Sunday, December 5, 2010

Your Street

From the Sunday Herald-Sun newspaper on The Basin, just down the road from us:
" Local councils are filled with petty bureaucrats obsessed with over-regulating the lives of suburban residents."

Reminds me of the tree saga. We called the council tree expert as we were worried about one tree. He said that was OK but identified two others that should be removed - that was 10 years ago and all are still doing well. At the same time we mentioned a dead tree next to the road just at the front of our place. They weren't interested in removing it. Electricity company sent me a letter demanding removal as it was near the power lines and unsafe - I told them to talk to council. It was indeed unsafe - it came down on the road one night, fortunately no-one was injured.
The there was the spa pool fence. I rang the council and was told that I needed a permit for the fence around my portable spa pool. I filled in the form and sent the money. Got a phone call from them a few days later asking why I did that! This other guy said that I didn't need a permit and refunded my money. However, he did say that the fence would need to be inspected to make sure it was safe. "If I don't need a permit how do you know the fence is going to be there to inspect" .. "Well, we know now so we want to inspect it."
The Herald-Sun moved on to the subject of "Preachers stop in their tracks":
"There's a sign at Anita Elkington's front door that tells bible-bashers in two short words what they can do with their gospel message. ... As the wife of a retired policeman she is riled by injustice. ... and can't understand why young ratbags gain pleasure from mindless vandalism .. glass bus shelters are often smashed .. Why do the dickheads keep putting glass back in the bus shelters anyway when they know they're going to get smashed again."

Friday, September 10, 2010

Too Dumb To Fly

Editorial in the Sept-Oct issue of AOPA's magazine, Australian Pilot.
"A group of us was standing around the other day discussing the death of a fellow pilot in a crash. The newspaper story on the accident which took the pilot's life (and that of his passenger), told the usual story about what a great bloke he had been and how he had died "doing what he loved."
We all made the appropriate noises about how terrible the whole thing was for the man's family, especially for the family of the passenger who died.
Then one member of our group muttered that the crash had not come as a surprise to him and that he would never have flown with the pilot. "He was an accident waiting to happen, that bloke," he said.
Others mumbled their agreement, obviously reluctant to speak of the dead.
I hadn't knowm the pilot and so pressed them for more information. Gradually, the members of the group who had known the dead pilot, admitted more and more information about him.
They told me he had been warned several times by other pilots about his dangerous flying behaviour, that he'd been warned not to try to do aerobatic flying in an aircraft not suitable for it, and warned not to do seat-of-your-pants flying with a passenger on board if he was not qualified to do so.
Despite the warning, he had continued to fly that way, obviously supremely confident of his own ability. He got away with it every time too, until that last time.
The dead pilot had received the same rigourous training as we all have, so common sense suggests merely insisting on more training would not have been a solution to preventing this accident.
The problem turned out to be in his mind, not in his hands.
Maybe the only way to bring down the road toll and to weed out dangerous pilots is to prevent people with bad attitudes from getting behind the wheel in the first place."

Tony Kern's excellent book, Darker Shades of Blue: The Rogue Pilot, deals with the same subject in much more detail. Hey, isn't that a Decathlon on the cover? Could he be writing about us?

I've been promoting peer reviews per CASA's Aerobatics CAAP 155-1 for some time. I've had some vocal opposition on the basis that "we already do that" - nope, read the above editorial again - that is what you are doing and it rarely works. Peer reviews have one important difference which makes all the difference - the pilots asks people that he respects for opinions on his safety. If he doesn't ask, then that's fine with me, it is not compulsory but it doesn't take much time or effort and it doesn't cost anything. If he does ask then he should be given a truthful response not just a "feel good" stamp of approval.

A few years ago, one of my friends rang me to say he saw a flying instructor barrel roll a Warrior and asked for my advice - "tell the owner of the flying school" - but he didn't. The flying school eventually sacked him for other reasons. He didn't last long at the next flying school either. Some of the aeroplanes he has damaged over the years are known about. I wonder how many pilots were impressed by his feats of derring-do and will repeat them in future.
We must not tolerate people like that - they need to find a different career.

