AVweb's CEO of the cockpit is flying SIC in a Skyhawk, but he's lost his skill at being a tactful and deferential co-pilot.
Click here for the full story.
A good copilot is a good copilot, no matter what the aircraft. I fancied myself a good copilot back when I was a first officer on various airliners. I
considered myself better than the average bear when it came to flight engineering, as well. Being a good copilot is harder, in my estimation, than being a good captain. And if you could manage to be
an outstanding flight engineer, then God bless you; you were tragically warped, but you were an asset to your airline.
I was in the right seat of a northbound Cessna Skyhawk and was trying to resurrect my skills at being a subordinate pilot instead of occupying the king's seat on the left side of the bird. We were
departing the Lakeland, Fla., area of operations for our return trip up north to the land of permafrost and crowded toll roads with potholes -- Chicago.
My friend, Ozzie, was based in ORD with a little airline we'll simply refer to here as "United." A 737 driver, par excellence, Ozzie was a copilot on the FLUFF, or the "Football" as it is sometimes
called. This led to what Bob Dylan would call a "simple twist of fate." Imagine me, an egotistical, slightly overweight and graying senior captain, metaphorically "pulling gear" for a snot-nosed,
fortyish, FLUFF first officer.
In this case, Ozzie was in command by virtue of aircraft ownership and flying skill, not seniority.
This particular 172 was outfitted with the very latest of 1970s avionics and automation. We sported a Cessna Navpac II suite of radios, complete with the beige-colored, twin nav-coms, an encoded
transponder and a digital ADF. That old ARC-manufactured ADF, by the way, in my never-to-be-humble opinion, is the best ADF I've ever come across or operated. It is very easy to tune and the sound
quality, while not up to the Bose level, is damn close.
Today, I was making the best possible use of the ADF and had it tuned to 1230, WONN Lakeland. It softly played old big-band music in the background (and at roughly a 150 degree relative bearing) as we
climbed at a blistering 700 feet per minute to our VFR cruising altitude.
The Oz Fest Begins
The pilot in command of our flight settled back into his seat as we leveled off. He pulled the power back to about 75 percent, leaned it out for cruise and tuned Cross City VOR onto Nav #1. We still
had Nav #2 tuned to 116.0, the Lakeland VOR, although we had no intention of turning back to the bedlam that Sun 'n Fun can become when everybody wants to fly home at the same time.
On most flight decks, it is the captain who sets the tone and often introduces the subjects for discussion during a flight. This day was no exception and Ozzie, for some arcane reason, wanted to
discuss the world of airline flying. I would have preferred talking about almost anything else, but being copilot instead of captain, I acquiesced.
"Skybus, ATA and Aloha," he said. "Who's next? I know that Alitalia is in trouble and a bunch of other airlines are about to go belly-up. With jet-fuel costs making up over half of their total
expenses, how long will it be before all the airlines go out of business due to high fuel prices?"
I honestly don't know. I do know that airlines have cut their personnel costs about as far as they can get away with. Our airline lost quite a few copilots last year during the last big bankruptcy
crunch when they figured out they could make more money quitting their airline job and returning to fly for the military. After crunching the career numbers, some pilots even chose to teach school for
a living. With most public-school systems still offering good benefits and a fairly secure retirement, it looked like a better deal to them. Plus, if they taught school, they were guaranteed every
holiday, including Christmas, off.
"The big airlines are all partnering-up to try and form the biggest galactic, omnivorous airlines in the world. I'm just a dumb FLUFF driver, so I don't know much about big business, but I don't see
how combining two losing business propositions into one giant losing proposition makes sense."
I think the reason their lawyers are giving -- and remember that it is the lawyers who stand to make serious money out of any mergers -- is that, at stations where both airlines operated in the past,
they can eliminate one whole ground operations and gate agent staff, not to mention combining reservations and hundreds of other functions that pilots like us never think about. Plus, they can combine
passenger loads and operate with fuller airplanes.
"How much fuller than 100 percent can they get?" asked Oz. "When was the last time you got on a flight and had any empty seats? The real problem is that even with an all-full airplane, they are still
losing money with oil at over $100 a barrel. I checked today and the airlines are paying $3.66 a gallon for Jet-A. How can they make money with fuel that high?"
Mother Nature Wastes More Fuel
I was about to try to lighten-up Ozzie's angst with a joke or one of my tried-and-true, old-time airline stories when I made the mistake of looking forward out of the windshield. A dark mass of
storm-like clouds were about 10 miles ahead. We used to call Cross City VOR the "Cross City Connection" because it always seemed to have a thunderstorm over it. All you had to do to find Cross City at
night was to look for the lightning flashes and steer in that direction. It looked like today would be no exception.
