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After an accident or incident

An accident or incident is never a pleasant thing to think about, be it in a car, a boat, or an airplane. But it could happen, and you need to be prepared.

I’m addressing this from the point of view of a professional pilot instead of the private pilot because a professional pilot will likely draw more scrutiny, but will also have more resources available. That said, a nonprofessional pilot, especially one with any substantial assets to potentially lose, should buy into the AOPA Pilot Protection Services or something similar.

Once you join the ranks of the professionals, you’ll likely join a pilot union. The biggest is ALPA, but the Teamsters also have a significant presence in the industry, and a few large companies have in-house unions that offer the same services (the two largest are those representing the pilots at Southwest and UPS). Early in your career at an airline, the union will introduce itself and discuss its role, purpose, and some of its products and policies. One of the first things that will come up is dealing with the aftermath of an accident or an incident. It should be noted that most airlines have a list of potential events that go beyond those listed in various FARs that qualify as a major event.

One of the first things that you’ll hear is that you should immediately call the 1-800 hotline for the union as soon as possible, and you should not talk to anyone else until you do. That includes the FAA, the media, the police, and even the company.

Communications with the company should be limited to making sure the immediate needs of your crew and passengers are met (hotels, hospital needs, food, et cetera), but any discussion of the events that led up to the phone call should be avoided. The company will understand this, and will (often, but not always) offer to help get the ball rolling with respect to putting you in touch with union reps. There have been far too many events in which the crew made things worse for themselves (and sometimes the company) by talking to the wrong people too soon after a traumatic event.

The unions in the airlines often work together, and they share some resources. They also share some tools. All have people on staff as well as volunteers at each airline who are specially trained to help a pilot or a flight attendant deal with the aftermath of an event. These people will isolate the crew and help them begin to process and discuss what happened.

One thing that you can do to help yourself—before you talk to anyone at all—is to take the time (if possible) and write down everything as you remember it. Date the document for future reference, and add to it as you remember more. Similarly, you can use your phone to make a recording or a video in which you discuss what you remember. Don’t do this within earshot of another crew member, so that you don’t taint each other’s recollections. Once you get in touch with the union reps, let them read or listen to your comments before you do anything else.

An investigation will ensue, so honesty is your best policy. Don’t try to change the narrative, and don’t avoid an uncomfortable truth. But by the same token, don’t hesitate to use the resources that your union or association dues are paying for.—Chip Wright

Stormy Atlantic Flying

It was basing at the third new country that led to finally figuring it out: it takes a while to get comfortable flying in a new place. While cross country flying does involve new places and long distances, I find the flight planning process to be manicured, where a suitable day is waited for, weather thoroughly researched, and alternate scenarios planned on paper. Fuel consumption is calculated, among other factors, and it then becomes a matter of executing a single plan, which usually involves simply arriving somewhere in a straight line. When I undertake a cross country flight for the purposes of transportation, I find it easier than declaration of photography war on a region.

I thought this paradigm through, and it applied back to my student pilot days. Taking lessons out of my grandfather’s grass strip was a giant leap from riding in the back of his Super Cub. Upgrading those lessons to Perry-Warsaw Airport in New York was yet another giant leap, as was each step of the student training process. Years later, the airplane would move to North Carolina, a cross country flight of great significance, yet I fell into a comfort zone, taking quite some time before I would attempt coastal or mountain flying in the Carolinas, and this was before I was picking up a camera. A few years later, I crossed the country more than once, and didn’t notice that I still had to adjust to a local area, as I was buried in figuring out high mountain flying. Even crossing the country for the third time, out to Wyoming, featured a two-month period where I preferred local flights until I could get comfortable with weather, this after crossing three quarters of the country in late winter. Only after some time in Wyoming did I bite off adventures of progressively increasing magnitude.

I thought that I would eventually perfect the process of arriving in a new place, leveraging increasing hours and years of experience, along with exposure to more countries, weather, and other variables. It seems to be, after a month in Portugal, that I have not perfected this process. It is a learning experience each time I base in a new area, and upon deep reflection, it has always been a complex experience each time I have done it.

Portugal’s weather shares a lot in common with the California coast: moderated temperatures, a summer dry season, and a winter rainy season. It just so happens to be that March can be the peak of storminess, and this year, it has decided to be so windy that Portugal has been able to power their entire grid from renewable energy for the entire month, the first time that has ever happened. It has rained almost every day, with strong coastal winds, massive waves, and locals that keep advising it is not normal.

