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‘A little bit different’

Jill W. Tallman’s article raises the question “Are self-certified pilots unsafe?” (“Fun to Fly Sweepstakes: ‘A Little Bit Different,’” April 2010 AOPA Pilot).

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We welcome your comments. Address letters to: Editor, AOPA Pilot, 421 Aviation Way, Frederick, Maryland 21701. Send e-mail to [email protected]. Please include your full name, address, and AOPA number on all correspondence, including e-mail. Letters will be edited for length and style.

Jill W. Tallman’s article raises the question “Are self-certified pilots unsafe?” ( “Fun to Fly Sweepstakes: ‘A Little Bit Different,’” April 2010 AOPA Pilot). After five years, with a majority of sport pilots being experienced pilots choosing to forego the difficult process of medical certification, a rash of sudden incapacitation accidents would be expected if these pilots were unsafe. If this rash of accidents has not occurred, then the FAA should consider self-certification in lieu of the Class III medical in all cases. This would save pilots significant cost, delay, uncertainty, and bureaucratic rigmarole without compromising public safety. I have been waiting five months for the FAA to review my application for a special issuance. My doctors and I do not believe that I have a condition that would preclude my flying any aircraft for which I am rated. In fact, I have been flying my light sport aircraft without issue. Thanks for the excellent article.

Albert Love, AOPA 597891
Murphy, North Carolina

Since the advent of light sport pilot, I feel the category has lost its way. Base price on a Remos is $135,000, glass panel, etc. This is more than my Citabria 7GCBC with a real motor, not a snowmobile engine. This class of aviation was supposed to be “economical.” They have gone the wrong way. To me it has turned into a big joke. Originally I thought I would see airplanes in the $40,000 to $75,000 range. I guess not. For the price of a Remos, I rather have a Porsche GT3 with 450 horsepower, seats two, and faster than this underpowered puppy.

Jeff Kuklinski, AOPA 1127893
Cleveland, Wisconsin

Skin in the game

It was easy to attribute the tiny non-healing scab near my ear to intermittent errant shaving technique, until reading Dr. Jonathan M. Sackier’s article on skin cancer ( “Fly Well: Skin in the Game,” April 2010 AOPA Pilot). Learning that basal cell carcinoma frequently presents between the mouth and the ear was enough to seek immediate professional care. Further delay in the positive diagnosis of a nodular basal cell carcinoma and its subsequent excision may have resulted in losing part of my ear, since my cancer was a more invasive variant. AOPA is a lifesaver in more than one way. Thanks for the timely advice!

Lee Blazejewski, AOPA 1194677
Kennett Square, Pennsylvania

As one who had a melanoma successfully removed four years ago, I need to add to Dr. Sackier’s advice about what a melanoma could look like. My melanoma was a dermatologist’s nightmare—the unpigmented type. My only symptoms were a small, unpigmented granular spot that bled every time I washed my face. Very occasionally I’d wake up with a small spot of blood on the area. By the time I had it biopsied, it was a Stage 3 melanoma. I had no other therapy other than its removal. Thanks to the help of the AOPA medical staff, I regained my first class medical in short order after the removal. 

Sackier’s statement about flying at higher altitudes was right on. I read that the exposure increases something on the order of 1 to 2 percent with each thousand feet of altitude gain. Because of the higher radiation and UV levels at the higher altitudes, airline pilots have been classified by OSHA as radiation workers. A friend of mine was a commanding officer onboard a nuclear aircraft carrier at one time and was curious about the radiation levels his pilots received in flight, so he got some dosimeters from the engine room crew and told his pilots to wear them during flights. Much to his surprise, the dosimeters came back much hotter than the nuclear engine room crew; and remember, this was for the relatively short flight time compared to the full shift of the engine room crew. The threat is real.

The lesson to be taken away from all this is to wear sunscreen, at least SPF 30, on every flight, and reapply it often. I suggest the sports type so it won’t run in your eyes; regular sunscreen, if it runs in your eyes, really stings. It happened to me on final one day. Let me assure you, it was not a fun landing. Thanks for trying to get the word out on skin cancer.

Bob Lancaster, AOPA 1273907
Wilmington, Delaware

Finessing those final seconds

I strongly disagree with much of Thomas Haines’ article “Waypoints: Finessing Those Final Seconds” (April 2010 AOPA Pilot). No changes to aircraft configuration should be made inside the final approach fix. The gear and flaps should be set for landing at the start of the approach, and a stabilized approach should be maintained until the landing flare. Changing flap and/or gear configurations after breaking out or during the approach is just asking for trouble. Not only that, just making the decision as to whether the configuration should be changed on short final in bad weather can destabilize the approach and cause a crash.

