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Volume 26, Number 3c
January 18, 2019
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FAA Recalling Furloughed Safety Personnel
Kate O'Connor

More than 2,000 FAA inspectors and engineers furloughed due to the partial government shutdown that began on Dec. 22 have been recalled to work, according to an FAA statement made on Tuesday. The latest revision of the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) plan for operations during the shutdown (PDF) now categorizes a total of 3,113 Aviation Safety positions as necessary for life and safety and therefore excepted from furlough. The previous version (PDF) of the plan listed only 216 life-and-safety excepted Aviation Safety positions.

"We are recalling inspectors and engineers to perform duties to ensure continuous operational safety of the entire national airspace," said an FAA spokesperson in Tuesday’s statement. "We proactively conduct risk assessment, and we have determined that after three weeks it is appropriate to recall inspectors and engineers." According to the DOT’s revised shutdown plan, some previously suspended activities will also be resumed including “certain evaluations, audits and inspections” and “certain certification activities.”

As with other federal employees still at work, the recalled personnel are not expected to receive paychecks during the shutdown. More than 24,000 jobs at the Air Traffic Organization, which is responsible for providing safe and efficient air navigation services in the U.S., make up the majority of life-and-safety excepted positions at the FAA. 13,944 FAA employees will remain furloughed of a total 44,687 positions.

TSA: The Shutdown Shows We Just Don't Need It
Paul Bertorelli

A friend used to delight in telling a joke about the Georgia State Patrol officer who pulls over a couple of rednecks in a pickup, taps his nightstick on the driver’s window then reaches in and pummels the guy for two minutes.

“Why’d you do that?” complains the driver. The officer explains one should never hesitate in producing license and registration, writes the ticket and instructs the driver to wait. He walks to the other side of the vee-hick-ul and pummels the passenger.

“Why’d you do that?” whines the passenger. “I’m just giving you your wish, son. I know you were thinking, ‘I wish he would come over and do that to me.’”

You probably have to be from the South to get it, but I thought of it when I was composing this week’s Question of the Week, the lead query being would you fly if there were no airline security at all. Almost half responded that they would. I wonder if those numbers would hold when it came time to actually walk down the jetway.

The context, of course, is that during the current government shutdown, the TSA is functioning, but at reduced efficiency. Pilots love to say the TSA is nothing but security theater, so why not take this opportunity to eliminate it entirely, since it doesn’t do anything useful?

Interesting thought experiment. If we did that, it would roll the clock back to about 1968. You may have forgotten this, but between that year and 1972, hijackers took over a commercial airliner about every other week, according to The Skies Belong to Us by Brendan Koerner. No ID required, no metal detectors, hardly any airport security and the concept of sterile airside was unknown. It was another age.

Eventually, the flying public got fed up with the hijackings and the airlines dropped their opposition to pre-boarding security—bad for business, you know. By 1973, passenger screenings were universal in the U.S., if not worldwide.

But, proving that such security really was just theater, the hijackings continued. Oh, no … wait. They declined by more than two-thirds and dropped even more sharply with the additional security in place after the 9/11 attacks. Probably just a coincidence, because theater can’t possibly be effective, especially if government is in charge of the casting, just on principle.

The airline threat environment has metastasized into something else entirely since 1968, a fact that came to be noticed on Sept. 12, 2001. The entire world—and especially the developed world—responded with costly and cumbersome agencies and bureaucracies, hence the TSA we all love to hate, perhaps not without good reason.

Has it been effective? There have been a half-billion U.S. airline flights since 2001 and no hijackings. Passenger screenings are only a part of a multi-pronged approach to commercial airline security, along with ongoing intelligence operations, airport security, hardened cockpit doors and the Federal Flight Deck Officer program that trains armed pilots. The TSA never supported that program, but Congress forced the issue, rightfully, in my view.

