Unicom

May 1999 Issue




Failing Grade

Fuel emergencies reflect problem with how flight instruction is given

“Debate with the Devil” [Learning Experiences, March] offered a very interesting insider’s look at a fuel exhaustion accident that didn’t happen. A full-blown accident investigation wouldn’t have provided the details, considerations and actions that the pilot offered in his contrite and articulate description of his flight, from planning to touchdown. His “debate with the devil” was a good dose of get-home-itis.

The thing that stands out to me is the need for continuing training to reduce or eliminate fuel-related accidents. The perfect format is the mandatory flight review or the Wings Program. All that needs to be done is make a mandatory training syllabus. The writer’s “lessons learned” log might be a good starting point. Some of the 30 fuel items I have identified include:

• Always plan to be on the ground with 45 minutes of fuel. That fuel belongs to the FAA. If it bothers you, consider the extra margin is for your safe return to your family and your passengers’ return to theirs.

• Declare an “urgency condition” with ATC the moment you become concerned about fuel. Look at it this way – you still have some fuel, why not get some help and use what fuel is left to land somewhere safely.

• If you have to change tanks before getting halfway to your destination, you don’t have enough fuel to get there. You have what the AIM calls a “distress condition.” Nip it before it gets any worse. Call ATC and get some help. If you make it beyond the halfway point, it is possible to make your destination (if the weather doesn’t change), but with less than the legal minimum reserve. Ask for help now. You may be able to get direct vectoring later, but you can’t get priority handling without declaring an emergency. Not reporting minimum fuel is a foolish mistake.

• To further eliminate the possibility of unexpected fuel exhaustion, make training flights to determine the amount of fuel remaining when one gauge first touches the ¼-mark. Land and top off that tank. Measure the other tank in a like manner. For greater training, estimate the fuel burn using the performance charts.

It all sounds so elementary, and it is. Are the above practices part of every pilot’s training? I don’t think so. There isn’t enough time during private pilot training. Reducing or eliminating fuel exhaustion/starvation accidents is so simple compared with the complexities of other major causes of accidents, such as landing, taking off, VFR into IMC, weather and maneuvering. But it does take continued vigilance. And that’s what’s missing now.

What is needed is a symposium dedicated to preparing a program that would target at least a 50 percent reduction in fuel accidents. The next step would be to train all flight instructors, who would present the program to pilots during the next flight review or Wings Program. Let’s take some proactive steps to reduce or even eliminate fuel accidents.

-Bill Jack
Pittsburgh, Pa.

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Who Says Serious Can’t be Fun?
Your publication is an absolute gold mine of useful data and opinion that I have come to rely on for the past 10 years or so. The articles are usually insightful and the controversial subjects are given fair and frequent hearings. Today I read, with great interest, an offering by Paul Berge on passengers in light aircraft [Risk Management, March]. My comment concerns not so much the content of the article, but the style of writing which, in my opinion, did a masterful job of highlighting well-organized, useful information with an engaging humorous style. I found myself chuckling at first and then laughing aloud, and finally almost falling over in a belly laugh while I read and learned.

Flight safety is indeed serious stuff but when we forget that people learn best when they’re engaged and interested (translation: awake) we often tend to write in a boring, technical manner that quickly loses the interest of the reader. It’s probably obvious that I don’t classify most Aviation Safety material in this category or I would have long since canceled my subscription, but I do believe that Mr. Berge’s appearance on the scene is truly a refreshing milestone. Hats off to you Paul Berge. Keep ‘em coming.

-John Barrett
Pt. Hadlock, Wash.

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Warn Us Next Time
Paul Berge is out of control and must be stopped! I was innocently reading his last article in a public place and embarrassed myself numerous times by outbursts of uncontrollable laughter. There should be a warning label.

I recommend that he be chained to his keyboard so that he may be kept out of harm’s way and produce more articles as valuable and hilariously funny as the last Risk Management.

-Philip Meese
Rowayton, Conn.

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Way to Lighten Up
Just a quick note to tell you how very much I enjoyed Paul Berge’s article “Caution: Passengers on Board.” All of your writers are experts; all of your writers have useful and/or important information in their articles. Mr. Berge has all that plus he’s hilarious! In a serious field, and in a super serious – at times grave – niche within that very serious field, I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to be able to read a writer who can also make me laugh.

Well done!

-Jonathan Baron
Via e-mail

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Made Me Want to Puke
Paul Berge’s article on the influence of passengers on board was great. In June 1997 I passed my private pilot flight exam and received my license. Due to my wonderful ability to fly uncoordinated, two of my first three passengers threw up in the plane. The last to hurl was my own 8-year-old daughter. There is no greater distraction for a father than to have his little “first time flier” turning green and puking on the floor of his airplane, especially when on short final.

If a pilot gets distracted worse things can happen, so I put her out of my mind and landed the airplane. However, to add to the problem the smell of the vomit began to have its effect on me. Although I landed without incident, I began to wonder what would have happened if I’d gotten sick, too.

