Archive for December, 2010

UAVs Aid Arctic Study

Friday, December 31st, 2010

The catapult launched Scan Eagle UAV is helping researchers conduct the most detailed study of Arctic ice and wildlife to date.

An arctic study currently underway by the University of Colorado at Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to aid researchers who are studying changes in Arctic ice, weather, and wildlife, including seals and polar bears.

The project, headed up by Elizabeth Weatherhead of the University of Colorado at Boulder, is the first to use unmanned aircraft. It uses the Scan Eagle aircraft produced by Boeing and began in May of 2009. The study consisted of two to eight hour flights that covered three to five mile areas. Over the duration of the study, the aircraft cataloged tens of thousands of images of ice and wildlife from altitudes of 300 feet to 1,000 feet.

Boulder Labs in Boulder, CO. developed an image recognition program that the project team used to process the captured images identifying seals in 27,000 pictures. From this point, researchers indicated seal types and ice types on which seals were found as well as calculated ice floes and their size and distribution.

The focus of the project is understanding the types of ice that seals need to survive so that other ice studies can be focused on particular types of ice. The current study focuses on four types of seals: bearded seals, ringed seals, spotted seals and ribbon seals. These seals are dependent on arctic ice for many aspects of their lives including breeding, sleeping and protection. Understanding the ice preferences of each seal breed allows researchers to study the particular types of ice and how they are holding up to climate change and by extension the long term effects that climate change will have on seal populations. The Arctic Ringed Seal is likely to be listed as a threatened species due to ice loss and snow melt in its habitat.

UAV flights are center-place to continued study of seals and ice, allowing researchers to collect more data enabling the most detailed study of seal populations and their Arctic habitat to date. These types of studies are perfect applications for UAVs highlighting the non-military potential of these aircraft.

For more information on unmanned aircraft systems training, check out our UAV/UAS Training Resource Center or find UAV/UAS training near you.

Source: UAVs are aiding the study of Arctic ice and seals
This article was written by Matthew Everett, a private pilot, aviation writer, and frequent contributor to You can follow him on twitter @leaving_tf or find his blog at

Congress Approves Flight Training Aid for Veterans

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

A new source of financial aid for veterans’ flight training has recently passed Congress and is on its way to the White House to be signed into law.

Veterans looking to start flight training have a new source of financial aid thanks to legislation approved in the House of Representatives on the 16th of December. The bill is now awaiting President Barack Obama’s signature.

The House approved the bill, S.3447 the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2010, with a vote of 409-3. S.3447 allows vets to take flight training, certificate programs, apprenticeships, on-the-job training, correspondence training, and other educational programs by broadening provisions of a 2008 bill. The new bill allows qualified military personnel to apply educational funding to these types of programs that was previously restricted to programs at colleges and universities. Among the qualifications required is that the individual must have served in active duty military for three years since Sept. 11, 2001. The Senate approved the bill on December 13

The bill, which improves the 2008 offering, allows veterans to use their benefits to cover in-state tuition and fees up to a maximum amount of $10,000 a year for flight training. The flight training must be and FAA approved course at a certified pilot school. The exclusion of similar provisions in the 2008 bill led Veterans groups to criticize the previous legislation. They indicated that out that learning other skills and trades, such as flying, would benefit veterans given the current state of the economy.

S.3447 is what is known as an authorization bill, meaning that funding will come from a separate appropriations process, and once funding is established, veterans can expect to start receiving benefits by August 2011. Interest groups are concerned that the new legislation could be subject to House ‘cut-go’ rules, which would require an existing program to be cut before the new program can be funded.

Regardless of potential funding snares, the bill is a good thing for the flight training industry and veterans. It provides veterans with an additional source of significant financial aid and it provides flight schools with a new pool of students with money that are ready to hit the skies. Most importantly, veterans who take advantage of this program will be on step closer to being able to take advantage of the coming shortage of airline pilots. If you’re a veteran and you qualify, be sure to keep up with this developing source of funding.

For more information on flight training and choosing the right school, check out our Flight Training Resource Center or find flight training near you.

