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Bonjour Air Senegal

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October 21, 2021

is a new and expanding carrier poised to become one of the largest in the region. Based out of the new (and boringly designed) Blaise Diagne International Airport near Dakar, the carrier has opened up routes to Europe and the United States.

We haven’t had a serious West African contender since the days of Air Afrique, the pan-national collective whose green-and-white jets were a familiar sight from 1961 until 2002. I’ve spent a lot of time in Senegal and have a fondness for the country, so at least for me the emergence of new national airline is exciting.

What someone needs to explain, however, is this clown show of a livery…

Air Senegal A330 1 1024x565 - Bonjour Air Senegal
Air Senegal A330 1024x602 - Bonjour Air Senegal

What a shame. It’s disappointing because the colors and patterns of the Senegalese flag offer so many handsome possibilities. The constipated typeface, with its little serifs and skinny letters, is not only unattractive, but distractingly out of synch with a tail design that looks, quite literally, as if it were drawn by a child.

The weirdly truncated star is an especially ugly and bizarre flourish. That they’ve splashed this design, broken star and all, onto the engine nacelles as well, only makes it worse.

The only part to like is maybe the tricolor arrow design near the cockpit. Seems they could have expanded on this motif in lieu of that dizzying amoeba.

Grade: F-minus

Air Senegal Detail - Bonjour Air Senegal

 

photo courtesy of Ryan Taylor

NATO’s Annual Nuclear Strike Exercise Underway In Southern Europe

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One of the F-15E Strike Eagles deployed to Aviano AB for Steadfast Noon 2021. (All images: Claudio Tramontin)

“Steadfast Noon” gathers aircraft and personnel from 14 NATO countries. The bases used for the drills are Aviano AB and Ghedi, in Italy.

NATO’s yearly “deterrence” exercise, codenamed “Steadfast Noon”, kicked off on Oct. 18, 2021. Dozens of aircraft from across the alliance are currently deployed to Italy and will carry out joint training during the 1-week drills.

As already happened in the past, this year’s Steadfast Noon takes place alongside another exercise, dubbed “Cross Servicing” or “X-Servicing”, whose goal is to test the ability of each partner to service other nation’s aircraft at NATO airfield operating on their territory. Actually, it looks like that X-Servicing or any other exercises preceding or coinciding with the Steadfast Noons are somehow used to disguise the main one considered the political sensitivity of the nuclear mission in many NATO countries.

Anyway, the routine Steadfast Noon strike exercise is hosted by a different NATO country (or two) each year usually at two air bases where U.S. tactical B61 nuclear bombs are stored. This year, the two Italian air bases involved in the exercise are Ghedi AB and Aviano AB, in the northeastern part of the country. According to the Federation of American Scientists, 35 B-61s are stored at the two bases in Italy.

The flying activity (that needless to say does not involve any “live” armament), is carried out (in specific days made public by AIP Supplement) inside restricted airspace in central and northeastern Italy and the Adriatic Sea.

Since they are sort of back-to-back exercises, both X-Servicing and Steadfast Noon involve the same aircraft on the same bases: the missions are flown by DCA (Dual Capable Aircraft) –  aircraft from Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey and the U.S. that are able to perform either conventional or theater nuclear missions carrying the B61 bomb – along with non-nuclear aircraft that support the mission under the SNOWCAT (Support of Nuclear Operations With Conventional Air Tactics) program, which is used to enable military assets from non-nuclear countries to support the nuclear strike mission without being formally part of it.

- NATO’s Annual Nuclear Strike Exercise Underway In Southern Europe48th FW F-15E Strike Eagle.

The DCA aircraft committed by the nuclear capable European air forces are always the same, since they are the only ones configured to carry the B61: German and Italian Air Force Tornado IDS; Belgian, Dutch and Turkish F-16s. The American participation involves the tactical assets based in Europe: F-16s and F-15Es.

- NATO’s Annual Nuclear Strike Exercise Underway In Southern EuropeBelgian F-16

For what concerns the non-nuclear and support assets, the 2021 iteration of Steadfast Noon/X-Servicing drills see the participation of five Czech Air Force JAS 39 Gripens and three Polish Air Force F-16s, along with NATO E-3A AWACS and Italian Air Force G550 CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning).

- NATO’s Annual Nuclear Strike Exercise Underway In Southern EuropeCzech Air Force JAS 39 Gripen.

In particular, the Belgian, Turkish and Polish F-16s, along with the Czech Gripens and U.S. F-15E are deployed to Aviano AB, while Ghedi AB, home of the Italian Tornado fleet, hosts the Dutch F-16s and German Tornados.

- NATO’s Annual Nuclear Strike Exercise Underway In Southern EuropeTurkish Air Force F-16.St
- NATO’s Annual Nuclear Strike Exercise Underway In Southern EuropePolish Air Force F-16 landing at Aviano on Oct. 18, 2021.

