Tampa Bay football game guide for pilots

On the last day of Kwanzaa, I decided to pay homage to Tom Brady by seeing him play live. This was only the third time at an NFL game in my life. Once was the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium, a horrible experience due to cold weather and multi-hour traffic jams. The second game was a recent Miami Dolphins game (previous post). Tampa is far and away the easiest from a logistics point of view. You fly, or get a friend to fly, a small plane to Sheltair TPA. No need to pay ramp or parking fees if you buy at least 16 gallons of fuel (enough for about 270 miles of travel in a Cirrus SR20!). The Sheltair folks will then zip you via minivan through closed-to-the-public airport roads (6 minutes) almost to the stadium front entrance. On the way back you can wait for the minivan or simply walk 30 minutes back to Sheltair.

In order to avoid get-there-itis, I waited until I was on the ground and on Sheltair’s WiFi network before purchasing any tickets (from the Ticketmaster verified resale market). Here are some photos…

(Note some of the Floridians above wearing long pants as protection against the frigid 75-degree temperature.)

Getting food or drink inside the stadium was a nightmare. If you don’t want to miss the game, put some snacks in your pockets before going in. Here are the lines outside the vendors 30 minutes prior to the game:

You’ll want to be on the west side of the field (the Bucs side) most of the season because then you’ll have the sun at your back.

I asked to see the manager to remind him/her/zir/them that not all of those who nurse identify as “mothers”:

The view from my $250 (including fees) seat:

Our hero of the gridiron and an inspiration to all men who are interested in marrying a woman (“All that you need to do to keep a wife happy is be in better physical shape, have a better personality, and be more successful than Tom Brady”) led the team to victory over the Carolina Panthers, 30-24.

It’s a different and more confusing experience than watching a game on TV. They do show closed captions from the TV broadcast on a screen within the stadium so it is easier to understand what the referees are saying. Or you can bother the expert fan sitting next to you, as I did every 5 minutes: “What just happened?” It’s also loud, so bring earplugs if you don’t want to be exposed to fatiguing levels of noise for 3+ hours (but Miami is much louder due to sound pumped into the stadium electronically; in Tampa the loudness is mostly from the fans).

Head over to the commercial airline terminal to see the giant flamingo sculpture. You can also eat authentic Lu Cai (Shandong) food at an authentic restaurant within this pre-security part of the terminal: P.F. Chang’s.

I was delighted to see that the airport terminal management takes Kwanzaa seriously:

Speaking of Tampa and airports, the city is the home of the young federal court judge who freed Americans from Joe Biden’s unconstitutional masks-in-airports rule (see Forced masking: the 34-year-old judge versus the 79-year-old president).

Loosely related: I rode the FBO minivan with a Bonanza pilot who runs a logistics business. “All the people who were charging huge premiums a year ago are now calling me begging for business,” he said. “Trucking companies call me every day offering capacity at a discount.” From his point of view, the boom economy was over.

Summary: I’m still not a huge live football fan, but a late season game in Tampa is probably as good as it gets. The weather is likely to be dry and 70s. Every time the Bucs score, cannon shots are fired from a pirate ship at one end of the stadium. The fans are loyal and enthusiastic (in Miami, by contrast, it seemed as though at least half of the audience was rooting for the other team).


Full post, including comments

Notes from a cross-country helicopter trip

To commemorate the heroic efforts of our government’s millions of armed police and soldiers in putting down the very-nearly-successful January 6, 2021 insurrection, let me relate my own recent trip to Washington, D.C.

I covered the first and last parts of this journey in Among the Covidians in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

Our journey began at the Robinson factory in Torrance, California (KTOA). Here are some photos that I took there in 2013 (they don’t allow pictures anymore).

Getting out of Los Angeles we studied the FAA helicopter chart… (note that the official routes require some understanding of local highways)

And the Robinson-specified route:

One thing that Robinson does not give to pilots fleeing the City of Lockdown is a list of frequencies and elevations for all of the airport traversed, so I prepped a couple of days before by writing all of these down on a pad (we were a bit too low to get advisories from SoCal Approach and therefore went from tower to tower). I handled the radio while my co-pilot (a former student at MIT 15 years ago and, having started a successful business, now proud owner of a $700,000 new helicopter) flew the machine. We made it out of LA without losing our certificates.

