Archive for the ‘Authors’ Category

Daring Greatly: A young aviator’s dream helps fund the dreams of others

Friday, June 27th, 2014
As a young person, isolated and alone, his setbacks, obstacles, and triumphs remind us to prepare for the worst, to expect the unexpected, to fall back on our training, and to reach ever skyward.

As a young person, isolated and alone, his setbacks, obstacles, and triumphs remind us to prepare for the worst, to expect the unexpected, to fall back on our training, and to reach ever skyward.

In this month’s blog I will tell you the back story of Jack Wiegand, a young aviator coming of age in the early 21st century, while circumnavigating the globe alone, and raising tens of thousands of dollars for charity. I also invite you to read “Going Around the World to Find Yourself” in the July edition of AOPA Pilot, which details the psychological implications of such an endeavor on a young person.

Jack Wiegand’s story takes us around the world in a Mooney airplane. But the tale is much more than a travelogue, but rather a blueprint for following your dreams, supporting worthy causes, being fiercely optimistic and drawing on your strength of character.

Jack became aware of the Guinness World Records™ title of youngest pilot to fly around the world and became convinced that he was up for the task. An endeavor of this sort takes a great deal of planning, funding, and the right equipment for the task at hand. Early on Jack decided to donate any fundraising surplus from Solo Flight 2013 to two charities: the Boys and Girls Club and Ag Warriors. This decision isn’t out of character once you know more about the Wiegand family.

Born in Central California’s agricultural heartland, Jack was the third of four children born to Dwight and Irene Wiegand. The family Wiegand was very traditional, tight-knit, and close. These emotional bonds would serve Jack well on his round the world endeavor, alone.

Strong family bond builds character.

Character is forged from family and challenge.

Jack says he was not a great athlete but when, on his 13th birthday, he was given a gift certificate for glider lesson, he found his passion. On his 14th birthday, he became the youngest pilot in the Central California Soaring Club to solo a glider. When Jack was 16, he soloed his first single-engine power plane, and aviation took over where sports left off. He was gregarious, friendly, and handsome and at an early age had a commitment to public service.

Jack departed Fresno, California on May 2nd, 2013 after a four-month training period in N432BG, with an instrument ticket, and 450 total time. In the ensuing weeks Jack would cross time zones, international boundaries/date line and meet head on with many unique psychological challenges, intriguing cultures and foreign customs. His journey highlights the psychological qualities of daring, enthusiasm and commitment to pubic service that he possesses that will serve us all as aviators.

Eight weeks later, on June 29th Jack Wiegand took off for his final destination Fresno Yosemite International Airport. It was a beautiful flight and a time of reflection. As he flew the Mooney by Mount Shasta Jack remembered that in his hardest times in Egypt or Japan he imagined this sight. When he was handed off to Fresno Approach, it was uplifting. “N32BG great to be back with you!” he exclaimed. ATC read a proclamation over the frequency proclaiming June 29, 2013 was Jack Wiegand Day. It was a very emotional flight capping off a monumentally challenging achievement.

Jack landed after completing two low approaches. Two fire trucks made a water canon archway, which he taxied under to the cheers of the hundreds gathered there including children from the Boys and Girls Club he supported. During his eight weeks away and 135.8 hours inflight, Jack set the Guinness World Record™ and supported two charities.

water canon

104 degree weather and water cannons welcome Jack home.

Home

Jack gained a lifetime of experience in eight weeks around the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the nine plus hours of interviews, I completed with Jack in preparation for the AOPA Pilot story I can tell you that while he is a remarkable young man, there are numerous take-aways that we can apply to our lives as aviators and citizens.

When I asked Jack what he learned about himself psychologically regarding the trip he said, “Everything is going to be okay. You will be challenged. There will be people who will put you down. As long as you use your head and your heart, you will be okay.”  Daring, enthusiasm and commitment to pubic service are good way points for our life-journey. I would challenge us all to look ahead with these traits. When life throws us some clear air turbulence we must remember Jack’s words, “everything is going to be okay”.

 

Get Excited!

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014
Image courtesy of Greg Brown.

Image courtesy of Greg Brown.

So, OK – how do you feel now?

Try this:

Image courtesy of Greg Brown.

Image courtesy of Greg Brown.

Feel better?

Want a little more?

Image courtesy of Greg Brown.

Image courtesy of Greg Brown.

How about this: electric/jet, 120 miles, 100 mph, 2500 ft., 550 kts, 38,000 ft., 700-1000 miles @ max gross?

Can you take one more?

Image courtesy of Greg Brown.

Image courtesy of Greg Brown.

Wait! You’re overheating. You need to cool down. Take this: 4 years, $3-5 million. Hooked? Here’s more.

Editor’s note: AOPA reached out to Greg Brown, one of the men behind the project, who offered some exclusive information about the craft’s expected performance and comfort: “Compared to a traditional business jet, the GF7 will fly as fast in the air with all the comforts and luxury of a high end sedan, and then save between 10 – 20 minutes interfacing with the airport for each leg, as well as reduce the need to coordinate with multiple entities at each destination. For a business jet to save 10 minutes on a 300 mile leg it would have to cruise faster than the speed of sound. Depending on the state, half to a third of public airports do not offer ground transportation. But, with the GF7 operators can drive off any airfield in a vehicle with high end comfort and road performance rivaling many cars. The GF7 advantage is convenience, speed, and flexibility.”

