Top Letters And Comments, December 20, 2019


Cubs vs. Jets

I saw [Paul’s] writeup about landing gear up and the conversation about ideal trainers. To be honest, I did not follow the whole Diamond aspect because that is not a plane I have flown (although I do have 150 types in my log). But I did want to comment on your question about the value of learning to fly a Cub or other unstable airplane in the world of automated airplanes.

In short, learning to fly airplanes like that makes you pay attention to what is going on every second. You know, the old saying that you fly it all the way to the tiedown. Although this is a bit of an exaggeration for many planes, it should be the goal.

Obviously, automation distracts from that, with both good and bad results. On the good side, the pilot has more time to pay attention to traffic, weather, fuel state, etc. I do not normally fly IFR in airplanes without autopilots (though I do hand fly much of the time). On the bad side, the pilot can become just another passenger, passively watching the situation unfold.

As an old fart, I spent a lot of my time in airplanes that needed a firm hand just to arrive safely. That includes 900 hours in one of the best trainers for high performance flying, the T-33. For those who have just flown one for a few minutes on a sunny day, it may seem very simple. For those who have flown in horrible weather, hand flying for many hours, then doing a PAR approach to 100-foot ceiling and 1/4-mile visibility, it was a stern task master. But the skills it taught stay with you for a long time.

Likewise, that Cub requires you stay with it. Ok, you can daydream as you look out the open door at altitude, but once you get ready to land you have to be on your toes. No autopilot or even nosewheel to cover for sloppy technique. You are directly and personally responsible for the outcome, something that is lost as automation increases.

This mindset of personal and continuous responsibility is key to recovering from problems that may occur. If you feel your responsibility, you understand the airplane and its systems, and you are monitoring them constantly. If the oil pressure starts to edge downward as its temperature climbs, you know you suspect low oil quantity and land to investigate. If the autopilot wants to go one way while the GPS wants to go another, you know you have made a programming error and hand fly the right course until you get it sorted out. If, as happened to me at age 19, the engine starts to cut out 100 feet in the air on takeoff, you push the nose over hard to maintain airspeed to land on whatever is ahead. In my case, the airplane was a Globe Swift, and it burned (on the ground) due to a broken fuel line. The FAA inspector was amazed that I, a kid with barely 100 hours total, had avoided a lethal stall. The only answer is that I was there, in the moment, connected to the airplane. When the engine started to run poorly, I acted.

The same presence of mind served me well through the subsequent 47 years of flying, and I hope it will continue for decades to come. I owe that survival to good fortune in part, but I take some credit for being fully involved in each and every flight. Over that same flying career, I have lost dozens of friends, many of whom were not on top of the situation and who acted too late or not at all.

That is why the right trainer (and training) matter.

Jim V.

Poll: Do You Think An Electric-Powered Beaver Can Succeed?

In the peculiar/particular case of Harbor Air, the electric Beaver stands a very reasonable chance of success.

They have to sacrifice a seat I would think, and they will with a full passenger load always be flying at near max. gross. The mass of the battery is a fixed amount, whereas a gasoline fuel load is ever decreasing in flight. They also do not have the option of flying with a reduced fuel mass to offset a potential over-gross condition. Their fuel load is fixed.

Do not hold your breath on a large-scale turn to electric aircraft based on Harbor Air. As I said, electric power is peculiarly suited to Harbor Air’s operation.

John P.

