Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Flight report

My friend Dale finds a logbook to be limiting, so writes a report of every flight he takes. The other morning he and I too kthe Ercoupe around to some of the local rural strips. Here's his "logbook entry."

Jim and I plan to fly the coupe to Rainbow Ranch on Sunday morning. What time? I propose 0700, and he thinks that is early, but we finally agree on it. I wake up to thunder at 0600 and see lightning in several directions on the way to Blackfoot. Even if the weather clears I don’t intend to land on wet grass. The coupe is out of gas so I call Joel who says come and get some. Getting the plane out of the hangar requires tight S-turns. I go to start it and it will only run on prime. Then Jim tells me where to find the fuel shutoff up under and behind panel. Hiding the fuel shutoff is a security feature for this plane. Jim and I discuss the tradeoff between fuel reserve and fuel weight, and decide on 6 gallons a side, but it only takes 9 gallons, so it wasn’t as low as I thought. It is also down to 2 quarts of oil so I add some.

Jim points out that the only thing worse than two instructors flying together is three. A CFI in the back seat is worse than a backseat driver. Who will sit on what side? Neither of us cares and Jim only wants a front row seat. I haven’t had any left seat time lately so I end up there. We make the classic mistake of putting our stuff behind our own seats rather than on opposite sides, making it harder to reach. Jim reminds me to run up into the wind and establish a crab angle after takeoff. We cruise to Rainbow at 2100 rpm and I make a low pass of the runway downwind and Jim takes over to make a low pass the other way, with a lower ground speed. I propose an aerial tour of the airstrips in the Heise area and Jim agrees, but the rain is worse in that direction so we skirt IDA airspace and fly to Rigby. I make a horrible pattern entry to a low approach and come around again to land. Jim pronounces me an Ercoupe pilot for landing in a crab, and he takes over on the taxi back and does a circuit of his own. Terry Kofoed is getting his plane out during all of this, but he isn’t on the radio by the time we depart. Where to next? The weather is such that flying toward the blue sky is the best course and it is clear toward Roberts, so we fly by Nyle Tanner’s strip. From here we fly a mag compass course around IDA on our way back to Blackfoot. At 10 miles south of Idaho Falls we hear an inbound Columbia give the same position report, so it seems a good idea to inform IDA of our presence. There are several errors in the relayed information, but the Columbia says he has us on TCAS and we avoid a collision. Back at U02 we make 1 landing each in a gusty crosswind for 2.1 hours total. We would refuel the plane but Joel is gone so we leave some cash in the kitty. We would go out to breakfast but can’t find a place open. My flying has been sloppy this morning and Jim has pointed out a few of my errors, but not all of them. He intends to log the time as dual given which is entirely appropriate. This has been a good review for me.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

More on Essence

[I have been working with the concept of essence, which encompasses all of the forms of energy that go into flying.]

Try not to take a side in this debate: does an airplane’s elevator control speed, or does it control height? Both sides have strong arguments, and neither side will ever be convinced by the other. The end of the argument is the passion of everyone involved.

Now sweep the question aside. Elevator has no effect on essence, at least for a while. By thinking – and thinking is part of essence – the question no longer matters, although the passion should still remain. Elevator can only change our finesse.

Sweep the question aside again. Why do we care about speed and height? We do not; these are surrogates for our true goal. We really aim to follow a certain path. Focus on your goal.

Forethought adds essence to our craft, both in the form of anticipation and in the form of fuel. We believe that we have the essence to complete the mission, and must manage its conversion from chemical or atmospheric energy to the kind of energy – height or speed – that we desire.
Too little dynamic energy – too little height, or too little speed, or too little of both – means taking some chemical or atmospheric energy from our stores. So open the throttle.

Some cars store energy from braking, but we have not figured out how to do this in airplanes. Both slowing down and going down destroy our essence. The rumble when the spoilers or landing gear extend carries essence from the airplane into the passenger’s brain, or even the pilot’s brain, and we have yet to think of a way to use that energy. “Welcome to Santa Monica,” the large sign reads, “Please fly quietly.” Preserve your essence: approach a little high. Now you have too much essence. So close the throttle.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Stick and Rudder

[revised 9 August]

The F'n A A has been sitting on my application for a Special Issuance medical certificate for 53 days, so I'm restricted to Light Sport privileges (basically 2 seats, Day VFR, maximum weight 600kg). This is lots of fun, and it raises some interesting questions about flight training.

The Ercoupes I've been flying are intriguing airplanes. As I understand it, Fred Weick designed it to be safe, inexpensive, and fun. Most 'Coupes have aileron-rudder interconnects, eliminating the need for rudder pedals.

I used to think this was a travesty, and it makes me feel good about my skills to note that I'm better coordinated.

