Last chance for Sweepstakes 172 automatic entry


Take a last good look at the Sweepstakes 172 with her current livery, because the next time you see her she will be wearing new accent colors on top of that gorgeous base coat.

The Sweepstakes 172 is shown at KD Aviation’s shop at Stewart International Airport (SWF) in New York. Ken Reese and his brother, Don, offer superlative aircraft painting services at two locations: SWF and Trenton-Robbinsville Airport (N87), Robbinsville, New Jersey. On the day we arrived, the shop was completing work on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s helicopter.

May 31 is next week! Your AOPA membership must be current as of May 31 to be automatically entered to win. See the complete rules here. 


What makes a good first officer?

What makes a good first officer? It’s easier to talk about what makes a good captain, since the captain is the boss and has the ability to make everyone miserable.

At my first airline, I was an FO for only two and a half years before spending the next 12 as a captain. Now, I’m back in the right seat, and I find myself applying a lot of what I looked for in my own FOs, as well as some of my own ideas along with a healthy dose of common sense. Most of this is not in order, but the first one is.

  • Be on time. This is a big one, especially when it’s time to leave the hotel. Most pilots excel at being on time, if not early. It’s easy at the beginning of the trip, but some folks have a hard time being in the lobby on time for the van. Most pilots will try to be in the lobby at least five minutes early. Nobody likes to be rushed at the gate—and the van driver doesn’t like to be rushed in traffic—so make it a point to be punctual. As a captain, I really appreciated an FO who was early to plane on the first leg of the trip (assuming we didn’t bump into each other in the crew room). So, I always try to be the first one to the airplane now.
  • Be a chameleon. Unfortunately, this is the life blood of being an FO. You’re forced to learn (quickly) the habits and quirks of each captain you deal with. It can be as simple as knowing when the first checklist is read to something as strange as the way a piece of paper needs to be folded. (I’m not kidding.)There was a captain at Comair who was legendary for the origami-like way he wanted to fold the piece of paper from the release that we used for the ATIS, clearance, et cetera. He wouldn’t let anybody else touch it, and FOs quickly learned to just hand it to him. It’s also necessary to learn quickly to what extent a captain is going to help out with certain duties. Some captains will insist on doing some of the walk-arounds, and others will not even entertain it. Worse, some will not do the walk-around, but also will do nothing in the cockpit, figuring that they are “staying out of the way.” It’s true that two pilots loading the FMS can lead to confusion and make the process take longer, but it’s not so bad that he or she needs to totally back away. This is just someone being a jerk or lazy (or both). Fortunately, this is also rare.
  • CRM quirks. Some captains are over the top with crew resource management, and fortunately, they expose that early, so you can figure out that you’ll be double- and triple-verifying everything you touch, say, and do, even after you’ve already verified it. Just don’t forget something, because you’ll likely hear about it if you do. One way to minimize any conflict is to save all the paperwork until the captain says it’s OK to toss it. On the 737 that I fly, the printer is running nearly nonstop with messages, ATIS updates, performance info, et cetera. I keep everything until I figure out if the captain is a “read it and toss it” kind or wants to hold it until we land. The best ones only print out critical info.
  • Standard operating procedures. Most pilots follow most of the rules, and a few follow all of them. But some only follow a few. Ironically, most of the ones who do things their own way will tell you that they do things their own way, but they will follow along if you want to go by the book. In a way, these captains are both the easiest and the most difficult to fly with, because you can pick up some very bad habits, but they will not stop you from doing what’s right because doing what’s right keeps them out of trouble. That said, most captains try to follow company and FAA procedures, and they expect the same from the FOs. A good captain can address this diplomatically when a conflict occurs. A good FO will just follow procedures from the get-go, and if there is a conflict, he or she will simply ask there is a new procedure. Along the lines of SOP is keeping up with changes. It used to drive me crazy when the company would put out updates and FOs would drag their feet on reading them or implementing them. Now, as an FO, I try to make it a point to bring them up during our initial meeting to make sure we’re on the same page, which I’ve found captains greatly appreciate.
  • Prevent mistakes. Most captains will ask that you point out something they might be doing wrong or a mistake they may have made, and most of them mean it. We’re all human, and what may look like a deliberate act of non-compliance is almost always just a mistake or a misunderstanding. FOs saved my bacon more than once, and will eventually do so again. I’m simply returning the favor.
  • Ask questions. Captains love to both teach and pass along tidbits and institutional knowledge. Take advantage of it. It may not have anything to do with the airplane, but every little nugget of knowledge you pick up can make your work life much easier. In fact, ask your captains what FOs do that they like and don’t like. You’ll hear some interesting stories. Soon, you’ll be talking smack about your own FOs!
  • Relax, and have fun. Flying is a lot of fun and a great way to make a living, but if you don’t relax, it’s a lot more stressful than it should be. There will invariably be the rare few that you don’t like or get along with, but there is always a topic of conversation that you can agree on. If there isn’t, then you need to just accept that it will be a quiet trip. Thankfully, those days are rare indeed. Most of the time, there is an easy banter and a rapport that settles in, and the trip is over all too soon.

