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Kategorie: All things technical

Airplane of the future

Airplane of the future

Visibility: unlimited
Temperature: -1°C
Wind: 290°, 4kts
QNH: 1022hPa
Location: EDAZ
Equipment: Cessna 172 (D-EXAH)

The Cessna 172 is the Chevy of the skies. Affordable, reliable, easy to service and ist does not turn heads. In fact, I used to think they are a bit ugly. But beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder and I have changed my mind when I learned to fly the 172. I have actually grown very fond of her sturdy reliability and easy handling.

Today I am flying the future of the 172. „Alpha Hotel“ has a Garmin G1000 glass cockpit as well as a diesel engine.



The G1000 avionics suit is the gold standard of glass cockpits in general aviation. The system typically is configured with a „Primary Flight Display“ (PFD) and a „Multi Function Display“ (MFD) – both large flat panel displays which dominate the cockpit.

The PFD is a large attitude indicator (artificial horizon). Some versions even come with a computer generated image of the terrain – very valuable in low visibility. Course, altitude and airspeed are displayed on a layer over the horizon. The information is easily accessible and comprehendible.


The MFD can be used to show engine information and is used as a giant navigation display.

The difference between traditional instrumentation and a „glass cockpit“ is enhanced situational awareness (no chance to miss that big horizon) as well as system integration. All relevant information is in one spot.


The piston engines of small aircraft are very reliable and light but also very old fashioned. Because of the very small numbers, technical development is slow and because of the emphasis on reliability, the adaptation of new and unproved technology is slow.

The power plant working in „Alpha Hotel“ is a major innovation. An electronically controlled diesel engine by the Thielert company. It has 135 horse powers and and adjustable pitch propeller. It runs smooth and quiet and it has great fuel economy. On top of that, the Thielert diesel engine burns jet fuel – Jet-A happens to be very close to diesel fuel. And Jet-A is much more common and way cheaper than Avgas.


Easier makes it harder

A standart 172 has two leavers in the throttle quadrant – power and mixture. The Thielert engine has two redundant electronic control units (ECU) to manage the engine. So I only have one leaver for power. Everything else is adjusted automatically. What has been standard in cars for 30 years has finally arrived in general aviation!

The adjustable pitch propeller is also controlled automatically. The blades of the propeller are pitched according speed. This further improves fuel economy and speed.



After a very thorough briefing and explanation of the systems, we take-off. The majority of my flying as private pilot has happened on Cessnas. So I am a bit surprised when I have considerable troubles with the approach.

I am used to aircraft with fixed pitch propellers. On a stabilized approach, very little manipulation of the power is needed. Once the desired sink rate is established, the speed is mainly controlled with the pitch.

On short final with slow RPMs, the propeller of „Alpha Hotel“ pitches high in order to be effective for a possible go-arround. At the same time, this setting increases the resistance of the propeller in the air stream. It acts like a big air break on my nose, bleeding down the air speed fast!

I push the nose down and the instructor tells me to also increase the RPMs. The landing is pretty lousy. On the next couple of approaches I am more careful with the combination of pitch and power but I don’t ever feel fully in control of the situation.

We debrief the flight over a cup of coffee. I am a bit down about how many problems I had with an aircraft I thought I was comfortable with. A humbling experience.

We make a new appointment and this time I am more prepared for what to expect. I concentrate on the power/pitch settings on final approach. After an hour of pattern work I am still not happy with my landings but they are at least more or less under control. I’m keen on getting better with „Alpha Hotel“ and book her for a solo trip the same week. I do patterns for a while with okay landings but not much improvement.

Then I climb to 2.000 feet and turn north. I will take an advanced radio class at a flight school in Kyritz (EDBK) next week. Today I plan to fly there to pick-up the books. The flight is about 30 minutes. Enough time to start playing with the auto pilot and to dig deeper into the powerful G1000 suite. It will take a long time before I can make full use of it. But the basic functions are so intuitive that it is a joy to use the panel.

The approach into Kyritz is a bit hectic. There is a lot of traffic and I am number 2 behind an aircraft that simulates an engine failure. The runway is much smaller than the one in Schönhagen and I am a bit tense. And then it happens – a greaser of a landing, right on the numbers, perfect speed and so smooth that it makes this pilot smile. Looks like „Alpha Hotel“ and I will be friends after all.

To be continued…


LISA had a heart attack!

LISA had a heart attack!

