AVweb AVFlash - FRIDAY FEATURES
Volume 20, Number 13c

October 2, 2013

Glass Panel Upkeep

While stepping up to a glass panel may appear to offer lower maintenance bills and downtime, it’s just as likely that when the all-in cost of ownership is added up—including data revisions—glass could cost more than a well-kept steam gauge panel. Glass ownership is fraught with unexpected costs that many owners seem unprepared for.

Routine costs might include optional upgrades, which offer system improvements and additional features. Some of these are free through manufacturer-provided software downloads, but cost several hours shop labor to perform. For aging systems, some repairs could run thousands of dollars, especially if you haven’t purchased an extended warranty. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the maintenance issues you might expect with glass panel ownership.

Perceived Reliability 

We’re often asked if glass panel upkeep is cheaper than traditional instruments. The answer isn’t easy and often depends on the existing instrumentation For example, complex autopilot gyros, such as the Bendix/King KI256 Flight Director and KG102A remote heading gyro, might cost thousands of dollars each for overhaul exchange, while a plain-vanilla Sigma Tek horizon gyro might only cost a few hundred dollars, plus labor and freight costs.

To get a feel for current trends, we spoke with several avionics shops and Cessna service centers. All reported an increase in glass panel maintenance issues, including AHARS component failures, software corruptions and engine monitoring sensors. Some attributed the trend to the aging fleet of glass panel aircraft.

The dual-screen Avidyne Entegra glass suite appeared in Cirrus and some Piper models around 2003, while Garmin’s G1000 was offered in 2005 and beyond. The G1000 easily outnumbers the Avidyne Entegra suite, present in everything from Skyhawks, Bonanzas and Barons to Diamond DA20s.

If you’re eyeing the used aircraft market, destined for an existing OEM-equipped glass panel, we suggest focusing a sharp eye on the system’s maintenance history. This should include verifying software and hardware updates, while considering if its been upgraded to WAAS— an upgrade that can have a staggering bottom line, given the required antenna mods, plus GPS receiver and software upgrades that might be required for most systems.

The aftermarket includes a variety of retrofit glass systems, from the stark but technically complex Bendix/ King KI825 and Sandel SN3300-series EHSIs to the popular Aspen EFD1000 and Garmin G500 and G600 PFD systems. Each of these systems requires regular maintenance with varying degrees of complexity.

They’ve also evolved substantially. Bringing older flavors up to current standards might yield a sizeable investment. In our view, a thorough avionics inspection should be accomplished by a qualified shop during the prebuy inspection.

Airworthiness

Did you know that the components in a glass avionics suite need yearly inspection? If not, you aren’t alone. An important document that chases a retrofit—and one that’s often overlooked— is the Instructions for Continued Airworthiness, or ICAW. This might be found in the systems flight manual supplement and provides specific guidance for maintaining the system on a yearly basis. While the ICAW deals mainly with inspections, it might also address mandatory component replacement.

For example, the internal backup battery in the Aspen EFD must be tested once every 12 months and replaced every 3 years or 800 hours. The RSM, or remote sensor module, that’s part of the Aspen system should be visually inspected for damage and wear, including the sensor’s lightning suppression strip. In most aircraft, this sensor is bolted to the top of the fuselage where it endures the elements just as antennas do. We suggest looking at it during every preflight walk-around.

The ICAW for most glass suites provide guidance in checking for damage, chafing or excessive wear of harnesses and structural integrity of remote components. Sound trivial? Think again. We know of an airplane in which the glareshield chafed through the static line going into the Aspen’s air data computer, causing failure while flying in IMC. Regular inspection—and a correct installation in the first place—would have avoided this damage.

Pitot-Static Inspections 

Forget the rumor that glass-cockpit equipped aircraft are immune from biennial IFR pitot and static system inspection—FAR 91.411 still applies. Glass panel aircraft usually have pitot-static systems and a traditional altimeter, both of which require certification. Further, most PFD-equipped aircraft have an air-data computer. This remote box or self-contained component within the display, as it is with the Aspen EFD1000 PFD, handles nearly all of the altimetry and airspeed computations, based primarily on pitot and static air input. Air-data computers feed pressure altitude, or Mode C data, to the displays and any other boxes needing pressure altitude input.

