Archive for July, 2014

Your Local Club: Members, Manpower, and Money

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

Aero Club of Northern CaliforniaI’ve had great fun as President of the Aero Club of Northern California for the past 6 months. Local clubs and chapters are one of the many fun aspects of aviation and you probably already belong to one or more. If you’re not actively involved in running and/or participating in a club, please consider jumping in with both feet and becoming more involved. And if you’re in Northern California, please join our Aero Club and/or Like us on Facebook.

Clubs need your help. Another local club President told me that he volunteered a couple of years ago to be President “because he didn’t want to see the club fold.” As it was, the club hadn’t filed their required form 990 or 990N with the IRS for the prior 3 years, so it lost its 501(c)(3) non-profit status and now has to go through the application process again. Keeping track of those kinds of details are important for any non-profit club or organization. But how do you do that, when activity waxes and wanes over time and club officers come and go? By the way, that club is growing once again.

I still shake my head when I think of another local club I’ve belonged to in the past. At the first meeting of the year I attended, probably the January or February meeting, the newly elected President walked up to me and literally, the first words he said were, “We haven’t got your check yet.” Well, hello, nice to see you as well too. The art of warmly greeting and welcoming one of a club’s most precious resources—its members—was totally lost upon this fellow. As you might guess, the club didn’t do very well that year.

Earlier this year, I walked our board of directors through the 3 Ms: Members, Manpower, and Money. Without these, it’s hard for a club to grow and succeed.

We’re using the 3 Ms to focus our activities and so far it’s working. Membership is up by 60% over last year and we’re only halfway into the year.

Members has two important elements. First, we have to attract potential members and convince them to part with $40 each year to become a member, which is a non-trivial task. To do that, we have to have the second element in place: member programs and events attractive to members and potential members.

From a numbers perspective, our club has held just two events a year for the last few years. But they are outstanding events. The annual Crystal Eagle Award dinner is a world-class event that’s carefully planned for 8 months. Each dinner honors an individual whose accomplishments have significantly contributed to the advancement of aviation or space technology. The list of past recipients reads like a Who’s Who list of famous aviators and astronauts.

The “Eagle” is a large, beautiful piece of crystal glass we import from Italy. Our members then professionally mount it on a block of Redwood with a plaque. The dinner is also a fundraiser, raising money for scholarships that we award to students in S.F. Bay area aviation college programs.

This year, we have five events on the calendar, a significant increase over last year. We’re also moving toward a school year calendar of events, leaving the summer open for planning. That’s a practice we learned from the Aero Club of New England, which was founded over a hundred years ago! By the way, Aero Clubs are regional affiliate clubs of the NAA, the National Aeronautic Association. Check to see if one of the six regional Aero Clubs is located near you.

In addition to Members, a club needs Manpower, or volunteers. For the last few years, our board of directors did most of our club’s work. But that’s a formula for burnout, especially as we grow. Now, we never miss an opportunity to ask members to volunteer, so we can match them up with tasks to be done. We still have a long way to go in this area, but we’re making progress.

The last M is for Money. Obviously, any organization has to be able to cover its expenses. Our goal is to set member dues at a level that covers fixed expenses, so all additional money we raise can go to the scholarship fund. The silent auction, held at our annual dinner, is our most productive source of scholarship funds. There’s undoubtedly more we can do to raise money, but our initial focus is on improving the other two Ms first.

As I talk with other local club Presidents, I hear consistent themes. Members are getting older, it’s hard to find new younger members, and it’s difficult to find speakers for their regular monthly meetings.

We’ve taken a different approach to meetings. While the board of directors meets monthly, there are no regular monthly meetings for members! Members only meet at our major events, typically a luncheon presentation, dinner, or group tour. That takes the pressure off having to come up with an amazing speaker every four and a half weeks. Since the event dates are essentially random, members who might have a conflict with a regular monthly meeting can still attend. While they may have an occasional conflict with an event, at least they won’t have a conflict for every club meeting.

What challenges do your local clubs face and what solutions have you found?

Fuzzy crystal balls, the Beatles, and you

Friday, July 11th, 2014

In retrospect it’s hard to believe, but in 1876 a Western Union memo described the telephone as having no value to the company.  In 1957 Lee de Forest, an inventor with more than 180 patents to his name, proclaimed that a manned mission to the moon would never occur. In 1961 the commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission stated there was virtually no chance satellites in space would be used to augment television, telephone, or radio transmissions in the United States. The following year a successful music producer named Dick Rowe turned down the Beatles, having decided that guitar bands were on the way out.

