Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Papa's got a brand new tool

After seeing my video of the crumbling power cables yesterday, Stein Bruch of SteinAir offered to crimp the terminals back on and get my power system back up and running. Typical Stein. But I had another plan. Stein carries the Terminal Tool, used to professionally crimp terminals on fat #2 (and smaller) wires and I like tools. So Stein sold a Terminal Tool today to a customer who realizes that having the ability to make custom-built cables may not make financial sense but does building an airplane make financial sense. It's also made in the USA and isn't it about time we start buying stuff that's made here?

This is a great tool. It's what SteinAir uses. "That tool is almost idiot proof," SteinAir general manager Jed Gregerson said to me. I take that as a challenge. Let's see.

This gizmo goes in your vice.

Then a dieset -- this one is for a #2 wire -- goes into it.

Put your terminal into it and tighten to hold it steady...

Strip about a half-inch of insulation off the wire and insert it into the terminal...

Then take a 5/8" socket wrench and start turning... and turning....switch to a long torque wrench and just make sure you don't go above 120 foot pounds. I chose to apply about 80-90 pounds of pressure, mostly because I'm not that strong. You can hear the little strands cry out...

Then add heat shrink tubing and apply heat from the heat gun and you've got a professional job. It's supposed to withstand a 50-pound pull. I don't know what a 50-pound pull is, but I couldn't get it to budge.

What I like about having the flexibility to quickly and effectively make cables is I can orient the terminals to the installation. Note the small ground cable above. The way I have it set up (terminals perpendicular to each other, will make for a much better fit in my installation.

Not only is it "idiot proof," you can drink beer while doing it.

Oh, that's my new dark green T-shirt. The best thing about living close to the gang at SteinAir (aside from the obvious), is when you drop in and spend money, you get to walk out with almost equal value in SteinAir swag -- two new T-shirts, a sweatshirt, and a replacement Garmin hat.

And two well-built cables.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Check other people's work

I learned a very important lesson this evening at just the right time -- don't assume the "professionals don't screw up." Here's the deal: I was installing ground and battery power cables this evening in anticipation of testing out the com radio and transponder (and intercom). When I pulled the P-9 cable out of storage, I noticed the connector had fallen off. I checked the other end, and that pulled off. Then, I tugged on the battery-to-contactor cable (P-16) that I'd already installed and they pulled off too.

Van's issued a service bulletin on its battery cables in 2006. But I purchased these last summer. They're not cheap. I will be building my own cables now because it's unlikely I can do a worse job. Still, it pushes the project back another few weeks.

Anatomy of a near disaster

The National Transportation Safety Board revealed today that a small plane and a commercial jetliner nearly collided over San Francisco on Saturday.

The NTSB release says:

At about 11:15 a.m. PDT on March 27, the crew of United Airlines Flight 889, a B777-222 (N216UA) destined for Beijing, China, carrying 251 passengers and a crew of 17,
was cleared to takeoff from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) on runway 28L and climb to an initial altitude of 3,000 feet. The first officer, who was flying the aircraft, reported that after the landing gear was retracted and the jet was at an altitude of about 1,100 feet, the tower controller reported traffic at his 1 o'clock position.

Immediately following the controller's advisory, the airplane's traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS) issued an audible alert of "TRAFFIC TRAFFIC." The pilots saw a light high wing airplane, an Aeronca 11AC (N9270E), in a hard left turn traveling from their 1 o'clock to 3 o'clock position. The first officer pushed the control column forward to level the airplane. Both crew members reported seeing only the underside of the Aeronca as it
passed to within an estimated 200-300 feet of the 777.

TCAS then issued an "ADJUST VERTICAL SPEED" alert, followed by a "DESCEND, DESCEND" alert. The first officer complied and the flight continued to Beijing without further incident.

The next time someone tells you that commercial airline pilots are glorified bus drivers, remind them of this scenario.

Given the estimated speed of both aircraft, disaster was literally just one second away.

It recalls one of the most tragic air disasters in the country, when a small plane collided with a jetliner over San Diego many years ago.


