Thursday, July 30, 2009

UCAP Meetups at Oshkosh

We had our second meetup last night at a local food&beverage place called Friar Tucks.

About 15 people in attendance, counting Dave, Jeb and me. Had a great time.

Spent about a half hour in the bar waiting for our table, then gathered around three tables all pulled together.

Lots of good conversation, making new friends. Hangar, err, restaurant flying.

JimG was taking pics. I'll post a link to them when able.

Big Thanks to our Listeners

We usually don't make a big deal about audience size. As a rule we're pretty happy that there's even a couple of people listening.

But I'm pleased to report that, as of this morning, July 2009 has become the best month ever for downloads of UCAP podcasts.

Thanks to everyone who listens.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Predator UAV at OSH Behind the Scenes

EAA produced video.

Recording UCAP #146 at Oshkosh

UCAP #146

Photo by Phil Weston.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Oshkosh Pics

I've posted some early pics from AirVenture Oshkosh 2009.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Good Morning from Oshkosh

Today is my first full day here in Oshkosh for AirVenture 2009.

Although there's a lot of activity around the field it's nothing compared to what is to come.

Exhibitors are setting up all over the field, in the new and old exhibits areas. A handful of attendee airplanes have already arrived, but the North 40 parking areas are still mostly empty grass. That will change very soon.

As EAA has been telling us all winter, there are some notable changes to the grounds. More on that as the week progresses, but I can attest to the fact that the grounds have seen more year-to-year change than I've seen in over 10 years. Not since the arrival of the big exhibit hangars and the permanent Forum buildings, have we seen this much change from one year to the next.

One area that is already hopping is Camp Scholler, which, as usual for this time, has lot and lots of people already set up.

Dave is in town, we met up with some OSH friends and ate at the legendary Ardy & Ed's last night. Jeb was here long enough to drop of Dave Allen, then he headed off on a secret mission which we hope to hear more about real-soon-now.

More later.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Clueless In Paris

France's equivalent to the NTSB--the Bureau d'Enquetes et d'Analyses, or BEA--on July 2 released its interim report on the loss of Air France Flight 447, an Airbus A330 that crashed into the equatorial Atlantic Ocean early on the morning of June 1. To geeks like me who pore over these things, the interim report is extremely valuable in assembling and organizing in one place many--but not all--of the known facts about this tragedy. It is not, however, a final report and does not state a probable cause for the accident. Its initial findings and some of its details, however, are important. Just as important? The interim report highlights how clueless officials are in understanding what went wrong and how it might be prevented in the future.

Primary evidence thus far comes from a series of ACARS (aircraft communications addressing and reporting system) messages, the few bits of found wreckage and the condition of recovered bodies. Using those resources alone and trying to determine why a modern transport operated by a world-class carrier crashed into the ocean isn't for the faint of heart. Until the cockpit voice and flight data recorders (CVR/FDR) are found, investigators have very little with which to work. Still, in reviewing the interim report, I'm struck by what's in it, as well as by its omissions.

For example, the BEA's English-version interim report uses four pages to explore the miscommunication between Brazil, Senegal and other nations' ATC systems--plus Air France's Operations Coordination Centre--and resulting delay in determining the flight's status and launching initial search and rescue efforts. While relevant to ATC coordination issues someone may wish to address soon, that material doesn't explain the crash sequence.

Similarly, the interim report notes, at "this stage of the investigation, the BEA has not yet had access to the autopsy data" resulting from examination of passenger and crew bodies found so far. Why? One source points out the autopsies are being conducted by Brazil, and France has not yet formally asked for the data. Another points out it's likely some portions of the interim report likely were prepared in the days leading up to its release, and not all statements in it were current at publication. This and other comments by BEA continue what many observers, including me, consider a disturbing trend by the French to minimize Brazil's knowledge, expertise and efforts.

To its credit, however, the BEA goes into great detail on the ACARS messages received in the flight's last few minutes, their timing and their relative significance. Thankfully, one of those messages is a routine position report, one placing the flight slightly left of course at which is widely believed to be the beginning of the accident sequence. The 23 other ACARS messages detail warnings and faults the crew experienced. As the BEA states, "At least one of them corresponds to an inconsistency in the speed measurements," meaning the crew and the airplane's automation were unsure of its airspeed.

The interim report notes at least three ACARS messages have yet to be fully interpreted: "This message has not been fully explained at this stage of the investigation." Why these messages have not been interpreted is anyone's guess; it would be appropriate for the BEA to say why they're not explained and to publish the explanation when it's available.

The interim report also details some of the conditions experienced by three other airliner crews flying through the area at roughly the same time. Significantly, all three crews elected to avoid the convective weather Flight 447 apparently entered.

Nevertheless, the BEA indicated it is focusing on erroneous airspeed indications as a precipitating event. The BEA has asked "Airbus, the NTSB, IATA, the DGAC and all French operators" for data on any incidents "during which a loss or inconsistency of speed indications was observed or reported by the crew" while in cruise.