What’s stunning about this collection of astoundingly wrong prognostications is not that these particular glimpses into the future were so myopic. Rather, it’s that being wrong is such a common thing when trying to anticipate what the future will hold. In each case these errant predictions were made by smart people who were respected in their field. People who were successful by the standards of their industry. Yet they were wrong. Very wrong. Embarrassingly wrong.

What about you?

Admitting we’re wrong is not something that comes easily to most of us. For some it is a virtual impossibility. Yet we are wrong from time to time. Often, in fact.

Generally we like to think of ourselves as being bright, insightful, and reasonably sharp. But that does not in any way make us infallible. So while it is easy to see the human race is fallible when viewed objectively, we rarely see failings in ourselves that lead to incorrect predictions. The self-insulating subjective view provides us with some protection from the ugly truth. We’re wrong – a lot.

If we were as right as we think we are we’d all be making a fortune in the stock market. Our football and baseball fantasy teams would be cleaning up, and Las Vegas would be a private playground for the soon-to-be-rich. But that’s not the way things work. Because we’re wrong more often than we’d like to think. And knowing that hurts, so we ignore the reality in favor of the fantasy.

Living in a delusional fantasyland of our own creation may be ultimately self-defeating, but it’s more comfortable and less challenging thank accepting reality for what it is. So many of us prefer to do just that – we delude ourselves into thinking we’re more on the ball than we really are.

Do you see yourself in this scenario? Where are you? On the right side, the wrong side, or in the zone of realism? In the zone we’re ignorant. We have gaps in our knowledge base. We continue to strive to be better, but know we’ll never get to the point that we know everything about anything. But we try anyway. That’s just the way we are.

You might want to re-read that first paragraph again. This time, keep in mind that each of those people was spectacularly wrong about at least one thing. Yet they were right about plenty of other things. Lots of things. As few of us are universally wrong as we are universally right. But we each have our moments. Even them. Even you.

So be bold, make mistakes and be proud of the lessons you learn in the process. When your crystal ball is fuzzy and the future is less than 20/20, accept it. And when you’re absolutely sure you know what’s going to happen in the future – but you turn out to be wrong – accept that too.

It’s a big world with lots of opportunity for those who seek it out. Remember, Dick Rowe may have become famous for not signing the Beatles, but he learned his lesson well enough to be the guy who went out and signed the Rolling Stones to their first recording contract. One loss, one win. On average he did pretty darned well.

In this sense at least life is a lot like basketball. If you can’t sink every shot, put some effort into learning how to rebound. One way or the other, you’ll stay in the game and make a real contribution to the team.

Go you!

Seoul Plane: Observations on General Aviation in South Korea

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

It’s 80 something degrees with a humidity level to match, probably higher on the airport ramp and I’m already sweltering in a dark suit and tie. If this scene were unfolding in Ohio, I’d be looking out the window of the OSU flight school and finding myself happy to be inside and under the outlet of a powerful air conditioner. The thing is, I’m not in Ohio. I’m 6,700 miles away, standing beside a Cessna 172 on the flight school ramp of Hanseo University in Taean, South Korea (2 hours from Seoul), shaking hands with a Korean flight instructor who I’m pretty sure thinks I’m way more important than I actually am and is quite nervous. It’s hot, it’s humid, and I’m sweating through several layers of formal meeting clothing, but I’m not going to say no to an opportunity to fly a Cessna 172 on the opposite side of the world from where I normally fly. On tap for that hot summer day in 2013? A leisurely 30 minute flight along the Korean coast, returning to the Hanseo airport.

Koreapostflight
koreakorea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fast forward to today, and I find myself back once again in what has quickly become my second home for the third time in three years, doing a second stint as a Visiting Professor for Korea Aerospace University‘s International Summer Program. A fantastic opportunity for college students, this year’s program brings together 50+ students from 17 nationalities and 10+ universities for college courses, cultural experiences and behind-the-scenes tours of the Incheon International Airport and Korean Air.

In my time here over the past three years, I’ve quickly developed many relationships with current and future aviation professionals across all levels and parts of the industry. It’s given me a unique view into the aviation world here.

