Sunday, January 18, 2009

I need a new Flying School

Yesterday's email:

To All,

I am very sad that I have to announce that Carp Flying Academy Inc. is
ceasing operations immediately due to a number of factors. Business and economic
factors as well as weather have all contributed to this very difficult

I want to thank everyone for their patronage over the last three

I can be reached at to answer any questions you
may have.

For the students, your PTR's will be still be available in the FBO during
weekday hours.

Thank you,
Jennifer E. Putinski

Drat. I liked flying with them. Jenny's husband used to coach one of my daughters in soccer. These are real people, who cared about their business and their customers. They had Christmas potluck dinners in the hangar. I never worried about the maintenance or safety of the aircraft, and they didn't pull any surprises on me.

But the short days (early sunset) in November, December and January precludes most people from flying after work. Anyone available to fly during the day is either not working or retired, which usually means "not flush with cash". And the weather this year in December has been brutal, with non-VFR conditions on many days and, most importantly, many weekends. In aviation the expenses continue even if the income doesn't. It's a business where fuel is the major variable expense and the one that decreases if you don't fly.... but debt costs, salary, insurance, rent etc all continue even if the birds are not flying and generating revenue.

To Jenny and all the people I met and flew with at CFA: Thank you. May you rebound elsewhere. Tailwinds and clear skies.

And I need to go find a new place to fly.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Water Landing

The mystique of "Those Magnificent Flying Machines" is well-preserved. Only a few select people have a license to fly an aircraft, and fewer still get paid to do it. The idea of jet-setting all over the world isn't thought of as "living out of a suitcase, always away from home", but as "constantly visiting exotic locales". And most people have no idea how a huge vehicle weighing hundreds of thousands of pounds can fly through the sky, making the entire business even more magical.

And when something goes wrong, like a double-engine failure over a major city resulting in a water landing, and everyone lives to talk about it, it is major news.

I'm a student pilot, at the post-solo, pre-license stage. I have a wife. My wife is (fortunately) worried about my safety, as she recognizes that any activity increases risk to life and limb.

And so I got The Interrogation this morning. My wife is very talented, and I am very verbose, so all she needs to say is "So what do you think about this water landing?" Thanks for the invitation, here you are....

Engine-out flying is no big deal. From early in a pilot's training, we are taught to fly engine-out forced landings. Every glider pilot flies without an engine. Most landings, I have the engine at idle.

Planning a forced landing is, again, a basic training activity. Within gliding range, find a "suitable" landing area. Effectively, suitable means least-worst. If you are within gliding range of an airstrip then you have access to a very good alternative - in fact, landing on a runway is such an attractive alternative that part of our training is to land straight ahead if the engine fails shortly after takeoff, as you have neither enough kinetic energy (speed) or potential energy (height above ground) to execute a 180 degree turn and get back to the runway. Glider pilots have a different attitude to an off-field landing. A power pilot thinks of a off-field landing as an emergency, while a glider pilot considers it an opportunity to go make friends with a farmer.

This landing will likely change the attitudes about on-water landings, and I'm not sure this is a good thing. Landing on water is routine for float planes, of course, but they are built for it, and they meet the water at a very low angle of incidence - the same angle as wheels on a runway. As Swissair 111 unfortunately demonstrated, when you meet the water at a high angle of attack and at high speed, hitting water is like hitting concrete. At a low angle of incidence, you bounce (ask a water-skier). The picture on the seat-back cards, showing a plane floating in the water tail-down while everyone makes an orderly exit through the front doors is the desirable, but extremely unlikely, outcome. An airplane with fixed or extended landing gear will have the gear dig in, the sudden drag will likely flip you over, and the sudden whip-lash is likely more stress than the aircraft can handle. The Really Big Risk for an aircraft with under-wing engines is that one engine will dig in before the other and cartwheel the aircraft, like the 1996 Ethiopian Airlines hijacking that did a forced landing in the ocean when it ran out of fuel. On the whole, if you don't have floats strapped to the bottom of your aircraft, you are better landing on flat land of any description, rather than on water.

I'm glad the pilot decided to put the aircraft down on the river. A fully-laden A320 will slide for a long way on the ground, and there isn't a "long way" available in a dense urban area. That means they would have plowed through homes, shopping malls and businesses for a distance, spewing fuel from the near-full fuel tanks and inflicting carnage on anything in their path. Given the known risks of landing on water in an engine-under-wing aircraft, the pilot considered the aggregate welfare of the people on the ground and on the aircraft, and put the people on the ground ahead of the welfare of the people on the aircraft. Exceptional decision making. That he had a flyable aircraft (it wasn't powered, but otherwise fully controllable) was an asset that he used to full advantage.

