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Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside.
Sat, Oct 12 2013 10:32 PM

I never really did the math before I got my pilot's license. I mean, I worked out all sorts of things while I was doing my training, like how much time I would save by flying rather than driving or how much cheaper it would be to learn if I magically had somewhere between $30,000 and $60,000 for a used aircraft.

The one equation I never ran through my cranial computer was this: longer flights with the same budget means fewer flying days. It's a simple truth that I am no longer doing flights with an instructor with an uncanny ability to have the engine stopped at one hour indicated. Now that I want to venture further it means more Hobbs time on each flight. The lack of instructor does not offset the cost of the longer journeys away from the home field. Don't get me wrong there's still more time in the air, its just that I suddenly find that I am rationing my flights far more than I had previously done.

Each flight then, is something to be savored. The planning starts not with winds and aircraft performance, but who can I share it with and where would they most like to go.

Of course, the first people I wanted to share with were my family. We had promised my son a trip to the seaside and Ocean City Maryland is a four hour drive from here. It has wide, golden sandy beaches, attractions, ice-cream, cafes and restaurants. It also has an airport (KOXB) and for a fee I now have access to an aeroplane or two. We had a great afternoon with the kids and we brought back barely any sand at all. Well, not enough to affect the useful load anyway.

Next, a flight that I had been promising myself all year and certainly the shortest one I'll fly. Martin State (KMTN) to Essex Skypark (W48) is a very short flight. Both airports are covered by Martin State's Delta airspace. This is a 15 minute hop..., including taxiing and run-up. Short and sweet. Add the Citabria, a plane I love to fly, and an event like the Wings and Wheels fly-in / drive-in at Essex and we are really talking. Finally, add a passenger who will really appreciate the flight, not with whoops and hollers, but will just love to be there.  

This video shows you exactly what I mean. This was the return and was part of Sam's19th hour in small aircraft; 7th aircraft type.  When I asked Sam why he raised his arms a couple of times he said "I was just enjoying myself so much, I didn't know what else to do".

Now, that's a worthwhile use of my flying budget.

Rituals and Rites
Sun, Jul 28 2013 7:41 PM

There's a ritual that I think many student pilots eventually get to go through. Sitting down, you carefully remove the textbooks, AIMs, Pilots Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge and other training tomes from your flight bag. Next, you lift up your bag and for the first time feel what it will weigh now that you are a fully certified pilot. I can tell you now that it is more than a little satisfying.  

Three years to the month from getting my student certificate and medical, two years to the month from passing my FAA written test (that expires after 24 months), one year to the month from getting my tailwheel endorsement I stepped into a Cessna 172P and flew from Martin State Airport (KMTN) to Easton (KESN) for my checkride. When I flew back (much, much later) I was a private pilot. 

It is a strange feeling to have spent so long and finally to get here. I was fourteen in England when I first started to seriously talk about getting a pilot's license. 19 when I had made enough money to make the choice of starting lessons or buying a car to take to university. The car won. At twenty four I found myself in France and funded long enough to solo a Robin DR400, but no more. Only now that I am based in the US have been able to complete the task. 

Six instructors, eight aircraft types and about seventy five hours is not an efficient way to get you license. Don't do it this way. Stick to one instructor, change instructors if yours is not meeting your expectations (remember, you are the customer; this isn't school, you are hiring a private tutor) Find friends to fly with and learn from (the more and the more varied the better) and if you really want to be an accomplished pilot get a tail wheel endorsement as soon as possible. Everything I did well in the flying portion of my checkride came from skills I learnt in the Citabria. To be honest the list of items flown well was nowhere as long as I'd like, but a constant dialog with the Examiner and clear corrections when things were not going well helped stave off the "you've failed, would you like to continue?" question. 

In fact, I only realised I'd passed when we were taxiing back and the thought struck me that rather than mentioning failure he was asking for my photograph for Facebook. Er, yeah. Erm, sure.

So now I'm a pilot I have flown myself everywhere right? Er no. I've done one flight since passing and that was with an instructor to get re-checked out in the Citabria. It has been a year since I last played with it after all. A 15 knot direct crosswind was quite a workout after all that time, I can tell you.

And last weekend? Last weekend I flew right seat in the Mustang 2 to Oshkosh. I'm sitting there now, typing this up on my iPhone.

I am a pilot at the greatest aviation celebration in the world. How good is that? 

Aviation Sequestration Frustration
Sun, Mar 31 2013 9:33 PM

About a month ago America became familiar with a new word: Sequestration. I don’t profess to understand the complexities of American budgetary wrangling, but it was presented to us simply. To ensure that they were adequately motivated to agree on a financial path for the country’s future, US politicians put in place automatic spending cuts so draconian that no-one in their right mind would let them come into effect. And then, on March 1st, 2013, the unthinkable happened and the country seemingly sleepwalked into a new world.

Except none of us really noticed any difference..., for a short while.

The General Aviation community understands what Sequestration means now. The FAA is required by the process to find $637 million in cuts and on March 22 announced that it would close 149 federal contract control towers.

The FAA announcement is HERE and the full list of towers planned to closed is HERE.

I can look at this in several ways. I can think of the visit my five year old son and I made to the tower at Martin State Airport a few weeks ago, before the news was announced. The weather was bad, the clouds were down to IFR minimums and the controller’s workload was low, for once.

Having talked to the tower as a student pilot for the last three years, it was great to put a face to the voice in my headset. Perched on top of the original building housing the office of Glen L Martin, the control tower is an isolated, panoramic spot. The radar feed is invaluable; the Tower (121.3Mhz) and Ground (121.8Mhz) stations clearly marked out. While we were there, we watched the weather and notable items being recorded on the Automatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS) for the benefit of local pilots, and then being passed to Lockheed Martin so pilots further afield could know the conditions at the airport. I can pick this information up in a weather app on my iPhone, or via Foreflight (or similar) on my iPad. I can go online to see it via DUATs or I can call 1-800-WXBRIEF to get it from Flight Services.

These services, and our host’s employment will end on April 21st.

Have a look at the AirNav page for the airport and I will demonstrate why I worry about the closure.

