Go-arounds. Too-wide patterns. Opposite-direction traffic. Stall-spin fatalities. Sound like an emergency procedure discussion? It's not — it's what happened with frightening regularity this year at Oshkosh. With EAA AirVenture 2001 now but a recent memory, it's time to take a close look at how poorly prepared were some of the pilots flying into the busiest airport in the world. Sadly, this year's event brought out the worst in many of them. As AVweb's Rick Durden writes, we are our own worst enemy when it comes to flying to Oshkosh and if we don't shape up, this privilege could be taken away.
August 13, 2001
|About the Author ...
Rick Durden is a
practicing aviation attorney who holds an ATP Certificate, with a type rating
in the Cessna Citation, and Commercial privileges for gliders, free balloons
and single-engine seaplanes. He is also an instrument and multi-engine flight
instructor. Rick started flying when he was fifteen and became a flight
instructor during his freshman year of college.
He did a little of everything
in aviation to help pay for college and law school including flight
instruction, aerial application, and hauling freight. In the process of trying
to fly every old and interesting airplane he could, Rick has accumulated over
5,400 hours of flying time. In his law practice, Rick regularly represents
pilots, fixed base operators, overhaulers, and manufacturers. Prior to
starting his private practice, he was an attorney for Cessna in Wichita for
He is a regular contributor to Aviation Consumer and AOPA Pilot
and teaches aerobatics in a 7KCAB Citabria in his spare time. Rick makes it
clear he is part owner of a corporation which owns a Piper Aztec because,
having flown virtually every type of piston-engine airplane Cessna
manufactured from 1933 on, as well as all the turboprops and some of the jets,
he cannot bring himself to admit to actually owning a Piper.
This column should be printed out and posted on airport
bulletin boards everywhere now and again next July.
getting back from Oshkosh I unpacked the airplane, put it away and walked into
the pilot's lounge here at the virtual airport to see what had happened while
I was gone. One of the guys in the big chairs asked me how Oshkosh was. (Few
at the airport can bring themselves to say "AirVenture." They also
rarely order Brie or double hazelnut lattes but they fly frequently and spend
lots of money on airplane stuff.) I said that it was pretty good this year,
attendance had continued to drop since the show was renamed, the displays and
vendors were outstanding, the akro great, the PA announcers terrible, only one
senior CAP member was overtly rude to my daughter and me, the CAP Cadets were
all very polite, the flight line people did their usual excellent job under
tough conditions and, overall, I was glad I attended.
I didn't say any more, because I was deeply troubled by the death of a
friend of mine, Ben Moyle, just west of Wittman Field. He was in the last part
of the RIPON arrival, not far from turning final for Runway 9. I did not see
the accident. I happened to be at my airplane in the camping area, heard the
sirens and saw the pillar of black smoke that I fervently hoped was not from
I sat in the lounge for a long time after others had left because it is a
good place to think. I never had the pleasure of flying with Ben, so I had no
opinion as to his ability and judgment as a pilot. I knew him to be devoted to
aviation, to always be willing to take time to talk with people about flying
and encourage non-flyers to learn. I liked him a lot as a person.
I'm told the suspicion is that Ben's accident involved a stall and
incipient spin from which he did not recover before hitting the ground. I
don't know why it happened. I don't know why he was forever denied the 45
seconds that would have had him rolling on Runway 9 at OSH. I don't know what
started the chain that lead to his crash. I don't know if some pilot ahead of
him did not hold the requisite 90 knots along the approach procedure until it
was really time to slow down to make the landing. I don't know what caused a
relatively experienced pilot to get into a situation where he probably stalled
his airplane. It does not make sense to me.
I also found myself thinking about an accident that occurred two days prior
to Ben's, in which a pilot with over 20,000 hours apparently stalled and then
crashed near the south end of the airport. Why did two airplanes that had been
spaced just fine for several miles suddenly have to fly very slowly? What
started those accident chains?
We're Doing It To Ourselves
As it got dark outside, I found myself getting angry. Not at Ben or the
other pilot who went west. I am mad at us. Whether we know it as Oshkosh or
the trendy term "AirVenture," the EAA Convention is the very best
gathering of general aviation in the world. It is the goal of our annual
pilgrimage. It is the greatest thing that ever came along for lovers of
airplanes and we, we who most love it, are getting perilously close to blowing
it. We are at risk of completely screwing the pooch and ending the privilege
of flying in to the most special places and events in aviation.
