Little Airplane/Big Sky – Why Aircraft Collide in Flight & How to Prevent It
I was a commercial helicopter pilot for 35 years. In my career, I racked up nearly 1.5 million miles across the ground, carried, as near as I can tell, about 100,000 passengers, and finished up with 12,500 hours of flight time in my logbook. The most important number? I ended up with an equal number of takeoffs and landings.
Kidding aside, considering the public perception of the helicopter business, this may seem like an astonishing outcome. Most people truly believe that helicopters are dangerous contraptions capable of all manner of unpredictable, mostly nasty behaviors. The truth is, as I often told my passengers, the dangerous part of my job was driving in to work.
But there is a real danger involved in the helicopter industry, partly because of the way helicopters are operated, and that’s the ever present peril of midair collisions. Most helicopter operations take place from what the FAA refers to as ‘unimproved areas’, that is, unmonitored heliports, crude landing spots in rural areas, and generally remote places where radio or radar oversight is nonexistent.
The general rule calls for pilots to simply see and avoid each other. Seems straightforward enough. Even so, there are a number of midair collisions and near misses each year. Pilots do, of course, monitor radio frequencies, and ought to be constantly aware of the presence of other air traffic.
But in the absence of an outside monitoring facility such as an FAA control tower, or other ATC facility, which situation is standard in the helicopter business, it’s up to the pilot to steer clear of other aircraft.
It goes without saying that a collision between two aircraft almost always results in fatalities. When one of those machines is a helicopter it always does. A fixed wing aircraft has the possibility, albeit remote, of recovering from a midair, and possibly, maybe, perhaps reaching the ground somewhat safely.
A helicopter does not. Any time the main rotor system of a helicopter is disrupted the aircraft will crash. Done. So in many respects it’s incumbent on helicopter pilots to be constantly aware of other aircraft, particularly so when, as was the case in the recent New York midair, the fixed wing was likely operated by a private, possibly lower time pilot.
In addition, though the investigation has just begun in New York, design factors may have played a part. Helicopters typically have much more visibility from the cockpit than a fixed wing machine. Airplane cockpits generally have more limited visual fields, particularly a low-wing plane where the wing itself acts as a blind spot to traffic beneath.
So how to prevent midair collisions? How to keep aircraft separated in flight when there’s little or no outside monitoring, no on-board technical prevention mechanism? Here are a few suggestions for students, or any other pilots with a desire to retire as I did with no such ugly incidents in their record.
I did have a few close calls: one near collision in Vietnam at dusk; another near Dubuque Iowa one cloudless, sun-splashed afternoon in July; and another reasonably close call with an impressively large offshore marine bird that could have taken out my windscreen had I not avoided him.
There are those in the aviation industry, mostly younger or inexperienced pilots, who subscribe to the ‘little airplane big sky theory of midair avoidance. Simply put, those pilots believe that in so vast a region as the sky, and while presenting such a meager target, their opportunities for contact with another aircraft are nearly negligible.
Even though instructors always demand that student (and all other) pilots keep their heads ‘on a swivel’, some pilots keep their focus inside the cockpit for long periods, glancing up only occasionally. So the first rule is to look outside the aircraft once in a while. A good rule of thumb would be, oh, like, every ten seconds–okay five seconds.
Another way to stay free of other traffic is to monitor the radio. Listen to the chatter, pay attention to who’s taking off, or who’s landing, and from where. Called situational awareness, it’s our best friend while flying, or looking for the car in a crowded parking lot.
Know where you are all the time. This may sound simplistic, but if you know where your aircraft is within a quarter mile at all times, and other traffic reports in that same box, you need to be looking. And don’t assume they see you. One of the big killers in aviation is complacency.
It’s killed more pilots than running out of gas. A classic mishap several years ago involved a commercial 727 landing at San Diego which collided with a Cessna 172 in September 1978. The pilots of the big airplane reported that they had the aircraft in sight. But the plane they reported seeing was a third aircraft. They never saw the one they ran into, and 137 people died.
Another phenomenon that can cause midairs is called rate of closure. In free air the perception of speed is difficult to distinguish from a cockpit. Closing on another aircraft, an inexperienced pilot can misjudge the rate at which the two are approaching, and literally fly into the other machine. It happens, especially when a pilot believes he has plenty of time to react, and finds out otherwise.
