| From the South Ramp
"Mele Kalikimaka and Hauoli Makahiki Hou"
Summer is long gone, with fall not far behind. As winter bears down on us, I’ll begin with an apology for not getting an issue sooner. Lots of excuses, but I won’t bore you with them.
Since our last issue, some really great things have happened. Burt Rutan’s team at Scaled Composites succeeded in capturing the $10 million Ansari X-Prize with their Paul Allen-funded Tier One project. Mike Melvill flew SpaceShipOne in the first privately funded venture into space last June 21st, and repeated the journey this past September 29th, to be followed on October 4th by Brian Binnie. Melvill reached an apogee of 337,500 feet, well above the 328,000 required to be considered space (100 km). Brian took it even further, all the way up to 367,442 feet. Mike’s flight was even more of a thrill than planned due to an uncommanded series of 29 vertical rolls. Once in space, he was able to dampen the rolls with the reaction control system (RCS) and SpaceShipOne re-entered without further incident. Binnie’s flight was more nominal.
The flights again highlighted the absolute brilliance of the Rutan design, especially the “Care- free Reentry” that allowed the craft to right itself and reenter without pilot input though use of the feathering feature of the boom-tail. As with the Orteig prize for the first trans-Atlantic flight in 1927, the impetus for commercial non-governmental ventures received a huge boost and the other contenders for the X-prize are very much still in the game with their space flight programs.
What’s next for Rutan? The name Tier One tells a lot. Tier Two will be orbital flight, and Tier Three will be beyond—way beyond.
We’ve heard Burt speak on several occasions at Oshkosh (though, sadly, not this year) and he is as committed to his vision as he is visionary. It was heartening to see the depth of emotion he displayed during the Tier One quest and in the interviews that followed the successful program.
"The airspace is yours".
Those words from the controller at Marine Corps Base Hawai'i meant that for the next twelve or so minutes, I’d be flying before thousands of spectators whose eyes were focused on my every move. K-Bay is a superb place to fly an airshow, although it almost didn’t happen, at least for Clint and me. Our FAA Form 8710-7, Statement of Aerobatic Competency cards had expired and there was no one locally who would renew them.
The waivers are managed by the International Council of Airshows (ICAS) for the FAA, and there is no resident Aerobatic Competency Evaluator (ACE) here. Fortunately, Greg Poe, one of the performers at the “Blues on the Bay” airshow, was to be on the C-5 due in the afternoon of October 7, the night before the first performances were to be flown. Greg is an ACE and had graciously agreed to evaluate Clint and me. Although the low altitude waiver is actually issued by the local FSDO, it had to be processed by ICAS, back on the mainland. Our FDSO had agreed to be ready to issue the cards as soon as the evaluations were complete, and ICAS, through the constant and skilled priming by Clint Churchill, faxed their approval back to Hawai'i. As we sat down for the pre-show briefing at 0700 on Friday, October 8, Mike Spencer of the Honolulu FSDO handed us our cards, and we were good to go.
A word about Greg Poe. He had just come across the Pacific in a C-5, along with Patty Wagstaff and Eric Beard, their crews and partially-disassembled aircraft. The C-5 landed about 4:30 pm, and Greg walked straight over to the hangar where Clint and I were waiting, briefed us, watched us fly, and then debriefed us thoroughly and professionally—all before dealing with the daunting task of getting his airplane offloaded and reassembled and ready for the next day’s performance. Greg had a very short night after a very long day to do what he had to do and I owe him a huge Mahalo!
The “Blues on the Bay” airshow actually involved three performances. Friday was Military Appreciation and Press day, and Saturday and Sunday were open to the general public. In addition to the Blue Angels, there were military performances by the HANG, a USAF East Coast F-15 demo pilot, HSL-37 (Navy) SH-60 helos, a Navy SEAL jump team, Marine CH-53s and F/A-18s in a mock combat assault, P-3s, a USCG SAR demo with HC-130 and HH-65s, and, on Saturday, a B-52 which flew all the way from the mainland, made a low pass and went on to Guam. On the civilian side, Patty Wagstaff, Greg Poe, Eric Beard, Clint Churchill, and I completed a very full card.
That was a lot to manage and coordinate. The Marines and Navy did an exceptional job in organizing and executing the event—remarkable given that K-Bay hadn’t hosted an airshow in some 20 years. Bob Farrow, the airshow operations officer and aerial events coordinator (Air Boss) created and distributed a very detailed time line to each performer with the exact sequence of events, down to the minute. Amazingly, at the end of each day, the show was never more than a couple of minutes off schedule. Bob has had significant airshow experience in years past, such as when the Blues performed at NAS Barbers Point, and he put it to excellent use. USMC LtCol Don Clark and LtCol John Christensen were the overall airshow coordinators, and, with the help of their very dedicated and energetic staff, kept things running incredibly smoothly. The folks at Kbay treated the performers extremely well, providing a great hangar to keep our aircraft in and hang out in the shade. We even had a constant supply of cold water bottles available and special parking access.
