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Volume 25, Number 47c
November 23, 2018
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FAA Seeks Input On ATP, Type Rating Changes
Mary Grady

The FAA has proposed some changes to its standards for obtaining an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate in the airplane category or for obtaining an airplane type rating, and if you have any opinions about the proposal, the FAA wants to hear from you. The proposed rule change is posted online, and comments will be accepted until Dec. 21. The proposed standards include what a pilot is expected to know, consider and do in order to prepare for the FAA ATP knowledge test and practical test and receive an ATP certificate or airplane type rating. The areas covered are preflight preparation, takeoffs and landings, inflight maneuvers, stall prevention, instrument procedures, emergency operations and post-flight procedures.

The proposal was developed by a working group of the FAA’s Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee, chaired by David Oord, AOPA senior director of regulatory affairs. The group prepared the draft, which was then approved by the full committee. The working group’s goal was to develop clear standards for aeronautical knowledge, ensuring that the required knowledge “reflects what airmen really need to know for safe operation in the National Airspace System,” said Oord. The standard improves on the prior ATP practical test standard by consolidating overlapping tasks, and by linking the “special emphasis” areas applicants and examiners are expected to focus on with specific ATP ACS Areas of Operation and Tasks, according to AOPA.

Modern Navigators Are Unerring, But Also Numb to the Universe
Paul Bertorelli

When I was a callow lad, private pilot ground school was interactive. It was interactive not in the sense of the Pavlovian clicking of choices on a webpage, but of having a human instructor who actually talked and answered questions. Chalk was a thing then.

One of the instructors must have been an old school oceanic navigator because during the section on basic navigation, he produced and demonstrated a sextant of the sort used by World War II-era crews to find their way across the Pacific. I remember two things about this instrument. It had a bubble and my first attempt at reducing position with it put us in Indiana, 600 miles away from where in fact we were in North Carolina.

This effort was a mere curiosity by an engaged teacher for celestial navigation, was not then a part of pilot training and half a century later, many people don’t even know what it is. Thank GPS for that, at least in part. But that instructor left with me a lifelong fascination with celestial navigation and that led me to Sextant: A Young Man's Daring Sea Voyage and the Men Who Mapped the World's Oceans, by David Ogilvy Barrie. It’s not a new work, but as a $2 Kindle edition, I couldn’t resist.

The book deals with ocean navigation and its history through the development of various instruments leading to the first sextants around 1759 or so. These instruments, along with the shipboard chronometer, revolutionized the art of navigation at sea, skills that would persist into the air age in the interim between routine transoceanic steamship travel and the jet age. Indeed, jet airliners carried sextant ports well into the era of Doppler nav, CONSOL, Loran and inertial navigation, although they were hardly more useful than a vestigial organ by then.   

In reading Barrie’s book, it’s almost shocking to realize how much modern navigation has isolated us from the most rudimentary understanding of the physical world. He describes being at sea on clear, moonless nights and seeing the vast field of stars scroll by not as anonymous winking points of light but as a half dome of guideposts as familiar as the mailbox at the end of your driveway. And of recognizing Jupiter’s rise above the horizon and knowing that the brilliant Galileo Galilei devised the means to observe its moons, Callisto, Europa and Ganymede, to determine longitude on Earth a century before the chronometer was even thought of. And of looking at Polaris, without benefit of sextant, and knowing what 43 degrees North just looks like.

Modern city life has all but erased the sight of a deep star field, much less any knowledge of its composition. If you live in the Midwest or West, stop your car on a dark remote road and you’ll know the difference. Some years ago, I went on a press tour of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt and stood on the LSO platform facing aft, with lights doused as we waited for the jets inbound from Oceana to enter the pattern for night quals. The sky was stunningly bright and complex but I couldn’t resurrect enough my college astronomy to orient myself with confidence before it clouded up and got black dark.

With GPS in every phone, watch and camera, the urge to understand the sky is ever more suppressed. It’s not that modern navigation requires little skill, it requires no skill. A celestial navigator herding a C-54 across the Pacific the year I was born would have done a flurry of sightings to confirm that yes, the headwind actually is 105 knots. Today, the GPS puts the wind in an unblinking, unerring data field that might merit a comment by the skipper to the FO between sips of coffee, but probably not even that.

