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Volume 25, Number 37c
September 14, 2018
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EAA Talks Homebuilt Reform With FAA
Kate O'Connor

The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) says that its Modernization of Special Airworthiness Certification (MOSAIC) rulemaking initiative has made substantial progress after a meeting with FAA officials in Washington, D.C., earlier this week. EAA also met with the FAA during AirVenture to discuss MOSAIC, which is designed to “relieve builders of well-proven homebuilts of some of the burdens that have limited their aircraft's use and flexibility but not enhanced safety.”

“We are pursuing improved operating limitations that are much less restrictive for certain parts of the amateur-built community,” said EAA’s vice president of advocacy and safety, Sean Elliott. “It is a natural step given the proven and continuing high level of safety within the homebuilt community. This rulemaking initiative, along with redefining light-sport aircraft, is one of EAA’s top priorities over the next two years.”

EAA says that MOSAIC is intended to expand amateur-built pathways while leaving the traditional approach in place. Examples given by the organization of some of the proposed changes include allowing assistance from professional builders beyond the 51-percent rule and letting a contractor build a complete aircraft for a client.

The MOSAIC rulemaking package will also include language for light-sport reform, according to EAA. Although the specifics for the LSA proposal have not yet been laid out, the organization expects the reform to expand the LSA category to include more qualifying aircraft and make provisions for features such as electric propulsion. EAA says MOSAIC seems to be on track to enter the FAA rulemaking process in early 2019.

Space Race: Virgin vs. Blue Origin
Paul Bertorelli

How about a wager? Which comes first, the FAA’s vaunted NextGen collapses in scandal and budget overruns or someone—anyone—actually launches a space tourist without turning him or her into a cosmic cinder? Although there’s a Voodoo doll with my name on it at 800 Independence Ave. and restraint has never been a long suit of mine, I’ll go with the tourist. One can at least hope it won’t reprise the spectacle not seen since humanity deserted Max Pruss over Lakehurst.

The problem with reporting on space tourism is that you never know whether to be profoundly inspired by the sheer audacity of it or utterly appalled at the soaring lunacy. Whenever it’s discussed, I find myself looking askance at others to see if I can detect a facial tick or an eye flicker that might telegraph insanity having entered the room.

Nonetheless, we are clearly marching forward to the day when anyone with a robust bank account can book a flight up beyond the Karman line. As we say here in the south, bless their hearts and good luck to them. Of late, the MSM reporting on this field suggests there’s actually a bit of a space race going on between British wunderkind Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Amazon impresario Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. Elon Musk is still flogging Mars between drags on a Jamaican fatty.

Anyone with even passing interest in this topic should read a long-form article just published in the New Yorker. It’s ostensibly a profile of Mark Stucky, a lead pilot of the Virgin Galactic project, but author Nicholas Schmidle seems to have found so much of interest that the piece strays into answering many of the questions we in the aviation bleachers might ask.

As of this month, Virgin Galactic has completed three powered flights of the new version of the SpaceShipTwo system, the VSS Unity. It replaces an earlier version destroyed by an inflight breakup in October 2014. Meanwhile, Blue Origin has completed eight flights of its somewhat conventional booster design and successfully landed seven of those boosters. Schmidle’s reporting gives the impression that Virgin Galactic is looking over its shoulder and worrying about being upstaged. Sound familiar? If you came of age during the 1960s, it’s reminiscent of the moon race. NASA had a name for the response the competitive urge fostered: Go fever.

Branson and company will do well to resist the pressure, considering that the company has already had two accidents and four fatalities. Stipulating that Virgin has learned from those mistakes and that it has done all that can be done to minimize risk, the space enterprise business strikes me as far riskier than the people buying those $250,000 seats might imagine. Virgin isn’t saying when they’ll launch paying passengers, but the article gives the impression that it may be sooner than later. Branson said in May that commerical flights are months not years off. Even if the company notches a dozen powered flights before taking passengers, that’s not much testing and not a broad basis to establish risk, in my view. 

