A brief visit to Van Nuys Airport

Van Nuys One Six Right 01Many years ago, I saw a wonderful video called One Six Right, which was all about Van Nuys Airport, located in the San Fernando Valley, to the north of Los Angeles. In reality it was a fantastic promo documentary video about Van Nuys, to convince people that it was more than worth keeping, as it made such commercial as well as sentimental sense. One Six Right is the main runway, which favours the prevailing winds, so most aircraft land and take off from it. One Six Left and its reciprocal is used primarily for training flights as it is ‘only’ 4,000 feet (1,220 metres) and therefore half as long as its parallel companion.

The video was a no-expense spared affair, with some of the most creative and beautifully shot sequences of warbirds, aerobatic stunt flying, a low and slow J3 Cub, following a DC3 in to land (almost sitting, it seemed, on the tail fin) as well as a variety of other aircraft – some very common, some far from so.

And there were plenty of interviews with current and past pilots, men and women, based at Van Nuys. I was truly transfixed the first time I saw the video as, at the time, there was no aviation film with such hi-definition images, so beautifully edited into a series of sections featuring different flight regimes – with titles like ‘The Joyride‘, ‘Look Ma – No Hands!’ and of course, that old favourite of all pilots: ‘Dreams of Flying‘.

Van Nuys SignSo when I had a very brief opportunity to go and see Van Nuys Airport in the flesh, of course I jumped at it. The day was very hot – in the mid-30s celsius (mid-90s fahrenheit) – so I didn’t spend a lot of time there – just enough to see a few biz jets arrive and depart, a few learner pilots doing their touch-and-goes, and take a few photos from the public viewing area, which unfortunately is surrounded by a 3-metre high chain link fence (a sign of our terrorised times I suppose).

But just to be there was great; the sight of the control tower – which features strongly in the video – and the hills surrounding the valley was enough to bring back some of those flying sequences in the video.

Van Nuys is one of the busiest GA airfields in the world with almost 300,000 aircraft movements annually (that figure’s not a mistake!). Eat your heart out Tyabb….

If you want to buy a copy of One Six Right, you can get it from most good pilot supplies shops or from the official website by clicking here: One Six Right

Or you can rent a (low resolution) viewing on YouTube by clicking here: One Six Right

Low and slow – 1


Lainey’s first flight

I’m aiming for this to be the first in a series about simple aircraft. The series will be about easy flying in light aircraft, sometimes with nothing but an airspeed indicator, a slip ball, a tachometer, and an oil pressure gauge. These aircraft are all about a love of flying, pure and simple, without the need to get somewhere by a certain time and without the need for all the latest digital gadgets beloved by so many of us pilots.

I’m hoping it will re-kindle that wonder of getting off the ground, maybe just after dawn on a clear winter morning, or taking off into one of those warm, still summer evenings, when the long shadows give such an amazing sense of depth and contrast.

And where else to start but with the Piper J-3 Cub…

The J-3 Cub is thought by many to be the aircraft which personifies the essence of flying: near perfect control harmonisation, the third wheel at the back (where many old-timers say is the only place it should be) and complete simplicity of operation – no flaps and an ‘armstrong’ engine starter (there’s no electrical system). Although flown solo from the rear seat due to centre of gravity requirements, nevertheless, the J-3 Cub is an easy plane to fly…everything happens very slowly. If there is such a thing, the ‘typical’ J-3 is powered by an engine of only 65hp – but remember, this is a very light aircraft, even by today’s standards, and 65hp is plenty enough for all but the heaviest of crew on the hottest of days.

The very first Piper Cub, the J-2, had its origins in 1930 in the Taylor E-2 Cub, manufactured by Taylor Aircraft in Bradford, Pennsylvania. This aircraft, sponsored by William T. Piper, a local industrialist, was intended to be an inexpensive introduction to aviation but the Taylor company went bankrupt within a year and Piper bought the assets, although retaining C. Gilbert Taylor as president and also the company name. From a slow start, Taylor/Piper eventually built about 1,200 J-2 aircraft in the 1930s before a fire at the Bradford factory halted production.

J-3 panel

J-3 instrument panel simplicity

In 1938, the company was re-established as Piper Aircraft, the factory was relocated to Lock Haven, Pennsylvania and the J-3 was born. The J-3 featured, among other changes, a more integrated design of tail fin and a steerable tailwheel. It was originally powered by a 40hp engine and cost about $1,000 – for relevance, the average cost of a new car in USA was around $675 at that time. When the second world war broke out, the J-3 became the military trainer of choice and by the end of 1940, when the USA joined the war, over 3,000 J-3s had been built, powered by a number of different engines, designated by a suffix letter: J-3C (Continental), J-3L (Lycoming), J-3F (Franklin) and so on. At one point during the war, it is estimated that a J-3 was coming off the production line every 20 minutes!

