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Into the Alligator’s Mouth: Installment 2

The choice was before me, stay an extra day in LA with friends departing first flight after annual in instrument conditions into busy airspace, or leave a day early in crystal clear blue skies.  That small decision could have turned into a big implications had I not considered my personal minimums which happen to include the aircraft.

Last month we began our journey into the mindset needed for the functional implementation of personal minimums.  As I pondered minimums in a pandemic, I reached into my address book of pilot friends, to ask questions about minimums, guidelines, self-restrictions and the like.

I spoke to range of folks from pretty newly minted private pilots, to those working on an instrument rating, commercial, CFI and DPE.  I talked with female and male pilots with hours ranging from low hundreds to 25,000.

How far do I put my head in an alligator’s mouth before I can’t get it out?

I had a fabulous time talking with the 12 pilots and I got a “hidden gem” or a “pucker factor” from each of the conversations. My hope is that our words might start an honest discussion on ways that we can keep ourselves safe in the airplane or on the ground. Because in the end, cheating on your minimums is cheating yourself.

For the next few months this series will center on the psychology of personal minimums.  Like most relationships, we will focus why we create them, why we commit them to paper [or not], when we fudge on them, what we learn from them, and what we hope never to again experience.


Interviews

For the interviews I asked starting questions and interchangeably used personal minimums and personal guidelines.  The reason for this is some pilots initially thought when I spoke of minimums, I was referencing charted instrument approach minimums.  The following answers will be in their voice, the first person.

Questions:

  • Do you have a current set of personal guidelines or minimums for your flying?
  • If yes, do you have them written down?
  • If so, do you ever review them or alter/update them?
  • What are the areas you consider when you think of your own minimums?
  • Have you had a time where you cheated on your personal minimums?
  • Has there been an experience in the airplane you would like to share that gave you a “pucker factor” that others might learn from?”
  • Do you have a “hidden gem”, or learning tip, to share?

*[For the sake of this article, in their responses, I will simply use the word “minimums”]


B.S., Active CFII, Captain for major airline, Citabria owner

The way minimums are taught in the airlines is by policy manual. The pilot themself is a part of that policy which includes sleep, wellness and emotion. As a CFI I make a similar policy manual with students and actually have them sign it.

Are they Iron clad rules?  Yes and no. It is important to make them realistic.  If you say, “I am never going to fly unless I have 5000 OVC,” you will end up cheating. If you cheat on your minimums you might as well not have them at all. As you become more experienced and comfortable, you can lower the minimums. Make sure to revise as needed. If they become expired then they are useless.

As an instructor I impose limits on the student for solo flight. Gradually  the transfer of the responsibility from the instructor to the student pilot takes place. Many times, I ask my students to put themselves in a Pro-Pilot position and think of having passengers in the airplane, even if alone.

Another technique is to mentally put yourself in the back seat and become a passenger. Pro-pilots have to be willing to make a plan that might disappoint your passengers or yourself.

Pucker Factor: I was ferrying a Cessna 310 across the country for its new owner in Northern California. He made it abundantly clear that he wanted this airplane NOW. “No problem” I said, contemplating flying the twin from Tulsa, OK to San Jose, CA. Eight to ten hours of coveted multi-engine time would make a wholesome addition to what was the first in my collection of logbooks. An Eastbound cold front was racing me to the Rocky Mountains, and I had to make good time. Unfortunately, the prevailing Westerlies hampered my progress. So, I pushed it for the new owner. It got dark, no problem. One generator had failed, no problem. There was another generator still generating. Nighttime over the mountains with strong headwind and downdrafts while unable to maintain altitude and having no supplemental oxygen – no problem.

Until it was…

When a downdraft takes you below the menacing mountain peaks on both sides of your airplane, it turns out that not only does the VOR receiver become dead weight, but radar contact with ATC is lost too (GPS was not a thing yet for GA). “You’re below my radar coverage. Radar contact lost, squawk 1200, good day,” they said. Good day? Dead reckoning between mountain peaks at night in turbulence is nowhere I ever want to be again. The lights of Tonopah, NV never looked so glorious. (This is probably the only time that the words “glorious” and “Tonopah” have ever been used in the same sentence.) A landing was made, the ground was kissed and a vow to never succumb to external pressures was indelibly etched in my personal minimums.

Hidden Gem: Emulate an airline pilot. No matter what you are flying regard yourself as a professional.


JA Private Pilot, Instrument student when interviewed, now Instrument rated, Cessna owner.

I had my personal minimums written down for private pilot but have not updated since, but will for Instrument check ride.  I keep in mind three broad areas: weather, airplane, and pilot.  With that said, my comfort level has expanded with my IFR training.

I always take extra caution when going into unfamiliar airports. I particularly like Foreflight’s runway info, NOTAMS , weather, and I use their comment section.  I also use AirNav to assess runway conditions, airport facilities and read comments.

I do tend to stick with a basic minimum of 3 miles visibility, but when you think of it, that isn’t much.  I have come up with a minimum about cross-winds which is 5-7 kts.  With passengers who haven’t flown much I have adjusted minimums on wind and turbulence for their comfort.

In regard to the aircraft, I am careful about pre-flight and engine run-up.  If something is missing [piece of equipment, fasteners, etc.,] then I would not fly. A mag check fail would equal a no-go for me. Even for VFR if something failed, I wouldn’t fly as it isn’t worth the risk.

For my personal evaluation I use IMSAFE going through each of the letters in the mnemonic.  I always ask myself about sleep, and how I feel.

