Saturday, August 29, 2009

Another Rainy Flight

A few days ago, in this post I was looking ahead to yesterday's trip from Connecticut to Maryland and wondering how much of an impact Tropical Storm Danny would have. It turns out, not all that much. Still, there was certainly enough weather to make the flight interesting.

The first interesting thing was my clearance. I've mentioned before that no matter what route I file ATC always gives me Sparta to Solberg to East Texas to Lancaster to Baltimore, thence home to VKX. This week turned out to be the exception. My clearance from KBDR was radar vectors to Deer Park (DPK), V16 over JFK, Coyle (CYN), and Cedar Lake (VCN) to Smyrna (ENO, better known as Dover AFB), then V268 to Baltimore (BAL), then direct to VKX.

Here's the FlightAware plot showing how it turned out. N631S and I were off the runway at 2051Z; arrival at VKX came 2 hrs + 18 min later, at 2309Z. The weather depicted on the image is as of 2300Z, just before landing:

If you click on that image to enlarge it you'll be able to see a couple of jogs in the flight path just before and just after JFK. Those were weather avoidance vectors courtesy of New York Approach which kept me out of the heavier parts of a couple of cells that were rattling around the area. I certainly appreciated that.

Once past JFK I started looking ahead to conditions along the V16 airway past DIXIE to Coyle. The picture looked like this at 2134Z:

That looked acceptable to me but for reinforcement I asked McGuire Approach what weather they were painting between my position and Coyle along V16. The answer came back, "Light rain." OK, press on!

By about 2200Z I was talking to Atlantic City Approach and headed toward Smyrna (ENO) where a turn to the west would keep me away from the more active weather.

I accessed the METAR's for DCA and ADW to see how the ceiling and vis at my destination were holding up:

KDCA 282201Z 13008KT 10SM -RA FEW020 BKN036 OVC110 25/21 A2998 RMK AO2 RAB00 P0000

KADW 282156Z AUTO 14012G21KT 6SM +RA BR FEW004 SCT013 OVC025 23/21 A2999 RMK AO2 FEW V SCT SLPNO $

DCA was looking good with 10 miles visibility in light rain and few clouds at 2000 feet. Andrews was not so good, reporting winds gusting over 20 knots and 6 miles visibility in heavy rain and mist, and clouds at 400 feet described as few varying to scattered. The NEXRAD showed a storm cell right over Andrews...that I hoped would move on in the hour remaining before I reached the area.

The weather at VKX tends to be more similar to Andrews than to DCA (save for there usually being less wind). If that cell was still a factor when I got in range, I'd probably have had to ask ATC to send me somewhere that I could hold for a while until it cleared out.

Atlantic City handed me off to Dover Approach and soon thereafter the Dover controller advised me that he had a change to my route. I told him, "Ready to copy," expecting the normal "After BAL direct Nottingham (OTT) then direct to destination." What I got was "After Smyrna (ENO), V268 to CHOPS then V308 to OTT then direct to VKX." That was not what I wanted. Here's why:

See all of that red stuff off to the south of my course? That's where CHOPS is. It was time to explain to ATC that this reroute was not in the Good Idea category. So I asked, "Dover Approach, what kind of weather are you showing over by CHOPS?"

The answer came back, "Dover Approach radar is not equipped to display weather." Thank you, United States Air Force. I guess their radar budget has been a bit lean. The controller then asked me, "Are you aware of severe weather near CHOPS?" Bless his heart. I assured him that my NEXRAD display indicated that CHOPS was not a desirable place to take N631S and he asked me to stand by. A couple of minutes later (I'm guessing he was on the land line with Potomac Approach) he came back to me with "Cessna 31 Sierra, after Smyrna, direct Baltimore and you can expect additional route changes." Fine!

Soon after clearing ENO, Dover handed me off to Potomac Approach and as soon as I'd progressed far enough toward BAL to allow a turn to the south that would avoid the heavier weather I got "direct Nottingham". This sent me through nothing worse than moderate precipitation.

