The Amazing Honeywell Apex on PC-12NG

It is embarrassing to realize as I progress on the PC-12NG that I am still probably using about half of the available features in the Honeywell automated flight deck. We utilize an SOP-driven series of activities and do not always innovate or explore in daily flight. To be fair this is the sensible and safe procedure. Using your sharpened and familiar tool kit with passengers on board is safer than innovating as you intercept the final approach to minimums! On longer level legs we usually challenge each other by reverting displays or playing “what it” and navigating by VOR or trying to immediately generate a gliding distance option in the case of a hypothetical engine shut-down. (Glide 92 miles from 30K feet agl)

Today with a hurricane off shore and winds topping 50K *and* low IFR at the islands, we are in a safety stand down situation so I am powering up the NG in the hangar and playing with all the buttons. The Aspen FlightStream connect capability is especially exciting. How efficient to load a flight plan direct from the iPad to the plane’s nav system. This network already provides download and transmission of all our engine and operation parameters direct to our maintenance department. Watch this video to experience the pilot side of some of this electronic magic:

And still an amazing stick and rudder, fun to fly airplane:

And continuing to improve:


Making Dreams Come True

We fly for both Jetsmarter and Blade and try to make dreams come true; “Escape the city” is the promise and (effortlessly) get transported to the islands. Our schedule populates onto a phone app. through dispatch as the customers schedule. We also pick-up business from other Pilatus outfits (Tradewinds and Plane Sense are big ones) if they get overbooked. It is not uncommon to be waiting at KTEB for our passengers in the FBO and surprise us arriving out on the ramp in helicopters (usually with a drink in hand).

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They spend a lot of money on “terminals” that they staff with cute young women (and more drinks). Unfortunately, they often are not too aware of aircrew and security requirements. I had to show them how to turn on the handheld radio so they could receive our “in range” call and prepare for passengers.


All the hubs get crazy from time to time and everyone waits. This is similar to gridlock on the highway except you don’t have the benefit of seeing a tangible impediment to progress (“Why are we waiting?”) In the NYC airspace there is never IFR “Direct To” anywhere so we copy VORs, fixes and airways (just like 10 years ago in “normal airspace”) Filing the correct altitudes are critical to obtaining the more direct routing and avoiding the “Big Dipper Route” through the middle of MA. Recently on the way to Cleveland we received a 300 mile “direct to destination” and the other pilot confessed he had never encountered this privileged phenomenon. The recent presidential TFR over MVY has complicated life only a little bit; suddenly there is no traffic there to contend with. Island business must suffer horribly from this imposition.

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The scenery at 5-10K along the route out east can be absolutely fabulous. It really can fool you (if you forget the incessant radio chatter) into believing you are in the Bahamas; just gorgeous. Next step for me, PIC in the left seat and swapping legs (finally pulling my own weight) It’s a great life in the “islands”!



“Bush Flying” in the Bravo

ALTIUS_crewModThe incredible variety of experiences and challenges is what keeps charter flying so  interesting. Flying with good people makes it fun and worthwhile. If you personally thrive on stability and consistency in your life, you might not be suited for charter flying; this life is full of surprises and I confess this might be what I personally like most. Versatility and creativity are the more important piloting skills for this job; most days provide some new challenge. To be a successful pilot you must have a diverse toolkit of skills at your disposal since any particular day might involve; flying IFR to minimums at the islands, transitioning through a nasty convective line or tactical VFR “bush flying in the Bravo.” A Pilatus is capable and versatile. We sometimes depart VFR low to escape KTEB at rush hour or circle *around* (Boston Tower) to land in the opposite direction. I do love this challenge and adventure. The dark side is of course the temptation to cut it even closer or make it go faster. It is essential for safety to set hard limits (follow the General Operating Manual) and maintain good company operating procedures. Historically, many pilots get in trouble pushing too hard (“what was I thinking?”). A solid dose of discipline and respect for safety and regulatory compliance have to be part of the toolkit. We have a great crew structure and two pilots are always briefing and working each challenge to assure a safe and efficient outcome even if it sometimes throws us a curve.


In the NYC metropolitan area one skill that is indispensable and honed on a daily basis is efficient radio communication. After 40+ years of flying this is something I continue to work on daily. Fast and furious is sometimes the rule. A busy controller can deliver altitude, heading and new frequency all in a one breath. It is not at all uncommon to be switched to a NYC frequency and it is so busy you cannot even check on…and don’t even try! New York on 127.6 in close west of the Hudson is famous for congestion with Newark, Laguardia, Teterboro, Caldwell and MMU approaches all streaming south for landing. You just switch frequencies and listen to the constant flow of instructions.  Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 6.03.43 PM New York will inevitably call you when they have your “command” and you better be quick and concise with the readback and also ready to comply promptly.  They do not tolerate “slow” in speech, thought or action (but at the end of seven legs you can unfortunately be all of these) Widespread weather makes this whole system much more complicated and delays can become epic in proportion with tired and sultry passengers in the back who just want to get on their way (while up front we burn precious fuel and run short on “duty time”).

