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2019 Q3 Newsletter

Steve Blonstein, General Manager WVFC

Changes and Challenges


A day doesn’t seem to go by without some change at Palo Alto or San Carlos airports.  I thought I would take this opportunity to bring you up to speed on what is changing, why, and how the timeline looks like for various upcoming projects.


Let’s start with San Carlos tower and operations at San Carlos.  First, the airport has renamed some of the departures and arrivals.  The expectation is that you know these new procedures if you’re using that airport.  


For example, the “Belmont Slough” departure that we have known for decades is no longer.  You would now ask for an “Oracle” departure.  The club has placed documents at both locations that show the new procedures.  This is a good time to also review the voluntary noise abatement procedures at San Carlos.  


Then there’s the situation in the tower.  As background, there are two types of control towers, FAA control towers and so-called “Contract” control towers managed by a company called Serco.  They do all kinds of things and it just so happens that running control towers, like SQL, is one of them.  They’ve been struggling with staffing for quite some time and it’s become obvious at San Carlos that the staffing shortage is taking a toll on the services they can provide.  We need to be patient (there are no silver bullets that we know of) as they struggle their way through these difficult times.  Their stress often shows up as less than ideal communications to the pilots using the services.  In the meantime, you’ll have to enhance your tolerance levels and let the bad stuff slide by.  We’re working with both the FAA directly and the folks at San Mateo County to try and get some improvements.


Meanwhile, at Palo Alto, copy down this taxi instruction. Taxi to West Valley via Zulu, Yankee 3, Yankee, Hotel, Golf, Hangar Side, hold short of the fuel island for opposite direction traffic.  Got that?  In contrast to the tower woes at San Carlos, the controllers at Palo Alto seem to do an amazing job rerouting aircraft on and around the ramp as the airport gets configured, reconfigured, and reconfigured again.  We’re in the final stages of phase 2 of the construction. Phase 3 (the final ramp phase) is likely next year when the club will be most affected as they tear up the ramp right outside our back door.  And they’ve still got to redo the runway, but that’s likely a 2021-2022 project.  


Then there’s the higher approach minimums for the GPS and VOR/DME approach to runway 31.  The standard minimum is (was) 460 feet but it went up to 640 and then 840 feet. Why?  Well you can thank the construction cranes down near Shoreline and Moffett.  When they rise to their maximum height, they protrude into the protected airspace and hence the minimums increase.  Oh, and did we mention that you might find yourself in left hand traffic for an entire pattern session at PAO.  Why is that? Well, Moffett has started to limit the number of times PAO has “extensions” into their airspace, so PAO handles that by keeping folks in left hand traffic.  This puts you over the homes in Palo Alto along highway 101 and it’s likely they’re not going to be thrilled with the new noise this creates, so please make every effort to fly as quietly as you can on that left downwind.


If you fly often at either airport you’ve probably already seen and experienced some of the above, but maybe now you understand a bit more of the why.  If you have not flown recently and show up in the next few weeks and months, be ready for these and other changes.


Fly Safe.


Jim Higgins, Director of Flight Operations & Safety WVFC


Don’t keep going...


Early last year I wrote in this newsletter about the perils and costs of careless taxiing. We had a bad run of 4 taxi mistakes that cost our insurance company over $100,000.  Unfortunately, we all share the financial pain equally so if you are paying a couple bucks more per hour now, you can guess why. Thankfully, in the 12 months that followed that article, we had exactly zero taxi incidents.  Maybe we got lucky?  But maybe we did a better job on the one task where being just a few inches off course can be so costly!  Regardless, we’re all thrilled with the outcome.


In that earlier article, I promised great fame for the next member to use a club airplane to hit a stationary object. Although I won’t put this member directly in the spotlight, this is an interesting case worth highlighting due to a series of unusual circumstances and responsibility shared among a number of people.


Here’s what happened:  the member was taxiing an SR22 back into one of the very tight rows outside the club where a C182 was diagonally sticking out partially blocking the lane — it was in the process of being pushed back into its spot, but the pilot had left it momentarily (hopefully because he was looking for a wing-walker).  


At the same time a member was returning a C172 a few minutes late so the next renter was already at the tie down ready to take over.  Together they all agreed not to tie it down so nobody realized that plane wasn’t quite all the way pushed back.  And because (of course!) both spots on either side of the 172 were empty, it was not immediately obvious that the plane was too far forward.  


So focusing on not hitting the original 182—you can see this coming—he kept going and hit the 172 instead.  The tip of the long-winged SR22 struck the spinner of the 172.  Remarkably, the damage was very minimal. And it’s interesting that so many pieces had to come together to make it happen.  It’s quite an incident chain:


182 paused while being pushed back

172 botched change of custody

Empty spots next to the 172

Long wings on the SR22

A narrow alley at PAO


This is not to let the member off the hook too easily though, as there is something he could have done to avoid the whole problem. It’s the same thing we all should do when faced with such a situation:  Stop. Shut down. Ask for help. Get out of the plane and look. Push or pull it by hand with the tow bar.  Ask Nate for help.  Heck, you probably wouldn’t even have to ask since he runs to help push back every plane he sees.  But whatever you do, please, don’t keep going.  For all you know there are four or five elements of an incident chain already there and waiting for you to contribute the final piece.


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. These statistics are similar to the FAA’s study.

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)


Join us for one of our upcoming flyouts!

September: Minden or Bridgeport
October: Castle
November: Auburn
December: Watts Woodland
Dates and locations are subject to change. Contact Sue Ballew ( for more information. 


Matt Debski, Aircraft Owner WVFC 

Head to Oshkosh

My third quarter newsletter article is usually about Oshkosh.  I return from AirVenture so excited about aviation -- all aspects of it -- that I feel compelled to share my experience with WVFC members.  This year, though, I want you to start planning to be at AirVenture Oshkosh next year.  I'll give a brief recap of what AirVenture is and why I've been going (almost) every year since 2009.  I'll share how I have experienced Oshkosh the past several years and include some alternatives.  Then, you can start planning on how you'll visit Oshkosh next year.  When Oshkosh comes around next year, we can plan for how to meet up in Wisconsin.

Oshkosh is the Experimental Aircraft Association's annual aviation extravaganza.  It's hard to call it a convention, as that sounds too stuffy.  It's so much more than an air show, though there is a world-class air show (or two) every day.  It's a week of air shows, static aircraft displays, talks by aviation luminaries, forums, workshops, demonstrations, shopping, and mingling with people who love aviation.  Here is a sample of some of the things I did this year, from midday Monday through Wednesday evening:

·watched a demo of how to hand prop an airplane and gave it a try myself

·took a narrated tram ride through war birds that had been flown into Oshkosh by their owners

·enjoyed a forum on differential diagnosis of aircraft engine problems by Mike Busch, one of my favorite writers on aircraft maintenance

·wandered over to the ultralights area in the evening to see an incredible performance of model airplane and model helicopter flying by some of the US champions

·watched the Wednesday night airshow, which this year featured not only fireworks and aircraft with pyrotechnics coming out of them, but also fireworks while airplanes with pyrotechnics coming out of them circled around them

·watched parts of the afternoon airshows, including firefighting aircraft demos dropping loads of water from nearby Lake Winnebago to put out piles of burning pallets

·listened to the Flying Cowboys, who put on the High Sierra Fly-In, talking about STOL flying and their approach to safety and the sport

·watched the opening night concert by The Fray, a band I listened to a lot a decade ago

·checked out the Urban Mobility Showcase, which had models of all the various machines that companies say will be carrying us from San Francisco to San Jose in a few years

·walked through the four gigantic exhibitor hangars, looking for information about oxygen systems, modern fuel gauges, and the latest in STC'd experimental avionics

·watched the Uncontrolled Airspace podcast being recorded, a podcast I've listened to for over a decade, and talked with the host of the podcast for a bit afterward

·checked out the new modifications to the AirCam (the airplane I'm currently dreaming of building one day) as well as checked out the Switchblade Flying Car

·met some Oshkosh locals as well as some coworkers from across the country at The Ruby Owl, an awesome tap room in downtown Oshkosh

I say this is a sample because this was just what I could remember off the top of my head.  If any of this sounds appealing, you can go deep into any one of these areas over the course of the week.  Whenever I read through the schedule of activities, I always want to be at three events simultaneously.

Another great thing about the event is that with the exception of actual rides in airplanes, everything is included in the admission price.  Once you're in, the show is your oyster.  There's no nickel-and-diming to force you to decide if a given activity is worth it.

So, how do you get to Oshkosh?  The most adventurous way is to fly in yourself.  That avenue is an article or Safety Seminar unto itself.  If you're interested in flying in, the best thing to do is find someone who has actually flown in.  Or a CFI.  If you want to fly in, drop me an e-mail.  If there's enough interest I'll organize a knowledge sharing session or seminar next year.  There's nothing like landing at Wittman Airport, taxiing to your parking spot, and having the marshal utter those magic words "Welcome to Oshkosh!"

If flying yourself is outside your time or monetary budget, you can fly commercial.  My preferred route is to fly into Chicago O'Hare, rent a car, and drive the two and one-half hours to Oshkosh.  While there are flights to Green Bay and Milwaukee, Chicago offers a great blend of convenience, reliability, price, and direct flights. 

Once you get to Oshkosh, there are a number of places to stay, all detailed on the AirVenture web site.  If you fly in yourself, you can camp with your plane.  If you drive, you can camp in Camp Scholler.  This is the route I've always chosen: being onsite means that you don't have to fight traffic to get on the grounds.  It's inexpensive.  The downside is that if you don't like to camp, you can't get around that.  Camp Scholler is also filled with RVs, so you could rent an RV for a few days to get the same experience.  Some WVFC folks have done that.

You can go a more standard route of Airbnb, hotels, and other options.  This is an exercise left to the reader.

Finally, there are college dorm rooms available.  The Airventure web site provides links to the local college to reserve these rooms.

As Oshkosh approaches, EAA starts to send more and more teasers as they confirm various attendees.  About a week or so before the event, I usually start marking things in the AirVenture app that I'm interested in attending.  Then, at the event, based on what I've seen, my energy level, and just general feeling I'll decide what I'm going to try to see in a given day.

As in previous years, I hope I've managed to convey some of the awesomeness that is Oshkosh.  If you're interested in going next year, shoot me an e-mail.  I'll get in touch as I start doing my planning around May and urge you to go put concrete plans into motion.