26 November 2015

GPS failure – the need for data

By Al Hepburn, Captain, COPA Flight 178 Pembroke

There can be no doubt that the introduction of GPS has been a game changer in the world of general aviation. In this article, we’ll look at the effect it has had, and is about to have on the General Aviation IFR Owner/Pilot.

The Air Traffic Control system has evolved over the years to the point that most pilots seldom use the so-called "Traditional Aids." A brief glance at the Canadian LO 6 en route chart (the one covering the Windsor to Quebec City corridor) will show the impact this has had on en route IFR navigation.

All the airways at the heart of this corridor have disappeared, and have been replaced with the so-called "Tango Routes," based on RNAV waypoints. Traditional navaids and airways are

being decommissioned at a fairly rapid pace. In the more remote areas of the country, many pilots would hesitate to fly without GPS, as the only alternative is NDB navigation, and flying NDB approaches is a dying art.

Many aircraft now flying in southern Canada no longer carry ADF, so are effectively excluded from IFR flight in areas where an ADF is the only practical backup. Nor do they carry DME, which is also required to fly just about all VOR approaches.

All this means that traditional navaids are becoming an anachronism, and the service provider, NavCanada, is quite rightly keen to decommission as many of these navaids as possible, particularly VORs, which are expensive to install and maintain.

Before we go too far down the decommissioning road, however, it is appropriate to ask the question "What happens if GPS fails?" The answer, in a nutshell, is "You revert to using Traditional Aids, or fly VFR." That then begs the question "How often is there likely to be a loss of GPS position information in IFR use, and how long will the outages last?" You would think the answer to these questions would be readily available, but this does not seem to be the case.

Transport Canada has had a "GPS Anomaly Report" form since 1997, but its existence is not well known. To date, it has only received 35 entries.

To get some kind of handle on pilots’ real world experience, COPA, in co-operation with AOPA, recently conducted an on-line survey. This evoked 513 responses over a period of a few days.

The author’s personal experience indicates that, if anything, the incidence of GPS failure events is increasing. In a recent two-week period, I flew on two occasions, and saw the dreaded "GPS Signal Loss" screen both times. The failures were at different locations, on different aircraft, and using different (Garmin) equipment. Both failures lasted a few minutes. On neither occasion was there a NOTAM relating to possible GPS failure.From a technical point of view, the GPS signal is susceptible to jamming, since it uses a single frequency, and is extremely weak. By the way, you can already buy jammers on the internet, the "best" of which is reported to have a ten-mile range. Truckers buy them, so the boss can’t monitor where they are!

So, how robust will the Traditional Aids backup system be? This will clearly depend on the frequency and duration of the loss of signal threat. If outages are very brief, they will have little effect on air navigation.

Longer outages (say of a few minutes or more) would force you to revert to Traditional Aids navigation, and it’s here that the architecture of the Traditional Aids backup system becomes a key concern. The COPA/AOPA survey indicated that there were a surprising number of such failures. Thus, it is of critical importance to have a statistically significant volume of data on GPS failures before the Traditional Aids structure is significantly reduced. COPA will recommend to Nav Canada that a web-based tool be added to the AWWS website to facilitate this, but in the meantime, please take the time to fill out and submit that "GPS Anomaly Report."

Note that the intent is to have one report per event, not one to cover the totality of your experience since you started using GPS. Make it very clear when the event was reported using IFR approved equipment, since only these events are directly relevant to IFR operations. In view of the suspected dynamic nature of GPS failures, it is recommended that you concentrate on data not more than a couple of years old. You should send the form to service@navcanada.ca.

Alan Hepburn: Has flown IFR for 43 years and flying GNSS IFR since 2002, flight instructor, and representing COPA in discussion on future IFR requirements.

External links

05 November 2015

Book Review: Fangs of Death

  • Fangs of Death - 439 Sabre-Toothed Tiger Squadron, Standing on guard for thee since 1941
  • by Marc-André Valiquette and Richard Girouard
  • Published by Imaviation, 2015
  • 12.5" X 9.5" hard back book
  • 264 pages, including three forwards, two prefaces, eight addenda, glossary, bibliography, index
  • $49.95

Marc-André Valiquette is most well-known for his extensive series of five books on the Avro Arrow, but lately he has branched out into Canadian military squadron histories, most recently tackling 425 "Alouette" Squadron.

With a title like "Fangs of Death" the casual reader glancing at the book might think this is a horror story, but the title comes from the post-war motto of 439 "Sabre-Toothed Tiger" Squadron, the unit that is the subject of the book. A large-format and hefty (4 lb, 1.8 kg) hard-cover book, Fangs of Death is largely a photo album of carefully collected squadron photos from the Second World War right through to 2013, with text and captions describing the history. The book is bilingual, with each leaf written in English on the left page and French on the right. The title in French is "Les Crocs de la Mort". With the large numbers of photos, drawing and paintings, plus the bilingual format, the book is a relatively quick read, as most people will only read it in one of its two languages. Vaiquette shares credit for the book with historical and photographic researcher Richard Girouard.

