Want to find out if pilot fatigue is real? Ask for a real study by an independent agency. If you can find such an agency.
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Cruising in the sun after a long ground delay, three bouts with de-icing and a half-mile-viz takeoff on a snowy runway can really help a pilot relax.
The sun was shining in the big, 767 cockpit window on my left and was slowly roasting my arm. I still had my zone heat up high and the lamb's-wool seat cover had been recently replaced, making it
comfortable and uncharacteristically warm.
We had some bumpiness during climbout, but at FL370 the air was as smooth as the botoxed face of a Newport socialite. I had turned the seat-belt sign off and could hear the activity level in the back
pick up: slamming galley doors, the "chunk" of the forward lav door and, of course, the every-10-minute intercom call from the back asking about sports scores.
I am a grumpy person when it comes to constantly announcing scores of games on the PA. If you are a fan of that particular team, maybe you should have stayed on the ground and gone to the game. If you
aren't, why would you want to have your thoughts (and in-flight entertainment) interrupted constantly by updates?
Thankfully, the airline world has come up with a great compromise: We just ask over the ACARS and the company sends us a summary of all the important sports scores. Then all we have to do is print it
and shove it under the cockpit door. The flight attendants can decide if they want to announce any of them. The cabin crew has a much better idea as to the mood of the crowd and how to handle the
If we want a score, we just ask our friendly center controller or they announce it, just like the Denver Center high controller was doing right now.
"Anybody interested in the score might want to know that New England is up by 10."
That comment garnered a few "Roj's" and a smattering of groans on the frequency. Then everybody got back to asking about the ride. Apparently the air over the Front Range was rather bumpy ... just
like it has been since flying dinosaurs traversed the area, either millions of years ago or a few thousand, depending on your religious beliefs.
A Sleeping Pilot Is A Happy One
I grew tired of listening to the same old patter on the frequency and looked over at my co-pilot Kyle in search of a conversation. He was no help at the moment. He was snoozing under an unfolded USA
Today he was using as a sun shield. Now, before you get all up in my grill about sleeping pilots, I should tell you that Kyle had told me he was going to "look for satellites" and I knew he was out of
the loop getting some rest.
I have always thought that a sleeping pilot is a happy pilot. If you are in cruise without much going on and your significant other wants to catch a few Zs, it is OK as long as he or she tells you
first. This is important because I dislike two sleeping pilots in one cockpit as much as I admire one. Back when I was a flight engineer, there was a short time on one flight when all three of us were
asleep. Not very safe and more than a little embarrassing when Center had to call us three times to get a response.
Kyle pulled the newspaper down from his balding head, stretched and looked around, bleary-eyed. We had already gone 10 hours into our day and, with the weather, it looked like we were going to bump up
against our 15-hour maximum duty day before it was all over. I had planned a short nap myself in a short while, but for now, both of us were awake and more or less alert.
"Anything interesting going on?" Kyle asked.
New England is up by 10. The right engine was on fire, but I didn't want to bother you with it so I let it fall off the airplane. Oh yeah ... while you were asleep, we went to war against Canada.
That is what I like about Kyle: our long conversations.
Once we got beyond the initial kidding and Kyle was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I started to scrunch down into my seat in anticipation of catching a few minutes of rapid-eye movement myself. I then
heard him let out a "Harrumph."
NASA Misses Mars By Miles But Knows About Pilot Fatigue
As he was putting his newspaper back in his flight bag, Kyle noticed an article about NASA releasing data from their recent safety study. The headline said it all:
NASA Discounts Pilots Concerns About Fatigue, Near-Misses And Safety
"I don't know all the particulars of their study because they never called and asked me," Kyle began, "but how can they discount something we said after they asked us about it? It wasn't just airline
pilots in this study; it was a lot of general aviation people, too."
"It wasn't just about pilot fatigue, either," he continued. "It was about how damn hard it is to get a word in edgewise on approach frequencies. It was about an unresponsive, stuck-in-the-1950s air
traffic control system. Holy crap! We're still blocking each other on frequencies like it's the vacuum-tube age or something."
I was sleepy but could see that Kyle really wanted to talk about this, so I woke up and asked him a question:
Kyle, answer me this: Where does NASA get its funding from?
"The government, of course."
Right. And where do the politicians who run the government get their funding? Do they get it from tired airline pilots and controllers who are too weary to lift their heads?
"I see where you are going with this," said Kyle. "The politicians get their money from the people who run big companies, including airlines. Those guys are looking for more ways to send their
manufacturing plants to China and to drop the healthcare coverage of the employees they haven't replaced by a lower-paid worker yet. They aren't concerned with hearing about how tired the pilots are
or how dangerous they really think the air traffic control system has become. If pilot and controller fatigue really is a problem, they would have to hire more pilots and controllers, which would
raise costs because they can't get them from China ... yet."
