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Volume 25, Number 37b
September 12, 2018
 
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Brain Waves Control Drones, With DARPA Tech
 
Mary Grady
 
 

A person with a microchip implant can now pilot a swarm of drones by sending signals directly from their brain, an ability that also should work for full-scale aircraft, according to researchers at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The technology was discussed at a recent symposium held by DARPA, in Maryland. “The signals from those aircraft can be delivered directly back to the brain so that the brain of that user [or pilot] can also perceive the environment,” said Justin Sanchez, director of DARPA’s biological technology office.

DARPA officials at the symposium also said they have advanced the technology so a user now can steer multiple jets at once, according to a report from DefenseOne.com. Working with a paralyzed volunteer, the researchers were able to not only send but also receive signals from the aircraft. “It’s taken a number of years to try and figure this out,” Sanchez said. The work builds on research from 2015, when a paralyzed woman was able to steer a virtual F-35 Joint Strike Fighter by sending signals from her brain using only a small, surgically-implanted microchip.

Aireon Casts A Net
 
Mary Grady
 

We all may still be waiting for our flying cars and jetpacks, but there’s no question the future has arrived, in ways more subtle but irrefutable. There was the live video of two SpaceX rockets landing on their tails in Florida earlier this year. There’s the imminent first flight of the giant Stratolaunch space plane. And now there’s Aireon, a network of satellites that will make it possible for any aircraft equipped with ADS-B to be tracked anywhere on the planet. No need to send out search planes—a technician at a screen will pinpoint the site of the downed aircraft, and relay the coordinates to rescue teams within minutes.

The project was inspired, at least in part, by the loss of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, which went missing in 2014. Today, flights across the oceans or in polar regions lose touch with tracking systems, and ATC relies on pilot reports, and flight plans filed in advance, to estimate their position. When MH370 went silent, searchers had limited resources to work with, and 239 souls on board remain lost.

Wikipedia lists 43 flights that have gone missing since 1970, including balloons attempting to cross the Atlantic, DC-3s, private jets and cargo planes. A Piper Warrior vanished somewhere in British Columbia in 2017. That loss is a reminder that even here in the Western world, there are big blank spaces on the map where humans seldom tread.

One of the more famous GA losses in recent years was the disappearance in 2007 of Steve Fossett, the multiple-record-holding pilot who took off from Nevada on a solo pleasure flight in a Super Decathlon and never returned. Despite an online search by hundreds of volunteers who scrutinized Google Earth images for signs of the airplane, it was found by chance in 2008 when a hiker happened upon the site.

Presumably, once Aireon goes online next year, this kind of mystery will be a thing of the past. In another 10 or 20 years, the idea of a lost airplane will be as foreign as the rotary-dial phone or rabbit-ear TV antennas. But seldom does something good occur without a flip side. In this case, we lose a little of the awe and dread of living on Earth, the sense that there are places on the planet, wide and empty, that remain unknown and unknowable. It’s a small price to pay for saved lives, but it’s a price worth noting.

ForeFlight Adds Pre-Departure Clearances And ATIS
 
Kate O'Connor
 
 

ForeFlight has announced that it is now providing mobile Pre-Departure Clearance (PDC) and Digital Automated Terminal Information Service (D-ATIS) at approximately 75 airports across the United States. To get PDC and D-ATIS via ForeFlight, owners need to register each of their aircraft specifically for the service through the ForeFlight app. Once an aircraft is registered and a flight plan filed, ForeFlight automatically delivers the departure clearance and current ATIS information 20 to 30 minutes before the scheduled departure by email and text message.

“Customers who have flown with the new PDC and D-ATIS features don’t want to fly without them,” said ForeFlight co-founder and CEO Tyson Weihs. “These two valuable tools make flight and avionics setup efficient by eliminating a set of radio communications, they reduce controller workload, and help get the aircraft to the runway faster, which improves on-time performance.”

According to ForeFlight, PDCs are official text clearances for U.S. IFR flight plans, taking the place of a verbal clearance from Clearance Delivery. They include the filed route, cleared altitude, transponder code, departure frequency and any special instructions. To provide these new capabilities, ForeFlight is partnering with Satcom Direct. Mobile PDC and D-ATIS are available as part of ForeFlight’s Performance Plus and Business Performance plans.

