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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The best advice often comes in the fewest words, Part 2: Doing it wrong

Tom Brady, from Part 1, is a good example of how to do things well. His no-nonsense, "you don't have to recover from what you don't get yourself into" style of advice is something to live by.

A classic (and unfortunately all-too-common) example of how not to teach comes from the instructor who checked me out when I was working for one of the worst flight schools in the country. (I won't name names, but to give you a concrete example of how bad they were, one of my paychecks from them bounced. If you want to know which flight school in the Cleveland, Ohio area to avoid like the plague, send me an email. I really don't want you to waste your time and money or to think that all flight schools like this, because they aren't.)

Although I had more hours than this instructor, he was the one who did the aircraft checkouts for new hires. Since it was a simple Diamond DA20, the checkout process was pretty standard: go up and do some maneuvers from the PTS, hit a few landings, and call it a day. Easy.

When we got to the part when we were doing stalls, I went ahead and did a power-off stall just like I teach them: power to final approach setting, approach flaps down, establish a descent, gradually raise the nose as if I'm trying foolishly to stretch the glide with pitch instead of power, hold it through the buffet, and once the stall break occurs, power up and recover. Doing it this way simulates how you'd actually encounter a power-off stall in real life and goes through all the stages of when you should have recovered (sloppy control feel --> stall warning horn --> buffet --> break). It also involves no excessive, unnatural control movements and has a relatively gentle break.

Like many student pilots, I hated doing stalls when learning to fly. However, as an instructor, I quickly learned to like them, and now they're one of my favorite things. Going through the process of stalling (and, if done correctly it is a process and not a "Wham, bam, thank you ma'am" event) gives you a chance to really feel the aircraft sliding through the backside of the power curve and wading/waddling/wobbling into a different flight regime. In cruise flight, the plane is always quietly murmuring to you in a bit of a one-sided chat. In slow flight and into stall territory, it is holding a full conversation with you which requires you to listen to what it is saying and say something intelligent back.

If that's a bit too Ernie Gann for you: stalls are fun once you get the feel for them.

After the first stall, he had me do another one because he didn't think I'd actually stalled it. I had, but since I like doing them, I went ahead and did it again the same way. Again he thought I hadn't, but he figured that maybe it was just one of those things that day. (The DA20 has a nice, clean, efficient wing—which is what you'd expect from a modified glider—so there are times that it just keeps on flying in a deep mush instead of a full stall. That is a sign of a wing with a good temperament.)

We moved on to a power-on stall. No problem. I put in takeoff power, raised the nose to establish Vy, then eased it back gradually past that into an eventual stall attitude. Past the sloppy controls, past the stall warning horn, past the buffet, and then a nice, gentle break. I lowered the nose about 5 degrees (still above the horizon, but below the critical angle of attack) and let it build up airspeed and fly. Done correctly, in many light airplanes you can recover from a power-on stall with no loss of altitude, just significantly reduced rate of climb.

At this point I started to get the first hint that this wasn't a good instructor. When I lowered the nose enough to break the stall (i.e., get it below the critical angle of attack) but still above the horizon, he kept saying, "Push the nose down! Push the nose down!" This while the plane had already started flying again, which is the goal in a recovery.

So he had me do it again. I did it the same way and the said, "No, do it like this!" and, unsurprisingly, yanked back on the stick. Sure, it stalled, and did it ever. He jammed the nose down to 10 degrees below the horizon to recover, and we managed to only lose 300 feet. That's great, as long as you're not 299 feet above the ground. He said something like, "See, it will stall!"

It sure will, and if your goal is to teach someone how to stall an airplane, that will do it. Unfortunately, as Colgan 3407 (the accident that led to the safety-reducing changes in ATP requirements) and Air France 447 tragically demonstrated—at the cost of a combined 278 lives—you're supposed to learn how to recognize, avoid and recover from stalls, not how to stall an aircraft.

Training + practice = performance.

If you're trained to yank on the stick to stall an airplane, then you have been trained wrong. Unfortunately, that also means you'll practice it wrong. It also means that in the event you ever do have to perform a stall recovery for real, you won't know what to do because it will happen in a way that you never saw coming. No one just hauls back on the stick and yanks the nose to the sky on short final, but if I had a corpse for every time I've seen someone try to correct being low on approach by easing the nose up instead of adding a little power, I'd have a graveyard.

