AVwebFlash Complete Issue: Volume 13, Number 14a

April 2, 2007

By The AVweb Editorial Staff
 
Subscribe to Trade-A-Plane & See Why 96% of Trade-A-Plane Subscribers choose Trade-A-Plane as their primary aviation shopping tool. Thousands of classifieds (updated daily), product and advertiser indices, NAAA Evaluator, and aviation weather — Trade-A-Plane is everything that keeps you flying! To order, call (800) 337-5263 or subscribe online.
» Visit Trade-A-Plane in booths A-001-003 at Sun 'n Fun
 
Top News back to top 
 

Big Day For DayJet: First Three Eclipse 500s Delivered

On Saturday, Eclipse Aviation delivered three Eclipse 500s to DayJet -- the planned per-seat, on-demand air-taxi operator -- at the manufacturer's headquarters in Albuquerque, N.M. According to Eclipse spokesman Andrew Broom, these three very light jets do not yet have the required backup air data/attitude and heading reference system (ADAHRS) display needed for Part 135 operations, but the airplanes will allow DayJet to start training pilots under Part 91 rules while Eclipse continues to pursue FAA approval for the backup system, which is expected soon. DayJet, which has firm orders for 239 Eclipse 500s and options for 70 more, plans to start air service with the VLJs by the end of June. "Today is a major milestone for DayJet, as we begin to take delivery of our Eclipse 500 jets," said DayJet President and CEO Ed Iacobucci. "Like many great innovations in history, there is a confluence of hardware and software advances that together, promise radical change and benefit to thousands of regional business travelers."

Also on Saturday, Eclipse sent a letter to customers along with a draft copy of the aircraft flight manual's Section 5 that outlines the final Eclipse 500 aircraft configuration, meaning the large aluminum tiptanks, the new Avio NG avionics and all aerodynamic refinements. "You will see from these data that the Eclipse 500 aircraft meets its performance guarantees and performs like we have always told you it would," notes Raburn. According to this data, the Eclipse 500 will cruise at more than 370 knots, have a 1,130-nm NBAA IFR range with four occupants and have a stall speed as low as 60 knots. Some takeoff and landing numbers are just shy of the guaranteed performance in the draft section, but Eclipse says it is working to meet or exceed these goals.

More FAA Oversight Of Repair Facilities Needed

The Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General says the FAA needs to significantly step up oversight of contracted repair facilities used by airlines for everything from minor adjustments to major repairs. The OIG report to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s aviation subcommittee, delivered by DOT Inspector General Calvin Scovell, says the FAA doesn’t always know who’s doing the maintenance or what maintenance is being performed by the thousands of shops --certificated and non-certificated -- all over the world that are used by the airlines. And it also says that airlines don’t always provide accurate information on what’s being fixed where under a new reporting program put in place by the FAA. "Our primary concerns with the reports are that air carriers do not include all repair stations that provide critical component repairs and that FAA does not validate the information provided," the report reads. While he agreed that more oversight is needed, the FAA’s Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety testified that the system remains safe. What’s perhaps more significant is that non-certificated shops appear to be doing an increasing amount of work that is critical to airworthiness, and there’s virtually no oversight of these facilities. "Prior to our review, FAA officials advised us that non-certificated repair facilities only performed minor services, such as welding of parts or changing tires," the report reads. "However, we determined that non-certificated facilities can and do perform the same type of work as FAA-certificated repair stations, including both scheduled and critical maintenance." The OIG found non-certificated stations doing work on flight control systems and even replacing an engine. The work is done by qualified mechanics but non-certificated shops don’t have the reporting and supervisory requirements of certificated shops, Scovell said.

Tuskegee Airmen Get Congressional Gold Medal

It took more than 60 years, but arguably one of the most effective fighter squadrons of World War II is getting the formal recognition that matches its historic and cultural impact. Members of the Tuskegee Airmen, the all-black P-51 group that protected B-17 bombers over Europe, on Thursday were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in a ceremony attended by former Secretary of State Colin Powell and President George Bush. But while aviation buffs know well the remarkable record of the squadron (the claim that it never lost a bomber has been disputed), the impact of their wartime exploits is considered by many to have had a much more profound impact on the country they served. "They were bold in battle and capable in command -- at a time when many in the military thought blacks could be neither," wrote The Washington Post. Charles McGee, who flew a P-51 he called "Kitten," told the Post that the successful deployment of the squadron had far-reaching effects. "What we accomplished hasn't always been recognized for, really, what it meant to the country," McGee said. "There was meaning there, you might say, in a civil rights area that preceded what we know as the civil rights movement."

 
JA Air Center, Your Garmin GPSMap 496 Source, Is Looking to Purchase Used GPS Units, Avionics, and Aircraft
Call (800) 323-5966 for current value, with no purchase required. JA is your source for Garmin GPS and Avionics, including the popular GPSMap 496 with XM Weather, Terrain, AOPA Airport Guide, Taxiway Database, and built-in StreetPilot Auto GPS.

JA Air Center [Dupage Airport (KDPA) in West Chicago, IL] provides the finest avionics installations, turbine/piston maintenance, avionics/instrument service, mail order, and aircraft sales. Call (800) 323-5966, or click for more information.
 
