Letters 06/98

Pilot Watches
I found the article on watches somewhat helpful, presenting a point of view much different from how I have always viewed this subject. Was the author clever or mistaken? Im not sure.

First of all, the things I use a watch for are the things he says you shouldnt or that are not important. Keeping the Zulu time and local time straight has often been a challenge for me, so I have used the second time zone feature of inexpensive watches to keep Zulu time always stored.

I think thats important-theres nothing more embarrassing than talking to FSS and trying to explain that you wanted to take off at 1400 local…what Zulu was that again? Is it daylight savings time yet? I also like a 24-hour display so I wont make the goof of misunderstanding the 24-hour clock.

The other thing Ive used watches for is timing approaches, something Mr. Miller explicitly rejects as unsafe. Well, its true my CFII told me never to move my head while in IMC. But I have found the clock on the panel a less effective means of timing approaches.

Approaching MDA in IMC is no time to be doubtful about how many seconds there are to go. Of course, if I had a digital clock/timer on the panel I might feel differently, but since none of the airplanes I fly regularly has one, Ive been using the stopwatch feature on my watch to time approaches. It seems to work quite well.

On the other hand, Ive had numerous problems with the longevity of inexpensive quartz watches. One of them locked up the digital display but the analog display ran for a few months before it, too, died.

Another had one of the control buttons jam, resetting and then jamming the digital part, when I tried to start the countdown feature at a boat race. Both were beyond warranty and Ive talked to other people whove had similar failures on watches costing up to $500.

I would never buy anything that cost in the five figures or more unless I could drive, fly or sail it, so the Rolex types are out. Of course, watches can be seen as jewelry, but Im not interested in that-just in a practical aid for pilot use.

I havent replaced the last failed digital and was hoping for a comparison that would give me some idea of reliability. Alas, the article didnt say anything about that. I think there is room for another article on this subject.

-Steven Toby
via e-mail

We didnt say watches that have Zulu displays arent useful or desirable. But some owners we interviewed said they dont actually use this feature.

As for timing an approach, our view is that a watch is the worst way to do it, given the number of timers available on panel boxes, not to mention using DME or GPS, when available, to determine the missed approach point. At MDA, youre a mere 250 feet above the terrain and theres very little margin for error. Thats not the best place to be fussing with a watch.

Liked your feature on watches. The Avocet Vertech altimeter watch is a valuable tool for map-and-compass navigation on the ground, for weather forecasting (its a very accurate barometer) or as a backup in the air. It updates at least every 10 seconds and is accurate to 10 feet. Its also very legible and easy to use, even with gloves on. A lot of ultralight pilots and paragliders swear by them.

Street price here in Boulder is about $115. Mine is six years old. It needs a new battery (and re-calibration at the Avocet factory) every two years. That costs $20. My experience is that this watch is much more accurate and usable than the Casios.

My Seiko Flight Computer is very impressive to look at but difficult to read. The E6B bezel is illegible in the cockpit but sometimes useful on the ground. The hands dont glow brightly enough for good legibility at night.

It uses a battery every year; after eight years it needed a movement repair ($70) by a Seiko service agency. There are only two of them in the U.S., so you have to mail the watch off for repair.

-Seth Masia
Boulder, Colo.

Thank goodness I can afford to buy any of the watches mentioned in your article. What I wear is a Timex Zulu Time watch from Sportys ($59.95).

It tracks three time zones, one of which I always keep set to Zulu time. It has both analog and digital displays, a timer and a great night light.

I have no interest in proving that I have arrived by wearing a fancy watch and instruments that I need for flying are built into the panel of my Super Viking.

-Murray Dasher
Westlake Village, California

LightSPEED Kudos
In the March 1998 letters section, you noted some complaints of audio squeals with LightSPEED 20K ANR headsets. I have two of these headsets and on occasion, both will pick up chirps from ground-based radar if Im close enough to the antenna.

Close enough means in the traffic pattern or on the ramp at an airport with such a radar. The sound is a chirp or buzz which occurs every four seconds. If I watch the rotating antenna, it occurs just as it points in my direction. The sound is not very loud so it probably wont be mistaken for a gear warning horn, but it was quite puzzling until I figured out what was going on. This is a minor curiosity and doesnt dampen my enthusiasm for these fine headsets.

-Richard Kelty
via e-mail

As we noted in the May issue, a number of readers have complained about audio squeals. LightSPEED has a fix and will install it for free on any older headsets. Contact them at 800-332-2421.

Ramp Annual Heartburn
Concerning your article on a ramp annual in the April issue, even though the annual described in your article seemed quite thorough, I was very surprised to see you run the article. In my experience, most ramp annuals are quickies, done in a few hours for owners who care more about their wallets than their lives.

Did the I/A doing the annual have proper manuals, complete up-to-date AD and Service Bulletin information, liability insurance, workmans comp, stormwater discharge permit (I assume he washed down the engine)?

At the last FBO I managed for 11 years, we were required by either the FAA or state to provide all of the above. Manuals, ADs, type certifications, service letters and bulletins cost us $3500 a year on a renewal basis. Our required liability and workmans comp insurance approached six figures annually.

I had to hire a specialist to write a stormwater discharge permit application so we could wash airplanes. That cost $1400, plus $100 annually. We paid our mechanics from $13 to $19 per hour, plus good benefits. We charged $46 an hour.

In addition, we provided the public a heated, lighted terminal building, paid for water in, coffee and water out, plowed the runways and ramps and runways, cut the grass, did runway checks, gave scout and school and church groups tours, gave PR talks, provided dumpsters and fought the airport manager and airport commission when they tried to raise the rent.

We turned the other cheek when we were cursed for charging $46 an hour to work on a quarter-million dollar airplane because Joe Rampmechanic only charges $100-cash only please-for ramp annuals on the same airplane.

Go figure.

-Pete Schoeninger
Nashotah, Wisconsin

Good points. Frankly, we dont disagree. Our view is to buy as many products and services on our home field as we can, including maintenance.

On the other hand, in our experience, competent maintenance is often not available on the home field, leaving the owner with the choice of taking the airplane elsewhere for work, doing it himself or some combination of the two.

A certain percentage of owners face the dilemma of either performing owner maintenance or simply selling the aircraft. On fields where FBOs wont meet them halfway-owner assisted annuals, for example-looking elsewhere for at least some lower cost maintenance strikes us a reasonable compromise.