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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Flying the Mississippi: Introduction

From the book-in-progress, Flying the Mississippi.

Introduction


This is the sort of flight I'd want to take, so I'm simply writing the kind of book that I'd want to read. That's why the flight plan is pretty close to something you could use to make a real-life flight: it actually comes right from the preliminary planning I do when preparing for a journey like this. It is the prequel to an even larger book: one which goes all the way around the world in FSX. No avgas to buy, no hotel rooms to pay for, no hours ticking on the Hobbs meter: just get in the virtual plane and have a blast!

There are several books on the market already that use FSX as a “training tool”. The problem with most of them it that they tend to be more like dry, dusty workbooks than useful, enjoyable tools. With the exception of “FSX for Pilots: Real World Training” by Jeff van West and Kevin Lane-Cummings, which is one of the few enjoyable textbook-style books that doesn't treat FSX as the redheaded stepchild of aviation, most of these focus too much on drill and repetition of isolated skills.

A recent trend in training is “Scenario-Based Training” (SBT). This is a promising concept, as instead of isolating a specific skill or maneuver and then practicing that without context, SBT's goal is to package many factors and skills together and place them in a scenario that reflects more closely the kind of situations a pilot may face in real life.

However, even the books that follow the trendy scenario model of training tend to lack imagination. Not here. Instead of a bunch of variations on “To grandmother's house we go” flights, you'll be flying the ultimate scenario: an immense voyage down one of the world's longest rivers. You'll see more of the Mississippi than Lewis and Clark did, you'll face serious challenges that will test your piloting skills to the limit (and possibly beyond), and by the time you're done you'll be able to boast of having accomplished something few people ever have.

This book takes an entirely different approach than almost any of the ones out there today. Instead of lecturing you about everything you'll ever need to know and lots you won't before you ever get to touch the controls, you'll learn by having fun. My goal is that you'll be too busy having fun to realize you're learning. No one remembers a dull lecture, but everyone remembers that one time they did such-and-such. This book is just a string of such-and-such.

I assume only a basic familiarity with whatever flight simulator you choose to use. There are many references to Microsoft Flight Simulator X, but only because that is the flight simulator with the largest installation base. It would be impossible to write one with such specific references for all of the major flight simulators on the market today. However, I have put effort into ensuring that it is just as possible to do this flight in any of the others with minor adjustments. For example, I reference the FSX GPS, but your flight simulator will almost definitely have a GPS of its own. The commands to make it do certain things may vary slightly, but they probably do the same basic things.

You should know the basics of how to fly whatever flight simulator you choose, but you don't need to be an expert at all. As long as you know how to go up/down, left/right, and can land on a mile of runway, you have all the skills you need. The goal is that by the end of the book, you'll be a great pilot. If you're already a pilot, this journey should make you even better.

Hernando de Soto "discovering" the Mississippi River. Image from Wikipedia.

This isn't just a trip of 1500 miles. It is a trip through time, both on a human scale and a geologic scale. The Mississippi is a dynamic, living creature, and just as people have whims and layers of history of their own, so does the river.

It is alive on a daily basis, as barges push up and down the waters. It lives on a yearly basis in its floods, which after decades and decades of engineering are much tamer than they used to be, but still not entirely eliminated. It lives on a millennial scale in the layers of sediments that are a mix of new material deposited through its innumerable floods and old layers that date back millions of years to when it was an enormous bay.

Along the way, you'll encounter some of the human history that has taken place along its banks, and see how the laws of man are no match for the moods of the Mississippi. If you've ever wondered why rivers are so winding instead of taking the simpler, straighter route, you'll finally have your answer, and you'll see the traces left over that are evidence that rivers really do take the straighter course at times.

You'll also discover that river banks and airplane wings have something in common, and the Mississippi has had an impact on aviation in its own way. The travelers on the first steamboat to traverse the Mississippi, the New Orleans, were nervous by the high speed of the new boat: 8-10 miles per hour! You will go over ten times that fast as you travel along the river where the only thing constant is change.

See the table of contents for the rest of the book.

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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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Flying the Mississippi: Table of Contents

Flying the Mississippi posts

If it has a hyperlink, then that chapter been published. If it doesn't, then it's coming soon.

An exciting announcement!: A description of what the book will be like, who it's for, and all the fun stuff that will be in it.

Introduction: Many non-fiction books have introductions. This one does, too.

Tips for flying this adventure: How to get the most out of the lessons, legs, and flight simulator.

Chapter 1: Leg 1: Sky Manor (MN86) to Bemidji Regional (KBJI)



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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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An exciting announcement!

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), where whoever wants to can try to write a 50,000-word novel in just one month. Many try, but only a few succeed, in large part because 50,000 words is an extremely daunting goal. (By comparison, this entire blog is "only" about 190,000 words, and I've been writing it for over five years.)

