Sunday, January 08, 2012

Airspeed Rolls Out New Website! This Site Now Archive-Only.

After a successful run of six years on the Blogger platform, we've outgrown it. Please head over to to see the new blog and catch up on all of the news and content from Airspeed and its related projects!

We've migrated all of the content from this Blogger site (more than 400 posts, including the show notes from more than 200 episodes) over the new site, so you won't miss a thing.

This site will remain online so that the huge number of links that have accumulated over the years will stay active. But we'll no longer be updating this site. We're sorry for any inconvenience, but we're sure that the additional functionality and capability of the new site will be more than worth the effort to update your bookmark.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Airspeed Upgrading its Website (Pardon Our Dust!)

If you've been redirected here by, it's because there's good news here at Airspeed. We're revamping the Airspeed web experience!

After using this Blogger site for most of the last six years as a place to keep show notes and provide updates about the show, it's time to update things to provide a more complete user experience.

For whatever reason, organizations evaluating Airspeed's reach have looked solely to the Blogger site and have regarded it as Airspeed's sole online presence. I guess it's hard to blame some of them. For many, online media means the web and nothing else. That's how many media reps are trained. Most don't understand RSS-based media like podcasting or understand that the real reach is in the podcast feed numbers and other metrics that aren't captured in a website or blog. But it becomes a problem when the misunderstanding results in underestimation and difficulty in getting the coverage opportunities that benefit both Airspeed and the host organization.

So I'll take responsibility for as much of that as I can. The first step is what you see here. I'm moving the Airspeed website over to a WordPress site with better SEO and more ability to format and present information about - and from - the show in a way that's more accessible to both the audience and those in a position to grant coverage opportunities.

So - what does this mean?

First, THIS BLOGGER BLOG WILL SOON CEASE TO BE UPDATED. I’ll leave it in place so that the hundreds or thousands of links that have piled up over the years will still be live. But I’ll update the masthead to identify the new site at

Second, for the next week or two, it's going to mean a pretty goofy-looking site over at as I learn the ropes of WordPress. But, after that, the site will be a much better resource for Airspeed fans, opportunity grantors, and others.

So please pardon our dust for the next couple of weeks. It's going to be goofy and ugly for a a little while, but it'll be amazing before you know it!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Airshows 101 at ICAS 2011

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!

I’m once again at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas for the annual convention of the International Council of Air Shows (“ICAS”).

It’s the annual event at which the airshow community in North America gets together to talk about the recently completed season, catalog the collective experience, and plan for the next year’s operations. Just about everyone who matters in the airshow industry is here in person or represented in one way or another.

I attend ICAS each year on media credentials. It’s a great opportunity to meet the performers whom I cover and make connections that help me to produce the show. The T-38 episode from January of this year was a direct result of a contact made at ICAS. Additionally, many of the performer cameos that you’re going to see in Acro Camp resulted from conversations over coffee or beer at ICAS.

In addition to meeting old friends and making new ones, ICAS is an opportunity dig into the details of the programs and processes that have made airshows some of the most exciting, yet safest, forms of entertainment available in North America. ICAS programming covers every level of airshow savvy, including a lot of material for those who are new to airshows or are just beginning to become involved in organizing and administering airshows. For those people, ICAS presents a seminar on Sunday of each year of the convention called Aishows 101: Air/Ground Operations Training Seminar.

Last year, I took the next step. Even though I essentially get in free, I paid to attend Airshows 101 as a full-up student. I wanted to understand more about what goes into actually staging an airshow. And, while nobody walks out of Airshows 101 with everything they need to go put on an airshow, if you listen closely and ask a lot of questions, the program leaves you with a canoe-paddle-to-the-face appreciation for the depth and breadth of what goes into the process.

I entertained fantasies last year of being able to put out an episode from ICAS that gave a genuine idea of what the class is like. I gave up around 0200 local the morning after the class.

The approach this time is a little different. I took the audio home last year and edited it to create a few good examples of what the presentation is like. And I attended again this year, but spent more of the time putting together the text for this episode. Thus, the presentation audio that you’ll hear in this episode is from ICAS 2010. But, having attended on Sunday, it’s virtually the same as the presentation that happened today in 2011.

This is not an episode for the casual aviation enthusiast. This is about details, regulations, team requirements, and crowd experience. If you’re looking for lighter fare, I recommend one of the 200 or so back episodes until I get another one out. But, if you’re looking for a genuine scratch into the surface of what it takes to put on an airshow, this episode is a good starting place.

I’m going to cover four basic topics. The request for military support, the general timeline, the Big Kahuna (namely FAA Order 8900.1), and the FAA Form 7711-2 waiver. There’s a whole lot more to it than this, but it’ll give you a small taste of what goes on in the background.

Airshows 101 is presented by four experienced air bosses. Bill Snellgrove, George Cline, Ralph Royce, and Larry Strain. The air boss is in charge of most of the air operations at any given airshow. And most air bosses are also valuable consultants to airshow organizers, assisting with planning, waivers, interaction with other stakeholders, and lots more. The job that they do from the roof of that trailer out in front of the crowd line is just the tip of the air boss iceberg.

Military Support: DD Form 2535

The key to military support is DD Form 2535 (

[Audio: Form 2535.]

