Air Force One On A Barge And D.C. Is Abuzz!

Air Force One Experience
A plane painted up to look like Air Force One will soon be on display at the National Harbor in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of National Harbor.

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 There was doubtless a record number of sentences uttered in Washington D.C. over the past several days that started with the words, “What the…?” It’s understandable because even after people learn what’s going on, it’s still kind of hard to believe.

The cause of confusion is a Boeing 747 that looks for all the world like Air Force One that’s been floating its way to the harbor on a barge. It’s not Air Force One, actually, but it sure looks like it.

The jumbo jet in question is a 747 that has been painted up to look like Air Force One. The plane will be on permanent display at the National Harbor in Washington D.C. starting soon as part of the Air Force One Experience, a non-profit that looks to give young people (and not so-young people too) a hands-on experience with the reclining seat of power.

No word yet one exactly when the big bird will be ready for tours, but we’re pretty sure all the top secret stuff on the real Air Force One will stay that way. To find out more, check out airforceoneexperience.com.

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How to Lose Your Pilot Certificate (And How Not To)

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If you’ve been flying for more than a few days, odds are pretty good that you’ve done something that’s not quite cricket. Maybe you accidentally clipped the edge of Class C airspace without talking to ATC first. Or maybe you let time get away from you and flew your plane with an expired annual. Or maybe you did something truly dangerous, like landing on the wrong runway or busting minimums on an instrument approach. Whatever it is, it’s possible you’ve done something that could have gotten you into at least a little trouble with the FAA, and you’ve probably wondered, “What would happen if I got caught?”

The simple answer is, it depends. Did your action create a hazard? Was it intentional or accidental? Did you take immediate action to correct the issue? Was this your first offense? What was your attitude in discussing the issue with authorities? All of these factors play an important role in determining how big a deal it is with the FAA and what, if any, enforcement action is likely to be forthcoming.

Pilot Certificate

But, you ask, what COULD the FAA do to me if I went astray of the regulations? What is the extent of their powers to punish? Can they put me in chains? Take my airplane? Fine me a million bucks? Or, worse yet, take away my Snapchat account? Well, no, they can’t do any of those things, but there are some things they can do. Let’s start with the most gentle and work our way up (or down) from there.

The FAA calls mistakes, procedural errors or violations of regulations “pilot deviations.” Some of these deviations are dealt with at the local level. Let’s say you enter Class D airspace and make your first call to the tower when entering downwind. To make matters worse, you’re instructed to extend your downwind to follow a King Air on a three-mile final, but you make a short approach and land first. After you land, tower gives you a telephone number and asks you to call them, resulting in an uncomfortable conversation with a controller about radio procedures, following instructions, Class D procedures, things like that. If you’re contrite, apologize for the mistake, state that you did not understand the instruction to extend, accept the criticism as a learning experience and generally act like a human being, there’s a chance the matter could end right there. No harm, no foul.

But let’s say you’re a jerk. Let’s say you call the tower and get into a certain kind of contest with the controller. You remind him that you were Pilot in COMMAND, had plenty of time to land in front of the King Air, and, besides, you pay his salary and don’t need to be lectured to by some high-and-mighty twentysomething with a god complex sitting in an air-conditioned cab at taxpayer expense. Let’s say you said that.

Suspecting an attitude problem and a poor approach to safety (ya think?), the controller will likely escalate the situation to the local FSDO (Flight Standards District Office) for action. The FAA inspector assigned to the case will need to determine just how to deal with you and will take your attitude, good or bad, intentions and willingness to learn very seriously in deciding what level of enforcement is most appropriate. Let’s say you’ve calmed down during the days since your chat with the tower controller, express remorse and have joined the human race again. In that case, there’s a chance the matter will be handled through an administrative action. If, on the other hand, the inspector determines that the act was intentional, not your first offense, part of some criminal activity, or that your attitude exhibits a poor approach to safety, well, things could go bad for you.

