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Is General Aviation Safe?
MPR's Midmorning
July 21, 1999
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WITH THE DISCOVERY of the wreck of John Kennedy's plane in the waters off Martha's Vineyard, investigators stand a better chance of figuring out what went wrong Friday night when Kennedy was just 30 miles from his destination.

Flying on Instruments
When the natural horizon disappears in darkness or clouds, a pilot's world shrinks to the panel of instruments. There's no horizon to give direct or indirect evidence of a change in an airplane's pitch or bank. Flying along in this claustrophobic cocoon, the juggling act heats up. Pilots must control the attitude and airspeed to tight tolerances, navigate precisely, and follow the clearances given by air traffic control. At the same time, the pilot has to ignore messages from his/her brain which frequently tell the pilot the aircraft is turning, for example, when it's actually flying straight.

"The Sacred Six"

Here are the primary instruments a pilot would use:

The attitude indicator provides an artificial horizon that tells the pilot about the plane's orientation. This plane is turned to the right in a 45 degree bank. It does not appear to be descending or ascending. The pilot would cross check this with other instruments.
The airspeed indicator can help a pilot determine whether he or she is climbing, descending, or staying level. Since an aircraft usually picks up speed on descent, an increase in airspeed might indicate a plane is dropping, an increase might indicate it is climbing.
The heading indicator shows in which compass heading the plane is headed. A changing heading might alert a pilot that a plane is not flying straight and level.
The Vertical Speed Indicator tells a pilot the rate of climb or descent. In this example, the plane is descending at 500 feet per minute. A pilot's senses might suggest a plane is flying level, this instrument would warn him/her that it's not.
The turn coordinator tells a pilot if the plane is banked. If the ball at the bottom is centered, the turn is being made properly.
The altimeter tells a pilot the current altitude of a plane. An altimeter that is dropping could tell a pilot the plane is descending. But since it is basically a barometer, it could also indicate the plane is flying into a changing pressure mass. The only way a pilot would know, is to compare this instrument with the others.
In fact, dozens of things could have gone wrong on that flight, or on any flight of a small plane. It's the primary job of a pilot to anticipate what things could go wrong and to take steps to prevent them from happening or to minimize their impact. And, despite what you might think or might have heard since the crash last weekend, accidents in small planes - known as "general aviation," as compared to big commercial planes - accidents in these planes have been decreasing, even as the number of pilots and hours flown has increased markedly.

In this hour of Midmorning, we're talking small plane safety with one of the experts in the field, He's Ken Ibold, the editor of Aviation Safety, a monthly newsletter.
John Rabe

For More Information Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
Aviation Safety Data(FAA)