Aviation In Canada

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Jetsgo, Take 2

What do Nordair, InterCanadian, Royal Aviation, Canada 3000 and Jetsgo all have in common? If you said, "None of them are flying," you're correct. If you said, "They are all airlines that Michel LeBlanc had a hand in," you're also correct. If you're interested enough in aviation to read my ramblings, then you're probably already heard that LeBlanc is at it again. He plans to restart Jetsgo, reportedly looking to lease 8 of the MD83s that he ran with Jetsgo up until March 11's failure. This would put him in the driver's seat of yet another attempt at running an airline. My favorite part about the story came when a reporter asked him what he would call his latest venture. Reportedly, he said he would use the name Jetsgo again, since, "people already know the name." Yes, Michel, that's what we're afraid of. At least we would know for sure what to expect this time.

For more info on Jetsgo's founder, Michel LeBlanc, I think the CBC did a good write up on him. Check it out by clicking here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Engine Failures

I have strong feelings about engine failures. I've been close to engine failures many times from various perspectives. I've spoken to pilots on the radio who were experiencing them, I've known pilots who have dealt with them, and read many, many stories about those who have dealt with them. My own flight instructor taught me very early on to be paranoid about engine operation. He had dealt with enough engine problems that he felt it very important to impress upon a student just how critical an engine is to flight. He taught me to continuously fly the plane, look for traffic, and look for potential places to land as part of any routine flight. To this day, I hope I'll be prepared when it happens, and I still look for places every few minutes while in the air. And if it does happen, I just hope I have been practicing well in searching for fields of adequate length and smoothness to make my chances of walking away as high as they can be. But then, I have to make the field I choose, first...

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Clearance Limit Interpretation Issue, Revisited

I think there may be some US vs. Canada issues when it comes to rules. Looking at some of the comments posted, here are some observations from my part.

First, I've looked at the Canadian rules for filing flight plans. I haven't yet come across any requirements for Canucks to file IAFs in the flight plans. I haven't fully researched ICAO requirements, but what I've looked at makes no mention of this rule, either. Is this in the US AIM?

Canadian controller actually have rules in their manual of operations that are specific about specifying VOR vs NDB vs airport. All too often, it is left out, and not necessarily by those within the FIR. My example that started all of this was initiated by BOS ARTCC, though I know for a fact other controllers I work with would word it the same way. We are supposed to say, "Cleared direct Moncton VOR." An example where it is not stated, and makes sense not to, is when clearing an aircraft to a point on the flight plan route (not associated with destination). For example, the pref route CYHZ-CYYZ is CYHZ MLT VLV J509 YOW J546 YSO V37 CYYZ. If ATC were to clear this flight "Direct YOW on course", the only Ottawa facility/fix in the flight plan route is the YOW VOR, therefore there should be no confusion. Is this how dropping the term VOR got started?

Also, in Canada, we use a little rule of thumb when initiaing IFR clearances. Unless a TWR has an agreement with a CTR to use a "canned clearance," which typically includes a SID and "flight planned route", the clearance nomrally will include the airport as the clearance limit if the flight is leaving the FIR, or a facility/fix associated the airport (or an approach procedure) if the flight is entirely within the FIR. The old rational is that we know which NAVAIDs are serviceable within the FIR, but we won't check NOTAMs for facility status, say, at Vancouver or Toronto when we're working in Moncton. Generic communication failure instructions have procedures for transition from an enroute facility to an approach. The Aviatrix in the comments on the last post has it right on the money in such a case.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Clearance Limit Interpretation Issue

Last summer, I had an encounter with a pilot and his interpretation of a clearance that lad to more questions than answers. Here's the setup:

Inbound to Moncton from Toronto, the aircraft was vectored off course for traffic, about 150NM from CYQM. When past the traffic, he was given the clearance, "cleared direct Moncton." When he came over to my frequency upon starting descent, I noticed he wasn't on the track I expected of him. When querried, the pilot said he was going directly to CASID, the IF for runway 06. I asked who gave him that clearance, and his response was, "Well, sir, we were cleared 'direct Moncton' and from our point of view it's all the same." I was expecting him to fly direct to the Moncton VOR. Even if his interpretation is right, and he is allowed to go to one of the fixes, I believe he still stretched it since ruwnay 11 was advertised as active on the ATIS.

So, now we get to the point of this post. What does "cleared direct Moncton" mean? The Moncton VOR? The Moncton NDB? The Moncton airport as a geographical location? I was taught in my ATC training days the clearance limit issued as the airport (which is often the case when an aircraft leaves the FIR in which the flight begins) meant to the enroute navigation facility serving the airport. Making this the VOR, in this case. But this was always ambiguous to me, in that there are airways based on the Moncton NDB, too, and it is of a stronger power output than the average locator beacon associated only with an approach which could mean the NDB could be considered an enroute facility. What about an airport without a VOR? The NDB? And if no NDB, either?

So I asked a few pilots I know. What I learned in this surprised me. There seemed no divide between age or experience. There seemed no difference related to recreational, airline or other IFR flying (like charter flying or MEDEVAC, for example). The divide had no obvious basis but its own existence. About half of the pilots thought very strongly it meant a facility as I suggested above, and the other half believed it meant the airport as a location. To clarify the two points, if headed from CYYZ to CYYR, the pilot were cleared "direct Goose Bay", one group would not hesitate to enter YYR (the Goose Bay VOR) into the FMS, and the other group would argue they should put in CYYR (the Goose Bay Airport). Oddly enough, nobody mentioned the YR NDB or the UYR TACAN (mind you, there were no military pilots that would have reason to fly to a TACAN in the group I mentioned it to).

Looking it up in the AIP Canada, I found nothing to support either side. I still haven't found it written anywhere. It's my belief that it wasn't written since pre-RNAV days, nobody could navigate directly to an airport -- it had to be some kind of ground based NAVAID. So let's have it. Comments, please, on what you feel is right. And why, if you can back it up. I'm still expecting you to use an enroute facility. Should I be? What would you do? Maybe the rules need to be updated.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Bay of Fundy VFR Flight Plan

A pilot recently contacted me through the internet, and mentioned that he tried to get to the maritime provinces last summer, but weather prevented him during his vacation. Such is life, I suppose, but he asked me some questions, so I provided him with some details. I thought I'd share, supposing some others might be interested.

