Tuesday, September 29, 2009

iPhone EFB Redux

A few days ago, a pilot friend sent me this link, a write-up about a new PDF reader for the iPhone called GoodReader and PDFPlates. So I snagged GoodReader at the iTunes app store, where it is on special for a limited time for a mere $0.99US. I've used PDFPlates before, and found it reasonably useful. And it works on the iPhone, too, due in no small measure to the usefulness of GoodReader, which is true to its name.

I got to thinking how I disliked looking up airports by page number when I test drove the Kindle DX. Finding an airport, then finding the page number, going to that page, and then scrolling to find the approach you want has got to be akin to one of Dante's circles of hell. After using GoodReader's bookmark feature with approach and A/FD files from Nacomatic or PDFPlates, all I can say is vive la différence! Unlike the Kindle DX, GoodReader on the iPhone supports bookmarks. I also found Nacomatic's newly improved bookmark structure (since I last tried it) to be pretty useful. And GoodReader lets you create your own, personal bookmarks to frequently used procedures.

After purchasing GoodReader, you'll need to go here and download GoodReaderUSB. I'm using MacOS, so if you're a Windoze user you'll need to figure out that version of the equation. Install GoodReaderUSB, connect your iPhone to your Mac using the USB cable, and you just drag-and-drop the files you want to transfer to your iPhone. There are other ways to transfer, but this is by far the most preferable and it's dirt simple.

Once you've loaded the terminal procedure or A/FD PDFs that you want to view, you're ready to launch GoodReader and get down to business. Here's a sequence of iPhone screen snaps that illustrate looking up the A/FD entry for San Martin/South Country Airport using Nacomatic. This earlier mentioned link illustrates the use of PDFPlates using the page lookup method, which is odd since PDFPlates has bookmarks. In my opinion, bookmarks are a whole lot easier to use.

After you open the A/FD file, tap on the magnifying glass icon at the bottom of the screen to access bookmarks. By the way, in these examples I selected GoodReader's landscape view.

Here's a sequence of screen snaps illustrating the look up for the RNAV-A approach at Lampson/Lakeport:

The downside of all this is that the iPhone's screen is pretty damn small for cockpit use, though you can look at half of an approach chart in landscape view. And zooming in makes it just kinda, sorta readable.

The upside is that for an investment in an iPhone, you can have current A/FDs and terminal procedures in your phone for very little money. Methinks you should be able to do all this on an iPod Touch, too.

BTW, the special low price on GoodReader expires October 1st.

Monday, September 28, 2009

It's Official

In Thursday's mail, I found a letter from the FAA containing a special issuance 3rd class medical certificate. So as of Thursday, it was once again legal for me to be pilot-in-command. Then in Saturday's mail, I found another letter from the FAA containing a 2nd class medical certificate, which superseded the previous letter and medical certificate. So why did the FAA send me two medical certificates?

The first package of material that I sent to the FAA contained a neurologist's report on my latest exam. The latest exam was described as "unremarkable" and noted that subsequent TGA episodes were unlikely. My understanding was that before the FAA could rule on this report, they would need to also have my application for a new medical certificate (deferred to them by my local AME).

Turns out the FAA, based on my doctor's report, decided to give me a special issuance 3rd class medical that would be good until October 31st of this year. That would have been the same expiration date of my old medical that was revoked last December. After they sent that letter, they must have received the application for a 2nd class medical that my AME referred to them. So the FAA approved a special issuance 2nd class medical, in short order, and sent it out with another letter.

Pilots who are working to get approval for a medical certificate application that has been referred to Oklahoma City are usually told to expect a three to six week turnaround. It appears my case was reviewed in a matter of days, possibly a matter of hours for all I know. At any rate, it was quick. I think part of this credit goes to the doctors and staff at Virtual Flight Surgeons, who I had chosen to represent my case. Credit is also due to my local AME for seeing me on short notice and promptly getting the paperwork to the FAA. I've been known to be critical of the FAA, so let the record show that I'm very grateful to all involved for the expeditious handling of my case.

To Be or Not To Be
For the last 11 months, being without a medical certificate, I could act as pilot in command, but I couldn't be pilot in command. The legal distinction is a bit tricky, but here is how I understand it. One can act as PIC of an aircraft if one holds a pilot's certificate for the category and class of aircraft in question. Acting as PIC means you can be the sole manipulator of the controls, but it doesn't necessarily mean you can fulfill the role of a required crew member. To be PIC (and to have legal responsibility for the aircraft and the operation), you must also possess a valid medical certificate for the type of operation and meet all the other currency requirements.

