Thursday, June 28, 2007

Horse before the Chart

A recent bulletin describes changes that will go into effect by October 25, 2007 which will modify the coverage area of IFR low-altitude en route charts published by the FAA's National Aeronautics Charting Office. The total number of charts will increase from 28 to 36 and will result in a larger scale for each chart, allowing for the depiction of RNAV routes.

On August 30 of 2007, the states that are included in two regions of the Airport/Facility Directory will also change: Mississippi will move from the Southeast Region to the South Central Region, New Mexico will move from the South Central Region to the Southwest Region. You can read the full details here.

This brings up the interesting topic of electronic airport information stored in GA glass cockpit systems. I once had a discussion with a factory-trained instructor who claimed that pilots flying his company's particular brand of aircraft did not have to carry current charts or even an Airport/Facility Directory. "It's all in there" he said, pointing to the multi-function display.

Many of these systems (G1000 and Avidyne) do indeed supply a lot of good information, but there are still some big holes. You can find out lots of good data on runways and communication frequencies, but you still have to look in the good old A/FD to find information about important facts like traffic pattern altitudes, direction of traffic patterns, and noise abatement procedures. My opinion: Flying without current paper charts and a current A/FD is a dumb thing to do.

On a recent flight in a Cirrus, I had a chance to explore the feature set of a Garmin 396 handheld GPS. The lesson was to go to a bunch of different non-towered airports to practice pattern entry, landings and takeoffs with high density altitudes. The plane's owner programmed the airports into the 430W's flight plan and I entered the same stuff in the 396. A side note: If mobile phone manufacturers have figured out how to provide a rudimentary, full keyboard for the folks addicted text messaging, why or why can't an aviation GPS manufacturer put one on a handheld GPS? Having to push buttons and spell out an airport identifier a character at a time while mentally singing the alphabet is kooky.

As we approached each airport, I watched the workflow the Cirrus owner went through to prepare to enter the traffic pattern and land. He had created a cheat sheet in advance, using his A/FD and paper charts, that contained the relevant frequencies, traffic pattern altitudes, runways, and traffic pattern directions. Approaching each airport, he would consult his cheat sheet, tune the AWOS or ASOS, set the altimeters, tune the traffic advisory frequency, begin his descent procedure, and start making traffic calls on the radio. For more than one airport there was no surface weather available, so he overflew the field and looked at the windsock.

Since I wasn't flying, I twiddled with the Garmin 396 and was surprised to find that I had access to almost all of the necessary information in just a few button pushes. Since this 396 had XM weather enabled, I could get the METAR for the airport. If no surface weather was available, the 396 automatically displayed the surface weather for the closest reporting station with no prompting at all from me. I was surprised to see the 396 even knew about the direction of traffic patterns. Yet it wasn't perfect. Turns out its database had not been updated and it didn't have the recently changed CTAF for one of the airports. In that particular case, the way I was alerted to the correct frequency was by a NOTAM broadcast on the AWOS frequency. The pilot flying had the correct frequency because he had consulted the latest edition of the A/FD.

So don't throw out your little green book just yet. It still has plenty of good information, though it, too, can now be viewed in a digital, on-line format. Not all browsers are supported at the moment, you milage may vary, no salesman will call, void where prohibited ...

Monday, June 25, 2007

Shaken, Not Stirred

I'm standing in line at the 24-hour grocery because the chain of events that was my day of instructing finally came to an end at 11:30 PM. I'm standing in line at midnight in the grocery because, before I get home, I needed to buy some fruit and yogurt for breakfast tomorrow. I'm at the grocery tonight because I need to be at the airport by 8 AM tomorrow.

Today I've come close to the maximum 8 hours of flight instruction allowed in the last 24 hours. The fatigue has combined with the grocery scene to put me in an altered state. The garish fluorescent lighting provides the visuals and the weird Kenny G.-inspired muzak the unsettling soundtrack. Lost souls who, for whatever reason, must do their shopping at the witching hour are slinking through the aisles and I am one of them. Somehow I manage to quickly gather my items and find the check-out line.

Trying to keep my humanity in the face of all this, I notice the gentleman behind me has only one item - a bottle of red wine. So I tell him "Why don't you go first?" He thanks me, adding he's driven all the way from Las Vegas and just needed a glass of wine to help him unwind so he could sleep. A jazzy version of "Brazil" is now filtering down on us from above.

