The dread of sharing the skies with drones

MQ-1 Predator (courtesy Flickr).

Whenever I tell a group of pilots that I also fly helicopters, there’s always one guy in the group who says he can’t stand them.

“I hate those things,” he’ll spew. “They’re unpredictable when they’re flying in the pattern. You never know which way they’re going to fly.”

Helicopter pilots learn early in their training they have to cede the right-of-way to all other aircraft, yet other pilots don’t seem to know this. When I try to explain that fact is in the Aeronautical Information Manual, I still get, “I don’t care. I still hate ’em.”

Now I’m that guy — when it comes to drones. I don’t trust them. Reading one report filed to NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System by an air traffic controller only underscored my dread.

“While working an adjacent sector, I witnessed an unmanned aircraft deviate from its assigned altitude. This Unmanned Aerial Vehicle was cleared to maintain FL350. Yet it descended out of FL350 to FL300 without a clearance. When questioned by the controller, the remote pilot stated that he could not maintain FL350, so he descended.”

MQ-1 Predator (courtesy Flickr).

MQ-1 Predator (courtesy Flickr).

If you’re an IFR pilot reading this right now, you’re wondering how the heck the pilot of that remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) got away with that!

Rules under CFR 91.179 concerning IFR cruising altitude or flight level specifically state: “Unless otherwise authorized by ATC, the following rules apply in controlled airspace: Each person operating an aircraft under IFR in level cruising flight in controlled airspace shall maintain the altitude or flight level assigned that aircraft by ATC.”

Additionally, CFR 91.187 states: “The pilot in command of each aircraft operated in controlled airspace under IFR shall report as soon as practical to ATC any malfunctions of navigational, approach or communication equipment occurring in flight … along with the nature and extent of assistance desired from ATC.”

The remote pilot did not provide the reason for the RPA’s inability to maintain FL350. Further, the pilot did not appear to have filed a NASA report regarding the event. The controller opined that the event occurred due to the pilot’s lack of training.

We don’t know if the remote pilot was cited in this instance for the altitude deviation. The assumption is that remote pilots suffer the same consequences as other pilots for FAR violations. As yet, there seems to be no evidence of FAA enforcement actions against transgressing remote pilots. That’s a problem. We need to know that remote pilots, like regular pilots, are accountable.

The FAA is under pressure from all sides to fully integrate RPAs into the National Airspace System this year. The administration is hard-pressed to meet the deadline, partly because it has to weigh the desirable against the possible.

On the one hand, it is desirable to mandate and enforce a rule that all remote pilots train to commercial, instrument-rated pilot flight standards. It’s also desirable for RPA operators to train their remote pilots to that standard.

On the other hand, is it possible for the FAA to enforce such a rule? It may be if RPA operators fly their drones under the authority of an FAA Certificate of Authorization. But what if they are not beholden to a COA? What if they are military operators? Then you might get an altitude deviation incident like the one described above.

There are more reasons drones make me nervous. One RPA operator filed a NASA report after his remote pilot lost data link communications with his RPA. His aircraft was in cruise at FL230 when a major component of the RPA’s processor unit reset itself in flight. The remote pilot had failed to update the Lost Link Profile to reflect the latest ATC clearance before the inadvertent reset, so the RPA’s main computer profile defaulted to a previous flight plan. That caused the aircraft to abandon its flight path and head toward the closest location as defined in the previous Lost Link Profile. It also descended 4,000 feet as part of the diversion.

In other words, the RPA, having lost communications with its remote pilot, failed to proceed by any of three rules outlined by the Code of Federal Regulations. Instead it initiated a program designed by a software programmer. Yikes.

Manned aircraft pilots want to feel confident that the FAA has an effective solution in writing when RPAs lose communication. CFR 91.185 states that if a pilot loses two-way radio communication with ATC, the pilot shall continue the flight one of three ways:

  1. Route: By the route assigned in the last ATC clearance received.
  2. Altitude: At the highest altitude for that flight segment, as assigned by ATC in the last clearance received or the altitude ATC has advised may be expected in a further clearance.
  3. Leave clearance limit: If from an Initial Approach Fix (IAF), commence descent or approach and descend as close to the “expect further clearance” time noted in the flight plan or the time as advised by ATC in the last clearance received. If not from an IAF, leave the clearance limit at the time noted on the flight plan or the time as advised by ATC in the last clearance received.

These rules do not address the fact that RPAs have two communication links, only one of which is direct voice communication to ATC. The second communication link is the remote pilot’s data link to the drone. So what are the FAA-authorized procedures for a loss of data link communication? Not yet defined.

The remote pilot in the NASA report did notify ATC immediately of the problem and of the deviation. Two minutes later, the data link was reestablished. The RPA climbed back to its assigned flight level, and the flight proceeded without further incident. The RPA operator acknowledged the software snafu and pledged to fix it by adding an extra layer of protection against inadvertent resets.

Fortunately, the unauthorized descent and flight path deviation did not result in a near miss or a collision. But the drone’s actions jeopardized ATC’s ability to maintain positive aircraft separation in that section of the sky.

This is the single most dangerous aspect of RPAs operating in the National Airspace System. I think it’s more dangerous than drone encounters in VFR conditions, on approach and low to the ground. This notion that it is okay for RPA operators to program their RPAs to fly a Lost Link Profile or to continue their flight plan instead of being programmed to continue flight in accordance with FAR 91.185 rules is not just unsafe. It’s illegal.

But wait! There’s more. What happens when an RPA operating legally in stealth mode drifts out of a Military Operations Area?

According to one pilot who filed a NASA report: “My passengers and I noticed an oblong-shaped UAV (approximately two-to-three feet long with a long antenna) passing us in the opposite direction within 100 feet of our left wing on the 45° entry to Runway 15…. The object did not show up on my TCAS as a threat.”

The airport environment where the reporting pilot was operating was adjacent to an MOA. According to the reporter, ATC was unaware of RPA activity during the time of this incident. Nor could they “see” it on their radar.

This pilot maintains that RPAs should not be able to operate in stealth mode or at least should have to remain within their prescribed airspace.

How do we even report an errant RPA to ATC? If it were a manned aircraft, the pilot could have noted its N number and reported it that way. But what if the RPA has no N number? Are RPAs even required to have one? Are they required to be registered with the FAA if they aren’t operating under a Certificate of Authorization? Certainly, off-the-shelf quadcopters don’t have N numbers.

Few, if any, FAA personnel imagined the rise of unmanned, powered flight, especially not at the rapid pace at which the technology has been adopted. So if you cannot imagine such technology could exist, then how can you envision how to regulate it? RPAs create more questions than the FAA can answer right now.

For instance, all aircraft have to meet certain standards to be deemed “airworthy.” Should the airworthiness standards for an RPA include proof of its ability to safely land itself? A lost data link situation is similar to the recent events where an American Airlines first officer had to land a two-crewmember plane by himself. The captain had become incapacitated, but a procedure existed, and was implemented, to get the airliner safely on the ground with only one pilot at the controls.

An RPA also has a two-crewmember requirement — the RPA’s flight computer and the remote pilot. If either one loses contact with the other, shouldn’t a federally regulated procedure exist to program the drone to land safely?

The FAA is trying to tackle the tough questions surrounding full integration of RPAs into the NAS. Let’s hope the administration is able to ignore pressure from public and private interests until the long-term consequences can be envisioned and addressed completely.

Source: http://generalaviationnews.comThe dread of sharing the skies with drones

10 shortcuts every iPad Pilot should know

Top iPad shortcuts

The iPad is a powerful tool right out of the box, but knowing a few shortcuts and hidden features can make it even more capable when using it in the cockpit. Here we’ve assembled our ten favorite shortcuts to help you get more utility out of your iPad both on the ground and in the air:

1. Swipe to Delete: This shortcut can be used in many places throughout the iPad, from the default Apple Mail app to the aviation app ForeFlight. It is traditionally used when you want to delete an item from a list in your apps, like Mail messages, songs or favorites. When viewing a list on the iPad, swipe your finger on the line you want to delete from right to left, and a red Delete button will appear–tap this to remove the item. This is useful in ForeFlight when in the Downloads section of the app to delete individual charts, or to quickly remove an airport from the Favorites list on the Airports page.

swipe to delete

2. Notification Center Widgets: Apple added a new feature last year in the iOS 8 release that allows developers to add custom widgets that display key pieces of information from the app in the Today view of the Notification Center. This can be accessed at any time by swiping down from the top of the screen with one finger. You can view things like battery usage trends, radar imagery, METARs and more without actually opening the respective app. Check out this article for a review of apps that offer widgets and how to enable them.


