Crossing the Pacific by Cruiser

While it’s not quite in the same league as later journeys spanning our largest ocean, the flight of three Douglas World Cruisers that made it to Kagoshima, Japan, in May 1924 marked the first time the Pacific Ocean had been breached by air. By hopscotching up the Aleutian chain and over the Bering Strait, they plied their way—the Chicago, the New Orleans, and the Boston.

And they had to stay out of Russian waters along the way. Intrepid Russian officers paddled out to give them a jug of vodka, however, as they rested on May 15, bobbing in the waves well outside the three-mile limit off shore, according to Sky Master.

The trio of Douglas World Cruisers approach the bay at Kagoshima, Japan. [Credit: First Round the World on]

When they made their way into Japan’s Kagoshima port, crowds waited on the sand to cheer their arrival. By May 17, headlines filled the newspapers back home, in time for the Saturday editions.

On May 24, the DWC crews went to Tokyo (spelled “Tokio” in Sky Master) to attend a grand reception. It would foreshadow the future, in the Sky Master text, which was published in 1943. Wrote Frank Cunningham: “The sight of American planes, though, upset the Japanese as they realized that even if the world flight planes were friendly ships, the United States might be able to fly fighting planes to Japan. Some writers have stated that the visit of the DWC planes gave aviation a tremendous impetus in the kingdom of the Rising Sun.

“The Evening News of Shanghai, China, May 23, reported an Eastern News Agency dispatch from Tokio saying: ‘The enthusiasm with which the American round-the-world-fliers were welcomed by the Japanese citizens when they safely arrived at Kasumagira [sic] well illustrates the Japanese good will and friendly feeling toward the United States despite the existence of the present Japanese-American controversy over the immigration question. [The U.S. had just passed the Immigration Act of 1924, effectively ending immigration by Japanese at the time.] Tokio today with the whole Japanese nation enthusiastically is fêting and giving welcome to the American airmen.'”

What The DC Flyover Meant

The spark of the idea took place more than two years ago—the concept that the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association could organize and execute a mass formation flight over the nation’s most restricted airspace. In commemoration of its 85th birthday, the association did just that, with the “National Celebration of General Aviation DC Flyover” on May 11.

A strung-out gaggle of 54 aircraft—cached in eras and genres from the most classic Beech Staggerwing to the recently debuted Piper M700 Fury—launched from the Frederick Municipal Airport (KFDK) starting at 11:38 a.m. They flew in a distinct trail straight to the heart of Washington, D.C., into the Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ) and through prohibited area P-56 overlaying the National Mall. They took three routes back to Frederick and landed without a hitch.

A secure area had been established on the flight line, with all pilots vetted by the Secret Service and put through extensive background checks. Most aircraft carried at least two people, also having gone through preliminary and on-site TSA screening. I took up friends on the invitation to watch from their hangar near the flight line, and we positioned the golf cart with a good view of the runway—as close as we could get.

The spectacle alone—and the formation logistics—would be worth a round of applause. Just to have 54 aircraft show up and fly, and have the weather completely cooperate, made it a banner day. But after a few days’ reflection, I can’t help but say it goes much further than that.

A number of GA classics, like this 1944 DGA-15P Howard, joined the aerial parade. [Credit: Julie Boatman]
  1. For someone who was working at AOPA on September 11, 2001 (like me), to watch nearly 23 years later a string of former colleagues and friends from around the country fly right into the heart of the “no-fly zone” that has existed ever since that awful day….well, it made me realize what is possible. It took a lot of “trust but verify” to put 54 GA aircraft into that string of pearls—but with concerted effort and the integrity of those making the “ask,” it came to pass.
  2. We’re celebrating another anniversary this year: 30 years since the General Aviation Revitalization Act (GARA) was passed, paving the way for the restart of GA aircraft production by Cessna, Piper, Beech, and others. A tip of the hat to Russ Meyer (former president and CEO of Cessna) and Ed Stimpson (then president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association) for figuring out the way to make that bill a reality. A “post restart” Cessna 172 took its place in the Flyover—not the fanciest airplane on the lineup, but one of the most poignant.
  3. This week we also saw an amazingly bipartisan effort to pass the FAA Reauthorization bill so desperately needed to free the gridlock in bureaucracy and funding to keep the FAA running. That will support not only those GA manufacturers now producing 4,090 aircraft in 2023, but also the pilots, airports, and technological advances like unleaded fuel that are critical to a healthy GA ecosystem. This time, it also produces a title for general aviation, preserving its seat at the table, for the first time in a bill. And rare for the current state of affairs in Washington, both parties came together to pass the bill through Congress and to the president. It’s still possible to collaborate across the aisle.
  4. And so much more is possible if we keep working together, dreaming big dreams, and innovating our way to solutions. My friend Carlo flew the Hatz biplane he built in his hangar at Frederick past the Washington Monument, the White House, and over the top of DCA on a sunny Saturday in May. You just never know where GA can take you when you believe, and you put in the effort to make it happen.
The open-hangar lunch let us linger after the formations returned. [Credit: Julie Boatman]

