AVwebFlash - Volume 21, Number 12a

March 15, 2014

MH370: ACARS Turned Off Before Final Radio Call (Updated)

Malaysian officials Sunday confirmed someone in the cockpit of Flight MH370 turned off the aircraft's ACARS  system before sending the final radio transmission ("all right, good night) a non-standard response to an ATC handoff that is normally answered with a read back. The revelation has focused even more attention on the possible involvement of the crew in what is now presumed to be the intentional diversion of the aircraft. Officials seized the elaborate flight simulator the captain of the flight built at his home to determine if he'd been practising the unusual flight profile that was apparently used by whomever was in control of the aircraft.  On Saturday, officials confirmed the aircraft's automatic engine monitoring system sent its last signal to a satellite almost seven hours after data link and transponders aboard the Boeing 777 were "deliberately" turned off early last Saturday morning. There were also reports the aircraft climbed as high as 45,000 feet and spent time at 23,000 feet, all adding up to potential destinations for the aircraft that include the restive Xinjiang region of western China. That's where militant ethnic Uyghur Muslims have staged grisly attacks, including a knife massacre in a train station that killed 29 people two weeks ago and a more recent attack that killed six. At a news conference, Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak said the last ping from the aircraft was at 8:11 a.m. Saturday, perhaps over the Indian Ocean. All the maneuvering that led to the long flight is "consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane," Razak said.

The new information has, of course, led to more speculation on the fate of the passengers and crew and possible crew involvement in the caper. Malaysian officials searched the homes of the two pilots on Friday and are going through the personal backgrounds of everyone aboard. Malaysia has come under intense criticism for allegedly withholding critical information about radar returns and satellite uplinks but the prime minister defended his officials on Saturday. “We have shared information in real time with authorities who have the necessary experience to interpret the data,” he said in a prepared statement read at a news conference. “We have been working nonstop to assist the investigation, and we have put our national security second to the search for the missing plane.”

Beech and Cessna to Become Textron Aviation

Textron Inc. today announced it has closed its acquisition of Beech Holdings, LLC, the parent of Beechcraft Corporation, and that it will bring together its Cessna business and Beechcraft to form a new segment called Textron Aviation -- although each will remain distinct brands. Cessna and Beechcraft together produced about $4.6 billion in revenues during 2013. According to The Wall Street Journal: “The acquisition brings together three brands, each pioneering many of aviation's most notable advances in the past century. Cessna, Beechcraft and Hawker bring 200-plus years of combined aviation experience to the market and an installed customer base of more than 250,000 airplanes worldwide. Going forward, Textron Aviation intends to share and leverage best practices across all operations to further its position as an aviation authority.” Scott Ernest, who has served as Cessna's President and CEO since 2011, will lead the Textron Aviation segment as CEO.

"Today's announcement is a historic milestone for the aviation industry, and I congratulate the management teams of Beechcraft and Cessna for quickly bringing the merger to fruition," said Textron Chairman and CEO Scott Donnelly. "Through Textron Aviation, we now offer a broader selection of aircraft for our customers and a greatly expanded service footprint. Cessna, Beechcraft and Hawker owners will receive the high level of quality product and customer service that are the hallmarks of these brands -- and our combined resources will enhance our ability to innovate and anticipate customer needs." Under the terms of the transaction, Textron purchased all outstanding equity interests in Beech Holdings for approximately $1.4 billion in cash. Textron financed the purchase of the equity as well as the repayment of Beechcraft's working capital debt through a combination of available cash, the issuance of $600 million in senior notes and drawing $500 million under a new five-year term loan.

Goodyear Unveils Airship

Goodyear floated out its new zeppelin last Friday (photo gallery) and says the airship will be faster and more efficient to operate. But despite all the modern advances, old habits die hard and for marketing purposes the company will continue to refer (incorrectly) to the aircraft as the Goodyear Blimp. The new aerial billboard has a rigid internal structure where the old blimps were aerodynamically shaped gas balloons. Goodyear also stuck with its time-honored retro look for the paint scheme of the aircraft, which was designed by ZLT Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik, of Germany. It was built at Goodyear's big hangar near Akron, Ohio. It's Goodyear's first new LTA design in 45 years and there's a long list of improvements.

