the learning never stops!

Ideas to Come

I used to keep PostIt Notes on my computer monitor to help me remember important appointments, upcoming projects, and the next great idea for a magazine or website article. That system didn't work and now I keep a directory on my hard drive for ideas to come.


The Art of Recovery

Much of aviation is impossibly difficult and no amount of confidence can mask that. You say you can fly 5,000 nautical miles in an aluminum tube at eight-tenths the speed of sound, at altitudes that cannot sustain human life, at temperatures that will freeze blood? Well maybe you can. But there will be many mistakes along the way and a really good pilot becomes really good at recovering from those mistakes.

[Roser, Christoph, "Faster, Better, Cheaper" in the History of Manufacturing, CRC Perss, Taylor & Francis Group, London, 2017.] ¶16.6

  • Another of the still-popular methods developed outside of Japan is Six Sigma. The method is based on statistical process control and was developed at Motorola in 1986. In 1995, GM picked up the method. The assumption is that every manufacturing process has variations, which can be described statistically. The smaller variations are, the more products will be within the tolerance limit. This variation is measured by calculating the standard deviation, usually mathematically expressed using the Greek letter sigma, σ. Motorola decided that their goal for tolerance limit would be Six Sigma. This would yield 99.99999980 good parts, or only 0.009 defects per billion parts. To give you an example, Six Sigma would mean that out of all the 314 million people in the United States, only one would be sick.
  • While it is easy to demand this level of quality, it is much harder to achieve. The Six Sigma method itself has eased up a bit on this demand. Six Sigma somehow stands now for 4.5 sigma, easing the precision to only 99.99966% or 3.4 defective parts per million.
  • However, Six Sigma is a very high and costly requirement. To make matters worse, this requirement is set regardless of the cost or benefit of the requirement. It completely ignores the cost of failures. Take, for example, a pen. Of course we would like for our pens to work. Yet the failure of an inexpensive disposable pen is much cheaper than the cost of acheiving 99.99966% good pens. Sure, it is possible, but a normal consumer would not buy the pen, because it would simply be too expensive.

Be the Captain When All Others are Content to be the Crew

I write about command and leadership a lot so maybe this is a dead horse. But it still amazes me how many pilots are content to never make the leap into the captain's chair. Maybe we can change that. It is the most fulfilling job in aviation.

Case Studies

There are always more case studies to do. For some of these I am waiting on accident reports, for others it is just finding the time:

  • 16 Jan 1942 — TWA Flight 3 KLAS
  • 30 Jan 1951 — UAL 610 Crystal Mountain
  • 18 Jan 1960 — Capital Airlines Viscount: Turbine Engine Icing, Engine Isolation
  • 1963 — Air New Zealand Kamai Ranges
  • 1979 — Air New Zealand Erebus
  • 30 May 1979 — Down East 46
  • 19 Aug 1980 — Saudi Arabian Airlines 163 (Fire)
  • 21 Aug 1995 — Atlantic Southeast 529: Structural Inspection, Propeller Blade Failure
  • 2 Jul 1994 — US Air 1016
  • 6 Feb 1996 — Birgenair B757: Avionics Confusion, CRM
  • 17 Aug 1996 — C-130H KJAC
  • 27 Mar 1997 — KLM 4805 and Pan Am 1736 (Tenerife)
  • 7 Aug 1997 — Fine Air DC-8: Cargo Loading, Organizational Safety Oversight
  • 25 Jul 2000 — Air France Concorde: Fuel Tank Structural Integrity, Minor Repair Processes
  • Nov 2003 — BDL DA 50 (Cabin Fire TAG Aviation)
  • 17 Jan 2008 — British Airways B777: Fuel System Icing, Engine Isolation
  • 2008 — Air New Zealand (Perpigan)
  • 21 Feb 2008 — Santa Barbara Airlines Flight 518
  • Sep 2008 — Columbia SC unplanned evac (Capt's brief contributed to safe evacuation)
  • 15 Jan 2009 — US Air 1549 (Hudson ditching)
  • Apr 2011 — SWA Rapid D @ 34,000'
  • 28 Jul 2011 — Asiana 991
  • 6 July 2013 — Asiana 214 (I need to add the NTSB accident report)
  • 17 Nov 2013 — Tartarstan Airlines U9363
  • 17 Jul 2014 — Malaysia AL MH17
  • 9 Sep 2014 — Czech Airlines OK-NEP
  • 5 Nov 2014 — Lufthansa LH 1829
  • 24 Nov 2014 — Gulfstream GIII N103CD
  • 4 Mar 2015 — Turkish TK-726
  • 5 Mar 2015 — Delta 1086 (Rudder blanking)
  • 31 Jul 2015 — Phenom HZ-IBN
  • 10 Nov 2015 — HS 125-700A N237WR
  • 3 Aug 2016 — Emirates EK521
  • Kalita 66 Hypoxia effects
  • David Bloom journalist DVT in lung
  • NWAC 957 Orl-Mem-Sea Hazmat (Hydrogen peroxide)


