Unicom

February 2004 Issue




Unicom 02/04: Darwin Candidate

Avionics induce friend to fly in IMC, but without instrument rating

I ran into someone I hadn’t talked with since before I started flying. It turns out he got his license a couple years ago and racked up a couple hundred hours in a plane he bought. He asked if I have an instrument rating. He’s thinking of getting one because he flies in IMC a lot. My jaw dropped a bit.

He went on to talk about the two fancy GPS units he put in his plane. He mostly flies to small airports and has a stable airplane (Skyhawk). He just watches the gauges and follows the little airplane symbol on the GPS until he sees a runway.

His reasons for getting an instrument rating are that he finds being restricted in the airports he can land at an inconvenience when he starts to pick up ice. He’d also feel a little more comfortable if he could get the traffic advisories he’s used to in good weather. The controllers just get too busy when it’s thick. On the other hand, he thinks that having to talk on the radio, keep track of frequencies, routing, and procedures when he’s on the gauges would increase his workload a lot. Maybe, he says, he’s better just keeping it simple.

I’m not even going to get started on the state of private pilot training when it comes to regulations. I realized talking to him that we probably wouldn’t have been having this conversation in pre GPS days.

I wonder if we are going to see more of this?

-Roger Long
Cape Elizabeth, Maine

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Count on Protection
In “Too Little, Too Long” [Accident Probe, December], you state that the pilot was beyond the 10-mile protected area. I believe that the protected area is 10 miles from the IAF. This does not make the descent correct, but a pilot may think that, because he has only 10 miles from the airport, he needs to hurry his procedure turn. In this case he could be 13.9 miles from the airport and still be in protected space.

-Phillip Wiley
Via e-mail

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Cutting Through the Din
In “Use the Radio” [Unicom, December], you touched on a particular pet peeve of mine. If you have experienced frequency congestion and had difficulty in making a call when you are about to enter or turn in the pattern, consider the following:

I fly mostly in South Florida. In the area covered by the Miami Sectional, there are 36 class E and G airports (not counting numerous private and restricted fields) sharing just six frequencies. It is common, especially when atmospheric conditions are right, to hear radio traffic from several fields on the same frequency. At times, it is difficult to get a transmission in without stepping on someone else. It is important, therefore, that radio transmissions be as brief as possible and to avoid unnecessary transmissions.

Examples of unnecessary calls include when taxiing from the ramp to the active runway, when crossing intervening runways, and when clear of the active runway.

When taxiing from the ramp to the active runway, with whom are you communicating? Aircraft on taxiways are moving at slow enough speeds that collisions are easily avoided. And, visibility of other aircraft on the ground is not a problem, except under the worst conditions, when movement on the ground probably should be avoided anyway. So, who cares whether you have begun to taxi?

At intervening runways, as in all cases, the pilot has an affirmative obligation to “see and avoid.” The pilot must look carefully both ways to assure that there is no traffic on the runway or approaching it in the air. When in the air, seeing other airborne aircraft can be difficult, but when on the ground seeing aircraft approaching for landing usually is easy. And the pilot of the landing aircraft has an excellent view of the runway and crossing taxiways when on short final. Finally, there is a risk that a pilot on the ground, who has called his or her intention to cross a runway, may subconsciously feel a “right” to proceed. The right to proceed is only achieved by personally verifying that it is safe to do so, and no radio call can accomplish that. If you have determined that there is no traffic on or approaching the runway you are about to cross, with whom are you communicating?

Furthermore, pilots on the ground may not be able to hear radio traffic from other fields, but in transmitting from the ground may inadvertently step on other traffic.

For aircraft clearing the active runway, the only other aircraft concerned would be aircraft on short final and aircraft waiting to depart. Both of these can easily look down the runway and see whether it is clear, so why announce that you have cleared the runway?

Accordingly, radio traffic from the ground should be limited to that which is necessary for safe operation. Calling for traffic advisories may be an example, although listening on the CTAF for a minute or so may disclose the active runway. Prior to departing on the active runway is an example of a necessary call because other traffic planning to enter the pattern from the crosswind may want to keep an eye out for you.

Finally, remember that no radio call can substitute for “seeing and avoiding” and at uncontrolled fields there may well be aircraft operating without radios (foolish though it may be) and therefore unable to hear your call.

So, I plead with the instructors out there: Stop teaching your students to broadcast position or movement reports without first considering the need for the report. The call you don’t make may allow someone to make an important one.

-Torrey Everett
Via e-mail

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What About Non-Alcohol Suspension?
Please clarify for me from your article “DUI Surprise” [Enforcement, November] as to when you have to report the occurrence to the FAA. For example, do you have to report a suspension of your license for anything other than alcohol or drugs?

If a person has had their license suspended for non-payment of traffic fines but later has their license reinstated when those fines are paid, does that still constitute a “motor vehicle action” that is reportable under FAR 61.15? In the three definitions you give for “motor vehicle action” they all relate to alcohol or drug related actions. Your clarification would be appreciated.

-Doug Drury
Via e-mail


Patrick Phillips replies: A license suspension for non-payment of traffic fines, that is non-alcohol or drug related, does not constitute a “motor vehicle action” that is reportable under FAR 61.15.

In other words you do not report a driver’s license suspension of non-payment of traffic fines under FAR 61.15. However, you would be required to report such a license suspension on the medical application.

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Some Help With Hot Starts, Please
Thanks for the article on starting. My more common problem is not in starting a cold engine, but in restarting it when it is hot. I have a Cherokee Arrow PA-28R-180 with the Lycoming 180 hp engine. After a flight I like to stop at the FBO and top off so it’ll be ready to go next time. I always have a lot of trouble getting the engine started if it is still warm. Why is that? I’ve had lots of different advice on how to do it. What is the best way, other than waiting for it to cool?

-Donnelly W. Hadden
Ann Arbor, Mich.


Hot starts of fuel-injected engines are the stuff of legend, and every airplane seems to have a mind of its own as to what it likes. The problem arises when the heat causes fuel in the fuel lines to vaporize. When you try to start, the vapor compresses rather than moving along like it does when it’s liquid.

If it’s still hot, as after a very brief fuel stop, we’ve had good luck using the standard cold-start technique except eliminating the stage of priming with the fuel pump. If it sits for an hour, the flooded method works OK on the Arrow we occasionally fly. Your results may vary.

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Accelerator Pump Works for Me
In 12 years and 3,000+ hours on both 160 hp and now 180 hp Lycomings on my 1977 Cessna 172, I find the best and most convenient way to start with temperatures above 40 degrees is with two or three quick strokes of the throttle, which incorporates an accelerator pump, after the engine begins to crank. All the fuel is thus sucked into the engine when the engine is being cranked.

Starts with this method are always immediate. With a warm engine use just one stroke as cranking starts. I believe smoother starts occur this way because the primer sends fuel to only two cylinders, making a rough start.

When temperatures dip below 40 degrees, I give three strokes on the primer prior to cranking, with a follow-up quick shot with the throttle. Since the primer sends fuel to only two cylinders, the accelerator pump action gets fuel to the other cylinders.

-Ralph M Burr
Roanoke, Va.


That technique may work better in some airplanes than others, but it obviously works for you. We’ve concluded that many of the pilots who fail to get good starts with primer only are simply pushing the primer in too slowly to vaporize the fuel in the intakes.

Having said that, we find our Citabria also starts more smoothly when we use the accelerator pump to prime rather than the plunger.

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Danger From Overhead
Paul Bertorelli [Stick & Rudder, December] would like us to get a little excitement into our flying by promoting 360-degree overhead approaches at non-towered airports, complete with bank angles up to 45 degrees.