I'm tired, but it's been a rewarding day because each of the four pilots I flew with today, in one way or another, rose to their particular challenge. Moderate turbulence, gusty crosswind landing, partial panel holding pattern, night circling approach, deftly handling a strained interaction with a bitchy controller. It's a rush when a pilot faces a challenge and stays focused, even though they may feel shaken up inside. And when they succeed, even in a small way, it's a rush for me, too. So I listen to "Brazil," singing the lyrics in my head, as I wait my turn and wonder if I'll be able to sleep.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Keeping a Positive Attitude

The old joke goes:
Two atoms are walking together when one says
"I've lost one of my electrons!"
The other atom asks "Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm positive ..."

Pilots flying technically advanced aircraft (those with glass panel instrument displays and other electrically-dependent things like FADEC) need to make sure all their electrons are in order. The G1000 database update problem I discussed previously was resolved and the sticking point turned out to be an improperly formatted SD card. Still, the experience points out an operating scenario (PFD and MFD databases out of synch and cross-fill disabled) that I suspect Garmin did not fully explore during their quality assurance process. If I ever again experience a situation where cross-fill is disabled in a G1000, the first thing I will do is cut the corpus callosum (enter reversionary mode), which seems to prevent much of the weird behavior I reported earlier.

With both the PFD and MFD databases updated and the G1000 in this new plane functioning properly, my next question was how could this 172 have a WAAS-enabled G1000 when there appear to be no manuals available on the Garmin web site for such a setup on a Cessna? It turns out that these manuals are available, they're just hard to find - go to Garmin's web site, pull-down the Support menu, select Manuals, then select Aviation, Integrated Avionics Systems , G1000: Cessna Nav III. The PDF manuals that refer to the WAAS G1000 all contain "System Software Version 0563.00 or later" in their titles.

Perusing these manuals showed that there were many new features. Some of the features involve the Garmin the GFC 700 AFCS (Automatic Flight Control System - an autopilot and flight director) which is not available on the C172, but is available on the C182, C206 and the Cessna Mustang. There are still a bunch of new features on the C172 WAAS G1000 like SafeTaxi™ and FliteCharts™. I'll cover those in another post.

Loading an RNAV approach with LPV minima looks like this. Note that the available RNAV minima appear next to the name of the approach. Sorry these photos are blurry and poorly framed, but I was flying so all of these were "Hail Mary" shots.

Here's the RNAV approach I loaded, which has LPV (Localizer Precision with Vertical guidance) minima:

When you have loaded and activated an RNAV approach, several indicators will appear that are new for the WAAS G1000. The Vertical Deviation indicator (a magenta V) appears at the top of the glideslope window to the left of the altitude tape. At the top of the altitude tape, the next RNAV altitude is displayed in magenta. On the vertical speed tape, to the right of the altitude tape, a Required Vertical Speed Indicator will appear. A Glidepath Indicator (a magenta V, turned on its side) will appear on the altitude tape.

On the WAAS G1000, the turn anticipation messages are prominently displayed on the top of the PFD - right in the pilot's primary field of view where they are hard to miss. Sweet!

Once you reach the FAF, the display changes to a conventional G1000 glideslope indication (note G at the top of the glideslope window and the regular magenta diamond-shaped glideslope indicator).

My first assumption was that the KAP 140 would capture and fly the RNAV glideslope if I intercepted the glideslope from below at VODSY (the FAF), just like you would for a regular ILS. The G1000 begins providing a Vertical Deviation indicator at JUPAP, well before the FAF. I had the KAP 140 in NAV and ALTitude hold mode, so I reasoned that pressing the APR (approach) button would capture the glideslope. Nope! I tried the same strategy just before VODSY when the "normal" glideslope indications appeared. Nada!

Perhaps there's some incompatibility between the WAAS G1000 and the KAP 140, but since they are two separate products from two separate companies with two separate manuals, it will take more research to find out why. Even if the KAP 140 can't fly an LPV approach with glideslope, you can fudge it by putting the autopilot in NAV mode and manually adjusting the VS (vertical speed) descent rate to stay on the glideslope.

