Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Flight instructing is often a pilot's first job in aviation. It merely requires a commercial pilot certificate and a flight instructor's certificate - which a pilot can obtain with just over 250 hours of flight time (less than that at some schools). There are precious few other jobs that a 250-hr commercial pilot can compete for, so most build time by flight instructing.
Flight instructing takes a lot of skill, patience, and planning. Not everyone is cut out for it, and there are a number of horrible instructors out there. Some of them really try but have no teaching ability, or are poor communicators. Others, though, simply have no patience and view the job as beneath them, just a stepping stone to bigger and better things. I have no sympathy for people like these. They should not be in aviation at all. Somebody who treats students poorly will someday treat their crewmembers poorly.
On the other hand, there are many excellent instructors out there that have my full respect. Many of these are still time-builders, but they recognize the importance of their current job and devote their full energies to it. I think that's pretty indicative of how they'll do in future flying jobs.
When I instructed, I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with it. I enjoyed the teaching aspect of the job, and I got pretty good at it. When you got a"bad" student, though, it wasn't very enjoyable. At some point you might have to tell them that more training was futile, they just couldn't hack it - and their response wasn't likely to be cheerful. Instructing could also be a dangerous job, as the following incident illustrates.
One of my first students, Anas, was an older guy from Egypt. He'd recently done his instrument training, and wanted to add a multi-engine rating to his private license. This was in May in Southern California, when the marine layer is rather persistent, which required us to do some of the training in the clouds (IMC). Anas tried to kill me on our first approach - twice!
The VOR-A approach to Brackett (available in PDF here) approaches Pomona VOR from the south, with a descent to a minimum altitude (MDA) of 1800 ft, and then 1640 ft when 1 mile from the VOR. The airport is at 1011 feet elevation, but the VOR, which you cross to get to the airport, is on a 1400 ft hill...so you're pretty darn close to the rocks at 1640 ft.
Anyways, we're in the clouds at 3000 feet, about 10 miles southwest of the airport on a heading of 080, getting vectored onto the approach by ATC. Anas was horrible at catching radio calls on busy frequencies. "Seneca 298, five miles from GOLDI, turn left 030, maintain 3000 until established, cleared VOR-A approach." Anas didn't respond. "Dude, they're talking to you!" He looks at me with a goofy look so I grab the call. "030 and 3000 till established, cleared for the approach, Seneca 298." Anas began the turn to intercept as I answered the call; I looked down at the approach plate.
I looked up from my approach plate and we were in a 45 degree bank. "ANAS! Bank Angle!" He didn't respond so I told him "My airplane!" and brought the airplane to a more sane bank angle. I asked him what happened and he said he was looking down for something. So now I'm thinking, great, I have a instrument-rated student who can't fly in the clouds. Still, I decided to see how he did on the rest of the approach, and gave him the controls again.
Passing GOLDI, he extended the landing gear and descended to 1800 feet, but at that altitude we were still in the clouds. Passing 1DME (1 mile from the VOR), the approach calls for a descent to 1640', but Anas kept level at 1800'. Now that one last mile of the approach only takes 30 seconds, so things here happen quickly. "Anas, if you want to see the airport, you're going to have to descend to the published MDA." He didn't respond. "Anas, that's 1640 feet. You need to descend."
Suddenly he pushed the control wheel forward visciously, sending me upwards into my shoulder harness. We popped out of the clouds almost instantanously to the view of that 1400' hill rushing up at us. I yelled "MY CONTROLS" and tugged back on the control wheel as I throttled the engines and retracted the gear. I flew the missed approach almost too angry to speak. I calmed down enough to fly the approach, land, taxi in, and shut down before turning to him and asking why he did that. "Well, you wanted to go down," he said innocently.
I actually worked with Anas for some time after that, but he never improved much. When I told him I could not sign him off for the checkride, he became extremely angry and threatened to sue me and the school. He eventually skipped the country to Egypt, owing the school over $1000.
I have a few more stories about students like Anas but I'll save them for another time. The point is, despite incidents like the one above, on the whole I enjoyed instructing and miss it a little, which is why I keep my CFI certificate current so I can use it with people like Johnny, and other friends & family.
Tuesday, March 29, 2005
Johnny lives in SoCal. He's a former minor rockstar (his band toured Europe with Van Halen & Journey) who owns and runs a successful distribution business with his brother and sister. He was one of the best students I ever had...he caught onto flying very quickly. He took his checkride shortly before I left instructing.
Johnny recently bought a 1984 Piper Warrior. I'd never seen it, and he needed a Biennial Flight Review (BFR) so I jumpseated down to Ontario yesterday & we did a few hours of ground and an hour of flying in his airplane. It was good fun, & reminded me of how much I enjoyed instructing, at least with good students.
And yeah, I want my own airplane. Just gotta pay off these student loans first...!