KJFKCongaLineThese two photos are at JFK during a pick-up from an inbound international flight. A large convective area was just west and they NY Tracon imposed SWAP (Severe Weather Avoidance Procedures) as the mass of storms moved over the NYC metropolitan area. Ground control was parking loaded jumbo jets on the unused runways and issuing two hour delays (“shut it down, we will call you”). We watched nervously as the thunderstorms continuously closed in from the west and the clock ticked down. We ended up in a conga line for an hour and felt fortunate to beat the storms and finally get flying this night. We were headed south and fortunately, being a turboprop we could go on a lower terminal routes and escape to our destination in SC.

Our company does a lot of shuttles to the islands and East Hampton and this day (below) was a cat and mouse event with a progressing convective line. Every departure required a negotiation with ATC to get released into the weather since ground delays and gate holds are imposed when SWAP hits. Here are two views of the same day as the front progressed Eastward. We ultimately got trapped with the last load of passengers to the islands and stayed on the couch at KACK. On July 4th weekend there were no hotel rooms and even having a plane on the ramp with the threatening hail was very bad news. There were so many planes out there they closed the crossing runway and parked planes up and down the pavement.







We had successfully transited this line all day until the weather door slammed shut at 7PM. One poor Pilatus pilot from another shuttle company who tried to get home across this mess regretted it. The reward for his “bravery” was first “scared to death” (you should have hear his PIREP) and second, a pink slip from his boss for being so arrogant as to launch into the severe weather mess. FullSizeRender 96Our trip into KHPN an hour earlier had been beautiful and smooth over the sound (once we got west of the front), but a long wait and a game of PacMan getting back east through the cells into KACK (we have on board radar and spherics). Our  exit plan home had been runway heading (240 off KACK) and go around from the south. Unfortunately the Warning Area to the south was “hot” and we were denied routing so there was no real option but the FBO couch.


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Daily delights that never change for corporate pilots are passengers with way too many bags, late or just rude (leaving the plane and simultaneously cleaning out the liquor cabinet and snacks). Then there is the struggle occasionally with departure delays and the overnight “camping trips” on the couch. For me personally, the most unpleasant issue is the constant hotels and inevitably crappy food. It is a real treat to finally get home IMG_9825and have an unscheduled day to go running or just read. I am getting better with this situation though and we negotiated sandwiches from “Charlie the Butcher” in Buffalo over the radio 60 miles out on the last inbound. Most bad situations are inevitably my own “failure to plan well.”

Our flight schedule has provided some amazingly fun trips recently like a flight to Missoula over the space of three days. This was a family getaway and “glamping trip” for the owner. We got to see Mt. Rushmore on our down time and also I was able to visit my brother (briefly) in Montana. Experiencing the expansive scenery out West was fabulous, and especially  refreshing after running up and down the Hudson Corridor and back and forth to the Islands for the previous three weeks.

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A couple of trips to Boston Logan ($1300 when you touch down)  provided some exciting “Bush flying in the Bravo” with seven full legs including two approaches to minimums and a unique “circle to visual” approach at Logan. The controller really did us a favor (but was asking a lot) instructing an ILS to 15 break out below the clouds and circle down the channel (very low around the tower) to a short final Runway 4 (and “keep your speed up”). I love this stuff…game on! Sometimes I think they issue bets in the tower to see how many crazy things they can make us do.

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This morning was an easy flight to Saranac Lake with a pick-up and delivery to White Plains. What a gorgeous flight over the Adirondacks this morning. Many wonderful experiences and hopefully more to go!




The Amazing PT-6 Engine!

As you saw from the last post, what makes the entire Pilatus experience (and business model) possible is the fantastically reliable Pratt and Whitney PT-6 engine. The PC-12NG is equipped with a PT6A-67P model engine. This is capable of about 1800 thermodynamic horsepower but is de-rated to 1200 shaft horsepower for normal operation on the PC12. It runs at a constant 1700 rpm in flight (yup, no rpm controller on a turbine) You just push that one big lever forward and make all the power you want. (and don’t forget to push lots of right rudder)

The technical term for the PT6 is reverse flow, radial inlet (with screen for foreign object damage protection), 4 stage, free turbine (two shaft) engine. The air intake is in the rear of the engine and flows forward toward the prop as it is compressed and ignited, incorporating 3-stage axial and 1-stage centrifugal compressor sections and two power turbines. The compressor turbines turn at around 35,000 rpm and are not mechanically connected to the power generating (propeller) side of the engine. These two shafts actually turn in opposite directions.

