2009 Season Planning: Re-Tooling for Better Video

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I’m tooling up for the upcoming season. I wanted to do more video elements for the show, but lacked the hardware to do so effectively. So I decided to, among other things, update my camera rig.

I had been using a bullet cam plugged into a 1990s-era Sony handycam (because the Sony had an analog input appropriate to the bullet cam and not necessarily because the Sony was the best means of capturing the action).

I have initial approval from at least one military source to go fly a pretty high-performance airplane this summer, and it’s the kind of airplane whose crew chief is unlikely to let me run a lot of wires around the cockpit. It has ejection seats, you see . . .

So, with some help from Will Hawkins, I settled on a new rig. The base camera is the Panasonic HDC-SD9. It’s a 12-oz. unit that records high-definition AVCHD video at native 1080i resolution to SD/SDHC™ memory cards with a maximum video resolution 1920 x 1080.

Although I’ve had good luck with tape media thus far in the Citabria (pulling maybe three gees max in usual maneuvering), I do have occasional problems that I suspect are due to the effects of acceleration on the tape transport. Hard drive cameras can also be affected by gees inasmuch as the read-write head isn’t designed to put up with those stresses, either. So I got the Panasonic that has very few moving parts in general and no moving parts in the storage mechanism.

I clamp it into the airplane using a clamp mount that I bought last year from an auto racing supplier. It’s very configurable and can hold the camera still in any number of orientations. It’s configured in this picture to clamp to a horizontal part of the dash, but it works just fine clamped in lots of other orientations.

The lens is a Raynox Pro semi-fish-eye conversion lens. At 0.3x, it broadens the field of view by 180%. This is important. When I first mounted the bullet cam in the front of the airplane, I got video of my face and some moving shadows, but little else. The field of view wasn’t wide enough to capture the cockpit environment to show what was going on. I solved that to some extent by mounting the bullet cam in the back of the plane looking forward, but I still couldn’t get any shots of my face. The camera was just too close.

The conversion lens blows the image back a lot and will allow me to shoot from up front, which will be cool. I’ll probably experiment a bunch with placements around the airplane in the next few weeks.

More re-tooling discussion soon! I’m planning to convert my music studio rig to a Mac platform with Digidesign 003 Rack + Factory and Pro Tools LE 8 and I’m sure that I’ll have a lot to say about that as it happens.

Aerobatics and the Super Decathlon with Greg Koontz

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These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen online right here by clicking: http://media.libsyn.com/media/airspeed/AirspeedKoontz.mp3.

Greg Koontz is a 22,000-hour pilot with 7,000 hours of instruction given. He performs aerobatics across the country every summer both individually and as a part of The Alabama Boys.

He’s a NAFI Master Certified Aerobatic Flight Instructor and Aerobatic Competency Evaluator (A.C.E.), and is also the proprietor of Sky Country Lodge in Ashville, Alabama.

Greg has been performing in airshows since 1974, when he joined Col. Moser’s Flying Circus and learned his trademark maneuvers from the best in the business. Greg has two outstanding acts that he brings to the show: A breathtaking aerobatic demonstration in the Super Decathlon, and a side-splitting comedy routine where Greg as Alabama redneck Clem Cleaver “steals” a Piper Cub and lands on the World’s Smallest Airport; a moving pickup truck.

I saw Greg twice last year (Battle Creek and Oshkosh) and was really impressed with his flying. No problem with the F-16s, F/A-18s or anyone else, but Greg flies an aircraft that I can actually go rent at Sutton Aviation and learn to fly – the American Campion Super Decathlon. I get to see the envelope of a plane that I can actually go explore when I get home.
Like I said – no flies on the F-15, but it’s hard to find one for rent.

Greg and I took 40 minutes or so to talk about aerobatics, the Super-D, airshows, training, and why we fly. Couldn’t ask to talk to a nicer, more regular guy. Truly an honor to know that guys like this can do things like that with airplanes that I can fly.