I pointed to the clouds, which my captain had already noticed and we began a 40-degree deviation to the east around the build-ups. A westerly deviation would have been shorter but it was over the Gulf
of Mexico and no sane Skyhawk driver starts down that road, especially in Florida, for two reasons. First, you can start deviating over water and end up 50 or 60 miles out before it is all over. Just
how far can you swim after the engine quits? Second, if we had to coast-in west of Tallahassee, we could run into all sorts of military airspace around Tyndal, Hurlburt and Eglin Air Force Bases.
It looked like our little deviation would add about 20 minutes to our leg and would burn at least a few more gallons of precious avgas.
Lions and Tigers and Bears! Oh My!
"I heard that the regional jets are on their way out because of the higher price of fuel," said the Oz man. "Can you imagine being one of those people who spent $50,000 or so on the hope of getting an
RJ copilot job, only to find out that you missed the boat and the combined airlines got rid of them?"
Oz, I said, one of the things that advancing age gives this pilot -- besides more "No's" than "Yes's" from flight attendants when I invite them to dinner -- is perspective. When I was in college and
beginning my CFI career, the whole aviation world was going to end because of the Middle East oil embargo. Then it was going to end because avgas was going up to a record 60 cents a gallon. Then, we
were all going to lose our oil supplies and freeze to death because of the Iran hostage thing. Then, after I got my airline job, my career was going to be over because of the PATCO strike. It just
goes on and on.
Now, everybody has their panties in a knot because oil is over a hundred bucks a barrel and the FAA is actually starting to enforce maintenance rules. In the words of my favorite Saturday Night Live
philosopher, Roseanne Rosanadana, "It's always something."
Somehow, over all the years of embargos, gulf wars, price gouging, airline bankruptcies and product liability lawsuits, people like you and me have kept flying. For one thing, the airlines will
probably get re-regulated soon, once the government comes to the realization that most of their military airlift capability is civilian based. For another thing, people will keep buying airline
tickets, even if the prices go up. Why? Because the price of car gas is going up too, and it is still cheaper in terms of gas prices to fly to Florida than to fill the Toyota's tank six times to get
Ozzie Says "Baloney"
I think that my flying partner had heard enough doom-and-gloom airline talk for one day. Rather than saying so and changing the subject to more interesting things, like layover restaurants, happy
hours in San Juan and which shows in Vegas still give a crew discount, he showed me the kind of captain he was destined to become by offering me a baloney sandwich from the little cooler we had
between the front seats.
We enjoyed our in-flight lunch and swilled root beer as the fading signal from WONN played Sinatra. It was then that I remembered why I hold a slight preference for flying airliners over Skyhawks. We
still had two hours to go to our first fuel stop, we had no lav facilities on board, and I had to "drain the main."
Want to read more from AVweb's CEO of the Cockpit? Check out the rest of his columns.
Our trials revealed that all three perform well, although Parat-C is our first choice. But you'll need to train and practice to handle them well in a real emergency.
Click here for the full story.
It's never a good time for an inflight fire. Stoked by fuel or an electrical short, this nasty brand of emergency is near the top of most pilots' list
of nightmares. But a cabin fire's consequences can be mitigated by using a smoke hood, which filters breathable air out of the poisonous plume of a fire, increasing the likelihood that the pilot can
see and breathe long enough to put the airplane on the ground.
To be useful at all, a smoke hood must meet certain criteria: It needs to form an airtight seal around your head and neck, protecting your eyes, nose and mouth; it must be constructed of
heat-resistant material such as Kapton; and it absolutely must feature a filter that brings in air from the outside into the mouth. The filter, usually made with activated charcoal, protects you
against deadly carbon monoxide (CO) -- don't buy one that doesn't -- as well as particulate matter and other toxic gases. An effective smoke hood will catalyze CO to the more benign carbon dioxide
(CO2). Standard gas masks don't do that, by the way.
Don't consider a hood that doesn't meet these basic safety criteria. High-quality smoke hoods will be certified by industry standards. While no UL testing has been performed on them, a multi-million
dollar proposition in the U.S., European, Australian or Japanese standards are accepted in the industry for these products. Within the European CE testing protocol, an EN4 certification requires that
the hood withstand 10,000 PPM of CO for at least 15 minutes. A CO concentration of 75 PPM can be disabling; 500 PPM is lethal.