Each manufacturer has its own guidelines and procedures for testing their systems. Aspen has an air-data alignment and calibration tool for its display. If your shop finds that the system is out of tolerance, they’ll need to calibrate it using this software tool.

Since the PFD has both pitot and static inputs, leak-checking is part of the drill. This testing must be accomplished on initial installation and whenever a display is replaced. Electronic display of flight instrumentation might be more reliable and accurate than old-fashioned steam gauges. But some of this data is only as good as the pitot-static system. For this reason, thorough biennial inspections on glass airplanes are essential.

Nav Data Nits

Glass panels require no shortage of navigational data—a major source of dissatisfaction for most owners we speak with, with Jeppesen taking a brow-beating for the costs of their subscription services. In a 2009 glass panel experience survey on sister site Aviation Consumer magazine, nearly two-thirds of glass cockpit owners said they purchase the revision on a “grin-and-bear-it” basis, while 29 percent termed the revisions worth it and a good value.

We heard from one disgruntled owner who calculated that his data costs average $2500 per year. His airplane has dual GNS530 navigators, a GMX200 MFD, Garmin G500 retrofit PFD and a portable GPS. He admits that updating the data in this glass suite is almost too much to manage, given the number of different databases that need to be downloaded and then uploaded into the equipment. Many of the updates won’t even transfer to his Mac. The Garmin G1000 might be easier to manage, since it uses a single nav data subscription that costs around $500. You’ll also need to consider how often you’ll update the terrain and obstacle data. 

Another glass cockpit owner flagged us down in the Jeppesen tent while at AirVenture. He was elated—sharing his experience of a successful and ornery haggling session with Jeppesen— for the renewal of the data that’s required for the Entegra glass suite in his Cirrus. According to him, Jeppesen stepped up and saved him a few hundred dollars over his existing subscription cost, calling it a show special. Maybe a trip to Jeppesen at one of these shows may be worth your while. Thinking of upgrading your Aspen display to ESV synthetic vision? This requires a Jeppesen database for mapping the synthetic terrain. It costs a few hundred dollars per year, above and beyond the initial $2995, per display for the ESV software.

While some of the software updates that are available for a glass suite are provided by the manufacturer for free, most shops charge their standard hourly labor rate to load the software and revise the aircraft paperwork. You should ask about this when you request a software patch.

Do Your Homework

The new owner of a first-generation Cirrus underestimated the upkeep that might be required with the older retrofit glass displays in his airplane.The jaw-dropper came when he upgraded one of his GNS430 navigators to WAAS. Turns out the software level in the Sandel EHSI was incompatible with WAAS, requiring a $3000-plus software upgrade so it could display GPS VNAV data. Another owner of a G1000-equipped Columbia learned that the unlock card for the onscreen approach plates was missing. It took nearly a year to get this squared away with the previous owner so he didn’t have to pay over $2000 for a new unlock card.

He also learned that working with a maintenance shop that’s trained for supporting this complex glass suite is as valuable as the extended warranty he purchased. It’s paid for itself in a couple of visits to their shop.

A version of this article appeared in the October 2012 issue of Aviation Consumer magazine.

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Owner Oil Changes

A strong case to change your own oil can be made. You certainly can save a fair amount of money, especially if you get your oil by the case, but more importantly, it puts you in touch with your engine’s lifeblood. You can see how it looks and feels from change to change; smell any burned odors, feel it between your fingers for any grit.

People initially think that one cannot get such a sensitive feeling for oil condition to the touch, but it’s absolutely true that you can, especially when the oil starts to get into the blow-by mode, and the burned smell is hard to miss as well.

You can actually tell how the multigrade feels compared to the straight weight just with the sensitivity of your fingers if you do it often enough, although that is not a particularly needed skill. What is needed is being able to tell when any grit or lack of a slick feeling to the oil is starting to build. If checked regularly you can absolutely tell as oil looses it’s new feel. Of course 25 to 30 hour oil changes pretty much obviate such an intimacy with your oil and the feel to the touch, but not the smell, a real indicator of blow-by.

