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Volume 25, Number 17c
April 27, 2018
 
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GA Response Derails ATC Amendment
 
Mary Grady
 
 

The last-minute amendment that Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., added to the five-year FAA funding bill on Tuesday was quickly revised after a concerted and vehement response from GA advocacy groups. In response to calls for action, “pilots flooded the switchboard at the U.S. House of Representatives, urging their members of Congress to oppose Section 5 of Shuster’s ‘manager’s amendment,’” AOPA reported on Wednesday. Shuster’s amendment had called for moving the organization that manages ATC out of the FAA and instead make it part of the Transportation Department, and also would have formed a 13-member advisory board, dominated by airline interests. “Both of these provisions were drafted in the dark of night, without any opportunity for public debate,” said NBAA.

NBAA said its members mobilized within hours, “blanketed Capitol Hill with opposition, and changed the debate on this thinly veiled airline attempt to advance their ATC takeover campaign.” AOPA also said its members quickly weighed in to oppose the amendment, leading to “a constructive dialog” with Rep. Shuster, chair of the transportation committee. “We are grateful that Chairman Shuster withdrew the most troubling language in Section 5 of the amendment,” said Jim Coon, AOPA’s senior vice president of government affairs. “We hope now H.R. 4 can move forward. All of aviation will benefit from a long-term funding bill.”

EAA also credited a “rapid response by the general aviation community” for the last-minute change. “This again showed the strong voice of general aviation when we respond in a unified effort,” said EAA Chairman Jack Pelton. The effort isn’t over yet, he added. “Although this threat has been stopped, we will continue to be very vigilant as FAA reauthorization works its way through Congress … The freedom and safety of flight is something we will protect at all times.” The revised bill now going to the House floor this week still is “not perfect,” according to the GA advocacy site atcnotforsale.com, but the bipartisan bill will modernize ATC without privatizing it. “We are grateful for the hard work of members of Congress, and their willingness to listen to constituent concerns,” the website says.

Airshow Pilot Killed In Overseas Crash
 
Kate O'Connor
 
 

According to a report from XinhuaNet, aerobatic pilot Elgin Wells was killed on Wednesday when his aircraft crashed during a practice flight before the Zhengzhou Air Show in China. The report states that the plane was 300 feet above the runway at Shangjie Airport when it “plummeted to the ground.” An investigation is underway to determine the cause of the accident.

Wells began flying at the age of 18. His website states that he has performed for an estimated 50 million airshow attendees during his career. Wells designed and built his aerobatics plane, which he called Starjammer. The one-of-a-kind experimental was equipped with 250+ LEDs, a 4,000-watt amplifier and onboard loudspeakers. Starjammer first flew in 2010.

In addition to flying airshows, Wells taught aerobatics at Gwinnett County Airport/Briscoe Field in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He was a successful jazz musician and award-winning songwriter with more than 300 titles to his name.

Former Epic Air CEO Pleads Guilty To Fraud
 
Kate O'Connor
 
 

Former Epic Air CEO Fred “Rick” Schrameck has pleaded guilty to a single count of wire fraud, according a statement released by the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Oregon. Schrameck was charged with soliciting customers to purchase and help build experimental aircraft—to the tune of more than $1.4 million each—then misrepresenting how the customers’ funds were being used. The statement says the funds went “to complete existing EPIC LT aircraft, and to support [Schrameck’s] own lavish lifestyle” without customer knowledge or agreement.

The maximum sentence Schrameck could receive is 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and three years’ supervised release. Sentencing is scheduled for August 14. Schrameck was originally charged in 2015 with eight counts of wire fraud, four counts of mail fraud and six counts of money laundering in federal court. He was arrested in March of that year and pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Epic Air went bankrupt in 2009. In 2010, it was purchased by a group of former customers in partnership with China Aviation Industry General Aircraft Company and renamed Epic Aircraft. Epic was sold again, this time to Russian company Engineering LLC, in 2012.

The Untimely Demise Of DUATs
 
Paul Berge
 

Change and I have an uneasy relationship, the former claiming I’m slow to embrace technology, unwilling to “try something new.” Sheesh ... Change can be so … you know … and so in your face, too. I submit that ADFs and VORs were working just fine—when you could receive them—and I saw no value to GPS replacing the Narco Omnigator in my 1951 Bonanza’s instrument panel. That is, until I actually used a GPS and allowed that the future might include some limited use of SATNAV … as a backup. By then, the future had zipped past me before I realized that my Garmin 196 had functions other than Direct-To. Other losses I’ve yet to embrace are the deconstruction of Flight Service Stations (FSS) — the Jerry Van Dyke (JVD) of the National Airspace System (NAS) — and the end of online briefing service, DUATS (Direct User Access System).

