Friday, March 27, 2015

Pilot suicides

Yesterday’s revelation that the recent crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 was caused by an apparent pilot suicide shocked the world. First Officer Andreus Lubitz reportedly locked the captain out of the cockpit and calmly flew the airplane with its 150 passengers into the side of a French mountain, killing everyone on board.

The act of suicide by an airline pilot while flying is not common, but has happened more than most people think. The most well-known suicide pilots, the Japanese kamikazes of World War II, carried no passengers, although the September 11 suicide hijackers did. The Aviation Safety Network lists nine crashes dating back to 1976 that were confirmed to be suicides. Additionally, ABC News notes that a Japan Air Lines pilot crashed his DC-8 in 1982, killing 24 people, but surviving the crash himself. Last year’s disappearance of Malaysia Flight 370 is widely believed to have been due to a pilot suicide as well.

Airline suicide crashes are usually not well known because they have primarily occurred in the third world. The sole suicide crash before Germanwings that affected a Western country was EgyptAir 990, which crashed off the island of Nantucket, Mass. in 1999. The American NTSB determined that a relief first officer crashed the plane into the ocean, killing all 217 people on board, but Egypt disputed the conclusion.

For most people, there are strong psychological barriers against killing oneself or others. A pilot who intentionally crashes his plane has obviously overcome these strong taboos against killing and suicide. While pilots are normal people with normal problems, few people who commit suicide do so while taking hundreds of other lives at the same time. Nevertheless, one study cited by Air & Space Magazine found that suicide was suspected in .33 percent of fatal crashes over 20 years. This is slightly more than one crash per year, mostly involving small airplanes.

Flying is a high stress occupation. Being an airline pilot involves long periods of time away from home and family, which leads to a high divorce rate. The airline industry is often unstable and furloughs (layoffs) or demotions can come suddenly and last years, leading to financial problems. Add to that a grueling schedule with irregular work hours, regular flight tests and medical exams that can quickly end a career, and the knowledge that a momentary lapse can kill or lead to a violation by regulatory authorities and it is easy to understand how a pilot could suffer from depression or substance abuse. In spite of the stress, suicide is not demonstrably higher for pilots according to most studies.

“It's a special job. You are working at irregular times; if you have a family, you are often not there [or] may be at home when everyone is at work,” said Dr. Andre Droog, president of the European Association for Aviation Psychology on Voice of America. “If you are flying intercontinental flights, you may build up jet lag and fatigue and of course you have to manage your life very well.”

In spite of policies at many airlines that encourage pilots to self-report addiction or mental health issues, many pilots are fearful that doing so will cost them their jobs. In 2010, the FAA changed its policy to allow pilots to take antidepressants for mild to moderate depression, but the current policy stipulates that approval is on a case-by-case basis and requires successful treatment for six months, during which time they would not be legal to fly. This effectively means that pilots have to either forgo treatment, fly illegally, or take a six month leave of absence.

In Asia, where several suicide crashes have taken place, many airlines now subject their pilots to psychological testing. “They ask about your mental health, about events that could affect you psychologically,” one captain from an Asian airline told CNBC. “But who willingly admits to anything that could lead to a suspension of their license? I won't. I need my job.”

Since airline crewmembers know each other best, flight crews are encouraged to report any potential problems that they observe. In the United States, many pilot unions have professional standards committees to help resolve interpersonal conflicts. Concerned crewmembers can talk to representatives on these committees without involving company representatives and threatening jobs.

“Never leave a person alone - that's probably the most effective suicide prevention technique there is," said Tony Catanese, a clinical psychologist at Glen Iris Psychology in Melbourne on CNBC.

Federal aviation regulations already require that both pilots remain in the cockpit, but contains an exception for “physiological needs.” For flights lasting from six to eight hours, it is unrealistic to assume that neither pilot would ever have to visit the lavatory. On most flights, there are no relief crews to fill the empty seat for a few minutes. Cockpit doors have been strengthened since the September 11 attacks to resist forcible entry, making it difficult for the second pilot to break back in.

One solution might be for a flight attendant enter the cockpit when one pilot leaves. The Flight Attendant would probably not be able to wrestle the controls from a suicidal pilot, but might be able to at least prevent him from locking the other pilot out.

