Thursday, March 29, 2007

Strange Night, Strange Day

Nearly two weeks ago, I was asked to do a passenger flight in a Grand Caravan, flying from California to Oregon and back. Since I had plenty of advance notice, I agreed to do the flight and that flight was today. The odd thing is that for some reason, I couldn't really get to sleep last night. I tossed and turned in a way reminiscent of my freight dog days.

When 5am arrived, I got a weather briefing before heading out the door and saw this interesting TFR (emphasis mine):
FDC 5/9066 ZSE WA.. FLIGHT RESTRICTIONS MT. ST. HELENS VOLCANO. EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY AND UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. PURSUANT TO 14 CFR SECTION 91.137(A)(2) TEMPORARY FLIGHT RESTRICTIONS ARE IN EFFECT WITHIN A 1.5 NAUTICAL MILE RADIUS OF 461151N/1221118W OR THE BATTLE GROUND /BTG/ VORTAC 11 DEGREE RADIAL AT 31.8 NAUTICAL MILES AT AND BELOW 9000 FEET MSL TO PROVIDE A SAFE ENVIRONMENT FOR VOLCANIC ACTIVITY. U.S.F.S., TELEPHONE 360-891-5140 OR FREQ 132.125, IS IN CHARGE OF THE OPERATION. SEATTLE /SEA/ THE SYSTEM OPERATIONS SUPPORT CENTER/SOSC, PHONE 202-267-3333, IS THE FAA COORDINATION FACILITY.

For some reason this makes me think of Mt. Saint Helens as being like a four-year old child whose hand needs be held while crossing the street.

It was a glorious, brilliant, and smooth VFR day. Cruising over Clear Lake on the way up to Oregon, I overheard this early morning exchange between a female pilot and ATC:
Oakland Center, Boxhauler 123, 6,500, VFR

Boxhauler 123, Oakland Center, ah ... Say your position?

Boxhauler 123 is a few miles north of Butt Mountain.

(Complete silence on frequency for at least 20 seconds, probably for untransmitted laughter - I know I was laughing. Then thinking better of her position report ...)

(Boxhauler 123) I guess that's pronounced Butte ...

Boxhauler 123, you're radar contact, just north of the Sutter Buttes ...


On the way back across the Oregon/Califronia, I overheard this exchange:
Horizon Center, Horizon 123 ... I mean Oakland Center, Horizon 123, 10,000 feet, sorry about that ...

Horizon 123, Oakland Center, I've been called worse, climb and maintain flight level 230 ...


Flying a Caravan such a long distance makes one yearn to fly something faster, but the ATC chatter today was the best entertainment going. I was in the home stretch on the way back when I heard:
Cessna 456, I'll be losing radar contact with you in a few miles, before I terminate flight following you have traffic at your 12 to 1 o'clock, 3 miles, opposite direction, same altitude.

Ah ... we don't see him, but we have 'em on the fish finder ...

(unidentified voice) Arrrrgh, fish finder!

All in all, a great day to be a pilot. One thing I know for sure is that an empty Caravan climbs much better than one filled with passengers and baggage.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Emergency Beacons

Last week, I was set to begin a flight with an instrument rating candidate when we overheard an aircraft inform the ground controller that they could hear an emergency locator transmitter (ELT) on 121.5. We tuned our number two radio to 121.5 and we heard it, too. We immediately checked to be sure it wasn't the transmitter in our aircraft. It wasn't. Later, before we shutdown, we checked the emergency frequency again and we still heard an ELT.



Virtually all GA aircraft in the U.S. are required to have an ELT installed and functioning. Each ELT must undergo a functional inspection every 12 calendar months and the battery must be replaced after half of its useful life or after one hour of cumulative use. With some exceptions, virtually all aircraft I fly have an ELT. ELTs are designed to sense G-forces consistent with a crash and when they do, they start broadcasting a siren-like signal on 121.5 MHz. The presence of an ELT signal is detected in the contiguous 48 states by one or more search and rescue satellites in low earth orbit and is automatically forwarded to the United States Mission Control Center (USMCC) in Suitland, MD. ELTs can also be manually activated within the first 5 minutes at the top of the hour to test the unit, but you should limit the test to three sweeps of the emergency signal.

