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

Mooney Girl ready for Oshkosh

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

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

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

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

Airplane Considerations

Airplane:

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

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


Environment:

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

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

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

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

Bonanza Mass Arrival OSH

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

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

Mooney Caravan Yuma Gunfighters Clinic

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

… overheard in the North 40

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

Cessnas to Oshkosh en route

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

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

 

 

Jolie Lucas makes her home on the Central Coast of CA with her mini-Golden, Mooney. Jolie is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and commercial pilot. Jolie is a nationally-known aviation presenter and aviation writer. Jolie is the Region 4 Vice President of the California Pilots Association. She is the 2010 AOPA Joseph Crotti Award recipient for GA Advocacy. Email: [email protected] Web: www.JolieLucas.com Twitter: Mooney4Me

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.

Jolie Lucas makes her home on the Central Coast of CA with her mini-Golden, Mooney. Jolie is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and commercial pilot. Jolie is a nationally-known aviation presenter and aviation writer. Jolie is the Region 4 Vice President of the California Pilots Association. She is the 2010 AOPA Joseph Crotti Award recipient for GA Advocacy. Email: [email protected] Web: www.JolieLucas.com Twitter: Mooney4Me

Outward looking mastery vs. inward looking precision

Outward looking mastery vs. inward looking precision: musings about the differences between Commercial and Instrument flight

In 2017 I decided it was the year to complete my long started, then stopped, then re-started process of attaining my instrument rating.  I chronicled the process in Gotta get that Rating.  2020 dawned with promise of the commercial certificate and we all know what happened to those promises.  Yet on July 5th 2020 I passed my commercial check ride in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge, where I learned to fly some 18 years ago.

Inward focused precision

I recently flew another round-trip to Oregon which was 90% IMC due the massive wildfires.  My route was pretty much right up the gut of California, in between the TFRs and on in to Oregon.  The situation in the Northwest wasn’t much better as wind driven wildfires began to pop up in Central Oregon.  Hand-flying 5 hours on instruments in my Mooney M20E with no autopilot is mentally exhausting.  On the way to my fuel stop I was given delay vectors and a hold for the [RNAV] approach. The airport was covered in dense smoke with visual contact only 30 feet above minimums.  I was never so happy to see a VASI.  I flew the ODP out and was happy to finally get above the smoke at 8K. The visibility on the trip home was much worse.  In the 5.5 hours of flying I only had ground reference for the first and last 30 minutes of the flight.  As I shot the RNAV into fuel stop [Yuba airport] I was just so grateful that I had great flight instruction, a solid IFR platform in the Mooney, and the ability to focus my attention [mostly] inside the airplane.

Flying in IMC requires extensive planning,  mental discipline, ability to follow instructions from ATC, and constant focus on your instrument scan.  In contrast the commercial relies on the artistry of looking outside, focusing on smooth flying and planning for the safety and comfort of your passengers.  In no way am I saying that instrument and commercial flying don’t share characteristics, but for me, it seems like I am using different parts of my brain for the nuanced differences.

Outward focused mastery

On one of the last days of my commercial training I was flying from the LA Basin [Fullerton] to French Valley [F70] airport.  I had done some of the planning for this short hop noting the location of the freeways, surrounding terrain, lake, and direction of the airport from town.  As usual, I had my IPad on with Foreflight, and the 530W proudly displaying the magenta line to F70. About ten minutes into the flight my instructor, Mike Jesch, fiendishly turned the 530 to another page and disabled the geo-referencing on the IPad.  He said, “Now what are you going to do?”  What I did next was an example of my instrument training as I slowed the airplane down, centered VORs and triangulated the location of the airport based on radials.  It took me at least two minutes of looking out, then in, out then inside.  Mike gently said, “Is there anything else you could be looking at, perhaps outside?”  Then it dawned on me to locate the freeway I was following, to identify the hills before the airport and the lake that was off in the distance. I also noted that if this was a real situation on a commercial flight, I would have let ATC know of the failure and asked for a vector to confirm what I was seeing on the ground.