His path would have him approach our area from the southwest, along the coast of Maine. In a single-engine aircraft, he wanted to avoid long treks over water, so this was perfect, I thought, for a scenic tour. I suggested he land in CCS3, St. Stephen, NB, to clear customs and have a lunch. It's a small town, but it's near enough to some tourist attractions that a day could easily be made of it. Once airborne again, a flight over Grand Manan Island would be spectacular, if the weather is good. Even making another couple of days out of a visit there would be great. There is an airport there with a paved runway (CCN2). Seeing fishing wharves that tower 50ft over the rocky beach at low tide and barely break water at high tide is something that can't be appreciated until it's seen.

Leaving Grand Manan, whether you stop there or just overfly, head up the Bay of Fundy coastline on the New Brunswick side. After passing Saint John, the coastline gets quite rugged, and quite beautiful. Cliffs upwards of 600 feet above the water with very steep grades. Rivers emptying into the bay. Martin Head, a prominent stretch of sand meeting a rounded, tree-tufted "mountain" a fair distance out from shore. Many things to marvel at while cruising by all the way up to at least the Fundy National Park Area. From here, crossing the Bay of Fundy's cold and unforgiving waters is only a few miles. I recommend that you continue up the coast a few more miles, though, to take in another spectacle, Cape Enrage. There's a lighthouse on a spit of land that has some 200 foot cliffs, then there is a marsh area, and another rise of high, rocky land.

Once you cross over the the Nova Scotia side, you can circle Cape Chignecto. More Bay of Fundy cliffs here, and some wild coastline out around the point to the west. Following along this tide-swept area of rocks, Cap d'Or holds a lighthouse along a mountain ridge that ends sharply in the bay. Cape Chignecto is the western point of land that comprises the isthmus which connects Nova Scotia to the mainland. Continuing along the south end of Cape Chignecto, you'll see Cape Split rise from the waters on the right. There is another body of water to the south of Cape Chignecto, called the Minas Basin, which splits Cape Chignecto from the southwestern portion of the province. Cape Split itself is a narrow point of land jutting into the bay with cliffs at some points upwards of 500 feet high. The real attraction here is a nearly treeless end with, I believe, 3 towering mesas separated from the accessible portion. Since none of these are reachable from land, birds flock there and have created their own little community, undisturbed by man. There is a hiking trail to reach this point from the nearest road, but make sure you have three hours or so if you want to walk it.

After you pass Cape Split, turn south and run down toward the St. Margaret's Bay area. If you have time (and fuel), starting a little further west affords you a look over Mahone Bay as well. The point of land between St. Margaret's Bay and Halifax Harbour should not be cut across, but rounded on the south side to see the intricate coastline there and its fishing villages. When you follow the coast around turning north to Halifax Harbour, you can fly up the harbour between Halifax and Dartmouth, the largest populated area in Nova Scotia, over the large suspension bridges that cross the divide, and north over the Bedford Basin. There is a ton of history in this area. Finally, leave the Bedford Basin toward the northest and you're pointing at CYHZ, Halifax International Airport.

A few notes now. The whole coastline between Grand Manan and Cape Enrage, as well as the area around Cape Chignecto rolling, rocky terrain. There are not many large communities here, and there are few places to land if something goes wrong. The Bay of Fundy waters are notoriously cold, and the wild tidal action generates strong currents to fight the strong winds that are normally present in the area. Similarly, the southern coast of Nova Scotia is dotted with small communities, but not many places that would make good emergnecy landing areas. None of the roads are straight enough long enough in many areas. The Halifax Terminal Control Area is about 40 NM around, and is Class D airspace which means you'll have to make contact before entering unless you want to fly low. The Halifax Harbour is in the control zone of Shearwater, military base clearly visible on the east side of the mouth of the harbour. Do not mistake this as Halifax International. You won't be welcome there unless you're in an emergency. The Bedford Basin sits just about 10 NM from CYHZ, and if you're over it, you're getting very close to the final approach path for runway 06. Finally, as the pilot who started this whole thing knows, weather is an issue in this neck of the woods. While not as thick as experienced in St. John's, NF, the fog over the Bay of Fundy can rolls in quick and thick. Halifax International can also experience nasty fog, hence their need for the CAT II ILS. Being so close to colder waters over the bay and the Atlantic Ocean, the weather can change dramatically over a pretty short perido of time, so make sure your planning includes a thorough weather briefing and alternate landing spots.

And that's just getting to Halifax from the southwest. Going home can offer more treats. The Northumberland Strait, the Cape Breton Highlands, PEI. Too many more to mention in one post. If anyone has any other flight plans like this they can detail, I'd be happy to take them through e-mail for my own info, and I may even post them here, if people indicate they want to see more.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

My Son's Birthday Cake

I'm proud of this, for two reasons. My oldest son just turned 8. Since his third birthday, I've taken it upon myself to make custom shaped cakes for him (my other son doesn't like "normal cakes" and will only eat ice cream cakes from Dairy Queen, so I can't do this for him). My wife bakes them and then I shape and decorate. This year, he asked for an airplane cake. Happy he wanted something to do with flying, I asked him what kind of airplane. He named a specific plane. The F-18. That's my boy.

Anyway, I thought I'd add a picture, just to show you what my boy wanted. It's brown, since vanilla icing was apparently not an option, but it's still an F-18. Notice the Canadian maple leaves on the wings and the '8's on the fins. The fins were made from cut outs from a cereal box in the shape of the fins with an added triangle to sink into the cake, and they were iced thinly for the sake of presentation. I enjoyed building and decorating this as much as he enjoyed eating it.

This image will be available for a limited time, a couple of weeks or so...
F-18 Cake

Friday, March 25, 2005

Aviation Story, Part 4 of 4

Dave Anderson's critique of his own situation...

The broken blade (the first item to leave the aircraft) fell on State Highway 46 three miles east of the town of Lost Hills and was retrieved by the California Highway Patrol. Two weeks later the broken crankshaft with attached propeller hub and remaining blade was found in the middle of a cotton field by a cultivating crew. The distance between these two finds was just over one half mile. My incident was the first inflight prop failure of this model McCauley propeller. Three other failures happened on aircraft at engine run up or during initial ground roll while attempting takeoff. The propeller failure on 4903U was investigated by the FAA and resulted in the issuance of an AD for said propeller assembly. Investigation revealed that the propeller on 4903U had suffered a ground strike while operated by a previous owner. The FAA calculated that I had flown 4903U for approximately 200 hours with a severely cracked blade thread assembly. A baseball size piece of the broken threaded end of the blade that first broke loose resides on my desk and serves as a important reminder for me to always know the history of a newly purchased aircraft.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Aviation Story, Part 3 of 4

More of Dave Anderson's Story...