As the Space Shuttle program was winding down in 2011, NASA managers—who suffered two catastrophic accidents of their own—admitted that they had vastly underestimated the program risks for multiple reasons, some related to lack of experience and data and some related to management culture. The early risk was, they said, actually close to a one in nine chance of catastrophic failure. Unfortunately, the schooling comes at a horrific tuition. The Shuttle’s demonstrated accident rate was the equivalent of 15 vehicle losses per 1000 flights. It’s hard to imagine a commercial business sustaining with even an accident or two, especially ones that leave bodies scattered across the desert. I’ll concede that the Shuttle was orders of magnitude more complex and powerful than either Virgin’s or Blue Origin’s machines, but it also had vastly more developmental resources. 

Another curious revelation in Schmidle’s article was a revival of the spam-in-the-can put down of automated flight routines popularized in Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff. This evidently stems from Burt Rutan’s assertion that if space was to be cheap, it would have to be a stick and rudder undertaking. In other words, hand flown. That might have been true when he originally designed the vehicle, but in an avionics universe that has reduced the cost of an autopilot from $25,000 to $5000, is it still? Dismissing Blue Origin’s fully automated flight profile, Stucky asked what the occupants would be doing up there if no one was actually flying the vehicle. The same could be asked of Virgin’s passengers. They’re going as gawkers, not to carry out solar radiation experiments. Think of it as the planet’s most expensive selfie.

You knew I’d get to asking this: Would you pay $250,000 for such a flight and if you would, which would you prefer, Virgin or Blue Origin? What if a rich benefactor offered to pay the fare? What then? I asked my colleague Paul Dye, who edits Kitplanes magazine after a career at NASA as a senior flight director on the Shuttle and the ISS. No thanks to Blue Origin, he said; the flight profile has no appeal. And he’s not ready to get on SpaceShipTwo, either.

I’m in the same place, but perhaps for different reasons. Richard Branson has said he believes the space tourism business is worth billions because so many people will find the experience transformative. He may very well be right. But in order for that to be so, you’d have to survive it. Otherwise the transformation is from a sentient bag of bones and blood to elemental carbon bits and that’s not what I have in mind.

None of this to suggest space tourism isn’t a good idea nor that it won’t flourish. It’s just that I lack the smarts to make any kind of realistic risk judgement about whether the ride is worth it. So, I might go eventually. But you go first and send me your selfie.


Vertical Aerospace Flies eVTOL
Mary Grady

Vertical Aerospace, based in the United Kingdom, has built a full-scale eVTOL technology demonstrator and recently announced the aircraft began flight testing in June. It’s the first of its type to complete a flight test in the U.K. The single-seat aircraft, which weighs about 1600 pounds, is controlled by a remote pilot. It has a range of 93 miles and a top speed of 186 MPH, according to The Daily Mail. The company says it has been working on the project since 2016 and has a staff of 28. The company also said it hopes to have an aircraft ready, with space for an on-board pilot and two passengers, to provide urban taxi service by 2022.

“If you consider that the busiest routes flying in and out of London are to Paris, London and Edinburgh, being able to fly to those cities without the need of a runway would offset the need to expand Heathrow,” company founder Stephen Fitzpatrick told the London Times. “We are investing in all the technology evolution taking place in aerospace but we are trying to apply that to something that’s real world and is possible to execute four years out,” he said. “We are not waiting for huge changes in existing regulations.” Fitzpatrick is the founder of Ovo Energy, an energy-supply company based in England.

Air Force Releases Results Of Safety Review
Kate O'Connor

The United States Air Force has released the results of a branch-wide operational safety review, which identified a series of safety risks for Air Force flight crews. The report pinpointed stress posed by high operations tempos, a lack of time to properly focus on flying basics and decreased aircraft availability as potential safety concerns in current Air Force operations. It also found the pressure to accept risk and a cultural tendency to always execute the assigned mission created possible safety issues. In addition, the report warned against complacency while performing routine tasks.

“The review proved tremendously helpful as we continue to seek both high levels of safety with intense and realistic training,” said Air Force Chief of Staff General David L. Goldfein. “As air superiority is not an American birthright, our training must continue to be challenging and meaningful. But I also want commanders to have the decision authority to determine how far to push.”

According to the Air Force, it is taking steps to address the issues raised by the report. "We lean forward every day to get the mission done—it’s what we do,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, “but we must also know when risks associated with leaning forward outweigh the benefit." The safety review was initiated last spring by the Air Force Chief of Staff in the wake of a series of military aircraft accidents, including the fatal crash of an Air Force Thunderbird.