FSS has always been conflicted. It’s not quite NWS and not really ATC but is a fetching acronym in its own right, constructed of stalwart angles softened by elegant swirls that are far more welcoming than its parent acronym, FAA, all sharp elbows and pointed attitude. Full disclosure: I spent 17 years in the frustratingly angled agency, and even though I was in the Federal Aviation Administration, many still referred to it as an agency,  a holdover from the Federal Aviation Agency days. “Administration” doesn’t project the ultimate authority the FAA badge should convey. Actually, there was no FAA badge that we could flash like Zimbalistian FBI agents kicking in hangar doors, snub-nose .38’s at hip level while hauling TFR perps to Leavenworth in unmarked Ford sedans. Instead, we carried the standard federal employee ID card, often confused with a Costco membership card. Announcing your FAAness away from the aviation world usually elicited a vague, “Oh, yes, my niece is in FFA (Future Farmers of America) … something with sheep, I think.” Explaining the difference between FFA and FAA to outsiders is nearly as pointless as telling pilots the difference between a hanger and a hangar. Still, good fights are fought despite inevitable failure, or what good is irony?

The demise of FSS has never set well with me. Learning to fly in a military flying club in Hawaii meant learning the military way, which meant making a simple trip around the pattern as administratively complicated as possible. Any flight began at the dispatcher’s counter to be assigned a Cessna 150. I was 20, an Army Spec 5, and understood that everything began and ended with paperwork. The club’s HQ was in a long wooden building that had survived the 1941 Japanese visit. Had the Imperial Navy notified the U.S. military that attack was imminent, filed the proper paperwork and been assigned an attack area, chances are war would’ve been averted. But sneaking in—on a Sunday, yet—without proper clearance, unleashed unforeseen consequences. You know the story.

Back to the 1974 flying club. Once the club’s dispatcher assigned an airplane, the student would visit the Air Force briefer inside a separate wooden shack, lending the experience that Junior G-Men Of The Air feeling I’d envisioned flying should be, because my view of flight was based entirely on old Grade-B films. I was mildly disappointed flying Cessnas instead of Stearmans or Wacos but submitted to Change.

The Air Force briefer looked as though he was only exposed to tropical sunlight when stepping outside to estimate the cloud bases, which in Hawaii, were usually in the same place, except during rainy season, when they were a bit lower and wetter. Still, we danced the mandatory briefing gavotte and always filed a flight plan, even when staying in the pattern. If venturing away, you’d specify exactly which practice area over Oahu you would utilize. No cheating. Can’t say you’ll fly in Area 1 and, later, slip into Areas 2 or 3.  Should you file for the traffic pattern and, then, get a wild hair to head to North Shore Dillingham Airfield, you’d contact the briefer to amend your flight plan. Oddly, I didn’t mind the hassles and thought that was just how flight was. Paperwork and reward.

Civilian flight was emancipating. The first time I rented a civilian airplane the FBO said, “The key’s under the floormat, write the Hobbs time in the notebook when you’re done. Have fun.” Fun. The military hadn’t emphasized that. Mind you, I had lots of fun learning to fly, but, as with Catholic school, fun invited guilt.

“Bless me, Air Force Father, for I had fun …”

“Of what nature?”

“Um, I, um … had unauthorized aerial enjoyment.”

“Solo?”

“Yes, father …”

The FAA anticipates our weaknesses and assigns preemptive penance for even thinking about guilt-ridden fantasies.  “Before beginning a flight, (the PIC shall) become familiar with all available information concerning that flight …” FAR 91.103’s “all available information” is daunting but, time was, consulting a FSS briefer in the privacy of an on-airport FSS mitigated most venial intentions. A phone call did much the same thing. Provided—in the days before cellphone ubiquity—there was a phone available. Skip a briefing and subsequently die in a crash? Straight to FAA administrative hell.

