Unicom

June 1999 Issue




Peak Performance

Mountain winds can also help a climb if you know where to look

Thanks for the usual informative issue of Aviation Safety.

“No-Fly Zones” [April, Weather Tactics] was of special interest, as I fly in and about the Sierra Nevada Mountains most of the time, with home base at Reno Stead Airport.

There is one small addition that I would like to make to Ms. Lamb’s article. We should spend some time talking to our friends without engines, as they must pay attention to the air movements over the mountains.

At least some reading of the good books on that subject would be of benefit.

The accident over Independence Pass Lamb mentioned could have been avoided by using ridge lift to help.

A couple of years ago I stopped at Aspen for fuel in my old 180 hp Mooney and then headed east.

I started out to the west, riding the lift off of the ridges to the south of the field, then circled with the gliders in the area a for a couple of turns. I was able to cross the mountains above 14,000 feet. Remember to keep in touch with the Aspen tower, it works with the gliders, or at least it did then.

It helps to visualize air flow as similar to water flow. I was able to make a smooth but slow crossing of Donner Pass in my old Mooney last year. I was eastbound into an unusual 100-knot headwind. The cars on the freeway were passing me. By watching the snow blow off of the peaks, I kept out of what would have clearly been really rough air, downdrafts and rotors.

Keep up the good work!

-Lindley “Lin” Manning
Via e-mail

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Better Late Than Never
Your article on microscale weather was great, but 17 years too late for me.

In June 1982, I had my PA-11 Cub tied down on Biggs Army Airfield on the lee side of the mountains in El Paso. I got a call in the late afternoon from the tower saying there had been some damage, and to get out there right away.

I arrived to find my plane had been jerked out of its tie-down and thrown a good 50 yards down the apron. The wind and the plane had pulled the steel cables free from the “U” clamp that joined two of them together (My plane’s tie-downs connected to 1/2" steel cables running across the length of the tie-down apron onto which everyone attached their ropes).

The airplane’s wings were folded down around the nose of the airplane. The wind damaged other airplanes also. It sucked the windshield out of a 172, overturned a Cherokee, bent the ailerons on another airplane and tore the tie-down attach point out of the tail of another airplane.

The only airplane not damaged was a twin. Strangely, a metal trash can, half full with empty oil cans and sitting not more than 20 feet from the Cherokee, was still standing and untouched by the wind.

The whole event must have been caused by strong, westerly winds coming over the tops of the mountain and descending onto the airbase on the desert floor.

I shed some big tears over that total loss since the airplane had been restored just a few months before. I had it insured, but another restoration would have been cost prohibitive to me at the time.

-Mike Rigg
Greenville, SC

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Safe Mountain Flying Needs Prep
Ms. Lamb outlined well the hazards of high mountain flying in essentially good basic weather conditions. Filing IFR eliminates these hazards. But VFR or IFR, safety in the high country means crossing the ridges at the IFR minimum enroute altitudes.

Going through a pass 300 feet above the road and watching the land fall away rapidly may be exhilarating, but it is not safe.

Making do with a C-205 many years ago, I would begin the climb when flying westbound as far east as Thurman. That provided time to climb to 16,000 or 16,500, which was pretty close to the service ceiling of the Cessna, and to cross the ridges in cruise. It also provided time to assess visually the weather over the Divide as to the safety for VFR or a non-turbo engine.

Instrument departure plates show the safest routes out of mountain places like Aspen. They may be a little circuitous, but they’re safe.

But without a doubt, maintaining safety and some semblance of a schedule in high country flying requires turbocharging and a basic anti-ice prop and pitot. Even in the warmer seasons icing is not uncommon at the MEAs between Denver and Aspen.

Assess your equipment. Think about it. Do it right.

-William Lyons
Falls Church, Va.

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Share the Wealth
Margaret Lamb’s article describing micro weather incidents in the Rockies, was superb. Having some experience in mountain flying, I found that her article has given me new insights that I will apply to future flights.

The article is so good, it should be replicated in the popular aviation magazines, especially for pilots who fly in the western portion of the United States.

-Steve Gorman
Lotus, Calif.


We’re trying not to read too much into your statment that the article should be reprinted in popular avation magazines, but thanks for the kind words.

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Jepps Makes Some Errors, Too
I have just completed reading the article by Kimberly Sailor about errors in navigational charts [Instrument Check, April]. Errors can go on beyond just this medium.

I was studying for my practical test several months ago, using Jeppesen’s 1998 Private Pilot FAA Practical Test Study Guide when I read something that just didn’t seem right concerning VFR altitudes.

I checked FAR 91.159 and found that there was indeed an error in the Study Guide relating to magnetic heading vs. magnetic course. My flight school had an old 1997 Study Guide and I found the error in it also. I wrote to Jeppesen and the error is to be corrected in the 2000 printing.

It’s hard for me to believe that I was the first to find this error. I would like to encourage anyone who finds an error that could jeopardize safety to promptly notify the publisher of the material.

And when you’re flying VFR due north or south, stay alert for those pilots who “learned” the error.

-Hank Dowler
Orwigsburg, Pa.

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What You See May Not be What You Get
I just read your story about the King Air accident at CLT [Accident Probe, April].

It brought to mind an accident at Albany, N.Y., in Nov 1968. We were flying a leg in a CV440 on that evening, landing on runway 19 with a ceiling of 300 feet and 3/4 mile visibility, with a light northwest wind and temperatures in the high 30s.

At about the outer marker at 1,600 feet and about three miles from the runway, there appeared a runway all lit up at 12 o’clock low that looked as though all you had to do is squeeze off the power, flare and land.