121.5 ELTs have several disadvantages, the biggest being that the beacon transmits an anonymous signal and that means SAR (search and rescue) teams must physically investigate each occurrence. Other disadvantages include false signals from non-ELT sources and the fact that early models often go off when they shouldn't. In fact, ELTs manufactured under the original TSO -C91 have a high rate of false alerts that consume a large amount of resources. Fewer than 2 in 1000 alerts are actual emergencies. That's why I train pilots to monitor 121.5 as part of their shutdown procedure to be sure their ELT has not been mistakenly activated by a firm landing or a defective crash sensor.

When a 121.5 MHz ELT is activated, either by mistake or as part of a crash sequence, it can take a couple of satellite passes to verify the general position of the signal. That process might take up to three hours. Newer and more expensive ELTs broadcast on 406 MHz, they broadcast the aircraft's identifier, and they can be located much more accurately by geostationary satellites. And the latest advance is an ELT that include its GPS location on 406 MHz, which can save precious time in a real accident scenario. Given all these advantages, it's easy to understand why all 121.5 MHz ELTs will be phased out in the U.S. and must be replaced with 406 MHz units by February 1, 2009.



As we were putting our aircraft away, an airport security vehicle came by and asked if we had checked our ELT. We told him it wasn't us and I decided to do some detective work of my own. Without specialized equipment, it can be difficult to determine which aircraft has an ELT that has been activated. Here's a simple procedure I use to identify which aircraft parked on the ramp has an activated ELT.

I retrieved the hand-held transceiver I keep in my trunk, tuned it to 121.5 MHz, unscrewed and removed the antenna, and turned off the squelch. Then I drove around the ramp waiting to hear the ELT signal start coming through the white noise. Soon I head the signal and got out to investigate. With the antenna removed, I had to be right next to the offending aircraft and that was how I knew this was the airplane.

I told the ramp crew the tail number of the offending aircraft, but they didn't seem too concerned. So I called airport security and told them the tail number, too. Just to be sure, I called the local Flight Service Statioon and gave them the information, too. The next day, I saw a group of Civil Air Patrol volunteers and a county sheriff come onto the ramp and approach the plane. Apparently the aircraft's owner couldn't be located and I assume the sheriff was there to help the CAP volunteers gain access to the aircraft so the ELT could be deactivated. I bet the pilot of that aircraft will check 121.5 before shutting down from now on.

Anytime you realize that your ELT has been activated by mistake, be sure to call Flight Service after you have deactivated it. They'll be happy to hear from you.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

When Spins go Bad

On April 11, 2005, about 1308 eastern daylight time, a Cessna 152, N24779, crashed into a field near Williamsburg, Ohio, after the rudder jammed during spin recovery training. The certificated flight instructor (CFI) and the student pilot were killed, and the airplane was substantially damaged. The flight departed Clermont County Airport, Batavia, Ohio, about 1230 and proceeded to a practice area about 10 miles east of the airport. Witnesses reported that, while at an altitude of about 3,000 feet above ground level, the airplane descended in a nose-down spiral from which it did not recover and crashed into a field. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the local instructional flight, which was conducted under 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91.


This accident, along with a similar accident that occurred in Canada, led the NTSB yesterday to issue a letter to the FAA recommending a that an Airworthiness Directive be issued for all Cessna 150 and 152 aircraft requiring the inspection of the rubber rudder bumpers (try saying that fast, five times). It seems that Cessna issued a service bulletin covering the possibility of the rudder becoming jammed, but compliance with the SB was not mandatory. The NTSB also cannot determine if the bumpers installed on the accident aircraft were improperly installed when the aircraft was manufactured or when it was recently re-painted.

If you fly one of these aircraft, I recommend you read the text of the NTSB letter here, which includes photos and diagrams of the bumpers. You can read the NTSB accident report here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Hat in the Ring

I had fallen two-plus years behind on entering my flight times into my electronic logbook, but as of last week I am all caught up. Getting behind was a mistake because an electronic record of one's flight time can be invaluable. And the more flight time you rack up, the more valuable that data can be. Especially when filling out a Form 8710-1 before a check ride, also known as an Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application form.