I’m not given to the plaintive sentiment of the Luddite decrying what used to be nor would I ever suggest that it ought to be again. I’m a dedicated child of the modern age and I don’t long to ride around in a 56 Chevy because I used to own one. Give me digital variable-rate suspension and an ECU any day. GPS, too.

Modern GPS navigation is the inverse analog of celestial navigation. The former is all about precise times and ranges, the latter about precise angles and times measured with an instrument and an educated eyeball. With a $400 smartphone, you can navigate yourself across 3600 miles of the tractless Pacific with ease, if you can keep it charged. Tossed off the HMS Bounty, William Bligh did the same distance with a sextant, no almanacs and only the knowledge of admiralty charts locked in his memory. Today, most of us can’t find the next exit without our little electronic buddies.

It’s a good thing that anyone can do it now with the mere push of a few buttons and achieve accuracy Bligh couldn’t have dreamed of. The guidance is not only accurate, but unerring and nearly as reliable as the sun and stars the ancients counted on. And that makes the modern human navigator more accurate, more reliable and utterly unerring. But also quite a bit disconnected and just not quite as smart. Maybe 100 years from now, if we haven’t reduced the planet to an ash-blown cinder, some writer will long for the day when the GPS actually had buttons rather a direct neuron link to the brain.

WALL-E, here we come.   

Oldest Active 747 Retires To Pima
Mary Grady

GE Aviation’s original Boeing 747 Flying Testbed aircraft made its final flight last week, from Victorville, California, to the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona, where it will join more than 350 historical aircraft on display. The aircraft, which had been flying since 1969, was the oldest 747 in active service. Starting in 1970, the aircraft flew for Pan American World Airlines, and in 1992, it was acquired by GE Aviation, and actively flew test flights until January 2017. The 747 flew a total of 90,000 hours.

As a testbed, the 747 provided critical flight data on more than 11 engine models and 39 engine builds. The Pima Museum is home to more than 350 aircraft, from a Wright Flyer to a 787 Dreamliner. The 80-acre site has been open to the public since 1976. Over the past 40 years, the museum has grown to include six indoor exhibit hangars. The museum is also the exclusive operator of bus tours of the 2,600-acre “Aircraft Boneyard,” the U.S. military and government aircraft storage facility.

JP International 'Pilot's Best Friend - Technology that works
Mind The Gaps
Mike Hart

Most pilots have heard warnings about the timeliness (or lack thereof) of Nexrad radar. Better expressed as latency, the weather you see on your tablet, smartphone or multi-function display from providers like SXM or the FAA’s ADS-B could already be 15-20 minutes out of date. It can’t be said enough: What you see on your Nexrad display is better described as a historical record and has little to do with what’s happening right now.

Less often discussed—or warned about—are the radar gaps, the places where there is only a partial picture. At best, the conclusions we draw when viewing weather radar where gaps exist can be misleading. At worst, they’re completely wrong. (And weather radar isn’t our only concern: depending on where we fly, ATC radar often has gaps in its coverage, especially at personal-airplane altitudes.) Essentially these radar gaps—especially the weather-radar kind—are what we might call “known unknowns,” and pilots would do well to be very wary of them. The good news is they are somewhat predictable if you know what to look for.

Different Radars

Weather radar provides the best overall weather picture nearest its station. But as the distance from the station increases, the weather picture will increasingly show only what is happening at high-altitude, and it can totally miss what is happening near ground level. I have seen frog-strangling downpour cells at ground level when the radar shows an area of light precipitation, because that is what the radar sees in the higher part of the cloud.

It’s important to remember ATC radar coverage is slightly different than weather radar, but has similar limitations. There are gaps. In certain parts of the country you will hear the words, “Radar coverage lost.” You’ll be given a 1200 squawk and a pat on the back if you’re VFR, maybe with the next ATC frequency. If you’re IFR, you may also hear something like “you are entering an area of poor radar and radio coverage. If we lose contact, change to the next frequency 132.4 in 40 miles and report over the VOR.”

