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Reinventing yourself and your flying experience! Part 1 of 3

Addison Pemberton’s Grumman G21A Goose N95467 that took 8000 hours to renovate to perfection

There comes a time in every pilot’s life and flying career when you have flown to all the local airports within range of one tank of fuel, tried all the $100 hamburgers in your area ($1,000 if you are flying a turbine) and had all the adventures that call to you. It’s at this point, when you must address what your restless soul has been saying to you probably for years.  It’s time to answer the call, pull chocks and find another home and adventure. Perhaps it’s another coast, somewhere warmer, an area with a different type of topography like mountains or islands, or somewhere with seasons. This new place will be your steppingstone to potentially far greater adventures and an even better version of yourself!

Answering the call

With Covid, many of us realized we could live anywhere since we were working virtually. We learned how little we really needed to be happy, and that life was short. Clearly if ever, now is the time to bust a move on the adventures that are waiting for us. It is a chance to reinvent ourselves! For me, my new life and vision included flying low and slow rather than at the flight levels. I had always wanted to fly and explore our beautiful planet with a floatplane. It was finally time to see the parts of this beautiful world that had passed below me at up to 400 mph.

Finding your new home

For me, I looked in California, Arizona, North Carolina, Florida, Colorado, Idaho, and finally Washington State. The Islands on the Puget Sound near the San Juans in Washington turned out to be the magical place that felt like home and offered me so much of what I was looking for. Washington would become a steppingstone to the beauty and adventure of neighboring Idaho, Canada and most importantly Alaska!

Since I had the “Where” figured out, it was time to start focusing on the “How?” Questions that needed to be answered including: Where would I house my aircraft?  Would it be hangared? And who was available to work on it? I wasn’t just making decisions for me, I needed to know my current airplane the Citizen of the World and my future floatplane would be well taken care of.

The first thing I did was to post on the group FATPNW-Flights Above the Pacific Northwest on Facebook. I said I was moving to Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island and asked for some guidance on hangars and airports. What a welcome reception I got! I asked first about hangar space within 45 minutes and people started sharing their ideas, tips, and experiences. When it became clear that things were impacted and waiting for space would take more than two years, I started looking for other options.

Keith Love the airport manager of Skagit Regional Airport reached out on FATPNW with some opportunities to build a hangar and shared the name of three contractors with experience and good reputations. Right now, I’m looking at available lots and determining if I can afford to build.

Making friends

Aviation friend and seaplane pilot from Spokane Jeff Hatcher

I quickly found people in the Pacific Northwest are very friendly. I was surprised to have people just talk to me like we were friends from the beginning. In this land of floatplanes, warbirds, and smaller GA aircraft few people had seen an international lady as beautiful and capable as the Citizen of the World. After the Art Craft Paint, Inc. museum quality paint job with ceramic coating honestly the Citizen was hard to miss. People were very curious and wanted to know more and always welcomed me to the community. I hoped to soon be doing events at the Boeing Museum and the Heritage Flight Museum at Skagit to get the word out even more.

Finding an aviation mentor

Debriefing after my first seaplane lesson with Addison Pemberton

In Spokane, just a short flight across the Cascades, my seaplane pilot friend Jeff Hatcher introduced me to a guy that I instantly liked-named Addison Pemberton. Addison is a super positive, upbeat, and generous guy that had been restoring airplanes with the help of his wife and sons for the last 30 years. He has a couple of hangars full of really cool planes including a Grumman Goose that was aviation “perfection” and the topic of an AOPA article that you will definitely want to read.  Addison offered to take me up when I told him I was looking forward to learning how to fly a floatplane. Needless to say, I was all ears around the melodic sound of the two radials. There is of course the visual experience of flying around Lake Coer D’ Alene, which is in a word stunning, but then there is the sound of these two radial engines growling away. And if that is not enough to get you hooked, then jumping in the lake for a swim is about the best thing ever.

Your next “step”

Just like a seaplane gets up on “the step” as it starts to accelerate prior to liftoff so did I with my learning. Addison and the others that I met did an excellent job of whetting my (No pun intended) for my future adventures on the water. This new perspective down low put me back into a learning mode like when I first started to fly just over ten years ago. Pretty much everything these people said to me was an opportunity to learn and grow as a pilot and as a person. Learning and adventure definitely go hand in hand and Addison suggested Coeur d’Alene Seaplanes for the next step in the progression to becoming a single-engine seaplane pilot (S.E.S).

Reinventing yourself and your flying experience is something every pilot should do at least once in their life. Leaving the past and those things that anchor you to it can be liberating. Starting anew is a wonderful opportunity to be the person you want to be now. Plus, as we grow and evolve, we seek different places, adventures and experiences. For me, finding more quiet, nature, personal exploration, and connection with like-minded people and aviators is what feels right for the next chapter of my flying life and becoming the best new version of myself.

