AVwebFlash - Volume 14, Number 18b

May 1, 2008

By The AVweb Editorial Staff
Aircraft Spruce East Coast Annual Super Sale
Aircraft Spruce East will be holding their Annual Super Sale and Fly-In on Saturday, May 17, 2008 from 8am-4pm in Peachtree City, Georgia. Come and join the Aircraft Spruce Team and vendors for lunch, special pricing, vendor demonstrations, and educational seminars. Lots of opportunities to win raffle prizes from some of your favorite vendors, and a complimentary shuttle will be offered to and from Falcon Field Airport. Call Aircraft Spruce at 1-877-4-SPRUCE, or visit online.
GA and Government back to top 

Senate's FAA Bill Faces White House Opposition

The GA community has been cautiously celebrating this week over the removal of user fees in the final version of the Senate's FAA reauthorization bill -- but there's a ways to go before any bill becomes law, and the White House on Tuesday made clear that it's not ready to welcome this latest iteration. The Senate bill, the White House said in a policy statement, fails to include "critical reforms proposed by the Administration," including "more closely aligning FAA's revenues with its costs through fair fees linked to usage of the system..." which is another way of saying "user fees." The statement continues, "If the President is presented with a bill that not only excludes the critical reforms proposed by the Administration, but also includes provisions that would further exacerbate an untenable status quo, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto it."

Other provisions in the Senate bill that the White House objects to include limits on how the FAA can restrict airport access to reduce congestion and too much funding for airport-improvement grants. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are holding a news conference in Washington today that will also be attended by representatives of most aviation groups to discuss the Senate bill.

Florida Acts To Ease GA Tax Worries

When aviators around the U.S. were preparing to fly to Florida for Sun 'n Fun a few weeks ago, concerns arose about a "use tax" that could be levied against out-of-state aircraft, as has been done to pilots who fly in Maine. This week, the Florida House of Representatives passed a new General Aviation Tax Exemption to "limit" tax exposure for new aircraft owners flying into the state -- although it does not eliminate that exposure. The newly passed legislation allows aircraft that were purchased within the last six months to be in Florida for a total of 21 days, plus up to 20 days for maintenance, without being subject to a tax. It also exempts new aircraft owners who come to Florida for flight training during this time frame. The Florida Aviation Trades Association lobbied for the legislation, which they say will enable non-resident pilots to visit Florida for vacation, flight training, or to attend an event without fear of receiving a tax bill when they return to home where the aircraft is based.

Documentation will be required by the state, said FATA. Acceptable documentation will include fuel, tie-down, and hangar receipts that prove the aircraft is not based in Florida. "Lifting the entry barriers to our state will spur activity at Florida's airports and tourism industry," said FATA President Michael Slingluff. "Increased activity creates tax revenue for the state. ... More work needs to done to change state tax regulations that impose barriers to our state's businesses." House Bill 1379 will now move to the Senate, where it must be considered and approved before it is presented to the governor.

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Manufacturer News back to top 

First Phenom 300 Flies

Embraer announced Tuesday that the prototype of its Phenom 300 light business jet flew for the first time from the company’s Gaviao Peixoto plant. Three more test articles are under construction and will be used in the 1,400-hour certification test regime. The first production models are scheduled to enter service in the second quarter of 2009. “This first flight of the Phenom 300 executive jet is a very special and historic moment for all of us at Embraer…,” said CEO Frederico Fleury Curado “We unveiled the Phenom jets nearly three years ago, making a clear statement to the business aviation community of our commitment to becoming a long-term player in the executive aviation market.

The company said the first flight occurred a couple of months ahead of schedule, largely because the development process was entirely digitized. As expected, the 82-minute first flight was uneventful with Capt. John Sevalho Corcao and Embraer Chief Pilot Eduardo Alves Menini and flight test engineer JensPeter Theodor Geiger Wentz checking maneuvering characteristics, systems and general qualities as data was streamed in real time to engineers on the ground. “The quality of the Phenom 300 design and onboard high technology provided a very smooth and pleasant flight, increasing the thrill of flying the aircraft for the first time,” said Corcao.

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Piper Expected To Accept $32 Million Incentive, Stay In Vero Beach

After more than a year of exploring various sites for its next stage of growth, a $32 million incentive package that won approval this week seems likely to entice Piper Aircraft to stay in Vero Beach, Fla. CEO Jim Bass told TCPalm that he will recommend the package to the company's board of directors, and said he expects a final decision by June 30. "We really think that this is good for Piper and the community, and we look forward to a long partnership," he told the Palm Beach Post. The county on Monday OK'd a $12 million incentive, and the other $20 million will come from the state. For its side of the deal, Piper must hire more workers and invest in its physical plant. The PiperJet program is expected to absorb most of that extra investment.

Oklahoma City and Albuquerque also offered enticements to the company in hopes that it would relocate.

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Aviation Safety back to top 

Report: DFW Tracon Managers Lied About Errors

Management at the Dallas-Fort Worth Tracon investigated operational errors and deviations, but routinely and intentionally misclassified them as pilot errors or non-events, the FAA said late last week. That conclusion was reached after an investigation by the Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General. The OIG report, prompted by whistleblower allegations, found that between November 2005 and July 2007, Tracon managers misclassified 62 air traffic events as pilot deviation or non-events when it fact there were 52 operational errors and 10 operational deviations. In response, the FAA removed both the facility manager and assistant manager at the Dallas-Fort Worth Tracon from their positions. Additional personnel actions may be taken, the FAA said. "I am deeply disturbed by the findings in this report," said Hank Krakowski, chief operating officer of the FAA's Air Traffic Organization. "I am personally committed to making sure the IG’s recommendations are implemented and that managers are held accountable."

The OIG report will be investigated further by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. The FAA said it will accelerate deployment of the Traffic Analysis Review Program (TARP) -- software that automatically detects losses of aircraft separation at terminal facilities. The program will be implemented at the DFW Tracon by the end of fiscal year 2008, and nationwide by the end of next year.

NTSB Examines Safety Of Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Pilots, engineers, regulators and others with an interest in the technology and utilization of unmanned aircraft systems met in Washington this week to discuss the latest developments in the field, with regard to safety. The forum, hosted by the National Transportation Safety Board, looked at issues such as integration of the systems into the National Airspace System, air traffic control procedures and training, and a look at the lessons learned from accidents and incidents that have occurred so far. Other topics included UAS design standards and airworthiness, pilot training and fatigue issues, and the use of the systems in firefighting missions. A Webcast from the forum is archived online at the NTSB Web site.

Last October, the NTSB conducted its first investigation of an unmanned aircraft accident, and issued 22 safety recommendations covering aspects of unmanned aircraft system design, operation, and safety management. This process raised "significant questions" about how these unmanned aircraft systems will fit into the aviation system, the NTSB said, and what kinds of safety challenges such integration will present. This week's public forum aimed to address those questions. Click here for more details about the forum and presenters (PDF).

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Alternative Energy back to top 

EAA Seeks FAA OK For Electric Powerplants

The days of flying in quiet, emissions-free aircraft are closer now, following EAA's announcement that it has filed a request to the FAA for regulatory exemptions that would allow the use of electric motors in ultralight and light-sport aircraft. "This is only a first step," said engineer and EAA member Craig Willan, who made the announcement last week at the CAFE Foundation 2008 Electric Aircraft Symposium, in San Francisco. "I'm participating on an EAA task force charged with further facilitating progress in the use of electric energy to power aircraft," Willan said. "The EAA community is committed to this direction. More announcements are coming."

EAA's petition to the FAA proposes specifications for battery-pack weight limits on ultralight aircraft and the development of electric-motor ASTM standards for light-sport aircraft. "We have the responsibility to be part of the solution," Willan said. "We in the EAA family have the intellect, the drive, and the passion to do something that can change the world. We have the ability -- now we must take the responsibility." The petition can be viewed online, click here.

