Archive for February, 2012

2011-2012 has been an easy winter

Monday, February 27th, 2012

It is still February as I write this, but I’m going to go out on a limb: The 2011-2012 winter flying season will go down as one of the easiest of my career. The 2010-2011 season will not. As you may recall, 2010-2011 gave us some of the most brutal winter conditions that we’ve seen in years. There were record amounts of snow, especially in the Northeast, and the temperatures were brutally cold. Decent language simply can’t describe how it too often felt just to walk outside. I spent so much time on the deicing pads last winter (or just waiting to get into the pads) that I could have used that time to read War and Peace. Twice.

This year has been the—here comes the winter time pun—polar opposite. It has been very mild, and snow has been relatively rare. The jet stream has been much farther north this year, and my flights have reflected that. While I have still run into the occasional 100-knot headwind, it’s been much less frequent. Most airlines adjust their block times on a seasonal basis, padding them in the winter for jet stream headwinds. Those winds have been so modest this year that I frequently arrive anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes early.

Deicing? Rare is that event this year. Even more unusual, I can usually get away with a single application of Type I or Type II fluid, which the company likes, because it is so much cheaper than having to get sprayed with Type IV. Type IV not only costs a lot more, but it also requires being sprayed with Type I or II first, so the cost is…well, it’s a lot. Come to think of it, I can probably count on one hand the number of times this year that I have had to deice more than once in a day, and I’d be willing to bet that to date I have not deiced more than three times in a day all season. Last year, I had days with five legs, and I deiced on all of them.

Everyone has their own opinion on the validity of global warming, but the reality is that the last few years have been extreme. La Nina and El Nino cycles have affected weather on large scales, and the payback for such a mild winter this year will be severe droughts in areas that can ill afford them (or more of them). Weather extremes have a negative impact on the economy, which affects the ability of people to take advantage of air travel for vacation or business travel. But, after last year, I was ready for a warm winter. Maybe not quite this warm, but from a day-at-the-office perspective, I’ll take it. After all, until you’ve had deicing fluid on your clothes or in your hair, you just can’t relate!—By Chip Wright

The Places You’ll Go: An ice runway in New Hampshire

Friday, February 24th, 2012

“The Places You’ll Go” is an occasional series of blog posts from Flight Training readers about the adventures they experience with a new pilot certificate. We hope these posts will inspire you to press on to the finish line of your own certificate. If you would like to submit a post, email Jill Tallman.—Ed.

On final to Alton Bay, New Hampshire

When we first get the itch to become an aviator, there could be a number of reasons why. Some folks become pilots to make a living flying. Some just for fun. Then there are the ones who do it to test their skills, explore, and enjoy the many destinations that are out there.

Recently my flying partner and best friend Frank Grossman and I fulfilled one of our “bucket list” flying destinations…Alton Bay, New Hampshire. B18 is located at the southern tip of Lake Winnipesaukee and is the only registered ice landing airport in the continental United States. (Ed. note: It’s a seaplane base in the summer.) For a very short period in January and February, the lake freezes over enough to allow general aviation aircraft to land. Frank owns a beautiful 1965 Cherokee 260 Six, which we take all over the place when the opportunity arises.

The day of our trip starting out at Greater Rochester International Airport, we were blessed with clear skies and a nice tailwind to boot. Thirty miles from the bay we encountered clouds and winds, which only got more intense as we got closer. The approach from the south using Runway 1 requires you to make a short-field landing over the hill and trees with swirling winds for us that day were 23 gusting to 31 straight down our nose. The runway was marked by cones since there was not a hint of snow, making it slick glare ice, so braking was pretty much nil! The outside air temp was around 20 degrees but the winds were strong, giving us concern for the Six to get pushed around; chocks were useless unless they had nails driven into the bottoms.

After enjoying a tasty burger and fries while meeting some of the friendly locals, we received our certificate for skillfully landing on the ice. Frank and I loaded up the Six, pointed back into the 30-knot headwind, and were airborne in about 500 feet. The local folks had asked if we could do a return for approach from the north so they could get some photos. Of course we could, it was our pleasure. The winds are very tricky in that end of the lake, which cuased a couple moments of “let’s think this through” before we proceeded. Once clear of the lake, we pointed the nose skyward for the journey back home to KROC, still enjoying some gusty winds. We reached our cruise altitude of 8,500 feet and began to enjoy some much calmer air that only got smoother as the sun started to settle.

