Archive for September, 2013

The Man in the Arena

Friday, September 27th, 2013

Fight to keep your airport an airportIt is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

THE MAN IN THE ARENA, Theodore Roosevelt Excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In a Republic, April, 1910

I have been spending the week thinking about how best to remain engaged in the struggle to keep airports, airports.  How do we have the courage face the critic with the bullhorn, who points out every single misstep?  How do we steel ourselves against the inevitable bully who says, “You can’t do that”? How do we have the resolution to stay motivated and involved in the fight?

After watching psychological researcher Brene Brown’s recent lecture on daring greatly [], I found myself reading and re-reading the above quote by Theodore Roosevelt.  While arguably the longest sentence I have ever read, the heart of this speech is to try and keep trying.  In the face of the critic, the one who points out your shortcomings, who blasts you with disbelief, remain standing.

Those of us who work in airport and aviation advocacy know that we cannot give up and we know we will fall.  But as Roosevelt points out the man “who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who a the worst if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly”.

If daring greatly were a charge, how would you respond?  Think about your home airport.   If you dared greatly what would you do there?  How would you engage a community that is not sure of the airport’s worth?  How would you push forward safety enhancements?  If you weren’t afraid, what would you do? Think about yourself as an aviation lover.  How can you share that passion with another?  How can you give of yourself toward a greater good?

I have always taught my children that if you are going down, you should go down swinging.  Flight instructors say that to fly that airplane all the way down to the ground.  The take away here is Engagement. Action. Perseverance.  Roosevelt was talking about being an active citizen.  What if we applied active citizenry to aviation?  Would we be dusty, tired and bloody souls daring greatly?  Or are we the cold, timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. I choose the former.  Want to come with me?


Teach them to dare greatly!

Teach them to dare greatly!

Flying Silently (Part 1)

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

Some years ago I went down the hall in the E-ring in the Pentagon to see the then 3-star admiral friend of mine who ran all of naval aviation.  At one point I got around to asking him what his biggest problem was at that time.  I was surprised at his answer: neighborhood encroachment at his naval air stations.  What he was telling me was that as civilians built houses closer to his airfields the noise from the aircraft were causing a problem with the homeowners and they were raising a ruckus with their politician friends . . . and that was causing a significant issue for the Navy all over the world.

It reminded me of when I was a nugget junior officer living on base at the Alameda Naval Air Station in the middle of San Francisco Bay.  Every time the repair facility would do an engine test on the J57 engines for the A-3 aircraft that I then flew, even though they had the test stand sticking as far out in the bay as they could, it rattled the windows in the bachelor officer quarters such that all conversation would stop for the 3-5 minutes while they ran the engine through its high-power run-up test.

I was young then and didn’t think much about it.  If I had, I may have had the bumper sticker opinion that all that noise was just the “sound of freedom” as I’ve heard some old soldiers referring to the disruption produced by helicopter operations near residential areas. Maybe it’s just my problem, but I’ve never equated patriotism with pollution, although I guess some people do.

It’s interesting that we in the GA business have such a low sensitivity to the noise that our machines produce.  What other job can you think of where a goodly number of the profession puts on a coat and tie and goes to work in an environment where the ambient noise level is so loud that they have to use headphones to muffle the outside noise and amplify the normal speaking voice of the folks that they are communicating with – some just a couple of feet away.  Ours is not a steel mill or an aircraft carrier deck.  We’re not stamping metal with giant presses that shake the ground.  Think about it, we’ve got engines the size of those in every car and truck in the country, but ours make far more noise.

In my profession of looking at future trends it is clear that people all over the world are becoming increasingly concerned about their environment.  It’s certainly the case with smoking in public places, tail pipe pollution pumped into the air, industrial and agricultural run-off finding its way into streams and rivers, and sound levels in neighborhoods.  There have been mini-revolts in the spiffy suburbs around Hollywood generated by the disruption produced by weedeaters and leaf blowers wielded by foreign workers who were impervious to the noise because they were wearing Mickey Mouse ears (that’s what we called noise suppression devices in the Navy).