News From AEA back to top 
 

What We Learned At AEA 2007

The Aircraft Electronics Association can put on an impressive show. It held its 50th annual convention in Reno late last week, and the trend in new products at this year's show revolved around satellite phone service, increased data and voice transfer capabilities, onboard broadband, WAAS supportive/compatible products and retrofits of new black boxes and/or glass panels sized to swap out old black boxes and instruments. That and FAA Administrator Marion Blakey has "drawn a line" in the fight over user fees and believes it's high time we (read general aviation users) all stopped griping about the price of a cup of coffee and stepped up to pay our fair share. AVweb's Glenn Pew was there, click through for your own private ticket to the show -- a video compilation of some of the flash and dazzle, including show-stopping excerpts from Marion Blakey's speech.

The golden anniversary of AEA's confab was a fascinating mix of products, personalities and politics. It could have been the grand theater setting that seemed more befitting a rock concert, though with a substitute five-piece brass band that waxed nostalgic under a slide show spanning 50 years, the moving sentiments of AEA past president and lifetime achievement winner Monte Mitchell and a nearly life-size four-engine jet mock-up that in a blinding spectacle of lights, smoke and sound arrived to unload the association's board members (as well as a couple of chorus girls) onto the stage.

FAA's Push For User Fees At AEA

FAA Administrator Marion Blakey's comments at the Aircraft Electronics Association show was full court press for a user-fee-based and fuel-tax-enriched FAA funding system. Her words seemed particularly stark following AEA past president Monte Mitchell's closing reminder to "take time to compliment a coworker, or give thanks to your friends -- these are the things you remember as you look back on life." Blakey quickly dried every eye in the room with a sandblasting no-nonsense tone that seemed to directly attack outspoken naysayers who have spoken against user-fee plans in the press, but had yet to speak up at the so far warm and welcoming convention. The Administrator offered a stunning spectrum of quote-worthy phrases from "one of the most exciting things for me is when I go to Oshkosh each year" to stating that "Joe Pilot," who owned a very expensive aircraft, would feel a hit to the tune of "four dollars per hour" and was now fighting tooth and nail over a plan that would add to each flight hour the cost "of a Starbucks Latte." (Listen for yourself.)

Saying that the airline passenger is carrying about 95 percent of the associated system cost while imposing about 73 percent of the cost burden, Blakey said it was time for all users to equally share that burden. The operating cost increase Blakey cited corresponds to a 50-cent hike in fuel prices -- assuming your aircraft burns eight gallons per hour -- and would amount to a 5-percent increase in operating costs across the board for general aviation, by her calculations. She said detractors of the user-fee proposal were far off in their representation of the facts and that the current funding system does not provide the capital necessary to allow for long-term strategic/fiscal planning and is therefore stunting technological upgrades and "modernization." Blakey also maintains that "100 percent of our major capital projects are on schedule and on budget." She further threatened that if funding was not made available, "gridlock" would arrive as general aviation's punisher, saying that first-come first-serve would become a thing of the past, and an airliner with 300 passengers aboard will trump a private airplane with three aboard every time. Blakey did not comment on the use of current fuel taxes.

Avidyne Intros EX500 Software Upgrade

At the Aircraft Electronics Association show, Avidyne introduced software release 3.0, a $345 upgrade for EX500 multifunction displays that expands the range of XM WX Satellite Weather data displayed and simplifies database updates with USB memory stick support. "EX500 MFDs now can display XM WX Storm Tracks, Hail Alerts, TAFs, Winds Aloft and Freezing Levels," the company said. The software upgrade will be available in the second quarter, pending full certification. According to Avidyne, the new software release also "prevents XM WX service disruption inadvertently caused by XM de-activation signals." The company's multifunction displays are upgradeable through authorized service centers.

 
How Would You Like a Life Insurance Policy That Returns All of Your Premiums?
The Return of Premium Term products through the Pilot Insurance Center feature a level death benefit term plan with fully guaranteed level premiums for the first 15, 20, or 30 years and are also guaranteed to pay back all premiums at the end of the policy. Pilot Insurance Center specializes in providing pilots — from student to ATP — with life insurance protection they need. For a personalized quote, call PIC at 1-800-380-8376 or visit online.
 
News From AEA back to top 
 

Garmin Unveils New Goodies At AEA

To make an even bigger splash at the Aircraft Electronics Association convention, Garmin adapted a James Bond movie to announce its new products. Garmin touted the GMX-200 multifunction display's 6.5-inch screen and faster processor, offering increased resolution and compatibility with the GDL 69 XM receiver to feed XM satellite weather to the MFD's moving map. The unit offers Jeppesen chart view and a remote control (for XM radio). Package upgrade deals are available. Garmin also reminded attendees of its WAAS certifications this year for 430/530 GPS navcoms and its acquisition of pilot My-Cast, providing weather -- NEXRAD radar, lightning, maps, terminal forecasts, satellite views and more -- to the cellphones of subscribed users.

