Defining Aviation Learning Experiences

By Scott Spangler on September 18th, 2023 | What do you think? »

To maintain my social skills, on Fridays I hike the Wiouwash Trail for 2.46 miles from the trailhead just east of Winneconne to the Bare Bones Brewery, which is trailside where the former interurban railbed enters Oshkosh, Wisconsin, on its northwest side. The Bone opens at noon, and I’m a member of its mug club. Exercise leading to (and from) good beer is guaranteed, and rare is the Friday that does not include a handful of people to talk with.

Conversations typically start with beer, and the craft breweries we’ve visited. This conversation is usually punctuated with our respective vocations and avocations. Talking with a couple somewhere in their 50s, the woman seemed especially interested after learning I was a pilot. She’d not met many, she said, and she peppered me with a curious collection of questions, such as who were the best pilots I’d ever flown with (a story for another day).

Flowering from the old saw that “There old pilots and bold pilots, but no old, bold pilot,” Most of them seemed to focus on things that define a pilot’s personality. Delving into this spectrum, which ranges from timid to foolhardy, I described myself as a pragmatic pilot who considered the relevant risks and played them out as possibilities influenced by the flight’s conditions. For more than 50 years now, mantra has been, “If in doubt, don’t.”

The couple asked if this guiding principle grew out of some inflight epiphany. In truth, this aviation moment that defined my flying life occurred in Alameda, California, during February 1973, three years before I started my flight training farther down the coast, in Long Beach, in 1976. Just before intermission during the film, Fiddler on the Roof, at the Alameda Theater, A Navy A-7 Corsair II dove almost straight into an apartment building a little more than a half-mile down Central Ave.

A photographer stationed at NAS Alameda, I spent a couple of weeks documenting this undesirable aviation outcome as the mishap investigators dug into the hole sifting the mess searching for evidence, for some clue to the mishap’s cause. They found the A-7’s engine about 20 feet under the basement garage floor. As far as I know, they never did find any of the pilot’s remains, but the 10 civilians who resided in the apartment building introduced me to the unmistakable, unforgettable aroma of seared human flesh.

The flight of two A-7s had left NAS Lemore on a night out and back training flight, and the flight’s leader said suddenly, his wingman was no longer off his wing. The rumor among the people sifting through the site was the pilot was sucking on a cigarette in-between whiffs from his oxygen mask, not an approved procedure at 37,000 feet. Nothing in the mishap investigation confirmed this rumor, but what stuck in my 18-year-old mind is that a momentary lapse in judgement, no matter what it might be, can turn any airplane into a dirty collection of metal scraps, slivers, and shards spread across a hangar floor. Aside from the compacted lump of the A-7’s Pratt&Whitney TF30-P-6 turbofan, few of them were larger than an index card.

Photographic work on subsequent fatal mishaps, the final approach meeting of the four turboprop P-3 sub hunter and a Boeing 707 lookalike, the Convair 990, at NAS Moffet Field on the other side of San Francisco Bay, and a Marine Reserve CH-53 that shed a main rotor blade up north in the Napa, fixed this reality in memory.

Asking for an example of how this guided my flying life, I recalled my invitation to introduce the “new” Cessna 172 to Flight Training’s readers when Cessna resumed production of its single-engine airplanes. It was an event attended by usual GA media outlets, and for some reason, I was selected first to fly. Searching for differences between the legacy Skyhawk and the new one, I started by following the handbook’s preflight inspection checklist. I stopped when I found good sized nick in a prop blade, and said I would not fly the airplane until the problem was properly addressed.

Seeing two quizzical looks above their beers, I explained that the nick might lead to the loss of part of the prop blade, and that the unbalanced blade might torque the engine off the airframe, which would destroy not only the center of gravity but also the airplane’s aerodynamics, and what was left would fall out of the sky. I like flying a lot, I said, but not enough to die for, especially when it would have been my fault for taking off with a known problem. “Ultimately, we all are responsible for the consequences of our decisions. –Scott Spangler, Editor

How the FAA Let Remote Tower Technology Slip Right Through Its Fingers

By Robert Mark on September 12th, 2023 | 1 Comment »

In June 2023, the FAA published a 167-page document outlining the agency’s desire to replace dozens of 40-year-old airport control towers with new environmentally friendly brick-and-mortar structures. These towers are, of course, where hundreds of air traffic controllers ply their trade … ensuring the aircraft within their local airspace are safely separated from each other during landing and takeoff.