Of course, the AOPA has full-time people fighting the neighbors all around the country who want to close local airports.  San Jose, San Mateo, Naples, and any of a number of other places where GA flies close to the people. Why?  Mostly because of the noise.  Can you imagine what the problem might be if there wasn’t any noise – or if it was the level of an automobile or a pickup?  I don’t think there would be a problem.  People aren’t concerned about low flying aircraft – they don’t want to be disrupted.

(More on this subject next month.)

The 7,000 foot Long Putting Green

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

You don’t see SC00 right away. I mean, you know what you are looking for—a 7,000 foot long grass strip imbedded in the rolling hills of South Carolina just south of Greenville, but truly, you don’t know until you come up on it for the first time—and I promise you that you have never seen anything quite like it.

You fly over the runway and remark at how you rarely see a grass strip with runway numbers painted on its ends. Even then you don’t really know. You set up on downwind, and note the hump that graces the long runway’s middle. It doesn’t seem as wide as it is from pattern altitude, but as you get closer to the ground, turning base, then final, it begins to dawn on you. This is one heck of a grass strip.

Only with a truly greaser landing do you appreciate what you’ve got, though. The grass isn’t anything like what you’ve ever landed on. It’s the flat, smooth, springy stuff that golf courses use for their putting greens. Seriously. Seven thousand feet of it. Every good landing on that stuff, is, well, phenomenal. Oh, I forgot to add that, if you’ve come in your seaplane, well, you are welcome here, too. There’s a lake created specifically for you to land on, right beside the runway.

And that’s just the beginning of the magic of Triple Tree Aerodrome (and it is an aerodrome, not a plain old airport). The airfield and its surrounding environment is the dream of Pat Hartness, a pilot with a penchant for restoring the old, and encouraging the new. Since he started building out the site in 2000 he’s added a hangar (really a museum dedicated to his restorations and R/C models), a workshop, a 1940s control tower, gazebos, shower facilities, campsites, hiking trails, helicopter sites and more. His goal, he says, is to capture and retain the true spirit of aviation through world-class R/C model flying competitions and full-size aircraft fly-ins that draw thousands.

Hartness has deeded the property into a non-profit in the hopes that his legacy of fun, flying and fellowship will continue into perpetuity. But that takes a little help from us all. What, according to Hartness, have we, the pilots, got to do? We’ve got to fly there, drink the water, hike the trails, enjoy the museum. Use it. Share it. And pass the magic on.

So if you are in the vicinity of Greenville, look just a little south and consider stopping in for an hour, or a day. It’s worth it just for the landing.

The WilgaBeast: One pilot’s secret weapon for keeping the aviation conversation going

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

Pilot Cory Robin describes his “WilgaBeast” at the 2012 Elko, Nevada Skyfair. Photo by Ross Andreson/Elko Daily Free Press

We aviators all seem to possess the advocate gene, that tiny morsel of our DNA that makes us want to go out there, face the public, and do something with our airplanes that honors veterans, excites kids about flying, or coerce people to come out to the little airfield at the edge of town to peek into our world.

We do all sorts of things just to keep the conversation going…and keep everyone’s eyes on the sky. Young Eagles? Sign us up. Fly the local TV reporter around on a Discovery Flight? That’s a great way to grab some positive press for GA. And if you’re like Salt Lake City’s Cory Robin, taking a veteran flying to thank them for their service might be the most respectable thing you can do with your airplane.

Many of us show up at the airport in our Cessnas and Pipers and work to advocate for GA, even when our “box stock” airplanes often seem to blend into the ramp. But when Robin shows up in his airplane to talk up the great things about flying, he does so in something that cannot possibly be missed on any ramp. His “WilgaBeast” draws people to walk over and stand under its big white wings where he can bend a few ears, talk about the importance of military aviation past and present, and, yes, keep the conversation going.

