AVmail: October 31, 2011

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Each week, we run a sampling of the letters received to our editorial inbox here in AVmail. One letter that's particularly relevant, informative, or otherwise compelling will headline this section as our "Letter of the Week," and we'll send the author an official AVweb baseball cap as a "thank you" for interacting with us (and the rest of our readership). Send us your comments and questions using this form. Please include your mailing address in your e-mail (just in case your letter is our "Letter of the Week"); by the same token, please let us know if your message is not intended for publication.

Letter of the Week: Experience Makes a Difference

At some point (my guess is around 3,000 hours) additional flight time matters little. Until then, the learning curve is pretty steep. Even highly and expensively trained military pilots struggle in high-density airports at peak hours while many low-time pilots are struggling with both the high-performance airplane and radio traffic even in relatively low-traffic situations.

As is true with flying at many different levels, the individual tasks are often not particularly difficult, but the multitude of tasks across a wide range of disciplines is much more difficult to accomplish, especially while maintaining good overall situational awareness. Ask any training or check pilot in the commuter industry what they face with low-time pilots (even from good college programs), and they will tell you a few individuals make the transition with relative ease but most are behind the power curve. Only experience with hard work will eventually overcome this.

Ask the captain of an airliner what pressures fall on him or her with a 300- or 500-hour pilot in the right seat in and out of airports like JFK, ORD, or LAX with less fuel than comfort would require during rush-hour operations, especially with low visibility and ceilings, and I expect you'll appreciate the difficulty of their job and the potential dangers involved.

Capt. John Snidow

Biofuel Progress

I noted your comment that "enzyme-based processes look particularly promising" for biofuel production and agree.

My daughter is working on her Ph.D. in chemistry at UC Berkeley. Her project is mostly funded by BP. She is trying to modify a known enzyme process so it will work at a reasonable temperature for large-scale production.

As with most research work, if she succeeds it will be years before BP can build a working factory -- and her work is only a piece of the puzzle. But an "oil company" is trying. I think of them as a "fuel company" rather than an oil company.

Don MacKenzie

A Mix of Old and New

Regarding the "Question of the Week": My VFR E-AB airplane has only glass instruments. They are less expensive than round ones and offer a lot more functionality.

I don't like PC-based aircraft instruments, such as iPad-based ones -- but I do like ones designed to be portable aviation devices, such as GPS. To be satisfactory for me, such devices must:

  1. Be mounted in the cockpit so they don't bounce around in turbulence.
  2. Be powered from the ship's main power system.
  3. Be designed as aircraft instruments rather than general purpose computers.

I've tried PC-based systems and found them almost O.K. for back-up functions like EFB charts and aides, but for actual flying I found them less than ideal.

Paul Mulwitz

I use a mix of electronics on the panel: aera portable, an iPad, and paper. A friend continuously points out that he has never seen paper crash, and neither have I!

Bob Glorioso

You left out what I'm sure is the most common configuration of aircraft today (ones that actually fly a lot of hours anyway): steam for primary guidance, certified electronics for nav and approaches, and portables for weather. (And, of course, an iPad for charts.)

Phil Ryder

I'm still on paper charts and a six-pack but rely on my GNSs. I'm looking for a good EFB system based on an Android tablet but haven't seen one yet.

Mike Platt

My steam gauges work just fine -- thank you. I will consider converting to glass when they need major maintenance. I would like to stop filing Jepps, however.

George Mattingly

Oxygen Facts

In your article on the F-22, you seemed to draw a distinction between oxygen deprivation and hypoxia. Your article said that the pilot "should only have been suffering symptoms of hypoxia before the aircraft reached safe altitudes."

In reality, hypoxia is oxygen deprivation, and its symptoms can range from tunnel vision, giddiness, [and] inability to focus on tasks to unconsciousness and death. The key issue is the term "time of useful consciousness." Depending on altitude, existing blood saturation with oxygen, and the blood's oxygen-carrying capacity (potentially compromised by toxins -- referred to as histotoxic hypoxia!), the pilot may have only a few seconds to recognize and correct a hypoxia situation.

In commercial aircraft, the FAA requires that the pilot be able to don the mask and have 100 percent oxygen flow within five seconds. That is also why, if one of the pilots is out of the cockpit, the other pilot is supposed to be on oxygen at all times.

A pilot who is already on oxygen in a fighter is assuming that his oxygen system is providing high-quality breathing oxygen. He may be slow to recognize his hypoxia symptoms in that case. Even a few seconds of delay may have been fatal.

Being able to recognize one's hypoxia symptoms is the reason that flight personnel in the USAF and USN are required to undergo periodic refresher rides in the altitude chamber. Recognizing one's personal symptoms and reacting immediately is key to survival.

My personal experience includes eight chamber rides, two major decompression events, thousands of hours in F-4/F-111/EA-6B, and experience selling oxygen systems.

J. C. Hall

Saving Flight 447

A simple angle of attack indicator added to primary flight instruments would have prevented this stall-related crash, which was initiated by unreliable airspeed read-outs. Of course, that does not exonerate the faulty pitot heat design!

John Carroll

Airport Politics and Safety

As I'm sure you will re-visit the events leading up to the midair crash in Oregon, I thought it might interest you that Aurora State Airport has been in line to have an FAA tower constructed for some time. It is one of the busiest airports in the area (third to Hillsboro and Portland) and likely the busiest non-towered airport in the state.

As I frequently fly into UAO, I can tell you there is a well-organized and highly vocal local contingent of residents who have nothing but contempt for this airport and have done whatever they could to block the construction of the tower. The argument has essentially been that construction of the tower would encourage more air traffic. I'm sure this accident will be used to bolster arguments against the tower in the local press when logic and common sense would bring one to exactly the opposite conclusion.

Anthony Nasr

Just Give Single Jets a Chance

Bravo to Tom Yarsley for the great argument he makes in favor of single-engine jets.

Those of us who are up in years can remember when the typical business aircraft was a piston twin like the Beechcraft Model 18. Then in the 1960s we started seeing bizjets like the Lockheed JetStar and North American Sabreliner. Business aviation was revolutionized when Bill Lear made "Learjet" part of our national lexicon.

Today we have business jets with straight and swept wings, and also both single and twin-engine turboprop planes. So why not give single engine jets a chance?

Alex Kovnat

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