. Although there’s no reliable count on this, many examples of both airplanes still have the original wooden spars, even though they can be replaced with metal. Not a good thing, that wood, right?

“Not necessarily,” says Bill Pancake. “Have someone who’s competent and knowledgeable about wood do an inspection. I have no problems with wooden spars if they’re maintained,” he says.

For trim, the Cub has an automotive-style window crank that runs a cord to a jackscrew, adjusting the horizontal stab’s angle of attack. This actually sort of works, just not very well. The Champ has a better system; a ceiling-mounted knob that moves a real trim tab on the elevator.

By modern standards, both the Cub and Champ have an appallingly unsafe fuel tank location. (Remember, it was the 1940s.) It’s inside the cabin, behind the firewall and immediately in front of the front seat occupant. The Cub typically has a 12-gallon tank, the Champ a gallon more. Some models of the Champion have the forward fuselage tank, plus a 13-gallon wing tank. It’s also possible to convert Champs to Citabria-type wings, with two 13-gallon tanks, giving the airplane a solid five hours of endurance.  The J-3 can also have an aux wing tank and one mod allows two wing tanks with the removal of the fuselage tank.

Electrics, Brakes, Ergos

Both the Champ and Cub were designed without electrical systems, but many have been converted to have either electric start or both electric start and a generator to charge an onboard battery. Cub Club’s Steve Krog told us that to avoid the legal entanglements of a complete electrical system, some owners install a battery and starter, but no generator. This offers a safer alternative to propping, but the airplane will remain grandfathered as having no electrical system. He says a battery charge is good for dozens of starts.

Other choices for both airplanes include wind-turbine generators, which produce sufficient power for a radio or transponder. But increasingly, with high-quality lightweight starters and alternators available, many owners are converting both of these aircraft to C-85-12 engines that can accommodate both on accessory pads. Both aircraft are approved for these engines. The Aeronca 7DC we used for this comparison has a modified C-85 that’s essentially the equivalent of an O-200. Whether the electrical upgrade is worth the investment depends on how comfortable—or uncomfortable—you are with hand propping. There’s no question propping entails significant risk.

Brakes in these vintage aircraft are adequate, but hardly impressive. You don’t need effective brakes in a taildragger except to hold the airplane during the run-up and maybe catch a developing groundloop. Original Cubs had hydraulic heel brakes with rubber expander tubes bearing against friction pads inside the drums. One upgrade that considerably improves performance is the Grove disc brake conversion described here.

Early Champs had two types of brakes, both mechanically actuated via cable. The Goodyear system used discs while the Cleveland, which many prefer, has shoes and drums. Either way, the cables have enough slack to require a little anticipatory footwork before braking is needed. Later Champs had conventional hydraulic brakes and those conversions are available for older models.

Cabin comfort isn’t a concept that applies to the J-3. While the famous clamshell door is a delight when open in flight on a warm summer evening, it’s a drafty, noisy nuisance during the winter. The heater is so-so. J-3 ingress and egress is awkward at best, but helped along with good upper body strength to use the ceiling tubes as support when getting in and out.  The seats aren’t adjustable and while soloing from the rear offers plenty of legroom, the same can’t be said for the front seat. It’s cramped and difficult to get into.

The Champ is better, but not great. The cabin is four inches wider than the Cub’s and the seat space fore to aft is six inches longer. That translates to more legroom and even space to place something on the floor without losing it. The Champ has a latching door similar to an automobile and although it can’t be opened in flight, the tradeoff is a quieter, less drafty cabin, It’s also warmer during the winter.

While the J-3’s so-called baggage space is literally breadbox sized, the Champ’s is large enough to actually carry things like small bags or tools. But it’s not as easy to get to as the Cub’s is, due to the cabin door configuration. 

Fly Off

If the two airplanes, as vintage taildraggers, look somewhat alike, they don’t fly that way. The J-3 is definitely more kite like, with slightly lower wing loading. On takeoff, the tail comes up almost immediately and the Cub announces when it’s ready to fly, requiring just a tug to nudge it into a leisurely 300-FPM climb. Visibility from the rear seat is fairly terrible and S-turns or leaning out the open door is a must during taxi.

