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Volume 25, Number 50c
December 14, 2018
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Lion Air Investigation Stalled By Lack Of Money
Paul Bertorelli

Thanks to budget constraints and bureaucratic wrangling, investigators still haven’t recovered the cockpit voice recorder from a Lion Air 737 MAX that crashed into the Java Sea off Jakarta six weeks ago. Indonesian investigators told Reuters this week that they need a specialized ship to find the CVR. “We don’t have further funds to rent the ship,” a source told the news agency.

Lion Air JT610 crashed into the Java Sea off Jakarta on Oct. 29, killing all 189 people aboard. The 737 MAX’s flight data recorder was recovered quickly and an initial report based on its data was released in late November.

Investigators initially said the aircraft wasn’t airworthy but later clarified that claim by saying press reports misinterpreted the initial findings. The crash, the first of Boeing’s new MAX design, shed light on Boeing’s failure to fully document a new autotrim and stall protection system called MCAS. It automatically rolls in nose-down stabilizer trim if the aircraft flight computer senses impending stall angle of attack.

The initial report said the flight data showed that MCAS—Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System—was active during the minutes leading up the crash. Investigators say they need to retrieve the CVR to determine how the crew was diagnosing and reacting to what appears to be a faulty angle-of-attack sensor.

Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee says it needs a specialized ship to retrieve the wreckage believed to contain the CVR, but thus far hasn’t produced the money to pay for it. The airline may be asked to foot the bill.

Meanwhile, the airline is sticking to its plan to cancel $22 billion worth of orders to Boeing because it’s unhappy with the plane maker’s response to the crash. Still, the airline’s co-founder, Rusdi Kirana, told Bloomberg News that despite scrapping the Boeing orders, the company still plans to continue expanding its fleet.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Lion Air crash has prompted some airlines flying the MAX to reconsider their training programs and add tasks related to MCAS and runaway trim conditions. Pilot unions for at least two U.S. airlines complained that crews weren't adequately briefed about MCAS and Boeing responded by sending technical representatives to mend fences.

Wait, You Mean Bernoulli Had It All Wrong?
Paul Bertorelli

Instead of Christmas cards this year, I’m sending out a class-action apology to all those primary students I led so seriously astray with my misguided whiteboard talks. If you’re an instructor, you’ve surely done the same during the standard foreplay before committing lift.

You’ve sketched the wing section, drawn in the airflow above and below the cambered surface, name dropped Danny Bernoulli and, after batting away questions that might reveal your shallow grasp of L/D, you moved straight to what’s important: tower light gun signals.

But the lift explanation always includes—at least mine did—what Bernoulli actually discovered, which is that when a fluid—liquid or gas—accelerates, its pressure drops. This has remained a bullet point of accepted physics for almost 300 years now and since we’re living in the same universe, it shouldn’t have changed.

Well, not according to Professor Holger Babinsky at the august Cambridge University, who posted a YouTube video asserting that aeronautical engineers, aerodynamicists, designers and instructors have been getting it wrong—or at least explaining it wrong—for years. Actually, this isn’t a new presentation nor are the assertions found within exactly groundbreakers, either. But the video recently resurfaced on social media and I’ve been getting pummeled by it.

Says the accompanying article, even Albert Einstein reputedly screwed this up in believing that the air on top of the wing accelerates because it has farther to go than the air on the bottom of the wing. See the analysis in the video. The debunking part is that Babinsky claims we’ve been saying for years that the air accelerates because the top camber forces it to travel farther. We have? If I ever used this explanation, I don’t recall it and a cursory look through some of my aviation reference materials doesn’t flog this explanation, either. In his classic Stick and Rudder, Wolfgang Langewiesche boldly said forget Bernoulli entirely and that the wing keeps the airplane up by pushing the air down. That’s actually a Newtonian explanation and knocks a leg out from the straw man erected in the video because it doesn’t mention sentient molecules having a meeting at the leading edge and agreeing to reconvene at a specified time at the trailing edge. (But they gotta rush off; might hit traffic around those protruding rivets at two-thirds span.)

