Queenstown. The Remarkable Challenge of RNP. (Part One). An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Thursday, February 09, 2012

For over 90 years of aviation, QANTAS has been at the forefront of numerous technological advances. From the dawn of the jet age and the Boeing 707 to the certification of the Future Air Navigation System (FANS) was in 1995. Today the airline is once again at the cutting edge with advanced navigation development. Nowhere is this more evident than in its challenging operations into New Zealand’s Queenstown Airport where the latest technology has their Boeing 737-800s setting the pace.

A Remarkable Place.

As destinations go, they don’t come much more dramatic or scenic than Queenstown, New Zealand. The mountain range known as The Remarkables tower 7,500 feet above sea level and along with the surrounding peaks draw ski enthusiasts from around the globe. But there is more to the region’s beauty than its seasonal white blanket of snow. On a clear day, its dramatic peaks reflect in the glassy surface of Lake Wakatipu and it is easy to see why it was found suitable as the mythical “Middle Earth” in filming “The Lord of the Rings”.

It is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful areas around which to fly and this is further evidenced by the amazing amount of general aviation traffic that operates from the airport and the surrounding waterways. There are aerobatic joy-flights, parachute operations, scenic journeys to the nearby Milford Sound, heli-skiing and so much more, giving the region a distinct sense of aviation. Yet the location of Queenstown Airport (NZQN) is not what one may regard as geographically ideal for aviation.

The airport effectively sits in a natural bowl, surrounded by peaks and ridge lines. The terrain is not the only challenging aspect as the winds that swirl around the basin can vary significantly in both speed and direction at different levels. Even on a crystal clear day, the combination of traffic and terrain can make manoeuvring an airline category aircraft challenging, so any deterioration of weather conditions further contributes to the demands of making an approach or departure.

The airfield has long been serviced by traditional non-precision approaches and specific visual procedures; however they are less than ideal. The absence of vertical path guidance is one factor, while the inability to align the approaches with the runway or achieve an effective instrument approach are others.

At the bottom end of the instrument approach, the runway is 30 metres wide and a touch under 1800 metres in length, effectively limiting the port to operations by Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s. While a very proficient control tower is operational, there is no radar coverage, further increasing the tolerances required for procedural separation. However, in the near future, a Wide Area Multilateration system will be introduced to aid situational awareness.

In so many ways, operations to and from Queenstown can present a variety of challenges to crews. As a destination the enhanced safety and efficiency on offer through RNP operations elevated the profile of the South Island ski resort in the aviation world. If RNP could be proven to work here, then its overall potential and credibility could only grow.

The Right Approach.

RNP approaches dispense with the limiting rigid straight lines, arcs and trapezoidal obstacle clearance of traditional instrument approaches and departures. By maintaining an ‘area of containment’ relative to the designed track, it is possible to permit optimised routing, clear of terrain, noise sensitive areas and high density airspace.

In the case of Queenstown, terrain is the limiting factor. While the challenges of terrain are obvious, operationally it makes the design of conventional VOR approaches and departure procedures a very challenging task and this equates to higher instrument approach minimas. Higher minimas in turn equate to a lowered assurance of being able to become visual when weather descends upon the airfield and this impacts directly upon the commercial reliability of the service.

For example, the best case scenario for a traditional VOR approach minima into Queenstown is 4,600’ or around 3,400’ AGL. In comparison, the RNP-AR 0.1 onto Runway 05 as pioneered by QANTAS can achieve a minimum altitude of 1451’, or a mere 291’ AGL. Furthermore, the RNP-AR approaches establish the aircraft on final, stable and aligned with the runway. By comparison, the VOR approach still calls for some challenging manoeuvring within the basin to ultimately achieve a landing as the approach leaves the aircraft well above profile to effect a straight-in landing.

Similarly, on departure, the RNP calls for a minimum cloud base 300’, while the old-style departure tracks require a 4000’ ceiling or greater. Like the arrival, the departure provides both lateral and vertical guidance to maintain the aircraft within its safe area of containment as it climbs to achieve the minimum safe altitude (MSALT) of 10,600’ within 15 miles.

Even so, there are RNP approaches and there are RNP-AR approaches. The former are generic approaches designed under the limitations of PANS-OPS Doc 9905, while the latter ‘Authorisation-Required’ tailored approaches are designed by GE/Naverus in conjunction with QANTAS. However, both containing the critical element of vertical path guidance and position the aircraft favourably to conduct a landing. However, the improvements are not merely at the minimum altitudes, as the vertical path guidance offered by RNP approaches is also a significant safety enhancement.

