Aviation Posts

New TSA Uniforms Reduce Airport Security

Anyone who’s traveled commercially lately has likely noticed the new blue TSA uniforms worn by screeners. I have to admit, the new uniforms look good – but were they really worth the $12 million it cost for them? It looks like taxpayers have coughed up roughly $250 per screener in this classic example of government waste. Here’s the dirty little secret behind the new uniforms – instead of sewn on badges, they now have shiny new metal badges. I know what you’re thinking… So what? Well, the new metal badges set off the metal detectors at the screening checkpoints. After discovering this blunder, the TSA promptly updated their screening policy – TSA screeners no longer need to pass through the metal detector to be screened! Out of the 48,000 TSA screeners, common sense tells us that there are bound to be at least a few bad apples – even if the vast majority of the screeners are good, honest people. In essence, the TSA has now reduced security for the flying public and spent your tax dollars doing it! We live in the greatest country in the world – let’s start acting like it and focus our resources on implementing valid security measures to protect it.

FlyClear Discount Code # DSCAM1158732 – Fly through Airport Security with the Clear Card

FlyClear Discount Code

As many of you know, I typically fly myself on business trips throughout the country in my own plane.  There are however occassions that I have to take commercial airline flights, especially when I fly out to the west coast.

I’ve recently signed up for the Clear Registered Traveler airport security card (www.FlyClear.com).  This is a program that costs $128 per year and allows you to bypass the airport security lines since you are pre-screened by the TSA.  You’ll still need to go through the metal detector, but the days of arriving at the airport to find yourself waiting in a long airport security line are over.  To me, for just over $10 a month it’s well worth it for this added convenience.  The application process is very quick to do online then just takes a few minutes at a Fly Clear enrollment center at the airport to take your fingerprints and iris scan.

If you’re interested in signing up for the FlyClear airport security card, just visit www.FlyClear.com.  During the enrollment process, you’ll see a box that asks for a Discount Code.

Here’s my Clear Airport Security Card Discount Code:

DSCAM1158732

This discount code will get you a free extra month of membership in the FlyClear program.  It will also get me another free month of membership.  It’s a win-win for both of us!

In case you’re wondering, the Fly Clear Registered Traveler Card can be used at the following locations to bypass airport security lines:  Albany (ALB) – Cincinnati (CVG) – DC Dulles (IAD) – DC Reagan (DCA) – Denver (DEN) – Indianapolis (IND) – Jacksonville (JAX) – Little Rock (LIT) – New York (JFK) – New York (LGA) – Newark (EWR) – Oakland (OAK) – Orlando (MCO) – Reno (RNO) – San Francisco (SFO) – San Jose (SJC) – Westchester (HPN)

Happy Travels!

An Incredible Hanger Party

Socata TBM850Anti-Gravity Performers

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to attend a number of incredible airport hanger parties with various companies including Cessna Citation Jets, Cirrus Aircraft, Ferrari and many others…  Each of these were great events, but tonight’s hanger party takes the cake hands down!  I went to the unveiling party for the Socata TBM850 aircraft (http://www.tbm850.com/) as it arrived for the first time in the United States from France.   The event took place in a beautiful new hanger at Showalter Flying Service in Orlando, Florida.

Headed to the airport, I expected a quick visit to see the new plane and an early night back home.  My expectations were blown out of the water as I walked in to find the acrobatic group Anti-Gravity (http://www.anti-gravity.com/) dangling from the ceiling and bouncing around the stage.  I was blown away by their incredible performance and the amount of skill and strength these athletes possess.  I think what surprised me the most is how they were able to do such an elaborate performance in an aircraft hanger as opposed to performing in a venue designed for that purpose.  If you ever have the opportunity to see them in person, I’m quite sure you’ll agree this is one of the most incredible acts you will ever witness.

The hanger itself was set up like a high end nightclub – pristine white leather couches, live music, multiple bars – everything was done absolutely perfectly!  Aside from all the hanger-talk with a building full of pilots and aircraft owners, you’d almost never know we were there for an aircraft event at all.  After several hours of entertainment and great conversation, the ‘main event’ was ready to take place.  The President of Socata gave a quick speech, followed by fireworks launching into the sky as two brand new TBM850’s rolled up on the tarmac.  These are incredible aircraft that combine speed, comfort and technology.  I got to sit in the cockpit and play with the avionics which were equally as impressive as the rest of the specs on the plane.  To top it off, this is just plain a fantastic looking aircraft!

