November 26, 2014

Stacy Clark’s How to Be An Air Traffic Controller 101

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Stacy rocking his Spanish World Cup Shoes in the tower.

Stacy rocking his Spanish World Cup Shoes in the tower.

By: Stacy Clark, 2001 

Note: Although this was originally written for VFR tower control much of it applies to all the ATC options.

After a particularly busy session one day a trainee asked me, “How do I do it, you make it look so easy?” This was my answer:

Being a controller comes down to those Nike commercials you’ve seen on TV… “Just Do It.” Simply put, you have no choice. The aircraft will keep coming whether or not it’s convenient for you at the time. As such, you need to make a conscious effort to foster those skills that are required for the job. You must learn to multitask. Whether that be writing and talking simultaneously, listening to two or three things at the same time, scanning the runway while thinking of your next move(s), observing what the other controller’s doing and how it fits into your (or their) overall plan, etc. Develop good habits in your strip, pad and board marking, in your scan pattern (pad/board, runway[s], scope, sky), in your basic phraseology and standard procedures. Listen actively. If someone reads something back wrong it is your job to catch it. If another controller misses something and you see it or hear it, it is your job to correct it. Control your frequencies. Talk to whom “you” need to talk to when you need to talk to them. You don’t need to answer each call as they happen. Prioritize. Work from the runway out; without the runway you’ve got squat. Learn your cutoffs, and then learn your outs…your safety valves, so to speak.

We all know that somewhat unjustified phrase “typical civil servant” and the negative connotation it brings forth in our minds. Never work from that angle while controlling. Never say to yourself, “Ah, its good enough, it’s all the same.” Working that way is nothing but laziness, pure and simple. And, it will generally bite you in the backside somewhere down the line. Never be an “Air Traffic Reactor.” You are an “Air Traffic Controller” – control – being the operative word. However, don’t over-control. Doing that is just as bad as not controlling enough. Always lay as much responsibility on the pilot as possible under the individual circumstance; take into account: wind, visibility, sky coverage, weather phenomena, speeds, aircraft performance, altitudes, pilot’s voice, etc. Think of these things as “tools”…because they are! Make your decisions and go with them, if they need changing along the line…do it, and do it then. ATC is a fluid game in practice, not highly rigid and inflexible. The decisions you make must always be the “best” for the overall picture. That is a learned skill that will come with time. As you gain experience, you will be able to see what needs to be done further out.

Though you may quietly have fear within you initially (as a developmental and as a newly rated controller) that will subside in time. NEVER transmit that fear over the radio to the pilots…they can smell it from a hundred miles away. They will begin to question you and your airspace will go sideways in a hurry. Never get angry, if you do, you will become fixated on that particular pilot and your pattern will suffer. Don’t forget the phrase “Remain outside delta airspace and standby.” Use it only as a last resort however. Try and avoid using “360′s” as a way of building space as generally the problem will come right back at you in 359.5 degrees, try suggested headings, 270′s to base/final, pointing the aircraft to a landmark, or to a point, etc. Always try and keep things flowing toward the airport. Use mind trip switches, i.e.: “report 3 miles,” “report xxx.” And then make an effort to call them before they call you. Understand you cannot make a pilot see another aircraft. It is ludicrous to play the “I’m not gonna clear you until you report him in sight” game. Sequence him and clear him…period. Then make sure it works. After a while those things that used to spin you around will become second nature and you will know what to do…because you’ve seen it a hundred times before. Learn from your mistakes and make mental notes to not do “that” again. SIT-DOWN, don’t stand up unless you absolutely need to. If there’s no chair then stand in one place… do not pace. Pacing only makes you “feel” busier than you usually are…it also wears out the carpet. If you “feel” something’s not right, it probably isn’t. Listen to that little voice inside your head…it’s trying to tell you something. Develop those gut feelings, for example, a pilot tells you he has the guy he’s supposed to follow in sight and your gut tells you “He’s seeing the wrong guy,” you’re probably right.

Know the 7110.65 and the AIM…know the exceptions. Know your local procedures and LOA’s cold. Know your approaches. Know your type aircraft and wake turbulence. Know your approach categories and how that fits in with the minimums. Learn and know those things that “seem” like just stuff that you memorize to pass the tests. Know the Departure Procedures and arrival routes/approaches for nearby airports and realize how those things affect “your” facility, and how your facility affects theirs. I strongly recommend getting a flight simulator (Microsoft) and “fly” them, fly the airways, know what headings get you from your airport to airport XYZ. Go flying as much as possible with local pilots. Not only does it build rapport but you’ll also learn volumes. Know your airspace from the pilot’s point of view. Observe from inside the cockpit what they are doing, and when. Understand their procedures and priorities. Know more than your fellow controllers; know more than the pilots. Know the minutiae. What does a Centurion and a Cardinal have in common…? (No wing struts, except for the original Centurion). What does a Cardinal and a Cherokee have in common? (Stabilator). What does a Cherokee and an Ercoupe have in common? (Designed by the same guy). Why is a Citabria called that…? (Spell it backwards…). And so on. Little tidbits like these may seem way beyond the pale, but these little extra bits of knowledge combined with a solid foundation are what make an average controller an excellent one. It’s your choice what type of controller you want to be. It’s in your hands…and so are the pilots and passengers. Good luck.

Priming the System – G’ing-up for the 2013 Season

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It’s that time of year again and people are beginning to gear up for the upcoming 2013 competition season.  With that said, there are many things to consider as you ramp back up.  How is your airplane? Any squawks during the annual? Has it been looked at closely since it was buttoned up for winter? Be sure to take the time to look it over closely, extra close if it has been sitting for a few months (even if it has been in a hangar).  And how about your parachute – has it been stored properly? Is it still within its packing dates or does it need to be repacked before you start flying again?