Some personal notes. It was unbelievably cool to be a part of the whole event as a performer. To be on the same card as Patty Wagstaff and Greg Poe and Eric Beard was a little intimidating, but way cool. Getting to hang out with her and the others in a professional as well as social context was priceless.
It is said that the first person you hire when building an airshow is the announcer, and the Blues on the Bay featured the best announcer in the business—Danny Clisham. He focuses the spectators’ attention on each performer and each maneuver, putting things in a context everyone can understand and appreciate and follow. Thus, everyone gets the most out of each performance. Wow! Sharing the card with Patty and being announced by Danny…it just doesn’t get any better than that!
I want to again thank the Marines and sailors at K-Bay, as well as the key sponsors such as JN Chevrolet for making the magic happen. Look for another one in 2006!
General Aviation Forum
The State DoT held another GA Forum in mid-September, but almost none of the GA community bothered to attend. Morris Tamanaha facilitated, and both open and new items were discussed. Participation in this kind of event is sort of like voting…if you don’t participate, you don’t get to gripe about the results. The next meeting will be held next September.
Over the 100-plus years that people have been flying heavier-than-air craft, the issue of who makes a better pilot has bounced around the walls of countless hangars. Ethnic barriers were finally broken down, and gender preferences are crumbling. As an instructor, I get to fly with a wide variety of folks, and teaching somewhat demanding skills, such as handling a tailwheel airplane raises some interesting questions. Why is it that most women learn that specific set of skills so much faster than most men? Is it that they have a finer touch? Do they pay more attention to what the instructor is saying? I won’t quantify the difference because I don’t wish to give anyone tailwheel envy, but the trend is clear and distinct. Any ideas?
Controlled Flight into Terrain - CFIT
None of us is immune. In the end, the number of hours in a logbook, or even the number of logbooks filled won’t keep bad things from happening when aircraft are flown into Mother Earth. When an inexperienced pilot flies into a cliff or hillside, we shake our heads and think, “Poor guy. Should’a known better.” When it happens to an experienced pilot like Ward Mareels, it becomes a question, “Wonder why he did that?” Sadly, that question usually remains unanswered and we are left to mourn the loss but not much wiser. Clearly, when a working airplane is flown into the ground, something is amiss.
Those of us seeking answers to such accidents will often seize the handle of the nearest likely factor. Poor visibility, navigation error, system malfunction, incapacitation, distraction, fatigue are all tempting hooks upon which to hang an accident, as is the general term, “loss of situational awareness.” With the exception of the rare suicide-by-plane, pilots don’t intentionally fly into the ground. Ascribing it to a loss of situational awareness (SA for short) isn’t really helpful unless we can determine why a pilot’s SA deteriorated, and that answer often dies with the pilot.
The fact is, our SA varies considerably throughout a typical flight, and most of the time the worst that happens is we find ourselves a few feet off our altitude or a few degrees off our intended heading. Where margins are wide, such as in typical cruise flight, there’s a fair amount of room before things get out of hand and metal gets bent. It is when those margins begin to slim down that we need to insure our SA is up to the task. The trouble is, when our SA is weak, our ability to recognize that fact and do something about it may also be affected. Sort of a Catch-22.
As we gain more experience, our envelope expands, and we have more room to operate while still maintaining a healthy distance from the edges or margins. The concept of always operating in the heart of the envelope is a good one. But it is crucial to recognize when that envelope has shrunk. For example, I routinely operate between about –2.5 through +5.5 G’s when I fly the CAP-10, and much of the time I don’t get much above +4.5 G. The airplane’s structural limits are –4.5 and +6 G. However, if I’ve been away from it for a couple of weeks, my envelope will have shrunk, if only briefly, and I’d better limit my first few maneuvers to about 3.5 G until I am again comfortable with higher loading. How do I know? By testing the waters, so to speak. When I reach my maneuvering area, I’ll do some steep (80 – 90 degree bank) clearing turns. If the 3 or so G's bother me, I know to take it easy and gently work up to the higher levels. I also know that if I’m tired, my G tolerance will be reduced and maybe I shouldn’t fly. Failure to recognize that my envelope has shrunk could lead to GLOC—G-induced loss of consciousness—which is generally considered to be a bad thing when you are flying.
In trying to identify those things that can erode our margins we need to look within as well as outside ourselves. Various schemes aimed at doing just that have been promulgated from time to time by organizations concerned with flight safety and they are all good. They all attempt to take measure of our capabilities, physical and mental, as well as environmental and equipment factors to help us determine whether we are up to the task at hand—the flight. The Coast Guard uses a Risk Management matrix that also weighs the importance of the flight. No matter how important, however, if the risk is unacceptable, the mission doesn’t go. For this to work properly, of course, requires an accurate assessment of all the risk factors, and that is something we don’t always do very well. We are oft misled by our desire to complete the flight, by our past successes in perceived similar circumstances, and by just not having enough or incorrect information regarding the flight.