We passed the Morongo Casino and the Banning Pass into Palm Springs and a stop at KUDD:

After a stop at the Phoenix-Goodyear Airport, we made it to Tucson, Arizona just after dark:

My co-pilot was skeptical as I waxed expansively regarding the marvels of the Sonoran hot dog at El Guero Canelo (James Beard award winner and also a song from Calexico). If you’re looking for shelter from Bidenflation, the $3.99 dish is ideal:

(Note that each hot dog costs taxpayers closer to $10,000 when military pilots stop in. Tucson/El Guero Canelo is, according to the FBO, a popular stopover on training excursions.)

The War on Christmas cannot touch the fortified positions of El Guero Canelo:

We cranked before sunrise at KTUS and headed into the mountains of New Mexico:

In El Paso we saw the cruel conditions suffered by asylum-seekers and reflected on Governor Abbott’s noble provision of bus transportation for those migrants who want to escape to sanctuary cities where progressives will cater to all of their needs.

A 17-knot headwind, which was to be our near-constant companion, plagued us as we departed El Paso. In Pecos, Texas, we found the best dim sum west of the Pecos:

The help wanted sign was typical. Seemingly every retailer and restaurant was hiring in every town that we visited. A Texas FBO manager who had paid $13/hour in 2019 for entry-level jobs now has to pay $20/hour. “I still can’t find anyone who wants to work,” he said. (We also learned that the wholesale price for 100LL at the time was about $4.70/gallon.)

We continued to follow Interstate 20 over Midland, Texas and into Sweetwater.

It was freezing overnight and we hadn’t been able to find a heated hangar so we visited the National WASP WWII Museum to give the engine a chance to warm up before starting. We stopped for an awesome dim sum lunch at Bushi Bushi in Addison, Texas, also home to the most luxurious FBO that we visited during the trip: Galaxy.

We flew in the dark to Atlantic in Jackson, Mississippi and shut down for the night. We shared a heated hangar with an Ercoupe. Corporate says it is all about diversity and inclusion, but the employees had selected Fox News and were enforcing gender binarism:

Speaking of Fox, here’s a throwback to November 20 from the trip. Twitter was “in chaos” and presumably the site was at risk of shutting down due to all of the valuable employees departing:

The most emotional moment of trip for me was circling the Talladega Superspeedway, which happens to be right next to the airport. Ricky Bobby‘s NetJets was waiting:

All over the Southeast, the landscape was scarred by the Federal Reserve Bank’s 0% interest rates. I wonder how many of these developments won’t be finished any time soon. (A few weeks later, I was in Death Valley, California and talked to a Mountain States builder. He’d stopped doing any projects at all. “It costs $400 to $500 per square foot to build and I’m not sure that people will pay enough for me to recoup my costs.”)

Best airport restaurant of the trip (Elevation at KRYY near Atlanta):

Americans who have stolen $billions may relax in suburban comfort on the Stanford University campus and receive visits from attractive young females. For those of us who have stolen $thousands, we flew over quite a few housing options. Here’s an example:

A visit to Chick fil-A in Roanoke, Virginia:

A fly-by of Dulles Airport on the way to landing at KGAI.

There was minimal traffic in Montgomery County, Maryland as I traveled to my mom’s retirement complex on the Beltway. “The economy hasn’t come back,” said the Uber driver. “People in D.C. are still working from home or not working.” Did that mean his income had fallen? “No. There are fewer customers, but nobody wants to work either so the balance isn’t that different. Also, a lot of my customers are guys who lost jobs in 2020 and can’t afford child support payments that were ordered when they were working. They can’t renew their driver’s licenses because they’re behind on child support, so they take Uber to get to work.” (see this article on the scale of child support profits obtainable in Maryland)

The labor shortage made it tough to get a post-trip haircut. The barber shops were jammed with people who’d made appointments in advance. On the other hand, maybe Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act is working. One-way tickets from DCA to PBI were less than $200 just two days before Thanksgiving.

We were lucky with the weather, except for the headwinds most of the way and then some moderate turbulence from 30-knot winds around the Appalachian mountains toward the end of the trip that required us to slow down to 80 knots (best cruise in the R44 II is about 110 knots). Even though some of the infrastructure is frayed because so many Americans have withdrawn from the labor force, the U.S. private aviation infrastructure remains a marvel to behold. The bigger airports usually have FBOs that are staffed 24/7. There is usually a crew car when you need it. Air Traffic Control is always relaxed and helpful. Most of the fees to keep this going are rolled into the price of fuel (or, even better, paid for by the Gulfstream crowd) so you’re not hit with annoying small bites constantly as in Canada and Europe.

