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I Love Hot Air Ballooning! (Carolina Balloon Fest 2014)

(click pic to enlarge)  My view lifting off at the 2014 Carolina Balloon Fest in Statesville NC

 I've been very fortunate to get quite a bit of exposure to hot air ballooning in the last 2 years since my son-in-law Mitch has a commercial balloon rating and an basket with two envelopes, a 77,000 cubic foot and a 90,000. It works out well for me to be crew and chase vehicle driver when he has rides to fly... and now I'm in training in hopes of getting my rating before too long as well. I've been a fan of ballooning since I was about 12, so finally getting the chance to fly this way is tremendously satisfying.

(click pic to enlarge)  Note the parachute vent top being cycled thru the open position

 Mitch participated in the Carolina Balloon Fest again this year, and I was there helping him out some. I even got to go flying as the pictures here show! My wife and I took the opportunity to turn it all into a small vacation by heading over early in the week to visit the Biltmore mansion, and to just get away... and then Friday and Saturday I helped Mitch some with the balloon. The pictures are from Saturday morning when most of the approximately 55 balloons in attendance took to the skies.

 It was a beautiful morning for some lighter-than-air flying! And while the surface winds were nice and light, the winds at just 300 feet were scooting right along at about 14mph. Ballooning really teaches you that the wind is a far more complicated partner in flying than the typical fixed wing pilot understands. In addition to the vast difference in wind velocity that morning between the surface and 300 feet, there was about a 90 degree shift in the wind direction as well. It sure makes for some interesting flying!

 Btw, I didn't even take my DSLR camera on this vacation, so these pix are from my Galaxy Note II... the same phone that went thru the mower blades a few months back and didn't even get a scratch on it! Fortunately, my Otterbox Commuter case gave up its life to totally save the phone!

(click pic to enlarge)  We're departing the launch area... hot air ballooning sure is colorful!

 It's looking more and more like ballooning will be my point-of-entry back into having my own flying machine since for less than $10,000 you can fetch up an airworthy set up, and sometimes you can even get in the air for substantially less. You have to look around a bit and know what you're looking for, and obviously a very affordable set up most likely has much of its useful life already used up. But compared to my $25,000 to $40,000 Piper Cub desires, ballooning can be quite affordable.

(click pic to enlarge)  Looking into the sun at the balloons that launched ahead of us

(click pic to enlarge)  Looking away from the sun at the balloons that launched after us

(click pic to enlarge)  Just above the trees as we navigate toward a landing spot

 Hot air ballooning is challenging and a lot more work than I'm guessing most fixed wing pilots understand... and I love it!

(click pic to enlarge)  Another launch pic... this time with the sun shining over the owl

(click pic to enlarge)  This 'When Pigs Fly' balloon landed near us... Pigs of a feather?

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Must See Video: THE CUBS 2 OSH STORY - 75th Anniversary Gathering In Hartford, WI

click here to download the digital version for half price (just $4.50)

 If you've been paying attention you know I'm a big believer in the Piper Cub as the perfect pure-flying-pleasure airplane. If you aren't convinced of the Cub's 'best airplane ever' status, then watch the video trailer above for THE CUBS 2 OSH STORY, and then I hope you'll either buy the digital download or the DVD of the 32 minute professionally-produced video. You can buy the DVD (with the digital download) for $19.99 or by using the special AirPigz link you can buy the digital download for just $4.50, half its regular price.

 The Cubs 2 OSH Story chronicles the 75th anniversary gathering of Piper Cubs at Hartford Wisconsin back in 2012. Filmmaker Ryan Dembroski has put together a very high quality video that captures the beauty of Cub flying along with the personal stories that really show how the Cub has connected with aviators in a way that honestly no other airplane ever has.

