Just in time for Christmas: A Holiday Flying Festival

Not to be deterred by the year’s sweeping cancellations of aviation events in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the leadership of the Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo seized upon the holiday season and Florida’s mild early-winter weather to host what may turn out to be the largest aviation event of the year in the United States.

On December 4 and 5, an estimated 4,000 to 7,000 people converged for a socially distanced outdoor festival that drew together elements of fly-ins and local holiday events. While nearly 70 backcountry flying experts competed for the shortest landings on the Lakeland Aero Club’s grass airstrip, Santa and Mrs. Claus made their own arrival at show center in a Stearman PT–17 to collect Christmas wish lists from scores of eager children. More than 200 automobile enthusiasts displayed classic and muscle cars. A balloon glow accented a twilight airshow that featured the U.S. Air Force F–35 and F–16 Viper demo teams. Jack Klein of Little Rock, Arkansas, marks the takeoff spot of a STOL aircraft that got airborne in less than 75 feet. The demonstration of extreme aircraft performance capabilities thrilled hundreds of spectators throughout the two-day event. Photo by Chris Eads.

Between exhibitor aircraft, warbirds, short takeoff and landing competitors, and attendees flying in from all over the region, approximately 350 aircraft arrived for the event, according to show officials. Aircraft camping sold out with 100 participants. For those coming just for the day, low IFR conditions on Saturday kept arrivals slow at first, but ceilings eventually lifted, presenting a beautiful cloudless sky for the STOL competition finals and the afternoon airshow.

On Saturday morning, Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo President and CEO John “Lites” Leenhouts hosted AOPA President Mark Baker and Experimental Aircraft Association Chairman Jack Pelton for an engaging conversation about the state of general aviation in the midst of the pandemic. Questions submitted from the hundreds of pilots in attendance ranged from how GA is responding to the economic difficulties of 2020 to user fees, hybrid fuels, and improving GA safety. Much of the conversation centered on the future of aviation events, with each executive sharing his organization’s plans for 2021. The holiday event was seen as a precursor to next year’s Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo that Leenhouts promised will take place in April 2021. Pelton also emphasized EAA’s commitment to hosting AirVenture 2021, and Baker explained AOPA’s plans to conduct a series of AOPA Pilot Gathering Air Tours to visit pilots at nearly two dozen events across the nation next year.

“General aviation is alive and well,” Baker emphasized during the town hall. “Aircraft sales are fantastic right now, people are doing flight training, flight schools around the country are busier than they’ve ever been…people are turning to general aviation more and more.”

“What’s really great about this event is that it’s the first time since March that I’ve been able to get out and be with people face to face,” said Jamie Beckett, AOPA You Can Fly Florida ambassador. “We’ve met members from all over, some great folks.”

AOPA You Can Fly Florida Ambassador Jamie Beckett (center) and AOPA Senior Manager of Aviation Event Operations Phillip Johnson (right) enjoy a conversation with local CFI Eric Eiermann (left) at the AOPA exhibit tent. Eiermann works with the Aspiring Aviators Aero Club in Winter Haven, Florida, a club that supports AOPA STEM curriculum students at Winter Haven High School. Photo by Chris Eads.

David Lyon of Zephyrhills, Florida, stopped by AOPA’s small aircraft display to share his progress in aviation since receiving an AOPA high school flight training scholarship several years ago. He has since logged 450 hours and is a serving as a certificated flight instructor at Posada Aviation in Zephyrhills. He has ambitions to take his flying experience to the mission field in the future.

Alan Salisbury of Lakeland, Florida, brought his family to look at the aircraft and to seek some advice. Salisbury, who recently joined AOPA, has yet to log any flight time in pursuit of his certificate, but is heavily involved in his ground school study and enjoys reading AOPA’s Flight Training magazine.

“Do you have any advice for me?” he asked. AOPA Senior Manager of Aviation Events Operations Phillip Johnson relayed his own story of flight training, encouraging the aspiring aviator to not become discouraged at the inevitable plateaus that come during the heaviest portions of training.

Classic cars were a part of the event as well, with nearly 200 automobiles on display, many winning awards for best in show among various categories. Photo by Chris Eads.