At Queenstown, safety is also enhanced through RNP by the precise ‘engine-out’ procedures on offer. In the event of either an engine failure on departure, or a single-engine missed approach, the RNP offers a safe resolution despite the challenges of the surrounding terrain. The complex tracking is automatically availed to the crew through the FMC when the engine fails. They need only execute the modified routing and continue to fly the aircraft along the new track, ensuring containment at all times. As with normal RNP operations, judicious use of the autopilot provides the best means of ensuring flight within the specified tolerances, while managing the aircraft’s flight-path and configuration.  So much so, that its use is not simply preferred, but required beyond certain points on the approach and departure.

In the face of challenging conditions, the growth of RNP operations into Queenstown has offered not only greater schedule reliability, but an enhanced level of safety. Even so, nothing is ever taken for granted and all QANTAS aircraft operating to Queenstown are required to carry an alternate, regardless of the weather. Even with the best technology, aviation is a dynamic environment......

Check back for the conclusion of  Queenstown. The Remarkable Challenge of RNP.

This article first appeared in Australian Aviation Magazine.

 

Tied Tigers. An Aviation Blog Image by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Tuesday, February 07, 2012

                                        Three de Havilland Tiger Moths put on a show.

"Heads Up at Flight Level 370." An Aviation Blog Image.

Owen Zupp - Monday, February 06, 2012

The view through the 'Head-Up Guidance System' (HGS) of the Boeing 737-800.

                                     Image by Steve Ruttley.

     Check back here for the upcoming 'Blog Post' on Head Up Displays.

The Wooden Wonder. An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Monday, February 06, 2012

Hi All, here's something a little different today.....

 

The De Havilland aircraft company had a fine tradition of civilian training and touring aircraft prior to the outbreak of World War Two. From Humming Birds and Hornet Moths to Dragons and Albatross, the British company produced a vast range of machines. At the upper end of the speed spectrum was the twin-engined monoplane, the DH88 Comet. Manufactured from wood, the Comet blew away the competition in the 1934 MacRobertson Air Race from the UK to Australia, though just as significantly, it planted the seed for a revolutionary military aeroplane. The DH 98 Mosquito.

The Mosquito was originally conceived as a high speed unarmed bomber. In 1940 with Great Britain facing its darkest hour and a shortage of resources, it needed aircraft and it needed them quickly. Though the Air Ministry had some reservations about the unarmed aspect of the design, it could not argue with de Havilland’s expertise in wooden aircraft production techniques. Additionally, the fact that its construction called for minimal amounts of treasured metal resources offered up a viable alternative.

After a series of changes in the aircraft’s perceived role, the original order was modified to a requirement for 20 bombers and 30 fighters. The prototype initially built in a hangar disguised as a barn at the home of de Havilland, Hatfield. It narrowly missed being destroyed during a successful Luftwaffe bombing raid on Hatfield that did spell the end of a number of materials and over twenty people. However, the Mosquito survived and undertook its maiden test flight in November of 1940 at the hands of Geoffrey de Havilland’s son of the same name. During the subsequent trials the Mosquito’s speed established it as the fastest combat aircraft on either side of the conflict; a title it held for the next two years.

Into the Fray.

The Mosquito’s first operational sorties were in the role of Photo Reconnaissance (PR) in August 1941, a task it was ideally suited to with its high speed. Early in 1942, the aircraft began to see service as fighters and bombers. The Mosquito had far exceeded the original specifications and through minor modifications was able to carry 500 pound bombs in place of the originally planned 250 pounders. The first bombing raid was a daylight strike on Cologne after a “1000 bomber” raid had taken place the previous evening.

The versatility of the Mosquito became apparent and aside from being a fighter, bomber and photo recon aircraft, it successfully served as successful night-fighter and even participated in the “Hunter/Killer’ pairing of Turbinlite operations. The Mosquito was also extensively used in the precision-navigation role of ‘Pathfinder’ where it would fly in advance of the main bomber force to mark the target with incendiary ordinance. BOAC (the forerunner to British Airways) even used civilian registered Mosquitoes during the war to run the gauntlet between Britain and neutral Sweden on a regular air service. There seemed very little that the Mosquito could not do.

Special Roles

In its time, the Mosquito was called upon to fill some rather niche roles that have gone down in folklore. Two of these were 618 Squadron’s use of the bouncing bomb ‘Highball’ and the breaching of prison walls in ‘Operation Jericho’.

While much has been written of Barnes Wallis’ bouncing bomb and the Dambusters raid on the Ruhr Dams, there was an alternate deployment of the bouncing bomb planned for use by the Mosquito. This version of the bomb was known as ‘Highball’ and while the Dambusters used a cylindrical style bomb, ‘Highball’ was far more spherical.  Also conducted under a great veil of secrecy, 618 Squadron was tasked with using the bomb in an anti-shipping role with its number one priority the sinking of the German battleship the Tirpitz. Unfortunately, despite all of the effort and training, 618 Squadron never had a shot at the Tirpitz and eventually the squadron was deployed elsewhere.