Just make sure that you’re on time.—Chip Wright

Upgraded weather web tools for Alaska pilots

Our ability to access weather data for pilots in Alaska continues to evolve.  Recently both the National Weather Service and the FAA have released new operational versions of their websites for Alaska weather.  They are both well worth a closer look.

Alaska Aviation Weather Unit’s New Look
For years the NWS Alaska Aviation Weather Unit (AAWU) has provided an excellent website with a combination of current and forecast weather products specifically for Alaska aviators.  It just got a new look, to increase security and migrate to a nationally supported server. While you will recognize most of the products, the home page has a different look, and increased functionality.

The main page on the new AAWU site has controls to toggle Airmets, TAFs and/or PIREPs.

The home page uses a new base map, and offers increased functionality without having to dig into the menu structure.  Not only is it a zoomable map base, but one can now toggle on (and off) Airmets, Terminal Area Forecasts and/or display PIREPs.  TAFs sites are color coded by weather category. You may also display and filter pilot reports, to look up to 24 hours into the past for trend information. New features to watch for include adding METARs to the user choices on the front page, and updated winds aloft graphics. Also explore the tiled quick links at the bottom of the homepage.

In this screen shot above, PIREPs for the past three hours are displayed. They also include a text list of the PIREPs for the selected time block at the bottom of the page, in case you want to browse them in that form.

The old site will continue to run in parallel with the new site until June 20, 2017, but start using the new site today at:  As with any site that is developing, you may need to let the National Weather Service know if you have problems, or questions.  Direct those to: [email protected].

New FAA Weather Camera site goes operational
By all accounts, the Aviation Weather Camera Program is the most popular thing the FAA has done in many years.  After months of development and testing, it too has a new look, web address and loads of new functionality.  Thanks to many of you who participated in the recent beta-testing activity, the FAA made significant upgrades and declared the new site operational as of May 1st.

More current and forecast weather information has been added to the site.

While the FAA will continue to operate the old site in parallel for a while, you should note the new address: The major changes have to do with the presentation of current and forecast weather in graphic form, on the map page.  If zoomed in far enough, airports that have reported weather and terminal area forecasts will give reveal conditions at a glance, before even selecting and reading the full text reports.

METARs, TAFs and PIREPs are visually presented, with an idea of the trend presented graphically.

Other new features include an increased selection of base maps to choose from, including Sectionals, IFR charts or a terrain enhanced display.  Note, however, that several the menu selection choices are not active. There is more development ahead, making it very important that you remember to take the Pilot Survey that is linked from the hope page. Also note that this version of the program is not optimized for tablets or smart phones. Those devices are to be incorporated in future releases.

Exercise them!
Both of the NWS and FAA tools are coming out just as the flying season ramps up. Please take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with them before taking off this summer. And keep your comments rolling in to drive improvements in the months ahead!

Sharing GA with people reminds us how fortunate we are

I wanted to focus this month’s column on how with small moves, we can connect and inspire through our love for General Aviation. I would like you to meet Tom Sullivan a soft spoken and self-effacing pilot, volunteer and business owner. Through history, an unexpected medical emergency, and dedication, Tom gave some Wisconsin kids the thrill of a lifetime.

I will begin with a little history. Tom received his private pilot license in 1994 then went on to his IFR rating in 1996. He purchased his first Mooney in 1996 an F-model that he flew for 1300 hours. In 2001, he moved into the Mooney Rocket. Tom now has about 3500 total hours. He is based at Ford Airport [Iron Mountain, KIMT] Michigan, which was built by Henry Ford. Tom is also the President of Northwoods Air Lifeline. Northwoods Air Lifeline is a non-profit organization of volunteer pilots from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Northeast Wisconsin who donate their time and aircraft to help patients and their families with urgent medical needs for services not found locally. They have flown 2000 flights since 1999 and fly 100-150 trips per year []

If that weren’t enough, he is the local chapter President of EAA 439, Iron Mountain. They are currently planning their 16th annual Ford Airport Day, September 16th, 2017. This year will feature rides in the Ford Tri-Motor. The Friday before airport day, they join forces with a local a POW/MIA ceremony. They have music and all veterans come to have a free lunch, last year serving 500 veterans.

