Tom Haines Archive

Saving an amphib of another kind: Meridian Day Two

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

I saved a toad today. Actually, Bill Inglis, SimCom instructor and center manager at the Piper facility saved the toad. And then the little guy peed on Bill! Just as we were about to close up the right side cowling of the Meridian during the preflight I spied the critter. He was just hanging out, unaware that he might be about to be launched to FL250 to be freeze dried! Bill tried to gather him up, but he jumped farther into the cowling among the Pratt & Whitney’s innards. Eventually he was scooped up and sent to the grass behind the airplane.

Meanwhile, we launched this evening for some approaches at Melbourne. The GFC 700 autopilot is amazingly capable, but learning all its tricks will take some time–especially the Vnav modes. Check out the varied missed approaches MLB handed us for ILS, GPS, and VOR approaches–always to the south: http://flightaware.com/live/flight/N6101G

We spent the morning in the classroom further looking into the Pratt and details about the pressurization system. In the sim, I roasted about $1 million worth of simulated engines, but then just flew away–hot starts, hung starts, wet starts.

Tomorrow promises more emergencies and other maladies to haunt me in the sim and perhaps in the airplane too. Follow N6101G at FlightWare.

Still looking for your G1000 and Meridian operating tricks.

Mastering the Meridian: Day One

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

I watched the Pratt & Whitney turboprop engine’s Ng stabilize at about 15 percent and then I lifted the fuel control lever up and slid it forward. The Piper Meridian’s engine lit and within a few seconds it was clear this was going to be a “good” start. It doesn’t always happen that way. A miscue or a few seconds inattention can turn that $400,000 engine into an expensive conversation-starter coffee table.

With the Pratt spooled up, SimCom instructor and center manager Bill Inglis and I were soon launched into the steamy Florida sky over Vero Beach. After some introductory maneuvers we came back to KVRB for some stop-and-go-landings, a fitting and rewarding end to a challenging day of training that had started 11 hours earlier.

 Ground school on systems and then a pass through the Meridian FTD led up to the late-day flight.

Tomorrow is day two of this five-day initial course. At the end of it, I hope to be able to fly away in a new Meridian with its flashy Garmin G1000 panel.

More ground school and sim sessions tomorrow and then back in the airplane for some approaches to Melbourne.

Do you have any Meridian or G1000 tips and advice to pass along? All input welcome.

Remembering the Kennedy accident

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

I returned home from a few early Saturday morning errands to find a panicked message on my home answering machine. It was July 17, 1999–you remember the days before PDAs and text messages when we were out of touch for sometimes hours at a time. Anyhow, the message was from a media contact at Piper Aircraft who said the company needed help from AOPA. They were being hammered by the media because of the John F. Kennedy Jr. accident. Could we help?

Huh?

Clueless as usual, I turned on the television to find that apparently everyone but I knew that young Kennedy was missing; his Piper Saratoga last heard from near Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, the night before. Thus began what turned out to be a very busy day full of media speculation.

To assist Piper, I tracked down AOPA’s media relations contacts at the time, Warren Morningstar and Drew Steketee. They both were already in the loop (they had pagers–you remember those). I put the two in touch with Piper. The media was starting to question the safety record of the venerable PA-32 and was looking for an independent source of safety information, such as the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. The PA-32 then and now has a fine safety record and the notion that the airplane was at fault quickly went away.

The July 1999 issue of AOPA Pilot happened to have a new Saratoga on the cover, which wasn’t lost on some resourceful reporters for major magazines and newspapers who quickly found my home number and started calling for insights into the airplane. Although I didn’t write that particular article, I did have several hundred hours in the trusty Saratoga. Before I was willing to share any comments I made sure I had a long enough conversation with the reporter to make sure that I felt he was truly looking for insights as opposed to seeking someone to support his own agenda. Most were quite reasonable and could be convinced not to speculate about the cause–especially since at that point they hadn’t even found the bodies of Kennedy, his wife, and sister-in-law.

The next day, a Sunday, I found myself in a Kennedy-esque sort of situation. I was flying northeast from Frederick, Maryland, to Latrobe, Pennsylvania, to look at an F33 Bonanza that I was considering buying. It was a typical Mid-Atlantic sort of summer morning–hazy, hot, and humid. There were a few scattered cumulus clouds around, but they were mostly masked by the haze. Knowing the region well, I launched VFR but soon regretted the decision. It was technically VFR, but the haze was incredibly thick–even by our usual standards. Even in daylight, I was relying mostly on the instruments, happy to have a solid autopilot in the A36 Bonanza I was flying. By my late-morning return to Frederick, the conditions were even worse, but I had wised up enough to file IFR. I couldn’t imagine flying in such conditions at night and over water with no horizon–especially without an instrument rating. What was Junior thinking?

