Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Minnesota GWW Club

On May 26th, the first Girls With Wings Club was successfully formed in the Minneapolis area. The Club's leader is Lindsey, at right, who is already a Girl With Wings Role Model and very active GWW volunteer. She did almost all of the work on the logistics for this event (for which I am extremely grateful) in order to arrange for a morning of training on the GWW presentation. She had connections galore, from the folks that donated the coffee and muffins for the morning session, and lunch, to a mom who is a teacher at the school where, as you can see, we were able to practice our skills to the students in the afternoon.

The participants had a great time getting to know each other and sharing their backgrounds. Most women in aviation have personal stories connected with their training experiences that form the basis of the Girls With Wings mission. The aviation industry is clearly a male dominated one, so the fact that we can illustrate to the girls (as real life examples) of successful women in aviation helps to inspire them to achieve THEIR full potential. The idea behind the interactive presentation is that we don't stand up at the front of the class and do a rote rundown of our education and training. We get in the middle of things and give the girls some individual attention!

We do tell the girls about ourselves, of course preferably with some insight into the rewards we find in our passion for aviation that make the hard work and study worth it, but then we give them hands-on instruction. What better "vehicle" than learning how to fly a plane is there to demonstrate to the girls that they can do anything they set their mind to? Ok, sometimes the hands on instruction is literal. How else are you going to show the girls how that attitude indicator works to show you which way your airplane is turning? This level of interaction with the girls is facilitated by speaking to the girls by themselves (with the boys off doing their own activities during this time).

All of the girls were wonderful but there was one girl in particular who made an impression on me. She is shown at left in her wheelchair and every picture I have from the event shows her so riveted on the presentation. I am so glad that I thought to go up to her afterward and tell her about AbleFlight, an organization that offers people with disabilities a unique way to challenge themselves through flight training, and by doing so, to gain greater self-confidence and self-reliance. Her face lit up like the sun!

The next training session will be at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, in NY state on August 23rd. We would love to have you join us. Amy, this year's GWW Scholarship Winner, is handling the logistics for this event. Thanks, Amy! Please tell your women in aviation friends so they can participate. Tell girls they can have the their groups attend the presentationn. It's going to be a great time for all involved!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

STEP Training

Today I did my first day of STEP training. There have been so many people tripping going down the stairs of the Citation X, the company is trying to avoid any potential lawsuits...

... Nah! I'm just kidding. Today WAS my first day of STEP training, but STEP stands for Scenario Based Training and Education Program. Instead of doing the same old instrument approach proficiency practice and single engine and other emergency procedures, the company has determined that a lot of risk involved in our everyday operations involves threat and error management. In other words, recognizing the first link in a chain of events that may lead to an incident or accident. Instead of taking a checkride, the instructor evaluates our SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) knowledge and decision making skills.

I flew in the simulator first. This, believe it or not, is almost easier, since the pilot in the right seat has to handle all of the checklists (normal and abnormal ones), instrument approach plates, programming the radios, talking to ATC, etc. The pilot in the left seat just has to fly (and direct the person in the right seat - however at this point in our careers, both pilots have a pretty good idea what to do!). I had this job for the second half of the sim session and at one point tried to tune up the frequency to receive the ASOS (Automated Surface Observing System):

From the National Weather Service: ASOS detects significant changes, disseminating hourly and special observations via the networks. Additionally, ASOS routinely and automatically provides computer-generated voice observations directly to aircraft in the vicinity of airports, using FAA ground-to-air radio. These messages are also available via a telephone dial-in port. ASOS observes, formats, archives and transmits observations automatically. ASOS transmits a special report when conditions exceed preselected weather element thresholds, e.g., the visibility decreases to less than 3 miles.

Reports basic weather elements:
  • Sky condition:cloud height and amount (clear, scattered, broken, overcast) up to 12,000 feet
  • Visibility (to at least 10 statute miles)
  • Basic present weather information: type and intensity for rain, snow, and freezing rain
  • Obstructions to vision: fog, haze
  • Pressure: sea-level pressure, altimeter setting
  • Ambient temperature, dew point temperature
  • Wind: direction, speed and character (gusts, squalls)
  • Precipitation accumulation
  • Selected significant remarks including- variable cloud height, variable visibility, precipitation beginning/ending times, rapid pressure changes, pressure change tendency, wind shift, peak wind.
If you were paying attention in the picture above, you'll see that ... THERE'S NO ONE IN THE RIGHT SEAT! Isn't this a two crew airplane??

Well, yes, it is. As I was trying to tune up the ASOS, and not receiving it, I had to turn around and look at the sim operator, Phil, shown to left. He was holding up a sign that said, "Say you're not feeling well and have to use the lavatory." Disbelievingly, I told the acting Captain (in reality a First Officer just like me), that I had to go. Phil told me to sit down in a seat in the back and buckle up.

After not too long, my training partner, Robert, finally says, "Hey, what's going on here?" or something to that effect. Phil acted as the lead passenger and tells him that I had tripped and hit my head and appeared to be unconscious. As a result, Robert flew the approach and landing single pilot (after declaring an emergency - since this is a 2 person crew airplane, a single pilot operation is non standard). He did a great job. Such a great job that we had time to practice our approach and landing into the Hudson River. Yes, to see how we would have done under the same circumstances as Sully and his crew. Although this might seem like an unlikely scenario and somewhat gimmicky (even a time waster?), it was a great illustration of the glide characteristics of the Citation X and practical application of a procedure (Dual Engine Flameout) that we are required to commit to memory but some times don't completely understand because they are not (usually) applied.

