Keep Your Eyes to the Florida Skies

Welcome to the Florida Mystery Writers Blog Hop and Sandy Parks‘ True Airspeed.

“Florida is a giant bug light for crazy people.” ~Phyllis Smallman, Sleuthfest 2014

It’s no surprise to any author living in Florida that some of the craziest stories we write are actually inspired by true events in our Sunshine State. Join us in exploring a different side of Florida than the travel bureau promotes with our first Blog Hop sponsored by Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. READ Sandy’s blog about flying in Florida, comment, share your favorite stories, ENTER the contest to WIN a Kindle Paperwhite, and CLICK the links below to read another member’s view of crazy Florida.

Since I write stories full of action-adventure, mystery, and a quirky band of characters who legally steal big airplanes for a living, I chose to write about Florida from the perspective of people who fly in our skies. What do pilots and their passengers encounter living in this swampy, beach-lined, and lightning capital of the US, that they might not in other states? I asked that very question of two pilots at the Sun-N-Fun airshow last week.

T-6 Warbird

T-6 Warbird

Thom Richard, who races P-51 Precious Metal in the Reno Air Races and lives in Kissimmee, had a definitely unique Florida tale. He was flying his T-6 Warbird (similar to the one pictured above) to Marco Island at night. When he approached the airport, he was asked to do a low flyby down the runway. For anyone who flies a unique aircraft, this is not an unusual request. Aviation fans love to watch and hear the powerful (and loud) warbird aircraft. But this was at night, in the dark, when no one would be able to see much. He did as directed and executed a low flyby and came back and landed. After he taxied in, he was curious as to why they requested the flyby. Simple. It was the best way to get the twelve-foot saltwater crocodile off the runway! We have more than gators in Florida.

Thom Richard, Reno Air Race pilot of P-51 Precious Metal.

Thom Richard, Reno Air Race pilot of P-51 Precious Metal, at Sun-N-Fun 2014.

Florida Crocs and Gators can be found in the most unexpected runways.

Florida Crocs and Gators can be found in the most unexpected places…like runways. (Nile croc photo from Wiki Commons/Leigh Bedford. Gator photo by Will Parks.)

Chuck Gardner works at the Cavanaugh Flight Museum in Texas, but has many hours in the Florida skies. He flies warbirds like the Stearman biplane (shown below), the T-6, or the famous P-51 Mustang. His favorite time for flying in Florida is March in an open cockpit. That time of year a low level flight over central Florida orchards brings the sweet sweet smell of orange blossoms wafting (rather blowing) into the cockpit. Sure hope he doesn’t have allergies.


Stearman Biplane with the open cockpit makes a great way to smell the orange blossoms in Florida.

On the other hand, Chuck had a number of things were not so great about flying in Florida. There are the afternoon thunderstorms that are accompanied by lightning…lots of lightning. A few years ago a small tornado blew through the Sun-N-Fun airshow at Lakeland, overturning aircraft and tents. No injuries, but a lot of damage and shook-up fans. Mother nature has other very small, very annoying ways to cause problems flying in Florida that every driver here will understand…Love Bugs. Those two little black bugs that are stuck together and airborne. The front end of a car can turn black with bugs stuck to them, and so can the propellors and leading edges of an aircraft. Yuck. BIG, beautiful birds are another claim to fame for the state of Florida. Contact with one in the air or on the ground can cause quite a bit of damage to an aircraft. Chuck said frequently when taxiing out to fly, he has to rev his engines to clear stubborn Sandhill Cranes who refuse to move off the runway.

The Sandhill Crane can be curious and rather fearless, when it comes to cars and planes.

The Sandhill Crane can be curious and rather fearless, when it comes to cars and planes.

Last but not least, since I write about extreme characters who steal/repossess airplanes for a living (REPOSSESSED and coming soon OUTFOXED), I thought I’d mention that there are several people in Florida who have recently become well-known for a reality TV show on Discovery Channel called Airplane Repo. One of the stars is Mike Kennedy who lives in Orlando. He’d make a great character in a novel. Another is Ken Cage of IRG, who has part of his business, International Recovery & Remarketing Group, at the Orlando Executive Airport. It’s a strange world out there, folks, so pay your bills and they won’t take your airplane back.

