Aviation Reporting: Bad to the Bone

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There are plenty of examples of bad aviation reporting in the mainstream media -- Paul Bertorelli noted one egregious one last week, all the worse for being attributed to an "aviation expert" -- but this week I ran into one of the worst mish-mashes I've seen. And even worse, when a representative of a GA advocacy group called the reporter to try to rectify it, it didn't help. It's all tangled up in one of the most misunderstood words in the aviation lexicon, when it comes to communicating with the masses -- what the meaning of "stall" is.

Here's the chain of events: A couple of weeks ago, a pilot flying a Lancair experienced a catastrophic engine failure and made an emergency landing on a beach, despite the windshield being covered in oil ... and he and his passenger walked away, but tragically, a man on the beach was struck and killed. The next week, the FAA released a safety notice which noted that Lancairs and other high-performance kit aircraft with high stall speeds have a higher-than-average fatality rate and pilots should be better trained to handle them. The two events had nothing in common, except that Lancair is part of each story.

An Associated Press reporter told the story of the FAA notice thusly: "High-performance homemade planes like the one that killed a beach jogger last week in South Carolina are prone to stall, especially when going slower while waiting to land, and have been involved in a disproportionately large number of fatal accidents, federal officials warned Thursday."

"Prone to stall"? I doubt very much that a non-aviation reader, coming across that sentence, would presume that the word "stall" here means anything other than that the engine is prone to stop running. We have to presume that's what the writer thinks, or there would be no reason to conflate the FAA warning about high stall speeds with the emergency landing on the beach. When a GA advocate called the reporter to try to correct the apparent misperceptions in the story, the reporter only agreed to insert a mention that his group disagreed with some of the story's interpretations.

The point here, I guess, is that while there are some excellent reporters on the aviation beat in the mainstream media, their ranks are thinning, and as journalism budgets are cut across the board, the very concept of a "beat" is in danger of extinction. Things are likely to get worse before they (if ever...) get better.

Comments (61)

Rather than putting reporters on the defensive, we -as a community- should aid them in gaining better understanding, offer them a ride, explain and demonstrate stalls, engine off flight, emergency landings etc. Perhaps AOPA should launch an "advocacy flight" program, with a standard profile and a print-out of the basics for non-pilots (and non-aspirers) ? I think by building bridges, teaching and preaching, we can serve ourselves better.

Posted by: Peter De Ceulaer | April 1, 2010 6:37 AM    Report this comment

It's not just traditional news agencies that carried this story. AOPA included a link to it in its 26 March edition of Aviation eBrief. No comment, no qualifier, just a link to the story.

I wonder if AOPA would have run that story without comment if the aircraft in question had been a popular FAA-certified model...

Posted by: Mark Sletten | April 2, 2010 8:57 AM    Report this comment

Just in the last week, I have spoken to two people (on different occasions) who mentioned they were taking a plane trip soon, but are *petrified* of flying. When you consider the safety record of RPT aviation (perfect in Australia), compared to road accidents, this kind of fear is unjustified. I put at least 80% of this irrational fear down to sensationalistic and general mis-reporting of aviation incidents worldwide. And some people won't even fly on 'those little planes' - like Dash 8's! Under that sort of general public attitude, what hope has GA got of getting more penetration of mainstream the transport market?

Posted by: Darren Edwards | April 2, 2010 9:51 PM    Report this comment

What's a better story than "the sky is falling" aimed at the 95% of the population who don't care to know Aviation? Why make a credible story to satisfy only 5% of viewership? The unwashed masses who are tuning in want sensationalism, not technical analysis.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | April 6, 2010 7:26 AM    Report this comment

If you consider that the voters of this country were stupid enough to elect Obama despite a sizable body of evidence showing that he really is the dangerous, redistributionist, statist, ideologue he constantly demonstrates himself to be, how can one have any hope that the populace as a whole can possibly understand anything as intellectually challenging as aviation?

Posted by: Bill Hill | April 7, 2010 7:36 AM    Report this comment

The aviation industry should print and distribute an easy reference booklet on aircraft terms and discriptions for news reporters.