I had the opportunity to fly an SR22 that had recently been upgraded to dual GNS 430W units (sorry, no photos). Actually, I was ferrying the plane back from a maintenance shop where the issue of a door that wouldn't close was addressed. Much to the chagrin of the owner and myself, we discovered upon arrival at the home airport that the doors were once again refusing to close without someone pushing on them from the outside, but that's another frustrating and sordid tale.

With some extra time on my hands on the flight back, plenty of fuel, and the owner's permission, I decided to fly the OAK RNAV 27L just to see how it would compare to the G1000 experience. This is where I discovered what a lot of other Cirrus pilots apparently already know - the Avidyne Entegra system doesn't play well with the new Garmin 430W. The Entegra primary flight display cannot currently display GPS alerts, such as the turn anticipation prompts. Selecting OBS mode on the GPS also doesn't work on the Entegra and gives an obscure RS232 data channel #4 message.

But what's really unfortunate is that the Entegra can't display an RNAV glideslope, such as LPV or LNAV/VNAV - the whole point of doing the upgrade in the first place. For their part, Avidyne is developing an Entegra upgrade to fix this problem and it should be available sometime this fall. To perform the upgrade, the Entegra will have to be removed from the aircraft and returned to Avidyne, then returned to the avionics shop or Cirrus service center. This means the aircraft owner will lose use of the aircraft a second time - once for the 430W upgrade and again for the Entegra upgrade. If I was a Cirrus owner (ha! me, own a plane!)who hasn't yet done the 430W upgrade, I'd wait until the Avidyne fix is available and do it all at once.

Cirrus owners who opted to upgrade to the 430W as soon as it became available are not getting all the utility they thought they'd get. It's not clear if Avidyne and Garmin didn't communicate the changes to the 430W or if Avidyne dropped the ball, but the aircraft owners and pilots are the ones suffering.

And the people at Cirrus who designed those swell doors that don't latch properly? Well I think they should be sent out to personally apologize to all the people they've inconvenienced. Or maybe they should just be locked their offices until they have designed a free retrofit - doors that will actually latch and stay closed.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


With good flying weather, being a professional flight instructor during the summer in California can be frustrating. Pilots want to fly, the various GA aircraft I use tend to fly more because of the good weather, and that means things break or need fixing more often. There's a truism that planes that don't fly much don't last very long. But many pilots and aircraft owners don't seem to realize (or want to realize) that planes that fly a lot, require a lot of maintenance. I long ago made peace with the fact that things wear out, that worn out things on airplanes cost lots of money, and fixing planes often takes three time longer than one might think.

This past week has seen so many flight preempted by maintenance issues that it was hard for me to not believe that I had developed a sort of Reverse Midas Touch - everything I came into contact with seemed to turn into baloney. A multi-engine flight in one aircraft had to be rescheduled due to unexpected maintenance. I was able to reschedule the flight in another twin, but then than plane went into maintenance, too, and no other twin was available. A flight in a Cirrus SR22 was scrubbed right before takeoff because ... the right door could not be fully latched. A technically advanced aircraft with technically backward doors! Two flights in a complex aircraft had to be scrubbed when the landing gear system developed problems.

The most remarkable flight was the one that happened, but maybe shouldn't have happened. It involved a brand new Cessna with a WAAS-enabled G1000. Before the flight, we knew there was a database problem: The primary flight display had been updated with the latest aviation data, but the multi-function display would not accept the update and we couldn't figure out why. This caused an advisory message to be displayed, saying that cross-fill between the PFD and MFD was disabled since there was a database mismatch between the two units.

Disabled cross-fill meant that entering a GPS flight plan on the primary flight display would not be reflected on the multi-function display and vice a versa. What's more, changing the communication or navigation frequencies, the altitude bug, or the heading bug on one unit would not be reflected on the other. What was not apparent to me prior to the flight was just how screwed up things could get with cross-fill disabled.

The lesson was to fly several practice approaches at other airports in VFR conditions and then return to Oakland. It was clear we'd need to fly an IFR approach back into Oakland since the airport had an overcast ceiling at 800 feet on departure. Our plan was to fly an ILS approach back home, which wouldn't require an up-to-date GPS database and wouldn't require the GPS. The assumption was that the localizer and glideslope features are independent of, and would not be affected by, the GPS database mismatch. This proved to be a faulty assumption.

