Tag: aircraft

Loss of Control

When You Ask for Too Much

Article appeared in Flying Magazine April, 2016 by Martha King –

It was the slightest of rumbles.  Both John and I felt it.  John, who was at the controls, eased the control yoke forward slightly and the rumble stopped.  We landed safely and taxied into the ramp.  We had a plane full of pilots, but an after-the-fact survey revealed no one else on the airplane had felt the rumble.  It was the aerodynamic warning of a stall in our old Falcon 10.  With hydraulically-assisted, irreversible controls in this airplane, the pilots don’t get feedback in the controls.  The rumble was the only aerodynamic warning we would get.

Martha King PIlot and John King Pilot land the King Schools Falcon.

The King Schools Falcon 10F on a short-final on Runway 36 at Tullahoma Airport.

Had John reacted differently the aircraft could well have stalled and the aviation community would have racked up one more “loss of control” tragedy.

We had been on our way to Oshkosh for AirVenture.  Ironically, we were diverted to Appleton due to the loss-of-control crash of another jet.  The pilot was on approach to runway 18 at Oshkosh and had been given instructions to slow for traffic on the runway, and keep his approach south of runway 27.  These are the exact circumstances that John and I had escaped some years ago with a go-around.

Our diversion to Appleton left us scrambling.  We quickly briefed our approach, but then at the last minute the tower directed us to another runway.  The rumble occurred during John’s last-minute maneuvering with a steep turn from base to final to get lined up with the new runway.

What these situations have in common is that they were set-ups for loss of control.  The National Transportation Safety Board has loss of control on their most wanted list, and for good reason.  Loss of control is a big deal.  Almost half of all general aviation fatalities are caused by loss of control, and they are almost always fatal.

I confess I have had a hard time getting my brain wrapped around the subject of loss of control.  It has become the safety issue du jour, but it is a huge category.  I mean, you could say there are only two conditions in which an aircraft can crash—either in control or out of control.  I am not sure that learning that a crash happened as a result of loss of control gives us much actionable information.  Plus, I have a tendency to see loss of control as a result rather than a cause.  Having said that, if we as a community could crack the code to eliminating loss-of-control accidents we could save thousands of lives.

Loss of control has occurred anytime the aircraft does something you don’t want it to do.  That can happen whenever you expect too much of either the aircraft or yourself as the pilot–asking one or the other to do something they just can’t do.  For instance, asking an airplane to fly with too much load factor will result in loss of control.  Yet pilots do it on the turn from base to final with regularity.  Pilots frequently ask too much of themselves when landing in crosswinds, or flying in instrument weather conditions without proper preparation.

There are many ways to lose control—pilots can be very creative about it.  What they all seem to have in common is that almost all loss of control accidents occur in repeating scenarios—with perfect hindsight you realize the pilot should have seen them coming.  The idea behind learning the habit of risk management is to turn that perfect hindsight into foresight for pilots when it counts.  It means knowing what’s happening now and what bad thing might happen next if you don’t do something about it.

Looking at it that way, all loss of control accidents are the result of a failure in risk management.  But not everyone looks at it that way.  A flight instructor-friend of ours firmly believes that anything that might distract from stick-and-rudder skills during flight training is doing the learning pilot a disservice.  In fact, he calls these “distractions” “fantasy flight training.”

Truly, there is much to be said for helping learning pilots have the highest level of skills they can attain.  However, all pilots inevitably have some limitation on their skills.  Without risk management, it is possible for any pilot to get themselves into situations that no amount of skill could get them out of.  To paraphrase an old saying, it is wise to use your superior risk management to avoid situations that just might require even more than your superior skills.  A training program that focuses solely on skill, and ignores risk management, will leave pilots unnecessarily vulnerable.

When a pilot does manage to avoid an accident, it is hard to know whether it might have been superior risk management or superior skill that saved the day.  On our approach to runway 18 at Oshkosh, it could be said that I executed a go-around so that I didn’t have to use superior skill, although cleaning up and doing a go-around in a highly wing-loaded, swept-wing jet from low altitude is not without its challenges.

On John’s approach to Appleton it could be said that John’s slight forward pressure on the control yoke in response to the rumble was a demonstration of superior skill.  But with all due respect to John, it didn’t take all that much skill to apply that slight forward pressure.

