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Texas STOL Roundup

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Looking for a fly in this fall?  Check out the Texas STOL Roundup at the end of September in Hondo, KHDO.  Interested in entering?  All are welcome!  There are several different categories including LSA, Experimental, and others.  Come in for a fun weekend and see how short an airplane can be landed!

There will be bands, a STOL seminar, and even a hangar dance.

Fly in or drive in.  Camping will be available on the airport.

For more information, you can visit the event website.

An Educational Runup

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When a pilot thinks of an engine runup in a single engine piston airplane, typically it is let’s find out if the engine is running rough or not, meaning a spark plug is fouled.  Believe it or not, there is a little more to learn from a runup than just checking the spark plugs.

A distinct advantage to having an engine monitor that monitors all EGTs and CHTs is you get a better idea of engine health.  When switching to one magneto or the other during the runup, all the EGTs should rise, showing that the temperature of the exhaust gas is going up from each cylinder.  This occurs because when running on only one magneto, and therefore one set of spark plugs in each cylinder, the mixture takes longer to burn, therefore making the exhaust gas hotter.  An indication of a magneto failure in flight would be a rise in all the cylinders EGT without a change in mixture setting.

Now that we know what to look for when checking each magneto, what would one look for to show that there is a problem?  The basic that each student pilot is taught still applies.  The engine manufacturer puts a limit on RPM drop during the runup.  When checking one magneto or the other, watch for an excessive RPM drop.  If the RPM drops past the limit, this usually will be accompanied by engine roughness.

Why is that?  Let’s look at the cause for the excessive RPM drop.  For this, we need to go back to our EGT indicators.  Let’s say we have a 6 cylinder engine.  When the key is turned to the right magneto, the RPM drops 250 RPM and the engine gets very rough.  Look at the EGT gauge.  The cylinders where the spark plugs are firing normally will all show a temperature.  The cylinder (or cylinders) where there is no combustion, meaning a bad plug, will show no temperature.  This is because the mixture is just sitting in the cylinder and not igniting, therefore, no exhaust gases will be pushed out so there will be no EGT indication for that cylinder.  This is also how you tell a mechanic which cylinder to check for the bad plug.

It could also be a bad magneto.  If multiple cylinders EGT all drop, or the engine wants to quit entirely, you have a bad magneto or bad ignition harness.

What else can you learn during the runup?  Electrical system health is key, especially in all electric airplanes (meaning no vacuum system).  It’s a very good idea to turn on all the lights and pitot heat to ensure that a rise is indicated on the ammeter.  This means the alternator is carrying the load and working properly.

The next time you do your runup, keep an eye on your EGT to see the rise during a magneto check.

A Sad Reminder

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It was a rainy Thursday afternoon and I was eating lunch with my family when my phone rang. My wife and I had just been discussing how miserable the weather was, so it was only natural that about 30 minutes later I was soaking wet and sitting in one of our Aerostars getting ready to take off for Ohio. I didn’t have much information about who I would be flying, or why, but I knew that I was going to pick someone up to fly them home; something about a missing airplane. So off I went into the muck. My biggest concern at that point being whether or not my clothes would ever dry out.

I arrived uneventfully and walked happily into the FBO, but found myself quickly in a very different atmosphere. It turned out I had two passengers to pick up, a husband and wife, and they had arrived at the FBO before me. As I walked in the door, the wife received a phone call. The person on the phone told her that search teams had found her father’s airplane crashed in the woods and that he was dead. I learned the rest of the details quickly and it was hard to stomach.

She was travelling home that day to be with family until they were able to locate her father. She was pregnant with her first baby and was in her third trimester. The baby was to be her dad’s first grandchild. He’d owned a Lake Amphibian for years and had stayed at home to work while his wife was out of town. He was last seen leaving work on Tuesday of that week and was reported missing on Thursday by his co-workers. Airport security footage showed him pulling the airplane out and taking off at 20:48 (after sunset) on Tuesday night.

After a few minutes we loaded the Aerostar and took off. It was the saddest flight I’ve ever done. Understandably, my passanger sobbed on and off from the time she got off the phone until we landed a couple of hours later. The weather seemed appropriate as we flew along through the rain and were greeted at our destination by a grief stricken family and a few reporters.

