Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Runway Status Lights RWSLs

We all know how important it is to read all applicable NOTAMs before flying, but how much attention do we give to those NOTAMs?  Last week before flying out of LAX I noticed a NOTAM for the Runway Status Lights: LAX AD ALL RUNWAY STATUS LIGHTS OTS WEF 1307301940-1405310659.

I knew those inop lights would not be a detriment to our safe flight, but I took note of the NOTAM.  While holding short #2, the aircraft in front of us asked ATC "Where are those red lights I usually see when holding short?"  He didn't even know what those lights were called, let alone know that they were NOTAMed inop!  I realized that if an airline pilot doesn't know how these lights really work, there could be others out there are as well who don't know.  

Runway Status Lights (RWSLs) were developed by the FAA to decrease runway incursions and aid in runway situational awareness.   The system automatically monitors the location of conflicting traffic, whether it be an aircraft or ground vehicle.   RWSLs consist of embedded (in-pavement) red lights and show only the status of a runway- not a clearance for takeoff or a clearance to cross a runway.   RWSLs consist of Runway Entrance Lights (RELs) and Takeoff Hold Lights (THLs).

Runway Entrance Lights (RELs) are located near the Hold Short bars on the runway side, and will be installed where a taxiway intersects a runway.  These lights will illuminate when an aircraft is taking-off or landing.  In this picture, you can see the lights to the left of the taxiway centerline, leading to the runway.

These red lights will illuminate when it is NOT safe to enter the runway and especially not safe for takeoff.  Keep in mind, they have nothing to do with your clearance.  If ATC issues you a takeoff clearance and these lights are illuminated, there could be conflicting traffic, so advise ATC of the light illumination and continue to hold short until the conflict is resolved.  

Takeoff Hold Lights (THLs) are located on the runway and run parallel to the centerline stripes.

They illuminate when you have been cleared to 'line up and wait' or 'takeoff' and there is conflicting traffic on the runway in front of you.  DO NOT takeoff with these lights illuminated!  If you are cleared for takeoff, advise ATC of the illuminated lights.

These lights are not installed at every airport in the US, just a few of the busiest.  But if you fly to an airport with these installed, remember what the 'red lights' are and what they mean!

To find current NOTAMs you can visit https://pilotweb.nas.faa.gov/PilotWeb/ for a reference.
For more information on RWSLs, you can visit http://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/technology/rwsl/.  The photos used in this post are from this website.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

What Type of Pilot Will You Be?

What type of pilot are you, and what type of pilot do you want to become?  I'm not talking about the type of flying you want to do, but the type of a person you want to be.  The grumpy old man (who everybody dreads flying with) or the person who always finds something to smile about?  You need to decide that now, so start asking yourselves these questions.

Decide Now
I've been in aviation long enough to know how great it can be working with others who love aviation and their careers as much as I do.  I have also seen those who do it because "It pays the bills," or "I'm too old to change careers."  They do it out of obligation but have lost their love for the work.  They are miserable to work with- no matter what career you are in.

I've always felt that it's such a waste for a person to be in a career they don't love (or at least like) especially such a special career like aviation.  But maybe they've just forgotten why they loved it in the first place.   Maybe they could have a little attitude adjustment and find that enjoyment again?  There may have been other careers I could have pursued and been completely happy in, but in the beginning, I decided I would love every aviation job I got, no matter what it was.

People who say they will be happy once they begin flight instructing, or once they land their first corporate job, or when they finally get hired on at the Majors, will not be happy once they do make it there.  They will always feel like they need more to be happy.  These type of people are always looking for greener grass on the other side.  But the thing they don't realize is that they have to plant that grass and take care of it for it to grow green.  They have to go to work with a positive attitude and make the most of what they do have for the grass to grow green.  Lame analogy, I know, but it is true.  I believe you can make the best out of any job!

My first aviation job was in the Student Support Center (the aviation call center) at UVU.  Though that was not my dream job, I loved it.  I had to deal with angry students more often than not, but I went to work everyday knowing that I would be able to help others.  I would be able to help them love aviation as much as I do.  I decided to be happy in that job, and you know what?  I really was, even though it was a call center.

Now I don't mean to sound as though I am bragging, but I just know that if I can do it- if I can find enjoyment at work, you can too.  Change your attitude about the job you are in right now, and I am sure you will find more enjoyment doing the exact thing you are doing today.  Decide now to be happy at your job!

