Sunday, June 29, 2008

As it should be...

Friday was one of those aviation days where everything goes right.

The morning started around 9am with a presolo student in a 172. He has been making steady progress in the pattern, and now can reliably deliver himself to the threshold on speed and in configuration. The flare itself is eluding him, but it won't elude him for long at the rate he's going.

The flight school was having a pizza party, so he and I ate and talked with some other pilots, good airport bum time. But it was time to go: I was headed to the gliderport in my club's Archer. Heading from business-on-the-airfield to business-on-the-airfield, is there any other way to go?

The flight was just miserable, steady turbulence and lots of up-and-down drafts, so I had a big smile on my face when I landed. It was going to be a good soaring day.

(In a power airplane, you blast through the thermal, each one giving you a little slam. In a glider, you circle inside at least some of the thermals. The turbulence comes from passing through the thermal, not from being in it.)

We got my Jantar ready and I launched. The tow was rough, and once I was very surprised to see that I was above the tow plane but in its wake. WTF? The tow pilot thought that I had released in one of the bumps, so started to descend with me attached.

I had a student due at 4pm, and I kept calling down to see if he had arrived. "No sign of him, enjoy your flight," Adam reported. Brad was in the 1-34 and we thermaled together for a quite a while.

But I had more than enough altitude to explore, and headed north. I got about 10 miles from the airport, still above glide path, alternating between dolphin flight and circling. I called on the radio; André still wasn't there. But I did not not want to stray too far.

André finally arrived, but said that it would take some time to get ready, so I began to circle the field well above pattern altitude. I headed south to a thermal, then made a high-speed run back to the airport to see how André was coming with the Blanik. It hadn't moved yet, so I did a chandelle and headed back to the thermal. Another run to the airport ended in a pair of steep turns, then back.

Finally I saw the Blanik moved and headed in to the airport. I ran the speed up to 90 but was only sinking at 2 knots, and even found some zero sink. I was way too high for the downwind, so I did a big wide circle around the airport to enter downwind, still a little high. Gear down, dive brakes out, a nice pattern and an absolutely rotten landing. Yucko.

André is post-solo but it had been a few weeks so I wanted to ride around the patch with him in the Blanik once before sending him off. He flew the pattern well, so I had him take a high tow and headed to the FBO for an ice cream. We watched him release, right in the thermal I had been working, so I was sitting in the FBO office for a while enjoying the ice cream.

When we came back out he was entering the pattern. He had not been able to stay in the lift. Since the tow pilot had left, he was done for the day.

We put the Blanik away and I headed back to the Archer for the flight home. I took off at 8pm, exactly, and ended up with a 12 hour duty day by the time I landed. Charter regulations limit pilots to 14 hours, and I have gone longer on ferry flights, but on autopilot in the flight levels is less work than centering a thermal, so I was pretty tired.

On paper, it was a lot like a charter pilot day: 12 hours of duty, 5.2 hours, 10 landings. But, I flew four types in two categories, and I really flew, rather than sitting back and drinking coffee.

One more thing. A charter pilot would have been paid, and while the students paid a little for my time, I still had to pay for the Archer, so there was a small net loss. But who cares? I did it for fun, after all.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Night Currency and History

It is June 23. I started this blog on March 12, and on March 14 I wrote about going out to get night current. This means two things: first, that I have managed to find enough interesting (to me) things about aviation to sustain a blog for 3 months, and also that I am no longer night current!

First, about the blog. I imagine that most bloggers track readership, and I do, too. While mine has been small it has been eclectic. North Carolina, Tennessee, France, Canada...One of the wonderful things about aviation is its international character: the laws of physics are the same in all hemispheres. My only complaint is that these readers don't leave comments; I would love to hear what you have to say, and about your adventures.

Second, night currency. I flew with a student just before sunset, and the air was so deliciously smooth that I decided to hang around after he left to get night current again. There was still some glow to the west, but the field itself was dark, waiting for moonrise. I was wrapped in the coccoon of an Archer.

