Signs of the Times: Air Marking

The words “Air Marking” create visions of a biplane releasing smoke traces across the sky. While a romantic thought, it misses the “mark.”BiplaneClipAir Marking is painting done under precise federal regulations to designate airports (ex: names and elevations easily seen up to 10,000 ft), directions to airports, or to provide visible compass headings for aircraft to use on the ground or in the air.

Jfader_drydenComapssRose

The largest compass rose in the world is at NASA Dryden on Edwards AFB, California (Photo by JFader)

I had a chance to interview Laura Sherwood, an Orlando intellectual property paralegal (trademarks and copyrights), who has been involved with air marking since 1988. As a member of five different pilot organizations, she painted her first compass rose in 1988 at Twenty-nine Palms, California, along with other 99s, an organization of female pilots. Today, she is part of the Spaceport 99s and the air marking organizer for the chapter.

The marking paint squad at Orlando Executive Airport.

The marking paint squad at Orlando Executive Airport. Laura Sherwood is at center. Left to right: Verba Moore, pilot, 99s; Mary Maher, Superintendent, Orlando Executive Airport, Women in Aviation member; Bobbi Lasher, pilot, 99s; Laura Sherwood, pilot, 99s; Pat Ohlsson, pilot, 99s; Marilyn Paterino, pilot, 99s; Judith Ann Garrett, Women In Aviation.

The first air marking started in the 1920s, frequently as signs on barn or business roofs directing pilots to a landing field. Some were as simple as a giant yellow concrete arrow pointing the way. In the late 1920s, beacons, powered by generators housed in small sheds, were placed on top of the arrows (see drawing below). Remnants of the tower frameworks can be found still partially protruding or laying nearby the remaining arrows today.

Airway Beacon Illustration Circa 1931, FAA

Airway Beacon Illustration Circa 1931, FAA. The beacon tower was usually centered on the yellow concrete arrow and the generator housing on the arrow feathers.

During World War II, the markings were covered over or destroyed so enemies wouldn’t be able to easily find the airfields. Once the war ended, air marking began again in earnest and it soon became evident standardization was required.

Air Marking of Taxiway A at Orlando Executive. Photo by pilot Bobbi Lasher, an active member of Spaceport Chapter of 99s with 21 years of flying.

Air Marking of Taxiway A at Orlando Executive. Photo by pilot Bobbi Lasher, an active member of Spaceport Chapter of 99s with 21 years of flying.

Federal rules for air marking started back in the 1950s. These include things like the size and location of lettering, and the layout for compass roses. Circular FAA advisory circular AC 150/5340-1j covers the regulations.

Sebastian, Florida compass rose painted February 9, by members of the Spaceport 99s, the Embry Riddle 99s, and the FIT Flight Team.  Photo taken by Joe Griffin, Airport Manager

Sebastian, Florida compass rose painted February 9, 2013 by members of the Spaceport 99s, the Embry Riddle 99s, and the FIT Flight Team. Photo taken by Joe Griffin, Airport Manager

From past experience, Laura said under good conditions, a compass rose can be painted in one day. Lettering takes longer (usually two days) because of the time necessary to block out the lettering.

Measuring and painting letters and numbers at Orlando Executive Airport. Photo by Bobbi Lasher

Measuring and painting the black outlines for the letters and numbers at Orlando Executive Airport. Photo Courtesy of the Orlando Executive Airport Authority

A compass rose size is dependent on the size of aircraft using the airport. The colorful indicators of the four cardinal directions range in diameter from 50 to 100 feet. They must be placed on the airport where planes can access them and swing around to check their compass alignment. Placement must also be away from any source of compass deflection such as electrified fences, strong metal (such as metal buildings), and underground pipes. Concrete buildings do not usually case a problem, but most compass roses are placed about 600 feet from buildings. The airport hires an engineering firm to survey the center mark of the rose and the cardinal points N-S-E-W to meet Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements. On occasion, the surveyors might also mark the 30 degree points, otherwise the painters must be prepared to measure those.

This team worked so fast under good conditions that they completed the compass rose in a morning. Sebastian Compass Rose

This team worked so fast under good conditions that they completed the Sebastian Compass Rose rose in a morning. Photo by Bobbi Lasher

Plan ahead on the time of year for the task. If the tarmac gets too hot, the paint curdles. Too cold, the paint won’t stick. Too windy, it requires a special technique to keep it from splattering in the wrong places. Lastly, having it rain before the paint dries will likely produce a Matisse effect that will have to painted over on a dry day.

