Browse through the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs), and you'll see specifications for experience in many areas of piloting. These include items such as three takeoffs and landings within the preceding 90 days in order to be legal to carry passengers in daytime, and 50 hours of cross-country pilot-in-command time with 40 hours of logged real or simulated instrument time to apply for an instrument rating.
What the FAA says is appropriate minimal experience for pilots may be overkill for those who have inherent talent and skills, yet be wholly inadequate for others who still have trouble with arithmetic and parallel parking.
While the FAA believes its objective measurements are the way to define minimal experience required for safety, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigations sometimes demonstrate that pilots operate in a world requiring continual subjective assessments on top of experience measurements.
In the crash of a Cessna 340 at Port Clinton, Ohio, the NTSB said that the pilot's minimal experience in twin-engine airplanes and his history of flying the airplane too slowly likely led him to fail to maintain sufficient airspeed to avoid a stall during the landing approach. The pilot and his three passengers were killed in the accident.
The airplane was on approach for landing on runway 27 at the Carl R. Keller Field Airport (PCW). The daytime visual flight rules (VFR) flight had originated from Mansfield Lahm Regional Airport (MFD), Mansfield, Ohio. An employee at PCW told investigators he heard the pilot call on Unicom about 10 miles out to request traffic advisories. The employee later heard the pilot announce that he was on downwind for runway 27.
An FAA inspector, who was a pilot, witnessed the accident and told investigators he was in his car when a twin-engine airplane caught his attention. He reported, "...it appeared to be flying very slow(ly) eastbound. The plane appeared to be level, but slowly descending with the landing gear extended. The aircraft continued to slow, then stopped flying and stall[ed]. The nose and left wing dropped sharply as the plane entered a counterclockwise spin."
The private pilot was certificated for single-engine and multi-engine land airplanes and held an instrument rating. His third-class medical certificate was current. He had logged approximately 1,160 hours. He accumulated about 27 hours of flight time in the 90 days before the accident. He had about 252 hours in multi-engine airplanes, with 12.6 hours in the accident airplane. Of those 12.6 hours, 7.7 were dual instruction. In addition, he had 10.3 hours on a desktop training device.
An investigator interviewed the instructor who had given the pilot training in the Cessna 340. The inspector asked whether the pilot "...utilized or was able to maintain a stabilized approach platform during landings for both single and two-engine approaches." The certificated/chief flight instructor (CFI) said he had to remind the pilot "...not to get slow... but noted some improvement..." and thought departures and approaches would continue to improve with experience.
According to control tower employees at MFD, when the airplane arrived there on the day of the accident, it landed long on runway 14 (9,001 feet by 150 feet) near mid-field and stopped at the end of the runway. The pilot asked the tower if he could get out of the airplane and push it back because he couldn't make the turn on the remaining runway. The pilot was given clearance to do that.
When investigators examined the wreckage that was located in the back- yard of a residence, they noted that the landing gears were extended, but the trim tabs were about neutral in their settings. No pre-impact problems were detected with the airplane and its engines.
The NTSB said that the pilot's recent minimal experience in the airplane and in operations at a grass airstrip contributed to a loss of control and lack of adequate airspeed during an attempted go-around after the hard, bounced landing and crash of a Maule M-5-180C at Emory, Texas. The pilot was killed.
Visual meteorological conditions existed for the flight which originated at Durant, Okla. The pilot's son told investigators that his father departed Emory at 9 a.m. and flew to Bonham, Texas, to have lunch with a friend. His father telephoned and said he was going to fly to Durant to pick up several boxes of peanuts that he was going to give as Christmas presents. When the son called his father in the early afternoon, the pilot was still in Durant and he expressed concern about the high winds in Durant and Emory.
A witness whose house is near the grass strip was sitting at his kitchen table and saw the airplane land. He said the airplane bounced once, wobbled left and right, came back down and bounced again. Power was added, the airplane went up to about 100 feet, wobbled left and right, then banked hard to the left and spun to the ground. A fire erupted. The witness said there was a strong crosswind from the south and south-southwest. Sheriff's deputies and fire personnel confirmed the winds were "very strong" as they extinguished the fire. Winds at nearby airports were gusting as high as 24 knots.