 

And how about you? Are you healthy? Have you been eating well and staying hydrated? Are you in shape? All things to consider before you start beating up your body and plane in the aerobatic box.

 

 

This blog is simply to mention G-tolerance.  Remember that you build a tolerance up and then if not maintained it will diminish.  Thus, if you’re just getting back into flying aerobatics, your body may need a week or two of flying (maybe even more) to get the systems primed again.  So take it easy initially, begin to add the G’s incrementally and remember that you don’t need to go for aerobatic endurance flights – 10-15 minutes of practice the first handful of flights is plenty! To be honest, I rarely practice more than 15-20 minutes at a time even when I’m at the peak of my training season.  And as for those negative G’s that so many of us know and love (or hate), it seems to require less training to regain a “tolerance” level.  I would argue that the negative G training should be light and minimal on each flight as it is less about priming your system and more about being able to maintain a relaxed state while under negative G in order to reduce your chances of bodily harm (remember if you strain you actually increase the pressure in your head during negative G maneuvers).  Many people have argued that large quantities of negative G are unhealthy (and anyone who has pushed a lot on a flight and had the negative G hangover for the rest of the day would probably agree) thus remember, one or two pushes a flight is more than enough in practice. Just remember to stay relaxed, don’t tense up and enjoy the ride.

 

A healthy diet, exercise and regular flights to keep your G tolerance up will not only help you feel better but also increase your levels of safety and success for each and every competition flight.  We are all vigilant about caring for our aircraft and parachutes but we must remember that our bodies also play an incredibly significant role and should be maintained just the same.

 

Have fun safe flights and I’ll look forward to seeing everyone around the competition circuit!

Pondering the Importance of Pre-Flighting

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“This was from a Cessna 402 – the bottom is of course water with 100LL on top. Could have made a quiet flight if the fuel lines got cold!” – Donivan G.

The importance of pre-flighting is one of the very first things we learn as student pilots.  Follow your checklist.  Carefully walk around the airplane.  Check all the moving parts to make sure they move correctly and freely.  Inspect to make sure rivets, safety wire, cotter pins and screws are all in place.  How is the fuel quantity?  Did you check for water and sediment from the tanks as well as the lowest points in the system? Propeller, brakes, tires, flaps…the list goes on and on.

“During the run up, 2 EGTs’ were abnormally high on the right mag. Pulled back to the hanger because “it’s not right.” We pulled the mag harness (after looking at a bunch of other stuff) and found it was arching causing two plugs to not fire.” – Robert L.

Still it is amazing how quickly the importance of pre-flighting can disappear when people begin to rush or get complacent with experience.  And as important as pre-flighting is in general aviation, arguably it is even more important when aerobatic flight is added into the equation.  I would also argue that what aerobatic pilots know – or at least should know – is useful for all aviators whether they are flying a Piper Cub, Cirrus or Citation.

 

Aerobatic Pre-Flight = Risk Mitigation:

 

1. Sterile Cockpit

Aerobatic pilots know all about this – we toss our aircraft all over the sky and often it is open from the cockpit down the tail making it very easy for loose objects to find their way down to jam controls whether it be the stick, cables, tubes, etc.  But this is still something that is often disregarded by many as they become more and more complacent over time.  Pouches that Velcro closed do NOT guarantee safety – if you’re going to have a pouch in your plane make sure it is SUPER secured and consider one that has a zipper instead of Velcro. My personal opinion is don’t have anything in the plane but that’s not always a viable option.  But, for instance, flying with a cell phone in your pant pocket or Velcro pouch in the plane (which are easily opened or missed during pre-flight) is a commonly disregarded danger.  Is it worth the risk of jamming your controls just so you can sneak a picture of yourself for Facebook during a practice flight? Probably not.

I personally abide by the “EVERYTHING out that is not 100% necessary for that specific flight” rule.  If you’re flying cross country you’ll need different things than when you’re flying aerobatics – but either way maintaining a sterile cockpit and awareness of where everything is in the plane at all times may save you and/or your passengers life.

 

2. Parachutes

Believe it or not parachutes are not required in all countries – and for those of you who know your regs you know that if you’re flying solo (as long as the plane isn’t placarded that parachutes are required) you don’t have to wear a chute even here in the States.  But, is that wise? Most reasonable people would probably argue no – why take away your ace-in-the-hole?  Again, it is all about risk mitigation and having a parachute is often the only way out in the case of a catastrophic emergency.

Be sure that your parachute is in current pack and if you are borrowing one find out who packs the chute.  Additionally know how the parachutes are cared for and stored.  If the chute is regularly tossed on the hangar floor, left in the sun all day in the cockpit and the containers look uncared for those are all signs to beware.  You don’t want to be wearing a parachute that has been left resting in a puddle of oil, for example.  Remember that it is your one out if bailing becomes the proper response so take the time to look it over.

 

3. Know How & What to Pre-flight

Do you know the specifics of pre-flighting the exact type of airplane you are flying? Do you know the weak points, the places that may have caused problems or accidents in the past? Some airplanes have weak points in the tails, some have had rudder cable issues, etc.  If you know these things you can double check these areas and you should!  By knowing the history of the overall type of aircraft you are flying you will be much better prepared to pre-flight.

 

4. Maintenance

Of course it is important to know the maintenance history of an airplane your flying.  If you are borrowing an airplane make sure to talk to the owner and maybe even ask around to see if there is anything you should know prior to getting in an airplane.  Again, some people may be willing to take more risk with their aircraft and their life than you are – you make the final decision as to whether you will fly a specific airplane or not and you do not need to explain your decision if you choose not to.