Posted by: WILLIAM K CREASY | April 7, 2010 7:39 AM    Report this comment

Pilots should also be wary of what they say to reporters, and should forgo their chance to shine on the evening news if it means they will be asked questions about things they know little about. A case in point is a local flight instructor who became the local news channel's "aviation expert" after the Colgan Air crash ib KBUF last year. He would appear nightly explaining (erroneously) the operation of deice boots (said they inflated Hydraulicly) Stick Shakers and Stick Pushers. Having never flown anything other than a single engine trainer, he was not qualified to make such statements but could not resist getting the name of his flight school mentioned on the evening news.

Posted by: Timothy Tressel | April 7, 2010 8:54 AM    Report this comment

HI there, I can't believe you allowed Bill Hill's comment about the President of the United States.
Isn't Avweb supposed to be a professional group of aviators focusing on specific aviation issues. Please review your Mission Statement.

Posted by: Frank Wilson | April 7, 2010 9:06 AM    Report this comment

Ah, yes. The classic liberal/progressive/Alinskyite response. Shut down dissenting opinions.
Kudos, Mr Wilson.

Posted by: Bill Hill | April 7, 2010 9:28 AM    Report this comment

Decades ago the mainstream media hired journalists who also had expertise in other fields such as economics, law, insurance, science, etc. ABC's Jules Verne comes to mind. Mr. Verne was also a pilot and publicly displayed it. Now the mainstream media hires 'journalists' that have an agenda 'to make a difference', whatever that means. Most know how to write a cogent paragraph but lack knowledge in or real interest in everything else. I don't know how to counter willing ignorance. Years ago I was lucky enough to have breakfast with Red Skelton. During our conversation he asked, "Do you know what the television networks primarily sell?" After several guesses on my part he said, "fear". I believe that applies to all the mainstream media today. That conversation changed how I perceive any journalist's reporting. If I can recongnize that they get aviation so often and many times horribly wrong they are probably as bad at every other field they report on too.

Posted by: Steve Hooley | April 7, 2010 10:08 AM    Report this comment

The Lancair pilot has to live out his life knowing he took another man's life by his mistake. He was the responsible owner/operator, and it was his oil spilling onto his windshield that made him have to land on that beach without being able to avoid who might be on it. This tragedy reflects badly upon us all, especially those of us who choose to fly experimental aircraft. We put the innocent people on the ground in double jeopardy. Many other countries do not allow any homemade airplanes to fly over their citizens. Ours does, and we collectively blow our reponsibility to our fellow citizens who grant us that privilege every time something like this happens. There is enough sadness in this incident without having to consider politics. Your resposibility to the people over which you fly does not change when your favorite party is out of power.

Posted by: Jack Romanski | April 7, 2010 10:29 AM    Report this comment

Bill, you are totally free to have your own opinions about absolutely anything and express them freely. Its just that this is an aviation forum discussing an aircraft performance issue, so possibly not the best place to insert comments about the President, unless they directly relate to the topic.

Posted by: Steve Elder | April 7, 2010 10:47 AM    Report this comment

Your argument is cogent, compelling, and logical. I agree with it. Please note the difference between your post and Mr. Wilson's, which called for censorship.
The point that I was trying to make was that I see no reason to believe that the US populace is capable of reasoned cerebration, much less understanding the nuances of aviation.

Posted by: Bill Hill | April 7, 2010 11:00 AM    Report this comment

Mr. Romanski,

I find your unprovoked bashing of experimental aviation and baseless implication the pilot of the Lancair involved in this tragedy acted negligently insulting and infuriating.

All official reports I am aware of suggest the aircraft involved suffered an engine failure which required an emergency landing. Do know anything specific about why the engine failed? Do you know for a fact the engine failure was the fault of the owner/pilot? Do you have data suggesting the engine failure had anything whatsoever to do with the fact the aircraft was experimental?

In fact, I don't believe the NTSB has released even a preliminary report on which one might base such a supposition. I would very much like to hear your logic in concluding this tragedy proves anything about experimental aircraft than cannot be concluded about aircraft in general.

Further, I find your attitude regarding the 'granting' of privileges disturbing. The last time I checked I live in America, the land of the free. Americans are free to fly; no one 'grants' us that privilege. My government regulates and sets standards for aviation activity in the interest of safety. Any American is free at any time to seek training to meet the standards and earn a certificate proving they've done so.