Prepping the long X-C

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

It is now one month before my annual summer airborne trek and, yes, preparation has already begun. In fact, my task list for these long summer outings starts a few months ahead, if you want to include the time I spend reserving hotel or condo space and cars in the most popular places (I use AOPA’s web discounts to help make it all affordable). That’s just good planning.

I double check all the paperwork for the year is good with my airplane. It generally goes through its condition check—the equivalent of an annual inspection—in April, and by late May any sore points have have been completely worked out by my A&P. In June it is time to ensure that all of my GPS and MFD databases will stay up to date throughout my journey.

It’s also when I start a push on my own pilot currency, to make sure that I’m ready for any of the weather my long cross country is liable to toss at me.  I never want to feel as if my skills aren’t up to the conditions. I hit the PC sim in my office to practice my procedures. Then I rustle up my flight instructor and torture him with a couple sessions of practice approaches, navigation, holding patterns and emergencies.

The emergencies are something I always have in the back of my mind. By the end of June, once I know

Emergency kits come in all shapes and sizes. Alternatively, you can build your own.

my general routing for the summer trip, I start gathering fresh supplies for my emergency back pack, which sits just behind the pilot’s seat (not in the baggage compartment where I can’t reach it without getting out of my seat). The back pack holds packaged water, a mylar blanket and first aid supplies for dealing with cuts, scrapes and “bleeders.” It also has a strobe light, signal mirror, emergency cryovac food and a multipurpose tool. We’ve got a tiny two-person tent that barely weighs five pounds packed, and if we’re going over a lot of wide-open space that’s worth tucking in next to my husband’s emergency tool kit, too.

That tool kit has come in handy more times than not. These adventures put more hours on our airplane than it often flies in the three months after we return. And hours mean wear and tear. We have, on occasion, even been seen to carry a spare part or two in our cargo area. Overcautious? Depends on where you are going. Do you know how much it costs to replace an alternator on Grand Cayman, or Roatan?

Once I’ve got my emergency back pack, tool kit and any spare parts together I can begin thinking about

AOPA's airport information web application can help you pick a fuel stop.

AOPA’s airport information web application can help you pick a fuel stop.

the routing. I know how far my airplane can safely go in one leg, and I know how long I can safely go, say, before I have to “go.” In early July I begin checking flight planning software and comparing possible fuel stops. Because I don’t know what the weather will be on my day of departure, and because fuel prices fluctuate, I always have two or three potential airports planned for each fuel stop. I’ll narrow it down the night before I leave, and even still, I might not make a final choice until I’m airborne and I see what the real flight conditions are like.

It sounds like a lot of work, getting ready for an epic trip. It can be, if you look at it as work. I see all the prep as part of the build-up, the anticipation that is half the fun of going. With that attitude, starting flight preparations early is all part of the fun.

Statistically speaking

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

Baseball fans are the most statistically driven people I know. A serious fan can tell you almost anything about the game, the team, or the players on the field using known metrics that compare one to the other with accuracy and in context. For example:

  • Stan Musial had 1,815 hits on the road and 1,815 hits at home. Apparently symmetry mattered to Stan the Man.
  • In 1985 John Tudor threw 10 shutouts in one season.
  • Bob Feller the Cleveland Indians legendary pitcher made his first big league appearance at the ripe old age of 17. He won.
  • The longest winning streak in Major League history belongs to the New York Giants with 26 consecutive victories – in 1916!
  • Joe’s little brother Dom DiMaggio was no slouch. He once had a 34 game long hitting streak.

Imagine if aviation compared stats like that. Well, some of us do. Shawn Pratt of the Safety in Motion Flight Center in Puyallup, Washington, does anyway. And what he knows about statistics is worth knowing.

As a student pilot it became obvious to me that students who flew more often were more proficient and learned more quickly than students who flew less frequently. But it never occurred to me to measure exactly how much more quickly those students finished. Shawn did the math, and what he found is amazing.

Basically, he discovered that flight students are remarkably consistent. If they fly more often they learn quicker. If they fly less often, they learn slower. That much we knew. But Shawn crunched numbers, he used statistics to measure how long it took for flight students to achieve their goals based on how often they flew. What he found was that students are far less unique in their progress than we might think. It really does come down to the frequency of their lessons. Within a very modest margin for error it’s possible to accurately predict how long it will take a student to complete their training and earn their pilot certificate based solely on how often they fly.

Imagine that. Actual stats, measurable stats that can be put to good use by flight schools, CFIs, and students alike.

Here’s the crux of what Shawn learned. There is essentially a multiplier that can be applied to the mandatory minimum number of hours required to earn a certificate or rating, and that multiplier becomes larger as the frequency of flight lessons diminishes.

