Sleeping Controller Hysteria

The New York Times on the sleeping controller at Washington National Airport a few days ago:

In fact, the vast majority of the nationé─˘s 19,000 airports do not have control towers. At those smaller airports, typically used for general aviation, pilots are responsible for logging into a specific frequency to broadcast their position and their intention to land. Airports that have scheduled commercial traffic, however, are required to have a tower that is staffed.

While this is mostly true, I take issue with the last sentence, because the way I read it, the author intends for the word "staffed" to imply "staffed around the clock" or "staffed when scheduled commercial flights are scheduled to arrive or depart". Both of these interpretations, however, are false, and I've personally operated several flights on scheduled airlines that landed at airports that were "uncontrolled" because the tower was closed (i.e., not staffed).

(I also take issue with the general media hysteria over the idea that "uncontrolled" airports are a dangerous, risky free-for-all. There are right-of-way rules that apply to air traffic at all times, regardless of whether a disembodied voice in your headphones is telling a pilot what to do or not, and pilots are always responsible to see and avoid other aircraft when able to see outside the airplane.)

Some experts questioned whether adding a second controller for the midnight shift, when most airports restrict or shut down for traffic, would help at all.

é─˙I am not sure the answer is to have multiple heartbeats at a time of the day when nothing is happening,é─¨ said Robert W. Mann Jr., an aviation industry expert in Port Washington, N.Y. é─˙You might have well have a dog in the tower along with the controller. The dog could bite the controller if he fell asleep.é─¨

I generally agree with Mr. Mann -- the answer is probably not to require two people working a graveyard shift. However, I disagree with his suggestion. The answer isn't technological or other ways to ensure a lone controller stays awake; the answer is not to assign graveyard shifts on four consecutive nights in the first place to someone in a safety-critical position who also has multiple other responsibilities. (The controller in this incident was, apparently, a supervisor, and it's my understanding that controllers' shifts can vary quite a bit. We pilots deal with issues like this, too, and I don't believe highly variable schedules are safe for pilots, either.) If that means hiring more controllers, so be it. Spending a few million dollars per year on aviation safety seems worth the tradeoff when you consider that even the least-expensive airline accident could easily cost in the hundreds of millions.

posted on 25 March 2011 at 11020 commentstrackback

More on the Underwear Bomber

Patrick Smith's "Ask the Pilot" column this week is another must-read.

posted on 08 January 2010 at 02010 commentstrackback

On the Pants Bomber

I don't really have anything to say here that this guy and Joe Sharkey haven't already said.

Just to reiterate, though: if the bomb gets on the plane, we've already lost. Once it's there, no procedure anyone can ever invent is going to stop someone from succeeding in bringing down an airplane.

posted on 27 December 2009 at 22290 commentstrackback

Risky Businessmen

ABC News is running a nice little scaremongering piece which they say "call[s] into question the ability of the FAA and the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) to detect and purge high risk individuals from the list of approved pilots". Ooh! High-risk! There are pilots out there who could kill you! Cower in fear!

Oh, wait. Let's take a closer look, shall we?

Case Study Number One in the ABC piece is a Peruvian drug lord named Fernando Zevallos Gonzalez.

Gonzalez, who founded the largest airline in Peru, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Miami on drug related charges in 2007 and is currently in prison in Peru following his conviction on drug trafficking and money laundering charges in that country.

The guy is currently rotting in a Peruvian prison. Furthermore, he has a federal indictment pending against him in the US, so if he ever entered the US, he'd be immediately arrested and shipped off to Miami to stand trial. Threat currently posed to the US and its citizens by Gonzalez: approximately the same as the threat any other Peruvian jailbird currently poses, which is zero.

Case Study Number Two is Pedro Benavides Natera, who

was convicted in 2006 for purchasing planes that were to be used for drug trafficking between South America and the United States. Natera is currently in federal prison in Miami and is not expected to be released until 2012.

See above. Threat currently posed to the US and its citizens by an FAA-licensed pilot serving time in federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison: approximately the same as that posed by any other federal prison inmate, which had darn well better be zero if our prison system is doing its job.

Case Studies Number Three through Five are a "close business associate" of Gonzalez and two individuals who were convicted on federal arms trafficking charges but have since been released after serving time.