An Instructor's Obligation by Rick Durden:
"I've been to visit that little room where I put the memories of friends and acquaintances now dead. (It's a blunt, hard, cold word. We won't use euphemisms; they are dead.) There is a special corner in that room for those, fortunately few, who have died in airplanes. In that corner, there is a dark nook for two special pilots. They are special because I was certain they were going to kill themselves in airplanes and, even though I was a flight instructor, I either didn't or couldn't do anything about it. Despite the fact it has been over a year since the second one died, it is still a painful journey to go into that nook, because I cannot help but have the nagging feeling that I could have done more to prevent their deaths. I know the journey is one that more than a few experienced flight instructors take from time to time, usually only very late at night, and when they are alone. They agonize over what more they could have done to prevent a death.
They are the instructors who have a little deeper lines in their faces and who become very quiet from time to time.
Over the years I have come to believe firmly that flight instructors have a duty to aviation. On those rare times that the experienced instructor gets to know or flies with someone who is close to that instructor's personal line on the pilot spectrum, I believe the instructor has an obligation to raise the issue with the pilot. We instructors may lose a friend or two. We may upset a pilot or four, but to not step up and try to reach the person is to shirk the responsibility we instructors so clearly have.Sometimes instruction is not fun. At those times the measly $40 per hour I charge isn't even close to being enough.
I'm not going home yet.
I just hope I will not be putting a third friend in that little nook in that room in the back of my mind."

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Low Level Aerobatic Peer Reviews

Just been reading some articles at Avweb.
The first, "Lucky or Good"
"There's something about the typical experienced-pilot's personality that is antithetical to safety. I'm not an expert in analyzing personalities -- though I know what I like -- but it seems the very traits that make someone a "good stick" also make that same skilled pilot a safety risk."
and the other, "We Worry About the Wrong Things and It's Killing Us"
"My friend just can't figure out why we Americans so blithely accept the true risks we face while continuing to smoke, over-eat, not wear seatbelts and not raise heck about hospital procedures, yet we get ourselves all in a twitter over the low risk items and take all sorts of expensive and often-redundant precautions that would be better spent on the high-risk stuff.
I didn't have an answer for my friend, but it caused me to look at the same question as applied to flying. While the fatality numbers for general aviation, just under 500 in 2006 -- far less than the number who die each year falling in bathtubs -- are very low, they have to be compared with the very small number of people who get into general aviation airplanes in the first place. With that in mind, our accident rate is far worse than the airlines and somewhat worse than automobiles, about the same as for motorcycles. Therefore, it's worth evaluating: Do we pilots worry about how to deal with the actual risks we face? As an aside, do we flight instructors teach students (and pilots in for recurrent training) how to identify and avoid doing stupid, high-risk things in airplanes?"
I was reminded of a discussion paper that I wrote for one of the aerobatic clubs about a year ago. There was some discussion. Some said that peer reviews are not needed as "we already tell people". Nope, you might tell some-one if they experience a sudden loss of judgement and does something silly but then they already know it themselves.
Some wanted peer reviews as a condition of permanent low level permissions. Nope, then we'll just have people chasing to get the peer review stamps in their book just before contest registration - if that, why would a contest registrar be looking for it? No-one else will be chasing it up so they won't happen.
If people don't do peer reviews for the right reasons then they won't be effective.
That discussion paper has gone nowhere so I thought that I'd share it with you here. I have seen that a few aerobatic pilots are practicing it. At one contest recently, peer reviews were apparently mentioned at the briefing and offered the assistance of a stamp. Unfortunately not many pilots know what a peer review actually was.