Airplane Repo star Mike Kennedy and wife (center), Sandy (rt), Test pilot hubby Scott on left.

At 2014 Reno Air Races we ran into Airplane Repo star Mike Kennedy and wife (center), Sandy (rt), Test pilot hubby Scott (lt).

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you’ll come back sometime to read other blog posts on aviation, travel locations, or simply to check out some of the fun photography and crazy stories.

Enter Now to Win a Kindle Paperwhite

Now for the good stuff. As part of this blog hop with other mystery/thriller/suspense writers, we are giving away a Kindle Paperwhite. Just click on the following link and follow the directions to sign up.

A Rafflecopter Giveaway

No purchase is necessary. You must be at least 18 years old to enter. By submitting your entry, you agree to be entered into the participating authors’ email newsletter list. Your information will not be shared with anyone else, and you may unsubscribe at any time. Winner will be notified by email. Authors are not responsible for transmission failures, computer glitches or lost, late, damaged or returned email. Winner agrees for their name to be used in conjunction with the contest on FMWA and authors’ social media sites. U.S. Residents only due to postage constraints.


To continue on this BLOG HOP, VISIT other Florida Mystery Writers, read they Florida stories, and WIN more prizes:

Victoria Allman, Gator Bites, <>
Miriam Auerbach, Bonkers in Boca, <>
Gregg E. Brickman, Crazy South Florida—How it got to be home,
Diane Capri, Fishnado!,
Nancy J. Cohen, Characters Too Weird to Be True,
Joan Lipinsky Cochran, The Million Dollar Squatter: Crazy in the Land of Coconuts and Bagels, <>
jd daniels He Did What? <>
Joy Wallace Dickinson, “In Florida, It’s Great to Be a Cracker”,
Dallas Gorhman,
Linda Gordon Hengerer Crazy Treasure on the Treasure Coast, <>
Vicki Landis, Eavesdropping 101, <>
Sandy Parks, Keep your eyes to the Florida skies, <>
Neil Plakcy, Moscow on the Intracoastal
Johnny Ray Utilizing Google Plus Air to Facilitate Author Interviews,
Joanna Campbell Slan, Honey, You’ll Never Guess What Rolled Up in the Surf <


Meet the Military – Women in Aviation International Conference 2014

Women and men crowded into the 2014 Women in Aviation International 25th Conference. This international event gives pilots and aviation specialists the opportunity to interface with industry and meet those with similar careers and interests. Daughters of members also had their own day to visit and be introduced to the aviation field. Did you know only 6% of the pilots flying for airlines are women? Why? That’s a good question and one seriously being considered on many levels, but I can happily answer it is not for lack of talented, adventurous, intelligent women who want to fly, and the men I encountered at the convention were more than encouraging.  A Washington Times article mentions that the percentage of women flying in the military are 2% Air Force, 1% Marine Corps, 4% Navy, and there are 513 Army female helicopter pilots.

With a camera and limited time to meet, chat, and photograph attendees, I focused on pilots wearing a distinguishable type uniform…a military flight suit. While these Nomex (flame resistant) suits can look the same, they vary by the attached nametags and patches indicating the pilot’s service, command, and squadron.

Barely outside the registration door, I noticed a friendly United States Coast Guard group. They had white nametags with the familiar Coast Guard orange stripe across them. For more information on the aircraft they fly, check out these links about the MH-65 Dolphin Rescue helicopter, the T-6 Texan II, and the USCG C-130 “Hercules”. The Coast Guard pilots below come from Air Station Barbers Point, Hawaii; Hitron-Jacksonville, Florida, and NAS Whiting Field Milton, Florida.