Who discovered all of this? A computer security firm called Safe Banking Systems, a company that "markets its proficiency in data mining and the use of 'fuzzy logic' to accurately match names". Even one of the company's co-founders admits in the story

"We are not aviation experts, nor have any relationship except commercial flying."

And because they are self-proclaimed "security" "experts" who admittedly know nothing about aviation, they missed the most obvious problem with their reasoning: that the lack of an FAA pilot certificate would in any way hamper their ability to fly an airplane in the course of committing a crime.

Drug lords -- or terrorists or any other ne'er-do-wells -- do not simply walk up to the counter at the local airport, hand over a credit card, and ask to rent an airplane for a few hours. These are people who do not care about the law; witness their choice of profession. They've already figured out how to acquire the aircraft, money being little object, and issuing an order of emergency revocation against their pilot certificates will no more stop them from piloting an aircraft than taking away a drunk driver's license stops him from driving under the influence.

I'm not saying the FAA shouldn't be revoking these certificates -- they should -- nor am I saying they shouldn't clean up their database -- they should -- but to pretend this is some dire national security issue is downright irresponsible. ABC News, Eric Longabardi, and Joseph Rhee ought to be ashamed of themselves for implying otherwise.

posted on 14 October 2009 at 18510 commentstrackback

Kids These Days

Seriously, what is it about air travel that makes people check their brains the moment they step through security? I meant to post this when it happened -- at the end of June -- but I forgot. This happened on a STL-BNA flight. The "artist" was a four- or five-year-old kid accompanied by his(?) mother, who had to have noticed what was going on:

Clown face drawn on inside of window shade in row 8

(Click to enlarge.)

That's crayon. Here's a tip: crayon doesn't come off airplane interior paneling any more easily than it comes off your walls at home.

posted on 17 August 2009 at 22010 commentstrackback

Theatrical Security Administration, Again

Words cannot describe how incredibly offended I am by this story.

The AP is reporting that two US Airways employees in Philadelphia conspired yesterday to smuggle a gun through airport security -- and damn near got away with it but for a suspicious passenger.

I have to take off my shoes when I'm not in uniform, the TSA wants to steal my shampoo and toothpaste when I'm not in uniform, my house keys get the third degree whether I'm in uniform or not (even from TSA "officers" who see me every week), and this jackass gets to waltz through a badged entrance into the security-sterile area of the airport and hand a gun to his roommate?

Can we just admit that the TSA isn't accomplishing anything, and put that ridiculous agency to bed already? The GM and Chrysler bailouts/takeovers are NOTHING in comparison to the money the government is wasting on the TSA every year.

posted on 05 June 2009 at 21420 commentstrackback

More Crappy Aviation Reporting at the Trib

The Chicago Tribune is quickly becoming my least-favourite newspaper for its horribly biased reporting on all things aviation. It's almost as though Mayor Daley himself is directing the editorial board to slant things as much as possible. The latest? The totally unnecessary paragraph at the end of today's story about an American Airlines 757 departing runway 22R on landing Monday afternoon:

The emergency landing comes the same day that the National Transportation Safety Board said it's investigating an incident last week in Allentown, Pa., involving a small private aircraft and a passenger jet bound for Chicago.

In that incident, a single-engine small private plane landing at Lehigh Valley International Airport in Allentown missed a runway exit and narrowly missed colliding with a Mesa Airlines commuter flight taking off on the same runway, according to an NTSB statement.

Yes, that would be the incident last Friday night at Allentown, PA (PDF Airport Diagram) in which a Mesa Airlines CRJ began its takeoff roll without ensuring the runway was clear, after a controller issued a takeoff clearance without himself ensuring the runway was clear (instead assuming the Cessna 172 Skyhawk would make the turnoff). The jet crew rejected the takeoff at approximately 120 knots, had to swerve around the Cessna, and estimated the closest distance between their aircraft at 10 feet.

A Skyhawk even at max gross weight can easily be stopped in under 2000 feet, but it requires good short-field landing technique and advance planning on the part of the pilot. Stopping a Skyhawk in under 1000 feet, the approximate distance between the runway threshold and taxiway A4, where he was instructed to exit, is damn near impossible if you're not planning to do so ahead of time. It's a virtual certainty that both jet pilots have enough time in single-engine airplanes (possibly even Skyhawks) to know this, and even if they hadn't given it any thought, seeing an airplane less than 2000 feet away with navigation lights and a red beacon illuminated on a clear night is not at all difficult.

