Saturday, January 31, 2009

Personal Hygiene

As I get ready to head home after a 6 day tour, most of the clothes in my suitcase are dirty. In the case of my workout gear, they are also pretty smelly. Keeping the dirty separate from the clean is a challenge. It's not easy packing for 6 days in only a rollerboard (although I've seen crewmembers hauling a full size suitcase), especially in the winter. It never fails. I pack more long sleeve shirts: the majority of the tour will be in the tropics. The reverse is also true.

Additionally, we crewmembers also have to carry enough uniform items to last the whole tour. During colder months, we can usually get away with wearing our white shirts two days in a row, and our pants? Well, depends on the pilot. I've seen guys wear them a week at a time, but I prefer just a couple of days per pair. Then there's the sweater, blazer and overcoat. That's a lot of gear.

So how do we stay fresh and clean on the road? Well, FBOs help us out by keeping an array of toiletries on the counters in the bathroom. Some FBOs have a mini drugstore, with hairspray, lotion, bodysprays, deodorants, toothbrushes and paste, and most importantly, mouthwash. This picture is from an FBO in Florida. This is the largest container of Listerine I have ever seen. I don't know if bad breath is a Florida thing or a pilot thing (drinking a lot of coffee doesn't help, I'm sure).

Some FBOs also stock colognes. This is dangerous territory. MOST pilots do not wear any type of perfume because in an enclosed cockpit the smell can get pretty cloying. And everyone has different preferences for scents. The other day my captain and I were sitting in an FBO pilot lounge and a pilot walked in wearing a cloud of cologne. Yikes! His copilot walked in and called him on it, and he replied that he had gone a little crazy with the cologne provided in the bathroom. Note to FBO: please do not enable this behavior!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Deicing... nah!

The next few pictures on my memory card are of my airplane sitting on the ramp in a snow storm at night, engines filling up with snow. The snow is coming down so hard that the deicing is not doing any good. But as I sit in here in FL, reading how my home in OH got 10 inches of snow in the last 24 hours, I figure there will be enough talk of snow for all of us today. I'm heading north later today anyway so I'll have be in the middle of it again very soon.

So I am going to skip ahead to some other pictures of FL. Do you recognize this FBO? We are spending a lot of time down here in FL, which I enjoy for about two months out of the year. It's too hot and humid for my taste the rest of the time. I certainly appreciated the temps yesterday when I was able to go run around the nearby lake. Unfortunately, I went in the middle of the day, and am not used to the heat. I was glad to get back to the hotel without any damage.

I do a lot of running on the road to try to stay in shape. Two great websites I have found are and They both require a little bit of work, but it's usually more reliable than asking at the front desk of the hotel about where to run. Some hotels have preprinted maps, or someone who knows something about the area (take note, hotels! we guests love this). A lot of clerks just look at you strangely, or recommend the 1/4 mi walking trail around the parking lot! I once called up the front desk to ask where I could run around the hotel, and the clerk's response was, "I wouldn't run around here." I asked if it was unsafe (it was about 5am). And he said, "No, but I wouldn't run around here." Well, I wasn't asking if he wanted to run, now was I? But I digress.

So instead of talking about removing frost, ice or snow, I'll talk about removing condensation. There are no windshield wipers on this airplane, so if we get to the airplane in the morning and it looks like this, we take cups of water out of the heated drink canisters and throw them up at the windows! If it builds back up again after we get strapped in, we can turn on the windshield heat or try to blow hot air up with the defrosters, but we definitely don't want to start taxiing without a clear view, much less take off like this guy in a NTSB report.

In trying to find a scientific explanation I found this great website, The Water Cycle. So I'll just quickly say that this condensation is a result of the windows cooling off during the night, and as the temperature rises with the new humid day, the moisture collects on the window. But here's what's really interesting:

According to columnist Cecil Adams, "a modest-size cloud, one kilometer in diameter and 100 meters thick, has a mass equivalent to one B-747 jumbo jet." ("Can a cloud weigh as much as a 747?", (another interesting site), accessed on Sep. 11, 2003). But, with all that mass being spread over such a large volume of space, the density, or weight (mass) for any chosen volume, is very small. If you compressed that cloud into a trash bag, well, in that case, you would not want to be standing below it. Even though a cloud weighs tons, it doesn't fall on you because the rising air responsible for its formation keeps the cloud floating in the air. The air below the cloud is denser than the cloud, thus the cloud floats on top of the denser air nearer the land surface.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Customer Service

You many not think of a professional pilot as a customer service representative. But excellent customer service is one of the driving principles in my career as a professional airline pilot. Passengers I fly pay a premium to be treated well and they require a minimum level of service. Customers are kept satisfied (and kept as customers) and money is made when that standard is exceeded. One of the recurring topics during my interview for my current employer was how I highly I regarded my responsibility of customer service in addition to being a knowledgeable, skilled and safe pilot.

Not only do I expect to give a high level of customer service, I also look to receive it. Even pilots who fly cargo must consider their customer service skills, even though the boxes and packages cannot complain about the lack of service. As professionals in a safety and service oriented industry, pilots still have to interact with so many other people in their industry. I cannot do my job unless the fuelers, the rampers, the caterers, the drivers, etc., do their job well. “People skills” are especially important if you fly as a crew. You must be able to work well with the other crewmembers. Respect for others is important, as well as being able to know that your input will also be listened to and considered as a member of a “team.” Oh, and it helps on those long legs to be able to converse with your co-pilot; helps to pass the time…

I pride myself on my professionalism, but I tend to be hard on people that don't seem to care about how well they do their job. For example, one of my pet peeves is going to the front desk at a hotel or FBO and having the clerk there eventually look over at me and ask, "Did you need something?" Why else would I approach the desk? It's almost as if it is beneath some people to ask, "How can I help you?" much less by actually extending assistance. I can't imagine doing this in my job, and for my own organization, Girls With Wings. I do as much as I can to satisfy website visitors – which is not easy to do via cyberspace. I also ask for feedback from everyone who orders from the online Girls With Wings Pilot Shop. I try to anticipate a customer’s needs and try to fix any inadequacies identified so they don’t happen again.

I understand that things do happen. Last night checking into a hotel, my room key didn't work (the subject of a previous post). Hey, it happens. But there began a long stream of inadequacies at this hotel - which now points to a lack of hotel wide quality assurance. And one of these items, btw, was a lack of a coffeemaker in my room. Wow. Anyone who loves coffee like I do will relate. Nothing can make up for no coffee first thing in the am. Every time I stay at hotel, I try to let the front desk know about things in the hotel that don’t work right so it can be fixed for the next guest. I have less tolerance for things that should have been noticed by housekeeping and identified to maintenance by them. 1. Who took the coffeemaker out? 2. Why wasn’t it returned? And 3. Why didn’t the housekeeper notice its absence and get one?

One of my duties at the airline includes sitting in the VIP seat of the airplane for a last look around to note any imperfections. It is then that you will find that a previous passenger left a gum wrapper in the cupholder that was hidden when viewed from a standing position. Or by moving the chair around that there are some crumbs between the seat and the wall of the fuselage. Yes, as a crewmember, I must keep the airplane clean, and that includes having a mini-vacuum for such tasks.

