In the Simulator, Catastrophic Failure Is All in a Days Work

By Bryan Smith, Director of Cirrus Operations

Weather was severe clear with no wind, a perfect day to fly. Cirrus X decided to take off on runway 15 at Chesterfield, Richmond Executive Airport. After a final check and radio call, the pilot applied power and the aircraft accelerated rapidly. The pilot said to the instructor, “airspeed alive, engines gauges are in the green.” The instructor agreed and they proceeded. At rotation speed, the pilot pulled back and the plane lifted off gracefully.

In the corner of his eye, the pilot saw something. A flock of birds was heading right towards the aircraft. He yelled, “birds!” The instructor agreed and asked what are you going to do next? The pilot abruptly yanked back on the side stick and the stall warning blared. The aircraft was 50 feet off the ground, in a power-on stall. The student, an experienced private and instrument pilot with about 500 hours, tried to lower the nose and regain control, but the aircraft was falling, out of control.

“Cirrus X, maintain 6000, proceed direct LYH VOR as filed.” Within 4 minutes, the aircraft was nearly upside down in clouds and the pilot was asking the instructor, “What is going on”? The instructor sat quietly as the pilot worked the problem. The PIC quickly developed a new instrument scan and found the mistake. The standby attitude indicator and the PFD horizon did not match. Through cross checking multiple sources, the pilot determined that the standby was the accurate instrument, and the PFD was giving a false and unreliable horizon. Switching scan to the standby, the pilot efficiently returned to straight and level flight.

“Baron X, Left turn heading 360, maintain 2000 until established on the localizer, cleared ILS 33 approach Richmond Executive.” Current weather was 1700 feet overcast with light winds out of the north. The pilot, the most experienced Baron pilot on the field, rolled left to join the localizer. At that moment the left engine experienced a catastrophic failure. This quickly became a handful, as the aircraft kept rolling towards the left in instrument conditions. Soon the aircraft was nearly upside down. The pilot persisted, taking power off the remaining engine, identifying and verifying the bad engine, and reducing drag by feathering the bad propeller. After regaining control, the pilot looked to his right and said, “WOW! That was great practice, can we do that again”? I said, absolutely, and reset the conditions to duplicate that experience.

Don’t worry, no pilot, or for that matter, instructor was harmed in the making of these stories! These are tales from our simulator. These scenarios are real world possibilities. How would you prepare for them – through memory aids, chair flying, visualization? How about actually flying them in our simulator, so you’ll be ready if they happen in flight?

We have had the simulator just over three months now, and have put more than 100 hours on it. We have done more emergencies, and standard operating procedures in those 100 hours than ever could have been accomplished in a real aircraft, while saving time and expense. If you have used the sim with us already, then you have seen the huge advantages. If you have yet to experience it, please visit with us, and we can take your safety of flight to a new level. Oh and by the way, watch out for the deer. They can do some serious simulated damage!

To schedule a simulator session, call our flight training department at 804-271-7793.


Avionics Problem? Call Us First!

By Tony Nunes, FBO Manager and Director of Maintenance

Do you have an avionics problem or question? Before flying off to a distant airport, give us a call.

We don’t have an official Avionics Repair Station yet – though we’re working on it – but we can already handle most of the repair work that our customers need here on site.

We’ve been equipped to do 411 and 413 checks for some time. Those are the altimeter, static system and transponder checks required every 24 months.

Moreover, if something is your panel is not working right, we can troubleshoot your problem. We can change out the box and we can go through its setup procedures. We can also do firmware updates.

Avionics repair isn’t what it used to be. In the old days, a tech would have a bench full of test equipment, where he’d open up your box, change out faulty components and then bring everything into alignment. Today, your modern equipment, including everything from Garmin, Avidyne and S-Tec, goes back to the factory for repair. That’s their requirement. Field adjustments are in the form of software configurations and typically don’t require special equipment.

The net result is that we can handle most, if not all, of your needs right here.

