Archive for the ‘Authors’ Category

Three Ways to Start an Instrument Approach: Vectors, IAF and Intermediate Fix (IF)

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

KPAO GPS 31

A friend lamented on Facebook that the NDB procedure at the airport where he learned to fly is no longer available. He added  “For some reason it makes me a little sad.” I’m guessing his sadness had more to do with his feelings about learning to fly at that airport, than it did about flying an NDB approach. Or perhaps he was reminiscing about the pride he felt in mastering the NDB approach.

I used to enjoy the intellectual challenge of flying an NDB approach and the even greater challenge of teaching others to master it. But no more. There are no NDB approaches left in the S.F. Bay area where I teach and I say “good riddance.”

The approaches were inaccurate and difficult to fly and former Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown was killed when U.S. Air Force pilots failed to correctly fly a rare “dual NDB” approach. I’m much prefer to see pilots expend their intellectual horsepower on mastering flying IFR approaches with modern GPS receivers, which can be more work than learning NDB approaches, and staying up to date on rule changes.

One rule change that frequently causes confusion among pilots and controllers alike relates to the third way to fly an instrument approach. All instrument pilots know you can fly an approach with vectors or use pilot navigation to start at an IAF (initial approach fix). However there’s a third way that’s been around since 2006, but word about it has been slow to get out to pilots and even to a few controllers.

Pilots can now start an instrument approach, with some restrictions, by flying directly to the IF (intermediate fix). Just to remind those who may have forgotten, the initial segment of a typical instrument approach procedure starts at an IAF and ends at the IF. So typically the IF is the next fix after the IAF as you fly toward the airport.

You might be wondering, “What’s the big deal, why would I want to skip the IAF.” For many approaches it won’t matter, especially if the IAF is along your direction of travel toward the airport. But for some approaches it can save a few clicks on the Hobbs meter. For example, at my home airport of Palo Alto, Calif., the GPS 31 approach has two IAFs, but both are in the boonies and most pilots start the approach at DOCAL, the IF.

You’ll find the details about starting an approach at an IF in section 5-4-7(i) of the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM), where it first appeared in 2006 (yes eight years ago!). However, you won’t read about it in the FAA’s Instrument Flying Handbook or even in the FAA Instrument Procedures Handbook, both of which are excellent publications.

The rule applies to all approach types, not just RNAV (GPS) approaches. Here’s the current text from the AIM:

ATC may clear aircraft that have filed an Advanced RNAV equipment suffix to the intermediate fix when clearing aircraft for an instrument approach procedure. ATC will take the following actions when clearing Advanced RNAV aircraft to the intermediate fix:

1. Provide radar monitoring to the intermediate fix.

2. Advise the pilot to expect clearance direct to the intermediate fix at least 5 miles from the fix.

NOTE - This is to allow the pilot to program the RNAV equipment to allow the aircraft to fly to the intermediate fix when cleared by ATC.

3. Assign an altitude to maintain until the intermediate fix.

4. Ensure the aircraft is on a course that will intercept the intermediate segment at an angle not greater than 90 degrees and is at an altitude that will permit normal descent from the intermediate fix to the final approach fix.

Here’s what it means to a typical GA pilot.

1) You need to be GPS equipped (which is the only practical way for most GA aircraft to be RNAV equipped). This let’s you find your way independently to the IF.

2) The controller might advise you that you’ll be starting the approach at the IF, but more typically, you’ll have already requested that of the controller.

3) You’ll be assigned an altitude to maintain until reaching the IF. Most likely you won’t be on a published segment of the approach until the IF, so you need to be assigned a safe altitude.

4) The controller cannot clear you directly to the IF until you’re in a position from which you can make a turn of less than 90 degrees to join the approach at the IF.

It’s the last part, making a turn of less than 90 degrees, where pilot and controller sometimes get confused. The idea is that the turn at the IF needs to be an easy one, much like turning left or right at the intersection of two streets. It can’t be a hairpin turn or resemble something like a U-Turn.

Think of it this way. If you were to draw a line on your chart at the IF that’s perpendicular to the intermediate segment, on one side of the line, the side farthest from the airport, you are allowed to fly directly to the IF, since the turn inbound is less than 90 degrees. If you’re on the other side of the line, the side closer to the airport, you can’t be cleared to the IF until after you’ve been vectored across the perpendicular line.

All of this presents some new challenges for pilots and controllers, especially if they’re unclear on the rule. We’ll talk more about those challenges….next month.

