From The Air, NC Wildfires Are Dramatic And Gloomy

David Boraks – WFAE

Unhealthy air is now covering the region, as smokes creeps east from wildfires in western North Carolina. You can see it as you walk down the street. From above, it’s even more dramatic, says . WFAE environmental reporter David Boraks. He flew over the fire zone Friday and has this report:

Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins tries to get up in the air every few weeks or so to photograph environmental threats along the river.  The flight plan today includes another item: Checking on fires that have burned nearly 50,000 acres across western North Carolina since Oct. 23.

“We are going to fly over most of the upper Catawba River basin and we will shoot kind of east northeast, go around south mountain state park, and should be up wind of and have a good shot of the wildfires,” Perkins said.

It’s sunny and hazy as our single-engine Cessna takes off from Shelby-Cleveland County Regional Airport. Pretty quickly, we’re up a thousand feet.

The first thing you notice is that there IS a blue sky up there this week.  But there’s also a blanket of brown smoke, in some places so thick you can’t see the ground or the mountains.

It crawls up mountainsides and fills valleys. Some peaks are tall enough to poke above the gloom.

Pilot Pete Stauble says it’s easy to make out where it’s coming from.

PETE:  I can definitely see a little open path here between the two fires.

DAVID Do you know which fire is which?

PETE: This would be South Mountain State Park over here and that would be Lake Lure over there.

The South Mountain, or Chestnut Knob fire has burned about 6,000 acres about 10 miles south of Morganton.  The Lake Lure, or Party Rock fire, covers about 6,700 acres around Lake Lure and Chimney Rock.

Altogether, 15 fires are still burning across the western part of the state. Authorities think many were man-made, some possibly arson.

Perkins said smoke from the fires is the worst he’s seen in North Carolina.

It’s amazing. Usually you can see more than a mile or two in the distance and you can get a beautiful lay of the land. Today is just way too thick to see anything.

Stauble has a word for it: “We’re flying in the soup. It was quite heavy today as far as the smoke coverage.”

At one point Stauble had to turn the plane away from an ominous cloud over the South Mountain fire.

That’s almost scary, Perkins said. “It’s like something out of a Harry Potter book or something an evil dark cloud that you can’t go near,” he said.

Gov. Pat McCrory says the state already has spent about 10 million dollars fighting the fires. And it could get worse before it gets better.

Weekend winds – with gusts over 30 miles an hour – could fan the flames, and cause the fires to spread.



We’ve been doing it since our earliest days as student pilots. Now that we’re aircraft owners, we still do it as part of our standard preflight ritual. But are we doing it right?

It turns out that there’s a lot more to checking the engine’s oil dipstick properly than just making sure that the oil level is above the minimum-for-flight level listed in the POH. If we really pay attention, we can learn a lot about the condition of our oil and of our engine.


The engines on my Cessna 310 have 12-quart sumps—13 quarts if you include the quart in the spin-on oil filter. When I first acquired the airplane, my mechanic would fill the sump to its maximum capacity at each oil change. It didn’t take me long to discover that the engines didn’t like that, and promptly tossed several quarts out the engine breathers.

My POH states that the “minimum for flight” oil level is 9 quarts. So I asked my mechanic to service the sump to 10 quarts (instead of 12), and I’d add a quart of make-up oil when the level got down to 9 quarts. That worked better, but I was still seeing a fair amount of oil on the underside of the engine nacelles and the outer gear doors.

After I became a mechanic myself and learned about such things, I checked the Type Certificate Data Sheet (TCDS) for my Continental TSIO-520-BB engines, and found that an oil level of 6 quarts was sufficient to make good oil pressure in all flight attitudes from 23° nose-up to 17° nose-down. Armed with this information, I decided to experiment with lower oil levels.