I've never like this term. But it has caught on and I suppose the title itself speaks volumes of the problem. Who is in charge here? If you are the PIC, how do you take command when the other pilot is senior, older, or more experienced?

Controlability Check

When I flew small jets for the Air Force a staple of our existence was the controlability check. When something went wrong with something needed to keep the airplane flyable, we would find some remote airspace to see how slow the wounded bird would fly without departing controlled flight. These days there is hardly ever a need to do a controlability check. But if the need arises, how do you do it?


We often hear that if you must offer criticism, do it constructively. But even that can fall on deaf ears or make a tenuous relationship worse if it isn't well received. There are some better techniques:

  • "What's wrong" not "Who's wrong?
  • Example: T-37 formation IP and student who ended up washed out and wife

  • "We" not "you"
  • "Positive" not "negative"
  • "Let it go" not "Harp on it"
  • "Find a new angle" not "Repeat yourself repeatedly"
  • "Deescalate" not "Out do each other"
  • Example: dueling oceanic experts ends with one handing the other a Jepp binder saying, "it's in here."

  • "The benefit of the doubt" not "Suspect ill intent"

Destruction and Construction

Colonel John Boyd — yes, the fighter pilot who invented energy maneuverability theory, that Colonel John Boyd — came up with this idea. It basically says you need to destroy your old ideas to come up with new ones.

Energy Management

Colonel John Boyd came up with this and for the first time we could figure out why one kind of fighter is better in a dog fight than another and, more importantly, how to best maneuver the fighter to do that. Every since I first read his presentation on this I knew some of this could apply to transport category airplanes.

Boyd compresses all aspect of airplane performance into a single formula:

PS = V ( T-D W )


V = Velocity

T = Thrust

D = Drag

W = Weight

Much of this is covered here:

Boyd, John R., Capt, USAF, Aerial Attack Study, Revised 4 January 2016

Boyd, John R., New Conception for Air-to-Air Combat, 4 Aug 1976

Of course this doesn't mean a lot to us limiting ourselves to 1 to 1-1/2 G flight. For us, I think, we can do well to remember:

KE + PE + CE = TE


KE = Kinetic Energy

PE = Potential Energy

CE = Chemical Energy

TE = Total Energy

I think I can relate this to how our transport category aircraft can be best made to takeoff, climb, cruise, descend, and land the way we want them to.

EFVS New Rules

The Dec 13, 2016 revision

Fall Proof

I have a photo of a team of Chinese aircraft washers walking on the top of a Gulfstream with mops, seemingly oblivious to the perils of falling. I once had to operate the thrust reversers on our Gulfstream as a mechanic knelt on the pylon making adjustments. I watched anxiously on the tail camera and breathed a sigh of relief once the tests were done. And then, with the danger past, the mechanic slipped.

Fear, Sarcasm, and Ridicule

These were the staples of Air Force pilot instruction back in the old days when losing a few pilots every month or so was just the cost of doing business. While you might think these techniques are a thing of the past, they live on in disguised form. Perhaps you are guilty of them and don't know it. Or maybe you are a victim and want to know how to end the pain.

