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Volume 25, Number 32b
August 8, 2018
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Lost WWII Plane Found In Greenland
Mary Grady

A nonprofit group searching for vintage aircraft in Greenland has reported they found the site of a P-38 wreck from the “Lost Squadron” from World War II, buried about 340 feet deep in glacial ice. Arctic Hot Point Solutions surveyed the area using new ground-penetrating radar mounted on drones. When the radar showed what they believed to be an airplane, the team used a heat probe to tunnel through the ice and collect evidence from the site. The probe returned covered in 5606 hydraulic fluid, the team reported, confirming that the target is the missing P-38 “Echo” from the Lost Squadron that landed on the ice in July 1942. The team plans to recover the airplane, using large heat plates to melt the ice and tunnel down to the site. They will then disassemble the airplane and recover it piece by piece.

The Lost Squadron of six P-38s and two B-17s landed on the ice in Greenland due to bad weather and low fuel, during a mission called Operation Bolero, an effort to build up Britain’s supply of aircraft to support the defense of Europe in World War II. After waiting for several days, all 25 crew members were rescued, but the aircraft were abandoned and gradually sank into the ice. So far only one aircraft has been recovered from the Lost Squadron. Glacier Girl, a P-38F Lightning, buried beneath 268 feet of ice, was recovered in 1992 and restored to flying condition.

Propping? What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Paul Berge

It’s amazing how quickly a sunny day can turn to biblical mush with the flick of a wrist. Extreme weather events tease this watery planet’s skin as it heats up a few degrees, and we ants just walk faster in search of shade or higher ground. Firestorms, tornadoes, the New York Mets—all proof that our puny endeavors are at the mercy of stronger forces, such as student pilots.

I’ve been instructing for more than 25 years and have mostly enjoyed it. Being paid to ride around in old airplanes of dubious pedigree while chiding, “right rudder, right rudder,” is a scam I thought would’ve been exposed long ago, but still the phone rings. And, yes, I have a telephone that rings, literally off-the-wall, given the crappy job I did mounting it.  Duct tape does not solve all problems.

Lately, I’ve been getting more calls from student pilots looking for a new CFI, not because their old one was too ancient to climb into the Skyhawk, but because the airline mother ship has been luring instructors from airport ramps with rapturous promises of flight everlasting and nifty shoulder epaulettes. If I were a bunch of years younger I’d heed the air carrier siren song and leave the right seat of wheezy Cherokees for the friend-filled skies. Actually, in the time it took to finish the previous sentence and begin this one, I’ve changed my mind. I’d make a terrible airline pilot. I’ll stick with instructing it old school.

Where else could I find myself in the right seat of a Piper Arrow, completing a flight review with an experienced private pilot/owner in the left who’d shown flawless command of his airplane only to have his brain implode on short final? I’d been downright bored after the fifth lap around the traffic pattern, so I did what I often do when bored. I sang. Mostly show tunes, some Motown, that—for whatever reason—distract the student from the business at hand, namely flying the airplane.

The pilot had the approach nailed, gliding nicely on short final into a 2200-foot grass strip. Gear and flaps down, he retarded power and gently rolled aileron into the crosswind while simultaneously adding the perfect measure of opposite rudder to slip to what would’ve been a better-than-textbook touchdown, when I hit upon a particularly catchy bit from Hamilton.1 And with the flick of his wrist, the pilot, who was about to ace his BFR, seriously missed his shot

Distractions are a real part of flight, so examiners and instructors are expected to evaluate the candidate’s ability to handle the weasel that slips up the pant leg in stressful moments. Apparently, my singing was a distraction, but the pilot—being a Midwesterner—was too polite to tell me to shut the heck up. With seconds to go, he scanned the panel in a final gear-down-and-locked check—green—but reacted with an almost imperceptible jerk when he caught what he thought was an error—it wasn’t—and corrected it. Now it was. He raised the gear, over-riding the perceptible jerk in the right seat.

Blah…..! The gear horn sounded, interrupting my aria, and I asked, “Whatevuh could that awful racket be, suh?” My Blanche DuBois accent being yet another distraction. The Arrow continued its descent, as the pilot desperately reviewed the panel for divine intervention, until I called, “Go around.” And, catching his brain malfunction in disbelief, he added power, and around we went.

“Can’t believe I did that!” he repeated six times before being told that four was enough, and he should “Fuggetaboutit and fly the airplane.” Self-flagellation could wait. The flight review took on new dimensions, but the chances of him landing gear-up are now gone … since he traded the Arrow for a Cirrus. If things break bad in that plastic bubble: Pop the chute, problem solved.

