Going Direct: ADS-B: Big Problems and a Bigger Upside

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The future of aviation is bright, which is good, because is it wasn’t so amazing at its core, it would be really hard to see it with all of the obstacles between now and the future. The roadblocks include high costs, especially fuel costs, expensive maintenance and overhaul, aging airplanes, lead in our avgas, restricted access to airport ramps in larger cities and the gradual, ongoing extinction of great GA airports in big cities.

What lies beyond those vexing and hard or impossible to solve issues is a future defined by two things: affordable digital goodness and lower costs.

We’re already seeing the computer part of it with new, low-cost panel mount avionics that our do more and cost less than ever before, thanks to a recent and long overdue alliance between the FAA and the GA industry that did something I’ve been advocating for years, ditching the prohibitively expensive overkill of certifying avionics for light GA planes as though the electronics were headed for a wide-body Boeing.

And one really cool thing in our immediate future is ADS-B, the benefits of which we’re been partially enjoying for years but haven’t yet gotten the full taste of. The FAA in its wisdom disables much of the traffic capability of ADS-B from aircraft that are not yet sporting certified equipment—the weather is the carrot, so I guess this was the stick part of the FAA’s drive to encourage ADS-B equipage. But things will change once ADS-B is fully implemented, well, kind of fully implemented—there are probably 100,000 airplanes not yet equipped.

Once the switch gets flipped we see all the traffic there is to see on ADS-B, we’ll be flying for the first time in our lives with a reasonable sense that we know where the traffic is, what it is, what kind of a threat, if any, it poses to us, and how we should modify our course or altitude in order to avoid the conflict.

True, there will be planes not equipped even after the January 1, 2020, deadline. In fact there are likely to be many tens of thousands of planes not equipped in time. They will still be able to fly, so long as they stay out of ADS-B mandatory airspace, which means Class G everywhere and then some. So if you’re on a long cross country heading from Pennsylvania to Ohio and cruising VFR at 6,500 feet, might you see non-ADS-B traffic along the route? Sure. But remember that that traffic will by definition have to take off and land from airports outside of the ADS-B veil (I term I might have just invented). And you won’t see any jets or pressurized turboprops without ADS-B, because it’ll be required for the flight levels. Even above 10,000 with few exceptions for flights in very high terrain, everybody will have to be equipped. So ADS-B will be the rule of the air for many of us the way we fly on a daily basis, and that means we’ll know where all the other traffic is, at last.

In addition to traffic, we get weather, of course, and ADS-B weather has gotten better and will likely continue to get better. Is it as good as XM-Sirius Weather? It’s not. But is it good enough for most of us if we don’t want to pay subscription? Heck yeah, though satellite weather is terrific and pretty affordable, too.

To the point, I for one am looking forward to 2020, not only because it’ll be fun to say 2020 Vision about everything—well, it’ll be fun for about 15 minutes—but because ADS-B makes a lot of sense.

And with a number of new, lower-cost ADS-B options available for small planes, the pain of equipping is less than I thought it would ever be. In terms of cost, it’s not painless, but what in aviation is. The idea is, the rewards make up for the pain, and such will be the case with ADS-B.

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The Evolution Of Aviation Fashion

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I’ve always loved fashion. As a young girl growing up in Japan, I drew outfits and gowns and thought that someday I might become a clothing designer. We all had dressmakers there, and my mom and I would pick out designs we liked in fashion magazines and have them made for us. Planning ahead what outfits to wear and accessorize was so much fun.

How things have changed. My day-to-day informal uniform consists of jeans, shorts, tees, and Teva sandals, with the occasional flight suit. So, what happened?! I chose a life of flying airplanes. Gone from my regular wardrobe are the cute skirts and platform shoes, dangling bracelets, long necklaces and big earrings. My casual outfits today are simple and functional because I have dug many an earring out of the fuselage and had more than one long necklace whack me in the face when I rolled upside down. I can’t feel the rudder pedals with heels or big boots, and if I wear a leather belt when I’m flying aerobatics, it will dig into my hips when I tighten my seat belt.

Patty Wagstaff
Patty Wagstaff displays a fun and funky outfit great for hangar flying but not cut for the demands of her high-energy aerobatics routines. Photo by Doug Gardner

Unless you’re lucky enough to be sitting in the back of a GV, there just doesn’t seem to be room in aviation for anything other than a uniform or comfortable clothes — which leads me to the question: Is there a place for fashion in aviation?

It might seem ironic, but it is interesting that the nature of aviation has influenced form and fashion for over a century. In a paper by Dr. Graham Rood in the Journal of Aeronautical History, “A Brief History of Flying Clothing,” Dr. Rood writes, “From the earliest days of flight, the aviator has needed some form of personal protection against the elements. The earliest form was a good tweed jacket, a hat and a pair of goggles; as the technology of aviation developed — flying faster, higher and longer — better and differing levels of protection were required.” Aviation demands a simplicity of form that is functional, wearable while flying and, most of all, designed with safety in mind.

Aviator style has real and not whimsical roots because it’s always been about form following function. Starting with the Wright brothers and their semi-formal flying wear, it has extended to watches, bomber jackets, flight suits, epaulets and sunglasses. Early aviators had to adapt by finding comfortable and safe ways to fly; they couldn’t very well have loose clothing billowing in the wind in open-cockpit airplanes. Early woman aviators had to wear pants, and perhaps this set a trend for the modern woman.

Dashing aviators like Alberto Santos-Dumont influenced fashion icons like Louis Cartier. When Santos-Dumont came to him in 1904 asking for a watch he could use while flying so he didn’t have to fumble in his pocket for a pocket watch, Cartier designed a watch with a wrist strap for him, and the wristwatch was born. Santos-Dumont wore the watch every time he flew and was often photographed with it for the newspapers, making the design glamorous and desirable. In fact, from 1911 until today, making a statement, the Santos de Cartier design wristwatch can be found in every one of Cartier’s 300 stores.

During WWI, new clothing designs emerged for the aviator, all designed to protect pilots from the elements, including tall sheepskin-lined “Fug” boots, leather flying suits, helmets and goggles. Between wars, fashion was influence by record setters and barnstormers like Roscoe Turner. Turner, whose flair and style is legendary, barnstormed across the Southeast United States wearing an Army-style uniform of his own design with fawn-colored jodhpurs, riding boots and a beige officer cap, and added a silver-winged brooch and fancy belt. Turner was even sponsored by a clothing company (why haven’t I thought of that!). Ever the showman, Turner’s best accessory was probably Gilmore the Flying Lion (who is carefully preserved, stuffed and refrigerated at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and, yes, I have seen it).

In 1936, Bausch & Lomb designed Ray-Bans, aviator sunglasses to replace the then-outdated flight goggles that pilots used to protect their eyes. The dark, reflective lenses were designed to have an area two to three times the size of an eyeball and attempted to cover the entire range of the human eye to prevent as much light as possible from entering the eye from any angle. It sure didn’t hurt that General Douglas MacArthur landed on the beach in the Philippines in WWII photographed in dramatic poses sporting a pair of Ray-Bans. MacArthur is credited for popularizing the wearing of sunglasses by the general public.

With her short hair and sporty look, Amelia Earhart redefined America’s image of a successful career woman. Trailblazer and trendsetter, she was also one of the first celebrities to create her own fashion line. Her fashion designs for “active living” had a casual and practical look that is popular today. Fashion-forward Earhart introduced separates to women of the 1930s, which allowed them to mix and match tops and bottoms, instead of the one-size-fits-all mold of dresses available at the time, and she introduced blouses with longer shirttails, a feature that was exclusive to men’s fashion at the time. In The Quotable Amelia Earhart, Earhart says, “I made up my mind that if the wearers of the shirts I designed for any reason took time out to stand on their heads, there would still be enough shirt to still stay tucked in!” And speaking of girls and fashion, Barbie, one of fashion’s most enduring icons, has recently announced an Amelia Earhart Barbie doll.

