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2018 Q4 Newsletter

Steve Blonstein, General Manager WVFC

2018 – The year in review

At the beginning of each year, the club management, with support from the board of directors, puts together a plan for the year. It’s about this time of the year that we get to look back and reflect on how we did.  This is my chance to report on that progress.

There were 4 main areas of focus for the year:

1)    New member programs

2)    The fleet

3)    Infrastructure

4)    Safety Culture

New Member Programs.  We made several changes in this area for 2018.  First, we moved from a quarterly new member orientation to a monthly session. By the end of 2018 we were getting as many people attending the monthly session as we used to get for the quarterly session, so we are planning on continuing this approach for 2019.  We moved the monthly Palo Alto barbeques to just before the board meetings.  We not only increased attendance at the BBQ, but also to the board meetings, so we’ll be continuing this in 2019 as well.  We had three different ground schools running in 2018 with good attendance for most of the sessions so we’ll continue with this approach in 2019 as well. We also ramped up the number of safety seminars.  

From an event standpoint, we had our first ever Hightower Kids Day Camp.  This was well received and will appear again in 2019. We had our first ever Poker Run and we plan to repeat the event in 2019. We held our 46thbirthday party in August with one of the largest turnouts ever for a WVFC event and celebrated in true German style. Stay tuned for plans for the 47thbirthday party next year.  In 2018, we rolled out the ACH payment program and had a huge increase in the number of members participating.  We also introduced non-flying rates which helps alleviates the age-old problem of flight minimums and the cost associated with it. 

The Fleet. Once again, we’re going to miss our year-end goal for fleet size. Sigh.  We wanted to end the year at 55 aircraft and are likely going to end at 53.   There were some distinct highlights during the year.  We acquired two “new” Cessna 152s.  They’re bright yellow and are a lot of fun to fly and economical as well. The $100 hamburger at Half Moon Bay is once again achievable.  The Super Decathlon that the club owned was sold to a member and kept on the flight line. This is a win-win all around and we would like to repeat that model with other club acquisitions like the Cessna 152s. One of our trainee mechanics became an FAA A&P bringing us to three A&Ps, enabling 7 days a week maintenance availability. We also became a Cirrus Service Center and are building a lot more in-depth knowledge on Cirrus maintenance practices, saving both the owners and the club time and money.  We also opened a maintenance facility at San Carlos which has given us a much better place to service our San Carlos based fleet.  We’ve even taken the occasional Palo Alto plane there for service when the Palo Alto maintenance facility has been maxed out.

Still the biggest challenge is the fleet. We simply don’t have enough airplanes to meet demand and that’s frustrating for everyone involved. We continue to ask that every member seriously consider the possibility of airplane ownership for both their own purposes and to keep the club viable as we move forward.

Infrastructure.We made some important additions in 2018 to our infrastructure. We introduced Mac laptops at both locations and now we have both PCs and Macs, so hopefully everyone has a go-to machine.  We added several more loaner headsets for members needing extras for trips and tours. Schedule Master got a new interface, and there’s now support for calendar integration, something members have been asking about for years.  We upgraded the WiFi at San Carlos, and it seems to have been a much better experience in 2018.  We’ve also continued to decorate our walls with interesting artwork throughout the year. And last, but not least, we added a large banner above the club entrance at Palo Alto so it’s easier for prospective members to find us alongside our competition.

Safety Culture.  We reorganized the Safety Office into Fight Operations and Safety (FOS).  We hired a new Safety Manager, Jim Higgins, who leads the team.  The team included 4 members at the mid-year point, but due to various personal issues, the team at the end of the year is just two people. They are severely strained because of this and things like new CFI intake has suffered accordingly.  We will plan to address this in 2019 and get the group back to full strength.  From a safety aspect, we had a good year.  No significant accidents or incidents but unfortunately several minor ones, all of which take time and effort to address and ultimately affect our insurance program.  One additional highlight is that we did reach the 500thmember signing up for the DWP program which helps with the hassle of insurance claims for both the member and the club.

