Unicom

November 2003 Issue




Unicom 11/03: Notam News

Notam dissemination isn’t perfect, but they’re working on it

I am writing today regarding the “Notam Mania” article [Airmanship, September] that discussed flight restrictions. The Bureau of Land Management has been the only government agency to graphically plot all TFRs since July 2001 – and still is the only one doing it. See http://airspace.blm.gov.

The key word here is ALL. Duats, the prototype FAA website and the NTAP FAA page at do not map all TFRs. As a matter of fact they can leave a large volume unmapped. The AOPA site refers you to ours to get information on wildfires.

The Duats system is nice, but still does not plot all the TFRs. It leaves out the stadiums and the nuclear facilities, to mention only two. Not only do we plot all TFRs, which are reviewed by analysts every 30 minutes, 7 days a week during normal business hours, we do so on the latest and most current charts available. The site operates year-round.

When you print a chart from our site you will have a copy of the most current chart for available navigation. We do not rely on automation. The site is easy to use, does not require a password, has easy to print charts and is currently what I believe to be the most accurate and complete site available. As you have mentioned Duats is only an official provider of weather and not TFRs.

We are attempting to become a certified graphics TFR Notam dispenser, but we have found complying with that Advisory Circular is quite difficult – even the FAA’s systems don’t meet the criteria.

You might ask yourself why the BLM provides this site. Well our pilots and other natural resource aviation pilots do not have “get out of jail free cards” either, and when we can inform the aviation community the location of our fire fighting activity, it helps increase our safety.

The system was created with $15,000 of our taxpayer money and a nominal monthly fee. The site works great and is an example of a partnership between government and private industry. It was just too easy to do.

This subject is important to me because in natural resource aviation and particularly firefighting, we have had over 15 near midairs and 50 TFR intrusions this year alone. While presidential TFRs are certainly important to our licenses, near midairs over our fires continues to be of great concern to us.

-Ben Hinkle
BLM National Aviation Office
Boise, Idaho


We like the fact that your site plots all of the Notams in a particular area in one spot. Goodness knows we’ve got enough paper floating around our cockpits already.

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The Briefer’s Perspective
Your article “Notam Mania” [Airmanship, September] contained a lot of useful information on TFRs. Being a flight service station briefer here in New Jersey, I had to deal with the ADIZ around NYC and the one still in effect over DC. I was even working the day when the pilot in your article landed at Camden County Airport.

The night before that happened, the TFR was issued late in the day – which happens a lot. We are supposed to have the information by 4:30 p.m. for any new TFRs that are being issued, including presidential TFRs. When they come in, they come in anywhere from one to 12 parts.

The bad thing is that if an error is noticed in one of those parts, they are reissued, no matter how many times it takes to get it right. Not until it’s right is it issued an FDC number and made “official.”

If you call the night before for an outlook briefing and are told there are no TFRs, it would be in your best interest to check the next day before you depart. The Philadelphia-area TFR that nailed the pilot in your article came out completed after 9 p.m. the night before and was effective within 12 hours.

As you mentioned in your article, it’s a good idea to have the phone number of the AFSS in that area if you have any specific questions on a certain TFR. I can’t speak for other AFSS’s, but in our facility we make a blow-up of the affected area outlined on an aviation chart.

You can get this information free of charge – even the phone call. Although I wonder what it will be like if they privatize the system.

-Jonathan Smith
Pennsauken, N.J.


On behalf of many pilots out there, thanks for making lemonade of all of this.

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Break Rules for Convenience
The September issue contains two items I found particularly interesting: a bristling reply to Robert Garrison’s critical letter about the recent article “Fat and Happy” and a brief blurb about a fatal 182 crash in Cushing, Okla.

The 182 pilot was someone I knew personally. He was not an “idiot.” He was a newly minted commercial pilot eagerly building time in an entry-level aviation position. He had above-average stick and rudder skills, trained with an excellent instructor and, to all who knew him, seemed to take the risks of aviation seriously.

I have heard several first and second hand accounts of the accident, seen pictures, and read all available written accounts. But, of course, I cannot say with any certainty how this particular accident unfolded. What we do know is that the mission started “fat” (six people and parachute gear in an older 182) and did not end “happy” (impacted the ground in a flat spin).

Some witnesses report that there was engine trouble. In a 182 with four people and their gear piled behind the pilot, this would be a dire situation if the plane was operating behind the power curve. What might make such a situation even worse is the fact that, while every pilot must practice and master slow flight, we generally do not do so at gross weight with an extremely aft CG.

The plane’s behavior in the event of power loss in this situation is predictable, but it may not match our expectations because our training generally occurs within a narrow band of the craft’s performance envelope.

This gap between experience-based expectations and aeronautical behavior appears to be a common theme in fatal aviation accidents. Pilots continue to place themselves in situations for which they are ill-prepared. They fail to recognize that their experiences do not encompass the entire spectrum of flying. They cling to old habits – and sometimes die as a result.

Likewise, pilots continue to ask airplanes to do things they simply cannot do. Some of these things, like flying without fuel, seem inexcusably stupid. But many, like trying to stretch a glide or outclimb terrain, are a lot easier to understand. The average GA pilot boasts only marginal proficiency – and that is generally in the most benign region of the airplane’s performance envelope. It should be no surprise that these accidents occur.

It also does not help matters that much of the time we can push limits with seeming impunity. We also put great faith in our personal experiences, if we have seen with our own eyes that something worked out safely we often dismiss accusations that we are playing statistical Russian roulette.

This brings me to Paul Bertorelli’s “Fat and Happy” article. Although I am personally one of those annoying by-the-book-types, breaking the FARs is not what bothered me about the article.

What bothered me is that article attempts to manage a risk of convenience. Mr. Bertorelli’s anecdote of “dangerous” fuel offloading notwithstanding, the simple fact is that there is virtually always a lower-risk alternative to operating over published gross weight. Leave a bag behind, take a few solo circuits around the pattern to burn fuel, whatever.

Mr. Bertorelli would choose over-gross operation “every time” not because he is selecting the lowest risk alternative, but because it is more convenient. He has done it, the flights did not end badly, but it is not clear that risk is truly being “managed.”

Mr. Bertorelli is undoubtedly well ahead of the average GA pilot in terms of proficiency, training, and experience. He at least recognizes that there is some risk to overweight operations. He plans on lower performance and tries to be diligent about CG. But I cannot help but wonder how does one truly manage a risk that cannot even be accurately estimated?

Since our training and routine operations do not normally expose us to the behavior of our airplanes at even their published limitations is it ever really a wise decision for the vast majority of GA pilots to fly outside them, simply for convenience?

Flying, like most things fun in life, has some risks. I, for one, am going to keep reminding myself that there is no reason to make the risks higher simply to save a few minutes, save a few dollars, or just stop my kids from bellyaching about leaving a monster cooler full of ice and soft drinks behind.

-Joe Fitzpatrick
Via e-mail


Pilots must draw their own lines in the sand about when risk moves from acceptable to unacceptable. Clearly every pilot draws it in a different spot, based on experience, sure, but also on everything ranging from luck to detailed analysis of potential failures.

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Planning for Failure
Error-prone, less than perfect humans design, build, test, certify, fly, maintain, and control aircraft. Aircraft operate in a non-life supporting environment. Is flying safe?

Flying is inherently dangerous. The dangers are mitigated only to the extent that those same error-prone, less than perfect humans actively do so. A promising strategy for improving aviation safety is changing the view that pilots, mechanics, air traffic controllers should not make errors to the more realistic view that people do make errors and systems need to be error cognizant and resilient.

As Mr. Ibold points out in “Words of Worry’ [Editor’s Log, September], most of the time this works; sometimes it does not.