This video provides a very good overview of the parts of the engine:

You probably have seen a PT6 start on the ramp. The batteries (or external power) bring the engine up to a speed of about 13% NG to provide enough airflow so the fuel can be safely introduced without an overtemp. This is the only operator task on starting. At this point the engine picks up speed (sometimes with a little “poof” of smoke) and winds up to a “self-sufficient” (50%NG) speed where the generators cycle on line and the propeller comes out of feather. All this is all handled with one automated process. The only pilot task is hit “start” and introduce the fuel at 13%NG. At this point the pilot is only monitoring and watching for an overtemp or abnormal indications. If it is a hot engine being started, what you watch is decreasing ITT temp  (from 200 or so depending on how long you have been sitting) down to 150 degrees ITT before introducing the fuel and starting the automated cycle.

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The History of the PT6 Engine

As you can see, lots of moving parts and not much operator intervention in the production or maintenance of the power section. The incredible reliability is a result of a durable design and careful manufacturing process as well as constant monitoring and attention to detail. The website PT6Nation covers the engine development and history in detail (it is almost a cult). We are required to record engine trend once a day in cruise and the automated system downloads the data stream constantly for any abnormal indications to be detected.

This cut-away animation and description (OSH last year) gives you more of a complete idea of what is going on with the PT6 engine operation (and the basics of turbine mechanics) Follow the airflow…

I am continually amazed (and thankful) at the efficiency and reliability of this engine. I might have joined the PT6 cult (I should order the t-shirt!) Next time we will talk about cruise considerations for various missions we encounter. Our trip to Montana is pushing this airframe to it’s limit, we will see how that goes soon.

“Selling” a Single…Pilatus PC-12NG Vs King Air B200GT

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 9.59.00 PMThe economy, utility and safety of various aircraft, be they private singles or corporate carriages, are hotly debated subjects on the ramp among pilots and in boardrooms among CFOs. This controversy also fuels the sale of many flying magazines. (See this recent Flying Magazine article). There are a huge number of variables to consider when making a sensible decision and it most often comes down to specific mission requirements or just personal preference. For some owners, money is no object and its “image not numbers.” For them, the question is a simple what you “want” to fly in. You see some crazy big jet/short flight operations at every airport.

But for a charter company interested in  payload, range, economy and comfort (not to mention safety, utility and versatility) the Pilatus wins most of these discussions hands down for the shorter missions. The Pilatus PC-12, once spartan and utilitarian in their offerings (the utility moving van) has stepped up it’s game with luxurious BMW interiors and sophisticated Honeywell avionics. Consequently, Pilatus is flourishing while Beechcraft is struggling through bankruptcy (always other issues there too). This article will dig into the safety considerations of single vs twins first then compare the most common corporate twin, the Beech King Air, directly to the Pilatus PC-12NG. “Just the facts mam!”



Data for this table was derived from this study.

The early days of aviation often required numerous engines for safety since early engines were remarkably unreliable. This all changed with the amazing PT-6 Pratt and Whitney engine and other similar turboprop engines. The PT-6 rate of in-flight failure is under 1 shut-down per 500,00 hours of operation; a remarkable reliability! OK, so why not increase safety with two PT-6 engines on board like the Beechcraft King Air?  Unfortunately, with the safety record with two engines on board, like the Beech King Air, is actually worse than flying a single. How can this be true? Largely because most twin engine aircraft almost *require* both engines to fly at all. When an engine failure occurs, cool thinking and superior piloting skill are a necessity to keep the twin in the air. And the safety consequences of mishandling a failed engine on a twin are much more catastrophic to safety and survival (due to Vmc roll over) than a “fail and glide” single engine scenario. Pilatus spent a lot of research and money “selling the single” and developed the compelling slide share “Sweet to be Single.” This is very well researched and presented and I encourage you to look through their presentation.

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In summary though, Richard N. Aarons, a safety analyst put it succinctly summarizing the NTSB data on the FAA safety website: ” An engine failure-related accident in a twin-turboprop is four times more likely to cause serious and fatal injuries.” As the facts about single-engine safety have become known, one big paddle out front ends up safer than the “perceived safety” of a twin. Also the aerodynamically clean Pilatus PC-12 can glide remarkably well providing additional options in the unlikely event of an engine shut-down. From 30,000 ft (service ceiling) a PC-12 can glide 32 minutes and 90 statue miles and is certified to land safely on grass or dirt runways. To prove the remarkable reliability of the PC-12, Pilatus recently sponsored an around the world flight piloted by Amelia Rose Earhart (no relation). This took 18 days, covered 14 countries, and used the 1 remarkable PT-6 engine that had 0 squawks!


It is important to remember however, that when the PC-12 was being developed and introduced, single engine passenger 135 operations were not allowed in the US! Pilatus bet their whole company on the incredible safety record of the Pratt and Whitney PT-6 engine and the evolution of the regulatory environment. The demonstrated safety record of single engine turbo props has led to the FAA approval of single engine (and even single pilot) IFR/VFR charter in the US. Quite an impressive turn-around in policy.  The final frontier is the safety perception of the charter flying customers.

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In the King Air realm, Wheels Up operates exclusively in King Airs (and now Cessna Excel Jets for longer missions). Their justification for the King Airs here.


In the PC-12 corner is Plane SenseScreen Shot 2016-06-14 at 3.32.36 PM operating an airline and charter exclusively with the PC12s. Their justification for the PC-12 here.



Comparison of a Beechcraft King Air and a Pilatus PC-12:


The PC-12 carries 866 lbs more payload and has 480nm more range with the same six passengers.

The Pilatus is also bigger inside than the King Air and has that incredible four foot wide cargo loading door to make all kinds of items a cinch to bring most anything along. This adds to the versatility and utility of the PC-12 and the results in the common term “Turbine SUV.”


The PC-12 uses less runway (while carrying more weight) for both take off and landing when compared with the King Air. Those incredible fowler flaps yield a stall speed of only 67K and no Vmc roll danger here (see single-engine vs twins above)


The Pilatus is a pretty simple single at less than 12,500 max gross weight so consequently is a lower step for transitioning pilots. This reduces the cost of pilot acquisition, training, and currency for the operator.  Of course, some clients just want a twin, regardless of the cost or convenience. The “perceived safety”of a twin still wins out over the actual accident data. And of course, some clients can only be happy with a jet and that is what they buy and fly; whatever the cost penalty.

When Flying Magazine compared the newer B-250 to the PC-12, the twin was only 30 knots faster but cost $1.5 million more on original purchase.  Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 4.25.06 PMThe fact that the PC-12 performs better in every other category on about half the fuel just about closes the deal right there for most companies. The amazing increase in the PC-12 fleet is a testimony to the popularity and versatility of this airframe (especially in the geographically dense  NYC metro area and Eastern coastal operators).

So that’s the facts;  the Beech twin costs more money to buy and fly, carries less and uses more runway for T/O and landing. The newer King Air models do go a little faster and have the “perceived safety” of two engines but the extra HP results in an obviously diminished range and higher fuel burn. The King Air lacks the cargo capability making it less versatile if the missions are various. Finally, safety, when you actually examine the data, also favors the PC-12. More personal experience coming as we head to Boston Logan and a future trip to Missoula, MT. Everyday is an adventure.

The “Fleet” Challenge and Legacy PC-12s

My Flight Safety training and check ride was in this amazing “PC-12 NG” with the Honeywell APEX system (max T/O weight 10,450 and fully redundant systems). This plane is a masterful, fully realized expression of automated flight control. You can program it from 500′ on T/O to 200′ AGL decision height and it will fly it flawlessly. There may certainly be times where this is undesirable but the capability is there and the systems are reliable and predictable. Our fleet however contains only two NGs and a variety of other Pilatus versions that can provide challenges and surprises.


We fly a variety of older “legacy” airframes and avionics systems in the fleet and often are flying right down to minimums with our shuttles to the islands (why do they want to go there if it is gray?) Since we dispatch on an app, anything may change by the next day and various different systems are at our disposal depending on the schedule and maintenance. Our oldest plane, the famous Pilatus #2 (“NE” or fondly called”Never Ever”) has only the Bendix King EFS 40/50 5″ attitude indicators and HSI with a primitive autopilot and completely non-intuitive vertical speed controller. One knob sets altitude, twist for vertical speed, arm and then activate. It has the evil habit of memorizing the last input (even after shutdown) When you next take-off you better not activate this system immediately or it will direct your last descent for approach (and into the weeds). This is one of those “live and learn” training lessons you discover just when you want it to work.


The flight management controllers on the older models reside just above the throttle quadrant and have little in common with the functionality found in the “NG.” A particularly annoying habit of this set-up is not switching the nav source when you set up an ILS. And you will certainly still be on GPS unless you carefully select and verify a LOC source. And of course no paperless charts here (horrors) Just get out the Jepp books and search out your diagrams for the approach.

Between the NG and NE is another “legacy” that has G600 on both sides and the GTN 650/750 stack. This plane has touch screen with another unique functionality. This has the Garmin chapter/page logic that I rather like. We seldom get to fly longer legs in any of the legacy aircraft but I am almost familiar with this set-up and it works well. We recently shot two missed approaches trying to get into  East Hampton on a flight from KBWI. The only wart here was the vertical speed would not command a climb with the flight director. Anyway, the bigger plan was obviously was not working and we had the client send his transportation to Montauk where we flew a visual for their pick up. (And that was the end of a 14 hour duty day).


The back end of the Pilatus also can come in astonishingly different configurations. Our oldest PC-12 has all the charm of a big yellow school bus. This plane was limited in weight and also does not have fully redundant generators. This plane is often utilized for the shuttle to the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.


Another feature of the older model 45 are remarkably heavy aileron forces. In the newer model 47, Pilatus added “Flettner tabs” that use aerodynamic forces to assist the ailerons and lighten the roll handling considerably. These are much nicer to handle. The interior of the new NG was created by BMW Designworks. It’s pretty luxurious.


These later Pilatus models, starting with serial  #683 also have a 530 lb. gross weight increase, creating the PC-12/47 (which also has fully redundant electrical capacity). This happened in 2006 and makes it possible to do long-distance flights with a full cabin. With full fuel you can load 900 lbs in back! Here is the very cool iPad app for figuring weight and balance.


We flew the trip to Chicago in this plane and have a trip scheduled to Missoula, MT later in the month I am looking forward to. Unfortunately, you never do know if these will happen though since they are totally at the whim of our customers. This Sat. we are scheduled to be at SYR at the same time as the airshow…but who knows? I will keep you posted!

Learning and Burning (Jet A): Teterboro Challenge!

It has been a very busy week with Memorial Day and many charter runs to Nantucket and the outer Long Island airports. All these flights inevitably originate in the NYC metro area with an intense pace in the air and then coordinating catering, passenger loading, fuel, luggage (and wheelchairs) on the ground. If you get any personal time for a sandwich you are lucky. Departing in the 5PM crush of traffic requires some special techniques to avoid waiting forever in the usual conga line of jets. I am glad I have done this many times in little planes, it makes getting up to speed on the charter side more manageable. Five legs a day through this gantlet (“a form of punishment in which people armed with sticks or other weapons arrange themselves in two lines and beat a person forced to run between them”) certainly feels a little like work.

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Teterboro is every east coast charter pilot’s nemesis [see this YouTube] but ends up being our daily workspace in the metro area. I remember teaching the techniques to a new private pilot here years ago. She became livid because ground would not even call her back and talk with her. She thought this was because she was a woman with a foreign accent, but it’s pretty universal and nothing personal, just a super busy environment where everyone can get a little frustrated. It is very important to stay cool and know the rules (written and not) and essential to be totally prepared and situationally aware. Changes and opportunities happen quickly. Having a toolkit of essential tricks sure helps.

Flying the Pilatus with it’s wonderful versatility is also a huge advantage. Controllers are aware what this plane can do in the hands of a competent pilot so we often get quite an privilege for this capability. On approach, we stay fast on final, slow instantly airborne and land in under 1500 ft (love that reverse thrust). We are usually taxiing in on the first or second exit. (One of our pilots actually holds the record in the Flight Safety sim. She landed in under 700ft ground roll at max gross!) On departure a Pilatus can leave VFR (most charter jets cannot), so we can get out quick, turn low and immediately transfer to departure for efficiency. This is almost bush flying in the megalopolis.

KTEB_DeparturesThe usual traffic procedure in light winds is to land everyone on 19,  doing 180 knots to the marker, 120 knots to the numbers please, then immediately get off and free up the runway. For departure the usual taxi procedure is a conga line of frustration to runway 24. There is a “holding pen” between the ends of 19 and 24 where everyone queues up an waits endlessly for departure. Our favorite shortcut, since we are a turboprop and can depart VFR, is to request immediate departure on 19 if we see a gap in the incoming traffic. This requires your being immediately ready and responsive (you do not want to screw this up with ATC). On take-off, execute a quick left turn and disappear up the Hudson staying below the Bravo (1500MSL). The challenge here is avoiding the Bravo shelf west of the Hudson, staying under 200 knots and avoiding all the helicopters (fortunately we have sophisticated traffic avoidance systems and synthetic vision). Coordinating a climb ASAP is next action item.


If there is weather and you must depart IFR on 24 the challenge is accurately flying the famous RUDY 5 departure with it’s mandatory 1500/2000 crossing altitudes threading the needle above and belowRudyFiveKTEB  Newark inbound traffic. I have been told this is responsible for the most pilot violations of any procedure in the whole US. Either way you are ready to pivot and respond immediately to opportunities and get flying to expedite your customers transportation. They did not hire us to watch jets on the ground in NJ for an hour.

Once airborne it is “game on” with NY Center if we are VFR to coordinate an early climb. All turbine engines burn a lot of fuel down low so “up” is essential. If we are lucky we might even be able to pick-up our IFR clearance for Part 135 flight tracking. Being fast, concise and accurate on the radio and doing exactly what you told the controller you could do are the primary skills for the pilots in any busy airspace. It certainly helps that usually one pilot is flying and one is talking (though we have single pilot 135 approval also). All KHOT_Ramptraffic flow along the coast of Connecticut is either low or over 12K to accommodate inbound traffic to the NYC airports so getting to altitude before CMK eastbound is the goal or you will be caught “in the weeds.” The arrival and ground ops at East Hampton resemble an aircraft carrier deck on the weekends with Blade running shuttles in their helicopters. Recently we had three amphibious Caravans, five helicopters taking off from the ramp mixing it up with  the usual jets and turbo props on the small ramp.

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So far LaGuardia seems like a pussycat to me compared to the challenges of  KTEB. Usually we start this procedure VFR at the Tappan Zee and call tower inbound. They keep us 1000 ft down the Hudson and direct either a right downwind 31 or base to 22. Similar to KTEB; “keep the speed up,  land short and get off my runway.” (With all the inherent contradictions involved). At KLGA you turn off right at Foxtrot/Echo and go to the “five antennas” for parking. The restaurant here is wonderful but parking is expensive for GA.

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Sheltair is always ready and picks us up here with a van and you get to enjoy one of the most beautiful FBOs in the East. For me, Sheltair has an amazing resonance of aviation history being located in the old Pan Am terminal. The Boeing 324 Clippers once landing and departing right here delivering fashionable clientele to exotic destinations all over the world. The Art Deco interior has not changed a bit since the 30s and 40s. In my next installment I will talk about the challenge and fun of the island airports and operating in minimal weather operations. Several trips to South Carolina have been challenging with all kinds of crazy schedules. Every day is a new adventure!

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Flying Instruments (in Pilatus #2) to “The Rock”

So far my life in charter has been a pretty charmed existence. Piloting brand new planes with luxurious interiors for pampered part 91 owners is not too tough. Additionally, except for dodging a couple of TSMs and a bit of ice, we have been mostly in clear air. Today was a test by fire piloting the ancient “legacy” Pilatus on a  “bus run” to Nantucket with the weather “in the weeds”. This Pilatus was only the second one ever manufactured by the Swiss company and showed it’s 11,000 hours. The interior resembled a post Soviet “people mover” with diamond plate floor and school bus seats. This was also my introduction to Nantucket and the vagaries of the Atlantic coast weather (at least in charter flying). The two names I have heard for Nantucket among charter pilots are “The Gray Lady” and “The Rock.” Neither sounded especially friendly.

IMG_9109On the drive to NJ this AM the news was not good with 300 IMG_9112O/C and additionally blowing up to 30K. At first glance I thought the NOTAM said 06-24 was closed which would have been a stiff (over 25K) crosswind. The closing was actually the tomorrow so we were OK to proceed. Pre-flighting and readying “Never Ever” (comes from the NE in the tail number) was a wake-up call. The “legacy” Pilatus have many differences in addition to the rather Spartan interior and basic avionics. The electronics are not fully redundant with only a small back up generator similar to the Cirrus SR-22 system. There is just enough power to get you out of the weather with basic instrument functionality. Instead of a sophisticated well-arranged panel, there are basic toggle switches and weird arrangements of gauges. Additionally, there are time limits on the power and lower temperatures they eliminated in the newer models. This was clearly the “alpha” model (and not in a good way!) After enjoying the amazing Honeywell APEX in the NG models, this was a less impressive, but admittedly fully functional, suite of instruments. A Garmin 700 and 650 with a digital HSI and 3 axis autopilot is a pretty capable combination. Still, it would be a challenging flight adapting and figuring everything out. This was my partner’s first time as captain too; Game On!

As it turned out, no real stories to tell, just getting the job done.  And in the flying business, no excitement is a very good day. We dead headed out to KACK and IMG_9118parked in the confusion of jets and turboprops, all waiting together for our customers. People were schlepping everything from their dogs to espresso machines back home from their vacation houses on the islands. It actually reminded me of Marsh Harbor in the Bahamas on a holiday weekend with too many fancy planes and not enough ramp. For our ride, people had purchased “a seat on the plane” and our flight was probably the bottom feeder among all the planes. We were the Uber style on-line shuttle among the silver spoon crowd. Some of our passengers were clearly uncomfortable with the bumps but mercifully no one got ill. I found the avionics actually very workable and despite the rumor around the company “Never Ever” and I got along nicely. When you are used to old King KX-155s and even Narco flip/flops this is not really suffering! I think I could grow to like this plane.


And overall, as you might suspect, a lot of this flying is EASIER than getting your Mooney or Skylane from here to there in the clouds. If you are good at flying instruments, this is just doing that same job faster, in a busy environment, with better equipment. A turbine engine start is just one button push, throw in the fuel at 13% NG and stand back. There is no priming, giggling, and required black magic to get some recalcitrant piston to fire and run. That amazing Pratt and Whitney would probably run fine on sawdust if you could figure out how to deliver it reliably to the furnace up front. There is no prop lever to adjust and tweak, and no mixtures to fool with, just put the condition lever to flight idle and push the power lever all the way forward…1200 ponies really do pull you into the air. It mostly runs at 96% power and you just make sure it does not run too hot. The greater challenge of charter is creating transparent efficiency through continual adaptability. This job requires ingenuity and resilience in the face of continual changes and challenges. You have to be savvy here to survive well, this is no place for the clumsy or clueless (though we all have our days). So far it’s a great job and a wonderful learning experience but then again I *do* like a challenge. (I’ll keep you posted)

Finally Flying (Flight Levels!)