While we set the bar high for 2018, and we didn’t meet all the goals, we hope that the things we did do made a difference to you and the club at large.  As usual, I’m always open to suggestions and feedback to help make the goals for 2019. Thanks for continuing to help make WVFC one of the best places to fly in the area/state/country.

Safe Flying and Happy Holidays.


Jim Higgins, Director of Flight Operations & Safety WVFC


September 4, 2018 was a terrible day.  


That was the day I saw my first airplane crash.  After 30 years of doing all kinds of flying, I had never seen what greeted me when I arrived at PAO on that fateful Tuesday morning.  I’m sharing this analysis (my opinion only) candidly now in one small effort to help everyone avoid ever going through that.  Please, please don’t wait to go around.


The pilot (we will call him Pilot A) was doing an Angel Flight from Redding to Palo Alto that morning. Sadly, tragically, he waited too long to go around—and died because of it.  Fortunately, his 2 passengers survived, although with substantial injuries, but there will never again be an opportunity for that pilot to avoid tragedy by exercising his right, choice, and most importantly, his obligation to go around.  


As is typical, there are a number of links in this accident chain, but all of them could have been erased by executing a go around earlier than he did.  My point in discussing this is not to criticize or second guess Pilot A’s decisions that morning because all of us on safe ground have no idea of the entirety of his situation.  While we cannot “walk in his shoes,” we can learn and try to change our behavior in the future.  At least that’s my hope in writing this article.


On his approach and attempted landing, Pilot A faced a number of significant challenges so it is easy to understand how he found himself in so much trouble.  Smoke from the last round of fires produced familiar bad visibility — Pilot A reported being unable to see the airport from the Dumbarton Bridge.  After planning rwy 31, he was surprised to be given a left base for 13 due to a wind shift.  Planning to enter right downwind for rwy 31, he found himself high and fast for 13.  Mooney’s are notoriously difficult to land and extremely sensitive to speed and pitch attitude on touchdown. Pilot A had purchased this airplane earlier this year so it was still fairly new for him.  Also, the pressure of wanting to complete an Angel Flight without delay was no doubt on his mind.  And let’s face it, the PAO runway is fairly short and narrow, and relatively unforgiving.  


After multiple bounces/oscillations on the runway, including a prop strike that he was likely unaware of, with the end of the runway approaching quickly, he finally initiated a go around. Unfortunately, by that time his airspeed had decayed greatly.  On the climb out at about 200 feet, the Mooney stalled, dropped the left wing and did half of a spin into the water/mud next to the duck pond.


So, when is the right time for a go around?  The time for a go around is long before you are in trouble.  We need to actively monitor our approaches and look for the first sign that the approach is not going well.  That’s the time to go around!  Don’t wait until it’s obvious, because that will make the maneuver more difficult and therefore riskier than if you had started it earlier at your first sign that everything wasn’t as expected.  Too many pilots think a go around is an admission of a mistake.  But it’s really an opportunity to take control, be safe, and exert your will rather than sit back and hope for the best.  I’m not saying that was Pilot A’s issue by any means.  But I am saying, don’t let it be yours.  Please…


Dave Fry, WVFC CFI and Aviation Safety Counselor


Talk to Me, Goose!


That may not be everyone’s favorite line from “Top Gun”, but we all remember it.  It has a different meaning in this article, but it definitely is appropriate. All airplanes speak to their pilots, and good pilots listen, but you have to understand the language.


I just spent a week in Alaska working on Commercial Multi-Engine Sea flying a military configuration Grumman Goose, and without a doubt it speaks a language different from anything in the land-based club where I do much of my flying.   Peripherally, you used to be able to add the rating on at the ATP level, but now you need 50 hours PIC in Category and Class to qualify for the check ride – I have no idea if that’s EVER going to happen, or what bizarre (if welcome) concatenation of events would lead to it.