The important point in each case is that a successful outcome required the knowledge and risk management habits to recognize a scenario that was a set-up for stall/spin, and also recognize the mitigation needed. Although in times past we sometimes did not demonstrate these qualities, our performance in these instances seems to indicate that over the years we might have developed them.

Then, in addition to knowledge and risk management, skill was required to execute the response.  That’s why the Airman Certification Standards (ACS), which in June will replace the Practical Test Standards (PTS) for the Private Pilot and Instrument Rating tests, will require pilots to demonstrate all three.

Pilots have been taught knowledge specific to aviation since the beginning of flight.  We need knowledge to get full utility out of our flying.  But the real reason we need it is to be able to identify and mitigate risks.

The knowledge needed for the Oshkosh and Appleton events was the standard knowledge that everyone learns about stall/spins—the need to manage angle of attack and load factor, and the importance of keeping the nose yawed into the relative wind.  Additionally needed was knowledge of the aerodynamic warnings that our airplane provides for a stall.

Learning risk management, in this case for stall/spin, requires practice at recognizing scenarios that can lead to stall/spins, and coming up with mitigation strategies.  The specific scenario in the traffic pattern that most often leads to loss of control is the very one we had at Appleton—turning from base to final with lots of distractions.  In this case there was also a last-minute runway change requiring maneuvering to get lined up.  Add in a tailwind from base to final, and an overshoot, and it becomes an almost irresistible temptation to steepen the bank and maybe even add some bottom rudder.

Consideration of the skills required for preventing loss of control prompts a call for a return to the basics.  All the skills we learned when we learned to fly are about keeping control of the airplane.  In addition to all the other skills every pilot learns, in stall/spin scenarios it becomes particularly useful to have a well-honed sensitivity to load factor, and to the side loads that tell you when the nose is not yawed into the relative wind.

While learning knowledge and skills has always been fundamental to learning to fly, the recent emphasis on preventing loss of control brings a new understanding that loss of control is at its core a failure in risk management.  Among the many outcomes of poor risk management, loss of control is the most frequent and the most deadly.

The ideal is for pilots to become so practiced at identifying risky scenarios that they develop the ability to “smell” trouble, and not allow themselves to get into situations that might lead them to ask themselves or the airplane to do something they just can’t do.

The problem with any kind of loss of control is that while it may take considerable time for the situation to develop, when it comes to the actual moment of loss of control, it can happen very quickly.  When things have progressed to that point it is very difficult to recover.  The best recovery is not to need one.

Who’s in Charge Here, Anyway?

Article appeared in Flying Magazine October, 2015 by Martha King –Martha_04

My thumb was already in motion towards the mic button to declare an emergency when the Anchorage Center controller’s voice sounded in my headset. “N4577L, cleared for the ILS DME Runway 11 approach at Ketchikan.”

It was January in Southeastern Alaska. John and I were on our way home to San Diego in our Cessna 340 from teaching weekend ground school classes in Fairbanks and Anchorage. It was our eleventh round-trip to Alaska in our own airplane, and our refueling stops in Southeastern Alaska were always challenging.

The area has a well-deserved reputation for generating icing conditions. Plus, there were sections of the route where we would lose both navigation signals and communications with ATC. We would just hold our heading until we picked up the next VORTAC, and start listening on the next frequency. And of course at that time there was no radar coverage—IFR separation was based on each pilot’s reported position, time, altitude, and estimate to the next reporting point. You had to build your own image of the traffic flow based on the conversations you heard on the frequency.

Now there is radar coverage in Southeastern Alaska, so ATC doesn’t have to rely exclusively on pilot estimates. And when ADS-B is implemented in 2020, both ATC and any pilot with at least a tablet will have a real-time picture of aircraft locations.

As we approached Ketchikan, I began to realize there was an Alaska Airlines B727 overtaking us. It too was headed for Ketchikan, and it looked like it would arrive very slightly ahead of us. Thinking of the almost-certain icing conditions we would encounter at lower altitudes, I told Anchorage Center that if we were going to have to hold for the airliner I wanted to hold at altitude, above the clouds, to stay out of the ice. “You won’t need to hold,” the controller responded. “Descend and maintain 7,000.”

