Are we our brother’s keeper?

(Note: The names of people and places in these true accounts have been changed.)

Two case histories

Case 1. An In-depth Postmortem of the Inevitable

A few years back I was changing the oil in my Super Cub when a couple of pilot friends drove up to the hangar.

“Did you hear about Dixon?” Tom asked.

“No, what happened?” I said, draining the last quart of oil into the filler neck.

“Flew his Mooney into a mountain in upstate New York. Killed his girlfriend, himself, and that German Shepherd he always took with him.”

“I wasn’t surprised,” said Bill, the other pilot. “He was an accident waiting to happen.”

An accident waiting to happen. Anyone who has been flying a while has heard that chilling description of a fellow pilot. It is most often concluded with a shrug, or shaking of the head as if to say, “…but there is nothing I can do about it.” But there is always that lingering question: is there anything we could do about it? Is there anything we should do about it? Is the fear of offending someone preventing us from saying something that might perhaps save a life? Do we have a moral obligation to intervene? Would it make any difference even if we did?

Kurt Dixon, a successful, middle-aged business man learned to fly three or four years before the accident, and flew out of my home airport. The closest I came to meeting him was on unicom one day after he had made an awkward landing in his new Mooney.

“Hope you didn’t see that landing,” he said on the radio, taxiing past me on the ramp. His dog was in the right seat.

“Which one of you was flying?” I asked.

“The dog, like always.”

Nice guy, I thought. His landing was no worse than some we all have made. Beyond that, I knew nothing of his flying abilities. My friends at the hangar, however, were well aware of Dixon’s history.

“What do you mean, an accident waiting to happen?” I asked.

“Well, he wasn’t too sharp on skills, ” Bill said. “Once he ran his Cherokee off the side of the runway because of his crosswind technique, or lack thereof. It wasn’t even a bad crosswind. Dixon goes into the airport office afterwards, happily pays for the runway light he smashed, and that was the end of it.

clouds
Marginal VFR weather and "an accident waiting to happen."

“And his judgment–you probably heard about his buzzing the yacht club at 200 feet. He got reported for that. Then there was the time he took off with three passengers when the ceiling was 500 feet at most. He got into the clouds–no instrument rating, you know–turned on his autopilot and somehow got back to the airport.”

Tom added, “And it wasn’t just his flying, either. Hunting friends of his said he was a great guy, life of the party, and all of that, but he made them nervous because he handled his guns carelessly. That’s the way he was. Anyway, talk to Leslie Lockhart if you want to know more about the accident. She’d just returned from Dixon’s intended destination a few minutes before he took off. She was the last one to talk to him.”

If everyone thought Dixon was an accident waiting to happen, did anyone tell him? And if he was a marginal pilot, how was he signed off in a high-performance airplane like the Mooney? Disturbing questions, and they wouldn’t go away.

I had known Leslie for years. She was an excellent, instrument rated pilot who flew her Mooney well, and kept her skills sharp with regular recurrent training.

“The funny thing was that I had just returned from Saranac Lake a few minutes before Dixon took off for there,” Lockhart said when I called her. “The weather here was CAVU and forecast to remain so, but Saranac Lake was 2,500 broken which meant the higher terrain was obscured. It was an easy IFR flight, but pretty marginal for VFR considering the mountains.”

Right after landing from that trip Leslie spotted Dixon on the ramp and went over to say hello.

“I’m late, really late,” Dixon said, climbing into his airplane.

When she learned he was going to Saranac Lake, Leslie warned him of the weather knowing that Dixon was not instrument rated.

She told him, “If you’re going, stay high. Go over the broken layer. Then if you don’t find a clear area big enough to let down, you can fly back to good weather. Remember, there are mountains up there.”

“I like to fly low,” he said, leaving.

“I just had that awful feeling,” Lockhart told me. “Sometime earlier I had said to my husband, ‘This guy is an accident waiting to happen.’ He was nice, but always late, always in a hurry, and relied heavily on the autopilot. He once told me his life’s ambition. He said, ‘I’ve made a lot of money. I’d like to die without a penny left.’

“I’ll never forget the image of his girlfriend looking at me and smiling before she got into the airplane.”

