Thursday, November 20, 2014

FAA, The Original EPA

Did you feel that America?  When you woke up, could you sense the change in your status?  Only yesterday you were an upstanding citizen merely washing your car as your kids played with their radio controlled quad-copter.  Today though you’re the parent of criminals doing something that could cost you tens of thousands of dollars in fines.  What is it?  It’s their toy of course.  Haven’t you heard?
If you’ve been following politics in 2014, you most surely have heard about the EPA’s attempt to regulate non-navigable waterways.  What are non-navigable waterways?   Well, in short, they’re that ditch in your yard and the pond you built into the landscaping.  Yes, that’s right.  The EPA wants to have regulatory control of your ditch.  And what does that mean to you?  For starters, washing your car at home could generate huge fines if it can be determined anything other than pure water flowed off your vehicle and into the drain.  Even silt, fine dirt, could land you in big trouble.   Crazy isn’t it?  But that’s not your problem.

No, your problem is that cute little 8” toy quad-copter you bought your kids.  As of November 18th, that toy falls under the jurisdiction of the FAA.  And, like every plane in the country, it is subject to the rules of airspace.   But wait, you’re off the hook because your kids aren’t flying their toy in any airspace, right?  Wrong!  It’s time to get educated.
You see, the FAA was the original EPA.  In fact, in many ways the FAA was, and still is, a primary incubator for onerous government oversight ideas.  Long before the EPA, TSA, DOE, and others, the FAA had established itself as an eight headed hydra willing to test the governmental limits of ethics, bureaucracy, and common sense.  It restricted free enterprise, stood in the way of advancement, made up rules on the fly, told pilots how they could live, companies when they could operate, and collected data on everyone so it could be used against them should the need arise.

The amount of medical information alone that is collected on pilots would startle most civil liberties champions.  If you want to enjoy the greatest freedom known to man, you’re going to have to tell them if you have herpes.  Whatever the condition, real, possible, or imagined, the FAA insists on knowing about it when you renew the medical required to have a license.  And just to be sure you don’t forget to list a doctor’s visit, occasionally they find some poor soul who forgot to report a trip to the emergency room for a cut to the hand and fine her a couple grand and take her license just to make a point; DON’T CROSS US OR YOU’LL BE SORRY.   On its finest day, it is a disgusting, irregular, vindictive beast ruled by agents that would make the Matrix envious.

If you’re getting concerned, you should be.   Would you like to know how your kids were turned into criminals?  Basically speaking, the NTSB is to the FAA what the FISA court is to any government agency that wants to snoop on Americans.   Little more than a federal organization designed to find the most convoluted and expensive solutions to problems that don’t exist, the NTSB rules so often in favor of the FAA that to describe it as often isn’t telling the whole story.  The official story, just like the FISA court, is that it is unbiased and makes decisions based on facts and logic.  The real story is that the NTSB lives and breathes to give support to any governmental agency, especially the FAA, anytime it asks for backup.  And guess what, the FAA asked for it.
Yes, just like that poor soul who forgot her visit to the ER, a gentleman was recently targeted for using his quad-copter, also commonly called a drone, to capture some video of the University of Virginia.  The FAA, for whatever reason, got involved and decided to make an example of Mr. Pirker.  A $10,000 fine is what he got for “operating an aircraft in a careless and reckless manner”.  That’s the catch all phrase the FAA has used to kneecap pilots for generations.  Like a cop planting drugs on a clean driver, when the FAA has nothing on a pilot but really wants to get the bust, this is the wording they use.  Fortunately though, a federal judge disagreed with their verdict and overturned the fine.  That’s when the agency called their friends at the NTSB.

You know where this is going, don't you?  Upon hearing the case, the NTSB ruled in favor of the FAA.  Unfortunately for your kids, in order to pass this judgement on Mr. Pirker, they also had to define what an aircraft was.  This is what they came up with – any device used for flight in air to include manned or unmanned, large or small.   Did you get that?   The NTSB just gave the FAA regulatory control over everything from spaceships to paper airplanes.  Did I mention that includes the airspace all the way to the ground?
Just in case you’re sitting there in disbelief, for the purpose of clarity, let me spell it out .  The FAA now has regulatory control over ever square inch of airspace in your yard starting at ground level.  If you fly a model anywhere in that airspace you are subject to FAA interpretations of use and you could be fined.  Of course, with them having achieved this so easily, I’m sure the EPA is insanely jealous and will be working overtime to get control of your ditch.  If you don’t want to be fined for the water dripping off your car, you better call your representatives and give them an earful.  Sadly though, it’s too late for your kids.  They’re practically felons and all they did was enjoy the great American dream of flight.
Sorry, kid; you shouldn't have been filming your dog with that toy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Our Fly-In Sponsors are the Best

