Sunday, October 31, 2010

Book Review: Jet Age by Sam Howe Verhovek

I recently was given the opportunity to review a new book, Jet Age: The Comet, the 707, and the Race to Shrink the World by Sam Howe Verhovek. It was released on October 14, 2010 and is available for about $15. Grade school book reports aside, I have not ever formally reviewed a book before so I'll do my best and happily accept your criticism.

My bookshelves are full of great aviation books that I have purchased over the past few years and fully intend to read. I never seem to have enough free time and am ashamed to admit that I probably have 30+ books whose pages have never seen the light of day. So I must note that having a timeline to read Jet Age and write a review was a nice motivating factor... I might need to try this more often!

Verhovek has done a marvelous job weaving together the fabric of the players and engineering feats that produced what he refers to as the Jet Age. He successfully takes you on a journey from the tragic crashes of the de Havilland Comet in 1954 to the post-war race towards turbojets in commercial aviation and back to the Comet's triumphant return, operating the first commercial service across the Atlantic. Along that journey are exceptional personal accounts and bits of history that bring a wonderful human element to the story.

I was taken aback by some of the knowledge contained in the book. While my aviation history knowledge is reasonable, it quickly became clear just how well Verhovek can highlight the nuances that allow the reader to envision the full picture. I never realized how much parallel development of the turbojet engine was underway on both sides during World War II, for example. The scientific knowledge was there but the British government simply didn't see the potential and slowed progress through a lack of funding. We all know that the Germans felt differently and the result was the Messerschmitt Me 262.

One particularly interesting passage of the book is in regards to Bill Boeing's avant-garde way of promoting aviation prior to World War I. He once, "flew over downtown Seattle and began dropping hundreds of red cardboard propaganda leaflets shaped like artillery shells ... a few weeks later, he did it again, this time over a packed stadium of fans watching a football game..." Is it compelling to read how he helped convince citizens and the US Government of the importance of aviation in those early days. However, it is even more amazing to consider that such a stunt today would likely end with F-15s off your wingtip and a less-than-desirable run-in with the TSA, FBI, and/or FAA later on the ground!

The sudden post-war race (in some eyes) towards commercializing turbojet airplanes is where the bulk of the book is spent, and for good reason. It truly is fascinating to understand the pressure the British were under with the Comet and see how that completely transformed the feelings about jet aircraft in the United States. Boeing capitalized on this movement away from propeller-driven airliners with a particularly interesting driving force - tax breaks. Government tax rules after WWII essentially gave Boeing a reason to invest heavily in R&D and that led directly to the Dash-80 (707) program.

I loved the in-depth analysis of what really occurred on the drawing boards at de Havilland, Boeing, Douglas, and other manufacturers during this period of aviation history. Their engineers were brilliant, their leaders visionary, and their salesmen smart and adaptive. Nothing better exemplifies the era than Alvin "Tex" Johnson's famous August 7, 1955 barrel roll in a 707 over Lake Washington. The book contains a wonderful exchange Tex had with Eddie Rickenbacker following that vintage barnstorming stunt, a stunt that also helped Boeing sell a lot of airplanes.

Verhovek's branching out throughout the book is what brings such depth to the story. It's not just what happened, but who was behind it and who they were. Bill Allen, an unassuming lawyer from Montana who might now be best described as a visionary, led Boeing out of a post-war funk and transformed them into possibly the most successful aircraft manufacturer in history. From the airlines and their famous leaders like Rickenbacker (Eastern) and Juan Trippe (Pan Am) to the shifting culture, you see how much this era changed the course of not just aviation but our entire worldview.

It's sometimes hard to believe how much progress was made in such a short time. The Wright Brothers first flew at Kitty Hawk in 1903 and by 1958, only 55 years later, you could fly from New York to Paris under nine hours. In Jet Age: The Comet, the 707, and the Race to Shrink the World, Sam Howe Verhovek tells the riveting tale of what transpired to make this possible.

Rating: 5/5 Cubs

Full disclosure - I was contacted by the publisher in early October and asked if I would like a free review copy of the book in exchange for writing a short review. All thoughts and opinions are 100% my own.

If you decide to purchase this book based upon my review, I would appreciate if you do so by clicking on one of the Amazon links in this post. It really helps support the blog. Thanks! -Steve

Friday, October 22, 2010

Crankin' and bankin'

Plane: Cub, 85 hp
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Clear, 61 degrees, wind 250 degrees at 5 knots

This was a short, simple flight - sometimes the kind that's the most fun. I was staring out the window all day at work at yet another October afternoon of wonderful CAVU conditions. That means I have to go flying if a plane's available, of course. The big Cub was open so Gina and I headed to Stewart at about 5:15 and CFI Dave hand-propped the 85 horse Continental to send us on our way.

