Defending Mooneys

Mooney Caravan formation dynamics more complicated than it may appear


Contrary to Bill Kights view expressed in Facing Formations [Airmanship, October], the leaders of the Mooney Caravan believe that our loose in-trail arrangement combines inclusiveness and safety by providing spacing in the most crucial phase of flight – landing. This years experience, with multiple changes in runway assignments and strong crosswind conditions was a case in point.

Flying into Oshkosh with a group of like-minded pilots is a high point in the year for those of us participating in the Mooney Caravan. We have worked hard over the last few years to develop procedures that allow pilots of varying degrees of training to safely participate in this unique experience.

In my role as head of procedures and the liaison with the FAA and EAA for the Mooney caravan, I have always focused on ensuring we fly safely.

Like the Bonanza group, we would prefer to use runways 36L and 36R for landing at OSH because it allows us to land straight-in on two runways. However, winds and airport operations at OSH dictate that we land on any of the other three runways. Runways 09, 27 and 18 all require using only one runway, which significantly complicates procedures, compresses arrivals on final – and adds several more turns.

Our flight is not a close formation for obvious reasons. While it is easier to maintain a precise position on another aircraft when at close proximity, without proper training that minimum distance also means a minimum margin of safety.

On the day of our flight in 2002, we received a call from the tower at OSH saying that the winds were strong and gusty. We were told to postpone our flight until winds improved. As the winds shifted directions, the OSH tower changed our expected landing runway and arrival procedures three times. Each time we had to brief the pilots on the new flight profile.

When we were given approval for our flight into OSH, the winds were still quite strong and almost a direct crosswind. With concurrence from the FAA, we decided to increase the departure spacing and therefore the spacing upon landing. We did not want aircraft getting bunched up on final or, worse, on the runway with such strong crosswinds.

Contrary to Mr. Kights statements, nothing went wrong when our group began turning both right and left off the runway onto taxiways. In the interest of safety the FAA made the decision that they would close the airport to all other arrivals during our landing. They suggested that we use any taxiway available to clear the runway quickly.

Close formation flight has been the subject of much considered discussion every year. We have several caravan members with considerable military and civilian formation experience that we have drawn upon for advice. When we began to organize the Mooney Caravan, we were forthright about our desire to fly, camp, and enjoy AirVenture together, but most importantly, about our average pilot skill level and lack of unanimous formation training.

We examined the methods used at both Sun-N-Fun and AirVenture for the mass VFR arrivals. We expected human errors and built in extra margins of safety. We spend long hours debriefing every year to improve our performance and safety. This year has already seen many more hours of deliberation than usual. That intense reflection on our past performance and the promise of continued improvement could be the only beneficial effect of Mr. Kights article.

This year we had a new departure point of Watertown (RYV) because of construction at Madison (MSN). We had very strong cross winds enroute and while landing at OSH. We normally have only one minor turn while in flight, whereas this year we had six large turns from departure to arrival that offered opportunities for cutting a corner or turning too soon or late. I am not making excuses or condoning poor pilot skills, however all these items were given consideration.

Errors during the enroute cruise phase would be the easiest and safest to correct. Any error on final approach or on the runway could be a serious situation. The decision was made to increase departure interval spacing even though we understood that flight groups might lose sight of one another.

This did indeed happen, and adjustments had to be made while at a safe speed and altitude in flight. We expected group leaders to communicate while in flight and that also happened with positive results. We did take longer to land all our aircraft this year than in the past and that was intended for the purpose of safety. The OSH airport was closed to all other traffic during our arrival and that was the decision of the FAA, not the Mooney Caravan.

I will agree that simply avoiding disaster is not the appropriate yardstick with which to measure success. I will also state that it can be considered a success when the results consistently demonstrate that our goal of safety is achieved after the proper assessment of all the risk factors.

Mr. Kights thesis seems to be that the only possible safe way to conduct a group flight into OSH for AirVenture is using formal close formation procedures. I respectfully disagree. The Mooney Caravan refines its procedures annually, and will do so for 2003 based on input from pilots in the caravan and from others who have offered their insights, including Mr. Kight. However, we believe that there is indeed an intermediate ground between close formation flight and the controlled anarchy of flying the FISK arrival.

