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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

"Apparently we have caused quite a stir."

"Comrades," [Sergey Korolev, the Soviet Union's chief rocket designer] cried, rousing his sleepy colleagues. "You can't imagine what's happening. The whole world is talking about our little satellite. Apparently we have caused quite a stir."
—Matthew Brzezinski, Red Moon Rising, 199
Today (October 4) is the 60th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, the world's first baby steps into space. To observe this anniversary, last week I read Red Moon Rising: Sputnik and the Hidden Rivalries That Ignited the Space Age. This is an impressively-written history that almost reads like a good novel rather than just dry facts.

One of the most interesting things about the book is that it doesn't just go "this happened, then this happened, then this happened, and so on." Brzezinski gets into the personalities driving this technological leap: the leaders Khrushchev vs. Eisenhower and their respective rocket scientists, Sergey Korolev vs. Werner von Braun; the head of the Army's ballistic missile research at Redstone vs. the Air Force and Navy's projects.

When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the Soviets actually didn't think much of it at the time. (The quotation at the beginning of this post is an expression of real surprise.) To them, it was just a way of demonstrating that they had the technology to deliver a nuclear warhead without using the huge fleet of bombers that the US had massed in the 1950s. However, the Western world went ballistic (OK, that's probably a bad pun). The US had felt relatively safe from nuclear attack until then, since our bombers were superior both in quality and quantity.

Sputnik shattered that complacency, and Brzezinski quotes the historian Asif A. Siddiqi: "With only a ball of metal, the Soviets had managed to achieve what they were unable to convey with decades of rhetoric." Ironically, it also had a bigger impact on advancing the US's technological development than it did on the Soviet Union's, since it awoke the sleeping dragon out of its post-WWII self-satisfaction and spurred it into a large research effort to catch up in the new, scary "missile gap".

The Soviet Union launched Laika the space dog only a month later to send the message that they could keep lobbing these things over our heads any time they wanted. At the time, no one realized that this was a bluff, since they had expended their last rocket on that stunt, but it was a huge kick in the rear for the US.

Many of the things we take for granted today and that seem like they have been around forever are actually direct descendants of the influence Sputnik had on us those tense months in late 1957: the federal student loan program was created in 1958 to encourage Americans to go to college to study math and engineering; the Internet you're reading this on was developed by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which was a small government agency before then and was increased immensely in size the year after Sputnik, and the satellites of our own that we rely on for GPS navigation and weather forecasting.

As a pilot, I used satellite technology twice just today on the job: I shot a GPS approach into Albany and used ACARS (a satellite-based communications system) to communicate with dispatch. Since I'm based at Washington-Dulles, I have another little reminder of Sputnik every day at work: the airport is named after John Foster Dulles, who was Eisenhower's Secretary of State when it was launched, and is a major character in the book.

As the Soviet Union developed surface-to-air missile technology that made the US's U-2 spy plane vulnerable and obsolete, the CIA pushed for a satellite program of our own even before Sputnik. At the time, they thought this wouldn't be possible until the mid-to-late 1970s. Once Sputnik was launched, this was pushed forward all the way up to 1959, almost two decades ahead of schedule!

Weather satellites that pilots and airline operations centers use every hour of the day are a direct civilian relative of these early spy satellites: after all, if you can create a satellite that can take detailed pictures of military targets on the ground, you can easily create one that can take pictures of the large-scale weather fronts that are responsible for hurricanes, blizzards, and thunderstorms, and so on.

Today, we can flick on the cable TV (usually delivered to the cable provider by satellite and then piped to your house by a cable) and watch the Weather Channel show the latest hurricane path predictions, whose impressive accuracy is only possible due to the constellation of weather satellites in orbit. The Delta rescue flight into Hurricane Irma last month wouldn't have been possible without satellite data. You can thank a little 134-pound aluminum beachball that was launched 60 years ago yesterday for over 80% of the weather forecasting you probably take for granted today.

Brzezinski even has a humorous bit about the aftermath of the first Vanguard rocket, our counterpunch to take on the Rooskies, embarrassingly blowing up on the pad on world-wide TV:
Hope had been dashed, Vanguard Fries had been stricken from the nation's menus, replaced by Sputnik Cocktails—one part vodka, two parts sour grapes—and the vengeful media, having angrily crowned Vanguard "our worst humiliation since Custer's last stand," were searching for scapegoats. Already, the Glenn L. Martin Company, Vanguard's general contractor, had been punished. Its stock had taken such a beating that it had been forced to suspend trading. [242]
 
Time Magazine would eloquently sum up this historic year in its end-of-the-year issue:
The symbols of 1957 were two pale, clear streaks of light that slashed across the world's night skies and a Vanguard rocket toppling into a roiling mass of flame on a Florida beach.... On any score 1957 was a year of retreat and disarray for the West. In 1957, under the orbits of a horned sphere and a half-ton tomb for a dead dog, the world's balance of power lurched and swung toward the free world's enemies. Unquestionably, in the deadly give and take of the cold war, the high score of the year belongs to Russia. And, unquestionably, the Man of the Year was Russia's stubby and bald, garrulous and brilliant ruler: Nikita Khrushchev. [257]

If you like cold war history, politics, and/or space, you'll probably like Red Moon Rising. See you next Wednesday!


