Wednesday, January 19, 2011

1943 Howard DGA-15

This morning I stopped off at KBDR to check up on N631S. While there I visited my friends at Three Wing Flying Services and saw this beautiful machine in their hangar for some avionics work.

The aircraft is a 1943 Howard DGA-15 powered by a 450 horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-985 radial engine. The engine's crankcase is painted the same yellow as the aircraft and the push-rod tubes are chrome plated. Very nice. At the age of 67 the old girl is looking good.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Aviation Trivia of the Day

Attention is invited to an addition to the list of blogs maintained in the sidebar: Aviation Trivia of the Day. It is curated by J.P. Santiago who describes himself as, among other worthy things, an "Aviation Über Geek."

The blog is a compendium of delightful arcana and obscurities from the world of aviation. I expect it to be a substantial time-sink for me as I spelunk through its archives. If you, too, are an "aviation geek", I believe that you'll enjoy repeated visits.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

(More) (Further) Thoughts on the ELT

Back in June of last year I discussed here an order promulgated by the FCC that would, with effect 60 days after publication in the Federal Register:

"...prohibit further certification, manufacture, importation, sale or use of 121.5 MHz ELTs."

This order caused a kerfuffle in the GA community, since the withdrawal of "approval" from 121.5 MHz ELT's would effectively place any aircraft using them in violation of 14CFR91 Subpart C Section 91.207.

Now, half a year later, the FCC has thought better of the whole thing. The Commission has issued a stay of the portion of its earlier order relating to 121.5 MHz ELT's.

The Commission carefully points out that:

"The FCC coordinated the Third Report and Order with NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration) in November 2009. NTIA provided the draft version of the Third Report and Order to those agencies that participate in the IRAC (Interdepartment Radio Advisory Committee), including the FAA. The FAA raised no issues or objections to the portion pertaining to 121.5 MHz ELTs." (Emphasis added)

Of course, upon release of the Order, the FAA moved out smartly in pursuit of the horse that was now well out of the barn:

"On July 14, 2010, the (NTIA) forwarded to the Commission a request from the FAA that the Commission not implement this rule amendment. The FAA believes that the current supply of 406 MHz ELTs is not sufficient to replace all existing 121.5 MHz ELTs in the short term, so, given that most General Aviation aircraft are required to carry ELTs, a prohibition on 121.5 MHz ELTs would effectively ground most such aircraft. The FAA further asserts that 121.5 MHz ELTs can continue to provide a beneficial means of locating missing aircraft even without satellite monitoring of frequency 121.5 MHz, because the frequency is still monitored by the search and rescue community, including the Civil Air Patrol. It also is concerned about the cost of equipping aircraft with 406 MHz ELTs."

After a suitable period of bureaucratic soul-searching, the Commission has now stated that:

"Under these circumstances, we believe it would be in the public interest to further consider what actions the Commission should take in light of the termination of satellite monitoring of frequency 121.5 MHz, with the benefit of an augmented record. Toward that end, we will stay that portion of the Third Report and Order prohibiting the certification, manufacture, importation, sale or use of 121.5 MHz ELTs. No action will be taken regarding 121.5 MHz ELTs until further notice, following an additional opportunity for interested parties to comment."

Y'all can relax now. Let us hope with fervor that the now-ever-vigilant FAA can (via the IRAC and the NTIA) keep the FCC from doing anything rash with regard to ELT's.

After the Storm

Yesterday's storm deposited 16 inches of snow on KBDR and this morning the airport is digging out. Most of the movement areas have been cleared (more or less) and final cleanup is in progress.

I made my way over there this morning and shoveled the remaining snow away from in front of N631S to the width of the main gear track. There is a small amount of icy residue clinging to the top of the wing, but the forecast is for a sunny day, not terribly cold, so I'm hopeful that it will go away of its own accord.

