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Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have come up with a new system for generating electricity that could show promise for powering small airplanes. "The potential energy density of this power source is on the same scale with petrochemical energy sources, and it is orders of magnitude higher than commercial lithium ion batteries," Michael Strano, an MIT professor of chemical engineering, told AVweb this week. "It definitely has the potential to power airplanes of any size," Strano said, "especially after our continuous power output methodology (which is not included in this report) is worked out." The report on the team's experiments was published this week in the journal Energy & Environmental Science.

The new approach is based on a discovery announced in 2010 by Strano and his co-workers: A wire made from tiny cylinders of carbon, known as carbon nanotubes, can produce an electrical current when it is progressively heated from one end to the other, for example by coating it with a combustible material and then lighting one end to let it burn like a fuse. That discovery represented a previously unknown phenomenon. Strano and his team have increased the efficiency of the process more than a thousandfold and have produced devices that can put out power that is, pound for pound, in the same ballpark as what can be produced by today's best batteries, according to MIT.

Strano said an open flame is not the only way to make the technology work. "The reaction wave can be triggered via multiple methods, such as a laser (demonstrated in the past), a joule heater (used in this report), etc.," he told AVweb. "More to the point though, even though in this report all of the electrical energy output was obtained with a combustion reaction wave (and hence a flaming yet controlled wave front), the theory of excess thermopower necessitates that energy can be generated without burning at all. In fact, our laboratory is currently working on a prototype that demonstrates this exact point, to great effect."

Strano added that his 2010 experiments with the technology demonstrated seven times the power density as compared to a commercial lithium ion battery. "Even with the current numbers, we could sustain an engine that is seven times as powerful as before, which allows us to bring more fuels on board," he said. "Given similar energy density of the device, it should not come as a surprise that it will sustain a longer flight time than the current battery technology. Exactly how much longer depends on the efficiency of the engine as well as the aerodynamics, in that how much more weight can an engine pull given it could generate seven times its original power."

The new technology would be much safer than lithium, MIT said, which is extremely flammable when exposed to the air. The fuel used in the new device is safer, and also is a renewable resource. It also can be stored indefinitely with no loss of power. The researchers said they have at least several years of work to do before the technology could be developed into a commercial product.

This video from June 2010 demonstrates the basic technology. It was produced by "Daily Planet" on Discovery Channel Canada.

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Officials at the Germanwings airline couldn't have done anything to prevent last year's fatal crash, according to the final report (PDF) issued yesterday, because they were not informed by anyone — "neither the co-pilot himself, nor by anybody else, such as a physician, a colleague, or family member" — that Andreas Lubitz was suffering from mental-health problems at the time of the flight. "In addition, the mental state of the co-pilot did not generate any concerns reported by the pilots who flew with him," according to the report. In the four months leading up to the crash, at least six doctors saw Lubitz for his mental-health problems, but none of them informed the airline. Changes should be made to patient confidentiality rules to ensure that authorities are informed when public safety is at risk, according to the analysis by France's safety bureau, Bureau d'Enquetes et d'Analyses.

Also, aviation authorities need to do a better job of monitoring pilots with psychological problems and be clear about follow-up requirements, investigators said. The report also recommended that airlines should mitigate the risks taken by pilots who self-report disabling problems, by offering loss-of-income insurance. EASA also should routinely analyze all reports of in-flight pilot incapacitation and continuously re-evaluate its medical assessment criteria, the report recommended. The investigators also said EASA should ensure that airline operators provide peer-support groups to pilots and their families, where personal and mental-health issues can be discussed with an assurance of confidentiality, to help ensure that pilots will get help when they need it.

Investigators also found that after Lubitz was treated for a depressive episode in 2009, a note citing a special conditions/restrictions waiver was added to his medical certificate. However, no follow-up or specific assessment was required for subsequent medical checks. The certificate was revalidated or renewed annually from 2010 to 2014, but no psychologist or psychiatrist was involved in that process. Lubitz, the first officer on Germanwings Flight 9525 on March 24, 2015, locked his captain out of the cockpit and deliberately flew the Airbus A320 into a mountainside, killing all 150 people on board.