New Product Highlights From AEA

Lux Aviation Engineering's announcement at the Aircraft Electronics Association show of its research into lithium polymer for use in aircraft batteries (yes, they're aware that lithium can burn) could one day vastly improve cranking power and add the benefit of significant weight savings. The company says it's working with the Navy and has shared thoughts with Eclipse Aviation and Cirrus Design, to name a few. Cost, for now, is a significant obstacle, but the nanotechnology necessary to achieve required reliability is coming within the next few years, says Lux. With many AEA announcements focused on improving cabin life for the bizjet set, or cockpit life for its pilots and operators, there were still some products that might catch a private flyer's eye. A new very lightweight 406-MHz-ready ELT from Kannad for less than $1,000 caught AVweb's eye at the event. And so did software that from P2 will track the life of every part of your aircraft that you care to limit, every stop the aircraft makes and both log and distinguish time in service and total time. L-3 Avionics showed with fanfare its $15,000 "IRIS" forward looking infrared imaging system, which is sold without a display.

 
Reason #31 — Look Ma, No Hands
The new Garmin GFC 700 autopilot gives you more hands-free flying control than ever. The flight director is seamlessly integrated into the G1000 glass cockpit and standard on new Skylanes and Stationairs. Letting go never felt so good. For more great reasons, visit CessnaReasons.com.
» Visit Cessna Aircraft in booths SNF-003-007 at Sun 'n Fun
 
News Briefs back to top 
 

First Phenom Getting It Together

Embraer says its entry in the entry-level jet sweepstakes is starting to look like an airplane. The first Embraer Phenom 100 fuselage and wing are being mated at the company's Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil facility and the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW617 engines should be installed soon. That puts the very light jet project on track for a first flight sometime this summer (winter in Brazil) and for deliveries in 2008, according to the company. "We are thrilled to announce yet another key milestone in the Phenom 100 program," said Luis Carlos Affonso, Embraer executive vice-president, Executive Jets. "The advanced technology applied to the Phenom 100 product design and manufacturing has enabled a smooth assembly of the fuselage and wings, and we have already begun the production of the second aircraft." The eight-seat Phenom 100 is substantially larger than most other very light jets and will be priced at more than $3 million. A larger version based on the same platform, the Phenom 300 light jet, is also in the works and should fly next year.

Greensboro Fights For Honda Engine Plant

Greensboro, N.C., already knows it will be home to the HondaJet, but it apparently wants more. All signs point to the joint GE/Honda engine plant being built at Burlington-Alamance (N.C.) Regional Airport, but Greensboro officials are trying to convince Honda to put the plant at its Piedmont-Triad International Airport alongside the airplane factory. Kathi Dubel, of Greensboro’s Economic Development Alliance, told the Greensboro News-Record that they’re still talking with Honda about the engine plant. Honda never comments on such things, according to spokesman Jeffrey Smith. But if actions speak louder than words, it looks like Burlington has the inside track. The News-Record quotes the Burlington Times-News as reporting that the local airport commission has bought 80 acres of land for an aviation enterprise known as the Big Wing. According to the News-Record, the same name has been used in reference to the proposed engine plant.

 
XM WX Satellite Weather Uses a Continuous Satellite Broadcast to Deliver Graphical Weather Data to the Cockpit
Pilots view and interact with the data — including radar, winds, METARs, lightning, and more — on compatible MFDs, EFBs, and PDAs from a wide range of industry partners, as well as on laptop PCs. The situational awareness afforded by XM WX Satellite Weather allows pilots to enjoy their journeys with more confidence and comfort than ever before. For more information, please visit XMWXweather.com.
 
News Briefs back to top 
 

Pilot Catch-22 In India

Indian airlines are apparently eating their young as flight instructors desperately needed to train the thousands of pilots they need are, instead, being offered jobs as pilots. According to Daily News and Analysis, 18 of 35 flight schools in India are out of business because they have no instructors and foreign CFIs that are attracted to India are soon snapped up by the airlines. But personnel shortages are not the only issue. “It’s not only the shortage of CFIs but also the shortage of aircraft, coupled with the large number of students that makes it impossible for them to function,” an unnamed source told the news service. The biggest problem is pay. Instructors are paid less than half the rate of a new airline pilot. Would-be pilots are leaving India in droves to take training in other countries. It’s estimated that India will need 10,500 pilots within three years. Only 150 new pilots were graduated in India last year.

C-5s May Be Sacrificed For C-17s

The Air Force may retire up to 30 C-5 Galaxy aircraft in favor of boosting the order for the more modern and generally more versatile C-17. The Air Force currently has 190 C-17s on order but Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee, told GovExec.com that the administration’s plan to boost the permanent number of Army and Marine personnel will result in a corresponding need for more airlift capability. But rather than buy more C-17s at the expense of other government programs (like healthcare and education), Inouye says he’d rather cut other defense programs, and the C-5s are the prime target. Inouye said he believes it will be cheaper in the long run to buy new C-17s (at $200 million each) than to continue upgrading the Galaxies. But, like every decision of this magnitude, politics is a major consideration. C-17 manufacturer Boeing has said it will start shutting down the C-17 line in the absence of new orders for the aircraft. While the planes are assembled in Long Beach, Calif., parts are made in more than 40 states, creating an enormous political ripple if they go out of production.

