June 2019 Aviation Articles

Aviation Tragedy: When disaster strikes

Bruce Van Fleet and Luke Sullivan (Source: ITEC / Facebook)

Let me tell you about Luke and Bruce.

Luke Sullivan was 28 years old. By all accounts, Luke wanted to do more than just fly airplanes for the fun of it. He didn’t want to make a buck. He wanted to make a difference. So while so many pilots wind up flying to the airlines, Luke’s aviation career led him to Guatemala.

It may sound like an unlikely place for a budding young Texas aviator to end up, but Luke accepted the position of aviation director for Paradise Bound Ministries. The Michigan-based organization, according to its website, is a Christian non-profit created to “do ‘whatever it takes’ to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the lost and dying in Guatemala.” That includes providing clean water and medical care to people in remote villages – and Luke was a part of that.

Bruce Van Fleet, age 32, is from Florida. Another pilot, I’m told Bruce had just received his commercial license and was working on getting his A&P. Like Luke, he was interested in mission aviation, and he recently went to visit with Luke in Guatemala to learn more about the possibility of working with Paradise Bound Ministries.

Four days ago, both of them were on the same flight. According to a report by The Washington Post, the aircraft took off from Quiche department, bound for Guatemala City’s international airport, when it went down in Chimaltenango department, about 20 miles from the capital.

Luke ultimately died from his injuries. He leaves behind a wife, three children and a fourth on the way.

As of the time of this writing, Bruce is back in the states in a medically induced coma. He is fighting for his life. He has a wife and a child.

I write this not to be morbid. I don’t know either man. Originally, I planned this blog to be about a chance encounter with a Pietenpol pilot one of my instructors and I had while visiting a grass strip. But with my Facebook feed filling up with concerned prayers and condolences for the families involved, this seemed more important.

"He is one of the nicest people you could ever meet," wrote Austin Brumfield, one of my Facebook friends, about Bruce. "I don't know why God gives us days like these, and I know Bruce has got to feel so alone where he's at right now. Be praying for him."

Zack Wilkinson, another Facebook friend, had this to say:

"At its core, aviation is about relationships. In the same way, the calling of Christ is a call to establish a connection with a man who came to offer salvation to all. Regrettably, Luke lost his life in pursuit of serving the Lord through aviation largely before getting started. He was not the first, and he will not be the last. Though his part on earth is done, its impact is far from over. Luke lived for Christ each day. For some who hear his story, his impact will have just begun."

There is just something about the aviation community. Maybe it's the shared bond we have of having spent hours studying weight and balance problems and acronyms. Or trying to figure out how to track and follow VOR approaches. Or sweating out power on stalls for the first time. Maybe it's simply the closeness we all feel from a shared love of aviation. Whatever it is, when a tragedy like this strikes, aviators from all over the country seem to come together and step up to help.

You don't have to share Luke and Bruce's faith – as I do – in order to feel for their families or mourn Luke's loss.

As my Facebook friend so eloquently put it, it's not the first time the field of mission aviation has faced such tragic losses. Most famously, on Jan. 8, 1956, Missionary Aviation Fellowship pilot Nate Saint, along with fellow missionaries Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, and Roger Youderian, were slaughtered in Ecuador by members of the Huaorani tribe after making the first contact. (For more information, see the film "End of the Spear," or better yet, read "Jungle Pilot" by Nathaniel Hitt.)

Those deaths seemed senseless at the time. But something incredible happened. Some of the widows of the men who were murdered went back to live with the tribe. They ministered to them. This isolated tribe – a tribe so murderous the locals had given them the derogatory name "Auca," which means "savage" – took them in. They learned a better way. They stopped killing each other.

Years later, Nate Saint's children were baptized by the very men who murdered their father. Their families share a bond that, to outsiders, makes absolutely no sense. And yet…

After the murders on the beach, the remains of Nate's plane were washed away by a brutal storm. They weren't found until decades later in 1994. The skeletal frame is now housed in the lobby of Mission Aviation Fellowship headquarters in Nampa, Idaho. I've seen it. I've seen the dents the natives' machetes made in the metal.

The remains of Nate Saint's airplane, located in the lobby of Mission Aviation Fellowship. (Source: MAF.org)

Aviation is, by and large, relatively safe. Most of us know this. Most of us will never have to deal with this kind of tragedy. But when it does happen, it seems senseless. It seems like it was all for nothing.

The family of Nate Saint would disagree.

I would not dare to speak for the Sullivan or Van Fleet families. They don't need me to speak. I don't know them. They need us to listen – and to help where we can.

If anyone is interested in helping either family, there are a number of ways to step up:

Paradise Bound has set up a GoFundMe account to help both the Sullivan and Van Fleet families. For more information, CLICK HERE.

ITEC, the company that was training Bruce Van Fleet (the company that was started by Nate Saint's son), has also set up a GoFundMe account for his family. For more information, CLICK HERE.

Travis K. Kircher is a private pilot based in Louisville, Kentucky.

