Commercial Flight Training for Jet Aircraft: Details Matter

Modern jet airliners come equipped with a multitude of indicators and switches. Strict attention to detail during commercial flight training facilitates the safe carriage of passengers.

Noah Timmins

Becoming a commercial pilot, or an airline transport pilot, according to the FAA, requires 1500 hours of flight time. In the context of working, this would take nine months of full-time work to complete, just to enter the bottommost rung of commercial piloting. Even the most dedicated zero-to-hero first officers complete their generic flight training in 18 months and sometimes spend an extra six months finishing their type rating.

Commercial flight training takes so long because the FAA must ensure that carriage pilots can successfully complete their tasks every time. The act of ferrying persons requires strict adherence to safety rules and regulations in order to be completed successfully. This exposes itself in many different forms: pilots complete their tasks with written checklists, maintenance facilities undergo FAA safety audits, and every person involved in a flight, including ground crew, line technicians, pilots, flight attendants, schedulers, and fuelers, must have extensive and rigorous training on their specialty.

Type-specific Training

Each aircraft operates as a type. A pilot qualified to fly a Boeing 767 does not automatically gain qualification to fly the similar Boeing 777. These two aircraft have remarkably different cockpit layouts, which form a critical component of safe flight. After spending thousands of hours piloting a 767 on long-haul oceanic flights, a pilot jumping into a 777 could reach up and, for example, disable the electronic engine control instead of the yaw damper. The positions of these switches are different in these two airframes, so the pilot’s memory of location is incorrect.

Additionally, two aircraft delivered to separate fleets could even have opposing cockpit layouts. Both Southwest Airlines and WestJet Airlines are delivery customers for Boeing’s 737NG aircraft, but they request slightly different cockpit layouts. While 99% of the cockpit of these two aircraft operators are identical, that 1% difference creates an issue. After all, in-flight accidents only occur when multiple things go wrong at the same time, something commercial flight training is designed to address.

The classic story to illustrate this point is one less-known among the general public. Today, the FAA standard for switch direction requires that to turn a system on, its switch must go up, regardless of where the switch is located. Activating hydraulics on a Boeing 737 entails flicking a switch on the cockpit ceiling up, which is a backward motion. TWA, a vintage airline that no longer flies, requested a cockpit layout from manufacturers wherein all switches pointed forward or up in the activated position. Now, activating this same hydraulic system on the 737 entails flicking a switch on the cockpit ceiling forward, or down.

TWA’s cockpit layout choice here created a major problem for pilots transitioning to or from the TWA fleet. Retraining requires vast amounts of time and money to break the physical habit of switch direction. In an in-flight emergency situation, the difference between throwing a switch forward or backward can seem minute, but could start a chain of events culminating in an airframe loss.

In 1996, a pilot destroyed a Gulfstream GIV when attempting a cross-wing takeoff at Chicago Executive Airport. No one aboard survived the crash. The aircraft veered off the runway into the grass, suffered airframe damage, became airborne, and then impacted terrain next to the airport. The official NTSB ruling points to a single switch in the cockpit that was selected incorrectly.

Large jets have nose-wheel steering through the rudder pedals and a secondary system through a hand tiller, allowing for more extreme nose wheel control during taxi. This particular system, on the GIV, allows the pilot to disconnect the rudder pedals from the steering system, steering only with the hand tiller. This position is intended for use only during a taxi situation. Unfortunately, the pilot – on his preflight – failed to notice this switch, leaving it in the pedal disable position. Thus, during rollout, he lacked the ability to control the nose direction with the rudder pedals, sliding off the runway.

This single selector switch could have made the difference between life and death. Earlier, the GIV had been flown by a different charter company with a different preference for nose wheel steering. Additionally, the pilot in command was relatively inexperienced with the GIV aircraft and may have forgotten about this selector switch. In either event, the pilot noticed the nose veering off the runway, attempted to correct it with rudder pedal input, and did not realize it was disconnected.

This highlights the necessity behind commercial flight training needing to address even the smallest issues. Type-specific training must be in depth and detailed, highlighting every system responsible for aircraft control, no matter how insignificant. In this case, the pilot in command had 16,000 hours of flight time, a remarkable achievement. However, he only had 500 hours in the young GIV type aircraft, meaning that the existence of this selector switch was something that did not exist for 15,500 of his flight hours.

Even Circuit Breakers Are Important in Commercial Flight Training

 

MD-80 cockpit instrument panel

Photo by Kent Wien

Beyond cockpit switches, circuit breakers are a crucial part of any advanced flight training procedure. There is a very specific and detailed procedure for electrically disabling systems by opening circuit breakers and locking them open. This ensures that the system, physically, cannot be reset so it remains open. Pilots and crewmembers must be vigilant in noticing any circuit breaker irregularities and responding to them appropriately.

TWA Flight 841 touches on this issue. The pilot was flying a Boeing 727 in 1979, in level flight, clear skies, with the autopilot engaged. Suddenly, without warning, an odd buzzing sound began and the airplane entered an inescapable right roll, becoming inverted twice with the nose pointing down. Accomplishing every task in the book for slowing the aircraft down, he managed to level off after a substantial altitude loss and later land the aircraft without any loss of life.

This incident occurred for one specific reason: the flight engineer – a necessary crewmember in the old style 727 cockpit – was using the lavatory when the pilot set up the airplane for level flight. One of the classic “cut the corner” strategies employed by cowboy TWA pilots was to extend the flaps one notch with the leading edge slats disabled, extending the span of the wing and allowing for a faster groundspeed. This operation was never approved of or stated in any TWA pilot training documents, but was passed down the ranks through tribal knowledge.

Disabling the leading edge slats entails pulling the circuit breakers controlling their operation. Because of this, the pilot had pulled these circuit breakers but left them unlocked, meaning that any person could have simply pushed the breakers and reset the system. The breakers on a 727 are located behind the pilots and right next to the engineer. Upon his return from the lavatory, he noticed the breakers pushed and simply reset them, without calling out to the pilots or informing them of his decision. This caused the leading edge slats to extend since their control circuits were now energized. However, the extreme speed of the 727 in cruise means that the systems are put under tremendous aerodynamic stress, creating the buzzing sound heard. One slat on the right wing ripped off, causing the roll. This was not established until the aircraft landed and the slat was found seven miles from the incident site.

When undergoing commercial flight training, a large portion of time is spent explaining and practicing circuit breaker procedures. Circuit breakers are electrical safety devices that are required to exist on nearly every electrical system on aircraft. They are designed to automatically open circuits when dangerous situations are possible. They also can be opened manually in order to test or purposefully disable certain systems, such as leading edge slats, weather radar, or lavatory flushers.

Airlines have policies and procedures designed specifically to detail how to properly manually open a circuit breaker for testing, maintenance, or deferral. These procedures exist because situations like TWA Flight 841 exist. By improperly locking the circuit breakers the pilot manually opened, and not telling the absent flight engineer, it seemed to the engineer that these breakers had opened themselves. There was no indication or locking device showing that these were manually opened. Standard procedure is to reset the breakers in this occurrence and monitor them for additional openings, so the engineer did so. This one action almost lead to an airframe destruction and potential loss of life.

These systems’ complexity requires similarly complex training. If the pilot had spent twenty extra seconds to properly follow his training and slip a locking collar on the breakers, the whole incident could have been avoided. A simple mistake involving only a single switch or circuit breaker can result in a complete loss of property and life. Thus, the training procedures for advanced and commercial pilots must cover even the smallest situation possible.

Training Responses To Input

Commercial flight training extends beyond simply where the switches and controls are but also what they do. Pilots must anticipate and find the expected result when undergoing training. A typical trainer aircraft has a run-up check where a pilot tests flight controls and engine controls. The expected response from something like an aileron input or magneto switch is tested for by observing the corresponding gauge or control surface. Pilots are trained to look for these responses and make sure that they match what should be expected.

These kinds of checks are necessary even on larger aircraft. An Airbus A320 operated by Lufthansa named Papa Whiskey exhibited trouble at take off in 2001 at Frankfurt. The pilot could do nothing to stop the left wing from drooping on takeoff, causing the first officer to assume control and fly the plane up to a level flight path at 12,000 feet. The pilots, investigating the issue, found the pilot in command’s control stick was giving backward input compared to the expected response. Pulling it right cause the aircraft to bank left and vice versa.

This specific flight control problem arose from Lufthansa’s maintenance department, where a complete rewiring of the entire interconnected elevator flight control system was required, a total of 420 wires. This is no small task. Once it was accomplished, the maintenance personnel completed all functional checks as required and signed off the plane as airworthy. Interesting, the functional check required by Airbus does not entail physically observing the control surface or forcing the use of both control sticks in the cockpit.

All of the electronic displays in the cabin indicated that the pilot’s side control stick gave correct control input. The pointers all deflected correctly. One would do well to remember that these pointers are only electrical signals received from a computer in the electronics bay of these aircraft. Two wires had been wired up incorrectly during the rewiring, causing the pilot’s stick – and that one alone – to give opposite input to the aileron control systems. Thus, the state of the indicating system in the cockpit and the physical system on the wing were in disagreement.

