It was five years ago this week that the wheels came off the global economy. As we all vividly remember, the U.S. government bailout of AIG and the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 sent the Dow into a tailspin unlike anything we had seen in decades. The historic Great Recession was officially under way.
The body of David Riggs has been recovered from the lake near Shenyang, China, where his Lancair 320 crashed last week. Unfortunately the story hit close to home for me. I hate to admit it, but I flew with Riggs a few years ago. It is an understatement to say that the flight left a lasting impression.
In early 2011 a friend with close ties to Riggs recommended that I go flying with him.
You may recall at the start of the summer flying season FAA Administrator Michael Huerta implored general aviation pilots to fly safely in June, July and August. In an open letter to the GA community delivered just before the Memorial Day weekend, Huerta begged us, “Make sure you’re ready – really ready – to fly.”
One of the lessons we in aviation have learned during these past six years of economic doldrums is that we need to start thinking of airplanes as being more like houses. Houses you can fly around in, that is.
New airplanes, like new homes, have a lot going for them.
Over the past few weeks, months and years, we’ve witnessed a few extremely disturbing accidents of very capable highly automated airliners in which much of the evidence seems to suggest that pilots’ overreliance on automation was a major factor.
To take it one step further, this suggests that at least some airlines are falling down at the job of teaching their pilots what to do when automation isn’t helping but actually making the situation worse.
They tell us that weather forecasting is seeing dramatic improvements thanks to new supercomputers capable of making hundreds of trillions of calculations per second. The latest computers in the arsenal of the National Weather Service are now more than twice as fast as they were just a few years ago, enabling far more accurate forecasts further out in time.
Ever since the news broke earlier this year of the alarming practice by federal agents of stopping pilots in light aircraft and conducting what amount to detentions and warrantless searches of their airplanes, I’ve been struggling to make sense of the program.
Suddenly I have a theory that makes sense.
I’ve emailed the feds asking for comment, but I’m certain I’ll hear nothing back from them, as has been the case previously.
I read a terrific article by Helicopter Association International president Matt Zuccaro the other week in which he admonished helicopter pilots in increasingly risky flight conditions to just “land the damn helicopter,” his point being that when things get dicey, the ground is your friend, so long as you arrive there at a survivable level of G loading and with all the parts more or less still attached.
So with thanks to Matt, let me say that the very same thing is true for airplanes.
So, how is your day going? Mine was not that great. I spent it reading National Transportation Safety Board helicopter accident reports. I don’t know about you, but my level of frustration is at an all-time high.
There were no surprises. No one has yet invented a new way to crash helicopters. The reports noted the usual suspects — fuel exhaustion, continued flight in marginal weather resulting in inadvertent IMC and, in the minority, mechanical failures.