Remembering Geoff Peck


A few weeks ago, my friend and helper on the HP Media Vault Yahoo Group, Chris, was asking me some questions about taking his first trip to the EAA convention in Oshkosh this summer. Chris found me through my Media Vault website and it turns out that we share a lot of interests. He was the first Media Vault owner to compile the Linux kernel which impressed me because he had no prior Linux experience and was only 14 years old at the time. He’s been a highly valued source of help in providing product support and also runs his own Yahoo Group called Hacking the HP Media Vault. He even runs his own computer repair business. Look him up if you’re in the St. Louis area and need some computer help.

One of the interests we share is aviation. The annual EAA convention at Oshkosh, called Airventure, is coming up next week and Chris is planning to attend it with his dad. He was asking some questions a few weeks ago about the byzantine pricing schemes the EAA uses for admission and was having some trouble trying to figure out if his junior membership qualified him for a guest admission pricing for his dad. He wasn’t getting anywhere with the folks at the EAA since it was an unusual request. Most junior or student members have at least one parent who is a member of the EAA and so the people who staffed the help desk hadn’t encountered a situation like this before. I figured that I would call upon someone who I knew who helped write the Airventure admission software for the EAA, Geoff Peck, to help sort things out.

Geoff Peck and I go way back. Geoff was the originator of Usenet’s rec.aviation subgroups back around 1992. Prior to that, there was a single rec.aviation group of which I was an avid reader and occasional contributor. I always admired the way Geoff answered aviation-related questions. His responses were always so well-reasoned and professional. Always calm and authoritative, his writing style was what I aspired to sound like when I wrote.

It had been a few years since I had communicated with Geoff. At one time, he used to organize daily meetings for lunch at Oshkosh, with everyone meeting at the base of the control tower around noon. He’d also help organize a dinner at the Granary, and he’d pass around his laptop for people to use to make a rec.aviation posting entitled “Live from Oshkosh”. This was back in the early 90’s, which was long before the Internet and Web became mainstream. It was even before Deja News (now Google Groups) began archiving the Usenet postings, so much of this history is lost to time. I would look forward to seeing Geoff each year, manning the booth for his flight planning company, Enflight, patiently talking with customers and eager to help other pilots.

So, I did a quick Google search on his name to get to his personal website and make sure I had a good email address for him. You can imagine my concern when the first hit Google returned was entitled: “Remember Geoff Peck” at his personal website. I read with dismay that he had died in a plane crash in Colorado on his way back from Oshkosh in August, 2006. I read the NTSB report with astonishment that Geoff, a highly skilled 4400-hour ATP-rated flight instructor, would perish in a classic box canyon trap.

Today I was reminded about the incident again when I got an email from the AOPA describing his accident. Here is the text of it:

“On Aug. 7, 2006, the pilot of a Piper PA-28R-201 Arrow was returning to California after attending EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis. While attempting to navigate through mountainous terrain northwest of Salida, Colo., the pilot made a wrong turn and flew into a box canyon. Unable to outclimb the terrain, the aircraft struck a stand of pine trees and came to rest inverted. The crash killed the 4,400-hour airline transport pilot and seriously injured his passenger.

Making their way west from Oshkosh, the San Jose-based pilot and his passenger had arrived at Harriet Alexander Field (elevation 7,523 feet msl) in Salida around 8 p.m. on the day before the accident. The following morning, the pilot used his laptop computer to obtain a DUATS weather briefing and file a VFR flight plan to Milford, Utah. The density altitude in Salida that morning was about 9,400 msl, meaning aircraft flying in the area would perform as though they were about 2,000 feet higher than their actual altitude.

According to the airport manager, the pilot asked which route he should take to Utah. The pilot wanted to fly west across Monarch Pass (elevation 11,312 feet msl). The manager suggested that he instead fly south through the lower-elevation Poncha Pass before turning west. The pilot ignored the advice. The airplane took off around 10 a.m. and turned toward Monarch Pass.

The Arrow flew west along U.S. Highway 50, which eventually runs through Monarch Pass toward Utah. Over the town of Maysville, however, the pilot began following County Road 240, which runs northwest through a box canyon for about 10 miles before dead-ending near the canyon’s terminus.

