Aviation Blog

Aviation Isn’t Perfect

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Let me rephrase – Aviation isn’t always perfect. Yes your read that correctly. This coming from a guy that absolutely loves everything about aviation but i reiterate it isn’t always perfect. What do I mean by that? Not everyone loves flying as much as most of us pilots do and with that comes certain challenges when it comes to flying with passengers. Most people’s experience when it comes to flying is based on their  commercial airline experiences but as we all know even that isn’t perfect. I’m not really sure what they think their general aviation experience is going to be.  To be honest, I can’t really remember what my first thoughts of going up in my first general aviation flight were. For my fiancé, it’s getting to the airport, waiting in the FBO lounge, getting in the plane, flying, and getting out of the plane.  It wasn’t always like that though.  It took us a little time, some arguing, and some very quiet flights to get us to that point.  It’s not her fault though.  In the beginning, I would bring her out to the plane with me as soon as we got to the airport.  I would unload my bag, meticulously set up, check, set and connect my Go Pros, set up my yoke mount with my Ipad, download the last minute updates, etc. Then I would start my preflight – all while she stood there in the 90+ June Florida heat! We would then get in and I would start with the engine start checklist, then taxi, then there’s run-up…..finally we would be airborne where the plane cabin would finally cool off.  I look back at those days and think man no wonder she wasn’t always excited to go flying!  She spent all that time getting her hair and makeup ready and by the time we were ready to depart the Florida heat and humidity had her sweating like we had done an hour of hard cardio!  Now though, we have our routine it down!  We get to the airport and I go out to the plane while she waits in the air-conditioned pilots lounge until its time to start the engine.  Since then all our flights together have been great but as I said earlier…. still Aviation isn’t always perfect.

I had planned to take us to Cedar Key, Florida (KCDK) for the weekend.  Everything was planned out. I had the plane reserved, the cottage for the weekend was booked, and we were excited to get away for a mini vacation weekend.  The school I was renting called me the night before to let me know the plane had a flat tire and that they ordered the tube but it wouldn’t be there until 1030am.  That wasn’t the ideal situation since we were planning on leaving by 8am but still no big deal.  They figured that they would be done by noon and we could be up in the air by 1230pm.  Well as most of us pilots know, things don’t always go as planned.  We arrived at the airport and I made the rounds of introducing my fiancé to the FBO staff.  We situated ourselves in the pilot lounge and then the questions began…..Is it ready yet? How much longer? Did they even start yet? Aren’t they just changing the tire?  When I went into the maintenance shop to check on things (mind you I’m an Instrument Commercially Rated Pilot but that’s where it ends – I would be no help to them at all) I saw that they were having trouble getting one of the bolts tightened down.  It was now 1pm and the Florida weather started to roll in but we were still ok if we left soon.  For non-pilots the weather rolling in can be a scary thing – hell sometimes it’s a scary thing for us pilots as well!   So now I began to ask myself, “Should we really fly now?”  I kept checking the weather and it was building up just around us but it was Southeast and we were heading Northwest.  The two mechanics looked at the bolt and noticed that the bolt was stripped and as Murphy’s Law would have it they didn’t have another one in the shop so we were officially grounded! At that very moment, (as if having only one of the main landing gear wasn’t enough) a lightning bolt struck what literally felt like right outside of the hanger doors.  It had to be the loudest bang and flash I have ever heard or seen!  The three of us in the shop literally jumped while screaming and yelling obscenities!  In all honesty, I was probably the only one that jumped and screamed like a 12 year old girl!

 

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Yup aviation isn’t perfect…. So I went back to the FBO and told my fiancé that we were going to drive.  She honestly seemed relieved because a Florida thunderstorm had rolled in and she gets nervous flying IMC.  We loaded our stuff back into the car and made the 2 1/2 hour drive to Cedar Key.  We arrived around 530pm and checked in to this amazing little cottage right on the water. We were unit number 6 out of the 7 units in this little compound. We had agreed to let all the frustrations from earlier go because this was supposed to be a weekend for us to reconnect and enjoy just being together.  We made our way into town and had some dinner and a few libations at a local seafood restaurant.  Now that we were finally here, everything from earlier didn’t seem like that big of a deal.

