Unicom

April 2004 Issue




Unicom: 04/04

Dump the Overheads
After reading Chuck Griswold’s letter, “Danger from the Overhead” [Unicom, February] and Mr. Bertorelli’s response, what disturbs me most was Mr. Bertorelli’s comment regarding “..merely in the service of lowest common denominator behavior...”

The LCD reference, at least to me, has always implied “less intelligent” or “less skilled.” And it seems to in this case as well. If that was the author’s intent, then I take strong exception and I think your editors should as well, for what he is suggesting is that this is a technique that can be used by “better” pilots as long as they use common sense. On the assumption that that was the intended message, allow me to make a few points.

I’ve been a CFII since 1966 and recently retired after 35 years at an airline, where I was a captain and check airman and was involved in the CRM/Human Factors program since 1990. Our airline’s safety could be summed up in one word: standardization. Every pilot knew exactly what every other pilot would do in a given situation. Surprises are nice at birthdays, but not in the cockpit, or, I might add, in the traffic pattern.

To suggest that careful observation and listening will always recognize each and every potential threat flies in the face of reality. There are simply too many variables. I’m with Chuck on this one.

-Lloyd Murray
Via e-mail

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And One For the Overhead
Paul Bertorelli has it right in his article on flying overhead patterns in the December issue, and I must disagree with Chuck Griswold’s letter in the February 2004 issue asking Paul to reconsider his position.

In fact, I would prefer to see the majority of GA pilots fly overhead patterns and not the standard – and usually much too large – box patterns. Overhead patterns have the huge advantage of improving a pilot’s situational awareness when entering the pattern.

I fly overheads whenever I can. As I fly down initial approaching the runway, I get an excellent view of what is happening across the entire airfield and in the traffic pattern. One of the most dangerous parts of the box pattern entry is turning belly-up to the runway while turning onto downwind, and losing sight of other airplanes in the traffic pattern.

As I fly down initial, I offset slightly instead of flying directly over the runway, so I can also look below me to see if anyone is about to takeoff, and also to keep an eye on any aircraft on takeoff leg.

Another advantage of the overhead pattern is that once you learn it, it works anywhere. If you fly over the numbers at a set airspeed, other than adjusting for winds, terrain, and density altitude, the procedure is always the same through the break, turn to final, and up to touchdown. It doesn’t matter whether you are landing on a 200 x 10,000 concrete runway, or a 40 x 2,000 turf runway.

The third big advantage is that it both smoothes and speeds the flow of air traffic onto the runway. I learned the overhead pattern while flying in the Air Force where at the pilot training bases we often had as many as 12-15 airplanes in the traffic pattern simultaneously practicing touch and goes – all flying overhead patterns, and all doing it safely and expeditiously. Now imagine your local GA airport with 12-15 airplanes in a standard box pattern — some flying wide patterns, some flying close-in patterns, some unnecessarily delaying their crosswind turns after takeoff, some thinking they need mile-long finals, etc. I’m sure most will agree that’s not a pretty picture.

I wish Paul Bertorelli well in his campaign to promote the overhead pattern.

-Gary Dikkers
Madison, Wisc.

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Does the FAA Agree?
In the “Legalities” sidebar to his article “Are You Cleared?” [Instrument Flight, February], Ron Levy states that, in lieu of a GPS derived LOC/DME distance, you can select the final approach fix (FAF) in your IFR GPS and use the published FAF to missed approach point (MAP) distance to determine your arrival at the MAP. Really?

I have asked instructors and one AOPA “expert” if you could use the FAF to MAP distance with your IFR GPS in lieu of timing to determine the missed approach point, and I was soundly criticized for even suggesting this.

I was told, “The FAF to MAP distance is for reference only. If the FAA had intended you to use distance, they would have said so.” Is there an FAA position?

-Steven Lehr
Bellevue, Neb.


Mr. Levy replies: The technique recommended complies with the guidance in the AIM section 1-1-19 paragraph f.1.(c)(1)[c]: “If the fix is identified by a five letter name which is not contained in the GPS airborne database, or if the fix is not named, you must select the facility establishing the DME fix or another named DME fix as the active GPS WP.” If there’s a DME distance from the LOC/DME to the FAF, and a DME distance from LOC/DME to MAP, you are within that guidance if you select the FAF as your active waypoint and use the distance from FAF to MAP to determine arrival at the MAP on a LOC/DME approach. However, if there are no DME distances published, the use of the GPS would be only for situational awareness.

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Missing Trick
After reading your “Tricks for the 430” article I feel you left one important item out: hands-on training. I, too, have a 430 and enjoyed the article and picked up a few pointers. However, after using the computer simulator, watching the video and reading reams of material, nothing – and I mean nothing – can replace the hands-on.

This doesn’t necessarily mean flying. However, it does mean utilizing a competent ground school. I’ll put in a plug for the one I used, Avionics Training Unlimited by Judy Cadmus (cadmusja@hotmail.com). My wife and I took both the basic and advanced courses, and the hands-on experience and the ability to go back with questions has made my IFR enroute and approaches a truly win-win situation. Even for VFR there’s a lot more capability than just plugging in “direct to.”

-Rodney Lockwood
Lafayette, N.J.

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Source of the Problem
Regarding Donnely Hadden’s letter “Some Help with Hot Starts, Please” [Unicom, February], I have a suggestion.

To prevent hot starting problems, empty out the fuel in the lines by turning off the fuel shut off valve before you shut down the engine. Make your next hot start using a cold start procedure. If there’s no fuel in the lines, it can’t vapor lock.

