Saturday, August 25, 2007

Lemoore MOA

Well it's official. On February 4, 2008 the Department of Defense will have added yet another chunk of the National Airspace System for military training over the Lemoore Naval Air Station in California's San Jouquin Valley. Apparently there have been a lot of meetings, starting back in October of 2003. I say apparently, because I only got wind of the proposed Military Operations Area (MOA) about a year ago. It appears AOPA and several local pilots, FBOs, and other operators were consulted about the design of the airspace.

When I first started training to be a private pilot, I remember how startled I was at the sheer volume of airspace set aside for military operations is the U.S. I wish I had a percentage figure, but I don't. A quick search of the internet did reveal that in 1987 and 1988 the General Accounting Office criticized the DoD and the FAA for inefficient use of existing special use airspace and for the lack of utilization data. In 1989 the DoD and the FAA committed to creating a special use airspace scheduling system, but it wasn't until 1995 under the Clinton Administration that a task force appears to have been formed to further the cooperation of military and civilian airspace users to reduce airline delays. The airlines are complaining mightily these days that the skies are too crowded, so this sort of cooperation sure seems like a good idea. It's just not clear that it's happening.

The DoD says the new MOA is needed because the F18 squadrons based at Lemoore and the F16 National Guard aircraft based at Fresno often find the restricted areas over China Lakes and Edwards Air Force Base are too crowded to use for their training. This forces them to fly long distances and burn lots of fuel just to do training. The claim is that most of the training in the new MOA will be high altitude operations at 15,000 feet and above. No ordinance will be carried and no "aggressive maneuvers" will be allowed, according to the Lemoore website.

This makes one wonder why the area was not designated an Alert Area instead of an MOA: The main difference between the two being that in an MOA, military aircraft are exempt from the 250 knot speed limit below 10,000 feet while in an Alert Area they are not. Aircraft in an MOA are also exempt from the restriction on aerobatic flight in Class E or D surfaces areas or on an airway.

It's hard to tell from the graphics provided on the Lemoore website what the floor of each section of the MOA will be. Only sector C is explicitly mention as having a floor at 16,000 feet MSL. The other sectors may start as low as 5000 feet MSL, but that's just a guess. We won't have long to wait though, because the new MOA will be depicted on the next San Francisco sectional due out at the end of August, even though the MOA is not supposed to go active until February 2008.

Sector C of the new MOA was design as a corridor between Visallia/Fresno and the rest of the valley to the northwest and the reason the floor of the MOA is so high there is pretty easy to guess - there's a heck of a lot of freight and passenger operations that need to get back and forth in that area.

When the weather is bad in the valley the new MOA could limit a pilot's options. Winter time sees the valley regularly socked in for weeks at a time with thick Tule Fog and freight dogs will often go to some pretty small airports if the weather allows them to land. Most of these alternate airports are probably outside the boundaries of the new MOA, but the most efficient routes to those airports are not. Air Mass thunderstorms are not unheard of during the summer and they can require a lot of maneuvering to avoid. Remember that restricted and special use airspace exists primarily to separate military aircraft from IFR traffic?

One hopes that the new MOA will have minimal impact on VFR traffic transitioning through the valley along the I-5 corridor, but it could prevent IFR aircraft from getting a direct-to routing. I used to regularly transition through the affected area when I flew freight, but ATC never gave us a direct routing to our destination until it was obvious a direct route would be clear of Lemoore's Class Delta airspace by several miles.

Now every pilot should know that you can fly through an active MOA anytime you want. You're not even required to talk to anyone on the radio, but not talking to Lemoore approach when the area is hot would just be stupid. I still fly regularly through this area with commercial pilot candidates on long cross-countries, with one stop usually being at Harris Ranch for pit stop and a bite to eat. The Lemoore website says the MOA should only be active Monday through Friday from 8am to 10pm (6pm on Fridays). It may be active one weekend a month for National Guard training.

Since this new area will be an MOA, not an Alert Area, I won't be surprised if the floor of some of the MOA's sectors turn out to be below 10,000 feet. And I suspect there's a good chance that some fast moving aircraft will soon be flying over that area as low as 5,000 feet MSL.

Time will tell ...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Stone Age Redux

In light of the recent Garmin AHARS woes, I decided to resurrect a post I made to my now defunct freight dog blog about flying with a simulated AHARS failure.

