Category Archives: Commercial Aviation

NORAC

Sorry for the lack of communications friends. I’ve been travelling for the past month both domestically and on international flights. Not in the right or left seat mind you but as one of the many pax in the back of the aluminum tube and enjoying the many x-ray, full body screening devices at major airports. It’s given me a new healthy glow.  Except in Brazil. They don’t seem to worry about that as much.

What better way to test the effectiveness of our security apparatus and ring in the New Year then a commercial airliner evacuating the capital after loss of radio contact , better known as NORAC in ATC circles. (Not to be confused with Nordo-Flying without or loss of a radio).

A passenger plane briefly lost radio contact with air traffic controllers when the pilot turned to the wrong frequency as he approached Washington, leading to the scrambling of fighter jets and the evacuation of the U.S. Capitol, federal officials said Saturday.

Good news: The system works. Bad news for the pilot in command to be sure,  but who among us hasn’t missed a read back? At least once? Of course, this was perhaps the worst possible time to miss a frequency call out. What’s puzzling is why the pilot / copilot didn’t immediately call back the previous controller once confirmation wasn’t received. (i.e. This is Piedmont flight WXYZ checking in , level at 5,000).  Lots of paperwork for a few people.

Our New Year’s resolutions should include careful copying and readbacks.  All the best to you in 2011!

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The Cheap Seats

At last. A way to make air travel more painful.

 Think your seat in coach is cramped? Take a look at the SkyRider.

The new airplane seat, to be unveiled next week at the Aircraft Interiors Expo Americas conference in Long Beach, would give passengers an experience akin to riding horseback.They’d sit at an angle with no more than 23 inches between their perch and the seat in front of them.

 “For flights anywhere from one to possibly even up to three hours … this would be comfortable seating,” says Dominique Menoud, director general of Aviointeriors Group.. “The seat … is like a saddle. Cowboys ride eight hours on their horses during the day and still feel comfortable in the saddle.”

OK, but most passengers aren’t cowboys. The average traveler won’t like squatting on a large bump for three hours. And wait until you get some turbulence. Yee-hah. Guys will walk bowlegged for hours afterward. That’s not all. Most U.S. passengers are not built extra small. You’ll need a big shoehorn to get folks into their “seats” and a prybar once the plane lands.

Of course there’s already an airline ready to sign up. Ryanair  is ready to go once approved by regulators so they can continue to be the leader in low cost fares. It’s the same airline that endorsed pay toilets, a passenger “fat tax” and suggested that only one pilot is needed in the cockpit. In an emergency, their CEO Michael O’Leary explains that the flight attendant should help land the plane if the captain is incapacitated. “Two pilots worked well in the 50s when flying a plane was difficult. Nowadays they just sit back, press a button and put it on autopilot. They then read newspapers or just do nothing.”

Everyone loves a bargain . How about a low, low price brain surgeon? An aircraft built with the cheapest parts that might be “close enough”? How about an airplane seat that can’t withstand the mandatory 16G requirement? Not me.  

Disneyland for Aviators

Airventure began with rain, mud and more rain. Sploshkosh and Aquaventure were used to describe aviation’s biggest event. The most challenging ever according to organizers. Not surprisingly, attendance was down early in the week and fewer planes made the trip. The annual mass arrivals of Bonanzas, Cessnas, and Mooneys just didn’t happen. The phenomenal volunteers rallied, pumping out water, laying sod and bringing in woodchips and it was still pretty great.

 There’s something for everyone who loves aviation. If you were in the market for a new plane, it was one gigantic motor mall with every manufacturer represented. If you want a carbon fiber Cub with Tundra tires, they had it. Aerobatic planes? Pick from a range from top performance to build your own. I was intrigued by the amphibious Icon A5.It was all there, from low and slow ultralights to rocket powered helos and single pilot jets.

 There were hundreds of exhibits, seminars; panel discussions and workshops. It meant choosing among the “must see” since there were up to 30 events all taking place in a single one hour time slot. In between you can admire thousands of planes of every type and description.  Showplanes, Homebuilts, Vintage, Warbirds, Ultralights, Seaplanes and rotorcraft. Who wouldn’t be impressed by rows of P-51’s and T-28’s? Rare planes became commonplace. They had four B-17’s! One guy even proposed on a Flying Fortress.-she said yes. (My wife would have clobbered me if I’d tried that). I also spent a little time with Glacier Girl, whose good looks drew many admirers.

An air show was held each afternoon but planes were in the sky all the time. A flight of F-15’s roared overhead while I waited in line for a sandwich. Look- there goes an F-18 in full grunt. Where did that V-22 Osprey come from? Wow, a flight of T-33’s. A steady stream of planes were arriving and departing until the airshow began.

 Mostly, the pilgrimage to Oshkosh was about hanging out with fellow pilots and aviation fans. I was among friends. Some close and another half million I had yet to meet.

Oshkosh has been named a ‘Tier 1 Event” by the U.S. Navy for its centennial celebration of naval aviation in 2011. A good reason to clear your calendar from July 25-31 next year.

Here’s a one minute video summary : Airventure 2010.

See You at Airventure

If you like anything related to flying you need to be here. This clip explains why:

10,000 planes; 578,000 aviation enthusiasts; 750 exhibitors and 1,000 demonstrations. Just to name a few: 

  • C.E. “Bud” Anderson, Jack Roush, Jim Hagedorn with two Old Crow P-51s
  • D-Day paratroopers Col. Ed Shames and 1st Lt. Fred Bahlau with the C-47 Tico Belle
  • “Max Effort” Air Show featuring DC-3/C-47 formation flights and aerial displays 
  • Christina Olds with the Collings Foundation F-4.
  • The Lonestar Flight Museum’s B-17  
  • Buck & Bill Patillo with 2 P-51s, Sweet & Lovely and Little Rebel
  • World Symposium on Electric Aircraft by GE Aviation
  • Bob Hoover with the Vintage Wings of Canada’ s F-86
  • Salute to Veterans with aerial demonstrations 
  • The Douglas AD-1 Skyraider
  • Daily Air Shows and even one at night

July 26th through August 1st in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. What’s not to like?

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

You don’t have to be rich to fly but it doesn’t hurt to have bundles of cash if you’d like to travel in a style that’s hard to imagine. Well, I can imagine it pretty easily when making the 21 hour trip to Singapore.

Despite an economy that’s still rising from the ashes, there are still a small number of folks who are able to spend money like drunken sailors on private air travel.  The super luxury segment is all but impervious to economic woes and public relations gaffes. During the recent 2010 European Business aviation Exhibition, jet service provider Comlux announced it was adding six more 767’s to the fleet to “better serve our Head of State and Royal Families customers”.  This seems especially appealing if you’ve ever been in a middle seat with passengers on either side that require seat belt extenders in order to buckle up.  I’ve even had an elderly lady fall asleep on my shoulder which was plenty awkward. Say goodbye to all that since luxury air travel enables you to get a whole couch to yourself.

For those who are determined to spend even more money there’s the Supersonic Bizjet. An idea whose time may never come.  One such start up company, Aerion, is still in search of an established manufacturer to fund, develop, certify and produce it. The concept was launched in 2004.

They’ve received orders for 50 of the $80 million aircraft, priced in 2007 dollars, each backed by a $250,000 refundable deposit, but have been unsuccessful in enticing any OEM to become a partner in the “first mover” project. If and when that occurs, Aerion managers say it will take a minimum of 6.5 years and $3 billion to bring it to market.

Six years later and no manufacturer will touch this with a ten foot pole. Why? Because it’s the same as dumping truckloads of money into a gigantic parking lot and setting a match to it. Perhaps they didn’t pay attention to the economics of the Concorde which later burned up money by the plane load. (To be fair, British Airways did make money initially). Ultimately, it wasn’t economically feasible for a larger group of passengers. Why would this concept be viable for only a half-dozen people on a flight? (Even if you do have truckloads of money to burn). Oh, and there’s that little problem of a sonic boom which relegates this to oceanic flights. 

It’s an idea that’s likely to be grounded for years to come.

Dumb and Dumber

For some reason, some folks find it entertaining to point lasers at aircraft. The menace is growing despite the efforts to inform the public that it’s a Really Bad Idea. Earlier this month, some idiot targeted Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma:

During a recent night flying week, the difficult and dangerous business of learning to fly at night was made even more difficult and dangerous when three Vance aircraft were the targets of a concentrated beam of green laser light, either from a laser pointer or a laser rifle scope. All three aircraft, a T-6A Texan II and two T-38s, landed safely, but all six pilots had to report to the Vance Clinic for precautionary eye exams. All were cleared by flight surgeons.  “They were on final turns to come into the base,” said Bob Farrell, Vance’s chief of community relations. “That’s a very critical phase of flight.”……“The critical phase of flight, absolutely, is the last 1,000 feet coming in and landing. That’s when the pilots need their eyes the most.”

During 2009 there were 1,527 laser illumination incidents reported to Federal Aviation Administration, up from 311 in 2005. Through 4/15/10 there’s aleady 550 reported incidents.

 This guy is going to do four years in prison for it. Some say that that’s too severe and it’s an over reaction. I don’t. The lives of the pilot (s) and passengers in commercial aircraft are placed in jeopardy if pilots are blinded on short final. It can also cost a pilot his livelihood. An American airline pilot who’s lost his medical after his eye was struck with a laser. You cannot blink fast enough. In my view, this is no different than someone firing a rifle at a plane. A severe penalty sends a message.

 “Men are not hanged for stealing horses, but that horses may not be stolen.” (George Savile)

h/t to Dan for the article

Close Call

A near miss (near hit makes more sense)  as a Boeing 777 came within 300 feet of a small high-wing Aeronca Chief in San Francisco. Just after wheels up at 1,100 feet, United pilots were advised by ATC that they had company. Simultaneously, the airplane’s traffic collision avoidance system, (TCAS) sounded a warning.

The Boeing plane’s automated collision avoidance system instructed the pilots to “adjust vertical speed” and then “descend” to clear the smaller plane’s path. The first officer followed those directions and the flight continued to Beijing without further incident, the NTSB said The United flight’s first officer, who was flying the 777, pushed the control column forward to level the airplane…Both crew members said they saw the underside of the Aeronca as it passed overhead, coming within 200 to 300 feet of their jet.

Not one where visibility was impeded due to the nature of the aircraft. One was a high wing with a vertical blind spot. Low wing aircraft have a few areas of blocked visibility when looking down. The Aeronca pilot must have had a commanding view of a gray monster passing underneath and I expect his pants required dry cleaning afterward. Older aircraft are not required to have radios so perhaps no radio contact was available but then he would be prohibited from KSFO airspace which surely this Aeronca must have violated. That particular area is protected from 10,000 feet to the surface.  How can anyone dawdle off into class Bravo airspace-right by the airport?

I’ve had two close calls over the years within less than 500 feet. Both times with no radio contact from the pilots of faster planes. Closure rates can be pretty quick and these were VFR “See and Avoid” situations.

TCAS:  Went from nice to have to something higher in my priority list.

Update: While this incident is unsettling, the good news is that mid air collisions are gratefully small in number. According to the 2009 Nall Report: Out of 1.254 accidents involving non-commercial fixed-wing aircraft only 11 were midair collisions. Eleven isn’t good but certainly not a leading cause.