What happened? Almost certainly this will come down on the small airplane pilot and an air traffic controller. No airplane is allowed within about 5 miles of an airport like San Francisco (and also Minneapolis-St. Paul, where the no-fly zone extends to the ground near the High Bridge in St. Paul) unless they've been given clearance to enter and are under the guidance of a controller.

I've found the actual tape of the incident. In this tape, the tower controller in San Francisco clears the United flight for takeoff and tells the smaller plane to be looking for traffic. The smaller plane reports he has the Boeing 777 in site, and he is told to pass behind the jet. The controller then tells the pilot of the 777 that the small plane is "no factor."

She's not happy.

"That set off the TCAS," she says, which is the collision warning system.

John Stiegelmeyer and Miss Understimated

I always like to see positive stories about general aviation and, in particularly, RV airplanes and the people who fly them.

Vinton Today, a news cooperative in Iowa, today features Capt. John Stiegelmeyer, and his RV-7A Miss Underestimated.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The rules of flaw

One of these days, I'll write a book of axioms for the airplane builder, but in the meantime, here are two more that I've written down for future reference:

1) The best moments in building your own airplane are when you could take a short cut, but don't.

2) The closer you get to finishing your airplane, the more time you spend looking for a part you can't find, but you know it was here a minute ago.

As my faithful readers know, I've been working on avionics for the last few months. This stage of the project is like working in a maze. You proceed down a particular route, only to find it blocked, so you have to try another direction.

Yesterday, I tried to reinstall the PS Engineering 1000II intercom, only to find that the connector and wires (and, yes, I did rewire the power pin for the Vertical Power 50 as I said months ago) hit the bracket that holds the throttle and mixture cables on the subpanel.

I could have gotten away with forcing a fairly steep bend and maybe just muttering "good enough," but I'm past that stage of my airplane-building career. I had no choice but cut a piece of the bracket to allow the wires more freedom and, presumably, lessen the possibility that a broken wire would leave me without a radio (actually, now that I think of it, this wouldn't happen because the PS Engineering intercom has a fail-safe mode that when it craps out, it doesn't prevent you from transmitting/receiving on your radio).

The documentation for the intercom says it doesn't need to be braced. But the more I look at it, the more I think it should be. The problem is, at this stage of the construction. I can see no way to accomplish this. These are the time that challenge a builder when to press on, and when to apply a proper definition of "right," as in "do it right."

I had hoped to get all of the radios reinstalled, the Vertical Power system reinstalled, the master switch, and flap switches reinstalled, the mic jacks and headphone jacks reinstalled, and power up the system to be sure the radios worked. But, alas, the Law of Rule #2 came in to play.

It would appear that I've mounted the Vertical Power 50 control box a little too close to the subpanel and, as a result, I'm asking the antenna cable for the transponder to take a hard turn to avoid it.

The solution -- maybe -- is a right-angle antenna connector at the transponder. I bought one a few months ago from B&C Specialty Products and now I can't find it. I did locate it earlier in the day's activities, but I wasn't looking for it at the time. I was looking for some clear heat-shrink, which I know I put somewhere around here.

I never did find that, and because I wasn't looking for it at the time, I didn't think much of the right-angle connector I did find. I don't remember where I saw it, so I spent two hours -- two hours! -- looking for it. I came up empty.

During the winter months, the hangar tends to get disorganized. When it's 10 degrees in an unheated hangar, there's no time for putting things back where they belong. So by spring, the workplace is pretty disorganized.

Today, I guess I'll spend time tearing the hangar apart, and reorganizing it so that I don't spend so much building time on "looking for stuff" time.

And that's Rule #3.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

AP paints homebuilt planes with a broad brush

As regular readers know, I generally abhor the kneejerk "the media sucks" rant that is common among pilots. But, at the same time, I need to acknowledge those news stories that clearly are ignorant.

Associated Press, step forward, son.

Here's the story. Let's take each assertion one by one, shall we?

WASHINGTON (AP) - Federal officials say high-performance homemade planes like the one that killed a beach jogger last week in South Carolina are likely to stall at higher speeds and have been involved in a disproportionately large number of fatal accidents.