The landing itself was beyond outstanding. The aircraft didn't cartwheel, it just plowed in, likely planed on the surface for some short distance, and then settled in. It doesn't get any more perfect than this.

I heard a news report yesterday that they were looking for the engines. Since they knew where the aircraft was (lashed to a jetty at the side of the river), that implies the engines were ripped off mid-river during the landing run (I doubt they fell off mid-air, but to be pedantically accurate, we don't know). Ripping an engine off a wing takes a huge amount of stress, meaning that there was a huge amount of drag from the engine digging into the water. The aircraft didn't cartwheel or ground loop (water loop?), so the drag must have been balanced, and the engines tore off at close to the same time. The flight recorder will have captured the deceleration, altitude and direction (including yaw), so what happened will be authoritatively established during the investigation. However, all of this would not have happened unless the pilot kept the wings very level - another demonstration of exceptional flying.

Non-aviators, and non-professional aviators, will not understand the underlying attitude that competent pilots must have towards situation management. When something goes wrong, you have to do something, you have a range of choices, you have to select something and then do it. The next part is critical - you evaluate the results of your choice, and then you keep making more choices. No matter how many things have gone wrong and how bad the situation might be, you always have to have the attitude that there is management to be done, and there is always something you can do to make the situation better. This might be described as a can-do attitude, or glamorized as "the right stuff", or described in a low-tech manner as "flying the airplane until the last part stops moving" - and it is a required skill for a pilot.

Initial media reports are that the engines failed due to bird strikes, and in particular, Canada Geese. A Canada Goose weighs between 6 and 14 pounds, and they fly in flocks, so plowing through a V-wedge of them would certainly inflict heavy damage on an aircraft. My wife asked if I had an encounters with birds. Sure have. I worry about bird strikes on take-off, when speed, altitude, visibility and options are low. We commonly see flocks of snow buntings come off the ground on final approach - when that happens I continue the landing since I'm gliding or at minimum power and not dependent on the engine, and set up for landing. A bad thing would be to reject the landing and switch to a take-off, hit the birds, lose the engine, be at full flaps in a nose-up attitude at a higher altitude and with not much runway ahead.

The one group that did meet my expectations throughout all of this was the electronic media. But I have very low expectations of the electronic media, and they delivered at the expected level of hoopla (high) and expertise (low).

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Diversions - Jan 11

Circle, circle, line,
Heading, distance, time,
MEF and fuel are great,
Tell someone you'll be late.

Today's lesson was diversions. Again, the weather was clear and cold, not a cloud in the sky, a wonderful day for flying. Especially since I was going to be busy in the cockpit, and turbulence doesn't help.

The Why:

A diversion is when you change your mind mid-way through a cross-country flight (or any flight from here to there) regarding your destination. Reasons might include weather (where did those clouds come from?), fuel issues (man, those are ugly headwinds), passenger illness, or maybe you just changed your mind (the burgers at xxx are yucky, let's go to yyy instead).

The Wrinkle:

When performing the diversion the pilot does not have the benefit of advance planning. Of course, before the flight alternative aerodromes are identified. However, the calculations (time, distance, headings, etc.) are not calculated before the flight. When the decision to divert is made, it's calculating and planning time.


Because the pilot has to fly the plane as well as plan the diversion, in the cramped confines of the cockpit, and plan under a time constraint, there isn't time to use rulers, protractors or calculators. The planning will be a "back-of-an-envelope" exercise using estimates, not tools.

Focus On:
  • Don't get lost - we're going to be flying a course based on the DG or the compass (magnetic north), but the map's grid lines are oriented on true north. Using a VOR compass rose, or making an estimate using the grid lines and the local magnetic variation, can be used to determine the magnetic heading.
  • Safety - In each grid of the map there is a number, the MEF or Maximum Elevation Figure, which is the ASL height of the highest terrain or obstruction (towers, antenna, etc) in that grid. To this figure must be added the required obstruction clearance, for safe flight through that grid. As a specific example, if the reason for the diversion is a descending cloud base, calculating a safe transit to the alternate destination requires priority in the planning.