As AOPA Air Safety Foundation President Bruce Landsberg pointed out a year later in our Landmark Accident report, the NTSB determined the accident was the result of spatial disorientation caused by the haze at night and the young pilot’s relative inexperience in flying in such conditions.

In his blog this week, Landsberg reminds us that having a Plan B is the best strategy when you think you might be headed into a situation that is more than you can handle. Equally as important is a willingness to execute Plan B, which can sometimes mean telling naive passengers that you’re driving this evening or staying home, as disappointing as that may be. Better to be stuck at home than the subject of an NTSB report and on the receiving end of a lot of media speculation.

GA and the environment: Your chance to comment

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Leaded fuel, noise, threats of “cap and trade” emission limits (carbon offsets, anyone?). It would be easy to believe that the word “environment” is no friend of general aviation. Yet, GA has an important role to play in the environment–whether helping to spot blatant polluters, putting out forest fires, or providing a bird’s-eye view of run-off or insect infestations, general aviation airplanes are at work every day in support of the environment.

The small amount of lead-tainted emissions from our 100LL is really the least of our worries when it comes to avgas. Even the availability of the lead additive is threatened because of low demand and the dangers of producing and handling it. Even if air pollution were not an issue, we would need to be looking for alternative fuels. And much work is under way on that front.

Noise is an issue we’ve faced for years, and we’ve come up with many simple solutions. Going forward as communities further impinge on airports and as neighbors get ever less tolerant of being disturbed, we may need to get even more creative.

When information is presented properly, environmentally sensitive neighbors will often choose an airport in their community over another shopping mall or housing development that invites even more traffic and pollution. Airports, at least, represent open space. And some airports are hard at work reducing their impact on the environment.

To look into the impact that GA has on the environment and vice versa, we put a team of our editors to work on a special report in the July issue of AOPA Pilot. The package looks at ways you can reduce your impact on the environment while flying–in some cases while reducing your operating costs. We profile airports that are looking out for the environment, show GA at work protecting the environment, and look to Europe for some clever designs that may some day further reduce our impact on the environment and maybe even reduce our costs.

Once you’ve had a chance to read the articles, we hope you’ll come back here and share your thoughts and ideas. The environmental movement is not going to stop at the airport perimeter. It will impact our flying in the future. Let’s start a dialog now and gin up some clever ideas that will keep us flying.

Thanks for your sharing your thoughts in the comments section below.

Flying the Aerocar–Step back in time

Monday, June 8th, 2009

My column about the status of the Terrafugia Transition “flying car” (or “roadable airplane”) has drawn quite a number of responses, but one in particular stands out. Rather than me telling you, read for yourself what AOPA member Paul Gerst experienced relative to Molt Taylor’s famed Aerocar. It’s a fun read and a fascinating look back to another era:

Your great piece, “From highway to airway” in AOPA Pilot’s May issue brought back some treasured memories!

In 1956, or maybe 1957, Kaiser Aluminum sent me to Longview, Washington, to meet with Molt Taylor about Kaiser becoming involved with the Aerocar.

Oddly, I was the only pilot in the headquarters sales organization. At that time Kaiser Motors was still making its often times “thrilling” cars, the Fairchild Division was making airframe components, Kaiser Permante (the cement company, not the HMO!) was into the federal highway program, and, of course, Kaiser Aluminum and Kaiser Steel were significant world wide suppliers of metals!

I was told that Henry Kaiser had seen the Bob Cummings TV show and was attracted to the prospects of the Aerocar. He envisioned that the then-embrionic interstate program could easily lay a quarter mile of landing strips parallel to the highway every 10 miles or so. No IFR needed, with good luck!

The business plan was to sell the separable airfoil and prop assembly on a 10-year repayment plan, and sell the road-able component like a car; at that time, two or three years “to pay”. Molt Taylor had a four-passenger mock-up in his shop, but the two-place model seemed adequate. We envisioned a throng of WWII pilots who had to travel a big territory buying Aerocars! Remember, that was the era when a DC-7 was the “last word” in air travel. It used to take 7 or 8 hours for the Chicago to San Francisco junket, but the stewardesses were in their twenties so one could survive, somehow, if he had to!

Molt met me at the Portland Airport arrival gate in the car section, as I recall, and he let me drive to the part of the field where the wings were parked.The car section drove a lot like a Porsche in first gear; very “torquey”. Molt and I relatively effortlessly attached the wings, tail cone, and empanage. The takeoff was amazing. I recall a trim-tab-like control in the middle of the panel just below where the compass was mounted. It had a couple of pieces of masking tape on which were written: “Take-off” and “Fly Level”, and that’s just what the Aerocar did when the lever was moved.