-Steven P. Bezman
Via e-mail


And sometimes it works but you can’t convince other people of that ...

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Wherefore Insurance Proof?
I thought Bruce Chien’s article “Flight Review & You” [Training, August] was excellent and intend to use many of the suggestions he made when conducting my own flight reviews.

He brought up an interesting point regarding evidence of insurance by the pilot. In my experience, no instructor giving flight reviews nor examiners giving checkrides has ever requested it. Obviously it is not mandatory, however it seems important.

What type of document would the pilot furnish? I believe a Certificate of Insurance would need to be ordered in advance, or perhaps the Coverage Summary Page furnished with the policy would suffice. It might be difficult to obtain anything from FBOs for rented aircraft.

-Vince D’Angelo
Naples, Fla.


Bruce Chien replies: Because BFRs and IPCs are done by appointment, there’s plenty of time to exchange information.

The binder page or coverage summary page does it for me. Generally speaking, if a pilot has an insurance certificate, he also has a current medical, a license and an annual. He is the sort of person who wants to do it right.

I’ve only had one pilot who wouldn’t co-operate. He then asked me for my binder page for flight instruction, and I produced it (a reduced copy lives with me in my flight bag). I pointed out that if he had neither he didn’t need a BFR either. Turned out this fellow had neither a medical nor insurance. He said, “Oh,” and to my knowledge is still flying without these items. Incidentally, he’s a customer of the local itinerant mechanic and his Bonanza is said to have more NAPA parts in it than the store.

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Try This Angle
In Mike Wilkins letter “Landing on the Diagonal” and your response [Unicom, September], Mike is sort of right; so are you. As you intimate, this is possibly an emergency maneuver, depending on what airplane, who’s flying, crosswind velocity and runway width, length maybe too.

I used to teach mechanical engineering at a state university, so dynamics is pretty well my field. I should add that I fly an older 180 hp Mooney, known for a small rudder and strong gear.

Though we all agree that angling the airplane across the runway reduces the crosswind component. It’s that pesky far edge that gives the problem.

Assuming a wide runway, slowing gets serious after touchdown due to rolling and braking friction and some aerodynamic drag. Compared to tire forces, the side load component due to wind nears being negligible.

The real big side load comes from inertia, not wind, as the attempt is made to change the direction of the velocity vector using tire friction and a little from the rudder. Luckily as speed drops, so does the inertia problem. Ideally speed is low enough before the far edge so that the turn does not break off or bend the gear.

I have nearly 3,000 hours in that old Mooney, mostly with my eyes open, so I can judge what it will do better than a low timer in an unfamiliar airplane. This is not a beginner trick, but it can be worked up to, cautiously.

-Lin Manning
Via e-mail


Yes, it can be worked up to. But it’s not the sort of maneuver to take lightly if you like your landing gear and wing tips the way they are.

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Performance Matters
Regarding your article “Need for Airspeed” [Systems Check, September], I wanted to point out that one approach that can be used on final with no airspeed is to know the numbers.

At this specific rpm I get this particular rate of decent at approach speed. Then if you have no airspeed indication who cares? Just set the rpm and trim for rate of descent.

-Gus Fraser
Via e-mail


This is certainly true and is one reason why approaches without the airspeed indicator should be part of routine practice. However, the larger part of the question stems from people who take off that way rather than sorting out the problem on the ground.

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Say What?
I subscribe to your journal and enjoy it very much, but I have a difficult time understanding some of your articles due to the abbreviations. I know I should know them, but I do not.

I have not flown since 1987 and am now renewing my interest in flying. Last month there were several abbreviations I didn’t understand and couldn’t figure out.

Could you please insert a small column giving definitions for the abbreviated words?

-Robert McLuckie
Livingston, La.


At the risk of revealing the secret handshakes to too much of the world, we promise to make an extra effort to put our acronyms into words.