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Volume 24, Number 47a
November 20, 2017
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Retrofit Avionics Sales Accelerate
Geoff Rapoport

Sales of retrofit avionics for business and general aviation aircraft for the first nine months of 2017 are up 28% relative to the same period last year, says the Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA). Sales of forward-fit avionics (those destined for new aircraft) were down 17.1% over the same period. "Retrofit sales increased more than 32 percent during the third-quarter months alone," says AEA President Paula Derks. “This is consistent with what shop owners in the United States have been telling me during our AEA Connect Conferences this fall, as many have a backlog of work ranging anywhere from two to six months. I am hopeful that the retrofit market will remain healthy as we get closer and closer to the Jan. 1, 2020, deadline for aircraft to be equipped with ADS-B Out avionics in the U.S."

Avionics sales as a whole are up 4.1% for the first nine months of the year, suggesting 2017 might be the first year of growth for avionics in some time. Worldwide sales of both forward-fit and retrofit avionics dropped 6.4% last year relative to 2015 after dropping 4.4% the year prior. The retrofit market is slightly larger than the forward-fit market as a whole, collecting 57.7% of avionics revenues in the first part of 2017. AEA reports combined 2017 sales to date of $1.73 billion.

Electronics International 'Aviation Alert! Short video on how EI saved this pilot's life
Guest Blog: Why Privatizing ATC Would Break The System
James Van Laak

One of the most important conversations going on in aviation today has to do with the proposal to remove the air traffic control organization from the FAA and turn it into a privatized entity. Proponents claim that this would free the function from the bureaucracy and petty budgetary pressures of the FAA and lead to more efficient operations. They also claim that it would result in more rapid modernization of the air traffic control system.

Opponents to the privatization proposal base most of their arguments on three points. First, they point out that air traffic control function is working well today, and that there is no reason to fix something that is not broken. Second, they claim that moving to a privatized system will inevitably lead to a user-fee system dominated by the airlines, which would penalize the general aviation sector. Third, they point out that this entity would have a monopoly control of the air traffic control system with minimal oversight by the government, a recipe for corruption and gross mismanagement.

As a pilot with over 47 years of experience operating under the FAA’s authority and five years as a senior executive at the agency, I have a strong opinion about these issues. In summary, I find the privatization arguments to be weak and driven by political dogma, and the arguments against completely valid. 

But beyond my traditional aviation credentials, I am also an expert in the design and operation of complex systems. This leads to a different and, in my view, more important conclusion about the issue based not on whom the controllers work for, but how the system works.

Air transportation as we know it today is a complex system that requires many different elements to work together well, not just ATC. Obviously air traffic control is a critical piece of that system, but it is neither the only one nor even the most important. Other elements are required to ensure that the flying public is safely transported to their destinations. These include:

  • Pilot training, certification, regulation and enforcement
  • Airport design, construction and operation
  • Aircraft design, construction and operation
  • Aircraft maintenance and modification regulation and oversight
  • Avionics and navigation systems design, certification, maintenance and oversight
  • Air traffic procedures, including airspace design and special-use airspace management
  • Weather information dissemination and air traffic avoidance procedures
  • And many more

Our safe and effective air transportation system works as well as it does because all of these elements are predominantly under the control of one agency that can make them work together. Airmen are trained and overseen to make sure that safe operating practices are followed. Flight standards inspectors ensure that the navigational and airport systems comply with established standards. Aircraft are designed and maintained to be safe. Aircraft navigation systems meet the requirements of the air traffic control system so that both know what to expect from each other, across countless combinations of ground, air, airspace and weather conditions. 

This integration would not be as effective if the many functions belonged to different organizations even within the government. Pulling a critical piece out of the government to create a new and far more contentious barrier to coordination would be damaging and would certainly result in more near misses and more.

It is true that some countries have implemented a privatized air traffic control function, but their ability to do so benefits from American leadership of the overall aviation system. FAA regulations, standards and processes form the foundation for most of the world and thereby hold the system together.

All pilots know that the FAA has problems in the way it does its job, so it is fair to ask how many of these might honestly be made better by moving air traffic to a privatized organization. By my count, damn few.  If perchance some improvement was found in one or two functions, it would be far outweighed by the breakage caused when air traffic was separated from the world air transportation system as a whole.

