Archive for the ‘Amy Laboda’ Category

Camp it Up!

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

It’s summer! Okay, you in the northeast may be wondering, but I can assure you that the southeastern and southwestern U.S. knows that the summer solstice is right around the corner. For those of us with children 6-18 this means school’s about to release, and we’ve got to get crackin’ to find activities for our brood.

If you are looking for an aviation, space or just science/technology themed summer camp you are in luck. AOPA has a great starting list you can find right

Many summer camps allow the campers actual stick-time.

here in the “Let’s Go Flying” section of the AOPA.org web site. There you’ll find two dozen possibilities, ranging from day camps staged at museums and airports to full-blown overnight experiences. Some of the stars of the list include the Experimental Aircraft Association’s EAA Young Eagles Academies, which run just before and during EAA AirVenture in July. Not listed, but also a great option for middle-school and high-school age young women is EAA’s Women Soar camp, a four-day aviation learning experience during AirVenture. If you are located in Central Florida there are a series of summer camps affiliated with Lakeland, Florida-based Sun ‘n Fun designed for all school-age children excited by aviation and space.

Is your camper 14 or older and ready to get some real stick-time? You might consider one of the many summer camps oriented toward getting those first flight hours. The Civil Air Patrol holds encampments for its cadets all over the U.S. each summer where they learn to fly gliders and hot air balloons (an excellent introduction to flight for any budding aviator). Several aviation-oriented universities offer summer flight training programs. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Daytona Beach, Florida, and Prescott, Arizona, campuses offer numerous summer camps that explore topics ranging from robotics and aviation to computers and cybersecurity. From the flying side of things the school’s Flight Exploration programs are designed to key into different phases of flight training, from pre-solo to post-solo cross-country phases of supervised flight. Parks College of St. Louis University offers a summer academy that includes UAV training.

There are faith-based camps (Mission Aviation Adventure Camps take place at six different airports across the country this summer) and museum-based camps, such as the Seattle Museum of Flight’s ACE camps. Really, something for every parent’s perception and child’s dream of aviation.

You might think that late May is too late to sign up for a summer adventure, and, if you were hoping for a scholarship or stipend to help pay camp expenses, you might be correct. That said, there are still many camps with openings for one or two youngsters just like yours.

One word of advice for those of you who have children who don’t come to you with suggestions of their own for what they’d like to do this summer—don’t wait for them. Reach out. I’d have never thought of taking flying lessons on my own, and look at me. Aviation has permeated my entire life. They don’t know what they don’t know, I say. It is up to us to reach out and educate. Even if your kids don’t turn into pilots, astronauts or aerospace engineers, the time they spend at these summer camps will turn them into sky-lovers, the kind that look up fondly at the sound of an airplane overhead; the kind that will tell their congressman to support their local airports, and a free and open general aviation system for all.

Solar Impulse Flies, and Electric Sees its Day in the Sun Coming

Monday, April 18th, 2016

Whenever you see the term proof-of-concept in front of an aircraft designation you need to think: extremely experimental, might never come to fruition, and of course, probably going to break. The two pilot-geniuses behind the Swiss Solar Impulse perpetual motion flying machine (I say that because frankly, it never has to stop flying), Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, have been holed up in Hawaii for months now with their proof-of-concept Solar Impulse airplane because they broke it on the five-day non-stop flight across the Pacific

Solar Impulse arrives in Hawaii after flying five days  nonstop from Nagoya, Japan.

Solar Impulse arrives in Hawaii after flying five days nonstop from Nagoya, Japan.

from Nagoya, Japan, to Hawaii. That put their proof-of-concept flight around the globe on perpetual hold. New batteries had to be manufactured for the aircraft and the battery cooling system, which was determined to be inadequate for such a long flight, had to be completely redesigned and manufactured, as well.

It turns out the mission needed $20 million to make that happen, which meant funds needed to be raised, as well. Fundraising, however, is something Piccard and Borschberg’s idealistic group is quite good at. They have worked slowly over a couple decades, to date, to bring the experimental Solar Impulse program to life. In the process they’ve constructed and flown several aircraft that, by virtue of their electric engines, batteries and solar cells, can stay aloft essentially indefinitely. April 15, 2016 they announced that the airplane is ready to relaunch its mission. Next stop? Somewhere east of the California coastline. What are they waiting for? The perfect VFR day, or close to it. Yeah, there are still limitations. But remember, it’s just a proof-of-concept machine.