Pucker Factor: I was headed to French Valley for lunch.  The winds were okay on launch, but when got there I noticed there wasn’t much traffic, unusual for this popular airport.  Checking the ASOS the winds were now above my personal limit. I landed fine, but I was a little surprised, and  it did take quite a bit of concentration and focus.

Hidden Gem: Fatigue can bite you. There were a  couple times where I disregarded fatigue and went ahead an IFR lesson anyway.  My performance was greatly degraded. I won’t make that mistake again.

 


EE, Active CFI, Aeronca TC-65 Defender owner

My minimums are not written down, however  I grew up with flying.  My Dad worked for the FAA as a check pilot.  As such I suppose there was a lot of trickle down knowledge.

I have found a lot of pilots overlook personal minimums because of ego, which proclaims “I can do that!”  In regard to flight instruction when someone does something stupid in the airplane it is usually an instructor problem. IE: not having student fly a close-in pattern for downwind. Many CFIs don’t know how to get into the head of the private pilot, and teach the mental aspect of how to fly. I am a hands off instructor, and will sit back not touching controls as long as possible. This helps students  because it teaches them to be ahead of the airplane, for example knowing what it is going to be doing ten seconds from now.  When assessing students in regard to wind limits I have to remember that a student’s capabilities are always changing. Conditions with big gusts are out of the question at beginning of training, but close to solo, would most likely be a yes. Much like a CFI assessment of a student, we need to assess ourselves and raise or lower our minimums accordingly.

Another bit of wisdom I picked up from my Dad, “Don’t be in a big hurry to get there.” I have waited out weather on long trips to Wyoming for days. For visibility I prefer 5 miles. I have to say I am a real stickler for ceiling requirements.  I land with at least an hour of fuel on board.  I consider my wellness as a pilot too.  For example, last week I had three teeth pulled and the doctor gave medications for pain. Since I did need the medications, I decided to cancel flying for the week.

My 1941 Aeronca Defender, has no electrical system.  One time a mag went out and I was 300-400 rpm low, putting along at 65 mph. My thought process was “Should I put in a field or try to get back to airport?”  I assessed the situation and since I was  VMC I chose to fly a route where I knew I  could land if  needed.

Pucker Factor:  Flying to home to Schaumburg Airport which was reporting  30 kt cross-wind with gusts to 27.  I  first did a low approach and went around.  I felt everything out and concluded, “I will be able to land here,” but there was a pucker for sure.

 

Hidden Gem: Make sure to look at your physical health as objectively as possible to make sound decisions.

 


I hope you enjoyed this month’s installment.  Please consider using one of the AOPA templates to write your minimums down whether VFR or IFR.  If you have feedback about the interviews, please feel free to use the comment section below.

In the meantime, keep up with online safety seminars, join your state aviation association, and stay involved with your local airport.  Make sure that you consider all aspects of minimums; airplane, pilot, and environment before you yell. “clear prop.”

For me, I am looking forward to some fabulous capital improvements at my home ‘drome Oceano Airport [L52], and planning my cross country to Oregon this month and on to #OSH21 this summer.

UAL 328

On February 20, after the news of United flight 328 hit the airwaves, my phone began blowing up with people wanting to know if I was flying the airplane (no) or if I was on it (again, no).

In case you’ve been living under a rock or just consumed with the Kim Kardashian-Kanye West divorce, 328 is the Boeing 777 that departed Denver for Honolulu, only to sustain an uncontained engine failure shortly after departure. The crew declared an emergency and coordinated with air traffic control to return to Denver, touching down roughly 30 minutes after departure.

It’s understandable that folks want to know what happened, especially given the unusual pictures of debris that landed on yards in residential areas (the true miracle in this is that nobody was hurt on the ground). I have several theories about what might have happened, and all are realistically possible, but they might also all be totally wrong. One person on Facebook pointed out what appears to be damage to one of the fan blades on the engine, but it remains to be seen if the damage caused the explosion, or if the explosion caused the damage.

What I can tell you is that it will take months, if not a year, for the NTSB to come up with a probable cause. Until they do, it isn’t fair to anyone—the pilots, the airline, Boeing, Pratt & Whitney, the FAA, or any others that come to mind—to  pretend to know what did or didn’t happen, especially in a public forum such as this.

But I will say this: Events like the one on 328 are what we train for. We spend countless hours in classrooms and simulators discussing the myriad ways that normal operations can quickly go “abnormal” or “non-normal.” We brainstorm, we talk, we share, and when we get in the simulator, we get to practice dozens of possible scenarios in which a worst-case event is inflicted upon us. Some of them are hopelessly complex and borderline unsurvivable. Some are based on events that have happened in real life.

When we first start training in a new airplane or with a new company, we often make a lot of mistakes, and sometimes “red screen,”  which is the simulator version for a crash. But then we do it again. And again. And again. And for good measure, we do it yet again. Eventually, certain actions become ingrained; certain processes become second nature; and we tame the beast of unpredictability and the unknown. Our confidence in the equipment and ourselves grows. When training is complete, they trust us to let you, the flying public, to put your trust in us without reservation. And when training is complete, we continue to learn, to talk, to share what ifs. We do this every year.

I saw the word “scary” a lot. And I’m sure that the passengers were terrified, especially those that could see the engine doing things it shouldn’t do. As for the crew, my guess is that after a moment of unprintable words and an adrenaline rush, they immediately focused on what needed to be done.

First, fly the airplane. Identify for certain which engine is compromised, and to what extent.

