AVwebFlash - Volume 14, Number 2b

January 10, 2008

By The AVweb Editorial Staff
 
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No New Letterhead for Piper back to top 
 

Piper To Stay Says Vero Official

The chairman of the Indian River County Commission, Gary Wheeler, says a deal is all but sealed to keep Piper Aircraft in Vero Beach. Wheeler said the commission will vote Jan. 15 on a $12 million incentive package, which, if approved as expected, will be enough to keep the planemaker and its 1,100 existing and 500 future employees in the resort community. "Everything's ironed out and ready for approval for the county commission," Wheeler told The Palm Beach Post. Piper officials have not confirmed that the company is staying. Piper announced in late 2006 that it was shopping for a new location (or a new deal) to take advantage of incentives that are commonly doled out by communities interested in having airplane factories in their midst. The announcement came with the introduction of the PiperJet, which will require its own factory and another 500 workers. The company narrowed down its search to Vero Beach, Albuquerque and Oklahoma City. Wheeler said the local incentive package and the cost of relocating or training employees for a new factory combined to make the economic case for staying in Vero Beach. There's no word on when an official announcement will be made.

 
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So What's In That NASA Report? back to top 
 

Airline Passenger Group Crunches NASA Study Data

The Coalition for an Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights (CAPBOR) has compiled and made available on its Web site a spreadsheet that the group claims brings some clarity to the results of NASA's controversial National Aviation Operational Monitoring Service (NAOMS) project. NASA collected surveys from more than 30,000 pilots between 2001 and 2004, including 4,777 responses from general aviation pilots. But it's unlikely anyone looking at the results could conclude much from the data in its raw form. CAPBOR founder Kate Hanni and researcher Mark Mogel told AVweb that their group does not have the resources to reformat the general aviation responses, but hopes that by publishing the spreadsheet they can increase political pressure on the FAA and the airlines. "Pilots have told us that a lot of the answers to these questions are simply because of pilot fatigue," Mogel told AVweb, referring to the responses, which included reports of runway incursions and loss of visual separation from other aircraft in flight. "We're not trying to terrify people, we're just trying to tell the truth," Hanni said. NASA initially refused to release the data on the grounds that doing so could damage public confidence in airline travel, but agreed to unleash the data by the end of 2007 after being hounded by The Associated Press, which had filed a freedom of information request. During a Dec. 31 news conference, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said NASA has no intention of analyzing the data.

 
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Pilot Training back to top 
 

South Africa Standardizes Pilot Training

South Africa has revised pilot training and examination standards to try and stop an upward spiral of accident rates that generally bucks the trend of other countries with active GA communities. Starting Jan. 1, flight schools had to follow a standardized training syllabus and administer standardized exams that are in line with training in other countries. Until then, it was up to individual schools to decide what was taught and what was tested. Fatalities in GA accidents doubled from 18 to 36 from 2005 to 2007 and all other accident indicators were on the rise, but there was still some lingering defense of the ad hoc training system. The Civil Aviation Authority noted that the number of GA pilots increased by at least 10 percent in that time period and suggested that mitigated the toll somehow. Despite the rather unusual training and compliance standards, the basic causes of South African GA accidents sound pretty familiar to those of us who have lived under more conventional systems. "The leading cause of accidents has been human factors. By that we don't mean just pilot error. We look at things like mechanical failure due to the cutting of corners during maintenance, operators who put profits above safety and pilots who fly without enough fuel in reserve," Gilbert Twala, the CAA's chief accident investigator, said.

British Flight School Sues Diamond Over Diesels

Millen Aviation Services of Kent, England, filed a lawsuit on Dec. 17, 2007, against Diamond Aircraft Industries in Wiener Neustadt, Austria, over their Thielert diesel-powered DA40s. "The claim for damages is based on our experience with our two DA40 1.7 TDIs, their extremely poor reliability, high maintenance costs, waiting time for spare parts and, our firm belief of their premature release to market without sufficient research, development and testing," company partner Mike Millen said in a prepared statement. Diamond did not immediately respond to AVweb's request for comment. Millen would not comment on the specifics of the suit or what damages his company seeks from Diamond, but told AVweb that an Austrian court has already appointed a judge to hear the case and that Diamond Aircraft has until Jan. 17 to respond to the lawsuit. Millen said the DA40s remain on Millen Aviation's flight line at the Rochester Airport along with two Cessna 172s that are powered by their original Lycoming engines.

