Friday, February 27, 2009

LASP Comment Submitted!

This is a regular blog post. If you want show notes or links to show audio, please check out the other posts. In particular, if you’re looking for the audio version of the LASP comment, check out

Well, I’ve struck a blow for freedom, however small and however likely to be ignored by the TSA. I do hope the pen is as mighty as my high school debate teacher always dreamed that it could be. Thanks, Mr. Raymond.

Here’s where we nurture our civil society, ladies and gents! Here, in the voting booth, and at town halls across the country. It might be airplanes this time and it might be another thing next time. But it’s reasoned (even if emotional) discourse that is our best hope to preserve what was won long ago.

Some of it by the very aircraft that we now rise to protect.

I posted my comment to the TSA’s NPRM regarding the Large Aircraft Security Program a few minutes ago. The full text (in PDF form) is here: Or you can just check out the TSA’s docket.

Many thanks to all who concurred in the comment. The honor roll that was attached to the comment follows.

Martin S. Aaron
David M. Allen
Jeffrey D. Anderson
Babette Andre
Russell S. Boltz
Jason Bunker
Scott Cannizzaro
David E. Crawford
Russ Coburn
David Cooper
Steven T. DiLullo
David Donaldson
Christopher M. Donnelly
Nathan Duehr
Terry N. Duehr
Gwenneth Dale Duke
Scott K. Duncan
Barry Farner
Richard Don Felty
Martin A Flynn
Dave Gamble
Todd Garrison
James Goldman
Philip J. Gustafson
Quentin D Guzek
Matthew Hammer
Will Hawkins
Douglas W. Hindman Jr.
Christopher F. Hollomon
Brent P. Humphreys
Matt James
Kris Kirby
Craig D. Lake
Laryn D. Lohman
Eric Max
Dick McKay
Brian S. Michael
Michael J. Mikolay
Charles H. Mount Jr.
Rudy Poussot
Dennis N. Reed
Perry Reed
Steven B. Reed
Patrick Rountree II
Martin G. Santic
Hans-Peter Scheller
Jeremy Sebolt
Deric A. Selchow
Kent G. Shook
Alan W. Sieg
Carl Smith
E. Thomas Sisk
Bob Skala
Andy Small
Kevin J. Smith
Nathan J. Smith
Bill Williams

Note that 10 additional persons expressed concurrence with this comment but were either not United States citizens or did not express concurrence in a way that made it sufficiently clear to me that they wished to have their names included with the comment.

I appreciate the international folks and I might add them in an update to the post if I get time. As for the others, I sure didn’t mean to shunt anyone who wanted to be on the list. But this is a pretty inflammatory and heartfelt comment and I wanted to be reasonably sure about each person’s wishes before sending this adversarial hairball to the TSA with his/her name on it.

Now we wait to see what the TSA does. In the meantime, support your local DC-3 operator (my personal favorite being and/or other operators of aircraft between about 12,500 pounds and 100,000 pounds max gross takeoff weight.

Keep your fingers crossed!

Nowback to your regularly-scheduled Airspeed!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Large Aircraft Security Program - Capt Force Speaks Out

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These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen online right here by clicking:

Read the draft comment in PDF form here:

Here’s the full text of the comment that I intend to submit to the Transportation Security Administration (the TSA) in response to its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that would implement the so-called Large Aircraft Security Program (LASP).

I’m all about actual security and I, like many of you, am vigilant about my airport environment, the aircraft that I fly, and the people with whom I fly.

But the TSA has entirely missed the point and proposed a rule that will likely make it difficult or impossible to operate many warbirds, classic transport-category aircraft, and other aircraft with max gross takeoff weights of more than 12,500 pounds.

If you share my views and would like to be noted by name in the comment as a listener or fan of Airspeed who concurs with the comment, please leave a comment at the end of this entry or send me an e-mail at Please give your full name. US citizens only, please, but expressions of support by non-US citizens are always welcome.

If I get enough named supporters so it looks like a real groundswell of support, I’ll include the list in the spot at the bottom. If I don’t get a big response, I’ll probably leave the list of supporters off. Either way, your expression of support will be appreciated.

Note that I am very upset over the proposed rule and the text and tone of my comment reflects this as best I know how. The TSA is threatening to make it nearly impossible to preserve many warbirds and other WWII-era aircraft, among others.

AOPA, NBAA, and others will certainly give intelligent, objective, and well-reasoned comments to the NPRM and I look forward to reading them. But the TSA needs to know that some of us, in addition to being intelligent, objective, and reasonable, are rightly indignant and aren’t about to let the process happen without giving full vent to our feelings.

Here at Airspeed, I’m executive producer, chief pilot, and janitor. It’s a lot of work, but it also means that I get to say what’s on my mind without holding back. So here’s what’s on my mind.

Whatever your feelings on the LASP, please exercise your voice as an American and give your government full benefit of your feelings on this important matter. We can't hope for a rational rule if the regulators aren't fully informed by we who fly and love these aircraft!


Transportation Security Administration

In re:

Large Aircraft Security Program, Other Aircraft Operator Security Program, and Airport Operator Security Program

Transportation Security Administration
49 CFR Parts 1515, 1520, 1522, 1540, 1542, 1544, and 1550

Docket No. TSA-2008-0021
RIN 1652-AA53

Comment of Stephen L. Tupper

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I fear that the TSA and the DHS, have yet again sorely mistaken overbearing and paranoid measures for policies that will provide safety or security to the nation’s persons, property, or treasure and I am compelled to petition you to turn away from this path.

I comment in my own individual capacity and my comments should not be taken as representing any organization or enterprise with which I work or of which I am a member. Thankfully, this affords me the luxury of pulling no punches and giving you full benefit of my feelings on this matter. I’m not an alphabet organization or other group that needs to speak politely and compromise in order to fight another day. I can say what I wish. And I shall.

I am a private pilot (airplane single-engine and multi-engine land, instrument airplane). I also hold a second-in command type rating in the Douglas DC-3. Further, I independently produce Airspeed, the popular aviation and aerospace podcast (

1. Why I Care (Among Other Reasons)

In May of 2008, I was privileged to live a part of uniquely American aviation history. Along with three other students and a talented instructor, I took to the skies surrounding Griffin, Georgia in a Douglas DC-3. Over the course of three days, 2.8 logged hours, 14 takeoffs, and 13 landings, I became type-rated to fly the DC-3 as second-in-command.

As I flew the ‘three, something happened that I’ve never seen before or since. After the first trip or two around the pattern at whatever airport we used, vehicles began to stop along the side of the road at the approach end of the runway. On short final, I could see people standing by the side of the road looking up at this ghost from another age. I know that some of them must have been running late for appointments or had other things to do, but this sight made them pull over and stand in the midst of strangers looking up to see this aircraft.

When is the last time you experienced an example of Americana that caused people to pull over to the side of the road and stand there for half an hour or more, enchanted?

The present NPRM would bother me deeply even if I hadn’t had this experience with the ‘three. But the ‘three, with a maximum gross takeoff weight of around 25,500 pounds, is squarely within the sights of an unjust and unwarranted rule that threatens to take the ‘three and hundreds like her out of the skies.

I rise to speak for the DC-3. And for general and commercial aviation operators and airports that can ill afford the destructive effects of the proposed rule.

2. Costs and Operational Burden

Many aircraft stir our hearts. They call us to the airport to see them flown and, if we work impossibly hard and are extraordinarily lucky, fly them ourselves. But it is already ruinously expensive to maintain and fly many of the aircraft that we most love.

During my DC-3 training, the instructor pulled a few of us aside to make a point about why you manage the power carefully and don’t ride the brakes on a DC-3. He showed us a donut-shaped bladder about two feet in diameter. “This is a brake actuator for the ‘three. It expands under pressure and presses the brake pads against the braking surface. It costs about $2,000. When you can buy one. At the moment, you can’t buy one. Anywhere. We lose one of these and we’re done until one of these becomes available again.”