The privilige to fly, sir, belongs to all Americans by birthright.

Posted by: Mark Sletten | April 7, 2010 1:15 PM    Report this comment

What Mark Said.

Posted by: Bill Hill | April 7, 2010 1:42 PM    Report this comment

Spare us your wonderfulness, Mr. Hill. Many of my loved ones in the great 'unwashed' and 'stupid voter' groups are fine, kind and tolerant people. Use your 'reasoned cerebration' to open your mind a little. You will accept others all thru your life for help and kindness when you need it. Despite the use of pretzel logic to avoid taking responsibility for your comments, your blatant anger and intolerance is your problem, not theirs.

As far as the subject, I agree with Mary that it is getting more difficult to find clarity with the reporting. From an orange 'black box' to clear, not 'black ice' on the roadway, it seems to take a long time, if ever to clear up misconceptions with the populace. We're working against stubborness, fear and ignorance and those are formibidal foes.
We have to accept the 'fly friendly and quietly' zones around airports and constantly fight these sky-is-falling groups, it's not so surprising to me they do not demand from their news outlets accuracy in aviation reporting.

Posted by: David Miller | April 7, 2010 1:43 PM    Report this comment

A few years ago, there was a GIV orbiting out in California because it's left main wouldn't extend. One anchorman said "there are these little triangular blocks of wood that are used to keep the plane from rolling when it's parked, perhaps one of these got tangled up in the landing gear and that's why it's not coming down." Another said, "the pilots can raise and lower each landing gear independently, maybe that's what the pilot was doing when one of them broke. Why would a pilot do such a thing?" One of the cable-news channels had gotten the Chief Pilot for Gulfstream on the phone, and asked so many idiotic/sensational questions that the Cheif Pilot eventually hung up on him.

When that whack-job flew his plane into the IRS building in Austin, CNN's Rick Sanzhez just couldn't get off the fact that the plane "wasn't on a flight plan," so much so, that he brought that fact up in each interview he did on the subject that day. I doubt Mr. Sanchez knows what a flight plan is.

In the 90s I was watching a local newscast reporting about a recent aircraft accident at the local airport, where a pilot had tried to return to the runway after an engine failure on take-off. For the last words of the story, the anchorwoman said, "the aircraft was seen flying close to the ground just before impact."

Posted by: Alan Tipps | April 7, 2010 4:30 PM    Report this comment

It isn't just aviation. I have observed a couple of events that were reported in the news and any correlation beetween fiction and the truth is purely coincidental when you have people writing about something they know nothing about. These journalists do not take the time to run their article past the people they interviewed for review to make sure they got it "right". Even for knowledgle reporters its hard to always be 100% right. Reporters usually insert their bias in a report too.

Posted by: Don Thun | April 8, 2010 7:07 AM    Report this comment

I have read and heard so many inaccurate news pieces concerning aviation that I hardly pay attention to them any more. I will usually note that an incident has taken place and if I have any curiosity, I will start looking for some competent source to fill me in. A competent source is AVWeb, for example. The MSM and local news outlets customarily get it all wrong. They have barely come out of the era when everything smaller than a 747 is a "piper cub." There are few of us and many of them and they all have their opinions. A close friend of mine recently took an airline trip on which she was sure that the plane she was on was about to crash. She related the story to me and I was able to clear up her "opinion" and reassure her that the pilot was as interested in arriving alive as she was. Just to illustrate that "they" are usually consumed by fear and what they have seen in the movies.

Posted by: william laatsch | April 8, 2010 7:12 AM    Report this comment

When the Lancair accident happened, I was astounded to read some of the things people posted on MSN's Newsvine. There was no shortage of comments like "the pilot should go to jail" or "he should have ditched the plane instead". Then the "experts" weighed in on the Lancair's experimental status - one poster said the Lancair was an LSA and another said a park or schoolyard would have been a better choice(!). (as if one were available) And there were a fair number of "rich & stupid people with airplanes" type comments. Stubborness, fear and ignorance, indeed.