On my flight last week I held at the edge of the movement area to one side of the junction of Foxtrot and Bravo taxiways and asked for permission to taxi to the end of runway 33. I was asked to hold to allow a plane I couldn’t see to clear taxiway Foxtrot coming from the other direction. Ready to go at the end of 33 I had to wait for three other aircraft to arrive one at a time. Before I could set off, however, I was asked to give way to a Learjet leaving on an IFR clearance. On another day it could have been a flight of arriving A-10s from the Maryland National Guard. After April 21 we pilots will have to work this all out for ourselves.

Let me think about the airports I have used during my training. Martin State, Frederick Municipal, Easton Newnam Field and Salisbury-Ocean City Wicomico Regional in Maryland, Capital City and Lancaster in Pennsylvania. All of these airports have towers that will be closing in the next few weeks. All of these airports are surrounded by controlled airspace that is about to disappear.

My thoughts also go out to the nice young man that I met in the flight school this weekend. He was there to put some student flight hours in as part of his university course to become an air traffic controller. For many of his forebears, these airports have served as a introduction to the career he has chosen before they have moved on to the larger, more intense national airports. He now finds himself in uncertain times surrounded by colleagues soon to be looking for new work.

I wish him luck. I wish us all luck. May we find clear skies and hear clearly stated position calls.

The Wonder of Oshkosh
Sun, Jul 15 2012 12:00 AM

This time next week, I will be getting into a brand new pearl white, burgundy, black and gold, 180 horsepower, two seat, hand built, home built aircraft. In it, the builder and I will cross half of the United States and travel from Martin State Airport (KMTN) in Maryland to the Wittman Regional Airport (KOSH) in Oshkosh Wisconsin. The builder of the Mustang Aeronautics Mustang II has been to EAA Airventure Oshkosh many times. I have been to Oshkosh only once (last year) and it blew my mind. This is the aircraft's first visit.

Why mention the aircraft at all? Well, this is no Cessna 172, of which there will be many. This is not even a kit built, fast build aircraft, or one of the Vans "Air Force" of RV aircraft, of which there will be many also. This is a scratch built, 15 years in the planning, 5 years in the building one off aircraft, loosely based on the plans of a Mustang II. It has already proven itself as a 175kt (200+mph) true airspeed aeroplane. The Cessna 172 that I have been flying with a very similar 180HP engine (upgraded from the regular 150HP motor) struggles to cruise at 110kts (123mph). In Mustang II circles, this is a spoken about and long awaited arrival to Oshkosh and it will be front and centre when it comes to the judging. 


I hope that you have heard about EAA Airventure Oshkosh, if not then as an aviation enthusiast you owe it to yourself to find out about it. 

The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) was founded in the 1950s by a gentleman by the name of Paul Howard Poberezny. He and several others grouped together to assist the growing number of people that decided that building their own aircraft was the cheapest and most interesting way to get into flying. Very early on they started to gather their aircraft once a year and eventually the show got larger. Much larger. During the week they expect, and get, more than half a million visitors and over ten thousand aircraft. Let that sink in a little - ten thousand aircraft. For one week in July each year, Wittman Region Airport becomes the busiest airport in the world. 

The arrival to the show by air is a right of passage for many pilots and will be for me when I have my license. The arrival is well planned, but complex for a new pilot. Aircraft are funneled into a start point over the town of Ripon and are met by a group of air-traffic controllers stationed well away from the airfield. Expect an instruction like "White low-wing, don't answer. Wag your wings if you can hear me". Then Ripon to Fisk following the railway tracks at 90kts and 1800ft. Everyone else is doing the same thing. A long line of planes spaced a half a mile apart, each with pilots and passengers with swiveling heads and eyes like dinner plates. As you near the airport you get a runway assignment. More wing rocking to confirm. As you turn downwind parallel to the runway you will see the large coloured dots painted on the runway surface. Just beyond the runway a simply staggering number of light aircraft are already parked. At the point that you pass one of the colours, you might get the command "White low wing, land on the Green / Blue / Yellow dot". That's your cue to immediately start down and turning ready to grease your wheels onto the colour that you've been assigned. And you will do the best landing of your life, because thousands of your peers have stopped to watch you arrive and right now, you ARE the airshow.

That's the key difference between Oshkosh and every other airshow I have ever been to. I love Farnborough and have been many times. Paris is great, in a corporate kind of way. The Royal International Air Tattoo at Fairford is simply spectacular and the historic shows at Duxford and Old Warden are incredibly worthy of your time and interest. At each of these shows, however, you are a visitor. You arrive, you are presented with the show and you leave. At Oshkosh, you are woven into the fabric of the show.

Last year I flew in with a friend in his 1970 Mooney M20C. We parked in the section reserved for Vintage Aircraft Camping (immediately adjacent to the taxiway for the main runway) and we pitched our tent in the space between the wing and the tail. There were many aircraft parked in our row, one of which was one of only six of its type still flying in the world, another was a beautiful Grumman Goose. As we tied down our aircraft people came to see our airplane. They chatted about the history, the similar aircraft that they currently or previously owned and they enjoyed us being there. Even before our engine was cool, we had become a part of Oshkosh for those people. We were a part of the airshow.

As the week progressed, we toured the ever changing static aircraft, the lines and lines of private visiting aircraft, the war birds, the home builds, the general aviation manufacture's stands. We spent time in the hangars with many of those selling aviation products, rummaged through the aviation auto jumble, participated in the workshops and lectures. I talked to the FAA about runway safety (and the fact that at that point their budget had not been signed off so they were effectively working with a risk of not being paid). Then, as each day moved on, we settled down to watch the daily evening airshow before heading back for food or a movie on the giant outdoor screen in the woods. Harrison Ford was there on stage to introduce the movie I sat and watched.

I could have bought a ride in the Ford tri-motor that flew during each day, or the two Bell 47 (M*A*S*H) helicopters that flew constantly. Where else could you see a flying B-17 or a B-29, let alone book a ride in either? I was woken up each morning by the 8am takeoff of the Aeroshell T-6 Texan (Harvard) display team. It sounded like our tent was being surrounded by every bee in North America and they'd been taking buzzing lessons from Barry White. One evening I queued for a buffet ahead of First Officer Jeffrey B. Skiles and Capt. Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger of Miracle on the Hudson fame, before sitting down to eat at the next table to Brigadier General Charles Elwood "Chuck" Yeager. Where else but Oshkosh?

I understand that I can't really do Airventure any justice here. I will simply end with the thought that there is a real freedom in being with friends; people that really, truly understand you and the things that you love. When that group is larger and their understanding and acceptance is the same, your sense of belonging becomes greater. When that group numbers over five hundred thousand for one week in the year, then that week becomes something you look forward to for the other fifty one.


