Well, that’s aviation for you, I guess

Today was supposed to be my third flight in the Lance. It takes 10 hours to check out in the Lance, and I’ve done about 3 so far. We’ve done all the basic air work, pattern landings. All we really needed to work on today were instrument approaches. I’ve got to get used to doing ILS approaches at 120 knots. Everything happens a lot faster, but if you can do an ILS at 120 knots the controllers love you because you fit in better with the stream of airliners than if you’re poodling along at 90 knots. I was hoping that after we’d done some ILS approaches at 120, I could then try some non-precision approaches and see how they work at a higher speed than I’m used to as well.

Alas, such was not to be. Lenny went and got the plane back from Peidmont-Hawthorne, who had done the work on the alternator after last weekend’s problems with it. Since they’re on the field, he’d just taxied it over. I did a thorough pre-flight, and after I stared it up I checked and the alterator was indicating that it was producing power. Taxied out to the run-up area, and was running the runup checklist when I noticed the alterator was no longer producing power. Looked over at the multi-function display and see that the battery power is just clicking down from 12 volts to 11.9 volts. Once again, do all the same stuff we’d tried in the air last weekend – checking all the circuit breakers, shutting off the alterator switch, the master switch, radios, everything else, and then turning them on again. No such luck. We reluctantly called ground control and told them that we were done for the day, and heading back to the tie downs.

I’m not 100% sure, but I think the only thing that got turned on between the time when I noted that the alternator was working and I noticed that it wasn’t was that Lenny turned the altitude hold to “TEST” and then off. Other than that, everything had been on. I think. Maybe the avionics master had been off when I checked the alternator reading the first time. It sounds almost like something short circuited and killed the alternator, but if so, I would have expected a circuit breaker to pop. One other piece of evidence – the landing light was dead when I did my pre-flight. It hadn’t been dead when I’d done my pre-flight last week. I wonder if it was a cause or an effect of whatever was wrong with the electrics.

Anyway, it was a waste of a beautiful day. It seems like everybody was flying and I couldn’t. I’m bummed.

My Aviation Medical

I called the FAA today to see about my medical.

For those of you not following along, all pilots need to be medically certified before they can fly airplanes. (There are different rules for gliders, balloons and ultralights). My special issuance medical expired around the end of August, and I sent in the paperwork (doctor’s report, blood tests, etc) to get a normal class III medical at that time. At that time, the Aircraft Owners and Pilot’s Association (AOPA) web site warned about huge backlogs (12-14 weeks) due to the war in Iraq.

I’ve been hoping to get my medical back soon, because I’ve got some travelling to do next month, and I’d like to do it by plane. I called them, and the people who work the phones there at Oklahoma City are extremely nice. They told me that the doctors who went to Iraq are all back now, and the backlog isn’t all that bad now. They’re supposed to be back to their normal 90 day maximum turn-around. The second person I talked to said not to worry, it should show up soon.

Man, I hope so. I haven’t logged an instrument approach in a while, and I need to knock the rust off.

My next job?

Clear to Land, but Dodging East River Flotsam

(Note: NY Times link, requires free registration. Nothing to prevent you lying through you teeth when you register, though)

Flying seaplanes on New York’s East River. Maybe not the call of the wild, but probably not so likely to end up as wolf shit, either. Not that there’s anything wrong with ending up as wolf shit, as a matter of fact it used to be an ambition of mine.

More about the Starship

In re: Rants and Revelations: Sad end to a beautiful bird

This month’s Flying magazine has more about the Starship. They don’t mention anything about a limited airframe lifetime. They say that Raytheon/Beech just found it too expensive to keep supporting them. Since they still controlled 30 of the 52 of them, they just bought the rest of them back.

Some impressive stuff about the plane, all of which added up to the ridiculous weight and cost of it:

  • The canard had variable sweep because the flaps caused the center of gravity to move too much.
  • The flight instruments had 16 separate CRTs. It looks from the pictures that it had a separate CRT for every instrument, and then some. They didn’t have multi function displays like they do now.
  • The FAA didn’t entirely trust the void detection methods Beech invented, and made them really overdesign the airframe.

The aircraft never had a airworthiness directive, and nobody was ever injured in one. That’s pretty impressive, even for a plane that didn’t get much use.

My first in flight “emergency”

I had my second checkout flight in the club’s Lance. We did the usual sorts of stuff – I experimented with the autopilot, tried a coupled approach. Did a few maneuvers while dodging low ceilings and snow squalls.

One manuever we’d tried was an emergency gear extension with the alternator and electric master switch off. With the master off, you don’t see the green lights to indicate the gear is down, and you couldn’t really hear or feel the gear go down. You got a bit of a pitch burble and a thump through the rudder peddles when the nose gear went down. We turned on the master again and saw three greens.

Went to Batavia and did some touch and goes. While in the pattern my CFI, Lenny, pulled the power a couple of times to make me do a simulated emergency. The first one wasn’t great – I would have made the field, but not the actual runway, and I would have landed gear up. The second one was better, although he thought I left it too long to put the gear down.

One time in the pattern, I didn’t see the three green lights indicating the gear was down. I immediately turned off the radio lights and there they were – the gear lights are designed to go much dimmer when the radio lights are on to preserve your night vision. So I aced that little test – Lenny had turned on the radio lights to see if I was paying attention to the gear lights.

Things were going pretty good when Lenny pointed out that the multi-function display near his knee was saying that I was on battery power. The alternator warning light came on soon afterwards. At first I thought he was trying another trick, so I looked for a pulled circuit breaker, didn’t find one. I tried cycling the alternator switch. No joy. Since we were in the pattern at Batavia, I said “I guess we should land and check it out”. Lenny said no, if we land here we’ll never get home. So we turned off one of the radios, the DME, ADF, the landing light, wing strobes, pitot heat, fuel pump, basically everything electrical we could think of except one comm radio, one nav radio, and the transponder. We both had handheld comm radios so it wouldn’t have been a disaster to lose the radio. The only thing Lenny was concerned about was if the electricals went we wouldn’t have had any indication if the gear was safely down.

We kept our speed up getting to Rochester, and if we’d been thinking a little clearer we probably should have asked if we could turn off our transponder when we got closer. In the pattern, I put down the gear and saw those three little lights. After that, it was like any other landing at Rochester. No crash trucks, foamed runways or anything fun.

What amazed me the most through this whole thing is that this was a minor emergency, not even really an emergency but more of a major inconvenience (we’d planned to shoot some approaches but couldn’t), but I found it hugely distracting. I sort of stuttered and stumbled over my first radio call to Rochester, and felt like I should be thinking of new ways to debug the problem the whole way down, and continually looking at the alternator gauge. Far more intense than a simulated emergency. Now I have a bit more sympathy for people who’ve gotten distracted by a non-event like a door open in flight and crashed the plane. I don’t think I was ever *that* distracted, but I could see it happening to somebody who is 10 years past their last new rating and hasn’t really thought about emergencies since then.