Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Underbelly of the Beast

Today was a first for the IFR Pilot. Seven-plus hours were spent crawling over the wreckage of a single-engine plane that, along with its owner, came to an ignominious end. It's in litigation, and we help represent one of the allegedly liable parties. Thus, I won't be sharing any details about the crash itself or the lawsuit, even though it's a matter of public record.

I was prepared for this to be an eye-opening experience. I've written numerous times about crashes in various Accident of the Week posts (note to self: start writing those again!). In general, it's an academic exercise, done principally for me to (a) have something to write about, and (b) to consider various situations and think actively about what I might do if ever presented with a similar scenario. I've been blessed that I have yet to know personally anyone who met their maker while flying, although the Vari-Eze crash in Lethbridge during The Great Alaska Adventure (tm) was close enough. But this was my first time up-close and personal crawling around what's left of a plane that smacked into the ground. Mind you, I'm only just the lawyer who dabbles in aviation. There was a roomful of experts to do the real investigating.

I had steeled myself for the experience of seeing the crumpled mass of aluminium, wires, and equipment that was once an airplane. I particularly dreaded the prospect of seeing any lingering blood from the pilot. It would be an all-too-acute reminder that, for once, this wasn't just an academic exercise. It was real, with tangible effects for all involved.

Turns out that the latter fear was misplaced. There was no sign of blood, probably because most of the instrument panel had been removed during a previous inspection.

So, all was good for a while. It started to became another somewhat academic exercise. Taking in the various things that the people whose business accident reconstruction is were saying. Really, it's amazing to see how they can deduce, infer, and postulate about what was happening based on various dents, scratches, and the like.

The reality that someone had perished in this aircraft, however, was brought back with a vengeance in the blink of an eye. While moving some wires and other items in the cockpit, I came across a blue nitrile glove. Now, maybe it was deposited there during a prior inspection. In the instant that I saw it, however, all I could think was that it was left there when EMS responded to the scene of the crash and learned that nothing could be done for the pilot.

Faithful readers, we all accept the proposition that there is risk in aviation. Just like there is risk in anything else we choose to do in life, whether it's skydiving or crossing the street.

As I confided in one of our experts, however, I don't ever want a dozen or more lawyers, engineers, and accident reconstruction experts combing over the wreckage of an aircraft that I was piloting. Ever.

No, I'm not giving up the aviation game. I am, however, redoubling my commitment to be a safe pilot, whether flying solo or with others aboard. No more abbreviated pre-flight inspections. No more skipping calling for a weather briefing, even if I've gotten a computer briefing. More rigorous scanning for traffic, both as PIC and safety pilot. More regular perusal of Mike Hotel's POH so that I can know everything about the plane that I'm flying. All the little things that I can do to try and minimize risk.

Won't you all do the same, so that someday I don't have to comb through your wreckage too?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Live, From the First State

The IFR Pilot is resting comfortably at the Hampton Inn in Dover, Delaware. It was a bit of an adventure getting to Dover, DE:

4:00 leave office
4:30 arrive at local international airpot
4:40 get half naked to prove I'm not a terrorist (editorial: remember when jet travel was glamorous, not borderline demeaning)
4:50 purchase snacks (editorial: remember when you used to get more than 2 small packages of peanuts and a cup of pop?)
5:00 arrive at gate and secure place near the front of the eventual "Group B" departure line
5:50 get called to board
6:00 get allowed on board
6:30 pushback, 10 minutes late
6:32 takeoff
7:16 landing at BWI
8:00 rental car secured
8:20 on the highway
8:40 wish I could see what the Bay Bridge looks like, but it's very, very dark out
8:50 bored, start calling friends on the cell phone, thank goodness for the ear piece
9:30 first wrong turn, quickly corrected
9:45 second wrong turn, not so quickly corrected
10:00 hotel located confirmed
10:10 dinner location secured
11:00 check in
12:00 got to bed

When it should have been:

4:00 leave office
5:00 arrive at The Home Base, preflight and fuel Mike Hotel
5:30 takeoff
8:00 land in Delaware
8:30 taxi drops me off at hotel
9:00 dinner secured
10:30 bed

Oh well. In retrospect, it probably would have been safe to make the flight today. We burst through the clouds in about 15 seconds and were on top until the undercast completely dissipated. Better luck next time.