Put more simply, if you fly five times a week your multiplier is something like 1.2, which means you can expect to finish your Private Pilot training in roughy 48 hours. That’s 1.2 multiplied by the required minimum of 40 hours. 1.2 X 40 = 48.

With reliable, tested information like that at your fingertips you can accurately judge how much time it will take to meet your goal of earning a private pilot certificate. At five lessons a week the entire training process boils down to just a few weeks. You don’t have to plan for months of interuptions to your schedule. You just have to hack 30 days or fewer out of your schedule and commit to them.

You can also calculate the cost of that training more accurately. With a given rate per hour and a known number of hours, it becomes fairly easy to estimate the real cost of your flight training.

Now this is where it gets interesting. If you fly less often you can see what that does to your overall training time and cost. If you participate in lessons on four days each week, the multiplier grows somewhat. But if you only fly twice a week your training time and costs more than double. Double! That’s more than twice the time, more than twice the money, way more than twice the frustration, and a much higher likelihood that you’ll quit before you reach your goal.

Yep, stats work. They give validity to our gut feelings and either prove or disprove our theories about what it takes to become a good, safe, proficient pilot while staying within the budget we’ve given ourselves to reach that goal.

Why Returning To The “Golden Age of Aviation” Is A Terrible Future

Monday, June 16th, 2014

pilot

Here’s a Private Pilot, circa 1930. (photo credit: James Crookall)

I’m not a big fan of nostalgia. Here’s why:

The Golden Age of Aviation” was a time when the only people who flew themselves in an airplane were titans of industry, movie stars, or crazy people.

The aviation industry is on course to revert back to the 1930′s. This is bad, bad, news, because if you look at what aviation was like back between the world wars, it was a terrible time.

Folks in our community complain about how private aviation is circling the drain, that it’s a lost cause. I refuse to believe that. We just have too many things going for us. I believe the future of private aviation is viable, as long as we stop trying to relive the past.

The first few chapters of the book, “Free Flight,” by James Fallows, pretty much lit my brain on fire. It remains one of the best, most objective, primers on the state of aviation in America. The rest of the book focuses on the trajectory of both Cirrus and Eclipse and their attempts to disrupt and reinvent air travel in the last decade.

Fallows nails it when he explains that there are two kinds of people. There are “the Enthusiasts,” (You, me, and most anyone reading this.) and “the Civilians.” (everyone else.)

On Enthusiasts
“…The typical gathering of pilots is like a RV or hot rod–enthusiasts’s club. People have grease under their fingernails. The aircraft business is littered with stories of start-up companies that failed. One important reason is that, as with wineries or small country inns or literary magazines, people have tried to start businesses because they loved the activity, not because they necessarily had a good business plan.”

On Civilians
“Civilians–mean most of the rest of us– view airplanes not as fascinating objects but as transportation. Planes are better than cars, buses, or trains to the extent that they are faster. Over the last generation, most civilians have learned to assume that large airliners nearly always take off and land safely. …From the civilian perspective, the bigger the plane, the better. Most civilians view people who fly small planes the way I view people who bungee-jump or climb Mount Everest; they are nuts.”

James Fallows, “Free Flight, Inventing the future of Travel

Fallows calmly explains how travel for most of us has gotten worse, not better in the last 30 years. He stresses that the hub and spoke system adopted by the airlines post deregulation has contributed to the misery. He cites former NASA administrator Daniel Golden, who noted in 1998 that the average speed door to door traveling on commercial airlines had sunk to only around fifty or sixty miles an hour.

The book concisely charts how we got into this fine mess. He compares how air travel works today to that of the world before automobiles. In the last generation, the airlines have benefited the most from investment in development and infrastructure. Today we pack most people onto what may as well be very fast train lines that go from major metro to major metro. Cornelius Vanderbilt would be so proud.

The other side of the coin is what General Aviation has evolved to for the folks who have the means to fly private jets. The industry has done a fabulous job of responding to the needs of the very small percentage of us who can afford to operate or charter turbine aircraft. This equipment flies higher and faster than most airliners, and can get people to small airports much closer to almost any destination. Fallows shows how this is analogous to travel by limousine. Remember, when cars first appeared on the road, they were considered too complicated and too dangerous for mere mortals to operate. Anyone who could afford one, hired a professional driver. I’m sure Andrew Carnegie was chauffeured from point to point too.

So for the most part, we have trains and limousines. It’s like some bizarre alternate history world where Henry Ford never brought us the automobile.

I refuse to believe that we’re simply on the wrong side of history here.

It’s actually a pretty great time to be a pilot. The equipment has never been more reliable, the tools keep making it easier, and the value proposition keeps getting more compelling compared to other modes of travel when you note that moving about the country on the airlines or the highways keeps slowing down due to congestion. For the first time in history, for most of us the country is no longer growing smaller. It’s getting bigger.

A few examples of what excites me about the future of aviation, and what I hope can prove to be disrupters looking forward…

  • ICON A5 – A 2 seat jet ski with wings that you can tow behind your pickup.
  • Cirrus Vision SF50 – 5 Seats, single jet engine, it’s going to define a completely new category for very light jets. I imagine it to be like a Tesla and an iPad mashed together in one 300 knot machine.
  • Whatever it is that Elon Musk builds next – please, please, please, let it be a flying car.

