Archive for February, 2013

Photo of the Day: Red Baron Squadron

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

There’s something thrilling about formation flying—especially when it’s pulled off by professionals who make it look like the art form it truly is.

Here you see three of the four Red Baron Squadron Stearmans in flight. Does Red Baron Squadron sound familiar? It should—the airshow act was once the living aviation embodiment of Red Baron frozen pizza. Sadly, Schwan Foods disbanded the airshow performers in 2007. You can read Senior Editor Al Marsh’s account of how the Red Baron Squadron practiced and performed in this article from AOPA Pilot.

Exemption 3585

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

If the airlines didn’t fly every time the weather was less than ideal, they’d never fly. As a result, technology and rules are in place to maximize efficiency and opportunity while minimizing risks. One example lies in getting airplanes off the gate when the weather at the destination is forecast to be below minimums.

Like everyone else, the standard IFR 1-2-3 rule applies: If the weather at the destination from one hour before to one hour after the ETA is forecast to be less than 2,000 feet and three miles, an alternate is required. This is no big deal, obviously, and many of us have left with the weather forecast to be right at the minimums for the approach.

However, sometimes the forecast calls for a possibility of weather that is going to be temporarily below the landing minimums. In FAA weather lingo, we call this “conditional phrases,” and they consist of BCMG, PROB, and TEMPO. For example, the main body of the forecast may have the visibility at one-half mile, but a TEMPO phrase may show a possible drop to on-quarter mile at the ETA.

When this happens, the airlines that have been granted approval to do so can use what is called Exemption 3585. Under the terms of the exemption, the flight will be required to have not one, but two alternates. Further, the method used to determine the alternates is changed as well.

Remember, the airlines do not use the 600-2 and 800-2 rules that GA use for determining the suitability of an alternate; the rules for determining a Part 121 alternate are beyond the scope of this post, but suffice it to say, it’s possible that an airport could be an alternate as long as the forecast is calling for weather of at least 400 feet and one mile.

Under Exemption 3585, the forecast (again, we can use conditional phrases) at the ETA for the first alternate must call for a forecast of no worse than one-half the visibility and ceiling required for the approach. In our example of a 400 and one, the weather at the first alternate can’t be forecast to be less than 200 and one-half.

Looking ahead to the second alternate, the FAA has a pretty simple criteria: This one must be essentially a sure thing. The forecast for the second alternate can also utilize conditional phrases. However, this time, the forecast must call for weather—even with conditional phrases—that equal the ceiling and visibility that can be used for the approach. No reductions are allowed. In essence, if the conditional phrases must have such good weather, it stands to reason that the main body is going to be for nearly VFR conditions.

There is one other option: Category 2 approaches. CAT II approaches can be flown with a runway visibility range (RVR)  reading of 1,200 feet—that is, one-quarter mile of visibility. Such approaches are a pretty hair-raising experience. However, CAT II approaches are a significant investment because of the maintenance requirements for the airplanes, and if the airline does not have a great deal of diversions in a calendar year caused by low visibility, CAT II isn’t worth the cost. Exemption 3585 does the trick.

This is a fairly simple explanation, and the variety of possibilities can get complex and tricky, but Exemption 3585—sort of a poor man’s CAT II that was originally put together for People Express—is an indispensible tool, and if you should ever be hired by a regional, you will spend a lot of time in training dissecting Exemption 3585.

The sad thing is that while you while you will spend hours learning 3585, you will rarely use it. In 16 years of airline flying, I have taken full advantage of 3585 fewer than a dozen times. Category II on the other hand….—Chip Wright

Photo of the Day: Sky Arrow

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Some people (well, one pilot) tag this unusual Light Sport Aircraft an “armchair in the sky.” That’s not a slap at its handling qualities, but rather a testament to the amazing view provided by the canopy design. The Sky Arrow 600 is an Italian design with a carbon fiber airframe and a Rotax 912 ULS. The engine is on top, which makes preflighting a bit of a pain, according to AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Al Marsh, who flew this airplane for an article in the April 2007 issue. But he had good things to say about its performance characteristics, particularly in a strong, gusty crosswind, which you can watch on the video that’s embedded in the article. Marsh is seen flying the airplane over the Chesapeake Bay, and that’s the dual span of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in the background.

