King Schools announces scholarship winner, new video course

The winner of the $5,000 scholarship, Allen Reenders of Longmont, Colorado, joined King Schools co-founders John and Martha King, CEO Barry Knuttila, and NAFI Chairman Robert Meder at the April 16 presentation ceremony. Reenders plans to apply his scholarship toward earning his flight instructor certificate and his certificated flight instructor—instrument rating and become a working instructor. The scholarship award will also provide him with free lifetime access to all King Schools courses, including Flight Instructor Refresher Courses.

“I want to thank John and Martha and the NAFI crew. The resources you provide make this possible. You have been mentors of mine. You will be mentors of mine in the future, and I’m very excited,” he said.

In a news release about the award, John King noted his expectation that Reenders “will make a profound and lasting contribution to the aviation community.”

In the announcement, Reenders expanded on his aviation experience, reminiscing about taking his first flight as a youngster with his father, recalling the lifelong passion for flying that ensued, and noting the many opportunities he was offered while growing up in California’s San Joaquin Valley to explore aviation.

“I am so grateful for those people in my life and am excited that as an instructor I will to be able to help aspiring pilots and share my passion for flying,” he said. “Giving back is going to be a blast. Maybe that’s giving an hour or two of free instruction or perhaps it’s an invitation to go fly for lunch somewhere. It could be as simple as a little bit of encouragement. I plan to constantly be aware of my opportunities to promote and encourage pilots.”

Meder added that past winners of the scholarship “continue to have a really positive influence” on aviation. “This is our 5th year of partnering with King Schools, and we have been fortunate to have an incredible list of recipients who all remain dedicated instructors.”

Applications for the 2022 National Association of Flight Instructors and King Schools Scholarship will be available in August, with a submission deadline of January 2, 2022.

Aircraft marshalling course

The free video course, Understanding Aircraft Marshalling, is designed to help pilots quickly learn the signals used by individuals marshalling aircraft on a busy airport ramp. The 20-minute video can be accessed on the King Schools website.

“A pilot may see many different marshalling signals at a busy airport or event, so we cover them all,” John King said. “From start-up and departure to arrival and shut-down, this course has the common signals, as well as specialty and seldom-used signals. Like any other phase of flight, risk management is also a vital part of taxiing and parking safely, so we cover risk management best practices while on the ground too.”

Martha King added that many pilots have taxied in from a long flight to find themselves receiving marshalling instructions they do not remember or understand. “We developed this course to help fill that gap in aviation training,” she said.

Kim Hanson to lead pro pilot effort

King Schools announced the promotion of Kim Hanson to business leader of professional pilot courses. Hanson, a member of the company’s executive team, has run the King Schools Flight Instructor Refresher Course business for the 10 years since its inception. She earned her helicopter private pilot certificate in 2005 and went on to earn an instrument rating, commercial pilot and rotorcraft flight instructor certificates, and an instrument instructor rating, and became a fixed-wing private pilot as well.

“Kim is the perfect person to take our 20-plus professional courses and develop a roadmap to better serve our pro-pilot customers and grow this important aspect of our business,” said Knutilla.

Hanson has worked in technical support, course creation, video production, and sales support at King Schools, and is credited as instrumental in the creation of its successful and highly regarded Garmin G1000 course, the announcement said.

“King is a household name when it comes to preparing pilots for a professional career,” Hanson said. “My goal now is to build our courses for professional and turbine pilots to that same level. I am excited to learn new things and to be challenged, and I am honored to have this opportunity.”

Sun ‘n Fun in photos

Formations of vintage fighters, the first U.S. Navy Blue Angels arrival, and hot air balloons glowing in the twilight are a few of our favorite images that photojournalist Phelan M. Ebenhack took during the Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo in Lakeland, Florida.

NTSB finds pilot mishandled B–17G emergency

The Flying Fortress was on tour, and had paying passengers aboard the fateful flight that began with trouble starting the two right-side engines. Investigators found that shutting down the No. 4 engine, which failed shortly after takeoff, put additional demand on the No. 3 engine, and evidence of detonation in four of the nine cylinders of the No. 3 Pratt and Whitney radial engine pointed to a partial loss of power.

