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Challenging the Weather in the Alps

From the very first conversation with a European pilot to each ensuing one thereafter, I have been warned about the “Föhn.” The word is a fancy German equivalent to “Chinook,” which implies what is ultimately a simple witch’s brew of meteorological malfeasance: mountains and wind. While Europeans tend not to be as cowboyish about these subjects, the gist was to be careful, as the Föhn is a nasty beast that will devour me and my airplane.

The Pyrenees enter into the picture. With no such warnings, I plunged into the mountain range and got beat up on the first time, a sunny September day. I would then learn that the Pyrenees are a mountain wave factory, with its own Föhn. Surely, I had mastered the skill, because a Föhn is a Föhn, no matter where it happens? Oh, how little the foreigner knows! Pilots continued to warn me about the Alps Föhn, even though I was living in a factory of mountain turbulence.

The thing is, nobody gave me specific warnings about said Föhn, it was just that “it’s there” and it can’t be good. I appropriately decided to make my initial forays into the Alps with significant caution, leaving wind out of it. It did not help that there were three fatal crashes in the week of my first trip here in 2018, and there have been many since. While I read to the extent I can in depth about crashes to learn from them, the fact with most of them was some other issue was in play. Surely the Föhn didn’t cause a midair collision?

As I got a bit friskier in the later part of the 2018 trip, I found that I was bereft of deadly wind, even if I wanted to find it. Curious. The weather actually seems to be structurally good in the Alps for quite a number of days. Now fast forward to 2019, and I found a similar situation…. the wind seems not to blow so fiercely on nice days.

Bit by bit, I have been toying with more upper level wind, and have come to find that it differs little from comparable speeds when in other mountain ranges. Updrafts, downdrafts, rotors, and turbulence have the same effect on an aircraft. The secret sauce is in figuring out what invisible air is doing, navigating accordingly. I decided to translate Rockies and Pyrenees knowledge here, and it seems like it’s working well. In fact, the Alps feature something that the aforementioned ranges lack: low valleys and passes. On days with stiff upper level winds and soaring mountain wave clouds, Swiss pilots are regularly flying at the lower levels of the atmosphere, avoiding the worst of it.

I decided to catalog some of the change of seasons and meteorological exploits from the past month. It starts out with the first snow in early September.

Second week of September. First snowfall! West of Zermatt, looking southeast.


Southeast side of the Weisshorn (4505m / 14,780′). It has enjoyed morning sun, so snow is beginning to melt.


North side of Wildhorn (3248m / 10,656′) with Mt. Blanc sneering from behind. Sheer white areas to the left are a glacier.

Enough of the snow. A few days later, most of it had melted. The lesson here is the clouds. At 5:30PM, the extent of clouds is as in this photo. Spitzhorn (2807m / 9,209′).

50 minutes later, Glacier du Mont Miné. No real clouds to worry about.


Back to the Bernese Alps, and some interesting formations over the Plane Morte Glacier, but not anywhere else.


Hmmm….

Southeast of Gstaad. What is this? 50% cloud cover that was not forecasted, nor was there when I took off two hours before. I’d like to understand how this works.

A couple of days later, I discovered Switzerland’s illustrious network of webcams. There is one 5,000 feet above the house on the hill behind us, so I checked to see if the stratus layer had a top. The webcam was above it, so after 30 minutes of curvy mountain roads and a 20 min jog up a trail, I was above the clouds. Dent du Jaman (left) and Massif du Chablais (horizon right). I had left the webcam open on my computer and when I returned it showed what I thought was impossible: the entire Bernese Oberland, in the direction of the airport, was suddenly socked in overcast! In a matter of 20 minutes, the whole thing clouded over. I checked Gstaad Airport webcam, and other than a few holes, socked. I emailed a bunch of people and they basically said, “yeah, that can happen in the evening.” Note to self: carry more fuel. I would rather not return to base above a solid stratus deck.


Next flight: Simplon Pass, with Italy about 5 miles away. Now the south side of the Alps gets the cloud deck, whereas the north side is entirely clear, with no mysterious clouding over upon my return.

I know I whined for quite a while about the inversion in Spain. I take it back now! I never expected a glacier, mountains, and a glorious inversion. Still in Switzerland, with Italy as the farthest island in the sky.