My personal goal when I am giving instruction is not to crank out pilots, but to craft an aviatior. A pilot is someone who knows how to recover from a stall. An aviator is someone who doesn't stall an airplane in the first place. To echo what started this series in Part 1:

Q: How do I recover from a stall?
A: Never let this situation develop.

As long as you always fly the airplane, it won't. As long as you always retain control, whether in the cockpit or in your everyday life, no situation will develop that you can't recover from.

The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with a DHC-8 type rating, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a FAASafety Team representative and Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The best advice often comes in the fewest words, Part 1: Doing it right


"Never let this situation develop."

Due to the pointless/counterproductive changes in the requirements for the Airline Transport Pilot certificate that go into effect on August 1st, I'm going to be taking my ATP multi-engine checkride in July. I already have it scheduled with Tom Brady (no, the other one) at Traverse Air, and I've started studying ahead for the oral part.

I got my commercial multi-engine with him several years ago as one of those "learn to fly a twin in a weekend" courses. I was skeptical that it would be anything more than a checkride cram course, but he was recommended by someone who had done his course earlier, so I gave it a shot. I was very surprised at how good a job he did in so little time. I really didn't think it was possible, but now that I've got almost 10 times as many hours as I did back then, and now that I've been an instructor myself for a few years, I can see and understand how he can do it so well. Like most highly effective people (or good landings), it's all about the approach.

As part of the course, he emails you the POH for the Apache you'll be training in. At the end is a list of questions and answers to study to aid in preparation for the oral. When I came across the following one, I was impressed:

Q: What steps must be taken if an engine failure occurs during flight below Vmc?
A: Never let this situation develop. [emphasis mine]

The red line above the word "this" marks Vmc.

He goes on to finish the answer with, "The only recovery is to reduce power on both engines, lower the nose, [and accelerate to an] airspeed faster than Vmc in order to maintain aircraft control."

Sometimes (and probably most of the time, actually), when a person gives a long, complicated answer to something, it's because they don't understand the answer themselves so they bury you in a bunch of technical gobbledygook and hope you'll be too intimidated to ask anything else. As the saying goes, if you can't dazzle 'em with brilliance, then baffle 'em with bullcrap.

For example, the answer to that question above could go something along the lines of "Due of the adverse effects of asymmetric thrust, especially pronounced in a failure of the critical engine due to P-factor (and other elements) being more heavily misaligned in reference to the longitudinal axis of the aircraft, combined with a reduced effectiveness of the control surfaces in low-airspeed regimes, the pilot must reduce power to reduce the deleterious influence of unbalanced thrust as part of an effort to regain directional control."

That is 100% technically correct and 100% totally useless.

Instead, I would just say (as Tom did above), "Don't do that."


"Because you'll die."

"But what if I do?"

"Then cut the throttles, push the nose down, and pray you have enough altitude to cash in for the airspeed you should have kept the whole time."

This advice may seem like the old joke about the person who goes to the doctor and says, "Doc, it hurts when I do this!" and the doctor replies, "Then don't do that." However, it's actually much deeper than that. I would sum it up as, "You don't have to recover from what you don't get yourself into."

There is another example of this no-nonsense, full common sense approach a little further down:

Q: How important is the best rate of climb, single engine (Vyse)?
A: It is the most important thing for the airplane.

Indeed it is, followed closely by Vmc. Both of them are so important that multi-engine aircraft have two markings on their airspeed indicators that single engine aircraft don't: a red radial line marking Vmc (this is not the red radial line that marks Vne—you can see Vmc's redline right above the word "this" in the first illustration above) and a blue radial line marking Vyse. That's why you'll hear the word "blueline" a lot when getting your multi-engine rating, usually preceded by the words "maintain" or "don't go below". It's so important it gets its own piece of jargon and a splash of paint.

Just like life, aviation is all about priorities. Priority #1 is to fly the airplane. Aviate. If you don't let a situation develop, you don't have to recover from it.

This is just another example of how when you learn to fly, you learn to live. In the second part, I'll give you an example of how not to do things.

The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with a DHC-8 type rating, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a FAASafety Team representative and Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

It takes hours of work to bring each Keyboard & Rudder post to you. If you've found it useful, please consider making an easy one-time or recurring donation via PayPal in any amount you choose.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Just because your engine dies doesn't mean you have to.

Among people who don't fly, there is a misconception that the only thing keeping an aircraft in the air is the engine. In reality, the plane stays in the air because of the wings, and all the engine really does is keep it there longer than it would have without an engine.

(Of course, glider pilots would argue that the engine doesn't even do that, since they have no engine and they routinely fly over 1000 miles in competitive events, which is hundreds of miles more range than the typical small Cessna/Piper/Beech.)

