Editor's Log

December 2003 Issue


Malibu owners show sharp skills help keep unforseen gremlins at bay

It’s easy to get so caught up in worrying about safety that you forget what got you into this flying thing in the first place. And so it was with me on a soft October morning.

I was addressing the annual convention of the Malibu/Mirage Owners and Pilots Association, for which I’d done an analysis of the safety record of the Piper PA-46. While sometimes it seems studying accidents can cast a pall over everything, my concerns paled next to the Malibu owners.

Here are successful professionals who fly what many consider the ultimate incarnation of a single engine airplane. Fast and pressurized, it’s built for travel at high altitude. Unfortunately, the demands placed on the engines that have been tried in the airframe have been daunting, and both the Continental and Lycoming engines have demonstrated less than stellar reliability.

As a consequence, engine failure is high on the minds of Malibu and Mirage owners and pilots – and even their spouses. Questions about the reliability of the powerplants have led some owners to take drastic actions. One highly experienced pilot steadfastly refuses to fly his airplane at night. Informational forums dealt heavily with engine care and deadstick landings. They’ve even worked out the numbers for deadsticking an instrument approach.

This concern about engine failure has some collateral consequences. The runway loss of control accidents that seem to plague other models of airplane are conspicuously absent.

Part of it surely stems from the fact that these airplanes tend to be flown by experienced pilots because the inexperienced ones can’t get insurance. But they also know the stakes and are willing to pay the price to stack the odds in their favor.

In a crowd of perhaps 200 people, I asked how many pilots had commercial certificates. Ninety percent raised their hands. Half thought they could pass a commercial practical ride in their airplane that afternoon.

If that dedication to proficiency were reflected among pilots of airplanes with a less checkered mechanical record, it seems accidents would be substantially reduced.

Proficiency doesn’t have to come at the end of an instructor’s leash, either. What you demand of yourself is a huge part of the equation. One reason I like flying taildraggers is because the connection between airplane and pilot seems much more immediate – like riding a motorcycle instead of driving a luxury car.

When I returned from the convention, I was motivated to reconnect with my skills.

While airplanes are a great transportation tool and often carry unmatched utility, it pays to spend a few hours occasionally reconnecting with the skills that let you cast your gaze knowingly skyward. Those skills will come in handy when gravity unexpectedly reasserts its dominant hand.

-Ken Ibold