Flying with Fountain Pens Pt. II

This is a follow up to a post I did when I first started the blog. Even though I know that I can fly and use a fountain pen with no issues, I hadn’t brought a fountain pen to work since starting my new job and there are a couple of reasons why I was hesitant to.

 The first is because I wasn’t sure how well the pen, and mainly the ink would handle the temperature changes I see on a regular basis. The temperature changes I’m talking about are more of a concern during the winter when I could have flights where I could be outside in 14°F temperatures for 15-20+ minutes (dressed warmly of course) while we prep the plane for the flight, then being in the cabin at 70-75°F, to being in warm, humid, muggy 75°F South Florida, all within a span of 2-3 hrs. It’s the going from the really, really cold dry air, to warm dry air, to warm to hot humid air in such a relatively short time frame that concerned me because I didn’t know how the ink itself would fair (and honestly still don’t know how well the ink will handle the really cold to really warm temperature changes because of it being late-winter/early-spring when I flew with my Metropolitan).

The other concern I had was the higher cabin pressure of the plane I fly. Most airliners max pressure differential for the cabin is 8.0-8.5 psi., the plane I flew before had a max cabin pressure of 5.6psi, and the plane I fly now has a max cabin pressure of 9.4psi. I wasn’t sure how well the converter and the ink would handle this higher pressure differential and was concerned I would have more problems with leaks.

I had flights at 43,000ft with a cabin pressure differential of 9.4psi to flights going from 50°F to warm, muggy, and humid 80°F in about 1.5hrs, to flights that were only about 30 minutes with a pressure differential of around 6psi. After six days of flying, with multiple flights per day (both in the back of an airliner and on the plane I fly), I can say that the only issues I had were some very minor nib creep, and even this was no more than what you would expect after an extended writing session, and a couple of hard starts. The hard starts were on the last day when I was flying home and was doing a sudoku puzzle and I was leaving the cap off for a bit and with a half empty converter. These are issues which could happen sitting at a desk, so I almost tempted to say that I had zero issues with flying and using the Metropolitan & CON-50 converter this week.

Other than the times I was writing with it, my pen was stored nib up in my shirt pocket. This is a big key when traveling with fountain pens because it allows any air trapped in the ink chamber to escape through the nib and feed without forcing any ink out, other than maybe a tiny bit from the ink in the feed, which if it does will probably not be any worse than what you see with nib creep. I had no problems writing with the pen during any phase of flight, including climbing and descending, and I still believe that as I explained in the first post, that regulating the pressure inside the pen is a big key reason why I didn’t have any problems.

If you plan on flying with a fountain pen, the best thing you can do to avoid any issues is to keep your pen stored nib up. A lot of articles say to keep the ink chamber full and not to fly with a partially filled ink chamber, but in my experience this isn’t as important as keeping the nib up when not in use. I’m not saying these articles are wrong and I’m right, just that in my experience by regulating the pressure inside the pen by writing with it (even just a scribble or two) during the flight, you are allowing the pressure to equalize between the pen and the cabin and minimizing the risk of ink being forced out of the nib.

These are my thoughts and experiences, and I would love to hear your experiences of flying with fountain pens

Here are a couple of other posts that you may find interesting.

  • Brian Goulet did a video and flew with the pens nib down to see what would happen.
  • Doug Lane of Modern Stationer has a post on his experience.

Sunderland Mk1 Review

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of metal pens, especially machined pens that accept Pilot G2/Juice refills. I think part of the attraction to machined pens is that, much like with custom pens, there is something cool about having a pen that started out as a solid piece of material that in no way resembled a pen. It is hard for me to see a nicely designed, machined pen and not want to immediately get one. That was the case with the Sunderland Mk1.

While it would be easy to label the Sunderland Mk1 as just another machined pen that takes G2 refills, there are a couple of features that help the Sunderland Mk1 to standout from the competition. The first is that in addition to Pilot G2 refills, the pen also accepts Montblanc rollerball and finerliner refills. While there are many machined pens that take G2 refills, there are only a few that take Montblanc refills. The Prometheus Alpha and most of the Big i Design family of pens accept Montblanc refills. The Prometheus Alpha works only with the Montblanc refills and the Big i Design pens are designed to accept both G2 and Montblanc refills. (Big i Design markets the pens as accepting 30+ refills but they are pretty much all roughly the same size as a G2 refill.)