Whether you're facing a CO leak or the full-blown cocktail of toxic gases, smoke and flames from an inflight fire, immediate and decisive action will save your life. Brent Blue, M.D., pilot and
cofounder of Aeromedix (and the source for the Safe Escape smoke hood) says, "Smoke in a cockpit is so noxious, it's incapacitating. It's like being sprayed
with pepper spray. It's incredibly irritating to your eyes, nose and lungs. Any smoke hood must cover your eyes so you can see."
Blue contradicts the old wives' tale that cabin smoke can be cleared by opening a window. "The increased air circulation may fan the fire and general aviation cabins aircraft are negatively
pressurized so the air will come rushing in." An engine fire may enter the cabin through the firewall and from outside the fuselage if a window or canopy is open. The smoke hood is your safest option
for getting on the ground in hostile cabin conditions.
The downside? Severe claustrophobia could exacerbate an already stressful experience and if you have significant lung disease, you may have difficulty drawing a deep breath while wearing a hood.
However, that beats smoke inhalation, which causes half to 80 percent of fire-related deaths in the general population -- ahead of fire-related burns. Even sublethal levels of smoke and gases can
seriously impair a pilot, enough to compromise flight safety. Hypoxia at higher altitudes can worsen the damage done by smoke.
A smoke hood completes the cabin environment trio; a high-quality CO detector (not a stick-on patch) and a Halon fire extinguisher should be available in your aircraft as well. (See the July 2003
Aviation Consumer for a review of Halon extinguishers and the November 2005 issue for the CO detector assessment.)
In our view, a detector that will sniff out CO ahead of the fact is preferable to donning a smoke hood and trying to filter the air after the fact. Similarly, a fire extinguisher may knock a fire down
before it has time to make much smoke.
Girls in the Hood
We were particular about the units we sampled -- only certified hoods with CO and toxic gas filtering made the cut. The three hoods we tested were the COGO ($119 from Safer America), the Parat-C (manufactured by German giant Draeger and sold for $198 by Safer America) and the Safe Escape Smoke Hood ($69.95 from Aeromedix).
We built a 6-foot-high, 2-foot-square framework of 1/2-inch PVC pipe, covered by 4-mil plastic sheeting. Three signaling smoke flares by Orion Safety Products created prodigious amounts of thick
orange smoke, which contained 22 percent potassium chlorate (an eye irritant); the burning flare also produced carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides.
We ignited one flare per hood and donned the hood as the flare was lit, simulating the suddenness with which an inflight fire can occur. There was no heat to the smoke, but it was plenty irritating.
To measure the effectiveness of each mask's filtering capability, we took a baseline arterial blood oxygen saturation reading (SPO2) with a Nonin Onyx pulse oximeter. However, the pulse ox
does not detect CO poisoning. CO binds to the hemoglobin in the blood, turning the cells as red as if they were oxygenated ... but they're not. Our baseline reading was 98 percent and the pulse ox
determined whether the hoods delivered filtered oxygenated air as advertised. After stepping into the smoky booth, the plan was to stay there until the smoke dissipated, about two minutes. It mostly
worked that way.
Tying long hair back will create a good seal with the hoods. We wore glasses during the test to determine whether they would be an obstacle to donning the mask quickly.
The Parat-C came tethered to the inside of a bright-yellow, plastic, zippered container, including directions that were large and easy to follow, but the detailed instruction sheet inside took some
study. The hood worked like a champ. There was no sense of claustrophobia and the filtering kicked in immediately. The hood is made of a self-extinguishing PVC material, and the visor contains an
anti-misting agent. Glasses and long hair fit comfortably in the hood and there was no impediment to donning it, which took only 10 seconds.
We were able to comfortably stand in the smoke chamber until the smoke dissipated and the pulse ox reading during this test was 97 percent. The Parat-C provides 15 minutes of protection from a variety
of gases and smoke, including CO at 2500 PPM. It also filters toxins such as hydrogen cyanide, hydrogen chloride and acrolein, formed by the breakdown of some pollutants, such as gasoline.