Planning Procedure:

Circle, circle, line
  • Choose, and circle, a Set Heading Point for the start of the diversion.
  • Circle the destination
  • Draw a line between the SHP and the destination.
  • Circle any obstructions along the route.
  • Select way points along the route.
  • Mark the halfway point along the line.
Heading, Distance, Time
  • Estimate the magnetic heading to be flown.
  • Estimate the length of each segment. Since we can't use a ruler, use what is hand (my thumb is 6 nautical miles wide). Some books suggest using a tool such as a notched pencil - the Transport Canada won't allow them during the flight exam.
  • Using the current indicated airspeed, calculate the duration of the first flight segment, and the duration of the diversion.
MEF and Fuel are great
  • Check the MEF on the chart, and chose an altitude for the flight. If you can fly at altitude, remember to comply with the VFR altitude requirements (e.g. 4500' for westerly course, 3500' for easterly).
  • Knowing the estimated duration of the diversion, is there sufficient fuel. If you can look up the fuel burn in the POH good, otherwise use a conservative estimate. Remember to include the VFR 30 minute reserve (45 minutes for night).
Tell someone you'll be late.
  • Fly to the SHP. Record the time at the SHP, and calculate the ETA at the destination.
  • Call up FSS (126.7), and amend the flight plan.
At arrival at the Set Heading Pint, the following should be complete:
  • DG is aligned with the compass
  • The aircraft should be at the chosen altitude, selected power, and trimmed.
  • The aircraft should be on heading
  • A cockpit check (temperature, pressures, mixture, etc) is completed.

After the briefing, we launched and flew two diversions. We flew at low altitude, so there was limited opportunity to look far into the distance and say "we're going there" and then just point the airplane.

And I greased the landing when we went home. It happens.

Time: 0.8 dual

After refueling the aircraft and catching up with my instructor inside, he notified me that I had been signed off to fly the Pembroke cross-country route solo.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

First Cross-Country - Jan 10

After several cancellations, we finally flew cross-country.

A large high pressure area had settled over eastern Ontario, so the air was very stable and very cold. The high was passing Ottawa mid-afternoon, causing the upper winds to swing by as much as 90 degrees, depending on altitude and the time of the flight. Any planning based on the projected winds was going to result in recalculation.

My chosen route was from Carp airport to the town of Quyon, then westerly to Pembroke. Most of my flying to date has been low altitude, so I opted for 4500' westerly, and 5500' on the easterly return.

The results:
  • Flight planning was largely correctly done - considering it was my first time planning a cross-country flight. I transposed digits on one heading (325 instead of 235). Better desk-checking should have caught this.
  • The outbound chosen track was a good one - easy to follow as it was along the Ottawa River. The return route was harder to follow, but I managed to follow it using pilotage.
  • Filing the flight plan created a few errors. I used local time instead of Zulu, did some quick calculations when asked, compressed the time that I thought we would be airborne, and got behind the schedule. Lesson: Don't get rushed.
  • The take-offs and landings were good,
  • The cockpit for the Eclipse is cramped. I need to figure out how to "build my nest". When flying solo it will be much easier - I'll have an empty seat beside me on which to place things.
  • Little things count. I put the map on a clipboard, folded to show my route. The natural way to hold a clipboard is with the clip at the top. After stopping at Pembroke I should have switched the map around - every time I picked up the clipboard I had to spend time get oriented. It was interesting how a small detail was so disruptive.
  • Calculations on the outbound route went well.
  • Coming home, the winds were significantly different than plan. I twice had to reset onto my planned track using the "Visual Alteration" method, estimate a new heading, and try tracking home. In all, I adapted well, but there was too much scrambling. As a result, doing the ground speed calculations, and re-calculating the ETA for the final destination lapsed.

All in all, it was fun. The flying (RPM, heading and altitude management) was easy. Being up high made it easy to determine my location.

Time: 2.1 Dual

Landings: 2 (Pembroke was OK, the landing at Carp sucked)

Tomorrow's lesson: Diversions.

If all goes well, I'll be signed off to fly this cross-country route solo.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

XC Flight Planning, but no Flying

The weather in late December sucked. Either the clouds were too low, the winds were too high, it was snowing, it was raining. And when it looked like the Wx was going to come together, either the airplane wasn't available or the school was closed for the holidays.


However, I did complete two ground school lessons on cross-country flying. The first was a complete review of the Navigation 3 ground school lesson, working out the XC flight plan and the ICAO flight plan, flight criteria (hours remaining until maintenance, aircraft documents, etc), NOTAMs, GFA, METAR, takeoff and landing distances, W&B, etc -- all things you are supposed to do before lighting her up and launching into the blue.

I double-booked this weekend... Saturday is supposed to snow but that is 5 days away, Sunday is supposed to be clear but the available time period is quite compressed.

All the calculations did reveal one thing... using the Jepp CR-3 for density altitude and Wind Correction Angle is a pain... I ordered a CX-2 and a E6B. The circular slide rule is faster for some calculations such as recalculating ETE once the new ground speed is known, as opposed to bouncing from menu to menu on the CX-2, so I'll carry both.

But being grounded is a bugger.