Monthly Archives: December 2011

ACE’S END OF YEAR PONTIFICATING

THE END OF AN ERA

 

My fellow aviation aficionados:  As we approach the dropping of the ball that signifies the end of the year 2011, we can reflect back, and quite comfortably make the statement, “That was a very good year.” While there was a lot of chaos in the cabins of commercial airliners, the other side of this coin is as follows: no commercial airliners operated by U.S. air carriers splattered into the terrain in uncontrolled flight during 2011. To complement that very positive statistic it should be pointed out that the world of general aviation experienced a reduced accident rate. Unfortunately, the quality of life experienced by most airline passengers while stuffed in their little flying cocoon continued to deteriorate. Reported instances of conflagrations in the cabin have skyrocketed. “Road rage” is being replaced by “cabin craziness.” Please see my previous blog of December 26, titled Be Nice to the Flight Attendant. It provides a tutorial on the nuances of achieving a seemingly impossibility. That would, of course, be a relaxed, stress-free flight. It is difficult to remain stress-free when the airline just snatched a large sum of money from you for baggage fees, and shortly thereafter, you are exposed to the most overbearing and intrusive security procedures in the world.

But rejoice, for the TSA people are demonstrating a learning curve, and perhaps in another 10 years some semblance of common sense will have evolved. Nonetheless, commercial air travel will likely be more draconian as the airlines reduce their schedules which will result in airplanes overbooked and stuffed full of people. Furthermore, there is a likelihood of more aviation anomalies such as the flight attendant, Mr. Slater, of Jet Blue fame, who said, “enough is enough” as he exited the aircraft via the escape slide with a couple of cold beers in hand. Scenarios of this nature will probably occur more often during the boarding phase as the stuffing of bags into the overhead and underneath the seat becomes an insurmountable problem, and the cabin attendant will, at the very last minute, say “no mas” and call in sick.

Air travel in the year 2012 will possibly go down in the annals of aviation as “the good old days.” The reason for that prognostication is that the price of oil will only increase and of course the place of the airfare will also increase. My suggestion is to book early and avoid the fare increases, for they are coming.  By next holiday season you can rest assured that airfares will be increased by at least 25%. The rest of the story is as follows: the end of fossil fuel is near! The pipedream of biofuel as an alternate is just that, a pipedream. A solar powered aircraft are viable for aircraft that will carry only a few passengers. Hydrogen power continues to be discussed but the likelihood of it being used extensively by aircraft is not likely. Without elaborating on all of the details of alternative energy for aircraft, I will only suggest that air travel in the future (and that’s the relatively near future) will become far more expensive and far less available. For further elucidation of the subject please read Jeremy Rifkin’s book, The Third Industrial Revolution.

Despite this foreboding prognostication, Ace Abbott, author of The Rogue Aviator would like to wish everyone out there in the aviation-cyber space world a wonderful 2012. May you be blessed with tail winds, clear blue skies and silky-smooth, “grease-job” landings.

 

This blog is prepared by Ace Abbott, author of The Rogue Aviator (www.therogueaviator.com)

WINTER WX OPS; BEWARE THE ONEROUS ICE-MAN

 

 

 

 

ICE IS FUN IF YOU ARE A POLAR BEAR

In my previous post I pointed out that the big jets are very safe. Today’s discussion will focus on the issue of smaller airplanes that succumb to the trials and tribulations of winter flying. I will commence this discussion with a personal anecdote which is also an excerpt from my book, The Rogue Aviator: {. A few years later, long after he had recovered from this small airplane trauma, Ace once again ventured off into that otherworldly realm of propeller airplanes: a family ski trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Flying over the mountains of southern Tennessee, Ace encountered icing conditions and was unable to climb above or to descend below the icing level. The rented Cherokee Six had no deicing equipment, and after a VOR approach to very low ceiling and with visibility near minimums, the family exclaimed another great sigh of relief during the taxiing to the tarmac.}

While accumulation of ice on the airplane is one of the primary pitfalls that affect the private pilot, sometimes even commercial pilots encounter icing problems that result in uncontrolled flight into the terrain. The Continental flight 3407 (operated by Colgan Air) is an example of such. Throughout the more northern latitudes, particularly around the Great Lakes, the pilot who has no deicing equipment on his aircraft must be hyper-vigilant against this often insidious “airframe-ice monster.” The Florida pilot, headed for a winter ski trip (note: above scenario) is particularly vulnerable since that pilot rarely gives any consideration at all to the potential problem of icing. The copilot on Continental 3407 stated that “This is my first experience flying in icing conditions.”  As is the case in all aspects of aviation, experience plays a large role.

