‘Barn door in a hurricane’

Retired Southwest Airlines Capt. Tammie Jo Shults and her husband, Dean, fly a Piper Malibu for personal travel. Photo courtesy of Tammie Jo Shults.

Tammie Jo Shults was a captain with Southwest Airlines who became a household name and a sought-after public speaker after guiding a Boeing 737 with one good engine, wing damage, a depressurized cabin, and multiple system failures to a safe landing in Philadelphia on April 17, 2018, with her first officer, Darren Ellisor.

Shults, who retired from the airline in August, is a pilot’s pilot. She readily agreed to share with our general aviation readership some key “aviation takeaways” about handling the “unscripted combination of emergencies” she and Ellisor had to confront as the stricken jet’s aerodynamic behavior changed from minute to minute during their effort to diagnose the damage and divert to their emergency destination.

To recap, Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 departed LaGuardia Airport in New York City headed for Dallas, and was climbing through FL320 just after 11 a.m., when the left engine of the Boeing 737-7H4 destructed, ejecting fragments that struck the fuselage, the left wing, and the left horizontal stabilizer. “One fan cowl fragment impacted the left-side fuselage near a cabin window, and the window departed the airplane, which resulted in a rapid depressurization,” notes the NTSB’s accident report.

Aboard were 144 passengers and five crew. One passenger, Jennifer Riordan, 43, suffered fatal injuries; eight others received serious injuries.

Shults recalled feeling the jolt of the engine’s destruction before hearing it.

“We went through a pitch-over, a snap roll, and a skid in one moment in time,” she said.

The crew’s first impression was that the left engine was on fire, but the aircraft’s behavior kept changing, and what had happened was unclear.

“You know what? We prioritized,” she said.

All pilots learn the “aviate, navigate, communicate” method of handling trouble—but in the real world, linear training concepts come with a twist.

“Sometimes you get through ‘aviate’ and you’re right back to ‘aviate,’” she said. “In an emergency, you don’t always get to go through all three before you cycle back to what’s getting your attention.”

There was a plume of smoke, condensation had formed in the cockpit, and a deafening roar told the pilots that the aircraft had been compromised. They knew rapid decompression had occurred by the “icepick pain in both our ears, and then you realize you are not able to breathe,” she said.

In any aircraft with a two-pilot crew, it is essential to know who is flying the aircraft. Ellisor had been the pilot flying on this leg. With the noise level restricting communication to hand signals, Shults gestured that Ellisor should remain on the controls while she pulled the quick reference handbook to troubleshoot.

“I tapped his arm, nodded at him, and took my hands off the yoke,” Shults said.

Pushing away thoughts of airline accidents linked to crew-coordination lapses, Shults vowed that it would not happen to them, telling herself, “We are going to have an organized division of labor.”

One at a time, they donned headsets. About a minute after the cockpit voice recorder picked up the sounds of increased background noise in the cabin, Shults notified air traffic control of the suspected engine fire. The CVR transcript notes that next she made an announcement over the public address system: “Ladies and gentlemen this is your captain we’re going into ah to Philadelphia ah remain seated thank you.”

Shults believes that making the announcement “turned out to be such a good move” because it let the cabin crew know that the pilots had the jet—by then descending at about 5,000 feet per minute—under control.

“They had to be startled to mind-numbing fear. We were letting them know that we were not going down, we were going into Philly,” she said.

“The flight attendants changed the outcome because of their attentiveness and helpfulness,” Shults said. “They spurred other passengers to look around and see where they could help.”

The cabin crew communicated back to the cockpit from where the fuselage breach had occurred. Shults could not see the left engine, but now there was no fire indicated. She secured the fuel, noting that under the circumstances they “couldn’t do this as nice and orderly as you’d like.”

It was during descent that the pilots became fully aware of how much aerodynamic drag the damage had caused; by then they also knew there was a window out “and a very injured passenger, at best.”

“We never had the same airplane from minute to minute to fly,” Shults said, describing constantly changing control inputs “to keep from skidding sideways,” and the challenge of slowing down for the shuddering to abate enough “to read instruments and reach knobs.”

Descending toward Philly, “The decision ran through my mind that we are going to do the best we can flying this airplane,” she said. “We have to maintain control, or it won’t matter about the checklists.”

Shults had been a pilot in a U.S. Navy aggressor squadron before going to the airline. Having tapped her aerobatic skills when the 737’s engine blew, she now sought a “feel” for the airplane’s aerodynamic state as she took over the controls at a high enough altitude to assess the Boeing’s condition and make decisions about the landing. (As a naval aviator Shults flew tactical missions in the LTV A–7 Corsair and McDonnell Douglas F/A–18 fighters, and she strongly recommends that GA pilots take at least five flights of aerobatics. Learning how to take back control after being upside down and out of control is “very reassuring,” and it was “really helpful having had that in my background.”)

