April 2002 Issue

Unicom 04/02: Name Droppers

If you’re going to name names when celebrities foul up, you might as well go all the way

I’ve noticed the syndrome of name-dropping sneaking into your articles lately. I was reminded of it again in “Flying in Ice” [Weather Tactics, October]. The article led with “Indy racer Tony Bettenhausen” going down in his Baron 58, but his name is mentioned only in that opening line; for the next three pages he is referred to only as “the pilot.”

One can only presume he is mentioned merely to hook the reader – a pretty cheap practice for a serious publication. Do readers really need such prompting?

Isn’t accident investigation supposed to be about what went wrong, not who went wrong?

I can only imagine the articles I must have overlooked during the past year:

* “Autorotations can sometimes go a bit twitchy. That’s what happened to Harrison Ford, former professional carpenter and star of “Witness” and the “Indiana Jones” movies, whose $20 million dollar salary will come in handy after he settles up with Melissa Mathison, his soon-to-be-ex-wife of 20 years. The chopper’s repairs are expected to cost …”

* “Always think twice about those off-field landings. Patrick Swayze, star of “Dirty Dancing” and “Roadhouse”, among others, learned that lesson the hard way when he tried to plunk his 414 down in the middle of a construction site. The pilot, who has recently signed for a series on NBC and is negotiating to co-star with Geena Davis in the feature remake of …”

* “Sandra Bullock had quite a scare recently when the G-IV she was aboard landed a little long. Sandy, as she’s known to her pals, was reading the script for her next film (ironically titled “Among the Ruins”) as the chartered jet slid off the runway and plowed into a snow bank. Bullock’s last three films have grossed a total of …”

* “An apparent stall/spin accident took the life of a pilot and passenger when a Pitts S2B crashed near the summer residence of Cher. The 53 year old singer/actress, who was not home at the time, is the pop diva who has also appeared in such films as …”

Actually, if the editors feel the need to dangle famous names in front of their readership, don’t you think it would be better to keep them anonymous until the very last line? Make a real game out of it: Guess The Celebrity.

Just refer to “The pilot” until that last sentence: “And when the ground crew pried the hapless pilots from the wreckage, in the left seat they discovered …” Or, “It was only in the forensics lab that a monogram on a custom-made putter identified the charred remains as …” I can see a whole new style and readership available to your editors, and a new rack at supermarket checkout stands across America.

I’m having way too much fun with this, but you get my point. I think you should stick to the airplanes, not who was in them, and let it go at that.

-Tony Bill
Via e-mail

Hey, thanks for the Sandra Bullock update. We were curious about her next film.


A Save for ELTs
I felt compelled to write to you after reading “Holey Safety Net” [Systems Check, January]. I am a student pilot and truly appreciate every issue I receive. The articles help me to understand and respect the Cessna 172 I am training in now.

The ELT article reminded me of a tragic incident two years earlier, January 2000, when my brother, “due to mismanagement of fuel,” crashed his plane outside of Charleston, S.C. Fortunately the ELT did function, but it still took six hours to find the plane. My brother and sister-in-law both perished but my niece survived. There was a terrific team effort on all parts – air and land – to find them. Fortunately for my niece, it was a very mild night.

The problems he ran into, we’ll never understand, but how grateful I am the ELT did work when it should. And I hope mine will as well.

-Elizabeth Haupt Winings
Via e-mail


Expectations Cloud Reality
I would like to respond to the letter “Grow Up Already” written by Paul J. Burns in the February issue. He makes the statement, and I quote, “ Freedom isn’t free. We have to pay our share.”

I think this was the very purpose of your article “You Can’t Fly There!” to which he was responding. That article was about freedoms lost.

In all fairness, it is obvious Mr. Burns’ expectations of flight are quite different from my own. I fly a little Cessna 150 out of a small, uncontrolled airport. I relish going out, jumping in and just going flying.

Most of the time I have no real destination in mind. I go over the mountains to some remote strip on the coast to catch some fresh crab, up into a remote grass strip just to enjoy nature, or on a cross country to a neighboring state to visit relatives for the weekend. If I cannot see, I do not fly. It’s simple and fun.

Now I have to worry that areas where I was once free to fly may, at the government’s whim, suddenly become “sensitive.” Where I was able just to go and fly, I now must spend sometimes hours on the phone and computer to figure out if there are new obscure restrictions and regulations put in place.

I now fear towered airports even more for fear of doing something innocently wrong and then having to face the exaggerated consequences of being human and making a mistake. I recall the FAA sitting on the ramp in Tonopah Nevada to ramp-check me, not because I had done anything wrong but just because I needed fuel and that was the handy airport.

Like I said earlier, you fly in a different world than I do, Mr. Burns. You see this as just added regulations and a minor inconvenience. I see it as a challenge to the very reasons I like to fly.

-William R. Fyfe
Grants Pass, Ore.