While flying a practice ILS in VFR conditions at an outlying airport, I noticed that the PFD thought the localizer frequency we had selected was a VOR - On the PDF, the HSI should have said "LOC" but it displayed "VOR" and the glideslope was not displayed when we intercepted the localizer. We did a full-stop landing and tried different configurations. At one point, I tried putting the system into reversionary mode and discovered that while the PFD continued to say the localizer was a VOR and did not display a glideslope, the multi-function display did appear to display the localizer and glideslope correctly. When we shut the engine down, refueled, then fired up again in reversionary mode at which point both the PFD and MFD displayed the localizer and glideslope. At that point I thought about taking the system out of reversionary mode so we'd have a moving map display on the MFD, but the G1000 was in some non-deterministic state. I know enough about software that I didn't want to explore this any further until we were on the ground at Oakland.

When a plane is broken because something wears out or an inspection is due, I can understand and forgive the inconvenience as well as the hit to my income. When a plane goes into maintenance because someone does something unfortunate or ill-advised, especially if the act takes place with an instructor on board, well that's just a shame. My student flew a very nice ILS approach into Oakland and we landed without incident. No animals were harmed and the plane was not damaged, which somewhat assuaged my anger at my own, faulty decision making. I had let my desire to fly, earn some income, and offset the lost revenue from earlier, scrubbed flights cloud my judgement. Hopefully my luck with planes and maintenance will be better this coming week, but one thing is for sure: I have a profound mistrust of integrated GPS systems that don't appear to be functioning properly.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Playing Favorites

Underlying every aircraft design is a set of tradeoffs. Sometimes the disadvantages outweigh the good attributes and there are aircraft that I like in spite of a long list of disadvantages. And there are others that I should love, but I just find interesting. I'm often asked is "What's your favorite airplane?" A perfectly reasonable question since I have first hand experience with a bunch of different light aircraft. People who like clear-cut answers are often frustrated by my response: It depends ...

What I might find pleasing or objectionable is purely subjective and might not match another pilot's conclusions. One objective way to evaluate an aircraft is to clarify the sort of flying a pilot has in mind - what's the mission? Do they envision flying to costal destinations where they might have to frequently fly instrument approaches? They may want to regularly fly to a high-altitude airport with a short runway that is near a vacation home or they may need to commute between two metropolitan areas for work. Some people value an aircraft that is economical to maintain and fly while others of more robust financial means just want to be able to regularly haul a lot of people and luggage.

While I appreciate there is a tension between keeping flying affordable and performing necessary (often unexpected) maintenance, I have little desire to fly aircraft whose owners are trying to low-ball their operating costs by leaving things broken and making excuses for inoperative equipment. Apparently there is no shortage of pilots and instructors willing to fly these "buckets of bolts" and I wish them many happy landings. I've had my share of unwanted adventure, thank you very much. Aircraft are remarkably reliable, but a consistent history of good maintenance is something I've come to appreciate more and more. It should come as no surprise that I like instructing in newer aircraft because they are less likely to have been abused, they have modern equipment, have better designed components, and they don't look like they've been to hell and back.

Newer isn't always better and I think the new Diamond Twin Star may be a good example. I'll state from the start I've yet to fly a Twin Star and what follows are just my opinions and observations. Since I've not read a performance and cost comparison of the Twin Star with other light twin aircraft and I'm not beholden to any particular manufacturer, I'm in a unique position to offer some observations that others might not want to point out. I do have significant experience in DA20 and DA40 aircraft and I find them to be stable, well-constructed, and good-flying airplanes. I recently had a chance to see a Twin Star up close and I can attest it appears to be equally well-constructed and has many good design features. My concern with the Twin Star can be summed up simply as price-performance.

Many things about the Twin Star appeal to me. As I've mentioned in an earlier post, I'm a fan of diesel engines - I drive a VW TDI and to me, diesel engines are ... well, cool. Diesel fuel (and the aviation analog jet-A) just makes sense because, per unit volume or weight, these fuels pack more potential power: one gallon of gasoline contains 124,000 BTUs and one gallon of diesel fuel contains 139,000 BTW. Besides, sooner or later 100 LL aviation gasoline is going to, pardon the pun, go the way of the dinosaurs. Jet-A is here for the foreseeable future. And no, I don't think running an aircraft on bio-diesel is a good idea.

The Twin Star's turbo-charged Thielert diesel engines don't fit into the conventional model for aviation engines. For one, the engines don't have a TBO - they are time-rated. This has to do with the FAA's certification requirements, so when the engines reach 1000 hours, they are replaced. Diamond has arranged a replacement strategy that keeps the cost around $20,000US per engine. The goal is that the engine's reliability will be established over time and the FAA will agree to an increase in replacement time to 2,400 hours. The engines' fuel economy is simply spectacular with a total fuel burn for both engines of 11 to 12 gallons per hours. Compare that with 17 to 20 total gallons per hour for a Seminole or a Duchess, which have similar takeoff weights.

The Thielert engines are FADEC (Full-Authority Digital Engine Control) and are purported to be very easy to operate - there's just one lever, no mixture control (diesel engines always run lean, but that's a whole 'nother topic), no prop controls, and engine starts should theoretically be much simpler. Remarkably, I overheard a Twin Star pilot recently state that the checklists for the plane were "a mile long." And I thought FADEC was going to make everything simpler!

A Twin Star accident occurred in Germany when retracting the gear after takeoff with a low-charged battery caused a momentary voltage drop resulting in a FADEC failure that made both engines stop. In fairness to Diamond, the pilots in this accident took off after an external power start due to a low battery - something that is specifically forbidden in the flight manual. Still, this accident indicates that there may be some pitfalls to FADEC that might still need to be worked out.

The Twin Star is not particularly fast - somewhere in the range of 145 to 155 knots true airspeed. The takeoff performance is also nothing to write home about - 1350 foot ground run at sea level and standard conditions. Compare that with an 800 foot ground run for a Duchess at gross weight under the same conditions.

I've read that an engine shutdown and prop feather in the Twin Star is remarkably simple and quick, which is fortunate because the single-engine climb performance is a sobering 170 feet per minute at sea level under standard conditions. Compare that with 250 feet per minute for a Duchess at gross weight under the same conditions. The Twin Star can sustain a climb rate on one engine up to 6,000 feet, a single-engine service ceiling comparable to a Duchess and a bit more than a Seminole. A fully-equipped Twin Star has a useful load in the neighborhood of 1100 pounds, compared with 1470 pounds for a Duchess. The advantage for the Twin Star is that less of that weight will be consumed by fuel since the plane doesn't burn as much and has smaller fuel capacity. One huge advantage the Twin Star has is known icing certification thanks to an optional TKS system.

The Twin Star looks unconventional, even futuristic. Between the three-bladed props, the rakishly pointed nose, the winglets, and the angle of the T-tail, the plane has lots of sharp angles. The first thought that came to my mind when I saw the Twin Star in the flesh was "Where is my fly swatter?"

The Twin Star's interior shares many of the same design features as the Diamond singles - a fixed front seat with adjustable rudder pedals, two control sticks, and a canopy that provides a spectacular view. Note that the canopy can also create a cabin that is hotter than hades, which led to the Diamond Katana being nick-named the KaSauna. The Twin Star's canopy can thankfully be left open during ground operations, which one hopes will keep the temperature bearable on warm days. The control sticks are fine with me, but they aren't always user-friendly. In the DA40, I often tried to move my left knee out of the way so the pilot with whom I was flying could reach the flap switch only to inadvertently move the control stick on my side to the right, causing the plane to bank to the right. And riding along with a pilot who is making a challenging landing in changing, gusting winds can result in the front seat passenger getting a thigh massage that is probably illegal in many states.

The main block to the Twin Star, to my mind, is the cost: Renting a Twin Star in my area is in excess of $300US per hour after completing some pretty pricey, mandatory ground school. Granted the $300 is a wet rate, but pah-leeez! The Twin Star may be very frugal with fuel, but it ain't no bargain. Maybe the cost will become more affordable with time. For now, for pilots wishing to earn a multiengine rating, a well-maintained, conventional twin like a Seminole or Duchess is far more cost effective.