Saturday, March 26, 2005
A stunning blonde gets on a flight to Boise and takes a seat in First Class. All is well until a man boards and sees her in his seat, and alerts one of the flight attendants. The FA checks the woman's boarding pass - sure enough, she's supposed to be back in 21F. "Maam, you're going to have to go sit in your assigned seat," she says.
The blonde looks at her defiantly and says, "I'm blonde, I'm beautiful, and I'm going to Boise. I'm sitting right here."
This flusters the FA a little bit; she goes and gets the lead flight attendant. The lead FA reitterates the need for the blonde to relocate herself to coach, and again the woman responds: "I'm blonde, I'm beautiful, and I'm going to Boise. I'm staying put."
The flight attendants, rather upset, go tell the captain the news. The captain grins and says, "My wife is a blonde. I know how to handle this." He goes back to first class and whispers something into the blonde's ear. Immediately she stands up, gathers her things, and moves back to her assigned seat.
Amazed, the FA's ask the captain what he told her. "Oh, I just told her that coach is going to Boise, but first class is going to Boston!"
Friday, March 25, 2005
Once again, I'm in Sacramento on a 3-day trip (SMF, BOI). Thankfully, the weather is much nicer than last week. The sun is out & it's fairly warm with a light breeze. I'm typing this from my balcony, which is right next to a big palm tree. Sacramento is not my favorite city in California - my time in LA biased me against the San Joaquin Valley - but it's nice that we get down here to enjoy some California weather every once in a while.
A good friend told me last night that she thinks I've become much more negative and cynical lately. I really didn't see it, but she pointed out that I tend to complain about my job in this blog rather than talk about the cool things I do and see, and what I like about my job. I guess that's because I wanted this blog to provide a balanced look at the airline piloting profession. Too many people get into this industry with an unrealistic expectation of what it will be like, & the training schools sure aren't telling their students about the downsides of this job. So, in trying to restore some balance, perhaps I've swung the other way & given readers the idea that airline pilots are a bunch of complaining jerks.
On the whole, I do love this job, and I'm very grateful to be where I am at only 23 years old. I get to see some gorgeous country & work with some great people & fly a state-of-the-art airplane. Good job, a wife I love, buying a house of our own...throw in a couple of kids and it's the flippin' American Dream. So I'll try to reflect this overall happiness in future posts, even if it's accompanied by a few complaints over certain aspects of my job.
[Used to be a picture of flight crew and myself @ restaurant, taken down for privacy reasons]
This is Steve, Karina, Debbie, and myself at the El Torito restaurant in Sacramento last week. They were a great crew to fly with - we had a lot of fun. Crews like these make a 4-day trip go much quicker and seem much more bearable.
Fortunately, I have yet to fly with a truly horrible crew where I wanted to gnaw my own arm off by the fourth day. It's just that most MegaWhacker crews tend to be significantly older than myself, lack much of a sense of humor, & tend to stick to themselves on layovers. These crews are known as "slam-click" crews....because the hotel doors go slam, click, and you don't see them again until the next day. With crews like this, I just find something to do on my own.
It's much more enjoyable to have a fun-loving crew that you get along well with. A friendly captain you can converse with makes the legs go much quicker, and you talk & joke with the FA's between flights. During the day you'll typically make plans for the layover, so that gives you something to look forward to.
When I was interning at TWA, an old captain gave me a piece of advice: "Once you become a captain, always take great care of your crew, no matter what it costs you." I've taken that to heart, but would add that I want to be a captain my crews enjoy flying with.
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
Anyways by the time it was together & we got headed back to Portland, the weather was worse & cumulus clouds were layered over the Cascade Range from the surface to FL200 (20,000 ft). I soldiered through the smaller ones and deviated around larger buildups. When I had no choice but to go through a decent buildup, I came out the other side with significantly more ice buildup. Fortunately, there was enough time between buildups for the deice boots to keep up.
Some explanation is in order for non-aviation types. When airplanes fly through visible moisture in freezing temperatures, ice can form on them. This is potentially dangerous; any amount of ice adds weight and drag, decreasing performance. Left unchecked, icing can and has brought airplanes down. Most ice occurs in clouds at temps between -15 and 0 degrees C; cumulus clouds usually contain more icing potential than stratus clouds, although the latter usually cover more territory.
To combat icing, many twin engine aircraft, a few singles, and nearly all turbines incorporate de-ice/anti-ice equipment. This usually consists of heated pitot tubes (airspeed sensors), windshield heat, prop heat and/or engine inlet heat, and wing/tail leading edge protection in one of the following forms: de-ice boots that inflate and break ice up, "hot wings" that heat the surfaces above freezing, or chemical anti-ice systems.
