AVmail: March 12, 2012
Letter of the Week: Of Glass and Steam
Regarding the safety analysis of glass vs. steam panels: As an examiner for general aviation pilot certification, I get to see a multitude of different setups in many cockpits, from all analog instruments with simple radios to Garmin 430/530 multifunctional displays and the full glass panels of G1000 and such. There is no question in my mind that situational awareness information at your fingertips plus weather pictures with continual updates are far superior to what we used to have — just our minds for the total picture and flight service for oral updates and the few airplanes with radar to show in a narrow band what is in front of us.
However, having said all this, I find that many private pilots (as well as some instrument rating applicants) have little knowledge and understanding of how to fly their aircraft on pitch attitudes, power settings, and trim. It's a constant chase of airspeed, power settings that never stay at one place, and trim wheels that keep being rotated.
Given that analog instruments give us a rate of change that is easier to interpret than the displays on glass panels — hence the vector noodles and rate of change arrows — I would lay the problem at our flight instructors' feet to teach our students how to fly our aircraft on pitch, power, and trim! It is so much easier and gets the pilots' heads outside the cockpit, where [they] need to be!
Having flown both, I much prefer glass displays for the artificial horizon, HSI, and most of the rest of the instruments — except the tapes for the airspeed and altimeter (and some VSIs). The analogue presentation is much easier to read quickly. With tapes, it is easy to be off by 100 feet or 10 knots and never even realize it.
The stats also seem to show that the high-end airplanes with high-tech instrumentation have a disproportionately high incidence of landing and take-off mishaps. Methinks the dirty little secret here is that low-time, inexperienced pilots in high-performance airplanes have these kinds of accidents, so it shouldn't be surprising they tear them up in IFR conditions, too. It has nothing to do with the instrumentation, except the expectation of the pilot that with all these bells and whistles the airplane must be better than one of those "old" ones.
Dumb question. Glass is going to rule. It is the nature of the displays that is problematic. They show too much data. Critical values like airspeed don't get sufficient prominence. Airspeed and angle of attack need more emphasis. Map mode and terrain features are excellent improvements.
I'm suspicious that the new-panel aircraft are far more exposed to challenging weather and conditions than are old-panel aircraft, and the numbers used to determine "rate" are too imprecise to quantify the risk. There may be some lack of proficiency at work here, too, but it is hard to separate out what part that may play.
I owned a late-model Mooney with a Garmin 530/430 combo and King steam gauges. I also have a lot of time in a Cessna Garmin 1000-equipped Skyhawk.
The combination of the steam gauges with the Garmin 530/430 combo was far safer and easier to use. All systems have total backups and redundancy.
The Garmin G1000 is difficult to learn and stay current with, particularly if you want to fly serious IFR operations. The fact that the G1000 uses different software in different models with different buttonology is dangerous.
Having only one computer chip for attitude reference is, in my opinion, a major design flaw.
Quite frankly, the King steam gauge system with the HSI and 225 autopilot coupled to the two Garmin GPS units was a dream to fly.
I had a Garmin 530 power supply fail in IMC. It was no problem because the 430 below it is a fully self-contained unit with its own power supply.
Can We Be Friends?
Regarding the Friends of the Earth lawsuit: Are [they] primarily interested in the 25 percent that they get from fines? I grew up in the pattern of a small airport and under the approach for piston airliners. We had a major street to a freeway next to our house. I pumped gas and had lead on me for 10 hours a day. Am I supposed to be ill?
Lead certainly doesn't belong in fuel, and dumping it into the air, even in small quantities, is not a good thing.
But it's unclear to me how FOE's lawsuit will either help or hinder the process of removing lead from avgas. They seem to assume that it's a lack of EPA rulemaking that's the problem. Really? We seem to assume that EPA rulemaking will matter for avgas. Will it?
Someone, somehow needs to light a fire under both the FAA and the manufacturers. Most existing engines run fine on 94UL blendstock, and there are probably other solutions for the few high-compression engines that really need 100LL.
What seems to be missing is a will to pursue all of the reasonable solutions in a timely way.
FOE may or may not be acting wisely, but they are certainly not acting with the interests of GA in mind. Nevertheless, the transition to unleaded avgas must proceed, and it must yield a reasonably-priced viable alternative fuel. GA pilots should support the FAA, the alphabet organizations, and the others that are working to accomplish that transition.
Where has it been documented that the quantity of lead being emitted by use of the current avgas is doing significant damage to the environment? Given that the current constraints on avgas production, transportation, and dispensing are in themselves diminishing the use of same, why cause a ruckus if the problem will go away on its own within a generation except for antiques which we preserve for posterity? The lawsuit is a tempest in a teapot by lawyers who have too much time on their hands and are looking for a misguided do-good organization to provide their meal ticket!
It's a political thing. With fuel costs likely to be $12 a gallon next year, it's probably a moot point.
F-35 on the Line
Regarding your article on Top Gun 2: You stated that the F-35 had not started deliveries yet. You might have trouble explaining that to the airmen at Eglin AFB. Not only do they have F-35s on the ramp; they were just authorized to begin flying them as the primary F-35 training unit.
J. C. Hall
Repeat After Me
On December 20, 2011, a family of five aboard a TBM-700 turboprop was killed in a crash in New Jersey. ATC advised the pilot of moderate to severe rime icing conditions 14 minutes into flight. The TBM pilot told ATC the rime was no problem.
My suggestion is that when severe rime is reported that it be repeated three times. For example: "Rime is moderate to severe, severe, severe."
I have pondered on what could have helped this confident pilot to take note of conditions and at least think of options before it was too late. I put this before you hoping with your influence you can at least bring the matter for discussion. Thank you for your time.
Although icing was occurring at the time of the accident, the investigation is still going on, and icing has not been named the cause.