Friday, December 19, 2014

Simple Things

Whether it's wrist watches, iPads, flash lights, kneeboards, or ADS-B receivers, pilots love gadgets. We love the features our smart phones, tables, and GPS units have to offer, but complexity comes at a cost and at the end of the day, simple things often serve us best.  Here's my list of simple, yet effective tools I like to keep in my flight bag.

Pen (or Pencil) and Paper

Writing on your iPad or tablet can be very handy, but cockpit resource management solutions tend to be intensely individual: What works for one pilot can seem unworkable to another pilot. The truth is that sometimes you just need to write something down on paper, dammit! An ending tach or Hobbs time, a phone number, or just a reminder. The low-tech answer is often a pen and pad of paper, both of which are easily acquired from most any FBO or hotel. I've yet to try it, but the ArmBoard™ looks like a interesting solution for cramped cockpits or aircraft with a control stick that makes it difficult or impossible to a standard kneeboard. Heck, with a little ingenuity and the right size of PostIt™ notes, one could easily concoct their own personal solution.

The Best Hood

At many points in your flying career you're going to need a view limiting device for simulated instrument flying. Pilots often dread flying with a view limiting device, but the good news is there are a bunch of options. The bad news is that many hoods and foggles are not only uncomfortable enough to belong in a medieval torture museum, they can interfere with your hat, eye glasses or headset.

In my opinion, the best view limiting device is prosaically named "The Best IFR Hood." It's cheap ($5), foldable, and it fits over/under/on top of ball caps, headsets and glasses. Looks can be deceiving because this puppy is extremely lightweigh, but effective. I buy them by the dozen and regularly distribute them to pilots I train. The first reaction is often one of skepticism, but after 10 minutes every pilot who has tried it is sold. Buy two, write your name on one, and stick it in your flight bag, and you'll have it when you need it. It truly is The Best IFR Hood.


The old saying is a flashlight is a container used by pilots to store dead batteries, but with highly-efficient LED flashlights and head lamps this is no longer true . You can always use your smartphone as a flashlight, but you may get reduced talk time and I personally prefer a dedicated flashlight. You can find inexpensive headlamps at your local hardware store. My favorite is an older Petzl e+Lite headlamp that offers white or red LED illumination. The newest e+Lite model weighs in at less than one ounce, but it costs quite a bit more than my old model. All LED flashlights are much more energy efficient and likely to have excellent battery life and endurance.

Adhesive Bandages

Nothing is worse than scraping your knuckles or getting a cut on your finger during preflight and not having something to bandage the wound. You could go whole-hog and carry a full-blown first aid kit, but just a few alcohol wides and a dozen bandages in your flight bag could be all you need.

Food and Water

The Law of Threes says we can survive three minutes without oxygen, three hours without shelter, three days without water, and three weeks without food. No one can blame you for not wanting to carry a tent in your flight bag, but food and water are fairly easy to check off that list.

Whether you invest in a BPA-free stainless steel model or simply grab a disposable water bottle at the FBO, having water on hand can be a very good thing. Long flights at higher altitudes with low relative humidity can lead to dehydration. Pilots often don't realize they're dehydrated so it's best to sip water regularly. An added advantage is than an empty bottle can come in handy should you need to ... um ... heed the call of nature while in flight.

Food comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. You can pack one of a dizzying array of energy bars. For my money an apple, a bag of peanuts, and some turkey jerky are quite satisfying during a long day of flying.

Microfiber Cloth

An absorbent cloth can be a very handy thing to have in flight and I like to carry a microfiber cloth. They can be bought cheaply by the dozen and are good for cleaning eye glass, wiping condensation off the inside of a windshield, removing smudges from glass panel displays, and a host of other uses. Another advantage is that microfiber cloth is washable and dries quickly.

Sinus/Headache Remedy

Flying at altitude and breathing supplemental oxygen can cause sinusitis, headaches, even painful sinus block during descent. There are several approved OTC (over-the-counter) medications pilots can use, but most of the ones on the drugstore shelf are not very effective. The best remedy for my money is Advil Cold & Sinus, a combination of ibuprofen and pseudoephedrine. In the US, medications that contain pseudoephedrine are pseudo-regulated: They're kept behind the pharmacy counter, require you to show your driver's license, and the sale is logged, but that inconvenience is small when compared to the relief this active ingredient offers. Keep a few tablets in your flight bag and it will be there if and when you or your passengers need it.


You never expect a passenger to be affected by motion sickness, but when it happens it can come on unexpectedly. Nothing is worse for a passenger than feeling like they need to barf and not having a suitable receptacle in which to hurl. You can purchase ultra-effective sick-sacks containing absorbing gel, but a lightweight zip-lock bag or a simple plastic grocery bag works, too. Plastic bags are good for host of other uses, too. Why not keep a few in your flight bag, just in case?