The Fate of the First “Seattle”

When the flight of four Douglas World Cruisers set out on April 6, 1924, to head north towards Alaska, they knew not what fate lay ahead. They did know, however, that the flight plan unfolded over stunning yet challenging terrain—the long, jagged finger of British Columbia and what would become the 49th state, Alaska (still to come in 1959).

Following the trip from Lake Washington to Prince Rupert, BC, the four DWCs made progress in fits and starts, waiting on weather and keeping their crafts from foundering while moored in various storms. But they pressed on. Adding to his previous aeronautical woes, Major Martin suffered an engine failure in the Seattle that forced him down in Portage Bay, on the way. He and Sgt. Harvey were rescued by a Navy destroyer, the U.S.S. Hull, on April 17.

Martin had a new engine—delivered by the U.S.S. Algonquin—installed in his mount and the pair launched for Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, on April 19, where the rest of the crews had pressed on towards at his behest, after holing up for a few days at Chignik. The trio, the Chicago, the New Orleans, and the Boston, made it by April 20, and then spent two weeks waiting for their commander to arrive.

While there, they spent their days keeping their airplanes secure, making minor repairs, and resting up for the journey ahead.

On April 25, news arrived that Martin had made it to Chignik, hugging the shoreline to stay on course through the poor visibility. This lengthened their route considerably, but they made it over the course of one long day.

On April 27—after celebrating Easter on the 26th—the crews replaced the engine on the Boston, which entertained “a distinct knock” according to the diaries of Erik Nelson. All of the engines had suffered burns and cracks to their exhaust manifolds.

At 10 a.m. on April 30, Martin and Harvey departed Chignik for the final push to Dutch Harbor. Unfortunately, striving to make up lost time, they took local advice on “an excellent short cut,” according to Sky Master. “This short cut turned out to be like most short cuts. While Martin was trying to follow the directions he found himself surrounded by fog, tried to climb over it. He didn’t. The Seattle hit a one thousand foot precipice on a mountainside, was badly cracked up. Fortunately, Major Martin and Sergeant Harvey were unhurt.”

When Douglas heard of the missing airplane, he employed “some Navy choice cuss words,” Sky Master continued.

Martin and Harvey used the wrecked airplane as a shelter for two days and nights before starting out to effect their own rescue. They almost fell over another precipice and returned to the Seattle. After striking out again, they lost three days before coming upon a cabin—where they stayed, trapped by a blizzard, for several more days, through May 8. One last push, then, found them in Port Moller, where “surprised cannery people welcomed them,” said Sky Master.

The three remaining DWCs would press on, departing on May 3, while they still awaited the news of their commander and his maintenance officer.

Climbing Fast, Sustainably

Just before the monthly Washington Aero Club luncheon—hosted by the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA)—kicked off on Thursday, I was chatting with two members of of the general media whom I had not yet met. One represented Bloomberg’s tax-related publications and was relatively new to the beat. The other reported for the Wall Street Journal’s general business coverage, and had not delved much into private aviation (aside from a stint sitting next to Jon Ostrower while he was still at the WSJ, from whom he said he soaked up aerospace insight like a sponge).

The pair each echoed in their own words the fact they had been invited to a panel on sustainability in business aviation—yet before that moment, had no idea that those flying BA had any desire to act sustainably. “I had no idea anyone flying private jets cared,” was the consensus.

I know in theory how true it is that we often preach to our own choir in BA/GA, but once more I was slapped in the face with proof.