The pilot, age 80, held a private pilot certificate with airplane single-engine, multi-engine, and instrument ratings. His third-class medical certificate was current.
The pilot's logbook was destroyed in the fire. On his last medical application, he estimated he had 1,300 hours. The pilot's son said his father hadn't accumulated many hours in the Maule, and had limited experience flying the airplane from his airstrip. Prior to purchasing the airplane, the pilot hadn't flown for 25 years, and had only recently started flying again.
A Beech 58 crashed while executing a missed approach at the Philip Billard Municipal Airport (TOP) Topeka, Kan. The private pilot and all three passengers were killed. Instrument conditions existed and the airplane was on an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan. The flight originated at the Scott City Municipal Airport (TQK), Scott City, Kan.
As the airplane got closer to Topeka, a Kansas City Center controller cleared the flight to descend to 5,000 feet, mean sea level (MSL). The pilot asked which runway was in use. The controller replied runway 31 with the back course localizer approach in use. The controller then asked if the pilot would like vectors to the approach. The pilot said that he would.
A few minutes later, the controller advised the pilot to fly a heading of 340 degrees to intercept the 129-degree radial of the Topeka VOR for the approach. The pilot acknowledged the heading.
The controller cleared the pilot for the approach, and two minutes later advised the pilot that he flew through the radial and asked if the pilot believed he was getting established on the inbound course. The pilot responded, "I'm working it." The controller then gave the pilot another heading to intercept the radial. The pilot acknowledged.
The center controller told the pilot that he was still cleared for the approach, that radar service was terminated, and to contact the Topeka tower. The pilot subsequently radioed the tower that he was doing a missed approach, and then asked if he could circle to land.
Just then, a tower controller saw the airplane break out of the clouds approximately 1,000 feet past the approach end of runway 31 and to its left. After he heard the pilot make his request to circle, the tower controller saw the airplane re-enter the clouds. The tower controller told the pilot to fly runway heading and await climb-out instructions.
The pilot then said he could do the GPS approach for runway 36. The tower controller told the pilot to fly the published missed approach and climb and maintain 4,000 feet.
Two pilots at TOP saw the airplane in level flight about halfway down runway 31. The landing gear was extended and altitude was about 200 to 300 feet above the runway. As the airplane neared the runway's end, the landing gear retracted and the airplane begin a slow climb into the clouds. The witnesses estimated the overcast ceiling to be at 500 feet above ground level (AGL) and the visibility to be 21⁄2 miles.
The pilot was handed back to a controller at Kansas City Center who instructed him to turn right towards an intersection, issued a clearance for the GPS approach to runway 31, and to maintain 3,600 feet until established on the approach.
About two minutes later, radar contact was lost and the controller could not raise the pilot on the radio. Several people in the vicinity of the accident site reported hearing the airplane fly overhead. They all reported hearing the ground impact and seeing a fireball.
The private pilot, age 35, held single-engine and multi-engine land airplane and instrument airplane ratings. His third- class medical was current. His logbook showed 438 total flying hours with 28.7 in multi-engine airplanes and 17.5 in the Beech 58. The logbook showed 50 hours of simulated instrument time and 11 hours in actual instrument conditions. Since passing his initial instrument proficiency check about six months before the accident, the pilot had logged seven-tenths of an instrument hour.
The NTSB said the probable cause of the accident was that the pilot failed to maintain control while maneuvering in instrument conditions and that the pilot's minimal experience flying in actual instrument conditions contributed to the accident.
Peter Katz is editor and publisher of NTSB Reporter, an independent monthly update on aircraft accident investigations and other news concerning the National Transportation Safety Board. To subscribe, write to: NTSB Reporter, Subscription Dept., P.O. Box 831, White Plains, N.Y. 10602-0831.