What I discovered was that oil consumption (and the oily mess on the airframe) was drastically reduced if I maintained the oil level at around 8 quarts on the dipstick. Since then, I’ve avoided filling the sump to more than 9 quarts, and I normally do not add make-up oil until the dipstick reads about 7½ quarts. (This still gives me a 1½-quart “cushion” above what the engine needs to operate reliably in all flight attitudes.)

You might wonder why Continental put a 12-quart sump on an engine that requires only 6 quarts. The answer is that FAA certification requirements demand that the engine be designed to hold twice as much oil as it actually needs:

FAR §33.39 Lubrication system.

(a) The lubrication system of the engine must be designed and constructed so that it will function properly in all flight attitudes and atmospheric conditions in which the airplane is expected to operate. In wet sump engines, this requirement must be met when only one-half of the maximum lubricant supply is in the engine.

The TCDS for my TSIO-520-BB engines states that maximum acceptable oil consumption is about one quart per hour. If my engines actually used that much oil, then I’d need to fill the sumps nearly to their maximum capacity to ensure that I had enough oil to make a 5-hour flight without risking oil starvation. But since I know from long experience that my engines use more like 0.1 quart per hour, there’s no reason for me to carry anywhere near that much oil.

Every aircraft engine installation has an optimum oil level at which oil consumption is minimized and the engine is happiest. I would encourage you to experiment to determine what oil level works best for your airplane. Your engine will operate properly at 50% of its maximum oil capacity—guaranteed. As long as you keep the oil level a quart or two above the 50% point, your engine will be happy.

The best time to get an accurate dipstick reading is just prior to the first flight of the day. If you check the oil level shortly after the engine has been run for awhile, the dipstick reading will be noticeably lower because a significant quantity of oil remains adhered to various engine components. Another reading taken 24 hours later will often show an oil level that is ½ to 1 quart higher.


Having assured yourself that there’s enough oil in the engine, your next task is to make note of how much oil your engine is using. Keeping track of oil consumption—particularly any significant increase in oil consumption rate—is an important tool for monitoring engine condition.

The most common method of measuring oil consumption is to record how many quarts of make-up oil are added between oil changes, and to divide the total by the number of hours in the oil-change interval. (For example, if the oil is changed after 50 hours and 6 quarts of make-up oil were added during that time, the average oil consumption rate is 50/6 or 8.3 hours per quart.)

Oil consumption graph

Oil consumption isn’t linear—it accelerates as the oil deteriorates over time. The rate of consumption during the first 10 hours after an oil change is a good indication of engine condition.

However, this approach obscures the fact that oil consumption is not linear over the oil change interval. If you keep track of when you add each quart of make-up oil, you’ll find that less oil is consumed at first, and progressively more oil is consumed as the oil’s time-in-service increases.

The reason for this accelerating oil consumption is that the viscosity of the oil decreases as the oil deteriorates. Mineral oils lose viscosity due to a phenomenon called “polymer shearing” in which the long organic molecules are actually broken apart by mechanical action of the engine’s moving parts. Multigrade oils also lose viscosity because their viscosity-index improvers oxidize when exposed to high temperatures.

The increased rate of oil consumption provides tangible evidence that your engine oil is getting “long in the tooth” and ought to be changed soon.


Whenever you check the dipstick, it’s also important to make note of the oil’s appearance—particularly its color and clarity. The oil’s appearance offers valuable clues to its condition and that of your engine.

Oil color

Color and transparency are important indicators of engine condition. When oil becomes dark and opaque, it should be changed. If this happens rapidly, it suggests that the engine has too much blow-by past the rings, or that oil temperature is too hot.

Fresh engine oil has a light amber color and is so transparent that it’s sometimes hard to read the dipstick level. As the oil remains in service, it gradually darkens in color and becomes progressively more opaque.

The darkening of engine oil is caused by contamination and oxidation. Contaminants include carbon (soot), lead salts and sulfur from combustion byproducts that get past the compression rings and into the crankcase (“blow-by”), as well as any dust or dirt that gets past the induction air filter. Oxidation of the oil occurs when it is exposed to high localized temperatures at it circulates through the engine, and results in the formation of coke. Various oil additives are also vulnerable to oxidation, particularly the viscosity-index improvers used in multiweight oils.

Dispersant additives are blended in the oil to help keep these so-called “insolubles” in suspension in order to keep the engine clean and minimize sludge deposits. As the quantity of insolubles in suspension increases, the oil darkens and becomes opaque.

It is important to note how quickly this darkening occurs. If your oil remains relatively light-colored and translucent after 25 hours in service, you can be reasonably confident that your cylinders and rings are in fine condition and that your oil can prudently remain in service for 40 or 50 hours. On the other hand, if your oil gets dark and opaque after 10 or 15 hours, you’d be wise to change your oil more often—perhaps at 25 hours—and you may want to investigate the possibility that one or more cylinders are excessively worn.

Such rapid discoloration is often a good indicator that the oil is distressed. In one study, 90% of oil that appeared abnormally dark on the dipstick was subsequently found by laboratory analysis to be non-compliant with required specifications. Oil that is dark and opaque from blow-by past the rings is very likely to be rich in acids and other corrosive compounds that can attack your cam and lifters, and that’s probably the #1 cause of engines failing to make TBO. Any time your oil appears dark or opaque, you would be wise to drain it and replace it with fresh oil and a new oil filter, regardless of the oil’s time-in-service.

Mike Busch is arguably the best-known A&P/IA in general aviation, honored by the FAA in 2008 as National Aviation Maintenance Technician of the Year. Mike is a 7,500-plus hour pilot and CFI, an aircraft owner for 45 years, a prolific aviation author, co-founder of AVweb, and presently heads a team of world-class GA maintenance experts at Savvy Aviator. Mike’s book Manifesto: A Revolutionary Approach to General Aviation Maintenance is available from in paperback and Kindle versions.

Fly Safe: Prevent Loss of Control Accidents



Fly Safe: Prevent Loss of Control Accidents

November 16– The FAA and general aviation (GA) group’s #FlySafe national safety campaign aims to educate the GA community on best practices to calculate and predict aircraft performance and to operate within established aircraft limitations. 

What is a Stabilized Approach?
A stabilized approach is one in which the pilot establishes and maintains a constant angle glidepath toward a predetermined point on the landing runway.

However, the pilot must also:

  • Maintain a specified descent rate.
  • Maintain a specified airspeed.
  • Complete all briefings and checklists.
  • Configure the aircraft for landing (gear, flaps, etc.)
  • Maintain the correct altitude levels (such as 500 feet for a Visual Meteorological Conditions approach or 1,000 feet for an Instrument Meteorological Conditions approach).
  • Ensure only small changes in heading/pitch are necessary to maintain the correct flight path.

Go-Around for Safety
If a pilot does not meet these conditions, the approach becomes “unstabilized” and the pilot should consider a go-around to make a second attempt to land safely.

If you choose to continue with an unstabilized approach, you risk landing too high, too fast, or out of alignment with the runway centerline, and may be unprepared for landing. These situations can result in damage to the aircraft, or worse, to you and your passengers!

 Important Clues
How you see the runway on your approach is an important factor in maintaining your safety. Pay attention to the shape of the runway. We all know that a runway is an elongated rectangle. However, from the air, the runway can appear to be a trapezoid, with the far end looking narrower than the approach end.

If your approach is too shallow, the runway will appear to shorten and become wider. If it is too steep, the runway will appear to become longer and narrower. These are signs that you may want to consider a go-around.

 Are Stabilized Approaches Always Safer?
If you’ve incorporated the checklists and are prepared for a safe landing, the answer is yes. It’s a good idea to execute a go-around if your checklists are not completed. Your safety depends on your ability to focus on safely touching down.

 What is Loss of Control?
A Loss of Control (LOC) accident involves an unintended departure of an aircraft from controlled flight. LOC can happen because the aircraft enters a flight regime that is outside its normal flight envelope and may quickly develop into a stall or spin. It can introduce an element of surprise for the pilot.