Watching the night take over, I realized that I am furious at the pilot of
the Cub who lined up to land on Runway 9 when the arrivals and departures were
happening on Runway 27 at a rate of about three per minute. The Cub pilot saw
airplanes coming at him. He decided to land on the grass beside the runway,
still facing traffic. When Flight Line Ops people caught up to him the
oblivious pilot couldn't figure out what he'd done wrong.
Monday, the day before the show, when arrivals were coming thick and fast
to Runway 27, I watched a Long-Eze pilot land downwind on Runway 9. This guy
added to his stupidity by coming in at the speed of heat, carrying lots of
power, forcing the airplane onto its nosewheel to get it down and then rolling
nearly the length of the runway getting stopped. Not two hours later a genius
in a Cessna 172 also landed against traffic. The controllers managed to get
other people out of the way each time.
I'll also be the first to pass out praise: The pilots who were lined up to
land correctly on Runway 27 did excellent jobs of going around and
resequencing into the pattern.
I am glad the guy in the Bonanza who cartwheeled across the threshold of
Runway 27 about noon on Sunday got out with only a lot of blood on his face,
because I'd like to punch him. Mr. Bonanza pilot, all who were holding short
for takeoff on 27 watched you fly your downwind at some strangely slow speed
despite there being absolutely no other arrival traffic around you. We watched
you start a descending turn toward final, and never add power or change
anything, even as you overshot the runway centerline. Then you stalled the
airplane, and did nothing to recover until your wing hit the ground and it
absorbed the force of the impact. Your inability to fly your airplane, when no
one was around you, shut down departures for the approximately 100 airplanes
waiting to use that runway. You yes you may have some excuse for what
you did. I don't know who you are, but you have a lot of people who don't much
care for you right now. They have probably calmed down; the things they said
about you as we milled about our shut-down airplanes for an hour or so I won't
When I got home I found I had an email from Rick Wayne about his arrival at
OSH this year. Rick and his wife are both instrument-rated pilots from
Madison, Wis. Rick described events similar to those I observed: "In the
fifteen minutes I was on the Fisk arrival frequency I heard three separate
aircraft call up with the standard long-winded 'hello approach control'
speech. OK, maybe I'm picking nits my point is that the arrival
instructions could hardly be clearer or simpler, and these guys blew it."
Rick went on to say: "We shot the arrival behind a TriPacer who flew
it 300 feet low, 5 knots slow and way off the centerline, piling up traffic
behind us. On two-mile final, he REALLY hit the brakes. There we were slow,
low, loaded, 30 flaps, and trying to maneuver, with a mob arriving from
astern. From what I've heard, this sounds an awful lot like the accident chain
that killed your friend Ben Moyle. If I'd waited any longer, failed to notice
decaying airspeed, or been driving (sic) a less forgiving airframe ... I don't
know. Anyway, we told the tower that we were bailing out, and got out of line.
(As we slotted back into the arrival stream, we heard the tower talking to the
TriPacer about his go-around.)"
Then I saw a note on AVsig from a person who had been listening to pilots
calling in the blind on 122.75 and 122.85 while en route to OSH asking for
someone to tell them the arrival procedure. I only hope someone told them to
land and get the NOTAM. No, I'm aggravated enough that I hope someone told
them to stay away from Wittman Field, Appleton and Fond Du Lac.
I thought I had been suitably blunt in the survival guide I wrote for OSH
about reading the NOTAM. I guess I wasn't blunt enough. A lot of pilots didn't
read it or didn't think it meant them, or couldn't follow what are the
extremely simple directions for arrivals and departures. On departure, you are
to stay below 1,300 feet MSL until out of the Class D airspace. That's not
tough. It is also essential to stay low because there are airplanes arriving
above you. It's not rocket science. It keeps you from hitting the arrivals.
You are plenty high to avoid obstructions. This year I saw idiots climbing
right up through the arrival stream after departing Runway 27. So did Mr.
Wayne: "As we arrived off the end of 27 we had not one, but two departing
aircraft blow right up through the arrivals over the tracks. That Seminole
pilot he had an Izod shirt on, you could pick out the little alligator
looked just stupefied. I could just see the thought balloon appear over him:
"'What are all these airplanes doing in front of me?'"
While waiting for departure (I had lots of time after the Bonanza idiocy) I
double-checked the departure procedure for Runway 9. It gives the range of
headings you can fly as you depart the Class D. When departures started again,
a Mooney taxied onto the runway for departure and radioed the controller to
ask which direction he could fly after takeoff. The controller answered him
patiently with the range of headings. The Mooney pilot asked again, saying he
wanted to go south. The controller again told him he had to fly certain
headings until out of the Class D and, at that point, cleared him to take off.