Fly-in organizers emphasized the outdoor nature of the event, which allowed attendees to spread out. Attendees were encouraged to practice appropriate health safety protocols.

“This event came about because obviously everything got shut down due to COVID-19,” said Greg Gibson, chief marketing officer for Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo. “We started wondering what we could do to keep ourselves relevant and make sure our community had something they could participate in, for both our aviation community and the community of Polk County. Around September, things started looking favorable, and with the full support of the city and Lakeland Linder International Airport it has culminated in a very successful effort.”

Gibson indicated interest in continuing to host this holiday event in future years.

Potential insurance relief on the horizon for older pilots?

“Not a day goes by that I don’t get a call about insurance rates,” AOPA President Mark Baker said earlier this year in an industry forum. Many AOPA members, especially the more seasoned ones, were complaining that their premiums were spiking, coverages were being limited, and restrictions to just get covered were sometimes harsh—often with little to no explanation.

There is some potential good news on the horizon for pilots.

After months of close coordination with AOPA, AssuredPartners Aerospace, AOPA’s strategic insurance partner, has teamed with an A-rated aviation insurer that has pledged to explore options for pilots up to age 79. This development could provide more options to those who fly single-engine, piston-powered aircraft with fixed, retractable, or tailwheel gear configurations, and having six seats or fewer and with hull values as high as $500,000. BasicMed is also scheduled to be an approved underwriting element, giving some pilots potential relief from burdensome insurance-related medical requirements.

This insurer will also offer potential coverage options for younger and newer pilots.

“While general aviation has experienced a boon in this challenging year, reducing insurance pressures has always been on the front burner for AOPA,” said Baker. “We are excited about an opportunity to provide much-needed insurance relief to some pilots. This is an example of how we listen closely to our members and advocate on their behalf. We will continue to explore more options.”

The present aviation insurance market has been hard on many in the industry. Aging GA pilots have been faced with fewer options, as insurers have been scrutinizing their underwriting criteria for pilots over the age of 65.

While some pilots may be getting partial insurance relief, it’s important to note that this will not apply to all aviators. In addition, annual flight training or safety pilots may be required, depending upon the complexity of the insured aircraft. Hull deductibles also will increase with aircraft value. “This is a welcome change in the tight insurance market,” Baker said. “But there is more to be done. We continue to work with other underwriters to bring relief to more pilots.”

“We’ve been working hard with AOPA to develop options for those pilots that are experiencing difficulty in finding necessary coverage and reasonable premiums,” said Bill Behan, AssuredPartners Aerospace CEO. “By bringing another choice to the table, we are aiming to allow more capable pilots to stay in the skies.” 

“They say age is just a number, and nowhere is that more applicable than in general aviation,” added Baker. “This is one step forward in having pilots judged by their abilities and experience, and not just their age.”

Insurer may offer relief for older pilots

“Not a day goes by that I don’t get a call about insurance rates,” AOPA President Mark Baker said earlier this year in an industry forum. Many AOPA members, especially the more seasoned ones, were complaining that their premiums were spiking, coverages were being limited, and restrictions to just get covered were sometimes harsh—often with little to no explanation.

There is some potential good news on the horizon for pilots.

After months of close coordination with AOPA, AssuredPartners Aerospace, AOPA’s strategic insurance partner, is teaming up with an A-rated aviation insurer that has pledged to explore streamlined underwriting guidelines for pilots up to age 79. This coverage could provide more options to those who fly single-engine, piston-powered aircraft with fixed, retractable, or tailwheel gear configurations, and having six seats or fewer and with hull values as high as $500,000. BasicMed is also scheduled to be an approved underwriting element, giving pilots potential relief from burdensome insurance-related medical requirements.

This new partner will also offer potential coverage options for younger and newer pilots.

“While general aviation has continued to thrive in an otherwise challenging year, alleviating insurance pressures has always been on the front burner for AOPA,” said Baker. “We are excited about an opportunity to provide much-needed insurance relief to many pilots. This is an example of how we listen closely to our members and advocate on their behalf.”