As I leveled at 7,000 feet the controller called with holding instructions. It appeared the B727 wasn’t as much ahead of us as the controller had thought. And as I had anticipated, 7,000 feet, the MEA in that area, did put us in icing conditions. I was cleared to hold at a fix on the airway at the 30 DME arc off Annette Island VORTAC, and once I was cleared for the approach I’d have to fly about 10 miles on that DME arc just to intercept the localizer and then 14 more miles to the airport—all in icing conditions. I wasn’t happy.

Although I had all the de-icing equipment activated in the C340, the ice built up steadily and our airspeed started to decrease rapidly. I kept comparing my estimate of how quickly the ice was building with my anticipation of when I would get approach clearance. Just as I made the decision to declare an emergency and start the approach without a clearance, the controller came through with my clearance. As I descended on the approach, I watched with relief as the ice slowly began disappearing from the wings. Although in the end I didn’t have to declare an emergency, it was just a matter of luck.

Was my readiness to declare an emergency, and almost certainly make Alaska Airlines do a missed approach, appropriate? I would make that same decision again, in the same circumstances. I had made the calculation that the B727 had a lot more power than our C340, had better icing protection than we did, and if anyone had to hang around in the ice it was safer for him to do so than us.

The controller’s number one job is to keep airplanes separated. As a pilot, I am in charge of everything that can affect the outcome of the flight. I have to be proactive rather than waiting for the controller to give me directions. Plus, there are many circumstances in which a controller might not be there to help me.

Pilots often tend to think, “I’m in controlled airspace everywhere I fly, I’m always talking to a controller who can help me out.” But that’s not necessarily so. Numerous control towers and ATC centers have been evacuated due to tornadoes, fires (internal or external), or earthquakes. Ultimate responsibility always falls on the pilot. A pilot cannot give away that responsibility to a controller; they must always be ready to be fully PIC.

An example is the total shutdown of Chicago Center on September 26, 2014 due to sabotage. A deliberately-set fire caused Chicago Center to lose all radar coverage, and shortly thereafter all communications with the airplanes it was separating. A number of airplanes descending for landing were put into holding patterns before communications went completely dead; en route airplanes had the frequency go silent. Every pilot had to make a command decision about how to handle the loss of communications.

En route aircraft generally just kept on going while they searched on their charts, or called on 121.5, to get a frequency in an adjacent center. Airplanes descending for landing, or in holding patterns, generally re-established communications through a nearby approach control.

A controller’s greatest nightmare is being cut off from their traffic. But pilots cannot afford to have their biggest nightmare be being cut off from the controller. We need to be able and willing to be PIC without the direction of ATC—or even against the direction of ATC.

One of the most remarkable incidents I have seen of a pilot truly exercising PIC authority happened at the Providence, RI airport on the night of December 6, 1999. There was heavy fog at the airport, and the tower controller could not see the runways or taxiways.

United Airlines 1448, a B757, landed on 5R, turned off to the left, and got lost on the taxiways in the fog. It ended up with its nose back over 5R. The United flight reported they were at least partially on a runway. They didn’t know for sure which one, and actually reported at one point it was 5L. But they were pretty sure it was in use because they could hear the sound of a FedEx B727 taking off.

With the dense fog and no ground radar, the tower controller could only rely on the pilots’ reports of their positions. While the United pilots were still trying to figure out where they were, the tower cleared US Air for takeoff. The US Air captain refused the takeoff clearance, not once but twice, and stated he would hold his position until United had reached its gate.

The pressure on the US Air captain was huge. The tower controller was forcefully trying to get him to take off. But the US Air captain knew the United pilots didn’t know for sure where they were. The tower wouldn’t either until the plane reached its gate. The US Air pilot that evening proved that he was truly pilot-in-command.

Sometimes exercising PIC authority doesn’t involve contradicting ATC, just suggesting a better route or procedure. That’s what pilots do whenever they request deviations for weather. On a trip not long ago into the DC area, Potomac Approach was issuing holding instructions to pilots. The controller issued me instructions to hold on the airway at the Linden VORTAC 10 DME fix.

Looking out the window and at our radar, I could see that the clearance would have me going in and out of a nasty-looking cumulus cloud. When I asked to hold at the 15 DME fix instead, the controller was happy to give it to me. He was just busy separating traffic. It was my job to keep everybody on my airplane as safe and comfortable as possible.