As N631S and I got into the Washington Class B airspace it appeared that the cell that had been beating up Andrews AFB had moved off to the north and conditions around VKX were fairly benign:

There was still a fair amount of broken low level scud in the area so I asked for (and got) the RNAV 6 approach into VKX and landed without incident. All in all, a satisfying IFR flight.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Further Thoughts on the Mid-Air Over the Hudson

Back on August 8th, as you'll recall, a tour helicopter and a Piper Saratoga collided in mid-air in the Hudson River VFR Corridor. All nine persons aboard the two aircraft perished. I offered a few thoughts on the incident in this post.

This afternoon the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), whose investigation of the accident is on-going, sent a Safety Recommendation Letter to the Administrator of the FAA based on the Board's preliminary findings. Let's take a look at the recommendations (which I think are, for the most part, quite sensible). (Note: In what follows, "VFR Corridor" and "Class B exclusion area" are equivalent.)

In my earlier post on this incident I observed that:

"The Hudson River VFR Corridor is intended to provide an alerted see-and-avoid environment. The means of alerting is a combination of rules-of-the-road ("Keep Right!") and self-announced position reports on the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) of 123.05 MHz. The Piper Saratoga that was involved in the mid-air was, regrettably, not communicating on the CTAF. Its pilot was talking to the Teterboro (KTEB) tower and may have just been switching (as directed and acknowledged) to the Newark (KEWR) tower frequency. It is unknowable whether the collision might have been averted if the Piper pilot had been on the CTAF and able to hear the helicopter's position reports."

The NTSB "gets it". In today's letter, the Board makes the following observations:

"Effective communication on the CTAF is a fundamental component of the safety procedures established for VFR operations in the Hudson River class B exclusion area. ...ATC facilities must account for the importance of CTAF communications and ensure that aircraft operating near the Hudson River class B exclusion area are either cleared into class B airspace before reaching the Hudson River class B exclusion area or are directed to switch to the CTAF in time to engage in effective communications with other pilots operating in the Hudson River class B exclusion area. Further, if circumstances require that an aircraft in communication with ATC enter the Hudson River class B exclusion area, controllers should place a high priority on providing the pilot with timely traffic advisories and safety alerts..."

The Board goes on to issue Safety Recommendation A-09-82:

"Revise standard operating procedures for all air traffic control (ATC) facilities, including those at Teterboro airport, LaGuardia airport, and Newark Liberty International airport, adjoining the Hudson River class B exclusion area in the following ways:
  1. establish procedures for coordination among ATC facilities so that aircraft operating under visual flight rules and requesting a route that would require entry into class B airspace receive ATC clearance to enter the airspace as soon as traffic permits,
  2. require controllers to instruct pilots with whom they are communicating and whose flight will operate in the Hudson River class B exclusion area to switch from ATC communications to the common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF) and to self-announce before entering the area,
  3. add an advisory to the Automatic Terminal Information Service broadcast, reminding pilots of the need to use the CTAF while operating in the Hudson River class B exclusion area and to self-announce before entering the area, and
  4. in any situation where, despite the above procedures, controllers are in contact with an aircraft operating within or approaching the Hudson River class B exclusion area, ensure that the pilot is provided with traffic advisories and safety alerts at least until exiting the area."

The Board's Recommendation A-09-83 is a reaction to the performance of ATC personal at the time of the accident. I hope you'll read the parts of the Letter pertinent to this...I have nothing to add.

Moving on, in my earlier post I offered the following observations and a suggestion:

"Would the Piper pilot, who was a transient visiting from outside the New York City area, have been able to effectively process the position information from the reports of potentially conflicting aircraft even if he had been on CTAF? This is not in any way a disparagement of that pilot's skill, expertise or competence. But how many of us, hearing 'Helicopter 405 climbing mid-river to 1100 abeam the Holland Tunnel Towers' will know just where to look...at a time when seconds count?...

...[C]onsider as a model the on-line course that is required for pilots flying VFR within 60 miles of the Washington ADIZ. A similar course could be designed, and successful completion required (yes, I said required) for pilots wishing to transit the Hudson VFR Corridor. Such a course would cover altitudes, landmarks and proper position reporting."