Glass panel, joystick controls and fly-by-wire pivoting modern engines (Lycoming IO-360s) aside, the airship is Goodyear's first with an onboard bathroom. Airliner style seating and accommodations for television camera crews round out the interior appointments. The zeppelin boasts better performance than the old blimps (40- vs. 30-knot cruise) and that 25 percent leap will enable the icon to visit more events, according to Goodyear. The new airship will be based in Ohio and will share duties with old-style blimps in California and Florida until those too are replaced.

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CAFE Symposium Set For April

The 8th annual CAFE Electric Aircraft Symposium is coming up April 25 and 26 in Santa Rosa, Calif., and organizer Brien Seeley told AVweb this week, "This will be a chock-full program, probably our best ever." The symposium brings together leaders in a variety of technical fields who are exploring ways to transform aviation, exploring ideas including not only electric propulsion but autonomous systems, quiet propeller designs, hybrid engines, high-energy-density batteries, fuel cells, solar-powered aircraft, nanotechnology and more.

The program and other details are posted on the CAFE website, where more presenters and other updates will continue to be posted as the event draws closer. When we spoke this week, Seeley said he was still talking with several "eye-popping" presenters who he hopes to announce soon, who will bring impressive resumes to the show. He added that two or three prototype electric aircraft may be on display for the weekend, but those appearances won't be confirmed until closer to the symposium date. He also said registrations already are running higher than usual this year, which he attributes to growing interest in the new technologies explored at the event.

Podcast: CAFE Symposium Preview

The 8th annual CAFE Electric Aircraft Symposium is coming up April 25 and 26 in Santa Rosa, California, bringing together a roster of experts and experimenters to share technology and ideas for the next generation of personal flying.  Dr. Brien Seeley, president of the CAFE Foundation and organizer of the event, spoke with AVweb's Mary Grady about some of the highlights on this year's agenda.

Postal Service Honors Father of Black Aviation

Referred to as the Father of Black Aviation, Chief Flight Instructor of the prestigious Tuskegee Airmen C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson will be immortalized on a stamp tomorrow, March 13. The 1 p.m. dedication ceremony, free and open to the public, will take place at Bryn Mawr College’s McPherson Auditorium, 101 North Merion Ave. Anderson also has been referred to as the Charles Lindbergh of Black Aviation for his record-breaking flights that inspired other African-Americans to become pilots. As the 15th stamp in the Postal Service’s Distinguished American Series, the 70-cent first-class stamp, available in sets of 20, is good for first-class mail weighing up to 2 ounces.

“The Postal Service is proud to honor Charles Alfred 'Chief' Anderson, a black aviation pioneer who inspired, motivated and educated thousands of young people in aviation careers, including the famed Tuskegee Airmen of World War II,” said U.S. Postal Service Judicial Officer William Campbell, who will dedicate the stamp. Campbell’s father, a decorated Tuskegee Airman, served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. “Their accomplishments ranked them as one of the elite fighter groups during the war and their heroism will forever be an important part of our country’s history and heritage. It all began with the instruction they received from Chief Anderson, an extraordinary teacher who motivated and inspired them to reach their full potential as military aviators. The airmen’s professionalism and extraordinary effectiveness in combat was, in large part, the catalyst for President Harry Truman’s issuance in 1948 of Executive Order 9981, which desegregated America’s armed forces.”

AEA Educational Foundation Awards Scholarships

During the 57th annual AEA International Convention & Trade Show, the Aircraft Electronics Association's Educational Foundation announced the names of 22 individuals who were awarded individual scholarships worth more than $125,000 for the 2014-15 academic year. The AEA Educational Foundation awards scholarships to students pursuing a career in the general aviation maintenance and aircraft electronics industry. The intent of these scholarships is to identify and reward those individuals who best exemplify the qualities that lead to success in the aviation industry.

