AVwebFlash - Volume 14, Number 6b

February 7, 2008

By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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Reeling in the Wake of Silver State Closing back to top 

Students Left Hanging By Silver State Closure

Shocked by the downfall of Silver State Helicopters, the Nevada-based flight school that declared bankruptcy earlier this week, former students and employees are telling AVweb they face major financial losses. Silver State Helicopters abruptly shut down operations at its 34 nationwide locations on Sunday afternoon, leaving more than 800 employees without jobs and more than 2,500 flight students saddled with millions in debt. Company president and founder Jerry Airola has yet to speak publicly on the event, but a statement released by the company alleges that “a rapid, unprecedented downturn in the U.S. credit markets” curtailed the availability of student loans for the company’s students and resulted in a “sharp and sudden downturn in new student enrolment.” Tony and Heather Sullivan told AVweb they were at a Super Bowl party when they got the news. Heather was employed as a receptionist and flight dispatcher at Silver State’s Houston facility, where her husband was a student. To date Tony has logged just 81 of the 200 hours he signed up to receive, and said he does not know how he is going to complete his training. Tony, who works full time as a human resources manager for a construction company, said he has an outstanding loan through American Education Services (AES) for approximately $70,000, the cost of the 18-month program designed to get students through their private, commercial, instrument and initial flight instructor certificates. Mike Reiber, spokesperson for AES, told AVweb that AES is one of several companies that originated and serviced loans made to Silver State students. “Effective this past Monday we are no longer dispersing money to Silver State Helicopters,” he said. “Any disbursements that were sent out are being returned.” Reiber said that AES is awaiting direction from Student Loan Xpress, the guarantor of the loans. Student Loan Xpress spokeswoman Jenn Stark said Silver State should pay unused tuition back. “As a result of Silver State Helicopter School's decision to file for bankruptcy protection, we are currently working with its students to ensure that their loans are managed properly until the bankruptcy court decides upon a course of action to assist them." she wrote in an email to AVweb. She said affected students can contact Student Loan Xpress for information, at 888-568-2429, between the hours of 8 a.m.-5 p.m. EST. Silver State Helicopters is a member of the Helicopter Association International (HAI). In an undated membership profile on HAI’s website, Silver State lists a fleet of 195 helicopters including 138 two-place Robinson R22s and 43 four-place R44s. HAI president Matthew Zuccaro told AVweb that the loss of such a large flight school will be felt throughout the industry. “It’s certainly of concern to us,” he said. Jerry Airola founded Silver State Helicopters in 1999 and quickly became known throughout the industry for using aggressive sales tactics to recruit students to the program.

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Sturgell and FAA Under Scrutiny back to top 

FAA Nominee Sturgell To Face Senate Hearing This Week

More than three months have gone by since President Bush nominated Bobby Sturgell to take over Marion Blakey's job as head of the FAA, but the Senate needs to confirm that choice, and so far they haven't taken action. This Thursday, Sturgell will at least get a hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. His nomination has been controversial, with most of the established user groups (including NBAA, AOPA, and EAA) willing to work with him, but an assortment of noisy advocacy groups, as well as NATCA, vehemently opposed. Senators in the Northeast have been lobbied heavily by constituents who are unhappy with the FAA's ongoing redesign of busy airspace in the region and opposed to Sturgell.

President Bush was prevented from pushing through the nomination during the holiday recess because Senate leaders held brief daily sessions and no official recess was held. Election-year politics could cause further delays, as Senate leaders may be reluctant to confirm a five-year assignment from a lame-duck administration that will be changing in less than a year.

Here We Go Again - FAA Budget Back In Play

The federal Transportation Department this week released the latest version of its budget request, including user-fee-based funding for the FAA, and reaction has been swift. "What part of 'NO!' doesn’t the White House understand?" asked AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Once again, the Bush administration wants huge new taxes and user fees imposed on general aviation, and it wants to slash and burn the Airport Improvement Program." Pete Bunce, president and CEO of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, agreed. "Despite Congress saying 'no' to the Administration's proposal to scrap the current funding mechanism for a less efficient one that imposes user fees, they have once again launched an effort to complete a FAA reauthorization bill by proposing the exact same failed plan," he said. DOT Secretary Mary Peters insisted the system needs to change. "Traditional approaches are not capable of producing the results we need to keep America's economy growing," she said.

Meanwhile, Acting FAA Administrator Bobby Sturgell gave a "terse defense" of the administration's decision to recycle a reauthorization proposal that failed last year in Congress, wrote The Wall Street Journal. "There are no changes," Sturgell said.

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Citation Columbus: More than Just the Cabin Expanding back to top 

Cessna Releases Specs For New Citation Columbus Large-Cabin Jet

Cessna Aircraft Company revealed details of its recently announced large-cabin jet at a press conference in Washington on Wednesday. The intercontinental aircraft will be called the Model 850 Citation Columbus. The jet is designed for intercontinental travel, Cessna said, with a target range of 4,000 nautical miles at Mach .80 carrying eight passengers. The ship will be powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW810 engines. A Rockwell Collins integrated flight deck will go in the cockpit. The airframe will be all aluminum. Columbus will be Cessna's largest business jet. "This provides the perfect platform at the top end of our product line for customers looking for more space, more range, more economy and more capability," said Jack Pelton, chairman, president and CEO of Cessna. "This aircraft will be Cessna’s greatest achievement."

Preliminary performance numbers set a maximum cruise speed of 488 knots, a full fuel payload of 1,950 pounds and takeoff field length of 5,400 feet at maximum takeoff weight. The aircraft will measure 77 feet nose to tail and 80 feet wingtip to wingtip. Its cabin length of 36.3 feet, including interior baggage space, is the longest in its class by nearly two feet, says Cessna, and can hold up to 10 passengers. The initial price estimate for the Citation Columbus is $27 million. Cessna plans to achieve FAA certification by the end of 2013, with deliveries beginning in 2014.

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The Costs of Flying back to top 

Maine Stands Fast On Aviator Tax Bills, Despite Protests

Maine is in a "state of confusion" when it comes to imposing onerous tax bills on out-of-state aviators, say the folks at AOPA, who have been trying to reason with officials there. "There is a fundamental fairness issue here," says AOPA Vice President of Regional Affairs Greg Pecoraro. He has met with Maine officials several times in an effort to help pilots who have been hit with tax bills of tens of thousands of dollars after flying their airplanes into the state. "Maine Revenue Services is misapplying the law," Pecoraro said, after a Jan. 10 meeting failed to achieve resolution. Maine officials have levied a "use tax" on out-of-state pilots who fly their airplanes into the state within 12 months of buying them, if they didn't pay a sales tax elsewhere. Since some states exempt aircraft from sales tax, dozens of pilots have been assessed taxes, fees, penalties and interest. AOPA will be back in Maine on Feb. 26 for a legislative hearing on a bill that would fix the problem, AOPA spokesman Chris Dancy told AVweb this week.

The bill would grant a sales and use tax exemption to all out-of-state aircraft, regardless of where they are used, where they were purchased outside of the state, or how much they weigh, said Pecoraro. Meanwhile, Massachusetts pilot Steve Kahn, who has been told by Maine that he owes $26,000 for flying his Cirrus SR22 to his Maine summer home, has exhausted his administrative appeals and filed an appeal in state court. "Maine Revenue Services is ... arbitrarily combining statutes in the Maine tax code to suit their purposes," Kahn told AOPA. "The result is to blindside pilots with huge tax bills — knowing full well that they will be caught by surprise!" AOPA is continuing to work with the Maine governor's office in an effort to provide relief for affected pilots.

Oregon Pilots Working To Prevent Ethanol Mandate

A new law that requires 10 percent ethanol in all auto fuel sold in Oregon is worrying pilots in the state. State officials said the law does not apply to aircraft fuels, but there is no mandate that ethanol-free fuel must be made available. "The fuel distributors we've talked to have all agreed that they would be willing to provide ethanol-free premium to airports, [but] they also say that it must be economical for them to do so," Oregon pilot Dennis Douglas told AVweb. Since they would have to import the fuel from out of state, and only a small percentage of aircraft in Oregon use autofuel, economic viability is problematic. For now, ethanol-free gas is still available in most counties, but the phased-in law will be implemented statewide by the end of this year. Pilots now are lobbying the state legislature to amend the law to exempt premium autofuel from the ethanol provisions for the next five years, so pilots can continue to buy fuel at gas stations.

