Friday, November 11, 2016

There I Waz....

...with one burning and one turning.....Most aviation stories start that way and end up with "the only thing that saved the day was my great skill and knowledge".

Well, after 105 days of medical leave during which there was not a single thought about airplanes or flying I donned the monkey suit for a 0500 show. Today's show was for a prep flight so I might not embarrass myself too badly when I take my FAR 135.297 flight check Saturday morning. For me there were two take aways from the whole exercise. The first was: After 105 days out of the cockpit you can be a little rusty or in other words, buttons? What buttons? Where in the hell are my buttons? It wasn't pretty.  The second was: Damn technology has come a long ways and if you let it (can find the damn buttons) the airplane will almost fly itself. The aircraft I instruct in is several generations from current technology but it is still an amazing aircraft with auto throttles where you push a button (there's the damn buttons again) and the power levers advance and set correct power for takeoff, climb, cruse, decent, and approach. At 50 feet AGL they close for landing. With the FMS (Flight Management System) you are able to program the complete flight from takeoff to landing if you can figure out the correct buttons to push. The autopilot can fly the aircraft from a couple of hundred feet above the ground on takeoff to 100 feet AGL on landing, To land the aircraft you just have to push a red button to disconnect the autopilot and then don't change anything, if you do you will mess it up.

One of the best things when you are hand flying (not using the autopilot) is the HUD (Head's Up Display). With the HUD all you have to do is put the aircraft symbol in the "donut" and keep it there. The beauty of the HUD system is it is "predictive", in other words it tells you where the aircraft will be in the future unlike a Flight Director which is "reactive" and tells you where the aircraft has been. In addition all the information you need to fly is projected on a small transparent screen (the HUD) that is about 125mm to 150mm in front of your face and is focused at infinity.  You can see the instruments and the world in front of you with no need to change focus or shift your field of view.

After all that clock building I will finally cut to the chase, the there I waz story. The contrast between today's aircraft and the first jet aircraft I "typed" in is chalk and cheese. BTW, the instructor that typed me in Learjets is still teaching in Lears and came to our center several weeks ago to help out our Lear program. I will not go through the whole "I know you" routine but after we peeled off 30 some odd years and I would guess at least 150 lbs between us, it was "wow, it is great to see you".  I really will get to the point, maybe.

Back in the early days jets were not required to have a third attitude indicator. If you lost the attitude indicator you had to rely on the "turn indicator" aka needle and ball to keep your wings level or to bank into a turn. well there I waz in a Learjet 24 Sim, young, dumb and pretty full of myself. Knowing I could fly the box that Lear came in. There was some truth to it, the Lear and I were soulmates, for me it was love at first touch. I had never flown an aircraft that did exactly what I wanted it to do, nothing more, nothing less, and did it with the slightest touch instantly. Not only that but sea level to FL410 was less than 10 minutes and once at altitude the first thing you had to do was pull the power back so the aircraft would not overspeed. What a great little airplane.

Anyway on to the story. We had finished all the requirement and were just having fun before my type check ride and of course having fun for a Sim instructor requires engine failures at V1, fire, blown tires, or what other major failures he/she can think of. I was in a zone and at the top of my game, like I said I was feeling pretty cocky so Joe gave me his best shot. He failed the right engine just at V1 and failed my attitude indicator/flight director at the same time on a 1200 RVR takeoff. I was too dumb to know it couldn't be done, I just scooted down in my seat locked on to the needle ball and airspeed and came around for an instrument approach to a single engine landing.

Durning the debrief Joe told me the longest anyone had gone before without crashing was 20 seconds, as I said I was too dumb to know it couldn't be done. That's the "only thing that saved the day was my great skill" part of the standard aviator's there I waz story.

The point of all this other than an old fart's reminiscing is how much airplanes have changed in a very short period of time. BTW, not too long after my story the FAA required a third attitude indicator in all jet aircraft.



  1. Great story. BTW, Erickson Air-crane filed for bankruptcy. Apparently they couldn't pay off all the debt they took on to buy the helicopter operations of Evergreen in 2013. I used to live near their operations center in Central Point, Oregon and loved to see those Sikorskys fly. I think they own the type certificate for them. Did you ever see this video (begin watching at about 1:21:50)?

  2. Sorry, here's the link:

  3. I served in the East coast A6 training squadron during the mid 1970's and we would get folks come down from Washington to get their flight time.Most were 04 and above and had served in the Gulf and we're not shy about pushing aircraft to the limits.The A6 was a very rugged airframe but had wing tanks that were caulked and not bladders. We who worked on them could tell how hard they were pushed during flight as the wings would piss fuel when taken to the limit.As a airman I spent quite a bit of time on the other end of a caulking gun. But yep you could tell by the smiles on their faces they loved to fly.

  4. Andy,

    Thanks for the link. What a masterful display of skill. Longline operators are working in such a dynamic environment where everything is changing and moving....just amazing.

    My time with Evergreen supplied me with war stories that will last the rest of my life. Smith's passing was a loss of an era of aviation. There are a few more of 'em left but as with most things as it matures it is drained of color. The new world is better but the old one sure was fun.

    Now the question is where will we find folks with the skill set to do those jobs and the guys with the vision to hire them.


  5. Matt,

    If a pilot is smart, their best friend is the fellow that keeps their aircraft flying. Squawks and mechanics were the best teachers I had.


  6. In the mids 80s I was working in the Avionic shop in Bagotville (Fighter East) the new CF18 simulator was in the building in front of us. On nite shift when we were not too busy, we used to go over and play in the Sim. Of course going in with your buddies was not easy... We always throw everything at us, engines fire on take off etc, I crashed so many times it was sinful :-)
    We also imitated Bitching Betty voice in the cockpit: Your door is ajar, your trunk is open etc Hrs of fun and good memories :-)

    Bob, the old Avionics tech

  7. And my favorite...After managing to take off and leveling off...: Ground man to pilot, can I disconnect now? LOL


  8. Anonymous8:39 AM

    If you don't see the natural horizon either, how do you keep level; with the rate of climb indicator? (assuming you know the correct power setting).
    One has to look to the emergency attitude indicator from time to time. A very experienced pilot was trapped in the sim with a frozen horizon (no red flag).

  9. Bob,

    Sims can be very real, so real sometimes the client will forget they are in a Sim. The good news when you red screen you can walk away with just a red face.

    BTW, I've yet to run into a pilot that if they needed a crash I couldn't provide one. Sometimes it takes a red screen to get their attention. Of course afterwards I show great concern while given the Scooby Do chuckle under my breath.

    Bottom line never screw with your bartender, waiter, or Sim instructor, it ain't worth it :-).


  10. Sylvain,

    For level flight without a horizon, natural or artificial, your primary instrument is the Altitude Indicator supported by the Rate of Climb Indicator.

    Way back when I was but a wee lad pilots were trained to fly instruments without reference to an Attitude Indicator. It was called flying partial panel or flying "needle ball and airspeed". If you have a Heading Indicator it is not that hard, if all you have for heading is the whiskey compass it can be pretty ugly. You wouldn't want to shoot a low WX approach that way but with reasonable WX you can do OK.

    True partial panel flying along with use of the ADF (Automatic Direction Finder) are not in the skill set of modern pilots. It is neither a good thing or bad, it is just the way things are. Technology has rendered both the flying equivalent of tits on a boar hog.