Tom Horne Archive

Prepping for show time

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Next week I’m set to give a presentation at the Pilatus Owners and Pilots Association (POPA) convention in Tulsa. My topic: Accident Insights. With the emphasis on recent PC-12 accidents.

This ought to be interesting. Telling PC-12 owners how they went wrong. Let’s see, in 2009 there were three fatal PC-12 accidents: a CFIT, a loss-of-control after an avionics malfunction, and a mysterious crash in Montana after an unexplained diversion. That Montana crash caused 14 fatalities. Hmmm, the airplane only had eight cabin seats. What can I say about these accidents? That’s what I’m mulling over. And hanging over all of this is the rumor that the parents of two of the Montana victims will be in the audience.

We’ll probably never know the direct cause for the avionics-related and Montana crashes. But the CFIT is a bit easier to understand. The pilot started the day in Akron, flew to Teterboro, worked a full day, then flew to Lubbock TX for a fuel stop, then on to Santa Fe. That’s where he hit the mountains shrouded in darkness–in good VFR weather. He’d been up for 17 hours. Oh, and he’d been diagnosed with ADHD, for which he took amphetamines. Though he didn’t report this on his airman medical exam form, it came out in the investigation. Even so, the NTSB said the probable cause was fatigue.

So, there’s a peek into 10 slides of the powerpoint. There are 44 more, but you’ll have to go to the POPA convention (it’s June 3-5, at the Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center) to see those. But back to the question. What to say about these recent fatals? How about: technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, but we persist in crashing because of poor judgment–and perhaps a deterioration of basic flying skills in spite of fancy avionics. That Santa Fe CFIT pilot had to be staring at three huge display screens. All of them bright red, backed up with a voice urging “terrain, pull up!”

Apex, in flight

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Well, my time at SimCom’s Orlando facility is over, and my 11 hours of simulator time flying the PC-12 NG’s Apex avionics has opened my eyes. After a halting start, the procedures became more intuitive–in spite of all those different data entry methods I mentioned in my earlier “Controls for Control Freaks” blog. Do I know the Apex inside-out? No sir, there’s way too much functionality in the Apex to conquer it in a mere week. With 25 hours flying beside an Apex whiz? That’s the way to Apex independence. 

One of those whizzes would be Peter Duncan, Pilatus’ chief pilot. Duncan can make the Apex sing, as I observed first-hand in a PC-12 NG trip from AOPA’s home field at Frederick, Maryland to the airport at Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Of course, the airplane behaves much better than the simulator, which was a relief. Another relief came in the form of yet another method of data entry–Pilatus’ new cursor control device (CCD). The CCD lives at the base of the center pedestal, where it “falls easily to hand,” as the hackneyed phrase goes.

Within the CCD is a trackball, a scroll wheel, and “enter” keys. Instead of using the old joystick method of navigating the Apex’s display screens–and watching the cursor careen all over the place–the CCD lets you move the cursor more smoothly and precisely. I’m told the CCD is a $35,000 option, but I’m betting that most customers will spring for it. And relegate the joystick to backup data-entry status.

During our hour-long flight, Duncan worked the Apex like a maestro–trackballing, scrolling and clicking at lightning speed. Soon, we were at Lancaster, on the RNAV GPS approach to runway 26. Weather was something like 3,000 overcast and 6+, but we did a missed approach to show off just one of Apex’s very cool features: the autopilot flying the entire missed approach procedure. At the MAP, just click off the autopilot, hit the go-around button to get the flight director command bars, apply takeoff power, then hit the “Nav” button on the glareshield-mounted flight control panel. The airplane then flies the entire missed approach procedure, complete with holding pattern. Oh, did I forget to mention that the Apex automatically tacks the missed approach procedure onto the end of every flight plan?

There’s much more to say about the Apex, but it can’t be adequately addressed in a blog. Watch AOPA Pilot for an upcoming article on the Apex, and for a short video clip or two of the Apex in action.

Controls for the control freaks

Monday, May 10th, 2010

I’m currently at Simcom-Orlando, taking a Pilatus PC-12 NG transition course. And the name of the game is Apex, as in Honeywell”s Apex avionics suite. That’s the “NG” (Next Generation) in the since-2008 PC-12 models.

 Like different data-entry methods? You’ll love the Apex.