Despite that reality, I managed to squeeze in eleven flights in March. Sometimes sandwiched by rain on both sides, a clear window would materialize, and off I’d go, fighting a 1,350’ sloped runway covered in wet grass and sand, and unfavorable—and so I am told incredibly unusual—crosswinds. The tiny little field is a few miles from the Atlantic, which means strong and consistent onshore winds with often orographic clouds a few miles inland. Overhead the entire coastal region is a military control zone at 1,000’ and restricted areas 25 miles north and south which are designated Class D. For flight following, hand off to the military, and clearance through any of these zones, a flight plan must be ground or air filed, which makes things a little complex. Escape routes inland to the east can be executed without involving ATC. Much like Spain and France, once flight following is initiated, it is rather difficult to get rid of it, though I have not yet encountered any user fees for involvement with ATC.

I have found some very pleasant coastal photography, with a wild Atlantic, beautiful ocean colors, spring green vegetation, and compelling sky textures. Waves and human activity provide an almost nonstop amount of activity to enjoy and view along the coast. Coastal terrain varies from being somewhat flat to hills hundreds of feet tall, making for some interesting winds, and very complex attention required, as a forced landing would best be done on top of one of those hills instead of on a rocky beach or in cold water. Couple that with restrictions of 1,000’ altitude, and it can feel a bit crazy flying slightly offshore in places.

After a month of the aerial attack, my wife made an unsolicited and poignant observation: “You were happier flying in Wyoming.” There is something to be said about keeping flying simple, and therefore pure. As the years have ticked by since our airpark time, I feel an evolution of motivation, where things have switched from a lifestyle of aviation to a conquest of beauty. I recall in Wyoming challenging myself to how many places I could go in a Cub, and how frequently I could fly as part of an aviation-centered lifestyle. Here in Europe, I have been subsumed by the crazed need to see and photograph as much European culture and beauty as I can find, driven by the idea that it’s a one-shot deal. I don’t think the prospect is overtly irrational, as few would proclaim Europe as a good place to build a life around an airplane, and few would find a good reason not to hop in the plane and go see a castle from centuries ago if given the chance. It does create an interesting dynamic where I wouldn’t mind American aviation simplicity coupled with European beauty, though I think that debate is something that goes larger than aviation. In the interim, I have some interesting things planned, and will keep up the conquest of the Atlantic Coast, avoiding Portuguese F-16s, profuse carb ice, and keeping the Cub rinsed of salt accumulation.

During the storm…Peniche, Portugal.




Cape north of Figueira da Foz.


Sea spray, north of Lagoa de Óbidos.


Enormous wave, Nazaré.


Wave crashing, Nazaré.

Water draining after the wave crashed.

North of Cabo da Roca. One can see why I would prefer a forced landing above the cliff vs below.

There goes the idea of “if the engine quits, I’ll land on the beach.” South of Cabo da Roca.

As I was saying, a castle. Sintra.


Cabo da Roca, from inland.



Baleal.

Atlantic colors, with roughly 6 foot waves, north of Baleal.

Radius of range

Whether flying helicopters or airplanes, sometimes it may be necessary to modify a flight plan enroute to incorporate an alternate route, altitude or destination. If plan A isn’t working, relax, there are plenty more letters in the alphabet.

Diligent planning prior to takeoff helps ensure that altering a plan in flight won’t be cause for concern. Whatever change is considered, it must be within the capabilities of the aircraft with regards to the amount of safe fuel onboard. The range of the aircraft, considering the amount of safe fuel and current environmental conditions, is called the radius of range (ROR). The ROR is never static, but constantly changing throughout flight.

Many of us fly aircraft over desolate areas of the West and Alaska, or offshore to oilrigs where refueling locations and helidecks are few and far between. Though helicopters have some advantages over airplanes, range and fuel endurance isn’t usually one of them. Beating the air into submission takes a lot of fuel, with a relatively high fuel consumption to weight ratio as compared to airplanes. On the other hand, while airplanes tend to have more range than helicopters, they are more restricted on where they can land. Both aircraft have their advantages, and all pilots need to continually assess available options which may be affected during flight due to changing weather and wind conditions, aircraft performance and condition, and the amount of safe fuel remaining. Safe fuel is the amount of fuel not including a reserve; the reserve being the greater of what is required by FAA regulation or what the pilot considers necessary.

Many pilots regard fuel planning as a linear calculation, where only the departure and destination points are considered. The formula for point of no return (PNR) is such a calculation that does not consider options off the route of flight. The PNR is a specific point along the route where should the aircraft fly beyond, it will lack sufficient fuel to turn back and safely land at the departure location with a reserve remaining. Below is the formula for PNR in minutes and conversion to PNR in miles.