Second, navigate. This flight was headed west, so terrain clearance over the Rockies was probably an early concern. The weather was good, which helped.

Third, communicate, first with each other, and then with ATC. Once an agreement was made on what the issue was, the appropriate checklist needs to be executed. One pilot likely took over the flying and radio, while the other handled the checklists.

Time was on their side. They were at a safe altitude, and there was no inclement weather to complicate the return to the airport. They had plenty of fuel. From what we know so far, the other engine was operating normally, and this is key: The second engine really and truly is a spare, and it really and truly can get a fully loaded airplane safely to an alternate airport. This is just as true over the Lower 48 as it would be had the issue occurred over the Pacific or the North or South Pole.

A far more dangerous scenario, and one we practice ad nauseum in training, would have been an engine failure on the takeoff roll, just before rotation (we call this a V1 cut). At that point, they would have been committed to getting a wounded bird airborne, navigating the transition from barely ground-bound as the wings generate lift, to airborne but with reduced power, which is one of the worst things a pilot can experience.

Losing an engine at altitude? I’ve dealt with this twice, and I’ll take that option over the engine failure on takeoff every time.

Kudos to the crew for a job well done. Years of training, expertise, and experience were put to use. We’ll get the answers about what happened in time, and our system will be better for it.-–Chip Wright

Hitting the global reset – Back to fundamentals

When I was flying over the North Pole my critical flight systems started failing. First, my two GPS systems dropped offline, next my attitude heading and reference systems, next my autopilot, and finally HF and VHF communications. It literally felt like the world — my world — was falling apart. What could I rely on? As pilots, we are taught to trust our instruments, but in this case, the “credible sources of information” were not working and that wasn’t going to “fly.” If ever there was a time to make a bold step and bust a move for my survival it was then. I decided I would focus on what was working. In this case above the clouds. It was what I was seeing with my own eyes, not what other people were telling me, not what I was reading, but what I as a human was experiencing using my “Mark 1 Mod 0” eyeballs. I was going back to fundamentals because that’s what we must do when nothing makes sense. Rely on our very fundamental and core beliefs. The fundamentals of flight are clearly to “aviate, navigate and communicate.” In my situation, at 31,000 feet I started hand-flying the plane and trying to figure out which way it was to Alaska and how to communicate with them.

Shortly after returning to the United States from the polar circumnavigations, I quickly noticed the world, my world was falling apart. I again was questioning what I can believe? People were interpreting what they thought was happening and telling me what I “should” do. I could flip a channel and get contradictory information. The source of my information was again failing me. If ever there was a time to make a bold step and bust a move once again it was now. I decided I would hit the global reset button and again go back to my fundamentals and rely on what I was seeing in the world with my own eyes and reestablish a ‘true’ reference system. In a way, I was using my true north to find my way in the world. I started to look at people and realize that we are really all the same. At a fundamental “life” level we are all human. We all have the same wants, desires, and basic needs — health, happiness, safety, financial security, and more than ever peace in our lives and the world. We clearly had more similarities than differences. I would focus on these similarities.

During this time, I didn’t see many “true” leaders around me guiding us the way back to our fundamentals. I saw many people fighting against each other canceling out the energy of those squared off against them. They were making no progress. These people had become polarized as our world had. It was clear this was a world without direction and a world that was falling apart. I again was questioning what and who can I believe? It was again time to take a bold step and bust a move. It was time to be the leader in my own life rather than waiting around for somebody to do it for me.

I was reminded about one of the reasons why my Flying Thru Life team and I embarked on the Pole to Pole trip. It was because we were tired of waiting for others to fulfill their promises and change the world in a positive way for us. To bring about the change we wanted to see we needed to go out into the world and make our best effort and try and make the world a better place.

The Flying Thru Life team did this using the aircraft the Citizen of the World and connecting the two places on the planet where peace had always existed – the north and south poles. By connecting these places on a mission of peace, we could connect the people along the way as well. We were our own leaders. We were the change we wanted to see in the world.

What I propose to you is that you return to your fundamentals and be the leader in your own life and not wait for someone to do it for you. We are all stronger than we know and are connected in our humanity. We value peace, safety, security, health, joy and happiness, and more than ever family. Go into the world use your own eyes and find your own truth, follow your “True North” and be a positive force of change in the world. Don’t let current events stop you — we didn’t. You just need to lean into it a little more, use your fundamentals and find your way. Your path will look different. For you it may be creating a support group for small businesses, finding housing for people without homes, supporting new leadership, creating new jobs. Find what works for you and bust a move! займ ваши деньги онлайн заявказайм монейманзайм денег сургут

The not-so-light EFB

I used to carry around a flight bag that weighed 40 or so pounds with all of the required stuff stuffed into it: Jepp binders (two of the three-inch ones, totally packed, and a one inch binder not so packed), at least two company manuals, my headset, flashlight, sunglasses, and a small bag of items that were essential to me. If I was lucky, I could squeeze in a paperback book or a few magazines, but in reality, anything else had to go in my suitcase.

Nowadays, the binders and manuals have all been converted to an electronic flight kit, but my bag sometimes seems as though it weighs as much as it did then. I now have two iPads (one for work, and one for personal use, which I use primarily to watch TV or movies or read books on Kindle while I commute), two headsets (one for flying, the other for the aforementioned movies and TV shows), my laptop, a flashlight (some things never change), and an assortment of batteries and chargers.