Two hunters saw Kurt Dixon’s Mooney smash into the steep mountain slope about 300 feet from where they were standing. It came out of the low clouds flying straight and level crashing into the 4,621 foot mountain just below the summit without making any evasive maneuver. The MEA for the nearest airway to the accident site is 6,500 feet.

I wanted to learn more about how an accident waiting to happen finally happens.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that he was flying through the clouds on autopilot,” said Ray Harris, Kurt’s former partner in a Piper Arrow. “I know he did it several times before. He told me, and I chewed him out for it. One night he was flying his kids back from Martha’s Vineyard at two a.m. The night was dark with no horizon, and over the water the airplane got away from him. He turned on the autopilot just in time and leveled out. That wasn’t the end of it, though. When he got back here there was ground fog, but looking down he could see the runway lights through it. That’s a real sucker trap as everyone knows. On the fourth try he made it. We almost came to blows over that. I’d had it with his flying. Then he bought the Mooney.

“He was a nice guy, but he was a low time pilot, maybe 200 hours, he didn’t practice, and he didn’t take criticism well. Maybe with all his business success he thought he was invincible.”

I asked Ray how he got through the training system without getting weeded out.

“You ought to talk to two people: Jim Remnick, who sold Kurt the Mooney, and Jack Shale. Shale was the instructor who refused to sign Dixon off.”

Jim Remnick has been selling airplanes in our part of the country for many years. He said he first met Dixon when he came to take a demo ride in a new Mooney.

“He seemed mainly interested in learning about the autopilot. I said, ‘Don’t worry about that now, just get familiar with the airplane,’ and I flicked off the autopilot. He was a very nice guy, but you couldn’t tell him anything. Anyway, he liked the airplane, and bought it right then.”

I asked Remnick about checking out Dixon in the new airplane.

“I’m not an instructor, but a couple of the free-lance instructors I use flew with Dixon and told him he would need a lot more time in the airplane to get checked out. They would not have signed him off at that point. But Dixon had his own instructor who was going to fly with him to satisfy the insurance requirements.

Mooney
An unforgiving airplane for the new pilot.

“Another thing that was kind of interesting,” Remnick continued, “was that after Dixon had the airplane about a week, he brought it back and was very upset. He said the autopilot didn’t work. Instead of fixing it, he traded his airplane for another new Mooney we had just flown up from Kerrville. It had a different brand of autopilot.”

Whether it was Dixon’s instruction, his lack of ability, his attitude, or a combination of all three, he was not making great progress in the Mooney. Sometime after the purchase, one of Remnick’s instructors delivered Dixon’s airplane back to him after routine maintenance, and Dixon flew the the instructor back home.

“Our airport has hills nearby, and Dixon entered the pattern way too low,” Remnick recalled. “The instructor got out of the airplane and said to me, ‘That guy is going to kill himself.’

“When I heard about the accident upstate I was shocked at first, but then after thinking about it I wasn’t surprised. Certain people shouldn’t fly, but I think there will always be a few like Dixon who get through the system. I have some customers I wouldn’t loan an airplane to. In fact, I know airline pilots I wouldn’t loan my airplane to. You can’t stop them because they’re legal, and somehow they manage to slip through.”

Through mutual acquaintances I learned that instructor Jack Shale was now flying for a major airline. I tracked him down in Georgia.

“Sure, I remember Dixon,” Shale said on the phone. “The first time I flew with him was after he bought into Ray Harris’s Arrow. Dixon learned to fly in a 152, and Harris wanted me to check him out in complex singles so he could fly the Arrow. Very nice guy, Dixon, but completely lost in the airplane. Hadn’t done any homework. Didn’t know the critical speeds, or any of the emergency procedures.

“We landed, and I got Harris and Dixon together, and I said, ‘Look, I don’t want to waste your money. There is a lot of work to do here, and it would be much cheaper if you learned the airplane before we fly again. Harris here knows the airplane. You guys fly together, practice, and then come back and I’ll be happy to fly with Dixon again.”

Dixon and Harris did fly together for about 25 hours, but Dixon’s performance was unimproved when he again flew with Shale. Once more Shale told Dixon to really study the airplane, practice what they had done, and come back.

“He was better the third time, but I still couldn’t sign him off. I told him he still needed a lot more work. And then he said to me, ‘This is my airplane. I own it. Sign me off. If you don’t, I’ll find someone who will.’ Well, that was it for me. I couldn’t do it.”