Way back in 1998, Tom bought Lancair kit. In 1999, he drove with a buddy from Michigan, to the Lancair factory located in Redmond Oregon for a fast-build training. On the drive back [non-stop 35 hours],  he developed health problems. His arm started to swell up developed a blood clot in his shoulder. He was whisked away to Greenbay for tests and a procedure to open clot up. The procedure didn’t work so he received a blood transfusion and life-saving surgery. According to Tom, this brush with death lead him to “focus on family not things.” He put off the Lancair kit until February 1999 and worked on it about 200 hours per year. Once his kids went off to college in 2012 and he started working more on the airplane. At present, he has about 100 flight hours on the plane.

A few weeks ago, Tom needed some machining done on his Lancair’s AC system. He was given name of Mennonite man who could do the work in Medford Wisconsin, near Athens. As the two men got to know each other, the man developed a keen interest in the airplane. Apparently, he shared his interest with his children who were fascinated by airplane. The children had ever seen a small plane. Tom offered to give the kids a ride in his Mooney when he came to pick up the parts. When the parts were done, Tom flew the Mooney 35-minutes in to Athens, Wisconsin. As he taxied up, he saw quite a welcoming committee waiting for him. The kids and grown-ups were all on ramp with big happy smiles on their faces. Tom did a five-minute ground school/walk around the plane. He took oldest boy and two younger girls first on the 20-minute flight. He was surprised that older boy had researched flying online and was very interested in the aircraft systems. Tom even let him fly plane for a while.

In the second group, the oldest girl asked a lot of great questions about the plane “Why are we taxing down runway and going other way to take off? “ Before the flight, Dad asked because she was the oldest, “Do you want to ride in the front?” “No, no.” she said. But she suggested they fly over their little town. They flew over town and over their homes. A younger boy was upfront taking the controls. The girl in the back exclaimed, “Now I wish I would have gotten in the front seat to fly!” As dusk fell, Tom offered to take Mom and Dad for a ride, yet they declined, they were concerned about impending darkness and Tom’s night flight home. A couple of the children presented Tom with a paper plate of brownies covered in saran wrap with a note “for our pilot.”

Tom says that at the end of the time with the families, it “felt like such an emotional experience. We are all advocates of GA. It was humbling, and they were so appreciative.” A humbling and rewarding experience, what a lovely way to look at sharing our passion. “Sharing with people reminds us how fortunate we are” Tom reflects. His experience is a gentle reminder how special GA is, how lucky we are to be able to fly. As Tom and I talked we touched upon the fact that flying has a deeply spiritual component.  As he flew home with the setting sun to his left wing, he felt connected to his passion, family and new friends.








Fuelish decisions

Nonpilots are usually surprised to learn that the most involved and challenging part of flying sometimes takes place on the ground: preflighting the aircraft, making weather decisions, filing flight plans, programming avionics, navigating the taxiways at a complex airfield, ensuring regulatory compliance, and so on. This is probably as true for the airline pilot as it is for the light GA aircraft owner.

In the world of corporate and charter flying, things are a little different. Based on my experience, the time suck award goes to the fuel-purchasing process. Surprised? I don’t blame you. It’s counter-intuitive to think that buying gas would involve any challenge whatsoever, especially when you’ve got a large team of dispatchers at your disposal. How hard could it be? Just see where the fuel is cheapest and buy there, right?

I wish.

For better or worse, the FBO’s advertised cost of fuel is rarely the price we pay. If we’re at a large chain like Signature or Atlantic, the sheer volume of jet fuel we buy in a year gives us the power to negotiate for lower costs. A Gulfstream IV burns about 500 gph, and our fleet has more than 50 aircraft flying an average of perhaps 500 hours annually. Do the math and you’ll see why the major chains are willing to discount significantly to earn a piece of that business.

Our flight releases provide the negotiated rate, so that part of the process is simple. But sometimes—typically at the smaller chains and independent FBOs—we’ll be using contract fuel through Colt, UVair, World Fuel, or another such entity.

The irony of fuel contracts is that the people who are pumping the gas can’t tell you what it costs. Ask the employee at the front desk how much a gallon of fuel will cost with that Avfuel release and they’ll just shrug. The price varies depending on the specifics of each operator’s agreement with Avfuel. It reminds me of our medical system, where the physician who’s performing a procedure or checkup would be unable to tell you how much it’ll set you back—even after the treatment is over. Could be $100, could be $1,000. Maybe it’s $10,000.

