Saturday, December 10, 2011

What Really Happened Aboard Air France 447?

This is a really great article about pitch and power and their mismanagement, about CRM - Crew Resource Management - and the lack thereof, and also about a possible design flaw by one of the two largest aircraft manufactures in the world.  I was truly amazed after I read this article.

Read the comments section also.  One in particular about flight deck procedures which clarifies who should have been in charge.

This article demonstrates a series of incidents and causal factors which led to the final outcome.  As we all have heard and possibly know, it is not just one thing that leads to a disaster like this.

What do you think?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Pratul - The newly minted Private Pilot

Congratulations to Pratul who passed his checkride on Friday Dec. 2! 

Pratul was determined to finsh at the beginning of the year.  But with unforeseen weather delays and then his wife having a baby in March , he found staying up nights with the little one and then going to work left little time for flying, much less sleep.  But Pratul persevered, and when things were stabilized at home he came back and finished up with the examiner saying he did a very good job.  Way to go Pratul!

(PS  did I mention he and his wife did this as a joint committment with first her getting her license, then it was his turn.  What teamwork).

Thursday, December 1, 2011

First Solo!

Congratulations to Will who soloed on Nov. 26th.  There was barely enough light left in the day, but he was determined.  Will's solo was over due as weather and scheduling had postponed it a few times.  But he must have been fairly sure this would be the day as his friend/professional film maker and photograper joined us on the flight!  He was able to capture the entire first solo on video.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mike passes his Checkride!

Congratulations to our newest Private Pilot!!! Mike passed his checkride on Nov. 8th with flying colors. After a reschedule due to weather, he was happy for a sunny, calm wind, perfect day to arrive. During his training he transitioned from the low wing Piper to the Cessna 152, then upgraded to the Cessna 172. Mike has some added aircraft experience that most other newly minted Private Pilots don't have. 

He also enjoyed his freedom as a solo pilot so much that I had to convince him that he really didn't have to visit every airport around the Bay Area.  There would be plenty of time as a Private Pilot and it was time to prepare for his checkride. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Preparing For a Gear Up Landing

By Kelly O'Dea

So tonight I had an interesting experience during my checkride to become an CFI at a different flying club. I have a new student starting her commercial rating training on Tuesday and the aircraft needed for this job is at a club other than the one I instruct at currently. Fred Thomas is the check airman. He is the powerfully knowledgeable senior pilot. His old school, comprehensive curriculum is very thorough and his delivery and criticism are scrutinizing almost to the point of being intimidating, but Fred is a teacher and I feel he can read a person and know if they are eager to learn. Then, he is generous with his knowledge. I have no problem with people like Fred. I am like a humble sponge in his presence. I flew with this club during my commercial multi-engine rating but never was a CFI instructing others in their airplanes. Tonight I had to fly in an aircraft I had never flown before with one of the most highly respected pilots on the field as my check airman.

This was the first time I had ever seen this plane. It was a Cessna Cardinal, retractable gear, constant speed propeller and about 35 years old, and it looked like it. It was faded and tattered and extremely simple in the cockpit. I had never even seen a VOR that old. Fred handed me the checklist and told me to get to work.

The preflight went fine and the plane appeared to be worthy for the checkride.

We left Palo Alto and headed over to the coast for maneuvers at 3500ft. He had me do some 50 degree steep turns, a couple stalls, and a stall-spin recovery. Then he had me put the gear down for some slow flight maneuvers, all maneuvering went well and my performance was very good, if not close to perfect. For the first time in this airframe, I was pleased with myself. I knew I needed more time to get used to power settings, but all in all, to this point, Fred was pleased and we progressed.

After slow flight, he told me to recover, get the gear and flaps up and get ready for the next maneuvers. Well, the gear didn't go up, it dangled half way between up and down. He deferred to me for what I would do. I told him we should recycle the gear, to start, and see if that worked. Well, it didn't work. The gear was half out and the green indicator light was also not illuminated. I said we needed to resort to the checklist. He said he wanted to try a G-force dive and hard pitch up to see if that would swing the gear into the locked position. I gave him the controls and he tried with no luck. I said we need to pull the circuit breaker and use the manual extension, and follow the checklist, which said about 40 hand pumps would eventually create enough pressure to the point you couldn't pump it anymore. I pumped and pumped at least 50 times and there was zero pressure building and the gears did not move. I made the first call to the Palo Alto Tower to notify them of our position and our situation and to let them know we needed to orbit for a while over the Woodside VOR while we exercised and discussed all our options. Fred tried pumping the manual release lever as well and confirmed we had lost all hydraulic pressure. Fred decided to ask the tower to contact Evan Williams, the owner of the flight club. A woman's voice came on the radio (later to find out it was Sue Ballew) to notify us that we could use the tow bar to pull the gear up into place through the window. BRILLIANT! I had actually seen this done before in a video and it was done by a friend of mine. The only problem????? We don't have normal windows in the Cardinal. There is a tiny wing window and there is no way a tow bar would fit through it. I said I'd open the door and try it that way. I crawled over the front seats into the baggage compartment and released the tow bar and came back into the front seat with it. I pinned it together, then prepared the cabin for the vacuum effect by tossing our pilot bags and charts and notebooks into the baggage compartment. Fred configured the plane into stable flight at minimum controllable airspeed. I opened the door and had to press and hold it open with all the strength in my leg in order to have enough clearance to grab the strut and hopefully swing it into a locked position. I heaved and grunted with all my might, counting to three with the "three count" being the hardest pull. I tried about a dozen times. I exhausted myself and had to stop.

The tower called us to advise of traffic passing off our left and also to tell us that Evan said we should dump our fuel and prepare for a gear up landing. I replied to the tower that I was looking for the traffic, copied the directions from Evan, and I watched the last sliver of the sun set below the horizon. Time for the navigation lights and strobes now, heck, let's light this plane up like the Fourth of July, landing lights, taxi lights, everything went on. I took control of the aircraft and Fred started dumping fuel and watching the gauges. The gauges didn't move. No surprise there. You can never trust gauges anyway. I asked him if he knew how long it would take to dump out all the fuel. He said he had never done this before and he had no idea. Suddenly I realized we were two people with zero experience in this situation. I'm not sure why I assumed he had experience, but I did. We both remained calm and since I was the designated PIC, I determined that I needed to make progress with the checklists and also communicate very clearly with my co-pilot. I reviewed the procedures for all possible scenarios of gear up/partial gear up landings. We both remained calm and communicated perfectly. If he was doing something, I was flying and communicating with the tower, and vice versa. There was never a moment of uncertainty as to whom was in control of the aircraft. He decided to open his door and try to use the tow bar on his side of the plane, the left side. He had a knee pad with some papers that looked vulnerable so with one hand, I held his leg and the knee pad so he wouldn't lose it, and flew and communicated with the other. I was gripping on to him pretty tight. I noticed he had taken down his harness and I didn't want anything to happen to him. He worked out the door for several minutes and said he thought he had it engaged, but the green gear down indicator light wasn't working for us so we still had no idea if we had three locked gears.

The tower told us that emergency crews were standing by the runway. They also told us twice that the tower was getting ready to close and that they were unable to provide traffic services after 9pm. They said they were trying to get a hold of their tower manager for advice in this unique situation. We looked at each other and agreed to head towards the airport for a fly-by tower observation. He asked if I wanted him to handle the flying and I asked him if I would have a gear up landing on my record if I I landed it. He said this wasn't a situation of pilot error, and no I wouldn't have a mark on my record. I said I wanted to fly it.

I stabilized the aircraft at 65 knots and did a low pass to 50 feet above the runway. The tower said they observed all three wheels in the down position, but could not confirm they were locked. We still did not have a green light indication, so I flew back up to traffic pattern altitude and we discussed our options again. I handed Fred the checklist and said all we could do is prepare for the worst and do our best. I would fly it and he would shut off the fuel, pull the mixture, and turn off the master and magnetos. He said to do one more pass above the field at 50 feet. This was the last practice run, I had to confirm I could be stable and slow on approach and not panic or lose control, we were going to cut power on the next run. The tower announced that they were closing, and advised all approaching aircraft of our distress. They also wished us luck.

While on downwind, an aircraft approaching Palo Alto airspace was unaware of our distress and called in his intentions to land. Palo Alto airspace becomes class G airspace when the tower closes. Fred announced our imminent situation and I prompted Fred to tell him we would wait for him to land just in case we were to disable the runway. The pilot wanted to stay airborne and wished us luck from above. Evan came on the frequency and wished us luck as well and reminded us that crews were standing by for our aid. I'm pretty sure I heard other voices wishing us good luck as well.

Fred and I finalized our final approach plan. I would fly a stabilized, full flap, tail low, at the slowest possible airspeed. He would handle the mixture, fuel cut-off, master and mags. We agreed the fuel wouldn't be cut-off until at the asphalt thresh hold of the runway. We cracked our door handles in case the impact bent the airframe and could potentially lock us in. I flew it slow and slightly below glide slope, keeping power on and stabilized with full flaps. Fred was looking down and getting prepared for his duties, and when he looked up and saw I was very low on glide slope, he reminded me not to hit the dyke. I had it under control and told him to get ready. I crossed the thresh hold and I held it off for as long as possible and kept my nose high and tail low. I felt the rubber gently make contact, I continued to hold the yoke back to its fullest extent and wanted to keep it rolling and not let the nose wheel touch. Fred shouted we were on the ground and rolling!!! I still held the nose wheel up and was able to roll off the runway. Fred pushed the mixture back in to keep us powered up and we were able to clear the runway on our own!

We heard cheers on frequency and were thrilled to be on the ground. Evan came on frequency and said we did a great job. Fred said that it was all me on the flying. Evan said something to the effect that it takes a great CFI to handle a situation like that. I asked on frequency if this meant I got the job. He said they weren't ever going to let me go. I'm pretty sure Fred and I hugged, shook hands, and shared some sort of camaraderie, then did our after landing checklist and taxied to maintenance.

During the taxi, Fred and I discussed how effectively we worked together. He said I handled it great. I referred to effective CRM (crew resource management) and the importance of remaining calm and focused in situations like this. In my slight ten years of flying, I've had my share of incidences, accidents, and emergencies. I remained calm and focused during all of them.

Also, during the taxi, Evan reminded us over the frequency to get our flaps up. Well, our flap indicating switch was in the full up position, this was done during the after landing/ pre-taxi checklist. Fred told Evan of this and then chuckled and said "Hey! Look at that! But the green landing gear light suddenly just illuminated." We both laughed and shook our heads.

Fred reminded me of the very tight taxi lanes and to pay extra special attention while taxiing between the parked planes on the way to the maintenance hangar. This is exactly the character of a focused, knowledgeable pilot. He or she is able to put everything that just happened behind them and focus on the present situation and keep ahead of the plane. Also, A really good CFI is always teaching and sharing their knowledge. I am grateful to Fred for his ability to engage with me as a team on our very first flight together. Also for having the faith in me to follow through with what needed to be done. I rose to the occasion and am now an even better pilot.

We got out of the plane and were greeted by smiling faces and hearty congratulations. The woman who's voice we heard telling us about the tow bar trick over the tower's frequency walked up to the group of us and I recognized her immediately from Facebook. Ironically, we became friends on Facebook many months ago, due to the fact we know so many mutual flying friends and also we both have a fondness of the Boxer breed of dogs. I introduced myself and we both smiled and were happy to finally meet each other face to face. We started talking about our dogs like we'd known each other for years.

All in all, this was a very successful experience that I was excited to share with you. Some people will shake their heads and wonder why I keep willing to jump into an airplane after situations like this, but I know in my heart, I am here to fly, I am good at it, and sharing the experience is what I am meant to do with others.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Why aren't there more female airline pilots?

Have you ever thought about why you rarely see a women up on the flight deck flying your commercial flight?

Here is a great article posted on the blog GolfHotelWhiskey: .

As an airline pilot myself at one time, we were in a very small minority.  Although the passengers were usually surprised at seeing a woman, I always got positive feedback and great comments.

Women of Aviation - Certified Women Friendly Flight Training

Skytrekker Aviation  recently became a Certified Women Friendly Flight Training business.  Here is the email correspondence from Women of Aviation:

Thank you so much for taking an active part in the celebration of the first annual Women of Aviation Worldwide Week. The easiest way to view the various listings for Skytrekker Aviation is to do a search for Skytrekker Aviation.

By becoming an active participant of Women Of Aviation Worldwide Week, Skytrekker Aviation has shown its commitment to encouraging women to consider aviation as a hobby or a career. Please find attached your WOAW Certified Women Friendly Flight Training Facility seal. Display it on your website or printed material as you see fit to let your potential female customers know that they are in good hands when choosing Skytrekker Aviation as their training partner.

Thanks again so much for your support.


Mireille Goyer
International Team Leader

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

FAA is changing the Knowledge Test Pool of Questions

If you plan to take any of the FAA knowledge tests, do it quickly.  The FAA is in the process of adding 93,000 new questions to the existing knowledge bank of 7,000 questions. 

So far the question banks affected the most by the changes include the Fundamentals of Instruction (FOI), Airline Transport Pilot (ATP), and Flight Engineer (FE).  The instrument test has also been affected but to a lessor degree.  But it is only a matter of time before the Private and Commercial are affected.

AOPA reported on planned changes to knowledge tests on June 23, 2010.  The project to bring tests up to date was expected to take about two years, drastically increase the number of questions in the test banks, and make the test Internet based instead of being stored on the computers of test centers.

AOPA and NAFI (National Association of Flight Instructors) have opposed these changes and have requested that the test banks be reverted back to the questions in place prior to the recent updates, and that students who failed the exams since the changeover be allowed to retest and have the initial failure expunged from their record.  They maintain that these changes must be coordinated with schools, training providers, and training materials updated, which will take time.

For more information read the letter to the FAA dated March 3, 2011 from AOPA and NAFI:

For other comments, see the blog JetWhine at

Sue Ballew

Monday, February 14, 2011

One Six Right - the movie

"One Six Right"

Into the Clouds by Enya was always my favorite sequence and music in the movie "One Six Left". I came across this the other day and was reminded how much I enjoyed this film when it was first released.

If you haven't seen One Six Right or the companion DVD, One Six Left, they are a must see for any pilot or aviation enthusiast. They are exceptional documentaries about the romance of flying and the local particular Van Nuys airport in Southern California.
(Be sure and X out the Google ads)

Sue Ballew

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Flying Adventures with Rudder


This is Terry and her best dog, Rudder...with the Mutt Muffs.  They go everywhere together including flying in Terry's Cessna 172SP.  Terry can be seen quite often at San Carlos Airport preparing for another flying adventure.  Lately, as I have walked in, she has been on her way out to South County, Hollister, and today to Stockton.  What a flying dog's life!

Sue Ballew

Friday, January 28, 2011

Flying with a Service Dog

Hans and his wife Betsy have been  passionate and enthusiastic pilots for many years.  They own a Cherokee and also Hans favorite, a motor glider, both based at Palo Alto Airport.  The controls have been converted so he can fly with his hands only.  (I am sure for many of you that are rudder challenged, you probably wonder why all airplanes aren't rigged this way). 

Recently Hans got a service dog, Rilla, who now goes everywhere with him and is his flying companion.  If you feel like I do about my dog, what a great thing to be able to take your dog everywhere, especially flying.  I hope she likes Mutt Muffs, those cute ear protectors for dogs.

Sue Ballew

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

First Solo - Mike

Congratulations to the new SOLO pilot, Mike!!! 

Mike started his training in Canada in a low wing airplane.  He was already familiar with many of the systems and concepts of aerodynamics and how the airplane flys.  Once he was up to date on the regulations in the US and had a thorough understanding of the complex airspace in the Bay Area, and the fine tuning for the high wing Cessna was complete, Mike was more than ready to solo...which he did on January 22.  In his spare time Mike is an avid paraglider...he really loves the skies!

Sue Ballew

Monday, January 17, 2011


The following article is written for publication in Pacific Flyer, by Michael Church, one of my former Flight Instructors from Sunrise Aviation in Southern California.  I find it particularly interesting and relevant as I am continually faced with how to effectively teach the appropriate response for a low altitude emergency on takeoff.  Michael sheds some light on this subject.  Be sure and watch the video.

May, 2009
Michael Church
Sunrise Aviation

For the past several months I have been chiseling away at the NEVER TURN BACK credo, the cast-in-stone rule that says you must not attempt to turn back to the airport in a low altitude takeoff emergency.

It has been tough going: "NTB" has long since passed into the realm of "things we just know and never need to question."

Quite a few readers report they have watched the turn-around video I recommended ( with positive results. Still, fifteen minutes of video is a far cry from the depth of understanding required by a real emergency. Once the engine coughs and your heart rate doubles, certainty, not theory, is crucial.

The first critical key to success in turn-arounds is practice and preparation. It is certain if you don't know that you can do the maneuver safely, you won't be prepared to react as quickly as an emergency demands. Instead, you'll dither away the opportunity, then either settle for a straight-ahead crash, or conceivably attempt a turn that has by now become truly impossible.

Practice is simple: using a safe altitude, establish a stable climb at Vx (not Vy), then cut the power, noting the altitude. Allow for a couple of seconds lost in shocked disbelief, then lower the nose as you bank steeply and pull to a high angle of attack. Some level of buffet is acceptable, and inadvertent stalls are desirable as you learn where the limits are. You will be amazed at how quickly you can get turned around.

There are two fairly obvious prerequisites: first, you need to be able to make a gliding turn with a 45° or 50° bank angle without losing control of pitch.

Second, you have to be comfortable with the possibility of an inadvertent stall in a steeply banked attitude, a stall which will require recovery without rollout from the turn.

Now you see why turn-arounds are called "impossible": to the shame of the FAA and virtually the entire teaching community, few pilots are ever required to develop these two critical skills.

If this style of maneuvering is completely foreign to you, get a CFI to come along, first making sure that his or her credentials indicate they know how to do this themselves. If you get a blank look, go find another; they're out there, often identified as "aerobatic" CFIs.

Once you have developed the necessary turn-around skills, the second key to success is correct identification of a safe turn-around altitude. I'll call it STA. The number changes with three important variables, pilot skill, airplane model and density altitude and can only be determined through trial and error in a specific airplane model. Once your turn-around practice has become satisfactory, you can start the process of figuring out what is high enough and what isn't.

The final key is climb management. If you insist at climbing at Vy, as you were almost certainly taught to do in primary instruction, no amount of skill in turning around is going to do much good. Given average runway lengths, Vy climbs are simply too flat and carry the plane too far upwind.

The liability of a flat climb is easy to see: if after a successful turn-around you find you are too far away to glide back, it is easy to argue the turn was a bad idea and only made things worse. One more win for the NTB bunch.

The bottom line: in single engine airplanes, unless you fly from Edwards AFB, forget Vy altogether below 1000' AGL. It's a poor choice.

My last comment: almost nobody flies as I have described, and even fewer are prepared to turn back. Yet almost everybody survives, so why bother with all this?

The answer lies in the very statistics that produced the NEVER TURN BACK credo in the first place: enough pilots have gotten killed trying the maneuver to indicate that takeoff emergencies do happen.

If you fly a single engine airplane long enough, you will experience an engine emergency. Luck plays a part, and your engine problem might occur at low altitude shortly after lift-off. If you aren't prepared, maybe you shouldn't be carrying around your family and friends.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

First Solo - Pratul

Congratulations to the new SOLO pilot, Pratul!!!  What a way to end the year...New Years Eve on a brisk afternoon at Palo Alto airport.

Many wonder how CFI's actually deal with the stress of soloing their students.  If you ask that question at the beginning of a student's training, it would seem hard to imagine turning that brand new student pilot loose in the air.  But, as time goes on, and you see the person make progress, gain confidence, and ultimately have the skill to handle situations, it is kind of something that just presents itself as the next step.

And this was the case with Pratul, who did a great job on his first solo as the controllers gave their congratulations and waved as we taxied back to parking!

Sue Ballew