Sunday, April 08, 2007

Pilot Myths

I just got May's issue of AOPA's Flight Training magazine which had an article titled Pilot Myths, citing some of the most common misconceptions non-aviation folks have regarding pilots and aviation. One of the myths highlighted was the "Jets are good, props are bad" myth:

In a Small Airplane Horror Story, the small airplane can be anything from a two-seat taildragger to a 70-seat turboprop commuter aircraft.

Speaking of propellers, to the public at large, the term "prop plane" bespeaks antiquity, technical inferiority, sloth, and decay. Never mind that a prop plane may be a cutting-edge turoprop design. Nor that the configuration may suit the mission better than any other propulsion system. In the layman's view, props are old, jets are new, and that's all anyone needs to know. Pilots are judged accordingly.

- Flight Training, May 2007 pg 45

Its a great article, one aviation myth they really didn't cover the was the unfortunately named "uncontrolled field." I get a lot of looks when I use this phrase in describing some of my flights to non-towered airports. I can literally see the astonished looks in non-aviation folks eyes as they imagine airplanes just arriving all willy-nilly from different directions at an airport in complete chaos without a higher authority guiding them in. How does everyone avoid crashing into each other? Well, same way millions of people each drive around highways and streets, by relying on system of widely understood rules and conventions designed to keep everyone safe.

After a few early mistakes I learned to use the phrase "non-towered", it doesn't sound scary as "uncontrolled."

Anyway its a great read, although the article was much better at highlighting the common myths and misconceptions, but it was a little light on providing advice on how to counter them. AOPA has a great website though on how to talk to the media, which every pilot should really pay attention too. The public already has some negative perceptions regarding aviation, its every pilot's responsibility to present aviation in a positive way.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Why I hate software development (warning: non-aviation topic)

I hate software development. This is a weird thing for me to say because I love programming, I love creating software; I even enjoy solving bugs and fixing crappy code. However, more and more I’ve found myself getting increasingly depressed and frustrated with the business of software development.

My best friend is rapidly approaching burnout; he’s working in an extremely high stress environment, putting in long hours, striving to meet an impossible deadline, and gradually losing his health. Can you guess what industry the company he works for sells their software too? Must be pretty important right? I guess so, if you’re into eCommerce solutions for window and door manufacturers.

The company isn’t really doing well; the software they produced is usually so buggy and slow that a lot of their biggest customers have threatened to sue multiple times. This results in a heroic effort by the already overworked developers to fix the problems and save the company. I know because I used to work there to, and I left along with half of the development team because I kept seeing the same damn cyclical pattern.





I left that company thinking that surely this was the exception, not the rule. How could you be smart enough to start a company, bring in brilliant people, and then just totally mismanage it to the point where your customers sue you, and you lose your brightest staff? Not only that, but keep repeating the same goddamn mistakes year after year?

Fast forward a year and I’m working for one of the largest banks in the world. This employer is one of the top three largest employers in Columbus, my team works with the Auto Finance division and this was our goal as described by our team lead.

Fix a failed offshore project (bad software) so we can limp it into production, so we can immediately start on a total rewrite/upgraded version (since the original only delivered a tenth of what was needed) of the software in house.

The internal team (us) made our goal; we got the project into production and totally exceeded everyone’s expectations. A handful of developers fixed a failed project that took sixty offshore developers to make. Considering our success you’d think the business we’re supporting would be jumping up and down to proceed to a new version.

You’d be wrong.

Over the past four months we’ve been mostly sitting on our hands, our team has tried and tried again stressing the case for getting a new version up and running quickly, only to be faced with collective silence and stone-walling from our business.

Today things changed; there were some new people in the office today, people in suits, meeting with our team lead and his boss. A VP for Auto Finance flew in from NY, something was up. I joked to a team member that they’re going to offshore PDS again for version 2; we had a pretty good laugh about that.

Until another team member came by and told us that’s exactly what the business is considering doing. The meetings are with another offshore company, the business wants them to look over the code for our project and come up with an evaluation of how long it would take them to come out with a rewrite.

See the pattern? Yup, despite the fact the internal team completely turned around the project, despite the fact they tried to offshore and failed, the business is hell bent on making the same mistake again.

Its all about cost, the original offshore company quoted a price $3 million below the competition, and they delivered a product that met a tenth of the requested functionality. The business wants to throw the dice again and hope that this time another low-bid offshore company will do better.

It’s this kind of insane thinking that has made me sick of software development. This isn’t atypical, what’s atypical in the field are companies like 37signals, Fog Creek, Source Gear, Microsoft, and Google. Everyday I read online at how awesome these places are for developers to work in, and how successful their products are, it makes me physically ill to think how rare those companies are in this field. It’s not like there are any secrets to creating a successful software company, Joel Splosky and Eric Sink's blog basically spell it out to everyone for free!

I’ve been feeling this way for a while, everyplace I’ve worked at as a developer so far has been met with huge disappointment. I hate this industry and my hatred of the stupidity the companies I work for grows with every passing day.

I’m desperate to escape; is an attempt, at least with my own website I’m in control. I can craft my own ads on Google AdWords, I can come up with the design and the copy of the home page. I can decide on the hosting provider and I can control what features go into the site, and which features are cut.

Of course, I’ve thought about giving up software development all together, just change career paths completely. A friend of mine recently suggested building airplanes (laying down carbon fiber for composites), I was pretty surprised how tempting that sounded. Another option is to get my commercial and CFI, start taking up students, maybe ferry some airplanes for the flying club.

I apologize if this post deviates a little; I try to keep this blog aviation oriented, but this was something I had to get off my chest. Almost like last weeks “Designing for the Passenger” post/rant, by the way I was playing around with a new writing style, I don’t usually run around screaming at the top of my lungs about corporate jet jockeys.

Til next time, clear skies!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Designing for the Passenger (Not the Pilot)

In the eighty-plus years of general aviation, there is one simple fact that I believe GA has ignored (or at least paid little attention too). That most people are terrified of small airplanes.

Scariest thing in the world to a passenger


Its not about the actual safety record of general aviation aircraft, its the PERCEPTION of safety. Why do we assume that people can override thousands of years of honed evolutionary traits that have developed the practical fear of falling just like that?


Commerical air travel has evolved to the level of use today because it focused on making the passengers FEEL SAFER. This involved practical safety measures (need examples), but a lot I believe had to do with the perception of safety. Jets were installed so airplanes could fly above turbulence, Flight attendants were registered nurses (to alleviate the passenger’s fear of being trapped in a tube in the sky while having a heart attack and no one to offer medical aid), aircraft seats double as floatation devices.

All of these innovations were messages to passengers saying “We care about how safe you feel, don’t be afraid, come fly with us!” They didn’t just tell passengers it was safer, they worked hard to demonstrate to passengers that it was. It still took a couple of decades, but eventually passengers finally relented and BOOM! Commercial aviation exploded and killed off its main competitor in long distance travel, the passenger train.


This strategy has worked so well most people have it hardwired into their brains BIG JET = SAFE. This has worked so well it’s sort of come round to bite the airlines in the ass regarding regional carriers and turboprops. Ask a non-pilot relative or friend who has done some moderate air travel in the last few years, they will undoubtedly tell you how much they loath getting on a Dash 10.

Not a "real" airplane


So what can GA as an industry, specifically aircraft manufacturers do to make passengers feel safer?...

Oh wait, were you expecting an answer? HA! Honestly I don’t know, if you’re expecting specific technological, marketing, or sales solution that’ll get your hot wife in the air instead with you instead of staying behind at the FBO lounge (WHERE YOU JUST KNOW THAT SOME MID-TWENTY NETJETS CITATION JOCKEY IS FLIRTING WITH HER RIGHT THIS MINUTE DAMNIT!), I don’t have it.

But a smart company would find out, because a smart aircraft company would realize that in GA we’ve just about reached an upper limit on what matters to the person in the left seat (avionics, performance, cost of ownership) and while we’ve got a person sitting on the right that we’ve completely ignored. A smart company will start take a Right Seat Design approach to building aircraft (and the company), because in the future that’s what will sell new airplanes.

I plan to start such a company.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

IFR Refresher

A while back I went into the simulator with Matt to just do some IFR stuff. To be honest I was a little nervous, I hadn't flown in nearly three months since I got my IFR ticket. So I was a little unsure how well the skills I've developed in the six months it took to get my IFR rating had held up.

To make a long story short, it was awesome!!

Seriously, it was like I had just taken the checkride. In the sim I did the VOR 28 at DLZ (hold at APE), GPS 27 at MRT, and finally the ILS 9R into OSU. Of course it was in the simulator, but the my tracking, procedures, and radio skills all came back to me and everything felt natural. The weather is getting a lot better, and there's starting to be more daylight in the evenings, so pretty soon I plan on doing some real life IFR in marginal VFR weather. Just to make sure.

I have some plans actually for the summer, an idea that I hope will help me fly to some interesting places and meet some interesting people. I'll update this blog when I actually get details worked out. But I'm pretty excited about it!

Clear Skies (or if Cloudy Skies for the IFR folks)!

Dropped from Google

One of the biggest challenges I've had to face in starting my own website hasn't been the actual code. Nope, I can write the software just fine, after all, that's what I do everyday (usually). My biggest challenge so far has been advertising, informing people that my site exists and what it can do for them. For public websites, there has to be some kind of strategy in getting a high rank on the search engines, Google being the #1 search engine to target.

There's some controversy about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), whether is it actually a legitimate practice or not. Unfortunately SEO usually gets a bad rap, there are a lot of people who consider SEO nothing more than "spamming" search engines in order to get a top rank (at the expense of actual meaningful content). In actuality, legitimate SEO practices stress an importance on creating meaningful content, and good website design practices.

Neverless, search engines, especially Google will take a firm hand when they suspect that a site has used unfair practices to gain a higher ranking in their listings. I experienced this first had on Friday when I realized my Google Page Rank for dropped to zero. What this means is that it is practically impossible for to show up on any search listings for "notam" or "notams" in Google (fortunately, my ads for those keywords are still up).

At first I was furious, I wasn't participating in any "link farming", "hidden text", or other dubious practices to gain a high rank. I found the reinclusion request page for Google, however I resented the fact I had to confess that I did anything wrong in what I felt (at the time) was Google's error.

Well, after I calmed down I rechecked the guidelines, and I realized I had inadvertently violated them. You see, it took me a while to come up with the name "NOTAM Ace", a year ago I first launched the site as "Preflight Pro" and placed it on the domains "" and "". Well it turns out Google frowns on the same page under different domains (can't blame them, spammers do that too), so when they found three domains that had the same content, they flagged me.

I had decided to keep the domains active, simply because there were links to some directories and in archives of newsgroups that still had a link to "". But I'd rather have reactivated, so I called my ISP and requested the domain pointers be removed, and filled a reinclusion request to Google, explaining my situation and informing them I had taken steps to correct the problem. The time it takes to be reincluded ranges anywhere from two to eight weeks. I hope I get reincluded soon! At the very least I still have my Adwords to help with the traffic.

In the end I don't really blame Google, they have to make sure the listings are legit. I do blame the spammers (not legit SEO guys), who've really poisoned the wells for the rest of us.

Till next time, clear skies!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Port Columbus Tower Tour

Last Friday my flying club, Capital City Aviation set up a tour of Port Columbus's tower (KCMH). This was my first time seeing the operations inside the tower at an airport and it's something I definitely recommend to any pilot. The staff were very friendly, and they took extra time for the pilots, explaining everything and answering all of our questions.

The big hit for me was the radar room, Port Columbus has about ten radar terminals, each with a large screen showing the radar returns, and smaller monitors on top displaying information such as IFR enroute charts, weather, PIREPs, and NTOAMs. The radar screen itself is amazing, packing a lot of information in a very concise and surprisingly easy to read manner (once you have someone explain what some of the numbers and symbols mean).

Up top, the "tower" portion is for the ground and on airport operations. The visibility is excellent of course, I could stand in the middle of the tower and have a 360 view of both ends of CMH's runways (there are rolling lifter stands for shorter folks). In the tower, there are monitors set up also showing radar returns from aircraft around the airport. At the time we toured the airport, there were three people in the tower, one guy handled the takeoffs and landings ("tower"), another the ground operations, and finally a very nice woman was handling the departure clearances and flow control.

All in all it was a very education and interesting experience, it was great placing faces to the voices. It gave me a greater sense of appreciation that these hard-working men and women are there to help the pilot and to prevent people from losing their lives. I'd like to go back solo and spend more time just sitting around and talking more with the people who work there!

If you're a pilot, take some time to visit your local airport and tour their tower. If they're like Port Columbus, they'll be very accommodating and pilot-friendly. Port Columbus preferred we visited during the weekday, simply because they could handle a large group better when they weren't busy, and midday during the week is fairly slow.

'Til next time, clear skies!

Setting the hook

I'd like to congratulate my friend, Mark for taking his first intro flight yesterday. I still remember my first intro flight (also the first flight I've ever had in a small airplane), it was the first step in a long journey (which I'm still on), and it's a step not everyone makes. Mark wrote the following in an email to me soon after he solo'd:

"Ground school cast out the line."
"When you took me up I bit the hook....Matt just set it!"

Clear Skies Mark! Once the hook's set, you're not getting free!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What in the NOTAM - CARF

CARF stands for Central Altitude Reservation Function is the organization responsible for processing altitude reservations (ALTRVs) for military operations. These types of NOTAMs are designed to keep private air traffic clear of military operations, and to give authorization for military aircraft to conduct operations not normally allowed under standard ATC rules and regulations. Here is an example of a CARF NOTAM:


Not all altitude and airspace reservations start off with CARF, off-shore reservations or reservations where there is inadequate radar coverage may be issued as an international NOTAM like the one below:

M0493/06 - AIRSPACE RESERVATION ACTIVATED AREA OAK ALPHA 3907N 7153W 3841N 7155W 3820N 6957W 3830N 69W 37N 69W 37N 7240W 3715N 7240W 3757N 73W 3820N 7248W 3846N 7230W SFC- FL055 08 NOV 23:59 UNTIL 07 FEB 23:59 2007

These types of NOTAMs should be treated like Special Use Airspaces (SUA), you should avoid flying in the area described in the NOTAM while the area is active. Speaking of SUAs, the FAA has a great site for checking the coverage and status of SUAs
at A careful check of both the CARF NOTAMs and SUA should help you stay clear of the fast-movers!

Clear Skies!

Saturday, January 20, 2007


I'm pretty happy to announce that I've just rolled out a new feature for NOTAM Ace, unlit towers.

How many times have you called the flight briefer or checked DUATS to be told there's an unlit tower near the airport. How many times have you just ignored it, simply because the information in the NOTAM is so vague as to be completely useless? ("8 miles East - North East of the airport", yeah okay that's really specific)

Well no longer, when you do a search in NOTAM Ace if there's an unlit tower in the NOTAM, you will know exactly where its located.

I'm really pumped by this feature, simply because it illustrates the benefit of NOTAM Ace's mapping technique, and it offers something DUATS and even the FSS briefer can't match (although as always call 1800-WX-Brief to get an approved FSS flight briefing before you fly...seriously I mean it!).

Till next time, watch out for those towers! Clear Skies!

Monday, January 15, 2007

What in the NOTAM - USD & UAR

While developing NOTAM Ace, I've run across a lot of different Notices to Airmen. Understanding NOTAMs is important for conducting a safe and legal flight, however a lot of pilots have only a vague understanding of what they're actually reading. Most pilots (and I'm including myself) just do a brief skim, looking for only a few things like "Temporary Flight Restriction" or "LGTS OTS", and missing other NOTAMs that could have a critical impact on the safety of their flight. I built NOTAM Ace to help make understanding NOTAMs easier, but software can only do so much.

That's why I'm starting a segment called "What in the NOTAM?" Weekly I'll research something that is often found in NOTAMs and try to cover what it is, how its written up, and why a pilot should pay attention to it.

This week, I'm going to start off with two NOTAM contractions important to every IFR pilot (especially if they operate in and out of busy Class C or B airspaces), USD and UAR.

USD depicts changes to the published Departure Procedures (DP) for the airport, here's an example:

!USD 07/020 (KPHX A0290/05) PHX ST. JOHNS THREE DEPARTURE...DEP CTL 119.2/281.45

This example shows a change in the departure clearance frequencies for the ST. JOHNS THREE departure at PHX. If you were used to the old frequency, checking this NOTAM could prevent a couple of seconds confusion when the tower gives you 119.2.

UAR is the NOTAM code for changes to the published Standard Terminal Procedures (STAR) for the airport. Here's what one of these may look like:


This UAR shows that for the LENDY FIVE arrival at JFK, there are some changes to the published route of the arrival. Knowing this in advance is essential if ATC happens to assign you this arrival.

Remember ATC can assign you a DP or STAR if available while you're on an IFR flight plan. Knowing in advance any changes to the published DPs or STARs is essential if you are planning an IFR flight.

That's it for this week in What in the NOTAM, if I've made any errors or omissions please feel free to leave a comment, I'll correct it ASAP.

Till next time, clear skies!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The past year in review

Wow, its been nearly a year since I last posted! A lot has happened to me aviation-related in the past year. Here's a brief summary:

1. IFR Certification - I went for and received my IFR rating, passing my checkride on 11/22. Its been a challenging and rewarding experience, even more so than the private pilot certification. I own my thanks to my flight instructor Matt F at Capital City, who showed infinite patience and guidance during my training, especially when I "gave bad radio."

2. Preflight Pro - I did some work on my visual NOTAMs tool, Preflight Pro and relaunched it as NOTAM Ace. Its more polished and offers a better UI experience. You can see the new version at

3. Mentoring - People who know me quickly realize its hard for me NOT to talk about flying. One of those people Mark, who I worked with during the first half of the year, figured since I talk about it so much there must be something to this whole flying business. He's now pursuing his private pilot certificate as well! He'll be training at Capital City ( and I look forward to seeing him around OSU!

This year - 2007

What's a blog post for the new year without a list of goals? Well here are several of my goals for the new year as a pilot.

1. Keep IFR currency - a requirement and responsibility that comes with having the rating, still it'll be pretty challenging as a "casual" pilot

2. More training - I've been bitten by the aerobatic bug, ever since I the flying club outing to Red Stewart field. I recently found out that Marysville (MRT) has a flight school for aerobatics, I want to check it out and see about getting some aerobatic training. Maybe even compete as an amateur in a few competitions.

3. Getting non-pilots involved - I love sharing my passion for flight with others, it was great taking Mark up in the air and just cruising around. Another friend, Will is pretty interested in flying too, so during a nice weekend (a rarity in Ohio this time of year) I'd like to take him up in the Warrior as well. I believe strongly in aviation being a shared experience, and I want to show as many people as possible what I experience in a small airplane 3000 feet up.