I also still have the small collection (that isn’t so small) of stuff that I feel like I have to have, such as extra pens and pencils, highlighters, ID badge clippy-thingies, uniform wing hold-on clippy-thingies, a power pack for charging my phone or an iPad, dental floss, and an assortment of over-the-counter medications that are probably older than my nearly 20-year-old-kids, but might still work in a pinch. Somewhere in there I’ve also managed to cram in the vest I have to wear during a walk-around, as well as a few books and magazines to kill time in a hotel or elsewhere.

I marvel at the guys who can show up with nothing but the bare essentials to do the job, but it seems like every time I try to declutter, something happens that makes me add back in what I removed, plus a few things I didn’t have before. It doesn’t matter that I likely won’t need any of the stuff I had more than once or twice, the fact is that without “this” or with a lost “that,” a trip that was four days long can feel like one that is 10 days long after the second day.

Fortunately, my suitcase isn’t as bad. I do tend to pack a bit more than I need, since I commute, and I always work with the assumption that I’ll be gone an extra day or so, but the extras in my suitcase are generally limited to the smaller pockets that my suitcase has, or to my toiletry kit. That being said, on the rare occasions that I have actually emptied my suitcase, it does surprise me just how much extra stuff I seem to have in it, but I don’t think I notice it as much since it weighs the same as it always has.

Is any of this to say that I miss the days of binders and manuals and paper revisions? No. Not on your life. But it did making packing a bit easier, because I just couldn’t carry it all.-–Chip Wrightмикрокредит первый займ без процентовзайм экспресс нефтеюганскзайм на карту без отказа и проверок

Missing the classroom

Training, it seems, never ends. Back in the day, all training took place in a classroom, a teacher lecturing and sharing wisdom, knowledge and a few lies, students dutifully taking notes and pretending to understand what was being said, all the while taking the lies as true gospel.

Nowadays, less training is done in the classroom, and more is done on the student’s own time. Ironically, the general aviation world got a bit of a jump on this with the introduction of self-study books by Gleim, ASA, and a few others. Ground schools, once immensely popular, began fading away.

Nowadays, the trend is to do virtually everything, well…virtually. Even when I was going through new-hire training at my current airline, the actual learning and introduction of most of the material was done through Computer Based Training (CBT) in the hotel, and the classroom time had almost nothing to do with what we were supposed to be learning. This was less true when we began to learn the systems of the airplane, but not by much.

Today, all continuing education is completed on our personal time. We get paid once it’s all done, but we are still giving up some of our personal time so that the airline can save huge sums of money on the costs of hotel rooms, transportation, per diem, et cetera.

A friend just finished training on a new airplane, and we were commiserating how different the learning environment is today versus what it was in the past. We both agreed that the old days were better for learning. There is just something better about listening to a teacher who actually knows the airplane tell you how things work in the real world. The opposite, of course, is having to deal with instructors who have absolutely no real-world knowledge of the airplane, and instead just regurgitate what is on the PowerPoint slide or what they themselves have been told—and that was pretty common for a while.

The classroom setting had a lot of advantages: It facilitated open discussion; questions could more easily be addressed, and confusion minimized. The structure of the day also helped, since most blocks of time were 50 to 60 minutes, which kept you on a predictable pace. Not so much today. I just recently had to finish an online course for 737 MAX return to service, and it was drudgery. Most of it was the same material I had learned when the airplane first came into service, but even the new material was often boring. Worse, I won’t be flying the airplane until at least spring, if not summer or fall, so I may have to do a review when it comes up on my schedule. However, unlike the initial rollout, I will get some sim time, and I’m looking forward to that.

We now do continuing ed around the calendar, and we can space it out or cram it all together. Both systems work, but waiting until the last minute is both stressful and hellacious. Either way, it’s too easy to get distracted and not learn as much as we might, but the old days simply aren’t coming back, and that’s a shame. I miss the days of the “There we were…” stories, as they often made it easier to remember the nuances of whatever was being described.

Now, I just click “Next” and watch the timer creep closer to the next slide.—Chip Wrightзайм великий новгородзайм на счет кивимоментальный займ без отказа

Five years of Europe

Between last month’s post and this one, the five-year anniversary has passed, both of the PA-11 getting unloaded from the container and touching German soil, and of our disembarking a 747 in Frankfurt with our cat and dog, driving in a jetlagged stupor to our new home in Germany at the time. If there is ever a time to reflect on the original plan versus how it turned out, that would be now.

The Alps figured into the plan from the beginning. The wording was “we expect to find ourselves in the Swiss or Austrian Alps eventually.” My mental idea was that it would take two or three years, as we hoped to do Germany an appropriate justice, which is to say that I wanted to go to university to work on the next degree while integrating into the local culture. It is an understatement to point out that none of the above happened, finding myself later in that year in the Pyrenees, though the plan has worked partially as anticipated, for none of the original reasons.

If one were to take any five-year period in life, there would be an element of personal evolution, independent of the cultural realities of living abroad. That is to say that, if I remained in the United States, we still would have faced a relocation in late 2015 and, in hindsight, would have continued to try to reconcile unsustainable mountain town development, ever increasing costs, and rapid housing turnover with my desire to live near and fly in very large mountains. In effect, I can say that I have exchanged certain aggravations for other ones in pursuit of the same goal in the past half decade.

I expected aviation to be more difficult in Europe than the USA and was aware that many costs would be vastly higher. As those who have read my more vitriolic posts are well aware, many things surprised me on levels I could not have imagined though, once I got the hang of it, I could acclimate and factor about 60% of the nonsense and find a way to press forward. Did I ever think that I wouldn’t care about $27 landing fees? I regularly get presented with landing fee invoices well in excess of $200 per month, and I have gotten to the point that I do not think of them while flying. “You only live once,” so I go flying when I want and that is that.

