Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Student pilot solo

The day your student flies solo is one of the most satisfying days for a flight instructor.  

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Gusty Winds

Gusty Winds
   Today we canceled flight operations because of the winds. Crosswinds and gusty conditions contributed to one third of the reported landing accidents in the 2010 Nall report. The good news is that most of these accidents were not fatal. Every year the Nall report reveals trends in General Aviation and gives pilots a chance to focus our attention on common errors. Unfortunately, most of these errors remain consistent year after year. As a flight instructor we try to teach pilots to avoid becoming a statistic. Don't run out of gas, don't stall/spin, don't fly into a thunderstorm, don't exceed the capabilities of the aircraft or, more importantly your competency.
  The nature of the soup in which we fly is fluid, fluid dynamics. The airplane flies in the relative wind. The relative wind is the direction of movement of the atmosphere relative to the airfoil. Aerodynamics is a complex subject and I do not claim to be an expert. I have a working knowledge and this is greatly simplified, so take this with a grain of salt.
  When the wind is calm our relative wind is controlled by the movement of the airplane. When the aircraft is flying in calm air at 90 knots it will travel across the ground at 90 knots. If the aircraft is flying directly into a 20 knot headwind at 90 knots it will travel across the ground at 70 knots. If the aircraft is flying with a direct 20 knot tailwind at 90 knots it will travel across the ground at 110 knots. This is easy to understand. This makes sense. When we start to explore the effects of winds at other angles the explanation becomes more complex.
Since a picture is worth a thousand words here is a few thousand.

FAA Pilots handbook of aeronautical knowledge.

If we fly east and the atmosphere is moving south we will end up south of where we pointed the aircraft.

FAA Pilots handbook of aeronautical knowledge

  We can use math to figure out how far north (left) we need to point the aircraft to track the direction we want to go. The heading (where the aircraft is pointed) and the track (the path along the ground) are different, and we can use math to determine the exact wind correction angle to fly. We would be in coordinated flight, wings level, ball centered nose pointed one way and ground track in a crab. Landing in a crab would cause problems since the landing gear would be pointed in a different direction than the runway.
  Engineers have developed solutions for this problem. The B-52 could pivot the landing gear. I do not fly B-52s. There are techniques to insure the longitudinal axis of the aircraft is aligned with the runway at touchdown.
  The “crab and kick” and the “wing low” are the two methods to deal with crosswind approachs and landings. The crab and kick method involves flying the final approach segment in a crab and right before touchdown aligning the aircraft with the runway. This method requires very accurate timing.

FAA airplane flying handbook

FAA airplane flying handbook

  The wing low method or slip uses ailerons to control lateral drift and rudder to align the longitudinal axis. This is uncoordinated flight and increases the sink rate. The slip would not be appropriate for aircraft with long wingspans since the wingtips could contact the ground before the landing gear contacted the runway. This is one of the reasons airliners do not slip to land. One of the reasons general aviation aircraft favor this type method is to maintain directional control after landing. They say “fly the airplane all the way through the landing.” Properly executed the upwind wheel will touchdown, then sometime later the downwind wheel, then finally the nosewheel (or tailwheel).  A sudden gust of wind may cause the aircraft to lift off again and directional control is essential. Once we have landed we want to keep the aircraft on the ground and in control. Large aircraft are less susceptible to being blown around and often have spoilers that spoil the lift and make the wings stop flying.
  The airplanes have limits on the amount of crosswind they can safely handle. Many airplanes have a published “maximum demonstrated crosswind component” others have a “maximum crosswind limit.” The first is not considered limiting but is the maximum that was demonstrated in testing. The second is the manufacturer stating “that would be really stupid.” Both allow the manufacturer to avoid liability if you have problems. The airplane is limited by rudder authority, wingtips dragging in the dirt, landing gear collapse and other realities we can not change. Understanding these limits is vital so that a pilot can make an informed risk management decision.
  As a flight instructor I help pilots understand these limits. Their ability to safely land in a crosswind is more often restricted by their technique rather than the aircraft. Consistent practice in challenging conditions will help expand personal capabilities. Confidence should be tied to competence. It is an interesting risk management decision for an instructor. Is it a conducive learning environment? The aircraft, the environment, the client and my interaction with each factor into the decision.
  Today was interesting. I was scheduled to fly with a low time student and two rated pilots. The winds were strong. The crosswind component was within my personal limits and at a level that I would feel comfortable letting the client explore. However the forecast called for stronger winds and a shift in direction that took the crosswind component outside my personal limits. It was not supposed to get that bad until much later. However the observed conditions were already higher than predicted, so much so that the forecasters amended their predictions. The difference between peaks and lulls was the deciding factor. If we are on final approach and the relative wind drops fifteen knots my reactions must be nearly instant and flawless. Being out of airspeed, altitude and ideas all at the same time is not a conducive learning environment. So we canceled. 
  Have fun, be safe.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Overheard in the pattern

