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The AOPA Air Safety Institute released its annual Joseph T. Nall Report (PDF) on Wednesday, detailing the accident rate for GA aircraft, providing an analysis and outlining plans to seek improvements. Richard McSpadden, executive director of the ASI, said the new report, which analyzes data from 2014, shows a decline in the overall number of accidents for non-commercial fixed-wing aircraft, even as flight activity increased. There were 952 accidents in 2014, nine fewer than the year before. The resulting accident rate of 5.78 per 100,000 hours was essentially unchanged from the previous year’s record low. “Across the general aviation community, we can take pride that our collaborative efforts appear to be having a positive, sustained impact,” McSpadden said. However, further analysis of the data shows that the fatal accident rate was up 11 percent from the year before, though the number of deaths declined by 3 percent. About 75 percent of accidents are caused by pilot error. The ASI will use its analysis to continue its work to bring the accident rate down.

To reduce the accident rate, McSpadden said, the ASI wants to drive more pilots to consume safety information. “Roughly about half the active pilot population actively reviews safety information,” he said at an online news conference on Wednesday. “We want to find the unreachables, and to do that, we’re launching a ‘find one, bring one’ campaign.” He’s asking pilots who come to a safety seminar to go find a pilot who doesn’t go to seminars, and bring them along. He also said the ASI will promote greater participation in type clubs. “I believe that type clubs do everything good for a pilot in terms of flight safety,” McSpadden said. “You’ll find a lot of coaches and mentors there.” He said he also wants to focus on the four areas that the Nall Report found are most likely to cause accidents — takeoff and climb out, landing, fuel management, and low-altitude maneuvering. “We think we can make some improvement there by getting people to join the type clubs, and to be more safety-conscious and consume safety materials,” he said. The ASI also published a “GA scorecard” (PDF) which summarizes the data from the report.

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A seaplane business in Sausalito, California, in operation since 1945, has been growing since new owners took over in 2012, and that’s starting to cause some problems with the neighbors, who have requested a hearing with the County Planning Commission, set for next Monday, Aug. 28. “What began decades ago as a small tourism business with one four-seater airplane now has turned into a huge business with three planes, including larger eight-seater planes which make a horrendous noise,” Kathryn Esquivel wrote in a comment on a story about the Seaplane Adventures business at the Seaplane Magazine website. Richardson Bay is very small and is already packed with houseboats, paddle boarders, kayaks and wildlife, Esquivel said. Seaplane Magazine has taken up the cause on the operator’s side, and has asked readers to send letters of support for the business to local officials.

“Experience shows that such hearings are often rude and unfair,” the magazine said. A Facebook post from Aaron Singer, owner of Seaplane Adventures, also asks supporters to come to the hearing and send letters and emails. Singer says the business “has been a dream come true for me and … the lifeblood of my family.” The county officials could impose a daily limit on the number of flights, or even ban seaplane operations from the bay entirely, according to Seaplane Magazine.

Higher, farther and faster

The Airbus team A^3, or A-cubed, based in Silicon Valley, plans to start flight tests of a prototype of its full-scale VTOL air-taxi, Vahana, in November, according to a report this week by KUOW. The flight tests will be conducted from the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport, in Pendleton, where the company recently occupied a new 9,600-square-foot hangar. The hangar has been specifically configured to support Vahana, according to the company’s blog. It was also announced this week that the aircraft will maneuver autonomously using a technology called Peregrine, according to a news release from Near Earth Autonomy, which developed the system. The onboard system uses lidar, inertial measurement and GPS sensors. When the aircraft is maneuvering close to the ground — lower than 65 feet — the system scans the ground in three dimensions, using lasers, to determine whether the site is safe for landing.

The sensor package creates a 3-D representation of the landing environment using laser scanning and inertial measurement. During descent, this representation is used to assess the landing site by an onboard computer. The assessment verifies that the designated landing site is safe, and away from obstructions or hazardous terrain. If necessary, it provides alternate locations to ensure safe touchdown. Vahana and Near Earth Autonomy completed a series of acceptance flights testing the technology in June.

