October 1, 2004

The Great Airplane Bank Robbery

This is in response to " The Great Airplane Bank Robbery" article in your August issue. I have been telling that story to people for 35 years and have encountered some who knew of Bugs and his escapades. In 1968, after passing my commercial written exam, I took lessons from Bugs to prepare for my commercial checkride. Bugs taught me to fly tailwheel airplanes, aerobatics, and how to fly by the seat of your pants (which many pilots today are incapable of). At the time, Bugs was the airport manager at what was then sleepy Brooksville Municipal Airport. Bugs lived in a small old house on airport property. He had built a Pitts biplane in the living room of the house (he had to tear out the front wall to get it out of there). Bugs was by far the best pilot I have ever flown with. He made an impression on me that has lasted to this day. I consider him a legend and I am sure that there are more pilots out there somewhere who would agree.

Dennis M. Lopez AOPA 5211442
Blairsville, Georgia

Bugs Thompson and Tommy Suits were released from prison after serving only five years of their 15-year sentence. I was an instructor at Tampa's Peter O. Knight Airport and they occasionally showed their faces there. They moved out of the Tampa area, and about three years later Bugs was half drunk when he took off one night from St. Pete-Clearwater with a family of three in a Beechcraft Baron. The plane became uncontrollable in pitch after it was airborne and several minutes later crashed near the airport, killing all aboard. It was found that the control lock was still installed, something every student learns to remove. This was not the first lack of preflight that got Bugs into trouble. Several years earlier he had taken off in a Beech 18, which had not been flown for months, without draining the sumps and landed in a pasture because of water in the fuel. When the inspector asked Bugs if he had preflighted the airplane, Bugs answered, "If I had preflighted this plane, do you think I would be sitting in this pasture?" I don't know what happened to Suits. The last I heard he was in the Jacksonville area and this was years ago.

Tom Reesor AOPA 158444
Conway, South Carolina

Several readers responded to the story, including one who was with the U.S. Coast Guard air rescue unit called to the scene after Thompson's fatal crash on October 23, 1971. According to the NTSB accident report, probable cause of the accident was inadequate preflight preparation (gust locks left in place) and pilot impairment because of alcohol. Thompson and a student had departed St. Petersburg International in the student's Baron. The student's son and a friend were also killed. Thompson was 46 years old and had more than 10,000 hours of flight time when he died. — Editors

The flap about flaps

I wonder if " The Flap About Flaps," (August Pilot) could be expanded to include flaps on takeoff. I own a 1967 Piper Cherokee Six. The owner's manual suggests 10 degrees of flaps for normal takeoffs and 25 degrees of flaps for soft-field takeoffs. The airplane is much easier to take off and climb out (to several hundred feet agl) if I use 25 degrees of flaps (especially when I'm heavy and the outside temp is high). Why isn't it suggested to use flaps for hot and heavy takeoffs to keep the ground roll distance low and keep the nose low? I've heard of the proverbial Bonanza pilot who took off slightly over gross (and possibly slightly aft CG) in high temps and he mushed around above the runway until he stalled, cartwheeled, and killed all on board. I can't help but think that he would have been better off to have some flaps down.

Jerry Brittan AOPA 1081173
Galesburg, Michigan

In my opinion you missed the most important reason not to use flaps, icing. The pilot operating handbook for my Cessna 208 and FlightSafety International training suggest that flaps not be used when operating in icing conditions. The reason is that the slower the airspeed the more likely that the tail will stall sending the airplane down nose first. By landing with flaps up, airflow is increased over the tail reducing the chance of it stalling.

A. Ray Peach AOPA 1414878
Riverside, California

Modernizing flight service

In response to Phil Boyer's August editorial, " President's Position: Modernizing Flight Service," the head of the National Association of Air Traffic Specialists (NAATS) union has written the following:

In the August 2004 issue, AOPA President Phil Boyer addresses the modernization of flight service stations (FSSs). The article cites as fact that the FSS budgetary costs are greater than $550 million annually and that this breaks down to a cost of $15 per pilot contact. Actually the $550 million figure includes facilities and equipment costs and some airways facilities costs, as well as parts of the research and development costs of the FAA budget. It does not correspond to $15 per pilot contact; in fact the FAA does not have an effective way to measure costs per pilot contact so these are always estimated. The FAA will vary that estimate depending on the particular audience and agenda they are espousing at the time. Apparently AOPA has adopted this methodology as later in the article the FAA costs have ballooned to "almost $600 million." The article further makes the semantic argument about the difference in terminology between privatization and what the FAA is actually doing, which is outsourcing. Privatization would mean that the FAA is divesting itself entirely from FSS; outsourcing means the FAA is contracting out the services to the lowest bidder. NAATS believes this is a distinction without difference for the general aviation public. The A-76 process does incorporate an inhouse or MEO bid and NAATS does have two members participating in the group. It would be a mistake to portray the MEO bid as being jointly developed by employees and management. It is a management bid and we are allowed only the participation required by the A-76 circular; any disagreements are resolved by FAA edict.