And let’s not forget the passengers. I don’t think a 9/11-style aircraft takeover with box cutters could possibly succeed today. I think the passengers would rapidly seize control of the cabin and the aircraft. Would-be hijackers would be lucky to escape death by beating.

Amuse yourself by contemplating the outcome if a single or multiple malefactors boarded with firearms, which they presumably could do minus any screening at all. If this were a U.S. airliner, you’d get to watch the OK Corral at FL330, because as surely as bad guys board with firearms, so do good guys. All in all, that alone prompts me to want to avoid screen-free airline travel, thanks. And that doesn’t even get into explosives, which the TSA has seized a few times, too.

While I’m on the subject of firearms, something I find utterly baffling is how anyone can go through a TSA screen line without realizing they have a loaded firearm with one in the chamber. Yet, reports The Washington Post, the TSA snatched nearly 4000 firearms in 2017 and more than that in 2018—more than 10 a day. A third were loaded with a round chambered. The fine for this can be as much as $13,000 and the most common explanation by the gun owner is “I forgot it was there.” You forgot?

Any responsible firearm owner will tell you that being responsible means you never forget you have a weapon. (Or that you don’t.) You never forget whether the weapon is loaded. You never forget and leave it somewhere unsecured, like on the dining room table with kids in the house. If you do, that is, de facto, not responsible. I’m all for people carrying who wish to, but if you can’t do it responsibly, I’d just as soon the TSA mail it back to your house. Maybe some people who aren’t those people ought to be allowed to attend FFDO training and be, you know, authorized.

Obviously, under even the slightest scrutiny, the idea of eliminating passenger screening is ludicrous. But that doesn’t mean the way the TSA does it shouldn’t be overhauled. For instance, we were supposed to stop X-raying shoes five years ago, but it’s still going on as a result not of risk but of momentum. The entire process remains thing oriented rather than people oriented, which means we continue to roust innocent citizens in search of the odd bomb, gun or knife. A few still slip through, as one did recently when a passenger admitted it on a flight to Tokyo. He had passed through Atlanta, which leads the league in passengers getting caught with heat.

Ironically, those 4000-plus citizens who stumbled into the line were almost certainly just clueless, not threatening, assuming they’d have made the trip without accidentally discharging a weapon and blasting a hole in the overhead. Or worse. Even a trained FFDO found a way to puncture an airplane with an accidental discharge.

TSA-Pre and Global Entry are great programs—I participate in both—and the government ought to expend more money expanding them, leaving more time to look for the real threats which, while not absent, are somewhat diminished. Meanwhile, wouldn’t it be great if, while we’re waiting vainly for this to happen, Congress and the executive branch actually got something done.

I know it’s a plaintive howl in the wind, but it’s all I’ve got.

$20,000 Reward For Lost Warbird
Russ Niles

A Chicago pilot is offering a $20,000 reward to anyone who can tell him where his TBM Avenger crashed after he and a passenger bailed out of the warbird last May. Ron Carlson took out a full-page ad in the local newspaper, the Independent, in White River, Arizona, in December announcing the reward. As of Thursday, he said the reward hasn’t been claimed. “Everyone’s waiting for the snow to melt in spring. We have about eight private independent search parties that will be searching,” he told AVweb. The aircraft's big radial was still making some power after it failed while he was ferrying the plane from Phoenix to Chicago and it could have flown some distance in the descending terrain, he told the newspaper.

The last Carlson and his backseater Ken Franzese saw of the big single-engine torpedo bomber, it was in a lazy descending right turn over the White Mountains of northeastern Arizona, heading south southeast. Carlson and Franzese were heading straight down into an alpine forest where they were eventually rescued. Both were hurt in their unscheduled landings but as we reported last May, Carlson vowed to find the fastidiously restored Avenger. That effort has since hit a bit of turbulence from local residents, however. Much of the land that the Avenger could have ended up on is on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation and officials are reminding treasure hunters that the area is closed during the winter and they’ll need permits to drive the mountain roads when they dry up in the late spring.