When CASA issued CAAP 155-1, Aerobatics, in January 2007 they introduced the concept of peer reviews which has largely been ignored by the aerobatic community since then. We know that CASA has been reconsidering their policy on low level aerobatics so should the club take the initiative to improve safety for aerobatic pilots before CASA imposes any restrictions?
If you consider the details of any accidents, not just those involving aerobatics, do you think that an effective regime of peer reviews would have eliminated any of them? Or even just one – would that make it worthwhile for all to undertake peer reviews?
How safe is a novice safety pilot in a competition? What do they know of their responsibilities and required capability?
Many organisations offer Pilot Proficiency Programs for their members – should the aerobatic club undertake a similar program for the benefit of its members?
This discussion paper is prepared for use by the aerobatic club in consideration of the recent history of a large number of tragic accidents involving low level aerobatics and the potential for CASA to revise their policy with a possible adverse effect on the operations of club members.
Some years ago, CASA developed two new draft regulations, Parts 61 and 91, which included some new rules relating to aerobatics.
PART 61 FLIGHT CREW LICENSING Subpart P - Flight Activity & Maintenance Authorisations
"1.1.2 The following flight activity authorisations are specified in this Subpart -
    d) Aerobatics
    e) Aerobatics below 3000 ft AGL
    f) Aerobatics below 1500 ft AGL"
i.e. rules relating to aerobatics were to be split into three different categories as above. Basic aerobatic endorsements would be above 3000 ft as now. Aerobatics down to 1500 ft would be administered by industry i.e. appropriate instructors and others (via the aerobatic club) would have the authority to make logbook entries permitting pilots to do aerobatics down to 1500 ft. Aerobatics below 1500 ft would continue to be administered by CASA.
There was a draft Advisory Circular which had been developed by CASA in broad consultation with industry.
91.075 Aerobatic Flight
"(3) The pilot in command of an aircraft must not perform aerobatic manoeuvres in the following circum stances without CASA's approval:
    (a) below 1500 feet AGL;
    (b) in the vicinity of a public gathering or at an air display;
    (c) at night."
To enable the provisions of Part 61, this rule in Part 91 above had to be altered for it to read 1500 ft instead of 3000 ft.
The aerobatic club objected to this change – they wanted to retain 3000 ft as the minimum height for aerobatics thus requiring a specific delegation for CASA for any aerobatics below 3000 ft. So, as CASA staff had changed, being unware of the broad industry consultation they took the aerobatic club's view and put 3000 ft into the draft regulation. I learnt a lesson there – even though many of us had contributed to the draft AC and rule development none of us respodned to the NPRM – we need to have responded and said it was good. CASA only got negative comments.
The draft AC 91.075(0) has been available for review in its current form since September, 2001. Appendix 1, Para 3.3 is quite clear on the subject of initial approvals for aerobatics:
"Pilots may be certified as safe to conduct all the primary aerobatic manoeuvres above a minimum height of 1500 feet, but must not be cleared for aerobatic manoeuvres below their individual spin recovery certification. A minimum height of 3000 feet is recommended for most initial approvals."
Para 2.3 also refers to limitations for inexperienced pilots. The AC also outlines requirements for aerobatic flight instructors, training and the provision of an Operations Manual which would detail the conduct of aerobatic training. This is the mechanism by which CASA would control the process for training and issue of approvals for aerobatics down to 3000 ft; and down to 1500 ft.
I went to the CASA FLOT2003 conference in Sydney specifically to have that draft changed back to the original 1500 ft and succeeded in that. But, who would've thought that the aerobatic club would oppose the new rules which were aimed at facilitating our sport. The aerobatic club purported to represent its members yet did not tell its members what it intended to do – these days it is so easy to communicate with members with email or online forums!
Six years later the regulatory reform programme (not just aerobatics) has gone nowhere so I wouldn't rely on any changes to the rules in my lifetime. i.e. we must work within the existing CAR 155 and, probably, the existing CAO 40.0.
Aerobatics in the UK is not regulated in that there is no minimum height specified for aerobatics and aerobatic training is not required – there is no aerobatic endorsement (it is likely to be required soon with the new EASA rules). page 291
The AOPA has an aerobatic training syllabus and a certificate which is generally accepted as the standard.
The British Aerobatic Association and the Tiger club have standards to be demonstrated prior to their members performing at low level at their events.
Display pilots require a CAA authorisation
The USA does not require aerobatic training and has no aerobatic endorsement.$FILE/ATTNUI98/ac91-48.pdf
Minimum height for aerobatics is 1500 ft however the IAC has gained a waiver for its members whereby they may practice and compete to competition levels without any further approval subject to that flying being within an area approved by the FAA for low level aerobatics.
Display flying is largely administered by ICAS with annual renewals of low level waivers which are issed by the FAA. ICAS has a detailed manual.
From some brief research, Canada has a tighter regulatory regime than Australia.
Back in the '70s low level concessions were renewed annually – testing was by CASA (more correctly CASA's predecessor) or aerobatic club members approved by CASA. CASA also approved aerobatic club members to conduct low level aerobatic coaching.
Flying Operations Instruction No 13-2 Issue 2 about '93 brought some significant changes:
A low level approval will remain current while the pilot holds a valid licence.
AAC members may be approved to conduct aerobatics down to 330ft.
The AAC may nominate members for approval for the testing of AAC members for the issue of low level approvals. So far so good, but to gain approval from the CAA as a low level tester the pilot must undergo a flight test with an examiner of airmen. This flight test must be repeated annually except that it may be conducted biannually in the case of a pilot who has competed at Unlimited level at our Nationals or who has competed in a World aerobatic contest during the preceding year.