Source: Veterans’ flight-training assistance clears Congress
This article was written by Matthew Everett, a private pilot, aviation writer, and frequent contributor to You can follow him on twitter @leaving_tf or find his blog at

Find a GI-Bill School – Aviation Schools for U.S. Veterans
More VA info – resources for veterans – articles, videos, links, and more

Santa Gears Up for Big Night

Friday, December 24th, 2010

Santa rappels from a USAF Pave Hawk helicopter during practice exercises for his yearly excursion.

Tonight is a big night for a renowned pilot and his unusual aircraft. There have been several reports that indicate Santa is preparing for his annual round-the-world flight and highlight some innovative additions to his sleigh.

According to Avweb, the FAA reported that this year Santa’s sleigh is sporting the latest in satellite-based NextGen technology. The hope is that Santa’s new toy will allow for increased efficiency and safety by providing Santa and crew with the most accurate location, terrain, and weather data available. Additionally, the new equipment will boost the accuracy with which NORAD can track the world-spanning trek’s progress. Smart phone users with Google Maps for Mobile can track Santa by searching for “Santa.”

Forbes’ Wheels Up blog confirms that Santa is a licensed pilot. For the truly curious, they provide a few sketchy details about how exactly Old Saint Nick came to be a pilot. Apparently, his unique aircraft with an unusual power plant isn’t the most forgiving of flying machines, making for a difficult check ride. Thankfully, he was in fact issued a certificate. Imagine how long his Christmas journey would take without his flying reindeer and sleigh; it would be virtually impossible for Santa to truck all that cargo to its destinations in one night.

Canadian aviation authorities have cleared Santa for his annual flight, but have not confirmed leaked flight plan details which the Toronto Sun is reporting. According to a Transport Canada release, he passed all required examinations despite concerns that long nights filled with endless cookie consumption may have taken their toll on Santa’s physical.
According to the flight plan, pilot S. Claus has filed a 24-hour itinerary from the North Pole for December 24th to numerous destinations including the “homes of all the nice children in the world.”

On a related note, while Santa and his annual trip receive a great deal of the spotlight, aviation professionals world-wide will also be on duty delivering their precious cargo. Whether it be gifts or family members making their way home for the holiday, hundreds of pilots, mechanics, flight attendants, air traffic controllers and other aviation professionals will be hard at work ensuring the safe arrival of the heavily-laden aircraft.

Click here to see our list of  flight training operations near you.

Sources: Airspace Preps For Santa, Santa Claus Exists And He Is A (Very) Active Pilot, and Santa’s flight plan leaked
This article was written by Matthew Everett, a private pilot, aviation writer, and frequent contributor to You can follow him on twitter @leaving_tf or find his blog at

Air Traffic Controllers May Be Exempted From Pay Freeze

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Air Traffic Controllers may receive an exemption from a proposed two-year pay freeze for Federal Government workers.

Air Traffic Controllers may receive exemption from the two-year pay freeze proposed by President Obama on November 29th. Controllers’ wages, which are some of the highest in the federal government, are governed under a collective-bargaining agreement that could trump the proposed federal pay freeze.

The pay freeze was proposed to save more than $60 billion over the next ten years and to help reduce the deficit. It is expected to affect about 2 million government employees. It is currently making its rounds in Congress, where it passed the House on Dec. 8.

The average wage of more than 15,000 air traffic controllers is $136,000 a year excluding benefits. Additionally, under a contract negotiated with the FAA, controllers receive 3 percent annual raises in base pay for the next three-years in order to reverse cuts imposed during the Bush administration.

The President must now decide whether to freeze their pay and risk the ire of controllers or to exempt them and risk angering other government employees. According to FAA estimates, staying in the good graces of controllers will cost approximately $669 million dollars.

The FAA currently employs more than 48,000 workers of which more than 36,000 belong to one of more than 40 bargaining units like the controllers’ group, which is the largest. These groups operate under a 1996 law that allows the FAA to operate more like a business. This law could prevent the freeze from being applied to controllers.

