Listening to ATC on a Flight to Buenos Aires

A week ago my wife and I started a one-month vacation in Buenos Aires.   Flying there, we missed our connection in Dulles by 5 minutes.

Our United flight from Dulles left 24 hours later, on a stormy night.  The good news: our status was upgraded from “you’re on standby” to “passengers squeezed in row 35”.  The other good news: United has ATC audio in channel 9.  For a GA pilot this is pure joy, plus educational.  Here’s what I learned.

As we were taxing for takeoff, a thunderstorm with heavy rain passed over the airport.  ATC warned of microbursts.  It then cleared a plane for takeoff but the pilot refused to go.  Lots of planes were waiting in line, one of the parallel runways was closed, and there was a pressure to get everybody airborne, yet the pilot refused to roll.  ATC asked what his intentions are, and the pilot said that he wants to wait two minutes.  He requested ATC for more PIREPs.  The controller called both landing traffic and planes that have recently taken off, and relayed their data.  After 5 minutes the pilot of the number one plane agreed to go.  I learned a lesson in assertiveness, which was conducted in a very professional way.

After takeoff they switched us to Potomac departure.  Here again, there was a lot of give-and-take between pilots and ATC. Since the Heavy guys have radar, they kept providing PIREPs and requested vectors and altitudes to go around the storm system.  I was impressed by the close coop between the pilots and ATC, and by the level of professionalism.

The flight map in the plane’s seat had odd information.  My wife asked me what do they mean by “-50 knots headwind”: if the speed is negative, does it mean that it’s tailwind?  I did not know.  Later when we landed we had “-10 knots tailwind” (more on that below) and so it seems that the minus sign was for decoration only. Actually, maybe the speed was in miles/hour, not sure.

Over Argentina, I was surprised to find out that most of the comm was in Spanish.  I thought that if one pilot speaks English, everybody needs to switch to English.  Not so.  I speak a little Spanish and I could understand most of the dialogs.  The ATC, a female, was very courteous with the Spanish pilots, sometimes joking and laughing with them, but not so with the American pilots of several American planes on the frequency.  There were exchanges when the American pilots did not understand her, or she did not understand them.  I also thought that most of the American pilots were a bit rude to the controller, and talked fast as if they are still on US soil.  They did not make any noticeable effort to adopt their accent and speed to the situation.  I am assuming that the Spanish-speaking pilots did not understand much of the Americans’ exchanges either.

On our descent to Buenos Aires, flying south, ATC vectored us to land on runway 36.  The pilot came on the PR system and informed the passengers that we were instructed to land into the north, which he said is “unusual”, and therefore we will land later than planned.  His comment on the PR system cleared the confusion about the sign of the wind speed: ATC were vectoring him to land with tail wind.  Why?  Don’t know, maybe the ILS did not work on runway 18.

I was also surprised that they did not switch us to the tower frequency: the same controller kept talking to our pilot until after landing, when she switched him to ground.

Over Argentina it was a clear, perfect VFR day.

Buenos Aires is wonderful.  Totally wonderful.

CloudAhoy App release 1.7 — today

It’s in the app store as of today. This is a maintenance release, fixing three things:

– Better upload of data especially for iOS devices that are in Airplane Mode.  If you ever had a situation where flight was held in your iOS device for too long, it is now fixed.  Well, it’s fixed even if you never had the problem : )

– A recognition of Dual XGPS150 devices.  This is for display only, because even in pre-1.7 the data from Dual was used correctly.

– Devices left running for days.  This could happen in pre-1.7 when users started logging, and CloudAhoy waited patiently for them to takeoff, sometimes days.  Or it could happen if users have actually landed, but turned off auto-stop and never turned off the logging manually.

I plan to have the next app release in late April or early May.  It will have several new features, plus run in native mode on iPads.

The new Google Earth Plug-in is crashing on Macs

Sad Google

The dark side of Earth

A couple of weeks ago Google released their Google Earth version 6.2.  Unless you opted out, they upgraded your plug-in software automatically.

The previous version had several bugs that affected CloudAhoy users (and I, among many others, have reported and urged them to fix these bugs).  The bugs have been fixed, so 6.2 is good news.  But with the good news came some bad ones: the new version crashes a lot while running cockpit view animation.

I have received reports  from several users, all running on Macs.  Hey, are there Windows users out there who get this problem too?

When the problem happens, do like Google says: reload the page.  It helps… until the next crash.

I verified: this problem affects all the other camera movement applications that I tried, including Google’s own.  That’s  bad news, because if the bug were in CloudAhoy, I would have been able to fix it myself.

I found that if you get frequent crashes in one browser, switching to another is likely to help.  Today I failed to get the screenshot above while running in Safari – it worked beautifully for 15 minutes.  I switched to Firefox, and it crashed immediately.  Other days, it crashes a lot in Safari but not much in Firefox or Chrome.

