Month: May 2017

Happy 6th Birthday Wish to John Zerbarini

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May 25, 2017


Today is my youngest sons 6th Birthday. I miss him so very much since he’s been away these grueling 1046 days. I miss the time lost and taken from us. I miss his little voice in the morning while I made coffee asking, “play with me Daddy, play cars and trains with me Daddy?”

First Officer John Zerbarini smiles
First Officer John Zerbarini in the cockpit of a BE200 with Thomas Zerbarini. I’m sure he liked the plane more than the little bag of cookies. Win Win!

I built my boys a play table for trains and cars that my older son Matthew handed down to John. He loved that table and all the fun things we would build together. He would spend hours on that table in his own little world and imagination much like I did when I was 4 years old.


John and I lost that table and all his cars and trains in the midst of our family crisis. I’ve been searching and piecing together those lost classic matchbox cars and Thomas wooden trains ever since. He loved those battery operated engines. It was nice to see him so excited about them.

Tom and John Zerbarini
Holding my little big boy on the Disney bus.

I would say to him: I have my own private Birthday wish for you John and I’m sure its the same as yours too. I would pick you up and give you the biggest hug and kisses for your Birthday and would never let you go the whole day. I Love you so very much my Birthday boy, my “Big Boy!”


Love Daddy

Thomas Zerbarini


Captain Dad: a daughters perspective and experience

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This is a wonderful account of the ups and downs, “baddah bump,” from a British Airlines Captains daughter growing up with a Dad as an airline pilot and Captain. I’m sure my sons and daughters have similar feelings and joys to share about their Dad being an airline pilot.

Alexandria in the Cockpit with Daddy
This is my daughter Alexandria in the cockpit with Daddy. Thomas Zerbarini is taking the picture with John in his lap. Alexandria always charmed her way into a seat when visiting the pilots.

I didn’t experience the silent treatment nor sobbing departures. The departures were difficult but I would promise to kiss and hug them goodbye no matter how late or early if they were asleep. Also, my trips were mostly 4 day trips and I would call them nightly before bed or at dinner time to hear about their day.

First Officer John Zerbarini
My son John commanding the controls with Thomas Zerbarini in a Beach B200 in Kennesaw, GA.

We definitely enjoyed the perks of travel and time off. I mostly worked the minimum I could to spend as much time with my kids and their school events and field trips. They’d even began to travel with me on my weekend trips when I had long layovers…they were the most fun experiences for me at work.

I enjoy hearing from other kids and adult children of airline pilots on their perspective on growing up and home life.

Enjoy this one from BALPA:

Emma Chisholm

Such is the nature of this career, it’s not only pilots themselves who are affected by the long hours, early starts and days away from home, these are felt by the rest of the family, too. Former BALPA employee and daughter of a pilot, Emma Chisholm, gives her account of growing up with Captain Dad.

One of my earliest memories as a child is hearing my father get up early and me rushing downstairs to cling to his leg so he couldn’t leave us for another week. After some effort on my dad’s part to prise me off, I watched sobbing as his car disappeared down the road. A week later he would return and I would ignore him for at least three days as an infantile means of punishment for leaving me.

As a parent now, I can imagine this must have been tough on my dad. But also as an adult I can reflect on just how much he meant to me (and still does) and how his role as a pilot elevated him to hero status in my eyes.

I was lucky enough to go on many trips with him and even luckier that I could sit behind him on the flightdeck. I loved to watch him prepare the aircraft for take-off and listen in on the super-serious communications with air traffic control. As we rumbled down the runway it was my dad’s hand on the throttle, he was making this machine fly!

The upside to being the child of a pilot is, of course, staff travel. I was lucky enough to travel the world throughout my childhood years and, as he became more senior, in rather lovely seats. They say youth is wasted on the young, and as the (now grown up) daughter of a pilot I can say that staff travel is wasted on children! As I turn right on every aircraft I board with my three tired/hungry/emotional children in tow I look longingly at the ‘comfy’ seats before the dividing curtain is whisked shut to spare the premium passengers the sight of my unruly brood.

Of course, there were downsides. Fatigue was a problem then, as it is today, and I remember dad was often tired or sleeping at odd times of the day. When dad had returned from a night flight (and I had passed my ‘ignoring for three days’ phase), I would wake him up by peeling open his eyelids “Daddy, wake up!” which was met with much grunting and grumbling. Incidentally, my father recently performed the ‘eyelid opening’ on me when I was having a sleep as revenge.

Then of course there were the missed birthdays and Christmases or the many childhood events where dad couldn’t come because he was either sleeping before a flight, away on a trip or sleeping after a flight. I find it hard enough when my husband is away for work for a couple of days, so I can imagine the repeated absences and ongoing tiredness/sleeping must have been hard on my mum.

But despite all of this, I grew up wanting to be a pilot, like my dad. I joined the air cadets and applied for the British Airways cadet scheme. Fortunately, for the safety of the travelling public, but less fortunately for me, I didn’t succeed and moved rather tangentially into a career in communications. But my love of aviation, from the love of my father, soon drew me back towards the airport and I have since been working in aviation communications.

I love airports, I love the smell of aviation fuel, I love the sound of jet engines and the sight of a 747 on final approach over our local park has me staring skywards until it’s out of sight. I am sure a psychoanalyst would have a field day with me!

My father finished his career with four years at the cargo operator GSS, an airline which sadly no longer exists. He loved these last years, the trips were interesting, the cargo was interesting (anything from formula one cars to rhinos!) and there were no passengers or crew to deal with. I, however, was dreading his retirement. I worried about how my relationship with my father would change when he was no longer the ‘man who could make planes take off’.

I wanted to be there to see dad’s last landing and thankfully GSS were kind enough to arrange for that to happen. He had no clue we were there and once he realised it was us standing on the tarmac by the marshaller he was so overcome with emotion that his legs went to jelly and he had to ask his co-pilot to apply the brakes. And then it happened… my dad descended the aircraft steps, gave the nose wheel a kiss and his career as a pilot was over. No party, no gifts just the crew bus to the carpark and a long drive home to Sussex.

Five years on and I am pleased to report my father is very happy to have traded the 18 wheels of his 747 for the four wheels of his beloved car. He has far more energy, far fewer illnesses and is delighting in spending quality time with his grandchildren. My fears about our relationship have proved unfounded as the passion he had for flying he has completely redirected into being an incredible grandfather. There is nothing he wouldn’t do for me and my family. My father may no longer a pilot, but he is still my hero. Except when he peels open my eyelids.

Posted on 19 May 2017

What is it like to tow a banner with an airplane?

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What is it like to tow a banner with an airplane?

Answer by Thomas Zerbarini:

Towing a banner is a challenge and a blast. It was a great way for me to build a lot of experience with low level operations and high drag low speed flight.

The best aircraft that I have experience with are the Piper Super Cub. It’s high lift low airspeed wing is excellent. With a 180hp engine, you can pull most any large panel banners.

I have most of my banner time in highly modified Cessna 150/152, C152 Texas Tail Tragger, and a 1960’s C182. I have a little time in the Super Cub and the Decathlon.

When I was banner towing my first year, the owner gave me the C182 as my bird. He did not trust anyone else to fly it except him and myself. (Even though I wanted to fly the much cooler tail draggers, It was an honor to be recognized as a skilled pilot and trusted with the most difficult aircraft to master). The C182 had double oil coolers, low stall “droop wings” installed and extended range fuel tanks 8:20 minutes flying time.

The C182 aircraft was in two accidents by previous pilots due to the heavy nose and forward pitching moment of the aircraft when towing a banner. To further complicate things, the aircraft was modified to pull the biggest and heaviest banners. When placing a heavy and high drag banner on the aircraft, the quick release mechanism becomes very difficult to release. To release the heaviest of banners required two hands to pull the cable. Letting go of the control wheel with the continuos forward pitching moment required a smooth touch to execute properly and safely.

Takeoff: the takeoff is straight forward and the same as any other takeoff. The difference is that we have a tow rope attached to the rear of the aircraft and capture “grapple-hook” at the other end of the rope. We secure the hook to the cockpit window for takeoff. Once airborne we toss the hook out the window and it dangles behind and below the aircraft.

Pickup: The pickup is my favorite maneuver. The pickup can be done immediately after takeoff, or a full traffic pattern flow to position the hook through the pickup trap. the objective is to “fly” the hook through the trap to catch the banner rope suspended between two poles. The pickup should be a smooth V shaped maneuver, not a violent high speed pitch change. We enter the trap at about 80–90 knots. With a successful pickup, we’ll lose about 15–25 knots due to the weight and drag. It is important to have proper speed to pick-up and climb out so as not to drag the banner across the ground or stall the aircraft once the weight and drag is placed on the aircraft.

The absolute most critical thing to do during the pickup, is to keep the ball centered in coordinated flight. When you are transitioning from an accelerating decent to a rapidly decelerating pitch up moment you will experience extreme left yaw tendencies requiring substantial right rudder input. (Torque factor, P factor and increasing thrust) Most pickup accidents are accelerated stalls due to inadequate aircraft coordination-keeping the ball centered.

Flight: Flight is very stable and smooth. With all that drag the aircraft flies very well. The only nusance is the requirement of continuous right rudder beyond most rudder trim systems. Many pilots bring a 2×4 to help with the continuos need for rudder input. Most of the time since we are so low, we are always looking for drop and landing areas in case of engine problems. We never want to hurt anyone on the ground and 300 – 1000 feet AGL is not much time to find a safe landing zone. (That’s 300′ over a beach only.)

Drops: Drops are usually uneventful and simple. Just factor the wind and don’t drop to low or too high. Weekend air traffic is the highest threat during these operations. As I said above, the C182 was a bear during drops because of the pitch forward and hard to pull release cable.

Landing: Landings are straight forward as well. We typically land just after the drop if there is enough runway, or we’ll execute a full patter for small airstrips or traffic conflicts.

Check out the FAA Circular

Banner tow flying was one of the most fun experiences in flying I’ve ever had. It’s not for everyone and can be dangerous for those who don’t receive proper training. The cool summer flying, the camaraderie we banner dogs had and the great pay made it worth missing all those summer beach weekends.

Thanks for the question. I enjoyed sharing my experience with you.

Thomas Zerbarini

What is it like to tow a banner with an airplane?