Molt and I went to a drug store and he bought something his wife wanted, I guess. Maybe he just made the trip to show me that the car was usable around town. Back then there weren’t 500 shopping carts littering every strip center parking lot. I doubt if the Aerocar would fair any better than my Audi S-8 does against a shopping cart!

Those were heady times! I was a young MBA just turning 30. I and my peers felt that the world was our oyster. Anything was possible. Why not the Aerocar?

My Audi S-8 will cruise the interstates at 90 mph for six hours with the all-wheel drive sneering at rain drops, the Bose system hammering out Ornette Coleman harmonies, as I lounge in fully adjustable Italian leather seats caressed by a climate control system that even shunts off the odors from the occasional cattle feed lot.

I think I get it.

Paul “PR” Gerst

Newport Beach, California

Could it be that aviation is a leading manufacturing innovator?

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Some business analysts are suggesting that auto makers must reinvent themselves in order to survive. WIRED magazine this month carries an article about how the car makers should become more like PC makers did 20 years ago. Early computers were purpose built by their manufacturers from hardware to software. All of that changed when companies began designing machines with standardized parts and the ability to run software programs written by anyone. Some of the old-line computer manufacturers couldn’t compete and went out of business.

WIRED suggests that car manufacturers should look to the PC world as a model. How about looking to aircraft manufacturers? Whether in the airliner, business jet, or piston markets, companies focus on what they do best, using major components from other manufacturers. Airframe manufacturers are really good at designing and building airplanes, but they leave the designing and building of avionics and engines to companies that do that well.

Do Ford, GM, and Chrysler really need to design and build their own engines and chassis and transmissions? Some car companies design and build everything, right down to the car radio. Necessary? Probably not.

Perhaps our aircraft manufacturers have been right all along.

When a hangar isn’t just a hangar

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

It’s almost June. Expensive wedding plans got you down? Rather than that lavish and highly expensive wedding hall, how about the hangar instead? For pilots and their aviation friends what a better place to celebrate a wedding ceremony than in the shadow of airplanes.

And so it went for the wedding of Keith Landrum and Jennifer Thacker. Landrum is the assistant chief instructor for Sporty’s Academy at Clermont County Airport near Cincinnati. He proposed to Jennifer from a Sporty’s airplane as friends and family on the ground spelled out the message.

With that kind of a proposal, it only stands to reason that the wedding reception would be in a hangar. In this case, the Palmer Hangar at Sporty’s. Guests enjoyed an aviation-shaped wedding cake in the shadow of Waco biplane, a Cessna Citation, and a Model A Ford.

Of course, an airplane would play a role in the honeymoon too, as the couple jetted off to to the Dominican Republic.

May Keith and Jennifer share the cockpit for many years to come.

Members everywhere

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

The Southwest Airlines captain did a double take as I stepped aboard the Boeing 737 and turned right. “Mr. AOPA! I need to talk to you when we get to Nashville,” he said, spying my AOPA PILOT shirt. “Glad to,” I said as the cattle behind me propelled me down the narrow aisle. Already the cabin seemed full even though I had scored a “B-11″ seating sequence–not bad in the Southwest scheme of things.

Later, shuffling my way toward the front of the cabin in Nashville, a flight attendant near the door saw me coming and alerted the captain. “You got a minute?” he yelled from inside the cockpit.

“I’ll wait right here in the jetway,” I said, still wondering what he might want with me.

In a minute Captain Granville D. Lasseter II stepped out, his giant hand absorbing mine in a handshake. “I have a beautifully restored 1968 Piper Super Cub and I want to take more kids for rides. Any advice on how I can do that?” he asked, going on to explain that he lives in a fly-in community near Houston. The Cub is his “around the patch” airplane. An early Cessna 210 is his traveling machine. Standing there in his crisp Southwest uniform, it was clear right away that Lasseter loves to fly.

I reminded him about the EAA Young Eagles program and AOPA’s Let’s Go Flying program, all designed to introduce people to aviation, especially young people. Truth is, it can be tough to reach kids. Even the Girl Scouts shuns actually flights for their scouts for fear of liability. One way is to invite scouts, students, and other youth organizations to your airport to see your airplane. Take note of those who seem most interested and maybe make arrangements separately with their parents to take the kids for flights.

It was nice to see a pilot so enthused about reaching out to kids and using a general aviation airplane for such a noble cause.

I was still feeling the glow of the Lasseter meeting a couple of days later when I was returning back to Baltimore, this time from Dallas. After our stop in Oklahoma City, my seatmate also noted my PILOT shirt (yes, I did change shirts). “What do you fly?” he asked.

