AVwebFlash - Volume 18, Number 38a

September 17, 2012

By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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Finding Fault in 2009 Pacific Ditching back to top 

ATSB's Norfolk Island Ditching Report To Get Scrutiny

The Australian captain of a Westwind jet that ditched off the coast of Norfolk Island in 2009 is challenging the Australian Transport Safety Bureau's conclusion that the flight crew's poor planning was the sole cause of the accident. Dominic James, who then worked for Pel-Air, told AVweb in an interview on Saturday that the ATSB's investigation will undergo its own probe before the Australian Senate in early October. Specifically, James said, the ATSB's investigation ignored numerous details that impinged on the information and guidance that he and First Officer Zoe Cupit had available for the flight on Nov. 18, 2009. The Westwind crew was on a medical evacuation mission from Apia, Samoa to Melbourne, a distance of about 2,800 miles, almost all of it over water at night. To make the distance, the flight had a planned fuel stop at Norfolk Island, a remote island 800 miles off the coast of eastern Australia.

Although the flight departed with a forecast for good weather at Norfolk Island, the forecast proved erroneous and the Westwind arrived to find low ceilings, poor visibility and rain. Norfolk Island had only a non-precision approach at the time, but the overcast was lower than the approach's minimum descent altitude. The aircraft had sufficient fuel for three approach attempts and an abbreviated fourth try before James elected to ditch the airplane near the island. Despite moderate seas and poor visibility, all six people evacuated from the aircraft and survived. In its accident report released last month (PDF), the ATSB faulted the crew for not planning the flight in accordance with Australian regulations and Pel-Air operating requirements and said that it failed to aggressively update weather forecasts and reports as the flight progressed toward Norfolk. The ATSB was also critical of the crew for failing to divert to Noumea, in New Caledonia, while it had the fuel to do.

But James is challenging the report on a number of critical issues. He said the ATSB refused to review with the flight crew how it arrived at its fuel reserves calculations, despite being repeatedly asked. James contends that ATSB's calculations are incorrect and that he planned the flight according to regulations and guidance given him. Further, while passing Fiji, a second divert airport for the flight, the crew was given an incorrect METAR for Norfolk, which understated weather conditions. A subsequent correction, delivered near sunset with garbled HF conditions, was unintelligible to the crew, according to James.

Although regulations allowed the flight to depart without a named alternate, the ATSB claimed that James planned only enough fuel to complete the flight normally, not allowing enough for a potential depressurization event that would have forced it to a lower, less fuel-efficient altitude. The aircraft departed Apia with full main tanks, but empty tip tanks. James told us that with the tips full, the Westwind wouldn't have been able to climb high enough, soon enough, to realize enough economy to make the additional fuel worth carrying. James also told us the Westwind was not RVSM equipped, even though it was flying in RVSM airspace, a point CASA never enforced with Pel-Air. Normally, that would mean an altitude no higher than FL280, where fuel consumption would be too high to fly the distances required. James said controllers would look the other way if non-RVSM aircraft could get to FL390, which James said the Westwind could do at lighter weights. In any case, he said, Noumea wouldn't have been an option even with the tip tanks filled because it was 90 degrees to course and too far from Norfolk.

James said the ATSB report pointedly ignores an internal CASA investigation that reveled significant criticism of Pel-Air's operating methods, one of which was an outdated crew rest rule that allowed duty days as long as 24 hours. The CASA report isn't mentioned in the ATSB report and was never released to the public. In this program on Australia's 4Corners broadcast, reporter Jeff Thompson revealed some of the details.

The ATSB report also ignored complaints about poor weather forecasting and METAR dissemination for Norfolk. Moreover, the Norfolk Unicom operator was equipped with an HF radio, but not allowed to use it because of lack of training and licensing.

Survival aspects of the accident that ATSB overlooked, said James, include training that called for placing the life raft, unsecured, near the door. James said this meant that it was immediately lost during impact. Once in the water, the survivors found that life vests rode up and blocked their ears from hearing commands and encouragement and that the lanyards for the vest whistles were too short, requiring survivors to use the whistles on the vests of others. The whistles were the same shape as the manual inflators on the vests, resulting in unintentional deflations in the water.

