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2015 Q3 Newsletter

Steve Blonstein, General Manager WVFC

Fleet Quality

The 2014 member survey provided a clear indication that the membership was requesting the club improve the overall state of the rental fleet.  So, for 2015, we created several specific projects to help achieve this new goal.  I would like to walk you through the plan and the progress we have made to date.

1)      Avionics issues.  During 2014, the number of INOP avionics rose to the point where it was clearly having an impact on the quality of the fleet.  For 2015, the club developed a new and substantial relationship with LAC Avionics, based at SJC.  From the beginning of the year, we have had at least one club plane at LAC almost continuously.  LAC has done a fantastic job repairing autopilots, GPS units, radio displays, power receptacles, and a lot more.  These repairs are often quite expensive.  For example, the flat rate repair on a KLN94B Color GPS, typically found in the Cessna 172/182, is around $4000.  We have the commitment from the aircraft owners to make these repairs a reality, and to increase the quality of the fleet.


2)      Aircraft Quality Checklists.  We have started to implement a process to “measure” the overall quality of planes on the fleet, looking at everything from paint, interior, avionics, engine, and a lot more.  Certain planes just don’t come up to a standard that we’re comfortable with.  We work with the owners to implement repairs and improvements, or simply agree to remove the plane from the flight line.  Examples of items that you might see improve are seat coverings, interior plastics, laminated checklists, and the oil/rag box at the back of the plane.


3)      Adding planes to the flight line.   We have instituted a policy whereby we will only accept a plane on the flight line if it meets the criteria from #2 above.  We are no longer willing to accept a “tired” airplane with the hopes that rental revenue will create enough income for the owner to later fix the plane.  Recent history has shown us that this generally doesn’t happen.  So we’re just calling a spade a spade up front and politely declining any plane that is too “worn” for our flight line.


4)      Recruiting newer planes.  Over the past 12 months we have been able to attract some beautiful newer planes.  This culminated in the recent acquisition of a brand new 2015 Cirrus SR22 – a sure sign of confidence in our club that we are well prepared to train and maintain such a gorgeous plane and keep it in tip-top shape.


5)      Maintenance.  We are changing the way squawks and observations are handled from start to finish.  Our internal tracking and handling has been re-engineered so we have a better idea of what is dragging on for too long and to put focus in areas where we think we will have maximum impact on the fleet quality.  This is an ongoing journey but we’re confident we’re on the right track.

I hope you are starting to see and benefit from these changes.  There is still a long way to go and we will be happy to take whatever feedback you have for us – good or bad, and we’ll try to strive to make our fleet even better than we have right now.

Safe Flying


Michael May, Standards Officer WVFC

The Takeoff Briefing

One of the last things that most pilots do before taking the runway to depart is recite an emergency briefing for an engine malfunction either during, or shortly after, the takeoff roll. The generic version goes something like this: “If we don’t have xx airspeed by the midpoint of the runway we abort. If the engine quits before rotation we abort. If we lose the engine before xx altitude we pitch for glide and land straight ahead.” There are many variations to this but this is a very common version that gets recited countless times a day around the country. Most of us struggle through this briefing while we’re learning (much like we struggle on the radio), and then spit it out without a second thought once we’ve gotten the script memorized.

Since many of us recite this briefing from memory, I think it’s worth diving a little deeper into the logic that’s behind the briefing. Take a moment to ask yourself if you really stop and think about what you would do in the event of an abnormality at low altitude when you’re getting ready to take off. Do you adjust your briefing for different airports, runways, or terrain? Or is it the same statement rattled off every time, no matter the environment? Here’s another question: How often have you practiced engine failures shortly after takeoff in training? I’m certain that I’ve never met anyone that has claimed to be proficient at this, and since direct training is not practical its all the more reason to have a good briefing.

The rule-of-thumb that the FAA recommends when deciding to abort a takeoff is based on airspeed. If you haven’t reached 70% of your rotation speed by the midpoint of the runway it’s time to abort. This works pretty well at PAO and SQL, but not so much at longer runways. Consider taking off from runway 30L at SJC. The midpoint of that runway is over a mile from the starting point, and I can’t imagine any of us would still be attempting a takeoff if we hadn’t reached 40-50 KIAS (depending on the airplane type) long before we were 5500 feet down the runway. How many of us still recite the standard briefing anyway though?

What about the elements that come after the plane is airborne? This part of the briefing has more than one purpose. It’s meant to have and review an escape plan should the need arise, but it’s also meant to remind you that returning to the airport below a predetermined altitude, while tempting, is not a viable option in most cases. But what if the terrain straight ahead doesn’t lend any good alternatives? Taking off on Runway 30 at SQL comes to mind when thinking of this scenario. Straight ahead puts you in the lobby of the Oracle building, or in one of the many warehouses or neighborhoods that surround it. Not exactly a great option either.

You may be noticing that I’ve been asking a lot of questions about the briefing but giving few answers. If the answers were consistent or easy then the takeoff briefing wouldn’t be important, and that’s why a well thought out briefing that is relevant to the airplane, the runway, and the conditions is far more useful than one that just recites a canned statement from memory. The first minute after beginning the takeoff roll is one where the airplane and its occupants are the most vulnerable. Safety margins (airspeed and altitude) don’t exist yet, and options are extremely limited. It is one of the very few emergency scenarios in aviation that is measured in seconds, and it is not the place to realize that the takeoff briefing doesn’t apply to the situation. While having an engine failure shortly after takeoff may be unlikely, making sure you correctly identify the few options that you do have before you begin your flight requires very little effort. Should the unlikely occur you will be glad you did.


Dave Fry, WVFC CFI and Aviation Safety Counselor

A (Partial) Confessional

Some of you may have wondered, from time to time, why I write newsletter articles.  And at last count it’s well over 100 of them.  Occasionally, as the deadline for them approaches and I have no idea what I’m going to write about, I wonder about that myself.  There’s nothing like adrenalin to get the creative juices flowing.

The actual reason is complex yet simple.  It all goes back to how much I love aviation.  And how much I love precision and perfection – though I have occasionally fallen spectacularly short on both counts.   One of my favorite Laws of Flying and Life is that, “A smart man learns from his mistakes. A wise man learns from someone else’s mistakes.”  And though I’ve written frequently about things that have happened to me and other pilots and how to handle those situations, there is also a rich supply of lessons that can be shared based on the mistakes we’ve made – many of which result in situations that need remedy.

In one sense, every flight has small mistakes – I’ve never had a perfect flight, though a few times I’ve had portions of the flight that were perfect (like a steep turn, slow flight entry, or downwind in which the needle started at the correct altitude and looked like it was painted on the altimeter for the entire maneuver, or a perfect landing) – and to a significant extent, flying is the continual process of correcting from what you have to what you want.  On the other hand, there are times that it feels like if there is a mistake that a pilot can make, I’ve made it.  Mostly, I like to make mistakes with enough altitude below me that I can recover from them, but …

Perhaps the smoothest (and least embarrassing) way to ease into this is to give a partial list of things I’m trying to improve – the things I’m not as good at as I want to be.

Procedurally, I try really hard not to leave out checklist items, but I’ve missed some important ones from time to time.  But that’s why there are checklists.  And sometimes I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had time to use the checklist – that’s when it’s needed the most.

I’ve drifted off altitude and heading more times than I care to think about – and a couple of times have been reminded about it by ATC.  Once with the dreaded, “I have a phone number for you to call when you get on the ground.”  Fortunately, THAT time, the altitude bust was the result of a collision resolution alert in a Citation, so my empennage was covered – on that occasion.

I’ve missed ATC instructions because I was talking with a student, another pilot, or a passenger when I should have been maintaining “sterile cockpit” discipline.

I’ve continued an unstable approach right on down to the landing because I thought I was so damn good I didn’t need to go around as I should have – fortunately, I’ve been lucky enough to get away with it.  And have kicked myself mentally every time for unnecessarily jeopardizing the plane and my passengers.

I have gotten complacent on routes I’ve flown hundreds of times and done less than a truly professional level of planning.

I’ve flown when I was so sick I had no business being in an airplane to say nothing of flying one – but in self-defense, on that occasion, it was a choice of being dog-sick in Mexico or being dog-sick in the US.  I’m not sure that qualified as an emergency – thus allowing me to deviate from the regs we are otherwise required to follow – but I think a case could be made.  A contrary case could be made that my judgment was affected by how sick I was.

