Flying the Circular Pattern: Thoughts from a former F-14 RIO and current Light Sport CFI

The University of North Dakota and AOPA’s Air Safety Institute is performing a study of the use of the circular traffic pattern at general aviation airports. This type of pattern has been in long use by the U.S. military, with the Air Force and Navy using it as the emergency approach pattern and the Navy using it as the pattern of choice…at least since the British pioneered its use to get the F-4U aboard ship. I’ve flown the pattern as both a pilot and a RIO and use it today when flying simulated engine out approaches in my Light Sport Flight Design CTSW. I also work as a part-time safety analyst for the Flight Safety Office at Jonson Space Center, so I‘m content to wait for the study’s results and seeing their recommendations before formulating aa position. What I’m going to do here is detail some caveats centering around the Navy’s operating environment that affect its use and how that translates into the environment at a non-towered airport. Hopefully, the students conducting the study have some ex-Naval Aviators and USAF pilots at their disposal; not sure if the Army uses it, but if they do, then some insight from some Army pilots cold be helpful as well.

The Navy’s primary use of the pattern is to safely get aircraft aboard ship. It provides enhanced visibility of the landing environment (i.e., the ship and its position) and allows for smaller, more gradual, and continuous adjustments of your position to arrive on a final approach with consistency, something critical to the tight requirements needed to get aboard. Crews can and do use altitude gouges to judge glideslope at the 90 degree degree “to go” turn point (450 ft AGL) from downwind pattern altitudes in the same basic range as general aviation patterns (slightly lower than most actually; the F-14 NATOPS pattern was at 600 feet AGL). The pattern is intended to provide a stabilized approach beginning at the downwind abeam point. The aircraft hits that target “on speed” (green chevron on the AOA indicator, 15 units Angle of Attack for the Tomcat) and in the final landing configuration. That is gear down, flaps down, speedbrakes out (if applicable); no other major changes in aircraft configuration are made after that point since any changes in aircraft configuration can cause a major upset to an otherwise stabilized approach. Variables for the Navy pilot to deal with are therefore narrowed to controlling altitude and angle of attack and judging the rollout onto final (which will be slightly to the right of the ship’s wake to line up with the angled deck), followed by “Meatball; Lineup: Angle of Attack” until touchdown or bolter. The aircraft’s “locked down” configuration MUST be taken into account when discussing the stability and precision of the circular approach and before applying it to general aviation where that is often NOT the case. The FAA Flying Handbook instructs pilots not to go to full flaps until established on final and some preceding amount of flaps are applied sometime after the downwind abeam point, not ahead of it. While this is to give you the best glide possible in case of an engine out, it still means you’re going to make one of the most significant configuration changes you can make while also trying to get into an airspeed and descent rate stabilized approach. While the impact is more a function of the aircraft being flown than the type of pattern, but understanding the impact of configuration changes is a necessary part of evaluating the overall use of the circular approach and its for stability. You could decide to put the airplane in its final config and then count on the power being there as the Navy does and get all the benefit; but it’s unlikely that would be the case, even if the probabilities were to tell you that protecting for an engine out in the pattern might not be a good trade considering the safety gains of approach stability. This must be considered by the team conducting the study.

Likewise, the team needs to consider the fact that few Naval aviation operations take place in a nontowered environment. The closest thing to it are operations at Navy Outlying Fields (NOLF) used primarily for pattern training and that often have someone on duty and on the radios. While they are primarily there to make sure no one lands gear up, they also act as a traffic advisory service. Operations at other Navy airfields (and some NOLF’s and aux fields) are run by Navy air traffic control towers; aboard ship. the Air Boss and his staff take on the roll of an ATC tower. This significantly limits the opportunity for traffic conflicts due to someone making an unexpected/unannounced straight in or unorthodox pattern entry. When applying the circular pattern to nontowered genreal aviation operations, then, this means a very big question is, for the pilot in the pattern as well as anyone approaching the pattern, whether it introduces more risk to “see and avoid” than the rectangular pattern does.