Contact Information for Greg:

Greg Koontz Airshows
and Sky Country Lodge
2546 Slasham Road
Ashville, AL 35953
Phone: 205-616-8176
E-mail: greg@gkairshows.com
Website: http://www.gkairshows.com/

CAPFLIGHT 2028 to Ride Again

This is a regular blog post. If you’re looking for show notes or links to show audio, please check out the other posts.

Okay, I’m back in the groove. Or at least I have plans to return to the groove (important if you’re trying to plan ahead and you live in Michigan in January). I have three planned flights so far.

This week, it’s instrument currency and initial commercial maneuvers at Flight 101. Flying with an instructor I’ve met once, but with whom I’ve never flown. I think that, once you have your flight skills reasonably down, it’s a good idea to fly with different instructors. You learn more that way. Sure, there are crazies out there and sure, you’re going to discard some of the advice that you receive, but you also pick up stuff that you wouldn’t otherwise get.

Next week, it’s up with Barry again in the Citabria. Banking and cranking and starting to build my aerobatic duration for the upcoming season. I want to be able to do an hour straight with tummy in good shape by late May. I got to that point in July, but then work got busy and I had to let the duration slide. I got up in November, but I was done after 20 minutes. Like so many things, you must use it or you’ll lose it.

And then the stuff I’m most excited about. Capt Norm Malek (the ops officer for my CAP squadron and fiercely competent instrument driver) and I are going to go grab 2CP (CAPFLIGHT 2028) in Ann Arbor (KARB) and go get some cross-country time and some instrument approaches and do some hangar flying. I’m thinking KARB-KBTL-KAZO-KARB. But the beauty of it is that we don’t have to go anywhere in particular. Just turning 100LL into noise and challenging each other to improve our skills. If you’re a pilot, why on earth (or off) would you not join CAP?

Really excited to be back in the air! Sorry about all of the griping and whining about work over the last few posts, but I’ll try to make up for it with the exuberance that you know I can develop once I get airborne. Yeah!

Chicago Sortie and More Taildragger Training

This is a regular blog post. If you’re looking for show notes or links to show audio, please check out the other entries.

I attended my law firm’s partner meeting in Chicago this past weekend. On Sunday, I connected with Rod Rakic and James (jetstew on myTransponder) to have breakfast and hang out. We his Orange on Harrison for breakfast and then took a cab to the Museum of Science and Industry. Really cool to go to that museum with a couple of pilots and walk around talking aviation and aerospace. Wyen I go to a museum these days, it’s usually with the kids and I’m pointing stuff out and playing tour guide to make sure that the kids get the important stuff.

And, yeah, I admit that I’m often tempted to bring along Post-It Notes and stick little corrections on some of the exhibits, but that’s how I roll.

But I was the junior pilot here in many respects. James is an ATP (ATR 42/72- SIC and EMB 135/140/145 SIC) and Rod has about twice the hours that I have. Really nice to just shut up and listen more than I usually do.

Monday, I snuck out at the end of the day and got 1.8 hours in the Citabria. Started out with wingovers, loops, and rolls. Clearly, my aerobatic tolerance has gone away since the summer. I was done after about 25 minutes and feeling about 60/40 that I might hurl. Not beating myself up. It’s just that I have another data point about what kind of duration my aerobatic tolerance has. I’d really like to go up twice a week for a month and see where the tolerance goes. I’m pretty sure that I could get back over an hour again and actually put together series of maneuvers and fly a routine. (How cool would that be!)

But that’ll have to wait until after the first of the year. The usual end-of-year push at the office is in full swing and I need to bust out some work.

We went to Lapeer (D95) and did six or seven takeoffs and landings. Stiff 14-knot crosswind, but I managed to really nail the last few landings. I think I might have had a breakthrough in tailwheel technique. I’ve been stirring the coffee way too much. If I just get the airplane reasonably aligned by the time I’m 200 yards from the threshold and hold the stick pretty still laterally and control the touchdown with pull, I seem to get it nailed down. Proper position of stick on rollout is tucked right there next to the windward gonad.

