Monday, 11 June 2018


Acknowledgements: UK CAA Airspace Infringements Working Group

(Ed. Note: Apologies for the repetition! The following tips, which were first included in the blog 18 months ago but are worth repeating now as airspace infringements remain a great concern, may have been issued for the benefit of pilots in the UK, but the principles are surely the same wherever you fly)

“Airspace infringements continue to be one of the UK’s main aviation safety risks. The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), through its Airspace Infringements Working Group, is working with industry to tackle the issue. The Group’s “On Track Team” has issued a list of top ten tips to avoid an infringement: 

1. Navigation is a skill, and needs to be practised regularly, both planning a flight and conducting it. Safety Sense Leaflet 5 (available on the CAA website and in the LASORS publication) contains good advice on VFR navigation, but it only works if you read and apply it! 

2. If you plan a route through controlled airspace, remember that a crossing clearance may not always be possible and consider that route as your ‘secondary’ plan. Your primary plan should avoid controlled airspace - and don’t forget to make your overall time and fuel calculations using the longer, primary route! 

3. Where possible, avoid planning to fly close to controlled airspace boundaries. If you do need to do so, be very careful. A small navigational error or distraction of any sort can lead to an infringement – and it doesn’t take much to ruin your day

4. Pilot workload rises rapidly in less than ideal weather - and so do infringements. If the weather starts to deteriorate, consider your options early and if necessary divert or turn back in good time. 

5. If you wish to transit controlled airspace, think about what you need to ask for in advance and call the appropriate Air Traffic Control (ATC) unit at least 10 nautical miles or five minutes flying time from the airspace boundary. This gives the controller time to plan ahead. 

6. Thinking before you press the transmit switch and using the correct radio phraseology helps air traffic control to help you - and sounds more professional! 

7. Be aware that ATC may be busy when you call them – just because the frequency doesn’t sound busy doesn’t mean that the controller isn’t busy on another frequency or on landlines. 

8. Remember - the instruction ‘Standby’ means just that; it is not an ATC clearance and not even a precursor to a clearance. The controller is probably busy so continue to plan to fly around the airspace. Only fly across the airspace if the controller issues a crossing clearance. 

9. Your planned route through controlled airspace may appear simple on your chart but the traffic patterns within that airspace may make it unrealistic in practice. Be prepared for a crossing clearance that does not exactly match your planned route but will allow you to transit safely. 

10. Don’t be afraid to call ATC and use the transponder when lost or uncertain of your position - overcoming your embarrassment may prevent an infringement which may in turn prevent an Airprox (or worse)”. 

Friday, 8 June 2018


Acknowledgements: AIR FACTS / John Zimmerman

(Ed. Note: Do you still miss the good old days? Read on, and like John count your blessings today, and look forward to what more’s yet to come … )

“2018 is a year of milestones for the Global Positioning System (GPS). The concept of navigating by satellite was first discussed in the early 1960s, but it was exactly 40 years ago that the Department of Defense launched the first fully-functional NAVSTAR satellites into orbit. 

It was Garmin who really changed the aviation industry though, with the introduction of the GNS 430 and 530 twenty years ago. Even jaded old veterans had to admit that a color moving map that always knew your position and groundspeed was pretty impressive, and it ushered in a new era of direct-to navigation and GPS approaches.

Decades after it first caught on, GPS is so deeply embedded in everyday life that we now take it for granted. Over two billion people carry around smartphones with GPS receivers inside, enabling everything from Uber to Instagram. As life-changing as these services have been, it’s hard to think of an industry more transformed than general aviation. Consider the long list of capabilities that even a 60-year old Light Sport Aircraft can now have thanks to 24 satellites.

Nobody gets lost anymore
At its most basic level, GPS does only one thing: it tells the user exactly where they are. That deceptively simple feature unlocks so much more when paired to a navigation database and a large screen, but even the basic “lat/long” location is a huge benefit for pilots. Before GPS, lots of brain power was required just to understand where the airplane was, especially when flying in clouds. Dead reckoning skills, VORs, NDBs, DME and radar were all used to answer the question, “where are we?” 

Even with all that technology, getting lost was a major concern. When I began my pilot training in the mid-1990s, we spent a lot of time discussing “lost procedures”, which included everything from circling water towers to asking for a DF steer.

Those conversations seem quaint now. Sure, you can lose situational awareness (usually due to lack of proficiency with avionics), but truly being lost for a long period of time is almost unthinkable. The panel-mount GPS will show you where you are and where you’re going. If not, the portable GPS will… or the tablet… or the phone. Maybe this has made our pilotage skills a little rusty; but it has alsoprevented countless accidents.

