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NTSB Says a Downdraft Killed Steve Fossett

kdawson posted about 5 years ago | from the windy-up-here dept.

Transportation 101

jd writes "The National Transportation Safety Board has now released the text of its examination (full narrative available) into the crash of Steve Fossett's aircraft on Sept 3rd, 2007. It concludes that downdrafts were the likely cause of the crash, dragging the plane into the mountain with such force that, even at full power, it would have been impossible to escape the collision. Pilots experienced in the area report that those winds can rip the wings off aircraft; and Mark Twain remarked that they could roll up a tin house 'like sheet music.' One must wonder why such a skilled aviator was taking a gamble with such hostile conditions, given that he was looking for a flat stretch of land to race cars on, but that is one mystery we shall probably never know the answer to."

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101 comments

One must wonder ... (4, Interesting)

qoncept (599709) | about 5 years ago | (#28650783)

One must wonder ...

...how pilots experienced in the area and are still alive know that these downdrafts can rip the wings off an airplane?

She turned me into a newt!! (0, Offtopic)

PeterM from Berkeley (15510) | about 5 years ago | (#28650893)

"I got better!"

Monty Python quote. Seemed germane.

Re:One must wonder ... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28650943)

Hey, you didn't think Bill Gates would jump straight to controlling hurricanes, didja? Even he had to start small.

Re:One must wonder ... (4, Insightful)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | about 5 years ago | (#28650981)

Perhaps they've seen wreckage where it was evident that's what happened.

Re:One must wonder ... (2, Insightful)

qoncept (599709) | about 5 years ago | (#28651065)

Then maybe instead of "pilots experienced in the area," it should have said "pilots who have seen wreckage."

Re:One must wonder ... (4, Insightful)

maxume (22995) | about 5 years ago | (#28651153)

Are those two things mutually exclusive?

Perhaps experienced pilots in the area, who have seen such wreckage, choose not to fly when the weather indicates such winds are likely.

Re:One must wonder ... (1)

Jay L (74152) | about 5 years ago | (#28664173)

Then maybe instead of "pilots experienced in the area," it should have said "pilots who have seen wreckage."

No, because as any Slashdotter knows, "area" is a two-dimensional measure. So if they flew over the wreckage, they were experienced in the area. They just weren't experienced in the volume.

Re:One must wonder ... (1)

JWSmythe (446288) | about 5 years ago | (#28669299)

None of that matters, until you find the hard part, down at the bottom of your volume. It's the whole secret of flying. Throw yourself at the ground and miss. As long as you're still doing the miss part, you don't have to worry about too much (except a stray bird or 747). Now, when you do fail at the miss part, things can get messy. Usually it's done in a pretty controlled manner, so it doesn't hurt too much. Just remember next time you take a flight somewhere, any landing is just a controlled crash. If you can walk away from it, it was a good one. Always thank your fight crew as you egress the aircraft.

Re:One must wonder ... (4, Informative)

JWSmythe (446288) | about 5 years ago | (#28655819)

    In searching for Fossett, they found numerous unreported or otherwise undocumented crashed planes. More than likely, any aviator who said that they "knew" it could happen were witnesses to another plane crashing, helped with the search and rescue of a fellow aviator, or simply accounted for the forces and the strength of small aircraft.

    I had discussed this with some people who are very experienced aviators, and they all came to the same conclusion. It was most likely wind that brought him down. The second guess would be a mechanical failure and attempted crash landing. They ranked the second one way behind the first.

    If I read the NTSB review correctly, his altimeter was reading above the mountain peaks, but adjusted for current temp and pressure that would put him a bit lower than them, which should have been ok. They lost radar contact with him approx 1km from the crash site. In that time, he went about 1km (obviously) and a dropped a few thousand feet.

    The report does state that the entire plane was present at the accident site. Well, except for the burnt off parts. They indicate the wingtip lights were present, which would imply the wing came down with the plane. If they had broken off, they would have likely been found at a different location.

    I'm sure he did everything he could. Sometimes that's just not enough, even for people who are really good. :(

Re:One must wonder ... (4, Funny)

vertinox (846076) | about 5 years ago | (#28651223)

...how pilots experienced in the area and are still alive know that these downdrafts can rip the wings off an airplane?

Experienced pilots experienced the phenomena by experiencing the event from a safe distance because they were experienced.

Re:One must wonder ... (2, Insightful)

timeOday (582209) | about 5 years ago | (#28652523)

But Fossett was about as experienced as they get.

Stuff happens, at least he lived a very full life.

Re:One must wonder ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28653557)

There are old pilots
There are bold pilots
But there are no old, bold pilots?

Re:One must wonder ... (1)

sycodon (149926) | about 5 years ago | (#28653825)

Lots of old bald pilots though.

Re:One must wonder ... (5, Funny)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about 5 years ago | (#28651227)

One must wonder ...

...how pilots experienced in the area and are still alive know that these downdrafts can rip the wings off an airplane?

Yes, it's odd. Almost as though they can somehow communicate amongst themselves or even read NTSB reports.

Yes... this definitely is something we need to understand better.

Re:One must wonder ... (3, Insightful)

tnk1 (899206) | about 5 years ago | (#28651881)

Experience could certainly mean that they have flown the area and frequented places where fellow pilots who know about incidents congregate. They may have also experienced lesser effects of this phenomenon personally and then read about reports of similar incidents which match their (not as extreme) experience.

I am an experienced system administrator for large numbers of high-end systems. This means I know about all sorts of threats to my hosts, active and historical, because I am experienced and have had to explore the possibility of intrusions and read studies of those that went too far. That is a function of my experience that you would have trouble obtaining without time in front of the keyboard, if only because you'd usually have no interest in such things if you never had to deal with the real possibility of them happening to you. I have never experienced an intrusion personally, but my experience is why I would know about them.

