Pilatus PC-12 NG test flight and cabin noise measurements


I had the opportunity to test-fly a PC-12 NG. I was interested to see how this would compare to the “legacy” PC-12 that I flew back in 2006 (review of that plane). The new plane has a more powerful engine and is therefore a few knots faster. Friends who are pilot at PlaneSense, the largest U.S. operator of the PC-12, said “the extra speed might save you an hour per year.”

What does the new engine do to cabin noise, a traditional weakness of turboprops compared to jets? Here are some data from January 17, 2014 in N47NG, a 2010 PC-12 NG, serial number 1103, in a flight from KBED.

  • idling on the ramp: 76 dBA center cabin
  • taxi: 76 dBA center cabin
  • takeoff: 85-90 dBA center cabin
  • climb: 86-88 dBA center cabin
  • level 6000′, 217 knots: 90 dBA pilot ear level; 87-88 dBA center cabin; 84-87 dBA rear of the cabin (but 89 dBA next to the cargo door)
  • level 10,000′, 200 knots: 90-91 dBA pilot ear level; 85-87 dBA center cabin; 84-88 rear of the cabin
  • level 15,000′, 200 knots: 89-90 dBA pilot ear level; 83-87 dBA center cabin; 83-86 rear of the cabin
  • descent: 80-83 dBA center cabin
  • pattern: 80 dBA center cabin

I didn’t record the numbers as carefully back in 2006 but it seems that these are roughly 4 dB louder than the older slightly slower airplane. In fact, the PC-12 NG has roughly the same measured interior noise level as a friend’s G36 piston-powered Bonanza and is louder than a Diamond Star DA40 (previous posting). From a pilot’s point of view, the 90 dBA in the front exceeds OSHA limits (85 dBA) for exposure at work without hearing protection (and so do most of the cabin readings). This is 9 dBA louder than an early 1980s Twin Commander turboprop that I measured (posting). It is also much louder than a King Air (previous posting), though no worse than a TBM 850 (previous posting). For reference, interior noise levels in light jets are usually below 80 dBA in the cockpit and below 82 dBA in the passenger cabin, closer to the engines.

How about the fancy Honeywell avionics in the front that are part of the NG experience? The PlaneSense pilots all have hundreds or thousands of hours of experience with this system but they prefer the legacy avionics, updated with the latest Garmin touch-screen GPSes.

Being an owner of a Honeywell glass flight deck is pretty expensive, with annual extended warranty coverage costing about $15,000 per year. In other words, every four years you pay Honeywell enough to have bought all of the stuff in a brand-new Garmin G1000 system. I’m not in love with the user interface philosophy of Garmin, but I think it would have saved everyone a lot of time and money if Pilatus had used a Garmin system, which nearly all pilots know how to use. Certainly if the Garmin systems are capable of supporting faster and more complex aircraft, such as the Embraer Phenom 300, they would be capable of performing in a PC-12.  It might be simpler for a piston pilot to transition to a Phenom 100 or Cessna Mustang twin-engine turbojet because (1) the piston pilot already knows how to use a Garmin glass panel, and (2) the latest turbojets include FADEC for the engines.

If you need 10 seats and must visit airports with short runways, the PC-12 remains a strong candidate. But the high cabin noise level, apparently made worse in the NG model, means that passenger and pilot comfort will not be comparable to a jet. Everyone in the plane should be wearing some sort of hearing protection.

(A friend who traded in his Twin Commander turboprop on a Phenom 100 jet a few years ago said that “Now we usually have to stop for fuel when we go to Florida, which we didn’t have to do in the Commander, but the family arrives much more refreshed.”)

Related: measurements from a 2000 Series 9 PC-12/45.

Red wine blind tasting results


A friend who is a wine expert operated a red wine blind tasting (not double-blind, however). All of the wines were decanted and served in anonymous bottles.

The top three results:

  1. Little Penguin Shiraz 2012 (about $6 per bottle (link))
  2. Col Solare 2007 blend ($60)
  3. Villa Antinori Reserva Chianti 2010 ($29 per bottle)

With a score of 7, the Little Penguin scored nearly a full point (out of 10) higher than the $60 competitor. The rest of the wines were mostly in a cluster between 4.5 and 5.5. On the bottom end, the outliers with a Louis Jadot Beaujolais 2012 and an Oyster Bay 2011 Pinor Noir.

[It is unclear if Little Penguin Shiraz is the same from bottle to bottle or year to year. The company's Web site does not mention any vineyards or winery. So it might just be that they buy surplus wine from the persistent worldwide glut (see my February 2010 posting about how the French wine inside a $10 bottle costs 46 cents).]