Flight Plans

When I was in the Air Force we filed our own flight plans, figuring the FIR boundary crossing times, entering all the codes, all of it. Of course these days there are fewer boundaries to worry about but more codes. I almost always have an international planner do this for me now. But not everyone is so lucky. So let's put together a tutorial.

Fly the Airplane (Don't become a passenger in the pilot's seat)

Don't let ATC, the passengers, or the flight attendant do it for you.

Examine USAir 5050 and GV 777 for two examples.

Getting Stopped

Story about rain in the middle of the runway at POGG, AA331 in MKJP

Lessons about autobrakes, reversers, jerk, the need to kill speed earlier than later.

Glide Slope Reflection

This is usually just a problem with snow covered glide slope transmitters but it can actually happen in other circumstances. A 747 recently fell prey.

ICAO Medicals

. . . are different.

Idiot Proof

I like to say I am the biggest idiot I know because I am so good at making stupid mistakes. Whenever someone expresses surprise when I make one of these mistakes in public, I like to say, "Everyone has a skill." So much of my efforts at learning are to make everything around me idiot proof, or more accurately, me-proof.

[Roser, Christoph, "Faster, Better, Cheaper" in the History of Manufacturing, CRC Perss, Taylor & Francis Group, London, 2017.] ¶16.1

  • It was in this environment of technological and industrial growth that a young carpenter's son, Sakichi Toyoda (1867-1930), grew up and eventually became the founder of Toyota Industries. Sakichi Toyoda is known in Japan as the king of inventors, racking up a total of 85 patents, although the latter ones had significant input from his children and relatives. He was most active in the field of looms. His first invention was na improvement of a wooden handloom in 1890, where the shuttle was operated with only one hand, doubling the efficiency.
  • Sakichi Toyoda achieved a major breakthrough in 1896 with a loom that stopped automatically when a thread broke. Up to then, this was a major quality problem in weaving. Workers had to continuously monitor looms for broken threads. Failure to catch a broken thread early would lead to a weaving defect that would mar the fabric. Sakichi Toyoda's system stopped the loom automatically whenever a thread broke.
  • This system was the start of one of the fundamentals of the Toyota Production System, where a machine or process stops whevenver an abnormality is detected. The goal was to make the machine idiot proof (in Japanese called baka yoke). However making something idiot proof subconsiously implies that the operator is an idiot, and nowadays, the much more polite term mistake-proof or poka yoke is preferred.

Pilot Alphabet Soup

The FAA doesn't understand the difference between PIC and PF, SIC and PNF or PM, and this misunderstanding translates to problems with training and insurance. For example, the FAA provides takeoff and landing currency for PICs but not SICs. When most POIs are asked about this they go into a trance. Specifically, can a current PIC supervise a non-current SIC while carrying passengers? Very few POIs can get their head around the problem and are reduced to babbling. (I've witnessed this several times.) Insurance companies expect a certain number of PIC hours to become a PIC, so how do you get those hours if you aren't a PIC? See SAFO 15011.

Radar as an ADI, altimeter, navigator

Propilot article, Aug 2016

Rejected Landing

At what point in the landing can you safely change your mind and get safely airborne again? The crash of Emirates EK521 brings that up. (I'll do a case study of that one, but I am still waiting for the final report.) I have the Boeing, Gulfstream, Bombardier, and Dassault procedures. (There are differences.)

As an AF instructor pilot we talked about "Can go" and "Must go" points. A few other considerations:

  • Auto throttles
  • Rotation angle
  • Gear up?
  • Flaps up?
  • Flight path after?

Stupid Lasts Forever

"Youth ages, immaturity is outgrown, ignorance can be educated, and drunkeness sobered, but stupid lasts forever."

— Aristophanes

Taking SA Back From the Academics

Situational Awareness has long been a staple of fighter aviation and has since been taken over by those of us in the more genteel world of transport category aircraft. The problem is the academics have turned into incomprehesible nonsense and I am sorry to admit one of the worst culprits is an industrial engineer from Purdue. But it is time to take SA back.

Revision: 20170328