One thing I that I have not been able to conquer, much to my dismay, is the utter lack of desire to fly great distances like I used to do in the US. I simply do not like landing at other airports apart from the then current home, unless I have gotten to know the place and figure out what the procedures are. I can’t think of many places where one pays the landing fee and fuel both seamlessly and in the same place. It is often a dance of running around the airport to fill out reams of paperwork to pay exorbitant fees, which usually means refueling is about a two-hour process, instead of 38-45 minutes in US airports. Add that to 4 to 6 hours of flying, and the process takes all day, which means that it is rare. I have tried time and again to smack myself into some form of motivation to “get over it,” and it is astonishingly infrequent that I can seem to rouse myself to do.

As a case in point, I have this glaring hole of terrain that I would like to visit in Switzerland, in the Alps from Andermatt east to Liechtenstein. That necessitates about 5 hours in the air plus a fuel stop, so I found a nice little airport not far from Zürich, ideally situated with regard to proximity and microclimates. While the official aerodrome chart indicates that there is avgas and specific operating hours, that is not enough to go by. There is also a “PPR” (prior permission required) requirement, which is common in Switzerland, though muddling through the website in German I found that the PPR requirement can be satisfied by listening to a recording on the phone before visiting, though the recording is in German and my language skills are inadequate to process aeronautical details in such a fashion. I’ll solve that by getting someone to call for me, though the problem that remains is something on the site about how to handle paying the landing fee if the airport is open, but it is unattended. It mentions nothing of the same for fuel, so it is imperative to find out if fuel is automatic or not, and if automatic, how does one pay? Payment in Europe is anything but consistent: some are Total cards only, Air BP cards only, cash only, or all of the above inclusive of major credit cards. In any case, I email in German and English to get the scoop and…two weeks later…no reply, which means back to getting a friend to call and sort it out. One can understand why, when there are pretty mountains and scenery nearby, I land and takeoff from the home base airport and forget the aggravation.

In any case, I’d like to find a way to “get over it.” It likely will involve an expensive installation of a second fuel tank in the PA-11, as my three-hour range, coupled with low airport density in mountains and an incredibly slow airplane, is a significant deterrent. This remains on my personal “to do” list, as there are 27 countries in the EU, with more in Europe as a whole, and the Cub has only been to 9 of them.

Back to reflecting on a half-decade of being outside of America, and I can safely say that most of my expectations and understanding were vastly incorrect, the bulk of which was cultural. I don’t think I am overly unique in my point of view, as many people back home draw certain conclusions about Europe, similar to how I used to think, that are not fully correct, requiring more than some visits to debunk. At the same token, while most everything that I thought was true turns out not to be, many other things turned out to be far better than I expected, in very subtle and cumulative ways.

For starters, there is virtually never an instance where I look at a flight in the Cub and have a chunk of time where I am simply letting it pass by to get somewhere. Countless times in the US, I would have a destination in mind, whether an airport or some scenery, and there were vast sums of repetitive space that needed to be overflown, which meant that I would go into a butt- and mind-numbing “road trip” mode, where I would get lost in my mind, letting the hours pass. Instead of a vivid flight filled with luscious discovery, I saw a day in three-hour flight legs, refueling as fast as humanly possible, and a reward at the end having flown as far as possible while the sun was up. The thought of doing that here is simply ludicrous as I am almost never bored in the air. All one has to do is look down and there is an endless cornucopia of castles, curvy roads, orchards, vineyards, rolling farms, mountain chalets, and the like to entertain oneself.

To that end, after what I consider a “good flight,” which is usually one with resplendent lighting and includes discovery of something new, I spend a moment reflecting after putting the airplane in the hangar, still struggling to believe that I am having these experiences at all, much less with the airplane that I used for my solo flight in 1997. I thought the feeling would go away quite a long time ago and, five years later, it hasn’t. Many have inquired of me privately why I put up with the frustrations of international living, and that is the answer, that the allure of what is around the next bend is greater than the joy of raw aviation freedom in the US. Hopefully I can get over the bad combination of low & slow flying + European bureaucracy and start flying some longer distances.

In any case, I do have a new chapter in life that is soon to unfold, which should, if things go as planned, result in lots of more flying. Stay tuned.

Some photographs from recent escapades in the air….

Rime ice.

There was a sandstorm recently, blown up from the Western Sahara. So what did I do? Go flying! One reason most generally avoid sandstorms is that visibility changes rapidly, which is what happened for the worse. In any case, the below image is de-saturated and accurate to what it looked like in the air. The Cub got a new air filter afterward.

An “alp chalet” surrounded by avalanches.


I flew this valley on flight simulator and then did it in reality. The F-16 climbs better through here than my tired old O-200.


Vineyards with snow.

One way to solve the avalanche problem: build a dike to divert them.


Grand Combin (4314m / 14, 154′) with a tad too much wind. Staying low in the Alps tends to work.

Alp chalets covered in snow to the right, avalanche to the left.

Mt Blanc (center horizon, 15,174′) with mountain wave and wind on the lower ridges. I know how to thread the needle flying through these ranges without getting pummeled, though I have to be in the right mood for it.

The forecast called for more docile winds and, well, here we are. 

A rare swarm of paragliders in winter. 

