Archive for September, 2012

It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere!

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

Proving once again that all the world is a stage, and that you can become an unwitting player at any time, a pilot and “former” friend, also a pilot, were flying back from a short, day, VFR cross-country. The Cessna 150 they were flying inconveniently ran out of fuel a few hundred yards short of the destination.

According to the NTSB report:

“During the recovery of the airplane a total of 1.75 gallons of fuel was recovered from both wing fuel tanks. The fuel tanks had not been compromised and had an unusable fuel total of 3 gallons. The commercial pilot reported to law enforcement personnel that they had not refueled prior to the return flight.

According to the commercial pilot, he was not acting in the capacity of a flight instructor, nor was he acting as pilot in command. He was occupying the right seat. According to an affidavit submitted by the private pilot, he was not acting as pilot in command. The commercial pilot reported the private pilot was occupying the left seat and was flying at the time of the accident.

Local law enforcement reported that the commercial pilot had consumed several beers prior to the flight and smelled of alcohol.”

Hmmm—somebody had to be PIC. The commercial pilot sued the private pilot, but the suit was thrown out on a technicality proving that perhaps there is still some restraint left in the legal system. It’s an interesting conundrum. Often, the senior pilot with access to the controls is tagged unless prior arrangement is made—that is, of course, discounting “selective memory.” Another way to look at it is that the commercial pilot had presumably disqualified himself from any PIC role with the alcohol consumption. The private pilot was then de-facto PIC since he was presumably qualified in the aircraft (we don’t know his currency status).

The crash occurred just about 1700 local time, so Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett apparently are on to something about time zones being irrelevant when it comes to happy hour. In aviation though, fuel consumption is an absolute, as is the eight hour rule. It also wouldn’t hurt to identify, in advance, who is PIC and to figure how much fuel is needed plus a bit extra. It can get really messy after the fact.

Unabashed ask for support.

If you’ve somehow managed to avoid all the publicity regarding the Foundation’s online auction, I’ll apologize for violating the pristine confines of the blog, but if you see anything below that piques your interest, and there’s some really good stuff, please bid generously. We can use the revenue.

To set up your account and start bidding, visit

Bidding ends between Tuesday, October 9, and Saturday, October 13, 2012, depending on the item, so be sure to visit the site and get your bids submitted!

Best of all, the proceeds for this amazing auction benefit AOPA Foundation’s mission to preserve and strengthen general aviation now and for future generations. Just a few of the items up for bid:

Scenic Hawaiian Flight in 1929 Bellanca PLUS Hawaiian Airlines Miles

Scenic T-6 Flight with Country Music Star Aaron Tippin

Dinner with Pilot and Actor Harrison Ford and AOPA’s Editor-in-Chief, Tom Haines

Dinner for Two with Flying Wild Alaska Pilots as Seen on Discovery Channel

Tecnam P92-TD Taildragger

WACO Classic “Great Lakes” Biplane Purchase Slot

iPad Sport System from

Get me to the Game on Time

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

A recurring accident theme is the use of GA aircraft to get to sporting events. It can be a great way to travel, but sometimes it can’t. Pilots are often traveling with friends or family so there is a social commitment of delivering passengers to a special, possibly prestigious, event. Tickets are pricey and often hard to get, adding to the pressure of an irreplaceable loss if the trip is canceled or delayed. Off the top of my head I can think of three “sports-induced” mishaps involving GA, and there are sure to be many more in the files.

Two involved VFR pilots who just had to get to a game when the weather was clearly IMC. The third one occurred this past weekend when a Cirrus SR22 with two adults, a child, and two teens wound up about five miles short of the airport on the trip home from a baseball game. We know very little at this point other than the pilot was instrument-rated, and the weather appeared to be IMC,, just after midnight with a close temperature/dew point spread.

Five people in a four place aircraft is considered bad form in any case, but they flew to the game that way so, presumably, flight was possible—if not legal or smart.

