November 1, 2000
Your article on the Kennedy accident (" Safety Pilot Landmark Accidents: Vineyard Spiral," September Pilot) was a good one and hopefully it will serve as a lesson in what not to do when the weather is marginal.
On that very same day, I flew a Piper Warrior from New Haven to Nantucket and back. Prior to departure I obtained two extensive weather briefings from the Bridgeport Flight Service Station and listened to the ATIS at the Vineyard and Nantucket and the AWOS on Block Island. I often fly this route, and this is my customary procedure. I knew the visibility was well above VFR minimums. For this fair-weather aviator, anything approaching six miles stinks. New Haven was eight miles in haze at 9 a.m. and the visibility wasn't much better along the route. I requested flight following from Providence Approach and they were happy to help.
After an enjoyable day on Nantucket, and after a thorough briefing, I left for home at about 6 p.m. Contrary to predictions, the heavy haze never improved and west of Nantucket and south of the Vineyard it seemed much worse than it was in the morning. Between Martha's Vineyard and Rhode Island there was nothing but sky and water. On arrival at New Haven, the visibility was four miles. I have about twice the time Kennedy had and I can't possibly imagine undertaking that same trip—at night—under the same (if not worse) conditions. His passengers deserved better.
Richard S. Muir AOPA 1164625 Guilford, Connecticut
Thank you for Bruce Landsberg's excellent explanation of the Kennedy tragedy. One thing still bothers me, however. Apparently Kennedy was a private pilot with a total time of 310 hours, of which 72 hours were solo. As an instructor, if a private pilot (without an instrument rating) came to me with 310 hours total time, of which 238 was dual, I would suspect something was very wrong.
Dave Burkhardt AOPA 375187 Sister Bay, Wisconsin
While earning my private pilot certificate in the summer of 1995, our last cross-country solo was from Bayport Airdrome on Long Island, New York, to Quonset, Rhode Island, and then to Hyannis, Massachusetts. The owner of the flight school, who is also an FAA examiner, told us "would-be pilots" to fly over the north fork of Long Island to the Rhode Island shoreline and follow the Massachusetts coast all the way to Hyannis. This route offers many alternate airports and requires only a few minutes of flight over water. Had John F. Kennedy Jr. done this, he would have had a ground reference for the whole flight. And it would have taken only 20 minutes longer to get to Martha's Vineyard.
Whenever an experienced pilot tells you something, take heed. Many speak from experience.
Bill Savarese AOPA 1270243 Smithtown, New York
Thanks for " On Autopilot: Autopilot Directing" (September Pilot). The first question to myself when I read "Vineyard Spiral" was why wasn't Kennedy using the autopilot if he was uneasy or uncertain of his circumstances?
Actually, I think I know the answer. It was because no one ever taught him to use it, and perhaps his instructors themselves did not know how to use it. My own experience has been that instructors feel no responsibility to teach the autopilot's use and they certainly do not advocate it. There is some kind of snobbery present that suggests "real pilots" do not use autopilot. Even though I asked for training of this kind, it was always avoided. After all, you don't need that training for the checkride.
I think the wise pilot uses all the resources available, and flying en route and approaches with the autopilot, while constantly monitoring it, seems to me the best use of the resources in the cockpit. Every flight school should make the autopilot required training, and checkrides should include examination of a pilot's ability to use the equipment in the airplane—not just one's ability to use the stick and rudder.
Kenneth Royer AOPA 933998 Lebanon, Pennsylvania
I read with interest the article about John F. Kennedy Jr.'s final flight. With the information from the article, I plotted out the flight on Microsoft Flight Simulator 2000 using the Cessna 182RG as the closest airplane to Kennedy's Saratoga. I plugged in the weather, the time of year, and all the other factors that the program would allow. Amazingly, when Kennedy got into trouble (9:40 p.m. EDT), I was flying the computer only two minutes behind him. I flew the "plane" according to your description of what happened in the article. I was shocked at how short the time was between the first hint of trouble and when my computer plane hit the water.
I highly recommend that every pilot—especially VFR—do what I did. It will start selling a whole lot of instrument lessons! At the very least, never fly VFR at night without a good, active autopilot.