De-ice boots are the cheapest solution and the one used on most piston-powered aircraft; unfortunately, they lose effectiveness over time and cannot be used to fly in icing conditions indefinately. The best solution, no matter what your equipment, is to get out of icing by altering course or altitude, or even turning around if the situation becomes dangerous. Of course, with less power, speed, and altitude capability, your options are more limited in piston powered aircraft...which incidently have the least capable equipment. You've got to be smart flying this equipment in this area of the country in winter, or you can find yourself in a world of hurt, real fast.
Incidently, most of my icing experience took place in California. Yes, we have ice down there in the winter; it's usually not near the surface, but because of mountainous terrain, you're often forced to fly at higher altitudes where it's cold enough for airframe icing.
Monday, March 21, 2005
On a somewhat related note, the Age-60 rule may soon become the Age-63 or 65 rule. There's always been some active opposition to the FAA's requirement that airline pilots retire by their 60th birthday, but this time the chances look pretty good.
The environment is different this time because various bankrupt carriers such as United and USAirways have terminated their pensions. This leaves the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. (PBGC) to administer their pilot pension plan according to a standard, greatly reduced formula. The problem is that this formula is based on age of retirement. If you retire at age 65, you get about $44,000 per year - itself a massive cut from the pension that retirees expected - but at age 60 it is under $29,000 per year. With retirees unable to draw on Social Security benefits until age 65, airline pilots forced to retire at age 60 are faced with real financial difficulty. Thus Congress has recently started to take action.
The courts may beat them to it. Twelve Southwest Airlines pilots are suing the federal government to have the age-60 rule waived for them. Incredibly, Southwest is supporting their lawsuit:
Next week, TIME has learned, Southwest Airlines will file a friend of the court brief in support of the pilots' challenge. For Southwest, one of the nation's biggest airlines and one which, remarkably, has never had a fatal accident in its thirty years of flying, to be the first major airline to take such a decisive step puts real momentum behind the move to throw out the Age 60 rule. "Times are changing," says Southwest spokesman Linda Rutherford. "We are losing some really good pilots."
In the short term, this is bad news for young pilots like myself who are hoping for retirements at the majors to create a little movement within the industry. Still, I think it's the right thing to do. If a pilot wishes to work beyond 60, so long as they can pass the medical every six months, there is no data that suggests that they are less safe than a younger pilot. Indeed, their vast field of experience likely offsets any slowdown in mental abilities. Still, in 37 years I suspect I'll have had enough, & will retire to a comfortable life of Super Cub flying.
Sunday, March 20, 2005
Howard Hughes; Jimmy Doolittle; Jacky Cochran; Chuck Yeager; Neil Armstrong; Burt Rutan: these are some of the heros of aviation enshrined at the National Aviation Hall of Fame. One of my own aviation heros, though, is not there, and you've probably never heard of him unless you're in the aviation field.
Al Haynes didn't design any groundbreaking airplanes or set any records. Until a fateful day in 1989, he was just another airline pilot enduring the daily grind. On July 19, 1989, however, he demonstrated great airmanship and professionalism in handling a crippling emergency, and in the process saved 184 lives.
United Flight 232, a DC-10, was at FL370 when the #2 engine suffered a catastrophic failure. At the time, the DC-10 routed lines for all three hydraulic systems through the tail, which is where debris from the #2 engine severed them, leading to a loss of all three systems. In the DC-10, all the flight controls are hydraulic with no manual reversion - ailerons, elevators, rudders, flaps, slats - everything. After they lost the hydraulics, Haynes and his crew were left with only one way to keep the airplane marginally under control: differential thrust from the two remaining wing-mounted engines. By operating the thrust levers (throttles) independantly, they could keep the airplane from banking too steeply either way and approximately control their direction. They never had any real pitch control; the stabilizer stayed where it was last trimmed, and the airplane slowly oscillated up and down, trying to maintain it's trimmed airspeed.
UAL232 was over Iowa when the emergency occured. Minneapolis Center vectored them to Sioux City, where as luck would have it, the National Guard was conducting a drill at the airport. Haynes experimented with ways to control the airplane, eventually concluding that they had absolutely no control other than by differential power. Upon learning that a DC-10 check airman was deadheading in the cabin, Haynes brought him up to the cockpit to sit in the jumpseat & assist in operating the thrust levers. They manually lowered the landing gear and got the airplane alligned with a closed runway .
At about 100 feet above the runway, their luck ran out. The pitch, which had never been controllable, started on one of its downward oscillations at the same time a wing dropped quicker than differential thrust could bring it back up. The wingtip contacted the runway and the airplane cartwheeled. In the ensuing crash, 112 people died, but an amazing 184 escaped with their lives, including Al Haynes. Later attempts at landing a DC-10 by thrust control alone, in a simulator, were less successful.