While it is not "first-hand" experience, these mountain conditions are something that an "experienced" pilot would know about because it is their best interests to know about it... or they may die. That is why it is interesting that Mr. Fossett, who we all know is experienced, seemed to be either ignorant of these conditions, didn't care, or something else happened. This would seem to be pretty basic stuff for general aviation flyers to know, so we would be allowed to wonder what happened.

Re:One must wonder ... (1)

slack_justyb (862874) | about 5 years ago | (#28652105)

One word.

Parachutes.

Re:One must wonder ... (1)

rev_g33k_101 (886348) | about 5 years ago | (#28653205)

if these downdrafts are so strong that they can rip the wings off a airplane, one would think that the downdraft could collapse a parachute.

just a thought.

Re:One must wonder ... (1)

Klaus_1250 (987230) | about 5 years ago | (#28656307)

Parachutes don't work well in downdrafts, or very turbulent conditions where the risk of a parachute collapse is high. But I doubt he would have had the height and time to jump. Which is one of the reasons flying near mountains is so dangerous.

Re:One must wonder ... (1)

Ash Vince (602485) | about 5 years ago | (#28652159)

...how pilots experienced in the area and are still alive know that these downdrafts can rip the wings off an airplane?

Parachutes?

Re:One must wonder ... (1)

insnprsn (1202137) | about 5 years ago | (#28652761)

"Geronimo" ?

Re:One must wonder ... (1)

sjames (1099) | about 5 years ago | (#28652901)

Perhaps lucky and experienced pilots witnessed a less lucky nearby pilot having the wings ripped off of his plane or slightly less lucky pilots had their planes severely damaged but made it back to the ground safely and then concluded based on the damage that another unfortunate encounter would have done them in.

Re:One must wonder ... (1)

cyn1c77 (928549) | about 5 years ago | (#28654181)

One must wonder ...

...how pilots experienced in the area and are still alive know that these downdrafts can rip the wings off an airplane?

Parachutes and radios, my friend.

Re:One must wonder ... (1)

Martin Hellman (1254284) | about 5 years ago | (#28658289)

"how pilots experienced in the area and are still alive know that these downdrafts can rip the wings off an airplane?" In the incident I know best, the pilot parachuted and survived, though I believe he suffered significant injuries. See page 36 in http://www.quovadis-aero.com/pdf_ext/2004_winning_on_the_wave.pdf [quovadis-aero.com] for a description. But that describes a very different day in terms of wind conditions compared to the day Fossett was killed. The article referenced above is describing strong mountain wave when the winds were probably averaging 50-75 kts, with local gusts significantly higher. In contrast, the NTSB report indicates that the winds on Fossett's accident day were averaging less than 20 kts, with gusts (at the mountain top level) to almost 50 kts. That's a big difference in wind conditions and, as the NTSB reports, the accident was probably caused by a downdraft (possibly induced by a strong gust interacting with the terrain), not an in-flight breakup.

With due respect (2, Insightful)

mewsenews (251487) | about 5 years ago | (#28651051)

To Mr. Fossett,

"The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not knowing what comes next."
  -- Ursula K. LeGuin

NTSB is wrong (5, Funny)

Em Emalb (452530) | about 5 years ago | (#28651119)

Sudden deceleration is what killed him.

Re:NTSB is wrong (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28651201)

Pfffft, hardly. He was perfectly still the whole time. It was the earth that flew into him.

Re:NTSB is wrong (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28651593)

If you are using him as your reference frame, then it was the sudden acceleration that killed him.

Re:NTSB is wrong (1)

j79zlr (930600) | about 5 years ago | (#28653941)

If you are using him as your reference frame, then it was the sudden acceleration that killed him.

It was still the rapid deceleration of the organs internally that killed him.

Re:NTSB is wrong (1)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | about 5 years ago | (#28651361)

That's absurd. It was probably due the inability of his body to continue to supply vital organs the nutrients they require. Pretty sure it was multiple organ failure. With the brain shutting down first.

Re:NTSB is wrong (1)

kpainter (901021) | about 5 years ago | (#28651401)

It was not sudden deceleration that killed him. It was the trauma caused by sudden deceleration that killed him.

Re:NTSB is wrong (1)

digitalchinky (650880) | about 5 years ago | (#28656247)

Or, you know, maybe he had a heart attack, stroke, whatever, and was already deceased prior to ground impact. We will never know.

Re:NTSB is wrong (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | about 5 years ago | (#28652437)

Also wrong. Earth collided with him.

What was he doing on earth's extra-wide lane anyway?
Searching for is mom?
*ducks* (Too early? Ok. Bad hurricane78*! *slap*)

[* By the way: How do I rename myself. I could not find anything, and I do not like that name anymore. While I like to keep my ID.]

Re:NTSB is wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28652497)

By the way: How do I rename myself.

Keep the name, it sounds like a bad sequel to Airport '77 :P

Re:NTSB is wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28654093)

I know you are joking, but evidence suggests he survived the initial impact. Just saying.

Re:NTSB is wrong (1)

JWSmythe (446288) | about 5 years ago | (#28662437)

    Which evidence? I've seen a few items, and although they weren't addressed as such, the facts were all there. They can't exactly have a list of rumors at the end and a snopes style dispute for each.

Taking a gamble with such hostile conditions (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28651127)

All aviation is taking a gamble with gravity. If a potential for a downdraft anywhere became a limiting factor, no one would ever leave the ground.

Even in the best situations with the most accomplished pilots, the atmosphere can still prove a greater force than our best technology and minds. And these forces can crop up in any place and time, even with the best weather reports.

Insulting summary (1)

MobyDisk (75490) | about 5 years ago | (#28651183)

One must wonder why such a skilled aviator was taking a gamble with such hostile conditions, given that he was looking for a flat stretch of land to race cars on, but that is one mystery we shall probably never know the answer to."

Stated as though it was soooo-oo obvious that eeeveryone knew not to fly in that area.

Re:Insulting summary (4, Informative)

AB3A (192265) | about 5 years ago | (#28654673)

To someone who isn't an experienced pilot, it isn't obvious. But you should know that it is a significant part of the training for all private pilots.