Push-and-turn knobs? Apex has ‘em. Ditto rotary knobs, keypads, line select keys, point-and-click–they’re all here. Oh, and don’t forget the mini-joystick, for maneuvering around the two multifunction displays. I think that every possible method of data entry is represented in the Apex design philosophy. Plus, many data entries can be accomplished by more than one  strategy.  Can you say “heads-down”?

Which makes for a steep learning curve, my brothers and sisters. Today I supped at the fire-hose dinner. Will tomorrow be better? Hope so. By Friday I should be a pro and pointing, clicking, twisting, pushing, and highlighting. That’s what they tell me.

One thing’s for sure. The airplane is a whale of a lot easier to run than the avionics. At least, from this day-one perspective.

The chopper pilot pays a call

Monday, March 15th, 2010

Those of you who liked the March AOPA Pilot’s story–and there were a lot, judging by my inbox–on the Virginia Beach, Virginia police helicopter unit may be interested to know that the pilot featured in the article (“Eyes in the Sky”) paid a visit to AOPA headquarters. David Cook was taking some time off, and flew from his home field in Norfolk to FDK. And no, he didn’t fly the Bell 407 he flies on duty. Instead, he flew his personal Cherokee 140.

MPO Dave Cook, Virginia Beach Police Dept.
MPO Dave Cook, Virginia Beach Police Dept. (center),
with ‘AOPA Pilot’ Editor in Chief Tom Haines (left) and
‘AOPA Pilot’ Editor at Large Tom Horne (right)

I gave Cook the “dollar” tour, which included the chance to meet with all the AOPA Pilot and Flight Training staffers, plus stops at each of AOPA’s divisions. He was an especially big hit in the Membership Department, where a few staffers postively swarmed Cook. “I’m not a celebrity!” Cook protested. But never mind. In the end, he lent his autograph to staffer Kim Lee’s copy of the March issue.

Then it was over to the “Airway Inn”, the airport restaurant. He had a club sandwich. I had a burger. Then he was off to Kentucky to meet his relatives, taking with him the extra magazines we gave him–and a couple of poster-sized covers of the March issue. A half-hour later I called up his N-number on He was over Martinsburg, WV, doing 107 knots and no doubt wearing a smile.

The power of small conversation

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

Last year I gave a presentation at an aviation weather workshop in Columbia, South Carolina. Among the attendees were representatives from the National Weather Service, the major airlines, educators, local governments, and weather-media types like me.

Sitting behind me was Christy Henderson, chief meteorologist at WSPA-TV in Spartanburg, South Carolina. We struck up a conversation. She said she had always wanted to learn to fly, but never followed up. I assured her that becoming a pilot requires neither superhuman intellect nor strength–just a committed desire.

The conversation went on to topics like weather web sites, plus of course AOPA’s web site. We swapped business cards, and I thought, well, that’s that.

A week ago I got an e-mail and a phone call from Christy. My few words of encouragement had apparently had an immense effect. Christy soloed!

So never, ever underestimate the power of even the slightest encouragement. As one of my meteorology professors once said of the dangers to the brain of acquiring bad weather analysis practices, “be very, very careful what you put in there, because it may never come out.”

The same can be said of the power of positive suggestion. “Your life will change in ways you can’t now anticipate,” I told her. Here’s a shot of Christy shortly after her solo. Those of you in the Spartanburg-Greenville-Anderson SC–and Asheville NC–areas can see her live on Channel 7.

Christy Henderson after her first solo.

Have we “weathered” the recession?

Friday, June 5th, 2009

Interesting information today from a phone conversation with Aviation Weather Center Warning Coordination Meteorologist Pat Murphy. The AWC runs the popular Aviation Digital Data Service (ADDS) Web site, which is one of the most popular weather Web sites on the Internet.

How popular? How about 10 to 11 million hits per day! Murphy said that the numbers dropped to 8 to 9 million hits a day back in January through March 2009. Those were the gory days when the economy hit bottom.

But now the gore is turning to glory. The numbers are back up to their former heights. “We think it’s because more people are flying,” Murphy said. Maybe Jim Cramer should ADDS hits to his bag of technical insights.