But now I'm beginning to think that the 'Coupe might be an ideal training airplane for the 21st century. One reason for this is the rise of the Light Sport category, which demands airplanes that are safe, inexpensive, and fun. There are some impressive LSA airplanes that look like fun: the ideal vehicle for, say, a skinny retired couple to explore the country. But these are expensive. Right now you can buy a flyable Ercoupe for $25,000, and maybe come February in a tough economy you will be able to find one for less. They need some TLC, but this can be fun, and costs a lot less than the $100,000+ new planes.

And, although I have mixed feelings about FAA certification (there is no reason for me to spend 7 summer weeks without a medical certificate), the Ercoupe is a CAA-certified airplane; the newer LSA airplanes are not certified at all, but are built to industry standards. Certification involves oversight by someone without a dog in the fight. I have seen corners cut in aviation.

But what about the flying part of the Ercoupe? I cannot look at you with a straight face and tell you that it is a stick-and-rudder airplane: it doesn't have rudder pedals! I've written before (and will again) about the importance of basic flying skill at all levels of aviation, especially slow flight and stalls. The 'Coupe won't stall!

By contrast, an Airbus 320 has little use for rudder pedals, and won't stall.

So what can one learn about flying? Well, try this: the other day I was out in an Ercoupe when the weather turned threatening and the wind picked up. As I approached the airport the wind sock showed light winds, but groundspeed on the upwind leg was low. I anticipated a fast downwind and wind shear on final. It felt early to turn base, but in fact I was high with a pretty good crab angle. Bump bump bump and now I was low with a pretty good crab angle, the other way. I touched down on the centerline in the crab, and the 'Coupe did its thing and we tracked straight until the runway exit.

Flying that pattern required a large number of transferable skills, skills that apply in every airplane from a single-seat glider to a 777. It did not require every single flying skill, but no maneuver does.

What about navigation? The Ercoupes I've seen have navigation equipment varying from a magnetic compass to a abasic IFR panel. The IFR panel is heavy, which is a problem: to quote Burt Rutan: before you install something in your airplane, hold it at arm's length and let go. If it falls to the ground it is too heavy. But a high-quality handheld GPS is neither heavy nor expensive. You may not use it to file IFR, but you can certainly use it to learn modern navigation. The right IFR GPS (or iPad app) can give a student NexRad radar, EGPWS, and airborne access to METARs and TAFs. There's no autopilot so it won't be tha hands-off flying that the Airbus driver enjoys, but there's still a lot of transferable skill to be learned.

The Ercoupe has wonderful visibility, making it easy (and fun!) to watch for traffic. That's a good habit.

So while the Ercoupe cannot make a complete pilot, no one airplane can, either. A wise instructor could produce a skilled professional pilot by supplementing the Ercoupe with a desktop Flight Training Device for learning instrument scan, and a light twin for learning to use the rudder. Both are important preparations for a flying career.

What do you think?

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Essence is a funny word. It is existence itself - esse means "to be" in Latin - and
touches the core of its object. Over time we have refined its usage, adding perfumes and foods - the essential oils. France goes further; there, airplanes (and cars, and trucks) are powered by essence.

Thus fuel becomes the essence of flying. Sailplane pilots roar in protest, but theirs is a narrow view. Fuel stores energy, but only of a particular kind, and when lacking we find a different source.

Energy - whether from fuel or the brain - keeps us aloft, moving forward, but not yet feeling good. The finishing touch - the finesse - completes the cycle.

Finesse is the end of flying, not the perfect landing but the very purpose. Finesse describes the wing, in a particular way. The usage has not taken off in English, but in French it describes the performance of the wing.

Energy and the wing: that's flying.

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

AF447, encore

The Bureau d'&Enquêtes Accidentes has issued its very detailed report on AF447, in French. It is available here as a PDF.

Notable are excerpts from the Airbus 319/320 FCOM on stall recovery (p. 76): "PITCH ATTITUDE.....REDUCE", and Air France's A340 manual "ASSIETTE LONGITUDINALE.........REDUIT" (p. 64). There are exceptions when close to the ground, since reducing the pitch attitude is not an option.

Some of my comments here are still apt, so I will let the post stand, but I no longer believe that the crew did the right things. Sigh.

There is another lesson here: when the PIC left for his rest period, there was little or no discussion of the roles of the remaining pilots. Typically in a crew situation there is a pilot flying (PF) whose sole job is to keep the airplane on course and altitude, and a Pilot Not Flying (PNF) whose job is to run the radar, radios, navigation, etc. Many airline crews reiterate these roles every flight, and apparently Air France's training did not address the very common situation of the captain's rest period.

Everyone is in this situation during flight training. That's why your instructor is so insistent on the "I have the controls" "You have the controls" "I have the controls" dialog.

The CVR trasncript starts on p. 91 of the report. There are several "What's going on?" comments, and at least one "I don't have control of the airplane."

That's what people say when they stall.