Looking Back

From The South Ramp --Hank Bruckner:

May1998

As I get older, people start comparing me to things they eat or drink. "Only gets better with age...just like a good wine or cheese." (Ever smell a good old cheese? Does go well with a good old wine, however.) Oh, well. Having just stepped firmly into my second half-century, I can look back at over a quarter century of flying and reflect on the good, bad and ugly that time hath wrought. Yeth. The England Air Force Base Aero Club, where I learned to fly in 1972, had three C-150s and a 172. We had one headset (actually set of earphones--no built-in mike) and it went with the instrument trainer (C-172). As a primary student, you just yelled a lot. Actually, he yelled a lot, and I tried to listen, understand, and comply. First instructor also used to hit me when he didn't like what I did (or didn't)--but that's another story. Granted, airspace was somewhat less complex than Honolulu's Class B, but as I sit next to a student today, I cannot imagine imparting much useful information without a headset and intercom, let alone hearing, understanding, and complying with whatever ATC would like me to do. It goes further. Having sampled the relative peace of active noise cancelling a few years ago, I really won't leave home without it now. Progress has been clear and remarkable. Headsets are now lighter, more comfortable, and provide better protection than ever, and active noise-cancelling is actually becoming more affordable.

Our airplanes haven't changed much over the years. Fact is, most of subsonic aerodynamics was discovered a long time ago, even before I was born, and people were using the original composite (wood) to create beautiful, smooth aircraft long before WWII. Clearly, the advent of advanced composites has transformed the homebuilt world, and, to a lesser extent, the OEM one. But, a 150 HP four-seater will only go so fast, regardless of what it's made of. What has changed almost beyond belief is all the really neat stuff that we can fill our planes with--stuff that just wasn't available when I was but a fledgling. The revolution in microelectronics has really transformed our cockpits. Solid-state, digital avionics that usually work are the norm, and almost everyone has the ability to know precisely where they are at all times (makes you wonder why we still fly into the ground with such panache.) And if visionaries like Burt Rutan have their way, you'll soon be able to fly a visual approach to an airport that is reporting zero-zero. A clue: missiles do it now. Even today, there are pilots who now sneer at flying with slaved HSI, RMI, and Flight Directors, because they have to look at round gauges ("steam gauges" they call them) instead of TV screens. Did I say, "fly"? Perhaps "monitor" would be more accurate. Sometimes a manufacturer will take something old, tart it up and try to make you think it's new. Sometimes, it really is. A C-130J recently came through town. The C-130 has been with us for nigh on 40 years, but this one, with its bigger engines, sexy scimitar-bladed props, and flat-panel glass cockpit with head-up displays flies higher, faster, farther, with fewer crewmembers and represents a superb blend of the tried and true with the state of the art. So, a glimpse at the good: Headsets, ANR, Gizmos, to name a few.

The bad? Politicizing the regulatory process, for starters. We regulate by accident. Have an accident? Here's a new regulation. Politically-motivated safety regulation has seldom worked, in spite of all the practice we've had. Complexity does not necessarily equal completeness. Unfortunately, as progress charges ahead, an increasingly-large portion of the population, including too many of those elected or appointed to office, becomes increasingly unable to comprehend new technologies that they will nonetheless seek to control or beat into submission. If you need concrete examples, you probably haven't been paying attention to the world around you.

Back in the cockpit, the very same gizmos and gadgets that I was touting just a paragraph ago become ugly when they take over, becoming, at the least, a distraction, or, as we see increasingly with the spread of GPS sets, a substitute for the fine art of aviating. Just turn it on, tell it where you want to go, and do as it says. 'Til it breaks or fails or quits. It is human nature to look for quick answers and take the easy way. That's certainly not new. But, increasingly, we seem willing to shrink from our responsibilities as citizens and pilots and aircraft operators and let someone or something do it for us. Giving up as pilot-in-command is bad.

And the ugly? How about user fees? Divide and conquer. Set each member of the overall aviation community against the other. Get us each to look at our own small circle of light as if it were the only thing we need to see and be concerned with, forgetting that the darkness grows with each circle that is extinguished. Aviation is a community, that includes the airlines, sport aviators, business flyers, military and law enforcement, research and development, fast and slow, high and low, and upside down. Lose any one of those circles and the whole is less bright. User fees is one extinguisher we all need to fight, together. Or become like Europe. Selfishness isn't new, but it is ugly, and very much in vogue. Let's keep it out of aviating. Share the adventure, play hard and well, and leave things nice for the one behind you.