Several customers have asked us to install new equipment, most often for ADS-B. New equipment that’s come to market has made that easier, too. Right now, the best option for most airplanes is Garmin’s GTX-345. It goes right into the niche of most airplanes we work on. It gives you ADS-B in and out and works with the other equipment that’s probably installed in your panel. There are some cheaper options, but Garmin is a major manufacturer and you can expect them to stay around to support you.

Sometimes people ask if the manufacturers and installers can handle all the airplanes that will need ADS-B before the Jan. 1, 2020, deadline. That’s a legitimate concern. Fortunately, the new equipment is easier to install, especially if you already have a WAAS antenna, and we’ve seen no shortage of supplies.

In fact, there was a new solution shown this year at Oshkosh that’s ridiculously simple to install. It’s a self-contained WAAS GPS receiver and ADS-B transmitter that sits out on your wingtip, where it replaces your original position light. It draws power from the position light circuit. You just mount it, configure it through Wi-Fi, and you’re set. There’s nothing else to attach and your mechanic doesn’t have to dig through the old wiring harnesses, which is always a risky proposition. This doesn’t give you ADS-B in, but it meets the mandate and you can use a portable solution for receiving ADS-B. If the manufacturer can get it certified and mass-produce it, that could be game-changer for general aviation.

To give you an idea how fast things are changing, we priced ADS-B for one of our jets two or three years ago. It was between $500,000 and $1 million. Today we can do it for a little over $100,000 and get not only ADS-B in and out, but synthetic vision, too. The technology is changing at light speed for all classes of airplanes.

Let’s get back to the question of whether the industry can handle the rush of installations between now and 2020. We have a little over two years left, so it’s too early to panic. Once we get well into 2018, though, if you don’t have a plan, I’d say you need to get moving.

Call us if you’d like to discuss options.

Aviation Unites Uphoff’s Far-Flung Ventures

You may know him for the former Uppy’s Convenience Stores. Or perhaps for Uptown Alley, the upscale bowling center. Or for the 18-story mixed-use residential building just announced for a site next to VCU’s new Institute for Contemporary Art.

Steve dress picture

Steve Uphoff


You may not know that Steve Uphoff, serial entrepreneur, is also a dedicated aviator and a licensed pilot for 39 years. A former Airport Advisory Board member, he owns a Cirrus and a half interest in a Beechcraft Premier 1A jet, both based at FCI, with an Icon light-sport amphibian on the way.

Uphoff has a low-key manner and looks younger than his 61 years. He recalls he caught the flying bug while in high school in Deerfield Beach, Florida. “My parents bought me an introductory flight, but said that if I wanted to continue, I’d have to earn my own money to pay for it.

“So I worked as a busboy at a local restaurant, the ‘Red Rooster’ and took flying lessons at the Pompano Beach Airport.”

Armed with a pilot’s license and a high school diploma, he applied to the Air Force for a scholarship. They offered it, but with a catch: “They said you passed the tests, but your eyes don’t pass and we’re going to make you a navigator.”


Uphoff and Pilot Jon McCrum

Uphoff didn’t want to sit behind the pilot, so he enrolled and was accepted instead at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, with plans to study aeronautical engineering.

Before his senior year in high school ended, though, “my father dangled the keys to the car and said Steve, do me a favor and drive up to the University of Florida and take a look at their campus before you make a final decision.

“I said sure. No intention of enrolling, of course. I just wanted the day off from school. So I got there and after walking past I think four outside swimming pools with hundreds of co-eds sunning themselves, I thought this was the college for me. I liked being a part of a 35,000-strong campus; Embry Riddle had like 2,000.”


Captain Steve

In college, Uphoff majored in mechanized agriculture – essentially engineering – and business. He worked nights and weekends at a gas station, “Campus Amoco,” became a self-taught ASE-Certified Master Mechanic and eventually taught night classes in auto mechanics at the university. Along the way, “I flew from time to time, when I could muster up the money.”

