2014 articles

As most of you have undoubtedly already heard, it has often been alleged that life is a journey, not a destination. Traveling that journey, I recently took a turn up a new road with an interesting side street connected to it. By taking that route, I discovered that I was looking back at myself many years ago—almost 50 years.

Q: Hi Steve,

I own a 1973 Cessna T210L and I have a question. First off, my mechanic told me of an AD on the wings of my 210. I heard it was about cracks in the wings. He inspected both wings and said I’m okay now. What can you tell me about this AD?


The rising cost of flying, coupled with shrinking discretionary income, combined with a weak economy and an unfriendly political environment has taken its toll on the industry. I read in a major aviation publication that 80 percent of the FBOs that were in business in 1980 are gone.

The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) published that in 1978, GA produced something on the order of 17,035 piston powered airframes in this country. In 2012, total piston airframe production for the year was 881 units. That pretty much says it all.

So, if I were king, how would I fix General Aviation? Here are my thoughts.

The Cessna 120 and 140 were “starter” planes in more ways than one. They were affordable, and they were easy to fly and maintain. They were the plane in which many pilots trained and so were the perfect first-plane purchase for many people.

They also helped push Cessna into its postwar “modern age” of building all-metal, highly reliable aircraft for training and personal use.

Two flights over the final two months of 2013 illustrate issues that have been bothering me for some time. First, a disconnect between the thinking of ATC and pilots; second, a problem with trees encroaching into airspace that I thought was only a local issue here in Modesto (KMOD) but may turn out to be more widespread… and just to top things off, one seriously cold start!

In November, my wife and I flew down to Fullerton (KFUL) in Southern California for a nonprofit board meeting. Since this would involve flying in the Los Angeles Class B airspace in potentially marginal weather, I planned and filed IFR.

I carefully worked out a route on my iPad using ForeFlight Mobile’s route check feature, which shows you what clearances have been issued to other pilots filing for the same departure and destination.

On our last couple of trips down south, I’d been assigned an altitude of 11,000 feet, which I prefer to avoid as I long ago decided to use Air Force rules, which require oxygen any time I’m above 10,000 feet. This time I filed KMOD-CZQ-EHF-AMONT-LHS-SLI-KFUL, which put us on airways with MEAs no higher than 9,000 MSL... and I got exactly that clearance.

Nonetheless, as we approached EHF, ATC announced an “amendment to your route,” and asked if I wanted a re-route or to climb to 11,000. I asked why, since my route was already on airways with a 9,000-foot MEA. The answer? “We don’t show your route on an airway.” Wonderful.

The issue of medical certification for private pilots is a deeply personal one for me, which makes the creating of this column even more self-reflective than most of the writing I do—and those of you who follow this space know that much of what I publish has involved looking deeply into the mirror over the years.

It’s been so personal because I have never had a “normal” third-class medical. From the day in the 1980s that I first soloed, even my student pilot certificate had a Special Issuance Medical associated with it. Therefore I have some real-world experience about the FAA’s medical certification process garnered over several decades of flying—legally—after jumping through the various hoops established by the Aerospace Medical Certification Division in Oklahoma City.

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Q: Hi Steve,

My mechanic told me that my carburetor duct needs replacing. He also said that he needs to do a lot of work on the air inlet of the cowling.

Is it common for so much work to be needed on these parts of a 1967 Cessna 182J? I haven’t noticed any performance problems, so this is quite a surprise.

—Sam Skylane

There you are, sitting in your airplane, in the dark, in the middle of nowhere—maybe even miles from nowhere—it’s raining, and you’re reading back your clearance to the controller.

As if all this isn’t bad enough, now the voice in your headsets says, “Clearance void if not off by 13:30 UTC.”

The clock on your instrument panel (which is made by the same company that makes the “Close Doors” button on elevators—they don’t work, either) says 8:43.

What are you supposed to do?

Because of the confusion many pilots experience with time, whether it’s Coordinated Universal Time, Zulu Time, or Greenwich Mean Time, I suggest we begin a field evaluation of my new system called Measuring Your Time In Multiple Envelopes. The expected acronym—MYTIME—is designed to work everywhere.

To understand why we need take such a dramatic step, a Brief History of Time is in order.

There are a number of ways to provide some assurance that airplanes won't run into each other while airborne, and nearly all of them have been put to use at one time or another in the history of aviation. These days, the prevention of midair collisions—particularly those involving airliners and other high-flying jets—has become positive and proactive because of the radar control services provided by the ATC in the United States.

This sort of positive ground controlling of the flow of air traffic is the procedure being used in most locations around the world—and certainly at those places where there is a high volume of local and/or international air traffic.

A secondary backup system to the positive-separation standards of air traffic control has been the use of modern Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance Systems (TCAS) and related electronic devices inside the cockpits of airliners, and these days, in many General Aviation airplanes. These electronic warning systems provide the pilot with a secondary line of defense from potential conflicts.

Traffic separation hasn't always been this good. In earlier years, collision avoidance was mostly handled by following basic rules. Procedures such as odd/even altitude assignments, or simply having very little traffic being spread across very large areas had been the operating methods of the day. It took a bizarre airline accident that occurred in literally the middle of nowhere to get the subject of collision avoidance started down the road toward more positive methodology.

IMG 4314 - Version 2

Since its first event in 1972, the Copperstate Fly-in has been bringing together aviation enthusiasts in the southwest United States.

Copperstate is the largest fly-in of its type in the western United States and the fourth largest fly-in in the United States. It is held at the Casa Grande Municipal Airport (KCGZ) in Casa Grande, Ariz. Casa Grande, a city of about 50,000, is approximately halfway between Phoenix and Tucson.

Copperstate Fly-in, Inc. is a totally volunteer, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting recreational and General Aviation through events, scholarships and public education. Proceeds from the Copperstate Fly-in help support scholarship programs for youth seeking careers in the aerospace industry.

Caveat Emptor—Buyer Beware—is a great rule of thumb when acquiring a used car, truck, snowmobile, boat or previously owned husband or wife.

It’s a harsh reality, but you need to remember that the beautiful new toy you are coveting is the very same toy that the previous owner could not wait to get rid of. People generally do not disassociate themselves with perfectly good possessions or mates. And when they do, there’s generally no logbook you can refer to that will disclose why the previous owner fell out of love with their prized possession or spouse.

To connect this lame metaphor to the subject at hand––buying a pre-owned Cessna airplane—what about that sweet-looking 172 or 310 giving you that come-hither stare from across the ramp… the one that the present owner insists has “excellent logbooks”?

An examination of those logbooks is going to tell you everything you need to know about the machine, isn’t it? I mean, they shoot people that monkey around with logbooks, don’t they?

Well, actually they don’t. In fact, in many cases, there isn’t even an “ahem” from the FAA. “There’s no language anywhere in the regulations that requires entries in ‘logbooks;’ the regs just require that maintenance records be kept,” said Steve Ells, Cessna Flyer contributing editor and longtime A&P.