The book starts with 439 Squadron's origins as the School of Army Co-operation and later 123 Army Co-operation Training Squadron, flying Grumman Goblin biplanes and Westland Lysanders from RCAF Station Rockcliffe in Ottawa. Converting to Hurricanes and moving to Debert, Nova Scotia, the unit languished far away from the fighting until ordered overseas in 1943. Once in the UK, the squadron traded their aging Hurricanes for brand new Hawker Typhoons and started operations on 2 March 1944 in the ground attack role. Prior to D-Day they engaged in attacks on targets such as the V-1 "flying bomb" launching sites and conducted anti-shipping missions. During the June 1944 invasion of Normandy the unit took on German coastal batteries and performed attacks on road and rail targets ahead of the allied ground forces, including interdicting German armour. Throughout the latter part of 1944 the squadron took part in the fighting in France, Belgium and into Germany, including taking part in the Battle of the Bulge. In early 1945 they joined the battle for Holland. Not all targets were on the ground, as unit pilots downed two Me-262 jets, among other German aircraft.

439 became the first RCAF squadron to operate from a German base, with its move to Goch in March 1945. With the war in Europe over in May 1945 the squadron had 86 pilots who served with it in total, of which 20 finished their tours, 24 were killed or presumed dead on operations, plus five killed in accidents, eight were POWs and three escaped after being shot down.

The squadron was reformed on Sabre Mk IIs at RCAF Uplands, again in Ottawa, in 1951 as part of Canada's NATO commitment. They became the first unit to fly their Sabres over to Europe, rather than having them shipped, as part of Operation Leapfrog I. They flew from Ottawa to Bagotville, Quebec; Goose Bay, Labrador; Bluie West in Greenland; Keflavik, Iceland; Kinloss, Scotland and onto North Luffenham, England where they were initially based. Four years later the unit moved to its operational base at Marville, France, the new home of No. 1 Fighter Wing. The unit later upgraded to Sabre Mk 5s and finally 6s, holding quick-reaction intercept stand-by and training at weapons meets, NATO exercises, Tiger Meets and other opportunities to hone their skills. The Tiger Meets were NATO gatherings of squadrons that had tigers as emblems.

It was in this post-war period that the squadron got their sabre-toothed tiger badge and the deadly-sounding motto to go with it. In 1961 the Maharajah of Rewa in India donated a stuffed tiger, which became their mascot, Fang. 439 became the last Sabre RCAF squadron in Europe, prior to its conversion to the CF-104 Starfighter in 1964.

In 1966 France ended its military involvement in NATO and 439 moved to Lahr in Germany. It was in 1969 that the squadron first painted a CF-104 in overall tiger stripes to take to the Tiger Meet. In 1970 all CF-104 flying was moved to CFB Baden-Soellingen and, in 1973, 439 received its squadron colours from the Duke of Edinburgh. In 1984 the squadron flew its last CF-104 sortie and was disbanded, to be re-formed flying the CF-18 late the next year, still at Baden. The unit formed the "Desert Cats", along with 416 Squadron, as part of Canada's participation in the liberation of Kuwait in 1990-91. In January 1993 Canada ended its commitment to provide a fighter wing to NATO and 439 was disbanded, its CF-18s returned to Canada. The unit flew them home, across the Atlantic, with air-to-air refuelling.

On 1 April 1993 the squadron was reformed, by rebadging Base Flight Bagotville as 439 Combat Support Squadron, flying the Bell CH-118 Iroquois helicopter and the venerable T-33 two-seat jet in the rescue, transport and utility roles. In 1995 the unit re-equipped with three Bell CH-146 Griffon helicopters and in 2000 retired the T-33 jets. As well as covering base rescue operations, 439 also participated in the Saguenay flood operation of 1996, and the international response to the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, as well as deploying to Jamaica to cover SAR for the island in 2011 as the Jamaican Defence Force was shorthanded.

439 Combat Support Squadron continues today in Bagotville with its three Griffon helicopters in the rescue and transport roles.

The book, Fangs of Death, is well written, very readable with roughly a double page for each year the squadron has been in existence, with more coverage of the Second World War years, naturally, as those were busier times. The choice of photographs is outstanding and I am certain that it was hard to decide which ones to include, given the photographic riches available.

My only criticism of the book is not on what was included, but excluded. The book does seem to shy away from controversy and even though the unit picked up the nuclear strike and reconnaissance roles in 1964 with the phasing in of the CF-104 there is lots about the photo recce role, but not a word about the nuclear weapons that were very controversial at the time. Other historical sources mention the nuclear strike role for 439, but not this work. Similarly the CF-104 had a very high loss rate, with half the aircraft built lost in accidents, but not a single Starfighter crash is mentioned in the book, during almost twenty years of flying the type, which seems odd when reading it. Other works, like Larry Milberry's Sixty Years, delve into the high number of Starfighter losses in some detail. Not to pick on the CF-104, but of the Sabre years, 1951-63, only one accident is mentioned in the book and then it seems only because it was the squadron commanding officer, Squadron Leader CJ Clay, who was killed and only a month and a half after assuming command, too.