Full post, including comments

Coronapanic Consequences: life rafts

A friend is planning a trip to the Bahamas in his new Cirrus SR22 (more than 1 million Bidies for a piston-powered airplane!). When out of gliding distance from land, it is prudent to carry both life jackets and a life raft in an aircraft. Pre-coronapanic, rafts of all kinds were in stock at retailers and would ship within a day or two of being ordered. What does it look like after Americans took months or years off work? “I can’t find any of the brands that people like without a multi-month wait,” he said. “Winslow dealers are telling me 8 months to 2 years.”

It is unclear to me why Winslow is so backlogged given that the company is located in Florida and they were never ordered by a governor to shut down. But perhaps they are having trouble getting the components and/or being part of Collins Aerospace (a big bureaucratic presumably corona-averse company) has contributed to the shortage.

What do these look like? Here’s one from Switlik, which I like because it can go 5 years between recertifications (cumbersome and expensive):

Also, Switlik is a supplier to the U.S. Coast Guard, which presumably knows water at least as well as Dr. Fauci knows SARS-CoV-2. When is the Switlik available? They can’t even say on their web site! “Due to demand and limited inventory, this product is experiencing longer than normal lead times. Please call for quote – 609-587-3300.”

A raft isn’t required for a private single-engine airplane headed over water so it is quite possible that the disruption in the economy caused by COVID lockdowns will lead to additional risks being taken. And for every aviator who is at risk there are presumably 100 boaters who are having trouble getting the life rafts that they want. This is a consequence that I don’t think the technocrats recommending lockdowns in the spring of 2020 would have factored into their decision.


Full post, including comments

Want to come to MIT for Private Pilot ground school January 11-13?

After nearly three years of complete coronapanic, the MIT campus reopened to the public on December 1, 2022. Consequently, if Maskachusetts officials don’t impose a Science-based lockdown in the next two weeks we’re doing our three-day FAA ground school in person on campus, January 11-13 from 9-5 in Room 1-390. Full details and a registration link on the class home page. For non-MIT students the course is available at a significant discount to the $500,000 list price of an MIT degree…. $free.

If anyone is concerned about contracting a SARS-CoV-2 infection in a 70-person lecture hall, I will be happy to purchase a P100 respirator for you so long as you promise to wear it for the full 7-8 hours of daily class. See below for Mx. Cherry and Mx. Nerode modeling this type of mask in a recent NYT article.

Full post, including comments

2022 Robinson R44 Raven II review

Here are some thoughts after flying a factory-new $700,000 Robinson R44 Raven II from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. Our machine is the gold one in the foreground on the ramp at KTOA:

(One of the teachers in the safety course, regarding a photo of the R22, R44, and R66 lined up, said “They’re not going to win any beauty contests.”)

The $25,000 air conditioning is a great luxury and worth the 33 lb. payload penalty. The lack of a sliding window for taking pictures is a continued disappointment. If you want a good aerial photo you need to land, remove a door, take off again, take the photo, land, put the door back on, etc. Bell and Airbus manage to include simple mechanisms for temporarily obtaining an unobstructed camera position. Why can’t Robinson do this?

The $57,000 autopilot should have been a game-changer and it kind of was, but usually not in a good way. I have trained some Blackhawk pilots who were transitioning down to the R44 and they struggled initially because they always flew the Blackhawk with the stability augmentation system (SAS) enabled. The Genesys autopilot’s core mode is SAS, in which it seems to return the helicopter to whatever attitude was preset. The system is hyperactive, however. If there are small attitude changes from extremely light turbulence or just the vibration of the helicopter, the autopilot will fight those small changes. A human pilot would do nothing and assume that the attitude bumps will average out. In straight and level flight, the SAS system is applying a control input literally every second. It is like having the world’s most nervous copilot on the controls with you. It probably should try to figure out if a human pilot is on the controls and, if so, do nothing until there has been at least a 2-degree disturbance in attitude. We were able to get the autopilot to fly a NAV course, go down a glide path on an LPV approach, etc. It more or less works just like an autopilot in an airplane, but because the helicopter shakes so much more it is not as confidence-inspiring. Is it worth $57,000 (the pre-Biden price of an airworthy certified IFR-capable 4-seat airplane)? Maybe! Despite the annoyance factor, I think it is worth enabling SAS for night flights and any time visibility is reduced or there is a chance of inadvertent instrument meteorological conditions (i.e., going into a cloud).