The Pilot’s Lounge #138: A Welcoming Airport
Rick Durden

The virtual airport and its pilot’s lounge came into being when I started writing this column almost exactly 20 years ago. (There’s a partial index of the columns here and here.) The airport, the lounge and the characters who brought their wisdom to the discussions reported in the columns were, and are, an amalgam of airports where I’ve spent time and people I’ve been fortunate enough to know over the years. The airport is modeled on the one in Jefferson, Iowa, because it always felt to me to be the right size for a general aviation airport populated by people who like to fly little airplanes and it has one grass runway—something I consider of great value for fun flying.

The lounge is a combination of pilot-friendly airport lounges, lobbies and offices I’ve enjoyed, notably at the Michigan Flyers (flying club) on the Ann Arbor, Michigan, airport, Northwoods Aviation (FBO) on the Cadillac, Michigan, airport and the airport office and lounge (I don’t recall who the operator was) on the Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, airport where I made a stop back in the summer of 2000 to avoid flying through a nasty line of thunderstorms.

My columns have come from an imaginary airport that welcomes pilots, encourages them to socialize and pass along information that other pilots will hopefully find valuable.

Eighteen months ago, life followed art—I was faced with the opportunity and challenge of finding a real-world welcoming airport. My wife and I had decided to figure out where we wanted to live when we retired and to move to the location well before it is time to retire. One of the reasons for moving was that getting to the general aviation airport nearest where we lived involved a minimum drive time of an hour through increasingly heavy traffic. I wanted to do more flying and more flight instructing, but two hours of time in the car to do so was a major disincentive.

My wife and I drew up a list of things that were important to us for a place to live. High on the list was a short drive to a general aviation airport that was alive and well. The increasing lack of aircraft rental and maintenance services on little airports proved to make the search for the right place to live more difficult than we had expected. We rejected a lot of locations because there either wasn’t an airport nearby or the one that was had no aircraft rental (not even a flying club) or maintenance on the field.

Our search soon centered on North Idaho. We traveled to Sandpoint, Idaho, where we met with the realtor (who is a pilot) and started looking at homes and property that she thought had potential. Long story short, there wasn’t anything for sale on the local residential airports and we liked some property near the community of Bonners Ferry (named after a ferry across the Kootenai River established in 1864 during a gold rush in British Columbia, Canada). It was 12 minutes from the Boundary County airport. That was a hopeful sign.

Searching For a Welcoming Airport

Hoping I’d find a welcoming airport, my wife and I drove into the parking lot of the FBO, Northern Air. The first thing I saw was a sign saying that ice cream was for sale inside the FBO. That was completely unexpected and felt like a friendly touch.

Inside, we walked past a good-sized classroom/meeting room, two clean restrooms and down a hall lined with more than 10 years of photos of pilots who had soloed, gotten a new rating or a tailwheel, high-performance or complex airplane endorsement. This airport celebrated the success of its pilots. Things were feeling better and better even though I was undergoing the usual feelings we all have when going into a strange new place. I suddenly thought how incredibly brave anyone is who walks into an FBO to ask about learning to fly.

Once in the lobby—with big windows facing the 4,000-foot runway—we were greeted by the office manager, Katherine Boger. She had that rare ability to make you feel as if you were the most interesting person she’d met all week. I explained that we were considering a move to the area and asked about the airport, aircraft rentals and maintenance in case we decided to buy an airplane.

Katherine—a pilot knowledgeable in the questions pilots new to an area ask—told us that the FBO had an active flight school and a rental fleet that consisted of two Cessna 172s, a Citabria 7KCAB and a Piper Comanche 250. Tailwheel checkouts and aerobatic instruction in the Citabria were available as were backcountry and mountain checkouts.

I asked Katherine about the possibility of instructing in the flight school. She said there was a good possibility because the pilot shortage was affecting them, and they had more student demand than they had instructors. She excused herself for a moment, went into the office and asked the gentleman working at a computer in there to come out. She introduced me to David Parker, airport manager and FBO proprietor as well as—I found out later—high-time backcountry, fire patrol and wilderness pilot.