The issue of PIC responsibility and authority is just as important for VFR pilots. For instance, there is a tendency for some pilots to feel a false sense of comfort from an erroneous belief that they have shared—or transferred—responsibility when using flight following. While flight following can be helpful in letting you know about pop-up TFRs, they only provide traffic advisories, not separation, and only on a workload-permitting basis.

Nor does flight following guarantee search and rescue service when an aircraft goes down. Unless the controller has reason to believe an aircraft has gone down, if a pilot just quits talking to them—because the pilot changed to a different frequency, flew out of radio range, or crashed—the controller will not automatically activate search and rescue procedures. That’s what flight plans are for.

We as pilots are always in charge of our own welfare. Sometimes it is scary to contemplate, but as pilots we cannot give away our responsibility to a controller. Regardless of IFR clearances or flight following, only we have final responsibility for the outcome of a flight. As the PIC, we can’t afford to be passive. We must always be proactive, not reactive, and always be truly the pilot in command.

The Most Important Thing We Can Teach

John and Martha King

(We originally wrote this article for the
National Association of Flight Instructors)

As instructors we all want the best for our customers.  We teach them the FAA-required skills and knowledge, and even go beyond those standards.  We warn them about the hazards associated with weather, navigation, performance, aircraft loading, and every other hazard we can think of.  They then are required to pass a knowledge test.  Finally they undergo an evaluation of their ability to put this all together when they take their practical test.

“Nearly everyone…in general aviation knows someone personally who was killed in an airplane accident.”

In spite of our earnest concern on their behalf, the results aren’t all that good.  General aviation fatality rates are an unacceptable 8 times that of cars on a per mile basis.  Nearly everyone who is engaged in general aviation knows someone personally who was killed in an airplane accident.  These people as a rule are not incompetent, nor do they court risk.  In fact, general aviation self-selects capable, achieving people who are leaders in their communities.  In most cases these people and their passengers came to grief because they inadvertently exposed themselves to risk that they didn’t fully understand.

Example with names and places changed
James Jackson was in the ill-fated plane with his wife, MaryAnne, and their two children, David and Alison, flying to a family reunion at Columbia, CA. Witness Brian Daugherty told the Press-Journal that he watched the plane take off and saw the pilot appear to attempt to clear a line of fog. “He was heading toward the coast and tried to climb,” Daugherty said. “From the time he took off he was going too steep, too slow.” All four occupants perished in the crash.

Dealing with Nebulous Risks

We’ve done our best, so why aren’t we getting better results?  Well, first of all flight is a hazardous activity.  Airplanes have to get to a lethal speed just to get airborne.  Additionally, the risks associated with flying are not as intuitive as the risks we normally face.  In fact, they are sneaky and insidious.  Professional risk managers tell us that when the risks are nebulous and hard to quantify, people tend to underestimate them.  In aviation, the probabilities and consequences of things going wrong are particularly hard to judge.  As a result pilots underestimate the risks and overestimate their ability to deal with them.

Since the beginning of aviation the way we have taught risk management is by telling stories, passing along rules, and making up sayings—things like…

  • “The only time you can have too much fuel is when you are on fire.”
  • “The two most useless things in aviation are the runway behind you and the altitude above you.”
  • “You’re a lot better off being on the ground wishing you were in the air, than being in the air wishing you were on the ground.”

These are great sayings, but they are not enough.

“In aviation, the probabilities and consequences of things going wrong are particularly hard to judge.”

In fact, the way most pilots become “experienced” in aviation is they get their certificate and then go out and try stuff. They expose themselves to risk, and then evaluate the result.  If they don’t scare themselves, they place it in the “acceptable” category.  In fact, they may have just been lucky.  But the more times they get away with it, the more acceptable the risk becomes.

On the other hand, if they scare themselves they add what they did to the list of things they won’t do again.  If they don’t run out of luck, they become an “experienced” pilot.  The problem with experience is that she is a hard teacher.  She gives the test first, and the lesson comes afterward.  Many pilots, and their passengers, never survive to get the lesson.

A Systematic Approach to Risk Management

But even a long list of unacceptable risks doesn’t prepare pilots for risks they’ve never taken or thought of before.  What’s needed is a systematic approach to risk management.  We already employ a systematic approach to conducting a preflight inspection of an airplane.  Just as generations of pilots have been taught since the days of the barnstormers, we very systematically walk around the airplane examining it in great detail—even carefully raising the ailerons to inspect the hinges.  But no such procedure is used to consider in advance the pilot’s risk management of the flight.