Al Haynes isn't a hero to me because his actions that day were that heroic; any professional pilot would've taken the same actions, pulling out all the stops to save the airplane. To be sure, his skill certainly played a role in the outcome, but he is quick to point out that luck, or a higher power, played a much bigger part in it. However, his actions that day do epitomize what it means to me to be a professional pilot: top-notch airmanship, intelligence, planning, teamwork, and a calm demeanor whether faced with a Cat III approach in deteriorating weather, or landing a seemingly unflyable airplane. In Al Haynes we see what is good in this profession, and an example to strive towards. His experience is instructive of why computers will never completely replace humans in the cockpit.
Incidently, Captain Haynes indirectly played a role in me meeting my wife. In October 2000, I drove from Grand Forks down to St. Cloud to visit a friend and listen to Haynes give a speech to the local Aero Club. That night I met Dawn for the first time. She lived across the hall from my friend.
Saturday, March 19, 2005
Palm Springs was also cloudy - quite rare for there - although there wasn't any rain when we landed. While we were on the descent, we listened to Palm Springs Approach chastizing a Gulfstream business jet who had wandered off his assigned routing while in the clouds. You don't want to do that in Palm Springs, for obvious reason that the following picture well illistrates:
I got my four day trip extended to a fifth day, so I'll be in Billings tomorrow. Grr.
Thursday, March 17, 2005
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
Among regional airlines, unionization is a newer development. For years, the regionals were merely a brief stepping stone to the majors for non-military pilots. However, in recent years, "regional" airlines have become anything but regional: growing exponentially, flying long routes once flown by major carriers, flying more advanced jet aircraft. This shift, along with more recent downsizing at major carriers and fewer military pilots going straight to the majors, has prompted pilots to think of regional airline flying as a long-term, even lifelong, position. Unfortunately, regional airline pay and working conditions are far inferior to most major airlines. Consequently, unionism has made strong inroads at various regional airlines, although it is by no means universal.
Whether the unions have actually improved life at the regionals is open to interpretation. The strongest union is no match for "the invisible hand" of the job market. Despite predictions of pilot shortages, there is actually a surplus of qualified pilots at the regional level. Most of these are coming from low-pay, hard-working jobs like flight instructing or freight flying, & are more than willing to work like dogs for substandard wages if it means getting their hands on that new regional jet. After a year or two, the glamour wears off and the pilot realizes how underpayed he is, but good luck trying to improve things...there are always thousands of eager lowtimers waiting in the wings for his job, and they'll do it for even less money.
At individual airlines, improvements have certainly been made. Horizon pay improved drastically, especially for newer pilots, after their first union contract in 2001. Comair, a regional airline owned by Delta, went on strike to get their industry-leading contract. But once again, market forces foil efforts to raise the industry as a whole. Most airlines "codeshare" with numerous regionals, and if one gets too expensive, they'll simply shift more flying to a less-expensive one. After Comair pilots got their hard-won contract, Delta stopped awarding them new flying in favor of other carriers. Consequently, movement stagnated & first officers had to wait much longer to upgrade to captain. Comair pilots recently voted to freeze their pay in exchange for more flying from Delta.
The undisputed king of undercutting is Mesa Airlines. This airline's pilots are actually unionized, but they have some of the lowest wages and harshest usage in the industry - and the airline has grown in leaps and bounds because of it. Mesa now flies for America West, United, and USAirways, having replaced flying for quite a few more expensive regionals. Mesa pilots have taken the brunt of anti-Mesa sentiment in the industry - I know of captains that refuse them jumpseat priveledges - but they have no problems filling their classes. In fact, their CEO, Jon Orenstein, has stated that his pilots are overpaid since he has no problems filling classes. These "overpaid" pilots are making only $1400/month, but from a job market standpoint he is correct.
I don't think that unionization is a magic bullet. I'm not anti-union (I'm a Teamster's member here at Horizon), but I realize that market forces are neccesarily more powerful right now. This will likely continue until the number of qualified pilots goes down, or a culture change takes place where new pilots demand better compensation. Still, unions are a useful tool right now to unify and organize pilots at single airlines, and to effect a culture where professional pilots expect to be compensated as professionals.
For a future post: How ALPA has lost popularity by representing conflicting interests, & why the alternatives aren't much better.
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Heh, why don't ya commit a random act of senseless beauty and fix your bumper!?
Update: I'm a very bad person for making fun of hippies and other people with idealist bumperstickers. Furthermore, I'm a bad pilot for it, a disgrace to my airline. To make amends, I'll make the following PA tomorrow:
"Dear brothers and sisters, welcome to our bonding experience at 25,000 feet. As fellow laborers, we feel connected to you and are pleased to share the bounty of our all-natural food and drink cart with you. No payment is neccessary - in this commune aloft, every person gives according to their abilities and takes according to their needs, and money is simply a token of enslavement we must all reject. For the next hour, bask in the positive energy of this flying friendship vessel. Once we return to mother earth, make sure that you take your joy and your positive aura with you! Now, our esteemed group leader, Captain Doug, will lead us in a heartfelt rendition of 'We are the World' along with the controllers of Seattle Center."