A Slip’s Good Enough for Me
Just read “Get Down Right Now” and was surprised that what, at least to me, is the most basic standard fast descent wasn’t even mentioned. As a glider pilot, slow down, spoilers and hard slip will take off mucho altitude as fast as I have ever wanted.

While my PA-28-180 doesn’t have spoilers, full flaps and a slip work just great. Yes the steep 45-degree bank works as well, but with your hands and head full working out the smoke/fire problem, I’d be a bit more worried about entering a spiraling dive. While I have zero time in a commercial jet I don’t see why spoilers and a hard slip wouldn’t work equally well on them. Where am I going wrong on this?

-Jack Gibbert
Texarkana, Texas


Me, Too
I enjoyed the emergency descent article, but was dismayed to read that the author had received no emergency descent training for Private or Commercial.

Maybe things were different in the past, but my training included emergency descent training for these ratings. It was not sissy little descents, either. I was taught and teach my students to use that old reliable maneuver: the slip. With an aggressive slip I can push a 172’s airspeed up to the top of the green and peg the VSI against the stop (2,000 fpm in our flight school airplane). I estimate we get about 3,000 fpm without getting into the yellow. And I would enter the yellow in a real emergency. I believe I can get a 172 from 5,000 agl to landing in under two minutes.

I also teach the use of a turning full flap descent when the situation is not as critical. However, the 172 will not exceed about 1,500 fpm with full flaps without exceeding the max flap extension speed.

We routinely teach students to sideslip for landing in crosswinds and to slip to landing from the pattern. Why not use this valuable maneuver when we need to lose that altitude we worked so hard to attain?

-James McLeod
Via e-mail

Since you used the magic word, aggressive, we decided to fire up the Citabria for some aggressive flight testing. We tried the 45-degree bank Vne descent, extreme slips and a straight Vne dive. We did each one three times. We set up the descent, waited for the descent rate to stabilize, and then measured the altitude loss in 30 seconds.

First the slip. With the Citabria’s rudder at the stop, we could get to Va, but the flight attitude was so severely nose down and sideways it was extremely uncomfortable. We recorded an average of 3,450 fpm descent.

Then we tried the 45-degree banked Vne dive and got an average of 4,720 fpm. (With no flaps, we didn’t have a Vfe to worry about.) The straight Vne dive yielded 3,050 fpm.

Other airplanes, of course, will vary, but we suspect the slip descent rate in most airplanes will be lower because the Citabria has an uncommonly effective rudder, and you typically run out of rudder before aileron in slips.

Our conclusion is that, in this airplane at least, the banking descent is not only more effective, but dramatically more comfortable. Fact is, we think that making a max slipping descent in the Citabria with a regular passenger would have added the complication of hysterical screaming in the background.

In addition, some airplanes are not approved for extended slips because the fuel can unport. In other airplanes, slipping with flaps is not advised because of the way flaps disrupt the airflow over the elevators. These are the kinds of questions that training in advance of an emergency will sort out.


Don’t Blame Plane for Stall Behavior
The Unicom letter from reader Robert E. Froelich in the February issue demands a response.

Froelich’s letter states that “...I know that the Lancair IV has nasty stalls.” This letter was written in response and to counter a previous Aviation Safety article which said that Lancair, among others, had “vastly improved anti-spin handling.” As support for his opinion, he discusses testing he carried out with “wings tufted for videotaping the airflow” on his own Lancair IV.

While it is unfortunate that Mr. Froelich’s aircraft exhibits wing drop and/or other negative stall characteristics, the same should not be assumed to be the case in all Lancair IVs.

I have flown three different Lancair IVP examples, none of which stalled with any of the characteristics cited by Mr. Froelich. Further, the EAA’s CAFE testers (including its chief test pilot C.J. Stephens) reported in Sport Aviation that the test stalls they performed on a Lancair IVP in both clean and landing configurations with a forward center of gravity showed “no adverse character or unpredictable tendency, and it recovered from the stall promptly by repositioning of the elevator (forward stick movement).” The test article went on to say that in stalls in the airplane they tested, “Judicious use of the rudder maintained wings-level during the maneuver, and the resulting pitch change was very manageable and mild.”

Mixing stall characteristics with spin recovery, Mr. Froelich goes on to say that “several pilots have reported losing 8,000 feet before recovering from spins in Lancair IVs.” Since the aircraft is not approved for spins, what were they doing spinning them in the first place? What’s more, even if you stall an airplane it won’t spin if the ball is in the middle.

In other words, stalls don’t spin airplanes, only uncoordinated stalls can do that. The point is, no matter how spin-resistant the aircraft may be, nothing can design out blatant pilot error or shortcomings in flying technique.

-Jack Cowell
Via e-mail

While it’s true that no airplane is immune to lousy technique, our view is that a more stall- and spin-resistant bird is probably safer, all other things being equal.