The present aviation insurance market has been hard on many in the industry. Aging GA pilots have been faced with fewer options, as insurers have been scrutinizing their underwriting criteria for pilots over the age of 65.

“We’ve been working hard with AOPA to develop options for those pilots that are experiencing difficulty in finding necessary coverage and reasonable premiums,” said Bill Behan, AssuredPartners Aerospace CEO. “By bringing another choice to the table, we are aiming to allow more capable pilots to stay in the skies.”

While pilots may be getting some insurance relief, it’s important to note that annual flight training may be required depending upon the complexity of the insured aircraft, and hull deductibles also will increase with aircraft value.

“They say age is just a number, and nowhere is that more applicable than in general aviation,” added Baker. “This is one step forward in having pilots judged by their abilities and experience, and not just their age.”

Aviation groups seek halt to FCC spectrum auction

The chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), also called on the FCC to postpone the auction, citing aviation’s concerns.

In a December 7 letter to the FCC, the aviation groups cited a study conducted by the technical standards organization RTCA that “revealed a major risk that 5G telecommunications systems in the 3.7–3.98 GHz band will cause harmful interference to radar altimeters on all types of civil aircraft—including large commercial transport airplanes; business, regional, and general aviation airplanes; and both transport and general aviation helicopters.”

An FCC licensee that gains access to the spectrum through the auction “may provide any services permitted under terrestrial fixed or mobile allocations” under FCC rules, according to an auction summary on the FCC’s website.

However, results of the RTCA study “clearly indicate that this risk is widespread and has the potential for broad impacts to aviation operations in the United States, including the possibility of catastrophic failures leading to multiple fatalities, in the absence of appropriate mitigations,” the aviation groups wrote.

DeFazio, in a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, said the RTCA findings “not only align with earlier research identifying harmful effects of 5G networks to radio altimeters, but they reflect a clear need for the FCC to return to the drawing board with this premature plan.” Emphasizing the need for additional study, he noted that “we must never take a chance with aviation safety—and at no point should commercial interests be placed above it.”

In a separate submission to the FCC, the aviation industry offered a variety of potential mitigations to protect radar altimeters from interference from new 5G systems.

Future radar-altimeter technology might complement or supersede some recommended mitigations, they noted—and one way to accelerate deployment of radar altimeters designed to be tolerant of nearby 5G transmissions “would be for the 5G community, as new entrants to the band, to reimburse the affected manufacturers and flight operators in replacing their current radar altimeter systems, once new authorized equipment becomes available.” Specifics, however, were “beyond the scope of this filing.”

The request to suspend the FCC auction opens a new front for aviation in the resistance to 5G telecommunications’ uses of spectrum considered risky for radar-altimeter operation. On November 17, in a letter to the bipartisan leadership of House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over transportation, AOPA and other aviation organizations noted the safety-of-flight concerns flagged by the RTCA study in urging the lawmakers to respond to the FCC’s imminent action to reallocate spectrum for uses including “5G applications by the telecommunications industry.”

‘I feel like the plane is talking to me’

Vianca Marez was born blind, but a lack of sight hasn’t stopped the 12-year-old from ziplining, skiing, horseback riding, swimming with dolphins, indoor parachuting, and participating in other activities limited only by her imagination or other resources.

Independence Aviation LLC owner and CFI Bob Stedman took the right seat as the then 11-year-old scooted into the left seat of a Cirrus SR20 at Centennial Airport near Denver in the summer. He coached her on the basics of aviation, how the flight controls worked, and prepped her for some of the forces she’d likely feel during takeoff, turns, and the landing rollout.

“Basically, she is a very precocious and bright young lady. I think being blind, she’s going to be very trusting and follow my instructions very carefully,” Stedman recalled by phone. “She wants to just explore and experience everything that she can, even though she has this limitation. It was a very special day for me as much as it was for her.”

He said that Marez had her left hand on the control stick and her right hand on the throttle from takeoff to landing so she could feel the forces of flight, the effect of increasing or decreasing power, and the sensation of maneuvering flight. He backed her up on the passenger side stick and helped adjust power settings while he verbally coached her into the sky over the Denver suburbs.