“…only a very small percentage of accidents are caused by mechanical failure.”

The problem is that only a very small percentage of accidents are caused by a mechanical failure.  But a very large percentage of accidents are caused by a failure in risk management on the part of the pilot.  The result is that during pre-flight pilots pay very careful attention to things that don’t cause accidents, but spend very little time contemplating the things that do cause accidents.

The reason that pilots spend little time thinking about risk management is we don’t yet have a procedure in place to teach pilots how to do it.  As instructors we have earnestly attempted to tell pilots about all the hazards they might face.  But we will never be able to think of them all and they wouldn’t be able to remember them.

What pilots need is a tool that they can routinely use to anticipate the risks so that they can be managed.  Any systematic, practical procedure to anticipate risks will work, but I suggest the pilots use the PAVE memory aid to “pave” their way to a safe flight.

The letters stand for

  • Pilot
  • Aircraft
  • enVironment
  • External pressures

A Case Study

Let’s take a look at how PAVE might have worked to help James Jackson analyze the risks associated with his flight:


  • Not instrument rated


  • Normal piston-engine climb capability


  • Fog bank to the west
  • Wind from the west

 External Pressures

  • Commitment to attend a family reunion


As a flight instructor you would probably observe that pilots often overestimate their angle of climb capability. The probability that a pilot would inadvertently wind up in the clouds or stalling the airplane while attempting to out-climb the clouds is high.  You would also observe that if a pilot finds themself in this situation, the most important consideration is aircraft control.

You would also note that there was a cross runway and that taking off with a crosswind component might be preferable to attempting to climb over a fog bank.

You might also observe that fog banks often clear up as the day progresses and you might advise delaying the departure to allow the weather to improve.

Risk Management from the First Lesson

So those would probably be your thoughts as a flight instructor.  How do you get the new pilot you are training to have the same thoughts?

The answer is that you employ a risk management analysis from the very first lesson.  You would teach your learning pilot to identify and manage the risks associated with every flight, and relate their plan to you.  From that point on you would no more find it acceptable for them to skip this preflight action than you would for them to go flying without a preflight inspection of the airplane.

With practice, your learning pilot would gain the skill of analyzing the risks and coming up with a mitigation plan for them.

Right now, we are expecting new pilots to learn this on their own after they leave flight training.  It clearly is not working.  As flight instructors we can and must do better for them.

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Highlights from “Flying the Citation Mustang–Single Pilot”

Last week, we posted about our experiences learning to fly the Cessna Citation Mustang and also mentioned that we were finishing up production of our new course, “Flying the Citation Mustang—Single Pilot”. We thought you might be interested in viewing some highlights from the video that will be going into the course, so we put together a little preview below. We hope to have the course ready for purchase this month. UPDATE: Flying the Citation Mustang—Single Pilot course is now available for purchase here.


Learning To Fly the Citation Mustang—Single Pilot

John and Martha take a break during shooting for “Flying the Citation Mustang—Single Pilot”.

You would think we would be over the thrill that comes with flying a new aircraft.  But the excitement Martha and I felt recently from learning to fly the Citation Mustang demonstrated that when it comes to flying, we still have the childlike enthusiasm of beginners.

To a pilot with a piston-powered background like us, there is no greater thrill than transitioning to a new jet.  To us, jets will always be special.  You are flooded with excitement and sensations—the thrill of hearing a jet engine wind up on engine start, so full of promise—the semi-sweet smell of jet fuel—the exhilaration of hearing jet engines follow you wherever you go—and the power, oh so much power and all at the command of your right hand.

Along with this excitement comes the pleasant discovery of new concepts, a new flight environment and elegant systems that provide a whole new level of comfort and safety.

The Citation Musting in Flight

Flying the Mustang near Page, AZ while shooting “Flying the Citation Mustang—Single Pilot”

As you know, many jets require two pilots, but the Citation Mustang is certificated to be flown single pilot.  It is a personal airplane, just the way a Cessna Corvalis or a Cirrus is a personal airplane.  It is a jet that evokes dreams of the freedom of getting in whenever you want and jetting off into the blue.