I've made the airport but I'm 2000 feet above ground and close in on a down wind leg for runway 30. I check traffic but completely forget about using my radio to announce my position. As this airport is uncontrolled and mainly used by radioless crop dusters, my over-sight is not a major problem. I appear to be high so I move away from the airport and start flaps down while S-turning on an extended downwind. Over and over I repeat "gas, under-carriage, mixture, prop" then realize that three of the four items I'm checking are not functional. Now I am over the town of Wasco and I turn base while extending full flaps. As I turn final I worry that I have lost too much altitude and start easing up the flaps. Whether this helps or not I have no idea, but I have made the runway and flare for a tail-low, two-point landing. As the nose gently settles to the runway I look down and spot the turnoff far ahead and to the right. 4903U slows and I push in on the throttle in order to reach the runway turnoff. Nothing; no sound, no acceleration, the aircraft just continues to slow and finally coasts to a stop midway down this 3800 foot runway. Obviously someplace between touch-down and this creeping stop I once again have relinquished "pilot-in-command" and have become an observer.
As I open the left door and slide to the ground I hear the wail of sirens nearing the airport. I walk around the wing strut and approach 4903U head on. I am dumbstruck. The propeller is gone and the engine has flipped vertical within its mount! The nose cowl is ripped open in two places and the right side of the engine cowling is missing all the way back to the firewall.
I peer through the tear in the cowling and note that the engine has detached from three of its four mounts and that the one remaining attachment is twisted and partially severed. I don't even try to compute the chain of events that caused this twisted mess I am viewing, but suddenly I am aware of the reason this bird has been so quiet and maintained such an exceptional glide: no wind-milling prop!
The fire trucks pull alongside and I thank them and assure them that all is okay. With assistance from these friendly firemen we push 4903U over to a tie-down area. I walk to a pay phone and call the Bakersfield tower and ask them to contact Lemoore Approach and inform them that I am safely down at the Wasco Airport. As I finish my call, Marshall, one of our senior pilots who flies the Wasco/Shafter area, drives up. Marshall is a pilot who has been through it all and never seems to get excited. He takes a brief turn around the front of my plane, and I know he already knows more about its present condition than I do. He then turns to me and asks:
Gonna leave it here or fly on to Bakersfield? Think I'll leave it here. Need a lift? Yeah, to the nearest bar. Country western or south of the border? Hell, Marshall, let's just find one with a lot of noise."

Dave's self-critique tomorrow...

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Aviation Story, Part 2 of 4

Dave Anderson's story continued...

I have gone from pilot in command to observer in less than three seconds. What the hell is happening? I desperately need to fill in the blanks. My view through the windshield is obscured as the screen continues to darken. I look out the left side window to gain orientation. The wings appear level which I attempt to cross check with my instruments. The attitude gyro has packed it in along with all the engine gauges. Whatever else may have happened, it is now obvious my engine is not operating. The darkening windshield is the result of oil, lots of oil. My 285 horses have left the barn and I now realize that I am gripping the controls of a glider. I continue my efforts to gain command of this situation by viewing out my side window and referencing both my airspeed and vertical speed indicators. I concentrate on flying the airplane and work at obtaining best glide speed. I work at saving altitude, for altitude loss is now irretrievable!
"Lemoore Approach Control; Centerion 4903U; request. Roger 4903U; Lemoore Approach; say request. Lemoore Approach Control; Centerion 4903U; I have experienced an engine failure and it will be necessary for me to attempt an emergency landing; request you maintain Flight Following as long as possible. Ah, Roger 4903U; Lemoore Approach; please ident, and say altitude. Roger Lemoore, Centerion 4903U ident code 4657, altitude 6600 feet, descending."
And so it goes. I have company now and I welcome sharing this flight with Lemoore. Other good news: the flow of oil onto the windshield has stopped and the air stream is improving my forward view. I fine tune my descent by referencing the vertical speed indicator and the airspeed indicator. I am puzzled by the fact that this bird is giving up altitude so slowly. As I S-turn looking for a place to land, my view forward is improved and I can now see that part of the engine cowling is torn and flapping in the slipstream. This revelation drastically increases my adrenaline level. I calm somewhat as I realize that I am over an extensive farming area with large fields of recently planted cotton and established alfalfa. I tentatively decided that any of numerous long alfalfa checks will suffice for an emergency landing. As I quietly continue my glide northeastward my eyes fix on a familiar shape, then I realize that I am looking at the town of Wasco. I wonder if I have sufficient altitude to reach the Wasco Airport. I discontinue S-turns and fine tune my glide for maximum distance. Maybe, just maybe. . . . .
"Lemoore Approach Control; Centerion 4903U. Roger 4903U; Lemoore Approach; go ahead. Lemoore Approach Control; Centerion 4903U; it appears that I have sufficient altitude
to attempt a landing at Wasco Airport . Roger 4903U; Lemoore Approach copies your plan to land at Wasco Airport; we will advise emergency services and have fire trucks standing by. Roger Lemoore Centerion 4903U."
I really didn't need to hear about the fire trucks, but I stay busy planning my approach and reviewing emergency procedures germane to this Centerion. I am approaching Wasco too high and I continue to be baffled that this aircraft is loosing altitude so slowly. As I now need to decrease airspeed and loose altitude, I move the landing gear lever to the "GEAR DOWN" position. Now I am perplexed that nothing appears to be happening; why isn't the gear going down? Then it dawns on me: no engine equals no hydraulics. My flaps are electric and work fine, but I will have to use the emergency hand pump to lower the landing gear. I check trim, look around for traffic, then start pumping. This is a first for me and the emergency procedure seems to take an eternity. I've about decided that I have messed up any chance for a decent landing due to this Centerion's goofy footed gear system (the main gear drops out like legs on a wounded duck prior to locking in the "gear down" position), and I contemplate returning the gear lever to the "GEAR UP" position. Then suddenly there is a snap and the green "GEAR DOWN" light flashes on.

More tomorrow...

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Aviation Story, Part 1 of 4

Here's a story that I couldn't possibly have told twice, unlike yesterday's. A man named Dave Anderson recently wrote me about my Aviation Topics of the Week I wrote which ended last year while searching for some information. We exchanged e-mails, and when he saw my mention of my paranoia about aircraft engine failures, he sent me a story which he had published some time ago. It was a real life experience for him, and he allowed me to share it with you. It'll be in 4 parts, so stay tuned.