Lufthansa modified their training and maintenance manuals to add in physical verification of control surface deflection after performing maintenance, specifically to address this issue. The expected response from the control input was not present on the physical airframe itself, but there is no way a pilot can view that portion of the wing from the flight deck without extensive gymnastics. Additionally, the maintenance personnel were trained to look for a response only in the cockpit, which in this case was not sufficient for proper operation.

In Conclusion

Aircraft are some of the most complex vehicles piloted. They come equipped with myriad control switches and circuit breakers, with complicated interconnections and failsafes. Despite this, extensive and deep levels of commercial flight training are required to properly equip pilots and maintenance personnel to recognize the correct switches to operate, how they operate, and what to expect when they do. It is the goal of every airline to equip their employees with the ability to complete these tasks successfully, ensuring the safe and timely carriage of passengers worldwide.

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Featured Image: Kent Wien

When Did You Know You Wanted To Be a Pilot?

My personal aviation lineage and the first time I knew I wanted to be a pilot trace back to my grandfather.

Shawn Arena

Those of us who have been fortunate to have received the gift of flight or just the enjoyment of aviation can usually trace back to where that flame to be a pilot was first kindled. Perhaps it was a friend who owned an aircraft and gave you your first flight. Or it may have been a family member who long ago instilled that love and passion for airborne experiences. That is how it was born in me – through my maternal grandfather.

The Start of His Influence

My grandfather was born in Rochester, New York in 1907, a mere four years after the Wright Brothers’ flight in 1903. He and my grandmother moved to California by the mid-1950s where they lived the rest of their lives. I was only 8 – 10 years old at the time and remember vividly him taking me to either the local airport to watch planes take off and land or to a hole-in-the-wall photo gallery where he would purchase pictures of anything aviation. Being just a kid at the time, I did not understand the significance of those weekly trips – to me it was just ‘time with grandpa.’ My bedroom would be adorned with pictures of the Spirit of St. Louis, or from early aircraft designed by aviation royalty such as Douglas, Curtiss, Langley or the Wrights.

Aircraft builder posing with a vintage WACO aircraft

My grandfather, circa 1927-28, with a WACO aircraft he’d just helped build.

As years went on and life unfolded before me, I was unknowingly aware that the kindling aviation fire was simmering within. By the time I was a junior in high school, that kindling of a desire to be a pilot had grown to a full-blown blaze (which it remains to this day). I enrolled in the school’s fledgling 2-year old USAF Junior ROTC program, whose curriculum included not only the mandatory Drill and Ceremony protocols but frequent aviation-related field trips. One of those trips was to one of the two local active duty U.S. Air Force Bases in southern California – March AFB (now March ARB), where I stood in awe as the Strategic Air Command (SAC) B-52 Stratofortress fleet based there would lumber down the runway in a very deceiving manner that looked as if it was not moving enough to even take off!

His Physical Decline

By early September 1975, his physical state was in serious decline. After surviving six heart attacks, he suffered a stroke that paralyzed the left side of his body which left him not only unable to speak but only able to walk with the aid of a walker. I had been accepted into the University of Southern California as a biology major and he and my grandmother followed my parents and I as we drove the Los Angeles freeway system to my new life as a college freshman living in the dorms. That was the last time I saw him alive, for two weeks later he passed away- at the young age of 68. Little did I realize at the time, but from that day forward he would become greater than life to me as aviation slowly but surely took a hold of my career.

Carrying On And Working To Be a Pilot

Four the next four and half years, my total focus was concentrating on ‘surviving’ the college experience. By the end of 1979, I had not only changed my major but was able to graduate with a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Psychology. By November 1980, I was able to land my first ‘real’ job as a Civil Engineering Aide with the County of Orange, CA. This turned out to be my personal gateway that would lead me back to aviation, because the County owned and operated John Wayne / Orange County Airport (SNA), and provided me with an avenue to someday working there. In January 1984 I began flying lessons at SNA. By February 11th of that year, I was ready to solo. I took the time to commemorate the occasion by penning a tribute to my grandfather entitled “You Gave Me My Wings.” I earned my private pilot certificate on April 11, 1984. I was living in a small condominium nearby and took stock that night to offer a toast to grandpa – “We are on our way” I stated to myself that night.

Man posing with an aircraft

My grandfather in the mid-1960s, at a Southern California airport.

On June 17, 1987, I was selected as a Noise Abatement Specialist at John Wayne Airport and performed those duties until May 1994, when I received a promotion as a Noise Officer at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) in Arizona. For the next 27 years, I became an airport administrator at four commercial service airports and airport manager at four general aviation airports (while also teaching aviation education to undergraduate and graduate students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Worldwide Campus, where I earned two Masters Degrees). All through those years, however, I did not forget where that passion for flight came from. At every airport, I would make it my duty (of which my superiors were glad to see) to conduct self-inspection tours – not only to satisfy associated FAR Part 139 Certification and Safety requirements – but to spend time with my grandfather as we drove the perimeter road to make sure all was well, and to reflect on him. When I saw a vintage airplane I would stop the vehicle and gaze at it…” Imagine” I would tell myself, grandpa saw or heard about these planes when they were in their prime.

The Tradition Continues

January 22, 2016. My youngest son Andrew graduates Western Maricopa Education Center (WestMec) at Glendale Municipal Airport (GEU) with his Airframe & Powerplant Certificate. Now I know many of you may be thinking “Oh, that’s nice he took his father’s advice and followed in his footsteps.” Well, not exactly. He decided on his own that he was going to ‘give it a try’ because in his mind he was out of options of what he wanted to do in his life…yes, dad was proud of his achievement. He now works at one of the busiest flight schools in the U.S. at the second busiest general aviation airport in the country (and one I used to manage), Phoenix Deer Valley Airport (DVT). Another generation of aviation in the Arena family… one that started long ago and who’s tradition continues. Thanks Grandpa!

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Aircraft Insurance: What Type Should Pilots Carry?

Dr. Mary Ann O’Grady

Your aircraft and flying skills represent wonderful business and personal capabilities, but they may also constitute one of the largest exposures to catastrophes that you can imagine. So, the following summary details a list of the most critical aircraft insurance coverage types and [potential] losses:

Aircraft Hull Insurance

Aircraft hull insurance covers physical damage to the aircraft as a result of an accident where the insurer has the option to pay for the repairs or to declare it a total loss, which requires that the insured pay the insured value that is stated on the policy.

Aircraft hull insurance premiums are calculated on $100 of the insured value of the aircraft where the higher the insured value, the lower the rate per $100 drops. For example, the hull premium for a midsized jet that is not used for commercial purposes and has an insured value of $10 million might cost $13,000.00 or 13 cents per $100 of insured value. In comparison, an older version of the same jet that is insured for $5 million might have a premium cost of $10,500.00 or 21 cents per $100 of insured value.
Aircraft hull insurance is required by the bank if you have a lien on the aircraft; however, you would also need it unless you can afford to withstand an uninsured loss.

Caveat: Since aircraft hull insurance is predicated upon the aircraft’s agreed-to or stated value rather than its cash value, there is a potential for over-insuring or under-insuring it which can be problematic. For example, when the hanger collapsed at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C. in 2010, many of the damaged aircraft were significantly over-insured. This resulted in a situation where the insurers were forced to repair aircraft that the owners would have rather declared as total losses. Therefore, the accurate insured value to carry on the aircraft is its current market value or lien amount whichever is greater; coverage for war-risk perils should also be included since it offers broad additional coverage for a small additional premium. Annual reviews of aircraft insurance coverage should be conducted and adjusted at the time of renewal if necessary.

Aircraft Liability Insurance

Aircraft liability insurance covers liability for bodily injury or property damage that arises from an accident, and the insurance is written on a single-limit-per-occurrence basis, such as $100 million per occurrence. This type of aircraft insurance includes [legal] defense costs over and above the stated liability cap.

Aircraft liability insurance premiums are typically a flat amount that is based on factors, such as the selected liability limit, the pilot(s) who are flying the aircraft and/or the owner/pilot, and the approved use (Part 91 versus Part 135). Using the midsized jet mentioned previously as an example, with an insured valued of $10 million, the approximate annual premiums for ascending liability might be $8,500.00 for $100 million of coverage, $17,000.00 for $200 million of coverage and $25,000.00 for $300 million of coverage. These quotes will vary based on the age of the aircraft and the extent to which the underwriter opts to place a greater premium on the hull insurance and less of a premium on the liability component of the coverage. There could also be rate surcharges of up to 25 percent depending upon how much or often the aircraft is used for charter flights.

Aircraft liability insurance is needed by everyone since it protects against the largest catastrophic loss exposure, such as accidents resulting in injury or property damage due to which you are most likely to be sued even if the suit is groundless.

Caveat: Buy as high a limit of coverage as you can afford since it is likely that you will not find out whether you have enough coverage until after you have experienced a loss. The liability claims generated by a crash while carrying one or more high-net-worth individuals or when flying over a populated area could easily exceed $100 million. So for that reason, carrying $200 million to $500 million liability limits can certainly provide additional peace of mind. As with hull insurance, carrying coverage for war-risk perils is recommended since it offers broader additional protection for a small additional premium.

