Monday, June 24, 2019


“But he told me to do it,” whined the pilot as he sat before the Administrative Law Judge. 

As pilots our tendency is to follow ATC’s instructions…sometimes without taking the time to carefully analyze what you’ve been asked to do.  On my last flight, I almost fell into that trap…until I READ THE FINE print.

Flying along V12 from DRK (Prescott, AZ) to PMD (Palmdale, CA) I was a bit surprised to receive a reroute from ATC changing my clearance from V12 to PMD, V386 to FIM, Direct KWANG, KSBA.  I knew the new airspace restructuring a few years back had added new arrivals to our SoCal Tracon area, but recalled not thinking much about them as they pertained to high altitude arrivals and I’m a low-altitude B55 Baron…definitely not a high-flyer.  Matter of fact, to keep my brain clear for the instrument approach I knew lay ahead, I even had on my “nose hose” as I’d been flying at 10,000’ for over an hour and knew that my personal oxygen saturation dropped quickly below my 90% minimum when flying above 8000-9000 feet MSL.  I was already planning for a lower enroute altitude after HEC where the MEA dropped down to 7900…so I could take off the O2. 

To my surprise, I got a call from ATC telling me he had a reroute for me after HEC, “Advise when ready to copy.”  Hmm, I thought, that’s strange, not much in the way of alternatives out here in the desert, I wondered what they had in mind.  The clearance read: “After HEC, you’re cleared to KSBA via the PitBl 1 Arrival, Maintain 10,000.”

After spending some time figuring out how to add an Arrival to my Avidyne 540 FMS screen (I ended up going into Heading Hold on the autopilot, deleting the rest of my flight plan and then adding the Pitbl1 routing and reentering my destination.  I’d asked for lower, but ATC wanted me to stay at 10,000.  Hmm, what to do? 

A few minutes later, I began to recall another flight where I was saved by my copilot checking carefully the chart and so I decided it was time to get out the “real deal”  (read: actual textual description of the procedure, not just call it up in the FMS) and look carefully at what had been assigned to me…not just type it into the “box” and figure that was the way it would be.  I looked at the routing and was glad to see that the Pitbl One Arrival did, indeed, go over KWANG intersection, the IAF for KSBA. The altitudes were all very high, but I’d been told to “Maintain 10,000” so that was an acceptable deviation from the printed word, but a bit strange given how much lower I would be than some of the altitudes printed on the chart (FL240, 17000). 

And then I began to read those All-Important Notes.  Number 4 was the red flag:  “Turbojet and turboprop aircraft only.”  Yep, that’s why I’d never received this arrival in the past and why I’d disregarded studying it several years ago when it first appeared in the KSBA charts.  Now I knew why this procudure had seemed wrong to me. ATC had goofed.  They either thought I was a turboprop or hadn’t read the fine print themselves. 

Armed with my newly discovered information, I asked LA Center to return to my original route, given my mere lowly status as a light piston twin.  They fumbled for a moment, but returned shortly with a “75KG is cleared to KSBA via V12 PMD, V386 FIM KWANG DIRECT.”  Now that sounded better and a whole lot more like my kind of low-level flying. 

Had I been closer to my destination I would probably have questioned the clearance sooner, but given the extra time between me and landing (almost an hour) I figured I had time to do some research.  After fixing the problem, I recalled how another flight from KSNS (Salinas, CA) to KSBA had almost got me in trouble on a departure.

That time, the turn after takeoff on the Chalone Three Departure showed up on my FMS as “leaving 500 feet fly heading 084.”  I was departing off Runway 31…and if you were given a “fly heading 084” you’d normally turn right (the shortest way around) to 084.  Fortunately, my copilot that day was a good stickler for details and he pulled up the chart for that departure.  We were both amazed to see that they wanted a LEFT turn to 084 (the long way around) and, even more surprising, the FMS had said nothing about turning LEFT…just “fly heading 084.”  Sounds like a violation waiting to happen.

