Friday, March 20, 2009

'Fraid to fly

This blog post has been brought to you by Will, the ultimate webmaster donating his time to work on the site for Girls With Wings.

Will, a true aviation enthusiast, spends what free time he has outside of a full time job doing IT stuff on flying and studying to be a Certified Flight Instructor, or CFI. He takes advantage of every opportunity to talk to others about aviation as well. Recently he told me how he had met up with a friend who he had mentored during his pursuit of his private pilot certificate. This guy takes his daughter flying but had only recently taken his niece (the one who "braved" it, in his words) around the traffic pattern. Will asked her if she had been scared and she nodded. But, he said, "I think she has daddy's adventurous gene and was sport about it."

Will was asked by a couple of young women at a coffeeshop why there aren't too many women in aviation and he responded with a question of his own: "Why have you never considered aviation?" Together they came down to 3 conclusions:

1. Wanting a family
2. Fear
3. Lack of exposure/encouragement

Of course, 3 is an easy one, since I am familiar with this one (hence Girls With Wings). 1., I'm also working on, with the help of Adrienne, a major airline pilot, with Mommies With Wings, a special section on the GWW message board. The truth is, there a lot of women who are successfully juggling a career and a family. Make that career an aviation one, and you have a happy successful mom. Just see our role models page for real life examples!
So it comes down to 2. Fear.

I'm not a psychologist, but found a website about Fear of Flying from someone who is.

Flying is generally considered to be one of the safest forms of public transportation currently available in the United States. Statistics compiled by the Department of Transportation have led to the conclusion that airline travel is 29 times safer than driving an automobile.

The problem with the above statistics is that they do not stop people
from being afraid of flying.

Statistics do not help because the fear of flying actually has little to do with risk as such. If the fear of flying were actually caused by the potential for an accident, then everyone who fears to fly would be even more afraid—29 times more afraid, to be statistically exact—to drive or ride in an automobile. But that is clearly not the case.

Anyone who flies—even someone not afraid of flying—understands that there is always some chance of an accident, just as with any life activity. Relatively few accidents happen in aviation because pilots are specifically trained to stay calm and to think clearly in an emergency—and they are trained to handle just about every emergency imaginable.

But, without their own specialized training, many passengers sit in the cabin worrying about the dangers of flight. Despite the safety statistics, they become disabled by fear and experience the psychological symptoms that make flying a misery.

As Will shares with me in his email, he took a female friend up flying who feared the surface turbulance on final, which he described as completely benign. As he says, "The FAA and AOPA and everyone else in aviation has been trying to get people into aviation and increase our numbers, but it makes me wonder...if people are inherently afraid, what will drive them to spend their hard earned money on something they fear by nature? My question is basically, how do we drive the fear out?"

Just yesterday I made a presentation to a group of fourth grade girls (and yes, this is as exhausting as it sounds). Part of my presentation includes 2 points: that I became a pilot because it was offered as a challenge and also that I am afraid of heights. I recognize that letting my fear of heights limit what I can accomplish in life limits my enjoyment of life. Though I must admit, going on a zip line tour last summer whizzing through trees a hundred feet in the air took a while to "enjoy."

What experience or advice do you have to try to cure people's fear of flying?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Co-pilot Egg is an Honorary Girl With Wings

Not too long ago I published a blog entry about Dads, and how they can encourage their daughters with flying. I received a response from Co-pilot Egg (that's her call-sign), the daughter of a friend of mine. I loved her insight so much that I built for her a page on Girls With Wings, from the information that she sent me and some pictures that her dad has taken.

Here are her Tips and Tricks for getting YOUR daughters to fly with you:

1) Start early! My dad still has pictures of me as a baby in the plane. This way, I got used to it, and it was a main part of my life growing up. All my dad had to do was say, "want to go for a plane ride?" and I was excited, never scared.

2) Plan fun trips. A zoo or play ground for little kids, or a mall trip for the ever difficult teenagers. It makes it more exciting, and more willing to wake up early on a Saturday.

3) Teach. When I was little, but still old enough to learn, my dad printed me a vocab sheet with the basic parts of a plane. I learned what they were, and he showed me on the plane. I was then allowed to play around to see what each thing did (while the plane was off, of course). This made it fun for me AND educational.

4) Let them fly a little. I was also taught how to read the instruments (I was too little to see over the top) and was able to fly for little periods of time. Gradually, my dad loosened his grip on the other side, and I could fly all by myself, in a straight enough path. I was involved, so it held my attention and was a fun thing to do.

See Egg's page.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Step Climbs

I flew cross country from NJ to CA in 5 1/2 hours which, frankly, is about as long as I can stand to sit. Along the way I received an education from the Captain on step climbs. And isn't that what good Pilots in Command are there for? Yes, I've been flying for 16 years, and just now received an education on the value of step climbs!

Here's the scenario: on our climbout from NJ, we received instructions from ATC to climb to progressively higher altitudes. As we approached FL410 (or approximately 41,000ft in the air), our rate of climb became shallower than the standard 1500 ft per minute because we were so heavy with the fuel needed for the long flight (route shown here on our Airshow display). In case you aren't familiar with this blog, I fly the Citation X, which has a service ceiling of (or it can fly as high as) 51,000ft.