This is actually a hiking refuge, buried to the roof. The structure to the right of it is completely buried.


Book #27 is here: Abstractions of the Alps, basically containing whatever I found to be particularly beautiful thus far in my alpine flying adventures.

Opportunities in the pandemic

As the world continues to deal with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, some companies, including airlines, are taking advantage of new opportunities presented to them. Around the world, several airlines have either gone out of business or severely downsized.

This not only opens up market possibilities, but it also makes airframes and the associated equipment available for other carriers to pick up on the open market.

Most airplanes are actually owned by leasing companies, not by the airlines themselves. This gives the airlines flexibility to manipulate their fleets based on market needs and demands, and it allows a leasing company to have multiple options to place its metal should a customer no longer be in a position to meet the terms of a lease. It also helps lenders feel better about their loans being repaid, so the loans to a leasing company will likely be a little cheaper than to an airline—not an insignificant detail when the collateral is a $70 million to $100 million jet.

Recently, United Airlines announced plans to acquire 20 or so Airbus A-320 aircraft that were flying under the Easy Jet banner in Europe. The airplanes will be converted to United cabins and paint schemes, but then placed in long-term storage until demand justifies bringing them to service. This is a win-win, because the airline gets what amounts to some spare fleet options, as well as to the parts on the airplanes. The leasing company will get paid, but United will likely pay far less than it  would have a year ago thanks to the glut in supply, and when demand rebounds as the vaccines for COVID gain traction, United will be able to recover more quickly.

Similar transactions will take place all over the planet. Norwegian Air Shuttle is terminating its long-haul operation, which is going to put a number of fuel-efficient Boeing 787s on the market. South African Airways has shut down, so its entire fleet is available.

Speaking of South African, its demise will create a vacuum that will need to be filled with service to Johannesburg and Cape Town from various international hubs. This could be a win for both the South African economy and the passengers who might want to travel there.

The airplanes that don’t get picked up right away will likely be put into storage or cannibalized for parts. Engines, seats, windows, even light bulbs or tray tables will be scavenged and put to use. In time, this will bring the issues of supply and demand back into equilibrium, and it will allow the industry to return to normalcy—and profitability—more quickly, and both will accelerate society’s climb from the depths of the pandemic.—Chip Wrightзайм в вебманибыстрый займ омскпай пасс займ займ на контакткашалот займзайм 100000

Into the Alligator’s Mouth: Installment 1

For the next few months this series will center on the psychology of personal minimums.  Like most relationships, we will focus why we create them, why we commit them to paper [or not], when we fudge on them, what we learn from them, and what we hope never to again experience.

As I thought about personal minimums in a pandemic, I decided to reach in to my address book of pilot friends and reach out to ask questions about minimums, guidelines, self-restrictions and the like.  I spoke to range of folks from pretty newly minted private pilots, to those working on an instrument rating, commercial, CFI and DPE.  I talked with female and male pilots with hours ranging from low hundreds to 25,000.

In regard to minimums a DPE pondered,  “How far do I put my head in an alligator’s mouth before I can’t get it out?”

I had a fabulous time talking with the 12 pilots and I got a little gem or a pucker factor from each of the conversations. My hope is that our words might start an honest discussion on ways that we can keep ourselves safe in the airplane or on the ground. Because in the end, cheating on your minimums is cheating yourself.


Interviews

For the interviews I asked starting questions and interchangeably used personal minimums and personal guidelines.  The reason for this is some pilots initially thought when I spoke of minimums, I was referencing charted instrument approach minimums.  The following answers will be in their voice, the first person.

Questions:

  • Do you have a current set of personal guidelines or minimums for your flying?
  • If yes, do you have them written down?
  • If so, do you ever review them or alter/update them?
  • What are the areas you consider when you think of your own minimums?
  • Have you had a time where you cheated on your personal minimums?
  • Has there been an experience in the airplane you would like to share that gave you a “pucker factor” that others might learn from?”
  • Do you have a “hidden gem”, or learning tip, to share?

D.L., Instrument rated, commercial pilot, Mooney owner

I do not  have my personal minimums written down, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have them.  Over the years I have general rules, based on avoiding the most common failures.  For example, I carefully study conditions and airport environment prior to departure.   I simply won’t take off anywhere I can’t follow the approach back in to airport should I need to.

Ice is very much part of my thinking living and flying in the Pacific Northwest. I will avoid ice at all costs. That is a personal minimum for my planning. I will not go if there is forecast icing.

Another rule is to be very cautious about fuel. I have flown across country by myself. I like to have at least an honest hour of fuel when the wheels touch the ground on landing. I don’t ever want to be one of “those” pilots.

When it comes to my VFR ceiling and visibility minimums, my minimums have come down when I got my instrument rating.  The rating has made my flying safer and increased the utility of the Mooney.

Aircraft maintenance and condition is a consideration for me.  This is something on my go-no- go list.  For example, I know what to expect on my engine monitor, and when that is not right, I figure it out, be it a mag check or oddly low EGT.

Pucker Factor: I was flying in rising terrain lowering ceilings, scud running getting in to the Las Vegas area.  I was crossing a hill trying to stay below the ceiling, following the interstate that went through the notch in the hill.  At that point there was no room to go left or right, I was at a pinch point.  It was then I realized I had flown into a bad situation where I didn’t have options.

Most people don’t have minimums written down. But in their heads, they know when they have exceeded them. It is only then they realize that they should have them written down and follow them.

Hidden Gem:  Just because it worked once, doesn’t mean it will always work.