Again, I can determine our contract fuel price by inquiring with my company’s dispatch staff. The next question is whether to buy fuel or tanker it. This computation is a bit more complex. Carrying extra fuel makes the aircraft heavier, so while it might save you from having to purchase more expensive gas at your destination, you’ll also burn more fuel en route in order to do it. Some pilots rely on smartphone apps or spreadsheets; others have rules of thumb for their specific aircraft that dictate the conditions under which it makes sense to tanker. A heavier airplane can’t cruise as high, either, so if thunderstorms, turbulence, and/or adverse winds are part of the mix, the decision-making process goes even deeper. Beyond the safety and comfort aspects, is saving the money worth potentially having to circumnavigate weather at FL390 instead of going over it at FL450?

Another part of the fuel-purchasing decision process involves the seemingly arbitrary costs imposed by FBOs. There are landing fees, ramp fees, handling charges, infrastructure costs, and more. Some of them are dictated by the airport; others are left to the discretion of the FBO. Certain costs can be waived; others cannot. At my home airport, the instant our G-IV hits the ramp, a $700 handling cost is assessed. This is pretty typical.

Some FBOs charge less—but then, I’ve also paid more than twice that at places such as San Francisco International. Oh, they’ll be happy to waive it, but you have to purchase hundreds of gallons of fuel (SFO is currently charging $7.60 per gallon for Jet-A; if you’re using avgas it’s $8). Internationally, the highest handling fee I’ve seen was well over $3,000.

The type of trip will help dictate whether I try to offset the handling fees. If it’s a non-revenue (Part 91) flight for the owner, I’ll include the handling fees in my math since they come out of his pocket. If it’s a charter trip, the cost is paid by the customer, so I’ll usually ignore the handling charge and make the decision based solely on obtaining the lowest possible fuel price.

Every now and then I’ll run into a fee I’ve not seen before. I was at Dallas Fort-Worth Airport recently and noticed that the fuel price was something like $1.90. I later discovered that they added a $0.40/gallon “fuel surcharge” to the base cost. This fee is fairly common abroad, but I’d not seen it before in the United States. At least, not that I recall. This surcharge boosted the price by 21 percent and shifted the cost/benefit analysis considerably.

Speaking of which, sometimes despite our best efforts, we end up buying the most expensive fuel through no fault of our own. There are several ways in which this can happen. For example, my home airport recently got a new FBO, and despite being based there, they charged us the non-tenant rate for fuel because of a technicality regarding a lease agreement. Lesson learned.

Sometimes a fuel release won’t be honored. That happened in Africa, where a discrepancy between the company name on the fuel release (we use a DBA) and the one on our other paperwork caused the fueler to refuse it. Try explaining the intricacies of a corporate DBA to an African fuel truck driver who speaks no English at 3 a.m. during a tech stop. It’s quite comical.

The most common way we get hosed on fuel pricing is when we purchase or tanker gas in anticipation of a specific itinerary only to have the airports and FBOs change after the fact. Changes are part of the nature of charter flying—there’s not much we can do about that—but it still stings to know we could have saved a ton of money if only we’d known an hour earlier that we’d be going to Airport “B” instead of Airport “A”.

Fuelish decision making is a critical part of corporate and charter aviation. Next to safety-related considerations, it might even be the most important, especially for the large-cabin/long-range airplanes. It’s certainly one of the most variable. Fueling up in the wrong place can turn a profitable trip into a four-figure loss, and that’s something nobody wants.

There’s another motivation at play, too—a personal one: I want to reward the FBOs that provide low prices and encourage the less competitive ones to consider why they aren’t getting my business.

Nervous fliers

Not everybody is cut out to fly, and for that matter, not everybody is cut out to be the best passenger. I recently was sitting in the gate house waiting for my airplane to come in when a lady walked up to me and asked me if I was working her flight. When I confirmed that I was, she asked me if I could spend a few minutes talking to her husband, who was a “nervous flier,” in her words. I immediately said yes, and she went to get him.

The gentleman in question came over, and we introduced ourselves. He had at one time had no problems flying, but in recent years he had developed a sense of claustrophobia. When I asked him why, he said it was related to having kids, and that being on an airplane made him feel a bit trapped and sometimes not able to respond to his young kids the way he might have at home (for instance, taking them outside to let them run off some energy, or being able to escape outside himself when the kids were behaving, but being rambunctious). He also felt that he had lost some sense of control by placing his life in the hands of others.

As a parent for more than 16 years, I could relate to that, and I told him half-jokingly (but only half) that I’m not the biggest fan of sitting in the cabin when the cockpit is just a few feet away. His wife explained that he had taken a class on dealing with the phobia, and one of the recommended strategies when flying was to try and talk to at least one of the pilots before the flight. Perfectly logical, in my book.

