Archive | May, 2012

Random Aviation Photo

31 May

I’m still feeling nostalgic for Memorial Day, so today’s photo is one I took at last year’s EAA AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wis.  Despite my military upbringing, I never felt the love for military aviation like I do commercial aviation  — until I saw all the warbirds at Oshkosh.  Below is Miss Geraldine, a gorgeous and pristine North American P-51D Mustang. Enjoy!

Best of Aviation Queen: Why We Travel

29 May

Editor’s note: Kids, I’m still recovering from the holiday weekend, so today you get a Best Of.  This post first appeared on the blog on Feb. 16 and was inspired by a great New York Times slide show and presentation on why we travel. Enjoy!

There’s so many bookmarks under my aviation/travel links.  The New York Times has been doing this ongoing slideshow called “Why We Travel.” It features some fantastic photos, along with the stories behind then, from the newspaper’s readers.  Looking at those slideshows got me to thinking about some of the cool places I’ve been, confirming why I travel (besides the fact that it has been a part of my job the past 20 years). So below are 10 sights I’ve seen on my travels.

  1. The vast bareness of Greenland. I was flying a 30-seat Saab 340 turboprop from Linkoping, Sweden (where the plane was built) to Minneapolis to deliver it to then-Northwest Airlink carrier Mesaba Airlines.  You just can’t fly direct on a turboprop, so we made several stops, including one in Greenland. It was cold and so stark and barren, it was almost beautiful in a bizarre sort of way.
  2. The colored roofs of Iceland. On that same trip, we spent the night in Reykjavik. As we were landing, I got to sit in the cockpit, which gave me a stellar view of this island nation’s ubiquitous colored roofs.
  3. New Year’s Eve, Times Square, New York City.  I hate crowds.  But in 2004, my sister the police detective, who lives in California, came out to the East Coast with a friend to celebrate New Year’s Eve at Times Square. We spent the day wandering the Times Square area. Everywhere we went, she chatted with cops, who were out in full force.  So as the celebration drew closer, the area went on lockdown. But we got a prime watching spot because the cops recognized my sister and gave us better and better viewing spots. Sweet!!
  4. The food halls of Singapore. During my second trip to Singapore to cover the biannual air show, me and some of my journalist friends found ourselves frequenting these great eat places.  One of my favorites was outdoors, and if you’re adventurous, just order a Tiger Beer and let your server choose what to eat. I sampled whole fried duck (which included the head and feet), chili crabs, fish ball soup and shark’s fin.
  5. Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France.  I’ve been an on-again, off-again Catholic for quite a while. During one of my on phases, I happened to be in Paris for the Paris Air Show. Some friends said we should go to mass, and off we went. One of the best things is no matter what the language, you know exactly what’s going on.
  6. Honolulu International Airport. I was on my way to Indonesia for the launch of a new turboprop, and we had a 3-hour layover here.  It was pre-9/11, so I actually ventured outside to see the gardens.  The flowers were colorful and beautiful, and I can still smell them to this day.
  7. Embraer aircraft plant, Gavião Peixoto, Brazil.  I was on one of my many visits to this Brazilian manufacturer, which is headquartered in São José dos Campos.  We flew a small jet to this city, located in the Brazilian state of São Paulo, which is home to, among other things, the assembly lines for the Embraer 190 and 195 jets and final assembly for Phenom business jets. I noticed was how incredibly green and lush the region was, home to sugar cane fields and orange groves.
  8. The Corn Palace, Mitchell, S. Dakota. Back in 1992, completely burned out from a very stressful job, I quit and decided to take a road trip across America with my friend Mark, who was moving to Seattle to do his medical residency. Since neither of us was in a rush, we took the scenic route, which included a trip to this facility, which features ever-changing murals made out of corn on the outside walls and colorful onion domes.  The moon landing — in corn. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — in corn. The Iwo Jima flag raising — in corn. You get the picture.
  9. Bandung, Indonesia. This city, about 110 miles southeast of Jakarta, is the third-largest city in the country and was home to aircraft manufacturer Industri Pesawat Terbang Nurtanio (IPTN, now Indonesian Aerospace). I was there for the roll-out of the IPTN N-250, which never took to the skies. But the highlight for me was to see an amazing display of Dutch colonial architecture, defined by the tropical Art Deco style. Amazing buildings I saw included the Institut Teknologi Bandung, the Hotel Savoy Homann and Villa Isola.
  10. Taliesin West, Scottsdale, Arizona.  This was Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home, near the McDowell Mountains. It serves as the home for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, and offers tours and programming year-round. When I lived in Phoenix, I actually bought a membership and took visitors on tours of this estate. I was never bored, because each guide at the facility always managed to tell me something about Wright that others missed.