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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. 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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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Gear Down and Welded

This week over on the Larry the Flying Guy channel on YouTube, I got a comment on this video implying that it's not necessary to check for gear down on a 172.


It may seem silly, since the 172 is a fixed gear aircraft, but checking it has two important purposes:

1. Building the habit for when you move up to a complex airplane.
2. In the stress of an emergency, we tend to fall back on ingrained habits.

Both of these points are related to the Law of Primacy: what we learn first we learn best. If you learn to check gear down from the beginning, it will be second nature to you when you learn to fly a retractable. If you don't learn to check gear down from the beginning, it makes it much more likely that you'll forget to check when you aren't in a 172 anymore. It takes no effort to "check" the gear in a 172 and it builds an extremely useful habit from the very beginning.

During the pre-landing GUMPS check (Gas, Undercarriage, Mixture, Props, Pumps, Switches—although there are dozens of variations on this that pilots will fight about endlessly, so don't get caught up in the specifics of my personal version), the callouts would sound something like this in a 172:

"Gas: Both."
"Undercarriage: Down and welded."
"Mixture: Full forward."
"Props: Full not there."
"Pumps: On."
"Switches: Landing light on."

Personally, I would even point next to the empty space next to the mixture control while saying, "Props: Full not there" because that's where the prop control would be in a plane that had one. That's for the same reason as the "Down and welded" callout for the landing gear: it builds the habit of checking.

Why "Down and welded?" Because the callout in a retractable would be "Down and locked." I'm being a bit humorous with the "welded" bit. If you want it to remain standardized, you can say, "Down and locked" even in a 172. (In that case, I would also change "Props: Full not there" to "Props: Full forward" too.)

In fact, that's what we do at my airline. When I was on the Dash-8, we had two variants. One had a specific indicator light and the other didn't. Nonetheless, the Before Start checklist intentionally still included that light and the required response was the same on both—even the one that didn't have the light.

In an emergency, the law of primacy also lays the foundation for your performance during stress. In a high workload situation, the brain falls back on what is most deeply ingrained in order to free up mental resources to deal with the other pressures. If you're in a retractable, you'll be glad your gear checks are deeply ingrained. Many, many gear up landings are caused because the pilot is preoccupied with something else and doesn't have "Gear: Down and locked" so burned into their mind that it is automatic.

I use automaticity in the ERJ-145 too: in visual conditions, I try to consistently be at 200 knots at glideslope intercept. That way I can say, "Gear down, flaps 22" all at once. The extension speed for 22 degrees of flaps is 200 knots, and if we lower the gear and put the flaps in at the same time, I don't have to remember that the gear is down but the flaps aren't yet. The less I have to fiddle around with configuration changes on final the better.

(It also works out nicely because when the autopilot lowers the nose to start following the glideslope down, the extra drag of the gear and flaps keeps it from picking up speed. At the right power setting, it even slows the plane down at just the right rate to be at Flaps 45 speed at just the right time. I try to be as lazy as possible because the secret to good airmanship often is doing less, not more. The less you do, the less you can screw up.)

If your instructor isn't teaching you to check the gear in any airplane, they're doing you a disservice for your future learning. Ask them why they don't, and tell them "Because you don't have to" is not the right answer.

See you next Wednesday!

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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. 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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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Even the best want to get better

Unless you're into chess, you probably don't know Wesley So. He is currently ranked second in the world, and from July 2016 until April 2017 didn't lose a single game of chess. Nonetheless, I was struck by what he said at the end of this interview: "I still have a lot to improve upon."


Again, this guy is the second best in the entire world. In the six months before the interview he had won two of the strongest tournaments in the world plus the United States championship. And yet he is still trying to get better.

But here's someone you probably have heard of no matter what you're into: Tiger Woods. I recently came across his newest book, The 1997 Masters: My Story by Tiger Woods and Lorne Rubenstein where he goes into his life before his breakthrough tournament, breaks down each day of it into a chapter of its own, then muses about his life afterward.

One of the striking things in it was that Tiger wasn't satisfied even after becoming the youngest person ever to win the Masters and having done it by such a huge margin of victory. After winning that major tournament, he was exempted from having to qualify for the next ten years. The next year, that rule was changed to five years, so when Mark O'Meara won it in 1998, he only got a five-year exemption.