Some folks might ask why someone would even consider taking a flight like this knowing that you could run into unfavorable conditions and not be able to get to your primary destination. We as pilots train, train, and train some more so that we have all of the variables in place regarding each and every situation. Safety is first and foremost; it is the number one item at the top of the list with no substitutes. We plan, lay out our options, and go if everything looks right–no second guesses. So why did Frank and I make this trip to such a beautiful destination? To enjoy the rewards of experiencing just such a flight that tested our skills, to explore a place that we had only heard of, and to be able to pass on to others…because we are pilots. Now if you will excuse me, I need to finish up planning our next trip. Blue skies, tailwinds, and most of all, let’s be safe out there. —Pat Collins

The number two radio

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

I’ve been asked before what we do with the second radio on airliners, so I’m here to tell you (this assumes an aircraft with two required radios and a backup). Are you ready? It depends….

If the airplane is equipped with ACARS (Aircraft Crew Alerting and Reporting System, sort of an in-flight email/fax system), most of the time you will monitor 121.5. If the airplane is not ACARS equipped, or if the ACARS is out of service, the procedures will vary a bit from company to company, but most of the time, you will monitor a designated company radio frequency.

Since my airline flies for Delta, we monitor the Atlanta Radio network. That way Delta can spy on us, plus it saves having to build our own network nationwide, which would make it harder for Delta to spy on us. We have available to us a map that shows what frequency we are supposed to use in a given area. There are approximately eight or nine airborne sections of the United States, plus a few each in Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, et cetera. Because the FARs require that an airline be capable of contacting any airplane at any time, crews must monitor a designated company frequency or have functional alternative, such as ACARS.

There are also a number of locations where dial-up ground frequencies are available.

Our network is guaranteed to work above a certain altitude, again, per the FARs.

As for when the number two radio is used, well, this is the “it depends” area. We can use the company frequency for a number of things: calling for weather updates, advising the company of a hold or delay or a diversion, discussing maintenance issues with the dispatcher or mechanic, passenger service issues, or any number of emergencies or critical events. It can be a little disconcerting to hear a full-blown emergency in progress, especially if you happen to be on the same ATC frequency as the crew that is in distress. But it’s also good to see how others handle certain situations to compare to your own methodology.

Company radio is only supposed to be used for company, flight-specific information, but it isn’t unusual for someone to request football scores or election results. Occasionally, a pair of pilots will recognize each others’ voice on the ATC frequency, and they will switch an air-to-air frequency on the number two radio to chat for a couple of minutes. Not exactly what’s supposed to be done, but it is never for very long, and for the most part it’s no-harm, no-foul.

Closer to the airport, each station has its own frequency, similar to an FBO. Crews will call “in range” anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes out, workload permitting. This is an opportunity to verify the gate and relay any specific needs, which might be mundane (bags of ice) to the more important customer needs (wheelchairs). It’s also a chance to give a station a heads up on any potential delays or issues for the outbound flight.

In short, the number two radio is often used exactly as you use it today in general aviation. With two pilots–especially when something is going wrong–it can be your most valuable asset. In fact, the FARs require at least two functioning primary radios, so if one of them fails, you aren’t going anywhere. It’s that important.–Chip Wright

That wasn’t in the brochure

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Every job has its upsides and downsides. Flying is no different. I recall a conversation with a friend of mine in which we were both lamenting something common between our companies. I don’t remember what it was, and it doesn’t really matter. But he summed it up very eloquently: “this was not in the brochure!” I couldn’t help but laugh. Fifteen years in the business has shown me any number of learning experiences…many of which are not in any brochure or would find their way into a Chamber of Commerce commercial.

For instance, when I first got into this business, I had the illusion that all of my trips would take me to exotic locales on a gorgeous beaches surrounded by a bevy of Victoria’s Secret models. The sun would always shine, the ride would always be smooth, and I would get paid truckloads of money. It didn’t help that when I started, I was based in Orlando, and I spent a lot of time going to Miami, Fort Lauderdale, the Bahamas and Key West. Further, I went to college in Florida, and most of my airline travels as a consumer had been to and from the Sunshine State. I got spoiled rotten and quickly.

Fast forward just a few years later, when I’d transferred to Cincinnati. Cold weather ops took on a new meaning. Deicing became a routine part of my work day, and at times the snow would fall so fast that we would not only deice, but we’d be forced to re-deice. More times than I care to remember trucks would run out of deice fluid, or would break down. A new truck has to be called, and the fluid heated (to 140 degrees F). If it happens halfway through the process, then it all has to be started over. Since we deice with the APU shut down (to avoid flooding the APU), the air conditioning is turned off and the airplane gets cold quickly. You can easily fall an hour or two behind before you have flown a single leg of the trip. It makes for long days indeed.

