31 December 2005

Aviation in 2006

Here's wishing everyone in the aviation industry a Happy New Year. I hope we have a better year in 2006 than we've had in the last several years.

I'm pretty optimistic. There are a lot of wonderful things on the horizon for all of us.

Technology is delivering better and faster information to the cockpit, and we're finally beginning to see truly user-friendly software and hardware that delivers what we've always been promised: useful, clearly-presented, real-time weather information; comprehensive Electronic Flight Instrumentation Systems (EFIS) that don't cost as much as a four-bedroom home; engine and systems monitors that can record thousands of datapoints for post-flight scrutiny; low(er)-cost Traffic Collision Avoidance Systems and Ground Proximity Warning Systems for general aviation; more realistic simulators and training devices; graphical flight-planning software; and the list goes on.

Many new aircraft designs are appearing, new paradigms of air travel are in the works and, presumably, more aviation career opportunites will follow.

Air travel in the USA is safer than it's ever been, and the oft-assured and long-awaited collapse of the major airlines hasn't occured.

It's not all roses. We must continue to address the destructive factors that have crept in to our industry, including the rapidly-mounting cost of liability insurance that threatens entrepreneurial innovation and private ownership of aircraft; absurd TSA "security" requirements; draconican airspace grabs, such as the Washington, DC ADIZ; pop-up TFRs; repeated threats to the warbird and vintage-aricraft communities which threaten to ground our aircraft; costly and largely unnecessary Airworthiness Directives; and the current pension crisis that threatens many US companies, including airlines.

Pilots, we have little direct control over many of these issues, so we should concentrate on those we can control. Specifically, we need to make sure that we don't contribute to our problems by doing stupid stuff. For example, the repeated violations of restricted airspace by private pilots has kept General Aviation in the public limelight this year, especially among politicians and the media. Let's all make a New Year's Resolution to improve upon that unenviable track record next year.

Best wishes and happy flying. I look forward to 2006!

27 December 2005

Harrier Ejection: Any Info?

Does anyone out there have any information about this video -- where and when it was shot, for instance?

10 December 2005

Pulling Closed

Pulling Closed
by Buck Wyndham

Dedicated to those who know what it means.

* * * * * * * * *

Flash-Flash. Flash.
Crystalline strobes of reflected sunlight pierce the clear air
Bounced from frozen ponds and ice-covered marshland,
Unseen from any angle except ours

We rise fast, without effort, tilted as far as mathematics allows
One wing toward the bright sun
The other at farms and fields and woods,
And a man shoveling snow from his driveway

Higher in seconds than any other conveyance except dreams
Could provide

We know what is coming.
Our horizon will expand to reach the edges of world
And details of river and city and roads will begin to blur
Into a great continuity of life and fractal patterns.
Attachment to detail will fade
And attraction to the whole will grow stronger.

But right now, in this place that few ever see
In this in-between place of low and fast and rising,
We enjoy the seconds of bliss
And observe with fascination the details of the
Receding quilt of life below.

Media 101 for Pilots

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) has created an online multimedia program entitled Guide to Talking to Reporters. It's seven minutes long, free, and very worthwhile. You can watch it right now on your computer.

Most people in aviation don't have a clue how to deal with a reporter who suddenly appears and wants their opinion about an aircraft incident or accident, or a story involving a local airport. Too often, people's comments are taken out of context, misunderstood, heavily edited, or poorly delivered in the first place. This program presents the basics on what to do and what not to do, for the good of the aviation community, when a reporter sticks a microphone in your face.

This program is highly recommended viewing for all General Aviation pilots and aircraft owners.

09 December 2005

Knives and Scissors and Tweezers, Oh My!