Left: LCDR Breanna Knutson USCG, MH-65 Dolphin pilot, LT Becki Fosha USCG, T-6 Instructor pilot, LTJG Staci Kronberg USCG, C-130 pilot, LCDR Ernie Gameng USCG, C-130 pilot & Avionics Upgrade Transition Team

Left: LCDR Breanna Knutson USCG, MH-65 Dolphin pilot;  LTJG Staci Kronberg USCG, C-130 pilot; LT Becki Fosha USCG, T-6 Instructor pilot; LCDR Ernie Gameng USCG, C-130 pilot & Avionics Upgrade Transition Team

The two pilots below were manning the Whirly Girls booth. LT Andrea Giuliano works in the United States Navy Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron TWO FIVE, nick-named the “Island Knights.”  She flies the MH-60s and is transitioning to TH-57 (Bell 206) at the Heltraron Eight Squadron. The LT on the right flew MH-60s at HSC-25 squadron based at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, and now flies TH-57 Sea Ranger in the “Eightballers” squadron at NAS Whiting Field, Milton, FL.  LT Giuliano passed along this photo taken in Guam of the MH-60 and fellow females in the squadron.

LCDR Andrea Giuliano and fellow LCDR

LT Andrea Giuliano (left) and fellow LT

Pilots from the Guam Squadron

Pilots from the Guam “Island Knights” Squadron

The Whirly Girls are “a support network for pilots and provide a variety of scholarships to women for helicopter training.” If Sarah and Andrea are an example of the members, then they are a supportive and friendly group. If interested in flying helicopters or making contacts, check the organization out at Whirly Girls.

MAJ Laura Nealon, U2 pilot/ T-38 Evaluator/U2 Instructor and MAJ Sarah Eccles, U2 pilot

MAJ Laura Nealon, U2 pilot/ T-38 Evaluator/U2 Instructor and MAJ Sarah Eccles, U2 pilot

The next stop was by the 99s booth (an organization of women pilots which promotes the advancement of aviation) where I met 99s and Air Force MAJs Sarah Eccles and Laura Nealon (pictured above). They fly the U2 Dragon Lady, a high altitude reconnaissance aircraft. Both said they love their job and the unique aircraft. The U2 is the only current aircraft in the Air Force inventory that requires the wearing of a pressure suit when flying. For pilots who like a challenge, the U2 has “bicycle” gear and a support vehicle to assist in landings. Check out this Photo Gallery that shows many aspects related to flying the U2. Below is a closer look at their unit patch.

U2 Dragon Lady Patch

U2 Dragon Lady Patch

Also at the 99s booth, I met the current president Martha Phillips from the Ventura County chapter. She convinced me to join the 99s at last years convention by promising me members could use the 99s hut at the Sun-N-Fun fly-in to cool off and use the restroom. Needless to say, it was an easy sell. For more information on the Ninety-Nines formed back in 1929, check out their website.


Sandy Parks, Spaceport 99s and President Martha Phillips, Ventura County 99s

Nagin Cox, an engineer at NASA JPL Propulsion Lab, gave several presentations at WAI. This one called “Hitting the Road on Mars” talked about the Curiosity rover. The vehicle, about the size of a Mini-Cooper, is two times larger than Mars rovers Opportunity or Spirit. A few interesting things from her talk were; she has her watch set to Mars time, we go to Mars every 26 months (closest window), and the biggest challenge we’ve had with Mars is how to look for life? The search helped to create the new field of Astrobiology.


Nagin Cox – Presentation “Hitting the Road on Mars”

Dr. Kate Landdeck, a historian who has researched women pilots in the military, gave a presentation about the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP). These women took over ferrying aircraft during World War II, when there was a shortage of male pilots in the US. Many believed women weren’t up to the task, but their numbers that made it through pilot training were equivalent to those of the males, and their accomplishments confirmed their success. After the war, the government played down their involvement (pretended they had never existed). Finally in the 1970s, they began to get attention and in 2010 they received Congressional Gold Medals. They had a float dedicated to them in the 2014 Rose Bowl Parade.

WASP signing books and booklets about their history.

WASP Bee, Millie, and Dawn signing books and booklets about their history for a younger generation of pilots.