A simple trick is to rub a few drops of used oil between microscope glass slides. If it scratches the slides, (The scratches will be visible to the naked eye), then your oil is going too long between changes, and there is debris in the oil that is adversely affecting your bearings, which are very soft material.

What happens is this hard material in the oil imbeds itself in the babbitt material of the bearings and acts like sandpaper on the crank journals. Replacing a crank at the next overhaul because you let the oil change intervals go too long is something you do not want to happen.

Also, you really want to do a thorough job, and catch a sample to send out for analysis at least every other change, if not every change, and log the results or use the oil analysis site software to track your oil results. Some oil analysis sites have some sort of individualized data storage system you can access from the Internet. 

Most critical are how much oil you are using between changes, providing you maintain the same flying hours and conditions. And this is an important distinction to make. If it’s all cross country one time and all in the pattern on another occasion, then the likelihood of a noticeable difference in usage is likely going to be there without necessarily a problem, since the conditions were different, and many older engines will vary their oil usage significantly with such engine use changes.

For example, in our Bonanza we noted a 50 percent reduction in oil usage when going cross country, compared to just primarily doing pattern work. That was 8 hours to the quart for long cross countries. Take these things into consideration before becoming alarmed about your oil usage.

Such usage is not a sign of an engine in pristine shape, but it’s not necessarily a sign of a top being needed to fix anything, either. We went many hours and years with an IO-520 that had these oil usage traits that never changed. However, if you are only getting a few hours to the quart under any condition, that’s a different story and it needs to be looked into.

Also, save the filter to cut it open and check the filter media for debris. Doing this, you also get to look at the condition of the filter media. We had one owner send us several crushed filter media internal canisters in a row, which was very alarming, and we erroneously initially thought it was defective filters, since he said oil pressure was more or less normal, but it turned out he was using the wrong filter after he had the engine overhauled—adding a spin-on filter adapter. He apparently missed the abnormal pressure readings or they were very transitory or the oil pressure gauge was wrong.

In most Continentals the bypass spring is in the filter and on most Lycomings the bypass spring is in the engine oil filter mounting adapter. You certainly do not want to have both bypass springs—it’s one or the other. In short, this owner had no idea there were such internal design differences in oil filters, which was causing all sorts of oil pressure and debris problems. We can only assume that he failed to read the oil filter instructions, or they were not furnished by the overhauler who installed the adapter, because they are there on the instructions with such a warning—we checked them on the Net.

When he overhauled the engine and added a spin-on filter he also made starts in moderately cold weather. The filter was for a Lycoming and had no bypass spring in it  (remember, he had a Continental). Such starts can also cause an oil hose failure, especially on an older, marginal oil hose.

Yin and Yang

Oil analysis and filter cutting are two distinctly complimentary procedures looking for different types of problems. It also gives you a chance to look for leaks or any other untoward conditions that can head off a bigger problem if let go.

First, let’s establish the legalities here. Part 43, Appendix A of the FARs deals with preventative maintenance. Of the 33 or so listed preventative maintenance tasks, items 6 and 23 permit aircraft owners who possess at least a private pilot’s certificate or higher to change the oil and the filter (or to service the oil screen) in a certificated aircraft of which they are the owner.

The writing is a bit convoluted on the specific type of filter e.g. spin-on vs screen, but no one will be cited for changing their own oil. It is not legal to change the oil in your friend’s C-150—you must be the owner (or part owner).

The quality of the work must be up to same standards as would be accomplished by a certificated mechanic— i.e. FAA approved standards using FAA/PMA approved materials. In short, if you have never changed the oil in your plane, by all means have a mechanic take you through the steps the first time.

You also have the responsibility of returning the aircraft to service by placing your name, pilot certificate number and date of the preventative maintenance. Homebuilders have no such constraints other than preventative maintenance may be done by the builder, current owner or a certified mechanic. That said, the FAA model is a good one.

