Sunday, February 28, 2010

Wow, That Was Really Hard!

So, yesterday I meandered over to KVKX after lunch with the intention of removing whatever residual snow might be obstructing N631S's egress from the hangar...this all preparatory to flying out on Monday morning -- for which, the weather is looking OK (see the previous post).

The photo at left, shamelessly lifted from Paul Freeman's wonderful site, Abandoned & Little Known Airfields, shows KVKX as it was in 1963, when it was known as Rose Valley Airport. The two rows of T-hangars are already extant as of that date. N631S lives in a structure nearly 50 years old. (The photo is normally oriented, north at the top. Look at the eastern row of hangars...N631S is in the western-most hangar of that row, on the side facing away from the runway.)

Anyhow...I accosted the residual snow with my trusty shovel, unlocked the sliding hangar doors, and attempted to open the hangar. No joy! The snow load on the old roof deflected the structure in a way that caused the full weight of the doors to rest on the concrete apron, rather than being supported by the tracks and rollers.

The snow had to be removed in any event, so I continued the shoveling action and cleared the front of the hangar to full main gear width. Then, back to the doors...

It's so good to have friends. Brad, who keeps a Cubcrafters Cub a couple of hangars down the row, wandered by and with his (muscular) help we got one side of the hangar open. The other side? Not so much. But then Phil McLanahan, A&P Mechanic par excellance, came along with his Very Large Pickup Truck. That tool (supplemented by a sturdy lifting strap) overcame the resistance of the other door. N631S was FREE!!

Having gotten the hangar open with great effort, I was surely not about to close it. I stowed a couple of items of significant value in Brad's hangar, put a couple more in the trunk of my car, and left the hangar doors open. The airplane is double-locked and secure. And, I plugged in the Tanis pre-heat system so that on Monday morning N631S's engine will be all toasty-warm and ready, finally, to fly.

That was three hours of Really Hard work -- and I'm getting too old for this stuff! Let's really hope that the winter of 2009-2010 turns out to have been an anomaly.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

There's Hope for Monday!

Actually, from this distance Monday is looking pretty good. The Really Big Low that dropped a lot of snow in some parts of the northeast yesterday (and in other parts, hardly any at all) is rapidly heading off to the Canadian Maritimes, with high pressure filling in behind.

Still, that's a whole bunch of isobars crowded in between the center of low pressure and my anticipated route of flight from Maryland to Connecticut. It will be breezy; it may be bumpy.

A look at the Model Output Stats (MOS) gives reason for optimism. For Andrews AFB on Monday at 12Z, the NAM model is predicting high scattered clouds, no precipitation and winds 310 at 12 knots (that's from today's 12Z model run). The same run predicts the weather three hours later at Bridgeport to be high broken, no precip and wind from 330 at 19 knots. That all works for me.

Cross-checking the GFS model (same run time), the only difference for Andrews at 12Z is one fewer knot of wind speed. KBDR at 15Z is forecast to be clear, but otherwise the same. I like it when the models agree.

The forecast winds aloft (from Aviation Digital Data Service (Adds)) could be a whole lot worse. It looks like a good tailwind for the first part of the trip, then about 30 knots of left-to-right crosswind up over New Jersey and KJFK. As of now, FltPlan.com is projecting a time en route of 1 hour + 54 minutes.

Now all I have to do is dig out an airplane. That's on the to-do list for this afternoon.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Time Flies!

Amazingly enough (to me), today marks the first anniversary of this blog. A whole year! This post was the start of it all, last February 25th.

Now, 141 posts later, it's still fun. I've gotten to interact with a bunch of really knowledgeable people and my circle of online friends has grown. I plan to keep doing this, chronicling the adventures of N631S and hoping you don't find my other observations too tedious.

Thanks to all the "regulars" (you know who you are). I appreciate your ongoing interest and I'll try to deserve the attention.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Winter of Our Discontent

I suppose you've about concluded that I've given up on flying. 'Tisn't so, I hasten to assure you. It's just that there's been a little snow recently in the DC area (or, to lift a phrase from Jim Fallows, "Siberia-on-the-Potomac").

