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Monday, February 15, 2021

A ‘no go’ might be the best bet

What’s Up

By LeRoy Cook

 Last week, the all-too-common greeting in the blowing cold and snow was “Not much of a day for flying, huh?” Most pilots are in no mood for levity, with hangar-fever setting in to promote withdrawal pains. It’s not that it’s been that long since we’ve been able to fly; we just don’t like enforced grounding rather than voluntarily sitting it out.

 The forecast for this coming weekend looks hopeful, so we imagine the skies will fill with eager aviators. Just don’t forget to dig all the snow out of all the cowling and tail openings. And I’d let the cold-soaked engine warm up in the sun for a while before I’d try starting.

 There is the matter of ice and snow removal from airport runways. When I learned to fly, from the old grass-strip Butler airport, we just accepted the fact we were closed down for winter. God sent the snow, and he would take it away, in His time. If it was thawing weather, we would fly in the morning when the ground was still frozen hard, but not in the afternoon when the soil turned to mush. Nowadays, everyone expects their hard-surface airport to be available anytime they want it. Doesn’t always work that way. Check the NOTAMs for the airport if there’s been a snowfall. Smaller towns often depend on beleaguered street crews to plow the runway, and they may not have time to get to it until all the streets are opened. And then there’s the big places like Duluth, Minnesota’s International airport. I was there in the winter 20 years ago, and their brag was “we’ve never been closed for snow,” with a fleet of dedicated plows ready to go in formation. It all depends on where you are.

 The National Transportation Safety Board recently issued a report of its investigation into last year’s Kobe Bryant helicopter crash, and nobody familiar with the case was surprised at the findings. The pilot ran out of options while trying to sneak through hilly terrain under a low overcast, pulled up into the clouds in a desperate attempt break out on top, where the sun was shining. He lost control due to spatial disorientation, while trying to shift from visual outside references to his instrument panel. Helicopters are notoriously unstable, not at all easy to fly on instruments; it’s hard enough to do it in an airplane. Nobody likes to abandon a flight, but trying to continue in bad weather is abandoning our primary duty as pilot-in-command, which is to make decisions to stay safe.

 Our question of the week concerned the power rating of turboprop engines, which utilize the reaction of hot combustion gases against a turbine wheel, geared to the propeller, instead of an explosion pushing down on a piston. These engines are rated in “shaft horsepower”, not just “hp” because there’s some work done by the turbine exhaust in addition to the gearcase. For next time, we want to know why KMKC, Kansas City’s Downtown airport, is found under “T” in the airport listings? Send your answers to