(May 2011) SEVERAL YEARS AGO I WAS flying with the family back to Westchester County Airport (KHPN) from Syracuse, New York, where we’d spent the Thanksgiving holiday with family. The forecast wasn’t great, but it was easy IFR, if indeed there is such a thing. White Plains was forecast to be 800 feet and 1½ miles, with VFR weather within easy reach.
That forecast, as it turned out, was a complete fantasy.
As we cruised along at 9,000 feet in the Cirrus, I started hearing odd conversations between pilots and controllers. One airport after another was getting shut down. And I’m talking the big boys: JFK, Newark, La Guardia. Even Danbury, Connecticut.
As we approached the Catskills, it was clear that we weren’t flying home that afternoon. White Plains was zero-zero, and the nearest VFR was 80 miles behind us!
Range wasn’t an issue. We could try the approach at Albany and fly back to Buffalo with reserves, if need be. But if we could land in Albany, which was reporting a 200-foot ceiling with visibility slightly better than minimums, we’d be able to rent a car and drive home.
I’d been flying IFR for a few years by that time, but I’d never shot an actual ILS to minimums before.
So there I was, facing the question of whether to try the approach or not. On the one hand, it was legal and I was in a nicely equipped airplane. On the other hand, the report was right at minimums.
I flew the approach, and as it turned out, the report was right on the money. As the gear scraped the decision altitude, those friendly flashing lights came into view and, lo and behold, there was the runway. Well, at least part of it.
I landed, taxied in and tied down. Then the weather dropped, cloud bottom to runway. Ours was the last airplane to land until the next day.
I get the idea of personal minimums, the raising of the runways’ minimum landing ceiling and visibility to some figure with which we’re more comfortable. For me on an ILS, I have to be honest, that figure is the published minimum. For some pilots, that might be 400 feet and a mile.
The problem is that the higher minimum implies a lack of proficiency or confidence that makes one wonder if 400 and a mile is a good idea.
That doesn’t mean I don’t have more conservative standards than the published procedures would allow. A circling approach at night? Forget about it.
Maybe the best answer is to set personal minimums but strive to be proficient down to the published ones.
IPad and Eclipse
The introduction by Apple Computer in early 2010 of a long-rumored tablet, named the iPad, immediately got pilots’ attention. Well, “immediately” isn’t exactly right. Pilots had already grown enamored of the iPhone, which on a much smaller scale brought the beauty of Apple’s paradigm into the palms of their hands. With the launch of the tablet, the software didn’t change much. The iPad was essentially a hardware revolution making use of pre-existing revolutionary software.
As a pilot tool, the iPhone was good stuff. You could do all kinds of pilot things on it, such as view charts or get the weather or run checklists, though all of these windows on the world were tiny, the size of an iPhone screen. The iPad made that window huge.
It also brought a great display, super-long battery life, easy touch-screen operation, silky smooth software and easy connectivity. It was, in short, as though Apple had made the thing for pilots. And pilots noticed. And bought them. And the apps came.
Apps are nothing more than programs that can be downloaded from Apple’s App Store. They are typically free or cheap, and they have to pass Apple’s review before they go on sale. The apps are almost certainly not going to crash your iPad or steal your personal information. In this day and age, that’s reassuring.
Even so, when it comes to aviation, the iPad is the definition of disruptive technology. It solves problems, lowers costs and introduces new opportunities and capabilities (none of which came to pass for the Eclipse EA500). The really remarkable thing about the iPad is that it did all of this without intending any of it. It’s not an aviation device. It’s a human device. Pilots just happen to fit that demographic.
Android Tablet Versus IPad
Soon after the iPad was announced, I wrote on my blog that I wanted one and that I wanted an Android tablet too. I bought an iPad right off the bat, but it wasn’t until many months later that a decent Android tablet hit the streets. Android is an open-source operating system that many phone makers install in their smartphones. I have such a phone, a Samsung Galaxy S that I wouldn’t trade for an iPhone on a bet.