Don't Become a Debbie Downer
If you haven't heard this term before, its official definition is: a person who finds no joy ever, wants to bring everybody around them down, and will be miserable in any situation.  Do not become this type of person.  You will have to spend many hours in close proximity with others if you choose aviation as your career.  What do you want your boss/caption/first officer to say about you?  Do you want them to tell others how awful you were, or do you want them to brag to others about how great your 4-day trip was?  Hopefully, you chose the latter of the two.

Awesome People Make Work a Blast!
When I get to work with awesome people, I look forward to going to work because I know it won't feel like work.  I get to work with a ton of awesome people at my current airline job, and I love it!

After the miracle on the Hudson, pilots and co-workers who had interacted with Captain Sullenberger shared stories about him.  I remember one in particular because it exemplified who we should all try to become:

Captain Sullenberger and his crew had reached their destination, pulled to the gate, but there was no wheelchair assistance for one of the passengers.  Though I'm sure Captain Sullenberger was busy, he saw this stranded passenger, and instead of waiting for somebody else to help, he helped this passenger get into a wheelchair and safely to the terminal.  He didn't think twice about it.  Later he said (I'm not quoting by any means) I got her this far, I'm not going to leave her here now.  It takes a special person to help others like that, and that is what makes a great pilot.
Boeing 787 DreamLiner Art.jpg
photo courtesy of http://www.avionews.net

So with the New Year quickly approaching, and many of us setting new goals, decide now to have a great attitude about your work.  This will make your work more enjoyable and will make others look forward to having the opportunity to work with you.  Do not become a Debbie Downer, but be that person that others want to fly with.  Decide now to be a better version of you!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Back to the Basics

My husband loves aviation as much as I do, but because I am the pilot, and he is a past mechanic, we each have a different perspective.  Today's post was written by him.

Aviation technology has advanced so much over the years that the skill of flying an aircraft has been taken over by computers, known as fly-by-wire.  But what happens when the computer fails and the pilot is required to do what the computer would normally have done?  Hopefully that pilot will remember the fundamental principles of flying an airplane, but as history has shown, that is not always the case.  

The "Sutter Twist" is a good example of how much aviation technology has changed over the years.  During testing when the first Boeing 747 was being developed, they found that the wings would develop a strong vibration that could have caused serious damage to the aircraft in flight.  Because of this hazard, the “father” of the 747 project, Joe Sutter, found that if he twisted the outboard wing structure by 3 degrees, 80%-90% of the loads on the wing structure would lessen, thus alleviating this dangerous vibration.  This twist came to be known as the “Sutter Twist”.

Joe Sutter and his beloved 747 - a love affair that began almost half a century ago
Joe Sutter and his beloved 747 - a love affair that began almost half a century ago
The new Boeing 747-8, with Joe Sutter still on the project, was recently built with a new wing design taken from the 787 Dreamliner.  During the 747-8 testing they found it to have the same vibration that happened during the first 747 design; however, because of the new fly-by-wire systems, the computers can compensate for the vibration and no “Sutter Twist” is needed.  

Though technology has come such a long way, it is still incredibly important that a pilot remember the basics, and when disaster strikes, to simply fly the airplane.  Following are a few examples of pilots who relied on their aircraft technology too much and forgot to fly.

Air France flight 447 crashed in the ocean on June 1, 2009.  After two years the black box was finally found on the ocean floor.  They found that there had been icing on the pitot tubes, which gave false speed readings to the pilots.  This caused the autopilot to disconnect, which shouldn't be a big deal, but the flight crew reacting incorrectly- the pilots ultimately caused the airplane to go into an aerodynamic stall and were unable to recover before impacting the water.  Had they remembered the symptoms of a stall, and their fundamental skills of how to recover from a stall, this fatal accident that killed 216 passengers and 12 flight crew could have been prevented.

The wreckage of Asiana Flight 214 (right) at San Francisco International airportOn July 6, 2013 Asiana Flight 214 was coming in on approach into San Francisco (SFO) and crashed.  On that day, the PAPIs (lights that show the pilots if they are too high or low on approach) for the runway  were not working; however, this particular day was a very clear day and the pilots should have been able to do a visual approach and land safely without those lights.  While this 777 was coming in to land, the main landing gear and tail hit the seawall of the San Francisco Bay and caused the plane to crash.  Because the pilots forgot to go back to the basics, a multi-million dollar plane was totaled, and more importantly, 3 people were killed, 181 were injured; 12 of the injuries were critical.

It is important as pilots that you know how to fly the airplane with the equipment that the airplane has onboard, but it is also important that you are skilled at flying the airplane incase a system onboard malfunctions.  Aviation technology adds so much to the safety, but you still need to know how to fly the plane.  Remember, back to the basics!