Why don’t we have streaming data from the missing B777?


The great minds of the New York Times are wondering (editorial) why we don’t have streaming data from the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. (As previously noted here, none of the great minds of the New York Times have a technical background.) How much could it possibly cost to send back data at intervals?

It turns out that the retail cost of circuitry that will do the job is about $1000 (in the boutique quantities that the aviation industry buys; probably closer to $10 if added to every Honda Accord). I wrote about this a bit in my Heli-Expo notes:

Spidertracks is interesting because an FAA-approved GPS costs $5-15,000 and an FAA-approved Iridium phone installation is about $30,000. The Spidertracks box includes one of each for $1000 plus $1.90 per flight hour for Iridium fees to send back position reports.

For retrofitting a certified airliner the numbers above should probably be more like $500,000. I.e., the government regulations that the New York Times is fond of advocating add a factor of perhaps 500X to the cost of doing what they now want.

This is sort of the same situation as for the Asiana 777 that crashed in San Francisco. Recall that the ground-based instrument landing system radio beacons were inoperative that day so the four pilots decided to fly a visual approach, with the same results as five U.S. Air Force officers (three pilots; two flight engineers) flying a similarly sized C5 cargo plane back in 2006 (story). Equipment that enables a GPS-based precision autopilot approach costs about $500 in an experimental airplane (minimal regulation), about $10,000 in a crummy four-seater (onerous regulation), and perhaps $1 million  in a Boeing 777 (crazy intense regulation). Because airlines don’t want to pay a 2000X markup for regulation they generally fly with whatever avionics came with the airplane.

[This is not to say that I am advocating deregulating or privatizing aircraft and avionics certification. Only pointing out that we have as a society made a choice that we would rather stick with risks that we understand, e.g., 20-50-year-old technology in airliners, than suffer from the risks of innovation, e.g., letting passengers use Kindles and iPads.]

Government: Admin Costs are Zero for Citizens


A friend posted the following on Facebook today:

I have to purchase private health insurance for my family. It’s bad enough that I have to do this with after tax dollars unlike people who get it through their employer, but now I am forced to deal with the incompetence of our government as well. I had a very good plan, not the “sub-standard plans” Obama speaks of, because I already live in a state where health insurance is mandatory and those types of plans are not offered. But my Romneycare wasn’t good enough for Obamacare. I was told months ago that our family’s plan would be cancelled on March 31st. In fact they called me approximately 3 times a day for 3 months to remind me of this. And not because it wasn’t good enough, but because they needed to charge me about $150 more per month for the exact same plan. I would have to re-enroll for the privilege of paying more money. What choice do I have? NONE- it’s the law. I got the bill for my April premium and was ready to pay it, when [Massachusetts General Hospital] called to say that an appointment on Wednesday for my daughter [to see why she is waking up screaming at night] wouldn’t be covered because the people working for our government had cancelled my plan as of March 1st – not March 31st as they had told me on a daily basis. So, now I’m left with no insurance for the month of March, and when I called their answer was “hmm..I’ve never seen this before, but sadly there is nothing we can do.” I’ve tried multiple times to call another department of the Health Connector [Massachusetts version of healthcare.gov] and apply for a waiver to get coverage for March, but the line is always busy. So, thank you Mr. President and everyone in Congress who voted for this legislation. You’ve wasted my entire morning dealing with this and left me without coverage. Could you please be the ones to wake up with my five-month-old daughter 10 times a night until I can get an appointment when I have insurance?

[slightly edited by me]

I’m wondering if the explanation for all of this is that people routinely underestimate administration costs. I have done this in our helicopter business. I would price Groupons so that we would break even when customers showed up to take an introductory ground school and flying lesson. Then we would lose money because customers would call the front desk to reschedule, ask questions, etc. We could tell how much money we were losing because we had to pay the front desk workers.

With most government programs there is no mechanism for recording the hours wasted by citizens complying with laws and regulations. As far as government workers are concerned, the admin cost on the citizen side might be zero. So that makes it possible for bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. to be celebrating the success of a program while citizens in Massachusetts are experiencing a reduced quality of life.

[In the case of my friend, her quality of life is definitely reduced by the existence of health insurance. Her family of four is large enough that costs will be smoothed out to some extent. She and her husband have sufficient savings and extended family support to absorb even the expenses for a catastrophic illness or accident. So she would be much better off swiping her credit card every time she consumes medical services, the same way that she pays for groceries and restaurant meals. But she can't do that because (a) she has already been forced to pay for health insurance (about $20,000 per year for a family of four), and (b) providers would charge her 2-10X as much if she were paying individually.]


