Flying - Page 24 Aviation Articles

Are You Prepared for Instrument Failure in IMC?


Photo: Wikimedia/Meggar

Autumn is in full swing, and the cooler nights tend to make morning fog a common occurrence in many places. While fog might not be a problem for you if you are IFR-rated and current, it’s nevertheless a good time to review your emergency procedures – like instrument failures and partial panel procedures.

A failure of any instrument in the cockpit of your airplane is difficult enough to deal with during a VFR flight, but the proper procedures after an instrument failure in IMC can mean the difference between life and death. While we tend to remain "current" by flying IFR flight plans and instrument approaches on a daily or weekly basis, unless you work for a company that requires it, you probably don’t practice instrument failures or partial panel procedures enough.

Are you ready for an instrument failure in instrument conditions? After training your eyes and brain to "trust your instruments," can you immediately recognize instrument errors and reverse that deep-rooted feeling that your instruments must be correct?

Identifying instrument failures seems like an easy enough task – after all, if an instrument is behaving erratically, there’s a good chance it’s malfunctioning - but it’s difficult for our brains to determine exactly what’s happening at first glance when an instrument fails, and sometimes the failure occurs slowly, such as the slow icing over of a pitot tube. And that’s only the first part of the emergency. The second part is responding correctly. While in the clouds without correct instrument indications, knowing which way is up can be puzzling to even the most experienced pilots. Here’s a quick review about how instruments react to common types of failures in many light aircraft.

***This is not a substitute for instruction. Please consult your aircraft’s POH for emergency procedures specific to your airplane! ***

Pitot-Static System Failure:
A problem with the static system will appear on the airspeed indicator, altimeter or vertical speed indicator (VSI), or a combination of the three.

  • Blocked Pitot Tube: A pitot tube blocked with insects is a common culprit of erroneous airspeed indications. This type of blockage might be noticed during takeoff, when the airspeed doesn’t increase as usual. With a total pitot tube blockage, the airspeed will read ‘0’. But the pitot tube can also be blocked during flight with ice or heavy rain, and as ice accumulates slowly over the pitot tube, the airspeed indicator will show a slow decrease in airspeed, maybe not even noticeable at first.

    Since the pitot tube is used just for the airspeed indicator, a blocked pitot tube will not affect the altimeter or VSI.

  • Blocked Static Port: A blocked static port isn’t too much of a problem if the aircraft is equipped with an alternate static source (many are). But without alternate air, a blocked static source will cause the airspeed indicator to act as a reverse altimeter, showing an increase in airspeed during a descent and a decrease in airspeed during a climb.

    With a blocked static port, the altimeter will freeze, showing the last altitude recorded before the blockage occurred, and the VSI will indicate ‘0’.

  • Pitot and Static Blockage: If both the pitot tube and static system are blocked, the airspeed indicator will act like an altimeter, showing an increase in airspeed when climbing and a decrease in airspeed while descending.

Gyroscopic System Failure:
There’s a reason the vacuum gage is checked during the engine run-up. It’s because two of the three commonly used gyroscopic instruments run on a vacuum-driven pump, and if these instruments fail, flying can be pretty dangerous.

The gyroscopic instruments typically include the turn coordinator, heading indicator and attitude indicator. The heading indicator and attitude indicator are vacuum-drive most of the time, so a vacuum failure or loss of suction will cause the attitude and heading indicators to ne unreliable.

Many commonly used turn coordinators are electrically driven (done for redundancy and as a backup to the vacuum system), and will fail along with an electrical failure.

A pitot-static or gyroscopic failure can be difficult to diagnose and confirm at first. The trick is to think about a failed instrument on a systemic level by determining which, if any, other instruments are also affected. If your airspeed seems off, check your other instruments. If they are also indicating erroneously, than you can bet there’s a pitot and static failure. If only the airspeed is incorrect you can rest assured the pitot tube alone is the culprit. By cross-checking often and making sure all your instruments agree with each other, you’ll be able to determine which are malfunctioning and take appropriate action. What’s the appropriate action? Covering up the inaccurate instruments and converting to a new insrtument scan that will keep you alive and allow you to land safely.

In any case, the quick and proper diagnosis of an instrument or system failure will turn an emergency into an inconvenience (although you should always declare an emergency when the situation warrants). A good pilot is always prepared, and preparation in this case comes with consistent practice, so be sure to brush up on your partial panel procedures often!

