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About 80% of general aviation aircraft fly using Lycoming engines. Clearing the trees at the end of the runway. Leaving 4500ft for 6500ft. Maintaining airflow and generating lift across the wings. All are impossible without a reliable engine. Lycoming powers my training aircraft and so fuels my quest for a private pilot certificate. This blog is a record of my thoughts and experiences on life, flight, and learning.

29 February 2008

No End in Sight

I recently watched this first-rate documentary about the war in Iraq, and the subsequent occupation. Since this war has been going on for almost five years, you forget about the reports of chaos and rioting that were happening in 2003. It's an honest look at the failures of the Bush administration in planning for an extended occupation. Contrast that with the intense planning that happened almost two years in advance for the occupation of Germany following WWII, and you can begin to see how this whole conflict has been mismanaged by a bunch of NeoCon hacks. Again, thanks to the freedom of the internet, you can watch it here.

Hilarious Aviation Story

I read this incredibly hilarious aviation story entitled "Cadet Barf" from the Captain's Log blog. It is the funniest thing that I have read for a long time - I laughed uncontrollably. Beth just couldn't understand why I was hiccupping all night. It wasn't the Gentleman Jack, I swear!

27 February 2008

McCain - Conservative or Fascist?

Here's a good article by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., describing the shift in the republican party to a militaristic statism (fascism). McCain, the Republican party's annointed one, is not so much liberal leftist as right-leaning fascist (just like Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco). Link to the article here.
Many of my Republican friends criticize McCain as a leftist. I can see the point. But we ought not be too quick to believe that all forms of antilibertarian ideology are leftist. We need to recognize that there is a form of nonleftist statism of a very distinct kind. It is not socialist in the traditional sense. It believes in a corporate state, combined with protectionism and belligerence in foreign policy. The right-wing predecessors here are Mussolini, Franco, and Hitler, and the name of the ideology is fascism.

For more on this, see John T. Flynn's As We Go Marching. He listed some points of the fascist program. It is a form of social organization "in which the government acknowledges no restraint upon its powers," is managed by the "leadership principle," and in which "the government is organized to operate the capitalist system and enable it to function — under an immense bureaucracy." In fascism, "militarism is used as a conscious mechanism of government spending," and "imperialism is included as a policy inevitably flowing from militarism." "Wherever you find a nation using all of these devices," he wrote, "you will know that this is a fascist nation."

Republicans are prepared to push this agenda, altered to fit the American political context, in this election. Their number one tactic to retain power is impugning the patriotism of Barack Obama. It seems like a puzzle, but an opinion piece by William Kristol in the New York Times offers a clue into the basis of the Republican campaign. He first makes a big deal out of the fact that Obama used to wear an American flag pin on his coat, but now no longer does so. He drags this up as if to accuse him of disloyalty to the American cause."

24 February 2008

Sick Passat

My Passat is sick. It fell into a ditch and sprained its oil pan. So, now I've got a new one on order (oil pan, not Passat), and Beth & I had a sweet ride in a tow truck today! It was awesome!

21 February 2008

Published! (well, sort of)

I recently had some of my aviation-centered writing published in the February 2008 issue of Aviation Consumer magazine. They performed a review of the DA40 and asked for owner feedback to complement their review. Since I've been a huge fan of the Diamond Star ever since I taxied out with the canopy open at Appleton, WI for that demo flight in 2006, I was happy to oblige. Here's my contribution:
Overall, the DA40 has a very sleek, modern look that never fails to attract attention from ramp workers and fellow pilots at any FBO where you chock your wheels and fill up with 100LL. Not only has Diamond Aircraft executed a very beautiful and compelling aircraft design, but they have followed it up with responsive and outstanding customer service. Emails or phone calls to the factory are responded to very promptly.

Flight Controls
The coolest thing about flying the DA40 is that there is a stick. That’s right, just like a P-51, just like an Extra300, just like an F-15. The flight controls have a nice live feel with just the right amount of feedback, which is due to the solid control rods used for aileron and elevator control, as opposed to cables that can stretch and give. As such, they give a very direct and immediate feel to the controls in comparison to the spring-loaded side stick of the Cirrus SR20/22.