My traveling ship of choice, the trusted „LISA“ had an engine failure! During regular maintenance, the shop found a lot of metal flakes in the oil filter (always an alarm signal). Further investigation revealed a broken cylinder #3. The engine is now being inspected for more damage.

Quelle: Jan Brill, PuF Forum
Metal flakes in the oil filter (Jan Brill, PuF)

The engine was brand new and a failure like this is pretty unusual. So I am interested to see if the cause can be determined. And I am very happy that the problem was found in the shop and not in the air.

My dear „Pilot&Flugzeug“ is going through rough times right now, as „LISAs“ sister ship in Egelsbach had a landing accident in the same week. The propeller is bent and the engine needs to be inspected as well.

With out the „LISAs“, the flying fall promises to be pretty bleak.

To be continued…

Quelle: Jan Brill, PuF Forum
Broken Cylinder (Jan Brill, PuF)
Quelle: Jan Brill, PuF Forum
Piston of cylinder #3 (Jan Brill, PuF)


We’re new here

We’re new here


Location: New Place in the digital universe
Equipment: WordPress
Visibility: unlimited

I started this blog at blog.com with the very nice address:

Catchy, easy to say and to remember. I liked the service as it was uncluttered, had nice themes and was easy to use.


However, over time it became apparent that the operators of the blog.com service do not pay as much attention to details as they should (or even would like to, who knows…). The service was down a lot and veeeery slow.

So after checking a number of alternatives, I decided to do my own website with the new – even cooler domain of www.aloft.aero!

This will give me more control and the readers better performance in the future. And turning my hobby into a learning experience in WordPress can’t hurt either!

Over the next few days I will move the old blog posts over here step by step. I also have to decide on a nice theme and finally, to complete the move – I will link the new site from the old blog. Farewell blog.com, I really liked you!

To be continued…



I bought a text book in order to prepare for the CVFR rating. I have always loved good text books. I know, that’s a bit weird, but I like to follow a well organized stream of thoughts on a specific topic.

CVFR is a very specific topic. Controlled Visual Flight Rule is a part of the qualifications of a private pilot. The rating will enable me to fly in controlled airspace and with guidance by ATC.

The big thing about CVFR however, is learning to make better use of the instruments and to use radio navigation.

VOR stations are the back bone of radio navigation. VOR is short for “VHF omnidirectional radio range”. The idea is very close to the idea of a light house. The VOR indicator in the cockpit shows me the bearing to the VOR station.

The VOR stations are marked on my aviation map. If I know That my relative bearing to the station is 090, I know that it is at 90° to the right. So I know that if I draw a line at 90° from the staion, my position would be somewhere on this line (called a radial, by the way).

This information alone is enough to get a pretty good idea about my position if combined with other VFR navigation skills (“this looks like the lake on the map”). At night or above the clouds however, I would need a second VOR station in order to do a triangulation. If I know that I am on radial 90° of station A and radial 200° of station B, I can draw two lines on my map and the point at which they meet is going to be my position.

Still with me? Great!

I have been taught to use the VOR from my first lesson for the private pilot on. My instructor knew that I was going to go for the CVFR rating eventually.

Today he means it. The flight preparation today is longer than usual. We have a very detailed flight plan. Up to the north and climbing up into the controlled air space over the city. Then a flight from the VOR in Löwenberg, via Tegel Airport to the VOR in Fürstenwalte. North to south over the big city.

I call ATC after take-off and anounce our big plan. After a bit they call back with bad news. The weather is bad, the airspace is full and they don’t need a green horn who needs extra attention. No clearance for me today.

Plan B is to clear the controlled airspace to the north and then climb to 7.500 feet and do our drills there. The day is rainy and other small aircraft ask for advice and divert right and left. My instructor is not impressed by a bit of rain on the screen and before long we are above the grey clouds. I close the vent as the stream of outside air is getting quite cold. The instructor hands me the IFR cap “Put this on”.

An IFR cap is a plastic visor that blocks the view to the outside. After I put it on, I can only see the instruments. What a difference!

Steady as she goes

The first task at hand is to hold course and altitude. The air up here is calm but I still need a lot of concentration for the task. After a bit, the instructor tells me to start going right and left, 10 degrees from the course. After this works, he pulls the flaps lever. Kilo Sierra slows down because of the added drag and climbs at the same time because of the increase in lift. I counter the movement and fight to keep the altitude.