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Jet Fuel From Garbage

A Washington, D.C.-based company is in the preliminary stages of developing a $250 million plant in California to make jet fuel out of garbage, manure and tree bark. According to Biomass Magazine Solena Group hopes to build the plant in Gilroy, Calif., and will use raw material from municipal, agricultural and forestry waste supplied by Norcal Waste Systems, one of California’s largest municipal waste and biomass collectors. The announcement comes on the heels of the successful certification of jet fuel made by a South African company that uses a different raw material but the same basic process as that planned in California.

The South African company Sasol produces the fuel from coal using the Fischer-Tropsch method. The same method can coax petroleum out of just about any carbon-based compound but jet fuel has to withstand major temperature extremes and still keep the hot section hot. Colorado-based Rentech is working with Solena to create the jet fuel from the raw product. Financing is being worked on and the group hopes to be producing Jet-A by 2011.

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News Briefs back to top 

Air Marshals Denied Boarding Due To "No-fly List"

We've all heard the stories of ordinary airline passengers denied the right to fly because their name happens to match a name on the "no-fly list" kept by the Transportation Security Administration. But it appears that some federal air marshals, who are supposed to be on board as a protective measure, have also been denied boarding for the same reason. "In some cases, planes have departed without any coverage because the airline employees were adamant they would not [allow the marshal to] fly," an unidentified air marshal told The Washington Times. On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security said it will start this week to implement a new program that allows airlines to store travelers' birthdate information, which should eliminate most of the watch-list misidentification problems. "This is good for travelers and for security, because as we make the checkpoint environment calmer, it becomes easier to spot individuals with hostile intent," said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

"Hassles due to misidentification and the resulting necessity to stand in line to check in at the ticket counter [are] consistently among the deepest -- and most valid -- complaints of the traveling public," he said.

Lindbergh Collectibles To Be Auctioned Online

The Lindbergh Foundation announced this week that in connection with its 31st annual Lindbergh Award Celebration in May, several one-of-a-kind items will be available for on-line bidding. Kelley Welf, spokesperson for the Foundation, said the auction for 12 unique items opened on Wednesday and will close on May 15, at 4 p.m. CDT. Among the items for sale: a first-edition mint-condition copy of The Spirit of St. Louis signed by Charles Lindbergh; a lithograph of astronaut Neil Armstrong signed by both the first and last man on the moon; a print of a special-edition oil painting celebrating Lindbergh's arrival in Paris, signed by James Lovell, Alan Shepard, Neil Armstrong, and Jimmy Doolittle; dinner with John and Martha King and a flight in their Falcon jet; and a behind-the-scenes tour of CNN studios with correspondent Miles O'Brien. "This online auction of such unique items is unprecedented in the history of the Lindbergh Foundation," said Knox Bridges, president and CEO of the foundation. For more details, and to enter a bid online, go to the Foundation Web site and click on the "Participate in our On-Line Silent Auction" link.

"It's our intent to offer these rare collectibles as a way of letting the world know how special our Foundation is, and to raise awareness for the kind of support we enjoy among aviation's elite and famous who care about our mission," said Bridges. The auction will wrap up at the Lindbergh Foundation Annual Awards Celebration in Atlanta, Ga., on May 17. Tickets are still available for the event. Ted Turner, chairman of the Turner Foundation and founder of CNN, will receive the Foundation’s 2008 Lindbergh Award for his commitment to protecting the environment and promoting conservation and the reintroduction of native species on his land. The third annual Corporate Award for Balance will be presented to The Jacoby Group in recognition of their focus on sustainable development, which preserves and protects the environment on which we all rely. Miles O'Brien will be the Master of Ceremonies.

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News Briefs back to top 

On the Fly ...

An Illinois pilot who landed on a golf course to get his son to a tennis lesson has been charged with reckless conduct and endangering a child, both misdemeanors...

EOS Airlines, which offered "premium" service between New York and London, shut down this week and filed for bankruptcy...

AOPA warns pilots who use auto fuel to beware of unlabeled ethanol mixes...

A Supermarine Spitfire and a Hawker Hurricane were both damaged in a taxi accident on Saturday at an air show in Texas, nobody was hurt...

A referendum that would have saved Berlin's historic Tempelhof Airport has failed.

AVweb's Newstips Address ...

Our best stories start with you. If you've heard something 200,000 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. 8 -- Call To Duty

After a few years with startup airlines, Carl Moesly gets a callback from Uncle Sam. This time he helps paratroopers jump and cargo planes find their way in Greenland.

Click here for the full story.

It was not very long after the contact with the Air Force [at the end of Chapter 7] that I was holding a piece of paper saying, "You have been called to active duty." I took the notice to the airline president. "Don't worry about it, Carl. We can have it cancelled, because we are in to this military defense contract work." I asked him to hold off while I made up my mind. I talked it over with Jeanne. The trouble was I felt an obligation to the country. It had schooled me well. They only wanted me for two years and I was still in my 20s. The duty post was at the local airport.

Jeanne went along with my decision. In talking to my airline chief pilot and president, they said a job would be open to me when my service was up. They asked who should take my place. The trouble was they had been hiring co-pilots, not co-pilots with Captain's qualifications to use if you expanded the airline or to replace a captain. I mentioned no co-pilot I knew was qualified. "How about the man you have been flying with?" "No, he has not had enough experience and has no command time. He is somewhat erratic." To my dismay, he was checked out as captain right after I left the company. It was not too long thereafter, with a C-46 fully loaded with passengers and a deadhead crew, that he took off from Pittsburgh. I think he was going to Buffalo with a snowstorm to contend with. As I recall, he tried to stay under the overcast and hit a mountain. One man made it to a farmhouse to sound the alarm. At that time, it was the largest loss of life in the U.S. for an aircraft accident. It was not anything we wanted to talk about.

When the USAF reserves were called to active duty, we had a fair group of pilots from the airlines to help us train the recall pilots. Some had been shuffling papers since the end of WWII and this was March of 1951. Others came from construction work, dog trainer, etc. I worked hard doing everything from giving training flights in C-46s to instrument flying. It was fun but also nervous work to get them to do decent formation flying. This was the 435th Troop Carrier Wing. We were training to drop paratroopers in the right spot, and supply them with airdrops. That was the essence of the job.

I found myself leading a lot of formations and occasionally flying as co-pilot for the C.O. or perhaps on his right wing as deputy lead. I also spent time with the Airborne at Ft. Bragg, N.C., working with experimental chutes. It was interesting work with sharp people. The USAF for one reason or another excused a fair portion of the airline people that had been recalled and they returned.

I visited West Point to fly a load of cadets around the country. I was very much impressed with these young cadets but they seemed to be very young. We visited the Langley Test Station. Being included in the lectures was a treat and an opportunity to ask questions about aerodynamics and wind-tunnel testing. It was time well spent.

On maneuvers in North Carolina, we were joined with a Texas Wing of troop carriers. I got into a little bit of organizing the troop drops and flew as pathfinder, squadron or wing lead. We were dropping the 82nd or 101st airborne division. There had always been at least one death or more in dropping a division. We thought we would set a clean record, but on the last day, we had a chute roll up resulting in a death.

The troops were judged on how fast they got out of the plane. A lot depended on the jumpmaster. At times we would have a planeload of paratroopers with a good jumpmaster. They would be all pumped up and out the door like greased lightening. Sometimes a load or an individual would not jump. The military police would meet the plane on landing and march them away for a court marshal. Some were even pushed out of the door by fellow troopers. This saved embarrassment for the platoon or jump master.