This leads to the most important conclusion of all: Air traffic control should not be privatized because doing so would gravely weaken the safety and effectiveness of the premier air transportation system on the planet.

James Van Laak is a former Deputy Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation at the FAA. He served in the U.S. Air Force as a F-106 and A-10 pilot and worked at DARPA and at NASA as a manager on the International Space Station.

Crazy Fun In Waco's Biplane on Floats
Paul Bertorelli

Waco Aircraft has been touring with a YMF-5 biplane on Aerocet floats and is it ever fun to fly. AVweb's Paul Bertorelli recently took a crack at the airplane with some water landings and airwork. Here's a complete video on the topic.


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Pilot Shortage Hitting Business Aviation
Russ Niles

While regional airlines seem to be the hardest hit so far by the tightening supply of pilots, business aircraft operators are also feeling the pinch. As with the regionals, deep-pocketed larger airlines are outbidding smaller operators for the pool of experienced jet pilots and there is an inevitable result from that. "It's really a buyers' market and the buyer is the pilot now," Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association (APA) told Reuters. "If you don't pay pilots the market rate you're going to lose them.”

Single-aisle airline captains are paid an average of $268,000 a year by American Airlines while a salary survey done by the National Business Aviation Association shows a Challenger captain gets about $130,000. Bizjet operators are starting to react, however. Jet Aviation spokesman Don Haloburdo told Reuters corporate pilot salaries have increased about 20 percent in the past year. He said a mitigating factor is that bizjet sales are flat at the moment but are expected to increase when the next generation of aircraft, like the Global 7000 and new Gulfstream G500 and G600 models, begin deliveries. “That’s where our industry is going to have a very significant challenge finding qualified crew members,” he said.

Caravan Hits Car On Takeoff
Russ Niles

A Tropic Air Cessna Caravan carrying the acting Prime Minister of Belize, Patrick Faber, Agriculture Minister Godwin Hulse and five other passengers clipped a car on takeoff from Placencia Municipal Airport and ended up in the water at the end of the runway Friday. No one was hurt in the incident, which has sparked an investigation into the safety of the airport. A public road runs perpendicular to the end of the runway but barriers are supposed to block the threshold when the strip is in use. Some witnesses interviewed by local media said at least one of the barriers was raised at the time of the mishap. The Belize government said in a release the barrier was down but the car got around it.

However the car ended up there, the Caravan’s left main gear leg hit the passenger door of the Subaru and it slowed the aircraft to the point where the pilot opted for the water, according to a statement from the airline. The airline said it is working with authorities to determine “what measures need to be implemented immediately to prevent another such occurrence. The plane was taking the politicians on government business to Punta Gorda, about 40 miles south. Faber is filling in for full-time Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who is in Houston on vacation.

Airlander Deflates After Breaking Free
Russ Niles

The Hybrid Air Vehicles Airlander broke free from its mooring mast at Cardington Airfield in England but a uniquely dramatic safety feature prevented it from running amok. Airlander reported on Saturday that after leaving its moorings, an onboard system ripped open the hull and deflated the enormous aircraft so it ended up crumpled on the edge of the airfield. “The aircraft is now deflated and secure on the edge of the airfield,” the company said in a Facebook post. “The fuel and helium inside the Airlander have been made safe.” One staff member was slightly injured but was checked at a local hospital and released.

It’s not clear how or why the massive aircraft, which is an inflatable flying wing design, came loose and that’s being investigated. It was the second accident involving the prototype of the part lighter-than-air, part aerodynamic aircraft. On an earlier flight, the aircraft was heavily damaged in a nose-first landing. The company is philosophical about the mishap. “We are testing a brand new type of aircraft and incidents of this nature can occur during this phase of development,” the company said in the post. “We will assess the cause of the incident and the extent of repairs needed to the aircraft in the next few weeks."

Navy Fighter Leaves Lewd Contrails
Geoff Rapoport

The U.S. Navy has acknowledged that the rough contrail drawing of male genitalia in the skies over Washington state Thursday were made by one of its aircraft operating out of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island—most likely an EA-18 Growler. The local CBS affiliate reports that complaints were made to the FAA, who informed the disappointed caller that childish drawings don’t fall within the jurisdiction of the FAA unless they pose a flight safety risk. Navy officials, on the other hand, promised swift action: "The Navy holds its aircrew to the highest standards and we find this absolutely unacceptable, of zero training value and we are holding the crew accountable.”

