Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Post-Women in Aviation Conference Entry

Here we are setting up for the Women in Aviation Conference held 15-17 February in Orlando FL. You know, I have some great friends! In this picture you can see Jake, who is Cindy's husband, helping to set up. Cindy is one of the founding members of Girls With Wings, and a pilot featured on the GWW website. Also helping me out at the conference was Lynn and Kim, also pilots on the website. Thank you for all of your help, I couldn't have done it without you...

Sales of GWW merchandise were great during the conference. Some of the items are on the eBay store, but I am also working on building a eCommerce site, due out soon.

I also got a lot of support from attendees of the Conference. We are always looking for more bios, so look for those to show up within the next couple of days. Kim is willing to take all of the video interviews from the conference and put them together into a new movie to be published on the website by the end of the month. Look at last year's video here.

One big change to the website. I have built an online form for the bios. You can type in your information right on the form and then submit it to me. The only other thing you'll have to do is email a picture to my email address. As of yet, I haven't figured out how to do this online....

See the form here:

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Radio Frequencies

Greetings from Palm Beach, FL, where our airplane is undergoing maintenance...

I told you in an early post that I was going to talk about the radios in the airplane. This is a pretty typical setup, so from Left to Right on the top row, we have 2 COM (communication), and the ATC (transponder) radios. On the bottom row, we have 2 NAV (navigation) radios and one ADF (NDB) radio.

First the COM: For aircraft to aircraft or aircraft to ground communication, most of us use VHF (Very High Frequency) radios. They use the frequencies from 118.000 to 134.000, in increments of .005 (121.050, 121.010, 121.015, etc).

There are only two places behind the decimal point shown, so even though we have selected 123.850 on COM1 (shown on the top line of the first radio), it only shows .85. The standby frequency (shown on the second row), is really 132.025, but we don't need to show the .005 to know this has been selected. This is because there is no .024 or .026, this selection could only be .025. Side note: because of bleedover on the frequencies-- we're running out of numbers for every ramp, ground, tower, approach, center, etc., frequencies--it has been discussed that we start assigning frequencies in between the .005. We could start hearing Air Traffic Control (ATC) assign a frequency of 132.027 or 119.054.

The silver oval you see to the left of 132.85 is a lever to switch the two frequencies. In other words, if we are talking to Cleveland Center on 123.85 and they ask us to change to Cleveland Approach on 132.02, we would dial this number in (using the large dial on the right) and then push the switch up, so that the approach frequency would now be the active one (jump to the top row). Pilots will hear a tone when this happens to let them know they've actually changed frequencies.

It's very embarrassing (but not uncommon) to have this happen:

ATC: "Aircraft 123, contact Cleveland Approach on 132.02."

AC123: "Switching to Approach, 132.02, AC 123, Good day." (You should always read back the frequency, just in case you didn't hear it correctly, or if ATC accidently gives you the wrong one).

So you dial in 132.02 push the switch up, and listen for a second, to make sure you're not going to interrupt another transmission.

Then you key the mike and say: "Aircraft 123, checking in, level 10,000 feet, information Zulu." (There are some other things to tell Approach when you first check in with them, like the ATIS, which I'll cover later).

Now, if you didn't notice that you didn't get a tone when you tried to switch frequencies, and therefore made your call on the last frequency, Cleveland Center would have advised you to make the switch. Some controllers with a sense of humor might say, "Flippy the switchy" or "That was a good practice. You're ready for the real thing --once you change frequencies."

This time you make sure the frequencies swap places and make the call again so you get this response:

Approach: "Roger, AC123, descend to 8000." When ATC contacts you with your call sign, they are saying they have you on their radar.

The second COM radio is there so you can continue to communicate with the ATC that is following you on radar while at the same time tune in frequencies to do things like listen to weather at the destination airport (that Information Zulu I mentioned), or monitor traffic at that airport, or call ahead to the FBO (Fixed Base Operations were discussed in an earlier post) to let them know you're coming. Federal Regulations tell us that in-flight, if we have no other need for this second COM radio, to monitor (listen, but don't talk) on 121.5 (Guard) to hear emergency transmissions. This was instituted post-9/11, so ATC could make broadcasts of issues pilots needed to know. It is also used by the military to contact you if you're getting intercepted, or by pilots in distress.

Gosh, I always want to cover just one topic, but everything leads into something else. I will talk more about the other radios next time, but if you have any questions on anything I bring up, just let me know.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Urban Legend Plane Crash

Not very good advertising for this flight school!
For those of you that think this is computer generated, this is actually a real event! You can check out the details at They also have a picture of this crash from a different angle. The pilot, btw, walked away with just a small scratch.

Friday, February 02, 2007

I received this photo from a pilot I work with:
Look very closely... See the front (or nose) gear (or tire assembly)? Do you see the blue object that comes from either side of the nose gear and trails down to appear just under the main landing gear on your right? This is called a tow bar, and they vary in size from one like this, which allows people to maneuver this airplane (a Cessna 172) on the ground by hand without starting the engines. Of course, there are also tow bars for huge or heavy aircraft, but they have to use a tug (similiar in philosophy to tugboat, but more like a tractor) instead of human power.

Theoretically, this tow bar should NOT be on the aircraft in flight. Pilots have to do a pre-flight before they can jump in the airplane and take off. Upon approaching an aircraft, a pilot will determine by the aircraft's general appearance if there might be something wrong. The pilot will look for any major damage (sometimes the aforementioned tugs will run into an airplane), any puddles from leaking fluid, evidence of birds nesting in the aircraft or engines, etc. Then the pilot will get down and dirty, checking in and under every part of the airplane. This includes checking oil levels, testing the fuel for any contamination, and checking for all required bolts, nuts and screws! This is a hands on inspection, and most pilots walk away from a preflight needing to wash their hands from touching things to check for excessive play (does the assembly move more than it should?). Often pilots even have to wash their shirts, especially if they've checked under the wing for the gear/brakes and stand up before they're clear of the wing.

The preflight takes as long as a pilot needs to complete it. In the early stages of pilot training, a good instructor will take a long time to teach a student a preflight, because the implications are huge. If a pilot notices a problem on the ground, it will avoid trouble in the air. For example, if you notice there's oil pooled below the airplane parked on the ramp, wouldn't you rather get oil on the ground, right there at the hangar, than have to declare an emergency because the engine seized in flight? Sometimes things are left unsecured, like cowlings (panels that secure around the engine to streamline the airframe and protect against damage). Sometimes things are left sitting in dangerous places, like a tool left behind that can slide down and jam controls.

In later stages, clearly the pilots of a jumbo jet don't climb up to examine the engines. Licensed mechanics or A&Ps (for Airframe and Powerplant Technician) have an inspection schedule for the various systems on the airplane. Plus, the pilots can monitor their cockpit gauges to monitor for an abnormality in their operation in flight. Pilots still have to check around the rest of the airplane to make sure there are no other problems, like flat tires.

Sometimes things do escape people's notice. A pilot can be tired or in a hurry and miss something obvious, like the towbar, or because of inexperience. The problem with this pilot's situation is going to be durign the landing because the towbar could interfere with the gear. I don't know what the outcome of this incident was, but I guarantee you this pilot never forgot to check this again!

p.s. I am not above missing things on a pre-flight either, by the way. One day I was checking on the CE560 I fly for work and there was already a tug on the airplane so they could move it around before we took off. Well, as a result I kind of glossed over checking the nose of the airplane, and missed the pitot tube covers left on the airplane.

The pitot tube, shown in this picture, supplies the air pressure used for various systems in the aircraft. The tube is usually just off to the side of the nose on the airplane, and to protect it from contaminants, a cover is applied during extended parking. The cover fits over the tube and has a long red trailing strap that says "Remove Before Flight." Good thing the other pilot noticed my error before we took off, because without the air supplied from this tube, our instruments (shown in picture) would have been inaccurate, creating an inflight problem that could be blamed entirely on "pilot error." Mine, to be exact!