Robinson has limped into the glass cockpit era, but not gracefully. The Garmin G500 is a primary flight display, but not an integrated flight deck like the G1000 (see the Bell 505). So the pilot needs to look at the warning lights above the PFD to see if anything dramatic is wrong with the machine. Although the helicopter is certified for visual flying only and there is nothing on the PFD that is necessary for continued flight and landing, the FAA requires that Robinson install a full set of backup steam gauges. These are much larger and easier to read than what’s on the Garmin glass (the vertical speed indicator, for example, is at least 5X the size).

The G500 does not display a lot of the information that you’d expect it would. For example, it shows the outside air temperature and the aircraft’s altitude. Even without access to the manifold pressure sensor, it could look up in a table to find out what the current maximum continuous manifold pressure should be (corresponds to a horsepower limit) and display that to the pilot. It becomes the pilot’s job to use a table on the checklist or in fine print on the cyclic. Robinson continues to have separate fuel gauges for the main and aux tanks so it becomes the pilot’s job to do a bit of arithmetic and calculate flight time remaining.

Our second radio was a Garmin 225B. It was entirely unreadable/unusable at night due to being so much dimmer than the G500H and the GTN 750 (the NAV/COM1).

Full post, including comments

National WASP WWII Museum

As we remember Pearl Harbor today, I will share some photos from a recent visit to the National WASP WWII Museum in Sweetwater, Texas. I learned that just over 1,800 women who’d already earned at least Private certificates were invited to train as Women Airforce Service Pilots (closer to 1,000 completed the program). The museum does a good job of walking visitors through the progression of training to fly military aircraft.

I knew that WASPs had ferried new aircraft from the factory to military bases, but I didn’t realize that they’d also towed targets for live fire practice (video interview). Remarkably, none of the women were killed during this activity.

Some details on the admissions and training processes:

Note that an interview with Florida-native superstar pilot Jacqueline Cochran was required.

The museum preserves some of the trainer aircraft (airworthy, apparently; note the oil drip pans) and shows off the skeleton of a “Bamboo Bomber”:

There are some poignant stories and memorials regarding each of the 38 WASPs who died during the two years that the program existed. No WASP was ever in combat, but there was plenty of potential for a mechanical problem in an airplane made without CNC machine tools. There was no moving map, no GPS, no NEXRAD for weather, etc.

WASPs were civilians, though Jimmy Carter retroactively made them military personnel (on the one hand, their job was nowhere near as dangerous as being a combat pilot and they never had to deploy overseas; on the other hand, their job entailed far more danger than that faced by millions of military men, e.g., those who worked stateside at desks). The museum highlights later female-identifying military pilots. The sign below makes it sound like an F-14 crash was the plane’s fault (after mismanaging an approach, Kara Hultgreen stomped on the rudder like a student pilot, which killed one engine, and then failed to manage the single-engine go-around).

The sign below about Colleen Cain caused me to search for more. She and two fellow crewmembers died going out at night into horrific weather to try to save seven sailors on a fishing boat. They had trouble with navigation, plainly, and ended up hitting terrain. They would all likely still be alive today given GPS and moving terrain maps. It is tough to understand how people can be brave enough to fly helicopters for the Coast Guard. A core part of their job is going out into weather bad enough to sink ships.


The museum’s conference room featured incredibly comfortable “sled” chairs that allowed a slight recline and had sufficient cushioning. It looks like they are Office Master OM5 stacker chairs. I am tempted to order some for kitchen table use!

Admission is free, but donations are welcome.

Full post, including comments

R.I.P. Frank Robinson (and a few notes from the safety course that he loved)

I arrived in Los Angeles for the Robinson Helicopter Company’s safety course on November 13. The engineer who founded the company, Frank Robinson, died the day before at age 92 (AVweb). Frank democratized helicopter flying with his reasonably priced machines that were simple to operate and maintain. I had a few conversations with him over the years and he was always generous in sharing his time and direct in sharing his point of view.

Frank’s son Kurt Robinson now runs the company and he welcomed us to the class: “We want you to know what we know.” He stressed how important the safety course was to his father, a point later backed up by Bob Muse, a legendary LA helicopter pilot and teacher. “Frank missed fewer than 5 safety courses over the years,” Bob noted. “He would reschedule vacations and business meetings so that he could welcome every class of pilots. Frank loved aviation and the company. It was never about money.”

Bell and Airbus (“Eurocopter”) pilots enjoy heaping scorn on Robinsons, but we learned from Bob and Tim Tucker about how the pilots and engineers at all of these companies cooperate and fly each other’s machines. Robinson has been a leader in some safety areas, e.g., crash-resistant fuel bladders and standardizing on the Vuichard technique for recovery from vortex ring state (most likely encountered during a downwind steep approach to an off-airport landing zone).