The media reported the airplane as having a turbine engine; while some IV-Ps are turbine-powered the accident airplane was piston-engined.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | April 8, 2010 8:40 AM    Report this comment

A old fashioned rule for civil conversation is to never talk about religion and politics unless the conversation is about them specifically and of an academic nature. Some of us enjoy flying because it is focused on physics.

Posted by: Donald Dinwiddie | April 8, 2010 9:15 AM    Report this comment

Mr. Dinwiddie,
My purpose was to illustrate the basic stupidity and ignorance of the American people. The results of the last election was the first example which popped into my mind. I could perhaps have cited the wretched performance of school-leavers compared with the rest of the world, or perhaps the fact that the number of people currently enrolled in flight training is at a post-war low. Had I done so, no one (with the possible exception of teachers' union members) would have gotten their underwear twisted up.
Hindsight is generally 20/20, so thanks for the reminder and free advice.

Posted by: Bill Hill | April 8, 2010 9:45 AM    Report this comment

My thanks to Frank Wilson (04/07), Steve Elder (04/07), and Donald Dinwiddie (04/08) for their thoughtful responses to Bill Hill's diatribe (04/07).

Posted by: Paul Niquette | April 8, 2010 10:12 AM    Report this comment

Perhaps reading the "Commenting Rules" posted at the bottom right of this blog will put things in perspedtive.

Posted by: Don Thun | April 8, 2010 11:32 AM    Report this comment

A desire to avoid them doesn't change the fact that politics and religion affect us all, both here and/or hereafter. "Death and taxes" kind of stuff.

Back on topic, I thought a couple of reported statements by another aviation expert were not thought through very well, at least: one, that an airplane at flying speed (engine off) makes "no noise", and two, that the pilot could have possibly yelled out the side window before touchdown - "Clear!" at 70mph, if you will.

Another point, the problem began at 13,000' didn't it? It seems like there would've been a lot of options besides the beach from there, but I don't know the area.

Posted by: Mike Holshouser | April 8, 2010 11:41 AM    Report this comment

Why do you publish comments in direct contradiction ot your "please keep it civil" rules? Pilots should have better manners than the general public. Maybe some posters are unemployed due to their own personalities and have time to waste with repeated comments?

Posted by: Anna Osborn | April 8, 2010 11:42 AM    Report this comment

Anna O: "Pilots should have better manners than the general public."

They don't make prop locks and the like for nothin'.

Posted by: Mike Holshouser | April 8, 2010 11:45 AM    Report this comment

If we as aviators always spoke of a "wing stall" or said "the wings stalled" there would be less chance for confusion. At a minumum, the reporter might ask "what do you mean, the 'wing' stalled?" allowing us to clarify & educate.

I looked at Websters Dictioary on-line (www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/) and found five definitions for "stall". Some uses are quite old.

Since before 1100 "a stall" has been a place (for a horse or car; to sell goods from; to shower or urinate; to watch the theatre from the front of the orchestra; to sit in a church - either a pew or a high backed side enclosed seat) or a sheath to protect a finger or toe (I've never seen one).

By the 1300s it was thus understood what it meant "to stall" a horse. Sometime later it was accepted one could also "stall" a horse by trying to walk it through deep mud!

From 1846 "a stall" was understood as being a ruse to deceive or delay (not just horses), but it was 1903 before one said he would "stall" to play for time or to hold off, divert, or delay by employing "a stall" for evasion or deception.

Remember the horse in the mud? When automobiles showed up they were also found to be susceptible "to stalling" in mud, and when after futile applications of power to free themselves the engine failed, it too would be said to have "stalled."

JLD - cont.

Posted by: Lance De Foa | April 8, 2010 11:53 AM    Report this comment

It wasn't until 1916 that "a stall" was recognized as the loss of lift of an airfoil due to excessive angle of attack, and that "to stall" the wing all one needed to do was to keep pulling up the nose (airspeed & bank angle & altitude are simply factors that facilitate exceeding the critical angle of attack).

So, seeing that "wing stall" is the newest use of the word, and as more folks have experienced a car engine stalling (at least once), we should speak with deliberate precission. Perhaps include "wing-stall" as the combined term in ground school lessons for all aviation personnel (mechanics, flight attendants, controllers, and of course pilots).