And this is what that sim training is for, illustrating the capabilities of the airplane without risk to the crew or equipment (at a lower cost than actually operating the actual airplane). And continuously developing the skills of the pilots in order to maintain the safety of our operation.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Cleveland Air Races

I have a good friend and HUGE Girls With Wings supporter in a neighbor of mine, Carol. She is always finding articles that I might be interested in and dropping them off. The other day, it was a Cleveland Plain Dealer article on the "Pink Palace." Of course, this picture to the right, taken in 1979, doesn't show the salmon-ish color that it has been since it was built in the 1920s. This residential hotel used to be quite the gathering spot, luxurious by any standards with ballrooms, supplied and supervised servants, games and activities, etc. In fact, "there was so much activity that the 400-room residential hotel even had its own weekly glossy magazine, 10 or 12 pages an issue, called From the Windows of Westlake."

Ok, so why would my neighbor think this article would be of interest to me? Because it mentions that the hotel...
...had become a convenient favorite for people connected to the new aviation industry. The hotel became a must stop for aviators, as well as others involved in the airline business; it also served as headquarters for the leading women's flying clubs, including the Ninety-Nines (The Ninety-Nines, Inc, International Organization of Women Pilots is a non-profit organization established in 1929 and still going strong today) and the Betsy Ross Aviators (Organized early in 1931, prepared to fly hospital ships, carry dispatches, transport refugees, and take over the civilian flying jobs to release men for combat - NewYorker story).

Amelia Earhart, a frequent guest, was interviewed at the hotel in 1935. She commented on a lucky charm given her for an upcoming long flight: "I think a good mechanic is much better than a lucky charm."

Other aviators who visited included James H. Doolittle Jr., Wiley Post and Charles Lindbergh, though whether Lindbergh stayed overnight is uncertain.

But in the days before night flying, the Westlake was the place for pilots to sleep over -- it was the closest hotel to Cleveland Municipal Airport (not yet named Hopkins). Many of them recognized the building from their planes, since the 20-foot-high sign on the Westlake's roof created a marker visible at an elevation of 4,000 feet.

Adding to the glamour quotient, a number of stewardesses (as they were then known) lived here, and some airlines also kept suites for employee layovers.

Tom Barrett, a longtime Rocky River resident and member of the historical society, says his aunt, Jeanette Curtis, lived at the Hotel Westlake with two stewardess roommates in the '40s.

"It was a safe place, convenient to the airport, and there really weren't other reputable hotels on the West Side at the time," he says.

In October 1929, for instance, the Westlake's newsletter reported that "Skyways Inc. has two of its most able men living in one of the bachelor apartments," and further that a Mr. H.L. Kindred, operations manager and vice president of Continental Airlines, and his family "were making the Westlake their Cleveland home."

So I bring all this up because of the National Air Races, a series of pylon and cross-country races that took place from 1920 to 1949. The science of aviation, and the speed and reliability of aircraft and engines grew rapidly during this period; the National Air Races were both a proving ground and showcase for this.

In 1920 publisher Ralph Pulitzer sponsored the Pulitzer Trophy Race for military airplanes at Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York, in an effort to publicize aviation and his newspaper. The races eventually moved to Cleveland and then they were known as the Cleveland National Air Races. They drew the best flyers of the time, including James Doolittle, Wiley Post, Frank Hawks, Jimmie Wedell, Roscoe Turner, and others from the pioneer age of aviation.

The races usually ran for up to 10 days, usually at the end of August. During World War II the races were on hiatus.

The races included a variety of events, including cross-country races that ended in Cleveland, landing contests, glider demonstrations, airship flights, and parachute-jumping contests. The most popular events were the Thompson Trophy Race, a closed-course race where aviators raced their planes around pylons, and the Bendix Trophy Race across most of the USA.

In 1929 Cleveland was the venue for the first Women's Air Derby, which developed into the Powder Puff Derby, that featured well-known female pilots such as Amelia Earhart, Pancho Barnes, Bobbi Trout, and Louise Thaden.

When the races resumed after World War II, they featured newer surplus military planes that greatly outclassed the planes from the pre war era. In 1949 Bill Odom lost control of his P-51 "Beguine" and crashed into a home, killing himself and two people inside. The races went on hiatus again.

The annual event resumed in 1964 as the Reno National Championship Air Races, taking place in mid-September. [Courtesy Wikipedia]

For the full history on the Air Race, please go to this page on the Cleveland Air Show website and this page to read specifically about the 1929 Women's Air Race, dubbed the Powder Puff Derby by Wiley Post. The page on the 99s website was written by Gene Nora Jensen, author of one of my favorite books, THE POWDER PUFF DERBY OF 1929.

The reason I bring this all up is because for 20 years Cleveland was the center of aviation pagentry. And now, the most visible reminder to the general public is the train station in the basement of the Cleveland Hopkins Airport. Is it a reminder to me every time I go to and from my job as a professional pilot, how "far" we've come. If you've read my tweets

and blog, you will know that I think CLE has such a

disappointing airport, though they are going thru some renovations UPSTAIRS they should spend a little effort cleaning up the first impression visitors will have to Cleveland as the transit from the airport to route to many other destinations, like downtown.