Next flight. I needed to move the plane before the runway was closed for a bit. It was windier than I liked, though I could stay low if I wanted and avoid it. A high-time pilot seemed nonplussed (“There is no point flying backwards”), other than to indicate that “its usually rough over Martigny.” So I went there on the way to Mt. Blanc. Over the pass to France, I broke my record for the slowest groundspeed yet: 35kt with 39kt winds. It was smooth over the pass and upwind of terrain. Before someone gets too carried away with my apparent silliness, I got passed while in the pass (aircraft in the image below). There was a lot of air traffic for a windy day.

Blowing snow on north slope of Mt. Blanc. Just don’t get close…..or downwind of it.

Next flight. Third snow of the season. Climbing out over Dent du Morcles.

Mt. Blanc (4809m / 15,777′). Highest in the Alps. Note blowing snow below. Winds at 15,000′ were 50kt over Grenoble and 20kt over Turin. I came across another airplane and a helicopter here, all of us intelligently upwind. The wave was perfectly smooth, giving climb rates above 12,000 feet in excess of engine power at 4,000 feet. 

Grandes Jorasses (4000m+). Italy right rear, Switzerland left rear, France foreground).

This flight was the coup de grace! Massif du Chablais below (10,686′) with Mt Blanc on the horizon).

Dent du Géant rear left (4013m / 13,166′) with Aiguille du Midi below. I had dreamt of wave clouds like this since the first flight over Mt. Blanc.

While I’d like to believe that’s blowing snow on the summit of Mt. Blanc, I think part of it is orographic cloud formation. 

Above the wave, sloped to the left above the Aiguille Verte (4122m / 13,524′). It was an illustrious flight.


I have now released book #19 “Mountain Texture: The Pyrenees from the Sky.”

State of Alaska Capstone Aviation Loan Program to Sunset

Alaska may be the only state in the nation to make financial loans available to encourage aviation safety.  This unique Capstone Program helps individual aircraft owners and aviation businesses finance avionics upgrades to take advantage of ADS-B and the WAAS GPS instrument approaches that have become key elements of the NextGen air transportation system.   After being available for a dozen years, however, only 20 loans have been approved, and the program will sunset on July 1st 2020.  It may still be worth considering, if you are planning upgrades that meet the program criteria.

Information on the loan program is available at: https://www.commerce.alaska.gov/web/ded/FIN/LoanPrograms/CapstoneAvionics.aspx or google “Alaska Capstone Loan”

Background
The Federal Aviation Administration’s Capstone Program pioneered the use of ADS-B and other technologies to improve aviation safety.  From the time the demonstration project became operational in 2000 until 2006, the program demonstrated a 47% reduction in the accident rate for aircraft operating in southwest Alaska that were equipped with ADS-B, WAAS GPS navigators, and moving map displays compared to the non-equipped aircraft.  Those technologies along with the installation of additional weather stations to support instrument approaches in the area contributed to this change.  But it was recognized early on that the cost of equipping aircraft would be an issue. While the demonstration equipment had been funded by the FAA, subsequent equipage would be a financial burden on aircraft owners and operators.

On the strength of these results in accident reduction, to encourage use of this safety equipment in the state, the Alaska Legislature established the Capstone Avionics Loan Program in 2008.  For the past 12 years, the program has made it possible for Alaskans to obtain a 4% fixed rate loan that will pay for 80% of the cost of installing ADS-B, GPS/WAAS navigation equipment and a multifunction display in aircraft that are principally operated in Alaska.

Not Many Takers
During the life of the program, only 20 loans have been approved. Seven of those went to private individuals and the remaining were taken out by businesses.  I was one of the individuals that used this program to install ADS-B, and a WAAS GPS in my aircraft.  The loan application process was straight forward. It required filling out a financial statement, information about the aircraft, providing a copy of my preceding year’s tax return and a $50 application fee.  One detail that is worth noting–many people that are making upgrades choose to change out other components of their panel at the same time. In my case, I installed a Garmin G5 attitude indicator and directional gyro so I could ditch my vacuum system.  It was no problem to have the avionics installer split the items that were eligible on a separate invoice from those that were outside the scope of the loan program.  Once approved, the check was sent directly to the installer, and I only had to come up the remaining 20% at the time the bill was due.