Chasing the PIN, part II

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Flight Training Technical Editor Jill Tallman is applying for a personal identification number that will permit her to fly into the Washington, D.C., Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ) and land at historic College Park Airport. It’s a three-part procedure involving visits to the FAA, the fingerprinting office at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, and the airport within the FRZ.—Ed.

There’s a sort of a rich irony that I, a general aviation pilot, am sitting in a Metro subway car heading to National Airport. My destination this morning is the fingerprinting office at the airport, which is the second step in the process of obtaining a PIN that will allow me to fly to College Park Airport in the Flight Restricted Zone. Ironic, because GA traffic isn’t permitted at National Airport (with certain exceptions—those operators that participate in the DCA Access Standard Security Program may utilize the airoprt). This has been the case since Sept. 11, 2001. But this is where they do the fingerprinting, so here I am.

I get off the Metro and, after a few long hallways and one wrong turn, find my way to the fingerprint and ID office. Here I sign a form that states I have not committed any of a long list of really serious-sounding crimes (including felony assault and treason), and present a check for $27 to a lady behind glass. Then I take my paperwork to another office, where the technician accepts it along with two forms of identification.

She takes a look at my hands and makes a noise I’ve come to recognize when I have to get blood work done and the medical technicians get a look at my small veins. Something’s going to be a problem. She gives me a small amount of a very concentrated hand lotion, which I work into my fingers.

She then places the four fingers of my left hand on the scanning equipment and makes another  noise. “Your hands are very dry and your fingers are small,” she says. Well, no argument there. It’s the middle of winter—which means dry skin. I wash my hands constantly because of the amount of cold and flu germs floating around–which means more dry skin. And small fingers? I’m just as God made me, as the saying goes.

Unfortunately, the dry skin means the scanner is having a hard time scanning the lines of my fingers to create a clear enough image. “Haven’t you ever been fingerprinted before?” the technician asks. Well, no. Apparently it’s a more common practice in hiring now, but it certainly wasn’t the norm when I joined the workforce. I don’t tell the tech that I’m so old school I half-expected the fingerprinting process would require me to put my fingers on ink pads.

She perseveres, but tells me candidly that she expects that I might have to come back for a second try. (Don’t worry, folks; if I do, I won’t make this a four-part series.) I’ll need to check in with College Park Airport after I drop off the paperwork to them to see what the verdict is: thumbs up or thumbs down?—Jill W. Tallman

 

Projecting a professional image

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

As you prepare for your interview, one of the first things you will undoubtedly do is get your best suit cleaned and pressed, get a haircut, and do whatever else you need to do to present your best appearance. And these are things that you should definitely do.

But have you thought about what you are going to do once you get the job? As you prepare to fly to your interview, pay attention as you walk through the airport or sit in a restaurant or the boarding area. Pay attention to the employees. Look at them as a customer, and look at them as though you were a supervisor.

The unpleasant truth is that too many airline pilots and flight attendants have taken the liberty to stretch the acceptable limits of the dress code.

An easy example is the pilot hat. There are still many airlines that require a hat. Many pilots hate the hats, and you can tell by the fact that they either don’t wear one or keep it stuffed in their suitcases. The fact is, however, that if the hat is a part of the uniform, you are supposed to wear it.

It’s one thing to forget to grab it on the way out the door, so long as that only happens once in a blue moon. It’s something else entirely to just totally ignore it. Stuffing it into the back of the suitcase and only putting it on when the chief pilot is in the terminal is pretty silly. Further, you need to wear it properly. Personally, I don’t understand why any pilot would not wear a hat that they paid $50 to $70 for…but that’s just me.

There are other image issues that you can control. Wearing a clean shirt and pants is obvious, but some pilots will wear their uniforms until they turn to threads. Most companies provide a uniform maintenance allowance as a part of the pay, and you are expected to use that for dry cleaning, replacement pieces, et cetera. Well-cared-for pants will last several years, but shirts can take a beating (the polyester ones, though, last forever). The smart move is to always carry at least one extra shirt in your suitcase, and possibly a pair of pants.

Suitcases and flight kits are another issue. There are some who feel it’s almost a point of pride to walk around with a suitcase or a brain bag that is held together with duct tape and bailing wire. I can tell you from experience that there is little that is worse than having your luggage fall apart as you walk through the airport…on the first day of a four-day trip.