Dave and I talked, and I learned that the FBO had a substantial maintenance operation, did a great deal of work doing fire spotting with two Cessna P337s and a bunch of wilderness flying tracking wildlife in a Cessna 182. This place was too cool for words. As we chatted, I found that my application to instruct on a part-time basis would probably be treated favorably and that the only thing that might be less than favorable on the airport was that there was not always hangar space available although the county—which owned the airport—looked favorably on leasing land to folks who wanted to build a hangar.

After springing for ice cream and taking too much of Dave’s time, my wife and I departed. In the car she asked me for my thoughts. I admit that I responded enthusiastically.

Making the Move

More long story short—because the area checked virtually all the boxes in our “where we want to live” checklist, and the airport felt just plain good, we made an offer on the property we’d liked. After the usual back and forth of a real estate purchase, we became owners of some heavily wooded land with great mountain views and started building a house.

Shortly after that, I made my next sojourn to the Boundary County Airport and Northern Air. I approached Dave Parker and formally asked if I could instruct. He sent me out to fly in the Citabria with Wayne Sommers, a guy with impressive flight experience. He did years and thousands of hours as a tailwheel freight dog. I got into the Citabria hoping not to embarrass myself. We did the requisite airwork involving steep turns, slow flight, stalls and spins and then landed at one of the funkiest airports I’ve ever flown into—1S1, Eckhart International Airport in Porthill, Idaho. It’s a grass runway international airport because you can taxi off of the north end of the runway to Customs. OK, I’m a rube coming to a new area of our country, but what the folks here take for granted blew me away.

Bottom line—I had a great flight with a superb instructor who has tailwheel chops that don’t quit. After that flight and one more once we had made the move north, Wayne and Dave were kind enough to approve me to instruct.

So, here’s the deal. My wife and I have made the move. I’m having a ball instructing on a part-time basis at one of the coolest FBOs I’ve ever run across.

I’m also still doing a lot of work as an attorney on airport access issues under federal law and the FARs. I’ve spent decades fighting airport owners/management over stupid/unreasonable airport rules and restrictions designed to keep general aviation off of airports. I’ve dealt with airport managers seeking to keep piston-engine airplanes, ultralights and skydivers from basing on his airport because the airport council/committee/owner/sponsor is convinced that by doing so the airport will make a fortune attracting turbine airplanes and their mega-buck owners. The big-money-for-airport concept may sound good if you say it fast, but the reality is that once the airport powers that be drive off the piston-engine crowd, their traffic count goes into the toilet and they wind up scratching their heads over why getting federal airport aid money is suddenly so much harder.

After years of fighting bad airport management and now being fortunate enough to fly from a welcoming airport, let’s talk about what makes a welcoming airport.

The Office

When you walk it to the main airport office—no matter whether it’s an FBO or terminal building—you should be greeted by someone who is enthusiastic that you’re there. After all, general aviation is contracting at an ever-increasing rate—we need to reach out to every single person who walks slowly by the door. If there are the usual bunch of hangers-on sitting around the lobby complaining, airport management either needs to keep them away from potential customers or train them to step up and welcome each new face who walks in the door.

Aircraft Rental/Flight School

The pilot shortage has created a boom for flight schools. I recognize that for many small airports, a flight school by itself, may not be self-sustaining. However, for a welcoming airport that wants to keep alive and attract people to the community, I think there has to be a viable way to learn to fly with rental airplanes (some of them not plain vanilla) available to customers once they get rated. Yes, I know, customers tend to bend tailwheel airplanes, so having anything other than plain vanilla is challenging.


There is a pilot shortage; however, there are a lot of retired professional pilots who might be interested in instructing if the pay is right. They are a source of knowledge that welcoming airports can tap for everything from primary instruction through flight reviews to mentoring of pilots who want to get advanced ratings or simply up their game. Plus, if a renter demonstrates a bit of shortcoming in the judgement or skill end of things, having a high-time CFI around to have a low-key chat can work wonders.


There is an undercurrent in the world of general aviation aircraft ownership that a pilot isn’t a real pilot if he can’t maintain his own airplane. The reality is that most pilots who can afford to own an airplane have to spend time making the money necessary to keep it running, so they can’t even do even the minor stuff, such as oil changes, on their own. They need a good maintenance shop on the airport.

