With AirVenture just weeks away, it's worth reading over our report on NASCAR owner Jack Roush's 2010 landing accident at Oshkosh. I discussed this topic in a previous blog, but I think it probably bears repeating before every AirVenture. Roush crashed his Premier jet while aborting a landing try, but stalled the airplane and impacted hard, injuring himself severely enough to lose an eye, among other injuries.
Last week, Roush told The Sporting News that he accepts the NTSB's findings declaring that the principle cause of the crash was pilot error. When the fact pattern indicates that the pilot stalled an otherwise correctly operating aircraft, that's the only conclusion that can be reached. But Roush also said something I find interesting: "I accept the findings. There are some omissions. I wish they had been more complete in the description of the things that were happening in the congested airspace that I was presented there in Oshkosh. They didn't do that, so that's a moot point."
I think I understand what Roush is getting at here, however inelegantly he stated it. I also happen to agree with him. I don't think he's offering an excuse. "Things that were happening" is another way of saying that during AirVenture week, ATC operations at Oshkosh are so busy and so intense that the normal margins we expect when operating into and out of towered airports aren't there. Controllers land multiple airplanes on the same runway at the same time, they stuff the downwind and finals with airplanes of varying speeds and often ask pilots who are rusty and flying less than ever to do spot landings and then get off the runway ASAP.
Further, wall-to-wall transmissions by controllers with occasional spankings when pilots don't catch the instruction the first time raises the tension level to the point of distraction. As pilots, we tend to sanctify controllers working in this environment; that they can do it at all much less do it well is remarkable. In my view, the entire operationcontrollers and pilots working togethertends not to take this distractive dynamic into account before the fact. Pilots flying into OSH are sometimes confronted with an overwhelming volume of stimulus, from the radio traffic, to the sheer number of airplanes to the intense desire not to embarrass yourself before an audience of thousands. I'm guessing that Jack Roush felt this, even if he didn't say it so many words. It's too strong to say that AirVenture operations are a set-up for accidents. But it's hardly unfair to say if you venture into that airspace, you'll need to be as heads up, prepared, disciplined and focused as it's possible to be and sometimes even that won't be enough. The rustier you are, the worse it will be.
And if you can't do a thing that ATC asks, don't try to gut it out just to meet this imaginary high expectation that the whole place tends to engender. As is true in any other flight venue, the word unable still works. And if you're not comfortable being a little uncomfortable, there are other options to get to AirVenture. But if you are prepared to adjust to those distractions, it can be the most fun you can have in an airplane.