AVmail: Nov. 29, 2004

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Reader mail this week about the FAA Designee Report, pilot glasses, pumpkin bombing and much more.

Sport Pilot

Sport Pilot, though convoluted and confusing, has some meritorious features. A simpler approach would have been to liberalize part 103, the ultralight regulations, particularly as regards the weight limitation of 204 pounds.

Robin Nichols

FAA Designee GAO Report

The GAO report highlights a couple of things (NewsWire, Nov. 18:

1. The number of FAA Designees is enormous. How 130 FAA Manufacturing Inspectors can properly supervise 1300 individual and dozens of organizational designees is cited in the report as an example of the short staffing of the FAA. And we spend only 5% to 10% of our time engaged in designee oversight.

2. Unless recurrent training is made a priority for FAA Inspectors, we will continue to lose the skills necessary to even determine if designees are doing their work properly.

As the National Union Representative for PASS-MIDO, I hope the FAA management wakes up soon to the reality that management decisions have enormous impact on the future of the designee program.

Jim Pratt
FAA Aviation Safety Inspector
National Representative, PASS-MIDO

Fish Finder

I have been a controller at Chicago Center for 24 years. I knew exactly what the pilot meant the first time I heard "Fish Finder" (AVmail, Nov. 22). It doesn't bother me a bit if a pilot refers to his fish finder or to TCAS.

Donald Purney

Aerostar Door

I wonder if the pilot of the Aerostar that lost his door (NewsWire, Nov. 22) had applied hard right rudder with left aileron might have put a positive pressure on the door allowing it to be latched?

C.A. Buzbee

Gulfstream Crash at Hobby Airport

If the crash occurred while they were attempting to land to the west, they might have mistaken a well-lit parking lot that was a threat 20 years ago (NewsWire, Nov. 22). We at EAL knew that it could be a sucker to be mistaken for approach lights.

Arnie Allison

Pilot Vision Regs Attacked At Inquest Overseas

The Kiwi attack on their near-vision standards reflects another example of aviation hysteria on the part of the uninformed public (NewsWire, Nov. 25). It sounds from your piece as if the pilot may not have had his reading glasses aboard, which might well make it hard for him to read charts at night. But there is no safety issue involved in pilots' "self-prescribing" off-the-shelf reading glasses.

A pilot who has reached the age where he needs reading glasses, but whose distance vision is 20/20 without correction, and whose eye exam is normal, by definition has only uncomplicated presbyopia. If he can pass the near-vision test in the AME's office wearing his off-the-shelf, drugstore reading glasses, he's not likely to gain any additional near vision acuity by spending 20 times as much for prescription reading glasses.

An argument can be made that all aging pilots, like everyone else, should have an eye exam by an ophthalmologist every few years. I make a point of going to an ophthalmologist-AME at least every third or fourth flight physical. But we don't need anyone agitating for stricter standards for reading glasses. The present regs are more than sufficient. If the pilot doesn't use the glasses he has, of course, it doesn't matter where he got them, they won't help.

I know the story is about New Zealand, but bad regulations could leap the Pacific Ocean with little difficulty.

Stephen D Leonard, MD, FACS
Senior Aviation Medical Examiner
Former USAF Flight Surgeon

Pumpkin Droppings ...

... Or, more appropriately, 'Twinkies from Heaven.'

I 'heard' about a group of guys once, including the local junior-high physics teacher, who dreamt up a student experiment involving dropping objects from an airplane. For some reason, it was decided to use Twinkies. For some other equally stupid reason, it was decided to add a side-experiment, to determine which bounced higher -- ambient air temperature Twinkies or frozen Twinkies.

Add a pleasant fall day, six-dozen Twinkies, a C172, rented from the local FBO, a pilot, bombardier, and various observers in the local high-school parking lot. Note: The high school was chosen for its rural country location.

As the pumpkin article mentioned (Skywritings, Nov. 25), had the parking lot been the size of Tokyo, our errant pilot and crew might have more likely 'landed' some of the Twinkies therein, and not scattered them across the roof of said high school. All, in radio contact, quickly decided to exit the scene.

Oh yeah, one of the reasons for choosing this high school was that the fact that the maintenance supervisor was a close friend of the physics teacher. About a week later, stories started circulating the high school about mysterious Twinkies found in the air-conditioning equipment and other odd places.

When someone asks about my adventures in flying, that usually comes to mind as one of the more bizarre stories I've 'heard.'

Happy Thanksgiving. Remember, pumpkins are for pie making.

Steve Stombaugh

I really enjoyed Paul Berge's tale of aerial pumpkin recycling. While I have never dropped a pumpkin from an airplane, the story's mention of a B25 bomber obliterating the target with a well-placed salvo of orange death brought to mind a far less successful bombing effort many years ago.

The scene of the crime was a little country airport where a Sunday fly-in was in progress. The most popular event of the afternoon was a bombing contest where pilots tried to hit a toilet mounted atop a farm wagon. We used lunch bags containing a mix of flour and sand, the flour to better mark the point of impact. The participants were a weird mix, flying everything from a C3 Aeronca to a T6. A Piper Cub had come the closest to the target (nearly flipping a bag into the bowl from about 10 feet) when a B25 bomber carrying yours truly in the right seat rolled in to show everyone how it was done.

We had lined up a stick of 10 bags on top of the bomb bay, just in front of a round access hole. The plan was to pop the bomb bay doors open and rapidly shove the bags out through the hole. Impressive, eh?

We approached the target at about 200 feet and 150 mph. On command I jerked back on the knob that opened the doors and awaited the signal to drop from the aircraft commander. The target had disappeared beneath the nose when he raised his hand from the throttles and made a chopping motion. Taking his cue, I slapped the "navigator" on the back and he gave the bags a mighty push.

Hauling back on the wheel, the pilot pulled the screaming bomber up in a crop duster's turn so we could peer back and see the damage our attack had done to the target. Unfortunately, there was no white cloud around the enemy toilet. What could have gone wrong?

Leveling out, we circled the scene for a moment before one of the guys at the waist gun position called our attention to the field across the road from the airport. What we saw was a farmer standing on his John Deere tractor (which was straddled by white marks) shaking his fist at us. We had missed the target by over 400 feet, instead attacking a farmer who had been innocently plowing his field.

Like the B25 in Mr. Berge's article, we also disappeared into the distance but it was out of embarrassment and fear of litigation. The B25 crew in Paul's article had to be of above-average skill. As for us, that was our first and last attempt at bombing.

Jay Hawk


HMX-1 is located at Quantico MCAS, Va., (BizAV, Nov. 24). The Air Force's 1st Helicopter Squadron is at Andrews AFB. There is a difference.

Jim Allen, Lt Col (ret)
Former Andrews AFB Chief of Safety

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