Once upon a time people delving into electric-powered flight were considered the outliers of experimental aviation. That is no longer true. At Sun ‘n Fun 2016, which concluded earlier this month, the CEO of the Colorado-based Aero Electric Aircraft Corporation (AEAC) announced that its all-electric powered two-place trainer, the Sun Flyer, was expected to fly within weeks. The Sun Flyer is powered by a single tried and true Emrax 268 electric motor putting out 100 kilowatts, which is basically 135 hp.

AEAC's proof-of-concept Sun Flyer is nearly ready to fly.

AEAC’s proof-of-concept Sun Flyer is nearly ready to fly.

“Because the nose of this airplane is so sleek and narrow, however, the propeller is not blocked, giving you so much more power,” Bye explained to the Sun’n Fun crowd. “For instance, a typical Cessna 172 loses 30 percent of the power generated by the prop because it is blocked by the flat plate surface of the nose of the aircraft,” he said. “On the Sun Flyer 95 percent of the propeller energy can be used to convert torque to thrust. That’s how you get to an equivalent horsepower of more like 160 hp.”

The all carbon fiber construction of the Sun Flyer keeps it light, and South Korea’s LG’s chem batteries provide 260 watt-hours per kilogram of electricity for the engine, which adds up to three hours to empty. Except this airplane has regenerative energy capture technology in its propeller. What that means is that energy is recaptured when the airplane descends at more than 400 feet per minute. That energy recharges the batteries. This is how the Solar Impulse stays aloft each night, when its solar cells cannot capture light and turn it into energy. The pilot climbs in the late afternoon to 28,000 feet, and then descends all night long in parabolic arcs. It is proven technology, and AEAC’s Sun Flyer intends to use it to stay aloft for, well, who knows how long?

“It is certain that students who train in a Sun Flyer will have totally different fuel planning skills,” Bye chuckled. The Sun Flyer also sports solar cells on its upper wing surfaces, for recharging on the ground and in the air on sunny days. Bye stated that two days on a sunny ramp may be all a Sun Flyer needs to fuel up for its next sortie. In any case estimated operating costs, including maintenance and ground power refueling, is around $11 per hour. That compares to an average flight school Cessna 172’s estimated operating costs of $66 per hour in 2016 dollars.

AEAC intends to certify the Sun Flyer in 14 CFR Part 21. It will have a Standard Airworthiness certificate, a 1654 lbs max gross weight,  two seats, a single engine, and a 45-knot stall speed.  The payload will be 440 lbs, according to Bye. It’s sound footprint at 500 ft AGL? Nearly nil, at 55 decibels. If the upfront price tag is right (and there is all kinds of speculation there) it could revolutionize basic flight training, making it affordable for a larger swath of people, and more profitable for flight schools, all at once.

AEAC will have competition in the all-electric trainer market from Slovenian Pipenstrel, Chinese Yuneec and behemoth Airbus. Both companies are well into their two-seat electric airplane programs. Personally, I can’t wait to see what the flight training fleet looks like in 2025.

10 Million Reasons to Smile

Monday, March 21st, 2016

I’ve just come back from an annual event that is by far one of the most inspiring gatherings in aviation and aerospace these days: the International Women in Aviation Conference. Before you click past this page give me a second to tell you that the name of this organization is misleading. Women in Aviation, International’s (WAI) conference is a gathering with as many men as women (some would argue this year at times it seemed as if there were more – there were not, I checked the actual count in the database, but it was close). The organization was founded 27 years ago to encourage women to take up careers in aviation and aerospace. It has always had among its membership men who believe that any business is a better place when its staff is diverse.

Now that you understand WAI’s goals I’ll share the best moment of the conference with you. It was during the grand finale

The stage at WAI was crowded with previous scholarship winners.

The stage at WAI was crowded with previous scholarship winners.

banquet, when some of the largest monetary value scholarships and leadership awards are given out each year (this year’s tally of awards given out by WAI was more than $660,000). The recipient of the Martha King Scholarship for Female Flight Instructors  ($18,120 worth of training) was Lindsey Dreiling of Salina, Kansas. But here’s the thing: Lindsey’s scholarship took the dollar amount of scholarships awarded through WAI’s clearinghouse program to a sum total of $10 million disbursed during the last 20 years. Yep, that’s a lot of flight training, dispatch and operations training, and maintenance training. There are also a couple of aviation management degrees completed among that list, too.