If you are renting an aircraft absolutely do the research necessary to find out about the maintenance on the plane.  Often flight schools only have one or two aerobatic aircraft (if any!) amidst a fleet of GA airplanes and have no idea how important and specific maintenance for aerobatic planes is.  The best thing is if they have a mechanic who knows, understands and has experience with aerobatic aircraft.  Remember, going back to the sterile cockpit discussion, it is less of a concern to leave a tool under the seat in a Cessna – this same small error in a Decathlon, Pitts or Extra can be deadly.

 

5. The Pilot

Hopefully everyone knows of the IMSAFE checklist – we know that as pilots we need to pre-flight ourselves as well.  How are we feeling? Are we fighting a cold? Are we fatigued? How are our stress levels (and keep in mind that stressors are all negative things in our life – weddings, the birth of a child, etc. are also stressors)?  Every pilot, not matter what they are flying needs to make sure that they are physically and mentally ready to fly and that means that they are ready to fly in less-than-perfect conditions in case things change unexpectedly in flight.  In aerobatics this is also incredibly important as the stress placed on the brain and body are even more significant than that experienced in most GA airplanes.  If you’re not feeling 100% remember it’s okay to take the day off.

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What this blog boils down to is safety.  Every time we set foot in an airplane we are taking a certain amount of risk and the way we make flying as safe as possible is all about risk mitigation and preparation.  What makes things even riskier at times is when we are renting or borrowing aerobatic aircraft as opposed to flying our own.  If you fly your own aircraft you know where it has been, how it has been cared for and flown, you can set it up exactly how you like, and so forth.  Still, often those who own their own planes become complacent in pre-flighting because they know what happened on the last flight and often forget that things may change even when sitting on the ground untouched between flights.  A friend on Facebook relayed the following story to me:

 

At a fly-in a guy went around with a large collection of clothespins. He put them in various places on the aircraft: non-pilot side flap, elevator, pitot tube, etc then sat at the end of the runway and took pictures of aircraft and their clothes pins! The harmless pins would not affect flight but teach a great lesson! – Thanks Spencer A. for the story!

 

On the other hand, when renting or borrowing an aircraft there are numerous unknowns including if the person/people before you have taken the sterile cockpit approach, maintenance history, procedures (are other renters caring for the engine appropriately?), etc.

 

“This might lead to further investigation!” – Chad S.

 

What is the moral of the story? Pre-flighting is important! Don’t become complacent – even if it just between same-day flights (remember every aerobatic flight stresses the airplane significantly!).  Stay vigilant and always try to learn as much as you can about the type of plane you’re flying as well as the specific airplane you are flying.  And always remember – you are pilot in command – if something is not right, don’t push it (even if it is the hair on the back of your neck standing up for what is seemingly no reason…sometimes attention should be paid to gut feelings) – the safety of your and your passenger(s) is the most important thing!

 

“This is a picture of the back side of the pilot’s left rudder pedal of the Kitfox IV I used to own. The crack is between the main pedal post and the arm that attaches the rudder cable, and completely out of sight. I noticed that left rudder was getting mushy so I did a full stop and felt around and found the crack. The welds on early Kitfox kits were not normalized so a few higher stress weld seams developed cracks. The Kitfox company issued service bulletins on this, but the mechanic I had performing the conditional inspection (annual) was not familiar with it. Don’t know how long the crack had been developing but it was about to fail.” – David I.

 

Don’t Let Fear Stall Your Flying!

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Why are pilots scared of stalls? This is something I have asked myself time and time again. And more importantly, it is a question that I, as well as the majority of certificated pilots, have had to personally face. I was never terrified of stalls but at the same time I was also never comfortable with them.  The majority of my training occurred in a Cessna and my first stalls happened during the first few flights with no ground preparation.  Depending on who you ask about this to you will that probably receive one of two reactions to teaching stalls in this manner – either it will create less nervous anxiety or induce unnecessary fear.  For me I just was never really sure of what was going on with stalls and because of this I was never comfortable with them.  A wing-drop, which at the time I considered severe, is actually what led to my first flight with Sean D. Tucker.  My first taste of aerobatic flight is what started me on the road to becoming an aerobatic competitor, instructor and student of aviation safety….but I digress….

Back to the story… I made it through my private pilot checkride and then came my instrument, commercial, multi-engine and instructor training.  Stalls had become more comfortable for me, although that was because my control of them increased. My spin training, consisting of nothing more than a short ground session followed by a flight of a few spins in each direction in a Cessna 152 didn’t make me nervous…I thought I had it in the bag.  But, when the time came for me to give my first instructional flight that required me to go out with a student and have them do stalls I realized that I wasn’t at all comfortable with the idea of stalls let alone spins.  But why?  I had almost every rating I could have with the hours that I had, I studied and trained diligently.   Yet the questions remain.  Why are most pilots so uncomfortable with stalls and spins? And how does one overcome it?

I have been considering the question of why it seems almost natural for stalls and spins to go hand-in-hand with anxiety and fear. I think that the answer is far from simple but here are a few thoughts:

  1. Stalls are misunderstood.

Stalls (and spins) are misunderstood by many (and I’d hazard to say most) pilots, including flight instructors, and thus are often glossed over both on the ground and in the air with just enough to get students through the written and practical exams. Unfortunately stalls and spins are also often completely misunderstood and misconstrued in books, websites, and in other training materials.

2.   Stall experience is limited, at best, for most pilots.

Most pilots do whatever stall training is required for their certificate(s) and then rarely practice them again other than when a BFR or other recurrency flights require. With this, full stalls are rarely practiced more than a few times outside of primary training and stall recovery occurs at the first indication of a stall whether that be the stall warning horn/light, stick shaker or buffet. Training in flying an aircraft at the edges, including learning how to fly aircraft safe to do so in a stall, let alone practicing these slow flight and stalls regularly on our own are often the last thing on a pilot’s mind.