Speaking of which (some more ugly), it appears that the inconsiderate actions of a few have again made it hard on the rest. Century Aviation at Kahului has always been a gracious host to transient pilots, with complementary coffee, clean rest rooms, phone, and convenient access. However, a few insisted on abusing the facility, leaving the rest rooms a mess, and making it hard on the folks trying to run a first-class facility. As a result, we've been banned, at least for the time being, and now have to trek to transient parking, look for a pay phone, and try to figure out how to get met by the rental car people. Would it have been that hard to wipe off the sink, not mess on the floor, and just be considerate?

Bottom line? The last 25 years have seen some real progress in the world of aviation. However, if you want to be a part of the next 25 years, you will need to get seriously, personally involved.

When FAR Part 61 was reworked, it was inevitable that some things would change for the worse, and some would, well, just become as clear as used engine oil. The good news is that some of the folks in Washington and Oklahoma listen. Recent changes allow a CFI to renew through a CFI Refresher Clinic (CFIRC) anytime within the 2 years the certificate lasts, rather than just within the 90-day window. Also, the change in 61.51 that was interpreted to allow a safety pilot to log time only as SIC (61.51 (f)(2)) has been reinterpreted to permit the time to be logged as PIC time (61.51 (e)(1)(ii). In addition you can log as PIC time spent as sole occupant when not rated in category/class. In other words, if you've been signed off to solo a twin, you can log it as PIC even though you don't yet have your multiengine rating. And, having once said that if you didn't have an aircraft appropriate to the rating sought, you couldn't get the rating--i.e. showing up for a multi check ride with a Mixmaster--you can once again get the multi rating with a centerline thrust limitation. So all of you contemplating purchasing a C-337 or building a Defiant, you don't have to first get a multi rating in a conventional twin.

The upturn in the GA market continues. The Tiger, aka Grumman (or American General) Tiger, is making yet another comeback. This time, a Taiwan-based company, TLM Aerospace, is setting up production facilities at Martinsberg, West Virginia. This has always been one of my favorite airplanes, and the timing may be right, if they do it right this time. Another of my very favorite airplanes, the CAP-10B, is also back in production. The new version has electric flaps and trim and Cleveland wheels and brakes and sells for $147,000 (which is really a good price for a fully aerobatic, certificated airplane). A new CAP10C is in the works that will have a constant speed prop, a little more power, and probably a carbon-fibre spar. And, for you unlimited junkies, the CAP-232 is also back in production. Word has it that Patty Wagstaff is switching to it from her Extra 300. That might speak volumes... If you are interested in the CAP aircraft, see me. And, there's also the new Pitts S-2C that promises to be a real improvement over the S-2B--already a great airplane. Greater roll rate and improved inverted manners (trim forces) have been built in, although the seats are still not adjustable. It is also certified to +6 and -5 (the -2B is limited to -3g). Amazing what you can get if you have some money...

Those of you who fly out of Dillingham are faced with a constant choice--do you initiate your takeoff with jumpers in the air off the departure end of the runway, or do you wait until the last jumper is down? Personally, I wait until there's no way that I could collide with a jumper if I had to go straight ahead for some reason (like engine failure or control malfunction). Usually that means that I have the last jumper in sight and he or she is low enough that there is no way we can merge. I realize that waiting is an expensive thing to do (at least for the person paying for the airplane), but I've tried to ask myself how I would explain to the jumper's family/lawyers and the FAA exactly why I couldn't wait another minute or so before starting my takeoff roll. I've lacked the imagination to come up with a convincing answer, so I wait. I also make sure all my students know my policy, well ahead of time. Soon, I'll get the opportunity to get a closer look at those of you who elect to takeoff with jumpers in the air--as I become a jumper myself. Wave as you go by. If you can see my return gesture, you're probably too close.

Hana is rapidly approaching. This is our premier fly-in, and I hope to see you all there. We will, of course, have a landing event, complete with trophies and video.

Be careful out there.