First of all, everything on the plane is over-engineered and overstressed and built.  If it’s both-engines-out glide ratio is reminiscent of what you get with a Diebold safe or some of your finer pianos, there’s a reason – it’s built like a tank.  An additional feature of this construction/weight is that in most airplanes if you find yourself a bit slow on final, you simply lower the nose a couple of degrees and if needed, add a bit of power to keep the descent path on the VASI.  In the Goose, you lower the nose, and pretty much nothing happens to the airspeed unless the new pitch attitude is ten or more degrees nose down from the previous pitch, in which case you MAY get the speed you need, but you’ll need to be patient and you’ll need to add a LOT of power to keep the same descent path.  The good and bad news simultaneously is that it’s a RARE waterway with a VASI or PAPI.


Second, there are LOTS of systems that are somewhere between “different” and “bizarre”.  “Quaint” doesn’t quite cover it.  For example, when’s the last time you saw a plane with split flaps?  OK, we’ve seen them on a Twinstar, but powered by vacuum from the carburetor?  It also has the normal radial engine quirks, such as hitting the starter and counting nine prop blades before turning the magneto on, and an oil capacity measured in gallons rather than quarts (five to six is normal, with four as a minimum).  This results in much longer than normal engine warm-up times, as the lower limit for RPM above 1000 is 40 degrees C. There is also a CHT limitation that is a minimum of 100 C for takeoff, but it’s reached WAY before the Oil temp gets up to 40.  By the way, checking the oil quantity is a combined exercise in gymnastics and mountain climbing.  You start by climbing the ladder toward the door, stand on the doorstep and climb up onto the trailing edge of the wing.  Then you walk up to the top of the wing and engine of your choice.  My preferred technique at this point is to straddle the engine nacelle and unscrew the oil dipstick.  It’s a LONG way down from up there, and I have a thing about heights.  Getting back down is even worse, since you can’t see where your foot is going and you have to feel for it while you’re far enough above the ground that you really wouldn’t want to fall.


It has a simple fuel system, and while it is unusual, it actually makes sense.  The fuel gages are clear vertical tubes filled with the fuel from the tanks (each with a small orange bead floating atop the fuel so it’s easy to see the top of the fuel column) that are calibrated on two scales: one for level on the water or cruise flight, and one for the taildragger position on land. The fuel selector valve has three positions, BOTH, LEFT, and RIGHT, and unlike most twins, there’s only one fuel selector, not one per engine.  







Both engines run off whatever is selected.  If “BOTH” is selected, the engines run off both tanks; if “RIGHT” is selected, both run off the right tank, similarly for the “LEFT” selection.  The Murphy’s Law Corollary to this is that if you select one tank and run it dry, BOTH engines quit.  See the glide ratio conversation above.  


The “Fuel Cross Feed” valve doesn’t actually cause fuel to flow from one tank to the other (there is no way to do that); it allows the engine-driven fuel pump on one engine to provide pressure to the other engine – a great way to prime the second engine.  


But before that (for starting the first engine), since there isn’t an electric backup fuel pump, you get to supply the fuel pressure by using a thing called a “wobble pump”, which you use with your right hand just over and behind your right shoulder.  Of course, it’s not actually that simple; before pumping, you have to select the engine to be primed, then while pumping you need to hold the primer switch on the overhead panel.




There’s little that’s electrical on the plane. If you have a total electrical failure, you lose radios, navigation, lights, the turn and bank indicator, and the pitot heat.  Nothing else on the plane is electrical.


Unlike most airplanes with retractable gear there is no back-up gear extension system, since the primary system is manual.  I suppose you could consider the second pilot (if you have one) to be the back-up.  There’s a lever (called a gear pawl) that determines which direction the gear will go when you crank.  




And, by the way, it takes about 40 turns of the crank whether raising or lowering the gear.  Some of the turns are so easy you aren’t even sure anything is happening, and some are so hard you want to get both arms in there.   Even more fun, this is done mostly while in the water. You taxi down a ramp into the water, and when you begin floating (steering with your left hand using differential throttles – there are no water rudders), you start cranking.  The first couple of times this results in some serious course deviations.  Same thing in reverse when returning to the ramp.


The power controls aren’t where you’re used to them being: The throttles, props, and mixture are on the overhead panel, as are the Flap controls, CHT, Oil Temp, Oil Pressure, Fuel Pressure, Carb Air Temp, and Outside Air Temp gages.  The Magnetos are up there, too.  And the configuration is a bit different, as well.  Instead of both throttles on the left of the power quadrant, both prop controls in the middle, and the mixture controls on the right, the mixture controls are on either side of the throttles and the prop controls are aft and above the throttles.  Carb Heat is even farther to the right.




The battery and alternator switches are on the side of the door into the cockpit – conveniently with a guard over them to keep you from breaking them off on your belt loop as you enter the cockpit. The Fuel Selector Control is directly behind the pilot’s head, and the Cross-Feed control is directly above the door into the cockpit.  The elevator trim control is on the right side of the pilot’s seat (which is not adjustable in any direction), and the rudder trim control is on the sidewall left of the pilot, as is the tailwheel lock.


For those of you that have flown floatplanes, the plugs on the hull are nothing like the squash ball jammed into the float that you may be used to.  They’re half inch screws removed from the lower part of each hull chamber by a ¼ inch Allen wrench. 




Plan on lying on your back or side removing and replacing them every day.  And there are a lot of them – 5 on the left side forward of the main step, 4 on the left side between the main and the secondary step, and three more aft of the secondary step.  There are also three back up plugs on the right mid side, as well as three on each of the wing floats.


The plane doesn’t have tailwheel steering; so, steering is done by a combination of differential braking, differential power, and rudder input.   When you’re in the water, of course, brakes simply don’t work.  You can press them, and the wheels don’t turn, but it’s an exercise in futility; the plane is going to keep moving as if you hadn’t touched the brakes.  I know. The word “klutz” comes to mind along with the occasional cramped calf muscle – lack of success didn’t keep me from trying.  Even on the land part of the taxi, the tailwheel seems to have a mind of its own. Just like the one on a Citabria, it can “break away” and move independently of any other input.  So, you brake a little, get nothing, brake more, still nothing, add some more brake, and now the whole aft end is swinging sideways with no control until you hit the opposite brake hard enough to make it stop swinging.  Leading the desired heading is critical.  And it works far better the second day of training than it does the first day.  I spent most of the ground taxi time moving slower than your doctor does when backing the Mercedes out of the garage. The most fun part of this (instructors think it’s fun, anyway) is that if you start the engines in the water, when the first engine is going, you begin turning, and there’s NOTHING you can do about it until you get the other one going.  The second time you do it, you prime both engines before starting the first one.


Takeoff is begun with the wheel all the way aft, and full right aileron (which is about 50 times what you use in the average turn entry – about 90 degrees of turn on the wheel.  With 900 HP between the two radials, there is a LOT of torque and P-factor wanting to make the plane roll to the left, so you kinda lock your forearm around the wheel and put your back into it to keep the wheel aft.  Even when trimmed, this is a VERY physical airplane. Ten minutes into the flight, I was sweating like a pig in a steam bath!  And I like to think of myself in some kind of shape (whatever the level of truth of that thought).


Bring the power up to 30 inches of manifold pressure to begin the takeoff.  As the speed comes up, so does the nose, and when it reaches its highest point, you lower it, take the flaps from zero to 30 degrees, and increase the power to max – around 35 inches.  Somewhere in the process, you get the wings level, all the while holding your heading and keeping the pitch at an attitude that will minimize the drag from the water. This is non-trivial.  A few degrees nose down from that attitude and you begin to porpoise.   A few degrees too high, you begin to porpoise.  But there is a sweet spot; you just have to fish around to find it – unless you’re the instructor, in which case the sweet spot is intuitively obvious, and you wonder why people have so much trouble finding it.


A few moments later you’re airborne, and the object, much like a ground-based soft field takeoff, is to accelerate in that attitude without really trying to gain altitude.  This is done while raising the flaps and reducing the power to 30 inches and 2000 RPM, and then you pitch up to climb out at 90 Knots. There are a couple of technique choices here regarding control forces.  You can leave the trim where it was for takeoff, in which case you get a full body workout and can forgo the trip to the gym after the flight, or you can use the trim, which means you are going to be doing that a lot.  In our club planes, I teach that anytime you change the airspeed, power, or flaps, trim to keep the plane doing what you want it to do.  This airplane is the reason for those rules (I didn’t know it at the time I adopted that rule, but sometimes I DO get it right.)