As for the little sky theory, just as in the San Diego crash described above, the vast majority of midair collisions happen on a clear day within five miles of an airport. In the New York City example, the helicopter had just lifted from the heliport along the Hudson River and was ascending.
It’s speculation at this point, but it appears likely that neither pilot saw the other, so there was no time to evade. This accident may have been prevented by more vigilance from both cockpits, particularly considering the congested corridor along the river.
Aviation accidents are not inevitable. They’re the result of human oversight, complacency, lack of attention, and disregard for limitations. As one of my instructors used to say, “We’re not inventing any new ways to crash”. Midairs can be prevented, with a healthy regard for just how congested the airspace really is–and getting more so all the time–cultivating a good habit of situational awareness, and using whatever resources are available in the cockpit and outside it, such as radar coverage, position reporting on the radio, and teaching passengers to look outside as well.
Bar Mitzvah Favors Or Bat Mitzvah Favors – What to Give and How Much to Spend!
Before the recent financial crisis there seemed to be no limit on what parents were spending on their sons or daughter’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah. It seemed to be a “can you top this” situation where one party was more extravagant then the next. The decorations were over the top, bigger and more elaborate venues were being used, bands with 10, 11, 12 members, food from the top chefs, and party favors that were unforgettable all without a budget in mind.
We went to a Bat Mitzvah held in an airplane hanger. This venue obviously started out as an empty space, they had to lay flooring throughout the hanger, bring in tables and chairs, ovens for the chefs, lighting for the whole area, build walls around the area being used, a sound system, set up parking areas and god knows what else to make this a usable place to hold a party.
They had an elaborate video made, that included a trip on a private plane and numerous other settings. They had a huge band and then to close the night they actually had the original or what is left of the original “Village People” perform.
They had all kinds of things for the kids to win, electronic items, clothing, etc., etc. They gave out several party favors when the whole affair was over. Was the party unbelievable, absolutely! Was it over the top, absolutely! Did everyone have a great time, absolutely!
Was it necessary to do all this, how can anyone count anyone else’s money or tell them how to spend it, but I can guarantee since the latest financial hit there are a lot less of these kinds of parties going on across the country then there used to be.
With parents cutting back on how big and how elaborate of a party to give, they are also cutting back on what they spend on their party favors. Even though supplying party favors is our business and of course we make more when people are able to spend more, we understand and appreciate what is going on in the country. We also understand it is not how much you spend on your party favor but what you give and how you imprint it (to be covered in another article).
Your budget is your budget, spend what you are comfortable spending. Take beach towels as an example, this is a great gift, but depending on how you decorate the towel it can get a little pricy. In this case think about imprinting with a one color imprint versus embroidering them. Another example is a drawstring bag, you can get one for $7.00 or $8.00 or one for less then half that cost.
Does the more expensive one maybe have an extra pocket or sharper looking design to it, probably, but in these financial times you have to think is it worth the extra money? In some cases it will be, in most the less expensive item will work just fine. Your child has their heart set on a sweatshirt, think a crew neck one versus a hoodie with pockets, less expensive but very desirable as a party favor.
But don’t make the mistake of choosing your end of the night giveaway solely on cost. We have so many parents contact us and the first thing they say is “this is my third bar mitzvah, I just want something cheap, so I can be done with this”. You can get something less expensive but still have some usefulness to your child’s friends. Why even buy something cheap just for the sake of giving something out at the end of the night that will be thrown out the next morning.
A good online party favor company should have a large selection of bags and other items that are less expensive, but with the proper decoration would still be appreciated by your child’s friends. Of course if you really are on a tight budget, think about doing a white t-shirt with a one color imprint, inexpensive and who can’t use another t-shirt, whether it is to sleep in or play sports in.
Just remember these are 13 year old kids, do they want to receive a party favor at the end of the night, most definitely. Do they really care how much it costs, absolutely not. They just want something they can use.