On Monday after his Saturday graduation, he started a 16-year career at Amoco Oil Company. “They were a great mentor and trained me really well,” he recalled.

“Then I went into my own Amoco branded station down in Emporia, built another in Chester, then my wife and I built a Dairy Queen in Petersburg and we just kept building and buying and went through seven successful acquisitions of other oil jobbers and convenience store chains. Then we bought 229 Exxon stations in 2009 and became the largest Exxon distributor in the United States.  We brought in a private equity partner and made that partner a lot of money when we sold the stores to Sunoco in 2013.


2011-model Cirrus

“We called [the stores] Uppy’s. They became A-1 Plus, which is Sunoco’s brand. Now they’re going to be switched to 7-11. I retained some of the stores here in Richmond and lease them to Sunoco.”

Uphoff said his flying continued during his early years at Amoco, but “Once I had children, I couldn’t get life insurance without a limited payout if killed while acting as pilot in command, PIC. I didn’t want my hobby to affect my kids’ and my wife’s future… I realized that as a pilot you have a responsibility to yourself and to the people you flew with. You couldn’t be a weekend warrior and be a good pilot at the same time.

“So I really stood down from flying for a long time while my [four] children were being raised.

“Then in February, 2005, my kids were grown and I decided to be selfish and start to fly again. I had some money for the first time and I decided to buy an airplane. I didn’t know what to buy and every plane that I brought to my insurance company, they said no, you haven’t flown in a long time and we’re just not comfortable insuring you in this plane.

“Finally they said why don’t you buy a Cirrus? We’ll insure you in a Cirrus. I said what’s a Cirrus? They hadn’t been around that long.

“I bought the plane and they insured me, but required I get an instrument rating.”

Uphoff flew to Duluth, Minn., to take delivery and flew back with a factory instructor pilot. The instructor stayed the week to get Uphoff checked out in VFR flying and to train Becky Luther as a Cirrus Certified Instructor Pilot. Dominion Aviation operated an earlier version of its flight school at the time and Luther was its chief instructor. With her Cirrus factory certification in hand, she trained Uphoff for his instrument rating.

“I didn’t realize how darned hard that ticket is to get,” Uphoff recalled. Despite the demands of his business, though, he applied himself. “Becky is a good instructor, very conscientious. She said she wouldn’t sign me off until she felt comfortable putting my daughter in the back seat of the plane with me flying IFR. It took a while, but I got certified and became an IFR pilot.”

“I remember Steve’s instrument training very well,” Luther said recently. “He earned his rating Dec. 3, 2005.

“Steve has a passion for flying and was an energetic and dedicated student who came prepared for his lessons… He passed his checkride with flying colors.

“Shortly after that he came into my office and said he wanted to buy a jet and the rest is history!”

With help from Dominion Aviation’s Mike Mickel, Uphoff partnered with a local businessman to buy into a Beechcraft Premier 1A, serial #249, in September, 2008. From the start, Dominion has managed the airplane.

“I chose a plane with my partner that’s certified for single-pilot flying because then I could fly in the right seat,” Uphoff explained.

Mickel suggested Jon McCrum, one of Dominion’s staff pilots, to fly for Uphoff and his partner. “We thought he’d be a good fit,” Mickel said. “I interviewed Jon and liked him a lot,” Uphoff recalled. McCrum has been flying for Uphoff and his partner ever since.

China Guest

With Chinese Partner Ding Zuo Hong

Uphoff has opened an Uptown Alley in Changzhou, China, in partnership with a prominent local investor.  “I bring my Chinese partners here and I fly them in the jet. It’s not something that you can do in China. They’re worth a lot more money than we are, but for them to fly in a private plane is very, very cool. I’ve taken them down to the Keys fishing and to Wisconsin to our resort and out to Phoenix and Manassas to our bowling centers and they love the experience. It builds confidence with them to fly with somebody in a private plane. They like to do business with people who are successful.