By the way, Delaware is very, very flat and sparsely populated.

Monday, February 26, 2007


Once again, Momma Nature interferes with the IFR Pilot's plan to use the aircraft for work-related purposes. As a result, I will be jammed into the Cattle Car (otherwise known as Southwest Airlines) for the trip to Baltimore, followed by a 2-hour drive to Delaware. This should be really joyful.

Here's a trivia question for you pundits: Is Delaware the only state in the United States that is not accessible by commercial airline service? To my knowledge, it is.

Update: I was wrong. From the Wikipedia entry for Wilmington, Delaware:

From 1991 through 1998 and again from 2000 to 2006, the state of Delaware was the only state in the union without any scheduled commercial flights in or out of the state. Shuttle America flew out of New Castle as an independent carrier from the airline's founding in November 1998 until February 2000. They offered service to Hartford, Buffalo, and Norfolk, using the 50-seat Dash 8-300 turboprop aircraft. Shuttle America would eventually discontinue its independent operations and become a commuter affiliate of United Express and Delta Connection. Prior to Shuttle America, the last scheduled service was provided to Parkersburg, West Virginia by USAir Express carrier Crown Airways in 1992-1993. United Airlines also served Wilmington, leaving in 1991.

The airport has one terminal, which served only car rental agencies during the time the airport did not have commercial air service. On June 29, 2006, Delta Air Lines began new services from Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to New Castle Airport, making it the first commercial air service in six years. Delta Connection carrier Atlantic Southeast Airlines operates the service using 40-seat CRJ regional jets, with two daily roundtrip flights.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Knockin' Off The Rust

We convened at the hangar at the appointed time, two junkies ready for their fix. Recalling the last time they defied the law of gravity and took to the sky, this time they resolved to avoid all supercooled large droplets and the pandemonia they brought down on your protagonists.

The new Aero-Therm heater was doing its job quite nicely, and the engine, while not quite warm to the touch, didn't evidence outside temperatures that we still well below OoC. The snow drifts on either side of the hangar apron, however, still needed tending to, so we got our work out there.

After loading 40 gallons of 100LL, we blasted off with MS in the left seat and a brand new pair of $25 Foggles ready for the torture that was to come his way. Being a masochist, we not only wanted all of the flying duties, he wanted the radio duties as well. That left the IFR Pilot to practice his nascent CFI-in-training skills (otherwise known as "harass your partner to no end").

Snow still everywhere, but great visibility:

MS performed suitably well on the ILS 1 at CAK, though his decision to eschew slowing down in favor of flying the approach at 120 knots provided suitable fodder for harassment. Especially when he had trouble staying on the localizer. It's a bit easier when you're moving 30% slower, cappy.

Second time around was a charmer, and we made a touch and go of it. Both passes gave us a nice view of Reverend Ernest Angely's B-747 that is stored on an unused taxiiway at CAK. Rumors to the contrary, televangalism apparently still has its perqs.

Crummy picture to prove we really did see the jet:

(Better picture here.)

Anyway, after the ILS's, it was off to AKR for the GPS 25. We're still pounding out the nuances of GPS approaches on the GX-50, which mostly consists of MS swearing at it and demanding that we rip it out mid-flight and print enough money in the basement shop to afford the replacement 430, coupled to the STEC 55 autopilot, of course.

Then, it was time to swap seats and let the IFR Pilot do the aviating. Being lazy, I offloaded communications to MS and just concentrated on the flying. Three approaches were in order: GPS 19 at 3G4, with the full procedure turn; ILS 32 at MFD; and GPS 10 to BJJ, full stop. The only item of note was to make sure that we made our takeoff from AKR before The Blimp turned final, as it looked like it was headed home. (Sorry, none of those pictures turned out worth a darn, even with the trusty new Olympus EVOLT 550 DSLR.)