Conventional wisdom suggests that, by five years from now, manufacturers of all affected equipment will have been able to work out a viable solution to the hazards created by burning ethanol-blended fuel, says EAA. Douglas said that since the affected pilot community is small, he hopes to build more support for changing the law among users of emergency generators, boats and motorcycles, who would also be affected by the fuel change.

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Events for '08 back to top 

Sun 'n Fun To Feature More LSAs, New Splash-In Site, Thunderbirds

While it's still deep winter in much of the country, this year's edition of Sun 'n Fun is right around the corner, with spring not far behind. This week, the FAA published the NOTAM with instructions for those who plan to fly in to Lakeland, Fla., for the show, which runs April 8 to 13. The amphibian "Splash-In," scheduled for April 10 and 11, is moving to a new site this year, at the lake adjoining Kermit Weeks' Fantasy of Flight museum in Polk City. Also new this year, the Light Sport Aircraft folks are excited about their expanded display area right inside the entrance gate. "We'll have room for about 20 airplanes," Dan Johnson, chairman of the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association, told AVweb this week. The site will have a welcome area, shade tents, engine displays, and lots of comfortable space for buyers and sellers to meet and interact, he said. This year's show will also feature the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.

And of course the AVweb team will be there to bring you fresh news, pictures and video from the site.

NASA/CAFE Challenge Offers $300,000 In GA Prizes

NASA and the CAFE Foundation will host a $300,000 General Aviation Technology Challenge this August in Santa Rosa, Calif., to determine which small aircraft are most advanced in a number of measures that include fuel efficiency, quietness and safe handling. The idea is to encourage the development of GA aircraft that can fill the personal transportation needs of the future. Brien Seeley, president of the CAFE Foundation, told AVweb this week that this year's event will especially emphasize environmentally friendly technologies, and will introduce a new $50,000 Green Prize. The use of biofuel will be encouraged. The competition is open to experimental and production aircraft as well as light sport aircraft.

The competition is limited to 16 teams. Discounted registration is available for teams that sign up before Feb. 14.

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News Briefs back to top 

On the Fly ...

The FAA has published its final rule regarding special training for pilots of Mitsubishi MU-2B series airplanes...

The search continues for Japanese balloonist Michio Kanda, who went missing last week while trying to cross the Pacific in a hot-air balloon. He had 20 days' worth of food and a life raft...

The European Union this week pledged to invest $3.2 billion to develop cleaner, greener aircraft...

The FAA this week hosted the 11th Annual Commercial Space Transportation Conference, in Arlington, Va., featuring a workshop on "The Future of Point-to-Point Suborbital Transportation"...

In 2007 Robinson Helicopter Company manufactured 823 new helicopters, the most civil helicopters ever produced in a single year by one company...

EAA's new online searchable calendar aims to gather nationwide aviation events in one place...

A helicopter pilot who hit power lines at night and crashed in Los Angeles in January had been scheduled to fly with an instructor, but shortly before the flight chose to go solo, the NTSB said in a preliminary report.

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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New on AVweb back to top 

A Pilot's History: Chap. 6 -- Peace and Civil Aviation

Post-WWII America seemed like a great place and time to be an ex-military pilot: Just join one of dozens of new startup airlines. When that one goes bankrupt, join another ... and another ...

Click here for the full story.

In California it was nice to meet my wife and to see -- for the first time -- my young son, even though he yelled when he saw me, a stranger to his eyes. There was also a German shepherd pup named "Rebel." How did he get that name? The story comes from a time I took out of the Philippines a young soldier who was very badly hurt. He had been on a reconnaissance mission in the jungle with his squad. They dug in for the night and slept in their foxholes. He woke up with a Jap sitting on top of him trying to stab him with a bayonet. He pulled the Jap tight to him and the only way to stay alive was to hold a grenade against the Jap's back until it went off. He was the only one found alive in his squad, having been hidden under the bloody body of the Jap. Cuts were on one side of his neck and head from the knife, and his left forearm was missing. He had bloody bandages on the stump ... it was the cost of holding a grenade while it went off. After he told me his story, I asked him his name. He looked up from his stretcher and said, "Captain, I would like you to call me Rebel, like my friends do." I thought of that as an honor. I wanted to remember that encounter, and so the German shepherd became known as Rebel. I wondered how many people would have had the courage to do what that young soldier had done?

To get released from the Army, you had to have a certain number of points, and medals counted for high points. In our outfit, you had to ask for them. The Army had logged over 1000 hours of combat time on my records, so I asked if they could use 800 of them for an air medal. No problem ... that was overkill in combat hours for an air medal. Since then I have heard about one pilot getting 29 air medals in about eight months flying, but that was in Vietnam.

Becoming a Civilian

I took out time to borrow a C-54 for a Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA - predecessor to FAA) flight-check while in California and received an Air Transport rating for my civilian pilot's license. I thought the gesture of being able to use of a C-54 was a mighty nice gift from Uncle Sam.

With a sheet of paper saying I was a civilian once again, I was free to pile my family in our car with the dog and everything else I owned. Little did I know I would be back in uniform for the Korean conflict and my son would serve in the Marine Corps in Vietnam.

Returning to Fort Lauderdale was out. Miami was the aviation hub for South Florida and the U.S. hub for South and Central American countries. Aviation was where our future would begin.

We were invited to use the extra bedroom in Jeanne's parent's house while she became reacquainted with them and they with their grandson. We bought an almost-new wooden house with one bedroom and bath in an area we liked, on one acre of land, for $6700. To us, that was a lot of money at the time. Being south of Miami in a quiet neighborhood and the good smells of pinewoods was a little bit of heaven.

Caribbean Air Transport

Jeanne's father introduced me to a businessman who was starting a non-scheduled airline to run between Miami and New York to catch the heavy backlog of passengers. Caribbean Air Transport had three DC-3s and enough captains but needed co-pilots that could become captains when more aircraft were brought online. The aircraft and operation was superior to the scheduled airlines that serviced the same run and we charged twice as much per seat. I had been flying for Caribbean Air Transport for about three months when we landed after a flight from New York and were met by our chief pilot. He handed us an envelope with pink slips. The aircraft had been sold. The owner knew, better than we did, that startup airlines with surplus military transports would proliferate in Miami to about 30 to 40 airlines. But without a guaranteed route structure or subsidized mail pay, they would soon compete for a diminishing number of passengers. Without franchised routes and mail subsidies, the banks would not participate in loans and the going would be very, very tough.

I had belief in competition and the growth of aviation. I had seen its growth when our designers and engineers had been put to work without financial constraints. I drastically underestimated the political power of franchising particular airlines, setting their subsidy rates with mail pay and setting ticket prices. The politicians and labor unions loved the set up. I did not believe this could exist in face of common economic sense in a capitalistic country. How wrong I was. It was not until my commercial flying days were over, decades later, that the airlines were partially de-regulated. Think what a ticket would cost today if there were no deregulation. Some of the old carriers are still operating with their costs twice that of the new carriers.

Prior to the start of WWII, the airlines in the U.S. had a total of about 425 transport aircraft, each having 21 seats or less. They could not operate without subsidy. It would take larger aircraft and more seats to bring down the fares, and also getting the mass public to travel by air by educating them to the safety and ease of economical air travel.