So find a friend who knows how to properly lay out a compass rose or airport identifier, grab brushes and more friends willing to wield a brush (a flying organization is a good place to start), bribe with a promise of food, and make short work of the task.

Thanks, Laura for the info and great tips.

I’d love to hear reader comments. Have you ever seen remnants of old air markings on rooftops, or recent ones at a local airport? Even run across one of the old concrete arrows or beacons (there’s a beacon in the Smithsonian)? If so, let me know.

Clear skies and good painting!

***

More references and details on Air Marking can be found at the following links:

– Photos and research on concrete arrows and their beacons can be found at the BonnievilleMariner.com blog.

– In the 2006, AIR & SPACE Magazine article about the early history of air marking championed by race pilot Blanche Noyes.

– At Missourinet: The Blog, a post-war photo and blog of an air marking for Jefferson City Municipal Airport and the tale of pilot Phoebe Fairgrave push for air markings to aid navigation.

20th Century Aviation Magazine.com has an article about pilot Louise Thaden and details her involvement in air marking.

Federal Aviation Administration shares some history about beacons.

Spaceport 99s

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What’s in Your Favorite Pilot bar?

I’ve been in my share of aviation bars through the years from the Pancho Barnes room frequented by seasoned test pilots to the ones hosting pilots working toward their first set of wings. I’ve seen some interesting things. Photographed a good number of items, too. Some are typical things people might find in any bar, others are distinctly unique to those who enjoy the flying profession. Of course, because of the nature of aviation types versus the delicate nature of those who might be viewing this blog, I had to pick and chose photos.

Bits and pieces of aircraft give the right flavor and for an Air Force bar are pretty much essential. This can be a wing, prop, vertical stabilizer, an ejection seat (yes, I’ve seen one), a piece from a totaled aircraft (however it got that way), or perhaps landing gear.

Propeller above entry to crud table area.

Propeller above entry to crud table area.

T-1 Landing gear

T-1 Landing gear

Other basics usually include a bell found in most bars. Necessary in case someone commits a faux pas and is buying the bar a round. Also a variety of wood bar surfaces can be found from a full-fledged bar, to a wood surface where nicknames are carved and the tops scorched, to a bar table top similar to this table covered in resin, or a simple oak whiskey barrel for the smaller more private setting.

Standard "bar" bell

Standard “bar” bell

Temporary Emerald Knight's bar.

Temporary Emerald Knight’s bar.

Carved names and scorching on bar top.

Carved names and scorching on bar top.

Treasurers trapped in resin

Treasurers trapped in resin

In home pilot bar

In home pilot bar, whiskey barrel.

Now every bar needs a little action, so a Crud table is mandatory. The rules and variations for Crud will be discussed at another time (and at some places said game has been curtailed to reduce injuries (really?)). For more atmosphere, throw in some stain glass, a popcorn machine, a dart board, and hang a few decorations.

Crud game table

Crud game table

Squadron Stained Glass

Squadron Stained Glass

Snoopy from soda cans hanging at the Sedona Arizona Airport bar.

Snoopy from soda cans hanging at the Sedona Arizona Airport bar.

7-Up Biplane, Sedona, Arizona

7-Up Biplane, Sedona, Arizona

One thing I haven’t mentioned, which is quite common, is the beer mug (filled with beer, of course). Below are two typical mugs and a standard squadron mug rack. Some places have a little more creative display using things at hand…baseball bats, practice weapon, fire axe, electronics rack, handcuffs….

Close-up of pilot mugs in training squadron

Close-up of pilot mugs in training squadron

Typical wall mug rack in training squadron.

Typical wall mug rack in training squadron.

Creative Mug. Take a close look at how it's made.

Creative Mug rack. Take a close look at how it’s made.

A pilot needs something appropriate to wear, in particular if they are military. For a civilian pilot, almost anything goes (shoes and shirt usually required, unless in some exotic location and then you are a lucky pilot indeed). For military pilots, the appropriate attire is a flight suit, but once in a while formal attire is necessary. A savvy pilot can make a few adjustments of uniform to fit both ceremony and later bar visit. Simply remove the sleeves of mess dress shirt, keep the cuffs and attach them to new sleeves from material of your choice. This is easily hidden beneath your mess dress jacket.

Mess Dress shirt with "women's shoe" motiff.