Understand The Gaps

Radar beams (and radio signals) generally travel in a straight, line-of-sight path, so the information available from radar waves is limited by what they can “see.” The top three issues causing radar information gaps are: 1) the distance between radars (typically ~215 miles/345 km in the western U.S.); 2) mountains and other terrain blocking radar beams; and 3) the Earth’s curvature, which limits the ability of long-range radar to observe the lowest parts of the atmosphere, that which is at less than 10,000 feet and distances greater than 108 miles/175 km.

There is a bigger problem that the gaps compound, which is that the planet is round. The farther the weather, or your aircraft, is from a radar dome, the more the Earth has curved away from the beam, so the more limited will be the radar coverage. The best and only weather picture will be of the mid- and upper atmosphere. The problem for pilots is that most of the precipitation or hazardous weather we encounter and are concerned with occurs in the lowest three kilometers (~10,000 feet). If you are in a coverage gap and a significant distance from a radar dome, that is precisely the atmosphere unreported by radar.

But Nobody Told Me

Just as for ignorance of the law, ignorance of aviation weather is no excuse. The law is that pilots shall obtain all available information regarding current and forecast weather prior to departing for a flight, and looking at radar is part of that information. In reality, any two pilots looking at the same Nexrad radar display might see a slightly different picture of what the weather actually is. One of them will think the radar returns show where the precipitation is and is not.

The other may be more aware of the limitations of the radar weather products, or has reason to be skeptical, perhaps from tribal knowledge or from reading this article. Whatever the reasoning, especially in gap areas, it is a good idea to take any radar picture with a substantial amount of salt.

On the fine spring day that I write this, the weather forecast for my day’s flight—Boise, Idaho, to Burns, Ore.—includes the possibility of afternoon showers and thundershowers that could cause brief marginal VFR conditions in the forecast area. The TAF for my destination implies the same, stating scattered showers in the vicinity of the airport. Looking at the radar, I can see manageable patches of precipitation between my location in Boise and my destination, with most of the patches nearer to Boise and appearing to dissipate to the west. One reasonable interpretation would be that the bulk of the system has already moved, from west to east, leaving my destination in the clear.

In actuality, I found the same patchy distribution of scattered showers from Boise to Burns, even though the zones of rain I could see out the window were not on my iPad Nexrad weather plot. And when I arrived, I had to dodge and weave through the same types of scattered precipitation that was around Boise. Sure, the radar looked clear, but that was due to the low height of the rain clouds and the gap in the radar coverage, not a gap in the weather.

Tribal Knowledge

Fortunately for me, it wasn’t a big surprise. I knew that Burns, like my hometown airport of Salmon, Idaho, is in a weather radar blind spot. But I didn’t find this knowledge on my own, nor from some aviation product, nor from a weather briefer. Instead, it came to me by word-of-mouth from another pilot who trained me on the route and others who know and fly in the area. This tribal knowledge has been confirmed and reconfirmed by what I have seen out the window, but for some reason, tribal knowledge does not make it into many weather lessons.

Pilots should be aware that the places where the radar’s vision starts to become blurry, the known unknowns, are not clearly depicted. They may show weather pictures that are typically better than what you find in reality. Terrain adds a double whammy because the same terrain that causes radar blockage is often a cause of the weather itself. When there is terrain, the area of low radar confidence has elevated importance. Not only might you find unforeseen weather, you might also find some granite.

Who Cares?

The U.S. weather radar network now known as Nexrad is mostly built around the need to predict the kind of severe weather pilots don’t want to fly in (i.e., thunderstorms, tornadoes, hail, etc.). Most of the U.S. has weather radar coverage, but not all. For example, there is a significant weather radar gap over central North Carolina. Areas around Charlotte and Greensboro are sometimes in peril from surprise tornadoes that have spawned off the radar. There are also significant dead zones in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and a big chunk of eastern Texas. The mountainous west, of course, has more gaps than a buck-toothed mule.

The motivation for a 2009 report on the feasibility of new technologies to fill coverage gaps in national weather radar network were tornado and coastal storm-induced injuries, fatalities and economic losses in the states of Wyoming in 2005, and Washington in 2007. In 2012, a significant tornado in North Carolina didn’t show up because the rotation was below the radar limitation of 8500 feet AGL. A major coastal storm near Oregon in 2017 swept inland (under the radar), giving the appearance of a gap in the system that in reality was just a gap in the radar.