Hey, mistakes happen.

But never to me. My specialty is teaching tailwheel, wherein the instructor does not have to gin up ways to distract a student who’s used to nosewheels keeping the longitudinal axis pointed down the centerline and wingtips off the runway. All those left-turning forces memorized when training in a tricycle-gear airplane really come home to bite when transitioning to an airplane with the third wheel in the back where it belongs. Yes, we’re snobs about this, like drivers who insist a stick-shift is better than an automatic.

On the day the sun blinked for me I’d endorsed a student for tailwheel life and offered a free turn in my 1946 Aeronca 7AC Champ. It’s a modest airplane from a simpler time when men wore fedoras, women nylons and everyone smoked Luckies. The Champ has no electrical system so no starter on its 65-hHP Continental “Powerful as the Nation” engine. Starting is a snap—literally.

As instructors routinely did 70 years ago, I told the pilot to give three shots of prime, and, then after commanding, “Throttle closed, brakes on,” I did as I’ve done thousands of times in the 36 years I’ve owned this airplane, I flicked my smoldering Lucky Strike into the weeds, removed my fedora and pulled the propeller though six blades. Always six, no more, no fewer. Then, from my hand-propping starter’s position safely behind the propeller on the cowling’s right side with feet straddling the gear leg, left hand holding the door frame, I called, “Switch on left (magneto with the impulse coupler)1, throttle cracked, brakes on, stick back,” and the pilot repeated all with the clarity and devotion of … someone about to chop off my hand. 

Never trust a propeller. The only time they’re safe is when off the airplane … and, even then, you’re likely to trip over the damn thing inside a dark hangar. I’ve preached this for years and handled propellers as one might a sleepy rattlesnake; yeah, it’s safe now, but that could change. I knew from the countless previous attempts, that my engine would now start with one easy flick of the ….

Son of a …!

It’d been a sunny day. The Hello Dolly overture played in my head, so it took a microsecond for my distracted brain to recognize the pain from the thin metal propeller blade as it swung not down and away, as it had always done for three-and-a-half decades I’d known and propped it but, instead, kicked back with the viciousness of an adorable puppy instantly transformed into an unneutered Rottweiler who resents having its feed bowl removed before he’s done.

I was stunned. I was in pain but mostly stunned. I counted my fingers—all there, albeit tingling as I stared at the now inert puppy of a propeller blade attached to this benign 65-horse engine … that can kill. The student, who learned new aviation terms that day, stared before asking, “Are you OK?” I, of course, wasn’t. I was chastened and humbled—rare emotions in a CFI. No blood, no mangled digits, simply the stinging tingle of a lesson slammed into my ego. “Fine,” I answered, and asked that the mag switch be returned to OFF, while I walked in head-down circles, awaiting the pain to wash my sins away.

What happened? It’s likely the pilot-at-the-controls had set the magneto switch to either RIGHT—where there’s no impulse coupler, so it fires roughly 30 degrees before TDC3—or to BOTH. With the switch now OFF any evidence was anecdotal, but it didn’t matter. As the CFI, the snake-handler who fears no propeller blades, I was the reaper of any pilot error in this situation.

This should be the “You see, Timmy,” moment in the story, where I light my pipe—in lieu of Luckies—and explain how safety is always first. Except it’s not. Flight, by its nature, is inherently dangerous. Safety is a goal, not a given. Parachutes, shoulder harnesses and insurance mitigate the errors. I’m still flying 70-year-old airplanes and will spin props by hand until they’re pried from my cold, detached fingers. Admittedly, I may be an experienced instructor, but I’m a slow learner. So, to younger, smarter instructors everywhere, I say, enjoy your flights across the sunlit uplands before the airlines take you home … but watch out for the wrist flick reminders that we’re all human and, therefore, capable of instant and creative stupidity.

1Failed Broadway play about George Hamilton

2 Retards spark for easier starting, while taking us back to the 20th century

3 Top Dead Center


NASA Names First Commercial Space Crews
Kate O'Connor

NASA has announced the names of nine astronauts who will be among the first people to launch into space aboard commercially built spacecraft. After the initial test flights, crews will travel to the International Space Station (ISS) using the Boeing Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 Starliner and the SpaceX Crew Dragon. These missions will mark the first time astronauts have launched from U.S. soil since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011.