In 2010, the Blue Angels went to a two-year system. If you want the Blues, you have to apply before August 1 of the second year prior to when you want them. In other words, as I sit here in 2011, we’re past the deadline for applying for the 2013 season. Even in the case of the Thunderbirds and others, August 1, 2011 was the deadline to apply for the 2012 season.

Timeline Generally

Notwithstanding the military team deadlines, most essential planning starts at least eight months before the show. That’s the time to survey the event environment, look at the regs, and do the basic legwork to be sure that you can have the show at the intended airport.

Assuming that the local planning for the event site is moving along reasonably, the biggest event in the early planning is the ICAS convention. The Thunderbirds, Blue Angels, and Snowbirds announce their schedules for the upcoming year (or, in the case of the Blues, the year after that). That’s a key programming point and it allows show organizers to figure out what kind of show they’re going to have. You select other performers based, to some extent, on whether you have a jet team performing.

One wild card: The Black Diamond Jet Team (formerly known as Heavy Metal) is a fully-sponsored L-39 and MiG team. It’s not the Thunderbirds or the Blues or the Snowbirds. But it’s a genuine jet formation team that flies profiles that are very similar to, if not better than, the military jet teams in many respects. It’s too early to tell after just one season, but it’s going to be interesting to see if Black Diamond can anchor an airshow as well as the military teams. I’ve been lucky to get to know many of the guys from Black Diamond and interviewed two to appear in the first Acro Camp film. I’m pretty excited about the possibility that a purely civilian bootstrap organization can go anchor big shows just as well as the military teams.

In any case organizers spend a lot of time on the exhibit hall floor and in the halls talking to performers and trying to nail down a slate of performers to fill out their show programs. There’s a little of everything. Airplanes and helicopters, to be sure. But also jet trucks, pyro, and other attractions.

And, in any case, many of the vendors are also here. Providers of things like radios, PA equipment, golf carts, ticketing, food, midway attractions, aerial video, insurance, announcing, airboss services, and everything else that it takes to put together an airshow.

Back at the show site (and the show site’s FSDO), the plans keep going for the next few months. Work on things like the operations plan, FAA/TC coordination, waiver applications, emergency plans, locating arresting barriers if you need them, locating other support equipment, and so on.

Things get more immediate when you hit the four-month point. At that time, you submit your FAA Form 7711-2, the request for the airshow waiver. You also request military statics, arrange hotels and rental cars, and get serous about your local police, fire, EMT, and other planning.

At three months out, you finalize your air-ground procedures, get working on your static arrival and parking plan, start holding monthly organization and staff meeting plans, and nail down your static display, security, communications, and vehicle control plans.

At two months out, things get really busy. Organization and staff meetings go to bi-weekly. You’re thinking transportation, ingress, and egress plans for performers and staff. If you’re really smart, you run at least a couple of tabletop exercises with your section chiefs, especially your emergency responders.

From there on in, it gets really frantic and really granular. Failure to plan and have a solid organization by this point is potentially fatal to the event. You’ve heard that “no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy?” This is where the battle plan makes first contact. It isn’t so much about execution of the plan as it is having an organization that’s strong and capable enough to deal with exceptions to the plan and deals with them in a way that preserves safety while still resulting in a superior experience for the crowd.

The Big Kahuna: FAA Order 8900.1

The Big Kahuna in airshow planning is FAA Order 8900.1, and particularly Volume 3, Chapter 6. There’s a copy at if you’re interested. That, together with the FARs, FAA Advisory Circulars, performer support manuals, and ICAS manuals and guidelines, make up your core group of constraints.

The most concrete manifestation of the rules happens when you sit down to do or review your site survey.

The site survey includes the airshow area, locations of where you’ll place spectators, the locations of towers, highways, buildings, hospitals, and the airspace over and near the show site.

[Audio: Site Survey.]

Among the issues is getting an idea of what’s close to the show site.

[Audio: Five-Mile Ring.]

You’ve probably noticed that different performers do different things at different distances from the crowd. This is by design.

There are five lines in most airshow layouts. Category I, II, and III are for aerobatic maneuvering. The other two are for non-aerobatic maneuvering. And, by the way, for the purposes of airshows, “aerobatic” means pitch in excess of 60 degrees up or down or bank of 75 degrees.

The Category I line is for aircraft capable of operating at more than 245 knots at max gross and certain power settings. That’s your jet teams and similar performers. The Cat I line must be 1,500 feet away from the crowd. You can drop part of that line to 1,200 feet under certain circumstances.

The Cat II line is for aircraft that do more than 156 knots but less than 245 knots and for helicopters (here meaning essentially Chuck Aaron).

The Cat III line is for aircraft that do 156 knots or less or any single-engine aircraft with a normally-aspirated or fuel-injected reciprocating engine with a max gross of 2,250 lbs. or less.

For non-aerobatic flight, you can put powered parachutes, powered paragliders, paragliders, and ultralights as close as 100 feet from the crowd. Everybody else can come as close as 500 feet as long as they’re not aerobatic. That’s why, in the Hoppers promo video that you’re seen in the feed, the aircraft are out at the big white Cat I line when they’re doing rolls and other aerobatic maneuvers, but they can do high-speed level passes much closer at the 500-foot line.

The amount of room that you have and your ability to place various Cat lines has a lot to do with what performers you can book and what they can do during the show. Additionally, you have to deal with buildings and other areas in which you have people during the show.

[Audio: Boxes.]

