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Wonderful news for Continental 520/550 owners!

Mandatory Service Bulletin MSB05-8B (camshaft gear) downgraded to non-mandatory. FAA will not issue AD.

In April, my blog post “Continental’s War on Camshaft Gears” I wrote about Continental Motors’ issuance of Mandatory Service Bulletin MSB05-8B intended to compel owners of Continental 520- and 550-series engines (and a few IO-470s) to preemptively replace the older-style camshaft gears with a newer-style gear that is .060” thicker (about the thickness of a penny).

MSB05-8B would have mandated that engines with the older-style gear would need to be disassembled and the new-style gear installed “within 100-hours of operation, at the next engine overhaul (not to exceed 12 years engine time in service), or whenever camshaft gear is accessible, whichever occurs first.” This would have meant that many thousands of low-time-since-overhaul engines would need to be torn down within 100 hours, and that any engine overhauled more than 12 years ago would need to be torn down before further flight.

Owners push back

When MSB05-8B hit the streets, aviation type club forums were awash with cries of disbelief, expletives, and demands for class-action lawsuits—both against Continental Motors and against the overhaul shops that elected to overhaul engines without installing the new-style camshaft gears. The uncertainty also took its toll on the resale market for Continental-powered aircraft.

My company Savvy Aviation joined a group of stakeholder representatives including AOPA, American Bonanza Society, Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association, and Twin Cessna Flyer. Our group prepared a 10-page response to the FAA on this subject that was submitted to the FAA Engine & Propeller Directorate and to the Atlanta Aircraft Certification Office on May 1. We argued forcefully that the extremely low crankshaft gear failure rate did not rise to the level of “an unsafe condition” required to justify the issuance of an AD.

May and June passed with no word from Continental. Then in early July, AOPA’s Dave Oord emailed the members of our group to say that Continental was about to issue the long-awaited revised MSB and had asked to discuss it with us prior to publication. We were surprised and delighted that Continental was reaching out to us, and agreed to an electronic meeting on July 13th.

Can we talk?

Continental told us that they were planning to release a new MSB05-8C the next day, calling for repetitive visual inspections of older-style camshaft gears at every annual or 100-hour inspection (whichever was applicable to the aircraft), with gear replacement mandated at the next overhaul or case-splitting event. We learned that the FAA and Continental had uncovered only seven documented camshaft gear failures from 1964 to the present, the majority of which were unrelated to any in-flight engine anomalies. We also learned that an estimated 26,000 engines would be affected by the MSB.

Alarmingly, this was issued as a Mandatory Service Bulletin (MSB), which Continental defines as one that “has been incorporated in whole or in part into an Airworthiness Directive (AD) issued by the FAA or have been issued at the direction of the FAA by the manufacturer requiring compliance with an already-issued AD.” It was conspicuously NOT issued as a Critical Service Bulletin (CSB), which Continental defines to be a “candidate for incorporation into an FAA Airworthiness Directive.”

We made a strong appeal for Continental to issue its revision as a CSB rather than an MSB, given that the FAA had not yet decided whether an AD was warranted. We also urged the FAA to think carefully about whether such a tiny number of gear failures over such a long time period (most of which had no safety consequences) really rose to the level of “an unsafe condition” under the FAA’s guidelines for when an AD should be issued. We further argued that the repetitive inspections Continental was proposing would be staggeringly costly to owners and would not prevent a single engine failure.

To put all this in perspective, there has been only ONE in-flight camshaft gear failure in the past 53 years, and that one resulted in an uneventful on-airport forced landing. This makes the camshaft gear arguably the most reliable and least failure-prone component of the engine.

Wonderful news!

The next day, July 14th, each of us individually received a call from Continental Vice President Emmanuel Davidson, who gave us wonderful news: After carefully considering our comments and conducting further discussions with the FAA, Continental had decided to issue its revision as a non-mandatory CSB, and the FAA had decided that no AD was warranted at this time.

This was a marvelous outcome for owners of Continental-powered aircraft, and it was achieved through the most constructive and cooperative interaction I’ve ever seen between owners, a manufacturer, and the FAA (and I’ve been doing this for a long time). I sincerely hope this will become a model for how such situations are dealt with going forward. Kudos to Continental and the FAA for listening with open minds, and ultimately doing the right thing.