One decision was to call for a “flaps five” configuration: Having sensed the extra drag and seen “chunks” missing from the wing, she figured that a flaps-five approach, which was “not something we had ever practiced,” would provide the most lift for the least drag, and get the still-overweight-for-landing airplane “below tire blowing speed” at the speed to be used for that configuration of the wing’s slats and flaps.

Most important, it would avoid moving the wing “any more than I needed to.” (The CVR transcript notes that Ellisor sought to verify the unfamiliar setting, asking, “How about just fifteen? It’s something we know.”)

“This was a one-shot landing,” Shults recalled, noting that the 737 was flying with severed fuel and hydraulic lines and an engine cowling that “had peeled back a little bit like a banana so you get this barn-door-in-a-hurricane effect under your wing.”

The pilots had discovered that the more they decelerated, the less power they could use. With no time to use a computer to solve for a landing speed, Shults said, she decided on a 180-knot pattern speed for the flaps five configuration, and landing at 165 knots.

She also made what she described as an “against procedure decision not to use autobrakes,” reasoning that using them could slam the passengers into the seats in front of them—unnecessary because the airplane would be rolling to the end of the runway anyway.

That was “a command decision,” she said; using the autobrakes “didn’t fit our specific flight.”

Shults also urges GA pilots to hand-fly their aircraft frequently, despite any automation aboard, citing accidents that happened partly because “the pilots involved were hesitant to rely on their own ability.”

That’s not to say that technology can’t help: Shults had asked Ellisor to put the aircraft’s head-up display on a visual setting, giving her a three-degree glideslope and a “velocity vector on where we were landing” as she hand-flew the airplane toward the runway.

In the aviate-navigate-communicate trilogy of emergency management, communicating is the third priority. From student pilots to airline captains, all pilots train to keep that hierarchy in mind so communicating won’t tax the pilot’s workload.

Shults prioritized; the CVR reveals that when SWA1380 was being handed off to approach control, she acknowledged the frequency change and added, “We need a single channel no more channel switching.”

For the next few minutes, the flight remained on that frequency while maneuvering into position for landing.

One more frequency change was required for contacting the control tower, and there was momentary uncertainty—resolved less than two minutes before touchdown—whether the flight would land on 12,000-foot-long-by-200-foot-wide Runway 27L or 9,500-by-150-foot Runway 27R (reported winds were 280 at 19 knots gusting to 25).

The flight landed on 27L about 11:20:30 a.m. As it decelerated through 80 knots, the CVR picked up Shults’s reaction: “Thank you lord. Thank you thank you thank you lord.”

In our phone interview, she confided having had mixed feelings about going back and listening to the CVR, adding that she had learned that some pilots simply don’t.

On one hand, she said, she thought listening would help “fill in some of the questions we had.” On the other hand, “I won’t enjoy hearing that boom and then that roar for twenty-plus minutes that went on.”

As it turned out, the recording was geared more to picking up human voices than background sounds.

“We didn’t have to hear the roar,” she said.

Aircraft Maintenance: Continental starter adapters

Photo courtesy of Jeff Simon.

Predictability means that you can catch a mechanical issue before it progresses to failure. As a whole, GA scores fairly high on this one. If you’re proactive with your maintenance, almost any failing component will show symptoms before failure and few family vacations will be canceled because of maintenance surprises. That said, some systems are not quite as predictable as others. We experienced that firsthand during our recent SocialFlight summer adventure trip to Glacier National Park.

It was a cool morning, mid-trip in Duluth, Minnesota. I cranked the engine, but something was just slightly amiss. The starter sounded the same as always, but the prop seemed to be going slower than usual. The engine sprang to life, but my stomach sank. I knew immediately that we were on borrowed time and might not make it through the trip. The starter adapter was failing.

Continental’s big-bore, fire-breathing, six-cylinder engines are marvels of engineering. The IO-550B that powers our Bonanza A36 delivers 300 horsepower, pulling us through the sky at close to 180 knots on less than 15 gph. It’s been bulletproof for us, and we have flown over stretches of open ocean without worry based on our experience with the engine and the folks at the factory who support it. Almost everything on the engine is fairly straightforward…except for the starter system. The starter motor is mounted at a right angle to the engine at the rear of the engine, connected to the engine through a complex “clutch-like” mechanism known as the starter adapter. Starter adapters are utilized on Continental’s 300, 346, 360, 470, 520, and 550 engines.

