Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Unusual Attitudes

It's Day 2 at this year's Sun 'n Fun Fly-in and Jeb and I were in exactly the right place at the right time last evening. We we're offered the chance to fly this morning with the Aeroshell Aerobatic Team.

We reported to their parking area out on the edge of the warbirds parking area. We were introduced to our pilots and each climbed into the back seat of a T-6.

I won't rehash the whole flight but it was awesome.

This was my first experience with flying (riding along) aerobatic. I wasn't sure how I'd react, and I'm pleased to report that it was nothing but exhilarating.

We flew out in formation. Really close to the other planes. After traveling about 10 miles out and climbing to a few thousand feet, we did a formation loop, followed by a formation barrel roll.

I could really feel the G forces, but other wise it was just a blast.

After the barrel roll I realized that we were headed back to the airport, and I was actually disappointed. I was more than ready for more.

Our thanks to the folks at the Aeroshell Aerobatics Team for squeezing us in at the last moment. And a huge thanks to listener Tony who made the initial contact for us.

Check out my flickr account for about a half dozen pics from the ride.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

It's Aviatin' Time!

A few months ago, when most of the country still suffered under the chilled embrace of Winter, Spring at times seemed impossibly far away. Winter Storm Warnings, blizzard conditions, punishing winds...some days it felt like these phenomena drew paychecks and mission statements from those who strive to reduce General Aviation's extraordinary impact on American life...

Even after the "official" arrival of Spring March 20, some days it just didn't pay to drive to the airport. But there's no keeping down a good bunch of pilots, aviators, planemakers, vendors and all of our collective community.

As this gets written, evidence of that fact already exists on the grounds of the Sun 'n Fun Fly-In on the south side of Lakeland Linder Regional Airport (LAL); that evidence erupts into a full-blown international statement of our love of, desire to and right to fly starting Tuesday, April 21.

And for the ensuing six days, the entirety of the aviation community -- those off site as well as on-site -- plan to celebrate our community, our flying, and our contribution to the social and economic well-being of this country...the country that arguably lead the world into the Aviation Age.

We'll set aside differences, live with flaws and fly as though our lives depend on air beneath our feet -- because to so many of us, our lives to depend on it. Some because of livelihood, some because of passion alone, and to the truly afflicted, because of a blend of both.

Mostly we'll come together to renew friendships and enjoy fellowship with fellow flyers, make new friends, see new things and experience the community in a way only possible at shows like Sun 'n Fun and AirVenture -- and thousands of smaller ones in between, from EAA chapter fly-ins to niche-aviation gatherings, to airport appreciation days and plane-old-down-off-the-ramp spontaneous gatherings.

So Horrah! to the new show season and Hurray! for us all. After all, what better way to extend our lives than to fly somewhere for fun.

Remember, "Time spent flying is not subtracted from your lifespan."

Hope to see you out there...

-- Dave

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


The NTSB in early April released preliminary general aviation accident data for 2008. No one should be happy.

For example, there were 1559 accidents involving Part 91 operations, 275 of which involved fatalities. Those fatal accidents killed a total of 495 persons, one fewer than the previous year. One.

After all the training improvements, the influx of new, well-equipped aircraft, all the new, high-tech equipment being installed in older ones, after weather-forecasting and observation enhancements on the ground and in the air, only one.

And the accident rate jumped up, from 6.92 accidents per 100,000 hours in 2007 to 7.11 in 2008. This is despite an overall reduction in accidents, from 2007's 1650 to 1559 last year, and stems from fewer flying hours, a reduction of almost 10 percent. These results are pretty sorry for an industry desperate to be taken seriously.

Looking backward, 2006 was a very good year, with an overall increase in flight hours and a 20-year low in the accident rate. But 2006 also came with a huge spike in fatalities, from 563 in 2005 to 705.

On its face, there are no easily identified reasons for these poor numbers. One could argue 2008's high fuel prices sharply reduced flight hours and, instead of cutting back on business and personal transportation, we flew fewer training and proficiency missions. If so, that didn't work out too well.

And it gets worse: 2008's Part 135 numbers show 56 accidents killing 66 people, "the highest number of fatalities since 2000," per the NTSB. Thankfully, Part 135 operators did manage an accident rate (1.52) virtually unchanged from 2007's 1.54.