The war in Korea started in June 1950 with the North Koreans pushing across the 38-degree parallel against the South Koreans, trying to drive them and our occupation troops into the sea. They almost succeeded. After more troops were brought in from Japan, we pushed back with some success. General MacArthur proposed an invasion landing at Inchon, Korea, that would cut off the enemy. He had to win over the Chiefs of Staff, the Navy and the troops. It was a shallow harbor, 28-foot tides, narrow channel, and well protected. Exquisite timing gave us success and the initiative to carry on. Politicians and generals in Washington were controlling the field generals, to avoid bringing the Chinese and Russians into the war. With these restraints, the infantry battles were as nasty and bloody as any in our history. The Chinese powered over the Manchurian border in a surprise attack. Not just bodies, but hard, tough, seasoned infantrymen, by the hundreds of thousands. They pushed back the U.N. troops in temperatures 30 degrees below zero. It was a tough and bloody battle. Air power played a large part in defending, supplying and transporting out the injured. Years later I found out C-119 flying box cars dropped a bridge in sections by parachutes, to get our trapped men across a ravine that saved them from annihilation.

There was also a drop of regiments of paratroopers but we never heard about it at our wing. We could have used a boost in spirits. Our unit was still based in Miami, Fla. The men I was working with showed up at 8 a.m. from home, stood formation, did their day's duties, perhaps flying a few hours with some interest, perhaps a few with a lot of interest, and then they got in their cars to drive back home. There was little camaraderie. No shared dangers ... there was no "Help me do this or that," or "Watch my back and I'll watch yours." Each man was a self-sufficient unit. Any bonding was done at home with their families. These factors I could feel in their relationship to one another and it showed up in their unit performance and in their lackadaisical attitude to flying. The Korean War seemed to be on another planet.

We had three squadrons engaged in training. I was asked to take over the squadrons flight operations temporarily, and I asked my instructors not to take any short cuts and make sure their pilots were firmly grounded in each important procedure. Unfortunately our squadron was behind for student training on the monthly reports. I compared the plane hours flown as reported by the other squadrons versus the training hours reported, and the report did not make sense. The superior officers seldom came to squadron operations or to the flight line. I did not know if they were ignorant of the facts, or as long as it looked good on paper it was OK no matter how it got there. As a troop carrier wing, we engaged in various activities in training our pilots and paratroopers.

I flew to Hagerstown, Md., where the C-119 flying boxcars were built. Our wing was being supplied with these large, modern aircraft to replace the C-46s. All our pilots would have to be checked out. To get into an airplane, take off, fly it around the airport and land is no big deal. To really get the most out of it -- to know its operating systems, emergency procedures and what you can really do with it -- takes a lot of practice and study. Our gung-ho Colonel that started out with us when the wing was first formed was transferred to Korea. Soon individual pilots were shipped over. Apparently, we were not going to be shipped over as an operating unit, but would be cannibalized or held in reserve.

Much later I heard the first Colonel had given the personnel officer the names of three people to keep with the wing and not to be shipped overseas. Perhaps from the Army WWII records he found my overseas time, the recorded 1000 hours of combat time, four campaign stars, and senior-pilot rating, or perhaps for some other unrelated reason, I was to be kept with the wing and not shipped overseas.

Heavy Drops

I worked some with the heavy drop troopers of the Airborne at Ft. Bragg. They were perfecting their systems for the C-119. We would drop as many as three jeeps, or a huge six-by truck, or bulldozer. For every 3,300 pounds of weight, they would use a 100-foot diameter chute; a 10,000-pound pallet would have three of these chutes. In the air it was something to see. These release systems always worked but required a lot of skill to set the system up properly when loading on the plane.

When going to another airbase, a staff car could be loaded on the plane at home base, unloaded at our destination while the plane was being put to bed, and presto we had transportation, a very convenient item when on a strange base. On maneuvers near Brownsville, Texas, the mayor made us all citizens of Brownsville. I didn't know why he insulted us like that but we took it good-naturedly. I dropped a heavy truck loaded on a pallet by chute from 1500 feet. A cow was standing where it landed. The compensating officer said the cow was a scrawny bag of bones that had wandered into the drop-zone; but when flattened, she became a hi-bred prize cow and also the most costly in Texas.

I flew to a paratrooper-training base ... I believe it was Fort Benning. The troops had to get in their training jumps every so often to collect their extra jump pay. On the aircraft parking ramp, the troops were lined up, marched to the plane, loaded and we started the engines. From takeoff to drop zone was less than five minutes. With the plane (C-119) slowed down and the green light on, out they went. Back to the airport, cut-off one engine, load troops, start up and repeat the routine. We jumped over 1,000 troops with no injuries, in less than 1 day. We were loading 44 at a time. They were really gung ho to get the extra pay.

Once again I was asked to do a test flight by the maintenance officer. Running up the engines for a ground check, I found fault with the engine that was supposed to have been fixed. The crew chief had said it was fixed and had also signed it off. I shut the engine down, told him to fix it, and to let me know when it was fixed. In a couple of hours, he said it was ready to go. I thought I knew what the problem was and did not believe it could be fixed in that time frame. I told him to get a chute and get onboard. His reply was "Oh, I do not have to fly; I am not on flight pay." I do not remember having to pull my rank on anyone before, but this time I did. When we got in the plane, he said perhaps he had better check another item. Two days later, he announced it was ready to go. I wonder if he learned anything.

Playing With Lots of Brass

It was December 1951. I looked at the set of orders in my hands, which told me to appear at a school in Pinehurst, N.C., for air and ground coordination. A squadron C-119 flew me from Miami to the nearest airport; at least I was getting a good send-off. A staff car took me to an old, large and yet very comfortable hotel the military had taken over. After signing in, I looked about at the 50 or so students. "I will be damned," I thought. At 30 years old, the others appeared to be twice my age, and a large number were in foreign uniforms with a lot of gold stripes, bars, stars and decorations!

The remaining were U.S. military officers with plenty of rank showing. Here it goes again, I thought, as a captain I am the lowest rank here. I was soon impressed with this school that was under the direct supervision of Chief of Staff and the only school in the military to be organized in this manner. Lectures were conducted by majors through generals and had to start and end within three minutes of the schedule or a written explanation by the instructor had to be made to the superintendent. Classes were broken into small groups. It all concerned using air power properly and supporting the ground troops. The last part of the course consisted of being placed in a headquarters situation room with a lot of tables and phones for the students. Situation maps and boards surrounded the room. Instructors in another room manned incoming phone lines. Each student or two had a desk labeled "Fighter Wing F-51" or perhaps "Bombers B-29s" or again "armament," etc. Incoming calls would give reconnaissance reports, or perhaps loss of planes, an ever-changing scene. When the senior officer I was paired off with (we had fighter control) could not answer a question, he handed the phone to me. After this happened a few times, the central control desk beckoned me to join them. Soon I was receiving all the problems and making the big decisions. I was called down once for sending P-61 Black Widow night fighters to act as day fighters in a forward zone. I told the Wing C.O. if he did not think he could hack it, to hold them behind the front lines as a reserve. I wondered what rank he held in the back room and was glad he probably did not know a captain was manning central desk. I guess letting a captain play top dog saved a student general being possibly embarrassed or to have an instructor colonel have to countermand a general's order. Anyway, everything worked very harmoniously.

In the evening, or at meals, I tried to draw out the Danish, German or other military officers of their past experiences, but most seemed to be reluctant to talk, even among themselves. I did not try the British officers, knowing they would be very rank conscious. After a couple of weeks of this, I called Miami and they sent a plane for me.

Winter Ops

I wasn't in Miami very long before I was sent to Manchester, N.H., ahead of our Wing, to set up the nearby airport for some maneuvers for a couple of Wings that would be joining us for winter operations. By making a trip to Boston, I met with air traffic control officers to coordinate blocking out routes and altitudes for our aircraft movements. That was a lot easier than getting a GCA (ground certified approach) system functioning for bad weather days. A self-contained trailer with radar dishes was set up. The surrounding hills and other obstructions gave plenty of radar echoes. We flew numerous test runs before the GCA controllers were satisfied. I watched them bring in a couple of planes while in the GCA trailer. They discussed their interpretations of the echoes on the lighted radarscope and I almost lost confidence with the complexity of the system and them having to make individual judgment calls.

The planes flocked into the airport and snowplows had to go to work. The snowfall was so plentiful, some of us took off for a nearby ski slope. A pilot that was knowledgeable about skiing got me started on the beginners slope. Having been about the first water skier in Florida, I did not think it would be tough. After a few beginner runs, I shifted over to a longer one. My advisor had gone off for the real thing. Going down I kept picking up speed. That was fine until a forest stood before me. I tried to slow down, the branches helped a lot, until a tree trunk appeared, and then I just fell over. That ended my skiing.

The next day at a staff meeting the colonel met me with, "Why are you limping? Hereafter, all staff members are forbidden to ski." That ended my one and only attempt to snow ski.

Safety Officer

I was back in the hangar that held the squadron operations offices and various other small offices and latrines on the west side of Miami International Airport. Our 435 Troop Carrier Wing occupied this sector. A lanky, sloppy individual, who I think was a first lieutenant, plopped down in a chair opposite me and said, "The Colonel wants to know if you wish to be the Flight Safety Officer for the wing, or the Base Operations Officer." "Do I have a choice?" Yes, I thought, this must be a joke, as I had not met the new C.O. I did not know if the officer across from me was from the C.O.'s office or the personnel office. "Can I take a few hours to think over the choice?" With that he got up and left.

I had always thought of myself as an operations man, a doer. A base operations officer was a paper shuffling and an inspector's job. Flight safety, from what I knew of it, was an advertising post to caution pilots to fly safely or threaten you with a hanging for making a pilot error. Of course the officer was to also appoint an accident investigator to find out the cause of an accident and the Safety Office was to come up with ways to prevent it happening again.

In about an hour, the officer came back into the office and said, "Captain Arch has taken the base operations job. You will be the Wing Flight Safety Officer," and he took off. Why would a C.O. pick a staff officer without an interview, when they were only three minutes away from one another and had never met? I soon had my orders appointing me Wing Flight Safety Officer. Looking up the table of organization, I thought it would have an authorized assigned rank as major for my new post, but it was listed as a Lt. Colonel. That's better yet, but I was only a captain. To look at the positive side, I had signed up in the regular army before WWII started. I had flown most types of aircraft built during the war and gone from Guadalcanal to Tokyo.

In the military I was frequently called upon to fill in a tough flying job in WWII. I had helped the reserve unit and lead a lot of formations. Between WWII and Korea, I had run the flight operations of an airline as chief pilot and operations manager. I guessed I qualified.

I soon appointed an accident-investigating officer that was head of Wing Maintenance. On the first weekend, I painted my small, assigned office to avoid being distracted by its shabbiness. I was assigned a clerk. I don't type and he only half typed. He was a challenge without any interests or energy.

One of my routine jobs was to arrange or give lectures to the pilots of the wing every Saturday after the usual parade-ground review. When I had first started duty with the wing, there were several items that could stand improvement in assisting pilots or controlling them. One of the items was the need for an improved cockpit checklist to properly control the workflow in the cockpit and coordination of the pilots. I thought there should be more uniform and integrated procedures between normal and instrument landings. I spent a lot of time in the cockpit making a new checklist and improving it and then gave it to instructor pilots for their comments. When it was as good as possible, it was given to my clerk to type and reproduce. No luck. He could not type it without glaring errors. I then took it to an officer in Base Maintenance that I knew. Sure, he had a typist and could reproduce it, place it in clear plastic and distribute it to the aircraft. The new checklist represented a lot of know-how from myself and other experienced pilots.

The next item I tackled was a system to allow an instructor to see out of the cockpit to avoid collisions at the busy Miami Airport, and at the same time keep a student from seeing out of the cockpit when receiving instrument-flying instruction. It worked like Venetian blinds. The difference in angles that the student and the instructor looked thru the windshield, made it feasible. I had used that principle years before in DC-3s but had to adapt it to the C-119. I used up countless cardboard patterns to get the right fit. A weekend in my garage workshop after a trip to the lumberyard and hardware store, and I had a working sample. After completion and testing, I turned it over to my friend in Base Maintenance to have the carpenter shop make up a few according to my sample. It was quickly done and distributed to the squadrons and instructor pilots.

Engine Issues

Our C-119 had the largest piston engines being built for aircraft at that time. The engines developed 3500 horsepower, had four, circular rows of cylinders and seven cylinders in a row for a total of 28 cylinders and 56 spark plugs. Needless to say, I could see a lot of dollar signs and a lot more for an overhaul that could come at every 1000 hours of operation or perhaps a little more. Their complexity would make them subject to careful operation. I could find no power setting recommendation from the engine manufacturer when installed in a C-119. Yes, there were power curves printed for different rpm, manifold pressures, temperatures, etc. I guess it was a question of legal liability. The plane manufacturer was concerned only with the aircraft. This pointed me back to the engine people. They hemmed and hawed and everything was verbal except for very conservative figures. This did not take into consideration matching the optimum performance of the engine to the airframe of the C-119.

I visited a friend in the Pan American engine overhaul shop who talked to me about the experiences with basically the same type of engine. We discussed power settings; horsepower output and what showed up or did not show up as excessive wear or failure during engine overhaul.

I worked out some power settings on the graphs and tried out the settings with different altitudes and gross weights on the C-119. These figures were simplified and installed in the aircraft for use by the pilots.

To get the different gross weights for flight-testing the aircraft, I had my friend in Base Operations load it with sand bags. Doing the above items had kept me away from any visiting with the headquarter officers. My office was on the flight line and I never saw any rank near the scene of action. To me, Flight Operations were the reason for the wing's existence.

I was getting the feeling that, if it was not for paper reports, they would never know what was going on. I wondered if anybody knew the difference between the reports and what actually was going on. I was getting personal letters from pilots that were transferred to Japan who were flying fully loaded to Korea with large water tanks. After landing in Korea the valves would be open to pour the water on the ground. When empty they would record their tonnage delivered to Korea and go back for another load of water. It counted as tonnage delivered to Korea.

I had gotten several letters back from the squadron mates sent to Korea. One lieutenant was small in size, young and not very muscular nor aggressive. I had taken a lot of time to build up his confidence and stressed emergency procedures with him. He happily wrote an engine had to be shut down at an awkward time with a heavy load. The landing and approach had worked out fine. "Thanks for all the training." I guess I did make a difference to some people.

Reading histories of the Korean conflict, I know it was a tough go for about everyone, and air deliveries and tactical air support played a very big role.


Bill had been a flying sergeant and came up through the ranks to captain. He was a very good leader, competent and a very hard worker, and now a squadron commander.

In a casual conversation, Bill mentioned to me he was taking five C-119s to Greenland for a few weeks. After a few more questions, I said, "Bill, I would kind of like to see Greenland and see how to handle grid navigation and the cold weather. If you need an extra pilot or whatever, I'll be glad to do whatever you say." He replied, "I would like to have you along; I'll get the Colonel's OK."

With five loaded C-119s, we stopped in Greenville, S.C., to pick up equipment and men for making heavy drops. Fueling stops were made at Westover, Mass., and Goose Bay, Labrador, Canada. The next stop was Frobisher Bay, a place that is now called "Iqaluit" on Baffin Island. In later years I was to know this area in great detail. The terrain became very stark, mountainous and devoid of any green vegetation, as we were 1000 miles above the tree line. On the way to Thule, Greenland, we flew past the magnetic North Pole. The sea between Baffin Island and Greenland was dotted with ice floes. There was not enough ice to land and not enough clear water to ditch a plane. Thinking as an aviator, I knew the ice would rip out the belly of the plane and let it sink in the water if we had to try ditching. Life expectancy in the frigid water was about 20 minutes.