I said a sad goodbye and left, but I couldn’t help but think about their situation. It really hit close to home with me as it was easy to draw parallels between my family and theirs: she was very close in age to me and pregnant with her first child. My wife and I were new parents. Her dad had owned his airplane for about the same length of time that my dad has owned his Bonanza. Additionally, it isn’t uncommon for my parents to go a couple days without being able to reach each other because they both travel.

A Lake 250, the same type of aircraft involved in the accident.

But what happened..?

In the time since the accident, the NTSB has published their findings and unfortunately, it makes the situation sadder. It was completely avoidable.

Airport security cameras showed that after removing the airplane from the hangar, the pilot did not complete a preflight inspection or even a walkaround of any kind. He simply climbed in and left. The investigators were unable to find any traces or odor of fuel in the wreckage, nor any mechanical abnormalities with the airplane. In fact, according to the report, the engine was put on a test stand and ran perfectly. It would seem that the pilot simply never checked the fuel quantity and took off. The airport cameras captured the take off and a bright flash about 30 seconds after the aircraft departed.

Here is an excerpt from the report:

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:  The pilot’s attempted 180-degree return to the runway immediately after takeoff in dark night conditions, which resulted in collision with trees and terrain. Also causal was the pilot’s inadequate preflight inspection, which resulted in a takeoff with little-to-no fuel on board the airplane.

Interestingly, the report also details their ability to use logbook information and fuel receipts to show the airplane was taken on a long cross country on its last flight and likely not fueled again.
Another thing which stuck out in my mind upon learning the details of the crash was how important it is to let someone know when you’re going flying. Having another person know roughly when a flight is leaving, where it’s going and and when to expect it back could potentially save the lives of the people on board. In the case of this accident, the pilot didn’t alert anyone that he was going flying and therefore, no one realized he was missing for 2 days.

From reading the NTSB report I don’t get the impression that he survived the crash, but I can’t help thinking about the possibility that he, or others in similar circumstances, could survive a crash and then die from their injuries because no one knew to look for them. When I flew charter, we weren’t legally allowed to take off VFR without letting someone at the company know the details of the flight. I’ve adopted this as my personal policy as well. One text message could be the difference between being rescued or not.

Finally, every pilot should ensure that a proper walk around is completed! It’s easy to assume everything is okay with an airplane, especially one that no one else has access too. In addition to a thorough preflight, I like to walk all the way around the airplane and visual check fuel caps, doors, chocks, ropes, etc., immediately before getting in to ensure that everything is ready. I know a couple of pilots who have taken off with various panels and compartments open simply because they got distracted during their walk around and never closed them. (A good policy is to never walk away and leave something open). Perhaps even more mind boggling is that he apparently didn’t look at the fuel gauges after start up and before take off. I also have to wonder how much fuel he had remaining upon completion of the previous flight.

“Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect” is likely a familiar quote to just about every pilot. It is often written on a poster with a picture of an old timey bi-plane hanging out of a tree, but I think that it is absolutely on point. Carelessness in the preflight and neglecting basic pilot responsibilities (in this case fuel planning) cost this father his life and his opportunity to meet his first grandchild.

I know this article is a real downer, but it’s supposed to be. Its tragic that accidents take place which are completely avoidable. Obviously this case was beyond the normal realm of carelessness and neglect, but, we as pilots need to be extremely careful not to get so comfortable with an airplane that we stop doing the things which are so basic and important to safety. One of my professors in school used to say “aviation is fun, but it plays for keeps,” which is an effective way to remind myself how important it is to do it right.

*Out of respect to the family, I have not included any specific names, tail numbers or airports in this article.

The New Diamond DA50 Line

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Diamond has joined the high performance single engine fray with the announcement of it’s new line of DA50 models.  Cirrus currently has the cornered the market on easy flying, fixed gear, speedy HP single engine airplanes.  But, (assuming that the Diamond DA50 gets certified in a timely manner and the appeal of the Jet A sipping SMA diesel engines appeals to a broad enough audience), Cirrus could have some competition soon.