Radio Navigation

The instructor seems to believe that I will not fall out of the sky. So we start with navigation. He tells me to fly to the Fürstenwalde VOR station. We had set the frequency before, so all I have to do now is turn the bearing indicator of the VOR receiver until the course deviation indicator is in the middle and the direction flag shows “To”.

The bearing to the station is 179, so I turn right onto the new course. After a few minutes, the instructor tells me to sink. We go down to 5.500 feet, 3.500 feet, then 2.000 feet. Finally I contact Strausberg and ask for QDM. That is the magnetic heading to the station. The controller on the tower can determine my relative bearing to him.

The heading to the airport is 250. So I turn right until I have 250 locked and ask again. 260 now. The runway is 270, so we are getting very close. The instructor tells me to sink to 1.000 feet and take off the cap. The runway is directly in front of me, I am on long final – wow!

After we are back on the ground and done with the de-briefing, I walk to the train station. There is a light drizzle and I enjoy the rain on my face. My head is pounding from the concentration, I’m exhausted but I feel great nontheless.

To be continued…


(originally posted on October 7, 2012 by tilbo at aloft.blog.com/vor/)



I am outside on the street watching PIA flight 785 from Islamabad’s Benazir Bhutto Airport fly over Berlin enrout to London Heathrow. It is a Boeing 777-300ER traveling at 36.000 feet at over 400 knots per hour.

I looked at the contrails and the mighty iPhone did the rest. Thanks to ADS-B.

FlightRadar24.com gathers ADS-B-information form thousands of aircraft all over the world and projects them on a map in real time. If this is combined with the location service of the iPhone (it knows where it is, sometimes better than me…), the contrails in the sky become a particular airliner. Magic if I ever saw it!

So what is ADS-B?

In the sky it is very important to know where you are. Aviation at large has that one figured out pretty good. Maps, VOR, GPS, Radar controllers and more high-tech systems like inertia navigation have pretty much taken care of position awareness.

The problem is, figuring our where everybody else is!

Mid-air collisions are rare but the more devastating when they happen. And they are surprisingly difficult to avoid. The sky is very large and aircraft are very fast. Even more so if two of them are moving towards each other. Even in perfect visual conditions, it can be hard to see oncoming traffic in time. Let alone at night or in the clouds.

Because of that, Airliners have had a collision avoidance system for years. The standard is called TCAS (Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System) and it is very cool. Traffic will not only be displayed in the cockpit. The respective TCAS-systems of two airliners will actually talk to each other, determine the best way to avoid any close calls and make recommendations for actions to resolve a possible conflict, to their flight crews.

ADS-B is TCAS for the rest of us. The remarkable thing is that it basically combines parts of the existing infrastructure to create a valuable, additional service.

ADS-B is a communication standard which utilizes the transponder (identification transmitter) of a general aviation aircraft and feeds the location information from the on-board GPS into it. Genius! So now my transponder sends out “this is me” plus “this is where I am”. All of a sudden, I can receive the transponder information of other aircraft around me and display their positions on my GPS screen. And since the technical step is relatively small, many pilots are upgrading their hardware to ADS-B capability.

Additional services, like weather information, is also broadcasted via ADS-B and can also be displayed on the GPS screen. This makes the system even more popular.

I look up to the sky again and I wonder again, where the jet above my head is heading for. I might check, or maybe I will just dream for a moment.

To be continued…


(originally posted on June 18, 2012 by tilbo at aloft.blog.com/ads-b/)



Visibility: undetermined
Temperature: 19°C
QNH: 1013hPa
Location: subway
Equipment: the mighty iPhone

I am listening to American 142 heavy being cleared for take-off from runway 31 right by New York departure control. A Boeing 777-200 from JFK to London Heathrow. I understand about every other word of the fast exchange of information, carried out by trained professionals with a lot of routine on a less than clear connection.

The voices in my head are thousands of miles and half a dozen time zones away and are brought to me by LiveATC.net on the mighty iPhone. LiveATC is a free service that lets you listen in on ATC, the Air Traffic Control.


I am working on my radio license at the moment. Every pilot has to have one of several levels of radio licenses in order to be able to participate in the elaborate system of communication in the air. With my sports pilots license I only had a small section of the theory test to cover radio communication. With this limited radio license I can not fly into the controlled airspace of larger airports.

Now I have to get the next license because flying in controlled airspace is part of the requirements for the private pilots license I am working on.