Is the 50-seater done?

When the CRJ came on the scene in 1993, it revolutionized air travel. With a 50-seat jet, airlines were able to overcome the high per-seat-mile operating costs and make money because of the appeal of being in a jet versus the previous turboprops that had dominated the market for so long.

Derisively referred to as “puddle jumpers,” turboprops had a limited range of around 400 nautical miles. To stretch much beyond that was to risk schedule disruptions becasue of alternate fuel requirements, as well as reduced loads. The RJ changed that. While payloads could still be limited in some cases, the standard range of operations increased dramatically, while offering passengers a faster, more comfortable ride.

Recently, the FAA increased the standard weights of passengers from 170 pounds (this includes a bag) in the summer/175 in the winter to 190 and 195 pounds respectively. There has also been an increase in the allowed weight for personal items.

What does all of this mean? In short, it could be the death knell for the current fleet of 50-seat RJs. The increase in weight for passengers is going to take a bite out of the allowable payload. In a recent email from my local union folks, the payloads on 50-seaters are said to max out at 48 passengers. Some may even be limited to 47. For the airlines, this is going to be a problem. The RJs were already relatively expensive to operate, and this will only make it worse. The other major challenge is going to be finding a way to continue to serve certain markets that cannot sustain service from larger jets.

There have been efforts to bring the larger turboprops back, most notably the Dash-8 Q400 from Bombardier. However, it hasn’t worked on the scale needed. The passengers have voted with their wallets and opted for competitors that had a jet, which they view as safer and more reliable, not to mention more comfortable. There is also a perception that turboprop pilots are not as well-trained or as experienced.

The 50-seaters are definitely long in the tooth, and larger numbers have been parked or turned into beer cans. Unfortunately, that trend is likely to continue. There is currently no movement afoot to introduce a new model to the North American market, which means that the 70-90-seaters will be the airplanes filling that niche. Airlines are currently trying out a 50-seat variant of the CRJ-700 by taking out some seats and adding first-class service and different seating classes in coach. Only time will tell if this is going to be a long-term answer.

It’s possible that there won’t be another 50-seat jet introduced, and that some communities will indeed see a decrease in, or even a loss of, service. If so, that would be a shame. It will also be a shame to see a workhorse airplane no longer in the skies.-–Chip Wright 

Old revisions vs. new

Ask any pilot about the advantages of the old, heavy paper ‘brain bags’ versus the modern electronic flight bag (EFB), and you won’t find many, if any, that prefer the old days. Jepp binders, company manuals that would run 1,000 pages or more, and personal items meant that the flight kit, usually black or brown leather and adorned with stickers, would weigh 40 to 50 pounds. In fact, one of the strongest arguments for going electronic was the steady rash of injuries that pilots suffered from the bags, usually to shoulders and backs that were abused in manipulating the bags in and out of the cockpit.

But there was one huge advantage to the paper books, and that was the ability to write, note and cross-reference from one book to the next. There was hardly a pilot around who didn’t keep some kind of notes in the manuals based on his/her previous experiences or inability to remember complex tables. In my case, I was always double-checking requirements for weather for certain approaches, for filing for an alternate, and for determining the need for a second alternate. I came up with my own tables and flow charts for this, but I also made heavy use of notes and ‘see page XXX in the other manual.’

Revisions also came with vertical change bars on the margins, so when you were doing the revision, you could immediately see what had changed. Highlighted passages could be transferred (or deleted, or added) as needed or desired. I always used two highlighters. One was yellow and one was pink, and they each had a different meaning. Doing the revisions by hand, in my opinion, made everyone slightly more aware of what was going on within the operation, because you felt compelled to read and understand the changes. It was also a bit of a challenge to try to find the inevitable mistakes that made it through several layers of editing and proof-reading. Minor mistakes would be taken care of in the next revision cycle, but major mistakes would be addressed right away, usually with a yellow-paged temporary revision. Every three or four years or so, there would be a total rewrite the books, and we’d all get the fun of getting familiar with some slight ‘improvement.’

With the EFB, the updates are constant and instantaneous. Notes in the margins of pages no longer work, because they get deleted during the updates. Same with highlights. There is a revision summary that goes through all the changes and has a hyperlink to the affected pages so that you can you see the actual change. But unless you want to create a separate PDF of the book, the days of dog-eared pages covered with notes and comments and highlights are gone. Is that good? Bad? It’s probably both, and like my brethren, I am in no hurry to lug a 50 pound bag around anymore with all of the risks involved (the handle on mine broke as I was going through security one day; fortunately, I was able to get a new one in the airport). Because nobody any longer worries about the cost of printing or the number of binders needed, a few of our manuals are pushing 2,500 pages, which is ridiculous. And, all of my personal notes, comments, memory joggers, etc. are in a spiral notebook as well as a file on my computer.