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Experts will examine three pieces of debris found over the last two weeks that might be from the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, Malaysia's Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said today. One fragment was found by a South African family visiting in Mozambique. They took the item back home with them, and South African authorities plan to take custody of it and hold it until Malaysian investigators come to get it. The other two items were found on Reunion Island and on a sandbank in the Mozambique Channel. A piece of a flaperon found on Reunion in July has been confirmed as a part of the missing Boeing 777.

The three items will be sent to France and Australia for analysis. "We are all waiting for the final verification result on the three pieces of debris … There is no verification if they are from MH370 or not," Liow Tiong Lai said. The 777 disappeared in March 2014 while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board. All are presumed dead. In January, the Malaysian government pronounced the airplane's loss an accident. Search teams are continuing to scour the Indian Ocean in search of the 777. Authorities have said that search will continue until June, but if no wreckage is found, the search will be concluded.

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Congress once again has delayed taking substantive action on FAA funding issues, as the House voted yesterday to extend the current FAA budget through mid-July. The FAA's budget is due to expire on March 31. Competing proposals in the House and Senate have failed to gain enough support for passage, as lawmakers argue over whether air traffic control should be privatized. The House transportation committee has proposed a bill that would extend FAA funding for six years, while the Senate transportation committee has proposed to provide funding only through September 2017. The Senate is expected to approve the four-month extension later this week.

Besides the extended funding cycle and privatized ATC, the legislation now under consideration could bring other changes that would affect general aviation. Issues in play, according to AOPA, include third-class medical reform, increases in Airport Improvement Program funding, streamlined certification for light GA aircraft, support for a transition to unleaded aviation fuel, and rule changes that would make it easier to install modern safety equipment in legacy aircraft. "There are a lot of moving parts right now," Jim Coon, AOPA senior vice president of government affairs, said this week. "But both the House and Senate have signaled their strong desire to reach an agreement on FAA reauthorization, and that's a hopeful sign. The FAA needs stability to effectively implement new and ongoing programs."

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Listen up, class! Before you head off to Minnesota for spring break in hopes of scoring some party-time ice fishing, ensure the flights there and back will be safe and classy by acing this quiz.

Click here to take the quiz.


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An integral part of the various jobs I've held for the last 37 years has involved reviewing aircraft accident reports and looking at data generated from them. During that time, what the NTSB euphemistically refers to as "maneuvering," has remained in the top three causes of fatal accidents with usually about 40 percent of general aviation fatalities lumped into that category. A healthy portion of "maneuvering" accidents involved pilots who were flying low and either hit something or stalled and spun in while pulling up from a low pass. It's the "Hey, y'all, watch this!" general aviation crash that has been occurring with distressing regularity as far back as there are records.

What concerns me is that the powers that be have looked at the low-flying fatality data and consistently drawn the wrong conclusion about how prevent those crashes. Their approach has been to tell pilots—those folks who self-select for aviation because they are risk-takers, love speed and have at least a mild allergy toward authority—just don't do it. Don't fly low.

The FAA published regulations specifying minimum altitudes and that pilots never fly closer than 500 feet (vertically or horizontally) from any person, vessel, vehicle or structure.

The lack of success of the "keep 'em ignorant/just say no" approach is reflected in the fact the rate has remained nearly constant—about 10 percent of the total crashes. That those 10 percent of total crashes can account for 40 percent of all fatalities is because hitting something when you're going fast or spinning in has a nasty tendency to be lethal.

Let's Talk About It

It's time to start talking openly about low flying. It's time to drag the subject into the open because it's something virtually every pilot wants to do. And if there's one thing that has been proven time and time again in aviation, when a pilot tries something new for the first time without having either thought long and hard about it or taken some dual, the odds are staggeringly high that he's not going to do it very well.