That meant Tiger could relax for a while and no longer have to scratch and fight and work his tail off to be the best, since no matter what he would be able to play on the pro tour for a decade. That ten-year exemption was an opportunity to enjoy the fruits of all the hard work that got him there; a time he could use to go on autopilot and cruise along. But here's what Tiger said about the chance to get lazy:
[T]o have a job for ten years? That security? That was huge. It was a nice gift, a gift that [O'Meara] didn't get. If the Masters winner still got the ten years, he would have been exempt until he was eligible for the Champions Tour.... He would have to play a full schedule to make sure he did as well as possible and keep his status. [He] couldn't pick and choose the tournaments to play in. Meanwhile, I got peace of mind from having those ten years. I could take the time required to improve or even change my swing, if I wanted to. And I did want to, even after winning the Masters by twelve shots.
[The 1997 Masters: My Story, page 173, emphasis mine.]
Not everyone thought that was a good idea. After all, the swing he already had was good enough for him to dominate a field of the world's best golfers. Why would he take the risk of rebuilding what worked so well? Tiger responded to those critics:
I was criticized widely for wanting to change a swing that had won the Masters so decisively. But I didn't care that I had won by twelve shots, or that there was so much criticism. I knew what I needed to do, [coach] Butchie knew what I needed to do, and above all, I wanted to do it. I thrived on working on my swing. I was addicted to staying on the range for hours. A typical practice day for me was hitting six hundred balls, working on my short game and putting, playing, sometimes on my own, and working out in the gym for two or three hours. That was the life I wanted. I fed off the crowds at Augusta, and I was grateful for the support I got there, especially on Sunday as [my caddy] Fluff and I walked along. But I would have played the Masters with nobody there and with no hardware on the line.

We went to work. I wore myself out on the range, but I loved working so hard on my swing. I've always enjoyed spending hours and hours on the range, or studying film of my swing. It's been for one objective: to get the most out of myself. I wasn't in the game for the trophies. I was in it to find the answer to one question: How good can I be? [176-77]
All the work he put in gave him a pretty good answer: he would win 13 more major tournaments after that first Masters victory, spend over 13 years ranked #1, and the list of his other accomplishments alone has its own Wikipedia entry that is much longer than this entire post.

There is always something we could do to get better at whatever it is we do. I still strive to become a better aviator every day, even though there is no higher level of certificate to attain as an ATP. What does it mean to get better as an airline pilot? I'll go into that next week. Until then, see you next Wednesday!

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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. 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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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Off to see the eclipse!

By the time you read this, the Great American Eclipse will already have happened on Monday. I'm taking a 9-hour road trip with one of my best friends this week to see it at the point of greatest totality just south of Carbondale, IL.


Image from The Weather Channel.
Guess who else will be in Carbondale? Everyone's favorite weather disaster man, Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel!

Since I'm on the road the next few days enjoying this rare phenomenon, that's all I have this week. See you next Wednesday!


Like Larry the Flying Guy on Facebook:





The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. 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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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The first aviation weather forecast

It has been over 113 years since the Wright Brothers' first flight. Like most big events, we see the flashy accomplishment but don't see or appreciate all of the small steps and important details involved in getting there. In fact, celebrities, businesspeople, Nobel Prize winners, and other well-known people often say something like, "It took 20 years to become an overnight success."

The Wright Brothers went to Kitty Hawk several times before 1903's first flight, and the plans and work that went into pulling that off started even before they first left Dayton. In the years before December 17, 1903, they spent hours that led to years of their time laying the groundwork. After all, if you're planning to do the impossible, it pays to do your homework.

One of the elements of their preparation was finding a place that had the sort of weather that would allow for testing the model and the final aircraft. While today we have hi-definition radar maps on our smartphones, reasonably accurate forecasts a week from this afternoon, and Jim Cantore getting blown off of beaches all around the country on the Weather Channel, weather forecasting was still in its infancy back then.

Even what data and forecasts we did have at the dawn of the 20th Century tended to be in generalities over time spans of months and seasons, not the hour-by-hour "It will be 74° with a 17% chance of rain at 11 a.m. on Thursday" forecasts we take for granted. But that was just fine for the Bishop's Boys who just wanted a place that was windier than Ohio during the late fall/early winter, when their bicycle shop tasks wound down for the season.

To this end, Wilbur casually tossed off "one of the most remarkable letters in the history of science" to Octave Chanute on May 13, 1900—three and a half years before the first flight. The penultimate paragraph notes
My business requires that my experimental work be confined to the months between September and January and I would be particularly thankful for advice as to a suitable locality where I could depend on winds of about fifteen miles per hour without rain or too inclement weather. I am certain that such localities are rare. 
Chanute's answer to the weather question:
The two most suitable locations for winter experiments which I know of are near San Diego, California, and St. James City (Pine Island), Florida, on account of the steady sea breezes which I have found to blow there. These, however, are deficient in sand hills, and perhaps even better locations can be found on the Atlantic coasts of South Carolina or Georgia.
Wilbur also pored over tables of data from the Weather Bureau (the predecessor to what we know today as the National Weather Service) and, based on the wind speeds and weather they contained combined with the presence of the sand hills that Chanute suggested, narrowed down his search to what would eventually be the final decision of Kitty Hawk.