Before you can fulfill that dream, you have to demonstrate the ability to fly single pilot by taking a checkride and earning the C510S type rating. It would seem that should be slam-dunk for us—we have been flying jets for over 24 years.  But getting that single-pilot type rating wasn’t all that easy for us.  Our jet flying has always been in a two-crew environment.  We have shared the workload and always had someone to look out for our mistakes.

Martha and I each rode along in the right seat of the simulator while the other was in the left, but since we were going for our single pilot ratings, we weren’t supposed to help out the other pilot.  For me of course, sitting in the right seat and keeping my mouth shut was probably the hardest part of the training.

As when flying any aircraft single-pilot IFR, the challenge is to use periods when you are not busy, to get ahead of things to relieve the workload during periods when you will be busy—all the while using all your resources to maintain situational awareness.

The G1000 and the GFC-700 autopilot in the Mustang are fabulous tools for doing all of that.  But it really pays to be sharp at using the G1000.  (King Schools’ course on the G1000 can be a great help here.  It includes a built-in procedures trainer.)


Citation Mustang Cockpit

Inside the Citation Mustang glass cockpit, featuring the Garmin G1000

The other thing that can help out a lot is knowing how jets behave compared to piston aircraft.  Among other things, the throttle response is different and you don’t have the benefit of propellers to create instant lift or drag when you need them.  (You might want to take a look at King Schools’ Jet Transition Course.)

Martha gets her Citation Mustang single-pilot type rating!

Martha gets her Citation Mustang single-pilot type rating!

In our opinion, if you are dreaming of flying your own jet, you should get your type rating first.  Martha and I have gotten great pleasure from learning to fly each jet we have flown, and confirmed in two cases that we did want to buy the aircraft…and in another case decided we did not want to buy the aircraft.

By the way, you’ll want to know that we are finishing up the production of our new course, “Flying the Citation Mustang—Single Pilot.” It leverages our own recent learning experience and will make your dream of flying a jet even more vivid.

UPDATE: We just posted a video preview of our upcoming course on flying the Citation Mustang.

UPDATE: Flying the Citation Mustang—Single Pilot course is now available for purchase here.

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Good Comes From Our “Run-in With The Law” – Your Checklist

Checklist: Aircraft Interception On An Airport

Our incident in Santa Barbara certainly could have ended with a tragic headline.  Instead, it has turned into a real opportunity to positively impact General Aviation.  We’ll be following up with details on a recent meeting we had with the Santa Barbara mayor, police chief, airport director and other officials and suggested changes to reduce misunderstanding between GA pilots and law enforcement in the future.

You can help!  We’ve created the following checklist: Aircraft Interception On An Airport.  It gives Law Enforcement Officers tools to better prepare for dealing with pilots and aircraft and alternatives for more effective and safer interceptions. Pass a copy along to your local law enforcement officials and to your local airport authorities. And forward it to fellow pilots so they can deliver it to their local authorities also.

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Our “Gunpoint-at-the-Airport” Ordeal

John and Martha with N50545

Less stressful times with N50545

By now you have probably heard about our being handcuffed at gunpoint by the police at Santa Barbara Airport. Our registration number had mistakenly shown up on a stolen aircraft list.

Being detained at gunpoint, handcuffed and placed in two separate police cars, left us shaken enough that we had misgivings about flying home that afternoon—especially using the IFR system that had set us up for this ordeal in the first place. Sleeping at night hasn’t been easy either. Our minds keep replaying the events.

This could, of course, have happened to any pilot. The important point is to turn this into a learning opportunity for everyone involved so this doesn’t happen to innocent pilots again.

Chief Sanchez Apologized

I should note that the Chief of Police at Santa Barbara has called to apologize for our “short detainment”. I explained that we neither asked for nor expected an apology, but I was very appreciative. On the other hand, I explained, it wasn’t the detainment that I objected to. It was that so many guns were trained on us. In fact what bothered me most was not the treatment I had received, but seeing Martha have guns being pointed at her and seeing her being handcuffed.

Chief Sanchez explained that police are not trained to do anything else when they detain an airplane but to treat it as a high-risk traffic stop. The problem is that a high-risk traffic stop involves aiming guns. I said that I understood that the officers followed the procedure for a high-risk traffic stop to the letter. My question is whether that procedure should have been used.

Treating It As a High-Risk Traffic Stop Was Not Necessary

In my view it will be very rare when high-risk traffic stop procedures are appropriate for aircraft.