Some of Bob’s points:

  • we overemphasize autorotations in training; it is rare to see accidents that are caused by something that would require an auto
  • seek recurrent training every 6 months, which is what the most experienced pilots will get
  • look at NTSB Safety Alerts
  • take phones away from mechanics; interruption by phone call is a common reason for a procedure step to be skipped

The previous generation’s aircraft mechanics have been retiring and are being replaced by younger less intelligent less conscientious Americans. Maintenance-related crashes are nearly twice as high a percentage of the total (still less than 10%, however) compared to 10-20 years ago. The biggest causes of Robinson accidents are wire strikes and weather, each contributing roughly 30 percent.

A huge number of safety-related initiatives and FAA regulation updates that would improve safety have been delayed by two years or more due to coronapanic. Everything that was on track to be approved in 2020 is still pending. One big change would be to revoke SFAR 73 and update the Robinson POH to add similar requirements, e.g., 20 hours dual before going solo, to the limitations. The requirements would then apply to international customers as well (currently about 80 percent of Robinson’s production is exported).

The latest Robinsons all come with dome light cameras (see Time for a robot assistant up in the dome light of the cockpit? for what I think it should do, but of course it doesn’t!). These have been very helpful in investigating accidents. (As with seemingly everything else in aviation, it was already obsolete when installed. The limit on memory card size is 128 GB, which is good for 10-15 hours. There is also an internal 16-hour memory that the pilots can’t access and that is recorded to even when the camera and audio are switched “off”) The dome light camera also provides some interesting cautionary videos. In one video a Bell 407 pilot, who previously did a lot of flying in Robinsons, is getting current again in the R44. She pulls the mixture, thus shutting off the engine, instead of the carb heat. She then immediately pushes the mixture back down, but the engine quits anyway. If they’d crashed, it would have been due to an “unexplained power loss.” (As it happens, the instructor in the left seat pushed the collective down and did a nice autorotation to the side of a railroad track. We then see him frantically pulling on the rotor brake. It turns out that a train was coming!)

My favorite video featured Julie Link on a sightseeing tour in Hawaii. The R44’s engine quits (the mounting block for the magnetos failed; apparently they’re both on the same piece of metal) and she does an autorotation to a field with two tourists in the back who don’t seem to be aware that things have become perilous. After they land, we hear her say “The engine stopped. It happens. It happens to me a lot.” (She previously did a heroic autorotation in an R22 to a street in Honolulu (Daily Mail).)

Once established in an auto, if the low RPM (97%) horn goes on, I like to take out half of the collective check that is in. Bob says to push it all the way down so as to build that reflex and then pull it back up slightly after the RPM is back to 100 percent.

Bob recommended watching a U.S. Army video on mast bumping.

Robinson now offers a polycarbonate windshield that will ruin a bird’s day, but not yours. We talked to a guy who owns 13 R66 (the turbine-powered Robinson) helicopters and he said that the view is distorted (he also said that he’s had disabling engine problems with 4 out of 13 Rolls-Royce turboshaft engines!). Robinson says that they scratch just as easily as the standard acrylic windshields, but the scratches cannot be repaired.

Those are some of the things that Frank Robinson might have wanted you to know! It is sad that he is gone, but he did pack a lot of achievement into his 92 years. He is the only person in world history who built a sustainable piston helicopter business.

After the class, I joined a former student from MIT who was picking up his new R44 Raven II helicopter. We flew from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. together and the only squawk was that the left front door became a little tougher to latch after about 15 hours (we picked it up with 4 hours on the collective Hobbs). It is tough to think of another aircraft manufacturer that delivers this kind of quality, especially down in the piston ghetto. I think it is reasonable to say that the more than 13,000 helicopters Robinson has built are Frank Robinson’s true memorial.

Full post, including comments

Gaithersburg, Maryland plane crash into powerlines

Friends in the D.C. area have been texting me tonight regarding a Mooney that landed in some powerlines near KGAI. From CBS:

A small plane crashed into power lines in Maryland, leaving two people dangling about 100 feet in the air, officials said. The crash knocked out power to thousands of people in the area.

A single-engine Mooney M20J crashed into wires near Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg, Maryland, around 5:40 p.m. local time Sunday, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The plane appeared to be intact as it was caught in a web of power lines about 100 feet in the air.

As of roughly 7:50 p.m., Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson Pete Piringer said the people aboard the plane were uninured. Earlier he said that they remained in a “very precarious situation,” as the wires were still energized. Utility company Pepco said that as of around 8:30 p.m. the lines had been deenergized.