James told us he's not trying to alter the report's conclusion, but merely add factual data that will show the accident was the result of a chain of events that included Pel-Air's poor policies and CASA's lack of effective oversight.

"I'm not going to go on record and say I'm not without fault and that I couldn't have done better," James told us. "But I totally reject the thrust of the report that makes this wholly the fault of the crew. That's nuts to me."

Related Content:

AVweb Insider Blog: Norfolk Island Ditching -- More Questions than Answers

Dom James, the pilot of that Westwind that ditched off Norfolk Island in 2009, is challenging the findings of the the ATSB's report on the accident. After reading the report, it's easy to see why, says Paul Bertorelli on the AVweb Insider blog.

Read more and join the conversation.

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Accident Reports back to top 

Jump Plane Rolled Inverted Before Fatal Crash

A dozen skydivers aboard a Beech 18 jumped for their lives as the aircraft suddenly rolled inverted and ultimately crashed in a residential area of Taylorville, Ill., on Aug. 10, killing the pilot. As we reported on the day of the crash, pilot Brandon Sparrow, 30, of Augusta, Ill., was unable to get the big twin under control and it crashed in the back yard of a home. There were no injuries on the ground or among the skydivers, who told the NTSB they heard the stall horn sound as they prepared to exit the aircraft at 11,000 feet.

The jumpers told the board the aircraft began to roll and one of them gave the "go, go, go" command and all managed to get out. The last ones out said the airplane was at least partly inverted as they jumped. Witnesses on the ground told the board the aircraft descended inverted and seemed to briefly recover before entering a vertical dive and plunging into the yard of a home that was occupied at the time. The neighborhood was evacuated because of the strong smell of gasoline but there was no fire. Several of the jumpers had helmet-mounted cameras and the video is being analyzed by the NTSB.

Landing Cherokee Hits Row Of Parked Planes

Insurance adjusters were busy over the weekend at French Valley Airport in Murrieta, Calif., after a Piper Cherokee crashed into a row of parked aircraft Friday. The pilot of the Cherokee 180 was uninjured but the female passenger in a taxiing airplane that was struck suffered minor injuries in the accident. Up to eight parked aircraft were damaged and from the photos appearing in local newspapers at least some of them appear to be write-offs. "I got a phone call that said, 'You better start shopping for a new airplane because yours is in two pieces,'" Cessna 180 owner Roy Haggard told The Californian.

Riverside County Sheriff Sgt. Dean Spivacke told the newspaper the Cherokee was landing when it was hit by a strong crosswind gust. "It was quite breezy today, and he caught a crosswind that threw him off course," Spivacke said. The pilot declined to speak with reporters. Witnesses in an airport restaurant told the paper the Cherokee hit the taxiing 172 first and stopped when it split Haggard's 180 in two. The NTSB and FAA are investigating.

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Aviation Safety back to top 

NTSB Wants 747-8 Engines Inspected

The NTSB has issued an urgent safety recommendation letter urging the FAA to "act immediately" to order the inspection of 47 new General Electric GEnx-2B engines in service on Boeing 747-8 aircraft because it's afraid of a potential multiple engine failure on the brand-new aircraft. The board issued the letter after an engine failure on a 747-8F during takeoff roll in Shanghai last week. Preliminary information suggests the cause is cracking similar to that found in two GEnx-1B engines used in Boeing 787 aircraft. The 2B model of the engine used in the 747-8 is a little longer but the suspect components are the same. In one of the cases involving the 787 model engine, a fan midshaft crack destroyed a 787 engine on its first ground run at Boeing's factory in Charleston, S.C. Another crack was found in a 787 engine that had only ever been test run. All the 787 engines have been inspected but those on 11 in-service 747 freighters and the remaining three on the Shanghai aircraft have not.

In the Shanghai incident, the Russian Air Bridge Cargo aircraft's number-one engine lost power as the plane accelerated through 50 knots on its takeoff roll. The pilot rejected the takeoff and returned to the ramp. An inspection revealed damage similar to that of the 787 engines. The Shanghai engine had about 1,200 hours on it. Metallurgical tests have determined the cracks on the 787 engines are not fatigue related but are "typical of environmentally assisted cracking," which can occur at low stress levels and is related to corrosion from operation in a moist environment.

