GAARMS Report: November 2017 

fred-gibbsFred Gibbs 


Another month has passed, and unfortunately, as I write this article, our safety record continues to slip further down the “Luck Meter”   

From WILLCOX, AZ Oct. 19 - The pilot of a small airplane that died last week after crashing into the desert in southern Arizona has been identified. Authorities with the Cochise County Sheriff's Department said the 68-year-old pilot was the only person in the plane when it crashed. The single engine aircraft he was flying, a homebuilt Lancair Legacy 2000, crashed Thursday in a remote desert area north of Interstate 10, near mile post 155, between the towns of Willcox and Bowie. Authorities said Peterson was heading from California to Texas when the plane went down about 8:20 a.m. 

Peterson had left that morning from Eagle Roost Airpark in Aguila and was heading to Garner Field Airport in Uvalde, Texas. The crash is under investigation by the National Transportation and Safety Board as well as the Federal Aviation Administration. 


It’s the second fatal plane crash in southeastern Arizona in the past two months. On Sept. 5, an F-16 Fighting Falcon jet crashed near Fort Thomas, killing its pilot.

With this latest accident, we have slipped even further down the scale from the “Average” level towards the “Worse than last Year” level, currently standing at 6 fatal accidents and 13 fatalities, NOT counting the military F-16 accident.  2016 stood at 6 fatal accidents with only 9 fatalities. Hopefully we can continue to hold right here for the rest of the year, so think safe, fly safe.


WARNING, WILL ROBINSON!!! - Winter is coming to northern Arizona! Arizona, with its huge diversity of terrain and elevations, can cause some significantly different weather patterns and conditions over a relatively short distance. Think of flying from Deer Valley to Flagstaff: DVT, with clear and 10 miles visibility, SEZ at 3000 broken-to-overcast with 10 miles visibility, and then there is Flagstaff, with indefinite ceiling 800 feet, 1 ½ miles with light snow and blowing snow. All that in less than 100 miles! And then, of course, there is the temperature – mid 60’s in the Phoenix area, BUT BELOW FREEZING up in Flag!! So not only do you have to consider the airplane, the weather and the airport conditions, you have to consider the pilot and his/her exposure to the elements. How does the cabin heat work? Smell anything funny? Got a carbon monoxide detector in the cabin?  How about dressing appropriately for any anticipated conditions?  Flip-flops, Bermuda shorts, and a Hawaiian shirt does not offer much protection trudging across the wind and snow swept ramp up here in Flag!!! 

Winter is not all bad. A really beautiful flight is one in the dead of the winter, in the dead of night, over snow covered territory, brightly lit up by a full moon – it is spectacular! However, caution is advised: slick, slippery runways and taxiways, ice in those  clouds, frozen brakes, snow-packed wheel pants, cold starts with the associated potential for fire, ice-jammed control surfaces, balky instruments, cold-soaked radios, and frozen-solid seat cushions can make the whole experience less than wonderful. 


People often ask me if the flight school up here even flies during the winter, and I always answer with an enthusiastic “FER SHURE!” In fact, the 172s really like the cold weather; they like the cold dense air. They get more power out of the engine, the propeller gets to bite into denser air producing more thrust, and the wings love the dense air and produce more lift. The airplane gets to act like a youngster again, jumping into the air effortlessly in less than 1000 feet runway – vs the 2500-3000 feet it needs in the heat (and density altitude) of the summer. We just dress a lot warmer!


Hey, YOU, the guy flying without shoulder harnesses…

If you're flying with only a lap belt ― shame on you. As much as some pilots don't like having belts over their shoulders, the study data has been clear for decades. According to the FAA, 88 percent of injuries and 20 percent of fatalities can be eliminated by adding shoulder harnesses (or additional restraints) over lap belts alone!


The FAA didn't get serious about seatbelts and shoulder harnesses until 1978, and even then it was only requiring shoulder restraints for the front seats. Ten years later, they added the rear. Given how long aircraft stay in service, that means there are thousands of craft flying every day with inadequate protection for the most valuable item on board.   