Thule was our base of operations. We were guests of the Strategic Air Command and the Danish Government, which owns Greenland. It is the world's largest island and is capped with snow and ice to heights of about 12,000 feet. Thule is in a fjord on the northwest corner and is free of ice in mid-summer for only about six weeks for ships to unload or take on cargo. It was a very busy place during this short period, for the year's supply for the base had to be brought in when the ice was out.

Grid Navigation

The Danish government wished to establish a weather station in Independence Fjord in the northeast part of Greenland. It meant a flight of about 1500 miles round trip to air-drop supplies. Our course would take us within a few hundred miles of the North Pole. If you were sitting on the North Pole and flew south, you could just as well end up in Europe as China, as all points are south. To solve this problem, a brainy fellow came up with a new concept of "grid navigation."

There was no way to steer a compass course in the soup because the magnetic compass "danced" around and around. The magnetic pole is too close for strong direction signals. It required two navigators in the lead plane. One had an azimuth compass in the astrodome to take bearings on the sun, which in summer was up only a few degrees and went around and above the horizon every 24 hours. With the use of the almanac and azimuth bearings, he could determine the flight heading. The pilot would fly a heading on the directional gyro. Unfortunately, due to bearing friction, the gyro precessed, so a log had to be kept on the precession rate and crosschecked with the azimuth bearings of the sun. The dancing magnetic compass had to be disregarded. The charts we used did not have any details of Fjords or coastal features, but we did have air photos, which did not always line up properly, making piloting very difficult. It was absolutely necessary to see the sun or stars or the ground.

We did not have special compasses or GPS in those days, nor were there any satellites in the sky. I could not understand why some of our planes were not equipped with short-range radar for this and other missions.

If we hit instrument weather and the sun was obscured for more than a few minutes, we would lose directional knowledge and have to turn back.

Being in a geographical area where meridians converge toward the North Pole, we placed over the map area an overlay of plastic with square grid lines. The one line pointing to the North Pole was arbitrarily called North and the line at 90 degrees to it was East and West, allowing us to plot our headings on the grid line and alter our course by degrees as needed.

Across the White

The crew worked hard getting oriented, loading cargo for the airdrop, charts to digest, etc. I sat back and watched, as I was to stay at the base. Bill took off leading the group, with a good weather window forecast, which was absolutely essential. When the formation was well on its way to the drop zone, the weather became a problem. A large cloud bank lay across the course.

Bill did the prudent thing by turning back to Thule when he hit instrument weather. Arriving at Thule, he was notified there was another weather window open. He turned to me: "Carl, I am dead tired from the loading, planning and solving other problems and the aborted flight. Will you take over for me and lead the flight to Nord?" I thought that was a very generous move to turn over his flight to me, to lead. He could have given the lead to one of his squadron mates.

After refueling and a short meeting with the crews, we were on our way. Technically everything went very well. We flew along the northern coast of Greenland, admiring the glaciers and rugged peaks sticking out of the snow. At Independence Bay, there were a few tents staked out, a drop-zone marked and VHF communications with the ground. Using our radio altimeters, flying slow and very low, we flew over the deep snow and rolled out drums of fuel to fall into the snow. The report said recovery was acceptable, with only 1 drum of fuel splitting. It was difficult to judge our altitude over snow when everything was like a white sheet and the horizon was blanked out with a white mist. I used the radio altimeter but did not trust it entirely when flying at 50 feet above the snow to drop fuel drums. I was too inexperienced in this cold weather flying to know if it worked well on deep snow. Would it indicate the top of the snow or ice ground?

Next, we did a free-fall drop from 50 feet with building parts that were prefabricated in Denmark. The material was packaged for the free-fall into the snow. This outpost had been deposited here with a great deal of effort with a DC-3 on skis by landing on the snow or perhaps wheels on sea ice. Fueling must have been a problem. They had brought in a small caterpillar tractor with them to pull the supplies together. We all did our drops successfully and quickly started back. I knew we would be skinny on fuel getting home. Being empty of cargo, we were able to reduce our power settings to save fuel. The loose formation-flight back to Thule was uneventful.

There were several more trips to Nord for the weather-station outpost. There was a large caterpillar tractor that, due to its weight, had to be dropped in three pieces. The blade was taken off, and the frame cut in two, bolted back together with plates and then disassembled for the airdrop. Each piece was dropped with three chutes, measuring 100 feet in diameter, from an altitude of 1500 feet. When operational, it would be powerful enough to clear the top of the sea ice to land heavy aircraft.

Once coming back from Nord, I saw a black dot on a large ice- and snow-covered bay. It was not a walrus, but a single man behind a dog team, hundreds of miles from any possible help if he should need it. When I told operations about it at Thule, they replied, "Oh yes, that's probably Bert Balchen, a Norwegian Arctic Explorer." Looking up the name later, I found out he was well-known and respected, Congress made him a citizen of the U.S. He was the only person to ever have been so honored.

Florida Boy Finds Eskimos

When odd flights came up, Bill would ask me to take them. One time a U.S. ice breaker came to Thule. It was either the "East Wind" or the "West Wind." The captain wanted to survey the ice farther north than the range of his helicopter. He held down the co-pilot's seat or jump seat as we flew north and other directions as he dictated. It was interesting to hear him talk about his knowledge of the different ice conditions and the working of his ship.

I was asked to fly top cover for a DC-3 loaded with scientists. The DC-3 on skis would fly toward the ice cap, which rose to about 12,000 feet, land on the slope and stand by while the men took core drillings and set off explosive charges. This was to figure out the snow density and how deep was the ice. It was expected to go below sea level, having depressed the land with its weight. The DC-3 used JATO bottles under each wing to assist in takeoffs.

One day, flying low over an area north of Greenland, I came across tracks leading across new snow on the sea ice. Leaving it, I soon came to another set converging with the first line. I began to follow the tracks to the coast, where I came to an Eskimo hunting camp. Blood covered a large section of ice, along with dogs, sleds and people. It looked as if they were butchering a walrus. When I reported it to operations, they plotted it on a chart and said "Captain, you have just discovered the northernmost Eskimo camp in the world! Not bad for a Florida boy!"

In this area of the world, there was better radio reception from Moscow than the U.S. Usually the music was better, too.

I helped with a little celebration with one of the pilots stationed in Thule. He had recently returned from Ellesmere Island, a jumping-off point for the arctic explorer Robert Peary, who was the first man to reach the North Pole by dog team. He followed the normal routine of caching supplies for the route up and back. One of Peary's supply stashes had recently been found. The pilot had a bottle of brandy (or rum?) and opened it to share with us as a memory of the first man to reach the North Pole. It tasted awful, but it made us all quietly think of his magnificent accomplishment. You really have to see and feel the arctic to appreciate its grandeur. To this day I feel blessed to have seen the sun shine off an iceberg 60 miles away. To feel and breathe an atmosphere so clean and dry, with visibility unrestricted, is an experience seldom to be had in the U.S. I have memories of flying below the Humbolt Glacier, the world's largest glacier, and working our propellers for noise, creating an iceberg and watching it tumble into the sea. Another memory is taking a flight into Bluie West Eight. It's at the end of a deep fjord south of Thule. The fjord gets tighter as you fly inland from the coast, with cliffs on both sides towering very high above you. The glacier at the head of the fjord is very steep. There is no turning around and no climbing out with a large aircraft. You are committed to land. The runway is the gravel at the foot of the glazier. It has an up slope to slow you down. The take off is down slope, to speed you on your way. No instrument flying into this landing strip.