Navigation doesn’t just mean in flight, either. Geo-referenced taxy diagrams have become mainstream with the growth of the iPad, and have played at least some role in reducing serious runway incursions. 

Instrument approaches to small airports
Once a flight reaches the terminal area, the navigation challenge gets even more acute, at least when it’s IFR. Major airline airports have always been well served by ILS approaches that can guide an airplane down to 200 feet AGL, but smaller airports (where most general aviation pilots fly) had to make do with worse options – maybe nothing more than a circling VOR approach or an NDB approach.

GPS has fundamentally changed the distribution of power. Because WAAS GPS approaches depend on a single constellation of satellites instead of hundreds of locally-installed radios, a quiet country airport can have the same precision approach that a major towered airport does, complete with a glideslope down to 250 feet. The proof is in the numbers: today there are almost 4,000 WAAS approaches, over 1,000 at airports not served by an ILS. Score one for the little guy!

Terrain and obstacle alerts
Most pilots intuitively know that these navigation tasks are easier with GPS, but what’s less appreciated are the huge advancements in hazard alerting that have come about. 

Throughout much of the 1970s and 1980s, Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) was a leading cause of fatal accidents, with the American Airlines crash in Cali, Colombia a more recent example. That Boeing 757 had a basic Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS), but it only gave the pilots a 12-second warning before impact with a mountain. Modern Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning Systems (EGPWS) use GPS to provide much more sophisticated alerts, and critically, they also provide a visual overview of terrain. They have been spectacularly successful, almost eliminating CFIT accidents in properly equipped airplanes.

The latest advancement has brought this technology to consumer devices. An iPad running “ForeFlight” or “Garmin Pilot” can provide not just terrain alerts but also obstacle warnings. Some avionics even show power lines, a critical feature for helicopter pilots and crop dusters. Without GPS these alerts would be either impossible or annoying to the point of uselessness.

Traffic and weather
GPS isn’t the essential technology behind traffic alerting; after all, radar kept airplanes separated for decades. What GPS has added is another level of precision and a lower cost of entry. Instead of spending $20,000 or more to install an active traffic system (or a full-blown TCAS), ADS-B traffic can be displayed on an iPad for well under $1,000. And instead of just showing position and altitude, ADS-B traffic can also show track and speed. This means pilots can make smarter deviations based on where a threatened airplane is going, not just where it is.

Datalink weather has been even more widely adopted than traffic alerts, with tens of thousands of pilots now flying with up-to-date radar imagesreceived via “SiriusXM” satellites or ADS-B ground stations. This is beginning to show up in the weather accident rate, which started declining around the time when ADS-B weather went mainstream. Again, GPS is not the main technology at work here, and yet it’s impossible to imagine modern datalink weather without it. A static radar picture in flight is nice; having your position and route as well makes it far more valuable. The big picture awareness is what makes strategic avoidance so easy. It’s not just radar, either. Imagine trying to avoid a temporary flight restriction (TFR) without GPS on board.

The future
Is the GPS revolution running out of steam? Not yet. The latest generation of GPS satellites, called Block III, are scheduled to launch in October, which should bring improvements in accuracy and availability. Beyond fundamental system upgrades, there are plenty of exciting projects in the works.

In aviation, the most visible advances will come from the world of ADS-B. This massive program will slowly transform how air traffic control works. By connecting a WAAS GPS to an upgraded transponder, ADS-B offers coverage in many places that radar could never reach, and usually with better accuracy. It’s even beginning to change airspace, as routing and frequencies are redesigned around GPS navigation instead of VORs.

An instrument approach that is only possible with GPS.
Pilots can also expect to see more WAAS approaches to remote airports, many of them in places where traditional navaids are simply impractical. The latest RNP approaches feature curving paths and multiple step-down fixes, designs that are only possible with very precise GPS receivers.

Another interesting idea is the creation of more data-driven safety programs that use GPS flight data recorders to analyze flights and identify potential safety issues. Such programs have made a difference in the airline industry, and inexpensive GPS receivers might make them practical for GA pilots too. Perhaps GPS could even begin to make a dent in the number of fuel exhaustion accidents, by showing real-time range graphics and more accurate time en-route numbers, although that may be wishful thinking.

As magical as GPS seems, it is obviously not perfect. Much of the behind-the-scenes work going on now is focused on protecting it from interference, either intentional or accidental. This is a small but growing problem, as it’s shockingly easy to spoof a GPS receiver. The more our world relies on GPS, the more critical this problem becomes.