Appendix 1 contained the knowledge requirements for low level aerobatics which largely remain today.
The came another policy with durations of two years for low level aerobatic approvals and limitations on aircraft power.
CAAP 155-1 was developed with broad industry involvement and introduced the provision for CASA delegates to issue low level aerobatic permissions. It was issued in January 2007.
It contained some excellent information, some of which was based on USA AC's but most was developed locally.
It introduced new guidance for threat and error management.
It introduced the recommendation for annual peer reviews.
It introduced new guidelines for low level aerobatic permissions:
It included a low level aerobatic test form with additional guidance on the conduct of the test.
It contained guidance on conditions of low level aerobatic permissions:
“6.15 Conditions On Permissions
6.15.1 A delegate cannot cancel a permission once it is issued. Therefore a delegate needs to carefully consider whether there is a need to issue the permission with conditions. Delegates may issue a low-level aerobatics permission with any conditions they believe necessary in the interests of safety. For the guidance of delegates, it is considered that the following conditions are applicable to all low level permissions to provide an acceptable level of safety:
(1) Other than one-off permissions, the permission can be issued for an indefinite period, but a delegate may include an expiry date if he or she considers this necessary in the interests of safety.
(2) A limitation to single-engine aeroplanes up to 800 hp or to a particular aircraft type or types.
(3) A height limitation specifying a minimum level for the conduct of aerobatics. Delegates may specify any height limitation they believe necessary in the interests of safety, but the following height limitations would probably cover most circumstances:
• Not below 1500' AGL;
• Not below 1000' AGL;
• Not below 500' AGL; or
• Unlimited.

Note: There is no requirement for pilots to hold a permission at each higher level before being issued one at a lower level, although some form of progression would be the normal expectation. The delegate may issue a
permission with any height limitation that is based on safety considerations.”

The sample permission letter includes the following conditions:
“1 The minimum heights and distances to maintain separation from any group of persons must be
those specified for spectators in Civil Aviation Order (CAO) 29.4.
2. Subject to clause 3, the approved person must not conduct flight manoeuvres below the
minimum heights specified under regulation 157 of CAR 1988.
3. If the approved person is permitted under this instrument to conduct flight manoeuvres below
500 feet, the flight may only be conducted over a location approved by the appropriate CASA
office as suitable for the conduct of those manoeuvres.
4. Passengers must not be carried during manoeuvres below 1500 ft, nor during any acrobatic
demonstration, display or competition.
5. The approved person is not allowed to conduct an acrobatic flight over public gatherings.
6. The approved person must not conduct acrobatic manoeuvres within or over:
(a) any location where acrobatic manoeuvres are likely to be a hazard to the navigation of
other aircraft;
(b) any location known or likely to be noise sensitive;
(c) an area where an aircraft malfunction would endanger the lives of persons.”

Most importantly, a delegate cannot withdraw or cancel a low level aerobatic permission.
Issues for the Aerobatic Club
As the club purports to represent its members and to have an interest in the safety of its members it should take a proactive approach in considering the recent history of accidents and what it should do to improve the future safety of aerobatic pilots.