Enjoying The Classics
Mon, Mar 26 2012 1:00 PM

I like this photo. As far as I can see, it could have been taken any time in the last 40 years. A man in jeans and a jacket prepares a 1970 Bellanca Citabria for a Sunday morning flight.

I like ths photo because I took it within the last month. The aviator is Frank Bober of Middle River Aviation and he is preparing to take me up for Primary flight instruction in the aircraft.

There was a time when all primary flight instruction was performed in an aircraft with conventional undercarriage. To put it in other words, people used to learn to fly in tail-wheel aeroplanes. These days, tail-wheel undercarriage is far from conventional and a nose wheel layout has become the much more pervasive. There's a good reason for this. When a nose wheel aircraft touches down on the runway and applies the brakes the centre of mass being ahead of the main wheels acts to keep the aircraft in a straight line. With a tail-wheel aircraft the main wheels are ahead of the centre of mass and the effect of braking is for the centre of mass to try to overtake the main wheels. If the aircraft is not perfectly aligned with the direction of travel it will ground loop, that is to say the tail will overtake the nose. Ground looping is not considered good form and invariably ends badly for the aeroplane if not for the pilot.

Most General Aviation aircraft are nose wheel aircraft. Most training aircraft are nose wheel aircraft and most tail wheel endorsed pilots take their primary training in a nose-wheel aircraft and then take tail wheel training. I feel that this is a shame.

I am progressing with my flight training even though, for reasons previously stated, I have made slow progress. I recently checked my logbook and I have 42 hours logged in six aircraft types with instruction given by five instructors in two countries and two languages. It should be said that the fastest way to a pilot's licence is to stick to one aircraft and one instructor and get to know them both as well as you can. There are no points for breadth of experience when it comes to the exam(s) and the check ride.  I have not travelled in a straight line to this point, however.  I have most time in a Piper Archer PA28-181 and a Robin DR400, a handful of hours in a Cessna C--172 and one in a Diamond DA-20. I have even got logged time in a Pilatus PC-12NG. But, far and away the most valuable time I have spent is in the Bellanca Citabria 7ECA.

Flying the Citabria has caused some delay to the progress towards my check ride. I always expected an extra-long preparation for what will be my third first solo. From the moment the engine is started my concentration is so much more focused than it was in the Piper Archer or the Cessna 172. No longer am I driving the aircraft around with the pedals with no more respect for wind direction than which runway to head for. Now I am flying the aircraft on the ground. Ailerons and elevators are positioned and adjusted from the off. Turning into and away from the wind on the ground is an exercise in balance and prediction. Throttle, stick, pedals and HEEL brakes are constantly required and taxiing out from behind the hangars needs a keen touch when the wind grabs your tail as you clear the obstruction.

In the air, coordination is the key. Feet and hands work together making a mockery of the skill I thought I had. My horizon is no longer artificial and my navigation aids are roads and rivers. I have broken the habit of using my instruments to control the aircraft and the using outside for reference. The Citabria has RPM, altitude, airspeed, turn & slip and a compass. You are seldom missed, my helpful guardian GPS.

Landing, especially with a crosswind, has become a heightened experience. Gone, the crabbed approach with last minute correction that would surely end in ground loop spectacular. Now I practice a wing down correction that aligns me with the runway from the beginning of my approach. If I land on one wheel then so be it and if I can't hold enough wing down to correct for drift at the start of final approach, then it's time to find another runway and I've not just found this out as I flare above the tarmac or grass. Cross controlled slips have become my friend as I no longer have flaps to steepen my approach.

Think of it this way... you can learn to drive and take your test in a car with an automatic gearbox and, if you do this in the UK, you will get an restriction on your driving licence that prevents you from driving a manual gearbox / stick-shift vehicle.  Your skills will safely get you where you need to go. You might even be a great driver and you will have a seemingly endless collection of vehicles to choose from.  Learn to drive with a manual gearbox and now you need to learn clutch control. You need to understand how clutch plates separate the engine from the driven wheels and how to use your feet and hands in coordination as you change from first to second, second to third. All this must be done without thinking as your concentration needs to be outside the car to see and avoid. You can still drive the myriad of automatic vehicles, but now your world is opened up to old MGs, Austin Healeys, classic Lotus and Ferrari. If that is too much, you can still just connect to whatever you are driving much more keenly than moving a lever from “P” to “D”.

Now, I can't do everything in the Citabria, I'll admit. To obtain a US (FAA) licence I am required to perform three hours instrument flying. This isn't so easy when you have no instruments. I am also required to fly three hours at night including ten full stop landings and a 100 mile night dual cross-country. I'd rather not do that in an aircraft that is short on dials. So after five and a half hours of intense tail wheel practice (that has not yet included a solo), this week I stepped back into a 172 for some night / instrument practice and I immediately noticed my touch had improved. Speed and altitude control were more accurate, approach and manoeuvres were more precise.

I don't mean to claim that I am a great tail wheel pilot because of the training I am receiving, only that I will be a better pilot for it. I didn't expect to be working on a tail wheel endorsement to a licence I haven't got yet, but I am really glad that I am. I am having a blast learning in the Citabria. From the tail lifting as I start down the runway to the jab of brake that causes us to swing round outside the hangar. Everything about it feels like real flying and I find it a great source of joy.

If you are a pilot that flies to get places, or revels in the procedures or equipment of flying then I am glad to be sharing the skies with you. If you are flying small aircraft as a stepping stone to a career with the airlines, then I wish you God Speed and clear skies.

If you are flying because you love flying and have never tried the most conventional of layouts...., then you might just find it is what the little boy or girl was imagining when they first dreamed of aeroplanes.


Why do Student Pilots give up? And Why I Won't.
Fri, Jul 8 2011 6:30 PM

If the statistics are to be believed, the pilot population is both ageing and shrinking. Unfortunately, only one of these may be said about me.

Student Pilot retention is also considered to be a significant concern. A large number of people are plucking up courage to walk into what can initially seem to be an unwelcoming and overwhelming environment and are signing up to flight training. They are enjoying those great initial successes, mastering maneuvers, soloing and learning navigation, They are buying into the majesty and freedom of flight and are spending a significant amount of money. Then, they drop out without achieving their ticket.