Plus it just makes me sad that this dirty broken tiled tribute to the Air Races is all we have left.

The hotel, btw, survived Prohibition, the Depression, and a huge fire in 1962 (which mostly just damaged the roof - validating the hotel's claim it was fireproof). During the next two decades, the hotel slipped into seediness; even the exterior was a dingy pale gray. As Barrett recalls, "It essentially became a big rooming house, and it got kind of rough." In the 80s, the hotel was renovated and turned into condos.

But in Rocky River and from the western side of Lakewood, the presence of the big pink "hotel" -- once a drawing card for movie stars, aviators and local glitterati -- still makes a head-turning statement.

It's an edifice that continues to fire the imagination -- and inspires a longing for a simpler yet somehow more sophisticated time.

Photos from Westlake, Ohio History Collection.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

We're "with you"

"Flying is a lot like playing a musical instrument; you're doing so many things and thinking of so many other things, all at the same time. It becomes a spiritual experience. Something wonderful happens in the pit of your stomach." - Dusty McTavish

When I give a presentation to girls I tell them that I am going to teach them "everything" they need to know about being a pilot. I have learned the hard way that in the literal mind of a kid, they think I will actually be able to do so in an hour long presentation. I need to stress that all I'm really doing is giving the girls the basic building blocks that every pilot uses. One of the things I teach the girls is the phonetic alphabet so they know how to use their tail numbers as call signs and to make a basic radio call.

One of the tasks that a pilot needs to be proficient on is talking on the radio. As I've referred to on the last couple of posts, communication between pilots is important. But for me, in my job, talking to other pilots is pretty rare. In the early days of flying, pilots self regulated - or kept themselves (hopefully) clear of other traffic. With the increasingly complexity in the world of flying, though, we needed to develop a system to control all this air traffic. Hence, air traffic controllers.

Although I've gotten used to talking on the radio (picture from my Be1900 days to left), knowing you're transmitting to everyone within hundreds of miles can sometimes lead to a little foot in mouth disease. I still make stupid little mistakes. You know, say my call sign wrong. Miss a radio call. Say I'm at 31,000 feet instead of Flight Level 310. Or worse, get a radio call such as, "ExecJet 123, Descend now to FL 240, slow to 300kts in the transition, THEN descend to cross 35 miles SW of ABC VOR at 17,000, local altimeter 29.94." And all I can answer is, "Huh, what?" New pilots are very intimidated by talking on the radio, so there are books like the one to the right to help people to be more comfortable:

A guide to radio communications. Features examples of typical radio transmissions that explain how the air traffic control system works. Presents a simulated flight to demonstrate the correct procedures for communicating in each class of airspace. Covers communication etiquette and rules, VFR, IFR and emergency communication procedures, air traffic control facilities and their functions and a review of airspace definitions.
I always talk about the Aeronautical Information Manual, the "handbook" for pilots. One of the chapters contained in this book is the Pilot - Controller Glossary: compiled to promote a common understanding of the terms used in the Air Traffic Control system. It includes those terms which are intended for pilot/controller communications. The definitions are primarily defined in an operational sense applicable to both users and operators of the National Airspace System.

Even though the introduction promises that: "Use of the Glossary will preclude any misunderstandings concerning the system's design, function, and purpose," it most certainly doesn't! I referred to those "petty things" in the last post. Their are clear "don'ts" like saying "All traffic in the area please advise," but there are many more that some pilots just find SO annoying. One of the pilots I flew Hueys with in the National Guard would physically flinch every time a pilot would check in on a frequency by saying the words "with you." As in, "Cleveland Center, Citation123BC with you at 13,000ft. " The "with you" is totally unnecessary and contributes to frequency congestion. And excessive flinching.

Ok, two words, big deal, right? A family member, who I will not describe further to protect my butt from getting kicked, wanted to take me for a flight in his airplane, but the airplane required maintenance first. He called the ground controller to request clearance to taxi from the hangar to where the mechanic was located. A proper radio call would have been something like this, "Airport Ground, Skylane123LW, at My Hangar, request reposition to Proficient Maintenance Hanger." Instead, this relative said something like this, "Yeah, uh, Airport Ground... I'm parked over here at My Hangar, and I need to go on over to Proficient Maintenance Hanger for some work on my airplane..." Yikes. WAY to much information. Brevity is key.

This verbosity is not always on the part of the pilot. In fact, just the other day a captain and I were given taxi instructions clear of the runway to go to the FBO. The clearance sounded something like, "ExecJet123, taxi Charlie, Hotel, to parking." Unfortunately, we weren't entirely familiar with this particular mid sized commercial airport, and there happened to be at least two FBOs off of Hotel (intermixed with a couple dozen hangars and other buildings).

Our attempt to clarify how far down on H were thwarted as the ground controller transmitted, "Airliner456, do you have time for a question?," thinking he was done with us and there was apparently no one else who would need to transmit on ground. Unfortunately, what followed was a long discussion on why this airliner chose a shorter runway despite the longest runway being the one in use. He was a new pilot and was interested in what factors would contribute to this decision. In itself, very admirable in the pursuit of knowledge.