I asked the co-pilot to stay on the gauges, since something didn’t look right, and not to look outside until I instructed him to do so. The runway stayed just ahead and under the airplane until we were near minimums, and then seemed to move into what I thought was the proper perspective. We continued from that point to a normal landing.

Needless to say that after shutting the engines down at the gate, I decided It was time to go on the wagon, or at least change brands.

When we taxied out to continue to New York the controllers gave us a delay. We were told that a Queen Air that was following us in to the field a few minutes ago had reported the marker but was now missing.

The Queen Air crashed into the Mohawk river a mile or so short of the runway 19.

I started flying in 1954 in a Piper J5 and spent more than 32 years as an airline pilot, with 28 in the left seat.

The strange refraction of light that I observed at ALB was the only instance of this particular type I experienced. But it does happen, and might explain why some of the crashes occur that are thought to have other reasons.

-Tom O’Connell
Wales, Maine

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‘Glider’ Account Not Quite Right
Bill Stanley writes [Unicom, April] in reference to the article “Gasping for Gas” [Airmanship, February] that an error was made in weight conversion rather than volume. Stanley also refers to this fuel exhaustion incident as having involved a 767, even though no aircraft type was mentioned in Milovan Brenlove’s article.

Either Stanley’s eyes are even sharper than those of a human being, or Brenlove is referring to a different incident.

In the Brenlove article it is stated that “an air carrier crew used to operating with liters calculated the fuel needed for their first flight in a new aircraft based upon that measurement” but that the aircraft “was serviced in the United States with gallons.”

We can not be sure what incident Brenlove is referring to, but since Stanley specifically mentions the B-767, we believe he assumes reference to be the infamous “Gimli Glider” belonging to Air Canada. If this is correct, the incident was slightly different than either person suggests.

Air Canada’s flight 143 was indeed a new 767; however, the crew was not making its first flight in the aircraft. The aircraft inbounded from Edmonton and was refueled in Montreal (not in the U.S.) for the return flight to Edmonton with an intermediate stop in Ottawa. Since the fuel gauges were inoperative (due to a loose wire and poor logic in the Honeywell system, a known problem at the time) fuel was loaded using a dipstick.

The conversion error was one related to multiplying liters (translated from centimeters on the dipstick) by the wrong conversion factor (1.77 instead of 0.8) which resulted in conversion to pounds rather than the assumed kilograms.

A contributing factor was that the 767 was Air Canada’s first aircraft type to use the metric (kilograms) fuel monitoring system (all other AC aircraft were using pounds at the time).

I believe Mr. Brenlove’s reference to airline and professional pilots seldom, if ever, running out of fuel is accurate. As Stanley points out however, there are exceptions. The Gimli Glider incident was one of these exceptions. Others include Republic Airlines, Pan Am, United and Avianca.

-Rae Willis
East Hanover, N.J.


Brenlove was, in fact, referring to the Air Canada flight. Thanks for setting the record straight on the details of event.

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Ask, and You Shall be Told
I keep re-learning that cultural differences in ATC phraseology bear watching.

Recent example, while en route recently from BUF to YYZ in IMC, ATIS advertised “ILS Runway 15 Left or Right” at YYZ. Toronto Center assigned a 320 heading and handed us off to Toronto Terminal.

The terminal controller acknowledged our check-in with: “15 Left.” It was not at all clear to me whether he meant us to turn 15 degrees left or was telling us to expect Runway 15 Left. I had the first officer call for clarification. The controller seemed put out but informed us that we should expect Runway 15 Left.

This was not that big a deal, but it does highlight the differences in the way business is conducted north of the border. The Canadian controllers tend to be less explicit in communicating with aircraft, and there are various terminology differences.

Bottom line: Listen to the words and ask for clarification if in doubt.

-W.W. Pfeifer
Knoxville, TN

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Dear Paul, Put a Sock in It
A comment on Paul Berge’s articles: Good information, but I would take the opposite view of Brian Heuckroth’s [and others’] admiration of Berge’s lighthearted humorous interjections.

Humor in small doses can be effective and entertaining, but when every third or fourth sentence is a joke of sorts, the effect is not only greatly diminished but is tiresome and childish.

-Morton Doran
Tucson, Ariz.


Humor is a personal taste, and not everyone likes the same flavor. Berge is quite capable of communicating with nary a quip in sight and, on occasion, actually does.

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Can the New Fuels; Stick With Lead
I have to concur with Mr. Pray that auto fuel is not as energy efficient as it was in the leaded days [Unicom, April].

Changing to unleaded fuel in a car designed for leaded will result in a drop in range of 10% and a further 10% if a catalytic converter is fitted.

Reading the EAA web page shows that the EAA is merely following government guidelines. A more educational trip would be to search for Benzene and MTBE as key words. The results will open your eyes.

Taking out the lead reduces the fuel’s octane, and modern high compression engines do not run well on it. A car must be re-tuned to recover some performance. Maybe this should also be done with airplane engines.

To restore the octane rating benzene is added. This is a poisonous, carcinogenic substitute and makes auto fuel dangerous to handle.

In California an even more dangerous additive, MTBE, is now starting to cause environmental damage. There is also anecdotal evidence that MTBE causes damage to fuel lines and connections, and vehicle fires are being blamed on this additive. Maybe this is something to be considered by pilots.

I am not against the use of auto fuel in light airplanes, but am against the type of auto fuel being provided. While the average motorist does not care too much what he puts in his tank, nor how much it costs, pilots certainly do. Maybe we, as a group, can influence our regulators and return to common sense.

-Graham Giles
Via e-mail


Benzene and MTBE are certainly dangerous additives, but lead isn’t exactly a pussycat, either. Sound public policy dictates that companies, governments and consumers strike a balance that treats each fairly. We think that whether it makes gas prices go up a few cents is largely irrelevant.