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The FAA and NTSB both issued safety alerts recently that warn pilots to use proper procedures when operating on runways. The NTSB (PDF) cites several accidents when pilots chose an intersection takeoff to save time, and then lost power. In each case, if the pilot had used the entire available runway, there would have been room for a safe landing straight ahead. Instead, all three aircraft crashed, and two people were killed. The safety board advises pilots to use all available runway length to increase the margin of safety on every takeoff. The FAA’s Safety Alert for Pilots (PDF) also concerns runway operations, reminding pilots and airport workers about the correct procedures for using runway status lights.

The lights are a fully automated system intended to prevent runway collisions, the FAA says, but it cited several instances when pilots ignored the lights after they were issued a clearance to cross or take off from that runway. The FAA says the RWSL system operates independently from ATC, and controllers have no information regarding the status of the lights. Illuminated RWSLs mean aircraft should stop or remain stopped, inform ATC that the RWSLs are illuminated and wait for further direction. “Failure to comply with illuminated red in-pavement RWSL lights may result in a high-risk collision Runway Incursion event,” the FAA said.

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Two men who died in the crash of a Czech-built light-sport aircraft in Rhoadesville, Virginia, in May 2016 had deployed a parachute recovery system, but it failed when the single front attachment point detached, according to a recent NTSB report. According to the NTSB, the pilot had recently purchased the Jihlavan KP 5 ASA (Skyleader 500), an all-metal, two-seat low-wing aircraft, with a chute supplied by Galaxy Rescue Systems, and was taking instruction in it to satisfy insurance requirements. Radar data indicated that, during the flight, the airplane's groundspeed decreased from 94 to 62 knots, consistent with airwork such as slow flight and stall practice. Subsequently, several witnesses saw the airplane descending nose-down with the parachute deployed and still attached, but with the canopy only partially inflated, before the airplane impacted terrain.

The owner likely activated the parachute due to inadvertent spin entry, according to the NTSB. The previous owner of the airplane told the safety board he had to be vigilant during stall practice because “the airplane always seemed to yaw abruptly to the right and into a spin, more so than any other airplane he had flown.” The NTSB said Galaxy Rescue Systems told them the accident was the first time one of the chutes had been deployed in flight. During certification, one test deployment was performed on the ground. The current design includes two front anchors instead of one. The accident airplane was about 50 pounds over its maximum takeoff weight at the time of the parachute deployment, the NTSB said. The NTSB completed its report in September, but it was just reported by the local Freelance Star in Fredericksburg, Virginia, this week.

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Now that the Part 23 rules to certify airplanes have been revised, the FAA says it’s ready to take on an overhaul of the regulations for certifying helicopters. “The proposed changes are necessary to address modern designs currently used in the rotorcraft industry and would reduce the burden on applicants for certification of new rotorcraft designs,” the FAA said in its proposal, published Wednesday in the Federal Register. “The proposed changes would reduce or eliminate the need for certain special conditions currently required to obtain certification of modern rotorcraft.” The current airworthiness standards, Parts 27 and 29, were originally published in 1964, the FAA says, and “have not kept pace with advances in technology for rotorcraft.”

While the overhaul of the rules would be thorough, it appears that the changes are mainly an updating and simplification, and not a fundamental change in the approval process as was mandated in the new Part 23. “The proposed changes would reduce or eliminate the need for certain special conditions currently required to obtain certification of modern rotorcraft,” the FAA says. “The proposed changes would also incorporate the requirements of equivalent level of safety findings that the FAA has imposed as conditions for approving certain design features … Compliance with these proposed regulatory changes would continue to be shown by the same testing, analysis, and inspections as in the current certification process.” The FAA is accepting comments on the proposal until Jan. 30.

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As I approached Sarasota Airport on the downwind there was a Cessna 172 ahead of me who asked the tower clearance for landing. 

Tower: "State your intentions." 

The pilot said that he planned to have dinner with his brother-in-law that evening. 

Tower: "Roger, cleared to land."

Tom Wilson



Many instrument-rated pilots struggle to maintain their proficiency for IFR. Logging the six approaches, holding procedures and course intercepts/tracking required by FAR 61.57(c) can be quite the challenge for pilots who fly infrequently or who are based in regions where good weather is routine. Simulators and training devices can be major boosts to maintaining proficiency, especially when focused on maintaining instrument scanning skills and practicing IFR procedures. But when it comes to flying personal aircraft in the clag, there’s nothing that beats practicing in the real thing.

Flying practice approaches to maintain instrument currency is some of the most fun I’ve had in my flying “career.” I’ve made lifelong friendships out of like-minded safety pilots, flown into airports I might not otherwise visit and have many fond memories. I’ve also learned lots about how and how not to go about practicing approaches. The “right” safety pilot is a must—and you’ll also learn from him or her when you fly as their safety pilot. But shrewdly picking your training opportunities also is key.

