Books reviewed for this article:
by Howard Fried
"This book is not for the faint of heart." This disclaimer usually goes with books about murder and mayhem. It can also be applied to Howard Fried's "Violations," which takes the reader from the moment an airman is informed, by letter, of a violation to what that airman can do to have the matter resolved. While a majority of pilots will never have an encounter with the FAA or NTSB, Howard's book gives the reader a complete and detailed account of what to do when an action is deemed a violation, and the journey through the FAA's enforcement labyrinth starts. Included are many case law examples, both from Howard's personal experiences and from those of other airmen.
Howard's Enforcement Flow Chart is a handy guide showing airmen what steps can be taken from the FAA action, possible action at each level, to the dreaded and all-final appeal step to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
To some, this may sound like a book intended to complete a student pilot's aviation knowledge. No way! If this were to be required reading for any student or new pilot, the numbers for new pilot start-ups and completions would drop significantly. This book would literally scare most people from ever wanting to deal with the FAA. And that might be a good thing.
There are some "good and respectable" FAA employees, according to Howard. However, readers can ascertain from his personal dealings with the FAA that he's convinced the "good" ones don't outnumber the "bad" ones. And it's apparent that without Howard's love of teaching and flying he would not have pursued these so passionately.
Even if readers aren't concerned with being caught up in any FAA actions, and have no interest in reading about those that have, this book explains a number of subjects, such as the "609 Rule," in detailed and easy-to-understand language. Readers especially those employed by the FAA may not like what Howard has to say, or the way he says it, but they can obtain a wealth of knowledge of the agency's enforcement process by reading "Violation."
Flying for the past 21 years as a weekend, when-I-can pilot has taken its toll on my competency. During my biennial flight review, I have no problem answering questions about Class B airspace and such, but ask me some of those questions I answered correctly on the FAA exam back 21 years ago and I would probably fail.
I'd like to think I am in the minority, but I don't think so. Those of us who make good landings, and find our way around the skies with the help of our Lorans and GPSs tend to forget the basics. And "basics" is exactly what this book is all about.
Granted most of us old and bold pilots don't need to be told what to look for when taking a fuel sample. However, there are parts of this book that I had forgotten. One example is a drawing that I can understand and use for tying down my airplane. Don't laugh. My husband always used chains in when we based our 172 in Manassas, Va., and, one evening many years ago when a passing thunderstorm spawned a microburst, damaging or totaling several planes parked nearby, our airplane remained untouched. Now based in Las Vegas, where the winds can blow up to 50 mph, chains are the recommended tiedowns. However, when I travel and have to use tiedown ropes, I'm taking this book along.
Student pilots will find this little paperback book packed with easy-to-read and understand basics from the preflight to landing. I even go so far as to suggest that the Be-A-Pilot program buy a few thousand and start handing them out. These little books explain much and keep students and rated pilots alike interested.
Mr. Heitman also has some words of true wisdom for those of us who fly: "The techniques, examples, photographs and illustrations that are presented are intended to stimulate pilots into thinking about how they can improve their flying, starting with the basics." Perhaps his most important advice is that "The learning process first must begin with the thinking process."
Food for deep thoughts. I know one thing for sure I intend on doing a lot more thinking and planning before my next takeoff.
Too many popular, mass-market novels about aviation are written by "wannabes" who miss or totally flub some basic details about aviation, airports or specific airplanes. Those errors in detail, while often not detracting from the story being told, tend to ruin things for me, since I'm just as interested in the aviation portions as I am the plot. So, when an air traffic controller told me about TRACON and that controllers and pilots had helped the author, Paul McElroy, develop the technical parts and that it was "the real deal," I had to see for myself. I wasn't disappointed.
As the title suggests, TRACON chronicles the fictional events in a regional terminal radar approach control facility, the one serving Chicago and the O'Hare International Airport (ORD), in this case. Our hero is Ryan Kelly, a controller at the facility. As the story opens, Kelly and his colleagues are facing the afternoon "push" at ORD when the computer system providing target IDs and Mode C information on their radar screens fails, due to an outage of the facility's main generator. Of course, the backup generator is down for maintenance. After Kelly and his colleagues work without a net for a few minutes, the system comes back. But this brief little episode is only foreshadowing for what is to come.
The central event in TRACON is a midair collision over Lake Michigan involving two airliners. One of the doomed airliners is carrying the sister and brother-in-law of Kelly's newfound love interest, Christy Cochran, an editor for a local newspaper, whom he meets when she brings her son to the facility for a familiarization tour after the paper ran a flawed story about the computer outage. Initially, the investigation into the midair focuses on whether Kelly screwed up and vectored a climbing flight into a descending one. Of course, it's not that simple. Instead, Kelly and his colleagues are concerned that a TCAS unit aboard one of the flights and which is manufactured by a company whose management is close to a powerful U.S. senator with jurisdiction over the FAA and whose journalist-daughter is aboard one of the flights is responsible for giving erroneous resolution advisories (RAs) to one of the crews in the midair. In this case, it is suspected that the TCAS unit's RAs presented to its crew precisely the wrong maneuver. The results and all of the evidence fall into Lake Michigan, or so it is initially thought.
Along the way, Kelly and Christy hit it off well, until the senator and his cohorts try to blame Kelly for the midair. Torn between her growing affection for Kelly and her loyalty to her dead friends, Christy decides to cool the budding relationship. Of course, this comes at the wrong time for Kelly, who is besieged by the press not to mention the FAA, which is attempting to frame him for the midair at the good senator's behest. All of which makes for a very difficult time for our hero, who is left with nothing else to do but take matters into his own hands with the help of a sympathetic and FAA-skeptical NTSB investigator and try to find the smoking gun which will both exonerate him and his colleagues while implicating the TCAS manufacturer and, ultimately, the senator.
Do Christy and Kelly get horizontal? Is Kelly exonerated in the midair and do the senator and his cronies get what's coming to them? Is TCAS faulted by controllers for its inability to present the "big picture" to crews and for forcing controllers to give up some of their authority to a black box? Sorry; that would be giving away too much. What I can tell you, though, is that TRACON doesn't disappoint on the technical details McElroy does get them right, with a little help from his friends. Of course, the sometimes-elementary explanations necessary for the non-pilot/controller reader occasionally get in the way and some of the plot seems formulaic at times. Similarly, the concentration on TCAS as the main technical antagonist facing controllers obviously overlooks many other challenges these men and women face every day. Still, if you're looking for a decent mystery novel about aviation, one that doesn't fall down on technical accuracy and with some thrills and twists, TRACON should be on your checklist.
Now, if only someone would write a similar book about aviation Web site editors....
Joseph E. (Jeb) Burnside
If you or someone you know is thinking about learning to fly, this book could help answer many of the inevitable questions that come up. It might also include a bit too much advanced material that could confuse prospective pilots with little or no experience in aviation.
So, You want To Be A Pilot starts out simply enough, by reviewing the very basic elements of how a wing generates lift and how an airplane is controlled. The first few chapters even describe a prospective pilot's first familiarization flight and include some basic information a student pilot with zero hours really should know, like what an FBO is and how it came to be called that. Davis goes on to define many of the terms and abbreviations student pilots need to learn and that the crustier flight instructors and "airport bums" all too often expect them to know when they walk in the door for their first lesson. Also included in these first few chapters is a basic primary flight training syllabus designed to inform the prospective pilot on the various maneuvers he or she is expected to learn, when and for what reasons.
One of the things Davis does very well is use plain, simple language to explain the many foreign concepts with which a fresh, new student pilot must come to grips. One example is the correct definition for "dead reckoning" (Hint: It has nothing to do with whether or not you'll die if you can't master this basic form of navigation.) The author also does a very good job of simply explaining the different types of airman certificates the FAA grants, the role of the medical certificate in determining a pilot's privileges and how to go about obtaining a list of designated medical examiners serving a local area. Similarly, his description of how an airplane's controls work and why is short, simple and accurate. This isn't a detailed text in the same league as the FAA's Instrument Flying Handbook or anything, but it's not meant to be, either.
The author also goes on to describe a typical in-flight session with a flight instructor, with the need to use rudder input to counter adverse yaw as an example. By splitting the basic coordinated level turn into two parts use of the rudder and use of the ailerons the maneuver is broken down into its two basic elements and explained simply and concisely. Davis even tackles stalls and spins in a manner calculated to help instill confidence in a student pilot and help him or her understand that these maneuvers are normal ones and help demonstrate both low-speed handing of an airplane as well as the fact that they don't "fall out of the sky." A brief chapter on instrument flying is also included.
While all of this material is appropriate, accurate and presented in a fashion designed to maximize its clarity for readers with little to no knowledge of general aviation, inclusion of other material perplexed me. For example, the close-up illustrations used to describe a preflight inspection use a Piper Seneca as the example aircraft. While there's nothing at all wrong with the Seneca, it's not a primary trainer and I'm left wondering why a more representative example of a training airplane wasn't used.