Approved Pilot Clause

Approved pilot clause covers who is authorized under a policy to act as pilot-in-command or second-in-command on an aircraft.

There is no specific premium associated with this approved-pilot clause, but the overall policy premium directly correlates with the pilots’ experience level and their training protocol. Obviously, the better qualified the pilots and the more stringent their recurrent training and safety initiatives, the lower the premiums will be.

Approved pilot clause is included in all policies; however, a disproportionate number of claim denials are directly related to the fact that the pilots flying aircraft did not meet the exact criteria of their pilot clause. For example, a Falcon 900 that aborted a takeoff and exited the runway causing extensive damage to the aircraft was denied the claim by the insurer because the copilot that day, although well-qualified, had not completed the insurance-related training for the make and model of the aircraft.

Caveat: If only one section of the aircraft insurance policy is renewed each year, this should be the section and it should be negotiated by an aviation insurance broker as the broadest approved-pilot clause possible. The clause varies greatly among insurers so if the insured is not represented by an experienced broker, he or she will be at a distinct disadvantage. Be sure to provide the flight department and/or any other pertinent parties with a copy of this section combined with any evidence of required recurrent training when the insurance policy is received annually. Also, note that virtually without exception, the primary pilots of all turbine/jet aircraft must complete annual recurrent training at an insurer-approved facility whether or not such training is stipulated in the policy. In addition, this training is critical when statistics purport that 85% of aircraft accidents are a result of pilot error.

We will continue to explore additional aircraft insurance options in an upcoming Part 2 on this topic.

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Why Pilots Need To Know About The Mesoscale Convective Complex

Beware. The Mesoscale Convective Complex feeds on itself and grows like rapidly-spreading cancer.

Vern Weiss

It is called the Mesoscale Convective Complex and pilots should be keenly aware of the term when it appears in a weather briefing. Of course, all thunderstorms require caution but what makes the MCC so nasty is that it becomes a long-living, slow-moving, self-regenerating system that covers an enormous area of ground.

It wasn’t until 1980 that we even knew about them when meteorologist Robert Maddox identified its characteristics while doing research at the NOAA Environmental Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado.1 Until then Mesoscale Convective Systems were known but primarily in the tropical regions of the world. What made his MCC discovery significant is that it is a product of “the good ol’ USA.”

I am sure we agree that all thunderstorms can be nasty. They all can spawn lots of rain, hail, wind and short-term titillation like wind-shear and tornadoes. With an MCC we cannot even call it a thunderstorm; it is a multiplicity of thunderstorms. If you put a pot of water on a stove top and bring it to a rolling boil, you are watching something analogous to a Mesoscale Convective Complex. As one bubble diminishes, another grows. As that one begins to diminish, another one adjacent to it erupts.

One of the best-known events that was caused by a Mesoscale Convective Complex occurred in 1977 when flash flooding surprised everyone in Johnstown, Pennsylvania and killed 76 people.2 In 1985, a Delta Airlines L-1011 got snarled in the grip of wind shear believed to have been associated with an MCC, smashing it into the ground on the approach to DFW and killing 134 people.3

More recently in May 2015, MCCs deluged and clobbered Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Nebraska. Typically 10 to 14 inches of rain fell on concrete bridges that were busted to bits. “It has been one continuous storm after another for the past week to 10 days in several regions of the state,” said Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, a Texas state climatologist.4

Pilots know that all thunderstorms require 3 main ingredients: moisture, unstable air, and a lifting force. It is the lifting force that gets the storm’s engine to start. The four primary means of providing a lifting force are through convection when the sun warms up a parcel of air. Since warm air is lighter than cool air the parcel begins to rise. When it rises high enough the moisture in that parcel begins to condense and there’s your rain. Another means is through frontal activity. The lifting force is provided by the “scooping” action of a front as it is pushed along by the winds rotating around the big “L” in the center of a low-pressure area. By the way, I’ve been flying a long time and seen my share of bad weather but have yet to ever see the “L” at the center of low pressure. One time I was looking up in the sky on a CAVU (Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited) day and I thought I saw the “H” of a high-pressure system but it turned out to be just 3 high altitude aircraft making contrails that crisscrossed.

The third primary type is the nocturnal thunderstorm. A simplification of this one’s description is that it is a variation of the convective type. The sun beats down on the Earth all day, warming up the ground. After sunset, the air cools quickly and then the ground starts releasing its stored- up heat. Warm air rises and the parcel of air adjacent to the ground begins rising. Once it reaches an altitude where its dew point is achieved, the moisture condenses and if the air is unstable the mechanism for a thunderstorm is launched. These typically occur after 10 PM, so don’t ever fly after 10 PM if you want to avoid them.

The fourth mechanism providing a lifting force to unstable and moist air is through orographic means. This is a fancy word that, translated for we who were solid “C” students in school, means hills or mountains.

Now let’s get back to the Mesoscale Convective Complex.

The generation of an MCC is usually detected with satellite infrared imaging. I’m now going to throw a whole bunch of generalities at you. Bear in mind that these are not absolutes; they’re just typical.

Photo by Keven Menard

Photo by Keven Menard

Mesoscale Convective Complexes are most often found in the central part of the US but begin with frontal and orographic movement. This is not to say that they don’t occur elsewhere. (remember Johnstown and Delta at DFW?). They generally are strong for 12 hours or more and commonly form in the late afternoon and continue until sunrise the next morning. They typically form when the dewpoint is above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. This last ingredient is particularly savory because a dewpoint above 70 degrees is also considered the trigger for plain, old garden- variety tornadoes. So yes, it should be no surprise that an MCC will be rich in tornado activity.

From a pilot’s standpoint, there are obvious cautions: Wind-shear, heavy rain, high winds, intense lightning, hail and damaging tornadoes; lots of all those things because this is a thunderstorm that covers a wide area and moves slowly, feeding on itself. Even Dr. Maddox (now with the National Severe Storms Forecast Center in Oklahoma) warns pilots that, with an MCC, “the agglomeration and expansion of thunderstorm cells may occur so rapidly that the pilot of a slow-moving light aircraft may find himself literally engulfed by thunderstorms.”5

Mesoscale Convective Complexes are huge and minimally will cover an area of nearly 39,000 square miles (or roughly the size of the State of Virginia). Aircraft attempting to skirt the northern side of such a large area will experience extremely strong winds which may be a factor, depending on the direction of travel. Pilots skirting the southern side of an MCC will observe very light winds which may diminish any anticipated “help” from tailwinds. But, c’mon…with such a weather system are we really worried about “on time” arrivals? Of course, if the wonky winds create fuel concerns it becomes a serious matter.

We’ve got some incredible aircraft now. Big…tough…powerful. But even those “heavy iron” monsters are no match for Nature. The more dangerous the weather forecast is, the longer you should study it. Flying in the vicinity of thunderstorms can be dangerous but, carefully executed, is do-able. But when a Mesoscale Convective Complex is sitting on your destination it might be a good time to head to the Motel 6. Because they’ll leave the light on for you.

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References:

1 – Maddox, Robert A. Bulletin – American Meteorological Society, “Focus on Forecasting,” November 1980.

2 – Reynold, Harold, “Mesoscale Convective Complex – An Overview”, 1990

3 – National Transportation Safety Board Aircraft Accident Report, August 15, 1986.

4 – https://weather.com/forecast/regional/news/plains-rain-flood-threat-wettest-may-ranking

5 – Maddox, Robert. A., and J. Michael Fritsch, Weatherwise, “A New Understanding of Thunderstorms-The Mesoscale Convective Complex,” 1984.

Featured Image: Keven Menard

Pilot Salary: What Is The Pay Like In Different Careers?

A pilot’s salary can vary just as they do with any other job. Experience plays a big role as far as what a pilot makes, mainly because the different companies and positions available depend on the experience of a pilot. First, if we look at what the different types of jobs there are for pilots, then we can begin to narrow down the pilot salary range. Then when we look inside each job, we can see what affects the pay of the pilot at that point, whether it be experience within that company, the state of the economy, or other factors.

There are many opportunities for a pilot such as flight instruction, agriculture (crop dusting), regional and mainline airlines, corporate, shared operations and even tour guides. Jobs such as flight instructing, tour guides and even regional airlines tend to be on the lower end of the pilot salary scale. The instructing and touring jobs are generally for newer pilots to build their time while making some money. Hourly, they usually make what seems to be good money, anywhere from $15 to $40 dollars an hour, depending on where they work and level of experience. However, although that sounds like a good amount of money, an instructor or even a tour guide makes money when the propeller of the aircraft is moving. So, for every hour in the plane or helicopter, there is probably at least another hour to two hours spent preparing for that flight. For 8 hours of pay, at least 15 to 16 hours is actually worked. It is generally too expensive for most pilots to build flight hours on their own dime, so these types of jobs allow for them to work while reaching that goal.

If pursuing an airline career, regional airlines are generally the next step. And though pilots have to have a specific number of flight hours to be hired on, they are on the lower end of the pilot salary scale. In many cases, they have been known to pay less than flight instructing. Although regionals have been increasing their initial pay from what it once was, it can still be difficult for a pilot. Depending on the airline, starting pay can range from $22,000 to $38,000 annually. The pay does increase as more time is put in as well as upgrades and a captain can potentially make $80,000 a year flying for regional airlines.