The future is bright, as long as we don’t go backwards.

Meditations on Flying

Monday, June 16th, 2014

A few weeks ago I came across a beautiful and awe inspiring video on YouTube of two seventy-something Dutch women who had never flown on airplane before being treated to their first flight. The experience of watching the 10 minute video is quite touching, emotional, and well worth the time.

Cynics might say they weren’t getting a “real” experience flying on an airline (I could agree…flying on Ryanair across Europe nearly swore me off the aviation world once), but this movie isn’t about a private jet or the experience of business aviation. In its most basic form, it is about the magic and joy and ability that flight has to open up the world, even at the ages of 72 and 78. The sheer emotional reaction that these two have to the experience of being in Amsterdam one minute and Barcelona a few hours later is fantastic to view.

An & Ria after their First Flight. Screenshot from YouTube

An & Ria are all smiles after their first flight. Screenshot from YouTube

After watching these two delightful ladies experience and describe the flight (Ria’s granddaughter’s description of taking off as being “just like you are in love, such an unpleasant feeling” is one of my favorite lines of the video), I realized just how much I have taken for granted in my own experiences in the world of aviation. Whether flying as the passenger on an airliner or as the pilot of one of OSU’s fleet of aircraft, I often forget to take a moment or two to view the magic of the experience through the eyes of An & Ria. When I’m the one flying the plane, my attention and focus falls on the flight itself and the clock. A local flight becomes routine business and I tend to forget the fact that I’m doing something most of the rest of the world has never done and will never do. I forget the freedom and power flight brings and the amazing experiences it has unlocked for me. In college, I flew to Chipotle for dinner since we didn’t have it in Grand Forks. Two friends and I rented an airplane and flew to Florida for Spring Break. It’s amazing how I tend to miss those memories when I have to do yet another insurance currency flight because I’m too busy or the weather is too poor to keep me up in the air regularly.

As this video goes to show, we often times miss out on the absolute joy and special fact that as pilots we are experience something for which we are so very lucky to behold. For reasons outside and inside of their control, there are those like An & Ria who have never had the opportunity to experience a takeoff or landing, turbulence, or the amazing feeling of arriving in a new location far away. I’ve watched the video many times since first seeing it and it serves as a constant reminder to be thankful and aware of what a joyous industry I’m lucky enough to work and immerse myself in.

Trust Us — We’re Professionals

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

I’ve seen some ill-conceived policies emanate from the FAA over the course of my professional flying career. Some diktats are just busy work, while others fail to achieve an otherwise admirable end. But the worst are those that create the very hazard they are supposed to prevent.

Case in point: the recent adoption of 14 CFR 121.542(d), which prohibits the use of any personal electronic devices in flight. According to the FAA, this rule is “intended to ensure that non-essential activities do not affect flight deck task management or cause a loss of situational awareness during aircraft operation.”

Sounds great on the surface, doesn’t it? I mean, who could possibly oppose a rule which the Feds ostensibly see as the aeronautical equivalent of a ban on texting while driving? Keeping distractions at bay and pilots focused on flying has got to be a wonderful enhancement for safety.

But it’s not. The flight profiles of airlines, cargo haulers, charter companies, fractionals, corporate flight departments, and even private GA operators often dictate long stretches of straight-and-level flight with the autopilot on. Surely the FAA is aware of this. Now add in circadian rhythm issues associated with overnight flights, a dark cockpit with minimal radio traffic, and a flight crew pairing who have run out of things to talk about. There’s nothing to do but stare off into the inky darkness for hour upon hour. It’s a recipe for falling asleep.

Say what you will about distractions on the flight deck, but I’d much rather see a pilot peruse an issue of AOPA Pilot while in cruise than to have that individual zoned out or inadvertently napping. For one thing, the process of waking up takes time, whereas an alert human need only change focus. We already do that dozens of times on every flight anyway. Check in on the engine instruments, then answer a question from a passenger, then look out the window, then consult a chart. We do this all day long.

Is there much difference between reading a magazine and delving into the minutia of some random page of the Jeppesen manual when they’re both a form of busy work to keep the mind engaged during slow periods in cruise? I sincerely doubt a roundtable of experts in automation and human factors would have come up with a PED ban.

I can understand prohibiting them below, say, 10,000′ when the sterile cockpit rule is in effect. That’s a busy time for pilots, and non-essential items are naturally stowed at that point anyway. But electronic devices in and of themselves can be helpful in staving off the ultimate distraction. “Flight to Safety” author and Airbus pilot Karlene Petitt said it best:

Numerous studies have shown that one of the tips to help fall to sleep is to NOT watch television or work on your computer at a minimum of an hour before bedtime. The light suppresses melatonin production and stimulates brain activity. I’m not sure about you, but I want my pilots alert with stimulated brains. Give them something to do to keep them awake.