The conundrum of modern life

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

In all my years in aviation, I can’t recall ever visiting an airport or an aviation business that hasn’t been the object of noise complaints at some point. Some suffer the indignity of public outrage on a regular basis.

I find this odd.

Bear with me now. There’s a point to this.

I live in a suburban neighborhood less than two miles from the downtown of my small city. There is a train track that runs past my house. It lies roughly 200 yards from my bedroom window. I can truthfully report in all sincerity that a train has never woken me up or intruded on my daily routine. For a guy who often works from an office that’s tucked away in that railroad adjacent house, that’s saying something. On the other hand, with three crossings within a half mile of my house, the train whistle has woken me up literally hundreds if not thousands of times.

That whistle has woken up my wife, my kids, the neighbors, and anyone who might be visiting in the neighborhood, too. So what? As much as I dislike being woken up from a sound sleep, and as much as I wish it didn’t happen–I can’t say I didn’t see it coming.

I had to drive over that railroad track to get to the house when my wife and I were house shopping all those years ago. It didn’t escape our attention that the existence of tracks was a pretty good indicator that trains might travel along those rails now and then. We took the noise in stride, because the irritation factor of the train whistle was offset by the lower cost of the home.

There was a similar home for sale less than half a mile away. It was on a lake that connected to other lakes via a chain of canals. It was beautiful. It was also listed for twice as much as we paid for our current home.

Life is full of trade-offs. It just is. There’s no malice intended. The railroad is not at the heart of an evil plot to wake me and all my neighbors up from a deep sleep. Yet they do. And still we do not build barricades on the tracks; we don’t shine lasers in the engineer’s eyes as he passes. No matter how often we find the annoyance of freight trains a bother, we know our driveways are filled with cars that were transported to this far flung location on a train. The trusses in my roof were built of lumber that arrived here by train. In fact so many products and raw materials arrive in my general area by train that I can’t even begin to envision them all. But that’s no big deal. Those same products and materials arrive in your general vicinity by train, too.

My choice is clear. I could protest the whistle. I might choose to file petitions with the courts. I suppose it’s even possible that I might go so far as to assassinate the character of railroad executives in the press. But to what effect? If I am successful I’ll simply find it harder to get lumber, or a new automobile, or any number of necessary items. If can I find them, they’ll cost me more. And they’ll cost my neighbors more, too.

Would the trains really stop? No, probably not. The economy of population and need would require them to find another route. The train wouldn’t wake me up anymore. But the noise wouldn’t stop. It would just be transported to another part of town, another neighborhood, where it would rankle the residents of a new neighborhood.

Aviation is no different. There is an irritation factor for the neighbors. At least occasionally, we have to admit that’s true. But what of it? The air traffic isn’t descending into the local park and knocking over the ice cream stand. It’s headed for the airport, a confined area that’s designated specifically as the hub of air traffic for a given area. The neighbors knew there was an airport there. Just like my experience with the railroad, the existence of an airport is a reasonably good indicator of the likelihood of arriving or departing air traffic in the near future.

That’s the trade-off. In exchange for a convenient flight to vacation and business spots. In order to have overnight freight shipments available. To provide educational opportunities for the next generation of pilots, mechanics, administrators, and more – there is an airport. And the airport creates noise. Not insufferable, constant, unrelenting noise. No. It brings with it occasional, potentially irritating noise that we all recognize as being associated with airports.

So why do I bring all this up? Simple. I’m suggesting we change our tune, stop making the argument that airports aren’t noisy, or shouldn’t be noisy, or perhaps should adopt radical noise mitigation procedures to reduce noise levels. Rather, we should admit that airports are industrial areas that emit noise. Much like the railroad, or the highway, or shipping warehouse, or a police station, or a fire station, or a garbage truck. Yet no one would expect to be taken seriously if they suggested we should close all those other services down rather than accept the noise they make.

No. We like garbage pick-up, fire protection, crime prevention, independent travel over safe roads, and good paying jobs too much to shut all that down. Modern society just wouldn’t exist without all that–or the airport.

Let’s get off defense and start playing offense. That’s where we’re going to start putting points up on the big board.