For pilot in the pattern, since the transitions to each leg are performed in a constant turn, visibility of incoming traffic will be directly affected by whether the aircraft is high wing or low and the amount of bank used. Belly checks (rolling wing down in the direction of possible incoming threat…uh….traffic) may be employed to look for traffic blocked by the upturned wing; and, if used, become a factor that can destabilize the approach. (Scanning for someone on final approaching from the outside is done by just turning your head in a rectangular pattern.) This can be mitigated by using shallower angles of bank, which would be more necessary in a low or mid wing than a high but can mitigate the issue. Of course, the shallower the bank, the more stretched out from the runway the pattern becomes; but my guess is it would probably still be significantly less than the stretched out rectangular patterns I see too often at nontowered fields. For the pilot approaching the pattern, the additional turning of the aircraft in the pattern may them a bit easier to spot; in a rectangular pattern, there are large portions of it where the airplanes in the pattern may be climbing or descending but are wings level and not the easiest to spot.

These are things I expect the study to evaluate. Personally, I like the circular pattern; and as I’ve said, I will often fly it when performing simulated engine out approaches in my CTSW. I have also demonstrated it to students and friends who are curious about how the Navy does things. I don’t tend to use it when flying a Remos GX; its higher approach speed and less effective flaps make flying a rectangular pattern a more comfortable thing to do and what I need to teach my students to do. While I’m content to wait and see what the study arrives at, with the investment the community has in both training and operations in the rectangular pattern, I think it’s going to be a “hard sell” to move us to a circular pattern. There must be a very significant benefit not otherwise achievable to make it happen. I also think there are bigger fish to fry; the factors that drive loss of control in the pattern aren’t things that this protocol are going to affect. The collision risk may be another story; but it seems to me that could go either way. If we were to switch to a circular pattern, you could probably expect accident statistics to initially get worse until pilots got trained and comfortable with the new way of doing business.

No matter what pattern we ultimately fly, good headwork, situational awareness, and skill are what we need to determine whether flying on any particular day goes well or goes bad. When those things fail, all you’ve got left is a little luck. Hopefully, it goes your way…

Flying a CTSW with Flat Plate Wings: Analyzing “Impact Lift”

I wrote a blog a little while ago entitled “One Form of Lift” which talked about the generation of lift and how there was, from an engineering standpoint, no such thing as “impact lift”. Classical engineering analysis only uses lift (which is primarily generated by pressure flows around the wing) and drag. My assertion is that most or all of the force people are calling “impact lift” is really drag, but was there a way to prove it by using a real world example? To take a look at that, I decided to analyze what happens if I stick a set of flat plate wings on my light sport aircraft, a Flight Design CTSW.

We will assume that the wings on the CTSW are mounted so that they are at zero degrees angle of attack (and angle of incidence) when the airplane is sitting level. The wing area of a CTSW is 107.4 square feet and the airplane’s max gross weight is 1320 pounds.

The equation for lift is: Lift = ½ D V2 S CL where D= air density, S = wing area, V2= the velocity squared, and CL = the coefficient of lift.

The equation for drag is of the same form, i.e., Drag = ½ V2 S CD where = air density, S = area being analyzed for drag, and CD = coefficient of drag.

For these formulas, lift=weight, the density of air at sea level is used, and S= 107.4 sq ft.

A flat plate has a lift coefficient, and the curve maximum hits a CL = 0.7 at an angle of attack of approximately 12 degrees.