2014 Business Jet Traveler Survey says...

Business Jet Traveler magazine's fourth annual Reader's Choice survey is in their recent issue. They had over 1,200 readers respond, a new record for them. The big take-away from the survey is that things should continue to improve for business aviation. While about half stated their flying would remain at current levels, almost 40% stated they would fly a bit more or much more in the next year. Less than 10% said they would fly less in 2015.

The survey is to be posted online at bjtonline.com/2014survey. if you don't have access to the magazine. Here are my observations of that survey.

Why people fly privately doesn't really change. It saves time and general aviation serves many more airports than the airlines. The most important features people are looking for are range, economics, and cabin.  I see that in my consulting. What was interesting in that group was that cabin amenities, product support and baggage were at the bottom of the important features list. I think it is because product support is generally good and everyone expects the cabin amenities to be about the same within categories. Baggage is likely a tertiary item, especially since seats are rarely filled on many trips. Safety is important with over half stating they only fly with operators that have passed a safety audit (I think it should be 100%).

Of the non-owned methods of flying, fractional, jet cards, and charter, all three rated very good to excellent in customer service and cleanliness of aircraft.  Concerning choices of aircraft and age of aircraft, fractional and jet cards rated better than did charter. I was surprised at the charter choice of aircraft rating below the others. 

When it came to value for the price paid, fractional and charter rated better than jet cards. I think jet cards took a hit there as they also took a lower rating for transparency/explanation of charges.

For the owned aircraft category, BJT separated fixed-wing and helicopters. Since people valued range, economics, and cabin, I looked at those related ratings from the owned group. 

For the fixed wing: With respect to cost of maintenance, Embraer came out with the best ratings at 75.1% rating them excellent or very good. None of the other aircraft manufacturers listed had greater than 60% excellent or very good. Gulfstream rated over 99% excellent or very good for reliability. Everyone rated over 90% for reliability. Regarding cabin amenities, both Dassault and Gulfstream rated the best of the group. As both concentrate mostly on the large cabin jets, it makes sense that owners would be please with the offerings of the large cabin aircraft. Overall satisfaction was very good for everyone, but Dassault, Embraer and Gulfstream did rate a bit higher then the others. 

It looks like there were not a lot of responses from helicopter operators as only Airbus Helicopters (nee Eurocopter) and Bell were represented. Other than reliability, the helicopter manufacturers did not get as favorable ratings as did the fixed-wing. Cost of maintenance was a big knock against the helicopters with no one rating Airbus as excellent and Bell getting only 17.1% excellent ratings for their maintenance costs. I wonder if it is due to generally more complex maintenance requirements of a helicopter versus an airplane, especially with respect to time and cycle-limits on a helicopter's many components. 

BJT did ask its reader's that if they could get a year of complimentary flying, which aircraft would it be for various categories of aircraft? Read the article to see what folks favored. For me, they didn't list a P51 Mustang nor an amphibious Twin Otter so my top choices were not there. 

I'm hopeful that the BJT reader's interest in flying more in 2015 is representative of business flying in general. We shall see.

5 Tips for Overcoming Radio Anxiety During Flight Training


A recent conversation with a friend reminded me that radio anxiety is one of the most-feared parts of flying for student pilots. But it doesn’t have to be. As flight instructors, we often forget what it’s like to feel overwhelmed by radio chatter in a busy airspace. We’ve been doing it for so long that it rolls right off our tongues with ease. But for a new pilot, this type of communication - lightning-speed transmissions between controllers and pilots, peppered with jargon and acronyms everywhere – is a like learning foreign language.

Communicating with air traffic control is a very common fear for student pilots. Controllers talk fast, and sometimes instructors put a lot of emphasis on doing it "right." And there’s already so much going on while you’re flying that handling the radios seems like an impossible addition.

Obviously, the number one priority while flying is safety, and good pilot-controller communication is essential to the safety of flight, which is why it’s emphasized early on in flight training. You do need to learn how to do it right, but it doesn’t have to be a source of anxiety.