That's right, I said. I think you'll notice in part of the article that NASA talks about how safe things are right now anyway. Why rock the boat while Gilligan and the Skipper are doing such a great
job of steering it two and a half hours into that three-hour cruise? When the system fails and people die, they can refer to "pilot error" and perhaps how those pesky controllers keep going on and on
about getting a new labor union.
It Isn't The Study It Is The Idea Of A Study
Towers like the one in Lexington are probably still understaffed, even though they had a recent terrible crash during a time when only one controller was on duty ... and pilots like you and me are
still putting in 15-hour duty days after an eight-hour layover.
"People forget about the last crash until the next one," Kyle said. "I think I'm beginning to see the logic of the whole thing. It isn't useful information they were looking for in this survey. It was
a total cover-your-ass exercise."
That's what I think is going on, I said. I'm often wrong and may be wrong about this one, but I think the whole thing was a way for the government to cover their butts for later when an airplane
crashes and fatigue or ATC breakdowns might be the cause. They can then say, "See? We did a really great survey five years ago that proved that tired pilots and an antiquated ATC system wasn't a
problem. It wasn't our fault! It was those damn error-making pilots."
The CEO Attaches A Solar Blocking Array
I think you are close but are missing the whole point, I told Kyle, as I positioned myself for my nap by taping a chart on my window to block the sun. The NASA people are politicians just like, if not
worse than, members of Congress. It is the same game; they are just wearing pocket protectors instead of member pins.
I was just about to nod off when my potential rest was interrupted by some pretty hard jolts in our ride, requiring me to straighten up and turn the seat-belt sign back on. Then we heard the "ding" of
our ACARS with a re-route message for Kyle and me that added an extra leg on to our day and would guarantee that we'd have a 15-hour duty period.
I really love this job, but some days I could do with a little less of it.
Want to read more from AVweb's CEO of the Cockpit? Check out the rest of his columns.
Probably. But at $5 a gallon, you might want to consider an even dozen ways to reduce fuel-related costs of flying.
Click here for the full story.
However unpleasant the specter of $4 avgas may be, it has become a harsh reality. The $5 barrier fell in early 2005, and as we go to press, Signature
at Teterboro, N.J., can claim the highest avgas price in the country: $6.10. [Editor's Note: At the end of 2007, it was up to $8.05.] In the U.S., fuel has never been the most expensive component of
flying cost, but it could soon get that way. And even if it doesn't, no other factor more threatens GA growth and usefulness than the rising cost of gas.
Although aircraft owners can't do much about the global price of crude oil, we can certainly do more to make our airplanes use less of it. Some of these measures require minor or major investments in
the airframe, but the largest gains are to be had simply by flying the airplane more efficiently and learning to lean effectively. We're loathe to say it, but owners of some twins are coming to the
unwelcome realization that a handful of modern, single-engine airplanes are not only faster but cost less than half as much to operate as even a modest twin. The comfort of having a second engine is
likely to grow increasingly expensive, so certain aspects of the used single-engine market may soon heat up.
Herewith, presented in order of cost effectiveness, are an even dozen ideas on how to either save gas directly or reduce fuel-related operating costs. Some require minor habit changes; others require
modifications or upgrades to the aircraft.
Idea 1: Lean-of-Peak
This topic has been addressed ad nauseam during the past five years, including by us. We long ago grew weary of ill-founded arguments from mechanics and engine shops that lean-of-peak operation
somehow causes burned valves or reduces engine life. We reject these claims and so should you.
As far as we're concerned, the data that indicates that correctly executed lean-of-peak operation both saves fuel and lowers EGTs and CHTs is inarguable and people who claim otherwise don't know what
they're talking about. We can't make it any plainer than this.
But there's always a catch. Lean-of-peak operation isn't a panacea. It doesn't work well in all engines, it requires reduced cruising speed and you need good instrumentation and some basic knowledge
to use it to best advantage. And sometimes, it doesn't make sense from an operational point of view. Lean-of-peak operation isn't something for nothing; you'll have to fly slower to realize efficiency
but the gains are usually worth it.
Here are some numbers. Our turbocharged Mooney 231 burns about 13.5 GPH in the mid-teens to fly at a true airspeed of about 165 knots, leaned rich-of-peak. Operated lean-of-peak TIT, the airspeed
drops 10 knots to about 155 knots or a little less, on a fuel flow of 9 GPH. The rich setting delivers about 12 NMPG, the lean setting about 17 NMPG, a 42-percent improvement in economy. Looked at
another way, flying lean-of-peak EGTs/TITs is like having not quite half again as much fuel capacity without paying for it.