The economy is, some say, in the tank. Apparently except for in the medical field, all industries are experiencing a shortage of jobs and a surplus of workers. For a company to survive over their competitors, customer service is the one thing that can distinguish them and maintain customer loyalty. As this tip from Business Week confirms: Cutbacks should not snip away at customer service Businesses looking to cut costs to cope with the economy need to exercise care not to negatively affect customer service. To do that, businesses should make changes based on customer feedback, reward employees for providing excellent customer service and give extra attention to the needs of top customers. BusinessWeek/Today's Tip (1/21)

So, the customer service skills I employ when I’m “on the road” don’t get much room on this blog, but they are so important. During my interview I was asked for an example of an instance where I had really gone above and beyond for a customer. I had to admit that I had never done anything as heroic as giving a baby CPR or pulling a passenger from a burning wreckage (or heck, landing successfully in the Hudson River). I said that I attempt to always provide good customer service by treating every passenger as if he or she was a guest in my own home. By relating it as such, I emphasize that I try to anticipate needs as much as possible – and take it very seriously when I haven't!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Braking Advisories in Effect

It should be obvious that not only should airplanes be able to fly, but they should also be able to takeoff and land. Or they shouldn't take off! Like the old saying goes, "Takeoffs are optional, landings are mandatory."

It also often goes unsaid that airplanes should also be able to come to a stop after landing. Many factors are used to calculate how much distance will be used for landing for a particular airplane under certain conditions; aircraft weight and temperature (which changes the speed at which the aircraft touches down), winds, runway slope, etc. And runway conditions. Standing water on the runways surface can slow an aircraft accelerating for takeoff, but it can also inhibit an airplane from decelerating on landing. Snow and ice can also lengthen runway distance by reducing traction, and further may cause a pilot to lose steering control!

The first indication a pilot might have that the braking conditions or braking action is less than perfect is by looking out of the hotel room and seeing snow falling. This snow, of course, can be plowed, but just like on your driveway, it can't all be picked up and therefore will get packed down or iced over. Another indication is can be: "When tower controllers have received runway braking action reports which include the terms poor or nil, or whenever weather conditions are conducive to deteriorating or rapidly changing runway braking conditions, the tower will include on the ATIS broadcast the statement, “BRAKING ACTION ADVISORIES ARE IN EFFECT".” from the AIM. Section 4-3-8.

Further: During the time that braking action advisories are in effect, ATC will issue the latest braking action report for the runway in use to each arriving and departing aircraft. Pilots should be prepared for deteriorating braking conditions and should request current runway condition information if not volunteered by controllers. Pilots should also be prepared to provide a descriptive runway condition report to controllers after landing.

But what do tower controllers have to go on if no aircraft has landed for a while? They rely on ground vehicles being able to judge the braking action. The two pictures on this blog entry are of a pickup truck doing a runway check. Some vehicles have decelerometers, like what is available at Neubert Aero Corporation (their slogan, "We take the guesswork out of Reporting Runway Braking Action").

A decelerometer (DFD), pictured at left, is used to measure a short section of the runway; this is sometimes called a spot check. The decelerometer is a small device that is mounted inside a suitable ops vehicle. The vehicle is brought up to 20mph and then the brakes are applied resulting in the vehicle inducing a full locked wheel skid. The decelerometer then measures the peak horizontal g force during the skid. In low friction surface conditions, typical values would be less than 40% g.

How important is it that the pilots be made aware of the braking conditions of the runway? Recently, the FAA Flight Standards Division implemented a new policy for airplane operators engaged in air transportation that requires additional assessment of landing distance requirements based on the conditions present at the time of arrival. This policy requires that the flightcrew calculate their required landing distance accounting for the runway contamination type and depth or, most recent braking action report for the runway to be used under the landing performance assessment policy. Some aircraft will begin to be restricted when braking action reports of “fair” are received. With the current ATC threshold of “poor” for placing advisory information on the Automatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS), the flightcrews of these aircraft would not have any indication that they may be runway restricted until making radio contact with the tower controller. This late information could add additional workload for the flightcrew at a critical time of flight and, potentially, lead to an unnecessary go-around with the resultant effects on the ATC workload. Therefore, we are taking action to change the trigger when “BRAKING ACTION ADVISORIES ARE IN EFFECT” on the ATIS to any time a “fair” or worse braking action report is received. Full text.

A real live example of the consequences of NOT recalculating the effect of the braking action report can be found in this NTSB report. This is a very interesting retelling of a chain of causes that led to an runway overrun.
On April 12, 2007, about 0043 eastern daylight time, a Bombardier/Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ) CL600-2B19, N8905F, operated as Pinnacle Airlines flight 4712, ran off the departure end of runway 28 after landing at Cherry Capital Airport (TVC), Traverse City, Michigan. There were no injuries among the 49 passengers (including 3 lap-held infants) and 3 crewmembers, and the aircraft was substantially damaged.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the probable cause of this accident was the pilots’ decision to land at TVC without performing a landing distance assessment, which was required by company policy because of runway contamination initially reported by TVC ground operations personnel and continuing reports of deteriorating weather and runway conditions during the approach. This poor decision-making likely reflected the effects of fatigue produced by a long, demanding duty day, and, for the captain, the duties associated with check airman functions. Contributing to the accident were 1) the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) pilot flight and duty time regulations that permitted the pilots’ long, demanding duty day and 2) the TVC operations supervisor’s use of ambiguous and unspecific radio phraseology in providing runway braking information.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Noise Abatement Procedures in Effect

We were parked on the ramp at an airport in NJ and this was the view outside of our door. As you can see, the painting on the asphalt is one yellow line and dashed lines. According to the AIM these are Nonmovement Area Boundary Markings. These markings delineate the movement area, i.e., area under air traffic control. These markings are yellow and located on the boundary between the movement and nonmovement area. The nonmovement area boundary markings consist of two yellow lines (one solid and one dashed) 6 inches (15cm) in width. The solid line is located on the nonmovement area side while the dashed yellow line is located on the movement area side. The nonmovement boundary marking area is shown in FIG 2-3-21.

Non movement just means you don't need clearance from ATC to taxi around - however, if you are planning to taxi to the runway, it's a good idea to call ground before you move. If you are delayed, you might block other traffic from entering the ramp. In the picture above, runway 6 is a 90' left turn and then a 90' right. Not a lot of time to do the Taxi Checklist!
To add to the pressure is the little yellow sign to the left. It says: Noise Abatement Procedures in effect. Aircraft over 2500 lbs turn left to a 40' heading - climb to 1500 feet. This statement about Noise Abatement Procedures in effect will also possibly be repeated on the ATIS, in the NOTAMs, in a poster inside the FBO, on different airport diagrams, etc. (See sidebar for abbreviations.) They don't want pilots to neglect this procedure! More information is given in airport remarks such as ACFT & HELICOPTER NOISE ABATEMENT RULES IN EFF; CTC ARPT NOISE ABATEMENT OFC 201-393-0399/288-1775 FOR COPY OF PROCEDURES & RULES PRIOR TO ARR. RY 24 NOISE CRITICAL RY MAX NOISE LIMIT OF 80 DB BETWEEN 2200-0700 & 90 DB ALL OTR HRS.
In order to help pilot "fly quiet" and to ease ATC duties (just like in a STAR) the Teteboro 5 departure may be assigned by ATC. It tells us to - without awaiting any further instruction- that when taking off runway 6 we should additionally turn left direct to PNJ NDB (a navigational aid). Maintain 2000 feet until crossing the PNJ NDB, then climb and maintain 3000 feet. Thence.... as per notes or via vector to assigned route/fix. Expect clearance to filed altitude/flight level ten minutes after departure. This is an example of the information that a pilot has to become familiar with before operating out of an airport. A pilot also needs to consider that they will be operating in airspace that requires them to operate below 200kts. Don't forget this - or you'll get a "speeding ticket."
So why do have to try to abate their noise levels? Airplanes are loud, right? Just ask anyone who lives underneath the arrival routes for an airport. Heck, you don't even need to live that close. Which always makes me wonder why the newest and biggest houses are right near the airport. 1. Available land, cheap! and 2. It's convenient to the aiport, of course. The industry surrounding noise abatement is a huge one. Just type in a search for noise abatement and you'll get tons of hits. There are companies that insulate old houses from the increasing noise from the bigger aircraft utilizing an airport near them.
But we're talking TEB. If you visit the Teteboro airport website, you'll see that:
Teterboro Airport is designed as a "reliever" airport that serves vital interests and general aviation requirements of the Northern New Jersey and the New York Metropolitan Area. Located in the Bergen County boroughs of Teterboro, Moonachie and Hasbrouck Heights, it is the oldest operating airport in the New York/New Jersey Metropolitan Area, and has been owned and operated by The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey since 1949. The property was acquired in 1917 by Walter C. Teter, and the first flight was made in 1919. For more history, click
There is a special section for operations and noise. It includes procedures for people who are bothered about the noise to log a complaint. Even if no one complains, some airports have monitoring equipment to record the noise level. The airport can send you a bill for exceeding their maximum amount! This chart from TEB diagrams the procedures and tracks along the ground that pilots should fly. It also tells you where this Noise Monitor equipment is located. Consider yourself warned...

But TEB still wants to welcome pilots and the airplanes. Which is why they have this lovely little pond here. It's probably covered by snow by now and is probably viewed by a few dozen people every year.
I'm not exactly sure the reason for the plastic deer standing on the edge of this pond.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Thar She Blows!

Well, my lighthearted post about exploding soda cans yesterday garnered the most confusion of any so far. Read the "Cold Weather Operations" post below and return here, if you'd like.

Yes, all Citation Xs have APUs. [Note that I have defined APUs and FBOs in the left hand column, since I use those abbreviations often. I will add to the list as they occur to me.] When I said yesterday that "Other aircraft without an APU can request a GPU - ground power unit, but this won't provide heat. Sometimes, especially for the airlines, you can get a ducting unit to pump hot or cold air into the cabin" I meant other airplane types. The ducting I was referring to was to distribute Pre Conditioned Air. The picture to the left is an example of one of these ducts from Reelcraft. These are usually attached under the jetway leading to a commercial airliner, though they can be mounted on carts for mobility.

Oakland International Airport (OAK) even touts the use of these units as going green:

Pre-conditioned air units have been installed at all 13 gates in Terminal 2 and three (3) of the newly renovated gates in Terminal 1, The remaining gates in Terminal 1 will receive pre-conditioned air units as they are renovated. By providing these services at the gate, the aircraft will no longer have to use their own auxiliary power units (APUs) to generate electricity while it's parked at the gate. Because an APU is typically powered by the aircraft's jet fuel, the installation of the new ground power and pre-conditioned air units helps to reduce air emissions associated with the use of APUs.
APUs also serve an important function (yes, besides getting the cabin warmed up or cooled down). They act as the initial source of air with which the main aircraft engines are started. With an inoperative APU, the only way to start the engines is to use a "Huffer cart" which is one of my first blog posts. You can either use your search engine for "Huffer Cart" and observe my blog entry, Getting to know Citation-X, magically appear. Or view an answer on Wikipedia.

I was also asked via Twitter, "Well don't leave us in suspense: had the drinks been removed??" And I had to respond that I didn't remember. Probably not, since this quite a big production to get all of the drinks out of the airplane. The FBOs are prepared to handle this request for assistance from crews and always have a variety of containers with which to haul the drinks into the hangar for the night (that is assuming the airplane won't fit, of course) and to bring them back in time for departure.

The picture here was out of our door during a snowstorm in Toledo (this picture will lead to another topic for a post soon). You can see the footprints leading to and from the hangar and the trail made by a beat up old garbage can with which this FBO toted the drinks back and forth.

Cold Weather Operations

This is a picture that I took one morning through the window of the FBO - pretty sure this was MKE.

Brrrr. It just looks cold. The Captain and I were just coming on to this airplane, so we weren't sure what we were going to find out there. One thing that we needed to think about was whether the drinks had been removed from the airplane the night before.

Wait, you thought I was going to talk about de-icing, or preheating the engine, or something similiar, didn't you?

Well, there are a lot of other considerations to operating in the cold weather. First, I am again grateful to be flying the Citation X with an APU. We can turn on this Auxiliary Power Unit and generate heat into the cabin so we are not doing our preflight duties in the cold. Other aircraft without an APU can request a GPU - ground power unit, but this won't provide heat. Sometimes, especially for the airlines, you can get a ducting unit to pump hot or cold air into the cabin.

Secondly, since the inside of the airplane will soon be cold soaked in such temperatures, it can get mighty cold inside. See this page for "cold soaked," a term often used but debunked by a seismologist at the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks. Even so, it is standard procedure in airplane trials, seen at right.

The Brazilian airframer [Embraer] says results were "very positive" as engines, systems, batteries and doors were tested for 12h at a temperature of -40°C (-40°F).

As a result of these subzero temperatures, the drinks that we have on board may also freeze, causing their containers (whether glass bottle, plastic bottle or aluminum can) to explode, causing a huge (and expensive) mess to clean. I tried to find an easy answer on why this happens and found - guess what - a million different hits on how to make your soda freeze, how baking soda freezes, how to make a fountain from Coke and Menthos, etc...

The best reference I found was here: .

Water has an unusual characteristic; in its solid form, it is less dense than in its liquid form. Thus, as it freezes, it expands slightly. This is why ice floats to the top of liquid water, rather than sinking to the bottom. With most other substances, if you were to put a solid piece of that substance into a container of that same substance melted into a liquid, the solid would sink to the bottom.This, also, is why a container of a water-based liquid (such as soda) might rupture when frozen. As the water freezes, it expands, taking up more volume, and if the container can't contain that increased volume, it bursts.

Budding scientists from 5th - 8th grade can do an experiment, Soda Sabotage, testing the effects of heat on a can of soda.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Hotel Key-ed Off Cards

Once again, I had to suffer the inconvenience of a hotel room key card that didn't work. This happens probably once a month. You know what I'm talking about, those little credit card sized pieces of plastic that are coded to open your hotel room door. Sometimes they don't work the first time, sometimes they don't work later on in a stay. They are the topic of today's post. By the way, it's an urban legend that these keys are coded with enough personal information for someone to commit identity theft.
I should have known something was wrong with my key when I went down to the fitness center before breakfast, and the key didn't unlock this door (often your room key is used for other doors throughout the hotel - especially to open a back door after dark). I thought it might be because someone inside the center had locked the bolt in order to have a private workout (I could hear weights clanking). After all, I did get into my room the night before (note: but I was issued two keys - and the other one that I must have used the night before still worked when I checked it later).

So I had to call the front desk and waited til security came up to let me in to the gym. I should have saved myself this wait, and the time after the workout it took for me to go up to my room, try the ineffective key, and go back downstairs to the front desk by just admitting I had a problem and needed a new key right off. So after my workout, I needed to go get a new key to my room. In the interest of security (trust me, I have no problem with this), the clerk asked me for my ID, which I don't carry to work out. So I had to go back upstairs and wait for security to let me into my room. This will always happen when one doesn't have a lot of spare time, right?

At least the clerk didn't ask me if I had erred by putting the key next to my cell phone (which will demagnetize it). Since I stay at hotels more than 200 nights/year, I know not to do this. Sometimes, the clerk, or the machine, just doesn't encode the key correctly. This is especially frustrating at the end of a long day, after wheeling your suitcases to your room at the end of a very long hallway, to find that your key doesn't work. So you have to backtrack down to the front desk, get a new key, and then repeat the trip to your room. I once made this trip 3 times!

Most keys contain only a room number, a departure date and a "folio," or guest account code—although other data may be stored on them as well. The door locks, which are stand-alone, battery-powered devices, each contain a sequence of lock
codes. The sequence advances when an expired card is swiped or a new card inserted. The lock also logs when a guest, maid or other hotel employee has
entered the room. Hotel door locks aren't wired back to the systems at the front desk. Therefore, if a card is lost and a new card is issued, the room remains unprotected until the new card is inserted into the lock and it resets. Hotels use card-key locks because they are relatively inexpensive, make rekeying easy, include a time limit and provide an audit trail of room access.
As far as the cell phone problem (just in case one is - in a hotel clerk's opinion - stupid enough to do this), I found this blog post that covers this topic with a lot of discussion about the magnets used in blackberrys, which is what can scramble the magnetic code in the card.

The initial inquiry:

I have an persistent problem with my keycards for hotel rooms deactivating. The hotel chain does not matter -Starwood, Hyatt, Hilton-all the cards deactivate. My husband claims it because I store them in my wallet which I then put in my purse which also holds my blackberry. I say that although his theory for deactivation is possible, it is ridiculous that this happens. Where else would I supposed to store my room key except my wallet? So, my question(s) to you: do other people have this problem? Is the problem largely limited to women (or men) who carry purses which contain both their wallet and cellphone/blackberry? Can hotels fix this issue? And most importantly, is there anything I can do to prevent this-aluminum foil around the card or some other crazy hack?
The comments on this post go on and on, but if you have the time to read them, they are pretty insightful, especially from the irate hotel clerks.

Cases and flip-phone closures aren’t the only part of mobile phones with magnets… the earpiece speaker has one, too. (and if there’s an external speaker for speakerphone features, it will have one as well). It’s a fairly strong magnet at that: many mobile phones are now using neodymium rare earth magnets which are extraordinarily strong for their size. The reason is that you need a good magnet to operate the speaker (and get quality audio), and neodymium magnets allow phone manufacturers to keep the size small. It’s easily possible that the magnet present in the Blackberry’s earpiece is the source of magnetic deactivation. Couple that earpiece with a mag stripe on the hotel card which is designed for continuous alteration (as opposed to the stripe on ATM/Credit Cards which is set only once), and you’ve got a good recipe for futzing up the card.

  • But this is a very long way to go to get to my point, which is: It is conceivable that the guest of the hotel might have inadvertantly decoded their card or made some other error. However, it doesn't take much for an employee of any company, for any reason, to say, "I'm sorry." These are very magical words. I have for many years worked in customer service even before I started getting paid for it. Saying "I'm sorry" on behalf of a company just means, "I apologize that you were inconvenienced." It doesn't mean necessarily that the employee is saying, "It's my fault." It goes along way in smoothing ruffled feathers. Most people just want to know someone has a little sympathy for their situation.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Mysterious Black, er, Orange, Boxes

I was down in the fitness center at the hotel this morning, watching the tv screen in the elliptical machine. (No, I'm not kidding. Exercise has come a long way towards becoming "fun.") The Today Show was discussing the latest with the USAirways Flight 1549 event, and they played this video: (Sorry for the link - I couldn't get the embedding to work.)

In this story, they revealed that the "Jetliner’s data recorders on way to D.C." They show video of the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) and the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) being carried in coolers full of water. I have to admit, this caught me by surprise. I didn't expect this. So I did a little research.

From the NTSB website, a little background:

Large commercial aircraft and some smaller commercial, corporate, and private aircraft are required by the FAA to be equipped with two "black boxes" that record information about a flight. Both recorders are installed to help reconstruct the events leading to an aircraft accident. One of these, the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR), records radio transmissions and sounds in the cockpit, such as the pilot's voices and engine noises. The other, the Flight Data Recorder (FDR), monitors parameters such as altitude, airspeed and heading. The older analog units use one-quarter inch magnetic tape as a storage medium and the newer ones use digital technology and memory chips. Both recorders are installed in the most crash survivable part of the aircraft, usually the tail section.

All of that you may already know. What you may not know (I sure didn't) is:

In the United States, when investigators locate a black box it is transported to the computer labs at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Special care is taken in transporting these devices in order to avoid any (further) damage to the recording medium. In cases of water accidents, recorders are placed in a cooler of water to keep them from drying out. (Emphasis mine) "What they are trying to do is preserve the state of the recorder until they have it in a location where it can all be properly handled," Doran said. "By keeping the recorder in a bucket of water, usually it's a cooler, what they are doing is just keeping it in the same environment from which it was retrieved until it gets to a place where it can be adequately disassembled." From HowStuffWorks.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

It's not about the money...

Well, it had to happen. I knew I was going to have to talk about salary again here sooner or later. In response to my earlier blog about Air Ambulance, I received this message:
"I'll make you a wager... Another reason you don't want to fly EMS is because you won't be paid as much as you make flying the Citation. But...You'll never have a more satisfying flying job."

I will take that wager, Greybeard.

I have said for quite some time that I don't mind making the salary I do because I LOVE my work. Small office, great view. It's just that people think pilots make so much money. I know my neighbors in my small working class suburb of Cleveland wonder why I'm driving an 11 year old car and living in a very small old house decorated with furniture I've had since college or purchased during my years in the military (and I got out 10 years ago!). I'm ok with making only slightly more than the average salary in Cleveland (which, in case you're curious, is $58,000). Mostly because I don't care about material things. I don't need a plasma TV (I don't even have cable) and my laptop (which I need for communicating on the road) is a dinosaur. But I know that when people find out I'm a pilot, they look behind me for my Porsche. Or want a glimpse inside my mansion.

So I am always surprised when I get such comments from other pilots. Just like with any other career path, one has to figure out what is important to them. If salary is what matters, you choose the route where you can make the most money, and try like heck to get the education and training to reach that amount. You are not likely to accumulate a big bank balance working a minimum wage job without a college degree unless you buy the winning lottery ticket (and we know where those people usually end up - caution: some profanity but very funny). Makes sense, right? Let it be acknowledged here though, that many, many low wage jobs are essential but backbreaking, like home health care aides and public service workers. Their efforts so often go unrecognized and there is little opportunity for advancement. But I digress.

We do pay more attention to major airline pilots, especially now because of the USAir flight yesterday, who usually make the highest salaries in the industry. They are fighting to keep their pay in this economy, too (for many their pensions have been liquidated and so they can no longer count on the retirement benefit they were promised). The job is not what it used to be. It's a pyramid, where an decreasing number of pilots make an increasing amount of money. But they got there because they stuck it out. It was a reward for years of scraping by on measly pay.

To review:

Once a newly certified pilot is let loose, s/he usually tries to recoup some of the thousands she has paid for her training by flight instructing (teaching other pilots). According to AvJobs, a flight instructor can expect to make $8/hr for working 80 hours a week, at all hours (more when the weather is nice and on weekends), in order to build time to get a better paying job. It works out well, since one has to instruct a lot of hours to pay back all that money one spent on training!

I took the route of joining the military, where I started out at $24,000/yr as an Army Officer. I didn't know when I committed to the Army that I was going to be a pilot, but I chose this route so I had a job when I graduated from college. Going into the aviation branch, I had to be willing to spend six years in the army paying back my year long flight training (learning to fly UH-1 Hueys). Although I didn't have to actually write a check to pay for my training, I did have a lot of responsibility and duties to make up for it. After 7 years of toil (and gaining experience and flight time), I was earning a salary of about $60,000. I was also grateful for my stint in the army because they provided for my fixed wing transition. My unit in Germany actually covered my travel to and time back in the US to accomplish this (I guess they thought I was worth it).

So imagine when I left this "cushy" life for a regional airline. My first year's salary (are you ready?) was $14,000/yr flying Beech 1900s (I haven't ever had enough flight time in helicopters to get a job flying them). Yup, you read that right. 14, followed by three zeros. I luckily had money in the bank from my previous job so I could supplement this income in order to lead the life to which I was accustomed. Though I was living in a run down house with five guys. At least I had my own bedroom. The other guys living there were making enough to cover the payments on the interest of their loans...

In all honesty, I didn't expect to have this job for long. I thought I wanted a major airline job, too. I really like flying helicopters, but I love flying airplanes (I also really like cookies, but I prefer cake, if you know what I mean). But with 9/11, there were very few flying jobs (in either airframe) to be had. I stuck it out and three years later, as a captain for this airline, my pay had gone back to equal my starting pay with the military (from 10 years earlier!). But I had decided this wasn't the flying life for me, so when a guy that I worked with in the National Guard offered to get me an interview with the fractional airline he worked for, I jumped on it. Better lifestyle (admit it, you don't like airline terminals either), opportunity to transition to jets, and better pay. I still had to succeed at the interview and simulator check, but it didn't hurt that I had a resume well rounded because of my time in the military. I'll never forget walking into the interview and being intimidated by the stack of manuals (FAR/AIM, approach plates, etc.) sitting on the table and thinking, "yikes, here it comes." But the interviewer was looking at my resume when I walked in and he said to me, "I'm impressed." Reduced my stress level a bit, but I still had to answer all of his questions correctly.

But we're here to talk about money, let me get back to the salary issue. Combined with my National Guard pay (again flying helicopters), my fractional airline pilot pay was nearing the salary that I had made when I had getting off active duty, but not quite. When I didn't have this supplemental pay from the OHARNG any more, and in my last year with this fractional job, I was making considerably less (about $50k), and this was after three years with an airline, gaining part 121 PIC experience, and more than five years getting jet time. Luckily, this route (described in lurid detail and excruciating length in the paragraphs above), enabled me to get my current job, where I have achieved my "dream," finally surpassing the salary I made 10 years ago! ...but it's still less than $70,000, in case you're curious. I love working for my current employer. There is much more interaction with passengers and we go to various places - we never know what we're going to do next.

Ok, Lynda, what's your point? First, that it's not about the money. I LOVE my job (there's that word again). Anyone who knows me can tell you that I truly do. And my job is satisfying. To me. The vast majority of people are in aviation because they love it (it's all about the love). Trust me, preflighting an airplane in sub zero temperature tends to separate the chaff from the wheat, the men from the boys, the lovers from the fighters..., well, you get the idea. Plus, every spare penny I have (read the above about my 11 year old well worn but well cared for Honda), and then some, goes toward my passion, an organization I founded using women in aviation to inspire girls to achieve their full potential: Girls With Wings. No, I don't save lives with what I do (but I hope I change them), and I have the utmost respect for anyone who does, be they medical personnel, military servicemembers, etc., and those who enrich lives, like teachers and social workers. There are also a lot of jobs out there that are necessary for the on going operation of our society and not all of them would be considered crucial to fulfilling our basic needs of food, shelter and water. They just make our lives better. By the way, Greybeard, thank you for your service.

Second, what we have in life is very often the result of the choices we have made. Like the guy who saw my picture on the Citation X and said, "How do I get a job like that? ...wait, I'm not a girl." I hope I have conveyed with the discussion above that I got this job through much, much training and experience and by pursuing my career with all that I have. If you want a job flying this airplane, you are not going to get there unless you work for it! Please see this page on AvJobs for a great write up on the biz (can't cut and paste and this post has gone on way too long already, don't you agree?).

And one last thing. According to the payscale published on AvJobs as of 1/17/09, the minimum reported salary for a "pilot" and a "rotor wing pilot" is the same, $45,000. The maximum reported salary is $5000 more for the "pilot." The minimum reported salary for an EMS SIC is $35,000, but there's no equivalent position for airline SIC; it only says $19/hr for First Officer and a lot of jobs under the "Other" column are a lot more. Like corporate upholstery: $33/hr. Many pilots even fly for FREE (or to pick up chicks or dudes). See also Angel Flight pilots who donate their time, fuel and airplanes to provide free air transportation for any legitimate, charitable, medically related need. The difference is in those Airbus captains making $140,000. That is what everyone likes to focus on, but how many Airbus captains are there really, compared to when you consider how many pilots there are overall? But then again, the sales and marketing folks are making $400,000. Is that because they're so good at making everyone think we pilots make so much money...?

Whew, I have to stop writing this or it will become a treatise. Thank you, for allowing me to have this opportunity for this post and for reading it all the way through. I hope it has convinced you that I am not a greedy, money grubbing, self centered pilot leading the lifestyle of the rich and famous. I have also served my country (12 years of military service), as Greybeard has done, and I do devote my life to doing what I love and helping others in my own small way.

To all, I encourage your comments and don't always turn rabid on them, I promise. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hot and Cold

One nice thing about my job - I get a break from the snow every now and then. Last tour I stayed south of the Mason Dixon line the whole time (though, frankly, Atlanta can get pretty cold this time of year).

For example, here is the view out of my window one morning. I was staying at a resort in the Islands...

Then I got home mid-snowstorm in Cleveland. My car was buried under a foot of snow, surrounded by a foot of snow (and that was before I knocked the snow off the roof, windows and hood). This, by the way, can make for some wet socks later.

So when I got home, I had to find an open space on the street in front of my house so I could shovel out up to my driveway. Of course the side of the road wasn't clear, and I got my car stuck trying to pull to the curb. I extricated myself (reverse, drive, reverse, drive) and parked a little farther out (but so traffic could still pass). I ran into my house and changed clothes and got the shovel from the garage.

The worst part is the end of the driveway where the snow plows have piled up the hard, chunky snow from the street. I was pretty whupped by the time I had gotten five feet up the driveway. Luckily my neighbor takes care of the sidewalks surrounding his house with his snowblower. Then it was just a matter of going back and forth dropping shovelfuls of snow on either side of the driveway. I had a lot to think about though, for example, the view from my hotel room in the islands.

My main goal, if nothing else, was to be able to get my car into the driveway. If it had to stay out overnight, I was ok with that. It actually wasn't all that cold ('course, I was exerting myself here), but that made for some slushy, heavy snow underneath the powder. I got halfway up the driveway, and got my car UNSTUCK again and pulled off the street. Then more back and forth, back and forth. This is a good method until you get between my house and my neighbor's and no place to pile up the snow. Now it's push, pick up, haul, dump, walk back, push, pick up, haul, dump, etc.

Meanwhile, I was thinking about my stay in the islands. I'm actually not much of a beach person. Give me mountains to hike any day. But when you've got memories of a sunrise such as this, it's hard to come home to a foot of snow. Actually, getting to my whole "life on the road as a pilot" theme, could you imagine if I had been out of town this week? I have shoveled four times in the last three days. But only because shoveling a couple of inches of powder takes little effort. If you let it sit, it gets packed and heavy. And all this snow this week would have really piled high!

I am going to try for some cross country skiing tomorrow, if I can find the time. I don't know if I will, though. I've got some big projects in the works for Girls With Wings and need to get some things together before I go back to warm (ha, freudian slip), I meant, to work again!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Bottle to Throttle

Two things happened recently to prompt this post. One, I carry with me on the road a reusable water bottle - so I do not contribute to the landfill (and empty my pockets on $2 bottles in airports!). I opened the drinking tube part of it while airborne on a commercial flight and because of the pressure differential, it sprayed a bit, over me and the person sitting next to me. The other passenger joked, "Must be the vodka in there making it do that!" I shushed him jokingly, but I was halfway serious. That's all I need, is some other concerned passenger accusing me of carrying and/or drinking alcohol on duty (I was in uniform).

Which leads me to the other event. In case you haven't heard, a Southwest Airlines pilot was confronted by a couple of passengers because they thought he smelled of alcohol. News story from the Columbus Dispatch. Or watch the newscast.

I am not making any judgement calls here when I say that it was the opinion of the onlookers that the pilot may have been impaired. They felt that this was their moral obligation to say something to the pilot. What I want to address is: what is the legal obligation regarding a pilot and alchohol use?


§ 91.17 Alcohol or drugs.
(a) No person may act or attempt to act as a crewmember of a civil aircraft—
(1) Within 8 hours after the consumption of any alcoholic beverage; (where we get the "bottle to throttle" slang term)
(2) While under the influence of alcohol;
(3) While using any drug that affects the person's faculties in any way contrary to safety; or
(4) While having an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or greater in a blood or breath specimen. Alcohol concentration means grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood or grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.
(b) Except in an emergency, no pilot of a civil aircraft may allow a person who appears to be intoxicated or who demonstrates by manner or physical indications that the individual is under the influence of drugs (except a medical patient under proper care) to be carried in that aircraft.
(c) A crewmember shall do the following:
(1) On request of a law enforcement officer, submit to a test to indicate the alcohol concentration in the blood or breath, when—

(i) The law enforcement officer is authorized under State or local law to conduct the test or to have the test conducted; and
(ii) The law enforcement officer is requesting submission to the test to investigate a suspected violation of State or local law governing the same or substantially similar conduct prohibited by paragraph (a)(1), (a)(2), or (a)(4) of this section.
(2) Whenever the FAA has a reasonable basis to believe that a person may have violated paragraph (a)(1), (a)(2), or (a)(4) of this section, on request of the FAA, that person must furnish to the FAA the results, or authorize any clinic, hospital, or doctor, or other person to release to the FAA, the results of each test taken within 4 hours after acting or attempting to act as a crewmember that indicates an alcohol concentration in the blood or breath specimen.
(d) Whenever the Administrator has a reasonable basis to believe that a person may have violated paragraph (a)(3) of this section, that person shall, upon request by the Administrator, furnish the Administrator, or authorize any clinic, hospital, doctor, or other person to release to the Administrator, the results of each test taken within 4 hours after acting or attempting to act as a crewmember that indicates the presence of any drugs in the body.
(e) Any test information obtained by the Administrator under paragraph (c) or (d) of this section may be evaluated in determining a person's qualifications for any airman certificate or possible violations of this chapter and may be used as evidence in any legal proceeding under section 602, 609, or 901 of the Federal Aviation Act of 1958.
[Doc. No. 18334, 54 FR 34292, Aug. 18, 1989, as amended by Amdt. 91–291, June 21, 2006]

Note that paragraph (2) states: While under the influence of alcohol. That means that even though it may have been more than 8 hours since this pilot (or any other pilot - or person for that matter), he may still be under the influence. The news story states that the pilot admitted to partying "pretty hard" the night before so alcohol still could be in his system. Even though he may comply with the 8 hour bottle to throttle rule, he may still be under the influence. Regardless, the pilot called in sick before performing any flight duties, so there it may be that no further action will be taken under this regulation.

Further, on the website, they discuss a "hangover effect," produced by alcoholic beverages after the acute intoxication has worn off, may be just as dangerous as the intoxication itself. Symptoms commonly associated with a hangover are headache, dizziness, dry mouth, stuffy nose, fatigue, upset stomach, irritability, impaired judgment, and increased sensitivity to bright light. A pilot with these symptoms would certainly not be fit to safely operate an aircraft. In addition, such a pilot could readily be perceived as being "under the influence of alcohol."

The doctors have published the following General Recommendations:

1. As a minimum, adhere to all the guidelines of CFR 91.17:
2. 8 hours from "bottle to throttle"
3. do not fly while under the influence of alcohol
4. do not fly while using any drug that may adversely affect safety
5. A more conservative approach is to wait 24 hours from the last use of alcohol before flying. This is especially true if intoxication occurred or if you plan to fly IFR. Cold showers, drinking black coffee, or breathing 100% oxygen cannot speed up the elimination of alcohol from the body. 6. Consider the effects of a hangover. Eight hours from "bottle to throttle" does not mean you are in the best physical condition to fly, or that your blood alcohol concentration is below the legal limits.
7. Recognize the hazards of combining alcohol consumption and flying.
8. Use good judgment. Your life and the lives of your passengers are at risk if you drink and fly.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

M - I - C - K - E - Y....

I flew into KMCO recently; this is the large airport in Orlando, FL, home of Walt Disney World. The Captain and I were reminded of this as we started the STAR into the airport because we were cleared the the MTATA intersection. This was the next intersection after HKUNA. Sound familiar, Lion King fans?

To explain: A STAR is Standard Terminal Arrival (STAR), an ATC coded Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) arrival route established for application to arriving IFR aircraft destined for certain airports - to simplify clearance delivery procedures and facilitate transition between en route and instrument approach procedures (from the AIM). In other words, instead of controllers having to give pilots lateral and vertical guidance (and speed adjustments) into larger airports, clearing a pilot to fly a STAR means that the pilot is responsible for the routing and other requirements, making a controller's job easier - everyone is on the same page.
In this example, the PIGLT arrival (ha ha), pilots will navigate to the Valdosta VOR, and then fly to HKUNA. Reading the chart, they can expect to cross HKUNA at Flight Level (FL) 270. In the mind of the pilot, she can plan ahead if they do get this crossing restriction. If the pilot is at FL 410, and has been given a descent to FL 370, she might plan on descending slowly because she only has to lose 4000 feet. But if she knows that she might have to lose 10,000 more feet by HKUNA, she can descend faster to FL370 so she isn't doing a "chop and drop" before HKUNA (power to idle, speedbrakes extend, etc.). Then the chart says expect MTATA at FL250, followed by JAZMN and JAFAR (no crossing restrictions). Notice all of these intersections are five characters - this is standard for plugging into our Flight Management Systems (FMS).

At PIGLT, the STAR starts to get specific depending on what airport one is landing at (this STAR can also apply if the destination is KORL - Orlando Executive Airport). Note PIGLT says, Expect 11,000ft and KMCO landing south (like we landed on 18R), 250kts. This slows arriving aircraft down in preparation for arrival, even though we would have had to slow down to 250kts once we descended below 10,000ft (the speed limit in all situations for all aircraft - this is an operating restriction based on the Federal Aviation Regulation or FAR).

Next is TTIGR, which says KMCO landing South and aircraft landing KORL and KISM (Kissimmee), expect Radar Vectors (headings assigned by ATC) prior to TTIGR. And so on.

Anyway, this is just one of the Arrivals. Some of the other recognizable STARS are the GOOFY FIVE and the MINEE FOUR. Other cities may have sports teams, casino (Las Vegas), or other such references.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Air Ambulance

Guess what! We get to revisit the series of the Dulles airport pictures. But this is on the OTHER side of our airplane...
Part of the reason I took pictures of this helicopter was because it was so windy that day that the pilot was working hard to keep the greasy side down. I unfortunately didn't get any pictures that demonstrated this. I also am very fond of helicopters because that's what I learned to fly first. I didn't realize until this day that the litter in air ambulance helicopters (at least this particular model), access the cabin from the rear of the aircraft. It makes sense, because this helicopter is not all that big.

Wikipedia says: Air ambulance service, sometimes called Aeromedical Evacuation or simply Medevac is provided by a variety of different sources, in different places in the world. There are a number of reasonable methods of differentiating types of air ambulance services. These include military/civilian models, government-funded, fee-for-service, donated by a business enterprise, or funded by public donations. It may also be reasonable to differentiate between dedicated aircraft and those with multiple purposes and roles. Finally, it is reasonable to differentiate by the type of aircraft used, including rotary-wing, fixed-wing, or very large aircraft. The military role in civil air ambulance operations is described in the History section. Each of the remaining models will be explored separately. It should also be noted that this information applies to air ambulance systems performing emergency service. In almost all jurisdictions, private aircraft charter companies provide non-emergency air ambulance service on a fee-for-service basis.

I do not have enough hours to qualify for any full time helicopter jobs (and then I wouldn't be able to fly the Citation X!). I've also heard that medevac pilots aren't told who they are going to pick up, because the hospitals don't want to add pressure to the pilots when they might not fly because of bad weather or other dangerous conditions. The industry is working on it though.
The Wikipedia article continues:
During the 1990s there occurred a trend of increasing numbers of air ambulance crashes, mostly involving helicopters. By 2005, this number had reached a record high. Crash rates from 2000–2005 more than doubled the previous five year's rates.[28] To some extent, these numbers had been accepted, as it was understood that the very nature of air ambulance operations meant that, because a life was at stake, air ambulances would often operate on the very edge of their safety envelopes, going on missions in conditions where no other civilian pilot would fly. As one side result, it should be noted that of all EMS personnel losing their lives in the line of duty in the United States, nearly fifty percent do so on air ambulance crashes. In 2006, the United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) deems that many air ambulances crashes were avoidable[29], eventually leading to the improvement of government standards and CAMTS accreditation.[30]

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Aviation Inspiration

In addition to working full time as a pilot, many of you know that I also do presentations for groups of girls. I have recently announced a new series of presentations being held through the Lakewood Community Recreation and Education Department: This is an interactive and inspirational event for girls (ages 5-12). Join a professional pilot (that's me) to hear about her training and career, and then learn “everything” you need to know about flying a plane with hands on instruction. We will end with a question and answer session. Classes are held January 24th, February 21st and March 21st from 10 am to 12 pm. Registration must be made through

Don't forget that the GWW merchandise line funds the organization by offering the rarely found aircraft themed items designed to let everyone know “Yes, Girls Can Fly!” While some may view one of our products as just a t-shirt, we believe that it is in fact a statement about the potential of girls to be intimately connected with Aviation (and other Science, Technology, Engineering and Math based fields) from the time they are born. To this end, all profits from the aforementioned merchandise, by the way, will be are invested in developments to our educational program and scholarships.

Monday, January 05, 2009

10 hour turns

Tomorrow I go back on the road, and despite the title of this blog, I may not post until I get home. It's not that there is nothing to talk about. I am taking pictures all the time of things I eventually would like to discuss. The problem is 10 hour turns...

For example, last tour I had a very busy 6 days, during which I didn't write any posts - there was absolutely no time to sit down and write something coherent - and you deserve the best. Many people don't know this but most airline contracts allow "10 hour turns" from landing to the next takeoff. Some more generous employers allow 1/2 hour to an hour for the crew to close up the airplane at night and to prepare before a flight, but not usually. So this ten hours (which may come after the maximum 14 hour duty day) must include packing up your things from the airplane, dealing with the FBO, calling the hotel van (and often waiting for it), traveling to the hotel, checking in, settling into your room, ironing your shirt for the next day, etc. With all that has to be done in the morning to get yourself ready and back to the airport, you can imagine that a 10 hour turn rarely allows for 8 hrs of sleep, much less logging for blog posts. It makes a little easier to understand those hardworking pilots that dozed off into the sun on their way to Hawaii not too long ago. Doesn't forgive it, but we all have felt their pain. See CNN story on NTSB findings:

I'm going to keep trying though! Let me know if there is something YOU want me to talk about.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

The Conclusion

Here's a picture of a fuel truck approaching that intersection we talked about earlier. I wouldn't want this vehicle to unload its contents into my airplane. This is a AVGAS (AViation GAS) truck, and jet engines require Jet Fuel. Avgas is currently available in several grades with differing maximum lead concentrations. 100LL Grade, 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.
Because of the danger of confusing the fuel types, a number of precautions are taken to distinguish between AvGas and Jet Fuel beyond clearly marking all containers, vehicles, and piping. AvGas is treated with either a red, green, or blue dye, and is dispensed from nozzles with a diameter of 40 millimetres (49 millimetres in the USA). The aperture on fuel tanks of piston-engined aircraft cannot be greater than 60 millimetres in diameter. Jet Fuel is clear to straw in colour, and is dispensed from a special nozzle called a "J spout" that has a rectangular opening larger than 60 millimetres in diameter so as not to fit into AvGas ports. However, some jet and turbine aircraft, such as some models of the Astar helicopter, have a fuelling port too small for the J spout and thus require a smaller nozzle to be installed in order to be refuelled efficiently.
Just like that Diesel pump at the local Gas station, just in case you're not paying attention when you pull up to a pump!
Speaking of filling up, there are many websites to let pilots know where they can buy the gas they need (and at what price!). Relieved that prices are going down where you live? Look at these fuel prices:

Average Fuel Prices By Region
Updated 01-03-2009
_________Jet A___ 100LL
NC ______$4.35___ $4.37
NE ______$4.44___ $4.57
NW ______$4.23___ $4.70
SC _______$4.10___ $4.14
SE _______$4.22___ $4.20
SW_______$4.29___ $4.48
At least you can fly farther on a gallon than drive...

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Girls With Wings January eZine

Read all about it!: Happy New Year from Girls With Wings!

Part 4 of 5

Finishing up with the runway, those white lights along the edge of the runway give the pilots information too. According to the pilot's "handbook," the Aeronautical Information Manual:

2-1-4. Runway Edge Light Systems
a. Runway edge lights are used to outline the edges of runways during periods of darkness or restricted visibility conditions. These light systems are classified according to the intensity or brightness they are capable of producing: they are the High Intensity Runway Lights (HIRL), Medium Intensity Runway Lights (MIRL), and the Low Intensity Runway Lights (LIRL). The HIRL and MIRL systems have variable intensity controls, whereas the LIRLs normally have one intensity setting.
b. The runway edge lights are white, except on instrument runways yellow replaces white on the last 2,000 feet or half the runway length, whichever is less, to form a caution zone for landings.
c. The lights marking the ends of the runway emit red light toward the runway to indicate the end of runway to a departing aircraft and emit green outward from the runway end to indicate the threshold to landing aircraft.

Believe it or not, if there is no tower personnel, so no one to turn on these lights, the pilots can do it for themselves (see chart).

Radio Control System

Key Mike____________Function
7 times within 5 seconds -Highest intensity available
5 times within 5 seconds -Medium or lower intensity (Lower REIL or REIL-off)
3 times within 5 seconds -Lowest intensity available (Lower REIL or REIL-off)
The control system consists of a 3-step control responsive to 7, 5, and/or 3 microphone clicks. This 3-step control will turn on lighting facilities capable of either 3-step, 2-step or 1-step operation. The 3-step and 2-step lighting facilities can be altered in intensity, while the 1-step cannot. All lighting is illuminated for a period of 15 minutes from the most recent time of activation and may not be extinguished prior to end of the 15 minute period (except for 1-step and 2-step REILs which may be turned off when desired by keying the mike 5 or 3 times respectively).

The green light you see there is from the airport beacon. Airport and heliport beacons have a vertical light distribution to make them most effective from one to ten degrees above the horizon; however, they can be seen well above and below this peak spread. The beacon may be an omnidirectional capacitor-discharge device, or it may rotate at a constant speed which produces the visual effect of flashes at regular intervals. Flashes may be one or two colors alternately.

The colors and color combinations of beacons are:
White and Green- Lighted land airport.
White and Yellow- Lighted water airport.
Green, Yellow, and White- Lighted heliport.
You can see the satelite view of the airport and it looks pretty easy to pick out. Who needs a beacon, right? Well, it doesn't just need to be dark to be hard to pick out an airport. Hazy weather conditions, surrounding buildings and streets, unfamiliar landscapes and the different perspective from being at a strange angle at altitude make it tough to find even large airports sometimes. A controller might tell a pilot, "Airport at your 12 o'clock and ten miles," and darn it if we can't see it until we're nearly on top of it!

Part 3 in the Series

I'd like to talk some more about the runway, with thanks to this Virgin Atlantic Airbus 340. We are looking at 19L at KIAD. The 19, btw, refers to the compass heading looking down this runway, minus the last digit. 190 degrees is close enough. Here are the precise numbers. The L, or left, means there is a parallel runway, or 19R. It's designated below, Runway 1R/19L because if you were facing the other way, you'd be looking approximately 010 degrees and there is also a 1L, which is the same piece of concrete as 19R. Perfectly clear, huh?

Runway 1R/19L
Dimensions: 11500 x 150 ft. / 3505 x 46m
Surface: concrete/grooved, in good condition
Weight bearing capacity: Single wheel: 200.0 Double wheel: 250.0
Double tandem: 450.0 Dual double tandem: 875.0
Runway edge lights: high intensity

RUNWAY 19L Elevation: 293.2 ft.
Gradient: 0.2%
Traffic pattern: left
Runway heading: 191 magnetic, 181 true
Markings: precision, in good condition
Visual slope indicator: 4-light PAPI on left (3.00 degrees glide path)
RVR equipment: touchdown, midfield, rollout
Approach lights: MALSR: 1,400 foot medium intensity approach lighting system with runway alignment indicator lights
Centerline lights: yes
Touchdown point: yes, no lights
Instrument approach: ILS/DME
Obstructions: 38 ft. pole, 1900 ft. from runway, 720 ft. right of centerline, 44:1 slope to clear

This runway, according to the diagram in a previous post and the above description is approximately 11,500 feet long by 50 feet wide. The white number just behind the landing Airbus is a 9 in a black box, signifying that there is 9000 feet of runway remaining. Above it talks about "Touchdown point."

The handbook for pilots is the Aeronautical Information Manual. It is a lot easier to read than the FARs (the federal regulations for pilots shortened from Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations) and has so much interesting and valuable information. There is so much to know about flying that it's easy for some information to fall out as more is crammed in.

For this post, I am looking at Chapter 2. Aeronautical Lighting and Other Airport Visual Aids, specifically, Section 3. Airport Marking Aids and Signs. and finally, 2-3-3. Runway Markings.

This would be the markings on this runway.

d. Runway Aiming Point Marking. The aiming point marking serves as a visual aiming point for a landing aircraft. These two rectangular markings consist of a broad white stripe located on each side of the runway centerline and approximately 1,000 feet from the landing threshold, as shown in FIG 2-3-1, Precision Instrument Runway Markings.

e. Runway Touchdown Zone Markers. The touchdown zone markings identify the touchdown zone for landing operations and are coded to provide distance information in 500 feet (150m) increments. These markings consist of groups of one, two, and three rectangular bars symmetrically arranged in pairs about the runway centerline, as shown in FIG 2-3-1, Precision Instrument Runway Markings. For runways having touchdown zone markings on both ends, those pairs of markings which extend to within 900 feet (270m) of the midpoint between the thresholds are eliminated.

So you could do the math and figure that this airplane touched down at 11,500 (the given length) - 9000 (the 9 on sign) = 2500 ft down the runway. Plenty of runway left! (I could get into a whole discussion of what runway length the regulations and specific aircraft manual requires based on airplane weight, runway conditions, wind, etc., but that would take another hour!)

Oh, and the airport diagrams come from I had never noticed this information before, but it gives Airport Operational Statistics for the different airports.

Aircraft operations: avg 1673/day for 12-month period ending 30 June 2007
That's almost 70 an hour - more than 1 every minute!
59% commercial
30% air taxi
11% transient general aviation
Aircraft based on the field: 78
Single engine airplanes: 3
Multi engine airplanes: 5
Jet airplanes: 67
Helicopters: 3

In comparison is the world's busiest airport, Atlanta, with avg 2959/day for 12-month period ending 28 February 2008. That's twice as many.