There are ways to overcome radio anxiety easily and after a few flights, you’ll be worrying about other important things, like were to go for your next $100 hamburger. Here are a few inside tips for getting rid of radio anxiety:

  1. Relax: You are going to mess up the radios at first, so just get comfortable with messing up. When you realize that messing up one or two words while talking to the control tower won’t mean the end of the world, you’ll be able to relax a little. Everyone messes up. As long as you get your message across somehow you’ll be just fine.
  2. Don’t get hung up on being perfect: Your instructor will likely tell you to remember certain things, like the "Three W’s" when you’re reporting your position in the pattern. In this case, you’re supposed to say who you are, where you are, and what you’re doing, which sounds easy until you’re multi-tasking while turning from base to final in the pattern. Remember that it doesn’t really matter if you forget one portion of the required radio call- you can always call again. Or, if you're in a towered environment, ATC will ask you for any missing information they might need and everyone will move one.
  3. Don’t worry about embarrassment: ATC deals with new and unfamiliar pilots a lot, and they’ll understand. As far as other pilots, they’re all too busy worried about what they’re going to say to even notice a bad radio call. Early on in your training, your instructor might suggest that you avoid ultra-busy airports until you’ve mastered the radios.
  4. Practice on the ground: Practicing your tower communications on the ground will do wonders for your flight. Grab a buddy and have him or her pretend to be ATC while you "fly" the pattern on the ground.
  5. Listen: Listening from the ground at or near the airport is the best way to learn ATC lingo, phrasing and terminology, including operations specific to your area or airport. Just grab a transceiver (your instructor or FBO might have one you can borrow) and head down to the airport. Sit at the FBO or on the ramp, grab a bite to eat and listen to the radio.

    You’ll hear a few things from the ground that will help with your own radio communications. First, you’ll get a good idea of local procedures and what goes on in general at the airport. Second, you’ll get an idea of the timing of radio calls, which is also important. Specifically, you’ll learn when air traffic controllers do hand-offs, when to contact them when you’re inbound to the airport and what to say upon departure. Finally, you’ll hear other pilots mess up radio calls, which will make you feel better about your own mistakes.

In the end, the best way to learn is by experience. You have to get your feet wet at some point, so don't be afraid to just jump in and do it. Your first few radio calls will probably be a bit rough, but it only takes a few flights to get the hang of it!

A Grass Runway with a lot of Heart

An aerial photo taken September 20th, 2014 during the "Wood, Tailwheels, and Fabric Fly-in" at Lee Bottom Flying Field.

Natural disasters can be absolutely devastating to the environment, architecture, and in the unfortunate case of Lee Bottom, grass airfields. Back in March of 2012, a massive tornado swept its way through Indiana, hitting Madison, Hanover, and other towns in the southern state with perilous force.

Lee Bottom Airport is a beautiful grass strip that has been opened for public use by gracious owners Rich and Ginger Davidson. Their 3000' by 100' runway regularly brings in all types of visiting airplanes to the strip on the edge of Indiana. I remember flying to Lee Bottom during my first few hours of lessons. My instructor wanted to show me what a soft field landing was like, and I'll never forget looking down and seeing such a huge expanse of dark green grass - that we were about to land on!

The tornado of 2012 did massive damage to the buildings on Lee Bottom property. Their house, hangar, garage, and many other buildings were hit and needed complete repair. Through the generosity of aviators who knew and loved Lee Bottom for many years, they were able to raise money with an "$100 Hamburger" fundraising event in September of 2012 to begin rebuilding.

However, construction caused their annual "Wood, Tailwheels, and Fabric Fly-in" event to be unable to happen the following September. In past years, aviators from all around would fly in, camp out, eat great food, enjoy the grass strip, and make unforgettable memories with friends. It has been a favorite flying destination for years, and brings in many guests from the non-aviation community as well.

This year the grass strip was back to business, and hosted their first official fly-in since the tornado. I had the awesome opportunity to fly over with my boyfriend, Daniel, in his Stinson 10A and take part in some of the festivities.

Before we had even taken off, we had a taste of what was to come. As we readied the Stinson at KLEX, a bright yellow Stearman was taxing its way towards the runway. Sure enough, this was one of his hangar neighbors making his way towards Lee Bottom. We headed out a few minutes later, a bit behind the vibrant plane.

A quick 30 minute cruise was all it took to reach our destination, which is situated right beside the Ohio River. Daniel made a perfectly smooth landing (grass runways have always been his favorite) and we were guided to the east side of the airport.

The Stinson 10A to the left of a Waco ASO.

The view was incredible from anywhere on the field. The sun was shining, the facilities were clean and ready for campers and day visitors alike, and the delicious smell of meat on the grill filled the air. I spotted one of my favorite sweets, honey sticks, at the souvenirs booth and made my way there first. I bought a handful of the sticks containing sweet honey (Which happens to be cultivated from bees owned and taken care of by Ginger Davidson herself - adorably named "Geez Beez") and enjoyed a couple as we began making our way around to see the other aircraft.