Aviation in Pop Culture: Our First Step in Recruiting

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

talespin

How does one develop into an aviation geek? Is it something that develops as we grow up or is it that, to quote noted philosopher Lady GaGa, we are “Born this Way?” I’ve been pondering this issue over the last few weeks as I’ve recently been reunited with one of my favorite childhood movies, The Rocketeer. A comic book movie released before the onslaught of comic book movies, aviation makes up a large part of the setting and storyline. While not on the epic scale of The Avengers, the film is a fun trip to a fictional 1930s art deco California. Aviation was prominently featured in another integral part of my (limited by childhood) pop-culture life around the time of The Rocketeer‘s release: the television show TaleSpin. Re-imagining Jungle Book characters into bush pilots, the 43-episode series and its catchy theme song continues to hold a place of wonder and nostalgia in my heart.

My primary exposures to aviation came from two outlets: these two popular culture favorites and a bedroom window in a house under the approach path to Centennial Airport in Denver. I wasn’t lucky enough to have family that were pilots…but I was lucky enough to have family that supported my interest in the field. The Rocketeer and TaleSpin were a “hook” for my young mind, broadening my interest beyond toy cars to toy airplanes. That interest led to a sixth birthday party at the Stapleton Airport in Denver and an introductory flight lesson on the day after my tenth birthday at Centennial Airport.

In the months after Top Gun was released in 1986, the US Navy saw increased interest in naval careers, especially those in aviation. A recruiter at the time summed up the effect of the movie: “There seems to have been a big rush in those categories that I have to attribute to the movie. I’ve asked several of these individuals if they’ve seen the movie and if that’s why they came down to talk to us again and they’ve said ‘yes’.” A different audience than that of Saturday morning cartoons, yes, and another example of aviation in popular culture driving interest for people that otherwise wouldn’t had exposure to the field.

In some measure, my entire professional life can be tied back to a moderately successful comic book movie and 43-episode television series. Thanks to the mainstream success of Disney’s Planes and its associated merchandising, we now have another captive audience of young people that have been exposed to aviation. The stories of Baloo the bush pilot and Cliff the Rocketeer were enough to captivate my attention at a young and impressionable age, just as the story of Dusty Crophopper captivate many kids today. In 1986, the US Navy took the unusual step of setting up recruiting booths outside of movie theaters to build on the increased interest from those leaving screenings of Top Gun. Were it not for a family that actively supported my interest in aviation at that young age and enabling further experiences, the Rocketeer and TaleSpin toys might have ended up relegated to the same place as my wannabe construction worker hard hat. We are lucky now to have Planes and the upcoming Planes 2 to draw interest in the field to our sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, grandkids and family friends. See the movies, support the kids’ new interests in aviation and we’ll hopefully recruit a new generation of hobbyists and professionals both.

Why I Don’t Talk About “General Aviation” Anymore

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Back in the 1950′s, Cessna Aircraft produced this gem… “Wings for Doubting Thomas

This little documentary clearly spelled out the value proposition for Private Aviation 2 generations ago.

I rarely talk about “General Aviation.”

Like most people who read this blog, I’m much more interested in, “Private Aviation.”

You might think quickly that it’s the same, thing, but it’s not. General aviation is broadly defined as as all aviation except for military and airlines. That’s great, but I’m not a, “General Aviation enthusiast.” Frankly I don’t care much about, “General Aviation.” I don’t fly biz jets, cargo, fly much for hire, (Though I have the certificate for, it’s just not a big part of my life these days.) spray crops, perform in air shows, whatever…

While I may aspire to sit in the back of a something with turbines, drinking Cristal… It does not inspire me. I’d rather be up front flying the jet.

Private aviation is the part of civil aviation that does not include flying for hire.”

“In most countries, private flights are always general aviation flights, but the opposite is not true: many general aviation flights (such as banner towing, charter, crop dusting, and others) are commercial in that the pilot is hired and paid. Many private pilots fly for their own enjoyment, or to share the joys and convenience of general aviation with friends and family.”

– Wikipedia

You see “General Aviation,” is doing just fine. Ask anyone running a jet charter business these days. Business is up, folks who choose to afford it are buying jet cards and getting to where they want to go in style, and plenty of people are making a good living helping them get there. I’m fine with all that. “General Aviation,” is not dying. It’s growing.

But “Private Aviation” is the community that inspires me. It’s Private Aviation that’s what we’re really talking about when we fry bacon at Camp Scholler, or eat pancakes at the fly in. The ability to climb into a plane and fly myself and my friends or family someplace is like a magic power.

It’s Private Aviation that we built OpenAirplane to serve.