So without a valid medical certificate, I was unable to act as a safety pilot for a pilot wearing a view limiting device (used to simulate instrument conditions). Since I tended do a lot of instrument instruction, that took a big bite out of my income. Sometimes these legal distinctions sound a bit like a Marx Brothers routine, but that's the regulatory world that we pilots live and fly in. So as my wife has been known to say to me: "Get used to it!"

Back in the Saddle

My first flight as PIC occurred tonight, solo, and mostly at night. A pilot I used to fly with regularly had graciously offered me the use of his twin Grumman for my first flight as PIC in nearly a year. My mission was to do some maneuvers and return 60 minutes after sunset so I could do three stop-and-go landings and reset my multi-engine currency.

I didn't expect to feel apprehensive before this flight, but that's exactly how I felt. After a few minutes aloft, I settled into the usual rhythm and enjoyed a beautiful sunset while I flew a selection of commercial multi-engine maneuvers. In the end, it felt great to be PIC again and I had a renewed appreciation of what it means to be a pilot.

Morality Aside
More than one person has asked me if I had it to do over again, knowing what I know now, would I tell the FAA about my medical problem. My answer is an unequivocal "Yes!" Let me be clear that I don't have a halo over my head, just because I did what the regulations required me to do. As I said right after my TGA event, I have always advocated for general aviation safety and telling the FAA about my problem was the obvious, correct choice. Sure the results of doing the right thing were uncomfortable, troubling, inconvenient, and expensive but the thing is, I knew it was the right thing to do. In fact, I think that each of us usually knows what the morally and ethically correct course of action is, even if society tells us that lying is okay.

Let's face it, we are constantly being told (directly and indirectly) that lying is okay, especially when it is expedient, offers us a personal advantage, and there's a good chance we won't get caught. Here's an interesting quote from an article I was referred to recently.
Lies are often much more plausible, more appealing to reason, than reality, since the liar has the great advantage of knowing beforehand what the audience wishes or expects to hear.
Hannah Arendt

Part of the problem is the widespread acceptance of naive realism, which basically says "Hey, I'm being reasonable. It's the FAA (or substitute your favorite organization) who is being unreasonable." After all, who knows better than each of us what is correct? Indeed!

The truth is that I'm not an expert in neurology. I could always claim to be an expert and to know more than I know, but is it really unreasonable to be told to wait a year without a recurrence of symptoms before being granted a medical certificate? I don't think so.


That stands for Another Fine Growth Opportunity, though there is a more ribald version. So what did I learn and how did I grow? Well, actually, I shrank. Having lots of time off allowed me to exercise and concentrate on my diet. That resulted in a loss of more than 20 pounds and three inches off my waistline.

After my TGA incident, my primary care doctor looked at my lipid blood panel and became concerned with my cholesterol, which was on the high side of normal. The suggestion was that I begin statin therapy, but I was adamant that the first thing to try was a change in diet and exercise due to studies that have linked statin use to cognitive impairment. 11 months later, a new lipid panel showed nearly a 40 point drop in my total cholesterol and a healthy readjustment to my HDL, LDL, and triglyceride levels.

A Matter of Time
Jim, also known as Doctor ATP, learned about my predicament and wrote me to tell me about the first time he lost his medical certificate. By describing his trials and tribulations, and he's had a bunch, Jim gave me a new perspective on just how precious a gift it is to be a pilot. It's a tremendous privilege to fly an aircraft and though you might not want to hear this, it's only a matter of time before each of us reaches a tipping point. We can deny facts and lie to ourselves, or we can embrace our situation, come to grips with our mortality, and develop a daily appreciation of what we have before we lose it.

Jim continues to be an inspiration as he once again is facing medical problems and the thorny issue of mortality in a head-on fashion. I recommend you go read about Jim's situation and his approach to problems that most of us can't even imagine. And while you're there, why not leave him a few words of encouragement?

Monday, September 21, 2009


The FAA has proposed some interesting changes to Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulation, entitled "Aeronautics and Space." Some of the proposed modifications reflect changes in the aircraft that are available for pilot training while other changes seem to simply have commerce in mind. Here's my rundown on some of the more important changes and some of the questions they raise. The public has until midnight, November 30, 2009 to comment on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

Complex Aircraft
I've written before about the problems surrounding how the FAA defines a complex aircraft, which is the type of aircraft that must be used to train flight instructors and commercial pilots. Here's what the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking had to say:
The current definition of a ‘‘complex airplane’’ in § 61.31(e) requires that the airplane have a retractable landing gear, flaps, and a controllable pitch propeller.

One way around this problem has been to use a twin-engine aircraft (virtually all of these meet the current definition of "complex aircraft") to train instructors and commercial pilots, then use a fixed-gear aircraft to add the single-engine rating to the candidate's multi-engine instructor or commercial certificate. Using a twin for the initial training is much more expensive for the applicant since two engines burn a lot of fuel and multi-engine aircraft are expensive to operate. Unfortunately, the new definition of "complex aircraft" doesn't do much to address the situation. Continuing to quote the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (emphasis mine):
... a number of training providers have complained to the FAA that they have had to keep older airplanes in their inventory that meet this current § 61.31(e) ‘‘complex airplane’’ definition for providing commercial pilot and flight instructor training of § 61.129(a)(3)(ii) or § 61.129(b)(3)(ii) and the additional training requirements of § 61.31(e). To remove this unnecessary burden, we are proposing to consider an airplane equipped with a FADEC system as being equivalent to one having a controllable pitch propeller.

Now if you think that the FAA is addressing the problem that there really is only one single-engine complex training aircraft (the Piper Arrow) and only one multi-engine training aircraft (the Piper Seminole) currently being manufactured, think again. Near as I can tell, the change to the definition of complex aircraft only affects one aircraft - the twin-engine Diamond DA42. The DA42 meets all the requirements of the current definition of complex aircraft, except for the fact that the propeller is not directly controllable by the pilot - it's controlled by FADEC (Full Authority Direct Engine Control). So the new definition simply allows the DA42 to be consider a complex aircraft. Unencumbered by facts, here's what the NPR says about the costs associated with this change:
Small businesses that would be affected by the revised definition of ‘‘complex airplane’’ would be schools and training providers. Many pilot schools would not have to keep an inventory of two kinds of airplanes to meet the commercial pilot and flight instructor certification requirements. This would engender cost savings, which the FAA estimates at $1,000 per
airplane annually.

With all due respect, what are they smoking? Unless Cessna or Piper has plans to manufacture a new single-engine, retractable gear trainer that has FADEC, the new definition of complex aircraft does nothing to change the fact that many flight schools will still to have to keep old Cessna 172RGs, Piper Arrows, Mooneys or other aged aircraft in order to train single-engine flight instructors and commercial pilots. And of the flight schools that train initial instructor and commercial candidates in twins, I can't imagine that many of them can afford to drop half a million-plus dollars to buy a Diamond DA42. While this change is good news for Diamond Aircraft, it doesn't seem to address the problems faced by smaller flight schools.

Combined Private & Instrument
Under the current rules, holding a private pilot certificate is a prerequisite for applying for an instrument rating. Under the proposed rules, pilots would be allowed to apply for their private certificate and their instrument rating concurrently. Here's the rationale:
Historically, accident statistics show that all weather-related accidents account for approximately 4.0 percent of total accidents. For single engine airplanes with a fixed landing gear, the airplane used predominantly by both student and private pilots, by far the largest weather-related accident cause is continuing to fly under VFR into IMC. This occurs when a pilot encounters changing weather conditions and does not land prior to encountering IMC. The proposed rule change would permit private pilot applicants to combine their private pilot and instrument training, which would improve their skills to operate in IMC and should reduce weather-related accidents. Thus, the FAA is proposing to revise § 61.65(a)(1) to allow applicants for an instrument rating to concurrently apply for a private pilot certificate.

Combining private pilot training and instrument training makes sense for large part 141 schools like Embry Riddle or Middle Tennessee State University, which interestingly enough already had an exemption to do this. This rule change simply benefits other part 141 schools who wish to seek approval to do the same thing.

It's not clear to me if or how this would affect pilots who train under part 61 since one prerequisite for the instrument rating is 50 hours of pilot-in-command cross country experience. Since the only time a student pilot can log PIC time is when they are solo, they'd have to log a lot of solo PIC cross country time and receive an endorsement from an authorized instructor for each and every solo cross-country flight. Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't think this is what the FAA intended and it doesn't seem to increase flight safety. In fact, it might do just the opposite.

