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Why it Took us 3 days to Fly to Oshkosh

by Tori Williams 1. August 2018 18:00
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Only a few days have passed since we returned from the “World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration” at EAA’s AirVenture and I am already having withdrawals! There is nothing quite like sleeping under the wing of an airplane that you flew in and waking up to the sound of aircraft engines whirling to life. As anyone who has been to AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin knows, the week is completely unforgettable and there is no shortage of things to see and do.

This is the 4th year my husband and I have flown in, and the 2nd time that we’ve flown my father-in-law’s 1931 Waco ASO. This “Straightwing” biplane was restored in the 70’s and has an open cockpit. It is a wonderful aircraft, but definitely not ideal for cross-country flying. It’s extremely windy, and even in the middle of summer the air gets freezing once you’re at altitude. We knew we were in for a long trip before we left, but the series of events that followed were nothing short of unexpected.

Our plan was to leave Saturday morning, have a leisurely trip up, and arrive that evening to set up camp. However, the reality of our trip to Oshkosh was very different. When we got up Saturday morning, it was pouring rain and ceilings were at 800’. We had to wait for that to clear out, so we weren’t able to depart until around 3pm. We had a 20 knot headwind, and ForeFlight indicated our speed across the ground varied between 60-70 mph. We were slow, and the thunderstorms from earlier had broken up but there were still showers we had to avoid.

We made a quick fuel stop in Harvard, Illinois at a gorgeous grass strip called Dacey Airport. After this we were finally in the homestretch to Ripon.

An important side-note: for those who haven’t read the Oshkosh NOTAM, the gist of the arrival procedure is to approach the town of Ripon, southwest of Oshkosh, and visually separate yourself from incoming traffic. Once you have a half mile separation from the plane in front of you, everyone is instructed to fly at 90 knots and 1800 ft in single file to the next town of Fisk. Once directly over Fisk, the Air Traffic Controllers ask you to “rock your wings” for identification purposes and then they assign you a runway and you are passed to another controller who clears you to land. There are often 4 or 5 aircraft on final at any given moment, so accuracy landings “on the dot” and turning off the runway as soon as able are important. The NOTAM states that no talking on the radio is allowed, so usually this approach is actually easier than landing at some other airports.

With the NOTAM in hand and mostly memorized, we approached Ripon with high hopes for a smooth arrival and landing. After all, the 3 other times we have flown in there were never any issues. However, when we were less than 5 miles from Ripon we heard this on the radio: “Attention all traffic – the Oshkosh field is now closed to incoming traffic for the Bonanza mass arrival. Begin holding. This will be a LONG delay so divert to an alternate if you have low fuel.” Partly because we didn’t expect a long delay, and partly because the fuel at Dacey was so expensive, we didn’t fill the tank up. We were far from a fuel emergency, but didn’t have enough to hold for a “LONG delay.” We immediately turned to our alternate, Fon du Lac. As we got near and contacted the temporary control tower, we were out of luck again. Fon du Lac was where the Bonanza mass arrival was departing from, and were again told to divert due to “150 Bonanzas on the runway” (Certainly something you would only hear at AirVenture.)

We began looking for a third alternate, and located untowered Dodge County airport 23 nm away. The annoying thing about this section of our trip was that dozens of other aircraft were forced to do the same thing, and we were all inbound to Dodge County at the same time. One such aircraft had a stuck mic, so he was continually transmitting over everyone else trying to coordinate within the pattern. Eventually we all were able to communicate and land, and I must give props to the staff at Dodge County for the “refueling assembly line” they had created to deal with the sudden influx of frustrated aircraft.

The whole FBO was full of pilots who had to divert. Several were on their phones calling every hotel in town only to find out they didn’t have any rooms available. We asked around for a bit about lodging but it appeared our only option in Dodge County was to set up our tent and camp out. With less than an hour left of daylight, we decided to try going back to Fon du Lac, where my father-in-law had found a hotel with open rooms.

We immediately took off, watching as others began pitching their tents on the airport below us. Thankfully Fon du Lac had cleared out the Bonanzas, and we were able to land there (behind a C-47!) and tie down for the night. We were generously given a ride to the hotel by a T-6 pilot who had the same misfortune as us while trying to enter Oshkosh. His wife had brought a camper up earlier in the week and she drove there to retrieve him. After some late-night pizza delivery, we were exhausted and got some rest before a second attempt to enter Oshkosh on Sunday.