 
Speed, Safety, Performance — How About Some Comfort?
Once your basic aircraft needs are met, why not fly in comfort? You don't have to drive to the airport in luxury then fly in pain. Oregon Aero offers a variety of seat cushion system upgrades for aircraft seats. From a complete seat upgrade to a Portable Universal SoftSeat™ Cushion that you can take anywhere, Oregon Aero has a painless solution for you. Learn more online at OregonAero.com.
» Visit Oregon Aero in Building A at Sun 'n Fun
 
News In Brief back to top 
 

On The Fly

The fireballs that a Chilean airline crew reported over the South Pacific likely didn't come from a Russian supply spacecraft re-entering the atmosphere as initially reported. Russian authorities reportedly said the space junk came down 12 hours after the incident, in which the crew said fireballs narrowly missed their A340...

Cirrus will issue a mandatory Service Bulletin requiring modifications to the parachute system. In a recent parachute deployment, the rocket fired in an abnormal trajectory and the company has come up with a fix, which will be paid for by Cirrus. All Cirrus aircraft are affected. In the meantime, Cirrus is telling owners to by all means pull the handle if they think they need to...

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association says the absence of a weather radio caused tense moments at Oklahoma City TRACON as a tornado rolled through the area. NATCA says the controllers had to rely on information relayed from staff in the break room watching televised coverage of the storm...

There will be an expanded line-up of warbird activities at EAA AirVenture this summer. Among the highlights are the only flying example of a Curtiss SB2C Helldiver and attendance by Gunther Rall, the third ranking air ace of all time.

AVweb's Newstips Address ...

Our best stories start with you. If you've heard something 200,000 pilots might want to know about, tell us. Submit news tips via email to newstips@avweb.com. You're a part of our team ... often, the best part.

AVwebBiz: AVweb's Business Aviation Newsletter

HAVE YOU SIGNED UP yet for AVweb's NO-COST weekly business aviation newsletter, AVwebBiz? Reporting on breaking news, Business AVflash focuses on the companies, the products and the industry leaders that make headlines in the business aviation industry. Business AVflash is a must read. Sign up today at http://www.avweb.com/profile/.

 
Attention, Piper Owners and Pilots!
Join the fastest-growing and best association for Piper Flyers — the Piper Flyer Association (PFA), since 2004 providing same-day parts locating, faster answers to technical questions, an informative monthly magazine, online forums, national and regional events, an annual gatheringseminars, member discounts, and more for only $39 yearly. The PFA is located in the Blue Hangar on the Waupaca Municipal Airport (PCZ) in Waupaca, Wisconsin, just 35 nm NW of Oshkosh. For more info, visit PiperFlyer.org.
 
New On AVweb back to top 
 

Columns | Features | What's New | Calendar | Brainteasers

Leading Edge #3: Level-Headed

I've helped many pilots make the transition from four-seat, trainer-type airplanes into high-performance, retractable-gear airplanes and powerful light twins. If you've made that transition yourself, you probably remember zooming up through your desired (and perhaps air traffic control-assigned) altitude as you grew used to the new airplane, and the challenge of accurately transitioning to level flight from descents in an aerodynamically slick airplane.

Have you ever come up on altitude so quickly you had to give the controls a good push or pull to level off? With experience you may be able to nail altitude this way, but it still results in a bad ride for your passengers ... people who sometimes you need to impress so they will tolerate your flying habit. What do you think of the crew when sitting in an airliner's cabin and feel some positive- or negative-g when the crew makes an altitude change? Right -- you're unimpressed with their technique. There's opportunity for "style points" on level-off from climb and descent, finesse that makes the final transition almost imperceptible to nonpilots along for the ride.

Sometimes it seems that the airplane just won't accelerate leveling out of a climb, or you can't get it to slow down in descent and when leveling at approach or pattern altitude.

Part of the transition's challenge is ergonomic. Differing seat mounting and cowling angles may mean the way level flight "looks" is different, which takes a little time to get used to. Higher power and the performance that brings obviously play a part in the ease of leveling precisely on altitude. (I'm sure I'd take some time to get precision out of a jet.) More often than not, however, imprecise level-off control comes (I think) from poorly learned habits -- or no habit pattern at all. Last month in Leading Edge #2 we talked about establishing standard operating procedures for various phases of flight. This month let's look at a specific SOP I use for precisely leveling off from climbs and descents. Maybe it's something you'd like to add to your own technique.

Altitude Critical Areas

Robert Sumwalt, long-time accident investigator and aviation safety author and now vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), coined a term some time back he called the Altitude Critical Area (ACA). For Sumwalt the ACA is defined by altitude above ground level, an area history shows to be of high risk for aircraft accidents mainly due to workload and distractions (and, to no small amount, proximity to the ground). I expand on the concept of ACAs to include the last 1000 feet of climb or descent before leveling off -- also an area of high workload and distraction and potentially hazardous if the target altitude is missed, especially in descent.

Why add these level-off transitions to the ACA? Because these are the times to employ some ACA-like techniques:

  • Sterile cockpit: When within 1000 feet of a desired or assigned altitude, avoid nonessential communication. Don't use this time to talk about baseball with your passengers, or to call the FBO to confirm your rental car is standing by. Focus your concentration on making a safe and accurate level-off. Note: This may require briefing passengers before the flight that there will be times when you'll be busy and ask they don't both you. Suggestion: Use the pilot isolation feature of your intercom in the ACA if passengers are a distraction.