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Were We Cleared to Land?

Were we cleared to land?  If you are a pilot flying in an "ATC world", you have probably asked yourself this question more than once.  If you can't remember, what should you do?  Land, because you are pretty sure you were cleared?  Ask, even though the controller may get annoyed with you?  Or just do a go-around?

Photo Courtesy of Mathew Haderlie, CFI
As a student pilot I remember thinking how silly it was in class when the teachers would talk about the consequences of landing without a clearance.  I wondered how somebody could be so negligent and land without a clearance?  It didn't make any sense to me.  However, I'd only heard the phrase "cleared to land" a handful of times, so it was still easy for me to remember.   I didn't realize that hearing those same 3 words over and over again might make them seem less important.

I remember the day clearly.  I was with one of my very first students doing some work in the traffic pattern.  We had already done quite a few touch-and-go's, but were determined to stay in the traffic pattern until he landed perfectly without bouncing/side-loading/floating down the entire runway, etc.  The traffic pattern began to get very busy and the control tower's frequency was incredibly congested.   Being the typical instructor I was , I tried to multitask and continue to teach my student, while making sure he made all the appropriate radio calls, and keeping all traffic ahead in sight so as not to have a midair collision.  I felt like I was instructor of the world!

Photo Courtesy of Mathew Haderlie, CFI
We were short final, and I was still teaching like crazy to help my student make a great landing.  The second the wheels touched down I thought, "have we been cleared for a touch and go?"  I honestly could not remember.  I didn't tell my student my concerns, and tower didn't say anything, so I was off the hook.  But the fear of thinking I wasn't cleared was more than enough for me to realize that I needed to change- I needed a way to remember my landing clearance.  I mean, who wants to land without a clearance and then get violated?  Not me!  So I made a plan.

During my flight instructor days I used the standby Comm 2 frequency to help me remember.  I would set the last 2 digits (after the decimal) to 00 prior to takeoff.  For our first landing clearance I would move it to .05 and when we landed, I would change it to .10.   On our second landing clearance, I would move it to .15, and when we were cleared to land I would move it to .20.  Not only was I able to keep track of every clearance and landing, but doing this also allowed me to keep track of the number of landings so I could accurately log them in the student's logbook.  I'm not saying you need to do this method, but find something that works well for you.

This method worked quite well for me.  Until I found myself at the airlines.  I didn't need to count multiple landings, and we needed all of the frequencies.  I told myself I would just have to remember.  However, a few months after training, I found myself asking that question again, "were we cleared to land?"  The captain couldn't remember either, so I had to double check with ATC.  Okay, this may have happened to me more than once...  Though there is no shame in double checking with ATC (better to be safe than sorry!), if you can figure out a way to remember so you don't have to ask again, that is best.

So yet again, I had to come up with a plan.  There is a timer on center of the yoke.  I decided that when we were cleared to land I would start the timer.  I know this might sound silly, but now I don't have to double check with ATC anymore, and I can land KNOWING that we were cleared.  If the timer is going, we are cleared.

So if you find yourself asking over and over again, "Were we cleared to land?", figure out a way to help you remember so you don't have to ask ATC (especially because, as luck would have it, right when you need to call ATC, you won't be able to get a word in).  You will be able to land, every time, knowing that you were cleared!

---Thank you Mathew Haderlie for the amazing pictures---

Monday, December 9, 2013

How to Survive Training at the Airlines

I was a flight instructor at Utah Valley University for 5 years before I decided to go to the airlines.  I was going to be a career flight instructor because I loved it so much, but I couldn't help but feel that there was more I needed to learn and more that I could become.

I researched it out for a few months, spoke with others that worked at the airlines, attended Women in Aviation, decided which airline I wanted to work for, and that I would do whatever it took to get there.

I never really "net-worked" as people call it, but I was friendly to everybody that I met, stayed friends with those that moved on, and made sure I did my best at my job as a flight instructor.  It did not go unnoticed for when I finally decided to go to the airlines, I had people ask me if I needed Letters of Recommendation.  Because of that, days after I applied, I got a call for an interview and was unofficially hired the day of the interview.  I was in ground school just 3 weeks after that.

Somehow my desk always looked liked this only minutes in studying.  :)
Ground school was tough, just like I'd been told.  But I didn't realized how tough it would be.  I had roughly studied some of the material I was given beforehand- I should have had everything memorized!  But I still made it through.