The Safe Escape hood came next. Made of a flame-resistant, aluminum-foil cloth, it's designed to withstand up to 1400 degrees F. It comes in a compact, orange, plastic, zippered pouch that features
detailed instructions in tiny print on one side and a graphical guide on the other. It's worth it to familiarize yourself with the instructions before you need them -- every second counts in a smoky
The beefy zipper was easy to grasp and open quickly, an important feature, in our view. It was extraordinarily easy to put on and only required the removal of two red plugs from the filters inside and
outside the mask. The clear face mask was generously sized and the interior mouthpiece connected to the filter was easy to use. This mask took a little longer to put on -- about 15 seconds -- due to
monkeying around with the straps. While the mask worked just fine in clear air, we found it was necessary to pull the orange neck straps very snugly to keep the noxious gases out. After less than a
minute in the smoke chamber, the straps that we thought were tightly snugged let some smoke in and we got a lungful.
It was not pleasant, causing throat irritation for hours. The pulse oximeter showed 94-percent saturation while in the smoke chamber and 96 percent after getting into the fresh air. Without operator
error, the mask worked well, but it's crucial to tighten the neck straps completely to supplement the elastic neck band.
The Safe Escape comes with a five-year warranty from the date of manufacture and the manufacturer will replace the mask free of charge if you use it in an actual fire during that time. We think that's
a good policy; although this is the least expensive of the three masks, the free replacement following real-life use should discourage hesitation in using it out of a sense of false economy. The
manufacturer guarantees that the mask will give you 30 minutes of breathable air in a smoky or fiery environment.
The Israeli-made COGO was a contradiction. The foil-wrapped package comes in a canvas carry bag, but was very difficult to open without scissors and some tugging. We would be hard pressed to get it
open in an emergency and would bring it on board already cut open. The directions on the packet were very clear.
Made of a vanilla-scented latex compound, it was a challenge to fit over a ponytail and especially difficult to pull over glasses. There would have been room for them inside, but the narrowness of the
neck opening was an obstacle and it took two tries to get it on.
But once it was on, it was outstanding. The soft mouthpiece allows for rapid exhalation and prevents vapor buildup inside the mask. The tight neck fit kept the smoke out completely and filtration was
excellent. Our pulse ox reading during the test was 96 percent and we felt no ill effects from the smoke at all.
Bonanza pilot John Whitehead had an electrical fire a few years ago and was struck that the cabin was completely filled by smoke within 30 seconds. "I could just see out the side windows ... and that
was it," he told us. "Beside the lack of visibility, the horrid smell of the burning plastic wire was choking and distracting. A hood would have to be donned quickly to be of value."
Smoke hoods are only useful if you include them in your mental emergency preparation and if you can get to them reliably and quickly. The directions may be complex and not too easy to read when you
actually need the hood. Being familiar with the opening instructions, donning procedures and usage is essential before you need the hood, not during the emergency.
Donning a smoke hood takes two hands, so if you don't have an autopilot or a co-pilot, trim for level flight and do your best. Opening the package may take up to 30 seconds if you stay calm and you're
familiar with the package; getting the hood on and adjusted may take another 15. Blue says, "It depends on how freaked out you are and how much smoke has accumulated. If you smell a little smoke, open
it up and get ready to don it. If the smoke doesn't increase, that's OK."
Blue urges consistency in placement of the hood; he Velcros it to the carpet by his seat. "I keep it in the same place every time so I can grab it without thinking about it. Include it in your
preflight checklist and touch it every time."
Jonathan Elkoubi, general manager of Safer America (source for two of our test hoods, the Parat C and the COGO), says a hood should be easily stowable and retrievable in the cockpit's limited space.
He noted that their sample hoods were tested with children: The average time to don a Parat-C was eight seconds and the COGO took seven to 10 seconds. The now-recalled Evac-U-8 had a response time of
four to eight seconds.
And speaking of children, does it make sense to have a hood for every occupant? Our view is no. Unless you brief the occupant on using the mask -- unlikely -- helping them with it inflight is a
non-starter and will distract you from you primary duty to get the airplane on the ground.
Each of the hoods we tested worked well once on -- which one you choose depends on your facial features (beards, long hair and glasses are complicating factors) and how quickly you can don it. If
glasses, a beard or long hair are a consideration, avoid the COGO and go with the Parat-C or the Safe Escape.
Otherwise, we think the Parat-C is the best choice, if cost isn't a factor for you. It's easy to put on and kept the smoke at bay. But at $69.95, the Safe Escape hood is less than half the price of
the Parat-C and thus represents the best value of the three, even given its donning foibles. The work-around for that is to train a little on quick donning and learn to set the straps correctly.
More AVweb safety articles are available here. And for monthly articles and reviews of aviation products and services, subscribe to AVweb's sister publication, Aviation Consumer.