WASP signing after history presentation.

WASP signing after history presentation with four of the attending WASP.

The old guard with the new.

The old guard with the new. Maj Ruth Meloeny, USAF Reserves C-17 Airdrop Instructor Pilot with WASP Dawn.

WASP Florence

WASP Florence

Hat with pins from WASP events.

Hat with pins from WASP events.

If you’re interested in learning a little more about the 99s, WAI, WASP, or flying opportunities for women in the military, make sure to click some of the links in this blog.

Blue skies,


Baton Blog Hop

Book 1 in Hawker Inc Series. Winner of Daphne du Maurier Award, Maggie Suspense w/ Romantic Elements, HOLT Award of Merit.

Book 1 in Hawker Inc Series. Winner of Daphne du Maurier Award, Maggie Suspense w/ Romantic Elements, HOLT Award of Merit.

Delightful author JB Lynn of the Killer Chicks invited me to participate in the Baton Blog Hop. This “hop” is of interest to readers who enjoy mystery, thrillers, suspense, or romance, and works this way: I answer a few questions about my work in progress, and then pass the baton along to three other authors. Hopefully that will introduce you to new writers you might have never read before.

Before we start, I’d like to say a few things about JB Lynn who writes the humorous series about a neurotic Hitwoman. If you love to laugh and enjoy quirky characters, this is a series you should enjoy. I’ve also heard she has a dark thriller in her past published with Carina Press. I just added another of her books to my TBR pile.

Now to the questions about my current project. I’ve been working on a series called HAWKER, INC about a team who repossess high-end aircraft. When the rich don’t pay, someone has to take their toys away. What happens when you put an ex-military pilot who grew up in the family casino together with a conman on the run, a mechanic who paints her nails to match the country of operation, and a sexy Greek lawyer who has his own secret agenda? Then, of course, there is the mysterious boss that hides his identity from his crew. The first book in the series, REPOSSESSED, won two major national contests last year.

1. What am I working on? I’m editing OUTFOXED, book 2 in the Hawker, Inc series. This book is unique because it has become relevant because of the missing Malaysian airliner. OUTFOXED deals with the loss of a team member over a botched B737 airliner repossession and the team’s attempt to even the score. What could happen when a B737 goes missing and how is it possible? While the theme may revolve around aviation, I write for the characters (they make me do it). This book deals with a team that has been demoralized by the loss of one of their own. Each sees the death as failure on their part. Come along for a ride to four continents and find out if Jet, Gregori, Lenny and Roxy can pull off this caper and bring their team back together.

2. How does my work differ from others in this genre.

My characters are a bit quirkier than most in the action-adventure, thriller genre. I take suspense and action-adventure, and combine it with touches of humor and personal relationships. Jet is a loner who moves at her own fast pace. Her mother runs a fly-in casino with a dirt strip near Vegas. Gregori, is a legal eagle from an uber wealthy Greek family. He has missing years in his background that reveal he does a lot more than sit behind a desk. Roxy is a female mechanic who believes in only being the best. She is following in her dad’s footsteps. Lenny, a conman, is a displaced New Yorker not able to go home because he stepped on the “boys” toes while extracting Roxy from the midst of trouble. He does the teams groundwork and snooping for the repo team and can usually be counted on to get them into trouble.

3. Why do I write what I do?

First, I love to tell stories and to share them with others. That means putting the story on paper (or digital these days). Take that and mix it with a family who eats, sleeps, and breathes aviation. Visit my website if you’d like to see more details on my dad, hubby, brother, niece, son, and me who are involved in aviation. I flew as a kid with my dad in light airplanes and later learned to fly at Edwards AFB while my husband was going through test pilot school. Yeah,  I only fly puddle jumpers, but I get to live vicariously through the other “s@#t-hot” pilots in the family.