Robert A. Hutton Jr. AOPA 1062920 Sanford, Florida
I just finished reading the responses of the presidential candidates to questions posed by AOPA (" Election 2000," October Pilot). Although Gore took up more space, I got the impression the answers from Bush were his own. The answers attributed to Gore were all presented in the third person and rambled along as if written by a speechwriter getting paid by the word. Were these face-to-face interviews or a submitted list of questions?
Marc Avery AOPA 813752 Hoquiam, Washington
After reading "Election 2000," I have one question. Were the Al Gore responses provided by a campaign organization public-relations person, or does Gore actually speak of himself in the third person? This would be a variation on the "imperial we" that has been the favored form of address by kings and potentates throughout history.
It also appears that Gore said less than Bush, but used a lot more words to not say it.
John Eby AOPA 143933 Pennsville, New Jersey
Gov. Bush and Vice President Gore were provided identical questions and the promise that their respective answers would be printed verbatim and unedited; we should have made this clear in the introduction to their responses. What you read is exactly what AOPA received. AOPA Legislative Affairs contacted the Gore 2000 campaign and offered an opportunity to amend the style, although not the substance, of its responses. The offer was declined—Ed.
Tim Wright's " Defying Physics" (September Pilot) was thoroughly enjoyable and brought back some great memories, but I feel obliged to point out that powered parachutes were flying at least as early as 1977, not 1981 as stated in the article.
Dr. John Nicolides, then head of the engineering department at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, was routinely flying what he called a "powered parafoil" in the patterns around the school's grass airstrip. As one of his students, I helped him launch his "flying machine" and collect performance data (altitudes in excess of 800 feet agl and a speed of 27 mph). The tubular frame chassis suffered from inadequate propeller protection and a fairly rigid landing gear that frequently resulted in a splintered prop on landing.
Michael R. Dudley AOPA 444520 Belmont, Massachusetts
John S. Yodice ends " Pilot Counsel: Aircraft Inspections and the Renter Pilot" (September Pilot) column with, "[The decision] imposes absolute burdens on pilots that make little sense in terms of air safety." While I sympathize with the unfortunate pilot and Yodice's feelings, I believe air safety is at the heart of the issue. The simple act of examining the logbooks and squawk sheets could prevent a tragic accident.
Forcing the pilot to bear final authority of airworthiness goes a long way toward breaking the accident chain. At the same time, the FBO should not be without responsibility. Although the case doesn't say what action, if any, was taken against the FBO, it should be as clear-cut as the action against the pilot—and much more severe. After all, it should be, and is, reasonable for the pilot to assume that an airplane made available for rental is airworthy. But in the interest of safety, the pilot should remain the final authority on airworthiness.
Paul A. Scott AOPA 1093471 Los Alamitos, California
I enjoyed " The Ins and Outs of Canyon Flying" (September Pilot), but I was specifically looking for a reference to the common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF) that is used by all Idaho backcountry pilots. It was conspicuous by its absence. That frequency is 122.9 MHz. I have been flying the backcountry since 1972, and this frequency has been recommended by the Idaho Department of Aeronautics for aviation use for as long as I can remember.
Please make regular position reports announcing your location and altitude. You may not know the specifics of where you are, but you can use lat/lon from your GPS, reference major drainages, or distance and general direction from an airfield or other well-known location.
I trust that everyone who has a chance to visit our backcountry airstrips will enjoy their time as much as I have enjoyed every flight for the past 28 years.
V. Leroy Chaussé AOPA 364273 Lewiston, Idaho
Barry Schiff has fallen victim to one of the oldest misunderstandings about "pulling the propeller through" on aircraft engines (" Test Pilot," September Pilot).
The propeller is pulled through on preflight to detect a hydraulic lock, but not to cure it. Once a "hydraulic lock" is detected, there is no point in continuing a misguided attempt to force the offending oil out of the cylinder through the valves—they are closed because this is a compression stroke. You simply must stop and remove the spark plug from the cylinder to properly drain the oil (or whatever liquid caused the lock).
A clutch mechanism within the starter is designed to protect the engine if a piston is stopped during the starter rotation process, but cannot protect against the results if the engine fires and then encounters a "hydraulic lock." That's the reason for the time-honored "six blades before turning the magneto switch on during any start."
Randy Sohn AOPA 1032319 Savage, Minnesota
A caption in "Pilot Briefing" (September Pilot) contained an error. About 6 percent of pilots are women.
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