So today was my day off. I was supposed to be house-hunting with our realtor, Kim. Last night at 9PM, though, I got a call from crew scheduling. They had a trip for today that they were unable to fill - a Burbank roundtrip. Now, my name was on the "draft-me" board at crew scheduling. I don't mind working a day off if the compensation is right. But given that I had plans, I didn't really want to take it. "It's 5.5 hours of premium pay" said the crew scheduler. I did some quick mental math - that's about $225. I accepted the trip.
Fast forward to 5:49AM this morning. I checked in and printed my trip report - and it showed me doing a San Jose roundtrip. The pay is 1.5 hours less than what I was told. I called up crew scheduling & asked what was going on. The guy was apologetic - "I figured you wouldn't mind since you were already at the airport. I'm sorry I didn't notify you." Okay, fine, but when I get back I'm going to talk to somebody about the pay difference.... That was a mistake. I should've refused the assignment right there & said the plane doesn't fly until I'm guaranteed 5.5 hours of pay.
So I fly the trip, but when I get back I go talk to one of our assistant chief pilots, SM. His first response was blunt: you get paid only what you fly. After examining my case, though - that my first assignment was cancelled, and I was then essentially redrafted without notification - he said I might have a case, and he would run it through the chief pilot. After all, the contract does say that "a junior assigned pilot may not be relieved from an open time assignment without his consent."
SM called back shortly thereafter to say that according to our chief pilot, I was not relieved from my assigment; that once the company drafted me, they could reassign me however they pleased. They have a previous grievance ruling that backs up this interpretation of the contract. Well, screw that! I volunteer to be junior manned when the compensation makes it worth my time; I don't volunteer to be used in any way the company pleases! I get enough of that on my scheduled days, I don't need it on my days off. This is the last time I help them out. From now on, the only way they junior man me is in strict accordance with the contract, and I will use every last provision to get out of it. If they're going to toe the line, I'm going to toe the line. They just lost an easy way to fill open time, all for stiffing me out of a measly $60.
Monday, March 14, 2005
Not that there's a lot to do in Lakeview. Contrary to the name, there is no lake nearby or even within view. The lake in question is Goose Lake, about 20 miles away. Lakeview's other claims to fame are being an All-American Town finalist in 1989, and being home to Old Perpetual Geyser. It doesn't sound quite as impressive as Old Faithful, and it's not.
Welcome to Lakeview! We don't much like gun control around here!
Crater Lake from 10 miles south at 9500.'
My Chieftain, parked on the ramp in Lakeview. This bird has over 22,000 hours on it.
Yeah. Not a lot happening here at the Lake County Airport.
Cruising Main St. in the pimp Dodge Colt!
Wow, this guy gets around a lot.
My lovely digs at the Best Western - Skyline Motor Lodge. Actually, I have the room around back that looks like it needed remodeled in 1980.
Saturday, March 12, 2005
Nice sunset tonight.
I've writing this post from the A concourse in PDX, which is uncharacteristically quiet for this hour. I just checked in for my overnight trip to Calgary, but our plane doesn't arrive until 7, giving me a little time to check my email, write this post, etc.
It was another gorgeous day in Portland. Dawn and I spent it helping our friends Ryan and Natasha trim trees in their yard. It felt almost like I was a normal person with a normal job: doing yardwork on a Saturday!
But of course, I'm a ways from having Saturdays off, so off I go to Canada.
Friday, March 11, 2005
Without going into all the details, the plane arrived late and had several maintenance issues that needed resolved - including a massively clogged, really nasty lavatory - which was fine because the marine layer had SoCal entirely socked in. Burbank was below minimums but forecast to improve, as was LAX and Ontario. If we couldn't get in, we'd have to go to Palm Springs. The flight attendants - both rather senior, the types that don't want to work if they can possibly help it - were hoping against hope that the flight would cancel. Well, we didn't cancel but left the gate well over an hour late, by which time it was apparent the weather was not improving as forecast. It did improve just before we got there, so we were able to land. Then we got to battle our way back to Portland against 50 kt headwinds.
Otherwise it was another gorgeous day. The forecasters keep predicting rain but the storm systems out the north Pacific keep breaking up and/or sliding by to our north. It's looking like there's going to be a serious drought this year. The air attack guys (fire bombers) are going to have their hands full this summer - this place is going to be a tinderbox! I already saw three pretty good sized fires in southern Oregon today.
Here's a picture I took of our apartment complex tonight at dusk, thanks to the new Fuji FinePix A340 camera Dawn got me for my birthday. Yeah, it's like a month away, but she decided to give it to me early. She spoils me!