 I very highly recommend that you purchase the Cubs 2 OSH video in one form or another... your love for aviation (and the Cub) will benefit greatly!

click here to download the digital version for half price (just $4.50)
click here to order the 32 minute DVD for $19.99 (includes digital download)

 The trailer below for the Cubs 2 OSH video features the man behind the event (and Cub Air Flight at Hartford) Steve Krog. He shares how the Cub has impacted his life since he was just a kid... truly a life-long love affair!


 I was at Hartford back in 2012 for the Cubs 2 OSH event, and Ryan's video definitely captures all the magic of this very special gathering! Definitely a must-see video : )

 Check out these posts for more on my experience from Cubs 2 OSH: 

Lots Of Cub Yellow At Hartford Wisconsin For 'Cubs 2 OSH'
75 Piper Cubs At Hartford Wisconsin! CoolPix 2Fer


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I Feel A Lot Like This Battle-Damaged Avenger

 I'm tired, worn out, and feeling beat up here lately... my day-job of floor installing work as a one-man operation has me extremely busy (and physically fatigued) - and has so often been the case in almost 6 years of AirPigz sideline work, the web traffic here isn't what I think it should be. It's not bad traffic by any means, just not where I always thought it should be, and that keeps me continually frustrated. All this explains the low posting frequency here lately. Hang in there with me as I try to get back to home base for some repairs and R & R.

 I'll add that I've starting experimenting with the FLY Energy Bar project once again in hopes of solving some small but nagging issues with the recipe. Two quick tests have already made some great progress! I need something to succeed in a big way, hopefully I'm getting close on this project.

 I also have a backlog of impressive posts still to get up, so hopefully I'll have that batch of avgeekery coming your way before long... stay tuned.




Video: C-17 Countermeasure Flares... Wild Northern Lights!


 This short but very sweet video is from a few nights ago in Alaska at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson as several C-17's were testing their countermeasure flares. That's some beautiful northern lights to be sure!


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Video: Fascinating Documentary On The British 1960's Era (Mach 2) BAC TSR-2

 My usual goal for an AirPigz post is to give you a 3 to 5 minute avgeek experience that either thoroughly entertains or educates (or both)... but today you're gonna have to carve out at least 55 minutes if you're gonna take it all in. I found this documentary on the early 1960's British TSR-2 (Tactical Strike and Reconnaissance Mach 2) to be both extremely educational and entertaining. I admit that my interest in the details of aircraft development might run deeper than yours, but even so, I think you'll find this British effort to keep up with the rapidly advancing aerospace world of the late 50's and early 60's to be a fascinating story.

 As with any cancelled project, the politics of the situation are often as interesting (and confusing/frustrating) as the aircraft itself. This documentary provides some of the story, tho I'm sure any story like this is almost impossible to know what really happened. Regardless, the interviews with key people in the the TSR-2 development along with lots of film of the aircraft easily held my attention.

(click pic to enlarge)  The prototype (XR219) and only TSR-2 to ever fly

 For some reason I have never really been very familiar with the TSR-2 and its tragic story of seeming to be a tremendous aircraft lacking the will of the government to build it... tho there's no disputing that delays and cost overruns certainly tainted the achievement of the designers and builders. I had seen pictures of the airplanes and usually thought; that's kinda weird looking. Interestingly, now I look at it and think WOW!

 All I know is that one day I hope to be able to go to Cosford England to the RAF museum, or to the Imperial War Museum in Duxford England to see either of the two surviving TSR-2 airframes. Neither of these airframes (XR220 and XR222) ever flew, only the prototype XR219 was ever flown, but it sure seems to me that the feeling standing in front of the TSR-2 would have to be very much like that when in the presence of a B-58 Hustler or the XB-70 Valkyrie. Awesome.


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Poll + Video: Does The Precious Metal Disqualification Change Your Reno 2015 Plans?