Loan Program Sunsets Next July
The legislation that established the program has a sunset clause, and unless further action is taken it will be terminated on July 1st 2020.  There are two important details related to that deadline:

First, if you haven’t yet equipped with any of this suite of equipment, there is still time.  But don’t put it off much longer, as it does take time to have a loan application reviewed and approved.  I would recommend calling the folks that run the program at the Division of Economic Development and review what you are planning, to figure if it fits your circumstances.  They have offices and staff in Anchorage and Juneau that are a phone call away.  They can be reached at (800) 478 5626 (toll free in Alaska) or (907) 465-2510 and ask to speak with one of their loan officers.  Their office hours are 7:30am – 4:30pm,  Monday – Friday.

Second, the low use of the program makes it hard to justify an extension.  Please take the one-question survey to express your needs regarding this program:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/323WWR2

If you are considering purchasing ADS-B or WAAS GPS navigation equipment for your aircraft, this opportunity may be worth exploring.  Don’t let a lack of current funds stop you from making technology upgrades that can help keep you and your passengers safe.

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This article was initially published in the Alaska Airmen Association’s Transponder

New Me, New We

A future Aviatrix at Fresno/Chandler Airport day

When we start off our training in aviation we become new. In many ways, instruction and experience transform us into an aviator. The training syllabus takes us from ground school, to first lesson, written exam, medical, first solo and on to checkride. For many, trying to think about our life before aviation is difficult. We press on for advanced ratings, type certificates and aircraft ownership. The transformation from the person gazing skyward hoping for wings, to the certificated pilot ensures a new “me”.

This young man is studying to be an airplane mechanic

Now I am going to say something dramatic, stop just going to aviation events. Instead I challenge you to join the “we” culture versus staying in the “me” culture. As aviators committed to being lifetime learners, we are constantly focused on ourselves as individuals, and rightly so. When we are focused on “me” we fly to an aviation event for a fuel discount, or to hear a favorite speaker for free, or to buy some raffle tickets for donated prizes. There is nothing wrong with that. I love to support GA events especially the smaller ones. But I want you to take a moment to think about how you could connect with the event, become part of the “we”.

Over the past week I attended “Remember When 5th Annual Airport Day” at Fresno/Chandler airport in the Central Valley of California, presented Exit the Holding Pattern: Achieve your Aviation Goals in San Diego for the San Diego Aviation Safety Counselors, and will attend the Central Coast AirFest this weekend in Santa Maria, California The thing that all three of these events have in common is the We Team, of volunteers. Volunteering doesn’t have to be particularly time consuming or technical. Most events need volunteers in all capacities. Think about your talents and get involved.

The Remember When event was a nice combination of two of the three tiers in airport protection and GA promotion: grass roots local level plus the state level. I attended as a Vice President of California Pilots Association. We had a fun booth that drew in current members, prospective members and those wanting to learn to fly. The whole event was quintessentially GA, airplanes on display, awesome fuel discount, car show, good food and educational seminars. It takes nearly 100 volunteers to put on this annual event.

On Thursday I presented Exit the Holding Pattern: Achieve your Aviation Goals for the San Diego Aviation Safety Counselors monthly WINGS event. I am sure many of you attend safety seminars in your community, but how many of you volunteer in some capacity? In the case of the San Diego event there were numerous volunteers who arrived 30 minutes before and stayed the same after. Organizing speakers for a monthly event is a big job. Think about who you know who presents workshops, or how you can help with your local events.

Large crowd at Exit the Hold: Achieve your Aviation Goals presentation

This coming weekend is the Central Coast AirFest in Santa Maria, CA. This is the second year of the event. The AirFest is in collaboration with the Santa Maria Airport District and many community sponsors.   The two-day show offers aerobatics, military, and radio-controlled aircraft demonstrations. This year’s headliner is the F-16 Viper Demonstration Team from Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. The Viper demonstration will end with a dazzling pyrotechnics display. The event is expected to attract over 15,000 over the weekend. An event this size cannot happen without a team of hundreds of volunteers. Aviation lovers who simply sit back and merely attend events will miss out on the camaraderie, behind-the-scenes access, and the satisfaction of bringing an event to successful fruition.

Five-Cities Fire brings toys for the kids at Toys for Tots

The flying season might be coming to an end due to weather for many around the country. But it’s not too late to check out the AOPA calendar or sites like Social Flight to check out remaining 2019 events, such as  December 7th Oceano Airport Toys for Tots.  Better yet, contact the organizer and volunteer. Let your new “me”, turn in to a new “we”. Come be part of it all. See you all out there!

Learn your airplane on a different level

If knowledge is power, education is the fuel. Pilots have myriad avenues for increasing their knowledge. Before I got hired at my first airline, I had already devoured countless books on aviation safety, accident analysis, accident investigations, human factors, and related topics. I had an enviable library, to say the least.

Once I started flying, I became more and more interested in accidents that involved the airplanes that I was actually flying. Let’s face it: Accident reports on Cessna 172s almost never involve a problem with the airplane. They almost all have their roots in poor pilotage/airmanship, bad ownership decisions, and occasionally a maintenance issue. But by and large, the person flying the airplane does something they shouldn’t do, and the result is an accident or a fatality. Further, the systems are so simple that systems knowledge isn’t really a factor.

In turbine equipment, there are a lot more variables at play. The pilot is still the most important, but systems knowledge, fatigue, maintenance practices, and the like play a bigger role. As a pilot new to a particular airplane, some of what may be involved may be difficult to understand in great detail, but once you have a bit of experience, it will be easier to digest certain accidents or discussions.

With certain accidents or aircraft, it’s not uncommon to come across superstitions about how dangerous certain systems are or how difficult the airplane is to operate. The Mitsubishi MU–2 ran into this because of a relatively high accident rate, but there was a realization that a more rigorous training program could decrease the number of incidents and accidents. And guess what? It worked.

Given that I was flying a turboprop as my first airliner and my first turbine airplane, I wanted to know what was going on in the fleet as a whole. So, I continued by quest by downloading and reading a number of NTSB and FAA summaries and reports. I didn’t necessarily need to read every word of every report, but I did spend a lot of time reading the pertinent sections. I also did this when I got to the CRJ, and when noteworthy events occurred, I’d do the same thing. It was amazing how many errors or mistakes a well-meaning mainstream media reporter could make (it still is).

I’ve since read more reports and books on accidents than I can recall, and while most still come down to the pilots, not all do. But there are more pieces than ever before. Human factors is often much bigger than one would expect, and weather is still the beast we can’t tame. But one of the most fascinating things to me to learn about was how difficult the investigation process can be. For proof of that, just look at the USAir 427, or even TWA 800.

Whether you go into the regionals in the CRJ, ERJ, or E-Jet series, or eventually make it to the majors flying Boeings or Airbuses, it behooves you to educate yourself as much as possible on common causes of confusion or incidents on the airplane you fly. You’ll be surprised at what you learn, what you may not have been taught, and how the past changes what we do in the present or the future.

Plus, you’ll just feel better armed with as much knowledge as you can get.—Chip Wright

Your first trip

A pilot’s first trip with an airline is a combination of both stress and excitement.

The reasons for the excitement are obvious: new job, new airplane, new cities, new coworkers, even the new uniform can be a source of a thrill. The excitement is also equal parts stress, as you try to figure out or remember where to go, learn the protocols of the airline, introduce yourself to flight attendants, gate agents, captains, and other employees who seem like they’ve been around forever. And, of course, you actually have to do your job.

The first several trips, however, are a continuation of your training. The FAA does not allow green, fresh-from-training new hires to be thrown out on the line to fend for themselves. You will fly under the watchful eye and tutelage of a line check airman (LCA), who will introduce you to the day-to-day operation of the company and provide the finishing touches on your aircraft training. This is called initial operating experience (IOE), and you go through it with each new job, each new airplane, and whenever you upgrade to captain.

In some respects, the LCA has the easiest job, and in some ways the hardest, when it comes to training. The transition from the sim to the airplane can be a challenge, and it’s the first time you are truly dealing with all aspects of getting a flight off the gate: maintenance, fuel, catering, aggravated passengers and flight attendants. This is no longer an academic exercise in the schoolhouse. It’s real, and it’s real time.

And speaking of time, the LCA also has to keep the flight on schedule without compromising the instruction. As you might imagine, when it comes to dealing with chaos at the gate, there’s a lot that will generate a “we’ll talk about this in flight” comment or two. At some point, you also have to be signed off on walkarounds.

Once you get underway, you get to deal with a blizzard of radio calls that most pilots new to the airlines aren’t ready for. Ramp control and ground will not care that you’re new or in over your head. They will simply expect you to comply—correctly and quickly. Your captain will probably have to bail you out a few times, and it is nothing to be ashamed of.

Airborne, you may or may not actually fly the first leg. Some LCAs believe in a trial by fire and will let you get into it right away. When I was an LCA, I always flew the first leg with a new pilot just to give him or her a chance to observe and catch up. But eventually, you need to get your hands on the wheel, so to speak, and the best advice is to simply fly it the way you did in the sim. You will be required to log X number of legs or hours as the nonflying/monitoring pilot, but you can expect to fly the majority of the legs so that you can get comfortable with the airplane.

In the sim, you spend a lot of time either dealing with emergencies, doing air work, or practicing all manner of approaches. There is very little time to introduce you to flying as it actually is on the line, though you will take a checkride that features a flight that is representative of life on the line. Even then, you will probably get a minor system failure to deal with on the way.

Your first trip will be an opportunity to see what the airplane is really like with everything working. Further, you will be exposed to all of the little nuances of managing a flight, from energy management during climbs and descents to dealing with the flight attendants and making public address announcements to the passengers. You’ll also see how compressed the time can get as you prepare for arrivals, descents, and approaches.

As a new hire, you can expect a lot of time with the LCA on the ground and during layovers as well. There is a lot of material to review, some of which may be a new introduction to you, depending on how the airline structures the training. You’ll also spend time going over things you have done well as well as things you need to improve upon. The learning—and the teaching—never end! If you are hitting the line during the winter months, you can expect to deal with deicing and winter ops, which is challenging enough for veteran pilots that have been around, let alone for someone who has never had to deal with deicing, holdover times, et cetera.

The first trip is both exciting and exhausting. By the time it’s finished, you will begin to feel as if you are settling into a bit of a groove. By the end of the first day, you will be ready to collapse, and you should sleep well. Every time I’ve gone through OE, I’ve had some trouble sleeping the night before the first trip, and I always sleep well after the first day is in the books.

The end of the first trip is a sign that the training process is almost over, but it’s also a crucial point, as you are now being put into the pointy end of a multimillion-dollar machine and entrusted with all the lives behind you. The company wants to make sure that you are safe, competent, and ready. You want to feel … well, safe, competent, and ready. This is a final chance to ask a lot of questions and to perfect your techniques and procedures.

If the first trip goes well, the last trip (or two) will focus more on getting your required IOE time completed before you do your final line check. Once the LCA puts pen to paper and signs you off, you’re considered ready for the day-to-day grind, and your training is complete. Now you get to embrace life on reserve!—Chip Wright

Rejected takeoffs

As I write this, a business jet was just on the news for rejecting a takeoff at a small airport in California that led to a fire that, by all accounts, destroyed the airplane.

On the same day, I was evaluated during a flight by a check airman, and the rejected takeoff (RTO) procedure was a point of discussion—in our case because my captain, whom I have flown with before, does a more-detailed-than-typical briefing of the procedure. My airline requires a full briefing of the RTO on the first leg of a trip or during a crew change. The reason is simple: RTOs at high speeds are high-risk events.

The airlines typically use 100 knots as the threshold between “low” speed and “high” speed. In the high-speed regime, aborts are generally done for one of four reasons: wind shear; an engine failure; a fire of any kind; or the belief that the airplane is unsafe to fly.

Further, this procedure is practiced every time we visit the simulator, and we practice it during takeoffs from either seat. This is important, because it may be prudent for the first officer—technically the second in command, in a rare moment making a command decision—to initiate the maneuver. Most carriers would dictate that the captain will assume command of the airplane at a safe point in time. This is done not just because the captain is in charge, but also because the RTO checklist is very specific about who does what, and it is predicated on the captain being in control of the airplane as it slows down.

I don’t know what happened in the California event, but there are very few acceptable reasons for an RTO to lead to an airplane leaving the runway and getting consumed in a fire (in this case, thankfully, there were no injuries).

Further, I don’t have any idea what the background or training of the crew was. But that said, any pilot in a turbine aircraft of any kind should not only be proficient in the maneuver of an RTO, but also should brief the mechanical steps that will be executed in order to bring the aircraft safely to a stop on the remaining runway. Closing the thrust levers, activating the thrust reversers, verifying the deployment of the spoilers, and maximizing the use of brakes are pretty standard steps.

RTOs are high risk because they are likely to occur when the airplane is accelerating at an accelerating rate, and may even be close to V1 or rotation speed. Remember that once you reach V1, you are committed to taking the airplane airborne and troubleshooting in flight. In other words, the wings will be generating a fair amount of lift, and the weight of the airplane will not be fully set on the wheels. It’s important to destroy that lift as quickly as possible and get the weight back on the wheels in order for the brakes and the drag of the airplane itself to work to your benefit. Weight on the wheels also will allow the tires to better grip the runway, which will also slow you down.

