"Along the Beach."
The beginning of another fun flight aloft.
"Along the Beach."
The beginning of another fun flight aloft.
"One Six Right."
What is it about flight that captures the imagination? To each individual it may be something different and to define it and concisely frame it with words can be extremely difficult. Thankfully, Brian Terwilliger went a long way to capturing flight’s romance when he created the film, “One Six Right”.
In the world of security check points and sterile terminals, the general sentiments associated with flying are those of impatience and frustration. The magic of flight seems to have been lost on the general populous as it has become merely a mundane means to an end. Bleriot, Lindbergh, Hinkler, Kingsford Smith and Earhart are now relegated to the history books, only occasionally surfacing through the modern media. But for so many, the wonder of flight still exists. However, this wonder is difficult to share with others.
The sensations and emotions elude the vocabulary of most of us and are best defined by experience rather than words. The still camera can capture moments of drama and beauty from the sky, although it is an extremely difficult task to convey all that needs to be said through a single image. Through the medium of motion pictures, “One Six Right” lifts the viewer to the clouds. Through clear, crisp perspectives the beauty of flight is enhanced in all three dimensions and the sense of speed becomes tangible. The sky is now within reach.
The pretext for the film is actually to be found at ground level, in an 8000 foot strip of asphalt named “One Six Right”. This runway is the gateway to the world’s busiest General Aviation airport which boasts over 380,000 aircraft movements per annum, or more than 1,000 per day. And the traffic is as varied as antique biplanes to intercontinental 737s and rescue helicopters.
It was to this backdrop that film-maker and aviation enthusiast Brian Terwilliger learnt to fly and witnessed the diversity surrounding him. He had a clear vision of how he could bring the aviation he knew to the viewer. It was not the world of airline travel, but of still mornings aloft, the beauty of the earth below and the freedom of the sky. However, the path to production was far from straightforward as supporters in the early stages were few in numbers.
In fact, Van Nuys Airport originally opposed the plan, perhaps fearing a damaging expose to add further pressure on yet another airport. However, a determined Terwilliger maintained his faith in the project and began clandestinely filming with a bare budget and lenses sneakily peering beyond hangar doors. In time there was enough footage to produce a trailer for the potential film and this was shown to the authorities at Van Nuys with impressive results. From opponents to allies, the operators of Van Nuys Airport availed virtually unlimited access to Terwilliger and his film crew, opening up all manner of opportunities and vantage points. The film that was to become “One Six Right” was now ready to roll.
More than meets the eye.
The air-to-air footage must be seen to be appreciated. To amazingly scenic backdrops, pioneering biplanes dawdle through the serene early morning air and a canary yellow Piper Cub wanders along a bush track. The sun glints off the Mustang’s highly polished finish as it rolls past the clouds and beyond the camera ship at speed while a Pitts dances vertically upon its smoke trail as only a Pitts can. There are so many aerial sequences that defy words, but there is so much more.
The film also takes in the history of the airport, from its fledgling days through the war years to the present. A blend of past and present images, footage and people allow the viewer to immediately relate to the airport as a living, breathing entity. It brilliantly tells this story without the use of a narrator, allowing a series of interviews with people across the eras to tell their stories. Intertwined are interesting tales typified by the ‘discovery’ of a Van Nuys aerospace factory worker whose modelling career was launched at the airport, but went on to be known as Marilyn Monroe. There are touching moments such as the elderly retired United Airlines Captain who still retains the same helmet and goggles in which he learnt to fly at Van Nuys before World War Two. These personal stories provide a unique insight and relate the story of the airfield in a human sense that is nothing less than captivating.
Beneath the beauty, there is also a story of relevance to our industry today. Like all airports around the world, Van Nuys has been subjected to the urban sprawl and the growing discontent of its new neighbours. The continuing plight of airfields across the nation is highlighted as airfields continue to be closed at the rate of one per week in the United States. Sucked into the vacuum of property development, these community assets are lost forever once they are gone.
“One Six Right” seeks to remind us all of what airports bring to the community in terms of commerce, access and infrastructure. It counters the anti-airport sentiment by highlighting the ‘positives’ generated by general aviation and those who fly to protect people and property. It is a very worthwhile lesson for all of us involved in this wonderful undertaking. These issues are handled tremendously through the film and stand as testimony that beyond the romance of flying there is definitely a heart.
Romance is Back.
“One Six Right’ Is a film that can stir emotions in the most resilient aviator’s soul. Whether it is through a particular image or the words of an ageing aviator as he recalls seeing Lindbergh pass by, this film can get to you through its sheer honesty. There is no pretentiousness in any aspect of this film; it does not need to boast. Underpinned by a musical score that is equally emotive, the viewer is lifted amongst the clouds and each for their own personal reasons. If Brian Terwilliger’s goal was to avail the skies to one and all, then he has succeeded brilliantly.
It is a privilege to take to the skies and sometimes we need reminding of the majesty of the sky we venture into. Despite those grand fliers who have gone before, there are those around us today who do not necessarily share our love of this pursuit. “One Six Right” brings together this myriad of perspectives in a film of true beauty and serves to share the true romance of flying.
"Well Chosen Words." (Part Two)
Say What? (continued)
......Last, but by no means least, comes the consideration of emergency contingencies. This may include an engine failure on the runway, or after take-off. What landing options lie ahead should the need arise and at what point and height does a return to land at the airfield become a possibility? Significantly, what are the vital actions and critical airspeed to maintain in this situation? Discussing the emergency situation lastly leaves those key points freshest in your mind should the added pressure of a problem arise. Obviously, the emergency plan will vary depending on such factors as the number of remaining engines in the case of a failure and the weather in the area. Hence, look at your plan realistically.
At the other end of the flight, the descent and approach phase is worth briefing and again it is best to follow a relevant order. Ideally, such a brief should be completed well in advance of commencing the descent. Start with the potential threats for the descent and in the terminal area. Terrain is always worth considering as a threat when you’re descending towards it. Review the ATIS, QNH and prevailing weather conditions as this will also provide some insight into the conditions you are likely to be confronted with. Review the descent profile in terms minimum safe altitudes and circuit joining procedures, before considering the approach to land. Revisit the flap setting to be used, the approach speed, the runway length available and where you anticipate turning off to taxi to the parking area. Importantly, examine the go-around situation. How will it be flown, what fuel will be remaining and what options are available in the event of a missed approach? What's my fuel status and options should I 'go-around'? Flying the missed approach should be thought of in terms of the actual aircraft handling as well as the flight path to be flown. With top of descent to the potential missed approach covered, pilot and aircraft are prepared to start heading down and reunite with the runway ahead.
Multi-engine aircraft and Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) offer more variables. On take-off, you are not likely to make a visual return to land if the cloud base is 200 feet above ground level, so setting up the navaids and having the relevant approach plate at the ready may be prudent in this instance. However, there is no need to brief this approach at this time. Conversely, when considering an instrument approach prior to descent, it is very relevant to thoroughly brief the approach and airfield lighting as well as confirming the readiness of the navigation aids. The weather at the minima also obviously plays a critical role in IFR and should be assessed to give some indication of what will be seen should ‘visual reference’ be attained right at the minima. For instance, in a strong crosswind and lowered visibility, looking straight ahead might lead to not sighting the runway which is now relatively offset.
Regardless, of the relative simplicity or complexity of the operation, the briefing should remain practical, ordered and relevant to the phase of flight. Many commercial flight providers will define the content of the briefing in their ‘Standard Operating Procedures’, but for the individual, the choice remains in their hands.
As a point of technique, briefings should be spoken out aloud. This is obvious in the multi-crew scenario as the information is there to be shared. Equally importantly, the briefing offers the opportunity for other crew members to raise questions and point out any omissions. Through an open briefing technique, all of the flight crew are able to be ‘on the same’ page and not guessing the next move of the pilot flying.
In single pilot operations, there are also definite benefits in briefing out aloud. It may seem strange at first, but the spoken word will allow the content to also be absorbed aurally and not merely through the ‘mind’s ear’. This provides another layer of consolidation to cement the details in the mind. That is not to say that the briefing needs to be yelled out, but a quiet review to oneself will serve the briefing better. When flying with passengers, obviously keep the audio level down as words like ‘engine failure’ can tend to alarm them. However, if simply taking a friend for a flight in the front seat, explain to them what you’re doing. In much the same way as you explain the emergency exits to them, reviewing your plans is a case of preparing for every situation. Passengers will often be reassured by such thoroughness, as this is in line with briefings on an airliner.