Arriving back after the midnight hour means fatigue may have been a factor. The airplane handling may have been squirrelly due to weight/balance problems. Five fatalities, however, (especially for the young people) seems like a very poor tradeoff to sleep in one’s own bed. So, as usual, we’re back to the judgment, decision-making aspect.

This just in from NTSB: “The pilot contacted Springfield Approach about 0002 as the flight entered their airspace. About 0017, the pilot was cleared for an Instrument Landing System (ILS) approach to runway 14 at SGF. The pilot was instructed to contact the control tower at that time. At 0020, about 3 minutes after establishing contact with the control tower, the pilot requested radar vectors in order to execute a second ILS approach. About 30 seconds later, radar contact was lost.”

So, a few questions/observations:

  • What potential  aerodynamic degradations might have occurred and would the pilot notice?
  • Night IMC and a missed approach can be stressful but when we choose to play in that environment on must be prepared.
  • The pilot, in his mid-40s, was a successful businessman. How might fatigue have played into this mishap?
  • Perhaps there was a mechanical malfunction and the pilot was not directly to blame, although the 5/4 seating arrangement still bothers me.

The aftermath, as you might suspect, was devastating to the community, and it’s going to take a long time to recover. The reporter I spoke to for an interview was sympathetic to GA and said she really liked flying in small planes. That’s an unusual twist, but too many of her viewers won’t understand that it’s not the activity that caused the problem—any more than they’d understand that automobile or motorcycle accidents are usually the result of some human failure that could have easily been prevented.

From a systems analysis perspective, I’m hard-pressed to see how these situations are to be prevented without drastically reducing the freedom of those who use aircraft responsibly.

Your thoughts?


Malaise and Mencken

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

It’s easy to get down about the state of GA: the cost of fuel, the economy, the political situation—heck, almost everything if you believe everything you read (which is, of course, not wise). I’ve read numerous treatises on why the best days of GA and the USA are behind us. One gets to the self-fulfilling prophecy if the spiral gets steep enough.

H. L. Mencken, a Baltimore newspaper journalist, knew how to say it with no extra verbosity—something that is in an abundance of today (present blog included—but thank you for reading):

“All successful newspapers (media) are ceaselessly querulous and bellicose. They never defend anyone or anything if they can help it; if the job is forced on them, they tackle it by denouncing someone or something else.” 

Sound familiar?

Could this be the case with GA with its demise predicted by some in the next year or two? Or has it already expired and we’re merely sitting with the corpse? I think neither—the patient is not well, but we’ve put off seeing the doctor for some decades while hoping that the illness would pass. It won’t. The good news is that pretty much everyone now acknowledges that we need more pilots, the cost is too high for the value received, and flying is more complex than it needs to be. The first step on the 12 step program is to acknowledge the problem. That has finally happened.

Fixing it will take effort—a lot of effort, but we’re moving. All the associations, the manufacturers, and even some within the FAA (!) now understand that some antibiotics are needed soon. The patient is in serious condition, but with proper care and participation by the intervention team (that includes all who fly), the activity can be saved and begin to thrive. It won’t happen overnight and we’ll need some resilience and commitment.

“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”  Without opining on any particular party, it’s safe to say that GA will face non-partisan challenges due to government economics and our own self-inflicted wounds. There will be changes coming, and the critical point is how they are managed. Not every airport improvement project will get approved. There may be fewer FAA personnel which mean some services may be curtailed. Some activities may be outsourced—too soon to tell.

“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.” It’s time, mates, to start pumping broadsides into the problems facing us and then grabbing a cutlass for a boarding party. To put that in less piratical terms, every pilot needs to offer intro flights to those who have even the slightest interest. If they want to go farther, help them through the training process (AOPA has many resources here). I’ll put in a shameless plug for supporting the AOPA Foundation as we work in the four areas of growing the pilot population, preserving airports, improving the perception of GA, and last, but not least, all the wonderful efforts put forth by the Air Safety Institute. (Did I mention that you can help with a tax deductible contribution?)

“There is always a well-known solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.” Let us hope that we haven’t fallen into that trap!

Until next week—safe flights!