Safe fuel (minutes) x GS2, divided by GS2 + GS1  = PNR (minutes)

PNR (minutes) x GS1, divided by 60 = PNR (miles)

  1. GS2 is the ground speed opposite of the course to be flown.
  2. GS1 is the ground speed on the course to be flown.

Using the two formulas one can determine the PNR for a flight in terms of the number of minutes flown and the number of miles flown. Subtract the PNR miles from the total route miles to determine the amount of miles remaining to the destination, which may be more useful when viewing a GPS or FMS. While PNR for a flight is a useful calculation, it is a linear 1-dimensional calculation and we can do much better adding more dimensions to our planning.

Most of the time a flight will have more options available than simply the departure and destination locations, and so we find the old PNR formula and that way of thinking to be insufficient. Let’s add another dimension and consider not just the route of flight, but also the possibility of changing course anytime should changing conditions dictate using the ROR concept.

I recently flew a helicopter from Anchorage to the Leonardo Helicopters factory in Philadelphia, which was more than 3200 nautical miles with 14 fuel stops. ROR flight planning was a critical aspect, especially during the first few days through Alaska and western Canada. However, it would increase the margin of safety for any cross-country flight, regardless of where one is flying.

The ROR is the distance the aircraft is capable of flying at any given point, and is represented by a large circle around the current aircraft position. The radius of that circle is dictated by the amount of safe fuel on board, cruise speed, and winds aloft. Let’s use a heavily loaded AW139 flying at 150 knots only carrying 1.3 hours of safe fuel as an example. In calm winds, the ROR at takeoff would be 195 miles, which is the maximum distance it could fly and still land with a reserve remaining.  During flight as fuel is consumed the ROR will naturally decrease.

chart 1

On this chart, the yellow circle depicts the ROR departing from Burns, Oregon. At this point, the aircraft is just starting to consume fuel and the ROR is at its largest. We can see at takeoff the destination is just within the ROR, indicating a planned landing with just the fuel reserve remaining. As the flight progresses and fuel is consumed the ROR decreases, and there becomes a point a little over halfway where returning to the departure point is no longer an option, corresponding to the PNR. The orange circle is the ROR at 93 nautical miles, the halfway point of the flight. As we near the destination the ROR continues to decrease to the point where many fewer options are available and at a certain point the only course of action is to land at the destination. The red circle is the ROR at 140 nautical miles. There are just four other airports within the ROR at 140 nautical miles and in another 20 nautical miles there won’t be any, other than the destination itself.

In the chart below we have essentially the same ROR chart, but with a 20-knot wind out of the west. As one can see, all the ROR circles offset downwind. This graphically shows that with a strong wind condition one is usually better off turning downwind for an alternate option, as there is more area within the ROR downwind than there is upwind.

chart 2

Let’s add the third dimension to consider: altitude. Note that everything within the ROR may not necessarily be a viable option. It is possible that parts of the area within the ROR are further constrained by high terrain and weather. Maybe a ceiling prevents a climb in VFR to a necessary altitude in order to safely clear a mountain ridge east of course. Or maybe its getting near the end of the day when daylight will be waning and crossing a mountainous area in VFR flight without much illumination isn’t safe. We obviously don’t live in a flat world and must consider altitude.

The last dimension is time, and is considered throughout the flight. A prudent pilot will assess if weather currently reported is better or worse than forecast, and try to get an idea of what the trend is up ahead and near the destination. On this particular flight a pilot would make early and careful assessments as to winds aloft, changing current weather conditions, and amended forecasts along the route of flight and areas inside the ROR. Should one encounter a worse than planned condition, such as a stronger headwind or worse than forecast weather enroute, making a decision to alter the planned flight in the early stages is better than in the later stages. In the early stages more options are available and one can carefully choose the best, whereas in the later stages of the flight options will have dwindled along with fuel. With deteriorating conditions this flight could evolve into a situation supporting the old adage; a superior pilot uses superior judgment to avoid the necessity of using superior skill. As we know, superior judgment for a pilot is using all available information to determine what risk may present in the future, and then determine a course of action to avoid or mitigate that risk.

chart 3

The final chart is an example how a pilot might incorporate terrain issues, forecast weather and NOTAMs into the ROR chart. One can add notes along with the depicted ROR circles. Maybe weather forecast to the west towards Pendleton and Walla Walla indicates marginal VFR conditions. One may consider taking those areas out of the ROR, especially coming from higher terrain where it may not be possible to safely get under a cloud layer. To the east is higher terrain, which may block access in that direction; it is also the windward side of a mountain area, which tends to collect a lot of cloud cover. Also noted is a NOTAM for an airport along the route of flight for fuel out of service, though it could still be used for a safe landing as one of the last options. Airports circled in green highlighter represent good enroute options should a diversion with landing become prudent, such as when facing deteriorating weather or an aircraft problem of some kind.

