April 20, 2011

Aeronautical Decision Making Skills Put to the Test

abovetheclouds.jpgAs part of the FAA Wings program I recently took and completed the "Art of Aeronautical Decision Making" online course. The FAA defines Aeronautical Decision-Making as a "Systematic approach to the mental process of evaluating a given set of circumstance and determining the best course of action." More practically they use a framework for ADM and risk management: Perceive - Process - Perform.


  • PERCEIVE the "given set of circumstances" for your flight

  • PROCESS by evaluating their impact on flight safety

  • PERFORM by implementing the best course of action

AOPA's Air Safety Foundation uses "Anticipate, Recognize, Act". Both promote identifying an issue, determining a plan to mitigate or eliminate risk then putting that plan into action. ASF says "...the thing that seems to cause pilots the most difficulty -- is recognizing potential hazards and taking timely action to avoid them."

With every flight, pilots get a chance to use their ADM skills. However, I did not anticipate the level to which these skills would be used when a fellow flight club member invited me to join him for a flight in his Columbia 400 (now called the Cessna 400). The mission was to fly from Chicago to Miami University in Oxford, OH (my alma mater) to pick up his daughter and bring her back to Chicago. He was planning to file an IFR flightplan and use supplemental oxygen allowing us to fly at 18,000 feet, more than double what I typically cruise at. I figured this flight would be a great learning experience for me, having never flown in a Columbia 400 or having much experience with instrument flight plans. Little did I know what a great learning experience this flight would become.

GS_tailwind.jpgAbout forty-five minutes from our destination airport cruising along at FL180 and enjoying a 100 knot tailwind that was helping us achieve a 290 knot ground speed, Ray and I felt a hiccup in the engine and what felt like a short-lived decrease in power. We looked at each other than quickly switched the G1000 Multi-Function Display (MFD) engine page to check for any anomalies. There were no red flags As we were doing that the issue replicated itself. At that point we agreed an issue might be imminent and that he would continue to fly the plane and I would take over the radios if an emergency developed. We knew altitude was on our side and we agreed on an airport we could safely glide to while we troubleshooted the issue. Unfortunately, we had not identified a likely cause when the issue happened twice more in short succession. Each time we were seeing manifold pressure decrease with the hiccup and we noticed the oil temperature was lower than normally expected but still no clear cause or resolution presented itself.

Despite that we had a specific mission for this flight, "to pick up his daughter", we agreed there was a significant risk at hand and that we would be best to troubleshoot this issue on the ground and have a mechanic checkout the engine. It would have been easy for Ray to have stayed in "Mission" mode or to be swayed by Get-There-Itis and keep pushing through. But, we are both all too familiar that too many pilots have lost their lives or their aircraft with such decisions.

Without thinking about it we had just completed Perceive and Process in the FAA's Solution and Recognize in the Air Safety Foundation's thought process. Now it was time to Act or Perform. We agreed now was a good time for some Crew Resource Management (CRM) so Ray continued to focus on flying the plane while I took over responsibilities for radio communications. We informed Air Traffic Control that we wished to divert to Delaware County Airport in Muncie, IN. As we switched over to the Delaware County Tower the controller was aware we had been experiencing some engine irregularities and radioed "Columbia N262RK are you declaring an emergency?", a phrase no pilot wants to hear. I was relieved to be able to respond "Negative, we are not declaring an emergency and we have the runway in sight." A few minutes later we were safely on the ground.

A few years ago I made a precautionary diversion due to deteriorating weather conditions, this was the first diversion related to a mechanical malfunction but proved to be my best example in my flying experiences of appropriate use of Aeronautical Decision Making skills. A few days later I learned the mechanics determined the issue was caused by pin size holes in an exhaust host to the engine manifold, which I guess is common in turbo planes. The plane was not in imminent danger but I believe we made the right decision mitigating the risk.

A wise person once said "the difference between an ordeal and an adventure is your attitude" and on that day we had the right attitude and enjoyed our afternoon at the quiet Muncie airport enjoying a meal at Kacy J's Airport terminal restaurant while we waited for the cavalry. Marc, the Leading Edge Flying Club President, offered to fly down in the club Cirrus SR20 to help us complete the mission. As a result I got another new experience out of the day. It was my first time flying in the Cirrus SR20 which Marc let me fly for much of the short flight from Muncie, IN to Oxford, OH. I enjoyed a brief visit to Oxford before we turned for home. With four passengers and some baggage we had to manage fuel and make a fuel stop in Lafayette, IN before successfully completing the trip back to Chicago.