Dixon did find someone else, and soon was qualified, at least legally, to fly complex singles. It was the same instructor who later checked out Dixon in his new Mooney flying with him long enough to satisfy the insurance requirements.

Shale told me that Dixon suffered from a marginal natural ability as well as from an attitude that could only lead to an accident.

“In a stick and rudder sense he could have been safe in a Cessna 172, or maybe a 182 if he worked at it, but not a complex, high performance airplane. The lethal problem, though, was his attitude toward flying. He wouldn’t do the work, sort of like he was above it all. I really blame a lot of that on his instructors right from the beginning. Sure, he got through the system, and I think the almighty dollar was part of the reason.”

Like Jack Shale, Ray Harris, and the instructors who refused to sign off Kurt Dixon, my friend Leslie Lockhart had tried to warn and advise Dixon minutes before his fatal flight to no avail. Maybe he was just an accident that was going to happen no matter what. The instructor who finally did sign him off for the Mooney might as well have been signing a death sentence.

Case 2. An Intervention. So Far, So Good.

I had not thought of Dixon’s accident for several years until about a year ago. The winds at my local airport were just right for crosswind practice: a 10 gusting to 15 knot breeze blowing 45º from the left across our long main runway. Just enough to make you pay attention, but not frisky enough to make you sweat. After an hour of take-offs and landings, I pushed my airplane, now a Husky, back in the hangar, and was locking the door when I noticed a gleaming yellow Cub in the pattern lit up by the afternoon sun like a Christmas tree bulb. What a beautiful sight. “He’s practicing, too,” I said to myself, and drove to the fence by the end of the runway to see how he was doing. As he turned base leg, I could see that the aircraft was one of those lovely LSAs based on the Cub design. As the ship rounded on to final approach, it was clear the pilot was behind the airplane, and the control inputs to counter the gusts and the crosswind seemed not only late but inappropriate and confused. It was wobbling in pitch, yaw, and bank all the way down final, and seemed too fast. “Oh, I get it,” I thought. “That’s a student pilot with an instructor who is letting him work it out.” But when the airplane passed me about to land I could see there was no one in the back seat. I sat up straight in my car. This was not looking good. Wriggling toward the runway the airplane hit the runway and bounced. The nose reared way up, the upwind wing lifted causing the downwind wingtip to come within what appeared to be two feet from the ground as the ship drifted toward the downwind side of the runway. “Dear God,” I said. I was about to see a nasty crash. The only thing the pilot did right was to ram in full throttle before the plane stalled, or the right wingtip contacted the ground. The LSA with a generous power-to-weight ratio managed to stagger without descending farther, and clawed itself back into a more reasonable semblance of flight. Round the pattern he came once more. I held my breath. Final approach seemed a little more stable this time, and the airplane plopped stolidly on the runway as if completely uninterested in any further attempt at levitation. Slowly it crept to the taxiway, pulled off, and came to a stop for several minutes which I presumed was to let the pilot’s knees stop shaking.

Cub
Good instruction pays off in a taildragger.

What should I do? I just saw someone almost crash his plane because he didn’t know how to handle it properly. He needed some dual time from an experienced taildragger instructor. Like my friend Leslie Lockhart cautioning Dixon, I felt it would be wrong for me not to do something. As the plane started to taxi to the ramp, I drove back to the hangar area preparing what I was going to say to the pilot. He taxied up to the FBO hangar and again just sat in the airplane for a few minutes while I watched from my car figuring what I was going to say. I decided I would walk up to the plane, compliment the pilot on what a beautiful aircraft it was, and then say I noticed he was having a problem on that landing. I would identify myself as the owner of the Husky in the hangar over there, and suggest the name of an instructor if he felt he needed some dual. If that was met with indifference, I would then be less discrete and more direct in voicing my concern for his safety.

However, before I got out of my car, the pilot had abruptly jumped out of his plane and walked hurriedly past me staring straight ahead with a serious look on his face, got in his BMW SUV and left. He was of medium height, trim, with chiseled features and gray hair.

I drove to the airport office where John, a bright young man working toward an aviation career, was manning the unicom. “John, did you see that LSA land?” “Yea, that was Burt Lansing. He’s based here.” I didn’t know him, but recognized the name immediately. Lansing was the very successful founder of a chain of retail stores in our area.