20246484_10155296978020236_2006224314379664713_nThe next day started off with breakfast (my favorite meal of the day) at a local restaurant and then we went to check out the airport. I was disappointed not getting to fly in and land there myself but I know I will get another chance. I had to at least stop by and check it out…It is after all the shorted paved runway in the United States!

 

 

IMG_4725We then went and met with Daniel, of Cedar Key Paddling to get ready to go kayaking. You want to test your relationship?  Try tandem kayaking! We kayaked out to an island, got caught in another Florida thunderstorm, hung out at the beach on the island and then headed back in for a late lunch.  All in all a great little afternoon.  We went back to our room to take a rest and get ready for dinner.

 

IMG_4679On our way to dinner we had to pull the car over because we caught a view of one of the most beautiful sunsets we had ever seen!  Yes everything seemed like it wasn’t perfect – the flat tire, not being able to fly like we planned, starting our mini vacation late, getting caught in a thunderstorm on the kayaks but now we both looked at each other in amazement.  Through the thunderstorm came this sunset that painted shades of reds and yellows with a glow that lit up the sky and water.  It was awesome!

Like I said in the beginning, aviation isn’t always perfect but you have to be able to see the sunset through the thunderstorms especially when you’re spending time with the ones you love!  When you do that, then I can promise that your flight through life will always be perfect! Safe Travels!

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Juan Concheiro
President of On The Upwind Flying Club – Instrument Rated Commercial Pilot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Technique vs. Procedure

I have four stories to share with you.

Story #1

It was about 10 years ago.  I was doing a little bit of instrument work with my little brother Chris, who is a CFII.  We were flying a Cessna 182RG, shooting approaches.  I told him that I didn’t want to shoot any missed approaches because I wanted to do some actual landings in the 182RG.  So all of our approaches that afternoon culminated in touch-and-go landings.

On the 3rd or 4th landing, as I crossed the threshold, I gave the airplane just the slightest hint of throttle, just a pinch.  I had done that on all of my landings so far that day.  Chris had rarely ever flown with me, so he didn’t know that I often do that on landings – land with just a touch of power instead of landing with a closed throttle.

As I was starting my flare, Chris asked, “Why are you adding power like that?”

With a sly grin on my face, I responded, “So I can do this…” and I rolled the mains onto the runway, no tire chirp, one of the smoothest landings I’ve ever done.  I’m telling you – this landing was so smooth, to this day, I’m still not 100% convinced I’m not still in the air…

Of course, I knew why Chris was asking.  We are all taught to land airplanes with a closed throttle.  You cross the threshold at the correct approach speed, close the throttle, manage your energy as you settle into ground effect, hold the airplane just above the runway as the energy bleeds off, and allow the mains to touch, preferably just as the wing fully stalls – if you do it right.

That’s the way we were all taught.  However, I had found through experience that if I keep just the slightest touch of power on, the energy doesn’t bleed off as fast, making it easier to manage that energy, and I can usually make smoother landings if I don’t close the throttle completely.  This management of energy is especially more noticeable in a plane like a 182RG which is significantly heavier than a 2-seat trainer or even a Cessna 172.

So here we were, on the rollout, having experienced as smooth of a touchdown as you’re ever going to experience, and I’ve still got my grin.  Chris, on the other hand, had a perplexed look on his face.  He couldn’t argue with the fact that I had just made a supremely smooth landing, but he also couldn’t deny the fact that leaving power on is not how any of us were taught.  After several seconds of reflection, he said, “Well, you’re actually not supposed to land like that…”

Story #2

Several years ago, a friend of mine was selling a Cessna Citation II.  He was preparing to have some photos taken of the airplane so that he could list it.  Knowing the airplane’s tail number, I decided to see if any of the “airplane paparazzi” had ever snapped any photos of it and posted them to Airliners.net.  Turned out, there were several good photographs of the plane, including a super cool one of the airplane in ground effect, just about to touch down.

I downloaded the highest-res version of that picture and sent it to him.  “I found this online,” I told him, “You should include it in your listing.”

“I can’t use that one.”  He told me.  “There’s something wrong with that picture.”  When I asked what the problem was with the picture, he was hesitant to tell me.  I pressed the issue, and finally he admitted, “I can’t use that picture because the speed brakes are extended.  That’s a non-recommended procedure when landing the Citation.”

I asked the obvious, “Well, if it’s a non-recommended procedure, why are the speed brakes extended?”