By Dave Anderson

I depart Salinas Airport mid afternoon on this sixth day of April, 1972. As I cross the Priest VOR on an eastbound heading for Bakersfield, I level my single engine 1965 Centerion 210E at 7500 feet. With maximum throttle and engine RPM at redline, I lean mixture for best power then report having reached cruise altitude to Oakland Center which is providing VFR (Visual Flight Rules) Radar Flight Following.
It has been a busy week, and I now look forward to a quick stop at my home in Bakersfield and then flying on to San Diego for Easter weekend with family at Hotel Del Coronado. This will be my second flight to the San Diego area this week, as I flew to Chula Vista for a meeting with the San Diego County Ag Commissioner on Monday. Our business is crop dusting and the helicopter operation at Brown Field in Chula Vista is of one of five companies that we pur-chased and merged into an operation whose day-to-day activities I often refer to as "civilian combat." We have twenty pilots operating at various locations in the state. As this is post-Rachel Carson, these crop dusters, once viewed with abundant respect, are increasingly becoming the target of environmentalists.
As I pass southwest of Coalinga I look down and spot Avenal Airport. When my aerial steed was somewhat slower I had often stopped at Avenal for a coke and a visit with the airport manager on my way back to Bakersfield. I now calculate a true airspeed of 196 mph with favorable upper winds bumping my DME ground speed to an impressive 212 mph. The weather is severe clear and the air is smooth. I calculate my touch down at Meadows Field, Bakersfield, will be in twenty minutes.
Since Oakland Center passed me off to Lemoore Approach Control a few minutes ago, I call Lemoore Approach Control as I near the town of Lost Hills and inform them that I will be commencing my descent for Bakersfield. Lemoore acknowledges and gives me three NAS jets in formation at eleven o'clock, eight miles. I reply a "negative" on this traffic, put the nose down and start building airspeed. In a few minutes my indicated airspeed is approaching redline and I slowly reduce manifold pressure to stay in the yellow. I'm at the top of the envelope for my stalwart bird when suddenly out of this smooth flight comes moderate turbulence. I ease back on the throttle and gently raise the aircraft's nose, swapping airspeed for altitude. While slowing the turbulence subsides, and I again drop the nose and increase power. As I gently move the throttle forward there is a thundering clang from the front of the
aircraft and a sickening quiver through the airframe. I must have hit something! The windshield darkens and I no longer have forward visibility. Now there is silence; and here, disoriented and 7000 feet above the ground, the sound of silence is terrifying!

Monday, March 21, 2005

The Value of Thrust Reversers

In yet another story from my tower days, I learned the value of thrust reversers. Several years ago a weather system in late winter moved in providing us with freezing rain and near-zero temperatures. This "warmer" air over the snow meant a dense fog over the area, and the freezing rain that later joined in turned our runways and taxiways into skating rinks. With the temperatures near zero, it meant that the surface of the ice was also moist. Really good for the CRFI (then still called JBI), down at .16.

Runway 15 was active at Halifax this particular morning, with the winds 150@5-10 knots. Runway 15 has a 0.55% upward slope. A BAe-146 shot the ILS to 15. Several seconds after he disappeared off radar (we had no ASDE and the fog restricted visibility to the catwalk railing just outside the tower cab), I told the pilot to report off the runway on my frequency so I could clear the B757 behind him to land. The pilot responded with, "We're still sliding here. I'll call you when we get it stopped." I felt I had already given him enough time to slow down given conditions. Several long seconds later, a wavering voice came over the radio. "We're just getting it stopped about 75 feet from the end of the runway." I asked him where he touched down, and he confirmed the touchdown area, about 1,000 feet from the threshold, meaning he used nearly all of the 6,700 feet remaining.

I quickly informed the B757 of the preceding aircraft's experience when he called in, and was prepared to tell Terminal that he was going around, not willing to shoot the approach. He decided to try it anyway. He landed and turned off at the taxiway about 1,500 feet from the end, reporting braking action "fair". A heavier airplane with thrust reversers had no difficulty stopping while the lighter one without the reversers almost overran the end. What a learning experience working in aviation can be!

Sunday, March 20, 2005

More on Fixes

For those who didn't see the comments posted for yesterday's post, David happily posted a link to an approach with a great sequence of RNAV fix name. I'll post it here, too, for giggles.


Another one which is kind of funny is the VOR/DME 15 at Mont Joli, PQ. The two fixes published there prove the people of this place are virgins, because they HAVON ADSEX.

(Sorry. I had to throw that one in.)

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Intersections and Flight Planning

We're all familiar with the 5-letter fixes brought to us by ICAO. They're used for enroute navigation by RNAV equipped aircraft, as well as for approaches as step-down fixes, Intermediate Fixes (IF) and so on. There are some rules to them. Many are meant for RNAV-equipped aircraft, though some are compulsory reporting points at airway intersections and so on.

They are supposed to be pronounceable. There are several that are cute, some that are ambiguous, and some that just seem to defy that rule. For example, Nashville, Tennessee, has one called GITAR. Nicely appropriate. Then Orlando has SURFN. Not quite a gramatically correct spelling, but it works. People can figure out how to say it. Then there are those that have people guessing. For example, XOSUS. How does one pronounce the 'X' on the front? ICAO says it should pronounced as a 'Z' if it starts a name. Personally, I think it should be disallowed. If you want that pronounciation, use a 'Z'. The problem is that we are running out of them. So we use XOSUS and others like it, perhaps running a possibility of a problem. An unfamiliar pilot is cleared direct XOSUS and enters ZOSUS, which may also exist but be halfway around the world. Some are already close enough without having an 'X' involved. I once watched a pilot ask for clearance to a fix, receive it, and make a 90° left turn. He was cleared direct BIMKU, and apparently entered BIMTU in advertently. Inattention? Perhaps, but it happened nonetheless. It took us both by surprise. Also, there are several pronunciations which cause problems. PIKIL exists on the North Atlantic. If a pilot were cleared directly to PIKIL, and ATC said it like, "pickle,", should he enter PIKIL, PICKL, PIKEL, PICIL, or any other of a number of possible interpretations? First, the pilot should consider it in context. Is there a fix downstream on the flight plan route, or associated with an approach procedure at destination, or a fix on the SID plate on departure which might sound like the word spoken? Whatever the question, a quick request to ATC to spell it would reduce the chances of an incident like the one described above.

Lastly, there are other fixes which clearly are not pronounceable. These fixes are usually located in spots which are not necessary for navigation, but are marked on charts. The primary examples that come to mind are those on charts on the international (as opposed to FIR) boundaries. These fixes are marked on Canadian charts, but not named. Jeppesen charts have their names marked. These appear with "names" like BCVKH. They are not meant to be used in flight plans, and many Canadian controllers will not know what the heck you are talking about. I'm not sure how many US controllers would recognize them. Anyway, they are marked for reference only, hence the lack of naming on the Canadian charts, and the lack of a conventional, pronounceable name in general.

