Wednesday, April 27, 2011
I work with some very tech savvy pilots. Many tweet more than the birds in my back yard;their Blackberry's were replaced by an iPhone or Droid some time ago, not to mention the iPads that come out at lunch time in the pilot lounge. Recently at our April "Wings/Call Back Workshop" Galvin CFII Chris Smith gave an excellent talk about the almost 200+ aviation apps available where he attempted to quantify value and show the pitfalls of this fast evolving and almost surreal market. We had room for 50 but several more pilots crowed in for standing room to listen to the presentation which had the unique title of "Down the Rabbit Hole" (Alice in Wonderland). Now, I've personally held off buying an iPhone or an iPad, because I'm not sure I can really justify their use. Interestingly, that was one of the summations of Chris's talk, I.e. can that app on your iPhone, Droid, or iPad really enhance the safety of your flight? And if so-when?
Right now, the grand majority of the apps do their finest work in the preflight planning stages making those pesky calculations on weight and balance, take off performance and routing really simple and fast to do. Of course, you still have to take a moment to plug in the info and there are those pilots that are just too busy.
While many apps are intended to be used in the cockpit one should consider if you've the room, cabin altitude for the unit(some have 10,000MSL limit), the ability to divert attention from hands on flying, and screen readability or reflectivity in sunlight. Yup, lots of things to think about and it's your call on that one.
If you've already decided that the "i" gizmo is for you then you might consider Hilton Software's Wing X Pro 7. It was designed and built by a team led by Dr. Hilton Goldstein. When I was with Seattle Avionics years ago, Hilton would call to discuss some changes in the Voyager or Smart Chart platform that he was adapting to his then PDA program called Wings X. His calls were so candid you could feel the energy and excitement in his voice about the product he was creating. Recently, Bruce Williams, a fellow CFI here at Galvin, wrote a product review on Hilton's latest version of Wing X for the smart phone/pad market. It's a great read.
When it comes to apps, take a look at the field; just the time spent in the journey is almost an adventure through the looking glass.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
When the rains start lashing the Serengeti plains it signals the return of the Central African rainy season. With no flying to do a pilot travels from her home in Africa to request my services for a Flight Review. I was pleased to see this person once more as I am in awe of her skill and daring working as a professional pilot in a part of the world that has mystery, intrigue, abysmal airports, limited flight aids, possibly unhappy natives, and many dangers lurking in the grass. This time her spirits, so bright and high in the past, seemed dim- almost as if she was suffering from a malaise. I knew she was flying a Cessna Caravan in a very exciting area of Africa and doing a great job for her company, yet as we started on the ground portion of the review she seemed hesitant as if she doubted her abilities. I always give a little test that is based upon the level of the pilot’s certificates and ratings and as usual she aced it. Since she hadn’t flown the G1000 system in a year or so, we went into one of our FTD’s to get her G1000 skills up to speed. Little by little the spirit I had known started to reappear and that afternoon she accomplished the flight portion with professional aplomb.
After the review I noticed in her logbook that she had had some training in the previous year from a well known nation-wide flight school. She grimaced, acknowledging the training and then told me the story. A prospective employer had offered her a better job if she had a US multi-engine ATP. While she had thousands of hours flying single engine recip’s and turbo props, she had less than 30 hours in twins spread over a two-year period and all based upon a foreign multi-engine rating. So, trusting the ads in the aviation magazines and comments on the web she flew to the states to get her multi-engine ATP at this well-known organization.
The flight school and the CFI assigned to her could see no problem with her obtaining a multi-engine ATP in just 5 hours with her very modest experience, even if it was in a different make and model twin and all of that flying in VMC conditions. It came down to the color of her money.