I was recently asked if general aviation is safe. It's a relative question, of course, and my response went something like this: If you look at the entire universe of non-scheduled, civilian flight operations and remove from it things like bush flying, flight-testing, aerial application, buzzing an ex-spouse's home and the like, and concentrate on well-maintained aircraft flown by proficient pilots in manageable weather, yes, GA is a very safe transportation mode. And I think the record supports me. The problem, of course, is when we stray from these qualifiers, as we apparently did for much of 2008.

What makes my head explode is this stuff isn't rocket science. Carry enough fuel for the flight, plus reserves. Avoid weather for which you're not trained or prepared. Ensure the aircraft has no outstanding maintenance issues. Use landing areas appropriate to the aircraft's performance and your ability.

Can we all try these things during 2009 and see how it works out in a year or so?

[Note: The foregoing is the full text of my editorial in the May 2009 issue of Aviation Safety. Click here for an NTSB table summarizing GA's accident history over the last 20 years. -- Jeb]

Monday, April 13, 2009

View from my front yard

Saturday, early afternoon. Seriously.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Do Wah Diddy

Here's a couple of clips from the movie Stripes, which was mentioned in UCAP#128.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Let's not go crazy out there...this incident holds few lessons...

OK, folks, enough already; yeah, yeah, the story is known: 31-year-old student pilot Yavuz Burke, known also as Adam Leon,"stole" a Skyhawk from a Canadian flight school and embarked on a transnational dash hoping to commit suicide by F-16...

...and the cries are familiar: secure the airplanes, we've got to stop this madness and stop leaving unsecured airplanes on ramps...

Please...give me a break here. I mean, enough already. There's not a single, solitary security step out there that would have, could have or should have stopped Mr. Burke/Leon, from his sad pursuit of the afterlife -- none, nada, zippo, zilch. Get it?

Yeah, yeah, I've read and acted on the security recommendations from those out-of-control make-believe "experts" at the Transportation Security Administration. As for AOPA's Airport Watch Program, heck, I wrote the original working with AOPA staff to produce those very commonsense steps. And what that book recommends would not have changed anything about this disturbed individual's actions.

Why? Am I deranged, suggesting nothing could have stopped or changed his action? Well, many would leap to agree -- I often feel deranged, maddened beyond reason when our alleged protectors misuse their authority to add rules through the "directive" process rather than the All American rule-making process; guess after the response to their Large Aircraft Security Program proposal, the TSA folks find the uncertainty and opposition unpalatable and the opportunity to just dictate irresistible.

Reference the wave of new badging requirements sweeping the country; stupid, short-sighted and dictatorial -- not to mention useless, ball-less and unjustified. Not that any of these facts matter to the TSA.

So getting back to the no-joy ride of Mr. Burke/Leon, let's look at the arguments.

Background checks...well, he'd passed one and had just been vetted to become a naturalized Canadian citizen; so no joy here;

Keeping aircraft secured on the ramp...well, of course that's just common sense. But the guy was a legitimate student pilot -- so he had legitimate student pilot access to the aircraft. Does anyone now suggest we keep students from their classrooms? Thought not. Even if the school kept the keys locked away, this guy had legitimate no joy here, either.

Ditto for prop locks, hangering between students, etc, ad nauseum...

Now, should we make student carry an observer? What happens to solo requirements? Or the illegality of a soloed student carrying a passenger...yeah, we know -- gets complicated, doesn't it?

Sorry TSA and the world, all that you've done, all you're proposing to do and all you can think of in your bleak imagination will, where general aviation is concerned, serve only to make us all suspects and protect us from our own mobility.

Nothing you can devise can stop a guy like Mr. Lean...nothing. Couldn't stop that guy with the Piper who tried to fake his own death, either -- and he was a poster child for upwardly mobile, affluent business aviation.

Crazy is as crazy does -- and trying to match the possible crazies of the world with TSA crazy will succeed only in stifling, maybe killing, general aviation. But then, maybe that's TSA's intended victim.

I'm open to counter ideas...but badges and background checks up to our rudder tips can't stop individualized crazy. It only encourages institutionalized crazy -- like the TSA.