The Mooney pilot started rolling, took off and called a third time to see if
he could turn south right away. The controller told him no, he had to go east
for five miles first. The Mooney promptly turned south.
When preparing for OSHtalk one night I got the word that a student pilot
bragged to a number of pilots that he had just done his solo cross-country
into Wittman Field during the convention. He seemed quite proud of his
accomplishment of flying the RIPON arrival with all the other airplanes. When
asked whether he knew that student solos into OSH during the convention were
prohibited, he said he didn't, but didn't care because he was determined to
show he was good enough to make it. I don't know when he arrived, but did he
start the chain that killed my friend or someone else? I want to know who his
instructor is, because the student made it clear that his instructor had
signed him off for the trip. We don't need the kind of judgment exhibited by
that student or his instructor in aviation.
The press is already talking about the fatalities at OSH this year. There
have been comments about adding rules or restrictions to make the arrivals
safer. Yes indeed, because a bunch of us won't bother to read a NOTAM when we
are about to fly into the busiest airport in the world and won't bother to
brush up on our skills, we are putting aviation's best fly-in at risk. Would
we read the arrival procedures and maybe look over the taxiway chart for
Atlanta Hartsfield or Chicago O'Hare before flying into one of those airports?
Of course. Yet, during the convention, OSH is busier than those airports.
Significantly. Maybe we think that it's only little airplanes flying in so it
doesn't matter if we bone up before showing up. Maybe we've forgotten that
hitting a little airplane will make us just as dead as hitting an airliner.
What's worse is that our continuing bullheadedness is going to result in
restrictions. (Male pilots may be banned from flying in; women don't seem to
make these errors.) If we continue to refuse to read and follow the NOTAM, or
take recurrent training so we can fly our airplanes precisely enough to come
to OSH, there's not going to be any VFR flight into OSH any more. Do we want
draconian rules like they have in Europe? If so, then all we have to do is
keep refusing to accept any responsibility for the way we fly. Then we can
really complain about how badly we are being treated.
Here's a partial list
of accidents and incidents that occurred with aircraft on the way to, at,
or on the way home from AirVenture 2001:
PA-32-260, Chenoa, Ill.
K35 Bonanza, Grafton, Iowa.
IV-P, Fryeburg, Maine.
Giles G-202, Oshkosh, Wis.
incursion, Boeing 727 and Lancair 360, Oshkosh, Wis.
B35 Bonanza, Oshkosh, Wis.
Glastar, Henefer, Utah.
You. Yes, I'm talking to you, the one who made a radio call to the Fisk
approach control frequency: You didn't read the NOTAM did you? Did your call
block a controller's call that might have straightened out a separation
problem and prevented my friend from getting killed? No, I don't know for
sure, but know what? Neither do you. Your incompetence may very well have
killed someone. Feel guilty? I hope so.
You, the instructor who signed off the student to fly solo into OSH. Did
you start a chain that resulted in the death of an airline pilot in a
homebuilt? Now, either tear up or turn in your CFI certificate. A CFI is a
very honorable station in life. You have sullied it. You have no business
continuing to hold that title.
You. The guy who didn't think it was important to be able to hold altitude
within 50 feet or airspeed within 5 knots or be able to track over a path on
the ground. You groused about the CFI pushing you to be more precise during
your last flight review didn't you? Do you know how much your lackadaisical
attitude and crummy skill level screwed up the arrivals behind you as you
corkscrewed your way toward Wittman Field? Do you realize that because you
slowed to final approach speed two miles out, that you sent four airplanes
around and have caused people to right now be leaning on the EAA and FAA to
require reservations for ALL arriving airplanes and to space them at several-minute intervals?
Yes, there is a cause-and-effect relationship between you not reading the
NOTAM or being unable to hold airspeed and altitude and severe restrictions
being imposed on arrivals to OSH. This is not Cornpatch International Airport,
it is the EAA Convention, so what you do at OSH has major repercussions.
You. The guy who chose to fly downwind a mile from the runway. You acted
surprised when the pilots (yes, they were pilots, you acted like you were
driving that airplane rather than flying it) behind you flew downwind a half
mile from the runway and cut you off. You'll notice the controller didn't give
you any sympathy, she'd been trying to get you to keep your downwind in
closer, anyway. The rest of us aren't going to fly a downwind where we have to
land on a residential street rather than the runway when the engine fails.
You. The knothead who put off taking your flight review until after OSH
because of the cost. Did you start the chain that resulted in my friend dying?