The act of aviating is terribly unforgiving of indecision and delayed reaction, and arguably, the high speed RTO is the event with the smallest window of time in which a tremendous error in action and judgment can occur. Don’t let it happen to you. Prepare for it, brief it, and fly it.—Chip Wright

Why should the ‘Citizen of the World’ polar circumnavigation matter to you?

Our Flying Thru Life company and community mission of “One Planet One People One Plane” is for the benefit of every person on the planet, including you. Our primary goal is to show a divided world that we are all connected. Just as our flight will connect the two places on the planet where peace actually exists—the South Pole and the North Pole—our vision and intention are to connect all people in between through a shared adventure that includes deeper peace and Oneness.

One of our Flying Thru Life core beliefs is that humans are already united in so many ways that we often forget about in our busy, fragmented lives. One of our commitments is to be a living example of all these connections as “citizens of the world” and explore new ways to expand and deepen these relationships. Here are a few examples of the ways we are already connected:

Technology

With the proliferation of new technology our vast world is fast becoming one large community regardless of the desire of some to maintain separation. Things like the internet, where we exchange emails across the planet almost instantly; our global economy, where products from different countries line our shelves; or the planetary communication system with 66 Iridium NEXT satellites that now encircles our planet and is a key component of the Citizen of the World polar circumnavigation flight.

Transportation

People are now moving between states and countries with less expense, greater ease, and increased dedication to reducing carbon emissions. Airline travel between countries has become more efficient and available to the masses. Inexpensive airfares can get you from the U.S. to almost any other point on the planet. Movement through the European Union no longer requires a passport. While there may be nationalistic political efforts to keep people from entering certain countries, there is an equal effort on the part of global citizens to keep travel open between borders.

The Environment

The issues that affect “our” world are now global, including greenhouse gases, pollution, disease, and nuclear proliferation. It is clear that the resolution of these issues will require a collective effort and that no single player or country can do it all alone. We must all come together as members of planet Earth in our vision for the future of our planet and for our role as humans and stewards of the earth and all of its living beings.

Civilization

As the interracial connections between humans become more common with global communities, we will ultimately see the evolution of people into one race. This global citizen will be a blending of all races. Like it or not, agree with it or not, we will ultimately start to look more and more alike, reflecting the common spirit of humanity that already exists within each of us.

Origin

While there are some who question how our planet and the cosmos began, science continues to discover facts that explain how the universe originated from the Big Bang Theory. You and I and every other human being are made from the exact same cosmic stuff. “Those people” on the other side of the planet are just as much your brothers and sisters as the people in your family—just ask anyone who has discovered unknown relatives of different races through DNA testing and ancestry sites.

After visiting 120 countries prior to my 2015 circumnavigation, and another 23 countries and territories during the flight, it became clear to me that there are more similarities than differences among people. Before I set out on this journey, I defined people by their color, race, political affiliation, and socioeconomic class. But this limited perspective ignored the uniting spiritual element that is at our core and connects us all—things like our desire for health, happiness, the safety of ourselves and our families, our desire to dream and explore this beautiful planet, our home.

This polar circumnavigation of Citizen of the World has been created to highlight all the above elements and qualities, desires, and dreams; it is the common thread that joins humanity together. We are dedicated to connecting the South Pole to the North Pole and everyone in between as “citizens of the world” on a mission of One Planet, One People, One Plane: Oneness for Humanity. We invite you to join us at www.PoleToPoleFlight.com and share the journey in whatever way you feel compelled.

Winter is around the corner

If you’re considering a career in the airlines or even in the corporate world, this time of year is one in which you should get into the habit of moving your brain from summer to winter operations. As I write this, it is not yet Labor Day, but temperatures have started to cool after a difficult summer of unrelenting heat. In the northern states, the nights are much cooler, and by early October, there will be places that are getting regular bouts of morning frost, and that means that the deicing season has begun.

Hints of this have popped up already around the country, as I have noticed a number of airports have pulled their deicing trucks out of storage and begun to run them to make sure the truck portion works, to say nothing of the deicing equipment. Everything needs to be tested and calibrated, and each season there are new wrinkles added to deicing programs and protocols. These can include new fluid manufacturers, new procedures for both deicing crews and flight crews (a few years ago, a concept called “liquid water equivalent” was introduced, and to be honest, I still don’t totally understand it, but it is the new standard for determining deicing strategies and holdover times). New employees will also get trained, and that process is easy to recognize as you see deicing trucks spray water on airplanes.