Flight Service Stations weren’t found at every airport but enough to allow slow-movers like me to plan fuel stops where you’d meet some of the loneliest FAA employees in the system. Most were super eager to brief, input a flight plan, show off their DF Net (Direction Finding) or just offer free coffee and out-of-date sectional charts. There was the briefer in Morgantown, West Virginia, who, when I asked how quickly he could enter my IFR flight plan into the teletype, glanced at me with the confidence of a riverboat gambler and replied in a Clint Eastwood hiss, “How fast can you make it to your airplane, punk?”  He beat me … and didn’t call me a punk.

And there was the FSS specialist in Paso Robles, California, alone on one of the most beautiful airports in the world, who kept a fishing pole leaning against the wall beneath the prog charts. Or the briefer in the Western Mojave Desert airport at Lancaster, California, who, when I arrived from the Monterey Bay area in my Stitts Skycoupe and said I was heading to Phoenix one clear but windy day, didn’t stay behind the counter. Instead, he took me outside, pointed to a distant peak and said, “See that mountain?” I nodded. It was hard not to see with 50 miles visibility. "You fly on the upwind side,” he pointed, “and you’ll get a rough ride.” Then swiveled his arm like a gun barrel and said, “Fly on that downwind side," pausing for effect, "and you die.” Man, that’s a briefing. He was right. It was rough on the upwind—scary rough for a flat-lander, but we didn’t die.

Those stations were long-ago replaced by AFSS with long-distance automated briefers, who mean well, but … well, can’t see the mountains for the computer screens. And they, too, have succumbed to soulless automation, that may be more efficient but can’t forefend doom with quite the same immediacy, as a briefer on the phone in Topeka, Kansas, did when I said I planned to launch ahead of a line of thunderstorms in my Marquart biplane. “Honey,” she said, “you hang up, go find a weather radar picture, and then call me back and tell me what your Plan B is!” I did, saw the purple threat of a Dorothy-Going-To-Oz squall line and called FSS back to ask for a motel recommendation. She suggested one with a good storm shelter.

As much as I’ve accepted DUATS into my daily flight life, and will miss the familiar service, it’s never called me “Honey.” I don’t think the online briefing site, www.1800wxbrief.com, will either. But, then, again, I don’t expect avgas to drop to sixty cents per gallon or the FAA to admit that ADS-B was really a cruel April Fool’s hoax. Like the bumper sticker says, “Change Happens,” and you either embrace it or whine about how much you hate it. Your choice; I’ve already made mine.

Precautionary Landings
 
Rick Durden
 
 

I’ve amended the details a bit to preserve anonymity. The pilot and his family came to grief on a flight that was forecast to be VFR. There was a slow-moving warm front approaching, but it appeared the 150-nm trip could be completed before conditions worsened. Friends of the pilot indicated he had intended to launch at 10:00 a.m., but a combination of delays getting out of the house and discovering some luggage had been forgotten—necessitating a 90-minute round trip—and lunch meant they didn’t get airborne in the 180-hp, four-place single until 2:30 pm.

Post-accident investigation indicated the warm front started moving faster and the weather deteriorated sooner than forecast. The airplane’s radar target went directly toward the destination for about 110 miles, and descended to 800 feet agl. The track then turned into the afternoon sun and haze toward an airport only seven miles away. About two minutes later, the airplane turned left and descended below radar coverage. Impact with the ground—in a steep left turn, at high speed—was a half-mile from where radar contact was lost. The probable cause was continued flight into IMC and loss of control due to spatial disorientation.

VFR Into IMC

What struck me is that I happen to know the area where the accident occurred. It’s almost-level farmland with large corn, soybean and hay fields. Thinking of the area, I tried to imagine the feeling of the pilot, watching the ceiling come down and the visibility drop. He descended, probably hoping to stay under the ceiling for the remainder of the trip; after all, he was two-thirds of the way there. I suspect he punched the “nearest airport” button on his GPS a few times; then as things got worse, made the decision to divert.

It had to have been a tough decision to make, especially with family on board. The psychological pressure to be the “man of the family” and complete the flight successfully must have been tremendous. He started for the nearest airport, perhaps not thinking entirely coherently with the noise of the airplane drumming in his ears, the unfamiliar low altitude and lack of visual references. He made the mistake of turning toward worsening weather and into serious haze, further reducing visibility as he was forced to look into the sun.

He lost control and took his family into the statistics, causing untold heartache for many people. Along the way, he convinced others that little airplanes are a menace.

Missed Opportunities

Yet, in those last 15 minutes of his life, as he was recognizing that things were going sour, he flew over scores of farm fields upon which he could have safely landed. Somehow I doubt the idea even entered his mind.

For the last 50 years, the precautionary, off-airport landing has rarely been taught. Pilots who have a mechanical or weather problem are trained to go to the nearest airport and only attempt to land “out” (as glider pilots say) when the engine actually quits. Pilots who have found themselves very low on fuel have pressed on, hoping to make it to an airport, then listened the big silence up front due to fuel exhaustion and been injured or killed when they had to make an off-airport landing in a place they hadn’t selected, without power.

How many pilots have died because no one taught them that when things are bad, landing in a decent farm field can make the difference between being dead and merely inconvenienced?

The Courage To Stop

When it comes down to the real thing, the pilot has to have the courage to make the decision that continued flight involves too much risk given the fact that there are decent places to land safely. Once we’ve gotten low, in bad visibility, we are down where there are a heck of a lot of towers. We know that scud-running has become so dangerous as to be a last-ditch ploy a pilot tries when out of options, often just before dying. So, we get smart. We spot a field that may be acceptable. The diagram below depicts a circling approach to a precautionary landing area, which may be preferable due to terrain, weather or other considerations. If not and obstructions allowing, we’ll set up a normal, left-hand pattern (because that’s what we’re used to) at whatever altitude we can, given ceiling and visibility. We’ll fly a downwind, base and then a pass over the field to look it over. We’ll stay about 100 feet up, just right of center so we can see the area where we want to land. We’ll carry a third to half flaps; at VY plus about 10-20 knots and the airplane trimmed for level flight so we can divert our attention to the outside world without losing control. We’re looking for the right place to touch down, the best area for rollout and for any obstructions.

Then we’ll climb back to our pattern altitude and turn downwind. On downwind, we’ll double-check to make sure the cabin is secure, that there are no loose items to become projectiles and that everyone is well strapped-in with something to put in front of their face on touchdown. We’ll pop open the doors so there won’t be a delay in getting out, unless we’re in an airplane that flies poorly with the cabin door open slightly (and we should know that already, right?).

Turning base and final, we watch for obstructions. We know we probably will not be able to see power lines, so we look for the poles. To assure we will clear the wires, we assume they run straight between the tops of the poles. If we find ourselves in the position where we have to go under wires, the technique is to look at the ground, not at the wires. If we look up at the wires, we are likely to snag the fence under them at flying speed, bounce off the ground, or catch the wire with the vertical stabilizer.

We’ll touch down as slowly as we can, with a tiny bit of power as needed to really get the nose up with all of the flaps. Once on the ground, the power goes to idle, the mixture is pulled to idle cutoff and the master is turned off while the pitch control is held full aft. When the nosewheel touches down, we’ll get on the brakes firmly, but avoid sliding the tires. If the airplane flips now, it will be a slow-motion sort of affair. Should it happen, there are two approaches to getting out of the airplane without hurting yourself: Ag pilots who have had to extricate themselves from inverted spray planes told me that you should put your hand on the ceiling to help keep from falling suddenly to the ceiling and to be careful releasing the seatbelt after everything stops; however, a former reacing driver informed me that even though he was in good shape, his arm wasn't strong enough to support his weight when he released the restraint system from an inverted race car. He said to hold onto the bottom of your seat with one hand, release the belts with the other and then grab the bottom of the seat with that hand. You're then in a better position to lower yourself to the cabin roof without falling. By the way ... you are wearing the shoulder harnesses, right?

Once the airplane stops, make sure everything is turned off and take inventory of people and the situation. Shut off the mags and check that the master is off, then open the doors and let yourselves out.

Aftermath

After landing, you will probably get to meet the landowner. Be polite and respectful. If you’ve done any damage to the crop, plan on paying for it.

You may be able to fly the airplane out once you’ve gotten fuel or the weather improves. That’s a decision you have to make based on available information and the conditions you are facing. I strongly suggest you make it in conjunction with someone who has experience with such things.

Assuming you do not do enough damage to the airplane or your passengers to cause the landing to fall under the definition of an accident in the NTSB regulations, there is no requirement to report your landing to the FAA or NTSB. There may be those who are quiveringly anxious to do that for you—including perhaps the landowner, emergency responders, local law enforcement or the media—but unless there is an accident as defined by the NTSB, there is no federal reporting requirement.

A word about roads and streets: Their value as precautionary landing sites varies. Because they are paved, they seem attractive. The problem is they usually are narrower than the airplane’s wing span, have power poles and utility lines crossing over or along the side, and generally have things such as mail boxes and signs that are just waiting to grab a wingtip and jerk the airplane into a ditch. And then there are moving obstacles—cars and trucks, or even pedestrians. Don’t make a bad situation worse by endangering others—pick the best open area and land on it.

There is a chance you’ll get to talk to the FAA and you even may be the subject of an enforcement action. So what? The very good thing is that you’ll have some time to consider how to respond. Keep thinking about that phrase—you’ll have some time—because just before you made that successful precautionary landing, you were looking at an extremely short life expectancy. Now, because you were smart, you do have time, a future—a new life, so to speak. So you can deal with those who desire to be negative about the whole thing in a calm, considered manner. Calm and considered was pretty foreign to you when things were going badly. Now you have the luxury of time.

You’ve got to be alive to get in trouble. Isn’t that a good feeling?

Rick Durden is a practicing aviation attorney and a CFII/ATP with type ratings in the Douglas DC-3 and Cessna Citation 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 April 2016 issue of Aviation Safety magazine.

For more great content like this, subscribe to Aviation Safety!

NTSB Holds Loss Of Control Roundtable
 
Kate O'Connor
 
 

The NTSB hosted a roundtable discussion to examine available solutions for preventing loss of control accidents in general aviation and to identify a path to improving GA safety on April 24. According to the board, accidents involving loss of control still account for more GA accident deaths than any other single factor. The focus of the roundtable was on VFR operations and fixed-wing GA aircraft.

The event was moderated by NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. In addition to members of the FAA and NTSB, participants included representatives from ForeFlight, AOPA, EAA, GAMA, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and others. Topics discussed included ongoing pilot training, safety culture, new cockpit technology and overcoming barriers to eliminating loss of control accidents in general aviation. The event also included a special presentation of Remora Systems’ Remora 1 head-mounted display.

The complete roundtable discussion, which was held at the NTSB Boardroom and Conference Center in Washington, D.C., is available for online viewing for the next three months in the NTSB’s Webcast Archives.

EU Expands Clean Skies Effort
 
Jason Baker
 
 

As countries across Europe take climate change and pollution seriously, 16 countries in Europe have signed on to a project called Horizon 2020 which will make significant investments in making aviation and aerospace industries greener.

For several years, the European Union’s Clean Sky project has sponsored aviation research projects to fund environmentally friendly aviation technology and now, with €4 billion in additional funding ($4.8 billion), Horizon 2020 will focus on airframe and wing designs and engine technologies aimed at reducing CO2, NOx and noise by 20 to 30 percent by 2024, but as much as 75, 90 and 60 percent, respectively, by 2050.

The undertaking is funded in nearly equal parts by the European Commission and the European aeronautics industry (Airbus, Airbus Helicopters, Fraunhofer, Saab, Liebhrerr, Rolls-Royce and others) and delivers technology demonstrators in all segments of civil air transport, grouped into areas called integrated technology demonstrators (ITD). Examples of successful demonstrators born under the program include Airbus Helicopters’ “Racer," code for Rapid And Cost-Effective Rotorcraft. It optimizes the design of certain shapes on the fuselage of an H135 helicopter and successfully showed improvements in drag reduction. Entering critical design review this year, a prototype is planned for flight in 2020.

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Flight Design Gets New Dynon Suite
 
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Plane Makes Emergency Landing On Road
 
Kate O'Connor
 
 

A Piper Navajo carrying four passengers and two crew members made a successful emergency landing on a two-lane Calgary road after experiencing a loss of engine power early Wednesday morning. Although the aircraft sustained some damage to its wingtips, no injuries have been reported. Witnesses say they saw the plane fly under street and traffic lights and over cars before landing on a clear stretch of road.

The plane left Medicine Hat Regional Airport in Alberta for Calgary International at approximately 4:45 a.m. Mountain Time. It landed on 36th Street about 3 miles south of Calgary airport at a little before 6:00 a.m. The aircraft is registered to Super T Aviation, an FBO that runs charter services, flight training and aerial tours. The company has issued a statement saying that the plane was forced to land “due to a loss of power of unknown cause.” It has also been reported that the aircraft may have had a malfunctioning fuel pump.

According to company owner Terri Super, the pilot has been with the company for several years and she has more than 20 years of flight experience. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has sent a team to the accident site to investigate.

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