And What it Might Mean to You!
If a country like the United States were to develop an air traffic management system that:
1. Required little or no ground-based infrastructure,
2. Improved VFR operational safety in poor-weather bush flying by as much as 40%,
3. Allowed IFR flights (en route) and precision approaches (APV) using only GPS,
4. And was priced low enough to tempt homesteaders, bush operators and aviation authorities to voluntarily equip do you think MSI would be interested?
You’d better believe we would, and you should be too!!
The great news here is that we’re not talking about “vaporware.” This is an on-the-ground, FAA certified system operating right now in Alaska called Capstone. (http://www.alaska.faa.gov/capstone/index.html). Phase One was an astounding success, Phase Two is currently underway and Phase Three (with terrific mission field implications) is on the drawing board. Our mission aviation colleagues in MARC have been part of this cutting edge technology since early 2000 (read their report below) and MSI is now on this like a tick on a blood hound!
Can you imagine the benefit of such a program to missionary aviation work around the world? We see Capstone as an opportunity for a very dramatic reduction in our most insidious form of accidentsFlight into Terrainwith a minimal investment in avionics. MSI’s Research and Development Coordinator Cary Cupka is working with the FAA to scale and adapt this technology to the missionary aviation world.
Revisit this page to keep abreast of developments. In the meantime, please follow the Capstone hyperlink and get familiar with your future!
For MSI members desiring further discussion about controlled flight into terrain, (C)FIT, in the mission field setting, log into the Members Only section and navigate to the (C)FIT section under Safety Info. There are articles on: The Problem of Missionary FIT Accidents; Missionary FIT Accidents - Pilot Feedback; and Bush VFR.
Capstone Testimonial from a MARC Pilot
About 5 years ago, the FAA, due to the poor safety record in Alaska, met with numerous commercial operators throughout the state to see what could be done to improve air safety. On behalf of the FAA, the Alaska Aviation Coordination Council, in conjunction with other organizations such as the Alaska Aviation Safety Foundation, and the University of Alaska, queried commercial operators within the aviation industry for suggestions that would contribute to this effort. The operators responded with ideas like weather information, traffic information, moving map technology, and terrain awareness.
After objectives for in flight information had been established, inquiries were made through out the avionics industry to see if any such technology existed. At the time UPS technologies had an experimental system using a MX-20 multi function display, a universal access transceiver (UAT), and a GPS receiver to provide this information on a color multi function display. The previously mentioned organizations worked with the FAA to get this system certified. The result was the Capstone program which provides operators the opportunity to use this equipment to improve aircraft safety.
Under the original terms of the Capstone program operators with GPS units in their aircraft could have the capstone equipment installed in their aircraft free of charge. After using the equipment for three years, the operator would then have the option of purchasing the equipment at the depreciated cost of the equipment minus the installation charge, or have the equipment removed and return it free of charge. Now that the three-year period is up those operators involved in the program have been given the equipment at no charge. Fortunately for MARC, we had all three of our Piper PA-31 aircraft Capstone equipped at the start of the program, and received the equipment free of charge. The GPS units in all three aircraft are IFR approved King KLN 89B radios which were ours to begin with.
The late Tom Wardleigh, the chairman of the Alaska Aviation Safety Foundation, was an advocate and active participant of the Capstone program from its beginning. Mr. Wardleigh challenged the FAA to allow FAR 91 operators like MARC participate in this program. Mr. Wardleigh was very familiar with MARC, and a good friend of Mr. Fred Chambers, a former MARC pilot, and retired American Airlines captain. One of our pilots also had the privilege of getting his ATP training from Mr. Wardleigh. Thanks to Mr. Wardleigh, MARC was able to get into the capstone program.
The result of this program has been an avionics system that provides an extraordinary amount of information including: weather (METAR/TAF/NEXRAD), airport information (orientation of runways, lengths, widths, frequencies), terrain (sectional type, or color coded terrain moving map display with terrain warning), navaids (all charted navaids, airways, and frequencies), and traffic (real time traffic airborne and ground with company or N number I.D., and relative altitude and distance).
When asked how the Capstone system has contributed to our flight safety, I responded by saying, “I think it has been the single biggest contributor to flight safety to our organization in the 21 years that I have been here.”
It is not uncommon in our operation at MARC, on an IFR flight to cross up to three mountain ranges in one flight. The minimum enroute altitudes on such a flight can be as high as twelve thousand feet. Imagine crossing this terrain using VOR/NDB type equipment alone. Then imagine flying the same route with the addition of GPS navigation, and a color multi function display that shows a sectional type relief map of variable scale that shows all of the mountains, streams, rivers and lakes beneath you. Also imagine that the winds aloft are fairly high along your route, or that your are wondering if there is any icing in the precipitation you are in. If your multi function display shows another aircraft ahead of you enroute, you can ask air traffic control for that specific aircraft to give you a pilot report. Imagine being able to get the METAR/TAF reports and forecasts at all of the reporting airports surrounding your destination airport. Imagine being able to get a NEXRAD radar image on your MFD if it was available at your destination. Lastly imagine if your home base had the ability to get software so that if your are flying, or taxiing, your company can go to a web site and see exactly where you are, your altitude, your speed and your location. If you can imagine all of these things, you will understand why we have been so excited by Capstone. The system provides greatly increased situational awareness reducing the chance of a CFIT accident, and also increases the likely hood of survival over hostile terrain in the event of an emergency.
The first time I used our Capstone equipped Navajo in Alaska, I was flying into Togiak Alaska in actual IFR conditions. While the MX-20 is not IFR approved, the King KLN89B immediately below it is, and all of the information including approach waypoints are displayed on the MX-20 and can be verified by the King unit. Previously I would have had to shoot an NDB/DME approach into this airport, which is surrounded by mountainous terrain on one side, and the Bearing Sea on the other side. Thanks to the Capstone equipment and GPS technology, I had a color digital picture of the entire area, with the ocean and surrounding mountains all displayed. I also had a GPS approach with all of the waypoints on the approach highlighted, and a colored line (pink or dark blue) delineating the approach course.
GPS is being used more and more through out Alaska. It seems almost monthly, we get letter from the FAA with an NPRM with a proposal to lower the floor of controlled airspace around a village so a new GPS approach can be instituted. Airports that we would have never previously thought would ever have an instrument approach now do. Mountain Village, Russian Mission, Scammon Bay, and Kotlick are among a few of those airports.
MARC is only in Phase 1 of Capstone. There are three phases each with increasing levels of capability. There is talk of Digital flight rules in the future, and a project to create three-dimensional graphics of twelve mountain passes in Alaska. These graphics are already being used on Medallion Foundation flight simulators. Most MARC pilots are members of the Medallion Foundation, and some have already made use of these simulators.
At MARC God has made it possible for us to use some of this wonderful technology, and we hope we will be able to continue to take advantage of this program in the future.