Cockpit/Avionics Layout
The DA40 cockpit has a very functional and ergonomic layout with the backup steam gages placed in a neat row up at the top, and the main throttle, fuel, mixture, and cabin air controls right in the center console - all within easy reach for both pilot and co-pilot. I have flown a G1000-equipped Cessna 182, and the dash-mounted yoke really gets in the way of the soft-key buttons on the PFD. This is not the case in the DA40, because of the control stick in your lap (see above). The main centerpiece of the dash is the two displays for the G1000, which are awesome, invaluable flying tools. The amount of information that was available on the G1000, from key airspeeds for the aircraft (Vx, Vy, Vr) to accurate fuel levels, and a complete engine management package (cylinder temps, manifold pressure, exhaust temps, oil temps, amp draw). Add to that the real-time XM weather downlink with Nexrad and METARs/TAFs, terrain avoidance, and charting capabilities, and you wonder why you'd ever need a paper chart again! Diamond made the right choice in installing the Garmin avionics in the DA40.

KAP140 Autopilot
We have the KAP140 Bendix/King 2-axis autopilot installed in our DA40. As a King Air first officer in North Carolina commented to me – “Wow, that’s a lot nicer than the autopilot I fly with.” Having an autopilot really helps to hold altitude and maintain heading during high-workload situations and on long cross-country flights, but the DA40 is already very stable and when trimmed properly, and doesn’t really require much control input to maintain straight & level. The KAP140 can also be a little finicky, and the pitch trim sometimes fails during the startup system check. It’s good in one respect that if the servos and clutches don’t register the right torque or current draw, then it kicks it into fail mode. However, it can be a little disconcerting when you get inexplicable intermittent failures associated with the autopilot. Usually keeping your hands off the flight controls and pitch trim during the startup sequence ensures that the system checks out okay. (Note - The KAP140 does not like cold weather. Usually when it's below 20°F in the hangar, you can't get the autopilot to start up until it's had a chance to warm up for about 20-30 minutes of flying. - A small cabin heater fixes this problem).

Initially, our KAP140 autopilot experienced a disturbing tendency to porpoise during autopilot controlled descents. Even if only a 100fpm descent was dialed in, the autopilot would gradually increase in greater and greater oscillations of ±700FPM. The fix was to install a secondary static pressure port, which Diamond paid for (Did I mention that Diamond’s customer support is outstanding?). After the secondary static port was installed, the KAP140 controlled climbs and descents with unwavering accuracy.

Front Seats & Cabin Comfort
The leather-covered seats recline slightly and are extremely comfortable to sit in for long cross-country flights (6+hrs). They are fixed to the frame of the aircraft and certified to 26g’s for crash protection. That's right - no unsettling shift backwards during climbout when the seat pegs come loose from their track and the aircraft seems to “leap forward”. In the DA40, the rudder pedals adjust for different height pilots, so you don't have to worry about seat adjustments. Did I mention they were comfortable? The downside of the DA40 cockpit is that the cockpit is a little on the small side. The comfortable height of a front-seat occupant is practically limited to less than 6’-3” to keep your knees from hitting the dashboard.

Rear Seats & Cabin Comfort
The rear seats are even more comfortable than the front seats, with integrated foot holes for the longer-legged occupants. My long-legged wife loves the “footie holes” as she calls them. The view from the rear is truly panoramic. At no point do you feel like you have been crammed into the back of an aluminum can. The large side door for rear access is a class stand-out in a world of 4-place GA aircraft where you have to squeeze through, climb across, and crouch down into your seat, hoping that a claustrophobic panic attack doesn’t hit you right after takeoff. The large door opens wide and the rear seats also fold down flat, leaving a long (7+ft) cargo bay for golf clubs, skis, snowboards, and other bulky luggage items.

Sight Picture & Cabin Comfort
Aside from the comfortable feeling of sitting in the cockpit (provided you are shorter than 6’-3”), you have a 180-degree wrap-around view from the front seats, which is totally phenomenal. Scanning the skies for traffic and checking the pattern before takeoff are easily accomplished, thanks to the low wing, no windshield pillars, and wrap-around canopy. The downside of the bubble canopy is that it gets rather warm on the ramp and at low altitudes during the summer months. When the temperature hits 90°F, you tend to taxi with the canopy wide open and climb for cooler air as soon as you can after takeoff. Fortunately, the DA40 has a 2-position canopy latch, so that you can “crack” the canopy during engine run-up and on landing rollout to restore some airflow to the stifling occupants of the cockpit. Diamond has also put a nice cutout into the front glare-shield, so that you have good forward visibility for taxiing, even with the canopy wide open.