So you see, I don’t talk much about General Aviation. When I speak to the press about OpenAirplane. I explain that it is a marketplace for Private Aviation. I get asked all the time if OpenAirplane will let them hail a jet like they can hail a cab, or if we can help them charter a flight. My answer is always, “Not yet.” It’s just not the business we’re in right now. There are plenty of smart people working to offer charter for businesses and pleasure. That part of General Aviation is well served. I explain that we are focused on Private Aviation, because that’s where the opportunity lies today to unlock more value than anywhere else right now. General Aviation is a competitive, well served market with a healthy ecosystem. But Private Aviation hasn’t seen much innovation since Cessna commissioned that film. This is strange to me, because GPS, iPads, and composites sure have made it a lot easier. Private Aviation can create entirely new use cases for the over 5,000 airports, thousands of aircraft, and hundreds of thousands of certificates in the wallets of  pilots across the country.

Private Aviation has been in decline since the airlines we’re deregulated in 1978. The value proposition of Private Aviation has been evolving ever since. The industry and the community need to both step up to communicate the value proposition for Private Aviation to a new generation of “doubting Thomases,” updating what you see in the old documentary film above to speak to the value proposition we can offer today.

For most of us, the conversation isn’t about General Aviation, it’s about Private Aviation. Let’s call it what it is. I have no time sit back and complain. I believe we can make it better than ever.

Time for a Shakeup

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Last November the Federal Air Surgeon, Fred Tilton, unilaterally declared that mandatory screening for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in pilots would begin “shortly.”

The initial BMI threshold would be 40, with an ominous vow that “once we have appropriately dealt with every airman examinee who has a BMI of 40 or greater, we will gradually expand the testing pool by going to lower BMI measurements until we have identified and assured treatment for every airman with OSA.”

Tilton noted that “up to 30% of individuals with a BMI less than 30 have OSA”. Between the fact that people with normal-range BMIs have been diagnosed with sleep apnea and his apparent zest for uncovering “every” airman with OSA, logic dictates that the eventual threshold would be in the mid-20s, if not lower.

The aviation community was up in arms pretty quickly, and for good reason. For one thing, the mid-20s are the upper end of the normal BMI range. It’s also worth noting that even the World Health Organization acknowledges that the BMI scale was never designed for application to individual people, but rather for statistical modeling of entire populations. BMI is based solely on weight and height, so it does not account for differing body types. Nor does it obey the law of scaling, which dictates that mass increases to the 3rd power of height.

In plain English, a bigger person will always have a higher BMI even if they are not any fatter. This penalizes tall individuals, as well as bodybuilders and athletes who are in prime physical shape by assigning them absurdly high BMI numbers. Likewise, short people are misled into thinking that they are thinner than they are.

Nevertheless, Tilton declared his intention to press on anyway, without any industry input or following established rulemaking procedures despite the fact that this scavenger hunt would break invasive new ground in aeromedical certification.

Then, even the Aviation Medical Examiners objected to the new policy, noting that “no scientific body of evidence has demonstrated that undiagnosed obesity or OSA has compromised aviation safety” and that providing long term prognoses is not part of the FAA’s job. The medical certification exists soley to “determine the likelihood of pilot incapacitation for the duration of the medical certificate.”

Without the support of the civil aviation medicine community, Tilton was literally standing alone. At that point, Congress jumped into the fray on the pilot community’s behalf and eventually forced the Air Surgeon to back down… for now.

While the battle may have been won, the war is far from over. Mark my words, this is not the last you’ll hear about this bogeyman. Tilton may be forced to consult with the aviation community or follow a rulemaking procedure of some sort, but his zeal for the topic means OSA screening will be back in one form or another.

To effectively combat such overreach, we’ve got to attack the problem from its true source. In this case, the Air Surgeon’s ammunition came from National Transportation Safety Board recommendations issued in the wake of a 2008 regional airline flight which overflew its destination by 26 miles when both pilots fell asleep.

… the National Transportation Safety Board recommends that the Federal Aviation Administration:

Modify the Application for Airman Medical Certificate to elicit specific information about any previous diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea and about the presence of specific risk factors for that disorder. (A-09-61)

Implement a program to identify pilots at high risk for obstructive sleep apnea and require that those pilots provide evidence through the medical certification process of having been appropriately evaluated and, if treatment is needed, effectively treated for that disorder before being granted unrestricted medical certification. (A-09-62)

The NTSB serves a useful purpose in assisting transportation disaster victims and investigating accidents, but when it comes to safety recommendations, the agency operates in a kind of vacuum, divorced from some of the most pressing realities of the modern general aviation world. The reason is simple: their mission statement. It calls for the Board to “independently advance transportation safety” by “determining the probable cause of the accidents and issuing safety recommendations aimed at preventing future accidents.”