The AEA scholarships and the individuals who were awarded include:

  • Leon Harris/Les Nichols Memorial Scholarship to Spartan College of Aeronautics & Technology: Jacob Freeman, Tuttle, Okla.
  • Tom Taylor Memorial Scholarship to Spartan College of Aeronautics & Technology: Cole Andrews, Ramona, Calif.
  • Thomas J. Slocum Memorial Scholarship to Redstone College: Kacie Broemmelsick, Northglenn, Colo.
  • Aircell Scholarship: Paul Xavier, Carbondale, Ill.
  • L-3 Aviation Products: Cody Wright, Ridgeway, Va.
  • Lee Tarbox Memorial Scholarship, sponsored by Pacific Southwest Instruments: Justin Barnes, Cynthiana, Ky.
  • Garmin Scholarship: Joshua Hundley, Rochester, Ill.
  • Field Aviation Scholarship: Brian Champion, Marsh Lake, Yukon Territory, Canada.
  • Duncan Aviation Scholarship: Josue Rodriguez, Duluth, Ga.
  • Mid-Continent Instruments and Avionics Scholarship: Brittney Frizzell, Dearborn, Mich.
  • Rockwell Collins Scholarship: Maxwell Gale, Grand Rapids, Mich.
  • Garmin - Jerry Smith Memorial Scholarship: Dominic Valenti, Council Bluffs, Iowa.
  • Universal Avionics Systems Corp. Scholarship: William Hernandez, Kissimmee, Fla.
  • The Stone Foundation Scholarship: Alex Hamberger, York, Penn.
  • David Arver Memorial Scholarship: Colton Phillips, Wichita, Kan.
  • Dutch & Ginger Arver Memorial Scholarship: Nathan Croak, Ypsilanti, Mich.
  • Johnny Davis Memorial Scholarship: Kyle Johnson, Lakeland, Fla.
  • Lowell Gaylor Memorial Scholarship: Jonathan James, Duncanville, Texas.
  • Gene Baker Memorial Scholarship: Sara Fox, Erie, Penn.
  • Jim Cook Honorary Scholarship: Juan Miguel Sanchez, Milton, Ontario, Canada.
  • Chuck Peacock Memorial Scholarship: Danny Sanburn, Wichita, Kan.
  • Chuck Freeland Memorial Scholarship: David Sprouse, Murfreesboro, Tenn.
  • Monte Mitchell Memorial Scholarship: Keith Hendershot, Hyannis, Mass.

The foundation was created in 1990 to enhance, promote and secure the future of aviation maintenance and the AEA by furthering the education of students, technicians, members of the AEA and others as determined by aviation industry needs. Since its inception, the AEA scholarship program has awarded more than $1.5 million in scholarships.

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FreeFlight's All-in-One ADS-B

ADS-B products continue to perk along and at AEA in Nashville, FreeFlight Systems announced the certification of its RANGR 978 UAT ADS-B solution with an approved model list totaling more than 400 aircraft. The RANGR, at a list price of $5495, provides both ADS-B In and Out solutions in a single box, along with a wireless adapter that converts the RANGR's serial data to wirelessly send weather and traffic to an onboard tablet. The RANGR can also feed to panel-mount displays. For more, see this exclusive AVweb video shot at AEA.

Video: FreeFlight's Wireless ADS-B Solution

With the ADS-B mandate looming five years ahead, we're seeing more products that address this requirement, including this one shown at AEA in Nashville.  FreeFlight's wireless Rangr all-in-one box provides ADS-B In and Out and has a wireless adapter to put the weather and other data on a tablet.  Price is $5,495.


A New Back-up Gyro From Sandia

At the Aircraft Electronics Association convention in Nashville, Sandia Aerospace introduced a new solid-state back-up gyro called the SAI for standby attitude instrument. At a $3,595 price point, the SAI has its own battery and onboard ADAHRS and can run at least 30 minutes without ship's power. It requires only power, ground, pitot and static input. For a quick video tour of the SAI, check out AVweb's coverage of the AEA show.