FAA Seeks Pilot On Suicide Concerns

The FAA and local authorities were still searching Friday for Michael Sills, a 63-year-old pilot from central Florida, who detectives say may have departed Orlando-Apopka Airport, Tuesday, with suicidal intent. Prior to his disappearance, investigators say Sills had threatened to crash his aircraft, a Piper PA-28-181, into the home of his ex-girlfriend, or another building. Sills' car was found, Tuesday, parked at his home airport, but his Piper Archer was gone. Sill's ex-girlfriend told authorities the last text messages she'd received from Sills came on Tuesday and said, "In plane." And "Calling police is to [sic] late." 

Reports state that when found, the exhaust system of Sills' car appeared to be rigged for a suicide attempt. There was also blood inside the car, clickorlando.com reported. A witness also reportedly told investigators that the plane had departed the airport earlier, Tuesday night. Officials at the FAA are considering the possibility that the aircraft may already be down in a remote location. Information collected by tracking Sills' phone placed its last known location in the Zelllwood area of Orange County, Fla. Zellwood is within a few miles of Orlando-Apopka Airport, Sill's presumed point of departure. There are several lakes nearby.

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Shaping Tomorrow back to top 

Avgas Coalition Praises FAA Action

The FAA, responding to the concerns of the General Aviation Avgas Coalition, has announced formation of a new office that will be responsible for providing technical information and guidance related to developments in aviation fuels, including unleaded options. Per the FAA, its new Fuel Program Office will provide "technical expertise and strategic direction in the planning, management, and coordination of activities related to aviation fuels." The Coalition sees formation of the office as an "important step" in creating an "unleaded avgas transition program" that will be able to evaluate fuels and generate data that could form commercial fuel specifications and guide certification efforts. The FAA already has some steps in place.

The FAA has hired a consultant to establish a Piston Aviation Fuel Initiative steering group while working in cooperation with industry interests. The Avgas coalition members believe the FAA's involvement is critical to enabling a transition without degrading consumer confidence and with the smallest impact on the existing fleet. The coalition issued a statement saying that the new Fuels Program Office "will ensure an efficient use of both government and industry resources and will provide a more comprehensive pathway and timeline to an unleaded fuel." The coalition is composed of members of the general aviation industry that include AOPA, EAA, GAMA, NATA and NBAA.

USAF, Johns Hopkins, And The Better Airplane

The Air Force is creating a new research center led by a team of engineers from Johns Hopkins University to expedite development of a new generation of lightweight, durable materials for use in aircraft and powerplants. The Center of Excellence on Integrated Material Modeling (CEIMM) is supported by a $3 million U.S. Air Force award, to be distributed over three years. It will apply "novel computational and experimental methods to support the next generation of military aircraft." The initiative seeks to apply new techniques that will help shrink the timeline of product development, from proof of concept to implementation.

Earlier this year, Johns Hopkins opened the Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute (HEMI), which focuses on understanding how materials and systems behave under extreme conditions. CEIMM will operate within HEMI, collecting "the nation's leading academic, industry ad military leaders to begin paving the way toward a 21st century generation of materials." Researchers at CEIMM will focus on how different materials respond to different loads at different temperatures like those that lead to failure in conventional aircraft engines. In practice, they will seek to create lighter materials with higher thermal stabilities and more robust mechanical durability across higher loads and temperatures.

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Searching for Yesterday back to top 

Giant German Luftwaffe Aircraft Wreck Found?

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Italian researchers claim (with video) to have found wreckage off the Sardinian coast of a huge Messerschmitt-323 Gigant (Giant), of which some 200 examples were built -- none of which were thought to have survived the war. The Me-323 spanned 180 feet, was driven by six wing-mounted piston engines, weighed 45 tons, could carry 120 fully equipped men and was thought to exist in the modern world only through history books. The wreckage is submerged below 200 feet of seawater and divers have reported to the Telegraph.uk that "it is in good condition -- it is almost intact, with the six engines still all in line." Considering the aircraft's time on location and how this particular aircraft was lost, that report might surprise some people. The video allows you to form your own opinion.