Despite the failure of the jet crew to clear the runway for takeoff, and despite the controller's failure to ensure the Skyhawk was at least beginning his turnoff before issuing a takeoff clearance, the Tribune reporters manage to pin the blame on the Skyhawk's pilot. He didn't "narrowly miss" anything; he was "narrowly missed" by the Mesa jet.

This was in no way the fault of the Skyhawk pilot. The Mesa crew should be ashamed of themselves for putting the lives of their passengers in jeopardy due to their blind trust in the controller. That's four eyes in the cockpit of the jet that all failed to adhere to one basic safety premise: clear the area where you're going.

posted on 22 September 2008 at 19380 commentstrackback

Hurricane Tracking with ASOS

Every time a major hurricane -- or even something so mundane as a severe thunderstorm -- hits an area served by the major commercial airlines, folks at work start watching the Automated Surface Observation System (ASOS) reports from the airport. We do this partially because we get bored easily and partially because it's interesting by itself to see extremes of weather reflected in the reports, which look something like this:

KMSY 010100Z 04005KT 9SM -RA FEW030 BKN055 OVC090 23/22 A2978 RMK AO2 TSE0058 OCNL LTGIC DSNT SW NW CB DSNT SW NW P0000

Translation: New Orleans International (KMSY) observation on 01 [September] at 0100 Zulu (GMT; New Orleans is five hours behind GMT, so this would have been 8 PM local time on 31 August). Winds from 040 degrees at 05 knots, visibility 9 statute miles, light rain (the - in front of RA indicates light, and RA indicates rain). Few clouds at 3000' above the field, broken layer at 5500' above the field, overcast layer at 9000' above the field. Temperature of 23Č?C, dewpoint of 22Č?C, barometric pressure 29.78" Hg.

Remarks: AO2 indicates an automated observation station with a precipitation discriminator (it can tell the difference between, say, rain and snow, or snow and hail, etc.). TSE0058 indicates a thunderstorm ended at 0058Z, or two minutes prior to this report being generated. OCNL LTGIC DSNT SW NW means occasional lightning in clouds, distant to the southwest and northwest. CB DSNT SW NW indicates cumulonimbus clouds (i.e., thunderclouds) distant to the southwest and northwest.

It gets really easy to read these once you've read a couple thousand of them, trust me.

Anyway, now we get to the CSI part. Here are some of the ASOS reports from KMSY as Hurricane Gustav came ashore 70 miles to the southwest of New Orleans, presented in chronological order:

KMSY 010153Z AUTO 01010KT 10SM FEW060 25/23 A2978 RMK AO2 TSE0058RAE16B33E45 SLP086 LAST AUGMENTED OBSERVATION UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE P0000 T02500228 TSNO

The "TSNO" at the end means thunderstorm information not available. In other words, the sensor crapped out. This gets interesting later on...

KMSY 010853Z AUTO 04026G41KT 9SM FEW022 BKN029 OVC034 26/23 A2950 RMK AO2 PK WND 03041/0846 RAB09E18 SLP992 P0000 60000 T02610233 58058 TSNO
KMSY 010953Z AUTO 04025G39KT 3SM RA BR SCT017 BKN023 OVC029 26/24 A2947 RMK AO2 PK WND 04042/0919 RAB10 SLP981 P0006 T02560239 TSNO
KMSY 011053Z AUTO 04032G46KT 3SM RA BR BKN020 OVC027 26/24 A2940 RMK AO2 PK WND 04048/1042 SLP959 P0014 T02560239 TSNO
KMSY 011105Z AUTO 05036G49KT 2SM RA BR BKN020 OVC026 26/24 A2939 RMK AO2 PK WND 05049/1103 P0005 TSNO
KMSY 011114Z AUTO 04039G55KT 1 1/4SM +RA BR SCT018 OVC025 26/24 A2938 RMK AO2 PK WND 04055/1108 P0014 TSNO

Note the steadily increasing wind speed (especially the gusts) and steadily falling barometric pressure and visibility (due to increasingly heavy rain), which is to be expected as a hurricane approaches. The last three observations above were all taken within a 21-minute period, from 5:53 AM to 6:14 AM local time. Then, 16 minutes later, a new observation:

KMSY 011130Z AUTO 2 1/2SM -RA BR FEW015 BKN022 OVC027 26/24 A2936 RMK AO2 PRESFR P0026 TSNO $

Wait, where'd the wind information go? Ah, there's a hint at the end. The "$" denotes "sensor requires maintenance". It gets better:

KMSY 011139Z AUTO 1 1/4SM BR 26/24 A2936 RMK AO2 RAEMM P0026 PWINO TSNO $

Nine minutes after the first observation with missing wind data, we now have a "PWINO" remark and a "RAEMM" remark. PWINO means the peak-wind sensor has failed, and I think (although I'm not sure) RAEMM means that the time at which the rain ended (the "RAE" part) is also missing. Why? Because the precipitation discriminator -- possibly the entire precipitation sensor -- has also failed. And Gustav is just getting started:

KMSY 011205Z AUTO 1/2SM FG A2934 RMK AO2 PWINO FZRANO TSNO RVRNO PNO $

By 7:05 AM local time, the ASOS had lost its wind sensor, freezing rain (FZRA) sensor, thunderstorm sensor, runway visual range (RVR, a measure of visibility) sensor, and its precipitation sensor ("PNO" is precipitation information not available). It doesn't show in the "NO" codes, but you'll also note that the ASOS is no longer reporting cloud cover or temperature either. The only thing it's reporting now is rough visibility (RVR equipment is far more sensitive than the sensor that determines "1/2-mile in fog" as seen above) and the barometric pressure (which, incidentally, got all the way down to 29.20" Hg before it started coming back up).

posted on 01 September 2008 at 23300 commentstrackback

Colgan Air Threatening to Fire Pilot on FBI Watch List

This is absolutely despicable. Colgan Air, a regional airline that operates primarily in the northeast US for US Airways and United, is threatening to fire one of their pilots because the government has placed him on one of the many terrorist watch lists.

Er, didn't he go through the same background checks as everyone else Colgan (and other airlines) hired? Is Colgan admitting to themselves -- and the public -- that governmental background checks are inadequate? If so, I think they have a lot more people they need to fire.

I just posted about a similar situation two days ago, the main differences being the airline involved and the relative seniority of the pilot. Robinson, the mainline captain who also happens to be an FFDO, is not facing any action on the part of his airline because his airline has enough common sense to know that the TSA and FBI can't maintain a proper watch list to save their lives.

Colgan, on the other hand, is behaving pretty fucking shamefully here. It's not Erich Scherfen's fault the FBI thinks a decorated 13-year military veteran might be a terror suspect. Heck, if the FBI doesn't think a five-year-old named James Robinson should be allowed to fly simply because he's named James Robinson, I don't think the FBI's opinion on these matters is valid in the first place.

Unfortunately, Colgan pilots are non-union (they rejected a vote to certify ALPA last fall, IIRC), and this is going to bite Scherfen right in the ass if his lawyers can't get the government to remove him from the list. Airlines will find any excuse to fire pilots, believe me. And I'll just go on the record now and say that I will never have anything to do with Colgan Air as long as I live unless they immediately back down from this ridiculous position.

Google this, you bastards.

UPDATE, 04 September: Colgan has reinstated Erich Scherfen. His lawsuit against the government continues.

posted on 22 August 2008 at 16220 commentstrackback

Christmas Wish List Redux

I need a gutted 747 and a couple acres of land to put it on. Best. House. EVAR.

I'd make the maid dress in a flight attendant uniform from the 1950s, too.

posted on 14 September 2007 at 20450 commentstrackback

The FAA Funding "Debate"

The so-called "FAA funding debate" shouldn't even be a debate. The airspace over the United States is a public resource, and control of that resource should be in the hands of the taxpayers via a taxpayer-funded organization like the FAA. Because when it isn't, you get stuff like the 2002 mid-air collision over Switzerland that killed 71 people, which was a direct result of the controllers having too high a workload thanks to management trying to cut corners and save money.

(There was also an element of pilot error involved; the pilots of the Russian cargo plane ignored a TCAS resolution advisory that likely would have saved both planes and instead complied with the controller's mistaken instruction to continue descending.)

posted on 04 September 2007 at 14440 commentstrackback

Zzzzzzzzzzap!

I was en route to Holgu??n, Cuba yesterday with a planeload of passengers, in cruise at 17,000 feet, when a giant lightning bolt materialized out of nowhere about 10 feet off the nose and our plane flew right through it. The bolt hit about two feet from my face on my side of the nose.

