Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"It's the Third Approach that Kills You"

One of the "Ancient Pelicans" hanging around KBDR shared the wisdom in this post's title with me soon after I got my Instrument Rating. His theory was that if you were shooting an instrument approach for the third time you were tired, and frustrated, and maybe getting a little thin on fuel...and thus perfectly set up to push things a bit too far. And your funeral would be held on a sunny day.

So, he advised, go ahead and take it around for a second try. But if the second approach is a miss...go somewhere else where conditions are better. I thought that was pretty good advice.

That advice came back to me this afternoon, after the folks at FlightAware.com sent me an e-mail notification about a friend's flight. I have the "N" numbers of several friends' airplanes set up for the service and one of them had departed Lancaster (KLNS) for a flight to Manassas (KHEF). I clicked on the link to see where he was.

He'd departed KLNS shortly before 2:00 PM, launching into some fairly significant weather. By the time I brought up the web site (just about 3:00 PM) I expected he'd be close to his destination. But I found him 20 miles north of Manassas, on the ILS approach to Runway 17 at Leesburg (KJYO). Given the weather depicted on the screen, this would likely be an interesting approach. I pulled up the METAR:

KJYO 221955Z AUTO 00000KT 4SM RA BKN002 OVC017 10/10 A3009
That was not at all a sure thing! Ceiling reported at 200 feet, and the Decision Height for the approach at 250 feet AGL. I refreshed the screen a couple more times, watching the airplane icon near the airport location, and the altitude readout roll down. Then, it started to roll up, the speed readout increased and the icon turned away. Missed approach.

My friend flies a Cirrus SR-22, and is a fine instrument pilot. But this was no-kidding-around weather – the Real Deal. I had to hang around to watch the story unfold.

The airplane icon moved off to the north, then turned back toward KJYO. Vectors for a second approach. Back to the final approach course, speed reduced, altitude decreasing...and then increasing. A second missed approach! And the advice of the Ancient Pelican, gone West years ago, arose in my mind. Get out of there, my friend. You don't have to be in Leesburg today.

At left, the track as shown on FlightAware.com to this point. (Click to enlarge.) You can see the first approach, the turn outbound and then back in for the second ILS. And finally, the airplane icon outbound again to the Northwest. "Say intentions."

I will admit to a sigh of relief when he turned to the northeast and left KJYO well behind. Having decided that two tries at that ILS were quite enough he was headed somewhere else. I watched to see where he'd go.

The track bent to the east and then around to the southwest. He was lining up for the Runway 23 ILS approach at Frederick (KFDK). As the icon representing my friend's airplane approached KFDK I pulled up the METAR that was on offer there:

KFDK 222051Z AUTO 36005KT 7SM +RA SCT004 BKN009 OVC023 08/08 A3009 RMK AO2 P0002
Despite the heavy rain (+RA) this looked better. Good visibility and a broken ceiling at 900 feet. I watched, refreshing the display periodically, as the tiny blue airplane moved over the airport symbol...and stopped. Safe on the ground. (Below, the rest of the track courtesy of FlightAware.com)

Of course, the outcome was never seriously in doubt. My friend is a capable aviator, well qualified to deal with these conditions. But I'm sure he had some adrenalin flowing and he probably sat in the airplane for a minute after shutting down, while some tension dissipated.

As for me, I applauded the good judgement he exercised in avoiding a third approach to KJYO. Perhaps somewhere my other friend, the Ancient Pelican, is smiling.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Children of the Magenta Line

The video embedded below was posted on the AvSig online forum by a friend. It's a presentation by a senior American Airlines training Captain on the subject of automation dependency (a subject I've commented on before). For my friends out there who fly aircraft that are able to let the GPS navigator drive the autopilot – well, you really ought to invest the 25 minutes in watching this; every time he says "FMC", substitute "GPS".

Automation Dependency from Bruce on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Parsing the Regs

The previous post discussed the "inop" status of the beacon that sits atop N631S's vertical stabilizer. In summary, (a) as of Friday morning it was not working at all; (b) the maintenance folks were on the case; and (c) I believed it to be a "no-go" item that would need to be fixed if I wanted to make my weekly trip from Connecticut to the DC area by airplane rather than AmTrak.

Well, perhaps not so much.

