February 1, 2009
Overrun! Your article about the Southwest Airlines flight that overran Runway 31C at Midway three years ago really brought back some memories (“ Safety Pilot Landmark Accidents: Overrun!” December AOPA Pilot). It was a great article but I feel one important factor might have been overlooked about this incident.
I have flown into Midway for quite a few years and in all kinds of weather for two different airlines in the Boeing 757. I’ll admit, I’m not familiar with the 737, but hey, it’s a Boeing. In the 757 the thrust reversers could not be deployed until the wheels were firmly on the ground, and the weight of the aircraft was on the wheels. This action closed a “squat switch,” which enabled one to deploy the reversers. Until this factor was met, they could not be deployed.
When I first heard of this accident, and being familiar with the airport and weather conditions there, I could see what really happened. The fact that there was a tailwind factor, along with the runway condition, kept this aircraft from “planting” firmly enough on the runway to allow for the deployment of the reversers until such time as it had slowed to such a speed adequate for it to firmly be down on the runway.
As I said, I am not 737 qualified and may be wrong with this assumption. I haven’t been flying since 2002 when my airline went out of business. I used to love going into Midway all year round as it always presented a great challenge, no matter what the weather.
W. Gardner, AOPA 1145456 Crestline, California
I do not like to Monday morning quarterback an accident, but there are some very important lessons to be learned from this accident, and it is good procedure to review what went wrong and possibly why. To say that this is a “Landmark Accident,” I would have to disagree because landing overruns are quite common. As a former 737 pilot who has flown into Midway numerous times, I had personal limits that were higher than any in our flight manual—the first one being never ever attempt a tailwind landing on a runway with 7,000 feet or less available for landing in a commercial jet. There are just too many variables that can come into play—and you can never be sure you have all the most updated landing information.
An experienced crew should have been aware of the fact that braking action reports differ depending on which part of the runway you are doing the braking on. I have seen many runways only partially plowed—say the first two-thirds, since this takes less time to plow and the airport operator knows that the longer they have the runway closed, the more diverts that will occur—so they try to limit the runway closure time during bad weather. If you’re landing on a shorter runway with a tailwind, then you must figure that you might need the entire length to stop and you better be 100 percent sure of the braking action in the last one-third of the runway.
Both crewmembers had enough experience between them to make the correct decisions, but they let air traffic controllers, dispatchers, and other aircraft landings influence them and distract them.
A wise check airman once told me, if you have to cancel a flight, maybe you should make that decision at the gate; if you have to divert in-flight, maybe you should make that decision at cruise (or above 10,000 feet); and finally, if you have to go around on an approach, maybe you should make that decision when you’re above 1,000 feet agl.
Byron L. Jaffe, AOPA 0684412 Weston, Florida
Man on a mission No matter in what language you say it in there can only be true heartfelt thanks and good wishes for Phil Boyer as he passes the yoke of leadership to Craig Fuller (“ Man on a Mission,” December AOPA Pilot). Boyer has led us through some very tough times and we always knew that he would be there to guide us and do what was best for the organization. He will be missed and his time served will never be forgotten. I’m sure he has left us in good care with Mr. Fuller and he is more than capable of peforming the duties of the office, it is just going to seem very weird to open up AOPA Pilot and not see Phil Boyer’s smiling face and read his encouraging words in “President’s Position.”
Richard F. McCann, AOPA 1147437 Cape May, New Jersey
Will fly for free I have always enjoyed Mark R. Twombly’s columns, but “ Pilotage: Will Fly for Free” (December AOPA Pilot) misses the big picture. In just about every profession, there are always individuals who are willing to work gratis. To prove my point, go to page 56, “ Man on a Mission.” Boyer writes about flying a Cessna Cardinal for a radio station in exchange for personal flight time. I can see Twombly being upset at pilots working for nothing but, as my father used to say every time I complained about something, son, life is not fair.
Fernando Aleman, AOPA 405511 West Newton, Massachusetts
Hear, hear! Mark Twombly’s article expressed sentiments that I, and I’m sure many more pilots, have had for years. I began flying in November 1992 and reluctantly “retired” from full-time aviation employment two years ago. My main reasons for doing so were because of the lousy salaries and schedules that I had suffered through over the years. With my wife and I planning to start a family the thought of time away from home for such low reimbursement, to the point that we would struggle just to pay the bills, was more than I was willing to sacrifice in order to fly someone else’s airplane on their time.
Two years ago I was offered the opportunity to join the family business and work from home, setting my own hours and making a respectable wage, so with mixed emotions I accepted the job. Thankfully I still keep my hands in aviation during the summer, but the long winter ahead means I’ll be flying a laptop. Such is delicate balance between aviation and family—someday I hope to combine the two with my own airplane.
Ryan Burt, AOPA 1761094 Mogadore, Ohio
Pilots who truly love to fly will fly for free. I have been lucky enough to be able to offer my services for free from time to time, but out of respect for those who need to pay the rent with the profession’s humble salaries, I have confined my offers to the right seat and have found great joy in that.
My free flying is usually as co-pilot in aircraft certified for single-pilot operation; I have never had anything approaching an uncomfortable moment with either a captain in flight or company owner at an FBO. The sky is just as beautiful from the right seat, the yoke has the same feel over there, the checklist reads the same in either seat, the ATC chatter is the same, calling out altitudes on an approach to minimums is valuable to all on board. The thrill and joy is not compromised just because the guy next to me is getting paid; it bothers me not one bit. More often than not the announcement that “there are two pilots up front today” brings smiles and thumbs up from passengers in the back. You can’t buy that stuff. If one loves to fly, one will fly for free and flip burgers on the ground if that is what it takes to pay the rent.
Don Charles, AOPA 514928 Richmond, Virginia
Right on! Your article really touched many facets of my career. When I was a newly minted CFI (after having obtained my commercial, instrument, and CFI at an approved school) I could not find a job in Denver because airline pilots were moonlighting at second jobs and grabbing opportunities for those of us looking for our first flying job. This was in 1976. I moved to Arizona, got a CFI job and then my career took off. Now that I got the dream airline job at United Airlines (hired in 1985), we have had good periods and bad periods. Right now, with furloughs happening again, is a bad period. I fly minimum time (65 hours per month) because I feel awkward flying a lot when others are on the street. As a single guy this is doable, though with the pay cuts it is not possible for all. The fly-for-free mentality can also translate into I will do anything for the job. I was fired on my first day of work (a group of 570 of us were fired) because we refused to cross a picket line. United ran ads in newspapers and scabs came out of the woodwork. They didn’t fly for free, but they accepted jobs at less than the going rate. Same mentality.
Dean Chantiles, AOPA 498440 Palm Springs, California
I am sympathetic to the premise of your article in most professions and even most flight jobs. I do find it hard to feel sorry for the ex-military airline pilot who had all of his flight time paid for with my tax money. In times past this same pilot worked three days a week and earned in excess of six figures when a dollar really bought something. More than likely, though, your work-for-free pilot would not displace one of the high-time ex-military ones of today, however I can not blame him for trying.
Donald Berliner, AOPA 6137963 Medford, New Jersey
John Nance I was excited to see an article written about John Nance (“ Pilots: John Nance,” December AOPA Pilot). I am a GA pilot and I have enjoyed every one of John Nance’s books and have referred all of his books to all of my friends, pilots as well as nonpilots. They don’t come much better than Nance.
Helen Kerscher, AOPA 1163339 Los Lunas, New Mexico
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