And that’s just a small indicator of the challenges that operators of such aircraft already face. The fact of the matter is that the DC-3 training center, the Commemorative Air Force, the Yankee Air Museum, and other organizations that operate classic aircraft already daily face heart-rending choices about what to save and how to save it.

This camel is already loaded down beyond reason by the economy, parts availability, certifying pilots and keeping them current, maintaining facilities, and otherwise preserving these vital parts of American heritage. To add yet another straw to the camel’s back will surely break it. It’s already breaking. And yet the TSA proposes to drop a load of lumber onto the load.

With the LASP, an operator of such aircraft would face substantial additional cash costs and administrative burdens. Training operations like the DC-3 school would have to screen every student as both a crew member and as a passenger through third-party screening providers that are as yet ill-defined, ill-regulated, and apparently able to charge whatever they can in this new TSA-created oligopolistic service market.

And others would at least have to screen passengers. When a ride in a B-17 for a World War II veteran and his children already runs well over $450 per seat and is prohibitive for most, an additional $50, $75, or $100 each for screening will thin even more the population willing to have such an experience and will leave aircraft on the ground for want of financial viable operations.

Operators would need to implement a comprehensive security program and have it approved by the TSA under uncertain and undefined criteria. And the operator would then be subject to audit by yet other private contractors in a second layer of largely unsupervised, uncontrolled delegation of government authority that could shut down such an operator without anything approaching due process.

Operators would additionally need to meet yet more recordkeeping, retention, and privacy requirements, adding to what is already one of the most paperwork-intensive endeavors known to man.

Additionally, operators would be prohibited from carrying any of the items on the TSA’s list of prohibited items ( in an accessible place. This is unreasonably inconvenient at best and potentially dangerous at worst. As a general aviation pilot, I carry a Swiss army knife and a 4” lockblade in my flight bag within reach at all times in case I need to cut a seatbelt or otherwise free myself of a passenger from the airplane under emergency circumstances. Further, if flying over remote areas, at night or otherwise, I would be inclined to carry flares or other appropriate signaling devices. These are safety issues. If I can’t reach important safety equipment when it’s needed (including potentially when I or another person is immobilized in wreckage in a remote area with hours or days before rescue), I endanger myself and my passengers.

And this isn’t just about pointy or flammable things. This is about tools, spare parts, and other cargo that is absolutely essential if one is planning to take a DC-3 or other classic large aircraft cross-country. Lots of tools. And yellow-tagged parts. I suppose that one could bonk a person over the head with any of them. But is it really more responsible to leave behind vital aircraft support supplies?

And what of cargo transport of just-in-time parts or other commercial items? Any one of which might be pointy, sharp, or otherwise potentially injurious. Are we to seal off the entire cargo area when carrying such materials? And is it safe to make the cargo area inaccessible in flight so that flight crew cannot check whether it has shifted and whether it remains secure?

In addition to the safety issues, there’s a substantial cost issue here. Many of the aircraft covered by the LASP do not have compartments in which to secure such items. The designers (who in many cases, participated in opening the frontiers of aviation in the first place) saw no need for them. In at least some cases, one would require a TSO, STC, or other regulatory clearance to alter the structure of the aircraft to create and install such compartmentalization. In those and other cases, the cost to retrofit aircraft to perform their current missions would be prohibitive or even exceed the value of the aircraft themselves. Either way, you ground an otherwise perfectly airworthy aircraft and make it unavailable to the people who depend on its services and to the people who earn their livings operating and maintaining those aircraft.

Further, if such an operator operates at an affected general aviation airport, the airport faces its own additional burden of complying with nearly airline-style security programs. General aviation airports already face staggering burdens. Neighborhoods encroach on them. NIMBYs fiercely fight much-needed expansion. The present downturn in the economy has already had a substantial effect on numbers of operations, patronage at FBOs, airframe and powerplant maintenance business, and other factors. Adding a security program at the more than 300 additional airports is yet another burden that most airport operators can ill afford now or in the near to intermediate future.

In fact, the LASP could cause vital aircraft to have to cease operating at certain smaller fields and move to larger airports with more robust security already in place. This makes the aircraft unavailable to smaller communities and also massively increases the costs to hangar and maintain the aircraft at a larger airport (See

3. Affected Aircraft

(a) Historic Aircraft

The public, and much of the pilot population, probably does not understand the scope of the LASP or its effect on actual aircraft that they know and love.

All of the following aircraft have max gross takeoff weights of greater than 12,500 pounds but less than 100,000 pounds and are presently held and operated by the Commemorative Air Force, the Yankee Air Museum, or any number of other preservation organizations and commercial operators throughout the United States.

Aircraft and Max Takeoff Weight (Varies within Type)
Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress - 65,500
Chance Vought F4U Corsair - 14,449
Consolidated B-24 Liberator - 65,000
Curtiss C-46 Commando - 48,000
Curtiss SB2C Helldiver - 16,800
Douglas A-26 Invader - 35,000
Douglas DC-3/C-47 Skytrain/Dakota - 31,000
Douglas B-23 Dragon - 32,400
Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar - 64,000
Fairchild C-82 Packet - 54,000
Ford Tri-Motor - 13,500
Grumman AF-2S Guardian - 25,500
Grumman Avenger - 17,893
Grumman F6F Hellcat - 15,415
Grumman F8F Bearcat - 12,947
Grumman HU-16 Albatross - 33,000
Grumman G-73 Mallard - 12,750
Junkers Ju 52 - 24,200
Lockheed C-60 Hudson - 18,500
Lockheed L-18 Lodestar - 17,500
Lockheed PV-2 Harpoon - 31,077
Lockheed T-33 - 15,100
North American B-25 Mitchell - 41,800
North American P-82 Twin Mustang - 25,591
PBY-6A Catalina - 64,450
Republic P-47 Thunderbolt - 17,500

And, if you lower the threshold for the proposed rule, to 10,000 pounds, you will bring into the sights of the rule, among others, the Douglas SBD Dauntless and the North American P-51 Mustang.

You’ll note that I’ve largely neglected the TSA’s disingenuously-phrased specific requests for comments. But I’ll be happy to directly address one, namely the weight cutoff for the LASP.

If I were the TSA, I’d avoid the neighborhood of 12,100 pounds. There’s a hornet’s nest of public outcry waiting for you at 12,100 pounds. About 1,375 of those pounds consist of a Merlin engine. That engine and the rest of the airplane constitute a large part of the reason that you hold the jobs that you do and that you have promulgated the NPRM in English instead of German or Japanese.

Be very careful. You might get away with decimating other grand dames of the skies, but every redneck, suit, line worker, banker, lumberjack, lawyer, cop, fireman, landscaper, fast-food cashier, and child able to stand recognizes the mighty P-51 Mustang. Not that aviation would fail to miss the other aircraft that the TSA would so cavalierly tear from the sky, but at least we have the P-51 Mustang still guarding the 12,100-pound boundary.

(b) Modern Aircraft

Many modern aircraft also fall within the scope of the NPRM. Included among them are such aircraft as the King Air 300 series and about 10% of business jets. If you take the weight limit down to 9,000 pounds, you ensnare the Citation CJ-1 and Pilatus PC-12. If you take it to 6,000 pounds, you encumber barons, Meridians, Senecas, and the Matrix.

Those who fly such aircraft are among the lowest-risk operators of which you could conceive. These operators know their passengers and such passengers are frequently family, friends, business associates, and employees. Must a pilot who operates his or own large aircraft conduct a background check on him- or herself? Screen his or her mother?

