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On Veterans Day: A Vet’s Unlikely Flight Path to Landscape Architecture

In honor of Veterans Day, we’ve asked Max Geise to share some of his experience as a Vet and how he landed at Pashek + MTR.

Veterans Day is a special time for my wife and me. We met sometime in November of 2004 (she doesn’t know the exact date either), while training at Ft. Hood, TX. We were being deployed with an Army aviation task force for a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. Although we didn’t start dating until January, we use Veterans Day to celebrate our relationship, reminisce about the transformational times we had in the military (19 years combined), and remember the great friends we served with.

After ten years of living in Illinois, we decided to come back to Pennsylvania and make Pittsburgh home. Saturday will be our second Veterans Day here, and my first with Pashek+MTR. It seems only fitting to reflect on how my military experience as a helicopter mechanic has lead me to a career in Landscape Architecture.

I enlisted in the U.S. Army as a UH-60 Blackhawk Helicopter Crewchief in 1993. When I joined, I knew that I would be a mechanic. What I didn’t know was that my duties would also include being a flight crew member, and manning an M-60D as the door gunner. This meant that I would log many hours viewing the world in flight, from the aircraft I worked on.

My first flight crew assignment was with Company B, 9th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment at Ft Campbell, KY. On base, we raced across the tree tops, and dropped down under the tree level in fields and roadways, often while using night vision goggles.

Flying outside of the base’s airspace, we typically flew between 500 and 2,000 feet above ground level. In the pre-smartphone era, this was the perfect height for a young soldier to scout out nightlife areas in neighboring towns and map a route back later. I always loved to drive, so looking for interesting places from the air and trying to find them again in my car became a new hobby.

My second duty station was in South Korea. K-16 Seoul Airbase is near Seongnam on the southern edge of Seoul. This was my first experience outside of the U.S. and Canada, and I couldn’t get enough of the city. From the air, orderly rows of tall apartment buildings and hilltops of greenspace were islands in a sea of small buildings whose rooflines overlapped to hide a network of small roads and alleys.

By regulations, my rank was too low to own or drive a car in S. Korea, so most of my exploring was done by foot, bike, bus and subway (most). I spent as much time as I could trekking around the city, trying to find places I saw from the air.

I couldn’t read a lot of the signs, and soon became aware that I was looking for subtle queues in the landscape to help me navigate on the ground, and that those queues were designed for that reason. Returning to the states, I started recognizing the same kind of queues that had only registered passively or subconsciously before. One fence said “follow me to the entrance”, where another said “go away”. That was the beginning of my fascination with the built environment.

I also began to casually think about these things with changes in scale from pedestrian to aircrew. I started thinking about why a town was located where it was, and had it developed before or after the highway or railroad passing through it. It was fun to pick out the clues from the air.

I wasn’t able to do much ground exploring on the deployment, but I did spend countless hours flying over Kosovo and other small countries that had once been Yugoslavia. I thought about the ways in which the landscape and infrastructure impacted the cities and remote mountain villages during the war. Luckily, I did get to see the walled city of Dubrovnik, Croatia from the air and the ground. It was disturbing to think about how the walls that once protected the city from cannon fire only served to prevent people from getting away from modern artillery.

After ten years of flying around the U.S., S. Korea and Europe, I hung up my flight helmet and decided to go back to school. As luck would have it, I met a landscape architect when I was deciding what to study.

Landscape Architecture seemed like a perfect fit, and I couldn’t be happier with the decision. Since joining Pashek+MTR a few months ago, I have already been a part of projects ranging from designing playgrounds to joint municipal comprehensive plans. I no longer observe the natural and built environment from the air, but my work in landscape architecture allows me to continue learning about and shape the ways in which communities create and use spaces. I get to design at eye level, and plan at 10,000 feet. People are often surprised to hear that my time as a Blackhawk crew chief in the U.S. Army led me to what I do now, but for me, the path has made perfect sense.

Pashek + MTR becomes WBENC-Certified Women’s Business Enterprise

Pashek + MTR is proud to announce that we are now officially certified as a Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) through the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). WBENC’s national standard of certification requires a meticulous process, including an in depth review of business records and an on-site interview, to confirm that a business is at least 51% owned, operated, controlled, and managed by women (Pashek + MTR is currently 70% women-owned).  WBE certification allows us to assist our clients in achieving their diversity goals.  We’re proud to have women at the highest levels of management of our firm with Principals Missy Marshall, Nancy Lonnett Roman, Sara Thompson, and Kara Roggenkamp.