Luggage is one item that you don’t want to save money on. Get good, quality gear, and take care of it. When the zippers get worn, replace them. When the flaps get torn, have them fixed. When a wheel goes bad, put on a new one. Fortunately, with the major luggage brand that pilots use, many of the repairs can be done yourself, and it’s easy to get a loaner to send yours in for repairs.

And for the record, backpacks are not a part of the uniform.

Last but not least is your jacket. More airlines are wearing leather jackets, and they’re great. They’re rugged, durable, comfortable, and they look good. The blazer is still common, especially in spring and fall. You need to maintain that as well and keep it clean. If the stripes—and this is true for the shirt epaulets as well—start to look worn or dirty, they should be replaced. I’ve always made it a point to replace my epaulets every year because the shoulder harnesses turn them black.

Getting to an airline takes an awfully big investment. You owe it to yourself and to your chosen profession to present the best image that you can. Remember, you may be in uniform looking like a slob and bump into a captain at Quizno’s who works for your dream airline—and he may be a recruiter or an interviewer.

If you don’t look like you care about your appearance, you will look like you don’t care about what job you have…or don’t have.

Oh, and keep your hair trimmed and neat.—Chip Wright

Photo of the Day: Greenville, Maine, Splash-In

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

A Cessna 172 taxies past as an Antilles G21G Super Goose lands in the background at Moosehead Lake.

We can’t resist a beautiful photo of a floatplane, and the Seaplane Splash-in at Greenville, Maine, provides some of the best spotting opportunities on the East Coast. This photo is from the 35th annual Splash-In, held in 2008.—Jill W. Tallman

Chasing the PIN, part 1

Friday, February 8th, 2013

Flight Training Technical Editor Jill Tallman is applying for a personal identification number that will permit her to fly into the Washington, D.C., Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ) and land at historic College Park Airport. It’s a three-part procedure involving visits to the FAA, the TSA, and the airport within the FRZ.—Ed.

The FAA’s Baltimore Flight Standards District Office doesn’t resemble a barb-wire-fenced fortress so much as a plain-Jane industrial-complex office building, which it is. The clay-colored, one-story complex is located not far from Baltimore-Washington International, and occasionally a Southwest jet rumbles by overhead.

When you enter the FSDO’s main entrance, you’re asked to present a photo ID and sign in. You cannot just drop by to see the FAA inspector who will review your paperwork for the PIN. You have to make an appointment.

After you’ve signed in, do you then gain entrance to the FAA’s inner sanctum? You do not. You wait in a sort of a hallway outside the main office while the FAA inspector is summoned. You also transact your business in this hallway.

In my case, the FAA inspector arrived promptly and waited while I presented the required documents: my pilot certificate, original copy of my medical certificate; a government-issued ID; and a copy of a certificate indicating that I had completed the FAA’s online course that explains the Special Flight Rules Airspace and the Flight Restricted Zone. As he gathered these things, he asked, “Why do you want to fly to College Park?”

I must’ve looked askance at him, because he said, “It’s not against the law to ask.”

College Park Airport…then

No, and I guess he wondered why anyone wants to fly within the FRZ, knowing as he does that, if you break the rules, the consequences are severe. The airport, built in 1909, is the oldest continuously operated airport in the United States. It’s also a nice little place, the type of airport that, in the days before Sept. 11, 2001, would’ve been a favorite hangout. The folks who manage and operate the airport work hard to keep it open, in spite of the restricted access. They wrote and posted a plain-language, step-by-step guide to getting the PIN, which I have followed from the moment I first decided to do this.

My daughter attends the University of Maryland’s College Park campus and often jogs

College Park Airport…now

or rides her bike near the airport. Her friends are often startled and intrigued when she tells them her mother is a pilot. Even if I can’t take them all up sightseeing, as I would if they were to come out to my home airport, I can still fly in and out, purchase fuel, and help keep this historic piece of aviation remain where it is.

The FAA inspector took my paperwork into the office to make sure I had no violations on my record and came back a few minutes later. We talked for a few more minutes about airspace violations, and that was that.

Next stop: The Transportation Security Administration’s offices at National Airport, where I will be fingerprinted.

 

What did you ask at the February Facebook chat?

