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2017 Q4 Newsletter

Steve Blonstein, General Manager WVFC

A Cool (and warm) New Patio

On Friday, September 22 we celebrated 45 years of West Valley Flying Club with a 70’s theme party at the Palo Alto clubhouse.   There was a lot of 70’s disco music and some really great costumes.  Thanks to everyone that helped make the party possible and for all of you that attended and had fun. The patio area, historically a pretty grungy place, was transformed.  That transformation is now permanent with all new patio furniture, propane heaters, and sparkling lights.  It seemed like a fitting way to get the celebration going.  The current plan is to celebrate each of our decades over the next 4 years (80’s, 90’s, 00’s, 10’s) and finish with a 50th anniversary party in the summer of 2022.  The party was almost entirely paid for by our partners and sponsors.  I want to extend a thank you to Cirrus, Commerce Bank (who provides loans for many of our rental fleet), Aircraft Spruce (from whom we buy many aircraft parts), Wells Fargo Bank (our bank!), and World Fuel (who provides the Phillips 66 fuel for our planes).

Just as the patio is a sign of rebuilding at the club, I wanted to highlight some other things that have been reborn at the club and some firsts for us. 

2017 was the first time in quite some time that we’ve had private pilot ground schools at both the Palo Alto and San Carlos locations.  In early 2018, we are re-establishing an instrument ground school in Palo Alto on Monday evenings.  We’re even planning (though no dates yet) a Drone ground school as that business continues to grow quickly.  Additionally, our Safety Seminar program has been re-energized, so expect to see a lot more scheduled seminars at both Palo Alto and San Carlos. 

For maintenance, there were several significant changes in 2017.  First, we started offering weekend maintenance services, so now, on many Saturdays and Sundays, it’s possible to find an on-duty maintenance person to potentially help you out with an issue with your plane.  Even more exciting is the signing of a lease for a maintenance hangar at San Carlos. This is a game changer for the SQL fleet. We will no longer have to ferry planes down to PAO for many of the common services which will increase efficiency and decrease aircraft downtime.  It’s also going to make it a lot easier to work on squawks on that field.  While most of the club has been in the “cloud” for some years now, maintenance records have not.  That world is still dominated by good old maintenance logs and logbook “stickers”.  That is all about to change as we are partnering with a company to put the maintenance records and logbooks into the cloud.  That’s going to enable any member to look at any aircraft record at any time and the FAA is saying that these online records will be acceptable for check rides (well let’s see).

The SQL fleet has continued to grow from a low of 8 planes in recent years to the current 14 planes.  Additionally, in 2017, the club took ownership of the G1000 SIM at SQL so now we own both SIMs and can offer a free hour on each without any additional expense to the club.  

Finally, I want to say a huge thanks to CFI Scott Stauter.  We held a retirement party for Scott (on our warm new patio) on Friday October 27th.  Scott’s member number is 407!  He’s been at the club for most of our 45 years.  He’s accumulated over 20,000 flights hours in that time – mostly flying with West Valley Flying Club.  He’s been a CFI and mentor to many.   He’s been through almost all the ups and downs in the club and we were happy it’s an “up-time” as he hangs up his headset.

Fly Safe.  Happy Holidays.  See you in 2018.


Michael May, Standards Officer WVFC

Reversing the Trend

Over the past year, the club has experienced several incidents that have resulted in insurance claims (those over $5,000 in damage), and several more that narrowly avoided significant damage. As you can imagine, this is a trend that we’d like to reverse. To that end, the Safety Office will be sharing some of these scenarios to raise awareness of certain risks, and to hopefully help us all learn some lessons that were learned the hard way by a few unfortunate pilots. Here is the first of these stories.

Going back to 2013, the club managed 2 years of claim-free flying, and a third year that resulted in a single claim due to a runway overrun. That relative calm was disrupted in October of 2016 when the club had its most significant accident in several years. N387CS, our newest Cessna 182, experienced significant damage when the nosewheel collapsed during an attempted landing on runway 31 at PAO in VFR weather with very light winds. The airplane skidded off the side of the runway and came to rest in the grass. This event resulted in damage to the engine, propeller, fuselage, landing gear, and wing. Thankfully the pilot was uninjured. This accident was a classic unstable approach scenario. After doing several laps in the traffic pattern at Half Moon Bay, the pilot reported that he let his guard down when returning to PAO. His approach speed on final was 80kt, 20kt faster than the recommended speed. After floating more than half way down the runway he attempted to save the landing by pushing the yoke forward to force the airplane onto the ground. The nosewheel collapsed upon impact and the airplane skidded to the right side, coming to rest about 500 feet from the departure end of the runway.