Unfortunately, the bigger threat, as you might expect, comes from pilots. GPS is merely a tool, not a replacement for a competent pilot. Used wisely it can improve situational awareness and increase safety margins; used carelessly it can lead to disaster. Indeed, the key mistake made by the pilots in Cali was to mis-program their flight management system. This is a reminder that avionics proficiency is an essential skill in the modern cockpit, not a bonus.

Still, 40 years after the Department of Defense launched NAVSTAR and 20 years after Garmin launched an avionics boom, GPS deserves the prize for the most significant innovation in aviation history. One key reason it has had such an impact is its wide reach – unlike say, the jet engine, it has touched all parts of aviation. GPS has been a democratising force, both adding features and reducing cost for pilots all around the world. Here’s to 40 more years of saving lives.


Friday, 1 June 2018


Acknowledgements: AIR FACTS/Robert Reser 

(Ed. Note: Of course, it’s part of your training, but how would you react if it happened for real? Robert’s excellent account of a possible scenario may be of help …. )

“The control of the aircraft during any approach and touchdown determines the difference between landing and crashing. 
·      A controlled aircraft flown to and through touchdown is a landing
·      An aircraft falling uncontrolled to the surface, even from just a few feet, is a crash.

If making an emergency off-field approach to an area with obstacles there is a strong tendency to try to make the aircraft avoid these obstacles. Often this is not possible in partial or unpowered forced landings. You must accept that it is going to be bad and continue flying the aircraft to a normal landing approach and touchdown, no matter what the condition of the landing area is.
·      The landing gear is the first place you want contact with the surface. Its design is to absorb lots of energy. 
·      After the gear, the wings contacting obstacles will absorb some energy. 
·   The fuselage should be the last place you want to encounter an obstacle. You are idirect encounter with an obstacle can push the engine back into the cockpit. That is not good. A glancing encounter may be better.
The key is to use all means possible to slow down with minimum contact of the fuselage. This means you must have controlled the aircraft as long as possible. At touchdown, you will quickly become aware when you no longer have any control and have become a passenger!

Continuing the Approach
Having established a collision course on the final approach, you are confident you can make the field; but the field looks bad. There are trees and rocks just short of the touchdown point, and the field itself looks rough this low to the ground. It looked a lot better from a higher altitude. The tall grass is covering up a lot of rocks, ditches, and gullies. You have to live with the decision. In some cases, if recognised early enough, it may be possible to change landing fields, but be real sure before you decide to change.

Now you have to land on the selected area: 
·      Get it centred low and unmoving relative to the windshield. Attaining a collision course allows early confirmation of the landing area, and enables more time for controlling. If maintaining a collision course, you cannot miss.
·      Consider if it is necessary to land on the area at slightly faster indicated-airspeed, or can you afford floating past some? Are you faster or slower than best glide indicated-airspeed?
·      Keep the visual picture. Make the airplane go to it. But watch out when trying to make the airplane do something. Maybe it can’t
·      Be real careful using the elevator-pitch control now. You have the indicated-airspeed set with elevator-trim. All you can do with the elevator-pitch, before round-out and flare, is pull too much and stall. Don’t do that!

Extreme Landing Surface
If landing on an extremely bad surface, it is obvious a dismantling of the aircraft will follow:
·      Consider using maximum nose up trim and full flaps for a minimum forward velocity. Then you don’t need the elevator-pitch control. The aircraft will be at its minimum indicated airspeed. The descent rate will be somewhat higher, and any change will require pushing the control wheel to allow the landing gear to absorb its maximum of both vertical and horizontal energies.
·      There is no set way to make these rough field obstacle landings. You must have previously considered many different scenarios, but never decide there is only one way to do this. Resist the urge to pull back at this point – you must maintain best glide speed. When the time comes, you must do whatever it takes for that situation. It might not be any of those previously considered. Every landing approach is the same; the touchdown will be different in different circumstances and with different obstacles. 
·      Land the aircraft first; don’t let it stall.

Landing on a Relatively Smooth Surface
·       You can set the indicated airspeed as if for a normal approach to a short field or soft field landing. Set the elevator pitch trim to this speed in anticipation of making a normal touchdown.
·       Now, are you high or low? Most people tend to be high. You can utilise drag procedures like extension of the flaps or slips to increase descent.
·       Are you low? You could be somewhat low, although by keeping the landing area centred on the windshield it should not be too low. 
·    You are below best glide indicated airspeed? Push it down to get best glide indicated airspeed again. That will extend the glide. If you are making the approach with full flaps for drag, retracting some will extend the glide distance.
·     Do you feel you are too low for that? Push the elevator pitch control to gain best glide indicated airspeed, or even a little faster; level just above the surface, with minimum flaps for reduced drag. Now you will be in ground effect. That can extend your glide distance even more.
·     Manoeuvre to a minimum forward speed. You are just above the ground, approaching the selected touchdown area. You are landing … wait a minute! This technique is the same for all landings. Your approach to touchdown is always the same. It is just another Visual Directed-Course toward a landing area. This is what you always do when making any idle-power approach … isn’t that interesting?

