Letters

Saved by a satellite

April 1, 2010

I read “ Saved by a Satellite” (February 2010 AOPA Pilot) with interest. It is fortunate that the pilots were able to summon help with their back-up equipment. FAA flight safety statistics show that half of the crash victims who survive the initial impact and later perished were alive for at least four hours. This highlights the need to alert the outside world of your distress and provide rescuers with your location quickly.

There is one point in Dave Hirschman’s article where he mixes together technologies to describe the SPOT device. The SPOT device is considered a satellite messenger and is not approved as a personal locator beacon (PLB). It uses a simplex data message in conjunction with the Global Star satellites. This commercial system makes use of GEOS, a commercial call center from Houston to alert those who are listed on the emergency contact and search and rescue (SAR) groups near the locations of the signal.

A PLB is a 406MHz device that is approved to be used with the Cospas-Sarsat satellite system. The same system that has stopped processing signals from 121.5 MHz ELTs are continuing to process data on the 406MHz digital frequency. This system is taxpayer supported and has worldwide coverage. Activations of PLBs and ELTs are forwarded to the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Tyndall Air Force Base, Panama City, Florida. The AFRCC will work with local SAR responders to start a rescue. They will also contact those who are listed on the beacon registration to gather more information about those who have activated a beacon. Rescuers are given GPS coordinates of the beacon and also have the ability to home in on the signal directly with a radio direction finder. Each of these technologies have their own performance capabilities which need to be understood by those who carry them so they can be deployed properly.

Chris Wahler, marketing manager,
Cobham Life Support
Fort Lauderdale, Florida

I’ve owned [a SPOT locator] now for several years. Up until June 2009, it was used primarily as a safety net for group ATV trips in the mountains of Colorado where there was no cell phone service. With the check-in feature we could let our families know that we were OK. Also, with tracking, they could see our location as we trekked through the continental divide. 

On June 20, 2009, I survived my checkride for my sport pilot certificate! Since then my SPOT has been with me on every flight. The tracking feature is great. I am transitioning to the private ticket and on January 18, I made the minimum 150-mile long-cross-country trip to satisfy one of my remaining requirements. The SPOT tracking allowed my CFI to see my route and progress; my exact position along the way as well as where I parked at the FBOs were displayed on the Web site. As mentioned in the article, flight school use of the SPOT is a wonderful idea. I can see where providing a rental of a SPOT with an airplane rental may also be something to consider. It’s almost like that credit card advertisement—“don’t leave home without it!”

Robert D. Burns, AOPA 6470524
Alexandria, Louisiana


No rush

I enjoyed Thomas B. Haines’ recent “ Waypoints: No Rush” (February 2010 AOPA Pilot). I had a similar experience of lots of time to plan for a real-life low approach. Even though I have been flying for more than 40 years, my hard IFR experience is limited. I found myself facing the lowest ILS approach in my flying career last year during a business trip. Fortunately, I had 100 miles to prepare, and as a result, easily flew the approach and made it feel routine. All of that preparation time meant that I understood my options, had set up, and was fully prepared for a missed approach, and had several alternates in mind in case actual weather was below minimums.

All of this preparation, which is much more than you have time for during training, made it easy to handle the 360-degree turn that ATC requested when jet traffic behind me wanted to pass. I’ll take having too much time to prepare over fast and furious any time.

John R. Twitchell, AOPA 520782
Winchester, Kentucky

Test Pilot

In reference to the “ Test Pilot,” February 2010 AOPA Pilot, question number 13: OGG is named after Jim Hogg, a former Hawaiian Airlines pilot.

In 1946, Hogg became the chief pilot of the airline. When the VOR was installed at Kahului, Hawaii, Hogg flew so many of the test flights that it was decided to name the Maui VOR after him.

He chose OGG rather than HOG.

Jack Hill, AOPA 058064
captain, United Air Lines (retired)
Washington, North Carolina

An aircraft under scrutiny

I read with great interest Bruce Landsberg’s article about the Zodiac 601XL (“ Safety Pilot: An Aircraft Under Scrutiny,” February 2010 AOPA Pilot). I currently fly an Ercoupe 415-C as a sport pilot. I had planned on selling the Ercoupe and building an airplane so that I could be its mechanic. The 601XL seemed like a good candidate in the bang for the buck department.