Poll is at the bottom of the post

 The disqualification of Thom Richard in Precious Metal in the Gold Unlimited race last Sunday at the 2014 National Championship Air Races in Reno has created quite a stir among fans of air racing. And while it's easy to assume that it's Precious Metal fans that are confused and frustrated the most, I believe it should apply to ALL race fans for the sake of sport going forward. Ultimately, the TRUTH of this situation is what really matters, and getting to that truth, to uphold the integrity of the event, should be the goal of everyone involved.

First Things First:

 First I want to make it clear that I'm not anti RARA (Reno Air Race Association) in anyway. My first experiences at Reno were as a kid from 1967 thru 1970 (I was born in 1961) and while I didn't return until 2009, Reno is forever etched into my mind from those early years. I love the Reno Air Races!

 I also ran a Christian rock music festival for 10 years. I was the founder of the event as well as the lone organizer. In 2008, the last year for the event, I had 45 bands on 3 stages over 3 days... I understand how difficult 'events' are to pull off. I very much respect the work done by RARA in making the races happen year after year.

 Also, after the tragedy in 2011 at Reno, the task of moving the races forward, under far greater FAA scrutiny, had to make the work harder than ever to accomplish.

The Disqualification:

 According to the statement released by RARA on September 16th, Thom Richard and Precious Metal were disqualified on the second lap for crossing the East Showline. A single judge is responsible for making the call on the East Showline, and the ruling by the Contest Committee is not open for appeal according to the rules.

 There are several areas of concern in this situation. Why does only one person have so much responsibility/power? Why is there not an appeal process where evedince can be presented to correct a mistake made by a single judge? Why was the disqualification not announced immediately in the interest of safety? (a aircraft deemed to be operating outside the course boundaries should be prevented from continuing to race in the interest of safety).

 And... why does the statement from RARA not address any real evidence that the showline had been crossed? At the very least, a full explanation of exactly where these boundaries are should be provided, along with a clear indication of where the judge was positioned. Without this information, RARA has created the impression that they are in the position of defending a decision without any real evidence.

The Video:

 Thom Richard made the cockpit race video available to the race committee for review. While the statement says they don't normally use cockpit video since they are all different, they did however review the video from Precious Metal.

 I admit that without knowing exactly where the supposed crossing of the showline took place, it's hard to make a judgment with the video. From a PR standpoint, this is another reason why RARA has a huge responsibility, for the sake of the races going forward, to provide exact details of where these boundaries are and where the crossing is supposed to have taken place. However, the video doesn't appear to show any point where Precious Metal is outside of the race course boundaries as I am aware of them.

Pylon 2 Screenshots:

 I'll state again that I don't know exactly where the supposed crossing of the showline took place, but I've captured screenshots from the video showing the position of Precious Metal at Pylon 2 as a reference for its position on the course. Since the racers enter the course from the south down the chute, pylon 2 is not officially passed on the first lap. The first screenshot shows the pass by pylon 2 on lap number 2. The relative position of Precious Metal changes from pass to pass, but it would certainly seem that all of these passes are within the course boundaries. There are 7 images all together, for laps 2 thru 8.

 If and when we find out exactly where they say Thom crossed the East Showline, we can use the video to clarify if that seems possible. Again, I provide these screenshots as a general reference point only. 

click any pic to enlarge

The Conclusion:

 I'll be the first to say that if it can be proven that Thom was operating outside the race boundaries, then the disqualification should stand. I'm a huge fan of Thom and the Precious Metal Team, but I have no interest in seeing the Team receive a trophy if they did not abide by the rules. Out of respect for all the teams and the races in general, we should all have the same goal here in mind... the rules need to be followed. However, RARA has not provided any conclusive evidence that the rules have not been followed, and the video certainly seems to indicate that the rules were followed. 

 This is all very important because RARA is allowing the fans to believe that Precious Metal was robbed of a hard fought third place finish, and the situation is greatly affecting the ability of many fans to have faith in the system. When fans in large numbers lose faith in the system (and turn their back on an event) it's hard to survive as an event. This is why I personally believe that RARA must make the effort to clarify all the information in this situation.