Many heads are being scratched on how to stop this happening. For example, Aviation Week's Benet Wilson wrote an interesting article in October 2010 about the AOPA's attempts to study student pilot retention

As it is a subject that I currently feel very close to, so here are my thoughts.

I am a Student Pilot. I started learning as soon as my family and I were settled in the US and as soon as the TSA were happy that I was emotionally, idialogically and imigrationally stable. I have a regular source of income (so far) and a supportive family. I have always worked in the Aerospace Industry and that is far from accidental. I get aeroplanes. I enjoy and understand their systems. I like their history and get a massive kick about being able to fly. So why do I find myself wondering if I ought to drop out of training? And why haven't I seen my instructor in months?

My hiatus from flying began, innocently enough, with a mechanical failure. The day before my first solo cross country flight, the Piper Archer I was learning in failed its 100hr inspection. The flight school only had one Archer, so I couldn't just jump into another to continue. It would take a couple of extra flights to convert to a Cessna 172, so it made more sense to sit it out and wait. And wait. And wait. Three months on, the good news was that the Archer was fixed. The bad news was that the owner withdrew it from the lease-back arrangement he had with the flight school.

OK, so I'm going to convert to a 172. No problem. My instructor suggested that as we were now into the winter months I might as well get my head into the books and study for the Ground School.., and that I did. I determined that with a loving, playful three year old son in the house I'd be better studying after work, at work. As I am once again one of those managerial types, I am lucky enough to have my own office. Every evening for many, many weeks I would wait until the mayhem settled down for the evening and then close my office door and study. At the point I felt comfortable - strangely coincident with the point at which I'd got to the end of my study book - I talked to my instructor about once again getting together.

In the US system, you can't just walk into the flight school and ask to sit the test. You need an instructor's endorsement to save you money and everybody time if you are not ready. I need to demonstrate my new knowledge to my instructor. I am a big fan of my instructor. Under his tutelage I progressed quickly. I like his training style and we have socialized away from training. Unfortunately, instructing is a secondary occupation for him. His main occupation is Corporate Pilot and, as I previously wrote here, I have benefitted handsomely from his other life.

But now our schedules don't seem to be meshing. We have spent months trying to get together to no avail. In the interim, money put aside for flying has been spent on life's little surprises, the pattern of family life has evolved, work has taken far too much of my free time and my TSA Alien Flight Training authorization has expired. I have almost begun to wonder if I should let it go and use the savings and weekly put-asides for something more family related.....


I have a friend named Carlo. He is the perfect friend for a student pilot, and every student pilot should have a friend like him. Every time a doubt creeps into my mind, Carlo appears and offers me a flight in his Lockwood Aircam, or to come to see some other interesting and unusual aircraft that one of his many aviation friends has, or even just to do some hangar flying.

Lockwood Aircam

Our last day out went something like this: Take off from Martin State airport in the Aircam. Use almost no runway and climbout like the Space Shuttle. Cross to Essex Skypark (a flight of about 10 minutes) passing about 30ft over a Bald Eagle.

Land, taxi, help some friends put aluminium siding on one of the hangars, head out again in the Aircam as we have someone to meet at Martin State.

Hang out for a while in one of the large hangars, in and around a part-built Mustang kitplane and under the rotors of a Sikorsky S-92.

Head out in the Aircam for lunch, crossing the Chesapeake at 100ft indicated, taking care to stay 500ft from any person, vessel, vehicle or structure. If that means fly around the many boats then so be it. If that means power on and fly over then that works too. Ospreys and Bald Eagle number two. Sweet!

Stay politely away from the shoreline before a breaking through a gap in the trees to land at America's oldest fly-in community, the grass strip at Kentmore. Fantastic crab cakes at the marina, a five minute walk from the airfield and then back across the bay at 100ft. "Martin Tower , experimental 119 Charlie Kilo inbound, request transition the bay at low level", "119 Charlie Kilo, low level approved. Let us know when you are 3 miles out."  Spot third Bald Eagle (this one roosting in a tree) and dozens of rays swimming just below the surface. Deer look up from the middle of farm fields as we pass and scamper off for cover. You can see why this aircraft is perfect for the National Geographic to film from, after all that's what and who it was designed for (Air - Cam(era)).

It's a fantastic aircraft and everyone should try one.

So now I'm pumped up again and I'm going to see my instructor this weekend (hooray!). I can't wait. I'm also counting the days to EAA Airventure Oshkosh and if that doesn't keep me interested I don't know what will.

 So here's my suggestion to AOPA et al. The answer to Student Pilot Retention is simple: every new student should get an instructor and a Carlo.


My Misspent Months
Sun, Feb 20 2011 9:00 AM

To my deep frustration, I've not done much flying for these past few months.

I was doing so well in the autumn and built on my solo with my first dual cross country flights. My last scheduled training flight was to be my solo cross country from Martin State Airport (KTMN) to Cambridge-Dorchester airport (KCGE).

It's a simple flight with one or two things to watch out for. On climb-out from Martin, don't climb above 2500ft until you've crossed the Chesapeake Bay or you'll bust BWI's airspace. Don't drift too far left (North) or you'll be into the Aberdeen Proving Ground's airspace. That would be bad. Once across the water, climb to 3000ft to ensure you clear Easton Airport when you get there. At your turn point there's a single turn south and a highway to follow all the way to your destination.

Flying over the Eastern Shore of Maryland is a picturesque endeavor. Whilst it may lack the rolling mountains or savannahs of other states, it is a relatively sparsely populated with scattered towns. Sometimes I daydream of owning one of the many farms with a private airstrip that seem to litter the Section Chart in this area. It's just a shame I have no interest in farming.

So, I have managed a couple of trips to KCGE and have had two notable happenings. The first was the radio call as we taxied to parking next to the reportedly great eatery: "Piper Archer taxiing to parking..., the restaurant is closed today". Damn. That was going to be my first $100 hamburger. The second was a radio call as we approached the airport. The FAA impresses on instructors here how important it is to teach students frequent positional reports when approaching uncontrolled airports. So 15 miles out we reported "Cambridge, Piper Archer is 15 miles out inbound to land, Cambridge". At 10 miles out we reported "Cambridge, Piper Archer is 10 miles out inbound to land, Cambridge". At 5 miles out we reported "Cambridge, Piper Archer is 5 miles left 45 downwind to land, Cambridge". As we turned onto downwind, we heard "Cambridge, King Air is 2 miles downwind to land". Really??? Really??? Have you not been listening? As we peeled right out of the pattern, madly scanning for our new close neighbour, my instructor called "King Air this is Piper Archer also 2 miles downwind for Cambridge, what's your EXACT position?". "Oh, Piper Archer, I can see you. I'll follow you." "No, you're good. You're faster than us. We will rejoin behind you". So, a lesson learned then. Make lots of position calls, don't assume everyone else does.