I was conscious of the irony of flying an Archer: despite all of the places and aircraft that aviation has shown me, here I am twenty-five years later, doing the same preflight I learned as a student. My first solo cross-country was in an Archer. I got my instrument rating in an Archer. My Archer flights span the continent, from Santa Monica to Cape Cod to Seattle.

Here's an old Archer story. It is 1990, and I am preparing to move from Utica, New York to London, Ontario, Canada, for a sabbatical. I decided that I needed to take a trip to London to look for an apartment. (What I really needed was a flying adventure.) I was flying with the Griffiss AFB Aero Club (I was doing some contract research for the Air Force at the time), and spent a fair amount of effort doing the leg work to find out if I could take an Aero Club airplane into another country. "Yeah, piece of cake, I can take a fully loaded gunship into Canada any time I want," one of the Army guys in the club bragged in that Army way. But I went through channels anyway.

The day came and I filed IFR, V2 at 6000, as I recall. I was on top somewhere west of Syracuse.

New York Center: "N84014, traffic at 12 o'clock, 6 miles, eastbound at 7000, a B-17."

Me: "014, looking."

Did I hear that right? A B-17? I peered ahead, and sure enough there was a B-17 coming directly at me, 1000 feet above. The Sun was dazzling on its polished aluminum. I recognized it as one of the (then) Confederate Air Force birds.

Me: "014, traffic in sight."

Now, that was cool. I couldn't wait to tell my friends. It was so close, and so beautiful against the blue sky, I would never see something like that again, wow, what a privilege!

But I was premature.

New York Center: "N84014, traffic at 12 o'clock, 6 miles, eastbound at 7000, a B-29."

A what? A B-29? That can't be. But there it was, just a little to the right, shining in the sun.

I keyed my mike before I could censor myself: "014, traffic in sight. What year is this, anyway?" Center did not answer.

Nothing like that happened tonight. The tower was closed, I was the only airplane in the pattern. The air was smooth, and I was at home in the same airplane I flew 25 years ago. The landings were easy, my best landings in a long time, and I drove away current and satisfied.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Modern Navigation Management

NASA has just issued a report, Human Factors Considerations for Performance-Based Navigation. As the title implies, the advent of performance-based navigation is bound to change the kinds of mistakes that pilots make, and means that pilots need to learn new things.

First, what is performance-based navigation? I like to think of performance-based navigation as database navigation. Basically, it means a more complex flight path that is found in a database and must be followed within certain performance parameters. Many navigation systems can meet the performance requirement, so no specific system like "VOR" is specified. The performance requirement takes the rough form "within xNM of the centerline 95% of the time."

See, for example, the following approach chart into Palm Springs, California. Note the complexity of the path, including a circle, and the notation Special Aircraft and Aircrew Authorization Required; not just anyone can fly this. The procedure title includes the notation (RNP), for Required Navigation Performance; in this case, the RNP value is 0.3NM, which you can find in the minimums section. Converting, 0.3NM is about 1800 feet! The reward for this level of precision is a descent to 300 feet above the ground in a deep valley.

I have not had a chance to read the whole NASA report yet, but I was disappointed to read "Pilots must allow adequate time to properly load and brief their SID, STAR [sic], and approach charts." This is making me suspicious. Pilots don't decide how much time they have for this, management decides. In the charter world, there is a tremendous amount of pressure to get going now, especially when there is a "popup."

NASA has seen errors based on management pressure, the Challenger being the most prominent and heart-wrenching such failure. Did the researchers fail to understand these problems, or was it another case of management presssure?

Finally, the need to learn new things doesn't always mean that there is less need to learn old things. Consider NDB approaches, which I wrote about in Transitional Times last month; even if we don't use them much, they add a lot to our understanding of the whole navigation picture. Or, to consider an example outside of aviation, the availability of graphing calculators did not remove a single topic from the Calculus syllabus; students have to learn all of the old stuff and the new calculator techniques.