A Good Safety Pilot

What makes a good safety pilot? First off, he or she must meet requirements to serve as what is effectively the second-in-command. There’s also the fact you and the safety pilot will be sharing a close space—thousands of feet in the air, hurtling through it at 90 knots or so—for hours at a time.

So there needs to be some compatibility, beyond just basic skills. For example, he or she should be familiar with the airplane and the airspace you plan to use. Ideally, your safety pilot is in the same boat, also needing practice approaches to maintain currency and proficiency (which aren’t the same). That way, breaking up the duties, sharing expenses and returning the favor is more equitable. There’s also the synergistic benefits of observing someone who’s maintaining the same skill set.

Communication is key: It’s critical in the cockpit, obviously, but also before the flight when discussing The Plan and after it, when you debrief over a cup of coffee at the airport eatery. It also helps if the right-seater has some experience with the chosen airplane’s avionics—someone raised on steam-gauge panels might not understand everything your glass panel is trying to tell you, especially from the other seat. The opposite situation can arise, too, but transitioning from glass to steam seems to be easier than the other way around. These days, you also have to factor in EFB choices as part of the overall avionics picture. Ideally, both front-seaters would have their EFB of choice, especially in busy airspace.

Part of the communication equation is whether the safety pilot understands the role they’ll play. Basically, the safety pilot is there to look for traffic and help prevent the guy or gal under the hood from running into something. The safety pilot isn’t there to help fly the airplane, read checklists, act as an autopilot or program the panel. That’s your job, and you’re supposed to be doing it by yourself, under the hood.

Briefing Your Safety Pilot

Once we’ve established who will be the safety pilot, it’s time for him or her to understand what’s expected of them. As important, they need to know what not to do.

Whatever your plan for this training session, your safety pilot needs to be in on it. He or she needs to know what airports you plan to use and which approaches you plan to fly, plus your expectations for how they’ll terminate: “We’ll do three ILSes at Richmond, miss them all, and return to Stafford for the GPS” might be a plan, but it’s not much for the safety pilot to work with.

If your expectations of a safety pilot go beyond merely looking for traffic and obstacles, before taking off is a good time to explain it all. For example, you may not want them to touch the controls or avionics, preferring to do it all yourself. They need to know that.

You may also choose to use them as sort of non-flying pilot: making radio calls, reading checklists and performing other cockpit chores. Eventually, you become a well-oiled team. And that’s when it’s time to shake things up a bit.

Rolling Your Own?

I earned my instrument rating flying a Piper Archer II out of Washington Dulles International Airport, back when it was practice-approach capital of the world. That also was back when an ADF was considered basic IFR gear and NDB approaches were prevalent. Even though the low traffic level most nights at Dulles meant we often had two miles of runway and the associated approaches to ourselves, that wasn’t good enough for my double-I.

Instead, he made up an NDB approach using a nearby AM broadcast station as the navaid. Lay out the basic courses, distances and altitudes to fly, and you could be shooting an NDB approach to any airport in the world without leaving Virginia. They didn’t count as actual approaches, of course, but they were great practice for nailing the procedures and skills required.

Cobbling together such a procedure doesn’t make much sense these days, if for no other reason than the NDB approach is being phased out in the U.S. And it’s hard to convince a GPS receiver you’re shooting an RNAV approach to, say, Tokyo’s Narita International Airport from over lower Alabama.

But the same basic idea still can apply to practicing VOR procedures, and perhaps even RNAV (GPS) approaches by defining some well-chosen user waypoints. Add an appropriate number of feet to any published altitudes and you also can fly a non-precision approach well above traffic or terrain.

Do The Real Thing

One of the presumptions among pilots seeking currency or proficiency training for IFR operations is that the IFR part always has to be simulated and, yes, simulating IFR with a safety pilot often is the most expedient way to practice approaches. But as long as you’re legal and comfortable with the conditions, there’s nothing preventing you from launching solo when the weather allows and knocking down three or so of the approaches you need to keep pace. But pick your battles with some thought.

Some might view flying an IFR cross-country or shooting approaches at the home ’drome when the weather is IMC as an extravagance: filing and flying IFR should only be done when necessary. The strain on scarce resources, they might say, abuses the system for selfish purposes. That kind of attitude is unfortunate, and ignores the value of real-world experience without the real-world pressures using a personal airplane for transportation can present.

Picking the days to go get in some instrument approaches, maybe solo, can be an art form. A good day for practicing approaches solo is a “Mama Bear” compromise between plenty of options if the weather caves and bad enough that it counts. In other words, the approaches need to be “loggable", and most of the time you spend aloft is in actual IMC. That usually means something like a 1500-foot ceiling with good visibility underneath, and three or four thousand feet of stratus.

On that kind of day, you can comfortably launch and have plenty of time/altitude to establish your scan and enter the clouds. You’ll get vectored to the facility’s practice approach pattern, or on your way if you’re combining the opportunity into a cross-country. Also, if you’re not feeling comfortable doing it all by yourself, drag along a safety pilot. He or she might learn something, even if they’re not instrument-rated, and you’ll have an extra set of eyes and ears along.

Primary Duty

The safety pilot’s primary role is seeing and helping you avoid traffic and obstacles while you’re “under the hood.” Any other duty, role or responsibility is optional and beyond the traditional safety pilot’s duties, and should be evaluated for the adverse impact it could have on the quality of your training. Yes, a safety pilot should warn you the gear isn’t extended for the landing, but shouldn’t coach you through a missed approach.

The idea is you should be doing this yourself, on your own, with no help from the passengers, just as you would when flying the same approach in for-real weather.

This article originally appeared in the Novembrer 2015 issue of Aviation Safety magazine.

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“Charm” or “character” are words sometimes used to describe old airplanes and maybe not even airplanes that old. A drafty cabin in an old Tri-Pacer is an example of character and the fact that a pre-war J-3 has but a passing nod to pitch stability is charming until you fly the thing on a 100-mile cross country and then it’s just a pain in the ass. Charm has its limits.

That’s another way of saying that airplanes of the 1920s and 1930s were built at a time when aeronautical design and manufacturing were emerging arts and just as much was unknown as was known. An airplane was just as likely to be significantly compromised across a range of design considerations as it was to be completely sorted. The Waco line may be an exception to this and I was reminded of it yesterday when I met Waco’s Peter Bowers to fly the company’s new amphibious version of the hulking YMF-5D, which they call the YMF-5F, for floats.

As you probably know, these are new production airplanes, essentially resurrected from the original designs produced during the golden age of biplanes in the 1930s. In the mid-1980s, the YMF got a makeover, but it’s essentially the same airplane designed and certified even before CAR 3, which didn’t appear until after World War II.

I’d flown the land version of the YMF a few years ago and my impression of it must have been dulled by time. For what it is, the Waco is a surprisingly nice flying airplane. It’s not too heavy in roll or pitch and although it has adverse yaw and you need to use the rudder, it’s not so bad as to bounce your noggin off the cockpit combing if you get lazy of foot. When Bowers threw me into the rear hole, I was a little apprehensive about what those two big Aerocet tubs were going to do to performance and handling. At 3200 pounds, this ain’t no LSA.

Cruise speed does take a 10 MPH or so hit and power off, the airplane is between an anvil and a brick. But trimmed up with power—the trim is one of the 1930s window cranks like we have in the Cub—the airplane is stunningly stable in pitch and roll. I’d say fingertip control, but it almost doesn’t need even that in cruise flight. (That’s about 100 MPH on 14 GPH.) For a water landing, I set the power and trimmed it to 75 MPH and essentially did nothing else. It alights gracefully and without drama. The same was true on a hard runway landing with the floats. It does require a power-on approach, but without even looking at the MP gauge, you can just feel through the airframe when the power setting is exactly right and you’ll have to work to screw up the landing. I’m not so sure a student couldn’t solo in the YMF-5. (At nearly $600,000, the lessons would be a tad expensive.)

The point is, before wind tunnels for every little design tweak and computational fluid dynamics became a thing, those old guys with slide rules and lofting sticks were capable of producing remarkably nice flying airplanes. Maybe not all of them, but some of them. The YMF-5, even on floats, is one.

I originally posted this blog on Friday afternoon because Waco is showing the airplane this weekend at AOPA’s regional fly-in in Tampa.  I’ll have a video on it later in the week. I think you’ll be impressed with the execution. Of course, the market for this type of airplane is almost nil. It's but a unique toy for the very rich or collectors, maybe. But that doesn't make it any less cool.

And here's a shout out for Peter O. Knight Airport, where the fly-in was held. This is one of country’s remarkable airports and set in what I find to be the most interesting neighborhood. It was built by the Works Progress Administration in the same era that Wacos were to aviation what Cirruses are today. At one time, Peter O, as everyone calls it, was Tampa’s main airport. And short of landing on the city’s streets, the location couldn’t be any closer. It’s hard by the Port of Tampa and there’s a nice little yacht basin opposite the port. Nothing like sitting on the airport veranda watching airplanes, ships and sloops come and go, as Peter Bowers and I did on Thursday in perfect weather. 


The market may be flooded with ADS-B weather receivers, but the market is also seeing a new generation of subscription-based portable SiriusXM weather receivers. The latest one comes from Garmin—the GDL51—which finally completes the weather interface on the company's aera660 portable GPS, plus it works with the Garmin Pilot tablet app. In this video, Aviation Consumer magazine Editor Larry Anglisano takes a close look at the new receiver on the bench and in the air.

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Picture of the Week

'Tis the season for fall colors photos and this is the best we got this week. Thanks to Eric Swanberg for a really good one.


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