The FAA wants to know some fairly obscure information on this form, like night instruction received and cross-country instruction received. And most logbooks do not provide a good way to record this stuff so that at the end of the day (or night) you have a running total. Filling out the Form 8710-1 accurately is important because it is a legal snapshot of your flight experience. Should you ever lose your logbook or have it stolen, the importance of a properly filled out 8710 will become obvious. Many electronic logbook programs will generate a Form 8710-1 for you and even do some basic checking to make sure you meet the aeronautical experience requirements for a particular rating or certificate.

The biggest benefit is that an electronic logbook does the tedious arithmetic for you and many will generate graphs and reports of your time grouped by aircraft category, class, and type. If you're flying professionally, you may primarily fly just one aircraft type. I was surprised to learn that over the years I have logged PIC time in nearly 20 different types of aircraft. I was equally surprised to see that I regularly log instructor time in nine different types.

The desire to have all my time in an electronic format was motivated by my needing to fill out yet another application - Form 8710-10 - Designated Pilot Examiner Candidate Application. Yes, I'm considering going over to the Dark Side. This form wants some pretty specific flight times, like instrument instruction given broken down aircraft class, number of hours of instructtion given to candidates persuing an instrument rating. The electronic logbook I used lets me create some custom fields, but I had to go back through a bunch of dates and enter the correct number of hours.

The process of becoming a DPE is fairly simple, provided everything goes smoothly. Once a DPE application has been accepted, the applicant is notified that they may take the DPE knowledge test. This computer-based test is administered like any other FAA knowledge test, but a minimum score of 80% is required if you wish to be put in the DPE pool. After passing the knowledge test and being put in the pool, you wait for an opening to occur and for a call from your local Flight Standards District Office. If you are not contacted for an interview within two years, you must reapply and take the knowledge test again. If you don't apply and your name is not in the DPE candidate pool, you can't be contacted if you FSDO decides they need another DPE. In anticipation of my application being accepted, I'm already studying for the DPE knowledge test, but who knows how long I might have to wait for the opportunity to become a designated examiner. As Woody Allen said, "80 percent of success is just showing up."

And I also completed another application form - in May I'll be running in the Bay-to-Breakers. As a youngster (read 20 something), I used to run 10K races and completed one marathon, but this will be my first time running since lower back surgery several years ago. Like anything in life, preparing for this race has taken (and will continue to take) some careful training. Since many of the non-seeded running wear costumes, a friend asked me what I was going as. "A balding, middle aged, white guy" was my response.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Taking Notice

ATC: Cessna 123, say your route of flight.

Cessna 123: Ah ... we're going to do a Bay Tour, fly over the Golden Gate, and then head up the coast to Little River.

ATC: Cessna 123, are you aware of the temporary flight restriction today over San Francisco Bay due to the Blue Angels practicing?

Cesslna 123: Ah ... no, we didn't know there was a TFR.

ATC: Cessna 123, suggest a heading of 330 and that you remain East of interstate 80 to remain clear of the restricted area.


I cringe whenever I hear a pilot confess on the air to ATC that they didn't know about a TFR or some other sort of Notice to Airmen (NOTAM), but I'm not surprised. I feel sorry for these confused pilots because, while it is every pilot's responsibility to become familiar with all information concerning their flight, frankly the NOTAM system in the United States is one big mess. While wading through this mess, it's easy to overlook an important NOTAM among the sea of irrelevant NOTAMs.

NOTAMs are supposed to help pilots by telling them something important is happening, when it will happen, and for how long it will be happening. NOTAMs are categorized as Local, Distant, and FDC (Flight Data Center).

Local NOTAMs generally deal with events at an airport, such as personel and equipment working near a runway, taxiway closures, or some other fact related to that airport.

Distant NOTAMs deal with outages or events that could affect arriving or departing flights, such as a navigation aid being out of service, an airport's runway being closed, or an ATC radar outage.

FDC NOTAMs cover a lot of things, mostly related to changes to published charts or procedures, such as a change to a decision height on an instrument approach, the elimination of an approach, additional equipment required for an approach, or a particular route on an airway no longer being authorized.

Unfortunately, these categories do not really make it easier for pilots to digest all the NOTAMs they might get from DUAT or DUATS briefing.