The FAA’s report was part of President Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act enacted on November 15, 2021. That bill set aside a whopping $25 billion spread across five years to cover the cost of replacing those aging towers. The agency said it considered a number of alternatives about how to spend that $5 billion each year, rather than on brick and mortar buildings.

One alternative addressed only briefly before rejecting it was a relatively new concept called a Remote Tower, originally created by Saab in Europe in partnership with the Virginia-based VSATSLab Inc. The European technology giant has been successfully running Remote Towers in place of the traditional buildings in Europe for almost 10 years. One of Saab’s more well-known Remote Tower sites is at London City Airport. London also plans to create a virtual backup ATC facility at London Heathrow, the busiest airport in Europe.

A remote tower and its associated technology replace the traditional 60-70 foot glass domed control tower building you might see at your local airport, but it doesn’t eliminate any human air traffic controllers or their roles in keeping aircraft separated.

Max Trescott photo

Inside a Remote Tower Operation

In place of a normal control tower building, the airport erects a small steel tower or even an 8-inch diameter pole perhaps 20-40 feet high, similar to a radio or cell phone tower. Dozens of high-definition cameras are attached to the new Remote Tower’s structure, each aimed at an arrival or departure path, as well as various ramps around the airport.

Using HD cameras, controllers can zoom in on any given point within the camera’s range, say an aircraft on final approach. The only way to accomplish that in a control tower today is if the controller picks up a pair of binoculars. The HD cameras also offer infrared capabilities to allow for better-than-human visuals, especially during bad weather or at night.

The next step in constructing a remote tower is locating the control room where the video feeds will terminate. Instead of the round glass room perched atop a standard control tower, imagine a semi-circular room located at ground level. Inside that room, the walls are lined with 14, 55-inch high-definition video screens hung next to each other with the wider portion of the screen running top to bottom.

After connecting the video feeds, the compression technology manages to consolidate 360 degrees of viewing area into a 220-degree spread across the video screens. That creates essentially the same view of the entire airport that a controller would normally see out the windows of the tower cab without the need to move their head more than 220 degrees. Another Remote Tower benefit is that each aircraft within visual range can be tagged with that aircraft’s tail number, just as it might if the controller were looking at a radar screen. Read the rest of this entry »

Mechanical Drawing: The Art of Aviation Engineering

By Scott Spangler on September 4th, 2023 | 1 Comment »

Guided by triangles and French curves, pencil applied to paper is how ideas made the transition to all things aviation. Mechanical drawing was its moniker and the artists who precisely lined each part of some aeronautical creation so hands-on craftsmen could create in three-dimensional material were known simply as draftsmen. With the dominance and unrivalled benefits of computer aided design and its digital cousin, computer aided manufacturing, mechanical drawing might become a forgotten and unappreciated skill if not for the Aircorps Aviation’s traveling exhibit—Drafting: The Art of Aircraft Engineering in WWII—now in Telling Gallery at the EAA Aviation Museum In Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

The gallery is in the corner behind the XP-51 and Cavalier-modified P-51D on display in the Eagle Hangar. The juxtaposition is important because the drawings on display are the originals North American Aviation used to build the P-51 and some of its other aircraft such as the B-25. They would not exist were it not for Ken Jungeberg, a draftsman who started working at North American’s Columbus, Ohio, facility in 1969. Columbus is where the company stored most of its World War II engineering drawings, and with no further need of them, North American was going cremate them. When Ken learned of the plan, he rescued more than 50,000 drawings and preserved them for more than 30 years. In 2019, they became the eponymous Ken Jungeberg collection at Aircorps Aviation in Bemidji, Minnesota. (For the rest of this fascinating story, don’t skip the exhibit’s detailed video.)

To get a fuller appreciation of the artistry you’ll see on the displayed drawings, start at the drawing table that displays the Tools of the trade. For those unfamiliar with the implements necessary for mechanical drawing (and do middle and high schools even teach it today?) each of them, from triangles to compasses and the French curves that connect the lines they draw, is labeled.