Puerto Rican Challenges

Shortly after Caribbean Air Transport folded its operation, I met with the president of another company, a Puerto Rican businessman, who wanted to start an airline for running a schedule between Puerto Rico, Miami and New York City and possibly to South America. It was to be the flag carrier for Puerto Rico. I was hired immediately and helped the president hire a few additional American pilots in Miami to get the airline started. It was agreed captains would be paid $600 a month and, in 90 days, receive an increase to $800 a month. The DC-3 aircraft had been purchased and would carry 21 passengers. These were acceptable for our planned routes and considering we were just staring up. Puerto Ricans had been starved of supplies and transportation during the war. There were plenty of passengers in Puerto Rico wanting to see the bright lights of Miami and New York City. There were other Caribbean Islands also waiting to be serviced, including Cuba, Central and South America.

After 90 days of a very successful operation, we expected to receive our $200 raise. No such luck. I asked about it and was told, "Startup expenses have been very high; perhaps in the future there will be a raise." I called the pilots together for a talk and for their cooperation. I also made a lot of phone calls to the general pilot community. I had another meeting with the president to ask for the raise that had been promised. Again his reply was negative, so I told him the pilots would not fly after such-and-such flights landed. This way, no passengers would be left stranded, but there would be no future plane flights until our disagreement was settled. I tried to see to it no one got angry or misbehaved inappropriately and no one was embarrassed. The company tried to hire other pilots, but was turned away. After almost a week, the president called me and said it would be nice to have the planes fly again and that he was wrong to break a promise.

Within the next few days, I was called into the president's office. I was expecting a reprimand or perhaps an expulsion, for I had been the pilots' spokesman. To my surprise he offered me the job of chief pilot. Knowing a little bit of the explosive temper of some Latins and how they are not always understanding or able to stay focused on the main issues of running an airline, I itemized the conditions I would expect the airline to support. The major issue was to give me complete control over the pilots, their hiring, firing, promotions and scheduling. Another issue was maintenance. It could be done either in Miami or San Juan, but overseen by a qualified American. Pilots would be based in Miami and provided with suitable hotels or quarters while out of Miami and a decent meal and transportation allowance.

The president acquiesced to my demands and said he liked the way I had handled the pilots' strike and wanted me to work directly with him. He had set up a counter space in the terminals at Miami and San Juan. He and a local attorney negotiated the lease of a maintenance hanger from the airport authority in Miami. We also took over the maintenance company occupying it and 80 mechanics. This turned out to be a bad piece of business. They had not protected the company from inheriting bad debts and liens.

Mechanical Problems

We were also having a lot of aircraft generator failures. I put out a no-go item if either generator was inoperative before take-off in Miami. I had cleared this with maintenance. Our planes used the 12-volt systems instead of the newer 24-volt and consequently were not as reliable. We stocked materials in Miami and had trained mechanics that understood the system.

I was in Newark trying to get counter space in the Newark airport terminal from the Mayor. If his attorney handled the application, the transaction was guaranteed. Unfortunately, the price had too much gravy thrown in. I waited at the Newark terminal for our incoming plane as I was scheduled to fly it back to Miami. Upon greeting the inbound captain, he told me one generator was inoperative and had been out on landing in Miami. When he refused to accept the aircraft without repairs, the Operations Manager ordered him to take off for the flight. Fortunately, everything had gone well during the flight. The passengers were now loaded and there wasn't any chance of getting the inoperative generator fixed. We took off for Miami conserving as much electric power as possible. It was a nighttime flight.

We were just about over Daytona (about 270 miles north of Miami) when our one and only generator ceased to function. All that we had left was the electrical power remaining in our batteries. Although we closed off all the electrical drains we could, the batteries gave out before reaching Miami. The passengers were asleep and the cabin crew used flashlights. We didn't have any navigational lights, no radios, no instrument lights. Thank goodness the engines worked off magneto ignition and the landing gear and brakes worked off engine-driven hydraulic pumps.

Arriving over Miami, I carefully picked a spot between the aircraft traffic, landed the aircraft and had reached the ramp before the tower spotted us in the darkness. I shortly met with the Operations Manager. To say that we had "words with each other" would be an understatement. To his misfortune, he called me a few fancy names that I objected to physically. Deeming it appropriate, I handed in my resignation the next day to the president. He looked at my letter, said, "I have heard all about the incident. You know I am a pilot and understand the factors involved. I have fired the Operations Manager. Will you take his place?" I thanked him for his confidence and worked hard to put all the bits and pieces together to make it function as an airline in my new position, as head of Flight Operations. I had recently reached the ripe old age of 25. To appear older, I tried to grow a mustache, as most of the pilots were considerably older than I. The mustache was a dismal failure.

Orders to Streamline

The stockholders in San Juan kept a lot of pressure on the president to cut costs and they controlled our flow of passengers through our ticket agencies. They would hold up flights to add a passenger or two. With more and more non-scheduled airlines getting into the San Juan to New York run, I was glad filling the aircraft with passengers was someone else's job. We usually had full loads going northbound and in some seasons almost empty southbound. The agencies would book charters to other Caribbean Islands, Cuba and South America, but it did not amount to much. Agents in New York were known to book a planeload to San Juan for as little as $10 a passenger. It only helped to pay for the fuel, which was about 13-cents a gallon in those days.

The president wanted to employ more Puerto Rican mechanics and helpers in Miami, which worked out fine with our older mechanics. They worked hard and for good reason. I know one of them reported having 19 children on his pay data sheet. We had to confirm that figure and, as I recall, there was more than one wife involved in the production number, but they were his dependents. Then the president was on my back to hire Puerto Rican pilots. I knew this could cause problems as time went on because, as the next step, he would want them checked out as captains. I would require them to have good experience and be well-qualified. I looked at a couple of pilots but they did not have enough of the right experience and their temperament was not right for airline work. I reminded the president of our verbal agreement that I would approve all pilots. I guess the stockholders were putting pressure on him, for when I was out of Miami, he inserted a pilot into the cockpit. He asked the captain of a flight to Newark to give this new co-pilot as much instruction and as many landings as possible.

Arriving at Newark, there were some repairs made that required a test flight and a layover. The captain allowed his new co-pilot to do the walk-around, engine start-up, taxi out and take off. Unfortunately, the external elevator lock had been left on. The co-pilot had not checked to see if the flight controls were free before take-off. The captain had not noticed if they were free nor had he observed the co-pilot move the yoke for and aft. They were lucky on take off. The balance of the aircraft was such that it climbed out at a normal attitude. However, they quickly discovered the elevator was locked. The captain was mentally sharp and had thousands of hours to his credit. He found out that, by adding power or reducing it, he could pretty well control the altitude of the aircraft. He also had some control when using the trim tabs as elevators, by using the elevator trim control in the reverse direction.

The landing gear was up at this point. The area around the airport was heavily populated with buildings. He dipped and bobbed around the traffic pattern, putting on power and taking it off to adjust his altitude. I think he had to hold his breath when banking the aircraft to make a turn, for the wings would lose part of their lift. He decided not to lower his landing gear, for it would dramatically change the aircraft's trim. Hitting the airport was a masterful piece of work, and flattening out his approach as he hit the ground was a case of good timing and skillful flying. The aircraft came to rest on its belly in the grass with only the props and some belly skin damaged.

The best part of this activity was there were no injuries, little damage to the aircraft, no buildings knocked down, no legal activities and -- better yet -- I never saw the co-pilot again. I still had to settle with the captain and the president.

Standing Up for the Captain

I was really angry with the president for going around me to place his particular choice of a pilot in the cockpit. He had broken his trust with me. Instead, he could have demanded that I install the man as a co-pilot and I would have given him local training and deemed him fit or unfit for duty. If suitable for duty, then possibly with myself on a passenger flight or with some other captain with definite instructions, we would check out the pilot as a co-pilot for flights with passengers. The captain had done a poor job of instructing the pilot or controlling him. This really upset me, as the pilot was a close personal friend, an excellent, experienced pilot. To pull such a dumb negligent act was out of character.

When I came face-to-face with the president, he wanted me to fire Johnnie (the pilot). I asked the president to share some of the blame himself. He had broken his agreement with me. It had resulted in an accident. Only a piece of masterful flying by Johnnie had averted a loss of life, both of the crew and -- had there been a crash in a crowded area -- on the ground. Could he imagine the legal battles and the loss of the airline? The aircraft was jacked up, and after minor repairs done, it was flying again.