 

The Big Four: the aircraft that shaped private jet travel

Business jets have created a world of opportunity for businesses and high wealth individuals around the world, allowing them the ability to fly themselves or send predominant staff to places that commercial flights can’t reach. They allowed these executives to attend imperative meetings and be home for dinner. The social status of owners increased as well, showcasing to others that they were long on financial resources and short on time. 

The following are four aircraft that changed the world in regards to time efficiency, business productivity, and social status.  What is most interesting is that all four originated from military contracts with the intent of being quicker and more efficient than predecessors.

 

Lockheed JetStar – L329
Deliveries: 202 (1961-1980)

 

Lockheed created the L-329 as a private venture to meet a United States Air Force (USAF) requirement, which ultimately shaped it into the world’s first business jet design.

The JetStar was one of the largest aircraft in its class, seating ten plus two crew. It was the first corporate aircraft to allow a person to walk upright in the cabin.  It can be distinguished from other small jets by its four engines, which are mounted at the tail and the “slipper” style fuel tanks fixed to the wings to accommodate the increased fuel consumption from two extra engines. 

Although it was not the primary Air Force One aircraft, VC-140B’s did carry Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan while they were in office and used the Air Force One call sign while aboard.

Elvis Presley owned two JetStars at different times, the second being known as Hound Dog II. Reportedly he paid $899,702.60 for the aircraft on September 2, 1975.

 

North American Sabreliner 40
Deliveries: 137 (1959 – 1974)

 

The Sabreliner was developed in the mid-1950s by Los Angeles-based North American Aviation as an in-house project. North American offered a military version to the USAF in response to the Utility Trainer Experimental (UTX) program.  Because no other companies competed for the UTX, North American Aviation won the contract by default. 

This was the world’s first executive aircraft to run on a twin-jet system. It was named Sabreliner due to its similarity of supercritical and swept wings and tail to the North American F-86 Sabre jet fighter. It also included innovational slats.

Over 800 Sabreliners were produced, 200 of which were T-39s, military variants used by the USAF, United States Navy, and United States Marine Corps. Deriving itself from the F-86 Sabre, the Sabreliner is the only business jet authorized for aerobatics. The cockpit windows had topside “eyebrows” that provided a distinctive recognition feature for the aircraft.

Sabreliner was sold to Rockwell International and renamed as the Rockwell Sabreliner. In 1981, Sabreliner production came to a close.  In 1982, Rockwell sold the Sabreliner division to a private equity firm which later formed Sabreliner Corporation.

 

Learjet 23
Deliveries: 101 (1964-1966)

 

Among the first, and best known, private jets was the Lear Jet 23 (later renamed Learjet). This jet’s small size and economically fast operation made it a staple in the fleet of captains of industry, celebrities, and other wealthy members of society across the world.

The Lockheed JetStar and North American Sabreliner had been on the market before the Learjet 23 was produced, but its ability to climb higher and faster than its competitors made it the first civilian, jet-powered light aircraft.

The aircraft was beyond its time in terms of performance: 518 MPH cruising speed, 562 MPH (488 knots) maximum speed, 6,900 feet-per-minute rate of climb, 1,830-mile range, and 45,000-foot ceiling. According to the Smithsonian Institution, the Model 23 could out-climb an F-100 Super Sabre to 10,000 ft.

The man behind the Learjet was William “Bill” Powell Lear, Sr., who was inspired by the Swiss P-16 fighter jet prototype. Lear established the Swiss American Aviation Corporation (SAAC) to produce the passenger version: the SAAC-23 ExecuJet. After moving the company to Wichita, Kansas, he renamed it the Lear Jet Corporation. 

Essentially, Bill Lear wanted a small aircraft that could perform like a jet airliner and carry its five passengers and two pilots at 500 MPH for distances of 1,500 miles or more. While the aircraft performed like a fighter, it also had the accident record of one. The Model 23 was demanding to fly, even for experienced pilots. It was unrelenting of pilot errors, leading to 23 Learjet crashes in only three years with four of those resulting in fatalities.  The fleet was only made of 104 aircraft, meaning you had a 22% chance of crashing each time you flew in one.

Lear recognized the problem and introduced the Model 24 in 1966, with improved two-speed handling qualities. The accident rates improved as new models continued to be put on the market, but these rates were still much higher than other corporate jets of the time.

 

Dassault Falcon 20
Deliveries: 512 (1965-1991) including 20C, 20D, 20E and 20F

 

In December of 1961, French aircraft designer and head of Dassault Aviation, Marcel Dassault, provided the approval to work towards the production of an eight to ten seat executive jet/military liaison aircraft that could fly 500 mph+, which was initially named the Dassault-Breguet Mystère 20.

This low-wing monoplane drew upon the aerodynamics of the transonic Dassault Mystère IV fighter-bomber and was equipped with a pair of rear-mounted Pratt & Whitney JT12A-8 turbojet engines. Later upgrades to the airframe include Garrett TFE-731 engines.

