Monday, July 31, 2006

Going Somewhere

Cessna recently revealed it has been working at a new high-performance aircraft they are calling NGP, which stands for Next Generation Piston (aircraft), by making a fly-by at Oshkosh. The plane sports a high-wing cantilever design, vaguely reminiscent of the Cardinal, with some Cirrus-like features. A castering nose wheel and what looks to be a laminar-flow wing, not to mention the tail, are all reminiscent of the Cirrus as Ron mentioned. I don't attribute this to outright copying so much as engineers coming to the same design conclusions. Look at automobiles and you will see that most have similar shapes in an effort to reduce the coefficient of drag.

Cirrus aircraft have numerous drawbacks, some serious, that Cessna could capitalize on with its new NGP design. The Cirrus have had door problems from the get go. I have a nice bruise on my right forearm from trying like hell to get my door shut and latched (top and bottom) on a SR22 G2 earlier this week. There I was, holding the brakes with the engine running, repeatedly closing and opening my door. The temperature on the ground was about 104˚F and by the time I finally found a way to get the door latched, I was wringing wet with perspiration. Part of the SR22 G2 (second generation) marketing claims was that the doors would shut easily. Since all the late model Cessna aircraft have positively locking doors, one would think that the Cessna NGP would offer the same.

A new 182 is much more fun to hand fly than the Cirrus, but it has very heavy heavy elevator control pressures. You really need to trim the 182 or have a lot of upper body strength to hand fly it successfully. The new 182 reminds me of a Caravan, which is probably why I have a soft spot for it. The heavy control feel makes the plane very stable when flying IFR, but it can be tiring. The Cirrus is a weird plane to fly by hand, but if you have a very sensitive touch, there is some control feel you can establish in spite of the spring-loaded trim cartridges. Given all that horsepower and torque up front, the lack of rudder trim in the SR22 I fly is a shame, really. The Cessna NGP could really have an advantage if it is a more pleasant to fly aircraft, but laminar-flow wings, while offering good cruise characteristics, tend to be temperamental at slower speeds.

Cirrus has electrical system problems and its Master Control Unit is widely recognized as a potential Achilles Heel. The Cirrus I fly has had repeated ALT2 failures and at least one complete MCU replacement that I know of. I'm not the first SR22 pilot who has considered the possibility of a complete electrical system failure in IMC and I know at least one SR22 owner who flies with a hand-held Garmin GPS as a backup.

Another issue with the Cirrus is the ridiculous placement of circuit breakers, alternate air, and alternate static source controls, which would be pretty easy to address in the new Cessna design.

The pitiful ventilation in the Cirrus is barely better than the Diamond Katana (aka Ka-sauna), though you can leave the Cirrus doors open during taxi and that helps a bit. I'm told there is an after market air conditioner available for Cirrus, but I'm also told that the installation requires some serious modifications. A high-wing aircraft is not immune from being hot, but a high wing does give you some shade from the sun and shelter from rain in bad weather. Air conditioning as an option in the new Cessna would be ... cool.

The Cirrus is a noisy beast, hence the Bose headsets that Cirrus markets with the plane. I found my LightSpeed Mach1 works well in the Cirrus, easily dampening the loud racket. Still, one would expect the new Cessna would be quieter inside.

The Cirrus have had brake issues that, combined with the unfortunate placement of the fuel sump drains, has resulted in some ground fires that have completely consumed a few SR22s. With a castering nose gear, the Cessna NGP will need some beefy brakes and Cessna has not had a great track record with its brake systems on single-engine aircraft. Even some Caravans I have flown had some brake problems, so Cessna better get the brake system right on the NGP. The fuel sumps being far away from the wheels should obviate the fire danger and one assumes the NGP, like all late model Cessna, will have a bevy of fuel sumps.

Other things that could help make the NGP serious Cirrus competition?

TKS icing with known icing certification.
A vacuum-driven attitude indicator.
A back-up alternator similar to the one on the Caravan and just one battery.

And if I win the lottery and Cessna does produce the NGP, I'd opt for a turbine engine version.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Oshkosh Dreamin'

Now through July 30th is the Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture event, commonly know to pilots by the name of the city where it is hosted - Oshkosh, Wisconsin. B'gosh, I've never been, but I do read the press releases since this is the venue where many manufacturers announce new products. I grew up in the Midwest and can easily imagine the hot humid air and thousands of pilots salivating over shiny aircraft, avionics, and other toys.

Garmin has announced several new products, including the new hand-held GPSMAP 496. Near as I can tell, this unit has all of the features of the popular, but expensive, 396, plus some new bells and whistles. Some of the new features include taxiway maps, an electronic version of the AOPA Airport Directory, and more rapid position updating (5 times per second). Road maps and navigation are also provided in case you want to use the unit in your car or, perhaps, land on a road? I'd love to have one of these units or even the older 396, but that flight instructor vow of poverty keeps getting in the way.