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
It's not that I can't sympathize. If I held their political views, I'd be horribly pissed at the world as well. Communism has fallen around the world, capitalism is so accepted that it's seldom questioned anymore, Bush and the GOP hold the White House and both houses of Congress, and all the activists' hard work has failed to bring about the collectivist utopia they were promised. This turn of events presents our lefty hero with a choice: reconsider whether their long-held views might be, in fact, wrong - or rage against the machine that's made the world this way - shut it down!
Thus they lay down in the middle of a busy street at 5PM, sending a clear message to all those sport-jacketed office dwellers on their way to home in the 'burbs: If you don't agree with us, we can create hell on earth. The ironic part is that around here, most of the yuppies whose cars are being blocked hold similar views to the protesters. But after some barking moonbat lays in front of his car with "Bush = Terrorist #1!" on one side of his sign and "Long live the Palestinian Infitada - Down with Israel!" on the other - this yuppie has got to be reexamining his political affiliations.
See, the left keeps shooting itself in the foot by recycling their tactics from 1968. Folks, times have changed! America is not going to respond to that anymore. For starters, the national acid trip ended like 30 years ago. I realize that chanting those slogans and carrying that sign makes you feel like you're out there doing something great for humanity, but feeling good and doing good are two different things. You need to find a different way to express yourself and get out the message. Lose the anger, take a shower, and ditch the ragged clothes - and then the America of 2005 might listen to what you have to say.
I have a brother, Jon, who has been in Iraq since last March with the Minnesota National Guard. His unit is attached to 1 Cav in Baghdad. He has internet access in his barracks, so it's been very interesting to get his front-line perspective on the war. He'll be home soon, and I'm very thankful that we'll be getting him back in one piece. I know there are so many military families out there that will never see their loved one again.
My own political views are pretty conservative (as an aside, pilots tend to be a rather conservative group). I feel that the war was just and warranted, and as messy as the current situation is, it is preferable to having left the middle east unchanged as the same cesspool that produced bin Laden and his ilk. I can understand the views of those who feel the war was not in America's best interests, or feel that it was sold to America in a misleading way. I don't agree with them, but there is nothing intrinsically "anti-american" in those sentiments.
What gets me, though, is people who take these positions and then turn around and say, "but I support our troops." Oh, really? What, pray tell, are you doing to support them? Not wishing them ill? That and five bucks will get me a coffee at Starbuck's. People, I don't even claim to be supporting the troops. I agree with what they're doing in Iraq, but aside from my brother I haven't written them, or sent them care packages, or comforted their families when they died in battle. How then, do you, who disagrees with their mission, who says "I told you so!" everytime one of them dies in a fiery blast, who protests their presence publicly - what, exactly, are you doing to "support the troops?"
Let us drop the empty phrases while we dish up some refreshing honesty, shall we? You don't support the troops. You don't have anything against them as people, but you are against what they are doing. You feel they are working for a bad cause. You think the insurgents are just protecting their home, and are justified in fighting our troops. You even feel a tinge of vindication every time a car bomb goes off in a GI's face. No, you do not support the troops. You are against them and what they stand for. Ok, great.. You may love your country, but want to make it a place that does not send it's young men to far-flung corners of the globe to wreak death upon other human beings. Fair enough. But to say you support the military while selling this utopian vision to the american public is dishonest. The military men, for starters, won't hesitate to call it for what it is. My brother sure doesn't.
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
Since coming to Horizon, I haven't non-reved nearly as much as I'd like to. This is mainly because Dawn's work schedule never lines up with mine, and it wouldn't be very nice to take a jaunt to Europe without my wife, would it!? Still, we've managed to do a few short trips. I surprised Dawn with a trip to Cabo San Lucas for our one-year anniversary (I highly recommend Casa Natalia if you wish to stay in San Jose del Cabo). Over Thanksgiving, we visited Vancouver and Victoria, BC. Dawn's also used her travel bennies quite often while accompanying me on overnights.
When I was an intern for TWA in Spring 2001, I travelled pretty much every weekend (not much to do in STL!). Some of the experiences were pretty memorable. My friend Kim and I hopped a flight to Chicago to see the feild museum and grab some pizza for dinner. I flew to Miami one Saturday just to lay on the beach for the day, returning that evening. I flew to Cancun during spring break, and ended up sharing a hammock on the roof of a hostel with some Australian chick. The next week I was in Hawaii for the entire week, my boss having all but forced me to take a spring break. I camped on the beach on Oahu's north shore. That was the second time I visited Hawaii during the internship.
My most insane nonrev adventure, though, was probably the trip to Cairo. I was originally planning to hit Paris with some other interns that weekend, but those plans fell through. I decided to go as far around the world as I could go and still get back before work on Monday, and Cairo was it. Mind you, I was only able to spend 9 hours there! The captain I flew there with invited me to stay with the crew on their 72 hour layover, but I declined so I could make it back for work on Monday. When my boss found that out, he said I should've stayed and he would've been fine with it! Oh, well. All the flights were full, so in total I spent 28 hours on the jumpseats of 757's and 767's that weekend.