And fuel capacity -- endurance, really -- is of itself an economy enhancer. Here's why: Having additional endurance makes it more likely that you can complete a trip without a fuel stop. For
turbocharged airplanes, fuel stops are efficiency killers because the long climb (back to altitudes where the turbo's speed is a plus) requires time and fuel. Even in a non-turbocharged airplane, fuel
stops cost time and fuel; they never improve efficiency. Increased endurance through lean-of-peak operation translates to more loading and weather options, too. If you have more endurance, you can
reach a wider range of alternates if the weather tanks or you can shortload fuel in favor or more cabin payload.
Lean-of-peak operation works well in most Continental fuel-injected engines and somewhat less well in Lycoming fuel-injected engines, but is still worth considering as an endurance extender.
We're told by George Braly of General Aviation Modifications (GAMI), whose research has recently illuminated an understanding of lean-of-peak operation, that carbureted engines can also be operated
lean of peak if partial carb heat is used to increase the induction temperature. This improves fuel atomization and distribution and reduces so-called dropouts, when fuel vapor condenses in the
induction system's twists and turns. Although we've flown Continental and Lycoming injected engines lean-of-peak, we haven't tried this method in a carbureted engine. Although we're skeptical of its
practicality, we think it's worth experimenting with.
Whether injected or carbureted, an engine should have a digital multi-probe engine monitor with both EGT and CHT before lean-of-peak is attempted. At high power settings, it's possible to damage
valves and cylinders by hamfisting the mixture control. (This is why some engine shops think LOP damages engines and, done incorrectly, it certainly has that potential.)
And there are circumstances where lean-of-peak operation makes little sense, usually when flying into a stiff headwind when the fuel economy tradeoff just isn't worth the slow groundspeed. In this
case, go rich of peak and pay for the gas. For more technical detail on lean-of-peak operation, visit GAMI or read other lean-of-peak articles here on AVweb.
Idea 2: GAMIjectors
Beginning in 1996, GAMI reinvigorated research into aircraft engine technology and among other ideas -- including a focus on lean-of-peak operation -- this yielded GAMIjectors. These are custom
fuel-injector nozzles that precisely match the fuel going into the cylinder to the air available through the induction system.
GAMIjectors yield generally smoother operation and definitely more-even leaning, making it possible to operate lean-of-peak without undue roughness. Not all fuel-injected engines need or will
necessarily benefit from GAMIjectors, but our surveys reveal that most have. GAMIjectors range in price from $699 to $999, depending on engine model. (Visit GAMI's Web site for more.) If GAMIjectors are required for lean-of-peak flight, at current gas prices, the payback may be in as little as 150 hours.
Idea 3: AirNav
In our view, this is one of the most underutilized services in general aviation. For several years, AirNav has been tracking avgas prices based on
voluntarily submitted reports from the field. This service is well executed and available for free to anyone.. Although using it won't save gas, it will certainly save money on buying gas -- a lot of
For example, if you were flying along the eastern seaboard [in late 2005] and needed a fuel stop in South Carolina, you could pay Signature $4.35 a gallon in Savannah, Ga., taxi down to the self-serve
pumps and pay $3.79 a gallon or route through Darlington and pay $3.05. On a fill-up of a modest single, the most/least difference is more than 40 percent and well worth considering re-routing, in our
view. Further, we think FBOs who are efficient and willing to accept lower margins deserve support. This also pressures higher-priced players to offer more competitive prices. AirNav has basic
utilities that allow you to plan routing based on the lowest fuel prices.
Idea 4: Bigger Tanks
The hackneyed adage about never having too much fuel unless you're on fire definitely applies to economy considerations. One reason is the aforementioned extended endurance, which allows skipping a
fuel stop. The second is buying cheaper fuel where you find it -- or where AirNav finds it for you -- and carrying it around with you.
While the airlines have learned that tankering fuel is an economy no-no, that proviso doesn't apply to small, piston aircraft. Yes, you burn a little more gas to haul your stash of fuel, but not
enough to offset even a 25-cent-per-gallon price delta, and we've seen price breaks between the highest and lowest of over $2. Extended capacity tanks are available for a range of models, mostly mid-
to high-performance singles. Adding even 15 gallons can make a difference if you fly trips to near the limits of the airplane's fuel endurance.
Prices on these systems vary between $4000 and $8000 and some include STCs for gross-weight increases. See Aviation Consumer March 2004 for a complete
analysis. Extended-range tanks are a moderately expensive upgrade but can pay big dividends.
Idea 5: Check the Rigging
It's not unusual to see cruise-speed differences between two airplanes of the identical type and model year. Tracking down the reason for cruise shortfalls is black art but rigging is often
implicated; ailerons are out of trim, the rudder doesn't center-up, flaps aren't completely retracting; gear doors don't close.
