Sunday, August 21, 2011

Pilot's Perspective

My schedule continues to be very busy and considering the state of the economy, this is a bit perplexing. Things will undoubtedly slow down and provide time to post a few things that are in the works. Until then ...

Livermore Valley

Practice RNAV approach to Lampson

On-Shore Push

Central Valley, somewhere ...

Crossing the 29 Numbers

The Devil's Mountain

Heading down the bay, over Leslie Salt.
Near Isleton, on the RNAV 25 to Rio Vista

Somewhere near Modesto
Another view of Southbay Salt Ponds

Holding at WRAPS intersection

Still Holding at WRAPS intersection

Dumbarton Bridge, South SF Bay
Approaching Watsonville

Short final, Oakdale

Accidental self-portrait

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.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Let Your Little Light Shine

Apologies to my loyal readers for the lack of updates recently. I've been super busy, but I do appreciate the emails and comments I receive each day. I do my best to respond to each and every email, but it might not be immediate and your patience is appreciated.


Everyone knows by now that after weeks of tough talk from Republicans and Democrats, the federal debt ceiling has finally increased. If you consider yourself a fiscal conservative, you may be asking questions that few others seem to be willing to address. How can any nation fight two wars for 10 years, bail out their financial industry, and not run out of money? Without additional income (read tax revenues), how could anyone expect the bills to be paid. Adherents to simplistic pledges to never raise taxes are the latest incarnation of the Flat Earth Society. Those unwilling to pay their share refuse to share the pain that every citizen in our nation has inherited. It seems everyone wants someone else to do the hard work. How's that for personal responsibility and patriotism?

Even though the debt ceiling was raised, the FAA authorization bill has been stalled. The consequences of this stalemate are obvious at my home airport: Construction on the new Oakland Metropolitan International Airport control tower has ceased. Wonder how many construction workers have been laid off by that one ...

For their part, AOPA seems to have developed multiple personalities when it comes to funding the FAA. On one hand, they don't want GA user fees to fund "bureaucracy." On the other hand, they'd like their members to believe that NextGen will be the best thing since  ... the iPad. So government is bad when it costs money to operate, but government is good when in provides cool toys we like. I'm thinking my AOPA membership probably won't be renewed next year ...

Jepp Mobile FlightDeck

Speaking of toys, Jeppesen recently released a replacement for their iPad Jeppesen Mobile TC app. It has some good features, but is maddeningly incomplete, not terribly intuitive, and in some cases, offers up out-of-date data. Still, it's a big step forward for Jeppesen.

Should be simple and intuitive, right? Right?

Downloading and installing the app was simple enough. I opened the Jepp Mobile TC app I had purchased, copied the serial number, and pasted it into Mobile FlightDeck. The app didn't complain, but I saw plenty of weird behavior. For instance, entering in an origin airport and tapping on SEARCH resulted in ... no results. Odd, so I just entered a destination airport and went directly to the route field. Entering a VOR or an airway in the route field, resulted in a message saying that they didn't exist.

But I was there just yesterday!

So I did the reasonable thing and called Jeppesen tech support. While listening to what has to be the longest voicemail announcement/disclaimer/reference-to-the-support-website I've ever heard, I got the idea that I should delete the serial number from the older Jeppesen Mobile TC app and then delete the old app entirely from my iPad. That proved to be a good choice. Suddenly the features in Mobile FlightDeck started to work and it knew all about the VORs and airways that previously were non-existent. Okay ...

Mobile FlightDeck understands Victor Airways, as long as you first enter a VOR or waypoint/intersection on the airway. If you want to enter multiple airways, you have to enter the waypoint/intersection that those airways have in common.

That's better!

Let's say you're tinkering, trying to decide which route you'd like to fly between two airports. If you want to change routes, tapping on the CLEAR button above the route will ... wait for it ... clear out the route and the origin and destination airport. Geez Louise! Is anyone at Jeppesen doing usability testing?

Do a looong tap on the chart and you can access information about things like special use airspace, airports and such. Unfortunately, the information often uses a boilerplate format that needlessly repeats field names that aren't needed and simply create visual noise. Amazingly, the Jepp chart for Northern California still lists the Travis VOR. That puppy was decommissioned at least two years ago. Yikes!

Scully? Mulder?

Mobile FlightDeck provides pure electronic charts that are both flexible and useful, but they don't have the same feel as Aeronav charts. You can choose which types of navigation data you want included, but the charts still seem a bit cluttered at times. Zooming in often makes the situation better.

Complicated ...

Better ...

I plan to use Mobile FlightDeck in the air tomorrow and hope to provide some more observations afterward. For now, Jeppesen's Mobile FlightDeck app is a step in the right direction, but it needs work. Jeppesen still trails the competition and their products are still far too costly for the features offered. Sorry if that sounds blunt.

Big Changes at OAK

Contract negotiations between KasierAir and the Port of Oakland resulted in the FBO contracting in a big way. KaiserAir started as the flight department for the companies created by Henry J. Kaiser. It's been around for more than a half century and a fixture at the Oakland North Field for as long as I can remember.

The old KasierAir executive terminal now sits empty and the self-serve 100LL fuel pump was rendered inoperative. Many aircraft owners who rented tie-down space from KaiserAir were sent scrambling to find new arrangements with only a few days notice. KaiserAir still occupies the smaller executive terminal near Hangar 4, but I doubt I'll be rubbing elbows with the employees I used to see all the time. I have many memories of sitting standby in the old KaiserAir pilot lounge, getting a Caravan refueled on short notice, getting a ride to and from the South Field terminal with Tony. I always appreciated the efforts of the frontline workers at KaiserAir. Things just won't be the same ...

More to Come

I hope to continue my series on VFR flight planning and to provide observations on new products and services for pilots, but it may have to wait for crummier weather to arrive in Northern California. For now, I'm swamped with work and a full-time, freelance CFI has to make hay while the sun is shining.