Contributing factors may include:

  • Poor judgment or aeronautical decision making
  • Failure to recognize an aerodynamic stall or spin and execute corrective action
  • Intentional failure to comply with regulations
  • Failure to maintain airspeed
  • Failure to follow procedure
  • Pilot inexperience and proficiency
  • Use of prohibited or over-the-counter drugs, illegal drugs, or alcohol

Message from FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta:
The FAA and industry are working together to prevent Loss of Control accidents and save lives. You can help make a difference by joining our Fly Safe campaign. Each month on, we’re providing pilots with a Loss of Control solution developed by a team of experts. They have studied the data and developed solutions – some of which are already reducing risk. We hope you will join us in this effort and spread the word. Follow #FlySafe on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I know that we can reduce these accidents by working together as a community.

 Did you know?
Last year, 384 people died in 238 general aviation accidents.

  • Loss of Control is the number one cause of these accidents.
  • Loss of Control happens in all phases of flight. It can happen anywhere and at any time.
  • There is one fatal accident involving Loss of Control every four days.

Learn more:
Learn more with this Safety Enhancement flyer (PDF) on Stabilized Approach and Landing.

What should the runway look like? This guide (PDF) from will help.

 Learn more in Chapter 4 of the FAA’s Instrument Procedures Handbook (PDF)

 The website has Notices, FAAST Blasts, online courses, webinars and more on key general aviation safety topics.

 Check out the 2016 GA Safety Enhancements (SEs) fact sheets on the main FAA Safety Briefing website, including Flight Risk Assessment Tools.

 The WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program helps pilots build an educational curriculum suitable for their unique flight requirements.  It is based on the premise that pilots who maintain currency and proficiency in the basics of flight will enjoy a safer and more stress-free flying experience.

 The General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC) is comprised of government and industry experts who work together to use data to identify risk, pinpoint trends through root cause analysis, and develop safety strategies to reduce the risk of accidents in GA.

 An FAA fact sheet outlines GA safety improvements and initiatives.

 The GAJSC combines the expertise of many key decision makers across different parts of the FAA, several government agencies, and stakeholder groups. The other federal agencies are the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, which participates as an observer. Industry participants include the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Experimental Aircraft Association, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association, National Business Aviation Association, National Air Transportation Association, National Association of Flight Instructors, Society of Aviation and Flight Educators, and the aviation insurance industry. The European Aviation Safety Agency also participates as an observer.


HondaJet flies into the record books

Stu Robarts – New Atlas


Honda Aircraft Company has given credence to its claim that its HondaJet is the fastest jet in its class by breaking two speed records. The records were set over two recognized courses in the US from Teterboro, New Jersey to Fort Lauderdale, Florida and Boston, Massachusetts to Palm Beach, Florida.

Between Teterboro and Fort Lauderdale, flown on April 9, the HondaJet’s flight-time was 2 hours, 51 minutes and it hit a top speed of 414 kt (478 mph), despite having to contend with headwinds of 60 kt (69 mph).

On July 19, flying from Boston to Palm Beach and with headwinds of 30 kt (35 mph), the HondaJet took 2 hours, 58 minutes. Its top speed was 422 knots (486 mph), which is also given as the jet’s maximum possible cruising speed. Honda says it is the first aircraft in its class to hold the record for this route.

Honda Aircraft President and CEO Michimasa Fujino points to the flights as being demonstrative of the HondaJet’s superior performance over other aircraft. Indeed, it is claimed to be the world’s most advanced light jet, by virtue of features like over-the-wing engines and a lightweight composite fuselage. These are said to have been the result of long-term research and were brought to fruition when the jet went into production in 2012.

The flights were both piloted by Peter Kriegler and Glenn Gonzales and were each recognized with a “Certificate of Record for Speed Over a Recognized Course.” They were verified by the US National Aeronautic Association and are pending approval as world records by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale in Switzerland.