Thursday, May 28, 2009

Seat Stop Upgrade Courtesy of Cessna

Most folks are aware of a long-standing problem with Cessna singles where the seat track latches occasionally disengage as the airplane rotates for takeoff, causing the pilot to slide somewhere into the vicinity of the back seat. It doesn't take much imagination to understand that this can be a Very Bad Thing.

Cessna has engineered an auxiliary seat stop mechanism to ameliorate this problem, and N631S is in the shop having the solution installed on the pilot's side, with Cessna picking up the bill. (If I wanted the same mod on the co-pilot's side that would be on me.) Here's a photo:

You're looking at the seat upside down on the bench, forward to the top of the picture. A webbed belt on a reel is attached to the main aft cross-piece with a pawl-and-ratchet mechanism visible at the right. The end of the belt has a fitting that will be bolted to the floor of the cabin. The flexible cable gets connected to the bale that operates the original latch mechanism (which remains in place) so that when you lift the bale you release both the main and the auxiliary latches.

It seems to be well engineered and there have been, so far, few reports of difficulties in the field. Looks like a good solution to a real problem.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

In Praise of Onboard Weather

Here are a couple of photos from this morning's flight showing the XM Weather display (and specifically the NEXRAD Radar screen) on N631S' Garmin GPSMap 396. The first image shows us over Delaware Bay east of the Smyrna VOR (ENO) near Dover AFB (KDOV) headed toward the LEEAH intersection.

You'll note that the course shown is, for the time being,  nicely free of all those green and yellow precipitation returns.

The next image is a little earlier (note...not yet past ENO) and at a wider scale. I had just accepted a reroute. My clearance would have had me turning left at ENO and going up to Cedar Lake (VCN). The Dover Approach controller said he'd need me to descend from 7,000 feet to 5,000 feet unless I wanted to proceed to LEEAH and thence to Coyle (CYN). A quick glance at the NEXRAD display made this an easy question to answer -- take me to LEEAH! 

The ride was smooth and the precipitation was light as I proceeded through the "alley" where the returns were absent then headed up to the Atlantic City (ACY) area through the region of green (= light) echoes.

Having this kind of information on the airplane provides tremendous confidence and terrific decision support. You know what you are getting into. With the caveat that you must understand NEXRAD's limitations, this is a remarkable enhancement to IFR safety.

About the limitations: At the lower left of each screen image is a data label indicating the age of the information (i.e., Wx -00:06 indicates data six minutes old). In addition, the actual returns might be about five minutes old before the NEXRAD system processes them. So I am looking at precipitation areas that may be, in this case, 11 minutes out-of-date. You must avoid putting yourself into any situation where a rapidly moving cell traps you because you cut in too close to its downcourse side.

This is a strategic tool and a weather avoidance tool -- not a tactical tool or a weather penetration tool. (The latter is the onboard weather radar that the Big Iron carries.) But used for what it is, the NEXRAD/XM Weather/Garmin 396 system is incredibly valuable.

Every Flight is Interesting

Since N631S and I began this routine of a weekly commute, my logbook is mostly "BDR - VKX" followed by "VKX - BDR" and repeat. But while it's repetitive it hasn't been boring. Memorial Day weekend, just past, offers a good case in point.

The flight south on Friday evening was notable for the amount of traffic active in the area of the New York Class B airspace. Just after passing Carmel (CMK) on the way to Sparta (SAX) at 6,000 MSL, I heard from Approach, "Cessna 31 Sierra, traffic...no, actually traffic alert 10 o'clock and a mile northbound at 5,800 type unknown; if you don't have the traffic I suggest an immediate left turn heading 180."

That will get your attention.

I started the left turn first, then looked for the traffic while responding, "31 Sierra is in the turn." Before I'd turned much more than 20 degrees I saw it...a low wing single, perhaps a Bonanza crossing left to right. I suspect the controller took the classic measure of turning me toward where the traffic was so that I'd miss the place where it was going to be. I called traffic in sight, no factor, and got, "Roger, resume course direct Sparta."

About five minutes later the same controller issued this call: "Cessna 31 Sierra, turn left to a 190 heading and climb and maintain 8,000; expedite through 7,000." (If you click on the link above to the FlightAware track, you can see this jog over lower New York.) I hustled on up to 8,000 (to the extent that a normally aspirated 182 will hustle on a warm evening) and shortly after leveling I got a vector back to the northwest, then, "Cessna 31 Sierra, resume direct Sparta, contact Approach on 135.8, thanks for the climb."

Once clear of New York the traffic density lessened and the rest of the flight was comparitively quiet.

On Sunday I finally got to make the trip up to Caldwell (KCDW) and back that I've been trying to fit in for a number of weeks. The trip up was routine except for the last ten miles. Right around Solberg (SBJ) the undercast filled in. KCDW was reporting 6 miles visibility and a 1,000 foot ceiling. The LOC 22 approach was on offer and the nice controller provided vectors to final. We broke out just after the final approach fix and landed. So with what really was less than 0.1 hours in IMC I got to log an approach!