Speaking of missed, why do you travel?  What are some of the more interesting or off-the-beaten-path places you’ve seen in your travels?

Remember The Reason For Memorial Day

28 May

Below is a picture of my grandparents and my father.  My grandfather, CWO4 Bennie J. Wilson, Jr., served in the Army Air Corps in World War II and retired from the U.S. Air Force.  My grandmother, Claressa Deary Wilson, was a “Rosie The Riveter” in Galveston, Texas, during the war. My father, Col. Bennie J Wilson III, retired from the Air Force after a 30-year career.  I thank them and appreciate their service to their country. Enjoy your holiday!

The ORIGINAL Strange But True Aviation News

25 May

She was left to her own “devices.”  A French woman born in Cameroon caused a US Airways flight from Paris to Charlotte to divert to Bangor, Maine after claiming to be carrying a surgically implanted device, reports Reuters. The woman was questioned by Customs and Border Protection and taken into custody by the FBI.

Maybe Breathalyzers might help. India’s civil aviation minister reports that 14 pilots and 31 crew members were caught reporting for duty under the influence of alcohol between January and March, reports the Times of India. Most of the offenders worked at Jet Airways, it added.

It looks like things flared up in Philly.  A US Airways Express flight from Elmira, N.Y., to Philadelphia experienced a close call when allegedly a flare was shot up around 50 feet of the Dash 8 turboprop, reports USA Today.  The flight landed safely.

A change might be due. Officials at Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport say they are looking at making changes as their security checkpoint after a Piedmont Airlines pilot managed to bring a loaded gun onto a flight, reports the Daily Progress.  The pilot was charge with attempting to carry a weapon or explosive on an aircraft.

FORE!! Staff at Florida’s Hallandale Beach golf course found a big surprise on the greens — an aircraft door, reports the Daily Mail.  The door had fallen off a  Canadair CL60 jet that had just taken off from Opa Locka Executive Airport.

Watch what you say!  A female flight attendant on Brazil’s Trip Airlines had a male passenger tossed off a flight after he was heard making disparaging remarks about the crew’s woman pilot, reports MSNBC.

Hot DOG!  Detroit-based American Coney Island restaurant decided to celebrate its 95th anniversary in a unique way.  It teamed with a local radio station to rent a helicopter to dump almost 1,000 hot dogs and have 25 contestants stuff as many of them on their persons as possible, reports ABC News.  The winner received $1,000 and a year’s supply of hot dogs.

We’ll end the week with a video from our good friends at the New York Aviation website. In this video, a passenger records how the engine cover on a TAM Airbus A320 traveling from Natal to Sao Paulo breaks off and hurls itself into the side of the plane.

Random Aviation Photo

25 May

Back in November 2007, I took a trip to Chicago O’Hare to take an up-close-and-personal tour of the O’Hare Modernization Project, which included the construction of the Runway 9L/27R.  s part of that, I got to go into areas usually not open to the public.  In the shot below, we were over near the old cargo area, which was going to be moved to accommodate the new runway.  Enjoy!

A Cathay Pacific Boeing 747 cargo jet at Chicago O’Hare. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

Early Boarding For Children Dropped By United Airlines

24 May

I am the mother of a six-year-old. I’ve been traveling with my daughter since she was 10 days old.  So when I read in USA Today that United Airlines recently decided to drop pre-boarding for children, my first thought was “good for them.”

I regularly fly on Southwest Airlines, which stopped pre-boarding for children under age 5 back in 2007.  I would set my clock 24 hours in advance to get an A pass for my flight.  But since Southwest started the $10 Early Bird fee, I just buy that, ensuring that I get the time I need to get my daughter settled (she wears a CARES harness).

When pre-boarding was still available on Southwest Airlines, I saw travelers abusing the system regularly, with children much older that 5 boarding, or entire families with older children taking advantage of pre-boarding.

With a little advanced planning, I believe that parents can make the adjustment accordingly. So what do you think? Did United make the right call here, or should they continue allowing pre-boarding for children?

Pssst-Wanna Buy A Regional Jet Cheap?