After a nice break for the year-end holidays, N631S and I flew from KVKX up to KBDR on a severe-clear January 4th. The following two weekends brought AmTrak weather. I got in a local flight with a friend on January 21st and then on the 29th, again in VMC, flew uneventfully back to DC and put N631S in the hangar. Where it has remained, safely out of the weather, ever since.

According to NWS climatological records, from February 5th to the 10th, KDCA recorded 28.6 inches of snow. As of today (the 23rd) the season total stands at 56 inches. "Normal" at KDCA is 13 inches to this point. (KIAD has had 73.2 inches and KBWI has had 80 inches.)

This has created a bit of a problem at the airport; I've yet to be able to get the airplane out of the hangar. It's fair to say that I'm a bit frustrated.

However, things are looking up. The last week or so has brought slightly warmer temperatures, higher sun angles, and significant melting. I am very optimistic about getting N631S sprung loose this coming weekend. And, the weather map for Monday doesn't look too bad:

So the plan is to head over to KVKX on Saturday armed with shovels and SnowMelt, to get the hangar doors cleared and open - and to assess the depth of mud in the turf area over which I'll need to taxi.

Then, we shall hope for a nice, flyable morning next Monday.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hudson River VFR Charting Upgrades

The FAA has released two new VFR chart insets that provide greater detail for the recently announced VFR routes along the Hudson River in the New York Class B Airspace. They can be downloaded in PDF format by going to this link and scrolling to the section labeled "New York Terminal Area and New York Helicopter Route Charts" (or you can just click on the images below - that should take you to the full sized PDF's).

It's my understanding that these "new and improved" insets will be printed on the back of the next edition of the New York Terminal Area Chart. They are substantial improvements over the charting that was provided (presumably after hurried preparation) with the last edition.

The first of these shows the VFR corridor within the Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA), the "I-don't-wanna-talk-to-nobody" route. It renders the route as shown on the reverse of the current edition, with increased detail.

I found it interesting to note that when the SFRA guidance was first published, the mandatory reporting point between the Intrepid and the Statue of Liberty was the Goldman Sachs Tower. Now, that point has morphed into "Clock" - the "Colgate Clock" on the New Jersey shore adjacent to the Goldman Sachs building. (The relatively small clock is at lower left in the adjoining photo. The Really Big building is the Goldman Sachs Tower.) Might it be that the recent notoriety of Goldman Sachs, the investment bank, has made the FAA nervous about incorporating Goldman Sachs, the landmark, into its procedure?

It's nice to see that there is now graphical guidance for the Skyline Route, for transiting the Class B directly above the SFRA under the positive control of the KLGA and KEWR towers. It's a nice, clean routing and I look forward to using it.

Of course, these insets are part of the continuing response to last summer's mid-air collision between a transient Piper Saratoga and a local sightseeing helicopter. I've commented on that tragic mishap before, here, and here, and here, and here. They say the the Federal Air Regulations are written in blood. These changes to the charting are part of the re-writing due to the reverberations from that tragedy...and I suspect that there's more to come.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

An Appreciation of K.O. Eckland

Sometimes, someone you don't really know affects your life and you don't appreciate them until they're gone. That's the case for me with K.O. Eckland, who "went West" last May. So now, this belated heartfelt appreciation for an amazing man.

Regulars at this blog may have noticed the link to Aerofiles in the "interesting links" list in the sidebar. If you've clicked thereon and spent any time at all poking about, you know that it's an amazing resource - a compendium of incredibly detailed information about nearly every aircraft ever built in the United States. It's where I've gone for years to turf up the goods on any obscure flying machine of interest. Aerofiles is the product of the remarkable knowledge and passion for aviation of K.O. Eckland.

I found the following biographical information here (scroll down):

K.O. Eckland, 83, passed away Monday, May 4, 2009, at his home in Paradise, Calif. K.O. was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and grew up in Berkeley, Calif. While in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, he met his future wife, Lucille Callison, a USO girl, in Spokane, Wash. They lived in Shell Beach for a few years where K.O. was a freelance commercial artist, then they moved to Los Angeles where he became a commercial artist for the Los Angeles Times. In 1976, K.O. returned to Pismo Beach, where he contributed articles to the Telegram-Tribune. He became active in the local traditional jazz community...

