Unicom

April 2001 Issue




Youthful Peril

Young instructors can’t be stereotyped, but there really is no substitute for experience

I read the angry letter “Young & In Charge” from CFI Ben Wielenga [Unicom, February]. He clearly has a point about the error of stereotyping all young CFIs as lacking certain training qualities, but your editor’s comments are right on point in indicating the excessive increase in the fatal accident rate while the age and experience of the flight instructors has decreased.

I am a 1000-hour, instrument-rated pilot and former owner of a very nice 1981 Cessna 210. I have read your newsletter for many years and passed archive copies on to two of my younger brothers as they became interested in learning to fly. Unfortunately for my youngest brother Steve, who had approximately 200 hours and an instrument rating but fewer than 20 hours in a twin and fewer than 25 in complex aircraft, he was not careful enough in following your frequent words of caution relating to selecting instructors.

His flight instructor and the FBO that provided almost all of Steve’s training were less careful than that. A few months ago, while practicing slow flight maneuvers in anticipation of a check ride at the end of the week, Steve was killed in a 1968 Baron B-55B. The flight instructor also paid the ultimate price.

The 31-year-old CFI apparently had fewer than 1000 hours total time, had very few hours in a twin and had a dream to be a commercial airline pilot. She convinced my brother that he should get his twin experience at the same time he got his commercial. In retrospect, her sales pitch seems more aimed at her own career desires to build multi time than in any sport aviation desires Steve may have had.

She permitted an old Baron in slow flight configuration to auger in from 2500 feet agl. This accident was in clear air, excellent visibility and no known identifiable mechanical problems. A logical explanation is that the airspeed dangerously deteriorated, while there was quite possibly differential power being applied from the engines.

Since intentional stalls, and especially differential power stalls in slow flight, are a well-known hazardous maneuver in the old small-tailed Barons, it seems reasonable to presume that my brother would be alive today had he had the benefit of an instructor who knew the airplane well.

Mr. Wielenga asks for respect for CFIs. But in light of these and similar tragic circumstances that are all too familiar, the better call is to recognize and to correct the continuing deficiencies in general aviation flight training and to require CFIs and FBOs to earn our respect through honest training and honest concern for the trainees.

-Michael Hollenhorst
Orono, Minn.


Our sincere condolences on your brother’s misfortune. The Catch-22 of flight training is that all instructors have to start somewhere. Perhaps with more professional working conditions, instructors (and their charges) would be more insulated from the pressures of building flight time and pressing forward on tasks for which they are unprepared.

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One Man’s Shortcut ...
As a fairly low-time pilot but long-time subscriber to Aviation Safety, I crave information in any area in which I may be deficient. (And, of course, as a relatively new pilot there are plenty.) However, one area in which I do have a good deal of experience is operations at nontowered airports.

I must say that I was left quite confused and certainly unenlightened after reading Donald Solms’ letter “Uncontrolled Shortcuts” [Unicom, February]. With all due respect to his 46 years as a pilot and his ATP and CFII ratings, I seriously doubt he has spent much time flying in and out of small, uncontrolled fields. His presumption that there is only one way to enter the traffic pattern at a nontowered field is both short-sighted and erroneous.

The Air Safety Foundation publication “Operations at Nontowered Airports” states that “There are several ways to enter the pattern if you’re coming from the upwind side of the airport. ... An alternate method is to enter upwind at pattern altitude and turn crosswind between midfield and the departure end of the runway. Give way to aircraft on the preferred 45-degree entry and to aircraft on downwind.”

My CFI (who, by the way, has some 30,000 hours) prefers this method to overflying the airport 500 feet above pattern altitude and then making a descending 270 degree turn in a high traffic area (entry to downwind). I believe that common sense supports and accident statistics demonstrate the danger of such a maneuver.

Mr. Solms could perhaps serve the aviation community better by doing his homework concerning current accepted airport procedures instead of penning angry, vague, ominous warnings and discrediting conscientious, informed, safety-minded pilots.

-Rich Cummings
Via e-mail


We don’t like the descending 270-degree right turn onto downwind either – and not just because we fly a low-wing airplane in which the wing would block the scan for other traffic. Descending, turning and swiveling your head is a rotten combination. That said, we don’t like cutting across at midfield, despite its official blessing in Canada and in the ASF publication you cite.

Many high-performance homebuilts and aerobatic airplanes are capable of climbing to pattern altitude by midfield at many airports, and that’s no place to meet another airplane coming in at a right angle. Someone flying a missed approach may also be near pattern altitude over the runway. In addition, there are too many target spots to scan efficiently, especially because traffic entering on a 45 may be nearly head-on at a rapid closure rate.