When I do G1000 checkouts for instrument-rated pilots, I like to give a demonstration of just how primitive things could get if certain equipment failed. After they have shown proficiency with full panel and reversionary mode, I give that a scenario that involves an instrument approach with the simulated failure of the G1000's Air Data Computer/Attitude Heading And Reference System (ADC/AHARS). Without the ADC/AHARS, the Primary Flight Display's (PFD) airspeed tape, altitude tape, VSI, attitude and heading are blank and covered with red Xs. And you thought there was no challenge to flying partial panel in a G1000-equipped aircraft?

You may find yourself wondering how likely the failure of the ADC/AHARS might be. While it's probably a lot less likely than a vacuum pump failure in a "steam gauge" aircraft, recent events have shown that unexpected AHARS failures are more likely than once thought.

Before you go pulling the two ADC circuit breakers in a G1000 172, it's important to know that when you do so your transponder will no longer have any altitude input and the transponder will lose mode C altitude reporting capability. Therefore, it's very important to 1) not do this exercise in airspace where mode C reporting is required nor 2) under IFR in instrument meterological conditions. I like to find a non-towered airport in Class E airspace. If we request a practice approach or flight following, I make a point of telling ATC that we will be practicing a simulated equipment failure, that our mode C altitude reporting will be temporarily unavailable, and that we'll report any altitude changes.

Without the ADC/AHARS, the KAP-140 autopilot becomes unusable except for ROL (wings level) mode and the pilot's scan becomes pretty weird. The pilot can look at the PFD to see their current track and desired track, but they must look at the steam gauge attitude indicator, airspeed indicator, and altimeter to control the aircraft. These steam gauges are not conveniently located and there is no rate-of-turn indicator, which adds to the challenge. And surely it wouldn't have cost Cessna that much to have put a mechanical slip indicator below the vacuum-driven attitude indicator. In fact, there is a turn coordinator mounted out of sight, behind the G1000 panels, which provides roll input for the KAP140 autopilot. Unfortunately, it's out of sight and not of much use.

Pulling circuit breakers to simulate failures is, as I mentioned in a previous post, controversial in some circles. The reasoning is that a circuit breaker is not a switch and shouldn't be used as such. I personally don't subscribe to this position, believing instead that providing a complete training experience for pilots outweighs concerns about a circuit breaker's useful life. I've been pulling circuit breakers for years to simulate gear failure and engine instrument failures with no ill effects. Having said that, I don't pull circuit breakers willy-nilly on each and every flight.

The least conveniently located instrument is the magnetic compass, which in a Cessna is mounted above the windshield. The good news here is that the GPS-derived ground track is probably more useful if you remember that when you change your heading there is a slight time lag before the ground track is updated. The pilot can also look at the Multi-Function Display (MFD) to see the moving map display, which can be a great help.

An even more difficult version of this scenario is to include a simulated failure of the PFD, which means you must use the MFD and you lose the inset moving map as well as the MFD's giant moving map display. If you want even more of a challenge, fly a non-precision approach in this configuration.

Flying this scenario in VMC is a great time to ask ATC for a practice no-gyro approach. If the controller grants your request, s/he will say something like "This will be no-gyro vectors to the Stockton ILS runway 2, make standard rate turns." The controller then instructs the pilot to "turn" or "stop turn." If the controller says "turn left," the pilot initiates a half standard rate turn to the left and responds "turn left." The pilot continues turning until the controller says "stop turn," which the pilot acknowledges and returns to wings level. This continues until the controller has the aircraft within 30 degrees of being established on the intermediate approach course segment.

A no-gyro approach requires skill on the part of the controller as well as the pilot. While there is no specific requirement for instrument-rated pilots to perform a no-gyro approach to maintain their instrument currency, the pilot must be proficient at flying straight and level, level turns, climbs, and descents with limited instrumentation. Air traffic controllers must perform a minimum of three ASR (approach surveillance radar) approaches every calendar quarter and many controllers appreciate the opportunity to practice them. Of course, the best time for a pilot to request a practice no-gyro approach is when the controller isn't busy. Don't ask for a no-gyro practice approach on a beautiful weekend when everyone is out flying.

Here are examples of intercepting and tracking the Stockton ILS 29R approach with the G1000 that has a failed ADC/AHARS.

This points up something that every pilot transitioning to the G1000 has pointed out - Why is the glideslope indicator only shown next to the attitude indication and not next to the HSI representation?

I've been asked a few times by pilots about to start training for their instrument rating whether it's better to start with steam gauges (the old fashioned, round indicators) or with a glass cockpit like the G1000. Starting initially with a primitive, steam gauge aircraft seems like a good choice and I think you can see why.

So get a safety pilot or an instructor to fly with you and try going back to the stone age. Yabba dabba do!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

On the Street

I don't know his name, but I see him regularly, standing outside of the stores on a street near my house. He's African-American, at least 6 feet 3 inches tall, thin but muscular, and I'd estimate he's at least 65 years old. He asks passersby for money and his opening lines goes something like this:

"Hello sir (or ma'am), whatever you can spare without hurting yourself."

Over the months, I'd stop, give him a few bucks, and we'd chat. Most people who give him money don't want to talk to him: They just want to drop the money in his cup and get the hell away. I figure he's a human being living on the street, he must be pretty lonely. There's a big gulf between us, but I talk to him and I think he appreciates feeling respected as a human being.

One day I stopped to give him a dollar and he asked me what I did. At the time I was flying freight, so I simply told him I was a pilot.

"A pi-lot?" he said, astonished. "Up in the air?"

"Yes, a pilot" I answered.

"You fly jets way up there in the sky?" he asked in disbelief.

"No, not jets" was my answer. "I fly something a bit smaller, for FedEx."

"Up in the AIR?" he asked again.


"Even in storms and rain?"

"Yes, even in storms and rain."

From that point on, he started referring to me as "flying man." I just call him "sir," which seems appropriate since he is several years my senior.

I eventually learned that he is a veteran, that he became addicted to drugs, at some point he broke the law in a fairly serious way, and that he survived several years in the infamous Pelican Bay prison.

"I hated prison, but I'm scared to death of flying" he confessed, still in disbelief that someone would actually choose to fly for a living.

At the conclusion of our conversations, he always says the same thing. In fact, he says this to each and every person who gives him money.

"May God bless you and richly reward you and your family. Peace be unto you. I've got you included in my prayers and I wish you continued success in your everyday program."

He says it with a kind of conviction that I seldom hear. Next time I'm going to ask him his name.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Eggs in a Basket

It's being reported that there is a defect in some Garmin G1000 Attitude Heading and Reference Systems manufactured after May 1 of this year. Apparently the AHRS can fail, leaving the pilot(s) to rely on the standby attitude instruments and the magnetic compass. Apparently this problem is serious enough that it has interrupted the production of aircraft at Columbia and several hundred employees there have been laid off.

When I train pilots in a G1000 aircraft, they often like to do things the easy way: Program in a flight plan, engage the autopilot, fly a coupled approach, and let the technology do the work. And why not? Some pilots complain when I require them to tune the frequencies and monitor the VORs that define an airway because it's a lot of work. "Is all this really necessary?" they often ask. The answer depend on how thorough you want to be and how much you want to trust your life to the technology behind those pretty colors on the screen.

For their part, Garmin hasn't made the use of VORs in the G1000 a simple proposition. Sure, you can learn all the button pushes and knob twists that are required, but the design is far from being user friendly or even thoughtful. The practical side of this is that I teach pilots to use what they have in an effective and safe manner. Use what you have, even if it frustrates you or if you have to hold your nose while doing it.

Some pilots I talk to think they need to know how to use each and every feature of the G1000 system. My feeling is that you could spend many hours of training and still not learn all the bells and whistles. In fact, and this is important, I think learning all of the features is pointless and is a distraction for the primary job of flying the airplane.

I do like to teach pilots to fly the plane with an AHRS failure, though this is controversial in some quarters. Part of the controversy stems from the fact that the instructor must pull two circuit breakers to simulate the AHRS failure. Some instructors argue that this should never be done as part of training, claiming that a circuit breaker is not a switch and that repeatedly doing this could cause that very circuit breaker to fail. Geez, I've been pulling CBs to simulate landing gear failures and the loss of engine instruments in twin aircraft for years. I've yet to see this have any adverse effect. I think the bigger disservice is to not prepare a pilot for something that could happen in flight, especially for pilots who insist on doing things "the easy way."