J.G., Former Airline Captain, Corporate Jet Pilot, Decathlon owner

These are timely questions. We all say we have minimums 1000/3 or 1500/5, but we cheat. We cheat on ourselves.  For me, there has to be a hard-line thing. Currently I fly to gigs in my VFR-only airplane.  If I have less than 1500 feet on my altimeter I will turn around.  I have to be hard on myself not to cheat on myself.  I have to have a firm limit.  I have cheated on myself a year ago, what I call a “normalization of deviance” I went down to 1400. My thinking was, “It is only a 100 feet.”  If you normalize violating your rules you risk doing it again and again.

I really consider external pressures.  I worked with a guy who always had his assistant book him an airline ticket as a back up when he was flying his GA airplane to do a presentation.  When I fly to my gigs, I know that I can turn around, or have my son-in-law can come and get me.

Pucker Factor: I was flying from Dallas-Ft. Worth [DFW] to Portland [PDX] in an MD80. I flew lower en route for a smoother ride but that resulted in burning more fuel. During the descent into PDX the turbulence over Mt. Hood was severe. When I finally got to Portland the entire airport was closed. We were diverted to Seattle, bumping around in severe turbulence landing with minimal fuel.

Hidden Gem: If I land because I need fuel and cannot find fuel due to inoperative card reader/pump/empty tank, I don’t take off without getting it. I have it brought to me in Perrier bottles if I have to.


J.B. Instrument rated, A&P, Cub owner

As a younger pilot I didn’t have any minimums.  I would simply do what I want, without a focus on safety.  As I have gotten older, I play it way safer, but I don’t have any minimums that are written down. Now, I am a lot more cautious with weather and particularly runway conditions. I study the weather en route and at my destination using all tools available.  I have a habit of checking out runways, including comment sections, at unfamiliar airports for sure.

Pucker Factor: I was flying in Oregon [Corvallis] with a  solid cloud deck below.  My inner voice was saying “I need to turn back now; I don’t have enough fuel to continue.”  Went through a hole, and landed.  Some locals tried to talk me into continuing on but I am glad I set down. It rained for three days solid. I ended up staying there, weathered in, for three nights.

Hidden Gem and Pucker Factor:  I was landing at a neighboring airport on runway 14. I did check the wind sock, but It was missing, torn away from a previous storm. I assumed the wind, if any, would be from the South, so I continued my landing on 14. I made a faster than usual touchdown, but it was a greaser landing. As I slowed to enter the taxiway, GROUNDLOOP to the left [first one in 1200 hours]. I soon realized that I had a left quartering tailwind! After this experience, I always confirm wind direction, visually, by looking at smoke, trees or flags.

Hidden Gem:  If I am at an unfamiliar airport, I will overfly the airport at 500ft above TPA and look for a windsock and any other wind direction clues.


S.S., Private Pilot, Bonanza owner

 

I don’t have any minimums written down, but I am VFR only. My flying is mostly recreational now, though a lot of it is night flight.

I am a stickler about weather, I do lots of weather planning which, I suppose is a minimum of mine. I need to feel comfortable with the planning I have completed. I am careful to choose routes avoid terrain, and like to have lots of airports [options] below. A minimum of mine is that I don’t like to fly below 5500 feet ever.

In recent years I flew a lot for business. I used the  IMSAFE model to make sure I was good to fly because the homeward leg was at night.  Throughout the afternoon I assessed myself,  particularly my level of concentration. While I love to fly at night, the work load is higher and I am VFR only and I want to give myself every safety measure.

Pucker Factor:  I have to say I got complacent at 500-hour mark.  I like to fly high and would look for holes in layers to fly through to get to VFR on top. It wasn’t smart and I put a stop to it.


I hope you enjoyed this month’s installment.  Please consider using one of the AOPA templates to write your minimums down whether VFR or IFR.

http://www.airsafetyinstitute.org/vfrcontract

www.airsafetyinstitute.org/ifrcontract

If you have feedback about the interviews, please feel free to use the comment section below. In the meantime, keep up with online safety seminars, join your state aviation association, and stay involved with your local airport.

For me, I am looking forward to some fabulous capital improvements at my home ‘drome Oceano Airport, heading up to the Pacific Northwest for work, an planning my cross country to OSH21 this summer.

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Experimental Graphic Aviation Weather for Alaska

The National Weather Service is looking for your help to provide comments on the Experimental Graphical Forecast for Aviation (GFA) covering Alaska.  This tool has been operational in the rest of the country since 2017, and is now being populated with datasets to cover Alaska.  The public notice announcing the availability of this product indicates that it is anticipated to potentially replace the text-based Area Forecast (FA) for Alaska in the future.  But the GFA really is much more than a replacement for the string of text that used to spit out of a teletype machine.  It is really an integrated display that allows pilots to visualize multiple types of information in a graphical form. This includes aviation forecasts up to 18 hours in the future, and providing current conditions—METARs, PIREPs, satellite and radar products, up to 18 hours in the past.  Along with the increase in the potential amount of weather information provided, there are additional tools for pilots to use to select the specific weather information they are looking for. These tools are different and will take some getting used to but are well worth the time to learn. For example, the ability to display a multi-leg route can help the user apply the forecast conditions to the route they are intending to fly.