3. Triple-click to invert colors: Even at the lowest brightness level the iPad’s screen can still be too bright for effective night operations. It’s even more difficult to maintain your night vision when viewing instrument approach charts and airport diagrams on the iPad due to the amount of white light displayed from the screen. There’s a trick you can use though that’s built in to the iPad that allows you to invert the screen colors by triple-clicking the home button, so that the page is displayed as white markings on a black background. To enable this capability you must first launch the iPad Settings app, go to General>Accessibility>Accessibility Shortcut and select Invert Colors as the Triple-Click function from the list.

invert colors

4. Split the Keyboard: Many users are able to type on the iPhone with just their thumbs by holding it with both hands, but this same technique is pretty difficult on the larger iPad Air. To make typing on the iPad possible with this technique, you can “split” the keyboard into 2 smaller sections and move it up and down on the screen. With the keyboard in view, tap and hold the keyboard button located at the bottom right, and select Split. This will transform the keyboard to the smaller size and position the keys closer to the edge of the screen. When in this mode you can tap and hold the lower right keyboard button to move the position vertically on the screen.

keyboard split

5. Multitasking Gestures: One of the key benefits of the iPad’s touchscreen technology is that it can sense how many fingers are on the screen at a given time and react accordingly. Most interactions are accomplished with a single tap, but there are some hidden actions you can advantage of by place 4 or 5 fingers on the screen and swiping in certain directions. For example if you place 4 or 5 fingers on the screen and pinch all together inwards, the app you’re currently running will minimize and you will return to the home screen. Now open that app back up, place your fingers back on the screen, and slide them from right to left, and you’ll see that the iPad will switch to apps you’ve previously had open. Finally place your fingers back on the screen again and slide them up to reveal the multitasking view, which allows you to quickly move between apps. Slide one of the app preview windows up with one finger to completely close it.

Use multitouch gestures to quickly switch back and forth between apps.

6. Search for apps: It doesn’t take long to download an overwhelming amount of apps to your iPad, leading to 4 or 5 pages of app icons. The problem that arises though is that it can be tough to locate and launch apps that you don’t use very often. To help find apps you can activate the iPad Spotlight Search feature by placing your finger in the middle of the home screen and swiping down. Now type the name of the app you’re looking for, and Spotlight will display a list applications matching your search keywords. Tap the one you’re looking for and it will launch right from this screen. You can also use this shortcut to search for saved contacts, music, websites and more.

ipad spotlight

7. Control Panel: At any time you can swipe up from the bottom of the screen with one finger to reveal the hidden control panel. This allows you to enable/disable Airplane Mode, WiFi or Bluetooth, adjust the speaker volume, set screen brightness and more. The best part about this is you can make these changes without having to leave the app you’re currently using.

control panel

8. Cycle the iPad power: There will be times when your iPad has a bad day and routine things don’t seem to function properly. If you are ever having issues connecting to wireless devices, using certain functionality in an app, or are having trouble with the internet connection, you should completely power down the iPad and restart it. To do this tap and hold the power button at the top right of the iPad for about 3 – 4 seconds until you see “slide to power off”. After sliding this button the iPad will power down over the course of about 5 – 10 seconds. Once the screen is completely black press and hold the power button again to power the device back up.

power down

9. Save screen shots: While there seems to be a dedicated app for just about every function you need in both your daily life and in aviation, there may be times you need to grab some aviation data or do some flight planning using a web-based service in the Safari or Chrome web browser. The problem is that you can only retrieve this data when on the ground with an internet connection, making it unavailable in the air. What you can do though is save screenshots of these web pages when viewing on the ground by pressing the home and power buttons simultaneously–this will capture whatever is on the screen and save it to your iPad’s internal memory as an image file. You can then view it later in the airplane by going to the Photos app on your iPad.


10. Slide Over Multitasking: This new iOS 9 multitasking feature allows you to open a second app without leaving the one you’re in. Slide your finger over from the right side of the screen to activate the view, and you’ll see a list of compatible apps. Select one and it will display in a column on the right of the screen. This allows you to browse the web, respond to a text message, or jot something down in a note, then slide that app away and get back to the one you were using. Apple added this capability to many of the their native apps, and like with Split View multitasking, app developers will need to manually program this capability into their apps. So far we really like using it to quickly bring up the notes app (which now allows you to create checklists and draw notes), and to bring up the Clock app to reference various time zones or start a timer. You’ll need an iPad Mini 2 or newer, or iPad Air or newer to use this feature.

Slide-over iOS 9

Source: Ipad apps10 shortcuts every iPad Pilot should know

November in Aviation History

  Nov 21, 1783  A  balloon made of cloth and paper* by brothers Jacques-Étienne and Joseph-Michel Montgolfier made the first free hot-air balloon flight. It was piloted by Jean-François Pilatre de Rozier and François Laurent, the marquis d’ Arlandes. After previous successful manned and unmanned tethered demonstrations by the Montgolfiers, (including one test flight that carried a sheep, a duck, and a rooster), this was the first untethered flight. The 60,000 cubic foot balloon was about
Source: aviation trailNovember in Aviation History

Job 1: Keep things on track

Margaret PIttman 5

For airport manager Margaret Pittman, the ever-changing nature of her work at Marion County Regional Airport (KMAO) in South Carolina, has been the best part of her more than three decades in the job.