The G1000 systems have not been out that long, but their modular design should (theoretically) make it easy to replace a component if it fails. Still, we don't yet have a lot of reliability data on these systems. I will say that while the replacement of a G1000 module may be simple, it isn't cheap. The owner of a late model Cessna I fly had one of his G1000 GPS units fail under warranty. Though he didn't have to pay a cent, the replacement cost of one GPS receiver was equal to the cost of a late model used car.

Of course you don't have to use the VOR receivers in a G1000 plane, but it's a skill that you should practice. Of course you don't have to hand fly an aircraft for hours on end, but you need to be proficient in hand flying in case the autopilot fails on a dark, stormy night. Of course you don't need to practice a G1000 AHRS failure, but remember there's a definite tension between simplicity and safety, between cost and safety, and between the pilot's attitude and safety. How many eggs do you want to put in that basket? The choice is yours

Thursday, August 09, 2007

My Word

Spending time with friends who hail from England invariably leads to comparisons between how we use language, between American and English. We had great fun mimicking each others' accents, being baffled by how we can use the same words so differently, and generally having a good time.

British: I'll knock you up in the morning.
American: I'll come by your room tomorrow.

In England, a pencil eraser is a "rubber" and in the U.S., that's slang for a condom. In the U.S., "fanny" mean your backside as in "fanny pack," which the British call a "bum bag." Why? In England, "bum" is slang for your butt while "fanny" refers to ... well, a woman's privates.

One night, a friend wrote out the following phrases, taken from a book on how to talk like a Brit. I gather there's a similar book on how to talk like an Australian. She asked us to read it out loud, phonetically, through slightly clenched teeth:
Dring Spotty.
Wonker noodly sair noffa bot this trooleh mofflis spook!"

So I stumped them with this conversation between two Southern gentlemen:
MS Duks.
MR Not.
MR 2.
CM Wangs?
M R Duks!

A shiny Euro to the first person to translate both of these correctly.

I think the late John Ciardi got it right in the introduction to one of his wonderful browser's dictionaries when he described the root meaning of homo sapiens, homo coming from the Greek humus or clay from which humans were said to have been fashioned by God and sapiens meaning to think. So humans are the clay that thinks. Ciardi went on to point out that humans are not the only animals that appear to have thought processes. Some primates have even shown the ability to make tools, so Ciardi's conclusion was that we should really be called homo locquatious; the clay that speaks. If there is anything that distinguishes us from other animals it must be our ability to constantly invent, use, extend, and adapt language.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Fire and Smoke

One of the goals on this trip was to meet up with a French pilot who I met several years ago in Oakland. At the time, David was visiting San Francisco to study English and somehow got hooked up with me for some instruction in the Bay Area airspace and procedures. He was getting a U.S. certificate issued on the basis of his French certificate, but needed to fly with an instructor until that process was complete. We exchanged email sporadically over the years and David often suggested that I come to France for a visit.

I emailed him three weeks before our departure to see if we might be able to rendezvous. David now flies fire-fighting aircraft for Sécurité Civile and it turned out that we'd be in the south of France near where he is based. With a little planning, I provided the necessary security information so he could arrange a tour of their facility at Marseille-Marignane Airport.

The drive to Marseilles from where we were staying was a bit longer than expected, mainly due to our difficulty in finding our way through the back roads to the A9 highway. We also encountered some traffic slow-downs due to an accident or two, but the trip was otherwise uneventful considering this is the high tourist season. Once on the main highways, we found the road signs were easy to follow. This is seldom the case when traveling on the back roads, but that's another story in itself.

We parked our rental car, met David, and the first stop was at the national police office where we exchanged our passports for airport security badges. Next we passed through airport security screening before being allowed onto the airport ramp area.

We knew that our tour could be interrupted at any time as the base was on one hour alert status, meaning the flight crews had to be ready to respond to a fire call and be airborne within one hour. This base provides aerial fire fighting support for all of southern France and Corsica. The have even worked as far East as Greece. The previous day had been a busy one for fires, but the day of our visit turned out to be quiet. There are four different aircraft at this base - King Air 200s, Grumman S-2F3AT Trackers, Canadair 415 amphibious aircraft, and two modified Bombardier Q400s.

After introducing us to several of his fellow pilots, we made our way to the plane that David flies - the Dash 8. The Q400 that has been modified to carry 2600 gallons of fire retardant or water. The interior seats are removed during the fire season and re-installed during the winter months when the planes are used as a government transport.