 
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Equipment Check back to top 
 

Baggage Door Implicated In Kodiak Crash

Survivors of the crash of a Piper Chieftain that killed six people off Kodiak Island in Alaska last weekend say the nose baggage door came open as the aircraft was taking off. The plane crashed into the ocean about 100 yards from the end of the runway and a taxiing floatplane picked up the four surviving passengers. Opening baggage doors have been cited as factors in two previous Chieftain crashes in Alaska, according to The Juneau Empire. In both previous incidents the door came loose and hit the wing or propeller, resulting in the crash. It's not clear if that happened in this accident and NTSB investigator Clint Johnson refused to speculate on the door's role in the accident. The Servant Air flight was carrying a group of Russian Orthodox faithful to an Orthodox Christmas celebration at Homer, Alaska. Meanwhile, the FAA has cleared another Alaska carrier of wrongdoing in another high-profile accident there last summer. Five of nine people aboard a SeaWind Aviation Beaver died when the aircraft went down shortly after takeoff from Traitors Cove, 27 miles north of Ketchikan, on Aug. 16. According to company spokesman Jack Davies, the FAA concluded that none of its regs had been violated and it's closed its file. The NTSB is continuing its investigation and the report probably won't be out until next summer. Weather may have been a factor.

Backed-Up Sink Cripples 747

It's often said that aircraft accidents are the result of a series of seemingly innocuous events strung together and the crew of a Qantas Boeing 747 might agree with that. The flight from London to Sydney was 15 minutes from touchdown for a scheduled stop at Bangkok when it lost power from all four engine-driven generators. Backup batteries kept all those displays in front of the pilots glowing through a safe landing but the battery power likely wouldn't have lasted more than another 45 minutes and that would have knocked out the radios and all of the electronic instruments. "In this case it looks as if it has gone to the last stage of emergency power for communication and navigation," Dr. Arvind Sinha, director of aerospace at RMIT University in Melbourne, told the Sydney Morning Herald. "After that it comes down to the skill and experience of the crew." He added that the loss of all four generators is "unheard of" but Murphy can and does find a way, this time through a sink with a clogged drain in the first-class galley. [more] The sink is right over the electrical distribution unit and Boeing engineers evidently considered the potential for leaks when they put it there. A drip tray is installed to catch any overflow from the sink but the tray on this aircraft was cracked. The water (likely loaded with soaps, acids and other electrolytic substances) leaked through the crack and into the power unit, shorting out the whole works. Qantas fixed this airplane and checked all others before letting them in the air again. Qantas spokesman John Borghetti said the crew did as it was trained to do to arrive at a safe outcome and no similar problems were found on the other planes.

 
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News Briefs back to top 
 

Airport "Schedule Adjusted" to Accommodate Race

We've all seen aircraft and various types of vehicles "race" at air shows but authorities in Auckland, New Zealand, cleared both runways at the country's largest airport, without actually closing the airport, to stage just such a spectacle. Now, the Kiwis do love their sport and the race between an Air New Zealand Boeing 777 and a racing car was to promote an international A1 Grand Prix event at Lake Taupo later this month. Car and plane roared down parallel runways not once but twice, reaching speeds of almost 200 mph before the 777 wouldn't stay on the ground any longer and the car was running out of runway. The plane won the first race and the car nosed ahead in the second race.

By all accounts it was well worth the effort to stage the race. Car driver Johnny Reid was clearly thrilled by the experience, which earned generous coverage in the local media (which is what it was all about, right?). "It was just fantastic, a mind blowing experience. We were running out of revs pretty much just on the limit all the way down the end but we managed to blow the triple seven," he said in a television interview. As for the airport, officials said it was the first time in their 42-year history that they've tweaked the schedule of arriving and departing flights to "squeeze in" something like this. Air New Zealand officials downplayed the environmental impact of the event, saying a regular test flight would have burned more fuel. The high-octane excitement at Lake Taupo goes on Jan. 18 to Jan. 20.


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On the Fly ...

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association is holding a news conference today to announce it is declaring a "staffing emergency" in New York, Chicago, Atlanta and Southern California. The union claims that more senior controllers are retiring than the FAA had projected and those remaining are unable to safely manage peak traffic at those locations ...

Eclipse Aviation has called a news conference for next Monday to outline an "important financing development, and discuss an exciting new opportunity to grow the Eclipse 500 market" ...

Air Show Buzz has named Maj. Paul "Max" Moga as its 2007 Person Of The Year for his thrilling demonstrations of the F-22 Raptor. The Web site awards the honor annually to the person who is a "game changer for the industry" ...

FAA employees are getting a raise based on their performance in the past year. Most will see a 3.08 percent increase plus extra for geographical and personal performance considerations. The base raise could have been higher but the agency as a whole missed some of its performance targets.

 
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New on AVweb back to top 
 

A Pilot's History: Chap. 5 -- The Hump

The war is over, but Carl Moesly's work with the Army isn't done. He has to fly over the Himalayas into China ... and there are still Japanese soldiers there.

Click here for the full story.

Operations sent for me and I soon found myself on the way from Okinawa to Tokyo with a load of passengers. From there we flew to Manila where we took aboard a pilot from India who was familiar with the "Hump" (Himalayan Mountains) and had the necessary maps, radio frequencies, etc. We quickly took off for Kunming, China, and then to Tezgaon, India. There seemed to be a big "push" for some reason, but that was not shared information.

Arriving at Tezgaon Airfield in India, just outside of Dacca, there was a four-day delay to get a local check ride to see if I could fly an airplane in their command. Sometimes the "procedures" really seemed unfit for the occasion. I observed there being a lot of pilots around that were not flying. "What's the story?" I asked. "Oh, they have finished their required flying and will have to wait awhile to get air transportation back to the Big PX." I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Procedures, again!