The 323 was built to transport halt-tracks, tanks and artillery. It was built from a mix of tube and fabric with plywood and fabric wings. It often flew with a crew of five with two flight engineers manning stations between the two inboard engines on each wing. Some variants had turrets in the wings. The aircraft was considered to be underpowered, cruised at about 175 mph, and offered a range of roughly 700 miles. It was loaded through double doors that formed the airplane's nose. Production ceased in April 1944. The Italian-found sample is thought to have been shot down by a Bristol Beaufighter while en route from a German base in Sardinia to Pistoia, Tuscany. The team that found the wreck said they had expected the aircraft to be in a different location and "were lucky to stumble on it."

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The Top Reporter on Our Crack Staff ... Is You! back to top 

Survey: Do You Fly a Diamond DA40?

If so, Aviation Consumer would like to hear from you. For the magazine's next issue, the Used Aircraft Guide will focus on Diamond's popular four-place step-up airplane. We would like to hear about what it's like to fly the DA40 and how much it costs to operate and own -- including insurance. If you have any digital photos you'd like to share, send them along, too.

Contact consumereditor@hotmail.com to comment.

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

AVweb's Newstips Address ...

Our best stories start with you. If you've heard something 255,000 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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What Have You Missed on AVwebcom? back to top 

Forty-Seven Years In Aviation: A Memoir; Chapter 17: The C-123K, Two Retirements And A New Career

For his final years with the Air Force, Dick Taylor flew a Fairchild C-123, an aircraft whose parentage included both glider and jet versions. After retiring from the Air Force and then later from Ohio State, Dick began yet another career, consulting for aviation-accident cases.

Click here to read the 17th and final chapter.

The final act of "My Life in the Blue Suit" began in June 1974 with the Fairchild C- 123K "Provider," an airplane with a most unusual lineage. In 1943 the Chase Aircraft Company contracted to build assault gliders for the Army Air Forces; their first prototype was the XCG-14A, an all-wood glider with 24 seats (note the lift-producing shape of the fuselage).

Several years later Chase switched to all-metal construction, made major changes in the airframe and bolted a pair of 1425-hp Wright Cyclone radial engines to the wings; the result was the YC-122, only eleven of which were built.

The Chase folks didn't give up on assault gliders; the largest was the G-20; it never got off the ground, but it was the airframe that evolved into the C-123.

(As you might suspect, the big-glider concept didn't work out well, but one of its unique structural features was retained in all the C-123s that would follow: Remove the nose cap of a Provider and you'll find four large, steel tubes converging just inside the skin, held in place by a steel plate with a large threaded nut in the center -- that's where the tow hook was installed.)

Not willing to write off their expenditure at this point, Chase proceeded to develop two powered versions of the glider ... the XC-123 (two Pratt & Whitney R-2800s) and the XC-123A (four J-47s). The C-123A was a beautiful aircraft, but the Army had concerns about foreign-object damage to the low-slung jet engines when the airplane was operated on unimproved airstrips and said, "No, thank you."

The next-to-last version of the airplane went back to the big recips, making the C-123 perhaps the first aircraft that was powered by internal combustion engines, turbojet engines ... and gravity.

Henry Kaiser, the legendary WWII shipbuilder, bought the Chase Aircraft Co. in 1953 and transferred C-123 production to his plant in Michigan. Unfortunately, Henry's personal political problems were such that he was denied further government contracts and the company was sold to the Fairchild Engine and Airplane Company, whose name was attached to the airplanes built to fulfill the contract.

In its final configuration, the Fairchild C-123K (with a pair of J-85 jet engines hung beneath the wings, just outboard of the piston engines) won its combat spurs as an assault transport in Vietnam, beginning in 1962. The airplane was able to take off and land in relatively short distances even when fully loaded (maximum takeoff weight: 60,000 pounds). A max-performance takeoff could be accomplished in about 2000 feet and it was possible to land and stop in 1500 feet at maximum landing weight -- this was a requirement for Air Force operational-readiness tests.