When in doubt, look out

Flying to commercial standards is all about smoothness, precision, and planning for passengers.  Training was intensive and consisted of the learning and demonstration of the elements included in the ACS.  Folks had told me that I would love flying the “fun” commercial maneuvers [chandelle, steep spiral, lazy 8, 180 power off landing, steep turns, 8s on pylons etc.].  I didn’t really experience the “fun” part of it until the very last day of training with Mike.  As I was demonstrating elements for my check ride prep, I found myself zooming down during a lazy 8 and thought, “Yeah, this is fun being totally in control of this airplane.”

Yes! This is fun.

As I prepared for my Commercial check ride, there was a distinct change in my thought process from “do as you planned, or are told by ATC” instrument flying toward what I call, “Pro-Pilot” thinking. My DPE gave me the following cross-country scenario:

So much for an easy fire season– lightning has sparked a big wind-driven fire over by Sandpoint, ID, causing a bit of a panic. Newly hired by a Part 135 group that has extensive Forest Service contracts, you have been tasked to fly two Incident Commanders from your base, The Dalles OR (KDLS), to the Sandpoint airport (KSZT) in your aircraft, where they will join the hastily assembled Hot Shot crews waiting to take on the fire. You have recently noticed that your turn coordinator has been really noisy on startup, but you have not had an opportunity to have it checked out. The firefighters think they weigh around 180lbs and plan on taking roughly 60lbs of gear each. They really need to be in Sandpoint by noon, so plan accordingly.

 As a private pilot you would, of course, think about inoperative equipment, weight, fuel, weather and routing, but as a Pro-Pilot I planned around:

  • passenger comfort
  • weighing passengers and luggage
  • loading of passengers/bags for CG
  • prevailing weather, wind, smoke conditions
  • scenic , yet efficient route
  • communication with passengers re: expectations of flight
  • route with less potential for turbulence
  • instrument currency/approaches if needed
  • route near airports/highways
  • choosing alternate airports with rental cars, calculated driving distance
  • timing details to get the firefighters to Sandpoint by noon

It goes without saying that the instrument and commercial check ride differed greatly. However, knowledge of systems, safe practices, and aeronautical decision making were very much the same.  Instrument flying is challenging due to the lack of visual cues and intense focus inside the airplane.  Commercial flying is challenging because you must focus on the safety and comfort of your passengers, who see an airplane as merely a mode of transportation.

Gaining my instrument rating made me a better, safer, pilot.  The rating has increased the quality of my flying life.  The commercial certificate opens up the pro-pilot part of my flying career.  Both have changed me for the better.  Now I am focused on the multi-engine Commercial rating in late September. Then I promised myself I would get the rest of 2020 for fun flying.

Remember that a great pilot uses both mastery while looking outside the airplane and thoughtful precision while looking inside.  Whether you are thinking about getting a new rating or certificate or purchasing a plane or club ownership this time, where we are home-based might be the perfect opportunity. I hope to see you all out there in 2021.

 

 

Jolie Lucas makes her home on the Central Coast of CA with her mini-Golden, Mooney. Jolie is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and commercial pilot. Jolie is a nationally-known aviation presenter and aviation writer. Jolie is the Region 4 Vice President of the California Pilots Association. She is the 2010 AOPA Joseph Crotti Award recipient for GA Advocacy. Email: [email protected] Web: www.JolieLucas.com Twitter: Mooney4Me

Exiting the Hold: Utilize Community Connection

In last month’s installment of Exiting the Hold: Reaching your Aviation Goals we talked about the importance of quieting the critic, exhibiting determination and the importance of perseverance in reaching your goals. In the final installment we will focus on utilizing aviation community connections to help reach our goals.

Sun ‘n Fun 2018

In this digital age you would be remiss not to use built-in aviation community connections such as:

  • Message Boards
  • Type Clubs
  • Online Forums
  • Type-Specific Websites
  • Facebook

Utilize community connection

View isolation as an enemy in attaining your goals. When we are isolated it is easy to fall into old patterns of thought and behavior. Remember from earlier installments of Exiting the Hold, old thinking will not support new learning.

