Archive for May, 2010

Helicopter model goes berserk

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Actually, the four-rotor helicopter in this video was tightly controlled by a computer. I just wanted to get your attention. Some University of Pennsylvania students have been having too much fun. The computer programs the motions needed to jump through windows, or slam into a Velcroed target. Notice the developers have placed strong netting between themselves and their invention.

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!”

Only two tries?

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Tossing a basketball out of the backseat of a Super Cub–in flight–and having it go right through the hoop? That’s the latest feat accomplished by Dude Perfect, six college roommates from Texas with a history of slick trick shots. Their Cub caper is part of a series of commercials for GMC Trucks.

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.)

Headwinds, headwinds, and more headwinds

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Last weekend I flew my wife and our young son from our home base in Frederick, Maryland, to Cross City, Florida in an A-36 Bonanza. We left Friday after work and planned to take the day Monday to travel back. A weather system coming from the west meant an unplanned overnight on Friday in Savannah. It also meant headwinds the entire way down.

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.

Coast to coast in a Cub

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

“Pilots return year after year to see familiar faces, including a San Diego pilot who flies a J-3 Cub. It takes him two weeks to get to Sentimental Journey and two weeks to fly back to the West Coast.” That’s what I wrote for “Color Me Yellow,” my article on the Sentimental Journey Fly-In, which was published in the June Flight Training.

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.

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 www.aopa.org for a short video clip or two of the Apex in action.

Saving the animals, one flight at a time

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

Some people love dogs, some people prefer cats. I happen to own three dogs and one cat, so draw your own conclusions. Two were rescued; two were adopted from animal shelters.
   I’m thankful for the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of animal rescue groups around the nation. They do the work–pulling dogs and cats from shelters and keeping them in foster homes–that most of us will not. They advocate for creatures that cannot speak for themselves.
   Animal Rescue Flights and Pilots ‘n’ Paws are among the volunteer pilot organizations that help to transport rescued dogs and cats to new homes. (And I can’t leave out Ted DuPuis and Cloud Nine Rescue Flights. Ted and his Piper Aztec routinely make 700-nm trips to rescue animals.) (If you know of any other pilot groups doing animal rescues, please tell us all about them in the Comments section.)
   David Jack Kenny, my colleague in the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, has spent many weekend hours flying as many dogs as he can fit in his Piper Arrow to new homes. On Sunday he flew the second part of a two-leg flight that originated in North Carolina in which he transported two English setters from Westminster, Maryland, to Columbus, Ohio. Michele McGuire, the pilot of the first leg, had to fly an approach to minimums to land at Person County in North Carolina.
   The year-old dogs are litter-mates. Their owner decided that they weren’t good prospects to be trained as hunting dogs. And, in leaving them at the shelter, he effectively signed their death sentences. Perhaps this man wasn’t aware (or didn’t want to believe) that purebred dogs get put to sleep just the same as mixed-breeds do. Perhaps he thought surrendered dogs aren’t put down. Unfortunately, because of the overcrowding and lack of funds at  shelters in many states, that’s exactly what happens–unless the rescue groups can reach them in time.
  The Animal Protection Society of Person County pulled these setters and worked with Susan England at Ohio English Setter Rescue (shown here with the happy new arrivals) to place them. “They were beautiful young dogs,” David said. “It was worth going to some trouble to get them to safety.” If you have a fondness for English setters, Susan’s rescue has more waiting for forever homes. And if you can’t get to Ohio, there’s this volunteer organization that might be able to help…

I can see for miles and miles . . .

Friday, May 14th, 2010

Garmin G3X on approach to Runway 23 at KFDK

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 . . .

Two pilots, please!

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

In today’s Pilatus PC-12 NG training session I flew three approaches, and actually got to work the Apex avionics while the “airplane” was moving! The procedures are becoming more familiar, but I have a few day-two training observations. One is that the autopilot/flight control system should be made a no-go item. Anyone hoping to successfully fly this airplane in IMC simply cannot afford to be without George. The other is to NEVER try to program the Apex (or any other set of boxes) while flying down a final approach course, lest the avionics sidetrack you. How do I know? At 500 feet agl I realized I forgot to lower the landing gear….arrrgh. Thanks, EGPWS.

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.”

So long, ‘Oklahoma Aviator’

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

Lots of people look forward to getting their monthly copies of AOPA Pilot, Flight Training, EAA Sport Aviation, or what have you in the mail. It’s like the welcome arrival of a dear friend who stays only as long as you want them there. You settle down with that friend over a cold drink or a cup of tea, and for the next hour or so everything else goes away.

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.