Regardless of the outcome, this is a politically sensitive issue that is only exacerbated by cuts made in the last decade. During the Clinton administration, controllers negotiated a wage package similar to current levels that was cut by 30 percent during the Bush administration. Those cuts, which took effect in 2006, were intended to save the FAA $1.9 billion over a five year period, but they also cut morale. As the Obama administration took the reigns, restoring controller pay was at the top of the list and negotiations began on the current contract.

For more information on air traffic controller training and choosing the right school, check out our Air Traffic Controller Training Resource Center or find air traffic controller training near you.

Source: Obama May Exempt Air Controllers From U.S. Pay Freeze
This article was written by Matthew Everett, a private pilot, aviation writer, and frequent contributor to You can follow him on twitter @leaving_tf or find his blog at

The Top 10 Reasons It’s Cool To Be A Pilot

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

A Humorous Look At Learning To Fly!… Enjoy!

  1. You can pepper your conversation with terms that confuse mere mortals, such as “knots,” “sectional,” and “base leg.”

  2. Tattered flying outfit says experience, not poverty.

  3. You can look out of the cockpit and see where that confusing short-cut road goes, without having to refer to something as lame as a . . . road map.

  4. Aviation-theme bumper stickers make any car look cool, even a 12-year-old Corolla.

  5. Avgas / jet fuel has been shown to be an effective pheromone. Well, that’s what my first flight instructor told me.

  6. A cockpit has more “apps” than a smart phone.

  7. Any job where you have to strap in to do it is cool.

  8. If you’re giving someone a ride and they’re being a jerk, you can probably make them sick. That’ll teach ’em!

  9. Playing video games counts as vocational skill training.

  10. “Helmet hair” looks cool. True for guys and chicks.

About the author: Dave “Bio” Baranek was a US Navy radar intercept officer (RIO) in the F-14 Tomcat fighter. He was also a Topgun instructor, and helped film the movie “Top Gun.” He has written a book about some of his flying adventures called TOPGUN DAYS, and his website is

US Aviation Group and Tarrant County College Sign Agreement

Friday, December 17th, 2010

US Aviation Group and Tarrant County College have established an accredited flight training program at Alliance Airport in Fort Worth, Texas.

US Aviation Group(USAG), based out of Denton, Texas, has entered into an agreement with Tarrant County College (TCC) establishing access to USAG’s Part 141 flight training for TCC students. The two organizations will operate an accredited flight training program via a Learning Center established at Alliance Airport (AFW), in Fort Worth.

TCC students will be able to apply available financial aid, including GI Bill benefits and Pell Grants, to help pay for enrollment in USAG’s Professional Pilot Program. Upon completion of the program, students can expect to hold a multi-engine commercial rating and have passed the written exam for their ATP certificate. Additionally, the students can undertake coursework at TCC for a two-year degree in aviation and transfer to a university to complete their four-year degree.

This program sprang from an idea put forth by the North Central Council of Governments to provide a way for students to receive flight training locally. According to Floyd Curtis, Dean of Business, Technology and Transportation at TCC, the college latched onto the idea and began investigating Part 141 flight training providers in North Texas, where they discovered USAG. TCC was pleased with the success of USAG’s flight training program and both parties began negotiations to create the current program.

USAG is expecting “rapid growth and a high success rate” of students in the program. They currently conduct flight training at Denton and Hondo Municipal Airports, but will gradually expand operations to AFW as TCC students enroll for flight training. According to the President of USAG, Mike Sykes, within five years the U.S. airline industry can expect to see a critical shortage of qualified pilots as the numbers of older pilots reaching mandatory retirements out pace the numbers of new pilots. Despite current conditions at some airlines, now is the best time to begin flight training in order to best capitalize on the impending shortage.

For more information on US Aviation Group see our featured schools page for US Flight Academy in Denton, TX.

For more information on flight training and choosing the right school, check out our Flight Training Resource Center or find flight training near you.

