Archive for June, 2011

The knotty truth

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

Ever wonder what a knot is, and why we use them in aviation? I did.

The term actually began with real knots tied into a rope, and like much of our aviation lingo, comes from the maritime world. While the exact beginning is difficult to determine, it is believed that the knot methodology began in the late 1500’s, and that it was in widespread use by the 1600’s. In order to measure speed, sailors would tie knots in a rope every42 feet (six feet per fathom, so there were seven fathoms between each knot). The rope was attached to a piece of wood called a “chip log,” which would be cast in the water to the rear of the ship, where it would essentially remain stationary as the rope paid out.

Using a small hour-glass, the sailors would time for approximately 30 seconds and count the number of knots that would pass through their hands and into the water. Over time, the standards were revised, and if you were try this at home your chip log would need knots every 47.3 feet, and you need an hourglass that can time for 28 seconds instead of 30.

At first the United States stuck with the statue measurement of miles per hour in aviation, but in 1969 the FAA began transitioning the industry to the nautical standards. The logic for this is that aeronautical charts, like marine charts, are printed in the nautical scale. By converting our references from miles per hour to knots, we can be sure that we are all speaking the same language.

In case you did not know, the nautical mile is equal to 1.15 statute miles; one statue mile is equal to 0.868 nautical miles. It also brought the American aviation industry into ICAO standards.

I don’t suggest that you start extending rope behind your airplane to measure speed, but if you do at least some of us will understand why.

–Chip Wright

Get thee to Oshkosh

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

Have you made your AirVenture plans yet? If not, why not?

I’m not talking to those of you who put “Oshkosh” on your calendar in indelible ink, year in and year out. (God bless you.) I’m talking to those of you who, for whatever reason, haven’t made it it to Airventure yet, or (because you spent your formative aviation years in a bunker) don’t know what it is.

AirVenture is one of the biggest airshows in the world, a crown it battles the Paris Airshow for. For a solid week, the faithful trek to Oshkosh, Wisconsin–as many as 100,000 people a day–to immerse themselves in aviation. Big and small, loud, louder or loudest, Oshkosh has it all. You like warbirds? Gyrocopters? Seaplanes? The latest and the greatest? The vintage, the antique, the NORDO? No matter what your personal aviation interest, if you look hard enough, you’re going to find it–and likely a club of people who share your particular passion.

What I think I like best about AirVenture is that, for one glorious week, we’re all in love with aviation. Flying can be a pretty lonely pastime, what with just 627,000 pilots in the United States. And we do our best to share our enthusiasm with nonpilots, but not everybody wants to share it with us. That’s not the case at AirVenture. If you’re there, it’s because you want to be.

And if you’re a student pilot–how to describe it?–AirVenture is like a big glass of water on a hot summer day. Even if you’ve been struggling for weeks with landings and are ready to hang it up, a visit to AirVenture will leave you refreshed, renewed, and ready to get back up there again.

My first trip to AirVenture was during my student pilot days. I lucked out and got a seat on my boss’s A36 Bonanza. It was my first extended cross-country in a GA airplane. I’d been bumbling around the pattern in a trainer for several months. But this was something entirely different. We were going to go somewhere. I listened to Tom’s back-and-forth with ATC and learned what a competent pilot should sound like on the radio. I twisted my fingers into knots as we headed out over Lake Michigan at 10,000 feet, and tried not to think about how immense that stretch of water is.

It doesn’t matter if you fly, or drive, or bicycle to AirVenture. What matters is that you get there. And if you make it to the big show, I hope you’ll stop by the AOPA tent and say hi. I’m there July 27 through August 1. I’ll be the one in the big ole’ sunhat.

Share your favorite Oshkosh memories in the Comments section. See you there!

–Jill Tallman

No really, where AM I?

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

When I was teaching full time, I had a student who had been a flight attendant for TWA in that company’s heyday in the seventies. I don’t recall how long she had flown the line, but when she spoke of her time there, she did so reverentially. She had loved the people, the travel, the exotic locales as well as the Fort Waynes of the world.

One day, I asked her why she had quit something she had so clearly enjoyed. After all, she wasn’t married at the time, and she didn’t have kids. Her answer rather surprised me. She told me that she woke up one morning in Africa (Johannesburg, I believe, but it’s such a big continent that it doesn’t really matter), and she had no idea where she was. It scared her half out of her mind, and she spent a moment or two trying to remember until she gave up and found another way to recall her recall. Once she got her wits about her (some who knew her say she never had any wits, but I digress), she decided she would quit as soon as she was back on U.S. soil. And quit she did.

