2019 in review:

For starters, my article last month contained an error due to timing.  The latest NTSB print-out I pulled down now lists the Mooney accident that occurred on December 8th, just southeast of the Sedona area.  Unfortunately, that fatal accident in December brought our total GA fatal accident total to 2, with one pilot fatality and one passenger fatality. While not good news, our safety record for 2019 is the best it has been in the 10 years I have been tracking it. 

In my January column, and based on the NTSB’s reporting system, I reported there had been no general aviation (GA) accidents involving a pilot fatality over the past 12 months, i.e., since November of 2018.  Well, as you can see from above, that was correct, but the Mooney crash closed out that run of good luck!  Yes, I know there was the terrible helicopter crash in Scottsdale earlier this year, but that was a commercial operation, not a GA operation, and thus not included in the GAARMS process.

One of my very trusted local sources has advised me of a pilot fatality following a June accident where the pilot later died from his injuries.  I am still trying to track that down.  Ironically, this is not showing up in the NTSB’s database.  Nonetheless, as of the end of 2019, according to the NTSB, we have had only one – I repeat – only one GA pilot fatality, and only one passenger fatality, a tremendous success story. We should all be very pleased with our success, but certainly not be overconfident.  Flying still has risks, and we must always be aware of those risks.

gaarms report 2020 february mooney 1

The following is a re-print of the NTSB report on the Mooney crash mentioned above:

On December 8, 2019, about 1300 mountain standard time, a Mooney model M20C airplane, N5557Q, impacted terrain about 2 nm southwest of Flower Pot, Arizona. The pilot was fatally injured, and the airplane was destroyed by impact forces and a post impact fire. The aircraft was registered to and operated by the pilot under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight.

Marginal visual meteorological conditions with potential instrument conditions and mountain obscuration prevailed for the flight, which was not on a flight plan. The flight originated from the Flagstaff Pulliam Airport (FLG), Flagstaff, Arizona, at an unconfirmed time, and was destined for the Deer Valley Airport (DVT), Phoenix, Arizona.

gaarms report 2020 february mooney 2

The accident site was discovered by a rancher on the morning of December 13, 2019. There were no witnesses to the impact, but witnesses that saw the airplane on December 8, 2019 came forward once they discovered that the airplane had crashed. The witnesses were driving in a car southbound on Interstate 17 near Munds Park, Arizona, when an orange and white low-wing airplane flew over their car at low altitude. The witnesses reported that the weather conditions at that time consisted of a low ceiling but with good visibility below the clouds. The witnesses provided 3 pictures of the airplane that they had taken from their car. The pictures showed the airplane traveling in the same direction as the car close to the ground. The witnesses said they watched the airplane and it appeared to be following the road. The pictures also showed low clouds with obscuration of mountain peaks in the background of the image. The witnesses reported that about 20 minutes after taking the pictures, when they were about where the airplane was reported to have crashed, the visibility had reduced to about ¼ mile and the clouds were right on the ground. Subsequent to the witness report, preliminary radar track data for an aircraft traveling along interstate 17 on December 8, 2019 was found.

The airplane impacted the ground about 1 mile east of interstate 17 on a heading of about 60 degrees. The main wreckage came to rest about 320 ft from the initial impact point.

During the investigation it was discovered that the pilot had just purchased the airplane on December 4, 2019.

 The following is a short excerpt by Paul Berge of AvWeb, with his permission…

gaarms report 2020 february flying 1

It might’ve been old flight-school technology, but the unsung weather tool, HIWAS, is no more. The NOTAM announcing its passing read like a heartless obituary: “…outlet decommissioned Jan 8, 2020-permanent.”  Permanent!!   So cold for a reliable friend that, frankly, few of us understood.  HIWAS means (meant), Hazardous In-Flight Weather…um, something, something; its purpose in life was to broadcast impending meteorological doom over a scratchy VOR frequency, back when pilots knew how to use VORs. While vexing to student pilots and quaint to anyone with Foreflight, test-makers must have loved HIWAS.

Those who ask, “Why do we have to know this stuff?” face the unassailable retort, “Because it might be on the exam.” I’ve memorized (and taught) buckets of useless stuff just because! The Treaty of Westphalia, for instance, was signed in 1648, so on a flight review I expect pilots to regurgitate that nugget, because that’s what testing is all about:  Information in and information out with marginal applicability. Passing a written exam proves that you can pass an exam and not that you can think or fly.