  • Defer tasks: In the level-off ACA defer as much as possible until you've completed the transition to level flight, have the plane trimmed and all flow-check and checklist actions are complete. (More on checklists and flows in a future Leading Edge column.) Don't try to brief an approach or step through engine-temperature indications at the same time you're trying to level off. If it's not a requirement of the transition itself (for instance, changing pitch attitude and trim, or cowl flap position) or absolutely time-sensitive (like an ATC communication), it can wait. In fact, even a frequency change can often be delayed a few seconds until you get trimmed on altitude. Suggestion: Use the word "standby" if a controller calls with a re-route or other action requirement just as you're leveling from climb or descent.

  • Focus on the task at hand: Employing sterile cockpit techniques and deferring non-essential tasks will help you concentrate on what matters most at this time: safely, accurately and smoothly transitioning to level flight at your new altitude.

Leveling From Climb

Accurately and smoothly leveling off from a climb comes through a series of actions that begin well before the desired altitude. I teach beginning the process of level-off at 1000 feet below your altitude target.

  1. 1000 feet to go
    1. Employ the techniques of the Altitude Critical Area.
    2. If your current rate of climb exceeds 500 feet per minute (fpm), lower pitch attitude to obtain a 500 fpm climb. This helps smooth the process of leveling off. It also puts you in the mental state of transitioning: If you think, "Climb to 7000 feet," you may get behind the airplane and bust altitude; instead, think, "Begin actions at 6000 feet to level off at 7000."
    3. Do not change power: This begins the process of acceleration toward cruise speed -- after all, you're trying to get to the destination.

  2. 100 feet to go
    1. If the airplane is equipped with cowl flaps -- and in accordance with manufacturers' recommendations -- close the cowl flaps. Some airplanes have a pitch change with cowl flap retraction. Leaving cowl flaps open as you level off increases drag and inhibits acceleration to cruise speed. Closing the cowl flaps a little before leveling off puts you in the mindset of making a change instead of blasting through your altitude.
    2. Adjust pitch attitude down slightly to smoothly transition toward your desired altitude.

  3. Reaching altitude
    1. Adjust pitch to level flight attitude.
    2. Keep climb power set; the airplane will accelerate to cruise speed more rapidly.
    3. After reaching target cruise speed, adjust power as desired.
    4. Complete a cockpit flow check and the cruise checklist as time permits.

Trim Change

When leveling off from climb to cruise, in many airplanes you'll experience a dramatic change in trim. A stable airplane will attempt to maintain the indicated airspeed for which it is trimmed. If you climb at 110 knots, for instance, and your cruise indicated airspeed will be 140 knots, in the transition between climb and level you'll need to make a big nose-down change in trim or the airplane, trying to maintain trimmed speed, will want to continue to climb. The trim change is not immediate, either. Give forward pressure on the yoke and trim off that pressure. The airplane accelerates and "passes" that intermediate trimmed speed. Hold more pressure and re-trim. It may take several minutes before the airplane reaches its final speed, during which it will not be precisely trimmed at any time. Power changes may make this even more dynamic.

You can see why concentration and deferral of tasks is important. You'll also find the trim change required at any given point is less if you start the level-off process at 1000 feet below altitude -- you begin the acceleration, and the trim change, sooner and arrive on altitude at something closer to cruise indicated airspeed.

On The Step

There's an archaic notion that airplanes, like speedboats, can get "on the step," or in a low-drag configuration that results in higher cruise speeds, by climbing slightly above altitude and then diving down in the transition. Although this may get the airplane up to cruise speed a little faster, this myth has been pretty much debunked and the final cruise speed will be the same. A common older practice of reducing power just as you level off (instead of accelerating under climb power, then pulling back) may have contributed to this notion.

Another "step" to accelerating to cruise speed that may have more validity, however, involves controllable-pitch propellers ... especially three-bladed props. Although higher prop speeds generally generate more thrust, they also create more drag than the same prop at a lower rpm. In some airplanes this may be noticeable. For instance, an A36 Bonanza with a three-bladed propeller will accelerate smartly on level-off through about 130 knots indicated airspeed, but then the rate of airspeed increase noticeably slows. I think the propeller is creating a "drag wall" through which it takes more time to accelerate. I have found that, if I reduce rpm as the airplane is reaching 130 KIAS, the rate of acceleration continues unhindered up to cruise speed. In fact, if I want to cruise at a high rpm, I can pull the prop back a couple hundred rpm at 130 KIAS, accelerate to near final speed, and then advance the propeller again to sneak up on those last few knots. This is likely very airplane-specific, so the prop drag may not be evident in the airplane you fly.

Leveling From Descent

It's even more important to avoid descending through an altitude; after all, down is where the ground is. As with climbs, I teach a descent level-off technique that begins 1000 feet above my desired altitude.

  1. 1000 feet to go
    1. Adjust power and pitch attitude to transition to a 500 fpm descent.
    2. Employ Altitude Critical Area techniques.