After the first week I was top of the class, scoring higher than everybody else on the daily quizzes and tests.  But that quickly changed when we got to the electrical system.  I'm pretty sure that entire day's lesson went right over my head.  I started stressing and literally got only 3 hours of sleep that night because I kept dreaming of the electrical schematic, which didn't make any sense to me!

I quickly realized that if I didn't calm down, I wasn't going to make it.  If this happens to you, STOP STUDYING.  Not forever, but just for a few hours.  Watch a movie, go for a run, do a little shopping...it doesn't matter what you do, as long as you give your brain a break.  This was my lifesaver.  After class the next day I took a few hours to myself and then went back to the electrical system- and it made total sense!  In fact, it seemed so easy.

The night before the Final Exam, make sure that you stop studying before about 5 pm.  If not, you many end up like me after learning the electrical system with only 3 hours of sleep.  I know of a few people who studied for too long the night before, got themselves all stressed out, and then didn't pass the test EVEN though they knew all the information.  Don't let that be you.  Stop studying the night before and give your brain some time to absorb the information and rest.

I used my "brain-rest" method during the rest of ground school and passed my final test with 94% (higher than some of the pilots who were upgrading to captain in my class).  The few questions I missed were simply because I didn't read the question, not that I didn't know the correct answer.  So make sure you read every question thoroughly before selecting an answer.

After ground class was the FTD and then the Simulator.  As a tip, study only and exactly what they tell you to and you will do just fine.  Just as I needed breaks during ground training I also needed breaks during this phase of training.  I had 2 days off in between Sim sessions once, so I rented a car, bought a few magazines, and spent the day on the beach (my training was in Long Beach).  It was exactly what I needed.

I will admit, learning to fly the this heavy twin turboprop in the Simulator proved to be a challenge for me.  I was used to flying Diamond Aircraft with just a touch of a finger.  So when I hopped in the Sim and tried to fly the same way, I was in for a real treat!  I felt like I was lugging around 500 pounds on the controls- if it isn't trimmed correctly, you will be fighting it.  No joke!  I could have easily given up after the first few days and went back to my easy Diamonds, but I didn't!  I fought for it!  And even though I had to use an extra day of training, I passed.  There is no shame in needing more time (as long as the airline you work for allows it; maybe something to check before you decide which company you want to work for).

After I passed my Sim training, it was on to IOE, Initial Operating Experience.  My first day ended and I wasn't sure what had even happened.  I felt like I knew everything there was to know before IOE, but I was quickly corrected.  Flying the airplane, you have to worry about passengers, REAL emergencies, ATC asking you to speed up- then slow down- now slow and descend while you turn to a heading and begin the approach.  It really is a lot to take in.  But just like before, give your brain a break.

That first night I went out with the crew to Applebees, I think it was, and enjoyed talking about non-aviation topics.  It was a blast!  And I felt so rejuvenated the next morning.  Even though I knew there were things I could have studied that night, having some dinner with the crew was better for me than studying.

I survived my IOE trips, stress free, and have been flying for over a year now.  I absolutely LOVE my job and am so glad I made the careful decision to work for the airlines.  So if you haven't figured it out yet, my tip to surviving training at the airlines is: Give Your Brain a Break.

As always, if you have any questions about the airlines, flight instructing, or aviation in general, you can always email me at trendypilots@gmail.com.

-Julie Hafen

Thursday, December 5, 2013

CRM Could Save Your Life!

The ability to use all of your available resources, known as Crew Resource Management or CRM,  could save your life someday.  I remember this concept to be so confusing to me when I first started flying- especially on a solo flight.  What resources did I have other than myself?  I was flying in Class G airspace, so I wasn't talking to ATC.  Yes, I was on the nearest CTAF frequency, but was there even a person on the other end or another aircraft flying in the area?  I felt like I had no other resources other than myself.   After reading about United Flight 232, however, I realized I had more resources than I thought.

CRM was not always a primary focus in the aviation world.  United Airlines Flight 232, though a tragedy, allowed the world to see how important good CRM is.

This DC-10, while in flight, lost the entire fan blade from the #2 engine (on the tail).  When it detached, it severed all 3 hydraulic lines, which caused the loss of all flight controls.  Captain Alfred Haynes said, "That left us at 37,000 feet with no ailerons to control roll, no rudders to co-ordinate a turn, no elevators to control pitch, no leading edge devices to help us slow down for landing, no trailing edge flaps to be used in landing, no spoilers on the wings to slow us down in flight or to help braking on the ground, no nosewheel steering and no brakes. That did not leave us a great deal to work with."  In fact, the only thing they had to work with was the two remaining engines (one on each wing).