Cabin Heat & Ventilation
Because of the bubble canopy, the DA40 gets pretty warm on hot sunny days, but is very pleasant to fly on a 60-70°F sunny spring or fall day. The large, anodized aluminum air vents pump a lot of airflow into the cabin when fully opened, but what the DA40 really needs is an A/C unit for handling the hot weather better. I can’t imagine what it would be like to fly a DA40 in Florida in the summer. For cold weather ops, the cabin heat works very well and the door seals keep out stray drafts, even when the outside air temperature was -15°F (-26°C) last winter. The defrost vents work okay, but it can take a while (10-15 minutes) to clear the windscreen of all traces of breath-induced frost.

Flying the DA40
Flying the DA40XL is effortless and quite a lot of fun. With a 40 gallons of 100LL and 3 big people on board, the aircraft comes off the ground quickly and readily climbs at 700ft/min on a 95°F day with high humidity.

The large rudder gives plenty of help on tough cross-wind landings, giving a performance characteristic of 20kts cross-wind component. The large rudder also provides for effective ground maneuvering without the need for much differential braking on gently curved taxiways. It’s a slight transition to move from an aircraft with a steerable nosewheel to a castering nosewheel, but after a few trips down the runway, controlling the aircraft on the ground is very natural. The DA40 has a very wide stance and is very stable on the ground, even when the winds are gusting up to 20KTs.

Slow flight characteristics in the DA40 are remarkable. Even at 45kts indicated with the stall horn wailing away, the controls are rock solid and you can turn the aircraft back and forth without any adverse flight characteristics. The stall characteristics tend to “mush” the aircraft down, but there are no disconcerting wing dips or noseovers to contend with. You can take the DA40 through a 15-20° banked turn at 45-50kts without having anything un-toward happen. Very comforting when you consider your standard approach speeds are 65-75kts.

Due to it’s motor glider heritage and long wings, the DA40 can be challenging to land simply because it wants to fly! Landings are easy enough, but careful attention must be paid to airspeeds on base and final, or you’ll end up floating half-way down the runway. Typically, approaches are made nose low, and a little throttle is held in to slow the descent rate. If you try to land the DA40 with an aggressive flare, you may end up with a tail strike on your hands. However, Diamond Aircraft has thoughtfully provided an aluminum skid plate on the tail to prevent any real damage to the expensive airframe.

Landing Lights
The biggest drawback to the DA40 are the very weak 35watt halogen lights that are a poor excuse for landing lights. Night flying in and out of rural airports can be very challenging and downright scary sometimes, since the dim lights don’t provide much advance warning of nocturnal wildlife hanging out on the runway. They also don’t provide enough light to effectively navigate strange taxiways at night, which is a real drawback. One of the frustrating things about this deficiency is that Diamond offers a HID lighting option on the DA40XL, but has not provided DA40-180 owners a retrofit kit or service bulletin to take advantage of the increased safety that better lights would provide. We contacted the factory to ask if they could provide assistance in filing a 337 form with the FAA to retrofit our DA40-180 with the better lights installed in the DA40XL (same wing, same wiring), and we were told that Diamond didn’t want to provide any documentation to help with this installation. Diamond really needs to offer a service bulletin or optional service letter for this option.

Fuel Pump Troubles
We have had two defective fuel pumps in our DA40. The fuel pumps would simply not turn on when the switch was activated, requiring us to get out of the aircraft, crawl under the belly and tap on the fuel pump to get it going. To Diamond’s credit, they replaced both fuel pumps at no charge, which is really great service, especially when you consider that these pumps are used in a number of other aircraft and aren’t really Diamond’s problem. Good job, Diamond!

