Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Why aviation people need to be better at telling media's stories

I'm a big fan of the podcast, Uncontrolled Air Space, which is three very knowledgeable gentlemen gassing on for an hour about all things (general) aviation. They're smart, they make excellent points, and they're a great companion for me out at the hangar.

A couple of years ago, I interviewed U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood at Oshkosh along with Jeb Burnside, one of UCAP's founders, although I doubt he'd remember me and I wouldn't expect him to.

It was surprising on Sunday, then, to be listening to a recent podcast while I was working on the RV-7A at the hangar, when this blog was mentioned and came up for discussion. Unfortunately, they did to me what many reporters do to aviation, they talked as informed analysts even though they didn't fully know what they were talking about and, in the process, they got the story wrong and did a disservice to the listener.

The subject of their segment was this blog post about the landing gear problems of a Polish airliner on a flight to Poland from Newark.

I had access to (I think from the Aviation Safety Network) the English version of an initial report from the Polish version of the NTSB. Not only that, I read it and I provided links and information contained therein.

I made clear in the post that the belly-up landing did not have its roots in the circuit breaker -- that clearly was from a hydraulic leak -- but that one reason for the belly-up landing was the circuit breaker.

In the telling of the story, however, my three friends neglected to read what I wrote and adequately inform themselves about the information before commenting on what they were reading.

You could hear the whole presentation here.

Even though I provided the source of my information, they initially questioned from where I was getting it. They proclaimed it an "implausible" scenario, and they objected to the possibility that a circuit breaker wouldn't have revealed itself via the usual annunciation systems. They also didn't quite comprehend that I was talking about the failure of the alternate landing gear system, not the initial problem of the hydraulic leak.

As they worked their way through the post, they eventually figured things out, although by not reading it ahead of time, they also missed the very real factoid that the landing gear came down on this airliner once the CB was pushed in; that just didn't happen until it was already on the ground.

But, I guess what I generally object to is the live questioning of a journalist's work to a wide audience without fully understanding what that work was. I rather hope in the future that my three companions will take the time to fully familiarize themselves with the topic before tackling it, because people's reputations are valuable.

It's nothing we don't ask of journalists toward the aviation world, and nothing we shouldn't expect of ourselves.

All that said, it's a hell of a great show, they're three great guys, and if you're not a regular listener, you should be.

I'd have posted these comments in the show's forum on their excellent website, but I haven't been approved yet.

Reporter/blogger in battle over EMI on aircraft

It's pretty unusual to see journalists sniping at each other across the country, but that's happening today between aviation reporter Christine Negroni and a blogger at the New York Times.

Negroni, who reported for the Times this year on a story about the electromagnetic interference consumer devices could cause for airplane navigation systems, is hitting Times blogger Nick Bilton hard for a series of posts that pooh poohs the threat.

Negroni makes a rationale rational argument before unleashing the journalistic version of the "nuclear option."

For those who prefer their pilots not to be wetting their pants over suspected EMI flight control issues I'll point out that it is a basic tenet of aviation safety that events are more predictive than accidents. These pilots were reporting on the precursors to crashes.

But Bilton, having spoken to at last count about half a dozen people over the course of four posts tells Times readers its "time to change the rules."

He's wrong. Aviation's remarkable record is the result of eliminating anticipated risks and creating redundant systems for the risks and errors that are unpredictable. The use of portable electronic devices falls squarely in the former.

Bilton would know that if he felt the need to take his reporting even slightly off the path between his hunches and his biases. As a blogger he may not need to do that, but as someone who's opinions fall under the banner of The New York Times, he and his editors certainly ought to.


By the way, it would be "whose opinions."

Monday, December 26, 2011

Don't turn back

This article
from AOPA last summer really caused a lot of furor in the piloting community, and it's probably what's led a few pilots to get it into their head that it's advisable to turn back to the airport when there's an engine failure on takeoff.

I'm a big fan of Internet builder and pilot forums. You can find a lot of great information there. I also think they can kill people, and I think Doug Rozendaal thinks so too.

Rozendaal is one of the best pilots in the country. He flies his Rocket up from Iowa to fly the CAF's P-51 Red Tail and the B-25 out of KSGS. He does spin training and upset maneuver training, as I recall.

So I tend to listen to what he says. This week, he penned a response to another discussion, this time on Van's Air Force, about the possibility and practicing of returning to the airport when there's a failure on takeoff.

I was leisurely digesting my Christmas Dinner, surfing VAF, and "what to my wondering eyes should appear......" Another Turnback thread.... OMG

Those who know me can imagine my indigestion...

Nothing seems to change.... Every few months I read about another SSCBD accident after a turn-back after take-off...

The AOPA did a terrible disservice to General Aviation with their articles this summer... I know for a fact that there was disagreement internally about the things they have published on the subject this summer...

I also realize this thread was started to gather data, but for what purpose.... If you believe you have the skills to consider a turnback when the unthinkable happens to you, the you have the skill set to collect your own data on your own airplane. If that is beyond your skill set, then a turnback from an EFATO should not be in your toolkit...

The most recent post that says pulling the mixture at altitude is going too far??? If pulling the mixture 4000 ft above a 4000 ft runway increases your heart rate even 1 bpm, then the turnback from an EFATO is not for you....

