You Can’t Fly With Your Thumbs

Johnny Can Read, But He Can’t Land

By Paul Bertorelli

Landing an airplane might not be particularly difficult, but doing it well consistently—especially in gusty conditions—isn’t easy. Year after year, this is reflected in the NTSB database. The leading type of accident for most aircraft is what we call R-LOCs or runway loss of control. This broad category describes a multitude of aeronautical blunders—from crosswind-induced excursions, to drop-ins, to landing long or short or just running into stuff. (Runway lights, localizer bars and, yes, cows.)

Lately, I’ve been researching LSA accidents and here the R-LOC problem is more pronounced. This is no surprise; LSAs are lightly wing loaded and most have much lighter control forces than do even the lightest certified aircraft, say the Cessna 152. Just as an example, I compared the R-LOC rate for 10 of the most popular LSAs to that for Cessna 152. It’s more than five times higher. In other words, on a per-hour occurrence basis, LSAs have five times more R-LOCs than do 152s.

A caveat here: There aren’t that many LSAs flying so the fleet numbers aren’t high. Small number effect applies, meaning a few occurrences can swing the conclusion significantly. Nonetheless, that’s all the data we’ve got, so it’s fair game to consider it. Also, when accidents are considered on a per-registration basis as a sanity check, the trend is the same.

Why is this so? Can’t pilots be trained to master the light control forces LSAs have? Yes, they can, say instructors I’ve spoken to. But LSAs still may be more difficult to land. In a Cessna 150 or 152, a CFI can let the landing go fairly far awry before assuming control because those airplanes are more durable and also more likely to right themselves without aggressive intervention. LSA instructors say you can’t sit on your hands quite as long in Flight Design or a Remos.

Some instructors say the majority of, or at least many, LSA R-LOCs happen to older pilots who are transitioning from traditional airplanes into LSAs because they’re worried about their medicals. They’re used to heavier control forces and overcontrol the LSAs. The data I have doesn’t shed light on this because NTSB summaries don’t always contain pilot age and experience data for minor accidents. But the larger question isn’t so much why, but what to do to improve landing skills. Additional beatings with rolled up sectionals probably aren’t going to work.    Read More


Zulu Down

Bad news from the ferry front.  After waiting for hours for customs to clear them at their last stop in South Africa Cory and Pete finally got airborne only to have one of the Malibu’s turbos decide to play the fool, give up the ghost, become an ex-turbocharger.  Luckily they were right next to an airport and made it down safely.  So far they’ve made it only 176 miles on their 10,000 mile trip and now have to get a turbo charger fixed in the middle of Africa.  So good luck with that.

Photo: Well....not the day we had hoped for. After waiting HOURS for customs at our last stop in S. Africa, one of the turbos shit the bed on us in flight. Luckily right next to an airport, and It was a safe landing, but now, who knows when we can get out the hell out of here. We only made 176mi out of out 10,000+mi trip.... She will get us home, but not as fast as we would have liked! Photo: Well....not the day we had hoped for. After waiting HOURS for customs at our last stop in S. Africa, one of the turbos shit the bed on us in flight. Luckily right next to an airport, and It was a safe landing, but now, who knows when we can get out the hell out of here. We only made 176mi out of out 10,000+mi trip.... She will get us home, but not as fast as we would have liked!Gotta love ferry flying.

Not just another day on the water….


October 2 2012.
I was out fishing alone on the Ottawa River on October 2 2012, around Petrie Island when I noticed a bright coloured airplane flying very low a couple of miles away in the distance. I assumed that the plane was simply preparing for a water landing and continued fishing. Seconds later, the plane appeared to make a sudden sharp turn and then I saw a faint splash in the water. I was not sure if the plane had in fact crashed or had simply made a hard landing.
I had a bad feeling that something had in fact gone wrong and I became concerned that the pilot may be in distress. I immediately raced towards the plane in my 14’ boat, which took at least 5 minutes at full speed. As I got closer I could see that the plane was still running and was circling in the water, tilted to one side.  I then noticed that the windshield of the plane was shattered. It was at this moment that I realized that this plane had crashed and my immediate concern was the pilot’s safety.
​I knew that I had to get close to the plane in order to reach the pilot inside, but this was an extremely scary and dangerous situation as the plane propellers were screaming away and the plane was moving unpredictably now. I cautiously navigated my way towards the plane and the pilot stopped the engine. I pulled up towards the pilot’s side of the plane but the pilot was unable to open his hatch. I then repositioned my boat to the opposite side and moved up tight against the plane which by this time was half way sunk. The water level was up over the plane’s cockpit windshield. We managed to open the hatch on this side and I reached out with my arms instructing the pilot to grab onto me. He was in obvious shock but did not have any noticeable injuries. The Pilot grabbed my arms as the water began to quickly fill the cockpit and the plane began to sink rapidly. In a mater of seconds the plane sank like a bag of rocks, pulling the pilot down with it and I held on with everything I had yelling for the pilot to free his legs because the plane was going down.  The pilot managed to free himself and the plane instantly sunk to the bottom of the river directly under my boat, leaving his entire body now submerged in the cold water hanging from my arms. We struggled together, and gave all of out strength to haul is body safely into my boat where he collapsed with exhaustion.
​I examined the pilot for any blood or signs of trauma, asking if he was injured and insured that there were no other occupants in the plane. Thankfully there were not.  My next thought was to somehow mark the plane’s exact location for extraction purposes, or it would be like finding a needle in a haystack. I had to think quickly and use what was available. Luckily I found a long piece of string in my boat to which I attached my multi-tool to one end to use as a weight and then emptied a gatorade bottle which I attached to the other end to use as a float.  Unbelievable, but this make shift device worked perfectly and the multi-tool was enough weight to hold it in place next to the sunken plane in approximately 20’ of water.
​I then proceeded to salvage a few of the pilot’s belonging that were floating on the surface and then made our way towards the Cumberland Ferry to get to shore. When we reached shore I contacted 911 and spoke with paramedics to send an ambulance as the Pilot was complaining about sore ribs and believed that he may have broken some. The pilot was drenched and freezing and was beginning to shake. Concerned about Hyperthermia, I instructed the Man to remove his wet clothes and I gave him my dry jacket and some hot coffee which I had in a thermos, and waited for help to arrive. The pilot was taken to the hospital and I returned to the scene of the crash with Ottawa Police Officer Cst.Emond , were I remained for several hours after the incident to assist the OPS Marine and Dive Unit in locating the sunken plane.
​I clearly remember the Pilot telling me that “his flying days were over” to which I replied “at least your living days are not”.

Season Two, Off And Running

Cory and Pete leave today with Cory’s new Piper Malibu from Wonderboom Airport in South Africa to Ogden Utah.  I really wish I’d been on this trip because the globe I use to mark everywhere I’ve flown is depressingly bare in the southern half of Africa because even though I’ve flown to Africa five times I’ve never been very far below the equator.  Oh well maybe next time.   The plan is for them to stop in Baldwin WI on the way and make a few skydives with me.  That is if there isn’t three feet of snow on my runway by the time they get here!

Here’s their route.

Wish them luck.  They’re gonna need it.

Empty Sky

It is no secret that there are fewer and fewer active general aviation pilots every year. Why is that true? Can we arrest the decline? Will the activity ever grow again?

The factors most commonly cited when discussing the decline are money and time. Those are excuses, though, not factors. Flying has always been expensive and learning how to use an airplane has always taken a lot of time.

One reason there are fewer pilots is because the mood in our country has changed. There is more of a tendency today for people to be needy and dependent and risk-averse. That is not a good demographic for flight training or for flying.

The only real way to increase interest in flying is to appeal to people who have a strong sense of independent individualism. The risks can’t be minimized. In fact, flying is something that takes a good mix of intelligence and coordination, both physical and mental. Lacking that, flying can be downright hazardous to your health. In other words, wimps are not good prospects for flying.

Graph of private pilots       Read More

When I started flying in the early 80’s the sky’s were filled with planes and almost everyone knew at least one private pilot.  Landing at uncontrolled airports was a real challenge with so many planes in the pattern it often looked like a NASCAR event and getting a word in on the radio took real patience.  Now when I land at most small airports I’m usually the only one there and the radio frequencies are quite with only few lonely voices in the wilderness to break the static.  I,m doing my part by teaching my kids to fly but if general aviation is to survive something needs to be done to reverse the trend.



No story, just a cool photo of one of my favorite medium bombers the B-25 Mitchel.  OK, there aren’t that many medium bombers in the competition, unless you want to include the Super bad A-26 Douglas Invader.


My fondness for these planes might just explain why I own a Queen Air.

I think I could get Black Betty off a straight-deck aircraft carrier, with enough wind over the deck that is.