A Boeing 747 landing at an airport -

Photo by Mike

Once a person builds their time and experience within a regional airline and is able to get on with a major airline such as Delta, American or United, the pay increases. For a pilot who has dreams of flying the big commercial airlines, working their way up to the majors is a long and hard process but if they get there, it’s generally very worth it. Major airlines set starting pay for first officers at around $60,000 to $80,000 yearly. Pay here will also continue to increase over time, of course, and a captain could make over $150,000 a year, depending on the airline. Another job on the higher end of the pilot salary scale is flying for UPS or FedEx or one of the major cargo companies. They tend to choose experienced pilots, who are paid well, and don’t have to deal with the passenger side of aviation. The average pay for a cargo pilot is in the neighborhood of $150,000. These positions, though they come with long hours and other considerations, tend to be desired due to the pay and passenger-less element.

Airlines and cargo are not the only opportunities for a higher pilot salary. Many large companies have their own aircraft and pilots can fly on the corporate side of things. The flying is different in that they do not necessarily have a set schedule and many times are on call. Salaries can range widely within this type of flying, based on the company and type of aircraft, but with the right set-up, pilots can make a good amount. The downside with corporate flying is there is usually very little room to grow. Once a person has reached captain, they have maxed out their potential within that company. So with each job, it really depends on where a person is at in their life as far as meeting their expectations and desires. A large part of this is the company and how much they value their employees. There are many corporate type operations where pilots make $40,000 to $50,000, with no real chance of an increase. Those operations tend to have a revolving door and don’t care as much about keeping the same pilots. Other companies can pay $80,000 to $120,000 and possibly as much as $190,000 for a Gulfstream 650 pilot, according to a 2014 survey conducted by Professional Pilot magazine. They value their pilots, but also rely on them heavily and fly them often. And with more money can come longer flights and more time away from home, though it can also mean more time off and more opportunity to travel outside of work. So just like aviation in general, the choice is up to each person with the effort they want to apply and the sacrifice they want to make as they tackle a new position.

As with any other job, aviation is affected by the economy. When the economy is booming, airlines are branching out, more flying is being done, and more people are learning to fly. When the economy begins to suffer, so does the flying. The price of everything goes up except for pilot salaries. So where “X” amount of money was once a great income, it may now be just enough to live off with no extras. Pilots begin to weigh the benefits to the negatives and decide if flying is really for them in those types of situations. If a pilot has a true passion for the skies, then the pay might not be the most important thing to them. However, everyone has to be able to survive off the income they make working so it is up to each individual person to figure out what their limits and desires are and head down that path.

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The Most Effective Diet For Pilots

Amber Berlin

Every year at Thanksgiving we gather around the table and consume massive amounts of turkey. Then we spend the afternoon napping on the couch in a turkey coma. We know from experience that turkey is a food that promotes a state of sleepiness, and we also know that you wouldn’t want to eat that same turkey dinner and embark on a flight requiring you to be awake and alert. But why does the turkey dinner cause us to get sleepy? And what other foods can contribute to being too sleepy when you need to fly, or too awake when you need to sleep? In an effort to provide a complete understanding of why these foods work like they do, let’s get started on the main course: an easily digestible neuroscience lesson.

Understanding The Best Diet For Pilots

The body must gain certain nutrients from the diet, and these nutrients keep the body and mind performing at maximum efficiency. There are 9 essential amino acids that we must obtain from our diet in order to stay healthy (Young, 1994). All of the other amino acids required by the body can be produced from these 9 essential amino acids. Any lack of nutrients will have a direct impact on how the body and mind function, creating an environment which is detrimental to its recovery. Of the chemicals consumed by our body in the foods we eat, the following four chemicals play a significant role in achieving a state of sleep or wakefulness:

Tyrosine – a non-essential amino acid produced inside the body from Phenylalanine. Tyrosine contributes to an increased state of alertness and wakefulness in the brain.

Tryptophan – an essential amino acid found in most protein. Tryptophan has the ability to increase brain levels of serotonin, which produces a relaxed, calm state.

Serotonin – Biochemically derived from Tryptophan, Serotonin is primarily found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, platelets, and in the central nervous system (CNS) of humans and animals. It is a well-known contributor to feelings of well-being.

Dopamine – a catecholamine neurotransmitter present in a wide variety of animals…in the brain, this phenethylamine functions as a neurotransmitter, activating the five types of Dopamine receptors—D1, D2, D3, D4, and D5—and their variants. Dopamine has many functions in the brain, including important roles in behavior and cognition, voluntary movement, motivation, punishment and reward, inhibition of prolactin production (involved in lactation and sexual gratification), sleep, mood, attention, working memory, and learning.

Because of the chemical composition of foods and the way the body metabolizes these foods, eating a certain diet can either create a state in the body which promotes wakefulness or sleep. If you have a busy duty day ahead of you, it makes sense to indulge in the foods that support a state of wakefulness. However, if it’s the end of your duty day and you need to relax, it makes sense to consume those foods which promote sleep.

Foods That Increase a State of Wakefulness

High protein/low carbohydrate meals increase Tyrosine in the brain. Foods high in the essential amino acid Phenylalanine include:

  • Soy Foods, Soy-based Protein Powder
  • Parmesan and Swiss Cheese
  • Peanuts, Almonds, Sunflower Seeds
  • Lean Beef, Lamb, Chicken, Turkey
  • Tuna, Lobster, Salmon, Mackerel, Crab, Halibut, Cod
  • White Beans, Lentils, Chickpeas
  • Wild Rice, Brown Rice, Quinoa, Oats, Oat Bran, Wheat Bran
  • Gelatin
  • Milk

Dopamine is also derived from the essential amino acid Phenylalanine and contributes to wakefulness. Dopamine is easily oxidized and foods rich in antioxidants, such as fruits and vegetables, may help protect dopamine-using neurons from free radical damage. Sugar, saturated fats, cholesterol, and refined foods contribute to low levels of dopamine.

Foods That Increase a State of Sleepiness

The essential amino acid Tryptophan promotes increased sleepiness and is the building block for Serotonin, which produces a calm, relaxed state. Foods high in Tryptophan include:

  • Turkey, Rabbit, Lean Pork, Lamb, Beef, Chicken, Fish
  • Baked potatoes with their skin
  • Cheddar, Mozzarella, Romano, Cottage Cheese
  • Shrimp, Scallops, Clams
  • Pinto Beans, Kidney Beans, Lentils
  • Milk

Tryptophan intake has been shown to increase blood melatonin levels fourfold (Sinha, 2015). Melatonin production normally occurs in response to the darkness of the evening hours and assist the body to gear down for sleep. Final meals of the day should include protein, carbohydrates, and calcium, which assist in the production of Serotonin.

Wait a minute! If some of these foods are on both lists, then how can I eat to promote wakefulness or sleep? Let’s go back to the Thanksgiving dinner. The turkey contains both Phenylalanine and Tryptophan, which is very good for your body. However, in order for the Tryptophan to cross the blood-brain barrier, it needs carbohydrates. Eating a high protein, low carbohydrate meal provides the essential amino acids your body needs to function and also limits its ability to use those amino acids which promote sleep. The turkey by itself will not make you sleepy, but when you add all the carbohydrates found in the rest of the dinner, the Tryptophan has a ticket into the brain where it can produce what we know as the turkey coma (Richard, Dawes, Mathias, Acheson, Hill-Kapturczak and Dougherty, 2009; Zamosky, 2009). Armed with this information, we can now see a diet for pilots that promotes wakefulness and sleep:

Pre-flight – Breakfast meals should contain proteins and minimal carbohydrates

In-flight – Lunch meals should contain proteins, fruits and vegetables and minimal carbohydrates

Post-flight – Dinner meals should contain proteins, carbohydrates, and calcium

And as always, limit your intake of sugar, saturated fats, cholesterol, and refined foods

As you can see here, your eating habits can either support or undermine your pilot work schedule requirements, making you sleepy or awake at the wrong times. However, when you line up your daily dose of food chemicals to support your duty day, everything works in unison to achieve the ultimate goal of keeping you at peak performance. If the moment requires you to be alert, you can set yourself up for success by minimizing carbohydrate intake. If the stage is set for sleep, you can finally indulge in those carbs and drift off to dreamland. Many times we grab a high-carb snack to keep us going when we should grab some beef jerky instead. Changing these small habits can make a big difference in how you feel as you will no longer be struggling against your body, but working together toward a sustainable and successful aviation career.

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.

References:

Richard, D. M., Dawes, M. A., Mathias, C. W., Acheson, A. Hill-Kapturczak, N., Dougherty, D. M. (2009). L-Tryptophan: Basic Metabolic Functions, Behavioral Research, and Therapeutic Indications. Int J Tryptophan Res. 2009; 2: 45–60.

Sinha, A. (2015). Remedies and cures for the common diseases. Page Publishing, Inc.