Posted by: Lance De Foa | April 8, 2010 11:54 AM    Report this comment

I know nothing more than was reported in various media. What seemed to have happened was a catastrophic oil leak, on or about the propeller.

I am cheered somewhat that I pissed off Mr. Sletten. He sounds like someone that I would not like much in person. Hey, it takes all types to make a world, I guess.

It was the Lancair owner/operator who was responsible, period. It was surely not the dead jogger. The legal and civil liabilities are clear. The airplane's insurance will pay.

Flying is a privilege that must be earned, and not yet a right by birth. We are not birds. We must learn to fly, no matter our politics. Even wingnuts need pattern work, from time to time.

I love my own experimental airplane. I try very hard not to land it on anybody, and hope my windshield is never covered with oil. Actually, I can jettison my canopy . If the Lancair could have done that, he'd not have had to carry a life's worth of guilt.

Posted by: Jack Romanski | April 8, 2010 12:05 PM    Report this comment

Mike H - That aviation expert quoted as saying the Lancair pilot could have yelled out the vent window before touchdown (facepalm) was none other than "Scary" Mary Schiavo, commercial pilot and former inspector general of the DOT. Apparently she didn't realize the Lancair IV-P doesn't have a vent window because it's pressurized.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | April 8, 2010 1:34 PM    Report this comment

How about we not forget that the "jogger" was listening to his music machine via his earphones. Not that there is anything wrong with that...but short of having a horn suitable for a truck installed in the Lancair, nothing would have warned the "jogger." Of course no one expects to be run over by a gliding airplane so why would he have to have any extra awareness while jogging on the beach. This one is just a multiplication of a bunch of weird bad events happening in one place. As to responsibility...of course someone is going to have to pay money and I am not sure at all that the courts can or even have the capability to sort this one out. One has to feel a great deal of compassion for everyone involved either directly or collaterally. Sometimes life is just a bitc#.

Posted by: william laatsch | April 8, 2010 2:00 PM    Report this comment

Not knowing the cause of the catastrophic oil leak, I could not at this moment absolve the Lancair pilot of responsibility. However, few experimental aircraft owners actually build their own engines, and many employ A&P/IA's to assist them with engine and propellor maintenance. I wouldn't be surprised if most IV-P's have factory new or factory reman engines and props installed. If a prop seal or other critical gasket lets loose on such an installation, it seems at best uncharitable and at worst flat wrong to blame the pilot. Last year the left engine on my 414 swallowed the starter adapter one month after a very thorough annual by one of the most respected twin Cessna shops in the country. Had the engine failed on take-off and resulted in an accident, the engine failure could hardly have been blamed on me - although perhaps a resulting accident could have been! - nor could it be blamed on the maintenance shop. Sometimes, s..t happens, and it's no one's "fault" (unless you're a plaintiff's attorney). That's why God invented liability and life insurance.

Posted by: warford johnson 11 | April 8, 2010 2:33 PM    Report this comment

Jack R - I agree with you to a point. As PIC the Lancair pilot was responsible for this person's death. However I disagree with your characterization of this accident as the pilot's "mistake". With the pilot's windscreen coated with oil I'd say he did an admirable job of saving the lives of himself and his passenger. I'm sure the Lancair pilot shares your views on landing on top of people. I doubt he made a conscious decision to do so. Lets call this what it was - an unfortunate accident.

I'm not sure what Experimental you fly, but doubt you'd be so nonchalant about your ability to fly it with 200 degree oil streaming out of the engine cowling directly into your face with the added complication of a 100mph breeze because you jettisoned the canopy. In fact I doubt you'd be able to see anything at all.

Posted by: Mike Wills | April 8, 2010 2:33 PM    Report this comment

The unnamed person who suggested "wing stall" (04/08) has a good point: Every new expression invites people to ask a what-do-you-mean-by___? question. Same, I have found, for "turbulate" and, back in 1953, another coinage: www.niquette.com/books/softword/tocsoft.html.

Posted by: Paul Niquette | April 8, 2010 2:33 PM    Report this comment

And by the way, I agree that flying is right, albeit a well regulated right that carries significant responsibilities with it. "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." (Article X, Bill of Rights). There is nothing in the constitution giving the Federal or state governments the power to prevent us from flying. Just my legally uninformed opinion.