  2. 100 feet to go
    • Adjust pitch to smoothly transition toward level flight.

  3. Reaching altitude
    1. Adjust pitch to level flight attitude.
    2. Adjust power and configuration as necessary for airspeed control.
    3. Complete a cockpit flow and applicable checklists as time permits.

Depending on the speed at which you descend, and your desired airspeed at the new, lower altitude, you may experience a dynamic trim change similar to leveling off from climb, except in reverse. This can be doubly dangerous because, during the transition, the airplane may be trimmed for a faster indicated airspeed, meaning the airplane's tendency will be to continue descending below what may be a minimum obstacle-clearance altitude. Again, ACA discipline and a gradual level-off beginning 1000 feet above altitude help you avoid this trap.

Letting "George" Do It

The Aviation Safety Reporting System notes it receives "several thousand" reports of altitude deviations each year. The vast majority of these "NASA reports" come from professional flight crews flying airline and corporate equipment -- which are flown on autopilot much of the time. The gist of these reports is that "altitude busts" come in three forms:

  • Improper programming input
  • Lack of monitoring
  • Mechanical failure

"George" (a now-anachronistic nickname for autopilots) is not pilot-proof. By far most autopilot-driven altitude deviations result when the pilot (or crew) did not correctly program the altitude preselect feature, and the aircraft climbed or descended through an assigned altitude. Altitude preselects have been available in high-end, single-pilot airplanes for years, and undoubtedly many altitude busts (and perhaps even controlled flight into terrain accidents) have had misprogrammed autopilots as a contributing factor. If a crew of two (or three) professional pilots can input the incorrect data and not discover the error before blowing through an altitude, it seems even more likely this could happen to a single-pilot operator who may not fly or train as often. The lesson? Input autopilot data, then ritualistically confirm that the data you have input is correct.

Lack of autopilot monitoring by the crew resulting in an altitude bust has been reported frequently as well. Alone in the cockpit? To employ an over-used Ronald Reagan quote, "Trust, but verify." Monitor the autopilot closely to confirm it does what you have programmed it to do. Here the concept of the ACA will help you prioritize your actions when nearing your desired altitude, weighted heavily toward confirming the level-off occurs as planned. An autopilot is a workload-reducing device, not a replacement for the pilot-in-command.

Occurring much less frequently, a malfunction of the autopilot system is known to result in altitude deviations as well. Here again, confirmation of data input (and acceptance by the autopilot) and close monitoring will help you discover when George is on holiday. Avoid the temptation to sit back and "see what the autopilot is doing" if it is not maneuvering the airplane as expected. Be ready at all times to take over manually, especially if the autopilot is somehow missing a level-off.

Level-Headed

Leveling off, whether from climb or descent, by hand or using the autopilot, is a dynamic change in attitude, trim and performance. During the transition the airplane will naturally be out of precise trim, with a tendency to "bust" altitude without active intervention. Being "behind the airplane" makes altitude deviation even more likely, and invites jerky actions that are imprecise and uncomfortable to passengers. Automation carries an inherent risk of operator or mechanic failure that demands close monitoring by the pilot.

There will be times when you need to modify your technique to fit traffic or terrain demands. But when you have the option, an SOP that begins the level-off transition 1000 feet early and includes specific actions at 100 feet to go and when reaching target altitude will help you make safer, smoother, more accurate and better-performing level offs.


Thomas Turner's Leading Edge columns are collected here.

What's New: April 2007

WHAT'S NEW
This month AVweb's survey of the latest products and services for pilots, mechanics and aircraft owners brings you a heated wing deicer, a diesel engine for Cessna 172s, a multi-tool with universal socket and more.

AVmail: Apr. 2, 2007


Airbus A380 Video

Watching the video of the new Airbus A380 landing in America (Video of the Week, Mar. 25) reminded me of the aircraft's visit to Sydney, Australia, a few months ago, on its Pole-to-Pole proving flight.

My wife and I were driving along Qantas Drive, which is a busy road that runs right past the northern end of the main north-south runway. Most of the road had become a parking lot and at first I thought there'd been a car accident, but then I noticed people lining the road as well, and everyone was looking down the runway. As the traffic crawled along we had plenty of time to see what they were gazing at: the departing A380. At that moment the pilots throttled-up and within a few seconds our part of Qantas Drive, the parked cars, spectators and the crawling traffic were engulfed in a cloud of red dust and sand that would have done justice to an Outback desert sandstorm. It lasted maybe five or 10 seconds and was despite jet-blast deflector shields that have no trouble in coping with a departing Boeing 747.

It was a salutary reminder to me that the new A380 isn't just a bit more powerful than a jumbo; it's massively more so. I just hope airports around the world take the time to consider all the implications before the arrival of this flying behemoth, otherwise near-airport traffic might consider it a blast for all the wrong reasons.

Richard Robertson


FAA Funding and Next Gen

Simple fact of the matter is even with Next-Gen funded (AVwebFlash, Mar. 25), delays will continue. Can't anyone get it through their thick skulls that more concrete is the only way to really add capacity to the system? There are only so many aircraft that can land/take-off in a given period of time. Unless some FAA genius knows how to land/takeoff closer together than you can already ... it's just that simple.