Since my Ph.D. is in light signals not aerodynamics, I referred the video to my friend David F. Rogers, who is an actual aerodynamicist and has taught same to would-be naval aviators at the Naval Academy for many years. Any validity to the video’s claims?

“This is basically nonsense,” he says of the video. “I’ll assume that you know what a stagnation point is and that the flow decelerates to zero at a stagnation point. Knowing that, look at the video again. Notice that there is a stagnation point on the bottom surface. So, the flow in the smoke line that passes around the bottom surface has to decelerate to zero and then accelerate again to some velocity. That takes time. Is there a stagnation point on the upper surface? No.,” he explains.

Look closely at the smoke lines and you’ll notice that they’re more tightly spaced on top of the wing than on the bottom, meaning they’re moving faster. We haven’t translated the worm hole yet, so as Bernoulli postulated, the pressure is lower on top of the wing and higher on the bottom. This has been proven empirically and why it is so is buttressed theoretically with something called the Kutta condition. It explains how the air cleaves at the leading edge, accelerating across the top surface. This is neither exotic nor difficult to understand, but read further here.

The straw man part of the video’s argument is the claim that so many assert that parcels of air on the upper and lower airflow must reach the trailing edge of the wing at the same time, having been cleaved at the leading edge. Supporting straws are that this entirely explains lift. But of course, it’s more complicated than that and if you’re a wiser man than me, you’ll say as much and move on to clicking on how shocked you’ll be at how Loni Anderson looks today.

But … no.

At this juncture, the discussion devolves to tastes better/less filling. “This is like the argument between the physicist and the aerodynamicist/engineer. The physicist approaches the problem from a fundamental change in momentum viewpoint,” says Rogers. That’s the Langewiesche argument that there’s a downward deflection of the airstream that creates a reaction force in the vertical direction that translates to lift and drag.

“The physicist has applied Newtonian physics in its purist form. S/he then claims that the force is not a result of a pressure change, ŕ la Bernoulli, and concludes that the aerodynamicist does not know what s/he is talking about. Of course, this is also nonsense. They are both coming to the same conclusion but using different approaches. Both are using the same Newtonian physics,” Rogers says.

So why get sucked into this click bait in the first place? Because in Don Quixote’s day, he had to ride three days just to find a lousy windmill to tilt. But on the internet, gimbal-mounted windmills come at you like fifth-grade dodgeball and after one has bounced off my forehead five times, it’s time to act. If I hear the music, I’m gonna dance.

I’m waiting on tenterhooks for Professor Babinsky to tackle ADS-B. Then we’ll really be having fun.

Virgin Galactic Reaches Space
Kate O'Connor

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, completed its first successful trip to space on Thursday morning. As shown in the video below, Unity was initially carried to 43,000 feet by WhiteKnightTwo, an aircraft specifically designed to ferry the spacecraft to launch altitude. After release, Unity reached speeds of up to Mach 2.9 and attained an altitude of 271,268 feet (51.4 miles/82.7km) on a 60-second rocket motor burn, putting it just above the 50-mile boundary defined by NASA. The first SpaceShipTwo model, VSS Enterprise, crashed in 2014, killing one of the two pilots onboard.

Thursday’s flight was to fourth powered test mission for Unity. The FAA announced that pilots Mark Stucky and C.J Sturckow will be receiving FAA Commercial Astronaut Wings. “Commercial space has great potential for American economic and innovative leadership,” said FAA Acting Administrator Dan Elwell after the flight. “The FAA is committed to helping ensure commercial space transportation grows safely.” Also onboard the vehicle were four NASA-funded technology experiments, making this the first Virgin Galactic flight to generate revenue. Future goals for the company include providing commercial spaceflights for paying passengers.

“Today, for the first time in history, a crewed spaceship, built to carry private passengers, reached space,” said Virgin Galactic CEO Richard Branson. “We will now push on with the remaining portion of our flight test program, which will see the rocket motor burn for longer and VSS Unity fly still faster and higher towards giving thousands of private astronauts an experience which provides a new, planetary perspective to our relationship with the Earth and the cosmos.”

Hawker Hunter Crashes During Training Exercise
Kate O'Connor

A Hawker Hunter crashed during an Air National Guard training exercise off the coast of Hawaii on Wednesday. The pilot was able to eject and was rescued about three miles south of Oahu by a private sailboat. He was then transferred to a U.S. Coast Guard vessel and taken to a hospital. It has been reported that he sustained serious injuries but is in stable condition.

The jet went down at approximately 2:30 p.m. local time shortly after takeoff from Honolulu International Airport (HNL). Outbound flights from HNL were held for about 20 minutes following the crash. The pilot’s name has not been released. He is reported to be a civilian contractor who was participating in a military exercise called Sentry Aloha, which is hosted by the Hawaii Air National Guard’s 154th Wing.

More than 800 personnel and 30 aircraft from nine states are involved in the exercise. Activities were suspended following the crash but are scheduled to resume on Thursday. The cause of the accident is under investigation.

The crash was captured by a Surfline Waikiki camera, shown below.

Canada Tightens Crew Rest Requirements
Russ Niles

Eighteen months after a serious fatigue-related close call at San Francisco Airport involving an Air Canada airliner, Canada has announced it’s tightening crew rest requirements. Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Wednesday the new regs will bring Canada in line with most other countries in applying rest requirements that vary according to the time of day and generally reduce the overall work times for pilots. The government is also tightening crew impairment regulations by increasing the alcohol prohibition period to 12 hours from eight hours before flight crew members report for work. “Transport Canada’s new regulations align with today’s scientific data, international standards and best practices, and respond to concerns raised by communities, pilots and airlines,” Garneau said in a statement. At the time of the Although the new rules have been in the works for years, a highly publicized mishap at SFO July, 2017 may have added some urgency to the process.

At about midnight, the crew of an Air Canada A320 from Toronto lined up for landing on a taxiway instead of the parallel runway to which they had been cleared. There were four fully loaded and fueled airliners, three of them wide bodies, waiting on the taxiway to take off. The Airbus came within as little as 15 feet of the tail of one of them before climbing out on a go-around order from the tower. Had the landing continued, it was widely speculated the resulting crash would have been the largest air disaster to date. The National Transportation Safety Board, which had never before investigated an occurrence that didn’t involve an accident, determined the cause was the crew’s failure to properly understand and apply information in a NOTAM that warned of the closure of one of SFO’s parallel runways. But the report also cited as a contributing factor “fatigue due to circadian disruption and length of continued wakefulness.” At the time, the crew was in compliance with Canadian regulations but would have exceeded crew rest limits for U.S. crews.

Senators Call For Funding Of Contract Tower Airports
Kate O'Connor

Thirty-six members of the U.S. Senate sent a bipartisan letter to the FAA on Tuesday urging the administration to implement a provision that would make airports using the contract tower program eligible for Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants. The provision allowing AIP funding for airports with contract towers was included in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, which was signed into law in October. The FAA contract tower program began in 1982 and now includes over 250 airports across the U.S.

“Not only do these contract towers provide an important safety service, but they do it in a very cost-effective manner,” the letter reads. “This is demonstrated by the fact that contract towers handle approximately 29 percent of all U.S. air traffic control tower operations, but account for just 11 percent of FAA’s overall budget allotted to such operations.” Reported savings from the contract tower program are estimated at $200 million annually.

According to the letter (PDF), the contract tower airport funding provision was marked as a priority consideration “in light of the safety, financial, and other benefits that these towers provide to small airports and rural areas.” In addition, the letter requested an explanation from the FAA on how it intends to prioritize and ensure funding for air traffic control tower construction, improvements and related equipment. It also asked for the FAA to provide a list of which airports requested AIP funding for towers and tower equipment and the reasoning behind any denials of those requests by the end of the fiscal year.