As I said before, it’s already ruinously expensive to operate an aircraft (and create and sustain all of the jobs associated with the support services that you buy, etc.) The requirements of the LASP will keep unnumbered people from obtaining or operating large aircraft and will cause other unnumbered present operators to fall out of the market.

I’m reminded of the recent brilliant editorial cartoon by Chip Bok (see in which a legislative committeeman informs a businessman that no bailout would be available if the supplicant has flown to the hearing on a corporate jet. The committeeman then asks why the businessman’s company is failing. To which the business man answers, “We make corporate jets.”

In this economy and under circumstances under which the TSA will gain no additional security, why must it impose such costs on such a vital industry?

I have put myself through two graduate degree programs at night and worked tirelessly for the last 20 years in the hopes of building a lucrative career. Although I love my work, you can be assured that the work itself is not adequate motivation. I work so that, among other things, I might one day have funds sufficient to afford an aircraft with a max gross takeoff weight of more than 12,500 pounds. There are many thousands of people just like me with similar motivations and we pay untold millions into the nation’s coffers each year in taxes. Why must you, by this regulation, place the brass ring that much higher with a senseless regulation?

4. Cost

I think that I have adequately covered the cost issues in terms of their effects on individual operators and airports. But I feel that it’s worthwhile to comment briefly on the macro cost of the LASP.

I’m absolutely shocked. I just can’t believe that the TSA would impose a program that is, by the TSA’s own admission, so costly. The Paperwork Reduction Act notice alone is appalling. Compliance will require 1 million hours per year in paper shuffling alone. Folks, as I see it, that’s 11 lives per year lost right off the bat. 11 deaths of the worst kind. 11 lifetimes spent shuffling paper. Every year. And that’s only the operators of the aircraft!

And the price tag in dollars is something like $1.1 billion over 10 years for operators and $5.5 million for airport operators over 10 years. To say nothing of the $136.6 million in taxpayer dollars that the TSA itself intends to waste in implementation

5. The Regulation Will Be Ineffective

The cost is especially massive when one considers that nearly every minute, dollar, piece of paper, and scrapped aircraft will be for naught because the regulation will not be – and can not be – effective.

I had to laugh out loud when I read the Executive Order 12866 Assessment of Benefits. According to the NPRM, “. . . TSA cannot quantify these benefits, however, TSA conducted a ‘break even’ analysis to determine what reduction of overall risk of a terror attack and resulting reduction in the expected losses for the nation due to the terror attack would be necessary in order for the expected benefits of the rule to exceed the costs.”[1]

The TSA then goes on to paint four fanciful pictures of the destruction that might be wrought by large aircraft.

It starts with $32 million for ramming a large aircraft into a rural area and proceeds to $1.73 billion for the same thing in a populated area and to $49 billion for a World-Trade-Center-style attack (complete with numbers from the office of the New York City Comptroller). And then the TSA gives free rein to the most fanciful denizens of its anxiety closet and comes up with a $1 trillion scenario in which a nuclear or biohazard event wipes out the eastern seaboard. As long as the TSA was going all-out, I was frankly disappointed that the TSA omitted Martians and large-aircraft-mounted sea bass with lasers.

I joke because I have to in order to remain sane in the face of the sheer and towering paranoia exuded by the TSA.

You are supposed to understand aircraft and other means of transportation. You are supposed to be better than this. Yet you starkly demonstrate a terrifying ignorance and lack of understanding of even the most basic nature of the risk that the country faces and instead build wild paranoid fantasies to justify imposition of these regulations.

Airplanes of the kind that are subject to the proposed rule are wholly inefficient instruments for terrorism. They require hours of training to so much as start and taxi the aircraft effectively. (Come on out and taxi a DC-3 around the airport with me. It’s like driving your house down the street from a second-floor window on an icy day.) They demand talents that require many more hours in order to take off and operate. It would be nearly impossible to obtain such training without also having spent the bare minimum of 50 hours of other flight training (and more likely 100 or more hours) in order to obtain the certificates and ratings that any training facility would require of a pilot seeking such training.

And lest you worry that an unwilling pilot might plow a DC-3 into a building, you can be assured that each of us has thought about the issue long and hard even before September 11, 2001 and we have plenty of maneuvers up our sleeves for such occasions. I’m quite sure that you would be surprised by the maneuverability of a DC-3 whose pilot’s best other option is flying it into a building. I’m sure that there are at least some of my brethren who secretly yearn for an excuse to perform such maneuvers. Suffice it to say that a weightless and inverted terrorist is usually ineffective both during and after certain maneuvers. As is one who suddenly weighs two or three times what he or she is accustomed to weighing. Sideways.

Look, even for all of my bravado here, it remains that if a terrorist is well-trained, skilled, and committed, there is absolutely nothing in the LASP that will keep that terrorist from using a large aircraft for nefarious purposes. The LASP will protect us from lazy, retiring, cowardly, or incompetent terrorists. Those unwilling to climb a fence or use a fake ID. But it’s not going to keep a dedicated and suicidal person from carrying out an attack. Heck, it wouldn’t even keep out most of the 9/11 attackers. 18 of the 19 would have passed the required crew background check with flying colors and be compliant with LASP all the way to impact.

And it completely mystifies me that the TSA continues to miss the most important point in all of this. There’s absolutely nothing you can do with an aircraft subject to the proposed rule that you can’t do cheaper, faster, and more safely (for the terrorist) with a 20-foot rental truck. Yet it is now almost 14 years since just such a truck was used to decimate the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and it still requires no background check, no security clearance, and no air marshal to rent just such a vehicle at any of thousands of establishments located within convenient driving distances from prominent and high-value targets around the country.

A couple of guys with a rental truck and some fertilizer, TNT, or C4 can carry more destructive power and get it closer than any large aircraft could. Yet the TSA insists on ruminating over coordinated fleets of DC-3s and Grumman Mallards converging on a downtown somewhere.

The TSA takes as an article of faith that “enhanced security” will result from LASP. The cold, hard fact is that the LASP will do absolutely nothing to enhance security. It is fatally flawed. The terrorists that we actually need fear will find it no barrier. And, in fact, the terrorists that we actually need fear are much better off heading to the truck rental place and they know it.

6. The Slippery Slope

I generally dislike any rhetoric that relies on the argument of the “slippery slope.” That if we are to do a thing to one extent, we will necessarily proceed to carry the thing to its extreme. But my objection to slippery-slope arguments is also generally confined to circumstances in which the regulator is limited by goodwill, competence, intelligence, and/or procedural checks – none of which seem to burden the TSA.

It is apparent to any literate American that the TSA is perfectly willing to regulate for the sake of regulating regardless of the cost and regardless of whether the regulation will have any real benefit.

Under both the LASP and its enabling legislation, the TSA has acted with imperial abandon. Just recently, the TSA issued a Security Directive requiring thousands of additional persons to be fingerprinted and meet other standards necessary to qualify them for airport identification badges at hundreds of commercial airports across the country, even where general aviation operators are physically separated from commercial operations and no threat or incident has occurred or is likely to occur. The SD has the force of law but is not subject to any legislative or other oversight. And we have no reason whatsoever to expect that the TSA will refrain from continuing to issue such directives at its whim.

The TSA has become a classic example of what Justice Benjamin Cardozo famously termed “delegation running riot.” See A.L.A. Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, 295 U.S. 495 (1935) and Panama Refining Co. v. Ryan, 293 U.S. 388 (1935). The TSA has undertaken unprecedented intrusions into the liberties of American persons and businesses, all apparently without any congressional direction worthy of the name. How long must we go before we again look to the jurisprudence of the Great Depression when government agencies, drunk with the power granted to them in the New Deal, finally had to be reined by the courts from their frolics, detours, and rampages?