The lines are critical for safety. Some of the teams, particularly the Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels, are particular about how you mark show center and the Cat I line. And there are other boundaries that you need to identify, mark, and police.

[Audio: Box – Thunderbirds and Blues]

The relevant part of 8900.1 goes on for more than 100 pages. And it’s in its 86th change, so you know that it’s updated regularly, if not aggressively. It’s actually a really good read. It’ll answer questions that you didn’t even know you had about airshow operations.

FAA Form 7711-2: The Request for Waiver

The airshow waiver is another huge element of the process. If you think about it, in the absence of a waiver, most airshow flying would violate one reg or another without a waiver.

Think about it. Even a low pass is technically a reg violation if you don’t have a waiver. I see it violated all the time, even with ATC clearance. And I violated it myself in early training whenever an instructor got down low and illustrated the use of aileron and rudder in the process of teaching crosswind landings. You can’t fly lower than the minimum altitudes in the FARs unless you’re taking off or landing. Unless you’re out over Muroc Dry Lake Bed or similar terrain, that means 500 or 1,000 feet from persons and property. Intent counts. You can’t just fake a go-around.

There’s other stuff that you might not think about. One thing that surprised me was fuel. I realized it when I was looking over the waiver for the IAC contest in which I participated this year. In many aerobatic aircraft, you can’t carry VFR fuel reserves and still do what you want or need to do for the contest. So the waiver lets you carry less fuel. Essentially, as long as you can glide to the runway, you’ve got enough fuel.

Airshow waivers cover these and other situations. The following are just a few examples.

FAR 91.107(a) requiring seatbelts and their use. Think of wing-walkers here.

FAR 91.117(a)-(c) governing maximum airspeeds. You need a waiver to fly at airshow speeds below 10,000 feet in Class B, C, or D airspace.

FAR 91.119(b) and (c) governing minimum safe altitudes.

FAR 91.126, 91.127, 91.129, and 91.131 governing operations in the vicinity of airports in Class G, E, D, and C airspace, respectively.

FAR 91.155 governing VFR minima and cloud clearances.

FAR 91.303(c), (d), and (e) governing where aerobatic maneuvers may be performed.

FAR 91.515(a) governing large and turbine-powered aircraft.

The waiver covers all of these elements and more. You can see typical provisions of an FAA airshow waiver at

Among the topics addressed is the direction of aerobatic energy. Performers can’t direct energy toward the crowd. In order words, in the parlance of the FAA waiver from Wings Over Atlanta in 2010, aerobatic maneuvers are prohibited if “in the event of a catastrophic failure, a part of the aircraft would contact the surface at or inside the primary spectator area between the corner markers . . .”

That, among other reasons, is why most airshow flying is back and forth in front of the crowd at one of the Cat lines. I’ve observed before that airshows tend to be rather two-dimensional for that reason. Notable exceptions are Gene Soucy, Kent Pietch, Greg Koontz, and several others who fly slower or less powerful aircraft and are able to make more use of the Y axis of the box. This is because the aircraft are slow enough that they can fly toward – or away from – the crowd for longer while still staying beyond the Cat III line. And because the aerobatic energy carried by the airframe in each case would dissipate more quickly than for other aircraft and fall short of the crowd line.

But it’s also an opportunity for performers with those kinds of profiles to differentiate themselves. I think that the audience really responds to more three-dimensional performances. You can’t compromise safety, so the distance and the aerobatic energy requirements are non-negotiable. Thus, those who are able to incorporate that beautiful third dimension into their performances have a real advantage.

Anyway, those are the highlights of Airshows 101. The course runs a full day and it’s more than you can really put into a single episode. And, even if you could, Airshows 101 itself just scratches the surface of what it takes to put on an airshow.

It’s the wee hours of Tuesday morning as I’m recording this. I’ll be pulling up stakes here at Firebase Airspeed at Paris Las Vegas tomorrow and catching a redeye flight out tonight for Detroit. It’s Flight Suit Day here at ICAS. All pilots and performers are encouraged to wear their flight suits. Although I own a zoom bag (and I’m very fond of it!) I haven’t really had the opportunity to wear a flight suit here at ICAS in years past. Yeah, I fly and I even fly acro, but just slapping an Airspeed squadron patch on the flight suit would seem kind of disingenuous in this crowd.

But I am a genuine search and rescue pilot in the Civil Air Patrol. And national and the Nevada Wing have authorized me to wear my CAP flight suit and carry the CAP flag for the day. So I’ll be on the exhibit floor at ICAS in a zoom bag. Sierra Hotel!

Monday, December 05, 2011

ICAS 2011 - Day 1

This is a regular blog post that updates listeners and viewers on events in the Airspeed world. Airspeed is an audio and video Internet media source that brings the best in aviation and aerospace to media devices and desktops everywhere. If you’re looking for the audio and video content, please check the other entries on the site. It’s all here! In the meantime, enjoy this update about what’s going on in Airspeed’s world.

I’m here at the ICAS Convention at Paris Las Vegas for a few days. I again hit Airshows 101 yesterday and then got reacquainted with the airshow pros. The opening session kicks off in a half hour and then the exhibit hall opens for the first session mid-day.

I’m working on the Airshows 101 episode and have hopes of getting it out later today.

In the meantime, here are a few shots of the convention so far.

