Friday, November 14, 2014

New New Old

I was checking a pilot out in our "new" Cessna 414.  He has a lot of time in multiengine turbojets but none in cabin class piston twins, so none in the 414.  We had done a lot of ground instruction on systems and their operation, and now it was time to start the engines in anger (we had done a practice start already: the starting procedure for a Continental TSIO540 is nothing like that of a JT8D...).  We went over my 414 transition mantra: pumps pressure props & pedals.  (I say this a lot flying 414s to make sure the right things happen during a transition, say from cruise to enroute climb: boos Pumps on, check the Pressurization for the climb, Prop synchrophaser as required, and yaw damper (Pedals) as required.)

Since this would be his first flight at our airport, we would need to do some area familiarization, too.  Knowledge of the local roads and creeks is worth at least another Garmin 530.

But the weather was marginal.

We taxied out (I taxied while he studied the airport diagram) and did a careful, detailed runup; we did some items twice, to cement the ideas into place.  We programmed the Garmin 530s for an approach that we hoped to practice after doing some steep turns and stalls.

A Caravan (C208) taxied out, and we told the tower to let him go first since we weren't quite ready and didn't want to rush.  Besides, he was on a schedule.  But I also asked the tower to solicit a base report from the departing 208.

New pilot, new airplane, new airport, right?

As we were taxiing to the hold short line the Caravan called back to say that the bases were 4000AGL.  Sweet!

But not for long.  After a nice takeoff it seemed to me that the ceiling was a tad bit lower than the Caravan had reported, like 1200AGL.  Not the right situation for airwork in a high-wing-loading cabin class twin.  We decided to stay in the pattern.  You know, the pattern he had never flown before?

This is where I got stupid.  I thought it would be nice to put the final approach course for the approach we had programmed into the pilot's HSI, since, after all, he wasn't familiar with the airport.  It would have been nicer to keep my head outside to help him stay oriented in the rapidly-decreasing visibility, but with my head inside (and not just inside the airplane: my head was someplace where the Moon seldom shines) I was not as aware of the decreasing visibility as I should have been.

He got us onto final without my help and noted that we were a "little fast" at Vref+50.  This was our chance to try the spoilers, but this pattern was so screwed up that no amount of spoilers would help.  We went around.

This time I was flying the airplane, or helping him do so, rather than flying the 530, and we turned 1 mile final on speed and altitude and with the proper configuration.  Then came another surprise.

"I think you should do the first landing so I can get the sight picture."

Not one to refuse a landing, I complied.  One of the things I notice when I am flying and teaching simultaneously, though, is that I exaggerate things a little to bring the point home.  I held the airplane in the flare position with a little power, so we landed long.  Better to taxi back then do a touch-and-go: you know, new pilot, new airplane, new airport?

As we did a 180 on the runway and the tower called and told us that the field had gone IFR.  We looked at each other and easily decided to call it a day.

If I hadn't landed long we would have been a new pilot in a new airplane at a new airport and scrambling to get a clearance.

I was reminded of a flight many years ago at the former Oneida County Airport in Utica, NY, which has since closed.  I was in the pattern in a 152 on a winter day.  POOF: a snow shower hit the field and it was suddenly IFR.  The tower played the "say intentions" game but I couldn't just air file IFR because he had General Electric's DC-4 radar testbed airplane inbound, so his airspace was full.  I continued "VFR" on the downwind as the snow increased and was shocked by the sight of the DC-4 with all of its lights ablaze emerging from the snow just short of the threshold.  With no thought of wake turbulence I turned base as close as I dared behind it and landed.

The moral?  Snow showers happen quickly and with little warning.  The fact that the bases were 4000AGL only 5 minutes ago is not helpful.  Be ready to change your plans and abort, especially in training flights or in aircraft that can't handle ice.

And keep your head where it belongs.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fishing for Students

I've always felt -- well, OK, maybe even preached -- that everything a pilot does is a preparation for flight.  Like many investments, though, you never know what, exactly, it is that you're preparing or what, exactly, you're preparing for.  You just have to trust that you're preparing something.

Take what happened in this story: at one point I decided it would be fun to learn the American Sign Language alphabet; many years later it came in handy when giving a Young Eagles ride to a trio of deaf girls.

So, you never know.

Something similar happened today.  I was scheduled to do a "Discovery Flight," you, know, the half hour introductory lesson at a reduced price.  These are invariably fun, even if the pay works out to be approximately minimum wage.

Sometimes people want a half-hour of sightseeing while they try out the controls, and I am always happy to let them try to fly to see their house or some other favorite landmark, as long as we stay within 25NM.

Today's couple wanted to look at some of the streams south of town; they had a special interest in beavers.

Beavers?, I said.  Let me show you the beaver pictures I took this summer.

They got all excited.  I think they liked the pictures better than the flight, which was pretty nice.  I emailed them pictures of the beaver pond, dam, and the beaver himself.


So, what's the story here?  Last summer my wife and daughter wanted to take an Australian friend hiking, and I decided that fishing would be more fun.  The access was a little difficult and I was fishing small pocket water with just a little success.  I went from opening in the willows to opening in the willows, fishing each stretch for a couple of minutes before moving on.  This fishing requires a little stealth and a delicate presentation.

One opening took me to the beaver pond, and I could see the beavers working.  So I took some pictures, posted them to facebook, got a few likes, and forgot about the whole thing.

Until today.