Alaska Weather: not just on TV anymore

The half-hour TV show, Alaska Weather, has helped pilots understand, and visualize, statewide weather patterns for over forty years.  Produced jointly by Alaska Public Media and the Nation Weather Service-Alaska Region, it airs nightly on public television channels starting at 5:30 pm on some stations, and later on others. More on this later, but pilots should take note that Alaska Weather is available any time you want to view it after 6 pm, on YouTube.  Rather than timing your day around the broadcast schedule of a local station, as long as you have reasonable internet access the program is sitting there, ready to watch at your convenience.

Value added
When the program first started in September, 1976 it was called Aviation Weather, and focused specifically on the aviation community.  Over the years the value of providing a statewide summary of weather conditions became apparent, and the scope of the program was expanded to include general public and marine forecasts.

As pilots, we have access to some excellent online aviation weather resources today, including the Alaska Aviation Weather Unit’s website (note their new address: weather.gov/aawu) but I still find it helpful to listen to a meteorologist explain what is going on, and provide the “big picture” before I look at individual observations, forecasts and weather camera sites.  The National Weather Service has gone to significant efforts to utilize satellite imagery and animation loops to help viewers see the flows of air and moisture that influence the atmospheric conditions we can expect the following day.

A mixture of satellite images and graphics used by Meteorologist Dave Snider, help visualize weather patterns.

The program also features seasonal information, which currently includes warnings about areas of high wildfire danger. In the spring, reports of flooding and break-up on the rivers are included in the broadcast.  Last night’s episode included mention of a new weather camera just added by the FAA at Honolulu.  I admit that until seeing the map showing the camera site location between McKinley Park and Talkeetna, I was thinking that the camera station was in Hawaii…

Hangar Flying segments
From the beginning, there has been a short break in the middle of the half hour weather program (on commercial stations, this would have been filled with advertisements). Often a safety or short educational feature is included.  To help provide content for this 10 minute break between aviation and marine forecasts, the Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation (AASF) stepped up to the plate, and created a short segment, Hangar Flying, which aired twice a week.  This feature was also as a joint effort with Alaska Public Media, who provided the studio and staff to produce the program.  These short segments, regularly hosted by AASF Board Chair Harry Kieling and Board Secretary Mary O’Connor, featured interviews with a wide range of pilots, mechanics, educators, government officials and other “persons of interest.”  Unfortunately changes at KAKM resulted in suspension of production of the program last April, but I hope to see it back in the future.

Where to find Alaska Weather on TV
Realizing that not everyone has internet access capable of streaming video, it is important also to know where and when to find the program on public television channels across the state.  The following link takes you to a page about the show: http://www.weather.gov/afc/tv. The table below provides the time and networks that carry the program.  In most cases the Alaska Weather is aired in the early evening, arming you with weather information for the following two days.  Unfortunately, Alaska Public Media stations in Southcentral, Southeast and Southwest Alaska don’t broadcast the show until 5 am the following morning.  If those stations are your only broadcast TV access, it is another good reason to consider firing up your computer and watching on YouTube.

Table shows the networks and timing of Alaska Weather broadcasts across the state.

However you access it, Alaska Weather continues to be a great way to load the big picture in your head, helping plan the following day.  Weather is one of our biggest challenges in aviation.  We know there is a shortage of reporting stations in Alaska that sometimes makes it difficult to figure out what to expect along a flight route.  Being armed with the synoptic view of weather patterns, even before you start a weather briefing, gives you a leg up on safety planning your next flight.  Thanks to the National Weather Service for providing this tool for our flight kit!

Get ready to use pounds, not gallons

In general aviation, fuel is ordered in gallons. Fuel capacity is stated in gallons, and the fuel burn of a Cessna 172 is eight gallons an hour. The only time fuel is measured in pounds is for the sake of weight and balance, and most of those problems (if we’re honest with ourselves) are only done during checkrides.

But when you start burning Jet A, the rules change. Jet fuel is measured in pounds because the volume of the fuel can change based on temperature, whether it’s Jet A, JP-4, etc. This is especially critical at high altitudes where the temperature will be minus-40 to minus-50 degrees Fahrenheit. Further, fuel is burned by mass, not by volume.