The erosion of situational awareness can be very insidious and gradual or it can be sudden and in your face. Fatigue, for example, can creep in and nibble away at the edges of the envelope until there’s little left. It can lead to poor decisions, which in turn, lead to more poor decisions, and each time, the envelope gets smaller and smaller until you run out of wiggle room and options. A mechanical malfunction, on the other hand, can very quickly draw one’s SA down to nil. Most of us have heard of the airliner that was allowed to fly into the Everglades with four crewmembers (including a jump seating pilot) all trying to deal with an unsafe nose gear indication and no one actually flying the airplane.
So, what can we do to reduce the chance of a CFIT? An honest self-assessment is a good place to start. Setting realistic personal limits and sticking to them is a good idea, too. It really helps to know the environment, your limitations and those of your equipment. Eliminating unnecessary distractions and keeping your mind in the game by focusing on the task at hand and thinking ahead is good, too. Is your preflight perfunctory or are you really looking at stuff with a critical eye? Is your definition of airworthy a sliding scale of convenience? Do you find yourself minimizing the importance of inoperative or defective stuff because you really want to do the flight?
New and improved devices are becoming available to help with our situational awareness. You can now get NEXRAD weather radar directly in the cockpit through a data link. Many GPS units, including the new GARMIN 296 portable, have terrain data and can warn of potential danger. GPS map presentations are getting better and better. But, these devices can also become a distraction and work to decrease your SA. While you’re fiddling with the unit, you’re not doing other things that maybe should be getting their due attention.
Fatigue features prominently as a likely factor in many accident reports. As noted, its onset can be stealthy at first. It’s easy to say, “I just won’t fly if I’m tired,” but that is not very realistic. You may have been crisp and fresh when you took off, but several hours in the cockpit will take their toll, especially if conditions are also challenging. I find it helpful to consciously work at maintaining my SA when I know I’m a bit tired. Clues abound. Did I forget to close the cowl flaps this time? Did I leave my fuel pumps on or forget to turn them on? Is my heading wandering and/or altitude a bit off? All these are indications that my SA might be waning, requiring a concerted effort to regain it. Checklists are very helpful here, especially in an aircraft you fly often and tend to work from rote and memory. Got one handy? Use it. Don’t have one? Hmmm…
Statistically, night flying is more hazardous than daylight flying, even for flights under instrument flight rules. Night flying in mountainous areas such as Hawai'i adds another dimension to the challenge. That said, most inter-island cargo moves at night, though virtually all of that is IFR. The IFR system is designed to keep participants from flying into each other, and to some extent, the terrain. There are relatively few IFR CFIT during cruise, because minimum altitudes provide terrain clearance. It’s on the approach where things tend to go sour. Night instrument approaches to airfields flanked by high terrain are challenging, especially if your only option is a circling approach, such as at Moloka'i. Combine the lack of distinct visual cues at night with fatigue, and the demands on the pilot to maintain situational awareness are more daunting.
None of this is new or particularly insightful. But we keep flying into cliffs and mountains and oceans when there was nothing wrong with the airplane, and we keep losing friends and neighbors to CFIT. We owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to be honest with ourselves about everything related to the flight upon which we are about to embark.
The recently passed intelligence bill includes a provision that will require U.S. pilot certificates to have a photo of the bearer. Expect that on your next certificate. Apparently, the FAA will accept digital photos rather than insist all applicants appear in person at their nearest FSDO to be photographed (imaged, actually…)
TSA’s new rule affecting the training of foreign students will have a major impact on all flight schools and instructors—even those that only train U.S. citizens. If you haven’t read up on this, I’d advise you do so. AOPA and EAA have been fighting some of the more onerous and ridiculous provisions, but expect to have to prove you are an American to your instructor.
With the holiday season on short final, I’d like to thank all those who helped keep us airborne and from scratching the paint. No particular order here. Mahalo to all the ATC folks who do their job with professionalism and make things a little easier or at least safer for the rest of us. Same for all you who keep our mounts airworthy and safe and topped off with essential fluids. And, to all of you who don’t use that annoying double-click on the mike button instead of actually communicating. And, especially, to all you who have continued to bear with us and support General Aviation, Mahalo! Here’s to a great 2005!
Adam Townleywren CFI Spins
Charles Bridgman CFI Spins
Steven Wayte CFI Spins
Joe Barnett CFI Spins
Joe Monford CFI Spins
Keith Craig CFI Spins
Erica Muse Tailwheel
Kathleen Veatch Tailwheel
Peter Dudgeon Tailwheel