Crossing at midfield, you’d have to scan for traffic on a missed approach, traffic taking off, traffic already on the downwind and traffic entering the downwind on a 45.

Our personal preference is to fly an upwind leg at pattern altitude while scanning for traffic taking off, then turn crosswind at roughly the same point you would turn if you were flying a closed pattern. It’s not in the AIM, but it works in the real world.

By paralleling the runway upwind, you can keep an eye out for traffic taking off and missing an approach. That done, you turn crosswind and scan for traffic already on the downwind. That done, you turn downwind and scan for traffic entering on a 45. The scans become sequential rather than essentially simultaneous.

There are, of course, times when there’s nothing wrong with a midfield crosswind, and if operating at an airport that hasn’t seen another airplane all day we might do it for the sake of expedience. But we certainly avoid them when the pattern is busy.

No matter the pattern entry, radio communications are extremely important. Let other aircraft clearly know what you’re doing and pay attention when they call, too.

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CTAF by Any Other Name
I was surprised that you published “Where’d He Come From” [Learning Experiences, February] without an editorial note in response to its author. He describes how he was at a non-towered field, about to take off. He says he was announcing his position and intentions on the Unicom frequency, and listening on the Unicom frequency, and almost got nailed by a twin that, he says, obviously wasn’t listening to the Unicom frequency, and landed as he taxied into position.

It’s quite possible, even likely, that this was one of the many non-towered fields where the Unicom frequency is the same as the CTAF. But what if it wasn’t? In such a case, the author of the complaint would have been the one who was not announcing his intentions to the other pilots. Not the twin who almost landed on him. It’s a very important distinction.

The frequency we need to broadcast our intentions on, and listen to in order to hear other pilots’ broadcasts, is the CTAF frequency, not the Unicom frequency. Sometimes they are the same. But when they’re not, it is all too common for a pilot to use the Unicom frequency because that is what he hears other pilots talk about doing.

Don’t say “Unicom frequency” when you mean “CTAF.” That’s how people pick up bad habits, some of which can be fatal.

-Kari Jackson
White Plains, N.Y.


In this particular case, the airport at which the author had the experience had a shared Unicom/CTAF. But your point is valid. Unicom is a station licensee that may or may not operate on the common traffic advisory frequency. As you say, most do; some do not. Section 4-1-9 in the AIM provides excellent guidance for selecting the proper frequency.

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Give It a Rest – Maybe
I read your February issue which contains an article concerning the recently implemented FAA rule on the 16-hour maximum duty day. You should be aware that the Air Transport Association (a lobby group for the major airlines) has filed a “petition for review” with the US Appeals Court to block the FAA’s implementation of the new rest rules. Seems the airlines are upset that they can’t continue to work flight crews beyond the 16-hour limit imposed. It is absolutely despicable that the airlines would take action to block the implementation of a rest rule that will clearly enhance the safety of airline operations, all in the interest of profits.

It would be interesting to hear their argument against why flight crews should have duty day limits and why they think it’s safe for pilots to be on duty indefinitely, regardless of the safety implications.

-Dan Bowen
Via e-mail

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Safety Is as Safety Does
I’m a student who has not had my first solo yet. I have a whopping five hours on the books. I’m still at the bottom of the food chain so to speak. However, I find your periodical up front and useful. I’m not a safety nut, but I do like coming home after a flight.

After reading my first issue, it didn’t surprise me that there was a mid-air collision at the airport in Kent, Ohio [Preliminary Reports, January]. That’s my home base. I have seen more than six aircraft in the pattern at times at Kent. It does get very congested. It’s easy to lose track of all the aircraft, even from the ground. Now that I did a little thinking and a lot of soul searching, I’m finding myself becoming a safety nut about flying. Like I said before, I like coming home after a flight.

As far as “Save Your Postage” [Unicom, January], Richard Hopkins, I’ll take your place as a subscriber. The safer I am in the air, the safer you may be. A little humor makes you smile. And when you smile your eyes open a little bigger. You may see something in the air you didn’t know was there. It may get you home and not become a report in the next issue.

-Ken Jaworski
Via e-mail


Good luck on your training. Traffic pattern congestion is a real problem in some areas, and we’re sure you’ll discover that being No 6 for landing may put you near the front of the line at some airports. Keep your eyes open and your brain engaged, and your chances of coming home are excellent.

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This Guy’s Smart
As a reader of Aviation Safety for many years, I can say without fear of contradiction, that Aviation Safety is, and always has been, written and edited with the highest level of professionalism. For Richard Hopkins to cancel his subscription for the reason he gave [Unicom, January], it is my opinion that his I.Q. is in the range of someone who would discard an entire bushel of the finest apples available because he felt that one was not perfect.