But where this really comes into play is in weight and balance. In larger airplanes, the weight of the fuel becomes a much greater part of the total equation, and therefore it becomes a major consideration. The 737-800/900 burns roughly 6,000 pounds of fuel an hour. The CRJ 100/200 burns roughly 3,500 pounds the first hour and 2,500 pounds an hour subsequently. That’s a lot of weight, and it needs to be properly accounted.

Another consideration that will be new to you as move up the ranks is the concept of zero fuel weight (ZFW). This is a number computed by the manufacturer, and it simply means that all weight above that number must be in the form of fuel. The basic operating weight, passenger load, and cargo added together must come in below the ZFW. At times, it may even be the limiting weight for takeoff. On the CRJ, this would happen on very short flights flown at low altitudes, but it rarely created a problem in terms of payload.

Pounds has become the universal standard in fuel units. Part of this is due to the famous ‘Gimli Glider’ accident, Air Canada 143, a Boeing 767 that ran out of fuel in 1983 during a transcon. Part of the problem was confusion in ordering fuel in kilograms, which could be measured in liters, and then converting it into pounds for the sake of operation, along with a chain of other events. One of the results of the accident was the movement to an industry standard of pounds in order to mitigate the risks of another airplane running out of fuel.

In the United States, using pounds also helps when it comes to doing quick-and-dirty calculations regarding max landing weight for a diversion or return to the departure airport, etc. There is no need to convert from one unit to another, which is especially helpful during a busy, stressful event.

So, get used to using fuel totalizers and computing fuel in pounds. It’s a sign of the step up to the big leagues, and it really does make your job much easier.

Out of this World Request: an invitation for a different view

It’s not everyday you get an invitation to help create another world.  Tony, a software developer working on scenery add-ons for the X-Plane flight simulator, contacted me few days ago. He is creating a version of Oceano Airport [L52] for the X-Plane flight simulator and was trying to make the airfield look as realistic as possible. Specifically he was looking for photographs or for a contact that would be willing to take some photographs of the airfield so, he could recreate the airfield as accurately as possible. His hope was that the airfield will be available for anyone who wishes to use it, and it would be great to have a faithful replication inside the simulator that people will instantly recognize as the real thing.

Oceano, CA is my home airport and near and dear to my heart. Who wouldn’t want to help a developer [software only!] get an understanding of the value of our airport, it’s layout and surroundings. The initial email he sent said that he was in need of:

  • “Photographs of the buildings head on.
  • Pictures of any signage around the airfield, including notices, advertisements.
  • Pictures of the hangars on the far side of the field, these are hard to find imagery for.
  • Pictures of the buildings on the other-side of the runway, those near to the traffic pattern indicator.
  • A few more of the clubhouse building from the car park.
  • The building where I think you can use bicycle.
  • The signs facing out to the car park by the fuel tank. I think it’s a map of “You are here”, but there are also some other signs around.
  • Further down there are lots of T shaped hangars, any close-up shots you can get would be great.
  • If you can, more pictures of the Stearman. This will be a fun one to create a 3D model for.” The photos below show where we started as his renderings were mostly from Google Earth.”

I had a blast going down to the airport and taking the photos he needed. Each time I sent him a batch he asked for a few more details. I guess this request made me think about the airport in a new light. The computer-generated simulator could never capture the life and breath of this airport. Airport Improvement monies are funding the installation a new and necessary ASOS. While taking photos of the Pirate’s Lair on the far side of the field, I just smiled. The flags from the Oceano Air Pirates as well as the flags from neighboring airports [Santa Maria Rocketeers, Lompoc Cubbies] were flapping in the breeze. Four Cessnas flew in and unloaded. Many were headed to the beach for the sunny day. Our loaner bikes were checked out. Skydive Pismo Beach was loading up the jump plane, and Banner Airways was giving rides in the Stearman.

Actual Photo

Simulation Photo

I suppose real or simulated, my home airport is a slice of paradise worth protecting and promoting. I am so happy that Tony reached out from X-Plane. I got the benefit of seeing Oceano Airport from some new angles, which also gave me some ideas for sprucing up. I look forward to seeing the finished copy on the simulator, as well as enjoying the reality of our beach-side airport for many years to come.