Marvin Stewart


FAA's Airport Funding Proposals Aired

AVweb wrote, "The long-standing program delivers a minimum of $150,000 per year to every general aviation airport," (AVwebFlash, Mar. 28). This is not true as stated. No federal money is given or even available to public-use airports that are privately owned. Only publicly owned airports have the opportunity to receive this money. There are a large number of privately owned but public-use airports with more than 100 based aircraft that receive no public funds, either local, state or federal.

Walter Windus


User Fees

It appears to me that user fees will be a coming thing (AVwebFlash, Mar. 25). The government is bigger than AOPA and anyone else trying to fight this. They will get what they want to foist onto the small aircraft owners. Our government is no longer "for the people or by the people."

Glenn Darr


VLJ Air Taxis

There are several different business models planned for VLJ air taxi service (Question of the Week, Mar. 21). The secret to the "per seat, on-demand" service offered by DayJet is in the software: If the software is good enough to juggle the planes in accordance with passenger demands, it's possible that it will work.

Meanwhile, the SATSAir model is simply "whole plane, but one way." Not unlike existing charter operators, except you don't charge them for the return leg. Rather, the airplane sits at the destination until a new local customer is found, or it flies a short dead-head to pick up the new customer. This model works if they charge enough for the one-way trip ... i.e., if it costs $600 to operate, they will need to charge $900 to make it work.

Marc Coan


Medical Fraud

AVweb wrote,

"On Tuesday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee released an oversight report that identifies 'widespread fraud among pilots who hide serious medical conditions from examining physicians to retain medical certification for their FAA pilot certificates,' " (AVwebFlash, Mar. 27).

They make this claim because 8% of the pilots investigated -- 3,200 out of 40,000 -- receive Social Security payments, some of which are for "medically disabling conditions." Right away I see two serious problems with this report.

Number one: If 8% of the total are receiving S.S. benefits (since when did Social Security benefits become a disqualifying condition?), but only "some" are for serious medical problems ... how many is "some"? Certainly less than 8% of the total. Which means the fraud might not be quite as "widespread" as first indicated.

Secondly: Even if the fraud is as prevalent as they say, the number of planes hitting the ground is not. So perhaps what this report truly indicates is that the FAA medical requirements are more stringent than they need to be.

So if this committee really wants to do something useful, maybe they could move to eliminate the third-class medical altogether. Apparently all it's really doing is adding cost. But then that would mean relinquishing some of the control they have over us. And they can't have that.

Michael Dean


Over a period of 41 years of flying I have known of or suspected several individuals of "falsifying" medical history (Question of the Week, Mar. 28). While I believe the conditions were somewhat minor, I also believe the FAA's stance on many medical issues leads to the falsification. I don't believe the FAA has kept up with the advances in medicine that are available to ameliorate the adverse effect of certain conditions. The FAA is entrenched with individuals who have developed mental constipation regarding the advances in medicine. The age issue is reflective of such mental constipation. The fact that many other member states have adopted the age of 65 for commercial operations and the FAA continues "study" of the issue without adoption of the increased age reflects my charge of mental constipation. I commend the advances the FAA has made in certain areas, but they are not doing enough.

At the same time, however, I blame the aviation community in not bombarding the halls of Congress for faster change within the FAA.

William Due


Liz Moscrop's Across the Pond Columns

I really enjoyed Liz's articles about flying in the U.K., particularly appropriate with the advent of user fees facing us in the U.S.

Please have her on again!

Rennie Goyette

AVweb Replies:

Liz will be writing a column for AVweb every four weeks, so we'll have regular reports from across the pond.

Kevin Lane-Cummings
Columns and Features Editor


NTSB Seeks Solution to Incursions

Heads up guys! (Not down.)

A moving map in my cockpit that allows me to see where I am on the field is one thing, but saying that from that I will avoid conflicts with other craft (both on taxi and flying in) is ludicrous (AVwebFlash, Mar. 28).

It is like giving my kid a GPS and sending him off into the streets assuming he'll not get mowed down by someone else with his head in the display.

Why don't we emphasize the awareness of surroundings mantras: Look both ways; get permission to cross; stop and ask when lost; learn to read the charts, and brief them?

Who is going to be looking at moving maps, once the crew has been to this airport 20 times (even in the fog)?

This sounds like a piece of technology whose only use is to cut down on training and familiarization.

Dave Lamb


Maybe somebody should inform the NTSB that for $2800 a GARMIN 496 has this feature plus XM weather and the complete AOPA airport directory. This could be accomplished in a couple weeks! What planet are these people living on?

John M. Ruppert


F-111 Picture in POTW

I'm just curious, but is the F-111 dumping fuel and then lighting it with the afterburners (Picture of the Week, Mar. 29)? I once saw something like that at night with one of the FB-111s that was off our wing awaiting to be cleared to the back for air refueling ... the pilot did what was called a "Zippo maneuver" that consisted of just what I described. I don't know enough about where the fuel exits the aircraft to know for sure.