Using the GFA
As a new user to the system, it helped me to realize that one first must choose whether to look at the future (Forecast button) or current and past conditions (Obs/Warn button), and that for each of these products, selecting the Map Options button allows the user to change features such as the base map, size and opacity of map features.  This is especially important when dealing with some elements, such as PIREPs.  The default for PIREPs is to display those no older than ninety minutes but using the Map Options control allows one to display them in 90 minute increments back to a maximum of 12 hours.  This is a very dynamic system—each map product has its own legend displayed at the bottom of the frame, and most have different feature settings, allowing a high degree of customization.  I personally like the ability to display airports and rivers, for geographic reference.  Learning the nuances of each map and how to customize them to your preferred view will take time and some willingness to understand the new system.

Graphic Forecast: A view of the Experimental GFA looking at the forecast ceilings and visibility for a route between Fairbanks and Anchorage via Healy River and Talkeetna. Being able to display a multi-leg route helps relate to the forecast conditions along each leg of the flight.

Some of these custom options include controls for layers that allow a user to select times and altitudes to display information specific to those settings.  These options demand some study to ensure you have correctly adjusted your settings to display the desired information.  Winds, turbulence, and icing forecasts can be selected for different altitudes. Care will also be needed when viewing PIREPs.  An altitude selector scale is provided but it might be good initially to use the ALL option to get the complete picture before focusing on a single altitude range.

For those of us long-time users of the Alaska Aviation Weather Unit website, the GFA is different—and will take getting used to.  This system combines point observations such as METARs and PIREPs with graphic layers showing the lateral extent of sky cover and includes yet a third element– spot features that forecast cloud bases, tops, and sky cover at regular intervals.  This last layer shows what we used to get in a paragraph of text for an entire forecast zone, but it is now broken into smaller elements, providing additional spatial resolution (see figure below).

Gridded Forecast: This example shows a forecast predicting sky cover, bases, and tops on a gridded basis. The pilot selected route depicted as the pink line is superimposed along with rivers and public use airports in this example help provide for geographic reference. The legend, displayed at the bottom, is never far away.

This weather evaluation product is highly customizable.  The number of features displayed change as one zooms in and out of the product, while continuing to show the route selected in the first place. I particularly like being able to turn on the major rivers for situational awareness.

Share Your Thoughts
The comment period for this experimental product is slated to run through September, 2022.  Please take some time now, during the short dark days of mid-winter, to try planning some routes you normally fly, and see how this system delivers the data. If you are unfamiliar with the GFA, a short video tutorial is available to help get started.  The Info button at the upper right corner of the window will provide a brief description, with links to the tutorial video, the product description document, and a link to the survey to provide feedback. You may also use the “Contact AWC” link in the “fine print” at the bottom of the page if you want to comment on the product.

NWS wants our feedback.  Using the Survey button near the top right corner of the frame to provide feedback will help the product designers and interface experts at the NWS better understand how to adjust the weather evaluation tool as required for Alaska and ensure the system is user-friendly and meets the needs of pilots. Please also share your thoughts on this system with AOPA by email at [email protected]. The time you invest in this today will impact the quality of the product we have to work with in the future!

 

Periodic fleet changes

Every 15 to 20 years, it seems, the aviation world undergoes what amounts to a seismic shift in fleets based on real-time events, changes in technology, and, if we’re being honest, hope.

The year that was 2020 helped accelerate some of those changes, as the Boeing 747 faded away from all but a few passenger flights and migrated more toward cargo, where it is likely to earn its keep for at least another decade or more. But the Airbus 380 has sustained a far less glamorous fate. Long hyped as the replacement for the 747 on long-haul, high-density routes, it was never able to live up to its promise. In fact, it never even came close.

The fact that no North American carriers took a bite on the 380 probably contributed to its early demise. Some airports didn’t want to spend the money to beef up runways, taxiways, ramps and gates on a “maybe.” In the end, flying any airplane seats with no passengers in them is expensive, but when the airplane is designed to carry upwards of 500 people, those empty seats get expensive in a hurry, especially when factoring in the cost of operating and maintaining four large jet engines.

As if the B-777 replacing a lot of 747s wasn’t enough, Airbus came out with the A-350 while Boeing added the 787 and larger 777s to the line. For the airlines, these were obvious choices in an industry where the bottom dollar dictates everything. In the current environment in which airplanes are being parked by the hundreds, the twin-engine, long-range jets offer a lot of flexibility and a more nimble response to constantly changing market demands.

On the other end of the spectrum, the old puddle jumpers were replaced by a tsunami of Bombardier CRJs and Embraer 145s. As quickly as the new jets gained in popularity, they wore out their welcome due to high operating costs, uncomfortable seats, and a lack of overhead bin space that required planeside bag checking. They have since been replaced with Embraer’s E-JET series, which are more comfortable, have more storage space, carry more passengers (for a lower per-seat-mile cost) and offer greater range.

In the middle of pack is the line of new engines attached to old airframe designs. The Airbus 320/321 NEOs and the 737 MAX series are designed to launch service on short transatlantic routes while also introducing quantifiable cost savings on routes that historically would have been tough for these airplanes to leverage. It feels like the 727, once the backbone of domestic fleets, has been out of service for far longer than it has been.

Changing fleets on any kind of scale brings a cost to the manufacturers and the airlines that is almost impossible to fathom. Decisions have to be made a decade in advance in an industry where solid information more than six weeks in advance is considered as rare as water in the desert. Rest assured that Boeing, Airbus and Embraer are already working on trying to figure out what those potential needs will be, and what technology will be necessary to bring them to market. Getting it right could mean striking proverbial gold, and getting it wrong…well, that would be like finding yourself stranded in the desert with no water.—Chip Wright
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