AVmail: Sep. 6, 2004

Reader mail this week about a close call with Air Force Two, spin training for sport pilots, VFR over-the-top, and much more.


Civil Air Patrol

I received word from a gossipy type, but one in a position to know, that the CAP has had three very recent C-182 crashes and lost seven or nine members. Also, many pilots are quitting due to their new liability rules. I did not re-up in January ’04 after 30+ years.This is truly a bad period for “volunteer” operations!Arnie Allison

Small Plane and Air Force Two

Just a matter of wording: How can a small aircraft “come” within 700 ft and .44 miles of a military aircraft (NewsWire, Aug. 30)? All military aircraft I have encountered were usually much faster and maneuverable than a run-of-the-mill C172. I could not “come” close to anything military if I wanted to. The report should state that Cheney’s Air Force Two “came” within 700 ft and .44 miles of the small plane. This wording would put the responsibility clearly with the higher-performing aircraft.That’s my beef.Michael Groll

Why is it that the unidentified plane came within 700 vertical feet and 0.44 mile of Air Force Two? Why was Air Force Two flying VFR (or was it)? If Air Force Two was VFR at 7500 ft. from BDR to HPN, it was at the wrong altitude! VFR, what’s wrong with 700 feet?Isn’t it more likely that Air Force Two came within 700 vertical feet and 0.44 mile of the small plane (or was the small plane a jet)? Could it be that ATC did not call out the traffic? Who was watching the TCAD? How did they get that close? How could the small plane be unidentified if ATC was talking to both aircraft.Whenever these things are reported, I always get the impression that it is standard policy to blame the little guy; however, this usually happens in the lay press. Has AVweb gone tabloid?Rae Willis

Spin Training

In AVmail (Aug. 30), another user wrote,

As I write this, I am looking at the results, so far, of the poll on spin training (QOTW, Aug. 25). I am, quite frankly, appalled. So far, 97 people have chosen to answer that spin training is unnecessary because it is “dangerous.” What sort of moronic approach to training is this?

There’s nothing moronic about it — like many things we’ve learned in aviation, it’s written in blood. Training for spins seemed like a good idea back in the 1930s and 1940s, but when the hard statistics started coming back in, it turned out that it wasn’t doing any good and might actually be doing harm, so the U.S. dropped it from primary training.In this case, though, there’s even more confirmation available that spin training (at least for the private pilot license) is a dangerous idea. While the U.S. dropped spin training, Canada kept it right into the late 1990s. When Transport Canada finally decided to take a hard look at the numbers, they discovered that Canadian pilots were actually significantly more likely to die in stall/spin accident, despite the fact that Canada had been training its pilots in spin recovery ab-initio for almost 50 years after the U.S. gave it up.I agree that spin training sounds like a good idea at first, but we have to accept the very strong evidence that it kills a lot of student pilots and instructors without actually helping anyone else. The reason flying has gotten so much safer over the past 50 years is that we’ve learned to let go of our pet ideas and follow the statistical evidence — this is one good example of that trend.David Megginson

Wildfires in Alaska

Sorry folks, but your short article on the wildfires in Alaska is way off base (NewsWire, Aug. 30). Like Denali flight-seeing operations, I too have been grounded for many days this summer, but to call the Alaska Fire Service’s policy on fire suppression to be a “new policy this year” simply shows that AVweb did no research on this subject.What we have here, as the man said, is a fire bust to end all fire busts, and in large part this one is due to the fact that we’ve spent so much time successfully suppressing nearly all wildfires for many years. What that amounts to is “saving up” the fuel loadings, which — once we get one of those really, really dry years (your correspondent did note that the weather had been really “good”, right, meaning no rain) — turns into a fire year to end all fire years.With tons and tons of fuels, lots of ignition, warm temperatures, and no moisture, we have had a fantastic year for one thing: the perpetuation of extreme fire behavior.But don’t blame the fire managers. They’ve been trying their best to take care of business, and to at least protect structures.If your flight-seeing correspondent thinks he could do better, I’d invite him to move his airplanes to the Alaska Fire Service ramp area, and start contributing, as opposed to knocking these folks who are just trying to do the best they can.Oh, and by the way, at least part of the time in which your correspondent was grounded, Fairbanks was below ILS minimums. And the fire base at Fort Wainwright doesn’t even have an ILS. Helicopters were even grounded for significant periods of time.The bottom line: Fairbanks will have some dynamite fire breaks next year.What we’ve seen is 40+ years of fuel buildups, caused by the misguided notion that we should put out every wildfire.Do that, and all you do is create huge fuel loadings.And sooner or later, you get the big one.Mike Vivion

VFR Over-The-Top

Regarding the Question of the Week (QOTW, Sep. 1):Canadians have regulations regarding “VFR over-the-top (VFR-OTT)” flights. They require that the pilot be trained for VFR-OTT beyond VFR qualifications. The flight requires cloud-layer clearances and visibility requirements, as well as virtually guaranteed VMC and no more than scattered cloud forecast for the destination.See CAR 602.116 for the rule.Jason Fournier

This week’s question of the week was an easy one. In Canada, it is called VFR-over-the-top, and requires a special rating (still short of an instrument rating).But here is a scenario that has resulted in a lot of debate. About 10 years ago, a Canadian military C-130 crashed in early December on approach to Alert, at 81 degrees north latitude, the worlds most northerly airport. It was a clear and cold moonless night, with about 200 miles visibility. There were no clouds for hundreds of miles. Was it VFR? Most people would say yes, but except for Alert itself, there are no lights on the ground in the high arctic, and because there was no moon, the crew could not see the terrain. The C-130 hit on a plateau, about 30 miles short, and 2000 ft above the runway. Surviving crew members said that until they hit, they had no idea that they were so close to the ground.So, does VFR mean below any cloud and with greater than 3 miles vis, or does it mean that the pilot must be able to see the ground (excepting VFR over-the-top)?Richard Ross

I originally thought the question you posed this week was kind of a ‘duh,’ but then I read the responses. Geez — the phrase in the FARs is pretty explicit: “… navigation with reference solely with reference to instruments.” You said he was in daylight and in the clear — I have to presume there was a visible horizon, therefore there was a (very significant) reference outside the cockpit, hence VFR and (albeit risky) legal. If the sky and horizon had been obscured and, let’s say, it were a moonless night, I’d vote IFR, illegal and consummately stupid.Tony Nasr

AVweb Replies

This question was also posed to an FAA staffer, and his reponse (applicable to U.S. airspace) is as follows:

The probable answer is [it is illegal] if the overcast (solid or broken) would prohibit the pilot from maintaining VFR requirements along the entire route even if the engine quits.

On the other hand, if the pilot can maintain VFR conditions along the entire route, even if the engine fails, the flight was conducted in VFR and the clouds constituting the overcast are irrelevant as they do not come into play, therefore, no violation has occurred.

If anywhere along the route, the pilot would be unable to maintain proper visibility and cloud separation per VFR requirements, should the engine fail, the pilot would be operating “VFR On Top.” To legally operate “VFR on Top”, the pilot must already be on an IFR clearance and make a request for this operation through ATC (see AIM 5-5-13).

William Shumann

Cleveland Math

I do not mean to be dense, but I do not really understand your recent dig about math “working out” for Cleveland (NewsWire, Sep. 2). Are you comparing “60,000 to 100,000” for an airshow to “21,358” for a sports event? If so, that would seem a little dishonest: Airshows are typically annual events, and there are 81 home games in a major league season, so the actual comparison would be “60,000 to 100,000” to 1,729,998.Or, perhaps you are indicating that 21,000+ is dismal attendance and Cleveland should be worried about its public investment in a franchise and facility. Again, I would think that this is a little dishonest. Jacobs Field has been packed for most of its existence. Aside from NY, few markets can afford a lineup of superstars forever, so it is inevitable that franchises like Cleveland and Arizona will have to periodically rebuild. Attendance goes down during these periods, but there is every indication that Cleveland is a franchise serious about contending and will continue to be a boon to the city.The only math problem that I can find is the “1 day versus 162 games” equation in your article. Instead of phrasing the question, “Why can’t the Indian’s bow to the airshow,” why not ask the reverse?Why can’t the airshow either schedule during the off-season (about half the year) or during an Indian’s road trip? The MLB regular season schedule is available about six months in advance, and the off-season is essentially fixed.In other words, the Cleveland Indians use Jacobs Field three months out of the year, and must coordinate with 29 other franchises. That gives airshow event planners nine other months to use without a conflict.Personally, I think that the law is stupid. I also think that the current trend of long-standing airshows (for example, Van Nuys) stopping is bad for aviation. But I don’t think that it is fair to blame the FAA or the Indian’s for this particular problem. It is not as if the law or the Indian’s schedule is suddenly changing; the event planners simply failed to accommodate for a conflict that could have been identified more than eight months ago.I think that GA has a bad enough reputation and enough real problems that we do not need to mobilize the troops and make a lot of noise just because of someone’s poor event planning.Joe Fitzpatrick

Since there are military fliers in the Cleveland airshow already, couldn’t thecivilians be made honorary military personnel for a few hours? This would allow them to fly the show without breaking the law and being deployed to Iraq.Roger Smith


In our NewsWire article about George Brunstad swimming the English Channel (Sep. 2), we neglected to provide a way to contact the organization providing funds for Haitian orphans:

Center of Hope
P.O. Box 844
Georgetown, CT 06829
(203) 438-3527

Russ Niles
AVweb Newswriter, Editor

Read AVmail from other weeks here, and submit your own letter to the editor with this form.