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World's Leading Independent Aviation News Service
Volume 25, Number 11c
March 16, 2018
 
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DHS: Russia Hacking U.S. ATC?
 
AVweb Staff
 
 

As Western democracies ramp up their rhetoric against Russia, White House officials said Thursday that Russia has hacked or at least targeted U.S. infrastructure, including aviation systems. The Washington Post reported Thursday that these new hacking claims are the strongest condemnation yet of claimed Russian attempts to erode Western values and technical infrastructure.

Without being specific, officials in the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and intelligence agencies said Russia broke into computer systems and conducted “network reconnaissance” of critical control elements, then attempted to cover their tracks by deleting evidence of the hacking.

The DHS said the Russian effort was part of a “multi-stage intrusion” to hack U.S. cyber resources across a range of economic sectors, including industrial and government infrastructure. Although it’s not known how vulnerable it is, the U.S. air traffic system depends on multiple data systems of variable vintage. Earlier this year, The Associated Press reported that Russians targeted major U.S. aerospace companies including Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon by penetrating email networks used by employees through phishing schemes.

Maintenance Technicians And Owners: It's About Communication
 
Rick Durden
 
 

From the time I started learning to fly, I’ve watched the odd dance aircraft owners and maintenance technicians do when it comes to fixing a broken airplane. The owner brings in the airplane, mutters something along the lines of “it ain’t right” or writes up a squawk in as few words as possible and departs quickly, expecting the tech to be clairvoyant and use some sort of magic wand to fix the problem. The tech makes “I want to strangle the owner” hand motions, tries to decipher what the owner meant and starts the process of troubleshooting the problem and fixing it. Often there is no further communication until the owner returns, finds the work about done, bothers the tech until the airplane is buttoned up and departs with it. The next steps in the dance include something off of a flow chart where the owner finds that the problem either was fixed, and all is well, or wasn't, and brings the airplane back and complains. Further steps often involve owner disbelief at the bill, harsh words between the owner and the tech and the tech having trouble collecting for the work done. A few weeks later the owner detects another glitch and the dance starts again.

I recently spent some quality time with the manufacturer of an STC’d aircraft mod and listened to personnel who dealt directly with owners who have purchased the mod and techs who are installing it. There were some interesting stories regarding fixing problems and, more particularly, the interaction between the owner/pilots and the techs who were doing/had done the installs. The stories caused me to think about the years I spent representing pilots/owners and techs/maintenance shops where one had accused the other of improper actions. All of that caused me to come to the conclusion that the vast majority of problems that arise between pilots and mechanics over aircraft maintenance boil down to lack of communication to which unreasonable expectations are sometimes joined.

I’ve been watching the dance for longer than I like to consider: Pilot/owners expect techs to be able to perfectly fix an airplane on the first go-around based on a squawk that says not much more than “the airplane’s broke,” do it for free and have it done so the pilot can leave Friday afternoon for a weekend trip. By the same token, some techs are willing to schedule more work than they can accomplish in a given time, don’t give estimates for the cost of work needed and get authorization before doing so or surprise owners with the magnitude of the bill and then make the mistake of not requiring that the owner pay for the work upon picking up the airplane.

Pilots are not trained how to be aircraft owners when they learn to fly. To give them a fair shake, they haven’t received guidance on working with aircraft maintenance techs and often don’t know the regulations regarding maintenance—or know that they are responsible for their aircraft’s maintenance under the regs. By the same token, when getting the A&P ratings, maintenance technicians are taught how to fix airplanes, not how to work with pilots to troubleshoot problems or how to work with owners to let them know what the options are for fixing a problem, what it’s going to cost and to get authorization for work before going ahead with it.

What follows is a list, in no particular order, of suggestions for pilot/aircraft owners and techs/shops for bridging the gap between the two based on some years of defending each side in lawsuits, talking with aircraft and component manufacturers as well as maintenance experts and doing my best to be a responsible aircraft owner and pilot.

Squawks

Pilots seem to vie with each other to write up the most terse, incomprehensible squawk when they experience something wrong with their aircraft. “Engine vibration at 2400 RPM,” may be a good place to start when outlining a problem, but it’s only a start. Pilots, when you write up a squawk, provide as much information as you can about the situation and the circumstances—you’re trying to communicate with an intelligent person who wants to identify and fix a problem and who wasn’t there to experience it.

Was the vibration in flight or on the ground? That may sound silly, but I’ve seen pilots not bother to mention that the problem was only occurring while the airplane was on the ground. Provide details: at what altitude, temperature, power setting, indicated airspeed, gear and flap position, fuel flow, degrees rich or lean of peak EGT, CHTs—you get the idea. Think like a test pilot and record as much data as you can—what may seem trivial may be of great importance. Does the problem change when you change power setting or altitude? If so, how? What happens if you shut off a mag or change the mixture?

If you have an engine analyzer, download and print out the data for the flight(s) in which you experienced the problem. That seems pretty basic to me, yet during my recent talk with an STC mod shop about its dealings with owners and techs I found that in none of the dealings with owners and techs over glitches had they been provided with engine data on airplanes that had analyzers installed.

If the tech wants to talk about the problem you experienced, take the time to do so. As an owner, the time you spend going through what you experienced may save you money because it may cut down on the time the tech has to spend troubleshooting or replacing a part that is working just fine.

Fully Disclose

Pilots, if you tried to fix a problem that you’ve squawked, tell the tech what you did. A tech friend spent hours on a balky nav light only to discover the owner had found a broken wire and “repaired” it, but didn’t strip the insulation off of the wire. Had the owner disclosed, the tech would have looked at the “repair” early on.

If you’ve damaged the airplane, even a little ding, tell the tech. Bumping into the stabilator may be the source of the new vibration you’re experiencing.

Troubleshoot

Pilots, let the technician troubleshoot. Taking the time to narrow down the possibilities is cheaper than sequentially replacing parts until the problem goes away. I don’t know how many times I’ve had owners complain to me that shops are ripping them off because they want to troubleshoot something rather than getting in there and replacing the bad part. Sometimes I can explain that the tech is trying to save time and money; sometimes the pilot/owner is simply a tightwad and just wants to complain. In my experience, those pilots/owners never seem to catch on and can’t seem to understand why no tech within 100 miles will work on their airplanes.

Logs

Pilots/owners, have a current, electronic copy of all of the logbooks for your airplane so you can get it to a tech quickly and easily. Part of troubleshooting may be looking at the repair history to see if there is a pattern.

The logbooks for your airplane are worth from 10-20 percent of its value—that’s the amount that you’ll lose if you try to sell the airplane without complete logbooks. Think of those logbooks as you would several thousand dollars in cash. Therefore, the originals should be locked up somewhere safe. When maintenance is completed your tech will give you the necessary documentation on a sticker that you put into the hard copy of the logbook—you then scan that new page and add it to the electronic record you keep.

As an attorney, some of the ugliest fights I have seen between pilot/owners and shops were over aircraft logbooks. In my opinion, the practice of shops keeping airplane logbooks on shelves in the office should stop. It’s too easy for one to get misplaced; a fire can destroy them. I’ve seen more than one situation in which an owner refused to pay a shop’s bill that the owner felt was too high, so the shop hid the aircraft logbooks and refused to return them until the bill was paid. I’ve seen owners seek to have shop owners arrested for not returning logbooks.

Estimates

In almost every state it’s a law that if a shop is going to work on your car, it has to give you an estimate of the cost of repairs and you have to give the go-ahead before the work is performed. You know what it’s going to cost before you go pick up the car. To me, that’s common sense. However, too often, especially with annual inspections, a tech will figure out what’s wrong with an owner’s airplane, make the decision as to the way he or she wants to fix it, fix it, tell the owner when it’s done and present a bill when the owner shows up to get the airplane. The bill is always a surprise—either pleasant or unpleasant.