Landsberg’s article leaves the safety issue, well, up in the air. In speaking with a Zodiac engineer, I—no surprise—was told all was fine after the modifications to the design. The article only lightly addressed this issue. Is the fleet still grounded? Have there been any conclusions drawn about the fixes to the 601XL design and structure? Is it safe now...or is it still too soon to know? When should I expect a definitive determination that it is good or a proverbial death trap?

James B. Brennan, AOPA 958679
Peace Dale, Rhode Island
(See author Bruce Landsberg’s response)

I’ve heard from several of our customers about this article filled with misinformation. I am appalled at some of the very basic factual errors in Bruce Landsberg’s article (aside from the many opinions), despite my providing Landsberg with some specific information by e-mail correspondence, as he had requested. As I specifically pointed out in my e-mail, Zenith Aircraft Co. is a kit manufacturer, and the company does not produce S-LSA or E-LSA aircraft, but only kits (to be registered as Amateur-Built-Experimental by the builder) and blueprints (for aircraft plans-only builders, such as the two scratch-built Brazilian made planes you reference). 

Chris Heintz is not Zenith Aircraft’s owner nor its chief designer: Zenith Aircraft Co. licenses the design from Chris Heintz, my retired father. The company is (and has always been) independently owned and operated by me. The manufacturer of the aircraft (the amateur builder) is more than capable of installing the upgrade package kit on an aircraft that he (or she) has built himself (or herself) at very little out-of-pocket expense, and we have heard that certified mechanics are performing the upgrades from $2,500 to $6,000 (significantly lower than your guess of $10,000). While Landsberg mentions the “groundings” by the Dutch and British CAA, you omit the important fact that both have since issued remedies so that the aircraft can now be operated there once again.

I would expect that AOPA would pay more attention to factual details in its articles, especially when they directly affect many of its members. We are working tirelessly to resolve this situation with owners and operators of this design, and are very thankful for their ongoing support. 

Sebastien Heintz, AOPA 1133703
President, Zenith Aircraft Company
 

I was both surprised and disappointed when I read the article on the Zenith 601XL. Filled with misinformation, the story makes a bad situation worse. The 601XL has had more than its share of accidents, but I am not aware of any knowledgeable witnesses to any of them. The witnesses have been well-meaning people of the same caliber who think an engine stall and a wing stall are the same thing. That has been one of the problems: aircraft, which fail in flight, yet without a single common thread that defines the exact problem, and no reliable witnesses. Despite the lack of a definite cause, Zenith has, in good faith, released a modification kit that essentially fixes everything that might be wrong. Whether or not this targets whatever the actual problem may be is open to question, because that remains unknown.

I normally depend on AOPA to at least get the facts straight. Please, do a better investigation, get the facts, and then publish a revision to the article. AOPA is supposed to be promoting general aviation, not publishing negative articles that are short on facts.

Jim B. Belcher, AOPA 832783
Alpine, Texas

Bruce Landsberg replies: The FAA issued its Zodiac report in January after this article was published and it supports the points made in my article. In summary, while the FAA found no single cause for all of the accidents, it did conclude that a primary factor was that the aircraft as built does not meet the ASTM standards. That applies to S-LSAs. FAA analysis showed that the wing design loads were 20 to 25 percent too low. The FAA also concluded that other factors such as flutter, improper airspeed calibration, stick forces, and structural stability also contributed to the fatal crashes.

The report concludes with 20 recommendations ranging from not flying the aircraft until the manufacturer “fix” can be installed (required for S-LSA versions) to changes to the ASTM standard to address other contributing areas.

I appreciate the complexity of distinguishing between S-LSA, E-LSA, and kit/amateur-built aircraft and may not have explained the differences adequately. That said, when this many aircraft of essentially similar design suffer in-flight breakups under benign circumstances we need to move beyond denial of the issue and attacking the credibility of numerous witnesses. Their observations were confirmed by accident investigators looking at the wreckage. The designers have come up with a kit to fix the aircraft and FAA has asked that they retest the modified wing structure and verify that it is not subject to flutter.