Letters

The Perfect Howard

May 1, 2011

Thanks for capturing the essence and phenomenal achievement of Bruce Dickenson’s fabulous DGA–21 (“ The Perfect Howard,” March 2011 AOPA Pilot). Around Santa Paula Airport, Bruce’s nickname is “The Howard Guru” or just plain “Guru.”

His skills are apparent in looking at Mr. Dickenson, but he is also an incredibly generous source of help to other old airplane guys—always ready to machine a part, help time an engine, or lend a tool.

Roger Orr, AOPA 832042

I enjoyed reading the article on “ The Perfect Howard.” It was extremely well written, something that isn’t common in most publications. The subject matter spoke of passion and execution, not just pretty and shiny. There is a part in each of us pilots that appreciates individuals like Bruce Dickenson. His focus, determination, and commitment are qualities we value. 

Bern Heimos, AOPA 942685
Laguna Niguel, California

Dogfight: Run the tank dry?

In all the run-the-tank-dry-or-not dogfights, and with all the instructors I’ve encountered in my 42 years of flying, no one ever addresses where the gas is in a wing tank (“ Dogfight: Run the Tank Dry? March 2011 AOPA Pilot). In my opinion, this is more important than whether or not to run a tank dry. In a 45-gallon fuel tank that is seven-inches thick and 40 inches long, those last five usable gallons (less than 20 minutes worth) can easily be at the far end of the tank, unporting the fuel line if the ball is not exactly centered. There goes your planning for a dry or almost-dry tank. An uncoordinated standard-rate 180-degree turn (one minute) is enough to starve most systems.

The fuel follows the ball. If the ball is toward the far end of the tank, so is the fuel. Any time a tank is one-quarter full or less, it is good practice to monitor the turn coordinator to make sure the ball is at least exactly centered.

At least? Centered is not good enough for me when the tank gets real low—I make sure the ball is very slightly leaning toward the wing root end of the tank in use, so I know the fuel is against the ports. I elect not to run a tank dry, but I routinely get one tank down to two gallons, without any surprises, by keeping the ball in the correct direction. 

When in doubt, step on the gas tank in use, and the ball and the gas will go toward the wing root end of the tank. This technique will quickly help determine which low tank to switch to for a crosswind landing slip (it’s the high-side, downwind tank), so the fuel does not unport on final.

Gene Dillahunty, AOPA 1004027
Half Moon Bay, California

 I’ll have to go with Tom Horne on this one. As a ferry pilot (of piston and turboprops) I would run a tank dry (in pistons only) if fuel was becoming a concern but was not a threat to the flight. I would not do it with any passengers. 

Dave Hirschman makes the argument that if it were advantageous, the airlines would do it. An airline pilot (or any other pilot) would never run a turbine-powered airplane fuel tank dry and try a restart. He says that with “digital fuel computers” there is no need. I guess that more than half the fleet of piston-powered stuff out there does not have that fuel-monitoring equipment. 

When anticipating a dry tank is very soon, I prepare to make the switch, and the autopilot doesn’t seem to know about it! If my attention gets called away, I switch the tank to a fuller tank before attending to the next duty, and go back later if I want to run it down further. Again, not with passengers, but then, Horne said that too.

Thanks for a great article to keep us all thinking, you guys! 

Rick Hesson, AOPA 650579
Pasadena, Maryland

There is no reason for flying with less than one hour’s fuel left. If you do, there is a fool at the controls! I have more than 25,000 hours in J–3s to B767 ETOPS operations. I’m a 53-year pilot and still instruct, mostly mountain flying. I fly a Cessna 180 and a taper wing Waco biplane. Writing articles like this may sell copy, but it sure gives inexperienced pilots the wrong idea. When I use the term “inexperienced,” I mean somewhere under 10,000 hours. Fuel is sacred and nothing to mess with.

Robert D. Patrick, AOPA 876981
McCall, Idaho

If a pilot is flying solo, then a pilot should do whatever is prudent when needing max performance from the aircraft. However, no pilot flying with passengers—who are entrusting that pilot to safely get them to a destination—should ever breach that trust by testing the limits of the aircraft and thereby causing passengers to even remotely feel their safety is threatened by any action that the pilot has the option of not having to do, to complete the flight. In other words, when flying with passengers fly with an extra margin of consideration for those passengers.