I have never seen an owner get upset when the bill was a pleasant surprise. Nevertheless, it should never be a surprise. From my perspective, if a tech or shop has decided to buy itself as much trouble with pilot/owners as possible, the best way to do it is to do repairs and install parts without fully discussing it with the pilot/owner (what needs to be done and the options available) and getting approval ahead of time. It’s a true no-brainer—let the pilot/owner know what repairs are going to cost and get approval before making the repairs. And, hey, with email and text messaging being so easy, it sure doesn’t hurt to do it in writing to preserve exactly what was agreed upon.

I have had mechanics tell me that they went ahead because there was a time crunch or they couldn’t contact the owner or the owner doesn’t have any say in aircraft repairs because the mechanic signs them off. My recommendation for techs/shops is to make it clear, in writing, when the aircraft is dropped off that the owner is going to have to approve repairs or that there is a blanket approval up to a certain sum to do repairs, otherwise the tech/shop is asking for problems. Also, under the FARs, the owner is the one responsible for repairs, and she or he makes the decision as to what is done and what isn’t done—and that needs to be done in conjunction with the tech because sometimes the owner is not going to agree with the repair the tech recommends.

Sign Off

I’ve seen owners and techs charged with a violation by the FAA because an airplane was flown before the maintenance paperwork was prepared by the mechanic. It’s been a common practice for an owner to be in a hurry to get going after maintenance and take the airplane before the tech has done the paperwork. Too often the tech gets sidetracked and forgets to do it or there is an incident on that first flight that comes to the FAA’s attention.

For pilots and techs/shops both: no flight until the logbook entry has been made.

Payment

I’ve represented a number of small maintenance shops who have done work for a customer—usually a regular—billed the customer afterward and then didn’t get paid. Most of the techs have told me that it was a regular practice because they wanted to keep their customers happy. The problem is that it sometimes costs the mechanic more to collect from the deadbeat than the amount of the bill.

My recommendation for shops is to behave as the local auto repair shops do: Payment is required for the customer to get the airplane. In many states one of the few ways an aircraft maintenance shop can get a lien for payment for maintenance is to physically hold on to the airplane. Once they let the owner take it, the shop has lost that leverage. Plus, the shop is not licensed as a bank; why should it make loans?

Techs, require payment when the airplane is picked up. Pilots/owners, be prepared to pay when you pick up your airplane.

Test Flight

Pilots, techs are human, they can make mistakes. That’s why the first flight after maintenance is a higher than normal risk flight. On those flights I’ve had a main gear only partially retract and a total electrical system failure. A friend had the right main of his Saratoga SP jam in the up position due to an improperly reinstalled gear door. I’ve looked at any number of accident reports involving first flight after maintenance departures into IMC and/or at night in which there was a crash because of something that had been done wrong during maintenance.

A safety suggestion: Once the paperwork is done, make a solo, day, VFR flight before doing anything more ambitious with the airplane—especially before putting your family in it.

Postflight Inspection

Anyone who has flown for any length of time has experienced the broken-airplane-on-Friday-afternoon-with-the-family syndrome. A number of techs who I respect have told me that many of such problems involved something that actually broke on the previous flight. They suggest, and I agree, that a postflight inspection may be more important than a preflight inspection because it may catch a problem and give you lots of time to get it fixed so you can launch on Friday afternoon. A friend of mine is a former astronaut; I’ve noticed that he always does a postflight inspection on his Bonanza—I figure he knows what he’s doing.

While the idea may make some pilots uncomfortable (and it shouldn’t), techs I respect suggest a mag check just before starting your descent for landing. The ignition system is most stressed at altitude and a mag check before letting down is more likely to uncover an incipient problem than a mag check prior to takeoff. It also gives you time to get the problem fixed before you want to go flying again.

Pilots/owners and techs/shops benefit each other. If history is any indication, both sides making an effort to communicate effectively and recognize that nobody is perfect will go a long way toward making the process of aircraft maintenance go smoothly and efficiently.

Rick Durden in an aviation attorney who holds an ATP with type ratings in the Douglas DC-3 and Cessna Citation and is the author of The Thinking Pilot’s Flight Manual or, How to Survive Flying Little Airplanes and Have a Ball Doing it, Vols. 1 & 2.

East River Crash: A High Price For Cool Photos
 
Paul Bertorelli
 
 

As Monday’s tragic helicopter accident in the East River vividly shows, ditching in a rotorcraft is a low-probability, high-consequence event. The reason for this is that helicopters, with their roof-mounted power trains, have a high center of mass and they always turn over, flood quickly and sink.

Because of these dismal survival aspects, many helicopters are equipped with skid-mounted float systems designed to be inflated pre-impact to provide buoyancy and a righting moment. As the video we’ve all seen by now clearly shows, the floats failed to do this for reasons that will only become evident when the accident investigation is completed. I’m not going to speculate on the why or the how.

But I am offering a thought on what kind of risk the passengers thought they were assuming. And my guess is they had no clue. New to me in the wake of this accident is that the passengers were doing a “doors-off” photo tour of the New York skyline, in which the aircraft is flown with the doors open so the passengers can dangle their feet out the door and snap photos. I’m including an example here, taken from the website of the company selling the tours. Doors-off flights are apparently a thing now.

As anyone who knows me can attest, I have a lot of experience flying in airplanes with doors open and have launched myself through them several thousand times. So I’m not gonna go all Uncle Melvin on the risks involved. If you wanna do it, step right to the front of the line. But there’s a pernicious corner of the risk envelope here that I don’t think these passengers could possibly grasp.

In order to let the customers dangle their body parts into the picture frame, in addition to standard seatbelts, they’re also strapped in with a parachute-type harness with a single carabiner restraint in the back connected to a tether, according to a New York Times article. For obvious reasons, it’s not a quick release, but uses a screw-type carabiner closure. Because of this, the passengers are shown a safety briefing video and equipped with a knife—likely a web-cutter type—to free themselves in an emergency.

If this doesn’t cause your jaw to drop to the floor, you’re not paying attention. Refer to the second sentence above. If they’re not equipped with skid floats or the floats fail, a ditched helicopter will always invert and flood rapidly. Without doors, it will flood right now. As I learned in a safety course I took at Survival Systems on how to exit ditched helicopters, even a trained occupant will struggle with what’s known as “cold water gasp,” the involuntary intake of breath when exposed rapidly to cold water.

The East River was 40 degrees or colder on Sunday. An untrained, gasping passenger would have had little chance to even consider using a knife to saw through a tether attached from behind. I spent a full day getting cold and wet in a dunkable fuselage simulator and I’m pretty sure I could not do this, even though I could egress the fuselage OK from normal harnesses. Watching a video on how to do it would, in my view, be woefully inadequate.

Just for the record, such training has three simple key points: Wait until the aircraft stops moving, use a reference point like your knee to find the door release handle, place a hand outside the opening for reference, then release the belt and get out. I did that course 15 years ago, but I still remember it. Here’s a good video we shot on the training.

What sustains a company like Survival Systems, in part, is that the oil industry requires workers to take such courses before they ever set foot on a helicopter headed for the offshore rigs. Even at that, the industry has lost lots of people in helicopter crashes and the survivors tell harrowing tales. Here’s one from a North Sea worker: “The helicopter filled with water, instantly. The door buckled on the left-hand side and none of us had a chance to pull our rebreathers out, get our hoods on, nothing like that. And as the water came up to here" – he indicates his chin – "and I took my last breath, I could see people floating around. As soon as my head was covered with water, I looked down and pulled the tab on the window and it just came to bits in my hand. So I hit it with my elbow a couple of times. Nothing. And then I punched it – I think I punched it three times – and all of a sudden it went pop and away it went.”

Judging risk and whether to take it is an intensely personal thing and for most of us, it is a moving target. What you do one day, you might not do the next if some single point consideration is different. Personally, I have no desire to fly around New York in an open-door helicopter. I can think of better things to spend money on. And even though I suffer the same over-confidence in the reliability of turbine aircraft that so many of us do, they still quit from time to time. But getting into one with a knife to slice a tether attached to my back as the only means of extraction isn’t a survival plan, it’s a delusion. My skydiver friends will want me to mention a better approach: the same kind of three-ring system we use to cut away malfunctioned mains to clear the way for reserve deployment. 

Last, a comment on word choice. When I wrote the initial story based on the video, my colleague Mary Grady chided me for using “mishap” in the headline rather than “crash.” She reasoned that mishap conveyed the wrong connotation. Too soft. But I used it for a reason. An autorotation in a helicopter is not a crash, it’s a purposeful emergency procedure and, if done right, a skillful management of finite rotor energy.

I’m not qualified to judge whether the auto was done right or not, but the touchdown itself didn’t strike me as a crash. I tried to use “hard autorotation” but it didn’t fit in two lines. I re-edited it with the word “accident.” When you lose five people, there’s no question that this word applies.

Two Killed In F-18 Crash
 
Mary Grady
 
 

Two crew members were killed when an F/A-18F Super Hornet crashed into the sea off the coast of Key West on Wednesday afternoon, military officials have confirmed. The aircraft, which was based at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia, was on approach, about a mile from the runway at Boca Chica Field, at about 4:30 p.m., after completing a training mission. A local resident, Barbie Wilson, told Military.com she had stopped to watch the F/A-18 flying overhead. "Literally, the wings went vertical, and there was a fireball, and it just literally dropped out of the sky," Wilson said. She said she didn’t see the crew eject from the airplane. She later saw the wreckage upside down in the water near the shore.

A Navy spokesman told Military.com the pilot and a weapons systems officer had ejected, and were recovered from the water within minutes and taken by ambulance to a medical center, where they were declared dead. The Navy is investigating to determine the cause of the crash.

How To Get A Light Sport Seaplane Rating
 
Paul Bertorelli
 
 

The sport pilot rule allows anyone who wants a seaplane rating to do it with five or so hours of training and then an endorsement from an evaluating CFI. AVweb's Paul Bertorelli recently did the rating at Jones Brothers Air and Sea Adventures in Tavares, Florida. Here's his report.

 

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Video: Cessna 210 Crash Landing In Kissimmee
 
AVweb Staff
 
 

The unblinking eye of a video camera caught the dramatic crash landing of a Cessna 210N at Florida’s Kissimmee Airport this week. Although the airplane touched down on a narrow, tree-lined Martin Luther King Boulevard Tuesday afternoon, neither the pilot nor his passenger were seriously injured, according to Kissimmee police.

Video footage obtained by WESH news shows the airplane impacting hard and at an angle on MLK Boulevard and shedding pieces of the structure as it slid along the pavement. It came to rest minus the empennage and with damaged wings. According to the FAA registry, the airplane is a 1979 T201N registered to a corporation based in Medford, Oregon. The pilot and passenger were not identified by authorities.

According to a Flight Aware track of the flight, the airplane took off around 9:50 a.m. and flew a series of racetrack patterns southwest of Kissimmee Airport before returning about an hour later. It’s not clear if the airplane crashed during an approach or following a takeoff or a go around.

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Boeing’s 737 Sets World Record
 
Mary Grady
 
 

Boeing has produced 10,000 copies of the 737, setting a world record for the most-produced model of a commercial jet aircraft ever, the company said this week. Guinness World Records has certified the record. "This incredible milestone … represents more than 50 years of success and achievement on the part of thousands of Boeing employees past and present, our supplier partners, and our airline customers around the globe who put their confidence in the 737,” said Kevin McAllister, CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. The aircraft first flew in 1967, and has been continuously revised and updated. It is operated by more than 500 airlines, and flies to destinations in 190 countries.

At any given time, there are 1,250 737s in the air, Boeing said. Since entering service in 1968, the 737 has carried over 12 billion passengers over 65 billion NM, and has accumulated more than 296 million hours in the air. The 737 represents more than 25 percent of the worldwide fleet of large commercial jet airliners, Boeing says. The latest version of the airplane, the Max 9, was certified last month. Boeing said the 737 Max version is the fastest-selling airplane in its history, with more than 4,300 orders from 93 customers worldwide.

Pilot Certification Still In Play In D.C.
 
Mary Grady
 
 

An effort to change the current certification rules for airline pilots through legislation has stalled, but an “administrative fix” could still come to pass, according to a report this week in Roll Call, a Capitol Hill news site. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said he will drop a provision about pilot training from the FAA authorization bill, which is expected to be addressed this summer. Thune had tried to create more flexibility in how pilots log hours, effectively reducing the 1,500-hour minimum now in effect for airline flight crews. He told Roll Call the discussion about the legislation raised the issue’s profile, and that might drive a change, but he couldn’t offer any specifics yet on what that change might look like.

The 1,500-hour rule, put in place after the Colgan Air crash, has been cited as a cause of the current pilot shortage that is affecting regional airlines and other operators. An FAA advisory panel has recommended that the rule should be revised, saying it “imposes costs that exceed the benefits.” Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said last year he would fight any move to relax the rules via legislation. Opponents to change have cited the new rule as a factor in the airlines’ safety record, which has been fatality-free since 2009. Advocates for change say the quality of training and other factors are more important than hours logged. The captain in the Colgan crash had logged 3379 hours (111 as a Q400 captain) and the first officer had 2244 hours.

Dynon SkyView HDX Approved For Skyhawks
 
Larry Anglisano
 
 

Dynon announced today that it has earned its first STC for installation of the SkyView HDX in Cessna 172 models. The installation approval of the SkyView HDX, which started life as a popular experimental avionics suite, is via AML (approved model list) and initially includes the Cessna 172F through 172S models.

The STC allows for the removal of the existing round-gauge primary flight instruments— including the vacuum source— since the SkyView HDX system provides complete flight instrumentation on its 10-inch primary flight display, which overlays synthetic vision and angle-of-attack data. There's also engine monitoring with digital fuel flow, a fuel computer and lean assisting.

The HDX suite comes with Dynon’s integrated two-axis autopilot, with approach coupling when the SkyView is integrated with an approved third-party panel GPS navigator. The STC-approved installation also includes a Mode S transponder with 2020-compliant ADS-B Out, plus ADS-B In traffic and weather display. The Dynon EFIS-D10A is used for backing up the primary flight instruments.

Dynon says the STC for a 172 installation is $2000, in addition to the cost of the equipment. This past fall, Dynon estimated that a fully integrated HDX installation in a Skyhawk would yield an installed price just over $20,000. The first field installations will be underway in the coming weeks.

 Visit http://dynonavionics.com.

Air carrier applies for trans-Antarctic routing
 
Tim Cole
 
 

Zipping across the North Pole to connect city pairs in the eastern and western hemispheres happens multiple times a day. But now Norwegian Air Argentina has applied for traffic rights from Buenos Aires to Perth, Western Australia, a 7,839-mile jaunt that will take commercial airline travelers directly over the South Pole. The South American arm of the Oslo-based airline will then connect with Singapore after a Perth refueling stop.

Lest that mileage number seem daunting, the recently opened Heathrow to Perth run comes in at 9,000 bleary-eyed miles.

An extension of ETOPS makes the trans-Antarctic routing feasible. It stands for “extended range operations by twin-engine airplanes” and improved engine reliability (with a nudge from always-escalating fuel prices) has stretched that critical number to 330 minutes flying time to a diversion airport should the need arise. ETOPS figures over the years have expanded from 90 to 120 to 180 minutes, and the five-and-a-half hour figure of the Boeing 787 will make flying the bottom of the world a reality.

Watch for applications for Heathrow-Honolulu and even Heathrow-Fiji long-range commercial routes. Pack your jammies and some Ambien.

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