Posted by: warford johnson 11 | April 8, 2010 2:34 PM    Report this comment

I think you missed the part of the story of why the severe oil leak developed. The propeller departed the airplane because the crankshaft propeller flange sheared off the crankshaft.
What is of concern to me is that an nearly identical incident happened to a Piper Malibu with the same TSIO-550 engine back in Dec of 2007. It happened on climb out out of Aspen and the pilot was able to return back to Aspen and land with no airframe damage. Except of course the damage to the cowling as the propeller departed.

A friend of mine owns a Lancair IV-P and knew this particular pilot/owner. It did have a zero time factory reman engine installed at the time it was built supplied as part of a firewall forward fast build kit from Lancair

Posted by: GREGORY WROCLAWSKI | April 8, 2010 5:08 PM    Report this comment

Oops! I meant to address the cause of the catastrophic oil leak to John Johnson not Mike Wills

Posted by: GREGORY WROCLAWSKI | April 8, 2010 5:10 PM    Report this comment

Mr. Romanski said: 'I know nothing more than was reported in various media. It was the Lancair owner/operator who was responsible, period.'

The point of the article we are commenting on is that the 'various media' rarely gets its facts correct in reports about aircraft accidents. That you're so comfortable in blindly making a judgement about the pilot in this accident with no more information than what you got from such reports proves the point of the article quite nicely, and speaks volumes about the value of your opinion.

Posted by: Mark Sletten | April 8, 2010 5:41 PM    Report this comment

Mr. Romanski said: 'I am cheered somewhat that I pissed off Mr. Sletten. He sounds like someone that I would not like much in person.'

Awwwww, c'mon now! Let's not get personal...

Besides, you shouldn't rush to judgement on something like that. I'm a great guy as far as you know; at least there are no media reports to the contrary that I'm aware of...

Posted by: Mark Sletten | April 8, 2010 5:47 PM    Report this comment

Mr. Romanski said: 'If the Lancair could have [jettisoned his canopy], he'd not have had to carry a life's worth of guilt.'

But how would he have kept the oil out of his eyes?

Posted by: Mark Sletten | April 8, 2010 5:51 PM    Report this comment

One cause of the low standard of aviation reporting in the general press, quite apart from the urge to win Pulitzer Prizes, is that nobody stays in that part of the paper long enough actually to learn anything worthwhile. As an aviation journalist for a specialist monthly magazine I was asked to write a book on aviation accidents as part of a series on New Zealand Tragedies. At first I thought what a rotten subject for a book, but on reflection I realised I might be able to do something about the general public's woeful lack of aviation knowledge when it comes to bent machinery.

The result, "Aviation Accidents and Disasters" (Grantham House Publishing, 1995) was hard work but satisfying. I've never been able to find out if it made a difference to the public's knowledge, but with a couple of notable exceptions it was well received by the aviation fraternity, so I must have done something right.
John King

Posted by: JOHN KING | April 8, 2010 6:01 PM    Report this comment

Re OED posts by JL De Foa ... Canada:

OED research much appreciated. As a pilot and translator, I've long maintained that 'stall' is a *dangerous* word, and that when speaking about aircraft to 'laymen' one should be careful to specify 'engine stall' -- the engine quit, easy to suppose -- or 'wing stall' -- the plane lost lift and started to fall out of the sky --, the latter usually leading to "huh?")

Perhaps someday this will become accepted aviation terminology... (Remember "position and hold" v. "line up and wait"?)

On a lighter note, imagine Portuguese-speaking student (much of whose learning material is in English) trying to absorb the differences between stall/estol = pane de motor, stall/estol = perda de sustentaçăo, and STOL/estol!

- -

Re 'turbulate' by Paul Niquette:

I don't think that will fly in English! Oops, did I just write 'fly'?

Posted by: Fernando Montenegro | April 8, 2010 6:39 PM    Report this comment

You think the concept of an aerodynamic stall is hard to get a cross to a layman? Try explaining what keeps a glider up. When I have an off field landing I usually just give up and agree - the wind quit.