I love the cool fall air - we were already at 1,500 feet by the end of the runway and I departed to the south. The climb up to about 4,000 feet was rather quick and we enjoyed the view even though most of the colorful leaves have already fallen to the ground. Gina's never done a wingover (I did them with Dave last year) so I asked if she'd like to do a few. Apprehensive until I explained them, she agreed and I did a couple after the requisite clearing turns.

I must note here that what I call wingovers aren't aerobatic maneuvers. Instead, it's a gentle pitch down to build airspeed followed by a pull up to an attitude less than what you'd usually see during power-on stall practice. The engine torque rotates the wing over so that the plane banks and descends without any additional control input. So, in summary, it's a non-aerobatic maneuver that does not require a parachute per FAR 91.307.

Next up was something I've long heard about but haven't ever done on my own - streamer cutting. I climbed back up to over 4,000 feet, cleared the area of traffic, flew over the lake and tossed about a quarter roll of toilet paper out the window. It quickly unfurled and I spotted it as I flew past and made a 180 to head back. I got close on the first pass but the streamer was still about 50 feet to the left of the airplane. After another pass to get in better position I pointed the nose at the streamer and split it into two pieces with the left wing... success!

Again, a note about the legality of such things since I am posting this publicly. FAR 91.15 states that the regulation "does not prohibit the dropping of any object if reasonable precautions are taken to avoid injury or damage to persons or property." We were over a large lake, toilet paper is lightweight and highly biodegradable, and I stopped when we were above 1,500 feet AGL. Based on this, all precautions were taken and the streamer cutting shown in this video was completely safe and legal.

That was a whole bunch of fun and I've got to recommend it as long as you take all precautions, follow all regulations, and fly the airplane safely within its envelope. Sorry for all the legal rambling above but I don't want anything I post here to be misconstrued since I am posting it online. I had Gina take the controls briefly and she flew us into the pattern, then I took back over and brought us around to land. The setting sun was directly in my eyes on final but I still managed a perfect three-point landing, touching down just as I pulled the stick all the way back. Maybe a little luck was involved, but I'm not complaining!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 0.5 hours
Total Time: 180.3 hours

Saturday, October 16, 2010

More fall colors and two $100 omelets

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: 40I-I19-I74-EDJ-40I
Weather: Clear, 58 degrees, wind 220 degrees at 5 knots

Today's flight was a last-minute concoction that turned out great. Originally I had planned to take my boss' boss' kids up for a pseudo Young Eagles flight. Those plans changed Friday afternoon so I asked a bunch of friends if they wanted to fly out to grab breakfast this morning. Somewhat surprisingly, I only got one yes out of about ten different people! Not that I begrudge anyone for being busy since it was such a spur-of-the-moment offer.

Ahmed, a coworker of mine, texted me back around 11pm last night and said he'd love to go up. I thought about the roughly four hours I had the plane reserved and decided Urbana was the perfect choice. It would be his first flight in a small plane so I didn't want to go too far - especially after filling our stomachs. This would allow us to keep a leisurely pace and venture off for some sightseeing on the way home if we were so inclined. Plus, the food's always great at the Airport Cafe!

There are more flying highlights than fall colors in this video from today

Ahmed wasn't familiar with driving down to Waynesville so I had him meet me at Greene County Airport (I19) in Xenia. I loaded up the plane (after clearing a decent amount of frost off the wings and control surfaces - it was cold this morning!) and topped off the tanks, then launched solo from Stewart for the very short hop to pick up my passenger. The pond near the approach end of Runway 25 was covered in fog, which had not yet burned off in the sunlight. It was a very cool sight as I descended on final and touched down smoothly on the asphalt.

I shut down the plane, met Ahmed at his car, and then got him situated in the 172. After explaining the door and seatbelt operation, I climbed into the left seat and started up the engine. There was no traffic in the pattern and the wind was calm so I departed the opposite direction on Runway 7. We lifted off quickly in the cool air and that fog that covered the pond only fifteen minutes earlier had completely disappeared.

Springfield-Beckley Tower was open (not common on a Saturday but I saw it when I checked NOTAMs) so I contacted them for clearance through the top of their Class D airspace. Visibility was unreal; we could see downtown Columbus from over 45 miles away as we approached downtown Springfield. Urbana was reporting calm winds so I elected to land Runway 20 since I was in a better position to enter that pattern.