At twelve degrees’ angle of attack, then:
Lift = ½ (.002378 slugs/ft3) V2 (107.4) (0.7)

For the airplane to fly, lift must equal to weight, so:
1320 = ½ (.002378) V2 (107.4) (0.7)

2640/(.002378*107.4*.7) = V2

2640/0.17877804 = V2

14,767 = V2

121.5 = V (feet per second) or 72 knots

This would get my CTSW with a flat plate wing off the ground at 72 knots while nibbling at the stall. Let’s say you understand this will be the case and elect to back off on the liftoff a bit, flying off at approximately 8 degrees angle of attack. (I believe you will either strike the tail of the CTSW at 12 degrees or be very much at risk of it.) So, when would you want to rotate? At that 8 degrees, you have a lift coefficient of 0.6. That gives you:

2640/.153238 = V2

17,228.1 = V2

131.25 =V (fps) or 77 knots

Since the CT actually gets airborne as low as 42 knots with flaps and about 50 without, you get an idea of the work a good airfoil design (using Bernoulli’s) is doing for you. You can “reverse engineer” the lift coefficient at those speeds by substituting them in for V and solving for CL.

Doing so for the no flap configuration and 50 knots yields a CL = 1.45; in other words, the shaping of the airfoil increases the “flat plate” lift coefficient by slightly over 100%. (The use of flaps yields a lift coefficient of 2.06…which is part of the reason why it leaps off the runway and feels like you’re in an elevator going straight up…)

But, let’s go back to flying by the flat plate alone since our real target is to examine the idea of “impact lift”. As I said in an earlier blog, the only way to do this from an engineering standpoint is to use drag as the “impact lift” force. There is no accounting for such a thing in conventional performance analysis (which should tell you something in and of itself about the rigor of the idea, despite some folks trying to discount how engineers do it).

Let’s see how we might be able to generate enough “impact lift” (drag) to fly. A flat plate has a drag coefficient of 1.28. Since the equations for lift and drag are the same and we’re considering the same area in both equation sets (i.e., only the area of the wings), then we can shortcut the calculation of the total drag force the wings can generate by simply taking a ratio of 1.28/0.7 = 1.83. Then, that same 1320 lbs of total force…now as drag instead of lift…would be generated at 72/1.83 = 39 knots. But this would be for a CTSW wing deflected at 90 degrees to the windstream (and the fuselage). Since we’re just trying to use “impact lift” (i.e., drag) to get airborne, the max lift would occur at a wing inclined 45 degrees to the windstream. The “lift” would be equal to the sine of 45 degrees times the total force. The sine of 45 degrees is 0.707. So, then the speed at which you’d have just enough drag acting vertically to lift off would be: 39 knots/0.707 = 56 knots.

However, for this to occur, the drag acting in the horizontal direction would also be 1320 lbs (sine and cosine of 45 degrees…the horizontal and vertical force components would be the same). Let’s see if the Rotax 912 can get there.

Using Thrust = (HP*efficiency*326)/KTAS and assuming we have a 0.8 propeller efficiency:

1320 = (100*.8*326)/KTS

1320 KTS = 26,080

KTS = 19.75

This is the speed the Rotax could attain in this “lift/drag” configuration. This is a conservative answer since the airplane will have more drag area than this, i.e., we did not account for the frontal area of the fuselage or other components. This puts us well short of the approximate 56 knots it would take to get airborne. To see how big an engine it would take, let’s use the same formula and solve for HP.

1320= (HP*.8*326) / (56)

1320 = (260.8HP)/ (56)

1320*56 = 260.8 HP

73920 = 260.8 HP

283.4 = HP

So, it would take an engine producing almost three times the horsepower the CT has available which would increase the weight and cause us to do all these calculations over again. Keep in mind, too, that we are only talking about the power it would take to get the CT into the air since climb rate is a function of excess horsepower. The engine would have to be bigger still. (At least a 300HP IO-540…) What the numbers are telling you is that the idea of impact lift doesn’t work, and that’s before we try to consider the flying characteristics and design of the flight controls for such a beast. We know that increasing camber (curvature) of an airfoil causes an increase in lift and that’s what makes ailerons and elevators work; how do you explain what’s happening if “impact lift” (drag) is the only force?