Pilots are encouraged to consider accidents (not just aerobatic accidents) where a change in the way the pilot conducted his/her operations would've have avoided the accident. CAAP 155-1 offers a process for individuals to go to their peers to seek feedback on their own operations and potentially improve the way they do things from a safety point of view. Increased safety can only result from this very simple, but disciplined activity.
Peer Review Process
“The peer review process is intended to provide an independent assessment by a similarly qualified person or persons on the way the pilot conducts the activity and to identify any incorrect techniques or practices that the pilot may have developed over time. It is not intended to be a flight test for the renewal of the permission, but an opportunity for constructive discussion with other practitioners with a view to enhancing the safety of a pilot’s performance.”
As noted above, the provision for indefinite permissions carries some risks in that there is no further assessment and it is extremely difficult to take away a permission.
The peer review process should be promoted by all pilots within the club.
“7.28.3 The following is the recommended procedure for the peer review process:
• The pilot should have had sufficient recent practice and/or training to be able to conduct a sequence of low-level aerobatics safely;
• The pilot should brief the observer(s) on the sequence to be flown;
• The pilot should fly the sequence under observation, either from the ground or the aircraft down to the level of the permission, or the level to which the pilot intends to exercise the permission, if higher;
• After the flight, the pilot and the observer(s) should de-brief the sequence to identify ways in which performance and safety could be improved; and
• The review is entered in the pilot's logbook and signed by the pilot and by the observers as a record to indicate that the observation and discussion has taken place. It could include a disclaimer that the observer is not certifying the pilot's competence.
7.28.4 The observers would need to have proficiency in low-level aerobatics and preferably also in assessing low-level aerobatic performance. Suitable observers would be any one of the following:
• CAR 155 delegate; or
• At least two other low-level permission holders with similar permissions; or
• CASA Flying Operations Inspector (FOI).
7.28.5 During the debriefing process it is important to be objective in identifying items that were done well and those that could have been done better. Emphasis should be on providing input and advice on ways to improve safety and performance rather than on questioning an individual’s ability.
7.28.6 Signing-off as an observer for peer review should not be construed as certifying the competency of the pilot, but that the review has taken place and that any issues of concern have been brought to the pilot’s attention.
7.28.7 The object is not to assess the pilot as suitable or otherwise to continue to hold the permission, but in cases where continued operation by the pilot would constitute a serious risk to air safety there would be some moral responsibility for the participants to counsel the pilot and, if necessary, bring this to the attention of CASA.”

A sample form of the peer review logbook entry:
PEER REVIEW iaw CAAP 155-1 AEROBATICS Section 7.28.
I have observed a low level aerobatic sequence performed by ......................
and debriefed the pilot on opportunities to improve safety & performance.
Note: this is not a certification of competency.
Signed ................................  ARN ...............   Date ..............

The aerobatic club would be neglecting the safety of its members if it did not promote peer reviews as recommended by the CAAP. There may be other actions the aerobatic club could take to improve safety however this is one measure which has clearly been introduced by CASA and which has been ignored.
It is important not to let peer reviews become rubber stamping for mates. Should the aerobatic club accredit reviewers? Should the aerobatic club provide training and guidance material for reviewers? (This could include a checklist which the reviewer may chose to retain.)
The actual review is verbal at a debriefing session after a performance has been observed. Although the logbook entry records that the review was undertaken there is no statement of competency recorded. However, reviewers may like to keep records of debriefs for their own purposes (perhaps if they were asked by a coroner). Althought the CAAP refers to a debrief of a single performance the reviewer should be encouraged to bring up relevant matters of a broader nature.

i.e. the basic objective is to identify any hazardous attitudes and help the pilot to understand that so as to take appropriate action.

a. Antiauthority (don’t tell me!).
I can join the circuit neater than that and save a couple of minutes, some-one will tell me if there is conflicting traffic.
That's not a zoom climb after take-off – my aeroplane can sustain a 60 deg climb angle, some-one will tell me if there is conflicting traffic.
45 minutes fuel reserves - its only going to be a 10 minute flight.
The spectators can't see me unless I'm really close to the fence during my display.

b. Impulsivity (do something quickly!)
e.g. I'm flying three Unknowns in this contest.
Miserable weather and no contest flying so I'll just do a display.

c. Invulnerability (it won’t happen to me).
e.g. All those things happen to other people because ….... but
engine failure at low level
spin just took a little longer to recover than usual
something went wrong with that lomcevak
there was nothing wrong with the aeroplane before the first flight of the day

d. Macho (I can do it).
e.g. Watch me on Utube – I can fly just as well as …......
Difficult unknown but I need to be down where the judges can see me.

e. Resignation (what’s the use?).
e.g. I need to do three monthly checks and a biannual flight review and low level aerobatic renewals so why do I need to do these peer reviews?