You use an amazing machine called a Flight Management System (FMS) to fly these approaches. We still need to perfect the MMS, or Management Management System.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Airplane Goes Fast. Pilot Goes Slow.

We were ready to start, but there were two pedestrians walking in front of the airplane, George Jetson (not his real name) and Jane, his wife. I waved.

George is a local businessman with offices spread over a large area, and he has a very nice high performance single. He is very smart, and has at least one Ivy League degree that I know of. He has continually upgraded his plane's avionics and recently installed a new engine. I have flown with him a few times and he struck me as a conscientious pilot.

So I was surprised when I heard him ask the tower for a midfield intersection departure. "That's a bad idea," I told my student, who has already come to understand that I consider anything other than having the tail in the weeds a waste of runway. "What's his big hurry, anyway?" No runup. Did he even check that the controls were free?

We went out to the practice area for a productive session, did two patterns, and exited at midfield.

"There's something on the taxiway over there," I said, "Don't hit it." The object was right on the centerline, and he has come to understand that I consider being off the centerline without a reason to be as bad as wasted runway. But we had a reason.

I looked down as we passed the debris. It was a fuel cap. It looked like the kind of fuel cap George's plane uses. I pointed it out to the tower, opining that it might have been George's, and the tower agreed.

Big lesson time. "Airplane goes fast. Pilot goes slow," I said in my best Zen master voice. "This is what happens when you rush things. He's lucky it wasn't something worse." I was thinking about all of the airplanes that had tried to launch with various pieces of equipment attached, or control locks in place, or no fuel. I knew a guy who launched in an MU-2 with a fuel cap off; luckily it was during the day at a tower controlled field, and the tower saw the fuel spray behind him. He later said that the MU-2 didn't have the control authority to overcome a big fuel imbalance...

George called looking for his fuel cap before I was done debriefing my student, thus saving himself from what I had planned as a gentle chastisement. Knowing him, I am confident that he is mortified by his error, and I hope that he has learned his lesson.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Flying the Jantar

The idea of a single seat aircraft has always attracted me.  Besides fighters and the U2, very few come to mind.  Let's see, the Mooney Mite, some homebuilts like the Baby Ace, and lots of gliders. In a single seater you are not as alone as Mike Collins was on the back side of Moon during Apollo 11, but it's as close as most of us will ever come.

Yesterday was my first flight in my single seater, and although almost nothing went as planned, it was still a big thrill.

My first priority yesterday was my student André, whom I soloed. That makes it a big day already, but it soon got bigger.

Brad and I pulled the Jantar out of the hangar and towed it to our staging area. He showed me how to get into the parachute harness, and we tugged and pulled a little to get me into the cockpit. It's tight, but not outrageous. I've grown accustomed to the back seat of the Blanik L-13, where I have lots of room to store a Camelback and snacks and a handheld radio and a kneeboard or notebook. This time the radio went between my legs, and the Camelback behind the headrest.

I wanted a few more seconds in the cockpit, but the tow pilot had to go. I was not rushed, but I had no extra time, either. I was hungry, and ate most of an apple while Brad and André put the glider into position. I knew the speeds and cockpit controls. I ran the checklist, wiggled the rudders, and off we went. It was just after 5pm.

I took a high tow. "Steep turns, stalls, slow flight, then some fun" was my announced plan, but as soon as I was off the tow that plan went out the window. There was weak lift along the ridge, just 1 or 2 knots up, and I decided to work it for more altitude so that I would have some time to explore the airplane. You understand that this is stupid, right? Ridge flying, so close to the ground, is not the time to get to know a new plane. But I continued.