22 May

American Eagle Embraer ERJ-145s at DFW Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

I covered the regional aviation industry from 1993 to 2001.  During that time, I watched as regional carriers grew up and became almost mirror images of their larger airline partners.

I had a front row seat to the rise of the 50-seat regional jet.  The big players were Canada’s Bombardier, with its CRJ and Brazil’s Embraer ERJ-145.  The major airlines wanted them for several reasons.  One, they were constrained by pilot scope clauses that didn’t allow regional pilots to fly larger jets. Two, they saw the jets as a way bring service to cities that weren’t quite big enough for larger jet or even do some point-to-point hub bypass service.

During the RJ frenzy heyday, regional carriers couldn’t sign contracts fast enough.  Cincinnati-based Comair led the pack, becoming the U.S. launch customer for the CRJ, while Continental Express was the same for the ERJ-145.  Mesa Air Group (my former employer) became the first regional to operate both types in its fleet.

But now, regionals can’t get rid of them fast enough as fuel costs made them more expensive to operate and major airlines began cutting traditional RJ routes.  You can read my May 1 interview in Aviation International News with my former boss, Jonathan Ornstein, on how this affected Mesa.

So where are all those RJs going? An April 30 story in AIN sister publication Business Jet Traveler reports that the current RJ glut “presents a rare opportunity to acquire a relatively new large-cabin jet at near-turboprop prices.”  I wrote a blog post in Aviation Week’s Business Aviation Now on Sept. 11, 2009 on Dubai-based Project Phoenix, a company that turns CRJ-200s into VIP business jets.

According to BJT, by the end of 2011, nearly 400 RJs were grounded in the U.S., many of them less than 10 years old, including BAE 146/Avros; Bombardier CRJ100s, 200s and 900s; Dornier/Fairchild 328Jets; Fokker 100s; and Embraer ERJ-135/145s. And, the publication notes, the Chapter 11 filing of American Airlines could see hundreds more ERJs in the American Eagle fleet be put into storage.

If you’re looking for a pretty nice aircraft that is a little slower but tougher than the average business jet at a bargain basement price, a converted CRJ might be for you.  For a mere $10 million, according to BJT, you can have one with “all the bells and whistles,” with a range of 3000nm carrying eight passengers and bags.  A similarly sized super mid-sized jet, like the Bombardier Challenger 605 (a loose cousin of the CRJ) could cost  more than double.

The bigger question is what will happen to all those smaller regional jets?  Is there enough of a market for them to be a strong alternative to a new business jet? Is there a market for these aircraft in other parts of the world, including China, Africa and South America? Only time will tell.

Travel + Leisure Rates Best & Worst Airports – Did They Get It Right?

21 May

The iconic TWA Terminal 5 at JFK Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

Regular readers of this blog know that I covered the airports/security beat at Aviation Week for almost 4 years.  And my decades of travel have found me parked in the best and the worst airports around the globe.

So I always read these polls with great interest.  The last time I wrote about this was back on Jan. 17, when the Frommer’s travel website picked its 10 worst airport terminals.

So now one of my favorite travel magazines — Travel + Leisure — has done its first-ever look at American’s best and worst airports.  You can check out the sideshow here, but I just have to weigh in with my thoughts on some of their choices.  My overall impression is that you can’t judge some airports as a whole.

For example, a big pet peeve with me is when JFK Airport automatically makes the worse list (#4 according to Travel + Leisure). Regular travelers know the experience can be night  — Delta’s horrific Terminal 3 – the Third WorldPort — or day — JetBlue’s ubercool Terminal 5.  To be fair, Delta is building onto Terminal 4, and says it will provide a better experience for travelers.

I was surprised to see Washington Dulles (one of my personal favorites) on this list.  The airport has opened a new security check-in that is much faster in processing travelers.  And my beloved rolling jetbridges have mostly been replaced by a people mover.  And Boston Logan is another one where travelers can have different experiences (Terminal A great; Terminal B, meh).

I was  surprised to learn that Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport came in first.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s a nice airport, but I  happen to think that Orlando should have rated higher than number four. And as much as I love my hometown airport, San Francisco International, I don’t think it rates number five — unless you’re judging it purely based on the International Terminal and the new-ish Terminal 2.