The crash occurred a little more than five minutes after the flight had been cleared for takeoff. The stricken bomber’s crew reported engine trouble on the crosswind leg, and requested a return to the airport. The four-engine bomber never climbed higher than 600 feet above the ground, and struck approach lights short of Runway 6 before veering to the right and crashing into ground vehicles and buildings. The pilot and co-pilot were both among the seven people who died, and much of what investigators learned about the flight crews’ actions came from a post-crash interview with the loadmaster, who was injured but survived.

The final report, released April 13, affirms a conclusion that was evident from the hundreds of pages of investigation documents released in December.

The pilot in command, Ernest McCauley, was also the director of maintenance for the Massachusetts-based Collings Foundation, and while investigators found problems in the engines, they found  the probable cause of the crash was McCauley’s decision to lower the landing gear while the aircraft was struggling to fly with only the two left-side engines producing full power, along with a failure to monitor airspeed:

“If the pilot had lowered the airplane’s nose to maintain the airspeed that was initially achieved during the climb and kept the landing gear retracted until landing on the runway was assured, the NTSB’s airplane performance study showed that the airplane could likely have overflown the approach lights and touched down beyond the runway threshold,” the NTSB report states. “Thus, the pilot did not appropriately manage the airplane’s configuration and airspeed after he shut down the No. 4 engine.”

The flight was conducted under a Living History Flight Exemption, an FAA program that allows warbird operators to accept money from passengers for flights, and the 10 passengers aboard Nine O Nine on October 2, 2019, had each made $450 donations to the foundation. Lawsuits have been filed, and law firms representing nine of the 10 plaintiffs in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the nonprofit organization issued a statement to local media: 

“The NTSB report and findings will help our clients get some closure after this terrible tragedy and will offer protection to other families going forward,” the statement said.

The Collings Foundation also responded to the report’s release with a statement to the media:

“We knew Ernest ‘Mac’ McCauley to be the most experienced B-17 pilot in the world who was passionate about the care and condition of all aircraft,” the foundation said. “Responsible flight and maintenance operations have always been a top priority of the Collings Foundation, reflected by over 30 years’ worth of a safe operating record, and always will be.”

The NTSB investigation concluded that “inadequate” maintenance while the aircraft was on tour contributed to the crash. A teardown of the No. 3 engine found “worn spark plugs with gaps between the electrodes that were beyond the manufacturer’s specifications, which should have been identified and corrected during the inspection of the No. 3 engine,” the final report states. A teardown of the No. 4 engine revealed similar problems:

“The No. 4 engine had its 25-hour inspection 9 days before the accident, but the teardown examination found that the gap between the points on the right magneto was less than the minimum gap that the manufacturer required, indicating that this check was either not performed or was improperly performed. As a result of the point gap, most of the ignition leads produced sparks that were weak or intermittent, adding to the loss of engine power caused by the short in the left magneto.”

The NTSB found that while the Collings Foundation had a safety management system on paper, it had not been effectively implemented by the organization. The NTSB also cited inadequate oversight by the FAA as a contributing factor in the crash.

“The SMS safety officer, who was responsible for managing the SMS, was a part-time, volunteer pilot and, as such, interacted with the foundation’s management and personnel on a sporadic basis only,” the final report states. “Further, the SMS did not detect and appropriately manage the risks associated with safety issues related to the pilot’s inadequate maintenance of the airplane while it was on tour.”

The investigation’s findings were cited in the NTSB’s recent recommendation that the FAA require SMS implementation and oversight of all revenue flights conducted under Part 91. The AOPA Air Safety Institute pushed back on that recommendation as “overly broad.”

Mentors serenade Sun ‘n Fun

The association formed in 1975 to support the fleet of Beechcraft T–34 Mentors acquired by civilian pilots and has grown to 400 members, according to its website. The Bonanza variant has a long history training military pilots in several countries and remains beloved by owners. Many of them gathered for a fly-in days before Sun ‘n Fun started, hosted by George Baker Aviation Inc. in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Baker Aviation was created as a project shop for George Baker’s restoration of a T–34 in 1997, and has grown into a full-service maintenance operation servicing Mentors and other Beechcraft models, including Barons and Bonanzas.

From there, the group headed to Lakeland on April 13, and several T–34s sporting military liveries took part in the April 14 afternoon airshow.