After this event the club Safety Office, working in coordination with the local FAA FSDO, began remedial training for the pilot. This pilot had recently obtained his Instrument rating in a 182, and the vast majority of his recent flying had been with a CFI in pursuit of his IFR ticket. Instrument approaches are flown very differently than a VFR pattern, typically at 80-90kt on the approach. After several patterns at HAF the pilot felt “back at home” at PAO and allowed himself to get too comfortable on the approach. The 15-20kt headwind that is typical at PAO in the afternoons had contributed to the pilot allowing his VFR approach skills to erode, and on the day of the accident the wind was not there to compensate for the high approach speed.

Looking at the causal factors of this accident, the first thing that jumps out is that adhering to stable approach criteria would have prevented it. Excessive speed on final approach is unstable and therefore should result in a go-around. However, the industry has proved that so far, pilots are terrible at following stable approach criteria. Consider that airline pilots, who know that their approaches are being monitored by the companies they work for, have a mandatory go-around compliance rate of less than 2 percent. Think about that for a minute. These are professional aviators who know that they are going to get “caught” for violating this policy, and they still only comply with it once per every fifty unstable approaches. This data point alone proves that just saying “he should have gone around,” while true, is not really going to fix anything by itself. The stable approach philosophy must be embraced in order for it to be effective, and that means holding ourselves to the standards that define a stable approach.

So, the million-dollar question is, how do we truly hold ourselves to the standard? For our pilot, the training focused on two areas. First, we wanted to make sure that his flying was precise. Being able to fly within +/-100 feet, +/-10kt, and +/-10 degrees of heading were required, and approach speeds and profiles had to be flown correctly. This was half of the equation. The other half was the go-around decision. If any of the above were not met, the pilot executed a go-around without being prompted by the CFI, and long before it became obvious that a successful landing would be impossible.

In summary, an unstable approach and the determination to complete the landing led to an accident and roughly $200,000 in damage. Contributing factors were the lighter than usual winds, the pilots recent experience flying IFR approaches at higher speeds coupled with lack of recent experience flying VFR patterns at PAO, and the pilot’s complacency that resulted from the comfort of being back at his home airport. As is the case in most accident chains, removing any one of these links would most likely have prevented the accident. Let’s all do what we can to learn from it, and hopefully become better aviators by making a true effort to fly to the standards that we set for ourselves. 


Dave Fry, WVFC CFI (Jet Junkie) and Aviation Safety Counselor

Great Expectations

I recall (vaguely) reading Great Expectations in Junior High (it’s called Middle School now), and thoroughly hating it.  Part, I’m sure, is because it was required reading, which means I was forced to read it.  Like many of you, I dislike being forced to do things.  Some have claimed I’m stubborn; I prefer to think of it as being resolute.  However, for a more complete treatment of this subject, you could consult my wife.  That aside, a couple of generations later, I reread the book and found it far better than I remembered – a bit short in unpredictable plot twists, but well written, subtle, and groundbreaking considering the literature of the time.

So, what does all of this have to do with flying?  It has to do with mindset.  When we start a flight, we have great expectations: a successful flight, an on-time arrival, happy passengers, beautiful scenery, …  We even have very specific performance expectations, such as a 70 Knot climb at 800 FPM in a 172, and therein lies the problem, or at least a potential problem.

It’s easy, and even normal to get so focused on what you expect to happen that you forget what COULD happen.  As you begin motoring down the runway, you expect and are ready for the next thing, which is rotation, followed by takeoff, climb, gear up, flaps up, Vx (or Vy) climb, climb power, interspersed with several calls to all kinds of ATC, until eventually you get to cruise, then things slow down and you can take a breath.  And most of the time things actually happen that way.

More importantly, sometimes your expectations don’t happen, and things go wrong.  It’s really easy (I know) to be focused so intently on a particular aspect of flight and what you’re expecting next that it takes a second or two of disorientation before getting mentally into sync with what’s really going on.