Mary Kay Higgins


An old office mate of mine was an AF Bombadier/Navigator on the F-111 in England. He told me about the maneuver pictured in this shot. The 111 has its fuel dump port located directly between the exhaust nozzles of the engines. The pilots dump fuel, go into burner and light up the sky. He called it "The Torch" and said on night flights, they could light up the countryside (and the phone switchboards with irate citizens). Just thought you'd find this interesting!

Al Secen


Read AVmail from other weeks here, and submit your own Letter to the Editor with this form.

 
Join NAA and Help Shape the Next Century of Flight
It's a great time to join the National Aeronautic Association (NAA), the nation's oldest aviation organization. At $39 a year, NAA membership is a terrific value for any aviation enthusiast! Members receive the Smithsonian's Air & Space and NAA's Aero magazines, plus access to aviation records, product discounts, and much more. Call (703) 527-0226 to become an NAA member, or sign up online.
 
AVweb Audio News -- Are You Listening? back to top 
 

AVweb Audio News

AVweb posts audio news on Mondays, plus a new in-depth interview each Friday. In last Friday's podcast, you'll hear Spectrum Aeronautical's Linden Blue talk about changes in the company's aircraft programs. And AVweb's podcast index includes interviews with EADS Socata's Jean-Michel Léonard; ConocoPhillips' Gabe Giordano; Lycoming's Ian Walsh; Avidyne's Paul Hathaway; Aerion Corp's Brian Barents; BusinessJetSEATS Alfred Rapetti; EAA's Dick Knapinski; AOPA's Andrew Cebula; Cirrus Design's Alan Klapmeier; NBAA's Harry Houkes; Reason Foundation's Robert Poole; SATSair's Sheldon Early; Epic Aircraft's Rick Schrameck; AOPA's Randy Kenagy; Eclipse Aviation's Vern Raburn; Xwind's Brad Whitsitt; BoGo Light's Mark Bent; DayJet's Ed Iacobucci; and Pogo Jet's Cameron Burr. In Monday's podcast, hear FAA Administrator on the highs and lows of her term. Remember: In AVweb's podcasts, you'll hear things you won't find anywhere else.

 
Featured AVweb Marketplace Ad: AircraftCostAnalysis
AircraftCostAnalysis calculates aircraft before- and after-tax ownership costs for business and individual owners, joint ownership, charter and rental leasebacks, managed aircraft, commercial, fractional, charter, helicopters, and Ag. Request sample reports.
For contact information regarding this ad and to view more ads, click here.
 
FBO Of The Week back to top 
 

FBO Of The Week: Phazar Flight Support

Nominate an FBO | Rules | Tips | Questions | Winning FBOs

AVweb's "FBO of the Week" ribbon goes to Phazar Flight Support at KFTW in Fort Worth, Texas.

AVweb reader James Knox says the facility staff are attuned to customer's every need.

"Phazar is a relatively new FBO, and they are just puppy-dog eager to please. (Or else it's a plot to make you feel guilty about asking for anything.) They parked my little plane under the wing of the biggest Gulfstream and gave me the same treatment they gave them. Everything is done quickly and on time."

Keep those nominations coming. For complete contest rules, click here.

AVweb is actively seeking out the best FBOs in the country and another one, submitted by you, will be spotlighted here next Monday!

 
Video Of The Week back to top 
 

Video of the Week: Shooting Ultralights Out of the Sky

Recommend a Video | VOTW Archive

Whenever we put out the call, we get a wide variety of links and video clips from AVweb readers. This one, from reader James Fender, made us sit up and take notice. Before you watch, we should warn you that it is indeed part of an air show performance — no ultralights were actually shot down over New Jersey.


Don't see a video screen?
Try disabling ad blockers and refreshing this page.
If that doesn't work, click here to download the video directly.

Don't forget to send us links to any interesting videos you find out there. If you're impressed by it, there's a good chance other AVweb readers will be too. And if we use a video you recommend on AVweb, we'll send out an official AVweb baseball cap as a "thank you."

 
The Lighter Side Of Flight back to top 
 

Short Final

Overheard in IFR Magazine's 'On the Air' Section
Overheard in IFR Magazine's "On the Air"

While cruising at flight levels in a Cheyenne, we heard the following between an American airliner and Miami Center:

American: Center, American Fourteen Eighty-Two looking for higher.

Center: Didn't hear you check in.

American: "First time I've heard your voice. I must've forgot.

Center: That happens when you're over twenty-six or seven.

American: I hope you're talking thousands of feet.

Center: No, age. Sorry.

 
Names Behind The News back to top 
 

Meet the AVwebFlash Team

AVwebFlash is a twice-weekly summary of the latest news, articles, products, features, and events featured on AVweb, the internet's aviation magazine and news service.

Today's issue was written by Contributing Editor Russ Niles (bio) .

Click here to send a letter to the editor. (Please let us know if your letter is not intended for publication.)

Comments or questions about the news should be sent here.

Have a product or service to advertise on AVweb? A question on marketing? Send it to AVweb's sales team.

If you're having trouble reading this newsletter in its HTML-rich format (or if you'd prefer a lighter, simpler format for your PDA or handheld device), there's also a text-only version of AVwebFlash. For complete instructions on making the switch, click here.

Aviate, navigate, communicate.