Long term readers of this forum know that I have never said it is impossible. What I have said, and continue to repeat, is this..

When it happens for real, there are so many variables that must be considered that make it impossible to have a cookbook go-no/go decision. That combined with the shot of adrenaline that comes with the emergency turns the brain to mush.... The statistics bear this out...

The default response to an EFATO needs to be, "lower the nose and pick a point ahead of the wings, into the wind, and land at the slowest possible airspeed." Airplanes that arrive at the earth, wings level, under control, at minimum airspeed, have survivors onboard...

There is an attorney in Des Moines IA, Tom Drew, who coined a phrase that I call "Drew's Law" Tom says that "80% of the pilots believe they are in the top 20%..."

To that I add a corollary, "The reality is that half of us are below average." (the median actually for the statisticians, but that's a detail)

Pulling off a turnback from an EFATO is a maneuver that requires the skills found a group much smaller than the top 20%.

Trying would be fine if failure did not result in almost certain death for all aboard....

Everyone have a wonderful Christmas, and I will go find a roll of Tums....

Over the years, I've covered a fair amount of accidents involving people who tried to turn back to the airport. They usually end up looking a lot like this.

Here's an article Doug wrote a few years ago which might help explain why you shouldn't turn back.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Almost done

I took this week off from work to make some progress on the RV-7A project and, wouldn't you know it, I got a bad cold on my vacation. But I got two long days of work in, including installing the interior from Flightline Interiors.

You can see when I close the cowling how well the fiberglass "skirts" I made came out. I didn't like the gap between the fuse and canopy, not so much because it looked lousy from the outside -- it did -- but I didn't like seeing so much daylight when inside, even if I had put the weatherstripping in place there (not to self: don't forget to put the weatherstripping in there).

And then, realizing a little more about how the baffling material relates to the nose inlet "ramp," I drilled out a couple of pieces and added a few more, finalizing that project. Even better, having moved a couple of pieces, the cowling fits better.

(The music is the Killers, which I have begun and ended every work session with since this video came out)

The white cowling? That's Smooth Prime -- a filler primer and UV blocker. I have some sanding to do on the bottom piece before painting. I bought a can of MarHyde from the auto parts store and some catalyst and reducer, intending to shoot the cowling, then realized the can they sent me wasn't grey, but beige. Beige? Man, that'll look lousy. I may just get a big rattle can of MarHyde grey to finish this off.

There are a few more things to be done, yet. The empennage fairing is almost complete, just need to sand some SuperFil off and roll on some Smooth Prime. I haven't done the leg fairing, intersection fairings or wheel pants yet, and I still need to configure all of the avionics.

I had the Grand Rapids EIS-4000 engine monitor updated to allow a second tach reading, but I don't know yet where that shows up on the unit. Also, it occurs to me as I look at the engine start video that the RPM reading off the lightspeed ignition was probably half of what it actually was.

Oh, and I have to rivet on the most forward piece. After that, done! Well, there's the weight and balance and static system check, of course.

I did see an unusual blue spot on the floor under the tank the other day. It's very suspicious for a couple of reasons (a) I went almost three months without seeing any such spot, (b) the spot was big enough that you'd think there'd be fresher gas dripping (or any additional, for that matter) and c) we considered playing a practical joke on another builder in which we'd pour a small amount of avgas under his wing just to watch his reaction.

I've been filling out the paperwork to get a bill of sale from Van's so I can register this. Also contacted the Minnesota Department of Aeronautics regarding sales tax. I've been dreading this. You have to pay sales for anything you buy online, although all they really want to know is kit cost, prop cost, and engine cost, which should run me about $3,700.

I'm looking for Minnesota builders to come "inspect" the plane before I even think about having a DAR look at it. Interested? I'll be at KSGS most weekends.

My wife is losing her job at the end of the month and most of the things I thought might come true when I put this plane up for sale last winter actually have come true. So writing big checks right now is not something I feel comfortable doing. So, the plane will sit until we figure out a solution to what life is throwing at us.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wired discovers homemade airplanes

A nice piece on the RV line of homebuilt airplanes was posted today by Wired.com.
Find it here.

Remember: The media is stupid and never writes anything positive about aviation.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

It's the little things

See this?


It's a circuit breaker that's "popped." They sell for about $30.

It apparently contributed to this, which happened a month ago today (and which I wrote about here):

The Polish airliner left Newark and noticed right away there was a leak in the plane's hydraulic fluid. That's when the pilots made mistake #1, according to a report that was just released (available here). They decided to continue flying to Warsaw, where they found out the plane's landing gear wouldn't extend.

An alternative landing gear extension system didn't work because of that $30 part shown above.

Had the pilots noticed the circuit breaker, they could've pushed it in, lowered the gear, and landed the plane.

But these days, airline crews depend on computers to tell them what's wrong and the Boeing airplane wasn't built to tell pilots when a $30 circuit breaker had popped (pilots of smaller airplanes have an old-fashioned fail-proof system: They touch run their fingers across each circuit breaker to be sure they're all engaged before taking off).

When authorities lifted the plane off the runway, pushed in the circuit breaker, applied power, and flipped the landing gear switch, down came the landing gear.

And that's the simple sort of thing that causes major air disasters.
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