For example, I was flying with a multi-engine student (back in the days when West Valley HAD multi-engine planes), when in the middle of a maneuver, the left engine quit.  Worse, it feathered all by itself, thus eliminating most of the steps in the engine failure checklist.  It took a couple of seconds to sort out what was really happening – although we did level the wings and do the “forward, forward, forward, identify, verify, feather” engine failure memory items.  Still the expectation was that we would have to feather the engine, which had already happened.  On the other hand, that difference in expectations is probably better than trying to feather the engine, only to have it remain in the normal pitch range. 

A less extreme but far more common example might be when we tell the autopilot to do something, and the plane goes off seemingly with a mind of its own and proceeds to do something else, something we didn’t expect.  For a more complete treatment of this subject, see my article titled, “The Scoreboard.”

In extreme cases, expectations can be erroneous and even delusional.  Even with all the fun situational awareness enhancing equipment that’s in our airplanes, pilots occasionally will expect an airport to be in a particular place, see an airport there, and proceed to land – at the wrong airport.

So how does this happen?  The clues were all there, even in cases of limited visibility.   It’s so easy to get one clue that supports our expectations that we fail even to SEE the other clues that say “this isn’t right”.  Sometimes they say THIS ISN’T RIGHT!”  Yet on occasion they still get ignored.

The thing that all runways have in common is that when we’re at 500 feet or less on final, we’re fixated on the relationship between the runway and the plane, and that will be the same regardless of whether it’s the right runway or not.  One of the ways to ensure that our expectations are being met is to look for the defining characteristics of an airport.  Runway heading isn’t the one – take a look at the runways in the central valley.  Most of them have a runway with alignment within a few degrees of all the others.  However, some have crossing runways, some have the hangars on the west side, some on the east.  Some are south of the town; others have differing orientations. 

This is exactly what we’re taught to do in the “lost” scenario.  First determine what you actually see THEN compare it to what’s on the chart.  In this case, determine what you see then compare it to what you expect.  If it isn’t the same, something’s wrong.  And as many of you may remember from the Laws of Flying, Life and Business, “If something feels wrong, it probably is – figure out what it is before you make any serious decisions.”

It is not a common practice, nor is it comfortable to look for things that will hint, indicate, or worse, PROVE that we’re wrong, so think of it as looking for additional evidence to prove that you’re RIGHT.  And, of course, if it does turn out that you’re wrong, you can recognize it and make the appropriate corrections before you land at the wrong airport, land on a taxiway instead of the runway, or blast right through an altitude when you were certain that the autopilot had it captured.  I’ve even seen cases in which a pilot wondered what the autopilot was doing, when, in fact, the autopilot wasn’t even engaged.

Your great expectations for any particular flight are far more likely to be met if you continually verify that they ARE being met.


Lindell Wilson, WVFC CFI

Decision Making – Things We Forget

Have you ever noticed someone hop out of an aircraft to remove the chocks, tie downs, or close the baggage door that they apparently forgot during preflight? Maybe it has even happened to you. There are plenty of things to forget; pitot covers, engine cowl plugs, tow bars, baggage doors, oil access doors, etc.

One day while watching aircraft on the ramp at San Jose airport, I noticed a Mitsubishi MU-2 load up with several passengers and two pilots. After the aircraft started both engines, I noticed that the chocks were still on the right main wheel. Oops. The crew quickly shut down both engines and a crew member hopped out of the aircraft to remove the chocks. I told myself that I would never let that happen to me…)

Several years later, I was doing a preflight while waiting for the fuel truck to arrive.  My preflight walk-around checklist was interrupted when the fuel track arrived. After the fuel truck finished, I stowed some baggage and completed my preflight checklist. Only problem was, I skipped to the next item on the checklist, but actually had not completed removing the right main wheel chocks. Luckily, my observant passenger noticed the wheel chocks and pointed out my error. Embarrassing!

Interrupting the flow on a checklist can lead to many pilot errors, on the ground and in the air. So, if our checklist is interrupted, how can we reduce the risk of missing/forgetting something? One simple method that the airlines and military use is… “If the checklist is interrupted, the crew MUST re-start the interrupted checklist section from the beginning”. The checklist re-start significantly reduces the risk of missing something on the checklist.

WOW – Women of West Valley Flying Club

Chico (KCIC) September 16, 2017

We had great seating outdoors with mild (for the location) 85 degree temperatures.  Someone (no names) indulged in an outlandish specialty dessert at The Foodie Café.