My biggest regret about the internship was that I didn't do more international travel. At various times I was planning to visit London, Paris, and Tel Aviv, but each time the plans fell through. I would like to do some traveling in Europe and Asia in future, but with getting a house this summer, it probably won't be anytime soon.
Airline readers: What was your most memorable non-rev adventure? Open thread in the comments section.
Update: Readers? What readers? Who do I think I am, Tom Clancy!?
Monday, March 07, 2005
I can't really hold the emphasis on landings against the passengers - as pilots, we do put a lot of effort into our landings, and get a charge out of a really nice one. As an aside, a nice landing and a good landing are two entirely different things. A good landing merely requires that:
1. The airplane be near centerline.Professional pilots make good landings the vast majority of the time. Nice landings depend both on the pilot and the airplane. I've flown with a few captains that were very consistent on their landings, but they were never greasers. One of them told me he'd much rather have consistently good landings that weren't greasers, than try so hard to make greasers that he ended up with a few bad ones. That makes sense.
2. The airplane's heading is the same as the runway heading.
3. The touchdown occurs with no sideways drifting (side-load).
4. Descent rate is slowed prior to touchdown (unless landing on a aircraft carrier!).
Not all airplanes are created equal when it comes to landings. Some are known to be easy, and some are notoriously hard. The MegaWhacker is one of the hard ones: it requires special technique, and is extremely inconsistent. The difficulty derives from it's length. The MegaWhacker is 107 feet long, yet is fairly low-slung, so caution must be exercised to avoid hitting the tail on the ground during takeoff and landing. On landing, we can use no more than 5 degrees of pitch while close to the ground; depending on flap setting and weight, approach pitch is usually already 1-3 degrees, so there is very little additional pitch available to slow the descent rate in the flare.
When airplanes get close to the ground, they encounter a "cushion of air" known as ground effect. This slows the descent rate somewhat, but is not enough to prevent a hard landing by itself. In most airplanes, you retard the throttles (cut the power), and pitch the nose up to slow the descent rate. In my airplane, cutting the power effects a massive descent rate, so that's a really bad idea. Since we cannot pitch up much more, we usually hold our pitch angle steady while adding a touch of power.
The problem is compounded by the sensitivity of the throttles. On a landing with the flaps set at 35 degrees, only about 2% additional torque is needed. Just bumping the throttles slightly can result in 5% torque increase. If too much power is added, the pitch must be immediately decreased or the airplane will "balloon," after which the pilot will need to cut power and the landing will be firm.
Given all of this, you can see why consistently nice landings are almost impossible in my airplane. I do occasionally make greasers - I made one of my best a few days ago - but in between them are decent landings, ok landings, and teeth-chattering pounders that leave every passenger calling their personal injury lawyers. Furthermore, getting used to landing the MegaWhacker has completely screwed up my landing technique in other airplanes. When flying the C-152 at Troutdale, it takes every inch of willpower to make myself reduce power to idle on short final, and use enough pitch to keep the nosewheel off the runway during landing.
Incidently, there are times where really nice landings are inappropriate. On a short runway, a very wet runway, a slippery runway, or in a heavy crosswind, a firm touchdown is much safer than a "greaser." Furthermore, really nice landings don't save any wear-and-tear over good landings. So really, making a greaser is all about passenger comfort, and more significantly, boosting the pilot's ego.
Saturday, March 05, 2005
Thursday, March 03, 2005
Not to diminish Fossett's contribution, but I really think Burt Rutan is the aviation giant of the age. Fresh off his success with SpaceShipOne, another of his airplanes made aviation history, and his chances of making a successful commercial space venture look good. In fact, the plan is for him to do so in concert with Sir Richard Branson of Virgin fame, who bankrolled this flight as well.
The news media is hardly giving it any press. They're too busy covering Martha's release and Jacko's trial to pay attention to history in the making.
By the way, GlobalFlyer landed with 1900 lbs of fuel, so it appears that either the "missing fuel" was merely an indication problem or he did some massive endurance-stretching.
"What is chiefly needed is skill, rather than machinery."
--Wilbur Wright, 1902
"Airshow flying is tough; it's even tougher if you do something stupid. Don't do nothin' dumb!"
"Beware, dear son of my heart, lest in thy new-found power thou seekest even the gates of Olympus....These wings may bring thy freedom but may also come thy death."
-- Daedalus to Icarus
"Death is just nature's way of telling you to watch your airspeed.
"If an airplane is still in one piece, don't cheat on it. Ride the bastard down."
--Ernest K. Gann
"Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm."
"If you're faced with a forced landing, fly the thing as far into the crash as possible."
--R.A. Bob Hoover
"The alleviation of human error, whether design or intrinsically human, continues to be the most important problem facing aerospace safety.
"Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater extent than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity, or neglect.