Early airline pilots were often ex-military and adopted the look of leather bomber jackets with oversized front pockets to allow easy access to charts, scarves to keep their necks protected, khaki trousers, and short black or brown boots, but things started changing in the early 1930s. When Pan Am began its South American routes using the big Clipper flying “boats,” it decided to change their flight crews’ uniforms to reflect a more “naval” look in order to allow nervous passengers to feel more confident. Pan Am then introduced black pants, black double-breasted blazers with sleeve braid loops on the lower sleeves denoting crew member rank, and white officer-style hats with gold or silver insignia. And, by the way, epaulets that airline pilots wear today probably came from the 17th century, when Louis XIV wore shoulder ribbons, which then established the basic design of the epaulet as it evolved through the 18th and 19th centuries, when they indicated rank. Today the familiar four stripes indicate that this is your captain speaking.

When you want to look stylish when flying, whatever you wear needs to be functional. When I’m flying cross-country, the rules are less about looking good than about being prepared for different climates and temperatures. The golden rule is: layers, layers and, sometimes, more layers. Even when it’s a tropical 95 degrees and rising on the ground, it can get really cold when climbing up to 10K to get over towering cumulus, so I wear long pants, shoes and socks (vs. sandals), and a jacket of some sort. Depending on what type of airplane I am flying, I may or may not have a heater or the ability, when flying an aerobatic airplane, for example, to reach back and grab something warmer. In cooler months, I love wearing a military flight suit that keeps me warm, and, oh, those pockets. Being prepared also means I always have a down jacket stuffed somewhere in the back of the airplane, too. When I get to my destination, one thing I love is my camo cargo shorts – so functional and hide oil and dirt. That said, did you know that in some places it’s illegal to wear camo? Camo is illegal in Barbados, Jamaica, Zambia, Cuba and Saudi Arabia, so when you’re traveling to those countries, leave your camo behind or fear the literal fashion police. I also think overalls are the cutest and most utilitarian clothing ever designed and wear them a lot. They also have a long and hallowed place in aviation. From an article on the history of RAF clothing: “In many photographs of the inter-war period, particularly at air-displays, RAF flying teams are seen dashingly dressed in a white overall. These were issued to RAF pilots for air-displays and were used as a ‘mark of status’ up to late 1940 for all of those who had flown in those formative days.”

 When arriving at an airshow, a performer needs to look like one, though like all professional pilot uniforms, the attire has to be simple and functional, making it easy to work around airplanes while still looking good. Out go the overalls, and it’s Nomex flight suits, logo shirts, tailored shorts and nice clothes for meet and greets. The women can glam it up a bit with sparkly earrings and shoelaces but, for me, my jewelry is usually layers of armbands required for gate and VIP tent access…and a good pedicure.

What about airshow spectator fashion? I see photos of fashionistas at music festivals like Coachella, and boy, do they look cute—the girls in trendy cut-off shorts, peasant shirts, big hats, little boots. But the look doesn’t necessarily work at an airshow, where walking around an airport looking at and watching airplanes all day demands a different functionality: comfortable shoes or sandals, a hat that will stay on in the wind and the best accessory of all—sunblock!

It’s hard to deny aviation style’s influence on fashion—from sunglasses to watches, bomber jackets, cargo pants, even fur-lined boots—and the attractiveness of form following function. I still love looking at fashion magazines and glamming it up for a big event, but I love the simplicity of not having a lot of fashion choices when I wake up in the morning. My best fashion accessories? My shades, my ball cap, my sunblock and, of course, my airplane.

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News and Updates – FAA Says Avoid Drone Registration Schemes

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) wants to warn drone owners especially hobbyistsabout people offering to help register their drones with the agency. The FAA Drone Zone is all you need and it costs only $5.00.

There are a number of entities that offer to help drone owners and operators file an application for a registration number. Some attempt to mimic the look of the FAAs website with similar graphic design and even the FAA logo, or suggest they are somehow approved by the agency. They arent and you could be wasting your money.