I'd like to take a minute to talk about our fly-in sponsors.  Over the years they've stuck with us through thick and thin.  And yet it is their quality of person, the principles and beliefs behind them, that make these folks so great.  In fact, we believe so strongly in only doing business with upstanding corporate and private citizens, we've been known to turn down sponsorships.  Yes, you read that right; if our sponsors weren't the best, they wouldn't be our sponsors.
Of course, it's easy to blow smoke up the skirts of sponsors but we're not into that. Instead, we prove our belief in them by referring their services as often as the opportunity allows.  And you know what? Every time we've ever referred one of them, we've heard great things back about the services or products received.   That's a great sign.  But, we love our sponsors so much we'd like to do more.
When it comes to Poly-Fiber, Signature Engines, and Vintage Pursuits, we have something special in mind for them.  Their products and services will be used in our rebuild of the family Champ (N2665E) that was crushed ten years ago in a freak snow storm hangar collapse.   Their fabric system will cover and color it, their engine services will assist in the conversion, and their consulting services will help us decided on what to include and what to leave out.
As for the other sponsors, I have personally ridden along on several Aeronautical Charters charter flights.  Their pilots are some of the best and their customers always seem to be smiling;  The Bowman Eagles is a flying club full of members who don't just fly taildraggers, they stay involved in aviation.  Most of you know them for being reliable fly-in volunteers here at Lee Bottom and other events;  The folks at Barfing Bee Honey are also reliable friends and volunteers.  Among other things, they head up the volunteers and aircraft parking during the fly-in;  Derrick Engineering helps us in many ways throughout the year and they are firmly placed in our long term goals for a water and septic system that would handle a growing airport infrastructure;  QAM, Inc, is owned and operated by some of the best folks on the planet.  Not only do they volunteer here at the fly-in, but they are constantly looking for ways to help out our communication infrastructure which is greatly hindered by our remote location; Geez Beez Honey offers nature's desert to pilots who fly into Lee Bottom from all over the country and beyond; Gordon Farms is another sponsor - they've helped out in more ways than we can count doing nearly every job possible at the airport or fly-in at one time or another.  And finally there's all of the people who purchased cones or donated money to help with the event; they often act as though they feel they aren't doing enough but the reality is they make up the majority of the effort.  There's power in numbers and they always come through.

Thanks again to all of our fly-in sponsors, big and small, for helping us get the fly-in back on track and making it another success.  Without you, it could not be done.

Never Forget, But What About Those Already Forgotten?

Christmas is approaching and the catalogs are piling up.  Whatever it is you dream of, someone somewhere offers it.  But how much of it do you really need?  Deep down we all know the answer to that, don’t we?  Yet I must admit, whenever the Historic Aviation catalog comes along, I always browse every page.
The Historic Aviation Catalog is easily the best aviation enthusiast wish book.  Yeah, most of the stuff can be bought elsewhere if you have time to look, and most of the items sold equate to shelf clutter or pilot apparel.  But it is only within its pages where most of the really cool clutter and apparel can be found in one easy to order from location.  Well, except for Lee Bottom Caps.
Another thing I really like about Historic Aviation is that it regularly offers forgotten history to those who peruse its wares.  Most magazines don’t do as well as H.A. when it comes to finding and promoting history that never achieved mainstream glory.  Make no mistake though, H.A. is selling memorabilia.  But, in doing so in its own way, I suspect this catalog has spurred recipients to research more unique history than half of our aviation publications combined.  Let me offer you an example.
The latest Historic Aviation catalog delivered a surprise.  Holding down the top left position on page 29 is an SB2C Helldiver.  I’ve always loved that airplane.  Of course, the most likely reason for this passion is also the most likely reason I love Hellcats, Dauntless dive bombers, and just about every other WWII Navy aircraft; my dad served on a carrier in that war.  And yet, the Helldiver isn’t the real surprise.  What makes this one so special is that it is painted in the colors of the Randolph,CV-15.  That’s the carrier upon which my dad served and where all his earliest aviation stories were born.
Never heard of the Randolph?  Don’t feel bad.  Although it had some incredible history, like so many other things, it was inexplicably lost in the shadows of two or three of its peers.   And, until recently there was very little discussion of the ship; then Paul Allen painted his Hellcat to represent one of the famous fighters that was based on it.
Before long, a book about these fighters was taking on new life.  Having been in print for ages, in 2014 it found a second wind and secured a spot on the Amazon Editor’s top 100 Favorite Books list.  Titled Crommelin’s Thunderbirds, it is a “chronicle of their operations off the USS Randolph in the last stages of the Pacific war”.  And since the Randolph was the first carrier ever to go straight from its shakedown cruise into battle and then for it to be in Japan when the war ended, my father was there for it all.
So, as you can imagine, finding a model of a Randolph Helldiver, a more obscure aircraft type, well that was truly a surprise to me.  Somewhere, someone must have read up on the carrier and decided it was time it received more attention.  The folks at Historic Aviation looked at their product the way they do everything else, saw the unique history, thought it would sell to their customer base, and placed it firmly on 1/15th of a page.  It’s a small space but it represents some amazing history.  The next time you’re browsing the web, give it a look.  
Thank you Historic Aviation.  On this Veteran's Day, you’ve likely spurred several people to search out the history of a ship they never knew existed.  This Essex Class Carrier, like so many other ships, was full of people whose stories, for one reason or another, were never told.  That’s a shame; some great men called her home.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

More Grass on the Way

During the middle of October we spent a full week mowing, aerating, fertilizing, and over-seeding all of the Lee Bottom property meant for handing aircraft.  The area worked, approximately 50 acres, was given one of the best treatments it has had in years.  Starting with a 17’ mowing deck, moving to an aerator just eight feet wide, and ending with a spreader that lays down seed in 15’ wide swaths, over 300 trips from one end of the field to the other were completed.
During the week long string of switchbacks, millions of plugs were pulled from the earth, tons of fertilizer were deposited, and around 2000 lbs of grass seed were carefully spread to take advantage of them both.  Ears were further deafened by the mower, arms were made numb from aerator vibrations, a back was pushed to its limits, and more hair was lost.  But then again, that last one could just be the fault of aviation.   Whatever the case, one full week of human existence was given to the Gods of Grass so that others may continue to enjoy no tread wear while expanding their aviation memory portfolios.
Here's to another great year of flying.