“Was he just having a bad day?” I asked.

“No, he doesn’t know how to fly that airplane. This isn’t the first time he’s had problems.”

“He really needs some dual,” I said. “I feel I should say something before he hurts himself or a passenger.”

Tom turned to me. “He also has a Cessna jet.”

“Please tell me he doesn’t fly it single pilot,” I said.

“He does,” Tom said, “but he has a fellow who manages the jet for him, flies with him sometimes, and delivers it here from Orchard airport where it is hangared. I think he’s also an instructor.”

“I should talk with him,” I said.

“Kristi at the FBO desk might have his phone number. Burt keeps the LSA in their hangar.”

When I explained the situation to Kristi, she looked at me with a knowing look. “I’ve heard he’s been having some problems with the airplane,” she said, and looked up the instructor’s number. “Here it is. Richard Curtiss. He lives somewhere near Orchard. Brings the jet here, and picks it up whenever Burt wants it.”

Two days passed before I could contact Curtiss. I told him I kept my Husky at Burt’s home field, that most of my flight time was in taildraggers, and while I didn’t want to stick my nose in anyone’s business, I felt duty bound to tell him what I had seen.

After listening to the story, Curtiss chuckled. “Burt called me after that flight, and said he had a very bad day, and didn’t know why.” I didn’t understand the chuckle, but let it go.

“He needs some dual in that airplane,” I said, “and since you fly with him I wanted you to know. I don’t want him to hurt himself or someone else.”

Curtiss thanked me for calling.

I didn’t see Lansing’s plane flying again until a bright warm day this fall. It was in the pattern doing touch and goes in a very stable and precise manner. I noticed both seats were occupied, and later learned that the back seat had been filled by an instructor friend of mine who was very experienced in taildraggers, and flies a Gulfstream G V internationally as his day job.

“He was pretty rusty at first, and said he wasn’t comfortable in the airplane,” my Gulfstream friend said when I called to tell him the story, and see how his student was doing. “I think he’ll be okay with a little more dual. He’s been very busy with the store, and said he doesn’t have much time. I’ll give him a call in a while if he doesn’t call first. Very nice guy.”

Whether it was my original phone call to Lansing’s instructor at Orchard that caused him to get more dual, or simply that he had scared himself into doing so I’ll never know, but I felt that I had done as much as I could to help Lansing, and to keep my conscience clear. So far Case 2 has had a happy ending.

The line between trying to help and being a nosey know-it-all is narrow. Frankly, haven’t we all been in situations where good fortune more than consummate skill got us through? A little soul searching before criticizing others might make us all better pilots. Yet, you can’t in good conscience see an accident waiting to happen and do nothing. What to do is a judgment call. In Case 1, perhaps at some point after Dixon’s attitude and habits had become clear someone as a last resort should have contacted an FAA accident prevention specialist. No one likes to call in the Feds, but in Dixon’s case it could have forced him to either give it up or get better. Perhaps. Perhaps not. But worth a try.

It’s hard to be your brother’s keeper if your brother doesn’t want to be kept. Dixon and Lansing were similar in that each was very successful in their careers due to their own abilities and hard work. The difference was that Dixon refused to acknowledge that he needed help. Lansing did. He is still alive.

23 Comments

  • I attended an aviation insurance seminar in Oshkosh a few years back and this question was proposed: “How many people in here know a fellow pilot that is an accident waiting to happen?” The answer is that almost everyone knew someone that fit in the category.
    It is a tough call to get involved but you are literally trying save a life when it gets to that point. Question is what do you do or what can you do the help? Calling the FAA will most likely cure the problem but it will most likely be a regulatory fix and really not commensurate with helping someone that has a problem that just needs some attention or extra training. This IS an issue that all pilots need to think about and possibly have the EAA/AOPA get involved with a program to assist. Thanks for the forum.