Airspace is an ideal testing subject, because no one understands all the minutiae baked inside that regulatory double-talk. Many pretend to, but sub-clauses dependent upon altitude or a control tower’s operating hours will torque any brain. Instrument pilots tend to ignore airspace labels, because once ATC says, “Cleared to…” you plow through whatever airspace is in the way with near impunity.

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Years ago, VFR students memorized airspace terms such as Positive Control Area (PCA), Terminal Control Area (TCA) and Airport Radar Service Area (ARSA). In 1993 these descriptors were relegated to the Smithsonian’s Airspace Museum in exchange for soulless Classes A, B and C, respectively. Class D airspace replaced Airport Traffic Areas. Class E (General Controlled Airspace) was, and remains, a generally vague expanse of semi-controlled sky with un-enforceable cloud clearance rules. What about Class F?  “Fuggetaboutit” in the USA.  And then there is Class G, the class clown of airspace.  It was once labeled, “Uncontrolled,” as though an exasperated FAA threw up its figurative hands during a pilot/regulator conference and sighed, “We cannot control this! Beyond here be dragons…”

As complicated as airspace was prior to 1993, no one had ADS-B, so scofflaws could get away with transgressions provided they kept their mouths shut, a skill many of us mastered in the Army. ATC might’ve seen your radar target penetrating TCAs, but unless you called, you’d likely avoid getting pinched. Case in point: Decades ago, while an air traffic controller in California, I was subpoenaed to testify inside a federal courtroom where a pilot was being stretched on the rack for violating the San Francisco TCA (now Class B).

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Although guilty, he would’ve escaped apprehension but made the rookie mistake of calling Monterey Approach, where I’d been working radar: “…20 north, landing Monterey.” I knew nothing of his airspace intrusion 65 miles away. Not that it mattered, because when I identified the aircraft (“Squawk 0402, ident…”), Oakland Center, who’d been tracking the violator, saw the squawk change and called me, asking, “Who’s that?” Busted! Call the tower, please.

If you visit the Old Controllers Home in Oklahoma City on Open Mic Night (Thursdays 2100-2300Z), you’ll catch retired air traffic controllers well into their kombuchas, regaling ATC cadets with tales of making pilots, “Call the tower,” for (pause) “busting my ARSA!” This was killer material at the home.

Today, we’re tracked from cradle to tomb beneath ADS-B’s all-seeing eye of Sauron. It knows our every move and impure thoughts. Yeah, it makes aviation safer, but I miss some of the old ways. This is where I lean back in my ol’ rocking chair, strike a wooden match, relight my corncob hookah, and tell about the time HIWAS saved my arsa.

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It was a warm mid-western day with towering CUs building to the west, while I was in the pattern with a student at an “uncontrolled” airport, 20 miles east of my home base. The approaching wall expanded with each downwind leg, so I tuned in HIWAS and caught a warning of severe thunderstorms moving east with hail the size of kumquats, “Contact Flight Watch for details.” Terminating the lesson, I climbed into my Aeronca Champ for the 20-minute flight home and toward those cumulo-anvils, taunting me like bulls smack-talking Pamplona’s dumbest runner.

In-flight weather radar wasn’t an option, but Flight Watch (EFAS or Enroute Flight Advisory Service) was. On 122.0 MHz (below FL180) pilots received one-on-one airborne weather briefings from real humans. Problem was, in crappy weather every pilot wanted in first, but without calling, you could listen to the briefer describing the offending weather to others on the frequency and glean what you needed.

Any forecast hides the caveat that weather can turn sour, and when that happens, I’ll take whatever help is available, including full retreat. While nosing toward that squall line, it was a distant FSS voice describing what he saw on radar, that allowed me to determine that the approaching line–although ugly–was far enough away and sliding northeast, so I could continue without any “There I was” bravado.

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Although I fly old, minimally equipped airplanes in defiance of cyber enlightenment, I always want an escape route, because the art of bumbling into weather is as old as Odysseus washing ashore on the Isle of Best Intentions (1168 BCE). Humans displaying the hubris to leave the earth face that which is bigger than our egos and contains no sympathy for failure.

As archaic terms such as Flight Watch, HIWAS and Mooney fade from memory, they should also be dropped from exams. Well, maybe not Mooney, because Mooney always holds surprises.  Here’s a tip for check ride prep.  Be familiar with TRSA (Terminal Radar Service Area), an old-school airspace that exists solely to stump overly confident pilot candidates who dare think they know more than the examiner. Now, without looking: When was the Treaty of Westphalia signed?