As many of you have probably noted, this rule is located in Part 121 and therefore only applies to scheduled airlines. From maintenance requirements to medical certification, their regs are the strictest around, so perhaps this seems much ado about nothing for a general aviation audience. But the FAA is of the opinion that this limitation should reach a lot further than United and Delta:

Recommended Actions: This prohibition on personal use of electronic devices on the flight deck in the final rule is applicable only to operations under part 121. However, Directors of Safety and training managers for all operators under parts 135 and 125, as well as part 91K, are encouraged to include operating procedures in their manuals and crewmember training programs prohibiting flightcrew members from using such devices for personal use during aircraft operation.

Will this eventually reach down to Part 91? Who knows. Even if it doesn’t, the real problem is that the FAA is spoon-feeding each and every individual action and prohibition to us without making allowances for the differences inherent in each type of operation. One-size-fits-all is wonderful for tube socks and scarves, but when it comes to flight safety, it’s just bad policy.

The smart way to go about this would be to leave it to the individual company, flight department and/or individual to determine what PED policy best serves the cause of safety. If you’re Southwest Airlines or a charter operator company flying VLJs, you probably aren’t flying long-haul trips and might be fine with reasonable PED limitations. Certainly using them below 10,000′ could be prohibited. But if you’re flying international cargo in a jumbo jet or hopping continents in a Global 5000 on legs of twelve or thirteen hours? That personal electronic device could be incredibly helpful in maintaining alertness.

Whether it’s a vocation or an avocation, pilots are a professional lot who can be trusted to make their own decisions about portable electronic devices.

The Dark Side of Maintenance

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

The Dark SideHave you ever put your airplane in the shop—perhaps for an annual inspection, a squawk, or a routine oil change—only to find when you fly it for the first time after maintenance that something that was working fine no longer does?  Every aircraft owner has had this happen. I sure have.

Maintenance has a dark side that isn’t usually discussed in polite company: It sometimes breaks aircraft instead of fixing them.

When something in an aircraft fails because of something a mechanic did—or failed to do—we refer to it as a “maintenance-induced failure”…or “MIF” for short. Such MIFs occur a lot more often than anyone cares to admit.

Why do high-time engines fail?

I started thinking seriously about MIFs in 2007 while corresponding with Nathan Ulrich Ph.D. about his ground-breaking research into the causes of catastrophic piston aircraft engine failures (based on five years’ worth of NTSB accident data) that I discussed in an earlier post. Dr. Ulrich’s analysis showed conclusively that by far the highest risk of catastrophic engine failure occurs when the engine is young—during the first two years and 200 hours after it is built, rebuilt or overhauled—due to “infant-mortality failures.”

But the NTSB data was of little statistical value in analyzing the failure risk of high-time engines beyond TBO, simply because so few engines are operated past TBO; most are arbitrarily euthanized at TBO. We don’t have good data on how many engines are flying past TBO, but it’s a relatively small number. So it’s s no surprise that the NTSB database contains very few accidents attributed to failures of over-TBO engines. Because there are so few, Ulrich and I decided to study all such NTSB reports for 2001 through 2005 to see if we could detect some pattern of what made these high-time engines fail. Sure enough, we did detect a pattern.

About half the reported failures of past-TBO engines stated that the reason for the engine failure could not be determined by investigators. Of the half where the cause could be determined, we found that about 80% were MIFs. In other words, those engines failed not because they were past TBO, but because mechanics worked on the engines and screwed something up!

Sheared Camshaft Bevel GearCase in point: I received a call from an aircraft owner whose Bonanza was undergoing annual inspection. The shop convinced the owner to have his propeller and prop governor sent out for 6-year overhauls. (Had the owner asked my advice, I’d have urged him not to do this, but that’s another story for another blog post.)

The overhauled prop and governor came back from the prop shop and were reinstalled. The mechanic had trouble getting the prop to cycle properly, and he wound up removing and reinstalling the governor three times. During the third engine runup, the the prop still wouldn’t cycle properly. The mechanic decided to take the airplane up on a test flight anyway (!) which resulted in an engine overspeed. The mechanic then removed the prop governor yet again and discovered that the governor drive wasn’t turning when the crankshaft was rotated.

I told the owner that I’d seen this before, and the cause was always the same: improper installation of the prop governor. If the splined drive and gears aren’t meshed properly before the governor is torqued, the camshaft gear is damaged, and the only fix is a teardown. (A couple of engine shops and a Continental tech rep all told the owner the same thing.)

This could turn out to be a $20,000 MIF. Ouch!

How often do MIFs happen?

They happen a lot. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t receive an email or a phone call from an exasperated owner complaining about some aircraft problem that is obviously a MIF.

A Cessna 182 owner emailed me that several months earlier, he’d put the plane in the shop for an oil change and installation of an STC’d exhaust fairing. A couple of months later, he decided to have a digital engine monitor installed. The new engine monitor revealed that the right bank of cylinders (#1, #3 and #5) all had very high CHTs well above 400°F. This had not shown up on the factory CHT gauge because its probe was installed on cylinder #2. (Every piston aircraft should have an engine monitor IMHO.) At the next annual inspection at a different shop, the IA discovered found some induction airbox seals missing, apparently left off when the exhaust fairing was installed. The seals were installed and CHTs returned to normal.