Minimize the Mess

Owners who have easily accessible filters and oil drain plugs for oil catch buckets may be wondering what the problem is. Those who own aircraft with arcane, inverted filter locations that hold the oil when the engine is shut down, or with devilishly located oil drain plugs will appreciate the mess factor. 

I’m here to tell you that it’s possible with a few tricks and possibly an accessory or two that you can greatly reduce the mess factor. Most of the accessories are relatively cheap, such as a device to pierce and drain the oil filter before removal. One high-cost exception is a remote-mount oil filter setup, which can cost $1500 installed. This should only be a consideration if it’s just about impossible to get to an adapter setup attached directly to the engine.

You make things much easier and more effective by adding a filter adapter right to the engine to replace the existing screen. Of the bolt-on adapters, the factory model is the most expensive and least flexible, since it is straight. Aftermarket adapters are available with 45 and 90 degree bends that may make filter access a virtual breeze.

Additionally, with a filter you enjoy going from 25 to 50 hour oil change intervals, (or 4 months) and the comfort of superior oil filtering for potentially longer engine life. These adapters may be had for $200-400 plus easy installation by a mechanic, or yourself under supervision. These adapters are available through virtually all the aircraft parts catalogs such as Aircraft Spruce.

Low Cost Accoutrements

Next on the list of making things easy and cleaner is the use of an oil drain valve (also available from Spruce). This time and mess saver screws into the oil drain hole and is designed and FAA approved to be just as safe as the oil drain plug it replaces. (Non FAA-approved models are available, too.)

Warning, be sure to check both your aircraft documentation as well as the aircraft application data on the oil quick drain. While the quick drain valves are quite short, in rare instances they can interfere with gear retraction of certain aircraft such as in some Piper Arrows. (There are now low profile units for Arrows, so be sure to check the separate catalog listing).

Once you have the quick drain installed you are free of much of the oil draining mess. For the next oil change, secure three feet of inexpensive flexible vinyl or rubber tubing to go over the drain lip (snug fit or it can slip off at an inopportune time) and thread the vinyl tube through the bottom of the engine cowl. E.g. through the cowl flap opening to a waiting five-gallon bucket that you have purchased expressly for this task. Be sure you have a routine for beginning the oil flow or the first several ounces of oil will spill into the engine compartment. 

Be sure the bucket has a snap-on, secure lid to make oil transport to the recycler easy and clean. These are readily available at hardware and paint stores for around $5.00. It also enables you to keep your hands on the oil so if you should find something in the filter you can run the rest of the oil through for further checks of debris since quantity of metal in the oil makes a difference between grounding a plane or not, though most filters will catch most fine metal. Screens have a larger mesh.

Don’t forget to wait until the drain tube is in the bucket before turning on the oil flow. By the way, never drain cold oil—it does not get all the junk out of the engine nearly as well as hot oil does from a trip around the pattern. 

Finally, let the vinyl tube sit attached a while after the drain valve has been closed to give the residual oil in the tube time to drain into the bucket.

We recommend a dedicated bucket, so that in the event that you find debris in the filter you may want to drain the entire contents of the sump through a fine funnel filter to another bucket for signs of any other contaminants.

For those who have an oil filter that cannot be removed without a mess—even a plastic bag around the filter fails—then a device is available from Aircraft Spruce that has a plastic hose attached to the device that punctures the filter to allow a controlled drain of the filter before removal. Most engines should not need such a device, but be aware there is one available. The gasket at the base of the filter should stick to the removed filter. Be sure to check so that it doesn’t stay behind on the filter mount.

Completed Staff Work

If you want to do a more thorough job, make a mid-stream catch of an oil sample, as well as drain the oil through a funnel suspended to the inside of the oil catch bucket. Get a funnel that has a fine mesh screen molded into it, so as to catch any bits suspended in the oil, rather than fishing through or draining the bucket through a screen after the fact. It’s all part of a thorough, systematic job to get the maximum information that the oil change can tell you with minimum work.

You can also use that same funnel (after you clean it or use a second dedicated funnel) to put new oil into the engine through the typically small, sometimes hard to reach oil/dipstick tube. Besides avoiding spilling oil onto the engine, the screen serves to avoid the not uncommon mistake of dropping something into the engine such as oil bottle caps or the “cap keeper,” the little plastic devil that makes removing the cap so difficult.

