Archive for September, 2011

What Does it Take?

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

As you’ve probably heard by now, GA is on the NTSB’s most wanted list.  At AOPA Summit in Hartford this week, it will be a topic of discussion when I interview NTSB Vice Chair Chris Hart and member Earl Weener, both active GA pilots, on AOPA Live.  The GA accident rate is flat and it is disproportionately high in the personal flight category relative to the estimated number of hours flown.

One solution that comes up regularly is that “of reaching the unreachables.”  Unfortunately, that is a paradox or self-contradictory statement. For your consideration of the challenge, here is a informal review of a flight that took place last week at our home base of Frederick, a nontowered airport. The witness statement is from an Air Safety Institute staff member:

“Last evening at about 7:30, Bob and I were working late.  At the time, there was a thunderstorm sitting more or less directly over the airport, producing fairly heavy rain (though not a great deal of wind) and a lot of lightning—there were multiple strikes on the field, within half a mile of AOPA. Bob was standing outside watching the storm, and I ran from my car to meet him….and probably 30 seconds later we heard an aircraft engine, and watched a Cessna 172 depart Rwy 30, climbing rather anemically off to the northwest…..We noted the time, and grabbed the radar image.”

There was a severe thunderstorm warning and convective Sigmet in effect and the C172 was NOT on an IFR flight plan according to FlightAware. Fatal accident chain was well under way.  What part of thunderstorm, what part of cloud and rain (reduced visibility – IMC), what part of lightning strike did this pilot not understand? To be sure, the AWOS was reporting VFR conditions and it was looking better to the west. Does anyone remember the Jessica Dubroff accident?

  • Was this done from ignorance – The pilot was unaware of the risk?
  • Was this done from arrogance – I know the risk but I can handle it?
  • Was this done from complacency – I’ve been in situations like this before?

One of the above or all of the above? How badly would “the mission” that this flight was surely on, have been impaired by delaying another 20 minutes to let the cell move off?

I’d sure like the benefit of his or her thought processes. There has to be some logic here — somewhere. Ignorance we can and should fix although my sense is the pilot knew the risk. The other two attributes are really difficult to change without significant interference to the freedom of flight . What do you think?

You can’t take it with you!!!!!

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

While it’s kind of a downer, confronting your own mortality, I’m always buoyed by the comments of Freddy Heineken the late beer magnate. Freddy was reputed to have said something to the effect that the universe got along just fine in the 4 billion or so years before he came along and it didn’t bother him during that rather long gestation period, so presumably it would be about the same afterward. We have a variety of faith and psychological coping mechanisms to deal with the hereafter.  However,  that’s not where I was going, but rather to discuss the opportunity to really help GA and to leave a legacy. So many great activities benefit from bequests and, depending on how it’s structured, you can deprive the taxman of some of your hard earned dollars — not that any of us would want the government to do without.

GA has benefited significantly through some bequests to the Foundation. We’ve been able to put on about 20 additional safety programs annually and fund an online course from an endowment given by a pilot who wanted to be remembered for what he did and who he was.  I’ll write more on this in an upcoming column. Preserving the freedom of flight was vital to this pilot.

Like many non-profits, the AOPA Foundation has a Legacy Society which explains how to make a deferred gift.  It can be complex or very simple.

The Foundation will be offering a 30 minute planned giving seminar at AOPA Summit in Hartford to discuss the basics of wills and estate planning and show you how to create your own plan using the Foundation’s new Online Wills Planner.  The seminar will be held in the Learning Pavilion inside the exhibit hall, Thursday September 22 at 11am.

In the short term we hope to get no benefit out of any bequests since the Foundation’s mission is to keep pilots alive and flying for a long time but eventually, when you’re able to fly without man-made wings, you also won’t need man-made money either.  Finally, I’m reminded of a former flight student of mine, Fred, who was contemplating upgrading from a Cessna 172 to a 182. I told him to go for it but he was worried about the cost (he could certainly afford it!).  I told him he couldn’t take it with him, to which he replied that if that were the case, he wasn’t going.  Despite that, several years later he did, unfortunately proving that the only certainty in life is death and taxes. We’ll offer you a better alternative, at least on the tax side of the equation.

It was a tough weekend!

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

Holiday weekends are something to look forward to—usually. Safety professionals cross their fingers and hope for the best. This Labor Day weekend did not help the 2011 GA’s safety statistics.

  • There was a midair collision from what appears to have been a formation flight in Alaska. A Cessna 207 and a Cessna 208 Caravan came together—the ‘van’ crashed and the pilot was lost—the other aircraft made a forced landing in a nearby field with no injuries.
  • Seward, Nebraska, single engine experimental aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff—no details yet—two fatalities.
  • Near Kanab, Utah, an amateur built Long-Ez went down fatally injuring the pilot, apparently on his way to a fly-in.
  • In Caldwell, Idaho an amateur built Kitfox crashed on takeoff with two fatalities.
  • A Cessna 210 went down Sunday afternoon near Tehachapi south of Bakersfield, with two fatalities—it sparked a large brushfire. One hundred-seventy homes were evacuated as the fire spread to more that 8,600 acres and more than 1,200 firefighters were fighting the blaze.

While the details won’t be known for months or longer, it’s a good time to reflect on our activity. There are some inherent risks but many more are deliberate or inadvertently taken by the pilot to varying degrees. The NTSB is already researching, along with EAA, amateur built aircraft accidents to gain a better understanding of the problems there. This weekend, unfortunately, gives them more raw material. Formation flying is definitely a higher risk activity requiring considerable practice and training to do it safely. Even then the pros occasionally have trouble. It is not something to be undertaken casually (That is not intended as commentary on the AK mishap.)

The hindsight view on all these accidents will likely show the four human failings of arrogance, distraction, complacency or ignorance—present in at least some degree. Could something have been done differently? Probably. Mechanical failure is also a possibility but most of us will never experience a sudden engine failure in our flying careers. That said, it’s good to be prepared. Mechanical failures also often have roots in the above human shortcomings.

Will we learn from these tragedies? Some pilots will take it to heart to modify or reinforce their safety procedures.  Learning from the past—what a concept! Others will indulge in the natural self-protectiveness that it won’t happen to them.   It’s way too easy to think that none of us would ever be so _______ (fill in the blank.)

If you’re reading this, you’re likely the former personality type. Share this with those who are not so likely to be self-reflective. It can’t hurt and coming from a peer, it makes a much bigger impression than all the rule-making, procedure-complicating, or attempted enforcement efforts that the official and unofficial authority figures can dream up. Don’t believe it? Just ask any teenager!