Meanwhile, we were taxiing slowly, referring to very vague airport diagram trying to figure out where to turn off the taxiway onto the ramp. And of course there was a passenger on board, making us look like we didn't know what we were doing or going (quite a coincidence, considering we, well, didn't). When the controller, a pilot as well, had all of his questions answered, we were able to get revised taxi instructions to the proper FBO. As anyone in aviation can tell you, do not be afraid to ask for clarification. Or for "progressive taxi instructions."

There's that can of worms again. Seems like I'm always bringing up terms I should probably explain further. But I'm going to stop here, because my dad is anxiously awaiting my attention as we are going to do some home renovation work today. I managed to come up with quite a few references on this subject, so next time (I'm not promising tomorrow since I have 100 year old house) I will talk more about the complexities of pilot - controller communication.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Control of Air Traffic

"I fly because it releases my mind from the tyranny of petty things."
-Antoine de Saint-Exupery, pilot and poet

The poet quoted above lived his life entirely in the first half of the last century, when it could be argued that flying was "simpler." If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I post about regulations and procedures quite often, and they are far from simple. My dad once joked to me that being a pilot is a lot like being a lawyer! Early days of aviation were dangerous, of course, and pilots either flew on clear, calm days, or bravely climbed above and descended through the clouds hoping they were closed to their destination, navigating with a compass and making wind corrections, and praying none of those clouds were of the cumulus granite type. [Maybe in a later post I can talk about how brave these early aviation pioneers were, to climb into aircraft hardly more than kites with engines!]

Eventually pilots needed to fly at night, too, to facilitate growing societal needs, prompted by the need for increased airmail service. From the Centennial of Flight website, a short history of the development of more regulated aviation operations:

In the early days of flight, there were no navigation aids to help pilots find their way. Pilots flew by looking out of their cockpit window for visual landmarks or by using automobile road maps. These visual landmarks or maps were fine for daytime, but airmail operated around the clock. In 1919, U.S. Army Air Service Lieutenant Donald L. Bruner began using bonfires and the first artificial beacons to help with night navigation. In February 1921, an airmail pilot named Jack Knight put this to the test with his all-night flight to Chicago from North Platte, Nebraska. Knight found his way across the black prairie with the help of bonfires lit by Post Office staff, farmers, and the public.

Beginning in 1923, the Post Office worked to complete a transcontinental airway of beacons on towers spaced 15 to 25 miles (24 to 40 kilometers) apart, each with enough brightness, or candlepower, to be seen for 40 miles (64 kilometers) in clear weather. On July 1, 1924, postal authorities began regularly scheduled night operations over parts of this route.

Each tower had site numbers painted on it for daytime identification. At night, the beacons flashed in a certain sequence so that pilots could match their location to the printed guide that they carried. Besides the rotating beacon, one fixed tower light pointed to the next field and one to the previous tower, forming an aerial roadway. Official and emergency fields were lit with green lights while dangerous fields were marked with red.

Saint-Exupery became "one of the pioneers of international postal flight, in the days when aircraft had few instruments. Later he complained that those who flew the more advanced aircraft had become more like accountants than pilots."

By the mid-1920s the swashbuckling days of airmail operations had begun to pass. The lone pilot dressed in a leather flight suit who sat in an open cockpit battling the elements to deliver the mail was romantic but inefficient. The Postal Service began to focus on safety and reliability as well as on expanding operations. It established minimum lighting requirements for all airmail stations: a 500-watt revolving searchlight, projecting a beam parallel to the ground to guide pilots; another searchlight projecting into the wind to show the proper approach; and aircraft wingtip flares for forced landings. It also prescribed that all landing fields should be at least 2,000 feet by 1,500 feet (610 meters by 457 meters) to allow plenty of room for landings. As a final safety device, the requirement for a searchlight to be mounted on airmail airplanes was appended to the Post Office's set of requirements.

The use of lighted airways allowed pilots to fly at night, but pilots still needed to maintain visual contact with the ground. A really useful air system demanded two-way voice communication and the ability to find out about changing weather conditions while in flight. But in 1926, pilots could only receive weather information and details about other planes in the air just before takeoff. If conditions changed while flying, the ground had no way to warn them. A pilot, too, had no way of communicating with the ground.

In September 1929, Army Lt. James H. Doolittle became the first pilot to use only aircraft instrument guidance to take off, fly a set course, and land. He used the four-course radio range and radio marker beacons to indicate his distance from the runway. An altimeter displayed his altitude, and a directional gyroscope with artificial horizon helped him control his aircraft's orientation, called attitude, without seeing the ground. These technologies became the basis for many future developments in navigation.

The Centennial of Flight website goes into much more detail about developments in navigation, which you can read more in depth about here. As a sign of the changing times, though, when I do a presentation for kids and I ask them how we can figure out how to get to our destination, more and more are not answering "maps," they're saying, GPS!

Additional navigation technologies are in partial use or development, including the Global Positioning System both to locate and help control aircraft by satellite, the Future Air Navigation System for remote and oceanic flights, and the Communication, Navigation and Surveillance for Air Traffic Management system. These technologies combine the need for point-to-point navigation and for higher quality voice and data communication with the need for air traffic control--the safe separation of aircraft from hazards and other aircraft.

