How safe is it to fly?

USA Today published a very tough article yesterday about how dangerous our hobby actually is…

http://www.usatoday.com/longform/news/nation/2014/06/12/lies-coverups-mask-roots-small-aircraft-carnage-unfit-for-flight-part-1/10405323/

Here is a very interesting response that put things into perspective…

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-schweitzer/unfit-for-publication-how_b_5509253.html

What do you think?

Oscar

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High Performance Takeoff from MGGT

In an article on engine failure after takeoff at MGGT, theoretic calculations from the Cessna 172 POH were used. This numbers change with every airplane and pilot, so I decided to actually verify some the performance numbers, starting with how high I could climb above the runway.

This video shows a high performance takeoff from La Aurora MGGT with a Cessna Turbo 210 M. Hopefully soon, I will be able to simulate the turning back to the runway at a safe altitude.

The Cessna T210M made it to 6,000 FT or 1,000 FT AGL at the end of the runway. Not bad… Should I make every takeoff a high-performance takeoff?

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Flying from Guatemala to Nicaragua

Flying from Guatemala to Nicaragua…

I got lucky this week…I had to fly for work to Managua, Nicaragua. So I started planning my route, checking what it would take to fly there, asked around about tips: when to fly (early morning?), route, what weather I may encounter on route, what should be my alternate, handling in Managua, etc. So after checking weather on wunderground and looking at my flightplan on Flitestar, I decided that I would go!

Route: MGGT G 436 CAT A 317 MNMG, Altitude 11,000 feet time in route 2.3 hours estimated (more on that later).

Paperwork: I decided that I would hire a handler. I had worked in the past with VIP Dispatch and used them again. Total cost to get all the permits in place about 600 QZ (+/- US$ 80).
Don’t forget oxygen. You will be flying high and although not required… you don’t want to have a headache when you have to fly an approach.

So I took off at 6 AM, IFR of course. Palen departure and then up to 11k. No mayor issue. I encountered some IFR on the route close to El Salvador but otherwise no problem. But winds of course never help and the 2.3 hour flight turned into 2.8. So plan for fuel!
Arrival in Managua: I was given the ILS 10 by Sandino Approach. Not a problem… However, the Jepp database in my GTN 750 does not list an ILS 10 approach. It lists many others but not the 10…So I had to go into the papercharts (you still print them, don’t you) and make sure that I did everything right. You don’t want to arrive in Managua for the first time and be yelled at.

I landed on a nicely painted smooth runway and was told to taxi to Rampa 1. Luckily there was already somebody waiting for me. I arrived and they welcomed me and…silence. What do you do? I asked the nice gentleman if there was somebody who could help me with the paperwork. They said of course: Pepe will help you! And Pepe (not his real name) showed up 5 minutes later. Not a problem. The only issue was: Capitan do you have a “chaleco de seguridad” (safety jacket) like the ones the motorbikes have to wear in Guatemala. I said no… Oh.., so you have to wait for the bus to drive you 50 meters to the terminal and pay US$ 20. Ok… Now I have a chaleco in my plane that says “Flightcrew” I feel important like a A380 or 787 captain.

Payments: overall I paid around US$ 200 for landing fees and informal handling payments (Use of airspace alone is US$ 100). Pepe takes Master and Visa no AMEX, please.
Then I asked about AVGAS. Pepe said I can do this for you. No problem (I had paid my handling fees already). So he arranged for a 5, yes 5 person crew to escort me to the old aeroclub de Managua where the only certified AVGAS pump was. I had to take the bus (remember the chaleco) to start the plane move the plane to the pump. US$ 12.50 per gallon!!! I pumped 15 gallons.

Flight back next day: No problem with paperwork, Pepe had solved and prepared everything for my 5 AM departure, I just had to wait for the BUS! No chaleco, remember…. And the bus driver just arrived at 5:30 AM.
I took off at 6 AM sharp, and here I was on my way at 12k back home, but weather was not nice… I saw activity on my stormscope and I asked Sandino approach for help. They told me that they no weather radar, but that nobody had complained until now (of course it was only 6 AM…). So I used my stormscope and eyes to fly around some nice buildups. Build-ups that were becoming huge Boomers once I arrived in El Salvador. The controllers in El Salvador were great they helped me deviate around the heavy stuff, although they were very busy with Avianca, Copa and others…

I made a video of the flight for everybody to enjoy…

So my flight turned into a 3 hours marathon. I arrived at 9 AM in La Aurora after my ILS 02 approach. VIP dispatch was waiting for me at the international ramp and after 5 min I was on my way back to the hangar.
May be the most important lesson (after the chaleco): Make sure you have enough fuel to lower your anxiety.