Several witnesses saw a low-wing, single-engine airplane flying northwest up the canyon. One witness, located about two miles from the accident site, went to investigate when the aircraft failed to fly back out. He discovered the wreckage and the lone survivor sitting on a rock nearby. The injured passenger had no memory of the events leading to the accident.

The Arrow crashed at 10:20 a.m. at an elevation of about 12,000 feet msl. Terrain surrounding the accident site quickly rises to between 13,000 and 14,000 feet msl. The aircraft’s throttle was found in the full-forward position. The vertical speed indicator showed a climb rate of 130 fpm. NTSB investigators estimated the Arrow’s groundspeed at the time of the crash was 59 knots.

The board concluded that inadequate preflight planning and preparation caused the accident. Contributing factors were the pilot’s lack of familiarity with the geographical area, his becoming lost and disoriented, his decision to disregard the advice of local pilots, and the high density altitude, which reduced the airplane’s climb performance.

This accident illustrates the unique hazards of mountain flying. Summer temperatures can push the density altitude to heights that approach or exceed a light aircraft’s service ceiling, despite what the altimeter might be reading. Moreover, to a pilot unfamiliar with the terrain, the mouth of one canyon can look very much like another. Is it a mountain pass leading to the relative safety of lowlands beyond—or a dead end? Like the proverbial blind choice between the lady and the tiger, picking the wrong door can end very, very badly.”

I tried to imagine the decision-making that had led up to the accident and I have begun to wonder if Geoff had a weather issue like mountain obscuration and chose to fly northward to see if he could get around it. In doing so, he inadvertently followed a box canyon that he was unable to climb out of. I’m surprised that despite the mention of the AWOS weather conditions at Monarch Pass, weather was never mentioned in the cause of why, instead of flying over Monarch pass, Geoff would fly north and end up in a box canyon. The Monarch Pass AWOS reported at 9:50 a.m.:

Wind, 210 degrees at 14 knots; visib
ility, less than 1/4 statute mile, light snow; ceiling, 100 feet overcast; temperature, 7 degrees C.; dew point, 6 degrees C.; altimeter, 30.82 in. Hg

The accident investigation seems to indicate that he was lost, believing he was over Monarch Pass when in fact he was 8 miles north. After looking at the AWOS report, I can’t help think that Monarch Pass was not safe to fly through with a 100′ ceiling and so Geoff headed north looking for a more favorable weather conditions. It surprises me that there was no mention of the mountain obscuration as being a factor in this accident. Also, not taking the advice to use Poncha Pass is understandable too. Poncha Pass doesn’t cross the continental divide. So even after crossing Poncha Pass, it would be necessary to immediately turn west and cross the continental divide at an elevation similar to that of Monarch Pass (11,312 feet MSL).

I can attest to the fact that the Rockies can be difficult to climb over, especially in the summer when density altitude becomes a bigger factor, and with any amount of westerly wind, there will likely be down drafts making the climbing more difficult as you fly from east to west. Also, trying to squeeze under some low ceilings to clear a mountain pass can be a particularly bad idea.

We will miss Geoff, but not the final flying lesson he taught us and that is to be careful flying around the Rocky Mountains, especially when attempting to cross over them.

Aviation handheld radios


At Oshkosh this year, one of the things on my ‘to do’ list was to replace my aviation handheld radio. I had loaned my Vertex Standard (AKA Yaesu) Pilot VXA-210 handheld radio to a friend who subsequently passed away and couldn’t imagine a way to broach the subject about getting the radio back.

I have long been a fan of Yaesu ham radios and own quite a few of them. I’m the keeper of the FAQ for the Yaesu FT100 which is one of my most frequently visited web sites. I had my heart set on getting the VXA-700 aviation/ham handheld radio, something I’ve wanted for a long time because it could serve double duty in the cockpit. It’s a lot of fun to talk with fellow hams on the ground when one is flying around overhead. However, I was shocked to find that the ham radio (2-meter) functionality had been removed from the VXA-710, which is the follow-on radio to the VXA-700. Details about why it was removed were sketchy, but a few competitors said that the FCC had intervened and fined Yaesu for some reason. That left the choice up to the VXA300 since I wasn’t about to step down to a COMM-only radio when the radio I previously owned had also had a NAV feature.

I don’t know why Yaesu has decided to dilute its well-known brand name by using the name ‘Vertex Standard’ for its aviation and marine radios. They’d have been much better off sticking with something that can leverage their strength in the ham radio market.