Stedman has been instructing since 1974 and had a good idea of how a typical student would react to certain inputs or sensations, so he knew “what to anticipate, but in this situation I’m confident she’s going to do everything I say and nothing I don’t. She also put a tremendous amount of faith in me, too.”

Vianca Marez, 12, who was born blind, controls a Cirrus SR20 with coaching and backup from Independence Aviation LLC owner and CFI Bob Stedman in Denver. Image courtesy of Angel Andres Rosado, Independence Aviation LLC.

He pointed out that the Cirrus was a good choice for the experience because it provides a stable platform with envelope protection and other safety features. Stedman’s Cirrus experience dates to 2001 when he became a Cirrus Standardized Instructor. “I’d tell her the airplane is going to do this, so you’ll do this.” Marez also controlled the flap lever and helped change the aircraft’s configurations on his cue. “Obviously, I was backing her up,” but she was “absolutely” a good stick.

Independence Aviation flight instructor and video television journalist Angel Andres Rosado captured the youth’s excitement after the flight in a video he shared with Marez’s family and others. “Imagine closing your eyes” and flying, he marveled. “The control inputs from her perspective were thrilling, and Bob said it was very natural for her to grab the stick. When he said, ‘Put a little pressure to the left,’ she maneuvered the aircraft smoothly and followed Bob’s instructions.”

“I feel like the plane was talking to me,” she said in the video. “It was a lot of fun. Keep in mind I got to fly the plane … I was not just the one riding [as a passenger]. I flew it,” she told Andres Rosado. “Sitting on this wing right now I’m just like, Wow! Just knowing that one of these took me somewhere,” was a revelation. She said a previous flight as a helicopter passenger just didn’t compare to handling the controls of the fixed-wing Cirrus.

The flight came to fruition after business owner Mark Cytrynbaum visited a coffee shop owned by Marez’s grandfather Stan Geels and prompted a discussion about aviation and a potential flight experience. Stedman credited Cytrynbaum with funding the cost of the flight and he complimented Marez’s family for seeing it through.

“Oh my gosh, she is amazing,” said the youth’s grandmother Bernice Geels, who, with husband Stan, raised Marez from early childhood. “You would fall in love with her. She sings like you wouldn’t believe, she performs in musicals, and she loves acting. She also loves swinging, and basically anything in the air,” Geels said by phone. “We had no idea she was going to be in the pilot’s seat, though. That gave her so much confidence, and she was so excited. I told Bob [before the flight], ‘You just tell her what to do. She has photographic hearing and once you tell her something, she just doesn’t forget.’”

A proud Geels said her granddaughter “did fabulous up there. We’ve always told her you could do anything you want to do. She is definitely one of a kind.”

Bernice Geels looks on as granddaughter Vianca Marez, 12, who was born blind, jumps from the wing of a Cirrus single-engine aircraft after handling the flight controls of a Cirrus SR20 with backup from Independence Aviation LLC owner and CFI Bob Stedman in Denver. Image courtesy of Angel Andres Rosado, Independence Aviation LLC.

Detect-and-avoid tech could be tailored for GA

The automated detect-and-avoid system developed by Iris Automation has thus far been tested in real-world and simulated encounters that are part of the efforts by government and industry to safely integrate unmanned aircraft flown beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). The computer vision anticollision solution could also prove useful beyond allowing package delivery drones to mix with other air traffic without causing accidents.

If and when applied in a manned aviation context, this would not be the first technology to cross over from unmanned to manned aviation, and it might not require the most rigorous path to approval. The FAA allows a range of accessories to be added as Non-Required Safety Enhancing Equipment (NORSEE), which has fast-tracked an array of devices into GA cockpits, from angle of attack indicators to panel displays and ADS-B transceivers. The technology developed by Iris Automation could provide low-cost NORSEE to a variety of general aviation aircraft. Iris Automation CEO Jon Damush, a general aviation pilot and aerospace engineer who joined the company in October, would like to hear from fellow AOPA members who may be interested in using Iris’s Casia computer vision system in their own aircraft to improve situational awareness.