An EAA Chapter

One of the first things I did when I moved to Bonners Ferry was to join the local EAA Chapter. It meets monthly and has working evenings. I was made welcome at the first meeting and I’ve greatly enjoyed the pilots I’ve met through the Chapter 757.

I immediately learned of a very cool activity undertaken by Chapter 757—it puts on a huckleberry pancake breakfast on the last Saturday morning of each summer month. There are posters all over town and it generally attracts over 200 people and keeps attention on the airport. The money raised from the breakfasts goes to fund scholarships for young people who want to learn to fly.

Based on personal observation, an active EAA chapter is an integral part of a welcoming airport.


I don’t envy the person who has to make the decisions regarding hangar rental prices, whether the airport should build and rent hangars and under what terms airport owners will lease land for tenants to build hangars. I heartily congratulate those airport managers and airport councils that put manage to read the tea leaves correctly and put together an airport master plan (required by the FAA in order to get federal airport funds) that sets aside an adequate area for hangars, arranges to have sufficient available hangar space, writes land leases that encourage building hangars while protecting the airport from the things that can go wrong when hangar owners prove to be irresponsible while not confiscating the hangar after the lease ends.

In my opinion, a welcoming airport has hangar space available for rent. Rates should reflect the realities of the cost of capital for their construction and the cost of maintenance that must be carried out by the airport. Figuring out what is an appropriate rental rate should involve the airport users. I recognize that pilots can be notorious tightwads who whine no matter what the rates are—but if aircraft owners are leaving the airport for other ones or simply selling their airplanes, something is badly wrong.

A welcoming airport, in my opinion, allows hangar tenants to make their hangars comfortable with such things as sofas, refrigerators, TVs, grills and the other things that draw the users to the airport on a nice day. So long as the primary purpose of the use of the hangar is storage of an airplane and it’s not blocked from getting in and out, the FAA’s guidance to airports is to let the tenants fix up their places.

When the atmosphere around the hangars is pleasant, pilots are much more likely to come out to the airport on a nice day and go flying, boosting fuel sales and the aircraft movement count—positives for the airport.


The FAA has long made it clear that airports have to allow aircraft owners to obtain their own fuel for their airplanes. That is established law. At the same time, the airport can impose reasonable safety rules—hangar fires are rare but when they happen the fuel in the wings of the airplanes can make them serious. Still, there is little risk from three or four standard, five-gallon gas containers used by an owner to fuel his Cessna 150 with auto fuel. Those have been in garages across the country for years and often survive a house fire intact. Rules prohibiting such containers are, in my opinion, petty and just a backhanded effort by the airport to force pilots to buy fuel from the airport—which is illegal. Just don’t fuel the airplane inside the hangar.

At the same time, much of the financial underpinning of an airport is fuel sales—so it can require that owners who self-fuel pay a flowage fee on the fuel they bring onto the airport and put into their airplanes. Some airports do so. I’ve observed that the rate is usually less than 10 cents per gallon and the self-fueling owner has to keep fuel receipts to show the airport how much fuel is going into the wing. While owners don’t like the paperwork, it seems to me to be a reasonable compromise because the airport needs money to stay alive—to be there for the owner in the first place—and if the owner is not going to buy fuel from the airport, she or he should be paying something to offset the airport’s loss of revenue. Robert Heinlein said it best, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

Welcome All Users

Putting it bluntly, the rate of contraction of general aviation is approaching crisis. In my opinion, it’s just plain stupid for an airport to try and keep some types of users away because the established users (fixed-wing pilots) don’t like them. First, the number of established users is probably going down. Second, there are growing areas within general aviation, notably ultralights and, especially, skydiving. Federal law says that airports have to make themselves available to all users unless a particular use or user is unsafe—and the safety decision is to be made by the FAA, not the airport. Airports with mixes of gliders, fixed-wing aircraft, rotorcraft, skydivers, ultralights and balloons have been operating safely for years. Interestingly enough, from my observation, those tend to be the ones that are the most healthy. I’ve spoken with airport managers whose airports were operating in the red financially and who had reached out to a skydiving operator. Once skydiving started up, fuel sales ratcheted up dramatically (in some cases it doubled) and the airport finances became healthy. A side effect was that local motels and restaurants got more business because the skydiving operator attracted customers who would come for the weekend to jump and bring their families.