Even though, NATO is usually quite tight-lipped when it deals with this kind of exercise, you can get an idea of the flying activity thanks to some OSINT: flight tracking websites show some of the assets taking part in the drills as they operate inside the restricted airspaces announced by relevant NOTAMs (Notice To Airmen). Then, you can also get some interesting photographs to cross correlate the rest of the information, thanks to the aircraft spotters taking shots outside the main operating bases.

- NATO’s Annual Nuclear Strike Exercise Underway In Southern EuropeThe airspace over Italy during Steadfast Noon with an E-3 AWACS and a G550 CAEW providing AEW to the rest of the aircraft. (Image credit: ADSBExchange.org)

f5260c1a4f5417527329915544c2932f?s=125&d=mm&r=g - NATO’s Annual Nuclear Strike Exercise Underway In Southern Europe
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Podcast: GA trends and urban air mobility hype, with Mac McClellan

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Mac in airplane square 300x300 - Podcast: GA trends and urban air mobility hype, with Mac McClellan

Mac McClellan logged thousands of hours in his Beech Baron.

Mac McClellan is a frequent contributor to Air Facts, but as Editor-in-Chief at Flying magazine for 20 years he flew just about every new airplane delivered since 1976. In this podcast episode, Mac shares his favorite ones and some that he wished he’d never flown.

As a keen observer of general aviation trends, Mac also explains why pilots are flying fewer cross countries, why personal flying inevitably means tradeoffs between safety and efficiency, and what the future holds for urban air mobility/eVTOL proposals.

In the “ready to copy” segment, Mac shares why he thinks personal minimums are a bad idea, the best places to fly in Michigan, and what sailing and flying have in common.

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Speed Is Life (And Momentum Is Its Sidekick)

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There is more to the relationship between airspeed, energy management and aircraft control than meets the eye. The fighter pilot’s motto, “Speed is Life,” is the gospel in combat, where those who are most skillful at energy management generally win the fight. Multi-engine pilots know that precise air speed control is critical when engines begin to fail. And our colleague, Sir Isaac Newton, reminds us that in addition to the four forces of flight, there is a fifth force, momentum, that significantly impacts aircraft performance. So, let’s start this journey by taking a quick trip back to high school physics class! 

TRIGGER ALERT: MATHEMATICAL FORMULA FOLLOWS… In the most memorable line from Top Gun, Maverick loudly proclaims, “I feel the need, the need for speed.” Test pilots, engineers and geniuses aside, most pilots are not into theoretical equations, or, worse, the dreaded need to do math in public. But in this instance, we think Tom Cruise is referring to what is commonly known as the coefficient of lift equation, or Cl = ½ Rho V2 S. 

However, when you are flying, this formula is much simpler than it seems. Once airborne, we pilots can’t do too much about Rho (which relates to air density) and nothing at all about S (wing or control surface area) unless we count extending the flaps. However, we are the masters of V (velocity)! And to our delight, V is squared, which means that every time we increase our airspeed by a couple knots, the effectiveness of our lifting and control surfaces is increased fourfold. Now this is some math we can all get behind. 

During jet fighter combat maneuvers, this formula, and an ample application of afterburner, allows fighter pilots to turn airspeed into energy and live to fight another day. In the airline pilot’s world, the rare engine failure at altitude turns first into a “drift down” maneuver from cruise altitude to maintain ample V (velocity) until safely at or below the single-engine service ceiling. This is followed by an energy management descent, approach and landing profile designed to keep the aircraft comfortably above engine-out minimum control speed, all the while retaining excess energy and control authority until just before actual touchdown. 

In light twins, blueline speed defines the “best single-engine climb speed.” This speed will yield the best single-engine climb rate while maintaining aircraft control. However, if the pilot is losing roll control authority due to unforeseen problems or configurations, every single additional knot of airspeed will result in significantly increased control authority and allow the pilot to keep the shiny side up.

Now, down here in single-engine land where most of us live, the normal traffic-pattern speed schedule is designed to retain additional energy until just prior to touchdown. Getting slow on base or the turn to final can be deadly. Remember, slowing a couple knots also squares the loss of energy and control effectiveness. 

Additionally, the lift formula can play an important role in many inflight emergencies. When encountering a severe bird strike, split flaps, control surface damage or other control issues, the speeds listed in the POH may no longer apply. In this case, a controllability check to determine how slowly the pilot can maintain control will let the pilot know if the landing speeds in the POH are still valid. 