Sadly, the problem wasn’t caught early enough to prevent serious heat-related damage to the right-bank cylinders. All three jugs had compressions down in the 30s with leakage past the rings, and visible damage to the cylinder bores was visible under the borescope. The owner was faced with replacing three cylinders, around $6,000.

Sandel SN3308The next day, I heard from the owner of an older Cirrus SR22 complaining about intermittent heading errors on his Sandel SN3308 electronic HSI. These problems started occurring intermittently about three years earlier when the shop pull the instrument for a scheduled 200-hour lamp replacement.

Coincidence?

I’ve seen this in my own Sandel-equipped Cessna 310, and it’s invariably due to inadequate engagement between the connectors on the back of the instrument and the mating connectors in the mounting tray. You must slide the instrument into the tray just as far as possible before tightening the clamp; otherwise, you’ve set the stage for flaky electrical problems. This poor Cirrus owner had been suffering the consequences for three years. It took five minutes to re-rack the instrument and cure the problem.

Pitot-Static PlumbingNot long after that, I got a panicked phone call from one of my managed-maintenance clients who’d departed into actual IMC in his Cessna 340 with his family on board on the first flight after some minor avionics work. (Not smart IMHO.) As he entered the clag and climbed through 3,000 feet, all three of his static instruments—airspeed, altimeter, VSI—quit cold. Switching to alternate static didn’t cure the problem. The pilot kept his cool, confessed his predicament to ATC, successfully shot an ILS back to his home airport, then called me.

The moment I heard the symptoms, I knew exactly what happened because I’d seen it before. “Take the airplane back to the avionics shop,” I told the owner,  “and ask the tech to reconnect the static line that he disconnected.” A disconnected static line in a pressurized aircraft causes the static instruments to be referenced to cabin pressure. The moment the cabin pressurizes, those instruments stop working. MIF!

I know of at least three other similar incidents in pressurized singles and twins, all caused by failure of a mechanic to reconnect a disconnected static line. One resulted in a fatal accident, the others in underwear changes. The FARs require a static system leak test any time the static system is opened up, but clearly some technicians are not taking this seriously.

Causes of Accidents

Why do MIFs happen?

Numerous studies indicate that three-quarters of accidents are the fault of the pilot. The remaining one-quarter are machine-caused, and those are just about evenly divided between ones caused by aircraft design flaws  and ones caused by MIFs. That suggests one-eighth of accidents are maintenance-induced, a significant number.

The lion’s share of MIFs are errors of omission. These include fasteners left uninstalled or untightened, inspection panels left loose, fuel and oil caps left off, things left disconnected (e.g., static lines), and other reassembly tasks left undone.

Distractions play a big part in many of these omissions. A mechanic installs some fasteners finger-tight, then gets a phone call or goes on lunch break and forgets to finish the job by torqueing the fasteners. I have seen some of the best, most experienced mechanics I know fall victim to such seemingly rookie mistakes, and I know of several fatal accidents caused by such omissions.

Maintenance is invasive!

Whenever a mechanic takes something apart and puts it back together, there’s a risk that something won’t go back together quite right. Some procedures are more invasive than others, and invasive maintenance is especially risky.

Invasiveness is something we think about a lot in medicine. The standard treatment for gallstones used to be cholecystectomy (gall bladder removal), major abdominal surgery requiring a 5- to 8-inch incision. Recovery involved a week of hospitalization and several weeks of recovery at home. The risks were significant: My dad very nearly died as the result of complications following this procedure.

Nowadays there’s a far less invasive procedure—laproscopic cholecystectomy—that involves three tiny incisions and performed using a videoscope inserted through one incision and various microsurgery instruments inserted through the others. It is far less invasive than the open procedure. Recovery usually involves only one night in the hospital and a few days at home. The risk of complications is greatly reduced.

Similarly, some aircraft maintenance procedures are far more invasive than others. The more invasive the maintenance, the greater the risk of a MIF. When considering any maintenance task, we should always think carefully about how invasive it is, whether the benefit of performing the procedure is really worth the risk, and whether less invasive alternatives are available.

Ryan Stark of Blackstone LabsFor example, I was contacted by an aircraft owner who said that he’d recently received an oil analysis report showing an alarming increase in iron. The oil filter on his Continental IO-520 showed no visible metal. The lab report suggested flying another 25 hours and then submitting another oil sample for analysis.

The owner showed the oil analysis report to his A&P, who expressed grave concern that the elevated iron might indicate that one or more cam lobes were coming apart. The mechanic suggested pulling one or two cylinders and inspecting the camshaft.

Yikes! What was this mechanic thinking? No airplane has ever fallen out of the sky because of a cam or lifter problem. Many have done so following cylinder removal, the second most invasive thing you can do to an engine. (Only teardown is more invasive.)