I created a short video a little while back to demonstrate this in action by turning off the engine completely in a simulated Cessna 172 over 8 miles from an airport and gliding it in the rest of the way:

As part of learning to fly, you learned (or will learn) your ABCs: Airspeed to best glide, Best field, Communicate, Checklist. Notice that the very first step is going to "best glide" airspeed, not "fall like a brick" airspeed. That's because engine or no engine, you are still flying the airplane! If you keep flying it, it will keep on flying for you.

If you don't believe me, there are two famous real-life airline events that did just that, but instead of gliding a measly 8 miles they both went over 70 miles in quiet comfort: Air Canada Flight 143 (probably better known as the "Gimli Glider") and Air Transat Flight 236. There was that little "Miracle on the Hudson" thing (which no one seems to call US Airways Flight 1549) back in 2009, too.

If you know someone who is afraid to fly because they "don't trust small planes", show them this post (or the video) and see if that doesn't change their mind a bit. While you're there, think about subscribing to my Larry the Flying Guy channel, too:

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A collision that won't raise your insurance rates

Googie precedes Google by 50 years, but you can combine the two and use Google to search for Googie. That's a neat trick, but what does that have to do with aviation?

Three things: the movement itself was inspired by the new Jet Age, the Theme Building (or "flying saucer") at LAX and the TWA Flight Center at JFK are oft-cited examples of Googie architecture, and the FAA's AC 00-6A, Aviation Weather, which you will need to become friends with as part of your ground study, is marinaded in hand-drawn examples of Mid-Century Modern art, right down to the cover:

State of the 1975 art. And that's the newest edition.
In case the title didn't give it away, Aviation Weather tells you what it's about right from the beginning:

Let's jump almost 40 years from 1975 to March 11, 2014, which is when I took this picture from the ramp at Lorain County Regional Airport:

As usual, you can click to embiggen.
There are two rows of undulating clouds at almost a right angle. The darker ones on the left go from the upper left and head toward the lower right, and the ones on the right go from the lower left and head toward the upper right. The left side is the lower layer of clouds and the ones on the right are higher (because they're being lifted by that lower layer, but we'll get more into that in a little bit).

Those two rows are a bit hard to see, so here are some psychedelically-enhanced versions (actually, just a moderately-solarizing filter in showFoto) that might help you see them a little better:

What would cause such an odd-looking sky? If you said, "Hey, I bet Aviation Weather would have the answer!" you'd be right. In fact, it has a whole chapter of answers:

Any time an Eskimo collides with a hula girl playing a ukulele, you know it's about to get real.

On this particular day, we had a stationary front hanging around over top of us, which was making for some (finally) warmish weather. Unfortunately, there was a cold front over Lake Superior heading our way to put out that fire, as this 7:00 a.m. chart shows:

That chart was from 7:00 a.m., and I took my picture at after 5:00 p.m., so that cold front had plenty of time to keep chugging toward Lake Erie. It arrived at around 4:00 p.m., as this data from Weather Underground for that day shows:

I drew a blue line across them at the time that picture was taken. From the top chart, you can see that the temperature was falling quickly, and from the bottom one you can see that the wind had shifted direction quite dramatically. That is the result of the cold front having arrived. As Aviation Weather puts it:

Temperature is one of the most easily recognized discontinuities across a front. At the surface, the passage of a front usually causes noticeable temperature change...

Wind always changes across a front. Wind discontinuity may be in direction, in speed, or in both. Be alert for a wind shift when flying in the vicinity of a frontal surface; if the wind shift catches you unaware it can get you off course or even lost in a short time.

We certainly got a "noticeable temperature change" and a change in wind direction, didn't we? That means we can be sure a cold front has passed. But what does that have to do with a picture of two cloud layers going two different directions?

If you said, "Hey, I bet he's going to put in another diagram from Aviation Weather!" you'd be right:

Figure 59 from the FAA's gloriously public-domain weather/art treatise.
The top half shows that while that cold front was passing through, it lifted the layer of warmer air that had been at the surface (attempting nobly yet vainly to thaw the cheeks of Clevelanders). That explains why there are two distinct cloud layers. The bottom half shows that the winds in the cold front are distinctly different from those in the warm front, so when it came through, the rows in the cloud layers shifted as well.

And that is how the pretty pictures from Aviation Weather combine to explain a pretty picture taken on a cell phone 40 years later. Do you have any weather pictures you'd like to share?