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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Article I wrote for AOPA Pilot Magazine

Air France 447

I just don't get it.  Regardless of instrumentation, how could 3 experienced pilots not have recognized a stalled condition, even at night in bad weather?  This is like the Colgan air crash in Buffalo, where the plane stalled on approach, and the Captain pulled back on the stick instead of lowering the nose as any student is taught to do within his or her first 10 hours of flying.

So the right hand seat second pilot was flying, and the captain was resting, as they penetrated a storm.  Why?  Why was the least experienced pilot at the controls, and the most experienced pilot in the back?  Knowing the French Way, probably union rules.

The a/c lost airpeed indications causing the autopilot to disconnect, and taking manual control  the pilot pulled up the nose, and the plane climbed 3,000 feet until it stalled.  I know this is a big, heavy a/c, but surely enough "feel" and perhaps airflow sound remains to tell that it's getting awfully slow?  Surely with the pitot  tube iced over, the static ports were still clear enough to see that altitude rise on the analog backups?  Again, any private instrument rated pilot should be able to fly without valid airspeed indications.  But it sounds like the pilots never stopped trying the use their electronic primary instruments only.

And then they never tried to recover from the stall at any time during a mushing, nose high  descent from 38,000, with an audible stall warning going off at least twice. The pilots never commanded nose down.  The airplane rolled left and right through up to 40 degrees.  Surely this was visible on the backup attitude indicator and altimeter?  I don't fly an airliner, and certainly have no direct A330 knowledge, but as far as I know analog backups are still required equipment, but they don't seem to have been used.

I suspect lack of airmanship and over-reliance on automation will turn out to be the cause, and that this is becoming a big problem for the airlines, especially in Airbus aircraft where the entire flight can be automated, and the pilots do very little of what I would call "flying".  In the USA, I believe that the FAA actually requires that certain percentage of approaches and landings in transport aircraft are to be hand-flown, I notice that Captain Dave who flies Airbus airliners often does hand-flown approaches.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sigh of Relief, Shout of Joy

Check-ride came on Friday, ready or not.

Early in the morning, I climbed out of bed, and put on "instructor" clothes.  American Fliers school recommends that you "look professional" when you meet the FAA to take a CFI check ride.  Slacks and a short sleeved polo shirt seemed to to do it for me, and as they turned up dressed the same, it was a good choice.  I say "they", because 2 examiners showed up - the real one and one in training.

I made a bagged lunch, and drove to McKinney, taking off for Addison just after 7am.  I used my Sundowner, 49C, flying from the right hand seat.  I arrived at the AF facility around 7:40, and spent a few minutes making sure everything was just right, and put an "inop" label on the DME, which was acting up again.  I set up in one of the classrooms and settled in to wait.

A few minutes past 8, the 2 FAA guys showed up.  Inspector "Dan" and Inspector "2".  They were both pleasant, but it was clear from verbal and body language that they considered themselves THE FAA, and we were all on notice.....

We started with the dreaded "Fundamentals of Instructing" (FOI).  The first part of the oral exam was on the FOI's, covering The Learning Process, Critique and Evaluation, Planning Instructional Activity, and Flight Instructor Characteristics and Responsibilities.  These were titles of the sections I was grilled on 2 hours.  I did pretty well - I don't think I made any errors.  It was noticeable that when I talked about a subject, they would probe until I said the "Magic Words" they were looking for, then they would relax and ask me about a different facet of the subject at hand.

After a short "nature break", we took up Aircraft Flight Instruments and Navigation Equipment, Log Book Entries Related to Instrument Instruction, and Aeromedical Factors.  Those I was already confident about, as I've been quizzed on them all at least once, in some cases twice, for previous ratings.  Once again, they would quiz until the magic words came out.  I did a great explanation on how the altimeter works, but until I said "aneroid wafers" they kept digging.  I refused to say it, since I knew that not all altimeters in fact have the aneroid wafers inside, but eventually I gave up and said it.

Then we moved on to flight planning.  Inspector Dan had told me by phone to prepare an IFR flight plan from Addison to Little Rock.  So I pulled the weather, and did a far more thorough job of planning than I would in the real world.  Of course, on the day, they glanced at the flight plan form, and didn't even ask about the weather charts and winds forecasts I had brought along.  Instead I was grilled about why I had selected that route, what the waypoints were and the headings, and distances of the VOR radials.  Then we pulled out the IFR Low Altitude En-Route Chart, and they tried (without success) to find a symbol I couldn't identify and explain.  When I finally had to look up the symbol for a Military Visual Flight Track above 1500 feet AGL, that made them happy and we quit for lunch., after nearly 4 hours on the spot.