How many people benefited from all that money? More than 1,400 individuals. Were they all women? Nope. You just have to be a member of WAI (and of course, you have to apply) to be in the running for one of its many scholarship offerings.

What made the moment so special was that when the announcement was made for all those previous scholarship winners in the room to come forward, it was as if half the room stood up and began to swarm the stage. Nearly 100 people climbed the steps to surround Lindsey, John and Martha King to a groundswell of applause. Among those onstage were airline captains, flight instructors, Directors of Operations, Maintenance supervisors, all people who got their start, that leg up, that little bit of help, the nudge they needed, right there at a WAI Conference. And also among those on the stage that night were several people who have paid it forward, developing scholarships of their own that they fund through WAI’s scholarship clearinghouse. Because that’s what you do when aviation is very good to you. That’s how we enable the next generation of aviators to soar.

 

Seeking Economy, Playing it Safe: Why I fuel up more often than most GA pilots

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

After 31 years as a flight instructor and considerably longer as a certified pilot, I’ve seen my fair share of accidents and incidents caused by aircraft running perilously low on fuel. In the latest data (2012) listed on the NTSB.gov website out of 988 general aviation accidents (personal flight), some 50 were attributed to fuel (or lack thereof). It is impossible to tell how many out-of-fuel incidents actually happened that year, or any year, in general aviation, because most pilots who get away with landing the airplane on an airfield after losing power never mention it to the FAA. (Would you?) The good news is that the graph lists no fatalities attributed to such accidents in 2012; but going back a decade from there not all pilots were so lucky.

NTSB statistics on personal flying accidents in 2012

NTSB statistics on personal flying accidents in 2012

I have to say, I work hard so as not to be one of those pilots. In my career I’ve flown plenty of airplanes with fuel gauges placarded “INOP” or with gauges so clearly inaccurate that one just knew not to trust them. I was brought up in aviation to visually inspect, and even measure (with a calibrated dipstick) the fuel in my tanks, and to use a calibrated time/distance method of tracking my fuel burn in flight. So, yeah, I’ve got a lot of tools on my checklist to prevent me from running out of fuel on a flight. So do a lot of other pilots I know.

Then why do they still run out of fuel? There are a few out-of-fuel accidents caused by shrinkage of the fuel tank bladder from age (even though senders registered it full, and visual inspection showed it full, the bladder could not hold as much fuel as indicated). Those are, however, rare. And even in those cases I’d question the pilot, wondering why he didn’t notice that the tanks didn’t seem to hold as much as they used to hold. There are a few out-of-fuel incidents from leakages (a stuck gascolator quick drain, for instance). Again, I’d question the pilot on his/her preflight thoroughness (always step back and look at the airplane top to bottom one more time before you climb in to fly away).

Then there are the math errors and buttonology errors. Essentially the pilot miscalculates actual fuel burn, and, knowing his fuel gauges are generally inaccurate s/he ignores them until the engine starts to sputter. This problem can occur if the pilot forgot to consider his fuel burn on climb, in a full-rich mixture configuration. Or, he may have completely forgotten to lean the mixture.

Buttonology errors are more of a modern airplane’s problem. Perhaps the pilot did visually inspect his tanks and noted that each seemed to be down a few gallons. But it is tricky with some fuel totalizers to program in the exact amount of fuel in each tank. Maybe the pilot just taps the “full” button but promises she’ll remember the tanks aren’t full. And then the headwinds are stronger than predicted at altitude. Yet her fuel totalizer tells her not to worry—she’s got enough gas to get to her destination. Except she doesn’t.

Another pilot just pushed the throttle up, figuring he could go faster into the headwind and solve the problem that way. He did not, however, account for the extra fuel he was burning at the higher power setting.

Interestingly enough, most of the pilots who miscalculate fuel at the end of a long flight leg land just short (say, within 10 or so miles) of their intended destination. Sometimes on another airfield. Sometimes not.

