To Be With An Old Friend

Ed Wischmeyer

We speak the same languages, he and I – airplanes, gliders, cars, music. We communicate well, relishing conversations with each other of a type that we rarely enjoy with others in our normal circle of friends. Generally, he is more knowledgeable than I on most of these topics, as he has done many of the things that I only read about, avidly, in my youth. For example, the widow of a well-known glider pilot I used to read about, a friend of his, is here today. 

I have flown 600 nm on the sad occasion to attend is his late wife’s memorial service, to share these kinds of conversations and to fly with him.

He turns 87 this year, eight days before I turn 69.  His wife left us six months ago, actually, but they wanted the memorial service to be in the spring. The uncooperative upper Midwest spring this year is late, and the day is cool, but at least the winds and rain have stopped. His house is on 74 acres of what is left of his ancestors’ farm, with trees in the back planted by his great-grandfather.

Beside the lilac tree in full bloom is a tent on the driveway with chairs for 112. The tent is full and 20 more stand at the back, outside, plus the ten men who sing a capella at various times during the service. This is not just a celebration of her life, it is a celebration of the life that these people have all shared. Centered on her, it is a celebration of community.  I know only him, yet somehow this occasion makes us all friends.

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Homebuilders Workshop: Leading Irma Around

By Ed Wischmeyer

Friday: Spent yesterday, the day before, and this morning getting the house and the hangar ready for Irma. In the hangar, everything that shouldn’t get wet or that could blow away went into plastic tubs and into the back of the car.  In the garage, I moved some low-lying tools up off the floor, but it would be too much work to get everything high enough for a bad flood. In the house, the major concern was roof leaks, so I put plastic drop cloths over things that should not get wet… most of them, anyway. And if the neighbor’s pine tree fell on my house, or if the water level got up to the hardwood floors, well, too bad.

A friend who is on the insurance for the RV-9A will fly it somewhere safe, I’ll fly the RV-8 to my sister’s house in Knoxville. Irma is forecast to come up the East coast, so I’ll be well out of the way. A friend helps me hang storm shutters on the windows. They’re numbered, the windows are not, but it makes little difference, they all seem to fit. I go out to the hangar for a final clean up but I have all my baggage with me for the trip. Hey, weather is good, and if I wait until tomorrow morning and the weather is uncooperative, I’ll have no good options. I fly to Knoxville.

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Homebuilders Workshop: The Real Problem with Aviation Safety Rests with Entire Industry

By Ed Wischmeyer

This was the second year of the EAA Founder’s Innovation Prize, and again I found out by surfing the web that my submission did not make the final five. Although this was, of course, a major disappointment, there are still ideas worth sharing.

As a PhD engineer, my approach to the Founder’s Innovation Prize contest was to do the research and seek root causes. In doing that research, it became apparent that the underlying safety problem is not merely with pilots, training, or equipment; a major underlying problem is the entire industry’s approach to safety. Having worked much of my professional life in aviation safety with side excursions into flight instruction and aviation journalism, a number of underlying points became prominent:

• The real problem in aviation safety is not just with the pilots. The real problem is that blame is being dumped on individual pilots, rather than the entire industry working to encourage solutions

• Current safety messages do not treat pilots as human beings, only as statistics. Pilots in the field respond by ignoring such messages (if they even receive them) and worse, sometimes by ignoring safety practices altogether

• Current safety messages are a we/they proposition. We bureaucrats want you #@%#$ pilots to clean up your act and make our statistics look better. There is a clear disconnect between bureaucrats and pilot

• The current definitions of loss of control (NTSB) are so poorly conceived that “reducing fatalities due to loss of control” is as meaningless a phrase as “reducing death due to heart stoppage.” For example, the publicity about the NTSB loss of control forum a year ago gave three exemplar loss of control accidents: two were in illegal IMC, the third was in an airplane with a stall warning system that is no longer certifiable

• Almost all aviation communications, safety content (if present at all) is segregated from the other content. In other words, safety really has nothing to do with the good stuff

• Even in homebuilt judging, if you have flight-tested your homebuilt, they can consider that in the judging, but that flight testing isn’t required and really doesn’t matter in awarding prizes for best of the best, nor does participation in the Flight Advisor or Tech Counselor programs

• The LOC accident reduction rate goal of the contest is completely unrealistic, as is obvious when the a wider data set is analyzed

• The vacillations in FAA pilot certificate flight test in stalls and low speed flights indicate that that part of the FAA is clueless about pilot skills and flight safety. However, a pleasant surprise is that AC90-89B is much more realistic in flight testing for stalls than AC90-89A was.

You’ve heard the phrase, “It takes a village…” Same goes for safety.

• • • • •

Speaking of loss of control… I am blessed at this point to own both a glass cockpit RV-9A and a steam gauge RV-8. There are lessons to be learned here, too, from owning two different airplanes with two wildly different cockpits.

The RV-9A was bought to replace a really sweet old Cessna 175 that already had too much money poured into her and needed an avionics upgrade. The RV-9A has a full glass cockpit, autopilot, flight director, ADS-B traffic and weather in, pretty much everything electronic, with ADS-B out soon to come.

But there are frustrations in toyland:

•  The glass cockpit avionics are very complex, and there is much to learn

• Some of that learning has to do with design decisions that don’t jibe with my experience and expectations, and the justifications for those design decisions are unpublished

• The manual doesn’t cover all of the details, so you have to learn some things the hard way. Should you want to compare and contrast similar features, you’re on your own. This is fine if you have a hacker mentality and are satisfied that your guesses apply to the rest of the system, but if you really want to know…

• On my plane, there are numerous intermittent problems that just don’t make any sense. When one of those pops up, it can be as much of a distraction as an unusual attitude recovery. Some of these problems may or may not be traceable to the original poor installation, but still…

That old Cessna was a joy to fly VFR, because you could do just about anything in it, and it was a joy to fly IFR because there was little automation to get in the way, with steam gauges, no autopilot and no WAAS. The RV-8 is a joy to fly VFR, partly because it’s a taildragger, and partly because it has tandem seating, so the pilot is on the airplane centerline. Those kinds of joys are central to why we all fly.

But there’s a reason why the Cessna and the RV-8 are so much more satisfying to fly than the much better equipped RV-9A. A major component of the joy of flying is skilled operation of complex machinery in challenging conditions. In other words, control. In the Cessna and the RV-8, I was/am in control of the airplane and the avionics. In the RV-9A, when the avionics are messing with me, that’s of loss of control, a different kind of loss of control. But instead of taking away lives, this loss of control takes away joy.







Homebuilders Workshop: Quickbuilds – the Long but mostly the Short of It

By Ed Wischmeyer

In the beginning of homebuilding were plans. Then came complete plans that included details like the canopy and the cowling. Then along came the first kits, which had all the materials you needed for the plane, a major advancement, even if it was all raw stock. Perhaps it was the Christen Eagle that first had pieces more or less ready to assemble, but the FAA started to get concerned that the builder wasn’t doing enough work.

Then the arguments proliferated, real and specious. One argument that prevailed was that a builder didn’t need to drive all 50,000 rivets for “education and recreation,” the FAA’s accepted motivations for homebuilding. A few hundred would be enough. And a builder shouldn’t have to build all 36 wooden wing ribs… you get the idea.

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Homebuilders Workshop: Brave New World

By Ed Wischmeyer

Oh, brave new world… with all the glass cockpits available for homebuilts, these days you can spend hours working on your airplane with only a laptop and high speed Internet, no screwdriver or wrench required. And with the cost of database updates, you can have the $100 hamburger without even having to drive to the airport. Keeping the database cards in a pill bottle makes them harder to lose, at least until that pill bottle plays hide and seek under the car seat.

Yes, I’ve been doing a lot of software update thrashing, hampered by instructions filled with mostly accurate statements and software that can often run correctly. That is, it can run correctly. And yes, I screwed up a bit too by not reading the screens carefully enough. My error, but as often happens with pilot error, I had help with inconsistent screen layouts.

One potential problem is that if you use an SD card that’s too big, it can cause problems, so I went and bought a pair of eight GB cards. At least I’m not working with early glass that can’t recognize an SD card bigger than two GB.

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