If you were wandering the “North 40″ at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in 2011, you couldn’t have missed the WilgaBeast standing head and shoulders above the rest of the GA fleet, in a purely physical sense. Looking somewhat like a giant Praying Mantus (yes, I went there), the WilgaBeast looks like it means business, ready to stomp the Earth with its gigantic landing gear legs and use its Russian M-14P radial engine to claw its way into the sky with the greatest of ease.

Technically, the WilgaBeast is a PZL 104 Wilga 35, a former Polish Air Force liaison, recovery and light observation aircraft. Robin purchased the Wilga in 2011 because he wanted an airplane that was a bonefide warbird with a military service history, one that was unique, had a radial engine, was a “real” four-seater, and was backcountry capable. “There really isn’t a better airplane that meets those goals,” Robin said.

Robin flies the WilgaBeast over the gorgeous Utah scenery. Photo by Allen Macbean/

But what about that name…the WilgaBeast? Robin says he had a little help on that one. “At AirVenture 2011,” he explains, “a little girl, maybe five years old, and her father were walking around looking at the airplane as I arrived. As they were looking, the little girl asked her dad what type of airplane it was. He answered that it was a Wilga. She replied back with enthusiasm that it looked like a WilgaBEAST! It was one of those perfect aviation moments, and henceforth, the airplane has been the WilgaBeast.”

As far as advocacy goes, Robin says the WilgaBeast is used as part of a citizen Air Corps he founded called the Gadsden Air Corps, a group dedicated to “promoting aviation while giving aircraft owners sometime positive to do with their airplanes.” The group shows up at airshows, performs fly-overs for events and memorial services, and gives tactical training in the areas of search, rescue and resupply. But when the WilgaBeast is on scene, it always draws a crowd.

“The WilgaBeast has a superb ramp presence, and people are interested by some of the unique things on the aircraft, such as the fixed leading edge slats, trailing link gear, helicopter-like fuselage and radial engine,” says Robin. “We allow kids of all ages to climb up in the cockpit for photo opportunities. Since purchasing the aircraft just over two years ago, we have logged over 400 free rides in the airplane – most of those being veterans. On Memorial Day 2013, we did a fly-over with the WilgaBeast and three other GA Aircraft for a Special Forces Memorial. The veterans on the ground mentioned how much they appreciate the time that the ‘civilians’ took to honor them. One Green Beret told me afterwards it was wonderful to see civilian aircraft doing this on their own dime, and wanted me to know that we were appreciated.”

One of those air shows was the 2013 Elko, Nevada Skyfair, and the event’s Aircraft Coordinator, James Riordan, said this about Robin and his airplane: “Cory and his WilgaBeast were an amazing combination when he came to our event in 2012 and 2013! He brought with him a passion and excitement for aviation that is felt by, not only pilots, but by the folks that get the opportunity to come up to meet him and run their hands down the side of his aircraft. His Wilga is always a hit with the crowd due to its unique look and incredible radial rumble. This year, the kids were lined up for the opportunity to sit in the “Beast”. We are very fortunate to have Cory representing aviation the way he does!”

You can expect to see Robin and his WilgaBeast showing up and giving back anywhere he can find an opportunity. “Like many other folks in aviation, my love of aviation is more than a hobby, it’s in my blood,” Robin said. “I enjoy doing something positive to serve community, honor veterans, anything that helps to preserve the freedom to fly! I really enjoy meeting and talking with veterans the most, thanking them for their service and making sure they know it’s because of them that I’m able to bring the airplane, give free rides and enjoy the thrill of flight. It’s my goal to educate and inspire people both inside and outside of GA, because we have this tremendous freedom to fly, and we need to advocate to protect it!”

It would be hard to find a better example of a pilot and his airplane doing great work on behalf of the entire aviation family. For Cory Robin and his WilgaBeast, the mission is simple: Draw people in, engage them in spirited conversation about general aviation, and then take them flying in a fantastic craft that could be considered kind of odd if not for the fact that it’s so very, very cool.

