Posts Tagged ‘Dave Hirschman’

Surprising Cirrus Stats

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

By Dave Hirschman

Cirrus owner and pilot Rick Beach has compiled a storehouse of knowledge about SR20/SR22 accidents during years of thoughtful inquiry – and his conclusions about what causes the accidents, and how to avoid them, are at times surprising and of great potential value to all general aviation pilots.

In a comprehensive report published in current issue of Cirrus Pilot, the membership magazine for the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association (COPA), Beach debunks a few Cirrus myths and makes some compelling suggestions for improving overall flight safety in the future.

The most surprising fact that Beach’s intellectually rigorous study uncovers is that low-time pilots aren’t the problem. In fact, relatively high-time pilots with instrument, commercial, and/or instructor ratings are responsible for about 75 percent of the fatal Cirrus accidents in which pilot ratings were available.

“Only two pilots in a Cirrus fatal accident had less than 150 hours total time,” Beach said. “One of them was (the late New York Yankees pitcher) Cory Lidle, who had an instructor in the right seat during the accident.” (The other took place off the coast of France under unknown conditions.) Pilots with more than 400 hours total time accounted for 33 of 44 fatal Cirrus accidents where pilot experience was reported.

No one familiar with aviation accident history would be surprised to find that pilot error accounted for a majority of Cirrus accidents – but the percentage of fatal pilot mistakes is overwhelming in the Cirrus fleet. (Cirrus delivered the first production SR20 in 1999.)

“All but one of the 37 probable causes determined by NTSB accident investigations lists pilot causes,” Beach found. Adverse weather was a factor in most Cirrus accidents, and weather-related accidents are most common in the October-through-March time frame.

It stands to reason that pilots who seek to constantly upgrade their skills are safer – but the degree to which that’s true in the Cirrus community is astonishing. According to Beach, “Pilots who do not participate in COPA safety activities are four times more likely to have a fatal accident.”

Part of the reason active COPA members have a better record is that they are more likely to use the airframe parachutes that all Cirrus aircraft carry as standard equipment. There have been 20 parachute deployments in Cirrus aircraft in the last decade, and 17 of them were successful in saving the lives of 35 people aboard those airplanes.

During the same period, there were 55 fatal Cirrus accidents where the airframe parachute wasn’t deployed. In examining those scenarios, Beach estimates more than half (30) had “a high or good probability of success if the pilot would have pulled the (parachute) handle.”

Beach’s advice in a nutshell is to actively seek out more high-quality flight training, keep learning, and don’t hesitate to pull the parachute in an emergency (assuming the airplane you’re flying has one).

Beach’s report is available online at the following Web address:

Red Bull P-38 to Europe (by boat)

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

Ezell Aviation’s latest work of art, a magnificently restored P-38 “Lightning,” is headed to Europe.

100 Miles Per Gallon

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

We usually think of airplane flight performance in terms of gallons an hour – not miles per gallon.

But on a recent transcontinental flight in a fairly typical single-engine, four-seat, 180-horsepower general aviation aircraft, I was astonished at my poor mileage. Despite a light load, conservative power setting, high altitude, leaned aggressively, and a tailwind, I was getting a Hummer-like 17 miles per gallon.

By chance, I stopped at Santa Paula Airport (SZP) in Southern California for fuel and an overnight stay. SZP is the home of aeronautical innovator Klaus Savier, AOPA 1252301, and his company, Light Speed Engineering ( Savier has been setting speed and efficiency records for two decades in his experimental, Rutan-designed Vari-EZ – an airplane that serves as a technology demonstrator for products that hint at possibilities for improving the efficiency of the GA fleet.

Savier’s personal airplane gets 50 miles per gallon at 190 ktas, and close to 100 mpg at max range. Sure, it’s a one-of-a-kind creation. But Savier says the GA fleet could get an immediate 20 percent efficiency increase by switching to electronic fuel injection and ignition systems. Will the GA industry ever see the kinds of radical improvements in efficiency and reliability that have come to other forms of transportation? Share your thoughts here.