Overheard in the pattern.
"Nice downwind landing."
"That was not a compliment."

"For each 2 knots tailwind increase landing distances by 10%."  

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

What are they thinking?

As a pilot we are concerned with the effects of weather.  The forecasts are occasionally accurate.  They can tell us if we need an umbrella but the height of the clouds at exactly 10 o'clock is much more difficult to predict accurately.  There are many sources for weather information but I tend to use national weather service products to build my situational picture and use flight service as a sanity check.  
  When we call flight service and request a weather briefing there are three flavors: standard, abbreviated or outlook.  The standard briefing gives us the whole nine yards.  The abbreviated briefing is used when we only want certain types of information.  An example of this would be when the winds are a concern and that is all I really care about.  Generally we have already gotten a standard briefing earlier and just need an update.  The outlook briefing is for periods six hours or more in the future.  
  The forecasters are in a room with no windows, tossing chicken bones and rolling dice.  Not really but the farther into the future they predict the less accurate the forecast.  The cynic in me says "Beyond six hours they are just guessing."  It is a SWAG, not a WAG.  A Wild Ass Guess vs a Scientific Wild Ass Guess.  Many times we wonder aloud "What were they thinking?"  
  The area forecast discussion is, indeed, what they are thinking.  It has several sections: synopsis, near term, short term, long term and aviation.  I focus on the synopsis and the aviation portions.  This product, as its name implies, is the forecasters discussing the weather and the reasoning behind their forecast.  A better understanding of the soup in which I fly may allow me to live longer and happier.  Sometimes the forecaster will say "this is a difficult system to predict, this is what I think will happen but confidence is not high."   The hyperlinks located throughout the product elaborate on technical terms and abbreviations.  Sometimes the term makes sense to me and other times it merely points out another area of ignorance.  
  I understand that very intelligent people are throwing the best technology at a very complex problem.  I also understand that the cold front did not read the forecast and the weatherman is not in a tiny aluminum tube.  When the forecast does not match reality I like to say "What he meant to say was..."  I also tend to give a PIREP, which is another subject.  
Have fun, be safe.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Good Days

  One of the phrases cancer survivors use is that "I have good days and better days."   On good days I wake up.  The ups and downs of survival keep me honest.  I would like to imagine that I can work as hard as I did prior to cancer.  The reality is that I am older and my body has been through some trauma.
  It is important for us to recognize limitations.  That is not to say don't try to exceed those limits, but to be realistic about your expectations.  I tend to push very hard and then pay the price of more pain and fatigue.  I am not an old man, but I am not a spring chicken.  Before cancer I would wake up early,  work hard most of the day and then play hard until late at night.  I have come to recognize that taking time to rest is essential.  Duh.
  I feel angry at myself when I sleep late.  I am learning to let that go and recognize that my body and mind need rest.  I want to teach motorcycle safety again but I do not think I will provide excellent instruction if I am tired, grumpy and in pain.  It sucks to realize my limitations but working until ten o'clock on Friday and getting up at five thirty in the morning on Saturday is not the path for optimal performance.  One of the keys to being a good instructor is patience.  I am not very patient when I am hungry, angry, lonely or tired.
  I can give myself a better day by scheduling more objectively.  I guess the lesson for survivors is to realize your limits and set yourself up for sucess.  If I wake up, walk, study, stretch and exercise I function well.  This requires time and adequate rest.  The term adequate changes depending on how hard you work the day prior, stress, temperature and other factors.

One of the ways to make sure you have better days is to count your blessings.

I woke up.

I woke up under a roof.

I woke up under a roof that is not on fire.

I woke up under a roof that is not on fire with people I love.

