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Tales From The Cockpit: The “Pad of Shame”

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The Pad of Shame at Pratica di Mare airport (Credit: The Aviationist using Google Earth and ItAF images).

How to shame a wannabe test pilot.

41°39’31.9068”N 12°26’31.8372”E: these are the geographic coordinates of the infamous “Pad of Shame”. If you plot them on Google Map, they will take you right smack in the middle of Pratica di Mare airbase, near Rome, Italy.

It’s located right off the taxiway that runs perpendicular from the Reparto Sperimentale Volo’s (RSV – the Italian Air Force Test Unit) parking apron to the secondary and primary runways 13/31 of the airfield.

It’s a quite small helipad and, there, tenths of fighter pilots have been throughly humiliated. I know that because I was one of them!

To join the RSV to become a test pilot, you have first to go through a selection process. I talked about that on my previous article about my flight in a B-52 Stratofortress bomber at Edwards Air Force Base. You got to that stage being a young, cocky, “combat ready” fighter pilot. You were probably halfway there to reach the first 1,000 flying hours on your F-104 or Tornado and you were, as you should have been, supremely self confident in your skills as a combat pilot: hell, you had mastered the F-104 Starfighter or the Tornado (and its back seater), so you had every right to be “full of piss and vinegar”.

That’s when the “Pad of Shame” hit you.

The selection process at the RSV included (and still does include), in its flying part, sorties on airplanes very different from the one you are flying at the moment. In my case, we got three sorties each on the MB-339, a basic jet trainer, and on the G-222, a twin prop turbo engine medium cargo aircraft.

A G-222 of the Reparto Sperimentale Volo. (Image credit: Tim Felce via Wiki)

And three sorties on a helicopter.

In 1988, the year of my selection process, the RSV still had the AB-47G2, a piston engine driven light chopper, very recognizable for its great plexiglas ball and its structure made of welded pipes. Everyone have seen them in the Vietnam War movies and in the famous M.A.S.H. tv series.

An AB-47G helicopter on display at the Italian Air Force Museum (Image credit: ItAF)

Later on, these selection flights would be flown with the NH-500, the egg-shaped Hughes helicopter.

So, one sunny day of spring  in 1988, I was to be introduced to the secrets of helicopter piloting.

Going to the flight line I came across one of my friends participating in the selection, an F-104 pilot himself, coming back from his first helicopter sortie, and I wondered about his dejected air and the patches of sweat under the armpits and on the back of his flight suit.

After a few minutes, there I was, the steely eyed Starfighter pilot, strapping myself in this flimsy flying machine with no wings (the rotor whirling above your head it’s definitely NOT a wing) a strange lever with a twisting handle on the left and (YES!) a stick. And I knew everything about handling a stick, right? Ah yes, and pedals too, down there, but who cares about pedals? We fighter pilots didn’t really use those things. Maybe the Tornado weenies, with their two engines, sometime had to feed a bit of rudder while training for a single engine situation, like we did on the T-38. Last time I had to really use the rudder was while training on the SF-260, a light prop aircraft used for basic training in my Academy years, and I had promptly forgotten about that.

Two SF-260AM trainers. (Image credit: David Cenciotti)

Before the flight, the RSV test pilot had, of course, explained me everything about the controls: he had talked about  the cyclic (stick), the collective, the engine throttle on it and how to use the pedals (but, Sir, there is no rudder…). I had listened carefully and I thought that there was really nothing I couldn’t handle. Piece of cake…..

We started up, warmed up the piston engine, and then the test pilot took off and brought the helicopter to the “pad of shame”. We sat there hovering for a few seconds and then the instructor told me “you have control”. “I have control” I answered; but, after a few seconds, I really did not have any type of control anymore on the damn thing. The G2 started to kick and buck like a runaway horse with me hanging on for my dear life: the controls seemed all wrong and everything I was trying on one control was resulting in something unexpected to be corrected with the other two (well, three, if you count the throttle too). If the helicopter started to climb for any unknown reason, I would push the stick forward like any good airplane pilot would do (stick forward, bigger houses, stick back, smaller houses), but then the thing would not go down but forward; “whoa, slow down!”, and pull back on the collective, but then the machine would still go forward and up too! Plus it would also yaw to the right because I had to counter the rotor rpm drop increasing the throttle setting, so I needed to push the left pedal. It was a nightmare. I was not the pilot anymore, I was just along for the ride.