A task for the Mosquito that did see notable fruition was ‘Operation Jericho’. Conceived in 1943, this mission involved an attack on the Amiens Prison in France which was holding amongst others, numerous members of the French Resistance who were scheduled to be executed. The daring low level attack took place on the 18th February 1944 and included squadrons from the RAF, RAAF and RNZAF. Its plan was to destroy the prison walls to facilitate the escape of the inmates, with an alternate plan of destroying the prison outright should this fail. It did not, and while there was loss of life, hundreds of prisoners were able to escape.

The Numbers

To quote specifications for the Mosquito is akin to comparing racehorses; there are so many types and so many variables.

In essence, the Mosquito was a twin-engined combat aircraft of primarily wooden construction. It was operated by two crew, including the pilot, and whether the second crewman was a navigator, bomb aimer or radar operator was dependent upon its designated role.

Powered by two Rolls Royce Merlin engines, it could carry nearly two tonnes of bombs deep into the heart of Germany. As a fighter it could carry 4 × 20 mm Hispano cannons in the fuselage and 4 × 7.7 mm (.303) Browning machine guns in the nose. Some photo reconnaissance versions had a service ceiling of 40,000 feet and a number of marques had a top speed in excess of 400 mph.

Ultimately, nearly 8,000 Mosquitoes were built and of these around 6,700 were delivered in wartime. As an aircraft it was not purely versatile, it was truly prolific as well.

The End.

As with all types, a number of Mosquitoes met ignominious ends on scrap heaps at the end of the war. However, several models survived and the Mosquito production line remained open until 1950. They saw service with air forces around the world and saw action with the Israeli Air Force during the Suez Crisis. A less adventurous tasking involved duty as target tugs while others took to the seas as a carrier-borne variant sporting folding wings.

To the very end, the Mosquito continued to fill roles that no other aircraft could. The model continued onto the Mk. 43 which was a trainer with the RAAF, but there were so many variants and marques before the final propeller stopped.

I had the pleasure to be interviewing a ‘Battle of Britain’ veteran who in 1942 received a new posting to a Mosquito squadron with some trepidation. He had heard very little of the new type other than the fact it was wooden and therefore seemingly a backward step in fighter technology.

He went on to fly the Mosquito more than any other aircraft and commanded a Mosquito squadron post war. He never lost his affection for the ‘Mossie’ he grew to love and sixty years later still had a twinkle in his eye when remembering de Havilland’s “Wooden Wonder”.

Sydney Airport From Above. An Aviation Blog Image by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Sunday, February 05, 2012

Overhead Sydney's Kingsford Smith Airport.

The Five Most Popular Aviation Blogs. By Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Sunday, February 05, 2012

 

Hi All,

As the numbers continue to soar on this blog and a new group of readers join us, I thought it would be worthwhile to re-visit five of the most popular aviation blogs thus far. Here they are.

1. Golden Days.

2. So You Want to be a Pilot?

3. The Fatal Stall.

4. A Glimpse of the 'Red Tails'.

5. The Big Bang Theory.......of aircraft engines.

For those of you new to this aviation blog, welcome aboard! And for those that are continuing to come back, thanks for your support and please enjoy the growing list of original content.

Cheers

Owen

Hard Learnt Lessons. An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Friday, February 03, 2012

We in the aviation world are actually a little further ahead of the game. We don’t give ourselves enough credit, but while corporate entities strive to maintain a level of secrecy, aviation seeks to share its shortcomings. The dissemination of safety findings on a global scale in an effort to circumvent repeat occurrences is one of our industries greatest achievements. When faults are found with aircraft, or the way in which we may operate them, that information is freely broadcast. It is a level of operational maturity that has not been achieved overnight, but it is a work in progress we can all be proud of.

Air safety investigation has come a long way over the decades. Rather than simply attributing every smoking wreck to “pilot error”, our knowledge based has broadened to delve deeper. We recognise that the finality of an accident is the result of numerous factors slipping through the net before ultimately combining in a lethal cocktail. The pilot is the final line of defence and sometimes he is just not enough. Sure, there are still instances of rogue pilots blatantly contravening every rule of good sense, but fortunately they are in the vast minority.

From ICAO and the national regulators of aviation down to individual operators, the pursuit of safety is an ever developing challenge. At its very core, success lies in open, honest reporting. Everyone has the ability to observe and speak up and in its most basic form; this is one of the places where safety begins. It may be wrapped grandly in a formal reporting system, or bound in the pages of an official accident report, but fundamentally it is about being honest. Whether it involves reporting potential safety issues or dissecting a tragedy in hindsight, there is no room for cover-ups or misplaced silence. Well chosen words may save lives.