Unless the FAA, NAATS, and user groups such as AOPA come to an agreement on architecture, there is almost no chance that Congress will allow the vendors to reach the "end state" of their proposals. NAATS does agree that FSS needs to be modernized. NAATS made an innovative proposal to the FAA administrator last summer that would result in approximately $600 million in cost savings. Unlike the A-76 process, our proposal would enhance the services FSS controllers currently provide. Unfortunately this proposal was rejected, but we stand by our concept and are willing to work with the FAA as well as the users such as AOPA to implement and realize the efficiencies identified.

Wally Pike, NAATS President
Wheaton, Maryland

The Leavenworth Link

Your article took me back to my experiences with the Link trainer (" The Leavenworth Link," August Pilot). I was in rotary wing flight training in 1967 and on my way to Vietnam after graduation. At the time I went through the training program, most rotary wing graduates got an abbreviated instrument-training program that led to what the Army called a "tactical instrument" ticket. That meant that we could fly instruments in airspace not under the control of the FAA or some comparable foreign aviation department.

We had to pass the instrument phase to get our wings and that meant that success in the Link was a hurdle all of us had to clear. Between September 25, 1967, and November 11, 1967, my logbook shows 20 hours of simulator time in a 1CA1 Link trainer. The trainer was a hot, cramped, and often claustrophobic place to work. The flight control procedures aspect of the trainer was not beneficial to us in that we were all piloting piston-powered helicopters with fixed skid landing gear in the hood phase of training, yet were trying to figure out the gear, flaps, and throttle aspects of the Link and how to equate that to the hood time we were logging in the Army's Bell 47 instrument training helicopter.

Even with the limitations and contradictions present in our training program, however, it must have been effective as there were lots of us pushed through that system and, to my knowledge, a relatively small number of accidents from instrument flight in combat.

Jim Desmond AOPA 2197423
Eagle, Idaho

While I was growing up, my father set up a similar Link in our garage. He bought the surplus Link from the U.S. Coast Guard Station in Port Angeles, Washington. It took a lot of work to get (and keep) the Link operating, especially since it was frequently being piloted by a pre-teenage kid. My father donated the Link to the Museum of Flight (in Seattle), wanting others to be able to enjoy and appreciate "his" Link. A group of dedicated gentlemen have restored the Link to immaculate condition. This engineering marvel is flying once again, this time at the Museum of Flight Restoration Center (at Paine Field in Everett, Washington).

Ron Thirtyacre AOPA 743722
Sammamish, Washington

Having the Heart to Fly

Chris Dancy's article (" Having the Heart to Fly," August Pilot) is correct about not trusting your health provider to send in your medical records to the FAA's Aerospace Medical Certification board. I had my bypass surgery in 2000. Each year thereafter I have been required to send in a stress test and other medical information to the FAA. Early this year I lost five weeks of PIC privileges because of an omission of information from my health provider. I also lost three weeks of PIC privileges the previous year because of another omission. Listening to my frustration, a person in the FAA medical office told me that I should assemble the necessary medical data and send it in myself in order to avoid submission errors. The FAA has been specific about the information they want submitted. I will soon begin this annual medical process again and will be making the submittal myself.

Nate Derby AOPA 1184717
Poway, California


In the July 2004 issue of Pilot, "Pilot Briefing: New England Flight School Owner Selected as CFI of the Year," the winner of the safety counselor of the year was listed as Walter Schuyler. Walter Schamel won the award. There were several errors in the photo captions accompanying "Movie Magic" (September Pilot): F-94Bs are pictured, not T-33As; the photo on page 78-79 is from 1940 not 1929; and the photo on page 83 is from 1955 not 1960. Pilot regrets the errors.

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 number on all correspondence, including e-mail. Letters will be edited for length and style.