AVwebFlash - Volume 21, Number 11b

March 13, 2014

AEA Opens In Nashville: Sales Up

As the Aircraft Electronics Association opens its 57th annual convention in Nashville today, it reports that avionics sales were up 6.9 percent in 2013 over the previous year. In this AVweb video, AEA president Paula Derks says total worldwide sales for general aviation avionics amounted to $2.42 billion and trends for 2014 look similarly positive so far. AEA’s analysis revealed that the retrofit avionics market is nearly as large as the OEM segment, with $1.1 billion in total revenues compared to $1.3 billion for the OEM for forward-fit side.

Some 140 exhibitors are at the show and Derks expects 23 new product introductions across of range of market segments. As it has been for the past two years, ADS-B-related products are expected to be a big draw as the equipage mandate draws ever nearer in 2020.

Derks says AEA has partnered with the NextGen GA Fund, a private capital fund with government loan guarantees to provide inexpensive financing for NextGen-related equipment, and not just ADS-B installations. The NextGen fund will initially have about $550 million in capital, but will eventually support as much as $1.3 billion in recurring financial services over the next decade. Given that some 157,000 general aviation aircraft will require ADS-B to operate in the national airspace system, the NextGen fund might find plenty of customers, according to Derks.

AEA’s partnering with the NextGen fund will allow shops to quickly and easily access financing for their customers needing ADS-B. Michael Dyment, the NextGen Funds manager, said Congress approved the loan guarantees as a means of protecting its $40 billion investment in the NextGen system, which promises to all but reinvent how the NAS operates and is managed. The loan guarantees will allow the NextGen fund to offering private-sector financing at interest rates slightly below those of commercial banks. For more, see NexaCapital.com.

Video: AEA Opens In Nashville

The Aircraft Electronics Association opened in 57th annual convention in Nashville this week with good news:  Avionics sales for 2013 were up 6.9% in 2013 over the previous year.  In this video interview, AEA's Paula Derks says about 23 new products will be introduced in Nashville.


AEA 2014: Drone Support Goes Mainstream

If industry forecasts about the growth of the unmanned aerial vehicle market are correct, there could be as many as 1.2 million drones buzzing around the national airspace during the next decade and someone will need to maintain them. A new company called Robotic Skies sees a robust market in supporting and servicing UAV systems and it’s putting together a network of existing avionics shops to do just that. Robotic Skies founder Brad Hayden, Aspen Avionics’ former marketing director, is making the rounds at the 57th annual Aircraft Electronics Association convention recruiting shops interested in gaining a toehold in what could be a burgeoning market for UAV sales, support and maintenance.

In this exclusive video coverage from AEA in Nashville, Hayden told AVweb that the domestic UAV market could be as large as $82 billion between 2015 and 2025, according to data from the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. “Even if they’re half right, that’s going to be a lot of airframes flying around in the airspace that are going to require maintenance,” Hayden said. Drones of all sizes will require not just repairs, but support for marketing, insurance and technical advice on integrating into the national airspace system.

Hayden says the manufacturers of small, affordable drones, which are proliferating, aren’t necessarily interested in having them shipped back for service and are looking for field support options. Eventually, larger commercial drones will become part of the general aviation mix, requiring avionics and autopilots every bit as sophisticated as found in the typical GA airplane today. Robotic Skies plans to stitch together a network of shops and manufacturers to provide service as drone systems are integrated into the NAS.

Even though hobbyists are currently flying below the FAA’s literal and regulatory radar, Hayden says the FAA has signaled that these systems will come under some sort of FAA framework, perhaps similar to the oversight used for the light sport aircraft industry. Hayden says Robotic Skies already has nine services centers and it expect to expand aggressively during 2014. For more, check out Robotic Skies' website.

Video: Drone Support Takes Off With Robotic Skies

Drones are coming to an air space near you -- but who's going to service and maintain those fleets of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)?  There's a good chance it will be Brad Hayden's company, Robotic Skies.


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AEA: Aspen Rolls Out New VFR EFIS

Aspen Avionics says it’s serious about reducing the cost of new avionics and at the Aircraft Electronic Association Convention in Nashville it rolled out a new product to prove it. At a price of $4995, Aspen showed off its new VFR-only EFIS intend for aircraft owners who would like glass, but don’t want or need the boatload of features that a full, IFR-certified system would otherwise force them to buy.

In this video report from Nashville, Aspen’s John Uczekaj told AVweb that customers have expressed a definite interest in lower-priced, entry-level EFIS products that can be upgraded to grow with a pilot’s capabilities, interests and budget. He said the company rejects the notion that only consumer electronics can enjoy a downward price curve and he says Aspen is determined to apply the same principle to affordable avionics.

Outwardly, the VFR product resembles Aspen’s popular EFD 1000 Evolution series, which can consist of two or three displays mounted side-by-side and intended specifically for retrofit. The displays include less data than the full-featured IFR product. “So you’ll have less scanning to do and more time with your head out the window and thus improve the safety of flying,” Uczekaj says.

Video: Aspen's New VFR Product

At AEA in Nashville, Aspen introduced its new VFR EFIS, an entry-level, affordable glass suite for owners who don't need full IFR capability.  AVweb takes a video tour of the new product.


AEA: BendixKing’s Airborne Internet Access

Airborne connectivity has developed into a lively market for business aircraft and even for owner-flown singles and twins. It’s the latter category that BendixKing is pitching its new AeroWave 100 cabin internet system to.

In this video shot at the AEA show in Nashville, BendixKing’s Jim Zanino explains that the AeroWave uses an Inmarsat satellite to provide 3G speeds for internet access and limited voice communication to an airborne aircraft. And unlike previous systems, the AeroWave will bill bandwidth by the hour, not by data volume. Cost of the system is $19,995 and it’s intended for light twins and business aircraft.

Video: BendixKing's AeroWave Internet Access

At the Aircraft Electronics Association convention in Nashville, BendixKing tossed its hat into the airborne connectivity ring with a new internet access product called the AeroWave.  In this video, Avweb gets a look at the new box.


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Garmin Announces AOA, Radar Altimeter At AEA

Garmin introduced an angle of attack indicator system with the GI 260 that the company says offers "intuitive, safety-enhancing AOA information which is simple to install in GA aircraft." The system, which includes the display, the pitot and the air data computer will sell for $1,499 and operates differently from lift reserve type systems. The device "provides a visual indication of flight characteristics leading to a stall, incorporating visual and audible alerts as the aircraft nears the critical angle of attack," according to Garmin. The company also announced a new radar altimeter designed specifically for helicopters and GA aircraft.

The GRA 55 and GI 205 are a sensor/display system that provides "smooth altitude tracking" in rough terrain and above the trees. A pilot-selectable decision height preset triggers an audible alarm and the GRA 55 fulfills the radar altimeter requirement recently imposed by the FAA. It will play through "select Garmin integrated flight decks and flight displays, as well as some third-party displays." It will be available in the next few months for $6,995. Those without the requisite displays can buy the two devices as a package, including antennae, for $11,995. The GI 205 stand-alone indicator will be available by the end of the year on its own for $3,995.

Eclipse Delivers First E550 Jet

The first customer for an all-new Eclipse 550 jet took delivery today in Albuquerque, the company said in a news release. The 550 is an advanced version of the original six-seat jet, with upgraded systems throughout, and new features such as auto-throttles, anti-skid brakes, and high-resolution cockpit displays with faster processing speeds. "This is an exciting day for Eclipse Aerospace and for general aviation," said Eclipse Aerospace CEO Mason Holland. "The Eclipse 550 is a 'game-changer' aircraft that fits in the new value-driven economy, attracting operators looking for an advanced jet aircraft with excellent performance and economic efficiencies that allow for maximizing every travel dollar."

The aircraft is assembled in Albuquerque from parts manufactured around the world. Holland told AVweb airplanes ordered today would be delivered within six months. He expects to deliver about two aircraft a month, and the jet is sold out for about the next six months. "It's a ramp-up year for us, but we're pleased," Holland said. "We're feeling like 2014 is going to be a nice steady year for us." He said the company can scale for deliveries from 1.5 to 10 airplanes per month. The 550 will be on display at Sun 'n Fun and the company will have a presence at Aero Friedrichshafen. The second delivery also will take place this week, Holland said, to a customer based in Chile. The Eclipse 550 can fly at altitudes up to 41,000 feet for up to 1,125 nautical miles, with a maximum speed of 375 knots, while burning 59 gph of jet fuel in cruise. It sells for $2.9 million.

AVweb's editorial director Paul Bertorelli went for a flight last year in a Total Eclipse, the factory-remanufactured version of the original jet; here's the video.

DAHER-SOCATA Reveals New TBM 900

On March 12, DAHER-SOCATA revealed its new TBM 900 single-engine turboprop at a ceremony in Tarbes, France. (PDF)  Including what was described as 26 modifications to its predecessor, the TBM 850, the recently certified TBM 900 has an announced max cruise speed of 330 knots at 28,000 feet. At a reduced power setting, it has a 1730 nm range with five adults in the cabin while burning 37 GPH—a reduction in fuel consumption from the TBM 850. Deliveries are to begin this month. The TBM 900 retains “primary airframe commonality” with the TBM 850, including the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-66D engine.