My C-123 transition training in 1974 was administered in large part by young pilots fresh from duty in Southeast Asia who were well-versed in short-field takeoffs and very steep approaches to landing, procedures that reduced the possibility of taking ground fire from the bad guys in black pajamas hiding in the bushes.

The 156th Tactical Airlift Squadron at Lockbourne AFB in Columbus, Ohio -- my final billet as a reservist -- was equipped with a fleet of war-weary C-123Ks, most of them still wearing their jungle camouflage from service in Vietnam.

One of the airplanes we inherited from Vietnam served as the personal transport for Lt. General William Westmoreland during his tour as commander of U.S. forces in Southeast Asia in 1964-1968. Based on its solid light-gray paint and the Moby Dick shape of its fuselage, AF 56-4375 became known as the "White Whale." It featured a custom-built room in the cargo compartment intended to provide office space for the general and reduce the noise of two R-2800s and two jets. (The jets were used almost exclusively for takeoff and added a measure of security should one of the recips quit.) If the noise level was indeed lower in the general's airborne office, it was a small decrease ... the C-123K generated 100-plus decibels on takeoff and not a lot less in flight. Ear plugs were required equipment on all C-123s (passengers were issued wads of cotton) but even so, the airplane had to be one of the noisiest in the Air Force inventory.

Our missions were a mix of instrument and general flight proficiency for the pilots, cross-country practice for the navigators and occasional trips to points of interest such as Florida, especially in the winter ... all routine training missions, of course. The big drawback to cross-country flights in the C-123 was its low cruise speed; we seldom saw more than 140 knots on the airspeed indicator.

Aside from the instrument work, my favorite mission was practice landings on the assault strip adjacent to Lockbourne's 12,000-foot main runway. Only 3400 feet long and 50 feet wide, it was a small target. We were expected to put the rubber on the runway in a very small box at the approach end and come to a complete stop in not more than 1500 feet. The remaining 1900 feet of pavement accommodated the stream of C-123s landing at 15-second intervals when the entire squadron was participating; it was a "land and get off the runway" exercise because there was another Provider close behind.

When it came to handling characteristics, the C-123 flew much like the glider it might have been ... a generous amount of rudder was required to counteract the adverse yaw when you rolled into a turn. This was a basic flying technique that called for some refresher training, especially for pilots who had never flown anything but feet-on-the-floor jets.

I flew with the 356th until the summer of 1979, when my university obligations once again began to get in the way of Air Force requirements. Knowing I would not be able to maintain both activities for the several years I needed to move up another grade, I retired as a Major in June. I still miss flying big airplanes.

In 1981 I was appointed Director of Flight Operations and Training for the Department of Aviation at Ohio State; I now had responsibility for all our student flight training and the university's Air Transportation Service (ATS).

With the military commitment off my plate I was able to devote more time to flight training and the duties of a designated pilot examiner, most of which involved students in the Ohio State aviation program. For the next several years I was flying almost every day ... no complaints, although there were days when I didn't really want to fly; but once in the air, the negative thoughts melted away.

One of our Piper Aztecs was equipped with a used flight director that was almost state-of-the-art, thanks to a gift from the Sperry Corporation. A group of young Air Force pilots stationed at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio, found us in their search for a training facility offering an Airline Transport Pilot course in a light twin with more than bare-bones avionics. We were happy to help them out: I flew nearly 400 hours in the Aztec with these highly motivated students. Can you guess where they were headed when they left the Air Force?

The flight training program was operating in administrative and operational grooves worn deep by years of traditional procedures. I incorporated some changes in the program, most of them dealing with flight safety and improved training standards; but in general, I let sleeping dogs lie.

The ATS was a different story in 1981 because our equipment was seriously outdated. With corporate-aviation hand-me-downs a thing of the past, the ATS stable had shrunk to a pair of Aztecs and a Piper Navajo ... not the kind of equipment people expected for business travel. Enter a university President who was a pilot and a Vice President who appreciated the value of in-house air transportation; they worked their financial magic and pried loose the funds to revitalize the OSU ATS. We moved into an office in one of the corporate hangars on the airport, leased a Beech C-90 King Air, hired two more pilots and got back into business. The university bought a King Air 200 in 1983, followed somewhat later by another B-200.

