Barely a day goes by without a story in the news about obesity in America and how people are putting on more and more weight. Not you and me, of course! Nevertheless, it’s an important issue in aviation.
|For Charlie Russell and Maureen Enns, it had been a mostly sleepless night. Straight winds of more than 100 miles an hour were not uncommon in remote southeast Russia, and the storms that came with them could last for days. Their tiny homebuilt cabin perched on the tundra was barely a refuge from gusts of air that found their way through the tiny imperfections in the walls, the roof and even the floor, bringing with them deposits of snow, dust or rain. At first light, their worst fears were confirmed: The wind had put their airplane on its back.|
Any aircraft manufacturer who is serious about marketing big-bore singles for global application has got to at least consider turbocharging. There’s just too much of the world that lies a half-mile or more above sea level to ignore that market. Sale of successful heavy-breathers have proven that there’s money to be made in marketing for pilots who need to operate from the middle density altitudes, if not necessarily in the flight levels.
One consequence of the nation’s economic downturn and the accompanying slump in general aviation was that some maintenance shops were forced to consolidate or close down, and many mechanics had to consider alternative careers. The result for airplane owners was the increased difficulty in obtaining high-quality maintenance services at a reasonable cost.
Ask anyone who has actually worked an open-cockpit airplane for a living and most will tell you the same thing: Open-cockpit airplanes can be a pain in the butt. Yes, you can hear and feel exactly what the airplane is doing, but you’re freezing part of the time, sweating part of the time and getting your brains beat out all of the time. In the old days, open cockpits were simply drafty, not romantic. Why, then, are more open-cockpit sportplanes flying today than at any time in the last 50 years?
While the FAA makes the pilot responsible for determining whether or not an aircraft that he or she is about to fly is airworthy, the pilot must rely to a great extent on what others have determined about the airplane. It’s relatively easy for a pilot to check paperwork to determine whether or not an aircraft has undergone required inspections, to check that compliance with airworthiness directives is current and to ensure that required documents are on board.
Each summer for the last half-dozen or so, I’ve had the privilege of flying the North Atlantic with one or two clients. Last summer, I made two such round trips, the first in a Turbo Arrow to Versailles, France, and the second in a Cheyenne IIXL turboprop to London. For most pilots, the trip is a long-term dream, something they’ve been planning for a year or more.
After September 11, pilot careers in 2001 looked bleak. Newspaper articles confirmed the airlines were hemorrhaging red ink, thousands of pilots had been furloughed and new hires appeared to be a thing of the past. While the media continues to talk about the tough times in the commercial air-travel industry, many insiders think the tide has turned.
The NTSB has released its final report on the October 25, 2002, accident in which U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota and seven others were killed at Eveleth, Minn. The twin-engine turboprop King Air A100 didn’t have a cockpit voice recorder, so there was no possibility of investigators learning what the pilot and copilot might have said to each other about the way things were progressing during the VOR approach to Eveleth. Investigators had to rely on other things to figure out what caused the airplane to experience an aerodynamic stall at a critically low altitude. In reconstructing the accident scenario, investigators used radar data, ATC audiotapes, aircraft performance numbers, interviews and a large body of experience derived from investigating other accidents.
One of the best things that the FAA ever did to promote aviation safety was to provide immunity from FAR violations prosecution for pilots who voluntarily report problems and incidents to NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) before the FAA gets wind of what went on. During most months, NASA’s ASRS receives about 2,000 to 3,000 reports from pilots, controllers and mechanics. Quite a bit of the information works its way into studies of various safety issues.
With apologies to Margaret Mitchell, most pilots would welcome the opportunity to be “gone with the wind” and let Mother Nature help keep a lid on upwardly creeping fuel costs. Just a few days ago, a friend of mine found that favorable winds aloft coupled with a direct-to-destination IFR routing cut more than a half-hour off the usual trip home to New York after a business meeting in Ohio. Even better, there was an absence of shear and turbulence, making for a smooth, quick ride. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. From time to time, National Transportation Safety Board investigators have to look at situations in which the capabilities of the pilot and/or the aircraft were exceeded by wind conditions.
Believe it or not, there are still lots of pilots out there who are flying without a GPS. There are many portables, such as the Airmap 500, Garmin 196 and 295 and the Skymap IIIC, that will not only make flight navigation easier, but also help you find a friend’s house, a favorite restaurant or the best fishing spots around town.
It may come as a surprise to pilots from southern latitudes, but winter flying can be some of the best there is. I have to be kidding, right? After all, isn’t winter the season of blinding blizzards, chillingly cold temperatures and iced asphalt? Aren’t the dark months the time when weather becomes the most miserable and unpredictable of the year? Don’t many pilots who live in northern climes simply lock up their airplanes from December to March and forget about flying altogether?