I have one, simple idea that would make this unwieldy system easier to digest: Categorize NOTAMs as IFR or VFR so than VFR pilots don't have to wade through all changes to instrument approach, arrival and departure procedures. I mean really, these amendments to instrument procedures make up more than half the NOTAMs on any given day in my area. This shoud be pretty easy to do - just filter out any NOTAM that starts with "USD" or "UAR" and that would reduce this output:
NOTAMS
USD 02/051 OAK MARINA FOUR DEPARTURE.
DEPARTURE ROUTE DESCRIPTION: LINDEN, SACRAMENTO, AND SCAGGS
ISLAND TRANSITIONS NOTE: IF UNABLE TO COMPLY WITH MINIMUM ATC
CLIMB RATE OF 610 FEET PER NM TO 11000/WOODSIDE (OSI) VORTAC
R-028/24 DME, ADVISE ATC PRIOR TO DEPARTURE.
ALL OTHER DATA REMAINS AS PUBLISHED.
SFO 03/013 SFO 1R/19L CLSD 1100-1330 DLY WEF 0703131100-0703151330
SFO 03/014 SFO 1L CLSD LDG 0600-1400 DLY WEF 0703130600-0703161400
SFO 03/015 SFO 28R LDA OTS WEF 0703142130-0703150100
SFO 03/016 SFO 10L/28R CLSD WEF 0703161100-0703161400
USD 03/107 SFO SHORLINE ONE DEPARTURE...
RWY 28L/R, FOR OBSTACLE CLEARANCE A MINIMUM OF 499 FEET PER NM TO
2100 FEET IS REQUIRED.
LINDEN TRANSITION: CLIMB VIA OAK R-040 AND LIN R-240 TO LIN VORTAC.
CROSS OAK R-040 8 DME FIX AT OR ABOVE 7000. THENCE VIA (ASSIGNED
ROUTE).
ALL OTHER DATA REMAINS AS PUBLISHED.
USD 05/025 SFO EUGEN FIVE DEPARTURE...
NOTE: RWY 1L/R, FOR OBSTACLE CLEARANCE A MINIMUM CLIMB OF 233 FEET
PER NM TO 2500 FEET IS REQUIRED
USD 06/159 SFO REBAS THREE DEPARTURENOTE...
RWY 28L/R, FOR OBSTACLE CLEARANCE A MINIMUM CLIMB
OF 449 FEET PER NM TO 2100 IS REQUIRED.
UAR 09/005 SFO YOSEM ONE ARRIVAL...
YOSEM ONE ARRIVAL AVAILABLE VIA ATC ASSIGNMENT ONLY WEF 0609281300
USD 09/182 SFO QUIET TWO DEPARTURE CHICO TRANSITION NA.
RWY 28L/R, FOR OBSTACLE CLEARANCE A MINIMUM CLIMB OF
499 FEET PER NM TO 2100 FEET IS REQUIRED.
PAO 03/001 PAO TOWER UNKN (377 AGL) 2.5 N UNLGTD (ASR UNKN)
TIL 0703281400
PAO 03/002 PAO TOWER 411 (400 AGL) 2.9 NW LGTS OTS (ASR UNKN) TIL
0703282213
CCR 02/002 CCR 19R KANAN NDB/ILS LO OTS
CCR 12/004 CCR 19R ALS PCL OTS EXC MED INTST CONT
OAK 10/062 HAF AWOS CMSN 127.275/650-728-5649
LVK 03/002 LVK 25R ILS OTS WEF 0703141800-0703142000
USD 03/015 SJC ALTAM SEVEN DEPARTURE NOTE: RWY 11, 12L/12R,
TEMPORARY CRANE 1.4 NM FROM DEPARTURE END OF RWY 12L, 26 FEET LEFT
OF CENTERLINE, 227 FEET AGL/308 FEET MSL.
ALL OTHER DATA REMAINS AS PUBLISHED.
USD 03/016 SJC SUNOL SIX DEPARTURE NOTE: RWY 11, 12L/12R, TEMPORARY
CRANE 1.4 NM FROM DEPARTURE END OF RWY 12L, 26 FEET LEFT OF
CENTERLINE, 227 FEET AGL/308 FEET MSL.
ALL OTHER DATA REMAINS AS PUBLISHED.