Once again, the Board "gets it". They offer the following:

"It is critical that all pilots operating within the Hudson River class B exclusion area share a common understanding of applicable operating practices, airspace boundaries, traffic flows, position reporting points, and reporting procedures used within the area.
The NTSB is concerned that the voluntary measures ...currently in use to educate pilots on safe operations within the area may not be sufficient to achieve this objective. The NTSB notes that, in other situations where enhanced pilot awareness and compliance with special procedures has been necessary for safety...the FAA has implemented special flight rules areas (SFRA)... The FAA has also required that pilots who fly in some of these SFRAs complete training in those SFRAs’ operational procedures. The NTSB believes that similar action regarding the Hudson River class B exclusion area would improve safety of flight operations in the corridor...The NTSB notes that the SFRA training developed by the FAA for pilots operating near Washington, DC, may be a suitable model."

Safety Recommendation A-09-84 speaks to this need, calling on the FAA to:

"Amend 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 93 to establish an special flight rules area (SFRA) including the Hudson River class B exclusion area, the East River class B exclusion area, and the area surrounding Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty; define operational procedures for use within the SFRA; and require that pilots complete specific training on the SFRA requirements before flight within the area."

The Board also looks at the possible influence on this accident of the disparity in aircraft performance between the helicopter and the airplane, saying:

"[A]t the time of the accident, the accident airplane was in level flight at about 1,100 feet, at a groundspeed of approximately 150 knots. The accident helicopter was climbing almost all the way to the point of impact, and the helicopter's groundspeed was approximately 93 knots when the collision occurred. Preliminary review of the radar data and witness statements indicate that the accident helicopter was overtaken and struck from behind by the accident airplane. The nearly 60-knot speed difference between the aircraft, as well as climb and descent rate differences, differing flight profiles, and other performance differences, may have reduced the time available for the accident airplane pilot to visually acquire the accident helicopter ahead and avert the collision. The NTSB concludes that segregation of helicopters from airplanes in the Hudson River class B exclusion area may provide an additional margin of safety by limiting the number of encounters between aircraft with significant performance differences."

Based on this analysis, the Board goes on to offer Safety Recommendation A-09-85, calling on the FAA to:

"As part of the special flight rules area procedures requested in Safety Recommendation A-09-84, require vertical separation between helicopters and airplanes by requiring that helicopters operate at a lower altitude than airplanes do, thus minimizing the effect of performance differences between helicopters and airplanes on the ability of pilots to see and avoid other traffic."

This is the only one of the Board's recommendations with which I do not unreservedly agree. The theory is sound, but I'm concerned that if the vertical extent of the VFR Corridor remains from surface to 1,100 feet there may be too little space for a safe vertical division. Let's say, for example, that helicopters are to be restricted to the space from the surface to 800 feet and fixed wing aircraft are to be restricted to the airspace from 801 feet to 1,100 feet. I would be worried that the large number of helicopter operations, characterized by a large number of altitude excursions, would be compressed into an inadequate amount of space with the unintended consequence of an increased number of conflicts. I suspect that the fixed-wing traffic would be just fine.

If the FAA was willing to give up a little of the Class B Airspace, so that the helicopters could operate from the surface to 1,000 feet and the fixed-wing traffic had available the airspace from 1,001 to 1,500 feet, then I believe the Board's recommendation would be fully supportable.

The last recommendation in the Board's letter, A-09-86, is a "housekeeping" item asking that the FAA review all Class B airspace to identify areas where similar measures may be appropriate.

I think that the NTSB has done a remarkable job, remarkably quickly and I hope that the General Aviation community can be unified in supporting the recommendations that the Board issued today.