And I’m happy to see that my current hometown airport — BWI  — is number six on the list, despite Concourses B, C and D looking a little long in the tooth.  But the airport has announced a $100 million program to spruce up the facility.  But I was surprised to see Miami as number 10 on the list.  While the South Terminal is lovely, it is long and sprawled out.  The facility has been undergoing upgrades for years, and some concourses (G) are relics from an earlier age.

Some airports I would have added to the list, including: Portland; John Wayne; Jacksonville; Savannah; San Jose; and Nashville.  So what do you think? What airports — good or bad — should have been on this list?

GUEST POST – Cleared for Takeoff: Second Annual Aviation Inspiration Day Is A Week Away

18 May

Editor’s note:  I had the pleasure of meeting Lynda Meeks, the founder of Cleveland-based Girls With Wings, at this year’s Sun N Fun.  Dave Sniadak, one of my most loyal readers, is also a PR/multimedia specialist based in Minneapolis and is helping Lynda promote an event he describes below.  I am a big fan of what Lynda is doing, so please enjoy!

By Dave Sniadak

We always encourage our kids to let their imaginations soar, but one woman is actually teaching young girls how to turn those imaginations into reality.

Lynda Meeks, the founder of Girls With Wings, is traveling to the Upper Midwest to host her 2nd annual Aviation Inspiration Day on Saturday, May 26th, at Fleming Field in South St. Paul, Minnesota. Together with the Minnesota Wing of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF), Wipaire, Young Eagles, and several other great partners, this event hopes to host hundreds of families, but more importantly, dozens of young girls – grades 1st-8th – who will learn the basics of becoming a pilot.

Meeks travels all over the nation talking with groups of girls about the importance of studying hard, exploring the world, and chasing their dreams. The Aviation Inspiration Day is the biggest event during the year for Girls With Wings, and consists of hands-on presentations, tours of the CAF hangar, interaction with vendors, and free flights above the Twin Cities. You can register for the event here: http://www.girlswithwings.myevent.com/ (and, yes, boys are welcome, too). Attendees are encouraged to preregister; admission is $5/child and gets each student into the event.

Preregistration also reserves a seat on a short flight above Fleming Field, courtesy of the Young Eagles EAA Chapter 1229. Students must be at least 8 years old to fly; space is limited and preregistration is recommended. Flights are also dependent upon weather conditions.

Rain or shine, Attendees will have the chance to get up close and personal with vintage and current airplanes, including “Miss Mitchell”, a beautifully restored B-25 bomber, a Minnesota State Patrol helicopter, a glider, and several other types of aircraft.

Meeks loves to tell her audience: “Girls Don’t Need Fairy Tales, They Need Flight Plans”. Aviation Inspiration Day presents a great message for us all to spread our wings and let our imaginations fly. Hope you can make it to the event!

Here are some highlights from last year’s Aviation Inspiration Day:

The ORIGINAL Strange But True Aviation News

18 May

Who’s next? Condoleeza Rice? You’ve got to give it to the Transportation Security Administration — they play no favorites when it comes to pat-downs.  The latest to get the full treatment were former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, reports MSNBC’s Overhead Bin blog.  The wheelchair-bound 88-year-old Kissinger reportedly got “the full Monty,” while

Dude! There are better ways to try to own the world.  Ram Porat was arrested at Nashville International Airport after allegedly climbing a fence  in the middle of the night and broke into an American Airlines jet, reports NBC Chicago.  Why did he do it? he told police that he “owned the world,” and saw the stunt as an “obstacle to overcome.”

Take a picture at the airport, go directly to jail as a terrorist.  Nancy Genovese’s act of taking a simple picture of a helicopter shell out in plain sight near Gabreski Airport in Suffolk County, N.Y. turned into a nightmare, reports Aero-News Network. She was stopped by a local police officer who questioned why she was taking pictures, accused her of being a terrorist threat. Long horrible story short, she was jailed for several days but was released without charge. She is suing the city for $70 million.

At least it wasn’t 20 cats!  A man tried to check his 19 cats on a Lufthansa flight from Rome to New York City, but was told he could only check four on the flight, reports Aero-News Network. He deserted the remaining 15 cats at the airport and allegedly caused a bomb scare after leaving bags of kitty litter and luggage.
This isn’t my jet? I hate it when that happens!  Actress Kristen Stewart accidentally boarded a jet that actually belonged to her co-star Charlize Theron, reports the New York Post.  The actresses were flying from London to Paris to promote their new movie “Snow White and the Huntsman.” Why didn’t they just share a plane?
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