First, kudos to NBAA for bringing these two reporters from the general media (among others) into a room where they would hear an up-to-date and frank accounting from three leaders in our space that sit at the tip of the sustainability spear: Michael Amalfitano, president and CEO of Embraer Executive Jets, Billy Nolen, former deputy FAA Administrator and chief regulatory affairs officer for Archer Aviation, and Scott Lewis, president of World Energy (WE) SupplyZero, one of the largest producers of sustainable aviation fuel in the United States and globally.

In summary, here’s where we are in terms of the three pillars remarked upon by Amalfitano, Nolen, and Lewis—and underlined by moderator Ed Bolen of NBAA:

Commitment from the Manufacturers: Embraer now uptakes weekly the volume of SAF it had delivered quarterly in 2023. Amalfitano noted the Brazilian OEM had tested to 100 percent—”neat”—SAF in its Phenom 300 and Praetor 600, and that it uses the fuel in various blends for test flight, demos, and customer deliveries. “That will allow us to increase what was a low mid-single-digit consumption of SAF to 20 to 25 percent of what we do out of Melbourne” in 2024, he said. Embraer has cooperated with its engine OEM partners, including Honeywell, through the process.

Legislative Synergy for Sourcing and Distribution: Lewis outlined how WE SupplyZero is growing volume at the best rate possible, producing SAF derived from animal fats and used cooking oil. “We are employing latest technology that’s available right now in order to take that up from where we are today,” said Lewis. “About 4,000 barrels a day, of which about 1,000 barrels is sustainable aviation fuel, up to 25,000 barrels a day, of which 20,000 barrels is sustainable aviation fuel.” WE is also working on a pipeline that will deliver from its main terminal in the Los Angeles area (and soon to come in Houston), in order to reduce the overall carbon footprint of the SAF, so that its benefit is not just zero emissions from aircraft exhaust, but through the entire chain. Leaders in the audience noted the passing of the most recent agriculture funding bill in synergy with the last infrastructure funding bills and FAA Reauthorization Act to support biodiesel production in the U.S. The Biden Administration has challenged the industry to produce 3 billion gallons per year of SAF by 2030.

Advanced Air Mobility Goes Electric: Along with Amalfitano, who outlined Embraer’s electric push with its stake in Eve (an electric VTOL), Nolen reported on Archer’s leadership in bringing a viable eVTOL to market, with the regulatory basis established, airline partnerships in play, and a roadmap to infrastructure to support the accelerated development. He brought up another key feature of moving eventually to electric power: the quiet needed to fly within residential communities. “How have we gotten to this point?” said Nolen. “Three critical things have happened. Number one, battery cell technology has gotten us to the point that we have…the carrying capacity. Number two, the FAA has given us a regulatory path to get there. And number three, we’ve had the level of federal investment which, in turn, has unlocked the financial investment.”

All three areas will be required to maintain at least the current pace—and accelerate—in order to continue what BA has managed to accomplish in increased efficiency over the course of the last 40 years. Because the 30 percent greater efficiency gains that we have seen with each new bizjet model over that timeframe aren’t going to be enough to cover the spread in the future.

AERO Takes on Innovation, Part 2

AERO filled its 12 halls with an electric energy, notable on the light end of the market.

And this makes sense, because the show’s DNA lies in ultralights, gliders, balloons, training airplanes—even remote-control models.

Now it has logged 30 “flights,” so to speak, running back to 1977 when it was part of a regional motorsports exhibition, and happening every other year until it became an annual event in a few years back, with a pause for two years for COVID.

When SOCATA first put its TBM 700 prototype on display in 1994, it helped introduce higher-end personal and business aviation into the show. With the presence of Pilatus, Cessna and Beechcraft (now Textron Aviation) in the 2000s, and now Gulfstream with its G500 on display this year—it indicates the importance of this growing B2B show in the marketplace for turboprops and jets.

These aircraft must also meet the industry’s commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050—and interim targets won’t likely be met by pure electric aircraft or those that run on hydrogen.

While Safran’s ENGINeUS motors gain in kWs (and equivalent horsepower) and power storage hits the 800-kW level, our brightest minds still don’t have a good way to translate that power into speed and range—and do it safely.