  • The best electric airplanes will be purpose designed, but are too risky to pursue until we know more or the basics of electric airplanes, so a proof of concept, like the Beaver, is necessary.
  • In this case, the peculiar route structure of Harbor Air gives this conversion a good chance of success. The big downside is that if the seats are always filled, they are flying at max. gross all the way. The fuel load/mass never decreases in an electric car/plane.
  • Only if: -The cost per kilojoule of 100LL doubles to equal the cost per kilojoule of electricity, – a light enough battery system can be developed so that the aircraft has a cargo capacity, – the batteries are charged with hydro-electric or solar generated electricity that generates no carbon dioxide.
  • A Beaver on floats for short flights actually could make sense, and also serve as a proof of concept.
  • I was at a 3-day eVTOL brainstorming session where the owner of that company gave an extensive presentation. Based upon that information it appears the electric modification will work for him.
  • That depends what you mean by succeed. Since the piston powered Beaver floatplane is itself a narrow niche player, an electric Beaver could be “successful” in a small subset of that niche. Which is not very successful in the big picture.
  • Not with the cabin full of batteries and no place for paying cargo. Battery energy storage is the Achilles heel.
  • Depends on range—who needs range anxiety amplified?—and turnaround time achievable after battery charges.
  • I would like to see it fly fully loaded with passengers and cargo.
  • The answer isn’t obvious. I’m pleased that someone is giving it a try.
  • Can meet the developers (very) limited application. Technical side appears doable; economics to be determined. Will yield very useful info on actual, in-service use.
  • It all depends on how you define success. If you mean success as a proof of concept, then yes. If you mean an economic success, it will only succeed as a niche player in really short hop service.
  • It’s a great platform!
  • Energy density of batteries dependent.
  • Yes, in a mission-designed use. i.e. In short commuter over-water routes.
  • I’d think they can succeed but wonder about the consequences of a lightning strike.
  • Absolutely for use on routes that make sense. Will it replace long haul 985s? No, at least for a long time.
  • If they didn’t use a fuel cell then no.
  • Show me some numbers, then I can form an opinion. Performance? Endurance? Charging interval? Battery life? And, of course, cost.
  • Not optimum, but sure.
  • Yes, as a forerunner – successful electric planes need to be purpose-designed.
  • I hope so, but I doubt batteries are the right way to power it. The energy density is too low and the charge time too long.
  • Let’s see how it goes? I would be more concerned with 60-year-old airframes – metal fatigue.
  • Technically possible. Economically will be the hard part.
  • IF batteries can be swapped out.
  • It’s possible; the biggest consideration is battery storage. Once they get that right, which in my mind is not for some while yet. Good concept.
  • The technology is proven, but only for short haul and smaller loads.
  • Yes, in the Vancouver & Victoria markets.
  • Define succeed. Just about anything can “succeed” if you’re willing/able to throw unlimited time, money, and human resources at it. Okay, okay, pick one: yes, it’s inevitable.
  • If it stays dry, yeah.
  • No, given how and where they’re commonly used.
  • Like the Apollo program, it will succeed and then fall under the weight of how much it costs.
  • Yes, but maybe stay away from salt…
  • It already has succeeded, and will continue. Just look outside of your USA centric bubble. EU and British Aerospace industry is being driven by Emissions & Noise. Get on board Uncle Sam, the 2 leading EV powerplants are Seimens (now Rolls Royce) and Magnix (Australian Engineering – Venture Capital owned). We need some made in the USA EV power plants! Now.
  • Absolutely. Much-needed change.
  • There’s a niche for electric and this is one of ’em.
  • Yes. For the limited specific short hops that they are targeting.
  • What is really the point of an aircraft that burns coal?
  • In this case, it might work quite well.
  • PR gimmick.
  • If the mission is right for the technology, yes. But in general, I think electric aircraft should be purpose designed.
  • The energy density problem has yet to be solved. The second issue is time to refuel. No solution to either problem is imminent.
  • Hope so – small step for mankind!
  • Yes, but leading edge can become bleeding edge.
  • Only when battery technology catches up to what is required to make it practical.
  • Electrifying wildlife is a PETA issue, not aviation.

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  1. Re: Cubs versus Jets

    Jim V. hit the nail on the head with his comment: “This mindset of personal and continuous responsibility is key to recovering from problems that may occur. If you feel your responsibility, you understand the airplane and its systems, and you are monitoring them constantly.”

    The bottom line — while some of us may disagree with vendor mission statements (aka the Cirrus TRAC trainer….) the bottom line is that the training for whatever is being flown needs to account for the known-known, the known-unknowns, and the unknown-unknowns — given the level of automation and so forth. Flight training and proficiency will be one thing for an aircraft that flies largely by visual references or ‘feel’ — Club, aerobatics — versus increasing levels of complexity and automation.

    All — this unfortunately goes deeper than aviation and somewhere/somehow accountability must weigh in .

    Barbara Filkins