Of course if things really get bad, let’s call it plan Z, we can usually find a place to just land. Helicopters definitely have an advantage over airplanes for landing off-airport, though I’ve seen some amazing bush pilots in Alaska. Plan Z is certainly better than running out of fuel or flying into dangerous weather, and sometimes, JUST LAND is the best option. During my power line patrol days in the 1980s, I knew many of the farmers along the route from visits during the summer. These farms made for some good alternates during the winter, when I would occasionally land for a welcomed cup of coffee to wait out the odd snowstorm.

The ROR certainly doesn’t provide everything a pilot needs to think about but it does help with a graphic visualization of areas available throughout the flight. Next cross-country flight, get a sectional chart out and make some ROR circles using a highlighter along the route of flight. Use any color and at any increments you desire. Remember to offset the ROR circles downwind, in relation to wind speed and time of flight. For example, a 40-knot wind would have an offset of 40 nautical miles for an hour flight, 60 nautical miles offset for a 1.5-hour flight, and an 80 nautical mile offset for a 2-hour flight.

Once in flight, there isn’t much a pilot can do to alter the aircraft ROR.  Consider how slowing down to a maximum range cruise speed will increase the ROR.  Hopefully, your Rotorcraft Flight Manual will have fuel consumption charts, if not you will have to rely on past experience for fuel consumption rates.

Maybe someday flight planning and moving map apps, such as Foreflight will provide an enhanced ROR map overlay option, but for now a couple of colored pens and a trusty sectional chart will suffice.

Put your phone away

A different post than my usual. This one just has some odds and ends—some to help with life on the road, others as job aids.

Don’t do a walk-around while on your phone. It doesn’t look good, and passengers notice. So might your boss if he or she is in the terminal. Passengers will take a picture of you and send it to your boss. It’s OK to use your phone to take a picture of a potential maintenance issue to show the captain or send to the main maintenance folks. In a pinch, you can use the flashlight feature on your phone if it isn’t too dark. But don’t do your job while talking on your phone. It’s a sure-fire way to a chief pilot carpet dance.

Know the difference between transition level and transition altitude. Use the “V” and the “A” to help. “V” points down, so transition le”V”el is the point during a descent when you switch from standard altimeter settings to the local altimeter setting. “A” points up, so transition “A”ltitude is the point at which you go from local to standard settings. In the United States, the transition altitude and level are the same (18,000 feet). But in Mexico, the transition level is 19,500 feet, and the altitude is 18,500. Aruba has an even greater discrepancy: The level is 4,000 and the altitude is 2,500. The data is printed in small print on the approach charts and SID and STAR charts.

Keep pictures of your important documents, such as your passport, company identification, et cetera. Losing one of these can create monumental headaches, and photos can help smooth some feathers. Store the pictures on the cloud or on your phone (if you feel comfortable doing so). If you do a lot of international flying, including Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, memorize your passport number. If you use a company iPad or similar device, take a picture of your ID on a white background that also has your phone number. Make that picture the first thing someone will see when they hit the home button. That way, if your device is lost and someone finds it, they can find you ASAP. You could also include an email address or other information you feel comfortable disclosing.

A few hotel tips

  • Use multiple alarms. Don’t count on wake-up calls, as they frequently don’t get entered into the computer. Worse, they sometimes get entered for the wrong room. If you’re going to use the alarm clock in your room, pay attention to AM/PM and DST settings, along with the volume.
  • If you need to go to bed when it’s light out, or want to sleep in after the sun comes up, use the pant-clip hangers to clip the curtains together to keep the light out, and make sure the previous guest doesn’t have the alarm set for 3 a.m. when you aren’t planning to get up until 10 (ask me how I know this).
  • Always carry a 10-foot phone charger. Some hotels still don’t have convenient outlets near the bed.
  • If you want to put food in the fridge to keep it fresh, put one of your work shoes in the fridge with it, so you don’t forget the food the next day.
  • Text yourself your room number when you leave your room so you remember where your room is (don’t take the key envelope; if you lose it, you’ve given someone access to your room).—Chip Wright

Watch for TFR near Gulkana for spring HAARP Campaign

Heads up for pilots flying in the Copper River Basin—the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) is conducting a research campaign this month.  HAARP is operated by the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, to support auroral and upper-atmospheric research. The FAA will again establish a TFR over the facility, 16 nautical miles north east of the Gulkana Airport (GKN), along the Tok Cutoff, when the facility is running.  The campaign starts with a test day on April 3rd, with the bulk of the campaign taking place from April 6-14.  Check for NOTAMs with specific times the TFR will be in effect.