Hurricane Season

Well, here comes Danny. Just in time to make my Friday afternoon flight from Connecticut to Maryland interesting. As of this writing NOAA's Hurricane Center is forecasting this predicted track for the storm:

And that translates into a forecast map for 0000Z Saturday (i.e., about my ETA at VKX) from NCEP that looks like this:

Looking at the raw Model Output Statistics, the NAM forecast for 00Z at Andrews AFB (KADW) -- about four miles from VKX -- suggests that I should expect a ceiling of 500 to 900 feet and 2 to 3 miles visibility with wind out of the southeast at about 5 knots and a precipitation probability around 60%. That forecast, converted into a synthetic radar reflectivity graphic, looks like this:

The other commonly used model, the GFS, is, as usual, more optimistic. It calls for ceiling between 3000 and 6500 feet and visibility more than 6 miles. That model doesn't really have the ceiling and vis coming down until about 09Z.

So, if the GFS forecast verifies there's no problem. If the NAM forecast verifies then N631S and I will be once again enjoying the RNAV 6 approach at VKX (which has a minimum descent altitude of 680 feet MSL). If the low end of the NAM model shows up then it will probably be off to the alternate, which will be the ILS at Manassas (KHEF), and a rented car for the drive home.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I happened upon a neat web-based application called
Wordle. It's a word cloud generator. According to its description:
"Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends."
So of course I fed it the URL for this blog and here's what it gave back to me:

I thought that was pretty cool.

The Same C-150 Violates the DC ADIZ Again?

This is straight from the "You-Can't-Make-This-Stuff-Up" Department. Remember when, back in 2005, a Cessna 150K with a private pilot (acting as pilot-in-command) and a student pilot aboard, took off from Smoketown, PA and bored deep into the Washington ADIZ and Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ)? The misadventure, which was written up extensively in AOPA Pilot magazine, caused widespread consternation along with the partial evacuation of several minor Federal facilities (like the White House, the Capitol and the Supreme Court).

Now, the SAME AIRPLANE, N5826G, has done it again! The (different) pilot, reportedly a student on a first solo cross-country flight, got within 10 miles of KDCA before two USCG helicopters joined up with him and gently diverted him to Gaithersburg (KGAI).

26G is still owned by the same Pennsylvania flying club. It would seem likely that the events of May 2005 would be well known around their 'drome, and that the local CFI's would be rather cautious when sending students off on southbound cross-country flights. It will be interesting to hear about this student's pre-flight activities.

Since N631S and I operate from Potomac Airfield (VKX) -- deep in the heart of the FRZ -- the rules and procedures associated with the ADIZ and the FRZ are a regular part of my life. Ladies and gents, I can tell you that it just isn't that hard! I wish everyone that wants to play with airplanes down in my part of the world would find out what the rules are and get it right!

The aftermath of the last N5826G-driven event was the on-line course that anyone who intends to commit VFR flight within 60 miles of the Washington Monument is required to take and pass. (One hopes that our latest Intrepid Aviator complied with that small requirement before slipping the surly bonds yesterday.) Now, here we go again. There will be renewed calls for greater restrictions on "those little airplanes". There may be new and more onerous "security" hurdles in prospect. This is NOT HELPFUL.

OK, rant mode to "off". Let's be careful up there.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

National Portrait Gallery

This afternoon I had the pleasure of exploring the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. The gallery is co-located with the Smithsonian American Art Museum, both residing in the magnificent old Patent Office building at 8th & G Streets NW. The Greek Revival building itself is a work of great art -- built between 1836 and 1868, it was described by Walt Whitman as the "noblest of Washington buildings". It includes a magnificent covered courtyard (with a delightful coffee shop) and a diverse and fascinating collection of American portraits. These include the portrait of every American President.
I found only two aviation-related works in the portrait gallery. The first is a 1939 bronze bust of Charles Lindbergh by Joseph Davidson:

The second work is a Rauschenberg lithograph titled Brake, depicting the Apollo I astronauts, Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee (they appear at the lower right):
According to the caption accompanying the piece, the stone that the artist was using to print the work actually broke during printing -- which he found fortuitous, so he continued to use it, leading to the unique appearance of the work.
We had time just for a rapid tour through the Portrait Gallery -- we're saving the American Art Museum part for another day. If you find yourself in DC with three or four hours to spare, I do highly recommend this museum. Take the Red, Green or Yellow Metro to the Gallery Place/Chinatown station...it's right there. Worth it!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Well, THAT was interesting!