According to DAHER-SOCATA, the modifications and upgrades that resulted in the TBM 900 include the addition of winglets and a vertical tailfin strake, as well as a new tail cone; a five-blade composite propeller and redesigned spinner; a complete nose-to-firewall redesign for improved engine airflow circulation – including a banana-shaped air intake, carbon-fiber cowlings and new exhaust stacks; enhanced human-machine interface features, ranging from an ergonomic control yoke with new functions to the restyled cockpit panel for increased visibility and interaction with secondary system controls; a revised cockpit center pedestal that incorporates a single-control throttle operation, associated with a new torque limiter that enables the use of 850 hp. engine power at takeoff and a completely revamped electrical system with 300-amp starter. DAHER-SOCATA reports that more than 660 TBM aircraft have been produced and delivered to date. Operated in 35 countries, the TBM fleet has logged a combined 1.1 million flight hours.

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Missing 777: Tracked Over Strait of Malaca?

Malaysia's air force chief said Wednesday that military radar had tracked an unidentified object over the Strait of Malacca early Saturday morning, and investigators were trying to determine whether it was the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. Chief Gen. Rodzali Daud said the object was detected by a military radar facility and flying westward, subsequent to the last known civilian contact with Flight 370. "We did not scramble fighters because we knew it came from civilian airspace," he said. "There is a lot of traffic there and the radar controllers knew it was coming from civilian airspace. I'm not saying it's MH370, we're still corroborating" with civilians and experts to identify the aircraft.

The investigation for the missing airliner with 239 people on board has been dogged by false leads and conflicting reports, ranging from sightings of suspected debris from the plane to confusion over where Flight 370 was last located before vanishing en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur over the South China Sea. The confusion in the investigation is creating friction between Malaysia and other nations. More than a dozen Chinese diplomats met with Malaysian authorities in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday as tension grew between the two countries over the as-yet fruitless search for the jet. The day before, Beijing pointedly pressed Malaysia to accelerate its probe. "We want Malaysia to work harder and speed up efforts on behalf of the families," said Qin Gang, a spokesman for China's foreign ministry.

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Each week, we poll the savviest aviators on the World Wide Web (that's you) on a topic of interest to the flying community.

Visit AVweb.com to participate in our current poll.

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Nose Gear Collapses On Takeoff

Only one passenger asked for medical attention after a US Airways A320's nose gear collapsed on what sounds like a rocky takeoff attempt from Philadelphia Airport on Thursday. Some of the 149 passengers, who hoped to fly to Fort Lauderdale on the early evening flight, told local media the aircraft took off and then settled back on the runway nose first, blowing a tire. Passenger accounts are often inaccurate but there were several who told the same story. "The flight kind of shot up and then bounced down," 33-year-old passenger Christopher Teaney told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "Bounced real hard. Shot up again, and then nose-dived."

The five crew members conducted an emergency evacuation using the slides and the airport was closed for the emergency response, which passengers also criticized. Teaney said the passengers waited more than a half hour in cold weather for buses to return them to the terminal. However, the airline said they were all booked on later flights and got to the warm weather of Fort Lauderdale. The airport was mostly reopened within a few hours with only one of four runways unavailable.

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New This Week

Our weekly survey of aviation news found the newest formal recognition of top aviation professionals, an aircraft now being offered for sale on Amazon.com, a survey reporting that hiring in aviation is expected to be up this year and FltPlan now offering Velocity Weather by Baron. Every year for the past 50 years, the General Aviation Awards program and the Federal Aviation Administration have recognized aviation professionals for their contributions to general aviation in the fields of flight instruction, aviation maintenance, avionics and safety. Recipients of the 2014 National General Aviation Awards are Howard William Wolvington of Issaquah, Wash., Certificated Flight Instructor of the Year; Max Lloyd Burnette of Rockvale, Tenn., Aviation Maintenance Technician of the Year; David Brian Kocak of Guilford, Conn., Avionics Technician of the Year; and Richard Loren Stowell, Jr. of McCall, Idaho, FAA Safety Team Representative of the Year. They will receive plaques at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis. SCOUT Paramotors, the world's first carbon fiber built backpack aircraft, has teamed up with the largest online retailer to become the first ever powered aircraft to be sold on Amazon.com The ultralight aircraft is claimed to be one of the most technologically advanced backpack-powered aircraft on sale in the consumer flying market.

JSfirm.com, an online aviation only job board, released its 5th Annual Hiring Trends Survey. Based on a survey of 400 aviation companies across various sectors, it found 91% will hire in 2014 (up from 85% in 2013); skilled maintenance technicians will be in highest demand; April, May, and June will likely see the most hiring; 78% are projecting growth in 2014 (up from 67% in 2013); and 69% experienced an attrition rate of 10% or less. JSfirm further reported that the number-one employee-retention tool is "recognition and appreciation." FltPlan, the largest flight planning service in North America, now offers Velocity Weather by Baron. The enhanced features include United States and Canadian radar, visible and infrared satellite, surface analysis and echo tops. FltPlan's new weather data can be accessed on all devices including desktops, laptops, tablets and phones as well as the FltPlan Go apps.

Weekender: Classic Airplanes and Fly-In Food

Our weekly review of aviation activities noted on SocialFlight found not just fly-in breakfasts, but a dinner, with seminar, and rides being given by EAA's Ford Trimotor. The Sixth Annual Shamrock Fly-In will be held on Saturday, March 15 at Cannon Creek Airpark, Lake City, Fla. Running from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., food offerings include a pork or hot dog meal and there will be a 50/50 drawing. On Saturday March 15, the Timeless Wings and Wheels Fly In Breakfast will take place in the Air Gate Hangar on the New Smyrna Beach, Fla., Airport from 8 to 11 a.m. A $6 donation will go to the Veterans in the Classroom project—and  EAA's Ford Trimotor will be present and giving rides.    

EAA Chapter 555's Triple Nickel Breakfast, featuring pancakes or an omelet, bacon or sausage, fruit cup and never-ending coffee for $6 will be held at Las Cruces (New Mexico) International Airport on Sunday March 16 from 8 – 10 a.m. A dinner aviation seminar will be held on Tuesday, March 18, at Leading Edge Aviation, South Valley Regional Airport, West Jordan, Utah, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., a free dinner and aviation seminar, fly or drive in.  Thank you to SocialFlight for helping keep track of what's going on in aviation around the country.

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Pelican's Perch #77: Startups & Runups

Let's take a few pot shots at some of the more common errors in the seemingly simple procedures of starting an engine and doing the runup, and also cover some new techniques with engine monitors. I've written a little about some of these procedures elsewhere, but I've never pulled all of them together.

For Starters ...

There seem to be very, very few pilots who take any interest in where their prop blast goes or what it does at startup or during the runup. For example, if your airplane is parked in the common, tightly interlocked double line, starting up in that position and taxiing out is going to blow some serious air in the wrong direction at the flight controls of whatever is behind. Many very light aircraft cannot handle this, and many do not have effective control locks. Do your preflight, get all ready to go, pull your flying flivver out into the alley, and point the tail down the alley. Don't do this first, or dilly-dally around -- someone else may need the alley.

The absolute worst I've ever seen is at Oshkosh, where airplanes have been sitting in very soft grass for a week or more. It takes a lot of power to break away, and I've seen tents blown down two rows away from this. People compound this error by starting with too much RPM (see below) and then they will sit there and warm up, merrily blasting all behind them, or they'll taxi after a short interval, pulling tons of power –- on a still-cold engine!

There are always people around, and it's much better to call out, "Hey, can you guys help me pull this airplane out of the ruts?" Starting with the tail pointing "down the alley" makes you look good, and we all like to look good.

On starting, please don't let that engine roar into life, and go straight to some high RPM. This may be the single most damaging thing you can do to an engine, not to mention whatever is behind you. Most of the oil will have oozed out from in between the surfaces inside the engine, and metal-to-metal contact is always bad. Many experts feel that virtually all the wear in an engine comes from starting, and I certainly agree it's likely. One trick I use is to shut down at about 800 to 1,000 RPM, then never change the throttle setting until the next start. The cold engine should start gently and then come up to that same RPM slowly. As the oil pressure builds and starts lubricating the bearing surfaces, and the pistons and cylinders come up to operating temperature the RPM will build up to that same RPM range. That's plenty of RPM for the crankshaft to splash enough oil on all the moving parts inside the engine case.

Ground Leaning

Most general aviation (GA) airplanes are set up to idle much too rich. I can guess at a few reasons, easier starting among them. How can we pilots tell?

It's very simple, if you understand the combustion event, and the effect of mixture on it. I've written extensively about this, and the basic chart is produced here again (below). This is a "mixture sweep," a very rich mixture on the left, leaning to a very lean mixture on the right. This chart is the very heart of our engine seminar and is the key to understanding the combustion event. It comes from the back of many of the older TCM engine manuals; although we're starting to see it dropped in the latest versions. That's a pity, because it's excellent data, fully repeatable on the test stand and in any engine with a good monitor.

  (75 Kb)
  "Mixture sweep" -- effect of mixture on EGT, CHT, etc. (Click graph for larger version.)

When these engines are first started, the idle mixture is usually way over on the left side. If this is so, then leaning will produce more and more power, and this will be evident from a slight rise in RPM. Leaning to "peak power" (the black HP curve) on the ground will produce the highest RPM. With further leaning, the RPM will fall again. On some badly-set-up engines, this RPM rise can be several hundred RPM, and this needs to be fixed by a mechanic. The maintenance manuals usually call for a much more modest rise, perhaps 25 to 50. The old manuals usually say, "a barely perceptible rise."