This campaign  supports a number of research projects.  Operating times fluctuate due to the constantly changing nature of the ionosphere.  While they won’t be operating outside the times listed in the NOTAM, there may be gaps within those time windows.  As part of being a good neighbor, the HAARP Project is providing a local phone number (907-822-5497) pilots may use for more detailed information, and a new VHF radio frequency, 123.3 MHz, to call airborne when flying in the vicinity of the facility.  For more background on this program see this previous post.  AOPA has requested that the HAARP facility be charted, to increase situational awareness of the facility.

Alaska Aircraft Owners: Think Spring and the GA Survey

As we start to see the end, hopefully, of another long winter in Alaska, one of the signs of spring is the emergence of the GA and Part 135 Activity Survey.  This survey is conducted by an independent research firm, Tetra Tech, and gives AOPA and other aviation organizations one of the few ways we have to quantify the activities of our segment of the aviation industry. Airlines and some categories of air taxi operators provide routine statistics directly to the FAA quantifying their operations and passengers hauled.  No comparable measures exist for the wide range of general aviation activities.  Consequently, the data collected by Tetra Tech is a very valuable resource, when it comes to advocating for our needs.

Advocating for better weather reporting is one of AOPA’s efforts in Alaska.

Alaska IS different
While we are often heard saying “Alaska is different,” we need your help to prove it.  We know Alaskan pilots use airplanes in place of pick-up trucks, as there are no roads to 82% of the communities in the state.  We know about our very sparse network of weather reporting stations, in contrast to the rest of the country.  But when it comes to making the case to improve this and other infrastructure, it is essential to be able to quantify how much flying we do.  And what kind of flying it is—business, pleasure, aerial observations, etc.

The folks at Tetra Tech also know Alaska is different, and to help us out they do a 100% sample of Alaskan aircraft owners.  So I am pretty sure you will have a postcard, email, or some kind of invitation to participate in the survey.  To take the survey, follow the instructions on the Survey invitation when you receive it.  You need your log book, the total time on your aircraft and how much fuel you burn/hour.  The few minutes it takes to complete the survey will help AOPA and other aviation industry groups to advocate on your behalf.  The survey results are confidential, with only summary statistics made available to the FAA.  For more information, see AOPA’s article, and if you have questions, call Tetra Tech at 1-800-826-1797. Or write to [email protected]  To take the survey online, go to: www.aviationsurvey.org.

If you have already completed the survey, Thank You!

Mag Check

Mag SwitchIf you fly a piston-powered aircraft, you undoubtedly were taught to perform a “mag check” during the pre-takeoff runup. But do you know how to do it correctly, what to look for, and how to interpret the results? Surprisingly, many pilots don’t.

To begin with, most POHs instruct you to note the RPM drop when you switch from both mags to just one, and give some maximum acceptable drop. In my view, this archaic procedure makes little sense for aircraft that are equipped with a digital engine monitor (as most are these days).

EGT rise is a far better indicator of proper ignition performance than RPM drop. Watching EGT on the engine monitor during the pre-flight mag check tells you exactly which spark plug and cylinder is having a problem. So my advice is to focus primarily on the engine monitor, not the tachometer, when performing the mag check.

What to look for

JPI EDM 830What you should be looking for is all EGT bars rising and none falling when you switch from both mags to one mag. The EGT rise will typically be 50 to 100 degrees F, but the exact amount of rise is not critical. It’s perfectly normal for the rise to be a bit different for odd- and even-numbered cylinders.

You should also be looking for smooth engine operation and stable EGT values when operating on each magneto individually. A falling or erratic EGT bar or rough engine constitutes a “bad mag check” and warrants further troubleshooting of the ignition system before flying.

Bad mag or bad plug?

MagnetoThe “mag check” is poorly named, because because the vast majority of “bad mag checks” are caused by spark plug problems, not magneto problems. We really should be calling it an “ignition system check” but the “mag check” terminology is deeply entrenched in pilot lingo, so I’m not going to try to fight that battle.

How can you tell if the culprit is the plugs or the mags? Simple: A faulty spark plug affects only one cylinder (and one EGT bar on your engine monitor), while a faulty magneto affects all cylinders (and all EGT bars).