Supporting briefings, pilots may also choose to have a simple check-list to assure that they have covered the content. Additionally, there is a real benefit to be derived from ‘touch-drills’ for such manoeuvres as an engine failure after take-off. Point at the best glide speed, touch those points associated with the emergency and the flap lever in unison with your words. It is a quick but very effective means of reviewing a very critical manoeuvre. Ultimately, the technique adopted will be the one with which the pilot is most comfortable and most likely to recall from day to day. Keeping the format constant will assist in guarding against omissions, maintaining a flow and keeping it concise.
Well Chosen Words.
Briefings are a mandatory component of standard operating procedures in airline operations. However, they need not remain the domain of multi-crew flight decks, nor are the benefits limited to heavy jets. Every pilot in every cockpit stands to gain from an enhanced level of mental preparedness. Keeping the content of briefings concise, ordered and relevant will allow critical points to be refreshed in a pilot’s memory without the pressure of a critical flight phase bearing down upon them.
Briefings are a relatively simple task, which when practised will become a small but vital tool in the pilot’s kit bag. They are not a major burden upon time or resources, but in the heat of the moment a successful outcome may well result from a few well chosen words.
"Hit the Ground Running."
An Australian Army 'Blackhawk' delivers its troops on a training exercise.
"Another Day in Paradise."
It’s 3am and the rain is pelting down. Actually, to be more accurate it is thrashing the walls of my house, driven horizontally by howling winds. It’s another half an hour before I have to throw my legs over the side of the bed and make my way to work, so I just lie there and listen to Mother Nature flexing her muscles. It’s an awesome sound.
It’s a sound that has meant many different things to me over the years. As a young student pilot, each rain-drop carried a sting of disappointment as I knew that the lesson the next day was sure to be cancelled. The cloud base would be too low for stalling, or the crosswind too strong for circuits, either way it would be another frustrating day on Terra Firma. Even when the bonds of the circuit and training area had been broken, low pressure systems and developing troughs would destroy any chance of cross-country flying. If the weather was marginal, I would still venture out to the airfield and loiter around the briefing office reading the latest forecasts and bothering the ‘Met Man’ as if he could actually control the weather. Sometimes I would be there for hours waiting for the weather to lift, only to travel home tired and disappointed. If only I’d really listened to that rain on the roof the night before.
Even the day of my Commercial Licence flight test got underway five hours late because of the weather and in retrospect I was weary before the propeller ever turned. Still it was a great day that I’ll never forget. Yet even when armed with a brand new CPL, the rain was still there to spoil the fun in other ways. Those early mornings, traipsing across sodden ground in the dark, up to my ankles in water as fresh drops ran down the back of my neck. Pre-flighting the outside amidst waves of falling water, only to take half the sea inside when I opened the cockpit door. I would then slide onto a wet seat with sodden socks and the peak of my cap dripping onto my already soaked flight plan and charts. Yelling “Clear Prop” at the top of my voice to make sure no-one else was stupid enough to be out in this weather and highlight the fact that I was. With the engines started, there was a chance that the de-mister might actually clear the windscreen, even if it only really served to turn my wet socks into ice.
When I was fortunate enough to fly, I was then either dodging thunderstorms in Australia’s vast north-west, or seeing flight lessons cancelled once again, but now as the instructor. An instrument rating brought some solace, but still no certainty. There would be days flying in that thin corridor between the lowest safe altitude and the freezing level, which always seemed to get very narrow over the Great Dividing Range. Or the nights when the rain came by stealth in the form of ice, insidiously creeping along the wings and only exposed by the beam of my torch reaching beyond the cockpit. Some of those nights I was wishing that I was lying in bed listening to the rain thrash against the walls rather than buffeting me about the skies.
Even at the journeys end, the cloud maintained its mystery; how far down did it really extend? Would I be lucky tonight and see the ground first time? The lights of the land below would teasingly glow through thin breaks in the cloud before....yes...a glimpse...no...yes....that’s it....definitely yes... the runway. VISUAL!!!! And still the rain would have its last words against the windscreen while the wind seemingly pulled the world sidewards. I would then do battle with the weather one more time to tie the aeroplane down and put her to bed.