“I’ve taken the jet all over. We’ve been to the Bahamas, Mexico, the Cayman Islands, Canada.” There was also a memorable trip with the family to watch the last Space Shuttle Atlantis launch from Cape Kenney on July 8, 2011. “I don’t take it to China,” he continued, “because it would take multiple fuel stops.”

In the Cirrus “I can go to Wisconsin nonstop. I have a second home up there and a business. I go to Florida and the Keys. We have a business in Homestead and the Keys. I have family in Tampa and I go to Gainesville sometimes, but not nearly enough.”

The Icon will be “just a man’s toy. I live on Lake Chesdin, so I hope I can land on Lake Chesdin while staying away from power lines and boats. It’s just something to play around with. If nothing else, I can sell my [delivery] position for a lot of money.”

Uphoff also has a delivery position for a Cirrus jet – position number 456. It came with the new Cirrus he bought in September, 2011, replacing his original 2005 Cirrus.  Will he take delivery? “I don’t know. They’re producing them. It carries five passengers, has a 25,000-foot service ceiling and a single turbine jet engine. I’ll decide by the end of the year. Mike [Mickel] wants me to get it.”

The string connecting Uphoff’s diverse businesses, he said, is that “foremost, we’re a land developer. I like to think we take lemons and make lemonade out of them by finding properties that we feel have potential and then developing those properties to maximize value and give us a return. We have a lot of real estate assets.  We’re in seven states and three countries. That demonstrates we’re able to manage properties that are geographically remote. That’s a testament to the good management teams that we fortunate to attract. And having a couple of airplanes does help.”


Experienced Hands Steer the Tugs

Anyone who’s hangared an airplane using a hand tow knows it’s tricky. Using a towbar connected to a tug is even trickier, because of the extra pivot point. Yet the folks who do it every day make it look easy.

Bubba adjusted

Ernest “Bubba” Atkins

They’ve had practice. Two of them, Ernest “Bubba” Atkins, 71, and Ron Brown, 58, have been moving and servicing planes at FCI since 1973 and 1981, respectively. When Dominion took over the FBO from the county in 1991, they became Dominion employees. Today they’re the company’s longest-serving employees, aside from CEO Mike Mickel.

Both were experienced when they arrived. Atkins had been moving airplanes at Richmond International for 17 years and Brown had worked the flight line in the Army.

Both have trained a lot of new hands. Towing “takes a while to learn,” Atkins said. “The hardest part is backing up,” added Brown.

It’s an exacting skill, because a minor slip can cause expensive repair and downtime. When moving large aircraft, and often when moving small aircraft, too, Dominion crews use a spotter in addition to the driver.


Ron Brown

The airport has changed over the years, the two can tell you. There used to be a glider operation, Brown recalled, and no jets, Atkins added. “The state police helicopter was the only thing on the field that took jet fuel. When Mike [Mickel, of Dominion Aviation] took over we started getting jets.”

Atkins and Brown work alternate weeks, weekends and evenings. Brown also works at Enthalpy Analytical, a cigarette-testing laboratory. Atkins is retired from Borgwaldt, which makes machinery for the tobacco industry.

Brown earned a pilot’s license in 1986, but said he doesn’t fly much anymore. In spare time, he enjoys hunting and fishing. Atkins likes to fish and to make an occasional trip to a casino. Both have grown children.

“I met Bubba when I was 10 years old,” Mickel recalled. “That was when my mother was taking flying lessons at Richmond International.

“When we took over the FBO, a lot of things changed. But through it all, Ron and Bubba kept the line service running smoothly. I’ll always be grateful for the job they’ve done, then and since.”

Dominion’s Fleet Adds Cirrus, Chopper

Cirrus & Jet RangerDominion’s charter fleet is expanding to include a helicopter and, for the first time, a single-engine Cirrus.