Although low temperatures, high humidity, and calm winds on Thursday in Okanogan County made for stable contrail development, the Growler crew seem to have taken care to use throttle settings conducive to contrail development only while executing the figure-eight and holding pattern portion of their flight, as the remainder of the sky is largely clear.

Picture of the Week
There's a purely coincidental taildragger theme to this week's round of really nice photos, with the exception of the Tri-Pacer, should have remained a taildragger, in the editor's opinion. That's a particularly dynamic and beautiful image of the trike version of the Pacer by Dan Gray and earns our honours this week. Nice shot, Dan.

See all submissions

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Aviation Consumer Engine Shop Survey

Overhauling an engine is a big investment, with downtime, reliability, and confidence hanging in the balance. The editors at Aviation Consumer magazine want to know about your engine overhaul experience and the experience you had dealing with the shop. We'd appreciate you taking a couple of minutes to answer these questions. Take the survey here: http://engineshopsurvey2017.questionpro.com

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Pilots and the Law: Some Special Concerns
Rick Durden

In the process of obtaining a private, light sport or recreational pilot certificate most pilots feel as if they have to absorb an entire library of arcane aviation legal instruction and want to repeat the phrase from the student in the Gary Larson cartoon, “May I be excused, my brain is full.”

Despite what feels like a wide-ranging course in aviation law, pilot training only covers what is deemed necessary by the FAA and aviation educators to get a student through the minimum requirements of knowledge of Parts 61 and 91 of the FARs to pass the written and checkride. In many cases the new private pilot fairly rapidly forgets most of what had been learned unless the regs apply specifically to the type of flying he or she regularly does.

There is no formal training required for pilots in how to respond to a request to make a phone call to ATC, or what happens if they declare an emergency or what to do if they are ramp checked. However, with social media and hangar flying, there is almost a certainty that the pilot will be inundated with aviation Old Wives’ Tales (OWT) about potential liabilities as a pilot and aircraft owner as well as legal obligations generally.

The purpose of this article is to open the door and take a brief look at the specialized legal matters a pilot might face in doing the things a pilot does and owning the aeronautical things a pilot wants to own.

This article isn’t legal advice, it’s an introduction to the subject. All situations are different, for advice for a specific situation you face, please contact an attorney.

Emergencies and Paperwork

For reasons that may relate to old John Wayne movies, some pilots think that if they declare an emergency they’ll have to deal with endless paperwork afterwards. That simply is not true—that OWT may well be responsible for fatal accidents because pilots shut up when they might have gotten help.

FAR Part 91.3 says that a pilot may deviate from any regulation in an emergency. It goes on to say that if the pilot does violate a regulation he or she will have to provide a report to the FAA if the FAA requests one. Think about what it says—there is the potential for having to file a report, but only if you have to violate a regulation in the process of dealing with an emergency. From what I’ve seen, that’s rare. The FAA figured out some years ago that pilots are overly hesitant to admit they have an emergency, so the fact that you declare does not trigger any reporting requirement.

If there’s something wrong, it’s the pilot’s obligation to use all of the available resources to deal with the problem—and those may include getting ATC on your side. I read of one situation where a pilot had to shut down an engine on a twin and couldn’t hold altitude. He was talking to ATC but refused to declare an emergency so ATC had to route him around two restricted areas. He barely made the runway. That’s foolish. Had he simply declared ATC could have cleared him straight to the airport.

Failing to declare an emergency when one exists may also increase the risk a pilot will be found negligent in a post-accident lawsuit. In most states, the law gives a person dealing with an emergency a lot of latitude; there’s less second-guessing. However, if the pilot didn’t declare, why is the jury going to believe there was an emergency? Also, if the pilot didn’t declare, then she or he didn’t use all available resources and could potentially be considered negligent.

Besides, if you’ve got a problem, it’s better to have the Crash Fire Rescue (CFR) crews waiting for you and not need them than to have them cutting the grass when your airplane catches fire during rollout after the fuel odor that was puzzling you ignites.