Other than these omissions this is a fascinating book, a photographic window into the world of wartime operations and peacetime flying in Europe with NATO and in Canada. It will surely appeal to any present and former squadron members as well as anyone interested in fine-grained twentieth century history and military aviation.

Valiquette notes that none of his books have received any financial support from any level of government and that he publishes them himself through his own publishing company, Imaviation. While his five volumes on the Avro Arrow and his 425 Squadron history are featured on his website, at the time of this writing, Fangs of Death is not yet on the website, although I expect it will be soon. It should also soon be available in museum bookshops and the other bookstores that stock aviation titles.

External links

02 November 2015

Book Review: Hangar Flying Vol 1

  • Hangar Flying - Tales From the Flight Deck, Vol 1
  • by Jack Schofield and Arthur Cox
  • Published by Coast Dog Press, Mayne Island, British Columbia, 2015
  • 6.25" X 8" electronic book
  • 84 pages
  • Price - free

It is hard to argue with a professional-quality book of flying stories that is offered at this price - free! And perhaps best of all, this is the first of three volumes of books for free that author and publisher Jack Schofield has planned in conjunction with writer and illustrator Art Cox.

Both Schofield and Cox earned their aviation writing and artwork skills honestly, honed during years of lay-overs awaiting passengers in that "downtime" that all pilots find they have at points in many flight itineraries. These two are not writers who know a bit about flying, (but get the details wrong), these are both veteran pilots who learned to write about aviation, as well as draw and paint airplanes, too.

So what's with "free"? Schofield relates that it is so hard for aviation writers to get published these days by traditional book publishers, that he started his own publishing house, Coast Dog Press. Upping the ante, he publishes or distributes not only his own works, but books by other aviation writers, too. The Hangar Flying - Tales From the Flight Deck, series is intended to be a showcase for the talents of the writers in his stable, as he includes writers like Bill Grenier and Peter Barratt in this book. As a platform the book also includes one small advertisement for some of the other titles he sells. He hopes that volume two will have a bit more advertising, at least to help cover costs. It seems like a good formula that works for all concerned, especially readers, who get a free book and will likely get two more volumes of free books in the near future. As a COPA member, all you have to do is send Schofield an email and he will send you the link for the book. He will also send you a note when the future volumes are posted. It is hard to beat that kind of service, all for free!

So what do you get for the price? The book Hangar Flying - Tales From the Flight Deck, is 84 pages. It took me just over an hour to read it, so it is not a long book.

The chapters are short tales, each a good aviation story that the authors thought should be recorded for posterity. Some are amusing and some are thought-provoking, but there is something to be learned from each one.

You get:

  • Big Bang by Jack Schofield, the tale of a Beaver engine failure on floats.
  • Back to Basics by Arthur Cox, about flying visual circuits in a Lockheed L-1011.
  • Thrills in a Tigerschmitt by Jack Schofield, about an off-airport landing in a Tiger Moth.
  • New Tricks for an Old Dog by Bill Grenier, covering his leap from a Boeing 747 cockpit to a Robinson R-22 and later R-44 helicopters.
  • Pringles for Bleriot by Jack Schofield, covering the foibles of being an airline passenger.
  • Near Misses by Arthur Cox, about the very near-shoot-down of an airliner over Lake Michigan in 1988.
  • Sex and the Single Engine by Jack Schofield, the story of a free-spirited woman pilot who once worked for him.
  • North Star to the Rescue by Arthur Cox, about a repatriation flight for a UN official who had been kidnapped.
  • The Homecoming by Peter Barratt, about a special helicopter flight for an NHL star's return home.
  • B-25 by Arthur Cox, where he relates flying the venerable bomber in post-war Winnipeg.
  • In The Wake of the War Canoe by Jack Schofield, about Queen Charlotte Airlines and the fate of a remote BC camp.
  • Fiction - No Laughing Matter (part one of three) by Jack Schofield with illustrations by Art Cox about a Gulfstream biz jet charter adventure with some shady passengers. No Laughing Matter will be continued in the next two volumes.

There are also several extra anecdotes thrown in, in between chapters, including a few subtle smirks that some people might miss, like a little half-page story about General Romeo Dallaire that has a photo of someone else to illustrate it.

Speaking of illustrations, aside from the photos, the book includes Schofield's art, sketches and pointillism drawings as well as Cox's paintings, which add up to give the book a rich, custom feel.

I enjoyed the book, it is great fun and will probably make most pilots recall similar stories from their own hangars. I would normally say something like, "this book would make a nice addition to any pilot's book shelf", but this book is web-based, so it will only find a home on your coffee table and then only as long as that is where you keep your laptop or tablet.

External links