The first is a panoramic shot of the welcome reception last night. We had a nautical theme in honor of the centennial of naval aviation. My costume was a TSO’ed life vest. I gave it a 50-50 chance of making it through the party without someone pulling the handle to inflate it. The handle got pulled as I was making my last round of the floor before heading out to the bar. No worries. That’s what it was for. And now I have experience with yet another piece of emergency equipment. And, yeah, there’s got to be a way to log it.

The rest are shots of Le Central, better known as the “circle bar,” just inside the main entrance. Other than the parties at some of the suites upstairs, Le Central is the place to be. You can check out my episode from last year for a more complete gouge.

Back to work on the Airshows 101 episode!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Flying through the Totality

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!

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see something 70 miles wide moving over the landscape at almost 1,700 miles per hour?

I think it was a Carl Sagan essay where I first heard the experience described. He had that very experience standing on a hilltop with hundreds of other people. All expected the experience and understood what was happening. But when a shadow stretching from horizon to horizon appeared and swept over the valleys and grasslands and swallowed the assembled people, some involuntarily screamed.

I am, of course, talking about a total solar eclipse.

Solar eclipses come in four flavors. In each case, the moon interposes itself between the sun and Earth and part of the moon’s shadow falls on Earth.

The moon’s shadow has three primary portions: The umbra, the penumbra, and the antumbra. You’ve probably seen this phenomenon in shadows before with everyday objects and familiar illumination sources, but you probably haven’t thought much about them. You’ve probably noticed that shadows have a dark central part and a less-dark outer part. And, if the observation point is far enough from the obscuring object, there’s not much of a shadow at all.

The umbra is the darkest part of the shadow and it is located directly on the other side of the moon from the sun. It's cone-shaped with the base of the cone on the diameter of the moon and the point at some location in space that varies between 228,000 to 236,000 miles from the moon. It varies because the Earth-moon system’s orbit around the sun is slightly eccentric and the distance of the moon from the sun affects the length of the moon’s umbra.

Additionally, the moon’s orbit around Earth is slightly eccentric and the moon’s distance from Earth varies from about 226,000 miles at perigee to about 252,000 miles at apogee.

If you’ve been paying attention so far, you’re figured out that the moon’s umbra doesn’t always touch Earth during a solar eclipse because the umbra is shorter than the distance between the moon and Earth much of the time. And sometimes the umbra is long enough to reach Earth, but it misses and goes north of the north pole or south of the south pole.

To go completely overboard on the details: Because of the action of tides on Earth, Earth is transferring its rotational momentum to the moon as orbital momentum, which lengthens Earth’s day by about 23 microseconds each year and causes the moon to recede about 38 millimeters each year. Absent a major change, the moon’s umbra will, at some point about 425 million years from now, be unable to reach Earth and no further solar eclipses will occur on Earth.

Where the umbra touches Earth’s surface, observers see the sun entirely obscured by the moon. That’s a total solar eclipse and it’s the most common image you’ll see of a solar eclipse.

The part of the shadow beyond the end of the umbra is called the antumbra. In the antumbra, the angular size of the moon is less than that of the sun, the eclipse is said to be of a magnitude of less than one, and the moon obscures only some part of the central disc of the sun. The disc of the moon moves entirely within the disc of the sun and some of the sun’s disc is visible around the entire disc of the moon. This is called an annular solar eclipse.

At every location that is in the broader shadow called the penumbra, viewers see the moon’s disc partially obscure the sun’s disc but don’t see the moon’s disk entirely obscure, or pass entirely within, the sun’s disc. This is called a partial solar eclipse.

There’s also such a thing as a hybrid eclipse where the umbra touches down in mid-eclipse, so observers on parts of Earth see an annular eclipse and observers on other parts see a total eclipse. As you might imagine, hybrid solar eclipses are very rare.

It’s not hard to see a partial solar eclipse. They happen frequently and are visible from broad areas. It’s not uncommon to be able to see the partial eclipse almost from pole to pole. The penumbra is huge. The umbra, on the other hand, is tiny and can’t be more than about 167 miles wide. Thus it’s rare for a particular place on Earth’s surface to see a total solar eclipse.

There hasn’t been a total solar eclipse visible from the continental United States since 1979. It was visible only in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and North Dakota.

But on August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will be visible from places all the way across the continental US. It’s the first total eclipse to cross American soil since 1991, the first on the mainland since 1979, and the first to sweep across the entire continental US since 1918. And the next one to be visible from the continental US won’t be until April 8, 2024.

The 2017 total eclipse will have a magnitude of about 1.03, which means that the angular size of the moon will be about 3% larger than that of the sun.

The eclipse will make landfall on the Pacific Coast at Lincoln Beach, Oregon due west of Salem and just south of Siletz Bay Airport (S45) at 17:15:58Z and totality will last a little less than two minutes.

The point of greatest eclipse will be N 36.9664° W 87.6639°. That’s near Cerulean, Kentucky, about 60 miles due west of Bowling Green and about and 14 miles northwest of Hopkinson-Christian County Airport (KHVC). At the point of greatest eclipse, the leading edge of the totality will arrive at 18:24:09Z and the trailing edge will arrive at 18:26:50Z for a duration in totality of 2:41.

The leading edge of the totality hits the east coast near the Francis Marion State Forest near McClellanville, South Carolina about 40 miles northeast of Charleston and 18 miles south of the Georgetown County Airport (KGGE) at 18:46:25Z and the trailing edge goes feet-wet 2:34 later at 18:48:59Z.