Although the flight did not go as planned, I had a great day of flying and aviation camaraderie none the less. Below are some photos from the day.

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April 8, 2011

L-39 Albatros Flight Training Experience

todd_l39.jpg"Watch for the secondary stall. You've got a 10,000 pound airplane here, your flying it" I am severely behind this 5 ton jet as we move from a secondary stall into a the onset of a spin, and my CFI has made it clear this is my problem to resolve. I am in the aft seat of a Czech-made L-39 jet. Greg Morris of Gauntlet Warbirds is talking calmly to me from the front seat. Guiding me, but letting me learn from this L-39 training experience.

Moments before we departed Aurora Municipal Airport and at about 30 seconds after takeoff Greg hands control of the plane to me. I fly us through some holes in the scattered skies, bringing us up to 14,500 feet in just under three minutes. This is my first reminder I am not in the Diamond Star anymore. If I had not already been thrown into the deep end of the pool it is time to jump right into maneuvers, there is no time to waste when you are burning two gallons of fuel per minute.

The first planned maneuver is a power-off stall. As the plane slows and I pull back on the stick the plane begins to buffet. Thinking this is no different than any other stall I have recovered from I am a bit overconfident. That overconfidence, however, is short lived. Following standard procedures, I dip the nose and throw the throttle to full. Being in a powerful jet capable of 425 knots of power I figure I can coast through the rest of stall recovery and begin pulling back on the stick. Surely the thrust of this turbo-fan jet will propel us through the stall. I start to feel a rumble and a shake in the aircraft and I start to wonder...did I push throttle in too fast? Was I supposed to go from zero to full power in a jet? I misinterpreted this shaking to be related to my power control when in reality it is the start of a secondary stall. As I ponder what is going on, slowly falling behind the aircraft, I forget to ensure wings are level. You know what comes next, the right wing dips and we begin to spin to the right.

Instead of grabbing the controls, Greg calmly talks me through the spin recovery, but I am frazzled and it takes a little longer for my brain to react to my previous training and Greg's coaching. Sure enough as offset the spin with the rudder pedals and bring wings level the speed builds up and I bring the plane back to straight and level flight. Turns out I had incorrectly assumed that if I tossed the power to full the jet would accelerate through the stall. Greg later explains a combination of L-39's fuel control system, which regulates acceleration, and the sheer weight of the plane makes it take longer than I expected to accelerate. I learned that the same stick and rudder skills used in a Cessna 152 are required to fight off a stall in this turbo fan jet. I learned this lesson well thanks to Greg's patience and coaching, it comes natural to him after 10 years of instructing. He asks if I would like to try it again...Hell yeah.

todd_and_greg.jpgPrior to departure, Greg and I discussed my experiences with aerobatics and resulting G Forces. A few years ago I had the opportunity to perform aerobatics with Ben Freelove of Tutima Academy in an Extra 300. In that flight it was a thrill to experience 7Gs without too much strain. Greg explained the biggest difference between aerobatics in Extra 300 and a jet was going to be duration. In an Extra 300 the maneuvers are quite quick, resulting in a few seconds of G Force influence. In the L-39 the power curve causes a longer-lasting G Force impact. To minimize the time spent snoozing in the back as a result of G-Loc (G induced Loss Of Consciousness) I was taught the "Hook" breathing maneuver.

In combination with tightening my leg and abdominal muscles I was to take in a deep breath then slowly to exhaling while forcefully saying the word "Hook", holding the final K for a few seconds then pushing out a final exhale with the "Ka" sound and then repeating. Greg also explained that if I felt uncomfortable or started to lose consciousness I should say "knock-it off" and he would end the maneuver as quickly as was practical.

I was able to put this method to the test when Greg took over the controls to show off the performance capabilities of the L-39 Albatros. During a Half Cuban Eight we put 5Gs on the plane and our bodies. The Hook method worked well and I felt great. Greg then put me through a tight break turn that increased the G Forces to 6.5Gs. Prior to the maneuver I figured I would be fine having successfully made it through 7Gs the summer before.

