September 1, 1999

Polished perfection

You made my day when I opened my July copy of AOPA Pilot and saw the beautiful picture on the contents pages. Wow, an AT-7! I immediately thought, that has Pratt & Whitney R-985 AN-1 engines and Hamilton constant-speed propellers. I was 18 years old and just out of airplane mechanic school in the Army Air Forces when I worked on those planes at Hondo, Texas, in late 1942. Now it is a Beech G18 (" Polished Perfection," July Pilot).

It was extremely dependable, durable, and versatile. We used them for navigation training and as mechanics, we were thrilled when on occasion we were privileged to ride in the copilot's seat.

A variation was the AT-11 used for bombardier training, also the C-45 used for personnel and cargo. Of course, many pilots received twin-engine training in many models.

Thanks for the memories.

Robert McCoy AOPA 1338346
Moorestown, New Jersey

Making time

I just finished reading Phil Boyer's " President's Position: Take the Time" (July Pilot). I couldn't agree more with the message, which was a little revealing to me. I didn't start flying until much later in life (44 years old) because I could not justify the expense.

One night when I came home from work I mentioned that I had seen a picture on a coworker's desk of him and his family by a Piper Cherokee. He told me it was a McDonnell Douglas Flying Club airplane and that they had very reasonable rates for airplanes and instructors. Believe me, I had no intention of spending our little expendable money for such a selfish purpose. Out of the blue my wife said, "Well, you are not getting any younger; if you are ever going to learn to fly you should take advantage of this opportunity." It was not easy for me in many ways, but I committed myself to the process and a little over a year later I earned my private pilot certificate.

At that time I had spent four years in the Air Force, worked 23 years in the aerospace industry, and earned two bachelor's and one master's degree — but nothing had such a metamorphic effect on me as being able to fly. I became a more confident person on the job and in my private life.

As Boyer indicated, I also derive great pleasure from planning cross-country flights. My favorite form of navigation is pilotage, and if I ever fantasize it is about the early open-cockpit mail pilots. I'm now 62 years old. I have more than 3,500 hours as pilot in command, and I'm instrument rated. For 17 years we have owned a Piper Archer II that I fly to work every day at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasedena, and I have never been bored with flying.

Bob Axsom AOPA 783915
Laguna Hills, California

Ditching tips

Thanks for Thomas A. Horne's good article on ditching (" In-Flight Emergencies: Ditching," July Pilot). I fly single-engine interisland in Hawaii several times a week, and use all the procedures and gear he suggested, except for the exposure suit. I take ditching very seriously, and do every conceivable type of research on the subject. As Horne says, practice is a little impractical.

He missed one very important item in his article, which — from talking to many pilots, including those who have ditched — is crucial. Without shoulder harnesses, your chances of being clear-headed enough to organize the post-landing actions Horne spelled out are slim. I put flying over water without shoulder harnesses in the same category as flying over water at night.

A couple of other comments: Your raft is your most important piece of gear. Being in the ocean in a life jacket for any time at all is a bad deal, and you're difficult for search and rescue crews to spot. We had a pilot who went in off Maui and got out with only a life jacket. He almost bled to death from the little fish nibbling at him all night. The life raft should be in the seat next to you if you are alone, secured by the shoulder harness. If you have a passenger, they should hug the raft to their chest if you are going to ditch. Hugging the raft will increase your passenger's chances, and you may need him to help you out.

Brian Barbata AOPA 1249612
Kailua, Hawaii

Reading "In-Flight Emergencies: Ditching," I was rather surprised to see repeated a number of old wives' tales that are not supported by any evidence of which I am aware. Some of Thomas A. Horne's conclusions differ significantly from my findings and experience, collected over a decade of research on aviation safety and survival issues.

I cannot conceive how anyone could interpret the available facts to conclude that the majority of ditchings are unsuccessful, by which I can only infer from the substance of the article that Horne means they result in fatality or fatalities due to the failure of the occupants to exit the aircraft. Even a cursory review of NTSB records will reveal that most ditchings are, by this measure — or almost any measure — successful, meaning that the occupants escaped from the aircraft reasonably intact. Similarly, available U.S. Coast Guard records indicate that most ditchings with which they are involved do not result in fatalities.

More specifically, a review of the available NTSB accident records for the 10 years from 1985 through 1996 show 274 general aviation aircraft accidents that can be identified as a ditching into deep water (as opposed to a shallow pond or shallow water off the end of a runway), with only three in which apparently no persons escaped the aircraft after impact with the water. There were also an indeterminate number of fatalities that occurred after egress from the ditched aircraft, but the numbers on these are not as easy to determine as the NTSB records are often ambiguous in this regard.