How could this happen? Mooney pilots are usually pretty good! The plane departed from Westchester County, NY, according to ABC. So the task at Gaithersburg was an attempt to land. Where are these powerlines? Let’s check The Google:

The only tall high-voltage lines that I can see are about a mile from the runway, top left of the above image, rather near Giant Food. That’s quite a distance from the runway to be so low to the ground.

Let’s check the weather. 5:40 pm is 17:40 EST then add 5 hours and we get 2240Z. Here’s are the METARS:

KGAI 272156Z AUTO VRB04KT 1 1/4SM BR OVC002 11/11 A2945 RMK AO2 SLP987 T01060106
KGAI 272128Z AUTO 18003KT 1 1/4SM BR OVC002 11/11 A2945 RMK AO2
KGAI 272121Z AUTO 14006KT 3/4SM BR OVC002 10/10 A2945 RMK AO2
KGAI 272110Z AUTO 14007KT 1 1/4SM BR OVC002 11/10 A2946 RMK AO2
KGAI 272056Z AUTO 15004KT 2SM BR OVC002 11/10 A2947 RMK AO2 PRESFR SLP995 60003 T01060100 56050

Why isn’t there a METAR closer to 2240Z? It seems that the 2256Z observation would have come after the massive power failure. Here’s an observation from nearby Dulles Airport:

KIAD 272252Z 21011KT 1 1/2SM BR OVC003 11/11 A2945 RMK AO2 SFC VIS 9 SLP971 T01110106

Could part of the problem be that the altimeter in the Mooney wasn’t set correctly and, therefore, the instruments were showing the plane to be higher than it was? This is an irrelevant factor for an approach with a glide path, which KGAI has. They would have gotten fresh altimeter settings during the entire flight from Air Traffic Control. The departure airport, KHPN, had an altimeter setting of 29.64″ about one hour before accident. So if they’d taken off from HPN and never touched the altimeter they would have been (29.64-29.45)*1000 = 190′ lower than indicated. This kind of mistake resulted in an accident at KBDL to American Airlines 1572 (The NTSB report says that they were on a VOR 15 non-precision (no glideslope) approach.)

The weather was not improving dramatically after 2156Z (4:56 pm). Is it reasonable to land with only 1.25 miles of visibility and 200′ overcast? If you’re a two-pilot crew going into Dulles Airport with its idiot-proof runways and powerful approach lighting system that will cut through the clouds and mist… yes. In fact, the minimums for the ILS 1R at KIAD are 200′ ceiling and 1800′ of visibility.

What about at KGAI? Assuming that this airplane was trying to land, they’d be using the RNAV 14. With the latest and greatest WAAS-capable avionics, the weather minimums are 269′ and 1 mile of visibility. Touchdown zone elevation is 520:

So this would have been an attempt to do the an approach that the weather report suggested could not be accomplished legally. This is actually legal for Part 91 (private) flying, but is not permitted for airlines (Part 121).

On the third hand, had the pilot flown the approach correctly, it should have resulted in a safe landing on the runway even with weather below minimums. Based on my experience, the virtual glide path created by the WAAS GPS box is valid all the way to the ground. (And this was part of our airline training at a Delta subsidiary for ILS approaches; the glide slope (projected via radio waves from the ground) could be used as a reference even after breaking out from the clouds and being within 50′ or 100′ from the runway.) In fact, an autopilot could take the plane down all the way to the runway (would be a rough landing without a flare, but nothing that would be hazardous to the people inside the plane).

So the crash remains something of a mystery at this point. I would want to know if the Mooney (potentially ancient) had a modern WAAS-capable GPS for the RNAV 14 approach. If not, the weather minimum is 400′ ceiling and 1.5 miles of visibility and the challenge for the pilot is substantially greater.

This would be perfect for a Godzilla movie. Godzilla loves powerlines and he is often well-disposed to humanity so he could simply pull the airplane out of the powerlines and set it down on the runway.

