Archive for October, 2010

Summit in LGB

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

If you’re interested in the new aviation products – aircraft, avionics, stuff in general – AOPA Summit is great place to go.  LGB (is the place to be) and despite being in high density traffic we’ve always had great ATC service. Mere mortals can do this!

The airport itself serves as a poster child of complexity and if you’re a bit foggy on airport signage, review the Air Safety Institute’s Runway safety Course (sponsored by FAA’s Office of Runway Safety). I always ask for progressive taxi anyway at complex locations and the controllers are helpful so don’t let this be a deterrent.

The show itself is a nice blend between the down home of OSH and the super upscale of NBAA. Hitting the static display is always a high point for me to see both new hardware such as the LSA exhibit as well as as some of the classics. Not a bad time to buy either as dealers are dealing.

Not in the market for a new airplane? Go to the seminars – There are literally dozens covering everything from insurance, financing and how to stay healthy to all the educational offerings.

Some new things for this year:

  • NTSB Senior Air Safety Investigator Wayne Pollack will join me on Friday November 12 at 11:30 to co-host the Air Safety Institute’s popular seminar, “What Went Wrong?”  Look at two general aviation accidents through the eyes of the investigator – starting at the scene and working backwards to reconnect the links in the accident chain. Plenty to learn here.
  • Saturday evening (November 13) is a special fundraiser benefit for the AOPA Foundation. “A Night for Flight” takes place aboard the historic RMS Queen Mary and features a cocktail hour, dinner, and entertainment from jazz guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli. There will be some special guests joining us.
  • The AOPA Foundation auction culminates at “A Night for Flight” but you don’t have to attend the event to get in on the bidding. Just visit the auction website and bid on incredible items such as a Waco bi-plane, lunch and a flight with Harrison Ford, aerobatic training with Sean Tucker, as well as flight gear such as headsets, flight bags, and sunglasses. It all goes to support Foundation activities.
  • Visit the Exhibit Hall and the AOPA Foundation booth (#746), which will be showcasing the newest in online safety education from the Air Safety Institute.
  • All information on Summit can be seen at

Hope you’ll join us  – remember life’s not a dry run! Create an adventure! If not, at least join us on AOPA Live to see some of the action.

178 Seconds to Live

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

We periodically get onto a doom and gloom kick when something nasty happens that really shouldn’t have. VFR into IMC is one of those. In 2009 there were 14 accidents of which twelve were fatal.  That doesn’t sound like a lot and relative to prior years it isn’t. Earlier in this decade the average has been closer to 30 mishaps.

Not many pilots or their passengers come back from this misjudgment.  Compared to GA accidents as a whole, where about one in 5 is fatal, weather is not something to trifle with. The Air Safety Institute has a new Pilot Safety Announcement (PSA) that was published a few weeks ago.

Some of the really old timers out there may remember this “Scare’em straight” video which comes from a study AOPA funded through the University of Illinois in 1954. It took the average VFR pilot less than three minutes to lose control  in IMC and crash. Many don’t even make it to the two minute mark.

It’s a different approach from our other PSAs which are more tongue in cheek. This one’s brutal and probably should not be shown to prospective passengers if you’re a VFR pilot about to take a trip on anything other than a clear day.

Should this be distributed to new VFR pilots as they get ready to spread their wings or is it too much? . We’ve shown this occasionally at safety seminars to gauge audience reaction, which has been mixed. Some thought it was tough love and appropriate. Others thought it was over the top. Were we too tough? Lock in your votes please.


Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Networks and blogdom are abuzz about Google’s “Robo-Car” that is being tested in the automotive purgatory known as Southern California.  The auto world is in the early stages of thinking machines  drive better than humans.  The ineptitude on the nation’s highways makes the theory plausible.  With cellphone, iPods,  iPads, nail polishing, men shaving or lunch many vehicles are already self piloting without the benefit of technology and have the accident rate to prove it.

We in the aviation business are much too sophisticated for this foolishness – We’ve had autopilots for at least half a century and the later models can handle about 98%  of the flight. Could we go that last 2% to make it totally automatic?

There’s a new moniker – the optionally piloted vehicle. (I’ve often felt that way after some of my less-than-stellar-flights. Perhaps a better description is marginally piloted vehicle (MPV)). The Army and Navy have been interested in the concept for some time. Helicopters and a Cessna Skymasters (!) are in testing. Aurora Flight Sciences  is said to be working with two GA aircraft –  The Diamondstar DA40 and the Twin Star DA-42. They  can be flown conventionally or controlled from the ground with a remote control module added to the standard system. (Wonder if a gunship option could be added to deal with traffic pattern misbehavior – I digress.)

In military or commercial applications (not necessarily involving passengers) think of the productivity gains. Fatigue ceases to be an issue – except possible for the mechanics who have to maintain the beastie.

Now take this a step further. Suppose the typical GA aircraft were so equipped and a marginally qualified pilot got into weather beyond their ability. The pilot pushes a button and says to the aircraft ” OK – you’ve got the controls. ” Then one of two things might happen – The aircraft being fully self contained, and knowing most things about most things, would look for the nearest suitable airport taking into account runway, approach procedure, available fuel, surface wind etc – go there and land.

The second way might be for the pilot to hand control over to a ground- based UAS  (Unmanned Aerial Systems) pilot who would guide the machine remotely to a safe landing.

Both Garmin and Avidyne have both recently introduced autopilots that sense unusual attitudes and recover the aircraft to straight and level flight  so this is technically quite feasible. Since the skill level is quite high for IFR flight and MPV are quite a challenge from utility, safety and training aspects is this a reasonable concept?

Space Odyssey fans will recall that the HAL 9000 computer has never maid a misteak.

There was a request for more information on last week’s blog –  the EASA-US”discussion regarding pilot – maintenance certifications procedures: