Friday, August 12, 2011

Long Odds, Happy Endings

Pilots, by and large, like to be in control and there are many ways to accomplish that goal. One way or another we have to manage risk if we're to maintain control. One way to manage risk is thoroughly planning each flight, but the best laid plans don't always pan out. Prudent pilots like to have more than one plan - the illustrious Plan B. There are folks out there who do little or no planning, just assuming that everything will be fine. Perhaps they are optimists or believe themselves to be Super Pilot, capable of handling anything than arrises. Having one or more back-up plans, just in case, is a wise choice because the unexpected is always waiting for us. It's all a matter of odds.

Rushed and Forgotten

A busy schedule recently had me instructing in seven different aircraft types in seven days. Long hours and fatigue are not good ingredients for beginning a safe flight. That crossed my mind as I was running out the door last week to head to the airport. It also crossed my mind that my minimalist flight bag felt lighter than usual. This was just a passing thought until, settling into the right seat of the aircraft in which I was about to instruct, it became obvious why my flight bag was so light. I'd left my iPad at home and so it was time for an unplanned test of my back-up strategies: Using my iPhone and the minimal selection of paper charts I keep in my flight bag.

SkyCharts Pro and ForeFlight work just fine on the iPhone, though there's no GPS to be had. That's because, being a good citizen, I put my iPhone into airplane mode before takeoff and that disables bluetooth. Not to worry because plan B was the very capable panel-mounted GPS receiver in the aircraft.

With the iPhone I can do virtually everything normally done on the iPad with the main disadvantage being the small size of the iPhone's screen. There were a few more differences: I haven't enabled multi-tasking gestures on my iPhone and some of the user interface details of ForeFlight are different from the iPad version. I appreciate a good challenge so it was time to adjust, adapt, and overcome.

Taking Notes, iPhone style

My weapon of choice for writing notes in flight is the iPad app Penultimate, but it isn't supported on the iPhone. Turns out there is a free iPhone app that offers similar features. Sure, I had to write smaller letters and use more pages, but Handwriting worked surprisingly well. There's no erase or undo. If you make a mistake, just start a new note. Did I mention it's a free app?

Back-up Paper Charts

Printing paper copies of local terminal procedures should be a part of every iPad pilot's back-up strategy. For me, nothing beats ReadyProcs, a Java-based app that runs on a bunch of different operating systems. I print out a selection of charts, in booklet format, staple them and slip them in my flight bag. No muss, no fuss.

In the unlikely event of an iPhone failure, I still have a basic complement of paper charts.

All in SloMo

Lately I've been fortunate to teach occasionally in a new, air conditioned Cirrus and the AC certainly does reduce fatigue in hot weather. Climbing out on top of a Bay Area cloud layer, I watched as my GNS 5870 bluetooth receiver came unstuck from dashboard, fell between my knees, glanced off the carpeted shroud that covers part of the AC (the evaporator unit, I think) under the right front passenger seat, before it disappeared with an odd rattle. Moving my seat back and feeling around confirmed my worst suspicion: My bluetooth GPS must have fallen through one of the numerous gaps in that shroud. It would have to be retrieved once we were back on the ground.

The interesting part was that in spite of being shielded by a fair amount of metal, the seat itself, and 175 pounds of pilot, the GNS 5870 kept satellite lock for the rest of the flight. The iPad continued to show the same ground speed and location as the G1000. Pretty remarkable ...

Back on earth, it became clear that tools would be required to retrieve the GPS. I carefully removed two bolts from the front of the AC shroud, but another fastener underneath the right seat still held the shroud in place. Uncomfortable with the idea of removing the seat, I was able to lift the front of the shroud enough to see the GNS 5870 lodged on the inboard side of the AC equipment and retrieve it. We replaced the two bolts and I intend to try leaving the GPS in my shirt pocket while flying air conditioned Cirrus aircraft!

Something New under the Sun

Pilots who rely on GPS got a wake-up call recently as increased solar flare activity began to affect GPS and WAAS signal integrity. It's important to remember that GPS, like any navigational system, has limitations. Solar activity can affect GPS signals and that's just what happened last week.

WAAS LPV availability on 8/6/2011

Things are mostly back to normal, but the Northeast and the Upper Great Lake states appear to have been most affected on the date shown. The unusual solar activity is forecast to continue. Regardless of where you live, be ready to navigate by alternate means and don't count on getting LPV minima on RNAV approaches. To access the current status of the LPV service volume (along with other cool GPS stuff), you might want to bookmark this link.

Power of ... Love

After our basenji Hunter passed away in 2008, we waited a year before deciding to get a new dog through Basenji Rescue and Transport (BRAT). We adopted a pair of tricolor basenji about 2 1/2 years ago and though it was initially challenging, it has been immensely rewarding. When Rio and Kadee (aka Taz) came to us, a lot of training and compassion were required. We were Rio's fifth home and it was clear that someone along the way had been unkind to him. He was very mistrustful of men, in particular, and easily frightened. Unwinding his fearful behavior required a lot of patience.

Kadee came to us with the name Taz and though she became comfortable in our home, she remained aloof and distant. After about a year, it occurred to me to try calling her by her original name, Kadee. The results were remarkable and if you ask me, anyone who says dogs don't have long memories is mistaken.

Here's a photo of Rio and Kadee, taken shortly after they'd come to live with us. I'd forgotten how underweight Rio was at the time - just under 20 pounds.

Here's a photo from last week. Kadee is more attentive and Rio now weighs in at a normal 24.5 pounds. In a highly competitive society, it's good to stop and remember that care, attention and love can overcome even longest of odds.


flyaway said...

Good points on forgetting your iPad and dropping the GNS 5870. I have transitioned almost completely to ForeFlight on my iPad but I still keep my old kneeboard on the other knee for writing clearances and ATC direction. I had a little problem a couple of years ago with losing my (brand new expensive progressive lens) glasses out the window (don't ask) and not having a backup set with me during a night flight. The GNS 5870 is so light and small I can easily see dropping it and having a hard time finding in flight. I am considering taping a paper clip to it and keeping it on a string around my neck or in a pocket for the same reason. When I am flying with someone we always have a second information source (either their iPad or paper). If I were solo I would definitely keep a paper set handy.

Sarah said...

Really? Taking notes on your iPhone instead of on a scrap of paper with a pencil? You've gone too far; it sounds like you're kidding.

I tried to use an iphone to follow along on an ifr flight ( for which I had radio duty only ). I found it a bit frustrating reading the small screen. The sole 12v outlet was occupied, so my battery life was a factor... altogether not a satisfying experience!

I guess I'm still a paper plate advocate, at least for origin/destination/alternate approaches.

John Ewing said...


Gone too far? That seems a bit harsh ...

It should go without saying that what works for me might not work for others, but there is no one right answer. The iPhone screen is indeed small, but the flight I mentioned was a night flight and the HW app worked okay. It took some adjusting and effort on my part, but trying something new always does.

Battery life was not a problem for me, what with airplane mode turned on and the screen dimmed.