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 achieving 99.99966% good pens. Sure, it is possible, but a normal consumer would not buy the pen, because it would simply be too expensive.
Aspire to be the Pilot
I spend a fair amount of time on this website pointing out the mistakes of others and, to be fair, my own. I spoke to the Air Charter Safety Foundation and laid out a pretty grim picture when covering the pilots of Gulfstream IV N121JM. I am usually very careful not to "tread on the graves of the fallen" and try very hard to find causes beyond the pilot. But in that particular case, no amount of searching could exonerate those pilots. After my speech a member of the NTSB said that without exception, the relatives of pilots killed thought their lost pilot was as good as any pilot could be. I think that is probably true, especially if the pilots in question thought that too. It is unfortunate that oft times only a post mortem reveals this confidence to be false.
In the back of all my books, in that section where the author cites his or her career highlights, I say that I am "an average pilot with average stick and rudder skills," but that I have "an above average desire to learn and instruct." I think that is true but I think those that know me have a higher opinion. So this has become my driving force, late in my pilot career:
Aspire to be the pilot others think you already are.
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.
Big / Small Paradox
I was sitting in the right seat of a Challenger 604, during my first year as a civilian pilot, when the other pilot went on a diatribe. We were behind a line of Continental Airlines heavies, which was going to complicate our departure. He was upset that the airplane ahead of us was probably going to Europe, just like we were, but the captain of the airline was being paid twice what we were but working half as hard. I noted the fact that there are other factors involved with the bigger airplane that required a different skill set. And there was the responsibility factor for having all those lives in your hands. He was unconvinced.
But the paradox remains, even within the airlines. A commuter pilot flying a 19-seat turbo prop is working much harder flying between KSFO and KMRY than the 777 pilot going from KSFO to YSSY. A Citation trip to Europe is a lot more complicated and requires a lot more attention to detail than my last trip in a Gulfstream.
In general, the bigger the airplane the lower the workload but the higher the pay. There are exceptions. A typical BBJ pilot, for example, isn’t paid as well as the typical long range Gulfstream pilot. But there is much more to it than that. In some cases the pay isn’t deserved. There are a lot of Gulfstream pilots out there who don’t have a clue about what they are doing and just getting by on the forgiveness of the airplane and their operation. But there are Gulfstream operators out there who will be able to cope with the extra complexities of higher altitudes, higher weights, and broader ranges of decision making to justify the pay jump.
It is a complicated subject worthy of further investigation.
Of course I've talked about the five part Eddie series. The first four parts are doing well and I am grateful for how well they are doing. Part Five is in progress and I hope to have it out in 2019.
The International Operations Flight Manual is selling well and I will update it with a release scheduled for the middle of 2019.
Careless and Reckless
We often think of the 14 CFR 91.13 regulation "No person may operate an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another" with a "tsk, tsk." We would never operate an aircraft that way!
The problem is that it is a part of our nature as pilots to want to dance on the edges of any restrictions placed upon us. If we were they types to always abide by the rules, we wouldn't be pilots. Or is that really true? I collect anecdotes on this very subject and one day will make a story out of it. I am working on it.
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
- 28 Dec 2014 — AirAsia 8501
- 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?
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:
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 = 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
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.
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.
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.
Back in my GV charter days I thought it would be a good idea to compile a list of restaurants from all over the world with recommendations. But I'm not sure I could fill out much of a list with my experiences in KTEB and KHPN. Perhaps for another day.
Grammar for Pilots
This has been an idea for a long time, but it took shape as "Grammar for Engineers." Yes, grammar is not by strong point. But the best way to learn is to teach.
Photo: The "Allegory of Grammar" painting, at the London National Gallery (I took this photo)
Photo: The "Allegory of Grammar" caption, at the London National Gallery (I took this photo)
. . . are different.
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 whenever an abnormality is detected. The goal was to make the machine idiot proof (in Japanese called baka yoke). However making something idiot proof subconsciously implies that the operator is an idiot, and nowadays, the much more polite term mistake-proof or poka yoke is preferred.
I am a big fan of everything ever written by Colonel John Boyd who seems to be most famous for reinventing the very art of fighter air combat, see Aerial Attack Study, as well as the art of ground combat itself where you get inside the enemy's decision making loop, see A Discourse on Winning and Losing.
He is also known for what he called Destruction and Creation, which I call "inductive learning." It is a new way to think about this kind of thing.
iPads, Wifi, and other electronics
I have been working on this for a while. We use iPads. Working on an article about that: iPad. Also one about plotting electronically that I will call "Paper vs. Plastic." But also one on the negative side, dealing with the adverse affects of social media and other personal use issued of a broaadband Internet connection in the cockpit.