It’s a Small World

In a country where even the farthest reaches of the peninsula are four or five hours by high speed train from Seoul, GA as a hobby is virtually nonexistent, save for a few small flying clubs, including one at the Osan Air Base catering to mainly Americans. Fifteen years ago, there were only two airlines based in Korea: Asiana and Korean Air. Today, the two behemoths have been joined by six Low Cost Carriers, operating mainly 737s and A320s. The US aviation industry seems like a small world at times but South Korea’s makes it look giant in comparison. Friends, classmates and air force service-mates can often end up working for rival companies. This can be both good and bad–a recommendation can get you a good job in a tough market, but it also becomes very easy for sabotage to occur if you mess up. There are two large aviation universities here, Korea Aerospace University and Hanseo University, with a few smaller programs that have started up in the past decade.

Flight Training Challenges

The path to a Korean Private Pilot License is quite different than the one in the USA. A student at a university here typically flies their first solo here in 45-50 hours and only after mastering many of the PTS maneuvers to a PPL standard prior to sign off. In speaking with some instructors, this seems to have a somewhat chilling effect compared to the US, where a first solo can energize and motivate the student. Senior instructors with a military background can sometimes take a very heavy hand in a figurative and literal sense to students who are unable to perform in the cockpit. This would be seen as very inappropriate in the US, but at this point in time there is very little practical or cultural recourse in the aviation system here.

In light of the very real human factors challenges faced by many airlines here, South Korea represents a very unique and fascinating place to explore the aviation world. I look forward to many more visits and continued work here as airplanes take off and land at the airport just outside the classroom window at KAU!

We Don’t Train For That

Monday, July 7th, 2014

The tragic Gulfstream IV accident in Boston has been on my mind lately, partly because I fly that aircraft, but also because the facts of the case are disquieting.

While I’m not interested in speculating about the cause, I don’t mind discussing factual information that the NTSB has already released to the public. And one of the initial details they provided was that the airplane reached takeoff speed but the pilot flying was not able to raise the nose (or “rotate,” in jet parlance).

My first thought after hearing this? “We don’t train for that.” Every scenario covered during initial and recurrent training—whether in the simulator or the classroom—is based on one of two sequences: a malfunction prior to V1, in which case we stop, or a malfunction after V1, in which case we continue the takeoff and deal with the problem in the air. As far as I know, every multi-engine jet is operated the same way.

But nowhere is there any discussion or training on what to do if you reach the takeoff decision speed (V1), elect to continue, reach Vr, and are then unable to make the airplane fly. You’re forced into doing something that years of training has taught you to never do: blow past V1, Vr, V2, and then attempt an abort.

In this case, the airplane reached 165 knots—about 45 knots beyond the takeoff/abort decision speed. To call that uncharted territory would be generous. Meanwhile, thirty tons of metal and fuel is hurtling down the runway at nearly a football field per second.

We just don’t train for it. But maybe we should. Perhaps instead of focusing on simple engine failures we ought to look at the things that are causing accidents and add them to a database of training scenarios which can be enacted in the simulator without prior notice. Of course, this would have to be a no-jeopardy situation for the pilots. This wouldn’t be a test, it would be a learning experience based on real-world situations encountered by pilots flying actual airplanes. In some cases there’s no good solution, but even then I believe there are valuable things to be learned.

In the case of the Gulfstream IV, there have been four fatal accidents since the aircraft went into service more than a quarter of a century ago. As many news publications have noted, that’s not a bad record. But all four have something in common: each occurred on the ground.

  • October 30, 1996: a Gulfstream IV crashed during takeoff after the pilots lose control during a gusting crosswind.
  • February 12, 2012: a Gulfstream IV overran the 2,000 meter long runway at Bukavu-Kamenbe
  • July 13, 2012: a G-IV on a repositioning flight in southern France departs the runway during landing and broke apart after hitting a stand of trees.
  • May 31, 2014: the Gulfstream accident in Boston

In the few years that I’ve been flying this outstanding aircraft, I’ve seen a variety of odd things happen, from preflight brake system anomalies to flaps that wouldn’t deploy when the airplane was cold-soaked to a “main entry door” annunciation at 45,000 feet (believe me, that gets your attention!).

This isn’t to say the G-IV is an unsafe airplane. Far from it. But like most aircraft, it’s a highly complex piece of machinery with tens of thousands of individual parts. All sorts of tribal knowledge comes from instructors and line pilots during recurrent training. With each anomaly related to us in class, I always end up thinking to myself “we should run that scenario in the simulator.”

Cases like United 232, Apollo 13, Air France 447, and US Air 1549 prove time and time again that not every failure is covered by training or checklists. Corporate/charter aviation is already pretty safe… but perhaps we can do even better.

What Makes an Engine Airworthy?