Life of (Relative) Luxury

It was not all bad there, with good food and service in a pleasant Officers Club. I also ran into a couple of classmates that were well-established and waiting for transportation. Bill had a "basha" (thatched hut with solid concrete walls), very nice, and asked me to move in with him. He was a great companion. He showed me around and had me hire a servant, actually a young lad about eight years old, very pleasant to have around. In the evening when the sun was setting, Kim would sing very well in a soft, melodious voice. In the morning as I climbed out of the mosquito netting, he would hold out my pants so I could step in them and the same with the shirt. One thing he would not do and that was to rinse out a pair of socks, shirt or underwear. I got angry but Bill wised me up about the cast system. He really could not wash items. It takes some getting used to the cast system.

This was the best living conditions I had experienced west of Honolulu. I was given a new co-pilot, radio operator and flight engineer. We did not require a navigator. On these short flights, with radio beacons along the route, navigation was not a problem. I had heard a lot of horror stories about 100-mph winds, solid instrument flying, and heavy icing, coupled with extremely high-altitude requirements to clear the mountains. The high winds and monsoon came at different times of the year to simplify things, plus we had good voice communications and navigational radio beacons to make it easy.

The earlier crossings during the war had a different route farther north, which required a high altitude. The DC-3's and C-46s had engines that gave them a higher altitude capability than the R-2000-7 engines of the C-54s we flew.

Our first trip was from India to Luliang, China, carrying drums of gasoline. We probably burned as much fuel as we delivered. A horribly inefficient way of delivering fuel, but it was about the only way. We sucked on oxygen masks most of the time, which inhibits conversation. So the pilot off duty would catch up on his reading while watching the clouds go by. It was easy to make a round trip without laying over in China.

News From Home

I had pretty well kept my problems to myself about leaving California and Jeanne months before on a two-week flight across the Pacific. Now I was in India not knowing when I would return. The war was over but I couldn't put in for a discharge because I was not at my home base. I still had not heard from Jeanne and the baby's due date had come and gone. Bill and I were standing on the banks of a holy river watching the natives try to burn the bodies of the dead, but the soft rain and wet wood was making it difficult. "Congratulations," Bill said softly. He never spoke loudly. "Why, Bill?" I asked. "On becoming a father," was his answer. I then asked, "How do you know?" "My wife received a birth announcement from Jeanne and enclosed it with a letter to me." Having heard for the first time about my being a father, I continued to ask questions. "Hey, how about the details?" Bill replied, "I really do not remember any details but I might not have thrown the announcement out." We took a fast jeep ride back to the basha, as I was eager to find out all the information I could about my new baby. Bill found the announcement: It was a boy, on target date, and every one was well. After hearing the good news, it was a wet night at the bar in the "O" club in India. I was only six weeks late in finding out I was the father of a baby boy. Jeanne's letters, cables, wires and Red Cross messages never did reach me. Jeanne had driven herself to the hospital. I so wished I had been there for her.

Most of my trips were routine but a few proved to be interesting. One was a trip to Karachi, across the vastness of India, to the shores of the Arabian Sea. It is a huge country, well diversified with a lot of desert. We flew low around the Taj Mahal and agreed that the white marble could use a good cleaning. Flying low over some villages, farms and vast masses of humanity, I felt Kipling was flying with us.

After a trip over the Himalayan Mountains into China, landing on a little-used strip, I picked up a U.S. Army man with his Chinese companion who had been on a reconnaissance run behind the Japanese lines. There was a reward out for him by the Japanese troops, dead or alive, posted in the towns and villages. He did not know if everyone knew the war was over. He said a knife attack had recently been made on him in a hotel room. He thought it was time to leave.

Chinese Cross-Fire

Another of our trips to Kunming required an overnight stay due to our return load not being ready. My crew thought it best to sleep in the airplane. The elevation was over 6000 feet with a large lake bordering the airport. During the night, the temperature kept dropping, with a brisk wind blowing. With six blankets under me and six over, my teeth still chattered. Light machine-gun fire and rifle fire with tracers started flying across the airport. We did not understand what was going on. We got out of the aircraft in case it went up in flames. That night I was colder than I have ever been, even in Northern Greenland, the Canadian Artic or in Antarctica.

The next morning it was explained the shooting was between two Chinese generals, each trying to get the upper hand, perhaps politically, militarily or materially. The base was mostly deactivated, but I was able to get my usual Chinese meals, four small chicken eggs for breakfast, six for lunch and eight for dinner. I never had stomach upsets on this restricted diet. General Chiang Kai-Shek wanted to get his Nationalist troops to Shanghai before Mao got his communist troops there. Shanghai was on the Yangtze River, which flowed through the rice basket of China ... therefore a large factor in the control of the rice supply. Several C-54's were dispatched to pick up Nationalist troops. I was ordered to pick up troops at either Luliyang or Luchow. China is one big mountainous country to cross.