By the time the totality has passed over the continental United States, it will have passed over parts of Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina.

The leading edge of the totality will travel just over 2,500 great-circle statute miles across the continental US in a about 90 minutes for an average ground speed of something 1,667 statute miles per hour.

There’s plenty of information available about how to best view an eclipse and I leave it as an exercise for the listener to go out and find that information. Carl Sagan found a hilltop with a valley sprawling out below so that he could see not only the eclipse but the onrushing umbral shadow. And he also looked up at the event in the sky using proper viewing filters or other appropriate means.

The only thing that I’ll say about it that is of general interest is that you should never look directly at the sun without safety glasses or other appropriate equipment. I shouldn’t have to say that. You guys know better. Just like you know not to ram the yoke abruptly forward and scream when you’re flying passengers. Unless you’re flying prisoners and you pull out before getting to Vne.

So all of this eclipse stuff is cool. And there’s an extent to which it’s justified simply because it’s cool science and that’s well within the usual coverage of Airspeed. But I have more than that in mind for this one.

Sometimes it’s cloudy at the site that you have picked out to view the eclipse. Sometimes it’s tough to find a good hilltop. Sometimes there are logistical problems with landowners in getting to your site. And if you really want, as I do, to see that umbral shadow sweeping ominously over the ground, you’re going to have to find some high ground. Probably a couple of different places so that you have a backup if the weather is bad at your primary location.

But these factors are not problems for you and me. We’re pilots, after all.

The total eclipse of 2017 is a long time from now. But, when it happens, I plan to be at about 10,000 feet MSL in an airplane somewhere along the center of the path of totality and have a front-row seat to see the umbral shadow coming at me at something like local Mach 2. I’m going to fly through the totality. And you can, too.

Here’s what I have in mind. You can look at this as a mere thought experiment or as an action plan. It’s fun any way you look at it.

First off, what are you going to see? Out in the penumbral shadow, things won’t get very dark at all. Maybe something like dusk. I’ve been in the penumbral shadows of several eclipses and that’s a pretty fair description.

Sagan said that there was a discernable wall of umbral shadow of the eclipse about which he wrote. But it’ll be fuzzy. It won’t be a brignt-line division. Remember that we’re out in the last 10,000 miles or so of the umbral shadow and it’s going to be fuzzy.

That’s where I think that being in an aircraft at altitude will be helpful. Being a mile or more above where the shadow makes contact with the ground or cloud tops ought to allow me to see the big picture and give me the best chance of seeing the motion of the shadow over the ground.

I plan to fly perpendicular to the path of the totality. There are those who give more than a little thought to flying away from the oncoming totality so as to extend their time within it. But at a maximum true airspeed of something like 110 or 130 knots, you’re only going to extend your time in the totality by a second or two. I’d rather fly perpendicular to the path and see it coming.

By the way, there was a plan afoot to fly the Concorde in the umbral shadow, but the accident involving Air France Flight 4590 put an end to it prematurely. A group did get up in 1992 and viewed the eclipse from at DC-10 at FL410 and there’s another account in Wired Magazine of a 2010 chase at FL 390 that extended the time in the totality to 9:23 (well beyond the theoretical maximum of 7:32 possible from a fixed spot on Earth’s surface.

What about the practical and legal aspects of flying around in the dark?

If the FARs are the same at the time of the eclipse as they are now, you won’t have to be night current in order to fly through the umbra. Generally speaking, FAR 61.57(b) presently provides that “no person may act as pilot in command of an aircraft carrying passengers during the period beginning 1 hour after sunset and ending 1 hour before sunrise, unless within the preceding 90 days that person has made at least three takeoffs and three landings to a full stop during the period beginning 1 hour after sunset and ending 1 hour before sunrise, and (i) That person acted as sole manipulator of the flight controls; and (ii) The required takeoffs and landings were performed in an aircraft of the same category, class, and type (if a type rating is required).”

There are other places in the FARs where “night” matters, such as in rules governing visibility, cloud clearances and other matters having to do with operation in various parts of the National Airspace System. FAR 1.1 presently defines “night” as “the time between the end of evening civil twilight and the beginning of morning civil twilight, as published in the American Air Almanac, converted to local time.”

The closest that it’ll be to night local time during the eclipse will be when the totality goes feet wet on the east coast, where it’ll be a little before 3:00 p.m. local time. The sun won’t even set there until 7:58 pm local. If you think about it, it’s pretty obvious. You can’t fly through the totality of an eclipse after sunset. You need – er – the sun.

If you’re like me, you’ll plan to launch at least 30 minutes prior to the arrival of the umbral shadow and land shortly after the umbral shadow passes. You won’t be taking off or landing any time near “night” as defined by the FARs.

In almost any case, it’s going to be pretty dark in the penumbra around that time. And the partial eclipse, with its penumbral shadow, last a long time. The sun will be in at least partial eclipse for almost three hours. The penumbra is huge. During this eclipse, it’ll as far north as the north pole and as far south as the northern part of South America.

We pilots are (or ought to be) pretty good at knowing the difference between what’s legal and what’s smart. And the difference between current and proficient.