  • A while back, I asked a CFI “How often do you fly, as an instructor, with a pilot that is looking to have his skills rated or polished?”. His response to me was sad, but not unexpected. His response “less than a few hours a month.”.
    Flying is a skill that, although pilots often feel that since we have the license, we are good pilots. That isn’t always true.
    This article provides a great glimpse at how we do need to have our abilities polished or evaluated more frequently. Not necessarily on an official level, but a more friendly evaluation. Take a pilot that you admire, or someone at your FBO that is the go to person, for a trip around the local area and see what they think of your piloting skills. Perhaps even take up a recommended instructor for an hour a couple of times a year to get a perspective from a professional.
    As pilots, a critique of your skills should always be welcome. One persons opinion might just save a life.

  • After many years of observation, I have come to the conclusion that you just can’t tell. I have had a couple of friends, that were far better pilots than I will ever be, wipeout at a “medium” age and a couple that broke every rule in book and died of natural causes at a very old age. You just can’t tell, so there’s no need to pretend you’re going to “save” somebody.

  • As a CFI we do not need more regulation. We need more SELF DISCIPLINE. If you know a pilot that is careless and need practice/training, report it to FBO. As Clint Eastwood said “Every man(woman) must know their limitations.

  • Excellent, thoughtful article. Four thoughtful comments as of 10:04 Wed. morning. And everybody’s contributions are “right” (IMHO). This is a complex issue, and one which every thoughtful pilot with no more than a few active years under his/her belt will have encountered in some form or other. Having known (now deceased via their own VFR PIC plane crashes) pilots with from fifty to several thousand hours (SEL, CFI-G & I, ATP, etc.), ruthless honesty leads to a conclusion their attitudes about “personal flight safety”, as well as their stick-n-rudder skills, covered the spectrum. For a long time now, it has made sense to me to: 1) actively to seek to learn lessons from others’ misfortunes, and 2) do as Russell Munson seems to be trying to do. To the extent fellow pilots are comrades, possibly personal friends, at some level serve as ambassadors for aviation (regardless of which part of the realm in which they choose to operate), all their PIC actions (responsible or irresponsible) have active potential to adversely affect aviation’s (relatively fragile) regulatory environment; it seems irresponsible to NOT “be our brother’s keeper” to any reasonable extent personally possible.

  • It seems to me that there is a particular type of person that is going to wind up being pulled from a smoking hole in the ground no matter what you do (Dixon). I’m not going to sit here and suggest that it is better not to say anything, but I don’t expect that trying to save them is going to work very long even if you bring in the FAA.

    That said, there are a lot of people that just need someone to help them help themselves. They’re people like Burt Lansing–hard headed enough that they’ll wrap their cub up trying to teach themselves how to fly it. That doesn’t make them bad pilots in other aircraft, its just that they don’t know how to ask for help. In these cases, as Mr. Munson did, it is best to find someone that can directly help them. Otherwise you’re just being a “nosey know-it-all.”

  • I was one of those who needed help. I was in the pattern with a student and got royally reamed for our performance. It was his first landings and they were not pretty. We had done the high air work, I thought he was ready but it turned out he was a bit ground shy. We went back up, worked out the problem and tried again. Sadly, we had performed in front of an EAA picnic and a CFI called the FBO we rented from to tell them we had dragged the tail, wingtip, bounced and abused the plane. I may have let the student go a bit too far, but we had done none of those things.

    I tracked down the other CFI and explained what we were doing. He had an audience and put on quite a show, describing how my performance was the worst flying he had ever seen, turned and walked away. It was humiliating. I tried to discuss it with other witnesses but I was an unwelcome leper in their colony.

    So much for learning from the experience. I concluded, perhaps inaccurately, that our mistake was first landings in front of a crowd of critics. I had solo’d over 30 individuals prior to that incident and another 50 since then. Exactly zero have bent metal, taken a trip thru the barrow pit or had problems with crosswinds.

    Did i learn anything? Sure! “Praise in public and criticize in private.” I was stunned by the way it was done and found the public humiliation less than instructive. My student was particularly upset and it took a while to overcome. I discussed it with people I trust and got pointers, but the consensus seemed to be bad timing.

  • We had a homebuilder (unlicensed) who was flying an aircraft off his ranch, then he started to bring it to the airport, then started to carry passengers. He had some ultra light instruction but not even a student certificate. I let it be known that if it happened again I was going to call the FSDO. Reaction around the airport was mixed (he is only flying with his wife etc.)but he sold the airplane and the problem was resolved. I believe if he had crashed then it would have been “maybe somebody should have done something”.