Next time you are at your airport, try to see it from a visitor’s eyes. Perhaps you will see some small improvements would make big changes toward the positive. As ASN volunteers we all work hard for our GA airports, but we can’t become complacent now, we must always strive to put our best foot forward to our communities and our visitors.

Provence: a Monet of Control Zones

Like most ideas about flying in Europe (or anywhere, for that matter), I sit on my throne of ignorance on a cold, rainy night, fantasizing about a flight to some matter of interest, as though the airplane will fly itself with no real effort required. This plan was hatched back in Germany, at the behest of my wife, when I thought that any destination in Europe was easy to get to…largely because I happened to merely be in Europe. Oh, how little I knew!

After the move to Spain, the idea of lavender in Provence got infinitely easier, because it was “only” 160 miles away as the crow flies. Oddly, though, I didn’t land in France again until 9 months after the move, even though I had made multiple landings in the country on the flight down from Germany. Consistently, I opted for the laid-back and disorganized nature of Spain, meaning that an airport may or may not be attended, that fuel may or may not be there, and well, “no pasa nada.” Nothing is going to happen. France is much more wired than Spain, and as previously mentioned, has nothing short of barbarically complicated airspace.

A few weeks prior to this trip, I took a 5-hour flight over the heart of the Pyrenees, making that first landing in France in 9 months to refuel, and I felt less anxiety flying above timberline than in controlled airspace. The terrain that I was flying over was plain silly, with massive mountains as far as the eye could see, yet I was relaxed and at ease in that environment. If the engine quits, I’d land in a meadow and pitch my tent. If the radio, transponder, iPad, or anything else fails that connects me to the outside world, I’ll fly home by memory. No pasa nada. Complex airspace is another animal, as one system is dependent on another, and each deviation from the original plan requires a lot of work to coordinate relevant parts. Failures, problems, and incursions have the benefit of additional services, with the drawback of aviation authorities with a list of questions if the problem is severe enough.

This is easier than dealing with ATC.

Be that as it may, there were lavender fields waiting, and I was going to photograph them. I finally sat down to do some flight planning, and of course, the Mediterranean Coast beckoned also, meaning a glorious Monet of French control zones. At the end of the coastal binge was the Camargue river delta, an amazing area where the Rhone River empties into the Mediterranean Sea. It was as complicated as it could possibly get, though I was inspired.

The weather check called for infamous Tramontane and La Mistral winds, something I had experienced before, though as of the prior night, the total amounts were manageable. The next morning, however, the TAF for Avignon called for gusts to 52 knots, and Marseille had issued a SIGMET for severe turbulence for most of the flight path. I postponed the trip tentatively for a day, and then noticed that conditions were ideal on the Spanish side of the border. I took off for a five-hour odyssey into the Monegros Desert to photograph some scenery on my list, coming back tired enough to wonder if I had the stamina to make Provence the next day.

Monegros Desert, Spain

The next morning, the forecast was windy, though acceptable, and even better for day two of my travels. I filed my flight plan at home, drove to the airport, activated via phone, climbed out over La Perche Pass, France, and began my relatively quick descent out of the Pyrenees and into the South of France, with the Mediterranean on the horizon. As I contacted Perpignan Tower for clearance through a control zone, the Tramontane was beginning to pick up. On the other side of the CTR, it was blowing. As my flight path merged with the beach, staying at 800 feet AGL to avoid overhead military airspace, the wind was positively howling as I flew with a 40-degree left crab and kept power between 1800 and 2000 RPM, due to a strange uplifting convergence right over the beach. Shooting conveniently out the side window while biting raging headwinds, I was barely able to pass a windsurfer.

Departing Perpignan’s CTR as wind begins to pick up.

Howling offshore wind, with 40 degree crab. Note drifted sand.

As I entered Beziers Tower’s CTR, the winds started to relax quickly, meaning that the Tramontane fury was about 50 miles wide, also enabling me to relax as my ETA shortened rapidly due to normalizing groundspeeds. That meant I could follow the precise contour of the coast, enjoying old and new French towns and villages set against turquoise waters.