Garmin has also announced the G600 and G900 glass cockpit units for retrofitting older aircraft and for experimental (homebuilt) aircraft respectively. Garmin also announced a new G1000R retrofit for Beechcraft King Air 90 series aircraft. T]All of these unit provide AHARS for heading and attitude display, though one assumes that standby airspeed, altitude, and attitude instruments will still be required for certification. These units also include an air/data computer for altitude, airspeed, and vertical speed information as well as the new taxiway navigation feature and, if properly equipped, XM weather.

The G600 will be available about this time next year (2007) for around $27,000. One would imagine that the installation costs could easily reach half again the price of the G600. I wonder if the ADC is attached to the existing pitot/static system. In fact, for certificated aircraft types, one wonders if the necessary STCs will be forthcoming. I know what you're thinking - "Quit asking so many damned questions and just enjoy the pretty colors!"

As the old marketing adage goes, "You don't sell the steak, you sell the sizzle.

Monday, July 24, 2006

IFR Draino

A while back when I was flying the Caravan, I was handed off to a NORCAL frequency one day and heard this exchange.
Norucaru approachu, Bonanza too shree foru sevuna xuray, missuda approachu Sarenusu, too sowsand, krime foru sowsand, rekwestu eye eff aru karensu, dareno.
The controller was baffled and asked the pilot to repeat. The pilot dutifully repeated the request and the format of his request was flawless. In spite of his heavy accent, I thought what the pilot was saying was pretty clear, but the controller was lost. He asked the pilot to repeat his destination several times and finally decided that the pilot was asking for an IFR clearance to RENO, entered the data, and came back with a clearance. All the while, I was waiting to check in on the frequency and a bunch of other pilots were waiting, too. After being given the clearance to Reno, the poor pilot again stated his request.

The controller was silent for a few seconds and I imagined him with his head in his hands or taking a sip of coffee. I took advantage of the break in the action to check in, adding "I think the Bonanza pilot is asking for an IFR clearance to Delano." The controller was grateful for the observation, got the pilot the clearance he wanted, and everything on frequency, temporarily plugged up by this confusion, gradually returned to normal.

Now before you jump on me for being ethnocentric, let me point out that many pilots who are native speakers of English are much harder to understand on frequency that the pilot I mentioned. The way pilots can help prevent a plugged up frequency is threefold, I think: Speaking clearly, pacing, and communicating in an accepted or expected format.

Some pilots have no trouble pronouncing words in English, but they either haven't bothered to learn, or they have just chosen to not use, standard phraseology. The solution to this is to occasionally open the AIM and read the pilot-controller glossary to refresh your memory. Is this tedious and time-consuming? Yes it is, and welcome to aviation!

Some of the most complicated radio work occurs when practicing instrument flying in VFR conditions since you often have oddball requests and approaches seldom terminate with a landing. To help make communication go more smoothly with ATC, I like to introduce pilots to my two friends LARI and ARTI. These two acronyms help you remember to give ATC all the needed information. The smoother your radio work during IFR training, the more accommodating the controller is likely to be.

When making initial contact with ATC (this assumes you haven't been handed off and the controller is not expecting your call), I recommend starting with a courtesy call.
Oakland Center, Cessna 12345, VFR, request.
When the controller asks you to say your request, use L A R I to remind yourself how format your request:

Location - relative to a VOR, airport or prominent landmark
Altitude - you can omit this if you are on the ground
Request - what you want to do
Information - the latest surface weather (ATIS or one minute weather).
Cessna 12345, a 182 slant golf, 16 miles south of Santa Rosa, 3500 feet, request Santa Rosa ILS 32 practice approach, multiple approaches, information Bravo

When you have been handed off to a different frequency and you are on a discrete transponder code, you are already in the system so use A R T I:

Altitude - your current altitude
Request - your requested approach, if any
Termination - how your approach will terminate
Information - the latest surface weather (ATIS or one minute weather)
Oakland Center, Cessna 12345, 6000 feet, request Santa Rosa GPS 14 practice approach, multiple approaches, information Bravo

If you're on an instrument flight plan, you can leave out the Termination part and ATC will assume you want a full-stop landing.

If you are checking back on after a missed approach, ARTI works well again.
Oakland Center, Cessna 12345, 1500 climbing 4000, request one turn in the hold, then another ILS 32 practice approach.

I emphasize the use of the word request rather than saying something like
... I'll be shooting the Santa Rosa GPS 14 practice approach ...
The word request indicates that you understand it is the controller's decision whether or not to give you a practice approach clearance. When you say request, you are acknowledging the controller's authority and in my experience, controller's appreciate this.

Of course there are variations on LARI and ARTI. You can check in with ARTI and request a direct routing or inform the controller that the previous sector assigned you a heading or altitude restriction. The point of these acronyms is to help you, in high workload moments, give the controller what he or she needs to know as concisely as possible.

So when the frequency gets clogged up and you're practicing instrument approaches, it's time to be sharp on the radio. Try out LARI and ARTI and see if you like the results. It should help things flow smoothly. Think of it as your own IFR Draino.

