Your article, “Revisiting JFK, Jr.” (June 2016), included the phrase “…the pilot was current, including at night….” I found that interesting, as his night currency was an issue that I had never seen addressed until your article. I remember reading some accounts that said his logbook had not been found, and others that stated he was on crutches at the time of the flight.
According to one article, he had a cast removed from his broken ankle one day prior to the flight. The ankle was reportedly broken six weeks earlier, which would have had him in a cast for the previous six weeks. If we assume he didn’t try to fly during that time, that leaves roughly six weeks in which he would have had to log his three night takeoffs and landings. That’s certainly doable, but I’ve always wondered whether he actually did.
If the broken ankle story is correct, I would also question the wisdom of a 310-hour instrument student taking a six-week break from flying and then launching into a night over-water trip.
If you have any supporting details on his night currency, they would put my long-standing question to rest! In the meantime, thanks for your work on a truly useful and informative magazine—I’ve learned a lot from it, and you.
Good questions. Kennedy purchased the airplane on April 28, 1999, less than 90 days before the July 16, 1999, accident. According to the NTSB, one of his CFIs “had made six or seven flights to MVY with the pilot in the accident airplane. The CFI stated that most of the flights were conducted at night.” Additionally, another CFI flew with Kennedy in the accident airplane to MVY on July 1, 1999. “The flight was conducted at night,” the NTSB said. One of his CFIs later noted a July 1, 1999, flight on which Kennedy was wearing a nonplaster cast on his leg. The instructor had to taxi the airplane and assist with landing.
Kennedy’s current logbook was not located. The NTSB used “records from training facilities, copies of flight instructors’ logbooks, and statements from instructors and pilots to estimate the pilot’s total flight experience…[at] about 310 hours, of which 55 hours were at night.” His “estimated flight time in the accident airplane was about 36 hours, of which 9.4 hours were at night.”
It seems a broken ankle didn’t slow him down, and he had plenty of opportunities for night landings. No, we don’t have a specific record of three full-stop landings in the preceding 90 days. But with all that night flying, he had more recent experience in the dark than many of us typically do.
From The Ramp
Long ago and far away, I was a “ramp rat.” First at a county airport in Northwest Ohio, and later across the country in Salem, Ore. While I can’t comment as a pilot, I thought it might be worth sharing a perspective from the ground after reading Mike Hart’s excellent article in the March 2016 issue, “Planning Plan B.”
If there is a safety component to knowing your options on the ground—and Mike makes a pretty good case for that—I would suggest something else to, err, supplement your options once on the ground. It’s called tipping the line person.
While an FBO might have policies, published hours and options galore for the wayfaring airman, at many airports, the lowly line man or woman is your first and last line of defense when you are up against any of the scenarios he mentioned, and a host more. They can make or break your trip, and they know it. How much he or she cares may very well be tied to how you treated them the last time your presence graced their ramp.
Having said that, most line people I worked around actually do care. To keep them caring, here are some tips to remember about the nameless him or her carrying out your line-service needs.
We love airplanes. Most line workers, at least in the small airport world, are infatuated with aviation just like you, only with less opportunity to explore it. They are predisposed to think you, as a pilot, are really cool. Treat them well and with respect, and they just might remember to double check whether or not they put your oil filler cap back on right. Answer their eager questions and show off your airplane to them a little, and they just might dash in to the Unicom and call you while you are taxiing out to tell you there is a big fat trail of fuel on the ramp behind you.
There are two things line workers usually have: A phenomenal memory for tail numbers, and an equally impressive word-of-mouth network. Want to see an FBO go magically dark? Just announce on Unicom or CFTA that you are 50 miles out about ten minutes before closing time, after you sassed the line for spilling some fuel on your fresh wax job last time you here. Want to see a candle in the window when you get there well past closing time? Insist on giving the kid a tip after he gave your airplane hangar rash. I had that happen to me. I worshiped that man when he showed up.
Which leads to the last one: Money talks. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but consistency helps. That network I talked about? It will work for you just as well as against you. If you have line boys jumping off their mowers and vying to come give you a hand with whatever you need, it probably has a lot more to do with your reputation than with the FBO’s management.
And a final thought: No amount of money makes up for a lousy attitude.
You’re absolutely right about how the quality of line service can make or break a trip. Over the years, we’ve found tipping the line personnel pays off big-time, in getting a lower fuel price, free hangaring and many more benefits.
I think there is an easier way to understand how dihedral works, as discussed in the June 2016 article, “Turn Fundamentals.”
If you consider the wings of an airplane with a lot of built-in dihedral, like a Piper Cherokee, the vector representing lift is acting normal to the plane defined by the wing spar. That lift vector can be broken down into two vectors, a vertical and a horizontal component. When flying “wings-level,” the horizontal components cancel out and provide some directional stability. When one wing drops, the force vector of the lowered wing becomes “more” vertical, since the wing is now flying parallel to the ground, and the vertical lift component of lift of the raised wing becomes reduced, resulting in a moment about the longitudinal axis. This results in a roll that returns the wings to a neutral or wings-level condition.
Your explanation is a good one, and we both agree the lowered wing experiences a greater angle of attack. But that may or may not be what we want, since an airplane with greater dihedral than another may be more stable in roll, presuming all other things remain equal.
The flip side is roll stability may tend to exacerbate adverse yaw—depending on a host of other design factors—perhaps requiring different rudder technique in extreme cases.