The drawings displayed make it clear that draftsmen not only created one for each part of an airplane no matter how large or small, they included every measurement and material needed to fabricate them on the factory floor (and the video said Aircorps Aviation uses those appropriate to its restoration efforts, such as the P-51C Thunderbird). And it explains each element of the drawing: the part number, its description, its specifications and bill of materials, its finishing (such as heat treating), scale and size, changes to the drawing, the next assembly the depicted part connected to, and the name of the draftsman who put pencil to paper.

The display also introduces the curious to the names on some of the drawings, like that of the rudder pedal that went into almost every P-51, B-25, and T-6/SNJ. Clyde Maulding started at North American in 1936, when he was 22 years old. He retired exactly 33 years later. During that time, he worked as an engineer and draftsman on the O-47A, P-51, B-25, T-28, B-45, F-86, GAM-77 Hound Dog missile, XB-70, and that rudder pedal.

There are different types of drawings, and the exhibit explains examples of the isometric, orthographic, oblique, and perspective. The most fascinating is the exploded view, all of which are undeniable works of art. Not every draftsman can create them because the good ones demand complete cooperation and communication between the left and right lobes of the artist’s brain. My dad was an industrial designer who wore bow ties because they did not drag across his drawings as be bent over his table. He created exploded views for most of his creations because the more clearly illustrate how the parts create a technical item. And, he said, they weren’t so hard to draw. “I dismantle the thing in my mind, move the parts where they need to be, and then draw what I see in my head.” Maybe for him and artists like Eugene Clay, who exploded the P-51, but for others, I’m guessing, not so much. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Playing With Weather: A New AWC Website

By Scott Spangler on August 21st, 2023 | What do you think? »

Like many aviators, I’m a weather geek. The internet has sustained this addiction, and since 2002, The National Weather Services Aviation Weather Center has been the one weather product I cannot do without. And it will become more potent next month when the new, improved, and more powerful and informative AWC goes live.

If you want a taste of what’s to come, go here, Aviation Weather Center Experimental. If you don’t have several hours of uncommitted time to explore on you own, watch these YouTubes first: the 3-minute 16-second AWC Beta GFA (Graphical Forecasts for Aviation) Tutorial and the 46-minute 27-second Aviation Weather Center Beta Website Webinar.

Created in what is now our connected world’s dark ages, the original AWC was designed for personal computers, their displays, and connections that barely crawl by today’s standards. Today, most pilots, it seems, seek out aviation information on devices, so the new AWC has been designed for phones and tablets, and the pages automatically adjust to their different sizes. It works equally well on those of us who use a PC to feed our weather habit.

Employing consistent design, there are menu bars on every page, fall-down menus for Weather, Products, Tools, and Connect. To the right are the email link, the log-in link, and the question mark help link. You do not need to create an account, but if you do, it allows you to contribute a pilot report , or Pirep, from almost any page, and since most aviators will be connecting to AWC through their devices, making such reports is a step beyond altruism.

The Weather tab offers Observations and Forecast Ceiling & Visibility, Clouds, Precipitation, Thunderstorms, Temperatures, Turbulence, and Icing. And on the appropriate pages, such as Winds, a slider bar on the left margin changes the altitude and the slider across the bottom changes the time. The altitudes, in mean sea level, go from the surface to Flight Level 480. Click the helicopter icon in the upper right corner that displays the Low Altitude Mode, and the slider ranges from the surface to 5,000 feet above ground level. Slick!

The Products menu is your direct connection to every aspect of aviation weather, from Sigmets and Airmets to METAR, TAF, Pireps, Prog Charts, and all the rest. Tools connects you to dashboards for Terminal and Winter Weather as well as a Traffic Flow Management Portal. One of the neatest tools is the Archive View that lets you recall weather for a specific day and time.

The Graphical Forecasts for Aviation (GFA) box on the opening page is the link to all the interactive maps of aviation forecasts and observations. And if you cannot remember what any of the depicted symbols mean, clicking the circled-I in the lower right corner will pop up an explanatory legend. The Decision Support Services (DSS) contains static images such as three levels of SigWx, Turbulence, and Prog Charts.

