Mack

About Mack
Mack

Hey, there! This is Mack speaking (although Skylar likes to joke around and call me Mach). I will be your pilot for this evening or any time really. Seriously though, I've flown all around this round ball of land and sea they call the world and know what it takes to have a safe flight. If there's one thing I've learned in the cockpit it's that communication is key. Let me talk to you and share any insight I can provide so you can take off or land when and where you want. Roger that?

Cockpit Commentary: A Trip to the Past

Flying is dangerous.

That is the somber sentiment I am reminded of from time to time.

Human beings are not naturally gifted with the ability to defy gravity. Yet we did it—at least through innovation and technology. Unfortunately, with such triumph came sacrifices. A lot of trials, tribulations, and tragedies were the expenses paid for sustained flight. But we persevered, evident by the mundane modern flight we experience every day.

As a global society, most of us almost intuitively understand the benefits of air travel; they are immeasurable. Flying saves time, it saves money. It’s good for business. There are countless ways it has collectively improved our lives, directly and/or indirectly.

Commercial flight has been around for decades. What’s your business? What’s your pleasure? Going on vacation? Let us take your bags. Let us accommodate you and make your trip enjoyable.

Originally, that was the ideal vision of air travel and for awhile I suppose it existed. But that fairy tale is pretty much just dust in the wind.

Since 9/11, air travel has been anything but novel and flying seems anything but convenient. The word “luxury” exists but in smaller supplies. Don’t expect a full meal; you’ll get a bag of peanuts and like it. Fees for this and fees for that. Oh wait, you can’t bring that nose clipper on board because it might be a grenade launcher. Security is tight. Terrorism pervades the tarmac. Flight is seriously not a prelude to fascination and fun.

My sunglasses have long ceased to be rose-colored.

More planes in the air mean tireless coordination and navigation to minimize collision. And in addition to increasingly screwy weather in the last few years, there’s an even greater possibility for delays.

You know what else causes delays? Mentally unstable individuals that cause chaos in airport terminals.

I’m sure many of you reading are well aware of the recent LAX incident. It’s sad. Whenever such stories crop up (which seems to be more and more frequent) I shake my head and wonder why. Why do we, despite elevated security, continue to witness threats like this in the news?

I don’t have an answer. But my thoughts often make we wish I could take a special trip to the past, when something like a terrorist on a plane was as uncommon to the natural order as flying cars.

I found this clip. It’s a 1958 Pan Am commercial that displays their 707 jet service.

Would you look at that food? Would you look at that service? The dishes and meals look like a five-star restaurant! Air travel certainly seemed much better.

Of course, that is only a matter of perspective. Flying was comparatively much more expensive right after WWII. The perks of flying were much different as well. Would you rather play with a puzzle (1950s) or watch a Blu-Ray of the latest blockbuster (today)? Would you rather be able to light a cigarette (1950s) or be squished by a nearby passenger’s encroaching waistline?

There are merits and advantages to both decades of flight. I’m not about to begin to tell a reader that the 1950s was perfect for aviation. Watching the above clip might be painful but is it as painful as being poked and probed by TSA officials? That’s your call.

I guess the point of my ramblings is to show that while air travel has advanced considerably, we still have a ways to go. And while more complicated security measures are sure to be enacted, I often yearn for a simpler time. A time when entering a plane wasn’t a pain and your head was filled with wonder not the effects of a migraine produced by bureaucratic red tape.

I guess for now I will have to be content with putting on the occasional rose-colored pair of sunglasses.

“Jet-Hiking”: Adventurous, but is it safe?

The other day I read an article on CNN entitled, “10 things the U.S. does better than anywhere else.” Two items on the list: national parks and road trips. I think after what you’re about to read, though, you’ll find that trips don’t have to be limited to the road.

jet-hiking

Logo for Amber Nolan’s website. I like the Fonz-inspired thumbs-up. Aaaaaviation (Sorry, bad pilot puns are a staple around these parts).

I recently came across a Yahoo article on the subject of what some are calling “jet-hiking.” I know, I know, it’s a Yahoo article (hey, they can sometimes publish good reads that don’t make you want to skip right to the comments). Before you throw your empty oil cans at me, I just want to discuss it for a second.

First, “jet-hiking” is a misnomer. Amber Nolan, the young woman behind this aerial escapade, is flying pretty much exclusively in General Aviation (GA) aircraft. Last time I checked, GA does not equate to jet propulsion. Perhaps ‘jet’ is more sexy in Internet speak or perhaps when she launched her website promoting it, GA-hiking.com was already a taken domain name. Regardless, the concept of hiking across the country only by plane got my attention.