Janeen Kochan, a designated pilot examiner based in Winter Haven, Florida, has owned a Mentor with her husband, Dennis, since 2016, and they joined the procession to Lakeland, though there were so many Mentors that they didn’t manage to all park together, Kochan said in a telephone interview.

“The association really wanted a big showing,” Kochan said, estimating that 14 or 15 T–34s had made the trip and parked as a group. “It’s great, because there are so many there.”

Kochan said her home airport in Winter Haven serves as a reliever during Sun ‘n Fun, and the show traffic is evident there, too. “I see they’re already parking up on the other taxiway,” Kochan said. “We’re pretty full.”

Kochan said she was thrilled to see strong overall attendance at the show: “It was just so neat to see all the people out there, and happy, and just doing airplane stuff. Everybody just seems to be in a good mood.”

Kochan said that the precautions in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 amid the ongoing pandemic satisfied her that the remaining risk is acceptable. “I can’t say enough about how well it’s organized,” Kochan said of the event. “It is something that needed to happen … We’ll be mindful, we’ll be safe, but we’re going to celebrate aviation like we know how.”

Janeen and Dennis Kochan have owned their Beechcraft T–34 Mentor for five years. Photo courtesy of Janeen Kochan.

Bearhawk 4-Place adds floats, skis

Alaska-based Bearhawk builder Robert Taylor built his 4-Place model to handle a trifecta of conditions on the Kenai Peninsula where landing locations are as abundant as the salmon, caribou, and cranes found in or near its wetlands, rainforests, and glaciers.

First, he installed Edo 2870 floats that were originally certified for Cessna 180/185 Skywagons and are serviced and supported by Kenmore Air Harbor Inc., of Kenmore, Washington.

“It has proven to be a very nice, straight forward floatplane,” said Taylor, who also appreciates the double cargo doors and forward visibility that he described as “exceptional on the float-equipped Bearhawk.”

Taylor assembled the aircraft with his son, and since they fly year-round, the pair decided to make the 4-Place convertible from wheels to floats to skis so they could take full advantage of the local environment. “I am on skis now, but it’s time to swap to wheels,” said Taylor as he prepared for melting snow and soggy tundra. “In June, the airplane will go to a nearby lake and be on floats again,” he explained.

The kitbuilt Bearhawk Aircraft 4-Place STOL taildragger can now be fitted with skis for winter flying in the backcountry. Photo courtesy of Bearhawk Aircraft.

The Taylors hung a carbureted 260-horsepower Lycoming O-540 on the aircraft because of the additional weight of the floats. He said that adding floats slows the aircraft by 15 mph in cruise because of increased drag; however, the six-cylinder Lycoming familiar to Piper Cherokee Six owners “has all the power you could ever need, which makes it a safe airplane to fly.”

Even with the additional surface area presented by the floats, the STOL airplane’s flight controls “are very responsive and can be flown with two fingers,” Taylor noted. He typically flies at a power setting of 2,200 rpm and 22 inches of manifold pressure for an economical cruise of 130 mph at 11 to 12 gallons per hour. When the aircraft is outfitted with wheels, Taylor said he has clocked speeds up to 160 mph and landed at 52 mph.

In the winter, Taylor’s Bearhawk 4-Place is fitted with Aero Ski M3000 wheel replacement main skis and a T3000 tail ski that substitutes for the Scott 3200 tailwheel. With the skis attached, “handling characteristics are similar to flying on wheels,” he said.

Another of Taylor’s goals was to build a “new old airplane” with a feel that recaptures his earliest experiences in aviation. For the interior, he installed classic steam gauges with older rebuilt instruments. A panel-mounted Sigtronics Corp. intercom and noise-reduction headsets augment a Communications Specialists TR-720 handheld com radio while a Garmin GPS provides situational awareness during VFR flights. Headset plugs for both the pilot and passenger are mounted aft of their seats to accommodate a quick dash from the cockpit to the dock without becoming entangled in cords.

The kitbuilt Bearhawk Aircraft 4-Place STOL taildragger can be flown on wheels too. Photo courtesy of Bearhawk Aircraft.

Bearhawk Aircraft said in a news release that Taylor’s “triphibious” aircraft “performs equally well on wheels, floats, and skis apropos of the season.” The Bearhawk 4-Place Quick Build kit price is $49,000 without engine, instruments, or upholstery, which are sourced separately. A rebuilt Lycoming O-540 E4B5 runs around $38,000, but a previously owned engine might be less than half that, said a Bearhawk Aircraft spokesperson.