Ethics Concerns Halt Shutdown Fundraiser For Controllers
Kate O'Connor

A GoFundMe campaign aimed at supplying groceries and gas money for local air traffic controllers not receiving pay during the partial government shutdown has been suspended by its founder due to the potential for ethics violations. Hearing that some controllers were struggling after missed paychecks, general aviation pilot Graeme Smith started the GoFundMe campaign on Tuesday night. However, when he contacted tower personnel about getting an employee headcount, concerns were raised about whether the funds would constitute “gifts” according to federal ethics regulations and therefore be prohibited.

Smith approached several aviation organizations for legal advice on the matter, including AOPA Legal Services and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) national office in Washington, D.C. The responses he received were mixed: One organization’s legal team believed that if distributed properly, the money might fall under an exception that allows federal employees to accept gifts of $20 or less per occasion from a single source (capped at $50 per year). Another organization advised that there was no clear way to avoid ethical violations if controllers accepted any of the funds.

Smith suspended the fundraising campaign on the request of NATCA, which asked that he do so until an FAA ethics official could provide a ruling on the matter. Smith was later told the official has been furloughed due to the shutdown. “Regardless of politics, controllers are getting hungry and in some cases are struggling to find money to pay for gas to get to work,” Smith told AVweb. “Well-intentioned government ethics rules mean we can’t help out our controllers in a meaningful way.”

Before being suspended on Wednesday morning, the GoFundMe campaign had raised roughly $700. Smith says he is exploring other ways to provide assistance. It is unclear how concerns about ethics violations will affect hundreds of similar fundraising efforts for federal employees.

Airbus Delivers First ACJ320neo
Kate O'Connor

Airbus has delivered the first ACJ320neo business jet to U.K.-based launch customer Acropolis Aviation, the company announced on Thursday. The aircraft will be undergoing cabin outfitting in Switzerland and get a new livery before it officially enters service at Acropolis. The ACJ320neo model, which flew for the first time in November 2018, is based on Airbus’ A320neo airliner.

“Delivery of the first ACJ320neo is the latest milestone in the rollout of a completely new ACJ Family, enabling even more of the comfort, range and value prized by business jet customers,” said Airbus Corporate Jets (ACJ) President Benoit Defforge. Defforge has previously stated that the ACJ320neo family’s fuel efficiency helps it compare more favorably in operating costs with “traditional” business jets.

The ACJ320neo can be outfitted with either CFM International’s LEAP-1A or Pratt & Whitney’s PW1100G powerplants. It can carry up to 25 passengers, has a maximum range of 6,000 NM and endurance of more than 13 hours. Airbus says it plans to begin deliveries of the ACJ320neo's longer-range sister model, the ACJ319neo business jet, in the coming months.

Assessing Red Line Weather

A front is the border where one distinct air mass meets another. More correctly it’s a frontal area, since the contact surface stretches from the ground into the upper limit of the troposphere. The area that intersects the ground is where the front is drawn on a meteorological analysis map.

The front is defined based on which way the air is moving. If warm air displaces cold, it’s a warm front (depicted in red). If the opposite is true, then it’s a cold front (blue). Should there be no real movement either way, it’s a stationary front. And sometimes nature will rear-end a warm front with some cold air, causing an occluded front.

Are Cold Fronts Impenetrable?

There are several reasons why the cold front can be a problem for pilots. As the cold air encounters the warm sector, being colder and thus heavier, it acts in a wedge like manner and physically forces the air in front of it upwards. The frontal area (in stark contrast to that of the warm front) is relatively narrow and quite vertical. The warmer air being more buoyant and moist is forced up over the colder air.

The front exists in a trough—an extension of a low-pressure area. This is evidenced by rapidly falling barometric pressure as it approaches. The low pressure itself lends to instability and, since the isobars are tightly stacked, high winds can be expected. As the front passes (and the “kick” in the isobars) the wind quickly changes in a clockwise direction—causing strong and gusty winds on the ground—often hampering takeoff and landings.

