2020 TO DATE:
As of late October when I wrote this article, there has been no change in the NTSB’s report of fatal accidents here in Arizona, so I am pleased to report no change in our fatal accident rate. Within the GAARMs statistics, I try to only include general aviation accidents; therefore, the 2 helicopter crashes would not be counted within the GAARMS report, reflecting a very safe year so far, with only 3 general aviation accidents. The NTSB report, shown here, lists all five fatal accidents with five fatalities. The compilation below only reflects fatalities. Within the individual reports, both fatal and serious injuries are reported. Those statistics clarify the five fatalities (four pilots and one passenger) plus three other serious injuries, one pilot and 2 passengers. A copy of the NTSB fatal accident report is shown below:
A short re-cap of the accidents follows:
Two of the accidents occurred during the month of June, ironically both on the same day, and both were experimental home-built aircraft. A Zenair CH601 departed Deer Valley enroute to Ak-Chin, struck the very top of a small mountain about 2 miles northeast of the Ak-Chin airport and was destroyed by fire. The pilot/owner was fatally injured. The second accident involved an RV-4 inbound to the Safford Airport. The aircraft impacted a hillside during the approach, and the sole pilot onboard was fatally injured.
Two of the other accidents involved helicopters, one near Mesa, the other near Payson. Both were Bell UH-1H’s. The crash near Mesa was apparently caused by the loss of the tail rotor, while the second helicopter was assisting in firefighting efforts, using a long line to lift/transport supplies to a hotshot crew. On the fourth lift, things went drastically wrong and the helicopter crashed.
The fifth crash was a Piper PA-28 on a personal cross country flight. The pilot stated in an interview that after a flight earlier that morning, he departed from Falcon Field Airport (FFZ), Mesa, Arizona, enroute to Payson. He landed in Payson, refueled, and departed for the return flight back to FFZ. During the return flight, the pilot decided to fly over the mountains southwest of their position. He stated that he flew about 1,000 ft above ground level (AGL) over the mountains, while the passengers were spotting wildlife on the terrain below. The pilot stated the airplane was running well and doesn't remember anything else until waking up in a small creek at the accident site.
FOR INFORMATION ON ALL ACCIDENTS/INCIDENTS THAT OCCURRED LAST MONTH, REFER TO JIM TIMM’S ACCIDENT SUMMARY HEREIN.
Enjoy flying safe –
Going flying, escaping into the beautiful “wild blue yonder” is a great way to enjoy quarantine, but if you take your wife or a friend with you, don’t forget masks, wiping down your controls, avionics knobs, door handles, seat buckles, etc., and be sure to clean all of your headsets.
The COVID-19 pandemic has really slowed down aviation activity, and it has now been over 6 months battling this pandemic, and possibly just as long since you have been in the cockpit. The pandemic has put many us into the “Rusty Pilot” mode, and thus you need to be very careful on the comeback. Remember, 3 takeoffs and landings in the previous 90 days makes you legal to carry passengers again, but it does not make you a proficient pilot!! There is a BIG difference between being currently legal vs. proficient. A thorough pre-flight may be in order. Just how long has your airplane just been sitting there?? Stale fuel, stale oil, any bird nests, etc., can all lead to disaster. Start slow, be methodical, make sure all is well before launching, and start easy working on restoring the luster to your skills. Like I always say, any professional DID NOT become a professional by practicing 2 hours a week!!
Last month’s article left off with us arriving into the Denver Centennial airport on the first part of our return trip from Lexington, KY, in Doc’s pristine turbo Cessna 182 that he had just purchased. It’s a really nice C182T, fresh annual plus a pre-purchase inspection, fresh IFR certification, full oxygen and full tanks (80 gallons), full IFR G1000 panel, autopilot, lots of bells and whistles, ADS-B in and out, air bag-style seat belts and shoulder harnesses, Rosen visors, a beautiful leather interior, and a great paint job. All we had to do was “kick the tires and light the fire” and head home to Flagstaff, with just one “minor” issue. My newly minted private pilot/new owner Doc had NOT one hour of complex airplane time, NOT one hour of time in a C182, NOT one hour of turbo time, nor any experience whatsoever (except for some YouTube videos) on how to operate the G1000 glass panel. My job was to teach Doc both how to fly the Turbo 182 and learn basic operation of the G1000 during our flight back home. We had allowed 3 days to do lots of flying, and if the weather were to cooperate, possibly some mountain flying in Colorado.