Among the more unusual aircraft to visit Marion, S.C. Regional was a Grumman Goose.

Among the more unusual aircraft to visit Marion, S.C. Regional was a Grumman Goose.

To demonstrate the variety of airport life she pointed to the aircraft parked in front of the terminal on the day General Aviation News visited.

“It’s a Citation jet,” she said. “We’re a small place but we get all kinds of pilots and guests dropping in here.”

The Citation, N797MM out of Raleigh, N.C. carried a high profile passenger.

“That was Roy Williams, the North Carolina basketball coach,” Pittman said, pointing to the silver-haired man climbing the jet stairs. “He was visiting a high school basketball player in the area. Just like today, there always seems to be an interesting person or aircraft pulling up out front.”

Margaret Pittman 3

Pittman said she had no thought of a career in management when she took a temporary job behind the counter at the airport in 1983 to help cover education expenses.

“Walter Byrd was our manager and he and I worked all shifts at that time, 365 days a year,” she said. “I was off Tuesdays and every other weekend.”

She said Byrd, the World War II Army Air Corps veteran who ran the airport, died unexpectedly in 1986 and she was asked to take over the manager’s job.

“I wish he had been around longer for me to learn more, but I had to make a decision on taking the job,” Pittman recalled.

Margaret PIttman 5She had completed her nursing education with a degree in hand and could have followed a career in medicine.

“But at the time, people with my degree weren’t making much more than I was making here,” she continued. “Plus, I enjoyed the job. I met a lot of pilots and the days were interesting.”

After she took the top job the work days continued to be long, Pittman said. “I worked with Tully Dozier, another World War II Army Air Corps veteran, and we covered all the shifts,” she added.

Pittman said that in the 1980s there weren’t many females in airport operations.

“I was told by the state aviation people that I was the only female airport manager in the state at the time I took the job,” she said. “In the beginning I met some pilots who told me they didn’t like women on the flight line. But I did the job and things changed after a few months. I guess it was trust in me.”

She also began taking flying lessons and with the guidance and training of local pilot Randolph Battle, a member of the South Carolina Aviation Hall of Fame, earned her private pilot’s license in 1991.

“In recent years, I have pretty much stopped flying,” Pittman said. “But I wouldn’t mind owning an airplane with my brother Wesley. He is working on his license and is in the Civil Air Patrol Squadron here at the airport.”

“We’ve got good people working here and they’ve made a big difference over the years,” Pittman said.


From left: Jim Drew, Dan Farrow, Leslie Crawford and Margaret Pittman. (All Photos by Bill Walker)

Jim Drew, Dan Farrow and Leslie Crawford make up the current KMAO service team along with Pittman and keep the airport open 362 days a year from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. “We are officially closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s,” Pittman said. “But technically, I am on call outside those hours and I do get called in.”

Pittman, Drew and Farrow are experienced pilots and Crawford, the newest member of the team, is active in the Civil Air Patrol and hopes to earn his license, Pittman said.

“It is good when the people running the terminal are pilots. It makes things more comfortable for the variety of pilots we have coming in here.”

Nine aircraft are based at KMAO, plus an Air Reach Air Ambulance helicopter servicing the various facilities of McLeod Health in the region, including the hospital at Florence.

Margaret Pittman 4

“We have a new hangar for the helicopter which they haven’t yet occupied,” she noted. “And we have completed a new row of hangars with an additional five spaces for aircraft. We hope we will be getting more aircraft in here this year.”

Pittman said she had been lucky during her years in the job to work with county administrators who supported aviation.

“I did have two administrators who said they didn’t know anything about the airport and I had to educate them,” she recalled. She said her current supervisor, county administrator Tim Harper, “completely supports aviation and understands that airport improvements are important.”

“My job has always been to get stuff done — to keep things on track,” Pittman said.

Pilots flying a vintage Cessna 195 stop in for a short visit and fuel top off.

Pilots flying a vintage Cessna 195 stop in for a short visit and fuel top off.

In recent years she managed operations around the difficulties imposed by installation of new runway lighting and a PAPI, precision approach path indicator light landing system. “In addition, we’ve updated our Jet A pump with new filters and a water sensor,” she added.

Pittman, who hopes to continue her work for at least six more years, said one important improvement remains high on her list.

“We have the land for a 500-foot extension for Runway 22 and a taxiway,” she said. “I hope we can get that done because a 5,000-foot runway will allow more corporate aircraft to come in. Right now some planes are not allowed by the insurance companies on a field less than 5,000 feet long. Our extension from 4,500 to 5,000 feet will take care of that problem.”

Source: http://generalaviationnews.comJob 1: Keep things on track