Would I like to fly a Twin Star? You betcha! For now, I'm buying an occasional lottery ticket in hopes that my ship will come in.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Approach Lights Good

While there are aircraft that are equipped to fly an instrument approach (Cat II or Cat II) and land with virtually no visibility, most of us mere mortals need to be able to see a fair distance down the runway at the end of an instrument approach in order to land legally. Approach charts will list minima or minimums (sic) as a Minimum Descent Altitude or Decision Height and a minimum visibility. In the U.S., flight visibility controls whether or not you can continue and land. This seems counterintuitive until you consider ... the approach lighting system!

Here's an example of straight-in approach minima for an ILS. The Decision Height is 421 MSL (200 feet Above Ground Level) and the minimum visibility (which controls whether or not you may land legally) is 1800 feet (3/8 statute miles).

If you are still flying in the clouds at the DH prescribed for this instrument approach and you can make out the approach lights, 14 CFR 175(c) "Operating Below the DH or MDA" allows you to descend to 100 feet above the touchdown zone. That might just get down you to where the visibility is good enough to land. And the rules say you can descend even lower if "... the red terminating bars or the red side row bars are also distinctly visible and identifiable." The regulations don't describe red terminating or red side row bars and since the AIM doesn't provide a color illustration of approach lighting in Chapter 2, this is where some pilots get confused.

When giving an instrument proficiency check, I make a point of asking the pilot to describe the red side row bars or red terminating bars. A common answer is "Oh, those are the red lights at the departure end of the runway." Now think about it: Runways served by an instrument approach procedure that also have approach lighting are probably at least a mile long. If you can see the departure end of the runway as you approach the threshold, that's some pretty good visibility and it's unlikely that you'd even need the approach lights unless the cloud ceiling is very low.

Below is the illustration from the AIM that I've modified to outline the location of the red lights. The approach lighting systems that have red terminating bars are ALSF-1 installations. ALSF-2 installations are the ones with red side row bars. When you consider all the airports in the U.S., large and small, the ALSF-1 and ALSF-2 installations are not all that common. In fact, these systems are usually installed only at larger airports where the specialized, very low visibility approaches are also allowed.

Here is a link to a photograph of ALSF-2 approach lighting which shows the "red side bars" on either side of the sequenced, flashing lights in the center row (sometimes referred to as "the rabbit"). I wasn't able to find a photograph of an ALSF-1 installation.

On many occasions, seeing approach lighting systems much less elaborate than ALSF-1 and ASLF-2 have allowed me to descend below the DH and find the visibility I needed to land. Approach lights good!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Obscure Minutae

So I'm sitting, sipping my late morning tea (yeah, I've given up coffee, but that's a whole 'nother story) when I see a neighbor coming up the steps with a letter in his hand. He pauses, starts to put it in our mailbox, then thinks better of it and knocks on the door.

"Hey Stephen, what's up?" I ask.

"Hi John, the mailman delivered this to our house and ... I thought it might be important." He hands me the official-looking envelope and I glance at the return address: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration.

I suspect he thought I was getting some sort of official notice about something bad. After all, how often does one get good news from the Federal Government? But I suspected the contents of this letter wouldn't be all that unpleasant.

The National Examiner Board (NEB) wishes to congratulate you on the successful completion of the examiner predesignation test(s) ...

The first thought that went through my mind was "Cool!" It's important to acknowledge that this is just another step in the process and it's certainly no guarantee of becoming a Designated Pilot Examiner. I have no idea whether or not my local FSDO has need for another DPE, but at least I'm "in the pool."

A few weeks ago, I had finally carved out enough time to really prepare for the knowledge test. Like all FAA knowledge tests, this one was peppered with questions that one must parse very carefully. Frankly, the answers to some of the questions are incorrect. For example, one question gives you a portion of a VFR sectional and asks when you'd need to talk to ATC on a trip from one airport to another at a specific altitude. It doesn't take much experience to realize that the proposed route will take you through Class C airspace, but the "correct" answer says "when entering Class C airspace." Now we all know that VFR aircraft must make contact with ATC prior to entering Class C airspace.