Be careful up there.

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PIREP: AC in a 1970 Mooney….

Flying around this area is great, however sometimes when you fly from La Aurora to the coast or to Rio Dulce or to Peten, the cockpit can become very HOT! ON many occasions I feel after landing that the only place I want to go is to take a nice shower to become a person again… (my wife agrees…).
Of course to install an AC in our birds is not only very expensive, but in most cases totally unviable. So I have been looking around trying to find a solution to this issue. That is how I ran into Phil and his icebox. I was very skeptical…is this really going to work…

http://switchboxcontrol.com/icebox/

So after reading reviews and talking to Phil, I decided to try it out. I ordered the unit with 10 icepacks and I flew on Tuesday from MGGT to MNMG Flight took about 2.6 hours in my M20C, those winds they always blow from the wrong side… I took the opportunity to try out the unit. I will do a full write up of the flight soon.

So, I froze the icepacks and took them yesterday at 5 AM to the airport, loaded the unit and added one gallon of water (could not get cold water!, just ambient). I used the unit one hour after after take off. It worked great. I turned it on and then off, depending on the temperature in the cockpit. I landed in Managua and the temperature was about 100 degrees outside. It has HOT. But the Icebox was working nicely and inside it was nice… interesting note: no fogging… The official who met me after I stopped asked me even if I had AC.

I did not take the icepacks out of the cooler… It would have been too complicated to explain to the Sandinistas why I wanted to carry icepacks through customs and back. So I left them in the plane. This morning before I left for Guatemala, I opened the box thinking that I would find melted icepacks, but NO!!! They were still 30% frozen, so i was able to use the unit during take off. However, then turbulence moved some stuff in the baggage compartment and the connector broke… and I lost the privilege of having some nice fresh air coming out of the box…So please Phil, help us by may be building a connector that does not stick out so much…

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Stopping in Mexico, or how much cash do you have….amigo

Last week I attended with some friends Sun and Fun in Florida. I will talk about our visit in another blog. I will talk here about our fuel stop in Cozumel. We flew in a nice Baron, everything looked great, weather was nice, our mood was good, until we landed in Cozumel. After we landed we were greeted by some customs officials who were very cordial and asked us to bring our luggage to the customs area. Everything was put through the scanner and that was it.
Paperwork was a different story. It was extremely bureaucratic. First immigration: we filled out the forms and were asked to pay US$ 30 per person to enter Mexico. But wait a minute! We are in transit… So after a short discussion the US$ 30 were waived. Then we had to go to the operations office and close the flight plan and file a new one for Key West. They gave us 4 forms. With those forms we had to go to immigration, customs, comandacia DGAC and operations DGAC and have each copy stamped, while leaving a copy of your manifest. So have at least 10 copies of your manifesto, pilot’s license, medical, registration and other papers… you may be asked for a copy… on your way in or out. (or not… you never know.)
After getting all these stamps (about one hour) we had to pay for these services, about US$ 100.
We also got a multi-entry permit for our plane (US$ 140) thinking that we may save some money on our way back…given that a single entry permit is also US$ 140. However, three days later upon our return to Guatemala arriving from Key West we were surprised by the fact that according to the Mexican gentleman in charge of the comandancia, we had to pay again US$ 140 because the permit for our plane was only valid for multiple entries coming from Guatemala, not from the US… We argued saying that this had never happened before, etc. but the nice man insisted implying either you pay or you stay… So we paid (still waiting for our recibo (he did not have one at hand…it was Sunday).
Last but not least, fuel is much cheaper in Cozumel than in Guatemala or in the US. So it is worthwhile fueling up in Cozumel, but, and there is always a but, you should bring Mexican pesos with you, otherwise the exchange rate will kill the savings.
This was our experience in Mexico, and I did not even mention the APIS… which will complicate things even further and make flying to Mexico totally unaffordable.

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After you upgrade your plane

We all count down the days to the date the avionics shop or mechanic told us that we will be getting back our bird from a repair (annual, check up etc.) or avionics upgrade. We call them periodically to ask them how things are going, if work progresses, how long it will take and if they are going honor the date they had promised our birds would be ready. The date comes nearer and we get nervous. Will we be able to fly this weekend? We call them and push them and they return the bird on time.