I plan to be both night current and night proficient before launching. If you’re the least bit uncomfortable flying in the dark, don’t launch. In fact, you ought to seriously consider getting some actual or simulated night instrument work in before the event. If you’re a confident VFR night pilot and you live near inhabited areas with lots of lights on the ground, think about how much your comfort derives from having those lights on the ground to use as references. It’s almost a sure bet that the street lights and other outdoor lighting will not be on during the passage of the umbral shadow. All of that stuff is on timers and there’s almost zero chance that anyone is going to think to flip the switch or change the timers for this event.

You also need to be sure that all of the lights inside the aircraft are working and that you know how to operate them. Many of us don’t fly much at night and many of us don’t even know where the light switches or dimmers are.

I ran into this when doing my initial training in a G1000-equipped aircraft. I had just become comfortable with the PFD presentation of airspeed, altitude, and other indications and was feeling pretty good about things. On the flight in question, the sun had already set by the time I was 20 miles out from Pontiac. The PFD and MFD each have an automatic dimming function that dims the display down as the ambient light fades. The displays dimmed much faster than the ambient light demanded and I found myself in the pattern with both displays nearly dark. The light control knobs on the panel only controlled the pedestal and other lights in the cockpit. The G1000 displays can be set manually, but that requires going through the menus to the manual settings – not something you want to try to figure out while you’re in the pattern. I landed using the backup round airspeed indicator. No problem. But I’ve since gone back and figured out where the display brightness lives in the G1000 menu system and I even put the procedure in the little cheat sheet that I use whenever I fly that aircraft.

I’d like to see the event VFR in clear air so that I can see the umbral shadow moving along the ground. But I’ll bet that VFR on top of a cloud deck would be pretty cool, too. In any case, it would be a good idea to be instrument rated, current, and proficient. That will help both in terms of getting on top of a local overcast and in terms of going somewhere else if there’s a high overcast or other adverse weather at the initially-planned interface location.

There’s some chance that your aircraft will not be the only aircraft up there doing exactly what you’re doing. Some nutjob with an aviation podcast got the word out more than five years before the big day and now the skies are darkening with airplanes, to say nothing of the moon.

And, sad, to say, it’s possible and even likely that you’ll be sharing the skies with a lot of people who aren’t anywhere near as prepared as you are.

Assume that August 21, 2017 will be just like that first nice weekend day in the spring in the northern US when every Tom, Dick, and Harry at the local GA airport drags out his airplane and decides that today’s the day to knock off the rust and make you number four to land on a busy CTAF.

Spread out and give everybody some room. The path of totality over the continental US is going to be more than 2,500 miles long. There’s really no reason to do it near Cerulean, Kentucky. The duration of the totality will be only 50 seconds longer at Cerulean than it will be on the west coast. You’re going to get about two minutes of totality at minimum no matter where along the path you fly. Go someplace away from the crowds and get some elbow room.

It would be entirely reasonable to get flight following so that you can obtain traffic advisories. It would also be a good idea to use an aircraft that’s TIS-enabled and fly in an area that supports automated traffic reporting. It might even be a good idea to tell the controller what you’re doing and have a couple of navaids in mind to use in telling the controller where you’ll be. If the controller is handling a dozen eclipse-viewing flights and one has a solid and easily-describable flight profile, who do you think is going to get favors from the controller if they need them?

If you’re going to make use of your instrument ticket to get on top to see the shadow, it might be best to pick a nice holding spot on an airway and then ask for a hold with nice long legs. Alternatively, it might be a good idea to file two IFR flight plans: One to get on top (which you’ll then cancel and pick up a convenient 500-foot-increment cruising altitude) and one to open when you’re ready to go back through to land. Again, if there’s a lot of traffic on top and everybody wants to air-file for return, who do you think is going to get the best handling? The guy or gal with the IFR flight plan already on file? Yep. I thought so.

Without adding yet another factor into the age-old high-wing/low-wing debate, the kind of aircraft that you fly is going to be important. And it’ll depend on what you want to see.

If, like me, you want to see the umbral shadow, a high-wing aircraft is going to be your best bet. Unless your high-wing aircraft has a good overhead window, you’re probably going to miss the eclipse itself altogether. At local solar noon at the point of greatest eclipse in Kentucky (about 1:49 pm local), the sun will be about 64 degrees above the horizon. And it won’t really be a lot lower than that during the eclipse. You can pretty much forget about banking steeply enough to see the eclipse itself. Night acro is not my idea of fun and it’s probably not yours either.

If you want to see the eclipse itself and you care less about what’s going on on the ground, I suppose a low-wing aircraft would better. If you fly at an angle to the oncoming umbral shadow wall and stay wings-level, you’re probably get a good view of the ground and could still look up and see the eclipse itself. But, when you add all of the fussy stuff involving safety glasses and other concerns about safely viewing the eclipse itself, you begin to get overly preoccupied with something that’s going on a quarter million miles away and aren’t paying sufficient attention to the conduct of the flight. Especially if the pilot flying wants a look.

Frankly, if it’s really important to get a look at the eclipse itself, you’re better off not being in an airplane in the first place. Stay on the ground and enjoy. There’s nothing wrong with that.

I’ve tried to identify accidents or incidents associated with prior total eclipses in the continental US. This is not by any means the first total eclipse to be visible from the continental US since general aviation has been widespread. There have been five since 1950. I’ve tried to identity accidents or incidents associated with flying through the totality, but I haven’t found any. That could have something to do with what you can imagine happens when you try to do a Google search for “eclipse” and “accident.” There’s just too much noise in the search data.