Friday, March 18, 2005

GPS Elevation and Barometric Altimeter

I recently flew Westjet, and was lucky enough to get in one of their B737-700s with the entertainment system. After I put thoughts of Swissair 111's inflight fire aside (thinking of the entertainment system), I had a look at it. The "start up" screen was a picture of Canada with an icon representing the aircraft's position. At the bottom of the screen was an altitude and groundspeed readout. While I don't understand why they would post speed in mph (knots or km/h would make more sense in Canada), the altitude measured in feet did. Sort of...

The pilot reported shortly after levelling off that we had reached our cruising altitude of 40,000 feet. To me, that meant FL400. The altitude readout read ~38,800. Hmmm. I checked my GPS, and it concurred, within about 200 feet. I called my altimetry guru, George Dewar, and we talked out the answer.

There are several issues in altimetry that combine to increase discrepancies between the two. I say discrepancies, because the word 'error' wouldn't really be right. An error that would be of concern would be a difference between where the aircraft should be, and where it is. In the case of an aircraft's barometric altimeter, it very rarely reads how high the airplane really is due to a variety of differences between actual conditions and the ICAO standard atmosphere, the set of conditions for which the barometric altimeter is calibrated. It is subject to a number of errors, but they are all pretty consistent, allowing each aircraft to experience the same amount of error. This makes the barometric altimeter useful for altitude guidance in aircraft. Though they are in error, the consistency becomes the important part. GPS is not subject to the same errors (it has its own bugaboos), so mixing the two is not practical, especially under certain circumstances.

Cold weather altimeter error is the most significant error faced in my example above. Surface pressure was near standard, so the difference between standard pressure and surface pressure is minimal (remembering we set 29.92 at 18,000 in Canada). The temperature at the surface was about 25C° colder than standard. A quick figuring of the cold weather altimeter correction needed ends up accounting for the vast majority of the difference between barometric altimeter reading and GPS calculations for my example. The extreme discrepancy is largely due to the height of the aircraft. At lower elevations, this discrepancy would be significantly lower, though significant if on approach. GPS is subject to its own issues, but temperature will not affect the altitude readout. This would make GPS calculations a more accurate determination of altitude compared with the barometric altimeter, and our actual altitude in this flight probably was closer to the 38,800 mark than to 40,000.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Russian Airliner Crash

Yesterday afternoon, an AN-24 crashed 3-4nm short of the Varanei airport, killing 29 people aboard, and critically injuring another 10. Billed in the media as the second worst aviation accident in Russia, after the two nearly-simultaneous bombings a few years back, this crash occured above the Arctic Circle where the termperature was a bone chilling -24°C.

I always think about what kind of environment I would end up in after a crash or a forced landing. Should I survive the "touchdown", would I be adequately dressed for survival? I guess I'm truly paranoid about the reliability of my engine and airplane. I guess it's a good thing that the crash was so close to the airport, or the outcome might have been different for those that survived the crash, too. Here's to the rescuers of those who made it out!

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Controllers and Airplanes

Being an aviation enthusiast, it really surprised me when I first entered the ATC world how few of the controllers around me, even those who had been working for 30 years, knew much about airplanes. Yes, experience had taught them a number of things. How long a take-off roll is generally needed by a Dash 8 or a B767, how well certain aircraft types could climb and which ones you couldn't count on for anything in terms of climbing, and that sort of thing. Many of them don't know and don't really care about the types of aircraft that are flying around the region.

I can see their point. How much does ATC really need to know? The pilot is there to know the airplane, to know what it can do, and what to do when something goes wrong. From an ATC standpoint, we can always ask if a pilot is capable of making a restriction we need and make a judgment call based on his answer. Professional interest keeps certain things in the back of the mind while working, like, "Last few times I asked this type of aircraft to expedite the climb I got a whopping 600 feet per minute, so I won't bother asking this one. I'll just vector him." Still, many controllers don't seem to know much about the aircraft types beyond the air traffic designator, which isn't always descriptive. A B737 on the flight plan is a Boeing 737-700. A DC10 is a DC-10. Many do reveal a lot. But a Beech 1900, regardless of it being a C or D, is B190. Often when passing traffic, some controllers will say, "traffic 10 o'clock, 6 miles, opposite direction 'bee one ninety' at 7,000." That's just one common example.

Obviously they've gotten to the point where their peers believe they are competent, since they reached "check-out level" for their unit. And I'm not saying all controllers have this low level of interest or knowledge. Many are quite knowledgeable. But it does leave questions in the minds of those who think about such things. All I'm saying is don't count on your controller to know your airplane. The majority of controllers, in my experience, strongly feel it is best for them to stay "out of the cockpit" -- that's where the pilot belongs. Communication is important if you're trying to tell ATC about a situation in your airplane. Remember the story I told last month about the pilot communicating "an engine failure" instead of "my engine has failed." Sadly, the controller didn't recognize the severity of the situation, given his ignorance of the aircraft type involved, the pilot's choice of words and exaggerated calm.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Phone in the Cockpit

In my travels, I recently encountered an ad for a piece of equipment that connects between an aircraft's headset jacks and the headset itself, allowing a pilot to connect, "a cellular phone or even an MP3 or CD player". The idea was born so a business pilot, "wouldn't miss any calls while flying," but the in flight audio was now possible through the pilot's headset as well.

Doesn't this seem like a bad idea? I have often tried to call pilots to issue clearances or information, only to be greeted with silence. I understand that sometimes you're busy and can't answer right away. Heck, ATC often has the same circumstances. Sometimes we're talking on a hotline to another controller, or even to the controller doing the data at the position next to me. But when I have to call four or five times, it gets kind of old. Personally, I'd be quite irate if I found out a pilot didn't hear me because he was listening to music or, especially, talking on his cell phone. This isn't a car you're riding in. But then, I'm against cell phone use by drivers of cars, too. The pilotting thing takes more attention than driving a car, and the idea of a pilot making a business call while in flight is just something I find a little disturbing. Is he even looking out the window while talking? What if it were IFR? Does he attentively scan his gauges while chatting to a client or his wife (or girlfriend)? To me, this is just plain dangerous, an accident waiting to happen.

No, I won't post a link to the equipment, since I would feel like I'm advertising it and, in a way, condoning it all. I won't even post the manufacturer. If this really seems like a good idea, nothing I can say or do will stop you from buying one, but I really hope you will reconsider.