The proposed Diamond DA50 will come in 3 different configurations, the IV, the V, and the VII.  The IV and the V will each burn under 10 GPH of Jet A. The VII will burn about 14 GPH of Jet A, using the same amount of fuel as a normally aspirated SR22, but at cheaper Jet A prices (plus the discount of fuel companies like CAA or AEG Fuels).

According to AOPA, all 3 Diamond DA50 models will be equipped with the Garmin G1000 NXi panel and the GFC 700 Autopilot. The Diamond DA50 -V will be the first model expected out next year, with the IV to follow soon after.  The wait for the VII will be a bit longer.

In testing, the Diamond DA50 -V showed true airspeeds of 173 knots with an expected range of almost 1100 miles.  Gone is the bubble canopy that greatly increased the green house affect of the airplane.  It’s replaced by two suicide doors, similar to what is on the Cessna TTx.  The single back seat door on the pilot’s side remains.

Carrying capacity will be greater than the Cirrus as well.  The Diamond DA50 -V will have a gross weight of around 4,000 pounds, giving it a useful load of 1,250 pounds, giving pilots a lot more flexibility in weight carrying.  The Diamond DA50 exterior will be fully customizable as well as advances in carbon fiber paint and decals has come a long way since the early 2000s when white was the only option.

Here are some basic specs for each DA50 model:

Diamond DA50 -IV

  • 230 HP
  • 4 seats
  • Less than 10GPH fuel burn

Diamond DA50 -V

  • 260 HP
  • 5 seats
  • 10 GPH Fuel Burn

Diamond DA50 -VII

  • 360 HP
  • 7 seats
  • Retractable Gear
  • Turboprop option

I am most excited to see the performance numbers on the VII model when it comes to market.  With a 360 HP engine and retractable gear, it seems like it will be a screamer.

There are also rumors that Diamond is working on a rotorcraft, the Dart 280, but there isn’t a flying model at the moment.

The Dual Garmin G5 Glass Panel Solution

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What’s the most cost effective glass panel retrofit?  There are several options out there (and it seems like more coming each Sun ‘N’ Fun or Osh Kosh event), but the consensus is the Aspen EFD 1000 or 1500, right?  At $12,000 installed, it’s about $8,000-$10,000 cheaper than the Garmin G500 (though you can make the argument that when you add a second screen and SVT to the Aspen, the price is about the same).

I am here to blow your mind.  What if you could get a glass panel retrofit that is a complete AHRS system with airspeed and altitude, plus a slaved HSI that auto slews to your GPS and a 4 hour backup battery so you can throw your steam attitude indicator away, for only $4,600, plus installation?

I am not crazy.

The Garmin G5 debuted last year when the FAA relaxed it’s regulations to allow more experimental avionics into certified airplanes.  The single G5 was a big hit.  The 3.5 inch screen fit nicely into the hole that the traditional attitude indicator left, giving pilots a glass attitude, airspeed and altimeter options for less than $2,500.

In March, Garmin brought out the HSI version of the G5.  Equipped with a low cost magnetometer, the DG/HSI version is a complete replacement for the traditional DG/HSI.  The unit also displays ground speed and distance (received from the GPS information), while auto-slewing to the GPS flight plan, so the CDI needle will move on it’s own, eliminating the annoying need for the pilot to set the course on the HSI (and ridding the GPS of the message that pops up reminding the pilot to set the course).

The dual units provide a complete backup Attitude in the case of a display failure.  The reversionary mode you get with the Garmin G1000 and the Garmin G500 is also present in the dual G5s.  This eliminates the need for a backup steam gauge attitude indicator, freeing up panel space for an engine monitor or some other toy.  The G5 units can also be equipped with 4 hour backup batteries in case of electrical failure.

The price for the dual G5 setup is very reasonable at just under $4,600 plus installation (which, according to Garmin, should be pretty simple as the units act as plug and play instruments).  The AHRS unit is available stand alone for under $2,200 while the DG/HSI unit standalone runs just under $2,600.

For more information, check out Garmin’s website.