In Friday afternoon's post I commented that the weather was looking none too good for my usual trip to DC. That turned out to be a bit of an understatement. When I got to KBDR at around five o'clock the squall line was just to the west and the sky looked like this:

A number of aircraft headed for White Plains (KHPN) had taken refuge at Bridgeport and I joined their flight crews in monitoring the radar depiction as the line passed through. The rain began at 2133Z. We saw heavy rain and winds gusting to about 25 knots. Then the fast-moving line moved on and by about 2200Z it was pretty much over. N631S and I got off the ground at around 2225Z. There was still some weather over northern New Jersey but the normal routing out to SAX and down to SBJ, thence to the west, avoided most of it. A look at the Garmin GPSmap 396 weather picture at 2242Z looked like this:

Bear in mind that this line was moving rapidly east. I never did get involved with the patch of yellow "moderate precip" seen in the screen shot above.

Once I was clear of the interesting weather in the New York area I turned my attention to the situation down near my destination. That came as a a bit of a shock. If you look back at the regional radar picture from Friday afternoon you'll see a small line of activity down in West Virginia, well south of and separated from the major line I'd been worrying about. Well, that stuff came down out of the hills and exploded! It turned into a large area of convective weather moving slowly eastward with an ETA at Baltimore about the same as mine. Clearly it was time for a Plan B. So as soon as Allentown Approach handed me off to Harrisburg Approach, I requested that they coordinate with Potomac Approach to re-route N631S and I around the western side of the Washington Class B airspace. Withing a couple of minutes I was cleared, "after Lancaster, direct SCAPE, direct Hagerstown (HGR), direct Martinsburg (MRB), direct". By 0013Z, as darkness descended over the Pennsylvania landscape, the routing looked like this:

It was obvious that the part about "MRB, direct" wasn't going to work out but I accepted the clearance knowing that I could get a re-route down the road. Sure enough, as I approached Martinsburg I received a change to my routing: "After MRB, direct Casanova (CSN), direct Brooke (BRV), direct." More better.

This looked like I could go around the southern end of the weather and access VKX from the southwest via the RNAV 6 approach. Soon thereafter, the Potomac Approach controller began giving me vectors to shorten the route to VKX and then cleared me direct to the initial approach fix (the IAF) which is WOBUB. Let me jump ahead just a bit and show you the entire 3.3 hour flight courtesy of FlightAware:

If you click on that last picture to enlarge it, you'll see a piece of weather just to the southwest of VKX, with the flight track passing right through it. I'd been watching this cell for some time. It was moving slowly to the northeast and I knew I'd be close to it. I had talked to the Potomac Approach controller about it -- he said it showed up on his radar as moderate to heavy precipitation and it appeared that I was going to go right through it. I was at 1,700 feet MSL at the time, and looking out my windshield I could see the edge of the precipitation and could see that I would pass just clear to the northwest of it. To give myself a little more margin I asked the controller if I could bypass the IAF and go direct to the next waypoint on the approach. This allowed me to stay visual and keep my runway in sight. He cleared me for that and I landed at VKX without difficulty.
I believe that was another instance of the difference between a composite weather radar image (showing the most intense precipitation at any altitude) and the actual conditions at a particular altitude (e.g., the "base"). I've blogged about this in the past.
In any event, I was on the ground at 0145Z for 3 hrs +20 min en route -- much longer than the typical trip. It was good to be home.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Summer Weather (again!)