Source: US Aviation pens agreement with college
This article was written by Matthew Everett, a private pilot, aviation writer, and frequent contributor to You can follow him on twitter @leaving_tf or find his blog at

Flight Training: New Law Should Focus on Quality not Quantity

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

A new aviation safety bill seeks to correct issues with current practices at regional airlines.

Most would argue that aviation safety should be a priority for everyone involved. As far as airline travel is concerned this generally rings true from the cockpit to the boardroom, but after a tragic crash, some questions were raised about the airline industry sparking the first comprehensive aviation safety bill to pass Congress in the last 20 years. The bill, now in the rule-making phase, has seemingly come under fire from all sides. The bill, known as the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010 includes provisions requiring airlines to hire more experienced pilots by requiring all pilots to have ATP ratings and requiring the FAA to establish regulations on pilot fatigue and a system by which airlines can more easily verify applicants training records.

Most of these provisions can be traced directly to the crash of Colgan Airlines Flight 3407 near Buffalo, New York in February 2009. The tragedy of Flight 3407 exposed some of the darkest corners of the airline business and launched regional partners of major carriers, like Colgan a regional partner of Continental Airlines, into the spotlight. The NTSB report cited pilot error and fatigue as the causes of the fifty fatality crash. In direct contrast to success of US Airways Pilots in the “Miracle on the Hudson,” as it is often called, the Colgan pilots, having little experience with bad weather and fatigued after long commutes, flew into icing and lost control of the aircraft on approach.

In the resulting investigation a number of questions arose about the practices of regional airlines and the qualifications of the people behind the cockpit door. Major airlines, such as US Airways and Continental Airlines, typically hire pilots that have an ATP rating and more than 1500 hours of flight time and training. Regional carriers like Colgan, often seen as a step toward a major carrier, typically hire pilots with little more than a Commercial Pilot Certificate and 250 hours. That’s a huge difference when you consider that regionals handle more than 50 percent of all airline traffic.

This increase of more than 80 percent in required flight time has recently been called into question by and advisory panel. The panel, which is composed of individuals from the aviation industry at large, indicated that the requirement could be lowered by as much as two-thirds without compromising aviation safety. Unfortunately, while the proposal has merit, the families of those lost in the Buffalo crash have been sold a magic bullet by their representatives who are pushing hard to keep the 1500 hour requirement intact.

It is important to point out that both sides of this argument can see their goals met by a compromise, but this is unlikely given the state of negotiations. The goal of the Flight 3407 families to provide “one level of safety” really has very little to do with the amount of training versus quality. After all, the Colgan pilots would likely have performed similarly with 1500 hours of plain vanilla straight and level flight instead of specific training on flight in icing conditions. The fact is, the bill does not appropriately address the quality of training, because more specific training, such as in depth training on flight in icing, will increase pilot skill more than a generic 1500 flight hour requirement.

For more information on flight training and choosing the right school, check out our Flight Training Resource Center or find flight training near you.

Source: Panel Recommends Cutting Training Hours from 1500 to 500
This article was written by Matthew Everett, a private pilot, aviation writer, and frequent contributor to You can follow him on twitter @leaving_tf or find his blog at

International Students Flock to U.S. Flight Schools

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Thanks to the well developed infrastructure and largely unregulated airspace over 5,000 Lufthansa pilots have learned to fly in the United States.

The U.S. is blessed with a well-developed aviation infrastructure of more than 1,700 airports and largely unregulated airspace. This fact goes largely unnoticed by a majority of Americans, but to foreign nationals from places like Bahrain, where there is only one airport and airspace is highly restricted, the U.S. is like a dream come true.

U.S. Flight schools like Oxford Aviation Academy in Phoenix cater to student pilots like Mahmood Ali Al Sheikh from Bahrain, who has dreamed of being a pilot since he was 14 and soloed this past October. With more than 1,700 airports and more flight instructors than some countries have pilots, the U.S. is very attractive to foreign students.