How long must we put up with these arbitrary and manifestly ineffective unfunded mandates? Must we wait until some of the grandest aircraft ever to grace the skies have sat in boneyards too long to rekindle the fires in their round engines? How many have to fall? How many must become silent?

Ladies and gentlemen, we have had enough of watching our government flail about, dispossessing us of freedom after freedom, from ignoring the FISA courts to conducting warrantless wiretapping to eviscerating Constitutional allocations of power with executive signing statements to other bad faith in high places. All in the name of doing something – anything – to make those too lazy or complacent to understand the facts feel better. Regardless of whether it makes any sense and regardless of the consequences.

This is no matter of mere inconvenience. Pilots are well-accustomed to operating in one of the most highly-regulated areas of endeavor in which a citizen may engage. We heartily support regulatory schemes that promote genuine safety and efficiency of operations. In fact, by pride, competence, and peer pressure, we are ourselves the nation’s best enforcers of sensible aviation policy. But we have no patience whatsoever for the ill-advised rot that is the LASP as presently proposed.

And here is what frosts my socks the most.

The general public does not understand aviation. Less than 0.2% of the American public hold pilot certificates. With the images of September 11, 2001 still high in the public’s consciousness, the average American is a sucker for any criticism of aviation and reacts with Pavlovian dependability to any suggestion that aviation is dangerous in any way.

Limiting aviation of any kind receives immediate and positive reaction from the general public. It’s low-hanging public-relations fruit. And it’s ripe for abuse by those who care more about the appearance of doing something that they do about actually doing something. The TSA is preparing to take yet another cheap shot. And it’s despicable.

The DHS’s failure to regulate rental trucks or implement any of hundreds of other more effective and less costly measures while instead going after aircraft is proof positive that the DHS and the TSA care far more about public relations points than about actually addressing the issues that each was chartered to address.

Here’s a thought experiment for you. If it were not possible to actually enhance security by regulating, would you have the guts to not regulate? Stop now and ask yourself the question. Who at the TSA has the guts to stand up and point out the elephant in the room? Who has the chutzpah to speak the truth? To refrain from regulating for regulation’s sake? Who has the nerve and the integrity to count the real cost and stand up for an unpopular and inconvenient proposition? The proposition – the demonstrable and true proposition – that the LASP will cost us large parts of our heritage, our history, our treasure, and our freedom, but will not make us one iota more secure.

Stand up, sir. Stand up, madam. I and my brothers and sisters who ply the aether of American skies in gossamer ghosts of the era of Schechter and Panama – We will meet you more than halfway. If your goal is real security and rational processes, you will have as your allies the skilled, the courageous, the bold, and the competent. The guardians of the oldest of dreams and the most precious of freedoms. The pilots of the United States of America.

But, until such a leader speaks up, we are honor-bound to oppose this unjust rule with every voice.

7. Summary

Who could have guessed that Mohamed Atta and his co-conspirators, in addition to decimating the World Trade Center towers and damaging the Pentagon, would also knock from the skies grand emissaries of the golden age of aviation? And who could have guessed that the regulators upon whom we depend would be party to it?

The LASP is nothing less than cowardice, laziness and incompetence on a monumental scale. The proposed rule is fatally flawed and cannot accomplish any of its stated goals and the TSA knows it. This nation’s heritage, its citizens, and its pilots deserve better. I, for one, insist on better.

I oppose the entire LASP as proposed in the NPRM. Please withdraw it in its entirety and don’t come back until you have a workable program that actually addresses genuinely balanced security that is worthy of the civil society that the TSA is charged with protecting.

Respectfully submitted,

Stephen L. Tupper

Date: February 27, 2009
[1] 73 Fed. Reg. 211 (Oct. 30, 2008) at 64822.

I have promulgated this comment by reading it in an episode of Airspeed. At the conclusion of that episode, I invited listeners to concur with this comment by e-mailing expressions of concurrence to me. The following persons sent such concurrence. Each such individual is concurring in his or her own individual capacity and no such concurrence should be taken as representing the views of any organization with, or for, which such person works.


If you're interested, please leave a comment or e-mail me at and, if I receive enough concurrences, I'll include them with the final comment.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Reunion with N94891

This is a regular blog post. If you’re looking for show notes or show audio, please check out the other posts.

The day started out with me coming in to the office with a suitcase in the car and plans to bug out for Hillsdale at 10:30 to train that afternoon and Saturday morning in the FlightDesign CTSW. There was a decent hole in the weather and I was looking forward to flying something after not having flown since the CAP Form 5 ride on the 8th.

Then the call. The instructor sounds like nine miles of bad road and tells me that she’s deathly ill. And it looks like we’re going to get eight inches of snow Saturday. From pretty excited about flying to facing another day in the office. Crap!

But lo! Is there not another opportunity? Yes! I call Solo Aviation at Ann Arbor. Might N94891 and an instructor be available this afternoon for a checkout? Yes, you say? I’ll be there at 3:00!

Long story short, yesterday I flew the C-152 that I first soloed back on July 14, 2001 and last flew in August of that year.

I had originally planned to go fly her a few weeks ago, but the weather conspired to keep me on the ground. Nevertheless, I sat down with CFI Joe Politowicz that day and did the airplane questionnaire and filled out all of the paperwork so that I’d be good to go the next time.

Which, of course, was this time.

I arrived early, pleased to find that Joe was going to do my checkout. Interestingly, Joe was on a search and rescue mission in 891 when I showed up. A couple that was dog-sitting for their children had inadvertently lost the dog and Joe was up with one of them, flying the aircraft over the southwest part of town while she spotted the dog and the rest of the ad-hoc ground team tried to find the dog on the ground. The aircrew had actually found and tracked the dog at a couple of points and was directing the ground team toward the dog, but ultimately to no avail.

I couldn’t help immediately recruiting the entire group for Civil Air Patrol. If they can coordinate an air and ground search for a dog running around Ann Arbor, finding downed aircraft should be a cinch!

1.0 hours with slow flight, steep turns, stalls, and four takeoffs and landings. It was a cold day, we departed with only 16 gallons of fuel, and 891 has since been fitted with a great climb prop, so climb performance was virtually indistinguishable from that of the 172s I’ve been flying. Light chop up to about 1,000 AGL and it was clear that we were in a smaller airplane, but not annoyingly so.

The real differences were in the sight picture and in stability. I did some turns, climbs, and descents to get used to the airplane, and then we slowed up for slow flight.

I did amazingly well with the slow flight for having to essentially guess at power settings and pitch sight picture. Got her down below 40 knots and she just stayed there. I has a few altitude excursions of about 100 feet either way, but minor adjustments in power took care of that. Additionally, when I was low and had to get her back up, I didn’t have to claw for altitude like I seem to have to in the 172. Just a little more power and she came right back up without having to worry too much about bracketing the airspeed. I find (and maybe it’s just me) that, when you’re on the back side of the power curve in a 172 and you get low in slow flight, you give it more gas and everything else wants to change. With 891, I changed the power, everything else stayed essentially the same, and she was back on altitude more quickly without having to get everything else back under control.

I also noticed that I really didn’t do much at all with trim. I’ve lately really concentrated on trying to trim hands-off every time I change anything. It makes flying on instruments a lot easier if the airplane is trimmed out. But trim didn’t seem to make much difference in 891 and I ended up just varying pitch by minor changes in yoke pressure.

In the stalls, and somewhat in slow flight, 891 really reminded me of what made me leery of 152s as opposed to the Cherokees that I had been flying immediately before going to Air One Aviation in 2001. As compared to any other airplane I’ve ever flown, the 152 really wants to drop a wing when it gets slow. You need to be on your rudder pedals if you’re going to stall a 152. Good to learn with any airplane, but you have to have those skills solid in the 152. In each stall, she immediately started dropping a wing. The ailerons were complete mush each time and I recovered the wing drop with top rudder each time. Nothing extreme, but it’ll remind you of how important coordination is.