While still at altitude and on the way to the nearest airport, configure the aircraft for landing and slow ever so carefully to the POH final approach speed. If the aircraft begins to roll or turn uncontrollably before reaching the final approach speed, lower the nose, recover and decide that the landing will be made at least 5 to 10 knots above that speed. Then, maintain a gentle continuous descent to the touchdown point, just like the big iron pilots are taught, carrying some extra airspeed and energy until landing is assured. If the newly identified touchdown speed is too high, then maybe a longer runway is required. The goal here is never to lose control of the aircraft inadvertently before you reach the ground. Speed is life. 

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Now, as we begin to fly larger singles and twins, that fifth “force of flight” momentum begins to be a factor. Sir Isaac’s first two laws state that “an object in motion will tend to remain in motion” and “force equals mass times acceleration.” These two laws describe what we commonly call momentum, or “mo” for short. If you need an extreme example, imagine a 100-car freight train making an emergency stop. The overwhelming mass of the train, combined with even modest velocity, makes for a lot of sparks, squealing brakes and not much deceleration. Think about that the next time you watch someone try to sneak around the local rail crossing gate!

Modern airliners, while certainly lighter than trains, often have a range of weights for landing that vary by nearly 100,000 pounds. During the landing flare, a 300,000-pound jet carries a lot more momentum than a 200,000-pound one. Thus, the pilot is required to reduce thrust sooner at the higher weight than at the lower weight. At first, this seems counterintuitive, as the lighter-weight airplane requires less velocity and thrust to fly. We are not talking about flying but rather slowing down—or, as Isaac might have also said, “mass times deceleration.” Yes, but we don’t all fly the big jets.

Back here in single-engine land, a Cherokee Six’s inflight weight can range from approximately 2,000 to 3,400 pounds, a range of over 42% of its maximum takeoff weight. If the Cherokee Six must land near maximum gross weight, say, on an immediate return to the airport, the pilot will need to fly faster with more power on final. However, when it comes time to slow down in the flare, the big Cherokee’s higher weight and increased momentum may require a more rapid power reduction than at the more familiar lighter weight. 

The same aircraft with a single pilot and 15 gallons of fuel will require significantly less power to maintain the final approach. However, its lower mass will tend to decelerate much more quickly once the round out and flare have begun. So, landing at the light weight requires the pilot to reduce power at a slower rate. And, of course, “mo” affects stopping distances as well. So, if the runway is short and snow or ice covered, the higher landing speed, long landing and increased momentum result in more than a few departures from the far end of the runway. 

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The late, great Bob Hoover, a famed flight test and airshow pilot, famously said, “Fly the aircraft as far into the crash as possible.” A survivor of multiple aircraft crash landings in wartime, flight test and even on takeoff in his misfueled Shrike Commander, Mr. Hoover knew what he was talking about. Simply put, loss of roll control, or stalling the aircraft after takeoff or before touchdown, is nearly always unsurvivable. Maintaining airspeed and energy as long as possible provides the pilot with multiple options. The constant focus on maintaining flying airspeed that our CFI drummed into us works for normal operations, abnormal operations and even critical off-airport landings. 

So, speed is truly life! Thanks to some amazing aircraft designers and engineers, we get to fly some of the safest and most efficient aircraft available. And we can learn something from our friends in the professional ranks. Precise airspeed control, maintaining a reserve of energy, and always maintaining aircraft control are Job One, especially when out-of-the-ordinary situations arise. 

How Fast A Plane Do You Need?

 

The Air Strike That Led To The Capture (And Subsequent Killing) Of Muammar Gaddafi 10 Years Ago Today

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - The Air Strike That Led To The Capture (And Subsequent Killing) Of Muammar Gaddafi 10 Years Ago Today
An image of Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi, commonly known as Colonel Gaddafi. In boxes, a FAF Mirage 2000D and an MQ-1 Predator, two aircraft that took part in the raid that contributed to his capture.

On this day in 2011, an air strike by NATO aircraft contributed to the capture of Col. Gaddafi. Here’s how it went.

Although NATO’s Operation Unified Protector, as the multinational air campaign in Libya was officially named, ended on Oct. 31, 2011, the Air War in northern Africa came to a virtual end a couple of weeks earlier, on Oct. 20, when the killing of Muammar Gaddafi marked the completion of the air campaign that had started on Mar. 19, 2011.

Gaddafi and his family had escaped Tripoli when Libyan capital had fallen to forces of the opposition NTC (National Transitional Council) in August 2011. Since then, Libya’s formed leader was believed to be hidden and protected by several heavily armed loyalists in Sirte, east of Tripoli. Since attempts to convince him to flee the country and give up power were ignored, when the last loyalist district fell to the NTC forces, Gaddafi, his family and inner circle members attempted to flee Sirte on a large convoy made of around 75 vehicles.

The convoy was attacked at 08.30AM LT on Oct. 20, 2011, by a French Mirage 2000D that was called into action by an RAF E-3D AWACS. Gaddafi’s vehicle was intercepted by rebel fighters on the ground and he was killed (after being wounded) as he was being transferred.