Flight instructors, chief pilots, check airman and maintenance as well, should now be focusing on reviewing deicing or anti-icing procedures, including the use of ground deicing fluids. And if you think aircraft icing is only a problem for the smaller airplanes or less experienced pilots please refer (Google)  the Air Florida accident at Washington National airport on January 13, 1982. Poor pilot technique and/or inexperience in the cockpit can severely diminish the longevity factor in large airplanes as well.

A major player in the increased accident rate during the winter months is the very subtle but often debilitating phenomena called, “get-home-itis”, or in the case of scheduled passenger flight it might be “get-these-PAX-there so they can make their connection.”  All passengers on all airplanes should engage in their own vigilance since there have been many flights that were aborted just prior to take off when the passenger looked out the window and observed ice and/or snow on the airplane. When it is all sorted out, this type of intervention will likely be well-received by the flight crew. During the takeoff roll on the ill-fated departure form DCA the copilot felt that something was awry but his response was not as proactive as it should have been. Captains, co-pilots, cabin crew, and passengers should be maintaining a high level of awareness regarding all aspects of the winter weather operations.

The sad statistics are staggering regarding small aircraft (including regional carrier turboprop aircraft) accidents and incidents during the winter months. The bright side of the equation is that the snow at the end and side of the runway can provide a cushioning effect when the air machine goes slip-sliding off the runway. Slick runways add to the pilots headaches during the winter and it is my premise that landing at LGA in a snowstorm with gusty crosswinds and an icy runway is far more challenging than “dead-sticking” your airplane into the Hudson River. For more clarification or validation of this subject,  please refer to “Sully Sullenberger.” Gallantly battle the throes of old man winter for he is a fearsome adversary!

“Keep your airpseed up in the turns.”     Ace Abbott

 

TODAY’S BIG JETS ARE EXTREMELY SAFE

The above viewed aircraft is a stretched “stretch 727” or 727-200. It remains in the heart and souls of many of the older flight crews whose nostalgic strings are often tweaked by this airplane. It is the keynote player in today’s aviation theme: TODAY’S BIG JETS ARE EXTREMELY SAFE! The following information regarding the safety record for commercial air carriers is extracted from an article written by Daniel Michaels and Andy Pasztor and appeared in the December 28, 2011 newsletter published by Curt Lewis and Associates:

The major accident rate in North America, for example, has remained flat at about one in 10 million flights.”

“This year is on course to be the safest ever for commercial aviation, with only
one passenger death for every 7.1 million people carried world-wide.”

“Most of the aviation fatalities in 2011 occurred in Russia, Iran and African countries that have long faced air-safety problems, such as Angola and Congo.”

“With only days left, 2011 appears set to eclipse the postwar record low rate of
passenger fatalities, set in 2004 at one per 6.4 million passengers, according to
Ascend, a consulting firm in London.”

“This year is on course to be the safest ever for commercial aviation, with
roughly one passenger death for every 7.1 million air travelers worldwide.”

Yesterday I commented on what an onerous experience one can encounter as an airline passenger. I now want to point out to all of those folks that harbor even a tidbit of trepidation about getting on the “big jet” to maintain the awareness that there is no safer mode of transportation than the U.S. air carriers. A caveat is as follows: the accident rate in recent years in the smaller jets and turboprop aircraft is much higher than the “big jets.” Although there is a very slightly higher chance of an accident or an incident on the regional airline you still remain hyper-safe compared to travel with a Russian, African, or Indian carrier. Standing applause should be issued to the pilots, air traffic controllers, flight training departments and last, but perhaps most important, the efforts of the many dedicated FAA overseers.

The safety of commercial aviation is verified by the passengers speaking loudly with their wallets and shelling out to get that middle seat (between the two large people). Enjoy it while you still can; we are running out of pilots and running out of fossil fuel is not far behind.

