Unicom

February 2006 Issue




Unicom: 02/06

Where Are You Going?
Your recent commentary (Editor’s Log, December 2005) ending with “...you can’t count on ATC to even know who you are and where you’re going” is so totally true it’s scary.

It reminded me of an incident that happened to me a couple of years ago. I had filed from Palwaukee, Ill., to Detroit Lakes, Minn., with a “direct” request. The standard departure for Runway 16 out of PWK is a hard right turn to a 360-degree heading. As I rolled out on 360 and went to Departure, I was given a further turn to 040. I thought that was for traffic, as I often have to go north toward Milwaukee before going northwest toward Minneapolis.

My next instruction, however, was to proceed direct to “Gipper,” an intersection near South Bend, Ind. I then realized that the controller had no idea where I was going and he was sending me off to Detroit. So I said, “Wait, I want to go northwest!”

He responded, “Isn’t your destination near Detroit?” After a quick geography lesson, he relented and sent me north.

The real lesson? Situational awareness is everything and it is critical. While it wouldn’t have hurt me to go to South Bend, Ind., it would have made my trip to northern Minnesota a lot longer!

Stephen Robb
Via e-mail


According to the Air Traffic Control Handbook, FAA Order 7110.65P, at paragraph 5-6-2, controllers are supposed to advise pilots of the reason for a vector. One of the reasons for this is as a “quality control” check to ensure everyone’s on the same page.

Of course, controllers don’t always advise the pilot of the vector’s purpose and, more than a few times, we’ve had to ask. Each time, the controller reacted with incredulity that we would question him (it’s always a “him”) on the vector. This is one of the reasons why.

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Communicating I
Congratulations on a well-written and much needed article (“Mean What You Say,” December 2005). As a Designated Pilot Examiner, I get to hear all of these foibles and more from every level of applicant. Part of the industry’s challenge is that flight instructors, airline pilots, DPEs and even FSDO inspectors rarely have had authoritative classes or training in aviation phraseology per the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM).

I’ve noticed over the years that each time I issue a notice of disapproval wherein phraseology is key (Area of Operation III, Task A of the Private Pilot Practical Test Standards (PTS), for example) my business declines by about 30 percent for the following two months. The industry simply needs to emphasize details better.

That is the major issue: few people consider voice radio phraseology a safety issue. Aviation Safety certainly tracks that it is, if for no other reason that attention to details means attention to all details.

Speaking of detail: “Roger” means only that one has received all of the last transmission, per the Pilot/Controller Glossary. The AIM details its use in responding to a transfer of information. “Wilco” means that one has received the message, understands it, and will comply with it. The AIM details this as the response to an instruction.

Dave Wilkerson
Tulsa, Okla.


We wish we had nickels for every time someone deplored the state of primary—and even advanced—training in this industry. That said, we’re aware of more than a few Part 135 operators who are having very real problems attracting enough qualified pilots to keep their planes in the air without exorbitant up-front costs just to get their new hires to hold heading and altitude.

Expect more coverage from us on training issues in coming months.

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Communicating II
Just read Hal Stiles’ comment (Unicom, December 2005) about the hazards and difficulty of making ATC directed frequency changes at low altitude and low airspeed.

I can’t help pointing out that the correct response should be, “Unable, Cessna 12345. Will advise when I can comply.” It may require extra coordination on ATC’s part, but as Mr. Stiles pointed out, they don’t have to worry about becoming spatially disoriented.

Too often pilots forget they are in command of the situation and that ATC isn’t. When justified, “Unable” is a completely appropriate response to an ATC directive with which it would be hazardous to comply.

Gary Dikkers
Madison, Wis.

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Deadstick Practice
Absolutely every GA pilot, whether flying singles or twins, will benefit greatly by getting a glider rating. Not only will you have the most fun flying that you have experienced since you first soloed, but you will become totally comfortable landing an aircraft “dead stick.” It is simply a matter of energy management.

I decided to get a glider rating 12 years ago to be a safer power pilot. Today, 1800 hours of glider flight time later, I find that flying a sailplane, whether in the pattern or on a 300-mile cross-country, is infinitely more fun than flying behind an engine. And my power flying is safer.

For a glider operation near you, check the Soaring Society of America’s Web site: www.ssa.org.

P.C. Neumann
Reno, Nev.

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Stuck Mics
I just read the December Unicom. You should know that the Bendix-King’s KX155/KX165 series, one of the most popular around, has a timeout circuit for stuck mic switches. After 33 seconds of transmission, the unit times out and the display flashes as a warning. I have a ‘98 Skyhawk with these radios so there must be thousands.

Just thought you would like to know this problem has been solved by B-K and probably others.

Bob Hegel
Holland, Mich.


Thirty-three seconds? Is that all? No wonder we can’t seem to complete a downwind position report.

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NEXRAD Terminology
In Paul Bertorelli’s article on NEXRAD and thunderstorm avoidance he includes a partially incorrect characterization of NEXRAD’s base reflectivity: “...base reflectivity, a single-scan NEXRAD product that uses the radar’s lowest antenna angle, at ½ degree above the horizon.” In NEXRAD, “base” denotes this is some of the radar’s primary, or basic, unprocessed data.

About a year ago one of the glossy aviation publications equated NEXRAD’s “base” with cloud bases. Instead, base reflectivity is the NEXRAD radar’s measure of reflected signal intensity; NEXRAD measures it on all reflections at all tilt angles and at all altitudes. The Base Reflectivity Product is a single-scan portrayal of signal intensity at one given antenna angle. It’s available for four different antenna angles.

The NEXRAD Composite product processes the Base Reflectivity products to develop a display of maximum reflectivity from all altitudes over any given point. The problem is that the NEXRAD Composite has a resolution of four km by four km, in contrast to Base Reflectivity’s resolution of one km.

To give pilots (and others) better resolution, both WSI and WxWorks take the NEXRAD Base Reflectivity products from all antenna angles and process them to develop their own composite displays.

Joe Budge
Via e-mail