Ramp Checks

The idea of having an FAA inspector walk up and announce a ramp check generally gets a pilot’s adrenalin level up the flight levels. Naturally, it’s the subject of a lot of conversations, Internet drama, false information and misleading advertising by companies trying to sell a gadget or an app.

To start with, the FAA has the authority to conduct ramp checks. The Federal Aviation Act of 1958, which created the FAA, requires it to scrutinize the aviation community for the purpose of safety. One way it does so is via ramp checks. 

The purpose of a ramp check is limited: to see if the pilot’s and aircraft’s documents are in order. That’s all. It is not an investigation into what the pilot has been doing.

The usual procedure is for the FAA inspector to approach a pilot who is near an airplane, introduce him or herself, show ID, announce that a ramp check is being conducted and ask to see the aircraft’s documents and pilot’s certificates.

In my opinion, the best way to handle a ramp check is to simply provide the requested documents while behaving professionally. I suggest you write down the inspector’s name. Inspectors are human, the vast majority that I know are good folks (most of whom hate doing ramp checks), but there are some who feel the need to hassle pilots.

Don’t be chatty; pilots who run their mouths have a strange tendency to admit to doing something stupid with an airplane and thus turn a ramp check into an investigation.

Don’t be a jerk; that sets off alarm bells for inspectors—you might as well as be announcing that you have something to hide. It’s an effective way to turn a two-minute event into an unpleasant, long lasting episode with the FAA.

Don’t worry about handing your certificate to the inspector—the Internet fables about the inspector keeping it and claiming you had surrendered it are indeed fables. The surrender of a pilot certificate is governed by FAR Part 61.27. It must be in writing and contain specific language or it is not effective. An FAA Regional Counsel once told me that if an inspector tried to hang onto a pilot’s certificate during a ramp check the inspector would be lucky to keep his job and his next assignment would be in Nome.

You are required to provide: photo ID, pilot certificate and evidence of a medical (driver’s license if Light Sport), the aircraft’s airworthiness certificate, registration, weight and balance/limitations documents (in the POH if the airplane has one, separate weight and balance paperwork if the airplane does not). You may be asked to show the aircraft logs. They should not be in the airplane (they’re too valuable, more on that below). It’s rare that an inspector makes such a request; if it is made, the appropriate response is to schedule a time and place where you can provide them for review.

You do not have to: let the inspector get into the airplane (Part 91), do a weight and balance calculation for a flight you’ve made or answer any question about what you’ve been doing.

You do not have to have current, or even any, charts in the airplane under Part 91.

The moment an inspector asks you about something that happened in the past, even one second ago, it’s no longer just a ramp check, it’s an investigation. Under the Pilot’s Bill of Rights, the FAA is supposed to tell you when it’s doing an investigation, but sometimes an inspector slips up. You do not have to answer investigation questions. If you are asked about something in the past, my suggestion is that you politely say that it sounds like this is becoming an investigation and that you will speak to your attorney before you answer any further questions. That is your right and inspectors are used to such an answer.

Group Aircraft Ownership

From time to time, you’ll hear a pilot say that she’s protected herself from liability in the event she crashes her airplane by having the airplane owned by a corporation or L.L.C. It won’t work. If her sweaty hands were on the yoke when airplane crashed and she caused it, how the airplane is owned won’t protect her in the event she is sued.

Nevertheless, when an airplane is owned jointly, the method of ownership can matter. If the owners have formed a partnership to own the airplane, the general rule is that each owner is personally responsible for the negligence of the other partners. When a corporation or L.L.C. owns the airplane, the shareholders of the corporation or members of the L.L.C. are not individually liable for the negligence of the other shareholders or members, particularly the one who was flying the airplane at the time of an accident.

Forming an L.L.C. or corporation for group ownership of an aircraft may have other benefits. That is especially true if one person wants to sell his share as it may simplify the process and may save on sales or use tax in some states. An airplane isn’t cheap; in my opinion, it’s worth consulting with an attorney in your state with regard to the best way to set up ownership.

Nevertheless, when it comes to liability risk, the best way to handle it is to insure the risk, not try to set up some dodge that your hangar neighbor’s uncle came up with that’s “utterly foolproof.”