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An engine upgrade for the King Air 350 by Blackhawk Modifications, based in Waco, Texas, is now certified by the FAA, the company announced this week. The upgrade package includes two factory-new Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-67A engines, plus two new five-blade composite propeller assemblies and spinners from MT Propellers. Training, support and a warranty also are included. The modified aircraft gains 40 knots for a maximum cruise speed of 340 knots at 28,000 feet, the company said. “Our tests have shown that the XP67A-powered King Air 350 can fly from sea level to 35,000 feet in just 18 minutes,” said Jim Allmon, CEO of Blackhawk. “This is the fastest King Air on the planet.” The extra power appeals to operators who use hot and high airports, the company said. The modifications also boost gross weight by 2,000 pounds.

The company said it has about a dozen orders so far for the modification package. Blackhawk now is working on a new modification program, equipping a King Air 350ER with the XP67A engine, and expects certification for that aircraft at 16,500 pounds maximum takeoff weight later this year. The final phase of the project will consist of certifying a King Air 300 with the XP67A engine plus other upgrades, starting early next year.

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File photo

A Global 7000, a Bombardier large-cabin business jet currently undergoing test flights, lost an engine last week while flying at 41,000 feet, according to a report in the Wichita Eagle this week. A report from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said the jet “experienced an inflight flameout of the right engine following high vibration and high Inter Turbine Temperature (ITT) readings.” The crew declared an emergency and landed safely at Wichita. Bombardier issued a brief statement on Monday, saying the test pilots experienced an “occurrence.” The pilots “followed standard procedures and returned to base uneventfully. Bombardier and GE have determined that the root cause of last week’s reported occurrence was an isolated event.” The company said the jet’s flight and ground test campaigns continue on track for entry-into-service in the second half of 2018.

The GE Passport engine, which will make its first entry into service with the Global 7000, was FAA certified in early 2016. Three Global 7000 jets are currently flying in the test program. The first six customer aircraft are now in production and final assembly-line activities are ramping up, the company said. The aircraft, which is a derivative of the Global 6000, was announced in 2010 and first flew last November.

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I’ve not found any published data on the subject, but after years or reading accident reports I’ve formed the opinion that pilots making takeoffs that will be followed by a flight on an IFR flight plan may unconsciously add a little more “I gotta go come hell or high water” attitude than their normal, Type A, mission-completion orientation to the decision-making process.

There is no such thing as an emergency takeoff, yet I see accident reports of pilots launching into weather that is well below what’s needed for the approach back into the airport and then losing control not long after punching into the clag despite the fact that the weather was forecast to become solidly VFR within a couple of hours (and did). I have looked at crashes after takeoff where the airplane was well over gross, the runway was plenty long enough to abort the takeoff even after getting into the air, yet the pilot, on an IFR flight plan, pressed on. Not surprisingly, he discovered that once he pulled the airplane out of ground effect, the airspeed started deteriorating and the airplane either sank back to the ground or ran into an obstruction. It can happen like this.

The Scenario

Your fishing trip was just about perfect. You and your three buddies limited out and filled the coolers, which are now packed with ice for the flight home. Fuel was surprisingly inexpensive at the resort’s airport, so you filled the tanks of your trusty Cherokee Six. The high summer haze has cut visibility and you’re going to be flying into the sun. Out of an abundance of caution, you filed IFR.

It’s hot, so you got your clearance via cellphone on the terminal ramp before boarding everyone—you didn’t want to sit there idling while the passengers steamed. The void time is 10 minutes away, plenty of time to strap everybody in, crank the big Lycoming, taxi out and get in the air at this little airport.

Turning onto the parallel taxiway, you see there’s an airplane at the end. You figure it’s no big deal; he’ll complete his run-up and take off before you get there. He doesn’t. Now your void time is three minutes away. You call the guy in front on CTAF to see if he’ll just taxi onto the run-up pad and not block the taxiway. No answer.

Two minutes to void time. You’ve got room to swing around behind the knucklehead—so you add power, make a 180 on the taxiway and hustle down it to the intersecting taxiway you passed several hundred feet back. Turning onto it, you see that idiot is still sitting there and no one is on final. Just over a minute to void time—not enough to back taxi—so you firewall the throttle while lining up on the runway and go for it.