We arrived over the airport to pick up the troops only to find a solid undercast with a decent ceiling height below. The trouble was the airport was in a valley and a mountain peak or two was sticking up through the cloud cover into the bright sunshine above the under cast of clouds. Our ADF was on vacation and would not point out the radio beacon at the airport. We had the tower operator give us a long count on the radio and we would listen to the signal to get stronger or weaker. We thought we knew which peaks were sticking up through the clouds but we want to know for damn sure! The tower could hear our engines but could not pin-point our location. We slowed the aircraft down and eased into the undercast. It was not a healthy way to do it, but sometimes you just had to earn your pay and get the job done. It was only a couple of minutes of anxiety but we could all swear it was a lot longer. Needless to say, we were lucky again, but I was getting tired of having to be lucky to do my job.

We loaded 80 Chinese troops, fully armed, when 50 would have been a normal load. We did have them unload their weapons before loading the plane. We did not have seats for all of them, but we pampered them by putting half of a 50-gallon drum in the center of the floor to take care of their propensity for getting airsick. Away we went, on our way to Shanghai.

There Are Japanese Here?!

Landing at an abandoned Japanese airbase, a few miles from Shanghai, the crew and I secured the aircraft for the night and the co-pilot arranged for berths in an old Japanese barrack with cold water and slit trenches in the latrine. Not having a mission the next day, the co-pilot and I started out for the city. The airport was located in a farming area, so he flagged down a charcoal burning truck with two men in the cab and we stood up in the back. The charcoal burner put out enough gas for us to lope along about 15 miles an hour, as we headed down a narrow dirt road with ditches on each side and bordered with wet, muddy fields.

I saw our Chinese troops ahead of us marching in column. Looking further up the road, I saw another column of men marching toward us. To my utter amazement, it was a Japanese company four abreast, with the Japanese flag up front, men fully armed and behind the troops men were pulling a long field artillery piece. There had been some talk that the Japs would not give up the land they had conquered and occupied in China and Manchuria, but they might try to set up a new Japanese government. The area was larger than the Japanese homeland and rich with raw material. I never expected them to be in Shanghai, certainly not fully armed.

As the two columns approached one another, there did not seem to be enough room for them to pass on the narrow dirt road. I could see each column get into step and the soldiers stiffen up and shape up. We rapped on the cab and pointed to the side of the road. We jumped off the truck into the ditch and held our breath. Other than the tramp of the feet, you could have heard a pin drop. They had been killing each other for many years and I am sure that the rape of Nanking was in every one's memory as well as other atrocities. We were very still as the columns met, passing along side of each other as they continued their march down the dirt road. I presume they were as tense as we were and knew what a historic event it was to turn over a major Chinese city to the victors.

Shanghai Bargains and Bears

Shanghai was a shopper's paradise, with fine silk brocades selling for just US$1 a yard. A 15th Century bamboo brush-holder with finely carved hunting scenes sits on my desk to this day, with the complements of a Chinese gallery owner. Chinese paper currency was worthless. Shoeshine boys had stacks of it, amounting to millions of worthless Chinese dollars. There were no taxis about but we had plenty of rickshaws to get about the city. I marveled at how the men pulling us could trot long distances with their strongly muscled legs, seemingly not to tire.

The Japanese were still in Shanghai and most were still armed. The number was reported as being about 280,000 troops. We returned to the airport in late evening light. In the barracks, we were to sleep in a small room with double-decked bunks. Three feet of space separated the head of the bunk from the wall, which I promptly filled with my purchases. I slept lightly, concerned about petty thieves and assassins. In the early hours I woke without moving a muscle and heard the crinkling of the paper on my packages. This went on for a while, with me wishing someone would turn on a light or enter the room. After a while, I felt a hot breath on my cheek and I could no longer lie quietly; I was imagining all sorts of events taking place. I whipped the cover blanket over my head at whoever was on top of my packages, and at the same time I hit the floor. In the dim light, to my great surprise, I saw a black bear standing on my packages and trying to untangle himself from the blanket. He stood pretty damn tall! I darted into the large room with perhaps a hundred cots and men and called for C.Q. (change of quarters) and yelled "There is a bear in here!" Those that heard me just groaned and rolled over. One voice said, "I wish I had a drink of that." Suddenly, there was a commotion as the bear loped through the cots for the door and another voice yelled, "My God, there is a bear!" I was glad no one shot him or their bunkmates. I was told he was probably a tame dancing bear that had escaped his owner. Ladies and Gentlemen, that is the end of my Bear Story.

Danger Isn't Past

We made trips to Luchow and Hangchow. Hangchow was supposed to be a scenic, large city, but to me it was a dark, deserted city, perhaps because of the war.

We finished hauling cargo over the Hump. One of the cargo loads consisted of dismantled Coca-Cola equipment to Dum-Dum airport, outside of Calcutta. We soon left India for Manila and Guam, having completed our assigned task of over 30 trips over the Hump. Arriving in Guam, things appeared to be in chaos with the dismantling of the military. It was a mad house, with people trying to return on anything that would fly or float, to the U.S.