Administrative actions come in two flavors: Warning Notices and Letters of Correction. A Warning Notice will detail the mistakes you made, the violations of the FARs, things like that. The notice will warn you against future violations and state that no further action will take place. This notice will be mailed to you and will become a part of your permanent record. The matter will be considered closed but will be referred to in the future if you break another rule or get caught doing something you shouldn’t.

A Letter of Correction, on the other hand, will be issued if you’ve completed, or agree to complete, a course of remedial training or counseling. Sometimes the FAA will want you to take X hours of additional instruction or may require you to do something else to increase your knowledge or understanding of the affected regulation or procedure. This, too, becomes part of your permanent file. If you succeed in ending the matter with one of these two administrative outcomes, thank your parents for raising a respectable human being with a good attitude. Things could have gone a lot worse.

For example, if the FAA inspector picks up on the same bad attitude you showed previously, things could get painful. Since you indicated to the tower controller that you landed in front of your traffic intentionally, that it was not an inadvertent error, and that you’re not at all sorry for it, odds are pretty good that a hammer of some weight is going to land on you. Just how big a hammer depends on your ongoing discussions, the facts of the case, and your continuing attitude (there goes that word again).

The FAA has three options besides the Warning Letter and LOC in dealing with you. One, they can take a certificate action and suspend or revoke your pilot privileges for a specified period of time or permanently. This is a common practice, particularly if the offense involved violates a specific FAR, was intentional or repeated, or if the inspector thinks your approach to the situation was less than cooperative. A certificate action is also likely if the FAA suspects that you lack the basic skills to continue acting as PIC safely.

Part of any FAA enforcement action could be a request for you to take a re-examination ride with one of their inspectors. This “709 ride” is often done when the FAA suspects that you lack the skills, knowledge or technical ability to act safely as a pilot. This often comes after an accident or a violation of the regulations that leads the inspector to think that a specific re-examination of your piloting skills is in order. As a side note, 709 rides are also given to pilots who took and passed practical tests with designated examiners who the FAA suspects were not properly examining their applicants. In either case, re-examination rides with the FAA can create great stress for the pilot but can also result in tremendous learning experiences. Pass this 709 ride, and you’re golden. Fail, and the FAA could move to suspend or revoke your certificate.

The third option the FAA has is to slap you with a hefty monetary fine. This is not usually the preferred option, since it does nothing to evaluate your flying skills or attitude, does not remediate the error, and by itself leaves your flying privileges intact. These “civil penalties” are normally assessed against companies that violate the FAR, not individuals. Administrative or certificate actions are far more common against pilots, but a big hit to your wallet is always a possibility.

Wilbur Wright Building

There is much talk in the press about the FAA’s new “kinder and gentler” approach to enforcement. While it’s true there is a new compliance enforcement philosophy taking hold at the FAA, it is not true that the authorities are getting lax or have gotten more likely to just let things slide. No way. What they have done is considered the net effect of their enforcement actions for each case, with the goals of improving communications between the FAA and the pilot community and creating a system that is most likely to improve safety overall. If additional training is seen as more effective than a certificate action in disposing of a particular case and making that pilot a safer aviator, then that’s the course they will take. They do not automatically go straight to pulling a pilot’s certificate if they think another course of action will create a better outcome. While administrative actions have become the default response to many pilot deviations, make no mistake, the FAA is dead serious about improving safety. If they think a pilot lacks the skills, knowledge or attitudes necessary to be a safe aviator, they’ll move against that pilot’s certificate and suspend or revoke his or her flying privileges. For more detailed information about the FAA’s new compliance enforcement philosophy, go to https://www.faa.gov/news/safety_briefing/2016/media/SE_Topic_16-10.pdf.

There is a way to protect yourself, at least somewhat, from FAA enforcement actions if you mess up and do something wrong. The FAA has worked together with NASA to create something called the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS), again with the goal of improving communications and enhancing the safety of flight. This system was designed to identify risk-intense “hot spots,” areas and operations that can lead to inadvertent pilot deviations and to address those deviations in a way that best improves safety. Here’s how it works.