“Impact lift” is a misnomer and a popular myth, like saying you can discount Bernoulli’s principles and just use Newton’s laws to easily explain how airfoils work. Good luck with either. From both an engineering and piloting standpoint, it’s better and proper to see lift as a result of Bernoulli’s (i.e., pressure distributions) principles and drag as something that needs to be overcome and is not your friend (except when trying to slow down). You’ll not only stay safer that way but you’ll teach your kids the right concepts, making sure it is “as simple as possible but no simpler”.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Many thanks to Dave Witwer, Jim Gardner, and Matt Zwack for their review of the drafts of this blog. They’re all pilots and aerospace engineers (Dave, Jim and I worked at Johnson Space Center and Matt works out at Marshall Spaceflight Center.) Great guys I’m honored to know as colleagues and friends!

Fuzzy Aerodynamics

A week or so ago in an aircraft owner’s forum, the exact thing I was concerned about happened, i.e., a pilot trying to explain how an airplane creates lift to a newer pilot started talking about “the downforce” under the wing that pushes an airplane up into the air (you know, because that’s how the reaction force…referred to in Newton’s Third Law is created…and the airplane reacts by going up!). I’d think it was funny but AOPA’s current iteration of “Essential Aerodynamics” also says that a wing pushes down on the air, creating a misperception that will probably take a decade to clear up. It’s not that Newton’s Laws are not involved; they are. The popular misunderstanding of what that means is fostered by the incorrect idea that somehow only Newton’s laws apply and Bernoulli’s laws are somehow incorrect and is all pure nonsense. So, I’m going to give you a technical explanation of why and do it without going into a lot of math. (I’m going to assume you’re not too dumb to follow what I’m saying, unlike some other folks who say we don’t need to teach aerodynamics like engineers do it because we’re not designing airplanes and then screw the whole thing. If you’re new to this controversy of befuddlement and want to get completely spun up, see the blog entitled “When Simpler Becomes Dumb”, another entitled “Only One Form of Lift”, go through AOPA’s “Essential Aerodynamics” presentation, and come back here. Otherwise, just read on; I’ll explain it in enough detail where you can grasp the core issue.)

The text we used in my aerospace engineering classes discussing aircraft performance was “Airplane Aerodynamics” by Dommasch, Sherby, and Connoly. Section 2:4 “Development of the Bernoulli Equation” explains how,by analyzing a small packet of air as it moves using Newton’s Second Law (F=ma) (Spoiler alert: Newton’s Third Law is not involved here) and assuming no mechanical or thermodynamic losses (conservation of momentum and conservation of energy),one derives Bernoulli’s equation. For incompressible flow (a good assumption for flows less than 200 knots or 230 mph), Bernoulli’s equation is:


where p=Pressure, D = air density, and V2=velocity of the airstream squared. P is the “static pressure” term and “D(V2)/2” is the “dynamic pressure” term. So, as the velocity of the airflow increases, the dynamic pressure (pressure in the direction of the airstream flow) increases and the static pressure (pressure of the mass of air and measured perpendicular to the flow) decreases.

Section 4.3 of that text is entitled “Development of the Lift, Drag, and Moment Equation”. It starts out with this: “…the only forces that can act on an object moving through a fluid are those produced by friction (shearing stress in a fluid) or those produced by pressure. Except for when minimum drag is considered, the pressure forces are by far the most important and completely responsible for the production of lift”. (NOTE: I know the reference to “minimum drag” creates a question; I’m researching that and will post an answer here once I have it.) It then goes on to discuss the generation of the force equations associated with deflecting a small packet of air using Newton’s Second Law (F=ma) to calculate the force produced. After showing you the answer, it states: “An airfoil..produces lift by changing the momentum of a given stream tube of air and is capable of producing a force greater than that predicted by the use of simple energy solutions.” In other words, an airfoil produces more force than can be attributed to this simple calculation (F=ma) alone.

So, the blind use of Newton’s second law doesn’t account for the total amount of force generated by an airfoil (or a wing). Notice, too, this analytical approach uses a “microscopic” viewpoint to derive the equations, a common practice when starting at the bottom of an engineering or scientific analysis. How can you figure out what the lift is practically? By stepping back and examining the pressure distributions around the airfoil and calculating the forces they generate. This is easily done, which is why it’s routinely used. (This is using Bernoulli’s principle, folks.)