I spent the night in a tent near the take-off end of the runway, watching all sorts of heavily laden, long-range aircraft taking off. We were enjoying a sundowner and the company of our peers. A B-17 lined up on the runway, put on full power, stuck on the runway for its full length, failed to lift off the end and then burst into flames. I knew that ended a lot of dreams. Someone made a mistake. Fate was still the hunter.

[To be continued ...]


To send a note to Carl and AVweb about this story, please click on his name at the top of this page or click here.
More articles, stories and fiction about the joy of aviation are found in AVweb's Skywritings section.

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Probable Cause #49: Distraction

When things start to go wrong, fly the airplane first. Don't let tunnel vision steer you down the wrong path.

Click here for the full story.

Every one of us remembers the old phrase, "Fly the airplane first." The reference is to our first job as pilots, which is to maintain safety of flight and/or operation any time we are sitting in the left seat and the engine is turning. It means that no matter what happens, we continue to fly the airplane and not allow it to come into harm's way.

This becomes even more important when distraction and confusion sets in. That's what happened to the pilot of a Cirrus SR20 while flying an instrument approach into the Reid-Hillview Airport (KRHV) near San Jose, Calif. Because of less-than-stellar work by ATC, he allowed himself to become distracted and lost sight of the "big" picture, resulting in a fatal accident. The situation was probably exacerbated by the fact that the pilot didn't have a great deal of flying time and had just gotten his instrument rating.

As with most GA accidents, the lack of a cockpit voice recorder makes it almost impossible to deduce with absolute certainty what went on in the cockpit of this SR20. But as you begin to read about the chain of events that led to the crash, it's not too difficult to draw a plausible picture of what the pilot was facing and how the events ultimately unfolded.

HRV, Not PAO

The story begins in the late afternoon of Jan. 23, 2003. The private pilot and aircraft owner departed the Napa County Airport (KAPC) at 4 p.m. Pacific Standard Time for KHRV on an IFR flight plan that he had filed earlier. The 57-nm flight, almost directly south, would normally be a picturesque affair, taking one just east of San Francisco Bay. On this day, however, the weather was hardly cooperative, with broken and overcast skies and reduced visibilities in the area.

At 4:27 p.m., the Cirrus was approximately abeam the Oakland International Airport and the controller issued an instruction for the pilot to proceed to a navigational fix near the Palo Alto Airport (KPAO).

To give you a frame of reference, Palo Alto is located about 16 nm northwest of KRHV. Sandwiched in between the two airports are San Jose International (KSJC) and Moffett Field. The clearance obviously confused the pilot, so he queried the controller about the instruction. After several exchanges, it became apparent that the controller thought the Cirrus was on its way to KPAO, not KRHV. With the misunderstanding resolved, the controller then asked the pilot from which fix he'd like to begin the approach to Reid-Hillview. The pilot responded by requesting vectors to "around OZNUM," the final approach fix (FAF) for the RNAV (GPS) approach to Runway 31R. The controller cleared the pilot to fly direct to OZNUM, a course that would take the pilot on a slight south-southeasterly heading.

Instead, the Cirrus turned almost 90 degrees to the west, on a track that would take him directly towards the Palo Alto airport. The controller noticed the turn and asked the pilot if he was proceeding direct to OZNUM, to which the pilot responded that he was "intercepting the course." The controller told the pilot to make a right turn to avoid San Jose traffic and to proceed directly to OZNUM, which he told the pilot was "on the east side of Reid-Hillview."

The pilot acknowledged the transmission and made a right turn of approximately 270 degrees, which put him on a nearly southbound course, but still not directly to OZNUM. Only after about three miles on that course did the aircraft turn and tracked direct to the fix. Radar showed the aircraft then flew overhead KRHV nearly on the reciprocal course for the approach, aligned with the fixes OZNUM and ECYON, another GPS fix on the approach.

Button Pushing

Let's pause the narrative here for a moment.

The SR20 was equipped with state-of-the-art avionics, including dual Garmin 430s and an ARNAV ICDS 2000 multi-function display. Although we don't know this for fact, we can reasonably assume that the pilot was navigating by GPS using the Garmin 430s.

As capable as the Garmin 430 is, it shares a common flaw with other GPS receivers: It can be difficult to program, especially if you're fairly new to the system and the pressure is on. With that in mind, it becomes easier to imagine what was transpiring in the cockpit at the time. The pilot receives clearance to a fix that's not in his flight plan; perhaps he puts it in the GPS and realizes it takes him away from his route. He now questions the controller, a confusing exchange takes place and he is then given a revised clearance. All the while, he is pushing buttons and twisting knobs on the Garmin, trying to make heads from tails with the information he's presented.

It would certainly explain the initial turn to KPAO and the three-mile lag after turning south prior to proceeding to OZNUM.

As the aircraft reached OZNUM, there was a change of frequencies. The new controller told investigators that he was aware of issues regarding the pilot's course because he overheard the other controller correct the pilot as he was trying to make his way to OZNUM. The controller said he believed the pilot needed extra attention and he intended to provide it.

It was at this point that another link was added to this fatal chain of events. The pilot had been cleared to OZNUM, but had not received any further clearance after that. The first controller had cleared the pilot to OZNUM with the expectation that the second controller would provide the pilot with radar vectors to the final approach course. However, by the time the pilot made contact with the new controller, he was already past OZNUM and had turned inexplicably to the east.

Instead of giving the pilot a vector, the controller told him to turn towards ECYON. The controller later explained to investigators that the airplane was in a position coincident with a downturn leg and that a turn to ECYON would be the same as a vector to final. While the instruction may have made sense to the controller, it was contradictory to ATC procedure. The Air Traffic Control Handbook (FAA Order 7110.65) states that instrument approaches "shall commence at an initial approach fix or an intermediate approach fix if there is not initial approach fix. Where adequate radar coverage exists, radar facilities may vector aircraft to the final approach course [by assigning] headings that will permit final approach course interception on a track that does not exceed 30 degrees."

In this case, ECYON is neither an initial or intermediate approach fix. Plus, the turn towards ECYON would have resulted in an intercept angle of around 40 degrees.

The clearance certainly confused the pilot, who had to question the controller about the fix before acknowledging the clearance. The controller then instructed the pilot to descend to 4000 feet. However, instead of making a right turn towards ECYON, the pilot, now flying east of the final approach course over rising terrain, began a turn to the left. The controller, noticing this, asked, "You are going to make a right turn, right?" The pilot answered, "I was making a left turn, but I'll make a right turn now." The controller replied, "Make a right turn. Don't make a left turn."

Recorded radar indicated that before the aircraft began the turn that it was on a course toward ZUXOX, the initial approach fix. At that time OZNUM was directly behind the aircraft, and ECYON was in its four o'clock position. It's possible that the pilot had selected the approach from his GPS database and that it was taking him toward the IAF.

What's more difficult to explain is why the pilot would turn to the left if he knew where he was in relation to the terrain. And turning to the left would be the long way around to get to ECYON. The turn to the right was shorter.

The pilot made the right turn as instructed but briefly flew toward OZNUM. Then he made a slight left turn and joined the leg between ZUXOX and ECYON. Again, it's possible that with the approach selected, the GPS prompted the pilot to join that portion of the approach. When the controller observed the aircraft on that leg, he issued the approach clearance to the pilot.

At this point, the controller handed of his duties to his relief, with the instruction that all the new controller had to do was issue the pilot a frequency change for the KRHV tower.

An otherwise simple task, this would add another link to the chain, perhaps the fatal one. When the new controller instructed the pilot to change to the RHV tower on frequency 118.6, he had inadvertently given him the frequency for the Palo Alto tower. The pilot asked the controller if that was correct, and the controller insisted it was. The pilot switched over as instructed and spoke to the Palo Alto Tower controller, who told him he was not on the correct frequency. The pilot said he would switch to 119.8 for the KRVH tower.

While the pilot was speaking with the Palo Alto tower controller, radar indicates that the aircraft began a turn to the right. At 4:52 p.m. the aircraft was approximately over the JOPAN waypoint, but was now flying almost perpendicular to the course and heading for the high terrain. The pilot reported to the RHV tower that he was "descending from JOPAN, 2000 feet, 5.4 miles from the missed approach point." Note on the approach chart that there is a ridge just east of JOPAN that's above 2000 feet.

Within a couple of seconds of the pilot making initial contact with the KRHV controller, the ARTS Minimum Safe Altitude Warning System provided a visual and audible alert at the RHV tower and the Northern California Terminal Approach Control. The controller cleared the pilot to land, then said, "Low altitude alert, check your altitude immediately." The radar indicated that the aircraft was heading toward higher terrain. About 30 seconds later the controller informed the pilot that he appeared to be off course, but the pilot's response was not intelligible. There were no more transmissions from the aircraft.

Point Of Impact

The aircraft collided with power lines and then the surface at the bottom of a ravine in the mountainous area 6.7 miles southeast of the Reid-Hillview Airport. The pilot, the sole occupant of the aircraft, was killed in the crash.

The pilot held a private pilot certificate with ratings for single-engine-land and instruments. He also held a valid third-class medical certificate. His logbook indicated that he had 460.7 total flight hours, 362.4 of which were dual received. He had logged 150.3 hours of IFR time, 10.7 of which were in actual conditions. He had 334 hours in the Cirrus and 84.4 hours in the 90 days preceding the accident. He had completed and passed his instrument checkride just 17 days before the accident occurred.

The weather at KRHV was reported as ceilings at 1200 feet broken, overcast skies at 8000 feet, visibility of four miles and winds from 280 degrees at 12 kts. The temperature/dew point was 60/59 degrees Fahrenheit and the altimeter was reported as 30.24.

The NTSB blamed the accident on the pilot's failure to maintain course for the published approach procedure due to his diverted attention caused by the erroneous frequency assignment provided by ATC. They also attributed the non-standard ATC clearances used to get the pilot established on the final approach course, leading to confusion and likely task overload associated with the repeated reprogramming of the GPS receiver.

While most of the pilot's flying time was in the Cirrus SR20, most of it was with a flight instructor present. In fact, having received his instrument rating only 17 days earlier, this may have been his first solo flight in actual instrument conditions. The accident report did not comment on that aspect.

Investigators interviewed the designated examiner who issued the pilot his instrument rating. He said that the pilot was detail oriented and was very knowledgeable about the aircraft he was flying.

But did the pilot understand how to fully utilize this equipment? Maybe he never had the opportunity during his training to reprogram a flight plan in mid-flight, or if he did, it was with the help of an instructor. It would appear that his workload was high as he tried to fly the aircraft and program the Garmins and that may have led to a lack of positional awareness throughout most of the flight.

There is no doubt that there was confusion in the cockpit of the Cirrus that afternoon. How much of the confusion was caused by the controller's mistaken frequency change, we'll never know.

The NTSB determined another factor in this accident was the failure of ATC to provide the pilot with a timely and effective safety alert concerning his deviation from the proper course. It was influenced in part by the features of the radar display at both facilities, which made the deviation more difficult to detect, and the nature of radar as a secondary tool for a VFR tower controller.

How can you avoid the situation in which this pilot found himself? First, do not depend on equipment that you don't know how to use properly during IFR flight. Make certain that you are familiar with every piece of avionics gear that is installed in the airplane you fly. And don't fly an airplane that you have not flown before under IMC conditions until you know how to use the gear. All the new avionics gear is great to fly with, but there is a learning curve with each installation.

Any time a controller's instruction or intention is not clear ask him or her to clarify it. And be aware of your position relative to the final approach course, the airport and rising terrain. When in doubt, tell the controller you'd like to start from scratch, by either getting vectors for the final approach course or a clearance to an initial approach fix for a full approach. Trying to figure out where you are in the middle of an approach is a sure recipe for disaster.

Remember to fly the airplane first at all times. Keep it under control and on course while handling other issues or problems after that. If you don't do that, you are essentially giving up control of the airplane to Mr. Murphy, who is no friend to safe flight.


More accident analyses are available in AVweb's Probable Cause Index. And for monthly articles about IFR flying including accident reports like this one, subscribe to AVweb's sister publication, IFR Refresher.

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Readers' Voices back to top 
 

Question of the Week: Is 2008 the Year You Buy?

This Week's Question | Previous Week's Answers

PREVIOUS RESULTS ***

Auld lang syne, "best of 2007" lists and new year's resolutions haven't quite worn out their welcome around AVweb headquarters just yet.  Last week, we asked readers to put on their Johnny Carson-style turbans and peek into the sealed envelope of the future.  What, we asked, will be the biggest aviation story of the coming year?

The overwhelming majority of responses indicate that we can expect more of the same, as tensions between the controllers' union and the FAA heat up over the next twelve months — 67% of those who took the time to respond picked the controller crisis as the story of the year.

Quite a few readers took time to send us predictions by e-mail.  For a sampling of our favorite predictions, be sure to check out this past Monday's AVmail.  And for the complete breakdown of answers, click here.  (You may be asked to register and answer, if you haven't already participated in this poll.)

THIS WEEK'S QUESTION ***

With everyone knee-deep in resolutions and financial planning for 2008, it might be a good time to ask those of you who are planning to buy an airplane this year what you're considering.  What kind of airplane might you purchase this year?

Click here to answer.


Have an idea for a new "Question of the Week"? Send your suggestions to .

NOTE:
This address is only for suggested "QOTW" questions, and not for "QOTW" answers or comments.
Use this form to send "QOTW" comments to our AVmail Editor.

AVweb's Newstips Address ...

Our best stories start with you. If you've heard something that 130,000 pilots might want to know about, tell us. Submit news tips via email to newstips@avweb.com. You're a part of our team ... often, the best part.

 
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Your Favorite FBOs back to top 
 

FBO of the Week: Prior Aviation (KFBL, Buffalo, NY)

Nominate an FBO | Rules | Tips | Questions | Winning FBOs

AVweb's "FBO of the Week" ribbon goes to Prior Aviation at KFBL in Buffalo, New York.

AVweb reader John LaCourt recounted his experience at Prior:

On our first flight to my wife's old home town we flew to Buffalo with family friends. With only a hour or so notice, Prior Aviation met us at the ramp, provided two rental cars — one of which was a Red Mustang that made our friends' day. We asked for hangar space due to impending freezing rain and were provided with a heated hangar at less than half the cost of similar space at our home airport. When we arrived ahead of schedule for departure, they had the plane ready, fueled at reasonable rates, and gave us helpful hints as to taxi insturctions we would receive with a clearance. Hats off to Prior; we will certainly use them on future trips!

Keep those nominations coming. For complete contest rules, click here.

AVweb is actively seeking out the best FBOs in the country and another one, submitted by you, will be spotlighted here next Monday!

 
Make Plans Now to Attend a 2008 Savvy Aviator Seminar
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Reader-Submitted Photos back to top 
 

Picture of the Week: AVweb's Flying Photography Showcase

Submit a Photo | Rules | Tips | Questions | Past Winners

Each week, we go through dozens (and sometimes hundreds) of reader-submitted photos and pick the very best to share with you on Thursday mornings.  The top photos are featured on AVweb's home page, and one photo that stands above the others is awarded an AVweb baseball cap as our "Picture of the Week."  Want to see your photo on AVweb.com?  Click here to submit it to our weekly contest.

*** THIS WEEK'S WINNERS ***

Welcome back to AVweb's "Picture of the Week" feature!  We've been riding high on reader submissions for quite some time, but this week saw the tide of photos ebb a bit.  We realize that everyone is recuperating from the holidays, but we start to feel a little unloved if we get fewer than a hundred photo submissions in a week.  (Yes, we're incorrigible. And you can submit your photos here.)

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copyright © Jerry L. Morris
Used with permission

Handful of Hanriot

Jerry L. Morris of Dahlonega, Georgia sped past our astonished eyes with this shot of "a copy of a 1910 Hanriot taken at [the] September 2, 2007 Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome Air Show."

Congrats, Jerry — the AVweb cap we're sending your way might not be as stylish as a period aviator cap, but it'll keep your noggin warm.

 

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Used with permission of Brad A. Meier

Caravan Awaiting

Spoo-ooo-ooky.  Brad A. Meier of Kennesaw, Georgia sent in this image "straight from the camera," with no light manipulations.

 

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Used with permission of
Deborah Grigsby Smith

Her Day in the Sun

This "tail dragger sits majestically at the edge of one of Everitt Air Field's two grass strips," courtesy of Englewood, Colorado's Deborah Grigsby Smith.  (Every aircraft has just the right angle for snapping that perfect photo, eh?)

 

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Used with permission of Darian Williams

Beaver on Lake Coeur d'Alene

Darian Williams of Hazard, Kentucky treated us to a couple of photos from Idaho's Lake Coeur d'Alene.  This one reminded us of the halcyon days of summer (and the fact that we never get to spend any time ogling seaplanes at Oshkosh).

 

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copyright © Rob Wyder
Used with permission

Soon ... Soon ...

Rob Wyder of Palm Coast, Florida sees us off this week with his Marquart Charger, which seems "anxious to get out of the hangar."

Patience, lady — patience ... .


Send us your photos here!

Want to see more reader-submitted shots?  There's always a few surprises in the slideshow on our home page.

A quick note for submitters:  If you've got several photos that you feel are "POTW" material, your best bet is to submit them one-a-week!  That gives your photos a greater chance of seeing print on AVweb, and it makes the selection process a little easier on us, too.  ;)

A Reminder About Copyrights:s:
Please take a moment to consider the source of your image before submitting to our "Picture of the Week" contest. If you did not take the photo yourself, ask yourself if you are indeed authorized to release publication rights to AVweb. If you're uncertain, consult the POTW Rules or or send us an e-mail.

 
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Bonus Picture! back to top 
 

AOPA Pilot 2008 Photo Contest

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While we run a weekly photo contest ourselves, there's no such thing as too many beautiful airplane pictures, and AOPA is also giving you the opportunity to showcase your finest work. You'll only win cash in the AOPA contest (rather than the coveted AVweb ball cap), but you can't have everything. Last year's winner was Marcia Gitelman, who snapped this from the lead aircraft in a flyover at Ormond Beach, Fla.

By all means, feel free to run your submission past our esteemed judges before you enter AOPA's contest.

 
More AVweb for Your Inbox back to top 
 

AVwebBiz: AVweb's Business Aviation Newsletter

HAVE YOU SIGNED UP yet for AVweb's NO-COST weekly business aviation newsletter, AVwebBiz? Reporting on breaking news, Business AVflash focuses on the companies, the products and the industry leaders that make headlines in the business aviation industry. Business AVflash is a must read. Sign up today at http://www.avweb.com/profile/.

 
Names Behind the News back to top 
 

Meet the AVwebFlash Team

AVwebFlash is a weekly summary of the latest news, articles, products, features, and events featured on AVweb, the internet's aviation magazine and news service.

The AVwebFlash team is:

Publisher
Timothy Cole

Editorial Director, Aviation Publications
Paul Bertorelli

Editor-in-Chief
Russ Niles

Managing Editor
Meredith Saini

Contributing Editors
Mary Grady
Glenn Pew

Features Editor
Kevin Lane-Cummings

Click here to send a letter to the editor. (Please let us know if your letter is not intended for publication.)

Comments or questions about the news should be sent here.

Have a product or service to advertise on AVweb? A question on marketing? Send it to AVweb's sales team.

If you're having trouble reading this newsletter in its HTML-rich format (or if you'd prefer a lighter, simpler format for your PDA or handheld device), there's also a text-only version of AVwebFlash. For complete instructions on making the switch, click here.

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