Because Capt. Haynes realized the importance of CRM, they were able to control the aircraft enough to make a crash landing at Sioux City, Iowa, 45 minutes after losing all hydraulics.  They hit hard, and the airplane broke, but the initial touchdown was on the runway.  Of the 285 passengers, 185 survived.

So how did he do it?  How did he fly a plane with NO control to an airport, touchdown on a runway, and have 185 of his passengers survive?  

This shows the field where they crash landed.

During this era of flying, the PIC was THE SAY, not just the final say.  However, Capt. Haynes realized that he would not be able to handle this situation on his own.  He enlisted the use of every resource available.  Following are a few examples:

Copilot: Capt. Haynes realized that the copilot was a valuable crew member.  He asked for his opinion multiple times and allowed him to help with checklists and to help keep control of the aircraft.

Flight Engineer: He even took input and advice from the flight engineer and treated him like a valuable crew member.

Flight Attendant: Shortly after the engine failed, the flight attendant came into the cockpit to see what the problem was.  The captain could have easily told her to leave them alone while they dealt with the situation, but he didn’t.  He told her what was going on so she could relay the word and prepare the cabin.  She also knew there was a DC-10 Flight Instructor traveling as a passenger, so she was able to tell him what was going on and enlist his help.

Flight Instructor:  Allowing the flight instructor to help was key.  Capt. Haynes asked him to control the throttles while he and the first officer tried to control the aircraft with what little control they may have had left.

When they got closer to the field, as a TEAM,  they decided wether to lower the landing gear (since it was hydraulically controlled they would have to lower it manually) or not.  Together they decided it would be best to lower it as it could help absorb some of the shock upon touchdown. 

ATC: Capt. Haynes let ATC know immediately what was going on so they could begin to find him a suitable landing area.  They were great and did everything they could.

Passengers: When they were closer to the destination, Capt. Haynes told the passengers of the situation- he did not sugar coat it.  This was what they needed to hear.  After hearing the announcement, one passenger in particular decided that whatever the outcome was, if he made it through this alive, he would stay to help.  He had time to decide what he wanted to do.

Emergency Workers: Because Capt. Haynes let ATC know as soon as possible, ATC was able to alert the emergency ground crew so they could be ready.

Hearing about this story is a testimony of how important good CRM is and working as a team when disaster strikes.  Always remember to think outside the box when an emergency occurs and use all your available resources.

If you have the time, I have included a video below which reenacts the flight.  The actual crew is interviewed in this video- well worth the watch!


Monday, December 2, 2013

When in an Emergency, Slow Down!

On January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 landed in the Hudson River.  All souls on board survived.  Why was it that this emergency outcome was a success, while many before were not?  What did Captain Sullenberger and his crew do differently?  I found myself asking these questions shortly after, and came to the conclusion that when the emergency occurred and both engines failed, he did not rush; instead, he slowed down and prioritized.

Through my years of being a pilot, I have realized how important it is to slow down in an emergency.  I remember when I first began flying, I felt like it was a race to see how fast I could go through my ABCDs (Airspeed, Best place to land, Checklists, Declare emergency) when my instructor simulated an engine failure.  It was a race that I was going to win!  However, when I began flight instructing, I realized that the faster my students tried to get through a checklist in a simulated emergency, the more items they missed- even if they were reading the checklist word for word!

I loved showing each of my students how much time they really had if they just slowed down- it almost felt like we had MORE time to deal with the situation.  Think of the last time you slept through your alarm and had less time to get ready.  You probably felt pretty rushed.  How many times did you drop the shampoo bottle, or your socks, or grab the wrong shirt from the closet?  You may have even left your cellphone at home.  Let's face it- when we rush, we get sloppy and miss things, which doesn't really save us any time.  Our minds cannot think clearly.  This is the same when dealing with an emergency situation.  If our engine fails and we try to do everything within 2 seconds, it will take us much longer than if we just slowed down, prioritized, and calmly dealt with the situation.

Captain Sullenberger, at the 2012 NAR Leadership Conference, spoke of the three things that made his emergency situation a success.

1. He forced himself to be calm
2. He prioritized
3. He realized there was not enough time for everything, so he picked the most important tasks, and did those few things very very well.

If he had tried to rush and get everything done, he would not have been able to.  He had only 3 1/2 minutes to deal with the situation, but because he slowed down and prioritized, he had the time he needed to make a beautiful landing on the Hudson River.  So remember, when in an emergency, Slow Down!