Some of the schools, like the Oxford Aviation Academy, are operated by foreign corporations; while others are U.S. schools taking advantage of the huge market of international students. While many of the foreign operators have schools in many European countries as well, the expense of training in Europe drives many students to U.S. schools. In fact, the high cost of training in Europe even has some European airlines like Lufthansa sending pilots to the U.S. for training. Regardless of reason, whether cost or a lack of infrastructure, the U.S. is often the most attractive option for foreign pilots.

While the U.S. aviation sector has come on some difficult times, other countries, particularly in East Asia (such as China, which recently announced the opening of airspace to general aviation) and the Middle East, are seeing a booming commercial air travel sector. These countries are struggling to meet a very real need for qualified pilots, while flight schools in the U.S. are being forced to shut down. This is made all the more difficult by the lack of infrastructure and highly restricted airspace in some nations.

Like most foreign students, Sheikh will likely have no trouble finding a job and stands a good chance of being hired by Gulf Air immediately after completing his ATP rating. Some foreign students, like those at Lufthansa’s flight school in Phoenix are already employed by the airline before they begin flight training. This Lufthansa’s way of engendering their corporate culture and enhancing the safety records of their pilots. Their training center, which started 40 years ago in California before relocating to Arizona, offers students dormitories, a cafeteria, and a fleet of Beechcraft Bonanzas. With an annual budget of nearly $35 million, the school has trained more than 5,000 Lufthansa pilots.

Many of the U.S. flight schools that have welcomed foreign students with open arms, such as Florida Institute of Technology, which is training currently Irish and Turkish pilots, see it as a way to bridge the gap until domestic enrollment increases. According to an official at a flight school in Vero Beach, Florida, a decade ago most of the students at the school were from the U.S., but now most of the students are foreign nationals.

Learn more in our Flight Training Resource Center or find flight training schools near you.

Source: At U.S. Flight Schools, a Shift in Students (Free NYT registration required)
This article was written by Matthew Everett, a private pilot, aviation writer, and frequent contributor to You can follow him on twitter @leaving_tf or find his blog at

Final Flight for Chris “Boomer” Wilson, Top Gun’s “Viper”

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010
Chris "Boomer" Wilson (left) at the 2010 Living Legends of Aviation Gala

Chris “Boomer” Wilson (left) with John Travolta, Tom Cruise, Clay Lacy, and Tom Skerritt at the 2010 Living Legends of Aviation Gala (photo by Kiddie Hawk)

The aviation community lost a living legend Saturday, December 4th, when Christopher T. “Boomer” Wilson passed away in San Diego, California after losing a hard-fought battle with cancer. The highly decorated 28 year veteran of Naval aviation was a member of the “Grand Club” with over 1,000 aircraft carrier landings and accumulated more than 5,400 flight hours in 30 aircraft types.

Boomer is credited with being the inspiration for Tom Skerritt’s “Viper” character in the movie Top Gun, and in fact worked as a technical adviser on the film. Rumor has it that some of the notorious “Maverick” stunts were also based on the real-life of Chris “Boomer” Wilson. During his speech at the 2010 “Living Legends of Aviation” gala, Tom Cruise, who played “Maverick” in Top Gun, made special mention of Boomer being in the audience that night along with Tom Skerritt.

Chris "Boomer" Wilson in Naval uniform

Chris “Boomer” Wilson in Naval uniform

Boomer’s aggressive cockpit performance during several combat tours in Vietnam earned him six Air Medals for heroism and eventually landed him as the Commanding Officer Naval Fighter Weapons School from 1982 to 1984, more commonly known as Top Gun.

In recent years, Boomer founded the volunteer program at the newly-opened Bird Aviation Museum and Invention Center near Sandpoint, Idaho. According to his bio on the museum website, Boomer held four separate commands totaling over seven years of command experience, and was directly involved in the development of “beyond visual range” (BVR) weapons and tactics which continue to be used by our Navy and Air Force today. Additionally, he held two of the Navy’s most critical and sensitive senior staff positions during the particularly turbulent time period immediately following the end of the Cold War.