But that is the best thing about Robin’s WilgaBeast – it doesn’t look like anything else on the ramp. As if a giant Polish magnet inside the fuselage was luring people to come closer and learn more, pilots and non-aviators cannot resist being drawn to the airplane. And when that happens, Robin takes his cue and begins the conversation.

Letting the mainstream media and politicians control the GA conversation is how we lose. Talking to people one-on-one about the great things the world of aviation offers and keeping a positive conversation going…that’s how we win.

IFR Required

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Fortunate is the businessmen or women who is certified as a pilot, maintains proficiency in the art and technology of flight, and has access to a General Aviation aircraft. Such capabilities enable access to a world of opportunity unmatched by public transportation.

Scheduled airlines offer transportation to approximately 10 percent of our nation’s public-use airports, but they provide frequent schedules to less than 50 locations across the USA. Furthermore, an airline trend known as “Capacity Discipline”, which is designed to increase passenger load-factors, has exacerbated the lack of transportation to smaller markets and rural America. According to a recent report from MIT’s International Center for Air Transportation, scheduled air carriers reduced departures by 8.8 percent from major hubs and by 21.3 percent from secondary hubs since 2007. Increasingly, scheduled air transportation is not able to satisfy the needs of an active business person in this era of high speed commerce.

Obviously, charter is a viable means for utilizing the benefits of General Aviation for business transportation. But in some cases the options are limited, cost can be high, and it is challenging to select a suitable provider among the nearly 2,500 companies licensed by the federal government to provide on-demand commercial air transportation.

An owner-flown aircraft enables travelers to have the flexibility and control of a private automobile while benefiting from significantly greater travel capabilities. A modest GA aircraft travels about two to three times the speed of a car. Thus the area that a pilot can cover per hour of travel is four to nine times the area reachable by auto. Business calls that might require several days of travel can be completed in one. No need to compress a meeting in order the fit into an airline schedule. GA pilots know well the advantages of controlling their own air travel.

Utilizing the benefits of General Aviation for business travel—the arena known as Business Aviation—requires piloting knowledge and skill sufficient to be safe and proficient with instrument flight procedures. While VFR-only capabilities may be adequate in certain parts of the USA, such as areas where traffic is light and the weather is often severe clear, maintaining business appointments is highly problematic when IFR capability is not available. Furthermore, in many areas of the country (e.g., near the nation’s busier airports) even VFR procedures for transiting Class B and C airspace demand IFR-like proficiency. The non-professional pilot who uses his or her aircraft for business transportation must possess a high degree of knowledge and skill. Such are the requirements for being an active participant in the world of business travel.

To capture fully the many capabilities of a General Aviation aircraft, pursue instrument qualifications and maintain IFR proficiency. The goal is well worth the effort.

Perspective makes all the difference

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Two summers ago I went to AirVenture at the last minute. My trip was unplanned, but not unwelcome. How that trip worked out was largely a function of how I chose to view it. Rather than consider it a last minute addition to an already busy work schedule, I decided to view it as an adventure. That decision made all the difference.

With no housing arrangements and little time to make them, I simply packed a tent and a sleeping bag in the car, threw in a small charcoal grill, and headed north. The experience was wonderful. Hardly forty-eight hours after cranking up the car in central Florida I found myself rolling over the paved road at Wittman Regional Airport and into soft grassy infield of Camp Scholler.

On my second day at AirVenture I took the opportunity to sit down for lunch at what I choose to think of as a lovely, aviation-centric bistro on the ramp. Admittedly, the tables and chairs are made of plastic and the umbrellas are not quite handmade heirlooms left over from a previous age, but the atmosphere is pleasant and the food is satisfying. All in all, I have no complaints about the cuisine or the location of the al fresco dining experience at Oshkosh.

While I gnawed at my lunch, a young teenager asked if he could share a seat at the table with me. I welcomed him and we began to chat. It turns out he was working at AirVenture. In fact, this was the first job he had ever held, and he was only a few days into this new tourist driven career he’d chosen. With great animation he told me about the interview process he had to go through to get the job. He also described the work he was doing, most of which involved lifting, moving, opening, or emptying boxes of full of merchandise. None of it was very intellectually taxing, and all of it sounded repetitive and dull to me. But the boy at my table was elated to be telling the tale of his part-time job.