The Yahoo piece is a flash article, giving you an overview of Amber Nolan’s “No-land” transportational journey. She plans on traveling through the skyways to all 50 states. I found a clip of Miss Nolan being interviewed at EAA’s AirVenture 2013:

It seems like a bizarre idea for someone to just say “You know, what? I woke up this morning and want to fly across the country with strangers.” That type of care-free attitude is indicative of someone with an affinity for tree-hugging. And bark has bite.

Why is she doing this? If you did a fly-by evaluation you would think this attempt is purely nonsensical.

But then you find out she is a travel writer who plans to develop a book based on her experiences. Writers, or those familiar with their situation, know that you have to often go on adventures so that you have enough material to develop an engaging story. Do something out of the ordinary or unusual and the chances of your story being published become more than just thoughts in the clouds.

Still, it’s no giant revelation that it’s dangerous to hitch-hike—no matter what the incentive. This isn’t our grandfather’s America and it isn’t modern-day Canada. We don’t leave our doors unlocked anymore. And if we can’t even trust our neighbors, why would we trust strangers? All I’m saying is that I’m concerned for her safety, as any half-way decent pilot should be. I hope she doesn’t get lost or stuck in the middle of nowhere. Maybe she should consider carrying the SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Tracker and Messenger.

But Nolan has been courageous enough to face the wind head-on. And the GA community has helped her meet most of her goal. The above video said she had traveled to 36 or 37 states; the Yahoo article (posted September 21, 2013) currently has her at 42 states. Only eight states left, including Alaska and Hawaii. The latter state might pose a problem for her since GA aircraft might not have what it takes to cross the Pacific. However, we shall see.

Her journey is probably not ground-breaking. But if you ask me it is certainly uplifting. It is refreshing to see something like this.

I perused Nolan’s website. This self-proclaimed “JetHiking Gypsy” has set up links to several non-profit organizations that work within and/or through the aviation community including Dreams of Flight (outlet to inspire young women to fly); Operation Prop (Wounded Warrior and disability-based organization); and Angel Flights (volunteer pilots for humanitarian efforts). There are fewer things more important during an adventure than spreading the word and cultivating charitable action during the process.

No matter the result, no matter the criticism by those who do not understand, on behalf of SkyGeek, I salute Amber Nolan for showing the general public the generous side of the GA community.

FAA to Discontinue Direct-to-the-Public Subscriptions and Sales of Aeronautical Charts

The aviation community depends on many things and among them are aeronautical charts. While the importance of these charts remains, the means of distributing them to the public and to pilots in particular is set to change.

Within the next three months, the FAA will discontinue their direct-to-the-public individual sales of paper aeronautical charts and related paper products. The official release of this statement on the organization’s website reads:

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is taking this action to reduce costs, improve efficiencies and enhance and modernize the service provided our customers and the aviation community.

Effective July 1, 2013, as current subscriptions expire, we are discontinuing our direct-to-the-public subscription sales of paper aeronautical charts and related paper products. Current subscriptions will be filled through their applicable expiration date and we will continue to offer individual (other than subscription) paper sales through our aeronav.faa.gov website until October 2013

Currently targeted for October 1, 2013, we will then discontinue all other direct-to-the-public individual sales of paper aeronautical charts and related paper products. Subsequently, all future individual purchases, and subscriptions of our aeronautical paper products will be sold expressly through the FAA’s worldwide network of authorized chart sales agents. A list of these agents is available at: Chart Agents in Your Area.

For additional assistance, please contact us at: 9-amc-aerochart@faa.gov or by phone at 800-626-3677. Additional updates will be posted as they are available.

Based on the above, you can see that like many businesses and/or organizations, the FAA is trying to streamline their operations. Obviously, with many processes of modern flight shifting toward the implementation of all things digital, this move is not really surprising. Also, everyone appears to be on a tighter budget these days, so any measures that cut costs and have things run more smoothly makes sense. It was a practical move and a logical progression given the constant need to upgrade due to newer technology.

So, how does this affect you, the consumer? It doesn’t really—at least not that much. Many of you are already tech savvy and for those who are more traditional with your charts, you will simply find that fewer places (brick-and-mortar especially) will carry it after October 1, 2013.

Don’t concern yourself too much. Fortunately, SkyGeek falls under the “authorized chart sales agents” designation. If anything, those of you who already subscribe to charts through our site are safe. Those who make individual purchases are safe too, however, you may just have more people vying for the charts we have in stock.

FAA Safety Alert: New York Sectional, New York TAC, Boston TAC

Mack here with an update.

