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One of the most influential members of the so-called GA Caucus in Congress recently announced his support for privatization of air traffic control as a vote looms next week on the bill that would hand it over to a nonprofit corporation. Rep. Sam Graves voted against privatization last year but, according to The Hill, Graves switched horses after he spent the year convincing the architect of the bill, House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Penn., to exempt GA from user fees in the bill. “We’ve got a lot of folks that are operating off of last year’s bill, which is a completely different bill. We want to get information out there,” Graves told reporters as he joined other GOP members in whipping votes for the bill. He faced a tough crowd at his annual Wing Nuts Flying Circus and Fly-In at his home airport of Tarkio, Missouri, July 8.

The hometown fly-in attracts the leaders of all aviation groups who can rub elbows with influential members of Congress. Graves took the stage to explain his rationale for supporting the current bill to turn air traffic control over to a nonprofit corporation run by a board of directors representing aviation and government interests. The aviation groups were having none of it, according to AOPA. “I do a lot of town halls, and I’ve not heard yet from one aviator or aircraft owner who believes a privatized system would be better than the one we have today,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. EAA Chairman Jack Pelton said privatization is a misnomer for this bill. “If you’re a free market capitalist, it (H.R. 2997) violates every principle of free market capitalism, because you’re handing a public interest over to monopoly,” AOPA quoted Pelton as saying.

Nav Canada, the nonprofit corporation responsible for air traffic control in Canada and over the North Atlantic, said Sunday it had restored its automated flight planning system after the main facility housing the equipment was flooded by a thunderstorm in Ottawa, early Saturday. The flood caused the evacuation of the facility and staff moved to a backup center, and the flight plan system wasn’t restored until about 3:30 p.m.

Until the system came back online, staff had to manually input flight plans and that caused delays mainly affecting the busy northern trans-Atlantic routes between North America and Europe. The delays rippled through the system on Sunday. The outage did not affect other air traffic control functions. "Air traffic controllers are able to see and talk to airplanes," Nav Canada spokesman Ron Singer told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger says privatizing air traffic control in the U.S. will reduce aviation safety and access to aviation. In an interview with Katie Couric, Capt. Sullenberger said of the proposal, “There are other, better ways to solve this political budget problem — by giving the FAA, in running the air traffic control system and making capital improvements to the air traffic control system, more predictable multiyear funding — without giving away the keys to the kingdom to the largest airlines to control access and fees and pricing too.” Capt. Sullenberger famously piloted an Airbus A320 to a ditching in the Hudson River with no loss of life following the simultaneous bird ingestion and failure of both engines and has since become a familiar face on Capitol Hill lobbying on behalf of airline pilots and airline safety issues.

Sully also pulled no punches sharing his opinion on the pilot shortage—or lack thereof: “It’s really only a few of the real bottom-feeders that are the least well run, the least capitalized companies that are having the most trouble [finding pilots] .... There are still a few of them that have extraordinarily low starting pay, in the $20,000 range, barely above food-stamp wage levels, and they’re the ones that are still trying to continue to use what is a broken economic model and one that is not sufficient in this market to attract sufficient numbers of fully qualified candidates.” 

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Authorities in Sonoma, California, are investigating whether the deployment of a Cirrus whole-plane parachute at low level was a factor in the death of the pilot. Pilot Bill Goldman was killed and his son, daughter and their nanny were seriously hurt in the crash. The SR22T took off from Sonoma Skypark on Friday morning and airport manager Ron Price told the local ABC affiliate that the engine quit shortly after departure. “When the engine stopped it became a glider, the nose was down, it looked really good and I was just hoping it would make a landing out in that field,” he said. Instead, Goldman apparently pulled the parachute handle at what Price estimated was an altitude of 300 feet.

Cirrus literature says the chute can be effective above 400 feet but didn’t comment directly on this incident. “The Cirrus Aircraft whole-plane parachute system has been deployed 72 times over the last 18 years, resulting in 148 saved lives who were returned to their families,” the company said in response to a query from the TV station. Photos from the scene show the wreckage in a large open and relatively flat field.