Vertex Standard has 4 aviation hand held radios in the line-up that have no consistent naming convention. For example, they have the following aviation products:

  • Pro V aka VXA-150 (simple COMM-only radio)
  • Pro VI aka VXA-220 (a COMM-only radio with a bigger display)
  • Pilot III aka VXA-300 (NAV/COMM)
  • Spirit aka VXA-710 (NAV/COMM with business radio receive (?!) + FM receive)
  • The 4 radios look dissimilar enough that they might have been designed by 4 different companies. I don’t know what they are thinking at Yaesu, but giving products two different numbering schemes and using another brand name without the name recognition of Yaesu isn’t really helping them in any way.

    When it comes to aviation handhelds, it would be better to have a high end model and a low end model with similar user interfaces and accessories that are common. In addition, it would help if the people who staffed the Yaesu trade show booth actually knew something about the products. This has been an issue for the past several years. The guys are neither hams nor pilots and they don’t provide any staff to the larger vendor booths. I began feeling so dismayed by this inept marketing approach that I started looking more seriously at the competition, namely ICOM.

    ICOM made a big splash this year with a new panel mount radio called the A210 which, unfortunately, appears to cost about twice what their current A200 radio and doesn’t really do much more. ICOM had been the price/performance leader in aviation panel mount radios for many years with the A200. It costs approximately half of what the competition charges for a similar radio.

    The venerable A200

    I don’t know why the components that can be sold in a handheld radio need to cost 8 times as much when they are wrapped in a few more dollars of aluminum and have fewer features, but that is the case with nearly all panel-mount aviation radios.

    ICOM currently produces only 2 aviation handhelds, the A6 and A24, which look identical. The only difference is that the A24 has the NAV feature, and the A6 does not. In talking with their reps, they claimed that they designed the radios using focus groups with real pilots and found that the 3 most requested features from pilots were:

  • ease of use
  • easy-to-read display and keys
  • long battery life
  • Ease of use for this kind of radio is important since it’s a backup radio used infrequently and you don’t want to have to refer to its manual during an emergency like a complete electrical system failure. The backlit LCD display is easy to read as are its backlit keys.

    The battery takes up more than half the mass of the radio giving its battery life an advantage over attempting to make the radio as small as possible and compromising battery life in the process.

    After mulling this over for a while and considering the discounted show price and a $40 rebate, I decided to switch camps. I bought the A24 and so now I’m an ICOM owner again, something that I haven’t been for more than 25 years.

    Adaptive Interfaces

    Oskhosh 2006 follow-up


    As I mentioned in a previous posting, I had a mishap on the way back from Oshkosh this year where I clipped a barricade when landing at Plattsmouth, NE. It resulted in a severed brake line and one destroyed wheelpant. Fortunately, I was able to make a temporary repair using parts from a hardware store with the generous help of an RV builder by the name of Kevin Faris. Over the past few weeks, I’d been thinking about how best to repair the damage to the brake line and decided to make some upgrades to the brake lines on both sides. My friend Don has always had considerable consternation over the way that my Nylaflow brake lines were connected directly to the brakes, even though it is done exactly according to the LongEZ plans. Even the Cozy MKIV plans call out the same approach as shown below.

    Cozy Plans Brake lines

    The caliper is in close contact with the brake pads and so it absorbs a lot of heat. It gets hot enough that sometimes after taxiing in a crosswind, you can’t touch the fittings on the caliper without burning yourself. In a crosswind, the EZ-style planes will tend to try to point into the wind and so you have to apply the downwind brake to keep them from turning. One of the techniques EZ flyers use to reduce heat from the brakes during a crosswind taxi is stabbing the downwind brake periodically to steer away from the wind and then letting the plane weathervane into the wind while taxiing so that you make a series of semi circles along the taxiway. It may look a little strange, but it really helps to prevent a brake from overheating. There’s nothing worse than dragging a brake for an extended period of time to generate excessive heat. In some cases, this has been enough to melt the gear leg which is made of fiberglass and epoxy. When that happens, you’ve got a big repair job ahead of you. But melting a brake line can be very serious too because the LongEZ needs them not only to stop, but also to steer and when you’ve lost the ability to steer, you can end up off the runway and into a ditch or obstacle.

