This column should be printed out and posted on airport bulletin boards everywhere now and again next July.
After 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 an airplane.
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 repeat.
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:
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 lan, 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 airplanes.
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.