Archive for November, 2010

Point of No Easy Return

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

Wonder if this has happened to anyone else? During a recent IMC flight, a last minute clearance spiked the cockpit workload.

The full instrument approach and transition had been programed into our glass cockpit. Approach Control advised to expect vectors for the ILS and upon hearing those magic words it was  back to the procedure menu to activate Vectors To Final. On this particular box that wipes out all the transition and intermediate way points. The Magenta Line to Heaven appeared and life was good:  a 45 degree intercept to a few miles outside the FAF.

The controller was busy and a short while later cleared us direct to an intermediate fix that was on the extended centerline.  Hmm – how to get there? All the intermediate way points had been vaporized. To get back to that way point meant canceling this approach and resetting the full approach. There were only a few miles until final approach intercept.   As the left seat pilot, I cheerfully asked the right seat pilot to solve the problem – A time-honored tradition! (He was senior to me on the aircraft anyway).

First thought was to go into flight plan mode and see if loading the way point would work – but then we’re out of approach mode and about to intercept.

How about pushing the “Undo” soft key that gets you back to where you were – the full approach with all the way points ? Sorry – that is on the next generation unit which hasn’t been delivered yet.

While the short between two headsets was going on,  the aircraft intercepted the final and the co-pilot advised ATC we were crossing the localizer. The controller, who had been busy with other duties, immediately cleared us for the approach and everything ended well with no cross words.

I called the Tracon afterward to see if this  our foul up? They are reviewing the radar tapes to evaluate  – for educational purposes only. It was all very cordial but illustrates one of the transition points between the old way of navigation and the new. Suspect there will multiple revelations on both sides of the Mic.

ATC needs flexibility to deal with dynamic traffic and pilots needs some certainty especially when time is limited. The goal is to get to common  understanding of how the other side lives.

No Runs, No Hits, No Errors

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Whenever there is a big aviation event I’m always torn between anticipation and trepidation. Great that we have lots of pilots flying into an airport – but the collision potential, both in the air and on the ground,  goes up. AOPA just concluded a very successful Summit in Long Beach with 1,101 aircraft flying into LGB. There were about 2,600 operations during the three day period with no significant problems.

There were a few cases where people got lost –

Pilot: I’d like to taxi to parking.

Tower: Where are you?

Pilot: I haven’t a clue.

Tower: What direction are you facing?

Pilot: West, I think.

Tower: Describe what you see out ahead of you…..

And so it went – might sound silly but this is so much better than having a “deal” as the controllers like to call it. We can work it out, as the Beatles famously said. During an LGB runway safety evaluation years ago we actually got an LGB tower controller disoriented driving around on the surface at night. Seems that the view from 180 feet up is a little clearer than when viewed at light aircraft cockpit height.

Why is this important and who cares? It speaks well of all who participated and to our friends in ATC.  LGB has one of the most complex airport layouts in the country and used to hold the dubious distinction as one of the worst locations for a runway incursion. Through a major education effort by FAA, the Air Safety Institute and special assistance from the tower we have gotten through two Expos and one Summit with NO runway incursions. It shows what can be done if people concentrate.

Air Safety Institute has a first class online course, flash cards and Safety advisors. But in the final analysis there are only a few critical things a pilot needs to know – cold: The red and white runway entrance sign, the yellow on black location sign and the black on yellow direction sign.

“Line up and wait”  and “Taxi to …” are significant changes. One thing we are now recommending at non-towered airports is to actually stop at the runway entrance or prior to crossing the crosswind runway to get in the habit of stopping at the red and white sign unless cleared.  It’s a technique you could live with. CFI’s – start teaching it!

But as the warm glow of LGB fades, the most important runway crossing or entrance is the next one. Think about it.

Hobson’s Choice?

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Wikipedia: ” A Hobson’s choice is a free choice  in which only one option is offered. As a person may refuse to take that option, the choice is therefore between taking the option or not; take it or leave it.”  Too much of life is like that.

Once again, the bad guys are targeting the aviation system.  Package bombs cleverly disguised as printer cartridges made their way on to at least two cargo aircraft a few weeks ago.  I’ve often thought of computers and their peripheral devices (such as printers)  as being nefarious but this raises aviation paranoia to a new level.

GA remains, as ever, under the watchful eye of the security folks and it raises the question of just how reactive and protective we should be. Let’s be honest – the external locks and ignition switches on most light aircraft would slow down a thief about as long as it takes to read this blog. Is GA a target? Does it matter?

On new aircraft,  I’d really like to see the aircraft manufacturers incorporate some smart technology for throttles, controls or ignition to render an aircraft unflyable. This is not rocket science and doesn’t even rise to aeronautical engineering but it’s something that might be considered.

A question:

  • If the government provided your choice of prop lock, throttle lock or wheel boot,  and in exchange, required that it be used whenever the aircraft was left unattended (not a quick turn fuel stop) on other than a secured ramp, would this be a good trade off?

There are two sides to this  – It makes it significantly harder to steal an aircraft, is highly visible and is relatively unobtrusive. It has high value from a public perception perspective and may keep the government from fencing GA airports since locks are far more cost effective. It  may also keep them from implementing other more onerous procedures. Seems like we’re constantly on the defensive

The other side is that it’s  over-reactive and gives up another freedom.  And, are we prepared to deal with a public and political firestorm if a GA aircraft is stolen and used inappropriately?  Hobson’s choice?

Give us your thoughts.