Yeah, thought so…

Kudo’s  Section –

2020 FAA Awards banquet winners…

Photos by Laura Grant Boswell

On Saturday night, Jan. 25th, the FAA held their annual awards banquet over at The Cooley Ballroom on the ASU Polytechnical Student Union building on the Williams-Gateway airport to honor several of the recipients of some well-deserved awards.

gaarms report 2020 february jim price wright brothers 50 years in aviation award

For starters, there was Jim Price, the recipient of the Wright Brothers 50 Years in Aviation award.  Many of you know Jim for a variety of reasons, i.e., Mooney pilot, safety program guy, retired airline pilot and flights for Life guru.  Jim is, and has been, a mainstay of the Phoenix aviation community for a very long time, has many great accomplishments in his very storied aviation career, flying all kinds of aircraft, and a very prestigious U.S. Air Force career.  You have to drag all of that out of this very humble man, and a person we all wish our sons and daughters could emulate.

gaarms report 2020 february jim pitman flight instructor of the year for arizona award

The Flight Instructor of the Year for Arizona was awarded to Jim Pitman, flight instructor extraordinaire; an FAA designated pilot examiner; safety counselor/lead FAASTeam Rep, and just overall nice guy.  Jim was a founding member of the Arizona Flight Training Workgroup (AFTW), still very instrumental in the workings of the AFTW, active in the Aviation Safety Advisory Group (ASAG), a contributing writer to AOPA, as well as a lot of other activities too numerous to mention here.  AND, oh yeah, he was also selected as the Flight Instructor of the Year for the entire Western Pacific Region, which makes him a leading contender for the Flight Instructor of the Year for the entire country, so keep your fingers crossed…

gaarms report 2020 february jeff mulhom aviation technician of the year award

Jeff Mulhorn was awarded the Aviation Technician of the Year for his outstanding work at the CAE Oxford Aviation Academy.  He is also an ATP-CFI rated pilot.  He was instrumental in the creation of new processes allowing for maintenance personnel holding pilot certificates to perform test flights, further ensuring the safety of the fleet of aircraft.  His relationship with the CFIs and the students helps bring a better understanding of the mechanical aspects of flight.

gaarms report 2020 february mrs lee unger faasteam award

Mrs. Lee Unger was awarded the FAASTeam award for her outstanding work with the Tucson aviation community, the Tucson airport authority and the Tucson Control tower.  During the past year, she collaborated with the Tucson Airport authority in the creation of a new Runway Safety video for the airport,  a briefing document designed to reduce runway incursions, helped develop the Tucson practice area charts for student training, made them available on the AFTW website, and remains very active in organizing safety programs.  A well-deserved award!

gaarms report 2020 february tucson air traffic control tower atc facility of the year award for 2019

And then there was the Tucson Air Traffic Control tower, winning the ATC facility of the Year award for 2019. Tucson Air Traffic Control Tower reaches out to the aviation community in a variety of ways, including participation in Pilot-Controller forums, runway safety meetings, and Safety Risk Management panels. Tucson Air  Traffic Controllers, working with AOPA Tucson Airport Support Network  Volunteers, facilitated the 2018 filming of ground and air operations in the  making of Tucson Airport Authority's "KTUS Airport and Runway Safety"  videos.   With the support of Tucson Tower’s outreach and collaboration, the number of runway incursions at KTUS has been reduced from 26 in fiscal year 2018 to 17 in fiscal year 2019.   An outstanding effort and a well-deserved award.

Kudo’s  well deserved to all –

gaarms report 2020 february like your approach

Fred’s  Perspective…  

Would you pay someone $175.00/HR (or more!) to go fly with you, never provide any instruction and only criticize how poorly you fly?

    Well, welcome to the world of a check ride with a Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE)…

How have check rides become so expensive?  Why do DPE’s expect you to be Bob Hoover-capable as a new fledgling private pilot?  Or as accurate as a highly skilled Navy pilot hitting the 200ft long box to snag the 3 wire??  Why is the FAA so draconian in their approach to certifying new pilots??  If a student only needs a 70% to meet the requirement to pass the academic portion of any of the pilot written exams, why must a student be absolutely perfect on the oral and the check ride?  There are 12 tasks within the ACS.  If you completely bungle one task, that means you got a grade of only 91.6%! There are easily over 100 items within the Tasks of the ACS.  If you miss one, is that NOT a 99%?       AND THAT IS NOT A PASSING GRADE?????


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