We started out day 2 of this trip by spending almost an hour on the ground reviewing checklists, equipment, controls, G1000 basics, engine operation, speeds and power settings, and basic navigation set-up for the first leg. The first stop out of Centennial would be Eagle, CO, about a 1-hour flight in crystal clear skies and unlimited visibility, with light winds aloft for a smooth ride. Thank you, Mother Nature! And, oh yeah, still no autopilot – YET! I had Doc check the (paper) sectional chart for any airspace issues for a direct flight to Eagle – there were none. We did a basic direct flight plan in the G1000, choosing to cruise up at 12,500FT, using flight following from Denver Center the entire way. About 1600 Zulu, we lifted off and were on our way. Denver Center started throwing us curveballs right off the bat, issuing us headings and altitudes to keep us clear of both traffic and airspace, i.e., the Denver Class B airspace. However, once clear of the Bravo airspace, Denver turned us loose to our own navigation, and Doc punched up direct Eagle. Looking out the windshield at those 12, 13, and 14,000 ft mountains in front of us, it seemed daunting and doubtful 12,500 would suffice.
Ahah! Another teaching moment arrived. We discussed oxygen requirements and regulations, and the common sense application thereof, and decided we would maintain 12,500 as long as possible. A few spots necessitated a climb up to 13,700 to overfly a few high points, then back down to 12,500. None of the climb-over and back-down maneuvers took more than 20 minutes, never exceeding the regulations, either time-wise (30 minutes) or altitude-wise (14,000). Additionally, we both have lived in Flagstaff , elevation 7000 ft, for a long time and are certainly acclimated to high altitudes. We both had our Oximeters on our fingers, and our O2 levels never dropped below 97%! (YES, I made him buy one specifically to keep in his airplane; I have had mine for years!)
About 25 miles east of Eagle, I had Doc pull up the RNAV (GPS) D RNY 25 approach into Eagle. My plan was just to follow the procedure into Eagle, so Doc could see the altitudes and obstacles involved on that approach. Eagle is a fascinating airport and a beautiful place to live - if you like living “way out there”! Anyway, since Doc is going to start instrument training once we get home, this would be a good introduction on how these approach-thingies work. I showed him how to simply follow the instructions on the approach plate once the approach is input into the GPS – headings and (crossing) altitudes, and speed control. In visual conditions, a piece of cake and spectacular scenery; in IMC, you had better have it down pat, never deviate an inch, and have your skills sharply honed and procedurally everything in the bag with a nice bow on it. AWESOME! Follow the red arrows in, notice the surrounding terrain elevations, approach minimums vs. field elevation, and the visibility requirement – 1 ¼ mile for us small guys and 1 ½ miles for the category B aircraft. Impressive landing though – Doc is starting to get the hang of it!
Next leg, Eagle to Aspen, just a short hop over the mountains to the south and we’d be there. A check on the Aspen weather from the G1000 indicated clear skies, 10 mile visibility with light winds. However, one look out the window towards the south presented an almost 12,000 foot mountain in the way, only 7 miles south of the airport, and almost 6000 feet above airport elevation! (See gold arrow on the approach plate.) Even with a 1000 foot-per-minute climb, we could not clear the mountain if we tried to fly a direct route, and we seriously doubted we could sustain a 1000 feet-per-minute out of 7 or 8000 feet anyway.
Ahah! Another teaching moment. So, how do we handle this? Since Eagle is surrounded by very high mountains, it seemed the only logical way out of this valley is to circle up overhead the airport to a safe altitude then turn on course. However, Eagle is a class Delta airport, so any attempt to circle overhead the airport requires tower approval to ensure separation with any other arriving or departing traffic. Since we wanted to depart southbound, again, it seemed only logical to request a circling climb while remaining south of the airport, but relatively close to the airport, and within the boundary of the class Delta. Now that we had a game plan, aircraft all checked out, ATIS in hand, we called Ground and made our request. YUP, it took a couple of transmissions from Doc to get Ground to understand what we wanted to do. Learning to talk on the radio is, and will always be, a never-ending process!! Clarifications completed, Ground cleared us to taxi to runway 25, and Tower cleared us for takeoff. Tower then requested we climb as requested, but remain south of the centerline of runway 25 at all times, staying within 5 miles of the airport (basically inside the class Delta), and to please advise them when we were ready to depart the Delta. Doc promptly responded that he understood the instructions, and we were off. We climbed at 600 feet per minute in a standard rate turn, making 3 full circles before advising tower we were ready to turn on course. Tower acknowledged, thanked us for our compliance with instructions, and wished us a good flight. With the GPS set up, Aspen, here we come.
But, unbeknownst to us, there was a “fly in the ointment” that would eventually foil our plan to land at Aspen. And that flaw was self-induced and introduced another “Ahah” moment, another “Won’t do that again!” teaching moment. Tune in next month to follow the ongoing saga…