Tuesday, April 24, 2012


My student sent a text: "TAF says VTCS what shd we do?"

 I replied "VCTS usually means to the East."

 As if you can actually know anything about the weather!

At the airport, we had the above view.  Looking West!  "See," I said, pointing away from the cell, "go 25,000 miles this way and there's a storm."  He understood that I was joking.  The WSI terminal at the FBO showed that this cell had hail and topped FL450.

We were doing pattern work, and I kept an eye on the NEXRAD, watching the cell make its stately way north of us.

But that's not what we saw out the window.  Even though the radar view was only a couple of minutes old, it looked like the storm had turned toward us.  We called it quits.

On the ground, we could see lightning and virga to the northeast.  The radar showed clear there.

We got the airplane tied down.  The gust front hit when we were halfway to the FBO door.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Stick in the Mud

Everyone knows that a "stick in the mud" is someone who is completely resistant to change. That's not me: I'm resistant to useless change.

An Ameriflight pilot who also flew a Cessna 120 once pointed to the Beech 99 that made his living, saying, "That's not flying, it's airplane pointing." Flight training is developing into training in airplane pointing. This development has proceeded to the point that loss of control is the largest cause of transport-category airplane accidents.

Loss of control is the largest cause of transport-category airplane accidents!

I've written about this problem before (see here and here, among other places; the former appeared as a letter to the Editor of Aviation Week. But I'm old enough to remain unsurprised when nobody listens to me.

But I hope people listen to Rod Machado, or at least they should. Rod is an engaging speaker and a funny writer, but always with a serious message.

He writes a column for AOPA Pilot. While I appreciate AOPA, I find their magazines to be poorly written and jingoistic; generally, the article impacts terrain in a nose-high, right-wing-low attitude. The writing is competent, but I'd rather read poetry.

But this month's issue was worth reading because of Rod's column, which got it right: In defense of stick-and-rudder training. He uses the FAA's (and flight training industry's) own logic to puncture itself. "There's no law of psychology - not one - supporting the idea that presolo students learn the basics of flying more effectively...when they are distracted by the burden of simultaneously having to learn higher-order flight skills. The concept is antithetical to the building-block principle of learning."

Well said, Rod!

We have to remember, as Rod writes elsewhere, that "that your objective when teaching someone how to fly is to 'teach them to fly.' " In our rush to be efficient we have lost sight of the goal.

Conversely, right now I am working with a Commercial Pilot candidate who has done most of his flying from uncontrolled fields, and his radio work needs work. But he can fly: he keeps the ball centered, he handles crosswinds well, he's aware of the weather and traffic. So the radio work becomes an add-on.

It's not the primary goal.

Over, and out.

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Monday, April 2, 2012


I'm working with a commercial pilot candidate for the first time in quite a while, and the process is raising some interesting questions. The flying part hasn't changed much in the past 75 years or so, but in the USA commercial pilots candidates are required to have two hours each of day and night cross-country (navigation) training.

And I don't know what to teach him.

When confused about how to proceed there's often an axiom that starts things moving in the right direction. For commercial pilots, the axiom is "planning - anticipation - orientation -- efficiency." The commercial maneuvers themselves (steep turns, lazy 8s, chandelles, etc) are really just a vehicle for a pilot to plan and execute a complicated series of tasks. Many other tasks might do.

And so the goal of commercial navigation training must be to give the pilot practice planning and executing a complicated series of (navigational) tasks.

The rise of database navigation has been a true paradigm shift. (What most call GPS navigation and a few call RNAV is really database navigation: it's less important to know how the unit determined your position than it is to know that it has a database of fixes and elevations and procedures.)

So database navigation has to be part of the curriculum. It's very likely that his handheld has an expired database (truth to tell, my handheld has an expired database), so it is extra important to carry current charts. This used to mean a subscription to paper charts, but now the various iPad apps make it really easy to have current charts.

Route planning fits the axiom. An acceptable daytime route may be unacceptable when it's dark. Day or night, choose alternatives along the way, and beyond. Always plan the fuel realistically; for example, if anti-ice requires more fuel, you plan on using anti-ice the whole way. Know or anticipate what controllers will do, especially in airplanes whose fuel burn depends on altitude.

He needs to know how to program the route he chose (how do you get a lat/long into your handheld?), and how to reprogram a route. It would be nice if he knew what RAIM is, but this is VFR flying so there is no real requirement. I'll mention it, but only provide details if he asks.

The textbooks (unless there is one that I have yet to see) still include a lot of E6B problems. I don't think the need to adjust for the wind is going to disappear anytime soon, although GPS track and groundspeed make it much easier to find the proper wind-correction angle. But even without GPS, I am finding less and less use for the E6B. Since I don't fly high altitudes anymore, I don't need it to figure True Air Speed. But I also don't need it to figure wind correction angles: all of my E6B calculations have been replaced by the Rule of 60, an interesting little bit of mathematics that few pilots know even though the FAA requires it for every knowledge test except maybe parachute rigger.

The Rule of 60 says that if you are off-course by 1 degree then after 60 miles you will be 1 mile off course. This is a proportion, so after 30 miles you'd be half a mile off, and after 120 miles you'd be 2 miles off. The proportion still works for "small" angles, so after 60 miles with a 2 degree error, you're 2 miles off course, and with a 3 degree error you'd be 3 miles off.

(For the math nerds out there, the reason is that the sine of a small angle is approximately the angle, when the angle is measured in radians. One radian is about 60 degrees, so 1 degree is 1/60 of a radian. 'Nuff said.)

So when there's a 20 knot wind 15 degrees off the bow in our 140 knot Cherokee Six, the crosswind component is about 5 knots (20*(15/60)), the wind correction is about (5/140)*60, or 2 degrees, and the groundspeed is a little over 120. Close enough.

He needs to plan his descent carefully to avoid shock-cooling the engine, and to anticipate what pattern entry will work. This means knowing the forecast winds, and knowing the NOTAMs about runway closures. Runway slope or obstacles might be an issue, so the Airport/Facility Directory is a must (Have you noticed that the Electronic Flight Bags have resurrected the A/FD as the primary source of airport information?).

Departing from a strange airport means reviewing terrain, slope, SIDs and DPs, and the like.

I think he's going to be busy...

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