The same rule applies for buying a share of an airplane as it does to buying the entire thing: never do it without having a pre-purchase examination performed by a mechanic you chose who knows the type of airplane involved.

Aircraft Logbooks

The aircraft, engine and prop logbooks for your airplane are worth from 10 to 20 percent of the aircraft’s value. Take a moment and think of that in cash. That’s the general rule for how much will get knocked off the sale price of your airplane if you lose those logs. It’s a fact of aeronautical life.

That means you should probably have a digital copy of the logbooks with the originals locked up someplace safe, not sitting on a shelf at your favorite maintenance shop. After all, would you leave several thousand dollars in cash on that shelf?

When you have maintenance work done on your airplane, have the mechanic record the work done on a sticker that you put into the log. You then copy that page and add it to the digital record of your logs.

There is no requirement of any sort that a mechanic ever see the originals of your aircraft logbooks before doing maintenance or an inspection on your airplane. For your protection, and for the protection of your mechanic, provide either a digital copy or print out a hard copy. That way neither you nor your maintenance technician runs the risk of losing valuable documents.

I’ve also seen logbooks held hostage by a shop when there was poor communication between the shop and the aircraft owner over what maintenance was authorized and what the price was going to be. Owners have had to sue shops to get logbooks back—not a good thing for anyone involved.

Please Call ATC

You’re flying along, minding your own business, when ATC calls you, gives you a phone number and asks that you call after you land.

You probably aren’t about to be told that you’ve won the lottery.

Should you call?

Maybe. (How’s that for a lawyer’s answer?) If you do, only do so after you’ve taken the time, after landing, to consider the situation and talk with your attorney. You don’t get any points for calling in quickly, so take time to maturely consider what triggered ATC’s desire to speak with you further.

Most of the time the whole thing started because you erred, or at least ATC is convinced you did. If you call, remember that the call is recorded. Plus, you will identify yourself as the person flying the aircraft. On top of that, ATC keeps getting less and less discretion as to what it can do when there is a pilot deviation. The chances that you have a friendly conversation, admit you messed up, promise not to do again and the tower or Center says, “OK, don’t do it again,” and closes the file on the subject are low.

However, the very good news is that two years ago the FAA unveiled its “Compliance Philosophy” approach to pilots who violate a reg inadvertently. Simply put, the FAA recognized that by hitting pilots who made an innocent mistake with a certificate action the effect was just to anger pilots and turn the community into increasingly anti-FAA and –regulation folks who were more likely to fly contrary to the regs again. The new procedure is that an inspector from the FSDO contact the pilot—with full Pilot’s Bill or Rights disclosures—and talks with him or her about the event. If the pilot admits the error and it was unintentional, there will not be a violation action against the pilot. In most cases there’s one phone call where the pilot and inspector discuss what happened and how to avoid it in the future. That’s it—it’s over. In some cases the pilot takes a little dual with a CFI or flies with the FAA to make sure she or he hasn’t really lost a step and shouldn’t be flying anymore. The reality is that the number of certificate actions against pilots has gone through the floor. The pilots and FAA inspectors who have been affected by Compliance Philosophy all like it. Inspectors hate writing up violation actions and pilots love having a chance to talk frankly about a mistake in an environment where they aren’t going to get into further trouble.

Nevertheless, the infraction has to be inadvertent and the pilot has to fess up, which means admitting guilt. If the FAA does go with a violation action, the pilot has essentially given up whatever defenses he or she might have had. Therefore, there is still some risk. Therefore, there are some hard and fast rules of thumb before calling ATC or the FAA back when you are asked to do so:

  1. Never argue with ATC on the frequency. 
  2. Contact an aviation attorney before you make the phone call.
  3. File an ASRS (NASA) report about the incident immediately—if you do get a violation, you won’t have your certificate suspended.

Accident Reporting

You’re going into the short strip near the vacation lodge and forget the gear. Ouch. You’re taxiing over to the pumps to fill up, misjudge, hit a post with the wing of your Piper Dakota, open up the outboard tank, fuel gushes out, ignites and burns up your Dakota, a King Air and a Gulfstream. Wow.

To whom do you report the accident? NTSB? FAA?