Initial findings from the interim report help us understand the BEA's future efforts. Noting the wreckage found so far "consists mainly of light items" from within the cabin, plus some external parts of the plane and secondary control surfaces, the BEA concludes "identified debris thus comes from all the areas of the plane." In particular, the vertical stabilizer's damage indicates it broke off from the fuselage "during a forward motion with a slight twisting component towards the left."

The BEA's final initial finding states, "visual examination showed that the airplane was not destroyed in flight; it appears to have struck the surface of the sea in a straight line with high vertical acceleration." The translation from French is a bit awkward but this phrase is taken to mean the aircraft hit the ocean in a relatively level attitude, and at a high rate of descent with relatively little forward motion.

Unless the CVR/FDR are located, retrieved and their data analyzed, the few clues gleaned so far won't tell us much. We may never know exactly why the crew decided to enter weather everyone else was avoiding, why there were erroneous airspeed indications and how the airplane ended up hitting the water in a high descent rate. Like the rest of us, the BEA is clueless.

-- Jeb Burnside

The foregoing appears in the August 2009 issue of Aviation Safety, the monthly journal of risk management and accident prevention.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Notes from Independence Day...

The staff at the Jayhawk Wing Hangar consisted of just one before my arrival. At a table inside the hangar at Dead Cow International Airport Commemorative Air Force Col. Mike Flynn prepared the Wing's Fairchild PT-23 for an Independence Day appearance at Newton City County Airport.

Twenty-five miles away at EWK members of EAA Chapter 88 prepared for their annual Independence Day Fly-In; these great folks volunteered their Fourth of July to this event, some to prep pancake batter and all the trimmings and gather the ingredients for the charcoal-coooked burgers and hot dogs coming for lunch, while other went about the business of preparing the grounds and ramps for the impending arrival of dozens of planes, scores more fly-in visitors and hundreds of citizen visitors eager to spend a mild Saturday morning experiencing a typical mix of the humanity of aviation.

A few miles to the west on a private grass strip a group of vintage-aviation aficionados prepared to serve up a few hundred freshly flipped flapjacks to the flock of flyers already winging toward the smell of hotcakes and hot ham.

As Col. Mike completed his pre-flight work, another Dead Cow denizen arrived a bit belatedly, Ben. After enduring a bit of good-natured ribbing, Ben, Col. Mike and I joined to roll the PT -- "Miss Mickey" -- from her home and onto the ramp; Ben showed me how to help and together we next tackled rolling his recently restored Cessna 195 from her shelter.

Across the nation other aviators and their families took a tact a little different than those millions starting their day in anticipation of lake swims and campfire cook-out to come, while children of even advanced ages anxiously awaited the fireworks in the forecast.

Like thousands of others across the nation these two airplanes and three pilots joined in a celebration of our freedoms by exercising the flying privileges those freedoms allow.

First, the airplanes from Dead Cow dropped in on that early morning pancake breakfast hosted by the local Vintage Aircraft folks and the owner of the 2,450-foot private grass strip where we landed. When pilots utter the words, "Grass Roots Aviation," this strip and that morning gathering covered the image to a T.

That breakfast visit lead to an invitation to us in the C-195 to fly "top cover" for an Independence Day parade at a nearby small town. In the company of eight other aircraft -- two of them Stearman with smoke systems working -- flew two passes up the parade route.

None in these nine cockpits needed to hear any cheers; drawing cheers never occurred to anyone.

Pride in aviation, pride in America, pride in American Aviation, that was the gift, the ability to celebrate with such an act served as the reward. Besides, as anyone so blessed will testify, in the midst of performing a fly-by, the cockpits all stay busy keeping track of each other. No one on the ground wants to see a show that none of the pilots intended. So the pilots never actually see any sign of reaction down there.

From the parade route the C-195 turned northeast for a relaxed 2,500-foot cruise to Newton to partake of grass-roots flying of another form. The Chapter 88 gang worked full tilt checking in pilots and their planes, selling tickets for the evening banquet, and turning visiting children into documented Young Eagles courtesy the volunteer pilots and EAA.

The ramp held general aviation in its many forms, ultralights, trikes, homebuilts, spam cans, antiques and more than a few classics. The small improptu gathers of old friends and pilots and others who "get it" made a three-hour visit pass by at near Mach speed and soon the C-195 needed to wing its way home.

As the Businessliner touched down on the grass at Dead Cow and the crowds thinned at Newton, the PT-23 and Col. Mike cruised lazily home to the Jayhawk Wing Hangar to rest from a long day of enlightening many into the world of a World War II student pilot.

The Chapter 88 banquet most likely proved a fun evening for the participants and a well-earned reward to another successful Independence Day gathering.

Three landings and 50 miles of flying; operating at three airports, visiting two events, becoming a special event at a parade; spending time with dozens of friends and aviation lovers. What more could an aviator want out of a Fourth?

This day arose out of a decades-long tradition of flying on special days -- this day especially. But the more who do, the better.

No fireworks can match -- though we did envy the aviator flying a small GA airplane above Wichita last evening, when fireworks displays seemed to erupt above the black horizon at every point on the compass.

Hope your Fourth was as flyingly fulfilling.