Case in point: Daher’s EcoPulse project, which places six Safran motors in distributed positions on its TBM-based wings powered via an Airbus storage system—but keeps a Pratt & Whitney PT6A-66D up front. Judging by the flight test profiles I talked about with Daher’s head of design, Christophe Robin, the project is working through a host of problem sets, and it won’t present as a marketable product. In SVP of aircraft Nicolas Chabbert’s update at Sun ’n Fun, and again at AERO, he noted the need to craft a salable solution that would likely look nothing like it. There are constraints and issues associated with flying around carrying that amount of battery power and distributing it safely in an airplane’s joint “cardiovascular” and “nervous” systems that still need sorting through.

Whatever they bring to the table, it won’t be flying on pure electrical power—not to make their self-imposed target date of 2027. And that makes a lot of sense. In talking with Tine Tomažič of Pipistrel, he explained that to get the speed and range you need for a good cross-country mount (such as Pipistrel’s Panthera design), you need the hybrid route for the near future. The battery tech just isn’t there yet.

So we need to keep those turbines running—and on a zero-emission fuel as soon as we can. Pressure looms larger in Europe to meet net-zero goals before 2050. While we didn’t see any protests at AERO from the general public, the specter of them loomed as we headed to Munich for our flight back across the pond. The industry is working diligently towards getting sustainable aviation fuel to the users who have vowed to adopt it—so they can keep projects like the hybrid Panthera and the EcoPulse innovating towards the future.

The way to do this is not to syphon off all the SAF to the airlines at major airports like Amsterdam’s Schipol and Paris-Orly. We can adopt book and claim practices to help offset high prices and availability of SAF to the 2,000 or so airports in the EU that business aviation uses. 

And we can support the development of alternative bio sources for SAF that help increase its volume overall. Projects like Gevo’s intrigue me as cradle-to cradle solutions for utilizing biowaste on a large enough scale to make more than a drop in the bucket. 

And biz av should have primary access to it first—because this is where the skunk works live and thrive.

A link to GAMA’s white paper, “Recommendations for Accelerating the Development of the Electric Aviation Sector in Europe”

AERO Takes on Innovation, Part 1

Day Two at AERO: If you’re not innovating in this space, you’re not doing it right.

Just from the lineup of press conferences on Wednesday, you can sense the bench depth and range of the companies showing off their latest—and those are just the projects they’re ready to talk about:

🟦 Elixir’s two-seat trainers are produced with One Shot composites for low parts count, and low operating cost.
🟥 Daher’s Eco-Pulse has logged 14 “e flights” on its Safran-powered wings, completing noise tests and flying through Phase 3/4.
🟩 Tecnam’s P2006NG reduces training costs, consuming just 14 liters/hour in fuel, and reducing emissions by 70 percent.
⬛️ Cirrus’s SR G7 re-envisions the flight deck using Garmin Perspective+ to simplify the pilot-airplane interface.
🟧 Bell’s 505 hosts the Garmin G600H autopilot, greatly assisting the pilot into hover and other regimes.
⬜️ Diamond’s eDA40 has begun flight testing powered by its Safran ENGINeUS motor.
🟪 Textron Aviation’s service center network has achieved recert from NATA as a Green Aviation Business.

A full day—and that’s just scratching the surface. More to come today as we meet with innovators across the 12 halls and static display…

JulietBravoFox Media Launches Creative Content Production with a Focus on Aerial Storytelling

Friedrichshafen, Germany — April 15, 2024 — JulietBravoFox Media, a U.S.-based limited company, launched today its creative content production suite of services upon the opening of AERO 2024.

The company, founded in 2014 by aviation strategist and media leader Julie Boatman, specializes in aerial storytelling, including editorial development, aviation marketing and press relations, and flight training. “Our interests reach out in several directions, bringing together our 30-plus-year experience in the aerospace industry with our passion for traveling the world, exploring new food and wine, and enjoying the great outdoors,” said Boatman. “People don’t really fit into neat categories, and neither do we. That is our strength, allowing us to flex, to make new connections, and to think differently about our clients’ projects.”

JulietBravoFox Media taps into a network of creative minds, with deep expertise in aerial photography, with story development, mission planning and execution, and video and print production. With collaborative partners in the U.S. and Europe, and access to a wide range of aerial platforms, the company can tap into capabilities globally to execute on client needs.