3.   Flying isn’t natural.

Flying is not a natural thing for, at least most, humans. We find what is both physically and psychologically the most comfortable, which is straight-and-level flight, and then do the minimal about outside of that attitude. Because of this we condition ourselves to become comfortable in that state but if the attitude of the aircraft is altered our comfort level quickly dissipates

 

Overall it seems that the fear and anxiety that accompanies stalls for most pilots comes from incomplete and/or incorrect information and understanding, lack of comfort (increased sensitivity) and lack of experience. So what are the ways to fix these issues? I will save my rant about increasing standards for flight instructors for another blog – as I believe that providing proper instruction is the root of a lot of this issue – but outside of that there are some things that you, as the pilot, can do to make yourself a safer and more confident pilot.

  1. Increase your knowledge.

Learn all you can about stalls – the aerodynamics, what they really are and what really affects them. Do you truly understand that a stall is not directly controlled by airspeed and what “stall speed” is? Or if you really want a challenge – try finding a complete lift/drag curve diagram to see what happens after a stall (since most books provide a diagram that ends after a sharp drop-off after the stall which isn’t 100% true). Find a flight instructor that has a lot of stall and unusual attitude experience and knowledge and pick their brain about that subject.

2.   Gain experience.

Like everything in life – experience, although not the only thing to rely on in sticky situations, can greatly assist you in making the right choices when faced with unexpected situations. The more experience you have, the easier it will be for you to react in high stress circumstances. For this, again, I recommend finding a flight instructor with an aerobatic airplane and lots of experience and knowledge so that you can be comfortable that you are in a safe and controlled situation to allow you to experience all edges of the flight envelop.

3.  Get comfortable – desensitize yourself.

This idea goes hand-in-hand with gaining experience, but I believe requires a little more discussion.  When gaining experience it is not specified whether the experience will be pleasant or unpleasant. The idea here is to become comfortable with stalls so that any stall situation, although potentially unpleasant if unexpected in certain situations, will be something that does not induce a panic or fear-based reaction in you. By experiencing stalls over and over in all difference situations and ingraining the recovery techniques, your brain and senses will become more desensitized to the situation and thus will allow you to react with a cooler and more collected manner.

A good flight school with well-trained instructors and well-maintained equipment is a must!

Stalls are simply a decrease in lift associated with exceeding the wing’s critical angle of attack. By reducing the angle of attack on the wing the stall is broken. This can occur at any power setting and at any airspeed. Of course if this happens close to the ground the outcome is often not a good one but when done a safe altitude (in many airplane types), it is not only quite safe but also a non-event.  By learning more about what a stall is, how they are manipulated, and all of the signs that accompany one you can increase your piloting skills will decreasing your chances of ever finding yourself in an unintentional stalling situation.   So find a good flight school with aircraft and instructors that are designed for this type of training, head up to altitude, and find out what stalls are all about!

Don’t Let Fear Stall Your Flying!

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Aerodynamic Tuft Testing

Why are pilots scared of stalls? This is something I have asked myself time and time again. And more importantly, it is a question that I, as well as the majority of certificated pilots, have had to personally face. I was never terrified of stalls but at the same time I was also never comfortable with them. My first stalls in the Cessna 150 in which I did the majority of my primary training occurred in the first few flights with no ground preparation – probably an unconventional way to “teach” stalls, but a way that I can see potentially creating less nervous anxiety. Still, I was never comfortable, and with my only experience in a small plane being limited to the straight and level of primary training, even the normal wing-drops that are often commonplace during stalls had me a little on edge.Still, I made it through. And then came my instrument, commercial and multi-engine training followed up with my instructor training. Stalls had become more comfortable for me, although that was because my control of them increased. My spin training, consisting of nothing more than a short ground session followed by a flight of a few spins in each direction in a Cessna 152 didn’t make me nervous…I thought I had it in the bag. But, that it was that first instructional flight that required me to go out with a student and have them do stalls when I realized that I wasn’t at all comfortable with the idea of stalls let alone spins. But why?  And how does one overcome it?

 

I have been considering the question of why it seems almost natural for stalls and spins to go hand-in-hand with anxiety and fear. I think that the answer is far from simple and is multi-faceted.

1. Stalls are misunderstood.

Stalls (and spins) are misunderstood by many pilots, including flight instructors, and thus are often glossed over both on the ground and in the air with just enough to get students through the written and practical exams. Unfortunately stalls and spins are often completely misunderstood and misconstrued even in books, websites, and other training materials.

2. Stall experience is limited, at best, for most pilots.

Most pilots do whatever stall training is required for their certificate(s) and then rarely practice them again other than when a BFR or other recurrency flights require. With this, full stalls are rarely practiced more than a few times outside of primary training and stall recovery occurs at the first indication of a stall whether that be the stall warning horn/light, stick shaker or buffet. Training in flying an aircraft at the edges of the flight envelop let alone practicing these slow flight and stalls regularly on our own are often the last thing on a pilot’s mind.

3. Flying isn’t natural.

I believe that flying is not a natural thing for, at least most, humans. We find what is both physically and psychologically the most comfortable, which is straight-and-level flight, and then do the minimal about outside of that attitude. Because of this we condition ourselves to become comfortable in that state but if the attitude of the aircraft is altered our comfort level quickly dissipates

 

Overall it seems that the fear and anxiety that accompanies stalls for most pilots comes from incomplete and/or incorrect information and understanding, lack of comfort (increased sensitivity) and lack of experience. So what are the ways to fix these issues? I will save my rant about increasing standards for flight instructors for another blog – as I believe that providing proper instruction is the root of a lot of this issue – but outside of that there are some things that you, as the pilot, can do to make yourself a safer and more confident pilot.