I've been licensed for more than 20 years as a private pilot. I've taken mountain flying instruction. I've flown around and over the Rocky Mountains. This hazard is a simple issue of flight planning.

I know exactly what performance my aircraft is capable of, as should every pilot who sits in the left seat. I read reports of the winds aloft. I set personal minimums for what I'm willing to fly in. I know, for example, that if the winds aloft at 3000' are approaching 30 knots, that I can expect significant turbulence and down-drafts from the Appalachian mountain chain for up to 100 miles East. I might fly in those conditions if I'm going Eastward. However, if the winds aloft are 35 knots or greater at 3000, I know I'm staying on the ground.

It's not that I can't handle those situations; I can and I have. My goal is to have a reserve in case the forecast is wrong. I've seen blown forecasts more times than I care to think about.

Steve Fossett had a momentary lapse of judgment. It happens to the best of us. Every year, people crash while flying around mountains and canyons from exactly the same damned thing that bit him. There is little room for error when flying in the mountains. Each flight should include a careful evaluation of local and regional weather conditions, terrain, and aircraft performance. Yeah, there are people who launch in to the blue without checking this stuff. Most of the time, they survive without incident.

Those who don't do adequate flight planning in this terrain are accidents waiting to happen.

Re:Insulting summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28661199)

I proudly post this as Anonymous coward because i would never want to actually have an account on a website so full of people so full of themselves.

How many of you posting have ever worked for the NTSB or have the first clue as to how an airplane crash investigation is carried out or how the evidence is interpreted? It's like watching CSI and believing that you are suddenly a forensic criminologist.

I don't give a shit if you have been a private pilot for 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, or 50 years, it doesn't make you qualified to comment on the NTSB's findings. That's like saying that just because you have driven a car for X number of years you are qualified to comment on how metal reacts, bends, crumples, and fails in a collision. Driving does not equal mechanical engineer or metallurgist.

I can't wait for the Michael Jackson autopsy to be published so you, the elite minds of the planet can pick it apart and point out all it's flaws.

Windbag buffoons.

Great Mystery - Probably not (2, Insightful)

travdaddy (527149) | about 5 years ago | (#28651229)

One must wonder why such a skilled aviator was taking a gamble with such hostile conditions, given that he was looking for a flat stretch of land to race cars on, but that is one mystery we shall probably never know the answer to."

Even if we did know the answer, I doubt it would be very interesting. It's probably a little of Steve being an adrenaline junkie mixed with underestimating the danger.

Um, obvious speculation? (4, Insightful)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 5 years ago | (#28651241)

One must wonder why such a skilled aviator was taking a gamble with such hostile conditions, given that he was looking for a flat stretch of land to race cars on, but that is one mystery we shall probably never know the answer to.

I wondered, but in about a second I came up with this: An adventurer and thrill-seeker, in the course of looking for a place for future thrill-seeking, decided to seek some thrills?

Sure it's just idle speculation... but based on what little I know of the man, taking gambles with danger while tooling around alone in his private plane sounds exactly like something he would do. It makes enough sense for me, at least.

Re:Um, obvious speculation? (-1, Flamebait)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | about 5 years ago | (#28651733)

Well, thrill-seeking is just that, but this guy was going on the equivalent of a Sunday drive. I doubt that "fly around and smash into a mountain" was on his list of activities that provide excitement.

PS am I the only one who finds something terribly wrong with a rich guy polluting the world just so he can provide for his own selfish pleasure? (please pass cap-and-trade soon...)

Re:Um, obvious speculation? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28651933)

This was a small plane. Its fuel consumption is in the same order as car. If you've never taken a car out for a pleasure drive or to drive to a distant location seeking pleasure (amusement park, beach, casino, girlfriends house...), then you may have some standing to criticize. Otherwise, you're being ridiculous.

Re:Um, obvious speculation? (1)

slack_justyb (862874) | about 5 years ago | (#28652929)

If you've never taken a car out for a pleasure drive

I would like for you to consider your target audience.

1. Amusement Park - Sorry playing WoW.
2. Beach - (I'll use my mighty logic!) Most people go to the beach to tan/grill. I can tan/grill in my backyard. Therefore, UV exposure means that I'm not at my computer playing WoW.
3. Casino - Really, with what money? Unless they accept gold.
4. Girlfriends House - Seriously?
5. ???
6. Profit!


I'm sure you make a good argument for the majority of the US's population, however. Except the people who don't own a car, or the disabled, or the blind, the homeless, the poor, the committed, those in prison, dead, just born, underage, the undead, those that lived before the car was invented, overseas, in a war zone, ostracized by the public, content to being a hermit, running from the law on foot, are currently inside, are in a coma, are on bed rest, are Amish, go places in a helicopter because automobiles are so for the under $10 billionaires, a member of green peace, prefer bikes, are currently in an area where the use of a motorized vehicle would not be prudent, an animal lacking the required limbs to operate a vehicle, are a mushroom, are an inanimate object, paralyze by forces outside those defined by the medical field, are able to fly using their minds, have been abducted by aliens, have been killed by aliens, are stuck on an island with no hope of getting off, are currently committing suicide (unless it is with a moving vehicle), have been court ordered by California to refrain from driving, are currently at the bottom of Hudson Bay with some new concrete sneakers, or are Steve Fossett.

Re:Um, obvious speculation? (1)

Martin Blank (154261) | about 5 years ago | (#28661513)

An old car, maybe. Private flight is not really for the environmentally-conscious. At 8000 feet, Cessna 172 burns ~9-10 gallons per hour at 120kt cruising speed, the equivalent of about 14-15 statute miles per gallon. Even at much lower power settings, a pilot would be burning 6.2 gallons per hour for 90kt, or about 16 miles per gallon. It's not the most efficient aircraft out there, but even more aerodynamic private planes don't get much better efficiency when at their recommended cruise speeds. Believe me, pilots would love to have a plane capable of cruising at the equivalent of 25 miles per gallon. It would make things much less expensive.

