Archive for May, 2007


The Dicemen Step Up

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

I’m not a huge F-22 fan. I’ve been concerned for years that other, possibility more important missions, have been compromised to fund the ultimate dog fighter. Certainly the airplane is late by years and over budget by billions.

Never-the-less, the F-22 is indeed the ultimate dog fighter, and it is with some pride I see that my old squadron, the 90th Fighter Squadron, is now receiving the Raptor to replace their F-15E’s.

It’s certainly a huge step up in performance from the F-4s I flew at Clark AB. I wonder if it can match the threat identification and location technology of the F-4G backseat. The Phantom was old, but the Weasel system we had was decades ahead of its time.

I’m sure today’s Dicemen will get the most out of their new rides, and continue the long proud traditions of the ‘Pair-o-Dice’ squadron.


A Letter to My Senators

Sunday, May 20th, 2007

        Photo by by marcokalmann.

I have faxed the following letter to Senators John Cornyn and Kay Hutchison:

Dear Senator,

It has come to my attention that you are supporting the Bush-Kennedy immigration amnesty bill. As a life long Republican I have trouble finding the words to express my disappointment in you and President Bush. You have aligned with far left Democrats to override what you and I both know is the will of most Texans in rewarding criminals.

Nobody in the world believes any of the bill’s promises of securing the border or deporting anybody. The 24 hour Z-visa turnaround limit proves that the law is not intended to permit any sort of real background check. And of course the bill signals law enforcement to be even less serious about securing our border than they already are, if that’s possible.

The costs to the taxpayer of bringing millions of illegals into our existing welfare and social programs will be enormous. Many of the individual criminals rewarded by your bill have no intention of assimilating in the American culture beyond cashing in.

Beyond the damage to the country done by this bill’s many immediate deleterious effects, it will have the side effect of destroying the Republican party. It’s clear why the Democrats want this bill. They want to bring in millions of people into the county who will depend on massive government support for their existence. Of course most of them will vote Democrat to obtain ever more largesse from the government.

On the other hand this bill will destroy whatever remaining enthusiasm we loyal Republicans may have left for you and the other so-called Republicans who are trying to rush this bill into law.

I live in Williamson county, one of the most conservative areas in the state. Everyone I know is asking “why”? Why are Republican politicians pushing this law? Why are they voting to cut their own political throats? How can they so blatantly disregard the clear will of the voters who put them in office?

I’m sure that the large employers who benefit from cheap illegal labor are large contributors. But are their contributions large enough to offset the huge negative effects this very bad law will have on the country and your own political party? I think not.

I beg you to reconsider you support for this terrible law. Please vote against any and all amnesty proposals!


Jim Howard
Austin, Texas 78750


A Parade at the Pentagon

Saturday, May 19th, 2007

           Photo by tbridge.

When I was a serving officer in the Air Force I often doubted the wisdom of our managers and leaders who worked in the Pentagon. These feelings were greatly reinforced by other officers of all ranks who worked there and told me that they doubted their own wisdom.

Since retiring I still find myself wondering about what happens to the officers who go in to the building seemingly sane, only to suffer from various symptoms of mental derangement.

I know I’m being a little unfair, but I assure you I’m not alone in wondering how some Pentagon decisions are made.

So it was very appropriate that on Armed Forces Day I was reminded that whatever the institutional shortcomings of our military, its still a very honorable calling, perhaps the most honorable institution in the country.

I had no idea that each Friday the men and women in the Pentagon stop wrangling for money and writing silly regulations. They take a few minutes break from their important work to watch a parade:

It is 110 yards from the “E” ring to the “A” ring of the Pentagon. This section of the Pentagon is newly renovated; the floors shine, the hallway is broad, and the lighting is bright. At this instant the entire length of the corridor is packed with officers, a few sergeants and some civilians, all crammed tightly three and four deep against the walls. There are thousands here. This hallway, more than any other, is the “Army” hallway. The G3 offices line one side, G2 the other, G8 is around the corner. All Army. Moderate conversations flow in a low buzz. Friends who may not have seen each other for a few weeks, or a few years, spot each other, cross the way and renew. Everyone shifts to ensure an open path remains down the center. The air conditioning system was not designed for this press of bodies in this area. The temperature is rising already. Nobody cares.

Read the rest.

Hat tip: Black Five


An awful waste of space?

Tuesday, May 15th, 2007

I was reading Bad Astronomy about a ‘dark matter smoke ring’, apparently yet another important discovery by the Hubble Space Telescope.  The science is fascinating and the picture is very pretty.

When I looked at the high resolution version something struck me.  Those points of light in the picture.  Most of them aren’t stars.  They are galaxies!  Each bright spot represents millions or billions of stars.  Just in the field of view of this one image.

Think about how many stars there are in that image. 

Are their other people out there, looking at us through their telescopes, who wonder what’s going on in our neighborhood? 

I have to agree with Dr. Arroway’s Dad. I don’t know, but I guess I’d say if it is just us… it seems like an awful waste of space.


Hubris Precedes Nemesis

Sunday, May 13th, 2007

I was flying into Bergstrom this morning after doing some practice in the La Grange area.

As is customary I called Austin’s radar approach control at about 25 miles out. After a couple of minutes he said “Cardinal 35-Golf, you are number 1 to land, there is a Cirrus in trail with you”.

Shortly thereafter the controller came back and said “35-Golf, the Cirrus is doing 190 knots, I’m gong to let him pass you maintain 2500 feet, Cirrus maintain 3000 feet pass directly over the Cessna in front of you”.

“HAHAHAHA I LOVE IT!!” chortled the bonehead flying the Cirrus.

Sure enough, moments latter the Cirrus flew over me going the speed of heat. “Cirrus, fly a left base for runway 17 left, Cessna you’re number 2, follow the Cirrus. ” The Cirrus driver made another smart ass crack.

By this time I was about 8 miles from the airport, which was clearly in view.

A minute or so latter the radar controller told first the Cirrus, and then me to “contact the tower report left base”.

So I switch frequencies and wait a moment to hear what’s going on in the new channel. I have been descending, I’m now about 2000 feet up (the airport elevation is 500 feet). The Cirrus is still at 3000 feet, still going warp 5, and he’s not descending. I notice he is approaching the extended centerline of our assigned runway.

“Wow, he’s really high and fast” I think. He’s going to have to do a knife edge turn followed by a dive-bomber descent in order to make the runway. I check into the frequency saying “Austin Tower, Cardinal 35-G left base behind the Cirrus, standing by to be impressed”.

Tower says words to the effect “35-Golf, you’re cleared to land behind the Cirrus”. A short pause and then “Cirrus XXX how do you copy Austin tower?”

Silence as the Cirrus blows past the final approach course, still high and fast, apparently heading for Los Angeles.

“Cirrus XXX how do you copy Austin tower?”

More silence.

I loose sight of the Cirrus as he passes the final approach course for the second parallel runway. I’m approaching the 90 degree left turn where I need to turn onto the runway course.

“Ahhhh tower, 35-Golf, I’ve lost sight of the Cirrus”

“35Golf, keep your base turn square, we’ll sort this out, Cirrus are you on frequency?”

Just then I see him, he’s turning back towards the airport, diving diagonally across both runways, having passed both the small 8000 foot runway and the larger 12,500 foot former B-52 runway.

“Cirrus you’re cleared to land, 35G you’re cleared to land behind the Cirrus”.

“Cirrus needs to land long” says the bonehead, desperately trying to decelerate from warp drive. “That’s fine Cirrus , clear the runway as soon as you can, there is a Cardinal on final”.

I start to offer to go around, but the bonehead flys directly past the tower, over the passenger terminal, rolls out about a 100 yard final, and touches down about halfway down the 8000 foot runway. I expected him to get a ‘call the tower’ instruction, but they didn’t remark on his spectacular approach.

When I taxied to the Signature ramp I parked right next to him. I thought about saying something, but he had an older couple with him who I took to be his parents. I elected to say nothing.

It’s great flying a fast half-million dollar airplane. But every pilot has to keep in mind hubris precedes Nemesis. 


Defense Tech: Air Force Bomber Redux…

Sunday, May 6th, 2007

Defense Tech reports that the Air Force is looking at an F-111 class manned medium bomber!

They are skeptical because they see a resemblance to the Navy’s failed A-12 program, which was designed to replace the Navy’s medium bomber, the A-6. I think the Defense Tech article is a little too negative. The Air Force is much more likely to need a stealthy long range bomber than it is an ultra-expensive air-to-air fighter.

The B-2 is too big, too expensive, and too few in numbers to fly missions deep in to hostile territory defended by fifth generation surface to air missiles.

Just because the A-12 program failed does not mean that it is impossible to build a low observable bomber.

Defense Tech expresses surprise that the proposed craft will be piloted by an on the scene human. I’m not. An unmanned craft would need a stealth-destroying communications link back to its base in order to react to immediate battle conditions.

An autonomous bomber would be just an expensive cruise missile. The fact is that once launched the best way to ensure that the proposed bomber is smart enough to penetrate defenses, react to the immediate battle situation,maintain stealth, and come back in one piece is to put in a human.

 I love computers, but they are not nearly ready to replace pilots for complicated long range missions.
And it’s sure about time the F-111 was replaced. We phased it out about ten to fifteen years too soon, and we need the long range high payload capability back. We need it now. I hope we get it someday.


The NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System

Sunday, May 6th, 2007

I’ve mentioned a number of times that I enjoy participating in the aviation forums at (subscription required).  They are a lot of fun, and I often learn things there.


I’ve been participating in a thread that’s been running on and off for several months concerning NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System.  I was surprised at the number of professional pilots who don’t understand this important program.

The ASRS program was established as a workaround to the problem of the dual nature of the FAA.  On the one hand, the FAA is responsible for ensuring that aviation is as safe as possible.  With their safety hat on the FAA wants to hear from other aviation professionals when an unsafe situation is observed. 

They’d like to fix problems before they lead to accidents.  On the other hand, the FAA are the cops of the sky.  They have a duty to identify possible violations of the Federal Aviation Regulations. If a fair investigation, conducted with due process, identifies a person who violated the regulations then the FAA has a duty to punish that individual.

So there’s the conundrum.  If  a pilot is involved in an unsafe situation that doesn’t lead to an accident then he or she would like to call attention to the problem to the aviation community so others can learn his experience.  The reporter and the FAA want problems fixed before they make headlines. 

On the other hand if the pilot calls the FAA and reports the unsafe situation then it is possible that the FAA’s enforcement function may feel compelled to investigate to determine if certificate action is appropriate. 

Prior to ASRS there was a huge disincentive for pilot and controllers to report unsafe situations that didn’t result in an actual incident.

In 1974 this problem came to a head.  NASA tells the sad story:

On December 1, 1974, TWA Flight 514 was inbound through cloudy and turbulent skies to Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C. The flight crew misunderstood an ATC clearance and descended to 1,800 feet before reaching the approach segment to which that minimum altitude applied. The aircraft collided with a Virginia mountaintop, killing all aboard.

A disturbing finding emerged from the ensuing NTSB accident investigation. Six weeks prior to the TWA accident, a United Airlines flight crew had experienced an identical clearance misunderstanding and narrowly missed hitting the same Virginia mountain during a nighttime approach. The United crew discovered their close call after landing and reported the incident to their company. A cautionary notice was issued to all United pilots.

Tragically, at the time there existed no method of sharing the United pilots’ knowledge with TWA and other airline operators. Following the TWA accident, it was determined that future safety information must be shared with the entire aviation community. Thus was born the idea of a national aviation incident reporting program that would be non-punitive, voluntary, and confidential.

 On May 9, 1975 the FAA issued Advisory Circular 00-46 Issued establishing the ASRS program in conjunction with NASA.  In April 1976 NASA began processing ASRS reports. 

Under this system reports of unsafe situations that didn’t result in an actual accident or incident are reported to NASA by pilots, controllers, or other aviation professionals.  NASA screens the reports to ensure that the report falls within the scope of the program (reports are not to be used to report accidents or crimes). 

Once the report is found to fall within the scope of the program then the report is ‘de-identified’.  The FAA removes the portion of the report that identifies the reporter, timestamps it, and sends it back to the reporter.  This portion of the report is called the identification strip’.  It is critical to know that if you (or better yet your lawyer) show the ID strip to the FAA in response to an FAA investigation then the words you write on the ID strip can be considered by the FAA as part of their deliberations.  The body of the report will never been seen by the FAA or anyone other than NASA.  Before the body of your report is entered in the database it is ‘de-identified’ so that the reporter and his or her organization can’t be matched to the ID strip.  The actual report body is then destroyed.

So be very careful what you write on the ID strip.  If you are filling your ASRS in response to a ‘call the tower’ incident, then now is the time to use your AOPA legal program to consult an attorney.  The attorney can help you word the ID strip so that it is honest, but doesn’t put your head in a noose. The ID strip should contain enough information to show that the incident reported is the same one the FAA is investigating, but it should NOT be a confession of guilt.

It is critical that the reporter hang on to the ID strip.  Should the FAA latter seek adverse action against the reporter then there is a good chance that the actual penalty may be waived.  The reporter may still have a violation on his or her record, but not the actual fine or certificate suspension.  In order to qualify for the waiver the reported incident must not have been deliberate. 

Over on Flight Info we’re discussing a case where a pilot submitted a report but subsequently received a 240 day suspension of his pilot certificate.  In this case the FAA decided and the appeals process confirmed that the incident reported was an act of premeditated buffoonery.  The ASRS won’t protect you from premeditated bone-headedness. 

Here is the comment I made on the FlightInfo thread:


According to the Opinion the pilot filed for an IFR departure from Telluride, where the weather was very marginal VMC at best. Told there would be a long departure delay, the pilot elected to depart under visual flight rules. I’m sure one factor in the ultimate decision was the pilot’s testimony that “never intended to fly in IFR conditions”.

The Judge mentions “We note that this claim is at odds with respondent’s decision to file an IFR flight plan.” In other words, “We are not amused”.

The airline Captain on an ILS approach who saw this VFR airplane pass opposite direction 700 feet away while the respondent pilot flew outbound on the localizer in IMC conditions was even less amused.
A point very relevant to our discussions here is the way in which the actual ASRS report was used in these proceeding.

 As I pointed out in some our earlier discussions the only part of the ASRS report that can be used by the FAA is the strip that describes the incident, the one NASA mails back to you and that your lawyer will present if the FAA takes certificate action.

In this case the identification strip (and only the strip) was used to establish the time of the incident (footnote 6).

In the end somebody had to make a judgment if the respondent pilot’s entry into IMC on a VFR flight was inadvertent. If the incident was inadvertent then the ASRS report would justify waving the 240 day ticket suspension. If not, then the suspension should stand.

In this case we the guy we hire to make these judgments (the Judge) judged that the respondent pilot should reasonability have known that departing VFR into marginal weather at Telluride would probably result into entry into IMC. 

The ASRS is not intended to protect deliberate, premeditated actions. I think the Judge made the correct decision in this case. The Judge’s decision was in no way arbitrary or capricious.

Note also that even though the pilots filing of the ASRS report didn’t qualify for a wavier of sanctions he or she did the right thing in filing the report. Even though it didn’t stop the wheels of justice the report itself will help others learn from this mistake.

Editorial: Of all the airports in the world to pull this stunt our hero picked Telluride! I’m amazed he or she only got a 240 day suspension out of it.


A number of the pilots on FlightInfo are under the misconception that the body of the report can be somehow obtained by the FAA and used against the reporter.  This is not the case!  If NASA’s initial screening finds that the report falls within the scope of the program (i.e. it is not reporting a crime or accident) then de-identification is performed.  When the reporter receives the ID strip back in the mail from NASA he or she can rest assured that the information in the body of the report is going to be kept entirely confidential.

NASA analyzes the reports it receives and disseminates this information in a number of ways to the aviation community.  In some cases they get on the phone and try to get problems fixed immediately.  Many, many unsafe situations have been discovered and corrected before anyone was hurt because of the ASRS program.

So what’s the bottom line?  If  you are flying and observe a potentially unsafe situation then you ought to file an ASRS report. Neither the body of your report or the ID strip will be disclosed to the FAA.  The report won’t be held against you.  Presenting the ID strip at the appropriate time may help should the FAA subsequently seek a fine or certificate action as a result of the incident. 

At Oshkosh once I went to a seminar where a group of aviation lawyers discussed the ASRS. To a person they urged all pilots to file ASRS reports whenever safety was in question. 

If you ever ask yourself ‘should I file a NASA report?’, there is only one answer:  YES!