If you get an excessive RPM drop when you switch to one mag, but the EGTs all rise and the engine runs smooth, chances are that it’s not a bad mag but rather retarded ignition timing. This is often caused by mechanic error in timing the mags during maintenance, although it is possible for ignition timing to drift out of spec due to cam follower wear or some other internal magneto issue. Retarded ignition timing also results in higher-than-usual EGT indications.

Conversely, advanced ignition timing results in lower-than-usual EGT indications, and also higher-than-usual CHT indications. Advanced timing is a much more serious condition because it can lead to detonation, pre-ignition, and serious engine damage. If you observe low EGTs and high CHTs after an aircraft comes out of maintenance, do not fly until you’ve had the ignition timing re-checked. Advanced timing is easily detected with an engine monitor, but you won’t be able to detect it if you’re just looking for RPM drop.

Do it aloft!

MooneyThe usual pre-flight mag check is a relatively non-demanding test, and will only detect gross defects in the ignition system. To make sure your engine’s ignition is in tip-top shape, I strongly recommend performing an in-flight mag check every few flights.

The in-flight mag check is performed at normal cruise power and normal lean mixture (preferably LOP). Run the engine on each individual mag for at least 15 or 20 seconds. Ensure that all EGTs rise, that they are stable, and that the engine runs smoothly on each mag individually. If you see a falling or unstable EGT, write down which cylinder and which mag, otherwise you’ll probably forget which plug is the culprit by the time you land.

Because a lean mixture is much harder to ignite than a rich one, an in-flight LOP mag check is the most demanding and discriminating way to test your ignition system, and will expose subtle flaws and marginal ignition performance that are undetectable during the usual on-the-ground pre-flight mag check. It’s by far the best way to detect ignition system problems early, before they reach the point of delaying your departure or soiling your underwear.

We are born to be happy Follow your smiles

I just finished a wonderful weekend in Portland and the Columbia River Gorge. While driving on a back road to PDX I saw a billboard that said, “We are born to be happy. Follow your smiles.” I didn’t think much of it at first, and then I thought about the concept more deeply. Admittedly I am a notorious photo and selfie taker. If I were to follow the smiles on my camera roll, it would lead me to my family, both biological and aviation.

I am blessed to have a professional career divided in two, half being a licensed psychotherapist and the other half working in aviation education, presenting and writing. I am keenly aware that many of us have to fund our passion for flying through hard work at non-aviation vocations. But if we follow the smiles, I bet that yours would be of Oshkosh, attending a fly-in at your local airport, or flying a four-legged to its forever home. Check out some of the smiles from some of my fellow aviation lovers below, and try not to smile yourself.


Jen Toplak,  instrument rated private pilot, business owner

Toplak [R] and GoldCoast 99s

Our event sought to increase aviation career awareness and the role female aviators can play.  As the past Chapter Chairman of the Florida Goldcoast 99s (International Organization of Women Pilots) and owner of Dare to Fly Apparel, I gathered 30 volunteers pilots, including 99s members and friends of the 99s, on the 18th of February to paint a 60 foot in diameter compass rose at X51, Homestead Executive Airport, Florida.

Compass Rose Finished

Homestead Executive Jet Center donated most of the painting materials and lunch for the volunteers. We are appreciative of the collaboration and help provided by the airport authorities. We are proud of how successful this event was and we are very happy we made a lasting impression on the field, we hope to inspire many more people to learn to fly, especially women. The day was full of smiles.

Mara’D Smith, Charter pilot, volunteer pilot at Collings Foundation

This might be one of my favorite moments so far with Collings Foundation as a volunteer pilot on the B24 Liberator. Normally it is me asking to take pictures with the crew members. But when this veteran found out I was a pilot, and I was the one that helped fly him to Oxford, he absolutely insisted on taking a photo with me. He had multiple members of his family taking the photos to make sure he got one! So wonderful, and it made me smile from ear to ear.

Mike Jesch, Airline Captain, Vice-President, Fullerton Airport Pilots Association , FAAST Team Presenter

FAPA Officers Mike Jesch, Jim Gandee, and presenter Ramona Cox

I get a smile out of participating in my local pilot association, Fullerton Airport Pilots Association. I was one of the original “steering committee” that began some seven years ago, and worked to restart our then-dormant group. In the end, I’ve served as the Vice President of the group ever since. My favorite part of the job is the connections to people in the industry. One of my “chores” is to schedule speakers for our monthly safety seminars. In this capacity, I’ve had the extreme pleasure of meeting and working with a Who’s Who of the industry in my area. That has developed into opportunities to speak myself at other local airports, and I’ve enjoyed putting together and delivering dozens of seminars in the area ever since. The biggest downside is that a ton of people know who I am, but I don’t know so many of them! I always get a giggle when somebody says “Hi Mike!” who attended a seminar a year ago!

