Hi, I’m Bruce Landsberg and welcome to the Leading Edge. We’ll discuss safety-of-flight issues, procedures, techniques, and judgment. With the convective nature of Internet misinformation, and so much content that is over weight and out of balance, you need an experienced and trusted source. So, strap in and let’s go fly!

Turn On, Drop Out, and Tune In

June 4, 2014 by Bruce Landsberg

With apologies to Dr. Timothy Leary, an early adherent to the “mind expanding” capabilities of LSD, I had a slightly different experience at AOPA’s Indy Fly-In. It has nothing to do with mind-altering substances, so if that’s your interest—this ain’t it!

Had flown out to Indy in a C182, enamored with the mind-bending capabilities of the iPad, and was preparing to head home Sunday morning. The trusty iPad is now a core part of my flight planning and on-board supplemental information package. On power-up in the morning to check weather, a blue iTunes button and a white cord to connect to another computer was all that appeared on the screen. No manner of button pushing, secret incantations, or threats would make the beastie come alive.

A quick smart-phone consult revealed the dreaded “iTunes reset” was in order. The Pad had gone down hard and needed a transfusion from iTunes to unscramble its brain. I had no computer capable of said fix (which ultimately took about 25 minutes, not including complete chart downloads—you’re probably looking at about an hour for a full re-lobotomizing with charts).

Here’s the point: Without real old fashioned paper charts and approach books on board, the flight would have been significantly delayed while procuring the suitable data. It was a beautiful VFR day and one isn’t required to carry charts, but FAR 91.103 notes: Preflight action. Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight…

So as long as I was able to stay out of complex airspace or any number of myriad hypothetical issues that only a Murphy’s Law addict could conjure up there was no need to use paper guidance—it could have worked. But let me see…ah…AOPA’s Pilot Protection Plan with legal services and a spare NASA ASRS form in the flight bag…just in case.

Here’s an excerpt from AC91-78, which may be more than you wanted to know—emphasis added:

a. EFBs/ECDs can be used during all phases of flight operations in lieu of paper reference material when the information displayed meets the following criteria:
(1) The components or systems onboard the aircraft which display precomposed or interactive information are the functional equivalent of the paper reference material.
(2) The interactive or precomposed information being used for navigation or performance planning is current, up-to-date, and valid.
NOTE: Supporting reference material such as legends, glossaries,
abbreviations, and other information is available to the pilot but is not
required in the cockpit during operation.
b. The in-flight use of an EFB/ECD in lieu of paper reference material is the decision of the aircraft operator and the pilot in command. Any Type A or Type B EFB application, as defined in AC 120-76A may be substituted for the paper equivalent. It requires no formal operational approval as long as the guidelines of this AC are followed.
c. It is suggested that a secondary or back up source of aeronautical information necessary for the flight be available to the pilot in the aircraft. The secondary or backup information may be either traditional paper-based material or displayed electronically.”

Most airlines and large jet operators still carry charts by my understanding, but some are migrating to Electronic Flight Bags—but no single Pad operations! The logic in that suddenly becomes crystal clear! Being a Luddite has its benefits!

You might enjoy this Pilot Safety Announcement we put together awhile back. Don’t misunderstand—we love the Pad and most of the time it works beautifully, but when it doesn’t, a backup is more than just a good idea.

Has anybody had any iPad problems? We’d love to hear!

Bruce Landsberg,
President of the AOPA Foundation

ASI Online Safety Courses  |  ASI Safety Quiz

Hail , Hail, the Gang’s all here

May 27, 2014 by Bruce Landsberg

This is not a club you want to join—the “Busted Windshield, Dented Airframe Society.” Last week an airliner bound for Philly had its lights punched out by hail. It doesn’t happen that often, but it’s really expensive.

A picture being worth a few thousand blog words helps with the motivation to keep a healthy distance from the good ‘ole big ones!

hail windshield

          Figure 1

From the Skybrary website, Figure 1 and Figure 2 are pictures from an Airbus 321 flown by a foreign carrier over Korea that encountered severe hail: The windshield wiped out and radome was ruined (gone actually). Damage was also noted on the leading edges of the wings and empennage.

