Unicom

March 2005 Issue




Unicom: 03/05

Patterns, Tailwheels
I love the information quality and the casual yet serious writing style of your authors. In “See And Avoid Works” (January 2005), Tom Turner did a wonderful job of describing how to avoid running into our peers in the skies. However, he also did a good job of calling virtually every one of your readers a “nonconformist idiot who flies a left-hand pattern when right turns are appropriate, or makes the hazardous straight-in.” Who among us has not made the right-traffic mistake at some point (c’mon, think about it)? Straight-ins may not be the wisest choice at some fields, but different situations warrant different actions. And in an emergency, anything goes.

I will admit that I chuckled when I read that, but only because it was so bold. He may have been trying to be funny, but I was taken aback by the rage. It upset me because by condoning such arbitrary insults in your magazine, you encourage a bad attitude toward other people in the air that we seriously get enough of on the ground. Pilots are supposed to be a close-knit community, working together and learning from each other. Some of those habitual straight-in pilots might be more accurately described as “cocky,” and the right-traffic offenders “inattentive.”

Everyone makes mistakes; we read your magazine to see and avoid the mistakes of others. You won’t educate anyone, especially subscription-paying readers, by calling them stupid.

Katie Schultz
Via e-mail


Katie, we regret you felt the comments inappropriate; it certainly was not our intent to antagonize anyone. And, as previous articles on pattern work over the last few months have demonstrated, there are almost as many opinions as there are pilots. Keep in mind, also, that the article’s focus was on mid-airs—where they happen and how they happen. Point taken, and thanks.

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Shall We Dance?
I appreciated “Flying A Swivel Chair” (January 2005). It was a great reminder for me and other taildragger pilots of the constant risk of ground loops. I’ve flown taildraggers since soloing an Aeronca Champ in August 1967, and now have 2400 hours and about 3600 takeoffs. My mount since 1976 has been a 1948 ragwing taildragger. Earlier, I put five years and 400 hours on a delightful 1946 Globe Swift. Although most landings in my Cessna 170 may be silky smooth, the taildragger rudder dance is essential on all landings.

I have 385 hours in about a dozen nosewheel-equipped aircraft but haven’t flown one since 1971. I wonder if flying a “nosedragger” would be as challenging at this stage of life as flying a taildragger?

Joseph J. Neff
Via e-mail


Interesting question. Our answer would be that a nosedragger might require less skill to get on and off a runway, but the different techniques required when transitioning to it would still need to be learned and perfected. We’d encourage you to get with a CFI familiar both with taildraggers and the nosedragger you plan to fly so the two of you can concentrate on the differences.

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Not Necessarily Safer
The January 2005 editorial recommending an Instrument rating ends with the statement, “And you’ll be safer.” This statement glosses over one important point about an Instrument rating that’s buried in the middle of the editorial: “and learn how to use it.” This implies being current and proficient, not only in flying ability and procedures, but recognizing limitations due to weather and equipment. Although the Instrument rating gives a pilot many more options to complete a flight, it also provides many more ways to screw up.

Is the VFR pilot in rain taking more of a risk than the IFR pilot in a single, flying over areas of inhospitable terrain with clouds to the ground? Is the scud runner under the 1200-foot ceiling with three miles’ visibility more of a danger than the IFR pilot who is unable to climb out of the ice-producing layer, and can’t descend below the freezing level due to terrain? What about the IFR pilot who doesn’t plan for an alternate because the clouds and visibility forecast don’t require it, but finds the crosswind at the destination more than the plane can handle?

As a very active CFII who has given a number of IPCs, I’ve recently encountered Instrument-rated pilots who can’t figure out which way to turn when “partial panel,” misinterpret the glideslope needle, miss an ATC call and fly through the localizer, oblivious to the fact that they’re aimed at a mountain less than two minutes away, can’t read an approach chart to an unfamiliar airport and set up for the approach; and/or can’t fly a full approach with a course reversal because they’ve always gotten radar vectors. Are these pilots safer than the scud running VFR pilot flying a familiar route?

The attitude that the Instrument rating will prevent a pilot from having to adjust schedules due to weather is what gets a lot of these pilots in trouble. No matter what bells and whistles are in the plane, there will still be trips that have to be cancelled or rescheduled by weather. I tell my IFR students from day one that recognizing those situations is at least as important as being able to keep the needles centered on an ILS.

Safety is not a plastic card that says “Ratings: Instrument—Airplane,” but rather an attitude. I’d much rather fly with VFR pilots who know the limitations of their equipment and abilities than IFR pilots who don’t.

The Instrument rating isn’t for everyone. For those pilots who are willing and able to stay proficient on IFR procedures, and who recognize that they still have limitations, the Instrument rating may be the ticket to more flexibility. For pilots who lack these qualities, the false sense of security from the Instrument rating may simply be a ticket to take them and their passengers to the morgue.

Harry Leicher
Via e-mail


That editorial was directed at a close friend who flies a high-performance airplane all over the U.S. without an Instrument rating while trying to stay on a schedule. No, aviation safety, being a relative concept, has nothing to do with the ratings or certificates one has. Instead, it has everything to do with judgment and with proficiency. Does that piece of paper make one safer? Not necessarily. But when compared with alternatives, yes it does.

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Working With George
Could you do an article on the safe use of autopilots or direct me to the literature? As a renter, I don’t always know in advance if the autopilot is going to work when I need it. I know how to test just about everything else on the ground. How do you test an autopilot before taking off? Are there some practical, non-internal procedures to verify operation? Like engaging it on the ground and seeing if the yoke stiffens? Does that work?

I’ve seen several articles on how to turn the things OFF, but none on how to make sure they will go ON. Also, what to do if you’re not sure it is working while airborne? How do you test it in the soup? What can you do if doesn’t seem to be kicking in? Is there a sequence to go through? If your are trusting your life to these things, it would help to know these procedures. They say that JFK, Jr., would not have died if he just turned on the autopilot. Maybe he did! Thanks.

Tom Kramlinger
Via e-mail


Your wish is our command. Look for a couple of articles on autopilot usage and troubleshooting in the months ahead. That said, your CFI should have gone over the autopilot’s operation—as well as all of the other equipment in the airplane—when you were checked out.