Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Gyrocopter Flight Training

After buying a Gyroplane I contacted Craig McPherson of Blues Skies Autogyros for training and took a week of leave from work.

This week I have flown for four hours so far in his MTO Sport trainer pictured above. It has been quite an experience and very different than the hour I spent with Steve McGowan in Georgia back in 2009.

The MTO Sport is very fast and responsive. Craig challenges his students by going beyond the typical syllabus. We have done the usual touch and go landings, but, rarely do we do them the same as done during the previous session. For instance, most CFIs use a powered approach and land the gyrocopter more like an airplane. Craig however, started me off with power off (engine at idle) approaches to simulate engine out situations.

At first the approaches were similar to a normal pattern with down wind leg, base leg and final. Then in a later session we started doing very short finals. Next we did an approach from a vertical decent, then a powered on standard approach.

More to follow, we are about to get back in the air and I will later describe the other training techniques that were incorporated with the touch and goes above.

Happy Flying,


Air Command Gyrocopter and Quicksilver MX II

Well folks, I decided to get back into aviation.  I have been considering purchasing a gyrocopter for some time.  My lovely wife Danita wants to fly with me and we had considered finishing a build on a two place tandem gyrocopter.  However, many in the gyrocopter sport have advised me to fly in a single place machine for at least one-hundred fifty hours before getting a two place machine.  Therefore, we decided to rebuild a two seat Quicksilver MX II (fixed wing) airplane that we could share.   This reduced my budget on a gyrocopter to a used single place machine and this is what I found, a center line thrust Air Command with an MZ 202 two-stroke engine.

Here is the MX II prior to the renovation that we are working on:

Currently, it is completely dis-assembled for repairs.  We are giving the engine a tune-up, by replacing the muffler, spark plugs, points and condensors.  We are also overhauling the carburetor.  Plus, we are replacing the wing covering material, modifying the stabilizer  and replacing the instruments.  Finally, to reduce weight, we are replacing the electric starter with a rope pull starter.

Monday, March 31, 2014

A Startlingly Simple Theory About the Missing Malaysia Airlines Jet

I received this message from an EAA friend via email and decided to post this analysis from a professional pilot's point of view.

A Startlingly Simple Theory About the Missing Malaysia Airlines Jet

There has been a lot of speculation about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Terrorism, hijacking, meteors. I cannot believe the analysis on CNN almost disturbing. I tend to look for a simpler explanation, and I find it with the 13,000-foot runway at Pulau Langkawi. We know the story of MH370: A loaded Boeing 777 departs at midnight from Kuala Lampur, headed to Beijing . A hot night. A heavy aircraft. About an hour out, across the gulf toward Vietnam , the plane goes dark, meaning the transponder and secondary radar tracking go off. Two days later we hear reports that Malaysian military radar (which is a primary radar, meaning the plane is tracked by reflection rather than by transponder interrogation response) has tracked the plane on a southwesterly course back across the Malay Peninsula into the Strait of Malacca . 

The left turn is the key here. Zaharie Ahmad Shah1 was a very experienced senior captain with 18,000 hours of flight time. We old pilots were drilled to know what is the closest airport of safe harbor while in cruise. Airports behind us, airports abeam us, and airports ahead of us. They are always in our head. Always. If something happens, you dont want to be thinking about what are you going to do–you already know what youu are going to do. When I saw that left turn with a direct heading, I instinctively knew he was heading for an airport. He was taking a direct route to Palau Langkawi, a 13,000-foot airstrip with an approach over water and no obstacles. The captain did not turn back to Kuala Lampur because he knew he had 8,000-foot ridges to cross. He knew the terrain was friendlier toward Langkawi, which also was closer.

Take a look at this airport on Google Earth. The pilot did all the right things. He was confronted by some major event onboard that made him make an immediate turn to the closest, safest airport.  When I heard this I immediately brought up Google Earth and searched for airports in proximity to the track toward the southwest.