That said, I no longer have to worry about coming back from a vacation to a V-file stuffed with revisions. One quick tap on my EFB, and I’m ready to go in less time than it takes to put on my uniform. And that’s okay.

Closing time

It finally happened.

After 817.9 flying hours and 627 landings in Europe, the closing time snake has bitten.

For those unfamiliar with my previous rantings, “closing time” is uniquely something one finds common outside the United States. Airports of all kinds, from the smallest grass strips to full fledge airline hubs, generally have a closing time, where landings are forbidden until specified opening times the next morning. While I am generalizing, it is important to note that each country in Europe has differing flexibility around the schedule and significantly different enthusiasm for, and penalties resulting from, enforcement of violations.

I was initially greeted in Germany with this reality, along with the fact that closing time is not to be messed with. Fines run into the thousands of euros. France has a typically middle of the road attitude about it and Spain, as usual, is either too disorganized to do anything about it or wildly overreacts in narrow situations. For all the flights in the Pyrenees, I am fairly certain that I could have landed at midnight, and nobody would have cared.

Switzerland’s reaction to violations is airport dependent. If it is a safety-of-flight issue, then they are remarkably considerate. If the local commune is particularly sensitive and it is a home base airport, one may find his or her hangar tenancy at risk for repeat offenses. I have been told that an after-hours landing in Sion would come with a $550 invoice in the mail. I get the impression that such negative attention is something that one would not want here.

There is also the matter of insurance. My policy has this “feature” that is sold as a benefit: after hours landings are covered, provided the airfield operator approves them in advance. That, in effect, means there is also no insurance coverage for after-hours landings that are legal violations.

Naturally, that leaves closing time as a loudly prominent reality in the mind of a general aviation pilot. As I prefer late afternoon to sunset flights, I am usually staring at the bullseye of a to-the-minute reality of when the tires must be on the ground. For most airports, it is 30 minutes plus or minus “HRH,” which is published evening civil twilight. There is usually a maximum time, despite the HRH connotation. In the case of Saanen, it is 8:00PM, which translates into an “easy” 8PM closing time from early April until late September. In the winter, it is a sliding scale based on when the sun goes down, which means checking the published time as it differs slightly day by day.

On this flight, I wanted to land at Münster, an airport high up in the Obergoms, smack in the middle of the Alps. It is only open June 1 to August 31 of the year, so it was time to enjoy it while I could. Since it is less than 50 miles as the crow flies, the concept of landing and paying $32 for it was something of an anachronism, so I decided to tote a jerry can in the backseat to transfer upon landing. That would allow an extension to my normal one fuel tank limit to local flights. The result was a rather splendid jaunt up the valley to Zermatt, around the glaciers at the base of the Matterhorn, and then a tepid meandering to the Obergoms.

The airport is particularly delightful on the ground. The views are world class, and the Rhône River, a few miles from its glaciated source, rushes by right next to the field. In prior visits, I find myself standing in quiet repose, taking it all in, wishing the airport was open year-round, as I would buy a house in that valley and live there. Alas, it is not to be, so I gaze at the rushing water, wooden bridge, and wonderful Alps.

Then I look at the time and scurry to the airplane to get going, realizing that 8:00PM is staring me in the face.

The Bernese Alps are a complex mountain range weather wise, particularly in the summer. There are often towering cumulus, induced by terrain and the heat of the day, with sometimes unpredictable realities. A “10% chance of a shower” at the airport might mean mist all afternoon five miles away at the ridge, which then means finding an ideal location to make the crossing, find a hole, and get under the soup, all of which will evaporate at sunset anyway.

The clouds were in full force on the north side on this fine afternoon. My instinct said to go over the Grimselpass, a few miles to the northeast of Münster. I could partially see that I could sneak over at a lower altitude, instead of having to climb to 14,000 feet and wedge between clouds, which would surely put the nail in the coffin regarding closing time.

The first problem was that I couldn’t climb for about four minutes at 5,400’ MSL (1,000’ AGL). Heading east bound at full throttle, the winds were coming down the pass, arcing down the Obergoms valley, descending as they went. That lost some minutes until I found where they were going up, which was a 3,000’ FPM hair-raising ride from 5,400’ to 8,500’, where I found a gap between orographic clouds below over the pass and a solid cloud deck above. I dove between the hole and aimed for the Brienzersee, hoping to fly over Interlaken and then westbound.