He said, “I found through experience that if I come in a little too hot, I can manipulate the speed brakes during the flare to help me settle into the runway, rather than floating for half a mile.”

Story #3

One day, I was shooting landings in a Cherokee 6 with the owner of the plane in the right seat.  As I was on downwind, he pulled the throttle and said, “Can you make the runway?”  I immediately turned for the runway.  However, due to the weight of the heavy single, my speed and altitude, and the fact that it was a pretty hot day, I couldn’t make the runway without giving it some power.  This was the only time I ever failed to make the runway in a simulated engine-out procedure.

I told a CFI friend of mine about it.  He immediately said, “Well, did you feather the prop when the power was pulled?”  Now, a Cherokee 6 doesn’t have a prop that “feathers”.  What he really meant was “coarse pitch”.  Regardless of the nomenclature, the answer was no.  I didn’t pull the prop because that procedure is not mentioned in the pilot’s operating handbook for that airplane.  This is sort of surprising, because I later did the exact same procedure, this time pulling the prop to full coarse pitch, and I made the runway.

Story #4

I was boarding a 767 to fly from San Francisco to Honolulu when the pilot invited me to come up to the cockpit before takeoff.  As I was sitting there checking out the instruments and systems and talking flying with the pilot, he said something to me.  “Yeah, they say you’re supposed to turn on the autopilot at 2,000 feet, but I prefer to hand fly the plane all the way to cruising altitude.  This is the easiest airplane to fly that I’ve ever flown.”

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All four of these stories have something in common.  They are all examples of pilots using techniques that are different than the published procedure.  Hang around pilots for any appreciable amount of time and you will eventually hear some pilot talking about, “Well, here’s how I do it…”  Invariably, the story you will hear will be contrary to what the published procedure is, or contrary to how you’ve been taught by a certified flight instructor.

Techniques are usually things that pilots teach themselves, or have been taught by other pilots in an unofficial manner.  Procedures are the official way things are supposed to be done.  In real life, pilots often use technique.  But the official FAA answer is never the “technique” answer.  The FAA answer is always the “procedure” answer.

Now, this article is not intended to justify technique nor justify procedure.  It is intended to get pilots to think and discuss how they do things and why.  It is also intended for pilots to begin thinking in terms of “technique vs. procedure”.

So let’s have a discussion.  Maybe we can start by answering one or more of the following questions:

  • What kinds of examples can you think of as a pilot that would be considered technique instead of procedure?
  • Have you ever done a technique that bit you, or almost bit you?  Do you believe that doing the published procedure instead of the technique would have been more or less beneficial in that instance?
  • Have you ever done a procedure that bit you, or almost bit you?  Do you believe that doing a different technique would have been a safer or more dangerous way to go than the established procedure in that instance?
  • Since pilots of varying levels of skill and experience often use technique over procedure, what are some good guidelines to use to stay safe?  How does a pilot know when using a technique instead of procedure is pushing the boundaries of safe operation?
  • Can you think of any techniques that you have used or ever heard of that were ridiculous and birthed out of pure ignorance, and were simply too dangerous to endorse?

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Heath Jarvis
On The Upwind Flying Club – Online Member

Why I Fly

“People always ask me why I fly….. I always have the same standard answers about how I’ve always loved it, and how as a kid I loved airplanes, etc….. I just wish I could somehow make them understand how this feels.
It’s 6:30 am…..there’s no one around….its just me and the airplane. The winds are calm, the temperature is cool and the sun is just beginning to peak over the horizon. I begin my takeoff roll and as soon as the wheels leave the pavement, any concerns or worries that I may have on the ground are instantly gone….its just me, the airplane, and a view that very few people get to experience. I live for mornings like this!  This is why I fly.”

This was a Facebook post that I wrote a while ago and it popped up in my timeline memories.  I look at the pictures and think to that morning….all the feelings come rushing back.  Yes, this is why I fly but there is more to it than that.  It is an accomplishment that few people in this world get to achieve.  I don’t say that to impress you but to impress upon you the sacrifices and the determination that it takes to accomplish this goal.  Only other pilots will understand what I mean.  I can sit here and try and explain the endless hours of studying, the sleepless nights trying to figure out how to calculate a flight plan manually, and the nervousness walking in to your first check ride with a huge pit at the bottom of your stomach……but words won’t do it justice.