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

If we’re going to disregard manufacturer’s TBO (as I have advocated in earlier blog posts), how do we assess whether a piston aircraft engine continues to be airworthy and when it’s time to do an on-condition top or major overhaul? Compression tests and oil consumption are part of the story, but a much smaller part than most owners and mechanics think.

Bob Moseley

James Robert “Bob” Moseley (1948-2011)

My late friend Bob Moseley was far too humble to call himself a guru, but he knew as much about piston aircraft engines as anyone I’ve ever met. That’s not surprising because he overhauled Continental and Lycoming engines for four decades; there’s not much about these engines that he hadn’t seen, done, and learned.

From 1993 and 1998, “Mose” (as his friends called him) worked for Continental Motors as a field technical representative. He was an airframe and powerplant mechanic (A&P) with inspection authorization (IA) and a FAA-designated airworthiness representative (DAR). He was generous to a fault when it came to sharing his expertise. In that vein, he was a frequent presenter at annual IA renewal seminars.

Which Engine Is Airworthy?

During these seminars, Mose would often challenge a roomful of hundreds of A&P/IA mechanics with a hypothetical scenario that went something like this:

Four good-looking fellows, coincidentally all named Bob, are hanging out at the local Starbucks near the airport one morning, enjoying their usual cappuccinos and biscotti. Remarkably enough, all four Bobs own identical Bonanzas, all with Continental IO-550 engines. Even more remarkable, all four engines have identical calendar times and operating hours.

While sipping their overpriced coffees, the four Bobs start comparing notes. Bob One brags that his engine only uses one quart of oil between 50-hour oil changes, and his compressions are all 75/80 or better. Bob Two says his engine uses a quart every 18 hours, and his compressions are in the low 60s. Bob Three says his engine uses a quart every 8 hours and his compressions are in the high 50s. Bob Four says his compressions are in the low 50s and he adds a quart every 4 hours.

Who has the most airworthy engine? And why?

Compression/Oil Level

Don’t place too much emphasis on compression test readings as a measure of engine airworthiness. An engine can have low compression readings while continuing to run smoothly and reliably and make full power to TBO and beyond. Oil consumption is an even less important factor. As long as you don’t run out of oil before you run out of fuel, you’re fine.

This invariably provoked a vigorous discussion among the IAs. One faction typically thought that Bob One’s engine was best. Another usually opined that Bobs Two and Three had the best engines, and that the ultra-low oil consumption of Bob One’s engine was indicative of insufficient upper cylinder lubrication and a likely precursor to premature cylinder wear. All the IAs agreed Bob Four’s was worst.

Mose took the position that with nothing more than the given information about compression readings and oil consumption, he considered all four engines equally airworthy. While many people think that ultra-low oil consumption may correlate with accelerated cylinder wear, Continental’s research doesn’t bear this out, and Mose knew of some engines that went to TBO with very low oil consumption all the way to the end.

While the low compressions and high oil consumption of Bob Four’s engine might suggest impending cylinder problems, Mose said that in his experience engines that exhibit a drop in compression and increase in oil consumption after several hundred hours may still make TBO without cylinder replacement. “There’s a Twin Bonanza that I take care of, one of whose engines lost compression within the first 300 hours after overhaul,” Mose once told me. “The engine is now at 900 hours and the best cylinder measures around 48/80. But the powerplant is running smooth, making full rated power, no leaks, and showing all indications of being a happy engine. It has never had a cylinder off, and I see no reason it shouldn’t make TBO.”

Lesson of a Lawn Mower

To put these issues of compression and oil consumption in perspective, Mose liked to tell the story of an engine that was not from Continental or Lycoming but from Briggs & Stratton:

Snapper Lawnmower

If this one-cylinder engine can perform well while using a quart of oil an hour, surely an aircraft engine with 50 times the displacement can, too.

Years ago, I had a Snapper lawn mower with an 8 horsepower Briggs on it. I purchased it used, so I don’t know anything about its prior history. But it ran good, and I used and abused it for about four years, mowing three acres of very hilly, rough ground every summer.

The fifth year I owned this mower, the engine started using oil. By the end of the summer, it was using about 1/2 quart in two hours of mowing. If I wasn’t careful, I could run out of oil before I ran out of gas, because the sump only held about a quart when full. The engine still ran great, mowed like new, although it did smoke a little each time I started it.