My hat is off to Socata and Showalter Flying Service for putting on what is undoubtably the best hanger party I’ve ever attended.  So many times companies miss the mark and have events to try to give you a sales pitch to buy their product.  Instead, these companies just put on an amazing event that people will talk about for years to come – and share with others as I’ve done here.  This is undoutably how you do a launch party right!

Explosion at 10,000 Feet

Blue Fireworks Explosion

A few months back, I departed on routine flight from Orlando to Chicago.  I should know better by now than to use the the word “routine” when it comes to flying.  Perhaps that’s one of the things I like most about flying – the unknown.  Those little things that come out of nowhere and surprise you when you least expect them.  Back to the story…  It was a perfect sunny day for flying without a cloud in sight – what pilots sometimes refer to as severe clear.  The departure from Orlando was quick and easy and I began my ascent for my long journey ahead.  As I climbed the aircraft to altitude, I was constantly watching the speed, rate of climb, temperatures and other variables to ensure all systems were operating normally.  This was truly a “routine” flight in every sense of the word.  I hit 10,000 feet and all of a sudden, my world change dramatically in an instant.  Without any kind of warning, I heard a huge explosion!  My eyes instantly focused on the MFD (multi function display) engine page showing me a detailed view the cylinder temperatures, exhaust gas temperatures, oil pressure, etc.  Everything was completely normal – even the engine still sounded perfectly normal – for now at least.  Since I had no idea what caused the explosion, I errored on the side of caution and assumed there was the possibility the engine could quit soon.  I continued running through my mental emergency checklist preparing to make a diversion to the nearest airport.  It’s obviously much better to be on the ground diagnosing a problem than trying to do so at altitude.  I turned the dial on one of my Garmin GPS units to locate the nearest airfield.  Good news, there were several within gliding distance.  Even if my engine gave out completely, I could still make it.  I also glanced up at the bright red handle of my on-board whole-plane parachute system.  It’s almost as if that little handle was smiling at me letting me know I had yet another life-saving option if things went from bad to worse quickly.  All of these these physical and mental processes happened in a matter of seconds.  At this point, I still had no idea what had caused this explosion – but the bigger question in my mind was, “how are things still all operating normally?”   Did I hit something?  Just before notifying air traffic control of my intent to divert to the nearest airfield I glanced at the wings – both were fully intact.  I turned me head around and looked towards the tail which looked fine as well.  It was at that moment that I discovered the cause of the explosion – as well as the cause for my heart racing so fast that day.  It turns out this whole little event would be nothing more than good practice of my emergency procedure training.  Actually, there was no real emergency at all – and not even “real” explosion for that matter.  Instead, there was just a stack of prezels thrown across the backseat of the aircraft – the result of an exploding bag of pretzels!  This was caused by the pressure increase as the aircraft was climbing up to 10,000 feet.  The rest of the flight was actually quite routine and I made it to Chicago safely – with a smile on my face laughing about my impromptu emergency procedure drill earlier in that day.

Flying with an Aviation Legend

Joe Kittinger - Life Magazine Cover Joe Kittinger - Jump

Several months ago, my father introduced me to a friend of his from the veterans association.  To say this individual was simply a fellow pilot would be an understatement.  He was actually the very first man in space and the first man to reach the speed of sound without an aircraft.  He earned these distinctions by jumping out of a hot air balloon from an altitude of 102,800 feet (19 miles high).  He has also set the record for the highest balloon ascent, the highest parachute jump, and the longest drogue-fall (14 min) from a balloon.  In addition to these accomplishments, he also has a vast amount of experience flying more types of fixed wing aircraft than I can count.  He flew 483 missions over Vietnam during his three tours of duty and was a prisoner of war for several months after being shot down during one of these missions.  So, who is this aviator who’s a member of the National Aviation Hall of Fame?  His name is retired US Air Force Colonel Joe Kittinger. 