The Poll:

 So I've put up a poll for people who were at the races this year (or at the very least were serious about their intent to travel to the races in 2015) - With the handling by RARA of the Precious Metal disqualification, will you attend the 2015 Reno Air Races?



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Reno 2014: Sunday 9-14-14 - Voodoo 1st, Czech Mate 2nd, And Precious Metal Disqualified??

(click pic for hi-res) Thom Richard and Precious Metal on the Unlimited Gold race takeoff 

 With a 2,050 mile drive ahead of me, I left the 2014 Reno Air Races just minutes after the Gold race on Sunday. But I stopped about an hour down the road to post a picture to celebrate that I watched Precious Metal easily capture third place behind another win for Steven Hinton (in Voodoo) with Sheman Smoot in Czech Mate taking second place... Strega was unable to race and Rare Bear was out of the race after just one lap. But when I checked the race results at I saw that they were showing Precious Metal disqualified in the Gold race with this note: "DQ by Contest Committee for showline cut".

 Uncertain of what was going on and confused by how such a thing could have happened, I decided to just continue home and post once I understood the situation. I'm home now and I still don't understand how Precious Metal was disqualified (which moved Dennis Sanders and Dreadnought into third place) and in fact my quick research of the situation makes me think there is a really big mistake taking place here. Hopefully soon there will be some info available that will either clarify what really happened, or maybe even reverse the situation.

 Regardless, Team Precious Metal did a fantastic job of getting the airplane into the Gold race and they have so much to proud of for their efforts. It was a great experience for me to be so close to the action in the PM pit, and I can verify that the team worked really hard and effectively in the quest for the Gold race. 

 I'll have more info on this confusing situation once it's available.



Reno 2014: Saturday 9-13-14 - Precious Metal Advances To The Sunday Gold Race!

(click pic to enlarge)  A little American flag flying over the PM cowl Saturday morning

Watch the Sunday Gold race live with LiveAirShowTV

 Saturday morning was a relatively easy day for the Precious Metal crew as the airplane was pretty well dialed in for the Silver race later in the day. However, even a dialed in airplane still gets a lot of detailed attention in preperation for a race, but at least there's wasn't a frantic push to solve large problems. The race today was just after noon and PM had no trouble winning over a collection of Sea Fury's, P-51's, a Corsair and a Tigercat. PM posted a winning speed of just a few ticks under 438mph which is almost 4 mph faster than in last year's Gold race on Sunday. At this point it seems safe to assume that Thom has some power in reserve to push PM up the ladder in the Gold race.

(click pic to enlarge) A long view thru Reno heat as PM lands after winning the Silver race

 There were some very interesting developments then later in the day in the Gold Heat 3 race just after 4pm. Steven Hinton in Voodoo pulled out in front with Tiger Destefani in Strega chasing him but at a much higher altitude. This race was really about these two P-51's as Rare Bear, Czech Mate, Dreadnought and Sawbones weren't really able to keep up. Voodoo pulled fairly well ahead for a few laps but Tiger was almost able to close all the gap by the time they passed the home pylon on the final lap... HOWEVER, the posted (still unofficial at 7:55pm PDT) race results indicate that Tiger and Strega were disqualified for not maintaining course altitude. I expect there's a lot of discussion going about this and it'll be interesting to see on Sunday how it's all shaken out.

(click pic to enlarge)  Thom Richard and PM after winning the Saturday Silver race

 Stevo in Voodoo finished today's race with a speed of 492.525mph, a little over 10mph faster than his 2013 Gold race winning speed of 482.074, and Tiger was just barely (JUST BARELY!) behind him at the finish, so these two P-51's have continued to prove they have all the right stuff to race the fastest at Reno. But if Tiger and Strega are out all together, then it'll leave Voodoo as the beast to beat. Plus, Tiger had a Mayday (with a safe landing) right after the finish and Strega may be unable to race Sunday no matter what.