So as you might imagine, flying clients is much easier and more fun than training with every possible emergency being continuously hurled at you! So far at this writing, I’ve made four trips and I am currently sitting in Chicago waiting for clients to return to KSYR as I type this. Then we reposition to KCDW where this plane is based.

The major focus of charter flying, as I understand it so far, is providing safe, comfortable transportation for the client who pays the bills. The convenience of direct flights on their schedule without TSA intrigue makes the extra cost well worth it. Usually a company like ours does not own the planes but “manages the asset” for people who own the plane. A mutually satisfactory contract is arranged to split costs and revenue. This provides relief from the total cost for the owner and they sacrifice some flexibility of going “anywhere anytime”. Usually when the owner flies it is  a part 91 operation (less restrictive). When we fly a non-owner charter client this is under part 135 of the regulations. We have a very detailed General Operations Manual and Operating Specifications that interprets the regulation and provides guidance on how to legally transport these people; 90% of our flying. In all cases, the maintenance is Part 135 (pilots don’t even put air in the tires, this would be done by an approved  135 maintenance facility!)

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My first flight was a reposition from KCDW to KHPN for a pick-up at Westchester. The routing was directly over Kennedy and down to South Carolina. One obvious rule of the charter business is maintaining the confidence of the clients so we don’t reveal any actual identities, but you hear all the names in the news every day. This client  lives in South Carolina but works in Manhattan. Their company bought this aircraft just to transport it’s employees (and this one in particular). It is equipped quite nicely with internet service at all altitudes and they are even installing jet beds. This pristine plane has fewer than 150 hours on it (and you certainly will not find it on FlightAware). This particular C-level employee shuttles into town a couple of times a week for a day or two to go to work in the city, then we provide the transportation home. Weather was good for this flight and just a few turns avoiding storms at FL240.








Three important “gotchas” for the Pilatus: First; watch the brakes with the low pressure tires and no anti-skid braking system. If you are in a crosswind and grab a brake or are overeager on landing you can easily “flatspot” or totally ruin a tire. Second, with take-off flaps at 15 degrees and a slow 22 second retract cycle, it is very easy to exceed the 160K limitation which will alert on the electronic maintenance logging system and lead to a very expensive (required…$20K) inspection. Lastly, the shaker/pusher system is very touchy and can activate on landing (especially in the ice pusher mode) if you attempt a really nose high landing. Just slightly nose off to avoid the shake/push (a know Pilatus problem) OK…got it!

KPWKsectionalToday’s flight was a Part 135 charter out to KPWK, north of Chicago. As usual these are early starts, with a 4AM wake-up and out to the plane an hour before departure to arrange the catering, preflight plane and final check on weather. When the clients load up we should be cranking and rolling. They enjoy coffee and pastries and we go to work up front with aviation. This whole business is built on transparent service and customer satisfaction.

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You could not ask for a better day to fly with clear skies and little surface wind. At FL270 however we had a 52 knot  headwind. SInce TAS increases and the fuel burn decreases so dramatically on a turbine up high (half the fuel) we need to cruise high despite winds. It was over two hours to Chicago…and now we wait for the day until the clients return for the flight home; driving the bus! Lunch at Bob Chinn’s Crab House was memorable and worth the exploration of the neighborhood. Hawthorne FBO at Palwaukee is a wonderful facility.

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The return from Chicago at the end of the day was initially disappointing with only a 5K tailwind at FL200. Having faced a 60 knot headwind on the way out , we were looking for some payback (that pilot game). Finally, climbing to FL270 we picked up a 71 knot push and decreased our time to SYR to just 2 hours. At this altitude the cabin climbs to around 8,000 ft (5.75lb differential pressure) which is what the airlines usually maintain. This can be hard on some customers (why you feel beat up after a day on the airlines!) Our customers had discovered the booze and there were no complaints from the back!


After SYR, the last leg was a quick Part 91 repositioning hop to KCDW for a flight the next morning. This was only 36 minutes @ 15K over the clouds for a visual into runway 22 at CDW. Despite the 14 hour duty day we vacuumed out the plane and restocked the catering for the next crew and completed all the flight logs and expense reports for the day. What an amazing experience with so much left to learn. My next challenge is mastering the General Operations Manual and Op. Specs. for the FAA line check next week. Back to the books!