Following my initial call over the CTAF I heard a voice come over the radio saying, "you wouldn't happen to be from Waynesville, would you?" Turns out one of our local aviation legends, John Lane, was just departing Urbana after breakfast with his wife. He's been a pilot forever, owned the land and first opened what is now Warren County Airport, and is a Designated Pilot Examiner so it's no surprise he recognized our N-number.

By the time I was turning downwind the pattern had come alive. I believe there were four airplanes inbound, including us. Everyone sequenced in perfectly and we were the first to land - a nice, soft touchdown and I used the brakes to hit the first turnoff to keep the traffic flowing.

Urbana's infamous Airport Cafe

This DC-3 was parked on the grass at Grimes Field

Champaign Aviation Museum's B-25 Mitchell

Our breakfast was completely delicious like every meal I've ever enjoyed at the Airport Cafe. I had the Airport Omelet (ham, bacon, sausage, hash browns, onions, peppers, and cheese) and a glass of orange juice. I also picked up a peach crisp pie to take back to Stewart. They always bug me about bringing some pie back with me (it's another thing the Airport Cafe's famous for) so I figured I was more than due to return home with some fresh-baked dessert!

I called Stewart to see if anyone had the 172 immediately after me and there was an open slot, so I had them extend my time by an hour. This let us have a little more time for sightseeing on the way home. I departed via a short field takeoff (Ahmed thought that was quite fun) and headed north to show him the Transportation Research Center's giant auto test track from 3,500 feet.

During this stretch of the flight we passed over some amazing fall foliage. I can't believe how much better the colors are only 50 or so miles away from home. Everywhere you looked between Marysville and Bellefontaine there were vivid reds, yellows, oranges, browns, and greens. I snapped a ton of photos - most of which are posted below.

Since we were less than 10 miles away, I decided to land at Bellefontaine Regional Airport (EDJ) so I would be able to log the trip as cross-country time. For those of you who aren't pilots, cross-country time (at least the time required for your Instrument Rating, which is what I'm concerned with) is defined as any flight during which you land at a point 50 miles or more from your point of departure. Urbana's only 41 miles away from Stewart so I can't log that as cross-country on its own. Bellefontaine, however, is 54 miles away so my touch-and-go there allowed me to log all of today's 2.1 hours as cross-country. This flight actually put me at the magic mark - I now have exactly 50.0 hours cross-country PIC, which fulfills a major requirement for the Instrument Rating!

After the touch-and-go, I climbed up to 4,500 feet for a straight shot back to Waynesville. I contacted Dayton Approach for flight following and we enjoyed the view and a mostly smooth flight. With the sun heating the ground and increasing winds, there were a few bumps as compared to the smooth-as-glass flight to Urbana. As we approached Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (FFO) we had a C-5 that was practicing ILS approaches at Dayton International Airport (DAY) pass about five miles off our right wing.

The C-5 that flew past us on our way home

Nearing the Dayton area, I pointed out some familiar landmarks to Ahmed. He loved flying right over top of WPAFB and seeing The Greene from above. I told Dayton Approach that we had Stewart in sight about 10 miles out and they cut us loose. Ahmed was still having a blast so I asked if he wanted to see what a steep turn was like. Other than enjoying watching him grab the handle when I began my clearing turn (should've warned him about doing those first - haha) he quickly realized they're a pretty tame maneuver.

I had also been explaining adverse yaw and coordinated flight earlier, so I did my best to illustrate how the nose swings out if you don't properly use rudder in turns. It was a little hard because the air was bumpy but he saw what I was talking about. Then I used a forward slip to lose altitude and get down to 1,800 feet to enter the pattern.

My landing back on Stewart's grass was probably the smoothest, best landing I've ever made in the 172. Ahmed didn't even realize we had touched down! He said he had an absolutely great time and I'm happy to have had yet another opportunity to introduce someone to general aviation.

Taxiing off the runway and back to the tiedown I heard a familiar voice over the radio again asking, "how was everything at Urbana?" Sure enough, John (who had said hello over the radio a couple hours earlier) had landed at Stewart on his way home and was preparing to fly back home. I sure hope I have half that man's stamina and still can fly if I ever make it to his octogenarian age!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 2.1 hours
Total Time: 179.8 hours

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fall foliage from the Cub

Plane: Cub, 85 hp
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: High overcast, 74 degrees, wind 010 degrees at 5 knots

We were out of town last weekend for yet another wedding (that makes six or seven in the past year for us!) so I was stuck on the ground during some of the best October weather you'll ever see in Ohio. Even though some high clouds had moved in I wanted to get up ASAP to see the fall colors, as the leaves have already started to fall. This afternoon worked out for both Gina and me so I reserved the big Cub and we headed down to Stewart after work.

