Thursday, October 27, 2011

Engineer steered Americans to the moon

 That engineer is my grandpa!  He is such a smart and amazing man, I love to hear his stories from his Apollo days.  The following was recently published in my hometown newspaper.

October 26, 2011
By Joe St. Henry Review Editor

Each January, Lake Orion resident Harlan Neuville, 80, and his family clear snow on the frozen lake where one of his ten children lives and enjoy a day of firing model rockets high into the sky.

Watching the streaking toys undoubtedly brings back memories of Neuville's days working on NASA's Apollo space program. He played an important role in launching America's astronauts into orbit and then taking them to the moon and back.

"President Kennedy had no choice but to say we're going to the moon (in 1961), since the Russians had already beat us to Earth's orbit," he said. "This would take entirely new technologies and systems. He said we would accomplish it within ten years and we made it."

Neuville was an electrical engineer at the time, working for Delco Electronics in Milwaukee. He was building guidance and navigation systems for the Titan ICBM nuclear missiles. The navigation technology employed to navigate a ship through space was similar, so he started working on these systems for the Apollo program.

"I definitely thought it was possible to send a man to the moon," he said, noting that the many engineers on the Apollo project regularly worked 60-70 hour work weeks. "We had a three year jump, since we'd already developed a system like this for the Titan program. It would have to be adapted for the Apollo program, but we were always working with the latest technology available."

Neuville said hundreds of thousands of engineers and support staff mobilized across the country – most of who worked for private companies and universities – to develop the space ship, booster rocket, command center and launch tower. The U.S. government engaged the scientific community to reach the moon much like it did to build the atomic bomb, Neuville said.

The question on everyone's minds, Neuville added, was would the Saturn V rocket work? Smaller booster rockets had put one- and two-man space capsules into space, but a moon shot would require a three-man orbiter, plus landing module and other equipment.

During the Apollo program, Neuville was in Mission Control to manage the space ship's navigation and guidance systems. His team helped astronauts orbit the moon for the first time. In 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to land on its surface.

"We were just relieved that the technology worked," he said. "It got them there, but now we had to get them home. We weren't sure if they could actually get off the moon.

"Nobody celebrated until they splashed down in the ocean," he admitted.

There were plenty of nervous moments for the engineers, none more unsettling than during the Apollo 13 mission, where an explosion onboard the space capsule on the way to the moon severely damaged the ship and endangered the crew.

"We had to shut the navigation and guidance systems down to conserve power," he said. "These were very delicate components and were designed to stay on the whole time. Once we shut them off, we had to sweat it out because we weren't sure if they would turn on again.

"We took a big chance, but there really wasn't an alternative."

Fortunately, the engineers' gamble paid off. The ship eventually returned home five-days later with the astronauts' oxygen supply virtually exhausted.

Neuville supported a total of six lunar landings, the last of which took place in 1972. After that, he worked on navigation and guidance system-support for Skylab and the Apollo-Soyuz space mission with the Soviet Union.

Delco Electronics did not win the contract to help build the space shuttle, so Neuville was assigned to parent company General Motors Corporation's technical center in Warren, Mich., in the late 1970s. He worked on various transportation systems, as a director.

He watched the shuttle program, which ended this year, from a distance.

"I thought the space shuttle was really cool,"Neuville said. "We took people other than test pilots into space. They were scientists with a different outlook on why we should be there.

"We've learned more from the Hubble telescope (put in orbit by the shuttle) than anything else," he added.

Neuville retired from the automotive industry in 1995. In addition to teaching computer science in the past at Oakland University, his love of flying and space has never waned. He likes to fly radio-controlled airplanes – some with wingspans as big as 12 feet – as well as launch his model rockets.

"I don't build rockets now," he said. "I just like to fly the plastic, assembled ones. Those are a lot easier."

Neuville hopes the United States returns to space someday. "Man is curious," he said. "We gotta go."

Surprisingly, he said he never wanted to step foot in the shoes of the astronauts he worked with during the Apollo program.

"No, I couldn't tolerate the training," he said. Those astronauts were very motivated people. Heck, they were fighter pilots and had that mentality. You put me in 10gs (ten times gravity) and I would die."

Today, Neuville speaks in front of groups about the Apollo space program, his small role and the technology involved in putting people on the moon 50 years ago. His next presentation is on Oct. 27, at the Orion Township Public Library.

"People are just awed by my stories," he said. "It's hard to explain. We were just ordinary people doing our jobs. But, given the right organization, we did an extraordinary thing. We sent man to the moon."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Great Weekend Flight to Blowing Rock, NC

Ok, so the previous post I asked you to guess where I was based on that picture (if you read regularly and saw the post before that you had the answer).  "It's THAT cold in North Carolina?!" you say?  Yes.  It is when you are hiking over a mile up into the sky!  What an AMAZING trip this was!  So much that I have several new restaurants to review on Yelp, a great new airport to tell you about, as well as an awesome town.  There were so many great outdoor activities, including probably one of the coolest hikes I have ever done.