And that’s not all! You can select any combination of information layers with buttons on the right-hand side of the applicable GFA pages. You can choose a base map, a hirez satellite view, VFR sectional view, or IFR chart, which allows you to control the display of Jet routes and Airways. And you can draw your flight path on the page. You can choose between UTC or local time, and the bookmark feature gives you the url link so you can share what you have created with others. There’s even a Dark Mode, so pilots won’t have to deal with a bright white screen when flying at night. But my favorite feature is the dedicated Thunderstorm button with the time slider. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Thunderbird, Final Piston Bendix Trophy Race Winner

By Scott Spangler on August 10th, 2023 | What do you think? »

Wandering among the flying machines that carpet the Oshkosh acreage during EAA AirVenture 2023, nothing of interest caught my eye until it spied an immaculate blue P-51C Mustang. On its flawless flanks, in sunshine-yellow letters was its name, Thunderbird. One of the storyboards standing in its shadow said it was “The Last Piston Driven Bendix Trophy Winner.”

This sparked a smoldering curiosity quest. I knew the Bendix Trophy was awarded to the winner of a transcontinental race because I remember reading in his book, Hollywood Pilot, how motion picture pilot Paul Mantz won the race after World War II, also in a surplus P-51C that he’d stripped of nonessential weight and modified with wet wing fuel to make his race nonstop.

But there was no way Thunderbird was Mantz’s Mustang wearing new paint. I found that race winner in 2017 at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center (see Same Plane, New Name & Accomplishments). As I crossed paths with the blue bird during AirVenture, more storyboards told its story. What they didn’t reveal is how it came to the collection of the Dakota Territory Air Museum in Minot and to Aircorps Aviation for its pristine restoration.

With enough sleuthing, one can find almost anything on the internet. It turns out that Warren Pietsch, second generation owner of Pietsch Aircraft Restoration & Repair, a P-51 aficionado since age 10, bought what he thought was a razorback P-51A in 1999 and trucked it home to Minot, North Dakota, from Scottsbluff, Nebraska. He layer discovered that it was the Thunderbird, which led to its restoration, documented in a series of Aircorps Aviation blog posts.

The airplane’s list of civilian caretakers starts April 15, 1948 with the Joe DeBona Racing Company, a partnership between the company’s eponym and the actor and pilot James M. Stewart, who usually went by Jimmy. On September 3, 1949, DeBona won the final Bendix Race to Cleveland, covering 2,008 miles in an elapsed time of 4:16:17.5, averaging 470.136 mph. Listed as the sole owner, Stewart sold Thunderbird to Jacqueline Cochran for “$1.00 and other considerations” on December 19, 1949. What those considerations might be isn’t articulated.

Ten days later, Cochran sets two FAI World Records and a US National Aeronautic Association record at an average speed of 703.275 kilometers per hour (436.995 mph). She sold the Mustang back to Stewart on January 20, 1953 for “$1.00 and other consideration” (again without hinting what the consideration might be). In June 1953, Thunderbird joined with Mantz’s Bendix-winning P-51C to form the P-51 Pony Express to fly film of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation across the pond. With DeBona at the controls, Thunderbird arrived 24 minutes ahead of Mantz’s Mustang.

Stewart sold Thunderbird to DeBona for “$1.00 plus a $7,500 Chatel Mortgage” on September 1, 1954. The internet has not yet revealed how it ended up in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Learning about the Bendix Trophy Race was easier. The founder of the Bendix Corporation established the race in 1931 to inspire the creation of faster and more reliable aircraft. Associated with the National Air Races, Jimmy Doolittle won the inaugural race, flying the Laird Super Solution from Burbank, California, to Cleveland, Ohio, in 9:10:21.0, averaging 223.06 mph.

Two Bendix races flew from New York to Los Angeles, with Roscoe Turner, in a Wedell-Williams Model 44, winning the 1933 race and Louise Thaden and Blanche Noyes winning the 1936 race in a Beech CR-17 Staggerwing. The Seversky P-35, flown by different pilots, including Cochran in 1938, won the last races before World War II. The Bendix Race resumed in 1946, with Paul Mantz scoring a checkered-flag threepeat.

After Thunderbird won the final piston-powered race in 1949, only the jet class, introduced in 1946, continued. Flying different transcontinental routes, a P-80 won the first race in 1946, and a B-58 Hustler won the last race in 1962, covering the distance between LA and New York in 2:00:56.8. Ah, those were the days. And with the cessation of air racing at Reno, one wonders what’s next. – Scott Spangler, Editor

EAA AirVenture 2023: Change is the Only Constant

By Scott Spangler on July 30th, 2023 | What do you think? »

In decades past, back when its moniker matched its location, one of Oshkosh’s primary draws was learning about new products and programs that their creators debuted on aviation’s primary stage, where an eager audience hungrily consumed every word and image. For those of us for whom Oshkosh was work, every day started at Press HQ, where we structured our day while looking at the week’s press conference matrix. Every available block of presentation time was filled with strips of paper announcing who and what, with each day’s primary announcements ensuring good attendance by offering a meal, either breakfast or lunch.