Some of the maneuvers required for the Commercial MES are the same as those required for a Commercial MEL or Commercial SEL, for that matter – steep turns, slow flight, stall recoveries.  On the other hand, you substitute glassy water landings for soft field landings, accuracy landings for short field landings – single engine approach and landings remain the same.  Then there is ramping and docking, step taxi, and “sailing”, which involves using the aerodynamics of the plane to move sideways while being blown backward by the wind.  This maneuver is 20 percent science, and 80 percent art.


At the end of my training, I had 10 hours of flight training in the Goose, but like most airplanes, especially complex ones, it will take MANY more before I even BEGIN to master it.  On the other hand, if you ever get the chance to end up in Anchorage for a few days – even if you don’t want to get an MES rating, visit the Goose Hangar ( and fly with Burke Mees.  He’s an insightful, totally professional instructor that will give you far more than your money’s worth.


And you get to fly a classic piece of aviation history that will talk to you in a language you’ll begin to appreciate.


I have hopes I can have the Goose talk to me again next year.


Lindell Wilson, WVFC CFI

Decision Making – The Pressure is ON!


 “The NTSB could not determine why these experienced pilots made inappropriate decisions that led to the accidents, the pilots may have been subject to self-induced pressure to start or complete the flight....” source NTSB reports. Sound familiar? Every year we hear reports about pilots making inappropriate decisions.

The NTSB became “especially” concerned about four accidents by experienced pilots involving volunteer medical transportation flights.  As a result, the NTSB recommended to the Air Care Alliance (ACA), a federation of organizations providing volunteer medical flights for patients, to create a pilot program to provide “...guidance, additional training, oversight regarding aeronautical decision making, focus on preflight planning, and risk awareness.”

Our flights may not be medical transportation flights, but all our flights are still voluntary. We can also easily become affected by the “pressure” to complete the flight. Examples... student pilot, I need to go on my cross country today because the weather will be bad for the next week... private pilot, I need to fly to Chico for a family wedding tomorrow... When the “pressure” is On, pilots (us) may be vulnerable to make poor decisions. Here are four examples mentioned in the NTSB reports detailing how other pilots made poor decisions (under pressure).

The first was a Beech 35 which crashed into a shopping center parking lot when the instrument rated pilot failed to maintain control during an instrument (ILS) approach. The pilot apparently had no recent record of instrument currency. 

NTSB details

The second was a Beech A36 which crashed on takeoff after hitting the airport glideslope antennas. The pilot unfortunately decided to takeoff downwind and possibly on the last one-third of a 5,000-foot-long runway. The 81-year-old pilot was also recovering from prostate cancer and had recently undergone 21 external radiation treatments. 

NTSB details

The third was a Socata TBM 700 which crashed after takeoff (during climb out). The private pilot with 5,688 hours had 58.4 hours in the last 30 days. Unfortunately, the pilot decided to takeoff downwind with winds gusting 25-33 knots. 

NTSB details

The fourth accident involved a Piper PA 32R who crashed after experiencing convective turbulence and became disoriented. The airplane was observed spinning out of the bottom of a cloud with part of a wing missing. Weather briefing information and GOES-12 satellite data showed cumulonimbus type clouds over northeast and southern Ohio where the accident occurred. Low-level dark gray clouds were observed in the area all morning, with darker clouds to the east at the time of the accident. The 57-year-old instrument rated private pilot had 1,949 hours and had flown 52 hours in the last 90 days. 

NTSB details

So why did these experienced pilots crash? They may have felt self-induced pressure to complete the flight because a patient was counting-on-them. As a result, they likely observed but decided to ignore critical flight risks during their preflight... instrument currency... downwind takeoff... poor weather conditions.

We can learn from their mistakes...)