When the electric starter motor spins, it turns a shaft on the starter adapter. Inside the starter adapter, the shaft is connected to a coil spring that (when the starter is spinning) grabs a drive shaft and cranks the engine. The design is a little like a Chinese finger trap: The spinning starter forces the spring to tighten around the shaft and, the harder it turns, the harder it grabs the shaft. As soon as the engine lights off and starts running faster than the starter, the spring tension is lost and the shaft spins free of the starter.

The system works well…until it doesn’t. After years of wear on the shaft and the spring, at some point the spring will simply not grab the shaft anymore. Unfortunately, this can happen with little advance warning. The metal-to-metal design of the system leaves very little “gray area” for partial failure. It either grabs or it doesn’t. The good news is that failure of a starter adapter is not a safety-of-flight issue. You can either start the engine or you can’t. The bad news is that your first sign of failure can also be your last sign of failure. Once you see it slip, you could have 10 more starts to go, or none.

In our case, I knew that we were on borrowed time and needed to get the ball rolling ASAP on a replacement part. Fortunately, I’d seen this very issue play out previously for other Bonanza owners and knew exactly whom to call. At our next fuel stop I called Aircraft Specialties Services in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a company that came highly recommended by owners and A&Ps alike. I’ve spent time at the company’s booth at EAA AirVenture and the Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo learning about the engine components that the firm manufactures in-house, and so it was fortuitous that I was now in dire need of one of the adapters that I had been admiring in the show booth only months before.

I connected with Eric Anderson, the company’s director of operations, who immediately got the ball rolling on a replacement adapter while he explained the inner workings of the units, why they fail, and what Aircraft Specialties Services does to help stranded pilots and ensure that the adapters that leave their shop are as good as or better than new. Starter adapter overhaul includes all recommended inspections, including Alodining and gold cadmium plating the housings and external hardware. New seals, gaskets, and bearings are installed, and the shaft gears are reground and Magnafluxed. However, the key differentiator in Aircraft Specialties Services’ overhaul is the proprietary, FAA-approved heavy-duty clutch spring. Since the clutch spring is the weak point in the system, the company designed and certified its own custom springs for the application. In addition to being heavy duty, the firm made springs available in special sizes that extend the life of the adapters in cases when the shaft must be ground undersize to return it to service. As one would imagine, a shaft that has been ground smaller requires a smaller spring to maintain the same tolerances. Aircraft Specialties Services produces springs that are 30 and even 40 thousandths undersized to keep more starter adapters in reliable service in the field (and out of the “red tag” bin).

Photo courtesy of Jeff Simon.Since the starter adapter is connected to the engine’s accessory case, it can double as a “PTO” (power take off) to drive other accessories such as air conditioning compressors. This means that there are more than a few models of starter adapters out there, and some are more complex than others. And so, Anderson explained that the quality control team at the facility tests much more than just proper functioning of the starter mechanism itself. PTO-enabled units are thoroughly tested on test stands for oil flow rates and “spun up” to ensure that the oil scavenge pumps operate properly and are ready to drive the other components installed on the aircraft.

Above all else, Anderson stressed that Aircraft Specialties Services prides itself on rescuing stranded pilots. The company can overnight an adapter to just about anywhere, something it considers a routine service. In our case, we managed to get the additional four starts we needed to make it home. As soon as I landed, I made the final call to Anderson, and a replacement adapter was on its way.

Installation is fairly straightforward, consisting of removing the starter, followed by the adapter, which is mounted on four studs at the rear of the engine. On some aircraft, however, there isn’t enough space between the rear of the engine and the firewall to remove the adapter, so the engine itself has to be moved forward. Thankfully, that isn’t the case on Bonanzas and I had the units swapped out within a few hours.

If you find yourself stuck at a remote airport with a spinning starter, but not a spinning prop, my friend and fellow IA Mike Busch recommends one last-ditch technique to get yourself home: See if the FBO has a power cart available to connect to the aircraft for starting. The added boost of power from the cart can sometimes give you that little extra boost you need to get the failing adapter to “grab” just one last time. Failing that, I recommend that you try preheating the engine because we found that the adapter was slipping when the engine was cold, but not slipping while it was hot at our intermediate fuel stops. If neither technique works, rest assured that help is only a phone call away. You might be spending an unplanned night away, but companies such as Aircraft Specialties Services are ready to come to the rescue with exchange parts in stock and FedEx on speed dial. Until next time, I hope you and your families remain safe and healthy and wish you blue skies.

