Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wind shear

I was reminded about the subtlety of wind shear during an IFR proficiency flight last night. We tend to think of wind shear as the evil microburst that brought down a Delta L-1011, but that is an extreme.

I did an ILS to runway 21 with reported surface wind 050 at 5. The POH says the airplane can stop in the runway available with that tailwind, but other traffic meant that I was only going to do a low approach.

The winds aloft were calm or light (based on GPS groundspeed), but at about 300' AGL I started to lose the glideslope, which is (I like to think) unlike me, and if nothing else embarassing when my friends see it. I tried to adjust the descent rate to catch the glideslope (I got to about 1/2 deflection) but reached Decision Altitude before the glideslope needle centered again. OK, a decent but not great approach.

We went around as planned and entered on left base for runway 3 behind the traffic, and I finally figured it out: I was crabbing to the right while flying a square left base; the wind above 300' was from the southwest, but the surface wind was from the northeast.

Wind shear!

So my ILS problem was the classic response when a headwind shears to a tailwind: I got above the glideslope. Just like the books say.

The shear was weak, not strong, so not enough to keep from completing the approach. In fact, the shear was so weak that I wouldn't have been looking for it even if I had been looking for it! But its effects were measurable, though not dangerous. So there's no point in beating myself for not noticing it.

Yeah, right.


Thursday, November 24, 2011


More from my study of essence...I hesitate to call it poetry.



Life in a country song.

Hurry to the airplane, weather coming.

The wind shifts as we taxi east.

Now west from Amarillo, still on the ground.

Fuel, movement, noise, essence put to good use.

Break ground and ride the bull.

Eight seconds, still we ride the bull. Up, down,left, right, all at once. Close mouth to save tongue.

Eight more.

Yet another eight.

The bull lets go, we are tossed straight up.

We climb and climb and climb, gaining essence without bound.

Such is the power of the Blue Norther.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011


We'd had an easy time with ground portion of the Flight Review, and now we headed out onto the ramp to do the preflight in the calm early evening air.

"See," I said, "the forecast was for the wind to die down right about now!" Famous last words...

We started up and taxied out, the wind favoring a long-ago-closed runway, but light enough to be of no consequence. We taxied into the runup areas while a commuter and freighter taxied our way.

"AmFlight blah-blah-blah, a few minutes ago an arriving twin Cessna reported moderate turbulence below 2000AGL," ground announced.

"Roger," came the Amflight's reply. Freight Dog. Going anyway. The boxes don't complain.

"SkyWest blah-blah-blah, did you copy the report of moderate turbulence."


The freighter launched. The Brasilia launched. Now it was our turn.

"Be aware of wake turbulence," the instructor in me said as we started the roll.


As soon as we were airborne the turbulence kicked in. And kicked again. And kicked harder! This was as rough as I'd flown in in many years.

We climbed into smooth air for a little airwork, then headed back to the pattern.


As soon as we descended to 2,000' AGL the turbulence kicked in. And kicked again. And kicked harder! Our first approach was a mess, and we went around early. The second was better, and he did a good job, landing on the centerline in extremely variable winds, while I stayed loose but alert.

As we rolled out we looked at each other and said, almost simultaneously, "I'm done for today, how about you?"

And so we were.


Monday, November 21, 2011


The craft carries animal, vegetable, and mineral.

Animals, meat, brains, producers and consumers of essence.

Vegetables, cotton fibres and canvas sacks. Canapes, carrots, cloth coats.

Minerals, fuel, fabrics made from the source of fuel, clothes fashioned from the source of fuel.
But not the only chemicals.

Acetone, butane, carbon tetrachloride, Duraflame logs, Ethanol, Fire starters, grease, halo-gen, iodine, Jim Beam, ketone, Listerine, mescal, nitroglycerine, oxycontin, pectin, quinine, rye whisky, Saran Wrap, TNT, universal solvent, Velveeta, White Lighning, Xylitol, yerba maté, Zoloft.


Hydrochloric acid in the aircraft battery, hydraulic fluid, deice fluid.

Medicines, contact lens solution, volatiles. Cough syrup. Heroin. Belladonna. Valium.

Alcohol, to drink. Not by the crew.

Durians. Limberger cheese. Even gorgonzola.

Baby wipes, Febreeze, lip balm, moustache wax.

Very old coffee.

Fermenting grapes a passenger left behind.

Fire extinguishers, designed to suck the oxygen out of fire, might suck it out of a pilot as well.

Batteries. AA, AAA, D. Metal oxide. Lithium. Sodium. Nickel. Cadmium. Coleman fuel, white gas, stove fuel, lighter fluid, aftershave, Flares, smudge pots, drip lanterns, sterno.

The pilot spends essence watching for these things. It may not be enough, and the pilot spends sleepless nights as well.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Astronaut Applications

NASA is looking for a new astronaut class (they'll ride to the ISS in a Soyuz). More information is available here.

I applied in 1990 or so, but never heard back. I'm more qualified now, but I doubt that I could pass the "long duration space flight physical" after a bypass, two stents, and the development of rheumatoid arthritis.

OTOH, I have a second class medical certificate, and NASA uses an FAA medical as a pre-screen. For many years after the bypass I had a first class medical, and went on to become about the only part-time post-bypass Math Professor King Air captain in history; I'm familiar with ignoring "impossible."

So somebody please talk me out of applying again.

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Quick Jet Intro

A student called me this afternoon, bursting with excitement. He's always bursting with excitement when it comes to flying.

"I've got a chance to ride up front in a jet tomorrow," he said, "What should I look for?" I could hear that he was grinning from ear to ear.

Wow, what a question! Most of his flying has been in two-seaters; that's a big leap. Those of us who have made it know how far behind the airplane he's going to be.

Here's what I came up with:

  • Listen to how ATC and professional pilots are clear but concise, and use standard phraseology.
  • Watch the groundspeed readout from the FMS (I think it has a UNS-1 system). Convert the speed to miles-per-minute. This is important for everybody: planning a 50 mile descent at 360 knots is hard; planning a 50 mile descent at 6 miles/min is a lot easier.
  • Study the arrival chart to get an idea of courses, speeds, and altitudes in the terminal area.

And, two more things:

  • Make sure to get a good look at the Grand Canyon!
  • Tell the captain that his instructor (me!) is available for copilot duties!

Did I miss anything?


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Quit Stalling on Stalls

At the EASA Safety Conference, held in October 2011 in Cologne, Airbus came out strongly on how to handle stalls in their aircraft.

Apply nose down pitch control

The full presentation is here.

Now if only we could find some politicians who would listen to reality and do the right thing...


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Low and Slow

I was returning from my weekly commute to our other campus. The Archer is in for its annual, so I was in the Cherokee Six, hauling around five empty seats.

Now I'm coming home, tired from teaching and the 5 miles of walking to and from campus, headed directly into the Sun. I enter on downwind and reach down to the flap lever. It doesn't feel right. The flaps are going down but not staying down.

I start to fuss with the button, to see if they'll stay down if I pull a little to the left, or if I pull a little to the right, thinking that they had worked on departure...and all the time I'm descending.

"OK, you're low, quit fooling around, diagnose the problem on the ground." I said this out loud.

I did a no-flap landing (adding 10 to Vref, just a guess, no way to compute it while flying that low).

After I landed I got the button unstuck.

No accident today.

And this is one of the few times I can remember when the freight dog excuse "But it was working when I took off!" has actually been true.