If you needed an adverse yaw demonstrator, the Cub would be your first pick; rudder use is a must and pilots with dead feet will soon wake them up. Stalls are gentle with little tendency to fall through or snap into a spin and the Cub’s stall indicator is the lower door, which floats up if open in flight. The airplane is a little less benign if stalled in a steep turn and many fatal stall/spin accidents have occurred in just this scenario.

The J-3 isn’t hard to land, but it’s a challenge to land well. Many pilots don’t bother with the airspeed indicator, which is likely to be inconsistent, but rather fly the wing by sight picture and feel. For a three-pointer, touchdown just as the energy dissipates and you’ll be rewarded with a satisfying greaser. Land too fast or force it on and those two gear bungees will give you what for. The same will happen on a wheelie if you don’t time the stick-on just right.

Contrast that to the Champ, which is quite easy to three point and tends to be less fussy about the speed. The Champ’s oleos suck up more energy than the Cub’s bungees do. Further, soloing from the front, visibility is far better during both taxi and touchdown. There’s no guessing about runway alignment.  We think it’s an easy taildragger to learn; perhaps the easiest.

Takeoffs, however, require more attention than the Cub does. The tail is slow to rise, perhaps because the fuselage is a foot shorter and the center of mass is somewhat higher. Where the Cub requires a light touch to lift the tail, the Champ needs a more forceful push all the while minding the rudder. Although we can’t support it with data, our impression is that the Cub, thanks to its longer fuselage and wider gear track, may be less susceptible to ground looping than the Champ. When the Champ heads for the ditch, you have to be on the rudder right now. The Cub seems to give a little more warning. 

Neither of these airplanes will get you anywhere in a hurry, including back to the airport. A J-3 loafs along at about 70 to 75 MPH, the Champ 80 to 85 MPH. Plan for 4.5 to 5 GPH with no leaning capability to eke out efficiency. The C-85 Champ we flew for our comparison also has a better climb rate than the C-65 Cub, even though the Cub has been converted to 75 HP by dint of a different prop that allows for higher RPM. When doing circuits in the Cub, it’s common to settle for 500 feet in the downwind, rather than struggling to reach 1000 feet. With two heavy people aboard, 300 feet is more like it.

Conclusion

Either of these airplanes is a worthy choice for a legacy LSA. However, the Champ is clearly the better flier of the two and has more in common with what most of us know as modern airplanes than does the Cub.

Furthermore, because the Cub enjoys a unique cachet, prices are likely to be a third or more higher than a comparable Aeronca. But Bill Pancake told us Champ prices are on the rise, perhaps because more pilots are eyeing them as LSA candidates. So don’t count on a Champ always being cheaper. Cub prices in the $40,000 range aren’t uncommon, but the high 20s may be the average. Steve Krog told us there are always a few restored or project airplanes on the market.

Bottom line, in the Cub, you’re paying more for the prestige and the sublime pleasure of having someone approach you on the ramp and say, “Hey, nice Cub. Can I look inside?” In the Champ, you might pay a little less for a better-flying airplane with better performance, but a lower-profile pedigree. If buying an airplane is about choices, we would say Cub vs. Champ offers exactly that. 

This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of Aviation Consumer magazine.

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Almost as a condition of entry, people who voluntarily engage in general aviation at any level have to be slightly delusional. It takes a hearty constitution to look at gracefully declining sales numbers and eroding flight activity and think, sure, I’ll just keep on going here. I mean, what the hell?

In that context, yesterday’s high-profile announcement by Continental that it’s building a new engine factory in Mobile was both interesting and shrewd. The company enticed the aviation press to attend and the announcement itself featured the usual glad handing with city politicians all duly recorded by the local press. It’s a nice Chamber of Commerce story.

I thought it shrewd because it lets a little gas out of the argument that the Chinese state-owned AVIC, which bought Continental in 2010, intended to move the company to China where they would promptly steal the highly sensitive technology of machining camshafts and promptly corner the lucrative light aircraft market, leaving us for dead as hollowed-out husks. Monday’s announcement was a sort of in-your-face we’re staying put.