Disproportionately is a pejorative term. It is also not true.

The EAA points out, "Studies by FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) show that Amateur-Built/Homebuilt aircraft have an accident rate less than one percentage point higher than the general aviation fleet. In fact, the accident rate for Amateur-Built/homebuilt aircraft is dropping. The total number of registered homebuilt aircraft is increasing by about 1,000 per year, while the total number of accidents has stayed virtually the same. Another good barometer of safety is insurance rates. Companies that insure both homebuilts and production aircraft charge about the same rates for owners of either type of airplane. That indicates a similar level of risk."

This question has actually been one of the most difficult to ascertain. A study earlier this decade found 1.22 fatal accidents in production aircraft per 100,000 hours flown. Homebuilts had a rate of about 1.5.

But we also know, because I wrote about it years ago, that the NTSB often resorts to guesswork on the number of hours flown by pilots of homebuilt aircraft. Many of the accident reports do not contain information about the number of hours a pilot has flown. And that's too bad because it takes the "pilot experience" equation out of the issue.

It's also worth pointing out that last year for the first time, the number of homebuilt aircraft registered exceeded the number of production aircraft.

The Federal Aviation Administration warned pilots on Thursday that the Lancair, which is built from kits, and others like it are apt to stall at speeds higher that 61 mph. The agency also cautioned that since the planes are built by amateurs, there can be differences in performance, including at what speed they might stall.

Oh for goodness sakes, where to start? First, the Lancair is a high-performance airplane. The law of physics doesn't know -- or care -- whether a high-performance airplane was built by a guy in a garage or a guy in a factory. It stalls at 65, it cruises at 225, according to the company.

Sixty-one mph is about 53 knots or the stall speed of, say, a typical trainer-type aircraft such as a Piper Warrior. The Lancair ES stalls at about 58 (dirty). But the assertion ignores the fundamental rule of physics. Speed doesn't determine when an airplane stalls. Angle of attack does. A stall speed depends on many factors including the weight of an aircraft and the wing loading. In a turn, a plane stalls at a higher speed than in level flight. The only real way to be sure a plane doesn't stall, is to keep the nose below the horizon. But suggesting that there's a magic number at which a plane will fall from the sky is simply ignorant.

Why would an "amateur-built" airplane have different stall speeds from one to another? For the same reason that production airplanes do -- weight. One builder might add 20 pounds of avionics not found in a production aircraft. Another builder might not. Two airplanes; two different flight characteristics. But the same might be true for a production airplane. One pilot might throw 20 pounds of luggage in; another might not. Two different airplanes, two different flight characteristics.

There are also many different kinds of homebuilt airplanes, most of which stall below 60 mph. Here's a chart of high-performance experimental airplanes. You'll note that the stall speed ranges from 48 to as high as 79.

Pharmaceutical salesman Robert Gary Jones was killed on a Hilton Head Island beach as the pilot of a Lancair tried to land the plane.

So that's what this is about? First of all the problem wasn't that the plane stalled, it was that an oil leak had developed. When an oil leak develops, chances are good a windshield gets covered with oil. There's no indication the plane stalled. If it had, the pilot and his passenger wouldn't have walked away. The problem likely was the pilot couldn't see the jogger who was killed.

Here, look at the picture of the plane.

When a plane stalls, one wing usually stops flying first, the plane dives one side to the other -- usually left. That obviously didn't happen here.

Finally, let's revisit the reason why the 61 mph figure is used. In the '90s, the FAA took comment on a rule that airplanes could have a higher stalling speed if they had better crash survivability equipment.

The crash cited above was a controlled emergency forced landings. Let's see what the FAA said about the relationship of stall speed in such situations:

Survivability of controlled emergency forced landings is not dependent upon landing stall speed and a clear correlation between safety and landing stall speed cannot be found.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

NTSB accident reports

Here are some new probable cause determinations this week from the National Transportation Safety Board in accidents involving RV airplanes.

NORTH CAROLINA - Probable cause determined in the December 25, 2008 crash of an RV-7A that killed pilot Steve Reamer.

