Tuesday, March 26, 2019


I have been "QAed," Flight Safety speak for having been assessed as being competent to instruct in the Simulator. It will be a while yet before I get in front of a classroom. The nature of the business is that one Class instructor can carry 10 or more clients through the week, but the next two weeks that same group will require at least five instructors working the simulators. Those five instructors will each be doing a daily four-hour session. We have one sim for this airplane, which is why it runs 20 hours a day. As a general rule, we show up an hour or so before the clients to do our own prep. There is an hour pre-brief before getting into the sim. A half-hour of post flight review follows when the sim work is done, and then there is the inevitable paperwork. (I wonder how long we will keep calling it paperwork, since it is all done on a computer?)  If things go smoothly it will be close to a 7-hour, non-stop day. Things, of course, don’t always go smoothly. But even when they don’t, there is free coffee, the air-conditioning and heat work, and everyone involved is focused on the same task.

A lot easier than fixing boats during a Florida summer.

The QA session was interesting. There were the two Clients, with approximately 21,000 hours and a half-dozen type ratings between them. Then there was the Instructor of Record watching me teach, in addition to the QA instructor who was also watching me. We three likely have about 25,000 hours and 10 type ratings between us. Forty-six thousand hours of flight time and 16 type ratings, that is a lot of experience and talent squeezed into one little, moving box. Kind of a strange thing given that pilot training has become a focal point in the unfolding Boeing 737 Max drama. It has been reported that pilots transitioned from the older, less complex 737s to the Max with a one-hour session on an iPad. It would be interesting to know just who was responsible for getting that approved.

It isn’t clear when I will actually settle into the sim with a new crew. At the moment, the schedule includes training specific to Air Traffic Control procedures, additional training in operating the Simulator itself, and differences training in order to work with clients who fly under the European authorities. Being responsible for ATC procedures is new. All my past flight instruction was done in an airplane where actual ATC professionals provided ATC service. For a reference, ATC training involves 2 to 5 months at the FAA Academy; then 2 to four years of on-the-job training. The good news is, if I actually run the sim into an imaginary bit of mountain, all that happens is that the motion stops and the visual turns red. It doesn’t appear possible run it into another airplane no matter what. (Given the terrain sensing, moving map, and synthetic vision capabilities of the jet, driving it into a mountain could only happen if the crew was completely incapacitated for some reason.)

And so it goes. On a rare day off yesterday, Deb and I walked over to the Library. On the periodical rack was the latest offering from Sail Magazine, one where they reviewed a bunch of new boats from the winter’s boat shows. It was a pleasant hour. I miss the quiet of the boat, being independent and mostly self reliant. I miss the cruising community, and a life where schedules come and go with tides and seasons rather than the days being chopped up into half-hour bits. But being on the boat taught us to accept life as it unfolds, working with it rather than chafing at the unexpected. It was good training for being back on land.


Jeffrey Michals-Brown said...

It seems the FAA allows Boeing's engineers to approve their own aircraft, FAA being understaffed and underfunded. Lovely. I'm curious to know whether--after the Lion Air crash brought the problem to light--Ethiopian Air trained their pilots so they could shut the damn MCAS thing off.

TJ said...

From what I've read lately there was / is a way and (apparently) some pilots knew about it. How or why they knew wasn't part of the story but pilots are a curious bunch, and a good many are pretty sharp on the maintenance and/or engineering side. It wouldn't surprise me if some got curious about a system like that becoming a problem, and figured out which circuit breaker, switch, or series of switches needed to be thrown to put the thing out of action. Tragically, the crews of the doomed airplanes didn't appear to be in on the secret. I suspect how that happened is far, far above my pay grade, but it seems pretty easy to guess. The FAA isn't the only regulatory agency that has had its budget slashed to keep the corporations happy. In the last 10 years Boeing made $54.7 billion in US profits and paid a tax rate of 8.4%. (My federal tax rate runs about twice that.) Boeing is also the world's second largest weapons manufacture, and guess who is their best customer? But the American people appear to like things just the way that are, so I suspect nothing much will change. By-the-by, the jet I work with has a failure mode referred to as a "FLIGHT CONTROL MISBEHAVIOR", which is the jet doing anything the crew didn't command or expect. The next step is to push a red button right next to the pilot's seat, which takes much of the fly-by-wire system off line.

LifeOnTheHook.com said...

Funny, when I look at the FAA's budget for the last ten years, it looks like funding has been pretty constant, at about $16 Billion annually. Is this a case of where saying the budget was "slashed" means it didn't receive huge annual increases? Because in Washington, not getting a big increase every year is "cutting to the bone." LOL I guess my pension has been "slashed" since I haven't had a big annual increase in years. :-)

Jeffrey Michals-Brown said...