Three injured in forced landing of B–25 ‘Old Glory’

‘Old Glory,’ a North American B-25 Mitchell bomber that had recently participated in an aerial parade in Hawaii commemorating the seventy-fifth anniversary of the end of World War II, was damaged during a forced landing near Stockton, California. Photo courtesy of San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office.

The two pilots and one other crew member aboard Old Glory were transported to a hospital for evaluation. “Currently, one crew member has been released and the other two are being treated for non-life-threatening injuries,” said the Prescott Foundation, owner of Old Glory, in a statement emailed to AOPA on September 21.

“The Prescott Foundation is working with the NTSB officials leading the investigation to determine the cause of the malfunction and will comment further when facts and details become available,” the statement said.

A local news report said the aircraft “apparently struck an irrigation ditch” during the forced landing.

Old Glory had recently returned to California aboard a U.S. Navy vessel from Hawaii, where it had flown with other period aircraft in a Legacy of Peace Aerial Parade and other events commemorating the seventy-fifth anniversary of the end of World War II.

The bomber had been scheduled to spend a few weeks in California before returning to its base in Albany, New York.

“The Prescott Foundation was in the process of planning the warbird’s route which included several stops across the country. The stops were intended to provide a more personable experience for WWII veterans unable to attend the Commemoration events due to the pandemic,” the organization said.

The B-25 "Old Glory" is loaded onto an amphibious assault ship "USS Essex" by crane for transport to Hawaii to participate in an aerial parade commemorating the seventy-fifth anniversary of the end of World War II. Photo courtesy of the Prescott Foundation.

VFR Unleashed: We almost met in the air

I’d like to tell you about a situation that had absolutely nothing to do with cross-country flight. It occurred a mere quarter mile from my destination, on the final approach to one of my most frequently visited airports near home.

Had it not been for a hard kick from gusty winds while on a very short final, I would have never seen him. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

The story begins with me as a newly minted private pilot about 20 years ago. I was exploring the edges of my personal minimums, which at that stage of my experience were all about crosswinds. I was still figuring out how gusty the conditions could be for me to be comfortable flying the Cessna 172.

One crisp January afternoon, the sun was bright, clouds few, and temperature cool. But the winds were “howling” at 18 knots, gusting 23. By today’s confidence level, that is a respectably stiff breeze. But back then, for me, it was something to be seriously reckoned with.

I decided a short trip over to Winchester Regional Airport would make for a great day of practicing landing with winds that were stronger than I had ever tried before. Because it was a bumpy day for flying, I was the only pilot in the typically busy traffic pattern at the popular nontowered airfield. I was having the time of my life making lap after lap around the pattern, each pass perfecting my confidence to handle the bumps and twists that gusty winds offer.

I was dutifully making all my radio calls on the CTAF, announcing each leg of the pattern. After several circuits around the pattern, I finally heard the radio come to life with other traffic.

“[N12345], 5 miles straight in, Runway 32, Winchester,” I heard the pilot call. I was excited to have some company.

“Cessna 5922E, midfield downwind, Runway 32, Winchester,” I promptly replied, expecting to hear additional feedback on his whereabouts as the situation progressed.

I did some quick mental math. The opposing traffic was 5 miles out. I was about a mile from turning base, which would then put me about another mile from landing when considering a tight quarter-mile base leg and a half-mile final. It seemed to me that I should be OK…I had only half the distance to cover that the opposing traffic did.

As I turned base and made my radio call, I inquired about the traffic.

“Cessna 5922E, left base, Runway 32 Winchester. Traffic on final, please advise your location. I do not have you in sight,” I said.

Silence.

Scanning the final approach course feverishly, I saw nothing. I checked the volume level on my radio. It was up.

“Cessna 22E, turning final, Runway 32, Winchester. I still do not have other final traffic in sight. Please advise your position.”

No response.

Established on final, I looked all around me, nothing seemed amiss. I reasoned that the traffic must still be a couple miles behind me and turned my attention to landing the airplane. I made one more radio call that I was on short final while the radio stayed silent in response.

To this day, I am incredibly grateful that gusty winds can knock a Skyhawk around a good bit. With less than a quarter mile to the runway and a mere 300 feet of altitude left, a sharp gust of wind dropped my left wing and swung my heading a few degrees to the right for just a moment.

That is when I finally saw the traffic. Out of the corner of my left eye. Just below me. I mean right below me.

I was 300 feet or so above the ground. He was probably at 280 feet. Same course, same speed, same position. I was coming down right on top of him.

It is the closest I have ever come to a midair collision.

Instinctively, instantaneously, I applied full power, initiated a go-around, and side stepped to the right. With quite a bit of anxiety in my voice, I barked out that I was going around.

Apparently, that woke the other fellow up, but only partially. Now looking at him in a side-by-side scenario, he was climbing, too, having also initiated a go-around. Same speed, same rate of climb, now same altitude, this time off my left wing by only a few hundred feet.

“I can’t seem to shake this guy,” I thought. I made another call on the radio: “Aircraft on the go-around at Winchester. Do you see me? I’m right off your 3 o’clock eye.”

And then, as if we had not had enough adventure just yet, he banked toward me. Really?

I chopped the power, pushed the nose over sharply, and made a very quick descent of a couple hundred feet (not having much more than that to spare) as the fellow Cessna slid right past my nose and now just above me.

I recovered and turned toward home, deeply shaken.

I tell you this story for two reasons: First, no matter how complex our journeys or how challenging the weather, terrain, or airspace, every phase of flight contains risks that we must carefully manage. Even in the seeming simplicity of landing the airplane—which we do every single flight—we must never relax our vigilance.

Truth is, I was more in the wrong than the other pilot. Knowing that someone was out there, and not having the aircraft in sight, I should never have continued toward the runway. I should have extended my downwind, or left the pattern and returned, because I did not have the final approach traffic identified. Sometimes we get so focused on completing the “next thing” that we don’t consider an alternative that would be more appropriate.

Secondly, just like we discussed in our last installment, the freedom to fly VFR in Class E or G airspace without communicating on the radio does not mean communication is not important. This other fellow made just one call, and then seemed to ignore the rest of the situation. Perhaps his volume was turned down and he never heard my calls. Perhaps he was distracted with the winds. I will never know. But had he practiced better radio communications, we would not have come so close to such an unfortunate meeting.

As you go farther in your VFR flying, don’t forget the basics. Aviate, navigate, communicate. And when anything around you looks or sounds wrong, please consider doing something different.

Farm-fresh pizza on the fly

The latest foodie craze involves sourcing ingredients from farms for fresh pizzas. Photo by David Tulis.

Follow your nose to sample piping hot pizza served at several locations that are accessible by GA aircraft.

Amber Waves Farm in Amagansett, New York

Local flour is the key ingredient for Amanda Merrow and Katie Baldwin, who praise the cultivation of grains—along with farm-fresh vegetables—as ingredients that help make do-it-yourself pizza nights at Amber Waves in the Hamptons popular. The sourdough starter for their pizza crust has been going since 1968. “The taste of flour made from freshly harvested grain is a totally different thing,” Merrow told the newspaper.

Fly to East Hampton Airport in East Hampton, New York.

Hawkins Family Farm in North Manchester, Indiana

Former pastor Jeff Hawkins “was called” to the family farm near Salamonie Lake when he felt preaching had become too corporate. He committed his family to producing vegetables, honey, grains, pigs, chickens, goats, and cattle. The crackly edges of wood-fired pizza became the calling on Friday nights. The sustainable farm also donates funds to a nonprofit that reconnects members of the clergy with agriculture.

Fly to Wabash Municipal Airport in Wabash, Indiana.

Katchkie Farm in Kinderhook, New York

“I never knew there were pizza groupies,” Liz Neumark told the newspaper. Her certified organic farm is dedicated to building connections among consumers, food professionals, and families. Weekend collaborations with Hilltown Hot Pies include hyperlocal ingredients “inspired by the bounty of our local farm” baked into sourdough wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas celebrated on Instagram.

Fly to Columbia County Airport near Hudson, New York.

Luna Valley Farm in Decorah, Iowa

Maren and Tom Beard of Luna Valley Farm near the Iowa-Wisconsin border specialize in a traditional Margherita pizza that has fresh tomatoes, basil leaves, and mozzarella topped with zingy Italian sausage crumbles. Leave your airplane keys at the motel because there are also three breweries within a 10-mile radius of the farm.

Fly to Decorah Municipal Airport in Decorah, Iowa.

Millsap Farms in Springfield, Missouri

Sarah and Curtis Millsap make mouthwatering pizzas with a New Mexico-style mud oven technique that was pioneered centuries ago for high-heat baking at about 800 degrees Fahrenheit. The pizzas are cooked in the earthen oven in about two minutes and are served buffet-style through October with seasonal toppings. “If you can grow it, we have put it on a pizza,” the Ozarks family told the newspaper. Bring chairs, a picnic blanket, and your appetite.

Fly to Springfield-Branson National Airport in Springfield, Missouri.

Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm in Waseca, Minnesota

Emily Knudsen and Bill Bartz founded their farm in 2014 after he had a Sound of Music moment atop a hillside and saw his destiny. The couple provides homegrown basil, tomatoes, peppers, and local honey for the brick-oven pizzas they assemble. Favorites include the Sweet Georgia with mozzarella, prosciutto, arugula, goat cheese, and honey; and the Pig and Pork with tomato sauce, mozzarella, sausage, pepperoni, and green olives. Patrons can bring everything else including dessert, snacks, drinks, and—most importantly—a garbage bag to keep the picnic surroundings clean for others. Listen to live music on Sundays.

Fly to Waseca Municipal Airport in Waseca, Minnesota.

Tecnam adapts P2012 for special missions

The company based in Capua, Italy, announced the arrival of the P2012 Sentinel SMP (Special Mission Platform) on September 15. Where the twin-engine P2012 Traveller, which entered service with Cape Air in 2019, is “sleek, modern and seductive,” the P2012 Sentinel SMP is dressed for work in “air-superiority grey, with a black vertical fin and a dedicated logo.” They share the same airframe, but the version made for passenger service is not optimized for electro-optical and infrared sensor packages such as the L3 Harris Wescam MX-series imaging systems.

Tecnam reports the P2012 Sentinel SMP can take off toting that sophisticated surveillance system (with one of three camera turret options), along with additional sensors such as radar, and full fuel tanks, and a crew of six, then fly for up to nine hours.

“The P2012 twin-engine design guarantees an exhaust-free field of view to the sensors, granting increased accuracy and ‘noise-free’ operations,” the company noted in its news release. “Moreover, the hatches’ position under the fuselage ensures a carbon-monoxide-free cabin that will enhance the safety of the crew members (one or two pilots and up to 5 mission operators).”

The P2012 SMP is an upgrade of Tecnam’s P2006T Twin SMP model, boosting payload, cabin space, and capabilities, including approval for flight into known icing conditions. It also provides a boost in versatility, as Tecnam has developed an optional quick-conversion kit to turn this special mission specialist into a people mover with 11 seats.

While Tecnam did not include any pricing in its announcement, the P2012 SMP was also touted as a cost-effective alternative to its rivals.

The P2012 SMP can be integrated with one of three models of the L3 Harris Wescam MX-series imaging system. Photo courtesy of Tecnam.

Cuisine caliente

One thing is for sure, the food in Santa Fe is not for the timid. There’s its New Mexican heritage; Texas influence; and appreciation for native food, indigenous ingredients, and love of wild game, especially elk. And chiles will be used!

It will come as no surprise that the chile is New Mexico’s state vegetable and that its flag colors are red and green. In fact, in most restaurants, the first question you’ll be asked is “red or green?” Your server is asking about the type of chili you’d like on the side (and this isn’t a chuckwagon chili, it’s more of a salsa). If you can’t make up your mind between red or green, ask for Christmas! Get it?

The City Different

From its adobe-mission architecture to its rich cultural history, Santa Fe exudes a vibe you’ll not find many places. With a respectful nod to history and a smile toward the future, Santa Fe calls itself “The City Different” because of its welcoming nature. A 1928 fiesta program told visitors: “Be yourself, even if it includes synthetic cowboy clothes, motor goggles, and a camera.” The same advice for travelers here still stands. Come in jeans and rock a bolo tie even if your roots are in Milwaukee.

The city decided on its unified building style as far back as 1912. Founded in 1610, it’s the third-oldest city in the country (St. Augustine, Florida, and Jamestown, Virginia, are older) and its founders realized that tourism was going to be key to keeping the city vibrant. A second ordinance was filed in 1957 again dictating the Pueblo style of architecture. The result is a melding of structure and nature, the modern buildings of Santa Fe looking like they have been there 400 years and the 400-year-old buildings kept up as if they were new. The ordinance included structure height, so most of Santa Fe is comprised of low-slung buildings, hugging the landscape. The adobe structures build upon themselves; rooms in restaurants and shops lead down narrow corridors to new spaces and visitors are apt to get lost in the maze of hallways. Ask for detailed instructions when looking for a bathroom!

Santa Fe Municipal Airport opened in 1941. It is home to some 200 based aircraft and offers commercial service through United Airlines to Denver and through American Airlines to Dallas/Fort Worth and Phoenix. There are three runways—Runway 2/20 is 8,366 feet long, Runway 15/33 is 6,316 feet long, and Runway 10/28 is 6,301 feet long. Elevation is 6,349 feet, and the airport is located nine miles from the city.