Some-one is likely to tell you if you nearly have an accident but then you might've scared yourself anyway. The thing is that the one that will get you will be something different, something that has been brewing for some time as a result of your display of one or more of those hazardous attitudes. No-one has enough lives to learn from their own mistakes – learn from the mistakes of others.
Safety Pilot
The following condition on low level approvals limits the qualifications of a safety pilot in competitions:
“Passengers must not be carried during manoeuvres below 1500 ft, nor during any acrobatic
demonstration, display or competition.”
The delegate may vary this however I note that there is absolutely nought in the test crtieria to assess a pilot's ability to sit in the passenger seat of an aeroplane and act as pilot in command while another pilot (who does not have a low level aerobatic permission) perform low level aerobatics, especially under the stress of a competition. How safe is a new safety pilot?
Many other local organisations offer Pilot Proficiency Programmes for their members.
Perhaps it is easier to list the flying organisations which do not offer Pilot Proficiency Programs to its members?
Did you notice the insurance companies feature as sponsors or offer discounts on insurance for those who attend?
Should an Aerobatic PPP be developed as an improvement and alternative to the peer review process?
FAA AC 60-22, Aeronautical Decision Making is a good reference. Another good reference is the book "A Pilot's Guide to Safe Flying" by local author Sander Vandeth.

We know that CASA has been reconsidering their policy on low level aerobatics so should the club take the initiative to improve safety for aerobatic pilots before CASA imposes any restrictions?
If you consider the details of any accidents, not just those involving aerobatics, do you think that an effective regime of peer reviews would have eliminated any of them? Or even just one – would that make it worthwhile for all to undertake peer reviews?
How safe is a novice safety pilot in a competition? What do they know of their responsibilities and required capability?
Many organisations offer Pilot Proficiency Programs for their members – should the aerobatic club undertake a similar program for the benefit of its members?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Judging Again

I was at an aerobatic club meeting recently and observed some of the discussion about judging. There was criticism of the standard of judging
and it seemed to me that criticism was directed at the Unlimited judges
of which I was one. We didn't use the Fairplay System where the judges
would expect an analysis of the scoring and a ranking of the judges - a
pity as us judges have no knowledge of the basis of that criticism. The
first that some may know about it may be when the proposed judging
committee comprising "senior pilots" decides that they are no longer
wanted at the contest. The Fairplay System would tell all where we stood
although I wonder how it deals with a majority of the judges not detecting errors worthy of a hard zero. (I admit to missing the odd thing while judging at the nationals - no-one says that judging Unlimited is easy)

Those of us who didn't compete and just participated as judges will probably respond in the following manner if this idea gets off the ground:- "I need to know a long way in advance of the contest whether you want me to judge or not. If not, then I won't bother with the judges refresher course and I will make other plans for that weekend. Please don't wait until the last minute as I would've already organised something else to do.

Good luck in finding judges for your contest."

I didn't participate in that discussion as I apparently got into enough
trouble some years ago with the comments in the posts below. That was when the aerobatic club instructed their webmaster to delete the link to my website - reminds me that I asked on several occasions what the reason for that was and still no answer despite the webmaster agreeing to provide the response.

--- In, wrote:
JUDGING - Are judges overworked or under-work?
"But it's hard to ignore the facts. At the last 2 nationals the largest variance in scoring has been in the Advanced Grade. Here the judges are arguably some of the most experienced judges in Australia - our Unlimited Pilots."
"I discussed all this with John Gaillard and he gave me some food for
thought with the following ideas:
Advanced and Unlimited pilots work only as assistant judges
The chief judge is chief for all grades and has no other administrative duties
Judges are on the line for a minimum of half a day
The only way your judging improves is with experience ie. volume If you're like me, you're thinking "but in the real world."
Well it's just something to think about - I'd be very pleased to hear from anyone with ideas on the subject. What do you think?"
What this editor thinks is:
Whats the actual variance? Is there a difference in ranking?
I wouldn't want an advanced/unlimited pilot as assistant - my requirements for assistant are quite simple - enough knowledge to correctly fill in the score sheet and include my comments in the correct place; strength to hold the umbrella in a strong wind, remembers to bring sunscreen and water; doesn't talk when I'm judging.
And, more of what I've thunk on this subject is copied below. I was severely criticised for my comments two years ago so .....

Pilkington wrote back in 1999:
Just got my December AAC Magazine (well ahead of the IAC - only just
got October's Sport Aerobatics). I agree with Mr Magic's views on pilots
criticising individual judges. I was bashed up recently for my criticism
of some judges in general (I promise to only do that out of season). I
wonder if anyone south of the Murray has done a judge's refresher course
yet. I must admit that I got stuck halfway through it. I strongly
disagree with Mr Magic's remark "The absolute scores are irrelevant. It
doesn't matter if a judge scores you lower than every other judge. They
have probably scored every other pilot low as well. It doesn't matter as
long as they are consistent. It has been my experience in all the years
I have been flying that the best pilot in the competition has placed
first - without exception ...."