Most of my problems are solved. My skill as a pilot has improved and I can actually fly the airplane and keep the ball in the middle at the same time. My passengers are grateful. My daughter, now 9, fully understands the implications of Dramamine.

Finally, an old detective taught me a new trick. Air sickness is one thing, but contagious puking is cause by the smell, not the motion. Carry a small jar of Vicks Vapor Rub in your flight bag. If one passenger gets sick and the smell is intense, have everyone put a little on their nostrils. If you can’t smell it and don’t look at it, you will not get sick.

Vicks is now like my American Express card. I don’t leave the ground without it.

-Jon Olinger
Fort Wayne, Ind.

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Pleased to Read You, Paul
I just had to write after reading Paul Berge’s Risk Management article. Right on target. I read this at lunch today – just after giving people hell about making too much noise in the office – and just could not stop laughing out loud. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire article and plan to share it with a few friends who are getting ready to go up with me.

Nicely done, Paul!

-Frank E. Dorrin Jr.
Via e-mail

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Who Put Those Mountains Here?
I’m quite sure that I won’t be the only one to point out that the Rocky Mountains are considerably east of Carson City, Nev., and that the Sierra Nevada Mountains are between there and the San Andreas area of California [Accident Probe, March]. You did get it right on the next page, however.

I really enjoy the magazine and look forward to your analyses of accidents and all the other good information you put forth. I usually do not put it down until I have read everything from cover to cover.

-Paul V. Helsel
Rancho Cordova, CA

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Golden Mistake
I am a new private pilot and a new subscriber to Aviation Safety. Congratulations on your first-rate publication, I believe almost every article is helping me to become a better, safer pilot. I have a comment and two questions.

First, as a native Californian, I was surprised to read in “Floats Sink Flight” that the Rocky Mountains had moved to the “Golden State.” Later in the same article the mountains were correctly identified as the Sierra Nevada.

Second, contributor, Patrick Veillette, is identified as directing “a research program studying human error in high risk environments.” This sounds interesting. How can I get additional information about the program’s findings?

Finally, how can I access past articles? Is a collection of “The Best of Aviation Safety” available? Are they archived on the web?

-Peter Jordan
Via e-mail


Being flatlanders, we thought all mountains looked the same. But now we’ve signed up for a geography course at the local community college. Mr. Veillette conducts research under NASA sponsorship and sits on the peer review boards at two scientific organizations. Contact him at Jumprsaway@aol.com. Finally, an Aviation Safety web site is in the works, complete with searchable archives for subscribers. We’ll be sure to let you know when it’s up and running.

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Facts, Please, on Denver’s Accident
As an aviator, John Denver was one of us. Ernie Gann’s classic “Fate is the Hunter” poses questions that apply here. Give us the facts of the accident as they are known, please, rather than defaming suggestion [Editor’s Log, March]. If there was evidence that he was a sloppy pilot, document it that we may all learn from his fatal mistake. Is that not the purpose of this publication?

You sound offended that he spent his money on a Learjet. I wonder, what’s the very first thing any real pilot would buy if through his talents and good fortune he came into money?

Your article buys into the leap that since he had a DWI there must be grounds for the federales’ unsuccessful pursuit of his ticket. You’re innocent until proven guilty here. That’s right, isn’t it?

-Trig Johnson
Boulder City, Nev.

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What Made Denver “Average” Pilot?
Whether Denver caused his death intentionally or inadvertently, and without regard to whatever chemicals he might have imbibed, I don’t understand the basis for your comment that “his ability to pilot airplanes was decidedly average.” Without more data, 2,700 hours and at least six check rides, including a Learjet type rating (itself no mean feat) would indicate at first blush that not only did the guy have lots of dough and lots of time, but he also had much more training and experience than your average Cessna driver.

-Bernie Long
Via e-mail


There’s no doubt Denver had more training and experience than your average Cessna driver, but there’s more to flying than training. Two other aircraft incidents involving Denver were a 1989 ground loop on landing in a vintage biplane and a 1994 incident in which Denver’s Christen Eagle collided with a Cessna while taxiing. Our comments were directed not so much at his record as his attitude. Wrapping a Porsche around a tree while driving intoxicated doesn’t necessarily imply that he’d fly while under the influence, but combine that with test flying a new plane at 500 feet and you can draw some scary conclusions about his judgment. And that, in our view, is what negates much of Denver’s hard-won training and experience.

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Food for Thought
Your “Test Failed” on John Denver’s accident stimulated reflections on how we fly. Well done!

-Lee Keely
Via e-mail

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No Fuel in Level Flight
Aviation Safety is the first aviation publication I read each month. I had a chuckle, however, when I read the article on ”Gasping for Gas” [Airmanship, February]. FAR 23.959 is apparently verbatim, namely, that subparagraph [1] states “Each fuel quantity indicator must be calibrated to read ‘zero’ during level flight when the quantity of fuel remaining in the tank is equal to the unusable fuel supply...” My question is this: if there is no usable fuel, how can one be in level flight? Sounds like a Catch-22 to me!

-John S. Child
Los Angeles, Calif.