AVwebFlash - Volume 13, Number 42b

October 18, 2007

By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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NTSB Cites Range Of Safety Issues In UAV Investigation

The NTSB has completed its first investigation into an accident involving an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and on Tuesday, the board issued 22 safety recommendations and expressed concern about operating these vehicles in the National Airspace System. NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker said the high number of recommendations reflects "a wide range of safety issues involving the civilian use of unmanned aircraft." On April 26, a turboprop-powered Predator B operated on a surveillance mission by U.S. Customs and Border Protection crashed in a sparsely populated residential area near Nogales, Ariz. No one on the ground was injured, but the remotely piloted 66-foot-wingspan aircraft was substantially damaged. The board found that the pilot, who was not proficient in the performance of emergency procedures, inadvertently shut off the fuel while dealing with a console "lock-up" problem, causing a total loss of engine power. The NTSB cited several areas of particular concern, including the design and certification of the unmanned aircraft system, pilot qualification and training, the integration of UAVs into the air traffic management system, and the lack of audio records of UAV operations-related communications.

"This investigation has raised questions about the different standards for manned and unmanned aircraft and the safety implications of this discrepancy," said Rosenker. He said the pilot's console had been known to "lock up" in the past, but this issue was not resolved. "Such conditions would never be tolerated in the cockpit of a manned aircraft," he said. "We need to make sure that the system by which pilots are trained and readied for flight is rigorous and thorough. With the potential for thousands of these unmanned aircraft in use years from now, the standards for pilot training need to be set high to ensure that those on the ground and other users of the airspace are not put in jeopardy." The complete UAV accident report can be accessed online.

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Excel-Jet Sues FAA Over Sport-Jet Crash

When the Sport-Jet prototype crashed during a test flight in 2006, it wasn't due to any flaw with the aircraft or a mistake by the crew, says Excel-Jet in a suit filed against the FAA. It was because air traffic controllers cleared the jet to take off behind a large commercial aircraft (a deHavilland Dash 8) in violation of mandatory separation requirements. The company on Wednesday said it filed the suit in an effort to prove that its airplane and pilot were not at fault. On June 22, 2006, the Sport-Jet rolled aggressively to the left immediately after liftoff and crashed. The company has long contended that wake turbulence was the cause, but the NTSB report, completed in April, found "it is most likely that the wake vortices were neither strong enough nor close enough to the Sport-Jet to cause the violent roll to the left." The NTSB cited "a loss of control for an undetermined reason" as the probable cause of the accident. Excel-Jet now says it has no option but to initiate legal action against the FAA in an effort to prove that there was no fault with the aircraft or pilot.

"Test pilots James Stewart and Ron McElroy had accumulated 24 hours of virtually flawless flight testing," Bob Bornhofen, president of Excel-Jet, said in a news release. "The Sport-Jet had explored the majority of its flight envelope without problems." Stewart, who was flying at the time of the crash, survived the crash without injury. The company is at work on a second prototype, which it expects to fly sometime next year.

Mallya Plans Epic Plant In India

Indian business tycoon Vijay Mallya says he intends to build Epic's line of turboprops and light jets in India to serve the Asian and Middle Eastern market. Mallya bought a 50 percent stake in Bend, Ore.-based Epic earlier this year and says he wants to bring the operation, or at least part of it, home. “Once the certification process of Dynasty, Victory and Elite is done in the US, I want to manufacture them in India. The manufacturing base in India will largely target Middle-East and Asia besides the domestic market,” he told The Economic Times The Times story also says that as part of the deal, "Epic Aircraft also got access to Airbus resources to accelerate the certification of its new VLJs — Elite and Victory." What effect the planned manufacturing plant in India will have on Epic's plans in North America isn't known. However, the story does say that building the planes in India is expected to be cheaper than building them in North America.

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Fossett Friends And Family Face Likely Loss

Sir Richard Branson said this week that he knows his friend, adventurer Steve Fossett, probably will not be found alive. "I think the chances are that he's no longer with us," Branson told Matt Lauer on NBC's Today Show on Monday. "I think everybody involved has pretty well given up hope, sadly." Fossett was last seen on Sept. 3 when he took off from a private airstrip in Nevada for a short flight in a Super Decathlon. Branson said Fossett's wife, Peggy, plans to return to Nevada soon for "one final search," but her husband's loss is beginning to sink in. Lauer's interview with Branson is posted online. Continuing efforts by the Civil Air Patrol and privately funded searchers have failed to turn up any sign of Fossett or the airplane he was flying. New analysis of radar traces earlier this month pointed to a 100-square-mile area southeast of the Hilton ranch that Fossett took off from, but ground searchers found nothing.

Authorities have said they will continue the search if new leads arise. Meanwhile, the private search continues with various kinds of imaging and field reconnaissance.

Airbus A380 To Fly Next Week With Singapore Airlines

On the heels of Boeing's announcement that its latest design, the 787 Dreamliner, will be delayed six months, Singapore Airlines (SA) is expected to fly its first Airbus A380 next week for the very first time. The carrier has gone the luxury route and outfitted its double-decker Airbus with sleeping cabins that can be converted to flying offices. Those flying economy class on the jet will at least enjoy their own 10.5-inch screen. SA's configuration has room for 471 passengers instead of seating for the 800 or more passengers the aircraft is capable of confining.

"It sets new standards in luxury and comfort," Singapore Chief Executive Chew Choon Seng told TheAge.com. The aircraft's cabin is said to be extremely quiet in the air, too, no matter how much you paid for your seat. Qantas will soon be sending competing A380s into service, with a maximum seating capacity of 450, showing that the jet's 800-seat potential is (for now) being set aside for other concerns.

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Pilot Fired Fighting Aviophobia

A pilot previously made famous for stripping to his underwear to protest airport security rules has now been fired from MyTravel Airways after allowing a soccer player to fly as a passenger in the flight deck jump seat. Captain Pablo Mason has a (relatively) popular following in the U.K. for his efforts to cure hundreds of passengers of their fear of flying. Mason acknowledged that he may have broken a rule by using the jumpseat, but did not admit to being aware of the rule. He told the Times Online, "I don't accept that I compromised safety, prejudiced the good name of MyTravel or neglected my duty." Mason added, "Rules are for the guidance of wise men and the obedience of fools."

Passengers touched by their positive experiences with Mason have spoken up on his behalf.

India Turns Away From American Gray

India is turning away American pilots over age 60, in spite of a need for qualified pilots. The country is currently seeing an aviation boom (civil aviation, there, is enjoying a 37-percent growth rate) and a pilot crunch, but that doesn't mean they want to fill the ranks with American pilots over the age of 60. The country has made a regulatory decision to stop issuing certificates to American pilots over the age of 60 -- Indian pilots may fly to age 65. India expects 350 million air travelers by 2020 (the number was closer to 75 million in 2006) and has the fastest-growing number of air passengers in the world.

As a result, the decision to turn away qualified pilots is viewed by some as not in India's own interests.

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Aussie Carrier Seeks Government Subsidies For Training

Australia's Regional Express airline is warning that a pilot shortage will within 12 months become a crisis and is calling on the Australian government to come to the rescue with cash for training. The airline estimates the country will need 900 new pilots per year for the next two years, and says ATPs are being produced in Australia at a rate of less than 400 per year. As a result, those new pilots who fly first for regional carriers are being swept up by national carriers at a rate that exceeds supply, leaving both regional and national carriers wanting.

Regional Express says the large airlines' demand for pilots and historic expansion plans at Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Blue are behind the pilot shortfall and are already leading to cancellation of flights due to a lack of available crews. Regional Express expects the situation to get worse before it gets better.

Industry Reacts to FAA Action Against Jet Charter Company

The FAA's recent action to suspend operations at AMI Jet Charter was "driven more by arrogance and a failure to understand how Part 135 is different from Part 121" than by any concerns about safety, according to James Coyne, president of the National Air Transportation Association (NATA). Coyne, in a letter to NATA members dated October 15, said he was "extremely angered" by the FAA's "shocking" action. AMI operates about 10 percent of the top-of-the-line Gulfstream, Falcon and other large corporate jets in the U.S. charter market, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Tag Aviation owns 49 percent of the company, and it is the issue of ownership, or "operational control" -- and who is responsible for the safe operation of the airplanes -- that is the basis for the FAA's action. AMI filed an appeal last week with the NTSB, arguing that no "emergency" situation exists to justify the FAA's action, and provided a declaration countering many of the FAA's claims against the carrier. AMI's appeal and their response to the FAA's charges are posted at the NATA Web site. AMI CEO Chuck McLeran said he hopes to work with the FAA to resolve the issues. "We are confident that we can demonstrate AMIJC's outstanding safety record to the FAA and our continued commitment to full compliance with all applicable regulations and procedures," he said in a statement.

National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) President and CEO Ed Bolen said the FAA action should be viewed as a wake-up call to all charter providers. "This significant action was taken against a company that is among the most highly regarded charter providers in the country," Bolen said. "NBAA urges the charter members within our association to take note of the FAA's recent action and ensure that their operational control practices are in order."

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Judge Keeps Pilot In Jail Pending FAA Action

For pilots who have experienced waiting for things to happen on an FAA time scale, the thought of waiting behind bars for the FAA to act could be daunting. One pilot in Virginia faces that situation, as a judge says he's not willing to let him out until the FAA revokes his pilot certificate. The FAA says it can't do that until it completes its investigation, and how long that will take, nobody can say. Pilot Ronald Davis Jr., 50, of Naples, Fla., is in this fix because he's charged with flying under the influence, which is a felony in Virginia. Davis was giving $10 helicopter rides to the public at the Suffolk Peanut Fest last Sunday when passengers complained that he was flying erratically. Police said Davis failed a field sobriety test and registered a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.116 on a preliminary breath test, the Virginian-Pilot reported.

Davis told the judge several times he would voluntarily surrender his certificate to get out of jail, but that proposal didn't fly. Jim Deuel, one of the Sunday passengers, told WAVY-TV that the four-minute ride felt unsafe. "It was a smooth takeoff and then all of a sudden he just shot up into the air and shot back down and turned to the left real hard," Deuel said. He said the pilot banked sharply left and right throughout the flight, and did not interact with his passengers. "The whole time he just looked straight ahead. He didn't even look at us. He just looked straight ahead," Deuel said.

We Have a Winner! AVweb's Red Bull Video Ranks First Worldwide

Among all the sports videos on the Internet -- from CBS, ESPN, and more, about football, and car racing, and scandal -- it was AVweb's behind-the-scenes coverage of the San Diego Red Bull Air Race that ranked number one in a worldwide online poll. The web site WeShow lets viewers around the world choose their favorite videos from more than 200 channels. Once a month, the ranks are posted, then the competition starts over. AVweb videographer Glenn Pew combined dramatic aerial shots, hangar talk with the pilots, knowledgeable narration, and deft editing to beat out the competition.

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Probable Cause #43: Into the Water

A Baron pilot flies into Lake Ontario on an approach in foggy conditions, proving that CFIT accidents can happen in the flattest of places./p>

Click here for the full story.

Years ago I used to fly into the Toronto City Centre Airport (CYTZ), although in those days it was called the Toronto Island Airport, because it was built on an island in Lake Ontario.

Back then, the only instrument approach that was available was an NDB approach over Lake Ontario towards the city and all of its buildings. It was scary when you knew that the CN Tower, which hails 2,056 feet into the Toronto skyline, was less than a mile northeast of the airport. But the beacon was on the airport property, so if you paid careful attention to your track, it worked out fine.

Not As Forecast

In July 2003, the pilot of a Beech B58TC Baron departed Lansing, Ill., for an instrument flight to Toronto City Centre where he was to take part in a business meeting. At 5:12 a.m. (all times are EDT), when the pilot called for his briefing, the forecast for City Centre had yet to be issued. However, the forecast for the Lester B. Pearson International Airport (CYYZ), located on the northwest side of the city, indicated that the lowest ceiling that was expected that morning was 2,000 feet overcast with a visibility of two miles in thundershowers and mist. The actual weather was consistent with the forecast at the time the pilot received his briefing. With no other indications that suggested otherwise, the Baron pilot probably thought he was in for an easy flight.

About 30 minutes later, the CYTZ forecast was issued and it, too, suggested a similar forecast as that provided for CYYZ. However, beginning with the 6 a.m. AWOS for CYTZ, the ceilings were reported occasionally as low as zero feet and the visibility deteriorated to one mile between 6 and 7 a.m. At 7:24 a.m., an amended forecast was issued that indicated a temporary reduction in visibility to one mile in light rain and mist with scattered clouds at 200 feet until 10:00 a.m. The Baron pilot received this forecast when he checked the weather while enroute at 8:25 a.m.

At 9:46 a.m., a new forecast was issued that indicated ceilings of zero feet and a visibility of 1/8-mile, improving to two miles visibility in mist and an 800-foot broken ceiling between 10 a.m. and noon. By this time, the pilot was about to enter a hold to wait his turn for the approach and it is believed that he never received this forecast.

Tower controllers at City Centre noticed some improvement beginning at about 9:30 a.m. when the RVR was 2,800 feet and the top of the CN Tower was visible. At that time the aircraft ahead of the Baron began its approach to the airport. The crew later told investigators that they had visual contact with the surface of the lake when they were holding approximately 15 miles southeast of the airport at 3,000 feet. At 3.0 DME the crew noted that a lighthouse protruded through the fog layer, indicating that the fog depth was about 50 feet. At 2.2 DME the crew could see buildings and trees through the fog and some of the city's features.

The approach in use was the Localizer/DME-B Approach, which only has circling minimums of 760 feet and two miles. The crew stated that as they began their turn to final approach, the precision approach path indicator (PAPI) was briefly visible, the mid-portion of the runway was briefly visible, but both ends of the runway were obscured by fog. As a result, the crew elected to execute a missed approach.

At that time the tower controllers stated that conditions on the surface appeared to be "almost VFR," with an RVR of 6,000 feet. The AWOS at 9:44 a.m. reported the ceiling was unlimited with a few clouds at 8,800 feet, but that the visibility was still 1/4 mile.

Over The Water

The Baron's flight from the Chicago area to Toronto was uneventful. The pilot had filed for and flew at 13,000 feet until reaching London, Ontario, where he began a descent to 7,000 feet. He was later cleared to 4,000 feet and told to hold at the TILEL initial fix, located 15 miles east-southeast of the airport on the localizer. At 9:48 a.m. the Baron entered the hold at TILEL and the pilot was given an expect further clearance (EFC) time of 10 a.m. because the other aircraft ahead of him was still on the approach.

At 9:50 a.m. the first flight crew declared their missed approach and they indicated to the controller that only part of the runway was in sight. The Baron pilot acknowledged hearing the report and the controller issued the 9:44 a.m. AWOS report. The pilot told controllers that he would like to fly the approach and he was cleared to do so with the stipulation that he cross TILEL at 3,000 feet.

As the Baron passed TILEL inbound, the pilot was instructed to contact the City Centre Tower controller. The frequency change was accomplished and the Tower controller instructed the pilot to report the runway in sight or the missed approach. He was given the option of landing on Runway 8, 26 or 33.

The pilot acknowledged the landing clearance and was not heard from again. After passing VOKUB, the final approach fix (FAF), the aircraft continued inbound on the localizer and descended below the minimum descent altitude (MDA) of 760 feet until it struck the water at approximately 3.6 DME, 1.6 miles short of the missed approach point.

Several hours later, the Metropolitan Toronto Police Marine Unit located floating debris in the water. Using a side-scanning sonar, the aircraft was located the following day, but it would take another two weeks until it was recovered from Lake Ontario.

No Sign Of Distress

The private pilot was originally licensed in 1960 and possessed multiengine and instrument ratings. He had approximately 700 hours of flight time in the Baron that he had owned for 11 years. He had undergone a biennial flight review and instrument competency check two days before the accident occurred. During that flight he flew two ILS approaches and one GPS approach in VFR weather conditions. The instructor told investigators that the pilot hand-flew the aircraft throughout the approaches and his handling of the aircraft was normal.

Records indicate that the pilot flew 15 hours in the 90 days preceding the accident. He did not log any instrument time or any actual or practice approaches. Looking back to the beginning of 2002, the pilot flew three non-precision approaches in instrument conditions to his home field in Lansing. He also flew two training flights about 10 months before the accident occurred. Two ILS approaches were flown near his home airport and two non-precision approaches to Lansing were made.

There is an ILS/DME Runway 8 approach into City Centre Airport, but it is not available if CYYZ is landing on Runways 23 and 24, as they were that morning.

The investigation revealed no discrepancies with the aircraft or onboard equipment. The altimeter was found to be correctly set and the pilot flew all altitudes accurately, with the exception of descending below the MDA. The flight path of the aircraft was steady throughout the flight and it appeared that the pilot correctly flew the localizer inbound. The aircraft struck the water in a wings-level, nose-level attitude, suggesting that the pilot was in control up to the point of impact. The landing gear was extended and the flaps were set to what would be considered the approach setting. There was no indication of pilot incapacitation.


Investigators with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada turned their attention to "controlled flight into terrain" (CFIT). They identified several factors in this accident that are seen in many CFIT accidents. They are:

  • Non-precision approach;
  • Poor visibility conditions;
  • Transitions from instrument to visual flight conditions and vice-versa;
  • IFR-rated general-aviation pilot over the age of 50; and
  • Low annual flying hours and limited recent experience in actual IMC.

The weather was considered as well because it was below what had been forecast when the flight began and significantly below the revised forecast for the two-hour period when the aircraft arrived in the Toronto area. A new forecast was issued just before the pilot began his approach, but there is no evidence that the pilot ever received it.

But would it have made any difference if he had? When the crew of the aircraft ahead of the Baron passed along that they had sporadic ground contact, the Baron pilot might have assumed that conditions were improving and that he would have a better chance of locating the runway than the first crew did. At that point the forecast itself probably would not have mattered, especially considering that the weather had not done what it was forecast to do anyway.

Also, the RVR was indicating that the visibility on the runway was more than a mile, although the AWOS was still reporting a visibility of 1/4 mile. When the other crew reported seeing parts of the runway, it might have bolstered the pilot's impression that conditions were improving enough that by the time he got to the runway he'd be able to see it well enough to complete the landing. After all, the AWOS was reporting no ceiling.

Based on the report made by the other crew, the fog itself was not very thick. It's entirely possible that the Baron was in and out of the clouds during the approach, and that the pilot was shifting his focus between scanning the instruments and looking outside the aircraft for evidence of the airport and the city.

It's also possible the pilot was rushed as he began his approach. When he received his approach clearance, the aircraft was positioned close to TILEL at an altitude 1,000 feet above his cleared altitude. Radar indicates that he began an immediate descent with his airspeed increasing, so the aircraft's gear and flaps would probably have still been retracted.

The aircraft passed TILEL 500 feet above the cleared altitude and soon afterward it leveled off and the speed decreased before the descent was resumed. The pilot probably extended the flaps and landing gear during this period and should have completed his before-landing checklist at this point.

The aircraft then continued its descent, with a relatively high speed and rate of descent, eventually decreasing to what would be expected, about 120 kts and 700 fpm. They remained at those rates for about one minute. Had the pilot maintained this airspeed and rate of descent, he would have crossed the FAF at about 1,300 feet. It also would have placed the airplane at MDA at 3.0 DME, one mile from the missed approach point.

But that's not what happened. Two miles before the aircraft reached the FAF, the rate of descent and the airspeed began to increase, and the aircraft crossed VOKUB at 1,000 feet, which is the minimum crossing altitude. But the 1,200-fpm rate of descent continued beyond VOKUB, which was greater than that needed to cross the 2.0-DME fix at the MDA of 760 feet. This rate continued until the aircraft struck the water.

So, why did the aircraft fly into the water? We don't know if the pilot was monitoring his instruments during the final part of the descent or if he was looking out the window for the airport. It is likely that he saw the downtown buildings and possibly had some visual contact with the ground or water.

Perhaps the water and the fog combined to create an optical illusion, presenting a false horizon that led the pilot to believe he was straight and level when he was instead descending towards the lake. The visibility above the very low-lying fog layer was probably good. It's possible that the aircraft's rate of descent was such that by the time the pilot realized he was in the fog bank, it was too late to look back at his instruments and arrest the descent before hitting the water.

This accident points out the need for pilots to follow procedure when flying an instrument approach. One has to resist the temptation to look outside for the airport or runway too early when visibility is marginal or obscured. Optical illusions and the risk of spatial disorientation are real threats that have claimed numerous lives.

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.


A Pilot's History: Chap. 2 -- California Base

In this second chapter of the career of Carl Moesly, he goes to Long Beach to ferry brand-new aircraft all over the country.

Click here for the full story.

Our class of 51 sergeants, with newly sewn stacks of chevrons on our sleeves and silver wings pinned to our shirts, arrived in Long Beach, Calif., the heart of aircraft manufacturing facilities. We were to ferry these aircraft to modification plants scattered around the country and then catch an airliner or an Army aircraft shuttle service back to Long Beach. It may have been a poor place to get a promotion, but it was a hell of a good place to learn about the latest aeronautical designs coming off the production lines! The aircraft included models from Lockheed, Douglas, North American, Consolidated, Boeing and Vultee, plus the modification factories.

Each manufacturer had its strong points and weak points. Our day-to-day work gave us a real education in aeronautical design, engineering, and craftsmanship. I had set a goal to be the best pilot I could be and to not pass up any chance to learn. We had Link Trainers for instrument flying, which I used at every opportunity. I also posted maps across the windshield when cross-country flying with a co-pilot in a twin-engine or four-engine aircraft, as I felt instrument flying might someday separate the men from the boys.

Learn from the White Hairs

I knew that, by comparison, I was a novice pilot and I searched out a few old-timers to question. I found that very little of their experience could be applied to the types of aircraft and equipment we were now flying. However, I did learn from their mental approach to aviation problems, which usually centered on remaining calm and using common-sense solutions backed up with technical knowledge, plus -- of course -- the skills needed to perform the necessary task.

One beautiful day, another pilot and I took off on a trip from Long Beach to Oakland, each of us in a P-38. These were the latest fighter planes off the production line. We took our planes into the clouds, dancing in and out at tremendous speeds and enjoying the capabilities of these high-performance machines.

After we landed at Oakland, my fellow pilot motioned me into the hangar. He pointed toward the iron beams of the ceiling where, suspended from cables, was a wood-and-fabric contraption with a wooden pusher propeller and a skimpy seat way out in front from which the foolish pilot would control this conglomeration of sticks, wires, and fabric. The pilot next to me softly said, with a whimsical smile on his face, "I used to fly one of these." I looked at my pilot friend and saw a pudgy figure with a weather-beaten face and long, white hair that had blown about in many a prop wash. I looked once more at the early bird contraption and then again at the sleek, metal fighters we had just flown. This was a man who had already lived a tremendous life through many changes in aviation history. I stood next to him and realized how I envied him and his experiences.

Reunited with Jeanne

About this time, I was missing that blonde I had left in Florida. Jeanne and I had grown up together -- being a couple through junior and senior high school -- and everyone knew that someday we'd marry. That time had come for me, and I invited her to California to get married. She agreed to forgo an elaborate wedding in Fort Lauderdale and flew out to the West Coast, where we had a simple ceremony with a few of my classmates standing by. Jeanne was a slender 5-foot 3-inches tall, with long, flowing hair and an easy smile that would always make you feel welcome in her presence.

After our wedding, my bride found a one-room apartment with a pull-down bed for us on the ocean side of town. When we were together, everything was peaceful and wonderful. But during those years, my life was hectic; I was flying on many missions and was frequently away for weeks at a time. We never had enough time to spend with each other. Eventually, Jeanne got a job in a doctor's office that always allowed her time off when I was in town. Over the following few years, the doctor lost his sons in the war.

New Planes, New Challenges

Our class of pilots was being pushed hard to cope with powerful, new aircraft, the new terrain of desert and Rocky Mountains, and long-range navigation. But the factories that built these aircraft were also under tremendous strain. The assembly lines were staffed with ex-housewives, plasterers, plumbers, and bartenders. Where did the designers and engineers come from? President Franklin D. Roosevelt said the country would build 10,000 aircraft a month, and that was close to accurate. I could not guess how many ships were built at the same time. I was constantly amazed by the number of aircraft I flew and how few problems we had. I gained a lot of respect for the men in charge of production.

I flew a Hudson Bomber from Lockheed to the Canadian border in Michigan to be delivered to the British. This plane didn't have any controls for a co-pilot, and it loved to ground loop in a crosswind. There was also the B-34 -- a larger, more powerful and faster sister ship of the Hudson -- but its hearty appetite for fuel made it suitable only as a short-range bomber for the British to use against targets across the English Channel. The B-25 was my first tricycle gear-plane and made it easy to make a good landing. (Lt. Col. James Doolittle would later use B-25s on his 1942 Tokyo raid.) We also had Boeing B-17s that were to be used for bombing German terrain, and B-24s made by Consolidated that were used to fight the enemy all around the world. We pilots would compare every aircraft against the others with our constant hangar talk, and sometimes bar talk.

As a staff sergeant pilot, I would sometimes be outranked by my co-pilot, and a couple of times by my crew chief. There was never any trouble with rank and understanding who was in command. Skill and knowledge created its own ranking system. My promotion to flight officer and later to second lieutenant helped ease the social strain for me.

Fun with Fighters

Getting into the fighters was a lot of fun. It was a great pleasure to drive the twin-boom P-38, with its service ceiling of 42,000 feet and its long-range capability, which was made possible by its wing tanks. The P-38 could carry the same bomb load as the four-engine B-17. After flying from the Pacific coast to Dallas nonstop at 38,000 feet, I was met at the modification plant by the chief pilot, who announced a celebration at the plant and also at the Lockheed plant in California for setting a new speed record. (Of course, we knew speed records of this sort indicated only how good a tailwind was blowing.) This particular time I had flown the F-5, a reconnaissance version of the P-38 without the guns and armor. It was lighter and faster than its heavier sisters. This plane also had improved engines, and I was guilty of pushing it a little bit.

The marvelous P-51 single-engine fighter was another craft in our fleet. In 1943 I was flying one of these when I bounced it against the compressibility of the sound barrier by going to high altitude, rolling it over onto its back, and pointing the nose down. I really had no knowledge of what could or might happen, but I figured I would learn something. This was years and years before we heard about the sound barrier or broke through it.

One day I and a crew flew a B-17 down the Grand Canyon at about sunset -- a breathtaking sight that made me appreciate some of the wonders of this great country. I had also flown a small, trainer plane inside the lip of a huge meteor crater near Winslow, Ariz. The crater was about 450 feet deep and three-quarters of a mile across. Later, I was able to view a large fragment of the meteor in the lobby of a hotel nearby. It consisted of a huge piece of black iron with a once-molten surface honeycombed like a block of Swiss cheese.

Trust But Verify

Not everything that happened, however, was pleasant. A combat crew in a B-24 heading for Australia came to Long Beach needing a command pilot to fill out the crew for an overseas trip. Operations assigned me to the task. The crew had been put together in a training station and were pretty green. I asked operations for a test flight with the full crew, fuel load, and complement of equipment before going to Fairfield, Calif. Fairfield was to be our jump-off point for Honolulu, a leg of about 2,450 miles -- a critical distance in terms of fuel.

My request was granted and on the test flight the plane flew like no other B-24 I had flown. It seemed to crab sideways through the air, and it failed to achieve the speed I expected. The cowl flaps were not rigged uniformly, and there were various other discrepancies from optimal performance conditions. It was far preferable to make these corrections in Long Beach than to send the plane overseas to be fixed under difficult conditions. The ailerons were re-rigged, which improved performance, and the plane was cleaned up mechanically. The engines were shut down individually and the props feathered to check their operation. When all seemed to check out fine, we finally took off for Fairfield.

I was really looking forward to seeing Australia again, but mainly the islands between here and there. On the route to Fairfield, I became physically ill, developed a fever, and was barely able to handle the controls for landing. Upon landing, I had to be helped out of the aircraft. Shortly thereafter, I vomited on the runway and, feeling weak, decided to check in at the small base hospital. The doctor could find nothing wrong, but he decided to keep me overnight and said he would send a specialist to see me. That evening, a pompous specialist arrived and started asking outlandish questions: "Are you afraid of flying over the Pacific Ocean? Do you like your crew? Is your wife making your life difficult?" It didn't take me long to realize he was a "shrink."

I slept well that night and woke up feeling OK, but then I looked at myself in the mirror and noticed a lot of little red bumps had appeared. The riddle was solved: I had chicken pox. I was placed in isolation. I called Long Beach and told them I was to be hospitalized for a while.

After a few days, a classmate named Ken was sent to take my place. We talked, as much as the doctors would allow, about the condition of the aircraft and crew.

There But For the Grace of God ...

The plane was scheduled to take off in a couple days, headed for Honolulu. When the time came for their departure, I looked out into the dark night through the hospital windows and silently wished Ken and the crew well, for I knew the plane would be heavily loaded.

The next morning, I was awakened early by a clamor of commotion and conversation in the hallways. There had been an aircraft accident, and the hospital staff was bustling to take care of the injured and the dead. I asked about the survivors and was told that two were OK and a third was in critical condition. The two survivors visited me and, as I recall, one was a gunner and the other a flight engineer. As their story unfolded, I learned their takeoff was fine, but the climb out was very slow because of the heavy fuel load, a full crew of 11 men and their baggage, plus a lot of overseas mail. They must have been less than an hour out when an engine failed and the propeller refused to feather, thus becoming a huge aerodynamic drag for the other three engines to overcome.

The pilot tried to stretch his glide back to the field, constantly losing altitude. Realizing he could not make it to the runway, he gave the order to bail out. For many, it was too late. I can only imagine the confusion and decisions that must have transpired in the cockpit. The two men standing in front of me had parachuted out, getting in one or two swings before hitting the ground. The plane had hit the marshland a short distance away and was in a ball of flame. Running to the crash site, they had been unable to find anyone other than the radio operator, a very stout man, who was attached to his chute, buried to his waist in the soft marsh and unconscious, the marsh grass on fire around him. They pulled him away from the fire and waited for rescue crews.

While waiting for my quarantine to be lifted, I received word that Ken's wife had requested that I accompany her husband's body to Amarillo, Texas, for burial. I was uncomfortable meeting her and the rest of Ken's family, because he had taken my place during an untimely illness. If I had been in the cockpit, would I have handled things differently? Would the outcome have been the same? I will never know.

The funeral and burial went with military efficiency, and I met some very fine people who remained my friends for many years. Thereafter, I often stopped at the ranch Ken's family owned to visit or to go hunting, and to remember Ken through the pictures of him in uniform that hung on the walls.

Deeper Training

I returned to Long Beach to continue building up flying experience with my classmates. After we had finished our primary, basic, and advanced flight training and had our silver wings ceremoniously pinned on, we felt like "hot stuff," but actually we were woefully inexperienced. Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed and tried to keep us from killing ourselves. They wanted us to learn the basics of getting to Point B from Point A in any kind of weather, over any distance and any terrain. To learn about the different kinds of aircraft, we did a lot of useful work moving aircraft about.

I was soon ordered to fly to Homestead, Fla., for special courses in instrument flying. Could it have been because of my pestering operations for Link training and local flying under the hood? When I arrived at the school, I found I was the lowest-ranking man to be assigned as a student. They used C-54s, C-87s, B-24s, and C-60s for instrument training, all of which I had considerable flying time in except the C-54, which flew the way a four-engine plane should fly and handle. Of course, there also was the ever-present Link instrument trainer. The instructor and I took a C-60 to Santiago, Cuba, giving me over six hours of flying under the hood. Ostensibly, it was a training flight, but we loaded the aircraft with rum and other bottled goods for the officers club and some friends.

After my checkride under the hood in a C-54, a very rough test that included feathering two engines, the check pilot pulled me aside and asked questions about my flying background. I was a bit nervous during our conversation, until he told me I had done better than the others. But then he also cautioned me that due to my rank, it would be better for us not to talk about it. I never did.


I had a couple of days after the training classes before I needed to report back to Long Beach. As Homestead was only about 50 miles from my hometown, I decided to take a bus to Fort Lauderdale and then a taxi to the foot of my parents' driveway. I took a leisurely walk up to my former home, savoring every minute of it. The home we had built looked much smaller now, and the river looked narrower than it did on the day when I had pulled out a young lad to save him from drowning. Dad looked older and had been coaxed out of retirement to operate the mill at the navy station. Mom was the same as ever and insisted on baking me an apple pie. My older brother was on a seagoing tug in the Aleutian Islands. For a period time, he was believed to be dead after a German sub had sunk the Liberty ship he was towing in the Caribbean and the abandoned raft had washed ashore. The family was elated to hear his tug had managed to escape and he was actually still alive. My younger brother was a paratrooper, location unknown. Getting news to and from even family members was quite impossible, due to the security of our country and not releasing information on the troop movements.

For the past year, I had had my head into flying, focusing on aircraft, production lines, and the new technology coming in aviation. Little did I know, or even think, about the lives of civilians and how they were changing during this turbulent time, or about how a war could bring such changes to a small town. There were missing people, rationing of food and other products, and restricted travel, along with other quiet, determined sacrifices by everybody in hopes of bringing about a victory. We had been a close-knit family: three brothers separated by only a few years, growing up as boys do, in and out of trouble and constantly on the lookout for a new adventure. But now we were separated and scattered by the winds of war.

After my return to Long Beach, I was transferred to Palm Springs, Calif., about 100 miles east of Long Beach. This was a good staging area for aircraft. A mountain range separated us from the Pacific coast, cutting us off from dense fogs and smog. Its desert location meant the temperatures would reach 120 degrees in the shade; you could fry an egg on the wing of an aircraft. Jeanne had bought an old Plymouth coupe to move our belongings to Palm Springs and rented a trailer for us to live in. It was so small that we had to leave my suitcase in the car. Fortunately, a small house soon became available and we moved right in, but we missed our old apartment on the beach and our occasional drives down the coast to rent a sailboat for the day. Nevertheless, life in Palm Springs was good for the few days I was home.

It was not long before orders came for me, along with about a dozen of the pilots who had completed the instrument flying course with me, to report to Hickam Field in Honolulu. Due to the extended duration of this assignment, Jeanne drove back to Miami to live with her parents.

[To be continued ...]

To send a note to Carl 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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Tell Us What You Think back to top 

How's That Diesel Airplane Working Out For You?

Our sister magazine, Aviation Consumer, is conducting a research project on diesel aircraft engines. If you're flying one, we would like to know what your impressions of it are. Has the performance been what you expected? How about the economy? We would also like to know about service history. For a questionnaire, e-mail avconsumer@comcast.net. The editorial staff will get right back to you.

Question of the Week: Columbia Aircraft, Now Brought to You by ... ?

This Week's Question | Previous Week's Answers


Rarely do we find that AVweb readers are all of one mind on an issue — but there was clear consensus on the answer to last week's Question, Should passengers be allowed to use their cell phones on airliners?  That consensus, of course, was absolutely not.  A full 70% of AVweb readers said there are enough indignities in airline travel today without having to listen to other passengers' private phone conversations.

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


With Cirrus and Cessna both bidding on the assets of Columbia Manufacturing, the race is on!  Whom do you predict will win the bankruptcy sweepstakes and get to put their name above Columbia's on the company letterhead?

Click here to answer.

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

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

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Reader-Submitted Photos back to top 

Picture of the Week: AVweb's Flying Photography Showcase

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

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


"POTW" submissions tapered off a bit this week, with only 65 new photos finding their way to our submission box — but with a backlog of fantastic photos from the last three weeks that we're still trying to sneak into our home page slideshow, there's no shortage of oohs or ahhs.

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Used with permission of Wally Dilling

Where Do We Go from Here?

The top spot goes to a slightly unusual photo this week.  Most winners make us happy when we look at them — but this one just made us happy it wasn't us in the cockpit!

Wally Dilling of Hagerstown, Indiana didn't offer many comments, but he did explain that "brakes don't work so well on wet grass."

An official AVweb cap will probably be cold comfort, Wally — but we're sending you one anyway.



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Used with permission of Jeff Randall

American Pride

Jeff Randall of Clyde, Texas is a semi-regular contributor to "Picture of the Week," and if there's one thing almost all of his photos have in common, it's this:  Jeff knows how to put himself in the right place at the right time to catch folks doing what comes naturally and make it look stunning.



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Used with permission of Stoney Truett

This Is What Heaven Will Look Like for Me ...

Stoney Truett of Cayce, South Carolina spent some time at a small airport in North Carolina and (after chatting with the owner) decided he'd seen the Promised Land.

If they've got barbecue (or at least hot dogs), we'll go along with you, Stoney ... .


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copyright © Brad Marzari
Used with permission

Scare the S--- Out of You

Oh, all right — we couldn't resist this photo (and its caption) from Brad Marzari.  The context here is the Swiss Air Force's Fliegerschiessen Axalp, a day-long military demonstration and air show.  Brad points out that the F5 is firing ("note the gunsmoke") at a target "7,000 feet across the draw."

Those poor suckers in the Port-o-Johns.


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Used with permission of Norm Frakes

Last on the Ramp at Tangier Island

David Lumgair of Craddockville, Virginia flies us out this week.  Sorry to put you last on the ramp again, David, but you know what they say about "saving the best" ... .

O.K. folks, that's all!  But we're far from done — we'll have to do it all over again next week, so please:  Don't forget to send us your photos.  They really are the best part of our week.

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

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

Featured AVweb Classified Ad: LoPresti Has Job Openings
LoPresti Speed Merchants, located in Vero Beach, FL, has a number of job opportunities for the right person. Are you that person? Go to AVweb's Classifieds and look under "Employment Opportunities" to find out.
For contact information regarding this ad, to view more ads, and to post your no-cost ad, click here.
Your Favorite FBOs back to top 

FBO of the Week: Aviation Facilities, Inc. (AFI) (KFUL, Fullerton, CA)

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

AVweb's "FBO of the Week" ribbon goes to Aviation Facilities, Inc. (AFI) at KFUL in Fullerton, California — a family-run FBO that celebrated its 40th anniversary at KFUL last week.

AVweb reader Ray Stratton gave us a little history:

Starting with a C-150 and using the airport motel lobby as an office, [AFI] ... has grown to a fleet of eleven aircraft and over seven instructors. Still owned and operated by the same family, it has accomplished over 250,000 hours of flight instruction.

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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Help Us Make the News back to top 

AVweb's Newstips Address ...

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

AVwebBiz: AVweb's Business Aviation Newsletter

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Names Behind the News back to top 

Meet the AVwebFlash Team

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

The AVwebFlash team is:

Timothy Cole

Editorial Director, Aviation Publications
Paul Bertorelli

Russ Niles

Contributing Editors
Mary Grady
Glenn Pew

Features Editor
Kevin Lane-Cummings

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

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