Be Nice To The Flight Attendants

This rare photo of commercial airline flight attendants having fun should give airline passengers the incentive to be nice to those people that help them find their seat in the cabin and even find space for them in the overhead bins. Additional incentive will be provided by the following brief synopsis of an incident on a flight preparing for departure at Palm Beach International Airport: During the boarding process the flight attendant was attempting to make a little extra space in the overhead bin when a passenger expressed her concern about her “fragile” package. Other passengers joined this session of spontaneous combustion inflamatory rhetoric which was aimed at the helpful cabin attendant and that precipitated intervention by the Palm Beach County Sherriff’s Officers. Three passenger; a therapist, a lawyer, and a travel agent, were forcibly disembarked by the local gendarmes. Unfortunately this type of scenario plays out on an all-to frequent basis.

Airline travel has now degenerated to the lowest possible form of human interaction. The stress level that is associated with being crammed into a small tube with 150 or more people of various sizes, smells, etc. etc. is difficult to avoid.  Compound that with the probability of being deprived of bathroom privileges, along with losing the eternal battle for more elbow room and this alien, congested environment will bring the most tolerant Buddhist Monk-like personality profile to be on the brink of “losing it.”  I suggest deep-breathing exercises, meditation, what ever legal medication that alleviates stress, and always tell yourself, “This will all be over in a few hours.” I will also suggest the following advice from a professional flight attendant: (Click on this link;  http://www.rd.com/slideshows/13-things-your-flight-attendant-won%e2%80%99t-tell-you/2/  to view a primer for successful interaction with the cabin crew when you have to travel with the commercial airlines). “What The Flight Attendants Won’t Tell You” by Michelle Crouch. Perhaps this tutoring will allow the many holiday season travellers to return home in a reasonably relaxed state of mind.

Hire An Ex-GI

Would you consider hiring this “steely -eyed killer?”  Yes, that was one of the monikers for us wannabee fighter pilots during flight training. They then brainwashed us with another catch-phrase, “If you ain’t a fighter pilot, you ain’t shit.” Thus and therefore we had pilots standing in line to become “Wild Weasel” pilots whose mission was to effectively fly down the gun barrel of North Vietnam SAM (surface-to-air) missile sites. The bright side of all this will be extrapolated on as you read the following excerpt from my book, The Rogue Aviator. (this statement was the finale’ for when I left the Air Force)  Also, despite his roguish nature, 25 civilian employers hired the guy in the Dress Blues.

 An excerpt from page 56 of THE ROGUE AVIATOR

“The quality of people that Ace worked with, measured in terms of accountability, responsibility, ethics, and integrity, was at an infinitely higher level than that of the civilian world norm. It is very clear to military personnel that they are an integral part of the whole, and this perspective will usually result in people who will dedicate themselves to the highest level possible job-performance. The flight lead of the Thunderbirds or the Blue Angels, for instance, does not have the option of going half speed or being lackadaisical during his group’s aerial demonstration. He must be totally prepared and committed. When hiring, most employers will wisely give the ex-military person the nod over those who have not served in the military.  The unfortunate other side of the coin is that government bungling and Pentagon malfeasance have resulted, particularly in the last 50 years, in far too many dedicated military people dying unnecessarily.

As the Iraq and Afghanistan vets return to their homes they are finding it difficult to gain employment. After all of the flag flying and “support our troops” rhetoric it is now time for all employers everywhere to stand up and be counted. SEEK OUT AND HIRE AN EX-MILITARY PERSON! 

Tired Pilots Get Reprieve

This is the result of an extended duty time for an Air Force nuclear alert pilot. Now, on the serious side. Today is a great day for all pilots (except cargo pilots) since the FAA is finally implementing the long-overdue changes to flight and duty time limitations for commercial pilots. Twenty years ago the NTSB had informed the FAA that there was a need to revise these regulations for the sake of aviation safety. After the highly publicized Continental 3407 (Colgan Air) crash in Buffalo on February 12, 2009, the congressional sub-committee on aviation gathered up Sully Sullenberger and several other high-level aviation Kahunas and demanded that FAR rules relating to pilot fatigue be revised. Nearly three years later, it was finally effectuated. Yes, better late than never!