An AB-47G of the Italian Air Force at Frosinone airport, home of the 72° Stormo (the Italian Helicopter Flight School). (Image credit: ItAF)

After few scary minutes, for both the IP and I, I managed to settle down a bit, but not too much. At that point I would call it a success if I could have managed to keep the little dude within 500 feet of the “pad of shame”.

Never a name was more appropriate!

After a hour of this torture I was brought back to a final landing by an exhausted (and scared, I guess) test pilot. I was totally disheartened and soaked wet in sweat. Crossing the next “victim” with his IP, I knew exactly what he was wondering looking at the dejected me in my stained flight suit.

I also found out that the Squadron Operation Room (SOR), which has a tower-like window  facing the airfield (and the infamous pad), was packed with people having the time of their life looking at those hot shot pilots being humiliated by a little old helicopter.

I think that’s where the name “Pad of Shame” was born. And rightly so.

In the subsequent two sorties I eased a little bit my problems renaming the controls: the collective became the “UP/DOWN” and the cyclic the “FORWARD/BACKWARD”.

I was lucky enough to be chosen to join the RSV, notwithstanding my poor performances as a helo pilot. When I came back the next year, after attending the War College, I was disappointed to find out that the AB-47 G2 had been retired from “active duty”. I really wanted to tame that little S.O.B.!

By the end of my year as an “ascaro” (look at my article on the BUFF to find out what an “ascaro” is) at the RSV I was quite proficient in both the NH-500 and AB-212 helicopters.

An NH-500E helicopter of the 72° Stormo. (Image credit: ItAF)

Bottom line is that, with training and experience, a pilot can take airborne just about anything, even a helicopter.

There is a little footnote to this story.

During the annual field trip with the USAFTPS we went to visit the USNTPS at Patuxent River. We got to fly their airplanes: the F-18, the A-4, the T-2 Buckeye and… an UH-1N Twin Huey. A helicopter! By then I had already guessed that they had their own version of the “pad of shame” and I figured out that my classmate and I were about to be exposed to it. So, when asked about previous helo experiences I just played it dumb and said that no, I had never tried one of those twirly things.

It was fun looking at my classmates having their dose of shaming while I passed as a “natural” for my unbelievable skills in handling the Huey in my “first flight” as a chopper pilot.

I had to confess everything later on to my USAF classmates and I had to pay my dues at the O’Club. But I was forgiven because, when it comes to Air Force vs. Navy, anything goes.

Fabio Consoli is a former Italian Air Force fighter and test pilot. An USAF Test Pilot School distinguished graduate, Fabio has logged about 17,000 flight hours flying the F-104, AMX, Eurofighter, F-15, F-4, A-7, F-18, F-16, B-52, F-5, C-130, C-141, G222 and many others types. A living aviation encyclopedia, Fabio currently flies the B777 for a civilian airline.

Source: https://theaviationist.com/2021/02/18/tales-from-the-cockpit-the-pad-of-shame/

Aviation

Wow: Virgin Australia Sells 71,000 Domestic Tickets In 24 Hours

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Virgin Australia experienced one of its busiest days of domestic ticket sales in 20 years just after the Australian government’s A$1.2 billion (US$920 million) stimulus package went into effect. The enthusiasm was sparked by half-price flights offered on subsidized routes, which included flights to the Gold Coast from the cities of Melbourne and Sydney, among others.

Like other Australian carriers, Virgin Australia’s flight operations have been severely limited over the past year. Photo: Getty Images

71,000 tickets sold in 24 hours

Within the span of a full day, Virgin Australia sold enough tickets to completely fill over 400 of its Boeing 737-800s (which have 176 seats each). The hottest tickets were for subsidized routes, for which the airline halved its standard prices.

Swept up in the momentum and also experiencing large jumps in ticket purchases were other ‘full-price’ routes, which included Melbourne-Perth, Perth-Sydney, and Melbourne-Sydney.

“The overwhelming response from Australians demonstrates loud and clear that they are ready to get back in the air and travel and are a positive sign for the aviation and tourism sectors as they look to recover from the impacts of COVID-19,” -Virgin Australia statement via 7News.com.au

While Virgin Australia had the record-breaking day, The Islander reports that the country’s other airlines saw spikes in web searches during the same period. Searches for “Qantas”, “Jetstar,” and “Virgin” sharply increased from around midnight Thursday and spiking again at 06:00 Australian Eastern Daylight Time.