And with my eventful few flights done, I prepared for my solo cross country. Flight planning was simple. I was practiced and confident. As soon as the Archer came out of its 100 hour check, I'd be the first one in and off I'd go. Except, the 100 hour check didn't go so well. Something was found that required the wing to be removed and this took months. The flight school only has one Archer and as I'm bound to the flight school by the TSA Alien Flight Student program, I couldn't go hunting down a replacement. And now, the owner of the Archer has withdrawn from the leaseback agreement he had with the flight school and the aircraft has dropped off their books.

So now I find myself in the New Year looking to change planes and it looks like a Cessna 172 SP fitted out with a Garmin G1000 glass cockpit will be my next ride. I'm still not the greatest high wing fan, but I have to admit that I've warmed to the 172 having made a few flights while the Archer was out of service, including taking my parents sightseeing. One of these flights was taking my Father-in-Law up to Lancaster, PA for breakfast. There's a video of it below.


I will say that in the past I've owned one or two cars that I enjoyed looking back at as I crossed the parking lot, walking away. Walking across an airport parking area, slipping the Cessna keys into my pocket gave me a MUCH bigger grin.


All By Myself - A Tale of Two Solos.
Thu, Sep 23 2010 5:30 PM

It has been a while since I updated you on my flying progress and I am proud to report that I have been solo for the first time..., again.

For most pilots, flying Solo is the first major milestone during their training. It is the moment when suddenly your long held dream of being a pilot becomes realised. You are far from finished with your training, but you are flying unaided and unaccompanied in a real aeroplane. There is a real risk of death or serious injury, but your life is in your hands and your instructor has enough confidence in your ability as a pilot to let you go flying alone. Heady stuff.

For me, this has happened twice. In 1998 I was sent to work in France for what I thought would be one year. Not long after I arrived, and feeling flush with no responsibilities and a hansom international working wage supplement, I sought out the local flying club and signed up to learn how to fly..., in French. I reasoned than despite my lack of ability in the French language (which has now significantly improved) I would be able to quickly learn the limited vocabulary required and, anyway, a scream from an instructor is a scream in any language. Thus, thirteen and a half hours later after another short lesson of circuits, touch and goes or trips around the pattern (depending on the reader's nationality) , my instructor prematurely directed me to parking and then told me he was getting out. My first thought? "If you're getting out, then I'm getting out too".

Then, bracing myself for the task at hand, I taxied the Robin DR400-140 up to the end of runway 29, checked for approaching aircraft , lined up on 29 without a radio call, paused, and went. The all wooden Robin leapt forward with three of the four seats empty. Climb-out was way faster than when I was accompanied and all too soon I was well into my usual right hand circuit (pattern) and mentally preparing for the sight picture at the top of final approach. I gave no radio calls as this was a very small club-owned field and had very little traffic. In fact I had never been in the pattern with another aircraft and always had the field to myself. As I turned for landing, the 3000ft x 82ft (950m x 25m) runway looked very small indeed. I told myself to imagine that I'd been doing this all my life and coming in a little high (a carryover from soloing in a glider when I was sixteen) I greased the landing on the centerline and gently brought the aircraft down to taxiing speed with plenty of tarmac to spare.

Fast forward to this month and I am flying the Piper Archer II with my instructor. We had just completed our third time around the pattern and all went well apart from a gentle reminder not to extend my upwind leg too far and to turn crosswind just past the mile mark. As we landed for the third time my instructor told me to head for the taxiway and called the tower controller for clearance to taxi to the base of the tower. This is new, I thought, it must mean the solo I have been expecting is here. Looks like I'll get one more go round the pattern today then. Oh, he wants me to do three times round the pattern on my own. Cool. My new call sign is "Student Pilot 3416 Quebec" and I WILL be calling Martin Ground and Martin Tower at every possible opportunity. So out he climbed and with the door secured I took several deep breaths while I listened to the Automated Tower Information Service (ATIS) for the latest weather and winds information. The latest information was labeled "Zulu" so I called "Martin Ground, Student Pilot 3416 Quebec is at the tower with Zulu for taxi to the active for closed pattern". The clearance to taxi came with an instruction to use a discrete transponder code to let him identify me. Already this is felt like a very different experience from before. I taxied to the run-up area past Gulfstreams and Bombardiers. I did my checks, tuned Tower frequency and headed to the hold-short line of runway 15.

From the edge of the 6996ft x 180ft (2132m x 55m) runway 15 I watched a Cessna 172 Skyhawk make a landing, made a mental note to do better than that, and called that I was ready to go. I confirmed the "Position and Hold" instruction, but rather than taxiing straight out onto the runway, I hesitated double and triple checking and was still at the hold point when I got the clearance to take-off. And with no sign of the Skyhawk ahead, off I went.

As with the Robin before, the Archer really showed an impressive increase in performance from the absence of passenger. As usual, I was still climbing through nine hundred feet when I got to my first turn point on the left hand pattern and I was just stable at the thousand feet pattern altitude and getting ready to turn downwind when the tower called "Oh come on guys, you're supposed to FOLLOW each other. Archer you are now NUMBER ONE for landing". What, what, what just happened? I've made one turn as a solo pilot, what could I have possibly done wrong?  Just how much trouble am I in now?

The Skyhawk I had seen land earlier hadn't actually landed. It was doing touch and goes, as I was planning to. I had tuned to the Tower frequency after they had been "cleared for the option"  and this would have been a big clue that they weren't planning on stopping. I had also not registered that they did not call "clear of the runway", so now that the runway was clear they must have left it flying. The Tower didn't warn me that I was number two in the pattern and with my adrenalin pumping I didn’t think twice about it. So now they were flying the same course as me and when they extended their upwind ahead of me, rather than turning at the point I usually turned, I didn't see them when I turned with my aircraft's nose still high. So I had turned inside them and had inadvertently taken the lead.