The beauty of the fly-in at Lee Bottom is that all types of aircraft are welcome, but many vintage and classic plane owners make it a point to visit any chance they get. There is an ongoing race between attendance of Stearmans verses attendance of Wacos. As the day went on, the count of which type was winning was updated live from their Facebook page. Stearmans ended up winning by one, but Wacos sure did try!

There was a Spartan Executive, T-6 Texan, 2 DH Tiger Moths, an RC-3 Seabee, and a Howard. I saw biplanes, high wings, low wings, seaplanes, tail wheels, twin engines, experimentals, vintage, modern, aerobatic, a couple helicopters... You name it, there was probably at least one of them there.

Many of these awesome planes did low passes before heading back to their point of origin, which was always such a thrill to see. Everyone enjoyed the beautiful weather and a slice of the wonderful world of aviation that had gathered here. The splendor of Lee Bottom is in how intimate it is. Everyone feels welcome and the Davidsons do a wonderful job of providing the perfect space to cultivate such a fun environment.

I want to personally thank everyone who helped in any way to put on this fly-in. It was as unforgettable as the Geez Beez honey.

Managing Aviation Fuel Costs in a Changing Environment

As the cost of aviation fuel continues to rise, owners and operators of general aviation and business aircraft are faced with the unrelenting task of revamping their aviation fuel cost management initiatives - over and over again.

For aircraft owners, the rising prices are nothing new. On the contrary, it’s surely getting old. The ever-increasing operating costs associated with owning or renting an airplane affects businessmen and aviation enthusiasts alike. It affects owners, flight schools and FBOs. And it’s a problem that doesn’t seem to want to go away.

What do you do to keep fuel costs down? What can you do? For many, it seems like the options have been exhausted. Maybe you’ve invested in the most efficient aircraft for your type of operation: Maybe you’ve condensed multiple business trips into a single trip and longer days to save on jet fuel. Maybe you’ve even downsized the fleet.

Below are a few basic tips for saving money on aviation fuel. Perhaps you’ve implemented some or all of them already; maybe not.

According to the National Business Aircraft Association, a survey from an aviation consulting group found that 98% of aircraft owners and operators said fuel cost was a concern, and they responded with a variety of actions: Requesting more direct routes, tankering fuel, flying slower, or flying less often. And seventy-six percent said they had switched FBOs for lower-priced fuel elsewhere. Here are a few other ways to save money on fuel:

Slow Down: Conserving fuel by flying slower can be a good option for those who can allow a little bit of extra time in their travel plans, according to aviation consultant website Conklin & de Decker. “In a business jet, fuel is half to two-thirds of your variable cost. While the whole purpose of the aircraft is to save time, a bit slower speed and careful trip planning can keep your costs down. Reducing aircraft weight and drag can save on aircraft fuel, as well. Keeping the aircraft clean, using minimal takeoff flaps and installing winglets can all help decrease drag and improve efficiency.

Get Equipped for NextGen: The whole purpose of the FAA’s NextGen program is to increase efficiency throughout the air traffic system. Pilots and operators can take advantage of more direct routing by equipping their aircraft for NextGen. Depending on the aircraft and avionics already installed (or not installed) this can be a significant investment, but should save money in the long run.

Fuel Tankering: Some operators have experimented with fuel tinkering, which means buying fuel for cheap (such as at a home airport) and bringing it with you on board the aircraft to avoid high-cost fuel elsewhere. This only works if the added weight to the aircraft doesn’t decrease efficiency to the point where more fuel is used in flight than is saved by tankering, according to Conklin & de Decker.

Fuel Card Discount programs: Obviously shopping around for the best fuel discount program is an easy way to save cash – as long as you aren’t flying out of your way too much to get to an FBO that takes your card. These days, it’s not usually a problem.

Flight Planning: Perhaps the most easily controlled fuel-savings option is careful flight planning. By using resources like Max-Trax, which helps pilots search for the lowest-priced fuel along a route of flight or within a certain radius of an airport, users can easily identify the most efficient fuels stops, including airport and FBO information associated with that particular fuel stop. Over time, the fuel savings from this approach will add up.

As any pilot or operator knows, minimizing fuel costs is a weekly, monthly and yearly struggle. There are a variety of ways for aircraft owners and operators to be efficient, but the fuel industry an unpredictable and fluid one that constantly keeps us on our toes!

Do you have any cost-saving tips or tricks to share with other aircraft owners? Share them with us in the comments section below!

 

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