I won't be writing a novel, but I'll still be taking part in my own way. For the last several years, I've been writing a book called Flying the Mississippi. It has been a work in progress for quite a while now, as my real flying job, the return to school for graduate work, beating the 100 Workout Challenge, self-experimenting with learning research by attempting to master chess, the hours of work per month into this blog, and occasionally getting to spend an hour or two with the wife and dog has left little time to take it from the rough draft that it is to the polished, high-quality work it would have to be for me to admit to having anything to do with it.

It is a "learn by doing" book. In it, we fly together from the very start of the Mighty Mississippi at Lake Itasca all the way down to its unofficial end in New Orleans. Along the way, each leg has either a lesson in flying technique and/or the history and geology of the river. Everything from steamboat stories to short field landings is thrown in.

As you watch one of the most powerful rivers in the world grow from a small creek to a mile-wide monster, you'll fly over
  • Paul Bunyan country
  • Charles Lindbergh's hometown and land at the airport that bears his name
  • Maiden's Rock, the site of an old Native American legend of unlucky lovers
  • the "battlefield" of a war you probably didn't learn about in history class: the "Honey War"
  • Mark Twain's childhood home
  • an airport owned by the Busch family, makers of Budweiser
  • the beginning of the historic Lewis & Clark Expedition
  • the site of the most powerful earthquake in US history, which was so powerful the river "ran backward" for a time
  • an odd bit of geography where Kentucky isn't surrounded by more Kentucky
  • an old pirate lair
  • a pyramid that isn't in Egypt
  • the birthplace of blues and jazz and the home of Elvis
  • the alleged burial site of Hernando de Soto, the explorer who was on the old $500 bill
  • the location of Charles Lindbergh's first night flight
  • Vicksburg, which played a major role in the Civil War
  • the tallest capitol in the country
  • the home of Mardi Gras

Along the way, you'll learn and/or perfect short and soft field landings and all forms of navigation from the old-fashioned or obsolete to the most modern: dead reckoning, pilotage, VORs, ADF, and GPS. You'll become a master at reading sectional charts, and even perhaps understand what that mysterious "magnetic variation" is all about.

You'll even experience an engine failure over a particularly-treacherous part of the Mississippi. I actually already turned this into a video a while back on the Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel:


This adventure takes place in Microsoft Flight Simulator X, and was designed to be flown with nothing more complicated than its stock Cessna 172 with a plain vanilla installation. I chose this aircraft because it requires no special installation of software or add-ons, so it will work even if you're an X-Plane or Prepar3d user. The 172 also lets you use it as a guide if you're lucky enough to take this trip in real life!

Starting this month until it's done, roughly every other post will be a chapter from the book! (It might be a while, since there are 66 legs.) You'll get to watch the work in progress and even make comments and/or suggestions before the final book is published!

I'll keep up a table of contents as the series progresses. The next post will be the book's introduction. See you there!


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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, October 25, 2017

Heroes on the Potomac

Twenty-seven years before there was Sully on the Hudson, there was Lenny on the Potomac.

On a cold, snowy January afternoon in 1982, afternoon traffic is struggling to get out of Washington, DC. Six inches of snow has fallen on the area and downtown is almost paralyzed. Washington National—which wouldn't be named after Reagan for another 16 years, since Reagan was only finishing his first year as President at the time—was barely functional.

In the icy mess, Air Florida Flight 90 reaches the end of a chain of weak links. Unbeknownst to the crew or anyone else, one of the deicing teams' fluid wasn't the proper mixture, so one of the 737's wings didn't get the protection from the bitter elements it was supposed to be getting. The crew had little experience in harsh winter conditions, since they worked for a Florida airline.

As they push the thrust levers forward, the final nail is pounded into their coffin: the iced-up engine probes relay false information about the power the engines are putting out, making them think they are at takeoff power when they are actually well below it. All of the holes in Reason's Swiss cheese model have lined up, and barely 90 seconds later, they crash into the 14th Street Bridge.
Diagram from the official NTSB report.

Only six people on board survive the impact. They would cling to the wreckage for over twenty minutes as a U.S. Park Police helicopter scrambles to locate them in the wintry weather. One of them would end up succumbing to the icy water and drown before they could be rescued. Three of them manage to fight off hypothermia just long enough to hold on to the rescue rope and be brought on the chopper.

"The other two survivors required hands-on rescue," the NTSB report noted. "[O]ne was pulled aboard the helicopter skid by the helicopter crewman, the other was rescued by a civilian bystander who swam out and pulled her ashore."

That civilian bystander was a man by the name of Lenny Skutnik. Shortly afterward, Ronald Reagan would give his first State of the Union address as President, and would mention him in it:
Just 2 weeks ago, in the midst of a terrible tragedy on the Potomac, we saw again the spirit of American heroism at its finest—the heroism of dedicated rescue workers saving crash victims from icy waters. And we saw the heroism of one of our young government employees, Lenny Skutnik, who, when he saw a woman lose her grip on the helicopter line, dived into the water and dragged her to safety.
Yes, that is Nancy Reagan applauding for him.
(Screenshot from C-SPAN's video of the speech. His mention starts at 57:40.)
This Presidential mention would create a quasi-tradition of its own, as Reagan and some of the presidents to follow would at times single out a particular American as a representative of the best of the country. These people would be called "Lenny Skutniks", leading to one of the stranger titles for a Wikipedia page: the "List of Lenny Skutniks".