The sixth year, things got progressively worse, just as you might expect. By the end of the summer, it was obvious that this engine was getting really tired. It still ran okay, would pull the hills, and would mow at the same speed if the grass wasn’t too tall. But it got to the point that it was using a quart of oil every hour, and was becoming quite difficult to start. The compression during start was so low (essentially nil) that sometimes I had to spray ether into the carb to get the engine to start. It also started leaking combustion gases around the head bolts, and would blow bubbles if I sprayed soapy water on the head while it was running. In fact, the mower became somewhat useful as a fogger for controlling mosquitoes. But it still made power and would only foul its spark plug a couple of times during the season when things got really bad.

Now keep in mind that this engine was rated at just 8 horsepower and had just one cylinder with displacement roughly the size of a coffee cup, was using one quart of oil per hour, and had zilch compression. Compare that to an IO-550 with six cylinders, each with a 5.25-inch bore. Do you suppose that oil consumption of one quart per hour or compression of 40/80 would have any measurable effect on an IO-550’s power output or reliability—in other words, its airworthiness? Not likely.

In fact, Continental Motors actually ran a dynamometer test on an IO-550 whose compression ring gaps had been filed oversize to intentionally reduce compression on all cylinders to 40/80, and it made full rated power.

Common Sense 101Let’s Use Common Sense

I really like Mose’s commonsense approach to aircraft engines. Whether we’re owners or mechanics (or both), we would do well to avoid getting preoccupied with arbitrary measurements like compression readings and oil consumption that have relatively little correlation with true airworthiness.

Instead, we should focus on the stuff that’s really important: Is the engine “making metal”? Are there any cracks in the cylinder heads or crankcase? Any exhaust leaks, fuel leaks, or serious oil leaks? Most importantly, does the engine seem to be running rough or falling short of making full rated power?

If the answer to all of those questions is no, then we can be reasonably sure that our engine is airworthy and we can fly behind it with well-deserved confidence.

On-Condition Maintenance

The smart way to deal with engine maintenance—including deciding when to overhaul—is to do it “on-condition” rather than on a fixed timetable. This means that we use all available condition-monitoring tools to monitor the engine’s health, and let the engine itself tell us when maintenance is required. This is how the airlines and military have been doing it for decades.

Digital borescope (Adrian Eichhorn)

Digital borescopes and digital engine monitors have revolutionized piston aircraft engine condition monitoring.

For our piston aircraft engines, we have a marvelous multiplicity of condition-monitoring tools at our disposal. They include:

  • Oil filter visual inspection
  • Oil filter scanning electron microscopy (SEM)
  • Spectrographic oil analysis programs (SOAP)
  • Digital engine monitor data analysis
  • Borescope inspection
  • Differential compression test
  • Visual crankcase inspection
  • Visual cylinder head inspection
  • Oil consumption trend analysis
  • Oil pressure trend analysis

If we use all these tools on an appropriately frequent basis and understand how to interpret the results, we can be confident that we know whether the engine is healthy or not—and if not, what kind of maintenance action is necessary to restore it to health.

The moment you abandon the TBO concept and decide to make your maintenance decisions on-condition, you take on an obligation to use these tools—all of them—and pay close attention to what they’re telling you. Unfortunately, many owners and mechanics don’t understand how to use these tools appropriately or to interpret the results properly.

When Is It Time to Overhaul?

It takes something pretty serious before it’s time to send the engine off to an engine shop for teardown—or to replace it with an exchange engine. Here’s a list of the sort of findings that would prompt me to recommend that “the time has come”:

Lycoming cam and lifter

Badly damaged cam lobe found during cylinder removal. “It’s time!”

  • An unacceptably large quantity of visible metal in the oil filter; unless the quantity is very large, we’ll often wait until we’ve seen metal in the filter for several shortened oil-change intervals.
  • A crankcase crack that exceeds acceptable limits, particularly if it’s leaking oil.
  • A serious oil leak (e.g., at the crankcase parting seam) that cannot be corrected without splitting the case.
  • An obviously unairworthy condition observed via direct visual inspection (e.g., a bad cam lobe observed during cylinder or lifter removal).
  • A prop strike, serious overspeed, or other similar event that clearly requires a teardown inspection in accordance with engine manufacturer’s guidance.

Avoid getting preoccupied with compression readings and oil consumption that have relatively little correlation with true airworthiness. Ignore published TBO (a thoroughly discredited concept), maintain your engine on-condition, make sure you use all the available condition-monitoring tools, make sure you know how to interpret the results (or consult with someone who does), and don’t overreact to a single bad oil report or a little metal in the filter.

Using this reliability-centered approach to engine maintenance, my Savvy team and I have helped hundreds of  aircraft owners obtain the maximum useful life from their engines, saving them a great deal of money, downtime and hassle. And we haven’t had one fall out of the sky yet.