Sunday morning we were awoken to the sound of thunder and heavy rain. The weather had taken a turn for the worse overnight, and it was clearly going to be IFR for several hours. We spent most of the day in the terminal at Fon du Lac, watching The Open Championship on tv and monitoring weather. Finally around 3pm the skies began opening up. Immediately engines could be heard starting and it was “go time” for getting into Oshkosh. We took a few moments to refuel and ready the airplanes, and went on our merry way towards Ripon.

10 miles from Ripon we began monitoring the approach frequency. It already didn’t sound good. The controller urgently repeated the phrases “we are oversaturated! Everyone approaching Fisk turn LEFT and enter a hold! If you are not at Ripon, do not come to Ripon! Enter a hold and come back with a half-mile separation!” We figured this was just a big push of traffic, and it would pass through soon. We were very wrong.

This video was taken by someone else who was in the air the same time as we were. You can hear the hecticness and see the planes that are too close for comfort.

Our approach took several minutes, and the controller hadn’t mentioned a hold in a while so we figured it was safe to go over Ripon and enter the lineup over the railroad tracks to Fisk. However, as soon as we got closer we realized just how many aircraft were trying to do the exact same thing. Dozens of planes could be seen in any direction at different speeds and altitudes, going every which way and being way too close for comfort. It was very reminiscent of a WWI dogfight. We maneuvered around a few such planes but ended up with a Kitfox on top of us, a Navajo flanking us on the right, and a couple small Cessnas flanking our left. Clearly this wasn’t going to work and we would be turned away if we even tried to approach Ripon.

We broke away from that disastrous group and entered a hold around the rather large Green Lake. After a few circles mixed with other traffic, it became clear they were not allowing people to enter Oshkosh any time soon. The controller continued to instruct planes to “turn left and enter a hold,” “restart the approach,” or “stay away from Ripon.” At one point he said “there are 300 of you between Ripon and Fisk, we cannot have that and we need better separation!” I’m not sure of the 300 figure was an exaggeration, but it certainly felt like it was accurate.

We stayed in a hold for a little over 2 hours before we decided to return to Fon du Lac and try again later. During this time several other aircraft began declaring low fuel emergencies and were granted permission to land. We monitored approach for several hours after we landed and it was the same story: people turned away right and left for airport oversaturation or improper compliance with the NOTAM.

We spent another night in Fon du Lac and got up at 5:30am Monday morning. Oshkosh officially opened for arrivals at 7:00am but we were not going to get there late and enter a hold. We departed Fon du Lac at 6:40 and went straight into Oshkosh. This was the arrival we were accustomed to. Peaceful, respectful, professional. We landed on the yellow dot and had an incredibly fun week. I hope that next year they seriously consider a way to handle the record-breaking traffic!

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Aviation Safety | Flying | Airports

59th Annual National Waco Club Reunion

by Tori Williams 1. July 2018 11:48
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Last weekend my husband and I had the opportunity to fly my father-in-law’s 1931 Waco ASO into Mount Vernon, Ohio for the National Waco Club’s 59th annual reunion. Despite some dreadful weather in the area, 13 incredible Wacos were able to fly in to Wynkoop Airfield for at least part the four-day long event. This was my second year attending and it was just as thrilling as my first!

Part 1: The Pilgrimage

Getting ourselves to the fly-in turned out to be more difficult than anticipated. We were planning to head out after work Friday, but the ceilings were too low so we had to wait until Saturday. Ideally the clouds would have moved overnight so we could have an early start but we woke to an 800 foot ceiling. This was one of those incredibly annoying times for VFR pilots when our airport seemed to be the only one reporting IFR in our area. A few miles in any direction, and it was clear, open skies. We are officially blaming the large lake we live beside but sometimes I think things like this happen so we pilots stay humble.

After waiting several hours and listening to the AWOS practically on repeat, it was finally reporting broken ceilings and VFR so we made a break for it. This was around 2pm but that didn’t stop us. Even if we would only be there for the tail end of the festivities we were determined to make it. You don’t miss out on an opportunity like this. It’s practically unethical.

The last hurdle between us and a fun weekend of biplanes was the outside air temperature. Following several excruciatingly warm days we had a cold front blow through just in time for our flight. The temperature on the ground was 63 degrees Fahrenheit. Not terrible but cold for a day in late June. However, we must remember that atmosphere thing where temperature decreases by (approximately) 3.5 degrees F per 1,000 feet of altitude. By the time we got to cruising around 3,000 feet it was 10 degrees colder. Coupled with the inherent windiness of an open cockpit airplane, it was COLD. Thankfully this realization came to us before we left the house, and we both had on our sweaters, scarves, and mittens. In June!