Viewing an eclipse itself from the ground is underwhelming. You can't really look directly at it. Indirect viewing is okay, but it's remarkably like the pictures that you'll see on the 'net the next day. Ho-um. I've never seen a total eclipse on the ground, but I've seen several partials. The cool part for the partials was the relative darkness. Thus, I'm about chasing the darkness.

There is one thing you'll miss that you might care about. At totality, if there are enough naked-eye planets within view, you can get a real sense of the ecliptic of the solar system because you can see the sun and planets at the same time in the same hemisphere of sky. For the 2017 eclipse, you should be able to see Venus and Jupiter fairly clearly. Mars will technically be visible, but it will be very close to being on the other side of the sun (conjunction occurs July 26, 2017 and Mars will be something like 2.4 AU away). Saturn will be below the eastern horizon. But, in any case, you can sweep your eyes across the sky and see the sun, Jupiter, and Venus. I've heard that, once you see the solar system's ecliptic during an eclipse, you realize that you're standing at an angle and leaning 45 to 55 degrees out from the planet's surface over the ecliptic. And I've heard that it'll induce vertigo and that it's a memorable experience. But it requires very clear skies and a broad field of view.

So that’s my plan. Even if I don’t end up doing it, it’s a great exercise that combines the sciences of aviation and astronomy. But I’m planning to do it. I wonder if the local FBO will take a reservation for the RG for 2017 . . .


The Wikipedia entry on the eclipse.,_2017

A NASA page that includes a Google map
An animated sequence of images taken by the Eumetsat satellite during the total eclipse of the sun on 29 March 2006. You can see the umbral shadow move across Earth’s surface.

The lead image shows the moon's shadow on Earth, as seen from the International Space Station at an altitude of 230 miles on March 29, 2006. NASA photo used per NASA’s photo policy.

Many thanks to John Walker and those who built Your Sky, the interactive planetarium of the Web ( The sky map showing the planetary locations at the time of the 2017 eclipse comes from that fine web resource.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans' Day 2011: Passing It On

This is a regular blog post that updates listeners and viewers on events in the Airspeed world. Airspeed is an audio and video Internet media source that brings the best in aviation and aerospace to media devices and desktops everywhere. If you’re looking for the audio and video content, please check the other entries on the site. It’s all here! In the meantime, enjoy this update about what’s going on in Airspeed’s world.

A number of new/social media personalities are celebrating Veterans' Day by wearing our WindTees shirts featuring the aircraft and twitter handle of Daren Sorenson, a USAF Lt Col, F-15E Strike Eagle pilot, and Deputy Operations Group Commander at Nellis AFB. Lt Col Sorenson recently received news that he will be awarded (at least his second) Distinguished Flying Cross for actions during his most ...recent deployment to Afghanistan.

I'm fortunate to know Lt Col Sorenson and his brother, Mark Sorenson, a talented airline and airshow pilot. I'm also fortunate to be the nephew of Dennis Reed, a Viet Nam -era air cavalry pilot and later corporate pilot for Kellogg. And I'm fortunate to know dozens of others who are serving now, have served, will serve, and/or are members of families of the foregoing.

I serve as a search-and-rescue pilot and legal officer in the Civil Air Patrol (USAF Auxiliary). I perform a valuable service to my community and country but let's face it: I've never been shot at and it's unlikely that I'll ever face the risk of anything worse than an engine failure.

As a CAP officer, I am frequently in uniform in public and it is not uncommon for people to come up and thank me. I've even gone to pay the check after breakfast, only to find that someone else in the restaurant has already anonymously paid my bill, no doubt because of the uniform. I'm happy to accept thanks for what I do, but I know that the majority of the respect I'm shown is because I'm mistaken for active duty military. The average civilian (and many military personnel) can't tell the difference. So I try to wear the CAP uniform properly and proudly and be worthy of it.

I used to try to explain to little kids at airshows that I'm not an active-duty shooter. (Really, I'm not even a toner.) It just confused the kids when I tried to do that. So now I simply receive the thanks with a big smile and save it up for today. Today, I pass on the greatest portion of the respect that I've received over the last year to those who have done the greater part of earning it.

So, Lt Col Sorenson, Uncle Denny, and others, I hereby pass along this year's installment: Five kids at Selfridge, a guy at Flint, the barista at Starbucks at Woodward and Square Lake, my daughter's kindergarten class, and the guy or gal from the restaurant. I pass along the thanks of these people and I add my own in heaping measure.

And I owe somebody breakfast.

A proud and reflective Veterans' Day to all.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Hoppers Video is In the Feed!

This is a regular blog post that updates listeners and viewers on events in the Airspeed world. Airspeed is an audio and video Internet media source that brings the best in aviation and aerospace to media devices and desktops everywhere. If you’re looking for the audio and video content, please check the other entries on the site. It’s all here! In the meantime, enjoy this update about what’s going on in Airspeed’s world.

I finally had the opportunity on Saturday to finish editing the video that I shot while embedded with The Hoppers at the Battle Creek Airshow and Balloon Festival July 1-2 this supper. The team flew seven cameras and one audio unit on each of two performance hops. And I flew in the trunk of both the No. 3 ship and the No. 4 ship on the Saturday of the show to capture shots with a hand-held unit.