Re:Um, obvious speculation? (1)

Anynomous Coward (841063) | about 5 years ago | (#28651967)

My dear curmudgeon, no offense, but the very banal activities of 6 billion humans are polluting the world way more than the selfish pleasures of few rich thrill-seeking guys.

Re:Um, obvious speculation? (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 5 years ago | (#28652465)

Well, thrill-seeking is just that, but this guy was going on the equivalent of a Sunday drive. I doubt that "fly around and smash into a mountain" was on his list of activities that provide excitement.

Yeah no kidding he probably didn't plan on dying. But "take a small dive and fly near a mountain" very well could have been on his list of cheap thrills. And I doubt his idea of a Sunday drive is the same as yours. You think someone like that tooling around in a Ferrari on empty country roads wouldn't decide to have a little fun? He's in the air in his private plane, and confident in his abilities. Who's going to stop him?

Re:Um, obvious speculation? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 5 years ago | (#28652473)

PS am I the only one who finds something terribly wrong with a rich guy polluting the world just so he can provide for his own selfish pleasure?

To many people around the world, if you own a car you're 'rich'. Of course, a lot of those people are burning the coating off of wires so that the metal can be sold for recycling, so it's not like they're angels either...

Re:Um, obvious speculation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28658051)

To many people around the world, if you own a car you're 'rich'.

More to the point, /s/car/computer

Re:Um, obvious speculation? (1)

timeOday (582209) | about 5 years ago | (#28652685)

PS am I the only one who finds something terribly wrong with a rich guy polluting the world just so he can provide for his own selfish pleasure?

Money is nothing more or less than an entitlement to consume natural resources and tell other people what to do. Consuming resources seems to be a defining characteristic of life itself, increasing in population exponentially until either starving or poisoned by its own excrement. And humans are the champions of all species.

Re:Um, obvious speculation? (1)

smoker2 (750216) | about 5 years ago | (#28654125)

Don't you dare move or eat or go to work.
Why should I pay for your selfish existence ?
Prick.

Re:Um, obvious speculation? (1)

michaelhood (667393) | about 5 years ago | (#28654487)

PS am I the only one who finds something terribly wrong with a rich guy polluting the world just so he can provide for his own selfish pleasure? (please pass cap-and-trade soon...)

This is Slashdot, not Reddit. GTFO with that nonsense.

Re:Um, obvious speculation? (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 5 years ago | (#28654611)

PS am I the only one who finds something terribly wrong with a rich guy polluting the world just so he can provide for his own selfish pleasure? (please pass cap-and-trade soon...)

You're the only one.

P.S. Cap-and-Trade might affect YOUR ability to have fun with fossil fuels, it won't affect a rich guy one iota - he's rich! He can afford gas for his plane even if it costs $100 per gallon.

Re:Um, obvious speculation? (1)

TClevenger (252206) | about 5 years ago | (#28655175)

The Decathlon averages about 17 mpg at 128 mph. There are certainly worse ways to screw up the earth than to go for a Sunday fly in one of these.

Re:Um, obvious speculation? (3, Interesting)

Lil'wombat (233322) | about 5 years ago | (#28652529)

There are BOLD pilots
There are OLD pilots

But there are no OLD BOLD pilots

Re:Um, obvious speculation? (1)

Quixote (154172) | about 5 years ago | (#28653311)

Chuck Yeager [wikipedia.org] ?

Re:Um, obvious speculation? (1)

Lil'wombat (233322) | about 5 years ago | (#28657345)

D'oh!

mutter, mutter don't use absolute statements on slashdot mutter, mutter bad wombat mutter mutter

Can a Slashdot pilot tell us . . . (2, Interesting)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about 5 years ago | (#28651259)

When you register your flight, does the FAA (or whoever) give warnings about dangerous areas?

During your flight does the ATC tell you, "Be careful, you are about to enter a dangerous area?"

I guess what I want to know, is if he had a chance to know what the local pilots knew.

Re:Can a Slashdot pilot tell us . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28651389)

Most likely he was under VFR (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_flight_rules) and thus did not required to get a clearance for his flight.

I'd bet he knew pretty well about the winds.

Re:Can a Slashdot pilot tell us . . . (2, Informative)

ubergamer1337 (912210) | about 5 years ago | (#28651419)

If your flying "general aviation" (private flying, non-commercial), then the answer is no. Once your in the air, the ATC doesn't talk with you. General Aviation does its own thing once their airborne. General Aviation pilots just have to stay out of restricted airspace that is used for commerical, controlled-by-ATC flights. As to filing a flight path, I'm not sure whether General Aviation has to do that or not, but I am pretty sure the FAA wouldn't give them a warning based on what they filed. It's up to the pilots to make sure the area they are going to be flying in is safe, not anyone else.

Re:Can a Slashdot pilot tell us . . . (3, Interesting)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 5 years ago | (#28651611)

Your basically correct. This page [wikipedia.org] has a nice brief explanation. Even if Fosset were flying IFR (Instrument Flight Rules), where the pilot would file a flight plan, it's not clear that a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) [wikipedia.org] (sexist assumption noted) would mention winds over the Sierra Nevada. Now, one of the pilots the investigators talked to who had flown over the general area that day said the weather was "weird". Perhaps, if enough pilots had mentioned some unusual conditions, the local controllers might have issued a NOTAM, but this is pretty much in the middle of nowhere so it may not have attracted much attention.

Re:Can a Slashdot pilot tell us . . . (3, Funny)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about 5 years ago | (#28651723)

Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) [wikipedia.org] (sexist assumption noted)

(illiterate lesbian noted)

Re:Can a Slashdot pilot tell us . . . (1)

superdana (1211758) | about 5 years ago | (#28651945)

Classy.

Re:Can a Slashdot pilot tell us . . . (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about 5 years ago | (#28652213)

No mod points at the moment, but FWIW I'd +1 Funny the post.

Re:Can a Slashdot pilot tell us . . . (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about 5 years ago | (#28680045)

I'm surprised I got +4 funny ... Slashdot is either affected by a very small lesbian population, or any sized lesbian population primarily NOT made up of angry fat chicks with "WOMYN UNTOUCHED BY MEN" tattooed under their chins.

Re:Can a Slashdot pilot tell us . . . (1)

mcgrew (92797) | about 5 years ago | (#28653927)

sexist assumption noted

A woman (wo'man) is a man with a womb. Mankind includes both sexes.

I like the way in Star Trek they call the women officers "sir".

Re:Can a Slashdot pilot tell us . . . (1)

just_because_it's_ir (621364) | about 5 years ago | (#28656791)

sexist assumption noted

A woman (wo'man) is a man with a womb. Mankind includes both sexes.

A lovely bit of etymology, but, alas, not quite correct. It's from wif-man, where 'wif' originally meant 'female' (the word 'wif', of course, became 'wife'). 'Man' originally had both meanings (male and female), but lost the female sense over time, hence the newer - although still pretty outdated - 'mankind' for both sexes. There's a good discussion of it here [tafkac.org] .

PS always liked that about Star Trek myself...m'am never sounds right, for some reason.

Re:Can a Slashdot pilot tell us . . . (1)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | about 5 years ago | (#28652085)

If your flying "general aviation" (private flying, non-commercial), then the answer is no. Once your in the air, the ATC doesn't talk with you. General Aviation does its own thing once their airborne. General Aviation pilots just have to stay out of restricted airspace that is used for commerical, controlled-by-ATC flights. As to filing a flight path, I'm not sure whether General Aviation has to do that or not, but I am pretty sure the FAA wouldn't give them a warning based on what they filed. It's up to the pilots to make sure the area they are going to be flying in is safe, not anyone else.

Most of the pilots I knew who follow your description and didn't get flight following for their private flights have crashed their own planes. Usually they didn't die to traffic, but it was part of a pattern of carelessness (landing with no lights at night is common among this same group).

You're correct that private pilots aren't required to file flight plans, but when flying away from population centers most do anyway. It's true that it's up to the pilots to ensure their own safety and there are plenty of ways to do it. A combination of a well planned route and a review of the current weather before take off will do the trick. Unfortunately, a lot of pilots don't like to do either.

Re:Can a Slashdot pilot tell us . . . (1)

kckman (885561) | about 5 years ago | (#28652245)

Mod me troll.. but the improper use of "their" and "your" really gets under my skin.

Re:Can a Slashdot pilot tell us . . . (2, Interesting)

superdana (1211758) | about 5 years ago | (#28652791)

This is a curious description of how aviation works in the U.S. While it's certainly possible for GA flights to "do their own thing" if they stay out of any airspace more restrictive than Class E, this is by no means representative of GA as a whole. A Cessna flying under instrument rules will be in constant contact with ATC. Even if you're just flying under visual rules, you have to get landing and takeoff clearances at controlled airports, you need a clearance to enter Class B airspace, and you need permission to transition through Classes C and D. Outside of controlled airspace, a pilot flying under visual rules can voluntarily request radar advisories. And at the extreme end, corporate and charter jets are considered GA too, and they fly in Class A airspace every day.

But to answer the original question, you're not required to file a flight plan if you're flying under visual rules. If you choose to file, the FAA isn't required to give you a weather briefing at that time, but most pilots ask for one.

Re:Can a Slashdot pilot tell us . . . (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28653749)

If your flying "general aviation" (private flying, non-commercial), then the answer is no. Once your in the air, the ATC doesn't talk with you. General Aviation does its own thing once their airborne. General Aviation pilots just have to stay out of restricted airspace that is used for commerical, controlled-by-ATC flights.

This is so wrong in so many ways...

First, GA (general aviation) is just about everything not "airline". Corporate jets, private jets, crop dusters, all the way down to home-built experimental airplanes. It's not just "private flying" or "noncommercial".

Second, GA doesn't have to stay out of "commercial controlled-by-ATC airspace". GA uses the same airspace as everyone else. There is airspace where you MUST have an ATC clearance ("controlled by ATC"), but there is no distinction between GA and other users who can go there once you have that clearance. Most of the airspace in the country, especially in the western part, doesn't require ATC clearance unless you are flying IFR (instrument flight rules) and in IFR conditions ("the clouds").

Third, "restricted" airspace is a defined classification of airspace. It is defined as "airspace that contains some hazard, usually unseen, that creates a danger to flight". It is NOT prohibited to fly there for either GA or nonGA flights. This airspace is clearly marked on every sectional (aviation map). Again, there is no distinction between GA and nonGA flights in this airspace. The only relevance to "controlled by ATC" is that ATC will coordinate flights that it clears through restricted airspace with the controlling agency on behalf of the pilot.

And finally, ANY GA flight is capable of requesting "flight following", which is "communication with ATC", but not control. (If ATC is too busy, they can turn the request down.) That means ANY GA flight can be talking to ATC, and yes, if time permits, ATC will inform those GA flights is it voluntarily communicating with of any known problems.

As to filing a flight path, I'm not sure whether General Aviation has to do that or not, but I am pretty sure the FAA wouldn't give them a warning based on what they filed. It's up to the pilots to make sure the area they are going to be flying in is safe, not anyone else.

Nobody files a "flight path", they file a "flight plan". If you are flying VFR (visual rules) within the borders of the US, it is not mandatory, but it is highly recommended for any flights away from your home airport. If you are flying IFR, you MUST file a flight plan (even if it isjust an "abbreviated one") and have an ATC clearance prior to entering IFR conditions. The only distinction related to GA vs nonGA flights in this matter is that airlines are REQUIRED to file IFR flight plans for all flights, and GA is only required to file IFR for flights in IFR conditions.