I took a few minutes to talk about our flight, the route, the time, the weather, et cetera. I didn’t anticipate our unusually long taxi to the runway, but since I had pointed him out to the lead flight attendant and told the captain about him, I was confident that he would be looked after. He and his family got off before I could say goodbye, but I was told that he appeared to enjoy the ride as much as possible.

Nervous fliers are a fact of life, and they look to pilots not only to comfort them, but also to give them some confidence that we are more than competent. It’s important to remember that a passenger in an airplane has given up complete control of his or her well-being to us, and we need to respect that. It’s true in general aviation as well, if not more so, because a passenger on a GA airlane can grab the controls and start “fighting back” if he or she perceives that something is amiss.

Not only is it the right thing to do in terms of business, but it’s also the compassionate, humane thing to do. We all have fears, some of which are in our face every day, some that aren’t. But none of us wants to feel out of control. Information, understanding, and communication often can bridge much of that gap.—Chip Wright

Moroccus Interruptus

The plan was to fly to southern Spain near the Strait of Gibraltar, meet up with a local pilot, a few planes would fly over to Morocco, eventually ending up somewhere in the Sahara, and then reverse the whole thing.

It didn’t happen.

It was one of those fatalistically attractive ideas that even my wife knew would not be successful, yet with the prospect of having local compatriots to go along coupled with the fact that April is the finest weather for a trip to Africa, it made sense to at least give it a try.

The whole thing got off on the wrong foot due to a long-standing custom with aviation in Europe: precise planning months away. In the USA, any planned trips with friends or a group would revolve around a rough framework of plans, and materialize depending on the weather. In Europe, the trip is planned on a specific day six months away, vacation time from work secured, club aircraft reserved, hotel reservations made, and then when the weather invariably goes to pot, the whole thing is called off and nobody seems to notice the futility of the concept. Enter the American cowboy who suggests flexibility, and I get dirty looks like I came from the Stone Age.

Be that as it may, I accepted a rigid plan where I would meet up in southern Spain on a specific day and we would do an elaborate dance of flight plans, customs, ambitious flying, all in an Arab country in Africa (full disclosure: I am American, and we are afraid of things like that), sandwiched between a marathon of client visits back in the USA and a hard limit at the end of the weekend for the group in Trebujena.

The weather forecast a few days out called for nice tailwinds nearly the entire way across Spain, with sun and pleasant springtime conditions, which was a relief as the flight would take all day – covering 547 nautical miles – in a Cub. Although the plan looked like it would work, I was bathing in self-induced angst and preoccupation over schedules and other senseless rigidity. It was not until a Spaniard mentioned that “the most important thing is that it’s safe and everyone enjoys themselves” that I questioned my predisposition to the matter. My first reaction was “enjoy themselves? The most important thing is that everything happens as efficiently as possible!” I then had a chance to step back and realize my German heritage was not helping, and to give myself permission to roll with the realities of such a plan. If I got even to Gibraltar and flew around a bit, it would be worth it.

The forecast for the day of departure was perfect: blue skies and tailwinds, with a nice buffer of an extra fuel stop and enough time to get where I needed to go. I plotted a course to Teruel, Spain (162NM) for the first fuel stop, thinking it would be plenty as 200NM is a reasonable average on a 3 hour tank and a slight headwind.

The process of finding an airport with avgas that did not charge handling fees north of €100 and was actually open during the day was a complex one, requiring hours of research and hand written notes of which airports would work and which ones would not. It was an unsettling feeling realizing the limits of my fuel tank and speed when set against the Spanish airport system (or lack thereof), though I was hell bent and took off.


Central Catalonian Depression

The tailwinds lasted for 45 minutes, and quickly turned to a headwind. And then the headwinds got stronger and stronger, until I finally quit the dead reckoning business and pulled out the GPS: groundspeed 48 knots. What on earth is this? Recalculating arrival time put me at flight time of 3:05, 5 minutes into reserve, which meant I would have to endure the fact that the tank reports between empty and 40% fuel for 60 seconds at each point, knowing consciously I have enough, yet staring at a squirrely gauge designed before my grandparents got married. For that reason, I do not go into the reserve, though I considered bending the rules this one time. As I scanned the sectional, it was evident there were absolutely no alternates if I continued for an additional hour, meaning that I would be committed, without the option of a private or ultralight field in about 40nm, meaning a forced landing if the winds got worse. Doing some inflight recalculation, it became evident I could take a tailwind and fly to the coast, arriving at Castellon de la Plana with a reasonable reserve, also knowing that airport had a modest landing fee and avgas.