Takeoff was smooth and I headed south, roughly following the Little Miami River at about 1,000 feet AGL. Gina had the camera and took a bunch of photos (posted below) of the colorful foliage as we lazily flew over top with the Cub's door hanging wide open. I took us past I-71 to about 12 miles south of the airport before turning around and following the valley back home.

I entered the pattern at the Caesar Creek Gliderport (2OH9) and brought us in for a low pass over top of their grass runway, flying about 50-100 feet off the turf. Fun and a great way to get a close-up look at the trees before pulling back and zooming back into the sky after we were about 2/3 of the way down the runway. Shortly after climbing back up to 1,800 feet, I made a midfield crosswind entry into the pattern at Stewart.

Little Miami River Valley and Caesar's Creek Lake in the distance

Gard Road, about a mile south of the Caesar Creek Soaring Club

Jeremiah Morrow Bridge - construction just began to replace it with two new spans

State Route 350 near Fort Ancient State Memorial

Murphy Pond and Middleboro Road

Flying along the valley near Morrow

Small valley along the Little Miami River, just south of Oregonia

Crossing Elbon Road and leaving the Caesar Creek Gliderport behind

Looking across US-42 after takeoff at Holly Hills Golf Club

Another shot of the golf course across the street from Stewart

I first tried to make a power-off 180 approach but touched down quite firmly about 200 feet past my aiming point. The second landing (also a power-off 180 attempt) wasn't much better - I ran out of airspeed about a foot too soon and slammed down on to the turf. I opted for a regular landing on the third try but things got hairy and I was a little sideways as the wheels touched so I poured on the throttle and went around.

Just to have a little fun, I made a low pass over the runway before a climbing turn back to the downwind leg to set up the final landing. I was on the ball this time and my approach was much more stable. I landed long intentionally and the wheels all touched for a nice three-point, full-stall landing just as I brought the stick all the way back into my stomach. With the leaves quickly dropping, I'm hoping to go up again on Saturday for one more look at all the great fall colors!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 0.8 hours
Total Time: 177.7 hours

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Cool air and another new passenger

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: High clouds, 61 degrees, wind 330 degrees at 6 knots

A vendor that I work with is down in Dayton at our office for a few days. He's a nice guy that I exchange aviation-related emails and phone calls with from time to time so I had a feeling he might want to go flying. After we finished up at the office a little past five, I asked the question and he said he'd love to go up. One quick phone call to Stewart reserved the 150 for an hour and we were on our way to Waynesville.

A slightly modified sightseeing route is what we flew this evening

The plane checked out clean in the preflight so we climbed in and I started the engine. Climbout was slightly anemic given the colder temperatures but all the gauges were in the right place and I headed straight out towards the lake. We then flew north by my office so I could show it to Jim from the air and also passed over The Greene enroute.

I flew us over top of Wright Brothers on the way back and then attempted to find the neat corn maze I've flown over at least two distinct times. No luck was had and in reviewing the GPS track back home I realized that it's located about 3 miles further East than I thought. So with the sun beginning to set behind us, I showed Jim what a forward slip was like to quickly drop 1,000 feet and enter the pattern at Stewart.

Electing to make a simulated engine-out approach, I pulled the throttle to idle abeam the numbers and gently turned back to the runway while gradually adding in flaps until they were at the full 40 degrees. I intended to land long but when we were near the halfway point of the runway and still 50-100 feet in the air I knew things weren't going to work. In with full power, lots of forward pressure on the yoke, and a gradual retraction of the flaps to 20 degrees and then all the way up when in an established climb. There's nothing wrong with a go-around! I then made a standard approach and landed long so that we essentially finished our rollout just as we reached the tiedowns.

It was a beautiful sunset - even with the bug splat!

Jim had a great time and I'm really glad I had a chance to take yet another new (to me) passenger up. The fall air has definitely arrived and it looks like we'll have some great fall colors here in a couple more weeks. That is unless the serious drought of the past few months causes the leaves to simply fall off. Either way, my favorite month of the year to fly is finally here!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 0.8 hours
Total Time: 176.9 hours