I maintain that in most out-of-fuel accidents and incidents the real culprit is poor preflight planning. Pilots simply calculate the fuel exhaustion point of their aircraft, maybe slap a reserve on there (the FAA minimum on a VFR day is just 30 minutes) and then draw a line (most of the time with a flight planner app) that represents that time/distance on a chart and pick an airport near the end of it as their refueling point. Maybe they use an app to find the most competitive fuel in the area and fly to that airport. I get what they are doing. Pilots who fly light general aviation aircraft tend to want to fly long flight legs because they are perceived as most efficient. Many aircraft engines burn twice the fuel in climb as they do in cruise. They want to limit the amount of time they spend at those high power and fuel flow settings.

Well, efficiency be damned. When you are planning a flight, or for that matter, preflighting your fuel system, it makes no sense to set yourself up for failure by pushing the limits of your aircraft’s capabilities. Out-of-fuel accidents can be prevented so easily. Plan to land with twice the FAA minimum in fuel—the reserve recommended by the AOPA Air Safety Institute. Period.

Plan for unanticipated headwinds by underestimating your aircraft’s performance. I flight plan at a lower speed and higher fuel burn than what my airplane typically does. It is my cushion. I like cushions because they give me the wiggle room I need on days where the weather doesn’t play into my hand.

AOPA's newest version of its flight planner provides members with an excellent tool for preventing out-of-fuel accidents and incidents.

AOPA’s newest version of its flight planner provides members with an excellent tool for preventing out-of-fuel accidents and incidents.

And do what I do: use a sophisticated flight planning tool such as those found in moving map apps, or browser-based tools such as AOPA’s flight planner, which

offers easy-to-use graphic tools for choosing good refueling points along any flight path. When programmed with your aircraft’s performance parameters and departure time the planner will color-code your course to indicate where you’ll need to land for fuel, based on the forecast wind. The magenta route line will turn yellow to represent the caution zone segment in which you have 60 to 90 minutes of fuel remaining. The course segment will turn red if less than 60 minutes of fuel remains. Current fuel prices at airports on or near your route pop right up on the planner. Just select one along the yellow section of your course and the planner reroutes you and includes the fuel stop. Best of all, you can email the route to your iPad or android tablet and it will interface into several popular moving map apps with a few clicks.

Then go fly your plan. You’ll thank me for counseling you to land a little more often on a long cross-country about the time you step out onto the ramp and stretch your legs a bit. Or maybe when you are availing yourself of those free homemade cookies and a fresh cup of coffee served up with a smile in so many of our wonderful independent FBOs. The difference in your overall en route time won’t change much, but the quality of the day is likely to be just a bit higher.

Give it a try. Let’s work to make 2016 the year that out-of-fuel accidents suddenly disappear from the NTSB’s graph of stupid-pilot-tricks.

 

The Day After the Holiday: Flying Home Safely

Monday, November 30th, 2015

The day before a holiday, given there are blue skies, is a silly, noisy day in the airpark. People are on the move. My pilot neighbors who have decided to fly to family are loading up and heading out, sometimes en masse, wisely using their aircraft to avoid what can be dangerously packed highways of travelers, and miserably packed commercial airline flights.

Funny, I don’t worry so much about them on the day they leave out of here. The day after the holiday, though, I admit to fretting a little. Why? Statistics.

Weather is the great delineator on the flight home after a holiday.

Weather is the great delineator on the flight home after a holiday.

It is much easier to decide to stay home for the holidays when you are still in your driveway, contemplating the weather, than it

is to imagine staying on at Aunt Fran’s or Grandma’s, where you may be packed into an expensive hotel room, or maybe the basement spare bedroom (probably no wifi down there, either). The NTSB annals are full of accidents and incidents that happen on the backside of the holiday curve, when people are saturated with food, family, good times, and sometimes rushing to get back for work, school or other ordinary pressures. Suddenly pilots everywhere feel that pinch at the base of the neck and catch themselves almost universally thinking, “Well, maybe the weather isn’t really that bad. Maybe the ice won’t be there, maybe the thunderstorms will drift off the route… and maybe the winds aren’t as strong as they are forecasting.”

That is the essence of get-home-itis, and there is not a one of us immune to it. Pilots can, however, allow common sense to sit on the other shoulder and balance such musings. For every “maybe the forecast is off,” one has to imagine “yeah, it could be turn out worse than what they are saying.” After all, a forecast is only a guess of how the weather gods will play out the day. A sophisticated guess based on lots of data, but a guess, nevertheless.