Friday, July 21, 2006

You've got ...TERRAIN

The new glass panels that are quickly becoming commonplace in GA aircraft provide a wealth of information. Topography, traffic, weather. All in beautiful color. But the designers weren't content just to stimulate your retina. They also use sounds and voices to communicate with you. In fact, the only senses these systems don't seem to yet take advantage of are smell, taste, and touch.

I think most pilots can learn to selectively ignore the dazzling array of colors, when necessary. Sound is another issue. Some Cessna aircraft have autopilots and traffic information systems that beep or talk to you. The beeps and talking are quite loud. Pilots are constantly using their hearing and if these gadgets make noise at the wrong time, the results can be downright dangerous.

My first experience with these noisy bastards was the TrafficWatch system in the Cirrus. When transponder-equipped aircraft get too close, the system begins loudly barking "Traffic! Traffic!" Often, this is a great help. Other times, it's just a pain. All it takes to get the TrafficWatch blaring like you are about to die is a pilot in aircraft holding short of the runway turning on their transponder while you are on short final. Of course, you're not about to die. And there is no way to turn it off. You can momentarily stop the racket by diverting your attention to press a button. Perhaps there's a circuit breaker you can pull.

The Cessna G1000's provide a TIS traffic alerting system that, with the proper button pushes, you can turn off if you so desire. While TrafficWatch is a self-contained system that should detect any aircraft that has its transponder turned on, TIS depends on traffic information being uploaded from a properly-equipped ATC radar facility through a Mode-S transponder. Not all areas support TIS and rumor has it that the FAA has plans to phase out TIS. If this comes to pass, this will not be a boon for all the TIS-equipped aircraft out there.

One of the odd things about TIS seems to occur when you practice stalls (it's probaby the very slow airspeed) or when you transition from a non-TIS service area to an area that provides TIS. In both cases, the sytem get confused and you suddenly see a target right at you altitude, right where you are, and you hear "TRAFFIC! TRAFFIC!" Then just as suddenly, the TIS figures out that target is you and shuts up. Oh, and when you transition to an area where TIS is not supported, a voice loudly announces "Traffic unavailable". But traffic alert systems are just one of the noisy beasts in the new cockpits.

Cessna G1000-equipped aircraft with autopilots will either beep or talk to you at various times. When the autopilots disconnects or is disconnected, you will hear a loud, 2-second beep. In the Cirrus, you get a long, annoying sequence of beeps lasting several seconds that are loud enough to blot out any important sound. In a Cessna 182 I fly, disconnecting the autopilot causes a Keanu Reeves-like voice to say "Otto Piiilot!"


When you are within 1000' of a selected altitude or you deviate from a selected altitude, you'll hear another beep or Keanu saying "Altituuude"


If this happens when ATC is trying to tell you or ask you something, you'll probably have to ask them to "say again." Then there's the perfect noise storm - when the autopilot and the traffic alert system simultaneously vie for you attention. ATC is usually annoyed by having to repeat themselves, but they probably have no idea of the cacophony of sound occuring in some cockpits.

Today, I met a new noise-maker: A newly installed terrain awareness/warning system in a Cirrus SR22. On an instructional flight to one of my old freight dog haunts, we decided to do some touch and goes. There is rising terrain to the south of the westerly facing runway and as soon as we turned onto the base leg, a polite female voice announced "terrain." This was said in a very low-key way, like "Darling, I know you're the best pilot in the world, but you've turned toward rising terrain." Of course, we had every intention of turning away from the hillside and toward the runway at the appropriate moment, but Darling had no way of knowing this. Halfway through the base leg, about to turn final, Darling said "Terrain! Pull up!" with a "Honey, you're starting to scare me" sort of intonation. I thought when we turned final that Darling would relax, but she was wound up really tightly. "Terrain! Pull UP! Pull UP!" she insisted as we approached the runway. The pilot I was instructing was flying and he remained remarkably calm.

I was now resolved to find a way to turn Darling off, but try as I might, I couldn't find a way to disable the voice. I did find a menu item called "Disable Terrain" on the #2 Garmin 430, but selecting it had no effect. I plan to research this further. If anyone knows how to turn off the terrain voice, I'm all ears, as it were. And if you think I'm sexist, let me add that there is a male voice in a Bendix/King-equipped aircraft I fly that barks "Traffic! Traffic!" with such intense intonation that the first time I heard it, I nearly jumped out of my skin.

There is technology available to sort out this mess. My LightSpeed Mach1 headset has an auxiliary audio input for music, like an MP3 player. If listening to an MP3 player while flying sounds dumb, then the Mach1 is smart. When it senses someone talking over the intercom or ATC trying to say something to you, it automatically reduces the volume of the auxiliary audio by about 70%. It is remarkably effective and it happens so quickly, it seems like the unit has ESP. Why can't Garmin, King, BF Goodrich, and the others find a way to do the same with all the voices, beeps, and alarms? Seems to me that only the audio panel/intercom would need to be modified.

I used to fly to get a peaceful feeling. Now, sometimes the only time I feel peaceful is on the drive home.

Monday, July 17, 2006

RAIM, RAIM, Don't Go Away

GPS is sacred cow among many pilots in the general aviation community. I like GPS and appreciate the situational awareness in offers. I enjoy instructing instrument pilots in the uses of GPS, too. The reason I say that GPS is a sacred cow is that many pilots I talk to have little or no appreciation of the limitations of GPS, claiming with religious fervor that GPS is always more accurate than a ground-based VOR. And some pilots rely on GPS so much that they fail to develop good pilotage skills and would literally be lost without GPS. What follows is a brief description of GPS limitations and the importance of RAIM (Receiver Autonomous Integrity Monitoring).

There are many good descriptions of GPS available on line. One of my favorites was authored by Peter H. Dana, The Geographer's Craft Project, Department of Geography, The University of Colorado at Boulder. I'll just mention some highlights.

A constellation of satellites (at least 24, but often more) orbit the earth, broadcasting pseudo-random noise signals that can be received by GPS receivers. The signal from each satellite contains a time stamp and that satellite's position, uploaded to the satellite from a master ground station at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado. A GPS receiver uses signals from several satellites to calculate a pseudo range (based on the satellite's position and the time it took the signal to reach the receiver, thereby determining its position on earth. GPS receivers should be able to determine your position within about 22 meters 95% of the time.

GPS satellites broadcast two signals, one at 1575.42 MHz and another at 1227.60 MHz. How these signal are designed is beyond the scope of this blog, but each satellite has a unique pseudo-random noise signal code. Consequently each satellite is identified by a PRN number. This is good stuff to know when you see a GPS NOTAM saying a satellite will be unavailable or unreliable. You always request GPS NOTAMs in your pre-flight briefing, right? Here are two GPS NOTAMs that showed up today indicating satellite #6 is out of service and #3 will be out of service on July 17 from 1600 to 2230 Zulu:
GPS 06/040 GPS PRN 6 OTS
GPS 07/009 GPS PRN 3 OTS WEF 0607171600-0607172230

GPS signals are subject to several sources of errors. Ionospheric delay, multi-path errors, clock errors, and insufficient satellites in view are some of the errors that can occur. IFR-certified GPS receivers use an on-going process called RAIM to determine the accuracy of their calculated position. A minimum of 5 satellites must be in view for the receiver to perform a RAIM calculation. 6 satellites are required if a corrupt satellite is to be identified and removed from the calculation of a navigation solution. The GPS receiver regularly calculates two separate navigation solutions based on two unique sets of satellites. It compares the results and if the two solutions differ by more than an allowable amount, the receiver displays a RAIM failure message. A RAIM failure in flight means that the GPS receiver cannot guarantee the accuracy of the position it is reporting and the pilot should use an alternate means of navigation. If a RAIM failure occurs during a GPS approach prior to the final approach fix, the pilot must fly the missed approach and begin navigating by alternate means as soon as practicable.

IFR-certified GPS receivers also provide a RAIM prediction function that pilots should use prior to departing and before arrival. The RAIM prediction simply determines if enough GPS satellites should be in view at a specified location and time. You can do a RAIM prediction for your departure airport and for your arrival airport at your estimated time of arrival. You can also ask Flight Service for a RAIM prediction for your arrival airport. It's important to remember that this is simply a predictionand does not guarantee that a RAIM failure will not occur.

Buried in the AIM, 1-1-19-f(b)7 (emphasis mine), is one of several recommendations that pilots perform a RAIM prediction.
Procedures must be established for use in the event that GPS integrity outages are predicted or occur (RAIM annunciation) ...

AIM section 1-1-19-J also addresses RAIM for GPS approaches and departures:
... Antenna location on the aircraft, satellite position relative to the horizon, and aircraft attitude may affect reception of one or more satellites. Since the relative positions of the satellites are constantly changing, prior experience with the airport does not guarantee reception at all times, and RAIM availability should always be checked.

The WAAS (Wide-Area Augmentation System) uses a set of land-based stations to calculate corrections for ionospheric delay and solar activity, making WAAS-enabled GPS receivers even more accurate. The correction messages are uploaded from a ground master station to a GPS satellite and broadcast to WAAS-enabled receivers, thereby improving accuracy to within about 3 meters. WAAS has it's own set of reliability issues, including one or more ground stations being out of service and insufficient satellites in view. There is currently only one widely available IFR-certified WAAS GPS receiver - the GNS480.

A WAAS-enabled GPS receiver does integrity monitoring and if it discovers an inconsistency in a navigation solution, it is allowed six seconds to determine a correction. If the GPS receiver cannot correct the problem within six seconds, it notifies the user that the position it is reporting is unreliable.

A WAAS service volume model was created to forecast the accuracy of WAAS in terminal areas or larger geographic areas. Since WAAS is used to provide LPV approaches (Localizer-precision with Vertical Guidance), pilots planning to utilize such approaches should check for NOTAMs that indicate whether or not WAAS reliability will be available when they plan to arrive and begin an approach. Here's a WAAS NOTAM that appeared today for the Napa airport:
APC 07/034 APC WAAS LNAV/VNAV AND LPV MNM UNREL WEF 0607180554-0607180609

I have witnessed about a dozen GPS failures in the last 4 years. One occurred in a Caravan I was flying in IMC at a critical moment. The GPS began showing my ground track as being about 30˚ right of my actual course. I was a bit flummoxed at first, but after cross-checking my HSI, magnetic compass, and right side heading indicator, I quickly realized that the GPS was wrong. A few seconds later, a RAIM calculation error message was displayed and the GPS gave up trying to display anything. A few minutes later, the GPS started working again only to fail again after a minute or so. The company's solution to this was to replace the GPS receiver with a brand new one and that cured the problem.

About a month ago, I saw a RAIM failure message in a G1000-equipped plane while my student was flying the missed approach procedure from the Rio Vista GPS RWY 25 approach. We were in visual conditions and it was a practice approach, so we continued to navigate with the GPS to the missed approach holding waypoint. The G1000 provided accuracte navigation to the MAHWP, but when we arrived the G1000 actually told us to do a parallel entry when a direct entry was obviously called for. The GPS was clearly confused and we never determined why. I tried to report the anomoly to NORCAL and got a yes dear, why don't you call flight service and tell someone who cares sort of response.

To do a RAIM calculation on a Garmin 430 or 530, scroll with the big knob on the lower right to the AUX pages, scroll with the small knob until you see the page with RAIM, enter cursor mode by pressing the small knob, scroll down to RAIM, and press ENTER. Now you can selet the position and time (or use the present position and current time), then press ENTER to do a RAIM calculation They don't make it easy, do they? No wonder most pilots don't do a RAIM predicition. Oh, and to get out, press the cursor knob twice, then scroll back to the NAV pages with the big knob.

On the G1000, scroll with the big knob on the lower right to reach the system pages, scroll with the small knob until you locate the RAIM feature, press the small knob to enter cursor mode, and select the appropriate position and time. Then press ENTER. Just a convoluted as the 530/430, eh? Note that you can select GPS1 or GPS2 - there are two separate GPS receivers, though this is transparent to G1000 users most of the time.

With the GNS 480, things are much simpler. From the NAV display, press the INFO button, select RAIM, press ENTER. Piece of cake.

The RAIM feature in the older Apollo GX60 series is also pretty simple to use. From the NAV display, turn the large nob. Simple as pie.

The moral of the story is that GPS is a great tool, but, like any other navigational system, it has limitations. GPS receivers can and do fail, so pilots should understand the limitations of GPS, know how to do a RAIM prediction, and be prepared to use alternate navigational means should the magic box quit working.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Pilot Nav SIDs & the G1000

About 6 years ago, the FAA decided it would be simpler if all instrument departure procedures (other than simple obstacle departure procedures described textually) were referred to simply as DPs. This change in terminology was short lived because of the confusion it created, especially among foreign pilots and operators who were still using the term SID (Standard Instrument Departure) for all graphically depicted instrument departure procedures. So the FAA relented and now refers to all graphically depicted instrument departure procedures as SIDs. Last I checked, several questions in the FAA knowledge test question bank still seem to adhere to the old naming convention. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Another interesting thing is that the NACO web site lists SIDs as DPs.

In a previous installment, I talked about flying a vectored SID with the G1000. Now it's time to consider a pilot nav SIDs, which are designed to allow the pilot to fly a departure on his or her own navigation with minimal input from ATC.

The only pilot nav SID that I've flown regularly is the Salad One Departure out of Oakland.

Here's a G1000 flight plan from Oakland to Reno, Nevada that uses the Salad One departure. Note that once you have entered your departure and destination airports, the flight plan page on the MFD defines some soft keys along the bottom that allow you to quickly load and select a DP (Garmin doesn't call them SIDs either!), STAR, or instrument approach procedure.

Flying a pilot nav SID is pretty simple. Climb to 400 feet above ground level before making any turns, then fly the headings depicted and intercept the specified course or airway. Here's what the G1000 displays after you've turned to the 092˚ heading and intercepted the Oakland 060˚ radial. The G1000 does what you would expect: It activates the first leg of the SID for you.

Something I recommend to my instrument students is to tune the VORs that define the underlying airways or course for the SID. In the case of an RNAV SID, there may not be any VORs involved. But in this case, there are several VORs that can be set up. In my example, the #1 nav is tuned to Oakland (116.8) and the #2 is tuned to Scaggs Island (112.1) to allow the identification of SALAD intersection. I always recommend being able to identify the first intersection or waypoint on an airway or SID, just in case. In my example, the back-up frequencies are set to allow you to identify the next waypoint, ALTAM, using VORs.

Oh, and you did a RAIM check before departing, right?

Saturday, July 15, 2006

I screwed up!

The FAA defines learning as "a change in behavior resulting from experience," which means flight instructors need to be keen observers of human behavior in order to determine if learning has occurred. Much of a flight instructor's job involves on-going evaluation of a pilot's behavior in several dimensions and then providing constructive, critical feedback to the pilot. How they talk on the radio, how they use aircraft systems, and how well they comply with standard procedures for aircraft operation all need to be carefully observed. Having instructed for several years, I've come to the conclusion that good pilots, like most good all-around human beings, tend to be good at two very difficult, yet important tasks.

The first skill is freely admitting that you have made an error. Most of us don't want to make mistakes and each of us tend to be our own harshest critic. Pilots in particular tend to be compulsive about, and identify strongly with, the quality of their performance. When a mistake is made and recognized, this understandably makes us uncomfortable and may create cognitive dissonance. But before a error can be corrected, we have to recognize that a mistake has been made. Flight instructors need to be good diplomats, because many pilots simply don't want to recognize their errors or they want to explain them away.

Denial and rationalization are two traits that do not serve a pilot well, because they cut you off from the very experience that can improve your performance. It's unlikely that you can change your behavior (learn) if you can't accept what just happened. After taking eight different FAA knowledge tests, seven FAA check rides, numerous proficiency and simulator checks, and countless FBO aircraft check outs, I think I have finally learned to readily and freely admit when I've made a mistake while piloting an aircraft.

The sooner a pilot can learn the skill of admitting they have screwed up, forgot, or overlooked something, the safer they will be. A good instructor doesn't just point out mistakes and faults, they also offer insight into how the problem occurred and strategies the pilot can use to improve their performance.

For student pilots and pilots training for a new certificate or rating, being able to quickly learn from your mistakes will save you time and money. And if you need any evidence that saving time and money are important, look no further than the ever rising price of avgas. Once you've admitted to an error, to yourself as well as to others, you now have the opportunity to learn (change your behavior).

I strive to temper the feedback I give to pilots by emphasizing the difference between minor errors and mistakes that could kill you. Most of the time, pilots make benign mistakes that, in and of themselves, are not dangerous. The problem is that a chain of mistakes, even if they are benign when considered separately, can compound and add up to something dangerous, maybe even deadly.

So the goal of a good pilot is not to avoid making any mistakes, but to recognize and correct the ones that s/he makes. As Hamish said so eloquently, expecting perfection of yourself might turn out to be the most deadly form of arrogance.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Instructor Headache #174

You may not be old enough to remember or to have even seen the Excedrin TV commercials that aired back in the 1970s. There were a series of ads that described a bad headache and assigned it a number. I'm not sure why numbering the headaches was helpful, but seemed like a good idea and it helped you keep them straight. Headache #25 (screaming children at a birthday party) was distinctly different from Headache #31 (your boss yelling during the board meeting), for example. And we all know how hard it can be to keep things straight when you have a bad headache.

This was an era when advertising was more benign and actually tried to appeal to your intellect rather than your adrenal glands. They would describe a situation that you could see yourself having a headache and assign it a number. "Oh, number 22. Yeah, I've had that one." Then a pulsating, pounding noise would start. Next, some cheesy graphics would show lightning bolts or heat waves around the silhouette of a human head. Then Excedrin would go to work and the cheesy electricity or heat waves would dissipate and the backlit silhouette would turn into a real person, smiling and obviously feeling better. A person disabled by pain would be restored as a productive member of society. And that would be the story of "Excedrin Headache #52."

As a kid, I always felt oddly satisfied at the conclusion of these commercials. After all, a person in discomfort had found a cure to their pain, returning to a happy, productive life. On the other hand, I had no desire to actually use Excedrin since I didn't get headaches. But I liked watching the commercials and it was good to know that Excedrin was there, if you needed it.

Now I'm older and I do get headaches occasionally, sometimes just from watching one of the current crop of TV ads, replete with flashing, quick cuts, and abrasive audio mixing that only sounds intelligible when turned almost completely down. As a kid, I had to work to induce those sorts of sensory inputs. Now you get them for free on TV. Even Timothy Leary said, before his death, that there was no longer any need for anyone to take hallucinogenic drugs. If you want to take a trip, just watch TV commercials. Unfortunately, it may be a bad trip.

One day last week, my day of instructing started with a headache. A sinus headache, to be exact. It wasn't bad at first and I knew how I could get almost immediate relief - take one, single Tylenol Sinus™ caplet. Two caplets is the recommended dose, but just one works fine for me. After 10 or 15 minutes, my sinuses would open up and the headache would go away. The problem was, we didn't have any of said caplets because I can only buy one package of the stuff every ten days or two packages a month.

Some enterprising drug users, not content with the altered state induced by watching TV ads, like a normal person, have devised ways to cook most anything containing pseudoephidrine into methamphetimine. The AUTHORITIES decided a solution to this problem is to prevent anyone from purchasing too much of any over-the-counter medication containing pseudoephidrine. Drug manufacturers have even come up with new, alternative ingredients for us sinus headache sufferers. The products that contain the new ingredients are readily available for purchase at drug stores because they can't be cooked into methamphetimine. They are also readily available as no one is buying them since they don't work. In the new, hip, advertising/PR spin parlance, this is a win-win for everyone. Even my headache gets to win, oh joy!

