Mentor Mortis (Part 1 of 3)

As you read the accident report, try and accept the fact that a mere 22 years ago, pilots often did things that were questionable at best.  To keep the job, to get your foot in the door, or to conform to norms in your company and culture you did silly stuff.  Never mind the customized approach to that god forsaken airstrip that you’d been sent to, you’d succumb to things that, technically, may not have been on the up and up with the FARs.

What is even more striking is that all of this “off script” behavior was rarely the stuff that got you hurt.  What killed my teachers, was a lack of simple risk mitigation, awareness, and plain old decision making that got the swiss cheese holes to line up.  In aviation we recognize that it is a series of things that typically lead to an accident.  Our job, to live and be safe, is to constantly be thinking the stacking of bad, vs. the stacking of good. (I wrote about this once upon a time for the turbine crowd here.)

This story is about the day I stopped flying, sometime in 2001, when enough of my mentors had died that I thought, at a minimum, I could take some time off to reflect.  I should take a good luck at my own suspect judgement, sub-par skill set and poor choices in equipment, destinations and jobs to fly.

Mostly, it was time to give thanks for the large scoops of good luck that had fallen on me in years where I was doing the riskiest stuff.

Continue reading Mentor Mortis (Part 1 of 3)

“De runway, she’s gone.”

Sometimes, in the frozen bays of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, your frozen runway might not last long.  That area you landed on yesterday? Gone… overnight.

“I look out de window, and dare was de runway … gone.”

The only French Canadian in the village was called Patrick McKinnon, and he reported all matters flying conditions to visiting pilots.

And all the english speakers? They had french names, but didn’t speak french.

The Lessards, the Beaubiens and of course the LeBlancs would ask:  “Can you read my mail? ”

“S’from de governmen’,” would be the explanation.  As a visiting bi-lingual city person I had multiple uses.  Fly the airplane and read the mail from Le Gouvernment du Québec.  As an anglo, meeting people with french names who spoke with french accents who could not read french was an eye opener.  Welcome to the Lower North Shore.

Continue reading “De runway, she’s gone.”

Pattern Work

US Navy F-18 Landing Typical Profile

I’m near certain that umpteen zillion posts have written about this subject.  Nevertheless, here I go with my addition to the pile.

How do you teach students to land safely, who didn’t know how to fly a mere 10 hours ago?

The answer, to me, is 100% about feel, energy management (à la glider teaching), looking, sensing and adjusting as necessary.  A trap that I, and many of my colleagues, have fallen into is thinking that landing is something a student will embrace if they are given firm numbers, power settings, checkpoints etc.  Any type of recipe that emphasizes standardization exclusively does two big disservices to the student:

Continue reading Pattern Work

Fly Your Dog?

A key consideration for your next Cessna 140 modified bush plane:

Can you fit the hound?

carry-your-dog2
Image care of Aaron Bartels

So you purchased a 1947 Cessna 140, put some bush tires on it, and your therapist feels that this is a good direction (and step!) for you.

Bravo.  You eschew “Burning Man” for Wrangell Inlet.  You’re my kinda peeps.

But before we get too excited [whilst thinking of taildragger upgrades], let’s look at the basic needs of the new aircraft owner, facing a mild midlife crisis:

Continue reading Fly Your Dog?

NASA Humor: “That wing sure is critical”

I found this image on reddit and realized that since criticism and CRM are topics of interest, this would be a nice post to prime the pump for an upcoming article I’ll be doing on the supercritical wing.

The interesting thing about the supercritical wing is its age, ubiquity and connection to the area rule, which I wrote about here for the pilot and aviation buff community.  It was timely for me since so many of us offer blank stares when quizzed on the “why” of shapes that fly.  Whether we are asked about the hump on top of a 747 or the big blobs behind the wing where the flaps are (what is in those things?) most of us pilots know surprisingly little about design.

Continue reading NASA Humor: “That wing sure is critical”

Accepting Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

1200px-MQ-9_Reaper_in_flight_(2007)Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs or Drones) to the rest of us, are something that we all kind of know is growing (8.5% of US Air Force as of this article) but somehow we think that we won’t be around when the sky is darkened by them or our next airline flight is done with no one up front.  For now we’ve accepted that they handle most surveillance and virtually all of the dark stuff that the military might want to try without putting an actual person in harm’s way. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are relevant since they highlight just how integrated our lives are becoming with automation, technology and the omnipresence of the eye in the sky.

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Staying Relevant as an Astronaut or Bus Driver

900px-Astronaut-EVAGlamor fades.  Whether it is the sun, radiation, or just the sum total of alcohol consumed by pilots, the trend is that we are on our way out.  And many of us don’t like such talk.  But this article on Sully and the Miracle on the Hudson really brought it home for me.  Learning years ago was harder since you had to do more of it yourself.  With a pen.  Or pencil.  And an E6B maybe.  Oh, and a watch.

The best quote from the article might have been: “Twenty-five years ago, we were a step below astronauts,” says one veteran pilot. “Now we’re a step above bus drivers. And the bus drivers have a better pension.” Continue reading Staying Relevant as an Astronaut or Bus Driver

Surfair Suffering from Convention

Pilatus_PC_12Revolution is tough without that disruptive nugget.  Not having that nugget has led Surfair to retreat into the conventional operation of what could have been a novel membership based system.  I’ve followed them since their birth since I’m no stranger to the concept of moving Pilatus PC-12s around with people in them whilst attempting to make money.  What was great about Surfair, is that they validated our own Grabajet aspirations that I had designed with my business partner.

Continue reading Surfair Suffering from Convention

The Way Flying Machines Should Look

X-48B_from_aboveAs a big fan of simplicity, biomimicry and a few other big words that designers and engineers throw around, I like to think of the reality of our current design paradigm as stuck.  Stuck with convention, regulation and conformity.  Leaving the herd makes it hard for us to imagine how things should move through the air if the herd weren’t so dogmatic about how an aircraft should look. But there’s good news.  Looking at what Boeing and NASA have done in the pure research realm of the X-48, you’ll notice a trend.  The cutting edge stuff (stealth bomber, etc.) is trending towards our friends the birds.

Continue reading The Way Flying Machines Should Look

Simulation for Management?

eddypilotLike Noam Chomsky, I’m not a huge fan of NPR, but when I do listen, I’m sure to put on my critical thinking hat in order to evaluate whether it’s leakage from mainstream media or something of actual value.  The news that the CEO of Yahoo was going to require all employees to come into work made me think of something odd about the dusty back corners of management in the global aviation industry.  It really is stuck in the 1950s. Continue reading Simulation for Management?