WOW - Flyout Group



On Sept 20thwe had the treat of flying into Napa while their airshow was happening.  Lots of vintage aircraft and aviation related booths.  The Runway Restaurant (used to be Jonesy’s) provided a delicious lunch.



We had a great flight down to Santa Barbara on Oct. 20th.  It was clear all the way, mostly smooth air, and well attended with 12 participants and 4 airplanes.


Upcoming Flyouts:

December - Watts-Woodland (O41)
January - Watsonville (WVI Whale Watching)

Dates and locations are subject to change. Please contact Sue Ballew for further information (


Matt Debski, Aircraft Owner WVFC


Oshkosh 2018 Wrap-up


Both, (at least two but hopefully more) of my regular readers know that my newsletter article after July is a summary of my experience at EAA Airventure - Oshkosh.  Airventure is held in Oshkosh, Wisconsin during the last week of July.  It is understating the event to say that it's an airshow.  It's a weeklong festival of aviation, featuring airshows, forums, vendor displays, lectures, movies, and thousands of aviation lovers all in a single place.


Boy was this year well-attended!  Unlike previous years, I ended up attending the first few days of the show, arriving Monday evening and departing Thursday morning.  I had expected this period to be more relaxed than the later part of the week.  Perhaps it was, but it seemed as busy as the weekend days of the previous years.  Officially, attendance this year was 2% higher than last year...and last year featured the Blue Angels, a huge draw for the weekend days.  Overall, the grounds were bustling with people and aircraft.  While probably continuing as a reflection of the strong economy, it's still exciting to see so many people interested in aviation in one place.


This year featured a new event, the Lindbergh Innovation Forum.  This three-hour, open-to-anyone-interested event was comprised of three hour-long sessions, starting with presentations by industry luminaries followed by a moderated panel of the three presenters.  This was a real highlight of Oshkosh for me this year.  I almost would have made the trip to Oshkosh just for it.  The Lindbergh Foundation plans to hold more of these forums nationwide.  You can subscribe to receive updates at


For example, one of the speakers was Robert Hannaford, one of the co-founders of Air Shepherd.  Air Shepherd uses drones to fight poaching in South Africa.  They are one of few companies worldwide operationally deploying drones on a regular basis.  Their drones operate within South Africa's airspace system.  They operate beyond line-of-sight and mostly at night, when poaching generally takes place.  Mr. Hannaford discussed how they achieved this and next steps for expanding their operations.


The last few years at Oshkosh saw the introduction first of low-cost glass-panels migrating from the experimental aircraft world to certificated world, then autopilots.  This year witnessed some modest evolutions.  The STC'd autopilots added more aircraft models so that the technology is now available for more models.  There were a few new lower-cost, higher featured portable ADS-B In receivers, most notably from ForeFlight.  However, this was a bit of a slower year for product announcements.


The last new thing I tried this year, and would encourage you to experience when you're at Oshkosh, was the Vintage Tram Tour.  One of the great joys of Oshkosh is simply wandering among the aircraft.  Sometimes I strike up a conversation with the proud owner, but often I just look and move on.  Most of the time, though, while I can admire a nice-looking plane, I often don't really know what I'm looking at.  The Vintage Tram Tour is an hour-long tour through the Vintage Aircraft Area.  A knowledgeable volunteer narrates and shares personal experience as the tram makes its way through the rows of aircraft.  As each narrator is different and each year includes a different set of planes, the tour is different every time.  It was a blast to hear the stories and enjoy some time off my feet while still getting to see so many aircraft.  The tour is popular and there's no sign-up or reservations, so best to get to the Vintage area early in the day.  Note that there is also a Warbird Tram tour, which I took last year.  It is in the same area, but the Warbird tour is more popular so there are signups.


Now that Oshkosh 2018 is finished, I am already dreaming about next year.  If you have not yet made it to Oshkosh, I can't encourage you enough to attend.  If you have been, I don't need to tell you to make your plans for next year, because you already are.



Save up to $60.00 a year on regular dues or on regular family dues.  Simply prepay your membership for 2019 to start saving!


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Regular Family Members: $240

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