K.O. Eckland left behind a large body of work - a favorite part of which was the Aerofiles.com website, as his greatest love was flying airplanes. He illustrated Richard Bach's book "A Gift of Wings," and contributed articles to aviation magazines over the years. K.O. was proud to be a member of the San Luis Obispo Sheriff's Aero Squadron and had been active with the Paso Robles Estrella Warbird Museum.

K.O.'s second greatest love was traditional jazz. After hearing Turk Murphy at Earthquake McGoon's in San Francisco and Lu Watters' Yerba Buena Jazz Band in Berkeley after the War, he wanted to play jazz piano. He played piano in several bands over the years, notably the Firehouse Five Plus 2, the Desolation Jazz Ensemble & Mess Kit Repair Battalion and the Pismo Experimental Jazz Band. K.O. produced two compendiums of jazz bands and musicians, Jazz West and Jazz West 2. He enjoyed writing tunes which have been recorded by contemporary traditional jazz bands.

K.O. had moved to Paradise in 2004 to be close to family members, where he also shared the remainder of his life with Waldo, the cat. K.O. leaves his children Daniel and his wife Faye Eckland, who have adopted Waldo, Nancy Berkley and Taina Eckland; ex-wife, Lucille Eckland; and two grandsons Ryan and Beau Berkley. A memorial will take place at the Pismo Beach "Jubilee by the Sea" October 2009.

The dust jacket of my local library's somewhat battered copy of "A Gift of Wings" ((c)1974) tells us that: "K.O. ECKLAND, who illustrated this book, is a Graphic Design Consultant in Van Nuys, California, with an inborn love for drawing airplanes. He flies his own J-3 Cub." And the book is profusely adorned with beautifully shaded pencil renderings of airplanes...and of gulls, and of clouds, and of aviators going about their business of slipping the surly bonds...

K.O. Eckland was a noteworthy jazz musician. He was a talented illustrator. He was an author. But it seems that at his core, he was an aviator. One of his close friends from the world of jazz, Will Connelly, added this:

A dimension of KO Eckland - he spelled it "Eckl&" - with which jazz people may not be aware is his involvement in aviation. A bombardier in WWII, KO was later to own a 1920's vintage biplane and flew in flowing silk scarf and goggled helmet for Talmantz Aviation. That company is famed for its aerial work, including classic combat dogfights with Spads, Fokkers and other First WW aircraft in Hollywood epics.

But KO's legacy in aviation rivals his contributions in the jazz milieu. He founded, and was curator of, the internationally acclaimed Aerofiles Museum, an online compilation of descriptions, technical and performance specifications and photographs of thousands of civil and military aircraft since the beginnings of the age of flight. The archives include data on engines, notable events and people.

Ron Dupas, webmaster of 1000 Airplane Photos offers this recollection of K.O.'s input as he was setting up his site:

He gave an additional piece of advice which ran contrary to the prevailing attitudes at the time: he told me that our function was to preserve aviation history and that we should not act as though we were in competition with other aviation sites; that airplane photos and information were for sharing. K.O. had an amazing vision about how the internet should be used, and the result was a web site recognized and valued by aviation enthusiasts throughout the world, Aerofiles.com.

If you delve into aerofiles.com you'll find many examples of K.O. Eckland's wry wit. Indeed , tongue firmly in cheek, he shared (here (be sure to read the URL) his "vision" about the Internet, saying:

This is the projected site for my Home Page.
However, before I go through a lot of needless work,
I'm waiting to see it this Internet thing ever catches on.

K.O. normally updated the aerofiles.com site at the beginning of each year, noting how many visitors had been hosted in the preceding twelve-month. (It was the absence of this update that twigged me to the notion that something was amiss and got me google-ing after the news - which proved unhappy.) So now, aerofiles endures, bereft of its soul. Since the content is largely historical, it can continue to offer inestimable value as a static resource (as long as somebody pays for the bandwidth). But I hope that someone who shares K.O.'s passion will pick up the torch and carry his work forward.

Dave English's Great Aviation Quotes site has one entry attributed to K.O. Eckland. I like it a lot:

Within all of us is a varying amount of space lint and star dust, the residue from our creation. Most are too busy to notice it, and it is stronger in some than others. It is strongest in those of us who fly and is responsible for an unconscious, subtle desire to slip into some wings and try for the elusive boundaries of our origin.