Ultimately, there is no way to effectively prevent any possibility of future airline pilot suicides. At present, even though the shock of the Germanwings crash is still fresh, the problem of suicides by pilots is a tiny statistical blip. The vast majority of airline pilots around the world are professionals who have learned to cope with life’s problems and keep them out of the cockpit.


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Flying the Lear 45

SDC15323The Lear 45 is a light business jet that first flew in 1995. A follow-up to the popular Lear 35 series, the Lear 45 was the first airplane produced after Bombardier purchased Learjet in 1990. At corporate airports around the country and all over the world, the Lear 45 is a common sight.

The Lear 45 is a capable performer. Normally configured, it can seat eight passengers plus two pilots. A belted lav seat can bring the total passenger count to nine. Red line speed is 330 knots or .81 mach. Service ceiling is 51,000 feet.

Sitting on the ramp, the Lear 45 looks fast. Standout features are the large, tinted windscreen, swept wings and turned up winglets. The airplane sits low to the ground, which makes loading passengers and bags easy.

Early 45s configured with –AR engines are somewhat limited when it comes to hot and high operations from short fields. One summer flight from Albuquerque (KABQ) with temperatures approaching 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius) required a field length of almost 7,000 feet, compared to a typical required runway length of around 4,000 feet. Newer Lear 45 XRs with –BR engines perform much better under hot and high conditions. The difference is very noticeable on almost any flight that goes into the flight levels with –BR airplanes encountering a shorter time-to-climb and having the ability to maintain higher airspeeds in the climb. An upgrade to –BR engines is available for older aircraft.

One of the most daunting things about the Lear 45 for new pilots is the door. The main cabin door is a clamshell door in two pieces. The lower half descends to become a stair, while the top the half lifts up. Opening or securing the door requires manipulating two separate handles and a latch. While the process seems confusing at first, it quickly becomes second nature. SDC15294

From a pilot’s perspective, the Lear 45 is a joy to fly. Controls are somewhat heavy without a hydraulic boost, but the airplane is solid. On takeoff, acceleration is normally quick both on the ground and in the early stages of the climb. There is no tiller for control on the ground. Taxi steering is accomplished by rudder pedals as in a light Cessna or Piper.

Avionics are primarily Honeywell Primus Epic with a four screen setup. There are two primary flight displays (PFDs), an EICAS (engine instrument and crew alerting system) screen, and a multifunction display (MFD). The PFDs place the information of the traditional “six pack” instruments, as well as some navigation information, on one screen for each pilot. The EICAS gives a digital representation of engine and system instruments. The MFD normally shows a map screen, but can be used to show PFD or EICAS information in the event of a screen failure. Additionally, both the MFD and the EICAS can show individual pages with information on specific systems such as fuel, pressurization or hydraulics.

Typical for a 20 year old airplane, the avionics suite looks somewhat primitive when compared to the Garmin display in a Cirrus. The newer Lear 75, which has replaced the Lear 45 in production, has replaced the Primus system with Garmin G5000 displays and FMS.

An experienced pilot will quickly notice a peculiar thing about the Lear 45 panel. Even though the EICAS includes the ability to receive CAS messages about system abnormalities, the panel also includes an older-style panel of warning lights. This panel, located in the center of the cockpit above the MFD, duplicates red warning CAS messages. While not readily apparent to the new pilot, the function of this crew warning panel (CWP) is to provide the crew with warning notifications in the event of a total electrical failure in which the display screens are turned off to save battery power.

The real chink in the armor of the avionics system is the Universal UNS-1Ew FMS. The UNS-1 is vastly different from other FMS’s in logic, which can make the transition difficult. The introduction of more and more RNAV arrivals and departures shows the weakness of the Universal. The RNAV arrivals that I frequently fly into Houston contain numerous crossing restrictions where the airplane has to be within a window of about 3,000 feet. Most FMS’s compute a flight path that will put the airplane through the middle of the window and smooth out the descent. In contrast, the Universal defaults to the lowest allowable altitude at each fix. This often translates into steep descents over a short distance. Descending earlier often means using more fuel and a rougher ride for passengers.war is answer isis

Two other quirks of the Lear 45 are repeated in the new Lear 75. First, the APU is limited to ground operation only in both aircraft, which means that it is unusable inflight in a generator or engine failure or for pressurization or climate control. Some early Lear 45s were actually delivered without APUs at all. Second, the spoilers cannot be used with flaps extended. This requires extra planning for some descents and “slam dunk” approaches.

