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Monday, January 4, 2021

Fog and flying don’t mix...

What’s Up by LeRoy Cook

Over the weekend, the new year had proven to be a poor one for flying. Butler airport manager  Chris Hall had to issue a NOTAM for ice coating on the runway (quickly rescinded) but snow shower s moved in on Saturday and dense fog dominated Sunday and Monday.  Hopefully, January will straighten out eventually.

 Traffic, as we said, was limited last week, but we observed a Piper Twin Comanche and a Cessna 172, along with a Piper Cherokee. I piloted  a sightseeing flight in the Cessna Skyhawk and made a few laps in the snowstorm using a Cessna 150. 

 In space-filler news over the holidays, the world media announced that the chances of being killed in an airplane crash went up last year. What they’re talking about is strictly airliner accidents; our general aviation record continues to improve, partly from reduced activity as well as safety efforts. The airline crashes seen last year were skewed by two tragic mishaps, a Pakistani airlines crash and a shot-down Ukrainian airliner in Iran. Otherwise, it would have been a relatively safe year, particularly for U.S. air carriers. And, no, there were no Boeing 737 MAX accidents in the record, since they were all grounded.

 As we groped our way around in the fog, someone asked us “what causes fog anyway?” Condensation, pure and simple. But, it takes a combination of moisture and cooling, such as melting snow and ice like we had over the weekend. Other reasons could be radiation cooling of moist air late at night, or water-logged air moving over a cold surface, like happens along a coastline. Fog is defined as a cloud in contact with the ground, with no distinct cloud base to leave good visibility under it. Warming is the only cure, like warm blowing in or sunlight shining on the fog tops.

 Our last question of the week from 2020 asked about what kind of airplane was first used to drop “smokejumper” fire fighters parachuting into forest fires, back in the 1940s. It was a Ford Tri-Motor, big and slow enough to be perfect for that job. The forest service no longer uses jumpers, since the 1960s. For next week, we want to know the original U.S. Air Force designation of the McDonnell F-4 Phantom II jet fighter, built in St. Louis, before the USAF went to the shorter model numbers. You can send your answer to