A studied look at AF 447’s wx

Friday, June 5th, 2009

We’re going through the predictable stages of speculation regarding the Air France 447 crash. Interesting how first theories/rumors are nearly always wrong-and that goes for any airplane crash. But Tim Vasquez, a noted meteorologist in Norman, Oklahoma, has done a masterful job of compiling what data exists concerning the mesoscale situation that AF 447 may have encountered. If you want to see what a classy meteorological case study looks like, check it out online

What’s interesting about Vasquez’s analysis is that the variables seem pretty much ordinary for the inter-tropical convergence zone. CAPE (convective available potential energy–a measure of potential storm severity) values were nowhere near the values we see in midwestern storm complexes. Vasquez estimates cloud tops as being 56,000 feet, which is significant given AF 447’s cruise altitude of 35,000 feet. The worst turbulence may have come after the airplane exited a storm cell.

Data is sparse over the crash region, so Vasquez uses GOES-10 and Meteosat-9 satellite imagery to come up with likely scenarios. His verdict: turbulence was the culprit. But, as always, the jury is still out, and may never come in, unless those voice and data recorders are recovered. My guess is that this will be a landmark accident, in that live data-streaming from the cockpit to ground-based computers will make on-board CVRs and DVRs things of the past.

Europe as GA bellwhether

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

Go ahead and laugh at the alternative powerplants being shown at this year’s AERO convention in Friedrichshafen, Germany. Yeah, they’re tiny and have minimal power outputs. But make no mistake: “Green” is the word over in the Old Country. Cruising along the autobahn, you see entire rooves of farmhouses covered in solar panels. Why? To earn generous energy credits.

In GA applications, I saw several promising powerplant schemes. One, Flight Design’s hybrid electric/Rotax combination, gives you a conventional engine coupled with a 40-hp electric motor. For takeoff, you use the Rotax plus the electric motor. In normal cruise, the electric motor is shut down. Lose your Rotax? The electric engine’s power helps get you to a better forced-landing location than if you had zero power.

Eric Raymond’s Sunseeker solar-powered motorized sailplane has already flown across the U.S., and now Raymond wants to fly his Sunseeker from his home in Zurich to the Pyrenees, and then on to North Africa. Raymond knows solar power. He worked with DuPont’s Solar Challenger in the 1980s. The Sunseeker’s solar panels are covered by a tough protective coating. “If you tried to wax it, the wax wouldn’t stick to it,” Raymond said.

Another neat concept is the solar hangar. Solar power opens and close the hangar door, provides energy to charge batteries, heat and light the hangar, and even preheat engines. Make more energy than you use? Then maybe the Obama administration can come up with a tax plan to credit your eco-savvy.

My guess is that the U.S. will be seeing more of these sorts of new approaches to power generation. The most cynical opinions hold that avgas may go the way of the Dodo bird. Until then, we’re hostage to fluctuating oil prices–and the whims of the oil-producing nations.  The Old Country may be helping to point the way out of that predicament.

For more on our AERO coverage including news reports and videos, see AOPA Online’s Home page:


Green Ipanema

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Green is fashionable these days, but Embraer now makes its Ipanema (the EMB 200 series) agplane in an E96 ethanol-burning version. It uses a modified 320-hp Lycoming IO-540 that has bored-out fuel nozzles for more power than standard-issue IO-540s. As a result, the Ipanema also burns more of that eco-friendly fuel. In the past 40 years of its production, Embraer has sold 1,050 Ipanemas. But since 2004, 50 were all ethanol-burners. These are called EMB 202As.

The River of Meat

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Like meat? Go to Brazil. I’m visiting with Embraer here, and its employees are fond of a certain type of restaurant.

They’re called churrascarias. I think that’s Portugese for “carnivore temple.” You go in, sit down, and pretty soon here comes a waiter with a huge spit of meat. You take a slice. He comes back again. You take another slice. This goes on until you turn on the “no mas” indicator on your table. No kidding. And even then, the guy keeps coming back at what seems like one-minute intervals. It’s a veritable river of meat. This keeps up until you either die of a burst stomach or urgently signal for the bill.

I took home a card showing all the meat cuts. It’s a meat road map. Now I can tell you what I ate: filet mignon, rump ( I don’t speak Portugese, so I just nodded when he said “Lagarto”), neck meat, and hump. That’s the large blister-o-meat on the back of a bull’s neck. Washed it down with a thimble of “43”–a Spanish herb liquere.