By the way, I’ve found that “top rudder” is a good rule for recoveries of this kind. If you’re stalled or nearly so and beginning to roll and you want to have just one rule to remember, “step on the sky.” In the stall, your ailerons are almost useless or, if they are useful, they can have the effect of accelerating the stall if used incorrectly. The rudder is your most useful remaining control surface. I put that to good use in 891, just as I did when Don Fuller was instructing me in it. When she dropped the wing in the stall, I just caught it with the rudder while powering up and pushing the nose over.

The cold day and the climb prop meant that we were way nose-up in the power-on stall when the break came. I only used about 80% power and didn’t wait for a full break to recover. I didn’t want to try a tail slide in the airplane.

Back to the pattern. She’s a sweetheart in the landings just like I remember. Wind was about 10 knots and about 40 degreed off to the right with some gusting. We kept it to 20 degrees of flaps where we used them at all. One normal landing, one pinpoint (which I think I got within about 40 feet of the numbers, although I dropped it pretty hard), one no-flap landing, and one victory lap.

Joe was a joy to have in the right seat. He’s an Airspeed listener and was kind enough to bring up a couple of episodes while we were getting ready to fly. He’s also a good instructor. Relatively few instructors take the time to develop a solid understanding of who’s going to do what in the cockpit and to lay out the mission profile before you get into the airplane. I spend a lot of time talking about how primary students and instructors interact, but rarely talk about how CFIs interact with more experienced pilots. Joe was quick to offer suggestions for flying the airplane, but just as quick to say that, if I had learned something differently, any technique that I used that was reasonable and safe was fine with him.

I was all about hearing suggestions. After all, it had been years since I’d flown a C-152.
So we ended up having a really productive flight. I got really helpful coaching and suggestions at important phases of the flight. I rejected a couple of the suggestions at the time (e.g. bleeding off 200 feet on downwind before turning base) because I was busy and in a flow, but Joe’s the kind of guy that you can tell that you’re going to fly it your way this trip around because you’re busy and pick up his suggestion on the next time around. He took that just fine and I tried it out on the next trip around the pattern. And he was right.

I’ll fly with Joe any day of the week. Good instructor, good communicator, and solid human.

And I’ll fly anything on the line at Solo. Great staff and well-maintained airplanes. I saw at least two primary students while I was there and overheard one’s ground lesson and was pretty impressed with what I heard.

None of the landings were what I’d call beautiful, but they were all safe and competent and gave me the feeling that I could make them beautiful with a little more practice in the airplane.

Joe signed me off to rent her whenever I want to for the next year. That’s really nice. I don’t know how much I’m actually going to be back in Ann Arbor and have time to go fly 891, but it was really wonderful to go back up and become reacquainted with this stalwart pilot-maker. How many other first solos have happened in 891? How many other cross-countries and checkrides? I’m really just a passing occupant of the airplane, but I’ll sing her praises long and loudly.

What airplane did you first solo? Where is it now? Do you miss it? Does it miss you? If you’re looking for a quest this summer in addition to a new rating or a unique $100 hamburger, try looking up the airplane that you first soloed and go get reacquainted. I did, and it was a great time!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

How a Side Chair Should Look on Tuesdays

This is a regular blog post. If you’re looking for show notes or show audio, please check out the other posts.

Here’s how a side chair should look on Tuesdays. Ready to go hit a squadron meeting that evening. And, yeah, I change into uniform a little earlier than I have to before leaving because it’s just that cool to be seen for a few minutes around the office in a zoom bag.

Mary and the kids are out of town for the week, so I’m going to hit the squadron meeting tonight and drop off whatever copies of the most recent Form 5 I need to give to the squadron. Besides, Capt Craig is gong to do another G1000 presentation and I really want to start flying the G1000-equipped C-182 soon.

If you’re a pilot or aspiring non-pilot flight crew and you’re not a member of Civil Air Patrol yet, (a) what the heck are you thinking? and (b) go find a few units near you ( and visit them!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Airspeed - Music - Part 3

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It’s high time to do another music episode of Airspeed and we have a great lineup for you today. As you know, I like to plug my iPod into the AUX input of the airplane’s panel whenever I can and have a soundtrack to my flight.

Note that, as inspiring as music can be, it can also be a distraction and might keep you from hearing important radio calls. Be absolutely sure that the music doesn’t distract you or interfere with any radio or intercom communication. You are the pilot in command and you’re ultimately responsible for the safety of your flight, so act accordingly.

Solas – Coconut Dog/Morning Dew

First up is Solas with Coconut Dog and Morning Dew. I’ve always loved most music that requires motor skills to play and Solas delivers that in spades with its particular brand of Celtic music. My uncle turned me on to Solas when I was in Boston in 2007 for Civil Air Patrol National Legal Officer College. I was also finishing up my instrument rating and preparing for the checkride at the time and this tune from “Reunion: A Decade of Solas” became my theme music for the instrument checkride. I particularly like Seamus Egan’s guitar run about two thirds of the way through the tune because it’s intricate, it’s played well, and it’s back by knuckle-dragging triplets by the persussion. I’m the only guy I know who plays air bodhrán (pron. bow-rawn) and this piece should give you an indication of why.


Liquid Tension Experiment – Acid Rain

Many of you know that Liquid Tension Experiment’s second album is my perennial “blare-in-the-car-on-the-way-to-airshow” music. I really enjoy the mix of syncopation and change-ups among the really solid and driving stuff that you can really get your teeth into. This is the music I most closely associate with flying aerobatics. All adrenaline but under precise control. This is Acid Rain. Check it out.

[Acid Rain 1]

And, by the way, this tune gets the Airspeed award for best use of a cowbell in progressive rock. You gotta hear this. Huge, monumental buildup, a whack on the cowbell, and then off into more crunchy groove.

[Acid Rain 2]

Steve Reich - Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble - Music for 18 Musicians

I tweet every once in awhile about the Grand Valley State University’s recording of Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians. It is what the title says. It’s a minimalist meditation on a cycle of 11 chords, mostly in a stream of 16th notes. It requires cello, violin, two clarinets, two bass clarinets, four pianos, three marimbas, two xylophones, a metallophone, and four women's voices. You can’t actually play it with only 18 people unless several of the musicians double up on instruments. The piece is something like 45 minutes long and beautifully augments the parmonies as the pulses ebb and flow.

This piece is what it sounds like inside my head all the time. This music is almost transparent to me. It’s just there and fits right in with whatever I’m doing - tweaking little neurons from time to time when it hits something sympathetic. I don’t even have to pay attention to it. It just envelopes me and tells me that it’s there.

Ever read Louis Sarchar’s Sideways Stories from Wayside School? There’s a story in which Mrs. Jewels brings in Maurecia-flavored ice cream. Everyone thinks it tastes great, except that Maurecia can’t taste I because it’s – well – Maurecia-flavored. If I can take a liberty and say that Maurecia liked the ice cream a great deal because it was her best essence at some level and that it made her feel centered, balanced, creative, and ready for anything, then Music for 18 Musicians is Steve-flavored music. Here’s a snippet from Section VII.

[Music for 18 – Section VII.]

This is way too short to give you more than the smallest taste. It’s out on SACD and it costs twice what a regular CD does, but it’s worth every penny. Go get this music.

Rush – Out of the Cradle

I’ve been a Rush fan since 1985 when my friend lent me a tape of “Exit Stage Left.” I think I prefer the “Signals” era most, but I have every album since then, including all of the live ones and I like them all.

Guitarist Alex Lifeson is a pilot and is, no doubt, the driving force behind the classic instrumental YYZ. Listen to the opening rhythm of YYZ. It’s the Morse code identifier for a VOR near Toronto. How cool is that?