Time has diminished those days. It started around the time when Oshkosh became AirVenture and the internet started to replace Oshkosh as the deadline date for introducing a new product or program. Now these creators have a direct digital connection with curious consumers and we working press who help pass the word on what’s new. The press conference matrix for AirVenture 2023 was somewhat busy on Monday and Tuesday, but thereafter it was mostly barren, except for the end-of-day EAA briefing and Q&A session.

Most of the press conferences talked about things already announced online. In many cases, they might be considered footnotes that added or further explained the subject product or program, with the opportunity to ask questions and not have to wait for an answer by return email. If there was a surprise that united these media gatherings, it was that each of them, airframers, powerplants, props, avionics, and accessories, all addressed their efforts to develop and support their workforces.

Companies like Garmin and Piper have dedicated facilities for employee well-being and health services for employees and their families. Daher has an internship that sent two American college students to its TBM facilities in France and two French interns to its Kodiak facilities in Sand Point, Idaho. And Daher gets bonus points because it chose interns never interested in or involved with aviation. A journalist asked one of them, Alison Margarita, who’s pursuing an industrial engineering degree in Pennsylvania if she was now considering a career in aviation. Enthusiasm doesn’t begin to define the sincerity of her affirmative answer.

When exploring the grounds, many exhibitors clearly were trying to grow their respective workforces. Most of the major airlines, from Delta to Southwest, set up substantial chalets and in each of them, they were recruiting pilots, technicians, and dispatchers. Perhaps the biggest change among the exhibitors was Boeing, which erected a huge, air-conditioned chalet adjacent to the West Ramp, aka Boeing Plaza, that the company recently signed up to sponsor for some AirVentures into the future.

The Boeing chalet was also home to companies the aviation behemoth has purchased over the years, Jeppesen and ForeFlight, which has contributed to the trend consolidation of the industry. Financial realities and the retirement of baby boomers who founded aviation companies whose offspring are disinterested in taking over the family business are also contributing to the shrinking industry trend. And each year at AirVenture one sees the changes, some of them subtle, noticeable only by those who have previous experience with which to compare them.

An easy one was the move of the Federal Pavilion from a dedicated structure (which was one of the dedicated exhibit buildings before EAA built the four massive exhibit hangars) to cover a third of Exhibit Hanger D. The more subtle examples are positional juxtapositions one would not have seen a few years ago when an exhibitor had to be an aviation company to get a booth, especially one of the double-wide exhibit spaces at the end of a row. And this year a mattress company was offering its restful wares at the end of one row, and Pratt & Whitney was touting its latest PT-6 turboprop one row over.

Please do not misconstrue these observations as a curmudgeon’s rant, they are anything but. They are observations that give context to the passage of time and the inexorable changes that come with it. AirVenture this year celebrated several airplane birthdays, and more than once I heard “I can’t believe the RV-10 [or the anniversary airplane they were looking at] came out 20 years ago!”

This exclamation is usually followed with a question, “Where’d the time go?”

Socrates answered this question long ago when he observed that “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Bluntly put, it means people who pose this interrogative have not been paying attention to the life that envelopes them. They have not taken the time to recollect their experiences, taken the time to collate them and compare them in context, and contemplate what these examinations say about the future. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Updated AC Reiterates Nontowered Airport Procedures & Responsibilities

By Scott Spangler on July 10th, 2023 | What do you think? »

Back in the day, airports without air traffic controllers working to maintain order and predictable behavior from the pilots flying to and from it were often referred to as “uncontrolled” because they did not have an air traffic control tower, or the tower was outside its operating hours. Because “uncontrolled” implied chaotic, unpredictable aircraft operations at these aerodromes, the FAA and attuned educators started referring to them as “nontowered” airports. They supported this more precise moniker because the FAA proffered operational guidance to pilots that, if followed, would bring some predictable order to this chaos. In its never-ending effort to achieve this goal, the FAA issued on June 6, 2023, an updated Advisory Circular 90-66C, Non-Towered Airport Operations.