Hotels can often drive crews crazy as well. They can be noisy, either inside (New Year’s Eve is an awful time to fly a trip, not because of the holiday, but because of the disruption to your sleep) or out. Fire alarms go off unexpectedly. I was in a hotel when a bomb threat was called in. Renovations cause issues as well. The biggest hotel issue for airline crews, though, is unreliable transportation. Don’t get me started on that one.

Weather in general will make you shake your head. I fly in weather now that at one time would have been unthinkable. I’ve been in or through more hurricanes than I can count. I’ve had one severe icing encounter, dealt with a extreme turbulence, and picked my way through, over, around, and under enough storms for a lifetime. There is an expression that line pilots use: “It doesn’t matter what the Weather Channel shows….we’re going.” That turns out to be true more often than not. We may wait for the weather to pass, but we usually go.

I once had to go from Cincy to Indy, a flight that is normally less than 20 minutes. But because of a line of storms, we had to fly due south to Memphis, turn west through a break in the line, and head back north. Even if we could have turned early, we would have had to hold because we needed to burn enough fuel to get down to our max landing weight. Low visibility, high winds, and storms on the field are all that usually force cancellations, but more are caused by airplanes that need to divert, which forces the airlines to modify the schedule.

Mechanicals are another story. I once spent 12 hours at O’Hare waiting for a new tire that somehow got lost. Don’t ask…I just work here.

What gets you through these days? Two things. First, they are so rare on the whole. Second, the guy or gal sitting next to me. You have to have a sense of humor—sometimes gallows humor. Bellyaching isn’t going to improve anything, and you have to take the bad with the good, especially when you are getting paid for it. Besides, in my opinion, the good far outweighs the bad.

But I sure do miss my beachside hotels, especially in the winter…–Chip Wright

Your first airplane

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Your first airplane and your first kiss. Good or bad, you’ll remember them always.

You may be in the throes of primary training and quite possibly sick to death of yanking and banking your 172, or your Champ, or your Cherokee. But one day you’ll think of that trusty steed and be nostalgic for those days when you were bumping around the pattern trying to nail a perfect landing. That first airplane is the one that opens all the doors for you–the one that shows you what you’re capable of doing as a pilot.

You might even get to revisit those days, as I did last week.

When I started on the road to a pilot certificate, the local flight school had the standard Cessna 172s and Piper PA-28-180s, but it also had a small fleet of Socata Tampico TB9s–low-wing 160-hp four-seat trainers manufactured in France. The TB9s came by the nickname “Slow-Pico” honestly, but they were stable and fairly easy to fly. And they had cool gull-wing doors on both sides. They looked like sports cars–like something John DeLorean would have designed if he’d been an aeronautical engineer. They looked fast, even if they weren’t.

I got my ticket in a TB9 and continued to fly them until 2005, when the flight school decided to update its fleet with glass-cockpit 172s. I estimate that around 300 of my 700 or so hours are in TB9s, and I have around 10 hours in the TB9’s big sister, the Trinidad TB20. When they went away, I missed them for awhile, but I moved on to the Piper Archer and, eventually, to the Cherokee 140 I own today.

Last week I climbed back into the left seat of a TB9 to take a flight for a story that will appear in an upcoming issue of our sister publication, AOPA Pilot. N28216 is actually one that I flew quite a bit in primary training. It’s still based here at KFDK, although my other love, 5557J, has since moved on.

Sitting in 216’s left seat was both alien and familiar, all at once. On the takeoff roll, I was a little heavy-handed on rotation and got a blip of the stall horn (shades of my student days!). The power-off stall was as gentle as I remembered; the power-on stall everybit as jaw-clenching. (The airplane doesn’t want to stall, and you seem to hang vertically for long moments until the break finally happens.) Coming back into the pattern, I again reverted to the good old days and was too high on the final approach. I wondered if I’d thump it on to make my trip down memory lane complete, but thankfully I did not.

That flight triggered a lot of memories. My checkride…my first flight with passengers…a trip to Ocean City, Maryland, with my two children…all in a TB9. The little gull-winged airplane started me on a wonderful journey. So treat your trainer kindly. You’re gonna miss it when it’s gone.–Jill W. Tallman