Good to know that about pilots. Latest is the Lion Air plane had the same problem the day before the crash: crew didn't know how to respond, but a deadheading pilot showed them how to cut power to the motor doing the elevator adjustment. Flight crew reported neither the problem nor the maintenance issue. FAA guy testifying to Congress today says they need to tweak the procedure for certifying aircraft, but to do it the old-fashioned way they'd need 10,000 engineers instead of the hundred or so they do have. (We have gone years without a crash.)

TJ said...

Hi Robert, haven't heard from you for a while. How are things going? Are you out on the boat or in the house for the summer season? The comments about the FAA's budget came from multiple reports from various sources, some business based and others more aviation oriented. The general consensus was that the FAA simply didn't have the manpower to review and approve the 737 Max airworthyness documentation as quickly as Boeing wanted. Boeing had the political muscle to get the documentation approved in spite of the manpower restraints by having the FAA hand back some of the approval authorization to Boeing. In other cases, FAA management, under pressure from political operatives (read that as Senators, Congressmen, and DOT officials - likely of both parties) simply bypassed the engineers and experts and issued the approvals over expert objections. In one case the hasty and in-expert review missed, or mis-understood, the speed at which the pitch trim actuators work, something like 6 degrees / sec rather than 0.6 degrees / sec. In any case I realize you hate any form of government, particularly ones that hint of any kind of democracy. I, on the other hand, only hate authoritarian governments, and those that are hopelessly corrupted. I also realize that you love corporate power, somehow concluding that they are immune to corruption born of greed and operated at some elevated level of enlightenment born of the inherent virtues of unfettered capitalism. On those issues we continue to agree to disagree, and its always fun to hear from you.

TJ said...

Jeffrety, I read that as well about that incident as well. It staggers me that it wasn't written up. In fact I am having trouble believing that was the case, though it is possible that a different cultural background could lead to such a thing. It is hard to imagine a US pilot not logging the event in such a way as to have the airplane grounded until the issue was addressed in some manor. Such a US pilot would also, likely, contact his or her union. There are reports that such had already happened, part of the reason Boeing was working on a software update even as two of their airplanes pitched themselves into the ground. I think it rather damning that Boeing is now offering to upgrade the fleet to include the dual sensor and warning light systems that they had been offering as an expensive "not safety related" option. I also find it interesting that no US carrier bought airplanes without those options, mostly due to pressure put on them by the pilot various pilot unions.

Robert Sapp said...

I don't think corporations should have ANY power of any kind. I'm a big fan of free market capitalism, where the creative destruction wrought by entrepreneurial innovation results in the continual development of new products and services, or falling prices for existing choices. I strongly detest crony capitalism, in which large businesses are "too big to fail" and political leverage is employed to deploy the power of government regulation to stifle innovation by small upstarts. An excellent example would be taxi companies lobbying governments to squash Uber. It's why I despise so called "democratic socialism," which is crony capitalism on steroids.

As for the relative evilness or saintliness of such corporations, I couldn't give flying fandango. In a free market system, if a company makes a product I want at a price I find fair, I'll buy it, or not, as I choose. If someone else can make a better and/or cheaper version of said product, then they're free to bring it to market, and I'll vote with my dollars. The board of directors could all be Satan worshipers (or worse, Marx followers), but I don't care. Just innovate or die. It's when the government inserts its dead hand into the free marketplace that we find ourselves having limited choices and paying high prices for lousy products, like electric cars for example. SpaceX has done more to improve commercial launch services in 10 years than NASA has managed in 50. That's free market innovation at work.

As for Boeing, I know you're an aviation professional, so I assume you would know more about these things than I might, but I have to wonder why this certification process is somehow considered as having been rushed. Hasn't the 737 been flying for something like 50 years now? Aren't we talking about incremental improvements to an existing airframe with a long established history? I would think that certifying a change to a system with a long history would be a much simpler process than a ground-up evaluation. Could this be a case of 20/20 hindsight, where it seemed at the time that appropriate action was taken, but now we know there was something unseen at work? I'm also a bit baffled as to why any pilot would need an automated system to prevent the plane from being flown into a stall. It seems to this layman that we've crossed the Rubicon, and pilots are no longer expected to know how to fly their aircraft, but rather need AI to prevent what seems to be basic flight errors.

We're taking this year off to get our new homestead established. The plan is to just do week-long jaunts in local waters, and then maybe see if we can do two to three months in the Bahamas next Spring. We have a nice guest room BTW, in case you guys ever want to get away for a few days.

TJ said...

Robert, sorry about the slow response, I got kind of buried at the shop. Last first. The cert process on the 737 is under a lot of very detailed and complex review. The 737 MAX improvements included replacing the old engines with ones much larger and more powerful, which meant moving the engines up and forward, which had an adverse affect on the basic aerodynamics of the aircraft, which necessitated the additional stall protection system; the now infamous MCAS. Are those incremental improvements requiring minimal certification review as Boeing claimed at the time (and the FAA agreed)? The MCAS system itself lies deep at the core of aircraft controllability and, at least according to some reports, was thought to move the trim at 0.6 deg per sec. It appears that rate was actually 6.0 deg per sec. A rather serious flaw in the review / certification process. One of the deep dark recesses in aviation is that, to some degree, stable airplanes are also inefficient airplanes. Fly-by-wire, Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC), Auto-pilot, Auto-throttle systems all add up to making a very fuel efficient, but somewhat unstable aircraft, usable. Also, swept wing jets flight high (where fuel burn is down and TAS up) are often running in a very narrow window between "as fast as it can go" and "aerodynamic stall". (Pilots call it the coffin corner.) In modern aircraft that is far less dangerous than it once was, with fly-by-wire and systems like MCAS being a big step in the right direction. High altitude stalls are outright killers. Even practicing them in the SIM, with no chance of getting killed, will raise the heart rate of many a high time flier. In any case, fly-by-wire is not going away; nor should it. The number of accidents that happened before the advent of fly-by-wire far exceeds those directly attributed to fly-by-wire systems. But fly-by-wire, high speed, high altitude aircraft are among the most complex machines human kind has dreamed up. They will bite if not carefully designed, even more carefully reviewed and certified, and expertly maintained and operated by highly trained personnel. Somewhere in the MAX, some part of that highly demanding routine broke down.

TJ said...

Now for something more fun...if you don't think corporations should have any power of any kind, you must be terribly disappointed in the current administration. They have effectively handed what little was left of a marginally democratic political system over to corporations to be exploited for maximum profit, with little or no control at all over what the corporations do. One of the things corporations hate the most is a "free market". What they want are monopolies, and the current administration seems only to happy to oblige. "Free markets" can only exist in a carefully balanced, carefully regulated economic environment where monopolies are forbidden, and the ability of corporations to hide product flaws and protect themselves from law suites resulting from those flaws, are not passed. Corporations also have zero interest it the common good, routinely leaving environmental disasters lying around and exploiting their workers to the point of killing them off so long as there is no government agency preventing them from doing so. Something our current government is in full agreement with, gleefully gutting regulations on things like clean air, water, handling toxic chemicals, and worker protection regulations. This current government is the poster child for crony capitalism, and said corny capitalism is the only capitalism that exists in America today. The only way to control it is with a real democracy untainted by corporate money (something you have often decried as "mob rule") and a focus on the needs of the larger society (something you call "socialism" and have apparently confused with "communism"). The fix for what ails us is the one thing you (and the rest of "conservative" America) absolutely refuses to consider. So long as that is the case there is little hope for much of a future for our kids and grand kids. For all of that, we may well find our way down to visit you at some point. I miss the cruising world and the friends we made there. Though this is a good job and we have family nearby, being on land without a boat is still a bit depressing at times. I'm glad things are working out for you guys to do both.

Robert Sapp said...

My dear friend. This is what crony capitalism looks like:


Billions of taxpayer dollars “loaned” to businesses run by well-connected Democrats, which subsequently went bankrupt because they were making products that government policies promoted, but which consumers didn’t want, didn’t need, or weren’t willing to pay for. It’s considered a successful program though, because millions of dollars in loan money was returned as corporate political contributions to Democrats, and even though the companies mostly went bankrupt and left thousands unemployed, the politically connected principals all cashed out and made millions.

Show me anything the current administration is doing that can touch that. It should be easy I would think, since you say it's the poster child for crony capitalism.

You seem to be unable to even conceive of the notion that not every government regulation is necessary and effective, and so I get the feeling that in your view, it appears that every time a regulation is repealed, someone dies. Wasn't the repeal of Net Neutrality supposed to have killed us all by now? The truth is I never even noticed. What I do notice is the effect this administration’s approach to regulation repeal has had on the economy. The lowest unemployment, the lowest minority unemployment, and the lowest filing of new unemployment claims in 50 years, a significant drop in people on food stamps, and a dramatic rise in the workforce participation rate. Real wages rising for the first time in over 20 years. We were told that 2% GDP growth was the new normal. This administration has averaged closer to 4%. We were told you can't drill your way out of fuel shortages. The Permian Basin in now the most productive oil field on Earth. The government spent billions of dollars and decades of time trying to achieve energy independence and break OPEC’s stranglehold on our economy. Free enterprise accomplished it in just a little over two years, as we are now a net energy exporter for the first time in over 40 years. All thanks to recognizing the harm that comes from excessive regulation.

Falling unemployment. Rising wages. Energy security. Strong enough economic growth to just possibly allow us to meet our future entitlement commitments. Our kids are doomed, I say! Doomed!

TJ said...

Hi Robert, Here is a definition of "crony capitalism" from businessdictiionary.com

"An economy that is nominally free-market, but allows for preferential regulation and other favorable government intervention based on personal relationships. In such a system, the false appearance of "pure" capitalism is publicly maintained to preserve the exclusive influence of well-connected individuals."

When I say "crony capitalism" is the only capitalism in the US today, it is in the context that the Dems and Repss are within a few fractions of a percentage point of being equally as corrupt. You seem to think that Reps are the defenders of pure capitalism while the Dems are both the crony capitalist champions and (somehow) socialists at the same time. I am of the view that the entire political spectrum on both a national and state level has been utterly compromised by the corruption that lies at the foundations of "crony capitalism". (It only took me a few minutes to find literally dozens of articles focused on Trump's crony capitalist ties.Your claims of him being some kind of defender of free markets are completely without merit.) I wish there was an actual social democracy movement in the country, and there are some hopeful signs that such is starting to stir. But I suspect it will be a generational kind of change. I know you are a science and climate change denier, so I'll leave the "energy security" claim aside. (Though I will say that your views boarder on claiming "central heating" is what happens when you set your house on fire.)

I am well aware that not all regulations are necessary and effective. But, having grown up in Pittsburgh in the '60s and '70s, I know a bunch that where; those that cleaned up the air and water. I know others that were, those that protected workers in steel mills and coal mines. I know car safety regulations were. Unfortunately automobile deaths are on the rise again, mostly from people being distracted while driving, though I'm guessing you would be opposed to regulations against texting while driving. And I know that FAA regulations have dramatically reduced air fatalities. A trend that can easily be reversed by letting aircraft manufactures write their own regulations. And, in any case, many of those regulations are exactly the ones the Trump administration is walking back at the urging of the corporate buddies. (Boeing's CEO called Trump on the phone and asked him not to ground the MAX. The US was the last country to do so, and Trump acquiesced only in the face of massive public opposition.

Anyway, you and I are likely not as far apart as it often seems. (Except for the anti-science thing.) You think half the government is corrupt beyond repair. I think it all is.

TJ said...

Just to add...I suspect the ills of our society go far deeper than just "crony capitalism." Empires usually fail from the inside, a failure that has its roots in multiple layers of corruption. Corruption is often described as dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery, influence peddling, and insider trading. The corruption is cloaked in propaganda and lies, and generally supported by repression, jails, a "justice system" whose main purpose is to quell descent, and a police presence whose primary dictate is to protect the property of the well-to-do. But, to me, the unfolding failure that is the US lies deeper than that...

A free press is essential to a thriving democracy; propaganda is lethal. Telling the difference takes wisdom. Facts are one thing; truth quite another. Blending them together to make good policy makes or breaks a nation, and that takes wisdom. Mythology is important and useful to any society; religious fundamentalism is deadly. Parsing one from the other takes wisdom. But we don't care about wisdom in the US because wisdom lies at the far end of paths we discount. Recognizing something as a fact is important, (something else we have abandoned) but a lot of wisdom has been passed down to us from people who thought the earth was flat and the center of the cosmos; who knew nothing about planets, orbits, QM, or relativity. That had many of the facts about the cosmos utterly wrong. But they did know about moderation, compassion, empathy, self-discipline, selflessness, taking a long view of history, and a short view of their own importance. Our society, on the other hand, worships excess, violence, tribalism, greed, and cares about nothing but short term profit gained at the expense of others. We are also the world's primary source of weapons and one of its biggest proponents of war. (Being bankrupted by excessive military spending is another common cause of the demise of empires.)

Our society is smart, ruthless, and powerful. All things we worship above all else. But it is doomed to failure none-the-less, because we will never be wise.

Robert Sapp said...

Yeah I’m just going to call you out on the anti-science trope. I have an undergraduate degree in engineering technology, I’m a trained nuclear reactor operator, which takes more than a passing familiarity with nuclear physics, chemistry and materials science, and I count amateur astronomy among my many interests. You read my book, so I assume you saw that I have basic understanding of all things STEM. It’s precisely because I am so grounded in the physical sciences that I know climate hysteria is a politically driven hoax. How’d you enjoy being back in Missouri for the winter BTW? Remember, the British Meteorological Society said that by the year 2000, snowfalls would be a thing of the past.

Let’s play a little mind game, shall we? Here are just a few things that science agrees on:
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) are safe.
Fracking does not affect groundwater.
Gender is binary and can be determined by looking at your chromosomes.
Vaccines are safe and effective.

These are all beliefs that will get you quickly uninvited from your typical liberal cocktail party. And yet, the left is the Party Of Science, and people who point out that the “science” behind climate alarmism is crap, the models don’t work, and the predictions always fail to come true are the “science deniers.” Please.