Let’s say you clip the edge of Class C airspace while flying cross country from A to B. You didn’t mean to do it, it was an accident, and you realized what you did and took corrective action. If you fear you may be subject to FAA enforcement, you can log on to the ASRS website at https://asrs.arc.nasa.gov/report/electronic.html and click on the General Report Form link.

Fill out the fields, citing your contact information, pilot experience, the time and place of the deviation, and what you think you did wrong. Once you file this form, you will most likely not be subject to any FAA enforcement provided the deviation was accidental, the pilot has no previous record of infractions, and there was no associated criminal activity. Some have called this program a “get out of jail free card,” but that is not necessarily the case. If the FAA feels that the violation was not accidental or that the facts of the case disqualify the pilot from ASRS protections, then the simple act of filing the “NASA form” may not provide the desired protections. Still, when in doubt, fill out the form and keep a record of the filing to present to the FAA in case you get that dreaded call or letter advising you of a pending action. It just could save you a lot of trouble.

It’s important to note that the information filed on this form remains confidential. The FAA has no access to it and cannot use the information provided to pursue enforcement actions. NASA was selected as a third-party holder of this information precisely to prevent any other government agency from using the information against the pilot making the report. The government’s goal in creating the ASRS was to collect data on potential problem areas so that discrepancies and deficiencies in the ATC or airspace systems can be identified and resolved from pilot and other user input. So far it’s worked very well, with over a million reports filed.

So, what’s the takeaway from all this? If you violate a reg or otherwise do something unsafe, the FAA has a range of actions they can take to make your life miserable. Your attitude and approach to the deviation matters. A lot. No, they can’t take away your plane or Facebook account, but they can do plenty of other things. It’s probably best to stay on the right side of the authorities by taking some common-sense steps to minimize the chances of committing a violation in the first place. Stay current. Pay attention at all times. Don’t take shortcuts. Keep reading and studying (knowledge is power). Plan your flights down to the last detail. Think safety. And if you do all that and still find yourself doing something dumb, file that NASA report and keep your fingers crossed.

Stay safe.

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National Aviation Hall of Fame Honors Four Heroes of Aviation

National Aviation Hall of Fame 2018 Inductees
From Left: Ronald R. Fogleman, Walter (Walt) Cunningham, John R. (Jack) Dailey, and Judi Dana, accepting the award on behalf of her late husband William H. (Bill) Dana, at the National Aviation Hall of Fame ceremony.

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The National Aviation Hall of Fame has inducted four men into its hallowed hall. At an event on September 29, 2018, the organization honored General John R. (Jack) Dailey, former longtime director of the National Air and Space Museum; former astronaut Colonel Walter (Walt) Cunningham; William H. (Bill) Dana, the genius behind much of the revolutionary work at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center; and former Air Force Chief of Staff Ronald R. Fogleman.

Next year’s enshrinement will take place in Denver, Colorado, at the Wings Over The Rockies Air & Space Museum.

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News and Updates – FAA Reauthorization Bill Establishes New Conditions for Recreational Use of Drones

On October 5, 2018, the President signed theFAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. The Act establishes new conditions for recreational use of drones and immediately repeals the Special Rule for Model Aircraft.

  • Fly for hobby or recreation only
  • Register your model aircraft
  • Fly within visual line-of-sight
  • Follow community-based safety guidelines and fly within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization
  • Fly a drone under 55 lbs. unless certified by a community-based organization
  • Never fly near other aircraft
  • Never fly near emergency response efforts

The agency is evaluating the impacts of this change in the law and how implementation will proceed. The Reauthorization Act cannot be fully implemented immediately, please continue to follow all current policies and guidance with respect to recreational use of drones:

Updated direction and guidance will be provided as the FAA implements this new legislation.