In other news, Bearhawk Aircraft Model B owners/builders have conducted several flights in the four-seat STOL model designed by engineer Bob Barrows that was updated to a Riblett 30-413.5 airfoil. The company also recently began deliveries of the six-seat Model 5 that was announced in May 2020.

AOPA’s call for ramp, FBO transparency gains momentum

An FBO ramp fee transparency effort launched by AOPA more than two years ago now has the support of over 300 pilot organizations from across the country. In a letter to these groups, AOPA President Mark Baker outlined the status of acceptance of FBO ramp fee transparency and called on the industry to communicate its support and encouragement to FBOs, especially larger chain FBOs such as Signature Flight Support and Atlantic Aviation.

Signature posts its ramp fees for piston aircraft online, but not for turbines or jets; Atlantic Aviation does not post any of its fees or prices online. Both require turbine and jet pilots to join a loyalty program before revealing any prices, although Atlantic does post a $400 facility fee when accessing its loyalty program. These two specific FBOs represent nearly 200 locations across the country.

Of the 16 chain FBOs, only three have fully complied with the voluntary pricing transparency: ACI Jet, Cutter, and Wilson Air. Those three companies comprise 12 locations.

“We thank those FBOs that serve pilots with openness,” Baker said. “It’s the right thing to do and, unfortunately, we just haven’t gotten to where we need to be. In fact, we estimate that only about 25 percent of the more than 3,300 FBOs across the country have instituted voluntary transparent business practices by publishing their fees online. There is a lot of support for fee and ramp transparency at our public-use airports and by working together, I know we can, and must, do better than this.

“Imagine flying on an airline and not being able to find out how much you’ll pay until you land. It just doesn’t make sense.”

The original Know Before You Go initiative was launched two years ago by AOPA and five other major GA organizations, and has significantly grown to include a wide spectrum of aviation groups across the United States. The program encourages FBOs to post ramp fees and fuel prices on their websites for piston and turbine aircraft, or on AOPA’s Airports and Destinations Directory.

“We understand that FBOs provide necessary services and have a right to run a thriving and profitable business, but not at the expense of the general aviation community and regardless of the type of aircraft they fly,” added Baker. “Like any other consumer, pilots have the right to know the cost of services at an airport before the bill comes.”

The letter comes on the heels of AOPA’s push to bring transparency and standardization to airport diagrams for GA and FBO parking ramps.  AOPA and partner organizations believe that airports that have GA transient ramps, GA based ramps, and/or FBO ramps should label them as such on their diagrams, so pilots know their options before arriving at their destination.

The FAA now requires nearly 700 airports to have a diagram, and the agency plans to increase that number to 3,000. AOPA conducted a review and found nearly 30 different terms for the same type of GA parking ramp in Southern California alone.

“Every pilot in the United States should be able to go online and see what fees they will be charged and what their parking options are before they land at an airport,” concluded Baker.

Introducing Flyjets Founder and CEO Jessica Fisher

Within the aviation industry, Fisher has many missions. However, the focus of Flyjets is to improve affordability while also helping the environment through the FlyGreen initiative.

According to Fisher, Flyjets works to provide low charter rates by taking advantage of “empty leg discounts.”

Fisher shared that the goal of the FlyGreen program “is to effectively establish the world’s first carbon offset and green fuel subsidy—and thereby encourage users to opt in to environmentally friendly initiatives and alternatives. The system will enable those Flyjets members who choose to offset their flight—and, in the future, fly with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and green fuel alternatives—to earn additional currency-equivalent points toward future bookings, above the number of FLYRewards they ordinarily achieve with each flight booking.”

Photo courtesy of Jessica Fisher.

Fisher has also dedicated part of her efforts to giving back to the next generation of pilots with the Fly Foundation.

According to the Flyjets website, Fisher also works as a principal at Monroe Capital, where she focuses on impact investments. She previously worked “as an associate producer in CNBC’s Strategic Programming and Development division, as an analyst at MBF Asset Management, as an analyst at Goldman Sachs in the U.S. Equities Sales division and as an M.B.A. summer intern at the Robin Hood Foundation.”

AOPA caught up with Fisher to find out more about her company, her passion for business, and her passion for improving aviation.