But he was not the only hero on the Potomac that deadly day. The person I mentioned above that drowned before they could be rescued was Arland D. Williams, Jr., who selflessly helped the other survivors get rescued first. In his honor, the 14th Street Bridge that was the scene of the crash and the heroism afterward would be renamed the Arland D. Williams Memorial Bridge three years later.

Next week, I have a HUGE announcement about a new series that will become a book! 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, October 18, 2017

The Weather Capital of the World

When you think of the weather capital of the world, what do you think of? Maybe the National Weather Service HQ in Silver Spring, MD? The Storm Prediction Center in Oklahoma City? Maybe even the Met Office in England where weather forecasting itself was born?

Having already visited the NWS office in Cleveland, I went to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the city that calls itself "The Weather Capital of the World".
Although there actually was a "Groundhog Day Gale of 1976", which gives some tangential weather relation:
Image from Wikipedia.
That's not what their claim to Weather Capital of the World is based on, however. Instead, Punxsutawney is the site of the famous Groundhog Day event that goes all the way back to 1886. According to it, if Phil sees his shadow, there allegedly will be six more weeks of winter to come:

This goes back even further, and one of the forms of the legend is summed up in a short poem:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.
I'm more inclined to believe the billion-dollar supercomputers that predict weather than I am a rodent, even one that has a place in weather lore. Although the flight benefits that come along with being an airline pilot mean the wife and I can go anywhere in the world we want to on vacation, the last thing I really want to do on vacation is get on yet another airline flight. So a large part the trip was just to enjoy a nice, unhurried, barely-scheduled drive through the fall foliage.

Besides, Groundhog Day is one of Shannon's favorite movies, and since it's her vacation too, I thought it would be fun for us to visit where it was set (even though it was actually filmed in Illinois) and—as Bill Murray's character put it in the movie—"to worship a rat":

That rat is Punxsutawney Phil, the guy whose shadow is supposed to foretell the end of winter. (Well, that's a picture of a picture of Phil.) However, the real guy actually is on display in the town square, and you can walk right up to his burrow and see him:

While you can't pet the real Phil, you can pet a likeness of him:

It is impossible not to come across him many times more, though, such as this groundhog in front of the McDonalds:

It wouldn't be the last one we came across, though. In fact, there are 32 different Phils scattered throughout town, each one with a different theme:

Clockwise from upper left, here are four of them:
  1. Weather prognosticator Phil next to his burrow in the town square
  2. Rural Phil, which celebrates the farming and Amish country that surrounds "Punxsy", as the locals call it
  3. Bagpiper Phil
  4. Coal miner Phil, which calls back to the area's former mining heritage
We stayed at the Barclay Bed & Breakfast, which is a quaint, pretty place right on the town square. It's run by a great lady by the name of Lisa, who makes a good breakfast and conversation, and is extremely helpful. (She even took the time to ship us the things we accidentally left there afterward.) I'd absolutely recommend staying there if you're in town, and I enjoyed her sense of humor with the menu, which my wife Shannon pretended to cook:


One of the interesting things we came across that wasn't a Phil statue was in a small park down by the creek, just a couple blocks from the town square. They have concrete chess tables, complete with concrete chairs:
While in the movie Groundhog Day, the action takes place in the town square, the actual "Does he see his shadow or not?" event takes place at Gobbler's Knob, a few minutes out of town.


Shannon politely knocked on Phil's door:
Not getting any response to her "knock knock" joke, I took the podium and then tried to wake him up:

On the way home, we stopped at Venango Regional Airport to have lunch at Primo Barone's, a decent Italian restaurant right on the field. I'd been there several times several times with students back in the instructing days, but always on cross-country flights for a touch-and-go without stopping. It would be nice to see more on-airport restaurants to make people more comfortable with visiting their local airport.

When we finally got back in Ohio, we came across this amazing view as we drove across Mosquito Lake:

That was on the way to Punderson State Park to walk along the boardwalk that extends out into the lake. We also discovered that it has an allegedly-haunted manor.


That's all for this week. Now it's back to the grind. Next week, I get in to the story of one of Wikipedia's stranger page names, the "List of Lenny Skutniks". 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, October 11, 2017

Off to see the groundhog!

I'm on vacation this week. With my travel benefits, I could go anywhere in the world.

Then again, since I spend day after day flying as my day job, the last thing I want to do on vacation is to fly somewhere. Instead, the wife and I will spend the week driving a 500-mile loop and checking out fall foliage.

In the middle of this trip, we'll spend a couple of days in the self-proclaimed "Weather Capital of the World" and pay a visit to the Grand Prognosticator himself: Punxatawney Phil.

Next week: pictures. 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.

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, 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.

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, 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!

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, 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 an interview on YouTube: "I still have a lot to improve upon."

Again, this guy is the second best in the entire world. In the six months before he said that, 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!


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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 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.

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.