Well, this is not looking too good. As usual, the mission is to get out of Connecticut around 2100Z and fly home to the DC area. As of a few minutes before 1900Z the radar for the northeast looks like this:
The squall line is headed northeast at 15 to 20 knots and as best I can estimate, the leading edge will be getting to KBDR just about the time I want to leave. So the present plan is to watch and wait for the evil stuff to pass over. Then I ought to be able to depart to the west.
I've already filed an IFR flight plan for the usual preferred route (vectors to SAX, thence V249 SBJ V30 ETX V39 LRP V93 BAL thence direct VKX). I'll be lucky to get out by 2200Z, and it'll be about 2:30 en route tonight, so a good chance it'll be an after-dark arrival.
Summer is waning!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Thoughts on the Mid-Air Over the Hudson

A number of people have asked me for my reaction to the recent mid-air collision over the Hudson River in New York City. My inclination is to refrain from expressing any opinions while the NTSB conducts its investigation, but I do have a couple of comments that needn’t wait.
It is useful to read a 1991 report published by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) titled Limitations of the See and Avoid Principle. The report was prepared after a mid-air collision in Queensland involving a Cessna 172 and a Piper Tomahawk. It occurred in the traffic pattern in good visual meteorological conditions.
The report details many reasons – physiological, psychological and technological – for finding that unalerted see-and-avoid cannot be considered as a dependable anti-collision strategy. The recent collision in New York simply reinforces this point.
It was of great interest to me to read the ATSB’s findings on the difference between alerted and unalerted see-and-avoid. The report states:
“A traffic search in the absence of traffic information is less likely to be successful than a search where traffic information has been provided because knowing where to look greatly increases the chance of sighting the traffic. Field trials conducted by John Andrews found that in the absence of a traffic alert, the probability of a pilot sighting a threat aircraft is generally low until a short time before impact. Traffic alerts were found to increase search effectiveness by a factor of eight. (emphasis added) A traffic alert from ATS (note: Aussie for “ATC”) or from a radio listening watch is likely to be similarly effective.”
I can certainly attest to the increased likelihood of spotting traffic when it is “cued” by the Traffic Information System (TIS) feature ennabled by N631S’s Garmin 330 Mode-S transponder (and displayed on the GNS530W).

The picture shows TIS displayed on a GNS430.
The bearing and altitude information that this system provides is very helpful in spotting traffic and in my experience, is more useful than the controller’s verbal point-out (“Traffic at one o’clock, four miles, a Baron westbound at 5,000.”)
If we start with the premise that putting all flights under positive control at all times is both unachievable and undesirable (and I do think this is so), then we will need to look very hard at “see-and-avoid” to determine whether the strategy’s effectiveness can be meaningfully improved.
It seems hard to avoid the conclusion reached by the ATSB's Bureau of Air Safety Investigation (BASI):

"The see-and-avoid principle in the absence of traffic alerts is subject to serious limitations. It is likely that the historically small number of mid-air collisions has been in a large part due to low traffic density and chance as much as the successful operation of see-and-avoid.

Unalerted see-and-avoid has a limited place as a last resort means of traffic separation at low closing speeds but is not sufficiently reliable to warrant a greater role in the air traffic system."

The Hudson River VFR Corridor is intended to provide an alerted see-and-avoid environment. The means of alerting is a combination of rules-of-the-road ("Keep Right!") and self-announced position reports on the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) of 123.05 MHz. The Piper Saratoga that was involved in the mid-air was, regrettably, not communicating on the CTAF. Its pilot was talking to the Teterboro (KTEB) tower and may have just been switching (as directed and acknowledged) to the Newark (KEWR) tower frequency. It is unknowable whether the collision might have been averted if the Piper pilot had been on the CTAF and able to hear the helicopter's position reports.
Two things are disturbing here. Would the Piper pilot, who was a transient visiting from outside the New York City area, have been able to effectively process the position information from the reports of potentially conflicting aircraft even if he had been on CTAF? This is not in any way a disparagement of that pilot's skill, expertise or competence. But how many of us, hearing "Helicopter 405 climbing mid-river to 1100 abeam the Holland Tunnel Towers" will know just where to look...at a time when seconds count? And second, how useful are those sorts of position reports, in the last analysis, for raising the likelihood of timely target acquisition to an acceptable level?
I believe there are a couple of things that can be helpful. One is fairly easy and one is not so easy. First, consider as a model the on-line course that is required for pilots flying VFR within 60 miles of the Washington ADIZ. A similar course could be designed, and successful completion required (yes, I said required) for pilots wishing to transit the Hudson VFR Corridor. Such a course would cover altitudes, landmarks and proper position reporting.
Second (and harder, because now you'd be asking folks to spend money), a technological aid like the TIS system shown above, could be required for commercial operators and strongly urged for non-commercial users of the Hudson airspace.
These two steps (or others of similar effect and intent) would go far to making the congested Hudson VFR Corridor an effective alerted see-and-avoid environment.
Since I got my Private Pilot's License, I have flown the Hudson Corridor a total of three times. Each time it made me uncomfortable. Too many aircraft, not enough sky. My own workaround is to talk to New York Approach and request clearance into the Class B Airspace and the river tour at 1,500 feet. They are normally very accommodating (but might become less so, if everybody was asking). I hope that when the commotion resulting from the recent accident settles down, some well considered changes will be made that avoid over-reaction and result in a safer VFR environment over the river.