The chopper is a Bell Jet Ranger III, model 206B. Set up for executive transportation, it can accommodate a pilot and four passengers. Its range with reserves is 2-1/2 hours at 120 knots. It’s well equipped, with ADS-B in and out, but limited by its certificate to VFR.

Like most aircraft in Dominion’s fleet, Dominion will manage and operate it for an owner who will also use it.

Mike Mickel, Dominion president, said he envisions work in aerial surveillance and for the real estate industry, for government agencies and for charter in places lacking nearby airports.

Dominion’s Cirrus charter, starting with a 2016 model, will operate under a new division with a separate certificate.

“I thought I’d never want to charter a single-engine airplane,” Mickel continued. “For a long time, the Baron was our entry-level charter craft. Most Baron charters are for one or two people. For that load, the Cirrus offers the same speed, more comfort and, with its airframe parachute, a comparable level of safety.

“And if you charter a Cirrus, you’ll sit up front, see the automation and realize that you could be the pilot. We think this will bring more people into aviation and ultimately bring more airplanes to Chesterfield County.”


A Memo from Mike


Mike Cropped 2017-03-14By Mike Mickel, CEO, Dominion Aviation Services, Inc.

Welcome to July’s Dominion Flyer. This time we’re profiling one of our most engaged aviation customers, Steve Uphoff.

Here’s a guy who worked part-time at a gas station while in college, then went on to become one of the largest petroleum dealers in the country. Today his businesses include not only convenience stores, but also bowling centers, a Wisconsin resort and commercial real estate.

With operations in seven states and three countries, Steve makes good use of general aviation. He also has a lifelong love for flying and has held a pilot’s license since 1978. He’s on his second Cirrus now and he’s half owner of a Beechcraft Premier Jet. He chose Dominion Aviation to help find a partner, to acquire the jet and to manage it. Jon McCrum from our staff is his regular pilot.

You’ll also read about two new arrivals in our charter fleet, a 2016 Cirrus and a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter. These are transformational changes that take us in significantly new directions. We’re especially excited about the Cirrus, because it will lower the barrier to entry for aircraft charter and stimulate more people to learn to fly and ultimately to buy airplanes.

Thanks again for your business and thanks for reading the Dominion Flyer. As always, we’ll welcome your comments and suggestions – and if there’s anything about Dominion or the airport that you’re wondering about, we’ll be happy to get you an answer.

Calm Days Provide their Own Brand of Excitement



By Bryan Smith, Director of Cirrus Operations

As pilots we love super calm days, especially in the pattern.  We can judge our inputs and be highly critical of our skills on each takeoff and landing. We can get to know our airplanes as an extension of our body and not just a machine. Try adding this to your next calm wind day with your instructor. Fine tune your short field landings. Add 5 knots on final to see changes to landing distance and float. Try an ILS without the autopilot and set the perfect power and trim to fly it spot on with marginal rudder forces. Feel the effects of P Factor on climb out at various angles of attack. We absolutely love no wind days; however I may be pickier on my choice of airport the next calm day.

We have talked about wake turbulence and wing tip vortices, how to recognize the situation and how to avoid it for almost two decades. I have experienced it, just a few brief times in nearly 18 years. On a calm day, doing steep turns you can experience your own wing tip vortices as a speed bump style singular bounce.

I feel very comfortable flying a jet into Atlanta Hartsfield and Orlando International, so when asked to fly a Cirrus there, I didn’t hesitate. The weather at KATL was visual. Not a cloud east of the Mississippi with calm wind and warm weather in the middle of winter. Calm would become the vital word.

I was number 11 for the right side, joining behind a CRJ 50-seat commuter. Behind me was a 737.  Approach Control asked if I could maintain 140kts or better, which I could. I was warned of wake turbulence from the CRJ that was about 4.5 miles ahead. I was keenly aware that as I got closer to the airport I would need to bracket in towards the runway, bringing me closer to the vortices. That’s when tower took the handoff.