Video: Sandia's New Standby Attitude Gyro

In glass cockpits and even in those where the pilots suffer through the tragedy of flying behind steam gauges, a back-up gryo is a good idea.  Increasingly, these are solid-state gyros with their own self-contained ADAHRS and batteries.  At AEA in Nashville, AVweb shot this brief product tour of the Sandia Aerospace SAI gyro.  Retail price is $3,595.


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AVmail: March 17, 2014

Letter of the Week:
Flying to St. Barths

I watched with great interest your video with the Aztec landing in St. Barths and finishing on the beach.  I happened to be in St. Barths recently.  I fly there regularly in my Cirrus SR-22 but was there most recently flying an airliner.

Here are a few words about your commentary, which was mostly excellent:

  • You have to have a special qualification to fly there, delivered by a local instructor.
  • The airport is dangerous, no doubt, and difficult.  There's more to worry about than just a few poles and trees.
  • One of the biggest problems is wind shear, which you did not mention.  Therefore, it is extremely difficult to fly a slow enough approach speed to keep control of the aircraft without going too fast and not being able to stop!  Go-arounds are frequent, and that's good!
  • The runway is downhill.
  • Clear the hill too low, and you will be caught in a downdraft prior to the hill and hit terrain head-on.  You have to come in high, which makes it difficult to keep speed down.
  • The absolute rule of thumb is that you must touch down by the mid-taxiway (for most airplanes) or go around without hesitation, which the Aztec pilot obviously did not do.

It's a tough airport but good challenge and to be treated with lots of respect.

Capt. Matt Romana

Minting New Pilots

Regarding your "Question of the Week" on encouraging new pilots:  We manage and fund a youth aviation scholarship that pays for about half of their ticket training cost.  We mint from six to ten new pilots a year.

Jim Posner

With 35,000 hrs in the industry and as one who still loves to fly, I can't recommend it as a profession.

FAA has created a monster of regulations which even their own lawyers can't decipher.  The system has kept us with 1930s technology and no easy ways to improve the safety of these aircraft without great expense.

It has created an industry of inspectors that become nothing more than highly paid data entry people.

They do hire good people that can benefit the industry, but those don't last long and go on to more rewarding jobs.

Sandy Hamilton

As a former flight instructor, Part 135 pilot, and current regional airline pilot, I encourage people to learn to fly for "fun" but not as a profession (unless they can fly for the military).  The secret is out that professional civilian pilots go through a financial beating, and I won't encourage this job to my own children, nor others.

Name withheld

Start-Ups and Run-Ups

This is a great article.  I cannot remember ever seeing aircraft ground and pre-flight operations explained so clearly and accurately.

Keep up the good work, and thank you.

Bruce Bennett

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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.

Long Trips On Short Legs

For most of us tooling around the airstrip and to the occasional pancake breakfast, the size of our fuel tanks doesn’t matter. But when you’re planning a longer flight, your aircraft’s range becomes a consideration. Put another way, if you want to travel more than 500 nm, tank-size matters, and not all of us are endowed with long-range tanks. It may be your tanks are too small, or your passengers are too big. You may want to bring along too much gear for use at your destination, or you’re carrying too many gadgets to use while airborne. Of course, your fuel burn rate may be too high, or perhaps your airspeed and headwinds make your groundspeed too slow. Any combination of these will give your aircraft short-leg syndrome.

Short-Leg Syndrome

The syndrome manifests itself through an inability to make nonstop flights to seemingly far-flung destinations. The fuel stop itself imposes burdens such as additional wear and tear on tires, brakes and starter motors, consumes the time we’ve set aside for the trip and potentially exposes us to poor weather we’d rather avoid by flying past. The syndrome can involve all aircraft types and destinations, doesn’t respect our personal schedules and consumes much of the mental bandwidth we have available for our pre-flight planning.