Mess Dress shirt with “women’s shoe” motif.

And every party or visit to a bar is more fun with friends, family, or fellow pilots. So invite your buds and head to the bar. Below is a photo of a famous local watering hole for test pilots back in the seventies and eighties. The Pancho Barnes room at the Edwards Air Force Base Officer Club (name and layout since changed). Take a close look at some of the things in the background.

Test Pilot Class 83A in Pancho Barnes Room, Edwards AFB, California

Test Pilot Class 83A in Pancho Barnes Room, Edwards AFB, California

Over time as people find this blog post, I hope that to add items they have photographed (with photo credit) in aviation bars. All I ask is to keep it “clean.” Comment or contact me, and I’ll add your photos or you can send me a link to photos and I’ll be glad to add that. Thanks for stopping by. Remember 8 hours from throttle to bottle!

Fly safe.

January 2013 ebook winner

The winner of the January 2013 free ebook from those that comment on Sandy’s blog for is BILL WEILER. Thanks, Bill, for stopping by and taking time to comment!

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Sandy is starting in January 2013 a monthly drawing taken from those who comment on her blogs. Comment and your name will go into a drawing for a free ebook of Repossessed by Sandy Parks or one of author Julie Moffett’s Lexi series. You’ll have a month after names are pulled to check back and see if you are a winner. Good luck and  hope to hear from you.

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Cadets soar to 8th straight national championship

My son participated on the cross-country soaring team at the Air Force Academy (and now flies F-16s). It’s great to see the soaring program is still going strong.

Cadets soar to 8th straight national championship.

Gliding over Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Picnic near Kasbah du Toubkal

The last post left hubby and me up on the mountainside at Kasbah du Toubkal a few hours from Marrakesh, Morocco. Because it is such a unique place, I included another photo of the Kasbah from a different angle.

Kasbah du Toubkal

Our last day there we extended a little longer to take a hike and enjoy a picnic in the High Atlas Mountains. Rough basalt  boulders and other volcanics surrounded us and made for a challenging but fun short trek. A few clouds streaked over the mountains and in the far distance (behind the hills) a snow-topped peak was barely visible.

High Atlas Mountains

Behind the dusty hiker in this photo (me) you can see some Berber villages in the valley and hills. Many of the traditional houses built of thick clay walls were abandoned and next to them newer ones were built or being built in a similar style of concrete block. Maintenance (reworking/recoating the outer walls every 4 years) of the old style appears to be the main reason for the modernization. Many Berber are unhappy with the loss of the traditional homes, and we discovered, once left unattended the mud slowly is worn away and the walls collapse. Also the cooling quality of the old style walls and their ability to hold in heat are lost with the cement construction.

Sandy with Berber village in valley

After a few hours (I did say this was a short hike), we stopped for a picnic provided by Berbers from a nearby village. While we imagined something simple prepared for us, eaten while perched on a boulder, a surprise lay ahead. In the middle of a boulder field, we saw a few men setting up for us (and another couple coming in with a different guide). Young men put out carpets, padded mats, and pillows.

Preparations for a mountain picnic

Off to the side, foraged one of the donkeys, which had carried up supplies.

One tough “Beast of Burden”

We checked out the “kitchen” stove consisting of propane canisters.

Outdoor Mountain Kitchen

The cooks were hard at work dicing vegetables, making tea, and preparing both hot and cold lunch selections.

Mountain Cooks

The kitchen and serving area were separated by a boulder and a stone wall.

The “Atlas” Cafe

We found a comfy place on a padded mat and mint tea was served. Notice the glass cups and tea service. Okay…I can read the word “spoiled” in your mind. That’s exactly how we felt. Honestly, we had expected a sack lunch and soda. But one thing I can assure you of, is hospitality is quite important to the Berbers.

Hot Mint Tea

We rated the lunch as one of great meals on our trip (the view and fresh air surely had a lot to do with that rating). They served a salad of diced purple onions, peppers, tomatoes, and cucumber with canned salmon (well, we are in the mountains) on top and then followed it with a hot portion of rice and a spiced meat mixture of lamb. Boy, did we need the second half of the hike to burn off all the calories.

Lunch Berber Atlas Mountain Style

Flight to Morocco Part II:

In my last post, our aircraft to Paris was turning back to Atlanta Hartsfield while dumping fuel. (Check out the previous True Airspeed Morocco blog if you missed the first part to the story.) I expected fire trucks would escort us to the gate, but ongoing events promised more.