The inspectors asked me in Inspector 2-in-training could go along for the checkride to observe.   I said that I didn't have the useful load, but I could offload some weights I'd put in the back for center of gravity balance, and we could just make it.  So over lunch I ate my sandwich, and took out the weights and baggage from the rear, and changed into shorts.

Taking off, at 2000 feet Inspector Dan took control, while I put on my foggles, then with the controls in my hands again, he told me to climb to 2,500 feet, maintaining 030 deg heading. Next he told me to maintain 090, which was taking me around north of McKinney airspace.  After we were clear, he said to go direct to BIRRD and enter the published hold at 2,500ft.  I set up the GPS for the VOR-DME approach to McKinney, and then entered direct BIRRD.  I explained as we tracked to BIRDD that the hold entry would be direct, but the if we had approached from the south it would have been a teardrop entry, or from the west it would have been a parallel entry.  I also explained that at our heavy weight and in the very bumpy conditions, I would not slow down to 90 knots in the hold for safety.  (they liked hearing the work "safety", and it avoided me having to slow down, re-trim, and hold it - it was VERY bumpy").

After 3 turns in the hold, during which they asked about wind correction, and demonstrated a better method than I knew (which we tried out on the 3rd time around), they asked me to continue and fly the rest of the VOR-DME approach.  For each approach, I remembered to brief the approach chart, talk about the missed approach procedure, do the written checklist, and get the current weather.  On an aside note, a couple of times I forgot to start my timer, but each time I said something like " I started timing at 20 seconds past, so I have 30 seconds to go", and they had no way of knowing I forgot.

Coming off the approach, Insp. Dan asked me to do a touch and go, but we were close and high, and although I said I could still land in the first 1/3 of the runway (Sundowners with no power and full flaps can descend like a Stuka dive-bomber), he decide I should go around.  Adding full power, I brought up the nose and retracted the flaps, and climbed to 1500 feet before starting a left turn.  He then simulated ATC radar vectors heading North, and told me to set up for the ILS 17 approach at McKinney.  I remembered to identify the localizer and the Localizer Outer Marker NDB "FLUET"  We didn't do the full approach, he vectored me onto the localizer about 5 miles north of the outer marker.  I then flew the approach until the Tower told me to go around for a departure at about 300 feet.  Inspector Dan handled all the radio communications throughout, while I was under the hood.

After that approach, I was feeling pretty good. I knew I had nearly busted altitude once or twice, and sometimes I was as much as 15 degrees off, but they said "it was the bumpy, windy conditions", and hadn't said "OK, that's it. Take us home", the verbal sign of a busted check-ride.

Following Insp Dan's directions, I set up for the GPS for runway 15 at Addison.  He had a couple of quibbles about how I set up my instruments, and said it could be confusing for the student, but had to agree it was OK and not actually wrong.  At the Final Approach Fix at 2,000 feet, we captured the GPS glide-slope and I switched to the GPS OBS view that shows how the track width was automatically shrinking from 1.0 miles on each side down to 0.1 miles, and that we had RAIM because the Garmin unit only tells you if it has not got RAIM (some units such as the KLN-94 GPS show a positive RIAM indication if they do have RAIM, this one only messages if there is a problem).

Then I relaxed, and nearly blew the whole thing.  At about 500 feet AGL, the winds changed, the deviation went almost to 3/4 scale, and I nearly had to go missed.  But I managed to wrestle the Sundowner back on course and glideslope, and at 300 feet he told me to take off the foggles (hood) and land.

Back in the American Fliers office, he said nothing.  But he did ask me to bring my logbook, and meet him at the computer terminals.  He signed in, pulled up my application, and then moving the curser over to the "Denied" link, he held it there for a second or two, and finally moved it to click on  "Approved".  I'm sure he thought that was funny.  Then they both shook my hand and said "Congratulations".

So, I am now a Certified Flight Instructor, with the "instrument - Airplane" rating.

Man, am I tired........

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Nervous, nervous, nervous.

My initial CFI check-ride is tomorrow.  I think I'm ready but do I really know enough?  The vast universe of things I don't know about the regs, flying, ATC, radios, GPS, human factors - I wouldn't know where to begin with last minute cramming, so I'll settle for trying to get a few acronyms more firmly set into my short term memory and do a few approaches and holds from the right hand seat under the hood this afternoon with Instructor Anne.

Hope I'm ready.  I've never failed a check-ride or bi-annual review, and I hope I won't fail this one.  But do I know enough?