While there’s nothing objectionable about their mission, note how there’s no mention of the cost these recommendations impose on those of us trying to make a go of it in the flying industry. Since it’s not part of their mission statement, it is not a factor the Board takes into account. It doesn’t even appear on their radar. The Board’s federal funding and their lack of rulemaking authority negates any such considerations. So a sleep apnea study costs thousands of dollars — so what? If it prevents one pilot from falling asleep in the cockpit in next half century, it’s well worth the decimation to an already down-and-out sector of the economy.

That’s been the logic for the NTSB since it was conceived by the Air Commerce Act in 1926. It worked well when aerospace safety was at its nadir — but that was nearly ninety years ago. As air transportation evolved during the 20th century, attempts at increasing safety have reached the point of diminishing returns and exponentially increasing cost. At some point the incessant press toward a perfect safety record will make aviating such a sclerotic activity that it will, in effect, cease.

It’s a problem for any industry, and it’s especially so for one that’s teetering on the edge of oblivion the way ours is. The good news is that this can be fixed. It’s time to shake things up at the NTSB by revising their mission statement to make cost analysis a major part of the Board’s function. They should work with stakeholders to carefully study the long-term effect each recommendation would have on the health and size of the aviation industry before they make it.

For what it’s worth, the FAA needs this mission statement adjustment just as much as the NTSB. More, in fact, because the NTSB can recommend anything it wishes, but the regulatory power to act upon those suggestions is outside their purview and rests with the Federal Aviation Administration. From medical approval to burdensome aircraft certification rules, the FAA is the hammer. We have to start somewhere, though, and the NTSB is in many ways the top of the heap, the place where these ideas get their start. It would be nice to see the industry’s lobbyists in Washington, D.C. suggest such a bill to members of Congress.

One final thought: if government’s power really does derive from the “consent of the governed”, this should be an idea even the NTSB (and FAA) can get behind. Otherwise, they may convene one day and find that there’s not much of an industry left for them to prescribe things to.

Lighting up the Brain for Aviation

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Male/Female BrainRecently I was having a discussion with a pair of aviation magazine owners and editors. We were talking about how many female pilots have been featured on their magazine’s cover over the years. We reasoned that since the female pilot population is 6-7% of the overall pilot population, that 6-7% of aviation magazine covers should be of women pilots. Yet they certainly weren’t, so we talked about why it seems to be so hard to get girls and young women interested in aviation.

Last year at Oshkosh, I presented a seminar for Build-a-Plane Teacher’s Day on the differences in male and female brains, and how those differences could influence the way students learn about aviation. I thought it might be interesting to touch on some of the highlights of that seminar and perhaps illuminate what I see as some of the challenges of getting females involved in flying.

I will start off by saying that I am not a brain researcher, and this is a basic review of the current science, and is by no means exhaustive. Yet as a practicing psychotherapist for 25 years, I think that I do have some insight in this subject. You should also know that there are exceptions to the facts and we can train our brain to do less than innate activities.

Here is the short story: I versus We:  Competence versus Connection.  The male brain is organized and focused more on him as an individual, striving for mastery.  The female brain is wired for communication, connection and cooperation.

Men have slightly larger brains even when adjusted for their larger heads. They have larger parietal cortices (in charge of space perception), and amygdalas (which regulates sexual and social behavior). This might explain why visual-spatial tasks are easier for men. They tend to be able visually manipulate things in their brain, whereas women tend to need to see spaces and shapes on paper.

Men also have more gray matter in their brains, which is full of active neurons. This might explain why there are more men in physically or mentally active professions like airplane pilots, bush guides, racecar drivers, and mathematicians. Men also tend to be more systematic in their thinking.

Women’s brains are 8-10% smaller than the male brain, yet on average, are much more active. Women have larger volume in both the frontal cortex (the inner CEO) and the limbic cortex (involved in emotional responses). This, in conjunction with speedy connections facilitated by the white matter, is another reason why women’s brains work faster. Renowned brain researcher, Dr. Daniel Amen’s research shows that women have greater activity in the brain’s hippocampus. If you wonder why your wife or girlfriend never forgets anything, here’s your answer: The hippocampus is the part of the brain that helps store memories.