One look at GPS groundspeed said everything: 51kt. That meant a 20-25kt headwind, which was not forecast. Winds at 10,000 feet were supposed to be 10kt; however, they were funneling over the pass, which meant a nice long flight down a veritable tube. As I came around the bend at Innertkirchen, Grosse Scheidegg had a meager opening, so I aimed for it, hoping to shave a few minutes off the flight by snaking down some tight valleys (in light of the overcast at 7,900 feet). Since I know the mountains very well, it didn’t bother me. Had I been new to the area, it would have been unnerving.

I had the subtle inclination I would be late. I formally entered the destination into my software: ETA: 20:04. Phooey. I applied maximum cruise power and aimed, with the cleanest, straightest, riskiest passing over the tightest little passes that I knew very well. 20:04, 20:05, 20:06, yet only 29 minutes away. Fiddlesticks.

As I passed over Grindelwald, under a solid cloud deck, something unexpected happened: the Jungfrau exploded into view, as there was an orographic gap in the clouds. In that moment, I decided “forget it,” applied full power, and aimed to climb above the clouds.

In one of my rainy-day musings on my iPad, I had discovered that, during the summer, a nearby airport at Zweisimmen is open to HRH + 30, maximum 22:00, which meant that I could land there without being past closing time. It had a Prior Permission Required aspect, though private/PPR airports are listed for safety purposes, and one is allowed to divert without permission. I checked NOTAMs in flight (none) and said to myself: “A lack of PPR must be less of a problem than late” and, with that, decided to enjoy sunset light that I never get to see at this time of year.

It was resplendent to cruise above the 10,000-foot cloud deck, southwest along the face of the Bernese Alps, partially illuminated by the warm colors of a summer evening in the Alps. As I checked train schedules and what not in the air, I realized the whole affair would result in getting home two hours late with 30 minutes of walking. With the views that I had out the windshield, it didn’t bother me one bit.

The next day, I returned to get the airplane, and the chief of the aerodrome introduced himself and asked casually what happened to lead to a landing without a PPR. I explained the headwind and closing time, and he was very reassuring that I made the right decision. I mentioned that I might sometime wish to take a sunset flight to get some good summer light, intentionally leaving the airplane for the night. He said, “No problem. Call me and you’re welcome anytime.”

When considering rules in Europe in isolation of everything else, it can cause quite a headache, if not some snarling and ranting. One flight in the Alps in the right conditions is enough to calm all that down and make it not matter.

Saanetschpass – roughly 8,400′.

Raron Airport below in the Rhône River valley. Obergoms turns to the distant left.

I went right instead. Zermatt Valley. Riedgletscher in the upper left.

Some tight flying, even for a Cub. One must be on the lookout for helicopters, gondola cables, and paragliders whilst not flying into any mountains.

Zermatt, with the Matterhorn behind.

North slope of the Matterhorn, from roughly 8,900 feet. Effectively a box canyon down here, with what proved to be persistent downdrafts.

Zmuttgletscher, after doing a 180, getting some altitude, and coming back in. Still ran into more downdrafts.

Snuggling with the Triftgletscher on the way out.

Festigletscher, when I probably should be thinking about closing time.

Bottom end of the Obergoms. Fietscherletscher is in the distant left. I wanted to go in there but opted not to for closing time reasons.

Münster Airport, center right (not the distant field, which is decommissioned). 

One can understand lingering here.

Attempting Grimselpass. Need to get over the clouds below but under the ones forward/above. The pass goes to the right.

Seems to have worked. Delightful forced landing locations.

“A nice long flight down a veritable tube.” 20-25kt headwind.

Coming around the bend. Grosse Scheidegg in the bright area to the right.

Crossing Grosse Scheidegg. GPS says I will be late.

As ETA ticked upward and the clouds cleared, I decided a) to divert and b) to enjoy myself in the process. Mönch and Jungfrau bursting into view. Life is good.

This is a cloud deck worth getting above.

…Which I did. Life at 10,000 feet.

Gemmipass, with the Matterhorn peaking above the clouds on the horizon.

The soup I had originally intended to go under, squeezing between cloud bases and mountains. More fun up here.

Steghorn (10,321′).

All things come to an end, in particular one’s quantity of fuel. Zweisimmen, with the train station on the left.

The people are coming back

I’ve been pretty lucky flying during the pandemic. Most of my passengers have been cooperative and understanding of the mask rules, the social distancing we all had to endure, and the temporary changes to normal procedures that were implemented to minimize risk.

That said, now that summer is here and people are making up for lost time, airports and airplanes are getting crowded again, and it’s great to see from a job security point of view.