Nervous, nervous, nervous.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

FAA CGI-I (1 down, 3 to go)

Just became a Certified Ground Instructor - Instruments.

Pretty easy actually.  All I had to do was to take the transcript from my Fundamentals of Instruction (FOI) written test, and for the Ground Instructor - Instruments test (which required no extra studying, I just did it the day after taking the Flight Instructor - Instruments written) to the local FAA office.

After showing them my drivers license and IACRA (the official FAA certification software) application, I signed the application electronically, and voila!  A CGI-I certificate printed out with my name on it!  No oral or practical test required.

On the same day I got confirmation of my Certified Flight Instructor - Instruments (CFI-I) checkride - May 25th at Addison airport.  I hear I was allocated one of the best examiners, friendly and easy going.

And just to complete the cycle of FAA interactions for the day, I got a notice from the FAA grounding my Sundowner.  It seems that they did a ramp check, and wrote me up for having the nose cowling chaffing on the engine exhaust.  That's a bunch of baloney.  After I had the Power-flow STC (FAA speak for a modification) installed, yes, the cowling did touch the exhaust and some discoloration did happen.  But it was fixed 3 years ago.

So I called my A&P, and he agreed to look at the airplane later today.  If, as we expect, we find only old charring and no current chaffing, he'll write it up in the logs and 49C will be airworthy again at the stroke of a pen.  Funny that, how an airplane can go from unsafe and grounded, to safe and airworthy and have not one person do anything to it.  Gotta love those lawyers and the value they add to society.......

Monday, May 9, 2011

Tale of 3 flights

Flight 1 - reprise of the the disaster flight before.  I went back to American Flyers, but deliberately picked a different instructor ( the same one that I did the first flight with).  We flew the same Cessna 172, and did more or less the same routine - GPS 17 at McKinney, followed by the VOR/DME (partial panel), then the ILS 17.  It was somewhat better, but not much.  At that point I decided to jump through the hoops and get my Sundowner approved for instruction in at that school (mostly an inspection by their A&P and some insurance riders).  I think flying in an airplane I know well will take away some of the workload.

Flight 2 - Saturday afternoon, we got the Rocket out the hangar, and with Instructor Anne in the right seat and my Mom in the back, we did a tour of the local NE Dallas airports.  I wanted to practice short field techniques in the Bonanza, as I am going to rent a hangar at AeroCountry, which has a 3000 foot runway - not really short, unless you have been spoiled by a 7000 foot runway for the past several years.  I found the Bonanza to be honest in a slow approach and really fast to slow down if you flare properly.  It still wants almost 2000 feet to take off, however.  It was a blustery day, 20 kts gusting to 35, which the Bo handled with with a disdainful glance.  What a machine!  Only 1.7 more dual hours until I can solo.

Flight 3, today, Monday late afternoon - Flew my "for sale" Sundowner 49C to Addison, and met the American Flyers instructor (I will call her Evelyn).  She grilled me on the "Fundamentals of Instruction", at which I truly suck.  The trouble is they are all just somebodies opinion, written by a professor on a grant, reviewed by a panel of lawyers, blessed by the FAA bureaucracy,  and we poor applicants are made to memorize them word for bloody word like they are gospel truth.  Still, it's a problem I must surmount eventually, or not become a CFI.  The flying went much. much better, despite 25 kts of wind gusting to 45.  I flew in my own airplane, for which I know the V-speeds and the power setting for any given flight domain.  My hold was poor, and my steep turns not so good, but it's still strange to be sitting in the right seat and try to read the instruments from there.  Still, I managed 4 good approaches, and to teach while doing it.  Evelyn says I just need to do a good set of steep turns under the hood and do some good holds (at the CFI level they are never SIMPLE holds....), memorize the FOI's, and she'll sign me off next week..........

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Reality Bites

Last training flight, the sign-off before scheduling the FAA check ride.  Confident, I started the engine and taxied out for take off.  That was the last good thing that happened all day.

The instructor asked me to do the ILS approach to McKinney, a procedure I've done perhaps 40 times.  This time, I flew right through the localizer without even seeing the needle move.  Coming back onto course (hard to do when I'm used to having an ADF that points at the final approach fix (FLUENT)), I passed the Outer Marker, and went full scale - automatic missed approach.  Coming back to the OM, I made a mess of the hold, and then the sloppiest localizer approach that TKI has ever seen.

It just went downhill from there.  Poor steep turns, I was behind the airplane and out of sorts.  Only the unusual attitude recovery went at all well.  Needless to say, I wasn't signed off, and at the moment I feel very discouraged and depressed.