Being in my early twenties at the time, I could not imagine what it was like to wake up somewhere and literally have no clue where I was. I found the notion absurd, and just chalked it up as another one of her (many, but loveable) eccentricities. It wasn’t long after that I began my own airline career. And it wasn’t too long after I began said career that I was in a hotel room one night, having gotten in so late even the devil was asleep, that I barely got my clothes off and got into bed before my eyes were sand-bagged shut. When I woke up the next morning, I looked around…and realized that I had no idea where in the world I was. I do remember thinking, “This…is…weird.”

I had since heard of others who were afflicted by this syndrome, and so I did what crewmembers have been doing since, well, nineteen hundred and twenty-something: I looked at the phone for the name of the hotel and, specifically, the city in which it was located. Problem solved. I literally had no clue where I had wound up, and my first four or five guesses would have been wrong.

It’s happened to me since, more times than I’d care to admit. Once, I woke up at home, next to my wife, and panicked, not recognizing her and wondering how I was going to explain my way out of this mess. Then I recognized my own room, and calmed down. But on another occasion, I was the only one in my own bed when I woke up, saw my own room, and again didn’t know what I was doing there or why I was there. I thought I was in trouble for not being at work, until I realized that I’d just finished late the night before.

In the years since, I’ve picked up a couple of ideas for dealing with this. Choice one is to look at the phone. It almost never lies. Choice two is to call the front desk and ask them where you are, but that usually elicits some pretty snide comments and offers to take you to the hospital for a psych eval. Choice three is to look at the local phonebook, which is great if it is written in English, and not so great if it isn’t. Last but not least, you can get out of bed and look at your schedule.

Some people do not handle this kind of shock well at all. Even members of my own family tell me that they could never put up with this on a regular basis. It doesn’t happen on a regular basis, but it has happened enough to me now that I don’t mind so much anymore. People who really get disturbed by where-am-I-itis don’t last long in this business, because the first couple of times it does happen, it really can shake you up. I guess that’s especially true if you happen to be in Africa when you are stricken. But now, I just go with the flow. In fact, it’s kind of fun in a weird, pilot sort of way; in fact, it happened to me the day after I wrote the draft of this blog. Go figure. Plus, I don’t have to try to use VOR radials to determine my location. In this day and age, I can just turn on my phone, tap the “Map” icon, and just wait for it to show me exactly where I am. Now, the day I have to do that only to find out I’m at home, I may have get that psych eval. Maybe. –Chip Wright

What Day Is It?

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Days of the week have lost almost all meaning to me. In the rhythm of my travel life, my days are measured not by what thecalendar says, but what Day I am on. For example, as I write this, the calendar says that it is Monday. And so it is. But to me, it is Day 4 of a five day trip. Yesterday was Day 3, not Sunday. This week, I have Wednesday and Thursday off, but for me, they will be the First (or Second) of Two Days Off. It’s sort of like a never ending series of space shuttle countdowns, but without the violent explosions or environmental ramifications.

I have lived this rhythm for almost 15 years. Most of the time, it is a pretty predictable cycle of so many days on and so many days off. But I couldn’t begin to tell you most of the time what the day of the week is, and as far as the actual day of the month, well, you’d have better luck asking me for lottery numbers for the Powerball. I only pay a vague attention to the actual calendar, and during the summer when the kids are out of school, I virtually ignore it.

Considering how much airline schedules can change due to personal needs or changes in seniority or domicile or a host of other factors, this is not all that surprising, and it’s actually pretty common to hear people talk about having the same outlook. And to a degree it is refreshing. Our schedules are not the humdrum of a 9 to 5 cubicle worker, because they change all the time.

In time, you learn there are only certain dates you really need to know. The first and fifteenth are pay day, so we all hail those two days, and somehow we never miss them, no matter where our minds are or what Day of the trip we are on. Bid close dates are critical info as well, as you can find your schedule gone completely to pieces if you forget to bid. October is a general date because we bid for vacations every October for the following year. And pilots at my company know that the 25 of every month is important because in the months we get our medicals, if we don’t have them turned in to the Chief Pilot’s office, we are considered non-qualified and taken off line and not paid.

I’ve learned in time that calendars and watches were made for people like my wife. My wife and I have learned to speak each other’s language, and so we still get where we need to be when we need to be there, be it on Day 1 of my trip or on the Second Day of Four Days off. Now, what happens to my brain when I retire and no longer have groups of Days to follow, I have no idea. That should be interesting, but it is many, many Days away.

–Chip Wright