Even a decent seatbelt system needs to be checked if it's seen over 10 years of regular service. Webbing that's torn or frayed should be replaced. This includes the threads that stitch the belts together, which shops tell us is often the first thing to go. Loose threads or thread ends hanging out are red flags. The seatbelt hardware can also wear. Common issues can be detachable shoulder restraints that no longer lock securely into the lap belt, and latches that open under strain. Aircraft that see a lot of short flights, such as trainers, are especially suspect. With worn hardware and webbing, it's often cheaper to buy a replacement for the whole thing. Prices vary widely depending on exactly what hardware and finish you want.

Replacement time might be an opportunity to upgrade to an inertia reel, a four-point system (straps over both shoulders) or even the new airbag systems. Upgrade costs vary in the time needed, but since some interior disassembly is required, it's often several hours of labor.

There are three ways to upgrade a seatbelt system, mostly related to the volume of paperwork required. The simplest is by STC with all the paperwork included. The second is as a minor modification. This can happen when there's an existing hard point or framework where the seatbelt can be attached. AC 23-17B (page 105) makes it clear that this method is acceptable for aircraft manufactured without shoulder restraints. The third method is by field approval, which is required if any welding or drilling is involved. Many local shops have the authorization and ability to repair your existing belts or to find STC kits for you.

OK, so how much is your life worth? How important to you is that person in the right seat, your wife, your children, your best friend, or even you flight instructor? 

If I told you you could install a basic shoulder harness system for the pilot and right seat passenger for only $110.00 bucks, would you do it? Hey, you will easily blow $110.00 bucks in one night out at the restaurant for dinner and drinks, for one night’s pleasure. Why wouldn’t you spend $110.00 bucks so you can continue to do that for the rest of your life???

You know risk is always there when we fly, that something could happen. Remember Murphy’s Law? We do risk management every time we go flying. The FAA requires student pilots receive training in emergency landings, flight reviews put emphasis on emergency procedures, we play the “What if” game as we fly around, we buy new ELTs, we change ELT battery’s every 2 years, we buy EPIRBs, we subscribe to SpyderTracks or SPOT, we carry our iPhones with all kinds of Apps for survival, and to be able to make calls if you go down in the boondocks, but all this depends on you surviving the landing or crash.  And without shoulder harnesses, your chances, and your right seat passenger’s chances, are significantly reduced!!!

In doing some research, I found that Hooker Harnesses offers their “QUICKIE” harness for only $55.00 for many of the older lap-belt-only equipped aircraft. This is actually a Y-strap that has loops on all three ends. It requires NO installation, no modification to the aircraft, no tools, NADA!! You simply thread the rear seat lap belt through the single strap's loop and tighten. Then you thread the two halves of the front lap belt through two forward loops and climb in. This effectively makes a shoulder restraint anchored by the rear seatbelts. However, it does make the rear seats unusable for passengers, but many owners rarely carry people in the rear seats anyway. If you desperately need to carry passengers in the rear seats, the “Quickie” system can be removed. Because the Quickie isn't permanently attached, there's no paperwork at all. Hooker Co-owner Scott Mc Phillips says it's very popular with ferry pilots flying aircraft without modern seatbelts. 

The design philosophy for the “Quickie” is that most four place aircraft are generally flown with two people the majority of the time. The “Quickie” system should not be used with people in the rear seats, as this results in double loading of the rear seat belts, pulling the belts off of the pelvis of the rear passengers, and other undesirable things in the event of a crash.

There is also one other consideration to note. If the top of the front seat is below your shoulders, any load on the harness can compress your spine. Thus the “Quickie” could save your life by preventing head injuries (the most common cause of death in a crash) but leave you with spinal damage. This problem can be averted only if your seat back is high enough and strong enough. The best solution is a real shoulder harness, attached with proper geometry.

Now, I am not promoting Hooker harnesses over any other shoulder harness company – they are all very good – but just letting you know I found a very inexpensive alternate to help save lives that you should consider, taking into account the Pro’s and Con’s. I believe anything we can do to further promote safety at a reasonable cost should be brought to your attention.