If there is a Russian in your life…


… I recommend reading Little Failure: A Memoir (I’m halfway through).

A family vacation in which the decision to emigrate was made:

Over a bowl of tomato soup, a stout Siberian woman told my mother of the senseless beating her eighteen-year-old son had endured after his conscription by the Red Army, a beating that had cost him a kidney. The woman took out a photo of her boy. He resembled a moose of great stature crossbred with an equally colossal ox. My mother took one look at this fallen giant and then at her tiny, wheezing son, and soon enough we were on a plane bound for Queens.

Here’s the Soviet emigre engineer encountering an American college:

On his first visit to Oberlin my father stood on a giant vagina painted in the middle of the quad by the campus lesbian, gay, and bisexual organization, oblivious to the rising tide of hissing and camp around him, as he enumerated to me the differences between laser-jet and ink-jet printers, specifically the price points of the cartridges. If I’m not mistaken, he thought he was standing on a peach.

Soviet health care in the 1970s:

[the author as an infant is] revived, but the next day I start sneezing. My anxious mother (let us count the number of times “anxious” and “mother” appear in close proximity throughout the rest of this book) calls the local poly-clinic and demands a nurse. The Soviet economy is one-fourth the size of the American one, but doctors and nurses still make house calls. A beefy woman appears at our door. “My son is sneezing, what do I do?” my mother hyperventilates. “You should say, ‘Bless you,’ ” the nurse instructs.

Russian grandmothers:

Behind every great Russian child, there is a Russian grandmother who acts as chef de cuisine, bodyguard, personal shopper, and PR agent. You can see her in action in the quiet, leafy neighborhood of Rego Park, Queens, running after her thick-limbed grandson with a dish of buckwheat, fruit, or farmer’s cheese—“Sasha, come back, my treasure! I have plums for you!”

An immigrant trying to understand American TV:

The Brady Bunch: Why are Mr. and Mrs. Brady always so happy even though Mrs. Brady has clearly already had a razvod with her previous husband and now they are both raising children who are not theirs? Also, what is the origin of their white slave Alice? Three’s Company: What does it mean, “gay”? Why does everyone think the blond girl is so pretty, when it is clearly the brunette who is beautiful? Gilligan’s Island: Is it really possible that a country as powerful as the United States would not be able to locate two of its best citizens lost at sea, to wit, the millionaire and his wife? Also, Gilligan is comical and bumbling like an immigrant, but people seem to like him. Make notes for further study? Emulate? Planet of the Apes: If Charlton Heston is a Republican, are the monkeys Soviet?

Dreams in the new country:

There are three things I want to do…: go to Florida, where I understand that our nation’s best and brightest had built themselves a sandy, vice-filled paradise; have a girl tell me that she likes me in some way; and eat all my meals at McDonald’s.

More: read the book

American reaction to Crimea situation is based on principle or expediency?


I’m still bewildered by the news coverage of the situation in Crimea and our politicians speaking confidently about the situation over there. Now it seems that the Crimeans (about as many as live in Pittsburgh, Denver, or Baltimore) will vote on whether or not they wish to secede from Ukraine (nytimes). If they do vote to secede, does American have a principled reaction ready or will we decide whom to support based on expediency or something else?

Let’s review where we’ve stood on issues of secession…

  • 1776: British subjects in 13 colonies decided to secede from the British Empire. We were for it.
  • 1830s: A majority of people in Texas wanted to secede from Mexico. We were for it.
  • 1940-present: People in Taiwan wanted to secede from China. We were for it but lately our support has wavered.
  • 1861: Southerners decided to secede from the U.S. We were against it.
  • 1974: Some people in Northern Cyprus wanted to secede from Cyprus. We are against it (official State Department page).
  • 1990s: Albanians in Kosovo wanted to secede from Serbia. We were for it.
  • 2010s: A majority of people in South Sudan wanted to secede from Sudan. We were for it.

Are we decided to be for or against these secessions based on a single high principle, based on competing principles, or based on expediency and self-interest?