Young, V. R. (1994). Adult amino acid requirements: the case for a major revision in current recommendations. J. Nutr 124 (8 Suppl): 1517S-1523S.

Zamosky, L. (2009). The truth about tryptophan.

The Dangers of a Falsified Pilot Logbook

Avoid rattlesnakes and falsified flight log books. Each has a nasty disposition and sharp fangs that bite.

Vern Weiss

In August 2012, a Federal Court in Des Moines, Iowa sentenced a pilot to 4 years probation and fined him for falsifying his pilot logbook hours when going for an FAA instrument rating.1

Federal court! We’re not talking about something that can be taken lightly. It would be bad enough to be taken to task with an FAA action but when you’re hauled into Federal court, you’re really in a big-time quagmire.

In the FAA’s eyes, forgery of a certificate is on a par with air piracy and it is not treated as a simple administrative action. In fact, it is considered a criminal act and the US Department of Justice gets involved. The “bible” used by FAA inspectors is called “FSIMS” which stands for Flight Standards Information System. This manual guides FAA inspectors as to how to handle things that can come up within the scope of conducting their duties. Here’s what it says an inspector should do when an altered certificate is detected: “An inspector should never attempt to confiscate a suspected forged, fraudulent, or counterfeit certificate. Since fraudulent certificates are sometimes used for criminal activities, the person in possession of this certificate may be armed and dangerous. If an inspector suspects that an airman certificate is counterfeit or forged, the inspector should immediately contact the Investigations and Security Branch of the Regional Civil Aviation Security Division or a local law enforcement officer.2

Is the inspector really in the restroom or did he leave the room to phone the cops?

In recent years more and more things aviation matters are falling within the purview of the Department of Justice, including mistruths of all kinds, and things like pilot logbook falsification are becoming criminal acts.

Over in FAR §61.59 the nitty-gritty is laid out for us regarding falsification of a pilot logbook: It’s defined as “Any fraudulent or intentionally false entry in any logbook, record, or report that is required to be kept, made, or used to show compliance with any requirement for the issuance or exercise of the privileges of any certificate, rating, or authorization under this part.” It further warns that “The commission (of such an act) is a basis for suspending or revoking any airman certificate, rating, or authorization held by that person.

But beyond the administrative laws of the FAA, let’s consider how it might affect a pilot in his or her career. When you’re hired by a commercial operator you will usually be required to bring your pilot logbook(s) to the interview. Very often, there is one person in the interview team who thumbs through your logbook. Although they likely do not have the time to actually total up all the columns and determine if the hours stated are accurate, they more often are picking out select flights you made which will surface later on in the interview. For instance, 3 years ago there might be a flight in a King Air from Austin, Texas to Little Rock, Arkansas. During the interview, you’re asked if you have any turboprop time and you naturally will say yes. They’ll probe a bit more: “How long ago was this?” “Was it corporate or Part 135?” Who was this for?” They’re zeroing in on one of the details they’ve found and seeing if you are digging yourself a hole that you cannot climb out of or if you’re verifying that the ground is level before building a relationship with them. They may check out the tail number, who owned it and contact the company. If the company never heard of you, you just wasted your time interviewing with them.

There are other ways a falsified pilot logbook can be detected. We’ve all had less-than-sterling simulator check-rides but when someone claims an enormous amount of flight time and flies like a beginner, the logbook numbers become suspect.

Insurance companies have become ravenous vultures of data mining. When you go to work for a company, you will probably have to fill out a form for their insurer and flight time totals will be asked. This data will be entered and disseminated so if you were with Company “A” for six months and joined them with 3,000 hours but when Company “B” offered you a job you entered 6,000 hours, it will flag. You’ll also be tagged as a liar and may have problems for years to come getting an insurance company to believe you are who you are.

When there is an accident which ends up in a civil court proceeding or in a lawsuit, you can bet your logbooks will be subpoenaed and the lawyers will pour over them carefully. The ramifications that come out of this are obvious and not too pretty.

Some years ago I worked for a large pilot training school. Prior to signing anyone off for a check-ride, we had a dedicated session we called “the preflight.” “The preflight” had nothing to do with checking fuel and making sure the wings were attached but, instead, was the administrative portion of signing someone off for their check-ride. During this period, the instructor meticulously went through all the paperwork (this was prior to the implementation of the FAA’s IACRA system) including the student’s logbook(s) and confirmed all the hourly requirements had been achieved and proper endorsements made. One day a gentleman appeared at the school to train for an instrument rating. He carried a brown paper grocery sack with him and in that sack were hundreds of pieces of paper. Every flight of his piloting career was detailed on a small scrap of paper. Every training session he had experienced was documented on a valid receipt. That was his log and it was perfectly legal. Perhaps not every examiner would have been as patient with him as the one used by my flight school but he got through it even by using his non-traditional log-keeping system.

Today such a log style would probably not work. Even though you only have to log those flights that are required to show currency or for purposes of meeting the requirements of an FAA certificate or rating, a sloppy logbook reflects badly on the pilot whether you’re defending yourself in a serious legal entanglement or trying to woo an airline to hire you.

Your pilot logbook should be a matter of professional pride and visible proof of your integrity. Both things are as important for a pilot as safety and competence.

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Footnotes and References:

1 – Pilot Sentenced For Making False Statements In His FAA Flight Logbook

2 – Flight Standards Information Management System (FSIMS) 8900.1 09/13/2007 Para. 5-193 SUSPECTED COUNTERFEITING, Federal Aviation Administration.

Do Drones Pose a Threat to Pilots and Aircraft?

Dr. Mary Ann O’Grady

The allowance of widespread drone ownership and operation in the United States through the clearance of approximately 60 organizations by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has raised the level of concern for military, commercial, and private pilots alike. As concerns escalated, there were plans to construct six test ranges for these unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) by the summer of 2013, after the FAA established a rule-making process in March for the development of these test sites that were required by the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act.

Manufacturers of these “unmanned aircraft systems” prefer that what is essentially a flying robot is not referred to as a “drone,” since one of the major selling points of a UAS is it does not require a pilot onboard. Therefore, its flying capabilities do not reply upon whether the pilot is fatigued; if the unit is low on fuel; or if the weather is inclement. A UAS will simply sit on the ground until it is instructed to return to home base or to proceed with its mission. In addition, flying a UAS does not command a pilot’s training and salary which are a significant investment, and the cost for maintenance and operation is significantly less. Although UAS manufacturers have suggested that a major consumer for the purchase of these flying robots will be the agricultural industry, a strong interest has also been expressed by architects and real estate professionals. In 2013, the estimated number of unmanned aircraft systems in operation was purported to be in the hundreds, but by 2025, the estimated number of UASs is expected to be in the tens of thousands which suggests that those “friendly skies” may become infinitely more crowded and less friendly.

The utilization of these “birds in the air” by law enforcement and fire departments appear to be a logical progression in the community contributions that the UASs are able to make. However, privacy issues escalate as quickly as the sales figures continue to climb. For example, if an unmanned aircraft system is used to locate a “hot spot” within a fire, and later law enforcement determines that it was intentionally set, what is the precedent for incorporating that UAS’s stored data for the prosecution of that arson case in court? In addition to a lack of regulation addressing privacy issues, the Air Line Pilots Association wants them to remain grounded until policy makers methodically generate rules for maintaining the safety of nearly a quarter million aircraft flying within the United States. The FAA is proposing some type of pilot certification as well as proposing high-tech safety systems that allow UASs to practice collision avoidance. The radio link with the UAS control station must also remain secure from hackers and/or terrorists to avoid having these perpetrators to assume control of a highly versatile and programmable [potential] weapon.

Commercial airliner taking off

Photo by Bill Abbot

In 2015, the FAA released the 195-page document detailing the rules for operating Unmanned Aircraft Systems, and Drones, but the irony of the situation seems to be that the author of this NPRM received a drone for his birthday. In addition, the FAA was releasing in excess of 100 exemptions weekly that addressed the UAS hobby and/or recreational use. However, there is a wide range of individual differences among the owners/operators of these UASs in their willingness to abide by the regulations set forth by the Federal Aviation Administration. Commercial pilots and GA (general aviation) have been quick to recognize the safety threat that the UASs pose as the reports of near misses at less than 500’ continued to mount. Threats such as the possibility of a fully loaded passenger jet on a full power takeoff sucking a UAS into an engine over a densely populated area. There is an even bigger threat to national security when considering the terrorist capabilities of pre-programing multiple UASs and flying them into several national airports simultaneously where there are few or no options for eliminating such a security threat. Boeing has proposed a laser solution for larger military UASs but that is not feasible for urban or rural airport environments, and/or for such a small and [seemingly] invisible target. Another issue is that radar is unable to see a one-pixel echo, and lasers decay ballistically, i.e. dropping toward the ground so that there are likely to be more unintended consequences involving an office building, residential complex, or a commercial aircraft situation behind the intended target.