Once that good candidate was found, he then wrote a letter to Joseph Dosher, who worked the Weather Bureau station at Kitty Hawk. His reply came 117 years ago today, August 16, 1900, and is the first "aviation weather" forecast:
[T]he beach here is about one mile wide clear of trees or high hills, and islands for nearly sixty miles south. Conditions: the wind blows mostly from the North and Northeast September and October which is nearly down this piece of land. Giving you many miles of a steady wind with a free sweep.
They took his word for it and were not disappointed. They spent several seasons testing their aeronautical ideas on gliders at Kitty Hawk during the winter months, then would return to Dayton for the rest of the year to tend to the bicycle shop and to take what they had learned in North Carolina, refine and improve it, and bring their newest ideas back to the beach during the winter. The amount of work they did in Dayton is why Ohio deserves to be called the "Birthplace of Aviation" even if North Carolina did get the first flight.

Calling this the "first aviation weather forecast" is a bit in jest. The first "real" one wouldn't be until almost 15 years later, as the National Weather service notes:
On Dec. 1, 1918, the U.S. Weather Bureau issued its first aviation weather forecast. It was for the Aerial Mail Service route from New York to Chicago. On May 20, 1926, Congress passed the Air Commerce Act, which included legislation directing the Weather Bureau to "furnish weather reports, forecasts, warnings, to promote the safety and efficiency of air navigation in the United States."
See you next Wednesday!


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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. 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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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Wilbur Wright to Octave Chanute

Text of Wilbur Wright's letter to Octave Chanute, Dayton, May 13, 1900. All images from the Library of Congress.


For some years I have been afflicted with the belief that flight is possible to man. My disease has increased in severity and I feel that it will soon cost me an increased amount of money if not my life. I have been trying to arrange my affairs in such a way that I can devote my entire time for a few months to experiment in this field.

My general ideas of the subject are similar to those held by most practical experimenters, to wit: that what is chiefly needed is skill rather than machinery. The flight of the buzzard and similar sailers is a convincing demonstration of the value of skill, and the partial needlessness of motors. It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge & skill. This I conceive to be fortunate, for man, by reason of his greater intellect, can more reasonably hope to equal birds in knowledge, than to equal nature in the perfection of her machinery.

Assuming then that Lilienthal was correct in his ideas of the principles on which man should proceed, I conceive that his failure was due chiefly to the inadequacy of his method, and of his apparatus. As to his method, the fact that in five years' time he spent only about five hours, altogether, in actual flight is sufficient to show that his method was inadequate. Even the simplest intellectual or acrobatic feats could never be learned
with so short practice, and even Methuselah could never have become an expert stenographer with one hour per year for practice. I also conceive Lilienthal's apparatus to be inadequate not only from the fact that he failed, but my observations of the flight of birds convince me that birds use more positive and energetic methods of regaining equilibrium than that of shifting the center of gravity.

With this general statement of my principles and belief I will proceed to describe the plan and apparatus it is my intention to test. In explaining these, my object is to learn to what extent similar plans have been tested and found to be failures, and also to obtain such suggestions as your great knowledge and experience might enable you to give me. I make no secret of my plans for the reason that I believe no financial profit will accrue to the inventor of the first flying machine, and that only those who are willing to give as well as to receive suggestions can hope to link their names with the honor of its discovery. The problem is too great for one man alone and unaided to solve in secret.

My plan then is this. I shall in a suitable locality erect a light tower about one hundred and fifty feet high. A rope passing over a pulley at the top will serve as a sort of kite string. It will be so counterbalanced that when the rope is drawn out one hundred & fifty feet it will sustain a
pull equal to the weight of the operator and apparatus or nearly so. The wind will blow the machine out from the base of the tower and the weight will be sustained partly by the upward pull of the rope and partly by the lift of the wind. The counterbalance will be so arranged that the pull decreases as the line becomes shorter and ceases entirely when its length has been decreased to one hundred feet. The aim will be to eventually practice in a wind capable of sustaining the operator at a height equal to the top of the tower. The pull of the rope will take the place of a motor in counteracting drift. I see, of course, that the pull of the rope will introduce complications which are not met in free flight, but if the plan will only enable me to remain in the air for practice by the hour instead of by the second, I hope to acquire skill sufficient to overcome both these difficulties and those inherent to flight. Knowledge and skill in handling the machine are absolute essentials to flight and it is impossible to obtain them without extensive practice. The method employed by Mr. Pilcher of towing with horses in many respects is better than that I propose to employ, but offers no guarantee that the experimenter will escape accident long enough to acquire skill sufficient to prevent accident. In my plan I rely on the rope and counterbalance to at least break the force of a fall.
My observation of the flight of buzzards leads me to believe that they regain their lateral balance, when partly overturned by a gust of wind, by a torsion of the tips of the wings. If the rear edge of the right wing tip is twisted upward and the left downward the bird becomes an animated windmill and instantly begins to turn, a line from its head to its tail being the axis. It thus regains its level even if thrown on its beam ends, so to speak, as I have frequently seen them. I think the bird also in general retains its lateral equilibrium, partly by presenting its two wings at different angles to the wind, and partly by drawing in one wing, thus reducing its area. I incline to the belief that the first is the more important and usual method. In the apparatus I intend to employ I make use of the torsion principle. In appearance it is very similar to the "double-deck" machine with which the experiments of yourself and Mr. Herring were conducted in 1896-7. The point on which it differs in principle is that the cross-stays which prevent the upper plane from moving forward and backward are removed, and each end of the upper plane is independently moved forward or backward with respect to the lower plane by a suitable lever or other arrangement. By this plan the whole upper plane may be moved forward or backward, to attain longitudinal equilibrium, by moving both hands forward or backward together. Lateral equilibrium is gained by moving one end more than the other or by moving them in opposite directions. If you will make
a square cardboard tube two inches in diameter and eight or ten long and choose two sides for your planes you will at once see the torsional effect of moving one end of the upper plane forward and the other backward, and how this effect is attained without sacrificing lateral stiffness. My plan is to attach the tail rigidly to the rear upright stays which connect the planes, the effect of which will be that when the upper plane is thrown forward the end of the tail is elevated, so that the tail assists gravity in restoring longitudinal balance. My experiments hitherto with this apparatus have been confined to machines spreading about fifteen square feet of surface, and have been sufficiently encouraging to induce me to lay plans for a trial with [a] full-sized machine.