Duane McCardle, AOPA 1164157
Portland, Oregon

Over water worth the risk?

I held my breath as if trying to escape my sinking Skyhawk while reading Thomas B. Haines’ “ Waypoints: Over Water Worth the Risk?” (March 2011 AOPA Pilot). I—and many Southern California pilots—fearlessly fly over water. We fly to Catalina Island, landing on the deceiving “Airport in the Sky,” craving a buffalo burger. We fly over Big Bear Lake at 7,000 feet msl on approach for a day of snowboarding. We traverse the Sea of Cortez with the Baja Bush Pilots Association searching for whales and tequila (eAPIS notwithstanding). We cross enormous Pyramid Lake en route to 88NV, the officially recognized temporary airport of the Burning Man festival in northern Nevada. 

Like Haines said, risk assessment is a personal decision. Me? I ride a motorcycle to work on the LA freeway almost every day. I surf big waves and I fly small airplanes. I’ve known what vertigo feels like. A big-wave wipeout is akin to the spin cycle in a saltwater washing machine. It sucks, but it’s survivable if you don’t panic—follow your bubbles up. 

Cabo san Lucas direct Puerto Vallarta? Two and one-half hours over water? I say an unequivocal yes!  Just monitor 121.5 mHz, say a prayer, and buckle that shoulder harness!

Mark Halvorsen, AOPA 3584574
Yorba Linda, California

I wanted to let Tom Haines know how much I enjoyed his “ Waypoints: Over Water Worth the Risk?”article. When I owned my Piper Comanche, I used to regularly fly across Lake Michigan to visit family in Detroit, and I also made several trips to the Bahamas—from Walkers Cay in the north to Freeport, Nassau, Bimini, Rum Cay, and Long Island. One of the cheapest vacations I ever took involved middle-of-the-week hops to resorts that were virtual ghost towns other than on weekends.

I guess [flying over water] all depends on one’s comfort level. I now own a Cessna 150 and rent a Piper Arrow II for cross-country trips. I wouldn’t trust a rental over open water and the lengthly exposure in a 36-year-old Cessna 150 increases the pucker factor beyond my level of comfort these days.

Tom Korzeniowski, AOPA 518816
Elgin, Illinois

Tom Haines responds: I agree—if I didn’t know the airplane as well as I do, I wouldn’t be as comfortable as I am across the water. The first year I owned my Bonanza, I flew it around Chicago and up to Oshkosh rather than across the lake. And that was the only year I have ever had a maintenance issue in flight—go figure!

A new dawn?

I have been watching with heightened interest the concern over a declining pilot population. Since soloing at the age of 17 more than 31 years ago and being a CFI since the age of 21, I feel I can speak with some credibility (“ Safety Pilot: A New Dawn?” March 2011 AOPA Pilot).

When I started flying, a Cessna 150 could be rented with an instructor for roughly $32 an hour including fuel. Today that same 150 with an instructor would cost $130 an hour where I live, which is the same area as 1979. That is about a 400-percent increase in 31 years. Whether the root cause is the cost of fuel, insurance, or the necessity of an FBO to remain solvent, is a pretty moot point.

Current statistics showing the increased sales of high-end aircraft are indicative to the future of aviation. It very well will be a wealthy person’s mode of travel—with the chosen few piloting as hired hands.

Michael G. Gard, AOPA 699044
Highland, Indiana

Clarification

From Rod Machado: In my article “License to Learn: Too Anxious to Fly Alone” (January 2011 AOPA Pilot), I want to make it clear that I’m not advocating that pilots with debilitating anxiety fly in spite of that anxiety. Debilitating anxiety needs to be dealt with on a professional level. On the other hand, my article was intended to suggest that some pilots can learn to cope with their fears, which diminishes their anxiety to the point where it no longer affects their performance aloft. (See “ High Anxiety,” April 2011 AOPA Pilot.)

Erratum

In “ Say Again” (March 2011 AOPA Pilot ) the answer to question number two was wrong. The Republic F–84G was named the Thunderjet. The Thunderchief was the F–105, which was also built by Republic. AOPA Pilot regrets the error.