Directly selling the aircraft wasn’t a viable option, so they settled on Pan American World Airways as the US distributor. The aircraft were distributed in America under the name Fan Jet Falcon, later becoming popularly known as the Falcon 20.  In total, Pan American placed orders for a combined total of 160 Falcon 20s. Other major orders were soon placed by several operators, both civil and military; amongst these included the French Navy, the United States Coast Guard, and Federal Express.

During the late 1960s and early 70s, aviation businessman Frederick W. Smith was seeking an ideal aircraft with which to launch his new business, Federal Express, commonly known today as FedEx. The Falcon 20 had a strong fuselage, making it the ideal aircraft for cargo operations.  The first packages to be carried by FedEx were in a Falcon 20 on April 17, 1973. Within a decade, the company was using 33 of the twinjets in its air express network.

Dassault went on to sell more than 500 Falcon series aircraft until 1991. The French company continues to be a major player in the market today with its lineup of twin- and three-engined designs.

 

These private jets began as ideas on a crumpled piece of paper in the corner of a desk. No one could have known just how impactful they would become. Across the world, they represent wealth and power to socialites and business owners alike. It is because of these aircraft that the private jet industry is stronger today than ever before.

4 Tips for Mastering Power-Off Landings

            You’ve got to do it on your private license and you get to do it again on commercial, the wonderful power-off landings. Whether it’s practicing power-off 180’s to land on a point of the runway or encountering a real-life scenario of being in the traffic pattern without an engine, here’s some tips for making it safely and efficiently.

1) First step in any engine-out scenario: pitch for glide speed and HOLD IT. Trim for it so good (while multitasking the other items too) that you can forget about it and look back and it’d still be fine.

You want the most distance as possible to give yourself time to think and make the runway. On check rides and in a real emergency scenario, it’s better to land past your desired point than short.

2) Never lose sight of your landing point.

Depending on your altitude in the pattern, you may need to turn straight towards your landing point or extend one of your legs slightly. Either way, keep an eye on your target the entire time.

center

In these scenarios you’re nervous, the pressure can be high, and if you turn away from it without making note to keep a constant scan of its distance then you can easily forget about it. When you do remember to look back, you can be too low and now it’s too late to save the landing.

3) To help with number 2, in a lot of scenarios it helps to keep the landing point on the tip of your wing. This is because in most cases, you’re likely no more than 1,000 feet above the ground (this is how typical traffic patterns for both controlled and uncontrolled airports are designed for general aviation aircraft).

Don't get this confused with keeping it perfectly rounded like turns around a point.

Instead, you should still keep a fairly squared off pattern with just a shorter downwind and base than usual. Keeping it off your wing helps you maintain distance so you avoid getting too low, and as previously stated helps you maintain where you are in reference to it. The more you keep an eye on the point, the better you can judge if you’re too high or too low and your chances increase of landing “right on the money.”

4) Know how to efficiently conduct slips, use flaps, and apply crosswind techniques.

These are so important, it can make or break a safe power-off landing.

Slips of course are to help you get down in a short distance. Apply full rudder and opposite aileron and pitch for something slightly higher than glide speed.

Ex. if glide speed is 72 knots, a good slip is about 80 knots.

While it’s safer and best to land beyond your landing reference than short of it, you can only land beyond it to an extent. For a commercial check ride, it’s 200 feet. For a real engine out scenario, you need to be able to touchdown and smoothly apply breaking power before reaching the end of the runway.

Flaps help control airspeed and increase your descent rate if you’re high too, but don’t add them in early or you could fall too short.

And of course, crosswind techniques. Even without an engine, you should dip the aileron into the wind. Imagine landing right at your desired area, but strong wind pushed you off runway centerline and now you’re in the grass next to the runway. Not a fun day…

Power-off landings can be tricky and take time to get down, and are easily one of the toughest maneuvers, but they can be very fun. These help you understand your plane better and adjust where you are in reference to something without messing with the throttle.

Need some help working on these and don’t know where to go? Use the GlobalAir Aviation Training tool located under the Aviation Directory tab.

Whether you want to impress your instructor, pass a check ride, or make a safe landing be sure to try out these tips on your next power-off landings. Stay tuned and keep an eye out on the GlobalAir.com website for all things aviation!

10+ Gift Ideas for Pilots and Aviation Enthusiasts

Pilots and aviators get to do what many of us can only dream of; fly. So what do you get the people who have the ability to soar above the clouds on a weekly basis? A gift for a pilot should be practical... but it must also maintain a level of sentimentality. 

Lucky for you, we have compiled a list of gift ideas that are aviator approved! 

 

Pilot Wings Hat - $15.95

If you've ever worn a baseball cap while flying, you'll immediately understand how much of a pain (literally) it can be to wear a headset and fight with the little button on top.  Not with this stylish hat! This company had the factory leave off the button that is traditionally found on the top of a baseball cap! Perfect for a sunny afternoon flying or spending the day with friends in the hangar.

 

Leather Pilot Log - $62