Community Benefit

We’ve long known that a certain percentage of businesses won’t locate in a community without easy airport access. An airport is an integral part of any community’s disaster plan—it may be the sole connection to the outside world for some time following an earthquake that drops bridges or a flood that blocks roads or a hurricane or tornado that blocks highways. On a very basic level, having a viable community airport may be a matter of life and death for people in that community. On happier level, a viable, welcoming airport not only benefits the community financially, it is a part of the community’s overall network of recreational areas such as parks, bike trails and tennis courts. A welcoming airport provides needed recreation and is a source of pleasure to all of us.

Rick Durden is a CFII, holds an ATP with type ratings in the Douglas DC-3 and Cessna Citation 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. 1 & 2.

FAA Addresses Drone Use During Hurricane
Kate O'Connor

With Hurricane Florence heading for the Carolina coast, the FAA is warning unauthorized drone operators to stay out of the skies around areas impacted by the storm even if no Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) is in place. The agency emphasized that unauthorized flights during and after the storm could disrupt emergency response flights, which often operate at low altitudes. Fines for such interference can run up to $20,000.

The FAA is also strongly encouraging private sector Part 107 drone operators who want to support hurricane response efforts “to coordinate their activities with the local incident commander responsible for the area in which they want to operate.” In addition, the agency is asking GA pilots planning to fly to pay close attention to weather conditions as the hurricane approaches.

Hurricane Florence is expected to reach the Carolinas on Thursday and crawl along the coast through Saturday. The storm is currently a Category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 120 MPH.

NASA And Roscosmos Discuss Space Station Leak
Kate O'Connor

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Roscosmos General Director Dmitry Rogozin met on Wednesday to discuss the status of International Space Station (ISS) operations after speculation that a leak detected onboard the station two weeks ago was possibly the result of sabotage. During the discussion, NASA says Rogozin informed Bridenstine that Roscosmos was establishing a commission to investigate the incident. The meeting took place via teleconference and was held at the request of Roscosmos.

In a joint statement, NASA and Roscosmos “affirmed the necessity of further close interaction between NASA and Roscosmos technical teams in identifying and eliminating the cause of the leak, as well as continuation of normal ISS operations and NASA’s ongoing support of the Roscosmos-led Soyuz investigation.” The statement also made it clear that no preliminary results would be released prior to the conclusion of the investigation.

On Aug. 29, a pressure drop detected on the ISS led to the discovery of a small hole in one of the two Russian Soyuz capsules docked at the station. The leak was patched by the next day, but unconfirmed theories about its cause quickly emerged, pointing to everything from deliberate sabotage to a fabrication error on the ground. Bridenstine and Rogozin are scheduled to meet for the first time in person in early October when Bridenstine visits Russia and Kazakhstan for the upcoming launch of a Soyuz spacecraft with American astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexy Ovchinin onboard.

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Girls In Aviation Day, October 13
Mary Grady

Girls in Aviation Day, now in its fourth year as a global event, is set for Saturday, Oct. 13, but events connected with the project have already begun, and will continue through the fall. Women in Aviation International organizes the program, and lists more than 50 events in the U.S., with more in Australia, France, India, Zambia and many other countries. The project aims to educate girls, ages 8 to 17, about the many career choices offered by the aviation/aerospace industry. Last year, about 9,700 girls participated worldwide, and that number is expected to grow this year.

“When I think of all the girls around the globe whose lives will be changed by attending Girls in Aviation Day, I could not be prouder of our members,” says WAI President Peggy Chabrian. “We help them with educational materials, copies of Aviation for Girls magazine and ideas, but they plan their own unique events, using local resources and role models, and countless hours of their own time.” Events include tours of hangars, control towers and museums; speakers representing a range of aviation careers; introductory flights; and more.

Picture of the Week, September 13, 2018
A Cessna 182 on the Picnic Strip at the Knik Glacier, Alaska. Taken with an iPhone X. Photo by Chris Bena.

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