The concern here is for pilots and the significant gaps below 10,000 feet, where most weather and personal aircraft concentrate. Yes, most of the U.S. has radar coverage by both ATC and weather radar, though not all of it. And yes, if you climb to the flight levels, generally you will be found by ATC and the precipitation above 18,000 will likely show up. But in the radar gaps, especially below 10,0000 feet, it is all too easy for a pilot looking to find a gap between weather systems to head into an opening that actually isn’t there.

Image: Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Fabrice Kunzi.

ATC Radar, Too

Although it is a slightly different issue, ATC radar (and radio) coverage also has similar spottiness and coverage limitations due to interference of terrain with line-of-sight broadcast. Just as the terrain and opportunity to encounter interesting weather rises, radar and radio coverage begins falling.

There are a lot of benefits to staying in radio contact, like flight-following for VFR pilots and remaining in contact with center for IFR pilots. On a typical jaunt through the mountains, I will be below radar coverage but still in radio range.

When you run out of the range of one antenna and into the range of the next one, you get a frequency handoff from one frequency to the next because they are about to lose you. Pay attention because if you get it wrong, there is a very limited time to return to the old frequency to pick up the change again.

To receive and be heard, your aircraft must broadcast more or less in the line-of-sight of an ATC antenna. VHF radio waves have the same line-of-sight limitations as radar waves (they are basically the same electromagnetic phenomena, but at different frequency ranges that are subject to slightly different bending and reflection. The locations of radio gaps are not necessarily the same as the gaps in ATC radar coverage. Radio antennas are also cheaper to install than radar systems so it isn’t nearly as expensive to maintain radio coverage across the entire conterminous U.S.

Caveat Emptor

If at all possible, forearm yourself with knowledge of where the gaps are. Acknowledge that there are unknown unknowns, areas of ignorance. Don’t assume you have a complete picture when you are flying into gappy radar coverage. Because of the region I fly, I know the areas where there are gaps in radar or where I could be misled by a radar picture. I am not likely to be flying when storms are particularly strong, but I know better than to assume that two zones of red precip separated by a nice area of light green is a real gap.

Wind Farms, Too

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) describes the image below thusly: “The a zoomed 0.5 degree elevation Reflectivity product from the Ft Drum, NY NEXRAD. There is a large wind farm nearby with turbines oriented from due north through southeast of the radar. The turbines are close enough (within 18 km) to cause spurious multipath scattering that extends well beyond the wind farm and contaminates data at multiple scanning elevation angles.”

Image: Andrew J. Oldaker

Our modern Nexrad (Next-Generation Weather Radar) system is still based on radar, a technology that came into its own during World War II. It was first operated as a network to observe weather by the National Weather Service and, as technological improvements allowed, was followed by Weather Surveillance Radars and, most recently, Weather Surveillance Radars Doppler, also known as Nexrad.

Nexrad is a joint effort of the National Weather Service, Air Force Weather Agency and the FAA. Nexrad installations currently comprise 160 sites throughout the U.S. and a few overseas locations.

Mike Hart flies his Piper J3 Cub and Cessna 180 when he’s not schlepping people and their gear. He’s also the Idaho State Liaison for the Recreational Aviation Foundation.

This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Aviation Safety magazine.

For more great content like this, subscribe to Aviation Safety!


FAA Issues Fuel Contamination Alert
Kate O'Connor

The FAA has issued a Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) addressing several aircraft refueled with contaminated jet fuel at Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport (OPF) in Opa-locka, Florida. The agency reports that five aircraft were serviced with jet fuel containing diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) between Aug. 12 and Aug. 16, 2018. Nine additional aircraft were serviced with refueling equipment that had been exposed to DEF.

The FAA identified a similar event in which seven aircraft were serviced with jet fuel containing DEF at Eppley Air Field Airport (OMA) in Omaha, Nebraska, in November 2017. In both cases, the agency says DEF was mistakenly used instead of a fuel system icing inhibitor (FSII) on aircraft refueling trucks. The DEF was then added to the fuel via the trucks’ FSII injection systems.