In addition, the female brain has a larger corpus callosum, which is a bundle of nerves that connects emotion and cognition. As a result, women are better with language abilities and rely more heavily on oral or verbal communication. They also tend to have a better time controlling emotions, although they are more emotional. Women, on average use four words to every one word a man uses. The female brain secretes more serotonin and oxytocin, which connects them further to the emotional world.

These differences relate to aviation because when we know what lights up the brain for each gender we can tailor our sales pitch to the crowd. In sum, boys or men will be excited about the individual mastery, competition, or competence in aviation. Girls or women will be excited to be part of a collaborative group of women pilots. Boys or men might be better with conceptualizing basic principles of flight. Girls or women would learn better by hands-on demonstration.

When I display at airport events with the Mooney Ambassador group, we get lots of kids and grown ups in the airplane. I never fail to say to the girls, “have you thought about becoming a pilot? I am and I love it. We need more girl pilots.” You should see their eyes (brain) light up.

Brain Lit!

Brain Lit!

Future Aviatrix

Future Aviatrix

 

The Dream Delayed

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

Winston Groom, author of Forrest Gump as well as many other best sellers, released last year a factual account of three famous pilots; Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Doolittle and Charles Lindbergh.  Titled The Aviators, Groom’s book is a fascinating read, especially for those of us who enjoy flight and participate in the adventure of being aloft.  As well as most of us know the stories of those famous flyers, there is more to learn and much to admire.  I am impresses by the discipline exhibited by each of Groom’s subjects.  Each believed strongly in the value of aviation and the role this form of transportation would play in the development of our nation.

While Groom offers many interesting vignettes of those three famous men, one involving Eddie Rickenbacker in particular resonated with me.  Emerging from World War I as the leading US “ace” with 26 enemy aircraft downed, he continued in aviation and eventually became an unstoppable force within the emerging airline industry as long-time head of Eastern Airlines.  Rickenbacker was too old to be a military aviator when the US entered WWI, however.  He obtained his chance to fly through the intervention of aviation pioneer Colonel (soon to be General) Billy Mitchell, the officer Eddie served as an enlisted man assigned to be Mitchell’s personal driver during the initial US efforts in war.  Those who wish to fly do not take no for an answer.

The initial exploits of Rickenbacker, Doolittle and Lindbergh took place during a dozen or so years when the world seemed fascinated with flight.  Prior to Lindbergh’s New York to Paris nonstop crossing of the Atlantic in 1927, the public looked on aviation as the stuff of thrill seekers and daredevils—fun to watch, but of little practical value.   Post Lindbergh’s historic feat, the public’s attitude transitioned from awed observer to anxious participant.  People wanted to be pilots, and the press wrote about airplanes becoming almost commonplace.  Everyone, it seemed, wanted to fly.

In the 1930s, reality and the Great Depression combined to inhibit the dream of everyman becoming a pilot. Post World War II, when thousands of servicemen returned home with belief in the importance of air power, the dream of a robust private aviation movement was renewed.   During the first two years following WWII, well over 30,000 light aircraft were produced.  By 1950, the production of small GA aircraft was down to a few thousand, and they were not selling.

Realizing the dream—and the potential—of private flying is still within our grasp.  Being able to fly from A to B in a straight line and at two to four times the speed of today’s automobiles is a capability of great value, whether the trip is for business or pleasure.  As a community of private aviators, however, we need to address the factors that prevent the dream from being a reality.

Costs will come down only if the number of people participating in General Aviation increases.  Even the most basic automobile would cost considerably more than a new Bonanza if they were sold to as few people as purchase light aircraft today. 

Learning to fly can be made simpler and more effective through innovative use of simulators and computerized training aids.   Perhaps talented organizers can apply their insights to create club programs were costs can be shared and participants can enjoy the comradeship of likeminded aviators.

Through training that provides competence and justifiable confidence, private pilots can use GA aircraft safely and efficiently for personal business and pleasure.  Pioneers such as those described in The Aviators demonstrated the value of believing in the value of aviation and living their convictions.

The Waddington Effect

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014
Conrad Hal (C.H.) Waddington

C.H. Waddington (1905-1975)

In 1943, a British scientist named Conrad Hal (C.H.) Waddington made a remarkable discovery about aircraft maintenance.  He was a most unlikely person to make this discovery, because he wasn’t an aeronautical engineer or an aircraft mechanic or even a pilot.  Actually, he was a gifted developmental biologist, paleontologist, geneticist, embryologist, philosopher, poet and painter who wasn’t particularly interested in aviation.  But like many other British scientists at that time, his career was interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War and he found himself pressed into service with the Royal Air Force (RAF).