It’s really kind of like my experience finally getting the landing as a primary student. One day, I couldn’t seem to get it and the next I was greasing them in. Yes, there are some empirical things I can point to, like stick position and relative amount of coffee-stirring, but it’s mostly kinesthetic. You experience success a few times and get a sense of it. I wish it were more empirical, but it isn’t. At least not for me.

I need to do an entry on cold-weather flying. If you can get the ceilings and the visibility, it’s really wonderful. The airplane climbs well and aerobatics seem even more fun.

Sutton Aviation has a new Super Decathlon on the ramp. Which might not be such a big deal except that you can actually rent it! I don’t know of anywhere else in southeast Michigan where you can rent a Super-D. Yeah, you have to get checked out in it, but that’s true of any rental. Yeah, the Super-D is a lot of airplane and it might take some more effort to get the checkout, but it’s a Super-D, after all.

If you’re interested, contact Barry Sutton at Sutton Aviation:

Sutton Aviation, Inc.
Oakland County International Airport
6230 North Service Drive
Waterford, Michigan 48327

1.4 Aerobatics and Tailwheel and Taxiing the Kids

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These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen online right here by clicking: http://media.libsyn.com/media/airspeed/AirspeedCitabria1.mp3.

(Lead photo by Nicholas (“Cole”) Tupper.)

Got up in the Citabria yesterday for a training flight. 1.4 hours of mostly aerobatics and landings. The plan was to go out, review the maneuvers that I’ve been working on up until now, and then do some spins, sort of as a killproofing exercise.

The aerobatics worked out well. Wingovers, loops, rolls, and hammerheads. Last time, I was at the point where the loop was mine. I flew them more or less without coaching (at least after a little review and coaching on the first one or two). This time, I added the hammerhead to that category. I’m getting good vertical uplines and downlines and handling them with good energy management (e.g. I get a good amount of time in some of the more dramatic accelerative phases while still recovering in plenty of time to keep the airspeed well within the design tolerances of the aircraft). I’m really pretty proud of that.

Same with the rolls. A roll in the Citabria involves picking up energy with a dive to about 120 MPH IAS, leveling out briefly, and then burying the ailerons left. You roll 360 degrees, pulling power smoothly throughout, and then you end up wings-level on a 45-degree downline (which you maintain for awhile), and then you recover. You lose a lot of altitude (500 feet or so) pretty quickly, which was news to me when we started, but it’s actually a very elegant move. You get and then give energy in an elegant, disciplined, precise, and measured way.

Inversion tends to bother me, even when I’m on the controls, and, by the time we got to the spin part, I was pretty green.

Barry gave me a pretty good lecture and demonstration of what secondary stalls can look like in likely scenarios. Still technically under control, but oscillating toward departure from controlled flight. We did one sustained falling-leaf stall, broke it, and pulled way-nose-high into a secondary stall, which, in turn, broke more savagely and dropped a wing hard. I’m sure that the third iteration would have been even more violent and that was the point of the exercise.

Barry’s teaching is really well-structured in that he always starts out with the reason that he’s teaching what he’s teaching and, if possible, a demonstration of how the maneuver applies in actual situations.

Just when we were ready in the training sequence for the actual spins, my tummy informed me that it had had enough. Discretion is the better part of valor, even though I had a Sic-Sack in my pocket and ready to go. I’ll get the spins in later this fall.

We headed back to the airport and got in four or five three-point landings. I was really pleased with the landings this time. I think I’m finally getting over one of the bad habits that plagues tricycle-gear pilots transitioning to tailwheel. I’ve been relaxing the back pressure on the stick after touchdown in much the way a tricycle-gear pilot would do to lower the nosewheel. In a tailwheel, you want to get the tailwheel down and keep it down. It both keeps the tail from oscillating and gets the steerable tailwheel down on the ground where it’s effective. Although I ballooned the last flare pretty badly, the landing worked out well and all of the landings had much more of a feel of positive control than I had experienced before. Very nice! I think I’m getting it. I realize that wheel landings will be another matter entirely, but I’ll revel in such success as I’ve had so far.