With his head hanging low, the president nodded and asked me to handle the captain. Johnnie and I later met each other as troubled friends and not as boss and employee. I knew that was the proper approach. Johnnie offered to leave the company, but I told him that was not necessary. I would write a letter to him, a strong reprimand and he should take off a month without pay. And then the healing aspect took place as he talked about the incident and I extracted all the information I could about where things went wrong and how things went right.

Moving On

Johnnie went on in aviation as a well-known airline pilot accumulating more than 33,000 flying hours, becoming an internationally known racing pilot by winning the Thompson Trophy race in a P-51. It was later modified to set a national speed record for propeller driven aircraft. I sweated those races with him, for I was his alternate pilot. We had the help of an exceptional aeronautical engineer by the name of J.D. Crane. He had dropped out of high school to help feed his family when his father died. He pulled himself up by his bootstraps. In later years he lectured at a major university on aeronautics and was, at the time, a V.P. of Maintenance and Engineering of a major airline. A very knowledgeable, competent man, I learned a lot from J.D. by working with him on modifying the P-51.

As a non-scheduled airline, we were taking some of the cream away from the major carriers and they were retaliating politically, and in any other way they could. During a charter flight when I was flying into Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, they even had the radio beacon and tower communications cut off when I called in for let-down and landing instructions. The ceiling was pretty good so we just let down over the sea and worked our way back to the airport. The baggage handlers were not allowed to unload the baggage so the crew did the work and the passengers laughingly thumbed their noses at the baggage boys. I believe the government owned the airport but Pan Am managed it. They did soak us a very heavy landing fee.

The stockholders were not making the financial returns they were expecting. The future did not look bright for the passenger-load factor to increase and they had lost confidence in their leader and president. However, I believe the major reason they reached agreement to close down the airline was that they had not realized the amount of effort, time and money it would take to establish a new airline. Also, for this type of work, I think they had the wrong temperament. I remember riding with five of them through the center of old San Juan late at night, too fast, with too many bottles of rum, when the driver pulled a 38-caliber pistol from the glove compartment, stuck it out the window and fired five or six times. I did not think their decision wrong to close down operations. Now, at the age of 25, I had gone through four years of WWII, from its beginning to its end, and worked for two defunct airlines.

Start Your Own Airline!

Johnnie was out of work as well as I, so we leased a Lockheed 12 aircraft and flew a few charters from Miami to New York. The ticket agents were glad to give us their passenger overflows from the major airlines. We did this while trying to figure out what to do next.

In the year 1947 we still believed the government would have to do something about the air-transportation business. Why should the politicians and labor unions have control of these companies? Why should the flying public pay more, a lot more, for a seat? If the government would unshackle the route structures and mail subsidies along with the ticket prices, the banks would work with the airline companies as they do with other industrial and service companies. We were thinking about 30 years ahead of our time on deregulation and did not know it. Today there is good airline service, even to small towns. The new carriers are giving better service and eating up the fat cats with their high costs per seat mile. And the safety record has never been better.

Another Poorly Run Airline

I was still an optimist about the airline industry, so I took a job as captain with another company that was a family operation doing pretty much the same type of flying. I had not heard anything good about them, but it was a job. All I had to do was change uniforms. It was not long before I realized it was not a good operation. The flights from San Juan to New York had a refueling stop in Miami. If there was a delay in departure from Miami for maintenance, plane change or weather in New York, the passengers were never given food chips for use at the restaurants or any sort of accommodations. If a passenger became too vocal, he would be taken into the private office and intimidated by one of the brothers who weighed about 230 pounds and considered himself to be a tough SOB.

I was getting very disgusted with the company. I took a flight to Newark and had put in almost eight hours flying time. About the time I got to the hotel for my required 16 hours of rest (CAA regulation), the president was on the phone telling me to come out to the airport to dead-head back to Miami on a company plane that had just landed at Newark. When I arrived at the airport, the president said, "Get on the plane, it's all ready to go with the passengers loaded." I looked for an empty seat. There was none. He pointed to the cockpit and then to the left seat. He took the co-pilot seat. I protested, as I would be exceeding my flight-time allowance. He replied the passengers were loaded and a flight plan had been filed with my name on it to Lumberton, N.C. for a refueling stop. I thought of the passengers and the SOB who had put me in this position. I considered getting out of the airplane and leaving everybody stranded. Then I thought there had to be a better way to do this. I cranked up the engines and we got underway.

Making my approach for a landing at Lumberton, N.C., I noticed a twin-engine, light aircraft -- I believed it to be a Beech -- landing ahead of me. We were both parked in front of the small terminal and, out of the cockpit window, I could see the government markings on the aircraft. It had just arrived from Washington, D.C. While the passengers were being fed at the airport's restaurant, the plane was being refueled. A couple of men joined me in the airplane. They introduced themselves as CAA agents from Washington, D.C. They asked about flight plans, pilot license, and how many hours I had flown in the last 24. I was completely honest with them about how much flying I had done and did not try to incriminate anyone else. They pointed out they would file a flying violation against me for flying more than eight hours without rest, which I acknowledged. I asked, "Would my flying the rest of the way to Miami be continuation of that violation?" "No, it would be a second violation after a warning." That did not sound too good. I pointed out there was no other way to get these passengers to Miami. I was sorry I had to break the rules but I had compassion for my passengers and a commitment to them. We shook hands and I loaded up the passengers and took off.

There was no conversation in the cockpit on the way to Miami. The president disappeared as soon as possible after landing and there was another CAA agent waiting to talk to me about my flying time in the last 24 hours. As he was leaving, he stated I would be hearing from them. I told him I understood and would be visiting the CAA office the next day to see what could be worked out.

Meet the Feds ... and the Toughs

The CAA office in Miami was large, as befitted the area. It was an aviation hub with its multitude of airlines, not only of U.S. origin, but Central and South America as well. When I walked in, I asked to see a safety agent that I knew when I had been working to organize a company. I did not have to tell him why I was there; the word had already gotten around. I asked him if I could talk to the head manager of the office, who was a member of the Civil Aeronautics Board. (The Board made the laws and the CAA enforced the laws.)

First off, I told them I was guilty as hell of a rule violation. Getting that issue out of the way, I pointed out that, by only harassing and fining the pilots, they were not getting to the root of the problem. They had to see to it the companies set the proper standards and if they did not, the companies would have to be punished. I pointed out they had licensed the companies to operate as airlines and some of them with their practices should be shut down or cleaned up. There should not be any room for companies that were not an asset to the aviation community. They questioned me at length about some basic issues. They pointed out there were no rules at that time for a company to be controlled, but there were plenty of rules governing the flight crews and means of enforcing them. I pointed out that punishing flight crews had not been very effective in curbing serious violations. I asked, "Did you notice the president of the company was my co-pilot?" I never heard any more about my violations, which was really unusual. The pressure started being placed on the companies to fly right and, much later, the president and owner/officers of this outfit were fined and prohibited from ever operating an aviation company again.

Meanwhile, I was called to take another flight to New York. For my return flight the next day, I met the inbound pilot and asked if the plane was OK. He said sure, but the second vacuum gage had not been placed in the system to conform with the rules. The one in the panel was just a dummy. Knowing we had another captain in New York, I called the Miami office and told them I was leaving the company as of now. I deadheaded back to Miami and called the office for the president and asked for my final paycheck. "Sure, come down to the office now and pick it up." When I got to the office, I was told they were down in the maintenance shop. I drove to the shop with some trepidation and thinking maybe I should have a friend or two with me. I shrugged off that thought with, "They would not dare do any rough stuff with me ... besides, I can handle myself."