Well, he is right. It will provide a lot of excitement. However, please, please, stay away from our airport. We don’t need it, thank you. How can I explain to the new student practicing in the pattern that it is OK for someone to drop out of the sky on top of him, especially when that other pilot in the descending steep turn has no way of seeing who is below him.

What do you say to the furious pilot who took the few moments to fly the AIM approach, and just was cut off at the turn by someone diving into the pattern. Even if Mr. Bertorelli looks around to see if he is alone up there, he must know that the most difficult airplanes to see are those below the horizon. And if this “overhead” starts with a crosswind at midfield at 1,000 feet, he should know that the hard-to-see airplanes are approaching each other head-on at a combined speed of around 200 miles per hour.

There is a reason for the 45-degree entry in level flight: It gives everyone time to see and avoid and have a way out of conflict. The airport pattern, after all, is where most midair collisions occur.

Locally, a few years ago, we lost a well-respected high school principal and his Cessna when another pilot (a student in my instrument ground school) swung too wide on a parallel runway final approach, with both airplanes cleared by the tower to land. The surviving pilot, with several hundred hours, said he never saw the other airplane below him.

And before Mr. Bertorelli lumps me with some group he calls Pattern Nazis, please be advised that I joined the Navy Air Corps in WWII to remove such people from the landing patterns of the world. My first flying lesson was in the summer of 1942 and today I am still happily flying (and instructing) in Mooneys and other great airplanes and I am never, ever, bored.

There are exceptions for every rule, of course. When we are teaching Mooney pilots how to fly safely in the Rockies, we show them how to handle those airports where the usual 45-degree entry takes you through the surrounding granite.

The way to get everyone on the ground safely in high-density traffic patterns, wherever they are, is for everyone to converge in a similar way as they get closer to the ground and the airport. The Ripon approach to Oshkosh is, of course, the biggest 45-degree entry most of us will ever see. If something goes astray there, it is usually because someone was stretching the envelope.

Please, please, print a retraction to that article. Aerobatics are a blast, but not in the traffic pattern.

-Chuck Griswold
Bloomfield Hills, Mich.


Paul Bertorelli replies: Print a retraction of the article? That’s a little extreme, don’t you think? I would suggest this, however: go back and read the caveats we offered, specifically this one: “At a non-towered airport, to avoid shouting matches on the Unicom frequency, fly an overhead only when you have the airport to yourself or you can otherwise fit into the flow without causing some kind of hairball in the pattern.”

This is good advice regardless of what kind of pattern you fly. And as for seeing other traffic, a square pattern is no help there, in my view. If you scan the pattern carefully and listen to the CTAF, you’ll be aware of any conflicting traffic regardless of what kind of pattern you fly. It seems a shame to deny pilots this important technique merely in the service of lowest-common-denominator behavior that obviates that most important of aviating skills: good judgment.

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Cruise Into the Overhead?
I read Paul Bertorelli’s article “Square Patterns?” [Stick & Rudder, December] on overhead approaches with a great deal of interest. I really don’t like the “square patterns” and would like to incorporate the overhead approach.

After reading the article I still have a question. You mention that you fly to the approach to the runway at cruise power then break at the threshold with a steep 180 turn reducing power and bleeding off airspeed. Then go to wings level and there you should be around gear extension speed, then another steep 180 turn to final where you should be at or near touchdown speed with the airplane in landing configuration.

My question is that you do not mention when or if you drop flaps. Are you assuming a no flaps landing, or are you lowering flaps during your wings level portion before or during your break to final?

-Gene Anderson
Via e-mail


Paul Bertorelli replies: I should clarify this. Although you certainly can enter the initial break at cruise speed, I’m sure I don’t always do that. Some speed below that is appropriate. Once you roll into the initial “break,” the airspeed will decay quite a bit, certainly enough to reach gear speed and flap speed soon thereafter.

I usually go to full flaps all at once somewhere just before the turn back to final or even in the early downwind, depending on speed and altitude relative to the runway end. Lots of flexibility here.