Oceano Airport Toys for Tots

Why not attend one of our wonderful aviation events? Whether large or small, these events are sure to inspire you. Gatherings are a way to network with old-timers, connect with mentors, and meet others on the same path of growth. Make sure to fully utilize the support of your friends and family.

Try putting this simple formula to work for you. First, change your thoughts. The second step is to change your language. Next comes changing your actions, and finally your experience will change. Here is an example with the goal of getting a tail wheel endorsement. Your old thinking of “I don’t have the rudder skills to fly a tail wheel” changes in to “I can learn the skills I need to fly a tail wheel.” Next comes the language piece. Tell a friend, “I am learning to fly a tail wheel.” The action part is scheduling the airplane and instruction necessary for the endorsement and completing the training. And finally, voila! you are a tail wheel pilot.

Exiting the Hold, OSH 2018

Exiting the Hold: Reaching your Aviation Goals has been a very popular presentation series over the past year as I have presented across the country from Sun n Fun, to Oshkosh, to the Capital Airshow in California. I have decided in 2019 to continue with this series in hopes of reaching even more folks who feel stuck in life, and hopefully to inspire them to move forward toward success.

Exiting the Hold: Reaching your Aviation Goals

Six Keys Summary

  • Maximize timing
  • Choose your course of study wisely
  • Let yourself be a flexible thinker
  • Quiet the critic
  • Exhibit determination
  • Utilize community connections

In early 2019 I will be partnering  King Schools to offer Exiting the Hold in beautiful San Luis Obispo California. ACI Jet will be hosting the evening seminar which will be an opportunity for us to gather together, earn FAAST credit, see the presentation, and also perhaps win the drawing for a certificate for any course King Schools offers. Look for more information soon.

It is possible to exit the holding pattern you have been flying. Acknowledge that you have been stuck, use community connections to decrease isolation, make informed choices about resources, and be determined to change your aviation future. Look at obstacles merely as challenges to overcome; in the end your flying will be safer and more enjoyable and you will be proud of your accomplishments.

 

 

 

 

Jolie Lucas makes her home on the Central Coast of CA with her mini-Golden, Mooney. Jolie is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and commercial pilot. Jolie is a nationally-known aviation presenter and aviation writer. Jolie is the Region 4 Vice President of the California Pilots Association. She is the 2010 AOPA Joseph Crotti Award recipient for GA Advocacy. Email: [email protected] Web: www.JolieLucas.com Twitter: Mooney4Me

Paranoia Pays Off

Normally, paranoia is considered unhealthy. As it pertains to flying, however, in my experience a moderate dose can keep the doctor away much like the proverbial apple. It’ll keep the FAA, NTSB, and unemployment line at arm’s length as well.

There are so many things to be concerned with when aviating that I find great benefit in prioritizing them all by asking: Can this kill me? The answer will vary with the kind of airplane I’m flying, of course. This is where a regular reading of safety and accident reports can pay dividends.

In an aerobatic airplane, the No. 1 killer is the pilot himself. So no showboating, low flying, or things that being with “watch this.” From a preflight standpoint (and the preflight always takes longer than the actual flight where aerobatics is concerned), the canopy latches, fuel selector, and flight controls are high on the list, as is a thorough inspection of the cockpit and tail cone area for any foreign object debris. Those are the things which, historically, have led pilots to grief in those airplanes. I once had a flight control system failure in the middle of an aerobatic sequence. It gets your attention rather quickly.

In the Gulfstream, the top spot goes to the pressurization system. This is a component that keeps the crew alive just as surely as the wings. We cruise at altitudes much higher than the average airlines, where there’s precious few seconds of useful consciousness if a sudden loss of pressure is experienced. But even more insidious is the slow depressurization as it often goes unnoticed until physiological impairment is already at work.

There have been so many accidents related to pressurization, and quite often they’re fatal. Recently an Air China 737 dropped the masks because the first officer decided to vape in the cockpit and, not understanding how the pressurization system worked, shut it off inadvertently. Instead of diverting, they completed the flight without any oxygen for the passengers after reactivating the packs. Unsafe? Yes, and illegal, too. As many politicians have learned the hard way, the coverup is always worse than the initial crime.