Jim Koepnick, award-winning aviation photographer

I love hanging around the Vintage area at EAA/Oshkosh, it makes me smile. I had the pleasure to run into Don Voland and his lovely wife Jeanette. Don was my helicopter pilot for countless years. He laughed as he recalled the first year we accomplished the fish-eye aerial of convention grounds (in the old film days) with a combination of altitude and a silly young photographer hanging out of the helicopter hanging on to the seat belt.

Greg Bedinger, Former Pilot Outreach Manager, current LightHawk volunteer pilot

Greg Bedinger [L] and volunteers

On flights designed and coordinated by the conservation-aviation group LightHawk I have  spent many hours volunteering my time and skills to help conservationists, photographers, and policy-makers to see from the air the multitude of impacts on watershed health, from high up in the Cascade and Olympic mountains all the way down to the shorelines of the Salish Sea.

LightHawk Crew Chief,  Luke Irwin

I’ve been privileged in recent years to fly across many western landscapes on similar LightHawk flights, from the Colorado River delta in Mexico to the oilfields in West Texas. Many of my flights have been focused on gathering imagery to be used by the partner conservation groups in support of their work. The flights are always personally rewarding as they offer my passengers a chance to gain a more thorough and expansive understanding of an issue or landscape. The smiles both during the flights, and after, let me know that the time spent has been more than worthwhile.


For much of the country, spring flying is just around the corner. Perhaps spend a few minutes thinking where your aviation smiles are hiding. And, if by chance, you find yourself at Sun n Fun in Lakeland, FL., come to one of my AOPA presentations Exiting the Hold: Reaching your Aviation Goals or the Mooney booth and say hello. Smiles guaranteed.

Seminars offered at Sun n Fun 2018

The quick reference handbook

If you’re getting ready for your first job in a turboprop or a jet, you’re about to get introduced to the quick reference handbook (QRH). The QRH has all of the abnormal and emergency checklists in it, based on the equipment and furnishings on the airplane. At the very least, the manufacturer-designated checklists will be included, but often the company or operator will include its own procedures. This book is kept on the flight deck.

QRHs are usually written in some kind of an outline or flow-chart like format, with the intention of minimizing confusion for the pilots. However, lawyers are also involved, as are government representatives, and confusion still finds a way to rear its ugly head. Sometimes the confusion is difficult to avoid because the checklist has to work its way through several potential scenarios to troubleshoot and isolate a problem. Electrical and smoke issues are good examples. Some engine problems can be as well.

Adding to the problem are stress and compressed time. It’s very easy to write a checklist sitting at a desk or in a procedures trainer. It’s something different to determine how things will play out when the actual emergency is underway with a crew or a pilot that may be (pick a few) inexperienced; tired; scared; asleep; undisciplined; poorly trained; or sick. I’ve never seen a QRH that is perfect, and I doubt I ever will. In fact, just turning the page can be an issue. Some QRHs have different options based on what is occurring, and when a page is turned, it’s possible to lose track of which flow of information you’re using.

More and more crews are using electronic flight bags, but there are plenty of paper QRHs still on the flight decks. Paper doesn’t break or require electricity to use, and some books are just too hard to manipulate or use on a tablet, since you can’t mark several places with your finger.

The key to QRH use is to understand the layout of the book, and to use it exactly as intended. Don’t go beyond the scope of the particular problem you’re trying to solve. Too often, you’ll just make the situation worse. When the QRH says to “confirm” something, that almost always means asking the other pilot to verify that you have the correct switch or engine. More than once, I’ve seen a pilot shut down the wrong engine in a sim because he rushed and didn’t give me a chance to verify the correct engine was about to be secured.

Sometimes, the manufacturer will put a checklist in one chapter of the QRH when logic would dictate that it should be in another. For example, some engine issues are addressed in the chapter that deals with fires. Occasionally, a message that indicates as an abnormal is addressed as an emergency in the QRH. For the most part, all you can do is roll with it.

Changing a QRH is daunting, but not impossible. The aforementioned lawyers and bureaucrats want their say, but when real-world experience dictates, QRHs get changed. And that’s another challenge: It’s important to be at least tangentially aware of those changes.