A taste of New Mexico

La Fonda on the Plaza is one of Santa Fe’s oldest hotels and sports a new rooftop bar and restraunt, the Bell Tower. Photo by Chris Rose.

So, what about those top TripAdvisor restaurants? No. 6 on the Fine Dining list is Geronimo, a French restaurant on Canyon Road. (Canyon Road is Santa Fe’s art district; winding streets invite you into eclectic art galleries, stores, and restaurants.) Geronimo is in a 1756 adobe house, but its new outdoor patio is COVID-19 friendly. Its chef definitely checks his New Mexico flavors, and elk is an often-requested specialty.

Sazón in downtown Santa Fe is No. 12 in fine dining, and it takes traditional Mexican food to incredible new heights. The décor is fabulous—a ceiling-to-floor painting of Frida Kahlo, sombreros, and twinkly star lamps dangling from the ceiling—and the chef is originally from Mexico City. The Ranch House is No. 23 on TripAdvisor’s Everyday Dining list. It’s a barbecue restaurant and has an outdoor patio.

La Fonda on the Plaza is one of Santa Fe’s oldest hotels and features period-style rooms of original timber beams and authentic tile. Its rooftop bar and restaurant are a wonderful place to see the city and watch a spectacular sunset.

With its overcrowded décor and myriad decorative homages to Mexican and Native American culture, the Cowgirl BBQ and Western Grill is a true barbecue joint. Its wood tables, flamboyant bar area, and festive outdoor seating promise diners an authentic Santa Fe experience. Cowgirl calls its barbecue “righteous” and with good reason: There’s 12-hour mesquite-smoked brisket, pork, and chicken served hot off the smoker. The restaurant’s five-pepper nachos with salsa diablo was ranked thirteenth in the nation by The Wall Street Journal and Cowgirl’s food has been featured on $40 a Day and Heat Seekers. You can also get a burger made with elk, buffalo, or venison.

The Relleno brothers are local New Mexico vintners who make wines with the chiles of their native state, bottling as Noisy Water Winery. Try tastings at the shop on San Francisco Street, especially the Besito Caliente white wine made with green chiles.

Noisy Water Winery uses native chiles in its wine making. Photo by Chris Rose.

Daher celebrates rollout of milestone turboprop

The stateside buyer of the airplane, a TBM 940, was James Hislop, an investment company executive who flies for business, for personal travel, and as a volunteer pilot for several public benefit aviation organizations.

Hislop was set to receive his aircraft on September 23 at Morristown Municipal Airport in New Jersey and said during a virtual appearance at the rollout ceremony that he was “hugely excited” about his acquisition. He was welcomed to the TBM family by Daher CEO Didier Kayat and Nicolas Chabbert, senior vice president of Daher’s aircraft division.

Kayat acknowledged that the milestone delivery was taking place in a “terrible year” for the aviation industry. From aircraft manufacturers to airlines the aviation sector has faced turmoil inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic—but that should not obscure the importance and celebratory nature of the occasion, he said.

“Why? Because the aircraft will always be an object of freedom, of magic, putting stars in the eyes,” he said, adding his expectation of a bright future for aviation and noting the “passion” of those who manufacture, maintain, and fly aircraft.

The online event linked the present with the past, featuring video footage of the design evolution of the TBM line—its first model, the TBM 700, was certified in 1990—and video appearances by figures who played major roles in the aircraft’s development.

The original model, a 300-knot airplane with a flat-rated 700-shaft-horsepower Pratt & Whitney PT6A-64 engine, was the “first, fully-pressurized, single-engine, turboprop aircraft in the world” to be certified, according to the company.

One of the videos explained that the TBM concept was born when light-aircraft maker Socata teamed with Mooney Aircraft to bring the concept of “jet-like performance” within reach of both the purchasing power and piloting skill level of private pilots. (The aircraft’s “TBM” designation reflects that history, with the TB signifying Tarbes, and the M a nod to Mooney.)

Upgrades of the 700 series marked the aircraft’s development until the TBM 850 entered the scene in 2005 with added power, performance, and cruise speed, with news coverage teasing a competitive potential of the model against very light jets.

More efficiency and systems upgrades produced the TBM 900 in 2014, the year Daher, already a part owner of Socata, acquired the remaining stake. In 2017, the TBM 910 debuted, featuring the Garmin G1000 NXi panel and cabin refinements.