USD 03/017 SJC MOONY TWO DEPARTURE TAKE-OFF MINIMUMS: RWY 12L/12R
STANDARD WITH A MINIMUM CLIMB OF 290 PER NM TO 4700.
NOTE: RWY 11, 12L/12R, TEMPORARY CRANE 1.4 NM FROM DEPARTURE END OF
RWY 12L, 26 FEET LEFT OF CENTERLINE, 227 FEET AGL/308 FEET MSL.
ALL OTHER DATA REMAINS AS PUBLISHED.
USD 03/018 SJC DANVILLE TWO DEPARTURE NOTE: RWY 11, 12L/12R,
TEMPORARY CRANE 1.4 NM FROM DEPARTURE END OF RWY 12L, 26 FEET LEFT
OF CENTERLINE, 227 FEET AGL/308 FEET MSL.
ALL OTHER DATA REMAINS AS PUBLISHED.
SJC 12/015 SJC 12R/30L RCLL OTS
APC 03/007 APC TOWER UNKN (200 AGL) 1.5W LGTS OTS (ASR UNKN) TIL
0703202359
APC 03/012 APC TOWER 176 (52 AGL) 1.36 ENE LGTS OTS (ASR 1240396)
TIL 0703261344
RHV 03/001 RHV TOWER 1435 (302 AGL) 7.71 SSE LGTS OTS (ASR 1055723)
TIL 0703220641
USD 01/107 VCB SOKOY ONE DEPARTURE TAKE-OFF MINIMUMS: RWY 2, 300-1
NOTE: RWY 2, TEMPORARY CRANE 3130 FEET FROM DEPARTURE END OF RWY,
189 FEET RIGHT OF CENTERLINE, 250 AGL/342 MSL. ALL OTHER DATA
REMAINS AS PUBLISHED.
RIU 03/005 F72 TOWER 1549 (1549 AGL) 4.85 SSW LGTS OTS (ASR
1012855) TIL 0703171625
OAK 03/022 2O3 FUEL UNAVBL TIL 0703161400
OAK 03/014 1C9 5/23 RWY LGTS OTS
SAC 03/013 SAC 16/34 CLSD WEF 0703131900
RIU 03/029 3O1 TOWER 391 (311 AGL) 6.55 NE LGTS OTS (ASR 1015154)
TIL 0703290916
SMF 03/013 SMF 16R ILS CAT 2/3 NA
SMF 03/014 SMF 16R ILS GP/LLZ OTS WEF 0703141400-0703141700
UAR 05/003 SMF TUDOR ONE ARRIVAL.
CHANGE ALL PLANVIEW REFERENCES TO FINAL APPROACH COURSE TO 165.74
DEGREES.
SMF 10/014 SMF 34L ILS MM DCMSND
MRY 03/002 MRY CCSA 1300-0400 DLY
MRY 03/003 MRY TWR 1300-0400 DLY
RIU 01/044 CPU CTAF NOW 123.0 VICE 122.8
MER 02/001 MER TWR 1500-0500 DLY PLUS SEE AFD
MER 02/002 MER CDSA AVBL 1500-0500 DLY
RIU 03/023 O61 TOWER 2523 (500 AGL) 6.93 ESE LGTS OTS (ASR 1011405)
TIL 0703271626
OAK 12/038 1O2 LOP NDB OTS
MYV 02/004 MYV 14 ILS GP UNUSBL CPD APCH BLW 576
MYV 03/002 MYV MARYSVILLE RCO 122.6 OTS
RIU 03/001 HNW RCO 122.1 OTS
RIU 05/017 E45 RTR 121.25 VICE 126.85
RIU 03/026 F34 TOWER 303 (162 AGL) 1.22 NNW LGTS OTS (ASR 1000095)
TIL 0703280123
GPS 03/005 ZOA GPS UNREL AND MAY BE UNAVBL WI A 320 NM RADIUS OF
NAWS CHINA LAKE/ARMITAGE AP (NID, 354116N/1174126W) AT FL400. THIS
AREA DECREASES WITH ALT TO A CIRCLE OF 267 NM RADIUS FROM NID AT
FL250, 212 NM RADIUS AT FL100, AND 191 NM RADIUS AT 4000 FT AGL.
THE IMPACT AREA ALSO EXTENDS APPROX 80 NM INTO MEXICAN AIRSPACE
TO THE SOUTHWEST, SOUTH AND SOUTHEAST OF THE CALIFORNIA BORDER FROM
APPROX FL150-FL400 WEF 0703152100-0703160001
GPS 03/015 GPS PRN 24 OTS WEF 0703151700-0703161900
GPS 08/045 GPS PRN 15 OTS WEF 0608211425

