Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Editorial: FAA Under Threat

FAA New Boss To Break Mold?
by Paul Berge

Not the mold found in Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) walls, poisoning air traffic controllers and boosting NATCA recruiting efforts--instead, according to a copyrighted story in today's NY Times the new FAA Administrator might, maybe, could be...a pilot!

Not if I can help it, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) seems to warn in a statement: “The past administration at the FAA failed the American traveler at every turn..." Schumer seemed to imply (or HFT seems to infer) that the FAA's long tradition of non-aviation types at the helm should continue. "After all," a former FAA employee speaking from a cab stand at NY's LaGuardia Airport, where all flights had been cancelled due to poor weather in Billings, Montana, "the last FAA Administrator (Marion C. Blakey) wasn't a pilot, and before her, Jane F. Garvey certainly didn't know a prop from a tail cone, so why should the Federal Aviation Administration flip-flop at this vital juncture and pick some know-it-all flyboy type to run the world's biggest aviation system?" He then cut short the interview to take a fare into Manhattan.

The rumored candidate for the top FAA post is Robert A. Sturgell, currently the acting administrator and formerly second in command (SIC) under the recently-departed (administratively speaking) Blakey. Sturgell, a former airline and US Navy pilot, faces a tough, as they say in Washington media circles, uphill battle for confirmation. Up that Hill, Senator Schumer has built a political career on the FAA's incompetence, so any chance that a knowledgeable administrator (read: a pilot) might undue the FAA's history of, as Schumer says, "...(failing) the American traveler at every turn," would seem to remove the hot air from the Schumer's balloon.

"Mr. Sturgell," Schumer continued in his statement, "has a heavy burden upon him to prove that he will do things differently.” Given the current administration's history of incompetence and failure, it's unlikely, anyone can do worse.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Martin Days

The Flight Ain't Over 'til The Fat Lady Stands

by Captain Charles “Skip” Gatschet

The Martin 404 wasn’t an easy airplane to fly. I won’t go in to the many reasons for that fact here, but suffice it to say that it was demanding. Northwest pilots refused to fly the Martin, and one Southern Airways pilot landed one so hard at Atlanta that he left both engines on the runway separated from the rest of the airplane. It also seemed like the biggest airplane I could imagine when I first began flying it. As a young co-pilot, the biggest thing I had flown previously was a Cessna 170 and a Piper Tripacer. We flew the Martin up and down the Ohio valley in all kinds of weather before radar was in common use, and before the advent of direct communications with Air Traffic Control Centers. I think that I learned more about flying in my first year in the Martin than any year before or since. Perhaps all of this lends to the aura of excitement and adventure that my early time with the airline now seems in retrospect.

At the time I was hired at TWA, a copilot check-out consisted of a ground school, a quick few landings, a couple of ACM trips to see how it was done, and then one simply put on his new uniform and launched as a qualified copilot. I had studied my manuals carefully before my first trip and was determined to do an exemplary job. I took care of the pressurization, the carburetor heat and propeller controls, and moved the landing gear and flap levers on command. Somewhere along the way on the second or third day, we had taxied out for takeoff when the Captain said, “Would you like to fly a leg?” I had been working at perfecting the performance of my co-pilot duties and it had not occurred to me that I might actually get to fly the airplane this first time out. I said, “Oh, yes sir! Thank you!” I began running the takeoff profile through my head, and everything went well until I had the flaps up and climb power set when it suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t know where we were going. Oh, I knew the name of the destination city but had no idea in which direction it might be. We had climbed into the clouds and I began trying to get a peek at my chart that was on top of my navigation kit to my right. The Captain said, “Could you use a little help?” I admitted that I could use all of the help I could get. I felt incompetent, and was sure that when the Captain made his report when we got home, I would probably be fired. Surely TWA wanted people who could do better than what I had just demonstrated.

The next leg, the Captain had made the takeoff and I was beginning to unwind from the excitement of the leg I had just flown. We were climbing through thirteen or fourteen thousand feet when I suddenly remembered that I had not pressurized the airplane. I said, “I forgot,” and reached to the panel on my right and flipped the switch that I had forgotten earlier as the Captain simultaneously yelled, “NO!” Too late. The airplane pressurized, pumping the cabin down to field elevation in about three seconds flat. We often flew with the cockpit door open in those days, and I turned around to see the passengers with surprised or distressed expressions, pulling on their ears, blowing their noses and banging the sides of their heads with the palm of a hand. Now my being fired was close to inevitable. At the end of the flight, the Captain said, “Every trip is a learning experience. You didn’t do too badly, and your next flight will be better.”

The Martin carried a crew of three: Two pilots and one cabin attendant. We called the cabin attendants “hostesses” then. Those young ladies were all in their early twenties and could serve breakfast to forty-four passengers between Kansas City and Topeka.