One of the requirements for making a flight is knowledge of the weather conditions, usually met by getting a weather briefing. That weather briefing is supposed to include warnings about all kinds of things, weather related (AIRMETs, SIGMETs) and otherwise (NOTAMs). It also includes "winds aloft", which combined with knowledge that you are flying in mountainous terrain, tells you to expect up and down drafts and which side of the mountain will have which. Since the FAA doesn't provide the weather briefings, no, the FAA won't give you warnings based on what you filed, but you get them in other ways.

The only thing you got right is the last sentence: it is ALWAYS the pilot's responsibility to know about the area they are flying in, and the FAR (flight regulations) make this clear. Why Steve was flying near a mountain is anybodies guess, but it is not an inherently unsafe thing to do, and even the safest things to do sometimes result in crashes.

Re:Can a Slashdot pilot tell us . . . (0)

Abreu (173023) | about 5 years ago | (#28651639)

During your flight does the ATC tell you, "Be careful, you are about to enter a dangerous area?

Yes, and using Majel Barrett-Roddenberry's voice, no less!

Re:Can a Slashdot pilot tell us . . . (2, Insightful)

CompMD (522020) | about 5 years ago | (#28651803)

He should have known about the possibility for dangerous winds given the area. He was probably flying VFR, instead of having filed an IFR flight plan, which is part of the reason it took so long to find him. He should have called a weather briefer before taking off to get the weather conditions and forecast for his trip. In flight he could have contacted FlightWatch for more up-to-date weather in case he noticed things were changing.

Keep in mind that rarely does a single event cause an airplane crash. It is quite often a series events culminating in a situation in which the pilot has no chance to save himself.

Re:Can a Slashdot pilot tell us . . . (2, Informative)

rand.srand() (243903) | about 5 years ago | (#28652397)

Any pilot can call for a weather briefing prior to a flight, but most don't. For most private traffic, the pilot never talks to anyone other than the other pilots in the area advising what they are up to... and technically don't have to do that even if the airport doesn't have a control tower (most don't).

It is extremely unlikely that the weather briefer or ATC would inform pilots of mountain phenomena because it's like warning pilots that bright blue light shines from every possible direction when not obscured by clouds. It's just a given.

There are basics about mountain flying you are taught regardless of where you learn, and any west coast pilot has to deal with these realities if they go anywhere inside of the coast. I've fought off 400 ft/min downdrafts on flat land 800 miles from a mountain.

Fossett would have known very well about mountain waves. He would not have continued towards the peak of the mountain if he was sinking. The probable cause report doesn't really inform us of anything more valuable than "the sky is blue".

Re:Can a Slashdot pilot tell us . . . (1)

rand.srand() (243903) | about 5 years ago | (#28652641)

There's a typo I want to correct in there. If the airport has an operating control tower you do have to talk to them to get clearances to operate (taxi out of parking, take off, land, enter their airspace, etc).

Of course there's an exception to everything. If you don't have a radio or it is broken, there are procedures where the control tower shines a light at you and you see green or red and depending on the light pattern they can provide clearances to aircraft without radios. To take-off like this you'd need to call up the tower and make arrangements and for landing you'd in theory have to wait until they noticed you circling and you got your green lights.

Every pilot in California and Nevada knows (3, Interesting)

wsanders (114993) | about 5 years ago | (#28653415)

I used to fly out of the Bay Area, and the club I flew with specifically prohibited us from flying over the Sierra without supplemental training. Every pilot in California and Nevada is usually trained of the danger, not to cross the Sierra without several thousand fleet of ground clearance.

And when I took hang gliding lessons, there were many many stories of pilots who tried to fly the huge lift coming off the eastern slope, only to return to earth under a parachute with pieces of their broken gliders falling all around them.

Mountain flying can be tricky - one of my flight instructors was killed several years ago in the Rockies, flew into the end of a canyon. He was not a risk taker, and had been regularly flying between the Bay Area and Lake Tahoe for many years,

Re:Can a Slashdot pilot tell us . . . (1)

wsanders (114993) | about 5 years ago | (#28653701)

Specifically, the answer is no. Flight plans are filed online.

Even in the days of personalized weather briefings, you not always warned, you had to ask, because it's the pilot's sole responsibility to gather all information relative to the safety of the flight.

I haven't flown recently, but NOTAMs would usually be issued about particularly dangerous weather days. But in a Super Decathlon over the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada, every day is a potentially dangerous day. Your're going about two miles per minute, with a rate of climb of 400 feet per minute. If you suddenly see a 500 foot cliff dead ahead, and you can't make a 180, you're probably not going to be able to make it.

You don't have to "register your flight"... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28655375)

First of all, in the USA, there is no requirement to "register your flight" with the FAA at all. You don't have to call up the police and request permission or register your planned trip to drive your car from your home to the shopping mall, or go on a pleasure drive, do you?

If you're a private pilot and have your own plane, you can pretty much, for the most part, just simply hop in it, and take off to go fly whenever you please. You do not need to seek permission from the government to go fly.

Now there are some limitations and exceptions. Large airports, and even smaller ones with great volumes of air traffic do have control towers, which exist solely for the purpose of imposing order and safety on the sequencing of arriving and departing aircraft. The Tower is a traffic cop who controls permission to enter a runway for takeoff and also for permission to land on a runway at that particular airport. There is also "Ground Control" who is in charge of controlling aircraft movements on the taxiways. These exist to help prevent collisions from happening.

In larger cities' airports, there may also be "Approach" and "Departure" air traffic controls to help sequence the air traffic flowing into and out of the airport regional area.

Most small general aviation airports do not have, nor do they need these. At these airports, the pilot general self-announces his intentions over the radio just to let other pilots who are coming and going to that airport know who he is, where he is, and what he's doing. There's not even any real legal requirement to do that. You can keep your radio off and talk to no one. You just get in your plane and fly. And that is perfectly legal.

And furthermore, the FAA regulations actually state that it's up to the pilot to determine for himself whether or not there are any severe weather conditions or hazards before he begins his flight. As a pilot, it's totally up to you to plan and prepare for your own flight.