So I look at my calendar and try to remember if I'm eligible to purchase more Tylenol Sinus™. I can't figure it out and my head is pounding so badly, it doesn't even occur to me to try to assign it a number. I really don't want to go to the local drug store, ask the pharmacist behind the counter to purchase the product, show them my driver's license, and be told that I'm an ineligible receiver. I look kind of haggard. Perhaps they'll think I'm a meth user, just trying to get my fix. So I make a cup of espresso, drink it, press on some acupressure points with my thumbs, and hope for the best.

Arriving at the airport, the headache is slightly better. I meet my student and we decide to do some ground school on cross-country planning while we wait for the 900 foot overcast ceiling to dissipate. The navigation log forms come out, the plotter, the pencil, and then the dreaded E6B slide rule. We painstakingly make our way through the planning process, marking wind dots, computing ground speed, converting true heading to true course to magnetic course, determining fuel consumption, time en route for each leg. In my mind I'm seeing that silhouette with the cheesy graphics and hearing the pounding noise. Yes, my headache is back, but the sun is shining and the clouds are gone.

So we takeoff and fly the cross country plan. As we climb, my sinuses seem to relax and the headache dissipates. Blessed relief. Back at Oakland, my first lesson finished, I begin digging through my BIG flight bag that I used to carry when I was a freight dog. It's still in the back of my car and I recall I squirreled away all manner of essential items in that bag - dental floss, contact lens solution, even some Jepp charts. I hope that I'll find a Tylenol Sinus™, but I don't.

The next lesson begins - an instrument flight to the central valley. The flight is bumpy and hot, but the skies are completely clear. We quickly determine that the heading indicator is on its last legs and is precessing wildly, so I cover it up . This particular plane is not rigged properly and that, combined with the turbulence makes for a trying flight for my student, who flies a localizer backcourse approach, then the missed approach. Next comes the ILS approach to the same airport and I can tell that it's a handful for my student, who's getting frustrated and demoralized. After another missed approach, I ask to take the controls and demonstrate flying the same ILS.

Norcal gives me vectors back to the localizer and I demonstrate timed turns to a heading as well as some strategies for dealing with small heading corrections using just the compass. Now my head is really pounding. Then the view limiting device that I clip on to my sunglasses starts to slip, causing me to have to raise my chin to be able to see the instruments on the left side of the plane. Now I've got another problem. Raising my chin has me looking through the "reader" portion of my sunglasses. Those of you who have yet to experience the indignity of bifocals won't be able to appreciate the effect, but now the instruments are blurry. In spite of all this and the turbulence, I manage to fly a credible ILS, on the glideslope. At the Missed Approach Point, the localizer is about two dots to the right of center, which disappoints me. My student's comment? "After watching you fly it, I don't feel so bad about my performance." I guess that's a victory, of sorts.

The flight back to the Bay Area is long and bumpy. I find myself envisioning my head as a cantaloupe that's been split in two and try pushing on the acupressure points again. Back on the ground, I do the de-brief, make the appropriate logbook entries, and head to my car. Putting my flight bag away, I see my big flight bag still in disarray and it occurs to me: I never looked in the small, zippered side pocket. I open that pocket and find two Tylenol Sinus™ caplets, still sealed in their plastic/foil container. I take one and begin the drive home with the AC on full blast. Half way home, the pseudoephedrine is beginning to work its magic, and the pounding subsides.

And that was the end of Instructor Headache #174.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Vectored DPs & the G1000

First I'd like to wish all my U.S. readers a happy and safe Fourth of July.

It's often said that flying single-pilot IFR is like playing a game of chess: You want to be at least two moves ahead of your current position, as illustrated by vectored departure procedures like the Anaheim Three Departure out of Fullerton, California. How the G1000 handles this procedure is quite interesting.

Let's say you're departing runway 24 at Fullerton for a flight to Paso Robles. In a piston engine aircraft, it's likely you'll be assigned the Anaheim Three. After entering KFUL->LHS->AVE->PRB->KPRB as your flight plan in the G1000, press the PROC button and load the Anaheim Three departure, specifying runway 24 and the Lake Hughes (LHS) transition.

When you look at the moving map after loading the procedure, you'll be surprised to see that no part of the departure procedure is depicted. The first course line indicated is from Lake Hughes to Avenal. One assumes the folks at Garmin decided that since you will be vectored, it is premature to display any of the route, even though the departure procedure tells you the route to expect. The software engineer in me wonders if this is a bug, but I digress.

To make the departure route appear, enter the flight plan, highlight the first waypoint in the procedure, SLI, press Direct, and then press Enter twice.

Now the entire route is depicted, but you may as well leave the flight plan display active with the cursor positioned over the next waypoint to which you think you'll be vectored. While you are at it, get the VOR receiver tuned to the appropriate VOR and the bearing pointer enabled on the Primary Flight Display so you will be ready to intercept a particular radial should SoCal ask you to do so.