- The Air Strike That Led To The Capture (And Subsequent Killing) Of Muammar Gaddafi 10 Years Ago TodayFile photo of a Mirage 2000D (Image credit: Rob Schleiffert via Wiki)

Most probably, his decision to escape using such a large convoy was his last mistake. It’s hard to understand how a convoy made of so many vehicles could move unnoticed from the many reconnaissance and intelligence gathering platforms still flying over Libya. Even if almost all the NATO and non-NATO contingents taking part to Unified Protector had been reduced the number of SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) assets had remained almost the same.

It was one of these extremely important platforms, for instance, to intercept a phone call made by Gaddafi in the days preceding the air strike on Sirte.

Even though the bombs dropped by the French combat jet didn’t destroy the whole convoy (as just two armed vehicles and several accompanying cars were damaged or destroyed), they were decisive to halt it.

Later on Oct. 20, the Pentagon disclosed that a US Predator took part in the attack, firing its Hellfire missiles. Here’s how the operation unfolded.

The air strike on the convoy

A Predator (Note: according to other sources it was an RAF Tornado GR4 on a recce mission) monitoring Sirte movements spotted a convoy fleeing the city.  The convoy, identified as being pro-Gaddafi, was attempting to force its way around the outskirts of the city. Since the vehicles had some mounted weapons and ammunitions, the US drone attacked it with Hellfire missiles.

- The Air Strike That Led To The Capture (And Subsequent Killing) Of Muammar Gaddafi 10 Years Ago TodayFile photo of an MQ-1 Predator (Image credit: U.S. Air Force)

As a result of the first attack, only one vehicle was destroyed but many others dispersed in different directions. Shortly after the disruption, about 20 vehicles regrouped and tried to proceed in a southerly direction. NATO again decided to engage these vehicles. Orbiting nearby there was a mixed flight of a Mirage F1CR and a Mirage 2000D that were immediately directed to strike the target. The Mirage 2000D dropped a GBU-12 on the convoy, destroying 11 vehicles.

According to the official statement issued by NATO, at the time of the strike, NATO did not know that Gaddafi was in the convoy and “NATO’s intervention was conducted solely to reduce the threat towards the civilian population, as required to do under our UN mandate. As a matter of policy, NATO does not target individuals.”

As a policy NATO does not divulge specific information on national assets involved in operations. However, as the above text shows, some commanders were more than happy to let the details about their service’s involvement in the “decisive strike” leak.

What happened after the air strike strike has never been completely clarified and there are several different versions. What is certain is that Gaddafi was captured along with some of his guardsmen and shot in his head and abdomen.

Several videos related to the assassination were broadcast by news channels and circulated via the Internet.

- The Air Strike That Led To The Capture (And Subsequent Killing) Of Muammar Gaddafi 10 Years Ago TodayA map of Gaddafi’s final movements on Oct. 20, 2011, was published by BBC (link no longer available).

By the way, as some of you will probably remember since we have published an article on this earlier this yearThe Aviationist, provided a constant coverage of the crisis that led to launch of the air campaign. From Mar. 19, 2011 to the end of the war, this site provided daily reports that not only were a reference for aviation enthusiasts and other journalists, but also for the officers involved in the air campaign. “For a daily account of operations, one of the best open sources throughout the war was Italian journalist David Cenciotti’s weblog The Aviationist”, said the Rand Corporation’s report “Precision and purpose: airpower in the Libyan Civil War” published in 2015. The whole archive of daily debriefs, you can click here. For the final report, you can read here

f5260c1a4f5417527329915544c2932f?s=125&d=mm&r=g - The Air Strike That Led To The Capture (And Subsequent Killing) Of Muammar Gaddafi 10 Years Ago Today
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Harmony and distractions

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Music occupies space as poetry. The notes merge into a symphony, calibrating the brain with that ethereal sense of wonder. Bach’s music by some is considered the emotional calibrator. Each melodic note rides the wave on the preceding note; much like the start of an IO-550 engine, you can hear the guttural sound on ignition. After the fuel pump has loaded up the distributor block and the mixture of air and fuel is introduced into the cylinder, the magnetos induce the electrical spark from the spark plugs as a gentle cascading flame spreads across the piston head, combusting the air/fuel mixture and pressing the pistons in their cylinders into a perpetual linear motion of up and down.

You can hear this if you concentrate and slow your brain down—keep the door and window open when starting the engine. Keep the headset on your lap for a moment and listen. Just like the members of a symphony or at a Broadway play, the musicians calibrate their wind and string instruments before the maestro raises his arms. And suddenly there is harmony. All the cylinders fire in harmony if there is no early morning sickness of stuck valves. The CHTs on the display come alive like the musical score communicating the information visually. All is well with the machine, pilot, and the world.