But more people means more short tempers. I recently had a flight on which a passenger very nearly got himself banned from the airline, and possibly from multiple airlines. We had just closed the door in Houston for a flight to Newark. There was some last-minute confusion with a couple of jumpseaters (we had one pilot in the cockpit and two flight attendants in the back, all trying to get to work). When the final passenger count came off the printer, it was off by two. Unfortunately, it took more than 20 minutes to figure out what had happened. And the truth is, I’m still not sure exactly what transpired in the gate area, but we finally got the mess sorted out.

And then it started.

One of the flight attendants called and said we had a very belligerent, non-compliant passenger who was causing problems. His complaint was that we were running late, and he had paid for an on-time departure. That’s fair, but we can’t leave until we can confirm that the passengers who are on the airplane are actually supposed to be there. It’s hard to believe that people still get on the wrong airplanes in 2021, but it does happen rarely.

What this fella didn’t realize is that he was now making us even later, because now we had to make a determination about possibly returning to the gate and removing him. That led to a discussion of which gate we might use, and how long it would take for us to get the police there. As a result, we were taxiing very slowly to buy time while the cabin crew worked to de-escalate the situation. Removing people from an airplane is never fun or pleasant, and in this case, it would have been in part due to our late departure. It wasn’t like he got on and started causing trouble just to cause trouble—that’s easy to deal with.

Finally, the lead flight attendant called us back and said she had spoken to the passenger and his wife, and had made it clear that he was fast running out of time to change his attitude. His wife did what spouses do and got through to him that if got thrown off the airplane, his troubles were just beginning.

The rest of the flight was uneventful, and we were in fact on time landing in Newark. Ironically, we would have had to wait for a gate if we were early, because ours was occupied by a flight that was late getting off the gate. To top it off, that flight had to return to the gate for a mechanical issue, which required our ground crew, so we were looking at a late arrival (by just a few minutes) no matter what.

Sometimes, you just can’t win for losing.—Chip Wright

Heading to Oshkosh? Considerations before you yell ‘Clear prop’

Mooney Girl ready for Oshkosh

As the country re-opens to aviation events, it is natural for us to want to jump back in the airplane and zoom off for the fun.  However, I would like to you consider the numerous factors that now come into play because of the pandemic and resultant effects on our flying.

Flight operations were decreased in 2020 and early 21 due to COVID-19.  Painting with a broad stroke, operations not only include us as a PIC but Mechanics, FBOs, Flight Instructors, ATC and Charitable Flights.

For a moment consider all the things we need to possess or exhibit to be a safe, proficient, pilot; currency, muscle memory, recency of flight, logical methodical thought, competent with our avionics. Now imagine for 12-18 months you were not able to utilize those skill sets.  The degradation of cognitive processes and physical muscle memory are real dangers when we don’t fly often.

Before you launch for EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, or a local, state or regional event objectively look back at your flight activities in 2020 to date.  Many of us took advantage of virtual aviation events during this time, but were not in an actual airplane.  It is a great idea to consider the airplane, pilot and environment while still on terra firma.

Airplane Considerations

Airplane:

  • Airplane might have hidden mechanical issues due to lack of use [hoses, battery, fuel/brake lines, belts].
  • Look for fouled pulleys in control cables, cracked tire sidewalls, mice dining on your wiring, mouse nests in the fuselage and wings.
  • Check for water and gunk in the fuel lines, bird nests in the engine compartment, cracked ignition wires, bearings frozen in gyros.
  • Mechanic might have been off for an extended time.
  • FBOs might have newer staff fueling your airplane

Pilot Factors: Time to pull out your mental, physical and emotional checklist and do an inventory.  Are you ready to fly across the state, region or country for an aviation event?


Environment:

In addition to weather and airport/runway conditions, please take the additional factor of destination activity.  Let’s take EAA AirVenture Oshkosh [OSH] as an example of the environmental factors that need to be considered. For over a decade I have flown halfway across the country to Oshkosh, WI in a Mooney.   I have come in to OSH using the FISK arrival and twice in the mass formation Mooney arrival.  As well I have landed in Juneau, Madison and Appleton, WI when coming for the week.  All arrivals have varying levels of risk, safety and excitement.  If you have not flown much in the past 18 months it would be best to choose the safest, least exciting way to get to the show.

My personal experience with the FISK and the mass formation arrival is that I have always had another pilot in my right seat.  It is nice to have two sets of eyes looking for traffic, landmarks and the like.  Even having flown 120 hours since the pandemic, I don’t think I would fly single pilot landing at OSH this year.

Mass Arrivals: Do consider a formation clinic or individual instruction in your region in 2021.  Most clinics welcome all brands of aircraft.  The skills you will learn will serve you well and formation flying has a strangely addictive quality.  The fun, fellowship, and flying are hard to beat.  Plus, you might get a super cool call sign to memorialize your participation.