Monday, August 17, 2009

$100 Hamburger at KCGE

With a little extra time in DC this weekend, some aviation for enjoyment (as opposed to commuting) seemed in order. So, yesterday my son and I flew N631S over to the Cambridge-Dorchester Airport (KCGE) on Maryland's Eastern Shore. My first objective was use and get comfortable with the security procedures for VFR flight in and out of the DC Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ). (My home 'drome, VKX, is one of the famous "DC-3" airports.) So far I'd only done it IFR, and there are some small procedural differences. That all turned out to be straightforward - easier to do than to explain.
The second objective was lunch and that also worked out well. The restaurant at Cambridge, "Kay's at the Airport", is really quite good. We had excellent sandwiches, the iced tea is really brewed and the soft drinks are served in large Mason jars that they re-fill for free. And while you are having lunch you can watch the traffic on the runway and also at the hummingbird feeders just outside the windows. The little creatures are fascinating!
We also watched another little bird arrive. This one:
The Cessna 140 was designed by Dwane Wallace and company as the Second World War was drawing to a close. This particular example was built in 1946, the first production year (s/n 11032...which may imply that it is #32 out of over 5,000). It's powered by a Continental C85 85 hp engine. It's a very pretty airplane and wears its 63 years of age with grace.
In a sense, the Cessna 140 is N631S's great-grandfather. In about 1949 the 140 begat the 170, which was stretched to accommodate two more passengers and was given in consequence the more powerful Continental O-200 145 hp engine. In 1952 the 170 evolved into the 180, a "high-performance" four-seater powered by the Continental O-470A engine, with 225 hp. And finally in 1956 the 180 was given a tricycle landing gear and re-christened the Cessna 182. If you strip the skins off of all these airplanes the common design DNA is apparent in the structural layouts.
Since I expect to keep flying N631S for a good long time, it was nice to see "great-grandpa" looking so hale and fit at KCGE yesterday!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Remember Carburetors? (Part II)

The maintenance folks at Three Wing report that N631S has been run up, no leaks observed, ops normal. The cowl is back on the airplane and the airplane is back on the tie-down.
When I stopped there this morning the carburetor float had already been replaced and the carb was back on the engine with all of its sundry hoses and cables back in place. So:
The old float is a brass assembly with brazed buoyancy chambers. It shows some wear in the shaft clip area and in the tab that actuates the float valve. The float is date-stamped "8-84" making it 25 years old.
I didn't see the new float but I am told it is a bit smaller and made of some sort of blue polymeric material (perhaps a closed cell syntactic foam). Here's what the old brass float looks like:
The oil has been changed and N631S is good to go for the weekend trek to DC.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Remember Carburetors?

Back in the day, there were carburetors everywhere! I remember owning at least six of them -- in two automobiles, one outboard motor, a snowblower, a lawn mower and a chain saw. Today I only have one, a Marvel-Schebler MA-4-5 bolted up to the underside of N631S' big Continental O-470 engine. Usually, it just goes quietly about its business of blending avgas with air and delivering the mixture to the engine's intake manifold but today it called in sick.