4. How does your writing process work?

My best answer to this is it changes with time, topic, and genre. The one overall process I try to stick with is a relatively thorough plot and character arc. I don’t consider myself a “seat of the pants” writer because my topics necessitate research for topic and locations. There are times, though, when I think I should have done a better job plotting details, and others when it seems I plotted things too tightly and had to loosen up to let my characters breathe. One thing I’ve learned over many years of writing, is that the process is fluid. As a writer, you’ll get better at some things and see where you need to improve on others. That means a tweaking of how you write. My biggest wish…I had more of the journalism touch and could write faster.

More great authors to check out: These authors will be posting next Monday on March 24th.

Enjoy romantic suspense and some inspiration with author Connie Mann. As the blogger at Busy Women~ Big Dreams and a boat captain (sounds wonderfully adventurous), Mann’s Angel Falls is currently #5 on Amazon’s Christian Suspense Romance Bestseller list. Join Regina and Brooks as they protect a young orphan from killers, while struggling to overcome problems from their own troubled pasts. Connie is a serious writer who has been honing her craft to great results. She’s an enjoyable, gracious lady, and a fellow Floridian.


Hold on for a ride with romantic thrillers from Vanessa Kier and her Surgical Strike Unit. Vanessa is writer friend from the Kiss of Death Chapter. This chapter of writers goes on yearly trips to killer locations all over the US. We’ve been to the CIA, FBI, military installations, the State Department, FEMA underground shelters, fire and police departments, bomb squads (blowing up things was fun!), and have even met the LA mounted police. She has lots of great background to have written the six books in this series about a private special ops group. Visit Vanessa next week at her Facebook page or website.


Public health nurse, Beverley Bateman, writes murder, mystery, medical thrillers, and romantic suspense. Imagine finding yourself along on a Caribbean cruise with no memory and someone trying to kill you. That’s the premise of Beverley’s latest book “A Cruise to Remember.” Another of my Kiss of Death Chapter mates, Beverley works as hard for the chapter as she does on her writing. Check out her blogspot next Monday to learn more about her books and writing.


That’s it for the Baton Blog Hop. Please stop by and check out these authors and I welcome any suggestions of authors you love to read.

2014 Wings of Blue Parachute Team Promo Video

Fresh off the presses for 2014 is the latest promo video of the Wings of Blue. They are United States Air Force Academy cadets and staff from the 98th FTS. Drop in on a USAFA football game or one of the many venues they perform at throughout the year. Are they talented and do they share their knowledge and experience? You bet. Wings of Blue conducts around nineteen thousand jumps per year. For more info check out the Wings of Blue website.

USAFA Wings of Blue

USAFA Wings of Blue



Bear Mountain Hike: Sedona, Arizona

The town of Sedona is nestled along the Mogollon Rim at the southern end of the Colorado Plateau in Northern Arizona. It’s famous red rock cliffs and formations make it a popular spot to escape the Phoenix desert heat. My family visits frequently and over the years we have checked out many of the hikes and still find the views breathtaking.

A canyon view looking toward Sedona

A canyon view looking toward Sedona.

Our last visit in January was welcomed by a light snow, most of which quickly melted in the morning sun. The shadows stayed cool enough to hold onto the snow and on a short hike to Doe Mountain we found icicles along the path.

Icicles on Doe Mountain hiking trail.

Icicles on Doe Mountain hiking trail.

From that path, we looked up at a ridge in the distance and noticed the trail for it zigzagging up the face of an opposing mesa. On the way home, we checked out the trailhead. Bear Mountain. We love challenging hikes, so decided to give this one a try the next day. It is a 2000 foot climb in elevation, the trails are not necessarily well-marked, and takes 4.5 to 5 hours round trip. I think we did it in 4…but the weather was cool and we were in shape. Even so, I wish we had taken more water (we took two bottles each and several energy bars). In hotter weather, a lot more water would be necessary and it could be brutal with no shade. Warning to those wishing to take this hike. Go prepared. This is the Sedona hike with the most rescues (and deaths).

You can see snow in the background shade of this photo.

You can see snow in the background shade of this photo.