The CFI seldom acknowledged her presence when she came to the school each morning and his daily pronouncements that he was counting time until the regional carriers hired didn’t help. He didn’t seem to care if she understood the aircraft systems nor was the guidance given particularly helpful if it was about time for lunch. Through this all the ATP PTS was discussed for about 10 minutes in total. On check ride day the staff DPE seemed in a hurry and seemed to have an attitude that he didn't wish to be there. The oral section went into areas different from the tasks she had been advised to prepare; but a smart gal she kept that part of the evaluation together. The flight portion of the evaluation went badly almost from the get go. Clutching her pink slip she came back in two days for more training (same looser CFI) and took another check ride gaining another pink slip. Emotionally devastated and thousands of dollars lost, she returned to Africa and a year later was sitting across the table from me telling the story.
I asked her if she wanted to still get an ATP. Yes, she did, but she couldn’t afford to do it in a multi. Ok, why not get a single-engine ATP now and get the multi-engine add-on at a later date? She became very cautions and asked, “Do you really think I can fly to those standards?” Knowing her excellent work over the last six years I replied to the affirmative and we began to train the next day. With one day’s study she retook and passed Her ATP written with a 94%. For the next five days each morning was a session in a G1000 FTD or ground discussions on the ATP PTS; each afternoon-rain, wind, or shine we flew numerous approaches at the local airports. This Saturday we flew to Bellingham (KBLI) and the bright and positive applicant was presented to DPE Rick Luke (aka Officer Luke, Bellingham PD-Retired) for the ATP check. Needless to say, she passed with the professional skill that is part of her character and exemplary stick and rudder ability.
The road to the airlines or corporate world in one many a CFI has walked, and granted it is seldom lucrative or without ruts. But the student still should expect our best and nothing less. What ever we teach, what ever we say will stay with that student-sometimes forever. Right or wrong it becomes part of the how they fly and can become the key to their success or failure at a critical moment.
Good instructors are not found by counting the ripped shirt tails on a wall proclaiming a successful solo or official looking plaques behind his/her desk; nor is the one with the cheapest rates or the most flight time in heavy equipment the best choice. Being a good CFI is more than skill at maneuvering an airplane or knowledge of all the endorsements required in an applicant’s logbook. To me, it is an attitude and keenness to stress the fundamentals when one is learning at the early stages and then continuing to require that you the student, no matter your ratings or accumulated flight time not only measure up to-but EXCEED-the bar for what ever level certificate or rating you quest. Being a good CFI also requires understanding and a bit of psychology giving praise when things go well but straightforward counseling when needed. How this is accomplished is by wearing many hats during the training and anything less is a disservice to the student and to your CFI certificate. Your comments?
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Like most student pilots I was shown how to perform a pre-flight by my first instructor. For the first few hours I performed each pre-flight in a cautious and exacting manner-then it became rather ho-hum and sloth took over. Luckily, I started working after school and on week ends as a mechanics helper/gas boy/broom pusher at the airport for a mechanic/flight instructor named Dale Grenniger. Under Dale’s sometimes strict guidance I finally learned the importance of a pre-flight.
This was 1957, when there were four grades of aviation fuel, 80/87 (red), 91/96 (green), 100/110 (blue) and 115/145 (purple). Man, did that 115/145 smell goooood. Through the hanger doors were rolled some very unique airplanes for our service. Sure there were “modern” aircraft by Cessna, Piper, Mooney or Beech, but now and then came a Model 17 Staggerwing, a Stearman or N-3-N used for aerial application, the big single engine Fokker with a corrugated fuselage out of the Idaho wilderness, a Gull-Wing Stinson or Fairchild 24 and a sexy corporate A26. None of these airplanes were polished like you see at Oshkosh today. These were working airplanes and each had their “hiccups”.
We saw things hay-wired or doped together that you would not believe. Exhaust stack supports that had long ago rotted and broken away leaving the stack held by wire or in one case allowed to bend with the relative wind. Once we started an annual inspection on a crop duster but Dale called it off. He had placed his pliers on the top wing for a moment when we heard the tool hit the floor. Thinking it had slid off the wing I went down the ladder to retrieve it and looked up to see a hole punched through both wings. The fabric was so rotten, only fading paint held the brittle cloth fibers’ together.