For me, the loss of transponders and communications makes perfect sense in a fire. And there most likely was an electrical fire. In the case of a fire, the first response is to pull the main busses and restore circuits one by one until you have isolated the bad one. If they pulled the busses, the plane would go silent. It probably was a serious event and the flight crew was occupied with controlling the plane and trying to fight the fire. Aviate, navigate, and lastly, communicate is the mantra in such situations. There are two types of fires. An electrical fire might not be as fast and furious, and there may or may not be incapacitating smoke. However there is the possibility, given the timeline, that there was an overheat on one of the front landing gear tires, it blew on takeoff and started slowly burning. Yes, this happens with underinflated tires. Remember: Heavy plane, hot night, sea level, long-run takeoff. There was a well known accident in Nigeria of a DC8 that had a landing gear fire on takeoff. Once going, a tire fire would produce horrific, incapacitating smoke. Yes, pilots have access to oxygen masks, but this is a no-no with fire. Most have access to a smoke hood with a filter, but this will last only a few minutes depending on the smoke level. (I used to carry one in my flight bag, and I still carry one in my briefcase when I fly.)

What I think happened is the flight crew was overcome by smoke and the plane continued on the heading, probably on George (autopilot), until it ran out of fuel or the fire destroyed the control surfaces and it crashed. You will find it along that route–looking elsewhere is pointless. Ongoing speculation of a hijacking and/or murder-suicide and that there was a flight engineer on board does not sway me in favor of foul play until I am presented with evidence of foul play.

We know there was a last voice transmission that, from a pilots point of view, was entirely normal. Good night is customary on a hand-off to a new air traffic control. The good night also strongly indicates to me that all was OK on the flight deck. Remember, there are many ways a pilot can communicate distress. A hijack code or even transponder code off by one digit would alert ATC that something was wrong. Every good pilot knows keying an SOS over the mike always is an option. Even three short clicks would raise an alert. So I conclude that at the point of voice transmission all was perceived as well on the flight deck by the pilots.

But things could have been in the process of going wrong, unknown to the pilots.Evidently the ACARS went inoperative some time before. Disabling the ACARS is not easy, as pointed out. This leads me to believe more in an electrical problem or an electrical fire than a manual shutdown. I suggest the pilots probably were not aware ACARS was not transmitting.
As for the reports of altitude fluctuations, given that this was not transponder-generated data but primary radar at maybe 200 miles, the azimuth readings can be affected by a lot of atmospherics and I would not have high confidence in this being totally reliable. But lets accept for a minute that the pilot may have ascended to 45,000 feet in a last-ditch effort to quell a fire by seeking the lowest level of oxygen. That is an acceptable scenario. At 45,000 feet, it would be tough to keep this aircraft stable, as the flight envelope is very narrow and loss of control in a stall is entirely possible. The aircraft is at the top of its operational ceiling. The reported rapid rates of descent could have been generated by a stall, followed by a recovery at 25,000 feet. The pilot may even have been diving to extinguish flames. But going to 45,000 feet in a hijack scenario doesn't make any good sense to me.

Regarding the additional flying time: On departing Kuala Lampur, Flight 370 would have had fuel for Beijing and an alternate destination, probably Shanghai , plus 45 minutes–say, 8 hours. Mayybe more. He burned 20-25 percent in the first hour with takeoff and the climb to cruise. So when the turn was made toward Langkawi, he would have had six hours or more hours worth of fuel. This correlates nicely with the Inmarsat data pings being received until fuel exhaustion.

The now known continued flight until time to fuel exhaustion only confirms to me that the crew was incapacitated and the flight continued on deep into the south Indian ocean .vThere is no point speculating further until more evidence surfaces, but in the meantime it serves no purpose to malign pilots who well may have been in a struggle to save this aircraft from a fire or other serious mechanical issue. Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah was a hero struggling with an impossible situation trying to get that plane to Langkawi. There is no doubt in my mind. Thats the reason for the turn and direct route. A hijacking would not have made that deliberate left turn with a direct heading for Langkawi. It probably would have weaved around a bit until the hijackers decided where they were taking it.
Surprisingly, none of the reporters, officials, or other pilots interviewed have looked at this from the pilots viewpoint: If something went wrong, where would he go? Thanks to Google Earth I spotted Langkawi in about 30 seconds, zoomed in and saw how long the runway was and I just instinctively knew this pilot knew this airport. He had probably flown there many times.

