OpenAirplane with Rod Rakic – Audio Episode Show Notes

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These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen to the show audio by clicking here: Better yet, subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your other favorite podcatcher. It’s all free!

Earlier this year, I sat down with Rod Rakic, one of two co-founders of OpenAirplane, a service that allows pilots to complete a single Universal Pilot Checkout and then fly aircraft in which they’ve qualified at FBOs all around the country without the need for a local checkout.  This episode contains that inverview.

I also did an OpenAirplane checkout at Crosswinds Aviation at Livingston County Airport (KOZW) in Howell, Michigan before having the conversation with Rod.  I recorded audio on the flight, but couldn’t locate that audio to incorporate it into the episode.  Thus, I wrote up a summary and included it in the episode.  That summary appears below.


Okay, I looked for the in-flight audio for months. It’s going to turn up at some point, but there’s no use holding up this episode any further in the hopes that I’ll find it. So I’m just going to give you an account of what happened. Besides, doing this will cause the file with the in-flight audio to magically appear in a directory somewhere and I’m curious about where it is.

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I showed up at Crosswinds Aviation at Livingston County Airport (KOZW) early on a Sunday morning this March. I had already read the local briefing from the OpenAirplane website. Despite the fact that I’ve been to this airport a couple dozen times and had even flown by commercial checkride there, the local briefing told me a few things that I didn’t know, including Crosswinds’ specific information about fueling and obtaining oil.

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Shortly after I arrived, I met Scott McDonald, who would be my check pilot for the ride. Scott is a CFI and CFII who’s been flying professionally for five years and instructing for about half of that. He started out flying in Alma, Michigan and did his CFI training at Lansing Community College.

We began the checkout as all OpenAirplane checkouts begin – By reviewing pilot documents. Airman certificate, medical, logbook, and the other usual stuff. Then we covered the kind of ground review that you’d expect when checking out to fly at an FBO or getting a flight review. Here’s some of the audio of that phase.


I had already begun the early part of my studying for my own CFI checkride, so I had no problem with any of the aircraft systems, regs, or other information that Scott covered. Lest you be intimidated, he didn’t ask me anything that a pilot of a single-engine airplane shouldn’t already know as a matter of course.

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After that, we headed out to the hangar to meet our steed for the flight. N2322Y is a 2005 Cessna 172S with a G1000 glass cockpit. The preflight inspection checked out fine after I added a quart of oil. Fuel was about half full – plenty for the time that we were going to spend aloft.

I have maybe 70 hours behind the G1000 in C-182s and one jet and maybe 200 hours in C-172s, but no time in a C-172 with a G1000 panel. At the end of the day, neither Newton nor Bernoulli care about the panel, other than maybe the fact that the aircraft is a little heavier in the nose with all of the avionics. I briefed with Scott that this was my first time in a glass C-172 and we tried to figure out what could be different. We couldn’t come up with anything, but Scott allowed as how he wouldn’t climb into the back for a nap and I allowed as how I’d tell him if I had any difficulty.

We started up, taxied out, and took off about 15 minutes later. I used all of the available checklists and called out everything I was doing verbally so that Scott always knew what was on my mind.

It had been severe clear a few hours earlier, but cumulus clouds had started to build. A cool atmosphere with uneven heating of the surface by the sun resulted in what would turn out to be a great day for early-season soaring by glider pilots. It quickly became apparent that we were going to have to get on top of the scattered layer to get the airwork done, so I picked a hole and back-to-back chandelles got us above the layer and into some smoother air. Once established, I did clearing turns and demonstrated steep turns, slow flight, and stalls.

Satisfied with my VFR airwork, Scott had me put on the hood and we began the IFR part of the checkout. You can check out VFR-only if you want to. But I wanted the IFR privileges and also needed to get up and knock some of the rust off of my IFR skills. Scott put me through a couple of unusual-attitude recoveries, then called up Flint Approach to go in for some approaches.

We picked up a clearance and Flint gave us a descent for vectoring. That put us in and out of the clouds for the majority of the rest of the ride.

We shot an ILS and a VOR approach at Flint all the way to landing, using normal technique on the first one and short-field technique on the second one, and then accepted vectors back to Livingston for the RNAV 31. I hand-flew all of the approaches and the en-route parts. It was pretty bumpy in places, but my IFR scan came back very quickly and I think that I gave a pretty good account of myself.

Five miles out of Livingston County, we were in VMC, so we cancelled our IFR clearance and continued VFR. Scott had me stay under the hood to pattern altitude, then had me enter a left downwind for Runway 13, which the wind was favoring. Downwind abeam, he pulled the power. I pulled for 65 KIAS out of reflex, then called out the engine-out and restart procedures as I rounded the corner to land dead-stick.

The landing was uneventful unless you count some floating in the gusts once we got into ground effect.

We put the airplane away and headed back inside to debrief.

[Debrief audio.]

I was pretty pleased with the flight. A fair amount of rust on my skills and several imprecise things happened but nothing dangerous happened or even came close to happening. And now I’m checked out to go fly this or any other similar C-172 in the OpenAirplane fleet. A fleet that now includes 255 aircraft located at 73 operators on 71 airports in 32 states.

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OpenAirplane allows both pilots and operators to leave feedback about their experiences. It’s a process that keeps everyone honest. My feedback covered my flight ands some of the things I learned about Crosswinds Aviation and it was as follows.

“Solid operation that understands the OpenAirplane program and wants to make it work well. I did my UPC with these guys and found both management and instructor to be quality-focused and safety-conscious. If you have a chance, pay attention while you’re there to their other operations. With a program that reaches out to high school kids and enthusiastic attitudes about making pedestrians into pilots, Crosswinds is the kind of operation that’s going to help start the pilot population growing again.”


Check out this episode’s selection, Lock In by John Scalzi!

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How Adam Rogers and WIRED Utterly Fail to Understand Commercial Space Ops

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Late last week,  I saw a post on WIRED’s website by Adam Rogers called Space Tourism Isn’t Worth Dying For.  In 12 insipid paragraphs, Mr. Rogers delivered a tortured hash that boils down to: “Don’t hate me bro. I loved Apollo and the shuttle program, but now it’s all about dilettantes with money going up for thrills.”

Shortly thereafter, I suggested on Facebook that, if somebody would mock up a WIRED cover or logo, I’d write a parody to the effect of WIRED Responds to the Apollo 1 Fire. Two talented friends mocked up covers and posted them in comments. Bryan Rivera of Windtee Aviation Art was first to post and his cover leads this post.  Thomas Freundl also posted an excellent cover that’s featured below.

But, much as I tried to make good on my promise, I had reservations about the Apollo 1 parody.  It’s not that I couldn’t do it.  I know my NASA history as well as any aerospace geek and could come up with an almost exactly parallel parody article.  But I realized that to do so would be to talk past Rogers when what’s needed is a direct response. So here it is.

Rogers claims to be a fan of space exploration.  He says that he likes spaceships. He’s been to the Cape and to Mojave.  And this and other hedging qualifies him to “call bullshit” if anyone speaks of the SpaceShipOne accident in terms of giant leaps and boldly going where no one has gone before.

I write to call bullshit on Rogers.

Rogers says, “Do human beings have a drive to push past horizons, over mountains, into the unknown? Manifestly. But we always balance that drive and desire with its potential outcomes.  We go when there’s something there.”  In this insipid word salad, Rogers proves that he has no idea what drives those who dream about space travel.

There’s something there, alright: It’s the there, stupid.

Even if it’s a suborbital trajectory, it’s space.  It’s the chance to see the curvature of the planet that has been the origin of every human song, play, book, thought, hope, and dream. It’s the chance to be up there and experience the Overview Effect attested to by Ed Mitchell, Chris Hadfield, and Mike Massimino, among others.  In fact, I’d be willing to chip in to fund a sub-orbital (or better) flight for every incoming leader of a nuclear-capable county if we could make it mandatory before taking the oath of office.

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Not every Virgin Galactic slot-holder is an explorer. To be sure, some almost certainly have more money than brains and are just in line for the thrill.  But I’d venture to guess that the vast majority of slot-holders are those genuinely moved by the prospect of being in space, even for a few moments.

Additionally, a functioning regular sub-orbital service is a valuable step in preserving and building space capability.  NASA, for all practical purposes, finished up its manned suborbital program with only two such flights in 1961.  After that, it was all about orbit and beyond though the remaining four Mercury flights and all of Gemini, and Apollo. You have to be good at different things to regularly fly people in sub-orbital profiles. Virgin and others are filling in some of the blanks that have been there for 50 years.  And they’re building physical and intellectual infrastructure that will further commercial spaceflight beyond sub-orbital levels in the near future.