How did you first become interested in aviation?

I’ve always loved airplanes and airports—I used to tell my father that my dream was to live at Westchester Airport. While that may not have become a reality, my other dream of learning to fly did!

I started taking flying lessons at Danny Waizman Flight School, out at Republic Airport, in 2012. I completed my private pilot knowledge test and initial solo flights in 2014, and I plan to complete my certification in the near future using soundproofing equipment and acoustic technology (I have very sensitive ears!).

How did you come up with the Flyjets concept?

I came up with the idea for Flyjets in 2012, during my Introduction to Venturing course at Columbia Business School with Professor Bob Dorf (co-author of “The Startup Owner’s Manual”), who has been both a mentor and great friend ever since. What I initially called “[Unnamed Jet Project]” officially became Flyjets during my second semester in the entrepreneurship program, and my third semester, at Columbia, during the “Launching New Ventures” course.

Can you explain the concept?

The primary goal of Flyjets is to connect flyers and aircraft providers, and to effectively enable access to aviation in a transparent—and very green—way. Flyjets is the first completely open charter and commercial aviation marketplace for both business-to-consumer and business-to-business transactions; Flyjets memberships and usage of the application are free. The Flyjets application utilizes proprietary aircraft data, dynamic location sourcing, distance and time to automate non-scheduled flights anywhere in the world.

The Flyjets system utilizes the benefits of automation and technology-enabled network effects to guarantee the lowest point-to-point charter rates available and enable travelers to take full advantage of “empty leg” discounts.

“Empty legs,” or, as we have coined them, “charter flights,” are flights that need to move in specific directions with or without passengers, and are therefore often priced at significant discounts. For instance, when a charter aircraft is booked for a round-trip flight, the airplane does not stay at the destination airport; rather, it flies to and from its “home base” location after passengers are dropped off. Thus, a “two leg” trip is often, in reality, a “four leg” trip, with the risk of two empty legs priced into the initial charter price. With the goal of splitting the “four legs” between two sets of flyers, Flyjets seeks to simultaneously enable cost savings and increase aircraft utilization.

How do you feel this new concept is moving the needle in the aviation industry?

First and foremost, I’m hoping that Flyjets’ (Fly I Corp.) benefit corporation structure will help to set a formal standard of doing well by doing good within the aviation industry—an industry that already, irrespective of official corporate structures, does a tremendous amount of good.

With a focus on information technology and establishing a true marketplace structure, Flyjets is primarily focused on improving accessibility to and transparency within the aviation industry. By integrating charter and commercial booking mechanisms into one platform we hope to effectively: increase and improve the insight and information provided to industry participants—with respect to flight options, aircraft and route alternatives, supply and demand dynamics, and pricing specifics—and introduce both new and existing opportunities to new and existing flyers and aircraft providers.

Lastly, as for The Fly Foundation, our goal is to have a significant impact on the future of aviation education. A minimum of five percent of Flyjets’ revenue from each flight booked is directed to The Fly Foundation, which is currently in the process of attaining 501(c)(3) status. With all these new flying cars coming to life…we will definitely need a full troop of pilots! 

I’m hoping that the gift of flight will have a hugely positive impact on all those involved in the program in the future, just as it did for me. The flight instructors I’ve worked with taught invaluable lessons in leadership, life, consistently giving 170 percent, and persistence.

You also created The Fly Foundation. Can you please share more about it?

The Fly Foundation, which works side by side along with Fly I Corp. (a New York State benefit corporation), was developed to extend Flyjets’ core mission of doing well by doing good, and delivering material positive benefits to business, society, and the environment.

The key goals of the foundation are five-fold:

  1. To pioneer technology and mechanisms that promote safe and sustainable flight.
  2. To promote safe and sustainable conditions for pilots and flyers worldwide.
  3. To promote flight education and connect aspiring pilots, flight instructors and aircraft—and provide funding and resources for flying (piloting) lessons.
  4. To provide aid and assistance in situations and locations suffering from distressed conditions, including natural disasters.
  5. To provide aid and assistance in situations requiring emergency services.

What is your ultimate goal within the aviation industry?

Ultimately, Flyjets intends to streamline and facilitate the process of flying, owning, operating, storing, and maintaining aircraft—and to pave the way for the future of flight.