“I want to do that,” Damush said in a recent videoconference. “Truth be told, that’s how we test our systems: First, we put them on GA aircraft. We have our own Cub.”

Casia was developed as an on-board solution for unmanned aircraft, with size and power requirements suitable for many unmanned aircraft. It automates the process of detection and classification (identification) of moving objects. Its algorithm can calculate closing velocity within seconds after Casia cameras “spot” nearby objects with relatively simple, commercially available video cameras. Those cameras feed their signal into a sophisticated computer running Iris Automation’s custom algorithm that calculates range, bearing, and closing rate. If Casia determines that the object poses a collision risk, it can direct the autopilot to change course, covering the “avoid” portion of “see and avoid.”

Detect and avoid (DAA) technology will be critical to BVLOS operation of unmanned aircraft, and likely to play a role in a broader system now being created to manage large numbers of aircraft flown with or without pilots. Damush, who previously worked for Boeing Co. as the leader of the aerospace giant’s new business ventures (Boeing NeXt), said one of his first conversations with his new team was about defining a mission that is not limited to one particular piece of equipment.

Jon Damush, a general aviation pilot and AOPA member since 1993, was named CEO of Iris Automation in October. Photo courtesy of Iris Automation.

“The short answer is, we’re here to make flying safer, period,” Damush said. While Casia is designed as an onboard DAA solution for drones, Damush said there is much that can be done with aircraft-mounted cameras, and installation opens possible future capabilities that could be enabled with software alone.

“There’s absolutely nothing that limits me from using that camera system that’s going to be integrated with the airframe to do other tasks. Maybe it’s GPS-denied navigation. Maybe it’s passenger identification through facial recognition as they walk up to the air taxi. Who knows?” Damush said. “These applications and these use cases will pop up, and I’m a software build away from being able to satisfy and deliver a new piece of value based on the hardware that’s on the airplane.”

While Damush said Casia has performed well, with no notable failures to detect nearby aircraft (or other significant objects in the airspace) to date, it will always be a “last line of defense,” and proving that failure to detect is a one-in-a-billion proposition may not even be the point.

“Our system is only as good as the physics of the optics of the cameras that we can use,” Damush said. “Why should we keep a system like that out of operators’ hands because it doesn’t get to this theoretical standard yet? To me, it’s silly. It’s a layer of safety that you’re adding. To me, as an aviator, that’s a good thing.”

Damush said he’s talking to just about everyone who builds flying things with that in mind, ready to travel with the likes of Cessna, Piper, and Cirrus the path to equipping type-certificated aircraft with NORSEE that the FAA created a few years ago, triggering a boom in new product development for GA. NORSEE allows owners of certified aircraft to install a range of accessories that have not been approved via supplemental type certificate or technical standard order.

“Even if it’s not TSO’d, if it’s a box that I can put in the window and sends a Bluetooth traffic alert to my ForeFlight, I’ll take that, any day of the week. That’s great,” Damush said.

Another Silicon Valley startup, uAvionix Corp., first came to AOPA’s attention in 2016 at a San Francisco drone show, where it pitched a compact, lightweight, drone-sized ADS-B solution called pingRX that has since been developed into a line of ADS-B transceivers for GA aircraft. The company has also branched out from there into cockpit displays, with certification of the most recent addition to its certified product line, the AV-30-C cockpit display, announced in September.

‘No single technology’

It remains to be seen what technologies will be included in the mix when package delivery drones fly beyond the limited test cases flown to date. The FAA is expected to announce a new rule for remote identification and tracking of unmanned aircraft (RID) very soon, possibly by the end of the year.

Recent tests of remote identification and unmanned aircraft traffic management systems were declared a success. This photo of an operation shows "conforming" unmanned aircraft operation volumes in blue, "non-conforming" operations in yellow, and "contingent or rogue" operations in orange. Photo courtesy of Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research.

RID will be part of a broader system for managing large volumes of low-altitude air traffic, and the FAA and NASA recently conducted a second phase of testing a prototype of such a system with the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management Pilot Program. These Phase 2 tests in November included a mix of live and simulated flights to test RID and UTM solutions.

Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research (NUAIR), the operator of the New York UAS Test Site, reported December 3 the successful conclusion of a series of exercises, packing 18 aircraft (15 real, three simulated) into 0.2 square miles of airspace over downtown Rome, New York.

“The collaborative effort between all of our partners and participating organizations in order to safely complete the task at hand, in the middle of a pandemic, was astounding,” said NUAIR Chief Operating Officer Tony Basile, in a news release. “We had pilots come in from across the state including a pilot from Mohawk Valley Community College and multiple pilots from the sheriff offices of Oneida County, Albany County and Washington County. Without their support and participation, we wouldn’t have been able to get to the airspace density required for UPP2.”

Damush said nondisclosure agreements preclude much specificity about what role Casia might have played in any particular program or exercise, but he offered another potential application of the computer vision system, one that would fit very well into the network of ground-based surveillance that New York state officials have funded to support BVLOS operations. Ground installations of Casia could provide similar situational awareness to support a range of future operations, helping to prevent collisions as the skies get more crowded, Damush noted.

Damush said he does not believe that GA aircraft owners should be burdened with added costs to facilitate routine BVLOS operations by drones.

”The newcomers should be the ones that comply,” Damush said. “I am now running a newcomer … logically, it does make sense for the drone community to take on the burden, mostly.”

Ground surveillance, highly automated traffic management, and drone-mounted DAA systems appear likely to be key elements of drone integration at scale, along with urban air mobility. The recent NASA and FAA tests provide clear evidence that this approach is what the government is aiming for.

“There’s no single technology that solves the problem. Not ours, nobody’s,” Damush said. “Aviation (has) a systems approach to the problem. There’s never one thing that does anything.”

AOPA’S AIR SAFETY INSTITUTE RELEASES NEW REAL PILOT STORY

Real Pilot Story: Pressure over the Atlantic In Real Pilot Story: Pressure Over the Atlantic, the Air Safety Institute talks with international ferry pilot Kerry McCauley about his harrowing experience during a 1994 single-pilot night flight in a Bonanza over the North Atlantic. McCauley, who now has more than 30 years of experience with more than 100 ocean crossings logged, recounts what went wrong as he discovered a serious problem transferring fuel from the ferry tank and how he overcame the odds of making it to his destination safely.


“In ASI’s Real Pilot Story series, pilots share their encounter with a dilemma so others can benefit—while comfortably on the ground—from lessons learned the hard way in flight,” said AOPA Air Safety Institute Senior Director Paul Deres. “We applaud Kerry McCauley for keeping a cool head in the face of a life-threatening situation and enduring a grueling eight-hour ordeal, and we thank him for sharing his story with the general aviation community to help make us all safer pilots.”

Watch Real Pilot Story: Pressure Over the Atlantic.

About the Air Safety Institute

Since 1950, the AOPA Air Safety Institute has been working to create a safer culture for general aviation through knowledge, training, and proficiency. As the world’s largest provider of free general aviation safety content, ASI is responsible for guiding and positively influencing pilot behavior, policy makers, manufacturers, and training providers with engaging material, thoughtful research and analysis, and modern, effective outreach. In addition to its best-in-industry online flight instructor refresher course, ASI offers more than 300 free online safety programs including videos, podcasts, webinars, publications, courses, and quizzes that are proudly funded by the AOPA Foundation. To learn more, visit ASI at airsafetyinstitute.org.

Program to honor World War II veterans with Stearman flights

The nonprofit organization was founded by Darryl and Carol Fisher and the Fisher family in 2011 as the Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation, and this month changed its name to Dream Flights. It was and remains dedicated to U.S. military veterans and seniors living in long-term care communities who have a burning desire to fly. The organization was featured in the April 2016 AOPA Pilot article, “Skyward, again.” 

Since its founding, the organization has grown from one to six touring Stearmans; one more is used for pilot training. In October 2018, at age 104, Norma Evans braved cool and breezy conditions in Lawrence, Kansas, to become the foundation’s oldest passenger.