Bonanzas to Oshkosh Their website https://www.b2osh.org/Web/B2OSH/default.asp

Bonanza Mass Arrival OSH

Mooney Caravan : Vita nimis brevis est tarde volo  [Life is too short to fly slowly.]

Their website : https://www.mooneycaravan.com/Web/Mooney/default.asp

Mooney Caravan Yuma Gunfighters Clinic

“Friends don’t let friends fly the Fisk arrival”

… overheard in the North 40

Cessnas to Oshkosh Their website:  http://www.cessnas2oshkosh.com/1410home.aspx

Cessnas to Oshkosh en route

Cherokees to Oshkosh  Their website:  https://www.cherokees2osh.com/

In summary, do what I have done. Consider yourself, airplane and environment before launching. If you are headed to #OSH21 please do look for me there.  I will be at the AVEMCO booth on Tuesday July 27th from 11-12 for Women Moving the Needle. On Thursday July 29th at 1:00 p.m. I will present Into the Alligator’s Mouth: Psychology of Personal Minimums for AOPA and the AOPA Air Safety Institute.  Door prizes for this safety seminar have been provided by: Lightspeed Aviation, LIFT Aviation, King Schools, Flying Eyes Optics and Pilot Safety.org

 

 

Special airports

A recent conversation with a non-aviating friend of mine brought up a reminder about certain airports not being of the every day, run-of-the-mill variety. The question was whether or not my airline could just fly any plane into any airport with any pilot on any given day (assuming proper runway length, et cetera).The answer is no.

Every carrier and many corporate flight departments have certain airports that require specific training or operating procedures. At my former carrier, these were called Special Airports. Back in the day of printed approach charts, these airports came with color print charts with photographs, several pages of notes, and a slew of other information that described why they were special. Most of the time, the goal was simply to call attention to an airport that might pose certain challenges based on geography.

For example, KAVP (Scranton-Wilkes Barre) is built right next to a hill in a valley, and the localizer is offset for terrain avoidance. The winds can make this approach challenging. KAVL (Ashville) is another airport in a valley with significant surrounding terrain and some wicked winds and wind shear. KROA (Roanoke) is a bit of all of this, with short runways to boot.

At my current airline, on my current equipment, KAVL is considered special for a different reason: The runway is much narrower than the ones we normally use, so the potential for adverse yaw during an engine failure means that, under certain weight conditions, the rudder may not have enough authority to keep the plane on the runway should an engine quit. The solution is to make sure that the aircraft meets certain minimum weights prior to takeoff. The easy way to do this with a light passenger load is to add some fuel.

Almost every airline that flies into Vail, Colorado, has training procedures that require the first officer to fly in with a captain who has already been there, and the captain usually has to fly there for the first time under the supervision of a check airman. Further, if the captain has not been there in a certain window of time, he or she will again need to go under the supervision of a check airman. Some carriers have a few airports that require a captain to go in with a check airman every so many months no matter what.

Bogota, Colombia, is another airport that is problematic. The terrain is intimidating, and as a result weather deviations are limited. So are diversion options. Throw in the fact that a lot of arrivals come in after dark, and you have bad weather, high terrain, fatigue, and communication challenges all rolled up into one.

Back in the United States, another airport that fit the Special category, even for a turboprop, was Key West. It’s a short runway (4,800 feet), but plenty long for a turboprop. However, the challenge is the extremely close proximity of NAS Key West off the east end, which could lead to some interesting traffic conflicts. It’s also built with no spare room on either end of the runway if you have an overrun. Last, but not least, it can be both windy and wet. Frequent rains in the summer often leave puddles on the runway. Needless to say, flying a jet into Key West is a different level of challenge.

Special airports are not always so obvious. And they’re not always problematic. However, the require your attention and respect. Read up on the notes when you haven’t been there in a while. And remember, just because it doesn’t seem like a big deal to you doesn’t mean that it can’t become a very big deal very quickly if you’re not careful.—Chip Wright

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Decommissioning of NDB’s and Airspace changes in Alaska

FAA is proposing changes to the aviation infrastructure in Alaska.  Public notices have been issued for decommissioning of non-directional beacons (NDBs) and to modify the Class D and E airspace around the Kodiak Airport.  Please review these proposals and let the FAA and AOPA know if they impact the flying you do in these areas.

NDB Decommissioning
FAA is continuing to look at decommissioning Non-Directional Beacons (NDB) in Alaska, as we make the transition to a GPS based NAS.  Notices of proposed decommissioning of the NDB’s at Homer, Deadhorse, Moses Point, Point Lay and Soldotna were issued recently, inviting public comment on potential impacts of these changes. In most cases FAA cites the availability of other ground-based approaches or airways and plans for T-Routes that are being developed to replace the old colored airways, to mitigate the loss of these navigation aids.  Below are graphics of the NDB’s proposed for decommissioning.