IO 550 B RA 300x199 - Harmony and distractions

Do you hear the symphony?

I put my headsets on when the symphony is well on its way and then listen through the noise cancelling waves for any errant cellist in the mix. Taxiing to the approach end of the runway is much the same: no distractions, just concentration on the task at hand, safely negotiating the taxiway to the runway and using the checklist.

Taking off is magic, every time. Ask any pilot and within a fraction of a percentage you will hear these words, “Its magic!” As the weight is lifted off the gear and borne entirely by the wings, we are airborne. The sound of the engine changes as it harmonizes with the ocean of air.

After an hour and a half of flying, I was returning to my home airport the other evening. It was a dusky evening with the haze clamped down firmly beneath by the overhead gray clouds. It was that time of the day where the forces of night are hammering at the door to let it in, and that little bit of twilight won’t give up.

Three miles from the airport, I was already at traffic pattern altitude, slowing down from my standard 20 inches of manifold pressure (MP) to 18 inches. The winds were calm on surface based on the AWOS but at 1000 feet they were 5 knots from the west. I was planning the 45-degree entry for a downwind pattern to runway 24, when I heard the call that a Cherokee was on a practice ILS approach to runway 06. He announced that he was three miles out. Midstream in my thought process, I changed my plans to accommodate the pilot and land on runway 06 as well, to avoid any conflict.

I was doing 110 knots, slowing to 105 knots as I flew crosswind-midfield overhead the runway. Turning onto left downwind, I reduced power to 15 inches of MP to slow down. Suddenly that blessed-neural-harmony of thought had an errant cellist in the midst. The Cherokee pilot announced he was one mile from the runway threshold; I looked for the aircraft below and to my left and could not see the aircraft. Nope, nothing there! I strained at 2-3 miles beyond the runway threshold and nothing still.

I heard the seven clicks, and the runway lights came on at full bright. I strained to look for the Cherokee to decide when to make the base turn. And lo and behold, his localizer must have been pegged to the right because he blew right past me, 500 feet below and closer to my flight path. The Garmin lady blurted “Traffic! Traffic!” as the yellow ball danced just below me on the MFD.

I turned base as the pilot announced a missed approach and the yellow ball disappeared on the MFD. I noted that my airspeed was still 95 knots and put the approach flaps in and simultaneously reduced the MP further. The dissonant cacophony of the gear-warning alarm disturbed the harmony! One and a half miles from the threshold. I looked for the three green—and there weren’t any! My hand grabbed the gear handle and pushed it down and four seconds later the three green lights lit up. The base leg gave me ample time to stabilize for the final approach at 700 feet.

The “500 feet” warning came on a few seconds later and I deployed full flaps. The aircraft slowed down to my desired approach speed of 80 knots, and I reconfirmed the GUMPS with the “three green” visually once again. I looked for the Cherokee pilot and saw him well left of the runway executing a missed approach, turning southbound right over the midfield at 200-300 feet above my altitude. Fortunately, there weren’t any others around to partake in this spaghetti-like confluence of distractions and maneuvers.

Bonanza gear up 300x174 - Harmony and distractions

Not the result any pilot wants.

What went wrong with my symphonic harmony? It is obvious there was a minor distraction that prevented me from reviewing and executing my checklist. In retrospect, I realize that if the harmony of thought is broken at any point during a flight, one must force oneself into the basics. Perhaps, I should have extended downwind and pulled out the checklist and reconfigured for the approach (a wiser and more careful methodology), but not turned back to an upwind for another pattern since the Cherokee pilot was cutting his missed approach quicker and at a lower altitude (although I did not have a clue then). He would have been a conflict!

These are questions worth pondering in the aftermath exercise. An old saying, “there are those pilots who have had a gear up landing and those who will,” scares the daylights out of me!

What went wrong (Excuses n’ all):

  1. Visibility
  2. Deviation of planned maneuver
  3. Sudden change of runway
  4. Unable to visualize where the other aircraft was
  5. Forgetting to lower the gear on turning downwind (checklist)
  6. Verbalizing, “three green” while simultaneously looking for the indication on downwind
  7. Verbalizing, “three green” on base leg before the gear warning horn sounded
  8. Reducing power below 15 inches MP to reduce speed, which if properly configured in the aircraft I fly, should happen only at short final when the runway is made.
  9. OK, I did not mention the chatty passenger “he, who shall not be named,” in the back seat, whom I had to electronically isolate while overhead the field… should have done that five miles out!