Previous Fuel Pump Issues Leads to Deadly Assumption

The pilot of a Piper PA-31-325 Navajo that crashed on August 16, 2016, near Northport, Alabama, killing all six on board, had given air traffic control his diagnosis of the problem the airplane was experiencing. Apparently, the pilot didn’t believe it was dramatic enough to declare an emergency, and he expressed confidence he’d have no trouble diverting to the airport at Tuscaloosa about 20 miles ahead. When given the option of taking a vector for an airport at three o’clock and just eight miles, the pilot said, “Nah, Tuscaloosa’s perfect.” What NTSB investigators learned from airplane maintenance records and a flight instructor who had flown frequently with the pilot raises the possibility that instead of trying to gather current facts and make a current diagnosis, the pilot believed he was experiencing a repeat of an old fuel pump issue that once again could be handled without jeopardizing safety.

The PA-31-325 was manufactured in 1984. The pilot purchased it using a limited liability company on March 14, 2016. He based the airplane at University-Oxford Airport, Oxford, Mississippi. The Navajo had six seats and was powered by two Lycoming TIO-540 engines, each producing 350 horsepower. The airplane had accumulated 3,447.8 flight hours at the time of the accident. The most recent annual inspection had taken place about eight months before the accident. The airplane had been flown 187 hours in those eight months.

The pilot had a private certificate for single-engine and multi-engine land airplanes and an instrument rating. His FAA third-class medical was current. He had logged 749.7 hours, with 48.7 in PA-31 aircraft. His logbook noted two dual instruction flights totaling 2.9 hours on March 17, 2016, three days after the pilot purchased the airplane.

The airplane had four fuel tanks: one inboard and one outboard in each wing. Each side had three fuel pumps: an engine-driven pump, a boost pump, and an emergency pump. According to Piper, the right and left fuel systems are independent and only connect when the crossfeed system is activated. Fuel goes from the wing tanks through the selector valve, through a filter, to the boost pump, through the emergency fuel pump, the firewall shutoff valve, and to the engine-driven fuel pump. The emergency pumps are used during takeoff and landing and when priming the engines. The regular boost pumps operate continuously whenever the master switch is on. Needles in a fuel flow gauge indicate the flow in U.S. gallons per hour for each engine. A dual fuel-pressure gauge displays the pressure in pounds per square inch for each side. Sensing probes activate a warning on an annunciator panel when fuel flow from the main tank stops. There also is a red if a boost pump fails, but Piper says if that happens, “it should not be necessary to turn the emergency fuel pump on unless the pressure falls below 30 psi.”

When interviewed by an NTSB investigator, the flight instructor said he had only flown one flight alone with the pilot in the Navajo and didn’t provide emergency procedures training. On more than one occasion he rode with the pilot when passengers were on board, but they didn’t do training maneuvers then. He told investigators that he did not know of the pilot receiving Navajo training from anyone else but was aware the pilot had studied the Pilot Operating Handbook and did good, thorough preflights.

The pilot had told the instructor about a flight to South Carolina during which the fuel pressure annunciator light had come on, but there was no loss of fuel pressure. The pilot said he had a mechanic look at the plane, but nothing abnormal was found.

The instructor was with the pilot on a trip to Austin, Texas, and back. After takeoff from Austin, at about 1,000 feet, the right engine acted as if it was going to quit. The engine’s fuel pressure was dropping below red line, so the pilot turned on the emergency pump. The pressure came back up. After a few minutes, he turned off the emergency pump, and the pressure started dropping. He put the emergency pump back on and left it on for about 45 minutes. When he again turned off the emergency pump, the pressure stayed up. Subsequently, the pilot took the airplane to a mechanic and had him replace both the right engine’s boost pump and the engine-driven pump. That was on July 19, 2016, about 17 flight hours before the accident.

The flight instructor said the airplane burned about 38 to 40 gallons total per hour on average. He knew that the pilot was planning a flight to Florida and on August 10 texted him to ask whether the airplane was okay. The pilot responded that everything was fine but that the screen for the Engine Data Monitor would occasionally flicker or go dark after an hour of use.

The Florida trip — the accident would occur on the return leg — was so the pilot, his wife and two other couples could attend a medical conference in Orlando, Florida. They had flown into Kissimmee Gateway Airport (KISM), and this was the return flight to Oxford, Miss. The pilot filed an IFR flight plan with a cruising altitude of 12,000 feet MSL. At about 8:55 a.m., they were cleared for takeoff. According to Piper, takeoff should be flown using the inboard fuel tanks. Then the pilot is supposed to switch to the outboard tanks and, when the fuel has been used, go back to the inboard tanks. The outboard tanks hold 40 gallons each and the inboards 56 gallons each, for a total of 192 gallons, of which 183.4 are usable. Fuel receipts indicated the airplane carried full fuel when it left Kissimmee.

At about 10:59:42, a little over two hours after takeoff, the flight was at 12,000 feet and being handled by Atlanta Center when the pilot radioed, “Atlanta Center, seven sierra alpha, I may need to make an, a (unclear) a landing. I’m losing my fuel pump.” The controller asked, “…can you make it to Tuscaloosa?” The pilot replied, “Uh, yeah, I should be able to make it to Tuscaloosa.” The controller cleared the pilot direct to the Tuscaloosa Regional Airport (KTCL) and told him to descend to 6,000 feet. The pilot did not respond and, at 11:00:19, the controller radioed, “November four four seven sierra alpha, cleared direct to Tuscaloosa Airport, tango charlie lima, maintain, ah, six thousand.” At 11:00:48, the pilot responded, “I’m cleared direct Tuscaloosa.”

The controller asked if there was anything else the pilot needed and, at 11:01, the pilot said, “Not right now, but I’m working on it, I’m just trying to get her trimmed up, but I just got a lot of manifold pressure loss.” The controller advised, “I also do have an airport over at your three o’clock about eight miles, ah, then Tuscaloosa is dead ahead at, ah, twenty miles.” At 11:01:28, the pilot replied, “Nah, Tuscaloosa’s perfect.”

At 11:03:04, the controller advised, “If you can make it to Tuscaloosa, that’s great. Ah, I’m gonna put you on Birmingham Approach’s frequency and let them handle you, ah, handle you all the way into the airport. Is there anything else you might need from me?” “No,” said the pilot. “I don’t believe so. I can go to Birmingham (approach control). We’re pretty stable here. I’m just taking it slow.”

The pilot then switched over to Birmingham Approach and, at 11:03:49, radioed that “…I’m at one zero thousand, descending into Tuscaloosa, got a right fuel pump out.” The controller cleared the pilot to 4,000 feet and told him to advise if he needed any assistance. At 11:04:20, the pilot said, “Four thousand, as long as I can take it slow, we’ll be fine.”

At 11:06:37, the controller radioed the Navajo to “descend and maintain two thousand three hundred. We just talked to the tower, and they say as long as you can get below two thousand five hundred, you should be able to get the visual.” KTCL had scattered clouds at 2,600 feet, a broken ceiling at 3,600 feet, visibility 10 miles and wind from 170 degrees at 10 knots gusting to 14 knots.

At 11:06:47, the pilot replied, “Roger that, I’m going to two thousand three hundred, and I may be…” The controller transmitted, “November seven sierra alpha, verify two thousand three hundred.” At 11:06:55, the pilot confirmed, “two thousand three hundred,” followed a few seconds later with, “(unintelligible) approach, Tuscaloosa, I may be (unintelligible) danger because, um, I can’t believe it. But may be (unintelligible).” The controller asked him to “say again,” and the pilot responded, “I may be losing both engines here (unintelligible).” The pilot followed that with, “I’m not losing both engines, but I lost both fuel pumps.”

The controller advised him that “…the Tuscaloosa Airport now about twelve o’clock and about one three miles, um, any runway you want you can have.”

The pilot asked, “Is there anything even closer?” The controller replied that Tuscaloosa was the closest, and the next closest was behind him, Bibb County Airport at Centreville, Ala.

At 11:08:20, the pilot said, “I’m gonna do my best,” and three seconds later said, “I have no power.”