Friday, February 5, 2010


You should go read what Don Brown wrote here about AVSIG.

I emphatically "Concur!"

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Thoughts on Flight 3407, Revisited

It's been nearly a year since the Bombardier Q400 turboprop operated by Colgan Air as Continental Connection Flight 3407 crashed on approach to KBUF with the loss of 50 lives. I had some thoughts that I posted here in May of last year. Now, the NTSB has had a public meeting at which the Board approved a report that lays blame for the proximate causes of the accident at the feet of the crew, particularly the captain. The Board has published "a synopsis from [its] report [which] does not include the Board’s rationale for the conclusions, probable cause, and safety recommendations". The synopsis can be found at this link and makes for very interesting reading.

Back in May I observed that:

"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?"
The NTSB report synopsis concurs with respect to why the airplane stopped flying, stating in part:
  • "The captain’s inappropriate aft control column inputs in response to the stick shaker caused the airplane’s wing to stall."
  • "The captain’s response to stick shaker activation should have been automatic, but his improper flight control inputs were inconsistent with his training and were instead consistent with startle and confusion."
  • "The captain did not recognize the stick pusher’s action to decrease angle-of-attack as a proper step in a stall recovery, and his improper flight control inputs to override the stick pusher exacerbated the situation."
  • "Although the reasons the first officer retracted the flaps and suggested raising the gear could not be determined from the available information, these actions were inconsistent with company stall recovery procedures and training."
This is an inexplicable set of behaviors from professional aviators. But it seems to me that the vital question remains unanswered: WHY?

Let us stipulate that Capt. Renslow and First Officer Shaw were not a team of the quality of, say, Capt. Sullenberger and First Officer Skiles. Let us also stipulate that they had, by the time the critical moment arrived, introduced contributory factors to the developing Devil's brew: they were not well rested, they were lax in their duty to maintain a "sterile cockpit."

But these factors should not overcome the rule that is programmed into the mind of every pilot from his first hours in training: When the stall warning goes off (and make no mistake, the stick pusher is an emphatic stall warning) you PUSH!. If you PULL you will DIE!

In spite of this deep programming, this Captain PULLED. He pulled HARD, and 50 people died. Why did he do that? The NTSB's synopsis does not provide an answer.

Back in May, I wondered about this:

"...the possible impact on this accident of the well-known and widely viewed NASA Tailplane Stall video. ...The actions of pilots Beck and Renslow in the critical moments...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."
The NTSB first demurs, stating:
"It is unlikely that the captain was deliberately attempting to perform a tailplane stall recovery."
I very much look forward to learning the Board's rationale for that conclusion. Because they go on to say:
"The inclusion of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration icing video in Colgan Air’s winter operations training may lead pilots to assume that a tailplane stall might be possible in the Q400, resulting in negative training."
And they then promulgate the following Recommendation:
"Identify which airplanes ...are susceptible to tailplane stalls and then (1) require operators of those airplanes to provide an appropriate airplane-specific tailplane stall recovery procedure...and (2) direct operators of those airplanes that are not susceptible to tailplane stalls to ensure that training and company guidance for the airplanes explicitly state this lack of susceptibility and contain no references to tailplane stall recovery procedures."
If the first conclusion is supported by the facts, whence the second conclusion and the recommendation?

There are many more conclusions and recommendations in the synopsis of the Board's report. As I said, it makes for interesting reading. And there would appear to be lots more to come (from the NTSB press release on the 2 February public meeting):

"The Board will hold a public forum this Spring exploring pilot and air traffic control high standards. This accident was one in a series of incidents investigated by the Board in recent years - including a mid-air collision over the Hudson River that raised questions of air traffic control vigilance, and the Northwest Airlines incident last year where the airliner overflew its destination airport in Minneapolis because the pilots were distracted by non-flying activities - that have involved air transportation professionals deviating from expected levels of performance.

In addition, this Fall the Board will hold a public forum on code sharing, the practice of airlines marketing their services to the public while using other companies to actually perform the transportation. For example, this accident occurred on a Continental Connection flight, although the transportation was provided by Colgan Air."

These will be interesting proceedings. On the topic of "air transportation professionals" and "expected levels of performance", I recommend highly that you go read this post written by Dr. Tony Kern. It speaks well to this vital topic.