However, there is a fly in the ointment since the pilots that fly cargo are exempt from the new rules. Do cargo pilots require less sleep? No, on the contrary, they may require more because they are more likely to be working on “the back side of the clock” when the circadian rhythm monster is nipping at their heels. This exclusion for cargo pilots is an unjustifiable mistake. Perhaps with enough outrage from the folks with the megaphones, we will put, the all to often and unfairly demeaned “freight dogs” on an equal footing with the passenger carrying pilots. It should also be pointed out that airplanes operated by very tired cargo pilots have a much worse safety record and nearly all of the accidents have occurred with pilots at the helm were in an advanced state of sleep deprivation.

“I’m from FAA and I am here to help you.”( unless you might be a very tired but experienced, competent, and well-trained cargo pilot). In 1995 a Kalitta Air DC-8 on approach into GITMO (Guantanamo Bay) crashed on approach and either killed or seiously injured the flight crew aboard the aircraft. A review of their duty day revealed that they had been on duty for 19 hours. And here is the “kicker.” After off-loading cargo at GITMO they were scheduled to fly their airplane to Atlanta. I elaborate on the “tired pilot”syndrome in my book, The Rogue Aviator, and there are numerous passages relating several 20 hour plus duty periods. The problem of tired pilots in the cockpit is only partialy solved. At GITMO there were no apartment building or schools on the approach path. There are many airports where hundreds, if not thousands of people on the ground could be killed or seriously injured in the event of a large (747 for instance) splattering itself into the terra firma someplace other than a runway.

Civilian Space Travel-Be A Buck Rodgers

In my blogs of a few weeks ago I focused on the good old days of aviation with discussions of the DC-3, the 727, and “Stews” that had fun with pilots. It is now high time to refer to High Flight, the inspiration for many pilots. “Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth.” is the first line of the enduring poem written in 1941 by John Gillespie Magee. Magee was a RAF pilot and after enjoying an exhilarating flight in his Spitfire aircraft he was inspired to write his poignant poem which is now inspiring people to slip the surly bonds and get right on out there into space.

There are many players in this adventure to escape gravity and the earth’s atmosphere but the person most likely to spearhead an innovative adventure of this nature, would of course, be Sir Richard Branson. Branson is now approaching the iconic status of Howard Hughes and his civilian space program will plant him firmly in the history books. His company is aptly named Virgin Galactic and a recent photo-op media extravaganza was culminated when he christened their new facility in the New Mexico desert. The facility has the appearance of having just stepped off the set of a sci-fi space movie. For some great photos go to http://www.virgingalactic.com/

The initial launch will take the “PAX” to 70,000 feet where they can engage in a few seconds of weightlessness as the pilots push the nose forward to create a zero-G situation. They can also look out and see the curvature of the earth and looking away from earth will reveal the darker sky of the edge of space. During my F-4 Phantom days in the Air Force I would occasionally zoom the Phantom to 65,000 feet above sea level and I was able to venture to the very edge of space without becoming an astronaut or shelling out the $200,000 for this projected trip for anyone who has the financial wherewithal to cough up just short of a quarter million for a great view.

The bright side is that one only needs to pony up $20,000 to get an assigned seat for their trip out to the perimeter of our atmosphere. If you haven’t booked yet, you can do so by going to http://www.virgingalactic.com/ and getting listed for a future flight (expected to be in 2012). Or, if you prefer, you can contact your local accredited space agent. Yes, it is so! There are such entities and they are not even confined to cyberspace; they can be found in the “brick-and-mortar world.” But hurry, there are only 450 slots available and it appears that 430 have already been spoken for.

Interestingly enough, there are other options. A company called Blue Origin is pursuing civilian space travel and Space X is planning a flight to the international space station on February 7, 2012. Other commercial space travel/sub-orbital flight ventures are as follows: Rocketship Tours, Space Adventures, Armadillo Aerospace, and XCOR Aerospace. Unfortunately Mother Earth will continue to take a beating with these projects as NASA has stated that the soot extinguished from these wannabee-astronaut-excursions will result in a net increase of global temperatures. Since far too many of our politicians and their puppeteers have already nixed this concern by the scientists regarding global climate change for their own short-term profits, why not add a couple of more degrees. If your end-of-year bonus is adequate, just set aside .2 million of it for an over-the-edge carnival ride. The other option (a better one) is go to the south rim of the Grand Canyon and start contemplating the magnanimity of planet Earth.