As for shorter term goals, Flyjets maintains three primary objectives:

  1. To make the air charter industry more accessible: less expensive, more efficient, more transparent, and more navigable for flyers and aircraft providers alike.
  2. To effectively contribute to increasing aircraft utilization rates.
  3. To integrate charter and commercial booking options in one cooperative system.

What do you feel your biggest hurdle has been?

There have been so many hurdles it would be impossible to pick one. Importantly, I learned to fail first, primarily for the following two reasons:

I set out to start an aviation company in 2012 with very little flight (piloting) experience—I quickly learned my first flight instructor’s favorite lesson of “fly first—the rest, later.” Understanding that flight education would be instrumental to Flyjets’ success, I spent time during and after business school taking lessons, focusing on passing my private pilot exam and completing my first solo flight.

I attempted to start an aviation technology company with very little computer science education. Coding is very tough to learn without being able to give 1,000 percent, and in 2017 I enrolled in the full-time Web Development Immersive course at General Assembly. The program provided a tremendous experience and I was able to gain the knowledge I needed to truly execute on the Flyjets concept and set out building our system.

Afterward, in 2018, I took what had at that point been a five-and-a-half year attempt at Flyjets and started from a clean slate by incorporating both Fly I Corp. (doing business as Flyjets) and The Fly Foundation. I took what I had learned—all that had transpired between my Columbia course in 2012 and that time—and set out to re-build the initial Flyjets framework and concept. Fast forward almost three years, and I think our team has done a pretty exceptional job at that!

Sun ‘n Fun an impeccable start to airshow season

Aviation enthusiasts from all over the country are gathering in Lakeland, Florida, April 13 through 18 at the Lakeland Linder International Airport to celebrate their shared passion for flight in true Florida fashion. Beautiful blue skies, calm winds, and warm temperatures are a welcome sight after 2020’s COVID-19 restrictions canceled general aviation events, including Sun ‘n Fun and EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

The excitement is on everyone’s faces, even behind the masks. After standing in the ticket line to secure my weekly pass, I venture down to the aircraft camping area to see if I can connect with a few friends.

Dave and Jeanne Allen, of Elbert, Colorado, hold an original picture of their 1934 Waco YKC aircraft. Photo by Cayla McLeod.

“If someone is in a bad mood when they get to Sun ‘n Fun, they won’t be in a bad mood for long,” said Jeanne Allen, co-owner of a beautiful vintage Waco. “The people are so much fun. It’s so great to see all the airplanes and all the people smiling.” Her husband, Dave, added, “Half of Sun ‘n Fun is fun, right?” While we are chatting, a group of four individuals walk up to the Waco. The group greets one another with hugs and handshakes, something that would have been unthinkable at this same time last year.

A short walk from the Waco, several small children play around a Boeing Stearman. The Ferrin and Hatch families flew their Stearman, American Champion Super Decathlon, and Cessna 310 in from Rome, Georgia. As longtime Sun ‘n Fun attendees, they are well prepared for the week’s festivities. Three tents, 10 chairs, and a portable canopy complete with a grilling station underneath, surround the Stearman. This is their “home away from home for the week.” The children’s grandfather Rick Ferrin flew the Stearman down and is looking forward to tent camping with his close family throughout the week. His son-in-law Andrew Hatch keeps coming back to Sun ‘n Fun for the “excitement of aviation that Sun ‘n Fun instills in the children. It cannot be found anywhere else.” Dan Ferrin, the Decathlon pilot and father to four of the children, said that his kids are most excited for the airplane scavenger hunt that he has arranged. “They have to walk around and take pictures of airplanes like Mustangs or Corsairs, and if they do, they will get a prize.”

As lunchtime nears, I walk across the show site to the food court and get distracted by a departing Boeing C–17 Globemaster until the smell of grease, doughnuts, and corn dogs overwhelms my senses. I am in heaven. A foot-long corn dog calls my name. After enjoying the calorific “meal” with a friend, we venture into the exhibit hangars, where we play with new Garmin avionics and Best Tugs.

The airshow starts while we are walking through the exhibit hangars, so we step outside for the national anthem. Gene McNeely, in his North American T–6 Texan, circles a parachute jumper carrying the American flag. The jumper lands, and the show begins with McNeely’s solo T–6 aerobatic routine.