Thule's airstrip is located in a wide Fjord, with the airstrip on one side of its centerline and a large hangar facing the sea. Vertical walls 1000-feet tall line each side, with a sloping glacier at the upper end. Returning from a long mission, with not too much fuel, and clouds covering the fjord, I asked for a GCA. We followed clear and concise instructions for the let-down. When we broke through the ceiling, we were headed not for the runway but for the wide-open hangar! I think if it didn't have a back wall, we could have flown thru it. We had to climb to altitude and start over again. This time I asked GCA to make sure I was lined up with the runway. Now my fuel was real skinny! The second time was perfect, with a new voice giving directions. I visited the GCA building upon landing for an explanation. A trainee was the operator on the first run. "What was the supervisor doing?" A shrug of the shoulders was the trainee's response. Being a guest on this base, I never mentioned it again; it just added up to one more experience.

The job in Greenland being finished, we started our return to Miami. After refueling in Frobisher Bay, we hit instrument conditions and our two navigators got worried. They could not see the sun to set the directional gyros. One got so worried he lost the contents of his stomach. I should have told him we were far enough away from the north magnetic pole that the compass was reliable and could let me know which direction was south. We also had plenty of fuel, so everything was fine.

The entire mission had gone very well. Captain Jay and his crews were a credit to their profession in an alien environment. Bill was good enough to give a lecture to the Saturday pilots on the flight crew's experiences and told them what Greenland was like.

New York Drop-In

During the winter, I arrived at Watertown, N.Y., one late afternoon to observe the following day's airdrop. I was not scheduled to play a part in the maneuvers. I would find out the details at the early morning briefing of the pilots and jump masters. The base was crowded and I was assigned to a BOQ [Bachelor Officers' Quarters] of strangers and hit the sack. About 3:00 a.m., someone was shaking my shoulder and shinning a flashlight on me. "Captain Moesly?" "Yes, I guess I am." "There's a phone call for you." How the hell could that be? Hardly anyone knew I was on this airbase. I stumbled to the one phone in the barracks and gave my name. A colonel I knew very well in our Wing said, "Carl, I want you to do the briefing for me in the morning." "Where are you, sir?" I asked. "I am in a hospital in North Carolina." Then he hung up. I had a dozen questions to ask, such as who was part of the work-up of the mission, who was the operations officer in command, when was the briefing and where. Also, he was a very good friend, an excellent officer, and I wished to know how badly he was hurt. I wasted minutes trying to get the operator to trace the call. I spent more time trying to get transportation to get around this strange military base, and found using the phone to locate some of the rank from our Wing was hopeless.

I walked to the base theater where I thought the briefing might occur. I was hoping to find someone from operations that could brief me. The walk was refreshing and the ground frozen solid, but I hardly noticed it. Finding the doors unlocked and no one inside, I took in the stage loaded with blackboards, giving the formation positions, the drop zones, etc. I could have used a day to gather the missing information and prepare for the briefing. Normally guards would have been posted over the information that was exposed here. There was none. I tried the mess hall to see if anyone from our Wing was visible. No one I knew. I was running out of time. I absorbed what I could in the way of information on the blackboards. There was not enough to give a comprehensive understanding of the mission.

It was the 101st Airborne Regimental Combat team that was being dropped. The other troop carrier wings were here, including a New York wing with a general for a C.O. I heard that General Mark Clark, a four-star general who had led the Italian campaign in WWII and had been the Commanding General for awhile in Korea, was coming in from Washington with his entourage to observe this air drop. This operation, I thought, must be important.

At 6:00 a.m. the jumpmasters poured into the theater and the pilots followed. I was looking for the operations officers or the C.O.'s. In came General Clark with a lot of rank. I picked out the Brigadier General that was playing host, but I could not separate him from the group. I did not wish to expose how screwed up this operation was with the briefing officer in North Carolina. More than a few thousand men waited to go and I was the least informed of the lot. Over the loudspeakers, I introduced myself and gave the hosting general (I did not know his name) time to introduce his guests.

At my behest, the base meteorologist gave a somewhat garbled weather report and forecast, "The wind is below the maximum allowed for the airborne to drop, scud off the lake will move in during the late afternoon." I was hoping the weather would make the drop impossible, canceling the drop for the day and giving me time to get together a decent briefing. It didn't happen.

I went through the order of battle, with the microphone being loud and clear, and miscellaneous odds and bits that are standard format. I wished them "good luck" and realized it was the worst briefing I had ever given or heard anyone give. I was counting heavily on everyone knowing the routine. In hindsight, I should have done it differently. I was trying to save the reputation of our Wing and a colonel in North Carolina.

I took off from the flight line and headed for the control tower. The panorama of a large airport with over 120 C-119s and airborne troops about to load up was an impressive sight. The single tower controller welcomed my presence. We watched the operation progress and the substitution of a plane or two that went very smoothly with no radio chatter. The leader called in for takeoff. Thereafter it was a steady stream of aircraft taking off every few seconds, with the roar of thousands of horsepower. There was now complete radio silence. The wind was picking up some but the sky was clear. As time passed slowly, I thought about the troops standing up to hook up to the static line, each man being checked by the man behind him. I can imagine the tension as the one-minute warning light to jump-time lights up. The pilots are watching and maintaining their proper position in the formation as it slows down to jump speed. Pilots peer forward for the drop zone and any indicator for the wind direction and velocity. The troops are waiting for the green light. As the light goes on, they stagger under their heavy loads and step out into space. The flight engineer announces to the cockpit "All clear!" At the far edge of the drop zone, the red light comes on to shut off any late jumpers. The throttles edge forward, the formation banks and turns for home. Parachutes have blossomed and others are speckled on the ground. The planes are homeward bound and the pilots wish the troops well, as their mission is just beginning.

I pulled myself out of my thoughts as the General climbed the steps into the control tower. As I was introducing myself, the loudspeaker blasted forth. It was the inbound leader of the first formation, 10 miles out, having dropped his troops. He was requesting instructions, reporting there was a problem of scattered to broken clouds forming under him at 1,000 feet. The tower operator put the microphone to his lips, said nothing, looked at the General, looked at me, and then handed the mic to the General. The General then looked at the mic, then me and handed the mic to me. No one wanted the mic. I took the mic, spoke calmly, and instructed the lead commander to try the area over the lake for a break and check with the tower to see if they could land under visual flight rules. If not, they were to proceed to their base of operations under visual flight rules or contact air traffic control for clearance. About this time the General started down the stairway. I was left with over a hundred bunched-up aircraft to get down to a safe landing. Thanks to skillful efforts of everyone, all aircraft landed safely.

The wind had gotten up to 15 mph, the maximum allowable for jumping. There was a lot of damage done to the troopers due to the frozen ground and the wind dragging the chutes and them over the hard ground. I was told the hospitals in the area were filled. There was a lot of data to evaluate about ground conditions, wind velocity, temperatures and frozen ground on paratroopers. I was beginning to think the troop carriers had a lot of reorganizing to do.

I expected to be denounced for the briefing, plane dispersal, etc. But I never heard a word, no criticism, no compliments, and no suggestions.

I heard the colonel in North Carolina had slipped on a wet floor and injured his head. I guess he gave me as much help as he physically could. I couldn't reach him at his home phone and he was now separated from his wife. When I found out he was out of the military, I tried his airline office but it was not giving out any information. I hoped he would call me, as we were friends and I was concerned about his well-being. He didn't.

Back to Civilian Life

Dropping into the office of the airline I had worked with before my recent military duty, I was told they would like to see me return to work. Military contracts were plentiful.

There was a notice out at the airbase: Pilots could be released from duty early if OK'd by the C.O. I was thinking this over when I went to see the wing commander to discuss the events at Watertown before I put it in writing and my proposals for improving our operation.

I arrived at the receptionist office for the C.O. at the appointed time in my best uniform. After a short wait, I was told to enter, standing at attention before his desk. He was reading a letter, shuffled a few papers and then, after an unreasonable length of time, looked up. I saluted and reported my name and rank. There was no word of recognition or greeting, just a cold stare. I was made to feel like a junior Boy Scout. I was not asked to take a seat or salutation or question. Without thinking, instead of going to lengthy conversation while standing at attention, I asked for his approval for an early discharge. He nodded his head. I saluted and walked out.

I had been a private, a sergeant, a flight officer, a commissioned officer, gone thru WWII, a civilian pilot, an executive for an airline and worked hard for almost two years again for the military without a "Thank You" for the last couple of years. It was time to go.

A copy of a letter came across my desk written to the tactical air command from the C.O. of our Wing. It listed the accomplishments of the Wing for the past year. There were four items listed:

  • Orders and operations to the Wing were carried out as directed by TAC;
  • Cockpit checklist for C-119 was reorganized and put into effect;
  • A new instrument training hood was designed and constructed for the C-119; and
  • New cruise control and power settings were set for C-119 and distributed.

I was happy to see my work comprised 75 percent of the Wing's accomplishments for the year. I wondered who got the credit. I have often regretted not staying in long enough to try to insert ideas I had been working on and accumulating for several months into the Wing's operation. Perhaps I should have been paying more attention to personal relationships than being so result-oriented. I now look back on my work and the military with pride, but also with a critical eye.

[To be continued ...]

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Probable Cause #57: Out Of Control

Was a sudden physical or mechanical problem -- or some of both -- what led to this King Air pilot losing control of the aircraft?

Click here for the full story.

Professional pilots have been hounding the FAA for years to increase their maximum retirement age past 60 for a number of reasons. [And the increase finally happened, although after this article was originally written.] One reason is financial: More time on the job translates into larger paychecks and fatter retirement benefits.

The other is that no medical research currently proves pilots past 60 pose any significant threat to themselves or their passengers while in command of an aircraft. Anecdotally, however, even pilots admit their reaction times are slower at 60 than they were at 40 or even 50, not to mention an increase in the overall number of aches and pains they experience.

However, the age-60 restriction applies only to pilots flying in revenue service, such as Part 121 scheduled airlines. Part 91 pilots can continue flying as long as they can successfully pass the required FAA medical, an exam that becomes more stringent as the applicant ages. To exercise the privileges of an airline transport pilot, airmen must have passed their medical exam within the preceding six months. At 35, for example, a First Class medical also requires a pilot to successfully complete an electrocardiogram (EKG). After age 40, a First Class medical requires an annual EKG. These tests offer an FAA physician a glimpse of the pilot's cardiac rhythm at a moment in time. As we age, there are simply more opportunities for our bodies to react suddenly when an internal part breaks down.


On the morning of Jan. 18, 2000, a King Air Model C-90, on a Part-91, single-pilot, IFR flight from Columbus, Ohio, crashed into the guy wire of a 460-foot AGL radio tower on approach to the Somerset-Pulaski County--J.T. Wilson Field Airport (KSME) in south-central Kentucky. The pilot and four passengers were killed in the subsequent crash. Somerset weather at the time of the crash was IFR, but with good surface visibility -- not what might be considered a challenge for the PIC who had logged nearly 20,000 hours of flight time during his career. During the post-crash investigation, discrepancies in the pilot's total flight time logged were noticed, but were not significant enough to most likely relate to the crash.

A contributing factor to the accident was that ATC cleared the pilot for a simplified directional facility (SDF) approach at Somerset, a procedure that had not been active for nearly four years before the crash. Placement of the out-of-service notice for the SDF approach would have been difficult for most pilots to find without some research, because the time frame was considerably past the normal 56-day period when NOTAMs are kept in the electronic distribution database. A localizer and two GPS approaches were subsequently certified for use at KSME.

The NTSB listed the cause of the accident as the "failure of the pilot to follow his approach clearance and subsequent descent into unprotected airspace, which resulted in a collision with the [radio] guy wire. Factors were the failure of air traffic control to verify the approach he cleared the pilot to conduct was in service and the clouds, which restricted the visibility of the communications antenna." The radio tower was just over three miles to the southeast of the Somerset airport and clearly marked as an obstruction on all instrument approach plates.

Although the sole pilot on board was 72 years of age, he had passed a First Class medical exam the previous April. However, since more than six months had elapsed since the date of that exam, his medical would have automatically been downgraded to a Second Class certificate. This change made the pilot technically illegal to exercise the privileges of an airline transport pilot. But, since this was a Part 91 flight, he would have been legal to fly as a commercial pilot, for which his downgraded First Class medical certificate would have sufficed. The NTSB report did not indicate whether this was the first time the pilot had allowed his medical to automatically downgrade based upon the expiration date. The report also did not note any previous history of pilot medical issues.


The flight began on the morning of Jan. 17 with a leg from North Philadelphia Airport (KPNE) to Ohio State University Airport (KOSU) where the aircraft remained overnight. According to FAA transcripts, the pilot contacted the Dayton Automated Flight Service Station at 0834 local time on the morning of the accident and filed an IFR flight plan in which he listed the aircraft as a King Air C-90/I, indicating the airplane was equipped with LORAN, VOR/DME or INS in addition to a Mode-C transponder. According to FAA microfilm records, an FAA Form 337 was on file indicating that a Garmin GPS155 had been installed in October 1995, but was placarded as "GPS Not Approved for IFR Flight."

The pilot requested the Somerset forecast and was told by the briefer that the airport did not generate a forecast. He was instead given the forecast for London, Ky., 26 nm to the east. It called for 500 feet scattered, occasional ceiling of 500 feet broken, 1000 feet overcast, with visibility of five miles and mist, occasionally dropping to two miles in light drizzle and mist, with winds from 140 degrees at seven kts. The briefer also added, "Of course you're, I'm sure, you're familiar with the fact that there's icing, maybe some turbulence, across that route and occasional IFR conditions." Just after 10 a.m. local, the pilot rechecked Somerset weather and was told the ceiling was now 300 feet overcast with PIREPs for both light rime and clear ice in the area.

No problems en route were reported after the flight took off from KOSU just before 11 a.m. At 11:40 a.m., Indianapolis Center, now controlling the flight, asked the pilot if he had the latest Somerset weather, to which the pilot replied, "Yes." The center also asked the pilot what type of approach he wanted and the pilot responded with the "SDF."

At 11:45:15, the controller said, "... cleared for the SDF approach to, uh, Somerset, maintain 4000 until you're established on the approach." The pilot replied, "OK, maintain four 'till established [unintelligible]. Thank you." The controller repeated the approach clearance and this time specified the SDF Runway 4 approach, and the pilot again repeated he was to maintain 4000 feet until established and was cleared for the SDF Runway 4 approach at Somerset.

Two and one half minutes later, at 11:48:01, the pilot transmitted, "Ah, Indy, [callsign]." The call was not answered by the controller. This was the last recorded transmission from the aircraft. Somerset weather at the time was reported as a ceiling of 700 feet with a visibility of 10 sm.

Several witnesses resided in an area northeast of the communications tower. Two witnesses inside their homes went to the door upon hearing a noise and saw the aircraft descend to the ground, after which it erupted in fire. Another witness thought the airplane was on fire before it hit the ground, while another saw the airplane spinning as it descended and thought it was missing a portion of a wing.

The airplane was maintained under the manufacturer's inspection program. According to an avionics shop, the airplane also had been in the shop the week prior to the accident to have a new flight director installed because the pilot reported it would not couple to the autopilot. A maintenance release was signed for the work five days prior to the accident.

