Audio Episode Show Notes: River Days Airshow – Part 3 – Fast Footwork

River Days 03 New Box

These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen to the show audio here:

Better yet, subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your other favorite podcatcher. It’s all free!

This is the third installment of the series that covers – in near-realtime – the events leading up to the GM Detroit River Days Airshow on the Detroit River 20-21 June 2015.  As before, David Allen of Other People’s Airplanes has taken the mic and is running the show in order to keep things moving.

In this installment, our heroes announce performers and deal with riverboats, timing changes, weather planning, and other exciting stuff.

If you’re following along at home, the lead image shows the new box configuration and the image below shows the former box for comparison.  We had to push everything back by a distance equivalent to the beam of a riverboat (62 feet), which squeezed the west end of the box down to 520 feet.  The good news is that we just abandoned the rectangular shape of the box and pushed the back of the box all the way to the Canadian border.  The border does not run parallel to the US shore, but rather dives a couple of degrees south.  Thus, the east end of the box is now 780 feet wide.  And the other good news is that the crowd is concentrated toward that end of the box.

River Days 03 Old Box

It also requires some fancy footwork to coordinate with the riverboat and the other large charter traffic on the river to assure that we’ll have a sterile area.

River Days 03 Datum

Here’s another shot that appears in the supplementary materials for the waiver.  You can see the riverboat over there on the right-hand side of the picture and the datum line that we’re using for the whole shore.  The datum is at least 70 feet from shore at all points and the CAT III line (the closest approach of performing aircraft) is 510 feet out from there.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 9.42.06 AMIf you really want to go inside baseball, you can see a copy of the waiver by clicking the image above.

Stay tuned.  There’ll likely be at least one more episode before the show itself.  In the meantime, you can see the River Days event page for the airshow here.  Thanks to Brad “Launchpad” Marzari for his questions submitted through Facebook.


CFI Training Continues and the Checkride Nears – For Real This Time

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 8.38.00 AM

I trained again for parts of the last two days at Benz Aviation at Ionia County Airport in Ionia, Michigan. Those just joining this saga will know that last week, after three days of flying in the front seat to get the hang of the Schweizer SGS 2-33A, Lee Larder promoted me to the back seat.  We didn’t fly on Wednesday because of the low overcast and we did the knowledge review instead. Thursday was devoted to more flying from the back seat to get the maneuvers nailed down and to build muscle and inertial memory.

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 8.40.16 AM

The back seat requires some gymnastics for ingress and egress.  But, once you’re strapped in, it’s a comfortable place to be.  I was slightly worried about the pedals.  I have short legs for a guy of my height (28-inch inseam), so I had to adjust the pedals in the front to the full-aft position to get enough purchase on them to be able to box the wake and do slips with authority.  The pedals in the back don’t adjust, so I was concerned that I’d have to add some padding behind me.  It turns out that the pedals in back are a perfect distance for me.  This is a good thing because adding a cushion behind me would likely have made it so that I could not get full-aft stick travel.  As it is, I have to sit up straight and get my back flat against the back of the seat in order get enough aft stick to have my stalls break in a concise way.

There’s a little shoving-around over there on the left side if I need to move the stick much to the left while the dive brakes are engaged.  Between the stick, the dive brake handle, and my trusty iPad, there’s a jumble of activity when that happens.  Conveniently, the iPad simply moves around there on the elastic strap and things tend to work out.

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 8.43.13 AM

The biggest thing about the back seat is dealing with the lack of visibility.  Mostly because of that head and shoulders directly in front of you. You get all of the visibility you need, but not a lot of visibility that isn’t essential.  I don’t know that I’d be able to give dual instruction to Bob Ross or Pam Grier. You can fly along with your head centered just fine in most cases.  You can listen for your airspeed and, at least in the early parts of the flight, have a pretty good idea that you have enough altitude.  If you need airspeed information, you lean right and look (at least when Lee hasn’t covered the airspeed indicator). The picture above gives you that sight picture. If you need altitude information, you lean left.  Landing doesn’t seem to be a problem, especially after you quit looking at the airspeed and get into the flare.  You just use a lot of peripheral vision.  And the Force.

The biggest issue is on tow in the normal high-center tow position.  It’s pretty easy to lose the tow plane under the nose.  I fly a little lower relative to the tow plane while flying from the back seat to keep it visible.  But, in turbulence. the tow plane can drop out of sight very quickly, which means that I’m being more abrupt than I’d like with a push to keep him in the windshield.  More than a second or two and I’d need to tug on the clown nose and release, but it hasn’t come close to that.

The only other visibility thing comes with slack-line operations.  We go out to the left to climb and then descend to put in the slack. Visibility is fine that way.  But it’s sometimes hard to see the amount of slack that you’ve developed because some of it us under the nose.  And the slack usually isn’t much.  The 2-33A is really draggy and, even with a big push, you don’t get going fast enough relative to the tow plane to put much of a smile into the tow line.