The flight itself was relatively uneventful, and we each spent an hour at the controls. We don’t have modern luxuries of autopilot (or really even a solid elevator trim) so it can be tiring to fly after a while. Dan still says he married me because he needed an autopilot for long trips in the Waco. Har har. Thankfully, we had a tailwind that gave us a ground speed of 120 knots, almost 30 knots faster than our regular cruising speed. We were booking it!

Part 2: The Festivities

The atmosphere provided by the airfield itself is one of the best things about this fly-in. Wynkoop Field is well-maintained grass strip with two runways oriented in a V-shape. There is no fence or control tower, but there are runway lights and a few hangars. Grass strips always make me feel nostalgic for a period of aviation history that I never experienced firsthand: the barnstorming days. How fitting that these 1930s and 1940s aircraft have their reunion at such a place.

I overheard the owner of another Waco put it into words I will now attempt to paraphrase: “If you find another grass airport where you can park your car and walk right up to so many historic aircraft, please give me a call. I have not found anything else like it in my life.” It’s so true!

Despite our late arrival, there were still official (and unofficial) Reunion activities to partake in. My husband loves giving rides, so he was back in the air with a passenger before I even realized it. Evidently the weather had been bad for most of the day, but the sun came out right as we landed. Other Waco pilots began starting their engines to take advantage of the last few hours of daylight. It’s always fun to see them taking off one after another. My father-in-law graciously invited me to fly with him in his Cabin Waco, so soon we were airborne as well.

I can only imagine what the townsfolk in Mount Vernon think of this whole ordeal. Suddenly for a few days every summer biplanes start flying around everywhere. I spoke with a few locals who said they aren’t always sure when the biplanes are coming, but they see them from town and know they’re finally there! A local photographer named Matt Plahtinsky visited during the day and took some breathtaking photos of some of the planes which can be found on his Facebook Page.

After my husband gave who knows how many rides, it was finally time for the banquet and auction. I’m a big foodie, and I have to give props to the catering company for an excellent dinner. Roast beef, chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese.. my mouth is watering just thinking about it! Following that we had a live auction with some great items to raise money for future National Waco Club events. We had great fellowship with our Waco friends from years past, then drove to the hotel after it was too dark for any more flying.

Part 3: It’s Over Already?

Less than 24 hours after we left Indiana, we were loading up the Waco to head back. I couldn’t believe it. We waited all year for this event and it was over before we knew it. That’s the nature of these things, I suppose. We were just thrilled to have reunited with our Waco friends at Wynkoop for any amount of time. Unfortunately our tailwind heading over turned into a nasty headwind coming back, and it took over 3 hours enroute. Plenty of time to reminisce on our short weekend trip and discuss plans for next year.

Epilogue: Come Next Year!

This year was great, but next year is going to be the 60th Anniversary of the National Waco Club Reunion. It was announced at dinner that the goal is to have 60 Wacos fly in for that one. 60! That number seemed unreal to me but I was told that for the 50th Reunion they had 50 Wacos! Totally doable, then!

This event clearly had a big impact on me and I have since made it my mission to invite everyone to the Reunion next year. Check out the website for the National Waco Club for more information on next year’s event, and I certainly hope you can make it!

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Aviation History | Tori Williams

Safety Management Systems (SMS) in Aviation

by Tori Williams 1. June 2018 21:37
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There is nothing more important in the aviation industry than safety. Every law, rule, or procedure has its roots in the general objective of increasing safety. Due to the fact that it is always being improved upon and innovated within, the United States’ national airspace system is one of the safest in the world. Today I would like to take a look at one of the newest pieces of regulation regarding safety in aviation, Safety Management Systems (SMS).

Historically, the process for improving safety was purely reactionary. Authorities would wait for an accident, investigate the accident to identify the cause, and then make changes to avoid the same accident in the future. This is ineffective, as it can solve one or two problems at a time but not address the less obvious contributing factors to the accident. Of course, accidents will continue to be investigated and learned from, but there is a new system that takes a more preventative approach.

Safety Management Systems (SMS) is a core concept in the aviation industry and recognized by both FAA and ICAO. This structured and business-like approach to managing and improving safety in all facets of the aviation industry has been explained by the FAA in a series of Advisory Circulars.

Is a SMS mandatory for all aviation operations? Not quite. For example, SMS for all part 139 certificated airports was proposed in the Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) in October 2010, however, in 2016 the FAA issued a Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (SNPRM) which reduced the number of airports that needed an SMS to 265 airports that are certified under Part 139; airports that must have an SMS program include the following:

- classified as a small, medium, or large hub airport in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems;

- identified by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection as a port of entry, designated international airport, landing rights airport, or user fee airport; or

- identified as having more than 100,000 total annual operations.