DEF is a urea-based chemical used to break down potentially hazardous diesel engine emissions. According to the SAFO (PDF), it reacts with certain jet fuel chemical components, forming non-fuel-soluble crystalline deposits that can accumulate on filters, fuel system components and engine fuel nozzles.

For affected aircraft, recommendations include contacting their aircraft, engine and APU manufacturers to determine the appropriate maintenance actions; reporting inspection results, system repairs and service difficulties to the FAA; making sure to discard any jet fuel suspected to be contaminated; and discussing procedures for avoiding DEF contamination with fuel providers if it is used in their service vehicles. The FAA says it will be monitoring the situation to determine if additional action is necessary.

General Aviation Accident Bulletin

AVweb’s General Aviation Accident Bulletin is taken from the pages of our sister publication, Aviation Safety magazine, and is published twice a month. All the reports listed here are preliminary and include only initial factual findings about crashes. You can learn more about the final probable cause in the NTSB’s website at Final reports appear about a year after the accident, although some take longer. Find out more about Aviation Safety at

August 4, 2018, Foley, Ala.

Champion 8GCBC Scout

The airplane was destroyed when it impacted terrain at about 1000 Central time. The commercial pilot and pilot-rated passenger were fatally injured. Visual conditions prevailed for the banner-tow flight.

After takeoff, the hook was dropped from the airplane and a witness radioed the pilot and stated “good hook,” which indicated the line with the hook was in a normal condition to grab the banner during pickup. The approach to the banner looked completely normal. The airplane engine sounded “strong” during the pickup and climb-out. After the airplane’s hook captured the banner during initial climb, the witness noticed the banner rope was becoming slack; he looked up and saw the airplane at about 300 feet AGL as its right wing dropped. The banner was released and the rudder deflected to the left as the airplane entered a right spin. The spin went flat and the airplane rotated clockwise several times before it impacted the adjacent field.

Of the two aboard, the rear-seated pilot was about 40 lbs. heavier. Weather observed about six nautical miles south of the accident site, included calm winds, with a temperature of 29 degrees C and dewpoint of 24.

August 4, 2018, Lakewood, N.J.

Champion 7GCAA Citabria

At about 1200 Eastern time, the airplane was substantially damaged when it impacted terrain during a banner-towing operation. The solo commercial pilot sustained minor injuries. Visual conditions prevailed.

After a two-hour banner-towing flight, the pilot reduced the throttle to idle and descended toward the drop off area. At about treetop height, he pitched up and added full throttle to drop the banner but “the engine continued to operate but produced very limited power while making abnormal combustion sounds.” He verified the mixture was full rich and the throttle was full forward, then released the banner. The airplane was low and slow, so he pitched down and elected to land straight ahead. The airplane impacted small pine trees and terrain, and came to rest in a near-vertical, nose-down position. Observed weather about eight miles west included a temperature/ dewpoint of 23 degrees C.

August 5, 2018, Santa Ana, Calif.

Cessna 414

The airplane sustained substantial damage at about 1229 Pacific daylight time when it impacted the ground in a shopping mall parking lot. The private pilot and four passengers aboard were fatally injured. Visual conditions prevailed.

While inbound for landing, the pilot was told to expect right traffic to Runway 20R (5701 x 150 feet). The controller then asked if the flight could accept Runway 20L (2887 x 75 feet), to which the pilot responded “unable.” The pilot was then instructed to conduct left-hand 360-degree turns over a local holding point for sequencing. As the accident airplane arrived at the holding point, its pilot determined he could accept Runway 20L after all. The pilot was then instructed to cross midfield at or above 1300 feet MSL and make left traffic to Runway 20L. The pilot acknowledged that instruction.

Multiple witnesses saw the airplane enter the left turn and then observed its bank angle increase. The airplane descended at a steep angle and collided with several vehicles in a shopping mall parking lot. All major components of the airplane were located throughout the 150-foot-long debris path.

August 8, 2018, Greeley, Colo.