UV Protection

A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association Dermatology describes a study showing that a one-hour flight at 30,000 feet exposes pilots to the UV radiation equivalent to a 20-minute tanning bed session. Yikes! You don't have to fly in the flight levels to have significant UV exposure and to fight back, you can wear a cap or hat and apply sunscreen. Hats can be problematic for pilots who use conventional headsets, but for those of us using in-ear headsets like Clarity Aloft it's less of a problem. Regardless of your headset preference, applying sunscreen is a good way to reduce your risk of skin cancer. My favorite sunscreen is Ultra Sheer® Dry-Touch Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 100+ by Neutrogena. Some might say SPF 100 is overkill, but then those folks probably ride a bike without a helmet while chewing tobacco, too.

What Else

I've covered a few things I find indispensable, but if there's something in your flight bag that you find useful, yet simple and inexpensive, feel free to post a comment.

Did I leave something

Sunday, November 30, 2014

November 2014 Photos

Night approach, Hayward

Beneath a Tupperware sky

Between layers, near Healdsburg

CFI's lunch, Crixa Style!

Cruising on a whole different level

Night approach over the East Bay

During egine out practice, smiling is optional

Adjusting to a new work environment

Holding as published at REBAS

Instrument practice with The Best Hood™

Approaching KANAN, LDA 19R 

Monterey Sunset

Sacramento Delta

On TOP of the weather, for a change ... 
More layers ...

Approach preparation

STAR preparation

Monday, November 03, 2014

Frying without a Skillet

There has always been (and probably always will be) a group of less proficient pilots who key the mic and take up valuable air time as they natter on, collecting their thoughts as they go, talking to ATC in an oddly conversational style. And there's another group, desperate to belong, who insist using non-standard/hip phraseology, putting their assigned transponder code "in the box," the altimeter setting "on the meter," and responding "with a flash" to ATC requests to "ident." Of course there are pilots who respond to traffic calls saying they have the other aircraft "on TCAS" or "on the fish-finder," apparently not understanding or caring that the controller needs to know whether or not they actually see the other aircraft with their eyes. One can complain all day, but it's unlikely this behavior will change anytime soon. The caravan passes and the dogs bark ...

A recent addition to the list of radio communication annoyances is an increasingly prevalent vocal mannerism, usually in younger pilots and controllers, where the speaker's voice trails into a low, gravely register. People who study voice and speech disorders have a name for this type of phonation: Vocal fry.

Vocal fry is a form of phonation, characterized by a distinct laryngeal vibratory pattern, distinct acoustic features, and a distinct vocal quality. Vocal fry has been referred to as pulse register, creaky voice, stiff voice, or glottal fry. ... in psycholinguistic research, the terms “glottalization” or “irregular phonation” are the preferred terms to describe this mode of phonation.
It used to be that vocal fry was considered a clinical voice disorder, most often related to contact granuloma on the vocal cords. Then in 2011, researchers at the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Long Island University published the results of their research: Habitual Use of Vocal Fry in Young Adult Female Speakers. 34 female college students, aged 18 - 25 years of age who were native speakers of Standard American English (SAE) were studied. The results showed that roughly two-thirds of the women habitually used vocal fry, that it was most likely to occur at the end of sentences, and that it appears the use of the vocal fry register may now be common in some adult SAE speakers. Before you cry foul and raise accusations of sexism, another study showed a similar, but a less common use of vocal fry in young males.

So what? Younger people think it's awesome to talk like Millhouse. What's the big deal? Well, aside from the use of vocal fry hurting your chances of getting a job during an interview, this type of vocalization does not carry very well over a two-way radio. Start with a bad radio, then add some static, a crowded radio frequency, and a pilot or controller with a tendency to mumble and you get a messy sort of verbal stew. Throw vocal fry into the mix and things only get worse.

Why younger people, especially young women, tend to use vocal fry is a topic of debate. One theory is that there may be a perception among these speakers that vocal fry makes them sound disaffected or relaxed. Another theory is that a low vocal register represents the speaker's lack of conviction in what they are saying, like ending every statements with a question inflection? Or could it be that the decimation of music programs in primary and secondary schools that started in the 1980's spawned a generation of young people who didn't learn to sing and missed out in learning how to use their breath in a way that would support their voice during speech.

I've trained several pilots recently (mostly male, by the way) who exhibited the habitual use of vocal fry while speaking on the radio, but not while talking directly to me in conversation. I pointed out to them that the controllers were constantly asking them to repeat their requests and that the reason was vocal fry just doesn't transmit very well. The best antidote to a tendency to use vocal fry on the radio is to become aware of the habit and then take the encouragement I offered one pilot:

"Use your high voice."