Below is a Safety Alert from our buddies at the FAA. It concerns effective date changes of Visual Flight Rules (VFR) charts in the Northeast U.S., specifically New York and Boston. The Safety Alert reads:

The effective dates for the New York Sectional Chart, New York Terminal Area Chart, and Boston Terminal Area Chart are being changed. The next editions of these charts (87th, 85th, and 82nd respectively) will be effective July 25, 2013 to November 14, 2013. The current editions of the New York Sectional Chart (86th), New York Terminal Area Chart (84th), and Boston Terminal Area Chart (81st) will remain effective until July 25, 2013. Please refer to the Aeronautical Chart Bulletins section of the Airport/Facility Directory for updated information regarding major changes in aeronautical information that have occurred since the last chart publication date.

If you don’t have it already, get the latest Northeast U.S. Airport/Facility Directory.

We realize it is well before July 25, 2013 but as with the purpose of the alert, better safe than sorry. We figured we’d give you some advanced warning. As all of you know, using an obsolete chart for navigation is reckless and dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. Don’t do it. Be prepared.

For all those affected by these changes, make sure your charts are up to date. Purchase or subscribe to any or each of these charts by clicking the links below:

New York Sectional Chart

New York Terminal Area Chart

Boston Terminal Area Chart

As for those who enjoy looking at the fancy FAA seal, you can view the official Safety Alert release.

As always, have a safe flight.

Got Your Ears On? A Guide to Headsets

As a pilot there is little doubt which piece of equipment is often regarded as top gun. Headsets. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say that one can feel naked without them. And if you have no means of communicating while flying, in many cases you may as well be flying blind.

Amongst the various pilot lingo used in aviation there’s one phrase that seems fitting when discussing headsets: “Got your ears on?” Are you on air and listening? SkyGeek has compiled some information that you can log into your noggin.cartoon-headset

Headphones or Headsets?

Of course we all know that aviation headsets are more than glorified headphones. Whereas headphones are primarily used for listening to music, headsets offer so much more since they have to compensate for variances in pressure and altitude–something not experienced in your average home.

For starters, wearing headsets is a way to reduce ambient noise. A plane is a battleground of sounds competing to annihilate your ear drums. Engines, propellers, gears, hail, airflow— these are just some culprits you want protection from. Prolonged exposure to high decibel levels (with planes, think of a leaf blower on steroids) will inevitably lead to hearing loss. Thus, headsets are a recommended means of avoiding damage to your ears. (Some say they should be mandatory and really, if you are repeatedly exposed to any kind of loud noise why wouldn’t you wear them, but that is a debate for another time).

The other highlight of a headset is its enhanced communication capabilities. Whether it’s between passengers or other planes or air traffic control (ATC), headsets are designed for radio transmission and reception, a device for relaying messages. Unlike headphones, many headsets have microphones in addition to speakers.

A headset is a big-ticket item that, depending on your preferences, may be pricier than expected. Headsets without all the bells and whistles can be under $100 but the high-end ones can easily exceed $600. So the more knowledge you have the more sound your purchasing decision.

It’s time now for a little cockpit commentary.

Features/Terms

When buying headsets, ever encounter terms that sound impressive but fly circles around your head? Here are a few phrases to part the clouds of confusion…

Attenuation – Fancy way of saying that your headset can reduce a signal with minimal distortion; measured in decibels (dB). Since attenuating something means to reduce it, a headset with high attenuation will reduce a lot of sound.

Frequency Response – The ability of a headset to reproduce audio frequencies; it is measured in hertz (Hz). This figure can be misleading as manufacturers may not accurately reveal a headset’s numbers, opting instead to present a range. You shouldn’t rely too heavily on this figure to make the final decision.

Impedance – Refers to a component on the headset that resists the electrical current passed through them; it is measured in Ohms. Should you look for low or high impedance? Like many answers, it depends. High impedance devices may not be compatible with older hardware so that may aural quality issues. Many modern systems will be able to adapt to both low and high impedance. Remember though, compatibility is key. Check to see if your headset fits with the system you are plugging it into, e.g. a low impedance headset and a low impedance system. Low and high either way may cause problems.

Electret – A combination of the word “electricity” and “magnet.” It refers to a material used in microphones that creates internal and external electric fields that support not only headsets but other electronic devices like GPS systems. It is mainly used so that a polarizing power supply is not needed. Electret microphones are usually considered high-impedance as opposed to dynamic microphones, which are associated with low-impedance. Dynamic microphones are commonly used in the military, in older model planes, and in helicopters.