Landing the Lear 45 is a breeze. The airplane handles well, even in a crosswind. The short wingspan and tail-mounted engines mean that pilots can use the same wing-low crosswind technique that is common in light piston airplanes. Trailing link landing gear makes for soft touchdowns. The Lear 45’s reference speed (Vref) for approaches is in the 120 knot range, but its excellent brakes and thrust reversers make stopping easy.

Total fuel capacity is 6,062 pounds (904 gallons). There are two wing tanks and a fuselage tank, the “trunk,” which is located aft of the cabin. Fuel planning can estimated at 1,800 pounds for the first hour, 1,200 pounds for each hour at normal cruise and 1,000 pounds for the last hour with the descent. This would place normal endurance at about four hours with reserves. Maximum range, depending on winds, is approximately 1,500 nautical miles with reserves.

Except for the shortest flights, the Lear 45 is normally operated at 40-41,000 feet. This altitude put the airplane above most airline traffic and allows frequent direct routings. It also gives efficient fuel flows, typically around 600-650 pounds per side per hour. Operating in the low 40s also allows the airplane to maintain a fast cruise, often bumping against the redline of 0.81 mach.

The Lear 40 is a shorter variant of the Lear 45. The Lear 40 is two feet shorter and carries about 700 pounds less fuel, which leads to a somewhat shorter range. The Lear 40, and the follow on Lear 70, are intended as short-range business jets for a small number of passengers.

With the collapse in business jet prices since the onset of the Great Recession, there are many good deals on used Lear 45s. The airplane’s performance and comfort will make sure that the 45 is a staple of corporate flight departments for years to come.


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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Ted Cruz is not ready for prime-time

Ted Cruz was elected as senator from Texas in 2012. Yesterday, after serving two years in the Senate he declared his candidacy for president. After serving only one-third of his Senate term, what has Ted Cruz accomplished to win the support of so many conservatives?

Prior to entering the Senate, Cruz worked on the presidential campaign of George W. Bush and served in the Bush Administration as an associate deputy attorney general and director of policy planning at the Federal Trade Commission. From 2003 through 2008, Cruz served as the solicitor general for the state of Texas. In that role, he argued nine cases before the Supreme Court, winning five and losing four. From 2009 through 2012, Cruz worked at Houston law firm as a corporate lawyer.

Cruz first achieved national notoriety with a September 2013 filibuster as Senate Democrats prepared to strip language defunding Obamacare from a budget bill. Cruz’s 21 hour speech was technically not a filibuster at all. As The Guardian explained, Cruz was not delaying a vote because then-Majority Leader had already scheduled the vote for the following day. Under Senate rules, Cruz was required to yield the floor when the time for the vote arrived. Reid told Politico, “This is not a filibuster. This is an agreement that he and I made that he could talk.” In one exchange with Democrat Dick Durbin during his soliloquy, Cruz tacitly admitted that he understood that Republicans did not have the votes to stop Obamacare.

A few weeks later, Cruz got a second shot of fame as the Republicans adopted the strategy of defunding Obamacare developed by Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). History will record this strategy as a spectacular failure which resulted in the partial shutdown of the federal government for 16 days in October 2013. Obamacare was implemented on schedule, even as nonessential parts of the government were closed and workers were furloughed. When an agreement was finally reached to reopen the government amid plummeting Republican approval ratings, the Affordable Care Act was unchanged, not as a result of inadequate Republican resolve as Cruz alleged, but as a consequence of 55 Democratic senators outnumbering 45 Republicans.

In February 2014, as Congress faced the decision of whether to raise the federal debt ceiling or allow the government to default, once again it was his Republican colleagues that Cruz singled out for criticism. Once again, even though the outcome was preordained, Cruz took a stand that changed nothing, but hurt his party.

In the debt ceiling negotiations, Cruz insisted on invoking cloture, a real filibuster, that required 60 votes for the bill to pass to avoid a default. Because the Democrats only had 55 votes and because most Republicans did not want the country to default, several Republicans had to make a politically embarrassing and damaging vote to end the Cruz filibuster.