The QRH is a great tool, and in the airline world, you’ll be more familiar with it than you want to be. But, it only helps you when you use it correctly, slowly, and as intended.—Chip Wright

History of the Aviation Infrastructure in Alaska

Most Alaskan’s know that the first powered aircraft flight in Alaska took place in 1913, as a demonstration at that year’s Fourth of July celebration in Fairbanks.  And that commercial aviation started a decade later when pioneer aviator Ben Eielson talked several Fairbanks businessmen into buying a Curtis JN-4D “Jenny.”  Eielson proceeded to fly from the local ball field, sometimes cutting weeks off the travel time to remote mining claims. But when did we start to develop the airfields, communication and weather stations to support this new mode of transportation?  Who did the work? I recently spent a few hours at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in the Rasumson Library looking for answers to these and other questions.

From air fields to airport system
As “the aviation” first started to develop, airplanes literally operated from fields.  A ball-field in Fairbanks.  Hay fields in other places.  Since Alaska did not achieve statehood until 1960, the initial efforts at dealing with aviation as a system fell to Alaska Territorial government.  Aviation is included in the 1929 Annual Report of the Governor of Alaska to the Secretary of the Interior, mentioning that “At the present time there are 44 landing fields in the Territory and three transportation companies operating a total of eight commercial airplanes.” At the time individual communities raised funds to develop an airfield, expecting to receive matching funds from Alaska’s Territorial government.  In Valdez, the city not only raised money, they put sweat equity into the project by clearing the land, even before there was an aircraft to base there!

A series of reports of the Alaska Aeronautics & Communications Commission helped document aspects of this history.  In 1929, the Territorial Legislature appropriated funds administered by the Highway Engineer to “…purchase, install and maintain radio-telephone station equipment for the larger towns.”  The report went on to say, “In a short time the problem of communications became too complicated for the Highway Engineer, and subsequently in 1937 the Legislature established the Territorial Department known as the Alaska Aeronautics and Communication Commission.”

Definition of the Alaska Aeronautics and Communications Commission, established in 1937. Source: Report of the Alaska Aeronautics and Communications Commission, 1941-42.

1937 Alaska Aeronautics and Communication Commission
The Commission, comprised of the Territorial Governor and one commission member from each of Alaska’s four judicial districts, initially oversaw the installation of weather stations, and collected statistics on aviation activity, which were detailed in a series of annual reports.  A supervisor was hired to coordinate this activity. The commission’s initial role was “supervision and promotion of aeronautical and communications within the Territory…” even then, not to duplicate or conflict with federal regulations.

The first report covering 1937-38, filed by Supervisor G.E. Goudie, describes coordinating with both the federal CAA and the FCC.  In that period, the commission managed to stand-up weather stations in Juneau, Fairbanks and Anchorage. Observers at these locations recorded weather reports, issued eight hourly weather broadcasts daily and wired reports to the Weather Bureau.  Work was underway for a station in Ketchikan.  In addition, “radio ranges” for navigation were in planning stages for these locations.

Territorial operation of these stations was to be a temporary measure, until the CAA could obtain funds to take over the “Alaska Program.” Alaska was already behind the rest of the country in the development of infrastructure.  In addition to weather and aviation communications, the use of this communication network included emergency messages, often involving need for medical assistance or transport.  These were credited with saving numerous lives across the territory.

New aviation regulations for Alaska
As the United States geared up for war, the military temporarily took over operation of some of the territorial radio stations, and aviation operations in general. Even at that time, people were looking ahead to the need to expand, as manufactures announced planned production of aircraft to support “private flying.” From the 1942 report, “Numerous manufactures have recently announced planes, suitable for use by the average citizen and within the reach of his finances, to be manufactured after the war.” In anticipation of that surge of air travel, the commission worked on safety rules, “…requiring certain safety provisions be carried out thereby reducing the possibility of increased costs to the territory in the conducting of searches…” This generated a territorial requirement for Alaskan aircraft to carry emergency rations, in a regulation adopted March 22, 1943.  That report also contains territory-wide maps shows the commercial air routes, areas authorized for “irregular routes” and radio stations in use at the time.

Toward a full Department of Aviation
From the inception of the Commission in 1937 into the early 1940’s, the focus had largely been on establishing weather stations, radio networks, and the collection of aviation statistics.  In a later article, I plan to outline the next steps in development, which include an increased focus on airports, eventually leading to the establishment of a full-fledged Department of Aviation in the late 1940’s.  A big thank you to the staff at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Rasmuson Library for their assistance locating the reports that document this history!

Alaska air transportation routes map from the Report of the Alaska Aeronautics and Communication Commission, 1942-43

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