The owner wisely decided to seek a second opinion before authorizing this exploratory surgery. I told him the elevated iron was almost certainly NOT due to cam lobe spalling. A disintegrating cam lobe throws off fairly large steel particles or whiskers that are usually visible during oil filter inspection. The fact that the oil filter was clean suggested that the elevated iron was coming from microscopic metal particles less than 25 microns in diameter, too small to be detectable in a filter inspection, but easily detectable via oil analysis. Such tiny particles were probably coming either from light rust on the cylinder walls or from some very slow wear process.

I suggested the owner have a borescope inspection of his cylinders to see whether the bores showed evidence of rust. I also advised that no invasive procedure (like cylinder removal) should ever be undertaken solely on the basis of a single oil analysis report. The oil lab was spot-on in recommending that the aircraft be flown another 25 hours. The A&P wasn’t thinking clearly.

Even if a cam inspection was warranted, there’s a far less invasive method. Instead of a 10-hour cylinder removal, the mechanic could pull the intake and exhaust lifters, and then determine the condition of the cam by inspecting it with a borescope through the lifter boss and, if warranted, probing the cam lobe with a sharp pick. Not only would this procedure require just 15% as much labor, but the risk of a MIF would be nil.

Sometimes, less is more

Many owners believe—and many mechanics preach—that preventive maintenance is inherently a good thing, and the more of it you do the better. I consider this wrongheaded. Mechanics often do far more preventive maintenance than necessary and often do it using unnecessarily invasive procedures, thereby increasing the likelihood that their efforts will actually cause failures rather than preventing them.
Mac Smith RCM Seminar DVDAnother of my earlier posts discussed Reliability-Centered Maintenance (RCM) developed at United Airlines in the late 1960s, and universally adopted by the airlines and the military during the 1970s. One of the major findings of RCM researchers was that preventive maintenance often does more harm than good, and that safety and reliability can often be improved dramatically by reducing the amount of PM and using minimally invasive techniques.

Unfortunately, this thinking doesn’t seem to have trickled down to piston GA, and is considered heresy by many GA mechanics because it contradicts everything they were taught in A&P school. The long-term solution is for GA mechanics to be trained in RCM principles, but that’s not likely to happen any time soon. In the short term, aircraft owners must think carefully before authorizing an A&P to perform invasive maintenance on their aircraft. When in doubt, get a second opinion.

The last line of defense

The most likely time for a mechanical failure to occur is the first flight after maintenance. Since the risk of such MIFs is substantial, it’s imperative that owners conduct a post-maintenance test flight—in VMC , without passengers, preferably close to the airport—before launching into the clag or putting passengers at risk. I think even the most innocuous maintenance task—even a routine oil change—deserves such a post-maintenance test flight. I do this any time I swing a wrench on my airplane.

You should, too.

Fly By Mind

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

In previous posts here I’ve suggested that one of the big problems with the future of flying is that it is too hard to learn how to fly an airplane.  Pilots today are manually controlling the same elevator-aileron-rudder combination like Lindbergh did when he was flying in the early 1920s, and mastering the control of three dimensions is not intuitive. Getting the mind and body to work in the right way to keep from crashing takes a lot of work and money and presents a significant barrier to entry to aspiring aviators.

FlyByMind1The solution to this problem is obvious.  Make all new airplanes fly-by-wire and drive the controls with a computer . . . which can be programmed to convert any new and easier pilot input scheme into appropriate control surface outputs.  The inputs could be almost anything – including, it is now clear, your mind.

In late May researchers from Technische Universität München in Germany described the emergence of a new paradigm. In part they said:

The pilot is wearing a white cap with myriad attached cables. His gaze is concentrated on the runway ahead of him. All of a sudden the control stick starts to move, as if by magic. The airplane banks and then approaches straight on towards the runway. The position of the plane is corrected time and again until the landing gear gently touches down. During the entire maneuver the pilot touches neither pedals nor controls.

FlyByMind2This is not a scene from a science fiction movie, but rather the rendition of a test at the Institute for Flight System Dynamics of the Technische Universität München (TUM). Scientists working for Professor Florian Holzapfel are researching ways in which brain controlled flight might work in the EU-funded project “Brainflight”.

I’ve tried to make it clear that we are on the verge of an unprecedented revolution in aviation, driven and supported by information technology.  We’re talking things much more than glass panels and things like that that, which although new, would look familiar.  This revolution is being described by the convergence of a number of breakthroughs, some of which (like mind control of the aircraft), seem very foreign how we think of flying and airplanes.

Many big breakthroughs in display and computer interface technologies get their start in the gaming and entertainment sectors.  Here demands for lifelike, high resolution presentations (think of the 3D film Avatar), compete with compellingly immersive virtual reality goggles and new, more intuitive input-output device.  Early computer thought control approaches showed up first in the gaming space. Now it is spreading to aviation.

FlyByMind3The gaming (and now Facebook) world has also produced another breakthrough product that is certain to change how we fly . . . and everything else.  The cover of the present issue of WIRED characterizes it thus:

This kid (21-year-old inventor Palmer Luckey), is about to change gaming, movies, TV, music, design, medicine, sex, sports, art, travel, social networking, education – and reality.  The Oculus Rift is here, and it will blow your mind.