Beziers gave way relatively quickly to Montpellier Approach, a three frequency juggle to get cleared to follow the coast around an elaborate dance of dense air traffic. I departed Montpellier’s frequency while on final for Candillargues, a small general aviation field with an approach path over the Etang de l’Or, a golden salty lake that would mean certain total loss to any unfortunate airplanes that lose their engines coming into this airport.

Sête, France

Final approach to Candillargues, over the Etang de l’Or

Fueling was as is typical in small French airports: wandering around to find someone who invariably speaks no English, argue with the automated fuel pump (which would not take my French Total fuel card), find someone eventually that speaks English, and sort it all out. For as much as there are stereotypes about the French, they have always been helpful, even though they look at the americain and his Cub with a skeptical expression, clearly wondering if I have a screw loose.

I continued to the Camargue Delta, which was beyond words. Between the marshes, salty ponds, and salt lakes, the bulk of the area is water, with small viable emergency landing locations. Despite being under Istres Le Tube’s approach control, I was happy with my long clearance through the coast to the Rhone River, and even more at peace that I was away from human population, despite helicopter traffic and extensive water in all directions. I suppose I am wired for wilderness surroundings – there is something incredibly calming and free about it.

My time along the coast terminated with an explosive collection of salt lakes, and then a new personal record of the slowest cruise groundspeed: 37 knots. La Mistral, while not turbulent, was extremely strong, resulting in an agonizingly long period in the CTR with Istres Le Tube, before finally able to navigate through a series of waypoints out to the north and into the loving arms of Avignon Tower, where I got cleared through that CTR, but not the adjoining Orange CTR, requiring a more traditional avoidance path to finally break free of the shackles of controlled airspace, where I made a landing in light wind at Carpentras for refueling.

Camargue Delta

At this point, I expected to spend the night, though it was 4:30, and I found a local pilot to give his recommendation for lavender in the Luberon. I set off and flew for almost three more hours, wandering around the famous town of Sault, even coming in distant view of the Alps, before winding my way back to Carpentras, where I realized I speak enough French to order a taxi by phone to take me to my hotel.

Ascending the Luberon. Mount Ventoux (6,273′) in the background. Due to La Mistral, the peak records 56+mph winds 240 days per year.

Sault, with lavender

Lavender

Apt


The next day, the flight was direct back home with one fuel stop in Lezignan, and only two CTRs to cross. I finally made La Cerdanya by mid-afternoon, gracing the conclusion of my trip with the worst and most graceless landing in 5 years. Tallying up the numbers, I spoke with 10 control towers and 2 information services, flew 17 hours, and took 10,400 photographs in a three-day period. The last time I undertook such a flying bender was photographing every named glacier in the state of Montana in two days in September 2015.

French wine country, en route home.

Pic du Canigou (9,134′) nosing above the marine layer during the climb into the Pyrenees.

La Cerdanya – just need to survive the landing on a sunny day.

In a moment of reflection, I realized a few things during the flying binge. I thought I would re-assemble the airplane in Germany as soon as it got off the container and continue flying that I did like this in America, though here in Europe. It took 18 months to work out the mechanical squawks, airmanship, and most importantly, my newfound fears after the emergency landing in the wilderness of Wyoming in 2015. Despite my reticence of flying into France, I got the hang of the military and controlled airspace regime by the time the trip to Provence was concluded, so there is something to be said about skills and experience. The most profound moment was to lay eyes on both Provence and the Alps, famous and beautiful areas known as exotic and distant tourist destinations, yet here I am in the same airplane I took my instruction in the mid 1990s as a teenager in Upstate New York, seeing places I wasn’t sure I’d ever see on the ground. I still have continuous moments of amazement that such a simple little airplane manufactured back in the 1940s could take a person so many places.


On the subject of colorful and interesting waters, I recently completed “Yellowstone’s Hot Springs: An Aviator’s Perspective,” a book containing close up aerial imagery of hundreds of the hot springs located in Yellowstone, taken during my time wandering around in Wyoming. It is available on Amazon or garrettfisher.me.

 

Sweepstakes 172: Last stop before Oshkosh

Sailing along at 8,500 feet on Sunday, I had the benefit of not one but two Garmin G5s in the panel of the Sweepstakes 172.