-Bill Rabek
Also signed by 10 other members of the Mooney Caravan
Via e-mail


Sour Aftertaste
Mr. Ibold ruins his otherwise good article on alcohol and pilots [Reality Check, October] with his joke at the end. In two sentences Mr. Ibold conveys the impression that he really doesnt take this matter seriously at all. This does little to advance aviation safety. There is nothing funny about impaired pilots endangering themselves or others.

-Steven Bezman
Alexandria, Va.


Page-Turning Style
It is always a pleasure to read one of Mr. Ibolds articles. Not only are they helpful and informative but suspenseful and thrilling. Toss the Rulebook [Accident Probe, October] is a good example of his page-turning style.

I stumbled across your magazine in an FBO in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., a few months ago and have been a subscriber ever since. Thanks for the good publication.

-David Heras
Via e-mail

Mr. Ibold replies: Thank you for your gracious comments. I made sure to forward them to Mom and my agent. While its nice to get positive feedback, sometimes its a little trying to rely on tragedy as a well from which to squeeze out a drop to drink.


Besmirching Franklin
In Classic Conundrum [Systems Check, October], you advise readers to avoid the Franklins unless you really enjoy working on rare engines. Nonsense.

People dont have to work on them because they are trouble-free. The cylinders dont crack, the cranks dont have to be replaced, and the camshafts are not soft. The same cant be said for the other two engines.

The PZL Franklin 6A350 has one AD, and thats on an American-made fuel pump, the factory is replacing them with their own manufactured pump at no cost to the owners. When did the other two do that?

The cost of a new engine is about the same cost as overhauling a Lycoming or Continental. These engines run smoother, have 1500hrs TBO and are in all sorts of aircraft including Cessnas.

-P. Rosen
Via e-mail

One of the problems with classic airplanes, as Mr. Berge outlines, is the trouble with finding parts for repairs and mechanics who will sign off on said repairs. The Franklin engine falls into that category. Mechanical merits aside, the fact that they are uncommon limits their practical value to many would-be aircraft buyers.


Learning from Mistakes
My first issue back as a subscriber and brilliant as always! Excellent job.

Fear-for-All [Risk Management, October] was outstanding and made me stop and think about how I would handle a serious emergency. I have been in some hairy situations as a student pilot (landing in the wake turbulence of a Dash 8 at ORF) and as a new private pilot (landing in strong, gusty winds at BNA during the passage of a cold front) that left me shaken but resolved to learn from my experiences. Your article was extremely insightful to say the very least.

I also enjoyed your Accident Probe section and NTSB Reports, where over and over again pilots make the same mistakes and some dont live to learn from them. It just boggles my mind how, in this day and age, pilots still run out of fuel, fly VFR into IMC, etc. This is just plain madness. The NTSB Report concerning the July 02 incident at Houston Hobby left me surprised. How many people dropped the ball that day? And apparently, in broad daylight. Oh well, stuff happens.

I would think that after 9/11, GA pilots would be more careful and do their utmost best to safeguard each and every flight. Sadly, some still dont get it, as the accident reports show.

Great magazine, superb issue.

-David Ellis
San Jose, Calif.


Uh-Oh, Vis Has Dropped to .95 miles
I find discussions as to the precise distances by which to remain above, below or abeam the clouds to be of limited practical value. The same can be said of the one-mile/three-mile day/night visibility requirement.

Even assuming the cloud bases (or tops) and visibilities remain constant over any distance – unlikely in inclement weather – I still cannot judge whether I am 400, 500 or 600 feet below clouds. And this is after 35 years of VFR flying.

I defy anyone to be able to distinguish three-quarters of a mile from one mile visibility while in the air with any degree of accuracy or consistency.

Legalities aside, the numbers are at best guidelines. In marginal weather, one-mile visibility at 140 knots provides no margin at all. Experience and common sense are a better guide than obsessing over these arbitrary measurements that are not verifiable.

-Morton Duran
Cranbrook, B.C., Canada

While we agree there is little practical value in squabbling over a distance thats gone in the blink of an eye, we did start this thing by quoting the regs inaccurately. Well take our lumps on that, but we also appreciate your realistic world view.


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