To this (for VFR pilots):

NOTAMS
SFO 03/013 SFO 1R/19L CLSD 1100-1330 DLY WEF 0703131100-0703151330
SFO 03/014 SFO 1L CLSD LDG 0600-1400 DLY WEF 0703130600-0703161400
SFO 03/016 SFO 10L/28R CLSD WEF 0703161100-0703161400
SJC 12/015 SJC 12R/30L RCLL OTS
APC 03/007 APC TOWER UNKN (200 AGL) 1.5W LGTS OTS (ASR UNKN) TIL
0703202359
APC 03/012 APC TOWER 176 (52 AGL) 1.36 ENE LGTS OTS (ASR 1240396)
TIL 0703261344
RHV 03/001 RHV TOWER 1435 (302 AGL) 7.71 SSE LGTS OTS (ASR 1055723)
TIL 0703220641
RIU 03/005 F72 TOWER 1549 (1549 AGL) 4.85 SSW LGTS OTS (ASR
1012855) TIL 0703171625
OAK 03/022 2O3 FUEL UNAVBL TIL 0703161400
OAK 03/014 1C9 5/23 RWY LGTS OTS
SAC 03/013 SAC 16/34 CLSD WEF 0703131900
RIU 03/029 3O1 TOWER 391 (311 AGL) 6.55 NE LGTS OTS (ASR 1015154)
TIL 0703290916
SMF 03/014 SMF 16R ILS GP/LLZ OTS WEF 0703141400-0703141700
MRY 03/002 MRY CCSA 1300-0400 DLY
MRY 03/003 MRY TWR 1300-0400 DLY
RIU 01/044 CPU CTAF NOW 123.0 VICE 122.8
MER 02/001 MER TWR 1500-0500 DLY PLUS SEE AFD
MER 02/002 MER CDSA AVBL 1500-0500 DLY
RIU 03/023 O61 TOWER 2523 (500 AGL) 6.93 ESE LGTS OTS (ASR 1011405)
TIL 0703271626
OAK 12/038 1O2 LOP NDB OTS
MYV 03/002 MYV MARYSVILLE RCO 122.6 OTS
RIU 03/001 HNW RCO 122.1 OTS
RIU 05/017 E45 RTR 121.25 VICE 126.85
RIU 03/026 F34 TOWER 303 (162 AGL) 1.22 NNW LGTS OTS (ASR 1000095)
TIL 0703280123
GPS 03/005 ZOA GPS UNREL AND MAY BE UNAVBL WI A 320 NM RADIUS OF
NAWS CHINA LAKE/ARMITAGE AP (NID, 354116N/1174126W) AT FL400. THIS
AREA DECREASES WITH ALT TO A CIRCLE OF 267 NM RADIUS FROM NID AT
FL250, 212 NM RADIUS AT FL100, AND 191 NM RADIUS AT 4000 FT AGL.
THE IMPACT AREA ALSO EXTENDS APPROX 80 NM INTO MEXICAN AIRSPACE
TO THE SOUTHWEST, SOUTH AND SOUTHEAST OF THE CALIFORNIA BORDER FROM
APPROX FL150-FL400 WEF 0703152100-0703160001
GPS 03/015 GPS PRN 24 OTS WEF 0703151700-0703161900
GPS 08/045 GPS PRN 15 OTS WEF 0608211425

Maybe someone is listening ... but probably not.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Flying the GNS480



Last week was a bit slow, which provided the perfect opportunity to fly a Piper Arrow that recently became available and is equipped with a CNX80 (which Garmin now calls the GNS480 since they acquired Apollo a few years back). I have given several hundred hours of dual instruction in the venerable Piper Arrow, but this was my first opportunity to fly RNAV approaches with vertical guidance in a real aircraft.

It was my first time flying an Arrow equipped with an air conditioner. We didn't need nor did we use the AC, but its presence required careful weight and balance considerations: With two pilots in the front seat, half fuel, and insufficient ballast in the baggage compartment, you're guaranteed to exceed the forward center of gravity limit in this aircraft because of the additional weight of the air conditioner compressor up front.