Similarly, the last few chapters contain material that could ultimately be confusing to a new student pilot, including a discussion of the Beech Model 18 and King Air 200; a brief anecdote about a pilot and his loyal dog running out of gas and dead-sticking an airplane into a corn field; a story about using a King Air to help a friend retrieve a stolen sailboat; two examples of the author's experiences with ice and snow while flying in the northeast U.S. during winter and, well, you get the idea. It's not clear to me why these chapters were included, except perhaps to give the reader a well-rounded perspective on the different type of airplanes and operations a charter pilot might be expected to fly. I was left wondering if Davis might have been better off incorporating descriptions of typical training airplanes rather than heavy twins, and taking his readers along for a closer look at the flights a private pilot might conduct with his friends and family: $100 hamburgers, sightseeing and weekend vacations.
That said, it's easy to overlook some of these failings and to concentrate on the portions of So, You Want To Be A Pilot which more tightly target providing prospective pilots with what they should expect when beginning their flight training. Those objectives Davis achieves quite effectively and economically.
Joseph E. (Jeb) Burnside
And now for something completely different...
Fabulous Affairs With Aircraft (And Federal Aviation Airheads), by Eugene L. (Gene) Turner, is a series of short, autobiographical stories tracing the author's career in the aviation industry, one that included some 38 years as an engineer with the FAA. In fact, the author's career spans what I'll call the era of modern aviation, that which occurred in the years since the end of World War II. As such, it is an excellent snapshot of what one man did and saw during the period when jets and helicopters began service and were fully developed while general aviation airplanes and the homebuilt movement both gained popularity.
During WWII, Turner enlisted and was trained as a P-47 Thunderbolt pilot. Afterward, he went to college and earned a degree in aeronautical engineering, which helped him nail down jobs with companies like Bell Helicopter, Convair and Beech. Although he went to work at the FAA in 1958, Turner didn't let that slow him down: He has designed numerous experimental airplanes, including the Turner T-40 and its many variants, the T-77 and the T-100D ultralight. So, the man knows whereof he speaks.
Along the way, Turner had a ringside seat for many of the more interesting engineering and development projects of his time. One example is the never-produced Bell "flying wing" helicopter, which looked like the head of a hammerhead shark with counter-rotating rotors appended to each site, along with a short, stubby fuselage and a T-tail for added stability. According to Turner, elements of this design made their way into what became the company's main money-maker: The Bell XH-40, or Huey. The author's other experiences at Bell were less than satisfactory: In designing a new, four-blade rotor and hub, he inadvertently stepped on the toes of the engineers who had developed the existing twin-blade design and who were making decent money on the royalties from their labors. Suffice it to say that Turner left Bell soon thereafter.
One of the best parts of Fabulous Affairs With Aircraft (And Federal Aviation Airheads) has to do with those parts of Turner's career that encapsulate his career at the FAA. Indeed, most long-time observers of the FAA would note that the agency seems to have had more than its share of "airheads": employees who either aren't adequately prepared for their jobs, who place internal politics above promoting aviation and aviation safety, or who exhibit some measure of both characteristics. Turner offers his readers with adequate proof that the observer's belief in this phenomenon is not without justification.
Take, for instance, the FSDO inspector who tried to make a federal case over an aircraft that wasn't displaying its N-number, the data plate for which she couldn't find. In this case, the aircraft in question a VariEze was being painted and its data plate was on the underside of the fuselage, a place the inspector apparently did not wish to inspect. Or, consider the FAA employee who managed to back his own government car into the only other car at an accident site in an open field.
But perhaps the most interesting and educational portions of Turner's discussions of his time at the FAA and later, as a designated engineering representative, involve his anecdotes about the various certification and engineering tests conducted by the agency. These involve such types as the Lockheed L-1011, the DC-10 and the Boeing 737-200, to name a few. Additionally, he tells the tales of testing various smaller aircraft, including his own T-40, a Bellanca 14-19 Cruisemaster with a single vertical stabilizer, and the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter.
While it's not a reference work, a "how-to" book, nor a mystery novel like the rest of the books reviewed for this article, Gene Turner's Fabulous Affairs With Aircraft (And Federal Aviation Airheads) is nonetheless a fun read and one that provides worthwhile insights into several of the lesser-known aspects of designing, building and testing many of the airplanes and helicopters we all take for granted. While the book's layout and production have a few "rough" spots, it left me wanting to learn more about many of the events he describes. Maybe someday he'll sit down and pen a longer, more detailed examination of these and other anecdotes. I'll read it.
To learn more about Fabulous Affairs With Aircraft (And Federal Aviation Airheads), by Eugene L. (Gene) Turner, or to order a copy, email the publisher directly.
Joseph E. (Jeb) Burnside