Most of its 28 pages reiterate the regulatory requirements, recommended operations, and communication procedures pilots should embrace when flying to and from nontowered airports. The changes to this guidance “reflect current procedures and best practices” when pilots are not directed by a tower controller. (Not that a controller ensures failsafe airport operations, given the recent spate of runway incursions and frantic calls to abort takeoffs and landings at various terminal hubs.)

What reading each of the AC’s 28 pages makes clear is that flying to and from a nontowered airport is significantly more involved and complex than radioing the tower (or approach control) at the appropriate time and place and then letting the controller lead you by the hand, so to speak, to a safe landing. Absent this guidance, pilots should read the 28 pages, follow its guidance, and remember to keep their respective heads on traffic-scanning swivels to see—and avoid!—those pilots who have not bothered with the necessary nontowered airport preparations. They should not become complacent and depend on other pilots to announce their positions and operational intentions. Not all nontowered airport denizens are equipped with radios.

To ratchet up the nontowered airport complexity, add ultralights, gliders, and parachute jumpers to the mix of traffic. When you get right down to it, flying to and from a nontowered airport is the ultimate test of a pilot’s aeronautical knowledge, aeronautical decision-making, and ceaseless see-and-avoid searches of the surrounding airspace. Put another way, towered and non-towered operations are akin to VFR and IFR flight. Perhaps, one day, if pilots don’t fully accept the responsibility involved, the FAA will establish a nontowered airport rating to operate at them. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Risk Assessment & Responsibility

By Scott Spangler on June 26th, 2023 | What do you think? »

The North Atlantic compaction of the Titan submersible on its Titanic adventure has generated some interesting media efforts that approach the mishap from various angles. It has a lot in common with airborne adventures. The only difference is the viscosity or density of the fluid of its environment. The fundamental risks are the same. And so are the responsibilities.

Ultimately, each of us is responsible for the consequences of our decisions be they prosaic or once-in-a-lifetime. People, it seems, often forget this when the consequences turn out oppositely from what they expected. They start looking for someone or something to blame, assuming they survived, but this does not change the outcome, especially when the decision includes the possibility of fatal consequences.

Every aspect of life is a calculated risk, and every decision could have fatal consequences if one does not consider every aspect involved with the forthcoming risk. Consider crossing the street. You need to look both ways. But you also need to look in the correct direction first, into the oncoming traffic of the lane you’re about to step into. In many parts of the world, that is to the left. But if you employ this rote risk assessment in places where they drive on the other side of the road, looking left could be the last thing you do as you step in front of a truck bearing down on your vulnerable six-o’clock posterior.

Risk assessment is simply the process of pragmatically searching for everything that could go wrong. This process is the same whether you’re crossing the street or buying a six-figure ticket for a ride into space or the Titanic Deep. The price of the forthcoming adventure in no way guarantees its degree of risk or level of safety. Another immutable reality of life is that nothing is 100 percent safe. Whether aiming for Darwinian notoriety or just trying to make it through the day, we humans continue to make decisions that lead to fatal consequences.

In making decisions, acceptance of the potential risks is a factor to go forward or return a no thanks. A related responsibility is not taking others with you without giving them a full accounting of potential consequences so they can conduct their own risk assessment while there is adequate time to say no thanks and decide to do something else. Pushing forward when the fuel gauge tickles E or the ceiling and visibility merge into a seamless grayscale puts pilots in the unconscionable position of deciding the future of others’ lives.

Adventures into fluids thick (water) or thin (air) usually involve complexities beyond the comprehension of nongeeks, but that doesn’t mean the prospective adventurer can’t ask questions, starting with ”What outside agency or organization has examined the pertinent details and tools of this adventure and found it reasonably safe.” And does this examination list the potential unwanted outcomes and how the operator has prepared for them?

Pragmatism and skepticism are life-sustaining traits key to any of life’s risk assessments, and if the adventure being offered seems too good to be true, no matter the price, a bold slug of cynicism is an excellent filter for any sales pitch. –Scott Spangler, Editor


What’s New, Wildlife Strike Reporting?