-Bob Erbe
Via e-mail

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Spin Engine Faster
I have read a number of comments in Aviation Safety pertaining to starting methods for Lycoming 360 engines. I agree that what works for one engine may not work for another.

Over the past 15 years I have flown both a normally aspirated PA-28-180 and now a fuel injected PA-28R-200. Starting these engines was always a little bit of a challenge but my biggest challenges came from hot starts. The only solution that I have found that truly works is the installation of a Sky-Tec starter. The savings in weight was an added benefit but the extra cranking power that this starter supplies makes every start easier.

The only downside, if there is one, is that battery health is critical to the optimal operation of this starter. If you are going to install one and your battery is more than three to four years old, I would recommend installing a new battery. This is a solution that applies to all of the O-360s and IO-360s.

-Dan Luciano
Independence, Ohio

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Doesn’t Work Here
Ken Ibold’s “Penalty Box” [Enforcement, February] paints an incomplete picture on a number of fronts. As an aviation lawyer practicing in Western Washington, where we are blessed with 4 “security” TFRs within a 35-mile radius, I can tell you that there is little room to negotiate on these violations, that the FAA is perfectly happy to go to hearing, and unless they have their facts wrong, there is little chance of prevailing.

Having a “blustery attorney” is much more likely to simply cost you more money than to gain you any appreciable benefit, unless you can find a legal problem with the charge. If they think you might establish bad precedent for them, the FAA will negotiate.

But at least out here, budgetary problems don’t seem an impediment at all.

-G. Val Tollefson
Seattle, Wash.

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Thanks for the Warning
Thank you for your article on TFR enforcement in the recent issue. As a pilot in the Washington DC ADIZ, it helps me know what to expect.

My hope is that all of us will fly perfect flights with no deviations. However, we all know that there will be mistakes potentially ranging from the trivial to the ultimate disaster of using inappropriate force to stop what will turn out to be an innocent pilot making a simple human error.

On a recent flight out of the ADIZ, one of 34 I have made in the last 12 months, I somehow ended up squawking 1200 despite filing per procedure, getting the VFR ADIZ code from Potomac clearance and following my checklist.

I caught the error a few minutes after departure. I checked in with departure and after some dialog was given a number to call. I called. So now I wait.

In the spirit of professional airmanship I try to ask myself critical questions whenever anything goes wrong. Did I mistakenly hit the VFR button on the transponder? Did the transponder glitch? (On a prior flight the controller complained of erratic code.) Did I skip a checklist step multiple times? Was the weather a distraction? Did the lack of activity at the airport cause complacency?

In some sense, it really doesn’t matter which failure occurred. The end result is the same. Can I change something which will eliminate the mistake or lessen its impact? I think so. Certainly, I can do some things to lower the probability of occurrence.

Maybe a transponder test to see if the button is sticky. Maybe I should change the checklist to check the transponder code after gear up. Maybe talk to myself more about the seriousness of every flight. It’s important to make TFR-checks part of the routine.

After this experience, I believe pilots need some reprogramming. We will need to some retraining to build redundancy into some areas where redundancy was not previously as important. Maybe the new mantra is aviate, navigate, transpond and communicate. It’s more than just demanding perfection. We need to integrate a few new TFR-specific thought processes, consciously and sub-consciously, that will protect us from those small glitches that can add up to a big one.

-Name Withheld by Request

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Handy Salvation
I am adding one more item to my pre-flight check list as a result of reading John and Martha King’s article: make sure my transceiver is live and working. I carry it with me all the time, but forget it’s in my flight bag and why I carry it. While I’m VFR only, it could still be a safety factor if I end up in the soup or lost at night.

Most helpful was the list of things they might have done to “break the chain,” of events leading to their accident, especially to land immediately after noting the problem.

-Vern Martin
Alliance, Ohio


We would encourage you not to put too much stock in a handheld nav/com, particularly if you are a renter or can’t have an external antenna connection for other reasons. It could be a safety factor, yes, but we’d give odds that it would not.

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More Lessons to Learn
Regarding the King’s tale “Desperate on Top,” there are still some fundamental lessons for the teachers to learn from their experience above the ‘Juice’ with no ‘juice’. Talk about go-itis!

First, with a thick overcast from LHX to FSD, a fall or winter three-hour flight, an anticipated nightfall arrival, and marginal conditions at FSD, an IFR filing was clearly indicated. Icing was also a possibility and, as I size up his Centurion, a missed approach was to be avoided. Secondly, the electrical failure was discovered 10 minutes into the flight. To dead-reckon on top for three hours and then airfile IFR for the approach is neither plan A, B or Z in anyone’s book.

I realize there could be a rare instance to continue after early recognition of a generator failure, an ongoing national revolution, for example, where returning might be even more dangerous. But still, the drill then would be to activate a VOR for a few seconds every half hour or so. That way the surprise/panic of no guidance and low fuel late in the flight could be avoided.

More engines is not the solution to questionable airmanship. Where was the handheld nav-com? The Centurion was up to the task; but were the pilots?

-W.S. Lyons
Falls Church, Va.


The handheld radio had not yet been introduced to the general aviation market when this accident took place nearly 30 years ago, so we think they’re excused for not having one. The Kings are quite forthright, in this article and their own courses, that this was a major blunder on their part. Fortunately, their embarrassment over having made such an obviously poor decision in continuing the flight is countered by their conviction to help make sure other pilots learn from it.