But my musical adrenaline comes from drummer Neil Peart. I’ve been reading Neil’s book, Roadshow: Landscape with Drums and it’s fascinating to find about what goes into a rock tour of that size. I’ll definitely pick up Ghost Rider and Traveling Music, his other two books, soon.

There are no flies on Geddy or Alex, but I go to Rush shows to see Neil. I understand from reading Neil’s book so far that he’s uncomfortable with being called the greatest rock drummer ever. Okay, he’s a journeyman who takes his work seriously and I get that he might be uncomfortable with such characterizations. But Neil, I’d be lying if I said that you weren’t my favorite drummer. I hope that’s okay. And thank you very much for all you’ve done for me and others over the years. I know that Neil is a private guy and I respect that. But if you happen to know Neil and it’s convenient, please mention these small and grateful words to him.

The Rush piece that I’m featuring here comes as a little bit of a surprise. I hit me just right as I was waiting in line to pay for my sandwich at the Bloomfield Deli this year. It’s "Out of the Cradle," the last tune on Vapor Trails. It starts out with a percussive bit on the bass that oozes anticipation and energy and quickly builds into the song proper. And Neil gives it two thumps on the tom on the one and two counts just before the vocals come in. Bomp, bomp.

[Out of the Cradle 1]

And my favorite moment of the song comes after the first chorus. The band just lets the basic groove happen for a few bars. Too few bands do that. Just let you recover from the chorus and gather up the energy to head into the next phase.

I still get nervous before I fly. All smart pilots do. To shake that off and take command of the ramp, I stomp on the pavement. Sumo style if you will. Bomp, bomp. To that same one-two that Neil plays. Flight is about humankind’s departure from the cradle. This song is very nearly perfect for flying in that respect. After your next preflight, walk away from the airplane a few steps, clear your mind, look around the ramp, and then stomp on it. Bomp, bomp. Surge of energy. Spark of inspiration.

[Out of the Cradle 2]

California Guitar Trio – Punta Patri

I first heard California Guitar Trio on public radio while working late one night in 1999. I bought the album “An Opening Act” shortly thereafter and listened to it a lot. It’s all live and recorded during one or more dates upon which the trio opened for King Crimson. One particular tune, Punta Patri, has a really powerful part to it. Take a listen . . .

[Punta 1]

I really like the driving guitars and the layered sound. Kind of hard to believe that it’s just three acoustic guitars.

I first identified this at the Wayne State University Law School’s library while I was researching some state regulatory schemes on service contracts. The Tom Hanks –produced miniseries From the Earth to the Moon was fresh in my mind at the time and all I could think of as I listened to that part was an Apollo Saturn V launch. The last major built-in hold for the Apollo-era launches was at T-minus 2:00. Interestingly enough, the really dramatic part of Punta Patri takes place two minutes into the piece. I choose to think that it’s not a coincidence. To hear it the way I hear it, let me superimpose audio from the Apollo 14 launch and you tell me what you think.

[Punta with Apollo 14 launch]

Yeah, I thought so. Really powerful stuff and wonderful use of acoustic guitars.

Theme From Milliways (Go for TMI)

Lastly, I’m pretty excited to over you this, an original composition. For those familiar with the Airspeed episode from October of 2006 called “First Solo,” this is the music from it.

I originally wrote it on a Martin Backpacker guitar tuned DADGAD. It’s named after Douglas Adams’ fictional restaurant at the end of the universe and for the cabin in Northern Michigan that belongs to my friend and legal mentor. The “Go for TMI” part got added when I decided to make it a part of my upcoming album, Songs from the Sheffield – The First folk Music of the Journey to Mars and Back. When the Apollo missions went to the moon, they first boosted into Earth orbit and then did a burn that sent them on a trajectory to the moon. “Trans-Lunar Injection” or “TLI.” I presume that “TMI” is therefore an appropriate term for the big burn that sends the spacecraft to Mars.

I sent all of the tracks to audio wizard Scott Cannizzaro a month or so ago and asked him to remix it a little and augment is as he saw fit so that I can make it available to Will and Rico of Wilco Films for use in the upcoming independent film, A Pilot’s Story. What came back was really amazing. I’ll play a little of my initial recording done in my basement and then play the whole thing as remixed by Scott.

[Theme from Milliways (Go for TMI)]


Check out Scott Cannizzaro at

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Monday, February 09, 2009

CAP Instrument Form 5 Ride

This is a regular blog post. Show notes and links to show audio are in other posts.

I passed my CAP Form 5 instrument checkout for Category 1 aircraft (like the C-172R with steam gages that we flew). If you want to be a CAP pilot, you have to, in addition to possessing all of the required FAA qualifications, pass a CAP-administered checkout each year. It’s done on CAP Form 5 and many refer to it as the “Form 5 checkride” or just “getting Form Fived.”

Capt Alex Craig administered the checkride. Two of us got our rides successively, first me and then SM Scott Gilliand. Scott is a newer private pilot and was doing the VFR checkride. I did the VFR Form 5 in August and was adding on the instrument checkout.

I was first to fly. I planned and filed an IFR flight to Grand Rapids (KGRR) using airways. We diverted at HARWL, flew a hold there (one turn partial panel), and then shot three approaches in to Jackson – Two VORs (one partial panel) and one ILS. I think we were in actual for part of the way there. My hood covers the windshield reasonably well (and I sit low to allow full control travel over my kneeboard), but there’s always that little part of the window down and left that’s hard to block. I’d rather block it. It’s disorienting sometimes.

I passed, but it wasn’t spectacular. I blew a couple of things. Nothing awful or unsafe, but nevertheless not perfect. Alex gave me a deserved admonition to go get a safety pilot and get the rest of the rust off. And I’m planning to do just that.

Frankly, the IFR add-on was so that I could fly a little more capably when Norm Malek and I get out and start covering a lot more of Michigan this summer. We’ll both be CAP qualified instrument drivers and we’re getting pretty good at our CRM rhythm. That makes for a very capable aircrew and we’re going to fine tune it even more.

Alex quipped that Scott, as a lower-time pilot, was likely to fly very well because he had no bad habits to break and was likely still flying to private PTS or better. And, in fact, Scott flew very well. He nailed the airwork and did a lot of it to ATP quality with the needles just frozen in place. Not bad at all for his first time in this airplane! I was really impressed from the back seat.

We did Scott's pattern work at Willow Run (KYIP). It was a really nice day with light winds and clear sky. Here you can see the steam from the Fermi II nuclear plant a long way off with Willow run in the foreground (we're on a right downwind for 23R). That's the kind of plume that tells you that there's not much going on in terms of winds aloft.

I don’t get to ride in back much at all. In fact, this was my first time in the back of a C-172 since I was a kid. We paid very close attention to the weight and balance on the flight. We were 25 pounds short of max gross and in the back third of the CG envelope (but well within it). I took a lot of pictures and had a pretty good time. It was also great to be able to just sit there and watch someone else take a checkride. It gives you time to think about your own flying and identify procedures that you’re missing or that you might want to add to your own tool kit.

Ann Arbor (KARB) was swarming with airplanes. This was the first really nice day in a long time and it seemed like everyone was out for a few trips around the pattern. Even people hanging around the ramp who weren’t flying, just so be there and watch. We were number three in the conga line on the way back in to 24 and it was clear that the pattern was pretty full. Willow Run, just a few miles to the east, is a really well-kept secret. We had 23R to ourselves the whole time we were there. It’s still my favorite airport.

On to more cross-country go-places flying this summer!

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Prepping for CAP Instrument Form 5 - Flying Sim

This is a regular blog post. If you’re looking for show notes or links to show ausio, please check the other posts.