If we seem obsessive on care and cleanliness it’s because we have seen so many minor incursions of dirt ruin an engine over not too many hours. You just can’t be too clean or careful. Things like keeping the funnel clean between changes and not exposed to atmospheric or hangar dirt and dust to build up on an oily, dust attractive surface.

Before use, look the funnel insides over for any type of contaminant and clean it out if you find anything at all. It’s a methodical process of keeping everything clean that the oil will touch before it enters your engine sump.

Based on complaints of low oil pressure of unknown causes we once tore the pan off an IO-520 and found five plastic oil cap “keepers” in the sump. We had found the cause—five plastic “keepers” sticking to the oil sump pickup screen.

Along the vein of minimal mess, drop that old oil filter into the funnel inside the bucket so it can drain for several hours before you cut the filter open. (After an initial drain interval, you can transfer the filter to a one pound coffee can with a plastic lid if you are in a hurry to get rid of the oil.) Never cut open a freshly removed filter unless you want an unholy mess of oil everywhere.

Be sure to not let the engine sit without a new filter for any lengthy period of time, as it is possible for some engines to loose their prime. This usually means a mechanic will need to help you to get trapped air out of the oil system so the oil will circulate properly and you will have oil pressure at startup. If you don’t have oil pressure after several seconds post-start, shut it down and seek a mechanic’s help—you probably lost prime. Most engines are not overly sensitive to this potential problem.

Be sure to not let the engine sit without a new filter for any lengthy period of time, as it is possible for some engines to loose their prime. This usually means a mechanic will need to help you to get trapped air out of the oil system so the oil will circulate properly and you will have oil pressure at startup. If you don’t have oil pressure after several seconds post-start, shut it down and seek a mechanic’s help—you probably lost prime. Most engines are not overly sensitive to this potential problem.

No Cost Helpers 

Sometimes simply wrapping a half—or gallon sized plastic bag around the filter after it has been loosened just a bit to allow hand removal can significantly lessen the filter removal mess. It takes a bit of a deft hand, but the plastic bag can catch most drips with a bit of practice. Judicious placement of shop rags is another simple preventative step. Just remember to remove them before firing up that engine!

For nominal costs there are special plastic filler devices that make pouring in the oil much less messy. The first time that you spill a half quart of oil on the engine you will wish that you had bought one. Some Cessnas can be easy to make a mess with a tight door opening and a short filler neck.

Making the Cut

Cutting open an oil filter should be considered mandatory for the potential lifesaving information it may someday give you if you find metal or other debris. Cutting a freshly removed filter can be a truly messy affair, however, so wait for it to drain into the funnel screen first for at least an hour. Overnight is even better.

Also, use a purpose-made filter cutter to save your fingers, and avoid contamination of the filter contents. It allows you do the filter cut in under 10 seconds. A seasoned mechanic can help you diagnose any findings.

Generally you will find nothing—and that’s a good thing. If you do find anything, especially any metal, bring it to the attention of a trusted A&P who will have a number of questions, and the plane may need to be grounded until the cause is found. If under warranty contact the factory or overhauler as well.

Dedicated Tools 

You should use a torque wrench if possible but the hand 3/4 turn approach works, too. We don’t think the torque wrench dedicated exclusively to the filter is needed, since you should already have a torque wrench for many other preventative maintenance tasks you do.

Be sure that you practice your safety wiring a bit so that you can do it properly. Be sure to secure it to the proper place since the engine moves when running and will snap the safety wire if improperly secured.

Loose Ends

Unless you are going on a cross-country, most engines do not need a full sump. The first quart is rapidly used/lost in many older engines. Flying a quart low is perfectly fine, and will not affect oil temperature. We tested for this problem even at minimum sump volumes, which vary by engine, but can be as low as 2 quarts on an 8 quart engine. If you are at a low sump volume then run at a low rpm to minimize demands on the oil. Don’t start out knowing the sump is that low either.