What they don't mention is that this adjustment should be made at sea level, or at the lowest "usual" airport elevation the airplane will see. Once the idle mixture is set at some elevation, any idle operation at higher airports will cause a richer mixture. This is normal, and should be corrected by the pilot with ground leaning. But setting up the idle mixture at Leadville, Colo., (elev. 10,000 feet) will probably make the engine impossible to start at sea level -- it will be too lean.

The idle mixture test (usually done by maintenance) calls for a nice, warm engine, so this is best done after landing. It's a good idea to check it once in awhile. When ready to shut down, slowly pull the mixture knob out (starting at full rich), watching the RPM very carefully. The books usually call for idle RPM, but I prefer to set mine at the usual "taxi RPM," about 900 to 1,000, for that's the RPM range the engine will almost always be at on the ground. As the mixture is leaned, the RPM should rise very slightly as the mixture passes "peak power," then it will fall again.

If you see no rise at all during this "sweep," just the fall, you have no way of knowing how the idle mixture is set. It could be anywhere on the lean side of peak power. This is the reason the manuals call for a slight rise, as that demonstrates the mixture is just rich of peak power, and that's a good enough setting for the factory. It's easier to start the engine, and that's good. That's the idle mixture test, and there's no need to get anal about it. Lean, see a little rise before the engine quits, that's it.

Unfortunately, that's not the best mixture for "clean" operation, and you may see some plug fouling from the "dirty mixture." Where is the "clean" mixture? It's where there are enough fuel and oxygen molecules to "mate and burn" (kinda like some marriages), leaving no residue, and that's at or near peak EGT, which is well on the lean side of "peak power," where the power is starting to fall off.

This is the basis for my recommendation to lean to peak RPM, then look for the fall (or roughness), and leave it there for ground operations. A tiny bit of roughness here is not harmful, unless it causes your significant other to beat on the side of your head. Occasional fouled plugs may be an acceptable alternative in this case.

At the usual power settings on the ground, it is impossible to do any harm to the engine with the mixture control, so don't be nervous about being very aggressive.

Running that lean (lean of peak power) on the ground also absolutely prevents you from taking off with the mixture leaned. This is not true if you take half-measures: Either do it this way, or leave it full rich. I don't care how faithfully you use checklists, you will someday attempt a takeoff with the mixture leaned. If you have properly leaned for taxi, the engine will simply wheeze and lose power, making it very obvious you're not going anywhere. If you take half-measures, the engine will seem perfectly normal, but may well get hot enough to get into detonation, then pre-ignition. With the big, high-performance engines (like the TIO-540 J2DB), this has caused engine failures off the far end of the runway, so it's serious business.

Lean it aggressively on the ground, or not at all!

Moving Out

If significant power (more than 1,000 or 1,200 RPM) is required to start moving (see Oshkosh, above), then sit there patiently and let the engine warm up a bit. If the airplane will move with less than 1,000, then move out when you want. The engine has no way of telling if the airplane is moving, or not. Some of the old manuals on the big radials got this confused, saying, "Do not taxi until the oil temperature is above 40 ºC (104 ºF)." It wasn't the taxiing they were worried about, it was the possible power required to move out and then maneuver. Many of the old manuals got it right with some variation of "Do not exceed 1,000 RPM until the oil temperature needle is moving, and do not exceed 1,200 RPM until the oil temperature is 40 ºC or more." The metallurgy and the bearing clearances have remained much the same. Modern oils are much better at their job, so it's probably not as critical as it used to be with 60-weight, single-viscosity oil. But it's not really bad advice today, if a little conservative. Lycoming has for decades said something like, "OK for runup or takeoff when the engine can be accelerated without faltering." I scratch my head over that -- it's not very definitive -- and how do you know unless you try to accelerate it, possibly hurting the engine? On my airplane, the JPI engine monitor has the oil temperature option, and the probe is at the far end of the oil passages, so I have the "low" alarm set at 90 ºF, and will do the runup when that minimum is reached. By the time I've done even a short runup that temperature will be up over 100 ºF, and that's good enough for me.

If you have the mixture properly ground leaned, and it takes more than 1,200 RPM to start moving, you may be so lean you can't get above 1,200. That's great. Just give the mixture a turn or a tweak, start moving, and reset it. Heck, if you want, you can even modulate the taxi speed with the mixture alone, lean for less power, enrich for more. Try it, for practice, and see how nicely that red knob works. You know, the one your CFI told you, "Don't touch that red knob, you'll burn up the engine!"

Moving Along

Please try to avoid the ham-footed practice of setting too much power during taxi, and controlling the taxi speed with the brakes. I've seen some very high-time pilots do this, and it's very hard on brakes and tires. One even said he was afraid of fouling the plugs with very low power. With aggressive ground leaning, this problem goes away. I have never had a fouled plug in my engines.

Picking A Spot

Where do we do a runup? Well, if there are homes or quiet areas on this end of the airport, and nothing down yonder on the other end, go make your unwanted noise down yonder. Even those aviation nuts who work in the hangar or at the airport office will appreciate you putting some distance between them and your noise-maker, if it's practical to do so. Pay some attention to your runup spot. The "traditional" spot may have changed, there may be an airplane parked behind, or a new building, or perhaps just a dust pile. I've seen big airplanes kick up a dust cloud that slowly drifts downwind for many, many minutes, and many miles. How do you think those folks will vote, next time the airport is under fire?

For the larger airplanes, I prefer to park back in the corner of the runup pad, with my tail swung into the corner where no little airplane can taxi. If someone is dumb enough to taxi behind, you might not feel particularly guilty at blowing him over, but I'd feel terrible, even if the fault was not mine. We need to look out for the unaware.

Consider the wind direction. Tradition teaches us to runup into the wind, but like so many old wives tales (OWTs), this is not especially helpful. There is probably no more cooling into the wind than downwind, and in fact downwind may provide more cooling. We have the data to prove it. What is harmful is doing a high-power runup in a strong crosswind. This unbalances the forces on the prop, and may cause undesirable stress. The usual 1,700 RPM is not likely to do any damage, anyway.

Set the Brakes?

A very strong "No!" answers this question, for those airplanes with anything but power brakes. For example, my Bonanza has the conventional "master/slave" cylinder type, where the foot pedal squeezes the hydraulic fluid, making pressure in the line down to the brake. There the fluid presses against "something" that creates friction. It may be an expander tube, a set of brake pucks, or disc brakes. The key is that line between the cockpit and the brake. There is no provision for expansion, no hydraulic accumulator in that line, and pulling the parking brake handle simply closes a valve and traps whatever fluid is in there, sealing it off. It takes only a tiny, unnoticeable leak to drop that pressure to nothing, and the parking brake will no longer hold the airplane. At the other extreme, set that parking brake on a cool evening, then have the temperature heat up a lot the next day. If that line is perfect, and holds pressure, you may see enough pressure rise to blow the plumbing.

For runup, hold the brakes, and above all, maintain "outside awareness," both for "creeping," and for whatever else might be taking place. I have seen people set the inadequate parking brake, then do a runup, and creep clear across the runup pad, not recognizing the crisis until the aircraft moves into the rough. They look silly, and wonder how they got there. If at all possible, I'll remain silent and let them do that. It's an excellent lesson, as long as no damage is done.

On the larger airplanes, there are "power brakes." These usually have a simple mechanical latch that holds the brake pedals depressed, just as the pilot would in the absence of a parking brake. The lines will be under system pressure all the time (probably through reducers), and the brake system will almost always have a hydraulic accumulator that keeps a constant head of pressure on the hydraulic fluid by means of compressed nitrogen on the other side of a bladder. These are very reliable parking brakes, although I have seen airplanes creep with high power, especially right after brake maintenance.

With either system keep a wary eye out for movement.

The Runup

For starters, many overdo this simple procedure. I constantly hear engines being run up at what sounds like full power, sometimes for very long periods. I know of no good reason to ever do this, even after maintenance. It's very hard on the engine because there is almost no cooling airflow at all. The prop may be moving a lot of air, but little or none of it is going into the cowling, because the prop blades are round at the base, and for the first foot or so. They don't have an airfoil section until well outside the cowl inlets, and thus cannot move air. I shudder to think of the hot spots being developed during those high-power runups, and I don't like to run the traditional 1,700 for any longer than necessary.

Props also take a beating on the ground -- more beating during runup -- and high-power runups are really abusive. Any dirt and grit on the surface will get sucked up, sandblasting the leading edges of the prop, and sometimes worse. Keep high-power operation to an absolute minimum.

Cowl flaps should always be fully open on the ground, even in arctic conditions. Their purpose is to act as an airfoil, and create a low-pressure area outside the engine cowl, helping to suck air out of the engine compartment. Whatever air is sucked out must be replaced, and that will suck in a little bit of cool air from the inlets.

Since you should have the mixture leaned so much that runup RPM is not possible, enrich just enough to get that RPM. Yes, you can go full rich, but the leaner the mixture, the more definitive the mag check.

Basically, all we're checking at the usual 1700 RPM is gross function. Bad timing can be detected here, but the engine monitor is a far better way to show that (by abnormal EGT/CHT).

As you bring the RPM up, this is a good time to check that the generator/ alternator(s) kick in. On most twins, the generator at the higher RPM will take most or all the load, so you can alter that relationship to make sure both are working.

Does the carb heat work (if installed)? Do this first, in case there is any automatic mixture control, so there's more time before takeoff for this device to stabilize at ambient temperatures again. This is true of most of the big radials. If this device is still warmer than ambient on the takeoff, it will automatically (and abnormally) lean the mixture, which is not good. The usual drop in runup RPM from carb heat is enough to check function. If there is a carburetor air temperature (CAT) gauge, carb heat function can be checked during the taxi to the runup pad, and observing the instrument.

Are the mags working? The leaner the mixture, the more mag drop you'll see on one mag, and that's normal. What you should really be looking at is the engine monitor while you check the mags. Some like to put it in "Normalize" mode, but that's too much fiddling for me; the "Percentage" mode works just fine. What you really want to see is that all EGTs rise during single mag operation. You can even go from BOTH, to LEFT, to RIGHT, and back to both. The EGTs should rise on the first single-mag operation, stay there for the second, then drop again on the return to BOTH. That rise is proof-positive the entire ignition system is working, and working well, and the leaner the mixture, the more diagnostic it is. On my engine, I'll often see a 300-RPM drop on one mag, but if all those EGTs rise, I know it's fine. If any of them fail to rise or even drop during single-mag operation, there is a problem with that plug, the wire, or the mag. On most engines, one or more EGTs may rise off-scale, and others may rise only a couple bars.

If you do this check well-leaned, the engine may even run a bit rough during single-mag operation, but as long as that EGT rises, you're in good shape, and can ignore the roughness. If the roughness really bothers you, enrich a little and repeat.

Prop Cycling

Don't wear the poor thing out, especially on the single-engine aircraft. Many do three or more cycles, often to very low RPM. Not necessary, and probably not desirable, it just prolongs the whole event, making the engine hotter, and going to full low RPM may be hard on the prop and engine mounts as the blades flail the air. Repeated cycles are probably a carry-over from the old radials.

The big old radials do often need several cycles to flush all the really cold oil out of the prop system. This can be clearly seen on cold starts after the engine has been at rest for a time. During the first cycle, the RPM will drop much more slowly than usual, and it will probably even drop erratically, from "slugs" of oil sludge going through. I've had to exercise them as much as a dozen times to get a nice smooth drop. It's also required to cycle them to the low RPM stop at least once to make sure the system has been adjusted properly; the minimum governor setting is generally 1,200 RPM. These prop systems are somewhat different from those on most GA aircraft.

GA props on single-engine GA aircraft do not keep a lot of oil in the prop hub when at rest: There's a big, strong spring that pushes the blades "flat," and it takes engine and governor oil pressure to get any oil in there at all. A single cycle is sufficient to check function, and frankly, this check is unlikely to find any problems. I frequently skip it entirely. If the RPM comes up to nominal takeoff RPM (on the takeoff run), and stays there, that's function check enough.

(You know, I think there are probably people out there who want to put the airplane up on jacks before every flight so they can roll the wheels to make sure they rotate before they taxi. We tend to do a lot of "checking" in aviation that is really doing nothing more than wearing things out prematurely.)

On the other hand, light twins usually have the spring pushing the prop into feather, and the dome will be full of oil at rest, so they may benefit from a few cycles on a cold day. But modern oils don't sludge up as much as the old straight 60-weight in the radials and the GA props should be well-oiled with one or two short RPM drops on the check. If I owned a twin, I'd probably do a feather check once a month in the air, for real. Certainly before and after the annual, and let it go at that.

In summary, start the engine gently when cold. Lean past "peak power" right after the start, enrich only as much as needed for the runup. After the runup, either go full rich or lean back again. Perform a short runup as a function check, and get on with the show. Skip the prop check on the singles, once or twice on the twins, and as needed on the big radials. Do the mag check leaned out, watching the engine monitor for an EGT rise, ignoring the large RPM drop.

Next month I hope to address the "Prop driving the engine." This old fable is causing enormous danger in the warbird community, is not as well understood as most pilots think, and is probably near-total nonsense in the "flat" engines.

Be careful, up there!

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Malaysian 370: Clueless or Not, The Void Shall Be Filled

The daily media has—understandably--gotten into an absolute lather over the disappearance of and evident inability to find a state-of-the-art airliner, specifically Malaysian’s Flight 370. On CNN this morning, the talking heads were practically gasping trying to fill air time without so much as a shard of factual information to even hang intelligent speculation on. Welcome to the information age, which doesn’t do well when there is no information.

In a way, the airline industry itself is responsible for this reaction, although no guilt is implied. The industry has essentially driven the accident rate so close to zero that the general public and the media that feeds it simply can’t process the fact that an airliner can indeed disappear without a trace for a week and maybe even forever. I suspect this aircraft will eventually be found, but to assume modern technology makes this a certainty is the very definition of hubris. Even the most carefully conceived machines fail or behave in unpredictable ways and even if they don’t, the human factor always finds a way to intercede to make it so, nefariously or otherwise.

Speaking of the human factor, I’m wondering if the search-and-rescue phase of this investigation will go down as how not to do it. The airline seems not to have employed very accurate flight tracking or if it did, it’s been inconsistently forthcoming with the data. The timeline of what happened and when has proven rubbery and as late as Thursday evening, unnamed sources were saying the airplanes ACARS transceiver was pinging a satellite and that engine data may have been transmitted four hours after the last voice contact. By morning, will this prove to be another inaccuracy?

The Malaysian military’s understanding of their own radar plotting isn’t very confidence inspiring, either. First, the military said its primary radar data indicated the airplane nearly reversed course. Then some reports said they weren’t sure. Either way, the U.S. is moving SAR assets into the Indian Ocean which, as one naval officer said, expands the search area from the size of chessboard to a football field.

The fuzzy Chinese satellite photos prompted speculation by a U.S. congressman that the photos were dumbed down to keep westerners from knowing how good Chinese sat assets really are. The images were a dead-end anyway, but CNN got a half news cycle out of it.

It’s amusing to watch broadcast professionals with no technical background and the burden of believing audiences are too dumb to understand the workings of a transponder or ACARS gamely try to explain both. I ran into Kirk Fryar from Sarasota Avionics here in AEA at Nashville and for reasons still not clear to either of us, he got roped into a CNN interview to explain transponders. They told him not to make it too technical. To be fair, with nothing else to report, the talking heads are actually improving their grasp of basic aviation technology. They're getting better.

And really, when you think about it, the story may unfold to be entirely technical because at some point, the daily press may have to explain in detail why these normally reliable systems seemed to fail, especially the ACARS. Because they’re thought to be all but fail safe, this naturally steers the speculation toward the evil hand of man. Just now, investigators don’t have the luxury of such speculation because they hardly have two facts to rub together, waiting as they are for the Malaysians to deliver accurate, verifiable data of some sort. 

One aspect of the story that will—and should—come to the fore is how much ACARs and/or real-time flight tracking oceanic flights really should have compared to how much they really do have. This first surfaced when Air France 447 crashed in the South Atlantic in 2009 under circumstances not too dissimilar from MH 370, although weather was involved then. It took a while to find the principle wreckage—two years--but found it was. Boeing has equipped the 777 with state-of-the-art real-time datalink and competitive Airbus models have similar capability. But it’s not clear that all airlines use this technology as completely as they might, for cost and other reasons. I’d like to hear the details of Malaysian’s data program. I wonder if it’s the same as Lufthansa’s or American’s, for example. Or is it just minimal?

As ADS-B comes onstream, I expect there will be a global push to require minimum positional datalink standards everywhere by all airlines, perhaps in a way that’s opaque to the flight deck. Real-time transmission of engine parameters and anomalies is one link in a long chain that comprises modern airline safety, but it does suck up bandwidth. And that costs money. Will it take more satellite infrastructure?

Modern aircraft power systems are certainly robust enough to keep datalink alive through all sorts of abnormals and, theoretically at least, would have provided the authorities with something they don’t seem to have for MH 370: a reliable last-known datum from which to begin a search. As a result, they’ve now got about 15 percent of the earth’s surface to sweep for what may be a very small target. I just wonder why we aren’t doing a little better than that.

EARLY A.M. UPDATE: Just as I had feared, the speculation wound up overnight and this morning, I'm reminded of that famous quote from Hunter S. Thompson: "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." I've seen a couple of reports, including this one in Slate, that explain how the crew could have stolen the airplane with the intent of selling it on the used market. Or parting it out. Seriously? I'm beginning to lose my bearings. 

EARLY P.M. UPDATE: Newly discovered physical law: The desperation of network source bookers is inversely proportional to the lack of information available multiplied by 24, the number of hours in the broadcast day. How else to explain that Michael Brown turned up as a source on the MH 370 story? You remember him. The very same Brownie of Hurricane Katrina fame. I was so shocked at seeing him that I forget what he said. 

Richard Quest is identified as CNN's aviation reporter and the title apparently fits. An acerbic Brit, he takes every opportunity to remind the other talking heads that all of their speculation is based upon little or no verified fact, to the annoyance of the anchors. The network has stationed a correspondent in a 777 simulator that's actually flying the MH 370 route and they're doing break-ins. TV just doesn't get any better. 

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