Records concerning whether high-wing aircraft are more likely to flip after impact with the water are not so easy to find. I have personally interviewed just over 100 such survivors (or their rescuers) in the past five years, approximately half of whom were flying fixed-gear, high-wing aircraft. Only three reported flipping over and completing the water landing upside down, and all survived the experience, obviously.

Finally, I was particularly distressed that in all of his discussion of signaling and survival equipment, Horne never mentioned the single most highly effective survival signaling device — a 406-MHz emergency beacon. There are a number of affordable 406 EPIRBS (the marine equivalent of aviation's emergency locator transmitter) available that will ensure immediate location of authorities and near-instantaneous, accurate location of the survivors. These 406 EPIRBS are also available for rent, for those pilots whose need is infrequent. I would urge anyone flying over water to seriously consider adding a 406-MHz EPIRB to his or her survival equipment.

Doug Ritter AOPA 788447
Phoenix, Arizona

Ritter is editor of the Equipped to Survive Web site ( www.equipped.org) — Ed.

Wave rider

Thank you for " Wx Watch: Riding the Waves" (July Pilot) concerning mountain flying. It was very troubling to learn about the fatal crash of the Travel Air flying from Roanoke, Virginia, to Claxton, Georgia, on April 12. That was the same day that I experienced the peculiarities of mountain flying firsthand en route from Raleigh-Durham to Nashville.

If my memory serves me, the winds aloft at 9,000 feet (my altitude for crossing the mountains was 10,000 feet) were reported to be about 30 knots almost directly into my heading. As I approached the mountains, it was impossible for me to hold my altitude. At full power and, at best, 80 knots, our 182 descended 1,000 feet before I could climb once again. This unnerving process repeated itself twice more before we cleared the mountains.

If I had known earlier that some mountain-flying experts strongly suggest that pilots of small general aviation airplanes avoid mountain flying if the winds at summit level are more than 20 knots, as your article suggests, I would not have flown that day. Hopefully, this will help others who, like me, are still learning about mountain flying.

G. Wesley Head Jr. AOPA 1072447
Franklin, Tennessee

Wheel landings

The letter from Ben L. Brown in which he states that pilots of tailwheel airplanes who did wheel landings were "those who couldn't fly too well" and are "sissies" (" Letters," July Pilot), reflects a great misconception on his part and a lack of understanding of the purposes of wheel landings and the advantages that they offer over full-stall three-point landings under certain conditions. The primary use of wheel landings is in strong crosswinds and/or strong gusty wind conditions. The object of the wheel landing is to fly the airplane onto the ground at a slightly higher airspeed than that of a three-point landing and to have a minimum angle of attack on the wing when the wheels contact the ground, thus giving the pilot a greater degree of control over the aircraft.

Pilots of high-performance tailwheel airplanes such as the AT-6, P-51, DC-3, Twin Beech, etc., almost universally prefer to make wheel landings to take advantage of the increased controllability during the landing and the improved visibility over the nose. This is equally as applicable to smaller tailwheel airplanes such as Champs and Cubs.

Any tailwheel pilot who has never learned to make wheel landings, or who has let his proficiency in their performance deteriorate, is not a fully qualified tailwheel pilot. He is a hazard to himself as well as others if he chooses to venture out in strong wind conditions. Contrary to Brown's opinion, wheel landings are more difficult to master than three-point full-stall landings, and the truly proficient tailwheel pilot will maintain his skill in both types of landings and will employ them as conditions dictate. This opinion has been formed over 36 years of flying and instructing in tailwheel airplanes.

Thomas E. Lowe AOPA 1301259
Crystal Lake, Illinois


Bill Ivans' name was misspelled in " Pilot Briefing" (August Pilot). Ivans, who at one time held the world altitude record for motorless aircraft, died with National Air and Space Museum Director Don Engen in a July 13 glider accident.

The immediate action checklist in " In-Flight Emergencies: Upset Recovery" (August Pilot) was devised by Texas Air Aces of Spring, Texas. To learn more about the company's courses, visit the Web site ( www.airaces.com).

The telephone and fax numbers for Turbine Design Inc. were transposed in " A Turbine in Every Cowling?" (August Pilot). The correct telephone number is 904/736-8262 and the fax number is 904/738-0510.

The manufacturer of the Douglas C-54 was incorrectly identified in " Pilot Briefing" (August Pilot).

We welcome your comments. Address your letters to: Editor, AOPA Pilot, 421 Aviation Way, Frederick, Maryland 21701. Send e-mail to [email protected]. Include your full name, address, and AOPA member number on all correspondence, including e-mail. Letters will be edited for style and length.