I could not get the plugin to crash on Windows XP (both IE and Firefox).  Maybe because it runs a 32-bit plugin.

A bug can be both funny and annoying

Imagine yourself building a plane kit.  This is a huge endeavor in terms of the time, money and energy you devote to it.

At a certain point, the plane is ready to be tested, and you are ready to be your own plane’s test pilot.  Living in the US, you must register the plane with the FAA, which is not a trivial procedure.  After the registration process, you receive a tail number from the FAA, and anyone can type this tail number in the FAA registry and get information about the plane’s builder, namely you.

So far so good.  Now you register to CloudAhoy because you want to debrief your flights.  You enter your tail number, and CloudAhoy adds this tail number to the list of your planes, except, ooops, it lists someone else as the builder!  You have spent thousands of hours on building this plane, you registered it, and someone else is listed as the builder!  What is going on?

This happened yesterday to a CloudAhoy user.  The reason?  A bug in CloudAhoy. CloudAhoy incorrectly assumed that a given plane type is always manufactured by the same manufacturer.  For example, plane type 182R is always manufactured by Cessna, and S-76D is always manufactured by Sikorsky.   Obviously this is not the case with plane kits.  Turned out that a CloudAhoy user, call him A, entered his Lancair kit’s tail number, and CloudAhoy learned from the FAA’s registry that A is the manufacturer of that specific model of Lancair.  Then another user, B, entered his plane’s tail number, and the builder’s name was A.

Awfully sorry, B.  It will be fixed.  I can only imagine how annoying this could be to you.

Cockpit View — Released!

The Cockpit View is now released.

Select Cockpit View, click Play, and enjoy (click the “?” icon for more information).

Many thanks to all the beta users who have sent me encouraging emails, useful comments, and some “!” signs to spice the whole thing up!

A Steep Turn

A Steep Turn, Cockpit View

Cockpit View (at last!)


CloudAhoy’s cockpit view, including cockpit view animation, is now available in beta.

Be warned: it’s addictive.

To make it more fun, I now initialize the timeline’s slider to be the beginning of the takeoff roll (i.e., after the taxi to the runway).  So you can click Debrief, then set Cockpit POV (wow! you’re on the runway!), then click play, and watch the plane take off into the inviting blue horizon.

Many CloudAhoy users have asked in the past for a cockpit view.  If you are one of them, you probably received from me a polite email (recycled in part, to help save the planet) explaining why such a thing would be misleading because of all the unavoidable errors in calculating the displayed plane’s attitude.  That explanation was convincing, at least for me, and therefore I never implemented the mode.

Until now, that is.  I realize now that this mode is actually rather cool, and that the attitude calculation turned out to be pretty realistic (the link above explains some of the limitations of this mode).

What made me decide to do it?  I think it was a last-straw type of thing — last Friday I received yet another request to do it.  I was sitting at my computer at 2 PM, and I thought that I have a few hours to play with this before our friends come over for dinner.  Luckily Tani, my wife, was the designated cook that afternoon, so I could have several hours of hacking.  After dinner (excellant dinner BTW) I connected my laptop to the TV, and showed the hacked version to our guests, as an affordable replacement for a more robust form of entertainment such as a juggler on tightrope, or leopards jumping through rings of fire.  The guests liked it so much, that I decided to spend a week and do it right.  Soon I was doing physics on a legal pad, deriving the formulae.  Two days later I flew the Arrow, mostly for practicing Lazy Eights, but also to create a table of pitch angles in various configurations — as a way to calibrate the mathematical pitch model.

It’s still unclear to me in what ways will this mode aid in debriefing a flight.  But I am convinced that it’s as useful for debriefing as it is for just having fun.  As I was playing back some landings of mine, I did notice one from several months ago that was high above the glide slope.  I must have had four white PAPI lights in my face most of the way down on that landing. Maybe it was a case of being number 2 after a heavy military plane (my home airport is also an AFB), or maybe I was just being sloppy.  I could get the same information about the steep approach without the Cockpit POV of course.  In fact, turning the “further analysis” checkbox, CloudAhoy measures and reports the exact slope.  But I must admit that seeing the steep approach in the Cockpit POV mode gets the message deeper under one’s skin, more than the 5.7° slope number.

I kept playing back other flights, such as a flight that I flew with my son in valleys in the Rutland Vt. area, or a flight over Lake George.  It’s very entertaining, and looks pretty realistic albeit without a sound track.  One benefit of playing a flight in the cockpit’s POV is that you can click the 10x button and pretend that your humble GA plane is now a mighty F16.  Well, sort of.

I’ve had Google Earth crash on me at times when running this mode.  I think it crashed much more in Safari than in all the other browsers combined (Firefox, Chrome, IE).  Maybe it’s just my setup.

In a previous post I promised to write about Lazy Eights.  I never got to do it (and I’m not going to use the  pun that I was Lazy).  Next week we’re going on vacation, and I will be flying again in February.  Maybe I’ll write about the Lazy Eights then.