In December 2014, Cruz was at it again. The duo of Cruz and Lee held up a 2015 spending bill to protest President Obama’s executive amnesty. In the end, the spending bill passed and the Obama amnesty stood. The pair only managed to make congressmen come to work for a rare Saturday session and, in the process, allowed Democrats to confirm 23 Obama nominees, including 12 judges, that Republicans had previously blocked.

Cruz’s antics have been popular with the conservative base but have alienated him from other Republicans. He was forced to apologize for his December 2014 strategic error, but persisted in pushing his brinksmanship with the attempt to defund President Obama’s executive amnesty in early 2015, a gambit that failed due to a Democratic filibuster.

In contrast to his high profile battles which were full of sound and fury, but actually signified nothing, Cruz’s one notable senatorial success was achieved with bipartisanship and was largely off the national radar. Govtrack notes that Cruz sponsored two bills that became law. One renamed a post office, but the other, S.2195, denied admission to the United States to any UN representatives who had engaged in espionage or terror against the US. The bill’s support was so broad that it passed without opposition and was signed into law by President Obama in 2014. Sadly, Cruz seems not to have learned from this success and returned to attacking Republicans for not having the votes to impose their will on Democrats.

Cruz is an excellent speaker and much of his support stems from his uncompromising attitude. The problem is that, when the results of his actions are examined, he has hurt his own party far more than he has hurt President Obama and the Democrats. His repeated failed attempts to use the budget to get around the Democratic majority and the Obama veto have detracted from the ability of Republicans to find a strategy that might actually work. It is surprising that Cruz, the constitutional lawyer, continues to pursue the same failed strategy over and over.

A majority of Republican voters seem to realize the damage that Cruz has done. Cruz typically hovers at about three to five percent approval according to Politico. A CBS News poll found Republicans almost evenly split on whether they would support Cruz. The poor showing put Cruz in 10th place, ahead of only Bobby Jindal. The Real Clear Politics roundup of polls confirms the shallowness of Cruz’s support with an eighth place showing among Republicans and an average of 4.6 percent support. Cruz also does the worst of any Republican polled in head-to-head matchups against Hillary Clinton, losing by double digit margins in every poll according to Real Clear Politics.

In fact, Senator Cruz has united a broad spectrum of conservatives against his candidacy. Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post writes “Either Cruz is not as smart as some people say, or he has decided to give up on being a serious national Republican in favor of becoming the next Sarah Palin.” Thomas Sowell wrote, “Senator Ted Cruz has not yet reached the point where he can make policy, rather than just make political trouble. But there are already disquieting signs that he is looking out for Ted Cruz — even if that sets back the causes he claims to be serving.” Even Anne Coulter called Cruz “a disaster on illegal immigration.”

Ted Cruz is an inspiring speaker and is very popular among a small contingent of Tea Party Republicans. His tactics are excellent for ginning up his own support among this Tea Party base, but makes it almost impossible for him to gain traction within the party at large. To have a future beyond the Senate, Cruz must find a way to promote himself without further dividing Republicans.


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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Winning Republican strategies for 2015

Since the recent failure of the Republican attempt to defund President Obama’s executive immigration amnesty, much has been written, most of if it unflattering, about the future of the Republican Party. Many on the Tea Party right doubt the “backbone” of the Republican leadership and question their commitment to opposing President Obama’s policies.

What these critics do not provide is an answer to how the Republicans can overcome the Democratic filibuster that derailed the attempt to defund the amnesty. The problem was not “lack of backbone” on the part of the Republican leadership. The problem was mathematics. The Republicans lacked the 60 votes required by Senate procedural rules to end a filibuster.

The Republicans have a majority in both houses of Congress, but the majority is only meaningful if conservatives understand that it is a limited majority. Voters vested control of the Senate and House of Representatives with the Republicans, but they did not issue them a carte blanche to impose a conservative agenda.

The Republican majority is limited in two important ways. First, Senate rules require 60 votes for cloture to end debate on a bill. The Republicans have only 54 votes so it is axiomatic that a cloture vote will require at least six Democrats. Second, the Republicans are limited by President Obama’s veto. Even if a bill passes both houses of Congress, the president can veto it. Congress can override a presidential veto, but this requires 67 votes in the Senate and 288 in the House. Democratic votes (13 in the Senate and 41 in the House) would be required. To avoid wasting two years of a majority, Republicans need to take these limitations to heart and adapt a strategy to defeat them.