I had filed for the return flight with a proposed departure time of 1430 local but we finished up our business early so I called FSS and moved the proposed time up to 1400. We actually lifted off from KCDW's Runway 22 at 1357 local time and headed west toward Allentown. The NEXRAD display on the Garmin GPSMap 396 showed some storm cells out to the west and north but we turned south toward Lancaster (LRP) and Baltimore (BAL) before they could become a factor. Arriving in the DC area there were lots of showers on radar but we got lucky in that KVKX was the hole in the doughnut. (Look at the FlightAware track linked above and you'll see what I mean.) No drama for the landing.

Today,the first half of the flight from Potomac Field to Bridgeport's Sikorsky Airport was quite entertaining. On takeoff the ceiling was about 800 feet, visibility 2-1/2 miles, with moderate rain. Solid IMC at 7,000 feet until central New Jersey. Then things opened up and the rest of the flight was unremarkable.

So, although I am tracking over the same real estate a lot these days, events and conditions have been quite variable. It makes for good aviation.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Weekend Commute

Friday's flight down from KBDR to KVKX and this morning's flight back from KVKX to KBDR were uneventful. 2.5 hours down, 2.3 hours back. No significant weather and no squawks. Just the way I like it!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Changes at KBDR

In the early 1970's the city of Bridgeport built a new passenger terminal at Sikorsky Memorial Airport. Over the years carriers like Delta, Continental, USAir, Pilgrim and Air Wisconsin provided scheduled service using Jetstream J-31's, Embraer's, SAAB 340's, BAe 146's and others. Destinations ranged from Groton/New London to Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and even Chicago.

For a time in the late 1980's Continental Express flew a useful service to Newark (KEWR) that allowed the business traveler to conveniently access the full panoply of routes and services offered from that hub.

But it didn't last. A number of years ago commercial scheduled air service to and from Bridgeport ended -- forever. The terminal became a place of ghosts and echoes. But change is afoot. Here is a picture of that terminal today:

The (not-really-very) old terminal is being razed to make way for a new executive terminal and hangar complex under the aegis of Volo Aviation. From the linked article:

"The flagship of the Volo chain will be the Bridgeport headquarters FBO at Sikorsky Memorial Airport, where the company is constructing a 125,000-sq-ft facility with 95,000 sq ft of hangar space and two 15,000-sq-ft office buildings. Construction will take place in two phases, starting with one 35,000-sq-ft hangar and one 15,000-sq-ft office/FBO building. Completion of the second phase is expected in the second quarter of 2010."

In an era when small market airports are suffering it's heartening to see positive developments like this being undertaken.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Thoughts on Flight 3407

With the revelations regarding the Colgan Flight 3407 accident that have emerged in the last few days, it appears we are in for a period of extensive and vocal recrimination in press and political fora. Participants will attempt to "spin" the emerging fact-picture to limit their respective liabilities and the usual grandstanders will cry for attention from media and the public.

It is looking ever more likely that Capt. Renslow and First Officer Shaw took actions that caused the airplane stop flying. The pressing question is, "Why?" Why did two experienced professional aviators take actions that were so completely wrong? NTSB appears to be looking at such factors as the quality of their training, fatigue and the exigencies of scheduling, and even whether professional performance can be maintained while surviving on the pitifully small compensation paid to aircrew of low seniority.

I look forward to an assessment of the possible impact on this accident of the well-known and widely viewed NASA Tailplane Stall video. This video and the conclusions of the study for which it was produced have achieved considerable notoriety in the aviation world and, I suspect, especially keen interest from those who drive twin-turboprop transports in wintry weather. The actions of pilots Beck and Renslow in the critical moments -- respectively raising the flaps and pulling the yoke hard enough to override the stick-pusher mechanism -- are exactly the prescribed measures for reacting to a tailplane stall and exactly the wrong measures for reacting to an incipient stall of the main wing. I fear that these pilots were sensitized to the dangers of a tailplane stall without having been formally and rigorously trained in the recognition (including both detection and discrimination) and mitigation of a tailplane stall. If so, it's a tragedy that the dissemination of valid and useful safety information may have been mishandled at the operational level in a way that produced fatal misunderstanding.

As always, we await the final report...

Monday, May 11, 2009

There went the Weekend!

Just a quick recap on the flights down to the DC area back on Friday, and back up to Connecticut this morning.

Although the forecast for KDCA on Friday afternoon suggested that some thundershowers might be in the area, none materialized. There was some convective activity in eastern PA but my route avoided it with no need for deviations. So in the end, the southbound flight proved uneventful.

Looking at the forecasts of last evening for weather and freezing levels in the DC/MD area it would be easy to expect no significant weather for an 0800 local time departure with temperatures above zero degrees C up to 9,000 feet of so. Not the way it turned out.

At departure there was fairly enthusiastic rain, but with good VFR conditions (with the KDCA METAR giving 9SM visibility and 6,500 broken ceiling). So I departed VFR with a turn to the south. Potomac Approach picked me up right away and cleared me up to 7,000 feet (my filed altitude) and turned me to the east.