Due to the lack of airborne or ground-based radar we would occasionally blunder into a thunderstorm. When this happened we would get kicked around mercilessly while trying to keep the airplane right side up and wondering if the airplane structure could withstand the punishment this one more time.

One day, after going through a line and getting thoroughly beaten up we emerged on the other side into the clear. Our hostess came up front all red-faced with the following story: Once able to get up from her seat she began trying to restore order to the cabin, picking up pillows and passenger service items that had been thrown around. One person had been sick and had filled a barf bag. The hostess took the bag back to the lavatory and put it next to the sink to temporarily get it out of the way. When a man left his seat to go back to the john, she remembered the barf bag. She caught the door just as he was about to close it and said, “Just a moment, let me take that out for you.” The man smiled and said, “Now that is what I call real service!” The Captain had to insist that she go back and face her customers.

On another trip, our airplane wouldn’t pressurize after take-off. As co-pilot, I had the pressurization controls, and I reported to the Captain that I simply couldn’t get the thing to pressurize by any means. A moment later the airplane pressurized and the problem seemingly went away. Then our cabin gal rushed up front and told us that a fat lady was on the john and couldn’t get up. The outflow valves were in the tail of the 404, just aft of the lavatory. Any smell from the commode would theoretically be wafted overboard through the outflow valves. Maintenance personnel at the last station had removed part of the toilet and its holding tank, leaving an open hole in the tail of the airplane. The outflow valves were closed, but the pressurizing air rushed out through the john and overboard. When the fat lady sat, she plugged the leak and was pasted firmly to the seat. We depressurized and the unhappy woman was finally able to be pulled from the seat.

I was sitting in the crew lounge at St. Louis in February of 1958. I am sure of that date because I was on my last flight before being furloughed that year. St. Louis had been battered by a winter storm the night before, first with freezing rain and then nearly two feet of snow. The main runway, 12 – 30 (now 12R – 30L), had been plowed its full length leaving huge piles of snow along the sides. One taxiway from the west end to the ramp had also been cleared. All of this was complicated by a slick layer of ice still on the cleared surfaces.

The tower monitor receiver in the lounge alerted us to the fact that one of our Martins was inbound with an engine shut down. Considering the slick surface and the snow barriers, the Captain of the Martin had called the cabin attendant forward and asked her to point out the emergency exits and review emergency evacuation procedures with the passengers “just in case.” The hydraulically actuated aft air-stair door was the primary exit route in case of an emergency situation in which the airplane was standing normally on its gear.

We all watched the landing through the series of large windows that overlooked the airport. The Martin made a normal landing and then continued taxiing down the runway toward its only exit. We saw the aft air-stair door come open and the passengers exit and step off onto the runway. Each passenger fell as he stepped off of the stair and then slid along the runway like a shuffleboard puck as the airplane maintained its slow taxi. The tower operator said, “TWA you’d better stop. You’re loosing your passengers.” The airplane stopped, and the people picked themselves up, shuffled back to the stairway and climbed back up onto the airplane.
I saw the Captain in the ramp office a short time later. Apparently this had been the flight attendant’s second or third flight, and after a discussion of a possible evacuation she had become spring loaded to get them out. I overheard the Captain say that he was not looking forward to writing the required letters to the company and the FAA, and that he wasn’t sure what the outcome would be other than, “There are sure as hell going to be some law-suits.” What else is new?


Right: Charles "Skip" Gatschet is a retired TWA captain

The Martin Days © 2007, Charles "Skip" Gatschet, all rights reserved

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Ground School Begins

Osceola Flying Club
Private (and Sport) Pilot Ground School begins on October 16, 2007 at 6:30 PM. Classes will be held Tuesdays and Thursday evenings at Southwestern Community College (Osceola Campus). Tuition is $250 plus sales tax. This includes all materials including the Gleim Private Pilot kit with E6B, plotter, logbook, a whole slew of books and really neat bag to haul it all in. Plus, students receive the new textbook The Private Pilot Wellness Guide ©, by Paul Berge.
Class size is limited to 20, and 18 students are currently enrolled. To enroll please call 515-961-0654 or email:
A Winter semester Ground School class is being planned for February. It will be held in Indianola, Iowa. Dates and location to be announced. To enroll for Winter Ground School please call 515-961-0654 or email:

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Britney Spears Garrison at NBAA

Aviation bard and badboy, Kevin Garrison (TM), was reportedly seen threatening a reporter from the Blog Party News (TM) at NBAA (TM) when asked about his alleged relationship to the overweight reemerging former Mousketeer (TM) and alleged entertainer, B. Spears (TM). While none of this has been verified, it does beg the question: How did Garrison (TM) get an invite to NBAA (TM)? And what does (TM) mean?
Read Garrison's version of the NBAA story at:
Warning: Graphic descriptions of breaches in convention etiquette and some nudity.