Bruce Landsberg's article was very informative as usual (" Safety Pilot Landmark Accidents: An Inconvenient Departure," January Pilot). I fly into and out of San Diego's Brown Field Municipal Airport often, both VFR and IFR, coming back from my home in Mexico and then continuing to John Wayne Airport, my home base. What I found missing in the article was the mention of a terrain awareness warning system (TAWS) in the Learjet. This was required equipment in the Learjet at the time of the accident. Had the aircraft been TAWS equipped there is a good chance this accident would not have happened. I have had TAWS equipment in my airplane for almost 10 years, well before it was a requirement (turbine aircraft with five or more passenger seats, I think). The Lear's radio altimeter also should have given them warning. I remember a dark night takeoff from South Lake Tahoe. I was going back to Southern California and took off in that direction. All of a sudden I saw my radio altimeter come alive, and I was easily climbing through 7,000 feet. Boy, did I do a quick three-sixty.
Bruce Landsberg writes: This accident occurred a few months before TAWS became mandatory and I should have said something about it — the proof will be in the pudding in that we should expect to see the number of controlled flight into terrain accidents like this plummet now that the equipment is required on turbines with more than six seats.
While it's a tragedy that people lost their lives in this accident, it is not the first IFR departure from Brown Field to end this way. The aircraft carrying Reba McEntire's band crashed leaving Brown on a night departure. If the pilots had superimposed their flight plan on a VFR chart, they would have seen Mount San Miguel directly on runway alignment to the east. A heading to intersect Victor 66 east will result in a crash into the mountain. Another incident occurred on a GPS flight direct from Idaho to Medford, Oregon, with the same result. The flight was direct with a 9,400-foot mountain on the route. The aircraft impacted at the filed elevation. Why not take five minutes to check your route of flight on a VFR chart? It just might save your life.
After I read "An Inconvenient Departure," the first question that comes to my mind is: Is the controller still employed? The controller's reckless disregard for the safety of this flight was unconscionable. This is not to say that had the pilots survived, certificate action against them wouldn't certainly have been in order. A night flight in an area of rising terrain at 200-plus knots with mountain obscuration is not something to be attempted VFR.
In Thomas B. Haines' January column, " Waypoints: Not Going With the Flow," he asks the question, "When's the last time you saw an airliner at 3,500 feet agl 20 miles from the airport?" I see it a lot. I live 20 miles away from Los Angeles International Airport under the approach for the south runway. Although 95 percent of the jets are substantially above 3,500 feet agl when they cross my house, there are times when they are so low that I feel like I have to open the front and back doors so they can get through. It does not happen often, and I cannot say that I have any way to prove it, but there are times when these jets are at or below 3,500 feet agl when they cross my house. My business is located beneath the north runway approach, about 16 miles from Los Angeles International. Eastbound jets are frequently turned downwind to final at what cannot be more than 2,000 feet agl. After completing this 180-degree turn, they always have to climb immediately. I know that none of this helps you. It does nothing for my friends in the Mid-Atlantic Soaring Association, which shares your airfield in Frederick. It certainly does nothing for a friend of mine who owns a private airfield near Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Shoot, it does not help me when my whole house rattles. Yet it happens; airliners do fly below 3,500 feet agl when they are 20 miles out.
Arrgh! A seven-hour ride to Charleston, South Carolina (including a 20-minute stop in Summerville, South Carolina, for fuel and Air Defense Identification Zone clearance), from Pompano Beach, Florida, trying to limbo under the Class B while avoiding the red patches on the GPS terrain-avoidance display has convinced me that a better working relationship between air traffic controllers and VFR pilots on this route needs to be discussed.
Thanks for another insightful article about center of gravity at the aft limit (" Proficient Pilot: CG at the Aft Limit," January Pilot). I find the situation pretty much the way Barry Schiff describes, particularly with CFI trainees and many commercial pilot applicants for flight tests. One reader came to me confused, though. This kid had read Schiff's article, and he thought he found an error. "It says with all the stuff added aft, the stall speed increased. Doesn't the stall speed decrease when the CG moves aft?" I read the article again, and I can see how his other books kind of misled him. At a given weight, stall speed decreases as CG moves aft (because of less download on the tail), but in Schiff's example the added weight increases the stall speed way more, especially in terms of percent of gross weight on something small like a Cessna 172. This ought to cause some pretty good arguments by experts who don't read carefully. Schiff is absolutely right about this problem. It's a huge scary trap for the guy who does all his training at light weights, then immediately after he gets his certificate, loads up the whole family with the dog in the baggage compartment, and gets some surprises.
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