Low pressure promotes instability, the influx of cold air pushes the warm, wet air upwards. As it cools in the ascent, cumulus/cumulonimbus clouds form, precipitation starts, releasing the latent heat (that was stored when making the water evaporate), further causing rapidly expanding and climbing storm clouds.

Everything isn’t created equal and the cold front is an example of that. Depending on the actual physical values of the parameters involved, the strength of the front varies. A weak one may simply be observable as innocuous cumulus clouds forming and pose no problem for the pilot.

Complex Atmospheric Physics

A pop culture fad from a couple of decades past called “chaos theory” included a presupposition that the quiet flutter of a butterfly could (six months later) cause a storm on another continent. While there is some doubt about the example, the conclusion to draw was that although the basic physics is simple and straightforward, nature’s application of it is anything but.

This applies perfectly to the cold front. We know from experience that it is by no means a homogeneous “wall.” Instead it is a violent, dynamic, roiling mass of convective activity with parts rapidly ascending and others collapsing, areas with heavy to extreme precipitation and associated lightning and the turbulence that goes with all this.

Determining Precip Location

On the same line of thought, meteorological forecasts based on the available data of an area’s atmosphere can make an accurate prediction on the probability of thunderstorms—but they cannot say with any precision where and when these will occur.

The lesson for us as pilots is that to make accurate decisions on how to deal with a cold front we need updated information. Remember that a building thunderstorm can rise at a rate of several thousand feet per minute. What looked like an opening in the weather may, in just a few flying miles, be completely closed to you.

I recently visited a successful flight school in my area and was stunned to see every student carrying a tablet—the central focus of the electronic flight bag. I’m not sure why my surprise since my airline chucked paper charts and manuals years ago. There is of course a plethora of apps and useful websites catering to every aviation need.

How Good Is Airborne WX

The weather radar information is especially impressive with motion and vivid colors, areas of turbulence and various other information available as desired.

However, regardless if those radar composites are viewed on your smartphone, tablet or a panel mounted device in your airplane, they have two severe limitations:

First, these are color coded images of returns from a radar antenna on the ground, looking up. This may correlate well with what you experience while flying at say 10,000 feet— or they may not. If the radar beam hits strong rainfall at low altitude it will show a strong return, probably depicted in yellow or red on your device. At cruising altitude, you may be well above it with no issues at all.

Second, the display you’re observing suffers from varying degrees of latency. Depending on the type of service and method of upload they may be from ten to thirty minutes old. This is good enough for an overview of the situation but not for picking your way through weather.

Radar data from sources such as NEXRAD or SiriusXM must be considered as a strategic tool, for planning deviations at long distances of 50 to 100 miles. They cannot be reliably used for tactical avoidance for picking your way through convective activity within 20 miles.

Using Radar Returns

Ideally you have on-board radar. It updates to the second, it allows you to pan (scan vertically) to estimate the tops and where a penetration might be best. Modern equipment also has features available to the radar connoisseur that can be helpful. But few light GA planes have onboard radar, and these are of limited usefulness.

The reason is more physics than economics: the small radar dish that will fit on the typical light aircraft cannot provide the resolution required to pick out storms at greater distances. Some units in the hands of the discerning pilot of great experience have a place in their bag of tricks used to deal with cold fronts. However, it is by no means a panacea.

Fortunately, ATC can help—although subject to the same limitations as any ground-based radar, the returns are typically updated quickly on their screens. Also, they have PIREPS that can provide actual cloud height, gaps where others have snuck through and the level of turbulence experienced—good information to have. However, anytime there’s extensive or extreme weather in the area ATC becomes busy with all the deviations required and the level of assistance can vary accordingly.