Maybe the most fascinating part of the entire experience for me was the boy’s excitement over being paid to come to AirVenture every day. The smile on his face left no doubt about his attitude toward his job.

It’s little reminders like that I get such a kick out of as I age. A job that would bore me to tears and make my back ache in the process turned out to be the opportunity of a lifetime for my lunch-mate. Then again, I was having a good ol’ time even though I spent a week sleeping on the ground, getting rained on, and showering in a large communal facility that would not do well in the Michelin rankings.

Life is all about how you look at what’s going on around you.

Perspective makes all the difference. What we do on a day to day basis is not nearly so important as how we view what we do, and how we feel about it. Perspective is often the difference between driving the issue and being driven by the issue. It would do us well to remember that. As for me, I’ll just choose to fondly remember my week camping at AirVenture and meeting a teenager who was about as happy and proud of his position in life as any chairman of the board I’ve ever met.

Renewing a flight instructor certificate via FAA Wings Program

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

If you’re not a flight instructor but enjoy sharing your love of flying with others, I heartily encourage you to become a CFI. Not only will you become a better pilot in the process, but you’ll find out how much fun it is helping others to learn to fly.

Unlike other pilot certificates and ratings, a CFI rating must be renewed every two years or it goes away. Given the amount of work required to become a CFI, few people want to lose the rating. So every two years, over 90,000 CFIs renew through a variety of ways.

For CFIs who are not actively teaching, the most common way to renew is through a Flight Instructor Renewal Clinic or FIRC. These are typically weekend-long seminars hosted at hotels around the country on a rotating schedule. AOPA’s Air Safety Foundation’s FIRC is among the most popular. After two days of class, CFIs who attend are renewed for two years. Even non-current pilots can attend. I’m currently working with a lapsed pilot who hadn’t flown for 30 years. However, he still has a current CFI rating, since he attended a FIRC every two years!

Online FIRCs are also now available from multiple vendors. They’re less expensive and you can do them at home without traveling to a hotel. I’ve never used one, though I recently heard a CFI complain about the cumbersome nature of one of these courses.

If you actively teach, there are a variety of ways to renew a CFI rating through your local FAA FSDO office. In the past, I’ve renewed my CFI by bringing a list of five or more pilots that I’ve signed off for a checkride in the prior two years. To qualify by this method, at least 80% of the pilots have to have passed their checkride on the first attempt.

This year, I decided to renew by bringing the FSDO a list of five or more pilots for whom I had signed off a total of at least 15 flight elements in the FAA WINGS program.  This is a great alternative for CFIs who are less active, but still give at least two to three Flight Reviews (previously called a BFR) per year. Instead of signing pilots off for a Flight Review, have them sign up at and take online courses for WINGS credit. Then print the lists of tasks they need to perform in the air, fly with them until they can complete the tasks to FAA checkride standards, and endorse their logbook with the FAA WINGS endorsement found in AC 61-65E. You too will need a account so you can validate each pilot’s request for WINGS credit.

The first step to renew a CFI rating is to go to and fill out an online 8710-1 form. Then go to the FSDO with your IACRA FTN number, user name, and password. At the FSDO, the FAA inspector signs on to IACRA to find your online application. Then you sign on to IACRA to submit your 8710-1 form. The FAA inspector signs back on again and processes your application.

Renewing a CFI rating is non-trivial and takes some time. But it beats the alternative of failing to renew and having to take the Flight Instructor checkride again!

Skip the MBA. Learn to fly instead.

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013


Venn Diagram - Aviate - Navigate - Communicate

The best business advice I’ve ever been given came from my flight instructor.

Aviate. Navigate. Communicate. …in that order.”

Success in the cockpit relies on managing bandwidth. It turns out, so does success in any business. As my friend Steve [@StephenForce] likes to say, flight training is all about bandwidth packing. Making a business work is no different.