Then, it was a quick trip home. Now, the IFR Pilot is ready for Tuesday's anticipated trip to Delaware. Tomorrow, we'll see if we can negotiate landing rights at Dover Air Force Base. Supposedly, there's a civil air terminal there. We shall see, we shall see.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Panhandle Hook

This evening's METAR from the local Class B airport:

140151Z 03020KT 1/2SM SN BLSN VV003 M10/M13 A2986 RMK AO2 PK WND 04028/0054 SLP124 P0005 T11001128

For those not in the know, that can be translated as follows (go here for a quick decoder guide):

Winds: 030 at 20 knots
Visibility: 1/2 mile with snow and blowing snow
Vertical Visibility: 300 feet (that's right, kids, clouds down to 300 feet AGL, wanna bet they are using the Cat II ILS? Maybe even Cat III?)
Temperature: -10 C
Dew Point: -13 C
Altimeter: 29.86" Hg
  • A02: automated station with precipitation descriminator.
  • Peak Wind: 040 at 28 knots at 54 minutes after the hour
  • Sea Level Pressure: 1124 hecopascals
  • Hourly Precipitation Amount: 5/100"
  • Hourly Temperature and Dewpoint: -10.0 C, -12.8
What's a GA pilot to do when those are the prevailing conditions and you can't bring yourself to crack open the Commerical Pilot Oral Exam Guide? Why, you update the blogroll of fellow Blogging Pilots! Check it for yourself.

Mike Hotel: The Gouge

In preparation for the commerical oral (way, way down the road), the IFR Pilot scoured the Net for a summary description of the various systems on a Piper Arrow. Lo and behold, an excellent summary was found, which has now been modified to reflect the nuances of Mike Hotel.

Usual warnings apply: This may or may not reflect anything about your Piper Arrow, so if you copy it, you do so at your own risk and you can't sue me ever. Blah, blah, blah.

Systems Summary N72MH
1979 Piper PA28RT-201 Arrow IV
(Serial Number 28R-79 18008)

[1] Landing Gear

  • Hydraulically operated, fully retractable, tricycle landing gear
  • Reversible (actuated in one direction – raises gear; actuated in other direction – lowers gear) electrically powered pump
  • Lights: 3 green lights on indicates down and locked; all lights out indicate retracted; yellow “in transit” light on the panel; red “gear unsafe” light on the panel
    • Caution: lights dim substantially when navigation lights are on; this renders them invisible in most daylight conditions
  • Retraction speed: ≤ 109 KIAS; extension speed: ≤ 130 KIAS
  • Nosewheel steering linkage disengages after retraction to reduce rudder pedal load
  • Nose steerable through 30 degree arc; equipped with shimmy dampener
  • Oleo strut extensions: 2.75” ± 0.25” nose, 2.50” ± 0.25” main under empty weight and full fuel/oil
  • Numbers
    • Extension/retraction time: 7 seconds
    • Tire size: 5.00 x 5 nose (four ply with tube), 6.00 x 6 mains (six with tube)
    • Tire pressure: 30 psi nose, 27 psi mains [CONFIRM THESE]
  • Emergency extension
    • Extension speed: 87 KIAS or below
    • Hold the emergency gear lever switch in the down position
    • Raise emergency gear lever to OVERRIDE ENGAGED position
    • Extension is accomplished by manually releasing hydraulic pressure; gear free-falls; nose gear is assisted in free-fall/lock by a spring
    • If gear does not indicate down and locked, yaw the airplane side to side
  • Auto extender system
    • Extension speed: 75 KIAS 95 KIAS, depending on power/altitude
    • Operates on a sensing device controlled by differential air pressure
    • High pressure source and static source are mounted on left side of the fuselage above the wing; this mast is heated when Pitot Heat is turned on
    • Override
      • Raise the emergency gear lever to the up position and latch in
      • Should be overridden for: maximum glide, short field takeoffs, and practice stalls with gear up
      • Override condition indicated by flashing yellow light below gear handle
  • Warning system: activated by micro-switches in the throttle quadrant
    • Steady sound; red “gear unsafe” light
    • Activated under the following conditions:
      • Gear up and power below approx. 14” MP
      • When the auto extender system extends the gear and the gear handle is in the raised position
      • Gear handle in the raised position when on the ground
    • Mast is heated when pitot heat is activated
  • Squat switch on the right main gear prevents gear retraction while on the ground