The trick of the efficient radio communication is standardization. There is only a limited number of things I can communicate to ATC. For this I have to use standardized phrases in a standardized order. If everybody knows what can be said, it is much easier to understand what is being said. This makes possible the rapid exchange of information despite interferences on the radio.

For a low time student, this means practice, practice, practice…

To be continued…


(originally posted on February 20, 2012 by tilbo at aloft.blog.com/liveatc/)

RE: when in doubt, don’t!

RE: when in doubt, don’t!

It was the exhaust manifold!

It was cracked, hence the sound. This may or may not have been a safety issue – but it is a good feeling that I did not imagine the rough sound.

To be continued…


(originally posted on September 21, 2011 by tilbo at aloft.blog.com/re-when-in-doubt-dont/)

Dry run

Dry run

We start moving and I hit the start button on the timer. The preset time for the first leg of our trip starts counting down. It will start flashing and beeping once the previously calculated time is up.

I have a pretty fancy flight timer. It is a very specialized stop watch. It has a fuel timer, it can time up to 12 legs of a flight and it has a clock in my local time as well as in UTC. The Universal Time Coordinated is the international aviation time. All flight plans all over the world use UTC and UTC only. This is very important to avoid misunderstandings on trips across time zones.

The fuel timer is also very important. Obviously you don’t want to run out of fuel. But there is more: many airplanes have several tanks. They are not always used at the same time. The reason for that can be weight and balance or fuel overflow. So it is important to remember to change tanks as this is very easy to forget. The fuel timer is a count down timer. As soon as it reaches zero, it starts counting up again as well as giving its warning message. So the pilot knows how long it has been since he should have changed the tanks.

The count down of leg #1 is up and I get a beep. For every part of my trip (leg) I calculate the time that I will approximately need to complete it. As air is a dynamic medium and winds are changing, this is not an exact science. But the leg timer alerts me that I should be getting close to my next way point. It is a good idea to make sure now that I know where I am and that I am prepared for the change of course.

The change is completed. I turn the big, friendly knob on the timer and the D2 leg appears (Destination 2). I hit the start button again. The second leg is longer and I get my morning paper out. The timer starts beeping once more right as the train approaches my stop. Nobody pays attention to the guy with the funny looking stop watch. They have all seen worse things than a flight timer dry run on the subway. I love the big city!

To be continued…


(Originally posted on March 8, 2011 by tilbo at aloft.blog.com/dry-run/)

Rotax 912

Rotax 912

Flying has nothing to do with high tech. This is one of the very first things that a new entry into flight training learns. Flying is about weight and reliability. Reliability equals safety and it is achieved through redundancy (which creates weight issues again) and through proven concepts. Every novelty requires a lot of very costly testing and still has an inherent risk of new, unforeseen, previously unknown reliability issues. Combine this with an extremely small market and you have an environment which is very averse to innovation.

My trusted Rider MD3 aircraft is powered by a Rotax 912 engine. It is a very popular modern engine for light aircrafts. If compared to the engine in your new Toyota Corola however, it is anachronistic. Relatively inefficient, no electronic engine management and not even fuel injection. It and it has a carburetor despite the fact that it was developed in the early 90s.

But it is light, it is very reliable and every certifyed technician can fully understand every aspect of it. It can handle the constant mix of hot and cold that comes with changing altitudes and the pilot can hear if the engine is happy or not. These qualities are worth something. After all, if the engine in your Toyota stops the worst thing that can happen is that you are stranded by the side of the road.

My precious power plant costs about 15.000,- Euros. Sounds like a lot? It is a lot compared to the Toyota again. But Rotax has probably sold as many 912s since they were introduced 20 years ago as Toyota does in a month. Maybe less. The market for airplanes and all of their parts is tiny compared to cars or other industrial goods. Every airplane is hand made and there is almost no automation in the production.

Pilots have a very attentive relationship with their engines. Of course they want to avoid engine failure but they also want to make sure that their expensive power plants remain in working order for many years and thousands of operating hours.

Most airplanes are flown for decades. It is more rule than exception that a new student will be taught on equipment that is older than himself. But airplanes age well and they are constantly checked and updated and if all anuals are current, they can generally be considered safe.

So the development of the Rotax 912 is about 20 years old and the development of the airframe of the Rider MD3 is about 10 years old. Both is considered modern in aviation terms and I’m sure I’ll encounter some much older equipment as I gain more experience in flying.

To be continued…


(Originally posted on March 1, 2011 by tilbo at aloft.blog.com/rotax-912/)