Let’s put the investment in context. It totals about $70 million. About $40 million of that will be for new machinery and production systems and $30 million for a new physical building that consolidates the company’s operations—now scattered among 11 buildings—mostly under one roof. The building itself isn’t a Continental investment, but will be leased.

What we have here is normal industrial manufacturing reinvestment that all companies have to do if they hope to survive. That’s especially true of aviation manufacturers because there’s more decline than growth and not much headroom to significantly raise prices. That means survival is dictated by taking cost out of things and you do that with new machinery and systems that make it more efficient to make stuff. Henry Ford figured this out a century ago just this year and it’s been going on ever since.

In all my trips to the engine manufacturers—and that’s a lot of visits—I’ve seen this kind of routine reinvestment. Here’s a video of what Lycoming did. Continental has done similar. When I first visited the factory in the early 1990s, there were a lot of guys operating manual machine tools. Few of those are left, having been displaced by modern flexible CNC equipment.

What’s different about this round of investment is both the scale and the fact that it’s a clean-sheet, ground-up factory. As industrial investments go, $40 million is not staggeringly large; it’s coffee money for Boeing. But it’s perhaps twice or three times what we’ve seen in GA in the past on an aggressive time line that envisions a completely redesigned production flow acutely attuned to the conundrum both Continental and Lycoming face: low volume, high product mix manufacturing. This is at the ugly opposite end of both economy of scale and quality through statistical process control that depends on big numbers. Heretofore, production revisions at these factories have been incremental nibbling reinventions from the inside, but this one is tabula rasa. So if there’s a bigger deal about this story, that’s it.

As Continental’s Rhett Ross explained in a podcast I’ll post later this week, the company hopes to free up resources to develop and certify new products. That’s likely to include a new generation of electronic ignitions for gasoline engines and certified versions of the popular Titan line. I suspect others will emerge because even though the GA market is flat, new products can and do excite sales.

Ross has repeatedly said Continental recognizes the reality of the GA market and that the company believes the only way to grow is to gain market share and that’s what has animated its purchase of both the former Thielert Aircraft Engines diesel line and, more recently, the assets of Danbury Aeospace/ECI. Neither of those companies, by the way, found western investors who saw value in retooling them for a business segment that might deliver 5 percent margins instead of 25 percent margins. AVIC evidently did find value, especially in the context of the long return-on-investment timelines the Chinese seem comfortable with.

And the immediate China connection here is that Continental will establish in China a new design and development center aimed at stimulating the Asian market for airplanes. We have long since exited the dancing sugar plums phase of the Chinese aviation market. It remains an aspirational market and although the future of GA may reside in the far east, anyone who thinks China will suddenly become a bottomless pit of aircraft demand hasn’t been paying attention to the daunting economic, cultural and demographic challenges China confronts.

In this sense, Continental’s announcement is sort of a twofer. It plays right into the notion advanced by the current administration of halting the export of the U.S. jobs if not actually reshoring what’s already been lost. But it also recognizes the utterly futility of thinking the U.S. can be an insular economy that sells while the rest of the world buys. It’s just another example of how the U.S. economy is affixed to China’s as surely as a con rod is bolted to a crank journal.  

For 2017, Cirrus has re-engined its entry-level SR20 with a 215-HP four-cylinder Lycoming IO-390, which replaces the 200-HP six-cylinder Continental IO-360 used on the SR20 for years. To find out what drove the company's decision to swap engines, and to see how the aircraft performs, Aviation Consumer Editor Larry Anglisano flew the G6 SR20 and talked with Ivy McIver during a visit to the Cirrus Vision Center delivery hangar in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Independent filmmaker Katie McEntire Wiatt, based in Lakeland, Florida, explains how her experience at Sun 'n Fun inspired her to explore the lives of women who fly, and use those stories to inspire girls to explore careers in science and technology.

Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

Spring means getting back in the air in the Northern Hemisphere and Gilbert Benzonana caught the start of gliding season in Montrichet. Lots of fun ahead.

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