AVmail: January 10, 2011
Letter of the Week: A Brief History of Flight Planning
I've read with considerable interest on this and other sites about the FlightPrep patent enforcement efforts and some concerns that have been expressed by the flying community. I'm not quite sure I understand what all the fuss is about, but then, I come at the issue with a perspective that is perhaps different than most.
First, I'm an attorney with almost 27 years of legal experience. I've read and, believe or not, actually understand the FlightPrep patent that's at issue here. Second, I'm a Commercial Pilot with almost 24 years of flying experience. Third, I'm a frustrated software developer who has satisfied that frustration, to some degree, by being a beta tester for numerous real developers for more than 25 years. Among them has been the Stenbock-Everson team in its various iterations since late 1980s.
FlightPrep has said that it is enforcing a legitimate patent to protect its software innovation. I happen to agree. Some in the flying community have argued that FlightPrep's efforts are akin to trying patent air and are harming the flying community. I respectfully disagree on both counts. First, the notion that Roger Stenbock and Kyle Everson don't have the best interest of the flying community at heart is simply misinformed, in my opinion. Why do I think that? Because of my familiarity with both of these pilots/software developers for more than 23 years.
Back in the 1980s, Roger M. Stenbock was one of the co-founders of RMS Technology, a company that, to this day, still bears his initials. RMS Technology created one of the first ever PC-based flight planning programs. Though crude by today's standards, perhaps, the first text/DOS-based FliteSoft program by RMS was cutting edge for its time. Needless to say, Roger was a key part of that.
When Roger and his former partner decided to part company in the early 1990s, Roger started MentorPlus. Roger brought Kyle on board, and together they developed the first ever graphical user interface (GUI)-based flight planning program for Windows 286/386. In addition to having the first GUI-based program, MentorPlus's flight planning software innovations over the years have also included:
- the first point-to-point and rubber band routing options
- the first to create complex aircraft modeling profiles for take-off
- climb, cruise and descent fuel consumption estimates
- the first GPS-based moving map
- the first automated DUATs dial-up and weather retrieval script
- the first to automatically interpolate and incorporate winds aloft info into the flight plan
MentorPlus's software used Jeppesen data, and because of the little company's enormous success with developing new ideas, Jeppesen eventually decided to buy them out. The Jeppesen FliteStar program that still exists today is what the Stenbock and Everson team created.
The list of "firsts" for Stenbock and Everson in flight planning development is long, but none is perhaps more important to the flying community than the simple little script they added to FliteStar that automated the process of DUATs weather retrieval. Why? Because that little script helped to save the DUATs program for all pilots who use it today.
When the FAA first contracted with several vendors to make DUATs available to pilots, very few, if any, pilots had access to high-speed internet. These were the dark ages when a 56K dial-up modem was cutting edge and $200 a pop. In its infinite wisdom, the FAA contracts called for the FAA to pay each contractor by the minute of online time, meaning that the longer each pilot stayed online to get his or her briefing, the more the FAA had to pay the contractor. With most pilots using 28K modems and each briefing requiring interactive responses to every input request, each briefing took between 5-10 minutes to complete. As a consequence, the cost of the DUATs program was becoming unsustainable.
Because the Stenbock and Everson team had already developed a script to automate the DUATs process, they took the initiative to partner with one of the DUATs vendors and create a stand-alone program that would automate the DUATs process. The Golden Eagle program, as it became known, was offered free of charge to all pilots when development was completed. The automated process helped to lower the cost of the DUATs program for the FAA, which made it sustainable again. In short, Stenbock and Everson are a key reason DUATs survives today for all pilots to use.
Not enough? O.K., well, how about this: The Stenbock-Everson development team worked with AOPA to create the first ever real-time flight planner based on the MentorPlus FliteStar program, the very program and service that is still offered today to all AOPA members free of charge.
Bottom line: Roger Stenbock and Kyle Everson are both long-time pilots and software developers. They have pioneered huge innovations in the field of computer-based flight planning, and those innovations deserve protection, as all innovations do. Just because some of those innovations seem ubiquitous today doesn't mean they still don't deserve protection. If you invent something new, you have the right to protect that invention under our current patent and copyright system.
Just because the Wright Brothers patented the airplane doesn't mean we all can't fly one. Just because Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone doesn't mean we can't use one. Just because Stenbock and Everson developed the first online flight planner doesn't mean we can't use that either.
But under our current system of laws, each of those inventions and time spent developing them deserve protection. That protection provides the inventor, in part, the right to be compensated by anyone else who profits from the use of the invention. That's not unfair or unreasonable, in my opinion. And, what's more, it's the law.
What the Stenbock & Everson team has done for the aviation community over the course or more than 25 years is simply huge. They have been generous to a fault, but they also deserve to profit from their legitimate innovations in the field.
Ditch the E6B
I quit as a student pilot. Is anyone interested? You'd never know. All the committees and symposia seem to just ignore us.
Why not ask us? It's because they're afraid to hear what we'll tell them.
The first, not necessarily the primary, reason is the E6B. If you want to keep students in 2011, throw the thing out!! I can see the aviation establishment huffing and puffing about how someone would dare someone question their antique fetish. Let me tell you, that is exactly what I considered it when it was pushed on me. I know a majority of new students think the same thing when it's first foisted upon them.
There are no GPSs, no modern electronics, no modern navigation aids, no engine controls, no glass panels; first you must eat worms, like in a college fraternity. First you must use the E6B and take a chance on getting lost on your first cross-country.
So I refused to fly my cross-country without using the GPSs in my airplane. I wanted to be safe, but my by-the-book flight instructor wanted me to "be prepared" for the practical examination. "You can't use a GPS. What if the batteries run out?"
I do have a Masters in Education and am an experienced educator. The biggest problem [with flight training] is the fossilized curriculum, but I am resigned that the flight training community and the FAA will never admit it as we watch GA go to ruin.
Better ELT Installations
Regarding ELTs and antenna installations: I have been an A&P and IA for many years, and I have seen ELTs mounted in many different ways, including velcro!
Whether it's a new 406 or an old 121.5 ELT, solid airframe mounting is a must. I have always considered making an antenna coax cable much longer (in case of fuselage separation) and installing antennae on top and bottom with a coax splitter. I know the coax is supposed to be a certain length as specified by the manufacturer, but if the antenna coax comes loose, searchers have to be almost on top of an aircraft to find it.
I think that all mechanics should give some thoughts for better installations. Velcro is hardly the answer. You might as well hold it in your lap!
Regarding the story on China's new stealth fighter: China is certainly creating a major aerospace industry. They're training far more engineers than the U.S. or Europe (and a lot less lawyers and accountants!). But they're probably not interested in military conquest; they've already discovered that economic power is much more potent. Much of the U.S.'s debt is owned by China.
China is not a threat to the U.S.A. or any other distant country. They have plenty of problems to deal with internally and have shown little interest in external activity over their 5,000-year history. It just doesn't matter whether they build high-tech fighters or not.
The real question is whether we can get Clint Eastwood to steal one for us.
A Telling Video
The video on the American Airlines 757 overrun at Jackson Hole shows a couple of things.
The autobrakes, spoilers, and thrust reversers are always interconnected in some fashion. This has to do with where the airplane thinks it is and an air-ground switch, main wheel spin-up, and thrust reverser deployment.
What should have happened on this flight was that prior to landing both the auto spoilers and the autobrakes should have been "armed" by the flight crew. After landing, nothing happens until the crew selects reverse and the reversers "unlock."
Once the reversers unlock, the air/ground sensor indicates the aircraft is on the ground, and the main wheels spin up, the autobrakes and autospoilers activate.
The autobrakes are selectable from positions of OFF, 1, 2, 3, and MAX.
Autobrakes' MAX would have been the industry-accepted setting with an appropriate announcement to the passengers advising of the pending abruptness of the braking and letting them know they shouldn't be alarmed.
What looks like happened was that one or both thrust reversers did not unlock and therefore the autospoilers did not deploy. The only variable in the mix is why — but my guess is listed below.
The crew would have resorted to manual braking almost immediately when they felt no deceleration, still fighting with the thrust reversers as they did eventually did come out — just maybe too late. They wasted too much time with working the reverser problem and did not notice the lack of spoilers, a costly error. The spoilers are actually the most critical component. Without the spoilers, it is impossible to stop under these conditions.
My prediction is the NTSB will find that the pilot flying tried to deploy the thrust reversers prematurely — they won't deploy in flight — and therefore the auto spoilers and brakes didn't work.
The pilot not flying was probably distracted by the thrust reverser problem and should have reached across and manually deployed the spoilers to MAX as the pilot flying worked on brakes and thrust reversers. The spoilers activated too late (if at all) to get the aircraft stopped.
My speculation is that the thrust reversers and spoilers didn't engage because of the electrical interference caused by the inappropriate use of an electrical device (in this case a video camera) in the cabin during landing, contrary to cabin crew instructions.
Medical Age Triggers
In your recent podcast, "What Could Be the End of the Third Class Medical," Dr. Blue incorrectly states the new duration of first and third class medical certificates. He speaks about it applying to pilots "under age 35" (see timestamps 4:17 and 4:57).
He should have stated that this is for pilots who have medicals issued before their 40th birthday. This could actually allow pilots to fly with a third class medical issued the month before their 40th birthday until just before their 45th birthday.
As I was listening to this podcast, I suddenly became concerned that I had incorrectly advised many pilots and had many flying with invalid medicals at the flight school I manage. I quickly looked at FAR 61.23 to confirm that Dr. Blue was incorrect.
Stress EKG for pilots over 35 with first class medicals is correct as stated by Dr. Blue.
Craig is correct. I was thinking about the EKG age. Should have used notes. Sorry for the error.
Happy New Year
I just wish to compliment you and all your colleagues for all the interesting stuff that you contribute to AVweb. I've been reading it with interest for many years and look forward to it each week.
All the very best for a good 2011 and many more.