Good grief—the Six is no hotrod, but it’s never been this reluctant to accelerate. You know you and your buddies have packed on a few pounds since high school, but there are only four of you in the airplane—it can’t be over gross. “Come on you slug, we’re running a little short on runway here. I can’t abort, I’ve got a clearance void time and it’ll be a pain in the whatsis to sort that out if I don’t pick it up.”

The airspeed finally tickles the bottom of the white arc, so you pull on another notch of flaps and the Six comes off the ground. Now you can accelerate in ground effect, although the nose sure seems high. There goes the end of the runway. You’re still in ground effect—and suddenly those trees that seemed so far away are here and now.

It’s About Time

Accidents have happened as pilots have picked up their clearance and then tried to beat oncoming weather, trying to launch but had wind shear from an approaching front or roll cloud, or severe turbulence emanating from a thunderstorm, snatch them out of their initial climb. Cabin doors have popped open during the takeoff roll and goal-oriented pilots have attempted to continue the takeoff, only to find the airplane flies miserably and controlling it long enough to get it onto a runway becomes a maybe so/maybe not proposition. Worse yet, pilots have thundered down the runway while attempting to wrestle a door closed, then lost control and wrecked the airplane.

Intellectually, we know we can extend an instrument clearance, or even file another flight plan if we can’t blast off when the departure window opens for us, yet it’s sometimes difficult to internalize that message.

At a towered airport, after being number six in line for departure and sitting through everyone ahead of you “awaiting IFR release,” it’s not unusual to have omitted something from the pre-takeoff checklist, such as closing and latching doors or windows on a hot day, or forgetting to go full-rich on the mixture from its I-don’t-want-to-foul-the-plugs position while idling. Then, suddenly, you get the IFR release and a clearance for immediate takeoff because there’s a Citation on a three-mile final. About the time you are accelerating onto the runway you realize all is not well and there’s the overwhelming temptation to fix it on the fly. What else did you forget?


There are some simple strategies for ensuring all goes well on takeoff when planning to pick up an IFR clearance. First, keep in mind that if all is not well, it’s far better to deal with it on the ground than in the air—you can always get another IFR clearance or extend the one you have. Looking stupid on the NTSB accident report because you felt hurried is not the way you want to be remembered.

At a non-towered field, wait until your run-up is complete and you’re in a position to easily take off within five minutes or so before you call for your instrument clearance and release. That gives you time to make sure you’ve got everything done and that you can use all of the runway before you move the throttle from quiet to noisy.

If ATC gives you a clearance void time that is going to rush you too much, say so. Ask for a later one. Almost invariably I’ve been able to push it back when I’ve made the request. If you can’t, it’s usually because an inbound is conflicting. If the weather is decent and you can stay VFR, tell ATC you’ll pick up your clearance in the air. Then, take off when you’re sure everything’s ready, call ATC and you’ll get your clearance when traffic separation and altitude allows. If conditions are IFR, be a little patient and let the inbound land—you might even make the phone call to the controlling authority when you see the inbound on final.

At a towered airport, don’t call ready for takeoff unless you really are. If you’ve been in line waiting for takeoff clearance, run the final pre-takeoff checklist when you’re number two in the sequence so you have absolutely everything ready to go when you become number one. Enlist informed passengers to help confirm that doors and windows are shut.

Once you start the takeoff, it’s up to the airplane to convince you it’s okay to continue, regardless of whether you’re working against a clearance void time or taking off for some pattern work on a clear day. As you go through the abort analysis checklist below, remember you are spring-loaded to the abort position. If the airplane doesn’t demonstrate it’s fit and performing, you abort the takeoff—no second thoughts or hesitation. When you abort, don’t mess around. Abort. There are no half measures. 


If in doubt, abort rather than go. The force of impact is a squared function—it is far, far better to hit obstructions off the end of the runway at 20 knots than while staggering along in ground effect at 60. If everyone is wearing shoulder harnesses, the chances of walking away from the 20-knot impact are excellent—they’re much worse at 60 knots.