But, and there is always a but, we schedule a flight and the weather is not perfect. It is not full VFR, but it is also not IFR. So we decide to go flying anyway, we know our stuff we are experienced and know our planes.

However, last time I did just that, I had a very unpleasant surprise. I took off and after getting into a very thick haze I turned on the autopilot, and the fuse blew, my stormscope and TCAS were gone! Alert messages on my 750 and 430. Attention overload. Oscar, don’t forget: just fly the airplane, navigate and communicate… I returned to the field in low visibility rather nervous that things may get worse…but everything worked out OK.

What had happened: The avionics shop committed a mistake wiring the fuses…and connected my new TCAS, stormscope and autopilot to the same fuse. On the ground everything checked out OK, but in the air, once the autopilot drew more power, the fuse jumped. Nothing major, but of course annoying.

Lesson learned: check work performed on the ground. Do a test flight in safe conditions in VFR and be ready for a curve ball. It will most likely come!

The avionics shop revised the installation and I flew again yesterday, everything performs great now.

Oscar

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When do we fly?

As you may well understand (some of our significant others don’t…but nevermind) when Friday comes around we start making plans on where we could fly. May be Iztapa for a short breakfast and meet with other pilots, may be some approaches, may be a flight to Flores, Rio Dulce or who knows where… But then you start feeling that a cold is taking over your body… No, not today…! Let’s take something to get over it… I am sure it is nothing. So you decide to buy some over the counter cold medicine and you do feel better… But did you read what it says on the box? Are you still a safe pilot after you take these drugs? The only person to answer that question is: you…

Well, that is exactly what happened to me this weekend. I was so looking forward to flying my Mooney, try out the TCAS, fly some approaches, use my recently calibrated AOA… make another video. Everything was lined up. But a bug decided to take over my body and I finally said: no, I am not a safe pilot today and cancelled my flight. So hopefully, next weekend.

Be careful up there.

Oscar

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Soft field landing and take off for real

I don’t know about you, but during my training in the Northeastern US, I learned to fly around NYC and later I was based out of DCA, I was told how to deal with heavy ATC traffic, how to manage icing, how to land on snow contaminated runways, and also how to land and take off from soft and short fields. But given that there are not too many real grass fields out there in the NE USA (and that insurance does not like you to train on grass), training was mostly simulated. Once I got to Guatemala however I was faced with a real challenge: Land and take off from a grass strip… My first reaction was: Oh my God! Here we go with my nice Mooney… what should I do? I must say that I was really scared. I already saw myself calling my insurance telling them that my plane was totaled…

So after taking off from La Aurora and flying East of the Pacaya Volcano at 6500 feet to the South, I started descending to 1000 feet to join the pattern at Iztapa, a very nice grass field where the local Aeroclub runs a Hotel and a Restaurant. I joined the left downwind for Runway 27, throttled back to 17 MP, GUMPS check (Gas, Undercarriage, Mixture, Prop, Safety) and reduced speed to 100 mph. Radio calls! In Spanish! 45 degrees over my left shoulder time to turn base (don’t forget flaps), 90 mph…. what a beautiful scenary… Suddenly my GPS shouts at me: Terrain, Terrain…. pull up, pull up (what the heck is going on), of course the airport is not in the database… So shut up Garmin… ok let’s turn final full flaps, reduce speed to 80 and then 75 mph and I see a green field… delimitated by some white cones. And I should land there…??? No way… Let’s not forget softfield procedure! keep the plane flying, keep it flying… stall horn, and bump… I landed… keep the yoke back… radio call and I cleared the field….

You may ask me: what was different? Well not much… but that statement comes after the fact… I can assure you that I was soaked…

Here is the video of that flight. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoy flying around here.