The photo below is from the top of the first mesa in front of Bear Mountain. The views along this trail are spectacular, but at times deceiving. Bear Mountain is infamous for its false summits. That means a hiker will see a peak that looks like the top. By the time it is reached, a new summit becomes visible. For some people, this is the fun, unexpected part of a good hike, for others, it can be  discouraging. Did I say, I enjoyed this hike?

Photo from the mesa atop the first level of the hike. Only a few more stages to go.

Photo from atop the mesa at the first level of the hike. Only a few more stages to go.

If you’re interested in more detailed descriptions and topo maps of this hike, check out this site. It has a great photo at the bottom of the page that shows the various levels and false peaks. Speaking of false peaks, after reaching the one before Bear Mountain, I took a photo off the back side of the trail.

View off last level before the final climb to Bear Mountain peak.

View off last level before the final climb to Bear Mountain peak.

There is no doubt when you reach the top of Bear Mountain. The snow-covered Spanish Peaks on the Colorado Plateau were visible. A beautiful sight.

View from atop Bear Mountain of the Spanish Peaks.

View from atop Bear Mountain of the Spanish Peaks.

A Little “Diversion” on Trip to Peru

Overseas flights tend to be long, tiring, and for hubby and me, who seemed to be frowned upon by the Trim Gods, frequented by electrical problems that cause delays or diversions in the airliner’s flight plan. To prove my point, look back in the blog archives for a story about a fuel dump from last year’s trip to Morocco (Morocco Part One: Fuel Dump, and Flight to Morocco Part II).

Plane we took to Peru.

Plane Boeing 767 we took to Peru.

Headed to Peru and halfway to Lima on an evening flight, the Captain popped on the cabin lights and announced they had a little electrical problem and would be diverting to Guayaquil, Ecuador. While, I’m usually up for visiting new countries, we’d visited Ecuador a few years ago on a trip to Quito and the Galapagos Islands (Blogs: Exotic Wildlife of the Galapagos Islands, and Galapagos (Giant) Tortoise). As travelers we have learned to be flexible and “go with the flow,” and lauded ourselves for planning in extra time at the beginning of our trip just for such an occurrence. Considering these delays have happened more than once, it’s not a bad piece of advice if you can afford the time.

Welcome to Guayaquil sign in Ecuador airport.

Welcome to Guayaquil sign in Ecuador airport.

Once on the ground, the Captain filled us in on the circumstances. The aircraft had a battery problem. The good news…maintenance would look into it. The bad news…maintenance had to get a copy of the battery (what they believed was causing the problem) manual. Ah, the joys of contract maintenance.

Pilot hubby guessed that it would probably mean a plane change, which considering our destination, posed a logistics challenge. There were no other B767s in Guayaquil. The plan…another flight from the airline would be arriving on a planned flight from Miami to Guayaquil in a few hours. Once unloaded, that plane would then take us to Lima.

The positive outcome? This time we didn’t land to fire trucks and ambulances, and the little cafe in the Guayaquil airport had coffees, tasty banana bread, and beer.

The little coffee, sweets and beer cafe in Guayaquil Airport.

The little coffee, sweets, and beer cafe in Guayaquil Airport stayed open late in the evening.

Eventually we made it to Lima, our connection picked us up (in the wee morning hours), and upon arriving at our delightful, boutique hotel, discovered cookies and champagne waiting in our room. Ate the cookies and saved the alcohol for the next night when we celebrated hubby’s birthday.

Bohemian little boutique hotel in Barranco (Lima), Peru. Loved all the little touches and wonderful art in the restored old summer home.

Hotel B, a bohemian little boutique hotel in Barranco (Lima), Peru. Loved all the little touches and wonderful art in the restored old summer home. Note champagne bottle at end of bed. Sweet little cookies were on the small desk. Security all over Lima and in this high-end area was high. Even though this neighborhood was a safe one and the Spanish embassy was across the street, a doorman had a key and unlocked the front door for arrivals and departure in the evenings. Absolutely wonderful  place if you’re one to avoid big hotels.

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.


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 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 has an article about pilot Louise Thaden and details her involvement in air marking.

Federal Aviation Administration shares some history about beacons.

Spaceport 99s