Pilots rarely think about seatbelts other than as a startup checklist item, but worn belts and/or no shoulder harnesses are a risk with no accompanying benefit, given how reasonable the solution can be. Even if hardware has to be replaced, we think it's a no-brainer to make sure this basic safety equipment is up to the potential challenge.

We also think that any seat regularly occupied by humans - family members, friends, and yes, even your “grouchy” flight instructor - should have a shoulder restraint of some kind if at all possible. Our pick – if money were no object - would be an inertia reel, four-point system, but anything that improves your odds of walking away from a bad day is money wisely spent and I don’t have to talk about you at the next GAARMS symposium!


There are a lot of FAASTeam safety programs on the schedule over the next couple of months all around the state, so go to WWW.FAASAFETY.GOV and click on “Seminars” and check them out. You might find one that interests you. Should you desire a particular safety or educational program, like the BasicMed program, at your local airport or pilot meeting, simply contact me directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or call me at 410-206-3753. The Arizona Pilots Association provides the safety programs at no charge. We can also help you organize a program of your choice, and we can recommend programs that your pilot community might really like.

Later that day, at 1316, an Alert Notice (ALNOT) was issued for the airplane after family members of the pilot became concerned when he did not arrive at his intended destination. At 1810, the airplane wreckage was found by the sheriff's department in the Gila Mountains. There were no reported witnesses to the accident. The airplane was recovered to a secure location for further examination.


Lancair Evolution out of Falcon Field

Two people were confirmed dead in a fiery airplane crash at a northeast Mesa golf course late Monday afternoon, with one official describing the scene as "a ball of fire.'' The Lancair Evolution, a single-engine light aircraft, crashed at 4:52 p.m., about a half-mile east of Falcon Field Airport, according to Eric Weiss, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board. Allen Kenitzer, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman, said that the aircraft reported mechanical problems before the crash. (NOTE: There was no mention or indication of what the problem(s) were.)

Mesa fire officials were notified of the aircraft down at Longbow Golf Club by the Falcon Field Airport tower, Mesa Deputy Fire Chief Forrest Smith said. Smith said crews arrived to find the aircraft had crashed and burned on a fairway at the course. The golf course is at the northeast corner of Higley and McDowell roads in Mesa. The airport is southwest of the intersection. "It was a pretty horrific scene,'' Smith said.  "When crews first arrived, they were met with a ball of fire on the course itself.'' Officials confirmed the 2 people aboard the aircraft were killed.

Just for the sake of argument, let’s talk about the category the NTSB tends to “lump” accidents into, the “Loss of Control” category. I believe that category, or action, is the final result of many mistakes or inactions taken when things start to go wrong. I have said, and continue to say, there is usually NOT ONE single thing that causes an accident, but a chain of events that leads you down the “Primrose Path.” Break that chain somewhere, and you may most likely prevent an accident. For instance, does the weather look questionable? You need to make a decision BEFORE you press on into it, not stick your nose into it to see just how bad it is!! If you stick your nose so far in that you determine it is bad, you have already gone too far, and you may be in deep trouble! The story goes that a non-instrument rated pilot who ventures into IMC only has 3 minutes to survive once immersed in the weather!

Airplane doesn’t sound right or feel right to you? Land NOW, and have it checked out, and most importantly, DO NOT take off with that dark cloud of uncertainty hanging over you. Remember, there is no such thing as an emergency takeoff!!! Problems encountered during the takeoff phase of flight can be, and usually are, deadly. There is no time for contemplating a course of action, no airspeed to save you, and no altitude below you to give you time, and we all know you can never make that turn back to the airport. On top of everything else, a forced landing on departure is probably one of the very few times you can have too much gas in your airplane!!!

On a different subject, just in case you have not noticed, monsoon season is here, with lots of thunder boomers, heavy rains, poor visibility in the rain, dust storms, and many other weather issues to make your day exciting, so be careful out there. ADS-B In is a great situational awareness tool, but not to be used to dodge thunderstorms. Remember, ADS-B In data is a picture of what the weather was, and where it was, NOT WHERE IT IS NOW!!! I got to use it this last weekend flying from Scottsdale back up to Flag. Between the ADS-B In weather radar depicting the precipitation in 3 colors (YES, there was definitely some RED around), compared to what the controller was telling me about the precipitation he was painting on his ATC radar, and what I saw by looking out the windshield (a very critical part in the decision making process), I was able to easily and safely make my way home to Flag staying in VMC the entire way. The only precipitation that I got on my airplane was the light drizzle at the Flag airport while pushing the airplane away. It was utilizing all the tools and services available to me that made the flight easy and successful.