Now Steve Fossett was a very skilled and knowledgeable pilot. He knew exactly what kinds of treacherous winds existed in that mountainous terrain environment. He was well trained and skilled for handling them too... except sometimes in mountain flying, the winds can abruptly get so crazy without warning that they can catch even the most seasoned veteran mountain-flying pilot off guard and swat his airplane down into the ground like a giant flyswatter on a mosquito. Mountain flying has a hugely great element of danger to it. It is horribly unforgiving, even if you're an expert at it. Even one of the most famously skilled and respected mountain pilots, Sparky Imeson [examiner.com] , who wrote the "Mountain Flying Bible" [mountainflying.com] , died himself in a mountain-flying crash earlier this year.

Mountain Wave Action (5, Informative)

Nobo (606465) | about 5 years ago | (#28651347)

The proper term for what they're describing is a mountain wave or wave action. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_wave [wikipedia.org] contains a good description of the effect.

Mountain waves can be felt in small piston powered aircraft even flying significantly above the tops of the mountains, even several thousand feet above the peaks on either side of the valley you're crossing.

If you're holding altitude, you see that you speed up when you're crossing falling terrain and slow down when you're crossing rising terrain -- because as you cross the rising terrain, you're in the downdraft and so to maintain altitude, your airplane "feels" like it has to climb to stay at the same altitude in the falling air. Climbing requires additional power over simple cruise flight, or you slow down.

I've seen airspeed of an aircraft that should cruise at 150 knots, range from 90-180 knots, depending on whether you're on the uphill or downhill side of the wave. In severe conditions, you just cant' maintain altitude without slowing down too much, and you have to vary altitude to ride the waves.

It can be a scary experience knowing you don't have enough power to out-climb the wave -- That's the reason that you typically fly significantly higher in the mountains, even with good visibility -- You're not worried about hitting the mountains because you can't see them, you're worried about getting sucked by these waves and not having enough altitude to ride them out.

Re:Mountain Wave Action (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28651567)

Very good, would read again! A++++++++

And if the wave don't getcha... (1)

Peter Simpson (112887) | about 5 years ago | (#28651767)

The turbulence on the downstream side of the mountain peak, the "rotor", will!

Just like in a stream, you can get trapped on the downflow side.

Re:Mountain Wave Action (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | about 5 years ago | (#28651853)

If "stuck" in one of these downdraft waves, is it possible to 180 to go with the wave and pick up airspeed?

Re:Mountain Wave Action (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28652093)

Actually could have gotten caught in a rotor that developed. Equivalent to a wave crashing on a shore - instead it is air crashing in the atmosphere. They can be incredibly violent and easily rop airplanes apart.

Here is some info on a field project trying to find out more about this phenomenon...

http://www.eol.ucar.edu/projects/TREX/

Re:Mountain Wave Action (5, Interesting)

smellsofbikes (890263) | about 5 years ago | (#28652135)

Mountain flying is technically challenging -- as challenging for an experienced pilot, as just flying is for a person who doesn't know how to fly. There are a lot of things you do when you train in mountain flying to minimize your risk, but if you're in a small piston-engined plane, there are a lot of places where you just don' t know what the best plan is, so you have to make a quick decision and hope you were right.
First off: fly down valleys, not up them. That's not always possible, though: you sort of have to fly up one valley to go over the pass and fly down the next. Another is you don't fly up the middle of a valley. You fly up one side, so that you have room to make a quick turn if you find that you're in a narrow bit of the valley and you need to get out. But here's the tradeoff: there are sometimes strong upslope/downslope winds along the valley sides, so by preserving your ability to turn, you might run into an intense downdraft. (Generally, winds are faster, the higher you go, but in valley conditions, downslope winds known as foehn or scirroco winds tend to be intense right around the valley itself, particularly if you're flying up an old glacial valley with hanging valleys intersecting it: there are these big cold air currents flowing down them just like water would and pouring down into the main valley.)
Likewise, once you're in a downdraft you have to make some hard decisions. You pull the nose up to best angle of climb, full power, and you hold it. What if you're aiming right towards a big rock? If you turn, your stall speed increases, and you're already fairly close to stall speed, so you have to weigh reducing your angle of climb (which in a microburst or downdraft means increasing your speed towards the ground) to make the turn, vs. trying to ride out your current heading and hoping you'll miss that big object. You don't know, a priori, which one is going to work. Maybe you'll break out of the downdraft. Maybe it's worse over there where you're about to turn. That's where skill, experience, and lots and lots of luck come into play.
Where I live, sometimes the clouds from the mountain waves are visible in long rows at over 25,000 feet elevation, in lines for a hundred miles downwind of the mountains themselves, and every one of those is strong enough to shake a plane like a ragdoll. A B-52 bomber had its vertical tail ripped off and lost part of a wing [derkeiler.com] in clear air turbulence 5000 feet above the nearest mountain.

Mountain waves brought down an airliner in 1966. (1)

Colin Douglas Howell (670559) | about 5 years ago | (#28654253)

Where I live, sometimes the clouds from the mountain waves are visible in long rows at over 25,000 feet elevation, in lines for a hundred miles downwind of the mountains themselves, and every one of those is strong enough to shake a plane like a ragdoll. A B-52 bomber had its vertical tail ripped off and lost part of a wing in clear air turbulence 5000 feet above the nearest mountain.

As another example of the danger of clear air turbulence from mountain waves, on March 5, 1966, BOAC Flight 911 [wikipedia.org] , a Boeing 707 on a flight from Tokyo to Hong Kong, broke up as it was flying near Mt. Fuji in clear weather, possibly in order to give the passengers a good view of the mountain.

Re:Mountain Wave Action (1)

auric_dude (610172) | about 5 years ago | (#28652139)

Is this anything like Dynamic Soaring as undertaken by some sea birds http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynamic_soaring [wikipedia.org] and those seeking more speed for radio controlled model gliders http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2009/06/dont-blink-400mph-rc-gliders-tear-through-the-air/ [wired.com] ?