The aircraft are being intercepted because they are in the IFR/flight-following system. The behavior of these aircraft is very predictable. They have announced to the world who they are, how to reach them, and when and where they are going.

Once on the ground at an airport, they will announce on the radio their destination on the airport. They will taxi to the FBO, and if it is a 172, like we were flying, they will usually be directed to a remote parking spot. The pilot then will tie the airplane down, lock the doors, and walk away from the airplane. The police can then simply walk up to the occupants and talk to them without fear of their attempting to flee. Once the airplane is parked, there is no way to go anywhere. They don’t even have access to a car yet. The suspects will have immobilized themselves.

If, on the other hand, the police set up an interception in a remote area instead of at the FBO, any truly guilty suspect would most likely spot the police cars, as we did, before they pulled into the parking area, realize what is happening, and simply take off from the taxiway before the interception took place. This remote interception procedure only results in abusing the compliant innocent while giving the guilty the opportunity to flee.

For an aircraft flying to a remote airport in the middle of the night, it is possible more extreme measures would be required, but it is unlikely that aircraft would have been using the IFR/flight-following system and be reported. So this situation is unlikely to come up.

Making Sure Procedures Are Changed In The Future

Since this incident happened we have learned that it is not uncommon. And we have been given the details of two other recent cases where innocent pilots have been intercepted as a result of the registration number of a stolen aircraft being re-assigned by the FAA. However, in neither one of those cases were guns drawn and aimed at the pilots.

There are several failure points that result in these mistaken aircraft interceptions happening. Each failure point can and should be corrected.

  1. The FAA should not re-assign numbers of stolen aircraft unless the system is changed to protect the users of the aircraft the number is re-assigned to. The registration number on our aircraft, N50545, had been previously assigned to a 1968 C150 that was stolen. According to the owner, the C150 was never found, but the FAA re-assigned the number to our C172 anyway.
  2. El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) should check the FAA database before notifying agencies that a stolen aircraft in the IFR system is inbound. Plus, the notifications should distinguish between suspected drug smugglers, terrorists and aircraft thieves. It would have taken only about a minute on www.FAA.gov for them to search the registration number in question to learn that number had been re-assigned to a different aircraft.
  3. There needs to be a system for correcting the stolen aircraft database and better coordination between agencies. The aircraft we were flying had been intercepted 18 months ago for the same reason, on a trip by a Cessna employee between the Cessna factory and Wichita, KS. Yet nobody bothered to remove the aircraft from the stolen aircraft list.
  4. Police departments should be given Standard Operating Procedures and training regarding meeting suspicious aircraft. Aircraft are different from cars. Plus, police departments should take the 60 seconds or so required to determine that the suspect aircraft has not had the registration number re-assigned and is the correct make and model.

One thing that still bothers me about this case is that the Santa Barbara Police Department is still treating this case as if it were no big deal. I guess it isn’t a big deal if you are on the aiming end of the gun. And I have to admit that nobody was hurt and we and the police returned to our homes that night. Their reports to the press characterize us as” laughing afterwards” and “completely understanding”. The truth is that we were completely cooperative, and what we understood is that it is never wise to argue with a law enforcement officer. There will always be plenty of time for argument later on if you survive the incident.

We were not insulted or offended personally. We just feel that drawing guns on people is dangerous business—not to be done unless it is absolutely necessary. And it will continue to happen to other pilots unless the system is changed.

Our Time in Cessna’s Skycatcher: Why the New C162 is a Big Deal

Cessna Skycatcher C162

Cessna’s New Skycatcher C162

Cessna loaned the Production #1 C162 Skycatcher to King Schools in September so we could begin flying it to provide a model performance on video of the maneuvers a learning pilot has to demonstrate.

We love it. In fact we think it is a game-changer. It gives new hope for an exciting future for flight training.

It is as wide as a Cessna 206. Nearly everyone who took lessons in a C150 or C152 has stories about the difficulty of fitting two people in the airplane. In the Skycatcher you have a feeling of luxurious spaciousness.

It is easy to get in and out of the airplane. The struts connect to the fuselage aft of the cabin doors and the gull-wing doors move up and out of the way. Although the seats don’t adjust (we use cushions), the rudder pedals do adjust forward and backward, and the control stick comes from the panel, leaving the floor area clear.