The flight deck has a simple, clean layout and includes some additional equipment for monitoring and releasing the fire-fighting payload. David mentioned that during the deployment of the water or fire retardant, the center of gravity changes dramatically in just a few seconds. This requires careful control and throttle inputs to keep the plane level and within the desired airspeed range as the plane's weight quickly drops.

The plane has a heads-up display and when I looked through it I couldn't help immediately gushing "Cool!" Try as I might, I couldn't get a photo that really captures the view through the display, but if you're used to glass cockpit style airspeed, altitude, and attitude readouts, you'd be right at home using a heads up display.

Next stop was the Canadair 415, a versatile amphibious aircraft that can essentially do a touch-and-go on a lake and pickup over 1500 gallons of water in about 12 seconds. Then it can fly off to drop that water on a fire. As the pilot who gave us the tour explained, the Canadair is first and foremost a boat. Powered by two P&W turbo-prop engines, the overall construction is very heavy with countless rows of rivets. The cockpits of these aircraft have been modernized with EFIS displays as well as an electronic system that control the release of the water or flame retardant.

We didn't get a tour of the Tracker or the King Air 200, but I did leave with two gifts: a Q400 cap and a book describing the Sécurité Civile operation. A big thanks to David for his kindness and generosity in providing a glimpse into the dangerous and rewarding work of aerial fire fighting.

A few days later, driving back from a beach trip, we saw smoke from a large fire burning near the town where we are staying. Circling above were four Sécurité Civile fire-fighting aircraft. By sunset, the smoke was gone.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Trains and Autos

We spent a few days in Paris to recover from too many hours of being cramped up in two different aircraft. After some good food and espresso (necessary to keep us awake until the local bedtime), we found ourselves pretty much adjusted to the local time by the next day.

The last stage of the Tour was scheduled for the afternoon of our departure from Paris for points south, which made getting to the George V metro a bit of a challenge. We took the metro to Gare De Lyon station where we boarded a TGV train. These trains are smooth, comfortable, and fast - achieving speeds of 180 miles per hour on open stretches of track. My only complaint was that the air conditioning seemed a bit weak with the temperature inside the railcars hovering around 25 degrees C.

One of the many things to like about Europe is the wide array of cool, exotic, and just plain intelligent cars; Smart Car, Mini, a wide variety of VW, Audi, Mercedes, Citroens, Opel, and Pugeot. And there are many cool varieties of motorbikes to be seen, too. You just don't see hardly any big cars or SUVs in Paris. And for a diesel head like me, Europe is heaven because around 70% of the autos are diesel-powered. And it's not just European automakers who produce diesel cars for this market; Ford and GM have joined the club, too.

I'm not sure what the emission standards are in Europe, but the U.S. EPA has diesel standards (a.k.a. tier 3) that will be met by VW, Audi, and Mercedes next year and should allow new diesel vehicles to be sold in all 50 states. The introduction of low-sulfur diesel last year certainly helped reduce emissions, especially from older, non-turbo injected engines. My solution is to burn 99% biodiesel in my 2001 Jetta TDI, which reduces emissions by 80 to 90%.

Emissions standards, along with other U.S.--specific safety standards and Americans' prejudice against diesel engines have conspired o create a limited market for diesel autos. One of the neatest vehicles I've seen here is the VW Eurovan with a TDI engine - a vehicle that isn't available in the U.S. Another car that caught my eye was this Mercedes sub-compact A200 equipped with a common-rail, turbo-charged diesel. I'd imagine this puppy sees fuel mileage in the 45 to 55 MPG range.

Imagine my pleasant surprise when we picked up our rental car at the train station and the attendant (whose English was much better than my French) asked "Is a diesel auto okay?" But of course! We got the keys to a compact Opal (manufactured by GM) with a TDI engine and a six-speed manual transmission. Now most Americans think diesels are slow, noisy, and stinky. Not so! This little baby is fast, clean, and relatively quiet. You do hear a bit of diesel engine sounds during brisk acceleration, but this is not a problem for diesel afficciandos. In fact, we roll down the window to better appreciate it! Not only is this Opal a fast, sporty little car, it gets very great fuel mileage - 40 plus miles per gallon on the freeway at 80 miles per hour (even better at slower speeds).

Now we're ensconsed in our room and this view is only a 3 minute walk away.