I told him about my Bonanza and Dan Linebarger of Dallas told me about his Cessna 182 with a Continental IO-550 upgrade. “It’s the last airplane I’ll ever need,” he predicted, obviously enchanted by the wonders of the highly capable Skylane wing and airframe mated to a very powerful engine. As the Southwest 737 filled up again,  Linebarger told me that he mostly volunteers his time to worthy causes these days, including flying his 182 to Mexico carrying medical supplies. Of course, while he’s there he also stops in at some of the tremendous fly-in resorts located along Baja California’s hundreds of miles of coastline. Having flown in Baja a few times myself, we compared notes on where we have visited. He knows the peninsula much better than I do, including many isolated communities in need of medical supplies that would take days to deliver over dirt roads instead of a few hours aboard an airplane.

Lasseter’s and Linebarger’s stories of how they use their airplanes inspired me, making the airline flight seem much shorter and more comfortable than it might otherwise. I couldn’t help but wonder how much good work such as that performed by these two pilots will stop if general aviation is slapped with user fees and onerous security regulations.

The chance encounters reieterated to me the need for those of us who understand the value of general aviation to shout it loudly, such as AOPA is attempting to do with our GA Serves America campaign.

I hope you, like Lasseter and Linebarger,  will continue your good use of general aviation airplanes and when you do, make sure you tell your friends, mayors, legislators, and the media about it. Together, we can secure a bright future for general aviation.

Way to go, Sean

Friday, May 8th, 2009

Congratulations to famed air show pilot Sean Tucker for displaying terrific aeronautical decision making–true airmanship.

As you may have heard, Tucker landed on Highway 101 in northern California after concern that he didn’t have enough fuel to make it back to the airport. I can’t imagine a more difficult decision than one where you take a still-functioning airplane and put it down off airport. “Hope” always wants to horn in and convince you that you can make it back to the airport. But, concerned that he had a fuel problem, Tucker quickly assessed the situation and with assistance from the aerobatic team and photo ship he was flying with, put the airplane down safely without a scratch onto the highway. After adding fuel and with permission of authorities, he took off again and flew the short distance back to the airport.

As we have reported in AOPA Pilot making the decision to land off-airport is a tough, but often good choice. In this article, AOPA members retell their tales of such decisions. Once it’s clear you’re going to land somewhere other than airport, you need to take immediate steps to improve your chances of survival, as we noted in this article on forced landings.

Tucker is also to be congratulated for having the PR savvy to fess up to what happened–he ran out of fuel, although it appears a change in the fuel system in his aerobatic airplane may have contributed to the confusion about how much fuel was on board. To hear him recount the tale and hear what he learned from the incident, listen to this podcast from AvWeb.

I’ve known Sean for more than a decade and have always found him careful and wonderfully candid about his flying. As he relates, “Nobody is immune from the gotchas in aviation.”

True, but only the really bright pilots learn from their mistakes and are willing to share their learnings as completely as Tucker has.

When an ATC change isn’t really a change at all

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

The latest edition of the NASA ASRS Callback newsletter points out an annoyance surfaced by airline pilots but shared by those of us who don’t fly for hire–ATC route clearance changes that aren’t really changes at all. You file one thing and clearance delivery clears you for something that sounds quite different, yet when you dig out a stack of charts and plot out the new route, it’s the same or nearly the same as what you filed, but described differently.

Sometimes the subtle differences can lead to annoyance, but there is the potential for more serious issues, especially if the pilot doesn’t notice the subtlety. Here’s one example from the newsletter.

“A pet peeve of some ASRS reporters is PDC’s [pre-departure clearances] that contain apparent route revisions (amendments), when the amendment doesn’t actually change the filed routing. We included an example of this in the March 2009 CALLBACK (Clearance Clarity). Here is an excerpt from that report:

…I have many times encountered an ATC clearance problem that just simply does not have to exist. We are often given a clearance that reads something like, ‘You are cleared direct ABCDE intersection, direct FGHIJ intersection, XXX VOR 123 degree radial to KLMNO intersection, then flight plan route.’…We are forced to dig out charts that we might not normally have out, then try to find the VOR in question and trace out the radial, only to find that the given radial is a direct route from FGHIJ to KLMNO. If we have the equipment to proceed direct to the first two intersections, we obviously have the equipment to proceed directly to the third. Why not just give us direct to all three? Why confuse the issue by throwing in a VOR and radial, when both are completely unnecessary and serve only to create confusion?”

ASRS proposes several ways to improve the situation, including one very logical one:

Discontinue the ATC practice of amending the filed route of flight with fixes that do not represent an actual change of routing. It is time-consuming for pilots to verify that a routing “revision” does not change the filed route of flight. In some cases, pilot confusion may result in track deviations and loss of separation events.

ASRS is a terrific safety program administered by NASA on behalf of the FAA. For more on it and to sign up for their free newsletter that compiles pilot and controller safety concerns, see the Web site (http://asrs.arc.nasa.gov/).

Meanwhile, listen carefully to those ATC clearances.