Brett Speth, of Macon, Georgia, stands next to CubCrafters’ nosewheel NXCub, which was displayed at the CubCrafters booth at the Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo. Photo by Cayla McLeod.

As the show progresses, several attendees seek refuge from the hot Florida sun. I step into the CubCrafters booth and meet fellow shade seeker Brett Speth, a retired U.S. Air Force pilot and current United Airlines pilot. As a first-time Sun ‘n Fun attendee, he is in awe. “The depth and breadth of equipment and aircraft are phenomenal.” He is most looking forward to the possibility of meeting aviation YouTube star Mike Patey, hanging out with friends, and checking out the “latest avionics and gizmos that you only ever get to see on the internet.”

From first timers to Sun ‘n Fun veterans, everyone is enjoying being with one another after a year apart. Hands are being shaken, hugs are being given, and airplanes are back to making noise for a crowd. Sun ‘n Fun 2021 is getting the airshow season off to an impeccable start.—By Cayla McLeod

US Air Force demo squadron launches new show

“We started with the [spectator] experience in mind,” said the Thunderbirds lead pilot Col. John Caldwell, who sought to make the performances “more coherent,” and not just a collection of individual maneuvers.

The new routine is meant to build in complexity over time and display the Air Force’s pride, precision, and patriotism. It starts big with all six Thunderbirds F–16s flying a series of vertical maneuvers. Then the pilots shift to close formations near the crowd.

High-speed, crossing maneuvers from multiple directions are next, followed by a graceful interlude in which all six single-engine jets fly together with as little as 18 inches of separation between them.

“The performance builds in complexity over time,” said Maj. Zane Taylor, who flies the right wing position. “Every maneuver has a purpose . . . and the whole performance tells a story.”

The Thunderbirds consulted former team members as well as The Walt Disney Co. and the International Council of Airshows in developing the new routine. They shortened the ground portion of each performance and incorporated more hand signals, eliminated six maneuvers, and trimmed 20 minutes from what used to be a 90-minute show.

“It’s easy to add to a show,” Caldwell said. “It’s hard to cut things out.”

The changes are among the most significant in the demonstration team’s history. The first was when the jet team was formed in 1953, and the second was in 1983, when members began flying F–16s.

The group also made changes in its “low” and “flat” shows to better align them with performances flown in good weather—and all of them contain new music and narration.

Each performance contains the traditional four-ship “diamond” formation and two opposing solos. And don’t let the sweeping, graceful maneuvers lull you into complacency.

The group’s signature “sneak pass,” in which an F–16 comes up from behind the crowd in afterburner at nearly the speed of sound, is still part of the repertoire.

“If you liked the sneak pass,” Taylor said, “you’ll love the new show.”

Aviation hiring trends survey predicts continued job growth

‘Encouraging’ results despite coronavirus pandemic slowdowns

April 14, 2021

A hiring trends survey conducted by online aviation jobs website JSfirm.com indicates that many companies predict at least moderate growth in 2021 as the economy continues to rebound from the coronavirus pandemic. Pilots, aircraft maintenance technicians, and avionics specialists remain in the highest demand, the company said.

More than 50 percent of the 200 hiring professionals, executives, and business owners responding to the company’s 2021 Hiring Trends Survey forecast at least “moderate growth” in the aviation sector. Additionally, almost 15 percent expected “significant growth.” About 20 percent predicted “no growth,” and 3.3 percent predicted declines.

Almost 33 percent of the survey’s respondents said they expected to hire personnel during the second quarter of 2021, which runs from April through June. Additionally, 66 percent said they didn’t cut jobs in 2020 despite a worldwide travel slowdown. The majority of those responding (76.5 percent) indicated that their companies plan to return to pre-pandemic staffing levels before the end of 2021.

JSfirm.com Managing Partner Sam Scanlon said that although “airlines make the headlines,” the small- to medium-sized companies that “make up the majority of our infrastructure made it through the past year and are now gearing up for growth.”

The company has continued to log an increase in traffic from both job seekers and companies looking to hire personnel, Scanlon said.


David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot

AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a private pilot with single-engine land and sea ratings and a tailwheel endorsement. He is also a certificated remote pilot and co-host of the award-winning AOPA Hangar Talk podcast. David enjoys vintage aircraft and photography.