First Word: 07/05

Lessons from Submarine Commanders
A lot of us like to think that the face of general aviation is embodied by those well-scrubbed wannabes you see in the Be-A-Pilot ads on cable TV. Alternatively, you might find the face of general aviation in the Wings seminars at AOPA Expo, or on the flight line at Sun n Fun or Oshkosh. But youd be wrong.

Unfortunately, the face of general aviation now belongs to Hayden Jim Sheaffer, the hapless PIC of the Cessna 150 that breached the Washington ADIZ in May, sending federal institutions scurrying for cover. Shortly afterward, Mr. Sheaffer appeared with his attorney on the Today Show to answer FAA charges that could result in certificate revocation. He used the occasion to point the finger of blame at the nominal pilot, Troy Martin, a student with a scant 30 hours. Clearly, Mr. Sheaffer was functioning as pilot in command, because he was the only qualified PIC on board the aircraft. The charges against him have been leveled elsewhere, but suffice it to say that to the population at large, the real face of general aviation is, unfortunately, the face of Jim Sheaffer. He not only busted the most sensitive airspace in America, but then cast blame for this malfeasance on a neophyte who was only trying to get in some cross-country time.

Contrast this spectacle with another high-profile blunder in early January-the collision of the attack submarine San Francisco with an uncharted sea mount in the western Pacific. Cruising submerged at 500 feet and 27 knots, the impact was sufficient to hurl submariners like rag dolls through the boats companionways and wardrooms, killing one sailor and injuring more than 60 others. Commander Kevin Mooney nursed his stricken vessel to the surface despite extensive damage and under Mooneys direction, the crew attended to the injured and sailed back to Guam on the surface at a bare seven knots.

When interviewed on CBSs 60 Minutes II, Commander Mooney acknowledged that the chart he was given didnt reveal the obstacle and the routing ordered by his superiors effectively placed his vessel in harms way. He nonetheless took full responsibility for this career-ending tragedy.

My biggest mistake…was that I did not have a healthy skepticism on the accuracy of the charts, Mooney said. Had I appreciated that the charts really are not that accurate, then I would have navigated my ship more prudently. In this age of shimmy and dodge, bob and deflect, this simple, honest statement of responsibility is nothing short of extraordinary. The fact that Mooney brought his ship home under circumstances that can only be considered horrific, is a tale of seamanship and sacrifice that deserves our respect, not our opprobrium.

We, as the face of general aviation, should think about Commander Mooneys stand-tall example when we function as pilots in command. Regardless of how we may dislike this infringement on our freedom as pilots, busting the Capitols airspace and then dodging responsibility for it dishonors all of us.

-Tim Cole


Freebie Products? Not Us, Thanks
As were going to press this month, I got a call from the marketing director of an avionics company confirming that they were sending the GPS I had requested. Huh? I didnt request a GPS. Further discussion revealed that former contributor Coy Jacob had made the request for a new publication he has launched called AeroConsumer. To avoid any potential confusion, let me state plainly here that we are in no way affiliated with that organization or its activities. There is no connection whatsoever.

And now is the perfect juncture to reiterate Aviation Consumers equipment and product borrowing policies. We don’t accept free equipment. Period. For testing purposes, we usually borrow evaluation samples from manufacturers and return them when were done. Were occasionally sent consumable products-oil, cleaners and the like-which the manufacturers specifically direct us not to return. We buy many lesser products on the open market-tires, small radios, cockpit accessories-and sell or give them away later. If youre a manufacturer or retailer of aviation goods or services and youve been asked to send us products, phone me at 941-485-0910 to clarify any questions or doubts.

-Paul Bertorelli