Orchards en route to the Mediterranean


Faro de Peñiscola

The flight along the Mediterranean was beautiful and the landing uneventful. Castellon de la Plana has one end of the field that terminates almost on the beach, which meant salt air, palm trees, and a light breeze with pleasant temperatures. As I attempted to get fuel and figure out the next step, I found out it was effectively the siesta (Spaniards get indignant in this part of the country, call it the “commercial pause,” and proclaim that siestas only happen in Andalusia – the region that is apparently the source of all Spanish problems).

Reviewing my flight options, I realized the daisy chain of viable airports with avgas was fully hosed up, meaning that I would need to make three stops. The clock was also ticking as the siesta continued, so I called the pilot in Trebujena to express my concern with the situation. While on one hand he wasn’t bothered by rearranging the entire weekend (Spanish people are not bothered by much), he did note that the forecast for the next afternoon was calling for wind gusts to 45 knots, and that we’d have to delay a full day. He encouraged getting as far as I could and completing the trip to Morocco two days later. I said I’d think about it.

As refueling took its sweet old time, and as I consulted with my wife, who advised that it was raging like a hurricane back at home (which was anticipated by forecast that afternoon), I undertook an internal cultural transformation, taking one step closer to becoming Spanish. I was at a beautiful airport, on a sunny afternoon right next to the Mediterranean. I saw a sign that said “Hotel,” while noting the presence of the beach. I could continue toward Africa, which would be pointless, because it would not work with group schedule restrictions. I could squeeze an ambitious flight home in high wind in the Pyrenees, for which I had about 2% desire, or I could go to the beach.

I went to the beach.

I spent the night in a seaside hotel, working on my novel by the ocean, checked some emails, and decided I don’t give a hoot about anything. While part of the choice is related to the Mediterranean attitude, the rest of it was a bit of aeronautical decision making. I simply was burning the fuse at too many ends personally, and flying to Africa in a Cub requires a full mental fuel tank, which I certainly did not have. Besides, who cares? I’m in Spain anyway, which is fun enough.

Salt flats, Delta de l’Ebre

Terminus of the Ebre River

The flight home was pleasant, as the winds calmed down the next day, and I made a point of going home a different way than I came. I went northeast along the coast to the Delta de l’Ebre, which is a fascinating river delta that protrudes miles out to sea, set against a rocky coastline. It was quite a moment to fly over sections that looked just like the Outer Banks near Cape Hatteras (for which I have flown for an entire winter in the Cub), yet here I am in another continent seeing a similar scene. Even more interesting were the salt ponds, which reminded me of the salt ponds west of Ogden, Utah, also seen from the Cub in 2015.

I stubbornly went around Reus’ control zone, as I wasn’t in the mood to file a flight plan, which means I couldn’t call the tower to cross the oversized Class D airspace. As I approached Igualada for a stop, I checked both my Jeppesen (supposedly official) and SkyDemon (not exactly official but everyone says its fine) apps and both indicated “no frequency available.” I landed with no radio call and woke up someone taking a nap in a chair, who acted indignant when I asked about the radio frequency and advised 123.175 before going back to sleep. I commonly hear “nobody cares” as an explanation to how things work in Spain, and it is remarkably correct. Truly, nobody cares.

Terraces north of Reus

Approaching Igualada

With a proper radio frequency in hand (and a stubborn question of why it’s not on the map unanswered), I announced intentions to takeoff at the departure runway and heard a response in Spanish that a Piper was inbound for…..something. “I didn’t hear that. Are you coming into the circuit?” “Yeah, we’re left hand for X.” “I’m sorry, I really don’t understand what you’re doing. Where are you?” “We’re going to X, runway 17.” “Uhhhh…. How long do I have before takeoff?” “We’re doing X.” Intuition said to wait. Five seconds later, a Piper Cherokee comes screaming in at a steep bank angle at full power, buzzes the field at full speed (in the wrong direction), does a steep climb, and positions for landing on the downwind. I decided to get the heck out while I could. What can I say? Nobody cares.


Spring in Catalunya, approaching the Pre-Pyrenees

El Pedraforca – just over the ridge from La Cerdanya

A few weeks after getting home safely, I tallied up the log book for some much overdue pilot accounting, and came to realize that I reached 1,000 hours while attempting to fly to Africa. What an incredible 1,000 hours this has been! I have almost lost track of the states, countries, glaciers, 14,000’ peaks, wilderness mountain ranges, continental crossings, and the like, most of it flown in the same airplane I soloed in at 16 years of age, back in sleepy Upstate New York.