With that in mind, I opened the rear door and stepped inside the small building. When the smaller of the two brothers moved behind me and latched the door with the other brother on the other side of the room, I knew I was in trouble. I moved over casually to put my back against a workbench. I was not going to go down very easy. I said calmly, "I believe it's best for us to part company. I have come down to collect my final paycheck." The president replied in a very threatening manner, "We don't think we owe anything to you in the way of a paycheck. Now we don't want you to put out any loose talk about our company." This made me think they had heard about my visit to the CAA office. Meanwhile, I had picked up a heavy wrench off the workbench and was holding it in front of me, toying with it. "Well, then we don't have anything to talk about," I replied and moved towards the door while still facing them. I slid the bolt and backed out the door while still facing them and then dropped the wrench. I guess they knew I could have done some damage physically or legally.

I was so relieved to be finally done with those people. Their reputation and mode of operation was not needed in aviation or anywhere else. I sang and whistled all the way home, which I do horribly. My brother told me once that I sang like a frog with a man in his throat.

Brief Diversion Out of Aviation

About this time, we sold the house we owned in South Miami and moved into a new subdivision closer to the airport with a lot of other war veterans. Building supplies were rationed out to builders with priorities and Veterans' homes rated pretty high on the priority list. When Jeanne and I settled in our new home with construction going on across the street, the building supervisor used to stop in for morning coffee or an afternoon beer. I really think he used to come mainly to see Jeanne, hoping I was not home. He complained about running behind schedule because of a shortage of carpenters. His eyes passed over a couple of pieces of furniture I had built and asked a couple of questions, such as whether I had any carpenter tools? When I answered I did, he asked, "How about going to work for me?" I would have to join the carpenter's union and he would put me to work as a finish carpenter. That sounded pretty good to me: work regular hours across the street, get the physical exercise I needed, receive some mental relaxation and get paid for it. At the union hall I was asked about my experience in construction work and had to read out a blueprint or two. Fortunately, I had worked for my father on construction work in the summer and attended night school on construction techniques. So instead of having to take an apprentice rating, I qualified as a finish carpenter.

I was asked to attend a union meeting one evening that was important. I sat through the introduction of notables and self-serving speeches and how they were going to open up new construction jobs through politicians to withdraw the veteran's priority benefits on building materials. That is when I got up and walked out. It caused some disturbance. There were some other veterans in the group, so nothing was said or done. I had aching muscles and enjoyed my work immensely for about a month when word came that a new company was starting an airline. "My God, not again!" was Jeanne's reply, or words to that effect.

Finally, a Real Airline

I had to explain it was PIA, a scheduled airline and the flag carrier for Peru. The man that had instigated it had run the Berlin Airlift, to break the Russian stranglehold on Germany. General George would be president. Financial backing would be from Canadian investors; the aircraft would be DC-4s. The runs would be from Santiago (Chile), Lima (Peru), Panama, Havana, Miami, Washington (D.C.), New York and Montreal. Pilots would be based in Lima. The pay sounded good and would be in American dollars, an important consideration. The only bad part was I had to start out as first officer or co-pilot. The company had already hired the captains. There would be a second officer who was a pilot but would perform the duties of a navigator and flight engineer. They were planning for a quick expansion.

Jeanne and I discussed our move to Lima and decided living there would be a nice change in our routine, with PIA having a route through Miami provided us with a link and travel opportunities to Florida. By the time we were to depart to Lima, we had rented out our house, packed up our clothes and packed up all of Jeanne's necessities for home making in about 10 GI footlockers. Our son was about two years old when we arrived in Lima in October of 1947. Our German shepherd "Rebel" was a little bit of a problem on our flight. He was allowed to ride on the flight deck in his cage, but when he was let out of it, he took over the co-pilot's seat! We were riding as passengers when the co-pilot came back to ask Jeanne, "Will you come to the flight deck and make your dog give me back my seat?"

The co-pilot and captain agreed that Customs would really give us a lot of trouble in Lima with the dog and it would be costly in bribes. They had a better idea. Arriving at Lima Tambu Airport, the crew departed first from the aircraft to clear through Customs. When the offloading passengers had congested the Customs areas, Jeanne led Rebel into the area and released him. The co-pilot in the street area whistled for him. The dog tore between the lines of passengers, jumped over baggage inspection counters, past immigration onto the sidewalk, picked up his favorite dog biscuit from the co-pilot and was shoved into a taxi that took off with the co-pilot and Rebel.

Meanwhile, there was confusion and shouting of "Donde es el perro?" in the Customs area. Jeanne and I "knew nothing."

Live Like Millionaires

We lived in a small hotel in the suburbs while Jeanne did some house hunting with the help of company employees. After a couple of weeks we rented the home of a Peruvian general. It was situated in very nice suburban area, not far from the sea, surrounded with a 10-foot cement wall and an iron grillwork gate. It had 15 rooms plus 5 baths and separate servant quarters. There was a tile patio, large enough for Jeanne and I to bat tennis balls. The dining room table seated 12 in majestic splendor. In some rooms there were lined velvet drapes from floor to ceiling.

This magnificent home was all at a rental cost of what we were renting our two-bedroom house in Florida. The combined salary of the cook and maid was equivalent to US$12 per month. The gardener, who trimmed our 10-foot tall red geraniums, and was a sometimes butler, was a little extra. The tennis club was very up-scale place that Jeanne enjoyed and also the surfing club, which had great surf, was even better than Waikiki. Taxis were cheap with gasoline 7 cents a gallon and drivers earned almost nothing. It was really a change in lifestyle for us, living like multi-millionaires.

I was quickly issued a Peruvian Airline license. I think it was about number 80. PIA had given pilots refresher courses even in meteorology. I think this was about my sixth schooling in weather classes. Celestial classes were also given as well as private lessons in Spanish.

Old Dog with Good Tricks

On my flights to Santiago, I was teamed with an old, gray-haired, airline contract-pilot that was thinking of retiring, a very astute individual with a hairline temper. From the beginning, we liked and respected each other too much to have any differences of opinion that would cause any ripples in our relationship. He kept things to himself until he learned to trust me in the cockpit and as an individual. Then it became, "Carl, can you even up the throttles in their proper place? Are the props set right?" Finally, the difficult things started happening: "Carl, is that the runway? Maybe you had better line it up." It was simply a matter of diminished eyesight. After a couple of trips, he would give me takeoffs, landings and instrument landings. I tried to do things to save him any embarrassment.

He really amazed me on one trip to Panama from Lima. We normally had good, strong voice communications with Lima operations. This time in thunderstorms, we lost voice contact just when we needed an OK for a change in altitude. I tried different stations when Lima came back on c.w. (in code). He listened to the dot-dashes and said, "Can you reply in code, Carl?" I had to answer in the negative. He got out of his seat, reached into his briefcase and brought out a code sender. Not just a simple sender, but a spring-loaded bug that only an accomplished commercial radio operator would have used. And those operators were a dying breed. He plugged in at the navigator's table and made the bug start to sing with its dots and dashes. As I watched the rhythm of his hand, I heard the tempo get faster and faster as the two artists tested each other. I saw a small smile creep across his face. He called over to me, "They want me to slow down." I later asked him where he had picked up his skill in code. He had finished school, took a job with the railroad and became a radio operator. All messages among the railroad stations were sent in code and he enjoyed it.

On-Board Radar Navigation

The west coast of South America was an interesting coastline, extending for 4000 nautical miles from steaming tropics to the frozen South. Most of it was desert country. In Lima, it had not rained for over 20 years. Water came from the mountains, which shut off the rain for the Western side. The mountains made the trade winds drop the rain on the eastern side. The Andes are so steep and tall (over 22,000 feet). There were no roads to the eastern side in Peru. Even though the timber was only 500 miles away from Lima, it would be shipped 3000 miles down the Amazon River, through the Panama Canal, and back down to Lima, a total of about 7000 miles. It was easier to get timber from Canada or Washington and Oregon!

PIA had some of the first radar installed on their planes for airline service. When flying from Lima to Santiago, Chile, we could follow the coastline on the radar at night or in instrument weather. If I did not have radar, and it was night, or when on instruments, we'd have to fly many miles to the west of the coastline to keep from unexpectedly being blown into the Andes by extremely high winds that occurred frequently on this route. Without radar we would also have to rely on celestial navigation, and hope we were not flying in the soup in order to make a turning point for the coast to pick up the weak radio beacon at Santiago.