“Connect with us to explore how we can help you solve a problem, deliver a message, or strategize a new direction,” said Boatman. 

Company principals Boatman and Stephen Yeates, creative director, are available at AERO 2024 for direct consultation. 

Follow us on Instagram: @julietbravofoxmedia and X/Twitter: @julieinthesky 

Sizzle reel on YouTube

Sun ‘n Fun Day Two

Day Two of the Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo brought more sun… but also special connections and two new perspectives on the show.

First, my cousin Nolan joined us for the day. He’s an aspiring pilot just starting lessons and seeks a career in the industry. So, we toured the grounds, talking with a wide range of friends in roles at a broad spectrum of aviation companies.

He learned how to cleco in a rivet at the Daher booth in the Future ‘n Flight Career Fair, he tested out the new Bose Corporation A30s, and climbed up into the D-Day Squadron’s “Placid Lassie” on the warbird ramp. His take? You can translate a pilot certificate and that knowledge into so many professional paths in aviation. Indeed!

We also did a big loop of the flight lines with my longtime friend Patrick Gordon who has devoted his investment in pilot mental health to working in the HIMS program for Frontier, assisting pilots of any commercial background in getting their medical certificates back, especially in recovery. Thank you Patrick for all you and your peers at ALPA are doing to support pilots when they need it most.

Third, there was the night airshow… it’s becoming a tradition to join friends at Cirrus for a bite and a beer on the flight line before adjourning to the party (with hats!) at Whelen Aerospace Technologies and say hi to the Mike Goulian Aerosports team… thank you Mike and Karen and Nate for a special evening.

Sun ‘n Fun Day One

Day One for JulietBravoFox Media at Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo… and just a few takes in addition to my favorite moments of the day.

  1. Top news of the day: While the respective OEMs had announced Piper’s M700 Fury and the Cirrus SR G7 series earlier this year, #SNF24 is the first official place to see those new models on display. Those who come to Sun n Fun are pilots… we want to touch the new airplanes!
  2. Hats off to Daher, though, for delivering a full lineup of solid news—and cupcakes!—at their exhibit. The TBM 960’s new take on a stunning scheme draws you in—but the beauty is not just skin deep. There are enhancements to Home Safe, pilot alerts, and progressive taxi context inside. More to come from the French OEM that continues to expand its stake in North America.
  3. Redbird returns… and the sim you see under a canopy on the corner between the FAA building and AOPA is a joint project with the Recreational Aviation Foundation. Inside the motion sim—which you can try out—lies a G1000 Cessna 182 going in to Ryan Field in MT, among other strips the RAF’s volunteer corps serves to protect.
  4. And… Kudos to the new press center! Everything (internet, power, check in, people) worked, and the new level of organization fixes so many issues from the past. To be a legitimate forum for industry news, you need to give those working the show from the media a quiet space in which to do so. It may be “spring break for pilots” and a great chance to catch up with colleagues, but we have a job to do. Thank you for meeting us there!

Looking forward to Day Two…

Dateline Seattle: April 6, 1924

His 32nd birthday—and what a present for Donald Douglas.

The Douglas World Cruisers, now the four of them assembled at Sandy Point, in Washington State, floated at their moorings on April 4, with fog conspiring to ground them for the day.

The crowd dispersed, only to return the next morning. Would this be it? April 5? But no, that morning, Major F.L. Martin—the flight’s commander—broke the prop on ship number one, the Seattle.

The morning of the 6th held promise, and the promise held as the quartet departed at long last, to the cheers of the crowd.

Donald Douglas and Lt. Eirk Nelson share a candid moment on departure day. [Credit: Douglas/”Sky Master”]

An image of Douglas and Nelson shows the easy stance between them—they’d struck up a friendship during Nelson’s months of duty in stationed in California preparing the ships for the flight. Douglas’ face remains gaunt, perhaps from the illness he’d just come through, or from the stress and worry ahead of the biggest moment of his professional life to that point.

Bets went against the four airplanes making it around the world—or even making it through Alaska. But they launched for Prince Rupert, British Columbia, under the escort of a gaggle of well-wishing aircraft. They would only follow along for a few miles… and then the Cruisers were on their own.