This was stress I didn't need on my solo, so as the least popular pilot in the pattern I went back to business determined to be the best pilot I could be. My first landing was as near to perfect as I get and the first two times around the pattern were notable only by the fact that there were now two other aircraft flying with me and for the tone of displeasure that came back when I called my position and intentions. At least my turns, speeds, altitudes and radio calls had all been perfect.

As I reported my intention to "Full Stop" my final landing I was told I was "Cleared to land, Number 2 for landing". I reported "Looking for Traffic" and extended my downwind whilst scanning the skies. Eventually, still unable to see the other plane, I called "Student Pilot 3416 Quebec is still looking for the traffic". "Traffic is no longer a factor" came the reply, indicating that they had long since landed. I turned base and final and landed with no problems.

As I cleared the runway the Tower called "Cleared to Taxi to the T-Hangars", our usual home. I replied with "Actually, I'd like to taxi to the base of the tower please, 3416 Quebec". "3416 Quebec cleared to taxi to the base of the tower...... say, was this your first solo?".  "Er, yes, couldn't you tell?". "Uhm, no..., not really. Congratulations".  And with a great sense of relief and slight astonishment that I'd been congratulated by a previously annoyed and never more than businesslike tower controller, I taxied back to meet my instructor.

So two solos, two aeroplanes, two completely different flying environments and the experience couldn't have felt more different. The first seemed more about surviving. I could handle the aeroplane, but flying into that field always felt like I was setting up for an aircraft carrier landing. I was so focused on just flying I would have really struggled with any more workload. The second solo was almost not about flying at all. Like the difference between learning to drive and having driven for years, my concentration wasn't on the mechanics of flying the plane, it was on the world outside the aircraft. Sure, I was still concentrating on my speeds, positions and altitudes, but the experience was more about being a good user of the busy airport's airspace.

The last big difference is more subtle. Before I set off in the Robin I knew that it was going to be my last flight at the club. My funding had been pulled and I was to return to England with my salary readjusted to a level that would stop me flying. My solo seemed like the perfect end to my French adventure. In contrast, my solo in the Archer isn't an end at all, it is a beginning. I have already started to fly cross country and would have performed my solo cross country, if it wasn't that the aircraft is out for maintenance.

Now I am in uncharted territory. Now I get to see the utility of the hobby I have chosen. I have dreamed of taking my family flying, now I can dream of taking them places.

And I love learning how to do it.


Autonomy, Automation.., oh and Boredom.
Mon, Jul 19 2010 10:48 PM

I have a vision of my automotive future and it is automated.

My family would lease a vehicle large enough for carrying us and whatever we need to take with us. It would take me to work and here's the unusual bit, it would take itself home for whatever my family need of it. It doesn't need to be sat in my employer's parking lot all day. If it needs charging or fuelling, why should I stand guard over it? It can go sort itself out and my contract with whichever fuel provider will take care of the payment. On the odd occasion we need to be in two places at the same time, our lease agreement would ensure a second loan vehicle would appear, driverless, when needed. Servicing, of course, would be provided. Drinking and driving, a thing of the past. Kids need picking up from school? The car can go.

Now this doesn't mean that I want to chase cars from the streets. Far from it, I love cars and driving, but there are better things I could be doing in the time to and from work than avoid crashing in traffic. When I want to go for a drive there are better times to do it than rush hour.

As I understand it most, if not all, of the technology to make this happen already exists. There is, however, a problem of public perception. I mean, cars driving around on their own? What about "sense and avoid"? Won't they just mow down all of the slow moving children, elderly and small furry mammals that cross our streets? Well, actually, I can't imagine it getting distracted, being half asleep or being clamped to a mobile phone (like seemingly half of all the drivers I pass in my new homeland). So why not?

So I was very interested to read David Learmount's post about The lonely airline pilot . As manufacturers like Embraer consider the future of single pilot cockpits and remotely or even optionally piloted aircraft are already with us, what will people think of more automated air travel? Irrespective of the fact that the autopilot already automates large potions of the flight, who would be comfortable if there weren't two people watching it, vigilantly?

To be fair, the idea of being the only person locked into the front of an aircraft for hours at a time doesn't fill me full of the joy of flying. I can't see that it would make for a great recruitment drive. At least with two you can have animated discussions about what's going on in your lives, like, er, the latest crew scheduling. 

How about no pilots at all then? Even though I can see much merit in having a NASA style control room, filled full of the brightest and the best, controlling the aircraft should things ever go wrong, I just have to wonder who it was that held my life in his hands whilst he nipped down the hall to the drinks machine for a quick coffee flavoured beverage and a Kitkat.

First Time Under the Hood
Sun, Jul 11 2010 11:15 PM

A bead of sweat is starting to form on my forehead. It could be the Maryland humidity and we've seen record temperatures recently, but I don't think so. My grip on the yoke is tighter than before. Gone, the sometimes forced relaxed posture in the left seat of the Archer. My eyes, robbed of the what now seems a most generous view of the Maryland countryside, scan furiously in the pattern that I've just been taught. As I make my first turn to meet the VOR radial, my instinct to look into the turn rewards me with only darkness and an unobstructed view of the side panel of the aircraft. At least I now seem to be flying level and the initial gentle porpoising has subsided. 

Going "Under the Hood" is quite literally putting on a visor that obstructs you view of outside the aircraft and to do this so early in my training is a little unusual, so I'm told. In this case the intention was to give my family a flight with few maneuvers, whilst not flying a sightseeing tour that wouldn't progress my learning.

So what is it like? Disorienting, focused, unnatural, but ultimately managable.

The lesson gradually built up my workload. Starting with straight and level flight, then turns without changing altitude. Next find and line up on a VOR radial.

A VOR (VHF omnidirectional radio range) station is a ground based beacon than sends out a signal than identifies 360 spokes around the signal called "radials". You can set which radial you want to follow and a gauge in the aeroplane will tell you if you are flying to or from the VOR and a needle swings to the left or right to guide you back onto the right track when you drift off course. Using both VOR gauges tuned to two different VOR stations and identifying which two VOR radials cross where you are will allow you to fix your position should you be lost.

So, now I am following the radial and continuing my scan of the instruments: artificial horizon, airspeed, artificial horizon, altitude, artificial horizon, heading, artificial horizon. This scan replaces any external reference and it is essential to keep your eyes moving. I found, from time to time, my eyes getting stuck on a gauge transfixed by a value that isn't where it should be. All the time my eyes settled in one place, the numbers on all of the other gauges started to diverge from where I needed them. An unintended turn, a change in altitude, speed dropping off. Small changes, constant scanning.