Firstly, how is "the best pilot" defined if not by the scores from judges who are correctly applying the defined judging criteria? If there's inconsistency between the judges' absolute scores there's a good chance that some of them are not applying the correct criteria but simply plucking a number from the air. Consistency is essential as well - the judging criteria are not that watertight that there won't be variations between judges - whether they apply the criteria for round loops harsher than others or whether the sunlight flashed off the canopy at the wrong time or, like me, just get it wrong (hopefully not too often). These judging criteria are not easy to remember, occupying 24 pages in my copy of the AAC Regulations. Its takes a lot of effort for a judge to remain up to speed. As I said in my earlier postings (eg #557) - some of our contests have very close scores. I mentioned a contest where the top four pilots had scores within 5%. The winning score was by 5 points in 4000. Who knows if the best pilot really won? We must accept that the system has limited accuracy and accept that the best pilot won. I don't want to know how the individual judges ranked the pilots for that very reason. On the other hand we must ensure that the judges are reasonable.
Editor: David Pilkington

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Big Tour 1996

All of this is just from memory of events about 15 years ago so if anything is incorrect please just treat it as fiction.

We had two Pitts S-2Bs travelling about 1000 nm or so to Oshkosh and we were taking it in turns to lead the other in formation for one leg at a time. I had Cindy with me in the front seat. She hadn't been in a little aeroplane before at all. A little bit of baggage. Full fuel. Cruise at 145 kts TAS gave a safe range in still air of about 220 nm plus ½ hr reserve. We'd normally plan legs of no more than 200 nm.

Mark led for the first leg. After departing Afton airfield we immediately turned right through the blind canyon. Sounds dramatic but we were rapidly climbing so always plenty of options in case of an engine failure. We were soon at 12,000 ft to get us over the 10,000 ft ridge. A while later a climb to 14,000 ft to skip over a higher ridge.

At the first refuelling stop I took the lead. The tower ignored several calls from me in N727PS (that was the 50th Anniversary Pitts Special - some way to being an S-2C and later the S-2C prototype). Mark took the lead and the tower responded to his first call. That night he suggested that my accent may have confused them – thinking that I was an international 727 on the wrong frequency. That was disappointing as I thought I'd learnt the cowboy drawl pretty well by then. I knew that at breakfast “car fuel” would get me a bottomless cup for $1 plus the $1 tip. At dinner, if I wanted a very nice steak, I'd say “flaming yawn”.

At one overnight stop several months earlier I was given the keys to the FBO's truck and told that the best food was at Cactus Jane's a few miles out of town. Ordered coke to drink. “Sorry, we don't have any of that.”
“What do you have then?”
“Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Dr Pepper and Coke.”
“OK, I'll have coke then.”
“I told you – we don't have any of that.”
“Pepsi then.”
She dashed out the back and returned momentarily “Sorry, we're out of Pepsi, will coke do?”

This was our longest leg – about 220 nm. I had a good fuel flow indicator plus fuel totalizer and capacitive fuel contents indicator. Mark just had the standard fuel pressure gauge labelled with fuel flow plus the convoluted sight gauge so far away from the tank that its readings were vague. I had one of the new GPS/COM units which I'd never seen before. I asked Cindy to fly the airplane for a while so that I could learn how it worked and set the display up so that I could easily understand it. I'd slipped some distance behind Mark and he was a small but clear dot in the distance. I told Cindy just to keep him in the center of the windscreen and I'd pop my head up every now and then to check on things. Mark obviously got bored after a while as he was following the cloud streets and Cindy was handling things quite well. I'd had the avionics pretty well sorted out when I heard a scream and it all went black. The cloud street had got tighter. Back above the clouds all was easier.

The cloud cover increased as we progressed and we made the decision to descend underneath. We soon discovered the significant headwind lower down and judged that we didn't have many options at that time – proceed to the destination but we'd eat into our reserves. We planned a straight-in approach and considered that we'd eat even more into our reserves if we had to open the throttle on the Lycoming IO-540 and go-round. Only a few miles out my instruments told me pretty clearly how little fuel I had and Mark would've had the same but less sure of the situation.