If you do go off the runway and are going to hit something, continue trying to make the airplane go where you want it to go until it comes to a complete stop—keep aiming at the soft and cheap stuff. If possible, keep the airplane from yawing—it will absorb much more energy and protect its occupants when hitting something head-on instead of sideways.

Once you’ve stopped, sort things out. If you’re on the runway, taxi off and follow the recommendations in the next few paragraphs. If you’ve run off the end without damaging anything, shut down and take some time to assess what you should do next—simply attempting to taxi back to the runway may turn an unharmed airplane into a damaged one. If you’ve hit something, shut down and attend to your passengers, getting them out and away from the airplane (if they can be safely moved). 

Assuming you made a routine abort, turn off the runway. If you’re at a towered airport, it’s just a matter of telling ATC you’ve aborted and what you want to do next, based on your objective analysis of the situation. You may want to taxi to the ramp for maintenance or deal with a suddenly ill passenger. You may want to taxi back for another takeoff because once clear of the runway you closed and latched the door or set the flaps you forgot. Tell ATC what you want done with your IFR flight plan: you’ll pick up a new release at the end of the runway, extend it 30 minutes as you sort out what you anticipate to be a minor problem or cancel it and re-file later.

At a non-towered airport, once you get clear of the runway and know what you’re going to do, use your cellphone to call ATC and advise your intentions. Don’t try to hurry back to the end of the runway and launch with the existing void time—you’ll just be attaching another link to the accident chain.


When something goes wrong immediately after takeoff—gear hangs, fuel pump fails, you name it—it’s time to land. If you’ve already picked up your IFR clearance, you’re actually a little better off than if you’re VFR. Tell ATC you’ve got a problem and what you want to do.

If the gear will come back down and lock, you just get sequenced into the appropriate arrival, visual or instrument approach back into the departure airport or your departure alternate—your call—just tell ATC where you want to go. If it’s anything worse, declare an emergency and get priority handling to the airport and runway of your choice—ATC gets everyone else out of the way.

If you’re climbing out VFR from a non-towered airport and haven’t picked up your instrument clearance or haven’t established contact with ATC, turn around, use CTAF to let other traffic know you are returning with a problem and land the airplane. You can call ATC later, on the phone. In that situation, ATC may not be able to do a lot for you while you’re in the air and the distraction of trying to establish contact may not be what you need.


There’s seems to be an increased sense of a need to succeed when making a takeoff on an IFR flight plan. It may manifest itself as cutting corners while trying to takeoff within a clearance void time or not paying attention to the airplane telling you that it’s not in condition to make the takeoff under the conditions.

If the airplane doesn’t prove to you that you should be continuing a takeoff, it’s time to abort—aggressively. At that point, all thoughts of the fact that you are on an IFR flight plan or will blow through your clearance void time should become secondary as you focus on getting the airplane stopped in the available runway. Only after that is done need you worry about getting another clearance.

Killer Factors On Instrument Takeoffs

An instrument takeoff is just like any other takeoff, except when it isn’t. The self-imposed pressures of a clearance void time, a distant appointment or passenger expectations can mean we’ll ignore or minimize the importance of ensuring the airplane is ready, even when we need to the most. Some common problems are discussed below.

Gross Weight

It’s a choice made by the pilot. When a 10-percent increase in weight increases the distance over an obstacle by 21 percent, it’s worth a pilot’s undivided attention and respect.

Intersection Takeoffs

Do you really want to make one? It’s interesting how often an accident report mentions the pilot initiated takeoff from a runway intersection. Are there other shortcuts the pilot is willing to take that cut into the margins on clearing that obstacle or ensuring the airplane is ready?

Predicted Performance

Does the manual say the airplane will clear an obstacle in the available distance? If not, attempting to take off is stupid and may be criminal. Over some years of involvement in aviation lawsuits regarding takeoff performance, I’ve found that a properly maintained airplane will usually meet book takeoff performance, but it truly has to be properly maintained. The engine has to be developing full rated power; the prop has to be in good shape, the tires properly inflated and the brakes not dragging. A lot of people recommend a margin above the book performance numbers for deciding on whether to make a takeoff—I think they’re right.