My business requires that my experimental work be confined to the months between September and January and I would be particularly thankful for advice as to a suitable locality where I could depend on winds of about fifteen miles per hour without rain or too inclement weather. I am certain that such localities are rare.

I have your Progress in Flying Machines and your articles in the Annuals of '95, '96, & '97, as also your recent articles in the Independent. If you can give me information as to where an account of Pilcher's experiments can be obtained I would greatly appreciate your kindness.
Yours truly,
Wilbur Wright

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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. 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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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

I would kill to learn to fly

Fortunately, today we don't have to be willing to kill to learn to fly. However, in 1893—ten years before the Wright Brothers would make history in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina—a suggestion was made to that effect. Enjoy this little snippet from the Proceedings of the International Conference on Aerial Navigation, which took place in August of 1893:


Next week, I'll go into "one of the most remarkable letters in the history of science" as the unknown from nowhere Wilbur Wright drops a line to the eminent and already-successful Octave Chanute, beginning a rich and fruitful relationship. See you next Wednesday!

Like Larry the Flying Guy on Facebook:





The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. 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, July 12, 2017

Half a hundred, Part 1

I spent a good portion of the beginning of the year going over goals: what are good goals, why you need them, and so on. One of the things I mentioned was that goals need to be realistic yet challenging. Unrealistic goals tend not to be unattainable; instead, they are reachable goals but given entirely too little time to achieve them.

One of the goals I set this year was actually set for me by someone else: the 100 Workouts Challenge at my gym. This is a nice example of a good goal: 100 workouts in a year is a bit of a challenge, but still doable with moderate effort. It's less than a workout every three days, but that's only if you break it down over the entire year.

It's just past the halfway point of the year, and that means there's been sufficient time to see how things are going. How am I doing? Well, see for yourself:


At the halfway point, I'm half way done. Not bad considering I didn't start until six weeks into the new year! How have I done it? Simple.

I did 1% of the total 50 times. That's it.

Since the tracking sheet is in a binder with everyone else's, as I try to get to mine I inevitably come across a few others before finally getting to the right one. This means I see how others are doing whether I want to or not. It's interesting to me to see how others are doing on their goals. I don't judge those who haven't made them; after all, everyone has their own reasons for showing up or not. I'm more concerned with how I am doing against my own 100 workouts goal than judging others who aren't. Besides, there are already a handful of people who have already beaten the 100 Workouts Challenge, so I'm not the Superman to judge anybody else anyway.

What I do want to know is why those who aren't going to beat this challenge aren't going to. My observations are twofold:

1. They set themselves up for failure with unreasonable expectations. Many of the date goals weren't reasonable. Many of them were set for May or June, meaning they would have to work out 5-6 days a week every week. Unless you're already working out almost all the time, you're not suddenly going to go from sedentary to being at the gym all the time.

Going to the gym is a habit, but not going to the gym is ALSO a habit. Setting a goal that requires you to be there almost every day just isn't realistic because you have to break the habit of not going and replace it with a habit of going, both at the same time! Doing one or the other (i.e., breaking a habit or building a new one) is hard enough; trying to do both is just asking to fail.

One of the dates that was set was less than 100 days from the begin date. That's basically impossible, but reflects the second important reason most people who aren't on track aren't:

2. They underestimate the amount of change, effort, or resources involved in attaining that goal. If your goal requires adding something to your life (rather than removing something, like eating less sugar, for example), that's going to require time. Since you are living 24 hours a day already even if you're doing very little in those 24, that means you're going to have to take time that you're doing something and reallocate it to that new thing.

If you're not already doing something with your 24 hours that pass every day already, then finding something to do with an hour or so is easy. But how many of us can say that their schedule is empty? After all, being too busy is one of the biggest complaints most people have. That means that if you want to attain this new goal, you're going to have to take something you already do and replace it with something else; you're not going to magically have a 25th hour in your day.

This is one reason that a lot of people start off strong and then fade. I see a lot of date blocks filled in in a row with little gap between dates, then the gaps get bigger, then bigger... At first, it's new and fun, and it's easy. Then as a week or two goes by, some of the other things that used to occupy that time start giving reminders of the "old" times as they get neglected. That leads to decision time: do I go back to what I used to do or do I stick with the new thing now that it's not the "new thing" anymore?