When flying off the coast of Peru on a clear day near sunrise or close to sunset, we could see the streams of guano birds coming from the coastal islands heading out to sea to fish and in the evening returning. These black bands of birds could be a quarter mile wide and stretching out of sight. Millions of seabirds would deposit their waste on the arid islands to become a very valuable and good fertilizer. It was mined and controlled by the Peruvian government. Finding a historic deposit of guano on the mainland was treated like it was a gold mine by the news media in Peru.

Six months out of the year, during their winter months, the people of Lima never saw the sun. The fog would drift in toward the land from over the cold Humboldt Current. It made for a lot of instrument landings at Lima and also at Santiago. There were two radio beacons at different distances from the end of the runway, but in perfect alignment and of different frequencies. By tuning in a beacon on each of our twin radio direction finders and knowing what altitude to cross each beacon, it was like being on a glide slope and being aligned with the runway.

Several miles off the coast of Chile, I would sometimes see a few square miles of red seawater. I never knew what caused it until many years later we began to hear about the red tide off Florida, which was microscopic sea life that turned the water red and killed all fish and sea life. We were advised it also happens off Chile and Peru.

The Good Life

Life for the flight crews was quite comfortable. In Santiago we could go to the swimming pool on the roof of our very nice hotel and, there in the warm sun, look up at the 22,000-foot, snow-capped mountain. The food in Santiago was better than anywhere in the world: beef from the Argentina; plentiful, fresh seafood; and the fruit, such as grapes, apples and peaches, were fabulous. A bottle of fine Chilean wine in a restaurant was only about 80 cents. (Of course, this was many years ago.) The passengers and crew had it very good on-board, with radar ovens. We could order up fresh cooked eggs, pancakes and other items from a hot skillet. A lot better than the old airline box lunches.

Our run to Panama allowed us to buy in the PX, including gifts for our wives in Lima. We also had nightly entertainment in Panama. Our company hotel rooms had windows that looked out across a narrow street into the windows of the building on the other side. The amazing thing is the place was a very busy "cat" house with a bar and grill on the ground floor. The girls coming into the room with a customer would go to the window, smile at us and wave before pulling down the curtain. Later the curtain would go back up. Sometimes the girls would wave, but not pull down the curtain. This was before the days of television and it broke up the boredom if you did not have a good book.

Of course, we thought we had a lifetime job. What could be better than having comfortable flight conditions with a well set-up home life; security with a scheduled airline, a flag carrier, a soft job? There were a few flaws. The airline was very costly to operate. The General did not have a lot of taxpayers paying the bills. Passengers were cost-conscious. Stockholders wanted to make money. The load factors were decreasing. I knew Braniff Air Lines would soon be coming down the west coast of South America from California using DC-6s that were faster, larger and with pressurized cabins to fly above the turbulence. I did not see how PIA could compete. We should quietly think about being out of a job.

One Last Check Flight

I had a flight check with a check pilot over Lima. The windshield was covered so I could not see out but the check pilot and the chief pilot, who decided to join us, lined the plane up on the runway. I was to take off, climb straight out with a 400-foot ceiling and 1 mile of visibility. If an engine failed, I was to simulate what I would do. I was not to actually shut the engine off and feather the prop. Simulation was the standard procedure on a check ride. I had done it many times while checking pilots that worked for me. I had no more than broken ground when the check pilot pulled back the throttle on the outboard engine. I had finished going through the lost-engine procedures when he said, "You now have a fire on the inboard engine on the same side." I pulled back the throttle on that engine and went through the motions of simulation for shutting it down and pulling the engine fire extinguisher. Meanwhile, I had to fly the plane on only two engines, closely watch the altitude reading on the altimeter while flying close to the ground, crank in rudder trim tab to offset the drag of two dead engines and relieve the strain on my leg. Oh yes, also minor things like setting the flap position and watching the airspeed so we did not stall out. At this time I noticed we had not reached 400 feet of altitude; therefore I was not in the clouds and damn sure did not wish to stay in the air if I still had fire to contend with in one engine. Landing was a must.

I wrapped it around to the downwind leg, the reciprocal heading for take off. The two pilots were arguing with each other about whether or not I had been above 400 feet and in the clouds or below the clouds when I turned back for the field. Here I am, flying the airplane, which I cannot see out, cruising at only 350 feet of altitude, at a low airspeed, worried about hitting actual buildings and some low rises of ground and having to stay supposedly within 1 mile of the field so I can line up with the runway, get my flaps and landing gear down. Being at less than 400 feet, I should be able to see 1 mile, but I was blinded by the maps taped to the windshield. My check pilot and chief pilot stopped arguing when they realized the actual dilemma and took down the maps and raised my seat so I could see out to land. The next takeoff occurred normally and I was asked to climb to altitude to simulate an instrument approach. I passed the check ride. The check ride was a lot tougher than what would normally have been given to a captain and I was wondering why the chief pilot had joined in with the check pilot. Was it to see how I would do as captain or was it an attempt to flunk me and have a reason to lower the payroll?

The rumor was the General and his staff were leaving. In a big meeting we were told we would have to take a cut in salary or we could cancel our contract. Most pilots decided to take the cut in salary. I had seen what the future would bring too many times in my past and was not optimistic that there was much of a future with this company.

About this time Johnnie called from Miami. National Airlines was hiring to replace the union pilots that had quit. Johnny had been hired on as captain and, if I came up in a hurry, they would hold a position for me. Jeanne and I once again packed our bags.

[To be continued ...]

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Probable Cause #51: Too Many Approaches

Caught by weather that was worse than anticipated, a Baron pilot has trouble getting established and eventually runs out of options.

Click here for the full story.

There is no rule that states how many instrument approaches a pilot can fly before going to another airport and there shouldn't be. I am not in favor of removing any of the pilot's authority to conduct operations the way he or she sees fit. However, every pilot must use common sense and determine when it is realistically time to find a different airport to head for if weather conditions are not conducive to landing at the intended destination.

Deteriorating Conditions

On an early morning in December 2002, a Beech 58 Baron with a pilot and one passenger departed Rosecrans Memorial Airport in St. Joseph, Mo., (KSTJ) for Naples, Fla., (KAPF), located on the southwestern coast of the Sunshine State. The flight included a refueling stop in Centerville, Ala., where the 69-year-old pilot called the Aniston, Ala., AFSS to file an IFR flight plan to Naples and receive an abbreviated weather briefing for the route. The pilot told the FSS briefer that he had received a complete weather briefing a couple of hours before and asked if anything had changed, adding that he hoped things had improved.

The briefer advised the pilot that two AIRMETs has been issued for Florida, one calling for icing conditions above 15,000 feet and the other for IFR conditions until 4 p.m. local time. The briefer told the pilot that it looked like it would be "foggy down that way."

The pilot also asked if any rain was expected in that area. He said he had been told earlier to expect some in the afternoon. The briefer looked at the weather radar and said that there were scattered showers around the St. Petersburg area and south but that no Convective SIGMETS had been issued yet. He added that in the Tallahassee area and south it looked like the ceilings were 1,200 to 1,500 feet with patchy IFR conditions. At the time, the current Naples weather was calm winds, 10 miles visibility, broken clouds at 1,600 and 2,300 feet, and overcast clouds at 3,200 feet.

The pilot did not ask for any forecasts nor did the briefer provide anything more than the current conditions. No forecasts were provided in the accident report, so we don't know what the pilot had been told prior to his leaving St. Joseph.

The pilot's IFR flight plan called for a routing that would take him farther east but over land versus a more direct routing over the Gulf of Mexico. Before departing Missouri, the pilot had told family members that he did not want to fly directly over the Gulf because the aircraft was not equipped for extended operations over water.

Interestingly, the pilot did not file an alternate, even telling the briefer that one was not necessary. The accident report doesn't mention what weather information the pilot had received prior to leaving St. Joseph, so it's possible that the initial forecast indicated better conditions than what he eventually encountered. Even so, the Aniston briefer's comment about 1200- to 1500-foot ceilings and fog should have alerted him to look a little closer.

Approach No. 1

The flight proceeded to Naples without incident. The pilot checked in with the Fort Myers Approach controller at 2:40 p.m. while cruising at 7000 feet. The controller asked if he had ATIS Information Sierra for Naples and the pilot said he did.

Four minutes later the controller announced that Information Tango was now current. Naples was reporting visibility two miles in light rain and mist and a ceiling of 500 feet overcast. The wind was from 320 degrees at seven kts and the altimeter setting was 30.04. The approach in use was the VOR 23 with a circle to land on Runway 32. (There are no ILS approaches at Naples.) There is a 500-foot minimum descent altitude on that approach whether you fly straight-in or circle.

Shortly after that the controller cleared the Baron to fly direct to Naples and instructed the pilot to descend and maintain 5000 feet. At 2:47 p.m. the controller issued the pilot a vector of 190 degrees for the VOR 23 approach and told him to contact the next approach sector.

After switching to the next approach controller, the pilot was instructed to descend to 3000 feet and fly a 130-degree heading. Further vectors followed including an advisory that the aircraft would be vectored across the final approach course for sequencing. At 3:01 p.m. the controller issued the pilot a heading of 270 degrees and told him to join the final approach course. He also told him to reduce to his final approach speed and that he was 12 miles from the airport.

If the deteriorating weather wasn't already setting off alarm bells in the pilot's head, what he heard next surely must have: The controller told the Baron pilot that two other aircraft, a Comanche and a Westwind, went missed their first time around. On the second approach the Comanche was able to get in but the Westwind did not.

Recorded radar data indicated that the pilot flew through the final approach course -- the 055-degree radial from the Cyprus VOR -- then paralleled the course on the northwest side. It remained northwest of the course until passing the Cyprus VOR, which is located on the Naples Airport. The data suggests that the pilot descended to about 500 feet during the approach but was never established on the approach course. After passing the VOR he declared a missed approach and requested to divert to Fort Myers' Page Field (KFMY).

Approach No. 2

Upon switching back to Approach Control, the pilot was given the weather at KFMY. The winds were from 020 degrees at 13 kts, the visibility was three miles in light rain and mist with an overcast ceiling at 300 feet. The controller gave the pilot vectors and told him to expect the ILS Runway 5 approach.

At 3:22 p.m. the Approach controller advised the pilot that he was five miles from CALOO, the outer marker, and was instructed to fly a heading of 030 degrees and maintain 2000 feet until established on the localizer. Once cleared for the approach, the pilot was told to contact Fort Myers Tower.

Upon checking in with the Tower controller, the pilot was cleared to land. The controller then asked if the Baron was established on the final approach course. The pilot responded, "Yeah. I'm not quite established yet. I'm comin' up on CALOO, but I'm not actually on the glideslope yet. Looks like I should intercept it here in just about a minute." The controller then said that most of the other aircraft were breaking out of the cloud bases around 300 feet and they were reporting 3-sm visibility.

Radar data for that approach revealed that the aircraft intercepted the localizer about a mile southwest of CALOO. But the Baron flew through the course on the 030-degree track and continued for another mile before turning back toward the course. Then it made a teardrop turn to the right and rolled out on a westerly heading. All this occurred within 2-1/2 miles of CALOO, during which time the aircraft descended from 1100 feet while paralleling the course all the way to 200 feet as the aircraft turned to the west. At this point the controller called the pilot and asked if he had gone missed. The pilot responded, "Yeah. I missed it. I'm going back up to 2000 and can you bring me back around?"

The tower controller called the approach controller to explain that the pilot had turned to the west on his own and began to coordinate a second approach for the flight. The instruction was for the pilot to fly a 270-degree heading and climb to 2000 feet.

Approach No. 3

By this time, the controllers must have begun to suspect that all was not well aboard the Baron. On neither approaches so far had the Baron maintained the final approach course. The teardrop turn away from KFMY was also clearly improvised since the published missed approach procedure is to climb to 1000 feet on the runway heading and then make a climbing left turn to 2500 feet while intercepting the Lee County VOR 354-degree radial to SERFS intersection.

When the Baron pilot was switched back to Approach Control, he stated that he would like to try the approach again. At 3:30 p.m. the pilot was issued a vector of 080 degrees and told to intercept the localizer on that heading at 2000 feet. He was three miles from CALOO at that time. A short time later the controller called back and informed the pilot that he was going left of the localizer and asked if he was receiving the localizer signal. The pilot replied he had flown through it.

However, radar data indicates that the aircraft never intercepted the localizer but that it paralleled the left side of the localizer course. The controller instructed the pilot to turn right to a heading of 070 degrees and intercept the course, adding that he was in the vicinity of the outer marker at that time.

"I'm on it now," the pilot responded, and the aircraft turned toward the final approach course. However, before the aircraft intercepted the course it made another tear drop turn, this time to the left, and began reversing course. The controller asked the pilot to let him know when he was established on the final and received no response. Then the controller asked the pilot to confirm that he was on the localizer course. The pilot responded, "Sir, I'm having very big difficulties out here. I've gone through it again and I'm climbing back to 2000 feet."

This time, the aircraft descended no lower than 1,400 feet. That was when the pilot was making the teardrop turn. And once again, he didn't get very far past CALOO before initiating the unauthorized missed approach maneuver.

Approach No. 4

Any doubts by the controller that the Baron pilot was in trouble were now erased. The controller told the pilot that his approach clearance was cancelled and then said, "Just fly straight ... ahead, sir. Fly straight ahead." The controller had initially told the pilot to fly a 310-degree heading, and the pilot asked if he wanted him to fly that. The controller responded, "Fly straight ahead. Just whatever heading you have now. Maintain 2000 feet." He then instructed the Baron pilot to expect the ILS Runway 5 Approach.

At 3:33 p.m. the controller asked the pilot what his fuel status was. The pilot responded, "It's down in the yellow." The controller then asked how much that was in time. The response was, "Practically nil." The controller then instructed the pilot to turn to a 300-degree heading and asked what his flight conditions were like. The pilot acknowledged and told him, "I'm above the clouds at the moment."

The controller told the pilot that he could set him up for the NDB approach but the pilot said he wanted to fly the ILS. He told the controller he was trying to fly the approach "with my automatic" and that he was going to have to fly it manually. He added that he had some kind of instrument problem, but didn't elaborate.

At 3:35 p.m. the controller vectored the pilot back to the localizer and told him to intercept the course. He was four miles outside of CALOO at the time. The controller contacted the Tower and asked how the weather was doing. The tower controller told him that the cloud bases were about 300 feet and that most inbound airplanes were breaking out at that altitude. He also said the visibility was three miles.

At 3:36 p.m. the controller advised the pilot that he was flying through the localizer again and suggested a 060-degree heading to intercept. Then he told the pilot he was over the outer marker and issued a descent to 1,500 feet saying he was going to initiate the pilot's descent early.

At 3:37 p.m. he instructed the pilot to fly a heading of 050 degrees and informed the pilot that he was going to convert his ILS approach to a surveillance approach to Runway 5. He instructed the pilot that the published missed approach point was one mile from the runway threshold and the minimum descent altitude was 500 feet.

A minute later, the controller told the Baron pilot to fly a 070-degree heading and to descend and maintain 900 feet. The aircraft was then 3-1/2 miles from the runway and "very slightly left of course."

The controller told the pilot to descend to 500 feet and cleared the aircraft to land if he could see the runway, but also issued missed approach instructions, which was to climb straight ahead to 2000 feet, if he couldn't.

At 3:39 p.m. the controller informed the pilot that he was less than a mile from the runway at an indicated altitude of 300 feet. He issued an instruction for the pilot to go around if he did not see the runway.

The recorded radar shows that the airplane was on course for the last three miles of the approach. The airplane tracked directly over the runway as it started to climb to 600 feet. At the end of the runway it began a left turn and descended again to 300 feet.

Just before 3:40 p.m. the controller told the pilot to maintain 1,500 feet if he could. When he did not get a response, he asked the pilot if he could hear him. The pilot said, "I hear ya."

The controller then instructed the pilot to climb to 1500 feet and fly a 180-degree heading, but the pilot flew a southeasterly heading at 1200 feet. The controller asked the pilot to fly a heading of 230 degrees, but he never did that. Radar showed the aircraft peaked at 1200 feet, then started a turn toward the east as it descended into a residential area, crashing into a garage attached to a home before impacting terrain. The pilot and his passenger were killed.


A witness at the accident site told investigators that he saw the airplane strike the garage roof and hit the ground as "pieces scattered." He indicated that the clouds were very low.

Another witness saw the airplane as it descended out of the clouds heading south at a low altitude. The landing gear was retracted, it sounded like the engines were at full power and the airplane was losing altitude and banking to the right.

The pilot held a private pilot certificate with single- and multiengine ratings. He also possessed an instrument rating, which he had received 4-1/2 years earlier. The pilot's logbook indicated that he had a total of 910.5 hours flying time with 211.8 hours of multi-engine time. All of the multi-engine time was in Barons. The log showed that he had accumulated 70.5 hours of actual instrument time and 65.9 hours of simulated instrument time.

The aircraft was well equipped with Garmin GNS 530 and 430 GPS units. It also had a three-axis autopilot with a yaw damper and an electronic HSI installed. Unfortunately, much of the airplane, including the instrument panel, was destroyed. While no signs of any mechanical or instrument failure were found, the damage was too extensive to rule them out.

In the end, the NTSB blamed the accident on the pilot's spatial disorientation during IMC, which resulted in the loss of control. The Board also added that the pilot's distraction by his diminishing fuel supply and low ceiling contributed to the accident.

While we'll never know for sure, there are a couple of things that may have had an effect on the flight.

First, the multiple approaches may have fatigued the pilot and contributed to his spatial disorientation. But it also seems that the pilot never considered looking for another airport at which to land. He did not file an alternate because he believed one was not necessary.

Once he discovered that he was having problems, whether they were autopilot related or due to a lack of currency and proficiency, the better course of action would have been to climb up into the better conditions above and then look around for an airport where the weather conditions were also better.

The question to ask yourself, though, is how many approaches will you make to the same runway before you decide that you are not going to land there? Flying an ILS approach to minimums with no visual sighting of the approach lighting system or the runway is a good indication of what you can expect on the next approach. If you had some kind of visual contact with the approach lighting system or the runway the first time it might warrant a second shot at it. But if the second approach proved to be no better than the first, it's time to move on.

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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Build A Plane Relaunches Its eBay Auction Store
Build A Plane is a non-profit organization that solicits aircraft donations then redirects those airplanes to high schools and youth groups, with over 70 active projects worldwide. The eBay Auction Store supports this no-cost program. There are lots of new items that will make great gifts for your Valentine. For more information regarding Build A Plane's programs, call Katrina Bradshaw at (804) 843-3321. Click here to visit Build A Plane's eBay Auction Store.
We Want to Hear Your Voice back to top 

Question of the Week: Which Is More Likely to Ground You — Fuel Prices or User Fees?

This Week's Question | Previous Week's Answers


Alaska governor Sarah Palin is proposing the state offer low-interest loans to help owners upgrade their avionics for ADS-B.  Last week, we asked AVweb readers if they thought that would be a good idea for the rest of the U.S.

A clear majority (57% of those who responded) agreed that since ADS-B is a federal mandate, the government should step up to assist owners with the transition.  Another 32% of you, however, felt that outfitting individual owners' planes with next-generation avionics shouldn't be taxpayers' responsibility.

For the complete breakdown of reader answers, click here.
(You may be asked to register and answer, if you haven't already participated in this poll.)


In the past, we've asked about many factors that might limit (or even prohibit) you from flying recreationally. This week, AVweb reader Matt Bentson put the same question to us pretty directly, and we're passing the buck along to our readership:  Which is more likely to ground you first — rising fuel prices or the added expense of user fees?

Click here to answer.

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

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.

Tell Us About Your Interior Shop

Our sister publication, Aviation Consumer, is preparing a report on interior shops. If you recently had an interior redone, the editors would like to hear from you, whether the experience was good or bad.

To take part in the online survey, click here.

The results will appear in a future issue of Aviation Consumer. For subscription information, click here.

Choose the Flight Explorer Edition Right for You
Flight Explorer is an information system tracking commercial and general aviation flights. With the Flight Explorer Personal Edition, view air traffic for the U.S., Canada, or New Zealand and monitor and display real-time delay information, TFRs, SUAs, and more. With the Flight Explorer Pilot Edition, view weather along a route, receive alerts with your preliminary flight plan, and have an e-mail sent to someone on departure or arrival. Click here for more information and to subscribe.
Your Favorite FBOs back to top 

FBO of the Week: American Aviation West (KPGA in Page, AZ)

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

AVweb's "FBO of the Week" ribbon goes to American Aviation West at KPGA in Page, Arizona.

According to AVweb reader Scott A. Hauert, "These folks embody the spirit of aviators helping aviators" — and after hearing his story, we tend to agree.

Scott arrived early the morning for what he'd planned as a three-day stay in Page. "Bob, the Chief Pilot, could not have been more helpful if he had to," writes Scott. "He opened the FBO an hour early so we could stay on [a tight] schedule." When mechanical troubles reared their head, Scott became worried he wouldn't be able to get back, so Bob stayed late ("the same day he picked us up early") to let him back into the hangar. And when Scott had to leave bright and early the following morning, "one of the linemen picked us up."

Now that's what we call first-rate service!

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!

The AVweb Bookstore, The Most Complete Aviation Bookstore Anywhere
Over 400 titles representing 52 publishers are in stock and ready for immediate delivery — as books, videos, or CDs. 100+ titles available instantly as fully searchable e-Book downloads. Whether you are a pilot, an A&P technician, or a kit airplane builder, if it's worth reading, it's available from the AVweb Bookstore. Click here to visit online.
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.


The winter chill continues to keep many of our contributors locked indoors watching the Discovery Channel instead of snapping photos for us in the great outdoors.  Nevertheless, a few dedicated souls have decided to spend their evenings curled up by the fire going through last summer's flying photos.  Our hat's off the them — literally, in the case of our weekly photo contest winner, who'll be receiving a sharp AVweb baseball cap in the mail in just a few short days.

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copyright © Don Parsons
Used with permission

Biplane Sunset

We often close out "Picture of the Week" with a spectacular sunset, but thanks to semi-regular contributor Don Parsons of St. Peters, Missouri, we'll reverse the trend — and kick off this week's edition with a sunset.

(Don't worry; the rest aren't all night photos.)



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Used with permission of Larry F. Baum

Aerostar, Fall 2007

"On a beautiful autumn day, I did a number of photos of our 1979 Aerostar," writesLarry Baum of Ithaca, New York.  "Most were ordinary, [but] this one just has a nice feel to it."


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Used with permission of Doug Gaudette

Best Seat in the House

Hey, it's Doug Gaudette of Xenia, Ohio — back in the very same spot for an eerie two weeks in a row, this time showing off that he's "mile-high in a powered paraglider."

We think you might be having a bit too much fun out there, Doug.  Maybe it's time for a week of watching TV and picking up around the house, eh?


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copyright © Salvatore Slusher
Used with permission

By Air or by Sea

Salvatore Slusher of Wentzville, Missouri snapped this while on vacation in Victoria (Canada).

(How long 'til it's summer again?)


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Used with permission of Jake Bell

How Many Pilots Does It Take ... ?

Jake Bell of Danville, Kentucky assures us that yes, "they're all pilots and that's at an airport."  Is it any wonder we love this photo?

Want more reader-submitted photos?
You'll find bonus images in the "POTW" slideshow on our home page.

Don't forget to send us your own photos!

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:
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.

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:

Timothy Cole

Editorial Director, Aviation Publications
Paul Bertorelli

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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