Have we disregarded Newton’s laws? Not at all! And in doing so, we have generated Bernoulli’s principle, which gives us a more practical and easier to understand approach to working with many aerodynamic problems. Not only does its use make engineering solutions easier, but using Bernoulli’s principle makes for an accurate and easier to understand explanation for the layman. How Newton’s laws apply to aerodynamics is not intuitive; and as we’ve already discussed, often leads to misperceptions, especially when understanding of the subject is incomplete. It’s easy to jump to incorrect conclusions based on what we are familiar with, and most people seem to latch onto Newton’s Third Law, which we see in common thrust/acceleration relationships. Because of that, it jumps into the forefront of thought much more than Newton’s first (i.e., an object at rest tends to stay at rest or continue moving until acted on by an outside force) or second (F=ma).

There’s a more important reason to talk about Bernoulli’s principles when teaching aerodynamics to pilots. When I use Bernoulli’s to explain what’s happening with lift, I not only stick to a technically accurate explanation; but I continue to make a linkage back to airflow around the wing, which for a pilot is the critical thing to control. It’s easy to see the case surrounding controlling the angle of attack to keep from disrupting the airflow controlling the lift. If you try to explain how a wing works using Newton’s Third Law, you will probably think the wing creates a downward jet of air as our wayward pilot did. It does in the form of downwash around a wing but its primary effect on lift is to create induced drag by canting the lift vector rearward and decrease the effective lift the wing produces; to use Newton’s Law second and third laws to find the lift you have to calculate the TOTAL change in momentum of the flow field around the aircraft (and not all of that is going to be in the vertical plane). Want to teach that in your pilot information classes? Better be ready for calculus and lots and lots of work!) If you have a pilot thinking he can create more lift by increasing the wing’s “upward” reaction, you also just created the potential for having a pilot INCREASE back pressure when he encounters a stall to increase the downward force of the “jet” or create “impact lift” (if you teach that concept, too). Poo-poo that possibility if you want; but you can never predict how someone with the wrong idea will react or when you plant the wrong information on their head. I believe it’s a very bad idea to teach anything that is technically incorrect or that can be easily misconstrued into a bad result.

So, the next time you hear that only Newton’s laws apply to aerodynamics and Bernoulli’s don’t, hopefully you’ll understand there’s no way that can be true. Explain that Bernoulli’s equations COME FROM an analysis of the behavior of an airstream using Newton’s laws (Newton’s second, mainly), and you CAN’T DISCOUNT ONE WITHOUT DISCOUNTING THE OTHER. In fact, trying to make the case that “only” Newton’s laws apply can only be correctly understood by PERFORMING a very in depth technical analysis as I have discussed; and that makes understanding the subject harder, not easier. As Einstein said: “Make things as simple as possible. not simpler.”

Because when you take it past that point, you make it wrong.

Flying for FlyQuest (Part 3 of 3)

Guillermo and I manned up the CT the next morning at a little before eight a.m., started her up, and then taxied out to KMDQ’s runway 18. There were very few clouds and the visibility was great as I took us into the skies and turned us west toward Athens, our first checkpoint on Guillermo’s flight plan. I switched us up to the frequency for Huntsville Approach but didn’t check in since we were staying north of the Class C airspace. Ahead of us, a Boeing 737 was climbing out from Huntsville International airport and turning west, climbing up and away. I gave the airplane over to Guillermo at about two thousand as we headed for forty-five hundred. As we did, I spotted another light plane flying toward us at about a thousand feet below; Approach wasn’t talking to him. I puzzled over what type of airplane it was until I recognized it as a T-34 Mentor, one of my favorite airplanes to fly. I had gotten a fair amount of time in them while in Navy flying clubs in San Diego and Corpus Christi, including one flight with my then-wife into Spaceland airport south of Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston. I had met an intern working there who sponsored a tour for us which resulted into me flying a forward cockpit Space Shuttle simulator, a precursor to what I would spend a decade doing about eight years later. (Spaceland would later be called “Houston Gulf airport” when I was working at JSC, and I flew out of it for many years before it was sold and turned into a housing development. It was sold shortly after 9/11; it was a private, public-use airport reportedly owned by a brother of Osama Ben Laden (Salem bin Laden) who had been killed in 1988 while flying an ultralight north of San Antonio.)