I took Cole and Ella out to see the Citabria earlier in the day. I don’t think I’ve ever had then in a taildragger before and they really seemed to like the tandem seating. Cole is really beginning to understand how the flight controls work. I can tell because, when he moves the controls, he looks right at the relevant control surface without casting about. You can see in this picture that he’s pulling and looking back at the elevator.

Ella, starting out in the back seat, expressed a little consternation about the stick moving around, apparently unbidden, as Cole worked the controls in front. She happily rotated up front and really seemed to enjoy seeing the different cockpit configuration.

And here’s the coolest part of the day. The Citabria is owned by one of the instructors at Sutton Aviation and he leases it back to the school. He happened to be walking out on the ramp with a student and noticed me taking pictures of the kids in the Citabria. He knows that I’ve been training with Barry and I had ducked in when I arrived to make sure that it was okay to show the kids the aircraft. He also knows that I have a tailwheel endorsement from the DC-3 training, but that I’m conservative enough to come back for more training from Barry in the Citabria in order to really learn the ins and outs of conventional-gear aircraft.

“Hey, why don’t you start it up and taxi the kids around the ramp a bit? I’ll bet they’d love that.” They’d love that? I’d love that!

My wife is wonderful and has been very tolerant of my flight training. Especially considering at least one event involving an instructor during my primary training. Even when I started taking aerobatic training, she didn’t object and she listened objectively when I explained the additional margin of safety that upset recovery and related training adds to regular GA flying. Heck, I had had thought long and hard myself about it before talking about it with her.

She’s not nuts about the idea of me flying the kids just yet. She approved getting up for a helicopter flight at Oshkosh and also said that it’d be okay to take Cole along if a spot had opened up in the back of the Herpa DC-3 (although she asked a lot of questions about Dan Gryder, all of which were easy to answer). But she’s still getting comfortable with the idea of me flying Cole or Ella.

In the meantime, I honor her feelings. I take the kids to the airport regularly and we ramp-fly whatever’s on the line, but they’ve never been in a GA aircraft with the prop turning.

That’s why this was such a cool opportunity. You normally wouldn’t go through the trouble of starting up an airplane and taxiing it around if you weren’t going to fly it. It had not even occurred to me to do it. But now we had a quiet ramp in a sleepy little corner of the airport. Plenty of room to taxi around and a gorgeous little taildragger in which to do it.

He didn’t have to offer twice. “Okay, guys, get in here and let’s taxi the airplane around a little.”

Cole started jumping up and down, saying “this is so cool!”

I got them in the back seat, buckled everybody in, ran through the startup checklist, and hit the starter button. The prop turned through about 20 blades and then the engine fired to life.

I looked over my shoulder and they were both smiling from ear to ear. Any worry that either of them would be scared by the noise or uncomfortable in the airplane melted away. All of that time pressed up against the fence in the front row at airshows over the last three or four years had paid off.

I ran all of the pre-taxi checks and then eased the throttle forward. Inertia gave way and we taxied happily around the ramp. I took it slow, but delighted both them and me by adding a little throttle and inside brake to swing the tailwheel around at each turn. Then we taxied back to the starting point and whirled the tail around in a tight 180 before shutting down.

“That was the coolest two minutes of my life!” shouted Cole. And it was a pretty cool two minutes of mine, too.

I’ll get the kids up sometime. There’s no hurry, really. It’ll happen when it happens. And it’ll happen after continued demonstration of my competence, skill, and judgment as a pilot when Mary’s comfortable with the idea. But, in the meantime, it’s a really good feeling to know that the kids are excited about it and it’ll be a big thing for them when it happens.

This is how it happens, folks. This is the magic of general aviation. The smell of 100LL, the sound of an engine, and the spark of imaginations on fire. Take your kids to the airport! I’ll see you there.