I had just enough time before it happened to think, "Wow, we're about to get hit by lightning. Cool!" and my first reaction after it happened was, "Huh. That wasn't nearly as loud as I was expecting it to be."

The strike took out both our communications radios and caused a fan somewhere in the avionics stack behind me to shed a fan blade, which made a horrible grinding sound for the next five minutes as the fan blade slowly tore itself apart. Eventually, the noise went away and was replaced by the whine of an un-loaded electric motor.

We were able to re-establish communications with ATC about 10 minutes later using the voice capabilities of our ACARS unit and diverted back to Miami, where we had an uneventful landing. Photos here, thanks to the captain, whose camera phone is far better than mine. (I had meant to take my digital camera along on the flight but forgot it as I was running out the door on my way to work yesterday.)

Two hours later, we had a new plane and finally got the passengers to Holgu??n five hours late. On the way back, we were very nearly struck twice more by lightning, prompting me to look at the captain and wonder aloud, "What sort of trouble are we gonna be in if we bring back a second plane with lightning damage in one day?"

I'm really glad I have two days off now. I also kind of want to go work for the Hurricane Hunters now.

posted on 29 July 2007 at 17370 commentstrackback

Enter and Die

Saying that the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 "changed" things is the understatement of the century. Nowhere is the change more apparent than in the aviation industry, which suffered mightily in the wake of the attacks and still has not entirely recovered. Anyone who has traveled by air from an airport within the United States knows the increased security measures travelers must endure, and most Americans probably remember that shortly after the creation of the TSA, the federal government started a program to deputise and arm pilots in the cockpit so that another suicide hijacking would be impossible. (Such pilots are referred to as Federal Flight Deck Officers, or FFDOs.)

What most of you probably don't know is that all pilots are now trained to -- and this is a paraphrase here -- "ensure the safety of the cockpit by any means necessary". While there has (thankfully) been no need to test this training in a court of law, what it tells me is that pilots are authorised to use deadly force if they perceive an imminent threat to the safety of the aircraft, in particular if someone attempts to enter the cockpit without authorisation.

I think this point deserves broader publicity, and I also think it would be driven home very clearly if all aircraft cockpit doors were placarded as follows:

DANGER! ANY ATTEMPT AT UNAUTHORIZED ENTRY MAY RESULT IN DEATH!

(Thanks to St. Claire's Safety Sign Builder for the sign.)

posted on 15 February 2007 at 21270 commentstrackback

I Call Shenanigans

A Northwest Airlines jet departing Detroit for Washington, D.C. this morning was forced to make an emergency return for landing after, well, let them explain it:

The airline says the birds came too close to the airport, causing safety concerns.

Were these radioactive birds the size of cargo planes capable of spearing a 747 with their giant talons? The explanation Northwest gave makes no sense. Jets fly faster than birds, so if these were big, mean, menacing birds that might carry off a grown human, a jet could easily outrun them. Humans tend to be smarter than birds, and birds tend to be scared by loud noises, so the flight crew could have simply waited on the ground until the birds departed the area, or airport ops could have taken action to scare them off.

Northwest is hiding something, and my wildly uninformed speculation, based on the above comment, is that they had a bird strike of some sort on the airplane itself, probably on a windshield, the wing, one of the stabilizers, or an engine (probably an engine). Bird strikes aren't exactly rare, but they're rarely dangerous -- well, except to the bird! -- so I'm puzzled as to why Northwest wouldn't simply admit the bird strike, if that's indeed what it was, and I'm even more puzzled as to why they'd give such an obviously B.S. explanation for it.

UPDATE: I've just been told by a friend that the above quote is part of Northwest's standard press release for a bird ingestion in an engine, and WOOD is now confirming bird strike(s) to be the reason the Airbus A319 returned for landing.

posted on 19 January 2007 at 10210 commentstrackback

Aviation Feat of the Year

Some guy, possibly Matthew Spitzer, has set a new record for the shortest time taken to open 12 beer bottles with a helicopter. Some Japanese folks have video-taped and narrated the feat.

No, he isn't opening them with the rotor blades. He has a traditional bottle opener attached to the right skid, and he hovers the 'copter to open them. This is amazing.

(via Gizmodo)

posted on 16 October 2006 at 19460 commentstrackback

Whoa

It's not full-scale, but this guy is an amazing pilot nonetheless.