The airplane was in cruise flight at 8,000 feet when the engine began to run rough and the pilot noticed elevated cylinder head and oil temperatures. The pilot subsequently elected to divert to a nearby airport for a precautionary landing. The passenger, who was the pilot's wife, recalled that as the airplane approached the airport it was high and that the pilot performed "S-turns" to descend for landing. Her last memory prior to the accident was of the airplane in a steep left turn, close to the ground. The airplane impacted the ground about 1/4-mile from the approach end of the runway. Examination of the airplane did not reveal any preimpact failures; the airplane's current logbooks were not recovered. The most recent reported inspection was an annual inspection, which was performed about 19 months and 200 hours prior to the accident. Both the airframe and engine had accumulated approximately 630 total hours.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:The pilot's failure to maintain adequate airspeed while on approach for a precautionary landing, which resulted in an aerodynamic stall.

LOUISIANA -- Probable cause determined in the December 2009 incident involving an RV-8 that "swerve(d) to the right and the tailwheel-equipped airplane subsequently ground-looped. The airplane came to rest in an upright position and the pilot and passenger were able to exit the airplane unassisted. An examination of the airplane revealed that the wing spar sustained structural damage. No mechanical malfunction was identified with the airplane's flight control system." Probable cause: The pilot's failure to maintain directional control during the landing roll. No injuries.(more)

Here's the NTSB narrative.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Introducing the VPX

Those of you who pay attention know that I'm installing a Vertical Power system as the electrical backbone of my system. It eliminates circuit breakers and fuses and gives me much more flexibility than many "old-fashioned" electrical systems, even though I'm using the lower-end VP-50 unit. Then again, I'm building a simple airplane.

Now comes word that Vertical Power is unveiling the VPX, which is designed to work with EFIS systems.

Since I'm on the road, I haven't had a chance to jump into the system or its reason for being. I guess I can understand wanting every piece of information there is to know in a cockpit on one screen, but at some point I wonder how much information in one spot is too much?

It also appears to give you some flexibility to use your own switches, rather than the control unit that comes with, say, the VP-50.

Anyway, it's worth checking out:

The VP-X supports a single bus electrical architecture with a single or dual alternator configuration. It additionally supports the ability to measure the voltage on an aux battery. There are enough circuits to wire a typical RV (including the RV-10), Glastar, Lancair Legacy, Velocity, Cozy, or other 2 to 4 place aircraft.

The VP-X uses a third-party EFIS screen to display faults, flap and trim position, and individual electrical device status. You get the best of both worlds—ECBs are remotely mounted yet you can view their status and reset a fault from the EFIS screen. The VP-X is hidden from view and doesn’t take up any space on the panel. The screen below is an example of an electrical system display on the EFIS where you can view and control each electrical device.

VP-X Wiring from Vertical Power on Vimeo.

It's going for $1,800 and you can get all the details here. Vertical Power, by the way, probably has THE best manuals, Web pages, and information guides of any avionics company I've ever seen.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dinner with the Brasch family

These are some of my favorite people in the world, so today we drove down to Tucson to have dinner with them. This is the Brasch family -- that's Carol and Michael. You can't see Glenn, because he's taking the picture.

Glenn and Michael come up to Oshkosh every summer for AirVenture, and I probably would stop going over if they -- and Darwin Barrie (who we had dinner with the other night in Phoenix) -- didn't.

Glenn and Darwin are real pilots. They fly medivac helicopters for a living after completing their law enforcement careers. That's "real pilots" as in instrument-rated helicopter pilots. (I also linked to a story Glenn wrote about his Young Eagle flights here)

We had a great dinner at a fine choice of a restaurant. I'm ready for Oshkosh!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The uninformed and misinformed

I saw in one of the postings on the SoCal Yahoogroup list that someone again challenged the value of the media, quoting the Mark Twain axiom that if you don't read the paper you're uninformed and if you do read the paper you're misinformed. Funny stuff.