Oculus is talking about a set of virtual reality goggles that: “. . . creates a stereoscopic 3D view with excellent depth, scale, and parallax. Unlike 3D on a television or in a movie, this is achieved by presenting unique and parallel images for each eye. This is the same way your eyes perceive images in the real world, creating a much more natural and comfortable experience.”

The WIRED article explains why Facebook paid $2 billion for this little start-up with two dozen employees a couple of months ago and why it represents a paradigm shift that will obviously change the whole idea of IFR flying.  Just think of putting on your Oculus Rift and making all of the weather disappear.  Drop it over your eyes and there’s a new augmented reality world that has every bit of information available from every database you select superimposed in front of your field of view.

Couple that with only needing to “think” about what you want to do and where you want to go and you’ve clearly got a new world out there.

Will Fly for Pie!

Friday, May 30th, 2014

 

 1910 Fun

Circa 1910 Airplane Fun

Some pilots have all the fun.  When you think about it, fun is why most of us started flying. According to the National Endowment for the Humanities having fun is a relatively new concept in our nation’s lexicon. In the early twentieth century, the former Victorian ideals of decorum and self-restraint, once prevalent in the nineteenth century, gave way to the notion that “having fun” was good for one’s health and overall well being.

Cheap Suits in formation

Circa 2014 Airplane Fun

The Cheap Suits Flying Club exemplifies fun.  Recently I got a chance to talk to Joe Borzelleri, the co-founder of the flying club.  He was thrilled to tell me about the origins of the club, and how he believes that social flying clubs can impact General Aviation in a positive way.  “We are a bunch of guys and gals in Northern and Central California who fly high drag, low speed airplanes. Our mission statement: “We Fly for Pie!” We are known as the “Cheap Suit” Flying Club. This IS the most fun flying club in the history of ever,” says Joe.

Joe Borzelleri and John "Cabi" Cabigas Founders

Joe Borzelleri and John “Cabi” Cabigas,  Founders

This “flying club”, which started out very much tongue in cheek, was meant to be fun from the get go. Joe says, “In the beginning it was my good J-3 Cub buddy, John (Cabi) Cabigas, and me. It was not meant to be a formal club and it still is not. There are no regular meetings, no by-laws, no board of directors, no dues and no rules. The name Cheap Suit came about when Cabi suggested the use of a VHF interplane frequency that approximated the price of an inexpensive suit.”

Not long after, Cabi shared a logo to use.  Joe designed the front of the shirt to have the look of a cheap brown leisure suit. Soon, both designs were on t-shirts and with that, they were a fully functioning club with a flight suit!

Soon a Facebook “Cheap Suit” page was created. That’s when things really took off. Cheap Suits began to post their fly outs and other shenanigans on Facebook. It didn’t take long to have a large following. Cubs, Colts, C-120s/140s and other fabric-covered fun performance airplanes, soon joined them.

Cheap Suits Flight Suit

Cheap Suits Flight Suit

Cabi has taught many of the Suits the finer points of flying safely in formation. They also have participated in several memorial missing man formations for other aviators who have gone west.

About two years into the “Cheap Suits” flying club’s tenure, Joe began to pursue the idea of taking over the day-to-day management of his home airport, Sutter County (O52).  He says, “I was inspired by you and Mitch and the Friends of Oceano Airport (L52,) to get out there to do something to keep my airport open and affordable. The group of pilots involved in the organization are very passionate and love their home airport. I was thinking that if we could organize a bunch of guys to go get a $100 burger nearly every weekend, we might be able to form a legitimate organization and come up with a plan to run our airport.”

By utilizing social media, email and posters, they were able to organize a large group of local pilots and aircraft owners to form a non-profit organization. With the help of the California Pilot’s Association they did just that.  It has been a little over 2 years since that first meeting, and the Sutter Buttes Regional Aviation Association, will take over the management of the Sutter County Airport (O52) on July 1st, 2014!  “It was a road paved with red tape, and we couldn’t have not done it without the help of Stephen Whitmarsh of SBRAA, Cal Pilot’s Jay White, Bill Dunn and John Pfeifer of AOPA, along with Corl Leach and Bill Turpie of the Lincoln Regional Pilot’s Association, Harrison Gibbs of the Turlock Regional Aviation Association and Geoff Logan of Business Aviation Insurance Services, Inc.” says Joe.

Sutter Buttes Regional Aviation Association

Sutter Buttes Regional Aviation Association

The “Cheap Suits” Flying Club has been around for 5 years now. During this time they have flown to over 100 fly outs and airshows, and have flown thousands of miles, in close formation. The Suits have eaten a million dollars’ worth of burgers and pie, formed a non-profit airport management group and created many close friendships with other airplane people. What they do isn’t so much about airplanes, though. It’s about fun times, flying memories, shredded toilet paper, river runs, making lifetime friendships, helping friends in need, and hanging out with people who love life.  Maybe a story like this will inspire you to do something fun at your home ‘drome.  After all if they knew in 1900s that fun was “good for one’s health and well-being,” who are we to argue?

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cheap-Suits-Flying-Club/141010646601

http://www.sutterbuttesaviation.org/

http://www.CalPilots.org