Archive for December, 2009

Securing the Hardware!

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

PadlockWe got lucky last week when a would-be bomber failed to pull off an in-flight detonation when nearing Detroit after a flight from Amsterdam. As usual, there were plenty of warning signs and you can bet that travel on the airlines will become an even more trying experience as the authorities try to plug the holes. Perhaps we should just fly naked – THAT would solve the problem!

This week an aircraft was stolen at a local airport around here. The thief, not a pilot, got about 50 yards before tipping the tailwheel aircraft up on it’s nose. It wasn’t terrorism related – the guy just wanted to leave town! But this seems like a good time for us to take stock of GA’s security as well, especially CFIs and flight schools.

I’ve written before that the manufacturers ought to start building in more robust security than the rather modest locks that many aircraft have. It’s always easier to build something in than to add it as an afterthought.This should be simple and inexpensive—TSA—take note: We won’t be securing the cockpit from the passenger compartment since hijacking is NOT the problem.

Listed in my order of preference:

  • Throttle/mixture lock – visible, portable to use anywhere and no damage potential. Would like to see these built into the quadrants.
  • Tire boot – visible, heavier and bulkier than throttle lock, no damage potential other than to ego if you attempt to taxi with it in place.
  • Prop lock – Very visible and bulkier than throttle lock, significant damage to ego and aircraft if start is attempted prior to removal.
  • Hidden fuel line shutoff – spoils the deterrent value but a way to secure aircraft without electrical systems. (appropriate FAA 337 form req’d)
  • Hidden battery or electrical system kill switch – also non-deterrent but effective (appropriate FAA 337 form req’d).
  • Haven’t seen this but perhaps someone has: Locking control lock – seems like it would be easy enough to do – but we always have a few people who attempt takeoff with discouraging results – remember control check.
  • Avionics disabler – obviously, we can’t fly if the glass doesn’t power up (just kidding) but perhaps a password is used to unlock the starting circuits (heck, we got passwords for everything else so give me something else to forget!)

The more we do to prevent theft of our aircraft the less the authorities will be attracted to GA and the more they’ll focus on mass transit. While GA is not currently a big target for the terrorist, it doesn’t take much imagination to see the disruption that would be caused by even a small scale success.

GA SecurityFlight schools and rental fleets need to be well secured for very obvious reasons – we’ve had a couple of failures there in the past. CFI’s, remember you have a requirement to review security procedures annually – These are covered in all ASF FIRCS. Once you’re sure a student is NOT of nefarious intent, let’s teach security thoroughly. AOPA’s airport watch program and General Aviation Security online course are great starting points to get some ideas.

Personally, I don’t like any of this but suspect we’ll be dealing with terrorism for a long time to come. Let’s not give the bad guys any GA opportunities!

Getting There for the Holidays?

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

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The Northeast got hammered this week by an early winter (OK – late fall) snow storm and it totally disrupted the airline flow but there were no accidents that I heard of. There are a couple of messages here. Even with all the hardware and support that the airlines have, it took a day or three to sort things out. Say what you will about the airlines – they have their act together relative to the SAFETY aspects of bad weather. Granted, jets usually have little trouble with icing but the problem shifts to taxi, takeoff, landing and gate availability. It’s tougher with turboprops. They’re still pretty capable in the air and a good bit easier to handle on the ground.

For GA, our challenges tend to be either simple or much more complex. In extreme weather – it’s simple. No Go. It’s when things are “marginal” that it gets difficult. Factor in the aircraft’s capability, our capability, the ground environment (airports closed to snow in this case), the probability of mission-squelching weather and the importance of the trip.

Think about that last one for a minute. In my view it shouldn’t play at all. Getting to a business appointment, home for the holidays or completing the famous hamburger hop is completely irrelevant. What’s tough, really tough, is our emotional and perhaps, financial investment. We told the family we’re coming. Perhaps they’re flying with us. It’s costing $500 per day in cancellation fees at the resort. My reputation is on the line, other pilots are doing it – you know the drill – we’ve ALL rationalized before.

When good professional pilots make decisions, they’re totally detached from the nature of the trip. It’s a job for heaven’s sake – why turn it into an adventure or something much worse? Here’s where the professionals can usually blame someone or something else. The decisions regarding weather, schedule, equipment are mostly made ahead of time so emotion doesn’t get in the way. If the weather is X then we have to do Y. If fuel drops below this point then we must land – now. You get the idea – it’s not my fault, Mon. I know there are 135 operators who have “occasionally” put pressure on pilots but those are bottom feeders.

I recall a South Carolina trip as a new instrument pilot. Really wanted to get there and the weather was marginal – very hazy, crummy radios and a good chance of adverse weather drove an hour to the airport, loaded family into the Piper Arrow and launched. Twenty minutes into the odyssey, stuff just wasn’t working and I decided to turn back. The epilogue – another hour delay getting back, aircraft secured, reload the car and start driving. The muffler fell off in Richmond and we sounded like a freight truck for the rest of the 9 hour drive. Arrived at midnight instead of 4 pm. It’s laughable now – wasn’t then. The point is we arrived and the family forgave me.

I have a trip to Pennsylvania this week and while some may question the wisdom of that destination, I have my reasons. Safe to go? We’ll see.

Perhaps you have a hangar tale of trips taken or not?

Call the Cockpit when I land

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

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Once in a awhile something doesn’t work with ATC and we’re asked to call the tower or the particular facility upon landing. The tables were turned on a recent flight when the pilot of a Hawker jet asked for the facility phone number. I happened to be on frequency and heard the whole thing go down.

The weather was low IFR and the jet had been vectored onto the localizer but not cleared for the approach. The controller was busy and even though the Hawker made several calls the controller was busy. By the time he got back to clearing the flight for the approach it was too late to establish a stabilized approach to capture the glideslope that was several hundred feet below.

The captain very wisely requested to be vectored quickly back to the final and asked the controller to keep it tight since fuel was becoming an issue. The nearest legal alternate was at least 100 miles away. As soon as everything was properly organized he politely but firmly asked for the facility phone number, ostensibly to discuss the miscue.

I commend the captain on several counts:

1) He didn’t try to comply with a potentially unsafe clearance

2) The weather was so low that if the approach was flown high or fast it would likely be missed

3) He didn’t try to rectify the problem on the frequency – there were flight critical discussion taking place.

4) He wanted to be sure the controller understood his side of the problem.

This is an admittedly rare occurrence but it was a textbook solution. Anyone else had this type of experience and how did it play out? VFR or IFR?