I’m also paranoid about the galley oven and microwave on my Gulfstream. Fire in an airplane is really bad. Just the other day on the way to Hawaii, our flight attendant forgot to remove labels from a catering order and almost caught the containers on fire. Rookie mistake? Hardly. This flight attendant is highly experienced, and I’m sure she’s not alone in having made this particular error. We’re all aware that a moment’s carelessness can lead to serious consequences, but it’s vital to remember that this is as true for flight attendants, passengers, and ground crew as it is for pilots.

I try to think of other ways things can catch on fire, too. We have Firebane and a FireSock for containment of lithium battery fires from portable devices. I’ve also often rehearsed what I’d do if a fire or burning smell was detected from an unknown source, practiced the emergency descents every recurrent, and so on. My record is FL450 to 15,000 feet msl in a minute and 43 seconds. The particular Gulfstream model I fly is at somewhat of a disadvantage over newer large cabin iterations in that there’s no “automatic descent mode.” That’s an additional risk factor. We have to get the masks on in time, every time, because the airplane has no backup technology to save us.

I’m also paranoid about things like access panels, chocks, gear pins, and the like. Those won’t necessarily cause an accident, but in my experience they’re by far the most commonly missed. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen fuelers leave the single point refueling door open. We see safety reports about that stuff constantly at my company.

I’m paranoid about what’s behind the airplane. I always perform a final walk around prior to closing the door, and note what’s in the path of the airplane’s jet blast. I fly tailwheel airplanes and have seen them damaged by jets, especially at small congested fields like my home airport (John Wayne-Orange County Airport) where it’s not uncommon to have a Global or Gulfstream starting up with a Citabria less than a hundred feet behind it. I love those small airplanes!

I’m paranoid about landing on the wrong runway. I’ve intervened to save three pilots from that on various occasions. “Cleared for the visual” always gets the hair on the back of my neck standing up. I personally witnessed a Boeing 757 land at the wrong airport in Arizona once at an aerobatic contest. It happens to the pros and non-professionals in equal measure.

I’m paranoid about hitting things during taxi. The G-IV/G-450 wings are not nearly as long as the V/550/650, but relying on a wing walker or marshaller still gives me pause, especially if any of the “big three” risk factors are present: night conditions, obstacles, and/or an unfamiliar ramp. I’ve told everyone on my crew “if you’re in doubt in any way about clearance from objects, stop and shut down the plane. They can tow it the rest of the way.” And if it hits something then? Well, that’s on them.

I’m paranoid about instrument clearances. I always try to have both pilots present when the clearance is received via voice, and we verify what we’ve heard and the routing prior to departure. We see a lot of lateral navigation deviances in our Event Review Committee meetings, and from what I understand that’s true for every Aviation Safety Action Program in the industry. I say “try” because despite my best efforts, I’ve been given IFR clearances when I didn’t want them. Sometimes just calling the delivery frequency to see if the clearance is even available via PDC will prompt them to start reading it to you via voice.

Most of all, I’m paranoid about scheduling pressure, especially in the Part 135 “on demand” environment. This never comes from my company; it’s always self-induced. So: Don’t rush. If the passengers show up early, there’s a mechanical issue, the lead passenger is demanding, etc., well, that’s when things can go sideways easily. I try to slow down, take a deep breath, and be extra methodical. Never skip any checklist. If the passengers are late, they’re late. I’ve been screamed at by an aircraft owner over this. I was nice about it, but basically said, “Too bad.” It’s easy to say, but much harder to stick to in a real-world operating environment. It seems to be baked into human DNA and has to be fought constantly, consistently, and methodically.

It takes a lifetime to build up a decent reputation as a pilot, and just a few careless moments to destroy it. As Joseph Heller famously wrote in his seminal novel Catch-22, “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”

Ron Rapp is a Southern California-based charter pilot, aerobatic CFI, and aircraft owner whose 9,000+ hours have encompassed everything from homebuilts to business jets. He’s written mile-long messages in the air as a Skytyper, crop-dusted with ex-military King Airs, flown across oceans in a Gulfstream IV, and tumbled through the air in his Pitts S-2B. Visit Ron’s website.