The Big i Design capped pens use a springy plug insert thingy that the refill pushes against to help hold the refill in place, and it is a so-so design. The pen screws together with no problem when I use a G2 refill, but when I use a Montblanc refill I have to use a lot of force to screw the pen together (almost enough to question if I should be using the refill even though the pen is “designed” for it) and I think this is because the springy plug is having to be compressed so much.  The Sunderland Mk1 doesn’t have this problem because “We designed the mk1 to utilize the screw-in ability of the Montblanc cartridges, while also providing a rigid mount for the Pilot G2 cartridges.  There are no parts to swap or screws to adjust.  Simply remove one cartridge and install the other.  The Montblanc screws in and the Pilot G2 drops in.” (Quoted from the Kickstarter page.) I was initially a little concerned about how secure this rigid mount would be for the G2 refills but both refills fit securely in the pen with no wiggle or play in the tip and the pen screws together with no issues, regardless of the refill used.

The other feature that really helps set the Sunderland Mk1 apart is the thread-on cap. The threads for the cap are hidden behind the grip section of the pen and this gives the pen a really clean look. This also eliminates any problems you may have with the the cap threads being near the grip section. The threads are very secure and I haven’t had any issues with cross threading.

The gap between the tip and the grip section is where the threads for the cap are hidden

The grooves in the grip section provide a nice grip without being uncomfortable. The barrel of the pen tapers towards the back and this is to allow the cap to post securely onto the back of the pen. I don’t normally post my pens but I prefer posting this one. I don’t find it to be top heavy when posted and I think it being slightly lighter than other machined pens helps with this. With the cap posted, the taper of the barrel is a little more noticeable and messes with the clean look of the pen. I wish the cap and taper would meet and give a cleaner, smoother line, but this is a purely an aesthetic complaint. The pen also has less of an industrial look to it in companion to some other machined pens. The overall look of the Sunderland Mk1 reminds me of a Montblanc Meisterstuck or other “fancy” rollerball pen.

I have been very pleased with the Sunderland Mk1. The design of the pen, especially the hidden cap threads, help the pen to standout from the machined pen crowd. If you are looking for a machined pen that takes G2 and/or Montblanc refills, or if you are a person for whom a postable cap is a must have the Sunderland Mk1 may be the pen for you.

Brad at The Pen Addict reviewed a prototype version of the Mk1 and that review can be found here

Failed Path

 “Failed Path-A data path has failed”. That is a very vague message that basically means data isn’t flowing from point A to point B. It doesn’t signify what type of data, the significance of that data, or the source of the failed path. It is a message that if it were to happen to us on our phone, tablet, or computer, we would very likely ignore it because of its vagueness. I had that message on a flight yesterday, and while I looked at it, I didn’t do anything about it. Why you may ask? Because there is no checklist for it, and there is nothing that I or anybody could do during flight to restore the data path, partially because we don’t know what path has failed. The message presented itself in the same place as other advisory messages (sometimes referred to as nuisance messages) like “airspace ahead”, or “inside airspace.” We get those two messages constantly on every flight, so we acknowledge the message button so it will stop flashing at us.

These type of messages are not what we call a CAS message and does not have a checklist associated with it. CAS stands for Crew Alerting System and it is the system that alerts us to malfunctions or failures such as “flap malfunction”, “generator failure”, “battery discharge”, “battery offline”, etc. but the CAS system can also send advisory messages. On the Phenom 300, we get a CAS message when we turn on our ice protection systems, and we expect it.  There is a checklist for every CAS message and they can be as simple as saying “Crew Awareness” (turning on the ice protection is an example of when the checklist would say Crew Awareness) or they can two to three pages long.

Why all this talk about messages? Because as it turned out, the data path that failed was to a computer that controls our multi-function spoilers and our pitch trim. Here is what happened.

I saw the Failed Path message and pretty much wrote it off. At the time we were descending about 2,000FPM (feet per minute) and a couple of minutes after the Failed Path message, I start getting this gut feeling of “something’s not right”. I scan the flight instruments and we’re about nose and level and we’re descending about 600 FPM, but the flight director is still commanding 2,000 but the autopilot servo isn’t responding. Hmm, something is going on. At this point I start scanning the rest of our instruments and I notice yellow Xs on the spoiler and pitch trim indicators, which means their position can’t be determined by the system. The autopilot isn’t pitching the nose down for the descent, so I turn the autopilot off and start hand-flying the airplane and realize that the plane is way out of trim for level flight. Partially out of habit and also to troubleshoot the issue I try to the use the pitch trim switch on the yoke and nothing happens.  After discussing the situation, we decide to treat it as a normal pitch trim fail and turn on the backup pitch trim. When we activate the backup trim system, we are supposed to get a PTRIM NML FAIL CAS message, but we don’t get this CAS message and the yellow Xs don’t go away. What do I do now? I fly the plane, fighting against the nearly full nose down trim the whole time.

How out of trim was the airplane?  If an airplane is trimmed properly, you can fly it with your fingertips, but I was having to use both hands to hold the nose level. I comment that it feels like we are doing a sim training session, because this is the type of malfunction and abnormality we train for in the sim. Adding to this feeling of doing a sim session is the fact we are flying at night, in the clouds and rain, and going to an airport with a low cloud ceiling of about 800 feet and a gusty crosswind. Yeah, I have my hands full at this point.  We shoot the instrument approach and land without incident, though we did get a “SWPS FAULT” CAS message. (This is the stall warning and protection system which is completely unrelated to the pitch trim system except that it is fed information from one of computers that controls the pitch trim) Needless to say we contact the company and as I write this they are in the process of replacing that computer.

We start talking about why the backup pitch trim wouldn’t work, when it uses a different computer and the only conclusion we could come to is that because the system couldn’t determine the position of the trim that the backup computer basically said “I don’t know where the trim is or what it’s doing, so I’m not gonna let you use it”.  This is pure speculation on our part but is the only logical conclusion we can come to. We power the plane back up and the yellow Xs are gone, but the SWPS FAULT CAS message is still there. A system reboot works on airplanes too. I know a lot of people don’t like to hear this, but it is a machine with a lot of components and those components start acting up. Even though the backup system didn’t work, the airplane was still flyable and as I said in my Aircraft Training post, “We practice so this stuff becomes second nature so that if something happens in the real world, we can respond to the situation calmly and efficiently and without over reacting.”

One Year

Update: added airplane photo

Wow, has it been a year already? Apparently it has. Next Friday, December 4, marks the one year anniversary of Pens and Planes! I have had a lot of fun doing the blog over the past year and I look forward to what the future holds.

I know things have been quiet the past two months or so, but I haven’t really had a chance to focus on getting a new pen review or aviation post up. I want to do an “Aviation Adventures” type post, but I am still trying to decide whether to focus on one flight at a time, or to talk about some of the places I have been. I am leaning towards the latter, because let’s be honest, we all want to hear about all the cool and fun places we pilots get to go.

Thanks for all the support so far, and if there is an aviation topic you would like to see me cover, let me know. 

It hit after I published, the post that I haven’t actually posted a picture of what I fly. I think it’s time to fix that. Here is my ride, an Embraer Phenom 300

Cursive to the Classroom

Earlier this year I posted about the CursiveLogic Kickstarter campaign, that was successfully funded. If you don’t remember it, CursiveLogic is a new method for teaching cursive that breaks the letters down into groups based on the shapes of the letters that was created by Linda Shrewsbury. Linda Shrewsbury and her team have a new Indiegogo campaign to try to get the CursiveLogic system and workbooks into the hands of teachers and students in schools. By supporting the Indiegogo project you will be sponsoring a workbook (or workbooks depending on your pledge level) but will also receive access to CursiveLogic’s online training seminar. You will have the option to designate a particular school to receive the workbooks you sponsor. If you or someone you know is a teacher and would be interested in requesting workbooks from the campaign, visit this website.

Update to previous post


Update: DOH!!!!


Apparently my common sense is running on the low side today. Previously when using the workflows, any link I included I would omit the whole http:// bit because who types that anymore and it worked fine. Then they stopped working which was the reason for the previous post. Then I got one of those “I wonder…” moments and tried putting the http:// before the link and SquareSpace recognized the link and in my (very short) testing opens the link as it should. I have no idea why the SquareSpace blogging app is behaving this way with regards to not recognizing the links that don’t have http:// included. 


So, the workflows in the original Mobile Blogging Made Easier post still work, but I would recommend including http:// with a link before running the workflows.  


Laugh at me for my brain lapse if you want, I’m just happy I figured out how to still use the workflows.

Issues with my Mobile Blogging post workflows

Update: See this post for an update. Short version is that everything still works. 

I have noticed that some of the workflows that I mentioned in my mobile blogging made easier post have quit working the way they did when I wrote that post. The heart of the issue is how the Workflows app outputs the Rich Text after converting it from Markdown. Versions 1.0 & 1.1 of Workflows output the Rich Text with the syntax in place which basically made it a paste the results into Squarespace and hit publish affair. Since version 1.2, Workflows outputs the formatted Rich Text without the syntax and causes SquareSpace to not recognized imbedded links in the Rich Text. This has pretty much made these workflows useless at this point. I have reached out to the developers of Workflows to see if there is a way the previous output style could be turned into a new action. Once I hear back, I will post another update. Until then I was hoping to be able to hide that post until the issue could be corrected, but I don’t see an option for that so this update will have to do.