The TBM 940 arrived in 2019 and “broke the mold,” AOPA reported. It arrived on the market with an autothrottle, then made even bigger headlines in 2020 with the certification of HomeSafe, an autoland system that Chabbert described in July as “a game-changing step that expands flight safety from pilots to the passengers themselves.”

The pandemic has scaled back production expectations, Chabbert said, but he expressed optimism during a question-and-answer finale to the September 21 rollout event that Daher would deliver 42 or 43 airplanes in 2020—assuming the supply chain can keep up.

Kayat fielded, but did not directly offer a response to, a question about whether Daher contemplated producing a twin-engine airplane.

He did note, however, that he remained a “huge believer” in the future of the TBM and Kodiak brands. Daher acquired Sandpoint, Idaho-based Quest Aircraft, manufacturer of the Quest Kodiak utility turboprop, in 2019.

Training Tip: Preflights heard ’round the world

One way is to uncover a glitch during the preflight and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing you headed off a problem that might have become a huge headache after takeoff.

The other way is to get the headache—so let’s not dwell on that.

Typical problems turned up during preflight inspections are one-offs like a flat tire, depressed nosewheel strut, oil or fuel leak, contaminated avgas, or a dead battery.

In other cases, a deficiency discovered during an aircraft inspection can have far-reaching implications including uncovering a defect that might be present in multiple aircraft—in other words, you could conduct a preflight that makes its mark wherever like aircraft are flown.

We reported on an example of that scenario on September 17, informing pilots that the FAA had issued an airworthiness directive requiring inspection of horizontal stabilizer components of several models of one aircraft following three field reports of failures. One of the discoveries occurred during a scheduled inspection. Another was made during a reskinning of one of the tube-and-fabric airplanes. The third occurrence was discovered during a preflight inspection “and included a complete failure of the forward horizontal stabilizer inboard support assembly,” the FAA noted. The FAA also documented other failures including one that occurred during ground handling of an aircraft, and another found when an aircraft was being moved into a hangar.

Preflight omissions can be trying or tragic; many pilots have filed reports that shared the lessons of their lapses.

The pilot of a Piper twin rejected a takeoff based on an erratic airspeed indication that was later traced to pitot-tube blockage. “I believe this problem can be prevented by doing a more thorough preflight inspection, paying attention to smaller details,” the pilot said in a filing with the Aviation Safety Reporting System.

Another ASRS report included the insights of the pilot of a homebuilt aircraft who vowed to do something extra when preflighting after the failure of a tailwheel installation caused a loss of control during a landing.

“Both alignment bolts in the tail wheel are sheared off,” the pilot reported, adding, “In the future I plan to check the torque every 100 hours and make a visual inspection of the bolts for security on every preflight inspection.”

Airplane engines demystified

PilotWorkshops' new "Airplane Engines" manual demystifies engines, dispels myths, and descrbes exactly what happens under the cowl from start to shutdown. Photo courtesy of PilotWorkshops.

Carburetors? Magnetos? Shock cooling? Even those who come to general aviation with vast mechanical knowledge in other areas get tripped up by these antiquated items and the alphabet stew of acronyms we use to describe them.

In Airplane Engines, Jeff Van West of PilotWorkshops, an AOPA premier partner, does a heroic job of demystifying the engines we rely on, dispelling myths, and describing exactly what happens under the cowl from start to shut down. And the best part is that he does so in plain, matter-of-fact, non-gearhead language that nontechnical readers will appreciate.

Airplane Engines also includes practical, step-by-step instructions for hot starting big-bore, fuel-injected Continental and Lycoming engines that actually work. I used Van West’s hot-start technique on a recent multiday trip in an airplane with a notoriously cantankerous Continental IO-550, and my batting average for successful starts was the best it’s ever been. Those tips alone are worth the price of the manual.

Van West also addresses controversial topics like leaning during full-power climbs, lean-of-peak engine operations, shock cooling, multi-grade engine oil, and after-market additives—and he does so concisely with facts and data, not opinions or anecdotes.

Today’s graphical engine monitors, color borescopes, and oil analysis provide pilots with more information than ever about the status of aircraft engines. Van West shows us how to interpret that information and use it to fly more efficiently and diagnose and fix problems before they become critical.

Pilots follow checklists to start engines and prepare them for flight, and we memorize the steps to take if and when they behave abnormally or fail in flight. Van West does a valuable service for fellow pilots by explaining the “why” behind each of those actions. In doing so, he provides insights that to allow us to fly with greater knowledge, better understanding, more confidence, and broader margins of safety.

The manual sells for $49 and comes with a digital PDF. For more details, to see samples, or to order the book, visit PilotWorkshops’ website.