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


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 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


The article in this link from, 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


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...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Time To Slow Down

I'm in an unusual situation this summer: there's a Cessna 182 I can borrow just about any time I want it!  Of course I have to pay for fuel.

And that's changed some of my thinking about speed, and slowing down.  Let me explain.

As an aircraft owner, well, my last two aircraft were a glider (no fuel concerns there) and a 1946 Taylorcraft (fuel costs were negligible).

As a professional pilot I was encouraged to go direct and go fast, and people made fun of me (behind my back, mostly) for doing things like trying to compute a minimum fuel route by taking advantage of unusual winds aloft.  Once on a long King Air trip I "diverted" 100 miles from the direct course to stay in the favorable circulation around a low pressure area.  This only took me a couple of minutes to figure out by playing with routes on DUATS, and maybe saved 10 minutes of flight time.  If everybody did that the company would be way better off, but instead I heard "How come you flew that funny route?"
I wrote an altitude optimization app for our Cessna 414 that nobody else used: analyzing the performance data led me to fly much higher than the other pilots, which was fine until it depressurized at FL260.   But that's another story...

As a renter, I use the maximum allowable power.  I also worry about taxi time, which costs as much as flight time.  I have actually picked fueling stops based on taxi time (Battle Mountain, NV is much better than Winnemucca).  Saving 0.1 hours of taxi time saves a lot of money in the long run.

But as a borrower I have learned to think in new ways.

First, the cost of taxi time is negligible.

Second, there is no need to firewall the engine and go fast.  I can fly that 182 at close to 140 knots, but if I slow down I use much less fuel and not much more time.

So I've learned to slow down.