Posted by: Mike Wills | April 8, 2010 7:04 PM    Report this comment

Mr. King points to the heart of the concern to me - the vast majority of people who use cell phones, computers, MRI machines, airplanes, and more don't know how they work or care to know. Just get moving, get the call thru, get this test done fast and get me outta here. Time to read the paper? I could do twenty text messages while watching soundbites on CNN in the time it takes to turn a page...And if we want our field to be carefully accurate in reporting it probably will only be important to those in legal procedures or the technical side. There's still some magic to flight I'm quite happy with not understanding - despite the groans from the science only crowd - and I don't know really how a computer works either - so with a nod to the clever and humorous "turbulate', I wouldn't look outside of our narrow aviation community for that to catch on anytime soon.

Posted by: David Miller | April 8, 2010 8:02 PM    Report this comment

Too bad they couldn't use "fall"; 'the onset of the fall...' etc. That would've had its own problems too though, like an implication of no possible recovery. Gets a little sticky when you start changing the tense too; 'an airplane can be felled from any attitude, and at any airspeed...'

Posted by: Mike Holshouser | April 8, 2010 8:04 PM    Report this comment


Posted by: Mark Sletten | April 8, 2010 10:03 PM    Report this comment

To be precise about it, turbulation does not result in a "fall," nor does it qualify for "liftloss," since once established, a turbulating airplane enjoys a lift vector equal to its weight (see 'deep stall approach' mentioned at the end of www.niquette.com/books/chapsky/sob.htm).

Posted by: Paul Niquette | April 9, 2010 9:44 AM    Report this comment

Every time I see flawed reporting about aviation incidents I am reminded that it's very, very important to apply that to all the other complex issues we read about: healthcare, the economy, politics, etc. If they can screw up something that we know about, it's a certainty that other news items are not properly researched either. Take everything with a grain of salt until you can decide for yourself what the truth is! And for God's sake, don't get your news from AM talk radio...

Posted by: Andrew Cleveland | April 9, 2010 10:55 AM    Report this comment

Staying with the precise theme, it's the air obviously, not the airplane that is turbulating, correct? Just looking ahead at the potential passenger whose mind and stomach may be already turbulating from fear or egg salad to hear if their aircraft is also turbulating...well, just glad I only give rides and don't have to explain or report on them.

Posted by: David Miller | April 9, 2010 11:18 AM    Report this comment

Nice try, Dave Miller ("it's the air obviously, not the airplane that is turbulating"). But then, one might say that "it's the air not the airplane that is 'stalling'." The air would not be turbulating in the absence of that confounded airplane stirring it up those wings at a high angle-of-attack.

Posted by: Paul Niquette | April 9, 2010 11:33 AM    Report this comment

Thanks to everyone for all the great comments! I just arrived in Florida and the last few days were hectic so I apologize for not jumping in to some of the earlier debates. I agree that the use of political examples was off-topic and unnecessary and appreciate that other commenters pointed out our "commenting rules" for review.

Otherwise, lots of interesting points raised, and I think Mr. Cleveland has a point that the errors that jump out to us in aviation reporting, likely jump out at others on reporting on other topics. Mr. King is right that the common issue is that reporters don't have the time or the resources to thoroughly get to know a beat.

Also just trying to keep in mind the need to educate the public whenever we have a chance, is great advice. I know AOPA and some of the other advocacy groups make great efforts to work with reporters. In fact, in this story that I wrote about, a GA advocate called and tried to offer input, but it didn't seem to take. It wasn't for lack of effort on our part.

Posted by: Mary Grady | April 9, 2010 4:56 PM    Report this comment

This is hardly a new problem, and little has changed in aviation reporting over the 30+ years that I’ve been peripherally involved. Most of the bad reporting we see comes down to the fact that very few “reporters” (to be differentiated from true “journalists”) are particularly familiar with aviation (beyond being seated in coach or by what they’ve seen in the movies), or with many other of the topics that they my cover. And most don’t even care if they are.

Either out of ignorance or sheer laziness, when lacking facts or depth on any subject they will simply revert to the simple narratives that are compatible with the political biases that are common amongst most of those who enter the journalism profession. The narrative is usually that manufacturers are nothing more than greedy corporations that only care about profits and couldn’t care less if their supposedly shoddy products continually fall out of the sky and kill countless innocents, and that general aviation is a pointless, wasteful, and dangerous endeavor indulged in by rich people who should be doing something more socially responsible with their wealth that they probably acquired immorally anyway.