The last test was a descending, constant airspeed turn to a heading. More workload, more concentration, more numbers to hit. I really enjoyed these games and I will play them until I'm really proficient. I know that ultimately my life will one day depend on playing them well.

Taking My Family Flying
Sun, Jul 4 2010 11:00 AM

Responsibility is something that sneaks up on you as you go through life. I never went looking for it and it snuck up on me while I wasn't looking. Above all else, I am responsible for the financial security of my wife and 2 1/2yr old son and in more subtle ways for their safety, health and happiness. This sits well with me and I am proud to support them.

Being responsible for their safety has never been more in my mind than when doing the walkaround inspection of the Piper Archer before my lesson a couple of weeks ago. As soon as I was finished I invited them aboard the aeroplane and showed them how to strap into the back seats. After sitting him on a booster cushion, I carefully placed an almost comically oversized headset on my son, showed my wife how it worked and then set about the pre-engine start checklist with my instructor.

At this point I had the clearest vision of why I'm so keen to get qualified - to share the experience as much as I can - and it was an opportunity to get them comfortable with flying in a small aircraft. If they don't take to flying then potentially my chances to use this not yet achieved licence will markedly decrease.

Off we went to do the lesson. This wasn't a simple sightseeing flight and my instructor worked me hard doing exercises I haven't done before. All the while my family sat patiently in the back, enjoying the Maryland countryside. We turned for home and once we were back at the T-hangars I had the chance to find out how they got on. "Fine, it was fun", said my wife, though she told me that my son was just on the cusp of having enough of being strapped into his seat as we turned to come home. "Did you have fun?" I asked him as we sat him in the front seat before we pushed the aeroplane back into the hangar. "I want to take off." came the answer. "Well, how about: you do steering while we do pushing?"

 As he happily steered with the control column, we carefully placed the aircraft back in the hangar using the towbar to steer the nosewheel.

So now my son tells me regularly of the time he drove the aeroplane into the garage and asks when we'll go flying with Daddy and Mr Dave (my instructor) in Daddy's airplane. I hate to disappoint the young lad so I'd better get on and get my training done. 

Responsibility means that I will take the greatest care in preparing for flying with my family and I will concentrate on making my skills and experience all they should be when carrying my most precious of passengers.

 I just I won't tell him that I actually only rent the plane.

The Devil (and Salvation) is in the Details
Sun, Jun 27 2010 3:00 PM

I have heard that someone's Grandmother often said "Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves". If it was my Grandmother, then sorry Nan, I should have paid more attention. In my defense it seems that I am in good company in this industry.

I am not really thinking strictly about finances either. So many aspects of our industry stand or fall on our vigilance of the pennies, the details in the work, rather than on the bigger picture. New product development and Qualification, Manufacturing, Quality and Inspection, Safety. Details matter. I had been thinking about this for a while and struggling how to illustrate the point, when at the end of 2009 Southwest Airlines handed me a perfect example. The news was that Southwest fitted Non-certified Parts to 42 Aircraft and the FAA were investigating. It sounded shocking, but look closer. Their approved maintenance facility procured exhaust gate assembly hinge fittings from an approved supplier to an approved design. Unfortunately, the supplier wasn't approved to produce this part. They had the capability, but not the clearance.

I don't want to single out Manufacturing or Inspection, the same issue affects us all. Picture all of the Engineering departments working to design and develop new products to meet the thousands of customer and regulatory requirements. There is always pressure to meet deadlines and it is human nature to push on to create, to put pen to paper, or draw lines on the screen. Do we have time to spend weeks going through all of the requirements without producing anything to show for it? Can't we tie up the loose ends when we finish?

I once attended a trial "6Sigma for Design" course. The company had chosen a few of us to attend and give feedback ahead of rolling the approach out to the rest of the company. The rest of the company never saw the course. This was mostly because the method suggested using MUCH more manpower at the beginning of the project than is traditionally used. More people, more expense and seemingly no more progress, even though all of the details would be addressed early. The idea was to avoid all of the expense of throwing people at resolving the last minute problems, the delays, the test failures and the unanswered questions. It was scuppered because saving money over years by spending more than everyone else has never been an argument that holds much sway at monthly budget review time. 

Sorting out the details that were left to later costs money. Call it "Cost of Quality" or "Non Reoccurring Cost over-runs", use some resource now to tame that Devil in the Details or he will run rampant later with your budget and your reputation.


Turbine Time!
Sun, Jun 20 2010 2:59 PM

I love flying. I used to love airline travel more than I do, but I am enjoying absolutely everything about taking lessons for my Private Pilot's certificate. Buckling up in the Piper PA28-181 Archer II, taxiing, lining up on the runway and pushing the throttle to the firewall is the most fun I've had in ages.  Yes, of course I understand that I'm on the baby slopes end of the aviation spectrum and there are far more exciting aircraft than an Archer, but that really isn't the point.

Then, one day my instructor mentioned to me that he was off to do his day job at the weekend. He works for a base in Maryland that manages aircraft for their owners. As he is effectively working for the owner when he flies his regular ride, he is operating under FAR Part 91 (General Operating) rather than the more controlling FAR Par 135 (Commuter and On Demand Operations). The PC12 NG is single pilot certified and that leaves the right seat free. So, would I like to come along?

Er, would I? I took time to consider how this opportunity might come again. I considered all of the millionaire owner-pilots that I know that might have neglected to mention that they were millionaire owner pilots. I waited until he'd finished asking and said calmly, "Sure, that would be great, thanks".

Thus, on Saturday morning, dressed as smartly as an owner would expect of their pilots, we set off on the forty-five minute drive to the airport. We were met with this:

It's a Pilatus PC12NG and is beautiful inside and out. Well, maybe it's got a face only a mother could love, but it certainly has ramp presence.  "It is just like a big Archer", my instructor lied. Yeah, an Archer with a PT6 in the nose. First things first: training on how to use the huge cargo door and how to close the cabin door without the folding steps banging as they swing shut. This will be my job when we pick up our passengers as it will allow the real pilot extra pre-flight time in the cockpit to reduce any delay.