-Roger D. Oakley
Montclair, Calif.

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Give Me Freedom, Give Me ADF
In “Silence Ain’t Golden” [Systems Check, January], Gary Picou refers to the “Bahamas, Canada or other undeveloped countries” as places where “the ADF still has value.” These are two themes often expressed in aviation publications today.

In reply to the first theme, all I can say is that perhaps the editors should try to get out into the world a little more often.

With respect to the second theme, the value of the ADF in our high-tech world, a good functioning ADF is still a tremendously useful instrument. For sure it has all the problems that the author mentions, but when close in to the airport and facing a last minute runway change or after vectoring that renders the active GPS approach useless, the ADF can be tuned in seconds to the outer marker and provide the pilot with critical orientation information while he struggles with the GPS to salvage the approach. I for one will continue to keep my KR87 in good working order so that it can bail me out when my dual Garmin 430s can’t keep up.

-Neil Thompson
Richmond, British Columbia

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Bit of Trivia
Your article “Silence Ain’t Golden” [Systems Check, January] has a couple of technical errors.

It describes the encoding altimeter as having 4096 bits, giving 50-foot resolution to 100k feet. Then it says the encoder uses 10 wires.

First, 4096 is a number associated with the transponder, not the encoding altimeter. 4096 comes from the fact that you have four octal dials to select a transponder code. Each dial, number 0-7, is represented by three bits, without waste, i.e., three bits can represent eight distinct states. Four sets of three bits yields 12 bits of data, or 4096 encodings.

Second, the 10 wires used in the encoding altimeter only yields 10 bits of data, or 1024. Consequently, using units of 100 feet, you could get an altitude range of 102,400 feet.

I don’t know what the absolute datum for that range is, but expect it to be below sea level. Anyway, the resolution ATC can see is 100 feet, not 50 feet. By the way, our physicist friends would probably tell us all that 4096 bits is about 30 times the number of bits to uniquely label or count every particle in the universe. Thus it would be more than enough to count the number of electrons between you and the ground, many times over.

And, yes, I do have a life, which I enjoy with my family in our 1983 Seneca III. I thoroughly enjoy my monthly dose of Aviation Safety; keep it coming. Though, at times you could use some computer scientist editors.

-Stephen R. Wheat
Via e-mail

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How’s This Thing Work?
I’ve been flying behind the TSIO-520 in my 210L for 25 years. If Jim Burrows has management of this engine figured out [Unicom, February] he should write the book. Clearly the Cessna POH and the Continental Manual for new engine owners (I’m on my 3rd in 3100 hrs) are not adequate.

I have accurate fuel flow and GEM information. I’ve known the IO-520 (derated or not) runs hot turbocharged and was never really designed for turbocharging. I’ve given this potentially fragile engine what I thought was plenty of gas, believing in the adage that gasoline is cheaper than machinery. But I’ve concluded that perhaps leaning, if we can call it that, should be done on the CHT information, allowing none of the jugs to get above 350 F. This is going to take all the gas the engine driven pump will put out, 130 lbs/hr for climb (plus some cowl flap action to the flight levels) and 110 lbs/hr at 75 percent power in cruise. I don’t have an intercooler; but wonder if the same power would be available at lower temperatures and fuel flows.

-William S. Lyons
Via e-mail

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Wake Interactions
There is a phenomena that can sometimes be observed at airshows, that, if understood, probably could help explain some of the mysteries of wake vortices, but I have never read anything about it.

The conditions must be right, calm stable air, a blue sky, and a fly-by of a little aerobatic plane with smoke coming out both wing tips, leaving two distinct parallel trails of smoke. As time goes by (several minutes) these trails of smoke break up into very distinct and consistent race track patterns, with the length about four or five times the width.

It is the making of these race track patterns that is very interesting to observe, but it takes about 10 minutes to develop and lasts only a short time. The smoke at regular intervals starts to blur (disperse) toward the center of the track. It does this very slow and calmly. No turbulence can be observed. About the time the two trails touch each other, violent turbulence can be observed in the smoke. It only lasts for a few seconds, but I wouldn’t want to fly through it just at that time. The smoke then settles down and somehow divides itself into the two perfect ends of the race track, with about half a wingspan between them.

It looks to me like if you were exactly the right distance behind that aircraft, you could be in for a very rough ride, and it is further back time-wise than I would ever have ever imagined! If you were closer, the turbulence wouldn’t be there.

-Bob Darrah
Via e-mail