Landing a Cirrus

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Hey, the How to Land an Airplane explanation is great to have.

Combined with some info from the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Associations
website puts the Cirrus back towards the top of the want to have list.

For those of us who like everything about a Cirrus but the wing design
(because it requires higher approach speeds), you can make reasonably
legitimate rationalizations that your survivability in an SR-2X is
closer to a more comfortable one in a million flight hours vs. the
reported two in one hundred thousand hours (that's more the domain of
barnstorming daredevil types) if you: 1) don't fly much in convective
IMC, 2) avoid gusty wind landings, 3) build hours in a Cirrus, 4) not
be afraid to pull the cute, and 5) (especially good news for newbies
wanting a 21st century corrosion free, squawk free plane), (and
debunking the myth that Cirrus is no plane for low time pilot),
knowing stuff can make you safer.

They've got some come compelling numbers to show that keeping up with
the information in sources like COPA (and it would be a fair extension
of this logic to include Greenspun's website) has a significant impact.

Perhaps someone will invent "wing extenders" one of these days.
Something used as routinely as flaps to increase a plane's effective
wingspan from less than 40 to more than 50 feet for takeoffs and
landing and make the handling characteristics at near stall speed
closer to that of a high performance glider than a stubby winged Space
Shuttle like brick.

-- Richard Miles, December 11, 2009


I wouldn't put too much faith in COPA membership per se. If a VFR pilot had to choose between joining COPA and getting an instrument rating, the instrument rating would make him or her a lot safer. If an IFR pilot had to choose between joining COPA and practicing approaches with a safety pilot once/month, the practice approaches would make him or her a lot safer.

A site such as COPA is most useful for owners wanted to know how to debug an obscure avionics or mechanical problem. I can't think of a Cirrus crash that was related to such a problem.

A big reason why professional pilots are safer than private pilots is that they are always current (as you would be too if you flew 3X/week and trained in emergency procedures every 6 or 12 months). For a beginner, a Cirrus might be regarded as a full-time pilot's airplane. (Any pilot can turn him or herself into a full-time pilot simply by training and flying regularly.)

The FAA publishes some of the same numbers as COPA. If you participate in their Wings program, you are much less likely to have an accident than if you don't. What they don't factor out of the stats is whether or not people who attend Wings seminars are also more likely to fly frequently and/or obtain recurrent training.

-- Philip Greenspun, December 12, 2009

In looking at all of the safety discussion (below), one thing that I don't see mentioned is the tendency of humans to vitiate the potential safety improvement from a technological advance. Seat belts, air bags, antilock brakes, and condoms have all been studied and found much less effective than predicted because a human equipped with additional safety equipment will take additional risk.

Unless we can get Al Gore to significantly increase his electricity and Gulfstream usage, the Earth's atmosphere will always get cold enough to make icing in clouds a serious hazard. That hazard cannot be easily conquered with technology and if you give people a truly all-weather airplane and a lot of safety improvements they may just use it to fly through icing conditions.

I flew the Cirrus down into a 300' overcast ceiling above Martha's Vineyard around Thanksgiving. And then came back to similarly crummy conditions at Hanscom Field. There is no way that I would have done that flight right after getting my Private (would not have been legal) or right after getting my Instrument rating (weather briefing would have scared me). I have more skill now than I did at 100 hours or 300 hours, but I don't only use that skill to make the flights that I did as a 100-hour pilot safer. I sometimes use that extra skill to attempt more challenging flights.

So... we could definitely make airplanes and pilots that are significantly safer but the improvement might not be as dramatic as forecast.

-- Philip Greenspun, January 3, 2010

What I find interesting about COPA's safety report is that it is one of the few studies that produced significant evidence that those who want to be better pilots can be better pilots ヨ and much safer pilots. A bit more investigation would likely find that those who are members of their aircraft owner's association are also more likely to attend FAA safety seminars, get an IFR rating, fly regularly, and look for and seek out better flight instructors.

I really think is has been a disastrous failing on the part of all aviation manufacturers to have not produced a much safer plane. It is why we may only see 1,000 new piston aircraft produced in 2010, vs. the 17,000 in the late 70s. It is a really hard subject with which to get serious discussion in the aviation community. Most pilot's just don't want to think about it. The Cirrus fatality rate of two in one hundred thousand flight hours means statistically that one in ten of us on this blog who fly two or three hundred hours a year over several decades will get killed. That should not be acceptable to anyone on the planet.