It was just under a two hour flight from Frederick to KGEV, Ashe County Airport in Jefferson, NC.  The view was amazing the whole flight there, albeit a bit bumpy, above all of the orange mountaintops.  The runway was on a plateau, carved out of a mountain.  The runway was recently repaved and the taxiway was in the process of being repaved as well.  It was just over 4,000 feet and they are carving out more of the mountain to extend it to 5,000 feet.  The whole airport was in great shape, including the facilities.  Gas was reasonable at $5.50/gal.  A Huey was doing practice water firefighting while we were there, which was quite fun to watch.  Soon it was time to grab our rental car and head out on the 50 minute trek to our bed and breakfast in Blowing Rock.

It was peak season in the high country of North Carolina due to the fall colors.  Downtown Blowing Rock is full of great shops from artwork created by local artists to tourist items.  They had some great restaurants including a fudge and ice cream shop that sold Mackinac Island Fudge!  Each night we would stroll around town checking out the shops while drinking some hot cider, before tucking into the cozy Homestead Inn.

The main reason for heading to blowing rock was to hike Grandfather Mountain.  At 5,946 feet, Grandfather is the tallest in the Blue Ridge Mountain range and dubbed the most rugged mountain in the East.  The hike started off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, taking a winding road up to the Mile High Swinging bridge.  Many families were up there taking pictures and taking in the beautiful view.  After snapping a few of our own, it was time to start the hike up the mountain via Grandfather Trail.  Although the hike starts far up the mountain, as the many signs warned us along the way, the remainder would be strenuous.

While not the most strenuous hike we have encountered, it was definitely the most treacherous.  Cables and ladders were placed throughout the trail to help aide in ascending/descending the steepest sections of the trail.  It was very cold over a mile up the mountain, and frost covered the trees and ice made the ladders and rock faces steep.  One such area, called "The Chute" was so icy that we had to slide down on our bottoms and let the knots in the cable slow our decent.  We would summit two peaks, Macrae and Calloway in our journey and catch sweeping views of the mountains the entire trek.  We started at the Swinging Bridge just after 9am and would arrive back at our parking area just before 4pm. That wasn't the end of our trip on Grandfather Mountain, though, we then went to the nature museum on the drive down as well as the habitats that had bear, cougar, and otter.
The following day we were ready for more outdoor activities, we enjoyed a three hour canoe trip on the New River.  Don't let the name fool you, the New River is actually the second oldest in the world.  We now have a new "to do list", since we've already boated on the oldest river in the world (the Nile in 2010).  Both happen to flow north.  We now want to continue discovering new rivers in order of age.  As luck would have it, the third oldest is also in western North Carolina, the French Broad River (yes we took that name wrong at first too, lol).  The river required little effort, with the wind and current doing most of the work, with some fun in some minor rapids.  We took a picnic break on a small island on the river and were joined by the "river dog" Moose.  She followed us the entire trip and joined us for the drive back to our car.  Apparently, this is her daily routine when people take to the river.  She was quite a bit of fun!
Monday it was time to leave, but not until we enjoyed another drive along the gorgeous Blue Ridge Parkway and took a stop to do the 1.2 mile loop hike to the Cascade Falls.  It was such a lovely day to end our trip, with a easy hike through the woods and over a babbling creek to the falls.  

We gassed up and departed, but before heading back towards Frederick we headed towards Grandfather Mountain to get some aerial photos of the peaks we had conquered and the Swinging Bridge.  It was mighty bumpy, but we managed to get a few good shots.  This was such a wonderful trip that I would highly recommend to anyone looking for a long weekend trip, whether my car or my air.  I cannot wait to head that way again and check out some new trails and mountains.

You can check out more pictures in the gallery!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Seriously? Enough with the TFRs!

This is insane.  We are heading to NC soon, I'm thankful the route keeps us clear of that mess.  Almost looks like the wheels on a train...

Friday, October 14, 2011

Connie's Story: Flying to the Fullest

The March Fly it Forward Event in Frederick brought in many unique women going for their first flights, however, one special woman stood out in the crowd.  I was too busy running around that day to meet her but had the honor to share time with her over the coming months.  Thanks to Fly it Forward, Connie is hoping to solo by the end of the year. She is an eager new member of the Ninety-Nines group I belong to. and her pilot from the event is now her mentor!   Connie is applying to Women in Aviation International scholarships right now to help her finish her journey to her private pilot's certificate, it was through this that I learned her remarkable story.  Connie has conquered many hurdles, and I believe will continue to fly above them, living each day to the fullest.  By the way, you still have time to get your essays in!  They are due November 14th, take advantage of all the scholarships they have available!