Many airports have little or no security capability to deal with unmanned aircraft systems, so the best they can hope to accomplish is to clean up the pieces after-the-fact. At the present time, there appears to be an FAA airspace regulatory issue combined with the DHS and FBI which then makes any TSA involvement redundant at best. Pending legislation could require the installation of UAS’s guidance systems that have “geo-fencing” options which would prevent them from entering airspace that surrounds the airports, although it would still allow them to fly everywhere else. However, even “geo-fencing” programming is not foolproof as evidenced by a firmware upgrade that allowed a UAS to launch within a Class B airspace but when airborne, it realized that is was not supposed to be there, stopped the engines, and dropped into [fortunately this time] a non-fatal situation. In a case of rogue unmanned aircraft systems, technology is under development that would assume command and control even a UAS that is flying preprogrammed and autonomously, which would allow law enforcement to disable the aircraft, and then trace it to its origin without crashing it.

The University of California has expanded upon the UAS technology by developing a Teflon “cloaking” material which creates a UAS stealth device which has no electronic or infrared signature thereby allowing it to avoid radar detection. Further reflection upon this capability is likely to raise immediate concerns for the positive and negative impact on commercial aviation, general aviation, and of course, military aviation, which may be mitigated by the implementation of responsible regulations and screening protocols. However, it is wise to remember that not all participants flying unmanned aircraft systems may play by the same rules of engagement, which suggests that increasing and updating the marketing and use controls prior to the purchase of a UAS is certainly more advantageous than dealing with the aftermath when a UAS is flown into the path of a fully loaded commercial aircraft or flown into an equally devastating situation.

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Exploring Avgas Alternatives For General Aviation

Amber Berlin

For Part 1 of this discussion, click here.

The health hazards, loss of IQ points, and associated costs of lead (Pb) fuel emissions leaves only one option for the General Aviation (GA) fleet: stop using leaded fuel. In order to accomplish this task, GA has several options to consider, including Avgas alternatives such as renewable biofuel, fleet-wide modification or to continue searching for a “drop-in” replacement that will meet or exceed the current engine specifications. Considering the severe cost of fleet-wide modification, it has become a last-resort option as all other avenues are explored.

Biofuel Avgas Alternatives

Because petroleum is a finite natural resource, a long-term solution is to replace Avgas and other petroleum-based fuel with renewable energy. One type of renewable energy is biomass, which is converted into bio-oil and then biofuel. Biomass has been considered from many different crops and each are classified by generation. First generation biofuel was made from sugarcane, sugar, beet, maize and rapeseed, but the use of these crops proved to be unsustainable because biofuel production drew on resources needed for food, and subsequently raised food prices. Second generation biofuel was made from wood, organic waste and food crop waste, which did not impact food production, but these crops had the limitation of year-round availability and high conversion costs. Third generation biofuel shows promise by using microalgae as biomass, which does not share resources with our food supply and can be produced year-round.

Microalgae produce more oil than oilseed crops and can be processed in various ways to produce several different types of fuel. With thermo-chemical production, microalgae can produce oil and gas, while biochemical production results in ethanol, biodiesel, and biohydrogen (Demirbas, 2010). According to Brennan and Owende (2009) bio-oil is created through the thermo-chemical process of pyrolysis, which supports large-scale production of biofuel and has the potential to eventually replace petroleum. Biomass already supplies approximately 13% of the world primary energy supply, and as production methods become more efficient bioenergy is expected to replace a greater amount of petroleum each year, providing 25-33% of global energy by 2050 (Hossain and Davies, 2013).

According to Demirbas (2010) there is potential for large-scale production of microalgae through the use of raceway ponds and tubular photobioreactors, however, microalgae production has not matched theoretical claims of oil yields. Limitations on the ability to supply nutrients and CO2 may inhibit large-scale production, and may become more restrictive as production capacity nears 10 billion gallons per year (Pate, Klise and Wu, 2011). Improvements are needed in the growing and harvesting of microalgae to reduce costs and enhance the production of algal biomass. With such a large infrastructure and dependence on petroleum, it is unknown if these improvements will allow microalgae production to compete and replace petroleum-based fuel completely.

While bioethanol is not a prime candidate for use in the aviation industry, and biodiesel can be used in limited quantities with kerosene as a fuel extender, the efficiency of hydrogen biofuel is worth a second look. Hydrogen can be produced by algae under specific conditions, such as direct and indirect photolysis, and ATP-driven hydrogen-production (Demirbas, 2010). Liquid hydrogen (LH2) powered aircraft boast a much lower fuel weight, which decreases operating costs and improves efficiency. The trade-off is higher pricing for LH2 and the increased frequency of contrail formation, with these aircraft expected to enter into commercial service around 2040 (Yilmaz, Ilbas, Tastan and Tahran, 2012).

Because of the prohibitive cost of modifying the entire fleet of piston-engine aircraft, the general aviation sector has been searching for a “drop-in” solution. A true “drop-in” solution would allow the aircraft to operate on the avgas alternative without any modifications. To support the reduction in Pb emissions, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has set a goal of 2018 for the procurement of an avgas alternative that is usable in most piston-engine aircraft (FAA, 2013).

Currently, the FAA has entered Phase 2 of the Piston Aviation Fuel Initiative (PAFI), a program designed to evaluate potential avgas alternatives for suitability as a drop-in replacement for 100LL. Phase 1 included assessments in emissions and toxicology, production and distribution, and performance in worst-case conditions. The FAA has selected two fuel prospects, Swift Fuels and Shell, to continue Phase 2 testing at the engine and aircraft level with the purpose of being adopted across as much of the existing fleet as possible. According to the FAA,”…the PAFI process is not intended to be a barrier to entry for proposed fuels but rather is designed to enable the most promising fuels to undergo the necessary independent peer review and data collection necessary to gain broad based industry, regulatory, and consumer acceptance leading to production and sale across the entire aviation marketplace.” (FAA, n.d.).

While the well-known industry giant Shell submitted a promising fuel formulation, Swift Fuels, established in 2005, also advanced with their UL102, an “all-hydrocarbon” unleaded 102 Motor octane aviation gasoline that meets ASTM D7719. With Phase 2 testing of the PAFI set to continue for the next couple of years, GA’s era of leaded fuel is finally coming to an end. The environmentally-friendly, high-performance unleaded avgas alternatives of the future will prove a wise choice for generations to come. Generations who will be, quite literally, smarter than the last.

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.

References:

Brennan, L. & Owende, P. (2009). Biofuels from microalgae- A review of technologies for production, processing, and extractions of biofuels and co-products. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 14, 557-577.

Demirbas, A. (2010). Use of algae as biofuel sources. Energy Conversion and Management, 51, 2738-2749.

Federal Aviation Administration. (n.d.). White Paper. Piston Aviation Fuel Initiative.

Federal Aviation Administration. (2013). FAA Issues Request for Unleaded Replacements for General Aviation Gasoline (Avgas).

Hossain, A. K. & Davies, P. A. (2013). Pyrolysis liquids and gasses as alternative fuels in internal combustion engines- A review. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 21, 165-189.

Pate, R., Klise, G., & Wu, B. (2011). Resource demand implications for US algae biofuels production scale-up. Applied Energy, 88, 3377-3388.

Yilmaz, I., Ilbas, M., Tastan, M., Tarhan, C. (2012). Investigation of hydrogen usage in aviation industry. Energy Conversion and Management, 63, 63-69.

Why General Aviation Needs To Stop Using Leaded Avgas

Amber Berlin

The Clean Air Act, last amended in 1990, established a higher standard of environmental responsibility in the United States. In order to meet this standard, several initiatives were undertaken to reduce air emissions deemed harmful to human health. One such initiative was a close examination of the hazards presented by lead (Pb) fuel emissions. Pb fuel emissions are a by-product of the combustion of leaded gasoline in piston-engines, which are released into the air through the exhaust system. When airborne Pb is inhaled, it enters the bloodstream and raises the blood lead level (BLL) in the body. Because blood carries Pb through the entire body, it can result in widespread biological damage to cells and interruption of the cellular processes essential for cell survival.

Pb exposure is particularly dangerous to the brain because Pb has the ability to substitute for calcium ions and pass through the blood-brain-barrier (Sanders, Liu, Buchner & Tchounwou, 2009). Once in the brain, the toxic effects of Pb destroy healthy brain tissue and cause permanent damage in the central nervous system. According to Wu, Edwards, He, Zhen and Kleinman, (2010) substitution of Pb for calcium ions also affects the process of bone formation and remodeling, with Pb deposited in the bones in lieu of calcium and later released from bone tissue to recirculate in the body.

While it is known that large amounts of lead can be toxic, new research has shown that low-level lead exposure will also inhibit the brain’s ability to function. In a study on children, Miranda et al. (2007) show blood lead levels as low as 2 µg/dL (micrograms of lead in 100 ml of blood) have a significant impact on academic performance. This reduction in cognitive ability is identified as by The World Health Organization (2004) as “mild mental retardation resulting from loss of IQ points,” which has many negative effects on individuals and society as a whole (p.1495).

A loss of 2 IQ points has many social implications, such as moving an individual with a 71 IQ to below 70, an area considered mild mental retardation. While a drop in intelligence may affect the individual’s ability to perform academically, it also affects the way he or she is able to respond to the world. Individuals with limited intelligence tend to make less educated decisions than intelligent individuals, which may lead to fewer employment opportunities and various mistakes, even resulting in death. Furthermore, a self-awareness of having a below 70 IQ may create additional social problems because of a lack of confidence or self-esteem.

The monetary impact from a loss of 2 IQ points is substantial, with studies estimating the lifetime loss of income from the loss of IQ points ranges from $8,300 to $50,000/IQ point (Dockens, 2002; Pizzol, Thomsen, Frohn & Andersen, 2010). These losses extend beyond individual income and affect each member of society through our taxpayer dollars. An IQ below 70 qualifies children for special education classes and is also a qualifier for Social Security Disability benefits for intellectual disability (formerly known as mental retardation), which together cost nearly $8 billion a year.

While issues such as intellectual disability are apparent, the amount of toxic dust produced by Pb emissions often goes unnoticed. Pb dust is an invisible danger, settling on the surface of objects, vegetation, and into the top layers of soil. This dust is not easily removed from the environment, and according to Wu et al. (2010) Pb “does not appreciably dissolve, biodegrade, or decay and is not rapidly absorbed by plants” (p.309). The Pb in soil is a continuous hazard to small children because they absorb Pb more easily than adults and are more likely to ingest dirt. According to the World Health Organization (2010), an economic analysis revealed the cost of childhood lead poisoning to be $43 billion annually.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the regulatory body charged with monitoring the national ambient air quality for Pb. After the identification of Pb fuel emissions as a health hazard, the EPA sought to reduce the amount of Pb in gasoline with the Clean Fuel Program in 1973. Highway use of leaded gasoline was finally prohibited in 1995.

In 2008, the EPA issued a final rule, lowering the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) from 1.5 µg/m3 (micrograms per cubic meter) to 0.15 µg/m3. The EPA acknowledged the acceptable risk of a loss of 2 IQ points, and used this as the measure to set the NAAQS for Pb (Chari, Burke, White & Fox, 2012). By 2012, the EPA had still not met the new standard and reported approximately 8.1 million people living in counties where Pb exceeds the NAAQS. The EPA also reported General Aviation (GA) is the leading contributor to Pb emissions through fossil fuel combustion in piston-engine aircraft, contributing an estimated 653 tons of airborne Pb annually (EPA, 2010).

Historically, General Aviation and GA aircraft have been exempt from a ban on leaded fuel because of its social and economic contribution. In 2005, General Aviation contributed $150.3 billion and over 1.2 million jobs to the U.S. economy (GAMA, 2006). Of the 3,300 airports open to the public and included in the FAA’s National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS), there are 2,952 landing facilities which depend on general aviation for community services such as aerial fire fighting support, aeromedical flights, agricultural support, aerial surveying, air cargo, disaster relief, remote population/island access, and U.S. Customs and border protection. GA links communities that would otherwise have no air support, providing vital services necessary for successful community development.

In 2010, piston-engine aircraft made up approximately 70% of the GA fleet, flying over 14.7 million hours. The majority of piston-engine aircraft use 100LL (Avgas), which may contain as much as 2.12 grams of Pb based fuel additive tetraethyllead (TEL) per gallon (EPA, 2008). The TEL additive boosts the octane rating and prevents early detonation of the fuel which may cause engine failure, but it is also the ignition of TEL that produces the Pb emission hazard.

While the entire population is affected by airborne Pb emissions, none is more affected than the population near airports. It is airports where Avgas is sold and used, where GA aircraft taxi and depart, and where the majority of Pb emissions are concentrated. A study on the impact of Avgas confirmed those living closest to the airport incur the greatest risks, including an estimated 16 million people living within 1km of an airport using Avgas, and 3 million children attend school within the same area (Miranda, Anthopolos & Hastings, 2011). The EPA also recognized their existing lead monitoring network is not sufficient to determine if all areas meet the new Pb NAAQS of 0.15 µg/m3.

The external costs of Pb emissions have been calculated at 41-83€/kg of emitted Pb (Pizzol et al., 2010), and for piston-engine aircraft, these external costs run approximately $37.5-$75.8 million per year.The health hazards and associated costs of Pb fuel emissions leave only one option for the GA fleet: stop using leaded fuel. In order to accomplish this task, GA has several options to consider, including renewable biofuel, fleet-wide modification, or to continue the search for a “drop-in” replacement that will meet or exceed the current engine specifications. Join us for the upcoming second part of this discussion as we discuss the future of GA fuel, including alternatives, and the FAA’s plan to phase out leaded avgas in Exploring Avgas Alternatives For General Aviation.

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

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References:

Chari, R., Burke, T. A., White, R. H. & Fox, M. A. (2012). Integrating Susceptibility into Environmental Policy: An Analysis of the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for Lead. Int J Environ Res Public Health., 9(4), 1077–1096. doi: 10.3390/ijerph9041077

Dockins C. (2002). Valuation of childhood risk reduction: the importance of age, risk preferences and perspective. In: Jenkins R, Owens N, Simon N, Wiggins L, editors. Risk Anal: Int J, 22(2), 335–46.

Environmental Protection Agency. (2008). EPA-420-R-08-020.

Environmental Protection Agency. (2010). Development and Evaluation of an Air Quality Modeling Approach from Piston Engine Aircraft Operating on Leaded Aviation Gasoline. EPA-420-R-10-007. http://www.epa.gov/nonroad/aviation/420r10007.pdf

General Aviation Manufactures Association. (2006). GA Contribution. Retrieved from https://www.gama.aero/files/ga_contribution_to_us_economy_pdf_498cd04885.pdf

Miranda, M. L., Kim, D., Galeano, M. A., Paul, C. J., Hull, A. P. & Morgan, S. P. (2007). The relationship between early childhood blood lead levels and performance on end-of-grade tests. Environ Health Perspect, 115(8), 1242-7.

Miranda, M. L., Anthopolos, R., & Hastings, D. (2011). A Geospatial Analysis of the Effects of Aviation Gasoline on Childhood Blood Lead Levels. Environ Health Perspect, 119(10), 1513–1516. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1003231.

Pizzol, M., Thomsen, M., Frohn, L. M. & Andersen, M. S. (2010). External costs of atmospheric Pb emissions: Valuation of neurotoxic impacts due to inhalation. Environmental Health, 9(9). doi: 10.1186/1476-069x-9-9.

Sanders, T., Liu, Y., Buchner, V., & Tchounwou, P. B. (2009). Neurotoxic Effects and Biomarkers of Lead Exposure: A Review. Review of Environmental Health, 24(1), 15-45.

World Health Organization. (2004). Comparative Quantification of Health Risks. Global and Regional Burden of Disease Attributable to Selected Major Risk Factors. Chapter 19, p. 1495. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/publications/cra/chapters/volume2/1495-1542.pdf

World Health Organization. (2010). Childhood Lead Poisoning. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/ceh/publications/leadguidance.pdf

Wu, J., Edwards, R., He, X. (E.), Zhen, L., & Kleinman, M. (2010). Spatial analysis of bioavailable soil lead concentrations in Los Angeles, California. Environmental Research, 110, 309–317.

Featured Image: Erik Brouwer

Rules of Thumb That Make Flying Planes Easier

You can make flying planes a little easier by applying a few different rules of thumb provided below.

Vern Weiss

There’s a lot of minutia and head work involved in flying planes and sometimes a pilot can get bogged down with the calculations and mental gymnastics required. “East is least and West is best” and “Accelerate – North, Decelerate – South” come to mind. Thank goodness they came up with those to aid in flying planes, or I would still be studying for my private pilot written exam.

My particular annoyance is the Metric system’s ornery method of measuring temperature. Fortunately, some angel from Heaven was sent to give us, “Double it and add thirty.” So if I need to convert 30 degrees Centigrade to Fahrenheit it becomes 30 x 2 plus 30 equals 90. It actually comes to 86 degrees Fahrenheit so I must offer this caveat about all pilot rules of thumb: A rule of thumb is a “broad application that is not intended to be accurate or reliable for every situation. It is an easily learned and easily applied procedure for approximately calculating or recalling some value, or for making some determination.1

Hydroplaning

Say, let’s go hydroplaning today! The runway is wet and we are bored so let’s inject a little excitement into a hum-drum afternoon.

Hydroplaning occurs when a boundary layer of water prevents a tire from making direct contact with a hard surface and the result can be the loss of steering control and braking. The formula for computing the minimum speed at which a tire hydroplanes would fill two pages of lined filler paper. However Professor Tom Thumb created his Rule of Thumb and shrunk the arduous calculations down to simply “the square root of the tire pressure times 9.” Thank you, Professor Thumb. (Actually, it is known as Horne’s equation.) This means that if your tire has 45 PSI in the nose and 38 PSI in the main tires, the nose will start hydroplaning at 60 knots and the mains will start hydroplaning at 55 knots. Yes, you are seeing that correctly; your mains will be hydroplaning before your nose as you accelerate and they will continue to hydroplane after your nose has stopped as you decelerate. This rule of thumb works no matter if you have air or nitrogen in your tires. It can also be applied to your automobile tires and give you an edge when the highway is wet enabling you to keep your speed below the threshold of where you’ll start hydroplaning. (i.e. tires inflated to 35 PSI even though they may be 44 PSI-rated tires will begin hydroplaning at 65 knots (74.8 MPH). This is a rule of thumb only. There are all kinds of tires, type H, radial-belted and bias-ply. Bias-ply tires used on aircraft have the highest speeds before they’ll hydroplane. Type H and radial-belted tires hydroplane at lower speeds (the formula “square root of the tire pressure times 6” should be used).