What is encouraging about the COPA report is it counters some of what would have seemed intuitive notions and does show what a pilot can do to substantially increase their safety margin. Was especially impressed by the evidence they produce showing that a Cirrus is not a new pilot's plane is a myth. Your point about flying regularly along with not exceeding personal limits, or not letting a deadline to get somewhere make you fly when you should not, dual pilot flying is better, and other points we have read in your site can have a profound impact on making the risks of flying acceptable to a much greater number of potential aviators. Until the industry can legitimately say you are safer in your plane than your car it risks being further marginalized.

The report does show a high number of accidents on landing. Was surprised to learn the Cirrus SR20 has a 21 knot demonstrated crosswind component in a article I recently found on your site. Given pilots with more than 100 hours experience in a Cirrus have substantially fewer accidents would suggest that the problem is the pilot and not the plane. Would be interesting to see the numbers are for those who complete the training (or comparable training) offered by Cirrus.

But the fact that something about landing a Cirrus is not intuitive suggests we need better usability studies and consider designs that lessen the opportunities for pilot error.

-- Richard Miles, December 12, 2009

If you think that the SR-22 is well suited for the "weekend pilot", try looking at the NTSB accident statistics for the past few years on the SR-22, and compare them to the Cessna 182T (latest model). Sampling back to the year 2000 shows that 44% of Cirrus accidents were fatal, while only 20% of 182T accidents were fatal. If you read the accident details, you will also find that the SR-22 often catches fire upon impact. My take on this is that SIMPLE and SLOW = SAFE. Is the risk incurred by the higher stall speed and longer landing distance really worth the benefit of saving 20 minutes on a 300nm trip?

-- David Sanford, December 28, 2009

Hey David: Appreciate the input and having someone who will talk safety issues. I have come to feel as welcome as Carry Nation at a convention of beer company execs. For reasons you point out no one should expect to see the Cirrus accident rates drop much and it is really tragic that rates this high are tolerated � that the government will certify planes this dangerous. There really is no greater indictment of corporate greed than an industry that gets Congress to pass legislation to give them a free ride on liability issues rather than make a safe plane � makes regulation an outrageous fraud.

When you look at the physics where energy equals mass times velocity squared you are much safer the slower you can land. But the dynamics are a bit more complex. Clearly we can make planes that can consistently land safely at high speeds. Jet aircraft manufacturers have achieved what should be considered by all to be outstanding safety levels. (But I am sure media will continue to crucify the FAA on the rare problems in airline safety regulation and ignore general aviation.)

What is especially frightening is the theory that some of us have that if you do all the right things you can make yourself ten times safer than the average pilot. This means that some of those pilots who make no more effort than to learn answers to the written test questions (that the FAA actually posts on their website) are going to keep our insurance rates high as they continue to crash and burn. The FAA should do as EASA has done and compile a list of 10,000 or more questions rather than 700 or so.

The longer you spend in the area around stall speed the more vulnerable you are. There are an increasing number of YouTube videos where you can watch a single engine aircraft touch down and suddenly go airborne and it makes the pilot look really bad. These would be much more useful if you could see the wind deltas. One term that should be banished from aviation is "Pilot Error." Makes it easy for those who manufacturer and regulate planes to pass the buck but prevents us from effectively dealing with safety and saving lives.

In order to land at the slowest possible speed a plane is going to need wings designed to not mush the way most powered aircraft do. That design does not easily lend itself to producing max speeds in cruise. It would not be especially difficult to use similar technology to that used to raise and lower flaps to have a switch blade like structure that would shorten the wings for cruise but allow their extension for takeoff and landing.

Having spoilers to rapidly decrease lift would eliminate wind shear and gusts from doing as much damage.

Hard to understand why all planes do not have a fuel dump so if you know you are going to crash the fire hazard will be reduced.

Landing a plane is not unlike shooting hoops from the free throw line. You will not hit the mark every time. Even the best pro basketball players only shoot in the 90% range. You can design a machine that will have 100% accuracy. The easiest, most cost effective solution will be to automate flying all planes. Turn up the turbulence level in a simulator and let the autopilot land the plane and you can see we are not that far from removing the pilot with all his "personal limitations" from the equation. But I have no idea where we will find regulators and designers with the vision and guts to see this through because there will be some spectacular crashes while the technology is developed. Any reporter can make someone with some compassion and initiative look quite foolish with a 10 second b-roll of a plane crashing where no human was at the control.

-- Richard Miles, December 30, 2009

Cirrus is not currently protected by the liability limitations as none of their planes are old enough. The present level of liability vulnerability is extremely counterpruductive to aviation safety because like in many other ways, aviation responds in the opposite way to "common sense" outcomes.

In this case, the liability causes most manufacturers to NOT innovate towards safety, and everyone in the chain is very motivated to CYA rather than to use best judgement. Pure and simple, the money and time wasted covering for lawsuits could easily be used to make planes and pilots safer, as could the many products that could be reasonably developed and tested to improve safety. 40 year old airframe designs should be discontinued, but they are not, because new airframes are so expensive to certify.

How many times do we have to see the manufacturers get nailed for judgements of millions when everyone who is knowledgeable knows that they were not the cause. How is the present tort system supposed to help improve safety?

I am no great fan of the Cirrus aircraft, having sold against them. I can tell you that no one I could give a demo of a competitive plane and serious consultation to ever bought a cirrus. That being said, some characterizations here are over the top.

Not everyone who buys a Cirrus should, but pilots who fly often enough, use good judgement, and keep up their skills are quite reasonably safe in a Cirrus. It's a plane best used for transportation rather than pleasure flying, but people are entitled to buy which plane they want. Yes, many will buy more plane than they really need because they buy for every mission. That's not going to change because of many things including liability costs which greatly increase the cost and risk of renting high performance airplanes.

-- Eric Warren, December 31, 2009

Had the liability protection been provided specifically to protect manufacturers for innovation there would be some justification. But what happened is that Cessna, Beechcraft, Piper, Lycomming and Continental got a free ride to keep producing technology that is only incrementally more advanced over what they were doing in the 50's. One of my flight instructors insists that the reason you had companies in Kansas become dominant in general aviation manufacture is because FAA personnel in that region were much more lax than other areas. Those manufacturers were less burdened. It needs to be understood that the market place rather than a growingly bureaucratic Washington is a better regulator of aviation safety.

If you eliminate laws to protect people then people will die. Liability insurance is expensive but that is because small planes kill. This is the fault of regulators and manufacturers who do not understand that safety is THE ISSUE. It is what is figuratively killing the industry. Probably for every licensed pilot there are 100 times (may 1,000) who have no interest in wanting to become a pilot because it is too dangerous. Talk to people who do not fly to get a sense of this ratio.

85% of accidents are caused by pilot error. Unless it is recognized that planes have not been adequately designed to account for the finite limitations of human capacity we will continue to see people slaughtered.

The general aviation field below the level of jet manufacture is highly dysfunctional, management lacks vision, it is regulated by an agency where employee morale now ranks among the bottom two out of nearly 250 agencies, and most who choose to fly are cavalier about their own personal safety. There is little independent, knowledgeable and competent review of general aviation in the media or in academia.

What you are saying in your response is that fatality rates of 1 in 50,000 hours of flight are acceptable. I have no respect for anyone who thinks this level of carnage should be tolerated.

-- Richard Miles, December 31, 2009

When most of us learned to fly in a Cessna or a Piper, we overcame the fear of engine failure by training to do an emergency landing. The trainers we flew could land over a 50' obstacle in around 1300 feet or so. Even in a worst case, (such as at night) we were taught that we could always trim for the slowest possible flight (around 45 knots) and fly the plane into a big dark area, that would hopefully be a field or lake. Because of the slow airspeeds, and short landing distances of trainers, this thinking was probably reasonable (at least for daytime VFR flight). But... we all want to go fast, and with that comes more risk. How easily can you land off airport if it now takes 2600 ft over a 50' obstacle? What happens when you hit the trees at 60kts instead of 45? I suppose that the response will be that that is what the Cirrus parachute is for. A nice idea, but the accident statistics don't seem to prove it to be as safe as the slower flying aircraft.

-- David Sanford, December 31, 2009

If the Department of Transportation had its priorities in order its first objective would be to expedite the automation of highway transportation. Not only would that substantially reduce the tens of thousands of fatalities on the roads each year it would have a huge impact on the GNP by reducing the labor costs associated with truck transportation. As it concerns this tread, such a system could be designed to open up the Interstates and highways to emergency landings.

A more immediate solution would be to move away from piston engines towards turbine engines that have proven to be many times more reliable negating the need for most emergency landings. Had the industry understood the need to fund and advertise effectively back in the seventies when it was a viable enterprise we might now see a hundred thousand turbo prop engines being produced each year at costs comparable to new piston engines.

Although we should have the goal of zero accidents in GA aviation, it is not realistic. But the status quo should not be acceptable to anyone caring about human life. Peter Maurer, president of Diamond Aircraft, related a story about a conference he went to once. The Kings were making a presentation on aviation safety. They asked to see a show of hands of those who knew someone who died flying. As the hands went up it was an epiphany to most in attendance of the risks to which they expose themselves. The FAA does not ask you any statistical questions about aviation safety and plenty of folks in the industry will (and sincerely believe) GA flying is safe. John and Martha presented charts showing safety had improved above FAA targets and facetiously added that we have to kill more pilots to keep up with FAA projections.

The FAA, and all related regulatory agencies, if they are going to certify aircraft, should no longer approve any aircraft that has worse than a one in one hundred thousand flight hour fatality rate, should no longer certify aircraft by 2015 that have a fatality rate of more than one in a million hours, and by 2020 put that statistic in line with that of airliners. Anyone who does think we can achieve the same level of safety we have with the airlines should get out of the way.

-- Richard Miles, December 31, 2009

That last sentence should say:

Anyone who does NOT think we can achieve the same level of safety we have with the airlines should get out of the way.

-- Richard Miles, December 31, 2009

David says:

"If you think that the SR-22 is well suited for the "weekend pilot", try looking at the NTSB accident statistics for the past few years on the SR-22, and compare them to the Cessna 182T (latest model). Sampling back to the year 2000 shows that 44% of Cirrus accidents were fatal, while only 20% of 182T accidents were fatal."

Hmmm seems like standard Cirrus bashing. Why not fly a 172 which by your logic is even safer and less time differential? A 182 is comparable to an SR20 in terms of speed, but has an extra 2 controls to fudge.

"If you read the accident details, you will also find that the SR-22 often catches fire upon impact."

Oh really? How about some data for that claim that it "often" catches fire?

"My take on this is that SIMPLE and SLOW = SAFE."

So fly a Cub. But seriously the 182T is not "simple". It is high performance and has more controls [prop and cowl flaps].

Are you really suggesting the 182T is a good choice for a first plane?

"Is the risk incurred by the higher stall speed and longer landing distance really worth the benefit of saving 20 minutes on a 300nm trip?"

Also, the 182 *turbo* [for the flight levels] doesn't have anything in the way of anti icing (TKS) as all SR22s do. Sometimes simple is as safe...

But according to you we all should fly 152s! By the way, how come Cessna doesn't publish their yearly flight hours flown? Only Cirrus does. Well you know what they say, the higher you fly, the easier you are to shoot!

Anti-Cirrites are pretty obvious to spot.

Phil, the benefits of COPA membership go far beyond simple computer- nerd reasons you you well know, since you are a member.

Access to hundreds of CFIIs, world-experts in weather, aviation physiology, aviation and tax law, etc. If the reasons you cite were the only ones, why are there so many non Cirrus owners on board? Dozens of turbine pilots, ex military pilots and pro pilots too.

The emphasis on safety is tremendous. The stats on non-member accidents vs COPA member accidents clearly demonstrates this. You shouldn't minimize it...

-- Brian Chaim, December 31, 2009

The only manufacturer that has produced respectable safety stats is Diamond. They are approaching 1 in 1 million hours. Cirrus, Beechcraft, Piper, Mooney are not close. Statistically you are still several times more likely to have an accident in a Cessna 172 than a DA40. We need to know why. Statistical variation - low sampling rates. Maybe safer pilots are drawn to companies that use safety in their marketing. My guess (and I wish I had a degree in aeronautical engineering so that this was more than a hunch) is that the Diamond wing design takes advantage of greater leverage (basic Physics 101 arm and moment) because the wings are nearly 40 feet wide their planes are more controllable in all phases of flight and especially when landing. Watch birds and notice how they often use the feathers at the tips of their wings to make fine adjustments as they touch down. Stick the Diamond wing on a Cirrus SR20 and I would be a happy guy.

-- Richard Miles, December 31, 2009

If we designed planes to land more like birds we would not need runways. Hover and stop on the mark. Would make aviation more convenient and increase its practicality and appeal to the masses if you only needed a radius of a couple 100 feet to "land" at a ball park, civic auditorium, the shopping mall, state or national park, the beach, a ski resort, restaurants, ...

-- Richard Miles, December 31, 2009

Hummmm, takeoffs? How do we design the wings and/or powerplant to store enough thrust energy (economically) to get airborne in a couple hundred feet in a parking lot.

-- Richard Miles, December 31, 2009

Seems there would be more progress on a hybrid between an airplane and helicopter that uses wings incorporating some of the structure that enable birds to land and take flight without any "ground roll."

-- Richard Miles, December 31, 2009

Some more "bird brained" thoughts.

The Wright Brothers used wing warping to maneuver their original plane. Had more been done to follow up on these efforts and make wing structures more dynamic we might have already achieved greater flight handling characteristics today. Certainly, it is easier to build a plane with the uninspired square boxy simple design of a Piper. It would not be fair to use the term lazy, but reactionary might be more appropriate, and unimaginative would understate the typical engineer, aviation executive, regulator or legislator of the 21st century. Subliminally the movie of the early days of flight with that plane we have all seen with the wings that "flap like a bird's" that quickly fell apart on the first trial run might be keeping engineers from examining or even considering the physics of bird flight.

There are aspects of avian flight that do show up in other venues ヨ parachutists can add a momentary burst of lift by changing the shape of their airfoil just they are about to set foot on terra firma.

When you consider the landing structure of aircraft there is not sufficient give ヨ so planes easily bounce. A design more like that of bird's legs would do a better job of quickly (in a fraction of a second) taking a plane out of that zone of vulnerability near stall speed.

The spring like characteristics that could be built into the design of bird like landing gear could get aircraft airborne with a much shorter ground roll

After a 100 years we have huge advancements that give us CAD capabilities and the means to build a working virtual proof of concept. We also have a much better understanding and substantially greater availability of materials that are lightweight, robust and cost effective ヨ especially when manufactured in volume. And we have computing technology to design systems to accomplish tasks (like landing a powered aircraft on a perch) that would be beyond the capacity of most humans.

-- Richard Miles, January 1, 2010

Richard, Your posts are all over the place, and I don't know what your point is anymore other than that you are unhappy with the glacial pace of safety improvement in GA.

I can tell you that there is no silver bullet, and that the biggest impediment to improvements in GA safety is fewer and fewer people becoming pilots, buying planes, and flying them around. GA is not a normal economics style market. When we lose demand for planes, the price of new ones goes up, not down.

I can assure you that regulation is also not the answer. Most every regulation increases costs, both monetary and temporal, thus reducing the desire to use GA at all. Combine that with reductions in airports, and constant threats of even more regulation, and you get what we have - a shrinking industry.

Yes, Diamond makes a superior product. I owned one of the first DA40's to come to the US. I was also a charter member of the owners organization, and I later became a salesman for two of their distributors. I know why Diamonds are safer, I can explain why Diamonds are safer. I can also explain why people buy more Cessna's and Cirruses anyway. It's that last part you need to figure out before you will understand how to improve GA.

If you don't have hundreds of millions of dollars, or the desire to work tirelessly to design and build new products, there is not much you can do to fix the system other than be a better pilot, a good ambassador to the non pilots, or a good instructor.

This thread left the topic several posts ago, so if you want the last word, you are welcome to it.


-- Eric Warren, January 1, 2010


This post may have left the narrow theme of its origin title but does address what are more broad and serious issues in the general aviation field so I hope there will be more discussion on this thread.

We are in total agreement that regulation impedes progress in aviation. There are some other posts on Greenspun's website where I've hammered on this point. Diamond/Austro Engines had to spend more than 50 million dollars to get EASA and FAA certification. This cost stifles innovation, makes the field unattractive to investors and speculators. My point is that the market place rather than regulation would make the industry safer.

(Perhaps this is where the confusion lies in my posts) Unfortunately, we have regulation, really bad regulation in terms of aircraft certification. The status quo of low standards and high death rates sanctioned by government is appalling. If we are going to have regulation it should not be a joke and there should be standards and realistic goals. Again I have no respect for any regulator who is so callous about human life than the 1.2 fatality rate per 100,000 hours in general aviation is OK. We would have been much better off if the old guard quit making planes, did not get liability protection, and innovators like Diamond could have obtained more market share (or more likely someone dark horse that could have manufactured a safe plane but considered ergonomics in the design of the cockpit, and establish a network of good dealerships and market effectively).