This requirement maximizes safety benefits in the least burdensome manner and is consistent with international standards. Airports that are not required to have an SMS may still use FAA resources and implement selected practices to ensure safety at their airport. A full SMS plan may take months to create, and in some cases require assistance from an outside consulting firm.

The Four Components of SMS

Safety Management Systems has been divided into four distinct components; Safety Policy, Safety Risk Management, Safety Assurance, and Safety Promotion. Each has their own influence on SMS, and they come together to form a complete SMS program. Here is a brief description of each component.

Safety Policy: This is management’s commitment to safety, formally expressed in a statement of the organization's safety policy. A safety policy is written and agreed upon by top management and outlines the exact processes and plans the organization has to achieve desired safety outcomes. This should be the beginning of a positive safety culture that encourages employees to take ownership over their organization’s safety and to ensure they can report safety issues without fear of being reprimanded.

Safety Risk Management (SRM): This component looks at the present and future hazards and risks that the organization faces, then determines if there is an adequate risk control in place to mitigate them. This step often includes a Risk Matrix, or a grid analyzing the likeliness and severity of all possible risk scenarios. This component of SMS is vital for continually analyzing the effectiveness of current risk mitigation methods.

Safety Assurance: Safety Assurance is characterized by self-auditing, external auditing, and safety oversight. This component ensures that the steps taken in safety policy and safety risk management are helping the organization reach their desired safety outcomes. Proper resource allocation and data collecting are vital for this component, as it relies partially on historical information.

Safety Promotion: The human element is at the core of SMS. Having properly trained employees who are passionate about safety will help any organization reach their safety objectives. This component of SMS is all about having a Safety Manager who provides information and training for safety issues relevant to the specific jobs at the airport.

I hope that this brief overview of Safety Management Systems has taught you something new about an effective safety program. The great thing about SMS is that it can be applied to any industry, scenario, and operation. The FAA mandating SMS for certain sectors of aviation is a great move that I believe will eliminate quite a few accidents in the future. What do you think of SMS? Let me know in the comments!

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Aviation Safety

Cirrus Awarded Colier Trophy for Vision Jet

by Tori Williams 1. May 2018 13:04
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It is no secret that Cirrus is having an incredibly successful year. As they continue to expand into their new Knoxville, TN location, sign contracts with multiple flight schools to furnish their training fleet, and improve upon innovative aircraft designs such as the G5, Cirrus shows no signs of slowing down. Big news was released earlier this month regarding their development of the world’s first single-engine Personal Jet, the Cirrus Vision Jet.

The National Aeronautic Association (NAA) announced that the Cirrus Aircraft Vision Jet has been awarded the 2017 Robert J. Collier Trophy. The Vision Jet marks several firsts in civil aviation, and perhaps the beginning of a new age of civil aviation entirely. It has the distinction of being the first single-engine jet to be certified with the FAA, and the first jet of any type designed to include the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS.) This marriage of safety and innovation made it an obvious choice for the Collier Trophy, which is awarded annually "for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space vehicles, the value of which has been thoroughly demonstrated by actual use during the preceding year."

The very first prototype of the Vision Jet was produced in July of 2008. After continually improving, polishing, and test flying, the jet was ready for FAA certification almost 10 years later in 2016. Certification was completed in October of 2016, and the first customer Vision Jet was delivered in December of the same year. Cirrus continued to produce the aircraft at a rate of around one per week and announced plans to increase production to deliver between 75 and 125 in 2018.

Cirrus predicts there will be a sizable market for this type of aircraft, as many individuals would enjoy having a private jet but do not have the resources for an entire flight department and multi-pilot crew. With an avionics panel designed very similarly to the SR20 and SR22, pilots who are familiar with other Cirrus aircraft should have little trouble transitioning into this aircraft. Over 600 orders have already been placed for the jet, further confirming its popularity amongst the civil aviation crowd.

Truly, the luxurious interior of the jet is a sight to behold. Spacious enough to seat up to 5 adults plus 2 children, the passenger cabin also features USB charging ports for each seat and an in-flight entertainment system. The oversized windows in the cabin are a huge bonus too, allowing passengers the perfect view every time. Costing only $1.96 Million, Forbes named the Vision Jet “The most affordable private jet in the world.”

The Collier Trophy will be formally presented at the Annual Robert J. Collier Trophy Dinner on June 14, 2018 at a location to be announced. It is on permanent display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. We wish Cirrus all the best in their continued successes, and hope to see more Vision Jets in the sky very soon!