1. Increase your knowledge.

Learn all you can about stalls – the aerodynamics, what they really are and what really affects them. Do you truly understand that a stall is not directly controlled by airspeed and what “stall speed” is? Or if you really want a challenge – try finding a complete lift/drag curve diagram to see what happens after a stall (since most books provide a diagram that ends after a sharp drop-off after the stall which isn’t 100% true). Find a flight instructor that has a lot of stall and unusual attitude experience and knowledge and pick their brain about that subject.

2. Gain experience.

Like everything in life – experience, although not the only thing to rely on in sticky situations, can greatly assist you in making the right choices when faced with unexpected situations. The more experience you have, the easier it will be for you to react in high stress circumstances. For this, again, I recommend finding a flight instructor with an aerobatic airplane and lots of experience and knowledge so that you can be comfortable that you are in a safe and controlled situation to allow you to experience all edges of the flight envelop.

3. Get comfortable – desensitize yourself.

This idea goes hand-in-hand with gaining experience, but I believe requires a little more discussion.  When gaining experience it is not specified whether the experience will be pleasant or unpleasant. The idea here is to become comfortable with stalls so that any stall situation, although potentially unpleasant if unexpected in certain situations, will be something that does not induce a panic or fear-based reaction in you. By experiencing stalls over and over in all difference situations and engraining the recovery techniques, your brain and senses will become more desensitized to the situation and thus will allow you to react with a cooler and more collected manner.

 

Stalls are simply a decrease in lift associated with exceeding the wing’s critical angle of attack. By reducing the angle of attack on the wing the stall is broken. This can occur at any power setting and at any airspeed. Of course if this happens close to the ground the outcome is often not a good one. By learning more about what a stall is, how they are manipulated, and all of the signs that accompany one you can increase your piloting skills will decreasing your chances of ever finding yourself in an unintentional stalling situations.

 

Ever wonder what the airflow looks like as an airplane stalls? Check out the video that www.pilottraining.ca and www.harvsair.com posted on youtube after tufting their DA40′s wings:

 

Why Fly a Tailwheel?

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It is such an interesting thing to be in a group of pilots and bring up the word “Tailwheel” and then watch the response. It is interesting because it always elicits a different response. Some pilots drawback in distaste because of the things they have heard about how difficult they are to manage. I have one friend who refuses to ever fly one because of his experience years ago (long before he became a pilot) when the pilot he was flying with made it out to appear to be the most difficult airplane to fly on the planet. They were flying a Cessna 180.  Yet other responses will include grins, a glimmer in the eye, and sometimes even pure laughter in remembering a past experience. How is it that such a simple airplane design can conjure up so many different responses in the aviation community? And what is the real story behind this mysterious bird? The list of questions can go on and on but the real question is, is there a benefit to flying a tailwheel airplane? I mean, why, if almost all new aircraft are tricycle gear, would you ever want to learn how to fly one of those old, often fabric, tailwheels?

 

There are many reasons to take on any type of additional flight training; every time you dedicate yourself to learning a new aviation skill you are improving your piloting abilities, your understanding of flight and increasing your confidence. You become a safer pilot with each additional training experience you take. So you might wonder, what does a tailwheel have to offer that other aircraft types may not?

 

  1. Patty Wagstaff's Extra

    Tailwheel aircraft hone stick-and-rudder skills.

This is because you experience the aerodynamics much more so than you do in tricycle gear aircraft, both when you’re on the ground and in the air. While learning how to manage your MFD’s and PFD’s, autopilots and anti-icing systems, stick-and-rudder skills are often under developed in today’s modern general aviation aircraft. This doesn’t mean that these aircraft are not great aircraft, it just means that as pilots we need to be sure to do our part to round-out our skills so we become the most well-rounded and safe pilots we can be.

 

 

 

2. Tailwheel aircraft teach focus and vigilance.

 

Ben Freelove getting ready to fly Tutima Academy's Extra 300L.

Tailwheels aren’t tough to fly, they just require more “work” than your common general aviation aircraft. But, really, what is “work”? Work means paying attention. Work means focusing on what the airplane is doing, understanding why it is doing it and being cognizant of how to manage it appropriately. Work is the effort the pilot provides during the flight to safely control the aircraft in the most precise manner possible. Tailwheel aircraft are fun to fly and often make pilots feel more like a pilot than they ever have before, but that is because they don’t let you get away with sloppy technique or lack of attention during take-off’s and landings. They do exactly what you tell them to do, nothing more, nothing less. These traits allow them to teach aviators precision, focus, and amazing airmanship.

 

 

3. Tailwheel aircraft offer a variety of missions often not available in common tricycle gear aircraft.

Crop Duster sitting in her hangar at KAAA in 2008.

 

If you are one of those aviation enthusiasts that have watched every unique flight video on YouTube then you know that these aircraft offer an amazing array of missions and opportunities. From a 65hp J-3 Cub just like the ones that WWII aviators started out in to a Pitts aerobatic biplane or from an Aviat Husky on 29” Tundra Tires landing on riverbeds to a DC-3 delivering mail around Alaska – tailwheel aircraft can pretty much do it all.

 

 

 

 

4. Tailwheel aircraft connects today’s pilots with yesterday’s aviators.

 

Duggy the DC-3

If you take a non-pilot and put them in front of two aircraft, a Cessna 152 or a Piper J3 Cub, which one do you think they will pick to go for a ride in? Of course this could lead to a debate but from experience I can tell you that given the opportunity people often flock to tailwheels. I believe this is very much due to the fact that all of us have seen old photos and videos of the Red Barron, the aces of WWII and prominent aviators and aviatrixes like Lindburgh and Earhart all flying tailwheels. There’s a connection to the excitement, adventure and heroism of the past that is forever linked to these aircraft, even if it is an aircraft that was built this year!