Now, if you're thinking of this as a way of backup communications, and your cell phone remains off or unanswered while in flight (I carry one when I go flying), I'm OK with it. This is a totally different concept from my rant and the advertised purpose of the aforementioned equipment, and this is the very reason why phone numbers to ATC and FSS units are published in the CFS. They are, however, meant entirely as backups for comm failure, not as a primary means of communication.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Aviation Redunancies

One reader posted a reply to my GPS post recently, and I think he hit a very important topic. It seems in aviation there are stories all over the world about a company, or an individual in a company, who plans or acts to remove a procedure or a process which is considered redundant for cost savings. That's what makes aviation, especially in Canada, so safe: the number and nature of its redunancies.

People started flying way back, and experience taught them that, for safety's sake, certain things needed not only to be checked but to be cross-checked as well. These men and women were heralded for their thoughts and ideas. Suddenly, a new generation of businessman (or woman) jumps into an office, full of piss and vinegar with thoughts of how to make next year's bonus bigger, and these redundancies are the first thing to get chopped. Maybe not right away, but sometime in the future these actions show their ugly heads in an accident investigation. If an engine fails in flight, you can't just pull over and flag down a passing airliner to call a tow truck. And this is in all facets of aviation from flying to ground handling to ATC and systems management. And there are so many little things that can add up to be huge things in aviation, the redundancies are more than desireable. They become extremely important.

Statistically, Canada's air navigation system and aviation community as a whole have been cited as one of the safest in the world. These checks and balances in every neck of the woods pull together to make us what we are.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Arrow Again

I love this quote from the CBC archives:

At 9:52 a.m. on March 25, 1958, Arrow RL-201 roars into the skies above Malton for the Avro Arrow's first test flight. Three kilometres below, all non-essential Avro staff pour out of the plant to watch their plane circle overhead. Some 35 minutes later, the Arrow touches down and comes to a halt, braking parachutes trailing behind. Test pilot Janusz Zurakowski, who is given a hero's welcome, complains only that the cockpit has no clock.

I've read some books on the Arrow, and many included excerpts from logs that had survived the mass destruction, and many had included interviews with the pilots who all survived those days. The massive undertaking that was the Arrow was incredible in so many ways. New materials, new design processes, new contruction processes. And still, the first flight of the Arrow, reportedly, had only 4 non-critical switches written up as malfunctioning in the snag sheets. That's something to be proud of to this day.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Jetsgo Dies

I read in yesterday's paper, after making yesterday's post, that Jetsgo has folded. They announced cessation of all flying activities, and the removal of airport staff, effective midnight March 11, 2005. The article I read said Jetsgo left its paid passengers in a lurch, in classsic Jetsgo style, by saying if you had paid for a ticket for a future flight, you'll have to contact the Canadian Transportation Agency. Rumor has it they knew this was afoot for a significant period leading up to it, yet continued to take bookings.

My wife monitors an internet forum, and a lady posted on that a message about her husband and her son that had plans to fly out before Jetsgo pulled the plug. They were to fly to Toronto the evening before the big public announcement. When they checked in, they were told their flight was cancelled "due to mechanical problems," and that they could fly out the next morning. They were right, they just didn't say what airline they could fly on. Very nice. Well handled, Jetsgo. My opinion of Jetsgo is probably not a secret any more.

I will, however, sympathize with Jetsgo's employees. In Toronto earlier this month, while waiting impatiently for my Jetsgo plane to fly me home to Moncton, I witnessed converstations amongst two separate groups of Jetsgo employees. I haven't heard anyone malign their employer so badly since listening to ourselves at work about NavCanada. Scheduling difficulties, short notice changes to shifts, mistreatment of the worst kind without being fired. The stories I overheard were horrible. It's amazing, being fed the crap these people were given, that they could even smile on the job. A CEO in the US was quoted at a high profile businessman's meeting as saying, "I haven't yet seen a company please its customers that hadn't first pleased its employees." There's a lot of truth in that statement. Hopefully these displaced workers will find more satisfying employment elsewhere.

A friend, upon hearing my own difficulties with travelling Jetsgo, forwarded me this address. It's incredible what's out there on the internet.


Friday, March 11, 2005

Avro Arrow

There is hardly a Canadian aviation enthusiast that I've met that doesn't have an opinion on the Avro Arrow. Many love it, or more importantly what it stood for and its potential, and a few maligned it or its fans, for a variety of reasons.

I'm not much of a web surfer. It's like shopping in a mall, to me. I decide what I want, find out the mall is where I have to go to get it, I go to the mall, get what I want, and I'm out of there. A friend of mine who writes a blog that can only be described as eclectic (datter.com) found a link to the CBC archives. I browsed a little for aviation related topics, and the very first one I found was a page full of items regarding the CF-105 Arrow. Here's the link below:


Worth a read. In case you haven't guessed, I love the Arrow, dislike the decision makers involved in its destruction, and argue with Arrow detractors. Who knows where the engineers of this aviation event could have taken Canada over the years? It will have to suffice for us to enjoy what they've done from a world perspective, rather than a Canadian one.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

GPS Nav Error

I was searching for an airfield off the beaten track in Nova Scotia where a PA28 I had worked the week before for flight following did an emergency landing due to engine failure. Since I was totally unfamiliar with the roads and where this field may be, I plucked the lat/long out of the Canada Flight Supplement and entered them into my handheld GPS receiver.

I made my way to the community, feeling confident about the direction the road signs were giving me, until eventually, the roads turned to dirt roads, then across a single lane, deteriorating bridge and up a hill to a four-way intersection. No more guidance from signs, so I decided to guess. Besides, if I had to backtrack and had difficulty, I had the GPS. The first road I took I knew was leading me northwest, based on the position of the sun and the time of day. I drove this road for a couple of minutes before figuring this wasn't be the one I wanted. I decided it was time to look to the GPS for direction. Something was amiss.

The GPS was showing me heading southeast at 60 km/h, climbing out of 15,000 feet. I was heading NW at about 30, and ground level here should be around 100-150. The first thing I did was what anyone who encounters a position error with a GPS unit does: Check the geometry and number of satellites. I was surprised to find that of the 11 satellites above the horizon, the unit had a lock on 7 of them. Scattered nicely around the sky with one above, one NW, one NE, two S, and two SE at various elevations. Battery life was also not an issue, since it was powered off the car's cigarette lighter. It would be hard to get any better. I found the field anyway, and decided to let the unit go to see if it would right itself. After about 20 minutes, I finally had enough. I turned the unit off when it showed me about 33 km southeast of where I should be, still heading SE at 50 km/h, and climbing out of 21,000 feet. Immediately after powering it down, I turned it on again. 15 seconds later, it locked on what appeared to be a good location, including a good elevation, and zero groundspeed.