    We had a doctor who learned to fly in a C-152 and then bought a high performance experimental. He never was always behind the airplane but traded it in for another with more power. Several CFIs tried to talk to him but to no avail. He left a mountain airport at night for a cross country in poor weather with low clouds. He made it less than 3 miles and went into the tree nearly vertical. I felt the instructor who sold him the Glassair and signed him off to fly it should have been held responsible. At least he was alone in the airplane.

  • As we’ve seen with Tom’s experience, most of the folks who feel the need to turn in other pilots have neither the experience, knowledge, or judgement to even hold a valid opinion on the subject.

  • With regard to case #1, Dixon was mostly doing what the FAA and at least Cessna require in their TAA syllabus: Turn on the autopilot right after takeoff and use it until 200 ft agl on landing. Once TAA pilots get federal blessing to let the machine fly itself and couple it to a nav source I can see the temptation to scud run. Nixon just lacked terrain awareness.

    Lockhart’s advice to Nixon was spot-on: “Stay high”. Altitude is your friend. As a SAR pilot and Incident commander I’ve searched for numerous planes that crashed in the Montana Rockies and I have a theory that they stayed low to remain legal until they crashed. Isn’t that unfortunate?

    Here’s another: The FAA teaches a 180′ turn with inadvertent IMC. What a wonderful way to get vertigo. The USN teaches the pilot to get on the gages, climb straight-ahead until above obstacles, maintain aircraft control with autopilot and when convenient, tell someone. Legal? No. Smart? In spades.

    Slips. They are becoming a lost art but are a useful tool to have in your kit. If the Air Canada B-767 ‘Gimli Glider’ can do it you can too. The FAA Airplane pilot handbook contributes to the confusion with a dismal description. Googling it brings up some equally confused discussions. Barry Schiff’s Proficient Pilot volume I or Bill Kerschner’s Private Pilot Handbook do a far better job. King School’s Crosswind landing video is gold because it takes slips to where a lot of pilots need work: Crosswinds and runway control. I’ve seen a lot of lightbulbs go on using the King ‘hover taxi’ procedure while offsetting to both sides of the runway with slips. Like steep turns, it’s one of those things that bring together a lot of skills. If runway loss of control is a major source of bent airplanes, this is a cure.

  • An acquaintance owns and flies an airplane that is YEARS out of annual with plenty of non-STC mods. He doesn’t use the system, but does cross country solo. He sometimes has local flights with passengers. I don’t know about his stick skills. If he had a different model he would be licensed Experimental and legal as anyone. But he doesn’t—and isn’t. Is it on my conscience to get him grounded?

    • I don’t believe the intent of this thread is to turn ourselves into aviation police or to get anyone grounded by being a snitch–at least that it is not my intent. IF I think I can help someone I will try to do and if my effort gets rebuked then so be it at least I know I tried to help.

  • WRT non-stc mods, annuals and other things Jim discusses, I offer a few observations.
    First, there is an interesting gulf between how mechanics are taught to think and mechanics are taught to think. A great example Mike Busch gives in his seminars is the pilot who has a tire changed while on the road. The mechanic condemned the brake rotor because it was worn .002″ undersize and would cost the pilot a week in a motel waiting for parts. The mechanic’s go/nogo is black and white. But. The owner could legally change the tire and ignore the rotor. Pilot worlds are many shades of gray. Think about cloud clearances for a minute: Can you really eyeball 2000 ft from a cloud? Line up ten pilots on the ramp and have them submit a secret ballot on the distance to an item of choice. Then discuss the answers. Good for a laugh. Or this: How much power do you add if you get in a high sink rate on approach? The best answer is ‘enough.’ Yet some will try to quantify an answer without completely understanding the problem.

    here’s another to ponder: A high-intensity discharge landing light draws less power and produces more light than tungsten lamps. HIDs cannot burn out because there is no filament. Plug it in, Velcro or fasten the ballast somewhere and go. For reasons I don’t understand HIDs require an STC or field approval in most circles. But nobody has a problem replacing the tungsten lamp with a halogen lamp. What’s the difference? The ballast. Two ounces. That’s nuts.