It's easier for pilots -- unfortunately -- to sit around and bitch about aviation's poor image in the media rather than do something about it or create an atmosphere of cooperation. I suppose they're the same people bitching about everything else without (a) realizing how good they've got it and (b) leaving any sort of positive mark upon the ground they walk.

So I continue to point out that they're wrong at least as often as they're right. And because they're obsessed with the negative, they didn't point out this article appearing today in the Norman Transcript about a flight businesses and a 13-year old kid who's getting into aviation and aerobatics thanks to an RV-4.

Here's some advice for you kid. When you meet the "uninformed and misinformed," just keep walking.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

It's like Oshkosh in March!

My wife and I are on a road trip -- the first "just go away" trip we've been on together in two years... exploring the Great Plains, Rockies, and Southwest. We're looking forward to visiting with Oshkosh/RV pals Darwin Barrie in Phoenix (we're bringing him an authentic case of Leinie's Sunset Wheat) and Glenn Brasch and his family in Tucson.

Follow all of the 'action' on my other blog -- Stirrings From the Empty Nest. Did I mention we're doing this the old fashioned way -- by car. It has its advantages, if we were in the air, we might not enjoy the massive migration of sandhill cranes we saw yesterday afternoon.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Phillips crash explained

Canadian authorities have released more information into the crash that killed RV-7A builder Andy Phillips near Madoc in January.

According to the Ottawa Citizen, the plane lost its rudder and vertical stabilizer:

Ken Webster, a senior investigator with the Transportation Safety Board, said the loss of the tail would have sent Phillips’ home-built Vans RV-7A out of control.

“The aircraft experienced an in-flight separation of the vertical-stabilizer and the rudder,” Webster told the Citizen. Without these components, “it would be very difficult to control the aircraft.”

This will certainly get the attention of the RV-building community. The vertical stabilizer is attached to the horizontal stabilizer by a plate with four bolts. The rear of the stabilizer is attached to the rear bulkhead of the fuselage via its spar with four bolts and two others that attached to an angle which is,in turn, bolted to the fuselage.

Three bolts through three hinges attach the rudder to the vertical stabilizer.

Those two components should not be separating from the fuselage and this is now the mystery. How could they?

“We’ll be doing further analysis on (the stabilizer and rudder) in our lab in the next few weeks, and we’ll hopefully be able to determine the sequence of events which led up to the departure of the vertical-stabilizer and the rudder,” Webster said.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Are glass panels safer?

The National Transportation Safety Board today released a report that said glass panels -- basically computers -- are no safer than the steam gauges they replace.

Here's the press release:


Washington, DC -- Today the National Transportation Safety Board adopted a study concluding that single engine airplanes equipped with glass cockpits had no better overall safety record than airplanes with conventional instrumentation.

The safety study, which was adopted unanimously by the Safety Board, was initiated more than a year ago to determine if light airplanes equipped with digital primary flight displays, often referred to as “glass cockpits,” were inherently safer than those equipped with conventional instruments.

The study, which looked at the accident rates of over 8,000 small piston-powered airplanes manufactured between 2002 and 2006, found that those equipped with glass cockpits had a higher fatal accident rate then similar aircraft with conventional instruments.

The Safety Board determined that because glass cockpits are both complex and vary from aircraft to aircraft in function, design and failure modes, pilots are not always provided with all of the information they need -- both by aircraft manufacturers and the Federal Aviation Administration -- to adequately understand the unique operational and functional details of the primary flight instruments in their airplanes.

NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman highlighted the role that training plays in preventing accidents involving these airplanes.

"As we discussed today, training is clearly one of the key components to reducing the accident rate of light planes equipped with glass cockpits, and this study clearly
demonstrates the life and death importance of appropriate training on these complex systems," said Hersman. "We know that while many pilots have thousands of hours of experience with conventional flight instruments, that alone is just not enough to prepare them to safely operate airplanes equipped with these glass cockpit features."

Today, nearly all newly manufactured piston-powered light airplanes are equipped with digital primary flight displays. And the number of older airplanes being retrofitted with these systems continues to grow.

"While the technological innovations and flight management tools that glass cockpit equipped airplanes bring to the general aviation community should reduce the number of fatal accidents, we have not -- unfortunately -- seen that happen," said Hersman. "The data tell us that equipment-specific training will save lives. To that end, we have adopted recommendations today responsive to that data -- recommendations on pilot knowledge testing standards, training, simulators, documentation and service difficulty
reporting so that the potential safety improvements that these systems provide can be realized by the general aviation pilot community."

Based on the study findings, the NTSB made six safety recommendations to the FAA: 1) enhance pilot knowledge and training requirements; 2) require manufacturers to provide
pilots with information to better manage system failures; 3) incorporate training elements regarding electronic primary flight displays into training materials and aeronautical knowledge requirements; 4) incorporate training elements regarding electronic primary flight displays into initial and recurrent flight proficiency requirements for pilots of small light general aviation airplanes equipped with those
systems, that address variations in equipment design and operations of such displays; 5) support equipment-specific pilot training programs by developing guidance for the use of glass cockpit simulators other than those that are approved by the FAA as flight training devices; and 6) inform the general aviation community about the importance
of reporting malfunctions or defects with electronic flight, navigation and control systems through the Service Difficulty Reporting system.

The complete safety study will be available at in several week.

A higher fatality rate than steam gauges? That's hard to believe but, moreover, it alone doesn't tell us that much. Are the accident rates higher because of the glass cockpits? We don't know and won't until we see the report.

Still, it's hard to believe, for example, that getting weather on your moving map is as safe as a steam gauge. Or that an initial readout that your engine is getting ill doesn't make you safer than someone with an idiot light that comes on after the oil pressure has already started dropping.

I'll be anxious to read and hear what the guys at the podcast, Uncontrolled Airspace have to say about this.

Fiberglassing the front canopy skirt

I must have spent two months working on the fiberglass skirt around the front of the RV-7A's canopy, where the plexiglass meets the aluminum. I'd stop at the hangar on the way home from work each day, sand and glass and fret that it looked like, well, crap. Then one day, it looked great. I'm not entirely sure how that happened, but it happened. That's the miracle of working with fiberglass.

I have tons of pictures and I've always meant to write an article about it, but I've never gotten around to it.

But this month, in EAA Chapter 105's excellent newsletter, there's an article on the process of working with fiberglass that's better than anything I could write, especially since the writer knows what he's doing. Find it here.

Monday, March 8, 2010

2010 Piece of Grass

Last year, after several years of hosting actual BBQs for RV builders and pilots at Oshkosh, I went back to basics and hosted the 2009 Piece of Grass -- inviting people to come out and sit around and chat.

I didn't get the big turnout we'd gotten at previous BBQs, but that's OK. I suspect in that last big year when 500 came, most of them were looking for door prizes. Last year, people were looking for company. Perfect.

Here's the thing: I can't afford these anymore, but I'd still like to have them. The thing is: It takes about 6 campsites to rope off enough room for people to be comfortable -- although I can probably do it with four. I get there on Friday and at $21 a night for four spots, that's $500 -- last year it was about $800.

We passed the hat and I appreciate those who donated, but only collected about $200. Doug Reeves chipped in $100 and someone I'd donated $1,000 to years ago to help finish an RV for a builder who was killed in an accident, repaid the gift. Without that, it would have been a tough, tough week on the finances.

I'm not sure how it's going to work this year. I was asked to help teach volunteers at EAA Radio a thing or two about developing stories, but haven't heard much since (and why would I? It's only March!), and I'm not sure how much time that will take.

I'm hoping we can raise $500 for the campsites ahead of time. Maybe some RV-businesses would like to ship in. None of them read LFFC, as far as I know, so perhaps you can help spread the word.

In return for their generosity they get, well, nothing... except our appreciation.

OCD and the Minnesota winter

There comes a time around every March where the lure of the ice chopper cannot be denied.

For me it was this past weekend, when temperatures raced above freezing -- and stayed there -- for more than 24 hours. There's something about ice that taunts us -- or at least me -- and while we dare not take the bait when it's 10 or 20 degrees, when it gets into the 40s, it's a fair fight -- sort of.

At my airport -- South St. Paul, Minnesota -- they screwed up the grading when they built the city-owned hangars, so water tends to flow in to the hangars as the snow on the roof melts, hits the ground, freezes, and makes a big mountain of ice. As further water drips, it goes into the hangar.

Now, I don't know how many of you understand how a hockey rink works, but the smooth cement floor has refrigerated coils underneath it. Add water and you're skating on thin ice.

The floor of a typical hangar works that way in the winter.

Generally, I've been pretty good about keeping the snow clear all winter, but once the snow started melting on the roof, I couldn't prevent the ice build-up. The problem is, it's going to rain tomorrow and all of that rain is going to pond back into the hangar if I can't get the ice removed.

I'm making progress, which is more than I can say for my hangar neighbors. On the other hand, they're enjoying their mug of beer today in blister-free hands.

In a few days, we're leaving for our drive down to Arizona. By this time next week, I'll be sitting in the sunshine watching a Cleveland Indians exhibition game, and thinking how different the northern climate can be on a guy.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Idaho RV-6 crash cause determined

The National Transportation Safety Board on Wednesday released its report on last August's crash in Caldwell, Idaho that killed 35-year-old Justin Walker of Mount Pleasant, Utah.

According to a family member of the pilot, the airplane had sat on the airport's ramp for about a year without having been flown. About a week before the accident, the pilot flew the airplane once around the traffic pattern. On the day of the accident, the pilot had removed and sandblasted the spark plugs, checked the cylinders for compression, and removed and cleaned the air filter; the filter was reported to have had "some goop" on it.

A witness reported observing the airplane take off, and, as it went by him at 100 to 200 feet above ground level, he heard a "popping noise." He subsequently observed the airplane make a quick left turn to a left downwind leg, and as the airplane continued on the downwind he observed the nose increase in pitch, but it was not climbing. As the airplane came abeam the numbers, it made a steep left turn, followed by the nose dropping before it dove into the ground and erupted in flames. The airplane was consumed by a post impact fire.

A post accident examination of the engine revealed no anomalies with the cylinders and valve train. All spark plugs were found to have excessive gaps, and all but one failed a bench check when exposed to pressure greater than 80 psi. A post accident examination of the airframe revealed no anomalies. No aircraft or engine logbooks were located during the investigation.

Somewhere, somehow, an RV builder obviously should've known that if you leave a plane sitting on a ramp for a year, you've got to do more than clean a few plugs and go.

If we learn nothing from these accidents, then people are dying for nothing.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Glass cockpits and light airplanes

The National Transportation Safety Board announced today that it will hold a hearing next week on glass cockpits and light airplanes.

According to the news release:

In 2000, almost all new single engine light airplanes were manufactured with conventional analog flight instruments. Today almost all new light planes come equipped with digital flight display avionic systems, also known as "glass cockpits." The enhanced function and information capabilities of these systems represent a significant change and potential improvement in the way general aviation pilots monitor information needed to control their aircraft.

Yeah, so? What's the problem?

The hearing will start at 9:30 on Tues. March 9. You can watch it here.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The kid-in-the-JFK-tower story

Admittedly, it's not a good idea to bring your kid into a control tower of a busy airport and let him say a few words on the radio, but if there's a story being blown out of proportion today, this one is it.

The story, according to the major media, is that a boy "directed" air traffic control at JFK airport last month. He did nothing of the sort.

Many of the TV networks have taken the tapes of the kid, and spliced his transmissions together to create the illusion of a kid --and only a kid -- running the tower at JFK.

Here's the actual transmissions. You may note that it actually runs 10 minutes, and there are gaps of two minutes between transmissions. It was evening at JFK, and it wasn't a busy place.

You'll also note that -- presumably -- the kid's dad was giving the boy the opportunity to say a few words between his own transmissions. He didn't, as the network news reports are suggesting, let the boy give a stream of instructions.

The controller will probably be disciplined for letting his son talk on the radio. But there's no evidence to support the impression that someone's safety was being compromised.
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