Posted by: John McGrew | April 10, 2010 8:01 AM    Report this comment

To many of these people, the idea that ordinary, free citizens (even though they are highly trained, tested, and certified) can get in their own airplane and go nearly wherever they want without direct, explicit government permission, oversight and management is either astounding or infuriating.

It may be possible to educate a number of these people of the facts of aviation, like when an engine fails, a plane does not immediately dive at a 65-degree angle for the ground screeching like a Stuka dive bomber before an inevitable uncontrolled impact with the ground, like they do in the movies. Organizations like the EAA and AOPA go to great lengths to do just that. But I’m afraid there’s little we can do to cancel out the biases that frame their reporting, or the willingness of the general public to consume it.

Kudos to Andrew Cleveland above for making my final point. (If they are this ignorant about aviation, how can we trust them about the things we don’t know so much about) Couldn’t have said it better.

Posted by: John McGrew | April 10, 2010 8:02 AM    Report this comment

from my air force flying days as a crew chief on a c-47 (dc-3). whats the three things a pilot doesnt want adead engine on takeoff. the runway behind he didnt use. and abird conerl as a copilot

Posted by: weshley burris | April 11, 2010 12:52 PM    Report this comment

I have thought this before but the mentions here of the Lancair beach landing reminded me... Why not fit a $20 truck horn to aircraft? It might have given that poor jogger a vital couple of seconds warning. It might also help clear animals off landing areas. And maybe the pilot of the dawdling 152 in the pattern could hear it too? :-)
re - political stuff - its called trolling in Mr Hills case (trolling for a response) but give em the biggest soap box you can I say. Anyone bringing politics into this discussion in that manner looks like a goose so let em carry on.

Posted by: John Hogan | April 16, 2010 9:12 AM    Report this comment

John, were you kidding? The Lancair beach landing was a freak accident; adding equipment for such a rare occurrence doesn't seem warranted IMHO.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | April 16, 2010 10:32 AM    Report this comment

With respect to earlier comments, it is an interesting philosophical (and aeronautical decision making) question. Should one attempt an emergency landing on a beach in a populated area which will undoubtedly minimize risk to those on board, but where it is predictable that pedestrians will be present on the ground, and thereby be exposed to risk of injury?

Posted by: Bob Newman | April 16, 2010 9:40 PM    Report this comment

If your choice is relatively deserted beach or city street I think the choice is clear.

Posted by: Mark Sletten | April 16, 2010 10:13 PM    Report this comment

I dont know that there was a significant number of people on the beach at the time of the emergency or if this person was the only one on the beach and just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I dont know that the pilot would have been able to judge in any case given a windscreen coated in oil. In my opinion the pilot made the best of a bad situation and pulled off a successful emergency landing in trying circumstances. Who am I (or you) to second guess his actions without having been in his place?

Posted by: Mike Wills | April 19, 2010 1:19 PM    Report this comment

I believe the problem is worse in some cases than a simple matter of ignorance and laziness on the part of the reporter. I believe that in a number of instances reporters and news organizations take advantage of their audiences ignorance and intentionally skew a report in order to make news when there isnt any news there.

Case in point. Last week the local ABC news affiliate, 10News ran a story about the propensity of those little airplanes to crash and also the fact that they present a serious collision hazard to commercial air traffic. The reporter cited PSA flight 182 from the late 70s as an example.

The report was extremely biased making no mention of the airspace changes enacted as a direct result of 182 to ensure separation. The story even included an interview with John King, but the interview was edited in such a way that it seemed even he thought general aviation posed a significant risk to the general public.

How do you fight this sort of biased story? The media owns the outlets and has free speech rights with lawyers to back them up. 99% of the people who saw that story probably believe it. It was clear from the way that it was presented that it was intentionally biased to sensationalize. My letter to the editors/producers probably went directly into the trash can.

I have virtually no confidence that there is any truth to any story I see on television news based on my own track record watching stories where I know something about the subject.

Posted by: Mike Wills | May 4, 2010 10:57 AM    Report this comment

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