I try to balance consuming ideas and immersion. Much of what I’ve consumed in the last couple of years has been business advice and counsel. Eighteen months ago I had no idea what a “cap table,” was or what the heck, “preferred stock,” meant. I immersed myself in the lingo as I went about the business of starting a business. I’ve come a long way through immersion.

As I consumed most everything I could get my hands on to help me through each stage of the project, it struck me how many aviation analogies you find in business books. (Second only to military analogies by my count.) Startups have, “runway,” which is calculated from a, “burn rate.” We, “launch,” products and we hope the business, “takes off.” You get the idea.

Many businesses fail because of distraction. Don’t believe the hype. Human beings are terrible at multitasking. Entrepreneurs are notoriously distracted people. (Just ask my team, they’ll tell you after the laughter subsides.) Prioritization of attention is a critical life skill for both flying and business. Fixation is the enemy of any good instrument scan, and it can completely blow up you calendar too. Managing a business like we manage a cockpit may not be for everyone, but here’s my idea. Cockpit discipline can be a guide for how to structure time and help you manage your bandwidth better.

AVIATE – (Operations, customer service, production, finance, etc.) The tasks that make a business a business are the foundation. When I see businesses disappointing people, it seems most often due to distraction from the basics. My primary flight instructor taught me long ago, “Never drop the airplane to fly the mic.” Aviating must come first. If you’re a retailer, you should first and foremost be good at selling stuff. If you’re a flight school, you should prioritize your focus on tasks that get people flying. If you make stuff, make it better. See what I mean? In my case, since launching OpenAirplane I’ve tried my level best to always make the operational tasks my priority. Personally, this kind of discipline has never been my strong suit. I’ve adapted.

NAVIGATE – (Product management, design, planning, strategy, etc.) In flying and in business, we should always be asking ourselves, “What’s next?” My friend Jason [@TFPofFLYING] likes to stress how important it is to always, “stay ahead of the airplane.” The same discipline can be applied to your work. In every business there are opportunities to look ahead within to improve experience, refine processes, expand or cut offering to make the business run better. Sometimes we get task saturated and get buried in the day to day operations, but unless there’s the discipline to regularly step back and turn the focus to planning, we’re plowing forward without a map.

I’m a student of the design of business. Our industry mostly evolved; very little around us was designed. Much of the industry doctrine in aviation isn’t a product of regulation or design; it’s a product of inertia. On the commercial side, look at the lowly boarding pass as an example. Good luck trying to make sense of those things. Recently someone actually took on a redesign of the boarding pass. The results will make you wonder what took so long.

COMMUNICATE – (Marketing, advertising, public relations, promotions, etc.) I’ve been in some sort of marketing role my entire career. I default to it. But others do not; I get that. Our industry has evolved to be exceedingly efficient at communicating to our own community. Beyond preaching to the converted, the industry for the most part is incompetent. Lack of communications is killing us. Go to Oshkosh, and you’ll be saturated by the message of how amazing aviation is. But imagine trying to penetrate the aviation community from the outside. You might as well be holding an iPhone in a camera store.

Communications is a muscle few aviation businesses take seriously. There is a huge market opportunity for those who invest in outreach. Props to the folks at Icon Aircraft [@ICONAircraft] for making it a priority to grow the pie, not just carve it up.

One of our Operators nailed it when he shrewdly observed, “Aviation expects excellence, but it seldom rewards it.” Turns out the mental pegboard for achieving the balance we need may already be right here.

I try my level best to attack each day with the discipline I learned in my primary flight training.


It’s helped me hack my productivity, and maybe it can help you too. That, and starting every day with the Shepard’s Prayer couldn’t hurt.

News Flash: Stick & Rudder Skills Are Important

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

AVweb’s Glenn Pew interviewed Embry-Riddle professor and former Northwest captain Jack Panosian in a podcast entitled “Avionics — Good Pilots Not Required?”.  It’s an inflammatory title, no doubt to encourage people to dive for that “play” button.  Obviously it worked, because I listened to the whole thing.