Believe it or not, I still look back on those dark wet nights with real joy and a sense of appreciation for the lessons that I learned.
Today, the world is a little different. There are two experienced pilots in air-conditioned comfort flying an aircraft with in-built redundancies of everything you can imagine. Turbines have replaced pistons and anti-icing systems that are far more effective than a torch. There are ‘Head-Up Displays’, flight management systems, RNP approaches and autopilots that actually work. Every few months there is simulator training to prepare you for the worst case scenario and every day wonderful cabin crew that feed you when their workload permits. The rain and weather are still there, but these days experience, training and technology has provided me with the best set of defences that I can hope for. Regardless of whether it’s a Beechcraft or a Boeing, it is still up to the pilot to recognise the variables that the weather inevitably brings and cater for them in the safest possible way.
It’s now 4am and I’m driving along the freeway with the wipers sweeping across my windscreen as fast as they will go. The wind is rocking the car and the steering wheel intermittently twists in my hand as the wheels strike a patch of standing water. I sit well below the speed limit and readily concede that this is the most dangerous part of my day as another numb-skull overtakes me at Mach Two. Then my memory trips back to another wet night and I’m just a boy lying in my single bed in our little fibro home in Sydney. It’s 2am and the phone has startled me from my sleep before I hear my Dad’s lowered voice. There’s the unmistakable rustling of his uniform shirt with its wings and ID card and the steps of his undoubtedly highly polished boots. He has been called out on this foul night to guide the 'Air Ambulance' to some remote township to help a stranger in need.
As the front door clicks shut, I hear him scamper through the rain to open our front gate. The rain is pelting down upon the roof and the wind is shaking the screen upon my window, but if I listen really closely, there’s another sound. It’s my father and he’s whistling. It’s 2am, it’s pouring rain, he’s about to launch into the night....and he’s whistling. My head sinks back into my pillow and I think about my Dad whistling. And then I think about his job. There must be something to this pilot stuff. I might have to give it a go one day.
"Boeing 737. The Next Generation." (Part Two)
The Next Genration Development. (continued)
......The 737NG is a great all-rounder. In the context of a comparison with the Classic, there are distinct differences from a pilot’s perspective. From handling characteristics and performance to “two cup holders instead of one”, there are a myriad of differences in the newest steed from the 737 stable. Some are subtle, some are distinct, but the vast majority are improvements for the better while still meeting the ‘common type’ constraints.
The majority of pilot’s speak of the NG with admiration. Much of this stems from the re-designed wing and winglets which provides enhanced speed, range and performance. The wing is also a major player from a handling viewpoint. The NG could be described as a “straight line aeroplane” when compared to the Classic. More like its bigger brothers, the increased weight and enhanced wing of the 737NG translates to higher energy that, in turn, calls for greater planning and anticipation when decelerating. On descent the NG can easily accelerate to its upper speed limit of the ‘Barber’s Pole’ and whilst the Classic was quite at home being wheeled around the circling area and washing off speed, the NG is a more ‘slippery’ candidate and needs to be handled on descent accordingly. In terms of turbulence penetration, the Classic possesses a seemingly more rigid wing that tends to “punch through turbulence”, whilst the NGs wing is more “giving” and tends to ride the turbulence better. Again, this is a feature the NG seems to have in common with the larger aircraft from Boeing.
The enhanced performance of the NG also received high praise. In the 737-300, the 1700 nm into wind sector between Australia’s coastal capitals of Sydney and Perth was not possible whereas such sectors are not a problem for the higher powered -800. Additionally, the capability to climb directly to 41,000 feet can prove an operational bonus when performance permits, allowing that extra 4,000 feet to get above more of the weather.
Whilst cockpit ergonomics seemed to have changed little, particularly with reference to the overhead panel, the accuracy of the GPS navigation system is a significant improvement for those up the sharp end. Constantly updated, there is no tendency for the map display to ‘drift’. The outside world is reflected with precision on the cockpit presentation, which assists greatly in visual manoeuvres such as circling off the bottom of an approach. This was not the case with the older IRS driven maps.