    The advice in the Cozy plans is to wrap the Nylaflow brake lines in a thin blanket of ceramic material called Fiberfrax where it attaches to the brake. This material is glued in place with silicone and wrapped with aluminum tape to act as an insulator from the heat radiated from the brake disk. As you can imagine, it makes a mess of things and it doesn’t help with the heat conducted from the fittings on the brake. Another solution recommended by my friend Don and which he uses himself is to install a section of Teflon line with a stainless steel braid covering between the Nylaflow line and the brakes. These are available in standard lengths for about $10. I bought a few of these made by Earl’s Performance in 10-inch lengths (p/n EAR-63010110ERL) from Summit Racing. They are pressure tested to 4000 psi, well above the 1000 psi rating of the Nylaflow tubing.

    New braided stainless steel/Teflon lines

    Nylon, the material from which Nylaflow is made, has a continuous service temperature of about 200 degrees F. Teflon has a continuous service temperature of 500 degrees F. In addition to making this upgrade to the brake lines, I also sliced into the rear of the landing gear and removed the old Nylaflow lines that had been in there for 23 years. I have wanted to do this ever since I bought the plane. The LongEZ manual called for the brake lines to be installed and covered with fiberglass/epoxy, making it somewhat of a permanent installation. The Cozy plans recommended using a tunnel constructed of soda straws and held in place with a covering of fiberglass and epoxy so that the Nylaflow lines can be slipped through it removed and replaced easily. We also made this change to the gear legs on both sides.

    Comparison of Van's Pressure Recovery and 'football' style wheelpants

    I’ve ordered some new wheel pants from Van’s that are called ‘pressure recovery’ wheelpants and should work better than the football shaped wheel pants that I had previously. The football pants were not very effective in reducing drag. Kevin gave me this tip and so I took a picture of my football shaped wheelpant setting next to his pressure recovery style wheelpant and his definitely looks more aerodynamic.

    The next upgrade I’m considering is to add fairings to the gear legs that would be more aligned with the direction of flight. The standard gear, which appears to be shaped like an airfoil, isn’t really an airfoil and isn’t very well aligned with the direction of flight. This is a lot of work and I’m reading through the newsletters from the Central States Association to see if I want to tackle a project like that while I’m installing the new wheel pants.

    I’ve also added some of the photos I took at Oskhosh here.

    Airplanes, Motorcycles, and Ham Radio


    I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts yesterday on the way to work, the Slashdot Review Podcast, and heard the host, Andy McCaskey, mention my name in conjunction with his Frappr page. Frappr is a sort of ‘mashup’ application that utilizes Google maps to allow you to put a virtual pin in a map so you others can see where listeners are located. Many podcasters are adding this feature to their websites. The nice thing about it is that you can add some text, a weblink, and even a picture. Andy’s comment was that I was pilot-in-command of ‘something’, because I had posted the picture you can see on my webpage sitting in the cockpit of the LongEZ on to his Frappr map. Andy also mentioned that it was time to get out the ultralight and the ‘geezer bike’. I guess he also has these two essential interests that a lot of technology enthusiasts tend to share… airplanes and motorcycles. The trifecta is when you are also a ham radio operator, particularly if you have a domain that is your ham (vanity) callsign.

    It’s not the first time I’ve been mentioned on a Podcast. My name has come up on KenRadio several times and it’s always a thrill to hear one’s own name mentioned ‘on the air’, so to speak. It’s like having 15 milliseconds of fame. I usually take off my headphones if Terri is around, backup the program a few seconds, and let her listen to it as well. If that isn’t the definition of vanity, I don’t know what is.

    I’ve been exchanging some emails with my friend, Dr. Curt Smith, who I usually park next to at Oshkosh each year. Curt is my ‘Minister of Information’ because he knows so much about so many things. Curt recently discovered this blog while searching on the Internet for the term ‘LongEZ‘. We get along great because we share similar interests in airplanes and motorcycles. Today he mentioned that he’s had a ham radio license since 1959! Another trifecta! I feel like the ink is still wet on mine since I’ve only had it for 30 years :-). We don’t agree on everything, since we both have different political affiliations and are alumni of rivals schools in the Big 10 conference. But I have to admire Curt’s commitment to his alma mater because of his recently acquired OSU tattoo which definitely trumps my closet full of Penn State regalia.