Archive for January, 2013

Car vs Planes of the Future

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

seatbeltThe automotive world is poised to make another jump into the future and perhaps help GA in ways unforeseen. The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is the launching place of nouveau gadgets—many of which we could live without and some you wish you’d have thought of.

Today’s cars are generally better than vehicles of yore. Yes, the old hoopty was simple and you could tune it yourself, but its fuel economy wasn’t great. Many rattled and leaked after just two years of ownership. Doors didn’t always close well. Air conditioning was a luxury that worked sometimes in the winter. Sound familiar?

Production line efficiencies and GA are an oxymoron, but in reading about some of the safety improvements being contemplated for cars, I wonder if some of these features could be put into aircraft. (Don’t worry—my medication should begin working shortly.)

There is some rethinking being done about the driver-less vehicle versus merely creating a much safer vehicle.

Anti-lock brakes didn’t quite live up to their billing, not because they didn’t work, but because some drivers just tightened up their following distances thinking that the system would save them (watching too much NASCAR perhaps). Parachutes on new aircraft don’t always save us from ourselves, either, where pilot judgment is still required. I like technology, especially if it’s passive—i.e., the pilot doesn’t need to do anything—it just works.

A good co-pilot can be valuable in tactfully bringing something to the pilot’s attention. Gear up landings, with today’s WAAS technology, really should be a thing of the past. With our ability to pinpoint our location in three dimensions, it becomes fairly simple. Have the synthetic voice in conjunction with GPS ask the pilot, when half a mile from the runway and below 500 feet, if he really intends to land gear up? If the gear doesn’t come down shortly, there’s a speed dial option for the insurance company.

TAWS and collision avoidance are already helping to keep us from testing Newton’s law of two objects being in the same place at the same time. They are passive and quite effective—as much as we’re able to measure.  You can probably think of other safety devices you’d like to see.

The safer GA becomes, the stronger it become as an industry. The AOPA Foundation is committed to creating as safe a flying environment as possible through the free online education from the Air Safety Institute. A donation to the Foundation helps make these courses and materials available to all pilots. Consider joining the effort today.

Too Complex or Slow Down?

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

I came across an interesting ASRS (NASA) report from a bizjet pilot who felt a bit overwhelmed by the complexity of reprogramming arrival or departure procedures.

With his Flight Management System, he notes:

I fly Garmin, Honeywell, and Collins products and the problem is the same for all of them. For takeoffs, we do not find out the runway we need to load until we have all engines running (a waste of fuel) or, if they change runways, we have to stop taxiing to re-program the FMS. For arrivals, we do not find out the landing runway until we are in the descent mode and should be heads outside, but instead, we are once again programming with our heads down.”

I’ve felt there are times when ATC really doesn’t allow pilots a lot of time to sort things out, especially for single pilots flying sophisticated equipment at moderately high speeds.

Outbound this shouldn’t be a huge issue because the aircraft on the ground can be stopped and things can be reloaded. I believe that all aircraft with an FMS should have ground power or clearance delivery capability that allows one comm radio and the ability to load flight plans and DPs before engine start. ATC should know enough about what’s happening to be able to predict the departure runway 15 minutes in advance unless the wind changes drastically.

Arrivals are a bit more complex, but is it possible to get the word out sooner? I start listening to the ATIS probably beyond the normal service volume, but getting it when well outside the busy place sometimes helps as long as ATC isn’t too fickle. Maybe the equipment should be easier to program? I’ve often thought if flying single-pilot to a busy place with the weather down, it would be nice to program the arrival and approach once, and then just manage the aircraft. Perhaps we should have a Single Pilot designation on IFR flight plans. Of course, you could always claim student pilot status (just kidding).

We’re talking margin here and, I assume, a reasonable comfort with the equipment—if you’re still learning basics, spend some more time with simulators or part-task trainers until you’re able to navigate the pages and menus at a reasonable speed. However when within 50 miles of the airport inbound at anywhere between 180 and 240 knots—flying the aircraft should be the first priority—remember that not only do the buttons have to be pushed, but the brain needs to understand all the altitudes and headings.

Anybody had difficulty with arrivals or departures where a late change spiked your workload?


The Christmas Gift

The Christmas Blog post threatened that whoever came up with the most outlandish question regarding Santa’s midnight ride would win a fabulous prize. The dubious honor goes to Wayne Schneider, a private pilot who is a partner in a Piper Cherokee, for asking…

“Do his magical abilities–“put his finger aside his nose and up the chimney he rose”–require a medical waiver? And speaking of medical issues, how does he keep all the cookies he must eat from affecting his blood pressure?”

AOPA’s crack medical team headed by director Gary Crump can certainly answer those questions, but we’ll have to find out later in the year about Santa’s blood pressure due to all the financial uncertainty that the “cliff” negotiations have sparked. Stay tuned…..

Only 357 shopping days remaining until Christmas 2013!

As we head into the new year, have you resolved to make aviation a higher priority in your life? One way to help is by giving to the AOPA Foundation. The threats to general aviation are still real and on our doorstep. Help us lead the fight with a donation to the foundation today. We’ll be reporting to you here and on the Foundation website how the money is being used.