Overall, The DA40 is a very efficient and capable aircraft. With the 50kg gross weight increase, the useful load of the DA40-180 is just over 900lbs. That means with the extended range 50 gallon tanks, you can fly with three adults for 4 hours at a fuel burn of 9gal/hr before stopping for a comfort break and to buy a cold snickers bar. The DA40 is not a speed demon, but is reasonably fast at 135-140KTAS achievable with 9gal/hr fuel burn at 7500ft. The engine seems to be happiest when running at about 2350RPM and 22-23inHg of manifold pressure at 7500ft. We have the two-blade Hartzell prop on our DA40 and have experienced no problems whatsoever with it. The swept blades look good on the ramp and the pull the aircraft through the air with no complaints. The DA40 is a great cross-country machine and is a true pleasure to fly.

Beautiful Diamonds

I was surfing the Airliners.net website and came across these amazing photos of Diamond's finest aircraft - simply beautiful! This guy even got the strobe flash in the shot!
I also liked this photo of a DA-42 on landing - the blur in the background, the fading winter light...simply beautiful! (Hmmm...I guess I say that alot...)
Check out the photos yourself! Click here for my search (there's even more good ones out there!)

17 February 2008

Why We Fight

I recently saw a first-rate documentary about the rise of the military-industrial-congressional complex and America's imperialism. Why We Fight is an effective, well-done, non-partisan discussion of the question: Why do we fight? Why are we fighting in Iraq? Why are American men and women dying overseas? My favorite parts of the documentary were the clips of President Eisenhower's farewell address in 1961 warning the citizenry of the potential threat to America's future of the military-industrial complex - it sounded rather like Ron Paul! Every citizen should watch this documentary before voting this year. We need to stop the warmongering NeoCons that want nothing more than to expand wars and military conflicts at the price of our personal liberties, national economy, and most precious of all - the lives of our men and women in the armed forces. You don't believe me? Check it out - plans for a nuclear first-strike war with Iran have been on the drawing boards since 2005. Over $9 million has been donated in this election cycle by defense contractors. Watch this documentary today - thanks to the freedom of the internet, you can watch this video online at Google Video here.

14 February 2008

Big Head Todd and The Monsters

Last night, I went to a concert of one of my favorite bands, Big Head Todd and the Monsters. It was a great show - good music, and lots of it! They played for about 2-1/2hours, without a break. I had last seen them in 2002 at the Newport Music Hall in Columbus, OH. It's a small, filthy little venue, which is really the perfect way to see a good show. $20 got you in the door, and I was about 3 rows back from the front - in the perfect position to see Todd Park Mohr's fingerwork on the guitar. I really like seeing shows in small venues like the Newport - it's so much more fun and intimate than a huge arena with assigned seats and a band that plays for the contractual 90 minutes and not one minute more. You can really feel the energy of the band and Big Head Todd definitely gives you your money's worth. Their live shows are legendary for being awesome!

On another note, this band is unique among the music world in that they gave away 500,000 copies of their latest album, All The Love You Need, for FREE! I find their attitude towards freedom in music and art...almost Austrian? Here's what the lead singer, Todd Park Mohr, said about their latest album:
“We see the record as our main marketing tool. It’s no longer a source of income--not that it ever has been for me, given the way major labels work.” The free distribution of the new CD continues the tradition BIG HEAD TODD AND THE MONSTERS started when they began giving away new songs, demos and live cuts on the www.bigheadtodd.com website three years ago.

“Art should be free,” MOHR said at the time. “I’ve always rejoiced at the crumbling of the old empire,” MOHR told the Denver Post. “Digital music diversified the music that is being created, and it also makes a level playing field for artists. Culture is a lot more interesting when there are a lot of little things going on instead of a couple big things happening, and that’s why this is the Wild West—it’s so fun to be listening to music right now.”
Art should be free! I love it! These guys get it - the more people that listen to their music, the more popular they become. Did Monet paint beautiful paintings because he knew that he would make it big, sell millions of lithographs? Did Beethoven write symphonies to be on the top 10 classical charts for hundreds of years? No. They had talent, created art because of their love for it, and because it was good....it was embraced and loved and replicated and styles were copied and people immortalized the art. Bach didn't need a recording executive to make him a hit for the ages. Why should Big Head Todd? More power to you guys!

11 February 2008

A Very Blustery Day!

I know what Winnie-The-Pooh would say if he was looking at the METARs and winds aloft today...25KTs gusting to 38! It was a little much for me today, but it would've been fun to get out, climb to 9000FT and register a 200KT+ ground speed on the DA40.

"Oh the wind is lashing lustily,
And the trees are thrashing thrustily,
And the leaves are rustling gustily,
So it's rather safe to say,
That it seems that it may turn out to be,
It feels that it will undoubtedly,
It looks like a rather blustery day, today,
It sounds that it may turn out to be,
Feels that it will undoubtedly,
Looks like a rather blustery day today!"

09 February 2008

National WWII (D-Day) Museum

While in New Orleans, I had to take a quick trip to the National WWII (D-Day) Museum. I'm a big WWII buff, especially the European theater, from all sides of the conflict - English, French, US, German, Russian, Italian - it's a very interesting period of world history. This museum was interesting in that it told the story of WWII fairly well through photographs, battlemaps, audio, video, and had a number of artifacts. Originally built as the D-Day museum, it was founded by Stephen Ambrose, who wrote such books as Citizen Soldier, D-Day, and Band of Brothers. It's also based in New Orleans, LA because the landing craft (Higgins Boats) that carried so many thousand brave soldiers to storm the Normandy beaches on D-Day were built by the Higgins company of New Orleans. There were a lot of artifacts about the Higgins boats, but it was a good general overview of the conflict. While we were there, the staff kept buzzing about a $300 million expansion that was being built across the street. Since the original museum was built merely as a D-Day Museum, it didn't have enough room to adequately cover North African, European, Pacific theaters of operation. It was definitely worth a visit, and will be really worth a visit when the expansion is complete.
A Higgins Boat, or LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel)

Check out the U-G-L-Y welds on the armour plating on this Sherman Tank!

Seven Steps to be a good citizen and control inflation. I wonder if we'll see posters like this again?

Nothing like a little devalued currency - Steel Pennies were minted during the war.

Plans for a Higgins Boat - build your own!

Personal Message from the British Commander, Bernard Law Montgomery on the eve of D-Day

08 February 2008

Liberty University Speech

Excellent speech by Ron Paul at Liberty University. Despite what McCain tries to say about conservativism, and what Huckabee says about Christianity...Dr. Paul is the real deal. The best thing about his campaign is that it's not about him. He doesn't have an ego - it's about America, the Consitution, and Freedom for each and every american citizen (including those who are not yet born)!
(links to part 2, part 3, part 4)

02 February 2008

MTV gives Ron Paul a fair shake?

I watched the Republican debates on CNN last week, and frankly was disgusted with the inordinant amount of time CNN allotted to hearing Romney and McCain bicker over who said what and when. CNN cut Ron Paul off repeatedly, didn't ask but 1 or 2 questions, and even though Huckabee whined about not getting enough questions, the good Doctor didn't whine at all. Isn't it ironic that MTV gives Ron Paul a fair chance to answer questions? Thank you MTV. Maybe I'll watch Road Rules or something like that now... (More videos here, and here)

Cross-Country to New Orleans (KNEW)

Last week, I went to an industry tradeshow in New Orleans, and part of the hard work was flying down in the DA40 (the stresses of the job, let me tell you). Monday morning, we had a really beautiful trip ahead of us. A front had just gone through, and it was clear skies and unlimited ceilings all the way from Ohio to Louisiana. Here's a picture of N470DS, sitting on the ramp, waiting to stretch its wings. I was supposed to meet Dad at the airport at 7AM to leave, and I was about 5 minutes late. I sat around for a while, and no Dad. So, I gave him a call, and he was running a little behind schedule. Dad had been in a hurry to leave, because he wanted to make it down to New Orleans in enough time to play 18 holes before nightfall. However, we'd have to book it to make it down. Monday morning was quite cold - 10°F! I was glad that I had warm gloves as I pulled the aircraft out of the hangar. After Dad showed up, we loaded the plane, pulled the nose plugs, and headed south. The air was really cold, as you can see from the photo I took of the Muskingum River valley over Coshocton. The AEP Conesville Powerplant was churning out the water vapor, giving a really unique misty look to the valley from the air.
Looking south down the Muskingum River towards the AEP Conesville Powerplant

However cold the air was at the surface, it began warming up very quickly as we gained altitude. While the air at the surface was about -12°C (10°F), about 4500ft up, we had gained temperature to about 3°C (39°F). It started to get so warm that we had to turn the cabin heater down!
A very frozen and four-wheelered Dillion Reservoir, north of Zanesville, OH

The separation of the colder moist air layer close to the ground and the warmer air layer above it, really gave a very dramatic inversion layer. Here's a couple of photographs of the airlayers. Please forgive the dirt on the lens - the camera needs a dusting.