Pashek + MTR is an award-winning landscape architecture and community planning studio committed to improving our environment and the communities we serve.  A 2017 merger of Pashek Associates and MTR Landscape Architects joined two highly regarded, established firms based in Pittsburgh, PA. We present our clients with an expansive skill set that includes play spaces, parks and recreation, institutional site design, community planning, sustainable site design, and public and private gardens.

Thoughts on Obtaining a Remote Pilot Airman’s Certificate for Commercial Drone Use: Part 2

Want to be a commercial drone pilot? Here’s what you need to know.

As mentioned in our previous post, in order to fly drones for commercial purposes one needs to obtain a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate from the FAA as required by Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulation (14 CFR) Part 107. Their objective is to ensure the safety of the National Airspace System (NAS) and that small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) do not pose a threat to national security.  To obtain a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate, you first must meet the following requirements:

  • Be 16 years old
  • Be able to read, speak, write, and understand English (exceptions may be made if the person is unable to meet one of these requirements for a medical reason, such as hearing impairment)
  • Be in a physical and mental condition to safely operate a small UAS

Next, you have to pass the FAA knowledge test. This test evaluates your knowledge of the NAS and operations within the airspace.  Knowledge test topics include:

  • Airspace Classification, Operating Requirements, and Flight Restrictions
  • Aviation Weather Sources
  • Effects of Weather on Small Unmanned Aircraft Performance
  • Small Unmanned Aircraft Loading
  • Emergency Procedures
  • Crew Resource Management
  • Radio Communication Procedures
  • Determining the Performance of Small Unmanned Aircraft
  • Physiological Factors Affecting Pilot Performance
  • Aeronautical Decision-Making Judgement
  • Airport Operations


Further, it tests your knowledge of Chapter 107 regulations that establish specific operational requirements for small unmanned aircraft systems, such as:

  • Unmanned aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs.
  • Visual line-of-sight (VLOS) only; the unmanned aircraft must remain within VLOS of the remote pilot in command and the person manipulating the flight controls of the sUAS
  • sUAS may not operate over any persons not directly participating in the operation, not under a covered structure, and not inside a covered stationary vehicle
  • Daylight-only operations or civil twilight (30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset, local time) with appropriate anti-collision lighting
  • Must yield right-of-way to other aircraft
  • May use visual observer but not required
  • Maximum groundspeed of 100 mph
  • Maximum altitude of 400 feet above ground level or, within 400 feet of a structure, 400 feet above that structure
  • Minimum weather visibility of 3 miles from control station and must remain 500 feet from clouds
  • Operations in Class B, C, D and Class E surface areas are allowed with ATC approval Operations in Class G airspace are allowed without ATC permission
  • sUAS cannot be operated from a moving aircraft
  • sUAS cannot be operated from a moving vehicle unless the operation is over a sparsely populated area
  • No careless or reckless operations
  • No carriage of hazardous materials.

Chapter 107 indicates that the following regulations are subject to being waived in specific instances:

  • Flying at night
  • Flying directly over a person or people
  • Flying from a moving vehicle or aircraft, not in a sparsely populated area
  • Flying multiple aircraft with only one pilot
  • Flying beyond the pilot’s visual line-of-sight
  • Flying above 400 feet
  • Flying near airports/in controlled airspace

At this point, all you need to know was that waivers can be obtained. When we apply for a waiver we’ll share that experience with you.

Once you pass the exam the next step is to pass a security background check by the Transportation Security Administration.  This is accomplished by completing FAA Form 8710-13 for a remote pilot certificate (FAA Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application) using the electronic FAA Integrated Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application system. Upon passing the background check a temporary Remote Pilot Airman Certificate is issued. Then in approximately 60 days you will receive a formal certificate, like a driver’s license, in the mail.

While there are many critical factors to consider before flying your sUAS, the most important factor is to determine what airspace classification you will be flying within, and whether you must obtain FAA authorization to fly within that airspace. Generally, if you will be flying within 5 miles of an airport you most likely need to obtain authorization from the FAA. Currently it can take up to 90 days, or longer, for the FAA to act upon an authorization request. However, the FAA is working towards implementing an automated on-line system that will expedite the review process. In most cases once that system is on-line, most decisions should be made instantaneously. In some instances, applications will require additional time for review and decision. This will include applications associated with flying in controlled airspace of major airports and in close proximity to manned air traffic.

Once you pass through all of these tests and authorizations, you are free to fly.  Happy flying!