Panosian has an impressive resume:  20 years at Northwest, 5 years at ERAU, and he’s got a Juris Doctorate as well.  Nevertheless, while I agreed with some of what he said, certain portions of his thesis seem way off base.

I’ll summarize his points:

    • automation used to monitor human pilots, but today it’s the other way around: we are monitoring the computers these days, and we’re not very good at it
    • computers are good monitors, they do it the same way every time, with the same level of diligence
    • stick & rudder skills are less important than avionics management skill and we need to teach with that in mind

The first two points may be correct (I’ll get to the third one later), but computers don’t “monitor”, they simply execute programming.  There’s a big difference there. It’s true that when people monitor the same thing over and over again, we cannot maintain the same vigilance ad nauseum. But when humans monitor something, they’re capable of doing so with thoughtful and reasoned analysis.  Humans can think outside the box.  They can adapt and prioritize based on what’s actually happening rather than being limited by their programming.

Computers are not capable of that. Remember, system failures are not always covered by the aircraft operating procedures or training, and that’s why safe flight still requires human input and oversight. We are also capable of putting more focus on our monitoring during critical phases of flight. For example, I watch airspeed and flight path with much greater attention during approach than I typically will during cruise.

It’s also worth considering that, despite all the automation, humans still manually perform the takeoff, landing, taxi phases, as well as fly the airplane when the computers get confused or take the day off.   These are the areas where most accidents happen.  Air France 447 stalled up in the flight levels and remained in that state until reaching the ocean.  Colgan 3407 was another stall accident.  Asiana 214 was a visual approach gone wrong. Better manual flying skill might very well have made the difference in at least some of these accidents.

Glenn Pew asked, “How much of flying the airplane is flying the avionics?”, and Panosian replied that “the greatest innovation was the moving map”, giving an example of synthetic vision showing terrain at night.  In my experience, a moving map is no guarantee of situational awareness.  I’ve trained many pilots to fly VFR and IFR in glass panel Cirruses, DiamondStars, experimentals, and so on.  I can’t tell you how many of them had no idea where they were, even with a 10″ full color moving map directly in front of them. When asked the simple question, “Where are we right now?”, you’d be surprised how many have a tough time coming up with an answer.

Does that seem odd to you? It shouldn’t. Situational awareness is not about the map in front of your eyes, it’s about the moving map inside your head.  If you want evidence of that, look at the 2007 CFIT crash of a CAP Flight 2793, a C-182T Skylane which ran into high terrain near Las Vegas.  That flight was piloted by two highly experienced pilots who were familiar with the area, had a G1000 panel in front of them, and still managed to fly into Mt. Potosi.

Panosian made the point that the Airbus was designed to be flown on autopilot “all the time — it was not designed to be flown by hand.  It was designed so that it’s a hassle to be flown by hand”.  Some business jets have similar characteristics. Who would want to hand fly the airplane straight and level for hours on end anyway? The light GA arena has an equivalent as well, the Cirrus SR20 and SR22. I enjoy hand flying them, actually, but the airplane has a somewhat artificial feel due to the springs in the flight control system. It was purposefully designed to fly long distances on autopilot. It’s very good at that mission. It’s well equipped, and has plenty of safety equipment aboard. TAWS, traffic, CAPS, a solid autopilot, good avionics… and yet the Cirrus’s accident rate is not better than average.

I don’t believe the answer is to make the pilot a better manager of automation. This will not stop CFIT, stall/spin, weather, and takeoff or landing accidents.

“The Good news is that we have a generation of pilots that have grown up with this technology, these tablets, etc. and they grab hold of these things better than the older pilot who was trained on the round dials.  That’s a good thing because now you’re just molding them into the aviation world and this is how you’ll operate the aircraft.”

I’m a big proponent of glass panels, tablets, and technology. They’re great. But they do not make one a good pilot. If you want a better pilot, start primary students off in a tailwheel airplane and ensure they know how to fly before doing anything else. Everything should flow out of that. I wouldn’t expect this to be a revolutionary idea, but perhaps it is.