Tower warned of wake turbulence and I acknowledged that I was adjusting for the preceding aircraft. Tower quickly came back and advised of additional wake turbulence from the runway some 2000 feet to my left. That day, the left side visual approach was all heavy aircraft; 767, 777, A340, 767, 757.

I thought, well ok, and then it hit me, literally. Not so much a hit, but a super, slow motion roll to the left. So slow that I did not realize until I had almost full right deflection needed to counter. I leveled off my pitch, and the wings rolled uneventfully to level. This happened two more times on the approach. I advised Atlanta Tower and did what I thought was needed to get out of the vortices from the aircraft in front of me. Then it dawned on me why Tower warned of the other runway. This slow roll was from the aircraft on the other runway’s approach. By the time they reached me, the vortices had dramatically slowed in their roll rate, but still had plenty of energy to affect me. Once the buildings in the middle of the airport changed the trajectory of the wing tips, the rest was uneventful. This was very different from the snappier roll behind the heavy, dirty and slow 757 5 miles ahead of me going into Orlando, also on a calm day.

Two very different experiences of wake turbulence. The Atlanta approach and tower seemed to be overly concerned about my well being from vortices from an adjacent runway, while Orlando asked me to keep up my speed until short final and made one wake turbulence call out on short final for a departure 737 aircraft after the 757 landed. Both airports had calm winds with similar size aircraft on parallel runway visual approaches. I have learned that calm wind days can be full of excitement!




Not All Our Repairs Are Made in the Shop


By Tony Nunes, FBO Manager and Director of Maintenance

You might think running a maintenance shop involves a lot of time in the hangar swinging a wrench. Actually, there’s a lot more adventure in our work than you’d imagine.

I was visiting the other day with one of our long-time customers. He reminded me of a time our work took us out of the shop – way out of the shop.

One of the customer’s pilots had dinged the prop on a Baron while landing on a grass strip out of town. The plane wasn’t going anywhere with that prop, so the customer called us for help. John Holland, one of our mechanics, grabbed some tools and hopped in the car. The props were close to overhaul, so they decided to bring both of them back and leave the plane.

A few days later, after a prop shop had completed the overhaul, John drove back out, installed the props and the Baron was back in the air.

We do a lot of off-site repairs, and even more off-site consultations. When a customer encounters a mechanical problem on the road, we’re just a phone call away. We know the airplane, so we can help diagnose the problem and either send one of our mechanics or advise a local shop. We’ll often have the needed parts in stock, and we can ship or bring them.

In fact, we’re probably one of the few shops anywhere – and the only one locally – that routinely repairs off-site breakdowns. With two Cirrus and two Baron airplanes at our mechanics’ disposal, we can often have a customer flying again in a matter of hours. We’ll tell you more about this later.

A few years ago, I had a particularly exciting consultation. One of our customers is Delta Airport Consultants, an engineering firm that operates several airplanes here on the field. One day Charles Lamb, the owner, called me and said N21DA, a Baron, has a landing gear problem. A bigger problem was the plane was then in the air over West Virginia.

I asked why are you calling me? He said I told the pilot to fly to you. The gear wouldn’t come down electrically and the pilot couldn’t crank it down.

If a disabled airplane was headed our way, I wasn’t going to take chances, so I called 911. That brought the fire department, but it also brought every TV station and newspaper in town.

We have a Baron of the same vintage, so I bought it into the hangar and put it up on jacks to simulate the situation. Then I took a radio to a quiet place away from the crowd. I talked the pilot through the process and gave him confidence. Slow your airspeed and calm down, I told him.

I gave him the proper way to work the crank, to make sure it’s properly engaged. He said it’s hard to turn. I told him, turn it until it breaks. You have nothing to lose. Next thing he said it’s moving. Then he had three greens. Happy ending.

The Fire Department asked me to please talk to the news people. We’re normally reluctant to make public statements, but that was an exception. That was my “radio rescue.”

It was all in a day’s work – but I’m glad it’s not every day!

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