For every “I have got to get home and be at work tomorrow,” there has to be, “this is what personal days and telecommuting are made for.” Building a weather day or two into holiday vacations can alleviate all of these ruminations. I do it as a matter of course. The plus is that if I get home the day I expected to get home I have a day to decompress before ordinary life reaches out and grabs me again. And if I need the extra day because home or en route weather is bad? Well, I’ve got it.

Another good hedge is a back up plan, such as refundable airline tickets (yep, pricey, but only if you need to use them), or a car rental that you can cancel last minute. I’ve used them both to get where I needed to be when the weather prevented me from flying myself.

And what about the “look-see” approach to flying on marginal or worse weather days? 14 CFR Part 91 leaves pilots a lot of leeway on planning flights when the weather might not be at minimums upon reaching the destination. I’m pragmatic on this one. If you are a current pilot in a well-equipped aircraft who has lots of experience with the type of weather you’d like to “look-see” well, run it through your common sense rubric. If it passes, plan the flight with several “outs,” places you’ll divert to if needed. The go ahead and give the flight a try. Weather is a dynamic beast, and conditions may be better than forecast, or worse. You’ll know when you are up there, hopefully deviating around it or diverting to avoid it. Good luck.

Ultimately the key to short circuiting the day-after get-home-itis syndrome in aviation is proper planning, preparation, and of course, a realistic understanding of your aircraft and your own capabilities. Pilots, know thyself. Fly safe out there!

Say again?

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

Cockpit noise is far more than just a nuisance. 

I live and work at a small airport. That makes me an expert on noise. I’ve heard it all, from the thop-thop of helicopter blades beating against thick morning air to the supersonic roar of propeller blades on a Cessna pulling it skyward; from the hum of GE turbofans on takeoff to the gentle chirps of rubber on asphalt, followed by a deep roar as the pilot hits the thrust reversers.

And that’s just what I hear standing outside my office. External airport noise, real as it is, generally pales in comparison to the hearing-damaging decibels most of us encounter when our ears are unprotected in the cockpit of a small piston- or turbine-powered propeller airplane or helicopter. I’ve been subjecting myself to these kinds of noises, both on the ramp and in the air for neigh on 45 years, first as a passenger, then as a professional pilot and I can tell you, hearing loss in our profession is real. And the fatigue that comes from being subjected to such loud and constant sound all day or night long is real, too.

Let me quantify this for you. How loud is too loud? Permanent hearing damage can occur from sounds louder than 85 dB, and physical pain occurs at around 125 dB. You decibel_exposure_chartcan burst an eardrum at 140 dB—a level reached by a jet engine revving up on the ramp as its pilot throttles up to taxi out for takeoff. The graphic at right shows how much a human ear can stand before damage. OSHA requires workers exposed to noise levels higher than 85 dB to use hearing protection equipment.

OSHA is not being overprotective. I fly one of the noiser airplanes out there, an RV-10 with a two-blade propeller. Two-blade propellers are longer than three blade varieties, and have been documented as making more noise. I’ve also got fixed gear, and no sound insulation (we never even got around to putting in a headliner). Measured decibels on takeoff from inside the cabin are—yeah I’m not going to tell you. It’s bad.

Our solution to the noise problem is pretty modern and probably as lightweight as you can get: we opted for high quality active noise canceling headsets. To cancel the lower-frequency portions of the in-flight noise, noise-cancelling headphones incorporate a microphone that measures ambient sound, then generate a waveform that is the exact negative of the ambient sound, and finally, they mix it with any audio signal. Most noise-cancelling headsets in the consumer market generate the noise-cancelling waveform with analogue technology.

Digital processing is the next frontier, and the realm of the high-end headsets. The most sophisticated ANR headsets use digital sound mapping to customize their noise cancellation. Bose A20, Lightspeed Zulu PFX, Sennheiser S1, AKG—these headsets demand a premium, but put them on and fly with them in a noisy cockpit such as mine, and you’ll understand why.

aloftTo prevent higher-frequency noise from reaching the ear, most noise-cancelling headphones depend on soundproofing and an excellent fit around the ear. Higher-frequency sound has a shorter wavelength, and is tougher to cancel out. In-the-ear headsets such as Clarity Aloft can claim to efficiently dull the higher-frequency sounds of wind over the fuselage (its louder than you’d think), and generally can do so without the need for active noise cancellation. On long trips it is nice not to have an over-the-ear headset squeezing the stuffing out of my brain. That said, a lot of people don’t like the feel of earplug-type headsets in the ear canal. And if the fit isn’t perfect the noise seeps in. For a price some of these headsets can be fitted with custom shaped ear plugs, but that requires an audiologist to fit them, and a lab to make them.