The controller told the pilot he was “…lined up for, uh, runway three zero at Tuscaloosa right now, it, you just keep it steady, uh, it’s about twelve o’clock and about six miles or seven miles now.” The pilot’s response: “Okay, I don’t know if I’m gonna make it,” followed a few seconds later with, “I’m losing altitude quickly.” The pilot asked for the ceiling, and the controller replied it was 2,500 feet in the area, that he was about five miles from the airport and that radar was showing the airplane at 4,100 feet. The pilot confirmed the altitude and added, “I just don’t know if I’m gonna make it.” The controller tried to be reassuring: “…You just hold it up, um, it’s, it’s twelve o’clock, you’re lined up for runway three zero, as soon as you get out of that, uh, ceiling you should get it in sight.”

The pilot was expressing further doubts because of the rate of altitude loss. “I don’t know if we can make it on this altitude drop,” he radioed. The controller implored him to “…just try as best you can, please just keep it level,” apparently realizing that the airplane was still in the clouds and how easy it can be for a pilot in distress who may be troubleshooting to become distracted and, possibly, spatially disoriented. The pilot responded, “Keeping it level,” and the controller advised that there was a highway available if he needed it. At 11:11:18, the pilot responded, “I don’t know with this ceiling.” About 16 seconds later he added, “I got you, on final now,” apparently indicating that he could see the runway ahead.

At 11:12:29, the Tuscaloosa tower controller told the approach controller via the interphone system that “I’ve got him in sight, looks like he’s got the altitude to make it.” When the approach controller reminded the pilot to lower his landing gear, the pilot responded, “It’ll slow me down.” At 11:13:28, the pilot radioed, “Short final now.” That was the last transmission. The airplane impacted trees approximately 1,650 feet short of the approach end of Runway 30 and slammed into the ground. A fire erupted.

The wreckage examination failed to find evidence of preimpact failures or malfunctions that would have interfered with normal engine or airplane systems operations. The propellers for both engines had not been feathered, something pilots would be expected to do when following an emergency checklist and securing a failed engine. Feathering should have helped reduce drag and extend the glide.

All six fuel pumps were recovered and subjected to extensive examination and testing. While one of the pumps showed signs of corrosion attributed to exposure to water from firefighters, none was found to have any problem that would have affected operation during flight.

It was becoming clear to investigators that what the pilot interpreted as a fuel pump problem really was a reflection of fuel starvation due to fuel mismanagement. They noted that the first signs of a problem appeared about the time they calculated the outboard tanks would be empty.

It’s possible that the pilot’s previous experiences had conditioned him to be especially alert for fuel pressure problems, and he was flying with a preconceived notion that if they appeared he should focus on the fuel pumps rather than taking the time to begin at the beginning in trying to understand what was happening. Believing he had an answer might have led him to not bother with a checklist.

Had he run the “Emergency Procedures Checklist—Engine Failure During Flight,” it would have directed him, before securing the inoperative engine, to check fuel quantity and switch the fuel selector of the inoperative engine to the other tank. Going to the inboard tank on the right engine should have restored fuel and, once that happened, it’s likely the pilot would have realized he needed to switch the left side, too, thus preventing power loss of the left engine.

Indeed, the NTSB determined that the probable cause of the accident was the total loss of power in both engines due to fuel starvation as a result of the pilot’s fuel mismanagement and his subsequent failure to follow the emergency checklist. Contributing to the pilot’s failure to follow the emergency checklist was his lack of emergency procedures training in the accident airplane.

In commenting on this accident, the Safety Board noted that from 2011 to 2015, an average of more than 50 accidents per year were due to fuel management issues. Less than 5 percent were because of a problem with the fuel system. The board declared, “Running out of fuel or starving an engine of fuel is highly preventable.” I think that’s what’s called an understatement.

 


Peter Katz is editor and publisher of NTSB Reporter, an independent monthly update on aircraft accident investigations and other news concerning the National Transportation Safety Board. To subscribe, visit ntsbreporter.us or write to: NTSB Reporter, Subscription Dept., P.O. Box 831, White Plains, NY 10602-0831.

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