Looking through the 'Head Up Display' (HUD) of the Boeing 737-800 (S.Ruttley)
The longer fuselage of the -800 offers a potentially limiting geometry on take-off, making a ‘tail strike’ a real possibility if the rotation is too fast. Landing the newer variant is also notably different aside from the longer landing distance that is required. With the shorter winged ‘Classic’, a few knots above reference speed in the flare did not seem to alter the touchdown point significantly. Once its mind is made up to land, the spot is fairly fixed. However, the carriage of excess speed, or flaring too early in the NG can result in the wastage of significant amounts of precious runway. The enhanced wing of the NG means that the aircraft wants to keep flying and will happily float as it slowly decelerates in ground effect. For pilots flying the dual variants it is always worth self briefing this point on approach when hopping from type to type.
Walking around the NG, there seems to be only subtle visible changes to the 737 beyond the prominent winglets. It is longer, wider and with a higher fin than the Classic, but unless it is side by side with its ‘parent’ these differences are all matters of scale. However, the aircraft does sit higher than its Classic forerunner and consequently allows greater clearance for the CFM56-7 engines that are slung beneath the wings. The trademark flat-bottomed cowlings of the ‘dash 3’ CFMs are not quite so flat and lean towards more conventional round cowlings. Additionally, since January 2005, Boeing has been rolling out the 737NG without the now familiar ‘eyebrow’ windows above the crew’s main windows.
The Next Generation?
2012 sees the Boeing 737 turning 45. Even so, it is still a design seeking more efficient ways to achieve its designed tasks. This year Boeing announced improvements to engine and airframe that will equate to around 2% in fuel savings. For the passengers, Boeing have looked to the 787 and given the 737 a facelift with the ‘Boeing Sky’ interior with newer sidewalls, LED lighting and bigger overhead lockers.
The 737 also has a proven track record that defies time as all marques of this Boeing are still gracing the sky. With such a bloodline it is not surprising that the 737 Next Generation has enjoyed success in the same vein as its predecessors. With ER (Extended Range) versions giving the type even longer legs; there are very few tasks that the 737NG can’t handle.
Forged from the legacy of another tremendous domestic stalwart, the Classic, it has built upon its strengths and alleviated most of the perceived shortcomings. And with the 737 Max now looming on the horizon, It finds that irrepressible the NG family has captured that quality of so many Boeing aircraft; a workhorse for the airline and a loved stallion by its crews.
Weird and Wonderful. A Different Look for the DC-3.
I sighted this distinctive variant of the DC-3 at Ayers Rock (Uluru) in central Australia. It was there undertaking 'geo-survey' duties, hence the array of antennas. Also of note are the turo-props where radial piston engines once lived.
"A Century of Posts!"
It almost slipped past me, but yesterday marked 100 posts on this aviation blog.
In three months the amount of visitors has steadily grown from around one thousand in December to nearly ten thousand last month. I don't know how that rates in the world of the internet, but it is enough interest to indicate to me that I should keep writing and sharing my photos from 'upstairs'.
As many visitors are new to the blog, they may have missed some of the earlier posts, so I recommend that you stay a while and look back to the posts from when it all began. The 'Practical Pilot' series and airline insights continue to be very popular, but the reflective pieces definitely seem to stir something in our readers. And I'm thankful for that.
These are particularly popular;
To everyone who has supported this aviation blog from the outset, thank you. From the team at 'Australian Aviation' magazine and the lads at 'Plane Crazy Down Under' to Karlene Pettit and David Parker Brown in the United States. Without their guidance, this internet infant never would have been able to get this website off the ground. Thank you all so much.
That's all for now although the conclusion to "Boeing 737. The Next Generation." will be coming soon.
"Well Chosen Words." (Part One)
The value of pre-flight preparation can never be overstated. The attention to detail before entering the cockpit often dictates the standard of the flight that follows. Within this vast array of activities ranging from flight planning to fuel management exists one critical, but often forgotten task; the verbal briefing.
The Little Things.
Many complex tasks and creations are comprised of numerous smaller items at their core and flying an aeroplane is no different. What appears an overwhelming task of co-ordination and orientation to the layman is actually the culmination of numerous components coming together in a careful methodical fashion. Omission of a single item alone may not be particularly significant, but it can contribute to a snow-balling effect with far more severe consequences. Hence, attention to detail and self-discipline are vital qualities in all aviators.
Executing a flight in an efficient fashion can be assisted greatly by catering for contingencies before they ever eventuate. This might entail carrying enough fuel to divert to an alternate aerodrome, or considering a plan of action in the event of an engine failure. Whatever the contingency may be, the ability to weigh up options and devise a strategy before the event ever occurs is of an immense amount of benefit. Inevitably, when things fail to go as planned, the workload and pressure in the cockpit mount up. If not prepared, the new plan must be hatched on the run with a myriad of other tasks eroding the thought processes. It’s a tough situation.
Having a plan etched out in advance can be of enormous value in these situations. The plan doesn’t necessarily need to be complex or long-winded, in fact to the contrary, the simpler the better. And while complex procedures can be designed to extract a multi-crew airliner following an engine failure after take-off amongst hazardous terrain, a verbal self-brief before take-off can be equally valuable to the private pilot in his ‘single’. A few timely words can make all the difference when the chips are down.
Keeping it Simple.
I am sure we have all heard pilots on the radio that love the sound of their own voices. Void of radio etiquette, they ramble on, jamming up the frequency. The fact is that communication is about quality, not quantity and this is a prime consideration when we first consider what needs to be said in a verbal briefing. Whether acting as part of a crew, or flying solo, an overly long briefing often fails to deliver the results. People tune out and the few vital facts can be lost in the background hash of a boring briefing.
The purpose of the briefing is to revisit the key points relating to the upcoming critical phase of flight. Whether before take-off or prior to commencing descent, the briefing serves to rekindle those key numbers and details that we may have to recall in the heat of the moment. It also allows an opportunity to check that the ‘house is in order’ with navigation aids tuned, the QNH set and so on. For ease of execution, the briefing should ideally be logical in its format; discuss the items in the order that you anticipate they will occur. This permits an easy resumption of the brief in the case of interruption too, although it’s always worthwhile to ‘back up’ a few stages to guard against omissions.
As discussed, over-briefing can be as equally useless as not briefing at all. In fact, it can create time pressure and lead people to talking when they should be flying. Always remember, AVIATE-NAVIGATE-COMMUNICATE. As such, not every phase of flight needs to be spoken about. Generally, the two most critical phases of flight are the departure and the 'approach and landing'. In both instances, there are actions to be considered should the planned manoeuvre suffer a change, such as an engine failure or a possible runway incursion necessitating a go-around.
The key to an effective briefing is to keep it as relevant and as simple as possible. There is no need to re-iterate standard procedures or use fancy grammar. Keep to the facts that you want in your mind at minimum notice and shelve anything that is non-essential.
The content of a briefing can be varied depending on so many factors. It may be a multi-crew flight deck or a solo exercise, the flight maybe a VFR single, or an IFR twin. As such, no one text can be definitive and the pilot, aircraft and standard operating procedures will be the ultimate determinants. To that end, while the content needs to be tailored to the operation, however the principles of simplicity and relevance remain the same.
Threat management is a bit of a ‘catch-cry’ these days, but it highlights the numerous potential traps that pilots face and are not limited to the operation of the aircraft. Threats may be Notices to Airman (NOTAMs), aircraft serviceability, specific aerodrome procedures, significant terrain or even birds migrating at dusk. The list is endless, but for briefing the list should be limited to the particular threats for this phase of flight. Considering the potential threats is always a good place to start a briefing. From here, evolve the briefing as events will unfold.
Pre departure, it is worth briefing before engine start if possible. The background noise of the engine and the ticking by of time and fuel has not yet been introduced into the cockpit. Following the consideration of threats, confirm the ATIS and check that the QNH is set correctly. This will also provide an opportunity to assess the wind and weather and its impact on take-off technique and a return to land if needed. The taxi route may be complex or infringed by obstacles or active runways and this may need to be considered.
Next the take-off can be discussed, particularly if a short field technique or different flap setting is to be used. Does the terrain play a role in your departure? More complex aircraft may have specific take-off data and ‘V Speeds’ to review at this point. For the airborne component, consider the departure track, navigation aids and the first assigned altitude. Also, a final check of flight planned fuel against what you actually have on board is well worthwhile.
Check back soon for the conclusion of "Well Chosen Words."