A few weeks ago, I had the honor of taking Colonel Kittinger on a flight.  I met him, along with my father, over at Showalter Flying Service at the Orlando Executive Airport.  We met in the lobby and headed to my Cirrus SR22GTS Aircraft waiting on the front ramp.  I conducted my routine pre-flight checks and briefed Joe and my father on the flight.  Soon we were fired up and taxiing out.  I set the GPS system for Ft. Pierce as we had mutual business interests we planned on pursuing there that day.  We lined up at the hold short line and I soon heard the familiar voice of my favorite air traffic controller at ORL come over the radio…  “N225HL – Cleared for take-off on runway 25”.  A few seconds later, we were whizzing down the runway, mentally running through cross-checks to make sure everything was in good order as we lifted off the ground.  Shortly after take-off, we were sent up to 4,000 feet and given a few quick turns that took us directly over the top of Orlando International Airport (MCO).  It’s a really neat experience for anyone reading this who’s never transitioned a busy airport from overhead.  Looking down, you see lines of commercial airliners arriving and departing and the onboard TCAS (traffic collission awareness system) screen is filled with their images.  It’s been a busy flight so far with little time for chit-chat up until this point.

Soon, we transitioned to the on the other side of MCO and things calmed down almost immediately.  We initiated a climb to 8,000 feet and turned on course as soon as we were clear of all of the airline traffic.  I turned to Joe and asked if he’s up for taking it for a spin.  He cracks a smile, which is aviator sign-language for “absolutely”.  Joe flies for the next hour.  He is certainly a pro – he quickly gets the feel of the plane and flies it like it’s riding on rails.  He comments a number of times about how impressed he is with how the plane handles.  He tells me that it feels just like flying an F16 fighter jet and that if I can fly this, I could certainly fly one of those as well.  Very cool!  Of course, the F16 has a bit more speed and a lot more weapon systems than the Cirrus, but it’s a neat feeling knowing that the flight characteristics are similar.  Joe also comments on the Avidyne avionics as I run through a demonstration of each of the functions.  We’ve got weather, traffic collision, live winds, airport diagrams, approach procedures, terrain avoidance, engine monitors, etc. – Basically, the whole kitchen sink and then some.  When it comes to systems that can save lives, we didn’t skimp one cent and ordered the aircraft fully equipped with every conceivable option.  I think it surprised him how much advanced technology has made its way into smaller corporate / personal aircraft.  He was looking at the systems commenting on how we’ve actually got more sophisticated avionics than what’s available on many of the commercial and military planes he’s flown.  Again, another “very cool” moment!

As we continued our flight southbound, afternoon winds from a weather system in the vicinity began kicking up.   The crosswind component on the runway at Fort Pierce was right at the maximum allowable for the Cirrus.  This was too close for comfort.  Could we have made the landing safely?  I’m 99% sure we could have… but… a good pilot knows that it’s better to side with caution rather than take unnecessary risks.  There’s no business meeting worth risking my life nor the life of my passengers over, period.  So, we decided to divert and head back to Orlando.

As we arrived back into Orlando, Colonel Kittinger mentioned that there was going to be a ceremony at the Veteran’s Hospital in which an Air Force fly-by would be conducted in the next few weeks.  He asked if I’d mind flying the course so that he could convey the heading information to the Air Force fighter jet pilots who would actually be piloting that flight.  I coordinated with the Orlando Executive Airport control tower (who was fantastic in helping with this request!) and we got the heading he needed.  It was a good feeling knowing this little side benefit came out of our flight together.

Soon, we were lined up runway 25 gliding over the lake just shy of the airport.  I watched the airspeed, winds (it was gusty!), and our position relative to the runway.  A few seconds later, we touched down gently and completed the flight successfully.  The sun was setting as we taxied back in to the Showalter ramp and we soon parted ways.  I drove home thinking back to what a great flight we had that day.  The flight itself may have been routine, but getting to fly with an aviation legend made it very special indeed.

Shown in the photos at the top of this post:  (1) The cover of Life Magazine featuring Joe Kittinger’s famous jump.  (2) An image from the balloon looking down showing Joe Kittinger descending after his jump.