Flying the PC-12NG Sim at Flight Safety

PC12SimulatorBayBeing a beginner to motion simulators and also a pilot who has flown very little on autopilot (and especially coupled approaches), I knew I was in for a steep learning curve at Flight Safety. I had trained in Duluth and acquired the Cirrus Instructor Certification for the Avidyne  Cirrus 22  but that was years ago now. With little recent automation experience I expected this to be tough but I did probably underestimate the level of challenge. My instructor, Josh Rivera, was a two-year FSI veteran and had clearly seen all sides of this training experience. Each lesson in the simulator was proceeded with a careful and complete briefing and after each “flight” there was a complete playback of all the tracks and controls (including cockpit video and full audio).  You had an opportunity to relive your moments of terror and triumph.

JoshRiveraSImCFIThe first session was Sunday morning with an off-motion “sit session” identifying switches and reviewing checklists and procedures. Since I have been on the other side of this equation way too long (as the CFI) I could uncomfortably feel Josh’s need to swallow hard and be excessively patient as I fumbled around finding switches. I had been a good boy and practiced dutifully with the poster in the hotel but the real thing is always different when your mind is in a cramp. The experience is so real you find yourself being excessively cautious so you do not cook the PT-6 engine on start up. At this point it is hard to believe in four days you will be even partially “competent.”

By Sunday afternoon, with take-offs and maneuvering, the experience was becoming a bit more fluid and fun. This sim flies so realistically, you are quickly convinced you are burning Jet A. With that huge Hartzell prop and 1200hp out front,  this plane requires massive amounts of right rudder and can be tricky on take-off and landing.  Learning the pitch and power settings (and even where the knobs and gauges are) takes a few mistakes and recoveries: 15psi level gives you 150 knots, 25psi 200 knots level (for that speed limit within 4nm C and D) Climbing at 150K needs 28psi and descending 8psi. You can easily achieve 3,000 fpm on the climb if you are light. Learning all the functionality of the Honeywell APEX flight management system obviously is the most challenging for most transitioning pilots. FSI gets candidates at all levels of experience. Fortunately I already had an ATP SEL and MEL but that certainly does not guarantee success.


Remembering where everything is and programming for the departure, enroute and approach while flying was initially overwhelming. You are simultaneously “reprogramming” your brain while operating with some new (and not yet firmly established) habit patterns. The software menu and tab orientation was manageable when  no disasters were occurring but got challenging as the pace picked up. With only four days to go from bozo to competent, it’s a steep slope to climb.

And you know the standard pedagogical process; the first day everything goes right, the next day everything goes wrong. With 11 electrical buses,  4 display units and two independent graphical processors, there are endless failures modes and reversionary tactics you need to memorize. DaveFSIComputerPracticeI spent a lots of hours on the videos and procedure trainers building habits and working through sticking points  from previous lessons. The PC-12 also has a detailed CAS (crew alerting system) with many annoying aural chimes and bells going off (continuously in training). Each alert requires consulting the QR checklist and performing a detailed, timely response. This noise and confusion probably was the hardest for me to get used to.  Since all the equipment is actual manufacturers OEM, these alerts are excessively loud (designed for the Bose A20s…which we did not have in the sim!) I felt a little like I was the chrome ball inside the pinball machine on day three. Just try to run a list with someone screaming “fire, fire, fire” at 90 db in your ears.

Fortunately I got a little payback for all my “yank and bank” skills. These worked perfectly for the complete engine failure at 1500 agl. They want a quick power back, feather, best glide and 180 degree turn back to the runway (while securing and alerting ATC). I am proud to say I nailed this on the first surprise attempt. Balancing that was the required RVR 500 take-off; pretty ragged on the first attempt! But failures like this point out the amazing utility of a simulator; a safe opportunity to live and learn. You can practice all kinds of hazardous procedures repeatedly and master them with only a damaged ego and no blood on the floor.

PC12SmokeInCockpitThe fire in the cockpit at FL280 required donning the real oxygen mask and smoke goggles and flying an approach and landing at the nearest airport. This simulation leaves you sweating and panting. This certainly is something to practice in the sim and pray you never have to prove in real flight.

Day three was the “valley of death” and I died on a nasty crosswind approach at RVR 1800 (a company requirement) and also iced up (even with boots on full) on autopilot and trim stalled at 5,000 agl on approach. It is somewhat depressing to die so realistically twice in one afternoon! By day four I was getting fairly proficient but took one last day to polish and prepare for the check ride on Friday. As with most evaluations, you know you are going to be less than 100% under the microscope and I was still struggling with the FMS programming.

FullSizeRender 68Friday was the payoff with a review session and check ride. This went pretty clean with only a few minor snafus. Most notably on the engine failure on departure at 1500 agl, I managed to also hit the “kill button” (out of sight under the fuel cut off lever) and  the machine went “off motion” (suddenly very smooth and quiet). We had to run that a second time with motion “on” to prove the element was successful. Examiner Water Bryant is a very fair and calming influence but also very detailed and comprehensive.  The whole experience at Flight Safety International was superb with great equipment and a talented and caring staff of instructors. Now on to the real plane and to see if we can really fly!