Sunday, September 28, 2008

Seeing the World

I recently got to go on an exciting, exotic trip to Venice! You know, the land of canals and gondolas...? The Citation X has a range of 3070 nautical miles, so it has the capability to travel almost anywhere in the world. Ok, maybe not non stop on this trip (it's 3,874 nautical miles from my home city of Cleveland to Venice) but pretty close. See how far it is between any two cities in the world.

This is why I wanted to get into this airplane so badly - I miss flying overseas from my military days. Although I lived in Germany, I got to travel all over Europe and Southeast Asia. I also spent quite a bit of time in Central and South America. I love to travel, which is part of the reason I chose to stay a pilot after the original incentive had become irrelevant (some one told me it was the toughest job to get in the army... ha, a challenge!). We spend a lot of time going coast to coast (and at .92 mach or 525 ktas (972 km/h), it doesn't take long). We go into Canada quite a bit.

All right, any one who has been to Vegas knows this is actually the Venetian Hotel and Casino - I didn't actually go to Venice, Italy. The other pilot and I had quite a bit of time on the ground there so we walked around the "strip" as they call it. I'm not a gambler, so my interest was more in all of the amazing themed casinos. I'm sure you've heard of many of them, like the Stratosphere, which has rides on top (not for me), the Sahara, Circus Circus, Riviera, Stardust, Treasure Island, The Mirage, Flamingo, Caesars Palace, Bellagio, where we caught the big water show, and the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, and many more.

Wikipedia: The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino is the largest AAA Five-Diamond rated Resort in the Americas. [1] This Venice-themed luxury hotel and casino is located on the Las Vegas Strip in Paradise, Nevada, on the site of the old Sands Hotel. The Venetian has 4,049 suites and a 120,000 square foot (11 000 m²) casino. Combined with the adjacent Sands Expo Convention Center and The Palazzo Hotel and Casino Resort, The Venetian is a part of the largest hotel and resort complex in the world --- featuring 7,128 hotel rooms and suites.[1]

I got to play tourist, taking pictures of one of the performers in the hotel. This italian statue was actually a man, who spends hours posing in the maze of stores in the casino. He switches poses every once in a while, but once posed, it's hard to tell this is a person! Except when I gave him a tip - he winked at me.

Yea, every once in a while we get lucky. We just spent the night in Milwaukee, which though not a tourist hotspot, has a very nice downtown.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Aircraft Fuel

You're probably wondering what I've been up to. Believe it or not (anyone who really knows me won't), I've been cleaning. I had a big mess to clean up a couple of weeks ago caused by a couple of cats I recently adopted. They didn't like my disappearing on them to go to work, and they took it out on my couch and rugs. I think I can get the smell out of the rugs, but the couch is a total loss...

I also have a 100 year old house, and I found evidence of some little critters in the cabinets. I set up some traps and cleaned up THEIR mess too. As a result, my kitchen made the rest of the house look bad. I spent about four days cleaning my house from top to bottom. The good news is, the cats and I have reached an understanding and after this last tour there were no presents awaiting my return. My dad also was in town, and we spent some time on the outside of the house. I'm grateful that typing allows my arms to rest on the desk. I have no more energy to lift them anymore.

But I have some pictures from a trip into Canada we took last week. Above is a picture of the fueling truck dispensing jet fuel, where they measure in liters, not gallons. So we pilots figure our fuel load in pounds, since weight is most critical to us, convert it into gallons, and then for the Canadians, into liters. Some one give me a calculator! We flew down to Arizona, chasing the sun the whole way.
We flew the same passengers out the next morning. You can compare this picture of a small single engine airplane getting 100LL (or low lead) fuel. The fuel truck is also correspondingly smaller. What's the difference in the fuel?

Aviation fuel is a specialized type of
petroleum-based fuel used to power aircraft. It is generally of a higher quality than fuels used in less critical applications such as heating or road
, and often contains additives to reduce the risk of icing or explosion due to high temperatures, amongst other properties.

Most aviation fuels available for aircraft are kinds of
petroleum spirit used in engines with spark plugs i.e. piston engines and Wankel rotaries or fuel for jet turbine engines which is also used in diesel aircraft engines. Alcohol, alcohol mixtures and other alternative fuels may be used experimentally but are not generally available.

Avgas is sold in much lower volumes, but to many more individual aircraft, whereas Jet fuel is sold in high volumes to large aircraft operated typically by airlines, military
and large corporate aircraft.

100LL, spoken as "100 low lead", contains
tetra-ethyl lead (TEL), a lead based anti-knock compound, but less than the "highly-leaded" 100/130 avgas it effectively replaced. Most piston aircraft engines require 100LL and a suitable replacement fuel has not yet been developed for these engines. While there are similar engines that burn non-leaded fuels, aircraft are often purchased with engines that use 100LL because many airports only have 100LL. 100LL contains a maximum of 2 grams of lead per US gallon, or maximum 0.56 grams/litre and is the most commonly available and used aviation gasoline.

As I mentioned previously, we not only get fuel for our airplanes at the FBOs, we get fuel for our bodies. Here's a picture of our catering being brought out to the airplane. Yes, bags and bags of it...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Defueling Airplanes

Well, for the second time in my flying career, I had to have fuel taken OFF an airplane. The first time the fuelers forgot to mix PRIST into the jet fuel. The airplane I was flying at the time needed to be defueled at a service base as defueling couldn't be done with a fuel truck, so we had to fly a short distance (not getting high and cold) to get it defueled. Huh? What is Prist and why did we need it?

All turbine aircraft fuels contain some dissolved water. It cannot be extracted because it does not exist as particulate water. When an aircraft rises to flight altitude, the fuel cools and its capacity to retain dissolved water is reduced. Some of the dissolved water separates out as discrete water that can form into ice crystals or remain as a super-cooled liquid. When super-cooled water strikes a tubing bend or a filter, it can freeze quickly and block a fuel line or filter. If suspended ice crystals are present, they can also block a filter. Prist Hi-Flash anti-icing aviation fuel additive controls icing in aircraft fuel by depressing the freezing point of water.
But this time was because we had gotten too much fuel. The paperwork for the flight had assumed that it would be cooler than the actual temperature which limits our maximum takeoff weight for a given length of runway. PLUS, part of the runway was closed (the last 500 feet), which limited our takeoff weight even more. Since we couldn't lessen the aircraft any other way, we had to take off some fuel. We were actually dispatched with enough fuel not to need fuel at an interim stop to drop off one of our two passengers, so this just meant we had to get fuel at the next stop.

So, I got to see the fuelers take fuel off the airplane. It usually is a pretty simple process. Instead of the fuel truck dispensing the fuel, a lever is depressed so it just sucks it back in. However, it wasn't working, and the ground crew was clearly perplexed. Finally a supervisor came over and determined it wasn't working because there was no fuel IN the truck - so they had to go get fuel in the truck and come back to defuel.

In the interim, the passengers showed up, but luckily were hardly inconvenienced. Safety, after all, is the most important principal in aviation.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Back to work

Yea! I'm on the road again...

Yesterday I spent about five hours in the Cleveland Airport waiting for my commercial airline flight to take me to Michigan to start my tour. There was a mechanical problem with the airplane and the crew had to wait for the mechanic to come to the airplane and sign off the problem so the flight could go. "Sign off" means that the problem isn't going to affect the safety of the flight but it needs to be logged and fixed at a later date. I've talked about MEL's (or Minimum Equipment List) before, but real quick, the MEL is an FAA approved document that airlines must comply with when determining which items can be inoperative on a particular aircraft type during flight. In other words, the company can't decide that having one wing instead of two is ok just for a leg or two. It's often just for convenience or comfort items, but may be for items that are back up systems or needed for particular flight conditions, like flight into icing or nighttime.

On this flight, it was the air conditioning. The only passengers not moved to other flights to make connections were myself and another airline pilot riding along. When we got on the turboprop airplane it was HOT and muggy and we had to wait til the airplane was fueled before the crew could turn on the air - which turned out to be working in the cabin but not the cockpit. I didn't realize this during the flight.

We flew from Cleveland to Detroit at 6,000 feet through some very bumpy weather. I think the crew was more concerned about getting us straight to Detroit to make up some time and less concerned about the smoothness of the ride. I mention this because when people tell me they had a really bad flight with lots of turbulence, I tell them that although I don't know for sure what they felt, but I imagine it was probably in the category of "light" turbulence. When I tell them the categories are light, moderate, severe and extreme, I do so to give them an idea of how bad turbulence really CAN be and how much the airplane is designed to take.

So, as bad as it was for us in the cabin, when we landed in Detroit and the cockpit door was opened, a huge blast of warm air escaped. The poor flight crew had no fresh air for this hot, muggy, bumpy flight. Though it was a short flight, I can't believe they didn't lose their lunch! I have done such flights before without a good source of fresh air and trust me, they are not comfortable. Just another "glamorous" aspect of flying for a living...

Friday, September 12, 2008

Getting Home

It's seems like I just got home and here I am getting ready to go back on the road again!

I found some pictures that I took one night getting back from a tour. I now park my car at the train station right before the airport. I started doing this because I had been parking at the local FBO and tipping the driver $5 each way to take me to the commercial terminal. It always made me nervous, thinking that if I got to the FBO and everyone working there was out doing something else (refueling airplanes, marshalling aircraft, etc.), there might not be anyone to take me to the terminal and I might miss my flight.

So, not only was it cheaper to park at the train station ($1.75 each way), the train runs every 15 minutes, so I'm pretty well assured of making every flight. Plus, I only have to unload my bags once - get them out of the car and into the station. Although the station does have the slowest elevator ever built. I also enjoy going right from the flight into the train station, located in the terminal. There are always interesting characters taking the train as well.
The problem is, one night I came home to find 3 MAJOR scratches in the paint of my car. Not keyed, someone had to have used a screwdriver or some other such tool to scrape down to the bare metal. In retrospect, I wish I would have given myself the "insurance" by parking at the FBO.
These pictures actually weren't taken returning from my last tour. I was home by 5pm, when it was still light outside. It's such a bonus, getting home when there is still time to do something. Unfortunately, the movies that I rented sat unwatched while I cleaned up the messes that my newly adopted cats left for me. Sigh.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Touching History, by Lynn Spencer

I have talked about Lynn's book before on this blog and I have included references to it in Lynn's bio on Girls With Wings. I only recently finished reading the book, full title, Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama that Unfolded in the Skies over America on 9/11, recently, and I am so completely impressed with Lynn's work.

I am not doing Lynn a favor by writing a complimentary review of her book just because she's a great supporter of GWW. This is a phenomenal book and I recommend it without reservation. The description of it on her website is as follows:

Finally . . . the complete story. Simon & Schuster presents the gripping, inspiring minute-by-minute account of the heroic battle in the skies on 9/11.

The story of the astonishing drama that played out in the skies and in the military installations and air traffic control towers on 9/11 has never before been pieced together and portrayed in a vivid moment-to-moment drama.

In this riveting book, commercial pilot Lynn Spencer brilliantly brings that drama to pulse-quickening life. She went on a quest to interview the vast number of people caught on the front lines in an unprecedented air war in which thousands of commercial pilots with flights in the air, air traffic controllers, military commanders, and jet fighter pilots snapped into stirring action.

Calling on their exceptional preparedness and unflinching readiness to put their lives on the line, they improvised a defense against a shocking threat the nature and extent of which they could have no comprehension as the events unfolded.
Her sources include hundreds of key players, from Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers to the FAA's command chief, to the general in command of air defense for the United States, the controllers who tracked the hijacked flights, and the fighter pilot, who, with no weapons loaded on his jet, unquestioningly accepted an order to take down United 93 with his own plane.

Lynn Spencer has crafted a powerful and vital account of the unknown story of the pivotal day in American life.

I would like to second all of that. I do not feel that anyone could have written fiction as interesting as this true life book was to read. I was absolutely drawn in to the story and hated to put it down. From page 1, I was engrossed. I am embarrased to say that as a professional pilot, and as an Army National Guard officer on 9/11, I had no idea of all that was involved behind the scenes in the first hours after the hijackings and those days that followed in the aviation arena. Most coverage of the events covered the treatment of the injured, the reclamation of the dead, and the damage to the buildings and actions of the emergency personnel on the ground.

This book covers a short period of time in amazing detail, discussing the actions of airport employees, air traffic controllers, other civilian and military pilots, and the governmental organizations involved in getting planes down safely wherever they could. Lynn has interviewed those directly involved in the events, and their quotes and actions are described in the book in terms that the non-aviation enthusiast can understand.
She describes what it took to get our troops mobilized and military planes up into the skies to protect our nation from potential further attack. The book highlights weakenesses in our national defense and aviation procedures, most notably the communication infrastructure, but that what needed to be done happened because of people's dedication to accomplishing the mission.

I am so impressed with the research that I knew Lynn was doing, but she went far beyond what I would have thought possible. If one had the ability to be in numerous places at once so to have a thorough understanding of such a tragedy, Lynn was the one to give us a close approximation.

It is sad to think that it took a monstrous terrorist act to bring our country together and to give ourselves the opportunity to prove what we could do when we all work together. I hope the lessons of 9/11 will remain with us for many years to come.

In closing, I do have a limited number of copies of this book available. They will be distributed first come first serve - free of charge - to Girls With Wings crewmembers that order from our online store. You must identify yourself as a crewmember upon checkout to receive the book in your shipment.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Busy Week!

It has been a very busy tour this week, and so I have not been posting much on the blog for the last few days. Getting up before 4 or 5 am means I get to the hotel pretty tired at night. If I'm lucky, I have enough energy to work out, but then I'll have NO energy left to get on the computer!

Anyway, I got pretty LUCKY this week, because I got to fly into the Denver area, where my best friend lives. Cindy is an America West Airbus pilot and Girl With Wings who I used to work with at Air Midwest, the regional airline. Yes, I know that AM West merged with US Airways - but I prefer AMW. She got to see the inside of the Citation X and meet the captain I was flying with.
The Rocky Mountains are so cool to fly over (we also flew over the Grand Canyon, but I have yet to take a picture worth publishing - the Canyon is just too big and no picture does it justice).
Cindy is at right with her son Cody, because of whom (and a daughter, Sophia, 6) she is taking a leave of absense from the airline. When she was working she would fly for an overnight in Cleveland every once in a while and visit me, but now we rarely get to see each other. Her husband flies for FedEx, and they will soon be moving to Hong Kong. I wish we flew more international trips to Asia, but so far I've only gotten as far as Canada in the X. Bummer.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Trailing Link Landing Gear

I'll be the first to admit, I don't know everything about airplanes. Not even close. The first aircraft I ever flew, the UH-1 Huey (a helicopter, at that), was the last and best vehicle for airborne transportation I ever knew in and out. Of course, it was also the simplest aircraft I ever flew. My flight school instructor made me recite the names of all the parts as I touched them on the preflight. I hated it then, but it made me pretty knowledgeable.

Every successive airplane has gotten more complex, and the training facilities expect us less to understand HOW they work as opposed to how to PROGRAM them! Where we used to have to know how the ACM (Air Cycle Machine) worked during an oral exam, now we just need to know that there is one. All of the knowledge in this aviation business builds on itself.

There is also a lot of knowledge that people pick up along the way, depending upon their interest level, experience, mechanical ability, etc. The first jet I ever flew, I don't think I understood what the thrust reversers did until I was through with the course and a captain I was flying with noticed I wasn't using them appropriately. (I discussed TRs before in an earlier post. See Wikipedia for more info: Thrust reversal, also called reverse thrust, is the temporary diversion of an aircraft engine's exhaust or changing of propeller pitch so that the thrust produced is directed forward, rather than aft.)

Anyway, back to the gear. The Citation X has trailing link landing gear. I've heard about it in passing, especially after some of my poorer landings. For "whatever reason" it's pretty hard to have a hard landing in the X. So I decided to look up this gear and why it's less likely to have this airplane "slam" on the runway. There's not much to read online, so the captain walked me out to show me how this gear is different from every other previous airplane I've flown.
Basically the strut on the right, or forward, has a pivot point that allows the tires to sink a few inches when the airplane is off the ground and the gear is extended. When the tires touch the ground on landing, it's enough give so that when the second strut, the hydraulic one, comes into play, it's not as abrupt. It used to take a pilot's skill to make a smooth landing, now the gear does it for us!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Bird Strike!

Well, I got to work yesterday and met my new airplane. The captain, on his preflight (checking over the airplane to note any deficiencies), noticed a problem - besides the grey skies and sprinkling of rain! Why can't it rain in Cleveland? Save my lawn, please!

First, let me say that post-flights (done after flying) are just as important as a preflight. I myself have been caught missing something before turning over an airplane to someone else. We can never assume the previous pilot left us with a perfect airplane. And once a pilot signs for an airplane, the issues with the airplane can be transferred to the new pilot; which means also the responsibility and accountability. A story at one of my previous places of employment concerned a crew that had an extremely hard landing at night. They didn't report the damage to the company and the crew that took the airplane the next day started before dawn. It wasn't until it was light that they saw the damage. They were held accountable for flying that airplane with damage that they should have caught! Dark or not - use a flashlight!

Luckily, this was not a major bird strike. It can be a catastrophe when an airplane hits even a tiny bird. I assume the bird just glanced off the wing. It didn't look like much, but close up, you could see the feathers and gore. The airplane underwent an inspection to see if there was any damage.

How bad can an bird strike be? You wouldn't think so bad, since an airplane is so much bigger and more rigid than a bird. I'll never forget the first time I saw an airplane that had hit a turkey vulture on final approach to an airport in Texas (back in my army days). Even though this jet was slowing for landing, that bird hit and went into the vertical stabilizer (or tail). The neck of the bird was stuck about six-ten inches into the metal! I have never hit a bird, but they've scared me before.

Wikipedia: Event description

Bird strikes happen most often during take off or landing, or during low altitude flight. However, bird strikes have also been reported at high altitudes, some as high as 6000 to 9000 meters above ground level. The majority of bird collisions occur near or on airports (90%, according to the ICAO) during takeoff, landing and associated phases. According to the FAA wildlife hazard management manual for 2005, less than 8% of strikes occur above 900 meters and 61% occur at less than 30 m (100 feet).

A hawk stuck in the nosecone of a C-130

The point of impact is usually any forward-facing edge of the vehicle such as a wing leading edge, nose cone, jet engine cowling or engine inlet.

Jet engine ingestion is extremely serious due to the rotation speed of the engine fan and engine design. As the bird strikes a fan blade, that blade can be displaced into another blade and so forth, causing a cascading failure. Jet engines are particularly vulnerable during the takeoff phase when the engine is turning at a very high speed.
View of fan blades of JT8D Jet engine after a bird strike.

The force of the impact on an aircraft depends on the weight of the animal and the speed difference and direction at the impact. The energy of the impact increases with the square of the speed difference. Hence a low-speed impact of a small bird on a car windshield causes relatively little damage. High speed impacts, as with jet aircraft, can cause considerable damage and even catastrophic failure to the vehicle. However, according to the FAA only 15% of strikes (ICAO 11%) actually result in damage to the aircraft. The impact of a 5 kg (12 pound) bird at 240 km/h (150 mph) equals that of a 1/2 ton (1000 pound) weight dropped from a height of 3 meters (10 feet).

Bird strikes can damage vehicle components, or injure passengers. Flocks of birds are especially dangerous, and can lead to multiple strikes, and damage. Depending on the damage, aircraft at low altitudes or during take off and landing often cannot recover in time, and thus crash.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The September eZine is out!

Yes, the Girls With Wings September Newsletter is out - a bit late. I couldn't help it. I went camping again last weekend with another niece, Delaney, age 7. It's her fault! Forgive me for some more self serving pictures....

We found a campground via a local website, asking for recommendations from people in the area. I wanted to find a place that would keep kids happy. We were pretty happy with the campground, because it was well wooded and relatively quiet; Delaney likes her sleep. I have to admit I needed some serious recovery time each night as well. I always plan to do too much; we stayed very busy. First picture shows Delaney is much like her Aunt Lynda. Is perfectly content inside reading than enjoying nature.

Wait, scratch that. There was a pool at the campground and I think we could have spent the entire weekend swimming. I brought along some goggles and a snorkel. A huge hit. Eventually I was able to get her out on the trail. It was her first time horseback riding, and I thought she did great.

We spent three nights at the campground. I'm still using the same tent my dad bought me years ago. The best thing I've ever purchased is one of those screened in gazebos. Delaney "helped" put it up (it's all about teamwork, after all). It was so helpful to be able to have everything set out in this tent. Like I've said before, I'm not much of a camp cook, so we had a place to put our cereal and cooler with sandwich fixings. All right, I admit, I succumbed to pressure and made hotdogs one night and hamburgers another. Next trip I might try bacon and eggs.

We also did a little water work. It was also her first time canoeing. She was a master with just a little instruction. We had a scary moment when a group of people in front of us dumped one of their three canoes in a bottleneck. The other two canoes stopped to help pick everything and everyone up, which made it impossible for us to navigate around the fallen trees. Luckily the group also helped us NOT dump. I don't know that Delaney would have liked that aspect of canoeing! Of course, I had a blast. Delaney can be quite the trooper. I can't think of anything I'd rather do on my time off than spend time with my nieces. It causes a logjam in Girls With Wings items, but it's a pretty good tradeoff.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Wing Scouts

I was trying to find a picture of the Brownie logo for a story in my eZine, and came across information about the Wing Scouts.

The Wing Scout Program was a popular older girl Girl Scout program begun in 1941 for girls "interested in flying and wanting to learn enough about aviation to serve their country."
1941 sounds pretty early, but would you believe the GS had an aviation badge in 1916!?! Makes you wonder why 92 years later we're still trying to get more women into aviation.

In 1959, Girl Scout Council in North San Mateo County was presented with an offer from United Airlines San Francisco Management Club President J. L. Burnside to start an aviation program for Senior Girl Scouts.

At that time, the council had been in search of a program that would challenge the interest of Senior Girl Scouts.

One of the highlights of the Wing Scout program was the courtesy flight provide to Senior Girl Scouts using United Airlines' jets. For many of the girls, this was the first time they had flown in a plane.

The Wing Scout program was not for show, participating girls took it very seriously. As a result of their proficient training and ability, Senior Girl Scouts who had been in the program for three years were given the opportunity to take over the controls during flight in a small aircraft.

The program continued into the 70s, when it was discontinued after United Airlines experienced financial setbacks.

If you would like to volunteer to speak at Girl Scout or other school events, please visit See the calendar of events or make a request. Pictures on this post courtesy of Kate, my niece.