What is a Fire Traffic Area?

Canadair water scooper aircraft. One of the of aircraft types that frequent Alaskan skies during fire season.

As wildfire season approaches in Alaska, we can expect to see the migration of fire-fighting aircraft into the state.  Only slightly behind the migrating waterfowl.  I had the opportunity to sit in on a briefing recently that described how the aircraft that are used to tackle wildfire are managed—and more specifically, the airspace around a fire that is “under attack.”  They use a structure called a Fire Traffic Area. This is not necessarily the same as a TFR, which would apply to those of us not participating in fire fighting operations.  More on that later.

Structure of a wildfire operation
Typically, first on the scene is an air attack aircraft.  Aero Commanders are used to perform this function in interior Alaska.  Onboard is a pilot and a fire-fighter.  From their vantage point overhead, they manage the air assets, which might include air tankers, helicopters, cargo planes making drops to crews on the ground, etc. They also monitor operations on the ground, and watch the development of the fire, among other things.

Fire Traffic Area Diagram. Note that aircraft may be arriving or holding in the airspace outside the 5 nm controlled area. Water scooper aircraft or helicopters may also be ferrying to and from nearby waterbodies. Monitor the tactical frequency, 128.45 MHz when flying in the vicinity of a fire fighting operation.

Fire Traffic Area
A piece of airspace five nautical mile in diameter called a Fire Traffic Area, is defined over the blaze during fire suppression operations. It typically extends from the surface to 2,500 feet above terrain.  Within this airspace, altitude zones are used to separate the different type of aerial operations (see diagram for altitude stratifications).  Aircraft involved in the operation are required to contact “air attack” when they are within 12 miles of the center of this structure, and not allowed within 7 nautical miles until they have established communication with the air attack ship.  This airspace will often, but not always, be accompanied by a TFR. When a TFR is established for fire-fighting operations, it should include a radio frequency and phone number, in case you do need to transit the airspace.

Communications
The two-person crew in the air attack aircraft not only directs tanker and other aerial activities—they also maintain communications with crews on the ground and dispatchers back at air bases.  Between VHF and FM radios and a Sat phone, they may have as many as eight com channels to manage.  If one is flying in the vicinity of a fire operation, a good thing to note is the primary air tactical frequency: 128.45 MHz.  Monitoring this frequency should give you an idea of what is happening.  If you need to transit the area, give a call.  If the frequency is extremely busy, that is a clue that you might want to detour around, and not add to the congestion they are already dealing with.  At other times, however, give a call, perhaps starting with a position report, and let them know what you would like to do.

Fire related radio frequencies that may be handy to know.

Reporting a wildfire
Depending on what part of the state you are in, either BLM or the State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources will have jurisdiction over fire suppression activities. In case you need report a wild fire, two other frequencies to note are: State Forestry, 132.45 MHz and BLM Fire, 127.45.

Safety is our number one concern when sharing airspace with fire-fighting activities.  Keep these radio frequencies handy, check NOTAMs for TFR’s and enjoy the summer flying season!

GPS Testing Part of Military Training this season

Sample of the map included with a GPS Testing NOTAM. Pilots filling out online GPS anomaly reports may help develop a better understanding of the real impacts of these activities.

Military Training is a routine part of the flying season in Alaska.  Sporting the largest contiguous complex of special use airspace in the country (the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex or JPARC), military planners last week announced the dates of four Red Flag exercises over the coming months.  The thing that is a little different is that each of these 10 day exercises this year will include “GPS testing” where military forces on the ground will jam the GPS signal from participating aircraft, to test this real-world threat now faced by our armed forces.  The challenge is, it may also impact civil aircraft, outside the boundaries of the MOAs and Restricted Areas used by the military aircraft.

