It seems, from recent media reports, that the general public has a myopic view of general aviation. Voices have been raised castigating executives for flying in business jets and decrying the expenditure of funds that go to rural and “underused” general aviation airports.
There’s an unfortunate disconnect between who and what we are and the general public’s perception of us. If some of those who are skeptical about the value of general aviation could have tagged along with me during a couple of recent weeks, their misconceptions might have been rectified.
On a Tuesday morning, I was on a Falcon 900EX business jet with a group of aviation reporters winging our way to Phoenix, Arizona. On Saturday of the same week, I attended an EAA pancake breakfast at the Kline Kill Airport, Ghent, New York, and the following Thursday, I flew in my Cessna Cardinal to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, to attend the 10th annual CFO Convention. That was a week that was!
The Falcon 900EX is an impressive, tri-engine business jet with seven league boots that is capable of comfortably carrying as many as 12 passengers. We launched from the Teterboro (New Jersey) Airport – chockablock with business jets coming and going — at about 10:30 a.m. and, after a quick stop at Dulles Airport outside of Washington, D.C. — also cheek by jowl with corporate chariots on the move — we landed at Phoenix’s Deer Valley Airport at about 3 p.m. local time.
Some see business jets only as toys for the wealthy. They refuse to recognize the advantage for executives able to come and go on a self-determined schedule and to access literally thousands of airports the airlines don’t serve. Being able to conduct business en route and to fly across the country without having to do the hub-and-spoke do-si-do is not a luxury; it’s a legitimate business tool.
The whirlwind trip to Phoenix was to get a briefing on the EASy II upgrade (see December Airways) to the Dassault/Honeywell EASy cockpit. The upgrade will make the 900EX an even better capital asset. The EASy cockpit is organized to provide “tactical” information on each of the pilots’ PDUs (primary display units) and “strategic” information on the multifunction displays (MDUs) between the two pilots. The major improvement featured in the EASy II is a synthetic vision system that Dassault has named SmartView. SmartView replaces the conventional ADI on the pilots’ PDUs with the synthetic view of the terrain ahead and the symbology from the HUD (heads-up display) simplifying a pilot’s transition from heads up to heads down.
An indication of how refreshed executives can be after a continent-spanning flight in a business jet was the fact that none of us nodded off during the briefing that evening in Phoenix when our internal clocks would normally have been calling for sleep. We were all still alert for the demo flights that followed the briefing in a second Falcon already equipped with the EASy II cockpit upgrade.
While whizzing across the country in the flight levels is a typical mission for business jets, it’s not typical of general aviation. The majority of our airplanes are smaller, slower and simpler. They engender a passion and provide a recreational value rarely found in other pursuits. And to the surprise of the misinformed multitude with its shortsighted view of general aviation, it’s an activity that doesn’t require hocking the family jewels to participate.
The recreational facet of general aviation was evident later that week at the aforementioned pancake breakfast at the Kline Kill Airport. Twice a summer, local EAA Chapter 146 hosts its fly-in/drive-in pancake breakfasts, and they’ve become a popular chance for pilots to show off their airplanes — and for local nonpilots to gain an appreciation of general aviation. Though shy of the record number of 80 or so airplanes that have made the gathering in the past, this year a variety of airplane types touched down on the grass strip and lined up for inspection. The airplanes ran the gamut from purely experimental to light-sport aircraft and military trainers.
One young man at the fly-in who is taking lessons for his Sport Pilot certificate said he was hoping to buy a light-sport airplane but was put off by the cost. The original intent of the Light Sport Aircraft rule was that the cost of the airplanes would be affordable; unfortunately for some, there is still sticker shock. I suggested he go on with his training after getting his Sport Pilot certificate and earn his private and then look at some of the used airplanes on the market. The prices of some of the pre-owned airplanes — which counter the notion that aviation is a rich person’s bailiwick — are low enough that the airplanes can be fitted with new engines and the latest avionics and still stay within a limited budget. Joining a club or a partnership can bring the cost of owning and operating an airplane well below the definition of “luxury.”
The practicality of buying a pre-owned airplane was driven home to me when I landed my Cessna Cardinal at Williamsport, Pennsylvania, for the 10th annual gathering of the Cardinal Flyers Online (CFO). In the general aviation spectrum, the Cardinal is one of a group of airplanes that straddles the segments whose roles are primarily for recreation and for transportation.
Cessna stopped building the Cardinal series in 1978, so all of our airplanes are well into their dotage. Nevertheless, the CFO has become a valuable resource to help us maintain our aging aircraft so they can enjoy a second childhood. Through the years, Keith Peterson and Paul Millner have maintained and monitored the CFO online digest (cardinalflyers.com) on which Cardinal operators post questions and comments to the group and get almost instant responses from others who have “been there, done that.” At Cardinal fly-ins, Keith and Paul typically conduct a “show and tell” stroll along the line of parked airplanes. Over the years, the static saunter has revealed problems and faults with a number of our airplanes. But each year the number of maintenance items has declined. At Williamsport, there were very few issues with any of the airplanes. The overall health of the fleet is a testament to the impact that a “type” club can have on contributing to the longevity of pre-owned airplanes.
The choice of Williamsport for the gathering wasn’t arbitrary. With a history as the major lumber center of the world and home to many millionaires — most of whom were owners of lumber mills — Williamsport is also the home of Lycoming Engines, the manufacturer of the engines that propel our Cardinals. Founded in 1845 as the Demorest Manufacturing Co. by Ellen Curtis Demorest, the company initially built bicycles, sewing machines and typewriters. In 1907, the company was renamed the Lycoming Foundry and Machine Co. and focused on building engines. In the early 1900s, 57 different Lycoming engine models powered more than 250 different automobiles including the Cord, Auburn and Duesenberg.
It was in 1939 that the first airplane, a Beech TravelAir biplane, flew with a Lycoming powerplant, the nine-cylinder, 215 horsepower R-680 radial engine. Eventually, Lycoming Engines built more than 25,000 R-680s. In 1987, AVCO, which had earlier acquired Lycoming, was purchased by Textron so that today Lycoming is a stablemate of Textron’s Cessna and McCauley Propeller Systems. By 1997, Lycoming claims, its engines powered more than 85 percent of the new general aviation aircraft produced worldwide.
Of particular interest to those of us who fly the retractable gear version of the Cardinal was the 210 hp IO-390 engine that Lycoming has STC’d specifically for the Cardinal RG. Initially certified for Cardinal RGs with the two-blade McCauley propeller, the STC for RGs with the three-blade Hartzell propeller was due by the end of last year. Although the youngest Cardinals have topped the 30-year mark, they continue, as do other older airplanes, to be the subject of mods and improvements that keep them youthful.
In that short period of a couple of weeks, I had the advantage of sampling much of what constitutes general aviation. From business jets to experimental homebuilts and factory-built airplanes, there’s something for everyone. It isn’t only those of us who own, maintain and operate airplanes benefiting from general aviation. When you consider the roles that general aviation embraces, you realize the benefits of general aviation’s existence are really bestowed upon everyone. Imagine how society would suffer if general aviation didn’t provide, among other things, package delivery, medevac, hurricane hunting, agriculture spray operations, predator control, aerial mapping and surveying, air ambulances, firefighting, police services, cloud seeding and emergency relief. General aviation really does provide something for everyone. We just have to educate the general public.