After retiring from the Navy, Boomer assisted in the start-up of a small business providing support for the Medium Altitude Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) which successfully resulted in the Predator UAV, the backbone of the U.S. tactical UAV force in use today.

Boomer closed out his civilian career as Director of Air Training Range Business Development for the Cubic Corporation, the world’s largest builder of instrumented air training ranges.

During his many-year fight with cancer, Boomer was assisting doctors in new cancer treatments. According to an April 22, 2010 press release on the John Wayne Cancer Institute’s website, Boomer “sought out Dr. Mark Faries, who was experimenting with a new treatment called percutaneous hepatic perfusion”, a treatment method which uses catheters to deliver potent chemotherapy drugs directly into the liver.

Chris "Boomer" Wilson with his wife Tere

Chris “Boomer” Wilson with his wife Tere

Boomer is survived by his loving wife Tere, son Todd, stepson Tim, daughters Lori and Kim, and several grandchildren. His wife Tere writes, “my loving, brave Boomer has taken his last flight to a peaceful and heavenly place. His suffering is finally over. Chris was a devoted husband, father, grandfather, uncle, fighter pilot, son, brother and friend. He loved family, friends, God, country and the CAL bears!  His laugh was infectious.”

For more detailed information about his accomplishments, visit Christopher T. “Boomer” Wilson’s bio on the Bird Aviation Museum and Invention Center website.

More information on “Boomer’s” life.

Unmanned Aircraft Systems Revolutionizing Aerial Reconnaissance

Sunday, December 5th, 2010
Global Hawk

UAS like the Global Hawk and their cutting-edge sensors and cameras are revolutionizing intelligence gathering.

As the old adage goes, knowledge is power. From the early days of aviation, that adage has been applied in the form of aerial reconnaissance. As technology has improved, methods have progressed from a guy with a camera leaning out of a fabric biplane to unmanned aircraft sporting the latest in sensor technologies. With current military and civilian applications of unmanned aircraft systems rapidly expanding, a new industry is beginning to flourish.

The largest operator of unmanned aircraft, such as the Global Hawk, is the U.S. Military. Current engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan have put the aircraft to the ultimate test. By all indications, the aircraft have passed with flying colors. That’s no surprise when you consider that a UAS circling at more than 50,000 feet above the ground can take high-resolution pictures that allow you to distinguish between cars on the ground.

Even more amazing is the research and development work companies like Raytheon are performing to expand the capabilities of these aircraft. New technologies are being developed to allow these same aircraft to capture cell phone transmissions and locate the caller or detect nuclear and chemical labs. With so much available in one self-sufficient aircraft that can orbit an area nonstop for days, no wonder the military is buying more and more.

It’s not often that an industry develops and flourishes in lean years like the UAS industry, but given their ever-expanding applications, the industry will continue to boom for quite some time. Despite Pentagon budget cuts in areas like fighter jets and ships, the UAS industry is expected to expand from $3 billion in revenue to more than $6 billion within the decade.

In total, the military currently has more than 7,000 drones of various sizes deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite some high-profile cases of armed drones, most are primarily used for surveillance. The Global Hawk is the top of the food chain in the surveillance realm offering more than a days worth of endurance, the capability to operate at more than 60,000 feet above the surface, and a suite of the most advanced cameras and sensors ever developed.

The current fleet of UAS are generating so much data that the military isn’t equipped to process it all. According to Pentagon officials, UAS have generated so much video footage in the last year alone that it would take 24 years for single analyst to watch it all. A single UAS with the multiple cameras and other sensors generates enough data to perform unprecedented levels of reconnaissance, but without people to process the data, it doesn’t do much good. In short, the military and an ever-increasing number of civilian companies are looking to hire qualified operators and analysts to cope with the information and it looks like the jobs are here to stay.

For more information on unmanned aircraft systems training, check out our UAV/UAS Training Resource Center or find UAV/UAS training near you.

Source: The changing face of aerial reconnaissance
This article was written by Matthew Everett, a private pilot, aviation writer, and frequent contributor to You can follow him on twitter @leaving_tf or find his blog at