Both Qantas and Virgin Australia will benefit from the Australian government’s stimulus package. Photo: Simon_sees via Flickr 

The Australian government’s stimulus package

Announced in early March, the government support package includes A$200 million (US$152.6 million) for Qantas and Virgin Australia. Reuters notes that this funding will support the airlines from April to October, with the intent to help maintain mothballed aircraft as well as bring planes out of storage and support wages for international flying staff.

Another major part of the scheme, and the main reason for this story, is the government subsidization of 13 routes. Subsidization has meant that eligible airlines can offer half-price tickets. The impetus for the deal was to support airlines while encouraging domestic tourism at a time when international tourism has been hard hit. According to The Guardian, the routes are as follows:

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  • Sydney: flights to the Gold Coast, Cairns, Proserpine, Hamilton Island, Maroochydore, Uluru, Alice Springs, Launceston, Broome, and Avalon.
  • Melbourne: flights to the Gold Coast, Cairns, Maroochydore, Alice Springs, Uluru, Launceston, Devonport, Burnie, Broome, and Merimbula.
  • Adelaide: flights to the Gold Coast, Maroochydore, Alice Springs, and Kangaroo Island.
  • Brisbane: flights to Alice Springs, Uluru, and Launceston.
  • Darwin: flights to Cairns and Broome.
  • Perth: flights to Alice Springs.
  • Avalon: flights to the Gold Coast

The half-price fares were made available on April 1st and will continue to be offered until the end of July.

Having recently divested itself of its widebody Boeing 777s and Airbus A330s, Virgin Australia’s fleet is now completely comprised of Boeing 737s. Photo: Aero_Icarus via Flickr 

Hope for the best, plan for the worst

One key concern when it comes to domestic flight bookings is the ever-present risk of interstate border closures in the event of an outbreak during this global health crisis. While it’s hard to resist a good deal, it’s also wise to consider the possibility of such unwelcomed restrictions. Having flight bookings with flexible re-booking and cancelation policies will help greatly if such restrictions arise.

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Were you a lucky Australian resident who managed to secure a half-priced flight? Or did you try and miss out? Share your experience with us in the comments.

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Source: https://simpleflying.com/virgin-australia-domestic-tickets-boom/

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US Congressmen Call On DOT To Deny Norse Atlantic Airways Permits

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The Chair of the US House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Peter DeFazio, and Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation, Rick Larsen, have called on the US Department of Transportation (DOT) to deny permits for Norse Atlantic Airways to fly to the United States, citing concerns about the airline.

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Norse Atlantic wants to fly to the US with Boeing 787s, but it has ruffled some feathers. Photo: Getty Images

Members of Congress on Norse Atlantic Airways

Rep. DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon, and Rep. Larsen, a Democrat from Washington State, have called on the DOT to deny Norse Atlantic Airways Operating permits on account that it is flouting labor protections.

Drawing on earlier language indicating opposition to the airline, Reps. DeFazio and Larsen have argued that, by organizing itself in a country outside of Norway, where there are strong labor laws, the airline is seeking to flout those laws.

Norwegian selling two 787s to Neos Air
Norwegian also used subsidiaries in other countries, which is a concern highlighted in the letter. Photo: Getty Images

Drawing strong comparisons with Norwegian

The two Congressmen believe the airline is doing this because one of its executives was a former executive at Norwegian, which used Irish and UK subsidiaries to operate long-haul low-cost flights between the US and Europe.

In the letter, the Congressman stated the following:

“Their long-haul low-cost business model was predicated on the use of pilots and flight attendants employed under short-term contracts and assigned to the Norwegian subsidiaries via third-party crew sourcing firms. In short, Norwegian exploited labor while enjoying the liberalized benefits of the U.S.-E.U.-Iceland-Norway open skies agreement and competing unfairly with airlines that do not subvert fair labor standards.”

Norwegian 787
Norwegian recently announced it would be ending long-haul operations. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Using Norwegian as a warning

The letter also urged the DOT to consider that Norwegian failed in its transatlantic operations. Between 2016 and 2019, the letter states that Norwegian incurred debt of nearly $7 billion.

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Norwegian is currently under bankruptcy proceedings in Europe and has decided to shut down its long-haul routes and focus on its flights within Europe.