Let's be honest—flying low, within about 200 feet of the ground, is a hell of a lot of fun. You experience the speed of the airplane, the wonderful, gut-level excitement that so many want and is what caused them to learn to fly. Flying five feet above the ground is a sensory rush without any true comparison. The average person who can afford to rent a Cessna 172 can experience what the world looks like at 140 mph by flying very low. Most folks can't arrange to drive a car that will go that fast in a location where you can cause it to go that fast. And even if you could, the experience in the car is not nearly as powerful or all-encompassing as in the airplane—booming along in all the glories of the third dimension, barely above the dirt.

Going fast near the ground is exciting on a level that is hard to imagine without experiencing it. It is also tremendously risky. However, just telling a pilot not to do it is about as effective as telling waterfall to shut itself off for a few hours. Good grief, look at the number of hits on YouTube videos showing airplanes flying low at high speed and the recent fad of "skimming/water skiing"—touching the main gear of tailwheel airplanes to the surface of the water in a lake or river. (Yes, there have already been some unpleasant crashes from that as well.)

Human desires are forces of nature. They are powers that must be approached with an appropriate level of respect, otherwise they will steamroller the best of intentions. For our aviation educators and regulators to fail to talk with pilots openly about what is involved in flying low/conducting buzz jobs is to ignore something that is incredibly attractive. If they think that if they don't talk about it, then pilots won't think about it, they're nuts. Let's admit that the need for speed is a hugely powerful desire and spend some time talking frankly about it to pilots—who happen to be pretty smart people—with that understanding.

The Typical Scenario

Let's look at a typical scenario—one that is so popular and has resulted in so many deaths that it is almost a cliché: a very low altitude fly past of a friend/relative's house to show off the airplane and how cool we are to be flying it.

Let's do it—we'll get a speed fix because we're down low and we've got a decent tailwind. Yep, that's it, we get a huge rush and we show the world we are too cool for words. I'm in.

Let's also say that we have enough responsibility and maturity that before we go whistling off to accomplish the plan; we'll dissect it and see if it is something we can pull off without killing ourselves. First, we want to fly low; probably below 200 above the ground. All right, we'll be brutally honest, more like 10 feet. Have we ever flown that low before? Sure, scores of times, in fact, every time we've landed an airplane. Yet, we also admit there are some trifling differences—whenever we've been at that altitude we've been approaching or over a runway, in airspace that has been cleared of obstructions. All we've had to worry about was lining up with the runway and figuring out at what altitude to flare and then sorting out the touchdown. And, we'll admit, that low altitude bit of flying is a very high workload event; we don't have a lot of attention to spare for dealing with other things, such as looking out for and avoiding obstructions. We also are flying pretty slowly, at approach speed. With a headwind we're usually not going a heck of a lot faster than we have driven a car.

That brings up the next question. Have we ever flown at 10 feet above the ground, in level flight, at cruise speed? Chances are that wasn't part of the training process when we got our certificate. Let's first consider it over a runway. In the ubiquitous Cessna 172, we'll be traveling about 140 MPH across the ground in a no wind situation. Chances are good we've never gone that fast on the ground. Having the world pass by at that clip is a new experience—we'll need some time to take it in and adjust.

Now, add a tailwind, 20 MPH or so, and now we're clipping along, over the ground at 160 MPH. That's getting to NASCAR speeds. Oh, yeah, how good are we at holding altitude plus or minus 100 feet? Do we really want to go try to maintain 10 feet AGL? Especially as we have never experienced seeing runway lights and taxiways whip by this fast. OK, the speed is bothering us, so we'll pull the power back a little to slow down. But we don't dare look inside at the tachometer, do we? A little flinch and we're on the ground, eh? Can we make a power reduction of the right amount, and then retrim the airplane to compensate for the lower speed, all without diverting our attention from the outside world?

Let's keep adding variables to make this like the real world. At the end of the runway, we're going to pitch up and climb away from terra firma. With the ground zooming by us, we feel as if we're going a million miles per hour, so we really pull the nose up to take advantage of that speed in the climb. Only, once we think about it, we're only at cruise airspeed or a little below (if we did slow down because of the discomfort with the groundspeed).

The Big Pull Up

What happens when we make a big pull up while cruising at altitude? We get a nice zoom climb for a short time and then the airspeed rapidly goes away, doesn't it? We've got to get full power in and put the nose down to normal climb attitude in order to keep from stalling the airplane. It's the same down low—except that we're all exhilarated by the groundspeed and have trouble accepting that this airplane is truly only a modest performer. So, if we don't get the nose back down to normal climb attitude and apply full power, we're going to stall. While still pretty low. And probably with the ball out to one side. Without being prepared for the stall.

Which is precisely how a lot of buzz jobs terminate—an  aggressive pull up into a stall, incipient spin and a steeply nose down ground impact.

Thus far we've learned that we probably don't want to slow down when we are flying low. That's because we've got to climb eventually, and that the laws of aerodynamics don't change when the pilot gets excited with a first whiff of perceived groundspeed, so the pull up has to be appropriate.

Let's throw one more bit of realism into the scenario: when we pull up after the low pass, we've got to look back at the house to see everyone come running out and get excited because we want the feedback to confirm that we're way, way cool. Yet, when is the last time we did a pull up while looking back and down? Can we judge the attitude of the airplane? Can we keep track of the airspeed and whether the ball is centered? Can we recover from a stall if we enter it while looking over our shoulder to the left at something on the ground? Can we do it right, the very first time, without ever having practiced it? Bet your life on it?


Now, let's add obstructions. And because real life is always a final exam, any and all obstructions are fair game; whether we can see them or not. Houses may have antennas or satellite disks on or beside them, trees may or may not have leaves, making them difficult to spot quickly and, as every aerial applicator pilot knows, power lines are often absolutely invisible and they get strung in strange places. Have we thought about what happens if we take a power line with the windshield? How about with the landing gear? Or the prop? (Those are not rhetorical questions—you're down low where the power lines live. Answers: windshield—it's going to break and the line may decapitate those in at least the front seats. If the line breaks before head removal, we are going to have to find out if we can fly an airplane without a windshield, which provides so much drag that the airplane may not hold altitude. Landing gear—probably going to trip us and pitch us into the ground in a matter of seconds, we may or may not have time to utter a last explicative. Prop—if we take it dead center, we may cut the line and have a fighting chance to survive. If it's one of the big cross country power lines, we're screwed.)

So, there we are; 10 feet above the ground, over an area we have not surveyed for obstructions, where no one has taken any action to clear the airspace for airplanes flying through; doing our best to hold altitude, which is taking almost all of our concentration; hoping that the power setting is okay, but not daring to look; trying to sort out the pitch trim, which is out of whack because we just dived down to this height from about 1,000 feet AGL and we're really doing more like 180 MPH across the ground because of the dive and the tailwind and the reduced drag of ground effect. Now we're into open-wheel racer speed territory. Do you think we've got a 100 percent chance of spotting and avoiding things that are hiding out there waiting to bring down the airplane? Don't make me laugh.

Just for grins, let's recount some of the things pilots have hit while flying low:

Power lines. Unless the lines are silhouetted in front of a bright blue sky, they are effectively impossible to see from any distance at all. The only hope is to spot the poles, which may be difficult because they can be in trees or on hill tops and the lines are strung completely across the valley we are in as we follow the twists and turns of the river. A married acquaintance of mine removed a wing from a Civil Air Patrol T-34 by hitting a power line while flying low down a river while making steep turns to follow it as he was showing off for the young woman in the back seat. They both died.

Antennas and towers and tower guy wires. A few years back a Cessna 404 hit a 150-foot tall HAM radio antenna at the 100-foot level. It smashed the left side of the nose back to the wing spar, killing the pilot in command. The pilot in the right seat managed to fly the very drafty, highly-modified airplane some miles—all the way to the final accident site. A good friend of mine pulled up over a house and hit the TV antenna on top of it. A piece of the antenna stuck between the horizontal stabilizer and the elevator, so he had very little control and almost no time to see if he could learn to fly the new control system. He didn't have enough time or control, and went into high tension lines, which arrested the airplane's travel. It hung up in them and then caught fire and my friend burned to death.

Ag Pilots

Even assuming we can spot an obstruction ahead of us, how much experience have we had judging pull ups over obstacles or making turns away from them while approaching at 140 miles per hour or so, especially downwind? As a high school student I had a summer job working for a crop duster. I spent each day waving a day-glo orange flag so the pilot could see where to line up for the next pass. I watched professional ag pilots fly with their wheels six inches over crops and then judge their pull ups at the ends of the fields so as to avoid hitting power lines and trees. And every so often I watched those professionals hit those power lines and trees as they misjudged a pull up. It sunk in to me that if the men and women who make their living flying at low altitude sometimes hit things, what are the chances for the amateurs?

I kept track of the ag pilots I crewed for in high school. Every single one of them crashed. Every one. Each was a low-flying event. Fortunately, because they were in airplanes built to crash and were wearing helmets, they all survived.

Ag pilots are a cautious, cynical, alert lot. They know that flying at low altitude is risky, so they do all they can to protect themselves and reduce the risk before they step into the airplane. They fly airplanes built for crashing, they wear helmets, they find out all they can about the stuff that they might hit where they are going to be flying and they don't fly low over a field on a whim unless they know it well. Seems pretty logical to me.

The military requires low flying as part of their missions. They teach it. They teach it very carefully and in controlled circumstances. And every year several military pilots die when flying low in training or practice. So what are the odds for the general aviation pilot who decides that it's time to go buzz the house of the girl or boyfriend?

I'm not going to talk any more about the regs—I suspect every pilot who hit something while flying low had read them. They weren't deterred. I will note that if you do fly low where someone can see you, gets a cell phone video of you and files a complaint, that the FAA will use that as evidence against you. The FAA will also subpoena and use all of the data from GPS devices in your airplane against you.

Pilots are intelligent people—it seems to me that if they make the decision to fly low they have a better chance of surviving if that decision was the result of mature reflection, examination of the area from the ground before hand and some dual instruction rather than after just emoting, "Man, that looks like fun" and going for it.

Rick Durden is a CFII, holds an ATP with Cessna Citation and Douglas DC-3 type ratings 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.


Within the cavernous FAA warehouses in Oklahoma City molders jetsam once vital to National Airspace System (NAS), such as NDBs, Terminal Control Areas, Flight Service Stations (FSS), GADO (General Aviation District Office) and, now, Flight Watch. Time was when you were cruising in your '47 Navion with the canopy slid back, and the ADF pointing to thunderstorms and faulty magnetos, you could tune your Narco SuperHomer to 122.0 MHz and -- through the static -- hear a friendly voice, advising you to wait your turn for weather updates.

Flight Watch was the Weather Channel without pictures for pilots, but it's gone. Sad though that may be, enquiring minds ask, "Flight Watch? Wasn't that an FAA test question years ago?" In part, yes, but it deserves a proper funeral.

So in Brainteaser #216 we asked you to suggest uses for the newly available frequency 122.0.

Additionally, we asked what other FAA programs should be axed.

Responses proved, once again, that Brainteaser readers are creative and slightly demented. We like that.

Here's a highly unscientific distillation of the replies to the question, "What should become of Flight Watch and 122.0?" (Names have been redacted to protect FAA employees who wrote to us on government computers.)

Give Peace a Chance

Most responders recognized the possibility of turning 122.0 into an expansion CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency). Here's a sampling of unedited comments:

"The 122.0 freq could be assigned as an additional CTAF frequency. On busy days, any present CTAF is subject to saturation."

"Use 122.0 as a CTAF frequency at uncontrolled airports."

"Use it for UNICOM where frequency congestion is a problem."

"Give it to CTAFs so as to free up some congestion from overlapping CTAF transmissions."

Great ideas all, because anyone who flies on VFR weekends knows that CTAFs are awash in squealing verbal garbage, making it often impossible to announce a position or identify the cluck who's announcing every stinkin' leg of the traffic pattern or that he's taxiing to the runway at your airport, so you can confiscate his microphone and return it only after he learns that the radio does not produce lift.

CFI rant over.

Adding another CTAF could dilute frequency congestion, but do we really think that'll make the offenders think before transmitting?

Share The Words

A few submitters suggested using 122.0 as an air-to-air frequency. You know, so you don't have listen on CTAF to the CB chatter from buddies in separate homebuilts calling out performance figures to each other, as in:

Proud Pilot #1 headed to Oshkosh: "I'm indicatin' one-twenty-two, now! How 'bout you?"
Proud Pilot #2 headed to Oshkosh: "Showin' one-thirty at 2400 RPM ... phew-doggie!"

This reader was a bit more specific in frequency allocation, although, perhaps a bit misguided: "Turn 122.0 into the new air-to-air frequency that pilots can use instead of 121.5."

A gentle reminder here that 121.5 is the emergency frequency and not an air-to-air frequency. The Balloon Flying Handbook reminds us that "The air-to-air frequency is 122.75." Balloonists, pestered by circling fixed-wing aircraft, should try calling the intruder on 122.75 to tell them to buzz off. Just don't expect a response.

Another reader thought 122.0 should be a "standby emergency frequency," for use, perhaps, when 121.5 is congested with non-emergency air-to-air chatter.

Frequency 123.45 (aka "Fingers") is periodically utilized for air-to-air, but the FAA (and FCC) might develop heartburn with that. FAA Order 6050.32 reflects the special use of 123.45 MHz: "123.45 MHz is authorized to be used only for non-government flight-test operations, not air-to-air communications. However, the frequency 123.45 MHz is designated as an air-to-air VHF communications frequency to enable aircraft engaged in flights over remote and oceanic areas out of range of VHF ground stations to exchange necessary operational information and to facilitate the resolution of operational problems."

Another reader suggested, "Keep 122.0 MHz open as another optional UNICOM freq or use it as a Flight Following channel."

Easier still, call the nearest Approach Control facility or Center for radar flight following. Those frequencies are accessible on your GPS or go old-school and check the A/FD (Airport/Facility Directory) or sectional charts.

This reader's suggestion simplifies finding frequencies by turning 122.0 into Directory Assistance: "Have a recorded broadcast of all available frequencies in the area ..."

 "In Canada," this pilot writes, "126.7 is used for position-reporting by VFR aircraft who are not with flight following. It improves see-and-avoid, since you can broadcast, 'Over Lake Scugog at 3500 (feet) eastbound.' This leads to brief conversations among pilots flying in the immediate vicinity. When flying VFR in the U.S. when flight following is unavailable, I feel naked, not having a clue where other aircraft are."

The vision of naked, clueless Canadians in U.S. skies is reason enough to reallocate 122.0 for this purpose.

Several readers suggested that Flight Watch retain some of its former weather-reporting status by broadcasting "area forecast-type info such as cloud tops and PIREPs. Kind of an area AWOS." Or used to "report any unusual weather that is not a hazard but very interesting to note."

Another pilot supports the PIREP theme: "Click on 122.0 to leave and to listen to PIREPs. Especially local icing PIREPs." While several pilots suggested that Flight Watch should broadcast NOTAMs affecting the local area, Facebook could handle much of this, too.

And yet another pilot (or possibly a Lockheed Martin briefer fearing job elimination) suggested 122.0 be turned over to AFSS to do whatever they feel like with it.

Thinking outside the box, this pilot said, "Turn Flight Watch into Wrist Watch, and continuously broadcast the time. This will be useful for timing of holding patterns, non-precision instrument approaches and cooking three-minute eggs. It can also be fed into the aircraft intercom/speaker system to annoy passengers."

Practical absurdities continued with a plan for Flight Watch to serve as a "warning service to indicate where FAA inspectors are conducting ramp inspections."

Advertising Possibilities

What ad exec wouldn't leap at the opportunity to target an audience? Certainly, this Madison Avenue reader sees the potential: "(Why not broadcast) advertising for airport businesses? 'Eat at the Ailerona Flapjack, mention you heard it on 122.0 and get a free flapjack' ?" Or "pan bread," for all you R. Bach barnstorming fans out there.

Running with the commercialization theme, one reader said Flight Watch should be turned into "a job search board (with) Craigslist broadcasts for all those unemployed AMEs after Third-class medical reform passes." Or, he continued, "(Make it) the audio for America's Got Talent, Local Air Show Edition, where local hangar owls provide commentary on landing prowess, pattern-flow violations and POH weight-and-balance deviations sponsored by your local A&P mechanic union or FSDO."

Or make 122.0 a "pilot-help frequency." It wouldn't be for full-blown emergencies but more for, "Could someone remind me how to land in a crosswind?" Like a call-in ask-the-experts show: "Hello, you're on Flight Watch, how can we help?" "Yeah, long-time flyer, first-time caller ..."

Two respondents went all digital on us with these suggestions: "(122.0) could be a data transmission frequency for the new 'texting' between controllers and pilots. Since 122.0 is in the middle of the band, the data won't be scared or intimidated by non-aviation chatter in other adjacent frequency bands."

Never known data to get scared but point taken and expanded upon by this reader who says, "Make Flight Watch the Aviation Twitter site. #stupidpilottalk."

And speaking of stupid pilot talk, this pilot suggests we "use the old Flight Watch frequency for the people who need to say, "All traffic please advise." Variations on that stupid phrase include, but are not limited to, "Traffic in the area, please advise." AIM 4-1-9(g) has more to say on that issue.

At least one pilot has no use for 122.0, Flight Watch or anything associated with it: "I believe 122.0 should be abolished just like that stupid nauseating FAA score. Don't they have other things to waste their money on similar to firing and ruining FAA whistle blower's careers for doing their jobs and not covering up unsafe practices to justify the FAA's numbers to Congress."

Take that and get off my lawn!

Two pilots considered the educational possibilities of Flight Watch in the right hands, beginning with, "122.0 could be a broadcast of updates from the Federal Register with a Jackie Gleason laugh." How sweet it is.

Educational potential continues if "a very sexy female voice could read FARs and help keep us current."

Although not educational in nature, this alternate use for Flight Watch could prove entertaining: "It should be used to tell flying stories AS THEY ARE HAPPENING. Each story must begin with, "Here I am," instead of the venerable, "So there I was." This will increase the efficiency of Nature's gentle way of weeding out pilots who forget to FLY THE PLANE." (All CAPS indicates shouting.)

This entry made little sense, but it was entertaining in a heard-on-a-barstool-at-closing-time way: "(The term) 'Flight Watch' should replace 'Center,' since 'Contact Boston Flight Watch on one-two-seven-decimal-seven-five' just sounds cooler, and it's still two syllables."

What To Eliminate

The survey had two parts. We also asked what else the FAA should eliminate. Here's an IFR suggestion: "Would be nice to eliminate visibility requirements for legal descent below mins for Part 91 pilots. This legality is almost entirely subjective and serves no real purpose. If one can see the runway environment and can land using normal descent and normal maneuvers, subject to good judgment, that should do it." Go for it.

Several readers suggested eliminating FSDO and TSA, and one even went so far as to suggest the FAA should go eliminate itself. We thought those suggestions a bit extreme, because, honestly, without the FAA we'd lose much of the grist for our editorial mill.

One reader was specific regarding which FAA entity should be purged: "Get rid of the ACOs (Aircraft Certification Offices). Do we really need the FAA to validate TCs and STCs? It's 2016. Time for a standards-based approach, with well-trained auditors to check the paper trail. Businesses are there to make money. They won't succeed if they have shoddy products. Let the market decide."

Say what you will about ACOs, but not so fast on declaring this 2016, warned one dude who returned to the first part of our survey by saying he wants 122.0 MHz to "play '60s and '70s rock music." Well, OK. Just nothing by The Eagles.

Many readers -- too many to quote each -- want to relegate the FAA's Third-class medical and the Aeromedical Branch to the FAA's Dustbin of History in Oklahoma City. Here, now, is one of the more temperate comments: "What else should the FAA eliminate? The *$#%&^&*^%$ Third-class medical! What is happening with PBOR2 (Pilot Bill Of Rights 2)?"

To which this CFI replies, "Yeah!"


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We can argue about a lot in aviation, but one thing we rarely dispute is the unwritten rule that your AME and your doctor shouldn't be the same person. Unpack the logic of that and two things become implicit: We don't trust the government with our medical data (rightfully) and, if we're honest, we want to retain the option of a little duplicity. I might take the stink off that last word by calling it survival instinct instead, but by any other name, it's still sophistry.

I doubt if many of us get our moral pants snagged on this, nor should we. But then along comes the Germanwings suicide/murder-by-airplane incident and the morality becomes more ambiguous. The fact is, medical certification is supposed to assure the unwashed flying public that the pilots operating their flight are medically fit to do so. Implied is that "fit" means mentally fit, too. Obviously, the German system spectacularly failed in this because privacy laws clashed with the regulators' oversight efforts and privacy won. As a result, an Airbus A320 with 150 souls aboard was intentionally crashed into a mountain in France by Andreas Lubitz last March.

I originally thought that this would make for an interesting case demonstrating how lawmakers reset the balance between onerous government intrusion and the individual's right to privacy. I've reconsidered. European regulators won't have any choice but to devise a way that medical personnel can short circuit privacy laws when public safety is at stake. Depending on how carefully such a law is written, this may saddle docs with an onerous burden of their own. Any reasonable man would agree that a psychotic airline pilot should have his privacy breached in the name of protecting the public. And maybe a bus driver or a ferry captain. But how about a UPS driver, a postal clerk or a grocery produce manager? Them, too? Do they threaten the public if they run off the rails a little mentally? I don't envy the docs making these calls because as sure as one doc diagnoses a benign neurosis, another will find a wild-eyed lunatic.

And should the same standard apply to airline pilots, private and sport pilots? How can this question be reasonably answered? With only a few incidents of psychotic behavior resulting in aviation accidents amidst galaxies of routine, safe flights, is the depressed pilot as a public menace really a thing in need of fixing? The answer is self-evident once such an event crosses into the political realm. And here, there's a direct corollary to the Third Class medical we're trying to kill off. Just as no legislator would rise in the Bundestag to argue for the primacy of pilots' privacy rights, no FAA bureaucrat would put his name on a document attesting to the utter fallacy of medical certification as an argument to eliminate it. Germanwings provides, if nothing else, a convenient I-told-you-so counterpoint.

Whether any of this has any impact on medical certification in the U.S. is an unknown. To a large degree, our system is based on honest self reporting that, de facto, waives privacy rights. The 8500-8 medical form asks about medications and about doctor visits, meaning if you're guzzling Zoloft and getting weekly electroshock treatments, you're supposed to tell the FAA. The 8500-8 is considered a legal instrument and lying on it carries a $250,000 fine and/or five years in jail. Do people lie anyway? I suspect they do, which is why I mentioned the reason for keeping AME and family doc separate. And once in awhile, someone gets busted for fraud.

But whether they do or they don't lie or whether they get caught or not doesn't much matter. We have more than a half century of data that shows that medical certification has done little or nothing to improve system safety. The kicker on that cocktail is a decade worth of drivers' license certification for light sport flying that shows no correlation between accidents and medical incapacitation. But then you knew that and I've said it here several thousand times. For some reason, I can't resist saying it again and the Germanwings story provides the opportunity. And also some ambiguity. Andreas Lubitz clearly needed to be cut from the pilot herd. But you and I are just fine.

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