The FAA neither regulates these entitites nor will speculate on their legitimacy. However, we have recently received reports of vendors charging exorbitant fees up to $150.00 for this service. The actual FAA registration fee is $5.00. For that charge, hobbyists receive one identification number for all the drones they own. All others pay the registration fee for each drone they intend to operate.

We strongly advise you to avoid registering your unmanned aircraft anywhere but at the FAA Drone Zone. Its the only way to make sure your drone is legally registered and that youve gotten your moneys worth.

Accident Briefs: June 2018

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These are official summaries from the NTSB. They are printed in their entirety and verbatim.


Moss Beach, CA

Injuries: 1 fatal, 1 serious

The private pilot and a passenger were approaching the airport to land with a 70° right crosswind at 10 knots (kts) with gusts to 14 kts. The pilot reported that, on final approach, the airplane was configured with full flaps (30°) at an airspeed of 60 kts, and an altitude of 500 ft mean sea level (msl) when it began to encounter turbulence. The pilot then elected to conduct the landing approach at a higher airspeed and subsequently retracted the flaps from 30° to less than 20°. Immediately after reconfiguring the flaps, the pilot reported that he experienced strong turbulence that violently rocked the airplane and simultaneously felt a “strong downdraft” as the airplane entered a right bank. The pilot was unable to correct the airplane’s attitude, and the airplane subsequently descended into terrain, where it impacted a paved road, several vehicles, and two houses before coming to rest.

A weather study revealed that, at the time of the accident, a weak temperature inversion was present between 400 and 600 ft msl. The stable layer of air produced by the temperature inversion trapped any updrafts or downdrafts created by the wind flowing over nearby terrain. This created an environment favorable for the development of low level wind shear and turbulence below 600 ft msl. Although airplane performance data revealed that the pilot maintained an airspeed above the airplane’s stall speed throughout the landing approach, his decision to retract the flaps likely resulted in a sudden loss of lift. This loss of lift, combined with the low level wind shear and turbulent conditions, most likely resulted in the pilot’s loss of control during the approach for landing.

Probable cause: The pilot’s loss of airplane control following an encounter with low level wind shear and turbulence during final approach for landing. Contributing to the loss of control was the pilot’s decision to retract the wing flaps on final approach, which resulted in a sudden loss of lift.


Lake Hughes, CA

Injuries: 1 fatal

The instrument-rated private pilot/owner regularly used the airplane to commute for work between his home airport and an airport located about 80 miles to the south. On the day of the accident, the pilot departed his home airport and, about 5 minutes after takeoff, established the airplane on a direct course towards an aeronautical navigation beacon that was located on a mountain peak about 28 nautical miles south of the airport, at an elevation of 5,793 ft mean sea level (msl). After takeoff, the airplane initially climbed to about 7,300 ft msl, then descended to about 6,500 ft msl, before ultimately descending to about 5,750 ft msl, where it remained for the last several minutes of the flight.

The pilot was not in radio communication with any air traffic control (ATC) facility during the flight, and had not filed a flight plan, but the airplane had been tracked by ground-based ATC radar. The ATC radar track data ended near the accident site. Both radar and the data from the pilot’s onboard GPS device showed that the airplane remained in about straight and level flight for at least 8 minutes before the impact. The wreckage was located about 70 ft below the mountain peak. Ground scars and airplane damage indicated that the airplane was in level flight, with significant engine power, at the time of impact. Examination of the airframe and engine did not reveal any evidence of pre-impact mechanical deficiencies or failures that would have precluded normal operation. Available medical information revealed no evidence of pilot incapacitation.

Meteorological conditions at an airport near the accident location suggested that an overcast ceiling of about 4,750 ft msl was present near the accident site. That ceiling would have obscured the peak, and would have been about 1,000 ft lower than the impact point elevation. It is likely that the pilot flew into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), which obscured the peak from his view as he attempted to cross the mountain range. The investigation was unable to determine whether the pilot entered IMC intentionally or unintentionally, or how long the airplane was operating in IMC before impact.