Waddington wound up reporting to the RAF Coastal Command, heading up a group of fellow scientists in the Coastal Command Operational Research Section.  Its job was to advise the British military on how it could more effectively combat the threat from German submarines.  In that capacity, Waddington and his colleagues developed a series of astonishing recommendations that defied military conventional wisdom of the time.

For example, the bombers used to hunt and kill U-boats were mostly painted black in order to make them difficult to see.  But Waddington’s group ran a series of experiments that proved that bombers painted white were not spotted by the U-boats until they were 20% closer, resulting in a 30% increase in successful sinkings. Waddington’s group also recommended that the depth charges dropped by the bombers be set to explode at a depth of 25 feet instead of 100 feet.  This recommendation—initially resisted strongly by RAF commanders—ultimately resulted in a sevenfold increase in the number of U-boats destroyed.

Consolidated B-24 "Liberator" bomber

Consolidated B-24 “Liberator” bomber

Waddington subsequently turned his attention to the problem of “force readiness” of the bombers.  The Coastal Command’s B-24 “Liberator” bombers were spending an inordinate amount of time in the maintenance shop instead of hunting U-boats.  In July 1943, the two British Liberator squadrons located at Ballykelly, Northern Ireland, consisted of 40 aircraft, but at any given time only about 20 were flight-ready.  The other aircraft were down for any number of reasons, but mostly undergoing or awaiting maintenance—either scheduled or unscheduled—or waiting for replacement parts.

At that time, conventional wisdom held that if more preventive maintenance were performed on each aircraft, fewer problems would arise and more incipient problems would be caught and fixed—and thus fleet readiness would surely improve. It turned out that conventional wisdom was wrong. It would take C.H. Waddington and his Operational Research team to prove just how wrong.

Waddington and his team started gathering data about the scheduled and unscheduled maintenance of these aircraft, and began crunching and analyzing the numbers.  When he plotted the number of unscheduled aircraft repairs as a function of flight time, Waddington discovered something both unexpected and significant: The number of unscheduled repairs spiked sharply right after each aircraft underwent its regular 50-hour scheduled maintenance, and then declined steadily over time until the next scheduled 50-hour maintenance, at which time they spiked up once again.

Waddington Effect graph

When Waddington examined the plot of this repair data, he concluded that the scheduled maintenance (in Waddington’s own words) “tends to INCREASE breakdowns, and this can only be because it is doing positive harm by disturbing a relatively satisfactory state of affairs. There is no sign that the rate of breakdowns is starting to increase again after 40-50 flying hours when the aircraft is coming due for its next scheduled maintenance.” In other words, the observed pattern of unscheduled repairs demonstrated that the scheduled preventive maintenance was actually doing more harm than good, and that the 50-hour preventive maintenance interval was inappropriately short.

The solution proposed by Waddington’s team—and ultimately accepted by the RAF commanders over the howls of the maintenance personnel—was to increase the time interval between scheduled maintenance cycles, and to eliminate all preventive maintenance tasks that couldn’t be demonstrably proven to be beneficial. Once these recommendations were implemented, the number of effective flying hours of the RAF Coastal Command bomber fleet increased by 60 percent!

Fast forward two decades to the 1960s, when a pair of gifted scientists who worked for United Airlines—aeronautical engineer Stanley Nowlan and mathematician Howard Heap—independently rediscovered these principles in their pioneering research on optimizing maintenance that revolutionized the way maintenance is done in air transport, military aviation, high-end bizjets and many non-aviation industrial applications.  They were almost certainly unaware of the work of C.H. Waddington and his colleagues in Britain in the 1940s because that work remained classified until 1973, when Waddington’s meticulously-kept diary of his wartime research activities was declassified and published.

Next time, I’ll discuss the fascinating work of Nowlan and Heap on what came to be known as “Reliability Centered Maintenance.” But for now, I will leave you with the major takeaway from Waddington’s research during World War II: Maintenance isn’t an inherently good thing (like exercise); it’s a necessary evil (like surgery). We have to do it from time to time, but we sure don’t want to do more than absolutely necessary to keep our aircraft safe and reliable. Doing more maintenance than necessary actually degrades safety and reliability.