So where I'm trying to go with this preliminary post (more to come) is air traffic control, as I previously posted while referring to an AOPA guide to airspace, which says,

In the early days of aviation, all airspace was uncontrolled, what we today call Class G airspace. Way back when, there were few airplanes, and none had the instruments necessary to fly in clouds. Even at the busiest of airports, traffic density was very low, and the airplanes flew slowly. Although there were no standards for weather conditions that aircraft could fly in, it was generally agreed that if you remained clear of clouds and had at least one-mile visibility, you could see other airplanes and terrain in time to avoid a collision. This was called see and avoid. It formed the basis for VFR flight and remains critical to preventing collisions.
Since we now have the technology to fly in Instrument Meteorological Conditions, or IMC, and there are more airplanes flying to "swap paint" with, the need for Air Traffic Control (an aptly named resource) was developed. Again, from the Centennial of Flight website:

Air traffic control involves monitoring the movements of all aircraft, both in the air and on the ground, in the vicinity of an airport. Its main purpose is to keep aircraft safely separated to prevent accidents. Air traffic control is needed so that the risk of collision becomes extremely low. This can be achieved only by strictly following procedures that are set out and monitored by air traffic controllers, individuals who direct air traffic within assigned airspace and control moving aircraft and service vehicles at airports.

In flight, an aircraft follows en route air traffic control instructions as it flies through successive flight information regions. When it approaches an airport for landing, the aircraft enters the terminal control area where it is monitored by controllers using radar and who constantly tell pilots how to navigate within the area. Controllers also monitor the aircraft all the way to the ground and tell the pilot how to maneuver on the ground to avoid collisions on the ground of the airfield and how to reach its final location where passengers can disembark. Departing aircraft go through a reverse procedure. Overall, the degree of control depends greatly on the weather conditions. In general, the better the weather, then the less the control.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), defines the objectives of air traffic control as:

  • Preventing collisions between aircraft in flight
  • Preventing collisions between aircraft on the maneuvering area of an airport and obstructions on that area
  • Expediting and maintaining an orderly flow of air traffic
  • Providing advice and information useful for the safe and efficient conduct of flights
  • Notifying appropriate organizations regarding aircraft in need of search and rescue aid, and assisting such organizations as required
That's enough for today, or else this will turn into a novel. Tomorrow I will talk about pilot and controller communication and more about the use of phraseology contained in the Pilot-Controller glossary and more. Radio communications are invaluable in aviation, but there are many of those "petty things" referred to previously in the quote above, that become HUGE barriers to communication - when they may be needed most. I'll give a few examples.

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Girls With Wings Presentation

"Any pilot can describe the mechanics of flying. What it can do for the spirit of man is beyond description."
- Barry Goldwater, US Senator and Presidential Candidate.

This past weekend I did four Girls With Wings presentations at a local Girl Scout camp having a National Astronomy day. One is tiring, so four just about wore me out! This is an interactive presentation to teach girls "everything" they need to know to fly an airplane. These girls have a lot of energy and if given the opportunity, will enthusiastically respond to a (shhh!) educational activity.

I get asked a lot why I prefer to separate the girls from the boys. It's not that I'm anti-boy. I will do presentations to groups of both genders. But there is a different dynamic when you get the girls in a group by themselves. If there are boys present, the girls are reluctant to speak up. The boys are more assertive than the girls, and since my mission is to use women in aviation to inspire girls to achieve their full potential, I need to be able to reach the target audience. BTW something else I've learned: for every girl over 30 participants, the difficulty (and my exhaustion level) increases exponentially! Kudos to teachers who spend all day every day with children.

I start by asking the girls about their experiences with aviation. Do they know any pilots, have the ever been on an airplane before? Have they seen what's up there in the cockpit, and do the think they could figure out what all of that stuff does? I tell them that I did not grow up wanting to be a pilot, but someone once told me it was really tough and so that's what I chose to do. Most girls can relate to being told that they "can't" and that they're stubborn, so seeing they get to see an real life example of someone who has been successful at what she loves to do!

I won't go into what the whole presentation is, just to tell you that I have been perfecting this presentation over the last couple of years, and am now preparing to have the first Girls With Wings training session in Minneapolis on May 26th. There are many groups located around the country interested in hosting a presentation, so I am looking for women willing to help reach out to their community. If you are interested in attending, please email Other planned sessions will be taking place in Cleveland, OH, New York, and Washington, DC.

Highlights of the presentation: using aeronautical charts to navigate to your destination, learning the role of Air Traffic Controllers and how to talk on the radio, how to read and use the 6 main instruments, basic aerodynamics, and how an engine works. All I will say is, the final demonstration of their "pretend" flight is shown to the left. If you'd like to know more you'll have to schedule a presentation to your school, Girl Scout troop or other group. Or become a Girls With Wings presenter yourself!

As a 6th grade attendee learned, "My advice to other girls my age after hearing Lynda talk about being a pilot: if you have a dream, follow it and try new things. Don't give up!"

Sunday, May 03, 2009


Yesterday I wrote a post about operations at nontowered airports and referred to a reference guide from AOPA. It says:

Midair collisions are the primary hazard associated with flying at nontowered airports. Most midair collisions occur in clear weather within five miles of an airport and below 3,000 feet, which is where aircraft congregate. Most collisions occur on final approach, generally when a faster aircraft overtakes a slower one.