When/where will this happen?
The GPS testing will take place within the ten-day windows of the Red Flag Exercises.  At a briefing last week, the dates of this years exercises were shared with civil aviation operators.  We also learned that some of these exercises will have as many as 120 aircraft, participating, including visitors from several foreign countries.  These are dates you may want to put on your calendar, and pay attention to as you plan your flying activities:

JPARC Airspace Complex, largest military training airspace in the country, will be again host Red Flag flying exercises this summer.

26 April – 11 May
7-22 June
9-24 August
4-19 October

On the dates within these ranges that GPS testing is planned, NOTAMs will be issued at least 72 hours in advance, with defined date and time ranges that will limit the testing.  Even though the testing is highly directional in nature, aimed at military participants, the potential for it to disrupt GPS signals outside their airspace is significant.  As we progress into the NextGen era, where GPS is the primary basis for IFR as well as VFR navigation, this is something we all need to plan for.

What if I lose my GPS?
We still have a lot to learn about the impacts of GPS testing.  If you lose GPS signal while flying please do two things:

(1) Notify ATC, whether it be Anchorage Center, approach control, a control tower or a flight service station.  Let them know when and where you lost GPS signal, or experienced any other problems with GPS navigation. This holds for both IFR and VFR operations.

(2) After your flight, please fill out a GPS Anomaly Reporting Form to help us learn the extent and nature of impacts that may be caused by this testing.  https://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/nas/gps_reports/

AOPA is working this issue on a national level and getting reports from Alaska will help define the impacts of this training activity—which influences all segments of civil aviation. Through time, we hope this will result in more accurate NOTAMs, or other accommodations to provide more precise understanding of the impacts of these training activities.

What else can I do?
As pilots, we are trained to have back-up plans.  If you are operating IFR, remembering to tune in the VOR and ILS frequencies from our “legacy” equipment.  For those of us that fly VFR, it might be a good idea to make a flight or two this summer just navigating with a good old paper chart—and re-discovering the joys of pilotage.

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.

More GPS Interference Testing in Alaska

The military will again be conducting GPS testing out of Restricted Area 2205, east of Eielson Air Force Base, November 12-17, 2017.  This activity will be conducted at night, between the hours of 06Z and 16Z (Starting on November 11th, 9 pm Alaska Daylight Time, running till 7 am daily for five days).  A look at the chart accompanying this notice, issued by the FAA Joint Frequency Management Office Alaska, shows that effects could be widespread.

Map of potentially impacted area from upcoming GPS Testing.

If you experience any GPS anomalies, in addition to notifying ATC, please share that information with AOPA by sending an email to: [email protected].  Details including aircraft type, location, altitude, and the nature of the anomaly would help us track this issue.

While these hours of operation represent the maximum extent that “testing” may be conducted, we expect actual activities may be of shorter duration.  ATC will be notified by the military before testing on a given day is started, and when it has been concluded, so a call to Anchorage Center may provide a better idea of what to expect during these days.  As always, please check NOTAMS for any changes regarding this activity.

At the Alaska Civil Military Aviation Council meeting earlier this week, we were advised that each of the Red Flag Exercises being planned for the coming year will include GPS Interference activities.  AOPA will continue to monitor this activity and its impacts on civil aviation, as we continue to advance into the era of satellite based navigation.

Link to the notice:  JFAK 17-03 GPS Flight Advisory

Stupid Pilot Tricks

I’ve been flying turbine aircraft for more than a decade now (jeez, time flies!), and with few exceptions, those with whom I’ve shared the cockpit have operated in the consistently safe and professional manner one would expect from an aviator who makes their living flying airplanes.

You’d think this would go without saying, but unfortunately corporate and charter pilots don’t always have the resources or limitations you’d find at a major airline. As the Bedford G-IV accident illustrates, this is especially true of private (Part 91) flight departments. Some of them are run as professionally as any Part 121 airline, while others… well, let’s just say they leave something to be desired when it comes to standards, training, and safety culture.

But every now and then you come across something so egregious that you almost can’t believe what you’re seeing. For example, take a look at this sequence of photographs, which were sent to me by a friend. This Hawker was departing from the recent NBAA convention in Las Vegas, the one place you’d expect a business aviation pilot to be on his or her best behavior.