2-33A Back Seat

My biggest remaining issue is situational awareness (“SA”) and other larger-picture things.  On almost every training day, I make some blunder of thought.  Today, I somehow reversed the windstock and briefed a left turn in the case of a rope break.  In fact, the wind was from the right.  I also let us get low two miles upwind of the airport while preoccupied with maneuvering.  We made it back just fine, even if a little low on pattern entry, but I have discovered that finding yourself at 1,400 AGL two miles out and flying in sink is one of my least favorite things in aviation.

Lee commented that I’m doing very well, but he noted that each session has some element of SA fail.  I had sure noted  this and confessed it each time, and he’s a good IP and noted it, too.  But that’s why I’m out here training.  I’m gradually becoming a high-time pilot (for recreational GA anyway).  I’m pretty darned good at a number of things and I pick up on new things fairly quickly if they’re complementary with skills that I already have.  But that can also hide deficiencies that I don’t know that I have.  I would imagine that lots of higher-time pilots have this issue.  And the mission for which I plan to use my IP skills will skew toward experienced students who will do well enough at some things that there’s a risk of complacency about the needs that are masked by great performance in other respects.

You may recall that I failed my first attempt at the commercial ride because I blew through the stop point on the no-spoiler landing.   In training, I did very well on the no-spoilers, mainly because the winds were favorable and I got lucky.  Neither John nor I had any reason to think that I didn’t have the maneuver nailed.  Then, on the ride, the winds were different and I was not lucky.  No big deal.  I re-took the deficient parts a couple of weeks later and I’ve flown safely and effectively in gliders for 200 hours since then.  But it was a lesson that will color my own training and will affect the way I teach students, especially higher-time people who are transitioning.

It is critical not only that we train, but that we think about that training and make generalizations out of the series of experiences.  We spend a lot of time thinking about trees.  This is fine, but we need to think about forests, too.  Find patterns that tell you things about the way you fly and how to be better every single time.

Sometimes, the only way to find out about these deficiencies is experience.  You have to fly more than is strictly necessary.  If you’re doing it right, you learn something every time you go to the airport.

Lee asked me on the way back to the terminal whether I wanted him to sign me off for the ride.  (Holy crap!)  He allowed as how my flying is fine and that I just need to get the SA dialed in.  I’m probably under-confident and over-persnickety about the way in which I stand up for a checkride, so I told him that I’d like to fly a few more times before the ride.  He agreed.  We’re scheduled for next Friday and then Wednesday and Thursday the week after that.  Then, probably checkride the first week of June.

Lee’s a good guy.  He thinks I’m very nearly ready and he told me that he doesn’t want to take my money unnecessarily.  Not every IP would do that.  That’s a mark of a guy who really cares about general aviation and instruction.

So the plan is two or three more training days, then the ride.  Sounds like this weekend and next will find me in a series of Starbucks with a bin of manuals and ACs next to me.  Watch Twitter (@StephenForce) and my Facebook feed and join me if you like.  I can even give you loggable ground instruction.


Audio Episode Show Notes: River Days Airshow – Part 1 – Waiver Application and Planning

Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 10.36.12 AM

These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen to the show audio here:

Better yet, subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your other favorite podcatcher. It’s all free!

We’re deep in the process of trying to bring a full-up airshow to the Detroit riverfront and we’re giving you an inside look at the process.  In this episode, Other People’s Airplanes producer and host, David Allen, takes over the host mic so that Steve can talk about the process so far.

Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 10.36.58 AM

You can follow along, too, by reading the waiver application.  Just click the image above to see the very PDF file that went to the FAA this week.

Nobody takes you deeper inside airshows than Airspeed.  Not content to watch them or even to fly in them, we’re actually putting together our own and you have a seat at the table for all of the planning, training, and excitement.  Stay tuned!


Glider Rating – Part 2 – Audio Episode Show Notes

These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen to the show audio by clicking here: Better yet, subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your other favorite podcatcher. It’s all free!

This is the second part of a two-part series covering my glider rating. To bring you up to speed, in March of this year, I began training in the TG-7A motorglider to add a glider rating. In May, I soloed the aircraft for the first time. Part 1 covered events up through the solo. On to Part 2.

After the solo, things move more quickly. You’ve proven that you can operate the aircraft without the instructor aboard. Or at least that you’re so lucky that you don’t need the instructor. Same result.

Now it’s all about the checkride. It’s not as though you haven’t been preparing for the checkride since your very first flight. But now is when you think about it a lot more.

I bought Bob Wander’s commercial checkride guide. I borrowed some of John’s Harte’s materials. I looked (briefly) for commercial glider knowledge test prep software or online courses, but that was futile. I can perhaps forgive Gleim and the other test prep companies for not having a course tailored for commercial glider guys. We can’t be much of a market. So I paid for Gleim’s regular airplane commercial pilot ground school. It’s geared toward airplane pilots, but the regulatory review was bound to be helpful and I’ll probably go after the commercial for ASEL and AMEL soon anyway.

John and I started hitting the training once a week or so, usually first thing in the morning at the crack of dawn. Sunrise was coming earlier and earlier and we made it a point to turn the prop as soon after sunrise as possible on each of those flights. Mostly, we explored other parts of the glider PTS. We did stalls and slow flight and went looking for crosswinds to work on that technique. [Read more...]

Spatial Disorientation Simulator

Subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your favorite other podcatcher. It’s all free!

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

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