Once I start the process I realize how cool it is to be alive.  Today is a better day.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Moving on up

A buddy of mine asked about moving up to the “big iron.” One of the coolest things about the club is the fact that we have several different types of aircraft. Two dozen questions later he had convinced me to write about aircraft checkouts.
The first subject is usually “How long will it take to get checked out in the X-27B?” The response depends on the answers to two additional questions. How good are you? How hard are you going to work? Natural talent aside piloting skill is a combination of currency, proficiency and experience. I remember getting checked out in the Cessna 172 shortly after my private checkride. I was green but had very recent training. The plane seemed huge and had an incredible array of sophisticated avionics…certainly a matter of perspective but I was stoked.
The lessons I learned centered on the fact that the four fundamentals only required minor adjustments. Straight and level flight, turns, climbs and descents were familiar but the sight picture, power settings and airspeeds required a slight readjustment. Steep turns, slow flight and stalls are essential maneuvers when learning the personality of any airplane. After getting the feel of the plane we returned for some pattern work. It was a challenge to “stay ahead of the airplane.” The slightly different visual cues and higher airspeed took some getting used to but it reacted kind of like a big 152. The additional horsepower made throttle changes more dramatic but soon my landings were consistent and controlled. How good are you? If you are attuned to your current airplane and strive for precision then the monkey skills are relatively easy to pick up. But we strive to be more than monkeys driving airplanes.
How hard are you going to work? Learning the systems in any aircraft requires effort. Written tests can only sample a small portion of the information. Knowing the V-speeds and other numbers are essential. Does it have enough oil? What is best glide? How much fuel do I have? How far can I go at this power setting? Can I take Martha, the kids and the anvil? Is this runway long enough? A deep knowledge of the systems becomes more essential as you change planes. Some have fuel system quirks, some have electrical system tricks, and these “oh by the ways” remain hidden unless you study the books with intent. Your flight instructor will try to cover critical items but the pilot in command is ultimately responsible.
Learn the POH. Imagine your life and the lives of your passengers depend on how well you know your machine. Picture yourself trying to sell the plane and impressing the customer with your knowledge of all the bells and whistles. Then step into the role of a skeptical buyer and research the limitations of the machine. Some of the systems may require in-depth training; GPS and autopilot are the most glaring examples.
Take advantage of the variety in the fleet. Each airplane has a unique personality. Which one is my favorite? The one I am flying…that way the other ones don’t get jealous.

The FAA has a useful pamphlet "Meet Your Aircraft" P-8740-29

The article below is also an interesting read.

The purpose of this blog

In 2013 I was diagnosed with stage IV cancer and some of my buddies suggested I start a blog.  The original purpose was to help people dealing with cancer.  I was also able to vent my feelings.  That purpose remains.  I survived the treatment and have no evidence of disease.
  Praise God.  He blessed me with a brilliant treatment team and an incredible care-giver.  The aftermath of the treatment still provides challenges.  I  hope I can help people facing similar life events.  As time passed I quit writing as often, mainly because I am trying to live as actively as I can handle.

  I determined I would set up a blog rather than post on Facebook because I am not seeking attention.  If you read this blog it is because you sought it out rather than having it constantly on your timeline.  I like Facebook.  It has a purpose.  I am was able to reestablish contact with many of my friends and family.  One of my Air Force buddies was coming to Fort Bragg on business and we were able to have dinner together.  I try to wish people a happy birthday when I am notified but I refrain from much else.  I like seeing the photos and getting updates but it is often too much information and the political/religious discussions are rarely productive.

  That being said, I am going to try to write more often.  This is a place for me to write about stuff I love: family, flying, faith, motorcycles, gardening and the general human condition.  My  flight students suggested that I place study materials on the site.  They also suggested I review products that I use and monetize the process.  It makes sense to take advise from people who can afford to fly.  It is my understanding that I can make fractions of cents but it will provide more incentive to write.

  I enjoy writing and do so regularly but I tend to keep it to myself.  The process is generally reflective in nature and I use it to capture lessons and organize my thoughts.  My good friend had a website way back in the 1990s and had fun with it.
  He was helping people who were interested in joining special tactics units in the USAF.
  I do not think I will get that specialized or elaborate but I look forward to writing more.  Feedback is welcome.