 

I may be a bit biased because I am a tailwheel enthusiast with the best of them, but I would throw out the challenge to any pilot looking to sharpen their airmanship while becoming a safer and more confident pilot to look into a tailwheel endorsement. Not only is the knowledge applicable to every other airplane you will fly in, but it is sure to be a fun and exciting adventure to add to your logbook!

 

Looking for tailwheel instruction in your area? Check out the EAA’s website, IAC’s website, or contact your local flight school. If you’re in California and looking to try your hand at it contact JATO Aviation to find out more about how you can learn to fly tailwheels in their 2010 Super Decathlon with Chelsea Stein Engberg.

A-LOC at 8 G’s

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Just breath. Focus on your breathing, be confident, and do your best. Stay relaxed. These are the phrases that were running through my head as I made the walk across the NASTAR Center towards the Phoenix Centrifuge. I was dressed in the CBAR (Chemical Biological Airman’s Respirator) under my helmet along with the Anti-G Suit, Torso Harness, Overvest, Maywest, and then the 02 Regulator Vest. It took three people to help me gear up and now I felt like a space invader! This was my third ride in the Phoenix since we had arrived this week, but this was different, this was a real test run, this was it.

 

 

 

Chelsea all geared up!

 

In all of this gear you can warm up rather quickly and you can hear your breath as it comes in and out through the regulator. Now I know how Darth Vadar must have felt.

 

Chelsea trying to pretend she's not nervous!

 

On top of all of this being new, the extended G, the high-G centrifuge rides, and the equipment, there was also the anxiety attached to the unknown. How was I going to perform? Was I going to be able to provide any useful data to the researchers and the Navy, because really, that is what I was there for? Was I going to be able to stay awake?

 

We had spent many of the days before, including this one, preparing and watching others go through familiarization flights and today, through actual test spins. The profile of the day was as follows:

 

The USN Profile modified slightly:

 

US Navy Profile - Gradual followed by rapid onsets starting at 5G's for 30 seconds and the rest for 15second each

 

One or two rounds (up to the test subject) of the Woody Profile:

 

The dreaded Woody Profile

 

And finally the USAF Profile:

 

USAF Profile - Rapid Onset to 7, 8 and 9 G's for 15 seconds each.

 

After getting strapped into the gondola the friendly “voice of god” from the control room rang through my helmet asking if I was ready to get started…here goes nothin’!

 

First run is just a conditioning for the cardiovascular system – gradual onset up to 7.5 G’s max, up to me how far I want to go. 2….2 and half….3….3 and a half….4….4 and a half….5….5 and half….6 and I came off the “dead man’s switch” – no reason to tire myself out right off the bat, and I was feeling good.

 

Next run, rapid onset (6 G’s/sec), otherwise known to 5 G’s for 30 seconds after a minimum of 2 minutes of rest. I rested a little longer than that then pulled the trigger and held on as I heard “G coming on in 5…4…3…2…1…NOW.” At 2 I’m tensing my legs, butt and abs and at 1 I take a deep breath and start the Hick Maneuver. This one felt great, and I was happy to survive the 30 seconds with limited strain because I knew there was more to come.

 

Next runs came rapid onsets to 6 G’s for 15 seconds, then 7 G’s for 15 seconds and finally 7.5 G’s for 15 seconds with a minimum of 2-minutes rest between each. I quickly discovered that taking a bit more time between runs allowing time for my heart rate and breathing to come down helped greatly. I found out one evening after the runs were done and we were buttoning things up that the only other place that heart rates as high as ours are seen normally is in power lifting! Goes to show how much your body is working under this much stress!

 

Then came a minimum of 5 minutes rest before the Woody Profile started. This one made me a little worried, it is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before and a lot of G fast and in rapid succession. In my right hand I had the stick with my index finger on the trigger (dead man switch) which we hold down unless we want the G to come off (for any reason) or when we’re between runs during the profiles. On my left index finger is a pulseoximeter and in my hand was a button that we are supposed to press and hold with any light/color/vision loss and release once our vision is back to 100%. After I rested up I took a deep cleansing breath and squeezed the trigger in my right hand and in 5…4…3…2…1…bam! The G was on. My vision started to grey and tunnel slightly so I depressed the button in my left hand as I strained harder to get the vision back. As the G started to come off my vision popped back and I released the trigger. Yes, that’s right, the trigger, not the button in my left hand. And just like that my attempt at the Woody was over because I had gotten the buttons/triggers confused. I guess that’s what happens when you are struggling to provide your brain with blood – not thinking as clearly as one would hope!

 

Chelsea borrowing Patrick's helmet for a photo op.

 

The next run was the USAF profile which requires bringing the centrifuge to a stop, opening up the gondola and switching over to the positive pressure breathing regulator – it’s a great time to relax before the rapid onsets to 7, 8, and then 9 G’s each for 15 seconds on top. I made it through 7 and took some extra time to rest before pulling the trigger for 8. At this point I was tired. I was sweating. I was worn out but I wanted to keep trucking towards 9. About 5 seconds into the 8 G’s sustained my vision started to grey and tunnel, and then I started to realize I couldn’t control what my eyes were doing, and they were each doing something different. I could see, but my field of vision was reduced. Then I started to feel my right hand weaken, just around the time that the G was going to come off I couldn’t squeeze any longer with my hand and felt it start to slide down the stick and it started to shake. In my head I first thought, wow my eyes are being weird quickly followed by what the hell is my hand doing?! As the G came off I said, “Wow, I just A-LOC’d!” (A-LOC = ALMOST LOST OF CONSCIOUSNESS). From inside the control room they had an inclination that I had just because my eyes got a bit goofy, but in the observation room no one had a clue that I had until I said that. I was 100% aware the entire time, conscious of everything that was going. An amazing experience and something I’m glad occurred in a controlled environment.