DECIDE:

D- Detect that the action is necessary: checklist review
E- Estimate the significance of the action: gear up landing
C- Choose a desirable outcome: landing safely
I- Identify actions needed to achieve the chosen option: power/speed/gear/flaps
D- Do the necessary action to achieve change: extend gear/flaps
E- Evaluate the effects of the action: power and desired speed

What saved the day:

  1. The below 15 inches MP gear warning horn
  2. Alertness to the warning
  3. Immediate execution of gear extension
  4. Confirming the “three green” on base
  5. Confirming the “three green” on final
  6. Reconfirming with the “check landing gear” warning at 200 feet from the Landing Heights System (LIDAR) that I recently installed.
  7. Stabilizing the approach at 700 feet, otherwise unstable at 500 feet equals a missed approach.
  8. Landing without incident.
  9. LESSON LEARNED!!!

The musical interlude exists to enjoy for another day, for breaking the surly bonds and witnessing the spectacle of flight—but now with renewed concepts and understanding.

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FAA Unveils Its Alaska Safety Initiative. Our Big Takeaway: Yes!

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shutterstock 1115678927sm - FAA Unveils Its Alaska Safety Initiative. Our Big Takeaway: Yes!
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In an open call among stakeholders, the FAA has revealed its plan to improve safety in Alaska, and the great news is that it’s not the usually edict-from-above based approach but a cooperative one that makes use of Alaskan aviators’ wish list for safety upgrades, a thoughtful airspace management plan from the FAA, along with what seems a reasonable focus on equipage with no mandate.

Alaska accident and fatal accident numbers are alarming to most in the Lower 48, but the nature of flying in the geographically extreme and diverse state is different than in any other place in the United States. The accident rate is nearly three times that of Lower 48 states. Then again, the Alaska populace makes more use of aircraft for critical infrastructure than any other—by around three times as much according to some metrics.

Weather reporting improvements top the list of potential improvements, and these are mostly of two kinds, the installation of more and better automated weather reporting systems and the installation of more mountain pass cameras. The biggest danger to flyers in Alaska is the presence of high terrain in places where low weather is also common. Mountain passes are the biggest danger zones, and more and better reporting stations and remote mountain pass camera installations would go a long way toward helping Alaskan pilots know what they were facing ahead of time. These are also, according to the FAA, the two most requested system upgrades.

But they were not the only ones. Navigation and charting enhancements could help pilots know where they are in relation to terrain in low visibility, and it can help them make flight plans using waypoints that today aren’t charted. While it’s true that pilots could create their own custom waypoints, it’s much easier for pilots to use existing charted and databased waypoints, not to mention the due diligence the FAA will do in creating these charted waypoints. Two big thumbs up on this idea.

The FAA’s list of planned or existing updates to navigation aids and procedures is laudable. Included in the agency’s plan were new WAAS approaches with vertical guidance, especially in more remote places, and even more so at airports with challenging obstacles. The FAA is even discussing modifying the criteria it uses to create WAAS approaches, making it easier for the agency to create and approve approaches that will improve safety in places where the previous standards would have disallowed them.

Another bullet point on the hit list is improving satellite coverage and availability through a number of initiatives, none of which will be cheap but all of which will go to give Alaskan flyers more tools to stay safe.

And the FAA is looking to build out new, charted low-level routes around the state.  This would include the resuscitating of outmoded R-routes and the addition of new T-routes, as well.

Another key program goal is to increase the availability of ADS-B data, for both traffic alerts and weather information, though the installation of new ground and satellite hardware, none of which will be cheap but all of which will help keep critical safety information flowing to pilots.

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There’s much in the FAA’s plan, but the big takeaway in our view is that the Feds are really listening to Alaska aviators and they are committed to working as a partner to make flying safer in the 49th State.

Learn more about flying Alaska:

Lessons Learned About Flying (and about life): About Alaska

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Everything You Need To Know About ‘Blue Flag 2021, The Largest And Most Advanced Air Exercise Ever Held in Israel

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Everything You Need To Know About ‘Blue Flag 2021, The Largest And Most Advanced Air Exercise Ever Held in Israel
Elephant Walk for Blue Flag 2021 at Ovda AB. (Image credit: IAF)

4th and 5th generation aircraft from Israel, France, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, UK and US are taking part in Blue Flag 2021. Here’s everything you need to know.

Ovda (or Uvda) Air Base, north of Eilat, Israel, is once again the main operating base of “Blue Flag” an international training exercise organized by the Israeli Air Force and attended by air forces from around the world “to strengthen cooperation between the nations.”

The previous edition, in 2019, attended by “just” four guest nations was referred as the most advanced international Air Force exercise in Israel’s history. Blue Flag 2021 is going to be even largest: with 8 participating nations, the drills will be the largest and most advanced aerial exercise ever held in Israel.

This is how the IAF presented the exercise on their official website (highlight mine): “Holding an international exercise in this current reality, while continuing our public and covert operational activities on all fronts, is of utmost strategic importance and has extensive impact over the Israeli Air Force, the IDF, and the State of Israel”.