Mike enjoyed the story and pictures, and he really seemed to enjoy his time at the controls, too.  He asked lots of questions about the syllabus, the controls, and the like.  This might turn into a new student!

CFIs, including me, sometimes complain that it's hard to find new students.  It seems unlikely that we will find them hanging out at the too-quiet airport.  The way to find students is by being out-and-about, letting your joie-de-voler about flying spill into your joie-de-vivre about life.

In other words, if you want to attract new students, go fishing.

Friday, October 10, 2014

414

Irony isn't what it used to be, but still, only a few weeks after resurrecting memories of flying a Cessna 414, one has arrived on the property, and I have been designated to train everyone in it.  It's pretty; it has the RAM VII conversion; and it has winglets.   It has dual Garmin 530s and weather radar.  I like it!

I don't know much about winglets, so I asked a friend who flies for an all-737 airline and he shared some information (this always impresses the guys who don't know you: "My friend at XXX says that winglets...")

The interesting part is that none of the pilots I am training have much time in piston twins, and there is a lot to learn here.  They have been flying King Airs (with autofeather and rudder boost) and Citations (almost centerl-line thrust, and nothing to feather), so the piston-engine drill is new to them.  This puts me in a dilemma: proper training is hard on the engines, but a little must be done in any event.  When I first flew it to regain my multi-engine currency I waited until the final pattern to fail an engine on myself and flew a singl;e-engine pattern to a full stop landing with a slow taxi to parking to make sure the turbochargers cooled adequately.

The RAM conversion adds 25 horsepower a side, but that's only 100 feet per minute of extra climb on one engine (see this post).  Which might be enough in a crisis.

OK, time to go to the airport.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

RNAV Navigation

John Ewing knows a lot about navigation and writes well.  Read this.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Radio

Radio spreads essence through the √¶ther, causing action at a distance.  The intent may be directed toward one spot on the ground, or toward one craft aloft.  But the effect is universal, the call "left base to final'' eventually reaching  another planet where a pilot cranes its necks searching for the unseen and invisible.

Monday, August 11, 2014

CFIT

The article in this link from skybrary.aero, describes a Canadian Transportation Safety Board report on a Boeing 737 CFIT (controlloed flight into terrain) accident about 3 years ago.  The airplane was on an ILS approach in instrument conditions.  They started the approach high and fast, passing through 10,000' MSL at 310 KIAS; Canada, like the USA, has a 250 KIAS speed limit below 10,000'.  This is already a sign of trouble.

For various reasons you can read about the 737 flew through the localizer.  The First Officer noticed, but the Captain insisted that the current heading would allow them to reintercept the localizer.  They were discussing the discrepancy between the GPS track and the localizer as they descended through 1,000' AGL.

They were lost.  They knew they were lost.  And they continued to descend.

Folks, if you are below 1,000' in the clouds and not sure whether you are on course, then you are not on course.  This crew had full localizer deflection but continued to follow the glide slope, with fatal results.

Swallow your pride and go around.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Sixty

Aviation for me has always come with an intrinsic conflict, namely that I seem to enjoy numbers and formulas more than most other pilots.  Mathematics has always come with an intrinsic conflict, too, since I seem to enjoy flying and airplanes more than most other mathematicians.

I think pilots would fly better if they calculated more, and I think mathematicians would calculate better if they would fly.  (That's not quite right, since the purpose of mathematics is to get the right answer without calculating.  But you get the idea.)

So I have been writing an essay about the number 60.  I think it's the most important number in aviation, with the possible exception of the price of self-service Avgas at my local airport.  I won't reproduce the essay here, but will share some thoughts.

The mathematician likes 60 because it has so many factors: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, and 30.  This makes it easy to divide by 60.  (Someday I will get to teach a semester-length course in long division, which is an important technique in coding and cryptography, but that's the subject of a different essay.)

I am unsure of how this came to be, and don't want to replay the "Babylonian mathematics" game, but we divide a lot of things into 60 pieces: hours are divided into 60 minutes, each minute is 60 seconds; each degree of arc is 60 minutes, and each of these minutes is 60 seconds; and, what is the same thing, each degree of latitude is divided into 60 nautical miles (in theory). The circle is divided into 360 degrees, that is, 6 times 60, too.

All of these divisions are part of aviation.  Remember the "Rule of 60" that appeared on every FAA knowledge test that you ever took?  That one degree of error is one mile of error after 60 miles?

To focus on error is a mistake; focus on desired performance instead.  Lots of turbine pilots use the 3-to-1 rule for descent planning: 3 miles for every 1000'.  A little fooling around with 60 shows that's remarkably close to 3 degrees.

That's fine if your pressurized jet can sustain 2,000 fpm without busting eardrums, but what if the airplane isn't pressurized?  Then you're looking at a descent rate of 500 to 1,000 fpm.  To lose, say, 4,000 feet, takes 8 minutes at 500 fpm. A groundspeed of around 120 knots is about 2 miles per minute (see the role of 60?), so the descent takes 16 miles.  The same idea works at 110, or 130.  A groundspeed of 180 knots is 3 miles per minute (we divided by 60 again), so the same descent takes 24 miles.  This is still close enough at 150 knots, or at 210.  Oh, add a couple of miles to slow down to traffic pattern airspeed.  That's experience, not math.

Using a base of 60 means that you can work with whole numbers, which are a whole lot easier than fractions.

Now if only coming up with money to pay for Avgas were as simple...