Rogers simply doesn’t understand that aviation and aerospace technology is rarely single-purpose or merely horizontally integrated.  We’ll learn things doing sub-orbital flights that apply to every aspect of space flight. In fact, some elements of commercial sub-orbital flights are more likely than other kinds spaceflight to help develop some elements of vital aerospace technology and practice.  Look at the higher operational tempo. Look at the requirements for efficiency and reusability in launch and recovery. Look at the crew training, preparation, and performance elements. These and other operational considerations will force innovation that we wouldn’t otherwise see.  For Pete’s sake, the very existence of White Knight/SpaceShipOne and White Knight Two/SpaceShipTwo in the first place is demonstration enough.

Is Rogers’ problem with the private-sector nature of Virgin Galactic’s operations? Look, it’s pretty obvious that there’s little present public support for government-backed manned space exploration, at least in the US.  Commercial spaceflight is our best bet for preserving our space exploration chops and moving them forward.  It’s also a place where the know-how of space veterans is preserved and where it’s passed on to the next generation. Like it or not, this an essential funding model for the next step in space exploration.

Is Rogers’ problem the lucre that it takes to get humans into space?  Surely it’s not the money itself.  The Apollo program cost $100 billion over 10 years and of the Space Transportation System (the “space shuttle”) cost $200 billion over 40 years and that’s apparently okay with Rogers. Must money be spent by a government in order to make it noble or worth risking life over?  How is it less noble when the money comes from those who have it and are moved to invest it? Might private money be even more noble?

Private space operations are the way of the world for the next Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo.  It’s not what I expected growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, but it’s what we have and, in many ways, it’s even more exciting. I’d be just as happy to go into space with Delos D. Harriman or Richard Branson as with Neil Armstrong or Dave Scott. To be sure, it is no less noble and perhaps it is even more so.  The motivation remains as pure as it ever has been at any other time or place. We have not stopped dreaming. We’re going back to space. Sub-orbital now.  Low-Earth orbit next.  Then outward.  Ever outward.

But Rogers goes even further. He says right up front that test pilots take risks and die “in the service of millionaire boondoggle thrill rides.” He most likely says this because he has zero idea about what motivates these people.

There’s a very special breed of men and women who live for aviation and aerospace and sharing that love with others. While test pilots are such men and women, I don’t know any test pilots.  But I do know airshow performers, and they’re cut from the same cloth.  These people don’t do it for the fame.  The average American can’t name a single Thunderbird or Blue Angel, much less come up with the names of Greg Koontz, Mike Goulian, Patty Wagstaff, or Rob Holland.  Airshow performers generally don’t do it for the money. It is said that one can make a small fortune in the airshow business – if one starts with a large fortune. These are words that are more true than any airshow performer likes to admit.

They do it because they love to fly.  They love to operate in the less-occupied reaches of the envelope with engineering, skill, and determination.  They love to fly at airshows and they know that some of the kids who see them fly will walk off the field each weekend with new purpose to their lives.

I don’t speak idly here. I’ve done it myself. Not often or particularly thrillingly, but I’ve stuck my head into that rarefied box air in front of 20,000 people on several occasions.  I’ll breathe that air again any time they let me and I’ll spend the hundreds of hours in training and preparation to be worthy of that trust and honor.

Almost every year, one or more of those people die in the pursuit of that love. It’s never easy when that happens. We all know exactly what risks are involved. We prepare as best we can for the risks and then we execute with clear purpose and a safety culture that is second to none. Have you ever tried to live up to a standard like that?  Perfection is expected, but mere excellence is tolerated. We feel awful when one of our fellows dies or is injured. But we understand the drive and we all believe that what we do is worth the risks that we assume with open eyes.

Pilots – or at least the pilots that I know and model – don’t operate in the service of millionaire boondoggle anything. They serve the highest aspirations of our species.

Rogers is wrong on every count.  He doesn’t understand why we dream about space.  He thinks that government is the only proper mechanism to fund space travel. He doesn’t understand how technology is preserved and enhanced. And he sure as heck doesn’t understand pilots.

So, finally, I speak for thousands, if not millions, of my fellow dreamers when I say this: I’ll gladly train up, suit up, and strap into the very next available space vehicle. And, if it helps, I’m a commercial pilot with about 600 hours in my logbook; a little bit of it in jets and a lot of it in gliders. My resume and logbook are available to anyone at Scaled Composites, Virgin Galactic, Orbital Sciences, or any others who are interested. For that matter, SpaceX already has my resume.

In any case, so say all of us: Bullshit, Mr. Rogers.