EASA Launches Rule-Update Effort
 
Mary Grady
 
 

The European Aviation Safety Agency has adopted a new rule, known as the “Basic Regulation,” which updates the mandate of EASA and sets out more pragmatic methods to regulate the sector appropriately, GAMA said this week. "This lays the foundations for an EASA 2.0, the result of a mammoth effort from EASA, the EU institutions and stakeholders,” said GAMA President Pete Bunce. “Industry, however, will see little change until the underlying technical rules are in place. We now have the 'what' but we still need the ‘how.’"

Regulators expect it will take up to five years to update EASA's current rules, including those that cover operations, certification and airworthiness. “A key element in the new performance-based approach is to ensure that regulations focus on safety objectives rather than prescribing rigid solutions that cannot keep pace with technological innovation,” according to GAMA’s news release. “We need to see a significant improvement in how new safety rules emerge, to avoid industry of all sizes treading water for years to come,” added Bunce.

Procedure Vs. Technique
 
David Jack Kenny
 
 

If you’re lucky, you’ve gotten some of your aviation education from an instructor with extensive real-world experience. One CFI who fits that description—having flown freight, charter, airline and corporate without ever giving up teaching in the 35 years he’s had his certificate—likes to remind students of the difference between procedure and technique. The former is what you have to do; the latter is how you choose to go about doing it. Before landing, for example, a constant-speed prop should be moved to its full-forward high-rpm setting to prepare for a possible go-around. Whether it’s done after turning final, on base or immediately after reducing power on downwind is entirely at the pilot’s discretion, provided it gets done. Reasonable arguments can be made for each alternative.

For whatever reason, this distinction tends to get lost teaching and testing certain maneuvers. One example is the 180-degree power-off spot landing, part of the practical tests for commercial and flight instructor certificates in single-engine airplanes. The goal is straightforward enough: Having chosen a point on the runway (e.g., “the departure end of the second stripe”), pull the power to idle abeam it on downwind and touch down on centerline no more than 200 feet beyond (but not short, which is an automatic bust). The written test standards say very little about how to accomplish this miracle (see the sidebar on page 10). However, a good many instructors and at least a few DPEs invest their preferred methods with an inviolability that approaches dogma. Some prefer lowering the gear before the initial power reduction and advancing the prop just after. Others insist on leaving the gear up until the runway’s made; some even set the prop to low rpm to minimize drag.

Image: D. Miller

This Is Not A Drill

The idea of demonstrating any power-off landing maneuver is to leave the throttle at idle, unless momentarily clearing the engine. The energy you use to reach the runway after beginning the maneuver should be based on your altitude, not fuel in the tanks. Some of the disputes probably arise from misunderstanding the nature of the exercise. Yes, the ability to make a precision landing at minimum airspeed is valuable after any power loss that isn’t above a mile-wide turf farm, but this is not a simulated engine failure. (You can be certain the checkride will include one, though.) Rather, it’s a performance maneuver demonstrating exact energy management and a practical grasp of aerodynamics. Putting the airplane where you want it without benefit of thrust requires planning, close monitoring and lots of practice.

The fact that it’s not an emergency drill means that there’s no obligation to maximize glide performance. You only need to get far enough away to make it back again. What matters is hitting one of the combinations of airspeed, configuration, ground track and turn radius that will put the airplane into the flare a few yards short of the target point.

Gear Up?

Arguments for leaving the gear up focus on glide performance. So does the practice of moving the prop control to its low-rpm extreme, knowing it will need to go full forward on short final. A case can be made for this, especially when weight or density altitude promise a higher-than-typical sink rate or winds are unusually strong. In those circumstances, it makes sense to conserve altitude as long as possible. And while this is emphatically not a simulated emergency, learning a single response to the loss of thrust simplifies decision-making if it happens for real.

Arguments against extending the wheels include the fact that lowering the gear after turning final guarantees that the airplane’s downwind glide away from the runway is more efficient than the final-approach glide back to it. By flying away from our intended landing spot more efficiently than we glide back to it, we increase the chance of coming up short. That’s not a disaster during practice, but it’s certainly inconvenient on a checkride. By removing that crucial step to the time where the pilot is focused on making it to the runway, it also significantly heightens the risk of forgetting to put the gear down at all, GUMPS check notwithstanding. That’s a definite bust whether the examiner notices in time or not. Likewise, going to low rpm makes it easier to forget to advance the prop before touchdown. Regardless, pilots should know how to wait on the gear and pull back the prop to extend a glide, which is just as important as knowing when to use these items in the toolkit.

Gear Down?

Instructors who advocate configuring for landing on downwind claim several advantages. The rate of descent (though not the angle) remains constant, simplifying monitoring and adjustment of the flight path. Finishing the configuration checklist early frees the pilot’s attention for that monitoring and adjustment, and of course having the gear already down and the prop at high rpm almost eliminates the threats of landing gear-up or overloading the engine during a go-around.

The chief drawback, of course, is the faster early loss of altitude. In models with unimpressive glide ratios, a conventional rectangular pattern may be somewhere between alarming and impossible, with the airplane losing 350 of its last 400 feet in the turn from base to final. Any hesitation acknowledging a short approach can have unpleasant consequences, while those of poor coordination during an attempt to stretch the glide can be much worse. A continuous horseshoe-shaped turn from downwind to final feels more controlled, but can also come up short.

A 2011 accident in Maryland prompted a flurry of e-mails between instructors and examiners managed by the Baltimore Flight Standards District Office (see the sidebar below). Some asserted that in the accident aircraft, a straight-winged Piper Arrow, teaching students to extend the gear on downwind verged on criminal negligence. Others (including the author) with extensive experience in the same model beg to differ.

Trial And (Mostly) Error

No single technique is perfect for every airplane, but specific variations are optimal for individual designs. More than for most maneuvers, consistently nailing the test standards requires really understanding how your aircraft responds to changes in weight, winds and density altitude. Developing that begins with setting initial benchmarks, then experimenting. A CFI who’s given a lot of dual in the same tail number can help identify the starting point, but calibration’s an individual effort.

Begin by flying the downwind a little closer to the runway than usual. As with everything else, you’ll change that later if it doesn’t work. Pick out an easily identifiable landing target and do yourself a favor: Don’t try to put it on the numbers. Choose a spot that allows you to land on the runway even if you’re significantly short. (If you can’t resist, show off putting it on the numbers after you’ve got things dialed in.)

Our preference is to try extending the gear on downwind first, to see if it works. If it does work for your airplane, it will simplify things going forward. If it doesn’t, this is the time to find out. However, if the DPE you expect to fly with has well-known preferences, you might just plan to learn it that way. You can’t be failed for meeting the ACS with a technique the examiner doesn’t favor, but this can result in particularly close scrutiny through the rest of the ride. It often pays to ask the examiner his preference/expectations, but don’t be surprised if the response is “as described in the ACS.”

Once abeam the target, throttle back to idle and pitch for best glide. We also recommend putting the prop full forward right away and sticking with that if it works. See how long it takes to lose the first 100 feet. If the airplane’s coming down fast, start a continuous 30-degree-banked turn—no more than 45 degrees, please—onto the extended centerline within the first couple of seconds. If the airplane likes to glide, try squaring off the corners. Altitude’s more easily lost than gained, so plan to come in a little high.

Keep the flaps up unless you’re obviously going to be long, and don’t hesitate to add power or go around if it feels like you’re too low too early. Assuming you’re still gliding after rolling wings-level on final, anticipate floating during the flare by aiming for a point 100-150 feet closer.

Once you’re down, a full stop— don’t forget to clear the runway before cleaning up the airplane—and taxi back gives you time to discuss with your instructor or examiner what worked and why. Save the touch-and-goes until you’ve wrapped up the problem-solving phase and moved on to polishing.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Image: D. Miller

If your first try came up short—the more common outcome, in our experience—did you really hold best glide airspeed throughout? If not, that’s the first thing to fix. If you’re still short, try starting the turn earlier. If that’s not enough, edge the downwind closer to the runway or switch from squared-off corners to the horseshoe. If the airplane really can’t get around in time even if you start banking the instant you reduce power, either try keeping the gear up or find a lighter CFI. If you’re close but just a little short, extending the first notch of flaps in ground effect might bump you across the finish line.

If you were long, extend the downwind a little more. Put out flaps earlier on final, or even on base if you’ve really miscalculated. Flying slower than best-glide speed increases both angle and rate of descent, and there’s nothing wrong with throwing in a forward slip (which, in fact, the test standards specifically acknowledge).

In the words of one veteran DPE, the 180 power-off isn’t something you’ll master on the third try. It can be frustrating. The balance of details that put you within 20 feet with five knots down the runway won’t work in a 15-knot crosswind. Expect to need dozens of repetitions while learning to compensate for all the factors that change from flight to flight, within the framework of a technique that works for the particular machine you’re flying.


“May” Or “Shall?”

In law, those words distinguish what’s allowed from what’s compulsory. The FAA’s Airman Certification Standards for the commercial pilot certificate define just a few ironclad requirements for the 180-degree power-off spot landing. In addition to the expected knowledge and risk management elements plus checklist use and radio calls, the applicant must demonstrate the following skills:

• Plan and follow a flightpath to the selected landing area considering altitude, wind, terrain and obstructions (CA. IV.M.S3).

• Position airplane on downwind leg, parallel to landing runway (CA.IV.M.S4).

• Correctly configure the airplane (CA.IV.M.S5).

• As necessary, correlate crosswind with direction of forward slip and transition to side slip for landing (CA.IV.M.S6).

• Touch down within -0/+200 feet from the specified touchdown point with no side drift, minimum float and with the airplane’s longitudinal axis aligned with and over the runway centerline (CA.IV.M.S7).

At a minimum, “correctly” configuring the airplane means getting the gear down and the prop control full forward, but the candidate decides when to make those configuration changes. (A strictly chronological reading would suggest doing both on downwind, exactly the opposite of the technique many CFIs prefer to teach.) And it’s unreasonable to expect any single answer to work equally well for every combination of temperature, wind, weight and glide characteristics.


When Things Go Wrong

The 180 power-off makes repeated appearances in the accident record, particularly in the histories of models that see a lot of service as complex trainers. The difference between normal frustration and bent airframes usually comes down to the pilot’s reluctance to break off an approach after it’s clear it’s coming up short. (CFIs demonstrating the maneuver aren’t immune to this, either.) Instructors expecting students to exhibit commercial-grade judgment sometimes wait too long to intervene...and extreme crosswinds don’t help, either (but then, when do they?). The 2011 accident that stirred up examiners serving the Baltimore FSDO involved a 180-hp Piper Arrow with three on board: a commercial-rated CFI candidate, his instructor and a third commercial pilot in the back seat. The candidate tried to demonstrate the maneuver to a 3216-by-50-foot runway despite a 70-degree left crosswind of 22 knots with gusts to 27. He extended the gear on downwind but allowed airspeed to decay; his last memory was adding power. A witness saw the airplane “very low” on a “tight” approach before the left wing hit the ground and it cartwheeled. The Delaware State Police airlifted all three to shock trauma centers. They survived.


David Jack Kenny still owns the 180-hp Piper Arrow he flew on his commercial checkride in 2004 and advocates dropping the gear before closing the throttle. He also holds commercial privileges for helicopters and was previously the statistician for AOPA’s Air Safety Institute.


This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of Aviation Safety magazine.

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A New Tower For Sarasota
 
Mary Grady
 
 

Pilots in the busy Florida airspace are now working with a new tower that was officially dedicated this week at the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport. “The new facility will provide our controllers with greater visibility of the airfield, and our investment in technology will enhance their ability to provide safe and efficient air traffic services for the Sarasota Bradenton community,” said Michael O’Harra, the FAA’s regional administrator. The tower, which cost about $25 million, is staffed by 20 controllers and 14 technical staff. They handle more than 100,000 take-offs and landings per year.

The new facility includes an updated voice communications system, radio transmitter and flight data processor. A 9,000-square-foot base building houses equipment, administrative offices and training rooms. The redevelopment plan for the airport, which launched 10 years ago, also opens up more than 90 acres of airport property for development. The FAA, Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority and Florida Department of Transportation jointly funded the project.

Britten-Norman BN2T Islander Now TC-Certified
 
Mary Grady
 
 

Britten-Norman’s BN2T Islander is now type certified by Transport Canada, the company announced this week. The aircraft is powered by two Rolls-Royce B17 turboprops with Hartzell three-bladed props, and the cockpit is equipped with Garmin’s G600TXi avionics. Other upgrades to the classic model include low-drag fairings and an updated interior with ergonomic leather club seats. Originally designed in the 1960s, more than 750 of the airplanes are in service worldwide, many serving as support for the military and police. 

In Canada, the Islander serves in a variety of roles, including cargo and air ambulance, working from remote strips in the Yukon, Quebec and Labrador. The airplane can take off in as little as 620 feet. It’s also used as a platform for sport parachuting. Canadian certification of the more powerful Turbine Islander is now underway, and will offer increased payload for operators. The company says it also is making progress toward FAA approval for a militarized version of the aircraft.

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Picture of the Week, September 6, 2018
 
 
Flying over the mountains of the North Island of New Zealand with my friend in a rental Cessna 172. Taken with a Lumix camera. Copyrighted photo by Glen Towler.

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