Since the old habit was probably around a lot longer than the new habit, the old one tends to win out in the end through sheer familiarity and comfort. Since it takes a month or more for working out to start having a real effect, the old ways have an even easier battle. It's easy to go back to the couch when it seems like the new working out habit isn't doing anything.

The realization of the amount of work and/or disruption this new habit involves also contributes to the easy victory for the old habits. That's why instead of looking at the challenge as [big, deep announcer voice] THE 100 WORKOUT CHALLENGE, I look at it as a hundred 1-workout challenges. Each time I fill in a date box, I've won that challenge. All I have to do is 99 more. Then 98 more. And so on. It's just like the old question, "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time."

How has it worked for me? Well, this (the only workout selfie I've ever taken) was taken not even 90 days in, and I've gotten even better since then:


What does this have to do with flying? Well, next week I'll apply these lessons to an aviation setting. See you next Wednesday!


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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. 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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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A month with David

Last month, I switched from my old Bose X headset to the David Clark DC PRO-X. Now that I've had them for a month, how are they performing?

Outstanding, in short.

The active noise reduction (ANR) is superb. The first time I turned it on was a bit disconcerting, as the noise level with the engines running dropped to quieter than the noise level with the plane shut down without the headset on!

While that was impressive, I really gained an appreciation for just how well the ANR works when the batteries finally died in flight. The noise level shot up so much so quickly that I was startled for a second or two as the sudden noise of rushing air (the noise the headset had been canceling) made me initially think we had lost pressurization.

My eyes shot to the pressurization display and it was holding at 0 FPM (meaning no change in cabin pressure), so I pulled one of the sides of my headset off my ear. There was no change, which meant the batteries had finally worn out. (I knew it was going to happen sometime soon because the battery indicator on the headset control had been blinking red instead of the normal green, which is a warning that the battery is low.) I intentionally was letting the battery run all the way out to see how long it would last, and I got about 25% more life out of it than I did with the old Bose X: 4 weeks instead of 3.

Before, at the end of every flight, as soon as the shutdown checklist was over I used to rip the Bose X headset off right away. I've noticed that there have been a couple of times that I've forgotten to take the PRO-X off until it was time to leave the plane because they are so much more comfortable that they're not constantly reminding me that they're sitting on my head. I also don't tend to try to readjust it one or more times a flight like I did with the Bose X. Once it's on my head, it doesn't slide forward or backward or need readjusted.

Some of that has to do with how much lighter the PRO-X is and how its design does a better job distributing the clamping force that keeps the headset over the ears. Much of that, however, has to do with how much more comfortable the ear cushions are. Since the PRO-X cushions are much smaller and only cover the ear opening instead of the entire ear, my ears are much cooler than they used to be.

Another factor in that is how much more comfortable the material used for the cushions is. The Bose used a cheap-feeling, thin layer of soft material over a large spongy material. In the summer, this outer layer would absorb sweat, get soggy, and start flaking off in a couple of months. Once enough of that material flaked off, the sweat would then wick into the thin fabric material behind it and eventually into the spongy material underneath. After a while, this would start to cause the cushions to smell like unwashed gym socks. (Yes, it is as unpleasant as it sounds.) Trying to get rid of that smell with Lysol wouldn't do much but make the headset smell like Lysol + gym socks, and it would cause what was left of the cushion to dry out and peel apart even faster. Alcohol wipes had the same result.

And if that wasn't enough, if the Bose headset didn't fit exactly perfectly on the head, meaning absolutely no angular displacement, once the cushions got soggy they would start to warp at an angle and at the same time start to gradually lose their sponginess.

Although it's only been a month, the ear cushions for the PRO-X still look brand new and have no evidence whatsoever of wear or loss of support. The leatherette material also feels less cheap and more like real leather.

One of the knocks I've heard about the PRO-X from those who considered it was that it feels and/or looks like it's not very rugged. I've compared it with the Bose X by tapping on it, and the plastic parts actually feel more solid on the DC than the Bose. I think one reason it may look a little flimsier is the matte finish DC uses on the magnesium parts makes the metal look dull like plastic. And the way the PRO-X folds up (which the Bose didn't) makes it sit in my case in a way that makes it less likely to be damaged.

Nothing is perfect, though. However, the only thing I've found so far that I don't like about the PRO-X is one that is easily remedied: the light that flashes to tell you it is on is obnoxiously bright. At night in a dark cockpit, the power light reflecting in the side windscreen is annoying. I solved that by simply placing a piece of electrical tape that covers half of the light.

After I did that, I found out that the DC has a feature that the Bose didn't: you can actually turn the power LED off without turning off the headset! By holding the Power + Bluetooth buttons down, you can turn off the blinking altogether! And as another nice touch, if the battery gets low, the power light will start blinking red to let you know even if you turned it off.


See you next Wednesday!