Meanwhile, the forecast for tomorrow afternoon and evening is favorable for a flight down to the DC area. I hope to take advantage of that.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Visit to Potomac Approach

One Friday evening back in mid-December, N631S and I were in the home stretch of our weekly trip from Connecticut down to the DC area. I checked in with the second Potomac Approach sector and the controller gave me an altimeter setting and asked if I had time for a question.

I said, "Sure!" and he asked whether I'd ever visited the TRACON (that's short for Terminal RAdar CONtrol, a/k/a "Potomac Approach"). I told him I had not.

He said, "My name's Eric; one of the other controllers here, Sarah, has introduced some of us to your blog and we'd like to invite you out here for a tour."

Well, that is not the sort of thing about which I need to be asked more than once. I told Eric that I'd love to, and that I'd co-ordinate through Sarah. (Sarah, incidentally, maintains a neat blog called Adventures of an Adventurer, which is linked in the sidebar over on the right.)

Sarah and I exchanged e-mails to settle on time and date and yesterday morning a good friend and I drove from Alexandria out to the Potomac Consolidated TRACON (PCT) facility in Warrenton, VA. We cleared security and Sarah came out to collect us. On the way in she explained that PCT is comprised of four sectors similar in size and scope and she'd be showing us the Mount Vernon sector where she works. We passed through a lobby, then through a doorway and came out on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise!

Potomac Consolidated TRACON (PCT)
Well, it looked like it to us! (We were in a "no photos" area, so the image above is borrowed from Wikimedia.) Sarah introduced us to Eric and to a couple others of her colleagues who said they'd kept N631S and I on the straight-and-narrow a few times. It's really nice to meet and greet the great people who go with those voices on the frequencies. Then, she spent over an hour showing us the tools of her trade, pointing out some of the challenges of the complex and busy airspace (especially around KDCA) and responding to questions.

First, I asked to see where the voice of Mt. Vernon Flight Data - from whom I pick up my outbound clearance on Monday mornings - originates. She showed us that station and we discussed some aspects of clearances and departures in the DCA airspace. I learned that any time I can depart VFR it saves the controllers working DCA arrivals and departures a fair amount of trouble. I also know, now, why it's better on occasions when the weather demands an IFR departure to depart Runway 6 at KVKX rather than Runway 24. (It has to do with the initial heading providing a diverging flight path relative to DCA traffic, while Runway 24 would be converging...which is less good.)

We then moved to one of the radar monitors around the circumference of the room and Sarah brought up a live display of the Washington Class B airspace. I was very interested in seeing how the RNAV Rwy 6 approach at KVKX cuts directly across the localizer for the ILS Rwy 1 at KDCA. Therefore, if I need to fly the instrument approach, the controller working KDCA arrivals has to orchestrate a gap in the arrival stream timed to let me slip in - no mean feat!

We talked about the fact that they always want me at 6,000 feet crossing KBWI on Friday evenings to avoid the arrival and departure flows. I asked, if I really needed 4,000 to avoid icing conditions could that be worked out? Sarah assured me that they were sensitive to pilots' needs to avoid adverse weather and would always work out a safe, acceptable flight path. All I have to do is ask for what I need and tell them why I need it.

Speaking of weather, my one disappointment is that for this visit there wasn't any! It was a perfectly clear morning, so we couldn't see the radar's weather display capability. Sarah agreed with my impression that the Approach Control radar has pretty good weather depiction capability. To minimize clutter, she usually works with the Level 1 and Level 2 returns suppressed (that's the green stuff on the NEXRAD display), but will watch the Level 3 and up returns and will work with us to stay clear of the mean stuff.

I asked Sarah if there was one thing we pilots could do to make the job she and her colleagues do a bit easier. She said that when the frequency is busy, we should be judicious in our readbacks and make more use of "Wilco". Yes, we need to read back altitude restrictions and approach clearances and the like. But for many transmissions, "Wilco" is a perfectly fine acknowledgement.

And here (left) is a photo of Sarah and me, taken as we were on our way out. I want to express my great appreciation to Sarah and Eric, and Al, their Supervisor, and the rest of the folks at PCT who went out of their way to let us have a look into their fascinating world.