Amazing Grace . . .

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

By now we’ve all seen the horrific images from San Diego of the F/A-18 Hornet that crashed in a residential neighborhood. What you might not have seen is the generous reaction from Don Yun Yoon, a man who lost everything in the accident. Yoon reached out to the Hornet pilot (see the news story below) in a way that makes Yoon, a struggling immigrant, a national treasure.

One day after an F/A-18D Hornet fighter jet fell from the sky and crashed into his two-story house in San Diego’s University City neighborhood, Dong Yun Yoon returned to a home and life in ruins.

Rescue workers sifting through the debris on Cather Avenue had found the bodies of his wife, two baby daughters and mother-in-law.

Yoon, 37, pressed a handkerchief to his face and seemed to stagger upon viewing what little remained: a charred garage wall, piles of blackened beams, the family’s Toyota Corolla — miraculously undamaged — parked on the street, and flowers placed nearby in memory of his family.

“I believe my wife and two babies and mother-in-law are in heaven with God,” Yoon said at a news conference afterward. “Nobody expected such a horrible thing to happen, especially right here, our house.”

Yoon said he bore no ill will toward the Marine Corps pilot who ejected safely before the jet plunged into the neighborhood two miles west of the runway at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. “I pray for him not to suffer for this action,” Yoon said. “I know he’s one of our treasures for our country.”

Really dumb placards

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

There’s a lot of wisdom in cockpit placards. But there’s plenty of absurdity, too.

The plane I own is a single-seat RV-3 with a big “experimental” sticker in the cockpit. Yet the plane is also required to have a “passenger warning” that tells of the experimental nature of the plane, despite the fact it’s got no passenger seats.

A BE-36 Bonanza I get to fly from time to time has some classics such as “Minimum Flight Crew: One,” and “Do Not Smoke While Oxygen Is In Use.”

AOPA’s Get Your Glass Sweepstakes Archer has a bunch of placards, and some of them are downright comical. My favorite appears below the JPI fuel computer. The JPI is astonishingly accurate and gives a constant readout of fuel used and fuel (and time) remaining. Yet the placard beneath it tells pilots to rely on the inherently unreliable, 32-year-old, float-type fuel gauge (the one the plane was certified with in 1976). Would any thinking person really trust a disco-era gauge when a modern, digital instrument as accurate as an eye-dropper is a few inches away?

Bruce Dickenson, a highly accomplished pilot and aircraft builder in California, posted this placard on the door of his most recent creation: a stunningly gorgeous and highly modified Howard DGA:

It says “Warning! For your safety . . . please stand back 4 feet from this aircraft. This aircraft has been HOMEBUILT and could fall on you at any time. Furthermore . . . because this aircraft was built by a Farmer and Retired Cop, it is branded amateur-built, so please stand an additional 6 feet back. If you choose to come within these boundaries, please be warned that this is an Experimental Aircraft and we have no idea what it will do at any moment! The Farmer”

Please write and let us know about your favority placards!

An MFD on your knee (Garmin’s 696)

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

Unlike many of my flying friends, I’ve never felt the need to be the first to own the latest aviation gadget.

I waited a couple years before buying my first hand-held GPS. And while others quickly upgraded to color and better graphics, I stuck with Garmin’s Pilot III for many years because of its simplicity and utility.

But Garmin’s latest offering–the GPSMAP696–is a rare combination of powerful new capabilities and ease of use. And I’ve got the strong feeling it’s going to become a new standard for general aviation pilots flying everything from Champs to Gulfstreams. Since obtaining an advance copy of the 696 in October, I’ve flown with it on IFR and VFR trips in planes ranging from a Waco to a Citation. And it’s been worth its substantial weight (three pounds including mounting hardware) on every one.

In an open-cockpit biplane on an autumn trip across West Virginia and Ohio, the 696 showed the mountainous terrain in sharp relief. Sure, I knew the Minimum Safe Altitude for our route from the VFR sectional. But what if we inadvertently strayed from our planned course? The 696 showed the surrounding terrain in brilliant reds and yellow (similar to the actual fall colors), and a profile view of the topography let me know the exact height and distance of the oncoming obstacles long before they came into view.

On a 900-mile IFR trip along the East Coast in a Bonanza A36 a few weeks later, the 696 proved its utility in a far different environment. Instead of making cumbersome performance calculations with pen and paper, the 696 allowed me to accomplish those tasks faster and more accurately on its brilliant screen. And each time Air Traffic Control rerouted us (and it happened a lot) I programmed the new route into the 696 and viewed the course ahead far more simply and successfully than I could using the plane’s panel-mount avionics. The 696 was especially helpful during the single-pilot legs.

The Bonanza was equipped with an IFR-approved GNS480 (a user-hostile abomination) and MX200 multi-function display (MFD). But the 696 on my knee had a larger, clearer screen than either one, and unlocking the 696’s tremendous wealth of information was pleasant and intuitive. And I haven’t even mentioned the 696’s XM weather displays, which are exceptional (or its satellite radio, which I’ve yet to turn on).

The 696 is chunky and expensive ($3,295). But it’s a bargain compared to its panel-mount cousins. And for Part 91 operators (the vast majority of GA fliers), it enables us to leave the flight bag full of paper charts and approach plates at home. That in itself is a significant savings in weight and a paperwork reduction.

Troubling world economic conditions make this an especially perilous time for any company, even Garmin, to introduce a new, high-end product like the 696. But this one’s a real winner. And it’s formidable frame will likely serve as the technological foundation for many avionics enhancements to come.

Cannibal Queen

Friday, October 17th, 2008

Stephen Coonts, the author of Cannibal Queen (I’ll always remember him for Flight of the Intruder), writes nostalgically in this month’s AOPA Pilot about revisiting his old biplane. As Koonts points out, the Queen has been pressed into biplane ride service ever since he parted with her in the early 90s, but still looks good despite the hard duty.

Coonts’ story prompted some memories of my own about the old girl. I used to fly the Queen in my former weekend job as a scenic ride pilot/instructor in Atlanta–but my memories aren’t so fond. The Queen had much better performance than a stock Stearman. It’s engine and prop (a 300-hp Lycoming and constant speed prop) gave it a lot of pep compared to a standard 220-hp Continental and a fixed-pitch prop. But the Queen could be cantankerous. The engine sometimes refused to start on sultry Atlanta afternoons, and it had a tendency to backfire, run rough, and belch fire intermittently. On the ramp one evening, I watched an orange flame shoot about six feet out the single exhaust pipe. The backfire was a common occurrence, but the dark surroundings made this one particularly memorable.

The Queen always looked great with her raised turtle deck, sleek cowl, and wheel fairings–but she was never my favorite.

Steve Collins, the business owner, never shared my suspicions. He loved the Queen and flew her at every opportunity. When we’d fly to air shows or other events, he took the Queen, and I’d usually fly something else.

The Queen was also somewhat unusual for a Stearman in that it had a two-passenger front seat. But the passengers had better be friends because they’d have to sit awfully close. On one cross-country trip, two brawny guys had to share the front seat, and they were practically fused at the hip when it was finally time to get out . . .

Anyway, Coonts’ story brought back some fun memories, and I couldn’t resist sharing a few of them.

The most inspiring pilot . . .

Monday, September 15th, 2008

The most extraordinary thing about Logan Flood is that he doesn’t see himself as extraordinary at all.

In his mind, he’s just a regular, work-a-day pilot from the middle of the country who knew what he wanted to do and was lucky enough to get to do it.

But Flood, who was nearly killed in a 2001 aircraft accident that left him with disfiguring burns covering most of his body, has overcome unimaginable obstacles to reach his life goals of becoming a husband, a father, and–perhaps most astonishingly–an airline pilot.

