Monday, July 1, 2019

Ruminating on death

Today, one of the Flying Cowboys shuffled off this mortal coil, together with his passenger. Reading the Facebook comments from when the plane was still “overdue” and a search was underway, is sobering. Two weeks ago, we were making the same jokes, secure in the same assumptions, regarding a friend of mine, Dan Delane. “He’s the best pilot among us, if anyone could have something happen and set her down safely, it’s Dan.” “I’m sure he’s standing on the side of the road with no cell phone signal.” “Did he owe anyone any money? He’ll probably turn up in Phoenix, going by the name ‘Stan.’”

The not knowing is the hardest part. Reading tea leaves. Following a 1200-squawk aircraft until it drops off radar - we thought because that was the edge of the coverage are, but, no, that’s where he crashed. Etc.

I’m not talking about Dan (though it appears he, a CFII and FedEx line check pilot and a chairman of the FedEx Pilots Association’s Accident Investigation Committee, with thousands of hours in F-15s and flying an F-5 as an aggressor out of Nellis AFB, etc., etc., was scud running).

And I’m not talking about Kevin, who I don’t know at all (unless you count watching YouTube videos - and of course I don’t count that at all).

And really I’m not talking about the pilots flying the fatal accidents I’m looking at below. I don’t know them, I only know what’s in the NTSB reports, etc.

But these things all sort of having me asking myself: Why do smart pilots do stupid things? (I count myself in that group, though I think I’m less dumb now.)

Cases in point ...

  • N7ZL. Pilot was experienced and highly credentialed: Air transport pilot certificate, airplane multiengine land and helicopters; commercial pilot certificate, single-engine land; instrument rating and a flight instructor certificate for airplane single- and multi-engine land, helicopter, and instrument; airframe and powerplant mechanic. Age 47, he had 2,349 hours. It appears he responded to a “low fuel” alert on his EFIS, clearing the announcement, and then proceeded to take off, presumably destined for Whiteman and cheaper fuel. Accident probable cause:
    • The pilot’s improper decision to take off despite low fuel alerts, which resulted in a total loss of engine power due to fuel exhaustion, his subsequent failure to maintain adequate airspeed and his exceedance of the airplane's critical angle of attack, which led to an aerodynamic stall and loss of control at too low of an altitude to recover. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s distraction due to his sending e-mails and being rushed during taxi and takeoff, which resulted in reduced vigilance about the airplane's fuel status.
  • N6201N. Pilot was a 56 year old private pilot, airplane single- and multi-engine land, with an instrument rating. He was also an A&P. He had about 2,500 hours, and flew the route (KTSP to KTOA) several times a week. But he departed in low weather (TSP does not have any instrument approaches, so no diversity departure, and there are no published departure procedures). With an “unapproved” ELT with almost two-year past due batteries. He wasn’t talking to anyone and was not IFR. Accident probable cause:
    • The pilot's controlled flight into mountainous terrain while attempting to operate under visual flight rules in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC).
  • N3484X. This one’s not as much of a head scratcher; relatively young (33 years old) low time pilot (459 hours), who appears to have been simply in over his head: “A weather research and forecasting model indicated that, at the time of the accident, the accident site was located within a turbulent mountain-wave environment, with low-level windshear, updrafts and downdrafts, downslope winds, and an environment conducive for rotors (that is, a violent rolling wave of air occurring in lee of a mountain or hill in which air rotates about a horizontal axis). The pilot had no prior experience flying out of the accident airport and it was the highest elevation airport he had ever used. In addition, he had limited experience flying in mountainous areas.”
As my own flying has progressed into more challenging situations (Big Bear, Owen’s Valley into Mammoth, cross-country flying in December, etc), I’ve become hyper-conscious of the health of my engine (troubleshooting “still fine, but, could be better” issues with Savvy and my A&P; oil analysis; etc) and getting additional training wherever it seems like it will be beneficial (mountain flying...). As we approach the anniversary of my last declared emergency, with Dan’s death still fresh in my mind (his funeral was on Friday) ... I’m still flying. But I’m trying to be (and largely believe, earnestly, that I’m succeeding) to be incredibly mindful.