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

The topic was adventure flying and acquiring additional certificates and ratings, but as usual, the Flight Training Facebook chatters tossed us a wide variety of questions. Here’s an except from the Feb. 5 chat:

Jill: Ian, what was your most adventurous flight?

Ian: Good question. Probably landing a Cessna 185 on the Pica Glacier on Denali. That was a thrill.

Ian: So who is thinking of going beyond the private? Anyone have interest in gliders, seaplanes, etc.?

Comment from Your Name: I just finished my instrument rating. I am building time for the commercial, then I will get commercial ASEL, seaplane as well as gliders.

Comment from Bob: I started my private several years ago, but had to stop due to life issues. Looking to get back into flying and would love to get my seaplane rating after that…

Comment from Your Name: Jill, you own a Cherokee 140, right? How is flying different as an owner vs. a renter?

Jill: Hi there, Your Name! : ) Yes, that’s correct. Flying is different in that, as an owner, I am more mindful of things like how I am on the brakes, whether I remember to turn off the switches—stuff that can affect my pocketbook. Plus, while I was careful not to misuse rentals, I am careful about how I stow my aircraft—always put in cowl plugs, wipe off bugs ,and such.

Comment from Andrew: I have a commercial ASEL and instrument, but have been thinking about doing both a commercial AMEL and/or a commercial ASEL add-on and possibly tailwheel training as well. Not sure which of them would be most beneficial.
 
 
To read the entire transcript of the chat, go to the Flight Training Facebook chat page and click “replay.” The next Flight Training Facebook chat will be held on Tuesday, March 5, at 3 p.m. Eastern. Our guest chatter will be Adam Smith, vice president of AOPA’s Center to Advance the Pilot Community (CAPComm). He’ll discuss AOPA’s Flying Club initiative and much more. Go to the chat page for more details or to set an email reminder.

A brief explanation of the Whitlow Letter

Monday, February 4th, 2013

It is common practice to want to pick on the FAA, and often with good reason. However, there are times when the feds do something that is most definitely for the greater good. Most pilots, for example, are aware that in the wake of the Colgan crash in Buffalo, N.Y., the FAA has created new rest rules designed to make it easier for pilots to be adequately rested during their trips. This is a win-win for the companies (though, to hear them tell it, they will all go bankrupt), the pilots, and the traveling public.

But the real breakthrough for this came around 2000, when the FAA issued what is commonly called the “Whitlow Letter.” At that time, the standard practice at the airlines with regard to reserve pilots was to work under the assumption that if a pilot was on reserve, he was not technically on duty until he actually reported for an assignment. This meant that if a pilot woke up at 7 a.m. and went on reserve at noon for a reserve window of availability of 14 hours (which was, and still is, common practice), the company could call him up at the tail end of his window—2 a.m. in this case—and keep him on duty and flying until 4 p.m. the following afternoon. This pilot faced the possibility of being awake for 32 consecutive hours. No rational person would consider this to be safe.

Fortunately, one of those rational people was James Whitlow, then-chief counsel at the FAA. He was responding to a letter of inquiry from Rich Rubin, a captain at American Airlines who was requesting specific guidance on FAR duty and rest rules when he turned the industry on its ear.

Whitlow’s response was a body blow to the old practice, and it was met with fierce resistance by the Air Transport Association (ATA), the airline trade group. The ATA immediately went to court to try to get the interpretation thrown out; they lost. The new interpretation forced the airlines to consider the start of a reserve period to be the start of duty. In the example above, the pilot would start his reserve at noon and would be released from all duty at 2 a.m., even if he did not report to work until 6 in the evening. In practical terms, in many the duty day was also shortened by virtue of the fact that a pilot who is at home and gets called needs to have time to get to the airport, park, get through security, and check in. Common policy is a 90-minute report time window.

Further, Whitlow also said that in any given 24-hour period, a pilot needs to have at least eight hours of uninterrupted rest.

The airlines realized right away that the Whitlow letter would force them to hire more pilots, and schedulers and pilots both became adept at doing 24 look-backs calculated down to the minute.

While the Colgan crash was the event that forced the FAA to develop a more scientifically based rest rule that takes into account circadian rhythms and the effect of crossing time zones, it was the Whitlow letter that gave the pilot bloc the momentum to start pushing for serious change. Unfortunately, as is so often true in aviation, the rules are often written in blood–in this case Colgan Flight 3407.—Chip Wright