Just because you don't like to take recurrent training and are hacked off that
the FAA has the gall to require you to do so every other year? Well my friend,
you may be the one who gives us some hideous regulations such as they have in
the Netherlands where you lose your license if you don't take recurrent
training and you have to take your tests over again, not just fly with a CFI
to get current. How will you like that? Yes, you may be the one who causes it.
This Isn't Rocket Science
Of course I'm angry. I went out and did a flight review and an instrument
competency check before OSH. I read the NOTAM. The VFR arrival procedures are
incredibly easy. Go to RIPON, go up the railroad tracks at a given altitude
and indicated airspeed. Listen, don't talk. When the controller calls you,
follow the instruction and change to the next frequency. Listen, don't talk.
Hold your airspeed until close in for landing. That's it. It's not hard. Why
do so many pilots have trouble with the concept?
The arrival procedure at OSH is simple. It's not half as complex as many of
the instrument approaches and it is all visual. Reading the NOTAM and assuring
our skills are up to snuff should be considered the price of admission to the
airport. Most of us want to do the arrival with a degree of style and élan,
and we are willing to pay the price of such admission. If you are not willing
to pay that price, don't jump the turnstyle and try to sneak in. If you can't
hold airspeed and altitude or land on the green dot or the threshold when the
controller asks or speed up or keep it in tight or say "unable" when
the controller goes too far, don't fly in.
I'll be as plain as I can be: You have no business flying in to OSH if your
skills are sour or you don't know the NOTAM. You are not wanted. You will kill
someone. You will wreck this wonderful event for all of us. You are one person
and one person has ruined things before by causing horrible restrictions and
public pressure on pilots. It was one pilot who didn't bother to flight plan,
flew into the L.A. TCA (now Class B) and had a midair with an airliner. That
one person's screwup resulted in incredible fallout from a public which
suddenly saw all general aviation pilots as irresponsible, wealthy hazards and
put pressure on Congress to come down on all those know-nothing pilots. It was
one person's act that caused Congress to lean hard on the FAA so that it made
every pilot's life miserable by severely prosecuting pilots for the smallest
violation (poisoning the pilot/FAA relationship for years), enlarging TCAs,
making them less accessible and removing VFR corridors through them. That was
the result of one boneheaded, general aviation pilot. It can happen again.
You. Yeah you. The Cub, Cessna 172 and Long-Eze pilots, who couldn't tell
Runway 9 from 27; the TriPacer pilot who couldn't hold altitude or airspeed,
and you, too, the guys (and it's almost invariably guys) who made radio calls
to approach control or tower rather than listening. All of you come over here
and line up with the guy in the Bonanza who didn't understand that you
shouldn't stall an airplane and drive it into the ground when turning final.
All of you line up right here. Now, the rest of us who want to continue to
come to OSH without stupid, restrictive rules because you jerks were too cool
or too macho to read and follow a NOTAM or practice flying your airplane, all
of us, we're going to give you a Stooge-slap. And you know what? We don't want
you to come back and wreck this thing for us. We've absolutely had it with
pilots who won't or can't follow simple rules.
That's it. I don't know how to be any more straightforward. If I could send
Vito over to break your knees and maybe get your attention, I would. I can't.
Blast it, we are crying about high insurance rates, but at OSH we demonstrated
why they are high. We aren't following simple rules and we can't fly our
This Is Oshkosh
This is Oshkosh. It is a special, almost sacred place to aviators. On top
of that it is extremely visible to the public (far more people drive in than
fly in). Each and every one of us has an extra duty and responsibility when we
fly in to OSH to do so with our skill levels high enough to meet the demands
and having read the stuff one has to read to arrive and depart. Our errors are
magnified. Our accidents at OSH are discussed endlessly. Our stupid pilot
tricks are in front of everyone in aviation. At Oshkosh we are not just
responsible for the safety of ourselves and our passengers, we have a duty to
aviation and every single person who cares deeply for it. Right now, we are
letting aviation down and we are at risk of having to pay a serious price.
Ben, I miss you. The sight of that funeral pyre of smoke over your airplane
is going to be with me until I die. I'm going to hurt over your death because
I'll never know why it happened. You gave me good advice a number of times
over the last few years and you answered some questions I had. For that I am
forever grateful. And right now, your death has caused me to finally express
some of the deep anger I feel over pilots who continue to screw things up for
the rest of us. If that means that just one more pilot next year reads the
NOTAM, or takes some dual before coming to OSH or does an honest
self-assessment and decides to drive in, and saves one life, then your death
is going to make a difference to people you never knew, just as your life made
a difference to a lot of people who knew you.
See you next month.