FAA Developing New Florida Flight Paths
Kate O'Connor

The FAA has announced that is redesigning flight paths and air traffic control procedures for aircraft flying over Central and South Florida as part of its Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) airspace modernization initiative. The administration says the endeavor, called the South-Central Florida Metroplex project, will replace “dozens of existing air traffic procedures with more direct and efficient satellite-based routes.” The redesign will also introduce Performance Based Navigation (PBN) procedures and use Time Based Flow Management (TBFM) tools that should, according to the FAA, improve airspace efficiency and airport access.

“We will involve the public as we design the new procedures, and conduct the required environmental review,” said Michael O’Harra, Regional Administrator for the FAA Southern Region. “Early next year we will hold public meetings across Central and South Florida. We encourage the public to attend the workshops to talk with experts, learn how proposed changes could affect their communities and provide comments that we will consider as we finalize the new procedures.” The review of the potential environmental impacts of the proposed routes, which is required by law, is scheduled to begin in spring 2019. Public meeting and workshop times and locations have not yet been confirmed.

According to FAA data, the South-Central Florida Metroplex will save an estimated $15.5 million and 5.4 million gallons of fuel annually. Airports affected by these changes will include Miami International Airport (MIA), Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), Orlando International Airport (MCO) and Tampa International Airport (TPA).

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The Pilot’s Lounge #141: Killer Gas
Rick Durden

It was to have been a quiet Friday evening at home. The weather was that chilly, misty, rain-threating mix that seems to define November, there was a crackling hot fire in the wood stove and the idea of going anywhere wasn’t the least bit inviting. The bed with its thick comforter was starting to call my name.

My cellphone rang. Until I looked at the caller ID, my reaction was one of annoyance and intent to punch the button that would decline the call. I didn’t want the outside world intruding.

It was my daughter. She lives two time zones east of me, so having her call at that hour of the evening meant something was going on that I shouldn’t ignore.

After I answered she got right to the point. She’d been called out as part of a massive search for a missing general aviation airplane. As is sadly pretty normal in such situations, there was a lot of confusion, conflicting reports from people who claimed to be witnesses and difficulty in getting hard information. She’s an EMT and, as it turned out, was the only pilot on the search team to which she’d been assigned. Her team had been unsuccessful in its attempts to get radar track data on the airplane when she called me.

She told me that ATC had had some contact with the airplane, probably a Seneca. A person on the airplane said that the pilot had had a heart attack and that a student pilot aboard was trying to land the airplane. One of the pieces of information passed on to the search teams was that the airplane had been vectored toward an airport around which search teams were spreading out. My daughter had been trying to get the dispatcher to talk to ATC and get the location of the last radar hit on the airplane and the direction it was traveling at the time. She was frustrated because no one seemed to be able to get that bit of information and was calling to see if I had any ideas.

She had an N number and asked me to see if I could pull it up on FlightAware. Her attempt showed no flights in the last three years, but she’d also been told by one source that the airplane was on an IFR flight plan and wondered if I could find anything.

She was standing outside in below-freezing weather, with light snow, and rapidly depleting her cellphone battery trying to see if a flight tracking app would be of any help.

I struck out as well. (It turned out that the airplane was not on an IFR flight plan—nor, as initially reported, a twin.)

Over the next few hours we talked briefly as she and her team walked through farm fields in central Iowa hoping to find the missing airplane. She was pleased that the search response had a lot of resources, including four helicopters, but frustrated over the lack of information available to the search teams and the inability to get the location of the last radar hit on the airplane. That brought back memories of the huge levels of confusion, misinformation and rumors that flew during the search and rescue practices I was involved with when I was in Civil Air Patrol.

Her team was pulled out of the field about 3:00 am.

A Tragic Find

After dawn, the airplane, a Piper Dakota, was spotted by the farmer on whose land it had crashed. All four occupants were deceased. Newspaper photos showed that the airplane had traveled a very short distance from the point of impact to its resting place. I suspect the impact angle was fairly steep.