 

My very own size chart!

 

So the chart was hung a little low (as I was just shy of 5'4" when I arrived - but you get a feel for how much I lost in one run!

I decided to not push on to 9G’s, I figured one round of getting that close to G-LOC’ing (GRAVITY-INDUCED LOSS OF CONSCIOUSNESS) was enough for me. So after I got out of the Phoenix and headed back to the briefing room I got out of all of my gear. I headed over the height chart that they surprised me with earlier that morning to see if I had compressed at all after the spin. Of course they had raised it while I was in the gondola so we all had a good laugh. But then they moved it back down to where it was originally (they had marked the wall) and low and behold (no pun intended) I was 3/8 – ½ inch shorter than when I went in. As if I wasn’t short enough already…I left just hoping that I’d stretch back out before I had to get back in on Monday!

 

 

Centrifuge History – Welcome to Warminster!

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The centrifuge in the height of its use. Photo downloaded from http://www.navairdevcen.org/Pix_DFS/html/dfs23.htm

There are few places in the United States where you can walk inside a life-sized piece of history. You can walk into a museum and see all of the artifacts, artwork, or airplanes that have been transported there with their descriptive signs and plaques next to them. You can watch movies and newsreels of past events and see the people that made history. But how many times have you had the opportunity to step inside history, stand in the exact same place as these historic figures, or even sit in the same equipment that changed the history of science across the globe?

 

John Glenn getting ready to go for a spin.

The centrifuge gondola today.

In my travels to Pennsylvania working with the NASTAR Center I have grown more and more interested in centrifuge research and of course the history that goes with it. Lucky for me the world’s largest/most powerful centrifuge to date is located only about 15 minutes away from NASTAR and the wonderful people that are involved in its preservation and museum were nice enough to accommodate us for a private tour of the facility.

Warminster Ejection Tower.

 

The Johnsville Centrifuge located in Warminster, PA, once the home of the U.S. Naval Air Warfare Center, is no longer running but is still in its building with all of the control rooms intact. Just pulling up out front of this 6-story tall giant round building you are struck with the realization of what once occurred on these grounds. For instance,  a huge ejection seat tower looms adjacent to the parking area.  This place did serious research that not only helped increase safety for military aviators but played a very significant role in the Space Race.

 

Centrifuge Control Room

Stepping inside the doors into the lobby you quickly realize that you are walking in the same halls as so many incredibly historical figures also did, including presidents, scientists, military brass, fighter pilots, and of course, astronauts. From the briefing room to the observation room where the astronauts and test subjects would wait for their turn in the gondola, you can feel the energy. This is living history.

 

Patrick attempted to start her up.

 

 

Look closely at one of the handwritten notes on the wall.

The stories within the walls are far too many to be crammed into one blog, so please keep checking back for others as I research more about the facility and its history which is rich with untold stories. From water tubs and lazy boys being strapped to the gondola to hand-written notes on the walls, you are surrounded by unimaginable amounts of history.

 

If you are ever in the vicinity of Philadelphia or Warminster I highly recommend taking the time to get in touch with the museum and check out this amazing location for yourself. Nowhere else will you experience the opportunity to stand, touch, sit and imagine in the exact same spot as people like Alan Sheppard, John Glen, and Neil Armstrong just to name a few!

Alan Sheppard getting into the Gondola.

 

 

 

 

 

Chelsea inside the gondola right where Alan Sheppard is standing in his photo.

Also, for anyone interested in finding out more about this amazing place please visit their website or contact Go Inverted. They are currently looking for donations and/or investors to save the entire building and the equipment from being lost to development with the goal of creating a full-blown museum and event center (believe it or not you can rent it out now and hold events on the floor of the centrifuge with the arm and the gondola set as the backdrop). This is an historic site that would be sad to see lost, so if you have any ideas or if you are interested in donating please let us know.

 


Further Reading and Information:

Johnsville Centrifuge & Museum Website

The Centrifuge is on FaceBook

Donate to the Museum

“The_G_Machine” – Air & Space Magazine

Classic NASA Film – Freedom 7 Training (includes footage of the Johnsville Centrifuge)

 

 

USN Centrifuge Research Day 1

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So I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into when I accepted an offer to be a test subject for some mask testing for the US Navy through the NASTAR Center. Yet, because of my inquisitive nature (and a sometimes ignorant sense of adventure) I couldn’t say no. The tests are going to include two familiarization flights along with two test rides – each test flight will include 3 different profiles (USN, Woody, USAF) leading to about 65 minutes in the centrifuge with both gradual and rapid G onsets up to 9Gz!

 

The Lego-Fuge...of course there are toys for all ages around when pilots are involved!

 

Maybe you’re thinking what I was thinking this morning…what in the heck did I get myself into? Thankfully fellow aerobatic pilot and friend, Patrick Dugan, is also here (and the only other civilian test subject in the group) so we are sharing the experience by making sure to Tweet, Facebook and photograph one another as we go through the process.

 

You should always wonder what it means when what you just volunteered for requires an ambulance!

 

With that said….today was the drinking from a fire hose day. Brief started at 9am which covered everything from the testing, the profiles, physiology of G-forces on the body, stressor effects on G-tolerance, and AGSM (Anti-G Straining Maneuver) which is better known in the US Navy as the Hook Maneuver.  Oh yeah, and a special briefing for moi, the only girl in the test group, about having to take a pregnancy test every test day to make sure I’m not going to have G-afflicted kids!

