Monday, November 26, 2007

Film at Eleven


Making my way back to the Bay Area by car after a long anticipated Thanksgiving break, I've had a chance to contemplate the last few weeks. Several people commented that I hadn't been blogging lately and asked why. There was really only one reason; I was busier that a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest. In one 4.5 day period I gave 30 hours of flight instruction in four different aircraft types. For every hour of dual given, there's at least an hour or so of ground instruction. So there were some interesting things to report, just not enough time to write them down.

One flight with an instrument student provided excellent conditions for flying ILS approaches. The 1.8 hour cross-country flight involved only 0.2 hours in visual meteorological conditions and an ILS to minima where the approach lights were barely visible through a low layer of scud. A pilot who has seen this sort of approach doesn't have to hear a long explanation of how important approach lighting is at the end of an ILS.

Another instrument flight involved ATC giving us a 40 minute delay due to flow control being instituted at Oakland (yes, ATC does indeed issue spur of the moment holding patterns). Puttering back and forth in the holding pattern, a discussion ensued about fuel reserves. If we held for the length of time ATC had specified, then flew to Oakland, it was quite possible we would not have the required IFR fuel reserves for our destination. Teaching scenarios are one thing, but seeing the fuel totalizer tick off gallons remaining while you fly a holding pattern is much more memorable. Especially with 100 low-lead aviation fuel now approaching US$6 a gallon at some Bay Area locations.

I've also discovered some new-to-me, cool features in the G1000 and will post some screen captures just as soon as I get home.

In the mean time, here's a photographic puzzler. What is shown in the photo above, where is it on display, and what makes this particular display unique?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Choices


I often say to disappointed pilots who've just had to cancel a flight that, given all the ingredients required to get airborne (airworthy aircraft, current and legal pilot, instructor, adequate weather, no temporary flight restrictions, etc.), it's amazing that anyone ever is able to takeoff, let alone actually learn how to fly. Just when I think I've seen every possible eventuality that can cause a flight to be cancelled, something new crops up.

Like many others, I found myself scratching my head after reading Ron's excellent post about Precision Airmotive's decision to stop the shipment and production of aircraft carburetor parts due to their inability to get liability insurance. Only a few days later did I learn that an aircraft that I fly regularly had been affected by this issue. During an annual inspection, one carburetor was deemed to be in need of rebuilding, it was removed, and was sent out for repair. A few days later, the carburetor shop sent word that they were having difficulty locating a carburetor float. As of this writing the issue still hasn't been resolved, though apparently another company has announced they are buying Precision Airmotive's operation, moving it to the East Coast, and they plan to resume shipments by the beginning of 2008.

I'm usually not interested whining about our legal system, but I find myself compelled to do exactly that: Whine. Consider just one example: The case of Senator Mel Carnahan, his son, and an aide, who were all killed several years ago in the crash of a light twin engine aircraft during a night flight in instrument meteorological conditions. The facts of the crash are that Carnahan's son, the pilot-in-command, reported that the primary gyro-driven attitude indicator failed, He was able to maintain control for several minutes while attempting to find an airport at which to land. But as in many cases when gyro instruments fail and the pilot(s) are unable to get into visual conditions, Randy Carnahan apparently became disoriented, lost control, and the aircraft crashed.

After the crash, a civil lawsuit was filed against several companies involved in the manufacture of the aircraft and its components, including the company who made the engine-driven vacuum pump. Even though the NTSB report concluded the primary cause of the accident was pilot disorientation, that didn't stop the lawsuit. In the end, a fair amount of money changed hands, though the large punitive damages requested were not awarded by the jury.

While the loss of Senator Carnhan, his son, and the aide was tragic, it must be noted that what the PIC chose to do that night was inherently risky - a night IFR flight, in instrument conditions, in some pretty nasty weather. Some might argue that when they assumed the risk of that flight, their decision affected all pilots who rely on the supply of light aircraft and their component parts. It's pretty clear that if some manufacturers cannot limit their liability, they may very well choose to go out of business. In the end, all of general aviation may suffer from the individual choices of just a few pilots.

And so I had to cringe when I saw this notice on an aircraft cover. Are we pilots really so stupid and dimwitted that we need such placards? Apparently some might argue that we are.