The investigation was unable to determine why the pilot was operating on a track at an altitude that did not provide terrain clearance, even if he did intentionally enter IMC without operating under instrument flight rules. Because the ATC radar and GPS altitudes for the flight were congruent, altimetry malfunctions and errors can be eliminated as causal factors. The pilot’s GPS unit was capable of providing both visual and aural terrain/obstacle alerts, but the terrain and alert configuration settings of the GPS were not able to be determined. It is possible that the pilot either ignored or deactivated those features, and thereby deprived himself of those protection capabilities. Such a deactivation could have been the result of the pilot’s comfort level with flying in that region, or it could have been inadvertent. Although the investigation could not determine what assumptions, tools, or methods the pilot used to ensure adequate terrain clearance for the accident flight, the pilot Page 2 of 3 WPR17FA055 had sufficient and accurate information available, or potentially available, to enable him to avoid terrain.

All elements of this accident are consistent with a controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) event. Although the specific underlying reasons for the CFIT event could not be determined, it is likely that the pilot’s comfort with the route, combined with his determination to complete the flight to reach work, caused him to enter IMC. That entry into IMC, coupled with an improper route and altitude combination, resulted in the collision with the peak.

Probable cause: The pilot’s controlled flight into mountainous terrain while attempting to operate under visual flight rules in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC).


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Flying in Hell: Providing Air Support Following The Deepwater Horizon Explosion

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The water below was on fire. Thick billowing clouds of black smoke rose up from the surface, blocking the sun. Our aircraft was in a left bank, directing surface units 1,500 feet below, the aircraft buffeted with turbulence as we dodged fiery tornadoes that were reaching upward from the flames and waterspouts dropping down from the smoke above. We were doing our best to avoid flying into the walls of smoke while staying on mission and watching out for the dozens of other aircraft that were in the vicinity. The radio crackled—Omaha 55, a DHS P3 Orion, was vectoring in a rescue helicopter to a site where a life raft had been spotted…

It started out for me on a remote island near the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean. I flew for a charter company in Houston, and I was on layover. The waiter brought my breakfast along with a printout of the news. The lead story talked about a fire and explosion on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, the Deepwater Horizon. “Hmm, I wonder if we will get any charter business out of this,” I pondered. Little did I, or the rest of the world, know the true scope of the disaster that was unfolding.

Upon my return to the United States, I learned that yes, we would be getting some business out of this. In fact, we would be flying in support of this disaster for over a year to come. While most of our work in charter revolved around simply moving people from point A to point B, we had contracts to survey oil company assets in the Gulf following hurricanes. The response to this incident had similarities to our hurricane missions but involved challenges and hazards that no one had ever seen before.

In the days and weeks following the initial explosion, our missions fell into three categories. There were shuttle operations—moving people and equipment all around the Gulf Coast daily—handled by our Citation 650 jet fleet. We utilized King Air 200 turboprops for reconnaissance missions and in support of what we came to refer to as “burn flights.” We temporarily based several King Airs in Houma, Louisiana for several months, and they flew 10 hours each day.

Specially equipped high-altitude government recon aircraft were mapping the Gulf, locating possible oil slicks. These locations would be sent back, and then we would be dispatched for a closer inspection. The trick was not only to find the oil but to assess its age, as that dictated how it could best be mitigated. The experts in the back would then communicate to the command center, who would then allocate the appropriate resource to clean it up. Now, reconnaissance flying sounds pretty easy, but when you are operating under a charter certificate, you must adhere to 14 CFR 135.79, which deals with flight locating. In short, the company must know the location of the flight at all times—a challenging task when it’s in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico at 1,500 feet following a meandering oil slick. Add to that the fact that we had to coordinate our TFR entry and exit points and times with NORAD and the FSS. All of this flying had to be done VFR, at low altitude and on company flight plans. To meet our flight locating burden, we utilized a dedicated dispatcher at home base, a big map and satellite phones. We would phone in our position as often as every 10 minutes. Satellite-based GPS trackers were also employed, but while it was nice to have them, these portable models we had lacked the ability to communicate both ways, so they did not meet 14 CFR 135.79 to the FAA’s satisfaction.