The plan was to fly IFR from Maryland to a small airport in New Jersey, pick up a small group and whatever they wanted to bring back and then deliver them safe to their home airport. On the outbound leg we would be empty; the return would be entirely at the passengers' schedule. FADEC controlled start-up was much simpler than the sometimes cantankerous little Archer and after lining up on the taxiway, my instructer said "over to you, but watch out for the toebrakes, they're a little sensitive". I get to taxi? Cool. He was right about the brakes.

"OK, when we get clearance, line it up on the runway and push the throttle full forward". I get to takeoff? Uh, ok. Um. Seriously cool.  

"The magenta symbol is the Flight Director. You keep the yellow triangle nicely tucked into that and it will take us where we're going". I guess those wasted hours on MS Flight Simulator weren't wasted after all.


I have to admit that for the forty minute flight my eyes were transfixed on that little pink icon. The only time I looked out of the window was when the traffic passing from 9 o'clock, 1000ft above was suddenly an Embraer 145 that seemed to fill the top of the screen as it passed from left to right. One thousand feet separation looks like much less than it sounds.

 I relinquished control for the approach and landing, and did so happily. It gave me a chance to watch the C-17 that was sharing the airspace with us and then to see the man at work. Once down, a quick blast of reverse pitch brought our speed down handsomely.

And then we waited; people don't buy an aeroplane to be on our schedule. As the passengers arrived, we were polite and courteous. Unload the car? Sure. Load the bags and effects into the aircraft? I'll just pop the cargo door open and pass them in for the pilot. Wait for the group to board and close the door without the steps banging. Glad I practiced that, I looked like I knew what I was doing.

Then back to home base with my instructor showing what serious experience can do for you. Fly the aircraft, listen out for air traffic control messages, negotiate for shortcuts, keep watch for other aircraft. I aspire to this level of time management and I will practice.

When all was said and done I thanked my instructor for the opportunity. Now that I think about it, next time I see him I'll thank him again.

KMTN and the CFR on the SFRA around the DCA VOR/DME. OK?
Sat, Jun 12 2010 9:24 PM

As I have mentioned previously, I am training for my Private Pilot's Certificate at Martin State Airport (KMTN) and there are several interesting features of this airport.

Sitting on the edge of the Chesapeake Bay, the airport was founded in 1929 to service the factory just founded by Glen L Martin. Much of the factory's product was rolled straight into the bay and was flown off the water. Thus, whilst the 6,996ft runway 33 points inland, runway 15 ends not so far from the water's edge. Engine out procedure below 650 ft on runway 15 eventually involves a boat ride and a change of clothes.

The local airspace requires tidy flying too. KMTN sits neatly under controlled airspace for Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (KBWI). So no climbing above 2500ft at the airport location or to the South over the bay. Heading North East there is no climbing above 3500 ft until clear of the controlled airspace. You can't head due East as this heads straight into a Military Restricted Airspace Zone over the Aberdeen Proving Grounds and due West the KBWI airspace drops to 1500ft heading over Baltimore and you have to deal with the Washington DC Special Flight Rules Area.

Thus, climb-out from 33 for practice is to the North East and climb-out from 15 is a climb over the water to 2000ft then two left turns and parallel the runway as if you were high in the pattern, before heading out North East to play.

The Washington DC SFRA adds its own special flavour to this mix. Following 14 CFR Parts 1 and 93, any pilot  flying from within 60 miles of the DCA VOR/DME has to take online course and a short exam. Once passed, the system prints you out a certificate that must be carried with you in the plane. So even before I was cleared by the TSA to fly, I had sat through the half hour online course and taken the exam...., which crashed before it printed out the results. So even before I was cleared by the TSA to fly, I had sat through the half hour online course and taken the exam...., twice.

So what's it all about? Well, for if you are a pilot who wants to fly near Washington DC, and plan to get within 30 miles of the DCA VOR/DME, you will have to file a special flight plan for VFR or an IFR flight plan. The flight plan will detail which of the virtual gates you will enter by and by which you will leave. Your aircraft WILL have a two way radio fitted as well as an altitude reporting transponder and you will stay below 180kts unless instructed otherwise. There are special rules for flying into and out of the airports located within and on the fringes of the zone. Also within the SFRA is the Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ) that protects the heart of Washington DC. This needs its own flight plan to enter, but for the VFR pilot it is effectively an exclusion zone. 

So, with controlled airspace around a nearby civilian international airport, a military test range and the National Capital, I guess that I am going to quickly learn the advantages of knowing my altitude and position accurately. If not, I fear my Pilot in Command time could be very severely restricted.

A Not So Quiet Neighbour
Sat, Jun 5 2010 10:09 PM

Recently I had my first post-TSA clearance flying lesson from Martin State Airport (KMTN)  in a Piper Archer II (PA28-181). My pre-TSA clearance trial lesson had been in a Cessna 172S and my aircraft choice was to aide my high wing - Low wing decision going forward. 

A new aircraft type in my logbook and several weeks since my last flight, this lesson was about familiarisation - me with the aeroplane, the instructor with me. My instructor believes in learning hands on right from the off, so start-up, taxi, run-up, calls to tower, take-off, flight exercises, pattern and landing are all mine from lesson 1, with appropriate guidance. 

The lesson was great fun and was memorable for a number of reasons. One is that the airport is home to the 175th Wing of the National Guard so the GA aircraft share the runway with A-10s, C-130s and the occasional C-17. The next was this is the first time I have flown with a clear air visibility reported as low as 6 miles in some areas. Six miles sounds like a lot, but trust me it really isn't. I am not talking about flying around clouds either. What I saw was just trying to peer through humidity and was a bit like being in a clear bubble in a murky haze. At one point we caught sight of a hot air balloon. A few manoeuvres later and it had just disappeared. Not a sign..., and we looked hard. The worrying thing is that the high summer humidity hasn't really started yet.

As for the flying: forty-five degree banked turns to a heading, climbing and descending constant speed turns to a heading; I'm going to need plenty more practice to get accurate and boy was I sweating when we landed.

But the most memorable moment was circling my own house at an indicated 1500ft with my two and a half year old son pointing up from the street shouting at the top of his voice "My Daddy is in that plane" despite my wife's protestations that I wouldn't be able to hear him. And she was right. 

So I have talked to the neighbours and I can only apologise once more. They didn't notice the aircraft, but a noisy toddler? Now that's just not neighbourly. 


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