(via Geoff)

posted on 01 June 2006 at 08010 commentstrackback

Where Not to Fly

BBSpot got a great BBlooper submission today: Where not to get flight training.

Gotta love Google's context-targeted ads.

posted on 02 May 2006 at 14100 commentstrackback

Quote of the Day

From the local NBC affiliate's story about a Mesa Airlines jet that diverted to Grand Rapids:

A warning light on the plane's altimeter gauge, which measures altitude, came on during the flight.

This entry sponsored by the Department of Redundancy Department, which is responsible for redundant responsibilities.

posted on 09 February 2006 at 22100 commentstrackback

Aviation Thought of the Day

ScienceDaily:

Post-crash fires, darkness or bad weather greatly decrease the likelihood of surviving an emergency medical service (EMS) helicopter crash, according to a study by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Healthé─˘s Center for Injury Research and Policy and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Gosh, who ever would have thought that fire and bad weather might be detrimental to the health of aircraft crash survivors?

posted on 24 January 2006 at 20450 commentstrackback

A Bad Day at the Office

A ramp worker in El Paso was killed today when he was sucked into the right engine of a 737 during a maintenance check.

With 119 people on board the plane.

Oops.

posted on 16 January 2006 at 18010 commentstrackback

Better Hope For Lots of Bathrooms

Boeing's new 777-200LR is making its first passenger flight, which departed Hong Kong yesterday and is due to land at Heathrow in London later this morning after some 23 hours in the air.

I feel terribly sorry for any passengers that get stuck in a metal tube for 23 hours.

But, uh, I'd be happy to fly it. :) (As long as I have a real bed, that is.)

posted on 10 November 2005 at 01230 commentstrackback

Back Monday

The blog is taking a short working vacation to EAA AirVenture 2005 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, starting Wednesday morning. Expect normal posting to resume Monday unless we happen to have Internet access at our temporary domicile. "We" being the folks I'm going with as part of the official contingent from work. Yes, I'm getting paid about a hundred bucks a day to go hang out at an air show/convention. I love my job.

posted on 27 July 2005 at 00030 commentstrackback

In Memoriam

Jimmy Franklin and Bobby Younkin were killed in a mid-air collision yesterday at the annual airshow in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. I was just helping Jimmy with his plane last week in Battle Creek. Little did I know it would be his last airshow.

These two legends will be sorely missed. Kyle and the rest of the Franklin family, you're in my thoughts and prayers. Be well.

posted on 11 July 2005 at 20260 commentstrackback

Aviation Accident of the Month

From Germany comes this amazing feat:

A German pilot and driver escaped unhurt when a one-seater plane landed on top of a speeding car at a little-used airport, police in the western town of Bitburg said on Wednesday.

...

The driver was racing at 160 kph (100 mph) with 11 other members of a local Porsche club at the airport, a former U.S. air base, when the single-engine plane accidentally landed on his roof. The shocked driver slammed on the brakes, sending the plane crashing to the ground.

Maybe German regulations are a little different from U.S. regs, but if that happened on an open runway here in the States, the pilot certainly wouldn't be at fault -- the drivers would be the ones getting arrested.

Of course, the pilot is an idiot for not noticing it in the first place, too.

posted on 06 July 2005 at 19440 commentstrackback

For the Pilot Who Has Everything

You should consider giving a Boeing 727 Bus/Limousine* as a gift. Even Travolta doesn't have one of these!

*no longer legal for flight in U.S. airspace, unfortunately.

(via Jalopnik)

posted on 13 June 2005 at 22430 commentstrackback

Watch for Falling Bodies

A Long Island resident was surprised this morning when she heard a loud bang on her garage roof. Pam Hearne walked outside to find a leg and part of a torso lying in the yard, apparently discharged from the wheel well of a South African Airways jet passing overhead.

Ms. Hearne lives a few miles outside the final approach fix to New York's Kennedy airport, approximately where arriving jets put down their landing gear.

Authorities suspect a man stowed away in the wheel well during the aircraft's stopover in Dakar, Senegal.

posted on 08 June 2005 at 20510 commentstrackback

One Year Down

Today is the first anniversary of the beginning of my flight training.

I think telling a few of my students that today scared them. Especially the ones who have been flying longer than that and still don't have their instrument ratings, which I think is almost all of them.