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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. 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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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Three short but incredible videos

A while back, I posted a bunch of pictures with the title "The air flowing like water". Last week, a storm chaser posted this amazing time-lapse video that demonstrates that principle in motion. Since it's at sunset, you also get to see some vibrant color along the way. It's just over a minute long and is definitely worth watching:


The next one is a little less artistic, but also shows a lot in under a minute:


The final one may be some of the most incredible 25 seconds of video on all of YouTube:



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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. 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, June 7, 2017

Bye bye Bose, Hello again David

After having bought the wife a car for Valentine's Day, she repaid me by getting me a replacement headset for my birthday. My Bose X was nearing ten years old and after almost 4,000 hours of use was succumbing to the beatings of near-daily use. I'm sad to see it go, as it's seen me through almost every stage of my aviation growth, all the way from private pilot through airline captain. Nonetheless, like an old car that has fond memories associated with it but is getting too old to maintain reasonably, it is time to move on.

Since headset technology has advanced quite a bit in the decade since I got the Bose X, it was getting obsolete. It didn't have Bluetooth, as in 2007 Bluetooth was still an extra $350 option. However, what really made it obsolete for my use was the primitiveness of its active noise reduction. While good for its day, and while it did a great job canceling the lower-frequency noise during my days on the Dash-8 (and as an instructor in piston planes before that), it was totally useless at quieting the white noise in the jet cockpit. Not long after transitioning to the ERJ-145, I stopped even bothering to turn on the ANR (active noise reduction), since it didn't do anything.

I was happy with Bose as a company, but the last straw with the Bose X was when it got a loose wire going into the headset which would cause the microphone to crackle and/or cut out intermittently. Their products aren't the cheapest, but their customer service is outstanding, and they support the old models of their products for years after other companies would. Unfortunately, the cost to fix this loose wire would have been over $300, which is a pretty sizable chunk of what a brand new headset would cost.

I decided to take that money and put it toward a headset that wouldn't need something else fixed in a year or two due to its age. My short list came down to the Bose A20, the Lightspeed Zulu 3, the Clarity Aloft, a combination of a UFlyMike and an ANR headset of some kind, and the David Clark DC PRO-X.

Bose A20


The Bose A20 was on the list just because of my familiarity with their predecessor. However, this model itself is getting a little long in the tooth (it came out 6 years ago), and they are more expensive than everyone else. Sometimes Bose is more expensive because they are simply better—the Bose Companion 3 is by far the best 2.1 computer speaker I've ever had (it's much better than the high-end Klipsch 5.1 system it replaced), but they're 2-3x more expensive than most 2.1 systems. That said, sometimes Bose is like Apple in that they're more expensive just because of the name. I get the feeling that the A20 falls in the latter category.

Lightspeed Zulu 3


I've tried Lightspeeds on occasion before, and something about them just doesn't seem to fit on my ear quite correctly. Plus I'm trying to get away from the big "earmuff" style of headset. When you fly 5-8 hours a day, even the most comfortable headset gets tiring. I was looking to go with something lighter.

Clarity Aloft

For lightness reasons, I looked at Clarity Aloft's in-ear headsets. It would be hard to get lighter than an earpiece instead of an entire headset!

I've talked to a few pilots who use Clarity Aloft and they have good things to say about them. Nonetheless, I was still a bit skeptical about wearing an in-ear for several hours a day. I know that after a couple of hours at the gym, I'm ready to pull out my earbuds, and these aren't cheap plastic ones but SoundMAGIC E50S earbuds with extra-comfy eartips similar to the Comply eartips of the Clarity Alofts.

I didn't try them out, so I could be wrong, but reviews from professional pilots tended to say that while they are very comfortable, their noise reduction isn't very good and the sound quality is unimpressive. This ruled them out for me for two reasons.

First, while I don't fly pistons much at all (I don't have anything against them, but after 4-6 days in a cockpit, the last thing I want to do on a day off is to go to another airport), I still do occasionally give a flight review or ride along as a safety pilot. That means I still need something with good all-around noise reduction.

Second, one of the things I'd like to be able to do with any new headset is to also use it on deadheads or commute flights to listen to music while canceling out noise inside the cabin. This means that at least decent sound quality is a must.

UFlyMike + ANR headset


This is the closest I came to sold on anything but what I ended up getting. The combination of separate mic that can be used with a "normal", non-aviation headset was appealing, since I could choose which model of headset I liked best. Unfortunately, the price of the UFlyMike (around $300) combined with the price of a high-quality ANR headset (another $300) approaches or exceeds a dedicated aviation headset.

This in itself wasn't a deal-breaker, though. I'm willing to spend money on a quality tool that I use every day at work. And the "every day at work" thing was the problem. The people I've talked to who use this combination mentioned that while the microphone is tough enough, the headset itself needs replaced every year or two. Normal headsets aren't designed to constantly travel and be used for up to 9 hours a day. This means this route could end up being both more expensive and more annoying, because one of the things I hate is having to spend time fixing or replacing things, especially if the headset were to break on day 1 of a 5-day trip.

David Clark DC PRO-X


This one finally met all of my needs and at a nice price point as well. The thing that made me look at them when they first came out was the small size of the earpiece. Instead of being the size of big earmuffs, these were the size of a mini-donut. That means that instead of trapping the heat all around my ears, the back of my ears could breathe.