Shock Cooling – Say What?
I’m a relatively new Private Pilot and enjoy your publication greatly. I have a question from “Tighten That Pattern” [Stick and Rudder, January]. What does Mr. Bertorelli mean by “… you’ll have to decide if you believe in the shock-cooling demon. I don’t and manage power accordingly”?

My only introduction to shock-cooling was in relation to making sure I closed the cowl flaps in a Cessna 182RG after reducing power in the pattern. How does Mr. B manage the power accordingly?

-Dan Cardona
Paris, Ky.

The whole notion of shock cooling goes back and forth between those who think it’s an old wives’ tale and those who swear by it. The premise is this: If you chop the power on a warm engine, the cooling air flow can cause the metal in the cylinders to cool too quickly, increasing the possibility of cylinder cracks and other wear prompted by the cylinders shrinking down while the pistons are still hot. Operating an engine under this theory means you only reduce MP one inch or so per minute, close cowl flaps during descent, don’t crank in full rich mixture descent, and otherwise try to bleed the heat from the engine slowly.

Those who don’t believe in it point to the thermodynamics of engine operation, which would point to the fact that “shock heating” on takeoff and flying through rain would be much more of a problem, if in fact this dynamic exists. Detailed engine monitoring appears to show that shock cooling is a myth. If you plot CHT trends during takeoff/climb and during descent, you find that head temperatures just don’t change that fast, regardless of how you manage power/cowl flaps during the descent.

Mr. Bertorelli’s point in bringing it up is that some pilots justify a stretched out pattern by saying they have to gradually reduce power to prevent shock cooling. In our view, that’s not only poor flight planning, it’s flat out wrong.

Like I said, you will run into as many people who vehemently disagree with this as who agree with it. It’s one of those aviation controversies like pitch vs. power in controlling altitude and airspeed.


When You Don’t Have Gyro Backups
Mr. Levy’s article on gyro redundancy [Instrument Check, January] was excellent. It is unfortunate that the back up systems he describes are virtually never found in the rental fleet. Mr. Levy’s advice to carry something readily available at all times to cover the inoperative instruments is crucial.

A few other fine points are as follows. Placing a red dot sticky, available at any office supply store, between the two instruments can help get you in the habit of looking at both instruments simultaneously. Having a heading bug placed on the desired heading also helps.

Also, remember that a failing gyro may still work, but will have a slower response time. Therefore, look not only for disagreement between the turn coordinator and the DG, but also a sluggish response.

Using the above technique on an ILS approach is critical, because failure to quickly identify and react to one of the problems described above can be catastrophic. If a problem is detected while still in IMC, I would recommend going missed immediately.

-Frank Del Vecchio
Via e-mail

There are also several products on the market now that amount to handheld gyros that may be suitable for backup. We’ll keep you posted.


The Check for Jet Fuel
It makes me sick to read items such as “Race You to the Ground” [Learning Experiences, February]. If only pilots would be taught that you should never believe that jet fuel is not being pumped into your avgas airplane.

If the plane is fueled when you are not present, there is a simple way to check to see if some jet fuel was delivered instead of avgas.

When you check your sump drains for water, spill 4 or 5 drops of the fuel on one spot of a piece of clean paper. I prefer a piece of a brown paper bag.

Avgas will quickly evaporate. If any jet fuel is in it, there will be a shiny spot in the center where the jet fuel is concentrated because it will not evaporate so rapidly.

-Howard M. Gammon
Via e-mail


IFR Tips Long Overdue
Thanks for the heads up article on no radar reporting and approaches under no radar conditions; especially the precise position reporting dialog.

I was in a radar inop situation recently and the wasted radio airtime was incredible. The most frequently said word was “Uh”, and worse was “with you at…” Not quite so frustrating but equally useless language such as “Los Angeles Center (vs. Center, they know who they are), approximately 15 DME west of XYZ intersection/VOR/airport/city.” Forget the “approximately”, “DME” and anything other than just “XYZ” unless it is a co-named VOR/airport/city. Then “6000 feet.” (What else, knots?) Anyway, you get the picture.

After too much information comes the poor radio protocol. Pressing the transmit button before fully listening to make sure ATC is not in the middle of a clearance, not thoroughly preparing the report “script,” leaving the mike keyed for pregnant pauses and mumbling statements of no communicative value, all contribute to unsafe skies and frustrating radio tie-ups for the rest of us. How can the poor overloaded controller call opposing traffic when it is impossible to get a word in edgewise?

Hopefully Aviation Safety will continue to publish instructions for precise dialog and correct radio protocol. It really is a safety issue in crowded, non-radar skies.

-Ron Hays
Via e-mail

We’ve noticed the frightening inability of some pilots to distinguish between the times the controller has some time for banter or leisurely conversation and when he or she doesn’t. Maybe too many people are looking for material for the back page of IFR magazine.