Update: I found some relevant Air Traffic Control audio at LiveATC.net. Controllers often speak on multiple frequencies and I found half of a conversation on 128.7 in the archive block starting at 2200Z on 11/27 (so the media reports of a crash at 5:40 pm are probably incorrect; it would have been around 5:28 pm). LiveATC.net captured Potomac Approach, but not the Mooney or other aircraft (so it is likely that the exchanges were happening on a different frequency associated with Potomac Approach; a merged recording of 126.75, 125.52, and 133.85 contains some fuzzy responses from the planes/pilots). The Mooney’s tail number seems to end with “1RF” (One Romeo Foxtrot). At 9 minutes in, the controller suggests (gently) that the 1RF has not followed a previous instruction correctly. At 14:45, the controller says “if you’re able to land at Gaithersburg you can report cancellation…” (i.e., it was foreseen that the weather could be below minimums). At 15:55, a Pilatus PC-12 (“Kronos”) is also going to GAI. At 16:45, the controller mentions, probably to the Pilatus, that a Cheyenne went missed from GAI and was diverting to FDK. At 17:45, the controller acknowledges a communication from 1RF. At 18:30, the controller tells 1RF about traffic and tells 1RF to join the approach. At 20:15, 1RF is cleared for the approach (allowed to descend from previously assigned altitude). At 23:15, 1RF is told to switch to the advisory frequency at the untowered KGAI airport (“CTAF”; used for pilot-to-pilot communication). Just before 27:00 the controller uses the full call sign: N201RF, which is the registration for a 1977 Mooney. Unfortunately, this is to issue a low altitude alert. If indeed the Mooney had switched to the CTAF, the message would not have been heard. Just before 30:00, the controller says “it looks like they made it” regarding the Mooney, but tells the Pilatus that he is waiting to get a cancellation from the Mooney (can’t have two airplanes doing instrument approaches at the same untowered airport at the same time).

My best guess is that the conversation was on 126.75, but the receiver that feeds LiveATC.net is not well-positioned to hear low-altitude planes near KGAI.

Second Update: presidentpicker in the comments below gives us an overlay of the Flightaware ADS-B 3D track and the approach. The tracklog ends at 5:27:20 pm and sadly infers an arrival:

Pilot readers: Before we escaped the Land of Lockdown for the Florida Free State, KGAI was my most common destination airport for trips into D.C. My personal rule was that if the weather wasn’t great I would land at Dulles instead. “Not great” meant winds of more than about 20 knots unless straight down the runway, ceiling below 400′, or visibility of less than 3 miles. I would also go into Dulles if I were arriving after the KGAI FBO closed and I wanted a rental car. The fees at Jet Aviation Dulles or Signature for a single-engine piston aircraft were actually quite reasonable. It’s great to be a skilled pilot, but it is even better to set up a situation in which skills are not required. And there’s nothing wrong with doing an approach to minimums, especially if you’ve set up a two-pilot crew in your little Cirrus, but it doesn’t make sense when one of the world’s largest airports is only 5-10 minutes farther from your ground destination.

The Dulles photo above was taken just before landing at KGAI last week:

We departed Torrance, California in the Robinson R44 Raven II shown above and landed at Gaithersburg on November 21, 2022. There were a few stops in between…


Full post, including comments

Aerial Underground Railroad

“The pilots flying passengers across US state lines for abortions” (Guardian, October 30):

All Steven knew was what time and where. A part-time pilot from the Chicago area, he was picking up a total stranger in his single-engine plane, a passenger who needed to fly more than a thousand miles, across state lines, from the midwest to the east coast.

The passenger was seeking reproductive health services and needed to travel to a state where they could access them. Steven is just one of hundreds of pilots across the US, who have been volunteering the use of their small planes to fly people seeking abortions and other services from states that have outlawed it to states that haven’t.

The effort to connect volunteer pilots with patients is led by Elevated Access, a non-profit organization based out of Illinois. It was founded in April in response to a growing number of women being forced to embark on expensive and time-consuming journeys in attempts to obtain abortions.

What about pregnant men? They will have to Ride the Dog (Greyhound)? A photo on the organization’s web site shows what appears to be a pregnant man in the passenger seat (front right; the pilot sits front left in most fixed-wing aircraft):

How many owner- and renter-pilots are passionate about these issues?

Indeed, since the supreme court formally stripped away federal abortion protection rights in June, Elevated Access has seen a giant uptick in volunteer pilots, with 870 pilots offering to transport patients across state lines for abortions and gender-affirming care.

How many have a valuable gender ID?

Elevated Access was set up to ease those difficulties, using the 3,000 general aviation airports scattered across the country. It recently marked a milestone by completing its first all-female pilot mission, involving seven states and two solo female pilots flying a 1,400-mile relay to transport a client. Only 6% of pilots in the US are women, it noted.

The partners?

As a referral-only organization, Elevated Access connects passengers to pilots through referrals by its partner organizations such as Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation.

