Thursday, April 22, 2010

Jack And Jeb's Excellent Adventure

As regular listeners know, Jack has been at my house for a few days while attending Sun 'n Fun. (Dave Higdon was here for a while, too, and listener Luca Berta also is here while stranded because of the volcano.) Jack mentioned some time ago how he's never been in an Aeronca Champ. Since there happens to be one based here at my little residential airpark, I humbly asked its owner -- long-time pilot, instructor and examiner Dave Whitman -- to give him an intro ride. Dave responded with great enthusiasm and this morning did the deed.

Below are some images I took of the indoctrination, preflight, hand-propping and landing. Should be pretty self-explanatory...

That's Champ owner Dave Whitman on the right.

To my surprise, Dave offered me a ride, also. I've been in Champs before, but not this one.

Here's the landing, and the aftermath.

We both had a blast. Highly recommended as a way to blow out the cobwebs each morning after too many Leinies the night before.

Special thanks to Dave Whitman for making this happen, and to his daughter, Wendy (hotness = 11!) for running interference.

Jack and Jeb

Monday, April 19, 2010

An activist NTSB?

A press release from the NTSB announces a three-day forum on "professionalism in aviation," beginning Tuesday, May 18, 2010.

"NTSB's investigations into the midair collision over the Hudson River last August, the crash of Colgan Air flight 3407 in February 2009, and the October 2009 Northwest pilots' overflight of their intended airport provided the impetus for this forum because all of them clearly demonstrated the hazards to aviation safety when pilots and air traffic controllers depart from standard operating procedures and established best practices," Hersman said. "During the forum, we will gather information on the screening, selection and training of pilots and controllers and methods to reinforce professionalism and excellence."

Do we really want a government agency -- especially one whose prime focus is safety at all costs -- suggesting to an an industry what is and is not professional?



Aviation Journalism 101

Comes now this piece on the Fox Business Channel's Web site, discussing the wisdom of and policy regarding carrying a large proportion of an organization's management on one flight. This is in the aftermath of the April 10 crash outside Smolensk, Russia, which killed many top leaders in the Polish government.

Conspicuously absent from the piece is any comment from the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), the organization serving that industry segment.

The NBAA has many well-defined, suggested policies its member companies may adopt, one of which addresses carrying top management on a single airplane. Too bad FBC couldn't be bothered to to track down the industry experts for comment.



For Sale: Great Airplane -- IFR!

The advertisement continues thus:

"Low-time engine, great compressions, full IFR w/IFR Capable two-pound lead brick in panel..."

What? Lead Brick in Panel?? Any takers? Not even for the IFR-capable two-pound lead brick?

Shucks...thought so -- and not surprised. That lead-brick thought idea pops into my mind every time my eyeballs scan a used-plane ad mentioning its Loran-C navigator -- every time.

If you've no idea of the source of my irritation, take a moment now and scan this -- then come back...go ahead...we'll wait...'re back -- and you get it now, don't you...

For those who skipped their reading assignment, Loran C went away back in the first week of February, a victim of budget constraints, its own technological lethargy in the U.S. and the overwhelming predisposition toward GPS -- a navigation system with its own weaknesses and frailties...and now, no area-nav-type back-up.

So while we wait and hope for the folks at DHS, FAA, etc., to get behind advancing Loran into a suitable back-up system with an inherent resistance to frequency jamming, two things:

First, hope, pray, cross fingers that nothing takes out GPS -- which at this moment is suffering with problems with one of two WAAS satellites;

Second, stop telling me you've got a Loran-C in the panel -- please; it's as useless to our flying as a lead brick installed in the same slot -- and the brick at least takes less space and less power. Better still, pay someone to take it out and find a good reconditioned GPS for the panel -- at least it's got somebody talking to it with better hearing than a lead brick. The GPS should help you sell that plane better than a lead brick.

And if you can't do that, at least stop touting it in your ad...



Thursday, April 15, 2010

Under pressure

I've refrained from posting on the April 10, 2010, crash of a Tupolev Tu-154 outside Smolensk, Russia, killing all aboard including Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife mainly because I've been busy with other stuff. Some thoughts:

1. The Russian investigation is continuing. The all-important data recorders have been formally turned over to Polish authorities.

2. Early word from, apparently, the cockpit voice recorder suggests there was no pressure from the passengers to get into the destination airport.

3. Air traffic control apparently warned the flightcrew about the weather.

4. The crash occurred on the flightcrew's fourth attempt to land. The Tu-154, a Soviet version of Boeing's venerable 727, contacted trees short of the runway and broke up.

This is a classic case of "getthereitis," a situation wherein there is pressure, real or imagined, to complete the flight to the preferred destination. While no one from the back of the plane may have told the cockpit to get into Smolensk, you can bet the crew felt some pressure to do so.

The airport at Smolensk reportedly does not have a precision instrument approach (ILS). Instead, the crew was flying an unspecified non-precision procedure, probably an NDB, given the location. Non-precision approaches are reliable when properly flown, but they're not designed nor intended to enable a landing when the airport is totally obscured by weather.