Recovering five knots through rigging tune-up is hardly unusual and, although the fuel-efficiency gain is a small one, it's nonetheless measurable and not expensive. Some caution is advised, however.
If a shop isn't thoroughly familiar with your airplane or otherwise a whiz at rigging, you might make things worse. Rigging checks aren't expensive.
Idea 6: General Maintenance
The big items here are spark plugs, harnesses and magnetos and induction leaks, probably in that order. The onset of roughness during leaning is often caused by a fouled or defective plug, old
harnesses or a magneto past its prime. If you can't lean effectively -- you'll probably be unable to run lean of peak -- you're wasting gas. Another trouble-causer is leaking induction pipes; these
too will cause roughness and an inability to run lean of peak, not to mention EGT and CHT spikes above normal. Last, check air and fuel filters. These are normally tended to at annual but may have
been missed last time around. This is routine, inexpensive maintenance.
Idea 7: Optimize Altitude
This is a cheap fix if ever there was one. When you last looked at a winds-aloft forecast, did you really look? If you didn't, you may have given up speed into a headwind or failed to take advantage
of a blistering tailwind because you weren't willing to climb a couple of thousand feet higher. That's the same as wasting gas.
As a survival skill, some airlines are masters at altitude optimization and most flight planning programs will crunch "what-if" numbers to find the most favorable winds based on the airplane's typical
Again, airplanes with the most altitude capability -- read that as turbocharged -- will benefit the most from altitude optimization. GPS, airdata and real-time winds aloft help with optimization, as
we discovered in reviewing the EFB software from TrueFlight. This program works in real time to optimize altitude choices.
Idea 8: Dump the Guzzler
If you can afford a twin with a pair of large-displacement, six-cylinder engines, you may not care about fuel economy. Then again, maybe you do, to the extent that you don't fly as much because
filling it up costs nearly a grand. Timing the market to buy or sell right is fraught with peril but, in our estimation, prices on twins are likely to remain soft. It's difficult to foresee market
forces that will reverse this trend.
On the other hand, if you're thinking about a more fuel-efficient airplane -- any of the Mooney models, Diamond's DA-40 or even a used Cirrus SR-20 -- it might be better, so shop sooner rather than
Idea 9; Turbocharging
Turbocharging or turbonormalizing isn't normally thought of as an economy measure but it can be, provided that the airplane is flown high enough to take advantage of the turbo's altitude capabilities,
the pilot is reasonably canny about altitude optimization and lean-of-peak operation is considered.
A gas-swilling turbocharged twin will never be an economy leader no matter how it's flown. But a turbocharged Bonanza, Mooney or Cessna 210 can be. Switching from a normally aspirated airplane to a
turbocharged airplane as an economy measure only makes sense if the owner flies long trips frequently and is otherwise thinking about an upgrade. Otherwise, turbocharging's higher maintenance costs
will more than offset any dollars in fuel savings. Still, if you lean correctly, you'll use marginally less fuel on those trips where climbing ramps up the speed, especially in tailwinds. Buying a
turbocharged airplane or adding it to one you already own is a dubious return on investment if you fly under 100 hours a year.
Idea 10: Buy a Diesel
The diesels are coming, alright. Although the numbers aren't right yet, they soon will be. It makes no sense to sell your $150,000 gasoline-powered twin and buy a $450,000 Diamond TwinStar just to
save gas. On the other hand, if you're shopping for a new airplane, it makes just as little sense not to at least look closely at the DA42 TwinStar.
Idea 11: FADEC
Full authority digital engine controls (FADEC) have gotten a lot of press but sales haven't followed. We think the reason for this is that the only flying system -- Continental's Aerosance-developed
PowerLink -- is complex and expensive and its benefits are currently elusive. Fuel savings of 10 percent are reported by owners, but currently, you can do better by leaning aggressively. FADEC's
benefit will arrive when 100LL avgas disappears. That hasn't happened, so FADEC goes near the bottom for cost effectiveness.
Idea 12: Speed Mods
Pulling up the rear in cost effectiveness are speed mods. Speed mods -- at least those that deliver on their claims -- increase speed by reducing drag or, looked at another way, they allow the same
speed on less fuel. The usual rule of thumb is that it costs $1000 per knot of increased airspeed, which might translate to a tenth of a gallon or two of fuel savings.
In reality, speed gains from mods are sometimes elusive and that's also true of fuel economy based on drag reduction. That's why we put speed mods at the end of the list. The return on investment may
or may not be worth it, either in speed or economy. Don't expect miracles, although some airframes will benefit enough to make the investment worthwhile.
More articles to help you become a better pilot are available in AVweb's Airmanship section. And for monthly articles and reviews of aviation products and
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