We refer to planes like Skyhawks and Cherokees as four-place aircraft, but that is a rather generous description. Though the FAA still uses 170 pounds for the average person’s weight in its advisory circulars, weight and balance handbooks, and seat and restraint design criteria, we are not as svelte as we were when those aircraft were designed. The limitations imposed by seating, fuel capacity and useful load typically require trading one for another, results which ultimately will be liberated from the fuel tanks. For aviation, the upshot of the obesity crises is reduced endurance of our aircraft.

Today, 170 pounds is not an average weight; it is an aspirational weight that would require most American men to skip the pancake breakfast altogether. According to a 2008 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the average U.S. male weighs 194.7 pounds. The average female? She’s 164.7. Bigger people means less fuel. If you need to preserve short field or climb performance to deal with hot days, high density altitude, short run- ways or airstrips with obstructions, you may need to reduce your fuel load even further. The end result is what I’ll call short-leg syndrome.

The Need For Speed

If you study almost any airplane’s Pilot’s Operating Handbook or Airplane Flight manual (POH/AFM), you’ll notice that the best economy cruise with the greatest range corresponds to a speed you’ll never put on a flight plan. You can extend your stride and burn less gas by flying slow, but if you are trying to make time, beat weather or arrive before dark on a long trip, you may not be willing to mush along at the airplane’s economy cruise setting. On the other hand, if you plan to use an economy-cruise power setting, you’d better stick with your plan. Planning a max-range trip on an economy-based fuel burn and then flying the trip at full-tilt boogie is begging to come up short.

Anecdotally, I have found that pilots with fast planes tend not to achieve best ranges because they have fast aircraft for a reason—they like flying fast. On the opposite end of the spectrum are low-and-slow pilots. While endowed with patience, pilots facing a long cross- country flight in a slow plane will typically strive to get every ounce of speed they are entitled to or risk losing a day or two on the cumulative trip.

My point here is that the aircraft we fly typically have more range capabilities than their pilots have patience. When planning a trip based on POH/AFM numbers, be realistic and understand that speeding up will shorten your legs and slowing down will extend them. Don’t just plan your flight, also fly your plan.

Slow Speeds

Speed makes a huge difference on leg lengths. If you convert your fuel capacity into range measured in hours, a faster plane has longer legs. That’s because the slower your aircraft is, the more susceptible you are to headwinds, and the more dramatically they will affect your short-leg syndrome.

Take three hypothetical aircraft with three hours of traveling fuel and one hour of reserve. A Mooney traveling 150 knots will travel 450 nm in three hours. With a 30-knot headwind, that range drops to 360 nm—a 20-percent decrease. A Skyhawk or a Husky flying at 115 knots will cover 345 nm. With a 30-knot headwind, you’ll only see 255 nm, a 26-percent hit. A Cub cruising at 80 knots will cover 240 nm in a no- wind scenario but only 150 nm with that same 30-knot headwind. That’s a 37.5 percent reduction in range, more than one-third. The slower you go, the more headwinds affect your stride.

My Cub has 15 gallons of usable fuel and typically burns five gallons per hour, giving me 2.5 hours of endurance with a half-hour reserve. At 80 knots groundspeed, I can travel 200 nm on primary fuel, with a maximum leg of 240 nm by burning some of my reserves. A 10-knot headwind takes me down to 175 nm, or 210 nm on my reserves.

If the forecast is for no winds, I could optimistically stretch each leg to the full 200 nm and even feel safe because I have a half-hour reserve. But if the wind is beyond 13 knots on the nose, that same 200 nm leg is now outside of my reserve capacity. It is easy to see how a little headwind can make you an NTSB statistic.

Barren Terrain

The most critical part of cross-country planning with short legs is the reliability of refueling stops. The shorter your legs, the more stops you need to make and the more critical each one is to reaching your destination according to plan. The path you pick to optimally connect the dots, also defines the number of options you have when and if a planned fuel stop proves to be a no-go.

Traveling in the West and Midwest, this becomes a geography exercise in mapping population density. There are definitely some vacant parts of the sectional you have to work around. While you can skip across some of those vacant areas via straight lines, straying away from populations and highways can be perilous. Also, just because an airport is on a sectional doesn’t mean it has fuel. Just because the Inter- net shows it has fuel services is no guarantee it be available when you arrive. Calling ahead is a good idea because you might not have cell phone coverage at a remote rural fuel stop, and pay phones are quickly vanishing from public places like airports.

Some Points To Ponder.

When flying with short legs, there are three decision points to ponder en route. The most familiar of these is the point of no return. As you travel along your planned route, your legs get increasingly short as you near your target fuel stop. When you have enough fuel to make it to your destination but not enough to make it back to your point of departure, you have gone beyond the point of no return.

The next point is the point of no departure. Once you have started burning reserve fuel, the next place you land will be a point of no departure because you can’t depart without refueling. You can’t depart because legally you need fuel enough to arrive at a planned destination plus at least a half hour reserve for standard VFR. If the gas pumps are locked, there is no cell service, or the FBO tells you their tank is empty, too bad; this is your home until something gives and fuel arrives. If you take off to find fuel elsewhere, it is not so much a violation of the FARs as it is mailing your self-nomination for a Darwin award.

The next thing to ponder is the dynamic shape of your range ellipse. At the point of departure, with no wind, your range is a nice circle centered over your departure point extending equally in all directions. You can draw an inner ring showing your range on primary fuel and an outer ring showing your extended range using reserves. Beyond these two rings is your range as a glider. I don’t recommend using the last ring.

If the wind is blowing, the ellipse’s radius will increase downwind and decrease upwind. The “bow shock” of wind, effectively compresses the range of your reserves in the direction of the headwind.

Since wind direction and speed will vary along your route, the real shape of your range would actually be a cone-like amoeba shape. It comes to stubby point because your range decreases over time as fuel is burned. It will have an amoeba like shape because wind directions and speeds may vary along your route. The important thing to understand is how this shape overlays with your plan for connecting fuel stops and available off-route options and alternates. One obvious point of the shape is that it has less area as you proceed. The further you travel, the narrower is your lateral wiggle room for options.

When the Venn diagram of your range ellipse or range amoeba no longer includes your departure, you have passed the point of no return. When your intended destination is in the Venn diagram of your reserve fuel, it has become a point of no departure. When the Venn diagram of your range includes no airports, it represents the limits of your planning skills. If you allow your range-shape to come to a point, your engine will stop.

When the Wave Collapses

When looking over your flight plan and connecting the dots of your short-legged trip, try to find the critical path. If any stop is critical to mission success, call ahead to make sure they will have fuel when you arrive.

The thing to remember about short-leg syndrome is there are many variables creating feedback loops that change your options in novel ways. As you fly along, your options will shrink with the shape of your range projection. This isn’t bad; it just creates decision points and opportunities.

On my long trip to Kansas, when I arrived at Westport Airport (71K, a.k.a, “Dead Cow International”) in Wichita, Kan., I had just hit my reserve fuel as I passed into Wichita’s Class C airspace. No big deal; there are lots of airports in Wichita, but by definition, the next landing would be a no-departure landing until I could refuel.

As I pulled my plane up to the pump at Dead Cow, a guy walked out of the hangar and said, “I hope you don’t want gas; we just ran out.” Fortunately, a delivery truck was en route to refill the tanks. While the airport was getting restocked, the proprietors bought me lunch.

The fun part of long trips on short legs is the airports you get to see and the people you will meet. If you are lucky, somebody might even buy your lunch.

Mike Hart is an Idaho-based commercial/IFR pilot with 1000 hours, and proud owner of a Cessna 180.

This article originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Aviation Safety magazine.

Short Final

Two airplanes took off from the same controlled airport right after each other -- one a Cessna 172, the other a Cessna 182. The first off was the Cessna 172 Skyhawk, followed a minute or so later by his buddy in the Cessna 182. Both were headed for the same destination airport.

Just before the 182 left controlled air space, the tower controller asked the 182 driver if he had the Skyhawk at 12 o'clock one mile out.

The 182 reported, "Looking. No contact yet."

The 172 driver chimed in on the conversation and said, "Not to worry. I owe him money. He won't hit me!"

True story. Towered airport was El Monte (KEMT); destination for both airplanes was Cable Airport (KCCB) in Upland, California.

Doug Latch
via e-mail

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MH 370: Will The Simplest Explanation Be The Right One?

In watching the wall-to-wall coverage of MH 370, I’ve been struck how, absent any information, most sources discussing this event want to assume it was the work of a rational person, that it was carefully planned and that there was some overarching goal. Those who believe the airplane was flown into Central Asia and landed, if they have a theory at all, suggest that perhaps Uyghur separatists planned and executed the seizing of MH 370.

Anything is possible, but the longer the investigation progresses with no verifiable facts, the more the speculation will be bent to suit what spare facts are available, hence the Central Asia theory. But what if it’s just a lot simpler than that? What if this was just another example of a pilot committing suicide and taking an airplane with him? It’s not like there aren’t any examples of this.

Let’s run the list. In October 1999, Egyptair Flight 990 crashed into the Atlantic off Nantucket. The NTSB cited the cause as deliberate actions of the relief first officer, but Egyptian authorities rejected that, claiming the crash was due to mechanical failure, despite producing no evidence to support this.

In 1997, SilkAir 185  crashed in a river in southern Sumatra, killing everyone aboard the 737. Once again, the NTSB found the crash was due to deliberate action of the crew and once again, the local authorities denied this, saying the data available didn’t support that conclusion.

In 1994, FedEx Flight 705 was nearly downed by a hammer-wielding deadheading pilot about to be dismissed for lying about his pilot experience. He hoped his family would benefit from a multi-million dollar insurance policy. A horrific, bloody brawl ensued on the flightdeck and the crew was finally able to land the airplane back at Memphis.

In 1964, a Pacific Airlines Fairchild was brought down after a passenger shot both crew members in a murder/suicide scheme. In the days before accident investigation grew to be as sophisticated as it now, investigators pieced together what happened in the airplane. Twenty-three years later, history repeated when a Pacific Southwest Airlines BAE 146-200 crashed as the result of a murder-suicide plot by a digruntled employee. And of course, there are numerous examples of general aviation pilots using an airplane to commit suicide.

Could this be more likely than some other intent in the hijacking of MH 370? Who knows? The only thing I’ve heard that made undiluted sense to me was what former NTSB investigator Greg Feith told NBC news on Sunday. It may be quite likely that we’ll never find this aircraft and by the time identifiable wreckage washes ashore somewhere—if it crashed at sea—it will be long since impossible to determine where it came from. Feith was involved in the SilkAir investigation, but if he’s thinking suicide was at play here, he’s too much the professional to say it.

The argument against suicide is to ask why the aircraft would continue flying for six or seven hours over what appeared to be a programmed course? That assumes the actions of rational person in the cockpit and since when are people commandeering airliners rational?

Maybe the Central Asia theorists are right. Maybe MH 370 will turn up in a desert wash in Turkmenistan with 239 parched but alive passengers. We can only hope, but history has tended toward simpler explanations.

Join the conversation.
Read others' comments and add your own.

Video: AEA Opens In Nashville

The Aircraft Electronics Association opened in 57th annual convention in Nashville this week with good news:  Avionics sales for 2013 were up 6.9% in 2013 over the previous year.  In this video interview, AEA's Paula Derks says about 23 new products will be introduced in Nashville.


Video: Drone Support Takes Off With Robotic Skies

Drones are coming to an air space near you -- but who's going to service and maintain those fleets of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)?  There's a good chance it will be Brad Hayden's company, Robotic Skies.


Video: Aspen's New VFR Product

At AEA in Nashville, Aspen introduced its new VFR EFIS, an entry-level, affordable glass suite for owners who don't need full IFR capability.  AVweb takes a video tour of the new product.


Video: BendixKing's AeroWave Internet Access

At the Aircraft Electronics Association convention in Nashville, BendixKing tossed its hat into the airborne connectivity ring with a new internet access product called the AeroWave.  In this video, Avweb gets a look at the new box.