Side effects included the inability to look out the front of the aircraft—landing was a bit challenging. A huge amount of noise in the cockpit made communication very difficult.

hail radome

          Figure 2

Suspect the discussion with the chief pilot wasn’t exactly career enhancing. Failure to keep up with the weather, no warning from ATC, and cutting it too close were cited. The tough part about this is that most of the time there isn’t any hail. However, the answer that “It always worked before” won’t always buy you a sympathetic audience with the boss or your insurance agent.


hail shaft

          Figure 3

Figure 3 is a low altitude shot of a possible hail shaft. (Although it could be rain, we didn’t get close enough to test!) This was taken on the trip from STL to FDK referenced in last week’s blog. We were a good 15 miles away (as best we could estimate) from the storm at 5,000. VFR pilots take note—this isn’t just a problem for the IFR dudes and dudettes!


As we get into thunderstorm season proper, remember that whatever it’s doing now, in ten minutes it will be different (often worse). A reminder that the Air Safety Institute’s Storm Week begins on June 8, and the live “Datalink: Cockpit Weather Do’s and Don’ts” webinar will be held June 11 at 7:00 p.m. EDT. 

Bruce Landsberg,
President of the AOPA Foundation

ASI Online Safety Courses  |  ASI Safety Quiz

Tiptoeing ‘round the Boomers

May 21, 2014 by Bruce Landsberg
Boomers Fig 1

                    Figure 1

Last week the Weather Channel was predicting Meteorological Apocalypse as they almost always do whenever a strong cold front hits the Midwest. A 25-degree temperature spread across the air masses often makes for a few tornadoes and copious thunderstorm activity.

A business meeting in Kansas City offered the chance to fly from the East coast with a friend in his Cessna 441. We launched early afternoon for the 3.5-hour ride. At 30,000 feet the view was impressive, and it was obvious from several hundred miles away that “direct” was no longer in the cards. We climbed to FL340 for a better view. Not many 32-year-old turboprops can do that.

In Figure 1, you’ll note a significant northwest deviation as we worked around the end of the first line. Datalink radar told the story as did ATC. Visually, however, it looked better down to the southwest. That’s because the line was trailing away from us and was hidden by the closer storms. Got to watch those illusions or get taken for a ride!

Boomers Fig 2

                    Figure 2

Arrival into MKC required onboard radar because the flight was in and out of lower clouds and much closer to the cells. Timing is everything. FlightAware’s snapshot at 2:50 pm is a midflight picture—not actually what was happening when we arrived. It shows us going through a cell, which we did not (Figure 2).You may notice a “buttonhook” sort of turn as we got onto the downwind. Tracon asked if we’d like a scenic detour since heavy rain was moving across the final approach course. It’s bad karma to be on final in heavy precip, so a 5-minute delay allowed a much less exciting arrival.

The return trip two days later was equally interesting but in a completely different chariot—another friend’s Cessna Caravan. Since many of us don’t routinely fly the flight levels, it’s fun to compare the differences. It was VFR, low and slow, to St. Louis for a three-hour business stop.


Boomers Fig 3

                    Figure 3

The mid-afternoon launch had us into the backside of the front, which had meandered into the Ohio Valley (Figure 3). Again, the image shows the mid-trip picture, so the cells are not exactly as they appear at the time of our passing.

The first part of the trip, being in the cold sector, precluded cruising at the odd 5,000 feet altitude due to icing—4,000 worked well until the temperatures warmed eastbound.

Late afternoon is about the worst time to tackle something that requires heat as an engine, but there we were. In convective weather one should never rely on just one source of information. We had five: visual (much of the time), datalink, onboard radar, lightning detection, and ATC (the ARTCC duplicates datalink, but most tracons have real time weather). Each has its strength and weakness, but collectively they provide a good picture of where not to go. The whole trick is not to get painted into a corner, and a wide yellow stripe down your back doesn’t hurt either!

One point about deviations: On the return trip, even though there appear to be significant deviations (and there were), the mileage didn’t change much—699 nm direct, 757 nm as filed, 761 nm as flown. Those were quality miles, and despite all the vertical clouds light turbulence was all we encountered and not enough rain to wash the bugs off.

Join the Air Safety Institute during Storm Week, June 8-14. Each day during Storm Week look for ASI’s convective-weather related safety products, including a  new “Flying the Weather” video, and register now for our “Datalink: Cockpit Weather Do’s and Don’ts” webinar to be held on June 11, 2014, at 7:00 p.m. ET, as we discuss important safety considerations when flying with cockpit weather.

Learn how to keep thunderstorms at bay with ASI’s “Weather Wise: Thunderstorms and ATC” course, which explains the finer nuances of how to effectively communicate with ATC, how controllers describe precipitation, and what radar services they can offer.

Bruce Landsberg,
President of the AOPA Foundation

ASI Online Safety Courses  |  ASI Safety Quiz