Be sure any required safety wire has been replaced e.g. filter or oil drain plug if used and is attached properly.

Always ground check the engine for leaks or anything left behind in the engine before flying. Make the required log entries; and make the next flight local, if possible, so you can double-check your work and assure the filter works properly.

A version of this article appeared in the August 2013 issue of Light Plane Maintenance magazine.

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Podcast: A Boost for Backwoods Flying

Flying for fun isn't restricted to Alaskan mountain valleys or Idaho rivers.  The Recreational Aviation Foundation is working to preserve pilot access to unique backcountry runways all around the country.  RAF President John McKenna spoke with AVweb's Mary Grady about the group's mission, their achievements, and their plans for the future.  If you want to learn more, they'll have an exhibit at AOPA Summit in Fort Worth, Texas, coming up in just a few weeks, October 10-12.

Video: A Visit to the Curtiss Museum

AVweb travels to Hammondsport, New York for the 2013 Curtiss Seaplane Homecoming, including a visit to the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum of local history.

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New airplanes sales may be a little soft, but we're seeing plenty of refurb work -- everything from new panels to fresh paint to full-up interiors. We would like to feature some of these airplanes in the pages of AVweb and spotlight the owners and shops doing the work. If you have photos of your restored aircraft -- single, twin or turbine -- send them to us at refurb-otm@avweb.com. If we select your airplane as refurb of the month, we'll contact you for more information.

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Futility Defined: Teaching Judgment

Did you know there’s a multi-billion dollar industry devoted entirely to sleep disorders? If only they knew that the rock-solid way to bring on the deepest of sleeps is to enroll in a Flight Instructor Refresher Course. Let the serious snoring begin.

I know this because I’m now in the midst of my tenth or so FIRC, this time using AOPA’s newly revised online e-FIRC. Actually, it’s not bad and may be the best of its kind I’ve ever taken. So we’re making progress, one embedded video at a time.

One of the FIRC’s modules deals with teaching weather judgment and/or judgment in general. This is always tricky territory and the more I see it attempted, the more convinced I am that it can’t be done, or at least done effectively enough to make a difference. I’m convinced that you’re more or less equipped with your risk assessment switches at birth and no amount of persuasion, lecturing or admonishing from flight instructors and pious aviation magazines will change that. If you’re a hanky twisting Aunt Jane when you start, you’ll finish that way. At the opposite end of the continuum, the wild-eyed lunatics may live or die on luck alone, but they’re not often dissuaded by the voice of reason. And who gets to claim to be the voice of reason, anyway?

But it’s entertaining to see attempts at this. The weather judgment series in this course is set up with several scenarios, one of which involves a flight from the east coast to the Midwest in a known-ice Cirrus during the winter, when ice is in the forecast. The course confronts the viewer with various decision points during the flight and data available includes a look at datalink weather, the OAT and access to the radio for PIREPS. Based on the information you gather by clicking on these sources, you’re asked to pick a decision from a list of three or four options.

The flaw in this approach is that someone has to decide what the best or right decision is for the given circumstances, as though there’s an agreed upon standard of some sort. The underlying assumption, although unstated, is that you’d never make such a trip in a non-de-iced airplane. This springs from the Boy Scout end of the risk spectrum and doesn’t reflect the way pilots actually use GA airplanes. Experienced IFR pilots depart into cold clouds all the time without benefit of de-icing. They mitigate the risks by assessing how likely ice is to actually occur and by having plausible outs. Right or wrong, this is just the way the real world operates. Some people are just more risk tolerant than others, but that doesn't make them crazy.

Scenario-based training like this introduces a level of mind gaming to the process that I think is counter to the intent of the training. For example, one of the questions had the Cirrus in flight at 10,000 feet with the OAT a couple of degrees above freezing. One of the choices was to continue the flight or descend to 6000 feet. Confronted with this question, I found myself conflicted between picking what I’d actually do and trying to figure out what the program thinks is the right decision. Predictably, the program tilts toward the more conservative decision, subtly suggesting that this is always the better course when we all know it isn’t always.