Plumes from two powerplants on the Muskingum River, south of Zanesville, OH

Looking east up the Ohio River Valley, just over Portsmouth, OH

The very chilly town of Portsmouth, OH - sunlight on frosted hills in the morning - Beautiful!

The further south we went, over Kentucky, the air continued to warm up and some familiar landmarks came into view. Here's a series of photos of the Red River Gorge and Cave Run Lake area in East-Central Kentucky - I've spent a lot of time in that area, but I think that this is one area more beautiful from the ground than the air. Correction - everything's more beautiful from the air....maybe just a little more recognizable:).

Over Cave Run Lake, Kentucky at about 8500ft MSL

A typical sandstone bluff in the Red River Gorge - I think that I've camped on this bluff, but it's hard to tell from the air

Well, I tried to find Natural Bridge, Kentucky, but it's fairly hard to see from the air. You see that thin strip of sandstone in the center of the picture below? That's it. You really have to know where to look - it's not an overpowering natural wonder from the sky:). From the ground, however, it's a sight to behold.

Natural Bridge, Kentucky from 7500ft MSL

After wasting a little time circling over Daniel Boone National forest in Kentucky, we turned south and kept flying. Our route down was very similar to the route that I took when I flew to Bay Minette, AL along the gulf coast. That was the last flight of N7016G, but this time I was flying in the DA40, with a G1000 and longer legs. Since we had more fuel on board, we bypassed Rockwood, TN for Fort Payne, AL, just south of Chattanooga. We determined that Isbell Field (4A9) was just about the half-way point between Coshocton and New Orleans at 395NM enroute. The turn was very quick, the service was friendly, and the locals were talking about someone driving through their chicken barns. It's hilarious how you can walk into any small airport and it's like you've found the same set of old codgers, sitting around talking about the weather.
Looking south over the Appalachians, towards Knoxville, TN and the Smoky Mountains from 8500ft MSL

The winding Chattanooga River, cutting through the plateau right outside Chattanooga, TN. Beautiful!

Here's a nice little house with a Million-dollar view of the river valley!

A quick turn and refuel at Valley Aviation in Fort Payne, IN

After refueling, we headed south to Birmingham, AL, then south-west over Mississippi towards New Orleans. We called Birmingham approach and stayed away from the traffic, and about 40 miles south, we got handed off to...nothing. Apparently, there's no low-level ARTCC in this part of the country. After flying over endless swamps, hills, rivers, and few towns any bigger than Warsaw, OH, I can see why. Central Mississippi is almost a desert...with trees and the occasional river. One thing that has become abundantly clear to me during my air travels is that there is no shortage of open spaces and land in this country. While large metropolitain areas become more and more crowded, there is more than enough elbow room for billions of people in this vast land.
A river barge, loaded with grain, slowly chugging its way south through Mississippi

Central Mississippi

It's always dramatic as you approach the ocean. You see the coastline appear, first as a false horizon about 80-100miles out, then it becomes more and more apparent that you're looking at the coast, not the horizon. I knew from the maps that Lake Pontchartrain is huge, but you can't really get a good sense of how huge, until you see it from the air.

Looking south at the Gulf Coast near New Orleans and Biloxi, MS

The truly vast, truly shallow Lake Pontchartrain

North Coast of Lake Pontchartrain

Houses ready for the flooding along the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain

As we were over the middle of Lake Pontchartrain, Dad suddenly realized that we were missing LIFE JACKETS! Don't tell the plane that we're over water, I told him, and it'll never know. Besides, how else would you want to approach Lakefront airport? Over the flooded, bombed-out houses? Yeah, give me some dirty salt water anytime. We descended into Lakefront Airport, with a nice little 8KT cross-wind, landed, rolled out and parked the plane. It had been 745NM from Coshocton, and took about 6.4hrs on the Hobbs meter. Not too shabby for a day of flying! Now, next on the agenda was golf!

AHH!!! Water, Water, everywhere on the MFD!!!!

Lakefront Airport (KNEW) from about 8 miles out over Lake Pontchartrain

Short Final for 18R at Lakefront Airport (KNEW)