The Operation September Freedom name highlights September 2, 1945, when Japan signed the Instrument of Surrender in Tokyo Bay to formally end World War II. The 2021 Dream Flight campaign was announced by design on the anniversary of the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, Darryl Fisher explained. “By 2021, an estimated 100,000 of the 16 million World War II veterans will still be alive. We are on a mission to locate, travel to, and honor each one with a Dream Flight,” he explained. “This could be the last opportunity our nation has to thank them for their service, so our pilots will fly coast to coast and town to town, giving WWII veterans Dream Flights.”

An Ageless Aviation Dreams Stearman flies near Castle Rock, Colorado, south of Denver. The organization just changed its name to Dream Flights. Photo by Mike Collins.

The tour will launch on August 1 and continue through September 30. Fisher said that at the middle of the campaign, on September 6, the biplanes will converge on Galesburg, Illinois, during the fiftieth annual National Stearman Fly-In. After honoring some World War II veterans there with Dream Flights, he said the pilots will turn around and head toward their home bases, continuing to give Dream Flights to World War II heroes along the way.

Since 2011, the Nevada-based foundation has given 4,242 Dream Flights, in nearly every state. Volunteer pilots and crewmembers conduct the flights in six restored Stearman biplanes, strategically based in different areas of the country; a seventh, dedicated to pilot training, is based in San Antonio. Its 2020 season had started in February—the earliest ever, Fisher noted—and was ended early, on March 10, by the coronavirus pandemic. “At the time it seemed maybe a little premature, but in retrospect it was spot on.”

World War II heroes can be nominated for a Dream Flight during Operation September Freedom by visiting the website. “And if you’d like to donate to help us with this huge undertaking, your support means the world to us and to our Dream Flyers,” Fisher said.

Icon goes with Garmin G3X Touch

The 7-inch G3X is a $15,500 option, and the addition of a Garmin GMC 507 autopilot raises the total price of the upgrade to $25,000. The two-seat, folding-wing Icon A5 base price is $360,000.

“The Garmin G3X Touch takes our commitment to product improvement to the next level, greatly enhancing the adventure flying experience while seamlessly fitting into our intuitively-designed cockpit,” said Jason Huang, Icon president.

The A5 typically uses a portable Garmin aera 796 for navigation.

Icon has long advocated that pilots use an angle of attack indicator as a primary flight instrument—and the company’s in-house AOA indicator is still front and center in the A5 panel.


Dave Hirschman

Dave Hirschman

AOPA Pilot Editor at Large

AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Dave Hirschman joined AOPA in 2008. He has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates. Dave flies vintage, historical, and Experimental airplanes and specializes in tailwheel and aerobatic instruction.

FAA, European regulators expand aviation safety agreement

One of two annexes to the Agreement on Cooperation in the Regulation of Civil Aviation Safety that emerged from the fourteenth meeting of the Bilateral Oversight Board allows “the conversion of FAA and European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) private pilot certificates, airplane ratings and instrument ratings,” the FAA said in a November 19 news release. The FAA estimated that approximately 9,000 European residents have FAA pilot certificates.

Another annex allows “the FAA and EU or Member State authorities to conduct recurrent evaluations on Flight Simulation Training Devices on each other’s behalf in the U.S. and in Europe.”

“These annexes reduce duplication and leverage FAA and EU resources, which allows both agencies to allocate resources to higher safety-risk areas. The streamlined procedures and reduced costs will benefit industry, government and the flying public,” the announcement said, noting that the annexes create “new areas of collaboration” between the two safety agencies.

AOPA welcomed the advances in cooperation, said Jim Coon, AOPA senior vice president of government affairs. “Streamlining processes and creating efficiencies, while ensuring safety, are positive for both general aviation pilots and civil aviation authorities,” he said.

In a separate announcement of the agreements, the European Commission said the pilot certificate conversion provisions would “ensure that pilots residing in the EU fly aircraft on the basis of licences and ratings issued in accordance with EU regulations, under the oversight of EU Member States. It will also ensure that they maintain and develop their qualifications via EU training organisations.”

The measure expanding flexibility for use of flight simulation training devices will generate cost savings for the aviation industry by eliminating duplicative evaluations and reducing pilot training costs for air carriers, it said.