In this case, the best decision was to descend to 6000 feet, the idea being that you must avoid even a trace of icing onset in a de-iced airplane. But that wouldn’t have been my decision. I’ve seen enough ice not to freak out when the first trace of it appears and I have to decide what’s next. All things considered, I’d rather be higher than lower in IMC, measured against a few whiskers of rime popping up.

To be fair, the quizzes associated with this training—which you have to pass—have factual, not judgment-based questions, so the judgment section is obviously intended as a thought provoker. Given the limitations of judgment training, I thought the modules, which were done by ASI, were better than any I’ve seen, but still fall short because they’re trying to teach the unteachable. I think anyone trying to construct such training would reach the same conclusion, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be done.

Risk assessment evolves from a complex admixture of personal experience, training, information gathering habits, analytical capability, creativity and raw nerve—or lack thereof—that are different for everyone. That blows a hole in the assumption that everyone looks at the same data, the same situation and reaches the same conclusion. Since not everyone is comfortable with higher risk decisions, that necessarily argues for more conservative ones as the make-happy common denominator. Is that the way to a lower accident rate? I’m not so sure. Accident avoidance isn’t just about the most conservative decisions, but also about learning to think and recognize those decisions which will inevitably lead to bent metal. You can’t learn about risk without occasionally taking it.

Join the conversation.  Read others' comments and add your own.

Podcast: SAFE Takes Its Show on the Road

The Society of Aviation and Flight Educators (SAFE) is hosting a new weekend event next month at the Redbird Skyport in Texas, with a roster of seminars and simulator time, plus, as an added incentive to boost your proficiency, a chance to fill up your airplane with 100LL for $1 a gallon.  Doug Stewart, executive director of SAFE, talks with AVweb's Mary Grady about what the Pilot Proficiency Program has to offer, why you should go, and how to sign up.

Redbird's Fuel Fest: Y'all Behave Now

In early 1945, when it finally looked like the fruit of the Manhattan Project would actually yield a workable weapon, none of his fellow scientists appreciated Enrico Fermi’s humor in running a betting pool on whether the bomb would ignite the entire atmosphere. Most of the scientists thought it wouldn’t, but no one knew. What the hell…it was an experiment.

And that’s the thing about experiments. We do them just to see what happens, but spinning out of control is always an option. One hopes the atmosphere will remain intact when Redbird starts selling avgas for a buck a gallon this week at its San Marcos, Texas FBO, but there are hints that a few other unexpected things might happen. As we’ve reported, throughout the month of October, Redbird will be selling avgas for a buck a gallon, the idea being that they hope to learn if cheaper fuel will actually increase flying activity and if so, how and by how much.

As the plan unfolded, it became apparent that this isn’t just an economic experiment, but a sociological one, too. That’s a nice way of saying that such a thing flushes the scam artists out into the light and I suspect Redbird hasn’t seen the half of it yet. When I allowed to my former colleague Jeff Van West, who's the spokesman for the Redbird fuel fest, that I thought he would have an interesting October, he reported he’s already had an interesting September.

Last week, Jerry Gregoire told me they’re getting up to 50 calls a day, including queries about driving trucks in with bladders and even relocating flight schools to San Marcos for the month of October. I suspect some people even think Redbird’s not actually going to do this, but they are.

Even as cynical as I am, what’s left of the burned out core of my youthful idealism allows me to believe that experiments like this—part promotion, part data gathering, part fun, part unvarnished spectacle—will appeal to the better nature of most people. And while that’s probably going to be true, anyone who lived through the Arab oil embargo of 1973 will recall how seriously Americans take their relationship with gasoline. Long lines ignited fist fights, shootings and all manner of mayhem, including attempts at hoarding. If you ask an SUV owner to choose between his firstborn and a fill-up, he’s likely to say…”Give me a minute on that…”

So if you’re headed down to San Marcos for a fill-up, I’d say this: keep your wits and your humanity about you. If you’re thinking of scamming this offer—and I’ll admit, it’s ripe for that—maybe tap the brakes and think better of it. A fill-up at an 80 percent discount is worth at least retaining some of your dignity and self-restraint.

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