I went to the airport early this morning intending just to clean the windshield. I'd picked up more than enough bugs over Long Island yesterday morning. When I got to the airplane I saw an extensive blue stain on the top and sides of the nose gear fairing. That could only be the result of fuel dripping from the carburetor. This is clearly not a Good Thing. So I walked over to Three Wing's maintenance hangar and told Skip my tale. He said they'd have a look at it.

The carburetor in question looks just like this one:

Expecting the worst, I did some research on rebuilt carburetors. I learned that one can acquire a rebuilt for about $850 plus a $500 "core charge" that's refunded when you send in the old one.

Fortunately, it is looking like a complete overhaul will not be required. An e-mail from Skip states:

Frank, the metal float in your carburetor is worn and was chafing which we believe was the cause of the problem. The current float replacement kit [from the manufacturer] is $267.00 and takes about an hour to install. The labor to remove and install an overhauled carburetor would be the same to remove and install your original carburetor. We can have the float kit here tomorrow.

The float kit installation is straightforward in comparison with a full overhaul of the carb.It involves separating the bowl from the carburetor body and replacing the float, its shaft, and several minor parts and gaskets. The exploded view below (showing a similar carb) will give you an idea of which bits are involved.

While they have the cowling off they are going to change the oil (it's been about 40 hours) and they've already done the wear inspection of the pilot's seat rails required each 100 hours. Yep, N631S has flown 97 hours since the Annual Inspection back in March.

The good news is that it looks like I'll have an operational airplane to take me home on Friday.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sixty-Four Years Ago Today

I recently enjoyed reading Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure by Matthew Algeo. It is subtitled "The True Story of a Great American Road Trip", and it tells the tale of how, shortly after Harry left the Presidency, he and Bess climbed into their new 1953 Chrysler New Yorker and drove from Independence, MO to Washington and New York and back home again. Just the two of them. That was a different time and a different America.
The book is good (not great...I give it "four out of five stars") but reading it reminded me of how highly I esteem Harry Truman.
You see, on this date sixty-four years ago, 6th August 1945, my late father-in-law was on the island of Okinawa. He was a Carpenter's Mate 2c serving with a U.S. Navy Construction Battalion (a "SeaBee") and the word was that they were going to be in the early waves of the invasion of the Japanese homeland that they all knew was in store.
Of course, on that day in 1945 the course of history changed forever when Paul Tibbets and his crew dropped the first operational nuclear weapon from the B-29 Enola Gay onto the city of Hiroshima.
I'm of the school of thought that holds that countless American and Japanese lives were saved by the avoidance of the final invasion of Japan. I've always thought Harry did exactly the right thing (and so did he -- he always said he never lost a moment of sleep over the decision to proceed with the nuclear bombing). And I believe it is not unlikely that, had history turned the other way, my father-in-law could certainly have been a casualty of a very bloody invasion and of course then my lovely wife would never have been born. So I'm personally appreciative of Harry Truman's steadfastness.
It is, of course, a day to remember and regret the lives that ended in that awful explosion sixty-four years ago. But it's also time to remember how much worse things could have been.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Treasure Trove of Aeronautica

If you are an aviation history junkie as I am, you should be certain that you can afford to spend some quality browsing time before visiting the historical archive of Flight International Magazine. You'll find every issue of this venerable British publication (formerly Flight Magazine) from 1909 to 2005, fully digitized and archived as searchable pdf files.
Just to select an example at random, you can read about London's Welcome to Lindbergh as described in the issue from June 2, 1927. The correspondent describes Lindbergh's arrival at Croyden in charming detail, including such tidbits as:
'It may be of interest to add here that in spite of the fact that from the moment "The Spirit of St. Louis" landed it was for a considerable period "under compression" (Lindbergh, we presume, being more or less in a state of "tension") only slight damage was done to the fabric of the tail plane!'
The archive also offers marvelous collections of historical photographs, neatly categorized. Here is an example showing a Fairey Barracuda II that came to grief aboard HMS Ravager in 1944:
And...there is a collection of cutaway drawings of aircraft large and small, that the magazine has published over the years. Here's one of the Cessna 172:
There is much, MUCH more! Enjoy!