Crimean troubles show why Wikipedia is better than newspapers


I don’t know enough about Ukraine, Russia, or Crimea to comment intelligently on the current conflict. What I can say is that reading news coverage about Crimea has not been helpful for learning more. The Wikipedia article on Crimea, on the other hand, shows and explains a lot better why this territory of 2.5 million people (fewer than the Boston metro area) has become the subject of a dispute. Unlike news media coverage, Wikipedia explains that this territory was part of Russia until its 1954 transfer to Ukraine (then a Soviet Republic) and then in 1991 was “upgraded” to an “Autonomous Soviety Socialist Republic” shortly before the Soviet Union collapsed. Since the Soviet Union broke up there seems to have been a dispute regarding governance that was never fully resolved and that few in the West were aware of.

My only criticism of the Wikipedia article is that it says that Crimea is about 10,000 square miles in size but does not compare that to a U.S. state or a European country. It turns out that this is roughly the same area as Massachusetts or Vermont and about 15 percent smaller than Belgium.

Can anyone come up with an article from a mainstream newspaper that includes the above facts for context?

[And separately does this conflict show that we are over-investing in our military? Our president has asked Russia to withdraw her troops from Crimea but the Russians are not complying. For about ten years we have tried to get the Afghanis and Iraqis to do what we said and they did not comply. I suppose that it is always possible to argue that it could have been worse without the investment, e.g., "The Mexicans and Canadians would have invaded if we didn't spend so much." (see these charts from the Washington Post) But that reasoning would also support a military budget of 50 or even 80 percent of GDP ("you can never be too safe" and "would you really risk your freedom just so that you could buy a new Honda Accord or move your family from an apartment into a house?"). Wikipedia (my source for everything now!) says that there are about 2.2 million Americans in the military, either active duty or reserve. Compared to the other countries that actually isn't too crazy huge (sortable table in Wikipedia), but it is crazy expensive and it is tough to think of a situation where we'd want to send 2.2 million Americans somewhere to fight a war.]

Autorotations: The Bible is Wrong


The most important thing that I learned about at Heli-Expo wasn’t on the show floor and I decided that it merited its own posting. I attended a two-hour seminar on autorotations. It seems that the stress on lowering the collective in the event of an engine failure is misplaced and that this emphasis starts in the FAA’s Rotorcraft Flying Handbook, i.e., the Bible as far as Private helicopter students are concerned.

Flying a helicopter may well be the most dangerous job in the U.S. (TIME magazine puts “pilots” in at third most dangerous but they are lumping in scheduled airline pilots, whose jobs are not hazardous at all, with helicopter pilots and Alaskan bush pilots) A real-world emergency in which an autorotation becomes necessary is not common but being prepared may mean the difference between life and death.

I decided to write an article on how to teach autorotations, incorporating the best ideas from the seminar.

Heli-Expo Second Day Notes


Here are my notes from the second day of Heli-Expo… (plus the rest of the trip)

For about ten years we Robinson pilots have been hearing about a stability augmentation system (SAS) being developed for the R44. If you took your hands off the controls and/or flew an R44 without an attitude indicator into the clouds the SAS system could keep the machine from rolling upside down. It could also function as an airplane-style autopilot. A system like this is standard in big helicopters that fly through clouds and could save a lot of lives. There was some excitement a few years back when this system was sold to Cobham, a leader in avionics and equipment, mostly for larger helicopters and military aircraft. It was disappointing therefore to learn from the Cobham employees at Heli-Expo that they would not be delivering this completely working system for the R44, at least not here in the U.S. “The potential for liability outweighs the potential for profit,” they noted.

Spidertracks is interesting because an FAA-approved GPS costs $5-15,000 and an FAA-approved Iridium phone installation is about $30,000. The Spidertracks box includes one of each for $1000 plus $1.90 per flight hour for Iridium fees to send back position reports.

http://aircovers.com/ has a laminated fabric cover where the inner fabric is slippery silicone and supposedly will not scratch Plexi even in high wind situations. The company starts by laser-scanning aircraft and then fabricating covers from the resulting 3D model. They are supplying all of the foreign militaries that are occupying Afghanistan.

You might think that after decades of working within a planned economy, the Russians and Chinese would be equal to the challenge of dealing with the FAA, but both Russian Helicopters and their Chinese counterparts were at the show with impressive scale models of machines that lack FAA type certificates and are therefore not legal to operate in the U.S.

Enstrom has been revived to some extent by its new Chinese owners (since roughly December 2012). They are now making 30 helicopters per year from what is basically a 50-year-old design. Scott’s Bell 47 is not basically a 50-year-old design… it is actually a 70-year-old design that Bell discontinued (plus new blades and a new engine, albeit one without FADEC). It is scheduled to be available starting in 2017 with price under $800,000 (i.e., it will be cheaper than a Robinson R66 but the lack of a back seat means that it is mostly suitable for agricultural work).