The pilot completed aircraft specific training at SIMCOM in August 1998 and reported his total flight experience as 18,000 hours. On his April 26, 1999, medical application, the pilot reported his total logged time as 19,200 hours, while a May 12, 1999, insurance application showed 15,456 hours as PIC time. Again, these discrepancies most likely had nothing to do with the accident.

Somerset Airport

In January 2000, four instrument approach procedures were being regularly published for Somerset, which included the SDF Runway 4, an NDB Runway 4, a GPS Runway 4 and a GPS Runway 22. According to the Airport/Facility Directory (A/FD) and the Notice To Airmen Publication (NTAP), the SDF was listed as "Out of Service (OTS) -- Indefinitely." Neither note was published on the instrument approach charts, nor were they required to be.

The SDF Runway 4 approach called for a minimum safe altitude of 3600 feet within 25 nm of from the Cumberland River NDB, which was about 4.2 nm southwest of the airport. The approach called for a procedure-turn altitude not lower than 3000 feet. Straight in MDA on the inactive SDF approach would have been 1460 feet MSL or 600 feet AGL.

Final Approach

Radar data provided by Indianapolis Center tracked the airplane as it approached Somerset Airport from the northeast. At 1154 local, the King Air passed about half a mile abeam the airport to the northwest at 4000 feet. The aircraft began a descent, which would have been normal to set up for any of the approaches.

As the aircraft passed just to the northwest side of the Cumberland River NDB, things turned odd as the King Air descended through the minimum procedure-turn altitude of 3000 feet and began a left turn that appeared to be taking it back toward the airport. The aircraft had completed about 180 degrees of turn -- but was aligned with no known navigational signal or approach profile -- and passed through 1,900 feet before the target disappeared from radar a few miles southeast of the NDB and just seconds before it sheared the guy wire from the tower.

During the crash investigation, the selector handle showed the landing gear had been in the down position at the time of the accident. Dropping the gear prior to the beacon outbound is unusual in some cases, but not unheard of if the aircraft may have been approaching Somerset a bit fast. The aircraft's radio panel was destroyed so it was impossible to learn what frequencies the pilot had tuned in.

The NTSB findings tell us what happened, but not why. Was this crash simply the final broken link in a long chain of other unexplained events? We'll never know for certain why the King Air descended with no approach guidance of any kind. But the paragraph that should have been added to the NTSB report was that no experienced pilot flying in the clouds would have allowed his aircraft to descend like that aircraft did if he was fully in charge of the aircraft.

Certainly the pilot should have known the approach was not available, but how many times have you picked up a weather briefing and asked for the NOTAMS? Have you ever asked the briefer to check the NTAP to see if any had slipped outside the 56-day notice period that you should be aware of? Most of us would have failed on that test. A larger question is why the Indianapolis Center controller seemed to be completely at ease clearing the aircraft for an approach that had been shut down four years earlier. When asked about the accident, the controller said he'd forgotten the approach was decommissioned.

Did the 72-year-old pilot experience some sort of sudden incapacitation issue such as a heart attack or stroke? With only a single pilot in the cockpit, in the clouds, the people in back would be unable to tell what was happening as the aircraft descended in an ever-tightening turn, much less do anything to help. The pilot at one point before the descent obviously had something he wanted to tell ATC, but that communication was never completed.

Did the change in flight directors play a role? Did the autopilot uncouple unbeknownst to the pilot, who might have been trying to figure out why he could not seem to hear a signal from the SDF? Did the GPS play a role? It wasn't certified for IFR, but the pilot most likely knew how to use it because it had been installed for five years. Was he hoping to ask for the SDF approach and fudge a bit by really shooting the GPS anyway, assuming no one would notice? Would a second pilot in the cockpit have been able to help prevent this tragedy?

Certainly ATC was of very little help to this pilot by approving an out-of-service instrument approach procedure. But the PIC is still responsible in the end. That leaves only a few options. The pilot was unaware of what the airplane was doing because he was distracted by something else, a physical problem, or perhaps a mechanical or navigational problem that overloaded the pilot to the point he was no longer able to maintain control of the airplane.

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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Question of the Week: Are You Ready for an Electric Plane?

This Week's Question | Previous Week's Answers


Last week, we asked if AVweb readers did anything out of the ordinary (aviation-wise) to celebrate Earth Day.

18% of those who answered told us they abstained from flying, while the plurality of you (36% in our poll) felt that aviation is such a minor contributor to environmental problems, I don't worry about it.

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


With alternative power, fuel efficiency, and the environmental footprint on everyone's mind, we're all starting to think tomorrow's aircraft may look and feel a little different from what we're used to. This week, we want to hear what you think about electric aircraft.

Would you consider an electric-powered airplane?
(Click to answer.)

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

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Your Favorite FBOs back to top 

FBO of the Week: Five Star Jet Center (KBAF, Westfield, MA)

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AVweb's "FBO of the Week" ribbon goes to Five Star Jet Center at KBAF in Westfield, Massachusetts.

This is facility that's shown up on our nomination list several times, and but it was this strong endorsement from AVweb reader John Light that made us name Five Star our "FBO of the Week":

I expect that I fly considerably more X/C miles than most GA pilots that I know; I stop at far more FBOs in a year ... [and] Five Star Jet Center is, without exception, the best FBO in New England. Beth and Patric make you feel 100% at home ... . Even before they knew that I might buy av fuel or anything else they were right on the spot to offer me a hand ... without me even asking. I simply cannot say enough for these people. They well exceed any measure of customer satifaction practices that I can think of.

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!

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Reader-Submitted Photos back to top 

Picture of the Week: AVweb's Flying Photography Showcase

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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.


"Picture of the Week" submissions dipped a bit over the past few days, but the quality has thankfully remained high. Good for our eyes, but bad for our brains, as it means we have to make those oh-so-tough choices of which photos get featured here, which are showcased in our home page slideshow, and which only get airtime on our desktop monitors. To get in on next week's fun, click here and submit your own photos. We'll be looking for 'em!

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Used with permission of Michael Hays

Kenmore Air DeHavilland Beaver

Michael Hays of Vero Beach, Florida hammered us with great photo submissions this week — but it was his tall and elegant portrait of this Beaver getting pulled out of the water that nailed down his spot as "POTW" winner.

(You need to click through and view the large image to get the full effect here.)


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copyright © Daniel Valovich
Used with permission

Collision Avoidance

It's always a pleasure to find a shot or two from Hot Springs, Arkansas's favorite son Daniel Valovich in our submission box! This week, Mr. V serves up a little aerial action.


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copyright © Keith DeLong
Used with permission


Speaking of "aerial action," here's a little something from Keith DeLong of Freeland, Michigan. Take that, Valovich!

(Funny enough, this is the very same spot where we ran that kicking widescreen desktop wallpaper from Yinjie Zhang last week — and Keith's pic looks pretty awesome on our 1440x900 monitor!)


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copyright © Brandon Wren
Used with permission

A Break from Tree-Trimming

"The famous tree-trimming helicopter was taking a well-deserved break ... this past weekend," writes Brandon Wren of Lima, Ohio. Taking advantage of the down time, Brandon "took a self-guided tour around the ten 2' blades and 75'+ of boom," and obviously thought Man, I'll bet those guys from AVweb would love this!

(He was right.)


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Used with permission
of Kevin B. Torman

Gives New Meaning to "Remanufactured" ...

So what do you do with your DC-3 when she's finally ready to have her logbook closed? Maybe you donate her parts to a wine counter in Franschoek, South Africa — like this one Paul Kruger of Old Oak (Western Cape) photographed for us.


More Reader-Submitted Photos
... are found, as usual, in the the slideshow on AVweb's home page. Head on over there!

Click here to submit your own photos to "POTW."

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:
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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

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Contributing Editors
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Features Editor
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