We can do a lot better and if we continue as is general aviation will continue to marginalize itself out of existence for the reasons you explain. This has to be understood to be a crisis and unsafe planes and pilots need to be decommissioned. But advances will only happen if reactionary thinking by the key players does not block innovation and consideration of new ideas. You would be selling ten maybe a hundred times more Mooneys if you could tell people they were safer in your plane than a car - rather than being exposed to the same level of risk as motorcycle drivers.

-- Richard Miles, January 1, 2010

This thread has been most active and interesting. One point is that GA innovation & safety is stifled by regulations and excessive cost of certification, so most is GA is still flying 1960 designs. Yet Cirrus is a modern and progressive GA company, offering modernized aircraft, forward thinking, innovative products and a progressive business model. Some say that their safety record suffers because they are selling higher performance planes with higher stall speeds. Cirrus will argue the point through their own interpretation of safety statistics and views. Their products might not be for everyone and it might very well come down to how statistics are presented and how risks are assessed. At least Cirrus is moving GA forward and out of the 1960's!!!

I'd like to throw another big issue into this discussion... Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) which are less expensive to certify, thus stimulating innovation, sell for lower cost (on a new aircraft to new aircraft comparison basis), and create demand for an exciting new generation of electronics that sell at a fraction of previous electronics costs. Look at the Garmin 696 vs the G1000, XM Weather vs. Radar. Then there are all of the newer technologies such as WAAS, synthetic vision, terrain warning, and data such as approach plates, etc..

There can really be an exiting future for GA, "For general aviation, todays headwind can be turned into tomorrows tailwind". (Quote from "The Next Hour" by Rchard Collins,)

-- Richard S, January 2, 2010

It would seem a better model would be to expand the concept of LSA regulation to all general aviation aircraft where the manufacturer not the FAA is primarily responsible for the safety of the aircraft design. The FAA can provide research, make recommendations and suggest guidelines. Specifically, they should summarize statistics they compile and provide to the public the overall safety record of each aircraft model produced so it is easy for the public to choose safer aircraft. This should include data on how the planes are configured because certain features, e.g., glass cockpits, autopilots, STOL mods, engine type, fuel tank configuration, and so on will have a bearing. My hunch is that pressure from GAMA or AOPA is why these numbers are not easy to compile from the FAA's website. Pilots need to understand that certain associations' policies are bad. The AOPA should be strongly criticized for its consistent pennywise and pound foolish policies to block new requirements that will clearly enhance safety. Their opposition to the new emergency locator transmitters is a classic example.

There is reason to believe if we pulled steam gauges out of old aircraft and replaced them with glass cockpits and quality autopilots we would see many lives saved. If the FAA would make a quality study on this issue it would help. Not all pilots can afford it, but most of us, if it were clear by such a study that it would increase our survivability by a significant factor, would opt to do so even if the cost were tens of thousands of dollars to upgrade.

When you work with governmental agencies you learn they tend to age like people. There is a young vigorous and productive stage, a maturing staging and finally comes old age and some agencies that are around too long grow senile. We need to build in a review system and provide automatic sunset provisions on agencies that cannot get the job done. The billions of dollars lost on the FAA's last failed attempt to upgrade the air traffic control system and its slow feeble efforts in continuing the upgrade should make it abundantly clear to all that this is a failed agency. We would likely see a less expensive, more robust, flexible and reliable system in place sooner if this task were turned over to an independent group, structured much like those in the computing science field, made up and managed by people from industry.

We could see substantially more innovation at a grass roots level if you could hire people to build an experimental aircraft, that you would not have to tie up hundreds or thousands of hours of your own time (and the person hired would certainly have more skill in my case). Again, the public needs to understand that there are regulations in effect that have been authored and aggressively lobbied by the AOPA to protect the long time established manufacturers who purchase advertising in AOPA publications. Again the free market is the best "regulator" for safety. We can leave it up to the insurance companies to decide whether they want to provide coverage on an experimental aircraft. If there is anything we know about insurance companies is that they are out to make money and if the right design were to emerge and prove itself you know they would readily insure it.

The problem we have with the FAA is that its people are so lost in procedure and minutia that they do not see the big picture. Too often the typical employee only worries about appeasing their immediate boss without regard to the greater aims and essential purpose of an agency. The FAA is guilty of working in microtrends rather than setting larger goals that can and must be achieved. Above all, we need to eliminate expensive licensing fees and procedures. And more pilots need to know that if they want this industry to survive they cannot depend on those who currently claim they lobby on their behalf to look out or even be competent to really understand the long term needs of the general aviation pilot, that anyone who cares about having the privilege to fly needs to develop their own voice and be heard.

