April 2003 Issue

Handheld for IFR?

Shame on you for encouraging pilots to use VFR GPS to file ‘direct’ under IFR

I read your article, “Simple Stack IFR” [Instrument Check, February], with great interest.

Although I have been flying for more than 35 years, I have never gotten my IFR rating. I am working on it, and right now with real incentive. Seems we are running out of insurance carriers who are willing to underwrite a non-IFR pilot flying a complex, high-performance single. The couple that are left are surcharging for the lack of the IFR rating.

My partner has his IFR rating, but has not had a proficiency check for years. The latest pre-policy data sheet sent by our insurance broker is, for the first time, asking the date of each pilot’s instrument currency. So the encouragement is there.

Unfortunately, neither of us are high-time pilots in terms of annual hours. Forty hours in a year is good for either one of us. Putting big money into the stack is difficult to justify, given the amount of time we fly. This is not necessarily wrong, because our IFR proficiencies are not up to those of professional pilots who make their living in the air, and probably never will be.

I do want to address a couple of things about your article.

First, you say a lot of IFR flights are being made using a VFR GPS, and that there are ways to give controllers “the hint” for a direct routing. I don’t like the way you put this. It suggests that you plan to intentionally violate the FARs and asking a controller to be complacent in your doing so.

Maybe we are just talking semantics here, but I think there is a better way that is not deceptive and most likely will never get you in trouble with the enforcement people at the FAA. You won’t get into trouble because you won’t be violating the FARs.

First and foremost, never but never, on an IFR flight plan, state that you have a GPS in the “Aircraft Type/Special Equipment”. That is a clear FAR violation. What you can do is put that you have a VFR GPS in the “Remarks.”

It is perfectly legal to take a direct route, IFR, with only a VOR. Not a very good practice, but legal never the less. So that is what you are going to do. But you have told the controller that you have a VFR GPS that almost certainly will provide you with good information for the in-route portion of your flight.

Technically, you are going to fly a magnetic heading using VOR reading to verify your position, and supplementing that information with your VFR GPS. And to do this, is all perfectly legal.

That you are going to make substantial use of your supplemental navigation information, i.e. your VFR GPS, does not change the legality of your going direct. You are walking a fine line here, so to stay legal, you really do need to use that VOR to verify your position on a regular basis, and maybe you even need to have a well-used map showing when and where you used your VOR to verify your position.

My point is that pilots should not put the controller in a spot, and for the pilot not to supplement his VOR information with a VFR GPS that may not provide good and usable information through the entire in route portion of the flight.

-Vernon C. VanDerhule
Yankton, S.D.

We think you’re making the wrong assumption about the use of a VFR GPS for direct routing. You don’t have to mislead the controller by claiming you can receive a VOR from 200 miles away or that you’re /G when you’re not.

Off-airways VOR navigation is legal beyond VOR service volumes when in radar contact, and that’s what comes into play when you request direct with a handheld. In that case, your primary navigation is a radar vector, making it perfectly legal and acceptable. Ask for direct and say something like “request heading 110 direct Macon” and controllers are happy.

Losing the GPS signal, comm or radar coverage, however, does mean you’ll have to rely on VORs, so that’s a consideration you have to include in your route planning.


Partial Flaps in Baron
I need help. The February issue included articles on both flaps and go-arounds, so now is the time for me to ask you a question about short-field takeoffs that has troubled my Baron partner and me. Should we put in approach (10-degree) flaps for short-field take off? Or for a very short field takeoff? Some pilots do it, but the POH does not address it.

The ATP course in Piper Seminoles did not allow it because the drag would be significant if you lose an engine, but it should increase lift enough to make the short-field numbers more acceptable.

What do most do? Is it risky?

-Tom Hauch
Via e-mail

Tom Turner, our resident Beechcraft expert, replies:

Barons used to have charts showing takeoff performance with flaps. The lower speed was so low, however, that it was below the minimum controllable speed with an engine out (Vmc) for the Baron 55.

We’re told that eventually this caught up with somebody, who lost an engine on takeoff with flaps partially extended; the Baron crashed and the victim’s family sued Beech for “recommending an unsafe procedure.” The Beechcraft response was to take the “Takeoff with Flaps” chart out of all the POHs.

In addition, one source says the out-of-print E55 “Obstacle Take-Off” chart calls for rotation (flaps up) at speeds as low as 63 knots. This chart includes a warning that says, “Obstacle take off is not a recommended procedure, as it utilizes speeds at or below power-off stall speed and minimum control speed. In the event of engine failure, the airplane will roll and yaw uncontrollably. Recovery may not be possible before striking the ground. Your airframe insurance may be invalidated by taking off from fields shorter than ‘Normal Take-off’ distance.”

From the information we have, in part using Bonanza data, it appears that using 10 degrees of flap for takeoff does little to reduce takeoff roll distances – certainly not enough to make an unusable runway usable.

Fifteen degrees may add enough margin to be useful and 20 actually begins to provide noticeable benefit, especially if you’re trying to get off an unimproved strip rather than trying to avoid obstacles.

That said, the use of partial flaps for takeoff in Barons and Travel Airs is a lousy idea because of controllability issues if one engine wimps out. If the field you’re using is so short that the additional performance you might gain by using flaps on takeoff makes a difference whether you’d try to take off, then likely you need to lighten the load, wait for cooler weather, or consider using another airport.


Thanks for Cold Advice
The cold start article [Systems Check, February] was very pertinent to me this month, as I had to leave a patient stranded (Angel Flight) on a cold day due to failure to start. I am a 1,000-hour CFII, which means I am still learning but still know very little. I worked for an hour to get the engine lit – flooding my carbureted Warrior once and drawing the attention of an A&P.

He diagnosed worn left mag points, and after they were repaired the next day, I got a cold start on a 20-degree night on the first try.

The moral of the story is that I will never work for that long beating my 2,200-hour O-320 Lycoming into starting on a cold morning.

I am getting a chance to make it up to the stranded patient with a flight this Sunday, so I’ll take your advice and add it to the experience I’ve gleaned thus far. I am hoping for a 3,000-hour engine.

-Frank E. Dorrin Jr.
Bear, Del.


Battle Over Oil
In “Cold-Weather Starts” [Systems Check, February], you make several statements that are misleading or incorrect.

With respect to oil viscosity, it’s incorrect to call something “aviation SAE 100.” The military calls SAE 50 oil, “Grade 100” because it has a viscosity of 100 Saybolt Seconds Universal (SSU). The SSU methodology is the standard in the field of lubrication. The SAE test is similar, except it takes 50 seconds in the SAE test as compared to 100 seconds in the SSU test.

Just tell people to use the multi-weight oils or the lowest viscosity oil allowed for the temperature in you airplane and then you don’t have to worry about using terms like molasses, congealed, goo, tar, asphalt, or whatever to describe your crankcase contents because it won’t be. Use the proper oil and you don’t have to worry about lubrication or the oil flowing.

The clearance between the aluminum piston and the steel cylinder at 10 F is 0.003 inches greater than at 110 F. You are more likely to seize a piston with clearance problems by over-revving the engine on startup at Phoenix on a hot summer day than in the snow belt on a freezing day. Don’t over speed the engine on start up anytime.

You probably have complete lubrication at bit faster in Phoenix and that helps, but the clearance is still worse. Just let the engine warm up before advancing the throttle.

Thick oil provides better lubrication than thin oil. Syrupy oil does not grind metal. The thick oil in your bearings is good. It makes the engine turn over harder, which is aggravating, but it is not bad oil. Thick oil will take a while to pump up the hydraulic valve lifters, so the valves will clatter for several seconds, but if you use the right oil then this is a non-issue.

The crankcase being made of aluminum will shrink faster than the steel crankshaft. The crankcase shell needs to be preheated so the main bearings are not pinched. Having the oil preheated so that it flows freely is a bonus, but not the reason you preheat.

Other helpful hints:

For easier starting make sure the coils in your magnetos have not deteriorated.

To get more power out of your battery when it is cold, put a trickle charger on it when you preheat the engine to warm it up and take care of any minor discharge that it may have.

If you fly in the snow belt, do yourself a favor and consider using the maximum allowable crankshaft main bearing clearances instead of aiming for minimum clearances when you overhaul the engine.

-Arden Tarum
Portland, Ore.

There is no question that multi-grade oils make much of the oil viscosity discussion moot, but straight-weight oils are sometimes unavoidable – such as when breaking in new cylinders. Given that many individually owned airplanes fly less than 50 hours a year, it’s not much of a stretch to see how straight-weight oil that was correct at the time of use becomes inappropriate before it’s changed.

Using the highest viscosity oil suitable for the expected temperatures – not the lowest as you state – helps ensure easier starting, but Phillips, Lycoming and independent engine experts we contacted say pre-heating should be considered mandatory at any time the temperature is below 10 to 20 degrees F.

Thick oil may provide slightly better lubrication on the bearings, but the extra strain it puts on the starter and battery may not be worth it.

Our rule of thumb: If a drop of oil drips off the dipstick cleanly, you’re OK. If it comes off in a string, it’s too cold.

We’re splitting hairs here, however, and consider your advice on the whole to be pretty good.


Turn on the Heat
On page 14, third column to the right, second paragraph, you mention “pager-type devices that allow you to turn on the heaters from any phone.” I have found a device that will do this but it requires a phone line at the hanger. Do you know the source of a device that has this capability without a phone line at the hanger. I have found one source but they want $700. Please advise.

-Ed Harwin
Via e-mail

You might consider the RS Beeper Box, made by Judith Mountain Technologies. It uses a pager to activate the heater, so you’ll need to pay for pager service and have adequate pager reception in your hangar. Suggested retail is $369, plus the pager. See or call 888-449-3759. Of course, in many situations it’s cheaper to just run a phone line to the hangar and use the X10 Telephone Responder and Appliance Module, available from


Airlines Vs. GA
I have been a subscriber for many years, and it seems a common theme is the gap between airline safety and GA safety. One stated reason is that airlines have two pilots, particularly when IFR. I agree, but I think there’s more to it than that. With two professionals in the cockpit, the driver knows his performance is constantly being evaluated. His decisions are tempered by his audience.

With 26 years as a pilot in the Air Force and 3,500 hours in Cherokees and other light planes, let me assure you that the atmosphere in GA airplanes is decidedly different. Few GA pilots critique their flights. After you fly, go back in your mind and see what you could have done better. Although I have more than 11,500 hours total time, I have yet to fly a perfect flight. I get most of it right, but some part of every flight could have been better.

I am dismayed with GA pilots for their “close enough” attitude. Sure, they get busy on a good VFR day in a working airplane, but when crunch time comes too many aren’t ready. And any time you get behind the airplane catching up can be a problem. The worst part is that many pilots don’t even know what they’re doing wrong.

-Bob Durr
San Diego, Calif.

The drive for constant improvement is one that not all people have. Hopefully, those who display a lax attitude give up aviation before it’s too late. For those that do have that drive, there are resources available to help. Hopefully Aviation Safety is one of those resources.


Eyes Out – On the Road, Too
My wife mentioned to me the other day how my driving skills, especially the defensive ones, have deteriorated in direct proportion to my increase in flying. Since she just earned her private certificate in our Turbo Commander, I paid some heed to her input.

Reflecting on her statement and on what I read in Aviation Safety, it occurred to me that we commercial/instrument-rated guys may indeed tend to keep our eyes on the instruments rather than outside in VFR conditions.

This rather deadly luxury becomes exacerbated when applied to driving a car. After all, aren’t we all faced with a constant fear of near-misses on the roadways? I now look up and look out more often.

-Harry Biddle
North Bend, Ohio


Yes, It’s Blackmail
The Beach Battle article [Learning Experiences, January] was worth the subscription price. One of my sons was a captain in the Army and flew choppers. At one point he was stationed at Fort Bragg. We accused him of writing this article and told him if he sends many dollars my other sons and I won’t tell his wife.

Very good humor along with a message on luck and safety.

-Name Withheld

We’re keeping your name out of print, but to your son we just want to say: Don’t pay Dad nothing!