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Components of Airport Certification (14 CFR Part 139)

by Tori Williams 2. April 2018 14:18
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If there is one thing I have learned during my time in aviation, it is that sometimes you learn the most when you research aspects of the industry that you generally feel aren’t “relevant” to you. Pilots can learn so much from Air Traffic Controllers, Airport Operations can learn so much from MRO facilities, and the list continues on. Taking the time to look at daily happenings at airports, whether from a flight, operations, maintenance, administrative, or another perspective can help you gain valuable insight to further your career and enrich your experiences.

Just in the way that airport operations personnel could benefit from learning how to fly, pilots could also benefit with learning some basics of how airports are run and which regulations they must adhere to. It should be no surprise that airports have their own special section of the Federal Aviation Regulations that they must follow, and that is 14 CFR Part 139. In this article I would like to give an overview of the main parts of Part 139 so that pilots can better understand why things work the way they do at airports.

Although Part 139 is the baseline for airport certification, not every airport in the U.S. has to follow it. The regulations are specifically for airports that serve scheduled and unscheduled air carrier aircraft with more than 30 seats, serve scheduled air carrier operations in aircraft with more than 9 seats but less than 31 seats, and that the FAA Administrator requires to have a certificate.

The Airport Certification Manual (ACM)

Perhaps the most vital piece of Part 139 compliance is the Airport Certification Manual. This is a document that outlines exactly how an airport will conduct their operations to comply with Part 139. The airport operator writes the ACM, and then every single page is reviewed and signed by the FAA inspector assigned to that airport. If approved, the airport is then issued an Airport Operating Certificate (AOC) which allows flight operations to proceed legally.

Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting

Often referred to as simply “ARFF,” aircraft rescue and firefighting is a major component of airport operations because they have constantly to be ready for any aircraft emergencies. The airport’s “ARFF Index” (designated by letters A-E) is dependent on the longest air carrier aircraft that serves the airport with five or more average daily departures. The ARFF personnel and equipment must be able to properly handle the aircraft type, and they must do a drill where they successfully reach the midpoint of the furthest runway from their station within 3 minutes of being alerted to an accident.

Airport Inspections and Maintenance

There are four types of inspections that airports are required to do under Part 139. These are regularly scheduled, continuous, periodic, and special inspections. Airport operations personnel must physically drive or walk around the airfield, carefully inspecting several key features. These include signage, markings, pavement condition, lighting, FOD (foreign object debris), wildlife, and many others. Regularly scheduled inspections can happen several times a day, and the airport operator outlines in the ACM just how many they are required to do.

Wildlife Hazard Management

Unfortunately, airports can quickly become a very dangerous place for pilots when birds or wildlife are in the area. Just look at Sully! Part 139 airports are required to have a wildlife management plan in place, to help mitigate and eliminate the natural hazards that animals can create. These programs are designed to focus not only on scaring away wildlife already on the airfield, but to move their habitat outside of the security fence so they are less likely to be there to begin with.

Airport Emergency Plan (AEP)

As mentioned before, airports must always be prepared for the worst-case scenario. Thus, a Part 139 airport must submit an airport emergency plan to their FAA inspector in addition to the ACM. This document is a handbook on what exactly should happen in case of an emergency. All possible scenarios should be covered, including terrorism, fuel farm fires, natural disasters, and of course aircraft accidents. FAA Advisory Circular 150/5200-31C, Airport Emergency Plan, provides guidance in meeting the requirements for the plan.

Snow and Ice Control Plan (SICP)

Depending on the airport, snow and ice may be a major problem that has to be dealt with every year. Keeping the airport safe and open is the biggest concern during a snow event, so airports are required to submit a plan for how they will tackle the runway contaminate. This plan must include staffing expectations, equipment usage, priority areas that will be plowed first, and much more. During this time they must also monitor the conditions and let pilots know how what to expect when landing.

Records Keeping

Part 139 is very clear about which records must be kept on site and for how long. Most records, including inspection reports, NOTAMs, incident and accident reports, and fueling inspections are required to be kept for 12 calendar months. Records for the training of personnel who operate in the movement area (the portion of the airfield controlled by ATC) are required to be kept for 24 calendar months.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of Part 139 Airport operations, but I hope that this broad overview helps you to understand the daily happenings at an airport at least a little better. There is more than meets the eye, and airports have to constantly work to stay on top of every aspect of their operation. If you’re curious about what else Part 139 covers, bring out your FAR AIM and take a look! You will definitely learn something you did not know before.

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Aviation Safety | Airports | Tori Williams



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