The CAP Form 5 instrument check is tomorrow. So I headed in the DCT Aviation to fly some sim and do more preparation. As many of you know, I took the Form 5 ride in August in a C-172P. I opted not to go for the full IFR ride because I was unfamiliar with the panel and didn't want to waste the check airman's time. As it was, I flew a lot of the VFR checkride on the gages and I think I would have had a 60-40 chance of passing the instrument version of the Form 5, but that's not how I roll. I don't like walking in less than fully prepared.

Cole, my FO, went with me. As is wise before a grueling sim session, we hit grabbed breakfast.

I flew a lot of sim prior to my instrument rating checkride in 2007 and it helped a lot. Not least because the airplane is a heck of a lot easier to fly than the sim. It was so nice to get back in the airplane after flying hours and hours of sim.

Anyway, I shot the ILS 23L at KYIP twice, the VOR 24 at KARB twice, and then the VOR A KYIP with a circle to land on 32. Things really improved after the first approach and I seem to have dialed it in pretty well. Some of it was getting the throttle settings for various phases right. It turns out that the sim is pretty accurate in terms of performance. 2100 RPM and 10 degrees of flaps gets you 90 knots maneuvering and about 1700 RPM gets you a nice ride down the glideslope at 90 knots over the ground in most wind conditions.

Here’s the inbound leg of the parallel entry for the hold at SVM prior to shooting the VOR 24 at ARB. The simulator doesn’t lie. There are parts of my flying that I like and parts that I don’t. The turn here was nice. The outbound leg was offset very uniformly, which tells me that I just accepted the offset all the way out without correcting. Not the worst thing in the world, but I should be better on that. Altitude is very sawtooth-looking, but I’m not going to complain about that. I’ve never met a sim that was any good whatsoever in pitch. Pitch works so much better in the actual airplane.

Here’s how Cole spent much of the sim session. When I flew sim at DCT in 2007, Cole came along and sat at a desk and watched DVDs on a DVD player that I brought in. DCT has taken this idea to heard and there’s a DVD player in the sim room. You can bring your kid along, hook him or her up with headphones, and let him or her watch DVDs while you fly. Cole’s watching Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag. For the 20th time. Not kidding. And he loves it. Love my boy, I do!

If you’re near Oakland County International Airport (KPTK) and you want a really good and friendly sim environment to polish up for a checkride or anything else, check out DCT Aviation.

DCT Aviation
6226 N.Service Drive
Waterford, Michigan 48327
Monday-Friday - 8am-8pm
Weekends - 8am-5pm

Friday, February 06, 2009

Commercial Maneuvers and Cross-Country

This is a regular blog post. If you’re looking for show notes or links to show audio, please check out the other entries.

2.5 yesterday KPTK-KMBS-KPTK. I’m seriously considering the commercial certificate, but I have very little PIC cross-country time to places more than 50 nm away. Partly because I got my instrument rating under Part 141, which doesn’t require PIC cross-country time. So I started the day with 22.6 and ended with 25.1.

Even if I’m just going to go out and maneuver, I’m making a real effort to try to touch someplace more than 50 nm away every time. That usually means Saginaw (KMBS). The weather tends to come in longitudinal fronts so, if it’s clear at Pontiac, there’s a decent chance that it’s clear on the way to Saginaw. Or at least a better chance than there is that it’ll be clear somewhere to the west. (I have no problem with east as a cardinal heading, but east for me is Canada and the attendant administrative hassles.)

There was a huge 80 to 100-mile wide cloud deck centered on Saginaw, but it was at least 5,000 feet AGL, which allowed us to fly 4,500 MSL on the way up and 5,500 MSL on the way back. Shot the ILS Rwy 23 and did a pretty decent job of it.

This is also my third flight in the 172RG. I’ll have the 10 hours of retractable time required for the commercial done in the next flight or two, but I think I’ll probably fly this aircraft for the checkride (whenever that happens), so I have no problem getting a lot more time in it.

The other objective was to go see the commercial maneuvers and, in particular, chandelles, lazy eights, steep spirals, and eights on pylons. We haven’t has ceilings that would allow for these maneuvers on any of my prior scheduled flights this year in the RG, so I was really pleased to finally get to do them.

As many of you know, I’m not a natural pilot. I’ve had to really work hard to get the maneuvers right. The instrument rating was easier for me than the private, believe it or not. I just don’t have a good kinesthetic sense. Or at least not the kinesthetic sense of the 23-year-old CFIs with whom I so often fly. Punks! (Extraordinarily talented punks that I greatly admire, by the way.)

So I was really pleased by my performance yesterday. Yeah, I have some polishing to do on a lot of the maneuvers, but I actually flew them reasonably well! I think I love lazy eights. Everything changing in all three axes, but changing at rates and with relationships that you command. And Chandelles are just plain majestic on a cold day when you get really nose-up and climb with brute strength.

Maybe I got the kinesthetic sense after all in a weird way when attitude instrument flying finally clicked for me. I do attitude instrument flying very well and maybe the hood made me pay attention to what was going on empirically (according to the gages) so that I can nail stuff like that now VFR. Even with the distraction of a view out the window!

Anyway, I can see a lot of trips to Saginaw in my future, as well as training for the commercial maneuvers. I have a lot of time to build before I’m qualified to do the checkride, but hey – it’s flying. Please don’t throw me in that briar patch!

The obligatory CFI shot. Meet Dale. He’s a graduate of Western Michigan University’s aviation program and flew well on the commercial demonstrations.

This is the thi9rd different CFI I’ve had in three flights in the RG. Everyone’s a little different in terms of how he or she flies and teaches and that’s fine. But I need to come up with my own checklists and flows for this aircraft.

More than once I had an issue with the gear. Nothing huge. I don’t think that I would have landed gear up. But nearly-as-stupid things like wondering why climb performance sucked so badly after recovering from eights on pylons and heading for home. And then having Dale remind be that we could bring up the gear if we didn’t want to dangle them all the way home.

I do fear the gear-up landing. For myself, I know that mistakes like that are usually task overload. And the best thing for that is to have checklists that I understand and that I can run every time. I think I’ll clear up the gear thing and lots of other issues (prop, carb heat, clearing the engine, and other things that I missed at various times) when I can really sit down with all of the information I’ve received from those with whom I’ve flown the RG and put together my own checklists.

Dale had a particularly good flow. Red, blue, green. Red for the mix, blue for the prop, and then green for the gear-down light (and look out the window for a wheel). Probably easier to remember than GUMPS for that airplane. Anyway, I’ll integrate the best of the pest and go from there.

CAP Form 5 for round-gage instruments scheduled for Sunday at Ann Arbor (KARB). I’m going to go back to DCT Aviation and fly some sim on Saturday to prepare, but I think I have a pretty good chance of passing. We’re flying a C-172R, N992CP (CAPFLIGHT 2028) and CAP SM Scott Gilliland will also be doing his VFR Form 5 that day.
As you might recall, I got Form 5'ed VFR-only in August. They had a C-172P for the check with a panel that I'd never flown. I didn't want to try to do a full-up instrument checkride on a strange panel, so I elected to go VFR only. Now that I have the chance to fly a C-172R (in which I have something like 80 hours in model and five hours in this particular aircraft), I feel good to go for the instrument ride. It has an Apollo GPS, which which I have only the most rudimentary VFR experience, but we're not going to be flying any RNAV approaches. Still, I like having the instrument approach overlays for situational awareness and I need to get through the manual before Sunday to see if I can get that part down.

I did the weight and balance and, as long as we launch with 30 gallons of fuel or less, we can probably fit all three in the aircraft. Might be cool. I haven’t ridden in the back seat of a C-172 since I was a kid. Might be nice to see someone else fly for a change. Of course, that means a peanut gallery for my part of the ride, but Scott’s a good guy and will probably remember to reposition his mic before laughing out loud.