This flight allowed me to log some instrument approaches and a hold, so I brought along a friend to act as safety pilot. He flies for a major airline, but has been sitting at home on reserve for several weeks and was more than willing to perform safety pilot duties if it meant a chance to fly. I had experimented with the Garmin GNS480 simulator about a year ago, but hadn't really plumbed its depths. It was just an academic exercise at that time, but I was going to be spending actual dollars and burning real fuel on this flight. The threat of debt, poverty, or credit card interest is an amazing motivator and I spent about four hours in front of my computer creating flight plans, loading departure procedures, loading approach procedures, flying missed approaches, and going to an alternate destination. I couldn't afford to not have my mojo on this flight.



I don't want to start a debate, but I feel a brief sidebar on PC simulation is in order. I have a desktop PC that I use for running simulators, but for my day-to-day use I'm a Mac aficionado, though I'm more likely to be mistaken for John Hodgman (the guy on the left) than Justin Long. I've used a variety of computers from IBM mainframes, to Unix workstations (Sun, HP, et al.), PCs running many flavors of operating systems, and Macs. As I've gotten older, I have less patience for the care and feeding of PCs. So for me, using a Mac is a no-brainer since it requires less effort on my part. But when you want to run a simulator, like the Garmin GNS480 sim, you need a PC. Or do you?

In the pre-Intel Mac world, a product called VirtualPC was introduced. It still exists, if fact. I used VirtualPC in the past and the problem was the performance was abysmal. As a former software guy with operating system development experience, I found the fact that it worked at all to be an amazing achievement. Now if you have a newer Mac with an Intel processor, you have several options for running Windows.

One solution is to install Boot Camp, a free product you can download from Apple that allows you to create a separate disk partition, install Windows XP on that partition (you have to provide Windows XP software yourself), and re-boot your Mac into Windows. That's cool, but you are still in the world of either-or: If you want to switch back to MacOS, you have to reboot.

I think a better option is to use VMware Fusion, a soon-to-be released product currently in beta that lets you run Windows XP in a window under MacOS X (or Linux). This is just what I always wanted. I can run the few Windows XP apps I need to run and when I've had enough, I can close or minimize the window and make the unpleasantness go away. There's at least one other product out there that provides similar capability, but I'm very happy with VMware Fusion.



Meanwhile, back in the air ...

The plan was to depart Oakland, head east, do a practice RNAV RWY 30 approach at Byron, fly the published missed to a hold, then back to Oakland for a couple of RNAV RWY 27L approaches. Since both approaches have LNAV, LNAV/VNAV, and LPV minima defined, this would give me a chance to see which approach sensitivity I would get and what it is like to not know which minima you'll get until a few miles from the FAF.

Under the hood shortly after takeoff, I was working to adapt to the somewhat ponderous control feel of the Arrow. It was a bit of a shock after flying a Cirrus the day before, but adapt I did. The approach into Byron started with a couple of hiccups with Norcal. I made my approach request and they asked where I wanted to start the approach.



Not wanting to take all day (this was on my dime, after all), I asked for vectors to EKIYU and got the annoyed, bored response: "Where?" After repeating the waypoint name twice, the controller took the easy way out and said "proceed on your own navigation, report established on a segment of the approach, maintain VFR." Whatever ... I vectored myself to EKIYU, which happens to be essentially on top of the Tracy Airport, where the course sensitivity changed to LNAV/VNAV.

Look at the Jeppesen version of this approach chart and you'll see a note saying that WAAS NOTAM service is not available for Byron. On the FAA version of this chart, there's a small W in a black rounded square, which means the same thing. The FAA's IAP chart legend says:
... WAAS NOTAMs for vertical outages are not provided for this approach. Use LNAV minima for flight planning at these locations, whether as a destination or alternate. For flight operations at these locations, when the WAAS avionics indicate that LNAV/VNAV or LPV service is available, then vertical guidance may be used to complete the approach using the displayed level of service. Should an outage occur during the procedure, reversion to LNAV minima may be required. As the WAAS coverage is expanded, the [W symbol] will be removed.


So for the time being, you won't know in advance if WAAS will be available at airports like Byron. Oakland, however, does have WAAS NOTAM service and I'd not seen any NOTAMs for Oakland in my DUAT pre-flight briefing. Here's what a WAAS NOTAM looks like, in case you're wondering:

APC 03/010 APC WAAS LNAV/VNAV AND LPV MNM UNREL WEF
0703101359-0703101414


The approach into Byron was otherwise uneventful, though I got a bit low on the VNAV glideslope toward the end. This was due to some spirited, thermal updraft and downdraft activity combined with my mistake in putting in flaps 10 a bit too early - a habit I've gotten into with both the Cirrus and DiamondStar. Reacquainted with the Arrow's wing loading, power loading, and drag characteristics, I vowed to just put the gear down at the FAF on the next approach and save the flaps for later.