Connie's story:
In October of 2009 my husband, Robert, was diagnosed with cancer. We scrambled to find the very best doctors to help him, and within a few weeks he was recovering from surgery, and doing well. A number of months later, he was declared cancer-free. During this time I burned through my available leave time at work (we lived in Ohio at the time), and returned to our home in Maryland that we'd be unable to sell. We returned with no job, but despite that fact, this horrible experience with cancer made both of us realize how very short life is, and how we need to open ourselves to living each moment to the fullest. We had to trust that everything would work out in the end. We were also very thankful for the ability to get to a top hospital, with top doctors, and we knew then that it was important to find a way to help others going through cancer.

In the year and a half since our return, we've learned new things, and tried things we never thought possible before. We took cooking classes together, we learned to sail – all kinds of things. And when I saw an ad for a women's Fly it Forward event, my husband encouraged me to go for it. I showed up, knowing no one, and was assigned to go up for my very first small plane ride with a wonderful female pilot – close to my age – and she was so amazingly encouraging! She really did want to see other women learn to fly. The view from "up there" was amazing, and despite my nervousness, I had a wonderful time, and wanted to know that feeling again. At the end of my flight, I received a certificate, and even got a coupon for a discounted intro flight – and I got a great new friend, too!

It took a few months to get up the nerve to call for that intro flight, but I did, and now, I'm a student! I've only got a few hours logged so far, but I know that have to do this – I mean, I really have to fly! I never want to be earthbound again! My greatest hope is that I can use flying for so much more than "just" flying – my goal is to help other cancer patients get to the doctors and hospitals that are best suited to help them, and to enable their loved ones to be with them. I want to take this great gift that I've been given, and use it to help someone else.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ok, who did it?!

Bob left work last night (or I guess this morning) around midnight and came back in to wake me up going on about some fire hydrant.  I thought I misunderstood in my sleepy stage, however, there was a fire hydrant...

What a unique way to congratulate us!  Now who is going to fess up to this? :o)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Fabulous Fall Flight

Everyone was out flying this afternoon, our on board traffic proved it!  There was not a cloud in the sky and the air felt fresh and crisp.  Also fresh and crisp were our locally grown apples, a perfect snack for a quick flight up to visit Bob's parents.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

When the plan goes out the window

Ok, I may be biased because I know her personally after she wrote an article about me earlier this year, but I really enjoy Jill Tallman's articles.  The following is no exception, it's about proper planning and how quickly things can change in the cockpit how carefully you do plan.  On the first page you can check out an introductory video from local pilots and what they do in pre-flight, yours truly included!

Check it out!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Love was in the air...

To keep up with the engagement theme, I thought I'd share this fun little tidbit.  Bob and I met on a MySpace pilot forum several years ago.  Eventually our conversations left the forum, then the internet, and were in person.  The rest is history.  I went to my MySpace for the first time in ages today to find that first message between us.  Bob went as a crashed Steve Fosset for Halloween (not classy!) I was a cute Rainbow Bright :)

----------------- Original Message -----------------
From: Vic-a-licious
Date: Oct 31, 2007 9:39 AM

So will anyone go in a plane with you after seeing that picture?

----------------- Original Message -----------------
From: Bob
Date: Oct 31, 2007 7:50 PM

Haha!! not likely! would you??!

----------------- Original Message -----------------
From: Vic-a-licious
Date: Nov 1, 2007 12:51 AM

Eh-I'd fly with anyone! Well, that's partially because half my friends won't fly with me :) Well, I did freak one out flying one day and just went into a steep turn for the heck of it-forgot that to other people it's scary, it's just fun for me!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Leesburg Airshow

Rain.  Wind.  Cold.  Runny nose.  

Doesn't sound like fun, does it?  That part was torture.  We got to see airplanes, though!

The part of the show I was most looking forward to was seeing Jane Wicker wingwalk.  She came to my Fly it Forward event last year and I have been dying to see her in action.  Unfortunately the strong winds and rain caused the show not to go on.  I don't blame her, I would not want to be wingwalking in those conditions!  Luckily we did get to see her beautiful Stearman, Aurora in action.

Also in attendance was a helicopter demo, an Extra performance, a skit with a Piper Cub, and a Grumman Caribou (very interesting) dropping skydivers.

It was too bad it was so cold, it made the show a bit miserable.  Hopefully next year will be full of sunshine and clear skies!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Episode #10 of the Stuck Mic AvCast is out!

Our second LIVE broadcast in our behind the scenes look at recording Episode 10 of the Stuck Mic AvCast. Here, for your listening pleasure, is the final product with all the trimmings! Enjoy!