 I won’t claim to be a close friend, but we’d flown together in his Nanchang, and would stop and catch up whenever we bumped into one another at Zamperini or out and about. I was helping his family with a legal issue, and Dan had made it a point to inform me I had an open invitation to fly up to his new place in Wyoming to go skiing - an offer I’m sure he made to many. He was one of the friendliest pilots I’ve ever met, and I miss him already.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Calculating True Airspeed; Best Glide Speed

I’m a Mooney pilot. I think it’s in our nature to obsess over numbers. (And I’d really, really like - psychologically, if for no other reason - to see whether or not my ’69 M20F is a “150 knot” airplane...)

True Airspeed

There are several ways to calculate this:
  • The simplest way to get a “pretty close” number is to take 2% of your calibrated airspeed, multiply it by how many thousands of feet you are MSL, and add it to the calibrated airspeed indicated. So, if I’m flying along at 145 mph indicated (calibrated, 143 mph) at 5,000', that works out to: ((143 * .02) * 5) + 143 = 157 mph true (÷ 1.15 = 137 ktas)
  • A bit more accurate is the true airspeed calculator built into a Garmin GPS unit (GNS430W, GTN650, etc), which factors in barometer, OAT, etc. (and will calculate your head/tail wind component too).
  • There’s also the “4-way GPS ground speed” method, used, e.g., in this M20F evaluation. (That plane, a ’67 which was constructed differently and is generally faster than the later models, was also lacking a bunch of the LASAR speed mods mine is wearing ...) If the winds aloft aren’t strong, this might be “close enough,” and it’s certainly straightforward.

Best Glide Speed

So, the 50-year-old owner’s manual for my M20F doesn’t have any information regarding best glide speed! I’ve been using 107 mph (which was listed for my old 1966 M20E), but in the process of putting together this spreadsheet, decided to actually, you know, research it a bit. Someone on MooneySpace reports it as being 104 mph / 100 mph (prop windmilling / stopped) for a ’67 M20F, and this Transition Guide for a 1967 M20F lists similar numbers (105 / 100 respectively). I can’t imagine the ’69 and ’67 are that different in this respect, so I’m using the 105 mph number.

Anyway. Best glide speed is calculated at gross weight. There’s a heady formula for calculating it properly, but the “close enough” rule of thumb is to lower the speed 5% for every 10% the aircraft is below gross weight. (And then, if there’s a headwind, add 50% of the headwind component (which you'll have from flight planning or from spinning in the numbers on your 430 during an earlier moment of pre-panic boredom.)

I threw together this awful spreadsheet that creates a look-up table for my usual configurations and different fuel quantities, while hoping I never need it ...

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Reading List and Other Resources

Reading List and Other Resources

These are the books, texts, and other resources I found invaluable when training for my private pilot certificate, instrument rating, and as the caretaker of a piston-powered light airplane. I've linked to eBooks were available, as I hate storing / lugging around dead trees.

Private Pilot

Instrument Rating

Flying in General

The Care and Feeding of an Airplane

Once you start renting higher end planes, or, gods forbid, make the mistake of buying one, you quickly move beyond things like “eh, pull the mixture until it stumbles, then add a little back in.” Lean of Peak is better for the engine, if you know what you’re doing. Here, learn how:
  • Mike Busch on Engines
  • Mike Busch on Airplane Ownership (Volume 1)
  • Manifesto (A Revolutionary Approach to General Aviation Maintenance)
  • Red Box, Red Fin (a good quick overview of lean of peak operation)
  • Advanced Pilot Seminars: Engine Management Made Easy ($395 online course)
  • Savvy Analysis. They offer a free analysis tool, and a “pro” service ($129/year) that includes report cards comparing your engine’s operation against a cohort of peers (e.g., a Mooney M20F’s metrics gets compared against those of over a hundred M20F and M20J operators) and ‘free’ professional analysis by engine/airframe experts. A big part of my upgrading my JPI EDM-700 to an -830 was the sort of data collection I could get with the more comprehensive set of probes and interfaces.
  • Blackstone Labs engine oil analysis ($28 every oil change). Gives a great insight into what’s going on inside the engine, can watch trends and get a bit of peace of mind - or catch issues as they’re developing.
There’s so much more I can add to these lists, and will eventually...