Norwegian made a huge splash when it started transatlantic operations in 2016 between the US and Europe. Using a fleet of mostly Boeing 787 aircraft, the airline brought large numbers of customers across the pond.

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Norse Atlantic Airways has already indicated it will operate a similar model, using Boeing 787 aircraft it has signed leases for.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner
The Dreamliner is an efficient long-haul aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

US airlines breathed a sigh of relief

When Norwegian came into the transatlantic market, it followed its initial routes with plenty of growth. That growth put pressure on US airlines.

Now, without Norwegian in the market, airlines are breathing a sigh of relief. Without that low-cost competition in the market, airlines like United are bullish on their international exposure. Without Norwegian in the market, there is also room for plenty of existing airlines to move toward higher-yield transatlantic operations.

Norwegian 787
Norse will need to do what Norwegian could not: make long-haul operations profitable. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

The return of transatlantic demand will depend greatly on the removal of travel restrictions between the US and Europe. Most airlines are focused on cargo with low passenger loads on flights to Europe currently. Only essential travel is permitted between the two areas.

Norse Atlantic is a startup to watch. It has the opportunity to massively grow to the size of Norwegian’s long-haul operations before it shut down, but doing so may come at a high cost and low profitability. It will have to make the long-haul low-cost model work to be successful.

For now, it is a waiting game to see how the DOT will respond to Norse Atlantic. US Congressmen are coming down on the side of the US airline industry, but the DOT may end up granting Norse Atlantic operating permission.

Do you think Norse Atlantic Airways should be allowed to operate between the US and Europe? Let us know in the comments!

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Source: https://simpleflying.com/us-congressman-norse-atlantic-permits/

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Frontier Launches IPO – How Can The Airline Benefit?

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American ultra-low-cost carrier (ULCC) Frontier Airlines has officially gone public. Pricing out at the lower end of its target share price, the airline is still expecting to raise over $200 million from the endeavor. Here is a look at how that could benefit the airline.

Frontier Airbus A320
Frontier Airlines is set to benefit from its IPO. Photo: Frontier Airlines

Frontier’s initial public offering pricing

Frontier Airlines announced its initial public offering of 30 million shares at a price of $19 per share. This was toward the lower end of the initial pricing for Frontier’s shares. The share consists of 15 million shares of commons tock offered by Frontier and 15 million shares of common stock to be sold by certain of Frontier’s existing stockholders.

Less the underwriting discount, commissions, and estimated offering expenses, Frontier will net proceeds of approximately $266 million. The sale of stock by the existing stakeholders will not raise Frontier cash. Overall, the net proceeds to both Frontier and the private stakeholders is expected to be over $500 million.

Frontier IPO
Frontier is now trading on the stock market. Photo: Frontier Airlines

The airline is being traded on the Nasdaq Global Select Market under the ticker “ULCC.” Since going public, the airline’s stock price has hovered between $18 and $19 a share.

The net proceeds

The amount that Frontier expects to receive is around $266 million. This is a respectable amount similar to the funding another airline IPO, Sun Country, received.

With $266 million, the airline can do plenty of things. Frontier ended 2020 with long-term debt of over $300 million. The airline can choose to pay down some of its high-cost debt with these proceeds. Or else, the money can be used to fuel expansion. The airline sees plenty of growth opportunities and has a sizable aircraft order book which costs money, and this funding can go a long way.

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Frontier A320
There is a lot Frontier can do with this money. Photo: Frontier Airlines

The current state at Frontier

Frontier Airlines is one of the carriers leading the way with capacity increases through the year. The airline’s top stations are Denver, Orlando, and Las Vegas. These are major leisure travel hotspots, but some of them also provide opportunities for Frontier to sell connecting flights.

Frontier serves over 300 nonstop routes touching around 110 airports. Using a low-frequency model, the airline targets mostly point-to-point leisure travelers.

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Frontier also sees plenty of room for growth. In the airline’s initial filing for an IPO, the carrier highlighted it had an opportunity to serve 518 additional domestic routes between airports within its existing network not currently served by a ULCC. This is a fascinating number, but it also raises the question of Frontier’s expansion.