The second G5, installed just last month, is configured as a horizontal situation indicator. Since both G5s run off the electrical system and include a back-up battery, Smart Avionics was able to remove the 172’s vacuum system. (The Sweepstakes 172 gained three pounds in its useful load!)

That hole in the instrument panel won’t remain empty for long. On Sunday I flew the Sweepstakes 172 from Frederick, Maryland, to Jackson, Tennessee’s McKellar-Sipes Regional Airport (MKL).

Here, at Tennessee Aircraft Services, the 172 is getting its final fantastic upgrade. Jeff Ley of The STC Group has flown in from California and is installing a Trio autopilot.

The STC Group announced at Sun ‘n Fun that it had obtained an STC for the kit to install theTrio Pro Pilot autopilot in Cessna 172s and 182s. The company hopes to announce at AirVenture complete STC and Parts Manufacturer Approval (PMA) to build and sell the entire system. The Pro Pilot was developed for the Experimental market.

The Sweepstakes 172 will be at AirVenture all week, so please stop by and see this wonderful airplane for yourself. From its humble beginnings as a trainer, trusted family aircraft, and hangar queen to its spinner-to-tail transformation at Yingling Aviation to its eye-catching paint schemes, the 172 is a special bird.

Vacationing as an airline employee

Free travel is one of the greatest perks of working for the airlines. It’s also one of the most frustrating.

Free travel is great for the obvious reasons: You can fly for free, or nearly so, on dozens of airlines around the world. It’s frustrating because the airlines have become so incredibly good with their capacity discipline that you never can be sure of whether you’ll make it or you won’t.

I’ll give you two recent examples. This summer, one of my kids went to Spain for three weeks. The package included airfare for her. However, my wife wanted to accompany our daughter to Paris, where she would catch a connecting flight to a small city in Spain.

In the meantime, my wife and a friend of hers (whose husband works for the same airline I do) would spend a few days in Paris taking in the sights. For weeks, the flight was looking good. In the last week or so, however, it began to fill up rapidly. The uncertainty lasted until the morning of the departure. My wife and daughter went by the airport early to check in her bag, and the agent at the counter told my wife she should give it a shot. Her friend, who lives in Detroit, started driving.

At the gate that night, the number of standby passengers appeared to exceed the number of available seats. Following our tried-and-true mantra of not leaving the gate until the airplane pushed, my wife (im)patiently waited.

A family of five was unable to get on as a group, and two seats opened up, so off they went. Had she gone strictly by the listings she could see online, she would’ve had to come up with a plan B (there was one in place).

A week after my wife got home, we were scheduled to go on our summer vacation. The trip was to the Cayman Islands, which is one of our favorite places to go scuba diving. Our rule of thumb is to buy tickets whenever we check bags, and we always travel with our own dive gear, which has to be checked. When we booked our trip in the spring, we were tempted to chance using our pass benefits. The flights were wide open, and it would save some money. I sat on it for a few days, and finally decided that the peace of mind was worth it. I took advantage of the discounted tickets that employees can buy, and bought seats.

On the day of our trip, the first flight in the morning took a mechanical delay that would eventually exceed four hours. Some of those passengers spilled over to our flight, and the airplane was full on the first leg. The second leg, which had been pretty promising, sold out during our layover, which means that even if we had started the night before, we wouldn’t have made it.

It was dumb luck that we didn’t get burned by the late departure of the first flight. We considered buying seats on that one, but we didn’t since the layover would have been so long. That flight wound up touching down just as ours was leaving. It would have cost us a full day of our trip.

So, there you have it: two international flights, two different methods of travel. One was pure fun (had my wife not made the Paris flight, she and her friend were going to go to Scotland, which was wide open), and the schedule was a non-issue. The second one, with considerable money invested up front for the resort and diving package, spoke for itself with respect to the logic of buying a ticket. The peace of mind was money in the bank, as was knowing that the airline would take care of us in the event of a disruption to our itinerary.

Not everyone is willing to spend the money on tickets, and not everyone is willing to risk the wrath of the non-rev gods. As the song says, you have to know when to hold them, and when to fold them.—Chip Wright

When things go sideways

I can’t determine who first said it, but flying has been described as “hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.” The phrase may have been adapted from a description of trench warfare published in Guy’s Hospital Gazette during the first world war. Anyway, as an aerobat, the first bit leaves me scratching my head. Flying? Boring? I don’t get it.