 

Chelsea's "required" centrifuge testing gear.

 

Patrick getting fitted for his G-Suit while another pilot gets fitted with his mask in the background.

From there it was time for the fun to begin – G-suit fitting. Patrick went first and after some modifications he was rocking his new blow-up (later to be blow-out) britches. Then it was my turn – which of course wasn’t nearly as easy as one would expect because, and I quote, “they weren’t expecting someone of my stature.” This translates to they couldn’t get the smallest G-Suit to be small enough which led to the next phrase that had Patrick in stitches, “Well…the ride today will be interesting to see if this works…otherwise you’ll go to sleep.” Awesome. So reassuring.

 

Then it was time for harnesses and helmets….all leading up to the next exciting experience of the day for the two civilians – chemical warfare masks! They wanted to make sure we wouldn’t become claustrophobic and let us become a little more familiar before we had to wear them during the test. If you look closely you’ll notice that they look like a rubber balloon pulled over your head that somewhat seals around the neck and then goes under the helmet. Patrick wandered around the hallways saying hello through the attached speaker while carrying his respirator in the other hand…he loved it.

Surprise! Just kidding - I'm not pregnant they just blew up the G-Suit...but Patrick couldn't pass up taking the picture!

 

Lacing up the G-Suit as tight as they can get it for Chelsea!

 

The mask really wasn’t too bad once you figure out how to get it over your head and I quickly discovered that I was pretty comfortable inside of it. Of course there were lots of emergency procedures to learn, including vomit procedures so you don’t clog up the system and drown. I have decided that I am just going to not consider that as an option!

 

 

 

Chelsea rocking the full chem warfare mask system with the helmet.

 

Once all this fun was done Patrick and I were the last to go for the familiarization rides. I went first and climbed into the Phoenix with all of my gear for my first G-Suit, O2 positive pressure breathing mask centrifuge familiarization flight. First run – 1.4 G (idle) to 7.5G gradual onset…this means it takes about 1 minute to get to 7.5 and fight all the way I did! Phew! Then came 7.5G rapid onset after a break, which means I would get to 7.5 second with an onset rate of 6G/sec. This one required work and I got a bit of tunnel vision, but between the AGSM, the mask and the pants I pulled off 30 seconds as required. Double Phew!

 

Patrick unknowingly beating the G-Monster after his G-Suit pants blew out!

 

Then came Patrick – blowing through the 7.5 gradual and rapid onsets they asked if he wants to do another profile and he sais, “I don’t think the G-Suit is working.” After some discussion they decide to bring him out and low and behold the hose that connected his G-Suit to the centrifuge and applies the pressurization had blown out. Yes, you heard it right, Patrick blew out his pants! He also smoked the 7.5 G profile with no G-Suit!!

 

Patrick rocking the G-Suit pre-blow out.

 

Needless to say arriving back to the hotel around 7:15pm, dinner was fast and I’m now ready for bed. Tomorrow we will rock the full chem masks and only 5 of us will do familiarization rides in that. I’m beat but promise more blogs to follow this week.

Not your grandma’s flight simulator…

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Chelsea Flying the Phoenix

 

So you hear the word centrifuge and what comes to mind? That crazy fair ride from childhood, what did they call it, the Gravitron? Or does it drum up black and white photos in your head of USAF Colonel John Paul Stapp’s face stretched all the way back as he rocketed down rails during his ejection seat testing? If you’re a pilot and search YouTube for interesting aviation videos as much as I do then you’ve probably also witnessed the funny videos of military aviators going through centrifuge training – some successfully and some not so successfully. And yet, even with all of these somewhat unnerving sites and thoughts I have to admit that when I saw that the NASTAR Center was looking for aerobatic pilots to volunteer for a research project using their Phoenix full-fidelity sustained-G flight simulator I jumped at the opportunity!

 

NASTAR Phoenix Flight Simulator

You might be saying to yourself, what the heck is a full-fidelity sustained-G flight simulator…I know I was! After spending more than a week there “flying” in it each day I can now say that it is a very impressive machine. Imagine a centrifuge that can be manipulated on all axes and that inside lies a cockpit (which is interchangeable) that is the replica of an F-15. Sounds like fun to any pilot, right? Well, for the research we were more like a guinea pig and less like a pilot as we were riding through profiles instead of flying, but the last day once testing was finished up we got to each try our hand at an actual flight – and this included a carrier launch and attempted trap (I know, I know…F15’s don’t land on carriers…we took a little creative leeway with the flight).

With a simulator that can easily do +9 and – (I don’t want to know) all I can say is wow. I will admit I was definitely a skeptic when I arrived – I have played a lot of video flying games an have even gotten the opportunity to fly the T-37 full motion sim as well as the T-6 Texan II’s 270 degree wrap-around simulator but none of them really felt real. As soon as the door was secured closed as I was spun up to idle speed I will fully admit I was 100% immersed in the experience and it definitely felt real! Loops, rolls, the world’s BIGGEST immelman – it was all there – the G’s felt right, the sensations felt right, I was flying an F-15! I’m sure you’re wondering if I successfully trapped and alas I must admit I balked – but it was a nice carrier touch-and-go!

Although this was very fun and exciting I must give one more thought on this – it’s really about training, and this machine is something that I believe holds that power to increase the quality of aviation training both for the military as well as for the airlines by leaps and bounds. By providing sensations that mirror actual flight sensations perfectly the pilots are even more likely to lose themselves in the experience and forget the fact they are in a simulator increasing their learning capabilities as well as inducing more appropriate human reaction to emergency situations. This definitely isn’t your grandma’s flight simulator!