At FL430, I put in a request with ATC for a block altitude of FL430 to FL470 to allow us to be able to fly at any altitude in between at any time. The only restriction is that once I report level at an altitude or leaving an altitude, I am no longer cleared for the block. Why would ATC allow me to be so imprecise? Aren't they supposed to be providing traffic separation (usually mandated to be 1000ft)? How can they do that when I could be at any altitude within a several thousand feet?

Well, mostly they can do this because the vast majority of airplanes have a service ceiling of 41,000 feet, so there are few other airplanes for us to conflict with at these higher altitudes. Each time I was transferred into another controller's sector, I checked in with my call sign and told them I was in a block from FL430 to FL470. Occasionally the controller would want to know specifically what altitude we were at, for example, FL432 (or 43,200 feet).

So why would I want to do this? A step climb, that's why. It's interesting to note how little information I found when I did a search on this term on the internet. Wikipedia, of course, did have an entry:

In aviation, a step climb is a gradual climb from one cruise altitude to another in fixed steps, intended to keep an aircraft flying at the most efficient cruise altitude possible.

Since the early days of jet aircraft and commercial travel, the technique of gradually climbing in cruise altitude as fuel burns off and the aircraft becomes lighter has been widely used by pilots. The altitude that provides the most fuel-efficient cruise at the start of a long flight, when the aircraft is fully loaded with fuel, is not the same as the altitude that provides the best efficiency at the end of the flight, when most of the fuel aboard has been burned. This latter altitude is usually significantly higher than the former. By climbing gradually throughout the cruise phase of a flight, pilots can make the most economical use of their fuel.

Originally, a simple cruise climb was used by pilots. This amounted to a simple, continuous, very gradual climb from an initial cruise altitude to a final cruise altitude, and made the most efficient use of fuel. However, with increasing air traffic and the assignment of distinct flight levels to specific flights, airways, and directions of flight, it is no longer safe to climb continuously in this way, and so most flights compromise by climbing in distinct steps—a step climb—with ATC approval, in order to ensure that the aircraft is always at an appropriate altitude for traffic control. While not quite as efficient as a continuous cruise climb, step climbs are still more efficient than maintaining a single altitude throughout a flight. The step climb intervals may be 1000, 2000, or 4000 feet, depending on the flight level rules which apply on the particular airway being flown.

Where traffic is not an issue, cruise climbs may still be used. The Concorde, for example, used a continuous cruise climb throughout its flights, since there was never any other traffic at the same altitude (nearly 60,000 feet) in the same direction.

In most modern commercial airliners, computers such as flight management systems (FMS) calculate and/or execute the proper steps in a step climb, in order to maximize the efficiency realized by the technique.

In our Citation X, we do have an FMS (pictured at left) that allows us to program in a step climb. The FMS interacts with our autopilot, so we can select the FLC mode (Flight Level Change) at, for example .85Mach, when we are going .84M at FL430. When the airplane burns off fuel and is able to accelerate past .85M, the aircraft trades off this energy into a climb, even if it is just a foot. The picture at below right is of our PFD, or Primary Flight Display. On the upper right of this screen is our target airspeed, .85M, which is also shown on as a magenta caret on the right side of our airspeed display (or "tape"). In green is our actual airspeed in knots, 232k, and our actual Mach, .84M. Currently we are "stuck" at an altitude 44,200 feet (shown in green on the right hand tape) until we can again accelerate past .85M. The blue 47000 above our altitude tape is the highest the autopilot will let us climb (the top of our assigned block). It might take us more than 200 miles to climb 1000 feet, and we may even descend, should we go through slightly warmer air (engine performance is decreased if the temperature is warmer than ISA - or International Standard Atmosphere). On this picture to the right you can partially see our MFD, or Multi Function Display. In that little box you can see an SAT of -55; should this change by even a degree, it will cause us to climb (better efficiency) or descend to maintain our pre-selected airspeed. This is an advantage of getting a block altitude over a cruise climb (where we would not be able to descend).

Whew! Got all that? So, Lynda, what is your point? If you look back at those FMS screens above, the one on the right says "Progress." You can see that our ETE, or estimated time enroute to our destination (shown on the second line down by RW26 since we already have the approach to the runway programmed in) is 01+04, or 1 hour and 4 minutes. The step climb may only shorten this by only a couple of minutes, by allowing us to fly at a higher mach speed at a higher altitude, but would decrease the airplane's hourly operating cost.

The next number is the one that could change significantly by utilizing a step climb. Under the fuel, you see 3.0, which means 3000lbs of fuel remaining when we arrive (in aviation we use pounds of fuel, rather than gallons, since we are more concerned with weight). Without the step climb, this could be 400lbs less. And that's 60 gallons of fuel. At around $5/gal, this adds up to a savings of $300. Big deal, you might say. Well, even though I'm not paying for the fuel when I fly, every little bit helps the bottom line and the environment. Why wouldn't you fly more efficiently?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The March Girls With Wings eZine

The latest Girls With Wings eZine is now available.