I’ve flown into weather that was on the wrong side of questionable.  Remember the saying about, “It’s better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air, than to be in the air wishing you were on the ground”?  Well I’ve been on the wrong side of that saying a couple of times, and regretted it (and the visits to the dentist to replace the filling that got shaken out by the off-the-scale turbulence).

I’ve come far closer to exceeding various limits in Section 2 of the POH than I ever wanted to.

I’ve attempted to fly an instrument approach with the wrong nav set in – and found the mistake before it involved any cumulo-granite formations.

In VFR conditions, I’ve lined up on the wrong airport.  Not just the wrong runway, the wrong cotton-picking airport.  In the central valley, they’re all lined up the same direction.

I’ve bounced a landing so hard that you could have driven a semi under the bounce.                        

And, yes there are others that haven’t made this list – some less embarrassing, some more.

Now, there are two points I’d like to add.

First, on all of these occasions, I’ve seen the mistake and initiated the recovery in time to keep the mistake from becoming a disaster or an accident.  Still, recovering wasn’t ever enough to keep me from feeling like a donkey – I’d far rather not have been in that situation to begin with.  “The superior pilot uses superior judgment to avoid situations requiring his or her superior skill.”

Second, if you think none of these (or a similar mistake) has occurred to you, you’re either in denial or have finished fewer than three instructional flights.  Others WILL occur, but if you can learn from MY mistakes, then I’ve accomplished my purpose in writing these articles.  If you want an interesting discussion, ask your instructor about his or her mistakes, miscues, etc.

Every once in a while I do something so well I want to go out and get one of those “DAMN I’M GOOD” bumper stickers.  Then I think back on the amazing list of things I’ve done that have fallen spectacularly short of “good”.   It may be a while before I buy that sticker.  And even longer before I even THINK about putting it on my car.


Lindell Wilson, WVFC CFI

Decision Making –   Maximize Pilot Capabilities

Aviation accidents can happen during any phase of aircraft operation. But statistics from accident studies highlight the types of operations where accidents are most likely to occur. Not surprisingly, takeoffs and landings are high on the list. Air Canada Safety Board accident statistics show that 22% are related to takeoff, 17% during cruise, and 61% during landing.

Several months ago, I wrote about pilots exceeding their “capabilities” with regards to skills and cognitive reasoning and the resulting effect on aviation accidents. A pilot’s capacity to deal with various normal phases of flight (ex. takeoff and landing) and reserve capacity to deal with real-time (sometimes unexpected) situations is one of the foundations for safe flight operations. Air Canada published a nice diagram illustrating a pilot’s normal operational capacity and the decreased safety margin particularly during landing.

So, how can we increase our safety margin during takeoff and landing? Here are several ideas…)

1)     Avoid distractions during critical phases of flight. Distractions may include heads down work, adjusting radios/avionics, passenger interruptions, etc.

2)     Use checklists… preflight, take off, cruise, and landing checklists. If interrupted, start the checklist again.

3)     If unusual situations occur (ex. emergency, aircraft problem, or unusual ATC instructions), focus on “Aviate”, Navigate, Communicate (ANC).

4)     Focus outside the cockpit to maintain situational awareness.

5)     Get plenty of rest, exercise, reduce stress, and eat healthy.

6)     Practice, Practice, Practice (takeoffs and landings)

WOW – Women of West Valley Flying Club

Santa Barbara – divert to San Luis Obispo July 18th, 2015

A beautiful flight until the storm sitting off the coast of LA approached a little too close. We all discussed on the air-to-air frequency and reversed course back to the old standby – Spirit of San Luis Restaurant at San Luis Obispo Airport for a tasty lunch and good company.


Matt Debski, Aircraft Owner WVFC

Exciting Times

I visited EAA's Airventure - Oshkosh - this year, my fifth visit since my first trip there in 2009.  It's a highlight of my year: - Adult Summer Camp for Pilots.  This year, the energy and buzz at Oshkosh was the greatest I've experienced.  I thought I'd share some of the things that made this year's Oshkosh standout.

Release of the Icon A5

Icon Aircraft was founded in 2006 and achieved a flying prototype of an amphibious Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) in 2008.  This year at Airventure, it delivered its first production model.  All of the press and marketing literature put out by the company described how this is an airplane to bring fun and adventure back to aviation.  Combined with the company's plan to develop a flight instruction curriculum around the aircraft, Icon is attempting to expand the market for GA aircraft to power sports and adventure aficionados.  