So for all you IFR pilots, keep reading those charts carefully, particularly the Notes and the fine print.  Things aren’t always what you expect…and NOT reading the chart carefully beforehand is no excuse for a pilot deviation and going to sound might poor at a possible (NTSB) hearing!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Flight Safety = Fuel Safety

Flight Safety (or Flying Safely) is something we read about continually, talk about often and spend a lot of print space discussing. Why? It IS the essence of flying.  Since pilots continue still make (often stupid) safety mistakes, there’s obviously a good reason to keep it talking about it. With almost 23,000 hours, I still have to remind myself that taking the time now to do it right, always results in saving time (and gray hairs) later.
During one of my flights from KSBA to KJAQ for some avionics tweaking, I got to thinking about the benefits of starting any flight with full tanks.  It’s like my friend and CFII Lee Hughes says: “Why not file IFR on every flight?  Using Foreflight (or another flight planning system) it’s simple, quick and if you need it for weather, you’re ready to go. If you don’t need the IFR flight plan, you can cancel or change it to VFR and there’s no need to give ATC all that info about type, color, equipment as they already have it. It’s kind of like money in the bank.
So I got to thinking, having full fuel tanks is kind of like following Lee’s Golden Rule (always file, regardless of weather) and it’s akin to starting the flight with one of the basic flight safety components completed, removing the need to wonder if I have enough fuel to get to my destination?  Fuel in your tanks means having options. Having options means you’ve thought about various factors that may affect your flight (fuel, weather, aircraft performance and pilot readiness) so you’re able to call the shots and be a proactive rather than a reactive pilot.  
We’ve all done it…not filling up when we had the chance, figuring we can “make it” and nothing’s going to come between me and my destination.  But what if it does?  And how will it sound at the NTSB Hearing?  Probably not very good, if you live to talk about it.  So I got to thinking about the things that I consider when I mull over the “to fuel, or not to fuel” question.  (Now that I write about them, some seem pretty darn trivial when it comes to what’s important in the big picture.)
The trip to KJAQ from KSBA takes me about 1:40 in my Baron, so the round trip should be about 3:20. My fuel range, if I started with full tanks and headed into the wild blue would be dry (by book calculations) at about 4:30. But flying for a straight 4+30 (and who’s got that kind of a bladder anyway?) isn’t what we tend to do. We figure 1 leg is about 1 hour, another :45 and then keep totaling them up, forgetting that an endurance table plans for only 1 takeoff and climb, not the several figured here in my hypothetical scenario.
So with those numbers in mind, I might think it was OK not to fuel up for my return trip from KJAQ and just head home when the maintenance mission is completed.  Or, I might plan to fuel up AFTER the maintenance work is completed, since that means 1 less hot start.  Or does it?  If I fuel at the end of the day I’ve got 2 starts and with dusk coming on, it’s likely I’ll be somewhat pushed to get moving.  All of these factors can lead me into the trap of cutting corners also known as Get-Home-It is.
So why was I spending so much time reviewing the pros and cons of fueling or not fueling?  KJAQ has a good self-fueling facility…why not use it when I first get there and avoid all the “late in the day” pressures and be ready to leave when the radio work is done?  For me, the hassle of self-fueling is mostly one of dragging heavy hoses, keeping hose rash off the leading edge and trying not to splash the fuel from the high pressure hose while holding tightly onto the fuel trigger lever, allowing flow fuel but not to splash out of the filler port. But all these issues will exist whether I fuel now or later.  
Hassle or not, I balance them with the “do I have enough fuel to get home” argument and the pressure to push on vs. the serenity and peace of mind that come with beginning every flight with full tanks.  So after another 20 minutes of talking to myself about the pros and cons of fueling or not fueling, I realize there’s no contest…get out your garden gloves to help you grasp the fuel hose firmly and avoid the smell of 100LL on your hands; pull up the ladder to give you a better angle as you grip on the heavy nozzle, and purchase that peace of mind that comes with having full fuel tanks.
Why do pilots stretch fuel?  Laziness, too cheap to buy it at places that cost more than home, or why bother, I’ve got plenty for my planned (key word: planned) flight?  Does it take too much time, too much hassle?  Obviously none of these reasons have any basis when you realize YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT…why would you do anything but play it safe and FILL UP?  
Unless you have a good reason (like weight and balance) to NOT fill your tank and have carefully planned your fuel stops to allow for the unforeseen, it pays to always have that ace in the hole (lots of fuel), ready just in case you encounter the unexpected.  Then you’ve bought yourself that most precious of all commodities…TIME.  Remember that’s all fuel really is…time.  The more, the better…unless, of course, you’re on fire…and how often is that really a concern? 
Most decisions that are made in haste are bad ones.  Having the luxury of time is the wise pilot’s friend.  Time to go around, time to find another airport when your destination has a broken airplane blocking the only runway, or the fog has moved in to cover the field.  Buy yourself some time and figure you’ve just added more frequent flyer miles for that trip to Hawaii.  You can then smile when you find don’t need it, but have acquired 1 less gray hair by not needing to sweat over it.  And the good news…that fuel will be there for the next flight, so nothing’s been wasted.
So after I’ve considered all these various scenarios, I come to the realization that having full tanks for every takeoff is the best of all worlds. Fuel in the tanks relieves a lot of anxiety and IS a major component of flight safety.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Oxygen for Smart Pilots