Here's to a great second year of flying.

posted on 07 June 2005 at 23200 commentstrackback

Aviation Accident of the Month

This month's award definitely goes to the pilot behind the yoke of this BAC Strikemaster (representative photograph only; I couldn't find a photo of the accident aircraft) that ran off the runway in Boca Raton.

From the NTSB report, emphasis added:

The takeoff roll commenced and at the calculated rotation speed (70 knots), he applied back pressure to the control column but the elevator control stuck in position. The takeoff roll continued and he performed trim adjustments, and moved the flap selector without any effect. He then aborted the takeoff by applying maximum braking and the speed brakes, and opened the canopy just before coming to rest. The airplane rolled through a fence and came to rest upright.

Rule Number One of takeoffs, and part of every pilot's standard emergency brief is this:

Engine failure or abnormality prior to rotation -- abort takeoff, throttle(s) immediately closed! Brake as required, stop straight ahead.

Do not try to fix the problem.

Do not try to fly the plane using only trim and/or flaps.

Do not pass go.

Do not collect $200.

ABORT THE TAKEOFF IMMEDIATELY BY CLOSING THE THROTTLE(S).

I'll give 100-to-one odds that the NTSB's findings in this investigation are "pilot's failure to promptly abort takeoff. A contributing factor was the gust lock being activated."

posted on 22 May 2005 at 22320 commentstrackback

F-16 Pilot Transcript

CNN has a transcript of their interview with Air National Guard Lt. Col. Tim Lehmann, one of the two F-16 pilots who intercepted the Cessna 150 over Washington yesterday.

A DHS advisor (a retired Air Force colonel, I think) made an interesting comment on NPR today, something to the effect of "Catch-all solutions [like evacuating everyone from buildings] aren't a solution." That's pretty much exactly what I was thinking when I first heard about it yesterday. A single-engine Cessna can't hold enough explosives to be dangerous to more than about one average American house. The real threat from a small single-engine aircraft would be from a biological agent, and in that case, the last thing you want is hundreds or thousands of people running around in the streets.

Another excellent point the advisor made is all the more intriguing in light of Lehmann's comment:

I'd like to assure your listeners that that airplane would not have penetrated -- it would not have hit anything in D.C. And it would have been dropped from the sky before that would have happened.

Yes, dropped from the sky indeed.

On top of what? The thousands of people running around outside in the streets?

Any small aircraft is going to be a whole lot of little pieces of burning shrapnel after being hit by an air-to-air missle. Those pieces aren't going to hurt a building, but they'd certainly be a significant hazard to people on the ground who happened to be underneath the blast.

It seems as though the emergency response plans need to be re-evaluated a bit, and perhaps altered to include differing degrees of response based on the potential hazard posed by the threatening aircraft. Obviously, a large transport aircraft with full fuel is a much greater hazard to structures and concentrated assemblies of people than a single-engine GA bird. Dispersal and evacuation seems like a prudent step in such a case. But running everyone outside when a potential biological attack is imminent seems incredibly dumb.

How the hell a flight instructor managed to be entirely ignorant of both the ADIZ and the no-fly zone over D.C. is another matter. Memo to the FAA: don't pull his certificates for violating the ADIZ and no-fly zone. Pull his certificates for being criminally stupid. He gives the rest of us a bad name.

Idiot.

posted on 12 May 2005 at 19460 commentstrackback

Christmas List Item #2

I had seen this somewhere else, but Gizmodo reminded me of it today. Torgoen makes several very nice pilot watches with built-in E6B flight computers (aka circular slide rule).

I'll take a T1.04.02.S02, please. (Memo to Torgoen: make your model names easier to pronounce.)

posted on 15 March 2005 at 17400 commentstrackback

Now Boarding

In a move that is sure to inspire late-night comedy jokes for at least the next week, China's first private airline took to the skies today. Its name?

(Someone please tell me this got screwed up in the translation.)

Okay Airlines.

Yeah, I'm just gonna leave it at that.

posted on 11 March 2005 at 01581 commentstrackback

Pumpkin Bombing

AvWeb's Thanksgiving article on pumpkin bombing is the funniest thing I've seen in a day or two.

Hey, I've been reading a lot of the 'Brow, OK?

posted on 30 November 2004 at 23150 commentstrackback

Herlong NTSB Report Available

As promised, the NTSB accident report for the crash at Herlong that I mentioned last week is now available.

posted on 07 November 2004 at 14110 commentstrackback