The part about sheer terror can occasionally ring true, however. That was my first thought upon hearing that a Cessna 310R had crashed on the southbound lanes of the 405 freeway just feet from the airport boundary at Orange County’s John Wayne Airport a few days ago. From takeoff to engine failure to pancaking onto the highway took but a couple of minutes. Thankfully the pilot avoided a stall/spin situation and landed the aircraft more or less in one piece. As a result, both occupants survived.

I’ve often noted how NTSB statistics teach us that most mishaps occur on the ground rather than in the air. That has been my experience as well. This crash represents the first major accident I can remember at SNA – my home field — in many years. The airport has nearly 300,000 operations annually, so that’s really saying something.

One thing airborne and ground-based accidents have in common, however, is that when things go sideways, they tend to do so in an awful hurry. One such example occurred to my airplane recently. I returned from a trip and left the plane in the (normally) capable hands of the line staff at Signature. The next day I received a phone call informing me that one of their fuel trucks had backed into the trailing edge of the right wing.

The damage was not catastrophic, but it set off a long chain of insurance claims, inspections, temporary repairs, ferry flights, downtime, aircraft rentals, missed trips, etc. which continue to this day. I spent a few hours at the airport, documenting the damage and interviewing anyone who was there or had information which might be relevant.

One person I did not have the opportunity to talk to was the driver of the fuel truck. He had been sent home and, I later learned, terminated. That seems to be typical these days, but I sort of wish it wasn’t. In Bob Hoover’s autobiography, Forever Flying, he relates the story of his Shrike Commander being misfueled with Jet-A instead of 100LL at a San Diego airshow in the 1980s. After a dual engine failure and off-airport landing, Hoover says he told the offending fueler, “There isn’t a man alive who hasn’t made a mistake. But I’m positive you’ll never make this mistake again. That’s why I want to make sure that you’re the only one to refuel my plane tomorrow. I won’t let anyone else on the field touch it.”

I’m fairly certain the fuel truck driver who backed into my aircraft would never have made that mistake again. Alas, the risk averse nature of modern business ensures he’ll never have the opportunity to become a better, safer employee.

If I could have spoken to the driver, I would’ve remind him that damaging a wing was not the end of the world. First of all, that’s why we have insurance. Second – and more importantly – is that things could have been a lot worse. A few years ago I saw a ramp worker walk into a turning King Air propeller on the same field. Believe it or not, he wasn’t killed or permanently maimed. At least, not that I know of. The pilot had already pulled the condition levers to “cutoff” and the prop levers to feather, so the ramper was whacked by the flat blade of a slowing prop and knocked out. It was bad enough that they took him away in an ambulance, but at least he was alive. The FBO terminated his employment.

A friend who flies a Stearman once related the story of hand propping the plane and having one of the blades nick the side of his leg as the engine fired. Cut and a little bloodied, but not permanently injured, he too escaped what could have been a disastrous accident.

I could go on all day with stories like that. An experienced and conscientious ramp worker I knew at Van Nuys was working the graveyard shift on a poorly lit area of the tarmac one night, preparing to tow a Gulfstream toward the hangar. Suddenly, to his horror, the airplane began rolling away. Can you imagine the disbelief with which he must have watched the slow speed crash as the jet collided with another Gulfstream parked nearby? A critical pin had not been securely fastened to the tow bar and once the chocks were removed, gravity took over. As with the others, the employee lost his job.

Though we’re not always cognizant of it, everything we do in life involves risk. But the nature of flying and the cost of aircraft make aviation particularly unforgiving of carelessness or error… so let’s all be careful out there, even when – or perhaps I should say especially when – you’re on the ground.

Buying a new fleet

The Paris Airshow just wrapped up, and as usual, the various manufacturers jockeyed for some large orders. Virtually all orders that are announced at Paris and Farnborough are in place before the airshows, but the airlines and the manufacturers use the events to make a big splash, and this year was no different.