All photos shown are public domain and can also be found at http://www.micom.net/oops/.
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
Interesting development to Fossett's jaunt around the globe:
(CNN) -- Millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett's attempt to fly around the world solo on a single tank of gas may fall short because of a faulty fuel gauge.
Back-up sensors to the fuel gauge indicate the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer has 2,600 pounds less fuel than expected. Mission managers said they do not think the aircraft is losing fuel.
Engineers were perplexed and are trying to determine if there was a mistake putting the fuel on board the plane or if something happened within the first three hours of the flight, Virgin spokeswoman Lori Levin told CNN.
One theory is that despite the full reading on the fuel gauge after the tanks were filled, they may have been 2,600 pounds short of fuel.As of 10:30 a.m. ET Wednesday, Fossett was over China with 5,500 pounds of fuel remaining.
Seems to me there isn't much of a decision to make. If the
standby fuel gauges show him 2600 lbs short, chances are he
does not have the needed fuel, and to press on is to invite
a swim in the Pacific - assuming he survives the ditching.
Today is my day off, as was yesterday. I didn't get a call from Ameriflight, so yesterday I drove around looking at houses in Battleground, and today I'm doing...nothing. I considered going skiing but the snow kinda sucked when I was on Mt. Hood last week and they haven't had much new snow since. So right now I'm listening to The Beatles' Revolver, and some Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon after that. I'm on a bit of a classic rock kick lately.
Tomorrow I start AM home reserve. The only crappy thing about that is that you can get called at 4:30am. It's a crappy feeling to wake to the ringing cellphone, knowing you're getting called out.
My airline's service between LAX and Reno starts this week. If I get sent on a Reno overnight, I am so hitching a ride up to Tahoe to do some skiing. They seem to be getting all our snow this winter.
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
The last several years have seen vast changes in the technology available for light aircraft cockpits. An example is the Garmin G1000 pictured above. It's a fully integrated instrumentation and navigation suite, a "glass cockpit" with capablity approaching that of the Q400 I fly. Solid-state accelerometers replace old vacuum-driven gyros for attitude and heading reference, and GPS technology shows the pilot precisely where the airplane and programmed course are. Terrain, traffic, and weather can all be shown on the large multi-function display. These are all things that've been trickling into small planes the past several years, but you've never seen them integrated like this in anything less than a $20 million airliner or business jet. The crazy part is that all this capability isn't much more expensive than the 1960's technology it replaces.
So what we're seeing is nothing less than a revolution in the cockpit of today's light aircraft. There is no doubt pilots will love having all this technology at their fingertips. My only question is: will it make flying safer? My guess is that in the long run, it will not.
My reasoning is this: the majority of GA accidents are caused by lapses in judgement. New technology will provide pilots with a plethora of information, but will not magically provide pilots with the judgement to use that information in the safest manner possible.
As an example: controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) accounts for a large percentage of accidents in IMC (instrument conditions). Pilots flying with the G1000 will be able to see exactly where the terrain is relative to their position - therefore sharply reducing CFIT accidents. Will this terrain depiction, however, lower the total accident rate? Pilots kill themselves in large numbers by flying into instrument conditions they've not been trained for (VFR into IMC). It seems likely that having precise terrain information will entice many pilots to fly into weather scuzzier than what they'd normally venture into, increasing the number of accidents due to VFR pilots losing control in instrument conditions.
Likewise, having downlinked weather radar and lightning strike information is a very useful thing. However, it may well embolden the owner of an aircraft lacking onboard radar to go fly on days he'd normally leave the plane in the hangar. Suddenly visual avoidance and giving thunderstorms a wide berth doesn't seem so important when you can see on your MFD that the heavy rain starts right there. Pilots may find themselves taking chances they'd never take before, which will lead to an increase in aircraft utility - but also an increase in the cases where pilots pay the ultimate price for a lack of caution.
Having traffic avoidance equipment can be invaluable in busy parts of the country. My first summer flight instructing in the Los Angeles basin, I had no less than fifteen near-misses with other aircraft. Still, having TCAS or the equivalent is not foolproof: keep in mind that there are many airplanes out there lacking transponders, which will not show up on your traffic avoidance equipment. Nonetheless, those of us using it tend to be lulled into a false sense of security, and our traffic scan is nowhere near where it should be at low altitudes. Overall the use of this equipment will probably decrease the number of mid-airs, but others will take place because nobody had their eyes outside the airplane.
In short, I think the new technology is a wonderful thing, but it will not make you safer - and the sooner you recognize that, the safer you'll be. The reason so many light aircraft crash is not inadequate technology - it's inadequate pilots. Sure, buy the nicest avionics suite you can afford, and use it - but seek out the best training, learn your equipment's limitations, know your own limitations, and fly conservatively. It's the way airline pilots fly, and the reason we've acheived such a good safety record.