The weather was pretty overcast and visibility was low on both days. For those of you who kind of like the slightly sinister effect that that weather imparts, I did it especially for you. For those who much prefer sunlight glinting off of the aircraft, I did what I could with color correction without washing out the footage or making it look as though the Easter Bunny had thrown up on it.

In any case, I think it turned out nicely. The L-39s are simply great-looking aircraft. And they fly beautifully.

More information about The Hoppers is available at

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Touching the True Source: CAP NESA MAS 2010 - The Combined Audio Episode with Print Version

Here it is! The full version of my experiences at Civil Air Patrol’s National Emergency Services Academy Mission Aircrew School in June of 2010. All of the audio and all 30,000 words, among with images!

As you know, Airspeed is primarily intended to be consumed (and is overwhelmingly consumed) through thousands of handheld audio and video devices all over the world. But this is a pretty epic presentation (nearly two hours) and some of the more ambitious of you are going to want a linkable place at which to access the whole thing by means of the web. So here you go!

An MP3 file containing the entire 1:49:19 (100MB) essay is available at

The PDF document with the whole essay and images from the school and the events leading up to it lives at

More information about Civil Air Patrol is available at More information about NESA is available at

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

CAP NESA MAS 2010 - Part 3

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!

This is the third of a three-episode series covering my experience at Civil Air Patrol’s National Emergency Services Academy Mission Aircrew School (NESA-MAS) in Indiana in the summer of 2010.

You can check out the first episode here and the second episode here.

I intend to make available the entire 30,000-word piece in a single file and PDF document with photos at about the time at which I release the third episode. I might also put the long-form file into the podcast feed on its own.

In the meantime, enjoy this in-depth look at the nation’s premier civilian fixed-wing search-and-rescue flight training school from the perspective of a zero-to-hero CAP Mission Pilot candidate.

Friday, October 07, 2011

The Pile of Awesome on My Desk: IFR Currency, L-39 Editing, NESA MAS Part 3, and Acro Camp Rough Cut

This is a regular blog post that updates listeners and viewers on events in the Airspeed world. Airspeed is an audio and video Internet media source that brings the best in aviation and aerospace to media devices and desktops everywhere. If you’re looking for the audio and video content, please check the other entries on the site. It’s all here! In the meantime, enjoy this update about what’s going on in Airspeed’s world.

I’m slowly getting back to the point of editing down some of this summer’s content into episodes. Airshow season here in the northern climes is essentially over, the last aerobatic contest in the area was last weekend, and things are calming down to the low roar that precedes ICAS in December.

I didn’t fly at all in September. Not for lack of trying! I had three attempts get rained or ceilinged out before finally getting up in a glass CAP C-182T on Wednesday to try to claw back some instrument proficiency. After devoting the summer to flying upside down or training for the commercial maneuvers, I had precious little time under the hood or in the clouds. I nailed down my six approaches in April and May, but they were about to fall off for currency purposes. So I launched with Capt Malek in the right seat as safety pilot and banged out four approaches in rapid succession: VOR-A 77G with the published miss and a hold, RNAV 27 77G, RNAV 19 77G, and ILS 9R KPTK. I hand-flew the VOR and ILS and let the G1000 and GFC700 handle the RNAVs. We landed about 40 minutes after sunset and, though the landing didn’t count for night currency, it was pretty darned dark.

I’ve taken to putting two cases of bottled water in the back of the C-182T when flying with just two aircrew. The CG is really far forward in the aircraft with no scanner(s) in the back, and the extra 50 lbs in Cargo Area B helps to take some of the nose-heaviness out of the equation. I love the G1000. I just don’t like to see the nose strut poking through it. The aircraft behaves sooooo much better in the flare with a slightly more aft CG!

I have an annual stan/eval ride coming up in the airplane this month, and I think I’m pretty much ready for that, pending only a little sim time to get my switchology polished.

Otherwise, I have a number of projects that I’m able to dive into.

I need to get the Hoppers promo video done. You’ll recall that I embedded with the team in July and shot two four-ship sorties with seven cameras plus audio, and then went up myself in the 3 and 4 ships to shoot hand-held video. The sky was gray and crappy for the flights, but there are enough good moments to make a primo promotional video for the team.

I need to do the last ingestion of the footage from the Acro Camp shoot at Ray in August and then get the footage of some of the crew guys out to them on a hard drive that Larry Overstreet has kindly sent to me, but that has been sitting on the desk staring at me. I also need to get David Allen’s footage to him so that he can crank out some OPA episodes.

I also need to edit the last part of the NESA MAS series and put together the huge 30,000-word single-MP3 edition, complete with an associated PDF file that will have the full text and pictures.

And, lastly, I need to finish a rough cut of the first rough cut of the first Acro Camp movie. That’s going to take some serious time. But it’s doable.

Thanks for all the downloads last month! Pretty good for the off-season and it suggests that core subscribership is up.

And I have proposals on desks at one Air Force unit and one Navy unit for jet media/orientation flights for the upcoming season of the show. As always, there’s no guarantee with respect to any flight, but the proposals are solid, you guys are a great audience, and the intrepid video, audio, and still crew is locked and loaded if and when the word comes. Airspeed changed the game in aviation new media this year with the T-38 episode. And it’s ready to continue pushing the boundaries.

But you knew that!