Complex Aircraft Experience for Commercial Candidates

The current rules require commercial pilot candidates have 10 hours of aeronautical experience in a complex aircraft, but the proposal is to replace that requirement with 10 hours of "advanced instrument training" in an aircraft, flight simulator, or approved flight training device. Here's the proposed definition of advanced instrument training:
... must include instrument approaches consisting of both precision and nonprecision approaches, holding at navigational radio stations, intersections, waypoints, and crosscountry flying that involved performing takeoff, area departure, enroute, area arrival, approach, and missed approach phases of flight.
First, there isn't much about this training that would seem to warrant the adjective "advanced." All of the items listed involve basic tasks and areas of operation included in the instrument rating practical test standards. What this change will allow is for commercial candidates to save some dough by logging these 10 hours in a simulator or flight training device, but it's not clear to me that this will result in better pilot training. It will also help candidates who are training for the commercial certificate and their instrument rating concurrently. Wait, I thought that in the future some pilots were going to get their instrument rating when they got their private pilot certificate? At least the FAA's proposal continues the tradition of keeping the rules and regulations confusing.

The NPR also contains this:
The FAA proposes to revise the
Commercial Pilot Certification—Airplane Single Engine (Land and Sea) rating because fewer single-engine airplanes are being produced with retractable landing gears. Manufacturers of general aviation airplanes now produce technologically advanced airplanes with ‘‘glass cockpits,’’ but which do not have retractable landing gears. Many pilot schools have complained about the necessity to keep 30-year old Cessna 172RGs and Piper Arrows in inventory, which are less technically advanced airplanes, for the sole purpose of providing 10 hours of complex airplane training.
Call me crazy, but the Commercial Pilot Airplane and Flight Instructor Airplane practical test standards still require the use of a complex aircraft for the practical test, so these schools will still have to keep the old aircraft around for folks to take their check rides. Unless the FAA has plans to change the commercial PTS, too ...

Proficiency Checks for Single-Engine Turbojets
Even though the economy has tanked, there is the belief that soon there will be a fair number of singe-engine jet aircraft that will most likely be piloted by the owners. Sensing that these aircraft could become the next breed of so-called "Doctor killers," the FAA is proposing that the folks who pilot these aircraft should demonstrate proficiency on a regular basis. I'm sure the insurance companies will also require regular recurrent training, too, but this seems like a sound idea.

Sound off!
If you'd like to comment on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, try using this link

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Road Trip

There are many reasons for the lull in blogging. While I plan to post about the upcoming changes to the regulations that govern pilots, for now here's a post about my recent travels, taking a small vacation. Here’s are two photos taken near where we stayed for a few days. Can you guess where?

It’s been a number of years since I visited this city and the city itself has changed, but I’ve changed, too. The weather during our stay was remarkably good: Warm, but not excessively hot, balmy without being terribly humid. If you’re still guessing, here’s another photo.

This city has a large amount of green, open space with parks and sculpture scattered throughout virtually every neighborhood. Here’s another photographic clue.

Still guessing?

Several US presidents have lived in the state where these photos were taken. My wife says this is the quintessential American city, that it is more representative of America than say, New York. This city has some amazing architecture, too.

Known to some simply as “The city that works” and to others as the “Second City," by now of course you should recognize it as Chicago. Home of two baseball teams (one of which may, or may not be cursed), one of the country's finest museums, and what I believe to be some of the best pizza on earth.

In addition to enjoying the sights and sounds of Chicago, I visited some of my old haunts and saw some old, old friends – some of whom I had not seen in over 30 years. I visited the airport where I first soloed, which now has two runways, one of which is 7000 feet long! And I don't believe there is any other place in the US where two state highways intersect in the middle of a city and are bisected by two railroad tracks.

I wouldn’t be the first to observe that you can’t go back. I could still find my way around town in a rambling, dreamlike sort of way. Houses, stores, hospitals, schools, and hotels now stand where corn and soybeans used to grow. The Sip-n-Dip drive-in is no more and I'm not sure if it's been replaced by a car wash or a vacant lot.

I tried to refrain from making what must have seemed like pointless observations: “There used to be railroad tracks right there and I rode my dirt bike on a trail right next to them.” “This used to be a gravel road and I ran here many times while preparing for my first marathon …” “My high school sweetheart lived in that house …” “When I was an undergraduate, I worked as a night watchman in this building, which used to be a factory …”

The specifics hold little meaning for other people because it's difficult to convey the feeling, mood, and experience behind the words. Friends that I hadn’t seen in decades seemed to understand, though we remembered different events and details. One of us would tell a story that would trigger memories that hadn’t been examined for years.

Hair turns grey, hairlines recede, joints and backs become stiffer, waistlines grow, but friendships remain.