I was relieved to learn that none of the scores of people involved in the search were injured or killed. That’s not always the case—we humans have a selfless streak that sometimes results in searchers getting hurt or killed trying to help others in challenging weather.

I was saddened by the tragic outcome of what had to have been a terrifying situation for the student pilot and two passengers in the airplane—a pilot becomes incapacitated just about sunset in weather that is VFR, but probably not great VFR. A student pilot must try to find an airport that may or may not be lit (I didn’t know what the situation was regarding whether there were runway lights and if they required action by a pilot to activate them and whether the student would have known how to activate them). (Full disclosure, I’m not an unbiased observer—I’ve had complete electrical system failures at night and I despise pilot-activated runway lighting systems. I think they are killers.)

What I learned some days later was even more distressing: All of the occupants had elevated levels of carbon monoxide in their blood—some sources said fatal levels (I don’t know if that’s true, the NTSB preliminary accident report only refers to “elevated levels.”) There was a two-inch crack in the muffler with sooty gray material in the muffler heat shroud and the cabin heater hose.

The Bully on Steroids

Every year there are a few accidents in which carbon monoxide poisoning is a factor. The toxic gas is odorless and colorless—and the manner in which it attacks a human makes it nothing short of a bully on steroids. Once in your lungs it combines with the hemoglobin in your red blood cells to form carboxyhemoglobin (COHb) with a bond that is 200 times stronger than oxygen’s bond on hemoglobin. CO shoves its way into your system and takes over. It puts your hemoglobin out of commission and deprives your body of oxygen. The hyper-strong COHb bond means that even tiny concentrations of CO can kill you through slow poisoning during a flight of just a few hours.

The oxygen-deprivation function of CO poisoning makes it deadly because it attacks the most important parts of your body first—brain, nervous system, heart and lungs.

To make matters worse, the deadly effects of CO exposure in an airplane are exacerbated by altitude—the normal decrease in oxygen with altitude that causes hypoxia becomes a co-combatant with the COHb bond to disable and then kill you.

The first symptoms are headache, fatigue, dizziness, vision problems, increased pulse and respiration rates and nausea. Not one of those effects is a prescription for enhanced flying skills and judgment.

I shudder to think about what the student pilot was going through as he tried to save the flight while his faculties were progressively robbed from him by the killer gas.

Adding a nasty twist to depriving you of oxygen while you are being exposed to CO, that mega COHb bond means that the CO remains firmly in place a long time even after you’ve gotten away from the source. Once you start breathing uncontaminated air, the half-life of COHb is five hours. Think of it—you somehow manage to land, park the airplane and crawl out the door with a COHb saturation of 50 percent. In five hours, it will be down to 25 percent—that’s still a big-time exposure. If you breathe pure oxygen, the half-life drops to two hours, still not a rapid re-oxygenation of the body. In severe exposure events, the victim is placed in a hyperbaric chamber with pure oxygen under three atmospheres. Even then, COHb hangs on—the half-life becomes a half hour.

Protect Yourself

The data I’ve seen shows that the risk of an accident due to CO poisoning is slightly less than that of a midair collision. However, I strongly suspect that a fair number of pilots have experienced CO poisoning and torn up an airplane on landing, survived and did not get tested for CO poisoning. I also am of the opinion that more than a few have been poisoned, landed without breaking anything while feeling strange and didn’t get tested for CO poisoning. I suspect that if the numbers were available, the true rate of CO poisonings in little airplanes, especially ones that are a few years old, would be shown to be much higher than the rate of midair collisions.

We pay good money for devices that will warn of a risk of a midair. Good-quality CO detectors cost less. It seems to me that there isn’t an excuse for not having at least a portable CO detector in your airplane that will give you an effective warning when even low levels of CO are present. Low levels are dangerous because the body doesn’t shed the toxin rapidly, so the effects multiply. The device has to have an effective warning system—a warning that doesn’t get your attention is worthless. You’ve got to know of a risk to act on it.

