Saturday, February 08, 2014
It is not really about airport safety. If it was about safety, then airport officials would work with the various aviation groups at the airport to effect improvements. Attempting to address safety issues when they are not really the issue is pointless. At Hemet, the officials refused to meet. Then when they lost the decision on our FAA complaint, they refused to negotiate in good faith. County officials chose to ignore CalTrans citations and recommendations for years until they could use them to their advantage. This appears to have happened at Cal City as well.
It is not really about airport growth. If it was about airport growth, there would be studies and consultants and estimates to support it. The airport officials would develop an airport plan which could be responsibly implemented. At Hemet, the airport officials published a sham plan which ignored the history of soaring and the huge fraction of airport operations which were due to glider operations. The plan postulated growth in other operations which were totally unsupported by any studies or statistics. The plan was developed with no input from airport users, and published silently with no notice to the public to invite comments.
The motivation is probably personal gain, not the public interest. People do not resort to underhanded tactics for honorable goals. At Hemet, the county made a deal with the FBO to help get rid of the commercial, club, and private gliders. The county put pressure on other FBOs to not deal with the gliders. The county insisted on applying FBO standards to clubs. The county refused to offer leases to clubs, insisting on month-to-month rentals but requiring renters to invest in infrastructure, which they could lose on 30 days' notice. The county ignored strong cautions in the environmental impact study they themselves commissioned. The county was willing to place turboprop aircraft operations within 100 feet of residences. They were clearly highly motivated to get rid of the gliders and pursue other changes at all cost. Our task was to figure out why.
The airport officials may not be aviators. They do not know what works for aviators, and may not care. They have other motivations which we do not understand. They may be judged by how much they increase revenue or reduce costs, regardless of what that means for aviation. They may not remember or understand the obligations that came with FAA improvement funds they received in the past.
It may be based on completely unrealistic expectations and ego. People in power convince themselves that something is possible and desirable. Even when it is obvious to others that the idea will not work, ego prevents people from backing down. At Hemet, there seemed to be two stated goals, neither of which was realistic, and only one (or neither) of which may have been the true motivation.
- The county wanted to keep CalFire operations at Hemet, and expected the state to pay for improvements to CalFire facilities, ignoring California's fiscal situation which precludes such investment. Why was this believed to be so important? Because by building new CalFire facilities in the space occupied by the gliders, they would make room for redeveloping the older section of the airport.
- The county said they wanted to attract more jet traffic to Hemet, and expand runways to accommodate it. Really? Who needs to fly jets into Hemet - or into California City? Neither is a hotbed of industrial activity, or the home of wealthy people with private jets. Was this a diversion?
At Cal City, the history of infrastructure changes that did not work out, and escalating efforts to make them work, may also have been motivated by ego.
It is about money and power. Someone has a lot to gain, or already is getting a lot and is aiming to protect it. It may be about power, but more likely it is about money. If you can figure out who stands to gain and how, you may be able to come up with a counterstrategy. This can be difficult to discern because of secrecy.
- At Hemet, the best theory seemed to be that elected county officials would gain political contributions from construction companies seeking contracts for the proposed redevelopment.
- At Cal City, I have no idea whether the official in charge is elected, so the financial motivation may be different. To figure this out, one needs to keep asking "Why?" until one gets to the root cause of the behavior. Follow the money.
It may involve corruption. At Hemet, we could not prove anything, and did not even really look into this aspect. But the day some glider people went to meet with county officials, they had to wait in the lobby while the FBI conducted a raid on the county offices. And a careful reading of CalFire board meeting minutes reveals a sudden reversal of their position, violating their own process, after they met with Riverside county officials. If corruption is involved, honest organizations will always be at a disadvantage, because the corrupt ones will always be more highly motivated.
It can be nearly impossible to counteract a highly motivated person who already has power. At Hemet, we eventually realized that the only way to even attempt to counter the situation would be to (1) get involved in county politics (a county where few of us reside), and (2) spend large amounts of money on the political process. We did not have the desire or means to do either.
FAA and CalTrans cannot force airports to make improvements or spend money. They can do passive things such as withholding funds, revoking or refusing to renew permits, etc. FAA cannot force an airport to produce an airport plan that is fair or realistic. At Hemet, one option would have been to make the lights on the main runway flush to the ground to make towplane operations easier. Another option would have been to reconfigure the glider runway. The county chose to do none of these, chose to avoid working on an operating plan, and chose to wait for the gliders to leave due to intolerable conditions. The only leverage we have is that FAA may withhold future funds if they find the county violated the ruling that they handed down regarding the gliders.
Sunday, September 08, 2013
In August of 2012, one of our club members landed out in a field, and the main landing gear was badly damaged. Major fiberglass work was required. We tried to work with a pair of local people who said they could do the job, but it turned out to be beyond their ability to plan and execute. They were not able to engineer the repair themselves, and needed guidance from the factory - in Poland. Getting the list of parts, and figuring out how to order them, and getting the repair guidance just did not progress. In December we pulled the plug with those guys.
There are a couple of very good composite repair shops in California, neither of which is close to us. The one we worked with was over 500 miles away. One of our club members towed the ship up there as part of a vacation trip. The shop produced an estimate pretty quickly, our insurance company approved it quickly, checks were sent and received, and the work was begun. They were qualified to design the repair, and they didn't need to order parts from Poland after all. The work was done by some time in May. My wife and I drove up there to retrieve the ship. Fortunately our insurance settlement paid mileage for both round trips!
In May or June our Grob 103 became unavailable (another long story), so we've been completely grounded.
We assembled the PW5 back at Crystal in June and were eager to fly it, but it would not power up. I traced many wires, fuses and circuit breakers, and narrowed the problem down to the positive wiring, but could not find the problem. To make things worse, some screws I needed to remove for further troubleshooting were hopelessly stuck. Trying to work on problems like this, kneeling in the dirt, in the desert sun, far from tools and materials, is not easy and not fun!
I was given a contact for an A&P who does avionics part-time at Crystal, and he agreed to take a look, and work on it at his hangar. Week after week I called him back to see if he had checked into it, but he never returned my calls. Another disappointingly unprofessional local repair person - and most of another month wasted.
So we towed the glider down to Orange County and a couple of our experienced club members worked on it. The electrical problem turned out to be fairly easy to fix - a second set of eyes and a decent working environment certainly helped! They also did some other maintenance on the glider and made many improvements to our clunky old trailer.
Today I towed it back to Crystal, Greg and Mike and I assembled it, and Greg and I each got a flight. The composite repair looks beautiful, and the ship is flying fine (except for one pesky instrument problem).
Friday, May 31, 2013
It could not be much simpler. It has a small but mighty clip on the back, so you can just clip it to the edge of your hat next to your ear. There's an on-off switch on the back. There's no volume control.
The unit beeps to let you know when you are in rising air (i.e. air pressure dropping). The rate of the beep varies with the rate of pressure change. It is silent in sink (pressure rising). It is so sensitive that it changes if I hold it in my hand and raise it over my head. There's a very tiny adjustment screw, in case the beep rate is too fast or slow, but I've never had to use it.
Monday, May 27, 2013
We chose a shop in Tehachapi to do the work. Getting the stab there and back was a bit of a trick, because it is is 10.8 feet wide. That's too big to fit in my full-size pickup bed, which Pythagoras says is 8.9 feet diagonally. Letting it hang out over the tailgate or stick up over the cab seemed like a recipe for disaster. So one of our club members put it in his camper, which allowed it to go over the cab and be protected.
To bring it back, I decided to put it in the glider's trailer, since there's a nice padded pair of brackets for just that purpose. From home to Crystal (to get the trailer) to Tehachapi, back to Crystal and back home is about 320 miles, so retrieving and installing the stab a couple weeks ago was an all-day affair. It looks great! As it turns out, the surfaces had been reworked but not stripped before, so this time two or three layers of material were removed. The elevator is now measurably lighter, so it should be somewhat more responsive.
Then the ship was due for its annual inspection. Fortunately nothing else major came up, so last week it was signed off as airworthy again. This Saturday several of us spent the morning lubricating all the control linkages, washing the ship, putting a coat of wax on it (gotta protect that new finish!), polishing the canopy, and doing general maintenance required for a ship that sits out all the time.
Since significant maintenance had been done, a solo test flight is required before any passenger flights would be allowed. That job fell to me, so I took it up to 1,000' AGL for a quick checkout. On takeoff, I PIO'd it a bit, recovering after the second oscillation - maybe the lighter elevator made it react more quickly? Or maybe it's just that I haven't flown for a month and a half...
One of the fellows who came out this weekend is a former club member who is looking to rejoin. Recently he has been signed off to fly in high-performance gliders and at Crystalaire, so now he will need to get a checkout in our Grob 103. I took him up for an orientation flight so he could start to learn the specifics of this ship. I let off tow in lift over the "second ridge", and between us we took it up to about 8,700' MSL a few times. We landed after exactly one hour.
Another club member who hasn't flown much lately wanted to get some practice before tackling his BFR, so we went up again. This time we got a-l-m-o-s-t to 10,000' MSL. We headed over the the area near the top Mt. Lewis, expecting to find some thermals popping, or wind blowing up the sides of the "bowls" between the mountains. Nothing. It was weird - way calmer than we usually would find up there.
Back down below the second ridge, we found some more lift, but not quite as high, and then out over the desert we found some marginal wave lift. There was a fairly strong wind out of the west, and weak wave had been reported there a couple of hours earlier, and sure enough it was still there. That gave us enough time for him to practice stalls, slow flight, etc. which might be requested during a BFR flight. We came in after exactly 90 minutes.
So... I flew for 2 hours and 40 minutes, but since I let the other pilots do much of the flying, I only get to log 50 minutes. But it was really great to be back in the air again!