·      The round-out and flare will likely be the last control inputs you can make, unless you are on a relatively smooth field. At this point, do whatever it takes. Keep flying through touchdown. You will recognise when you have become a passenger; until then, keep flying, and keep steering.
·      The round-out has levelled the aircraft, and it is slowing and sinking. Continue to flare the nose up as normal. Just don’t stall. Any stall should occur only at touchdown. You have manoeuvred to a minimum forward speed. That is the best you can do. Do not try to make it fly slower. It can’t. It will stall if you attempt it.
·      You are on the ground. It is rough. You’ve never experienced anything like this before; you just landed in rocks and gullies; the airplane just came to a rapid stop.
·       Upon touchdown, you realised you had no control. You became a passenger
·      A forced landing doesn’t have to be a crash; sometimes it’s just an off-airport arrival. It may seem strange, but if this ever happens, you will think that. Why? Because I just told you so! It is now in your mind, and if the time ever comes, you will recall it… believe me, I know!

Landing Roll
Did I say roll? Well, maybe so, maybe no. You are not finished yet. Most of the excitement takes place from touchdown to stop. You thought the approach was tough, but the landing is where it is at. What do you do during the landing roll? 
·      The main thing is, in what condition you need to be when the aircraft stops?
·     YOU NEED TO BE CONSCIOUS! If not conscious, you can do nothing for yourself or for others.
·      How do you do that? Well, you have to protect your head. Don’t let it bang around. You just instructed your passengers to do so. You have to do the same, if you can. Consideration of some techniques might help protect you during “touchdown to stop”. 

·       Staying Conscious: You just touched down on an unprepared field. Things are quickly going bad. How quick is quick? How long from touchdown to stop, if you land in the trees, rocks, and gullies? If you encounter irregular hard objects, the airplane is going to start coming apart. It may tip over on its back. No one can guess. No two incidents are ever the same.
·     Everything takes time: The one thing you can depend on is that the deceleration will be quite fast. In many cases, you could expect touchdown to stop within three to five seconds. That is not a lot of time, but maybe it is enough to do something. During those few seconds of deceleration, you must recognise you are a passenger and protect your head to assure consciousness when stopped. That panel is not your friend – protect your head.

How long is three to five seconds? Try counting: one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, one thousand four, one thousand five… That is a lot of time! What did you do during this time?
·      One thousand one… at touchdown you quickly realised you had no control of the aircraft. Thrown forward by the rapid deceleration, you leant against the shoulder harness. You wrapped your arms around your head to keep from banging it against the glare shield and window post.
·      One thousand two… you kept your eyes open, so you could react. Things were bouncing all over. When was this thing going to stop?
·      One thousand three… It seemed like it had been three minutes. It was like slow motion.
·      One thousand four… wow, it just flipped over on its back.
·      One thousand five… It finally stopped. You were conscious, but hanging upside down. You thought “I’d better get everyone out of here”.

After Stopping
Anyway, you have stopped, upside down, hanging by your seatbelt, with a broken arm. Do you know what that feels like? Take time to consider this kind of situation as part of your experience training:
·      Don’t worry. You are conscious, and if you get out quickly before the plane catches fire, you are home free. You will heal. Those bumps on your head will go away.
·    Ouch! That hurts, dropping from the seat belt onto your head. Your left arm isn’t doing anything. You have to get these people out!

What do you think just happened?
·     You were protecting your head and face while watching what was going on. Your brain works fast. It seemed like minutes rather than seconds for the thing to stop.
·      You were lucky enoughto be conscious. You will be able to remember in detail all these events for the rest of your life. That is what happens when you have your eyes open during fast-moving events. It could be the same in a rolling car accident, a fall from a ladder, or any other fast-moving situation. Time seems to slow down… if you are watching.
·      Your passengers are conscious too as they were not bumped so badly. They were protecting their faces, with arms wrapped around their heads, and leaning forward at impact, so… get them out of the airplane. The door is blocked? Kick the window out with your feet!
·    That part is all over now. Take care of anyone hurt badly, then go sit together by a tree somewhere and try listening for the birds singing. It’s nice and quiet now. This is a way of relaxing for control of shock. There is nothing pressing to do for now.
·      Rescue will come sometime in the next few minutes or hours. Don’t worry about food. It takes a few weeks to starve. Most people need to lose a pound or so anyway. And of course, you always carry water! ……….don’t you?”