The Pratt & Whitney F135 engine of a U.S. Air Force F-35A caught on fire during start, severely damaging the aircraft, due to a tailwind, says the Air Force Incident Investigation Board’s (AIB) report released this week. The pilot of the aircraft received some burns during egress and damage to the aircraft is expected to exceed $17 million. According to the report, “The mishap was caused by a tailwind blowing hot air from either the mishap aircraft’s Integrated Power Pack (IPP) exhaust or the mishap aircraft’s engine exhaust into the IPP inlet. The hot air entering the IPP inlet started a sequence of events ultimately ending in an uncontained engine fire.”

The IPP on the F-35 functions as a combined auxiliary and emergency power unit. Power from the IPP is used to start the main engine. When hot exhaust gases entered the IPP’s inlet, an automatic shutdown of the IPP was triggered. Shutdown of the IPP cut power to the F135’s engine starter, just prior to the engine reaching a self-sustaining speed. The AIB concluded that “since engine combustion had already began, an increasing amount of fuel was delivered to the engine in an effort to increase combustion and overcome the slowing acceleration.” However, since the engine was turning below a self-sustaining speed, the additional fuel, rather than increasing engine speed, resulted in a fire that spread beyond the combustion section of the turbine. The tailwind, in addition to causing in the original IPP fault, then spread the flames across the aircraft.

Based on the local weather at the time of the incident, the tailwind component where the mishap aircraft was parked is estimated to have been 30 knots. There was a note in the pilot checklist stating that “issues could occur” starting with a tailwind, but no maximum tailwind limit during start had been established.

An air force pilot in Belarus may have had some explaining to do after he ejected from his MiG-29 during a fiery failed takeoff attempt. Video of the incident was posted to Facebook July 5 but the incident happened in February during a military exercise in Babruysk. In the video, the fighter does what appears to be a normal takeoff run but at rotation (possibly premature) things start to unravel.

As the nose rises, the gear begins retracting but the aircraft doesn’t appear to have flying speed and settles on its belly. The pilot rides it out for a second or two but as flames trail from the doomed aircraft, he ejects. “No one was injured. The plane did not leave the territory of the airport,” the Belarus military said in a statement.

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April 1, 2017, Edgewater, Fla.

Cessna 170B/Grumman AA-5B Tiger

At about 0842 Eastern time, the two airplanes were destroyed in an in-flight collision. The airline transport pilot flying the Cessna and the airline transport pilot flying the Grumman were both fatally injured. Visual conditions prevailed.

The airplanes were part of a five-ship formation flight. Shortly after establishing their initial V-shaped formation, the flight leader called for changing to a left echelon formation. In this formation, the airplanes are arranged diagonally to the flight leader’s left, with each airplane being stacked slightly low, behind, and to the left of the airplane ahead. To accomplish this evolution, the Grumman remained in its position slightly left and behind the leader, while the Cessna and the other two airplanes shifted. The Cessna was to be the number three aircraft, immediately to the left of the Grumman.

According to a fourth pilot in the formation, the Cessna moved into position behind the Grumman and he then saw “parts” coming back toward him on his right side. The Grumman abruptly pitched up with its nose past the vertical and went past him. He then observed something on the right side of the Cessna move upward before its tail began to “slew to the left” and it disappeared from view.

The accident site comprised a ¼-mile-long debris field. The Tiger and Cessna came to rest approximately 220 feet apart. The Cessna’s aft fuselage was completely separated from the rest of its structure, attached only by the control cables for the elevator, rudder and pitch trim. The leading edges of the Grumman’s propeller blades were damaged and displayed semicircular gouges.

April 2, 2017, Blue Earth, Minn.

Cessna 182 Skylane

The pilot reported that while approaching the destination airport, in night marginal visual meteorological conditions, he turned on the pilot-controlled runway lights. He began a descent to the runway, without observing the runway lights or airport, and encountered “ground fog” about 200 to 300 feet agl. He continued descending while referencing the moving map and GPS altitude on his electronic flight bag. Subsequently, while in a left turn, the airplane impacted terrain about one nm south of the runway.

An automated weather observing station, about 14 nm west of the accident airport, recorded visibility at 2½ sm, light rain, mist and an overcast ceiling at 300 feet agl.

April 4, 2017, Micanopy, Fla.