So I decided to research a bit about why this would be true. If every one is usin
g the self announce frequency as they "should," every pilot should know the location of every airplane operating at that airport (whether or not they say "All traffic in the area please advise") and be able to avoid them! But this system doesn't always work. Why? The key word here is should. So I'll start with what are the communication requirements (the shalls) are.

I started with searching the FARs (shorthand for the Code of Federal Regulations, specifically chapters for the Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Transportation, => SUBCHAPTER F--AIR TRAFFIC AND GENERAL OPERATING RULES, => 91.1 to 91.1507 GENERAL OPERATING AND FLIGHT RULES.) The FARs say for airports in Class E or G airspace that (d) Communications with control towers. Unless otherwise authorized or required by ATC, no person may operate an aircraft to, from, through, or on an airport having an operational control tower unless two-way radio communications are maintained between that aircraft and the control tower.

But we're talking about airports WITHOUT control towers.

The AOPA guide to Collision Avoidance, Strategies and Tactics, states:

Nearly 45 percent of collisions occur in the traffic pattern and of these, 76 percent occur during approach and landing – when aircraft are on final or actually on or over the runway. Given the small funnel of airspace airplanes occupy during landing, any confusion about who’s landing in what order, and where they are, can have tragic consequences. If there is any consolation about collisions occurring during landing, it’s that there are often survivors.

MACs can also occur while maneuvering in the traffic pattern as a result of improper or misunderstood position reports, which can lead to erroneous assumptions. This is particularly true at nontowered airports. A pilot may conclude, for example, that no aircraft are in the pattern because of lack of activity on the frequency. But aircraft without radios may be operating at these airports, or an inbound or outbound aircraft may be transmitting on the wrong frequency.

Sounds pretty unsafe, doesn't it? So first, let me explain what Class E or G airspace is (I will refer to another AOPA guide, which is extremely helpful in understanding airspace). In the early days of aviation, all airspace was uncontrolled, what we today call Class G airspace. Way back when, there were few airplanes, and none had the instruments necessary to fly in clouds. Even at the busiest of airports, traffic density was very low, and the airplanes flew slowly. With the advent of inexpensive gyroscopic flight instruments, travel through the clouds became possible. See and avoid was useless in the soup, so procedures to ensure aircraft separation were needed. This led to the creation of air traffic control (ATC) and controlled, or Class E, airspace.

Since the FARs doesn't answer the "shall" for our nontowered airports, here is a compilation of different paragraphs from the AIM for brevity:

There are Class E airspace areas that serve as extensions to Class B, Class C, and Class D surface areas designated for an airport. Such airspace provides controlled airspace to contain standard instrument approach procedures without imposing a communications requirement on pilots operating under VFR. IFR operations in any class of controlled airspace requires that a pilot must file an IFR flight plan and receive an appropriate ATC clearance. Standard IFR separation is provided to all aircraft operating under IFR in controlled airspace. Traffic advisories will be provided to all aircraft as the controller's work situation permits. No specific equipment required by the airspace.

What does all that mean? It means that pilots operating at such an airport have no requirement to self announce. In fact, they are not even required to have a radio installed in their airplane! (Class G airspace is even less restrictive than E.) See The FAAs Instrument Flying Handbook for an easy to read chart on the requirements of each airspace. But they should, do the following, according to the AIM:

c. Recommended Traffic Advisory Practices

1. Pilots of inbound traffic should monitor and communicate as appropriate on the designated CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency) from 10 miles to landing. Pilots of departing aircraft should monitor/communicate on the appropriate frequency from start-up, during taxi, and until 10 miles from the airport unless the CFRs or local procedures require otherwise.

Should does not necessarily mean does.

Facility at Airport

Frequency Use




UNICOM (No Tower or FSS)

Communicate with UNICOM station on published CTAF frequency (122.7; 122.8; 122.725; 122.975; or 123.0). If unable to contact UNICOM station, use self-announce procedures on CTAF.

Before taxiing and before taxiing on the runway for departure.

10 miles out. Entering downwind, base, and final. Leaving the runway.

So where is the "shall." The shall comes from the dangerousness of operating an airplane. The whole prohibition against operating in a reckless manner. Of course, any pilot concerned with safety would self announce! Yet I have been surprised by traffic at an airport after not hearing any radio calls from them, despite the comment below "Do you really think that I'm not going to tell you I'm there if you don't say ATITAPA?" Here's why, according to AOPA: At nontowered fields, it’s possible that pilots in nonradio aircraft are practicing landings, IFR students and their instructors are practicing instrument approaches, helicopter pilots are perfecting their autorotation skills, or sailplanes are floating overhead. Not all pilots in the area are announcing their positions and intentions on the CTAF, or even looking out the window!

But let's give every one the benefit of the doubt and say they DID self announce. Perhaps their transmission was blocked. Maybe they were busy doing something else and didn't hear someone else in the pattern. Or they have tuned up the wrong frequency (it happens). Maybe they had made their call right before the arrival pilot switched to the CTAF frequency. (Obviously this is an imperfect system or we wouldn't have this problem.) How is this last one possible? If the pilot is operating out of their home airport, or traveling between two airports under VFR, this is facilitated by the pilot making their own frequency changes. Under IFR (in most conditions), pilots are directed to change frequencies, depending on whose airspace they are flying through.