Another subject – With the installation of all the “stuff” I have installed into my airplane, is my 1973 Bellanca Super Viking now considered a Technically Advanced aircraft (TAA) under the definition of a TAA aircraft?

It used to be that only professional pilots like corporate or airline pilots needed to be trained in modern avionics and other modern on-board technologies. Today, this same high-tech equipment is being used widely in small aircraft, which means that pilots of these small aircraft must be trained in TAA, or run the risk of being inept at using this equipment, or worse, a safety hazard to themselves and others. 

What's Makes an Airplane a TAA? The FAA defines a TAA as an airplane that is equipped with the following:

· A moving map display - I have an 8 inch screen iPad mounted on my yoke that is Bluetooth connected to my permanent mounted FAA-approved TSO’d ADS-B In that displays other ADS-B equipped aircraft and weather data.

· An instrument-approved GPS - I have a Garmin 430 WAAS unit

· An autopilot - I have a 3-axis autopilot coupled to my HSI with GPSS steering

Additionally, I have a new Garmin G5 artificial horizon that is just like a glass cockpit display that shows attitude, airspeed, altitude, and turn coordinator information all in one instrument, giving me a ton of information in one place, improving my scan.

Many aircraft are equipped with all of these and even more complex systems, making it difficult for even the best of pilots to navigate through their aircraft's avionics, let alone the airspace they're in. Many pilots are familiar with the term glass cockpit. An aircraft that is considered to be a TAA is not always a glass cockpit aircraft, but a glass cockpit aircraft is always considered a TAA. A glass cockpit goes beyond the description of a TAA, and is generally defined as one with a Primary Flight Display (PFD) and a Multi-Function Display (MFD), both of which replace most of the old-style gauges in an aircraft. According to AOPA, more than 90 percent of new aircraft today are coming off the line with glass cockpits. These aircraft are all considered TAA.

New Avionics in an Old System

The FAA has come under fire because of the influx of TAA and the FAA's lack of a modern flight training program. The current flight training standards have been in place since 1973, and were designed with basic stick-and-rudder flying in mind. Current training syllabi do not leave room for TAA training, but that could change in the future. As of right now, pilots are training on both the old style instruments and the new glass panel displays. The old six-pack displays are still very common, but as glass panel displays become more commonplace, we'll see the old six-packs disappear.

TAA are generally a good thing for the average pilot, as long as the pilot knows how to use the equipment correctly. Still, many accidents are attributed to the pilot's lack of understanding of the aircraft's avionics. When a pilot doesn't fully understand the avionics on board his aircraft, he can quickly become task-saturated trying to figure out how it all works. This task-saturation, coupled with excess heads-down time in the cockpit, can lead to disorientation and loss of aircraft control. 

The criticism of technologically advanced airplanes being more of a distraction than a helpful tool holds merit, though. For this reason, the FAA created the FITS program, and new training program that supplements the old one, created specifically for use with TAA. The FITS program is designed to assist flight instructors and flight schools in training pilots for TAA, and includes a more scenario-based training environment.

So, when all is said and done, when I fly my 44-year old tubular steel, fabric and wood airplane, can I legally log that flight time under the TAA column??? I certainly believe so!!




There are a lot of FAASTeam safety programs on the schedule over the next couple of months all around the state, check out the APA Calendar Online. Should you desire a particular safety or educational program, like the BasicMed program, at your local airport or pilot meeting, simply contact APA via our website and connect with me through the Safety Program Director. You can also contact me directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or call me at 410-206-3753.  The Arizona Pilots Association provides the safety programs at no charge. We can also help you organize a program of your choice, and we can recommend programs that your pilot community might really like.


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