Frontier AIrcraft
Frontier is a ULCC that generally operates on a low-frequency, point-to-point model. Photo: Getty Images

In the past, Frontier has not been very hesitant in terms of adding new cities and then cutting them if those flights do not provide the anticipated financial benefits. Moving forward, Frontier will face shareholders and stockholders that may temper some of those ambitions, but the carrier is still expected to add new routes. This is especially true as signs continue to point toward a summer surge, and the CDC outlines guidelines for vaccinated Americans to travel.

The airline is already making moves to become a more modern, fuel-efficient carrier with an eye on costs. The aging and comparatively expensive Airbus A319s will exit the fleet this year as the airline welcomes newer Airbus A320neo family aircraft. Those new jets will also feature lighter-weight seats that will save on fuel, which in turn saves on Frontier’s costs.

Frontier A320neo
Frontier has started taking delivery of aircraft with new seats inside. Photo: Frontier Airlines

Ultimately, Frontier has set itself up to do well in the future. The net proceeds from this IPO will go a long way in getting Frontier the cash influx it needs to survive the next few months and prepare to handle the increase in passengers expected over the summer. As the US airline industry starts to turn the page on the crisis, Frontier is expected to be one carrier that benefits early on from its mostly domestic and short-haul international leisure-oriented model.

Do you think Frontier made the right decision by launching an IPO? Let us know in the comments!

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Source: https://simpleflying.com/frontier-ipo-launched/

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Cheap ticket deal breaks Virgin’s all-time record, despite lockdown

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Virgin Australia 737-8FE(WL) Brisbane Airport VH-YIB
‘Trinity Beach’ arriving into Brisbane Airport as ‘VA957’ in some windy and overcast conditions. 1/10th sec pan for those who are interested.

Virgin sold more domestic tickets on the launch day of the government’s half-price ticket scheme than on any 24-hour period in its history.

The result came despite fears Brisbane’s recent snap lockdown, which ended on Thursday, would put people off interstate travel.

Domestic aviation has been pinning its recovery hopes on the federal government’s plan to supplement 800,000 half-price airfares for passengers to 15 destinations including the Gold Coast, Alice Springs and Kangaroo Island. It follows the end of JobKeeper last week.

Virgin said in a statement it sold 71,000 supplemented seats in the 24-hour period from 12:01am on 1 April. The top five routes were:

  • Melbourne to Gold Coast
  • Gold Coast to Sydney
  • Maroochydore to Melbourne
  • Cairns to Sydney
  • Adelaide to Melbourne

Destinations not in the scheme also received a “significant boost”, in particular, Melbourne to Perth, Perth to Sydney and Melbourne to Sydney.

“The overwhelming response from Australians demonstrates loud and clear that they are ready to get back in the air and travel and are a positive sign for the aviation and tourism sectors as they look to recover from the impacts of COVID-19,” said the business in a statement.

“As a sign of renewed confidence and pent-up travel demand for travel, more than 85 per cent of the new bookings have been booked for travel from May onwards.”

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Skyscanner also said direct interest in booking on Thursday were 25 per cent higher than the week prior, while web searches for “Qantas”, “Jetstar” and “Virgin” also leapt six-fold.

Greater Brisbane lifted its snap lockdown on Thursday at noon, following the state recording just one new case of community transmission.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk did though announce a slight increase in restrictions, which will require residents to wear masks indoors and a limit of indoor gatherings to 30.

The good news came shortly before NSW announced no new local infections across the state, too.

The half-price ticket scheme saw Virgin announcing fares from just $55 between Melbourne-Launceston and Jetstar offering tickets from just $32 between Adelaide and Avalon.

The updated list of destinations now includes Cairns, Townsville, Whitsunday Coast/Hamilton Island, Sunshine Coast, Darwin, Alice Springs, Hobart, Launceston, Devonport, Broome, Avalon, Merimbula, Adelaide, Kangaroo Island and the Gold Coast.

The fares are on sale until the end of July for travel until the end of September, with discounts applied automatically.

Both airline groups have also topped up the 15 locations with sales to other destinations and also extended fare flexibility in light of recent uncertainty.

The package of measures to support aviation in Australia also includes a new wage subsidy for those working in international aviation; cheap loans to small business coming off JobKeeper; and a six-month extension of the ‘RANS’ and ‘DANS’ supplemented routes initiative.

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Source: https://australianaviation.com.au/2021/04/cheap-ticket-deal-breaks-virgins-all-time-record-despite-lockdown/

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