Trust Your Instruments Especially in the Fog
Though the position of certain instruments in the cockpit on individual private airplanes may vary, the absolute six most important primary flight instruments will always be situated right in front of the pilot. They inform you of the orientation of the plane, giving you its direction, speed, altitude, etc.
With your gauges you can get up to the moment status regarding the engine and all of the aircraft’s individual systems. Even the most basic aircraft will provide you information and readings on how much fuel is on board, ammeter, oil pressure, temperature and the tachometer. Even some small aircraft instrumentation gives you pressure readings of the manifold, the rate of fuel flow and the temperature of the cylinder head.
At times a pilot is caught flying through “the soup”, also known as Instrumental Meteorological Conditions (IMC). Many experienced pilots tell stories that they’ve been taught to always trust their instruments when flying under these conditions.
Generally, they rely on their instrumentation because they lose all visual cues, become extremely disoriented and can no longer rely on their own senses to tell themselves what’s up and what’s down. Some pilots relay stories of flying through the fog, sure of their direction and orientation, only to find themselves soaring out of the clouds completely upside down.
Riding through the fog without reading your instruments, you can never be 100% sure what is happening, or even close to that percentage. So while it may be true that nearly 100% of the time your instruments don’t lie, they are man-made and capable of malfunctioning. Maybe, instead of stating the fact “you should always trust your instruments”, the statement might be better said to “never trust your own senses”.
The main two instruments you’re going to rely on to pull you through the clouds will be heading and the altitude indicators. However, both of these instruments rely on the same vacuum pump that keeps the gyroscope functioning properly.
Should the gyro system fail, the instruments will not be telling you what is actually happening. But any pilot can teach themselves or learn from others, exactly how to cross check their instrument panel. Many instruments on the panel can actually show you different kinds of information other than what they were specifically designed to display.
Consider for a moment that you’re flying and you don’t know what direction is up or down. Your heading indicator and your altitude indicator no longer function. Simply tipping the nose into a dive would let you know if you’re actually dropping in altitude as the airspeed would begin to rapidly increase.
The reverse is also true. If you pull back to raise your altitude level the speed should naturally decrease as you climb. If these two things don’t happen then your instruments are telling you what you think is happening, really isn’t. If your airspeed is holding steady then you know that your altitude is also holding steady. Accordingly, if your turn coordinator instrument remained steady, and so does the airspeed you know for the most part you are maintaining your orientation.
It’s always important to verify your instrumentation, even when the skies are clear or anytime when flying VFR. Learning how to use other instruments on the panel to give you information validating what you know to be true, is a valuable way to learn how to fly through “the soup” when the time arrives.
Menudo – The Puerto Rican Boy Band
Long before the American boy bands came to the music scene and gained worldwide followers, there was Menudo, a popular Puerto Rican boy band. Menudo was started in the year 1977 by Edgardo Diaz together with his cousins who happened to be brothers in real life as well, Carlo and Oscar Melendez and Nefty and Fernando Sallaberry. The band used to perform around Puerto Rico’s shopping malls and fiestas. Their first hit was “Eran Los Fantasmas” and they landed a television show with Telemundo Canal 2 that airs every Saturday night.
It was in 1980 when Menudo’s singing career reaches its highest peak. This time, Sallaberry and Melendez brothers were replaced by Johnny Lozada, Rene Farrait, Miguel Cancel, and Xavier Serbia. Menudo was very famous in Latin America countries like Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Argentina, Mexico, and Panama.
It was also this time that Edgardo Diaz was able to purchase a Cessna jet airplane that once belonged to US President Richard Nixon. This made history and raises the pride of Puerto Rico flag for Menudo was the first ever boy band which flies using their own private plane.
Menudo also gained a fan base in European countries such as Spain. There was even a medical term coined “Menuditis” which refers to woman who is in need of medical attention after attending a Meduno concert. This term is compared to Beatle’s “Beatlemania.”
In 1984, Ricky Melendez retired from Menudo after eight years to give way to a new and younger singer Ricky Martin, who became a famous solo singer. With new members Roy Rosello, Ray Reyes, Raymond Acevedo, Roby Rosa, the group produced hit songs like Indianapolis, Tu Sabes A Chocolate, and Like a Cannonball which was used in a Hollywood movie Cannonball Run 2.