Then it was back to Oakland for an RNAV RWY 27L and I was pleased to see the course sensitivity LPV (localizer precision with vertical guidance). So what's it like to fly an LPV approach? It's pretty much like an ILS. You descend to the depicted altitude at the FAF, intercept the glideslope from below, then ride it down to the decision altitude defined for the approach. I did think the LPV gildeslope was just a bit more twitchy than a conventional ILS glideslope.




One big difference between the GNS480 and the Garmin GNS430 or GNS530 units is that you don't need to take any action to begin the missed approach procedure. There are no buttons to push, the GNS480 just starts telling you how to fly the missed. If you're circling or landing straight in, you'll ignore it anyway. I think this is a good design, but unfortunately the new WAAS-enabled GNS530/430W GPS receivers have kept the requirement that the pilot press the OBS button to re-enable waypoint sequencing after passing the missed approach point. A shame about that, really ...

I found I missed seeing the 10 second countdown for turn anticipation more than once. This might have been due to my higher workload as I was getting accustomed to the airplane or it could have been the placement of the unit in this aircraft's panel put it too far from my primary field of view. Or the sunlight could have been too bright and the screen too dim. When I reminded myself to be on the lookout, I found it a big improvement over the terse, few second turn warning that the Garmin 430/540 provide.

The flight planning and direct-to navigation features of the GNS480 are ... different. The unit knows about airways and this can make it easier to translate an IFR clearance to a GPS flight plan, but it's a bit of an acquired taste. Once you get used to it, the interface is logical and makes sense. The flight plan even allows you to enter an alternate airport - a big shortcoming in the Garmin 430/530 world where the last airport you enter in a flight plan is the one the unit thinks is your destination when it comes to loading approach procedures. I'll probably be doing more flights in this aircraft as an instructor, so yours truly will have to become proficient with yet another GPS.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Hot Dog

An online message board has a video of a Citation performing an aileron roll. I won't provide a link to it because I think it's a bonehead maneuver to attempt in a non-aerobatic aircraft. You can search for it pretty easily if you really want to see it, but there isn't much to it. The conditions under which this video was made are not known to me, but the problem with performing unapproved maneuvers is that they often don't work out as the pilot intended.

More than one pilot has asked me out of the blue "Do you think this plane could do an aileron roll?" Or "can we spin this plane?" Since I don't fly aerobatic planes very often and many of the aircraft I fly are not approved for intentional spins, my answer is usually "Not with me on board!" And I'm quick to add that there are plenty of places where a pilot can rent an aerobatic aircraft, hire a competent instructor, and while wearing a parachute they can do all sorts of maneuvers and be in complete compliance with FAA regulations. Most importantly, the level of risk while performing aerobatics under the correct circumstances is reasonably low.

Maybe the very fact that certain maneuvers are forbidden in most aircraft is what makes some pilots want to attempt those very maneuvers. Like a moth to a flame. Here's a case in point:

The airplane was substantially damaged during recovery after the captain attempted an intentional aileron roll maneuver during cruise flight and lost control. The cargo flight was being operated at night under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 135 at the time of the accident. The captain reported the airplane was "functioning normally" prior to the intentional aileron roll maneuver. The captain stated that the "intentional roll maneuver got out of control" while descending through flight level 200. The captain reported that the airplane "over sped" and experienced "excessive G-loads" during the subsequent recovery. The copilot reported that the roll maneuver initiated by the captain resulted in a "nose-down unusual attitude" and a "high speed dive." Inspection of the airplane showed substantial damage to the left wing and elevator assembly.


It's been said that a simple, two-word phrase is the harbinger of bad things in the aviation world and it makes one wonder if the captain in the above incident said "watch this" before starting a maneuver that may have ended his flying career. What could he have been thinking? Maybe he was bored with his job? Maybe he just wanted to show off? Or maybe he wanted to know if it's possible to perform an aileron roll in a Lear? He certainly has his answer now.