You don’t report it to either one; they are not reportable accidents under Part 830 of the NTSB regulations.

In the first example, a gear up landing almost never does enough damage to meet the reporting threshold of Part 830. In the second, the aircraft has to be moving for the purpose of flight. Taxiing to the fuel pump isn’t moving for the purpose of flight.

An accident is reported to the NTSB. While the NTSB may tell the FAA, the regs call for the notification be made to the NTSB.  The NTSB may delegate the investigation to the FAA; nevertheless, the notification is to the NTSB.

If you are involved with an incident that does not meet the definition of an accident, there is no reason to burden the NTSB or FAA with the time, effort, cost and paperwork involved with carrying out an investigation—they don’t want to do it. However, if someone reports it, an investigation has to be conducted, and that may mean that the FAA looks at the pilot for a potential violation it might not otherwise have even known about.

Again, before doing anything, stop and think. Remember, even if the event is a reportable accident, which requires immediate notification under Part 830.5, you have to determine if it is reportable, so don't just pull out your cell phone and call the NTSB.

Aviation insurance companies know about the NTSB threshold reporting requirements, so just because you damaged your airplane, you don’t need to report it to the NTSB for your insurance to pay for the repairs.

If you bend an airplane, I suggest the following checklist:

Care for anyone who is injured

Call your attorney

Determine whether the event is reportable under Part 830

If it is a reportable accident, notify the NTSB immediately

Contact your insurer

Landing on a Taxiway

A few years ago, I looked at a four-fatality accident where a pilot elected to land on the sole runway on the airport despite a crosswind that was near the demonstrated crosswind velocity for the airplane. He lost control on rollout and totaled the airplane and the people inside. What struck me was that the airport had a long taxiway that was oriented into the wind. There is nothing in the FARs that prevents a Part 91 pilot from landing on a taxiway at a non-towered airport. I kept asking myself why the pilot didn’t land into the wind. There were no buildings or obstructions near the taxiway and taxiways are often used as runways during runway construction.

A crosswind that is at the edge of the pilot or the airplane’s ability to handle it can have ugly results—general aviation has an unpleasantly high rate of runway loss of control accidents. While it would be wise to divert to an airport that has a runway more into the wind, fuel onboard may preclude such a diversion. It’s certainly not common, but landing on a taxiway isn’t prohibited by the FARs and landing into a strong wind on an unobstructed taxiway well clear of people and buildings may be far, far safer than trying to tackle that same wind when it’s blowing from the side.

You may never have good reason to land on a taxiway, but don’t omit it from your bag of tricks because you think it's not legal when conditions make it sensible.

Flying Over Gross

As America gets fatter, it seems to me that there is an increasing willingness of pilots to fly their airplanes over gross. One of the OWTs I hear is that while it may be foolish to fly over gross, it’s not illegal. It’s true that it’s foolish, however, it’s also illegal—Part 91.9 requires complying with the airplane’s operating limitations.

Flying illegally, intentionally, is your call. However, if the fact the aircraft is over gross has some relation to the cause of an accident, say hitting an obstruction on takeoff or an inadvertent stall, you may find yourself short of defenses should you be sued. In some states you may be facing an automatic finding of negligence. Your insurance should still cover you—violation of a reg is generally not reason for an insurer to deny coverage—but you may have crippled your defense.


This article hasn’t touched on all the legal issues a pilot may face—and because buying or selling an airplane is more complex that I can touch on in a general aviation law article, I’ll do a piece dedicated to that subject soon—but I hope it’s targeted some of the more common, even if space has precluded it from dealing with them in depth. In my opinion, the important thing for a pilot to remember when coming up against a legal issue is to take some time to think before acting. The AOPA legal services plan pays for consultation with an aviation attorney on most aviation legal issues—in my opinion that’s worth the price of admission. You worked hard to acquire the expertise to fly; when you need expertise on legal issue in aviation, it makes sense to contact someone who worked hard to gain it rather than make a quick decision you may regret.

Rick Durden is an aviation attorney, holds an CFI-AI an ATP with type ratings in the Cessna Citation and Douglas DC-3 and is the author of The Thinking Pilot’s Flight Manual, or How to Survive Flying Little Airplanes and Have a Ball Doing it, Vols. I & 2.

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