Pipistrel Virus SW

At about 0910 Eastern time, the airplane was destroyed when it impacted a pasture. The solo airline transport pilot was fatally injured. The flight departed Sebring, Fla., at 0800, headed for Clemson, S.C. Instrument conditions prevailed; an IFR flight plan was in effect.

Radar data depict the airplane on a northerly track at about 8000 feet msl. The track ended at an east-west oriented line of severe thunderstorms and rain showers extending about 100 nm to either side of the track. The pilot was in contact with ATC throughout the flight; he did not transmit any distress calls.

A large section of the left wing was located on a farm about 4.5 miles south of the main wreckage. The left flaperon was not found. At 0853, the reported weather about 15 nm north of the accident site included thunderstorms, moderate rain, mist and wind from 100 degrees at 10 knots, gusting to 18 knots. The ceiling was broken at 4300 feet and overcast at 7500 feet. Visibility was five sm.

April 5, 2017, Detroit Lakes, Minn.

Cessna T210M Turbo Centurion

The airplane experienced a landing gear collapse at 1410 Central time. The solo commercial pilot was not injured but the airplane sustained substantial damage. Visual conditions prevailed.

According to the pilot, the airplane had been experiencing intermittent landing gear problems. The accident occurred at the end of a positioning flight to bring the airplane to a maintenance facility. Before the flight, the landing gear circuit breaker was pulled in order to keep the gear in the down position. Upon landing, the pilot noticed the left wing slightly dropped after touchdown, requiring a correction to maintain runway centerline. Then the right main landing gear slowly collapsed. The pilot was unable to maintain the airplane on runway centerline, and the airplane exited the runway surface. The airplane came to rest upright with its right main landing gear collapsed.

April 7, 2017, Oxford, Iowa

Piper PA-28-180 Cherokee 180

At about 1507 Central time, the airplane collided with terrain following a loss of control. The flight instructor and private pilot were fatally injured. The airplane was destroyed by impact forces and a post-impact fire. Visual conditions existed near the accident site at the time of the accident.

A witness located about one mile east of the accident site stated he heard an engine popping and backfiring. The airplane appeared to be heading south-southeast but looked like it wasn’t moving. Its nose then dropped and it entered a “downward spiral.” The witness did not hear the engine at this point. The airplane made eight or nine spirals before it stopped rotating and continued in a nose-down descent. He lost sight of the airplane behind the hillside but heard the impact.

April 7, 2017, Atlanta, Ga.

Cessna 414

The airplane was substantially damaged at 1250 Eastern time when it landed gear-up. The solo airline transport pilot was not injured. Visual conditions prevailed.

The pilot stated that he was at 400 feet agl on a one-mile final when airplane was cleared onto the runway in front of him. This was when the pilot normally would have completed his final pre-landing checklist, including fuel, flaps and landing gear. The pilot noted the wind was “howling,” with gusts to 25 knots. The other airplane was a “distraction,” and he did not perform his final landing checklist after it cleared the runway. At touchdown, the pilot felt the airplane settle. When the airplane came to a stop, the pilot reported that the landing gear handle was in the down position and the circuit breaker was in the off position. Both engines and propellers were damaged, as was the underside of the fuselage and the landing gear doors.

April 7, 2017, Harrisburg, Ore.

Piper PA-46-310P Malibu

At about 1046 Pacific time, the airplane was destroyed when it impacted terrain during an instrument approach. The pilot and three passengers were fatally injured. Instrument conditions prevailed and an IFR flight plan was in effect.

Preliminary weather reports indicate the airplane was landing in conditions that included strong winds, moderate-to-severe turbulence and low-level wind shear accompanied by precipitation and mountain obscuration due to clouds/mist/precipitation. Several witnesses located near the accident area reported they observed the airplane flying at a treetop level.

April 8, 2017, Sanford, Fla.

Piper PA-12 Super Cruiser

The airplane was destroyed by impact and a post-crash fire at about 1256 Eastern time during a takeoff attempt. The airline transport pilot was fatally injured. Visual conditions prevailed.

A witness recorded the flight on his cellular telephone; the video corroborates the witness. According to him, the “airplane accelerated normally for takeoff, pitched up, and continued to pitch up into a full stall, rolled to the right and nosed in....” A post-impact fire ensued. The accident flight was the first one following a two-year restoration of the airplane, which included replacement of the wing and fuselage fabric, flight control cables and electrical wiring.