Some CO Detectors

I did a review of CO detectors in the October 2016 issue of our sister publication, Aviation Consumer. The takeaway I got from researching the article was three-fold: 1) A CO detector should read out CO levels from 1 PPM (part per million) up, so that you can spot-check areas in the cabin (surprisingly, the baggage and rear seat areas are notorious for CO because CO can come into the tailcone where the air flow is forward into the cabin and the baggage curtain often doesn’t seal well enough to keep the air from coming into the cabin; 2) A CO detector should sound a loud warning when the level hits about 35 PPM because of the cumulative risk of exposure to relatively low levels of the gas; and 3) The stick-on chemical “spot” detectors that have a circular chemical patch that is advertised to turn “dark” in the presence of CO are, in my opinion, nearly worthless.

Get One

I’ve been flying with various portable low-level CO detectors for several years. Turning the unit on before startup and off after shutdown is part of the checklist. There are three that I recommend because I’ve flown with them and tested them in the presence of CO. In my opinion, they work well, have a loud alarm and detect very low levels of CO.

The Tocsin OI-315 CO Monitor by Otis Instruments is available for $169.95 at Sporty’s. It alarms at 35 PPM, with a flashing LED light, 90 dB Piezo horn and the thing vibrates. It has a belt clip, mounting ring and hook and loop tape so it can be mounted almost anywhere. The low-level alarm can be silenced. At 100 PPM it activates a high-level alarm that can’t be silenced except by moving the unit to a fresh air location and shutting it off. I think that’s a potential distraction, but not a deal-killer. For several years that was the unit kept in an airplane I shared with two other owners.

The CO Experts ULTA is the most sophisticated of the portable units I’ve found. It’s available for $199 from Aeromedix. I’ve owned two CO Experts units, using one for the house and one that I’d pull out of the flight bag and use in rental airplanes. Its Piezo alarm sounds at 85 dB. The first alert is at 7 PPM. The type of alert changes as the concentration level rises. It has a memory feature that can be helpful to medical personnel to show the history of exposure. It also has a warning silence feature, which I used one year when holding for a long time for an instrument clearance from AirVenture in a twin. The wind from the left blew enough exhaust from the left engine through the open vent window in the cabin to trigger the alarm.

The Pocket CO 300 ($131.95 from Aircraft Spruce) is the unit I’m using now. It’s a keychain CO detector. It doesn’t alarm until 50 PPM—a little high, in my opinion—setting off an 82-dB warning, LED light and vibration with increasing frequency at thresholds of 125 and 400 PPM. It has a replaceable coin cell battery. My airplane keys are on the unit and I turn it on when I put the key in the ignition—off at shutdown.

I suggest that you stay away from the chemical spot detectors. To start with, you have to have keep it in your panel scan to see if it is giving you a warning. Worse, each type has a life limit—but pilots seem to stick them on the panel and leave them forever. Beyond that, for the ones that turn “dark,” what is “dark”? How do you tell “dark” when you’re flying at night? (It was cold, it was dark, I was alone … precisely the time you need a CO detector with an effective warning.) The one we tested at Aviation Consumer didn’t change color until CO hit 90 PPM; way too high, in my opinion. They are cheap, and pilots have a reputation for being tightwads—so they buy something that is probably not going to be effective and fly away with a false sense of security. Do you really want to be that pilot?


My daughter’s involvement in an ultimately tragic search for a missing airplane triggered my thoughts of the need for carrying an effective CO monitor in the airplanes we fly. I think that the level of risk involved combined with the price of an effective detector make buying and using one in an airplane worthwhile. I’m also going to check the battery on my keychain unit when I get up from this computer.

Rick Durden is a CFII, 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.

Picture of the Week, December 13, 2018
Morning after first snowfall on the Tehachapi mountains. Taken with GoPro underwing mount on Beechcraft Musketeer at 8,500 feet. Photo by Cliff Lowerre.

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