The 2-week exercise currently underway and ending on Thursday Oct. 28, 2021, marks several “firsts”: it’s the first time a British fighter squadron deploys to Israel since the establishment of the country; it’s the first time an Indian “Mirage” fighter squadron deploys to Israel as well as the the first time a French “Rafale” fighter squadron deploys to Israel.

In terms of participating types, “Blue Flag 2021” sees the return to Ovda of the Italian Air Force F-35A and G.550 CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning), that took part in the latest iteration of the drills in 2019. The Indian Air Force has deployed the Mirage 2000I.

The German Air Force has deployed six Eurofighters, including the one dubbed “Eagle Star”, a special colored jet sporting the Israeli and German flags that took part in a joint honorary flyover in Israeli skies: Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, commander of the Israeli Air Force, led the flyover in a F-15 “Baz” with Lieutenant General Ingo Gerhartz, Commander of the German Air Force, piloting the “Eagle Star” Eurofighter.

In 2019, the Red forces’ role was flown by the F-16Cs “Barak” of the 115th Squadron “Flying Dragon”, the aggressor squadron of the Israeli Air Force, supported by the Air Defense Array’s “Yahalom” (Patriot) batteries that simulated enemy SAM (Surface-to-Air Missile) systems. The F-35I Adir, at their first Blue Flag, also flew in the aggressor role. This year, the Red Air can count on the IAF’s “Sufa” (F-16I) squadrons, led by the 115th Squadron playing the aggressor role. It’s not clear whether the F-35I will also fly the adversary mission or will integrate with the U.S. and Italian Lightnings.

“We are living in a very complicated region, and the threats to the State of Israel from Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iran are only increasing. Holding an international exercise in this current reality, while continuing our public and covert operational activities on all fronts, is of utmost strategic importance and has extensive impact over the Israeli Air Force, the IDF, and the State of Israel”, said Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, Commander of the IAF in a public release.

An interesting Elephant Walk (that included some support assets, like the G.550) was arranged for Blue Flag 2021, along with a large dissimilar formation with aircraft from all the 8 participating nations.

Two years, Flightradar24.com, ADSBExchange.org or Planeradar.ru proved that the Royal Jordanian Air Force had also taken part in the exercise with its F-16s although Jordan was never officially listed as an international participant to Blue Flag 2019. As explained back then, not only were RJAF F-16s spotted flying over Israel, but Israeli and other participating nations aircraft operated over Jordan during Blue Flag. While most of the activity will not be visible on flight tracking websites, some aircraft can be tracked online:

Let’s see if something interesting emerges in the next few days.

f5260c1a4f5417527329915544c2932f?s=125&d=mm&r=g - Everything You Need To Know About ‘Blue Flag 2021, The Largest And Most Advanced Air Exercise Ever Held in Israel
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

“Miraculous.” No Fatalities As Chartered MD-87 Crashes Near Houston.

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Screen Shot 2021 10 19 at 11.13.53 AM 640x348 - “Miraculous.” No Fatalities As Chartered MD-87 Crashes Near Houston.
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No one was killed when a privately owned McDonnell Douglas MD-87 crashed in Waller County near Houston on Tuesday morning, apparently after going off the end of the runway during an attempted takeoff. The passengers were headed to Boston to see Game 4 of the Major League Baseball American League Championship Series at Fenway Park in Boston. 

The plane crossed a roadway and came to rest, bursting into flames. Early reports are, and this is hard to believe seeing these photos, that all 21 passengers and crew escaped the wreckage with only one casualty, a back injury, among them. Kudos to the passengers and crew for pulling that off.

The MD-87 is a stretched version of the MD-80, which is a modernized and stretched version of the Douglas DC-9, for years one of the most popular short-haul airliners in the United States. Within recent years, airlines just about everywhere have mothballed their MD fleets. American Airlines over the years has operated nearly 400 of the various models, all certificated under the DC-9 type.  It retired the last of its MD’s in 2019, when it shipped 26 of them for long-term storage in Roswell, New Mexico. Delta, TWA, Allegiant and Alaska were longtime operators. All of them have retired their fleets. (TWA, of course, is no longer.)

Other airlines around the world still operate the type. There are an estimated 160 of them in current use. For those looking to get their hands on a used one, they can be had cheap. Flyable examples reportedly go for as little as a few hundred thousand dollars.

We’ll update this story as we learn more.

Categories: How to Become a Pilot

Confessions of a seaplane charter pilot

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Following my retirement from dentistry, I became very bored very quickly and realized the necessity of having something to occupy my spare time. I immediately turned to the field of flight.