During the majority of my airline flying career, oxygen was a no-brainer.  The O2 mask (which we checked dutifully before every flight, lest we have an explosive decompression which would soon render us unconscious without it) hung behind my head for 15 years in the MD80 I flew and was stowed in a box outboard of my left knee for my last 10 years in the Boeing 757/767. 
Now, enjoying retirement flying in my B55 Baron, I’ve missed the easy availability of a quick shot of “brightener” as I used to call those whiffs, particularly at night, when the instrument panel seemed a bit fuzzy (through the late hour and long durations at a 7000'+ cabin altitudes).  I’d breathe deeply on the oxygen and then, like magic, the panel would come back into focus, my brain would reengage and life seemed so much brighter.
Now, in my elder years, I recall how important those shots of oxygen were and decided if they helped me that much as a younger full-time professional pilot, just think of what that same oxygen would do for an older, occasional leisure pilot who’s got few of those airliner niceties like stretching room, walking areas, lavatories, etc.  Since I try to fly with the precision of my old airline life, why not give myself a helping hand by using oxygen to fortify my skills which are not nearly as sharp as they used to be?
As I thought long and hard about why more pilots don’t use oxygen (when it does such a great job at making you feel better, fly better and eliminates post-flight headaches) it occurred to me that my old mantra of “make it easy for someone to do what you want them to do” was just what I needed to do for myself. Make it easy to don the nasal cannula, get the oxygen flowing and then, last but not least, see the benefits quickly.
With these thoughts in mind, my primary mission during my first Oshkosh Airventure visit this past summer was to talk to the various nose-hose (as we used to call the O2 masks) vendors, seeking to find a 2-4 place oxygen system that would work well for me:  easy to install, easy to use in flight, easy to refill as needed.  I had begun my research several months before and now I was able to see the various systems and talk to the experts.  I ended up with a Precise Flight OXYpack2 - 2 Person Flow Meter Oxygen System With 15 CU. Ft. Cylinder  which interested me for its light weight, ability to be strapped to the back of the passenger seat and ease of donning and use without interfering with ongoing pilot activities like speaking and eating. 
I found that the mustache-style cannula, which allows the oxygen to be conserved and administered through the measured flow meter, was a snap to put on, even in flight with my headset in place.  I merely removed the cannula from the zip pocket on the outside of the oxygen bottle bag, stuffed it under my headset band and then slipped the cannula tubes into my nostrils, allowing the hose to drape over my headset earpieces, down the back of  my head and then over my right shoulder. 
The best part of my purchase was a small oximeter which could tell me instantly when I needed to start using the oxygen and how much it was helping me when I did.  Normal readings are above 95% while below 90% is considered critical (see some good info at http://www.easyoxygen.com.au/oxyge http://www.easyoxygen.com.au/oxygen-saturation-levels-and-what-do-they-mean/n-saturation-levels-and-what-do-they-mean/).

During my recent trip from KJAQ to KSBA at 7500 feet, I was amazed to find my O2 level was down to 90% after only :10-15 at this altitude.  I donned the nasal cannula, turned the bottle all the way on, adjusted the flowmeter to my altitude and settled comfortably to watch the scenery go by.  About :10 later I checked my O2 level and was pleased to see it back at 96%. I had flown similar routes in the daytime for many years and never realized how impaired I actually was while flying at 7,500’ which is technically not an FAA oxygen-mandated altitude.  Imagine what using oxygen will do for my night flights where it's recommended that oxygen be used above 5000 as it improves night vision, which us oldies-but-goodies can certainly do with more of.   My next night flight should be a real eye-opener…pun intended!
So, do yourself and your flying a favor…since none of us are getting any younger, enhance your flying with some easy assistance by using oxygen more often.