The lift was chopped up, not steady, and I spent 45 minutes between 7800MSL and 8300MSL. I was not happy with my coordination; it was acceptable, but not sharp, but sharp takes time in the cockpit. My airspeed was a little higher than ideal, but I was on the ridge and wanted the extra maneuverability that you get from more air over the ailerons. And I was staying up!

Finally I decided that I had enough altitude that I could turn away from the ridge. I did clearing turns and a stall. No surprises; the airspeed comes up quickly when the nose is lowered, and there was no wing drop. OK. Now it was time for some water.

I reached behind me for the hose from the Camelback, but couldn't find it. Did I have the hose on the left or the right? There was nobody to push it forward to me; I was all alone. I twisted left in my seat, and I could see the bottom of the Camelback. I twisted right, but I could not see the hose.

That's because the hose was outside the plane. We had closed the canopy on it. I have saved other people from this several times, but didn't manage to save myself.

There was no banging or scraping, so I figured that there would be no damage from continued flight, or maybe we had cut it off and it was lying on the runway. But I was thirsty. It had been a long day. It was 6pm, and I had had a 90 minute drive, some groundschool with André, staging the gliders, running wings, talking with a prospective student, the excitement of the solo, and the Sun beating down on me the whole time. How dehydrated was I? How could I judge? It's not like I could look at my fingernails and see if they were turning blue. I did not feel thirsty, but I know from my triathlon training that you are dehydrated long before you feel thirsty.

I went back to the ridge and found some lift, and decided to continue. I felt like I could continue as long as there was good lift, but was not in a position to do a lot of hard work. I left the ridge and looked for lift over the city, but it was weak there, and I headed back to the airport. I found a weak thermal about a mile east, which put me over the downwind for runway 17, but I talked with the airplanes in the pattern and we saw each other and I was above them and it was fine.

When that thermal died it was time to land. RUFSTALL time: radio call, check; undercarriage down, check; no flaps; spoiler check; trim for 60; look and land. Man, was I high, and the variometer showed 0 sink on the downwind. I pulled the spoilers on, and my altitude was gone, just like that. Not that it was unsafe; I had plenty of altitude to reach the runway, but all of a sudden I was a lot lower.

I turned final, one hand on the stick and one on the spoilers, and there was a radio call. "Glider, will you be able to stop short of runway 17, or should we wait." I appreciated the pilot's concern and his awareness of the traffic, but all I had was a handheld radio without a hand to hold it. I grimaced a little to myself and put him out of my mind. Or at least I tried.

I crossed the threshold and nursed the Jantar into ground effect over the runway. It floated pretty well, but the main wheel is pretty big and I had less float than I expected. It settled gently on both wheels, and I worked hard to keep it rolling. By accident, I hit one of our standard precision landing stopping points. I refused all compliments on my landing.

In the end, I flew it for 1.5 hours, mostly in a narrow altitude band. It is responsive and has good control authority. You lay back pretty far but not extremely far, like you would in a Diana, and although my butt was a little sore it was generally comfortable. It handled well at low speeds. I did not try any high speed runs, but that will be high on my list for next time.

And next time, I'll make sure that the Camelback hose is in the plane.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008


I finally got to fly my glider today, for 1.5 hours. The picture says it all! Thanks to Kris, Brad, André, Tim, and Larry.

This deserves its own entry; the other gliding adventures can wait.

Friday, June 13, 2008

That Sinking Feeling...

I was just back from a big trip, and my student was excited to hear about it. A teaching opportunity!

I took him over to the big wall chart made of pasted-together sectionals. You know the kind; most flight schools and FBOs have them. You never really know how old they are, but, excepting Mount Saint Helens, the terrain doesn't change.

I started at the eastern edge of the chart. "We started about here" I said, touching a point on the wall off the chart, "then came over this VOR and took up a heading for here." I touched the places on the map as I talked. I pointed out which frequencies I used to call Flight Service, and told him about Flight Watch. "There was some weather here, so we diverted like this, and landed here," I went on, touching the map again. I talked about the recent heavy rains, and how I had searched extra hard to find a good dry field to land in in case of engine failure. A pretty good lesson, I'm thinking to myself, maybe I should take the whole trip as a tax writeoff?