Information on the Penelope Pilot Program and a link to an AOPA Online story "Penelope Pilot encourages girls to take to the sky."

The upcoming event,
Women Fly! at Seattle's Museum of Flight.

Arty's 2009 Ultimate Ultralight Adventure launching March 29th.

And this adorable little girl, Madeleine, and an email from her father, Keith:
"I am Madeleine's father. She is a very bright 4½ year old and very interested in flying. I'm currently acquiring my Private Pilot's license and I look forward to taking her flying with me. Her brother and I have a Dad/Son bond with flying, and she seems to think she can't do it because she is a girl. I am signing her up (Flight Crew Membership) to show her that girls can fly and have fun too... that it's not just a boy pastime. This club will be her first chance of something special she can be a part of that her brother cannot, and I hope she will be more active as she gets older."

Read all about it.

Women in Aviation Conference 2009 Recap

The Women in Aviation conference ended three days ago, and I am just now taking a breath. It was a great show in Atlanta, and I met many great people there at the Girls With Wings booth. I am happy to say I've gotten the booth down to a science - I can pack everything I need into a few boxes. It's not high tech - but it works. To the left is a picture of my booth (doesn't look like much when you consider how much I had to pay for it!) and the boxes that I had shipped to D'ann, my Army flight school stick buddy (class of '93) who lives near the hotel.

Last year I met a woman at another conference who showed me how to make this great t-shirt display out of PVC pipe. Every time I unpack it I have to re-learn how to put it together. It's a big puzzle. But it's light and packs well. I have a couple of other displays for miscellaneous little trinkets as well. It's amazing how much "stuff" I bought to set up my booth four years ago for the first time. I don't think (or at least I hope) that people notice the "homemade" feel of a lot of the stuff. After all, I'm trying to raise funds for the Penelope Pilot Project and Girls With Wings Scholarship. What's more important?

This is a picture of the finished booth. You can see the t-shirts stacked up behind the stand - pretty good system, no? And seated at the table are the 2 Saras. The Sara on the right is the wife of a guy I flew CE560s with at Flight Options, my previous employer. She is a dynamo, ex-firefighter, now co-pilot with her husband, manager of a flight school and aviation insurance agent. The Sarah to the left is her student. Sara 2 took it upon herself to handle all of the financial transactions, leaving me able to get out and talk to people at the conference and do interviews for AeroNews Network (I'll let you know when it's posted) and others.

But it's not all about me, right? Here is the entrance to the exhibit hall. With the theme of "A New Approach for Your Tomorrow," participants in the 2009 WAI Conference were immersed in the tactics and strategies necessary for successful aviation careers. More than 3,000 women and men from all segments of the aviation industry were expected to attend. Not only were there booths and exhibits from more than 120 companies and organizations, there were also seminars and workshops and educational sessions. Many attendees bring resumes in hopes of getting an on the spot job offer! Although NetJets isn't currently hiring, I did have the opportunity to answer questions of interested applicants at their booth. I appreciate NetJets support of my endeavors.

There was also a much anticipated, well attended Airline Pilot Panel on Saturday, February 28 from 1:30 pm - 2:20 pm that featured yours truly, Lynda Meeks (of NetJets), and Moderator Becky Howell (of SWA) as well as Carol Skiber (SWA), Samantha Wilson (Freedom Air), Michelle Booth (UPS). This session will explore the training, flight experiences and job related subjects for airline pilots. We all gave a brief intro and took questions from the audience. The best question was from a guy (yes, they attend the conference, too) asking how he should best set himself up for the post-furlough job market. My advice: stay in the aviation community. Even if you spend time "throwing bags" you're showing your dedication to the industry.

Luckily the conference is not all work. If not, I'd never be able to get such great volunteer help! We were able to get out on the town each night, enjoying each others' company and the southern hospitality of the locals (yes, even in big time Atlanta). We did go to a Women in Aviation event at the Georgia Aquarium, sponsored by AirTran, and Girl With Wings Kim got all gussied up! She had just gone back for seconds for the hors doerves line - hey, after working hard in the booth all day we needed sustenance. We were also able to spend a couple of hours at the aquarium looking at the incredible displays of underwater life. I highly recommend a visit if you go to Atlanta.

But alas, it all had to come to an end. The exhibit closed at 3pm on Saturday and therefore went from this (left) to that (right) in about 30 minutes! People tend to move quickly when it means they can get out of there... The woman packing up her booth is my good friend Barbara, of Plane Mercantile. She sells a great variety of vintage aviation gifts. I met her at my first attempt at face to face sales, the International 99s conference in DC several years ago. We follow each other to these shows every year.

And so the Women in Aviation 2009 Conference comes to an end. My sincere thanks to D'ann, Kim, and the 2 Saras for making it possible. I am grateful to the old friends and the new ones I have made for working for me for nothing, while they ensure the success of Girls With Wings organization (and Penelope Pilot Project). I would also like to thank visitors and customers of the booth that were enamored of the many adorable items in the Girls With Wings store and of the Girls With Wings "Flight Plan."