Top Letters And Comments, September 28, 2018


The 411 On 406s

Mr Nelson’s description of the ELT technology, be it 121.5 or 406, is fairly accurate. The application of this technology in the real world is not quite up to par. The ELT as we know it is based on antiquated 1950’s concepts with numerous single points of failure incorporated in the design. This was the technology available at the time and it sort of worked all along. Our research in this area shows that the ELT’s work in approximately 40% of cases. I say approximatly because various databases, from different institutions, in different countries, state numbers from 30% to 60%. This is a wide range of statistical figures and I would not call any of them more reliable than the next. They all agree on one thing: ELTs do not work reliably. A piece of aeronautical equipment that does not work reliably is always extremely expensive, particularly when used for life saving purposes. Canada has been considering mandating 406 for a few years and it does look lke it will happen soon. The Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) has been pushing back on this potential mandate because we believe 406 is an old technology that does not work reliably, it is the wrong tool for the job, and this makes it expensive. We are currently leading a joint effort between COPA, Transport Canada, NavCanada, CASARA, and some elements of DND to identify a better, more reliable technology for the purpose. We have come to notice that too many lost aircraft remain unfound for too long with resulting loss of life due to unreliable ELTs. Sadly, one only confirms the reliabity of the ELT when it is needed, sort of like a parachute.

JC Audet, Director of Operations Canadian Owners and Pilots Assocation

While the 406 ELTs are a very significant improvement on their predecessors, they are still subject to some of the same inadequacies, especially destruction or loss or masking of the antenna in an accident. More robust installation requirements (at least in Canada) go a little ways to alleviate the problem, but I think there will still be a fairly small percentage that are truly helpful in a typical GA serious accident. ADSB will help a bit, but coverage is incomplete. IMHO the better procedure might be use of one of the electronic “bread-crumb” services (eg. SPOT or Spider-Tracks). The cost, although subscription is required, is fairly reasonable, and they have the advantage of generating aircraft position before an accident, significantly narrowing the search field as compared to a crash that destroys an ELT.

Andy Smith

Well and good for complex airplanes, but face it, cell phones cover most of America and they can do the job just as well at no cost. In Seattle, there are crashes where the cell phone tower ping was the thing that made them find the plane. Add to that the new ADS-B tracking mandated, I wonder if the ELT is even needed anymore. Most flying is local by hours, so the ELT should be case by case by the owner. Flying a 70 year old non-electrical airplane.

Mark Peterson

It was with some interest that I read Myron Nelson’s article on 406 ELTs. It came out on the same week as a COPA (Canadian Owners and Pilots Association) published an article questioning the effectiveness of all ELTs. In Canada we have seen a number of airplane disappearances in Southern Alberta and British Columbia in the past couple of years where the ELTs failed to activate and the planes were never found. In fact, I wrote a letter to the Minister of Transport discussing the problem and suggesting that alternative technologies such as PLBs and ADSB would be a much better approach.

I would recommend that Myron look out the COPA article and perhaps research the Canadian experience.

Bob Kooyman

Flying Without A Valid Certificate Or Medical

Under normal circumstances, the short answer is “No” to either situation. However, in an emergency, where there was no one else to pilot a needed flight, I would probably do it. By emergency, I mean a life-threatening situation, not just a case of get home-itis.

John McNamee

I enjoyed Bertorelli`s article on who needs a certificate. But He forgets one giant glaring thing… What happens when the idiot kills an innocent person, because that person believed the pilot was a trained, licensed individual. This hits very close to home for me. I have a family member who thinks he`s ace of the base, doesn`t have a license nor any common sense, yet he is a physician…He used the 9/11 adage, I just want to learn how to takeoff and land the aircraft… These are the people who cost us more money for insurance, make us all jump thru tighter and tighter security hoops, because they don`t want to follow or even know what the regs/rules are…. Oh yes, I lost two friends in Florida a few years back because they thought the guy taking them flying was a licensed pilot… I`m a firm believer in the Darwin Principle, but not for the innocent who get trapped by the idiots Darwin is pursuing. There has to be a proper way to ferret these people out. This type of activity is far more dangerous then taking off 50 or 100 pounds over gross or only having 20 minutes of fuel reserve upon reaching your VFR destination. I`d like to hear other professional aviators thoughts on this matter… One last question, If they don’t have a license to fly what makes you think their aircraft is airworthy or in annual?

Shawn J. Burwell

NTSB Finds Lessons On Near Disaster At SFO

For all those armchair pilots who immediately dumped all blame on the Air Canada pilots in this episode, think twice. The report findings once again show how a sequence of events outside the cockpit can materially contribute to an accident (or near accident). Here the pilots on a visual approach at night drew a logical conclusion that the two lit “runways” were the parallel runways and properly chose the right hand one. Yes, they did not update their airport information to learn of the closed unlit runway, and are at fault because of that. But as the NTSB points out, there was no visual or ATC backup to let them know of the closed runway and that they were not lined up with the runway. Recognizing this, night visual approaches are now banned when one runway is closed. Also, they were operating with or on the edge of fatigue, which dulls critical thinking (It was 3 AM Toronto time when they landed). Fortunately for all a disaster was narrowly avoided.