4-1-5. Communications Release of IFR Aircraft Landing at an Airport Without an Operating Control Tower

Aircraft operating on an IFR flight plan, landing at an airport without an operating control tower will be advised to change to the airport advisory frequency when direct communications with ATC are no longer required. Towers and centers do not have nontower airport traffic and runway in use information. The instrument approach may not be aligned with the runway in use; therefore, if the information has not already been obtained, pilots should make an expeditious change to the airport advisory frequency when authorized.

So, in the anonymous comment below where it states "I'm too busy to listen and monitor CTAF," even AOPA admits this may be true (not an excuse, but a statement of fact). But that comment neglects to consider that the inbound aircraft may be currently "busy" communicating the overlying ATC frequency (as they are required to do) and may be trying to monitor their destination airport on the second radio (if they have one installed). So when they tune up the appropriate CTAF frequency (before told to switch by ATC), they may have to turn it off in order to hear on their primary frequency.

Especially when, as the anonymous person states, "with the number of airports that use the same CTAF frequency now you can hear traffic calls for airports 80 miles away." As a general rule, when I am 80 miles away from my destination airport, I can still be above 20,000ft, still up in the Class A airspace. So on some CTAFs I can hear numerous transmissions within a wide radius. Especially on a sunny weekend afternoon, radio calls are a jumble, and having pilots step on each other results in an irritating background noise that can prevent me from hearing ATC call me. And so, I will monitor when I can, but my legal responsibility is to the controller whose airspace I am currently occupying. There are times that the controller does not release the IFR traffic until the destination airport is in sight, and due to different limitations (not the least of which may be the transient pilot's unfamiliarity with the airport environment), this can be not until the pilot is almost on top of the airport at the minimum vectoring altitude (which could be near traffic pattern altitude)!

It's unfortunate that this topic causes people to respond defensively. I admitted I was wrong using "All traffic in the area please advise" and expressed my desire to be aware of other traffic in my concern for safety. As I remember from my childhood, as a pedestrian you may have the right of way, but being hit by an errant car still makes you dead. Whatever we can do to prevent mid-airs should be every pilot's goal. Even if making another radio call appears redundant, molley-coddling, etc., or might make you or the other pilot appear stupid, Mid Air Collisions still happen - type a search for Mid Air Collisions on final and you'll get many hits (airplane pictures are from this site). I am in complete agreement that everyone should stay away from unnecessary transmissions, As AOPA says in their Safety Tip:

The CTAF should be used for two reasons only
• Collision avoidance
• Airport advisory
Listening to a busy CTAF for only a few minutes will reveal too many long-winded conversationalists. Don’t use this vital collision-avoidance resource for aircraft or lunch scheduling, formation flying, saying hello to friends on the ground, discussing sports scores, or expressing your displeasure at the pilot who just pulled out on the runway while you were on short final.

So use the radio for collision avoidance, which is our ultimate goal, is it not?

(Note: the unfortunate consequence of discussing these aviation subjects is that I try to stay somewhat superficial to keep the posts brief. If I appear to be incomplete - or worse, as if I don't know what I'm talking about - it is probably because getting any deeper into the weeds creates new tangents that I often try to follow through in subsequent entries. I just cannot include every possibility or scenario so I include links to references for you to do your own research. Thank you to those who respond to clarify my answers, sources, positions, etc. We all have opinions, knowledge and experiences to contribute to the "conversation." I write this blog to learn and share, and I hope the readers do as well.)

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Uncontrolled Airports and Outdated Phraseology

I often post about learning something new from a fellow pilot who may or may not have been flying jets for longer than I have. I am not too proud to say that I also learn from private pilots, aviation hobbyists and non-jet pilots as well.

If you are not already on Twitter, it is a real-time short messaging service that works over multiple networks and devices. I am on it all the time, and refer to the people I have met on there often. There are also quite a few people that I already know that have popped up on Twitter. It's a really amazing application! Anyway, I'm not sure how it came up, but someone mentioned how transient jet pilots can be a little, ahem, annoying to single engine pilots practicing maneuvers in their local "uncontrolled" airport.

Now, don't read uncontrolled to mean uncontrollable. In fact, due to this confusion, the correct term to refer to an uncontrolled airport is a Non Towered Airport. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) Air Safety Foundation has put out an excellent guide for understanding the basic procedures at such airports. (You'll see me refer to them often - if you are a pilot and not a member, you should be!) I won't go into all of the operating procedures at these airports. The AOPA guide to NonTowered Airports is a very user friendly, full color, easy to understand explanation of how pilots should operate at these airports. This is not a official document so AOPA makes this disclaimer:

A word about procedure: There are several sources of information that explain official FAA-recommended procedures at nontowered airports. FAR 91.113 cites basic right-of-way rules, and FARs 91.126 and 91.127 establish traffic-flow rules at nontowered airports. The Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) and FAA Advisory Circular 90-66A expand on the regulations. Together, these documents define procedures for nontowered flight operations.

The Advisory Circular noted above says the same things as the AOPA guide, but in technical pilot-ese.

Ok, the first question you might have is why would I go to a nontowered airport if so many of the airports have air traffic controllers in towers to provided direction to the airplanes there? From From an FAA Safety Seminar: "Nontowered airports—those not served by an operating air traffic control (ATC) tower—are much more common than towered fields. There are approximately 13,000 airports in the US that are nontowered, compared to approximately 500 that have towers. Safe operations can be conducted because pilots put safety first and use recommended procedures. Most mid air collisions occur within 10 miles of an airport."

