June 2014

In The Cloud

Subscribers Only - Thankfully and at least in the U.S., we can still fly around in a lot of airspace without showing up on ATC radar screens or talking to anyone. In fact and as a testament to private aviation’s anonymity, more than a few pilots in recent years have made a point of flying from one coast to the other in aircraft lacking electrical systems. It’s a privilege that should be preserved, though it probably won’t be.

Pilot Shortage?

Subscribers Only - Has any one done the math on what would happen to the airlines’ costs if pilot wages were less stratified at the long end of seniority and fairer all around?

Wing And Power Loading

Subscribers Only - Why can one airplane take off and land on short runways while another requires significantly longer takeoff and landing distances? Why does one airplane have better performance (rate of climb, airspeed) than another? Is the airplane you’re about to fly underpowered or overpowered? The answers to these and similar questions lie in understanding fundamental aerodynamic concepts like wing loading and power loading.

The Zen Of Vectors

Subscribers Only - There are three basic ways to navigate in the IFR system: On a published route, visually or via a radar vector. Visual IFR navigation is usually reserved for expediting approaches while published routes can be anything charted, including terminal procedures and en route airways. But radar vectors might be thought of as ATC’s red-headed navigation stepchild: They may or may not involve a published route, and often have a visual component.

Things That Go Bump In The Air

Subscribers Only - Turn on your faucet—any faucet. Start with just a slow stream of water. See how smooth, transparent it is? That's an example of laminar flow. Now, accelerate it by opening the taps fully. Notice how it roils, as a brook after a rainstorm. What you see is the essence of turbulence.

Takeoff Engine Failures

Subscribers Only - The tower controller reached for the crash phone several times before I finally set my feeble J-3 Cub down on the 9000-foot runway for a full-stop landing. Apparently, my desire to practice low-level engine outs was accompanied by the controller’s incipient heart failure. On my side of the mic, I was cleared for takeoff, so I did what I had planned: I pushed the throttle forward to the firewall, climbed as expected (perhaps a bit steeply given the wind and my goal of practicing the worst case, an engine out in VX climb), then yanked the power at 200 feet over the runway to simulate an engine out.

Post-Flight Debrief

Subscribers Only - Pull the mixture or condition lever and the propeller comes to a stop. Turn off the switches and what had been saturated with noise and vibration becomes still and quiet. After removing your headset and while sitting in the momentary silence that follows a flight, perhaps you’ll hear the engine ticking as heat dissipates. It’s time to pack up and leave the cockpit: Your work is done, right? No, not quite. To get the full benefit of the experience you just had, to learn from every flight, you need to spend just a few moments debriefing your flight.

Failure To Feather

Subscribers Only - Each aircraft type has its own set of limitations with which operators must comply if it’s to meet its airworthiness and certification standards. The aircraft’s documentation—a collection of manuals, handbooks, placards and revisions—tell us what those limitations are and how we are to fly it. But what if a critical bit of information wasn’t in that documentation? Or what if it was buried somewhere not easily accessible in flight? How would pilots and operators know of it?

NTSB Reports June 2014: Recent general aviation and air carrier accidents

Subscribers Only - At about 2055 Eastern time, the airplane experienced a total loss of engine power while in cruise flight. The pilot subsequently made an off-airport forced landing to a pasture and the airplane sustained substantial damage to the forward portion of the fuselage, both wings and the rudder. The private pilot and passenger were not injured. Visual conditions prevailed.