    Rosen sunvisors come with an STC for reasons the apparently baffle even the FAA. Two screws. And it’s upholstery, which is owner replaceable. A logbook entry by the owner would be sufficient. Ditto camera windows. Side windows are owner replaceable and the feds don’t care if you cut a hole in one for a camera port. But urban legend holds that it’s a major mod and needs your mother’s approval. ‘taint so.

    Up until five years ago the installation a Garmin 430 was the domain of avionics shops who had to get a field approval for each installation. But any mechanic could install a nav/com with ILS. The feds apparently got tired of the busywork and now any mechanic can install and sign off the G430 as long as it is done IAW the installation manual and submit a 337. Wow. How sensible! Many 0ther major mods should be the same way.

    A sheriff in a county where guns and alcohol are both legal and plentiful stated his purpose is to maintain order. I assume safety is in there somewhere, and experienced cops exercise a lot of discretion in a target-rich environment. I’m sure such decision making is discussed in cop shops, and if there is an experienced cop on the blog please give us your viewpoint. It’s probably the most useful one out there.

    Logically if someone breaks a rule and the outcome is harmless, point it out and move on. There are a lot of really stupid rules out there, and there are many more old wives tales masquerading as rules. There are some, like John Deakin at avweb, Mike Busch at Savvyowner and the guys at GAMI who teach the advanced pilot seminar who make a living dispelling old wives tales with fact and data. It’s a methodology worthy of imitation. Just because you think something or someone is breaking a rule doesn’t make it so. Don’t believe everything you think!

    • Thanks, Tom. Very good thoughts.

      There will always be conflicting rules and some resultant lunacy for the real world to handle. To respond to my own question, do I snitch on my acquaintance?–no. I am not out to cure stupidity when it is a personal definition formed by some safety maxims, some experience, some regs (logical or idiotic), and my opinion. I tell him why I wouldn’t do it the way he does. He listens and disagrees. We both go our way.

  • I know all about Dixon. I owned a plane with a guy like him. In fact, I was thinking about writing an article about him and how he eventually he killed himself and his business partner. He believed in carrying only enough gas to get where he was going because he was convinced that he’d burn more gas if the tanks were full. He refused to go with me to an FAA Safety Seminar about fuel management. He always called me an “overly cautious pilot.” My answer to that was there’s no such thing. If I was overly cautious, why am I still alive and he’s dead? One of these days, I’ll put the details into an article so maybe someone else can learn from his tragic mistake(s).

  • Would Dixon have been allow to enter military flight training? Of course not. He would have washed out prior to ever stepping into an airplane. The military, the FAA (for controllers) and industry all carefully assess people for aptitude prior to hiring them to engage in operating complex machinery.

    When I was in industry, we worked with a firm that could predict with amazing accuracy who could safely operate complex equipment and who could not. The first step was a 200 question written test. Weeding people out on the front end dramatically improved the % of successful hires.

    I don’t advocate preventing people from trying to learn to fly. But more assessment on the front end might help. Some people simply don’t have the aptitude. Frankly, I would have been happy to take an up front assessment. And if my instructor told me my profile matched that of a lot of dead pilots, I might think about pursuing another activity.

  • I really appreciate that this topic is being discussed. We share the sky, so yes, “we are our bother’s keeper”. If we are not personally involved in an accident or incedent caused by a pilot who habitually exercises poor judgment or who seriously neglects their skills, we most certainly can be affected by the resulting public outcry and subsequent regulations should their actions cause serious harm or death to persons on the ground. There are examples from commerical airlines (Colgan Airlines and the fatalities caused by incompetent crew members,Comair and the fatal consequences of crew inattention in 2007), as well as in GA (the Kory Lidle accident, the Hudson midair between the eurocopter and the piper, and others too numerous to mention). We owe it to others, to GA as a whole, and to ourselves to speak up when warranted.

  • I have recently attended an aviation seminar in Olathe Kansas put on by a very senior airman, who had me from hello. He was that good and only got better as the weekend went on!!

    One of his opening remarks was he could tell a lot about an individual just by riding in his car with him for a few minutes. In the context of this article, that comment he made to me REALLY got me to thinking about myself. Am I that guy he is talking about? Does some of that aggressive (car) driving translate in the air? I will tell you that one statement made me do a lot of self reflection and I hope all for the good. If more of us GA pilots were in the presents of those powerful, wise speakers/instructors/mentors just maybe a little less of this might happen.

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