Manipulating the elevator cables resulted in a nose-up control input deflecting the elevator in the nose-down direction, and vice versa. Examination revealed the elevator control cables were improperly rigged, and were attached to the incorrect (opposite) locations on the upper and lower elevator control horn.

This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Aviation Safety magazine.

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This week’s news feed produced the disturbing and surprising announcement that Missouri’s Rep. Sam Graves will vote in favor of ATC privatization, otherwise known as HR 2997, but in real terms the biggest public giveaway to the airlines since the depression.

Graves, you probably know, is head of the House general aviation caucus and has been a reliable, stalwart supporter of the industry since his term began in George W. Bush’s first term. In supporting the 21st Century AIRR Act, as it’s called, Graves said he flipped from opposing the bill to supporting it because a provision has been added prohibiting user fees for general aviation. (Read the text here.)

Seriously? Rep. Graves has been around the houses enough times to know that the once the large hill of privatization is climbed in the first place, the nettlesome clause about user fees can be dispensed with by subsequent revisions. I wonder if he believes the GA community is naïve enough to accept his assurances. But I wonder even more what he traded for that vote because good public policy it ain’t.

The bill also has a provision that prohibits the ATC corporation from denying airspace access to non-fee-paying entities. I believe that will stick like I believe in the Easter Bunny. Once the door is open to privatization, the airline-dominated oversight board will reconfigure the system ever so slowly to optimize it for its own needs. As I’ve said before, I’m less worried about fees than an erosion of easy and routine access to all ATC services. I’m just contrarian enough to go against the alphabets on this issue, but I just can’t see an argument that this structure is of any conceivable benefit and I’m not willing to give it a chance. So, sorry Sam. I’m not buying it.

Bouquets and Brickbats for Southwest

Hardly a week goes by, it seems, that we aren’t running news about some airline mistreating customers or some customers running off the rails and having to be forcibly ejected from an airliner, with cause. It’s a jungle out there.

So it was cheering to hear this story about Southwest turning a departing flight back to the gate and removing a woman passenger. The reason was that the airline had been notified that the woman’s son had become comatose. They rerouted her travel plans so she could join her son at bedside. They tended to her luggage and even packed a lunch at one of her connections. The son recovered and so far, everyone is living happily ever after.

Oddly, this didn’t happen last week or even last month, but more than two years ago. It was covered contemporaneously. It recently resurfaced because, well shucks, it’s just so heartwarming. And it is. Southwest went above and beyond, even if it actually happened two years ago. I’m a regular customer of Southwest and a beneficiary of its exceptional customer service. But as you’re dabbing that tear from the corner of your eye, let me hurl this imaginary brick through the Southwest storefront.

Last week, I got an email from the airline urging me to call my representative to support HR 2997. Say it ain’t so, Southwest. And not just no, but hell no.

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Heard over rural Massachusetts.

Cherokee XYZ (tremulous voice): "Albany Approach, Cherokee XYZ five miles northeast of Pittsfield at 3500 feet, requesting fight following to Kilo Oscar Romeo Delta."

Silence: all on frequency were contemplating the Cherokee, a student pilot at the controls,  attempting  the impossibly long flight to Chicago and then penetrating the O'Hare airspace.

Cherokee XYZ (even more tremulous voice): "Albany Approach, Cherokee XYZ six miles northeast of Pittsfield at 3500, requesting flight following to Kilo Oscar Romeo Delta".

Longer silence:  All on frequency, including the controllers, were now attempting to contain various forms of laughter. Eventually a different voice, one steeped in confidence and experience came on.

Cherokee XYZ: "Approach, XYZ 8 northeast Pittsfield requests advisories at 3500 to Orange Mass, Kilo Oscar Romeo Echo". (KORE is an uncontrolled rural field slightly different from its near namesake.)

Albany Approach: "Cherokee XYZ squawk 4350,  I show Orange 38 miles to your east.

And we were all left wondering what sage words of wisdom might just have been imparted by the instructor to his diligent student.  Oh, to have been a back seat passenger in that Cherokee.


Daniel Spitzer

 

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