Preparation by the airlines or even fixed-base operators for deicing operations, especially on a large scale, starts around June. But for flight crews, it is on the horizon as the school year starts, and winter ops present their own challenges. Getting sprayed to remove a layer of frost is generally no big deal, but it has to be done correctly and by people who are trained to do it. In the next few weeks, airlines will begin disseminating their annual revisions to the manuals across their systems reflecting changes for the upcoming season. While liquid water equivalent is the new standard for calculating holdover times, it isn’t available for everyone. However, with the proliferation of iPads and electronic flight bags, apps are available to help take some of the guesswork and error out of the process.

I personally make it a habit to review the Cold Weather Operations sections of our manuals each season, especially if I got lucky the previous year and didn’t have to deal much with bad winter weather (last year was one of those years for me—it was cold, but I managed to avoid most of the snow and ice). There are limitations for the airplane and the operation for cold weather ops, and some aircraft systems are used differently. Some airports have fairly simplistic deicing complexes, and others are straightforward and simple. The Canadians are masterful at deicing, but it’s up to us as pilots to know how their systems work in order to keep it moving; a good review of the appropriate Jepp pages well before you need them will go a long way.

The next few months offer some of the best flying of the year as summer storms give way to cooler weather and more stable air, but it is worth remembering that around the corner, Old Man Winter awaits, and he isn’t one to trifle with the rules. Study up, and be ready, because ice and snow are unique hazards all their own.

Hunting for glaciers

I have a personal protocol that seems to have developed over time. When I must move the PA-11 to a new location, I put my “cross country” hat on, even if that means flight literally crossing into other countries, pick a good day, avail myself of planning and resources, and execute a point A to B flight, with some photos taken merely to augment the transportation narrative taking place. Once I get to a new location, I then start “nibbling,” taking progressive flights of increased perception of danger, visiting peaks and terrain in a growing radius from the new home base.

I have often found this concept somewhat odd. When the “cross country” hat is on, I will seemingly valiantly fly grand distances into unknown areas, relying merely on my flight calculations as a basis for making it happen. When safely settled in a new area, I then see nothing but danger, and take a more iterative approach, even though I am closer to resources, my home base, comfort zones, and the like. I later came to understand that this protocol applies to mountainous home bases. For the occasions where I have based on the coast, I tend to be less cautious and just go flying.

Nonetheless, I decided to turn this approach on its head when I came to Switzerland last year. No longer would I valiantly plunge into the heart of the Alps on my first flight, only to recoil and treat every successive flight as though it was the working of some miracle. I decided to attack an accepted list of the highest peaks in the Alps first, and then nibble at lesser-known things later. I seem to have failed to take into account that I waited until basing in the highest, most vertical, most glaciated mountain range that I had ever flown in to turn caution upside down. What is the human mind but a thing of irony?

Well, that project is done, which left me searching for motivators. I took two flights that defaulted to my protocol of basically covering ground and seeing an area, for the sake of exploring what is there. I wandered over to Geneva and in areas visible from the chalet, and that just wasn’t cutting it. Then a switch went off in my mind: “You like glaciers, and summer is the time to see them without annual snowfall.” How many ways can I emphasize “duh?” I had this information last year, and it didn’t seem to sink in.

That set off a full-on assault. I elected to restrict my wanderings to the Bernese Alps, as they are the closest to the current base, happen to be mind-blowingly vertical and tall, and happen to have the largest glacier in Europe, along with the most glaciated section of the Alps. In examining in greater detail what I could find on satellite images, I noticed that I missed quite a few massive glaciers in the eastern Bernese Alps, as they were covered by annual snowfall in the image, and I failed to appropriately zoom in to notice glaciated texture.

What I found in the last month was an overwhelming playground of glaciers upon glaciers spilling down from towering peaks, hiding in shadows, or hiding in plain sight. When one thinks that everything has been seen in an area, just fly around the bend or over the next ridge, and another basin or cathedral opens, filled with jaw-dropping scenery. I also bothered to read the Swiss VFR Manual, and found that one key restricted area is subject to activation, which means that it’s not restricted most of the time (I had been avoiding it altogether). That contained another treasure trove, some of which appears in a video below.

