Archive for January, 2011

Should I fly it?

Monday, January 24th, 2011

When I first upgraded to captain, I had a common feeling: the thrill of the accomplishment combined with a certain sense of fear of making a huge mistake, either in flying the airplane, or in my judgment. Like a lot of people, I’ve made the physical flying mistakes, and some less-than-stellar decisions, but in both cases I’ve managed to avoid having to use the word “huge.”

But as a lot of pilots come to realize, it is the hard decisions you often come to dread, and sometimes those are simply gut feelings you can’t explain to others. They are simply there, and if you are lucky, you can explain it to another pilot and he will understand exactly where you are coming from and accept your decision, even if it can be costly. In the airline or corporate world, this means sometimes cancelling a flight or series of flights when the evidence is at first sketchy.

Flat tires, cracked windshields, or bent turbine blades are clearly no-go items. A call is placed to maintenance, and the problem is either fixed or the flight re-equipped or cancelled. Either way, you hold your head high because you did the right thing no matter who is inconvenienced. But pilots don’t get paid to make easy decisions. They are paid to make hard ones. I had two such occasions recently, one of which led to a delayed but completed flight, and the other grounded the airplane for four days.

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Act like an owner

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

After 10 or so years of flying and who knows how many dollars paid to an FBO to rent an airplane, I recently joined the ranks of aircraft ownership. (What did I buy? A 1968 Piper Cherokee, thanks for asking.) A few days ago I had one of those revelations. This one was the “I can’t ask the flight school for help anymore” revelation.

You know the “ask the flight school” impulse. The landing strut doesn’t look right, but you’re just not sure, so you…ask somebody at the flight school to look at it with you. Or the left landing light isn’t functioning. You can still fly, but when you get back on the ground you note it on the squawk sheet and now it’s the flight school’s problem to deal with.

In my case, I remembered that I need to keep close tabs on my airplane’s tire pressure (which of course you need to do anyway, whether you rent or own). And I realized that I can’t ask the flight school to help me check the pressure anymore. So now I’m also the proud owner of a tire pressure gauge.

Thankfully, in 10 years of renting I’ve picked up some knowledge from airplane owners to help prolong the life of an airplane and hopefully keep annual inspection costs within the realm of sanity. I share these with you so that, as you fly airplanes you rent, you’ll develop good habits that will put a smile on the owner’s face. And should you choose to buy an airplane, these habits will be second-nature.

1. Keep it neat. Don’t trash up the airplane with soda bottles, candy wrappers, or anything else. My friend Lin once found a used diaper in her beloved Piper Archer that she leased back to the local flight school. Gross.

2. Nothing on the top of the instrument panel. Don’t get into the habit of placing a headset, kneeboard, or anything else on the top of the airplane’s instrument panel as you preflight. These can scratch your windshield.

3. Lean the mixture. On the ground, before taxiing, lean the mixture. (Follow your airplane’s POH recommendation in this regard.) This will help to prevent carbon buildup on the spark plugs. (And hey, the February 2011 issue of Flight Training happens to have a handy tech tip on cleaning spark plugs during a magneto check!)

4. Be judicious with the lights. If you are in the habit of turning on the landing lights before takeoff and leaving them on throughout the duration of the flight, it’s not a crime. But it does wear the lights out quicker. And, as another owner once told me, they’re expensive. So follow your checklist and shut the landing lights off during cruise. (If it’s a hazy day and you want the extra insurance that you’ll be seen, that’s another story.)

5. Don’t ride the brakes during taxi. These are expensive to replace, too.

6. Button up the airplane when you’re finished. Make sure the gust lock is in place and the airplane is locked and securely tied down and chocked. If somebody is literally walking out to the ramp to take the airplane from you as you shut down, obviously this isn’t necessary, but for every other occurrence, it should be.

Got any more “act like an owner” tips? If so, throw them in the Comments section.

—Jill W. Tallman

Airline security: Just deal with it

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Want to stir up mass hysteria? Implement the newest tools in aviation security—the backscatter device and enhanced pat-downs. The public has raised a ruckus for two reasons—the unknown level of radiation damage the machines inflict, and the possibility that someone might be seeing an unflattering image of their nude self on a TV screen.

Pilots bring a different viewpoint to the table, especially as it affects us. With regard to both screening processes, I think many pilots share my opinion, which is that we need to deal with it. Let’s start with the full body scanners. Simply put, the metal detectors and hand wands in use today don’t catch anything other than metal.  Richard Reid (the shoe bomber) and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the underwear bomber) were able to get by traditional screening devices because the weaknesses of those systems are so well established. Terrorists have proven adept at getting their hands on plastic explosives such as C-4, and they have the knowledge to fashion crude weapons from other sources the average metal detector won’t catch. The result is the full-body scanner, which can peek under our clothes.

While few of us would relish the thought of someone seeing our bodies in full on a monitor somewhere, we need to keep a few things in mind: You will likely never meet the screener; your face will not be recognizable, and while the system is a bit slower and less than perfect, it is an improvement. While much has also been made of the potential exposure, I have seen so many conflicting reports that I don’t know what to believe.

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