March 2015

Pireps and ATC Prompts

Subscribers Only - Real data is always better than a forecast. Even though Pireps contain only a tiny amount of information, they can be invaluable. Since I fly in the vacant Western U.S., having very few current Pireps is normal for the airports I fly into. Instead, I keep a list of various ATC facilities’ phone numbers.

Weather Models: There’s an App for That

Subscribers Only - I recently discovered an app called Deep Weather, which has helped me better understand what forecasters are thinking about the forecast models they use to predict weather conditions. The app compiles data from U.S. National Weather Service forecast discussions. Following along can often provide additional clues for the reader about not just what is in the forecast, but why and how confident the forecasters are. The discussions are amended and updated throughout the day, and often are quirky and colorful.

Stall Before Failure

Subscribers Only - One of the ideas behind slowing down to penetrate turbulence is to avoid stressing or breaking the airframe. Depending on the turbulence—wind gusts, not necessarily in the horizontal plane—can change the wing’s angle of attack abruptly, create airframe loads. Consider the wing depicted below, in smooth, level air (no gusts) and a relatively low angle of attack (AoA—the angle between the chord line and the relative wind):

In The Belly Of The Beast

Subscribers Only - You should never, ever, ever, fly into a thunderstorm. If you’re even thinking about it, you probably have a whole different set of problems, and there may be no choice. With that in mind, here are some suggestions on how to keep things pointed in the right direction—and the wings on—adopted from the FAA’s Advisory Circular AC 00-24C, Thunderstorms.

Eyes On the Skies

Subscribers Only - Yes, Virginia, way back when Loran was a “thing,” there were Flight Service Stations (FSS) with trained weather observers scattered throughout the U.S. When you called for a weather briefing, you actually talked to someone with forensic knowledge about the local weather. Not only could they interpret the aviation forecast products for you, they could put down the phone and walk outside, and tell you if it was raining. They had the kind of information that doesn’t make it into forecasting products.

Valley of the Fogs

Subscribers Only - On a recent trip to Richland, Wash. (KRLD), my destination was forecast to have ceilings at 900 feet at the time of my arrival. That is doable IFR for me if there is no ice. During my TAF trend analysis, I saw that both Moses Lake, Wash. (KMWH), and Pendleton, Ore. (KPDT), had TAFs predicting VFR conditions, making them legal IFR alternates. I chose Pendleton because it was more convenient.

Protected Airspace For Circling Approaches

Subscribers Only - As noted in this article’s main text, the FAA recently revised its criteria describing how much airspace is required to perform the circling maneuver. The new criteria consider the altitude at which the aircraft is circling. The higher the altitude, the greater the true airspeed when circling at the same indicated airspeed, and thus the greater the turn radius, which makes expanding the protected airspace desirable. The downside? Many minimum descent altitudes for circling approaches will be going up. The two tables below compare the previous criteria to the new.

NTSB's Probable Cause Statement

Subscribers Only - We looked at details of the five accidents summarized above for this article. There are others we could have chosen, with different lessons. One thing that jumped out at us: Simple singles weren’t well-represented. Is that because a simple single, say, a Cessna 172, is more maneuverable and better suited to completing a circling approach than an Aerostar? Possibly. But it’s also possible pilots don’t fly simple singles into conditions low enough to require circling as often as they do other airplanes.

Remember The Miss

Subscribers Only - One of the ways a circling approach can go awry is when pilots get in over their heads and lose track of how to fly the missed approach procedure to get out of their situation. Even though the airport environment is in sight, it doesn’t mean we always can reach the runway out of a circling-to-land maneuver. When it’s time to admit defeat and go around for another try, reorienting one’s thinking to find the approach procedure’s final approach course and then follow the missed approach can be daunting.

Reconstructing The Data

Subscribers Only - According to the NTSB, “Data downloaded from the primary and multifunction cockpit displays indicate that the engine began steadily losing oil pressure during the airplane’s initial climb until it leveled off at a cruise altitude of 5000 feet msl. Data suggest that, at that time, the pilot leaned the fuel mixture for cruise flight. Although the pilot could have detected the decreasing oil pressure at that time, [s]he did not report a loss of fuel pressure and engine power to the air traffic controller until about six minutes later.

Why Va Usually Is Too Fast

Subscribers Only - You’ve probably seen something like the chart above before in your studies. It’s known variously as a V-G diagram, gust diagram or simply an airplane’s flight envelope. From it, we can determine the g-loading the represented airplane will experience when accelerated beyond 1G at various airspeeds. For example, the airplane depicted may suffer structural damage at 200 mph if it encounters conditions leading to a 4G loading. Those conditions can include pilot input, turbulence or some combination.

How do you stack up?

Subscribers Only - Are your own proficiency levels where you want them to be? Take a close look at your own unique situation and decide if changes are needed in your own ongoing proficiency program.

What’s It Doing Now?

Subscribers Only - In this photo of my former Bonanza’s panel, top, you can see it includes analog instruments along with VOR- and ADF-based nav systems, and a lone portable GPS on the yoke. Most of it operated intuitively and without the need to navigate various sub-menus. Even the airplane’s sophisticated-for-its-day Century IV autopilot with yaw damper is relatively simple to operate.

Planning for Currency and Proficiency

Subscribers Only - When I began flying again, in a rental aircraft, I resolved to avoid just boring holes in the air and instead try to maintain my skills through deliberate exposure to the entire operating environment. That meant I would try to maintain my instrument currency and proficiency and stay familiar with the IFR system. I came up with what I call an “events-based” program.