At about 6,000 feet the rain turned to snow and at 7,000 feet the OAT was 1 degree. Maybe so, but I was picking up rime on the struts, so I asked ATC for 5,000 which they approved quickly.

The interesting weather lasted until Dover, DE and the remainder of the northbound flight was routine.

At KVKX this morning.

This is NX228JK. A North American T-28B Trojan. This is a Big Airplane! 1950's vintage USAF trainer. Some were used in a ground attack role in Southeast Asia.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Here Comes the Weekend!

Planning a 2100Z departure from KBDR this afternoon. From the looks of the KDCA forecast, I suspect I may find some showers to work around as I near home plate.

KDCA 081124Z 0812/0912 23005KT P6SM FEW040 SCT200 
     TEMPO 0812/0813 5SM BR 
     FM081800 21010KT P6SM VCSH BKN045CB 
     FM090000 18007KT P6SM VCSH BKN035CB OVC050 
     FM091000 24008KT 4SM -SHRA BKN020CB OVC030

Most of the TAF's along the expected route are suggesting mid-level CB's, so I may need to request some deviations from ATC around the build-ups.

I have been needing for some weeks to deal with some matters in northern New Jersey and had been hoping to fly up to Caldwell (KCDW) tomorrow morning and return tomorrow afternoon. But the forecast for tomorrow morning looks "iffy".

Monday should be great!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Air Traffic Delays!

I planned an 0900 local time departure from KVKX this morning. N631S and I were at the hold-short line for Runway 6, in the rain, at 0905 and I called for IFR release. Not forthcoming. KDCA is landing south and the final is stretched out 28 miles. Call back in 15 minutes, give us your cell phone number we'll call if we can get you out sooner. Sure. 

So I sat there with the big Continental leaned and idling and called again about 0920. Gee, we had a hole for you but a couple guys went around and the hole went away. We'll call you. I taxied around to the runup pad and shut down.

0930 the phone rings. Potomac Approach has my release. Can I be off in 5 minutes? Sure! After that, the flight was routine. 2.2 hours (of which 0.3 was pre-takeoff) with 1.4 actual instrument time. It ended with the ILS 6 approach at BDR. If you're interested, the FlightAware track is HERE.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


Yesterday afternoon's flight was entertaining, if a bit long. N631S and I were off of Runway 24 at KBDR at 1717 local time in moderate rain. We went hard IMC at about 1,500 feet and stayed that way for about 1.5 hours. The rain pretty much stopped above 3,000 feet but the clouds were solid until nearing Allentown when it opened up into this:

From there on the flight was in visual conditions. But there were isolated cells of weather to be seen on the Garmin GPS396's XM Weather display. I kept an eye on those with the intention of requesting a course deviation from ATC if needed to avoid the stronger returns -- but in the event, my course never went through any weather during the second half of the trip.

We landed at KVKX at 2000 local time.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Weather...or not?

The forecast for this afternoon at Bridgeport is suggesting gusty moderate winds from the southwest at 2130Z (when I plan to depart) with good visibility in mist and showers. I'm told to expect a 3000 foot broken ceiling, overcast above at 5000 with cumulonimbus clouds. Here's the TAF:

KBDR 011538Z 0116/0212 23010KT 5SM BR OVC006 WS020/24045KT 
     TEMPO 0117/0120 23014G23KT 3SM -RA BR BKN009 OVC020 
     FM012000 24016G22KT 3SM SHRA BR BKN030 OVC050CB 
     FM012300 24012G20KT P6SM SCT030 BKN150 
     FM020100 24009KT 6SM BR SCT012 BKN070 
     FM020400 23008KT 4SM BR BKN012 BKN070 
     FM020900 32006KT 6SM -RA OVC040

The piece of weather that is likely to be over KBDR later is, at this writing, over central Pennsylvania. This is what the State College, PA radar image looks like at 1640Z:

That big yellow blob is headed this way. But there seem to be no lightning strikes associated with it, and the surface conditions are farily mild. As long as it doesn't intensify it will probably be OK to depart once the central part of it has passed...my usual routing will head me to the west over Sparta and out toward Allentown, so I should be going into better conditions.

This all ought to get me into the DC area around 00Z. Here's what the KDCA forecast looks like:

KDCA 011139Z 0112/0212 20012G17KT 6SM BR HZ VCSH OVC013 
     FM011600 21012G17KT 6SM HZ VCSH SCT011 BKN024 OVC035 
     FM011800 21014G23KT 6SM -RA SCT015 BKN040CB 
     FM020000 23008KT 6SM BR FEW020 BKN050 OVC080 
     FM020400 VRB04KT P6SM SCT040 SCT090 
     FM021000 31006KT 5SM -RA BR BKN015 OVC025

OK, that's rain ending about the ETA, going to some mist, few clouds at 2000, good conditions to fly the RNAV 6 approach and may or may not need to circle to land 24.

See you on the other side.