Christopher Moon

Chris you are right. As much as we think we would never do such a thing, I have been humbled many times by mistakes I never thought I would make. Humans are fallible things no matter how smart we think we are. I not going to cast judgement on these fellows; I’m just thankful some other astute people saw it coming and alerted them in time. As they say it’s a license to learn, even at the ATP level.

A. Richie

Hand-Propping Problems

Old Fart advice to any “son” who’s willing to listen: If you elect to approach a junkyard dog, be certain that his chain is at maximum extention. And IF you decide to do battle with a man-sized Cuisinart, remember the advice about the dog – at least restrain the airplane.

YARS (Tom Yarsley)

Everyone is zeroing in on the relative sanity — or insanity — of hand propping an airplane with a dead battery and what happens when it doesn’t go right. No one has addressed the wisdom of taking off with a battery in a near discharged state just because they managed to start the engine. The starting battery has two main purposes. First, starting the engine. Second, it provides backup power in case there is an inflight failure of the charging system. Just because you managed to get the engine going doesn’t mean that the battery has charged sufficiently to run radios, nav boxes or other necessary devices should the charging system fail subsequently. In a local VFR flight … it’s not likely an issue. But if you’re going cross country and — especially — in IFR conditions … DON’T DO IT !! Let an A&P with more than electrical tape experience check it and advise you. We all know aviation accidents usually involve the dreaded ‘three’s.’ A dead battery is usually indicative of deeper problems. Either a charging system not working right or a battery not in good shape to retain a charge. It COULD involve a master switch left on but it still doesn’t charge the battery enough to meet necessary or reasonable specs once the engine starts. THE BATTERY WAS NEAR FULLY DISCHARGED ! Batteries are supposed to be inspected at annual time but … that’s rarely done. Usually, they get changed out when they’ll no longer hold a charge or start the engine. Anyone who doesn’t pay close attention to their battery’s age or state of charge is asking for trouble … like that described. I consider myself a battery expert. Long story. I’ve changed hundreds of them over my many years. I recently had a “new” one happen to me with a PA28. I had the lead acid battery out of the airplane on my battery bench. I charged and checked it as being OK but knew it was old and was having issues. I needed to start the engine to taxi the airplane only. It did that and the ammeter appeared normal. But when I went to R&R the battery with a newer airworthy item, I discovered that the battery had SEVERELY puked acid into the battery box … apparently one cell didn’t like carrying the starting current and must have “exploded” fluid out of the cap ?? You get the point. If you hand prop an airplane, you don’t see what’s going on inside the battery box. Finally … I no longer spec or use flooded lead acid batteries. Spend the extra dough on the AGM types now available from both major manufacturers. Bear in mind, these need special chargers and require special handling.

I guess I should have added that newer airplanes with a ton of glass panels and electronics are TOO valuable and expensive to trust using an old or marginal battery or one that has been severely discharged requiring a hand prop. If you fly one of these … make sure the battery(s) are in top shape and checked and replaced regularly. I always recommend that folks that have airplanes that sleep a lot, install a proper trickle charging system. This helps to ensure 100% starting power AND longevity of the battery. I have a truck battery that’s now 12.5 years old and running fine because it lives on a properly selected trickle charger !! In the case of the PA28 battery that puked acid, I knew one cell was having an issue but all I wanted to do was start the engine for taxi to / from the wash rack. In those two evolutions where the engine started nearly immediately, that one cell apparently didn’t like being discharged and recharged or carrying the current. If I’d have taken it flying … it would have puked acid on the belly of a world class paint job. Subsequently, it was oozing acid on the bench with NOTHING connected to it. BEWARE !!! THIS blog du jour talks about crashing an airplane into a hangar because it didn’t go well. Imagine if the battery ate all the electronics in the thing. It’d be worse but you might not know it immediately.

Larry Stencel

“Never be in a hurry around airplanes.” That statement can never be said enough. It should be permanently posted on every aviation social media site, “Never be in a hurry around airplanes.” It’s kind of like, “Just fly the airplane.” Sear it into your head.

Tom Cooke

First, two things a battery hates are heat and vibration. The more it is exposed to either, the shorter its lifespan. Depending on where you live and where your battery is located in your airplane, the “typical” lifespan will vary. So don’t feel bad if your firewall mounted battery in Phoenix does not live as long as a tail mounted one in Portland Oregon. Second, NO aircraft battery likes a fast charge. If your charger runs greater than 2 amps, you will probably damage the battery. DO NOT use a car charger on your airplane, even if it has a low charge setting. And, a “trickle” charger will probably kill you battery too, just not as fast. You need a battery maintainer that is specifically designed for the type of battery you have (wet cell or AGM). Aviation Consumer magazine has information on which types work best. Yes, they are expensive, but so is a new battery. Finally, AGM batteries are great; no messing with acid vapors or topping off the cells with water. But, they are kind of temperamental and easily damaged. High charge rates will vaporize the electrolyte in the cells, and once gone, it cannot be replaced. Make sure your charging system and voltage regulator are properly set. You can kill a battery in the air too. Also, do not pass up the annual capacity test. AGM’s can die very quickly, so follow the manufacturer’s test instructions and don’t rely on your mechanic’s “we’ve always done it this way” approach. Take care of your battery and hopefully you won’t wind up on the next YouTube video.

John McNamee