To help justify the expense of these airplanes and maintain the Aviation Department's status as a teaching laboratory, we instituted a program in which the cream of our aviation-student crop served as copilots on the King Airs; we also developed a ground-school course that dealt with the systems and flight-crew procedures of modern turboprop airplanes. Several years after I retired from the university in 1988, the folks in the head shed on campus decided to use a commercial operator to transport OSU personnel and the entire ATS program was deep-sixed. I was very disappointed when these two opportunities for advanced practical aviation training were discontinued.

Now I need to turn back the calendar several years. You will recall that my first book -- Instrument Flying -- was published in 1971 and enjoyed a good reception in the general-aviation community. In 1975, I was contacted by an attorney who had read my book and asked if I would be interested in testifying as a pilot expert in a pending aviation-accident case; after considerable discussion with the attorney and a lot of thought regarding the time involved, I agreed to give it a go ... and my third career -- as a part-time consultant -- was launched. After 37 years in that business, I am still active as a consultant and expert witness, having investigated the piloting aspects of 550-plus aircraft accidents. Much of what I learned from pilots' mishaps has been shared over the years with aviation students in flight training and classroom courses at Ohio State, aviation magazine articles, 13 more aviation books and The Pilot's Audio Update, a monthly audio magazine on CDs that began in 1978 and was published continuously for 33 years.

Now, fast-forward to October 1987. A letter from the OSU Board of Trustees announced my eligibility to participate in the university's early-retirement incentive program. I was 54 years old, happy with what I was doing and fully expecting to continue working for Ohio State until the customary 65th birthday. The letter included a deadline for applications, so with nothing to lose, I completed the forms and returned them with little interest in following through. But the more I thought about this proposal, the better it looked. After comparing the facts and making income projections for both scenarios, I bit the bullet and decided to hang out my shingle as a consultant. My official retirement from OSU took place in June 1988 after 22 years of faculty service.

With all of my working time now available for consulting, I was able to increase my income considerably and continue flying in the bargain. I used light airplanes to travel to jobs all over the country, many times flying directly to small towns not served by airlines. I was fortunate to have a good friend whose A-36 Bonanza was my always-available airplane for several years, followed by his purchase of a Cessna 414, then a King Air C-90. When the King Air was sold, I stepped down a notch to a Piper Seneca that provided my business transportation for the next 10 years.

Many investigations required "re-creation" flights, the information from which was used to help juries understand how an accident occurred. These flights frequently involved flying at the edges of the performance envelope in a number of different airplane types, often in the presence of video cameras, strain gauges and other custom instrumentation. Because most light-twin accidents take place following an engine failure, I did a lot of simulated engine-out flying.

Every now and then someone asks, "What is your favorite airplane?" Following is a condensation of a story I wrote about that several years ago for IFR magazine, one of the Belvoir group of aviation publications.

This used to be a tough call for me. During 47 years and nearly 12,000 hours as a military and civilian pilot, I have experienced the good and the not-so-good features of many different types of aircraft. Choosing a favorite was difficult until one night in January 1986 when I was still working at Ohio State. With one of our student copilots in the right seat, I had flown a passenger from Columbus, Ohio, to Detroit, planning to return a couple of hours later. It was IMC all the way on the northbound leg, and during the approach to Detroit we encountered heavy snow that stopped falling soon after we parked at the terminal. The temperature was well below freezing and none of the snow adhered to the cold-soaked airframe.

Our passenger showed up on time (a rare occurrence in the charter business) and we were on the way home shortly thereafter. Detroit to Columbus is at most a 30-minute trip, so I climbed to 15,000 feet, a convenient altitude considering weather, passenger comfort and airplane efficiency. At about the halfway point, flying in clear air between cloud layers, I had just started the descent when the loudest sound I have ever heard in an airplane and a blinding flash of light took place in a split second. I do not use the term "blinding" lightly; my field of vision was completely obscured for perhaps 10 seconds by what I can best characterize as a bright, yellow phosphorescence, then a dark spot appeared in the center and grew slowly until my normal sight returned. There was no bump, no turbulence, no indication that we had hit anything, ergo something must have hit us. Lightning? Now wait a minute ... lightning doesn't strike airplanes flying in clear air in the middle of winter over central Ohio ... or does it?