I had already owned and leased out aircraft, including a new Piper PA-16 that I traveled to Florida to purchase new for $10,750 (in 1963) to replace my worn out, leased Piper Tri-Pacer. (The salesman suggested that I sell the valuable radios and “throw in” the airplane). I then flew the new airplane back to Boeing Field without a radio; yes, they still painted the name of the airport on the roof of the hangar to aid navigation. Later, I bought and leased to my glider club a Piper Super Cub for towing gliders. But the maintenance, fuel, and insurance ($4,500/year on a $20,000 aircraft) made the business model impractical; I returned to my first love, seaplanes.

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Lake Union is one of the busiest seaplane bases in the world.

My mentor, Lana Kurtzer, had already died and his estate had sold the land and the company to his former competitor. But one of his long-time employees had established a small company across Lake Union; I decided to introduce myself.

The timing was perfect; the seaplane charter business is seasonal and (most of) the small companies fly seven days a week for three months in the hope of earning enough to carry them over the winter months. This was the beginning of the season and the boss needed a pilot. I checked out in one of his two Cessna 206s on floats (N8397Q) and immediately began flying, at first occasionally and then nearly every day. The Cessna 206 with a Continental IO-520 engine had right-side double doors aft but lacked a front seat right-side door (no exit from the right front during docking) and was mounted on Deep V 3400 floats that were valuable when landing in rough weather.

Aircraft maintenance was the responsibility of the boss (an A&P) and always a consideration. One of my first charters was ferrying a passenger to Lake Chaunigan on Vancouver Island to attend a rowing crew race. Before departing, the boss muttered something about the alternator on N8397Q that I did not clearly hear and we headed out of Lake Union, crossed the straits, and soon found lake Chaunigan near Victoria. It was surrounded by crowds of people; I landed and taxied up and down the shoreline searching in vain for a docking area to unload my passenger and finally shut down the engine in the hope someone would run out to us and take my passenger. Nobody volunteered; I decided to restart and taxi clear of the lake for the coming race. The battery was dead!

The crew race began, and I was stranded in the middle of the course. People were shouting and waving at me from the shore to clear the course and finally one kind boater recognized my problem and towed me off the course to shore. The emergency paddle fit into a sleeve on the inside of the left float; I used it to paddle into a float where my passenger quickly jumped ashore and disappeared. The race finished and I sat there deciding where I could find another battery and thinking unkind thoughts about my boss and what he had muttered about the alternator. I suddenly remembered that sometimes if you leave a dead battery sit a few minutes it sometimes generates a small revival charge. I tied a slipknot to the cleat on the float and ran the end into the cockpit, hit the starter and it kicked over once and started! But my problems were not over…

I took off, climbed out to 2,000 ft., leveled off for cruise and noticed that it was cruising 10 mph slow. I checked the power settings, flaps, and water rudders but suddenly remembered… the paddle! Looking out the window I could see that it was firmly plastered vertically to the leading edge of the float struts by the airflow, blade down and with the handle just out of reach. I knew that I could not fly across the city with this situation—it would surely depart at a most inopportune time—and tried everything to dislodge it: slow flight, stalls, skids, slips. All were unsuccessful, and finally I let down and touched down on the step and dislodged it.

I returned to Lake Union with a more realistic understanding of maintenance problems in small (and large?) aircraft companies that I found valuable in future years on several occasions.

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A seaplane can get the pilot into unique forms of trouble.

My seaplane charters continued nearly every day in the summers and there were always challenging problems that kept it interesting.

For instance, Tuesday was sailboat race day on Lake Union, and it was sometimes challenging to find an area large enough to land without violating safety rules. I returned one late Tuesday to find dozens of race competitors covering almost the entire lake. I noted one potential area on the east side of the lake that would could qualify by stretching the rules slightly, and entered a downwind left-hand pattern over Westlake Avenue with final approach to touchdown into the strong breeze just offshore from the houseboats lining the lake. I touched down easily and settled down off the step to begin my 180-degree turn around on the water to taxi back to the dock at the southeast corner of the lake.

Floatplanes weathercock into the wind and are difficult to turn away from the wind in a strong breeze. The torque from the propeller rotation will turn them naturally to the left and the greater the RPM, the greater the left turn force. The water rudders help when properly rigged to allow them to deploy full length into the water; 8379Q had received a recent 100-hour inspection and the rudders were not properly rigged.

After touchdown, I applied (a lot of) power, stood on the left rudder with the yoke back, began the 180-degree left turn, and slowly came around 90 degrees to find myself with my madly thrashing propeller looking dead ahead at the Seattle police harbor patrol boat. This was not a good way to make friends! I completed my turn and taxied back to the dock with the police boat following. I climbed out, tied up and, expecting the worst, met the officer coming down the dock.

He had a quizzical look on his face as I calmly greeted him, and unapologetically explained the difficulty turning the seaplane away from the strong wind. I offered to taxi him out on the lake to demonstrate the problem.

He just smiled and said, “I thought you were just being obnoxious.”

We departed good friends.

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