"What's this?" he asked, pointing to a Military Operations Area. The abbreviation is MOA, and most people read it aloud, sounding like a Georgian asking for seconds.

The MOA lay directly across where we flew. My heart sank. While it is legal to fly VFR through a MOA, it's better to call and ask whether it is active. If it is, stay clear. But that wasn't the problem; the problem was that it appeared that I hadn't even noticed the MOA while flying through. That's inexcusable.

I had had that feeling before. I remember circling a certain airport while waiting for clearance into the New York TCA (TCA, or Terminal Control Area, was the old name for Class B). It was annoying to wait, and I eventually gave up and went around, adding miles to my flight. Later, I looked at one of those wall charts, which showed the airport to be well inside the TCA at my altitude. Had I busted the TCA? I ran and got a current chart, which showed that I had been outside the TCA, which had shrunk at some point. Look at the sectional to the left: Somerset is well clear of the New York Class B boundary (the circular arc starting near the middle of the top and ending at the SE corner). But it wasn't like that on the wall chart. Phew!

This time I did the same thing; I pulled the chart I had used to maybe cross the MOA unaware out of my flight bag. "Always use current charts," I said. I unfolded it and looked: no MOA. Phew!

Airspace changes, and (remember Mount Saint Helens!) even the terrain changes. New radio towers go up, old towers come down. Use current charts!

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Monday, June 9, 2008

VFR: Quantity or Quality?

It used to be that private pilots needed 10 hours of solo cross-country. Now, even though there is more to know, the requirement is 5 hours. This is one case where quantity is more important than quality, because of the laws of probability (a student would run into twice as many "interesting" situations).

Last week I had a VFR flight with lots of diversions. I had the family with me, and had opened a flight plan with Flight Service. We were being slugged around pretty well by turbulence. Turbulence slows you down, and the headwinds were stronger than forecast. At midflight we were running 10 minutes late, so I called Flight Service to amend my ETA. This was a pleasant surprise. In the old days, unless you amended with your destination FSS, you had to wait for the briefer to call the destination briefer on the land line, and then call you back with a confirmation. Now it seems that every briefer has access to the flight plan.

Flight Watch had been an unpleasant surprise. The briefer didn't seem to know the name of the outlet I was using (a VOR), and, based on the quality of his transmission, I would guess that he chose something further away. Worse, he couldn't get me destination weather, so I had to wait until I was in range of the ASOS. I was trying to make a "go over or under these clouds" decision, and would really have appreciated up-to-date information.

This is a real shame. It used to be (and maybe still is, elsewhere in the country), that Flight Watch provided a fabulous service. The briefers would take the risk of giving usable advice like an explicit route around the storms (when they could: I once heard "That line of thunderstorms goes from Guatemala to Hudson's Bay.") FSS would sometimes give you some bureaucratic behind-covering mumbo-jumbo ("Confirm you have the Airmets for IFR conditions" when on an IFR flight plan, "VFR flight not recommended", you know the drill), but Flight Watch always gave me what I needed. But this time the briefer didn't seem to understand my position report (straight out of the Aeronautical Information Manual), and I did not feel that I could trust the information he was giving me. I felt like an Air Mail pilot.

After amending the ETA I went back to trying not to fight the turbulence too hard. We were in the mountains and I was following the valleys. This strikes me as common sense, but I was reminded of the need to teach it when I recently flew a cross country with someone else's student. He had actually drawn a straight line through a mountain at an altitude below the peak as his intended course.

We turned a corner and saw a valley full of snow. In June. I flew to the snow shower, looking for a safe hole, but there was none to be found. A 180 revealed a lot of blue sky, so we continued flying away from home. The ASOS from Logan, in the next valley over, sounded good, and we had a lot of fuel, so we decided to overfly the remote airport below us and head there.