There are some people who insist that headsets are not the only answer. They spend a lot of time and money insulating their light aircraft cockpits from sound. Today’s lighter weight materials can, if properly applied beneath the floor panels, side panels, bulkheads and headliner, soften external low and high frequency sounds to bring the level at cruise down below 80 dB, but not much lower.

I’m not a fan of the extra weight and complexity that such sound deadening material can add to an aircraft (complexity comes in if you have a certified aircraft: think field approvals and STCs here). I’d rather spend that money on lightweight, high-end digital ANR headsets to connect everyone in my cockpit. I put that money into a decent audio selector panel and intercom, with the ability to isolate the pilot from the conversation in the cabin, when necessary. While I’m isolated and able to communicate clearly with ATC, my companions can talk amongst themselves or even listen to music during the flight. Everyone is happy, and their hearing stays intact.

 

 

Back to Flying Basics, Aided by a Box

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

Flight training devices can save pilots time and money, if they are just willing to give them a try.

I’ve been teaching people how to fly airplanes for 30 years now, and at this point people tell me I’m pretty good at it. One thing I learned early was that the cockpit environment is a horrible classroom. It’s noisy, full of distractions, occasionally unpredictable and, if the airplane is not tied down with the engine shut off, it is constantly moving through space-time.

This is a challenge to the senses of your typical flight student in the first few lessons of any flight training program. Frankly, any sane human being is scared of it, at first, though few would admit to it.

And while we’re confessing, here’s another little talked-of industry secret: flight instruction is a life-and-death struggle for your typical certificated flight instructor (CFI), who has to keep the airplane from killing anyone, all the while avoiding violating any number of hundreds of FAA regulations. We do this as we simultaneously teach a planned lesson and transfer knowledge to the aforementioned overwhelmed student. Try it sometime. It is harder than it looks.

Ground flight simulation evolved from these realizations. On the ground, in a flight training device, CFIs can better control how any flight lesson is going to play out. Why? Because they hold most of the cards; no sudden ATC amendments to lesson plans, no unexpected flashing alternator-out lights, no tilted, giving up the ghost gyros mid-lesson (unless he chooses that) and no unanticipated airspace restrictions or weather anomalies. Total control. Ah….every teacher I know, no matter of what discipline or age group, will tell you that really does feel good.

The original Link Trainer was created in 1929 out of the need for a safe way to teach new pilots how to fly by sole reference to instruments on the aircraft panel. Ed Link used his knowledge of pumps, valves and bellows (honed building organs in his day-job) to create a flight simulator that responded to the pilot’s controls and gave an accurate reading on the instrument panel. These simulators were little blue plywood boxes with real gyro instruments inside and the reason they moved is because they had to so that those gyros in the instruments would work as they did during true flight. Our national hero, Jimmy Doolittle, was a pioneer of the basic instrument scanning techniques we still use today, and he was one of the first of thousands of pilots to use a Link Trainer, too.

“Please don’t put me in that box,” many a trainee begged. It was a tight fit for the big guys. Dark. Hot. Smelly if the pilot before you perspired heavily or tended toward motion sickness. Claustrophobia isn’t necessarily innate—for a lot of us it was an “earned” malady. No wonder few civilian pilots wanted to use them.

Today we don’t need motion or small, dark boxes to simulate flight. Even companies such as Frasca and Redbird Simulations, which make motion simulators, would agree (they make fixed flight training devices, too). The modern computer programs teaching flight by reference to aircraft panel instruments range from hokey and video game-like, but pictorially effective, to extremely sophisticated flight training devices that are accurate in control feel. And they are affordable, as long as you are not looking for a device on which you can officially log time (those start at $3,000 USD and range up).

Even with the cost of a flight instructor factored in, practice with a basic flight training device can save flight students and wizened old-timers alike time and money. And best of all, flight simulation lessons aren’t dependent on outside weather conditions!

I swear by the efficiency of teaching basic flight by instrument skills and airport instrument approach procedures in flight training devices. That said, I would not tell a pilot to use a flight training device for learning or proficiency without flight instructor supervision. Why? Because bad habits are easy to form and hard to shake. A flight instructor can quietly analyze your instrument scan, flow use and checklist use, and provide you with tips and short-cuts that will make managing the cockpit environment during flight both more efficient and safer.

 

GA pilots evaluate ADS-B options

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

I’ve been on the hunt since AirVenture for evidence that ADS-B is really the future of air traffic separation and services. And, having flown from south Florida to Lake Superior, to Kalispell, Montana, and back, I’ve got news.

ADS-B is designed both to separate traffic and provide inflight weather information.

ADS-B is designed both to separate traffic and provide inflight weather information.

Aviators are adopting ADS-B. Not in droves, mind you, but being ADS-B equipped myself, I can see the other ADS-B aircraft on my display screen, and there are more of them than ever before. Along the entire trip there was only an hour in Wyoming, at low altitude, where I did not have ADS-B coverage.

No, we aviators are not keen on dropping money for avionics we aren’t certain we’ll be required to use. I mean, we resisted Mode C until the veils were dropped over Class B airspace and spun down to the ground (I actually know a couple of anarchists out there still flying Mode A transponders).

ADS-B is particularly problematic because the specs kept changing. They are, according to the FAA, set in stone now, though. For aircraft operating above 18,000 ft and/or outside the U.S. a Mode-S ADS-B transmitter (1090ES) is needed. If you stay in the U.S. and below Class A airspace you can stick with a UAT transceiver. Of course, we’ve seen stone change, too. And ADS-B is not without its weaknesses. That said, the most recent interaction I had with the FAA was on point–adapt, or you’ll be left out of controlled airspace above 10,000 ft and Class B and C airspace, they told me. On January 1, 2020. The date’s not moving. That’s the FAA’s story and all manner of individuals I spoke with are sticking to it.

The L-3 Lynx installed in a typical general aviation avionics stack.

The L-3 Lynx installed in a typical general aviation avionics stack.

These kinds of rock-solid statements by the FAA have begun to bring consternation to the people who run the avionics companies. Why? Because with less than five years left to meet the mandate, they know it will be a struggle to equip all of the aircraft in the U.S. that might need this technology with this technology.

There are only so many avionics shops. And when it comes to the higher end equipment, business jets and helicopters sporting integrated digital avionics, for instance, there are even fewer designated service centers that can handle the job. Really, though, that isn’t the crux of the problem.

At the core of the problem are older high-end integrated panels. A TSO authorization, issued in accordance with 14 CFR 21 subpart O, is not required to upgrade them. Yet, ADS-B Out systems and equipment installed or used in type-certificated aircraft must have a design approval issued under 14 CFR 21 (or must be installed by field approval, if appropriate). To upgrade these legacy avionics is proving to take far too long. That’s a lot of lost revenue and inefficiency for the companies, mostly small-to-medium businesses, that own them. And that is before the cost of equipping is considered in the mix.

Some OEMs are actually trying to persuade these aircraft owners to trade up to ADS-B and ADS-C equipped aircraft–new aircraft. Great idea on the surface, if it wasn’t for the economy. Companies are cautious after 2008. They are not easily coaxed into new acquisitions. They might be more easily convinced by their own finance departments to shed the flight department altogether instead of buying new equipment–something they did in droves in 2008-9.

Back in my light airplane world the news is not quite as bad, until you get to older light aircraft, that is. No one wants to put 10 percent or more of the value of the airplane back into the avionics, particularly for one key piece of equipment.

And experimentals? They had the advantage of being able to use less expensive, non-Compliant ADS-B boxes, until recently. The FAA is now telling us that as of January 2016 those early transceivers will no longer receive accurate traffic information. Yes, the FAA is going to make flying LESS safe for those users, at a time when there are still hardly any users on the new system. All without proving that the non-Compliant boxes are a hazard.

I think it is time to get the pens out and start complaining, to your congressman, to your local FSDO, to the FAA at 800 Independence Avenue. There are a lot of good things about the way ADS-B can change our National Airspace System, but recent declarations from the FAA have me feeling squeamish about the execution of the transition to this new system. What do you think?

Talk of the town

Monday, July 27th, 2015

EAA’s AirVenture air show is one of my favorites, because it provides the attendee a chance to intersect and study the broadest cross-section of the aviation industry that I know. What can one see? There are ultralights and sailplanes, balloonists and blimps, military and commercial jets, and helicopters to fixed wing general aviation aircraft.

My favorite sections of the show include the Innovator’s tent and the row upon row of home built aircraft. Want to study alternative fuels? Looking for a groundbreaking propulsion system for your next aircraft? How about investing in one of several flying car (or road-able aircraft) concepts? You can do that, too.

AOPA displayed three beautiful yellow aircraft at their “disruptively” yellow tent this year. The Piper Cub was #1 off the line and pristinely restored. The two Cessnas, a 152 and a 172, were also completely remanufactured and ready for new lives as economical flight training or cross-country machines for new pilots.

While I was at the AOPA tent I stopped to sign the petition to rescind the Third Class Aviation Medical certificate requirement for private pilots in the United States. This past week during the event the legislation was appended to the highways bill in the Senate, which many involved in aviation advocacy feel is a good development.

There was much conversation centered around the privatization of air traffic control in the United States, too. The consensus was that general aviation pilots should be contacting their political representatives at the national level right now to let them know that a fee based privatized ATC is not the way to fix the national airspace system’s problems. Well, certainly not if they are going to keep fuel taxes as they are now, and dissolve the aviation trust fund we have all been paying into for airport improvements around the country. Dissolve is their word, by the way, not mine. I fear that money will be absorbed into the general fund and simply disappear, never to be used for what it was originally intended.

Overall AirVenture 2015 will go down in the record books for its fine weather, full exhibit halls and packed flightlines. It will be remembered as the summer of relatively low avgas and jet A pricing, which seems to be moving people to fly a little more, or a little farther. That is certainly the case for me, personally. It was a treat to see so many of my aviation friends in one place. Here’s hoping we can all return safely same time next year.

FAA Reauthorization from a Global Perspective

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

This year’s Regional Airline Association (RAA) Conference in Cleveland, Ohio, was a fascinating place to be if you are at all interested in how the various interested parties in the U.S. and abroad are thinking about the up and coming FAA Reauthorization. (And if you aren’t interested you should be. GA pilots have a stake in how the FAA’s limited resources are parceled out.)

FAA mission shift, delays caused by ATC inefficiencies and TSA inefficiencies, noise, environmental concerns: they talked about it all. RAA interim President Faye Malarkey Black sat stage center surrounded on both sides by association leaders that included European Regional Airlines Association Director General Simon McNamara; Airlines 4 America President Nick Calio; Airports Council International North Americas President and CEO Kevin Burke, and Cargo Airline Association President Steve Alterman. Each brought a different angle on the issue, all of it fascinating to me, a user of regional airlines, and a general aviation pilot who wants to keep using my fair share of the system that my taxes pay for.

Leading the concerns was the fear that there will be no pilots to fly regional airliners in the U.S. if an effective career pathway is not both clearly established and marketed to high school students on a national level.

Cargo Airline Association President Steve Alterman is deeply worried. “Our carriers guarantee overnight service in cargo. We depend on our regional cargo partners to get the packages to those outlying communities, and from them to our gateway hubs for transit to destination. If we don’t have the pilots we can’t guarantee service to those small communities. That changes our whole business model. We’ve got to be more creative. I think it is in all of our interests to form a partnership between the academic community, military, regionals and mainline carriers to work together to create a track for pilot training.”

On the subject of air service frequency, Airports Council International North Americas President and CEO Kevin Burke said, “We’ve seen loss of air service at smaller fields. We don’t want to hand over the business to buses and trains. These small air fields are gold for their communities.” He probably wasn’t thinking about the opportunities for Part 135 charter aircraft services that open up when the airlines pull out of a small community airport. But then, Part 135 operators don’t offer the volume of people buying tickets that airports are becoming dependent on for revenue.

Airlines 4 America President Nick Calio thinks big change is necessary. “ATC is key,” he implored. “In every other regulatory government body, they don’t have ATC and FAA under one roof. We think we should have a nonprofit commercial entity for ATC that is funded not by taxes but some other format, and has an independent body that manages it and has industry representation and a pure safety focus to its objective,” he said.

ERA Director General Simon McNamara chuckled and said, “In Europe we’ve got 28 regulatory bodies, different languages, different cultures and one safety body that sits on top of air traffic control. Yet the FAA delivers a service with a 34% less per unit cost than Europe. We’re quite jealous of how simple you have it, so consider yourself lucky.”

When he put it like that, I certainly did!