In the 747 we set landing flaps at or prior to the FAF on an instrument approach, and that helped give us the descent rate and airspeed necessary. From then on it was a stabilized approach with no changes in configuration. This should be just as true in a light aircraft; even more so, considering that you have no crew to assist you in the actions. If you are intending to make an instrument approach in bad weather to an airfield that will not allow you to land or go around in a normal approach and landing configuration, you should reexamine your intentions and abort the approach and land elsewhere. Visual approaches are entirely different, and one can play with flaps, airspeed, etc., as required, but not on instruments!

Bob Gould, AOPA 631108
Kaneohe, Hawaii

Tom Haines responds: With less inertia than a 747, I believe the pilot of a light airplane can safely make slight configuration changes if needed. For example, I do not advocate full landing flaps in a light airplane at the FAF because it is just too much drag to carry for that long and most light airplanes don’t need full flaps for landing and most light airplanes won’t climb on full flaps if you have to go around. And at that critical moment you don’t necessarily have a crew member to help you manage the flaps and gear. If full flaps are needed I believe they can be safely added on short final as long as the pilot understands the effect of the flaps (ballooning for example) and is prepared to deal with it. But, assuming lots of runway, I would just land with approach flaps and call it a day.

There’s one crucial step to be added to Haines’ article. After the miss and when the aircraft is cleaned up and climbing, trim for best rate or cruise climb speed. The aircraft was trimmed for approach speed in a descent with approach flaps, but is now flying at a higher speed, climbing in a clean configuration with full power. The hands-off aircraft will be tempted to pitch up and stall. An unusual attitude recovery—low and slow in IMC—is a nightmare from which the pilot might not awake!

Tom Kilpatrick, AOPA 4158871
Nichols Hills, Oklahoma

Free engine overhaul

Unmentioned in Dave Hirschman’s welcome salute to mogas ( “Frugal Flier: Free Engine Overhaul,” April 2010 AOPA Pilot) is the fuel’s additional value to homeowners. I rent a Piper J–3 from Hampton Airfield in New Hampshire, which has supplied mogas ever since 80-octane fuel disappeared from the market. It costs a bit more than at the Florida airfield Hirschman mentioned, but it too contains no ethanol, so I bring it home from time to time to fuel all my low-use or off-season engines—chainsaw, snowblower, and lawnmower. So while that aerobatic pilot hauls mogas to the airport, I am in the position of hauling it back.

Hampton Airfield is a turf field with a 1930s atmosphere that does all its basic flight training in Piper Cubs. It’s nice to know that it is on the leading edge of the mogas revolution.

Dan Ford, AOPA 1417957
Durham, New Hampshire

Friday Harbor: Any day of the week

I enjoyed Julie Summers Walker’s recent article ( “Postcards: Friday Harbor Any Day of the Week,” April 2010 AOPA Pilot). Living in north Idaho I’ve flown there a few times in my Piper Comanche, most recently last July to hook up with some friends for a few days of outstanding sailing. I was surprised at a few omissions in the story.

1. Weather: Although the weather is much nicer than Seattle as pointed out, it’s important to alert pilots to the summer fair weather pattern of North Puget Sound with morning fogs that frequently do not lift until noon or later.

2. Airport restaurants: I think we should always support and promote these whenever they are good and especially if they’re unique. When we were there in July the Friday Harbor airport restaurant was run by a young Thai or Vietnamese woman (reportedly her husband flies for FedEx). We had a very authentic and delicious lunch for a little over $6.

3. Roche Harbor Airport (WA09): You mentioned the seaplane base (W33) but omitted the paved runway airport at Roche Harbor! Often this airport is outside of the fog that can linger at the Friday Harbor Airport. It’s a great way for pilots to visit Roche Harbor.

4. Bicycling: One of the best ways to get around the island, including between Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor, is by bikes that are available for rent.

I know space is limited, but I felt these were basic essentials that should have been included.

Philip Role, AOPA 1358617
Sandpoint, Idaho

Editor’s note: Other members noted that also left from the story was mention of Ernie Gann, the aviation author who lived in Friday Harbor. His widow, Dottie Gann, still lives on the island and, when we visited, was still flying. The airport café that Role mentions is called Ernie’s Café, after Mr. Gann. Additionally, thanks to air charter operator Westwind Aviation, which provided air services to our team.


In the May issue, “Pilots Protest Developer’s Vision for Oceano Airport,” the photo used to accompany the story was wrong. It was Oceanside Municipal, not Oceano. AOPA Pilot regrets the error.

We welcome your comments. Address letters to: Editor, AOPA Pilot, 421 Aviation Way, Frederick, Maryland 21701. Send e-mail to [email protected]. Please include your full name, address, and AOPA number on all correspondence, including e-mail. Letters to the Editor may be edited for length and style before publication.

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