Lessons? None with which the aviation industry is not already familiar:

1. Don't succumb to pressure -- real or imagined -- to do something against your best judgment while in an airplane.

2. The time-honored practice of taking a look -- attempting an approach when the reported weather is below its minimum altitude, visibility or both -- is only a good choice if/when you have the discipline to fly the procedure and then evaluate the conditions you encountered and make an intelligent decision.

3. WRT to 2., no one knows at this time -- maybe the CVR/FDR readouts will shed light -- whether the crew saw enough of the airport environment to make additional attempts.

4. My rule of thumb: Taking a look is fine, as long as an honest evaluation of the results is made. If I screwed up the first approach and know what I did wrong and am positive I can fix it on the second attempt, I'll make a second attempt. If not, I'll go somewhere else. If I screw up the second attempt, I'll go somewhere else. Never are more than two bites at the apple appropriate.

There's simply no excuse for a professional flight crew -- which we have to assume this was, since it was flying seemingly the entire top echelon of the Polish government -- to make four attempts to land at this location.

A final thought: Never place all the important people on the same airplane at the same time.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Great Southeast UCAP Meetup #2

Uncontrolled Roadways

After Saturday's Venice FL Meetup, the boys rolled out three of Jeb's motorcycles and went for a little ride.

Dave setup and took this pic. He calls it "Wild UCAP"

Saturday, April 10, 2010

UCAP at Sun 'n Fun

We'll be doing two regular episodes of the podcast while at Sun 'n Fun, and this year you'll be able to listen live as we record them.

Tuesday @ 6pm*
Sunday @ 10am*

You can listen to the podcast sessions, as well as ALL of Sun 'n Fun Radio's broadcast day, on the internet at

* times are approximate, subject to things like the ending time of the daily airshow, and Jeb's ability to get up on Sunday morning.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Business Aircraft: A Brief Treatise on the Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Consuming too much wire copy and short takes of news that come my way brings with it a near overload of information -- some of it actually useful and interesting for me, personally, professionally.

Such it was with a recent spate of stories with encouraging news about general aviation, both personal and business flying. Stabilizing prices for business-turbine aircraft, stronger sales of pre-owned, more people flying more hours, according to FAA's IFR numbers for business flying.

Love stuff like this, personally and professionally. Professionally, feels good to hear affirmation of what we can sense rumbling quietly in the firmament of flying. Hearing from more people interested, getting a sense that more are looking at buying their first airplane, something in the generic four-place piston-single range -- the biggest segment, numbers-wise.

Traveling with friends in a Citation Mustang recently reminded me of the wonders and convenience of all of general aviation, whether the personally piloted light-end jet, a corporate large-cabin bird or those simple, predominant piston singles.

AOPA and EAA extol the wonders and benefits of personal flying; NBAA accumulates a wealth of honest numbers about the time and, yes, cost efficiencies of putting company people on company company airplanes. And collectively the private aviation community can point out how the typical passengers on the typical business flight hails not from the boardroom but from the drawing board, technical-support warehouse or marketing bullpens.

Private airplanes even today help funnel supplies into disaster areas and rescue wounded from accident site; little airplane monitor our environment and help fight forest fires and catch crooks, and fly Mom, Dad and the kids to Gram and Gramps'.

Love seeing all this acknowledged and replayed with news that times are getting better.

After the hat-in-hand spectacle of The Big Three Detroit automakers before Congress in late 2008 helped transform a downturn into a drubbing, signs of reversal are choice.

These are the good things, the necessary things aircraft and their users should feel good about.

And then info on a different plane of business aviation comes onto the radar screen and the image that it planted in my brain is bad and the ugly -- rolled into one.

The story spoke of how recently a large bank declined to continue providing a top exec 120 hours of jet time per year, jet time apparently for personal use as opposed to business. Now giving aircraft access to key or otherwise qualified employees on their nickle doesn't strike me as a reputation spoiler when the involved staffer pays the freight -- in this case, that would have been just under $8,000 an hour. Cheap if you can afford it.

But the hours were a perk reportedly picked up by the company which, to add icing to this aeronautical slice of cake, also picked up the tax liability employees incur from such a perk. That's the bad.

This didn't play out in front of members of Congress; it didn't make the cable news stations -- yet those news outlets and many in business aviation know this sort of arrangement has been a routine aspect of compensation packages -- probably for as long as there have been business jets.

Even without the draw created by becoming front-page news, arrangements like this just plain make business aviation look suspect where it's otherwise legitimate.

Seems that some of these otherwise bright people, replete with degrees and accolades, would act smarter, make these arrangement unassailable for the company and the tool -- that business aircraft. But then comes the ugly -- the ramps full of company planes crowding airports in Louisville early next month and Indianapolis later in the month, as they did in Miami for Super Bowl and Daytona for, well, Daytona.

Too many users lack any hint of insight about the ugly with which they brush private aviation -- personal and business. That's not good.

Only we can overcome this degree of ugly, by remembering and reminding others of what's truly good about general aviation.

-- Dave