Upcoming Flyouts:

Dec. 02 – O41

Jan. 13, 2018 Whale Watching


(Dates and locations subject to change.  Contact Sue Ballew for further information:


Sue Ballew, WVFC CFI

The Eclipse and the value of an Instrument Rating

My student Steve, who is working on his instrument rating as many of you know from our fly-outs, had been planning the Eclipse trip for weeks. We had a reservation at Redmond (KRDM), but about two weeks prior to Aug 21st, Salem Air Center called and said my waitlist number had come up.  It was an easy choice as Salem (KSLE) was much closer to totality – the purpose of the trip.  But we kept Redmond as an alternate just in case, which then had Steve planning multiple additional legs.

And wouldn’t you know it, everything changed in flight.  As we passed Mt Shasta at 10.5k, we could see a giant cloud of smoke.  We knew there were TFRs for the fires but had no idea how extensive the smoke was.  So, the next step was to pick up a pop-up IFR clearance.  And just then Steve received ATIS (from ADS-B on his iPad) for Medford (KMFR) (our destination for the night about 150nm south of Salem) which had just gone IFR due to smoke. Steve was planning on an instrument approach, but of course had not studied the approach in use, the ILS arriving from the opposite direction.  After setting up the new approach and briefing it, as we descended to the airport on the approach the burning smell in the air intensified and the temperature increased.  We spotted the airport a few hundred feet AGL and were wondering how people were surviving breathing that stuff.

The next morning, we departed at about 5:30 am in the dark on a SID (Standard Instrument Departure).  A few minutes earlier another Cessna 172 departed VFR.  We both questioned the decision as we were surrounded by mountains, it was dark, and the intense smoke cloud hovered above us.

Totality was awesome. As we arrived from Medford at about 7:20 am the morning of the eclipse, the weather was severe clear, the Salem Airport tower was welcoming, and the ground crew did a great job of organizing the ramp and parking airplanes. The ramp was full with about 150 airplanes with a mix of general aviation and about 15 jets. And finally, I appreciated the meaning of the 1972 song lyrics by Carly Simon “you flew your Learjet up to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun”. The Flight Deck Restaurant provided a buffet breakfast, and created a friendly place to sit overlooking the runway to watch the eclipse. As totality approached we all waited in anticipation, and then the sky turned very dark as the airport lights went on, and we all took off our eclipse glasses to view the incredible, some say “life changing” event.

The flight home was unbelievable. I don't think there have ever been more airplanes in the sky, as one controller put it “there are MILLIONS of you out there”. In addition, we were in IMC for over an hour at 11k due to smoke, with airplanes surrounding us on all sides. ATC was saturated and denied all VFR flight following, but it was IMC where we were anyway. Apparently, that did not deter these pilots from flying though the smoke. We had airplanes all around us (thankful – or not - for our ADS-B which displayed masses of them) at odd + 500 (and in between altitudes) and ATC was not talking to any of them. They provided no vectors to us for avoidance, only position reporting - really surprising and pretty scary since we were on an IFR flight plan.  The MVA, (minimum vectoring altitude) may have been very high due to the mountainous terrain and ATC may have had no options.

I wonder how many pilots chose to wait it out rather than attempting to fly VFR in IMC.  We heard only one pilot choose to do a 180 and land.

The instrument rating proved invaluable, as now Steve is a believer.  But when on an IFR flight plan, in class E airspace, you are only guaranteed separation from other IFR traffic.  This was a very unique situation with smoke rather than clouds, but eye opening and something to ponder when flying in IMC.


Matt Debski, Aircraft Owner WVFC

ADS-B and Flying to the Eclipse (But Not in Oregon)

I've got a buddy who lives in Bozeman, Montana.  Four years ago, my family and I flew out there in our Archer.  Since then, we've added a 182 and a second son to the fleet.  Way back in January, we planned another Great Western Flying Adventure to visit him.  The Belmont-Redwood Shores School District calendar dictated that the trip would be around August 12 through August 22.

Then, around March this year, I learned about the Great American Eclipse.  By pure happenstance, our trip to Bozeman coincided with this epic event.  We adjusted the trip to accommodate a stop in the path of totality on way back from Bozeman.