I met Flood several months ago at a hotel near Washington, D.C., while the new first officer was on an 18-hour layover. It was hard, at first, not to stare at his scars or become distracted by them. I’m sure he’s used to seeing people study him. It happens whenever he’s in a public place.

But it doesn’t take long to see beyond Flood’s appearance to the sparkling character that lies beneath it. His colleagues recognize it, as do family members, friends, and an ever growing number of passengers. I’m sure fellow pilots like you will see it immediately.

Aviation has been blessed in its short history to have attracted more than its share of determined, visionary, courageous participants. Inventors, aviation pioneers, and warriors have all accepted risk and overcome obstacles to advance the science and art of flying. Listening to Flood tell the story of his loss, heartbreak, dedication, and triumph makes me believe that same spirit is alive and well, and that flying has a bright future.

Who is the most inspiring pilot you’ve known? And what have they taught you?

Please share your stories here . . .

The timeless appeal of flying . . .

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

The aviation crowd has always been a forward-looking bunch. We’re always looking ahead and trying to anticipate what’s next. But a colleague, Craig Spence, recently brought a copy of a letter from Van B. Foster (his wife’s grandfather), then a young Army flight student in California, and some of his descriptions and motivations are as true today as when the words were put to paper on June 25, 1918:

My Dear Mother,

The red letter day of my life has come and gone–I have driven an airplane through the sky. I have done banks, spirals and straight flying. It is great and glorious and worth all the efforts I have (made) to attain it, and when I cross the great divide, I will do so knowing I have toyed with the clouds and frolicked in the skies; that I’ve raced through space with a joystick in my hand.

I know now what “pockets” in the air are, how they make you skip, toss and rock, and I want you to know that, sitting there 5,000 feet above ground, nothing matters much; you feel as secure as if in a rocking chair. You ride easier than the most luxurious limousine. I repeat, it’s great!

Driving an airplane is more like a combination of swimming, steering an auto, scenic railway riding, and roller skating than anything else. You have three controls: directional, longitudinal, and lateral, and the first time an instructor turns them over to you some 3,000 feet above the earth, you love so well a strange and lonesome feeling that comes over you. But there you are. He signals what to do, say it is for a bank, your heart comes up into your mouth, and then if never before you realize you’re helpless–and all you have learned seems one tremendous pile of ignorance, but dauntlessly you lower your right wing and shove your right rudder–then, mother of mine, that right wing goes to the bottom and your machine turns practically on its side, your left wing nearly straight up and you seem to turn around in the length of your ship, which you don’t.  Then still alive and happy at your success, you bring her out, and once again you’re tearing through great gobs of atmosphere at 75 m.p.h. And you’ve done your bank.

About my commission, I’m not terribly interested in it. It’s a secondary thing, not the primary. The great and only thing is to fly. Being a flyer naturally brings a commission, but you’re not a flyer until you’ve done 75 hours in the air. I have been up four times, each time with an instructor, so you see I am not just on the verge of being haled as an “ace,” but just the same, an accident is the only thing that can keep me from being a pilot . . .

Fortunately, no accidents were in store for Foster, the enthusiastic young writer. But the end of the war cancelled his military flight training less than five months after he penned this letter–and that brought an end to his flying.

Does the joy of discovery Foster described so vividly 90 years ago still exist today?

If you’ve got insights or artifacts that relate to the fliers who preceded us, please share them here. Flying has changed so much through the years, but pilots, evidently, have not . . .

Where do we get such men (and women?)

Monday, July 28th, 2008

An airline maintenance technician in Baton Rouge, La., said she intended to spin the airline compressor blades slowly on one engine of a parked RJ during a routine washing.

But the engine started and went to nearly full power. The CRJ 700 surged forward and slammed into two other parked jets. No one was hurt during the early morning mishap that took place on July 7. About 14 workers were in the hangar at the time of the accident.

ASA officials declined to put a dollar value on the amount of damage.