Usually it is the professional pilots that are the least casual about pre-flights. You learn that to survive one must be wary. During one of my furloughs, I was asked to deliver a light twin from Florida to New Mexico. But when I got to the airplane there was no pilot seat, only three wooden Coca-Cola cases. The owner said the pilot seat had been stolen but it was OK to fly the airplane because the crates were stable. He was very unhappy when I said no. Later I learned the bank was in the process of repossessing the plane and had sent someone to take the seat in hopes it would ground the airplane until a repo-man could fly her away.
Another time I was asked to fly a Cessna 170B from a farmer’s strip to the city to be sold. During the pre-flight I found the control lock was nothing but 16-penny nail-simply bent to fit. The nail was such a loose fit and the hole in the control column so out of round one could almost fool one’s self into believing there was full control movement-unless you looked closely enough to pull out the nail. The owner had flown the Cessna almost daily from his farm strip to town until the day he died in a car wreck. His wife called the 170 ‘his truck’ and that’s exactly what it looked like. Dirt and grit caked everything. The engine oil looked like Oklahoma crude and one fuel tank was a quarter full of water. The flap track assembly was so worn from use and lack of service the manual flaps would not lock in the up position. The pilot’s seat rails were so worn the owner had drilled a hole through the rail and then into the fuselage after which he stuck a screwdriver into the new hole to keep his seat from sliding backward. I passed on that one too.
One time in the Caribbean a friend complained that he could not raise the gear and had flown 300 miles to the maintenance base in San Juan with it stuck down. When we inspected the airplane, I found a very rusty “C” clamp used as an unapproved gear pin. It was placed well up in a dark, oily wheel-well where it was hard to see and had no markings or flags.
There are countless examples makeshift items such as masking tape holding circuit breakers in place or a wadded up aluminum gum wrapper used in the place of a fuse. The airplane you fly may be of a new design with the nicely engineered and organized layouts common to TAA aircraft. Yet, be it new or old there is never any reason for not doing a through pre-flight. You never know what you may discover and if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong in the air; just when you don’t need the aggravation. I guarantee it.
Sunday, April 10, 2011
I had the pleasure of flying with and knowing a large group of Cuban’s 40+ years ago. They had all left their country after Castro took over. A couple of them stole boats; one flew his whole extended family out in a large Russian crop duster. Several left the island as crew members at the controls of a Cubana Airlines transport. They crossed into Florida, Santo Domingo, Panama, or walked off a plane during a fuel stop in Canada into an uncertain future. The ones that took a plane or commanded it were on Castro’s death list. All missed home.
The faint lights below us wink out one by one as we pass out to sea. In the coal dark sky ahead faintly a few pinpoints of lights begin to appear. I contact Miami Center and say hello. Armando is now looking aft of the wing; a faint glimmer to the west is all he can see of his Cuba; but of that he treasures like a man glimpsing his last sunrise.
He turns to me and says very quietly, “Do juu know what et iss never to go back to home, Osswald?” then he turns his head to the window and remains quiet for the next few minutes.
Friday, November 2, 2007
Six nights a week my co-pilot Travis and I would crawl over the mail sacks stacked cabin roof high and slide into the cockpit seats of one of a series of tired out D18 Twin Beech’s. For several months our route was from Cape Girardeau, MO to Memphis, TN, then we'd wing west to Little Rock, AR, and finally northeast bound for Batesville and Jonesboro, AR.
We would leave at dusk from Cape Girardeau and by midnight or one AM find ourselves sitting in the Ops room at Little Rock with 30 other pilots where we’d take a brief break over coffee, check weather and swap pilot reports. It would be 2:30 or 3 AM before we'd be at our final stop. The weather that early morning was not promising. Batesville, the next stop was reporting minimums-800 overcast and 1-mile visibility-with fog. Jonesboro was about the same but it had an ILS approach (precision-straight in) where Batesville had only an NDB approach (non precision-circling).