Steep ridges = fast winds (1)

wangerx (1122027) | about 5 years ago | (#28653025)

From experience, the steeper the ridges the greater the impact. My old partner picked me up at my local airstrip in a Piper Tri Pacer (a lighter, tube and fabric airplane). We had to climb and then cross perpendicular to the ridge line, the least you can do to avoid the well known affects of a hill that rises 1000' in less than a mile. Even though we had at least 500' above the ridge, it was a bumpy ride. And when we were well past ridge face, it tipped us really hard and really fast! Thank god for padded radio headsets! It tipped us past 45 degrees in a fraction of second, with the window hitting my head and rang my bell some.

Re:Mountain Wave Action (1)

not-my-real-name (193518) | about 5 years ago | (#28654325)

Mountain waves can be felt in small piston powered aircraft even flying significantly above the tops of the mountains, even several thousand feet above the peaks on either side of the valley you're crossing.

A friend of mine who is an airline pilot tells of feeling the effect in an A320 at cruising altitude - think 30,000 feet or so. The autothrottles come back when you're in the lift part and then push forward when you get out of the lift.

SO uh, when did Mark Twain have a plane? (1, Funny)

tjstork (137384) | about 5 years ago | (#28651601)

Pilots experienced in the area report that those winds can rip the wings off aircraft; and Mark Twain remarked that they could roll up a tin house 'like sheet music

Just thought I'd ask.. me thinks Mark Twain died before the aircraft age.

Re:SO uh, when did Mark Twain have a plane? (5, Funny)

JaneTheIgnorantSlut (1265300) | about 5 years ago | (#28651833)

Just thought I'd ask.. me thinks Mark Twain died before the aircraft age.

Reports of his death were greatly exaggerated.

Re:SO uh, when did Mark Twain have a plane? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28651891)

That's probably why he commented on a tin house rather than an aircraft.

Mark Twain died in 1910... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28655481)

...and was quite aware of the Wright Brothers and other early airplanes, but the only airplanes he would've known about were those primitive fabric-covered wooden ones.

Rule #1 (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28651605)

DON'T fly piston-driven aircraft.

Yours Aerodynamically,
Kilgore Trout [youtube.com]

Its lovely in the Sierra Nevadas (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28652453)

Fosset was in the area because its an incredibly beautiful section of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I've been backpacking through there several times and have been in the area where he crashed.

This has some photos of the area, and some info on the conditions
http://www-ee.stanford.edu/~hellman/soaring/pics/040730South/index.html

Re:Its lovely in the Sierra Nevadas (2, Insightful)

osu-neko (2604) | about 5 years ago | (#28653059)

Yeah... I find the attitude of "why would he be flying there?" as if it were some great mystery why someone would want to fly in the area kinda baffling. More baffling to me would be why anyone would avoid flying through the area given an opportunity to. The answer to that, of course, is because it creates dangerous flying conditions, but Fosset was an experienced pilot. If he figured he could do it and live, it would make sense that he would, even if it was a slight detour from his eventual planned destination. Alas, luck was not with him, and on that particular day, the presumption that he could do it and live turned out to be wrong... :(

Steve Fossett really deserved to die (1, Insightful)

arse maker (1058608) | about 5 years ago | (#28652935)

Who cares about this guy? He is called an "adventurer"? Our navy (Australian) already had to fish this idiot out of the sea after he failed *another* balloon flight. He was a billionare.. but he cant even have a fucking plan b? His many rescuers should get the credit, not this idiot.

What sort of adventurer goes man vs nature... fails (often), lives only cause of others... but is still considered so brave / adventerous?

Even I can fuck up and get saved by the professionals. Its not that impressive!

Fossett flew off, no one knew where he went exactly... he didnt take sufficient supplies in case of trouble. What sort of retard is he? He knows better than anyone how often his stupid ass would crash. Its the one time he couldnt call for help to save his ass.

I assume the Fossett family wont ask me to speak at any family functions :)

Re:Steve Fossett really deserved to die (1)

edisrafeht (1199347) | about 5 years ago | (#28654861)

Relax, man.

No once forced the navy to go grab him. They volunteered. Maybe they were excited to meet him.

The trick is to not ridicule and get your blood pressure up, but to learn. You can even take it to the next level and let go of your own sense morals, ego, and ideals, and play his game. Then, you too can be brave and adventurous as your navy fishes you out.

So Fossett underprepared in his last flight. That's yet another lesson to the rest of us. You don't have to rub it (the tragedy) in (does this expression work in Australia?).

Hang on a sec... did I just feed a troll?

Re:Steve Fossett really deserved to die (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28661575)

When a man has a fight with his wife and then goes off to fly, he just might not be thinking as well as usual. AND it is my understanding that that is what happened.

Fossett did not deserve to die. What a very mean-hearted statement.

Interesting Omission re Oxygen (1)

DieByWire (744043) | about 5 years ago | (#28653273)

It's interesting that the brief linked to mentions radar hits with readouts of 14500 and 14900 feet but doesn't say anything about whether the aircraft was equipped with an O2 system or not. Above 12500 the pilot would be required to use supplemental O2 by FAR. Extended periods near 15000 without oxygen would definitely set you up for impaired judgement. Maybe it's considered in another document but it's not in the brief.

In contrast, the NTSB specifically mentioned lack of supplemental O2 in another crash: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2009415709_webntsb04.html [nwsource.com]

Re:Interesting Omission re Oxygen (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28661665)

So true about needing Oxygen above 12500. In fact Fossett was flying in a glider with co-pilot Terry Delore in the "mountain wave" over the Andes in Argentina when Terry noticed that Steve did not reply to his comment. Terry twisted around and saw that Steve was slumped in the back seat, UNCONSCIOUS. They were flying at approximately 30,000 feet at the time. Terry dove the plane to 15,000 feet and Steve came to. He asked Terry why they were flying so low. Terry told him what happened and he discovered that his oxygen canula had slipped off. Lucky that time. He just repositioned the canula and they continued their flight and went on the set another world record...I think for the longest distance flown in one day continuously in the air.

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