Dragging Brake(s)/Low Tires

Keep track of how much power it takes to taxi at your normal speed on flat, dry pavement in light winds. For most airplanes, it will run on the order of 1000 rpm. If the power needed goes up by about 200 rpm, find out why before making a takeoff.

Proper Acceleration On Takeoff

Here’s the big one. There is a good decision parameter on continuing a takeoff: The airplane will break ground in the available runway length if, by the halfway point of the runway, it has reached 71-percent of the published speed at which the nose is to be raised on takeoff. If the manual says to raise the nose at 60 KIAS, then it’s necessary to have at least 42 KIAS at midfield. If not, it should be an automatic abort. This go/no-go parameter does not guarantee obstacle clearance; it just gives information regarding getting off the ground in the available runway.


Locked or jammed controls or badly mis-set trim have caused some nasty accidents. The parameter is that when you go to raise the nose on takeoff, if the control wheel does not physically move aft when normal or slightly more than normal pressure is applied—and the nose does not start coming up—abort the takeoff. You may run off the end of the runway, but that is almost invariably better than trying to continue at high power.

Abort-Analysis Checklist

It’s up to the airplane to demonstrate to us it’s capable of performing on takeoff. And it’s up to us to ensure it’s doing what it’s supposed to do and, if not, to abort the takeoff and live to fly another time. At most of the airports from which we fly, even a runway overrun, like the one pictured above, results in no or minimal damage.

Remember: Aborting a takeoff isn’t a failure on the part of the pilot; it’s a pilot showing the right stuff by recognizing the wrong stuff and taking action to keep people alive.

Lineup Check

Are trim tabs, flaps and fuel selector(s) properly positioned? If not, fix or abort. If yes, continue.

Takeoff Roll

At full throttle, are the rpm and/or manifold pressure and fuel flow where they should be for the elevation and temperature? If not, abort. If yes, continue.


It should be off the peg and moving smoothly within 5 to 10 seconds of adding full power. If not, abort. If yes, continue.

Runway Midpoint

Has the airplane reached at least 71 percent of the published liftoff/rotation speed? If no, abort. If yes, continue.


At the published speed, does moving the pitch control aft raise the nose? If not, abort. If yes, continue, and enjoy the flight.

Rick Durden holds an ATP with Douglas DC-3 and Cessna Citation type ratings and CFII, and is the author of The Thinking Pilot’s Flight Manual or, How to Survive Flying Little Airplanes and Have a Ball Doing It, Vols. 1 & 2. 

This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of Aviation Safety magazine.

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In an interview in Time magazine about his new film, Dunkirk, director Christopher Nolan said there were very few “God shots” in the production. That may be true, but the one that will get pilots to sit up straight in their multiplex seats has a fuel-exhausted Spitfire gliding along the real Dunkirk beach, its prop lazily bumping against the Merlin’s six-to-one compression ratio.

It’s unclear to me if the shot is of a real Spit, a model or a CGI confection or some combination. Nolan used all three in a film that retells a story that American audiences know little of and one which depicts Britain’s original finest hour, before the next finest hour during the Battle of Britain. That American audiences are ignorant of Dunkirk is of no surprise, since in this country, some people think World War II started at Pearl Harbor, if they even know that much. (Readers of this blog are entirely excepted.) I doubt if Americans can really grasp how the events of Dunkirk are seared into the British psyche.

The flying sequences in Nolan’s Dunkirk are a critical part of the story because although the RAF was criticized for being little in evidence during the beach evacuation, it was very much on the scene. Outnumbered five or more to one, Fighter Command did heroic duty in chasing German bombers away from ships and the shrinking beachhead. It just couldn’t chase them all at least partially because Air Chief Marshal Dowding was conserving fighter strength for what he knew was coming.

I’m always curious to see how contemporary movie makers, with access to technology unheard of even a decade ago, will treat a revisitation of World War II air battles. The last mediocre example of this was Red Tails, a George Lucas-produced epic that appeared in 2012 with a heavy dose of the sort of CGI explosions that made the Star Wars series a hit.