 Regardless, Thom in Precious Metal has his work cut out for him in pushing the Griffon powered P-51 to its fastest race speeds ever in Sunday's Gold Championship race... it's gonna be fun to watch!

(click pic to enlarge)  Safety briefing in the pit with the Precious Metal crew today

 The journey for the Precious Metal Team at Reno 2014 has been long, challenging, and fairly eventful... but with Sunday now right around the corner, Thom and the airplane are ready to give it a great run for the Gold!

Let's go racing!


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Reno 2014: Friday 9-12-14 - Precious Metal Continues Journey Toward The Gold Race

(click pic to enlarge)  Rolls Royce Griffon powered P-51 Precious Metal: race number 38

 In case you didn't get the memo, my coverage of Reno 2014 is focused on Thom Richard and his Rolls Royce Griffon powered P-51 known as Precious Metal. It makes the effort here for me a lot easier when I don't have to keep running from end to end of the pit area to try and give a bigger view of the wide range of air racers at Reno... and I'd say it's working since I'm not feeling like I've been run over by a bus. At least not yet anyway! Fortunately, Thom has given me some great access to the PM pit to gather lots of info and pix, most of which won't be shared until after the races.

(click pic to enlarge)  Thom on the ladder and the phone... always, always issues to solve

 I think it's easy to be drawn to Thom and this unique airplane, and I think the journey this team takes every year at Reno is very entertaining. I figure that's good for the unique world of air racing, and I enjoy putting some extra attention on their efforts.

(click pic to enlarge)  That big Griffon engine gets lots and lots of attention everyday!

 Thom's journey toward the big race on Sunday continued today, but it included a twist. The Silver Unlimited race today was the one that he needed to win to move up into the Gold division, but Tiger Destefani, racing in Strega, cut a pylon on Thursday which put him in that same race with Precious Metal today. I don't really understand the rules in play here, but the bottom line is that Thom didn't have to win today's race (since Strega was also racing) he just needed to come in second, which he easily did. Tiger in Strega had no trouble winning today's race which, as I understand it, moves him back into the Gold fray. Thom now needs to win the Silver race on Saturday to put him in the Gold race on Sunday.

(click pic to enlarge)  A unique wide angle view under the Precious Metal wing

 As we move into the race weekend, the journey for Team Precious Metal toward the big Gold Unlimited race on Sunday is still moving forward and remains optimistic... so let's go racing!  #lowfastleft


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Reno 2014: Thursday 9-11-14 - Precious Metal Wins Bronze Unlimited (CoolPix 2Fer)

(click pic for hi-res) Thom Richard will advance after winning the Bronze Unlimited race

 So, it wasn't a surprise that Thom Richard and Precious Metal easily won the Bronze Unlimited race today against two P-51's and a Corsair, but then again, everything has to work to win any race at Reno. PM sounded like she was running great but barely breathing as she easily out paced the closer-to-stock competitors. Thom finished the race with a speed of 359mph while the other P-51's, Sparky and The Rebel, were neck and neck at 319mph, and the Corsair Korean War Hero came in last at 310mph. To see the full race results for all races, go to

 A better test and challenge for Thom will come on Friday afternoon in the Silver Unlimited race. If Thom wins that race then he's back in the right division to compete against Voodoo, Strega, Rare Bear, Czech Mate (etc.) - so tomorrow's race will be one to watch for sure.

(click pic for hi-res) Some fire out both sides of the Griffon on the Bronze race start up

 Here are a couple CoolPix images from just a few hours ago... one as Precious Metal fired up for that Bronze race and one right after with Thom looking rather happy with the result. Note the fire coming out the left stacks in start up pic... and the heat waves showing that there was a lot more fire on the right side that we can't see. Thom kept cranking when the fire showed up and after another 10 seconds or so the engine was running and all the fires had been blown on thru. These big ole engines are awesome!

More to come from the 2014 National Championship Air Races!


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