Cessna 172 Skyhawk

The pilot and a safety pilot were practicing instrument maneuvers, approaches and landings at different airports. According to the safety pilot, the airplane was high and slow during a landing approach. At about 10 feet agl, the airplane “floated a little longer,” and the pilot initiated a go-around by applying full throttle. During the attempted go-around, both occupants applied conflicting inputs to the control yokes; the pilot applied back pressure, and the safety pilot applied forward pressure. The airplane stalled, the left wing contacted the terrain and the airplane came to rest upright adjacent to the runway. The airplane sustained substantial damage to the forward fuselage and both wings. Neither pilot reported that verbal communication was established during the landing sequence.

August 8, 2018, Lewiston, Idaho

Cessna T337 Turbocharged Skymaster

At about 1828 Pacific time, the airplane sustained substantial damage when it landed with its landing gear retracted. The commercial pilot and his passenger were not injured. The airplane was being operated under contract for the U.S. Forest Service on an “air attack” firefighting support mission. Visual conditions existed for the landing.

When the pilot prepared to land, the landing gear failed to extend. After troubleshooting the problem and cycling the gear, the pilot and passenger determined the system’s hydraulic fluid reservoir, which was accessible from the cabin, was empty. Despite replenishing the reservoir with oil and water, the landing gear could not be successfully extended. Committed to a gear-up landing, the pilot secured the front engine, and “bumped” its starter to position the propeller blades horizontally and prevent damage. The occupants unlatched a cabin door to ensure their egress after landing. After landing gear up, the airplane slid to a stop within a few feet of the runway centerline. The pilot shut down the aft engine, secured the airplane and both occupants exited. No fire or other problems occurred.

Examination revealed the circlips retaining the actuator rods for both the left and right main landing gear doors had been liberated from their retention grooves. Loss of this circlip allows hyperextension of the actuator rod and permits hydraulic fluid to exit the actuator.

This article originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of Aviation Safety magazine.

For more great content like this, subscribe to Aviation Safety!

November Is National Aviation History Month
Mary Grady

Distracted by the more traditional holidays, you might not have noticed that the entire month of November is designated “National Aviation History Month.” If there’s an aviation museum near you—and there probably is—now might be a good time to check out what they have to offer, and what new things might be going on there. Wikipedia lists dozens of museums across the U.S., from tiny local collections of antiques to sprawling acres full of airplanes. Women, helicopters, Pipers, and just about any kind of airplane are highlighted in special collections around the country, and virtually every state has at least one museum devoted to things that fly.

If you’ve yet to visit one of our national aviation museums, the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, in Chantilly, Virginia, will be celebrating its 15th anniversary next month. On Dec. 15, the museum will offer special curator talks, concerts and free parking. Museums haven’t lost their appeal, and continue to expand. The National Museum of World War II Aviation, on the west side of the Colorado Springs Airport, broke ground this month for a new 40,000-square-foot exhibit hall, which will include a pair of flying boats from the war and two one-of-a-kind fighter planes.

Southeastern University Launches Accelerated Flight Training
Mary Grady

Southeastern University and International Aero Academy, both based in Lakeland, Florida, announced last week the launch of an aviation program that will provide a fast track to a professional pilot career. The partnership will pair four-year and two-year bachelor’s and associate’s degrees from SEU with IAA’s accelerated FAA Part 141 pilot training programs, based at Lakeland Linder International Airport, operating a fleet of new Tecnam P2008 aircraft. United Express operator Trans States Airlines also announced it will join with SEU and IAA to offer a pilot pathway program.

Students in the program may choose to complete their degree online. By working as a flight instructor while completing their degrees, SEU students will log up to five times as many flight hours as peers from other programs, the university said. “Students will have the opportunity to complete their private pilot license and their commercial multi-engine and flight instructor ratings during their first eight months of enrollment, allowing them to work as flight instructors in their first year—building flight hours and earning wages, while accelerating their post-graduate careers,” said Kent Ingle, president of Southeastern University. Students also will have the opportunity to interview with Trans States Airlines, and may transition directly into Trans States’ first-officer training program when they’re ready. SEU says the program will enable students to move from the start of the degree program to a job as a first officer, flying regional jets, in as little as 30 months.

Picture of the Week, November 22, 2018
N12311 about to launch on Poplar Grove's 27. N12311 is from the Ronnie Ripon collection, final restoration and assembly by Steve and Tina Thomas. Shot with a Samsung 7 Edge. Photo by Scott Ross.

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