Have you ever wondered why "time flies" and does so at an increasing rate as you age? I use to think this was simple a matter of math. When you are 20, a year goes by as 1/20th of your life but when you are 60, it only takes 1/60th of your life, QED. But as it turns out the math is more complicated than that:
[Burdick], pp. 238-339] In 1975 Robert Lemlich, a retired professor of chemical engineering at the University of Cincinnati, [. . .] prpoposed that the subjective length of a span of time varies inversely to the square root of your age. He wrote an actual equation,
in which dS1dS2 is the relative speed with which a time interval seems to be passing compared to some years ago; R2 is your current age, and R1 is your age back then. If you're forty, a year seems to go by twice as fast as it did when you were ten, since the square root of 40 ÷ 10 is 2.
So what does all this have to do with learning? I think the older you are the more you know and new knowledge has more competition to gain a place in your brain. It is easier to learn when you are young. So don't put off learning, it will only get harder. There's a formula in here and I'll get to it. More importantly, there's an article in here somewhere!
Mental Health Algebra
In life as well I math, if the number of variables exceeds the number of equations, you will have uncertainty.
The idea is that we have too many rules and regulations to know them all, and yet we have to know them all.
Peterson, Jordan B., 12 RUles for Life, Penguin Random House, Toronto, 2018.
[p. 136] Here's a straightforward initial idea: rules should not be multiplied beyond necessity. Alternatively stated, bad laws drive out respect for good laws. This is the ethical-even legal-equivalent of Occam's razor, the scientist's conceptual guillotine, which states that the simplest possible hypothesis is preferable. So, don't encumber children-or their disciplinarians-with too many rules. That path leads to frustration.
[p. 136] Limit the rules. Then, figure out what to do when one of them gets broken. A general, context-independent rule for punishment severity is hard to establish. However, a helpful norm has already been enshrined in English common law, one of the great products of Western civilization. Its analysis can help us establish a second useful principle.
Occam’s razor, also spelled Ockham’s razor, also called law of economy or law of parsimony, principle stated by the Scholastic philosopher William of Ockham (1285–1347/49) that pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate, “plurality should not be posited without necessity.” The principle gives precedence to simplicity: of two competing theories, the simpler explanation of an entity is to be preferred. The principle is also expressed as “Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity.”
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
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?
From a reader: I was on your site (again !) reviewing the 'Required Visual Reference' section you put together. Given the really neat graphics throughout your entire site, would you consider a nice graphic of what is considered 'RVR' with appropriate labeling. I know you've covered everything in text, but perhaps a nice, handy pictorial chart that could be carried/reviewed before starting an approach on a low visibility day would be beneficial,.i.e. "This is what I'm going to have to see to continue descent". What do you think ??
It sounds like a great idea. It's on the list.
From day one as a pilot you were probably told a few falsehoods that you believed because the source was credible (to you, at least), and that pattern has likely continued throughout your career. As the saying goes, you can make up the answer but if you give the answer in a convincing enough manner, it will be believed. Healthy skepticism is a valuable pilot skill. Here is a saying that I have never liked:
Cogito ergo sum.
"I think therefore I am"
Yes I know what the intent of that is, but it still seems to elevate even those who think poorly to the same status of those who put a little more effort into it. Let's try something else:
Dubito ergo sum.
"I doubt therefore I am"
Ah, much better.
There is an old engineering joke that sums this idea up neatly:
A geographer, a scientist, and an engineer from New York City were riding a train cross country for the first time. In Iowa when they happened to notice a black sheep in the middle of a field.
"Fascinating!" said the geographer. "All sheep in Iowa are black!"
The scientist shook his head and said, "No! Some sheep in Iowa are black!"
The engineer raised a finger to quell the debate. "All we can say for sure that in Iowa there is at least one field, containing at least one sheep, and at least one side of that sheep is black."
Stupid Lasts Forever
"Youth ages, immaturity is outgrown, ignorance can be educated, and drunkenness sobered, but stupid lasts forever."
I have been taken to task several times by the readers of Business & Commercial Aviation magazine for my view that if an airport has Part 97 takeoff minimums, you cannot takeoff zero-zero even if you are operating under Part 91. After much research, someone dug up the original intent letter behind the applicable paragraphs in 14 CFR 91 and TERPS. Turns out I am wrong. So where to from here? I'm working on it.
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 incomprehensible 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.