We loved our time with Cessna’s first Skycatcher!

The visibility is fabulous. The view over the panel is great. The side windows come down lower than on most airplanes and, along with the aft strut placement, result in an unrestricted view of the ground passing below. In warm weather it is a delight to taxi the airplane with the doors up for an open air feeling.

It has plenty of power. It seems to just leap off the runway. The great performance is probably the result of having so much power for its weight plus an improved wing.

The G300 avionics system is nearly as capable as the G1000 and is very intuitive and easy to operate.

And to cap it all off the control feel is wonderful—the controls are delightfully responsive without being overly sensitive. This airplane is flat out fun to fly.

I have to tell you that initially we were skeptical about this whole light sport aircraft concept. Our reaction was, “What’s the big deal?” Well the big deal is that Light Sport Certification let Cessna build a far more capable and fun airplane than a Cessna 152 at a price far lower than what the Cessna 152 would cost if it were built today. Cessna really got it right, and that is great news for our entire industry.

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All We Want Is To Be Left Alone – But Congress Won’t Give Us That Choice

Most operators of general aviation airplanes use their planes for business, and the flexibility and freedom our airplane gives us is an important part of our business—and our lives.

Even so, most of us never give any thought to supporting business aviation politically. We rely on organizations like NBAA to carry our water for us. That’s what they do. And I might add that they do it very well and very professionally. Most of us just want to run our businesses and leave the government to NBAA. All we want from the government is to be left alone. We are a self-reliant group.

“If we want to keep things the same,
we’re going to have to make some changes.”

The problem is that government isn’t going to leave us alone. Business aviation is taking it on the chin in Congress and in the sphere of public opinion. If we want to keep things the same, we’re going to have to make some changes.

As good as NBAA is, and they are the best there is—we couldn’t have better representation than them—they can’t do it without us.

The problem is that they are professionals, and they are seen that way by members of Congress and their staff. When a member of the aviation community speaks up, they have much more authenticity.

NBAA-LogoOK, so what do I want you to do? Well first of all, if you use your airplane for business, and you haven’t already done so, you should join NBAA. You may think NBAA is just for the big operators with multiple big jet airplanes. That’s exactly what those in Congress who oppose business aviation would like you to think. They want to divide and conquer. NBAA strongly supports all business aviation, and they need our support.

Then I think you should go to the NBAA Convention in Orlando October 20th through 22nd, to learn more about the issues. They have a track for business operators with only one or two aircraft, from pistons up through light jets.


They’ll have all these airplanes on display.

They’ll have seminars on subjects like:

  • Contract jet fuel programs that can save us up to 50 cents per gallon on nearly every purchase
  • How to save money and hassles through good tax planning for your airplane
  • How using the internet and mobile technology can make it much easier to plan our trips, file our flight plans, and know in advance the clearance ATC plans to give us


Plus, Martha and I will do a seminar on stepping up to jets. We’ll tell folks the things that we wish we had been told before we made that big step—including the big-time and expensive maintenance surprises that were in store for us.

Finally, when you are needed, step up to the plate and tell your Congressman, Senators, and local politicians the reality about issues involving business aviation.

Folks, please join us in Orlando October 20th through 22nd. You’ll be glad you did.

We’ll see you there.

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SkyCatcher Spin Accidents—Hurray For Cessna

The Cessna SkyCatcher

Cessna SkyCatcher

On March 19, 2009, the second Cessna SkyCatcher crashed in flight testing due to an unrecoverable spin  (See SkyCatcher First Flight).  In each case the pilot walked away, but the program was hit with a significant setback. 

Folks, this is wonderful news.  We couldn’t be happier about this.  Are we crazy?  Some people might say so, but in this case it makes perfect sense to be happy about these crashes. 

The ASTM standards that the SkyCatcher is being certificated under don’t require this level of testing.  But Cessna does.  From the start, we knew that the SkyCatcher would be a true Cessna—a safe, reliable airplane.  To ensure this, Cessna is testing the SkyCatcher in a way that no Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) has ever been tested before.

The fact that they found an area of the envelope from which the current version of the SkyCatcher did not recover—and will most assuredly fix it—means that some unsuspecting student or flight instructor will not be the first one to find the problem.  I say, hurray for Cessna!  Thanks for taking care of us so well.