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Flying in Guatemala

Guatemala is one of the most beautiful countries to fly in. The scenery is fabulous, where in the world can you fly watching two active volcanos at the same time, only in Guatemala… The flying community in Guatemala is extremely welcoming and nice, and you will be invited to join fly inns, 100 US$ breakfast as soon as you arrive.
However, there are some issues that you have to keep in mind:
a. Geography: Guatemala is a very mountainous country and there is no VFR chart of the area. So before you venture yourself out there, be aware that there are many granite walls that you should avoid. Also density altitude and turbulence can be challenging. Check runway lengths and the capacity of your bird to tackle the altitude. So first recommendation, before you fly solo VFR, fly with somebody who knows the area. Also a GPS with terrain features is always a plus.
b. Weather: As in any mountainous area, weather and winds are always an issue. Winds are gusty and strong and the weather can change from one moment to the other. During certain times of the year visibility can be very low…
c. Avgas availability: Avgas is ONLY available in Guatemala City. So plan accordingly.
d. You always have to file a flight plan. Regardless if you fly VFR or IFR.
These are some issues that come to my mind. But I am sure that there are many more that may be useful. So let’s start a discussion about this.

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Iztapa can get busy

Iztapa is a popular destination for members of the Aeroclub. On week-ends you will have the runway on your own most of the times and on normal week-ends you might find one other pilot in the pattern. Iztapa is usually far from being crowded but there are days and hours where it can get just a little bit busier than that. Not long ago, we were 4 single engine airplanes, an ultralight and an experimental somewhere on the runway, in the pattern or arriving. This was not for the Iztapa airshow by the way, just an ordinary Sunday morning. Additional complexity arises from training flights making full stop landings on runway 27 and taking off from 09 (against the traffic flow). Communication that day wasn’t perfect so I made a note to myself to read up on procedures and communication best practices for un-towered airports such as Iztapa.

Let’s start with the traffic pattern and how to enter it. When coming from the North I would usually fly over the field at threshold of runway 09 and then turn left over the Pacific to join the left downwind for runway 27. Iztapa uses the standard left-turning traffic pattern. Therefore it’s all left turns to left base and then to final to 27.

IztapaMostCommonNorthEntry

I believe that approach is acceptable. Although I remember from a flight with an instructor in the US that he recommended to overfly the runway mid-field 1000 ft above pattern altitude, then tear drop to join the downwind leg.

IztapaByTheBookNorthEntry

I will try this by-the-book approach next time around and see if it provides benefits when it comes to visibility of other planes in the pattern etc.

In the early morning, calm conditions usually prevail in Iztapa. A full stop landing on 27 with a subsequent takeoff from 09 is common practice. I can’t see anything wrong with that and I have done it myself many times. I would probably discontinue full-stop landings and switch to touch and gos if more planes stay in the pattern. Now taking off from runway 09 while others are in the pattern for 27 is a little different. I strongly believe that in this case you should not make a right turn after takeoff (which happened that day). I would compare that with driving into a one-way street with your warning lights one, just that airplanes don’t have warning lights. The normal procedure is a 45° left turn after takeoff before joining the heading to your destination. Even if you want to teardrop back to make another landing I would recommend a 45° left-turn after takeoff before turning back right and joining final.

I have never seen anyone arriving from the south (would be interesting). Eastern and western arrivals are common. East can be flown direct, although I personally prefer fly upwind, then cross the runway to left downwind. That allows me to get a glimpse on the runway. When coming from San Jose, joining left downwind directly is fine.

Now let’s talk about communications. San Jose radio request to switch frequency with Iztapa at sight. Upon arrival everyone should report rough situation in respect to the runway. Personally I don’t think call signs add value. I would just call out the type of plane which gives others a feel for speed. All this together I would do the call like this.

“Iztapa trafico, Cessna Centurion, 5 millas norte, 2000 pies, para un aterizaje 27, voy a sobrevolar la pista para incorporarme con el viento izquierda 27”

The FAA recommends calling out the traffic name at the end also. The reason is potentially overlapping frequencies. It is safe to say that that shouldn’t be a problem in Iztapa, it doesn’t hurt either. For you to decide.

From there you should report every time you are turning within the pattern. The reason is that turning planes can be spotted much easier.

“Iztapa trafico, Cessna Centurion, incorporandome con el viento izquierda 27”

“Iztapa trafico, Cessna Centurion, virando base izquierda 27”

“Iztapa trafico, Cessna Centurion, virando final 27”

“Iztapa trafico, Cessna Centurion, dejando pista libre”

That last one is a courtesy to the plane coming after you. If he knows that you are off the runway, he can concentrate on the landing and doesn’t have to check if you have cleared the runway yet.

If all pilots would follow the above guidelines, Iztapa would be a piece of cake even at those rare busy days. And I am fine with ordering your “100 Dollar Desayuno Chapin” on days where the frequency and the area is less crowded.

Please share your views!!

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