The weather turned already, with temperatures down at 2,000 feet msl down in the 50s Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius) for a high, with brooding Pacific Northwest skies and rain. Webcams indicate snowfall almost down to timberline, so perhaps summer glacier flying is over, or maybe it will warm back up and I’ll be back at it.

I seem to have figured out how to get a successful HD video from the Cub. It has been a year of tinkering and aggravation, though I think the output is worth it.

Saanen, Switzerland, along the north side of the Alps to the Triftgletscher, Rhône Glacier, Uri Alps glaciers, then the eastern large glaciers of the Bernese Alps. 43 min HD, glaciers begin at 11 minutes.

Saanen, Switzerland, south to the Bernese Alps, east to the Aletschgletscher (largest in Europe), and west along the Alps. 27 min HD.

And some photos for good measure…..

Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau, from the northwest. White “snow” in the distance are moderate-sized glaciers. Much larger ones lurk on the other side of the peaks.

Blechgletscher


Series of glaciers beneath Nesthorn. It was slightly vertical in here.

Gauligletscher, one of them classically “hiding” under snowpack satellite shots.

Rosenlauigletscher

Triftgletscher—flows to the Rhine.

Rhône Glacier—over the pass from Triftgletscher. To the left are the headwaters to the Rhône River, which terminates in the Mediterranean. 


Bietschhorn. The glaciers beneath this peak are so dwarfed by nearby ice masses that the mind determines it is not even worth noting when looking at satellite shots.


Unders Mönschjoch, at the top of the Ewigschneefäld, which feeds the Aletschgletscher. 

Äbeni-Flue, looking toward the Oberland and Swiss Plateau. Flight altitude is 12,500 feet, with a nearly vertical drop off in excess of 6,000 feet on the other side.


The aforementioned dropoff….


Aletschhorn with clouds from a low pressure zone over northern Italy.

Tschingelgletscher

Remembering Capt. Al Haynes and CRM

As I write this, it has been less than 24 hours since the family of Capt. Al Haynes has announced his passing. Haynes was famously in command of United Flight 232 in the summer of 1989 when the DC-10 suffered a complete loss of hydraulic power after a fan blade on the number two (center) engine failed and caused the engine to disintegrate. Using differential thrust from the remaining two engines, the crew was able to exercise a modicum of control and bring the jumbo jet to a controlled crash in Sioux City, Iowa. While the accident resulted in 111 fatalities, 184 passengers and crew survived.

It didn’t take long for the stories about United’s cockpit resource management (CRM) training to make headline in the news. Historically, airline cockpits were run with concept of the captain being autocratically in charge, and there was no obligation to solicit input on anything from other pilots on the flight deck. It didn’t matter what their experience or perspective was. If the captain made a decision, that was it. Today, it’s hard to believe that such an environment not only existed, but was encouraged.

United was pushed into developing a CRM program from a previous accident involving a United aircraft. United Flight 173 crashed in Portland, Oregon, in 1978 after running out of fuel while the crew tried to troubleshoot a problem with the landing gear. The NTSB cited the crew’s inability to work together as a contributing factor to the accident. This accident followed the 1977 Tenerife collision between Pan Am and Lufthansa 747s, the worst aviation accident in history. With prodding from NASA, United began training its pilots on CRM, and eventually included the flight attendants as well.

I was fortunate enough to attend a few of Capt. Haynes’ presentations about the 232 accident. He readily acknowledged the value of the CRM training, and when asked if he or his crew could have been as effective without it, he quickly said, “I doubt it.” CRM encourages authority with participation by the captain, and assertiveness with respect by the remaining crew. In other words, captains are encouraged to solicit and genuinely consider input from other crew, and the first and second officers are encouraged to speak up when they see that something is wrong or unsafe.

In the years since, every U.S. airline has developed and implemented CRM training, and it often extends to dispatchers and mechanics as well. The Flight 232 accident has become a classic case study in numerous businesses and industries when it comes to dealing with time-critical, high-pressure emergency situations. Capt. Haynes was an early advocate for acceptance of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in noncombat traumatic events, because he openly discussed his own PTSD. He said giving his speech was the most effective method he had found for dealing with his PTSD and keeping it at bay.

The full effect and value of CRM was proven in the minutes after United Flight 232 suffered that engine failure. It has since been used to avert all sorts of incidents and accidents, large and small. Every pilot should be grateful for its inception, and they should definitely raise a toast to Capt. Haynes for his willing embrace and implementation of it in the summer of 1989.

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