AVmail: August 11, 2003
Reader mail this week about AVweb's Oshkosh coverage, pictures and questions of the week, cargo plane crashes and more.
Picture of the Week
What happened to the Picture of the Week? It seems to have stopped.
Didn't you get enough photos in our AirVenture coverage from Oshkosh?
Picture of the Week took a vacation while we were in Oshkosh. It's back now.
Newswriter and POTW Editor
Question of the Week: Is the use of cellphone a risk to aircraft safety?
I am a new subscriber to AVweb, though I've been perusing the pages for nearly a year now, and found this Question of the Week to be rather thought-provoking.
I am a student pilot flying the Piper PA28-160 and my instructor has, from time to time, received cell phone calls while in the cockpit. Now, both he and I are confident in my flying abilities, to the point that he described my air work as "immaculate;" however, my question about the safety issue on cell phones comes as one where, while you are flying, your attention must be carefully divided between instruments, controls, navigation, communications with ATC or Unicom, and scanning for other aircraft. The cell phone is, in my opinion, an unnecessary distraction to a workload that may already be taxed, given turbulent conditions, crosswind corrections, wind shear and wake turbulence avoidance.
Had I not been an "immaculate" flyer, would he still have taken that call? What if I had lost control of the aircraft and he had to take over? He was occupied on a call, and would have to use a couple of very precious seconds (we were in the pattern at 1200 MSL) to transition from cell phone call to aircraft control (dropping the phone, grasping the controls, restoring control of the aircraft, etc.)
Cell phones do have their place, and in an aircraft are an invaluable tool. If you have to call your FBO to let them know you're socked in with the weather, it's right there for you. If you have to set down in a farmer's field because that great big fan up front stopped cooling you off, it's there to call for assistance. If you land at an uncontrolled field in unfamiliar territory, it's there to call FSS to close your flight plan. However, in my opinion, it should never be on while you are piloting the aircraft.
Potential interference issues aside, it's simply dangerous to let yourself become distracted, even mildly so, by the cell phone's ringing ... or worse, chatting on it while you're flying.
It is against FCC regulations to use a cell phone in flight. However, your points apply equally well to any legal system (such as satellite phones) used by a pilot or CFI while in flight.
Features and AVmail Editor
NTSB: DC-8 Crash Caused By Faulty Maintenance
As a former crewmember of the now defunct Emery Worldwide Airlines I was happy to see that the NTSB hearing received mention in your publication. For far too long, cargo crashes have received very little notice due to the relatively small loss of life (crew only). However, this can be very misleading -- a fuel laden cargo jet crashing down into an occupied schoolyard or business would be just as devastating as a passenger crash. Fortunately, this hasn't happened, but we've come close.
Had this particular jet been operating on schedule, it would had impacted the auto salvage yard while an auction was in progress, and probably have resulted in a significant loss of life. It is a tribute to my departed friends -- Captain Ken Stables, First Officer George Land, and Second Officer Russell Hicks -- that this aircraft did not strike a housing development. The cargo industry deserves the same scrutiny that the passenger-carrying segment receives; we operate under the same regulations -- companies should be held to the same standards. Although the report didn't raise all the issues I thought important, I am happy that this report was not buried in the bureaucratic morass.
Many thanks from a loyal reader.
Roll Your Own Electronic Flight Bag
I had a few thoughts while reading this article and would like to pass them along.
1. Tablets didn't first appear with the Tablet PC. They've been around for a long time. The only things that did appear was a new set of applications to run on XP that Microsoft calls XP Tablet Edition and a massive marketing campaign.
2. Tablet PCs can be found cheap either used, or better yet end-of-lifed. I bought a low-powered (but very functional) SonicBlue ProGear for $599.
3. Another vendor provides all the sectionals, IFR charts and IAPs/STARs/DPs: MapTech. And they have a good subscription price, too!
4. There is a holy grail: UPS's MX20 and CNX80 have navigation certified charts built in. According to their Marketing Director (at Oshkosh) the Jeppesen update costs $420. He said (and I verified with the Jeppesen people a few booths down -- isn't Oshkosh great!) that those files can be used with JeppView. So you can use them on your tablet computer in the cockpit, satisfying the safety need of redundancy. This is still very expensive. But I'm sure everyone will be copying everyone by the next Oshkosh and prices will soon be reasonable.
Thanks for your letter. There's a semantic issue about the term "Tablet PC."
Microsoft uses the term (and licenses it to hardware vendors) only for devices that run Windows XP, Tablet PC edition, which among other things requires an active digitizer that works with an electronic pen for input. Most (if not all) of the earlier devices used a touch-sensitive screen and ran Windows 98 with Pen Extensions. They were usually referred to as Pen Computers or Slate Computers. The signficance of Tablet PCs is that they can be bought brand-new for a lot less money (typically $2000 or so) than purpose-built EFBs, which have used the older technology.
That said, your suggestion about buying a used Pen Computer may be a reasonable, low-cost option. I'd be careful to check the system requirements of whatever vendor's software you plan to run on it -- the older units had slower processors, less memory and smaller hard disks than today's Tablet PCs -- but some vendors are still selling them for aviation use. Candidly, the touch-sensitive display can be easier to use in the cockpit (my wife tied the pen to my Motion Computing Tablet PC with an elastic string, to prevent me from dropping it) as you can use a fingertip or any other handy object.
I'll add MapTech's product to my list, along with Destination Direct, which I learned about at Oshkosh. As you say, there are bound to be more of these over time -- which will drive the price down and make it all more affordable!
I missed the opportunity to fly to Oshkosh this year but carefully read your reporting. Great job. I especially liked the new videos from the airshow. It made me feel like I was there.
Will you do the same next year?
Glad you liked it. Yes, we hope to do it all again next year.