The first manned SpaceX demo flight is tentatively scheduled to launch into low-Earth orbit in April 2019 with astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley on board. An unmanned test flight is scheduled to take place this November. The first manned test flight of the Starliner—crewed by Eric Boe, Christopher Ferguson and Nicole Aunapu Mann—is planned for mid-2019 following an unmanned test in either late 2018 or early 2019. If the tests are successful, NASA says it will certify the companies for ISS crew rotation missions.

“The men and women we assign to these first flights are at the forefront of this exciting new time for human spaceflight,” said Mark Geyer, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “It will be thrilling to see our astronauts lift off from American soil, and we can’t wait to see them aboard the International Space Station.” After the test flights, astronauts Josh Cassada and Sunita Williams are slated to fly the first Starliner mission to the ISS. Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins will take the first Crew Dragon mission. NASA says more crew members will be assigned by its international partners at a later date.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon will launch using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It is a manned version of the company’s Dragon, which became the first commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to the space station in 2012. SpaceX says the Crew Dragon will be fully autonomous, allowing it to be monitored and controlled by mission control as well as by the astronauts on board.

Boeing's Starliner space capsule was designed to accommodate seven passengers—or a mix of crew and cargo—for low-Earth orbit missions. Boeing says the Starliner capsule is reusable up to 10 times with a six-month turnaround time. It will be launched via a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Both the Crew Dragon and the Starliner will depart from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Five Presumed Dead In Denali Crash
Mary Grady

A pilot and four tourists from Poland are reported to have died after a de Havilland Beaver crashed at about 11,000 feet near the summit of Thunder Mountain in Denali National Park, in Alaska, during a sightseeing flight on Saturday. It was the first fatal crash of an air taxi in the Alaska range since 2003, according to the National Park Service. The pilot reported the crash on his satellite phone, and said everyone survived but there were injuries. No further details were relayed before the connection was dropped. Due to low cloud cover and weather and the steep terrain, rescuers were unable to reach the airplane until Monday morning. They confirmed there were four people on board, but all were dead. The fifth person is believed to also be in the airplane, but due to the hazardous conditions, rescuers were on the site for only a few minutes and were unable to thoroughly search the wreck. The flight was operated by K2 Aviation, based in Talkeetna.

Thunder Mountain has been described by the National Park Service as more of a ridge than a mountain, according to National Parks Traveler. It stretches roughly a mile long from east to west and rises about 3,000 feet above two nearby glaciers. Terrain in the vicinity of the crash site is characterized as extremely steep and a mix of near-vertical rock, ice and snow, the NPS said. On Sunday, flight crews with the Air National Guard patrolled the area in a C-130, and two HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters conducted aerial overflights of the accident zone, but search conditions were hampered by zero visibility and low cloud cover.

The rescue effort also included flights by the NPS high-altitude helicopter and a U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook from Fort Wainwright in Talkeetna. On Monday morning, “An NPS ranger was short-hauled to the crash site (suspended beneath the helicopter) where he dug through the snow that had filled the aircraft and found the bodies of four of the five passengers," NPS wrote in a statement. "There were no footprints or disturbances leading away from the site and there were no other signs to indicate any of the passengers made it out of the plane."

Breaking Solemn Vows
Armand Vilches

Flying is often a convenient and valuable means of travel. But it can also be lethal if we fail to abide some simple guidelines designed to keep us safe. Many of these rules, procedures, and limits were explained to us by our instructors, and then followed up by a request that we make a vow such as... “Promise you’ll never go below minimums, and that you will divert instead,” may have been one of those made, when first learning to fly instruments.

We may have also been asked to promise never to fly impaired. Not just from alcohol, but also when we’re feeling under the weather, or taking medications that may affect our ability to think clearly. When we were asked to make this promise, we certainly would have thought to ourselves, “Of course. That makes total sense. Why would I do that?”

Most of us took these types of oaths seriously. After all, our instructors knew best. They had experience, we didn’t.

But as the years went by, and we gained experience, we may have bent a few pledges, every now and then (just a little) because in the end there is a fine line between being too conservative and operating an airplane for business. A built-in conflict exists between using an aircraft as a reliable form of transportation, while remaining 100-percent safe. And if we have a lot of experience with a particular airplane or familiarity human factors with airport, it is easy to fall into the trap of bending a rule or two because we have done it before without consequences.

Pilot Experience

The 50-year-old pilot was the co-owner of a charter operation, which at the time of the accident, had been in business for 22 years. The pilot held an airline transport pilot certificate with rating for airplane single and multi-engine land. He had a total time of 19,600 hours, of which 17,000 were in multi-engine aircraft, and 15,300 hours were in the Cessna 310. He had more flying time in a single type aircraft than what most general aviation pilots can ever hope to accumulate in a lifetime. The accident aircraft was a Cessna 310R, a venerable aircraft used extensively by charter operators, and part of the pilot-owner’s fleet. The pilot was certainly experienced with both the airplane and with charter operations.

The pilot’s charter company was based at Portland Municipal Airport (KPLD), in Portland, Indiana. After the accident, investigators interviewed the charter company’s chief pilot. According to him, the purpose of the flight was to take a geotechnical engineer to review some field work near Pikeville, Kentucky. The chief pilot mentioned that the accident pilot should have been familiar with the Pike County Airport (KPBX) since he had flown the engineer to the airport a number of times previously.

The chief pilot also mentioned the charter company promoted weather safety. One example he gave was the cautions the company made to their pilots about making proper weather decisions. The company even kept a van at the nearby Fort Wayne International Airport (KFWA) for their pilots in case they were unable to land at the company’s home base, KPLD, due to weather.

IMC Conditions Prevail

An hour before departure, the NWS Surface Analysis Chart depicted an area of low pressure in Eastern Kentucky. There was a developing stationary front southwestward into Tennessee, and the Radar Summary Chart indicated light precipitation over Eastern Kentucky. The closest weather station, Julian Carroll Airport (KJKL) 36 miles west, was reporting calm wind, four miles visibility in light rain and mist, with ceilings of 800 feet broken, and 1,600 feet overcast.

The relevant TAF at KJKL was forecasting winds out of the north-west at three knots, six miles visibility in light drizzle and mist, a broken ceiling at 500 feet and an overcast sky at 1,500 feet. Nineteen minutes later, the KJKL TAF was amended to winds variable at four knots, visibility at six miles, in light drizzle and mist, with a lowered ceiling forecast of 300 feet.

The Cessna 310 left KPLD at 1100 local and uneventfully traveled the short distance to Day ton Wright Brothers Airport (KMGY). The plan was to pick up the sole passenger at KMGY, then fly to KPDX, wait for the passenger to complete his business in the Pikeville area, and then return to KMGY. Once the pilot arrived at KMGY, he filed an IFR flight plan via phone, with flight service. The plan was for a direct flight to KPDX at 7,000 feet. The estimated time enroute was one-hour, and the 310 would have four hours of fuel on-board. The flight departed KMGY at approximately 1148 local.

There was no mention of weather during his conversation with Flight Service, but that does not suggest the pilot did not have weather information. He may have simply self-briefed, and it was not noted or discovered by the NTSB. Additionally, the chief pilot stated, the Cessna pilot “would have picked up two approach plate books that would cover Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky.”

Low IMC Approach

As the aircraft approached KPBX, two critical communications occurred. Unfortunately, it is impossible, based on the available NTSB reports, to determine which radio call was made first by the pilot—a call to the airport’s CTAF frequency, or the call to the controller requesting a clearance to fly the RNAV GPS RWY 9 approach?

This may be significant, since it could have determined the pilot’s choice for the better approach into the airport. The RNAV approach was more expedient based on the direction of flight, but the ILS to Runway 27 would have allowed for significantly lower minimums. The RNAV RWY 9 approach had minimums of 506 feet AGL and one-mile visibility. The ILS to runway 27 had minimums of 200 feet AGL and one-mile visibility.

However, according to the relevant factual provisions, noted in an order arising from a lawsuit, it appears the pilot may have requested a clearance for the RNAV approach prior to receiving weather information directly from an airport employee/observer on the ground.

This airport employee recalled the pilot reporting being 20 miles out on the CTAF frequency and requesting weather conditions. The airport employee reported the AWOS as one and one-half mile visibility with a 200- to 300-foot ceiling. The airport employee also told the pilot the weather conditions were worse than reported. During the investigation, a city employee mentioned visibility was so bad and fog so thick he could not see more than thirty feet ahead, and a worker located 200-300 feet below the approach end to runway 9 reported thick clouds at treetop level.

The Cessna was flying the approach as published until the last three ATC radar returns. At approximately 1248 local, the radar returns showed the Cessna 310 aligned with the runway at 1,900, 1,800, and 1,700 feet MSL respectively, with the last plot being one-half mile from the runway end. The MDA for the approach was 1,960 feet MSL.

Individuals at the worksite below the approach end of the runway saw the 310 appear, from beneath the clouds, on top of a ridgeline and roughly in line with the runway. The 310 then hit trees 1,100 feet right of the runway centerline.

Contributing Factor

A toxicological exam of the pilot revealed night-time cold medication above therapeutic levels. The NTSB agreed that the self-medication by the pilot may have resulted in his impairment and listed it as a contributing factor to the probable cause of the flight “Descending below published approach minimums.” The unanswered question is “why.”

The FAA document worth refreshing ourselves on the basics of meds and flying is a short two-page pamphlet:

When asked by investigators why he thought the pilot descended be-low minimums, the company chief pilot said “...the pilot may have seen the terrain below the clouds as he approached the airport, but didn’t realize that the terrain rose as it approached the airport.” He also stated “...descending below approach minimums was out of character for the pilot,” and added “The only thing I can think of is that he was running a little late.”

Look Back To Our Training

So many of the accidents I have reviewed could have been avoided by following the simple maxims given to us by our primary and instrument instructors—and of course by the FAA. We have all been guilty of bending a few rules, but before we make the mistake of doing so again, we should remember the promises we gave to our instructors—and ourselves.

Armand Vilches is a commercial pilot and instructor who lives in Brentwood, TN. His extensive background in risk management and insurance allows him to bring a unique perspective to aviation and flight instruction.

This article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of IFR Refresher magazine.

For more great content like this, subscribe to IFR Refresher!


GAMA: Sales Up For Training Aircraft
Mary Grady

The pilot shortage is making itself felt in rising orders for new trainers, GAMA reported on Monday, in its shipments and billings report for the second quarter. Overall, the quarter’s results are mixed, said GAMA President Pete Bunce, but demand for training aircraft is driving up sales in both the piston and rotorcraft segments. Piston airplane deliveries were up 6.4 percent compared to the same time last year, with turboprop numbers up by 9.7 percent. Piston rotorcraft did even better, with deliveries so far this year up by 19 percent. Turbine rotorcraft deliveries rose by 2 percent, and business jet sales were flat.

“We hope the continued interest in training aircraft as well as in new, safety-enhancing products and technology our member companies are bringing to the market will continue to drive increases in future quarters,” said Bunce, “and drive increases in people joining the industry’s workforce.” Year to date, GAMA said, the industry has delivered 1,054 airplanes and 494 helicopters, worth a total of more than $10 billion. Bunce noted that Boeing’s 2018 Pilot and Technician Outlook reports the demand for pilots, technicians and other aviation industry professionals is at “an all-time high.”

JP International 'Trust Your JPI
Luminati Claims ‘Perpetual Flight’ Solution
Mary Grady

Luminati Aerospace, an engineering and research firm based on Long Island, New York, says it has created technology inspired by flocks of geese that can achieve “perpetual stratospheric flight.” Luminati says groups of four solar-powered drones flying in a diamond formation can “overcome the limitations of current battery technology” by taking advantage of the vortices created by the lead aircraft. Its theories were proved in a test flight in 2016, when the Luminati Substrata solar-powered piloted aircraft flew in trail behind Solar Impulse 2 as it departed New York on its round-the-world flight. Analysis of the test data has confirmed the engineers’ performance predictions, the company said.

The crew of Solar Impulse 2 had declined to permit the flight test to take place, Luminati said, but once the aircraft was in international airspace, they launched and flew the test anyway. “We didn't need their permission because we didn't require coordination with them and we didn't need to put any of our autopilot electronics or code on their aircraft,” according to Luminati’s news release. Luminati says the efficiency of vortex formation flight will enable small flocks of drones to solve the problem of how to provide Internet access to large parts of the world that lack infrastructure to support it.

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Picture of the Week, August 2, 2018
Flyby admiring Pine Valley golf course in my Cessna 140. Copyrighted photo by Rene Covelli.

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Short Final: Ride Conditions

Heard on ABQ CTR near GBN on 132.45:

ABQ Center: Flight XYZ say ride conditions.

Flight XYZ: no answer

ABQ Center: Flight XYZ say ride conditions.

Flight XYZ: no answer

ABQ Center on 121.5: Flight XYZ, ABQ Center, if you hear us ident.

Flight XYZ: Flight XYZ. Sorry my copilot was talking so loud about his race cars and his boats and his girlfriends and his airplanes that we didn’t hear you.


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