A Rather Elegant Statement of Fact

From Lyn Burks on Just Helicopters, talking about how the market for low-time helicopter pilots has changed post-Silver State:

A record number of helicopter pilots were produced from 2005 to 2008. At the exact same time, the collapse in the economy in 2008 brought the traditional pilot pipelines to a screeching halt. More pilots with less upward mobility = fierce competition.

It’s absolutely true: with the booming economy several years ago, you could get hired as a CFI outside of the school you trained at, you could build 100 hrs a month as an instructor, and you could get hired off to your first job flying a turbine helicopter at 1200 hrs and 2 years from when you started. I personally witnessed it happen, and was optimistic that things were going to be the same for me. Weren’t we all?  These days, I’ve had school owners ask me why they’d hire me when I’d be taking away a job from one of their CFIs, the school I went to has cut back on their instructor staff, and 1200 hr pilots are getting laid off from their CFI positions rather than getting hired away. Sorry, I too want to be irrationally exuberant again.

All in a Half-day's Work

My Labor Day trip out to Atlanta with BoatPix was a last-minute deal. Initially I thought I was headed to New Bern, but they ended up needing me in Atlanta instead. That left me short of time to order and review those sectional charts, so I gave a few iPhone apps a try. In addition to a VFR charting app, one of the (GPS Lite from Mobile Arts) was a GPS tracker that could run in the background. On our last flight of the weekend, I started up GPS Lite after pre-flighting our helicopter during our first fuel stop of the day, and then again after having the phone on a charge on our last fuel stop. Just today I imported the tracks to Google Earth (if you’re into GE, you can download tours from the Clemson [KCEU] and Anderson [KAND] flights from this zip file).

We’d flown the southern end of Lake Hartwell for a full day on Saturday, and thought we’d work the northern end to see what the boat traffic was like there. Prior to landing at KCEU, we’d done a recon of the north end of the lake. Like the southern end, there were a few bridges (with wires) and multiple islands and dead-end coves. There were also lots of small campgrounds along the forested shorelines; given the close quarters, we wouldn’t be staying long in any one place lest we disturb the campers. The one difference was that it was narrower and lacked the wide open areas of the southern end. On the one hand, working a narrow area like that requires more planning so that you can maneuver for the photo shot with plenty of clearance from shoreline obstructions and other boat traffic. On the other hand, the boats pretty much line up for you, and they’re either coming or going. That’s what this track pretty much shows. Not much was happening near the Clemson campus (upper right corner), so we crossed over the bridge and shot a few boats as we worked south away from the campers. From there on we could fly long south-bound passes, weaving around boats headed the same direction, and then turn around and fly back north to catch boats headed the opposite way. It turned out to be productive, and it was much easier than I expected–the only thing that would throw a hitch in our rhythm would be an enthusiastic group that just happened to drop their skier right before we got to them.

That track covers 45 minutes during which we flew about 30 miles (after that my iPhone’s battery was drained). After the track ends, we kept working south for another hour before heading down to KAND for a fuel stop. That’s where the next track picks up, after our last fuel stop. The lower end of Lake Hartwell is much more open. Even in the narrow area south of the bridge, our track is shorter and less aligned. It was late in the day and we eventually had to move to an entirely different area. On the east side, our track wanders southeast out of a popular party cove, where we were able to follow a few boats out. But after shooting those guys, we again had to move. After about 45′, we turned west and climbed above the lake to head back to our base at Gainesville (KGVL).

Great flying that weekend. After I left, the helicopter went in for its 50-hr service and for an alternator squawk (we’d noticed on our pre-flight that afternoon that the belt was loose–turns out the mounting bracket had come loose). It’s since moved to Kentucky, and will soon be getting mothballed for the winter unless a student needs it.

A Test on Your Night Regs Knowledge

I always hated memorization, and never did very well in classes that required a lot of regurgitation. So the regs that require me to memorize the different definitions of night have always been a bother to me. (If anybody has some nifty mnemonic or memory aid for keeping them straight, please let me know or add it here; I tried coming up with a few, which are posted in the Night Definitions lesson plan.) In a recent AOPA Pilot Test Pilot article (which I love because it’s usually challenging, but also hate because it’s often obscure trivia), they offered a scenario that addresses the night regulations. I’ve tweaked it a little, but see if you can come up with the answer without consulting your FAR/AIM.

A private pilot is flying with several passengers in the contiguous US. His last night landings (3 touch and gos) were 30 days ago. Can he continue the flight after the sun goes down without violating the FARs?

If you need a refresher, I just added a short lesson plan that summarizes the differences between the definitions used for “night”, and hopefully will add a complete lesson plan on night operations soon.

Here’s another one that I’m working on to reinforce knowledge of night regulations. I think I’ve thought it through, but what do you think the answer is? Is it a question you’d use to test your students knowledge of these regulations?

Is it possible for a pilot to have made >3 full-stop landings after sunset and have logged night time in the last 90 days, but not be able to legally carry passengers for a nighttime flight?

Flying Fun Over Labor Day

This is just about a great weekend flying last weekend with BoatPix. Last week I got a call that there was an open seat for the Labor Day weekend in Atlanta (Gainesville actually, KGVL). Aside from the usual stress about flying in a new place, I really was able to look forward to this flight–I’ve got about 40 hrs of flight time in the R22 over the summer, so there’s no question that I can still fly. I know the basics of flying the photo contracts and what it’s like flying a full day. Joe, the CFI at KGVL turned out to be a great host, and, like the other BoatPix CFIs I’ve gotten to fly with, was into the work and knew what he was doing.

On top of it, the flying in Georgia was a little different than what we were doing along the California coast. On the inland lakes, the boats are smaller and we’re maneuvering a bit closer. Folks on the boat are able to see us and we can interact a bit more than we could with the larger boats that were operating offshore. It was also a long weekend, with sunny weather and a bunch of good people out having fun. We started off at Lake Hartwell–about 45 minutes east of KGVL–and spent Saturday there. Despite there being a Clemson game, the lake was packed. We spent a full day there before returning to KGVL right around sunset. Sunday we focused on nearby Lake Lanier, then moved over to Alatoona Lake (about 60 minutes west). Not my favorite place–Alatoona was smaller, narrower, had all kinds of obstructions on the lake (raised buoys mostly), and looked a little mucky. Monday we were back at Lake Lanier, working from north to south, and finished up the day back at Lake Lanier.

In total, I logged 24 hours–8 hours each day, starting around 9:00 and ending around 20:30. The last hour Monday was where I reached my mental and physical limit, and I was pretty relieved to be getting back to the airport that evening. Learned quite a lot about flying in hot, humid weather (a new one for me), dealing with the low level obstructions that you’d expect (the aforementioned buoys, birds, trees), cross-country flying in the South, and maneuvering with sometimes breezy conditions.

What was the best was the people, and I’m not kidding here. Almost everybody we photographed was pretty enthusiastic–not in the least because Joe was practically hanging out the helicopter waving at them. Got lots of people posing, waving, or dancing around. The jet skiers and fast boats were more than happy to show off for us, and we got some great shots of these guys sprouting massive rooster tails or flying over wakes.

Looks like I’m staying at home this weekend, but I’m looking forward to getting a few more weekends in before the cool weather sets in.