The Guimbal Cabri is going to be imported to the U.S. by Precision Helicopters in Oregon. This $400,000 two-seater is theoretically cheaper to operate than a $350,000 Robinson R44 Raven I due to the fact that there are no life-limited components. The Robinson will definitely need a $200,000 overhaul after 12 years (or 2200 hours). So for personal ownership the Robinson might have a capital cost of $550,000 over 24 years compared to $400,000 for the two-seat Cabri. On the other hand, the lower hull values on the Robinson should be good for $3,000 less per year in insurance (though on the third hand the extra two seats cost more to insure because there are two more people who could be injured or killed). And the Cabri probably will have some components that fail over 24 years, beyond normal maintenance items. Let’s budget $100,000 for Cabri components. That plus any insurance savings could bring the total cost to a comparable number. The Robinson burns a little more gas but it flies faster so against a headwind the fuel economy might be the same. People at the show were very excited about the Cabri, but I can’t convince myself with numbers that it is exciting.

After Heli-Expo I went up to San Francisco to catch up with family and friends as well as work with some patent litigators. I looked over my host’s shoulder one evening to see what he was watching for entertainment. It turned out to be YouTube re-runs of CNN’s coverage of the 2012 Presidential election returns. Aside from re-celebrating Obama’s victory, this married (to a woman) father of two had recently developed a passion for letting people know that “1 in 100 people are born as hermaphrodites” and that the traditional male/female gender dichotomy is the result of prejudice against intersex people. During the Oscars this led to the question of whether a bigendered person could win both Best Actor and Best Actress awards for the same performance in a single movie. Separately, we watched the classic movie Funny Face, which opens with a group of young women talking about how they were looking forward to their wedding day. A poll of the assembled young Bay Area women, ages 10-16, revealed that none of them were looking forward to a potential wedding day. Academics and careers seemed to be more on their mind. A 16-year-old talked about her interest in going to college to study “women’s history”. A 27-year-old said that she wished she could have “had a baby at age 15 and then frozen it until I was done building my business.”

[I didn't do a careful political poll but generally people in the Bay Area who worked for the government or large companies were likely to be happy with the general direction of state and federal laws and regulations while those who worked for themselves or for small companies were likely to express unhappiness and disappointment with government.]

Prices throughout California seemed high and were exacerbated by the 9.25% sales tax. For example, two small tacos and a drink from a truck in Anaheim cost $12 plus $1 in tax. Art museum admission in San Francisco was $29 per person plus $28 for parking. You’ll pay another $7 per person to go to the Japanese garden next door, then another $7 to go to the botanical garden across the street and then another $7 to visit the greenhouse. Add $30 more per person to visit the science museum (previous post).

It was not until this trip that I realized that the most painful consequence of spending our tax dollars to bail out GM and Chrysler is… having to drive GM and Chrysler products. In Los Angeles Hertz rented us a 2014 Chevrolet Impala (that’s what the manual said, but it did not look like the “new 2014 Impala”) that had switches and displays that looked as though they had been kept in inventory since the 1980s. What stops GM from putting an Android tablet or iPad dock in the middle of the dashboard and letting that be the core of the interface? My Hertz Gold reservation for a “full-size car” turned into a 2012 Jeep Liberty SUV at SFO. It had nearly 60,000 miles on the odometer and was noisy and unstable on a rain-soaked highway.

I flew back and forth on United, where passengers are now herded into boarding lanes by number. There are first class citizens in Lane 1 (frequent flyers, first class passengers, etc.). I was in Lane 2 because I have a United credit card. That enabled me to get some of the precious overhead space and I should have felt great because I wasn’t stuck in lanes 3,4,5, or 6. But somehow I felt more like part of a cattle herd than when I travel on JetBlue.

It was 18 degrees Fahrenheit on the ground at Logan Airport and dirty piles of snow lingered on the sides of streets in Cambridge. Maybe that $13 taco snack eaten outdoors in Anaheim was well worth it after all…


Medium Format Emperor Has No Clothes (Leica S reviewed by DxOMark)


Have you been wondering what it would be like it you had $50,000 to spend on a serious professional camera system and could give your consumer-grade Nikon to a teenager? DxOMark delivers an unsentimental review of the Leica S. The Leica turns up such bad numbers that one is forced to ask if the people buying and using the Leica S are all suffering from Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome or if the things that DxOMark are measuring are not well correlated with perceived image quality.


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