As a side note, I am glad Phillip Greenspun provides this site. It is one of the few on the web in which most postings on issues like this are from well informed people. It is especially good that people can be quite blunt but that the respect for alternative points of view is assumed and we can really look at the issues.

-- Richard Miles, January 2, 2010

Much as I'm a skeptic of the work done in the Psychology field going back to the days of Sigmund Freud (or is it Sigmund Fraud) there is a an aspect of human nature that needs to be studied. Was surprised to discover recently that Psychology is a major at West Point so maybe a more pragmatic group from the military establishment could look at the issue of why we really don't give a damn about human life. We all like to think we consider everyone's life precious but it is common throughout the aviation field that high death rates do not bother a lot of people. Looking back through the history of sports from modern boxing to the days of Roman gladiators it shows that there is an aspect of human nature we have not come to terms with

It is not hard to understand the, "Can't happen to me" mentality. When you consider the 100,000 of years over which human DNA evolved the person who had more guts and was willing to take on hunting dangerous game was more likely to survive than more cautious individuals who stayed in the cave and famished over a long winter.

An average of 1.2 fatalities per 100,000's hours of flight is the best we have achieved today in general aviation. It says a lot about human nature that a rate this high is accepted. If you flew about 200 hours a year over four or five decades you have a one in ten chance of getting killed in a plane. The pieces of the "technological pie" are all there to have a safe plane within the span of the coming decade if enough people care.

-- Richard Miles, January 2, 2010


Hope my reply did come across as too strident. Email does not allow inflections to soften or add subtle meaning to statements.

Was especially intrigued to learn from you that apparently the liability protection does not help new manufacturers. In my opinion, liability protection set aviation back 20 years and was a banana republic like sell out by Congress to unethically protect the old time manufacturers and has interfered with new competition. Liability protection is an important part of a free market economy. It would have been more ethical to let the pilot make this choice, decide whether he wanted pay for the manufacturer's liability protection or waive coverage, and it would not be surprising if the cost were somewhere between $10,000 to $50,000 per aircraft.

Your comments were much appreciated and you are one of the few who has articulated as clearly how the regulatory status quo is holding back aviation. I appreciate that GA is in an especially vulnerable position. But from my perspective every effort will prove futile until we have a plane that anyone in the general public will feel comfortable climbing into and going airborne. Small planes kill, they kill too many people. And not that many pilots know this or maybe the problem is that most just block it out. We can make safe planes with the technology and financial resources we already have in place. Avionics is emerging as the focal point of a solution and increasing use of drones in military and civilian applications may be where valuable R&D can be expensed. Until we deal with the high death rate, planes that should cost $50,000 will cost $500,000.

-- Richard Miles, January 2, 2010

On a site like this that is looked at by newbies obviously some will be turned off by a thread like this and not want to fly. And that is unfortunate because we need new pilots entering the field. But not being completely open is not an answer. I don't think in the long run we will get more pilots by not being totally candid about the risks. There is no alternative, the industry has to offer a safe plane. People attracted to aviation are generally well educated and not lacking in judgment. The question is how many of them, how many potential pilots have a better idea of the risks than those who have a pilot's license.

When you live outside of American culture you get a perspective that you just don't see otherwise. American's are much too comfortable with deception. Any baby boomer knows the "Let's get Mikey to try it" cereal commercials and old movie fans will be aware of W. C. Fields' "there's a sucker born every minute" snide remark. The fundamental problem in aviation has been this tendency to "sweep it under the rug", "hide our dirty laundry", "keep it under lock and key" (see there is no shortage of clichéd expressions to describe concealing information in American culture and language).

From a technical standpoint much safer planes are relatively easy. Garmin will likely prove to be the force that saves general aviation.

But the challenge, the impediment that is most menacing and keeps airframes and powerplants from advancing from 50 years ago comes down to Psychology. Because the topic of aviation death is taboo it can be hard to handle by some who have been employed in aviation for many years when they realize they have manufactured or sold a plane to someone who died in it. No one who is interested in aviation finds it hard to understand why people who love flying want to share it with others. And there are no shortage of people with vested interests who are happy to tell you flying is safe and promote a myth. Tragically, the failure of some to deal well with the harsh realities is something I've seen dozens of times over the years, that when you try to objectively discuss this issue, some people become belligerent , others non-communicative, and most choose to not give any further thought to the topic.

-- Richard Miles, January 2, 2010

Having been involved in several high-risk sports, I will say with all certainty that if you thoroughly understand the risks of the game you are playing you can significantly reduce your risk. Truth is most people rather deny risks than face the reality of what they are actually dealing with.

A good source book for GA risk is the book "The Killing Zone". It discusses statistics in detail along with specific examples for each risk.

OK so the GA risk of death is 1 in 10 if you fly 200 hours a year for 40 or 50 years. Most pilots don't fly that much. Say you fly 100 hours a year for 20 years. Your theoretical risk is now 1 in 40. Now understand that the two leading causes of GA crashes are: VFR into IMC (bad weather) and stalling at low altitude. Manage not to do JUST THOSE TWO THINGS and your safety margin just increased 2 or 3 times. Follow through with a list of the top 10 things you can do to reduce your risk and have a nice life and enjoy flying.

Thoroughly understand the risks and you can reduce your risk substantially.

-- Richard S, January 2, 2010

The tendency of humans to vitiate the potential safety improvement from a technological advance points out again how the human is the limiting factor in safety. Someday it will probably require not much more technical effort than riding on a subway to travel in your own plane. Would open up flying to a much larger market if becoming a "pilot" was easy. But it would be a nightmarish struggle to suggest to the establishment that we deliberately design planes so that all a pilot has to do is enter in the name of the airport he wants to go to and let the plane do the rest. Building avionics to automate navigation is relatively easy. Would be interesting to see who would make better judgments about when and where to fly - a computer or a human, and how often the human would still go when it wasn't advised.

Remember my first flight instructor commenting that he was glad that he had acquired the skills he gained from his early days of flying and was also happy he survived all the wild self-taught acrobatics soon after getting his license. That's an interesting point that to be a good pilot you do need to push against the envelope to keep expanding it and know when and how hard to push against that envelope.

Given the path I expect to take in aviation the point where I'll find that I'm most exposed to risk will be after progressing to an Instrument Rating and being more inclined or for business reasons need to venture out into convective IMC. I really don't feel there is a plane under 12,500 lbs. that is up to the task even with high-altitude engines, de-icing equipment, GPS, good autopilot and synthetic vision given how violently a small plane gets thrown around even with just moderate turbulence. Given the mass of small planes it may prove that thrust rather than lift is where it will be easier to build a system that will stabilize a small plane in turbulence. Wonder how much it would cost to build a couple of ultra small jet engines, maybe with an opening of only an inch or two and place them on the tips of all flight control surfaces for the sole purpose of automatically controlling pitch, yaw and roll. Ought to be some sim game designer we could convince to play around with this concept.

So that Al can continue flying in his Gulfsteam free of his obvious guilt about consuming fossil fuels we should get him to push for developing those orbiting solar collectors they talked about decades back, the one's that would emit microwaves back to the earth, but put some a bit closer to the sun. You only need to collect enough energy as reaches the earth's surface in an area of about 100 square miles to power all the energy needs of the world. If issues of attenuation and thermodynamics could be worked out and you had primary collectors closer to the sun you might only need collectors a few square meters in size given that the amount of energy at the surface of the sun is 500,000,000 times that at the surface of the earth.

More back on track, we do have airlines that have achieved an excellent safety record and it is a mistake for anyone to not believe that we can and need to achieve this level of safety with small planes. It is obviously more a Psychological than a technical challenge.

-- Richard Miles, January 3, 2010

I love it when the Cirrus is dissed: all kinds of responders jump to defend it. E.g: Brian Chaim's letter, which simply fills out his statement "Anti-Cirrites are pretty obvious to spot."

But seriously, folks, there is something wrong with that plane. My personal belief (untested) is that sudden emergencies result in wrong inputs to the side-yoke system. I once had an informative experience on a test track at Rover (Solihull, England) with a right-hand drive car. When we hit the switchback at speed, I down-shifted TOWARD MY BODY with my left hand, not to the left as I should have. That showed me that my automatic reactions had to be retaught, but that they naturally were body-centric and not left-right. Most interesting.

I once mentioned this to a senior marketing exec at Avidyne, who responded with a conference call with an aviation writer -- both to deny my claims. What, is it irresponsible to look for answers?

I like your blog and your original approach to long-standing "truths". Please keep it up -- I only discovered your blog today, and don't want to miss out.

Richard Tamir

-- Richard Tamir, April 8, 2013