[2] Brakes

  • Brake pedals on the pilot’s and co-pilot’s sides
  • Individual cylinders for toe brakes and the hand brake; shared brake reservoir
  • Separate controls for brakes for left and right main gears
  • Single disc, single puck brakes on the main gears
  • Brake fluid reservoir located in the upper left corner of the front side of the firewall; fill with MIL-H-5606 hydraulic brake fluid (red)

[3] Engine, Oil, and Induction

  • Engine type: four cylinder, horizontally opposed, air-cooled, direct drive, fuel injected Lycoming IO-360-C1C6
  • Engine TBO: 2,000 hours
  • Maximum 200 brake horsepower at 2,700 rpm; max recommended cruise is 75%
  • Oil cooler installed; air inlet for oil cooler is on the right side of the cowling; air exhaust is next to the main engine exhaust
    • Oil cooler restrictor plate to be installed when operating temperatures are below 50oF
  • Oil capacity: 8 quarts
  • Bendix RSA-5AD1 fuel injector
    • Operates on differential pressure
    • Fuel pressure regulated by a servo valve
    • Fuel flow divider receives metered fuel and distributes it to each cylinder
    • Fuel flow instrument connected to the flow divider
  • Alternate induction air door opens automatically when the primary air source is obstructed; this can be tested from the cabin during run-up
  • Primary induction air source should always be used for takeoff
  • Oil warning light on annunciator panel

[4] Propeller

  • McCauley three-blade constant-speed, controllable-pitch propeller (installed pursuant to STC)
  • Propeller governor relies on oil pressure: when RPM is decreased, the oil from the engine enters the propeller dome, thus moving the piston and a sliding arm to cause the propeller to take a bigger bite of air (consequently, a drop in oil pressure is observed)
  • Loss of engine oil will cause propeller overspeed

[5] Fuel

  • Two 38.5 gal. tanks; usable capacity in each tank is 36 gal. (total of 72 gal. usable fuel)
  • Engine driven fuel pump; auxiliary electric pump used for priming and when the engine driven pump fails
    • Electric pump should be on when switching fuel tanks and during takeoffs and landings
  • Three fuel drains: one for each tank and one for the fuel strainer (on left side of firewall)
  • Fuel tanks are individually vented by vent tube protruding below bottom of wing at rear inboard corner of each tank
  • Gauges: individual fuel level gauges for each tank; a single fuel pressure gauge connected to the induction system

[6] Electrical

  • Alternator: quantity – one; 14-volt, 60-amp
    • Incorporates a voltage regulator and an overvoltage relay; alternator will go offline at 16.5 volts output and up
    • Full power output even at low engine RPM
  • Battery: quantity – one; 12-volt, 25-amp hour
    • Located behind the baggage compartment for W&B purposes
  • Ammeter shows total electrical load placed on the system
  • Circuit breakers protect major electrical accessories
  • Piper External Power plug located on the right side of the fuselage behind the wing
  • Loss of alternator indicated by zero reading on the ammeter
    • Also, there is an alternator warning light on the annunciator panel
    • Can also verify using Garmin 396

[7] Vacuum

  • Operates attitude indicator and directional gyro
  • Single dry-type vacuum pump; shear drive protects the pump from damage
  • Vacuum gauge mounted on the instrument panel; normal reading is 5.0 ± 0.1 in. Hg, but may read lower at very high altitudes (above 12,000 feet)
  • Vacuum regulator located behind instrument panel protects the gyro instruments
  • Up to 2000 rpm may be required to obtain full vacuum pump suction

[8] Environmental

  • Three cabin air inlets – one on each wing and one in the horizontal stabilizer
  • Major heating components: heat shroud, heat ducts, defroster outlets, heating and defrosting controls
  • Opening in front of lower cowl admits ram air into heater shroud; air is ducted into heater shutoffs on the right and left side of the firewall
  • Overhead and floor mounted fresh air vents
  • Cabin air exhaust through an outlet at the bottom of the fuselage aids in air distribution
  • Cabin air fan available on lower right side of panel (red toggle switch, up for on, down for off)
    • Switch must be “off” for takeoff and landing

[9] Pitot-Static

  • Pitot-static mast located on the left wing; incorporates a pitot tube hole (front of the mast), a pitot drain hole (bottom of the mast), and a static port (rear of the mast)
  • Separate high-pressure and static sources for the automatic gear extender located on the left side of the fuselage above the wing
  • Pitot heat provides heating for the pitot-static mast and the high pressure/static source for the automatic gear extender
  • Airspeed indicator can compute TAS
    • Place pressure altitude over OAT and read white portion of window

[10] Major Avionics Components & Flight Controls

  • Vacuum-driven directional gyro and attitude indicator
  • Electric standby attitude indicator in place of turn coordinator – does not display the rate of roll
    • Replacement of turn coordinator authorized pursuant to TSO
    • Has an inclinometer to show quality of turn
  • Airspeed indicator, altimeter, and vertical speed indicator driven by pitot-static system
    • Alternate static source switch located below the pilot’s control wheel
  • Electric pitch trim; disengaged by a circuit breaker on lower right side of panel
  • Piper Autocontrol IIIb autopilot
    • To turn off, push the ON/OFF switch on the autopilot or turn the master off
    • Autopilot must be off for takeoff and landing
    • Autopilot use prohibited above 200mph CAS
    • Lower toggle switch selects nav source (up = GPS, middle = NAV1, lower = NAV 2)

[11] Emergency Locator Transmitter

  • Located in the tailcone
  • Access is via a panel on the right side of the fuselage

Monday, February 12, 2007

Stag Flight

It appears that MS and the IFR Pilot will be joining a cadre of lads from the Home Base on the Annual "Stag Flight." This will be the first time either of us have been able to manipulate our schedules to join.

The current working plan is to depart the Home Base on Friday morning, destination: Panama City, Florida (5.5 hours direct in Mike Hotel). Specifically, we will be hitting Tyndall Air Force Base, home of the 325th Fighter Wing, for its Open House / Air Show. Notworthy is that there is no charge for attending the Open House / Air Show. We'll return on Sunday.

Should be a good time. The fact that it's Spring Break time in Panama City, and that our hotel is on the water, has absolutely nothing to do with our decision to attend. That's our story and we're sticking to it. (Stay tuned for pictures...)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Planning Ahead

Having now been through the process of getting the private and instrument tickets, the IFR Pilot is a bit more educated about how to maximize the effectiveness of the training process.

For example, it is now apparent that having chosen the airport closest to home (and the office) for private training was not the best choice. Given its downtown location, it was -- and remains -- a very convenient location. Occasional lunch time flights were a great way to break up the monotony of the practice of law.

It was only much later that I realized that any training flight that involved flight maneuvers required a fairly lengthy commute to and from the practice area. It had to have been between .2 to .3 hours each way. Sure, maybe that doesn't sound like much. But add that up on virtually every flight that was anything more than touch and goes in the pattern and we're talking a lot of added time and money (aircraft about $110 an hour, instructors at $40) that perhaps could have been better spent.

When it came time to do the instrument rating, the IFR Pilot started trekking down to the Home Base, where MS got his private ticket. Planes were much more reasonable (say $50 or so and hour, and instruction, at $17 an hour, was an outright steal).

But not much effort was put into the selection of an instructor. MS and I both wanted to work with the old salt that got MS his private. But he wasn't a Double-I at the time. He recommended us to a new-to-the-school CFII, and we both used her. Her instructional skills were fine, but she also had the uncanny ability to start a conversation in the cockpit just as ATC was about to issue a revised clearance. When you're just getting your feet wet in instrument training, that can be a huge challenge.

Anyway, now the IFR Pilot stands on the cusp of starting training for the commercial and CFI. But there will be no haphazard instruction here. Whoever works with the IFR Pilot on this is going to have a clear plan for how we're going to get from Point A to Point B. While the instruction process isn't always entirely linear and we can't predict every nuance of the process, the idea here is that we're going to have a clear strategy for how to get this done effectively and efficiently.

So, Saturday at 4:00, the lead candidate gets interviewed. I've done instrument refresher flights with JD, and he also issued the IFR Pilot's complex endorsement just before we acquired Mike Hotel last year. He can be quite demanding in terms of what he expects you to know, but that something I think is desirable here. I don't want to lolly-gag through this like the private, which took over a year. I want to hit it hard and get it done, just like I did with the written. Given that virtually all of the experience requirements have been met, we should be able to devise a structured plan for how to cover the required maneuvers.

We shall see how this goes.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

So You Want To Be A Commercial Pilot

Pass the FAA knowledge exam? CHECK

Access to a complex aircraft? CHECK

Meet the minimum experience requirements? CHECK (well, almost)

Second class medical? CHECK THAT, CAPPY!

Yes, indeed, the IFR Pilot is now the proud owner of an FAA second class medical. Concerns about blood pressure (thanks, crappy machine at the grocery store) were misplaced, as it came out 124/80. Not perfect, but good enough.

Concerns about the ulcer were also misplaced. It helps to have a nice letter from your gastro doctor stating: "Condition healed. Patient is asymptomatic."

Of all things, however, your trusty narrator almost got tripped up on the vision test. For a second class medical, you need vision corrected to 20/20. Apparently, on the first run through, the result was corrected to 20/30. We re-did it in a more conventional manner (standard Snellen chart), as opposed to the whacky "which of the four circles inside the diamond is not broken?" that they used initially.

All we need now are decent temperatures and the IFR Pilot will set about completing the outstanding experience requirements: (a) an additional 1.4 night hours, (b) a 200 NM night-VFR cross-country with a CFI, and (c) training for the required maneuvers.

2007's goal #1 is definitely in sight and on schedule!!!

Friday, February 02, 2007

Prepare for the Storm

According to an e-mail from the NTSB that was in the IFR Pilot's In Box yesterday afternoon, the Board plans on Monday at 11:00 a.m. to release "a series of factual reports" on the Cory Lidle accident from last fall. Y'all remember that one, right? The flightseeing tour that went awry.

No doubt Monday afternoon and evening, we'll be pelted with the opinions of the various aviation safety "experts," who will devour the data and posit on what happened, what went wrong, how this could have been avoided, etc.

The Board's e-mail cautions, however, that the released material will contain any analysis from the Board's professional staff:
The information being released is factual in nature and does not provide any analysis. It will include investigative group factual reports, interview transcripts, and other documents from the investigation. Additional material will be added to the docket as it becomes available. Analysis of the accident, along with conclusions and a determination of probable cause, will come at a later date when the final report on the investigation is completed.
So, be prepared for the media storm on Monday.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Private Pilot Oral Exam

In what has to be on the largest video files I've ever seen on Google Video, here's a private pilot oral examination. It looks to be from about 10 years ago, some some of the regulations may be a bit different now. Still, for those of you fretting about what the oral is like, this is good stuff.

Now, if only I could find the same thing for the commerical ticket...

No Joy

We didn't get to fly the Cirrus today. But I learned quite a bit about the fractional ownership company. And I got to sit in the SR-22 GTS that took the salesman 27 minutes to fly from Columbus to Cleveland.

Man, I gotta get me one of those after I'm done spending the rest of my lottery winnings!

Note to Self

The 2007 privately-owned vehicle reimbursement rate for airplanes as established by our friends at the IRS is $1.07 per mile.

Source here.

Playing Hookey

Normally, the IFR Pilot eats his lunch pretty close to 12:00 p.m. Today, however, lunch is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. That's when he'll be stealing away to test fly a Cirrus SR22 from a piston fractional operator that is trying to expand operations into our neck of the woods.

I'll do my best to follow some advice given to me last night by Pilot-In-Training: Don't drool on the leather. Roger, wilco!