The styling of the airplane is more like a Tesla than a Cirrus.  The performance numbers make it clear that it's not a cross-country flying machine.  The purpose of the Icon is purely to have fun.  AOPA and EAA have been pursuing initiatives over the past few years to stop the declining numbers of the pilot population.  If the A5 and Icon Aircraft end up successful, perhaps more companies may spring up to attract new market segments to GA.


On the opposite end of the spectrum from the release of the A5 in terms of stodginess, one of the neatest experiences I had at Oshkosh was flying three simulated IFR approaches with live ATC and other aircraft in the airspace.  The Pilot Proficiency Center had two rooms setup with simulators, one each for VFR and IFR.  I've flown simulators at WVFC before and appreciate the value they offer.  Adding "real" clearances from ATC and hearing other pilots interacting with the controllers (and making mistakes) upped the realism factor substantially.  PilotEdge provided the coverage at the Proficiency Center.  The cost of the service seems reasonable as well, especially when laid aside all the other outlets aviation demands.


News articles about drones abound in both the popular and aviation press.  While both EAA and AOPA have been working to ensure a safe integration of drones into the national airspace, Oshkosh made an effort to showcase various technologies and vendors this year.  They setup a drone cage near the Innovation Pavilion.  Many vendors were on hand from toy stores selling tiny "drones" to development companies showcasing the applications of their larger platforms.

Both EAA and AOPA have moved into a stage of acceptance that drone operators will be flying in the national airspace.  The general aviation community can engage with them in productive dialog about sharing the airspace.  Drone operation as a hobbyist may also be a gateway into thinking about a pilot certificate and eventually joining the larger General Aviation community.


The Pilots Bill of Rights 2, hot on the heels of the Pilots Bill of Rights 1, passed in 2012, is gaining some momentum.  The biggest benefit in PBOR 2 is eliminating the requirement for a medical certificate for non-commercial VFR and IFR flights with up to five passengers, below 14,000 feet and at fewer than 250 knots.  This was the biggest political issue present at Oshkosh, replacing the furor over User Fees a few years ago.  It's not clear yet when or if the bill will pass, but as this will again help prevent decline in the pilot population and may even help to expand it, it's exciting to see it moving forward.

It's an exciting time to be a pilot with new technologies emerging constantly.


Ralph Britton, President - PAAA (Palo Alto Airport Assoc)

Palo Alto Airport Association works to promote and support PAO

Airports need friends.  The local region has lost many airports due to urban expansion, developers coveting airport land for profitable development, and public lack of awareness of just how valuable a local airport is to the community.  Examples include Santa Cruz Sky Park, Tanforan, Fremont, and even an airport located in Mountain View at Middlefield Rd and San Antonio Rd.  Palo Alto Airport has had its detractors urging that it be closed and that the space used for variously a land fill, composting site and an expansion of the adjacent 2000 acre Baylands Park.

The Palo Alto Airport Association (PAAA) was formed to protect PAO and ensure that it continues to serve the community as the unique asset that it is. Our most important function is Airport Day, which serves to inform the local public about the valuable services the airport provides.  Airport Day is a family event to show services such as refueling of Stanford Hospital’s helicopters, providing access to Angel Flight’s charity medical flights and its critical role providing relief in an earthquake or other major incident.  We stress its educational role, offering flight training to many aspiring students.  This is in addition to its obvious purpose of providing transportation and supporting recreational flying.

In 2006, PAAA members together with some unaffiliated citizens were appointed by the Palo Alto City Council to form the Palo Alto Airport Working Group (PAAWG). The PAAWG report was instrumental in generating support for the City’s taking over the Airport from the County. That report demonstrated that a city-run airport would generate sufficient revenue to pay for its operation.  Further investigation by consultants hired by the City corroborated the findings of the PAAWG.  Had the City been unwilling to take over operation, it is questionable whether the airport could remain in operation.

The PAAA needs members for two important reasons.  Membership dues pay for outreach on behalf of the airport conducted by the PAAA and, equally important, a large membership lends legitimacy to PAAA as a responsible organization representing airport concerns to the City Council and the community. 

Please show your support for PAO by becoming a member of PAAA - sign-up at: