Archive for May, 2010
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!”
What may be even more incredible than the shot itself is their claim that it was made on the second try. Are they pulling our tiedown chains? There’s no real reason for them to do so; they’ve been quoted as saying they keep trying until they succeed. And in the background, the pilot appears to be performing a thorough preflight.
OK, I’ll give them the three-pointer. But I’ll bet it takes ‘em more than two tries to learn how to land the Super Cub, even on a grass strip. (You can see more of their shots on the Dude Perfect website.)
Monday morning was beautiful for our departure from Florida, and the weather briefer said so long as we stayed inland in the Carolinas, we’d be fine. “Great,” my wife said. “We’ll have a tailwind, right?” If only. I had hope after takeoff passing through 5,000 feet when the groundspeed read fairly close to true airspeed. But above 7,000 feet, where the ride was smoother, the headwind was an agonizing 20 knots. Over an hour or two, that’s no big deal. Over four hours, it was frustrating.
I had time over the long flight to consider how often I get headwinds, and I swear it’s more than 50 percent of the time. Now, I realize that’s like saying you get all the red lights, but in my case, I think it’s true. There are more flights than I care to remember when I had a headwind both coming and going. So from this flight on, I’m going to track it in my logbook.
But I’m thinking others must have done this. How’s your headwind/tailwind record? And for sake of consistency, I’m talking about where you’re flying to go somewhere, not just out to the practice area.
Len Buckel knew I had to be talking about him and his 1945 J-3, even though the Sentimental Journey folks who told me about him never mentioned him by name. After all, how many pilots go coast to coast in a J-3 Cub, year after year, to the Sentimental Journey Fly-In at Lock Haven? He e-mailed me to set the record straight: “The most time it ever took was seven days going there in 1986. We had bad weather that year and sat on the ground a lot. We had headwinds in both directions in 1986. We put 80.7 hours on the tachometers for the round trip. Two J-3s went from San Diego the first year.
“In 1987 I had tailwinds both ways. I put 70.7 hours on the tachometer that year and got to Lock Haven in three LONG days. I had a 50-mph tailwind for the first two days out of San Diego. It was hard to believe that the same route would be 10 tachometer hours shorter because of the winds. The least amount of round trip time of my 13 trips was 62.3 hours in 1995.”
Consider yourself vindicated, Len. And as for your question about whether I’m related to Frank Tallman, well, that’s a blog for another week.
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 www.aopa.org for a short video clip or two of the Apex in action.
Garmin recently added synthetic vision as a free option on its G3X system for Experimental and Light Sport Aircraft – and the first time I flew with it last week, I couldn’t get that song out of my head by The Who, the one about seeing for miles and miles.
Taking off from AOPA’s home field at Frederick Municipal Airport, my normal procedure for staying clear of the Washington airspace is to head directly for the notch in the mountains carved by the Potomac River at Harpers Ferry. Even though the haze kept me from seeing the terrain roughly 20 miles distant, the notch in the mountains was clear on the colorful G3X screen. Looking through the haze was the next best thing to X-ray vision.
The synthetic vision has terrain warnings that turn the hills yellow when they’re 1,000 feet or less below your altitude, and red at 100 feet. The Potomac and Shenandoah rivers showed up in beautiful blue relief on the screen.
Out over West Virginia, I tested the screen’s update rate with a few loops and rolls. Unlike other Garmin units with synthetic vision such as the G1000, the G3X doesn’t revert to the Horizontal Situation Indicator screen in unusual attitudes. Its screen rate and processing power are sufficient to keep the GPS-derived world view showing as the horizon goes around.
Returning to the airport for landing, I made a simulated ILS approach to Runway 23. The G3X provided vertical guidance to 1,000 feet agl at a distance of about two miles, and there the runway representation on the screen was sharp and clear. Just like the real runway, it’s black with a white centerline, and the numbers 2-3 are easy to read on the threshold. Continuing the approach is a simple matter of putting the Flight Path Marker (the green dot) on the touchdown point and flying to it.
The G3X doesn’t show the visual “pathways” (a series of green or magenta boxes) to fly through. And the mental transition that takes place when a pilot must shift from flying “head’s down” on the gauges to looking outside for visual references seems like it won’t be much of a transition at all with synthetic vision.
After a few hours with the updated G3X, it’s easy to see that student pilots who learn to fly in Cessna 162 Skycatchers and other trainers equipped with synthetic vision will want to stick with the technology as they move up to larger and faster aircraft. Garmin allows a clear upgrade path through the G500/600 to the G1000 and even the G3000 – and competitors such as Aspen and Bendix/King are moving quickly to get their own versions FAA certified and into the market. Among Experimental avionics manufacturers such as Advanced, Dynon, and Grand Rapids, synthetic vision has already become standard equipment.
Those of us who learned to fly on round gauges may fondly remember the instrument scan and partial-panel approaches. But it’s nothing like being able to see for miles and miles . . .
Also, I’m thinking that two pilots would be best. One to fly, the other to work the avionics. The more I think about it, the more I wonder what heavy IMC, a missed approach, a re-routing–at night and near high terrain–might be like for a solo newbie Apex driver. If you aren’t really, really good friends with your wonder-boxes they can work against you, in spite of their vast capabilities.
Lastly, I’ve come up with a new angle on the tried-and-true “aviate, navigate, communicate” triumvirate. Let’s change that to “aviate, aviate, aviate.”
For me, that friend was The Oklahoma Aviator. This 12-page newspaper (honestly, it was printed on newsprint) came out once a month. Each time it arrived in my mail slot here at AOPA headquarters, it took me back to September 2004, when I went to Oklahoma to get some taildragger training. My instructor was Earl Downs, publisher of The Oklahoma Aviator, and we flew in his immaculate Aeronca Champ, Youfi. He and his wife, Mimi, welcomed me to their home in Cushing and treated me like family. While I was there, not only did I get my first taste of “real” airplane flying, but I also learned about oil pipeline patrol, and I got to watch a farrier shoe Mimi’s horses. (Every girl loves horses, donchaknow.)
In Oklahoma, I learned a lot about Earl, who has been involved in flying since he and his twin brother first bought a Cub when they were teenagers (or was it a Champ or a Chief? Sorry, Earl). I learned a lot about Mimi, a spiritual person who loves flying (she used to own an Ercoupe!) and horses and dogs and, most of all, Earl. I discovered the unexpected pleasure of flying in a part of the country where they don’t have to worry so much about busting airspace and looking down the wrong end of an F-16. The Aviator reminded me of all of this, not to mention the fact that there is a vibrant aviation community beyond my little corner of the world sandwiched in between P-40 and the Special Flight Rules Area.
So I’m sitting here with my friend for the last time. After 29 years (Earl ran things the last six years), the little newspaper is folding. I’m not going to get all pontificate-y about the state of publishing, or print versus online, or the state of GA. I’m just going to wish Earl and Mimi all the best and hope I can get back out to Oklahoma one of these days so we can catch up for real, instead of by newsprint.