The first step is in casting aside unworkable strategies of the past. Defunding is a dead idea that should not be considered in the future. As with any other legislation, the idea is unworkable without a bipartisan majority. If Republicans have the votes to defund something, it would be better to simply repeal it outright.

Shutting the government down as a consequence of the House’s “power of the purse” has also proved unsuccessful in the past. A government shutdown is useful only as leverage if Democrats want to keep the government open. With a president who relishes the idea of using a shutdown to pummel Republicans, the strategy of a shutdown is pointless masochism. Republican leaders have quite sensibly rejected this course.

A successful Republican strategy will require one thing above all: a bipartisan majority. No conservative legislation can become law without Democratic votes. Republicans must peel off at least six Democratic senators for cloture and 13 to override Obama’s veto. This is a mathematical and constitutional fact. The question is how to do so.

The answer is to learn from the Democrats themselves. The Democrats in Congress have been successful because they stay united and split the Republicans over divisive issues like immigration. Republicans should ask themselves what issues can be used to divide the Democrats.

One such issue is the medical device tax imposed by Obamacare. This very unpopular tax is imposed on the manufacturers of such items as prosthetic limbs and pacemakers. It threatens thousands of American jobs as well as hurting the sick and disabled. There is bipartisan support for a repeal of the medical device tax, if not for Obamacare in its entirety.

If Republicans bring a repeal of the medical device tax to vote in Congress, Democrats would be forced to choose between voting to tax the sick or deserting to the Republican side. If the vote passes, Obama must allow it or publicly defend a veto. In either case, a vote to sustain the tax would be fodder for campaign ads by Republican challengers.

A second method for creating a bipartisan majority is to sweeten the pot with a compromise. Bill Clinton famously said that the Constitution could be subtitled “let’s make a deal.” If Republicans want to pass their agenda, they must induce the Democrats to vote with them, rather than simply expecting them to bow down before superior numbers.

One area where such a concession could be made is on the minimum wage. The minimum wage is an issue where the public supports the Democratic position. Recent polling has found strong support for raising the minimum wage, even in red states. In the 2014 elections, voters in four states that sent Republicans to the Senate enacted increases to their state minimum wages.

Trading a modest increase in the federal minimum wage for Democratic votes on Republican bills is a compromise that would defuse a popular Democratic issue while, at the same time, helping to advance conservative policies. The Republicans should not give in to a sharp increase in the minimum wage to $10 or $15 per hour, but a modest increase to the $8 to $9 range could be phased in over time.
Numerous studies, including one that looks at unemployment during the Great Recession, have shown that raising the minimum wage hurts low-skilled workers, but the economic effects of a modest increase to the minimum wage would be negligible. Thirty states already have minimum wages that are higher than the federal minimum wage according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. At least 14 states have already enacted or scheduled minimum wages that are $9.00 per hour or higher. Further, a 2013 study of minimum wage earners by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that only 4.3 percent of workers earn the minimum wage. An increase to the minimum wage would affect few workers in a small number of states.

Negative effects on the economy could be further minimized by incorporating a separate minimum wage for teenagers. The BLS study reports that only three percent of workers over age 25 earn the minimum wage, compared with 20 percent of teenagers. Instituting a lower minimum wage for teens would protect their ability to find entry-level, part-time jobs.

For Obama’s executive immigration amnesty, the contentious issue that led to the almost-shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security, there is the low-yield nuclear option. In the Wall St. Journal, Curt Levey, a constitutional attorney with the Committee for Justice, called on Republicans to block Mr. Obama’s judicial nominees until he reneges on his executive action.

Blocking Obama’s appointees has many advantages that defunding lacked. First, it is possible. The Democrats cannot block the Republicans from blocking confirmations. There is no cloture or veto of a blocked confirmation. This strategy negates the two weapons that the Democrats hold.

Second, blocking confirmations is a win-win for Republicans. The optimal outcome would be that Obama reverses his executive action, which would be tantamount to surrender. If he stands firm, however, his nominees will never be seated as judges. This means that there will be more judicial openings for the next president, hopefully a Republican, to fill.

Finally, the potential for blowback is small. With a government shutdown, Republicans always take a hit in public opinion and lose support. That’s why Democrats try to goad them into that course of action. Blocking nominees is much lower profile and would not be noticed by most Americans. There would be no closed offices or parks and no furloughed workers to show on television. Lawyers who cannot get appointed to cushy jobs in federal courts are not sympathetic figures.

Many critics of the Republicans ask, “What was the point of winning the election?” if the Republicans can’t enact their agenda. The election gave the Republicans an advantage; it did not give them the ability to dictate terms to the Democrats.

The Republicans can use their majority over the next two years to further the conservative agenda and roll back pieces of Obama’s legacy, but to do so they must adopt realistic strategies that play to their strengths and work around those of the Democrats. Winning Republican strategies divide the Democrats, not themselves.


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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Scott Walker debuts in poll near Hillary Clinton

A new poll by Rasmussen found that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is near a statistical tie with presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The poll, released on March 3, found that Walker trails Mrs. Clinton by only five points in a head-to-head matchup. This was the first time that Rasmussen had asked about a Walker-Clinton matchup.

Rasmussen found that 46 percent of likely voters would vote for Mrs. Clinton while 41 percent preferred Gov. Walker. Six percent were undecided and eight percent preferred some other candidate. The margin of error in the poll was three percent.

At this point, Walker does better in a potential race against Mrs. Clinton than any other likely Republican. Other Republicans trail the former First Lady and Secretary of State by double-digit margins. Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, trails Mrs. Clinton 45-36 percent, little changed from a year ago. Retired neurosurgeon and first-time candidate for public office Ben Carson trails Clinton 47-36 percent.

The Real Clear Politics average of polls reports that other Republicans also trail Mrs. Clinton. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie fairs best with an average deficit of nine percent. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) trails by an average of 10 percent. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) trails by 11 points. Former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee trails Clinton by an average 13 points, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz is an average 14 points behind.

Walker’s debut at a near tie is nothing short of remarkable given his lack of name recognition and Hillary Clinton’s established presence as the candidate to beat. On Feb. 21, the Washington Post noted that Walker had the “lowest name recognition of any candidate tested.” In July 2014, Gallup found that 91 percent of adults were favorable with Clinton. Fifty-five percent viewed her favorably.

Walker has generated controversy in several areas in recent weeks. He drew fire from liberals for not distancing himself from Rudy Giuliani’s comment that President Obama did not love America. The comment was made at a private dinner for Walker. He was also criticized for his statement that “the most significant foreign policy decision in my lifetime” was “in August of 1981, when Ronald Reagan fired the air traffic controllers” (as quoted by Politico).

Gov. Walker, who left college to take a job, has also started a discussion about whether a president should have a college degree. According to a Public Policy poll, 62 percent think that a degree is important, but only 38 percent say that they are less likely to vote for a candidate without a degree.

Scott Walker’s strong debut against Hillary is encouraging for Republicans, but his challenge will be to adapt from state to national politics. His strong start will undoubtedly make Walker, already a prime target of Democrats for his controversial policies in Wisconsin, the subject of even harsher attacks. It may be difficult for Walker to sustain his lead for the next year until the primaries.


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Monday, March 2, 2015


temporary3The copilot accepted the approach clearance and I turned the Lear 45 toward the initial fix for the approach.

We were flying into Victoria, Texas to pick up two members of the family that owned the airplane for a trip to sunny Florida. Sunny was something Victoria was not today. The ATIS, the recorded weather broadcast for the airport, reported low ceilings, heavy rain, gusty winds and limited visibility. Our airborne weather radar indicated a band of rain just south of the airport. We had been enveloped in clouds for the entire short flight from Houston.

We descended to 2,000 feet to start the instrument approach, a GPS-based approach to runway 31 right. We configured the airplane for landing and began the descent along the electronic glide path toward the runway.

We had only descended about 200 feet when the airspeed went crazy. First, the speed increased by 30 knots, almost reaching the maximum speed for the flaps. Then, just as quickly, it reversed and dropped rapidly into the red, low-speed tape on the primary flight display.

“STALL… STALL,” the electronic voice of the Learjet’s warning system called out.