Administering the ride will be check airman Capt Alex Craig, who has solid aerobatic and other credentials and flies a Bonanza when he’s not serving with CAP.

As always, I enjoy objective tests of my pilot skills. And a CAP Form 5 check is always a worthy test.

Spatial Disorientation Simulator

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I spent some time recently at the Great Lakes Aviation Conference and Expo in Novi, Michigan. While there, I took advantage of the opportunity to go through the Spatial Disorientation Simulator made available by the FAA’s Civil Aerospace Medical Institute.

It’s a box that contains a single seat with a video screen and flight controls in front of it. You sit in the box in the dark and you fly some basic maneuvers like a climb and some turns. You have a horizon for the first bit of the climb and then you ascend into the clouds.

While you’re concentrating on flying, the box you’re sitting in rotates around its vertical axis something like seven to 12 times per minute. It’ll also pitch forward and back a little.

The simulator lets you experience two vestibular/somatogyral illusions: The coriolis illusion and the illusion that can put you in the so-called graveyard spiral.

The coriolis illusion occurs when you stimulate the semicircular canals by suddenly tilting your head while the aircraft is turning. The simulator rotates slowly for several minutes while you’re flying a simulator. You get used to the rotation and you begin to accept the sensations from your semicircular canals as telling you that you’re flying straight and level. When you move your head forward or back after this, you get the sense that the aircraft is moving in all three axes. I got the sense when I moved my head forward that the aircraft was snapping down and to the right. And the opposite when I moved my head back.

The graveyard spiral happens when you return to level flight after a prolonged bank turn. When you enter the turn, you feel the sensation of a turn in the same direction. If the turn continues for an extended period of time, you lose the turning sensation. Your body has settled into a stabilized mode that’s more or less just like level flight. Then you level the wings. That produces a sensation that the airplane is turning and banking in the opposite direction. If you believe the illusion of the turn (and it’s very compelling), you’ll re-enter the original turn in an attempt to counteract the sensation of the opposite turn.

If you re-enter the turn, you’ll continue in that turn and you’ll start losing altitude. If you pull to get the altitude back or apply power, you’ll only make the turn tighter. If you don’t recognize the illusion and level the wings, you’ll continue the left turn and keep losing altitude until you augur in.

The smooth rotation of the box lets your vestibular system get used to that rotation so that leaning forward and back gives you the coriolis illusion. It can also change rotation to give you that really, really convincing feeling that might lead to a graveyard spiral.

Today’s episode comes in two phases. First, I take the MP3 recorder into the box and fly the simulation. The simulation takes something like nine minutes, most of which is pretty quiet and consists of my flying a climbing turn. I’m going to accelerate the process by fading the audio up and down to tell you where I’ve omitted audio. You’ll hear the simulator giving me vectors and other instructions and, after each of the effects, the initial explanation of the effect that I just felt. You’ll also hear me give a “whoah” at appropriate times. I had intended to give a little more commentary, but I found that the illusions were so compelling that I was processing them myself and couldn’t really talk much about them. I guess that’s what the commentary on the show is for.

At the FAA staff’s suggestion, I exaggerated my head movements to really experience the effect. Note that I didn’t have to move my head much at all to get a really wild sensation in the graveyard spiral demonstration.

So here’s the simulator ride.


Afterward, I talked to Rogers Shaw, the team leader of the Airman Educational Personnel. Here’s the interview.


The take-home for this episode is that the things that the textbook tells you about physiological illusions are real. They’re very real. Even though I knew for a fact that I was in a box in an exhibit hall in Novi, Michigan, the sense of opposite rotation was overwhelming. If you’re going to fly on instruments or without a good horizon, you need to know that these illusions can happen and that they can happen to you. I’m glad that I experienced them for the first time in a simulator in Novi and not in an aircraft.

If you have the opportunity, go through this simulation. But even if you don’t, know and understand that your noggin is much more likely than your instruments to lead you astray. Flying in the clouds takes discipline in a number of different respects. Probably the most important is the discipline to get on your gages and believe them, even when everything you’re used to from walking around on the ground is screaming that things are wildly amiss.

Instrument flight is transcendental in many different ways. My personal favorite is breaking out of a cloud layer in a climb and then dragging my wheels in the cloud tops. But the price for that is building the ability to transcend what your senses have told you all your life and to rely on the science and instrumentation in front of you.

Thanks to the FAA’s Civil Aerospace Medical Institute for bringing the simulator to Novi. Make sure to watch for it at a conference or other event near you.

FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute
Aerospace Medical Education Division
AAM-400, PO Box 25082
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73125
Telephone: 405-954-4837
Fax: 405-954-2305

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

This is a Love Story

Pretty simple entry for the day. Straightforward and true. This is a love story. And it's not even half way through its first volume.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Great Lakes Aviation Conference 2009

This is a regular blog post. Check out show notes and links to show audio in the other posts.

I spent Friday and Saturday at the Great Lakes Aviation Conference in Novi, Michigan hitting lectures, checking out products, and running into new and old friends on the show floor.

As shown above, I got to meet Jack Lousma, one of the “Original 19” astronauts. The Original 19 was the fifth group, so named tongue-in-cheek because of the size of the class and the perceived lack of novelty of a new astronaut class. The Original 19 would more than prove themselves, not least by preceding many members of Class 4, who were scientists and took additional time to become jet qualified, whereas most, if not all, of the Original 19 were jet qualified from early in their military careers.

Lousma was the pilot for Skylab 3 and commander of STS-3. He has logged more than 7,000 hours of flight time, including 700 hours in general aviation aircraft, 1619 hours in space, 4,500 hours in jet aircraft, and 240 hours in helicopters. And I should mention that he’s as approachable as anyone you’d ever want to meet at your local airport.

There were four aircraft on the floor – The Robinson R44 shown here and fixed-wing aircraft (or mockups thereof) from FlightDesign, Cirrus, and Orion.

Attendance was pretty thin. This is my first time attending. I’ve registered and paid for three years, but was unable to attend the last two years because work dragged me back to the office instead. But it seemed pretty thin both Friday and Saturday. This picture isn’t necessarily indicative – things were a little busier than this, but not a lot more. GA is having its issues all over the country, and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that it would get the double whammy by being in southeast Michigan.

CAP was there in force, which was great. I got the chance to see Capt Mike Sandstrom, former Swedish Air Force pilot and currently public affairs officer and mission pilot of the Kellogg Senior Squadron.

Particularly nice was getting to see James Schebner of Hillsdale Aero. Hillsdale Aero is a distributor of the FlightDesign CT, pictured above. James was instrumental in answering questions about the CT when there was a real possibility of repositioning a listener’s new aircraft from Ohio to Idaho or Arizona this fall. It would have been an epic series of episodes, but the listener elected not to go through with the purchase. Can’t blame him, given the economy and the outlook at the time.

I’ve decided to head to Hillsdale this summer and get some time in the CT. For a couple of reasons. First, I’ve never flown a light sport aircraft and the CT is a very capable LSA and probably indicative of the high end of the LSA offerings. It would be a great opportunity to report firsthand on LSAs. Second, and maybe more importantly, the fact that all of the newer CTs sport BRS ballistic parachute systems might be the thing that gets Mary to let me fly Cole. Hillsdale Aero’s trainer at the moment doesn’t have a chute, but the company gets new aircraft in from time to time. I’m thinking about getting the required five hours in and then, if Mary green-lights it, taking Cole to Hillsdale when they get a BRS-equipped aircraft on the line.

I talked it over with chief flight instructor Ginger Moore and she seemed to think that that might be a good plan. Besides, visibility in the CT is excellent and it’d let Cole see better during the flight. And, yeah, if we get up, he’s getting stick time. Closely-supervised stick time with me on the controls simultaneously, but stick time nevertheless. Yeah!