Just before the attempted trip to Morocco, I was sitting in New York with my 86-year-old grandfather, the source of all of this maniacal inspiration (and the restorer of the PA-11), and he said to me “I thought I’ve done a lot over the years. Boy, you’ve got me beat.” I must say it was quite the words to hear from an octogenarian, who is still restoring airplanes, who has thousands of hours of flying time, and hasn’t let fear or obstacles get in the way of much of anything. I have never set out to meet any certain expectation, outdo anyone, or really achieve a particular goal, as those expectations were not placed upon me. My grandfather took the approach that his private field and airplanes were available, though I needed to get off my rear end if I wanted to fly, just like he did in the 1940s, taking lessons in a J-3. As far as I have always been concerned, this is just flying around the patch in the Cub. If the airplane can do it and I want to, why shouldn’t I take the flight?

Ask me what I think of that question if I end up in a Moroccan prison.

Verbalize, verify, monitor

Accidents, as they say, are written in blood. The result is usually a set of new regs that, in retrospect, should have been written earlier. Pilot deviations, on the other hand, are usually written because of complacency, and the result is usually a new set of procedures.

Many years ago, the pilots at (then) USAir were suffering from a rash of altitude deviations. Pilots would respond to a radio call from ATC with a new assignment, and the non-flying pilot would put the new altitude in the altitude pre-selector, and all would be well…until it wasn’t. Somehow, the airplane would wind up where it wasn’t supposed to be, creating separation issues and scaring the daylights out of the controllers, the pilots, and probably a few stray birds.

After studying the problem, USAir changed the procedure. The nonflying pilot would dial in the altitude, then keep a finger pointing at the pre-selector, and verbalize the altitude again. The flying pilot would point to the altitude and also verbalize, as a means of verifying, that the correct altitude had been programmed. Both pilots would then actively monitor the performance of the airplane to make sure that it performed as expected. Once this new procedure was implemented, altitude deviations virtually vanished, and the procedure became the industry norm. It was a simple change that had a huge impact on safety, especially since the airlines so willingly share such information.

Nowadays, the new process—verbalize, verify, and monitor—has been adapted to virtually everything we do. Course changes, autopilot mode selection changes, approach selection—all are subjected to the VVM philosophy. All-glass cockpits have made this process even more critical. It’s easier than ever to miss something on a screen or to make the wrong selection. The automation on a modern jet is so intertwined and complex that a mistake could be programmed in an hour before it will be executed, and it may not make itself known until a violation has occurred.

As you prepare for your entry into the professional ranks, start adding the VVM philosophy to your standard practices. Teach it to your students. When flying single pilot, make a habit of writing down new clearances and commands. When flying with another pilot (not just a passenger), get into the habit of splitting the workload. If you are by yourself, definitely make a habit of talking out loud, both as backup and as a means of staying alert.

To give an example of how effective the VVM concept can be, it can be used when one pilot is out of the cockpit (using the lav, for instance) and a jumpseater is on board. If ATC issues a new altitude, the pilot can dial it in and ask the jumpseater to verify that the correct altitude has been set. In fact, this procedure is routinely used. I’ve even had flight attendants who are familiar with the procedure not only verify the new altitude, but also catch a bad one. If that isn’t crew resource management, I don’t what is!

Altitude deviations are among the most common, so the VVM policy is used to verify settings on the flight management system for descend- and climb-via procedures, as well as to properly preset the missed approach altitude on nearly every single approach, even in visual meteorological conditions. They are still a big threat, but thanks to the simple wisdom of the good folks at USAir, that threat is not just recognized, but dealt with thousands of times each day.—Chip Wright

Those confounding airports

In the last twenty-some years, I’ve flown in the networks of two major airlines. Learning to navigate the various hubs is one of the biggest challenges. Those hubs in the United States are among the busiest in the world, so it’s even more challenging.

Going in and out of the LAXs and ORDs and ATLs of the world brings a set of assumptions that aren’t always in your favor or even fair. Let’s say you fly within the United network. The controllers at the “home fields” will see an airplane in the UA colors and take for granted that you (and whoever is with you) know what you’re doing, what the flow of traffic is on the ground, and how things generally work. You can’t blame them, and it’s not an unreasonable expectation.

The truth is, controllers don’t realize that there are some places you may not see very often, which means you may be prone to mistakes they may not expect. Chicago is a great example. The ground flow is fairly structured, but it changes based on the runways in use. Once you understand it, it’s fairly logical, but to the neophyte it’s as clear as mud. Add to that the fact that sometimes the ground controllers will rattle off instructions for multiple airplanes at once without giving anyone a chance for a read-back, and it can be very intimidating.