GA Needs a New Story

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

If you’ve ever worked in the White House and near national politics, as I have, you know immediately and intuitively why political leaders pick on GA in general and business jets in particular – because it works. Senators and presidents don’t single out jets as examples of “tax loopholes”, etc., without knowing, with great certainty, that there is nothing that is iconic of fat cats and the 1% as corporate jets. The research and surveys are unambiguous: it’s the big hot button that generates popular negative reaction.

Even young people, competing for jobs with aircraft manufacturers in Wichita, admit that the product that they want to be a part of producing is antithetical to their basic sense of general equity and benefit a very small number of people – but they need a job, please.

There’s more to the story than that, but as long as we let others define who we are, they will continue to magnify the differences between those who own and fly aircraft . . . and the rest of the world.

Few automobile owners, for example, realize that there is no way (unless you own a taxi cab company), that you can directly justify the economics of owning a car. Easily the second most expensive purchase after a home, we continue to buy these vehicles (how many dozen have you owned?), not because they generate more income, but because they allow us to do other things that are economically and socially beneficial.

The same can be said about aircraft. Just as your Chevy gets you to more places (like your job) much faster than walking or taking the bus, airplanes provide the same benefits for individuals and companies that effectively utilize them to increase the efficient use of the available time and leverage their ability (like cars do) to access locations that otherwise would be hard to get to. They increase productivity. They are tools. They allow us to do things we otherwise wouldn’t be able to do. And the benefits are much broader than for just the individuals riding in the front or back.

Try thinking about what kind of world this would be without aircraft in general and GA in particular. What kind of things wouldn’t work? How many injured people would die? How would the whole system slow down?

That’s a story that needs to be the framework for a great movie . . . and needs to show up on the news (juxtaposed to the story about the airplane crash that producers rush to air) . . . and needs to be explained to young people so that they have a context for assessing the value of private aircraft.

We need an industry-wide campaign that speaks about the benefits of aircraft, in very sophisticated and effective terms, to multiple segments of the larger population, rather than talk inwardly to the aviation community about the gains (primarily economic) that aircraft enable.
This is not necessarily an easy sell, particularly in light of the well-established fact that income disparity is growing larger in this country. But like many other activities that are embedded within much larger trends, the benefits of general aviation are a story waiting to be told. We need to enable the storytellers.

John Petersen is a former naval aviator, a professional futurist and the chairman of The Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation.

Getting 2014 Off to a Flying Start

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014
Sometimes a pilot just needs to be airborne to realign his / her perspective.

Sometimes a pilot just needs to be airborne to realign his / her perspective.

It’s breezy, bright, and marvelously chilly outside. It’s my favorite time of year, and the air makes me want to go fly. Sometimes the pilot in me just needs reminding that the world, when seen from above, is an amazing place. Days like today, especially when they arrive at the first of a new year, can really adjust one’s attitude in a meaningful and lasting way.

I know my airplanes love this weather as much as I do, too. The dry, cool, dense air is better for engines to gulp and burn, and even provides more lift (that stiff breeze on my nose for takeoff doesn’t hurt, either).

But where to, and why? On a perfect VFR winter day in Florida the destination possibilities are many. A 20-minute jaunt north and I can be walking distance from a Venice beach. A 30-minute skip south puts me on the lip of the Everglades National Park and in range of some of the best stone crab in the country. If I need something more exotic or action-packed I can be in Key West or Miami in an hour (less with today’s north wind). As for why – it’s because I need to fly. After all, proficiency is perishable.

For that reason I try and pick venues for my little winter cross countries that can test my skills in a variety of ways. One flight might be to a well-maintained turf runway, or could include a little crosswind practice or short field work. On another I’ll take a safety pilot so I can practice a bit of IFR navigation, steer through some holding patterns and perform an approach or two at the airport before landing there for a tasty lunch at the on field restaurant.

To keep the costs of my winter excursions from cutting into my summer long cross-country funds I often pull the throttle back and lean wisely. That’s especially true when strong winds are concerned. With careful power / mixture management I can easily fly these short routes at 50 % power. It costs me just a little time. I think of it this way: if I’m practicing a holding pattern and an approach as part of the flight I clearly have some time to spare. I also pick my destinations carefully, looking for airports where landing and parking fees are low, or are waived with a small fuel purchase, or if you have a meal at the airport restaurant.

As I write this I hear the throaty rumble of a big Continental engine roaring through a takeoff from the runway that sits not one-half mile away from my office. Hmmm…the day is still young…time to get 2014 off to a flying start. See you out there!