It's a unique size and shape, and one that definitely appealed to me. One of the nice things about the size is that I could use them in the cabin on flights to cancel noise and listen to music (or more likely to catch up on podcasts) without looking like a complete doofus.

Their price is nice. They're just over half as much as the Bose ($695 vs. $1095), but not because they're cheaply made. My first-ever headset was the very popular David Clark H10-13.4, which is built like a tank (and unfortunately is about as comfortable). David Clark's support is excellent, and you can send them in and have them rebuilt for a very reasonable cost, so I trust the company's confidence in their product.

Bluetooth was a must in a new headset. Not so much for the music but because now that I'm a captain, I need to use the phone occasionally to call Dispatch if there is a problem with the plane or we get a reroute, etc. It's much more convenient to stay plugged in while on the phone because then I can also listen to the communications radios at the same time and still be in the loop.

What sold me on the PRO-X was the reviews. Many of the Amazon reviews are by long-haul airline pilots: 777, 757, 767 pilots that wear them hour after hour and still like them. That was the biggest requirement for me, as I need something that will still be comfortable after 5-8 hours a day.

So after not having bought a David Clark in 11 years, I went with them again because of their great combination of price, comfort, durability, and features. I was lucky enough to get them the day before I left for a 4-day trip. I'm writing this after having used them for only a few days, and so far my reaction is one big WOW! They are an enormous upgrade over the old Bose X—and I liked my Bose!

Once I've had a chance to use them for a month, I'll write a more detailed review. Until then, I'll see you next Wednesday!

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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. 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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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A regulation nobody studies

I'm busy the next two weeks getting emergency after emergency thrown at me as I do my Captain upgrade simulator sessions, so here's a little bit of humor that's been going around the web. I don't know where it originated (it's not mine), but if you've ever found yourself bewildered while studying the FAR/AIM for a written examination, you might get a smile out of this:


FAA Regulation / Part 0, Section 000 (a) 1 (c)

Section I: No pilot or pilots, or person or persons acting on the direction or suggestion or supervision of a pilot or pilot may try, or attempt to try or make, or make attempt to try to comprehend or understand any or all, in whole or in part of the herein mentioned, Aviation Regulations, except as authorized by the administrator or an agent appointed by, or inspected by, the Administrator.

Section II: If a pilot, or group of associate pilots becomes aware of, or realized, or detects, or discovers, or finds that he or she, or they, are or have been beginning to understand the Aviation Regulations, they must immediately, within three (3) days notify, in writing, the Administrator.

Section III: Upon receipt of the above-mentioned notice of impending comprehension, the Administrator shall immediately rewrite the Aviation Regulations in such a manner as to eliminate any further comprehension hazards.

Section IV: The Administrator may, at his or her discretion, require the offending pilot or pilots to attend remedial instruction in Aviation Regulations until such time that the pilot is too confused to be capable of understanding anything.



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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. 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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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Don't give yourself far to fall


In the near future, I'm going to be negotiating a part of our union's contract with our airline. To prepare, I've been studying negotiations. I began with a book that comes highly recommended from someone else: Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if your life depended on it by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz.

Even if you're not going to be negotiating something, this is still an outstanding read. It is one of the best how-to books I've ever seen on anything, and even if you're not interested in negotiation, reading the stories in each chapter alone is worth it. Voss was the FBI's leading expert in international kidnapping negotiations, so lives quite literally depended on his negotiation skills, and he tells several of his war stories along the way.

One of the things he says in the book has application in almost everything in life: "When the pressure is on, you don't rise to the occasion—you fall to your highest level of preparation."

As it happens, I am also on my way to my upgrade simulator training, the last step in becoming a captain. This "falling to the level of your preparation" philosophy is the core of why we do so much sim training (both initial and recurrent training). When the ship hits the sand, you can't just try to make it up as you go and rise to the occasion with some miraculous piloting skills. You develop those skills ahead of time in preparation, in the hopes you'll never need them.

We do all sorts of preparation, from normal approaches to missed approaches to fires and engine failures at V1, the worst possible time for an engine to fail. By the time we're done, we do so many of them that the horrible is the routine, and in the event that something bad does happen in real life, the reaction to it will be automatic. In other words, "falling to the highest level of preparation" means there's not much of a fall after all.

You can do the same thing in your own flying. When was the last time you tried to recite the bold items in your POH from memory? When was the last time you flew a go-around? If the big fan in front stops cooling you off, you need to automatically think, "Fuel, air, and spark" and be automatically setting yourself up for best glide speed (which you do have memorized, right?). You don't want to fall to a level of preparation that has you fall out of the sky just because somebody started taxiing onto the runway when you were about to land and you botched a go-around.

As the old saying goes, the more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war. Spend a few minutes reviewing your emergency or abnormal procedures, mentally fly a go-around (visualize the "power up, pitch up, clean up, and speak up" sequence), or refresh yourself on your aircraft's important speeds and numbers today.

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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. 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.