This first frame looks like a normal takeoff.

Here’s where it starts to get interesting. The main gear are still on the runway but the nose gear retraction sequence has already started.

The nose gear is halfway retracted by the time the main landing gear leaves the runway.

Main gear retraction begins the instant lift off occurs. You can see the main gear doors are already opening.

The nose wheel is almost stowed, and the mains are folding inward. How much indication of a positive rate of climb does the crew have at this point?

Gear is mostly retracted and altitude is perhaps a couple of feet above ground. At least the flaps are still down.

Spoke too soon! Flaps are retracted and a steep turn initiated abeam the NBAA static display. Looks to be little more than a wingspan above the dirt.

The coup de grâce, a banked turn of perhaps 80 degrees over the area north of the field, which is now primarily residential housing.

I don’t fly Hawkers, but ran it by some friends who do. None of us could think of any scenario where raising the landing gear handle prior to takeoff would be acceptable practice. There’s nothing to be gained from doing it. At that point the only thing preventing the gear from folding up are a couple of squat switches. They’re not exactly the most robust and durable components on an aircraft, and they live in a dirty, windy, vibration-prone environment. To say this pilot was taking a gamble would be charitable.

I’ve been wracking my brain trying to come up with some mitigating circumstance to explain this. Is it possible the gear handle could have been raised inadvertently? Or that a malfunction in the system could have caused it to begin retracting without the handle being raised? Sometimes people do unexplainable things without realizing it. It reminds me of the Virgin Galactic accident, where one of the pilots unlocked the feathering mechanism at too high a speed and it caused the entire spacecraft to break apart. As the old saying goes, “I know people do crazy things, because I’ve seen me do ‘em.”

Unfortunately, the last two photos put to bed any such thoughts. The Hawker is well into a turn at what appears to be not much more than a wingspan worth of altitude. That means the pilot started the turn as soon as he or she thought the wingtip wouldn’t drag in the dirt. And then there’s the very steep turn in the last photo, which an eyewitness – an experienced aviator in his own right – estimated at about 80 degrees of bank. That’s a clear 91.303 violation. The law defines aerobatics as “an intentional maneuver involving an abrupt change in an aircraft’s attitude, an abnormal attitude, or abnormal acceleration, not necessary for normal flight”. The definition is necessarily vague because of the differing performance of various aircraft. A 45 degree pitch angle may be normal Vx climb for my Pitts, but it would be abnormal for a transport category jet aircraft like the Hawker.

If that’s not enough, check out the supremely early flap retraction. Industry standard is 400 feet minimum before any configuration change.

Summary: The pilot was showing off. Which is incredibly stupid, because the airport was populated with professional aviators, many of whom are getting tired of seeing this sort of thing. A number of them are involved with flight safety initiatives and have undoubtedly read more than their share of incident and accident reports caused by just this sort of behavior.

Is it possible to fly into or out of the industry’s largest convention without understanding that a hundred cameras are trained on every arrival and departure? Perhaps they WANTED to be recorded; if so, they got their wish. The entire thing was probably recorded on the FDR, CVR, and ATC radar. Certainly, it was captured on film, probably on video somewhere too, and last but not least by the eyes of everyone who saw it.

Is it really worth sacrificing life and livelihood on a stunt like this? For some people, apparently the answer is yes. What’s most irritating is that these stupid pilot tricks give everyone in my line of work a black eye when most of us do not deserve it. So it’s up to those of us in the industry to say loud and clear that pilots who engage in these hairbrained stunts are not cool. They’re being unprofessional, unnecessarily risky, and demonstrating the exact opposite of “the right stuff.”

Ron Rapp is a Southern California-based charter pilot, aerobatic CFI, and aircraft owner whose 9,000+ hours have encompassed everything from homebuilts to business jets. He’s written mile-long messages in the air as a Skytyper, crop-dusted with ex-military King Airs, flown across oceans in a Gulfstream IV, and tumbled through the air in his Pitts S-2B. Visit Ron’s website.
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