This sort of sloppiness normally doesn't bother me, but many test questions have several answers that are basically correct. The "distractors" are somewhat correct answers that are supposed to discriminate between people who know the stuff pretty well and those who know it really well. The people who know the stuff really well will choose the most correct answer. That's the theory, anyway. So one answer is more correct than the others and this teaches you to read the question very carefully and thoroughly. Spending so much effort concentrating on each sentence makes the imprecise, yet correct answers all the more annoying.

My application and test results are both good for 24 calendar months. DPEs and DPE candidates must also maintain a current flight instructor certificate and possess a third-class medical. If I'm selected, I'll have to present my logbooks and certificates, then take a practical test, then attend a standardization seminar in Oklahoma City. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I've completed only the first two steps. Now the waiting begins.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

No Soup for You!

Well it appears the issue of which IFR GPS units can be used as a substitute for ADF or DME has been resolved, according to this link. The core issue seems to be the deletion of an important paragraph from the Aeronautical Information Manual. Rest assure that the editors of the AIM are working to resolve the issue.

I've found some parts of the FAA to be interested in input from the average pilot while other groups seem to just ignore everyone. I've sent feedback to the folks who manage the FAA's instrument approach procedures and have been impressed with their responsiveness. I once sent a letter to the editors of the AIM, suggesting that the illustration for the approach lights be rendered in color.

The reason I was suggesting this had to do with so many pilots who misunderstand the part of 14 CFR 91.175 that talks about descending below the MDA or DH using the red terminating or red side row bars of the approach light system. The only approach lighting system that have these red lights are ASLF-1 or ALSF-2 lighting systems, which would be clearer if they were illustrated in color. I never got a response from the editors and the illustration still appears as shown below. Rest assured, the AIM does have a bunch of color illustrations of LORAN systems, thank goodness.

Meanwhile everyone, including AOPA, seems to have finally realized that Flight Service under Lockheed-Martin is basically a train wreck. From my experience, LM had things pretty well hosed up from the get-go. While I was flying freight, I found myself repeatedly stuck at a part of the airport with no internet access and no way to get an updated weather briefing save phoning FSS. And when I did, I sat on hold for so long that in the end I had to call a buddy and ask him to tell me about the latest NEXRAD images. And when I couldn't get through to file an IFR flight plan, the good folks at Oakland Clearance Delivery were great - they'd get me a clearance even when I was unable to file a flight plan first.

I tried calling FSS last week and heard the dreaded, trite phrase: "... please listen to our menu carefully as it has recently changed ..." It used to be so easy - call the 800 number, get connected to the nearest FSS, press 1 to talk to a briefer, and you were in business. Now you wait 20 minutes and if you're lucky, you'll get connected to a briefer located ... God knows where. Since the briefers are not located in my area, they're not familiar with the local weather patterns and I have to spell out the names of departure procedures, intersections, and identifiers for VORs because they've never heard of them. You may not realize that scores of FSS specialists were put out of a job as part of the LM privatization of FSS. Incidentally, LM now says they need more money to complete their "modernization" of FSS. The folks that used to work local FSS had detailed local knowledge, but most of them aren't there anymore. The only good news I can see here is that what has happened to FSS is a great example of what will happen to ATC if it is ever privatized. We had a good system and now it's gone, probably for good.

Flying in a Cirrus a few weeks ago, I saw something happen to a pilot that I could have never predicted. In an effort to make their interior layout clean and simple, the good folks at Cirrus placed all of the various switches above the bolster on the left side, just below the left side instruments. The pilot I was instructing was flying a practice instrument approach under IFR, but in visual meteorological conditions. Toward the end of the approach, after being handed off to the tower, the ride started to get bumpy. We'd already been cleared for the option when the pilot reached up to adjust the heading bug on the HSI just as we hit a bump. His hand flew off the knob and descended right on to the avionics master switch! At 500 feet AGL, the GPS units, the radios, the intercom, the transponder, everything went dark. We quickly turned the avionics master back on and flew visually while the Garmin 430s went through the start-up sequence. Suddenly the design choice of the placing the switches unprotected in that location didn't seem like such a great idea.

Life is full of unintended consequences and we may as well acknowledge it, even embrace it. But the current fashion is to deny what has happened and, instead, pretend that just the opposite is happening. And it helps to repeat over and over that what has happened, hasn't really happened. What if we could recognize our mistakes, get over the disappointment, and then go about fixing things?