When I first starting going in there, I wasn’t flying in the colors of one of the two “home town” airlines, which got me a bit of slack. The controllers seemed to speak just a bit slower to make sure we knew what we were doing. In the colors of one of the local carriers, that doesn’t happen much. But as pilot movement occurs at the majors, there are captains who are new to certain hubs, and they aren’t always savvy to the ways of the local methods. Recently, I’ve flown with a couple who got lost in the taxi instructions and weren’t entirely sure what the expectation was. I had a pretty good idea, but I wasn’t the one taxiing, and I wasn’t the one who had ultimate responsibility.

So, the captains did the only thing they could do: They set the brake and sat there. In one case we were able to get a word in on the radio and get some clarification. In another, the ground controller finally realized we hadn’t moved, and called us. The second time he spoke in a speed we could hear, and we taxied without further ado.

Controllers work the same airport every day. Pilots bounce around, and have to know them all. While controllers have to ensure the orderly flow of traffic, we can’t help them if we don’t understand what they want, and ORD is one of the most difficult. It’s one thing to tell a student to be willing to ask for progressive taxi, but the true sign of professionalism is to ask for it when you’re flying with paying passengers in the back.—Chip Wright

GPS Jamming in Alaska: Maybe not as bad as it looks

Along with the return of waterfowl to Alaska, there is another sign of spring: the start of the military training exercise season.  This year’s lead off exercise is Northern Edge, scheduled from May 1-12, including an extended plan for GPS jamming.  An overview of the jamming activities was presented in a briefing to the Alaska Civil Military Aviation Council (ACMAC) recently. These are becoming an increasingly important part of the exercise. Our military uses of GPS, as well as the development of jamming devices by foreign powers, make it an essential component of the “train like we fight” nature of these exercises.  Of course, at the same time civil aviation is becoming reliant on GPS for navigation, and as a key component of the ADS-B system, for surveillance by Air Traffic Control.

Civil Impacts of GPS Jamming
When the military is “testing” their jamming systems, what is the impact on civil aviation?  At the ACMAC meeting, we were informed that the equipment used during the Northern Edge exercise is ground based, operated at two location:  R-2205 east of Eielson Air Force Base, and at Chena Hot Springs.  The jamming will be highly directional in nature, focusing on targets to the north east of those locations.  But be prepared for a shock when you look at the NOTAMs issued regarding these activities.  Even though the plans for jamming are directional in nature, the FAA requires that the NOTAM cover the impact as if jamming was taking place in any direction. Consequently, we end up with projected impacts having a radius of several hundred miles at altitude.

Diagram of the predicted impact of jamming in all directions from the ground locations at R-2205 and Chena Hot Springs. Jamming is planned to take place only to the north east of those locations

Map of potential impacts from GPS testing from NOTAM JFAK 17-01. Please check current NOTAMs before you fly.

The NOTAM issued to warn civil aviation when these exercises are being conducted shows a huge “circle” of airspace that may be impacted, intended to represent an absolute worst case. The actual plans confine the highly directional jamming activities to the north east from the ground locations.  The figures above represents this omni-directional worst case.  At the briefing, FAA advised us that ATC plans to continue to use ADS-B, and to issue clearances for GPS routes and GPS approaches, after cautioning pilots about the activities scheduled during their flight.

Provisions to Cease Jamming
Since the jamming activities can interfere with aircraft navigation, provisions have been made to cease operations should an emergency arise.  ATC will have a direct line of communications to stop jamming and confirm the jammers are off within 60 seconds of receiving the request, in the event of a safety-of-flight issue.  Pilots finding themselves in trouble should contact ATC, in the event of an emergency.

In addition to JPARC airspaces, Northern Edge operations will take place in the Gulf of Alaska, using a corridor between FL220 and 260 to transition between areas

Northern Edge
This exercise is massive in scale.  Over 150 aircraft, launching from bases at Eielson, JBER and Anchorage International Airport are scheduled to participate.  The MOAs and Restricted Areas in the JPARC, along with an offshore airspace over the Gulf of Alaska will see action.  While the exercise runs Monday through Friday for the first two weeks of May, no flying is scheduled on the weekends.  There is a daily pattern to the exercises, with the most intensive flying activities taking place from 10 am to noon for the morning mission, with a second window from 5 to about 7:30 pm. Aircraft departing before and recovering after the mission will extend those times by up to an hour on either end of the day.  Please check NOTAMs carefully during these days, as plans sometimes change in response to weather and other factors.

Getting it right
This training is obviously important to maintain our military readiness. Yet it feels like we still need to find a better balance between communicating the potential impacts of the GPS jamming, without interfering with ongoing civil operations in the National Airspace System.  Please pay close attention during these exercises (there will be more to come later in the season) and tell ATC or Flight Service about any problems you encounter with GPS or ADS-B usage that might relate to this activity.  Please also drop AOPA a message at [email protected].

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