Hubby settled back in the “comfy” economy seats and closed his eyes, probably hoping to fall back into dreamland knowing it was an hour back to Atlanta and predicting nothing exciting would happen until then.
My insatiable curiosity, however, kept me awake and attuned to anything that might garner more details about the plane’s situation. While I expected the flight attendants to be ready to answer passengers’ questions, the ones in economy were nowhere to be found.
When they reappeared coming from business class, one attendant inquired, in a subdued voice, if we had a doctor in our section.
Sheesh, had a pilot become overwhelmed by fumes?
A doctor with his church contingent from the Midwest raised his hand. The attendant signaled him to follow. Another attendant whisked past our position and headed aft.
With the curtains open between sections, I noticed the attendant and doctor stopped at a row in business class. Although sorry for the stricken passenger, I felt a modicum of relief the person in distress wasn’t one of our pilots and thus a sign of more dire circumstances for the plane. The other attendant hustled past our seats again with some kind of kit in hand.
I gently nudged my hubby. “I think somebody’s a little uneasy with us turning around.”
“Huh?”
I pointed up to business class and explained what had happened.
“Doesn’t take much to raise a passenger’s blood pressure,” hubby said.
“The attendant brought up something from the back. A defibrillator?”
“Could be, or communication gear. When there’s a medical emergency the pilots contact a medical service. The cockpit then patches through to the flight attendants for info on the passenger.”
A flight attendant reappeared. “Any one happen to be a nurse,” she asked.
“Pediatric,” one gal said as she raised a hand. The nurse quickly hustled off to assist.
“What do you think?” I asked my hubby.
“That there will be an ambulance waiting for us, too.” He smiled. “At least we should have priority for landing.”

“How long do you think it will take to fix the plane?”
“Depends on whether maintenance can reproduce the smell on the ground so they know what to fix.”
“If they can’t?”
“Airplane change.”
Five hours later, with a new airplane, pilots, and the baggage moved from the old to a new plane, they boarded us for Paris. From my seat I could see our old plane and noticed a catering truck pulling up to it. Hmm. Maybe we weren’t quite ready to take off.
The pilot announced that in the shuffle and unexpected return, catering had been delayed (ie. forgotten). So we waited another forty-five minutes and finally took off for an uneventful flight to Paris where, of course, we had long missed our connection to Casablanca. : )

Morocco – Part One: Fuel Dump

The best laid plans…
Some say the start will reflect the finish. I’m here to claim that isn’t always true. Our vacation to Morocco started out with ominous circumstances. How ominous you ask? Being usual air travelers (a common occurrence
when hubby flies for an airline) a delay of an hour in Atlanta because of a maintenance problem didn’t have us flustered. Our greatest worry was making the connection in Paris for the flight to Casablanca.
Finally the pilot declared everything fixed and we took off in the rain to head out over the ocean to Paris.
About an hour later, Scott (hubby) has slipped into a snooze and I decided to be conscientious and get some writing done. Did I mention we were sitting just behind the wing? The strange noise that attracted my attention came from outside. At the far end of the wing near the tip is a tube extruding next to the flap. Clear liquid sprayed from it. A lot of clear liquid. I had a good idea of the cause and knew what it meant. However, I required confirmation and that would come when I woke up the airline pilot next to me.
“Honey,” I touched his shoulder and when that had no effect, I poked him rather firmly in the side.
“What?” he jerked awake.
“Hear that?” I asked.
“Hear what?” he said, having his hearing slightly impaired after years of aircraft noises. Then he perked up, evidently picking up on the sound.
“Hmm,” he said and I duly pointed out the window. “Fuel dump,” he confirmed. “We’re heading back.” As though to confirm his statement, the plane banked and began it turn for home.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” came over the speakers. “This is your captain. We’re having a slight problem. A little smell in the cockpit we can’t seem to get rid of. Nothing to be concerned about, but we’re headed back to Atlanta to check it out.”
“Something toasting in the cockpit?”
“Could be.”
“Think they’re on oxygen?”
Hubby smiled. “If they’re smart.”
“Dumping because we’re too heavy to land,” I asked.
“Yep.”
“Think it could be related to the problem before takeoff?”
“Maybe.”
I knew exactly what to do. Yep, pull out the cellphone and get a photo. Hey, it was in airplane mode.
Check out the photo below and then I’ll explain how this was only the first emergency on this flight. More to the story will follow in subsequent posts.