In the U.S. market, United announced an order for 100 new 737s and four new 777s. There was some hand-wringing over the UAL deal, because Scott Kirby, late of America West/USAirways/American, is known to be an Airbus guy, and there were rumors that UAL was going to announce a larger order of A320s and A321neos. So what happened?

Buying an airplane is a major decision for any airline, and for a global carrier like UAL or Delta or American, the narrow-body fleets are the backbone that support the global system. There are three major cost considerations. The first is the actual unit price. As with cars, this is negotiated. Nobody pays sticker price. However, this price is significant nevertheless, and it becomes the starting point for everything else moving forward.

The second major cost consideration is the operating cost for the airplane. This covers everything from fuel to scheduled maintenance to crew costs, and it also takes into account warranties on the airplane as a whole or on the various parts. Somewhere in every airline, there is a bean counter who has broken down to the penny the actual cost of each airplane under consideration, taking into account more variables than most of us can imagine.

The final cost to consider is the long-term cost, which includes the cost of integrating the airplane into the current fleet—especially if it’s a new piece of equipment or represents a departure from the current norm.

In the case of UAL, the bulk of the domestic fleet is the 737. The A320/321 fleet is much smaller and much older. Bringing in new Airbuses would have led to a dramatic increase in training for pilots, and would have negated much of the advantage of the larger 737 fleet, which operates from Saigon to the Caribbean, and from Alaska to Central South America. There will be a high parts commonality between the 737s in use and the new MAX versions on order. Both are known quantities, and both Boeing and Airbus no doubt made compelling pitches to UAL. If everything was truly equal, it may have been as simple as “Buy American.” But it’s almost never that simple.

Delta, on the other hand, will be introducing a new narrow-body soon when it takes delivery of the Bombardier C-Series. Taking on a new aircraft type is not without risk, as United learned a few years ago with the battery problems on the 787. New airplanes are frequently slowed by unexpected bugs, and the C-Series is not likely to be any different. Further, everything about the program is new: new parts, a new engine, new simulators, and new training programs for pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, dispatchers, and gate agents. A new airplane is expensive, and it takes time for the return on the investment to pay off. With luck it does. Today, UAL is ecstatic with what the 787 has been able to do, and the markets it has opened.

New airplanes are critical to get right, as the decision is one that will affect airlines and their passengers for decades.—Chip Wright

New paint, new G5

As you read this, the AOPA Sweepstakes 172 is getting a new Garmin G5 installed in its panel.

But wait, you say. Didn’t the 172 have a G5 installed in 2016? Yes it did—and it was one of the first certified airplanes to get one. If you were at AirVenture 2016 or our Camarillo fly-in in April, you may have seen the first G5 installed in the airplane’s panel.

So what gives? Garmin recently obtained an STC that enables the G5 to be installed as a replacement directional gyro or horizontal situation indicator. (The G5 was STC’d in 2016 for installation as a replacement attitude indicator.)

With two G5s—each operating off the electrical system, but each including a four-hour back-up battery—that means we can scrap the vacuum system on our Sweepstakes 172.

Smart Avionics at Donegal Springs Airpark Airport (N71) in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, is completing this latest upgrade for us. The shop was humming with activity on Monday as we dropped off the 172. Smart’s Ben Travis said several clients are getting panel upgrades that incorporate ADS-B equipage.

Check out that paint

In case you missed it, the AOPA Sweepstakes 172 was the lead story in the June 15 edition of AOPA Live This Week.

The final paint is complete, thanks to the speedy and highly skilled staff at KD Aviation. They turned the job around in about two weeks, in spite of the fact that the paint scheme covered more than 60 percent of the airplane.

Aerial photography of the AOPA 2018 Sweepstake Cessna 172 Ascend with the new paint job.
AOPA NACC (FDK)
Frederick, MD USA

The final paint scheme is eye-catching, to say the least. Scheme Designers’ Craig Barnett said he was going for high visibility, given the sweepstakes 172’s metallic gray base coat, which, though stunning on the ground, could be tough to spot in flight.

We’re just a month out from EAA AirVenture and the announcement of the winner. Hope to see you there!

Aerial photography of the AOPA 2018 Sweepstake Cessna 172 Ascend with the new paint job.
AOPA NACC (FDK)
Frederick, MD USA

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