Here’s an interesting analogy:

“I think as pilots, we’re very proud of the freedom we have and so it seems appropriate for me to use the freedom I have to help out people whose much more fundamental freedoms – [such as] rights to medical care or decisions about how they want to control their own body – are being jeopardized right now.”

What if the better analogy is the pregnant person is the pilot and the baby is the passenger? Let’s consider EgyptAir 990.

The cockpit voice recorder (CVR) recorded the captain excusing himself to go to the lavatory, followed 30 seconds later by the first officer saying in Egyptian Arabic “Tawkalt ala Allah,” which can be translated as “I put my trust in God.” A minute later, the autopilot was disengaged, immediately followed by the first officer again repeating the same Arabic phrase which can be also translated as, “I rely on God.” Three seconds later, the throttles for both engines were reduced to idle, and both elevators were moved 3° nose down. The first officer repeated “I rely on God” seven more times…

(The very first time I flew a turbojet, the Cessna CJ3 demo pilot deadpanned “You’ve disconnected the autopilot. Do you want to declare an emergency?”)

Gameel Al-Batouti was certainly controlling his own body, as the quoted pilot above says is the correct situation, and he got what he wanted. But the passengers did not get what they wanted, i.e., to emerge alive at the end of the journey.

(The article contains some misinformation, implying that pilots must file flight plans in order to travel by air. In fact, unless one wishes to fly via reference to instruments (in the clouds), no flight plan is typically required.)

Ph.D. and Ivy League grad Deplorables in a chat group reacted to this:

  • Does this mean that I can fly for free as a pregnant man ?
  • Can I get preggers every month? Oh, I might fly for abortion and change my mind and fly back and fly there again and…
  • aborting takeoff is not an option
  • They think they are Underground Railroad heroes.
  • Are planes that belong to Abortion Air are stored in coat hangars?
  • Also after each baby killed one can paint a little baby skull 💀 on the side of the plane

The organization’s mission:

Elevated Access recognizes that not all people have access to the healthcare they need due to stigma in their community. Because we believe everyone deserves access to healthcare such as abortion and gender-affirming care, our volunteer pilots provide free transportation to get people where they can get the care they need to live their best life.

What about a healthy baby subjected to abortion care at 24 weeks, as is legal “on-demand” in Maskachusetts (abortion care after 24 weeks is legal if one doctor thinks it is a good idea)? Is he/she/ze/they living his/her/zir/their best life?

Full post, including comments

HondaJet at NBAA (third time is the charm?)

One of the long-held dreams of people in general aviation is that a car company would come in and fix all of our woes (high costs, low volumes, intensive maintenance requirements, dumb-as-bricks systems). If Honda, for example, could make an airplane that is as comfortable and reliable as a Honda Odyssey minivan, mass-produced at a reasonable price, life would be awesome.

Well, Honda actually did go into the airplane business! And it took them way longer to push the plane out the door than it would have taken Cessna or Embraer. And an operator of the first-generation plane at NBAA 2022 gave the airplane low marks. (I wrote a review of the plane in 2016.) The airplane is fueled from a single point in the tail, which requires a ladder, and can take nearly 30 minutes for a line guy (this desirable job working in the cold or heat is almost always done by those who identify as “men”) to fill. During this time there will be periodic overflows that will cover the line guy in Jet A. When finished, the plane was never able to hold the advertised maximum capacity. “We were always 100 lbs. light.” The lav is externally service, but in a non-standard way that results in some bad outcomes. “Ten percent of the Gen 1 airplanes went off the runway,” noted the operator. “They’ve maybe fixed that in the newer ones by limiting nosewheel travel depending on speed.”

The plane itself did not end up having way better specs or a lower price than the very light jet/light jet competition. Honda announced a variety of Gen 3 features at NBAA. There is an extra fuel tank under the tail, which increases the ability to accept fuel, extends range slightly. A light next to the fuel filler comes on when the massive overflow spray is imminent:

The cockpit is more or less unchanged. It is a clean Garmin G3000, with no overhead panel and a general lack of clutter:

What will be new in the cockpit are autothrottles and a big button for the amazing Garmin Autoland system.


How many Bidies for this wonderful device? About $7 million, which sadly means that all of Honda’s manufacturing and engineering expertise aren’t doing anything to bring the price of new aircraft down (it’s cheaper than the Embraer Phenom 300, but not if you adjust for size, seats, range, etc. (and the per-hour operating cost may be similar); it is more expensive than the Embraer Phenom 100 and Cessna M2 jets and provides some additional performance and cabin size).


Full post, including comments