We must not forget the best weather avoidance tool available is our own vision. The problem here is that you are essentially blinded when in IMC or at night. Often, higher altitudes allow you to get on top of stratus layers, so you can see and avoid the cumulus build-ups. The good news is that cold fronts are usually fast moving and can often be waited out on the ground as they pass through—so flying to within 50 miles of the front and then landing will often allow you to continue the flight a few hours later.

With experience, you’ll learn to “read” the weather ahead of you— temperature, turbulence and tops, as well as the change in winds aloft direct (some of this glass cockpit information is amazing). Cumuliform clouds have a distinct life cycle with differing shapes and appearances, precipitation has its own tale to tell. All this makes for an educated decision on how to proceed—or not to proceed.

Bo Henriksson is a captain with a regional carrier and has more than 15,000 flight hours.

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

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


727 Ends Scheduled Passenger Service
Russ Niles

The last scheduled passenger flight of a Boeing 727 was reportedly conducted Jan.12 by Iran Aseman Airlines. The aircraft, a relatively new Boeing 727-200 Advanced (it was built in 1977), flew as EP851 on a domestic flight from Zahedan to Tehran. The low-key final flight marked the end of a remarkable 55-year run for the tri-engine jet that was a state-of-the-art improvement in speed and efficiency when it was introduced in 1962. 

Although a few 727s remain in freight and even executive service, most of the 1,831 produced until 1984 were retired by early in this century because they’re noisy and gobble fuel. When the 727 entered service with Eastern Airlines in 1964, it carried as many passengers as four-engine airliners but flew higher and went faster. It became a fixture on domestic routes but was eventually eclipsed by twin-engine short-haul models. Thanks to decades of trade sanctions, Iran hasn't been able to buy new airliners or spare parts for the legacy airliners it operates.

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The Pilot’s Lounge #142: Safe Airplanes, A Cautionary Tale
Rick Durden

Due to a mix-up on my part, I walked into the pilot’s lounge at the virtual airport an hour prior to the time I was scheduled to fly with a student. I found a magazine I hadn’t read and sunk into one of the worn, old recliners, trying to keep quiet so I wouldn’t interrupt the instructor and student on the other side of the room. Karver was there, with his instructor, Sandy. Karver is becoming known at the airport for his combination of determination and pragmatism—he went through the private rating in two months, recently finished up a tailwheel checkout and is well along toward his instrument and commercial tickets. On top of that, he has made it clear that when he learns something, he wants to know why it’s important, otherwise he wants to skip it. That has kept his Sandy on her toes as she works with him.

Karver is in the midst of a checkout in the flight school’s Cirrus SR22, a machine that qualifies as a technically advanced airplane (TAA). It has an IFR GPS with moving map, a multi-function display with weather graphics and an integrated autopilot. Karver’s goal is to fly professionally, so getting comfortable in a TAA is going to be essential. He’d been flying the school’s “six-pack” configured airplanes because they are less expensive to rent than the glass birds.

The intensity of Karver’s comments and questions drew my attention away from the article I was reading. “Look, Sandy, I’ve got the stick and rudder stuff down. You did that for me when you checked me out in the Citabria. All I need to do with the Cirrus is learn to program the autopilot. This airplane is expensive, I don’t have the time to do all the slow flight and stalls and steep turns and unusual attitudes—I can do that already. Besides, if something goes wrong when I’m hand flying, I’ll just activate the autopilot. The airplane’s automated, it can fly better than any human can.”

I thought Sandy was going to come unglued. She had been a freight dog, retiring after years as a captain on the Boeing 777. If anyone knows automated aircraft, she does. She suddenly got the “I’ve got to be patient” look on her face.

“Karver,” she started, “aircraft automation is designed to protect humans from themselves—and it does a pretty good job. But it’s not foolproof—and fools have long proved themselves to be ingeniously able to screw up foolproof designs. Remember when we started this checkout and you told me that you’d looked at accident stats for TAAs versus six-pack airplanes, found out that they the same and wondered why? My answer was that even with extensive automation, a pilot has to know the airplane and its systems cold because ignorance has consequences.

“Do you recall the Boeing 777 crash at San Francisco about six years ago where the jet hit the seawall short of the runway?”

“I’m not sure. I hadn’t started to learn to fly and don’t remember much about it.”

Sandy said, “Short version, an experienced crew misunderstood the automation on the airplane while flying what should have been a routine visual approach on a nice day—and their hand flying skills weren’t great. Of course, there were multiple, cascading causes of the accident but, in my opinion, it could have been prevented had the crew been used to hand flying the airplane—and hadn’t been so used to relying on automation.”

Sandy looked at me. “Hey, Rick, get over here.”

I complied, sitting down at the table with Karver and Sandy. She continued, “Didn’t a buddy of yours have an engine shell on the triple-7 he was flying over the middle of the Atlantic a few months ago?”

Yes, he did.”

Sandy looked at Karver, “That one had a happy ending because the crew had been well trained and knew the airplane systems cold, including what the automation would and wouldn’t do for them. They turned off the overseas route they were on, descended away from traffic to an altitude they could hold on one engine and flew 90 minutes to a safe landing in Ireland because of good training, their skills, judgement and knowledge.

Know the Systems

“I’m requiring you to know the systems of this Cirrus inside and out and to be able to hand fly it in any condition as well as to make sure you can make the automation sing. That’s because aviation is a microcosm of machine development for humans. Whenever we design a safer machine, that set of humans clear over on one side of the bell curve where it says 'damn fools' find a way to disable the safety features either by actively taking them off or deciding that the machine is so safe that they can do anything they want and the machine will protect them.”

“What are you talking about?” Karver interjected.

“I pulled Rick over here because he’s an aviation history geek and worked for a manufacturer—he saw some of the stupid things pilots do first hand. Plus, he writes for Aviation Consumer magazine and every month he has to read 100 accident reports on a type of airplane for their Used Aircraft Guide. If you’ve got a minute, I’d like you to get some background on how pilots have sabotaged safe aircraft design over the years so you’ll understand why I am adamant about you learning everything you can about the Cirrus before I sign off your TAA endorsement. OK?”

Sandy looked at me, “Tell Karver what you told me about shoulder harnesses when you worked at Cessna.”

Unused Shoulder Harnesses

“Cessna made shoulder harnesses standard for the front seats well before the FAA required that they be installed. At first, many pilots and passengers refused to wear them. Surprise, surprise, a lot of people died in fairly minor accidents by smacking their head into the panel—jackknifing over the seatbelt—with the shoulder harnesses neatly tucked into their holders.

“Cessna offered—as an option—a fairly sophisticated (for the 1970s) inertia-reel shoulder harness that was integrated with the seat belt. They were comfortable and were right up there in the technology world at the time.

“I saw foolishness on a level that astounded me when a new Cessna 182RG came back to the factory from a private owner for some reason or another. It had the integrated inertia-reel seatbelt and shoulder harnesses. To my utter disbelief, the owner had cut the shoulder harness off of the seat belt portion of the system. Both shoulder harnesses were retracted back into the reels, leaving only the seat belts. An excellent restraint system had been rendered useless.”

Karver looked astonished. “How could anybody be so stupid?”

Sandy laughed and said, “You got me. You want to hear more?”

He said, “You bet.”

“Ok, Rick, tell him about your research into Ercoupe and Skymaster crashes.”

Safer Airplanes

Before I could say anything, Sandy went on, “Karver, you need a little background—in the 1920s and ‘30s the scourge of aviation was a staggeringly high rate of stall/spin accidents. It was so bad that there were competitions to encourage development of a stall-proof airplane. The demand resulted in the Ercoupe—which later became the Aircoupe—a very cool two-place airplane that had the up-elevator travel limited so that it could not stall. It also had the ailerons and rudders interconnected and operated by turning the yoke. A lot of them were built and if you ever get a chance to fly one, do it, it’s a lot of fun and astonishingly easy to fly.

“The other big killer of pilots was after an engine failure on a twin—unless the pilot kept the airplane going fast enough, it was physically impossible to keep the thrust of the engine developing power from turning and rolling the airplane toward the dead engine. That minimum speed is called Vmc. The loss of control—that usually leads to crashing fatally—is called a Vmc roll.

“If the aircraft’s engines are lined up with each other—'centerline thrust'—there is no turning tendency when one quits. It eliminates Vmc—making the airplane much safer. There were some centerline thrust twins built in the 1930s and ‘40s, mostly by Dornier. In fact, the Dornier 335 was the fastest piston-engine airplane in World War II.

“In the 1960s, Cessna decided to market a centerline thrust twin, the 336 Skymaster, in hopes of starting a line of twins that were safer to operate, because Vmc crashes were still killing a lot of people. The 336 Skymaster had fixed gear and wasn’t very fast, so Cessna made the retractable gear, 337 Super Skymaster, which had better performance but still wasn’t as fast as most wing-engine twins.

Same Accident Rate

“Ok, I’ve talked too much, Rick, you’ve looked at Ercoupe and Skymaster accidents. What happened? Did those airplanes specifically designed to be safe have lower accident rates than their competitors?”

“Unfortunately, no. While Ercoupes don’t have any stall accidents to speak of and Skymasters don’t crash because of Vmc loss of control, the accident rate for them is not different than the accident rate for their peers.”

Karver looked thoughtful, “If you take away the risk for one type of accident, how come the overall accident rate isn’t lower for those airplanes?”

I looked at him. “I think it’s tied in with what Sandy was talking about—safe airplanes attract the full spectrum of pilots for all the reasons anyone buys an airplane, but I think they also attract that end of the bell curve of pilots who consciously or unconsciously rely on the safety built into the airplane to compensate for their poor judgement, unwillingness to keep their skills up or pay what it costs to keep the airplane in good shape.”

“You’ve looked at all of those accident reports. Was there anything in them that pointed to Ercoupe and Skymaster pilots, as you put it, relying on the safety of the airplane?” Karver asked.

“Have you got time for a few examples?”

“Go ahead,” Karver responded.

“OK, but before I go on, please understand that I’ve spent a fair amount of time flying Ercoupes and Skymasters and really like them, so I may be biased."


“The last time I looked at the 100 most recent Ercoupe accidents I saw that there were 26 crashes due to engine maintenance issues. Most of those were because maintenance hadn’t been performed—including several that involved original parts that had simply worn out more than 50 years after being installed.

“There were seven fuel-contamination accidents that were also maintenance-related—the contaminants included foreign material, often rust, that should have been found and removed during routine maintenance. That’s twice the rate of failure to do fuel system maintenance than I normally see when I look at 100 accident reports.

“Two Ercoupe owners decided to perform aerobatics in their airplanes and pulled them apart inflight.

“There were seven inflight loss of control (LOC) crashes. Even though an Ercoupe won’t stall if the pitch controls are rigged correctly, they will set up a very high rate of sink at low airspeeds. If the airplane is in a steep turn, full power is not enough to allow the airplane to maintain altitude—the bank angle has to be reduced dramatically. LOC on an airplane as incredibly easy to fly as an Ercoupe is an indication, to me, of a serious lack in pilot skill or judgement, or both.

“Eighteen Ercoupe pilots could not judge their descent toward the runway. Seven didn’t make it to the runway; they hit obstructions first. The other 11 didn’t arrest the descent and hit so hard that the airplanes suffered structural damage. That rate is about three times higher than I expect to see when looking at accidents of other aircraft types.

“Finally, one Ercoupe owner was approached by a father and son who wanted to fly his airplane. Neither had any flight experience. The owner gave them the keys. They were able to make a successful takeoff and climb to about 250 feet before the airplane was observed to descend into the ground. Neither survived.”

“Good grief,” Karver intoned solemnly. “OK, what about the Skymaster?”


“For me, the weirdness started when I read that five pilots intentionally tried to depart with one engine inoperative. Most died. In three of those events, other pilots tried to talk them out of it. One of those involved an airplane that had not had an annual inspection in 10 years. To me, that’s a pilot relying on the built-in safety feature of the airplane to overcome his foolishness.

“There were six crashes in which one engine failed after takeoff and the pilot took no action to feather the prop on the dead engine—as with any piston twin, it won’t hold altitude without feathering the prop on the dead engine. The good news is that most survived because the airplane stayed upright during the descent to the forced landing—no Vmc roll, so the safe design saved them.

“Fifteen of the 100 crashes were fuel-related. That’s twice the rate for tip-tank Cessna 300- and 400-series twins, which have a much more complex fuel system. I think the tip-tank twin Cessnas have a reputation for a complex fuel system so the pilots treat it with respect—unlike the Skymaster, which has a reputation for a simple fuel system.

“However, in the world of strange accidents, right up there near the top is the owner who stripped out the interior of his Skymaster as part of a refurb project. He departed on the flight to the shop that was going to install the new interior. En route, he ran the mains dry and then realized that in gutting the interior he had removed the fuel selector handles. He was unable to change tanks."

“Yikes,” was all I heard from Karver.

“Nine Skymaster pilots lost control of their airplanes in IMC—about double what I expect to see when I do an accident report review. Five of the 100 accidents involved pilots who had incapacitated themselves with drugs or alcohol. Nine pilots tried unsuccessfully to fly VFR in IMC—nearly double the rate I generally see in accidents in other types.”

Karver hadn’t moved. He blinked a couple of times, turned his head to Sandy and said, “OK, Sandy, you’ve got my attention.”

Effective Safety

Sandy looked at him seriously. “Karver, I think that the integrated glass cockpit is one of the reasons that the airline and bizjet safety record is as high as it is. I like TAAs, but the safety built in to them is only as effective as the training, judgment and skill of the pilot whose sweaty hand is on the yoke. We’re in the midst of what I think is the next step up in making airplanes safer—but, in the general aviation world, I think whether we’re able to take that step is going to be limited by the willingness of pilots to keep their level of judgment, skill and knowledge so high that they don’t have to use the safe design as a crutch to overcome their own shortcomings.

“So, are you willing to bury yourself in the Cirrus manual and learn the systems inside and out and spend some time hand flying the airplane?”

Karver nodded at her. “It looks like I’d be a damn fool to do anything else.”

Rick Durden is a CFII, holds an 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.

Hi Fly Tries ‘Plastic Free’ Flights
Kate O'Connor

Portuguese wet-lease carrier Hi Fly is testing out passenger-carrying flights without single-use plastic items commonly used for service including food packaging, cutlery, blankets and toothbrushes. So far, the company has run a total of 16 trial flights. Four of the flights were operated entirely without single-use plastic items and 12 with “significant plastic reduction.” Hi Fly says its goal is for all of its flights to be single-use plastic-free by the end of 2019.

“Our target of being plastic free by the end of the year seemed ambitious to many in our industry, but by believing in our project and working hard to make it happen, we can see that it is entirely achievable and our focus now will be to commit to our deadline,” said Hi Fly President Paulo Mirpuri. “We are delighted that the test flights went so well.”

A total of 4400 passengers were onboard for the trial flights and approximately 3300 pounds (1500 kg) of plastic were saved. According to Hi Fly, single-use plastic items were replaced by compostable plant-based catering disposables, paper, card, pla and cpla bioplastics, bamboo, chinaware, glass and stainless steel. The company says food waste and packaging from the flights were collected and taken to a licensed waste management operator to be processed for energy production.

Picture of the Week, January 17, 2019
Just after I managed to take a photo of my friend in the Monocoupe, he snagged a photo of me in the ol' 140. Nothing like a nice winter afternoon! Copyrighted photo by Josh Cawthra.

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