The scope of this oil spill was unimaginable, and because of this, there was no end to the methods used to clean it up. Chemical dispersants were dropped on the oil, it was scooped up with booms and sucked into huge filtering ships, and the most interesting was to light it on fire and burn it off. Once a patch of candidate oil was located from the air, boats were vectored in, specially designed water was cooled, fireproof booms were floated and the oil was corralled. Once this was accomplished, someone in a small boat would motor over and throw a makeshift “Molotov cocktail” onto the oil, igniting it. We would then orbit above, monitoring the situation to make sure that they didn’t drag the fire into unwanted areas or other boats. Occasionally the fires would jump the booms, grow and be so big that they could be seen over 100 miles away. These missions were the most surreal, as often the sun was completely blacked out by smoke, the flames formed tornados that rose upward from the surface, and waterspouts were a common sight.

Safety was always the number one priority. With the Citation jets and their shuttle flights, the primary concern was in making sure that no hazardous materials were flown. With regard to reconnaissance and burn flights, ensuring that flight locating requirements were met and avoiding other aircraft were the big issues. We were told that there were upwards of 100 aircraft all operating within 10 square miles of the “source” (the term used to identify the actual spill location). There was good coordination between everyone involved, with regular safety briefings conducted with our team of pilots, helicopter operators and the response command structure. Customs and Border Protection kept a P3 Orion overhead to monitor activity, keep unauthorized aircraft away, and offer emergency response support. While they did not provide any traffic advisories, all aircraft would check in and out with them when entering and leaving the TFR. Aircraft were also assigned various altitudes, depending on what their mission was. Dispersant aircraft would fly below 500 feet, transiting helicopters were above that, and our burn/reconnaissance flights were at 1,500.

The burn flights had additional hazards beyond the fiery tornados, water spouts and dense smoke. With the diminished visibility and a myriad of distractions, disorientation and loss of control were very real dangers. Communication with our passengers was critical to the mission, and that began with a thorough briefing prior to launch. Parameters, limitations, communications, emergency procedures (ditching, exit door operation, life vest and raft) were all thoroughly discussed. The lead passenger was designated, and he/she was issued a headset and could speak directly with the cockpit. Regarding the crew, the pilot flying would do nothing but that—fly the airplane at all times (autopilot engaged was preferred)—and the pilot monitoring handled the radios, requests from the passengers, position reporting and maintenance of the flight log. Flying 10 hours a day with minimum required rest periods, fatigue was a problem. Once, while acting as monitoring pilot, I fell hard asleep while transiting to our assigned search coordinates. Additional hazards existed on the ground; a Coast Guard crewman almost walked into a spinning propeller and one of our Citation jets encountered severe helicopter wake turbulence upon landing. When the Homeland Security secretary decided to visit on short notice, she directed that Houma airport be suddenly closed for hours, causing flights to divert with low fuel upon returning from the Gulf. Several of our aircraft were grounded and required inspections after the Secret Service ordered them to be towed, even though the control locks were in place and they were placarded “Do Not Tow.” In the end, safety efforts paid off and there were no aviation accidents throughout the recovery.

In time, the spill was contained and flights shifted more to traditional passenger movement and then tapered off all together. Our charter business returned to normal, and soon I was on another trip back to the Caribbean. Reflecting on all the flying we had done in the previous year, the oil spill response was definitely the hardest I have ever worked as a pilot. It was made tolerable thanks to an incredible team of my fellow team members and supportive management. I feel proud to have made a contribution in the cleanup efforts of this historic disaster. I’ve labeled these flights carefully in my logbook. Perhaps my grandchildren one day can show that in class when they learn about this tragic event in school.

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