 

Moses Point (Norton Bay–OAY)

 

Deadhorse (PUT River–PVQ)

Homer (Kachemak –ACE)

Soldotna (OLT)

Point Lay–(PIZ)

AOPA generally supports moving to the more modern space-based systems but recognizes that in some cases unique needs may justify keeping the older technology in place.  We also recognize that the resources required to support NDB’s inhibit FAA’s ability to invest in the newer infrastructure, including weather reporting and ADS-B ground stations.

Please take a moment to examine the proposed decommissioning locations (links below to the individual notices). If you are adversely impacted, file a public comment to explain the situation.  Comments are due by July 15, 2021 and may be sent to:

Group Manager, Operations Support Group
AVJ-W2
FAA Western Service Center
2200 South 216th Street
Des Moines, WA 98198

Or via email to: [email protected]. Please also share your comments with AOPA at: [email protected]

To read the public notices for these changes see:

FAA Public Notice for OAY NDB

FAA Public Notice for ACE NDB

FAA Public Notice for PVQ NDB

FAA Public Notice for the OLT NDB

FAA Public Notice for Point Lay NDB

Kodiak Class D/E Airspace:

Proposed changes to the Class D (dashed green line) and Class E (yellow line). Note that the proposed expanded Class E starts at 700 ft agl. 

In another public notice, the FAA has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to modify the Class D airspace at Kodiak Airport (PADQ), while at the same time removing the Class E surface area east of the airport. It also significantly expands the Class E airspace with a 700 foot floor, north and east of the airport.

The changes are designed to better manage IFR operations at the airport. We are particularly interested in whether they impact VFR operations in the area.  To examine the details of the proposal see:

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/06/04/2021-11668/proposed-amendment-of-class-d-and-class-e-airspace-and-removal-of-class-e-airspace-kodiak-ak

Comments on this proposal are due by July 17, 2021 and should be addressed to:

U.S. Department of Transportation, Docket Operations
1200 New Jersey Avenue SE
West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140
Washington, DC 20590

They may also be submitted via the internet: https://www.regulations.gov. Please share these comments with AOPA as well at: [email protected]

Action to Take
Please review these proposals and let FAA as well as AOPA know if these changes impact your flying activities for either IFR or VFR operations.

Hearing from our members who fly in these areas helps us advocate for you!

Emotional Distance

While we tend to measure distance literally in the space between two points, the concept of “emotional distance” is something that has come to the forefront since I began flying in foreign countries. The concept is rather simple: long flights tend to involve more work, skill, risk, and complexity. Accordingly, if we have not done something ambitious before or are younger pilots, then those flights seem riskier and potentially difficult. Add such things as major metropolitan airspace, large mountains, wilderness areas, and large bodies of water and one gets the idea. Our emotional response to the distance involved is proportional to the actual distance.

The first time the reality hit home for me that emotional distance does not always equate to actual distance was in the US while flying over Yellowstone. Something about an entirely forested, bear inhabited plateau with few good emergency options, elevation of over 8,000 feet, large lakes, sulfuric boiling ponds of liquid, strong winds on the north and east outlet points, and some distance to airports stacked up to make me tense before I would take a flight over the place. Other than that, many ambitious flights in the US were correlated to how long they took.

Europe is self-evidently more complicated from an airspace standpoint, though that is only the beginning. Terrain and climate zones change much faster in areas bordering the Mediterranean than the Continental US. Add in obvious national borders, lower airport density, a very complex airport network, and now one can understand why a flight of a similar distance feels infinitely more complicated, almost as though it is literally much farther away.

Those factors one can desensitize to over time, as I have partially done. There are still some flights, generally involving major mountain ranges, where it seems entire worlds change in a short period of time. While the element of national borders, climate zone changes, and airspace are real, there is something almost intangible about it. The first time I experienced it was flying from Pic Canigou, France to the Mediterranean coast. In the space of 20 minutes, I went from snow in the Pyrenees to palm trees adorning the beach. It is hard to grasp such a massive change so quickly.

Before coming to the Alps, I noted on the map how interesting things seemed down on the Italian side of the range. It is technically not that far, though one must go up and over the Alps, transitioning from Central European weather to mountains and then straight into the Mediterranean. While it can be done if the forecast is right, there was still something seemingly “distant” about it, to the point that, I had not done it. Many times, I had flown along the southern ridge of the Alps, given pause not by the glaciers I was above, but by looking down into Italy, trying to get my head around the complexity of going from one side of the range to another.

I decided to knock the item off my list, saving the aggravations of customs by flying from the northern side of Switzerland to the Italian-speaking section of the country. On the south side of the Alps, it is a section of the country that protrudes into Italy. Geographically and linguistically, it’s the same. Politically, maybe not so much.