I've talked with a number of people, including my GPS guru George Dewar. There was no theoretical explanation of GPS for this error, other than an electronic error in the unit. I had owned this unit for two years prior to this, and for two years since, and had never before or afterward seen anything other than precise and consistent positions. I still have the unit, and it is still very reliable.

It is because of this story, and one similar to it from a local flight instructor (in his case, it was the unit installed in the plane), that I will refuse to use a GPS unit without a backup paper map, and will refer to this map periodically while enroute.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Another Story about being Lost

One day while I worked the air mic (rather than ground) in Halifax Tower, Halifax FSS (now FIC) called and reported that they were speaking with an aircraft who was relaying for another one who said he was lost. They wanted to know if we could help. The ground controller handed me the phone, and I asked a few questions. The pilot said he was over a body of water surrounded by land which he believed was the Bay of Fundy, between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick suggesting about 100nm northwest of CYHZ, heading northeast at 2,500. When I ranged out on the radar, I was disappointed to see not a single target within 125nm of Halifax heading anywhere near northeast. I contacted Halifax Terminal, who is remoted to Moncton Center, since they would have access to more than just the Halifax radar. He saw nothing that could be the aircraft.

We asked him, through radio through his relay pilot, if he could climb, and he agreed to do it. Eventually, a target on 1200 code popped up about 130nm east of Halifax, heading northeast. We asked him to squawk ident, and Halifax radio heard his reply. At this point, we knew he was lost. Turns out, he was over the Bras d'Or lakes in Cape Breton Island. Quite a way off. When we got him turned around and heading toward Halifax, we asked that he try to call Halifax Terminal directly for further. When he called in, we asked him to check his fuel status, and for a C150, given the distance to fly, fuel would be tight. The aircraft belonged to the Debert Flying Club, at the Debert airport about 40nm NE of CYHZ, and about the same flying distance from where the pilot was.

The original aircraft relaying transmissions for us landed at Debert and the pilot told the story there, obviously. This led to a phone call from them to the tower at CYHZ, where I answered. They asked me to tell the pilot to head for Debert, fearing that the pilot would be afraid to take-off again to bring the plane home after landing for fuel. Thinking this was not necessarily a good idea, it was decided between us, in the tower and the terminal control unit, to tell the pilot of the club's request, and recommend that he do what he was most comfortable with, reiterating that his heading was good for Halifax. The pilot asked for a heading to Debert, which was given. Ultimately the plane landed without further incident, though quite low of fuel.

We never heard how the pilot ended up 100nm on the other side of his destination. But this little story goes to prove what has been discussed in recent days about a pilot being able to be very certain of where he is, and yet being so completely wrong. In this case, he could have flown northeast, passing Sydney, his last place to land before heading out over the Cabot Strait between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, possibly believing he was passing over the Northumberland Strait between Nova Scotia and PEI. He hadn't much fuel left, so he wouldn't have to go all that far before passing the point of no return. Once again, knowing who to call, or indeed trying to call anyone, proved invaluable to this pilot's safe return.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Getting Lost, Part 2

Continued from yesterday...

Another thing that pleases me from both a piloting standpoint, but especially from an ATC standpoint, is just how many low-time pilots who do get themselves in such bad spots, such as becoming lost, are smart enough to know who to call. Or in fact, smart enough to call anyone. Sometimes "bravery" (in quotes for a reason) overrules a man's brain and he calls nobody, hoping that he can get himself out of a bind without having to ask for directions. But most lost pilots I've dealt with as a controller, or simply heard or read about, were willing to call someone and ask for help. An FSS or FIC, a control tower, or a terminal control unit or ACC. The latter two are probably the best resource, since radar can go a long way to help find you and direct you home.

Maybe my groundschool was limited in this regard, but during my disorientation story from yesterday, the thought of calling someone didn't even cross my mind. Even if it did, I honestly believe at the time that I would have had no idea who to call. I was never introduced to an IFR ATC unit. I hope I would have been smart enough to call someone if I needed help, but I honestly don't know. In my experience, the lost VFR pilots have called an FIC, who either sent the aircraft to me on the ACC frequency, or have tried to relay messages from me (since I don't have frequencies useable in all areas that an FIC may have). Most have called the ACC directly, which means they must have been taught something I wasn't. I pay a lot of attention in class, and I missed this element of how to find the right someone to call for help. And I'm no stranger to asking for or accepting help. My biggest fear is not needing help, but not knowing who to turn to when it's needed.

Anyway, it seems pilots are better trained these days, being given better direction than I was on where to look for information on getting help, and who to talk to. Thank goodness, too, since I've seen at least 6 incidents that could have turned out very different, possibly pretty ugly, if the pilots didn't call for some navigation assistance. Not to mention the others that would have resolved themselves, probably in a reasonable fashion. And that's just my experience alone.

Would you know who to call if you were to get lost? Would you know where to find their contact information, be it a radio frequency or telephone number? This really should be part of the basics, if it isn't already.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Getting Lost, Part 1

One thing I mentioned yesterday is that inexperienced cross country VFR pilots sometimes get lost. It's really easy, even in familiar territory, to lose one's bearings and suddenly familiar terrain can look a little less than familiar. Here's a story of my own.

I trained in Nova Scotia, a province in Canada, for those who don't know, which is almost an island, save for an isthmus of land joining it to New Brunswick. I flew from CYAW to CYTN to CCQ3 back to CYAW. This little triangle took me across the southern portion of the isthmus, therefore water was on both sides. Vis was pretty good, though the horizon faded into the clouds with a sort of wintertime haze. After the touch-and-go at CYTN, I was climbing out for CCQ3 and enjoying the scenery, which I hadn't seen before on anything other than a map. I still thought I was pretty familiar with it all, or at least the coastal landforms. I reached 4,500 and levelled, still enjoying the scenery for a while. Eventually, I realized I had been neglecting my cockpit duties, and returned to the panel for a scan of gauges. Heading, good. Altitude, good. Fuel, oil temp and pressure, suction, etc. All good. Time to recheck estimates for the route. Strange. I can't seem to recognize any of the local landmarks, and I can't place myself on the map. I looked all around, and couldn't see anything I had planned on using as a reference point. I found what appeared to be sort of prominent marks out the window and couldn't seem to locate any on the map.