In the last week, I've listened to the uproar surrounding the recent decision by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to allow passengers to carry small tools and certain sizes of scissors on board airliners. Some airline workers, Flight Attendants in particular, have expressed their dismay that passengers will now be able to carry sharp objects. I can understand their concern. The potential threat of being attacked by a terrorist or, much more likely, a simply unstable person, is certainly a bit unsettling. However, in my opinion, the TSA's decision was sensible and reasonable, and here's why:

Regardless of the presence of scissors on board, terrorists will never again be able to stage a reprise of 9/11, at least in the same way they did four years ago. By this I mean that they will not be able to disable or kill Flight Attendants, rush the cockpit and break down its flimsy door, kill the pilots, take over the airplane, and fly it into a strategic or tactical target, with the resulting loss of thousands of lives. The improvements that have been implemented since then have insured that the deadly chain I mentioned above will end with the first step. The physical security of airplanes has greatly improved, security screening is much more sophisticated and thorough, crew procedures have changed, and a lot of stuff I can't talk about has been done to ensure that no one will make it into the cockpit. Even if someone tries, today's passengers will almost certainly jump in to help prevent it.

As much as Flight Attendants hate to talk about it, here's the whole crux of the matter: The cockpit is safe. In the big picture, that is what will prevent another 9/11-style aerial attack on America. The worst that could happen if a terrorist cell brought these newly-allowed items onto an airliner is that a couple of passengers or crewmembers behind the cockpit door could die. That's a horrifying thought, of course, and I'm completely sympathetic to the plight of those who might be exposed to a situation like that. But an attack on several individuals (who might, one could argue, be exposed to the same type of attack in any public venue on earth, at any time) is not an attack that will destroy a large chunk of a major city, send the entire nation into an unprecedented economic down-spiral, result in monumental lifestyle changes for many of the country's citizens, and result in military action in several locations around the globe.

Scissors, or even knives, are not the issue. As has been pointed out in many media outlets in the past week, a trained person can kill another human being with a pair of credit cards. (No, I'm not going to re-publish the details here.) The metal forks now distributed by my airline during meals are much more of a threat than the blunt, plastic knives that were introduced after 9/11. Why don't we outlaw seatbelts on airliners? After all, they can be used to strangle someone.

People who live and work in a public venue simply cannot be assured of constant safety. That's a fact of life, and sometimes we forget it. In fact, the new scissor restriction is far more restrictive (and therefore safe) than what we all lived with just five short years ago, when you could bring all sorts of items onto airplanes. All the new guidelines do is return us to a more rational, convenient world, where we can bring along some of the little convenience items we all used to carry.

I'll say it again. Even if a bad guy managed to smuggle a foot-long machete, a loaded semiauto pistol, a chainsaw, a box-cutter, a set of handcuffs, and a tickle-feather onboard the plane, he would not make it into the all-important cockpit. When you really think about it, that's ALL... that...matters, in the big scheme of National Security.

As long as he's outside the cockpit door, a 9/11 copycat terrorist is powerless. Think about it.

01 December 2005

A-10 Pilot Saves the Day, Has Giant Cajones

The Stars and Stripes newspaper reports that an A-10 pilot saved the lives of seven people aboard a Piper Chieftain near Hahn, Germany. The Piper apparently lost electrical power while above the clouds, and the pilots called German ATC on their battery-powered handheld radio for assistance. The controllers then vectored a nearby pair of A-10s to the Piper's location.

Major Peter Olson contact the Piper pilots and, through a series of radio calls and hand signals, got them to follow him down through the clouds to a safe landing at Hahn Airport.

The article casually mentions that the two airplanes often lost sight of each other in the clouds. Let me tell you -- I've flown formation in Germany, and I know how thick German clouds can be in November. Major Olson really did a great job by guiding the stricken plane down, and should be commended, of course. But, yikes. Formation flight in the thick goo, at final approach speed, with a non-formation trained civilian pilot? Wow. Where do we get such men?

I'm serious. I'm not entirely sure I would have done the same, back when I was "Hogdriving" over Germany. I hope the Piper pilots realize how lucky they were to have encountered such a willing and daring rescuer.