My second time flying into EAA's Airventure at Oshkosh. At the end of the show we had volunteered to give rides to EAA vlounteers and VIPs. One of my passengers was ex-USAF with 20,000 hrs total time and 2,000 hrs aerobatics so I handed over to him as we climbed out. He did a loop and fell out. I gave him some advice for the next one as it was many eyars since he'd last flown. Fell out again. I said I'd talk him through the next one and recall that the last thing I said to him was “this is a flat inverted spin”. He forgot to tell me that he'd never done aerobatics in a propeller-driven airplane before.

The next task was to go to the aerobatic contest at Fond-du-Lac to help out and give some more rides. After that both aeroplanes were going to Oklahoma City but I'd have a different sidekick. We flew the first leg in company with a Sukhoi and an Extra. For our lunch stop we chose what appeared to be a large airport on the Sectional Chart on the basis that it would probably have a nice cafe. Small biplanes dont have much space to carry stuff and the US airport guide was a big book and we were unable to easily get info on the place at the last minute (these were the days before the internet). As we approached we saw the enormous runway but then some-one on Unicom pointed out that the big runway was not yet finished. Narrow, short runway instead. Lunch was a Mars bar and a coke.

We arrived at Page Airport just outside Oke City in time for the BBQ reception for the World Aerobatic Championships. I can remember standiung talking to Mike G when a little old lady came up to me and asked if I was married. I immediately recalled the effort that I went to in obtaining American pilot and drivers licences. “I only have an Australian licence and I haven't converted it yet so … “ She just looked strangely at me and turned to Mike with the same question. “Nope maam.” She pulled a sixgun out of her handbag and pushed him away … it all happened very quickly after that – lots of shouting and gunshots but we all survived. Great show. I left the aeroplane there for a couple of weeks then returned to pick it up. But it wasn't the same.

Propeller swapped with one to be returned for warranty work but the propeller wasn't bolted on. I got plenty of free advice (either too busy themselves or liability issues it seems) and people were happy to loan tools for the job. Some-one had ran into a runway marker so I also had to repair the wheel fairing.

I had organised a business meeting in Denver on the way home so I postponed that for a day. Next morning there was a big thunderstorm sitting over the top of the airfield so I waited until late afternoon before I got going. Visibility was 3 nm. No matter what height I flew at. 2000 ft AGL seemed a good compromise between seeing enough of the ground, not scaring myself with the high towers and staying away from the jets. I soon learnt that a darker shade of grey indicated a thunderstorm not far away. Only one leg this day so still a long way to go. Postponed the meeting again.

Next morning low cloud so waited all morning (meeting postponed again) before the destination reported a base of 1500 ft AGL and the same where I was. A few miles down the track that changed to and I was down to 500 ft AGL. The weather seemed stable and visibility was good so I continued. View out the front of the biplane was inadequate especially regarding towers so I'd fly one large field at a time, looking across it for obstacles before I flew to the other side. Good to discover that the chart was quite accurate as far as existence of towers was concerned. The weather improved significantly for the last leg into one of the smaller airports in Denver. Been away from the mountains for too long and wasn't attuned to the density height so it was a firm landing. Meeting went well.
As I departed, the tower's standard phrase of “clear for take-off, watch density altitude”. Thinking to myself I've got a small biplane with plenty of power, I don't need to worry about density height. Changed frequencies and advised that I'd be staying OCTA to the west alongside the Rocky Mountains. They warned me of plentiful microbursts. They looked pretty to me – clear blue skies, unlimited visibility just a mess of thunderstorms easily avoided. I reported my destination of Rawlins and was warned of the violent weather and extreme winds currently being experienced there. No worries - if it didn't improve as I got close I'd go somewhere else. I normally followed the highway towards Cheyenne then through the pass around Elk Mountain but today was just beautiful so I decided to cut the corner. Up to 14,000 ft and direct to Rawlins – from here I could see that the weather had moved on and it was fine now. The final leg home to Afton went well – cruising at 10,500 ft over the high (about 7000 ft) desert plain then up to 12,000 ft to cross the last mountain range.

Blair welcomed me as I taxiied in “I can tell its had a firm landing …. and I don't like the repair that you did!”