As Greg banked us 70 degrees to the right and pulled tight on the stick, I felt the strain on my body. As the turn continued I started to see my vision narrowing. Things slowed down and I began to wonder:

Hooooo Ka...Is this what Greg meant when he explained the first signs of a blackout...Hoooo Ka....Hey where did all the color go...Hoooo Ka.....Yeah this is definitely what he was talking about .Hoooo Ka..I wonder should I say knock it off.... Hoooo Ka....

Just then we rolled out of the turn, I had just barely made it through the maneuver consciously. Another few seconds and I would have been doing my best Reagan National Air Traffic Controller impression. I would have sworn we were in the turn for half a minute but video replay proves the maneuver was just over 10 seconds long. I did not call "knock-it off" not because I was too macho, but more out of lack of full understanding of the situation. I give great props to the men and women who do this for a living and folks like the Blue Angels who do these maneuvers regularly without the aid of G Suits.

In our 45 minute flight training experience we burned 101 gallons of fuel. I don't think I burned that in my last four flights in the Diamond Star and not something one could afford to do regularly. But, I wouldn't have traded this experience for the world. The opportunity to fly the L-39 was a once in a lifetime moment and a great learning experience.

I would like to thank Greg Morris and Gauntlet Warbirds for having me out to checkout their world class outfit. If you have any interest in learning aerobatics or training to fly a warbird like the T-6 Texan or a jet like the L-39 Albatros I cannot recommend Greg Morris and his staff at Gauntlet Warbirds enough.

I would also like to thank MyTransponder's Mike Miley for coming out and taking some amazing photographs from the day. Check out his photos on Flickr and enjoy a few in-cockpit videos from the L-39 experience below.


April 5, 2011

Best $100 Hamburgers of 2011

100hamburger2011.jpgJohn Purner, author of The $100 Hamburger, released a list of the top 17 $100 Hamburgers as voted by his subscribers in 2011. His book highlights nearly 1,700 Fly-In Restaurants nationwide.

Last month he reached out to his 50,000 subscribers to ask them to select their favorite $100 Hamburger. After receiving a record number of votes seventeen restaurants pulled away from the pack and have been labeled "The Best of the Best" for 2011.

I was disappointed not to see Sky Manor, Pittstown, NJ or Sky Galley, Cincinnati, OH on this list this year. You can view a list of $100 Hamburger joints I have flown to on Yelp. Which $100 Hamburger spots do you think should have been on this list that weren't included?

121 Restaurant Bar
OXFORD, CT (WATERBURY-OXFORD - OXC)

The Airport Tiki
FORT PIERCE, FL (ST LUCIE COUNTY INTL - FPR)

Charly's
WILLIAMSBURG, VA (WILLIAMSBURG-JAMESTOWN - JGG)

DeNunzio's Italian Chophouse and Bar
LATROBE, PA (ARNOLD PALMER RGNL - LBE)

Enrique's Mexican Restaurant
PONCA CITY, OK (PONCA CITY RGNL - PNC)

Gaston's Restaurant
LAKEVIEW, AR (GASTONS - 3M0) Harris Ranch

The Hard Eight
STEPHENVILLE, TX (CLARK FIELD MUNI - SEP)

Harris Ranch Restaurant
COALINGA, CA (HARRIS RANCH - 3O8

Nancy's Air Field Café
STOW, MA (MINUTE MAN AIR FIELD - 6B6)

Nick's Airport Inn
HAGERSTOWN, MD (HAGERSTOWN RGNL - HGR)

The Perfect Landing
DENVER, CO (CENTENNIAL - APA)

Pik-N-Pig
CARTAGE, NC (GILLIAM-MC CONNELL AIRFIELD - 5NC3)

Pilot Pete's
CHICAGO/SCHAUMBURG, IL (SCHAUMBURG RGNL - 06C)
(847) 891-5100

Rick's Cafe Boatyard
INDIANAPOLIS, IN (EAGLE CREEK AIRPARK - EYE)

Rick's Crabby Cowboy
MONTAUK, NY (MONTAUK - MTP)

Southern Flyer Diner
BRENHAM, TX (BRENHAM MUNI - 11R)

Sunriver Lodge
SUNRIVER, OR (SUNRIVER - S21)


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