Fire in an aircraft demands one thing: Get the machine on the ground as soon as possible. There are two well-remembered experiences in my memory. The AirCanada DC9 which landed, I believe, in Columbus , Ohio in the 1980s. That pilot delayed descent and bypassed several airports. He didn't instinctively know the closest airports. He got it on the ground eventually, but lost 30-odd souls. The 1998 crash of Swissair DC-10 off Nova Scotia was another example of heroic pilots. They were 15 minutes out of Halifax but the fire overcame them and they had to ditch in the ocean. They simply ran out of time. That fire incidentally started when the aircraft was about an hour out of Kennedy. Guess what? The transponders and communications were shut off as they pulled the busses.

Get on Google Earth and type in Pulau Langkawi and then look at it in relation to the radar track heading. Two plus two equals four. For me, that is the simple explanation why it turned and headed in that direction. Smart pilot. He just didn’t have the time.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Blue Skies Powered Parachutes and Gyros

My free time to post here has been very limited due my job and the fact that we moved and renovated one of our rental properties all within two weeks in late January and early February.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to go and visit Craig McPherson of Blue Skies Powered Parachutes and Gyros.  Craig is a CFI for both Powered Parachutes (PPC) and Gyros.  I have known him for a number of years and at one time, I would fly my Aerolite 103 Ultralight Fixed Wing Airplane and land on his runway (a pasture behind his dairy) and visit with him about flying.  At that time he was only flying and teaching  and selling PPCs.  He also continues to services Rotax engines as part of his current business.

Two years ago Craig had just begun his Gyro Training and sales business in an MTO Sport, like the one here.  He was working pretty much solo.  Yesterday, I met 2 employees, a gentleman named Bruce, who is also a CFI and Pam.  Pam runs the office, performs maintenance on engines and aircraft while keeping the business organized.  Bruce also helps with the repairs, flight training and assists customers in building their machines.

They were all busy helping Craig pack up his MTO for a trip to Olney, TX for a PRA meeting and then on to Benson Days, a premier Gyro event in Florida.

It is great  to see Craig's business doing so well and it is my goal to train with him while working toward becoming a Gyro Sport Pilot CFI.

Happy Flying,


Saturday, January 4, 2014

Childhood Memories

My passion for flying goes back to my childhood.   I started building model airplanes in 1st Grade.  Most of them were fighter planes from WW II.  About that same time, I remember jumping off my friends garage with a bed sheet for a parachute.  That only happened once!

Another memory is of a Benson home built gyrocopter sitting on the back of a trailer in Deleon, Texas near my uncle James Burkeen's house, like the one in the photo to the left.  Dr. Igor Bensen invented these machines and I can remember seeing ads in Popular Mechanics for ordering the plans to build them.  They used either VW motors or 2-Stroke McCulloch Aircraft engines for Drones used by the military for targets.

The original Benson was fairly stable since the engines used were both direct driven with no gear reduction for the propeller and unlike the photo above they did not have a horizontal stabilizer and most of the builders taught themselves how to fly by reading books from Dr. Benson.

Unfortunately, in the 90's builders began using Rotax 2-Stroke engines with gear reduction drives and bigger props.  In order to accommodate the larger props they had to raise the engines up on the frame.  This raised the center of thrust and without horizontal stabilizers and with inexperienced pilots, they started bunting over and tumbling to the ground.

As a result, almost all modern day gyrocopters are center line thrust with huge horizontal stabilizers.  Another change today is that gyrocopter 2 place trainers and instructors are available and a must for anyone wanting to build and fly these machines.  You can read more about gyros here: GyrosAway

New Light Sport Aviation Blog

I am new to blogging and have decided to use this medium to share and chronicle both my past and future experiences in light sport aviation.  Here is a photo taken in 2004 from one of my favorite ultralight planes that I have owned, a Weedhopper.  My niece April is sitting in it, while my daughter Mikayla looks on.  My next blog will include stories of my aviation experience and I will alternate those stories with my aviation future goals.