“You are not going to be hired because of your stick and rudder skills.  You will be hired because of your management skills.”

A good aviator needs both sets of skills.  Management ability is important, but no more so than stick-and-rudder capability.  If you can’t physically fly the airplane during any or all phases of flight, you don’t belong in the cockpit because any equipment issues during those phases can leave the aircraft without someone capable of safely operating it.  Pilots who can’t proficiently hand-fly are passengers.  Console operators.  Button pushers.  System monitors (dog not included). But they’re not pilots.

“In other words, can you manage all these systems, can you manages the information you’re getting and make sure that the airplane is doing what it’s supposed to do?  The fact of the matter is that we’ve see this in other industries.  It’s hardly unique to the airline industry.  A robot can do a better job of welding than a human.  An autopilot has many more sensors than a human hand does.  They can be done better and safer than a human being, but they must be monitored properly. That’s where the training comes in.  We have to change from the stick & rudder skills to the manager skills.  That’s what we’re trying to do.”

The problem with his comparison is that flying an airplane is not like welding.  Welding does not require you to manage the energy state of a large chunk of metal hurling through the air while maintaining situational awareness, staying ahead of the aircraft mentally, and adjusting for countless variables ranging from weather to traffic to equipment failures to controllers, often all at the same time and at the end of a long work day. Doing all those things does constitute “management”, but I don’t think it’s the kind Mr. Panosian is referring to.

And as far as the autopilot is concerned, it’s extraordinarily simplistic to compare a full autopilot system to a single human hand.  What about the rest of the body? What about the vestibular labyrinthine system and resultant equilibrioception?  There’s proprioception, thermoception, etc. (Look ’em up — I had to!). And that’s to say nothing of our sense of sight, hearing, touch, and smell.  We use those when we fly, even without direct knowledge of what our body is doing.  How many times have you noticed a subtle vibration from a prop or engine, the sound of a leaking seal around a door, the sense of something just not being quite right?

Autopilots do some things better than a human. Automation is helpful and absolutely has it’s place. But it is no substitute for a flesh-and-blood pilot who knows how to fly the machine.

What say you, readers?

Proficiency: A way of life

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

Some clichés contain solid truths.  Regarding Business Aviation, a saying attributed to Confucius comes to mind:  Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.  Rarely—never might be more accurate—will you find an aviator who flies for a living saying that he or she became a salaried pilot because of family pressures or the expectation to make millions.  They choose aviation out of a passion for the field.  Furthermore, that love of flying most likely began at an early age.

Being a professional pilot is not easy.  Those who pursue that field must pay their dues—intense training, long days laboring in the vineyards (so to speak), selecting areas of operation that often are far removed from home and hearth.  Obtaining the knowledge and skill to be successful in professional aviation is expensive in money and time.  Those sufficiently fortunate to be admitted to a military aviation program commit to a decade or more of service.  Aviators who enter the profession from a civilian track invest considerable funds as well as years of “building time”.   Their commitment is Confucius’ wisdom personified.

Mostly, the professional aviator must develop a proficiency in aeronautical knowledge and skill that is sufficient to deal with the many challenges of flight.  Mastering the latest in technology found in today’s business jet requires in-depth training and understanding.  Possessing the skill to smoothly (and obviously successfully) negotiate an instrument approach at an unfamiliar airfield is the stuff of real-world accomplishment.   Knowledge and skill, maintained at the highest level of currency, are necessary requirements for the professional aviator.

Similarly, a high level of proficiency is required for all who fly.  While the private pilot enjoying the pleasure of flying a Top Cub on a CAVU day requires a different tool box of knowledge and skill than does the captain of a business jet operating internationally, in each case the pilot’s proficiency must be aligned with the flight’s requirements.  All aviators are wise to embrace the professional’s respect for flight and dedication to being prepared.

The “Sunday Pilot” can learn from the “Seasoned Professional”.  The need for relevant proficiency is universal.   The opportunity for professionals to serve as aeronautical role models is real and fulfilling.