Once you get your first taste of aviation, you will stop at almost nothing to be able to get back up in the air. It’s a feeling that takes over and the only thing that cures you is the lift of the wings taking you up into the sky.  During your training, you will have days that make you feel like you can accomplish anything in the entire world.  You will leave the airport feeling like Superman and nothing can get in your way….. and then…then there are those other days… The days that you leave feeling defeated.  Defeated in a such a way that sometimes makes you think, “What the hell am I doing?”  Defeated in a way where you think that your dreams of getting your private pilot licence, instrument or commercial rating may never come true.  We’re aviators though and as such, failure is not an option – it just isn’t in our DNA.  So we work a little harder, we practice a little more, and study a little extra..  Then we bounce back and when we do …we come back stronger and better than before!  We come out of the next flight nailing every flight maneuver and greasing every landing! We’re left feeling evening bigger and stronger than we ever did. Once again its a feeling that’s inexplicable.   I wish there was a way to bottle it up and give you even for just a few minutes the feeling that we as pilots get every time we move the throttle forward, pull the yoke back slightly, and the plane lifts off the ground.  If I could do that, I promise that everyone and I mean everyone would do whatever it took to also become pilots.

This is Why I Fly.

– Juan Concheiro
  President
On The Upwind Flying Club

Let’s just go around

img_4217Pilots are peculiar people, aren’t we? We spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours learning to fly in search of the best $200 hamburger (inflation). After each check ride we puff our chest out and hold our head up a bit higher. For good reason, right? Being a pilot is as cool as it gets.

Flying for an airline in the 121 world has many benefits also. Jump-seats, meal service and of course wearing the ice cream shirt! As airline pilots we do our very best to get from point A to B as quickly and safely as possible. At my company this summer, we launched over one thousand flights a day and we rarely heard anything about them as they came and went. Occasionally plans change due to weather or maintenance and sometimes we had to go around.

You remember those don’t you? A bright sunny day, runway in sight and of course your instructor tells you to go around! As you fumble for the gear and flaps you think, this is going to be expensive. As airline pilots we call it, making money. I’m guessing that the last time you did a go around was on that checkout before renting a new airplane. Naturally, we want to land and do just that most of the time. There are those occasions when a go around isn’t just a good idea…. it’s mandatory.

ILS 13L into JFK has a few challenges. First, it’s rarely used due to the proximity of LGA and their operations. Second, it only has CAT I and II capability during low IFR approaches. Recently while being vectored for this approach, the First Officer and myself found ourselves “making money”.

Approach control was busy and doing a great job getting airplanes in every 2 minutes or so. CAT II approaches were in use and as each flight dipped into the fog they touch downed on the damp runway. We were in the string of traffic setup for our approach and landing. I noticed that we were creeping up on the aircraft ahead but we maintained speed discipline and complied with all instructions. The guy in front of us must have slowed and we were getting squeezed up on him. With the low vis and tricky approach I turned to the First Officer and said, “Let’s just go around”. We executed the missed per our procedures and notified tower. They agreed on the call and vectored us for another approach and uneventful landing. We do go arounds during every training event at work. Not just one or two but multiple over the course of three days. Our reflexes were automatic and precise. Naturally.

So go and fly for breakfast in Venice or lunch in St. Augustine. Continue to enjoy all the perks of being a pilot. Once in a while practice and do a go around. You never know when you’ll need it, just don’t look at the Hobbs.

-Christopher Rocha
Captain A320

The 405

405 long beach405. It’s a lousy credit score, an amazing batting average and a busy California freeway. Last night, it was our flight number.

I’m Christopher Rocha, a husband, father and an Airbus 320 Captain with Jet Blue Airways based in Boston, Massachusetts. As co-founder of On The Upwind Flying Club’s blog, I will attempt to bring you the airline pilot’s side of the aviation business.

I must also point out that I disagree with the old saying “Hours ofJetblue Veterans boredom followed by a few minutes of sheer terror”.  It’s more like hours of boredom followed by a chicken sandwich. The thousands of professional pilots who fly everyday do so with the experience, knowledge and confidence to make the amazing, routine. Not to do a disservice to the hard work we do, but rather to point out the fact we do it so well that for most it’s like driving car. Put me in a business meeting or courtroom and I’d be lost but put me in an airplane and I’m right where I should be.

runway 30 lgb405. Coincidentally (or not), this was our flight number from Boston, Massachusetts to Long Beach, California.  Our six hour flight was uneventful. To say the flight was uneventful almost sounds like
I am dismissing all the work we do on each flight.  In actuality I am once again reiterating that all our training and experience made this flight “routine”. We land on runway 30 and taxied to our ramp.  After all the passengers were off I took the shuttle to my hotel and went to bed.  It was only 830pm there but 1130pm back in Boston!   In future writings I’ll attempt to bring you into our world as airline pilots.  Some of it fun and some of it not so fun but all real!

Christopher Rocha
Captain A320

Pilots Turn Potential Disaster into Safe Emergency Landing

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Will Smith – on the right, Juan Concheiro – on the left —– Click here for video

“A recreational flight for two pilots almost turned into their last, as they’re small plane began having major engine issues high up in the air. The pilots showed extreme calm in this frightening situation, and it’s a nice reminder that the people controlling these planes are really good at what they do.” – Right This Minute

Should We Stay The night?

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Sunrise over Tampa, Florida

That’s a great question.  It is one that will trouble many pilots long after this blog has been posted and read.   Usually the question is in regards to being able to make a safe flight in seemingly changing weather conditions. Unfortunately, many pilots have made the wrong decision and aren’t here to tell us about it.   I want to tell you about the night of Monday June 15, 2015 which will be the closest I have been to a no go flight.  I don’t want to make it seem more dramatic than it was but I was definitely second guessing if we should leave or not.

Kayla and I departed Tampa, Florida at 630am and headed out to St.Augustine, Florida.  This is typically an hour and 45 minute flight barring any Air Traffic Control delays or having to fly around weather.  We arrived around 830am after flying toward a gorgeous sunrise and very little to no turbulence.  We spent the day in St.Augustine doing the “tourist” things – like riding scooters, visiting landmarks etc. After a long day of being outdoors we planned on leaving after dinner.  I looked up to the sky in St.Augustine and it was a beautiful blue color with scattered clouds that made it look like something off of a postcard.  We returned our scooters and took a taxi back to the airport.

When I got to the pilot lounge I started to look at our flight plan back home.  I  definitely didn’t like what I saw.  There was a huge storm right over Tampa and right over our airport.  As I sat back to evaluate our flight plan, I diverted my attention to Facebook where I noticed posts and videos from friends in Tampa.  Their posts made it seem like there was a hurricane whipping through dropping torrential rain, booming thunder, and flashes of lighting.   As I sat back looking at the computer screen I remembered hearing about all these “outside” pressures that seem to force pilots to take flights that they aren’t comfortable with.  I knew that Kayla had to be at work at 7am and that we were at least a 3 to 3.5 hour drive home so staying overnight wasn’t the ideal situation. I had a decision to make.

After some phone calls and texts to my instructors back home I made the decision to wait until after sunset to leave.  Now this posed a whole other scenario.  I would be flying at night which I haven’t done since my initial private pilot training almost a year ago.  In planning for the trip I did go out to the airport the night before and practiced my takeoffs and landing so that I could remain within my currency regulations.   So at the very least I was current!  As I checked the weather again, I noticed that it was fast-moving northwest and was expected to be off the west coast of Florida at our estimated time of arrival.  My backup plan was to land in Orlando, Florida, rent a car and drive us an hour home.  I knew this would make for a long night but I had no problems doing it if the weather did something other than what was predicted.

We departed right after the sun began to set and headed down the east coast of Florida.  I do have to say that the views from the sky were stunning.  Watching the east coast fade from light to darkness is amazing.  I am still in awe of the fact that I get to do this and see things that some will never experience. As we made it down the coast we turned southwest right after Daytona Beach. I continuously checked the updates on my Ipad and also with Air Traffic Control and Flight Watch.  I was reassured that our final leg home was clear of any inclement weather. Kayla and I enjoyed Runway Lightsbeautiful views of the night sky and a smooth ride all the way to the airport.  There’s nothing better after a long day of flying than to be looking for the airport and seeing the runway lights flare up out of the darkness.
It’s like they are letting you know that its time to come home.

Juan Concheiro
Private Pilot