You might think that as a pilot of a mid size jet I would operate out of towered airports, and for the most part I do. Every once in a while I visit (and sometimes blog about) nontowered airports. In fact, just the other day I picked up a passenger at such an airport. We taxiied out to the runway making "self announce" calls on the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency, or CTAF. The CTAF frequency can be found on sectional charts, in the Airport Facility/Directory ( a pilot’s manual that provides comprehensive information on airports, and other aviation facilities and procedures - sample page shown at right), AOPA’s Airport Directory, instrument approach charts, or other airport directories. Since CTAF is just an open frequency to let other pilots in the area know what I was planning to do, I was required to call a Flight Service Station (FSS), Burlington Radio, on another frequency, to pick up our IFR clearance (this can be given by a controller located on the field). According to the AIM:

4-1-3. Flight Service Stations

Flight Service Stations (FSSs) are air traffic facilities which provide pilot briefings, flight plan processing, en route radio communications, search and rescue services, and assistance to lost aircraft and aircraft in emergency situations. FSSs also relay ATC clearances, process Notices to Airmen, broadcast aviation weather and aeronautical information, and notify Customs and Border Protection of transborder flights.

Now technically, a pilot can take off without talking to any ATC facility and maintain responsibility for avoiding other traffic (that is, as long as the weather will allow the pilot to remain under Visual Meterological Conditions or VMC). We call this "see and avoid." It requires extreme vigiliance for other airplanes that may be operating in the vicinity. For safety reasons, our company requires us to pick up our clearance before taking off. This way, when we are cleared by ATC, our clearance is relayed to us through the FSS, and we are given a "void time." We must take off by this time or call the FSS and let them know or they might lauch Search and Rescue if we do not pop up on the overlying radar for the airport. Yes, radar coverage does not always go to the ground. So since ATC is maintaining responsibility for aircraft under IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions), but cannot see a transponder blip, they will only let ONE IFR aircraft into that block of airspace at a time. Transponder to left is "squawking" 1200, the standard code for aircraft operating VFR.

This restriction translated into a very long hold at the end of the runway. We had to explain to our passenger that the delay was because the FSS needed to hold us on the ground until an inbound aircraft had landed at the airport. When that aircraft cancelled IFR, the controlling ATC agency would allow one aircraft into that airspace. On climbout, we would switch from the CTAF frequency to the overlying controller's frequency. So operations at these airports are not so much "uncontrollable" as they might appear. It just requires proper procedure being exercised by the pilots.

So back to why I bring up the twitter connection. The twitter friend brought up how annoyed local pilots can get when some transient jet pilot blasts into their CTAF and self announces something like this: "Pleasant Airport, ABC123 is a Citation X 20 miles to the east at 6,000 feet, inbound for landing, any other traffic in the area please advise, Pleasant Airport." When I was taught to fly way back when, we were taught to say the "any other traffic in the area, please advise (AOTITAPA)" phrase to get anyone else listening to the frequency, and operating at that particular airport (sometimes the frequency is used for more than one which is why we say the airport name 2x), to let us know to keep an eye out for them.

Somewhere along the way, however, the Aeronautical Information Manual started to advise that AOTITAPA is “not a recognized self-announce position and/or intention phrase, and should not be used under any condition.” Therefore, anyone using this phrase was also announcing that they had not studied this reference in a while. So when this fellow Tweeter called me on it, I was a bit embarrassed. And also confused. If concerned with safety, shouldn't we pilots be asked, "Hey, anyone out there I might have a mid-air with?" Not as professional in my opinion. In fact, this Tweeting pilot said that local pilots found it SO annoying (kinda like a big fish alpha male invading their pond). But I felt I need to say something, especially since for the most part I was communicating with the controller on the overlying frequency and had to just momentarily switch to the CTAF to provide myself and other pilots a heads-up that I was coming their way. I couldn't monitor for an extended period of time to listen to see if someone else self-announced. Hmmph.

Within a month of this discussion, I met an FAA representative and asked him why this phrase had become taboo. His explanation matched the one given in the AOPA guide as a Courtesy Tip.
These days, a lot of pilots wrap up their initial position announcements with a request: “Traffic in the area, please advise.” Don’t be one of them. The phrase is redundant (we’re all supposed to be listening and selfannouncing anyway), and it contributes to frequency congestion.

So as near as I can tell, we can make the request, but just not say the exact phrase? In the interest of safety, I'm still going to ask. Airplanes move fast, the sun gets in your eyes, someone might be doing a non-standard traffic pattern, or that high speed jet may just assert its supremacy by expecting everyone else to get out of the way! Tomorrow I will research and post some information on that phrase I used earlier: Most mid air collisions occur within 10 miles of an airport.

Please post any questions or comments at the end of this post.

Friday, May 01, 2009

The May Girls With Wings eZine is posted!

The latest version of the Girls With Wings newsletter is now available. There's talk of the first GWW training session (and Club formation!), a recap of Sun 'n Fun, and links to various organizations. And as shown to the left, the premier of the new Yes, Girls Can Fly! bumper sticker. As always, your feedback is always appreciated.