Midday Friday I went over to Three Wing Flying Services and talked with Tony and Jared. Tony had the bad news: "We found a short, and your lamp is shot...and we don't have a 14 volt lamp in stock." Jared offered the good news: "You've got strobes, right? As long as you have strobes, you don't need the beacon."

Really? I needed to think about this a bit. This was one of those times when it would be necessary to see what the regulations said, and to consider what the regulations mean!

The applicable regulation is found in Title 14 CFR Part 91 Subpart C (Equipment, Instrument, and Certificate Requirements) Section 91.209 (Aircraft lights), which says in relevant part:

No person may:...(b) Operate an aircraft that is equipped with an anticollision light system, unless it has lighted anticollision lights. ...

N631S is in fact "equipped with an anticollision light system", so that part of 91.209 is applicable. In normal circumstances, that system is comprised of the red flashing beacon atop the vertical stabilizer and the white wingtip strobes. If the beacon is "inop" but the strobes are working just fine, then the aircraft complies with the requirement that it "ha(ve) anticollision lights" when being operated. So far, so good.

Here's an excerpt from an on-line forum called TheCFI.com that shows at least one other person using the same logic to arrive at the same conclusion:

Beacon/Rotating Beacon vs Anti-Collision Lights
by jdkiger » Tue Aug 19, 2008 10:02 am

A recent discussion at my flight school resulted in very different opinions in understanding of what is required. Not quite addressed in past questions on this forum. Our situation is: Aircraft has wing tip strobes/anti-collision lights in addition to a vertical stabilizer mounted aviation red/white strobe (individual power supplies). With the strobe out on the vertical stabillizer inop, placarded as such. Required log book entries documented. Is the aircraft airworthy? Many suggest that since the wing tip strobe/anti-collision lights are operating the aircraft meets the requirements to be airworthy. How about it?


by midlifeflyer » Mon Aug 25, 2008 7:50 am

This is pure guesswork on my part since I've never seen anything from the FAA on it...

91.209(b) says "an" anticollision light system (so do the applicable provisions of 91.205). If the aircraft has two different ones that each comply with TSO C96a (and whatever other requirements there might be), one should be sufficient for compliance with 91.209(b).

That is, of course, assuming that the other requirements of 91.213 regarding flight with inoperative equipment are met.

Like I said, pure guesswork.

Finally, I recall that the previous airplane in my life, N82953, a 1981 Piper Archer II, came from the factory with wingtip strobes and no rotating beacon. And it was just fine in that configuration. So in the end, I concluded that N631S was indeed airworthy with the beacon placarded "inop" (as required by 91.213) and the strobes fulfilling the requirement of Section 91.209 for operating anticollision lights. I could make my flight to DC without transgressing the bounds of the regulations.

Three Wing is ordering the parts needed to restore N631S's beacon to operating status, which work will be done during the coming week.

Friday, November 4, 2011

First, the Good News...

The weather forecast is fine for a flight this afternoon from KBDR down to KVKX in the DC area. While temperatures aloft will be below freezing (after all, it is November), the skies should be clear or at least ceilings should be quite high. Thus, icing ought not to be at issue.

On the subject of ceilings, I've been enjoying a new (to me) weather data site, the High Resolution Rapid Refresh (HRRR) model from NOAA. (A "hat tip" to Jim Fallows for pointing this one out on his blog a couple of days ago.) It appears to have evolved from the highly regarded Rapid Update Cycle (RUC) model and includes excellent forecasted ceiling graphics like, for example, this:

That graphic depicts ceiling heights forecast for 23Z this evening and, as you can see, it's an optimistic picture. And, the Terminal Area Forecasts (TAF's) are consistent with it. So it's all good, but...

Now, the Bad News!

This morning, when I went to the airport to stow my bag and pre-pre-flight N631S, a problem cropped up. The flashing beacon (that red flasher on top of the vertical stabilizer) neither flashed nor beacon-ed. I'd expect to be flying after sunset, and the rules say that if you have anti-collision lights installed they have to work. So I look at this as a "no-go" item. My friends at Three Wing Flying Services are working on the problem. If it's an easy fix, I'll be good to go. If it turns out to be hard or to require a part that isn't in stock, then I will find myself on AmTrak this weekend.