During the late 1930s and 1940s around 20,000 J-3 Cubs were built, many designated as the military ‘L-4’ version. Since then, tens of thousands of Cub variants have been designed and built by Piper, most famously the Super Cub, with  powerful 150+hp engines, which give exhilarating performance, albeit at the expense of some of the endearing flight characteristics of the original J-3.

Sadly, in 1994, Piper went into liquidation and they stopped building the Cub. However, the aircraft lives on and various versions of it are now built in the USA both as certified GA aircraft and as Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) by Cubcrafters (in Yakima, Washington state), and American Legend Aircraft (in Sulphur Springs, Texas).

Here are some links to a few of my very favourite Cub videos (click on the names to connect):

The Classic Piper Cub – a short introduction to, and history of, the Piper Cub
Lainey’s first plane ride – a magical short video about a little girl’s first flight – in a J-3 Cub, of course. Reminds me of taking my own grandson, Ollie, for his first flight in my Foxbat about a year ago
The Yellow Piper – by Kristina Olsen, about learning to fly in a boyfriend’s Cub
Golden Wings – just the J-3 taking off, flying and landing
Dreams of Flying – an excerpt from the well-known video ‘One-Six Right’ featuring a J-3 Cub

And finally, if you are thinking of acquiring a J-3 Cub, there are hundreds in the USA. Have a look at Barnstormers.com aircraft for sale – hit the search button near the top of the home page, scroll down the menu on the left and click ‘Piper’ then scroll down and hit ‘J-3 Cub’. There’s usually a reasonable range, from basket cases to newly restored.

10 films for flyers – part 1

Capricorn One ChaseI don’t often go to the cinema but when I do, I want to see a good film. And if it’s a film that includes aeroplanes and flying, it needs to be very good.

Here’s a short list of some of my more favourite films (in no particular order) which include flying sequences or aeroplanes. I have left out those old war cliches like Top Gun, The Dam Busters, and Battle of Britain and Tora Tora Tora and listed some of the maybe lesser known but equally interesting movies.

1. One-Six Right. This is a great documentary film on high resolution DVD that celebrates the unsung hero of aviation – the local airport. Featuring magnificent air-to-air photography, the film dispels misconceptions and criticism of General Aviation airports. Through the love story of one airport, past to present, the film shares the timeless romance of flying with all ages. It should be compulsory viewing for all politicians who cannot see the value of having local airports. Here’s a link to the opening sequence (lo-res, sorry): One-Six Right

2. Catch-22. This is one out of the box. Based on Joseph Heller’s best selling book of the same name, the 1970 film follows the story of a B-25 squadron during World War 2. The ‘Catch-22’ of the title is based on an insoluble problem like: if you lose your glasses, you can’t see to find them. Have a look at the official film trailer here for a complete explanation. The film is hilarious and shocking in almost equal measure and must be one of the more provocative war films made.

3. The High & the Mighty. Starring John Wayne and Robert Stack, this 1954 film is about a DC-4 airliner on a night journey from Honolulu to San Francisco. Although set in the airliner, with engine and fuel problems, the film is really an interesting drama about people with all sorts skeletons in (and not so ‘in’) their cupboards. Good fun. Interesting fact – composer Dimitri Tiomkin won an Academy Award for his original film music score including the title song, but the title song did not actually appear in release prints. Here’s a (very low quality) clip of John Wayne being very macho in the cockpit.

4. The Flight of the Phoenix. This is one for all you amateur builders out there. Dennis Quaid stars in this 2004 remake of the 1965 film, based on the novel of the same name. Flying across the Gobi Desert, a Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar crashes. As its name suggests, the C-119 is not the most photogenic of aircraft, with its inverted gull-wing and high twin-tail boom design. But the aircraft design does at least make the story reasonably plausible. It tells of how the crew transforms the crashed aircraft into a single engine version to enable them to fly out. Needless to say, the story takes many twists and turns and not everyone makes it out. Not very successful at the box office, it’s an interesting film nevertheless.

5. Capricorn One. Although a thriller about a faked Mars landing, it includes one of the best aeroplane chases on film. Here’s a link to the whole chase: Capricorn One Bi-Plane Helicopter Chase. This film was made in the days before computer generated graphics (CGI) and remote controlled helicopters, so all the footage is shot for real – and very well shot too. Interesting fact: Telly Savalas – he of ‘Kojak’ detective fame – plays the role of the crop dusting pilot who rescues our hero (Elliot Gould) in his red bi-plane.

Look out for part 2 coming up soon. Meanwhile – do you have any favourite flying films?