The T-34 passed well clear below and slightly to our right and underneath while we continued on to our checkpoint and leveled off at our cruising attitude before turning south-southwest. There was a bit of mist in the air that lowered visibilities a little but I still thought we had around ten miles and not a problem. The ride was smooth as we passed over Wheeler Lake and the outlines of Decatur, pointing the nose toward Walker County-Bevill (KJFX) where we had landed on the way up. Guillermo was tracking a bit west of his course line and wasn’t picking up on it until I pointed it out; we corrected as we got close to JFX and then tracked true as we turned slightly more westward toward Downer (You gotta hope the airport is named after somebody and doesn’t reflect the experience there.). We passed under the Meridian East Military Operations Area (MOA); and though it was active, its floor was at 8000 feet so we were well underneath it. Soon, Aliceville, Alabama, the last town we would see before crossing the western Alabama border, was passing beneath us with Downer’s single runway beyond. After I made the customary traffic alerts (i.e., call sign, position, intentions) on 122.8, we crossed over Downer and headed into the flat, green lands of Mississippi, continuing on a southwest line that took us just north of Meridian. We tracked toward Easom (M23), a small airport just southeast of Newton, Mississippi and west of Meridian, while passing within sight of an untowered auxiliary field belonging to Columbus AFB, a towered Navy Outlying Landing Field (NOLF) to our north, and Naval Air Station (NAS) Meridian and Key Field to our south. Pressing on underneath both Meridian 2 East and West MOA’s, we motored on to Prentiss-Jefferson Davis, our last airport/checkpoint before reaching McComb.

Cumulus clouds were staring to dot the horizon ahead, so we knew were moving toward more moist and less stable conditions. There were scattered clouds at our altitude as we approached McComb, and we navigated around them as we pressed toward the airport. I had Guillermo start our descent when the GPS showed we were hitting our descent profile of 500 feet per minute, and the chop picked up a bit as we descended. About ten miles out, I took the airplane back to give myself time to get the airplane set up the way I liked it for downwind to runway 15. We made our approach and landed with fifteen degrees of flap slightly past the first and only turnoff before the end; I braked us to a near stop before making a radio call and back-taxiing on the runway to the FBO.

After our customary break for drinks, bathroom, and fuel, we manned back up and launched out toward Houston with me flying my regular GPS course.
Taking off from KMCB’s Runway 15

The clouds started thickening up, but I still wanted to get above them, so I climbed the CT up to 6500 feet to reach a smoother, cooler ride. But as I got us there, I realized the tops were building rapidly and the bases were slightly descending; that plus a weather report showing broken layers at thirty-three hundred feet over Beaumont made me reverse my plans and head back down. We would make our way underneath to maintain legality under Light Sport rules at 2500 feet.
Making the decision to descend back down.

As we pressed toward the Mississippi river, the air turned a more milky white, the visibilities dropped a bit, and the clouds started closing up the spaces above us.
Approaching the Mississippi River

We spotted some ground fires from what looked like controlled burns we knew were responsible for smoke that was generating the milkiness; the air cleared slightly as we flew across the Mississippi, heading into western Louisiana the NEXRAD weather on the GPS was showing dotted with showers. None of them were on the immediate courseline but some were fairly close, so we decided to watch them for movement and growth but defer any diverts (unless we saw “red” on the NEXRAD) until we could see them out the window. We heard a jet calling as it approached Eunice (4R7) for landing as we were just west passing over St. Landry Parish-Ahart (KOPL) about ten miles away. As we approached Eunice ourselves, we heard the jet’s pilot calling that he was taxiing for takeoff and I responded by announcing we were about to pass over at 2500 feet headed southwest. We watched him taxi out and flew right over him, calling we were overhead and then again when we were a few miles west. He headed south and posed no conflict.
The weather as we approached Lake Charles, LA.