That meant amending the flight plan. The sectional showed a broad valley between us and an RCO 40 miles away. That seemed like a long shot at our altitude, but I was able to reach FSS and give them the amended destination and the new ETA. Cool.

We came around the corner of the valley for the new destination and were pleased to see lots of blue sky between us and home. It extended at least as far as the next airport up the valley, and we decided to head for home again. Again, I had to look at the chart, find an RCO, and amend the flight plan.

There was a little bit of a problem with this one. The briefer was talking to an airplane hundreds of miles away but on the same frequency. The frequency sounded clear, so I went ahead and called, only to hear the briefer tell the other airplane, with a distinct sneer in his voice, "Say again, you were stepped on," as if I had any way to know that. I guess he was having a rough day.

And so we made it home. The diversion added 1.2 to the flight. I used to like this better when I was paid for flight time, rather than paying for it.  Sigh.

This kind of flying uses a rather large skill set:

  • Preparing, filing, and opening a VFR flight plan

  • Caclulating (or, at least, estimating) a new ETA

  • VFR position reporting

  • Finding an RCO and using it to amend the flight plan

  • Evaluating unexpected weather and making a new plan that was within the capabilities of the airplane

  • Setting up a pattern at an unfamiliar airport

  • Calculating (or, at least, estimating) a new ETA

  • Finding an RCO and using it to amend the flight plan

  • Closing a VFR flight plan. Don't forget this one

  • When I was a student, each of these seemed hard; these skills are won by experience. But they are easier to win by guided experience. This also means that instructors should really make students do all of these during their training.

    It's a lot of stuff. Wouldn't it be better to spread it over more time?


    Wednesday, June 4, 2008

    Old-fashioned IFR

    Here it is, a nice IFR panel from the 1990s.  Two VORs (ignore them; I was being radar vectored when the picture was taken), ADF, DME.  No database, MFD, HSI, RMI, GPS, RNP, WAAS, SAAAR, or even useful autopilot.  The only problem is that this wasn't 1990, it was 2008.  Yesterday, in fact.

    I said that I was reluctant to file IFR in this airplane, not because it was unsafe or even unwise, but because there are so many services in the current IFR system that it cannot use.  I was forced to file a circuitous route.  I wasn't sure of the legality of the route, since the nearest navaid to our departure airport was more than 50 miles away, so I would be starting well outside of its service volume.  There is an intersection close to the direct route, but I had no easy way to go direct.

    Actually, I could have found the intersection using a sequence of cross fixes; been there, done that.  It's pretty simple when you have a VOR beside the desired course.  You draw the "direct" line on the map, then measure the DME distance where this line crosses various radials from the VOR to your left.  If you are 33 DME along the radial when the course is 35 DME, then you are to the left, so you adjust your heading to the right and try again in a couple of miles.  You can back this up with a handheld GPS, but mine is so old that it still has gears and belts, so the intersection wasn't in the database.  I could have defined the intersection as the crossing point of two radials, or by radial/DME, but I was not willing to file this way. 

    Like I said, I have done this, in IMC, but with a good autopilot to hold heading.  It's just too much work.

    So, I filed for the VOR way out of my way to the left.  We started up and taxied to the one spot on the ramp with cell phone reception, and I called Lockheed-Martin's Clearance Delivery line (888-766-8267).  The call got dropped the first time, but the second time I spoke to a person who told me that I was "cleared as filed."   There was no void time.  I asked again to make sure.  There was no void time.  We really were in the middle of nowhere.

    Right away we were IMC.  It took a while to contact center, who immediately gave us a radar vector direct to our destination, so all I had to do was hold heading and altitude for the rest of the afternoon.  As we moved east we were in and out of the tops, but it was smooth and there was no ice.  As usual, there was a King Air passing overhead (there's always a King Air passing overhead when I fly). Center cleared them to 8000 (we were at 7000), but we never saw them, and they were unloaded and tied down by the time we landed.