The intended flight path was only 77 nautical miles direct, with a refueling point in Locarno, before returning a slightly different way. I planned to fly along Lake Maggiore in Italy and take a different pass coming back, so the actual flights would end up roughly 130 miles each, by no means very long. Then again, I grew up about the same distance from Lock Haven and we never did fly there. My grandfather bemoaned that it was “too far away” and “there is nowhere to land in those forests in Northern Pennsylvania.”

Climbing out from Gstaad Airport.

Over the pass between Lenk and Adelboden.

The Gasterntal, just before crossing Gemmipass to my right.

Brig and the Obergoms.

Simplon Pass.

The friendly little Rossbodegletscher.

Approaching Italy.

Italy, near Varzo. 

Toce River south of Domodossola. I went from cold with my winter coat to flaming hot. Flying at 2,500′ MSL.

About to leave the foothills of the Alps.

Lago Maggiore!

I have resigned myself to getting wet if the engine quits. Not like the shorelines of this body of water are inviting…..

Locarno Airport. Note that there are three runways. I was cleared to land runway 26 center. It has come to my attention that this is my first landing at an airport with more than one parallel runway.

Maggia river on climb out. My flight path was to follow the Maggia and hang a left at the Bavona River, then over the ridge toward Grimselpass.

Working my way up the valley.

Looking back from where I came.

Approaching the ridge and, uh-oh, some showers and small thunderstorms on the other side. Perhaps this “emotional distance” business is rather real.

Annual snowpack with the Ghiacchiaio del Basodino glacier at the top.

Obergoms again. My outbound path was right to left almost to the horizon. Note Ulrichen closed airport bottom left, and Munster Airport a little off center in the valley. That would be an alternate if need be.

Oberaargletscher. The holy trinity: thunderhead, glacier, and deep snow.

The Grimselpass, relatively low at 7,099′, was blocked by the towering clouds to the right. I had to climb to 12,500′ to sneak over the Bernese Alps ridge.

While it looks pretty awful, radar and other observations indicated it should be ok just on the other side.

Looking back. Note the glacier on the bottom right.

Well past the ridge, looking back. Grindelwald is hiding in the black on the right. 

Diverted around Interlaken due to a growing shower. Aiming for the sunny Swiss Plateau and take it from there.

After some lovely lightning bolts, the storm began to move to the south. Thunersee. Alternate airport just out of sight to the right, bathed in sun.

Approaching the circuit. While some 10,000 foot peaks are clouded in to the left, Saanetschpass in the center was open apparently. Clearly there is some reality behind the complexity of crossing the Alps and landing. Total flying time: 4.5 hours. Arrive-at-the-hangar to leave-the-hangar time of 7 hours.

How long does it take?

Pilots who are new to a company and an airplane can at times feel like they will never “get it.”

The first shot out of the firehose is information. Lots and lots of information, about everything from the company to the managers to how to get a mistake on your ID badge fixed. Then there is airplane training, which is information on steroids. There are memory item checklists and limitations to memorize, some of which feel silly or seem to have no reason (and often don’t).

Next is the simulator, where everything goes from being an abstract, academic concern to a practical one, as you try to tie up all the pieces you’ve been given so far. Callouts, flows, crew resource management…it’s a lot to master, and there never seems to be enough time to do so. Worse still, you don’t realize how narrow the scope of flying is in the sim until it’s over. Most of the time is spent flying approaches and learning how to use the flight management system (FMS), while also figuring out how to keep the blue side up during an engine failure. In fact, in sim training, you actually get very little time experiencing what the airplane flies like when everything is working. You also get almost no exposure to the cruise portion of your flight.

Simulators are great for a lot of things, but they are terrible for mastering the art of a visual approach, because the graphics, as good as they are, still lack a certain amount of depth perception. The sims also usually do a poor job of replicating terrain-induced winds and turbulence on an approach. At some point you will begin to feel a little bit cocky about how you’re doing, because you will have mastered (or come close to) this narrow field of flying in a very controlled environment.

It’s only after you get on the line and have to really and truly put it all together in an airplane with passengers and other distractions that you finally have to master the art of not crashing and flying with some degree of grace. Generally speaking, it takes around 100 hours in an airplane to get your first new level of comfort, and it takes around 500 to begin to feel less apprehension in challenging weather conditions. With larger airplanes that fly longer legs and do fewer takeoffs and landings, it may take more. Getting the hang of hand-flying and performing smooth visual approaches is a sign of comfort, and a big boost to your confidence. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen with practice and repetition. You’ll also learn from your mistakes, of which there will be many at first.

But there comes a time where sitting in your seat feels like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes. And that’s a great day when it comes.—Chip Wright

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