The clouds thinned out as we passed Lake Charles. We monitored the radio for departures out of both Chennault International and Lake Charles Regional, hearing nothing leaving out of the first but there were two out of the second;they seemed to be south of us far enough where we didn’t see them. We continued west, paralleling I-10 toward Beaumont. The lighting of that time of day, our lower altitude, light traffic, and me flying from the right seat let me observe that highway through the city in a way I never had. I saw all the places I knew from my travels along it as I headed to and from Alabama both during family visits and my volunteer work on the Tomcat.

After we passed over Beaumont (KBMT), we turned south-southwest toward Chambers County (T00), our last checkpoint before hitting the Houston area. I made sure I knew where the two thousand foot radio towers were and kept us above them; as we passed over Chambers County, I used the sectional on my iPad to review Houston’s Class B floor configurations to make sure I wouldn’t fly into them while still holding us as high as I dared over Galveston Bay to keep engine out glide capability to its northern shoreline. As we approached the Bay’s northwestern corner, I descended us down to 1700 feet to get under the Class B floor over La Porte and Clear Lake.
Over Chambers County and heading into Galveston Bay

Once we had passed the Kemah restaurant cluster guarding the entrance to Clear Lake, I descended to 1300 feet and turned us west, passing just south of JSC and Webster. Staying south of NASA Road 1 will always keep you out of Ellington’s Class D airspace, so I obeyed that until just east of Polly Ranch and had Pearland in sight. The Pearland ASOS advised us that the winds were favoring runway 14, so I flew us into downwind, slowing to my normal pattern speed of 75 knots, before pulling the throttle back abeam my landing point, dropping the flaps to 15, and then making a successful if a bit firm landing on that runway.
A moment before touch down on Runway 14 at KLVJ


Somehow, it all seemed anti-climactic. There’s no way you can tell when whether you had any impact with the kids at all, especially when you live so far away and probably won’t see them again. All you can do is hope you made a positive…and, if you are lucky, inspirational…impact on some kid you talked to who never realized that aviation (or manned spaceflight) could be theirs…that it wasn’t something just for the rich and famous. There are ways to get there even if you don’t grow up in a household of advantage, and I am an example of that, though I was not subject to the additional difficulties that often arise because of one’s race. My family didn’t have the money to support me learning to fly or going to college, and things did not go well for the only other person in my family who tried to go into aviation. Still, I am grateful I had his example so I knew how not to let adversity drag you down all the way when I stumbled into it during my own aviation pursuits. You gotta keep pressing on and make the lemonade you can. I persevered, and while I didn’t get to where I wanted to go I got to places I would not have anticipated and were, in some ways, better for me as a human being. It led to quite a career, one that made me very happy and showed me just how talented I was. Love at its best…

About six weeks or so after Guillermo and I made this trip, Russell Lewey sent me a very nice card that included a note written by one of the students. She thanked me for traveling so far to teach her about airplanes and told me how much it meant to her to see one up close. That single note says that it was worth doing; and I can tell you I would not hesitate to do it again and again, as long as I have the chance. Whether it is her that presses on into aviation or spaceflight or one of her compatriots, I can’t say. I can only hope.

For there was someone who inspired me, though I am not sure he ever realized it. He wasn’t a pilot or an engineer but an Opelika High School social studies teacher named Andrew Lisman. When all my other classmates just thought I was weird, he always seemed eager to stand me up on Current Events day and explain to the class, with my model spacecrafts in hand, what was going on with any ongoing US manned spaceflight mission. It was the heyday of Apollo, so there were several. They were enough to form my only real validation of my love for flight; and to this day I am extremely grateful for it…and to him. Without it, it’s hard to say whether I might have ever pushed forward to chase my dreams; and they are what led me and still lead me to take flight in whatever way I can.