A few weeks before the trip, I started looking into which airport would be the best choice.  There were a few airports in the mountains of Idaho plus Rexburg and Idaho Falls.  I wanted to have options in case we got to the airport hours before the eclipse or were going to be stuck for hours afterward, so that eliminated the mountain airports.  I was able to find more information on the Idaho Falls FBO page than Rexburg, so chose Idaho Falls.  We planned to arrive about a half hour before the eclipse began and depart as soon as reasonable afterward.

The morning of August 21st had beautiful weather predicted for Bozeman and Idaho Falls, with some restricted visibility in Montana due to forest fires.  We took off about as planned, picked up Flight Following out of Bozeman and headed toward Idaho Falls.

Shortly after departure, we heard many other aircraft checking in for Flight Following to Idaho Falls.  We were told that as we got within about 100 miles, ATC would no longer be able to provide services due to the number of aircraft.  Sure enough, one hundred miles out Flight Following was terminated.

Last fall, I had an Garmin GTX 345 put into the 182.  This is an ADS-B transponder with ADS-B In capability.  If you connect an iPad running ForeFlight to the transponder via Bluetooth, ForeFlight will display traffic and weather information from ADS-B In.  The flight during the last hundred miles to Idaho Falls, and back to San Carlos after that, proved the value of ADS-B In.

Rexburg lies about 20 miles northeast of Idaho Falls and is non-towered.  The ADS-B traffic display showed airplanes descending on Rexburg from all directions.  I don't know what it was actually like to operate into the field that day, but I'm also not unhappy I didn't try (triple negative).  The ADS-B traffic also allowed me to avoid the aircraft heading into Rexburg from my general area.  While I kept my head outside the plane looking for traffic, having cues on where to concentrate was great.

The controllers at Idaho Falls were on top of their game.  There was relatively little traffic coming from the northeast, where we were coming from, so we were given instructions to make a straight-in approach from six miles out.  We changed runways about two miles out.  The ground crew had us parked, fueled, and on our way to the lawn to watch the eclipse in less than twenty minutes.

There are better articles than this to read about the eclipse itself.  I will say that observing the total eclipse was a life-changing experience.  I expect that I'll figure out how to see the next total eclipse in the continental United States in 2024.

After the end of totality, people started heading to their aircraft to depart.  Again, the FBO and the controllers did a fantastic job getting people on their way.  I have waited longer on the ground at San Carlos on a busy training day than I did waiting to depart Idaho Falls.

The usefulness of the ADS-B In displays helped a few more times on our way back from Idaho Falls to San Carlos.  First, the territory between Idaho Falls and Reno is sparsely populated.  There was nobody on the Center frequency and we saw almost no traffic.  However, the one airplane we did see intersected our track within a mile and at less than one thousand feet altitude separation.  We altered course to make the distance larger, but I'm not sure I would have spotted that traffic without the help of the ADS-B traffic display.  It is hard to remain constantly vigilant in such wide-open spaces.

The final bit of outstanding utility was observing the weather patterns over the Sierra Nevada as we prepared to cross.  I had planned to fly over South Lake Tahoe and follow US 50 to the Central Valley.  However, both visually and on the weather display it was clear that weather over South Lake was not something to tangle with.  The weather display showed purple splotches (heaviest precipitation) and the view out the window was cumulonimbus.  The question now was whether a path over Donner Pass and following I-80 would work for us.  There was a large buildup just north of 80, but from Reno and Truckee, it was hard to tell what it was doing.  The ADS-B weather display was able to help.  It showed the cell moving slowly northeast, with only very light echoes on the southern edge.  We decided to press forward.  The views were great as we passed well clear of all the weather and made it home in time for dinner.

In-cockpit weather and traffic has been possible for a while, via XM radio and various traffic systems.  As the ADS-B mandate goes into effect on January 1, 2020, almost all aircraft in the Bay Area will be equipped with ADS-B Out equipment.  I expect most will also equip with some version of ADS-B In, whether it's an in-panel display or a transponder with Bluetooth or WiFi connection to a tablet.  

Some aircraft are already equipped with this equipment.  Check out the WVFC Aircraft pages to discover which.  If you fly an airplane with ADS-B In available via a tablet, study the Manual to figure out how to connect and start to enjoy the benefits. 

If you're interested in more details about ADS-B, I'm presenting a WVFC Safety Seminar on Monday December 11 at 7pm at the WVFC San Carlos location.