When our the mail was sorted and readied for us, we’d walk out to our airplanes and load in 2200 lbs of the orange sacks. With fresh clearances, full fuel tanks and a hankering for a soft bed we would lock the tail wheel, unleash the snarling R985's and lift off into the low overcast skies bending our course for Batesville AR, only 55 minutes away from Little Rock yet very much a step back into another time.
Batesville had just a small airport then. It was, if my memory serves correct, only about 2700 feet long. It was built on the side of a hill with the north end (lower end) ending at an all night gas station. The station had a large neon and mechanical sign with a huge arrow that would light up and pulsate-pointing out the station and lighting up the area for a quarter of a mile around. If you took off down hill one of your major challenges was to miss the arrow! The other end (upper end) of the runway ended in a fruit and nut orchard, complete with an unlighted windmill standing 75+ feet high that irrigated the orchard. The single runway was only about eight (8) feet wider than the gear on the D18. and the taxiways of which there were three (a parallel and two connectors) had even less width.
The city was very proud of their little airport. They had secured Federal funds for paving the runway, putting in a NDB beacon, and building a tiny brick 10 by 10 foot airport operations office building maybe 100 feet from the runway with a new and shiny rotating beacon shouldering up against the building. By the time we arrived into Batesville the normal daytime folk were long gone and there was only one lonely fellow, lets call him "Bubba".
Bubba was a Good ‘Ol Boy, of that I am sure. He stood about 6’1” dressed in his always clean Oshkosh bib overalls; chewed Red Man-which sometimes left a streak of brown juice on his chin. He drove an older Ford pickup that was in excellent running condition and he loved to hunt “critters” and be with his dogs. His main dog was named “Ole Blue”. He had several dogs that would be around him or under his feet and most of them also answered to “Blue”, “Ole Blue”, “Shi** Blue!”or something like that.
Bubba's employer had tutored him through the weather test so sitting in the tiny operations office he could give us an airport weather report before we commenced an approach. Then he’d help us unload the mail sacks and truck the load into the town's post office after we’d take off to the next stop.
Many times he’d ask us to stay over and go “coon hunting” with him. That usually coincided with one of his dogs howling or barking when he mentioned the word hunt or hunting, while the rest of the pack salivated or urinated over the sacks of mail. He’d just stand there, his thumbs hooked on the straps of his bib overhauls and smile. I liked Bubba.
That one night we’d approached from Little Rock with a layer of fog below us that stretched for a hundred miles in all directions. It was Travis’s approach and I picked up the weather from “ole Bubba”.
“Say there Batesville, whata ya got for me?”
“Hi there Cap! It’s 800 overcast, with one mile viss-a bility and the wind is out of the noarth at zeeero malll an hour.”
Great, we thought, Batesville’s weather was good enough for the approach and soon we’d be on our way to the last stop of the night. ATC issued us a “cruise clearance” and Travis bent our course outbound for the procedure turn area. We passed the final approach fix inbound, punched the clock, rolled the checklist and started down for the MDA. But when we reached the missed approach point we were still in solid clouds that only reflected the blue flicker of the engine exhausts and red and green navigation lights. We could see nothing of Batesville. Travis called the missed approach and we went back for another try. That too, ended in no sighting of the airport.
“Hey Bubba, what’s the weather now?”
“Cap, it’s 800 overcast, one mall visibility and the winds out of the noarth at zero mall an hour.”
Travis looked at me, I shrugged my shoulders and tapped the yoke with my hand. I’d try the next approach. That too ended in a missed approach.
“Look, maybe we could duck under by 50 feet. That might give us a chance to see something,”
“No, on this next one I want you to open your window and look straight down. Hell, we should see that gas station sign or the glow from it at least! And there’s the rotating beacon, usually you can see it for miles.”
“Ok, I’ll start the time and open the window and look, then lets head for Jonesboro, I’ve got that waitress waiting ya’ know”.
Oh that Travis, he was like a sailor when it came to girlfriends at every port.
In bound we both concentrated on our jobs, and crossing the final approach fixthe time was started and we descended toward the MDA. Travis's hair was swirling in the breeze of the open window while I concentrated on flying the approach. Crossing the little radio station located right next to the airport rotating beacon we could see nothing and we commenced the missed approach.
“Did you see anything Travis?”
“Nahh, not a damn thing.”
“OK, let’s head to Jonesboro, it’s your airplane, I’ll talk to center.”
Travis took the controls and I reported back to center that we were on our way to Jonesboro. The weather there was better they assured. I settled back into my chair and noted the missed approaches into the company log; then I picked up the microphone and called back to Batesville.
“Batesville, you there Bubba?”
“Hey, Ah am here, Cap.”
“Hey Bubba, we missed all of the approaches, we couldn’t find your airport.”
“Yah, I figgerd that, be’ in like it is.”
“Like it is?” Now that got my attention.
“Bubba, can you see the sign at the gas station?”
“No ahh cain’t.”
“Bubba, can you see the runway lights?” (they were 200' from the building)
“Ahh no ah cain’t.”
“Bubba, can you see the light from the rotating beacon on the tower next door?”
“No ah cain’t see that neither.”
“Bubba just what can you see?”
“Heck Cap, ah cain’t see nothing. Ah’m feared of driving home or going into the post office at this hour. Ah cain’t even see ‘ta drive the fog is so bad.”
“Bubba, then why did you give us that report?”
“Hey Cap. If’n I don’t the boss is going to get mad ‘cause you won’t be able to land with the mail. No mail, no money.”
A smile started to creep over my face.
“OK Bubba, drive safe, we’ll see you tomorrow night.”
Into the early morning darkness the tired D-18 rattled and roared toward Jonesboro while Travis and I sat there laughing like we’d heard the latest joke. And the joke was on us. I retell this story once in a while…and I still like Bubba.
Friday, October 19, 2007
I don't believe for a moment the problems are the fault of the employees of Lockheed Martin, DUAT, or DUATS; the times I've worked with them over the telephone or on a PC they've gone out of their way to do a good job. It is because of a "modern" business management technique named “Less Is More”. The technique itself is a fallacy and the lemming like drive to structure it within our flight planning is why we are being short changed.
I first became aware of the Flight Service Station when it was still under the Civil Aeronautics Administration when I started flying in 1956. It was next door to the FBO at Walla Walla and it was a wondrous place full of teletypes that were constantly clacking, radio speakers alive with chatter from passing aircraft, and at least one or more staff personnel that were busy talking with airplanes, briefing pilots, filing flight plans, taking weather observations, giving DF steers, posting the print outs from the teletypes and fax machines, and the many other jobs they were to perform. The door was always open to this teenager and the guys that worked there became like "wise uncles" that would dispense their wisdom about the weather through out the Pacific North West and how they made that determination. Over the next couple of years they became good friends and coaches upon which I could rely, more than once sharing their coffee as we waited for the fog to clear. They stressed the importance of a flight plan when I flew and their advice carried through when an engine skipped a beat and then ground to a halt letting me down in rough country-they were the first to call for help. But as labor costs climbed there began a slow but steady restructure of the FSS system. The FSS at Walla Walla stayed a fixture until well into the 80's but was ultimately combined into the Seattle office and the employees moved to the big city.
About that same time I was at a meeting of the Engineering and Air Safety department of the Air Line Pilots Association in Washington, DC. The Deputy Director of the FAA was addressing the group and announced the implementation of automated weather reporting equipment at many airports through out the US. At first it sounded interesting until he revealed the limits of the automated systems. The first system could only see 12,000 feet above the airport and only a mile or two around it in a circle. You could have a squall line, thunderstorm or tornado advancing on the airport but the automated system could not know. I rose and posed several questions to the Deputy Director and to me his answers were chilling. Even more FSS stations would be eliminated. Trained FSS or accredited observers (humans) were no longer necessary to take the weather. The local knowledge that had been so necessary to the safe operation of a flight would be gone. The limits of the system would be made up with satellite images that you could obtain from your airline or visiting the local FSS-if you could find one. Less is more.
Today when a GA pilot rings up a FSS his/her phone call can be answered by someone a thousand miles away- that is when the "poor sod" on the other end has the time to answer the call because of the lack of staffing. Yes, they are trying hard to give a good briefing, and the pilot should have the knowledge to access and understand all of the information available, however not all pilots do know all that they should and the input of caution from a wise briefer with local knowledge can save a life-if the pilot will listen. Good bye to the local sage.
In this .Com age we also have the ability to brief for a flight and file our flight plans using DUAT or DUATS-at least for a few more months. Both firms are contractors able to duplicate many of the services of the FSS and also grant some extra value. They both offer their own version of a flight planning/routing service that is good and also allow many flight planning software programs such as Seattle Avionics’ "Voyager" to use DUAT or DUATS for a weather source and flight plan filing. Their service is quick, through, and enhances safety. Nothing wrong with that is there, yet the FAA has said they are pulling the plug on both contractors in a few months for there is no need for them. Of course, the fact that Lockheed Martin has not made a method for the very popular flight planning software programs to link to the FSS was neither mentioned nor valued. Consequently, the software that you use and trust will go dead, thanks to some bureaucrat’s decision. So please forgive me if I don’t agree with the FAA's decision as I can’t understand how-if they used reason and common sense-they could once again assure us that "less is more".
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
“Whoa”, I said, what gives?” “I want to put in my route”, he replied and continued to spin and punch in the dials. “You want to use the GPS routing function for this cross-country?” “Sure, I read where VOR’s and stuff were not as accurate as GPS so I’m using the GPS.”
He was nonplus when I asked him to stop, and went on to remind him that this lesson was on pilotage, dead reckoning, basic VOR navigation, and some basic attitude instrument time thrown in if we had time. We had discussed this in our ground school session; I had pointed out that a pilot must first learn the basics, and learn them well before we go on the more “exotic” methods of navigation.
My student folded his chart and stuck it in the side pocket; next he brought out the navigation log he had prepared in the ground session. “You mean I really have to use this?” he asked. And so the flight progressed.
The first rule of basic pilotage is learning to quickly identify the terrain and the man made objects on the ground then correlate them to what is on your chart. Go ahead and learn all of those “funny symbols” in the legend and AIM, as that knowledge will come in handy for as long as you fly.
The second rule is to understand you are in an ocean or “mass” of air and therefore like the currents in an ocean or river move a boat-you are moving in relation to the air mass. You will be blown off course if you do not take into account the movement of the air mass.
The third rule is that visibility and cloud cover is always changing-usually not for the better. Because we can be confused by what we see below or loose sight of an important checkpoint ahead it is important for pilots to maintain their skills in the basics of pilotage, dead reckoning and continue to use the tried and true navigation log.
For example, if you were diligent and noted that you passed over check point “X” at 1520 then computed ground speed and placed a revised ETA for the next checkpoint you are now steps ahead. Because if you can’t find checkpoint “Y” when you expect and/or the visibility ahead is closing down on you then you may refer to that pesky "nav" log. In black and white it shows that so many minutes ago you were over check point “X”. You can then make a 180 degree turn and correcting for the wind direction and velocity fly that course back to your last known check point. From there you may choose to land at the nearest airport and re-configure your course to your next destination.
Understanding basic pilotage, simple dead reckoning and keeping a record of your transit over the ground in the navigation log is vital to a safe cross-country flight. Even in the cockpit of that airliner streaking by overhead one of the cockpit crew is noting time of passage, etc. over a checkpoint on their dispatch release and log. And by the way, that old fashioned VOR system in North America is very good and the accuracy is constantly tested and assured. It has worked since the ‘40’s and I believe will do so for years to come.
In flying a competent pilot is one that is ahead of the airplane-far ahead. Dave Cowan, a good friend and veteran CFI says, …”It’s very simple, it’s all about what’s next and then what comes after that.”