But the road is not paved with gold just yet. There are still companies and cultures that do not encourage ‘speaking up’; whether on the flight deck or on a written form. In these environments, the benefits of safety have still yet to take full hold. Only when aviation professionals feel comfortable reporting mistakes and transmitting ideas can the group work together to minimise risks. Generally referred to as a “Just Culture”, it is an environment that encourages open communication without fear of reprisal.

So what does that mean to a lone pilot sitting in his Beechcraft Baron on a dark, wet threshold about to open the throttles?

It means that you are not alone. Somewhere before, a pilot has executed the same manoeuvre and contributed to the pool of knowledge that better prepares the next pilot. On such a dark wet night there are many dangers lurking. Sensory illusions due to acceleration trick the mind and only the instruments can be trusted. What if an engine should fail? Am I able to return to land or is there an escape path? Nearly every scenario that can be conjured has happened before and whether it culminated in a fatal crash or a moment of cold sweat, there is a lesson to be learned. The facts may be discovered by sifting through the wreckage or analysing a flight data recorder. Happily, they may also be found through self-reporting by a sensible, living, breathing pilot.

By whichever means the facts should surface, pilots should grab them with both hands. Aviation is an ongoing process of education and this is never more applicable than when we have the opportunity to read or the near misses and misfortunes of others. To the outsider this may appear ghoulish, but to those in the field it is cherished knowledge. Often sobering, these tales of misadventure fill the accident report sections of journals across the world.

It is equally important that we remain impartial as we digest the cold, hard facts. For in the safety of our armchairs it is impossible to recreate the mindset of another, or to feel the pressures and distractions that may have led to some terrible omission or oversight. It is not our place to judge with the benefit of hindsight, rather we should glean every ounce of knowledge that can be stored away for use on our own dark, wet night. Often, the pilot will have paid the ultimate price for a perfectly human error and there is nothing to be gained from slurring the reputation of another. In fact, such talk infers a sense of superiority and a belief that the mistake was merely simple and stupid. Beware! There is no room for such complacency in aviation.

I once watched a filmed re-enactment of the final approach of an ill-fated airliner. As the final stages of the approach became more hurried and communication more confused, error after error began to surface with increasing frequency. But rather than sitting in judgement, the hair rose on the back of my neck and a doomed sense of empathy with the crew stirred in my guts. I sat in air-conditioned comfort, knowing the final outcome of this approach, but I equally recognised the conditions that had placed this aircraft and all onboard in harm’s way. I could see the lurking demons of weather, systems failures, commercial pressure and fatigue stalking the hapless crew and I wanted to warn them from my comfortable chair. But it was all to no avail.

Far from sitting in judgement, I tried to take something from the tragic outcome that would improve my own operational performance. And so should we all when presented with safety information or the findings of an accident report. As with 'The Fatal Stall', from time to time this blog will re-visit a range of aircraft accident and incidents in an attempt to enhance the safeguards in our own flying. There will be no judgement placed on those who have ‘stared down the barrel’ in the accidents we review, rather we will endeavour to draw some positives from an otherwise unfortunate outcome. Nor will there be any sense of complacency, for there but for the grace of God, go I.

For the Fun of It. An Aviation Blog Image by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Wednesday, February 01, 2012

 Chris Sperou doing what he does best.

A Great Set of Numbers.

Owen Zupp - Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Hi All,

The first full month at of this blog has come and gone.

When I launched the new website in December, I was venturing into the unknown. A little fish in a very big pond, I wasn't sure if anyone would actually find the website and blog. With so many commercial websites out there with online strategies and advertising, I accepted that I may just be a voice in the wilderness. You have all proven this to be very wrong. 

Over the last few weeks the response to the blog has been exceptional. I have made over 50 posts since its inception, but already there have been more than 5,000 unique visitors and well over 10,000 page views! Equally significant has been the messages, comments and subscriptions to the website that have been flooding in. Very kind words and worthwhile feedback; please keep it coming!

For it is my desire to share this wonderful world of aviation that drives me to put in the effort, but it is your interest that will ultimately determine the future of the blog. The fact that so many people are reading the articles inspires me to keep going and I thank you all for that.

So, with the first full month behind me and the future ahead, I maintain committed to producing more original content on a broad spectrum of aviation topics. So please continue to come back and visit, follow me on Facebook and Twitter and let me know what you think. This has been a big first step, but I can't wait for the rest of the journey.

Thank you.

Owen

Owen Zupp on Facebook.

Owen Zupp - Sunday, January 29, 2012

Hi All,

Thanks again for the huge support of my new aviation blog.

I encourage you to follow me on Facebook for the latest updates by simply clicking on the Facebook 'F' icon at the top of this page. That will lead you to my Facebook page titled "Owen Zupp. Author". Then simply click on the 'Like' button.

And for those already following the blog and Facebook page, please feel free to spread the word. Stay tuned for more new upcoming content.

Cheers

Owen 

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