May 2019

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Subscribers Only - Checking the weather for a short afternoon flight showed visibility of more than 10 sm and clear skies locally, with a barely moving front off to the west. The forecast showed nothing unusual, although clouds and limited visibility were expected to arrive with nightfall several hours after my anticipated landing time. The temperature/dew point spread was narrow, but around the Great Lakes, we often had high humidity content at lower altitudes as moisture blew in off the water. Seeing ground-level dewpoints only a few degrees away from temperatures wasn’t concerning. Overall, the weather looked great for a local sightseeing flight in the late afternoon.

Carrot, Meet Stick

Since the deadline was established, rumors about how the FAA will handle the coming transition have ranged from extending the deadline at the last minute to dismantling every non-compliant aircraft within Class B airspace and selling them for scrap on January 2. I’m so old I remember when Mode C first was required in certain airspace, and ATC would routinely accommodate non-complying aircraft. Later, they wanted at least an hour’s notice, and the request could be denied. In my experience, ATC has always tried its best to cut some slack on Mode C, especially if everything was working when you took off.

The Transactional Pilot

I tap on a location I observe to be free of obstructions, offering a clear approach corridor and suitable landing surface, and after I get the dot on my app’s chart, I change its “name” to an approach course, e.g., like F17, or G18, and use those designators (you can make up any letter/number you wish), as Field/Approach 170 degrees, or for the other as Grass/Approach 180 degrees. The letters can be for road, crop, highway or water, or whatever looks better—as always, the closer to roads, the better for emergency services access.

Stress In The Cockpit

Subscribers Only - True story: A USAF F-105 Thunderchief pilot was shot down over North Vietnam, ejected and landed in the jungle. Coming up on his emergency radio, he was told a rescue mission was on the way, to hide out and to come back up on the frequency in an hour. The pilot waited for what seemed like an hour and called back; he once again was told to call back when the hour was up—in 55 more minutes.

Lessons Not Learned

The accident occurred nine years almost to the day after an 18,600-hour airline transport pilot flew a Beech Baron into the lake just after departing from the same airport on a nighttime positioning flight. In the case of the Citation, the Board surmised that due to the pilot’s recent transition from a Citation Mustang with a different panel layout, he might have been unaware that he’d never engaged the autopilot as he’d presumably intended. On the night of the Baron accident, ceilings were 25,000 feet and visibility unrestricted, but the moon and city lights were behind the pilot once he turned north over the lake.

Nationwide Roaming

Subscribers Only - Pilots fly for a variety of reasons. If you’re like me, transportation is the main reason to own an airplane. Flying a single-engine general aviation airplane can be an effective way to travel for business and personal reasons, especially in this era of degrading, inflexible and unpredictable airline service. However, to safely use small aircraft for this purpose and manage the risks, you need to expand the scope of your typical planning efforts and be ready to change schedules and even cancel some portions of a trip. This is especially true if, like me, your travel requirements include the entire United States.

Three IFR Curveballs

Flying IFR can get deceptively routine. Most of the time, it means taking off, climbing, cruising, descending, and an approach and landing—all along well-defined routes and usually in VMC. The majority of IFR pilots tend to fly the same routes and procedures again and again, to the point they might memorize communications frequencies and even approach minimums. It’s possible to be extremely proficient at the type of flying you usually do while letting other skills atrophy.

Cockpit Communication

Subscribers Only - I recently had the chance to chat with a long-time friend and pilot about some issues he had with an instructor while working through a flight review. The friend was concerned about the instructor’s critique of his flying, which included comments like, “I didn’t expect you to do that,” and “I would have done it differently.” The friend wasn’t necessarily complaining about the critique itself but the after-the-fact manner in which it was supplied. Ultimately, it undermined his confidence and he chose not to fly with that instructor again, taking his chances with someone different.

Superior Pulls Engines From Service

“When we first learned of the breadth of the detonation problem, we contacted XP-400 engine owners and paid to have them ship their engines to our facility for evaluation,” Superior’s Bill Ross told sister publication Kitplanes. “We disassembled, inspected and tested the key components in each engine,” he said, but even after adjusting the ignition timing specification, “the results were still unsatisfactory.” In response, the company decided to ground affected engines and create a buyback program.

Losing Attitude

Subscribers Only - All other things being equal, one of the benefits of a primary flight display (PFD, which presents flight instrumentation on an electronic panel) is its use of a solid-state attitude and heading reference system, sometimes known as an AHARS. By using an AHARS to determine which side is up and in which direction the airplane is pointed, the vacuum-driven system is avoided and usually only an electrical system failure or failure of the display itself can eliminate the flight instruments. (Certification rules require backup flight instruments when a PFD is present but not when steam gauges are energized by a vacuum pump.)

NTSB Reports

Subscribers Only - As the airplane was vectored to avoid “cells” and “areas of heavy precipitation,” the controller queried the pilot about his inability to maintain assigned headings. The pilot reported that his autopilot “had kicked off” and that “the winds are really weird up here.” At about 1310, the airplane slowed to about 70 knots groundspeed on a northeasterly heading before it began an accelerating 90-degree right turn to the south. By 1313, the controller again asked, “...appears you've turned back to the northwest and...are you going to turn back eastbound?” The pilot replied, “I don't know what's going on up here. I'm working on instruments…acting really goofy here.” Shortly thereafter, the airplane turned and descended from a northerly heading sharply to its right. The radar track tightened to the right as the target rapidly descended, then disappeared at about 1315 in an area that depicted heavy precipitation.

Local Phenomena

Checking the weather for a short afternoon flight showed visibility of more than 10 sm and clear skies locally, with a barely moving front off to the west. The forecast showed nothing unusual, although clouds and limited visibility were expected to arrive with nightfall several hours after my anticipated landing time. The temperature/dew point spread was narrow, but around the Great Lakes, we often had high humidity content at lower altitudes as moisture blew in off the water. Seeing ground-level dewpoints only a few degrees away from temperatures wasn’t concerning. Overall, the weather looked great for a local sightseeing flight in the late afternoon.

Bad Bushings

Found damage on shock absorber assembly. Damage caused from the top boss contacting the shaft shock absorber shaft. The bushing was discovered missing on three aircraft at the same flight school. The manufacturer was notified of damage, affected parts replaced and the aircraft was returned to service. The quality/airworthiness department is currently reviewing work orders in an effort to isolate aircraft affected by this missing bushing. All three aircraft with missing bushings had between 1300 and 1400 hours total time.