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Mountain Flying Resources

General Mountain Flying Resources


SoCal Specific Resources

  • Proteus Air Services at Santa Monica Airport has at least one instructor with extensive mountain flying experience (I did some mountain flying training with him). Ask for Nick.
  • Until recently, DuBois Aviation’s website listed specialized Mountain Flying instruction (but with Lake Arrowhead Airport currently “[c]losed until further notice,” perhaps they can’t offer the class right now 😞)
(Prices are current as of June 2019.)

(There’s more I want to add, and will do so eventually. The above links are a great start, though.)

Monday, June 3, 2019

Keyboard cleaning and general workstation refresh

One of my Unicomp Spacesaver M keyboards (of course, the one I got with “Brilliant White” keycaps) was 4 years old and grimy AF. I’ve taken the keys off a keyboard before, and it was a PITA. What a difference having the proper tool makes! Anyway. Soaked in warm water with dish soap for a couple of hours, wiped them clean with a microfiber cloth, and it’s so, so much nicer. The “living room” workstation (a Mid 2010 Mac Pro, 6-Core Intel Xeon 3.33 GHz, 32GB RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5870, 1TB SSD, 2x1.5TB spinning rust drives, USB 3.0 ports on a PCI card, etc) is now comfortably usable again.

Now if only the scroll wheel on my ThinkPad USB Laser Mouse (I have several of these, including the wireless Bluetooth version; they’re normally great) hadn’t gone wonky. El cheapo Amazon Basics alternative arrived over the weekend. (I love, and am a bit scared by, the fact that we live in a world where a $7 optical mouse can be delivered to my door within 24 hours.)

Meanwhile, my Labrador has, after months of smooth sailing, started suffering side effects from his chemotherapy, so we’ve been hanging out on the balcony where his frequent ... accidents ... aren’t as problematic. I have an old (Mid 2010) 21.5" iMac out there (12GB RAM, 500GB SSD), with another Unicomp Spacesaver M (grey keys this time). It’s actually kinda nice to sit out on a nice day and work out there. Though our days lately have been grey (“May Gray” giving way to “June Gloom”), which enhances readability of the screen (hate glossy screens... I have matte Dell monitors on my other workstations) but can make for a chilly working environment. (I also have to work with an endless supply of Charlee Bear cheese and egg treats, to distract my street stray rescue from the mortal threat that is the 12 lbs Maltipoo walking on the sidewalk ~20' below us. Sigh.)

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Remote Display Car Stereo

The YJ-model Jeep Wrangler has a kind of horrible radio placement. There’s (barely, kinda) a single DIN opening, blocked on top by the protrusion of the dashboard, and it’s down by the passenger’s knees. I have an Alpine in there now, and it works great, but I’m using a RAM glareshield mount forced around the VIN number plate to hold an iPhone for navigation, and while the combination generally works, it’s way less than ideal.

For the longest time I’ve wanted a radio with a remote mounted display. I’ve toyed with the idea of just running a ribbon cable for a detachable faceplate, but that’s ... a hack.

I saw the Alpine Freestyle X702D-F and it seemed perfect, but is apparently only available in Europe.

But then I found the Pioneer DMH-C2550NEX and DMH-C5500NEX. I may redo the Jeep stereo sooner than later. Again. (I’ve owned that vehicle for 24 years, and have had ... Several stereos in it. Things kept getting stolen. 😒)

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Tiny flashlight

LED lights are amazing. I just picked up this little Motorola MR500 at Fry's; I was looking for something small and cheap with a clip and decent illumination. This blows away (like, an Ohio-class battleship vs. a RIB) the old 2xAA battery incandescent flashlight I've been using, and it's small enough to tuck into any flight bag.