Panel Powered – If a headset is labeled as “panel powered” it means you can use, say for instance, an ANR headset without batteries since you will receive power from the aircraft panel. However, when using this feature, make sure you have the panel specifically wired for this kind of headset. Otherwise, your headset may not be compatible with the aircraft radio and intercom installation.

TSO – An acronym that stands for Technical Standard Order. It is a minimum performance standard established by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). It is becoming increasingly more common for pilots to wear TSO-certified headsets. By following such a standard quality assurance can be monitored in regards to the equipment used. However, much controversy surrounds TSO-certification as some believe it is not necessary.

Passive vs. Active Noise Reduction

Aviation headsets usually highlight their ability to reduce noise levels because, as already mentioned, noise not only damages your ears but also interferes with communication. This is accomplished either passively or actively. Passive noise reduction (PNR) headsets mechanically block sound waves. They often consist of specialized ear cups that feature noise-proof insulation. A major benefit is their affordability, especially when compared to their active noise reduction counterparts.PNR headsets generally offer noise reduction up to 15 to 20 decibels.

In addition to the features of PNR headsets, active noise reduction (ANR) headsets often contain specialized microphones located outside each ear cup. Their claim to fame: their ability to cancel ambient noise with opposing sound waves. Of course, this added bonus tends to increase the price tag as it is more effective. ANR headsets reduce noise up to 30 decibels.

esterline-anr-pnr-graph

Visual aid showing the efficacy of active and passive noise reduction in a military setting. Graph provided by Esterline.

To give you a better idea of how PNR and ANR work in reducing noise levels, check out the graph provided by the folks at Esterline and compare the decibel levels with and without these reduction techniques. Based on the graph, you can see typical noise in military environments can easily exceed 100 decibels. But that’s just for ground vehicles. According to this same source, fast jets can approach 150 decibels, a level that exceeds the parameters of this graph! Even if you don’t fly military aircraft, this demonstrates the practicality of headsets that incorporate PNR and ANR technology.

Type

Once familiarized with some of the lingo, narrow your search for the right headset by choosing between type. This can be quite easy. The names indicate their use but just in case, here is a quick breakdown.

Military headsets are used in military aircraft, particularly those with a single jack (e.g. U-93A/U) and low impedance systems. Civilian helicopters with a single jack such as the U-174/U or U-93A/U will link up with helicopter headsets. Pilots who fly for a living on business airliners should investigate commercial headsets, which offer comfort to the cockpit environment. General aviation headsets are designed for fixed wing planes, especially those with two standard jacks—PJ-055 and PJ-068.

Headsets aren’t only for pilots but can be for passengers. Kids or adults with smaller head sizes will benefit from children headsets. SkyGeek even carries animal headsets for your pet pooch.

Brands

When it comes to selecting a headset based on brand, SkyGeek will not play favorites. Brand loyalty is something that is a personal choice; all manufacturers have their strong points. All we can do is offer you as many options as possible. That’s why we stock headsets from ASA , David Clark , Pilot USA , Telex , Sennheiser , FlightCom , Lightspeed , SoftComm , and Rugged Air. Clarity Aloft and Bose are other known and reputable brands.

blog-headphones

Illustration by Lauren Horgan©2013

SkyGeek recommends researching not only among the models within each brand but between the brands as well. As you examine the product pages of each headset you will come across overlapping features and will be able to discern one headset’s advantage(s) over another.

Final Thoughts

A headset is something that ultimately comes down to what feels right and what works best. Comfort is essential. Time and money are better spent on a headset that doesn’t weigh a ton or doesn’t crimp your ears. Use is another factor. If you are a professional or frequently fly to the point where you are practically sleeping in your cockpit, you don’t want to skimp on costs. When it comes to long term use, headsets made of durable material and cutting-edge designs (both which drive the cost upwards) will endure and provide the best return on investment. However, if you are really frugal and don’t see the need for advanced technology and top-of-the-line features, then buy something that is affordable. It all depends on your level of commitment to having the best protection and communication available given your budget.

References:
http://www.goodgearguide.com.au/article/296352/what_do_headphone_specifications_mean_/

http://www.ehow.com/list_7382196_parts-headset.html

http://uflymike.com/media/documents/UntanglingtheAirlinePilot-TSOHeadsetControversy.pdf

http://www.afeonline.com/shop/datasheets/headset_buying_advice.pdf

http://www.ehow.com/about_5375252_decibel-level-jet-plane.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electret_microphone

http://www.head-fi.org/t/571384/low-impedance-vs-high-impedance-huge-difference

http://www.airliners.net/aviation-forums/tech_ops/read.main/242986/

http://www.ablecomm.com/whdibeandhe.html

http://www.ehow.com/list_7382196_parts-headset.html