Garmin’s Flightstream

Subscribers Only - Garmin’s Flightstream 110/210 is the hardware side of the company’s Connext wireless Bluetooth technology, which provides an interface between the company’s panel-mounted avionics—the GNS- and GTN-series navigators—and the pilot’s tablet-based EFB app, as pictured. On a tablet, the benefits of Connext are only available when running Garmin’s Pilot app, which is available for iOS and Android devices.

Aspen Avionics

Subscribers Only - The basic architecture of Aspen Avionics’ Connected Panel networked cockpit is depicted at left, courtesy the company. Wireless equipment in the cockpit is nothing new, but it rarely was “connected” to anything other than audio.

Hardware/Software Compatibility

Subscribers Only - As the FAA’s ADS-B network stands up, anyone with an appropriate receiver can obtain its free traffic and weather information services, TIS-B and FIS-B, available via ADS-B IN. Mix in some software, and we can display the results on a tablet’s moving map using only a portable receiver, often resulting in better situational awareness than when relying only on what’s in the panel.

Do I Really Want A Tablet Running This Circus?

Subscribers Only - It’s no secret among operators and the industry that some of the more interesting recent avionics advances have come not from the established manufacturers but from upstarts developing tablet-based apps and selling portable ADS-B receivers to feed them data. Along the way, there’s been a bright line preventing portable devices from providing data to installed avionics aboard certified aircraft, but technologies like Garmin’s Connext and Aspen’s Connected Panel are starting to blur it.

Open Source?

Unless you've been living under a rock the last few years, you're probably familiar with the proliferation of tablet computers in the cockpit. The hardware's display quality and processing capabilities, combined with innovative software, have all but eliminated paper charts and getting lost.

Using The Rudder

I thoroughly enjoy reading Aviation Safety and its professional articles. Having said that, I was surprised to read the questionable advice by Michael Banner in his article, “Proper Rudder Use” (October 2014).

Proficiency Levels

Subscribers Only - Am I ready for this flight? That’s the question I found myself asking when I decided to resume flying in a rental aircraft after a six-month lapse. This was after selling the V35B Bonanza I’d owned for eight years. Since I was due for a flight review anyway, I engaged an instructor and got checked out to fly a Cessna 172 from a local flight school. I was comfortable flying the Skyhawk after only an hour and three landings, despite not having flown in six months. That certainly wouldn’t be the case for all the aircraft I’m rated in: The last time I flew a jet was more than seven years ago.

Where’s The Remote?

Subscribers Only - Believe it or not, it’s been only five years next month since the first iPad was released. Even though it sometimes seems the tablet computers were developed for aviation use, it’s been even less time since they were first used in a cockpit. The fact is many pilots these days can’t imagine life without a tablet computer of some sort enhancing their situational awareness or displaying a needed chart. And as more and more performance, capability and convenience were shoehorned into them, it was just a matter of time before they were embraced by avionics manufacturers.

Turbulence Targets

Subscribers Only - There I was, sliding down from my cruising altitude toward my VFR destination, still 30 or so miles out. It had been a smooth ride, and Otto was following a heading and descending at the selected 400 fpm. I had let the power come up during the descent, along with airspeed. The big Continental in front of me was rumbling along at about 25 squared, still leaned for cruise altitude, and airspeed was well into the indicator’s yellow arc, That’s when it got bumpy. Too bumpy.

Weather Forensics

Subscribers Only - As I accelerated to 60 knots, I was already picking up a load of ice. It coated the windscreen and formed a thickening layer on the leading edges, I knew I’d made the right decision. Instead of flying, I was driving. My car was icing up. The day before, the takeoff forecast was for marginal VMC: a ceiling at 2500 feet agl. My destination’s morning fog layer was to break up at 10 a.m. local and be replaced by scattered clouds at 15,000 ft. Wanting to do this trip VFR-only, the picture was for marginal conditions at departure but trending toward good VMC.

Incomplete Circles

Subscribers Only - Not all approach procedures are aligned with the runway on which we want to land. Once we have it in sight, to get from the procedure’s missed approach point (MAP) to the desired runway, we may need to maneuver well within 1000 feet agl in low visibility, and do it at a relatively low airspeed to remain within airspace protected from obstacles. It’s called circling to land, and is one of IFR’s red-headed stepchildren: a visual maneuver, with IFR constraints. Sadly, a few of us each year prang airplanes while circling to a runway after an approach. To learn more about how and why, we looked at a collection of recent accidents during circling maneuvers. They all seem to have a few things in common, like banking too steeply in turns and letting the airplane descend too early.


Subscribers Only - I don’t recall if it was a checkride, or just a flight with a friendly instructor putting me through some maneuvers. At some portion during it, however, the right-seater asked me what the single engine’s oil pressure was reading. It must have been a frustrating ride for me, because I responded with something like, “I guess it’s still in the green, because the engine hasn’t quit, but I’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to look.” My response didn’t go over well, but we both may have learned something from it.

NTSB Reports: March 2015

Subscribers Only - Recent general aviation and air carrier accidents

Tree-Top Flyer

I was flying my Cessna T210 Turbo Centurion from White Plains, N.Y. (KHPN), to Atlanta’s Dekalb-Peachtree Airport (KPDK). Thanks to a supplementary tank, I had enough fuel to make the flight with an hour's reserve. Before takeoff, I had watched the line crew fill the fuel tanks to overflowing.


Subscribers Only - The following information is derived from the FAA’s Service Difficulty Reports and Aviation Maintenance Alerts.