I advanced the throttles to maximum thrust and called out, “windshear, flaps eight,” to begin the missed approach procedure. We “cleaned up” the airplane from landing configuration, retracted the flaps and landing gear, and climbed to the missed approach altitude. Or rather, we climbed through the missed approach altitude. With the airspeed in safe territory but still fluctuating, we ballooned several hundred feet high. Even with reduced power and pointing the nose down, the Learjet did not want to descend.

Shortly after, the controller assigned us a climb and vectored us around for another try. With the weather rapidly moving through the area, we were able to fly behind the squall and land successfully and without experiencing anything abnormal other than rain so heavy that it partially obscured the view through the windshield.

What we had experienced was the worst windshear of my career. Windshear is any sudden change in wind speed or direction over a short distance. It can occur either horizontally or vertically. While windshear can occur at any altitude, it is more dangerous when the aircraft is close to the ground.

In 1985, Delta Air Lines Flight 191 crashed when it encountered windshear on approach at Dallas - Fort Worth International Airport (KDFW). The Lockheed L1011 was flying through the rain shaft of a thunderstorm while on an ILS approach when the headwind suddenly decreased by 25 knots and ultimately increased to a 30 knot tailwind while the downdraft increased from 18 to more than 30 feet per second according to an FAA analysis. In spite of applying full power to all three engines, the aircraft hit an open field just short of the runway then became airborne again to strike a light pole and car on a road near the approach end. The airplane ultimately hit two water towers on the airport property and exploded. The accident killed 136 of the 163 passengers and crew plus the driver of the car.

An analysis of the accident showed that the plane likely flew through a microburst, a very intense downdraft that is localized to an area about two miles in radius. The airplane first encountered increasing performance as it flew through the updraft at the periphery of the microburst, causing it to go high on the glideslope. Then, as the airplane entered the downdraft, the airspeed slowed dramatically and the airplane went below the glideslope, triggering an alert from the plane’s ground proximity warning system (GPWS). In spite of going to full power, it was too late for the airplane to successfully fly out of the windshear.

Although windshear was known in 1985, it wasn’t well understood. According to the FAA, the Delta 191 crash resulted in changes to training to help pilots better recognize the danger of windshear and make a decision to use an escape maneuver early rather than continuing the approach. New technology, such as airport low level windshear alert systems (LLWSAS), better radar, and enhanced GPWS with a windshear protection mode have contributed to safety as well. There are limitations though. In my windshear incident, the GPWS windshear alert was not triggered because the airplane was above 1,500 feet, outside the danger zone for takeoff and landing.

The windshear escape maneuver can vary from airplane to airplane, but is typically similar. The flying pilot should advance the throttles to maximum power and pitch the airplane nose up sharply. It should go without saying that the autopilot should be disconnected for this. No configuration changes, such as retracting or extending flaps and landing gear, should be made while the airplane is in windshear. Once the airplane has gained the safety of altitude and airspeed, flaps and gear should be retracted.

If windshear is likely on takeoff, the pilot can choose to delay rotation. Delayed rotation means extra airspeed in the early stages of the climb that can be very helpful if the airplane encounters windshear shortly after takeoff. Rotation speed (Vr) can generally be increased by 10 percent to a maximum of 20 knots (check your aircraft guidelines and limitations). This speed should be briefed, but should not be set with an airspeed bug. Consider the extra runway that will be needed due to the longer acceleration time as well.

Similarly, the landing reference speed (Vref) can be increased as well. An old rule of thumb is that landing speeds can be increased by half the gust factor. If the wind speed is reported as “10, gusting to 20 knots,” Vref can be increased by five knots. Stable approaches typically require that the airspeed on approach be no more than 20 knots faster than Vref, so this should be considered a limit for increasing the landing speed. Again, consider the runway since a higher landing speed means that more stopping distance is required.

Ultimately, avoidance is the best tool for surviving windshear. The Flight Safety Foundation identifies several warning signs for windshear. These include thunderstorms, gusty frontal passages, blowing dust, rings of dust, whirlwinds, mountain waves, and, of course, warnings from airport windshear alert systems or pilot reports. If conditions are ripe for windshear, be prepared to go around. In some cases, a delay or diversion might be the best course of action. Microbursts often only last for about 15 minutes so a short delay can make a big difference in safety.

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