Nolan eschewed this in favor of spare aerial combat scenes with real aircraft—he had three Spitfires and a single Bf 109 to work with. Actually, it was a Spanish-built Bf 109 Buchon-Hispano. If you know the profile of the Messerschmitt version, you’ll immediately spot the difference. The Buchon has a fatter nose and sort of a Jay Leno chin. It’s of little consequence to the quality of the scenes, however, but a mere curiosity for those of us with desperate and hollow lives.

The Spitfires make their first appearance slashing across the screen in what will be missed by casual viewers. They’re flying in the classic “Vic” formation that was the RAF’s tactical standard before the Luftwaffe schooled them up to speed. In his Life as a Battle of Britain Pilot, Jonathan Falconer explained that German pilots called the Vic “rows of idiots.” Thanks to combat experience in the Spanish civil war, the Luftwaffe adopted the Rotte two-ship and Schwarm four-ship. As the Battle of Britain progressed, the RAF soon learned similar more flexible formations.

One thing Dunkirk rightly focuses on is how range-limited the RAF fighters were, something Nolan conveyed by having the pilots constantly worrying their fuel state, scribbling remaining endurance on the panel with chalk. The early Mark Spitfires had 85 gallons of gasoline for an endurance of about 90 minutes. Drop tanks weren’t in regular use yet. The BF 109 was little better, but the Germans were operating closer to their bases in France. Barely three years later, a P-51 could have loitered over the beach all day, such was the pace of aeronautical progress.

Nolan favored a camera mounted over the shoulder of the pilot sighting down the fuselage and some of the gunnery shots are stunningly realistic. IMAX cameras were used with an Aerostar camera ship, supplemented by a Yak-52 for dogfighting scenes. Several crashes or ditchings in the water were similarly realistic and these were clearly large-scale models. The Heinkel 111, the Luftwaffe’s mainstay medium bomber, is also shown prominently and was similarly a model. The director favored long shots of these and that contributes to the realism.

Reviews of Dunkirk have been positive but mixed, with some questioning Nolan’s decision to construct the film as a series of discrete, but related, vignettes simply cut together. Character development is minimal and there’s little dialog. My wife, Val, said she found this confusing because the film has a shifting, overlapping timeline that requires the viewer to take the evolving action on faith as fitting into some kind of whole. It helps to know the underlying story of a successful evacuation of an entire army against impossible odds. Accepting that, the jump-cut scenes are merely glimpses into what it must have been like trying to escape that storied beach.

That’s what leads to the God shot of the Spitfire I mentioned. The pilot has run out of gas, can’t make it home and is gliding along the beach at 500 feet. Soldiers on the beach awaiting a boat ride home—a lot of them—are watching in silence. Some reviewers suggest that even in the glide, the Spit pilot chases and shoots down another enemy aircraft and the beach erupts in cheers. I’m not sure I saw that in the film, to be honest, as a consequence of the shifting timeline. With his devotion to historical fidelity, I can't imagine Nolan would have suggested it. Either way, in one of the final scenes, the pilot is frantically pumping the Spitfire’s gear down to land it on a beach wet with tidal pools. As the last rescue boat recedes over the horizon, the pilot lights off the airplane with a Very pistol shot, his German captors illuminated by the Spitfire’s pyre.

As period films treating World War II flying scenes go, Dunkirk compares favorably with what I consider the gold standard: Guy Hamilton’s 1969 Battle of Britain. Hamilton had half the Spanish air force in his film, plus many more flying Spitfires and Hurricanes. But he didn’t have IMAX cameras nor CGI to trim up the shots. For what it’s worth, famed director Ridley Scott has signed on to shoot a remake of the Battle of Britain. Wonder what he’s gonna do for airplanes. Hamilton's film, despite its flaws and dated look, will be difficult to best but easy to worsen. I eagerly await its appearance.


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In anything we do aloft, Risk pokes its ugly head beneath the wing flap. But when confronted with the facts, Risk melts into a sniveling bully unable to confront your awesome ability to ace this quiz.

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