I thought first of the engines because of the bad history of turbines vs. lightning strikes; no problem there, those two PT-6s were humming along as advertised. A quick, visual scan outside showed no apparent structural damage, nor was there any vibration or abnormal flight characteristics. The autopilot was still engaged and was holding the airplane steady in the descent. The flight instruments and the electrical system showed no indications of trouble, no lights had gone out, no circuit breakers had popped and the three of us appeared to have no problems. (I looked back to see if our passenger was OK; he gave me a thumbs-up, although I'm sure he was more than a little concerned.)

At this point we were only 10 or 15 minutes from landing; the airplane and all its systems appeared to be working normally and I decided to continue the descent for home -- in the dark of night, that seemed the best option. The copilot cancelled IFR and advised approach control we had taken a lightning strike and would land on Runway 27 from a right base-leg. The wing flaps extended as they should, the landing gear came down and locked, the engines and props responded properly ... the only abnormality I noticed was some extra pressure required to move the ailerons when I rolled into and out of the turn from base to final. A completely normal landing followed and, not knowing what damage the airplane might have suffered, I was very glad to be on the ground.

I've read a lot about lightning strikes and experienced another one many years ago in the Air Force. Airplanes are designed to shed most of the energy from a strike and the damage is usually minor -- pitted metal, maybe a few small holes in the skin, avionics sometimes fried -- but this strike was industrial strength. The after-accident inspection showed a couple of dime-sized holes burned in the underside of the left nacelle, the apparent entry point of the lightning bolt. From there we were able to trace the energy path through the left engine mounts, through the prop blades as they passed close to the fuselage, around the radome to the right prop blades, then through the right engine and right wing to the exit point on the right wingtip. The damage there was so severe I had our chief mechanic cut off the outboard twelve inches of the right aileron, a memento I keep in my office as a reminder of the event. Notice the large round hole, which is obviously entry damage. The lightning charge probably sought out and destroyed the static wick then plunged back into the aileron structure and blew out the corner.

The amount of energy dissipated at the exit point is evident in this end view of the aileron -- probably the source of the loud bang that occurred when the strike took place.

When the flight control system was checked, the mechanics discovered the bearings in the aileron pulleys had been welded by the surge of electricity and the cables were being dragged around the pulleys instead of turning them ... no wonder the ailerons felt heavy.

Without a doubt, the most significant bullet we dodged that night was failure of the prop reduction-gears in both engines. The 30,000 RPM of the power section is reduced to the prop speed of 1900-2200 RPM by a multi-tooth gear system. Every time the teeth engage and disengage in the presence of a strong electrical field (such as a lightning strike), high-voltage arcing takes place and particles of gear metal are blown away, resulting eventually in a gear case full of loose metal and a prop system guaranteed to fail sooner or later. In this case, it was estimated that the reduction gears would probably have gone belly-up within 20 minutes or so after the lightning strike ... we didn't get on the ground a moment too soon.

Needless to say, the mechanics went through the entire airplane, checking and testing for subtle damage. The airplane was out of service for four months and the bill for repairs, replacements and repainting was nearly $100,000.

Ever since, I've had no problem coming up with an unequivocal answer to the question "What's your favorite airplane?" Considering crew and passenger comfort, handling qualities and overall performance, the King Air B-200 was already near the top of my list of favorite airplanes. But all that praise takes a back seat to the King Air's stamina that night in 1986; how could I not select as my all-time favorite airplane the one that saved three lives by taking a huge hit and holding together long enough to get us on the ground safely? Thank you, Walter Beech.

On that positive note, I bring this memoir of 47 years in aviation to a close. Nine years after I gave up flying because of a malfunctioning heart valve, I had the offending part repaired and the surgeon told me the fix might extend my life expectancy 10 years. If the doc speaks the truth, I plan to spend some of that extra time recalling memories -- nearly all of them good, a few of them forgettable -- and should I get involved in hangar-flying sessions with other elderly eagles, I'll bide my time, because the first liar doesn't stand a chance.

To send a note to Richard and AVweb about this story, please click here.
More articles, stories and fiction about the joy of aviation are found in AVweb's Skywritings section.
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AVweb Insider Blog: Crashworthiness and Moral Responsibility

If manufacturers have a moral obligation to build in crashworthiness, are journalists equally obligated to opine when they fall short? In a mea culpa posted to the AVweb Insider blog, Paul Bertorelli says the answer is yes. But you read the blog and tell us what you think.

Read more and join the conversation.

AVweb Insider Blog: Time Flies

In her latest post to the AVweb Insider blog, editor Mary Grady polishes off her crystal ball for a quick look into the future — and then packs it away to make room for the real thing.

Read more and join the conversation.

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Your Favorite FBOs back to top 

FBO of the Week: Twin County Airport (KHLX, Hillsville, VA)

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

Lots of happy pilots in the skies this week. Nominations for an AVweb "FBO of the Week" ribbon soared over the last ten days or so, and picking a stand-out this week was tough. (We cheated and saved a couple of facilities for future installments.)

Amid stiff competition, Twin County Aviation Services at Twin County Airport (KHLX) in Hillsville, Virginia takes home this week's blue ribbon. AVweb reader John A. Jorgensen had that best of all possible experiences of Twin County -- a stopover so pleasant he'd go back just for fun:

Wonderful service and hospitality! I returned yesterday from delivering a DNR aircraft to Sanford, North Carolina for a FLIR installation/integration. On the way, I ran into the remains of Hurricane Isaac, which did not allow me to continue VFR. Scott Thomas, FBO manager, and his crew met me on the ramp, escorted me into their new facility, shared local weather wisdom, entertained me, provided a courtesy car, and simply made me feel welcome. Scott is a banjo player, and he invited me to their Tuesday evening session at the String Bean in Galax! It was a real treat. I stayed in a wonderful cabin along the New River Trail and had a great rest. Next time through, I am sure that I will not hesitate to stop, simply say "hi!" and to enjoy their Virginia hospitality. It provided a real and special treat.

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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The Lighter Side of Flight back to top 

Short Final

When an air traffic controller asked an aircraft to reduce speed even more than he already had:

Aircraft 1234:
"If I reduce any further, I'll fall out of the sky!"

"Roger. Report leaving altitudes on descent."

Ed LeSage
via e-mail

Heard Anything Funny on the Radio?

Heard anything funny, unusual, or downright shocking on the radio lately? If you've been flying any length of time, you're sure to have eavesdropped on a few memorable exchanges. The ones that gave you a chuckle may do the same for your fellow AVweb readers. Share your radio funny with us, and, if we use it in a future "Short Final," we'll send you a sharp-looking AVweb hat to sport around your local airport. No joke.

Click here to submit your original, true, and previously unpublished story.

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Names Behind the News back to top 

Meet the AVwebFlash Team

AVwebFlash is a twice-weekly summary of the latest news, articles, products, features, and events featured on AVweb, the world's premier independent aviation news resource.

The AVwebFlash team is:

Tom Bliss

Editorial Director, Aviation Publications
Paul Bertorelli

Russ Niles

Scott Simmons

Contributing Editors
Mary Grady
Glenn Pew

Kevin Lane-Cummings

Ad Coordinator
Karen Lund

Avionics Editor
Larry Anglisano

Have a product or service to advertise on AVweb? Your advertising can reach over 225,000 loyal AVwebFlash, AVwebBiz, and AVweb home page readers every week. Over 80% of our readers are active pilots and aircraft owners. That's why our advertisers grow with us, year after year. For ad rates and scheduling, click here or contact Tom Bliss, via e-mail or via telephone [(480) 525-7481].

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.

If you're having trouble reading this newsletter in its HTML-rich format (or if you'd prefer a lighter, simpler format for your phone 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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