Rolling Out of a Turn

A well-known rule of thumb for flying planes you may have learned in the simulator is when to begin rolling out of a turn to straight-and-level and when to level out from a descent. A cozy, comfy roll-out from a turn is simply half your angle of bank. If your bank is 15 degrees, start your roll-out 7 1/2 degrees before your desired heading. If your bank is 45 degrees, start your roll-out 22 1/2 degrees before your heading. Make sure it is twenty-two AND A HALF degrees! Not 22-1/4 or 22- 3/8, but 22 and a half! Heh heh…I’m having a little fun with you.

As for descending, if you prefer not to undershoot…then overshoot…then dive back down like a porpoise at Sea World, start your level-out at your rate of descent divided by 10. If you’re descending at 1,000 feet per minute, start leveling out 100 feet before your altitude. Pretty simple, eh?

Crossing Restriction Clearance

When flying planes, pilots are frequently called upon to participate in The Dreaded Crossing Restriction clearance from ATC. “Pterodactyl Two-Eight-X Ray, Descend to 7,000 feet and cross 10 miles south of Earwax VOR at 2,000 feet.” H-m-m-m. So you hustle down to 7,000 because that’s where he wants you to be. Now you have to figure out when to start your descent from 7,000 to 2,000. This “rule of thumb” is predicated on ATC’s expectation that you will descend at an angle of 3 degrees which is comfortable for any aircraft. (By virtue of their speed, jet aircraft attain this rate at approximately 2,000 FPM). It’s simple. Drop the last 3 zeros of the altitude change required. Multiply this number by 3. This figure represents the number in miles prior to the crossing fix necessary to safely arrive at the new assigned altitude. In our example, you are going from 7,000 to 2,000 feet which is an altitude change of 4,000 feet. Drop the 3 zeroes to get “4.” Multiple “4” by the constant “3” to get 12. To make this crossing restriction you will start your descent NO LESS than 12 miles from the VOR. Actually, I add an extra buffer of 5 and would start my descent when I was 17 miles from the VOR. I don’t like filling out NASA reports nor do I wish to get any letters from the FAA.

Here’s a thought to ponder: Contemporary airplanes are now equipped with super-colossal computers that can figure this out for you. In fact, these FMS systems will alert you when to start down and even provide you with a virtual “glide slope” to ensure arriving at the desired point at the correct altitude. This is handy when all the data is already plugged into your FMS but what happens when it isn’t? When you’re given an unexpected crossing altitude you have the additional task of key-punching in all the data. That takes time and I have seen so many pilots in the simulator miss their crossing restrictions because they were fat-fingering buttons and trying to get their FMS programmed. Make it easy on yourself. You know your “X” miles from the VOR and the controller wants you at such-and-such altitude when you’re “Y” miles…do it in your head and it will take you less than ten seconds to compute instead of a minute or more of pirouetting your fingers around the FMS keyboard. Even when I already have the crossing restriction programmed into an FMS I still do it in my head as a double check that all the data-based algorithms are correct (and I have seen them not so).

Amount of Fuel

So you land and you gotta buy fuel so the petroleum barons can afford to own nine luxury homes throughout the world. There are two ways to go about this. You can dig your calculator out of your bag and make work for yourself…or you can take the easy way out and call on ol’ Professor Thumb.

It’s simple when your airplane registers in gallons. If you land and your 50 gallon tank is half- full and you want it three-quarters full you tell them you need 12 or 13 gallons. But what happens when you’re flyin’ with the Big Dogs and you no longer deal in gallons? Large recips and turbine aircraft generally have their fuel metering in pounds. But yet, FBOs deal in selling gallons.

There are two ways to do this: You can divide what you want by 6.79 pounds which will derive the number of gallons you need (ugh) or…you can use Professor Thumb’s Handy Dandy Instant Solution.

  • A. You subtract the fuel you have in the tank from the total fuel you want to have.
  • B. Divide that number in half.
  • C. Then add the half (B) to the number you started out with (A).
  • D. Drop the last zero.

The answer is the number of gallons to buy.

Say you landed with 1,000 pounds of fuel and you want to leave with 3,000 pounds of fuel. A= 2,000 B= 1,000 C= 3,000 D= 300 gallons

Don’t believe me? Try it in your head. You landed with 1,600 pounds of fuel and want to leave with 2,600 pounds. How much fuel do you order?

Did you say the amount in the footnote below?2  Well done.

In countries such as Canada they believe in liters and the rule of thumb for that is simply multiplying the number of gallons times 4 and that’s close enough. Fuel is quite variable and its density changes with temperature. But you’re an earnest and thorough pilot and after fueling you always check the fuel gauge before the fueler disconnects. If it doesn’t show you what you need, you add more. Duh.

If you have fuel tanks in each wing you obviously further divide your total by two and, instead of “150 gallons” it becomes “75 gallons per side” (except if the FBO has a promotion giving away something cool with a fuel purchase of 200 gallons or more then the minimum fuel order HAS to be 200 gallons).

These are just a few of the “cheats” pilots have devised to make the job of flying planes simpler. Ball-parking is acceptable so long as, when doing it, you cross check your answers with other available cues.

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.

References and Footnotes:

1 – Thank you, Wikipedia.

2 – 150 gallons.

Featured Image: Kent Wien

Flight To the Past: The George Patton Memorial Museum

Shawn Arena

March 1942. Three months following the Pearl Harbor attack which thrust the United States into World War II, (and one month before the daring Doolittle Raid on Tokyo), the War Department ordered the commander of the Army First Corps General George S. Patton to locate, establish, and command a desert training area to prepare troops for desert warfare. Being a native southern Californian, General Patton did not have to look any further from his home in San Bernardino, CA, when he established the Desert Training Center at Shavers Summit (now known as Chiriaco Summit). It is here that my flight back in time is focused.

Go West Young Man

The lone airstrip (I wouldn’t even call it an airport!) designated as L77 on the far southeastern part of the Los Angeles Sectional Chart, is part of what is now the George Patton Memorial Museum. Our flight took place in the spring of 2003 from my home base airport Glendale Municipal Airport (GEU) in the western Phoenix metropolitan area, with two work colleagues looking for a real life history lesson.

Once departing GEU, you literally fly due west (adjacent and unique to GEU, is Luke AFB the home of the largest F-16 training facilities in the U.S. Air Force) while coordinating with the Luke RAPCON for safe passage and clearance to venture through their airspace. Once clear, however, it was literally IFR (I Follow Roads) flying because your route of flight is parallel to Interstate 10. An hour or so later you are arriving at L77, a one runway airstrip (6/24) and parking in the open ramp area south of the taxiway.

350 Miles Wide and 250 Miles Deep

It is here that our history story begins. The George Patton Memorial Museum is one of the hidden gems of military museums. It literally starts with the airstrip. In March 1942, General Patton and his staff established this southern California airstrip to not only allow air access for supplies and support personnel for his training center, but to also serve as a training platform for the Army Air Corp. (Over the years, such high-ranking Army generals such as Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell flew in for special occasions.) Once inside the museum, there is a scale model diorama of the training center as it was during Patton’s time. To give perspective, the 350 miles wide and 250 miles deep location stretched from Pomona, CA to the east, Phoenix, AZ to the west, Yuma, AZ to the south and Boulder, NV to the north, an immense swath of land. But that was exactly what Patton wanted. Somewhere he could battle train his troops in the most realistic scenario that replicated the North African surroundings where they would soon be facing the German Commander “Desert Fox” General Rommel.

The grounds of the George Patton Memorial Museum

Photo by Flickinpicks

Exhibits throughout the museum are awe-inspiring. While museum staff has updated the motif and displays to highlight Desert Shield and Desert Storm circa 1991, and the most recent Iraq and Afghanistan wars, most of the exhibits pay tribute to General Patton’s history – from the famed pearl-handled revolvers, to his diaries, and the famous prayer he asked the chaplain to write during a cold European winter (as depicted in the 1970 movie Patton, starring Academy Award winning actor George C. Scott). Outside and surrounding the George Patton Memorial Museum grounds are former U.S. Army tanks and armored personnel from Patton’s era to present time.

Appreciation of the Past – Using Aviation As the Vessel

Now I know some of you may be thinking “That’s all well and good for the history buff, but aviation seems to be the backstory not the heart – like with your previous stories!” Ok, I admit it, this is a bit off the typical track you have been used to seeing from my stories, BUT, think about this for a minute: It was because of aviation that General Patton was able to sustain his men with supplies and additional personnel and equipment to create part of our “Greatest Generation” and it was with the ease of aviation that one can utilize in a quick, efficient (more fun) manner to explore little-known treasures such as this. There is a saying in the airport and aviation world that says: “A mile of road will get you one mile, whereas a mile of runway can get you the world!” All because of the wonderful world of aviation. Enjoy!

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