    So what was the problem?  Our real destination, where fuel was a dollar a gallon cheaper, only has a GPS approach, so we had to go to the "big" airport (radar coverage, but not Class C) where there is a long taxi and expensive fuel.  So, again, the lack of modern avionics wasn't unsafe; it was inconvenient and inefficient.  

    Still, it beats scud running.

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    Sunday, June 1, 2008

    Instrument Departures

    The IFR world is always changing, and change comes faster and faster.  

    In the old days, there were two main sources of instrument charts in the USA, the government (under a continually changing variety of names) and  Jeppesen, a commercial provider.  I still use Jeppesen charts for most of my flying, but now government charts, which are public domain, are widely available on the internet, through sites like AOPA,, Airnav, and probably others. For this trip, I have downloaded government charts for the airports I am likely to use, although I am unlikely to fly IFR.

    Let me say it out loud: I am unlikely to fly IFR because the airplane does not have an IFR GPS.  Yes, I can and may fly IFR, but the lack of a GPS makes it much more difficult, and it reduces the options.

    This was reinforced while catching up on my chart revisions.  (Actually, I was getting ahead, since some of the charts are not valid until Thursday, but I determined that none of them will affect my flying between now and then.)  One of the advantages of the Jeppesen charts is that they tell you why the chart has changed.   Lately, there have been a lot of changes to departure procedures.

    Departure procedures are strange to begin with.  Generally, they are optional.    They are not optional when Air Traffic Control (ATC) includes the departure procedure in a clearance, which they will do if they need it for separation.  This tells me that when a departure procedure changes, ATC would like to use the new one in order to move more airplanes more efficiently.  Why change a procedure that has worked for 20 years unless you want to actually use the new procedure?  (It used to be that the exact statement about departure procedure being pilot's choice was only published in the controller's handbook, not in any publication for pilots, but now it is in the FAA's Instrument Procedures Handbook, FAA-H-8261, available online.)

    Look first at Driggs, Idaho.  (Unless you have a Jeppesen subscription you'll have to wait until Thursday to look, because charts are not available online until they become effective.)  The chart had a minor change this time around, but in looking it over I noticed that there is no non-GPS departure.  There are no ground-based navaids at Driggs, which is in a narrow U-shaped valley, so the only alternative to a GPS-based departure is to pick a smart heading, climb steeply,  and hope that the winds aloft forecast is correct.  There is no radar coverage, so nobody looks over your shoulder.  No thank you.

    The Cherokee Six we're in this week has DME but no GPS. Suppose that we decide to stop for lunch at Driggs on the way home (the restaurant there is excellent), and find that we need to depart IFR. No can do! This alone wouldn't keep us from stopping, but it still makes me pause.

    Next, look at Pocatello, Idaho, which has a new departure procedure, even though the old one had worked well keeping airplanes out of the rocks for at least 15 years.  The new procedure involves a "departure gate" at SICOY; in other words, every departure ends up about 13 miles west of the airport, even for an easterly flight.  Also, you need DME (or some equivalent) to identify SICOY, so many KPIH-based airplanes cannot fly the procedure.  You can see SICOY on the VOR 3 chart at right.

    I think a lot of Pocatello-based pilots will react to the change by saying "ATC seldom clears us via the departure procedure." But this is may be about to change.  Pocatello is generally below radar coverage, so ATC keeps airplanes apart procedurally.  The old departure procedure used the same airspace as the ILS missed approach, which meant that no airplane could depart while another was on the approach.  Now, ATC can send the departure to SICOY and be sure that the missed approach area is clear.  In other words, it will be easier to get out of Pocatello, as long as you have DME.

    If you keep or rent an airplane in Pocatello, you have to ask whether departure delays will cost enough to justify an avionics upgrade.

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