Fortunately, it's a small province and I had full long-range tanks when I left. Knowing the overall lay of the land, I wasn't concerned. Eventually I'd find some coastline and I'd know where I was. Still, I was concerned about my lack of ability to orient myself. So, to fill time until I could see where I was, I looked at the plane's LORAN-C. The flight school gave us a very basic tour of LORAN in groundschool, and the only thing I could remember was how to get current position. That was good enough to see where I was on the map. When I found my position on the map, I was amazed at how many things I should have been able to see to determine my position. Looking out the window, I was further amazed that they were all there: The power lines, this small odd-shaped lake, the hill a few miles north and the secondary highway crossing my track up ahead. Now I was embarassed. But at least I knew where I was. How could all of these features pass blindly by me when I didn't know where I was, and suddenly appear when I had confidence in a position. I love the psychology of it.

More tomorrow...

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Fuel Starvation

"Planes that crash due to fuel exhaustion don't usually burn. A quick read through the NTSB or TSB accident reports will show how sadly common that is among private pilots."

The above sentence was a reply to a recent post to this blog. Flying magazine has an article in the current issue regarding what makes a pilot current. Those who fly, or know something about currency, know that rules involve doing certain things to stay current. A basic requirement for PPL has you make five take-offs and landings over the previous six months to be legal to take passengers (there's more to it as well), while night ratings, IFR and commercial all have their own set of similar requirements. The one thing the magazine reports as being conspicuously absent is a requirement to fill some cross country time in the log book.

Most recreational pilots, like myself, stay close to the home airport. Many never leaving the local airport. The author notes that many cross country trips by GA aircraft run into all kinds of issues with weather and such, and I've seen more than a few VFR aircraft, particularly during night cross country flights, end up lost. Fuel starvation is another critical factor. Why? Often these pilots get used to flying 1 to 2 hours flights, and "don't need" to monitor fuel gauges. They go on their first cross country flight in years and completely forget about them, since they are out of the practice of doing so once they met the requirements for licensing.

BTW, I believe the local flyer who doesn't at least glance at the fuel gauges is missing out. I know it's a long shot on the odds, but what if a fuel system deficiceny occurs? Maybe one tank drains while the other is clogged, cutting endurance by half? What about the concept of a fuel line failing and leaking? It seems like such a small investment of time and effort to spot a hugely significant problem, perhaps preventing a forced landing.

I'll close todays' post with an old axiom about Cessna fuel gauges which could be applied to anything:

Never believe fuel gauges when they say 'full'. Always believe them when they say 'empty'.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Navajo Electrical Failure

While working in Halifax International Airport's control tower years ago, I remember seeing a number of incidents involving Piper PA-31 Navajos. Before it seems like I'm trying to scare people out of Navajos, please let me relay that I have seen a large number of flights in these workhorses so the law of averages dictates that the number of incidents overall will be higher.

One in particular was kind of interesting. We had four PA-31s depart one morning, as every weekday morning, on their regional milkruns. The last one to depart didn't seem to be going where he said he was going. He took off Runway 06, and should have taken a heading of about 320° to get on course. There is a large lake northwest of the airport, and there was a localizer fog bank over the lake due to the cold air that morning, and the aircraft disappeared behind this fog bank. The radar track seemed to come further around to the left than he should have. I watched this, unable to observe the aircraft directly, only on radar, contemplating what was happening. As the wide-sweeping turn continued, I guessed that he was returning to the airport, so I punched up the runway and approach lights for him and tried a couple of blind calls. With no responses, I eventually saw the aircraft again and got out the binoculars. In the dim, pre-dawn light, I was able to see that he had no nav lights on. Electrical failure or fire, probably. I figured he'd land anyway if things were that bad, but I got down the trusty light gun and gave him a green light. He landed and taxied in uneventfully from my perspective. The pilot called the tower later and informed me that it was an electrical fire and it took out all his electrics. He limped back around the fog bank and was happy to see the runway lights on for him.

One more reason I was glad my instructor in the tower always pushed me saying, "Always watch your airplanes."

Friday, March 04, 2005

Fossett Succeeds!

Another aviation record was broken yesterday as Steve Fossett completed his round the world journey without stopping or refueling in a single engine aircraft, a jet at that. While some have publicly criticized Fossett for his accomplishment, stating that it wasn't his money or his design that made the record happen, he still manned the airplane. Accomplished or famous pilot or not, he still flew the thing despite navigation gear failure and potential fuel issues. Whatever your view of it, he still completed the flight.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Crashes and Fires

I've noticed that a lot of crashes, in particular with light aircraft, don't result in post crash fires. Just this week I've seen a couple of accident photos involving recent crashes of light aircraft, one into a house which didn't take any lives, where there were no fires. I imagine a crash being horrific enough without having to bail out of a burning airplane. It's not like you can just put it in park and step out. I've often wondered about statistics on such a subject. Just how many crashes result in burned out aircraft corpses?

Since getting into ATC, I've watched many incidents and accidents from the sidelines and very few fires have taken place. Most lives were lost to g-forces and/or structural damage or injuries on impact. And yet many airliners end up burning after a crash. I wonder if it has something to do with the amount of fuel on board, the speeds which airliners carry over light singles, maybe a combination of both? The extra energy that must be dissipated in a crash from a higher speed may result in more heat or sparks to ignite the contents of ruptured fuel tanks. Obviously I'm not an accident investigator, though that field has always interested me.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Personal Electronics on an Airliner

The title above has always comnfused me. Back in the days when most aircraft were flown with steam driven gauges and older technology in the instruments, I could understand the ability to cause signal disruption for navigation gear. The relatively low power of some NAVAIDs, the close proximity to possible antennas (or lead-in wires) of the personal electronic gear and so on. But nowadays, things are quite different.

Most airliners have much more sophisticated nav gear -- heck, even many of the ones still navigating by VOR and NDB have better receivers than in the past. Also, many electronics like radios and MP3 players draw less current from their power supplies, so they're less likely to give off any kind of RF which might provide for interference. One thing that surprised me last time I flew was the flight attendants' speeches regarding the use of electronics on board. They said radios were OK only at certain points during the flight, as were laptop computers. I would think that a laptop would be more of an issue than anything that is solely a receiver. I mean, the laptop has a hard drive and a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM (motors), a flourescent light behind the screen and a hot CPU with a cooling fan. All of this adds up to a high power draw and more likelihood of RF emissions than most receivers.

Maybe someone can explain this to me...? I'm sure I must be missing something.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

New PAR Program Version for Flight Sim Released

For those into the Flight Simulator community, especially those who fly online with VatSim or other similar online flying network, there is now a new version of my PAR program available. Actually, all three in the group have been updated with new features, some more than others. vPAR, short for Virtual Precision Approach Radar, is meant to give controllers and pilots a better way of doing PAR approaches over the internet. V2.0 has many significant fixes and enhancements that I'm sure will be welcome to those who make use of it. To learn more about the programs, or the changes made over V1.xx, visit the vPAR homepage by clicking on this link: