AVmail: December 21, 2009
Each week, we run a sampling of the letters received to our editorial inbox here in AVmail. One letter that's particularly relevant, informative, or otherwise compelling will headline this section as our "Letter of the Week," and we'll send the author an official AVweb baseball cap as a "thank you" for interacting with us (and the rest of our readership). Send us your comments and questions using this form. Please include your mailing address in your e-mail (just in case your letter is our "Letter of the Week"); by the same token, please let us know if your message is not intended for publication.
Letter of the Week: Crew Qualifications
The proposed requirement for a 1500-hour minimum is another example of non-aviators attempting to "fix" what they do not understand. Is experience vital to success in the cockpit? Absolutely, but without proper training and currency, experience (minimum hours) can turn into an exercise of boring holes in the sky to fill an artificial requirement.
I've been active as a flight instructor for over 20 years teaching civilian to military, basic to advanced flight training. Quality of training [and] getting good habit patterns and procedures established early outweighs mere hours burned in the sky. I instruct at one of the USAF Aero Clubs and fly from the same runway as F-22 Raptors and C-17 Globemasters. In my younger days I had the privilege of being a weapons systems officer on the F-4 Phantom. Then, as now, the younger pilots were often folks with barely 300 hours of total flying time. 300 hours of total flying time and PIC of an aircraft capable of Mach 2+ and the ability to establish air supremacy in a war zone! How is that possible? Simple: Quality of training, recency of experience (competency and proficiency) and proactive supervision.
While the phrase "there is no substitute for experience" sounds great, in reality, proper training and proficiency can go a long way to bridging any gaps in experience. In my career as an instructor I can identify numerous pilots with relatively little total flying time that I would trust my family with before I would let those same family members fly with other pilots who had much higher total flight times.
If the goal is to "fix the problem" with 121 operators, the effort should go into proper training and proficiency along with supervisory requirements. As an outsider looking in (through media sources, so information could be flawed) it looks like the Colgan Dash-8 crash could possibly have been prevented through better training and supervision by both the company and the FAA.
A related point: As a group, we need to educate our elected officials before the FAA regulations get turned into air law (like some other countries) controlled by Congress. If you think the regulations are tough, take a look at what happens in countries that have their flying controlled by law.
R. G. Preston
Both pilots in all two-pilot crew 121 and 135 operations should be ATP- and type-rated. Period.
NAFI has a vested interest in their point. They have plenty of members just biding their time to reach an airline cockpit. Frequently the result is poor training. Probably the safest system the airlines have had was the three-pilot crew. Watching others deal with the unexpected challenges of real flight situations is irreplaceable. Judgment is essential to safe long-term performance as a pilot. It doesn't develop in a few hundred hours of scrambling to build time, especially in the right seat of a primary trainer.
Although I agree that adequate training is essential for every pilot, nothing is more important than good aeronautical decision-making skills. Only experience can hone that ability. 1500 hours will go a long way to make that happen.
The [original] article reporting on the Families of Continental Flight 3407 seems to have a glaring error. Or maybe I read it wrong. On the 3407 Memorial web site, the Remaining Challenges states:
(1) Legislation requiring that all commercial airline pilots possess an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) license prior to being hired. Currently, a pilot can be hired as a first officer by an airline with a Commercial Pilot License (CPL), with as little as 250 flight hours. Requiring an ATP license would ensure not only additional flying experience (1,500 flight hours), but also would carry greater qualitative requirements for flying in instrument conditions, cross country, and at night, as well as additional check flight and academic testing requirements. It would ensure that passengers flying on regional and major airlines would receive one level of safety in terms of pilot qualifications.
It doesn't say anything about the Commercial rating needing 1500 hours.
Am I misreading this stuff?
No, you didn't misread anything, Chris — but we did. Thanks to you and other readers who pointed it out, we were able to fix the mistake quickly.
No Certification Required
A recent letter to the editor questions the certification of civilian spacecraft that will be carrying space tourists. The federal statutory scheme for regulating civilian space flight, such as the tourist flights planned by Branson and others, does not require certification of the spacecraft by the FAA. There are strict requirements for licensing launch and reentry facilities, but no spacecraft certification requirement. There are also strict "informed consent" requirements for the passengers, who are also required to sign waivers of liability.
There must be something wrong with the newly-promoted radiation hypothesis regarding aircraft lightning strikes. My dad began flying with American Airlines in 1935. He moved up from Curtiss Condors and Stinson Trimotors into the revered DC-3 when it came along. For more than 15 years he flew the DC-3, DC-4 and DC-6 into and out of thunderstorms without the benefit of airborne weather radar.
I flew the DC-3, DC-4 and Vickers Viscount with Capital Airlines for several years prior to getting airborne weather radar installed. In those days we would penetrate numerous thunderstorms as a matter of course. I can't recall the number of lightning strikes and static discharges that ensued. Obviously, my father encountered even more. I recall many of his stories concerning thunderstorm penetrations. "In a thunderstorm, fly toward the lighter shades of gray," was one of his caveats. (Radar later proved this to be a useless strategy.)
If ten rem of radiation exposure is considered to be the amount of radiation collected from one lightning strike, and it is also considered to be the maximum amount in a person's lifetime, then Dad and I both certainly should have succumbed to the effects of excess radiation many, many years ago. In addition, there are any number of my fellow pilots still around who, like me, penetrated thunderstorms in years gone by on a routine basis prior to enjoying the benefits of airborne radar.
It might be an interesting hypothesis to some, but there are just too many of us surviving live specimens who only serve to thwart the validity of this new life-threatening "10 rem" lightning-strike theory.
Carl B. Jordan
A CT scan of the chest is also equivalent in radiation exposure to approximately 300 chest x-rays, a fact little publicized and even unknown in general medical circles. Many people have had several done in their lifetimes.
Martin Dixon, M.D.
Remote Control War
The unease that I have with remote control warfare is not quite the way Alan Tipps puts it. It's not that it's fair or unfair — it's that it makes errors, or even crimes, easy and penalty-free.
For many years — certainly since World War II — soldiers, sailors or flyers have been able to shoot from a great distance, or bomb from a great height, people they never see. That's a lot safer for our side, and it avoids the stress of seeing the results close up. And it makes errors more likely, and makes those errors easier to ignore. Remote control is just one more step. Why not?
With a drone, some guy in Syracuse, N.Y., can go to the office, shoot up a group of people in Afghanistan or bomb a house as easily as swatting a few bugs, then at the end of his shift he can go peacefully home to his family, just like any other U.S. office worker. If that group of people happens to be an innocent wedding party, or if that house happens to contain ten children - well (shrug), it's war, ain't it?
I know that there are people who think that what I've said here is un-American or even treasonous. Maybe those people are comfortable with reducing the killing of real, live, maybe innocent people to the level of a video game. Maybe those people are also comfortable with doing to far-away foreigners things that we don't dare do within the U.S. to U.S. citizens. I'm not.
Regarding the story about the mass arrival of DC-3s at next year's AirVenture, the Douglas Long Beach, CA plant wasn't built when the DC-3 first flew At Santa Monica, CA.