Thoughts on Obtaining a Remote Pilot Airman’s Certificate for Commercial Drone Use: Part 1

Recently, John Buerkle received a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate in the mail from the FAA. This enables him to fly a sUAS (Small Unmanned Aircraft System, aka drone) for commercial purposes, i.e. for work. The certificate is a very serious-looking wallet-sized card, much like a driver’s license.  This is his experience taking the test:

To obtain the certificate requires one to answer a slew of aeronautical based questions within a two-hour period.  60 questions, I thought how hard could it be? I’ve always considered myself a self-learner and good at taking tests. I followed the typical protocol, study the required information, schedule the exam, study further, cram for a couple of days in advance, then take the test. Generally, when taking tests, I typically finish well within the allocated time and leave with a pretty good feeling of how I’ve done on it. Well let me tell you, this exam took longer to complete and was much more stressful than I had anticipated.

To prepare for the exam I decided I was going to study all the free resources available on-line on the FAA UAS website as well as any others that I could locate. There were many. Once I felt like I was full of aeronautical knowledge, I took a sample on-line test provided by a UAS manufacturer. After not be able to answer the first half dozen questions I decided it was time to ‘hit the books’ again. After studying off and on in my free time in the evenings and on weekends (which these days seems to be few and far between), I was ready, I think, to take the exam. I scheduled the exam for 8:30 am on a Saturday morning at an FAA testing center, the Butler County Airport. I arrived at the airport a half hour early, as required by the FAA instructions.

At the appointed time, I was led to the test room and sat in front of what appeared to be a 1990 IBM PC, with the mouse on a short leash, located to the right of the keyboard (I’m left-handed). After the proctor left the room I ‘adjusted’ the tethered mouse to the appropriate location and began to take the test.

About ten questions into the exam I was feeling confident, then I began to hit a wall. The next several questions were very challenging, and frankly I was not sure I had chosen the correct answer, and I skipped a few so I could come back to them later. Well, after struggling through the remaining questions over the next hour I went back and answered the dozen or so questions that I had skipped. Some I was able to answer by deduction, while others were pure guesses.

At this point I was sure I’d be returning to take the exam a second time in a few weeks. About an hour and forty-five minutes into the allotted two hours I summoned the proctor to indicate I was throwing in the towel, I was finished. I was hot, sweaty and generally ready to be embarrassed for not passing the test.

Next, the proctor said I could review the questions that I answered incorrectly. The feeling of doom further set in. Finally, the protector said I will print your score. She handed the results to me and I had answered 48 of the 60 question correctly, for a passing score of 80%. Whew, I passed with room to spare, by six questions to be exact. Whether or not true, the proctor made me feel good b

y saying that most people pass with scores somewhere between 70 and 75%. At this point I was just happy that I was leaving the airport.

Looking back now, I realize that what I was doing was more like preparing for a second career. I found that landscape architecture and aeronautics have very little in common. I also learned that in aeronautic fields you speak a second language, one without any, or very few vowels, and in some cases, combine those consonants with numbers. For example:

KAGC 151832Z VRB03KT 10SM SCT030 OVC042 22/15 A3013 RMK AO2 T02170150

The above is a METAR. Oh, I forgot, you probably don’t speak the language, METAR is a Meteorological Terminal Air Report, i.e. current weather conditions. In this case for weather conditions for KAGC (Pittsburgh/Allegheny County) on 151832Z (the 15 day of the month at 1832 zulu time -2:32 eastern daylight time), VRB03KT (winds are variable direction, at 3 knots), 10SM (visibility is 10 or more surface miles, SCT030 (scattered clouds at 3000 feet AGL (above ground level) OVC042 (overcast cloud deck at 4200 feet AGL (above ground level), 22/15 (temperature is 22 degrees Celsius and dew point is 16 degrees Celsius), A3013 (altimeter setting 30.13),  RMK (end of METAR and beginning of Remarks), AO2 (site is automated and has a precipitation sensor), T02170150 (a nine digit place code indicating temperature and dew point to the nearest 1/10 degree, in this case 0 indicates the temperature is above Celsius, 21.7 indicates a temperature of 21.7 degrees Celsius, 0 indicates the dew point is above Celsius, and 150 indicates the dew point is 15.0 degrees Celsius.)

So now I think you understand the challenge set forth in gaining this certification. I also learned to read aeronautical maps. That’s another story for another time.

Next week I’ll share with you the Federal regulations and the specific aeronautical knowledge areas that you must be versed in to pass the exam.

New Park in Export Tells Story About Coal Mining While Serving Families

The Borough of Export is excited to announce the preparation of a Master Plan for a new park in the heart of town. JM Hall Jr. Park is located on the former site of the Export No. 2 Mine off Old William Penn Highway, next to the American Italian Club, and within easy walking distance from downtown Export. The park will aim to connect locals and visitors to the rich history of Export’s founding, former coal industry, and landscapes.

The park will be centered on a plaza simulating features of the mine during operational years. Restrooms inset into the hillside paired with a mural will give guests the illusion of walking into the mines. Extending across the plaza from the restroom “mine entrance” will be rail car tracks and a structure replicating the remnants of a tipple, just as an actual tipple once extended out over Old William Penn Highway. A picnic shelter is incorporated into this interpretive modern-day tipple structure, appearing to be a section of tipple with metal roof still intact.  Adjacent is a seasonal plaza which converts to an ice rink during winter.

A quarter mile scenic loop trail will extend from this plaza, connecting visitors to an open recreation lawn, amphitheater, nature playgrounds, vistas, a second picnic shelter, historic panels, and a woodland hiking trail. Interactive historic references include passing through a black locust tree grove, once used to provide supports for the mines, and recreated grassy tailing pile hills. Nature playgrounds include embankment slides, climbing rocks and logs, a sand pit, small tunnels, and a large grassy “tailing pile” with climbing features and a slide.

JM Hall Jr. Park will be capable of hosting small festivals, family reunions, picnics, and school groups. With the development of the regional trail along Turtle Creek to the entrance of the park and the new community park, visitors will stop and patronize the nearby local businesses during their visit. With the completion of the Master Plan in the fall of 2017, efforts will shift toward funding the construction of this wonderful park. Once built, JM Hall Jr. Park will join the other unique assets of Export, attracting both existing and potential families.

Child Care Center at Hort Woods Wins Design Award

We are pleased to announce that the Child Care Center at Hort Woods at Penn State has won a 2017 Merit Award from the Pennsylvania Delaware Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects! We were the landscape architect for the project, part of an integrated team including architects StudioMLA and nature play expert Robin Moore from the Natural Learning Institute. The design of the outdoor learning environment reflects the University’s understanding that environment is curriculum and that contact with nature is central to children’s well-being and development. The sensory-rich design provides a variety of settings and elements that immerse children in a daily experience of nature. Children develop ecological literacy as they play, learn, and build in the shade of mature oak trees preserved throughout the playground. Learn more here.

Missy honored with AHS Great American Gardener Award

This June, Pashek + MTR Firm Principal Missy Marshall was recognized at the 2017 American Horticultural Society Great American Gardeners Awards where she received the Landscape Design Award. This award is given to an individual whose work has demonstrated and promoted the value of sound horticultural practices in the field of landscape architecture. Congratulations Missy!

For full information about the Great American Gardeners Awards, click here.

Pashek Associates and MTR Landscape Architects have merged!

Award-winning Pittsburgh planning & landscape architecture firms Pashek Associates and MTR Landscape Architects have merged to become Pashek + MTR. By combining the strengths, specialties, and staff of both companies, we provide even greater capacity to help our clients realize their goals.

Pashek Associates, founded by Jim Pashek in 1984, has demonstrated excellence in park and recreation planning and design, community planning, and urban design. The firm is well known throughout Pennsylvania for projects that raise the bar for community engagement and sustainable site design in the public realm. Jim and his staff have particular expertise in facilitating an interactive and collaborative design process, which is an excellent fit with MTR’s core values of listening and responsiveness.

MTR Landscape Architects, founded by Missy Marshall, has had the privilege of working with botanical gardens and arboreta throughout the U.S. MTR has also been active in our local region, working with clients such as the City of Pittsburgh, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, and private residences. We are proud to serve veterans and their families with design work at National Cemeteries around the country.

MTR and Pashek Associates share a commitment to sustainability and improving the world around us, creating exceptional places that connect people with nature and with each other. Our landscape architects and community planners create exceptional outdoor environments for clients of all kinds, including nonprofit organizations, municipal, state, and federal government, public gardens, architects and engineers, and public & private schools and universities. We are a full-service firm with experience in every phase of project development, from planning to construction.

As Jim and Missy gradually transition into mentorship roles over the next several years, landscape architects John Buerkle, Nancy Roman, Sara Thompson, and Kara Roggenkamp will continue in a leadership capacity at Pashek MTR, putting a combined 78 years of experience of planning, site design and development at our clients’ fingertips. Our staff of talented, credentialed design and support professionals marries experience and creativity with skill in communicating with our clients and communities.

We’re excited to be a growing firm that values listening to our clients and being responsive to their needs. Underlying that responsiveness is respect – for the communities where we work, for the natural and built environment, and for people who use the spaces we plan and design.