By Scott Spangler on June 12th, 2023 | 2 Comments »

For reasons unexplained, when perusing the FAA website to see what might be new and/or interesting in advisory circular land, discovering a draft AC 150/5200, Reporting Wildlife Aircraft Strikes, triggered my mental recording of Tom Jones singing “What’s New Pussycat?” That was enough for me to click the link and find out.

Jumping right into it on the first of the AC’s 15 pages, Section 4, Background, updates the wildlife strike numbers, reinforcing the reality that colliding with critters continues to be a risk all aviators should not discount. Birds, naturally, continue to be the predominant threat. Terrestrial mammals accounted for about 2% of the strikes, with the unexpected pairing of flying mammals (i.e., bats) and reptiles tallying less than 1%.

Between 1990 and 2021, aircraft collided with 620 bird species, 52 different terrestrial mammals, 44 bat species, and 29 different reptiles. The AC categorizes the birds as waterfowl, gulls, and raptors. Pilots should report every strike with a bird and bats.

The AC subdivides terrestrial mammals into carnivores and something called “artiodactyls.” Never one to let a new and strange word go uninvestigated. (A zoological noun, an artiodactyl is an order of mammals comprised of even-toed ungulates; and an ungulate is a hoofed mammal.) The AC said they were mainly deer, but if you’re looking to hit something different, it must weigh more than 1 pound. Some qualifying ungulates would be pigs, goats, zebras, the families of deer and sheep, gazelles, bison, and hippopotamus. Coyotes led the list of center-punched carnivores.

A change in Section 6, when to report a wildlife strike, tacitly tells me what evidence the FAA has been receiving. It modified bird or other wildlife remains with “non-desiccated” (which is a more professional way of saying “still juicy”) found “within 250 feet of a runway centerline within 1,000 feet of a runway end.”

In explaining how to report a wildlife strike, Section 7, reports the demise of the pre-address paper Form 5200-7 for telling the FAA what you hit. All strike reports must be reported electronically, “except when using the available Form 5200-7 combined with snarge samples sent to the Smithsonian Feather ID Lab.” (Cool new words are one of the things that got my interested in wildlife strikes; snarge is what remains of a bird after it meets an aircraft.)

In Section 8, the FAA has updated its hazard ratings and increased the number of species in a new table, from 50 bird/mammal species to 79. The table (in Appendix A) shows the number of damaging strikes, total strikes, and relative hazard score, and risk estimates for each listed species. The AC also includes Form 5200-7 updated to match the current online form.

Appendix B diagrams how to collect birdstrike evidence, and to make that effort easier, Appendix C now describes how to “Make Your Own Birdstrike Collection Kit,” which should be standard equipment in every airport vehicle. And given Murphy’s Law, if pilots carry such a kit in their flight bag, it reduces the chances that they will need to use it. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Airlines Make Price Pitch for More Legroom, but Will it Last?

By Scott Spangler on May 29th, 2023 | What do you think? »

Is it coincidence that after decades of shrinking seat pitch (that ever-narrowing gap where your legs are supposed to go in coach), that the airlines have so thoroughly alienated people that they can now shrink coach to expand the space in the front half of the cabin where higher-priced seat with more legroom live?

According to a recent New York Times article, “It’s Not Your Imagination: First Class is Getting Bigger,” this space reapportionment is taking place at several major airlines because nonbusiness travelers are more “willing to pay more for a wider seat, extra legroom, and a nicer meal in premium economy or first class or business class.” As reported by the Times, an average round-trip ticket from New York to LA cost $300 for economy, $900 for premium economy, and $1,200 for business class.

Given the bottom-line focus of business, where looking to and planning for the future rarely extends beyond a handful of Qs, it is unlikely that the airlines had this money-making windfall in mind when they started the economy price pitch to cram more people in a small space, although that decision was surely driven by the bottom line. So happy to be free of pandemic travel restrictions, people are paying the price and major airlines are expanding their “premium seating by 25 to 75 percent in portions of their fleets.”

For a few reasons, this price pitch legroom won’t last long. Even if our elected officials don’t shove the global economy into the abyss in their deficit-limit power play, inflation and necessities like something to eat and a warm, dry place to sleep will, in short order, trigger a flashing red light on the pandemic savings accounts that these travelers have been burning through. And then its back to the re-expanded realm of deep vein thrombosis and snacks snuck onboard in a carryon, if you can afford the fee the airline charges for it making the trip with you. –Scott Spangler, Editor