Unicom

May 2005 Issue




Unicom: 05/05

Stuck On Top
I just read “Stuck On Top” (February 2005) and wanted to add the importance of taking as much fuel as possible (as long as weight is not a problem) whenever flying, no matter how short or long the flight. This gives more options in case you get stuck. Also related to this is properly leaning the fuel mixture, which will increase your range.

Alan Lawrence
Via e-mail

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“Reckless Stupidity”
In my view, Mr. Stephens’ self-described misadventure (“Stuck On Top,” February 2005) is one of the most egregious examples of reckless stupidity, pride and selfishness I have ever heard of. I am completely puzzled at your positive comments concerning his criminal behavior and believe that your publishing his account without giving proper context sends a deadly message to your VFR-only subscribers. I also have serious doubts about the veracity of the account.

To begin with, Mr. Stephens never stated that he declared an emergency, admitted that he was a VFR pilot trapped on top, or even discussed his problem with ATC. Instead, he recounts how, even though he was in VMC conditions and had “plenty of fuel,” he improperly filed an IFR flight plan and proceeded to take himself and his fiancée to within seconds of a dying in an fiery crash.

Maddeningly, your response to his story is praise for Mr. Stephens’ actions as you state that “the right thing in this case was to confess his sins to ATC and seek not only their forgiveness but their assistance. It worked for the author and it can work for you.”

Did we all read the same account of that day’s events? How can you reach such a conclusion when even a cursory look at his story shows obvious criminal recklessness?

The evidence that ATC was never aware of Mr. Stephens’ true plight is found in his own telling of the story. According to Mr. Stephens, at the time he asked for help he had “plenty of fuel” and was “VFR on top.” Nevertheless, he wants us to believe that a professional air traffic controller, knowingly instructed a low-time VFR pilot trapped on top to immediately descend into the clouds and then make at least three turns in the clouds, including at least two descending turns?

Based on the foregoing, I must respectfully disagree with your conclusion that Mr. Stephens “confessed his sins” and “sought assistance” in a way that “worked” for him. Quite to the contrary, Mr. Stephens started his flight with three sins (poor weather briefing, poor fuel planning, failure to make a 180-degree turn) and compounded those sins with at least half a dozen more as he voluntarily descended through the clouds to within less than five seconds of killing himself and a completely innocent woman.

Had Mr. Stephens’ flight ended with his passenger’s death and his survival, he certainly could have spent the majority of his remaining life in prison as a result of his reckless disregard for human life. I can only hope that he understands how fantastically lucky he was to escape with his life, and that he went on to become a much safer pilot.

Bart Epstein
Via e-mail


Bart, we agree that Mr. Stephens did a lot wrong, not least of which was failing to monitor his progress, along with the weather. Our comments regarding his actions had to do more with what he did to get out of his predicament—keeping his head, flying the airplane, confessing the problem to ATC—than what he did to get into it.

As for failing to declare an emergency and filing an improper IFR flight plan, we didn’t read it that way. Whether the “E” word was used or not, Mr. Stephens clearly was exercising his emergency authority. From his account, it’s also clear to us that ATC treated his flight as a bona fide emergency. The moral of this story, and so many others like it, is to fly the airplane, use ATC’s resources and keep a cool head.

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Circling the IPC
I really enjoy Aviation Safety and the thought-provoking articles in it. I have a question on the article “Circle to IPC” (October 2004) and the stated requirement to do circling approaches during an Instrument Proficiency Check. The regs and the IPC instructions in the Instrument Rating Practical Test Standards (PTS) are ambiguous.

The PTS refers to “a representative number of TASKs, as determined by the examiner/instructor...” It then goes on to cloud the issue by saying, “As a minimum, the applicant must demonstrate the ability to perform the TASKs as listed in the above chart.” That seems to almost say that every IPC must include all of the tasks of the Instrument Rating Practical test whereas the previous sentence says that there is a selection determined by the examiner instructor.

My personal opinion as a 20+ year, 5000+ hour CFI is toward the selection mode that allows the instructor to select tasks as necessary to determine an individual’s competence to exercise the privileges of his certificate.

Circling approaches are definitely a tool and a worthy area of emphasis. I do not think that they are a regulatory requirement. I would welcome your research into finding an authoritative answer to this and intend to pursue it myself with our local FSDO.

Keep up the good work. Things change and researching those changes is a good way to keep thinking, learning and sharp.

David Shields
Via e-mail


To be sure, the PTS remains a bit vague on whether the circling approach is required on an IPC in an airplane—that’s nothing new for the FAA. In part, our article was based on the premise that including the circling manuever in the recently revised PTS constituted a change in policy for the agency; again something that’s not new.

However, the fact the agency saw fit to make the change tells us they expect an IPC to include it more often than not. As always, it’s up to the examiner to decide what’s an appropriate task for the IPC, or for any other checkride. We’d rather be prepared than pink-slipped.

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Split Flaps And The Web
I enjoyed the article on flaps in the February 2005 issue. One comment I would like to add to the discussion is with regard to split flaps. I’ve actually been through split flaps three times. In all three cases, the condition occurred in multi-engine aircraft with electric flaps. The condition happened each time when the flaps were retracted—one flap would retract and the other one did not. In a twin, it feels like you have lost an engine -- you experience the same rolling and yawing.

The first time it happened to me was when I studying for my initial CFI certificate, which I did in a Twin Comanche. I had been doing slow flight and when I started the recovery, my instructor and I both thought we had lost the left engine. So I rolled into the engine-out procedures, and when I got to the “verify” step, it immediately became apparent that the left engine was just fine. Then we discovered the right flap had not retracted. Since it would not retract, we put the left flap back down to match it and sedately proceeded to the airport. Since then it has happened two other times, when a student was going missed on a practice approach and retracted the flaps.

Finally, I recently had a CFI student ask me a question with respect to maximum endurance versus maximum range. I remembered reading an article about this in a relatively recent issue. I looked up your Web site and, since I am a subscriber, was able to search through past articles. In a few minutes, I had located the article and was able to print it for the student. Kudos to Aviation Safety for both an excellent magazine as well as a very useful Web site.

Linda Dowdy
Via e-mail


Remind us never to get into a twin with you if it has electric flaps. And thanks for the kudos on the magazine’s Web site.