After takeoff, fly the runway heading to at least 400' AGL, but highlight the next waypoint so you'll be one step ahead of the game. I've shown this on the PFD, but the flight plan display on the PFD disappears each time you proceed direct to a waypoint so I recommend using the flight plan display on the MFD, which is more well-behaved.

Let's say SoCal gives you a left turn to 120˚, just like the procedure says. You are certainly no longer headed to the Seal Beach VOR. In case you're wondering that yellow circle displayed on the moving map is the temporary flight restriction around the Disneyland theme park.

If SoCal tells you to fly your present heading and intercept the Seal Beach 058˚ radial, you can activate the leg between SLI and POXKU or you can ask for direct to the next waypoint. If ATC can accommodate a direct to request, they usually will because it's often less workload for them.

Unfortunately, the G1000 waypoint sequencing behavior I described for approach procedures does not occur with this departure. You'd think that the default behavior would be for the G1000 to figure out which leg of the departure you are closest to and activate that leg, but that's not how it works.

Interestingly, the waypoint sequencing behavior does appear work with the older Garmin 530 (at least on their PC simulator). With the Garmin 530, activating the leg between SLI and POXKU will result in intelligent waypoint sequencing and the leg of the departure that you are closest to will automatically become the active leg.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Obstacle Departure Procedures

A Caravan pilot I know had a sobering experience departing Ukiah one cloudy, rainy day. Like many smaller airports, Ukiah does not have a charted instrument departure procedure. Instead, there is a textual description called an Obstacle Departure Procedure or ODP . An ODP may include recommended takeoff minima (ceiling and visibility) and though these minima do not apply to pilots operating under Part 91, GA pilots should take these minima into consideration. The ODB may also include minimum climb gradients (given in feet per nautical mile) as well as which runways are authorized for departure and which are not. Your aircraft should be capable of meeting any climb gradient specified, unless you think you can maintain visual conditions to a safe altitude. If no climb gradient is specified, a standard 200 feet per nautical mile gradient is assumed.

The Ukiah Municipal Airport has ODP you want to follow carefully if departing IFR because there is plenty of cumulous granitus to run into. Here's the ODP for Ukiah.

What happened to the pilot I mentioned is that his slaved heading indicator failed shortly after takeoff. Lucky for him, his aircraft was equipped with a vacuum-driven heading indicator on the right instrument panel and he, unlike some pilots, always set it to the runway heading right before takeoff. A magnetic direction indicator is required equipment for both IFR and VFR, and for good reason. Yet in a climb or descent, a magnetic compass can be difficult to read and may not be very accurate, so most aircraft are equipped with gyroscopic or slaved heading indicators that pilots refer to when climbing, descending, or turning.

A useful backup technique in a GPS-equipped aircraft when an ODP calls for a particular heading after takeoff, is to select your departure airport from your flight plan as the current waypoint and use the OBS feature.

Highlight the airport in the flight plan and press the Direct-To button. Next press the OBS button and use the course knob to set the desired course to track from the airport. Be careful if you're using a G1000 because the course knob is located very close to the knob used to set the barometric pressure for the altimeter. With a Garmin 430/530 or G1000, I'd set a course to the airport so that the course I want to track appears in magenta, just like the active course would appear normally. Do not use the NAV mode on your autopilot if you use this technique: You must hand fly the departure or use your autopilot in heading mode.

After takeoff and passing 400' AGL (or the altitude specified in the ODP), turn to your heading. In this example, you'd turn right to a heading of 350˚ after reaching about 1100 feet.

As you approach 4000 feet, highlight the Mendocino VOR waypoint in your flight plan and press the Direct-To button. Then turn left and proceed direct to the VOR as you continue your climb.

This brings up a couple of beefs I have mentioned with the G1000 design. Anytime you select the Flight Plan on either the Primary Flight Display or Multi-Function Display and enter cursor mode by pressing the small knob, the window scrolls to the end of the flight plan and highlights a blank line. This is gets old very quickly since 99% of the time you want to select a waypoint very near your current waypoint, not add waypoints to the end of the flight plan. Interestingly, the Garmin 430 and 530 don't exhibit this behavior - they keep the cursor right on your current waypoint.

My other complaint is that the flight plan inset window on the PFD disappears unexpectedly. I often enter cursor mode and highlight a waypoint so I'll be ready to proceed direct to that waypoint when ATC clears me to do so. As soon as you press the Direct-To button, the inset flight plan window just vanishes. If you want to get it back so you'll be prepared to go to another waypoint, you must press the FPL button, press the small knob to enter cursor mode (which scrolls automatically to the end of the flight plan), then use the large knob to scroll back up to the desired waypoint. Oh, and don't try scrolling with the small knob you pressed to enter cursor mode because that will insert a waypoint. Make this mistake and you'll have to do even more button pushing to recover. Sheesh! No wonder it takes 8 to 10 hours for most pilots to become IFR proficient with the G1000.

In spite of its warts, the G1000 provides excellent situational awareness and does a lot to enhance safety of flight. Just be sure you do a RAIM check prior to takeoff and be careful which buttons you push and which knobs you turn.